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    Entries in 2014 U.S. Championship (8)

    Tuesday
    May202014

    Kamsky, Krush Win The U.S. Championships (Again)

    It wasn't easy, but defending champions Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush both managed to keep their U.S. Championship crowns. For Kamsky, this is his fifth title and fourth in the last five years, while for Krush it is her sixth title and third in a row.

    In the open championship Kamsky had the best tiebreak of the three playoff participants, so he waited for the winner of the bid-Armageddon semi-final match between Alex Lenderman and Varuzhan Akobian. Akobian had the low bid with 29:57, so he was given Black and draw odds against Lenderman, who got White and 45 minutes. The position was around equal when Lenderman made a fatal miscalculation. He sacrificed a pawn, expecting to regain it after 22.Na4 with a positional advantage. He completely missed (or at least underestimated) the weakness of f2, and Akobian quickly finished him off with a direct attack and advanced to the final.

    An Armageddon game at the stage could eventually be reached, but before that could happen the players would have a couple of normal game/25s (with five second increments) first. Akobian had White against Kamsky in the first game, got nothing, and the game was a relatively uneventful draw. In the second game Kamsky played his usual patient chess, essaying the London System and playing for a little queenside pressure. Objectively the position after 17 moves was approximately equal, but Akobian, who was already starting to run low on time, tried to resolve the position immediately with 17...dxc4 18.Nxc4 e5. He was probably better off keeping the position intact, but it's hard for most of us not to just "do something", especially in a high pressure game with time dwindling away. The same goes in spades for Akobian's 21...c5, which was an outright error. After this mistake he was just about lost, and he was soon down a pawn and down to his last seconds on the clock; bad news against anyone, and hopeless news against Kamsky.

    In the women's championship things proceeded quite similarly. Krush, likewise the defending champion, had the best tiebreak scores and could await the winner of the bid-Armageddon game. The winning bid here was very similar to that in the open event, with Tatev Abrahamyan getting Black and draw odds with 29:45 on her clock to Anna Zatonskih's 45 minutes. Here the similarities end, as Abrahamyan was simply unfamiliar with the theory of a major line - not good. 12...Nxc3 is the standard move; instead, her 12...Nc5 was a lemon. When Zatonskih found the brilliant and correct 16.Nxd5!! it looked like it would be game over, and the commentators were already making her the favorite for the final, given how sharp she seemed to be. Abrahamyan's response was a further error, and on move 20 Zatonskih had several winning moves. Instead, she blundered with 20.a4?? - a good idea in general, but not properly timed - and after this Black was not only not dead lost, but better. From there Abrahamyan always kept control, and although both sides committed various inaccuracies Zatonskih never had the chance to be better. In the final position Black was around +50 according to the computer, but with White enjoying some threatening possibilities and a handy perpetual available Abrahamyan took the easy way out and proceeded to the final.

    The first g/25 was a mess, with Krush's position constantly vacillating between clearly winning and much better, with an occasional fleeting moment where Abrahamyan might sneak out with a draw. The last such moment came on move 66, when after a long stretch of very resourceful defense Abrahamyan could have drawn with 68...Rg8+ 69.Rb8 Rb6!! 70.Rxg8+ Kxg8, when any sideways rook move will be met by 71...Ra6+, winning the pawn or repeating. If instead 71.a5, then 71...Rb5 72.a6 Rb6 and the pawn is lost due to zugzwang. Missing this last chance, she lost the game. In game 2 Krush equalized with Black, but 20...Nxd5? was too cynical. Yes, it traded some material, but gave White the opportunity to target Black's weak b- and d-pawns, not to mention the Black king by means of the h7 square and the a2-g8 diagonal. Abrahamyan also enjoyed a huge advantage on the clock, but Krush defended well (except on move 31) and eventually both advantages disappeared. In the end Krush had the better position - and crucially, one that could not be lost - and White eventually acquiesced in the draw. (All the games can be replayed here, with my on-the-fly notes.)

    Congratulations once again to Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush! Their challengers are getting closer and closer, but close, as they rightly say, isn't good enough.

    Tuesday
    May202014

    U.S. Championships: A Pair of 3-Player Playoffs!

    Today's U.S. Championship action ought to be lots of fun for the fans, as there will be two-stage playoffs in both the open and the women's tournaments.

    When we left off the open (men's) event, Varuzhan Akobian and Alex Lenderman led with two rounds to go, half a point ahead of Gata Kamsky and Josh Friedel. In round 10 Sam Shankland served as a spoiler yet again, beating Friedel with Black to knock him out of contention, while the other three players maintained their relative positions. Akobian drew with White against Kamsky's Dutch, while Lenderman drew in a Tarrasch French against Mackenzie Molner.

    In round 11 there was another head-to-head, this time between the two leaders. Lenderman had White against Akobian, a hard-fought battle that wound up in a drawn rook ending. Meanwhile, Gata Kamsky, who had been chasing the leaders all tournament long, finally caught up with a long win over Friedel.

    Happily for Kamsky, his tiebreak score is the best of the three, so Akobian and Lenderman will have a bid-Armageddon game to see who will advance to play a pair of G/25s with Kamsky. The bid idea works like this: White gets 45 minutes but must win, while the player who makes the lowest time bid will get that amount of time, the black pieces, and draw odds.

    A similar story will take place in the Women's event. Both Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih were in trouble against lower-rated opponents (Viktorija Ni and Katerina Nemcova, respectively) before escaping with draws. Meanwhile, Tatev Abrahamyan beat Camilla Baginskaite to catch them. Krush had the best tiebreaks, so Zatonskih and Abrahamyan will have the bid-Armageddon game for the right to face Krush in the G/25s.

    The action begins at 2 p.m. ET.

    Sunday
    May182014

    The U.S. Championships: Co-Leaders Heading For Home

    The last couple of rounds have been extremely eventful at the U.S. Championships, and have seen reversals of the reversals! When we left off last time, Varuzhan Akobian had won three in a row to take a half-point lead over Gata Kamsky and a full point lead over early leader Alex Lenderman and several others. In round 8 Akobian won again, Kamsky drew and Lenderman bounced back nicely by beating the very solid Alexander Onischuk, and with the black pieces at that. It got even better for Lenderman in round 9. He won what looked like a fairly drawish position against Daniel Naroditsky while Akobian lost his first game of the event, an all-around nightmare game against Sam Shankland. That left Akobian tied with Lenderman for first with 6/9, with Kamsky half a point behind after he was unable to convert an advantageous position against Mackenzie Molner. Josh Friedel is also in the hunt after his 9th round win over Sergey Erenburg, like Kamsky just half a point behind the leaders.

    So here are the key pairings for rounds 10 and 11:

    Round 10:

    • Molner (3) - Lenderman (6)
    • Akobian (6) - Kamsky (5.5)
    • Friedel (5.5) - Shankland (4.5)

    Round 11:

    • Kamsky - Friedel
    • Lenderman - Akobian

    Perfect!

    In the women's championship Irina Krush's draw in round 7 against Sabina-Francesca Foisor left her a full point behind Anna Zatonskih after the latter's win over Alisa Melekhina. Fortunately they still had their head-to-head match before them in round 8, and Krush gradually managed to convert her significant opening edge into a win. They are thus tied with 6/8 heading into Monday's final round (they have a rest day on Sunday), and Tatev Abrahamyan is only half a point behind in case they fail to win in the last round. Here are the key pairings:

    • Ni (3) - Krush (6)
    • Baginskaite (1.5) - Abrahamyan (5.5)
    • Zatonskih (6) - Nemcova (4.5)

    In case of a two-way tie for first there will be a playoff, and if it's between Krush and Zatonskih it won't be their first. Playoffs, if necessary for either (or both) group(s), will take place on Tuesday.

    Tuesday
    May132014

    U.S. Championships: Leaders Caught

    It wasn't a great day for the leaders in the U.S. Championships, though both Alex Lenderman and Irina Krush maintain a share of first place in their respective competitions.

    For Lenderman it was an especially bad day, as something went awry in the opening against Sam Shankland. Despite having the white pieces he seemed to get something goofed up, and after 20 moves he was down a pawn for sketchy compensation at best. Shankland duly converted, and Lenderman dropped to +2 with a 4-2 score. I hope for his sake that he is a resilient player, as he will have Black against Kamsky tomorrow.

    Four players had a chance to catch him, and one of them - Varuzhan Akobian - did, thanks to his win over Alejandro Ramirez. Two of the contenders drew with each other (Alexander Onischuk and Gata Kamsky), while the fourth - Timur Gareev - lost his second straight game (to Joshua Friedel).

    In the women's championship Krush had to sweat out a draw against Tatev Abrahamyan, which allowed Anna Zatonskih to catch her once again after the latter defeated Ashritha Eswaran. Krush and Zatonskih are both 4-1.

    Tuesday
    May132014

    U.S. Championships: Lenderman, Krush Lead

    It's not a surprise that Irina Krush is leading the women's championship, but Alex Lenderman's sole first in the U.S. Championship most definitely is. While surprising, however, it is clearly deserved. While he was a bit fortunate to survive in round 2 against second-seed Timur Gareev, his impressive wins in round 3 and 4 against Alejandro Ramirez and Ray Robson, respectively, weren't fortunate at all. After a draw with Sergey Erenburg in round 5 he has 4 points and a full point lead over Gareev, Varuzhan Akobian, Gata Kamsky and Alexander Onischuk.

    Gareev has been very busy, and like Lenderman won in rounds 3 and 4 (over Daniel Naroditsky and Mackenzie Molnar); unlike Lenderman, he lost in round 5 (to Akobian). Akobian drew all his games prior to round 5, while Kamsky and Onischuk also have four draws plus a single win - in both cases in round 4 (Kamsky over Erenburg, Onischuk over Sam Shankland).

    In the women's event the offer of the Fischer Prize ($64k for a perfect score) after round 2 was met by the disappearance of the two remaining perfect scores in round 3. Krush drew with Iryna Zenyuk while Sabina Foisor lost in round 3 (and lost again in round 4). Anna Zatonskih won in round 3 (over Foisor) to catch Krush in first, but then she drew in round 4 while Krush massacred Katerina Nemcova to regain a half point lead over her main rival.

    Tatev Abrahamyan is tied for third a further half a point back, which is no surprise, but what is surprising is that 13-year-old Ashritha Eswaran is also on +1. She bounced back from her loss to Krush in round 2 with a win over Camilla Baginskaite in round 3 and a draw against Alisa Melekhina in round 4. In fact, while I haven't looked closely at the latter game, she may have been winning that game too, and certainly could have put more pressure on Melekhina in the rook ending than she did. Even so, she's having an excellent tournament so far, especially for her age and lack of experience.

    Saturday
    May102014

    Chess in the Americas, Day 2

    Round 2 of the U.S. Championship saw six draws in six games, so the $64,000 Fischer Prize for a perfect score is already off the table...or rather, has been moved to a different table a sponsor Rex Sinquefield has moved the offer to the U.S. Women's Championship. Irina Krush is 2-0 after defeating the Ashritha Eswaran rather easily. (Eswaran badly mishandled the black side of a Hedgehog - it looks as if Krush found a gap in the 13-year-old talent's chess education.) Also 2-0 is Sabina Foisor, but the only real shot at the prize belongs to Krush. In another important game, Anna Zatonskih defeated Tatev Abrahamyan, the latter being the only plausible candidate to break the Krush/Zatonskih stranglehold on the women's crown.

    Yesterday was also the occasion for round 2 of the Capablanca Memorial. All three games were drawn in round 1 and two of the three were drawn in the second round, so that leaves the day's only winner, Wesley So, in clear first after beating Paco Vallejo.

    Friday
    May092014

    Chess in the Americas

    Round 1 of the U.S. Championships took place on Thursday, with top seeds Gata Kamsky, Timur Gareev and Alexander Onischuk all drawing their games - the first two with each other. Ray Robson and Aleksandr Lenderman were the day's two winners, defeating Sergey Erenburg and Joshua Friedel, respectively.

    In the women's event Irina Krush won her first game as did third seed Tatev Abrahamyan, but second seed Anna Zatonskih by Iryna Zenyuk. It will be interesting to see how Ashritha Eswaran, the youngest and lowest-rated player, fares. She is 13 years old and a national master, despite her low FIDE rating of 1979, and she rose to the challenge by winning with Black against Viktorija Ni.

    A bit south of the United States, the 49th Capablanca Memorial is taking place in Havana, Cuba. As usual, Vassily Ivanchuk is there, as are of course Cuban GMs Leinier Dominguez and Lazaro Bruzon. The very strong but small field was rounded out by Wesley So, Francisco Vallejo Pons and Zoltan Almasi. All three games were drawn in round 1 of this double-round robin.

    Tuesday
    May062014

    The U.S. Championships Start Tomorrow (Thursday) (Updated)

    Hikaru Nakamura is again sitting out the U.S. Championship, so Gata Kamsky will be a strong favorite in this 12 player round robin tournament, starting tomorrow - Thursday - at 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis (= 2 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CET). If Kamsky makes good on his threat to quit chess when he turns 40, this will be his last time playing in the championship and the end of an era in U.S. chess. Most of the rest of the field is a combination of emigres and young talents, with some participants falling under both headings. None of the young players look quite up to the task of filling Kamsky's shoes on the world stage (let's not forget that he was already a world championship finalist at the age of 22), but I wouldn't be surprised if some of our top youngsters (e.g. Ray Robson) made it to at least occasional 2700 status.

    The action begins tomorrow, as already noted, and so does the concurrent women's championship, where five-time and defending champion Irina Krush and four-time champ Anna Zatonskih are the strong favorites, with Tatev Abrahamyan having a reasonable shot at being the spoiler.

    [UPDATE: The action starts Thursday, Wednesday was just the day of the opening ceremony. I've made the changes in the post.]