US Ch. Rd8: Akobian, Zatonskih create space

by ChessBase
5/18/2014 – Rest days are meant for relaxation and preparation, a chance to collect one’s self and focus on the finish line. It’s a time to tighten up your stride for the home stretch. But nobody got the memo in Saint Louis. The players returned from the break for one of the most chaos-driven rounds, with both Akobian and Zatonskih increasing their lead to a full point. 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 8: Women’s title on the line

By Brian Jerauld

The afternoon began with Camilla Baginskaite’s instant resignation after a touch-move snafu on move 15, picking up her a-pawn out-of-order instead of first tending to her double-attacked knight. The majority of Friday’s games followed a similar theme of head-scratching play amidst bruising back-and-forth drama.

Timur Gareev (above) and Alejandro Ramirez settled on a fairy-tale draw that featured a two-pawn gambit in the opening, a crushing pendulum-swing of an attack in the middlegame and a magic recovery in the endgame.

He was losing, then winning, and settled for a draw: GM Alejandro Ramirez

US junior champion Daniel Naroditsky fearlessly attacked US Champion Gata Kamsky to a draw

None of America’s 22 best players made better use of their rest day than Aleksandr Lenderman (above). Lenderman was the early leader of the U.S. Championship, but he was headed in the wrong direction with just a draw over the last three rounds after suffering a shocking loss to Sam Shankland in round six, and then getting rolled by Kamsky the following afternoon.

The promise of the black pieces against bend-but-never-break Alex Onischuk loomed large through a rainy rest day. But Lenderman found a reset button. “My approach was to try and completely forget about what happened through the first half of the tournament,” Lenderman said. “Approach like it is a new tournament. Onischuk never loses – but he does sometimes … it could happen, and I figured today he’s going to try and battle against me because I lost two games in a row. He was going to try and pressure me, so I knew I would get more chances than maybe I would normally get; and I was pretty optimistic that if I had a good mindset, then I would have my chances.”

Varuzhan Akobian’s (above) schedule had looked a bit more favorable, returning after the rest day on a three-win streak and with the white pieces against Sergey Erenberg, who was winless in his first U.S. Championship at minus two. Still, the 31-year-old had tricks prepared to throw the tournament leader out of his comfort level early. “Erenberg surprised me. He played the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, which I had looked at a little bit, but it wasn’t anything deep because it was not his opening.” Akobian was enjoying a small lead out of the opening, including an annoying pawn advanced on e5 and a battery on the open c-file. His 24. Bxa7 seemed to allow equalization, a trade that relieved some of the pressure against Black, but it did not last for long: Erenberg passed on the chance to trade queens, misjudging the threat of white’s passed a-pawn. “The crucial moment was (30.) Qb6,” Akobian said. “He had to exchange queens and go for this endgame that had some drawing chances -- but it was very unpleasant. So, in time trouble, he went Qc3 and missed this very strong Qd8-Qd1, protecting the rook and pushing the passed pawn. I think it was probably lost at that point.”

Ray Robson defended a 36-move French Tarrasch against Josh Friedel

Men results of round eight

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

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Men's standings after eight rounds

Daniel Naroditsky

Daniel was born on November 9, 1995, in San Mateo, California, and learned how to play chess when he was six-and-a-half years old. He started to take serious chess lessons shortly thereafter, and has since studied with a number of famous grandmasters, including his current coach, GM Lev Psakhis from Israel. Daniel is currently a senior at Crystal Spring Uplands School in Hillsborough, California.

Besides playing competitive chess, Daniel is an active ambassador for scholastic chess in the United States; he gives simuls to kids and adults in schools and senior centers, and has been featured in numerous TV and newspaper interviews and articles (both local and national). He has also given numerous talks to chess clubs in local schools.

Daniel has many interests: history, music, foreign languages, art, and mathematics. However, most of his "spare" time is devoted to the study of chess. He is an avid researcher of historical chess facts. In the words of one of his coaches: “His pure love for the game of chess is enormous.” [Source: Tournament site]

Women's Championship round seven

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

Tatev Abrahamyan fell horribly behind early in a Grunfeld, yet outmuscled Viktorija Ni in an endgame to win back her half-point. Irina Krush struggled to her third consecutive draw, falling a full point behind Anna Zatonskih and setting up a do-or-die match for Saturday afternoon, another chapter in the duo’s epic decade-long rivalry.

In round six Alisa Melekhina had refused to just roll over and surrender her half-point to tournament-leader Irina Krush, instead pushing the reigning champion to the brink just to find a draw. Melekhina came with the same intent on Friday, this time against Anna Zatonskih – though this time the leader powered through where Krush could not. Melekhina repeated the same line she had used in round two, a personalized gambit that sacrificed a central pawn. Last week, it had worked to bring Melekhina into a winning endgame; on Friday, Zatonskih was waiting.

“I know she likes to give up pawns,” Zatonskih (above) said of Melekhina’s penchant for early sacrifices. “I considered some different gambits on the day off, and I prepared some analyzed work with some rare variations, some gambits. But with so many lines, I wasn’t sure if she would repeat it.” Anna won the game in 72 moves.

The Women’s field has collectively put a stop to Irina Krush’s (above) stomping of it, her last three opponents putting up more than enough fight to keep their half-point out of the reigning champion’s clutches. Not helping her chances toward another title was uncharacteristically sub-par play against Sabina Foisor on Friday. “I made a horrible move right out of the opening – an awful move (15...Bxd5),” Krush said. “After that, it’s almost resignable in so many ways. Just a very bad position. It was an uphill struggle from that point on.” By move 52, both were playing on increment, causing Foisor to miss some chances down the stretch that may have brought victory. She instead bailed out to an opposite-colored bishop endgame.

The youngest player, 13-year-old Ashritha Eswaran, beat WIM Iryna Zenyuk in 63 moves

Women's standings after seven rounds

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Sabina Foisor

Sabina Foisor has been a chess dynamo since starting around age four. She comes from a chess family: her parents, WGM Cristina-Adela and IM Ovidiu-Doru Foisor represented Romania in numerous international events, and her younger sister, Mihaela-Veronica, is a WIM. While her parents have been her biggest chess influence, she says her favorite players are Garry Kasparov and the late Bobby Fischer. Like many players, she has traveled the globe playing in tournaments, and she has participated in each of the past five U.S. Women's Championships (2009-2013). Her main goal in chess is to become one of the top 20 women players in the world.

One of her biggest challenges was moving to the U.S. in 2008 to attend at University of Maryland at Baltimore County, where studied psychology, modern language and linguistics. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in intercultural communications (INCC).

When not playing or training for chess, she likes to travel, read books, watch movies and hang out with friends. "Of course I can manage to balance chess with other things," she says. She has many heroes outside of chess, including her family, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Sigmund Freud. After listing those three she added, "I will stop here because the list would be too large." [Source: Tournament site]

Report: Brian Jerauld + ChessBase, photos by Lennart Ootes


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