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    Entries in 2013 U.S. Championship (8)

    Tuesday
    May142013

    Kamsky Wins U.S. Championship in Playoff

    Alejandro Ramirez had a great tournament and gave Gata Kamsky a run for his money, but in the end experience prevailed as Kamsky won the U.S. Championship by finally defeating his opponent, in the Armageddon game. Before that they played a pair of 25-minute games, and while Kamsky was better in each he simply couldn't put his opponent away. Ramirez proved himself an adept defender, as indeed he also did in their classical game in round 8.

    After the draws, it was time for the Armageddon game, and as you may recall from previous U.S. Championships they do things with a twist there. As usual, the player getting Black receives draw odds, meaning that if the game finishes in a draw he wins the playoff. The twist comes in how they determine who gets what color. The player with White, whoever it ends up being, gets 45 minutes (plus a 5-second increment after every move; Black also gets the 5-second increment). But who gets Black and how much time Black will have is determined by a bidding process: both players secretly write down how much time they would be willing to have to play with the black pieces, and the low bidder gets his wish. Kamsky bid 20 minutes, and Ramirez, simulating ESP, bid 19 minutes and 45 seconds. (I suppose if he really had ESP he'd have gone for 19 minutes and 59 seconds, but the point was that it was a clever bid.)

    In the rapid games Ramirez handled the concrete play quite well, and was able to move quickly in those situations. In the Armageddon game, Kamsky tried a different tack, basically holding the position, avoiding exchanges and trying to gently suffocate the black pieces. This proved very effective, as Ramirez lacked the time to keep solving the more vague problems being posed. Eventually Ramirez fell very short of time, and then the moment was right for Kamsky to initiate concrete play. Without enough time to work out the problems, Ramirez lost ground, lost material, and finally lost the game. Still, it was a great performance, and in addition to $20,000 and a bunch of rating points, he clearly earned Kamsky's respect, too.

    As for Kamsky, he netted $30,000 and his fourth U.S. Championship title. Intriguingly, he was rather subdued after winning, and expressed himself as somewhat disappointed that one of the young guns didn't win. He still seems intent on retiring once he turns 40, and wants to see the future of U.S. chess in good hands. It seems to me that things are going in the right direction, but it will be a pity for American chess (though of course, not necessarily for Kamsky himself) if he really does follow through with his planned retirement. Anyway, congratulations to him, to Alejandro Ramirez, and to Irina Krush for picking up her 5th women's championship the day before.

    Monday
    May132013

    U.S. Championships, Round 9: Krush Wins the Women's Title; Kamsky and Ramirez Need a Playoff

    In the women's championship, Irina Krush came into the last round needing only a draw against Camilla Baginskaite to seal clear first, and that's just what she got. She played it safe, but even within those self-imposed parameters she managed to outplay Baginskaite and win a pawn. That should have been enough to win, and under normal circumstances I suspect she would have closed the deal. Perhaps overly excited about clinching tournament victory, she got a bit careless and allowed her opponent some counterplay. Wisely, she decided to regain her bearings, reset her sights, and offer a draw. It was accepted, and her resulting score of 8/9 won the event (and $18,000), half a point ahead of Anna Zatonskih, who defeated Sabina Foisor in the last round. Tatev Abrahamyan took third with 6.5 points. (Full standings here.)

    In the main event, Gata Kamsky could have clinched clear first with a win over Ray Robson, but although he seemed close to winning Robson managed to keep just enough activity to sneak out with a draw. That left the door open for any one of three players to catch him: Alejandro Ramirez (who faced Larry Christiansen), Alexander Onischuk (facing Kayden Troff) and Conrad Holt (whose opponent was second-seeded Timur Gareev). Two failed, but one succeeded.

    Onischuk had the white pieces and a big rating advantage against Troff, but despite that never came close to winning. The game was drawn, and Troff secured his first GM norm - not bad for anyone, especially for someone who turned 15 less than a week ago!

    Holt had a crazy game with Gareev that should have ended in a draw, but perhaps Holt wanted so desperately to win that he rejected a simple drawing continuation a few moves before the finish. I don't know that it was the last drawing chance, but it was certainly the easiest: 77...Qxd5 78.Bxd5 Nf5+ followed by 79...Nd4 and then capturing the b-pawn. Maybe he missed it, or maybe he hallucinated and forgot that 78...Nf5 was check (if it weren't check, White would have Be4, pinning and winning). Or, as I suggested above, he wanted to go for the win at all costs. Whatever the story, he didn't manage to catch Kamsky.

    Ramirez did, however, to his own surprise and delight, outplaying Christiansen and finishing with a nice attack in an ending with heavy pieces. Ramirez (who incidentally became a GM at 15) will have a playoff match with Kamsky tomorrow/today (Monday) at 12:00 noon St. Louis time, and they will play two 25-minute games. If it's tied after that, then they will have a bid Armageddon game.

    (Full standings here.)

    Saturday
    May112013

    U.S. Championships, Round 8: Kamsky, Krush Lead Entering The Final Round

    Gata Kamsky has been leading the U.S. Championship from the start, but hasn't quite managed to slam the door on his pursuers. Today he had the second seed, Timur Gareev, on the ropes thanks to a pair of sound extra pawns. Gareev shed them going for a desperate counterattack, and it worked well enough for him to save a draw. The key moment came on move 32, when Kamsky was faced with the threat of ...Nf3+. There were four sorts of ways to deal with the threat: move the king, move the rook, defend the f3 square or counterattack (e.g. the rook on c6 or the queen on e7). The third and fourth options were pretty good (e.g. 32.Re3 or 32.Qe7), and the second - moving the rook - was best of all, at least if the move was to d1. Kamsky chose the first option, which lost most of his advantage. It's a natural move, because then one no longer has to worry about ...Nf3+, whether it involves a fork or not. The drawback was that f2 lacked protection, and when Gareev finally managed play 36...Qxf2 the position was a forced draw, as was elegantly demonstrated in the game's conclusion. A good save by Gareev, but he remains a full point behind Kamsky.

    Had there been a winner in the Alejandro Ramirez-Alexander Onischuk contest, that person would have caught Kamsky in first. They drew quickly though (not by design, I'm sure), and Kamsky kept his edge. They remain tied for second (half a point behind), and they were caught there by Conrad Holt. Holt beat Joel Benjamin, taking advantage of his passed c-pawn after Benjamin chose 22...Rf8(?) rather than the necessary 22...Rc8. Holt would have kept some chances after the latter move, but probably not enough to win. After 22...Rf8 the c-pawn survived, and Holt combined its advance with threats to the black king to finish the job.

    Leading Round 9 Pairings:

     

    • Robson (4.5) - Kamsky (6)
    • Ramirez (5.5) - Christiansen (5)
    • Gareev (5) - Holt (5.5)
    • Onischuk (5.5) - Troff (4.5)

     

    The women's championship saw Irina Krush face a major test, and she passed it convincingly. Tatev Abrahamyan was within a point and had the white pieces against Krush. Her big chance! Krush has long been a very well-prepared player though, and today she produced an early novelty in the trendy "Brazilian Taimanov" with 12...Bb7. (12...Ne5 is the usual move, though Black has tried several other moves as well.) Maybe White's best is to take on c6, but Abrahamyan's 13.Bd3 doesn't look ideal. White meets 12...Nxd4 with 13.Qxd4, but that's impossible here, so Krush took on d4, then kicked the bishop with ...e5 (and thanks to the bishop on b7, there's no Nd5 to worry about) and then planted the offside knight on f4. Maybe now Abrahamyan should have played 16.h4, keeping the g-pawn, but maybe she was worried about 16...Bb4. It's funny that in many Sicilians White is frightened, and properly so, of the exchange sac with ...Rxc3 - sometimes even when Black doesn't get a pawn for further compensation. In the Taimanov, however, exchanging lines of the form 1...Bxc3 2.Qxc3 Qxc3 3.bxc3 rarely concern White, even though Black ruins White's pawn structure without sacrificing anything.

    Abrahamyan kept some compensation for a long time, though never quite enough, but then the game took a sharp tactical turn on move 41. Had Krush played the safe 41...Rg7 she would have maintained a large, probably winning advantage, but she thought she could get away with 41...g3. She did get away with it after the natural 44.e7(?); if, however, Abrahamyan played the cool 44.Qd5! she would have equalized the chances: 44...Qxd5 (forced) 45.exd5 g1Q 46.Bxh7+! Kf8 47.Rxg1 Rxg1+ seems to be a draw. Black has too much to worry about with White's e-pawn and possible c5 pawn sacs in the air.

    Missing this one chance, Abrahamyan lost and fell out of the race for first. Anna Zatonskih won her game though (against Iryna Zenyuk), and remains alive in the race for first. Here are the crucial final round pairings:

     

    • Krush (7.5) - Baginskaite (4)
    • Zatonskih (6.5) - Foisor (3.5)

     

    Saturday
    May112013

    U.S. Championships, Round 6 & 7: Kamsky, Krush Continue To Lead

    Gata Kamsky still leads the U.S. Championship, but after three straight draws the field is closing in a bit. In round 6 he made a comfortable draw with Black against third-seed Alexander Onischuk, and was seemingly in control in round 7 against Alejandro Ramirez when he was hit by a brilliant shot: 30...Bh3!! This essentially forced a draw on the spot, and if Kamsky fails to win the title this year this game may loom large, as he could have maintained a serious edge earlier, e.g. with 29.Rff6. But then again, who couldn't miss a move like 30...Bh3, especially from a ways back?

    Onischuk drew in round 7 with Conrad Holt (my dark horse contender for the title) with some difficulty, but a draw's a draw and he is tied with Ramirez, half a point behind Kamsky entering the penultimate round. They will play on board 2 today, with Ramirez getting White.

    About Holt: if there was a prize for the "move of the tournament", he, like Ramirez, would be in the running. In round 6 against Larry Christiansen, there was a remarkable bit of tactical one-upsmanship. Holt's 43...Qc6 looked very strong, threatening both the rook on a8 and 44...Rg4+, picking off the queen. It looked like the move would net the exchange, as 44.Rxf8+ Kxf8 45.Qxf5+ seemed like White's best; White would keep some small chances, but Black would be winning. Instead, Christiansen uncorked the ingenious 44.Ra7! This not only saved the rook, but it saved the queen, too, as 44...Rg4+?? walks into 45.Nxg4 Qxf3 46.Nf6+ Kh8 47.Rh7#!

    Holt admitted to missing that move, but he rose to the occasion and trumped it with the spectacular 44...Bc5!! (which Christiansen missed). This is a subtle double attack: the rook is attacked, of course, and so is White's queen. Black once again threatens ...Rg4+, because after Nxg4 Qxf3 Nf6+ the king can go to f8 rather than h8, and then there is neither mate nor perpetual check. (White could try to set up the perpetual, e.g. with 45.dxc5 Rg4+ 46.Nxg4 Qxf3 47.Nf6+ Kf8 48.Rd7 - a pattern worth remembering if you're not already familiar with it - but Black can break it up with 48...Qc6.)

    Back to the standings: facing Kamsky in round 8 will be the second seed, Timur Gareev, whose performance has been sluggish, at least given what one might expect from his rating. Nevertheless, he has worked his way back into contention, and after defeating Ray Robson in round 7 he has closed to within a point of Kamsky. Unluckily for Gareev, while both he and Kamsky were due for Black this round, the color clash was resolved in Kamsky's favor, and he (Kamsky) will get the white pieces.

    Key Round 8 Pairings:

    • Kamsky (5.5) - Gareev (4.5)
    • Ramirez (5) - Onischuk (5)
    • Holt (4.5) - Benjamin (4.5)

    In the women's championship Krush's run at perfection ended when she was held to a draw by Sabina Foisor in round 6, but she bounced back with a win in round 7. Tatev Abrahamyan closed to within half a point by winning in round 6, but then she drew in round 7 to again fall a full point off the pace. Also a point back is Anna Zatonskih, who has won her last two games. Round 8 is crucial, as Abrahamyan has White against Krush. (The women's event is a round-robin, as opposed to the Swiss system in the "men's" event.)

    Key Round 8 Pairings:

    • Abrahamyan (5.5) - Krush (6.5)
    • Zenyuk - Zatonskih (5.5)

    Tuesday
    May072013

    U.S. Championship: Kamsky Draws (But Still Leads); Krush Still Perfect

    Looks like the "Fischer prize" to be awarded to any player who manages to achieve a perfect score in the U.S. Championship will go unclaimed another year, as the last player with a perfect score, Gata Kamsky, was held to a draw in round 5 by Joel Benjamin. Kamsky still leads, but Alexander Onischuk is nipping at his heels, half a point behind. They play in round 6, and Onischuk will have White. On board two Benjamin has White against Alejandro Ramirez, who defeated Sam Shankland to reach 3.5 points, the same score Benjamin has. Four others have 3 points, and down it goes from there.

    In the women's championship Irina Krush won again (no Fischer prize for them, as far as I know), defeating the also perfect - in the opposite direction - Sarah Chiang. (Chiang is a first-timer and just 15, so this is a bit of a baptism by fire for her. On the other hand, while she's the lowest-rated player in the field, she's not so much lower-rated that she should go through the tournament without scoring. So let's hope she can stay mentally tough and pick up some points.) Krush is 5-0, now a point ahead of Tatev Abrahamyan, who drew with Anna Zatonskih (who now has 3.5). Krush defeated Zatonskih in round 3, and will play Abrahamyan (with Black) in round 8.

    Tuesday
    May072013

    U.S. Championships Update: Kamsky, Krush Lead Their Divisions with 4-0 Scores

    Gata Kamsky may not be showing his best form at the U.S. Championship, but as a big rating favorite and an enormously experienced player, he has so far overcome his fatigue from the Grand Prix in Zug to fend off challenges from Larry Christiansen and one of my dark horse contenders, Conrad Holt, to emerged unscathed so with a 4-0 score. His closest contenders at the moment are a point behind: Joel Benjamin, whom he will face in round 5; third-seeded Alexander Onischuk, and Christiansen; the latter two will play in round 5.

    In round 3 many of the underdogs took a step back while the favorites have reasserted themselves, but in round 4 the youngsters and rookies showed that they are still very much in the fight. And meanwhile, second-seeded Timur Gareev and perennial contender Yuri Shulman are both still languishing at 50%. (Full round 5 pairings and scores can be seen here.)

    Meanwhile, Irina Krush is having her way in the Women's Championship, having defeated her constant rival Anna Zatonskih in a hard battle in round 3 (and with the black pieces, no less). She followed it up with a victory over another former U.S. Women's Champion, Anjelina Belakovskaia, and sits very comfortably at 4-0. Nevertheless, competition remains. Tatev Abrahamyan also entered round 3 with a 2-0 score, and although she lost half a point in round 3 a win in round 4 has her very much in contention with 3.5 points. She's in for a big test in round 5 with Black against Zatonskih, and if she's still in contention by round 8 she'll have the white pieces against Krush. No one else has more than two points, so for now it looks like a three-horse race, which may drop to a two-horse race after this next round concludes.

    Saturday
    May042013

    U.S. Championship, Rounds 1 & 2: Lots of Upsets

    Except for Gata Kamsky, who has gotten off to a smooth 2-0 start, there has been a lot of topsy-turviness at the U.S. Championship. Second seed Timur Gareev was upset by Larry Christiansen - though in all honesty I don't consider that a big upset. Christiansen was once an elite GM and reputedly one of the few Western players feared by the Soviets. He doesn't play so often now, but he's still very strong and his top end is plenty dangerous.

    Third seed Alexander Onischuk has been held to draws: by Joel Benjamin in round 1 and Melikset Khachiyan in round 2. (Benjamin is doing well though, having defeated Robert Hess in round 2.) The fourth seed? Ray Robson drew Alexander Ivanov in round 1, which wasn't so bad with the black pieces, but then lost to FM John Bryant with White in round 2. Oops. Varuzhan Akobian, the fifth seed, has, like Onischuk, drawn twice. Moving on...sixth seed Sam Shankland lost to Conrad Holt; though as with Christiansen-Gareev I don't consider that a huge upset, as Holt is almost always extremely well-prepared, has an excellent tactical eye and plays very rapidly. Shankland only managed to draw in round 2, against Marc Arnold. Seventh seed Hess drew Ben Finegold in round 1 before losing to Benjamin in the second round (as mentioned above).

    Only once we get to the eighth seed to we find the next player after Kamsky with a plus score, as Gregory Kaidanov beat Jorge Sammour-Hasbun in round 1 and drew a crazy game with Holt in round 2 to make it to 1.5 points. Christiansen, the ninth seed, is 2-0, but tenth seed Yuri Shulman - a perennial contender in recent years - is also at 1-1 (two draws).

    Alexander Stripunsky, the eleventh seed, has just half a point, after losing to the second lowest-rated event in round 1, and with the white pieces. IM Kayden Troff was well-prepared, grabbed and kept a pawn, and converted it in the endgame. Stripunsky drew Yaacov Norowitz (Christiansen's round 1 victim) in round 2. Finally, the last player in the top half of the pairing chart, 12th seed Alejandro Ramirez, drew with the very young (12!) Samuel Sevian before defeating Ivanov in round 2. (As for Sevian, he also drew a GM in round 2 - Shulman.)

    As you can see, it has been incredibly competitive, and except for Kamsky, being a favorite on paper hasn't meant very much. Will that continue? We'll see.

    Leading Round 3 Pairings (Scores in parentheses):

     

    • Kamsky (2) - Christiansen (2)
    • Bryant (1.5) - Kaidanov (1.5)
    • Holt (1.5) - Ramirez (1.5)
    • Gareev (1) - Benjamin (1.5)

     

    (Full pairings here.)

    Finally, a quick word about the concurrent Women's Championship. Unlike the "men's" Swiss, theirs is an 10 player round-robin tournament. Pre-tournament favorites Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush are off to 2-0 starts, but at least one of them won't have a perfect score after tomorrow's round as they're playing - Zatonskih has White. Tatev Abrahamyan is also 2-0; below them the next best score is 1-1.

    Friday
    May032013

    U.S. Championship Underway

    The 2013 U.S. Championships ("men's" and women's) just started earlier this afternoon (at 2 p.m. ET) in St. Louis, now the chess capital of the U.S. by virtue of the chess capital of Rex Sinquefield. Focusing on the men's tournament, defending champion and the U.S.'s highest-rated player, Hikaru Nakamura, is sitting this one out to play in the super-tournament in Stavanger, Norway, starting next Tuesday. Gata Kamsky is playing though, and as a consolation prize of sorts for Nakamura's absence newly eligible GM Timur Gareev is making his debut.

    Of the 24 players in this event, 19 are GMs; the other five may have qualified in some other way than by rating - by being the U.S. Junior Champion or by receiving some sort of special sponsor's invitation, for instance. As far as I can tell from the St. Louis club's website (which has gotten a little better over the years in making basic information available to those willing to hunt a while, but stilll has a ways to go) the tournament is a 9-round Swiss, and the day after round 9 there will be a playoff followed by the closing ceremonies. (About the playoff, is this "if necessary", or no matter what - say, for the top two finishers? The only way I even found that a date and time for the playoff existed was by clicking on the "tickets" tab!) Here are the first round pairings (players are GMs unless otherwise indicated):

    • Gata Kamsky (2741) - Alexander Shabalov (2544)
    • Marc Arnold (2538) - Timur Gareev (2674)
    • Alexander Onischuk (2666) - Joel Benjamin (2534)
    • Alexander Ivanov (2529) - Ray Robson (2620)
    • Varuzhan Akobian (2616) - Melikset Khachiyan (2518)
    • Conrad Holt (2513) - Samuel Shankland (2612)
    • Robert Hess (2595) - Ben Finegold (2505)
    • FM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (2463) - Gregory Kaidanov (2593)
    • Larry Christiansen (2579) - Yaacov Norowitz (2451) (I believe he's an IM-elect)
    • FM John Bryant (2442) - Yuri Shulman (2570)
    • Alexander Stripunsky (2570) - IM Kayden Troff (2421)
    • FM Samuel Sevian (2371) (Also an IM-elect, I think) - Alejandro Ramirez (2551)