After 11 rounds of exciting chess, pre-tournament favorite GM Hikaru Nakamura -- the top American for the past five years, and currently No. 3 in the world -- emerged undefeated and victorious in the 2015 U.S. Chess Championship. Winning his fourth American title along with the top prize of $45,000, Nakamura finished with a score of 8/11, a half-point ahead of Webster University’s GM Ray Robson.
Simultaneously, GM Irina Krush came from behind to win the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, her seventh career title and fourth in a row. At the tournament’s halfway mark, Krush trailed WGM Katerina Nemcova, also from Webster University, but went on a tear of four consecutive victories to overtake the lead in the penultimate round. The two played in the tournament’s finale, though by then Krush only needed a draw -- which she achieved -- to secure clear first place.
Nakamura’s final round wasn’t quite as simple, as the standings left open several playoff scenarios involving both Robson and GM Alex Onischuk -- who faced off with Nakamura in round 11. But in a tricky endgame, Onischuk lost the thread of the position and blundered, and the merciless Nakamura won quickly to capture the title on the spot. Onischuk finished in clear fourth, with 6/11.
To say that Nakamura’s main rival in the tournament, fellow World top-tenner GM Wesley So, had a topsy-turvy event would be a huge understatement. After starting off strong with two victories, So was shockingly upset by 14-year-old GM Sam Sevian in Round 3 and then lost to former Webster roommate Robson, as well as GM Conrad Holt.
Adding to the drama, while So was still in contention in Round 9 against GM Varuzhan Akobian, he was forfeited after his sixth move for writing short notes to himself of general encouragement and advice -- a no-no according to the rules of the World Chess Federation. A rule perhaps innocuous at first sight, but So had been warned about the same infraction twice earlier in the event and paid the full price on his third violation. Despite all this, he rebounded well and won his final two games in style, including a masterful victory over the defending champion GM Gata Kamsky. So finished in clear third, with 6.5/11.
Finishing up last Sunday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, this year’s championship was hailed as the youngest and strongest U.S. Championship in history, featuring several rising stars such as Sevian and GM Kayden Troff, 16. The event also became the most-viewed U.S. Chess Championship, collecting more than 170,000 unique viewers from 203 countries who tuned in daily to the full broadcast led by the now-iconic commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Maurice Ashley.
In her closing remarks, USCF Executive Director Jean Hoffman revealed that the 2016 U.S. Chess Championships would once again be held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, marking it as host for the eighth year in a row.
Kostya Kavutskiy is a FIDE chess master and a former player on the Lindenwood chess team. As a chess journalist, Kostya writes for Chess Life and Chess.com, and recently co-authored a book titled “Modernized: The Open Sicilian.” He is the director of marketing for Metropolitan Chess Inc. in Los Angeles, and is back in St. Louis as the event journalist for the 2015 U.S. Chess Championships.