Anna Zatonskih wins second consecutive US Women's Championship

by ChessBase
10/14/2009 – Remember the very dramatic final playoff game between Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush? The former won the title with milliseconds on the clock. This year it was calmer sailing for Anna, who won the event one round before it finished. In the end she had a very impressive score of 8.5/9, with Camilla Baginskaite trailing two full points behind. Big illustrated report with pictures by Betsy Dynako.

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Zatonskih clinches second consecutive US Women's Championship Title

Anna Zatonskih clinched her second consecutive U.S. Women's Chess championship by defeating Sabina Foisor in round eight of the 2009 event at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. With one round remaining, she has acquired a near-perfect 7.5 out of 8 points and will win the record $15,000 first prize. No other woman has more than 5.5 points, so Tuesday's final round will be for posterity, not place.

Anna Zatonskih, 2009 US Women's Champion

Zatonskih also earned an automatic qualification to the 2010 U.S. Women's Chess Championship. She had won all of her games with the black pieces, entered a slightly better ending against Foisor. The defending championship pressed ahead and found a stunning coup de grace – a sacrifice of her bishop, her last major piece, that resembled a famous game played by Grandmaster Alexei Shirov. Jettisoning the bishop created an unstoppable armada of pawns that Foisor, of Baltimore, Md., could not slow down.

Foisor,S (2390) - Zatonskih,A (2496) [D35]
ch-USA w Saint Louis USA (8), 12.10.2009 [Bird, Chris]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Be7 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bf4 Nf6 6.Qc2 c5 7.e3?! Criticized as too passive, but Foisor was obviously trying to play carefully against the tournament leader. Both 7.dxc5 ; and 7.Nf3 would have been more active tries. 7...cxd4 8.exd4 Nc6 9.Bb5 Qb6 10.Nge2 0-0 11.Bxc6 Qxc6 12.0-0 Be6 13.Rac1 Rac8. Zatonskih said after the game she would have happily offered a draw around here but with the no draws before 30 moves rule in effect this was not possible. 14.f3 Qd7 15.g4. The commentary room definitely did not like this move although Zatonskih thought it was actually okay. 15...b5 16.a3 Ne8 17.Qb3 a6 18.Bg3 Rc4. No need for complications with 18...Nd6 19.Nxd5 Bd8 20.Rxc8 Nxc8 21.Nef4 Nb6 although black stands much better here. 19.Rcd1 f6 20.Rfe1 Bf7 21.Nf4 Nc7 22.Qc2

22...b4! Zatonskih decided at this point that although she would have been happy with a draw, she felt she now had to play what she thought was the best move on the board, irrespective of how it complicated the game. She thought playing for a draw with more cautious moves could have presented other problems. 23.axb4 Bxb4 24.Qf5? 24.Nd3 Bg6 25.Qb3 is still better for Black, but not as bad as the move played. 24...Qxf5 25.gxf5 Nb5 The white pawn will fall. 26.Nfe2 Nxc3 27.bxc3 Bxc3 28.Nxc3 Rxc3

Zatonskih is just a clear pawn up. 29.Kf2 Rfc8 30.Re3 Rxe3. Move 30 comes and goes but there won't be any draw offer from Zatonskih who feels she can play on here without any risk. She had also seen what was happening in the Krush-Baginskaite game and was sure that she already had the Championship sewn up. 31.Kxe3 Rc3+ 32.Rd3 Rxd3+ 33.Kxd3. An opposite colored bishop ending has been reached but Black still has good winning chances here thanks to White's doubled pawns on f3 and f5. 33...Bh5 34.Ke3 a5 35.Bd6 Kf7 36.Kf4 Ke8 37.Ba3 a4 38.Ke3 Kd7 39.h3 Kd8 40.Bf8 Ke8 41.Bc5 [41.Bxg7?? a3] 41...Kf7 42.h4 Kg8 43.Kf4 Be8 44.Ba3 Bb5 45.Ke3 Kf7 46.Bb4 Bc4 47.Kd2 Bf1 48.Ke3 Bh3 49.Kf4 Ke8 50.Ba3 Kd7 51.Bf8 Kc6 52.Ke3 Bxf5 53.Kd2 g5 54.Be7? [54.hxg5 fxg5 55.Bh6! and white may still be in with a chance of drawing this.] 54...gxh4 55.Bxf6 h3 56.Be5

56...Be4 and 0-1 because of 57.Kc3 (57.f4 h2; 57.fxe4 dxe4 58.Ke3 Kd5) 57...Kb5 58.Bh2 Bxf3 59.Be5 Bd1 60.Bb8 a3 61.Be5 a2 62.Kb2 Bb3 and the black king will march over to the kingside to help the h-pawn promote.

Anna Zatonskih in action in Saint Louis

The victory came combined with a loss by Zatonskih's closest competitor. For most of the tournament, Camilla Baginskaite trailed the leader by one point, but she suffered her first loss in round eight, at the hands of the resurgent Irina Krush. Krush, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who began with only one win and three draws in her first five games, has won three in a row to pull into a tie with Baginskaite for second place.

IM (and WGM) Irina Krush, member of 2004 Silver medal US Olympiad team and 2008 Bronze medal team

Irina is a two-time U.S. Women’s Champion and youngest winner ever at age 14

Baginskaite, of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Krush have a lot to play for in the final round. Not only is there a lot of prize money still at stake ($12,000 is the second prize), but the top two finishers in the tournament will qualify for the next Women's World Championship, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey. Zatonskih has already qualified, but if two or more women are tied for second after tomorrow's round nine, a fast-paced tiebreaker will be played to decide who is awarded the second spot in the championship.

Back to back: Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush

One woman's world championship qualification hopes all but ended in round eight when Alisa Melekhina, 18, of Philadelphia, Pa., lost her second game in three rounds. She had been undefeated through the first five rounds, despite playing many players who are vastly more experienced. Today she lost to Iryna Zenyuk, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who said she received encouragement from friends in her native Ukraine. They have been staying up until 5 a.m. local time to follow her matches online. "Yesterday I was so down," Zenyuk said. "People I train with said, 'You have to come back, you have to fight.'" Zenyuk declined to say who her supporters were, leading some to believe she has some very strong chess players on her support team.

Also rebounding today was 19-year-old Yun Fan, of Greencastle, Ind. She played several sacrifices against third-seeded Rusudan Goletiani, including both of her knights and both of her rooks. Still in college, Fan said she was proud of the game, but did not expect her non-chess playing professors to understand the beauty of it.

Fan,Yun (2201) - Goletiani,R (2437) [B41]
ch-USA w Saint Louis USA (8), 12.10.2009 [Bird, Chris]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Qc7 7.a3 Nc6 8.Be2 Ne5 9.Be3 h5 10.h3 Ng6 11.Qd2 b6 12.f4 e5 13.fxe5 Qxe5 14.0-0-0 Bc5 15.Nf5 Bxe3 16.Qxe3 0-0 17.g4 Nf4 18.gxh5 d5?!

19.Ne7+! Qxe7 20.Qxf4 dxe4 21.Rhg1 Kh7 22.Qg5 Rg8

23.Nxe4! After this White is totally winning. 23...Bb7 [23...Nxe4?? 24.Qxe7; 23...Qxe4?? 24.Bd3] 24.Nxf6+ Qxf6 25.Bd3+ Kh8 26.Qxf6 gxf6 27.h6 Bg2? 28.h7 Rg7 29.Rxg2! A simple but very effective tactic. 29...Rxg2 30.Be4 Rc8 31.Bxg2 Rxc4+ 32.Kb1 Kxh7 33.Rd6 b5 34.Rxf6 b4 35.axb4 Kg7 36.Rxf7+ 1-0.

After beginning the tournament will several losses, Fan won two games out of her last three. Goletiani, of Hartsdale, N.Y., underperformed all event and said she is just looking to get the tournament over with.

IM (and WGM) Rusudan Goletiani, Soviet Union champion under age of 12; Georgian and Russian champion under 14; World Junior Champion under 14, 16, 18; U.S. women’s champion, 2005

Standings after eight from nine rounds

Intense action marks the end of the US Women's Championship

The 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship had a clear winner going into the final round, but there was heavy drama in the battle for money, place and qualification for other tournaments.

Alisa Melekhina vs Battsetseg Tsagaan and Tatev Abrahamyan vs Irina Krush in round nine

Defending U.S. Champion Anna Zatonskih, of Long Island, N.Y., finished off the tournament in style with a positional crush of Yun Fan, of Greencastle, Ind. She won the record $15,000 first place prize fund. Zatonskih ended with eight wins and one draw in nine games, and her 8.5 points were tied for the best result in the championship in more than 20 years. She said the championship was the best performance of her career. "I think it was the strongest U.S. Championship I ever played," Zatonskih said.

Best friends: WIM Alisa Melekhina, IM Rusudan Goletiani and WFM Tatev Abrahamyan

The battle for second place, which began with three women mathematically eligible, crystallized when 42-year-old Camilla Baginskaite, the tournament's oldest participant, rebounded from a round eight loss. Baginskaite, of Sioux Falls, S.D., finished with six wins and one draw after beating Sabina Foisor, of Baltimore, Md., in the longest game of the day to pull one point ahead of both Alisa Melekhina and Irina Krush.

Just checking: Anna Zatonskih watches Rusudan vs Tatev in round four

Melekhina, of Philadelphia, Pa., found a late checkmate tactic to beat Battsetseg Tsagaan, of Ellicott City, Md., and briefly pulled into a tie with Baginskaite, whose game was still in progress. Krush, of Brooklyn, N.Y., failed to keep pace. She began the round on equal second with Baginskaite but could not stay tied, as she lost to Tatev Abrahamyan, of Glendale, Calif. Krush's loss ended her streak of three consecutive wins.

The masked chess player: WFM Tatev Abrahamyan, 2004 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship Runner-Up; 2008 and 2005 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship Third Place; 2006 Pan-Am U18 (Perfect Score)

With the win, Baginskaite won $12,000 and avoided a complicated tiebreaker system that would have left second place highly in doubt. This was especially important because the top two finishers in the tournament qualified for the next Women's World Chess Championship, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey. Zatonskih and Baginskaite are the only two American women to gain berths so far to the 64-player knockout event. Krush may still qualify based on her high rating.

Anna and Tatev, the only two player to wear hats, played each other in round five

Melekhina, the youngest player in the event, finished in a tie for third place with Krush at 5.5 points. They will both take home $7,500. All five games were decisive in the last round. The last draw was in round five, more than 20 games ago. In many men's events, more than half of the games end in draws. At this championship, fewer than a quarter ended peacefully.

Group shot of all participants at the 2009 US Women's Chess Championship

All pictures by Betsy Dynako of Inspiring Art

2009 US Women's Championship – Final Standings

# Player
1 Anna Zatonskih
2 Camilla Baginskaite
3 Alisa Melekhina
4 Irina Krush
5 Tatev Abrahamyan
6 Sabina Foisor
7 Rusudan Goletiani
8 Iryna Zenyuk
9 Battsetseg Tsagaan
10 Yun Fan
  • Click on linked results to get the annotated game!

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization that opened in July 2008. Founded by retired investment fund manager Rex Sinquefield, it has more than 500 members. The club offers free classes, discounted tournament entry fees and discounted merchandise for club members. For more information, please visit the web official site, or call 314-361-CHESS.


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High drama in last year's Women's Championship

Shulman wins US Championship; Zatonskih wins Women's Title
23.05.2008 – GM Yury Shulman won the 2008 Frank K. Berry U.S. Championship with 7/9, with IM Johhua Friedel completing his final GM norm. In the Women's Championship IMs Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush tied for first, then went into dramatic blitz tiebreaks, which Anna won in the last possible second. You can watch the scene in a new version of this dramatic video.

Armageddon at the US Women's Championship
09.06.2008 – At the 2008 Women's Chess Championship IMs Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush tied for first, then played rapid and blitz tiebreakers, and finally a very dramatic Armageddon game, which Anna won in the last possible second. Irina has protested in an open letter that her opponent was making moves before she had completed her own. You can watch the scene in a forensic video – in slow motion.

US Women's Armageddon – reactions from our readers
15.06.2008 – The final tiebreak game that decided the 2008 US Women's Chess Championship in favour of Anna Zatonskih led to a protest by Irina Krush, who lost in a controversial manner. The critical phase was caught on video, which our readers could view in slow motion. "This film has been dissected as much as the Zapruder JFK assassination film," writes Julian Wan of Ann Arbor, USA. Selected letters.

Armageddon decider – more reader feedback
24.06.2008 – How does Anna Zatonskih feel about her sudden-death win of the US Women's Championship earlier this year? What do other readers think about the comments that have been made on the subject? The letters keep pouring in, and even BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen, who once beat Irina Krush, has weighed in with a proposal for a new blitz clock.

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