GM Alexander Onischuk
Camp Years: 2009
Residence: Baltimore, Maryland
2009 World Team Championship: Silver (Individual Gold), 2006 U.S. Champion, second in the 2007 Grandmaster Tournament of International Chess Festival Biel
Bio: Alexander Onischuk called winning the 2006 U.S Championship the happiest day of his life. Not that he's unused to winning. Alex placed first in more than 20 tournaments, from super strong Round Robins in exotic Beijing and chilly Siberia to the 2000 Ukrainian Championship. Alex became a GM in 1994 at the age of 19, but this hardly qualified among his happiest moments, because that was a matter of "when, not if."
He is known for his professional, solid style, and is repertoire is very well analyzed, but it is also more predictable than most top U.S. players. Some of his lines as Black (particularly in Double King Pawn games) allow a weaker but well-prepared opponent to force a draw. Such a strategy makes it hard to win clear first in a Swiss, which usually requires a huge plus score.
Alex ran into a typical roadblock at his first U.S. Championship, where he placed eighth. One opponent traded queens into a dead draw, following a previous game by Alex. The advantage of having a stable opening repertoire is that you're bound to know the strategies and details of your lines better than if you played four different openings.
Alex thinks that what separates him from Grandmasters of a slightly lower stature is his superior understanding of the game, gained from working with elite players, including former World Champions Anatoly Karpov and Veselin Topalov. In addition to seconding Karpov in matches against Anand (1997) and training him for his victorious match against Kasparov (2002), Alex got the chance to play blitz with the Russian legend. "The first time we played" Alex said, "I won with black, and thought I'd do pretty well. Then I lost 25 games in a row. I was already a GM and didn't think I could lose 25 games in a row to anyone!"
Alex arrived in Baltimore in 2001 on the wings of a diversity visa, which he won in the Diversity lottery program. The program, designed to offer visas to American hopefuls all over the world, may soon be discontinued pending a vote in the Senate. For five years he played for the championship college team, University of Maryland Baltimore Country (UMBC), while studying linguistics at the university. He graduated in the spring of '06.
If he could play any champion from history, he would play Paul Morphy. "I'd play 1...e5, and he'd go for the King's Gambit," he said. "I'd probably lose."
Bio and photo courtesy of Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis