US-Ch 2014: You were expecting someone else?

5/21/2014 – The playoffs started with Armageddon games: Varuzhan Akobian beat Aleksandr Lenderman, while Tatev Abrahamyan drew Anna Zatonskih with black and thus progressed to the final. There Gata Kamsky beat Akobian 1½-½, while Irina Krush did likewise to Abrahamyan. Gata is US Champions for the fifth time, Irina has won her sixth Championship. Full report with pictures.

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For the sixth consecutive year, the best chess players in the U.S. gathered in Saint Louis to fight for the title of U.S. Champion and U.S. Women's Champion. GM Gata Kamsky was defending his title while recently anointed grandmaster Irina Krush was looking for her sixth title at the 2014 U.S. Women's Championship. The events were held simultaneously from May 7 through May 20 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). All games were broadcast live and discussed by the powerful commentary team of GMs Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley on the official web site.

Gata Kamsky, Irina Krush win US Championship 2014

By Brian Jerauld

The tight drama of the 2014 U.S. Championships turned out to be all for show. Several of the nation’s top 22 players took turns stealing headlines and taking their shots at the top, but when the dust of the near two-week long fight cleared, the two champions left standing were the same two champions as before.

Grandmaster Gata Kamsky has repeated as the U.S. Chess Champion, his fifth time holding the title, after defeating GM Varuzhan Akobian 1.5-0.5 in a playoff on Tuesday evening. As well, GM Irina Krush turned in a three-peat as the U.S. Women’s Champion, her sixth year as title holder, after knocking out WGM Tatev Abrahayam 1.5-0.5 in their own playoff on Tuesday. Though both champions admit struggling with the 2014 fields, Kamsky and Krush were the only players to finish undefeated.

“It has been a tough tournament for me, I can feel all these guys. They have been preparing and playing really well,” Kamsky said of his eleven challengers. “Of course, there were a lot of blunders because they wanted to win, but that made everything very competitive. It was nice to win this event.”

Kamsky was fortunate to even be playing chess in Tuesday’s playoff, after struggling to tally decisions for the entire tournament. With only three wins across eleven rounds, a scattering of uninspired draws left even Kamsky himself predicting a new national champion in the tournament’s earlygoing.

Made it all the way to the final playoff: WGM Tatev Abrahamyan

But Akobian and GM Aleksandr Lenderman, tied in first place entering the final round, fought each other to a draw when a win would have earned either of them the title outright. It opened up the extra three-way playoff as Kamsky caught pace with a final-round win over Josh Friedel on Monday. It was the first time all tournament Kamsky had appeared on the top of the leaderboard. “I felt (the three-way playoff) was really exciting, it was really good for me,” Kamsky said. “Considering the game (Monday) that they played where Akobian could have won, I feel very lucky.”

Krush also left her sixth title in doubt, falling sick mid-event and suffering through a stretch of draws that left her a full point behind the leader with two rounds to go. But she caught pace with a win over rival IM Anna Zatonskih in round eight, then was fortunate that another draw in the final round was good enough to keep her up top – though not alone. The women’s competition also featured a three-way playoff.

Krush admitted the national championship is never easy, despite her consistent results. “All of these championships are hard – it’s not like what people think ‘oh, she wins every year,’” Krush said. “But the thing is, they are always difficult. Maybe last year was my smoothest victory, but a year before that I had a playoff with Anna (Zatonskih), and now I had a playoff with Tatev. But this one was definitely hard, I felt like I had one obstacle after another. The fact that I had a mild fever in the middle of the tournament, and then I was drawing these games and found myself so far behind Anna – it just felt like so many obstacles. It’s like: ‘Where is the sun? Where is it? I couldn’t see it.'”

Keenly watched: the Armageddon playoff between Anna Zatonskih and Tatev Abrahamyan

Tuesday’s three-way playoff first began with a single Armageddon match designed to knock one player from each race. Kamsky and Krush had earned advantage due to tiebreaks, setting up Akobian and Lenderman, as well as Abrahamyan and Zatonskih, to square off in an Armageddon game.

The their Armageddon playoff Akobian, who needed a draw, won by checkmate

In the specialized match, the player with the black pieces receives draw-odds and only has to avoid losing to advance. Abrahamyan had black and knocked out Zatonskih with a perpetual check; Akobian passed over his draw odds and just brought Lenderman down by checkmate.

The final position in Lenderman-Akobian

It set up the finals, which was two rapid games – 25 minutes with a 5-second-per-move increment – to declare the champion. Akobian drew the first game with the white pieces, while Kamsky won in the second game as white.

In the women’s final, Krush took the full point in her first game as white, then played Abrahamyan to a draw in the second game. “One thing I know is that in a rapid game you need good nerves and a fresh mind,” Krush said. “It’s not really decided by opening preparation.”

Men Championship Playoffs

Armageddon
GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2582
0-1
GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2643

Final
GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2643
½-½
GM Kamsky, Gata 2713
GM Kamsky, Gata 2713
1-0
GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2643

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Women's Championship Playoffs

Armageddon
IM Zatonskih, Anna 2469
½-½
WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366

Final
GM Krush, Irina 2489
1-0
WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366
WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366
½-½
GM Krush, Irina 2489

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Screen captures from the live commentary

Report: Brian Jerauld + ChessBase, photos by Lennart Ootes


Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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kenneth calitri kenneth calitri 5/22/2014 01:06
First, it is amazing to watch Kamsky win with the London and KIA. His positional maneuvering is really tremendously pleasing to watch. Not many GM's against a field as strong as this can win with those openings. He is a grinder in the best of Russian chess tradition. Besides her fine and fun chess Irina Krush is an articulate and intelligent women. If you haven't you should listen to per post games interviews. She is multi-dimensional, thoughtful, and her comments on faith, friends, and fans (as well as her chess) was telling. An interesting human being. I am a huge fan of both these players.
genem genem 5/22/2014 04:01
Nice to see Irina wearing sensible sleeves in this year's playoffs :-) I remember Irina spending precious time constantly having to pull up her right sleeve in a final Blitz to lose against Anna Zatonskih a couple years ago, which was almost painful to watch.
jim macneil jim macneil 5/21/2014 07:36
It was classy of GM Lenderman to allow GM Akobian to play the mate on the board in the playoff game.
jebib jebib 5/21/2014 02:27
It seems to me after all the stress of a round robin tournament, a tie-break ought to be a round robin, with the top 2 playing a game for the title.
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