Alexander Onischuk began playing chess when he was six years old and has ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world for the past two decades.
Onischuk earned his GM title as a Ukrainian 18-year-old in 1994, then later won the 2000 Ukrainian Championship before emigrating to the U.S. the following year. For five years, he played collegiate chess for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), leading the program to multiple national titles before graduating in 2006 with a degree in linguistics. He has been invited to every FIDE World Cup since 2005, winning more than 20 major tournaments along the way, including the 2006 U.S. Championship -- which he called the happiest moment of his career, having his name on a trophy alongside players such as Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy.
Onischuk was key to America’s bronze medal finishes at the 2006 and 2008 Olympiads, and delivered a gold-medal performance on board two at the 2009 World Team Championship in Bursa, Turkey.
In 2012, Alexander Onischuk was named the head coach of Texas Tech University’s chess program, helping the squad return to the President’s Cup in 2014, finishing in a close second behind Webster University. He led the TTU program back to the Final Four of Collegiate Chess in 2015. National recognition again came in 2014 when Onischuk was named “Chess College of the Year” and was awarded “2014 Grandmaster of the Year” by the U.S. Chess Federation.
He has finished among the top three in the U.S. Championship eight times.
At the age of eighteen, Sam announced his retirement from the world of professional chess; however, having made a prior commitment to play in the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, he played and managed to win a difficult tournament. The victory earned him an invitation to play in the 2011 U.S. Championship, which proved to be a difficult offer to refuse.
In 2016, the American GM won the Edmonton International as well as Fargenes International. Sam’s strong, sometimes unpredictable play is sure to keep this year’s field on their toes, and the chess fans on edges of their seats.
Alexander Ipatov is the former World Junior Chess Champion and has been consecutively ranked as the highest rated chess player in Turkey for the past two years. He was a member of the Turkish National Chess Team at World Chess Olympiads in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and won the Turkish Chess Championship in 2014 and 2015. Alexander is currently a full-time MBA student at Saint Louis University. Upon completion of his studies, Alexander plans to use his chess expertise to teach and promote chess across the United States.
The weather in Mongolia was so harsh during the years that “Var” spent there as a child, that his father forbade him and his sister Armine from playing outside. He taught them chess, which fascinated the young Akobian. “From the very beginning,” Var says, “I was different from the other chess kids. It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and knew that I would do what it takes.” As a teenager living in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, Akobian spent his days on chess and soccer. His teachers encouraged him to focus on chess, so much that Var says: “If I went to high school in here [in the U.S], I never could have spent so much energy on chess.”
In 2002, a year after immigrating to the U.S., he earned the Samford Chess Fellowship. The Fellowship grant, which allowed the young Var to study and improve his chess, yielded quick results with a tie for first at the 2002 World Open and First Place at the Irme Koenig GM invitational. The following year, he won the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, earned his GM Norms in June 2004, and then won the World Open for a second time.
An excellent positional player, GM Akobian admires the games and style of Armenian Hero, former World Champion Tigran Petrosian. He admires him so much so that he became an expert in the French Defence, one of Petrosians most played openings with the black pieces. Var offers this advice for aspiring club players: “Don’t expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while you’ll see a big breakthrough.”
Dariusz Swiercz is 22-year old Grandmaster from Poland. He became GM at the age of 14 years. In 2011 he became World Champion U20 and in 2012 World Champion U18. He represented Poland on Olympiads in Istanbul (2012) and Baku (2016). In 2016, he won 3rd Millionaire Chess. Now, he resides in Saint Louis and attends Saint Louis University, majoring in Economics.
Surya Ganguly achieved the IM title at age 16, and the GM title at age 19. Since then, Surya has become a six-time Indian chess champion. He has received numerous accolades for his achievements in chess, including the Arjuna Award for outstanding achievement in sports, the Shera Bengali award as a spokesperson for Bengal, and the Bangabhusan award which is the second-highest civilian award in West Bengal.
The Ukrainian-born GM earned his title at the age of fifteen. Zherebukh says, “ My biggest success so far was the advancement to the fourth round at the 2011 World Cup in Russia.” In 2015, ‘Yaro’ switched his affiliation with the Ukrainian Chess Federation to the USCF, granting him eligibility to be the wildcard in the 2017 U.S. Championships. GM Zherebukh made his mark on the Saint Louis Chess Campus when he joined the Saint Louis Arch-Bishops, contributing to the team’s 2017 PRO Chess League Championship title. This impressive young GM who has become a regular presence at the Saint Louis Chess Club is a fan favorite and is sure to give us some exciting chess in this year’s Championship.
Jeffery Xiong of Coppell, Texas, is the highest ranked player in the world under the age of 18. He has shown tenacity and maturity in chess well beyond his years. He won the World Junior Chess Championship in 2016 at the age of 15, which was the first time an American chess player has won in 2 decades. He is also the youngest winner of the Chicago Open Chess Championship in history. He was awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 2017. He has represented the USA in the 2017 World Team Championship and FIDE World Cup.
From a very young age, Xiong has seen his losses, though painful, as an opportunity to improve. While some of Xiong's older competitors have been known to display their frustration with difficult losses, he remains collected—analyzing where his play could have been stronger.
Romain Edouard, born in November 1990, has been a part of the French National Team since 2011. As a teenager, he notably won a gold medal in the European U16 Championship in 2006, and silver medals in the Europe and World Championships under 18 in 2007. He then became French Champion in 2012. Since becoming a GM at 18, he has won numerous international events, including the 2012 Al Ain Open, the 2014 Dubai Open, the 2015 World Open (joint winner) and the 2015 Championship of French-speaking Countries in Montreal. Romain is also the author of several books, notably "The Chess Manual of Avoidables Mistakes 1 and 2" and the brand new series "Chess Calculation Training", which has 2 volumes as well so far.
Awonder is one of the most impressive chess prodigies in recent history. The youngest GM in this years field, he tied for first at the 2011 U8 World Youth Chess Championship and went on to become the youngest American to ever earn the Master and IM titles. He enters this tournament after a year of important successes, earning his final GM Norm in May 2017 and winning the 2017 U.S Junior Closed Championship. The Chess world can count on an impressive performance from the young American GM in this year’s U.S. Championship.
Alexandr Hilário Takeda Sakai dos Santos Fier is a Brazilian chess grandmaster, having attained the title in 2007. Fier won five gold medals at the Pan American Youth Chess Festival in the under-10 division in 1996 and 1997, U12 in 2000, U14 in 2002 and U18 in 2005. He also won the South American Junior Championship in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Fier won the Brazilian Chess Championship in 2005, and won the 65 Anos da Federação tournament in São Paulo in 2006.
Fier won the Open of Sants, Hostafrancs & La Bordeta in Barcelona in 2009 and 2014. GM Fier briefly appeared in the Chess World Cup 2011, but faced elimination in the second round after defeat by his opponent Alexander Morozevich. Two months later, Fier won the 2nd Latin American Cup in Montevideo edging out Diego Flores in a tiebreaker. He competed in the 2013 Chess World Cup, but was eliminated after his loss to Baskaran Adhiban.
He typically favors the Sicilian opening for both white and black pieces, utilizing this method about 40-45 percent of the time.