Kamsky & Krush still in the lead at U.S. Championships
Gata Kamsky and Irina are still leading the U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women's Championship after six rounds of play. Kamsky won his game in round 4 as well, but then drew in round 5 and 6 and is half a point ahead of Alexander Onischuk and Alejandro Ramirez. Krush kept her perfect score until round 5 only then was held to a draw.
The women's section in action | Photo by Tony Rich courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club
Round 4 – Tourney Leaders Win Again at U.S. Championships
Report by FM Mike Klein (You can find our report on rounds 1-3 here.)
A pair of runaway trains kept up their furious pace in round four of the 2013 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Both tournament leaders, GM Gata Kamsky and IM Irina Krush, won their fourth consecutive games to maintain their respective leads.
Kamsky took black against the fearless upstart GM Conrad Holt, who kept up his usual stoicism despite his first-ever game against the three-time champion. Kamsky said after some opening troubles in his first three matches, he wanted to get back to his comfort zone. “I decided to play something I know,” Kamsky said. “In the opening white posed me no problems.”
The game swung and became more dynamic after white’s e-pawn lurched forward. “When he played e4 and I saw I could open my bishops, I thought, ‘Let’s have some fun.’” The top-rated player eventually decided upon a series of moves that actuated a landmine, but even without Holt's complicity, a draw was attainable. “I was really liking that he took my a-pawn,” he said about Holt’s bravado. “There are some traps. I had a feeling my opponent was playing for a win. I got lucky.” Kamsky explained that white’s 31st move was not losing per se, but it forced white to find 32. Qe2 Bxg2! 33. Kxg2 Rxa6 34. Qxa6 Nf4+ 35. exf4 Qe4+. Black, who has sacrificed the majority of his army, then forces a repetition.
This win puts Kamsky at 4-0, and still eligible for the $64,000 “Fischer Prize” for a perfect score. He is the only player to remain unblemished for this many rounds since the prize was first introduced in 2009. For his part, Kamsky insisted the award is so far-fetched, he did not even read the amount. “I heard something about if you go 9-0, you get something super-duper? But I don’t think it’s possible this day in age. Back in Fischer’s time it was possible.”
In the women’s tournament, pre-round leader Krush kept up her own streak. She dispatched three-time champion WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia in what Krush called an “interesting, strategic game.” The finish was worthy of an endgame study – Krush transitioned her favorable rook-and-pawn ending into a pawn race. While both pawns reach the finish line, Krush gets the move, and plays the simple tactic …Qh8+ and …Qg8+, skewering black’s final two pieces. Her veteran opponent saw the idea and resigned.
Unlike Kamsky, who increased his lead by a half-point, Krush could not pull any further away from the field thanks to WGM Tatev Abrahamyan’s continued sparkling play. She beat WIM Iryna Zenyuk in a tactical melee to move to 3.5/4. The Sicilian Dragon was all theory for about 20 moves. Abrahamyan said her preparation has been paying off in Saint Louis, but, she said, “It’s so easy to overanalyze something, hallucinate something.” The attack down the h-file was typical but brutal.
The game was the first of the day to finish in the women’s section. “Having a short game always helps you,” Abrahamyan said. “You have time to rest.” She will need it as she faces her toughest test so far in round five. Abrahamyan lines up with black against IM Anna Zatonskih. Historically, that is not such a bad offer. “I only beat her as black. I never beat her with white. The pressure is always on the higher-rated player.”
After losing a crucial game versus Krush yesterday, Zatonskih bounced back by besting WIM Viktorija Ni to get to 3/4. “It was difficult to win because she is such a solid chess player,” Zatonskih said. “Against someone who is lower-rated, you need to take some chances, and I know she is not feeling well.”
In the U.S. Championship, only FM John Bryant could have stayed within a half-point, but he never got in the game against GM Larry Christiansen. An early …Nc6 was summarily punished by the advance of white’s center pawns, and the passed d-pawn decided the game without issue. At two hours and 20 minutes, Christiansen’s win was the shortest game of the championship so far. “The game was in the bag pretty early,” he said. After the grueling defeat yesterday at the hands of Kamsky, Christiansen said today’s win was “just what the doctor ordered.” Previously he stated concern for his level of energy as the event progressed.
Christiansen’s win puts him on 3/4, but since he has already played the leader, he has to hope for a Kamsky misstep. Also tied for second standing are GMs Alex Onischuk and Joel Benjamin.
Onischuk won a wild middlegame against GM Alex Shabalov that featured seven passed pawns, the only pawns remaining on the board. Thinking it to be a notable achievement, Onischuk said it actually happened less than a month ago, to none other than Kamsky (against GM Alexander Morozevich). Like his Olympiad teammate, Onischuk scored the win, but only after a circuitous king walk that the disapproving computer alternated between winning and drawing for black. “We were both concerned,” Onischuk said, with the smile of a man who just got back from an adventure. “He played very creative. He finds so many amazing moves. Everyone knows that Shabba can only play this way, so I had expected this. When he’s in good form with the white pieces, he can just crush you.”
Benjamin’s win over GM Varuzhan Akobian was more restrained, and the win was a much more traditional endgame. His win nets him a date with black on the top board, as he becomes the next player to try to unseat Kamsky. Onischuk gets white against Christiansen on board two.
Neither GM Yury Shulman nor second-seeded GM Timur Gareev could muster a win, but Shulman’s method of securing a draw was visually appealing. He simply left his queen en prise, whilst simultaneously moving his knight to a square threatened by a pawn. Picturesque, yes, but not best. Instead, a simple trade of rooks and subsequent knight improvement would have given black problems. Strangely Gareev did not take the queen and repetition right away, leaving the door ajar for an even better variation for Shulman. After 26…Kh7? 27. Rxd4 cxd4 28. Ne7 Rf3 29. Kg2 would have given white a plus since 29…c5+ is met easily by 30. Ncd5. “If I had seen Kg2, I would have played it,” Shulman said. Instead, he only saw 29. Qe2, and was justifiably scared by 29…Rxf2+! “Intuition should have told me to play it.” The draw extends Shulman’s U.S. Championship unbeaten streak to 16 games, although he is not proud of the series since 15 of the games were drawn.
Also lurking are GMs Alejandro Ramirez and Sam Shankland, who both won in round four to get to 2.5/4. They will play each other in round five. Bryant and Holt get a brief respite from playing the veterans as they face each other next round.
Other interesting matchups include IM Sam Sevian against IM Kayden Troff, the two youngest players in the tournament (today marked Troff’s 15thbirthday and the release of a James Bond-themed/live chess match music video that he appears in). GM Ray Robson and Yaacov Norowitz both got their first wins today, while college students and good friends GM Robert Hess and GM Marc Arnold will play one another from the bottom of the tables.
Next up for Krush is black against winless WFM Sarah Chiang. Krush said that with Abrahamyan so close, she will not necessarily be playing for a draw as black. “I’m hungry. Every game you play to win.” With their looming matchup in round eight, Krush was asked if she was excited by the possibility of the two being separated by only a half-point going into that round. “Any person wants to see their lead increasing,” she said.
Round 5 – Krush Pulls Away, Kamsky Draws at U.S. Championships
Report by FM Mike Klein
The push and pull of the 2013 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship continued yesterday in round five, but this time the men pulled closer to the leader, while the leading lady began to push away from the field.
GM Gata Kamsky again did not get any advantage in the beginning moves. This time it was GM Joel Benjamin who equalized and even had the slightly better chances. After simplifying into a bishop endgame, an impasse was reached and the game was agreed drawn. Afterward, Kamsky chastised himself for forgetting that Benjamin played a solid variation against the London System. “That’s kind of amazing to me,” Benjamin said about the memory lapse. “It’s the only game I ever won against him! Maybe it was a more important game to me.” The game in reference was played at the 1991 U.S. Championship. Despite the loss, Kamsky went on to win the first of his three U.S. Championships.
Benjamin now sits tied for third with 3.5/5. “I wasn’t expecting to have a 2800+ performance rating. I thought I would need a few games to warm up. I didn’t think I could have such good form; I haven’t played serious chess in so long.” His last tournament game was curiously also against Kamsky at the Washington International in August 2012. Benjamin also pointed out that he has now played the top three seeds at the U.S. Championship. The win also ends the chances of anyone winning the Fischer Prize for a perfect score. “I saved the pot, I should get a share of that money,” Benjamin joked.
Next up for Kamsky in round six will be the black pieces against the red-hot GM Alex Onischuk, who won his third game in a row by besting GM Larry Christiansen. This is Onischuk’s first three-game winning streak at the U.S. Championship since 2006, went he went on to win his first and only title. Normally reserved in demeanor, Onischuk was buoyant after his game, partially because of the manner in which he is winning. After using a rook and four passed pawns to overcome GM Alex Shabalov’s queen yesterday, he switched to an Open Sicilian pawn formation today. Onischuk is almost exclusively a 1.d4 player. “Yesterday was a crazy game,” he said. “I guess I was inspired by that. We pretty much got a Sicilian. I didn’t know it of course.” Onischuk also liked that Kamsky no longer had a perfect score. “I’m glad he drew today so he’s not hunting for this $64,000 prize. That would be truly scary.”
Besides Kamsky, Onischuk and Benjamin, the only other player that is at least +2 is the most surprising of the bunch – GM Alejandro Ramirez. After a poor showing in 2012, he said he did not have that much time to prepare for this year’s iteration. Paradoxically, that did not stop him from winning again today over the well-studied GM Sam Shankland. “Shankland is known as a very booked-up player,” Ramirez said. “So I wanted to get him out of theory as soon as possible.” Ramirez said he knew the plan was working when they were both spending five minutes on every move.
Ramirez will take black against Benjamin in round six. Unlike his opponent, Ramirez has not played the same level of competition. “I still haven’t played the big dogs yet,” he said. “Ideally I would want to play [Kamsky] because it would mean I’m having a really good tournament. But playing black would be a nightmare. Last time I played him was a massacre.” He said it was vital to get a good result in round five because Wednesday is the only day off in the competition. “There’s an aura around you that everything is wrong when you lose before the rest day.”
The last perfect score in Saint Louis is now IM Irina Krush, who won her fifth straight game and increased her lead in the women’s tournament to a full point over WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, who drew IM Anna Zatonskih today. There is no Fischer Prize for the ladies, but the manner in which she won today was reminiscent of a game Fischer won during his famed 20-game winning streak leading up to his world championship match. In their 1971 Candidates Match, GM Mark Taimanov could have ended the streak but inexplicably hung a rook in an equal position; today WFM Sarah Chiang, still winless, hung a piece to a similar two-move fork. Krush said the position was still “unpleasant” for white, even without the blunder. “I’m clearly playing for a win. The b-pawn doesn’t play,” she said.
In a game that both players desperately wanted to win, Abrahamyan had a chance to keep pace but instead drew Zatonskih. Even with pawns all on one side of the board, white’s king was in the crossfire and could have been pressured more. Instead a series of trades on d3 made the game dead equal, thus pushing Krush’s lead to one point. “The fact that I missed something, it’s disappointing,” Abrahamyan said. She still controls her own destiny, which she said is critical. “It’s very important because you have to worry about your game and the results of other games. [Staying within one point] greatly increases your chances.” Looking ahead, Abrahamyan gets white against Krush in round eight.
In other games, GM Yury Shulman just barely extended his somewhat ignominious drawing streak to 13 draws, which dates back to last year. The run is the third longest in U.S. Championship history. Today GM Varuzhan Akobian had him on the ropes. With all the chances in the middlegame, and transferring to a pawn-up endgame, Akobian was frustrated he did not earn the point. The king and pawn ending is fascinatingly complex, with Black often surviving by a mere tempo. After the game Akobian speculated that advancing the lagging e-pawn to e4 cost him the win. “I don’t know why I play it,” he said. “It was the 38th move (two moves before time control). I could have just played anything and thought more.”
GM Ray Robson won his second game in a row by beating GM Melik Khachiyan. Robson has now won all four games they have played. “Sometimes after you lose to somebody a few times, you get nervous,” Robson said. After a sluggish start with .5/3, Robson has won two in a row. He has chosen to play tennis the last two mornings instead of prepare. “Some players, I don’t know why, maybe because of how they look, I don’t do well against. Why does Federer always beat Nadal?” In this regard, Robson’s selective memory and prejudice toward the Swiss star showed. Rafael Nadal is actually 19-10 lifetime against Roger Federer.
Round 6 – Ramirez Joins Chase, Abrahamyan Inches Closer
Report by FM Mike Klein
A pair of largely uneventful draws by the two leaders protected their respective leads, but a host of other players jockeyed for position just beneath them in round six of the 2013 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. Many crucial games were decided into the sixth hour of play.
The marquee matchup so far of the men’s tournament, GM Gata Kamsky and GM Alex Onischuk, played a relatively short two-hour draw on the top board. The split point allowed three-time champion Kamsky (5/6) to retain his half-point lead over Onischuk (4.5/6), who is seeking his first title since 2006. “The result is okay,” Onischuk said. “Gata was better prepared. He knew this line better than I did. I didn’t expect …f5. I was out of my book.” Kamsky played the first dozen moves in negative time thanks to the increment.
“I think it’s still not over,” Onischuk said about the chances to finish atop the standings. “One game can change everything.”
Since no one won, GM Alejandro Ramirez’s win over GM Joel Benjamin makes him joint second with Onischuk. After a poor 2012 Championship in which he scored only 4/11, Ramirez now has surpassed that mark in only six games. Benjamin’s unlikely run for his first title in more than a dozen years took a major setback when he missed the clever 62…h5+ in severe time pressure. Instead, if the king is less brave and walks backward, white has some chances to hold. “We were really tired by that point,” Ramirez said. “It still looks really bad for white.” Ramirez had about four minutes while Benjamin was under one minute. “I haven’t played on increment yet in this tournament, and I think it has really helped my chess.”
“If somebody told me before this tournament, ‘You’re going to win four games,’ I would have told them, ‘You’re joking,’” Ramirez said.
Boards 3-5 all contained their own interesting story lines as well. FM John Bryant held second-seeded GM Timur Gareev to a solid draw, prompting another grandmaster to comment, “I guess the U.S. Open wasn’t a fluke.” Bryant won the 2013 automatic qualification from the 2012 event. “I had a good position out of the opening,” Bryant said. “I let him trade his dark-squared bishop. That might have been where I let the advantage slip away.” Opponents are starting to appreciate Bryant’s talent."He told me one day I could be like him, if I'm lucky," Bryant said Gareev told him after the game.
Like Benjamin, another tournament veteran faltered in round six. GM Larry Christiansen, who combined with Benjamin has more than 50 U.S. Championship appearances, stated previously that he worried about his energy in the later rounds. Christiansen lost his second game in a row, though GM Conrad Holt admitted that he benefitted from some good fortune.
“I was afraid I was doing very badly, but then I liked my position,” Holt said. “I wasn’t calculating that well and missing all of his ideas, but I was lucky and kept having a resource. I didn’t see Ra7, but he didn’t see Bc5, so it worked perfectly.” The paradoxical 44th move both attacks the rook on a7 and gives the black king a necessary flight square to threaten 45…Rg4+. Holt said he does not expect to keep getting by this way. “I’m sure I’ll continue to make lots of blunders going forward.”
On board five, one lengthy streak ended, while another one continued. After drawing 13 consecutive games dating back to last year, GM Shulman finally cracked today against GM Ray Robson, who has now won three straight. After barely scraping by with a draw in round five, Shulman was behind very early in round six. The computer showed a whopping +2 for Robson after only nine moves, easily the biggest opening advantage any player has had in the event. His king meekly moved to f8 shortly thereafter. With both competitors playing almost exclusively on the 30-second increment, Shulman defended tenaciously before falling prey to a defenseless pin. After being hoodwinked, Shulman shook his head and let his time run out.
In the women’s championship, Krush equalized as black without issue, though she insisted she still preferred to make a more dynamic game. She chastised her decision not to play 9…Qg5 to take advantage of 9. Bd3, which weakened g2.
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan pounced on the opportunity to close the gap, winning against three-time champion WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia. After being surprised out of the opening, she decided to play the safe Nf3 variation against the Alekhine’s Defense.
“I was not expecting it,” Abrahamyan said of the black’s opening move. “I looked up a lot of lines but not this one. This tournament it seems like [Belakovskaia] is doing specific preparation.” Belakovskaia has not played competitively in several years, making her database of historic games too outdated to matter. After everything developed from the back row for white, black’s rooks were not yet connected, and Abrahamyan won a piece with a simple tactic. Although the game dragged on, it was essentially a miniature. “It seems like it’s coming down to the finish line, so it’s really nerve-racking,” she said.
Still lurking is IM Anna Zatonskih, who won the longest game in either tournament, beating WGM Camilla Baginskaite in a complicated rook and minor piece ending. WFM Sarah Chiang got her first point today, beating WIM Vikorija Ni as black. She said her coach, GM Gregory Kaidanov, who is playing in the U.S. Championship, gave her a useful perspective. “He said when he has a streak of bad games, like if you go 0-9, at the end of the day, your family still loves you. Everything is okay. You have to focus on other things. That really helped me a lot. But it’s still a relief finally winning a game. In the long run, I’m going to play in hundreds of tournaments, and this is just one.”
Just before the pairings for round seven were posted, Ramirez assumed he would get black against Kamsky, a situation he previously called a “nightmare” and which he said in the previous iteration, he was “massacred”. Asked if he now felt any different about the impending matchup, Ramirez quickly responded, “No.”
U.S. Championship 2013 | Round 6 standings
|6.||Bryant, John Daniel||FM||2442||3½||2648|
|9.||Christiansen, Larry M||GM||2579||3||2581|
|11.||Kaidanov, Gregory S||GM||2593||3||2492|
|14.||Troff, Kayden W||IM||2421||3||2573|
|15.||Shankland, Samuel L||GM||2612||3||2520|
|19.||Sammour-Hasbun, Jorge E.||FM||2463||2½||2467|
|22.||Hess, Robert L||GM||2595||2||2395|
|24.||Arnold, Marc T||GM||2538||1||2282|
U.S. Women's Championship 2013 | Round 6 standings
While we posted these reports, the seventh round already started at www.uschesschamps.com!
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