US Ch. Rd10: Six player fighting for two titles

by ChessBase
5/19/2014 – After Lenderman and Akobian both drew their round ten games, and Sam “the Spoiler” Shankland put an end to Josh Friedel's apsirations, it is Lenderman, Akobian – the two play each other – and Kamsky who will fight for the title on Monday. In the women's championship things will be settled between Krush, Zatonskih and Abrahamyan. It's going to be an incredibly exciting finish.

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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.

Round 10: Six in title contention in final round

By Brian Jerauld

Monday brings the final round for the 2014 U.S. Chess Championships and, in both races, three players are crowding the finish line. In the U.S. Championship, leaders Varuzhan Akobian and Aleksandr Lenderman (6.5/10) were able to break away from the pack over the weekend, but could not shake each other after both drawing their respective games on Sunday.

It was no secret that wildcard GM Mackenzie Molner was having a rough run through his first U.S. Championship, though he did manage to uncover a personal best over the weekend – and disrupted the tournament standings in the process. Molner admitted a boost of confidence after Saturday’s game against Kamsky, calling him the best player he’s ever faced – who was hungry at the time for the new-GM’s half-point.

In round ten Molner (above left) was able to fend off another hungry tournament leader in Lenderman. His French Defense progressed through a familiar line Lenderman had used to shock Alejandro Ramirez in round three, racing his h-pawn toward an early surprise attack, though this time his setup was less flashy. The game progressed through the middlegame in a balanced positional battle. Lenderman missed 26...Bg4 that would have triggered a collapse of Molner’s position. “I realized he had chances to do something, but I didn’t actually think it was winning either,” Molner said. “We must have seen the same things and just assumed that it wasn’t working." Instead, Lenderman gave his short-lived advantage back with 26...e4, an equally awkward move that seemed to roadblock Black’s lanes of attack. The game followed with straightforward liquidation and ended in a 47-move draw.

Mackenzie "Mac" Molner

Born in Englewood, N.J., Grandmaster Mackenzie "Mac" Molner learned the king’s game at sports camp as a seven-year-old – and two years later bagged the state K-3 championship. Taking heed of an early coaching tip, Molner developed a high-pressure attacking style of play in his young career, which frequently saw him ranked as the country’s top player in his age group. A win at the 2004 Denker Tournament of High School Champions confirmed suspicions, and by 2007 Molner was representing the U.S. at the World Junior Championship in Yerevan, Armenia. “When I got invited, that was a big, exciting moment for me: I had never played in a tournament outside of the U.S.,” Molner said. “That tournament reignited me, I would say. It made me want to work harder, to keep pushing.”

That hard work began to pay off in 2010, when Molner’s FIDE rating made a 150-point leap in the first six months. Later that year, he went on to claim his International Master title in glorious fashion: His performance at the at the 25th North American Masters in Skokie, Ill., was so impressive, it simultaneously earned him his final IM norm – as well as his first GM norm. “It was something that was not on my radar at all, I just wanted to get my last IM norm and be happy with that, maybe finish out college,” Molner said. “But getting the simultaneous GM norm threw me a curveball – a good one.”

The extra incentive has recently snowballed into some of the finest play of Molner’s career, a continued upward trajectory that deems him more than worthy of the 2014 U.S. Championship wildcard. He achieved his third and final GM norm at the New York International last June, then underlined his new title with a tie for first at the 2013 U.S. Open in August. Padding nearly 150 points on his USCF rating since 2013 currently sets it to its high water mark at 2634, making Molner the 27th ranked player in the country.

Molner currently lives in Tucson, Ariz., after earning his degree from New York University in Romance Languages, with a specialty in Spanish (he also speaks German, French and Russian). [Source: Tournament site]

Varuzhan Akobian also had chances in his headliner-matchup against Gata Kamsky on Sunday, though they were less concrete than Lenderman’s opportunity and ultimately played into a no-risk draw for the tournament leader.

Kamsky defended with the Dutch, though sat for ten minutes before his third move, later admitting that he had played a wrong move order than the line he had originally intended. He never found traction for the rest of the game.

Sam “the Spoiler” Shankland has done it again. It’s a pity that the 22-year-old couldn’t convert against the tournament’s weaker players – all draws against the bottom half of the field – as he has been a thorn in the side of tournament leaders. Shankland knocked down both Akobian and Lenderman earlier this week, during rounds where both opponents led the U.S. Championship, and he tripped up yet another tournament frontrunner in Josh Friedel on Sunday. Friedel was putting together a fantastic closing sprint, scoring 3.5 points across the last four rounds to join a tie with Kamsky in third place. But Shankland stomped out Friedel’s hopes.

Men results of round ten

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

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Men's standings after ten rounds

The scheduling gods are smiling upon the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis: Lenderman takes white against Akobian on Monday, with a win guaranteeing someone their first U.S. Championship. And if wearing America’s crown on the spot isn’t enticing enough, Gata Kamsky’s hot breath should provide extra incentive: He trails by a half point, leaving the door open for the reigning four-time champion to join a Tuesday playoff party, should Lenderman and Akobian decide to draw. Kamsky first must win as White against Josh Friedel (5.5/10).

Women's Championship

The women’s championship, which paused on Sunday, also sees three horses down the stretch, though the rest of the field will have a say in the matter. Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih (6.0/8) are tied up top after eight rounds, setting up yet another fight to the end for the national championship. It will mean the tenth straight title combined between the two.

Women's standings after eight rounds

Trying to break the trend is Tatev Abrahamyan (5.5/8), who trails the duo by a half point and remains alive to join a potential Tuesday playoff. Zatonskih takes white against Katerina Nemcova (4.5/8), Krush defends as black against Viktorija Ni (3/8), and Abrahamyan also has black in her must-win over Camilla Baginskaite (1.5/8).

Report: Brian Jerauld + ChessBase, photos by Lennart Ootes


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