It’s still nearly two months before the 2015 US Chess Championships, but already there’s a big buzz around this year’s competition.
Some are even calling it “one for the ages,” while others say this will be the most interesting chess tournament in years.
The arrival of Grandmaster Wesley So, who transferred to the US chess federation from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines in October, is responsible for the heightened interest.
Specifically, it’s his growing rivalry with longtime top American GM that’s causing chess fans to eagerly await the championships.
The 21-year-old So and the 27-year-old Nakamura, are battling for the No.7 world ranking and the No. 1 US chess player spot, and the back-and-forth is creating excitement among fans of both players.
Right now, in the official rating of international chess federation, or FIDE, So occupies the No.7 spot and No. 1 American with a 2788 point, while Nakamura has 2776.
However, in the live rating, which is the updated ranking based on the latest tournament results, Nakamura is on top with 2792.1, thanks to a 16-point increase from the recently concluded Gilbraltar Masters tournament.
Nakamura drew with Pentala Harikrishna in the 10th and last round and clinched first place with seven wins and three draws.
His 8.5/10 result is an emphatic signal that he’s not ready to give up the stage to So just yet. The Bacoor-born Filipino may yet regain the spot with a victory in the Bunratty Chess Festival in Ireland, February 20-22.
“At this point, I’m only truly concerned with one title and not much else,” Nakamura said in an interview lat year. “I consider rating to be a far more accurate measure than being champion of a single tournament. Your rating, and how you consistently perform in every single event you play, is a much better description of a player.”
Nakamura has stayed away from the US championships since winning the title in 2012, but the arrival of So has rekindled his interest.
“After many years alone at the top, there was a second flag waving stars and stripes down the neck of Nakamura — and that reality got worse immediately,” said chess journalist Brian Jearauld, who thinks So impact was big and immediate.
So’s first tournament as an American came in the prestigious Tata Steel tournament in January, where he turned in an outstanding performance, finishing only a half-point behind the winner, World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
He joined the world’s elite chess players in the company of three others in their 20s, who are considered the “young guns” of the game.
Anish Giri of the Netherlands, Maxine Vachier-LaGrave of France, Ding Ligrin of China and So are likely to challenge Carlsen for the world title in a few years.
Although just a few years older than group, you can add Nakamura’s name to the list of likely world champions now that he has found a new motivation for the pursuit.
Nakamura and So actually met in January in what dubbed Death Match.
With Nakamura in Italy and So in the United States, the two battled online in five-minute blitz and 2 1/2 minute bullet game. Nakamura pulled an emphatic victory, 21.5 to 11.5.
Meanwhile, the cast of the 2015 US Championships is complete. Twelve grandmasters will compete in the men’s side, from March 31 to April 14 in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Gata Kamsky (2671) is the defending champion. So (2788) and Nakamura (2776) will meet head-to-head, with a possible wild card for the 2016 Candidates Tournament.
The other players are Conrad Holt (2539), the US Open champion, and Kayden Troff (2541), the U.S. junior champion, made it to the 12-man field because of their victories in USCF-designated tournaments, just like Kamsky.
Six others got in by virtue of their ratings: Alex Onischuk (2665), Sam Shankland (2661), Ray Robson (2656), Daniel Naroditsky (2622), Varuzhan Akobian (2612), and Timur Gareev (2606). Sam Sevian (2531), at 15, the youngest American GM in history, got a wild-card entry.