Recent Hall of Fame inductee GM Joel Benjamin wrote the following when asked why so many top American GMs declined their invitations to participate in the US Championship:

“The U.S. Championship took a big hit when it lost the sponsorship of America’s Foundation for Chess (AF4C). Frank Berry’s generous support has kept the tournament going, but with a substantially smaller prize fund. The AF4C Championships rewarded players for staying active by providing a big financial opportunity once a year. The U.S. Championship is still a pretty good event, but when you factor in expenses and lost income over two weeks most players will post very little profit if any at all.

The market for professionals is very gloomy these days, and many players no longer play full time. Christiansen, de Firmian, and myself are now more involved in other aspects of the chess business.

I don’t presume to speak for them, but Kamsky and Nakamura are world-class players and may be looking for better conditions when they play.

During dark days in U.S. Championships past, the USCF tried to make the tournaments as interesting for the top players as possible, even if the prize fund was unimpressive. The competition in the round-robin events of the 80s and 90s was stimulating enough to help us overlook small prizes. A round-robin event (say ten players, or slightly more depending on the prize fund) would suit the top players better. I would certainly be more inclined to play in that case.

The current approach is to make the tournament an attainable objective for second tier players and juniors. It’s a noble goal to offer opportunities to such players to become grandmasters. We have other tournaments that serve that purpose, however, and no events that are purely for the elite. Obviously there is no consensus on what the function of the U.S. Championship should be, but in my opinion we have gone off the right track.”

I will write about this at length in my upcoming article in Chess Cafe. For now, all I can say is when an American GM who played in more than 20 consecutive US Championships declined his invitation, I would want to know his opinion. But what do you think? What would be the best, most exciting, and most efficient format for the US Championship?

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Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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