US Ch. Rd01: 13-year-old steals the thunder

by Albert Silver
5/9/2014 – The US Championship certainly had its share of fanfare preceding it: St. Louis was declared the US Chess Capital by a Senate resolution, days after a Congressional Chess Caucus had been formed to promote the educational benefits of chess. Despite all this, and world class players such as Kamsky and the US's first female to become a grandmaster, a teenager stole the show.

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For the sixth consecutive year, the best chess players in the U.S. have gathered in Saint Louis to fight for the title of U.S. Champion and U.S. Women’s Champion. GM Gata Kamsky is defending his title while recently anointed grandmaster Irina Krush is looking for her sixth title at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship. The events are being held simultaneously from May 7 through May 20 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). The games start each day at 1 p.m., with every move broadcast live and discussed by the powerful commentary team of GMs Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley on the official web site.

Wednesday’s opening ceremonies were held at the World Chess Hall of Fame, which sits directly across the street from the venue for the tournaments, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. The event featured the drawing of lots to determine pairings and colors for both round-robin tournaments. Here are the pairings for Wednesday’s first round, highlighted by an instant clash between top-seeded Kamsky and number two seed Timur Gareev.

On the eve of hosting the most prestigious chess tournaments in the nation, St. Louis received national recognition from the United States Senate, which passed an official resolution late Monday night naming St. Louis the National Chess Capital.

The resolution, which was introduced by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), also seeks to raise awareness of the educational benefits of chess and to encourage schools and community centers to engage in chess programs that promote important developmental skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, spatial awareness and more.

"The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis hosts all major U.S. chess competitions and has been a driver in educating children throughout the State since its inception," Senator McCaskill said. "The intellect and creativity needed to learn and compete in chess also help students think creatively and strategically in traditional academic areas, including math and science. We are proud St. Louis is leading the way in competitive American chess while providing students the problem-solving and critical thinking skills needed in an ever-advancing world."

“I’m pleased the Senate approved our resolution to designate St. Louis as the National Chess Capital,” Senator Blunt said. “Chess programs like those offered by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis challenge young people academically and help motivate them to succeed."

The news came just days after the announcement that a Congressional Chess Caucus had been formed to promote the educational benefits of chess.

Men's Championship round one

The 2014 US Championship started today, and for the seventh consecutive year, it is held at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. After being lauded as the Chess Capitol in the US, and amidst federal national government recognition of the benefits for youth, the first round was a posterchild if any.

The men’s competition brings in a number of championship veterans, whether it be Gata Kamsky, both the oldest and strongest player in the event, to teen talents Daniel Naroditsky and Ray Robson, neither of whom are strangers to it. Among the new faces is GM Mackenzie “Mac” Molner, 25, who earned his grandmaster title in 2013, a breakthrough year for him as he also won the very disputed GM-filled US Open.

The opening round saw a an anticlimactic battle between the two top Elos, Gata Kamsky and Timur Gareev, neither of whom wished to expose themselves so early in the competition and a 14-move draw was the result. Other games were more spirited though, as is usual of the traditionally hard-fought title, and two players were able to draw blood for a positive start.

The first was Ray Robson who played a very sharp Petroff in the 4….Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 line in which Black forewent on kingside castling and opted instead for the queenside like White. In the nervous middlegame skirmish, Sergey Erenberg overlooked a strong white continuation, and after a rook penetration on the seventh, soon went the way of the dodo.

Ray Robson

Ray is a member of the Webster University chess team that recently captured the 2013 national collegiate chess championship. He learned chess at age three and has earned seven national scholastic titles since. Robson finished in the top ten at the World Youth Championship from 2004 to 2007 and won Super Nationals in 2005. He defeated his first grandmaster in 2006, the same year he earned the USCF National Master title. He is widely considered to be America's brightest hope to become an elite GM since Hikaru Nakamura. In fact, Ray broke Hikaru's record and currently holds the title as the youngest-ever American Grandmaster, fulfilling the requirements about two weeks prior to his 15th birthday.

GM Josh Friedel was doing fine against Alexander Lenderman, and had a promising position with white, but began to drift in the late middlegame and eventually succumbed.

Men: results round 1

White Rtng
Black Rtng
GM Molner, Mackenzie 2522
GM Onischuk, Alexander 2668
GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2643
IM Naroditsky, Daniel 2543
GM Friedel, Joshua E 2505
GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2582
GM Gareev, Timur 2653
GM Kamsky, Gata 2713
GM Ramirez, Alejandro 2595
GM Shankland, Samuel L 2634
GM Robson, Ray 2631
GM Erenburg, Sergey 2633

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Women's Championship

In the women’s competition, reigning champion GM Irina Krush, flush with her newly acquired title, the first American woman so honored, had little difficulty in outclassing her opponent, Katerina Nemcova, while here closest rival on paper, four-time champion IM Anna Zatonskih was held to a draw by Irina Zenyuk. Tatev Abrahamyan and Sabina Foisor also notched opening wins against Alisa Melekhina and Camilla Baginskaite respectively, but the game of the round, for men and women, was the final game left running: the exciting battle between Viktorija Ni and 13-year-old Ashritha Eswaran.

Ashritha Eswaran is a young US player who has competed for the US in the World Under-12 and Under-14 categories, narrowly missing the medal, and who comes as one of the youngest-ever competitors in the women’s section. She sports the title of National Master, a US title granted when a player passes a 2200 USCF rating, especially noteworthy when you consider that this is the result of adding 300 Elo to her rating since 2013.

Ashritha Eswaran

The title of youngest-ever competitor in the U.S. Women’s Championship may still belong to reigning champion GM Irina Krush – age 11 in 1995 – but that just may be because Ashritha Eswaran got a late start. The California 13-year-old, who learned to play at age seven (to Krush’s five), has had an unbelievably fast rise to the top ranks since joining the USCF in just 2008 – currently ranking as the 16th female in the nation, with a rating of 2231.

“I feel really happy and excited (for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship), and I have a lot of respect for everyone who is coming - despite the age difference,” Eswaran said. “I think it’s important to play against players of all ages, you can learn something from everyone. Lately, chess just feels like a door that’s opening, where I can explore new things still unknown to me around the world, meet new friends and just treat my chess career like a learning experience.”

Her game with black against her far more experienced, and higher rated opponent, started badly as she was outplayed and lost material in a difficult middlegame. A missed tactic allowed her to claw back to a fighting chance for a draw, but then the battle really took off, with blazing tactical fireworks precisely when there were the fewest pieces left. The three live commentators, WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan and GM Maurice Ashley were literally jumping up and down as the richness of the position unraveled and the young player showed the depth of her talent and combativeness.

[Event "ch-USA w 2014"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2014.05.08"] [Round "1.5"] [White "Ni, Viktorija"] [Black "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "2302"] [BlackElo "2231"] [PlyCount "166"] [EventDate "2014.05.08"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 Be7 4. e3 d5 5. c4 c6 6. Nc3 Nbd7 7. Qc2 b6 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. O-O O-O 10. cxd5 exd5 11. Ne5 h6 12. Nxd7 Nxd7 13. Bf4 Re8 14. Bf5 Bf6 15. Rfd1 Nf8 16. e4 Ne6 17. Bxe6 Rxe6 18. e5 Bg5 19. Bg3 Bh4 20. f4 Bxg3 21. hxg3 Rg6 22. Kh2 Qd7 23. Rf1 Qg4 24. Rf3 Bc8 25. f5 Rg5 26. Ne2 Bxf5 27. Qxc6 Rc8 28. Qxd5 Qh5+ 29. Kg1 Bg4 30. Rc3 Rxc3 31. Nf4 Rxg3 32. Nxh5 Bxh5 33. Rf1 Bg6 34. Qa8+ Kh7 {After winning the queen, White seems to expect Black to collapse, and it must be noted that many a player would.} 35. e6 $2 fxe6 36. Rf8 {Possibly White missed the following trick, or underestimated it if she did see it.} Rxg2+ 37. Qxg2 Rxg2+ 38. Kxg2 Be4+ 39. Kg3 Bd5 40. b3 Kg6 41. Kf4 Kh5 42. Kg3 Kg6 43. Kg4 Be4 44. Rd8 Bb1 45. a3 Bc2 46. b4 b5 {The position is quite difficult for White to convert, and White seems at a loss on how to proceed.} 47. Rd7 h5+ 48. Kg3 Kf6 49. Rxa7 g5 50. Ra5 Ba4 51. Ra6 Bb3 52. Rc6 h4+ 53. Kh3 Bc4 54. Rc5 Kg6 55. Re5 ({Both players miss the following winning trick} 55. a4 $1 Bf1+ {forced of course} 56. Kh2 bxa4 57. b5 g4 58. Kg1 Bd3 59. b6 Be4 60. Re5 Bf3 61. d5 $1) 55... Kh5 56. a4 $2 {Now, however, nothing could be less clear. The a-pawn is as dangerous as its counterpart on the b-file.} bxa4 57. b5 a3 58. b6 a2 59. Ra5 Bd5 60. Kh2 g4 61. Ra3 Kg5 62. Ra5 Kh5 63. Ra3 g3+ 64. Kh3 Kg5 65. Ra5 Kh5 66. Ra3 Kg5 67. Ra5 Kh5 68. Ra3 Kg5 69. Ra5 {You may have noticed a four-fold repetition. It is not a notation error. White had mistakenly refused to take the chance at a draw, while Black explained in the post-game interview that she was down on time, and was repeating to gain with the increments. Perhaps a couple of times too many, but her opponent let her, so....} Kh5 70. Ra3 {Both live commentators were quite excited at the prospect of ...e5, but none of them expected the young player to find it, much less play it.} e5 $1 {Never underestimate a 13-year-old, especially if they qualified for the US Championship. The key point is that this blockades the 5th rank, so the king is no longer vulnerable to the rook's harrying.} 71. dxe5 {[%cal Ra3a5,Ra5e5]} Bc4 $1 {The threat, ladies and gentlemen, is Bf1 mate!} 72. Kg2 Kg4 73. b7 Bd5+ (73... h3+ $1 {Black misses her winning chance.} 74. Kh1 Bd5+ 75. Kg1 h2+) 74. Kf1 Bxb7 75. Ra4+ Kf3 76. Rxa2 h3 77. Kg1 {White has the draw in reach now.} Bd5 78. Rd2 {White's plan is simply to take the pawn on h2 with the rook, the second it moves. Seeing this, she lets down her guard, not realizing there is one last trick left on the board.} Bc4 79. Rc2 $4 (79. e6 $1 {was enough.} Bxe6 80. Rd3+ Kf4 81. Rd4+ Ke3 82. Rh4 Kf3 83. Rh6 {and it is a draw.}) 79... Be2 $1 {The point. The rook is cut off from the defense.} 80. Rc3+ Kg4 81. e6 h2+ 82. Kg2 Bf1+ $3 83. Kh1 Kh3 $1 {and it is mate in two.} 0-1

Ashritha Eswaran signs her first game and first victory in the US Women's Championship

A deeply disappointed Ni quickly signed the scoresheets and exited the hall, while the teenager in braces with a flower hairpin, gave one of the most modest and mature post-game interviews one could see. Despite a grin that stretched from ear to ear, her replies bespoke a naturalness and good character that did both her and her parents credit.

Women: Results of round 1

White Rtng
Black Rtng
WGM Nemcova, Katerina 2282
GM Krush, Irina 2489
CM Zenyuk, Iryna 2249
IM Zatonskih, Anna 2469
WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366
FM Melekhina, Alisa 2151
WGM Foisor, Sabina-F. 2238
WGM Baginskaite, Camilla 2267
WIM Ni, Viktorija 2206
NM Eswaran, Ashritha 1979

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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