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.