Massachusetts’s only contender in the US Championship, Larry Christiansen, a three-time champion, came close to qualifying for the final four in the tournament’s elimination portion. Though a draw to Hikaru Nakamura in the final qualifying round (round 7) eliminated him officially, a loss to Gata Kamsky in round 5 really dashed Christiansen’s hopes for a fourth title.
Kamsky, who became this year’s champion, played White in a Ruy Lopez that became an open game. It was a bit of a relief from the positional battles that we saw in the World Championship. Kamsky picked up a couple of tempi early in the game against Christiansen and offered him a gambit, which Christiansen declined. All the action after that was on the king side, as Christiansen defended by attacking. However, Kamsky found weak White squares and penetrated his opponents position. The last two moves are the stuff from which problems are derived.
a) This clever maneuver gains a half tempo in White’s development by drawing the bishop to d4.
b) I would be very tempted to make Black prove his compensation after 10. . .exd4.
c) Now Black cannot capture on d4 as 11. . .exd4 12.f5! gives White too strong an attack.
d) This position is much more pleasant for White to play than Black. Although the two bishops are an advantage in the long run, for the foreseeable future the dark-squared bishop is passive, while White can consolidate his better center and shift toward the kingside.
e) Perhaps 16. . .f6!? would have been better, to forestall e4-e5.
f) Now the drawback of . . .h7-h6 is revealed: the b1-h7 diagonal has been weakened.
g) The threat of Qd3 is very hard for Black to meet, and requires weakening the e5 square badly. White now has a solid advantage.
h) All of a sudden Black’s position is critical! Note that 26. . .fxg3 loses immediately to 27.Rxf5 Rxf5 28.Bc2 Rf8 29.Rf1, while 26Bg6 27.Nxg6! creates a catastrophe by either Re6 or Bc2.
i) Or 31. . .Qxc7 32.Nxh8 Rxh8 33.Qg6+ Ke7 34.Qg7+ etc.
j) After 32. . .Qxc7 33.Nxg4+ White is ahead in material and the attack rages on.
Annotations by grandmaster Patrick Wolff, a two-time US champion.