It has probably the strongest field and best format in many years. The tournament is taking place at Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the 3rd straight year and this venue has been a tremendous boon to the US Championships.
One of the biggest notes of this year's championship is the absence of US #1 Hikaru Nakamura who has decided to skip the event and focus on his goal of becoming world champion which up until this last year seemed like a long shot, but is becoming a much stronger possibility with his tremendous results.
Live commentary can be found here: http://www.livestream.com/uschess
The format for this years championships is 2 round robin groups leading into a 4 players semi-finals (top 2 in each group advance). I've been playing competitive chess for about 9 years now and I'm a huge fan of many of the players in the event. I'm going to give you my own description of each of the players in the field.
Round Robin 1:
1. Gata Kamsky 2733
Kamsky is the defending US Champion scoring his first US championship after nearly 20 years. He was at one point top 3 in the world and is known as a very solid player who has tremendous ability to grind out endgames with a small advantage. Kamsky is probably the favorite to repeat given his experience and rating advantage over the field. Kamsky is most known for 1. e4 as white and the Grunfeld and Sicilian as black, but has a wide repertoire and can play almost anything.
2. Yury Shulman 2622
Originally from belarusShulman is one of my favorite players in the field and was the runner-up in last year's US Championship after beating Nakamura with black in the playoffs. He's known as a very positional player, but very much plays as the position as it demands. He's been a stable player on the US Olympiad team for a while now and has over-performed in the US Championship quite a few times managing to claim the title in 2008. His repertoire is a little more predictable mostly playing 1. d4 as white and the french and slav defenses as black.
3. Varuzhan Akobian 2611
Varuzhan is strongest of many strong Armenian-American chess players in the United States. He achieved the GM title in 2003 only a few years after coming to the United States. He's very similar in style and openings to Shulman, but he relies a little more on very strong preparation that Shulman seems to, but he's definitely capable of winning this group.
4. Jaan Elhvest 2586
Elhvest (not Elvis) is originally from Estonia and was incredibly strong in his day, but hasn't shown quite a strong of results in the last few years. He's an incredibly experiences player and a a frequently player in the Swiss tournaments in the US. He's a very dynamic player who could take a game off any player in the field.
5. Alexander Stripunsky 2578
Stripunsky is probably one of the more underrated GMs in the field. To make a starcraft analogy, he's probably the Catz of the professional chess world (playing wise). Has a creative approach to openings and hopes to get an advantage in having more experience in his pet lines.
6. Alexander Ivanov 2540
Ivanov is the ultimate New England swiss journeyman. If there's a tournament in the northeast he's probably playing and winning it. He strikes fear into the hearts of all the FMs and IMs in the northeast all of whom have had to play him dozens of times in tournaments. He's not always the best practical player, often spending a good chunk of time in openings he's quite familiar with, but don't be fooled, his openings are very well prepared if slightly offbeat.
7. Ray Robson 2522
Ray is considered the top talent in the US and one of the best hopes for an American to win the world championship one day. He was having big results in the US at a very young age and holds the record for the youngest American player to get the GM title. He has an incredibly well-analyzed opening repertoire and consistently plays the sharpest lines with 1. e4 and playing deep theoretical lines such as the botvinnik semi-slav as black.
8. Daniel Naroditsky 2438
"Danya" is the other junior member of the US chamipionship with Ray being more than a year younger than Ray. He has a tremendously mature style for his age even being a published author and book of the year finalist from his book on positional chess. He's also one of the top junior hopes in the US and has had some good results recently one being in January when he finished the requirements for his IM title.
Round Robin 2:
1. Alexander Onischuk 2678
Onischuk is the top seed in this group and deservedly so. He's had consistent strong finishes in the US Championship for quite a few years now. He's probably the player in the field I would describe as having the most "classical" style favoring openings such as the Ruy Lopez as black for many years. He is definitely the biggest threat to Kamsky failing to repeat as champion.
2. Yasser Seirawan 2638
Seirawan was a surprise entrant in this year's field who's been out of the professional scene for quite a few years now and making his comeback for this tournament. I'm ashamed to say I'm not as familiar with his style as some of the other players as some of the other players, but as a 4-time US Champion he's not a player that should be underestimated. If he came out of retirement for this tournament he didn't do it so he could be a chess tourist, he's playing to win.
3. Alexander Shabalov 2590
Shabalov is known for being one of the stronger attacking players in the field. He's originally from Latvia which has a history of producing players who thrive in crazy positions such as Tal and Shirov. Don't expect safe chess form Shabalov who is known from taking large risks to his position to try steer the game into his territory, in this way think of him as the TLO of this tournament.
4. Larry Christiansen 2586
Christainsen is definitely known for some of the best attacking players by any American player. He's has multiple US Championship titles and is one of the older players in the field, but he is definitely capable of winning the whole thing and is definitely not one to be counted out. He doesn't always play the most attacking lines but instead has a tremendous ability to create wild attacks out of the most innocuous-looking positions.
5. Gregory Kaidanov 2569
Kaidanov is sometimes mistaken for someone who mainly trains young US talents having coaches some of the top US developed talent in the United States and being one of the original coaches for the US Chess School. However, he's also an incredibly dangerous player with an aggressive style who can play a large variety of positions.
6. Robert Hess 2565
Robert Hess made an even bigger name for himself 2 years ago when he finished clear 2nd place in the US Championship 2 years ago while he still only held the IM title.
7. Sam Shakland 2512
Shanland finally got a big monkey off his back earlier this year finally earning his final GM norm and getting the title. He had been incredibly unlucky to miss out norms when he had tremendous tournaments either to just missing the required performance by a minimal margin or because he couldn't be paired with the final foreign player he needed to qualify for the norm. He's one of the players I have more personal experience with as I played him a few times when he was a talented low-master, but he shot up almost 200 points in 1 year to make a name for himself as one of the top juniors in the country. He won the 2008 world U18 championship in what was at the time a huge upset to get his IM title and first GM norm.
8. Ben Finegold 2500
Finegold was for a long time considered one of the strongest IMs in the world. He lost that distinction a few years ago when he finally earned the GM title. He works as the "Grandmaster-in-residence" at the St. Louis club and as such is a "wildcard" player in the field. I wouldn't consider him a threat to win the event, but he's known to be one of the hardest fighting players in the field with a very logical approach to the game.
If you guys have any questions / requests, post them here and I will see what I can do.