With a glint in his eye and taking inspiration from Kevin Costner’s fantasy baseball hit-movie Field of Dreams, Rex Sinquefield once explained to me over dinner that “If you build it, they will come.” That was back in 2008, not long after the opening of the Saint Louis Chess Club, as the long-time chess fan and recently ‘retired’ billionaire outlined big expansion plans for the club going into the future.
And in the past decade or so, as the club rapidly expanded, it’s hard to put into words the lasting legacy that Rex and Dr Jeanne Sinquefield have built with the resurgence of American chess – and chess in general, with the relocation of the World Chess Hall of Fame to St. Louis – but earlier this week the formidable husband and wife philanthropist team were rightly honoured by being inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.
The honour came on Tuesday evening at St. Louis’s MUNY, an outdoor Municipal Opera Theatre in the city’s Forest Park, during the opening ceremony to both the 2021 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, as the ever-inventive Saint Louis Chess Club plays host 6-18 October to the national championship for the 13th consecutive year.
With 24 of America’s strongest players taking part, the field for the marquee $194,000 event is led by Fabiano Caruana, the world #2, and Wesley So, the reigning champion, with the only notable absentee being five-time champion Hikaru Nakamura, who declined his invitation to prepare for the FIDE Grand Swiss in Riga, Latvia, that starts a few days after the U.S. Championship ends.
There’s was something of a slow start to the chase for the venerable title and $50,00 first prize, with Caruana surviving an early scare in the opening round, and after two rounds, there’s a three-way tie at the top with Ray Robson, John Burke and So on 1½/2.
1-3. R. Robson, J. Burke, W. So, 1½/2; 4-10. L. Bruzon, F. Caruana, L. Dominguez, S. Shankland, A. Lenderman, S. Sevian, D. Naroditsky, 1; 11. J. Xiong, ½; 12. D. Swiercz, 0.
There’s live coverage (daily from 12:50 PM CT daily) of all the action from the resident top grandmaster commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Cristian Chirila on uschesschamps.com and on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and twitch.tv channels.
GM Wesley So – GM Dariusz Swiercz
US Championship, (2)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Qxd7 This is the most combative line against the Moscow Variation – and one made famous by the remarkable struggle between Garry Kasparov and ‘The World’, an enthralling online match sponsored by Microsoft in 1999. 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.d4 Qg4 8.d5 The defending champion said after the game that he got a little worried here, as he’d “forgotten” the exact theory. The correct continuation is 8.0-0! that leaves Black in a bind with e5 lurking, forcing 8…cxd4 (This is no time to go pawn snatching. After 8…Nxe4? 9.Nxe4 Qxe4 10.d5 Nd4 11.Nxd4 Qxd4 12.Qa4+! Kd8 13.Re1 and Black is in trouble as he faces a challenge trying to unravel.) 9.Nxd4 Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Nxd4 11.Rxd4 Rc8 12.b3 and White has more space and the better long-term prospects. 8…Nd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd1+ 10.Nxd1 cxd4 11.f3 Rc8 12.b3 e5! There’s nothing much in the position now – but So manages to squeeze a little out of the position as Swiercz errs at the critical moment. 13.g4 Be7 14.Ke2 h5 15.g5 Nd7 16.Bd2 0-0 17.Nf2 a6 18.Nd3 f5 19.gxf6 gxf6 Not a bad move per se, but better was 19…Rxf6!? with the idea of doubling rooks on the f-file, perhaps following up with …R6f7 and …g5 etc. 20.Rhg1+ The g-file and Black’s vulnerable h-pawn gives So a little something to build on. 20…Kh7? Things have gotten critical very quickly for Swiercz, as he had to play 20…Kf7 to meet the threat of 21.Rg3 with 21…h4 22.Rg4 (If 22.Rh3 f5! and Black is fine.) 22…f5 23.exf5 Ke8 and Black has excellent compensation with the doubled f-pawns and the threat of …b5 coming to open the game up for his active pieces. 21.Rg3! h4?! This just compounds Black’s problems – the last try had to be 21…Rg8!? 22.Rh3 Rg2+ 23.Nf2 Rcg8 24.Rxh5+ Kg6 25.Rh6+ Kf7 where there’s always hopes to save the game with Black’s more active rooks. 22.Rg4 f5 23.exf5 Rxf5 24.Rag1! Re8 There’s no time to track back to defend against So’s rook invasion on g7. After 24…Rf7 25.Bb4! suddenly there’s no the winning tactic of Bxd6!! and Rxh4 mate hanging in the air. 25.Nf2 The knight reroutes to its ideal outpost on e4 to swiftly move in for the kill. 25…Nf6 26.Rg7+ Kh8 27.Rf7! [see diagram] So has too many winning moves now, what with doubling rooks on the seventh and even Ne4 with the …Rf5 pinned. And with it, the end comes swiftly now. 27…Rh5 28.Rg6 Ng8 29.Ne4 Rd8 There’s no hope for Swiercz. After 29…Rh7 30.Rxh7+ Kxh7 31.Re6! Rd8 32.f4! and Black’s position collapses. 30.Bg5 Rh7 31.Rxe7 Rxe7 32.Bxh4 1-0 And Swiercz throws the towel in with his rooks pinned and d6 falling.