The U.S. Open chess tournament was equally exciting. The U.S. Open Chess Championship has been held annually since 1900. Originally it was the Western Open and was the championship of the Western Chess Association. Then in 1934 the Western Chess Association became the American Chess Federation and the tournament became the American Chess Federation congress. In 1939, that organization merged into the United States Chess Federation and became the U.S. Open.
The list of winners has been a Who's Who of U.S. with a few prominent foreigners thrown in. For example, Edward Lasker, Bora Kostic, Carlos Torre, Samuel Reshevsky, Reuben Fine, Israel A. Horowitz, Anthony Santasiere, Herman Steiner Isaac Kashdan, Weaver W. Adams, Arthur Bisguier, Larry Evans, Donald Byrne, Arturo Pomar, Nicolas Rossolimo, Bobby Fischer, Robert Byrne, Pal Benko, Antonio Medina, William Lombardy, Bent Larsen, Vlastimil Hort, Anatoly Lein, Florin Gheorghiu, Larry Christiansen, Roman Dzindzichashvili, Yasser Seirawan, Lev Alburt, Alexander Shabalov, Alex Yermolinsky, Aleksander Wojtkiewicz, Alexander Onischuk, Boris Gulko
In early years the tournament it consisted of small round robins with qualifying events. In 1946 the Swiss System was used for preliminary rounds and in 1947 it was a single section Swiss. For many years, the tournament had 12 or 13 rounds and lasted two weeks. After experimentation with various formats, in recent years it has usually been nine rounds. Sometimes the schedule could be brutal with several games a day until the sections merged in the later rounds.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, 180-190 players was the norm, then in Chicago 1963 there were 266 entries. In the 2000s, the fields were over 400 to 500 entries. In more recent years the entries have declined and the tournament has become less important and there has often been multiple ties for first with the ultimate winner decided by blitz playoffs.
One of the biggest surprises was in 1978 in Phoenix, Arizona when an unheralded 2307 rated master from Texas named Joseph Bradford (born November 1, 1959) was the winner. Today Bradford is an IM rated 2379, down from the low 2400s in the year 2000.He was the 2006 U.S. Senior Champion.
Bradford worked for the Texas Department of Transportation and Ken Smith thought he had enough talent to be a GM if he worked full time at it, but he didn't and only became an IM after he retired from his job in 2007.
Bradford got his BA in economics from the University of Texas, Austin in 1978 and afterward decided to spend a few months perusing his first love, chess and it paid off when he won the U.S. Open; he scored nine wins and three draws.
Among his opponents were GMs Leonid Shamkovich, a recent immigrant from the Soviet Union by way of Israel and Jim Tarjan. Bradford's victory qualified him for the 1980 U.S. Championship.
The 1980 championship ended in a tie between Larry Christiansen, Larry Evans and Water Browne who finished a half point ahead of Yasser Seirawan and Leonid Shamkovich. Bradford ended up tied for places 8-12 (out of 13) with Pal Benko, Peter Biyiasas, Robert Byrne and John Peters; he scored +3 -5 =4, but had the distinction of handing Christiansen his only defeat. His other victims were Byrne and Peters.
Among Bradford's victims in the 1978 Open were John Peters, Dr. Ariel Mengarini, Jim Tarjan and Douglas Root (at the time a promising junior). He drew with GMs Leonid Shamkovich and in the last round, Andrew Soltis. His final score was 10.5-1.5.