“All Aboard” Night at the US Open

Tournament co-leader Yaro Zherebukh pacing during the start of a round at US Open, Photo Jim Doyle


Thursday at the U.S. Open is the day all the players are finally onsite—403 at this 2017 version, the 118th annual iteration without interruption. Six lead with 5-1. GM and 2017 U.S. Championship competitor Yaro Zherebukh (Missouri), GM Aleksandr Lenderman (New York)—who drew Zherebukh tonight after having a challenging position—GM Evgeny Postny (Israel), GM Sergei Azarov (New York), GM Sergey Erenburg, FM James Schuler, and FM Macon Shibut (all three of Virginia).

But we need to explain the three-ring circus that is Thursday at the U.S. Open. It’s true everyone plays nine games at the U.S. Open. And it is an “open”—eventually. But three sections fill the ballroom on Thursday—not separated by rating ranges, but divided rather by how many days the entrants chose to play. The early arrivals, in the “traditional” schedule (although until fairly recent times, the tradition was 12 rounds!), started their one-game-an-evening pace on Saturday and so were in their sixth round Thursday. Nearly 130 players chose that leisurely pace. Zherebukh is top seed at 2731. He’s one of six GMs in the traditional schedule, including GM Angel Arribas Lopez (Texas), who lost Thursday night to Azarov.

Veteran U.S. Open Champs and junior champs choose a faster pace

At the same time, 185 players, who began the previous Tuesday night, electing the six-day schedule, played their fifth round Thursday night. Another section, another six GMs: Illia Nyzhnyk (Missouri), Ruifeng Li (Texas), Hall of Famer Joel Benjamin (New Jersey), Hall of Famer Alexander Shabalov (Pennsylvania), Holden Hernandez (Texas), Priyadharshan Kannappan (Missouri).

GM Joel Benjamin enters the US Open, Photo Jim Doyle

Shabalov, with his swashbuckling take-no-prisoners style, has won or shared first at the U.S. Open seven times since 1993, including the last two. Benjamin has won four, starting in 1985. All the six-day warriors play two games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before easing up to one game on Saturday and Sunday.

Alexander Shabalov (left) attempts to defend his title in Norfolk

Three dozen competitors from the Denker, Barber and National Girls Tournament of Champions also joined the Open in this six-day schedule, after finishing their own six-rounders. In fact, Thursday night saw an interesting U.S. Open matchup between IM Praveen Balakrishnan (Virginia), who won the Denker Tournament of HS Champions and with it a $5,000 college scholarship sponsored by the US Chess Trust, and NM Annie Wang, who took clear second in the NGTOC.

Balakrishnan ground out a win to chalk up 4.5-.5. He joins Nyzhnyk, Li, Benjamin, IM Craig Hilby (California), and FM Sam Schmakel (Illinois) at the top of the six-day group.

Sisters at the U.S. Open, Photo Jim Doyle

Frenetic four-day schedule

On Thursday at noon, 89 players bolted into the Open, choosing to play all nine games in four days. Five GMs decided on this dash: Conrad Holt (Kansas), Joshua Friedel (Wisconsin), Gil Popilski (Texas), Rogelio Barcenilla (Arizona), and Hall of Famer John Fedorowicz. “Fed,” a favorite teacher and youth-team coach, won the U.S. Open in 1980 and has had strong comeback results at recent Opens. Friedel won it in 2013. Holt won in 2014. The group contests four games on Thursday before they can grab some sleep and play three more games Friday. IM Dmitry Gordievskiy (Russia), Friedel, and Barcenilla scooted to a narrow early lead with 4-0.

Friday, the six-day group will play their round six at noon. The four-day section will play at noon and 3 p.m.

Then, at 7 p.m., all the U.S. Open players will at last sit together in a single 403-player section for three traditional rounds that will end the championship on Sunday. It will then really be the U.S. “Open.”

Follow along on the official site, where you can find results and pairings, live games. Also follow us on @USChess for tweets and more pictures from the site. 

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