2003 US Chess Championship
2003 US Chess Championship (Round Eight)

Eight-way Tie for 1st!!

In the penultimate eighth round, there was some serious bloodletting as 21 of the 29 games were decisive. This sets up an exciting final for the national crown as eight players are currently tied for 1st and numerous norms are at stake. Of course, there will have to be a tie-breaker as there are also another seven players tied for second only one-half point out of the lead.  FM Stephen Muhammad is a point out of the lead along with 12 others and still has a chance at the GM norm if he scores against IM Boris Kreiman in the last round.

On Board 1, GM Joel Benjamin upended GM Alexander Shabalov in a very exciting Ruy Lopez when after sacrificing the exchange, Shabalov overextended his attack and later erred with 48d5? Benjamin simply snapped off the pawn willing to meet 49Qxd5 with 50.Rxe5! The ensuing endgame was a technical win for Benjamin and he moved into the leader's circle.

IM Hikaru Nakamura had a tough pairing playing the black pieces against GM Boris Gulko, the only player to have won both the Soviet and the U.S. Championships. Nakamura attempted to rattle the steady veteran with a speculative line in the English, but after 80-0, he was hit with 9.Ne5-c4! (diagram)

A mere few moves later, black's position was under heavy pressure as the queen had to run for her life after 16.Nd5 Qa5+ 17.b4! Qa3. However, Gulko's next move of 18.Bxb8 (if 18Rxb8 19.Ne7+ and 20.Qxd8) immediately won a piece. Nakamura made a futile attempt to liquidate into a drawing position and ultimately decided to conserve his energy in an attempt to earn his GM norm in the last round. He will be favored against
IM Gregory Shahade.

Gulko-Nakamura (position after 9...Ne5-c4!)

(Position after 9.Ne5-c4!)

More Sicilian Theory

GM Maurice Ashley vs. David Pruess (Round Eight)

GM Maurice Ashley vs. NM David Pruess (Round 8)
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

Ashley repeated his Sozin Attack from the Ashley-Nakamura (Round four) and got a similar position against 21-year old Junior Champion, David Pruess. This game quickly diverged from the earlier game after 9.Qf3!? Qc7.

The game soon fell into a murky mess after 12.Na4 Bb7 13.Qe3!? Ng4 14.Qf4 Bxg5 15.Qxg5 Nxf2. Pruess couldn't snatch the exchange after 16.Rhf1 Nxd1 due to 17.Nxe6! so he opted for the 16Nxe4 17.Nxe6!? line. 

After exchanging the queens, Pruess mentioned that he was hesitant to play 19...Nc6 due to 20.Ne3 Nf5 21.Rf5 Nd8 22.Bd5. However, he played the move and stated he was surprised when Ashley played 20.h4!? Ashley was unable to maintain the pressure, exchanged more material and a draw resulted.

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


Muhammad's unbeaten string snapped still in hunt for GM norm!

FM Muhammad got his 5th GM of the tournament and it was clearly a difficult matchup for him. GM Larry Christiansen, the defending U.S. champion, has been one of the top U.S. players for the past two decades and he stands as one of the few players having skipped the IM title. Nevertheless, the matchup presents problems for FM Muhammad who sometimes has difficulties against players with purely aggressive styles Christiansen happens to be of this ilk.

GM Maurice Ashley vs. IM John Watson (Round Seven)

GM Larry Christiansen vs. FM Stephen Muhammad (Round 8)
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

The game began as a typical Ruy Lopez. Muhammad initiated queenside expansion, but his play was stifled with 17.c4! Players at the Internet Chess Club had already resigned the advantage to white at this point as they had pointed out serious light-square weaknesses in the black camp. After a series of forced moves, Muhammad plunged into the white camp with 21Nd4, but after 22.Nxd4 exd4 (Muhammad later suggested 22cxd4), black seems to have yielded white a "free hand" on the kingside  with a pending f4 and pawn storm to follow.

Muhammad made an attempt to free his position with 24a5!? Inviting 25.f4?! Ba6 26.Bc4 Rxe4! The wily veteran calmly played 25.Bc4! and Muhammad's position was lost for a plan. In order to break down white's formidable center, Muhammad played 25f5? but was rudely met with 26.e5! After 26Qf7 27.e6 Qe7 28.Rab1 a4 29.Rb6 Ra7 (diagram), Christiansen ended all resistance with the move ICC viewers predicted 30.Rxd6!

After the 30Qxd6 31.Bf4 Qb6, the pawns bulldozed their way into black's fort after 32.d6 and after 32Qc6 (one last hope) 33.f3 Muhammad resigned. Despite this loss, Muhammad has played magnificently and still stands a good chance to win his 1st GM norm. He plays IM Boris Kreiman, a player coming off of a demoralizing loss to GM Alex Stripunsky.

Report by Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Christiansen-Muhammad (position after 29...Ra8-a7)

(Position after 29Ra7)

Round #8 Information Center

Selected Games

GM Joel Benjamin - GM Alexander Shabalov, 1-0
GM Boris Gulko - IM Hikaru Nakamura, 1-0
GM Maurice Ashley - NM David Pruess,  -
GM Larry Christiansen - FM Stephen Muhammad, 1-0
IM Boris Kreiman - GM Alexander Stripunsky, 0-1
IM Yuri Lapshun - IM Justin Sarkar, 1-0

PGN download (all 29 games)