2003 US Chess Championship
2003 US Chess Championship (Round Seven)

Proud "Black Bear"

GM Maurice Ashley has been an inspiration for many different segments of the international chess community and his presence at the 2003 U.S. Championship is the latest of his accomplishments. Ashley would be the first to tell you that he receives inspiration from numerous players, but there is one chess player of whom he speaks with immense admiration and respect… Willie "Pop" Johnson.

Johnson is a member of the storied "Black Bear" School of Chess,  a chess club with a 50-year tradition and comprised primarily of Black players from the Brooklyn area. This club served as the staging ground for noted chess masters such as
FM Alan Williams, NM George Miller III (deceased), NM Mark Meeres (deceased), GM Ashley, FM William Morrison, FM Ronald Simpson, NM Ernest Colding, NM Jerald Times and countless others.  GM Ashley will tell anyone within an earshot that these men have all contributed to his success, and he always fails to get through a chess conversation without proudly  invoking the name of one of the members of this Black Bear chess "fraternity."

Perhaps Johnson has been the key inspirational figure in Ashley's chess career and coincidentally, is the godfather of GM Ashley's first child
Nia Ashley. In addition, Johnson has always provided himself as a mentor to the Ashley in the difficult days when the Brooklyn GM sometimes questioned his abilities.  In days gone by, Johnson hosted several matches between members of the Black Bear school at his home in an effort to help Ashley and others elevate their  games. This competitive spirit is what helped to make Ashley into the fighter that he has become.

Johnson traveled with GM Ashley out to Seattle to witness this special moment and perhaps the biggest in Black Bear history. While Ashley has especially made the Black Bear chess club proud, there is perhaps none more proud than Willie "Pop" Johnson.

Black Bears in effect! Willie 'Pop' Johnson with GM Maurice Ashley

Black Bears in effect! Willie 'Pop' Johnson with GM Maurice Ashley
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

The Story of the Hour: IM Stephen Muhammad?

There has been some buzz as to whether FM Stephen Muhammad has met the necessary requirements for the IM title. Having earned two norms at Wilbert Paige Memorial and the 2002 World Open, his current performance at the U.S. Championship is approaching the 2700 mark. He has +1 score against four GMs and +1 against three IMs for a total of 4½ points. Tatar Attarian (chess viewer from Chicago) has followed the progress of the tournament and has posted the following details of IM norm requirements on The Chess Drum message board:

Before the 7th round, FM Muhammad told Daaim Shabazz of The Chess Drum that he was at a Category 12 (2494 average opposition) which requires 4/9 for the IM norm. Shabazz then attempted to verify with Chief Arbiter Carol Jarecki whether FM Muhammad had the necessary requirements for the norm and she stated that he is essentially "going for GM norm." This implies that the IM norm had already been achieved with three rounds to spare! So unofficially FM Muhammad has earned his last norm for the IM title and will certainly vault his FIDE ELO rating to over 2400. This tournament has become historic in more ways than one! Congratulations to FM Muhammad for a rousing performance!!

GM Varuzhan Akobian vs. FM Stephen Muhammad

IM Varuzhan Akobian vs. FM Stephen Muhammad (Round 7)
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

Another Latvian Champion?

GM Alexander Shabalov has taken sole lead of first with a win over GM Alexander Fishbein in a fierce King's Indian battle.  The game took on a familiar path, but diverted from the tradtional queenside play for white and kingside play for black. Instead, it was black who attempted to stir the pot with the Benko-like 24…b5!? 25.cxb5 a6. Black continued speculative play after 26.b6 Nb5?! 27.Nxb5 axb5. This line allowed white to probe black's defenses and invade on the light squares after 28.Qh3! h6 29.Qe6+ Kh7 30.Rf7 and Fishbein resigned after massive losses of material were imminent.  Shabalov also beat Fishbein in last year's championship and has put together a solid performance.

One of the last games to finish was the Seirawan-Nakamura battle (see game on right). Along with FM Muhammad, Nakamura is vying for a GM norm, but for Nakamura, it would be his 3rd and final.

The game entered a speculative line of the Grunfeld where white sacrifices the exchange for strong initiative. Black did not accept the challenge and soon fell behind in development… his queen precariously lost in white's camp. After spurning a draw offer, Seirawan continued to improve his position after building an already impressive center.

After the queens were traded Seirawan had begun putting the squeeze on black's position and sacrificed the exchange for a pawn with
28.R4xb2! Fritz 8 evaluated the resulting position as 0.84 as black was tied down. It appeared as if the 15-year old phenom would go down after 33.Bh6 Rfd8 34.Bg5 Rd7 35.Bf6 Kf8 36.Bxe5.

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


However, Nakamura built a fortress, developed counter play with his rooks and prevented Seirawan from developing a steamrolling pawn cluster. There was a slight controversy as Nakamura had claimed a draw, but according to Chief Arbiter Carol Jarecki, he did it outside of tournament guidelines. Nevertheless, a few more moves were played and the well-earned draw was secured for the future GM.

Exciting matchups in Round 5 are:
Gulko-Nakamura, Christiansen-Muhammad, Seirawan-Fedorowicz, De Firmian-Enkhbat, Ashley-Pruess.

Report by Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Round #7 Information Center

Selected Games

GM Alexander Shabalov - GM Alexander Fishbein, 1-0
GM Yasser Seirawan - IM Hikaru Nakamura, ½-½
IM Varuzhan Akobian - FM Stephen Muhammad, ½-½
GM Maurice Ashley - IM John Watson,  ½-½
GM John Fedorowicz - IM Jesse Kraai, 1-0

PGN download (all 29 games)