2003 US Chess Championship
2003 US Chess Championship (Round Five)

Phasor sharp as a Laser!

There is a story brewing in Seattle that only a handful of people anticipated (this writer included).  That story is the stunning performance of FM Stephen Muhammad. He has been totally overlooked by all the pre-tournament reports, but people are finally beginning to take a bit of notice of his resiliency and determination. These characteristics are being put on full display in the U.S. Championship as he continues to slice through the field of highly-fancied opponents. His ICC nickname "phasor" is symbolic of the electricity he is generating in Seattle.

In his game with
GM Sergey Kudrin, Muhammad opened with his favorite London System setup after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bf4 Bg7 4.e3 0-0 5.Be2. This system appears repulsive to those who prefer the more popular openings, but Muhammad has been playing this system for years and has enjoyed great success in its employment.

Kudrin executed a kingside campaign and appeared to have ill-intent after 20Qh5, but Muhammad would exploit the queen placement with the Karpov-like 22.Qd1!? and 23.Be2! (threatening to win a piece with 24.Ne5!) Realizing the danger, Black played 23Qf5 and after 24.Qb3! (threatening 25.g4!) had to donate a pawn after 24Nf4 25.Bxf4 Bxf4 26.Qxb7.

Sharp play continued as Kudrin tried to conjure up a kingside initiative by chasing the white queen about the board, but was fortunate that Muhammad failed to spot 32f5? 33.Bxf5! Bc4 34.Qa4 Bb5 35.Qa2! stealing a pawn.  Kudrin pressed his kingside attack after 36h5 in an attempt to rattle Muhammad's increasing confidence. Perhaps it was already too late. One has to get at Muhammad early due to his tendency to gain unbreakable confidence as the game progresses.

Game start 5 back 1 back 1 forward 5 forward Game end flip board autoplay


The awkward placement of Kudrin's pieces continued to cause problems after white attacked the bishop on f4 with 34.g3. The bishop remained under attack for eight moves when Muhammad finally decided to enter the argument and pocketed the piece with 42.gxf4. He then hunkered down for the pending assault. After solidifying his king's position, Muhammad started a counterattack of his own with 47.f5! and the game reached a critical stage. Black plodded forward with 47g3 but after 48.Rxe6 Qf4 49.f6 Rg5 50.Re7 Rf5 51.Qc1! Black was now forced to go into lost endgame and the rest was a matter of technique. Fine performance by Muhammad!

The Legend of Chess Boxing

Anyone who knows GM Maurice Ashley will know that he comes from a family of seasoned fighters and carries that persona over the board. Of course, when one comes off of a disappointing loss, the true test of a fighter is whether he is able to pick himself up and continue to fight GM Ashley did just that.

In round five, he was paired with a familiar opponent,
IM Ron Burnett (from New York via Tennessee). The two have had tough battles over the years and this match would be no different. The game started out with the English Opening and Ashley crouched into his familiar hedgehog position against the Maroczy Bind setup. Ashley has a lot of experience with these positions and has won brilliantly with it (Shabalov-Ashley, 1993).  After black's 18Rfd8!? (18Rfe8 is also interesting) the stage was set and now the rumble was on!

As if often the case with the hedgehog, the position exploded after 21d5! and after a series of exchanges, black emerged with the initiative after 29Ra2 (in diagram, black threatens 30 Bh4!). After 30.Kh1, black played 30Qd6 (threatening 31Nxf3!) and white certainly had to be careful here.

As time pressure began to creep, Maurice desperately tried to maintain the initiative so he swung his a2 rook around to e7, but his queen was caught in deadly pin on the d-file and was forced to jettison his queen for two pieces and go for a fortress. Burnett quickly went to work to open lines to maximize the power of his rook and queen with 43.g4!?

Burnett-Ashley (position after 29...Ra8-a2)

(Position after 29...Ra2)

After the board opened, the white rook and queen started to exert their power and Ashley had to donate another piece for a last ditch attempt at a fortress. These plans were dashed with Burnett setting up a beautiful zugzwang position with 55.Qe7! Ashley had seen enough. Exciting battle that shows the resiliency of Ashley, but of course he will have to test his will once more and fight with the boxer's killer instinct that has made him such a feared opponent.

Nightmare on Elm Street

This round feature two of the most violent attacking games of the tournament in
Serper-Ippolito and Seirawan-Lapshun.

GM Gregory Serper is making his debut in the U.S. Championship despite having lived in the U.S. for several years. In this game, he gave a textbook example of how to carry out a lightening attack with the power of open lines. With his two bishops slicing into black's kingside and an open h-file, he launched one of the most artistic combinations with the vacating sacrifice 23.Ng5! followed by the brilliant 23...Qxg5 24.Rh8+! (if 24Kxh8 then 25.Qh2+ mates after 25Qh6 and 26.Qxh6+ Kg8 27.Qh7#).

In another impressive display of power,
GM Yasser Seirawan launched a deadly kingside attack starting with the missile 19.Bxh7+! This was the beginning of the end as white's pieces swarmed the black king, and through a series of tactics, black was unable  to defend and resigned in only 24 moves. Pruess-Pixton  featured a very intriguing pawn endgame which will certainly become material for future books.

Report by Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Round #5 Information Center

Selected Games

FM Stephen Muhammad - GM Sergey Kudrin, 1-0
GM Yasser Seirawan -  IM Yuri Lapshun, 1-0
IM Ronald Burnett - GM Maurice Ashley, 1-0
GM Gregory Serper - IM Dean Ippolito, 1-0
NM David Pruess - FM Aaron Pixton, 0-1

PGN download (all 29 games)