US Ch. Rd7: Akobian, Zatonskih in front

5/15/2014 – After the bloodiest day yet – eight fought-out decisions across eleven games, and another nail-biting escape with a draw by reigning women’s champion Irina Krush – both U.S. Championship races have new frontrunners as the tournaments turn down the home stretch: Varuzhan Akobian, with 5.0/7 in the Men's, and Anna Zatonskih, 5.0/6. Brian Jerauld reports.

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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 7: Reigning champs trail on rest day

By Brian Jerauld

Varuzhan Akobian (5.0/7), the No. 4 seed seeking his first national crown, turned in his third quality win in a row, leaving him in sole possession of first place of the 2014 U.S. Championship, unbeaten through seven rounds. Also without defeat is reigning champion Gata Kamsky (4.5/7), who trails in clear second after knocking down previous tournament leader Aleksandr Lenderman. Four players share a tie for third with four points.

Disappointed: Ray Robson with two wins and three losses so far in this tournament

Akobian had treaded water with four straight draws through the U.S. Championship’s opening, leading some to question his long-term tournament strategy. The critics have been silenced after his third consecutive victory – two of them with the black pieces, including Wednesday’s impressive stand against Ray Robson.

“I had been trying, but sometimes you can try really hard and it just wasn’t working out,” Akobian said of his drawing start. “In those openings I was just not getting the positions I like to play. But winning as black is very important in this kind of field. You think maybe a draw is a good result, but whenever you have the opportunity, you have to play for a win.”

Aleksandr Lenderman (above) was looking strong as tournament leader, collecting three wins through the first four rounds, but has since gone ice cold with just a draw over the last three. Not favorable is the schedule: He drew the black pieces against reigning champ Gata Kamsky, and is slated as black again against Alex Onischuck after the rest day. The two are tied in third with 4.0/6.

On Wednesday, Kamsky knocked Lenderman out of preparation early in a King’s Indian Attack, setting up a positional battle early to take the 22-year-old on in the middlegame, later stating: “Once you feel that a guy is in great form, you take a cautious approach," said Kamsky. "You don’t go in swinging right from the opening. Alex has been a hard-working guy, slowly improving over the last four or five years. “I remember that all of my games with him were really tough, and the way he played here, the way he just took off in the start like that, was no surprise to me. I’m sure he is still going to leave his mark, as long as he doesn’t take these two losses badly. He just has to forget about these games and just start the tournament anew.”

Men results of round seven

White Rtng
Result
Black Rtng
GM Gareev, Timur 2653
½-½
GM Onischuk, Alexander 2668
GM Ramirez, Alejandro 2595
0-1
GM Friedel, Joshua E 2505
GM Robson, Ray 2631
0-1
GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2643
GM Erenburg, Sergey 2633
½-½
GM Molner, Mackenzie 2522
GM Shankland, Samuel L 2634
0-1
GM Naroditsky, Daniel 2543
GM Kamsky, Gata 2713
1-0
GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2582

Daniel Naroditsky defeated Sam Shankland in a 29-move classical King's Indian

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Men's standings after seven rounds

Joshua Friedel

Josh Friedel, 27, was born and raised in New Hampshire. He learned chess at the early age of three and began tournament play at age six. In 1995, he scored his first tournament victory, winning the New Hampshire State Amateur Championship at age eight. His first major tournament victory was in 2001 when he won the Pan Am Open.

At the age of 19, Josh moved to the San Francisco Bay area. In 2007 he earned the prestigious Samford Scholarship, allowing him to focus on chess full-time for two years. He earned his grandmaster title after the 2008 U.S. Championship. Josh has now relocated to Milwaukee where serves as an instructor for the Wisconsin Chess Academy. [Source: Tournament site]

Women's Championship round six

In the women’s competition, Anna Zatonskih (above) now leads with 5.0/6 after waiting out Camilla Baginskaite, who hung herself in a 102-move rook-and-knight vs. rook endgame late Wednesday evening. Reigning champion Irina Krush (4.5/6), who had entered the day tied with Zatonskih, lost pace with a draw against Alisa Melekhina after barely making time control for the second day in a row. Krush sits alone in second place, with Iryna Zenyuk (4.0/6) in clear third.

White Rtng
Result
Black Rtng
GM Krush, Irina 2489
½-½
FM Melekhina, Alisa 2151
IM Zatonskih, Anna 2469
1-0
WGM Baginskaite, Camilla 2267
WGM Nemcova, Katerina 2282
1-0
NM Eswaran, Ashritha 1979
WIM Zenyuk, Iryna 2249
1-0
WIM Ni, Viktorija 2206
WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366
1-0
WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2238

Irina Krush was setting up familiar storylines as leader with 3.5 points through four rounds, but she has struggled to collect draws out of the last two. Just after the now-former leader was forced to race through a complex endgame against Tatev Abrahamyan in round five, playing the last ten moves on her clock’s 30-second per-move increment, she found herself in even warmer waters at time control against Alisa Melekhina in round six.

Melekhina’s Blumenfeld Gambit earned her fantastic play in the opening and complicated matters early, quickly challenging the development – and the clock – of the reigning champion. Krush was late arriving to her castle on move 19, and when she got there, the black army had it well surrounded. 19...g5 threw the kitchen sink.

Both players’ clocks had fallen below ten minutes with fifteen moves until time control, though Krush was under duress. Melekhina’s 26.Rxa4 was the first of two exchange sacrifices – this one admittedly unsound – which proved to be fantastic plays against Krush’s clock: one of her moves was made with just one second remaining.

“I couldn’t see any concrete wins, and I took a big risk with the exchange sacrifice in time trouble,” Melekhina said. “That probably shouldn’t have worked, but I was playing on her time, and in the end I managed to get an advantage. I sacked again, right at the time control.” Indeed, Black’s second sacrifice at 40...Rxh3+ was a bit more sound and left Krush staring at a losing position for the first portion of her bonus time control. Melekhina didn’t have quite enough resources to close in the endgame, however, taking a well-earned half-point by perpetual check.

Women's standings after six rounds

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Alisa Melekhina

Alisa Melekhina started playing at age five and entered her first tournament at age seven. In less than three years, she was winning prestigious international tournaments. The 2014 U.S. Women's Championship marks her fifth time competing for this sought-after title. Alisa has already earned an International Master norm, which she considers her top chess accomplishment so far. But her ultimate goal is to become a grandmaster.

Alisa learned chess from her father, who was her first coach and remains a strong influence today. Although chess has been central to her life for many years, Alisa is set to graduate from law school at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 22, and she will begin a full-time job at a law firm in New York City this fall, specializing in intellectual property litigation. She wrote an in-depth article for Chess Life Online that discusses how her chess was impacted by her commitment to law school.

Undoubtedly, Alisa is looking to make a statement at this year's U.S. Women's Championship. With the distractions of law school nearing an end, she is now free to focus on a championship run before her legal career begins this fall. [Source: Tournament site]

Both tournaments enjoy a rest day on Thursday. Round eight of the U.S. Championship and round seven of the U.S. Women’s Championship will take place on Friday, May 16, at 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. CEST.

Report: Brian Jerauld + ChessBase, photos by Lennart Ootes


Links

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