The official announcement came earlier this week that, for the tenth consecutive year, the Saint Louis Chess Club will once again be sponsoring and staging the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, that will run 18-30 April 2018. Since 2009, Rex Sinquefield’s CCSCSL has awarded more than two million dollars in prize money, with an additional $294,000 on the line for this year’s 24 competitors vying for the coveted titles.
The 2018 U.S. Chess Championship will include the defending 2017 U.S. Champion, GM Wesley So; the 2017 U.S. Junior Champion, GM Awonder Liang; the 2017 U.S. Open Champion, GM Alex Lenderman; along with one wildcard and 8 players who qualify by USCF rating. The 2018 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship will include defending 2017 U.S Women’s Champion, WGM Sabina Foisor; the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Champion, WIM Akshita Gorti; two wildcards, and 8 players who qualify by USCF rating.
By coincidence, the announcement also comes in the same week of the 60th anniversary of 14-year-old Bobby Fischer winning his first U.S. Championship title – and in the process going on to break all the national records by becoming the youngest player ever (and still today) to win the U.S. Championship, the only player to win with a perfect score of 11-0 (1963/64), and also the only player to win the title on each of his eight appearances.
Fischer’s dramatic rise as a young Brooklyn prodigy in the mid-1950s coincided with the U.S. Championship moving to his home state of New York. And with the move, for the next decade, the U.S. Championship was played after Christmas and through the early new year – and this is one of the main reasons why Fischer declined invitations to play at the fabled Hastings tournament in the U.K. that traditionally has always been held during the same holiday period.
The 1957/58 U.S. Championship heralded in a new golden age for U.S. Chess with Fischer and Bill Lombardy – and despite being the younger, it was Fischer who was the first to make his mark by dominating his inaugural championship, blowing away the field to sensationally capture the title with an unbeaten score of 10½/13, a full point ahead of (then) seven-time U.S. champion Sammy Reshevsky; with James Sherwin in third place, and Lombardy fourth.
The rest, as they say, is history. The following year, Fischer both became the youngest-ever grandmaster and candidate for the World Championship. It was the beginning of a glittering, yet somewhat controversial career that would culminate in Fischer becoming world champion and earning a place in the annals as one of the greatest players in history.
Curiously, none of Fischer’s wins from his debut U.S. Championship victory was published in his famous games anthology, My 60 Memorable Games, that covered the period 1957 through ’67. One ideal candidate would have been his striking round seven win over Sherwin – but Fischer had the ‘dilemma’ of also having an equally impressive win over the same opponent from the 1957 New Jersey Open Championship, and that was what made the cut by becoming the opening game in his seminal book, rather than today’s game.
Photo (Unkown source) | 14-year-old Bobby Fischer demonstrates his key win over Sherwin
GM Bobby Fischer – GM James Sherwin
US Championship 1957/58, (7)
1.e4 “Best by test,” as Bobby Fischer once famously commented on his near-lifetime opening choice of playing 1.e4. 1…c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 The Sicilian Sozin, a very aggressive line against the Open Sicilian – and Fischer went on from here to become one of its leading exponents, with many sparkling, sacrificial games. 6…e6 7.0-0 b5 8.Bb3 b4 The rise in popularity of the Sicilian Sozin can be directly linked with Fischer’s rise through the mid-1950s and 1960s as US Champion. And during this period, Black players will come to accept that best play now is a set-up that involves …Nbd7 and …Bb7 to target e4. 9.Nb1 Bd7 10.Be3 Nc6 11.f3 Be7 12.c3 bxc3 13.Nxc6 Bxc6 14.Nxc3 Fischer has clearly won the opening battle, as he has free-and-easy development of his pieces and no structural pawn weaknesses. 14…0-0 15.Rc1 Qb8 16.Nd5!? Fischer’s pioneering days with the Sozin was often sprinkled with such sacrifices. And here, such is the immediate shock, Sherwin unnecessarily panics. 16…exd5? Sherwin’s demise can be directly linked to this mistake – the correct way to go was with 16…Nxd5 17.exd5 Bxd5 18.Bxd5 exd5 19.Bd4 Qb5! 20.Qc2 Black may well have the poor pawn structure and potential problems getting his pieces into active play, but he does have an extra pawn, has denied White the bishop-pair, and there’s no obvious winning breakthrough here for White – and this is far preferable to what now comes in the game, as Fischer’s bishops and rooks combine with a lethal force to storm Black’s kingside defences. 17.Rxc6 dxe4 18.fxe4 Qb5 The difference in the two positions is like night and day – here, Fischer gets his pieces into active positions with tempo, as he harasses the Black queen. 19.Rb6 Qe5 20.Bd4 Qg5 21.Qf3 As we were to discover in the years after this game, there was simply no one better than Fischer when it came to combining the forces of rooks and bishops: he just had a natural ability of how best to use this combination. 21…Nd7 22.Rb7 Ne5 Sherwin may well have a strong outpost on e5 for his knight – but it is simply not enough because, in doing so, he’s ‘gifted’ Fischer a lasting initiative with his bishops and rooks ideally placed to strike. 23.Qe2 Bf6 The threat is …Nf3+ followed by …Bxd4+ that eases Black’s game – so Fischer simply moves his king to avoid this. 24.Kh1 a5 25.Bd5 Rac8 If Sherwin can safely get in …Rc1 to exchange off a set of rooks, then it will go a long way to help save the game. 26.Bc3 a4 27.Ra7 Ng4 28.Rxa4 Even stronger was 28.Bd2! Qh4 29.h3 Ne5 30.Bc3 with White retaining the bishop-pair. 28…Bxc3 29.bxc3 Rxc3?! Sherwin could have tried hanging on longer with 29…Kh8 30.h3 Ne5 31.c4 – but in the long-run, the extra passed a-pawn will soon win. 30.Rxf7! Rc1+?? The only chance of survival was with 30…h5 – but after 31.Rc4 Rxc4 32.Qxc4 Rxf7 33.Bxf7+ Kh7 34.Qf1! White still holds a big edge with the outside passed a-pawn and the bishop soon coming to d5 to support the queening square. It’s hard to know what Sherwin was thinking here, and perhaps he simply miscalculated something – either way, in doing so, he could well have missed the strength of Fischer’s next two moves. 31.Qf1! [see diagram] This is winning with ease due to the discovered check from the bishop on d5. 31…h5 What else is there? The only other option was 31…Rxf1+ 32.Rxf1+ Qxd5 33.Rxf8+ Kxf8 34.exd5 with an easily won game for White. 32.Qxc1! It’s deja vu, as the discovered check once again comes back to haunt Black. 32…Qh4 If 32…Qxc1+ 33.Rf1+ Kh8 34.Rxc1 easily wins. The rest of the game is now a formality. 33.Rxf8+ Kh7 34.h3 Qg3 35.hxg4 h4 36.Be6 1-0