Friday, February 18, 2011

Something Fishy at the 2011 US Chess Championships

The recently announced 2011 US Championship event has some fishy names on it, courtesy of what I deem to be a shoddy qualification process.

Here is the list (note, Hikaru Nakamura declined a spot to concentration on the World stage. Fair enough).

* GM Gata Kamsky
* GM Alex Onischuk
* GM Varuzhan Akobian
* GM Yasser Seirawan
* GM Yury Shulman
* GM Jaan Ehlvest
* GM Alex Stripunsky
* GM Larry Christiansen
* GM Robert Hess
* GM Alex Shabalov
* GM Alexander Ivanov
* GM-elect Sam Shankland
* GM Ben Finegold
* IM Daniel Naroditsky
* TBD: Winner of Saint Louis Invitational
* TBD: Runner-up of Saint Louis Invitational

The ones I want to highlight are in bold. First up is GM Ben Finegold. According the most recent USCF top list, Ben is ranked 33rd in the US, yet he is given a wild card spot. One can only speculate that this is because he works for the Saint Louis Chess Club, which is hosting the Championship. I can think of many other players that deserved a slot. Instead, most of those players are now forced to duke it out in the qualifying tournament. Ben Finegold is a strong player, no doubt. He deserves a spot-- in the qualifying tournament with the other strong(er) players.

The other player is Yasser Seirawan, once the strongest player in the US and a former Top 10 in the world. I highlight him because, according the USCF rules for the US Championship, Yasser does not seem to qualify.

The rules state (easily downloaded from the USCF website) that a minimum of 10 games must be played in the 12 months prior to the time when rating qualifications are determined. According to the USCF website, Yasser played in 9 Dutch League games last year. Leaving aside the obvious oddity that these events were rated by the USCF (in fact, he is the only player to be rated in the Dutch League matches), 9 is smaller than the 10 minimum requirement.

Here is the exact excerpt that I could find from the USCF:

Players must play a minimum number of USCF-rated games (defined as including games played in the FIDE World Championship cycle, or other recognized world championship competition).
Games played to satisfy the activity requirement must be played under the rating system used to select players for a particular event (see above). Thus, games played under the USCF’s Quick
Chess rating system do not count toward the activity requirement. There is no minimum number of events.
1. For events other than the Olympiad and Women's Olympiad, play at least 10 USCF-rated
games (including games played in the FIDE World Championship cycle, or other recognized
world championship competition) during the twelve month period prior to computation of
invitational ratings.
2. For the U.S. Championship, players may satisfy the activity requirement by their participation in the immediately preceding event.

Here are the 10 players competing for the final two spots.

* GM Alejandro Ramirez
* GM Gregory Kaidanov
* GM Joel Benjamin
* GM Julio Becerra
* GM Eugene Perelshteyn
* GM Ray Robson
* GM Melikset Khachiyan
* GM Jesse Kraai
* IM Michael Brooks
* FM Darwin Yang

I've got problems with this list, too, but let's leave it for now. Many of these are deserving of the "Wild Card" slots that went to other, lower rated, players. And yet other strong GMs are oddly missing from this group in place of someone (from MO, of course!) ranked #100 in the US.


Rihel said...

Let me point out that I specifically do NOT mention the lower rated rising stars invited to the championship.

Our young talent deserves a chance at the highest levels and make excellent choices for wild card slots. For rating determination, you essentially can add 100 or more rating points that these kids are going to have in another year or two and see that they are ready for a shot.

RuralRob said...

I agree with your point about Ben Feingold - he should definitely be in the qualifying tournament, not given a free spot in the championship.

I'm inclined to cut Yasser Seirawan some slack, though, as he has been the U.S. Champion many times before, and I think that alone should qualify someone to play in it again.

Rihel said...

Yes, maybe there is such an exception for former US Champions written into the rules....

Otherwise, I think you need to follow the rules accurately or another deserving and rightfully qualifying player gets denied an important spot.

Howard Goldowsky said...

Hey, money talks (and decides).

Mark Ginsburg said...

I agree with the post, money should not arbitrarily decide. In the past organizers have circumvented the rules and it always leaves a bad smell. This time it's no exception.

I was very surprised to see Seirawan invited to the event - I thought he'd be best at covering it from Europe in a webcast and indeed did not think he was eligible. Or, he could "move out the first pawn" and do some live broadcasts from the site as a media personality. Preference should be given to multi-year US Champions who are active in the US.

I also don't think people who happen to live in Missouri should be rewarded just because they live there.

Multi-year champions such as Larry Christiansen or Joel Benjamin should definitely be wild-card material.