US Ch. Rd9: Everything wide open again

by ChessBase
5/18/2014 – What a round! Leader Varuzhan Akobian was downed by the dangerous and unpredictable Sam Shankland, while his main rival Aleksandr Lenderman pulled off a miracle win to catch him at the top of the score table. And in the women's section Irina Krush won a must-win game against Anna Zatonskih to join her at the top. Things in the two championships are getting really, really close.

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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 9: Logjam atop the leaderboards

By Brian Jerauld

There is a share for the lead atop the U.S. Championship, as time dwindles away with two rounds remaining. Varuzhan Akobian entered Saturday in clear first by a full point but never got comfortable in his eventual loss – his first of the tournament – to Sam Shankland.

Back in the lead after a miracle win: Aleksandr Lenderman

Akobian stays in first with 6.0/9, though now shares the position, after Aleksandr Lenderman caught pace by materializing a surprising win from a drawn-looking position against Daniel Naroditsky.

Reigning champion Gata Kamsky (above left) – unbeaten, yet only at +1 through 9 rounds – picked up another draw with Mackenzie Molner and now trails a half-point behind the leaders in third place (5.5/9).

Also in third place is 2013 U.S. Open winner Josh Friedel (above), the lowest-rated player in the field, who has quietly turned in 3.5 points across the last four rounds to enter the fray.

Men results of round nine

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

Sam Shankland may no longer be in the race for the national title, but it doesn’t leave him any less dangerous an opponent: tension has filled each one of his games this tournament, his adversaries holding their breath on what kind of opening-book potion he might have concocted just for them. The 22-year-old had already reached into his bag of tricks in round six to knock then-leader Aleksandr Lenderman from his pedestal, and on Saturday he did it again to another frontrunner in Varuzhan Akobian.

Varuzhan Akobian pondering where to put his bishop on move ten

Sam (what was his surname again?) thinking about how to exploit 10...Bc5

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The image of the day: Varuzhan Akobian mulling his defeat in front of a picture of his vanquisher

Men's standings after nine rounds

The final two rounds of the U.S. Championship promise a web of matchups between the four leaders, including Sunday’s headliner between Akobian and Kamsky.

Sam Shankland

When Sam Shankland was just 18 he announced he would be retiring from the game of chess. In order to honor his previous commitments, however, he agreed to play in one more event, the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, which he managed to win after facing back-to-back playoff matches against Parker Zhao and tourney favorite GM Ray Robson. That achievement offered him an automatic invitation to play in the 2011 U.S. Championship, which ultimately proved to be a difficult offer to refuse.

Sam performed admirably at the 2011 U.S. Championship, edging veteran GM Alexander Onischuk in a playoff to reach the four-player quad finals. There he ran into eventual champion GM Gata Kamsky, who topped him 1.5-0.5. After his defeat, Shankland remained upbeat. “Just because I’m not in the running for first place doesn’t mean the tournament is over,” he said. “Plus third place sounds cooler than fourth. You can call it a bronze medal.” Shankland's positive attitude proved prescient as he topped GM Robert Hess in a playoff for third place. The Brandeis University student has called the U.S. Championship "his dream tournament for the year."

Shankland failed to qualify for the U.S. Championship in 2012, and finished 13th out of 24 players in 2013. But he has been on top of his game as of late, pushing his USCF rating to an all-time high of 2707 following the Eastern Class Championshipsin mid-March. Because of his usually strong, but sometimes unpredictable, play, he is an intriguing player to watch at this year's championship. [Source: Tournament site]

Women's Championship round eight

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

Only one round remains in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship, though for a moment, it wasn’t entirely clear the extra day would be needed. The five-time reigning champion Irina Krush (above) skidded into the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis on Saturday afternoon, having just suffered three straight draws and falling a full point behind the leader’s pace.

Sobering the mood even more was the woman who sat in front of her – both in the standings and now across the board: Anna Zatonskih, Krush’s enemy No. 1 and a four-time champion herself, ready to call it halves on their decade-long rivalry. And like everyone else, Krush could do the math: Saturday was win or go home.

But she answered the call in Monday’s round eight, taking early advantage as White and spending the rest of the 75-move thriller slowly squeezing out any hope for a draw. The result knots the two in first place with 6.0/8, and also allowed Tatev Abrahamyan (5.5/8) into the fold after her win over Ashritha Eswaran.

Krush was certainly no stranger to pivotal matchups with Zatonskih, and Monday’s game left little doubt as to what hung in the balance. “Of course it was a must-win,” Krush said. “If you want to do anything in this championship, it’s a must-win. You can’t ask other people to do your work for you. I had sort of fallen asleep for a few rounds there, and woken up in this situation. The minimum I could do to get this tournament back on track is to win today, because otherwise I just wouldn’t deserve to be the champion.”

Though both players seemed lost early through the Catalan line, Krush was instantly the aggressor, skirting the early center fight and wrecking Black’s queenside in the opening. “I had a bad position out of the opening; I was surprised,” Zatonskih said. “I had this planned for White, I just forgot the lines. I just completely don’t remember them. Irina has improved her endgame dramatically recently. Before, it was worse, but now ...”

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The final moments: Anna Zatonskih has just played 74...Kg4,

... Irina Krush queens her h-pawn

And Anna resigns, making Irina a co-leader with one round to go

Women's standings after eight rounds

The U.S. Women’s Championship enters its final rest day on Sunday. Monday’s round nine will settle matters: Zatonskih takes white against Katerina Nemcova (4.5/8), Krush defends as Black against Viktorija Ni (3/8), as does Abrahamyan against Camilla Baginskaite (1.5/8). If necessary, a playoff is scheduled for Tuesday. The women’s tournament takes a scheduled rest day Sunday.


Iryna Zenyuk

Iryna Zenyuk has two huge goals in life: to be a chess champion and to help the environment. She has a good start on her chess goal, ranking as one of the top ten women players in the U.S. And after receiving a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University last year, Iryna is well on her way to helping develop ways to make renewable energy more prevalent.

Iryna is currently is a postdoctorate fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researching electrochemical energy conversion devices. Her near-term goal is to get a tenure-track faculty position at a lead research university where she will be able to realize her passion for renewable energy research and teaching. She defines her interests this way: chess is her love; it's fun. But mechanical engineering will give her the means to give back to society.

Iryna will undoubtably fight hard for her passions, as she is used to that overcoming long odds and adversity. Iryna's father died when she was eight and her mother moved to the U.S., leaving her and her brother in the Ukraine alone until Iryna could join her six years later. "It taught me to be independent," she says without a trace of bitterness. Other interests play a big role in Iryna's life too. Although only 5 feet 4, she was able to play volleyball in college.

Ukrainian friendship: Iryna and Irina, Zenyuk and Krush

Furthermore, she is friends with many of her chess competitors. "I have a lot of chess friends," Iryna said. "We do the normal stuff: hang out, go to restaurants ... I don't call myself solitary." [Source: Tournament site]

Report: Brian Jerauld + ChessBase, photos by Lennart Ootes


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