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Cool winner's hot start in US Championship

As we reported in our last column, Michael Wilder was the surprise victor in this year's United States Championship. He was originally not even scheduled to play in the tournament: The formula involving selection, a combination of USCF rating and FIDE (international chess federation) rating, ranked him as first alternate. He replaced Patrick Wolff, who had earned an automatic entry as last year's US junior titleholder, but who chose instead to go to the World Junior Championship in Adelaide, Australia. So Wilder, a modest and very popular 26-year-old Yale graduate, got his chance to be the Cinderella victor in this year's closely contested event, held in Pennsylvania. Wilder, who has been on a long sabbatical from school, expects to abandon serious chess to attend the University of Michigan Law School at Ann Arbor next August. Wilder's built his winning margin in the first five rounds; from Round 6 on he drew all his games, while his chief rivals, two-time champion Yasser Seirawan, defending co-champion Nick deFirmian, and former Soviet champion Boris Gulko all had critical losses.

Today's featured game, played with black in the very first round, was certainly instrumental in sculpting his success. Played against another recent two-time champion, Lev Alburt (one of the pre-tournament favorites), it must have given him confidence as well as a critical point. It also adversely affected Alburt's play; starting with a minus score, he felt compelled to force much of his subsequent play, often to his disadvantage. The game itself is very typical of Wilder at his best, a cool, resourceful tactician who is particularly sharp when threatened, counterplay being his chief forte.

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This is the first time a US Championship was ever won with a plus-two score, impressive evidence of how strong and evenly contested this event has become.


Alburt Wilder 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 Bb4+ 4. Bd2 a5 5. Bg2 d6 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. O-O e5 8. Bg5 (a) exd4 9. Nxd4 O-O 10. Qc2 h6 11. Bf4 Ne5 12. Rd1 Ng6 13. Bd2 Re8 14. Nc3 Qe7 15. a3 (b) Bc5 16. Nb3 Bb6 17. Na4 Ba7 18. c5 Bd7 (c) 19. Nxa5 Qxe2 (d) 20. Nc3 Qh5 21. Nxb7 (e) Ng4 22. h3 Nxf2 (f) 23. Kxf2 (g) Bxc5+ 24. Nxc5 (h) Qxc5+ 25. Kf1 (i) Bb5+ 26. Nxb5 Qxc2 27. Bxa8 Qd3+ 28. Resigns (j)

A.Virtually compelling Black to yield the center in order to secure the c5 square for his king bishop, which was in danger of being trapped. In compensation, Black's minor pieces enjoy good activity while White's queen bishop never really finds a happy home.

B.Preliminary to a pawn-grabbing odyssey on the queenside, which shortly enables Black to obtain virulent play on the opposite wing. Hindsight suggests the prophylactic 15.h3, which discreetly guards the important g4 square.

C.An effective forcing move, since it hits the knight at a4.

D.This capture further weakens White's defenses while preparing to shuttle the dame to the kingside.

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E.Played more with the abortive hope of keeping the a7-f2 diagonal closed than to win material.

F.This attractive sacrifice wins by force.

G.Declining the sacrifice is equally hopeless, since the knight also threatens the pawn at h3, tearing up White's kingside.

H.This capture is forced, since 24.Kf1, Bb5 ch; 24.Nxb5, Qe2 is mate.

I.After 25.Kf3, Bc6+ is decisive.

J.If 28.Kf2 or 28.Kg2, Black mates with 28.... Re2+, while after 28.Kg1, Rxa8, White's knight is attacked. Should it move, 29.... Qxg3+ leaves him no reason to play on.

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