US Women's Armageddon – reactions from our readers

by ChessBase
6/15/2008 – The final tiebreak game that decided the 2008 US Women's Chess Championship in favour of Anna Zatonskih led to a protest by Irina Krush, who lost in a controversial manner. The critical phase was caught on video, which our readers could view in slow motion. "This film has been dissected as much as the Zapruder JFK assassination film," writes Julian Wan of Ann Arbor, USA. Selected letters.

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The Armageddon playoff game to determine the winner of the US Women's Championship has generated a fair deal of controversy. Irina Krush got the white side and six minutes on her clock, Anna Zatonskih played black and had 4½ minutes and the draw odds, i.e. Irina had to win. Both players got into severe time trouble, Krush lost on time with 0:01 left on Anna’s clock! Here are YouTube videos that captured the decisive phases of the final:

This is the highest quality video of the Armageddon we were able to find. In the second half Anna Zatonskih talks to friends and then to the public about the game.

If you really want to examine the action, in slow motion, here is the critical part of the Armageddon video in Windows Media format (WMV).

Note that you can use "View – Show enhancements" in the Windows media player to get tools that allow you to slow down the video or replay it frame by frame, in full screen mode, if you wish. The ultimate forensic tool. Other media players (e.g. Media Player Classic) also have slow-down functions. You can also replay the game, as far as we have been able to reconstruct it (the official version is incomplete), on our JavaScript board.

Reader feedback

Kenneth W. Regan, Buffalo, USA
ChessBase prompted people to view the video in slo-mo. According to ChessBase's re-creation of the game – which appears to be correct – the following moves were played: 37.Rb7 c5 38.Rxb6 a5 39.Ra6 c4

However, Zatonskih's hand playing 38...a5 also pushed White's rook from b6 back to b5, even touching a sliver of b4. This explains the forward motion of Krush's hand to execute what shows on the scoresheet as the sideways move Rb6-a6. This also delays Krush's hand, and as Krush is making the move, Zatonskih's is already hovering over her c-pawn. It is possible that Zatonskih touched the pawn (necessitating its move to c4) before Krush finished her move, and possible that she began thrusting the pawn forward before Krush released her hand from the rook on a6. However, on stepping frame-by-frame between the 0:43 and 0:44 marks on ChessBase's cut of the video, I see that in the first frame (two before 0:44) with a definite forward movement of Zatonskih's hand, Krush's hand is already over a6 and is lifting straight up thru the next two frames.

Originally I thought that Krush could have claimed a win at move 38, since Zatonskih pressed her clock without fixing the rook she jostled from b6 to b5/b4? My new summary point is that at no time did Zatonskih clearly begin making a move on the board before Krush finished executing a move on the board. The moves 39.Ra6 c4 were close, but the video does not prove such a violation. At all other moves it seems clear to me that Zatonskih did wait until Krush had finished her move-on-the-board, in keeping with Braunlich's clarification of legal play. Overall I see no video contradiction to Tom Braunlich's description and interpretation of the rules.

The slowed-down video also shows how Krush lost the "8-to-3-sec" time advantage: her moves (especially 38.Rxb6) took longer to execute! In sum I empathize with Irina about there being irregularly-played moves during the scramble (two, one by each player), about her being unable to press her clock the last two moves, and about the US title having been decided by something that was "not chess", but I find nothing to counter the proper non-intervention by the arbiters, let alone overcoming the need for a protest to have been lodged at the time.

Mark Stark, Edmonton, Canada
Ms. Krush made valid points in her letter. Stop the video just prior to Ms. Krush hitting the clock and you will clearly see that her opponent made (illegal) moves before Ms. Krush could hit the clock. Ms. Zatonskih was, in effect, stealing her time; albeit, she was doing this in her excitement (which can be understood), not out of malice or poor sportsmanship. At the final point, Ms. Krush couldn't even hit the clock because her opponent's illegal clocking in was at the same time as her opponent and had her hand on the clock.

Ms. Krush was rightly frustrated. Playing for these stakes in a blitz match with no time increment after each move is an egregious act on the part of the organizer, directors and USCF rules. Blitz chess, in any form, should not have any part in deciding a championship. The players cannot be faulted for this mishap and something should be done to repair this situation. Ms. Krush and Zatonskih should really share the title. Ms. Zatonskih will have to intervene here to protect the players.

David Tobert, Lawrenceville, NJ, USA
I think it is an absolute joke that an event as important as the 2008 U.S. Women's Championship was decided the way it was. Braunlich's response is totally unsatisfactory. To say that an injustice against Krush was not committed because it is common practice for players in a time scramble to move while their opponents' clocks are still running is an indictment against the practice of deciding tournaments based on the outcome of an Armageddon game. How can any serious lover of chess take the result of such an encounter seriously? It defiles the essence of the game.

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
This film is interesting and has been dissected as much as the Zapruder JFK assassination film. IF these rapid play games are going to be used in the future, why not do the obvious. Play it on computers – this would eliminate nearly all of the complaints of who did or did not hit the clock and who moved too soon, etc. etc. It would have the added benefit for having a record of the moves and have the computer flag the loser. Except for "mouse slips" it would be the solution of nearly all of these complaints.

Bruno Cava, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
It really doesn´t matter if, in "her view", she also holds the title. It's blitz and she lost. Get over it.

Terrance, Ocala, United States
If you watch the video very closely, Anna Zatonskih was moving before Irina Krush was done. If you focus on Zatonskih side of the clock her side never goes up. Isn't that some type of rule violation?

Matthew Nelson, Lexington, Kentucky
Whatever that mayhem was that decided the US Women's Championship, it was not chess. At best, it was irregular speed chess with the player hitting their clocks even though they had knocked pieces over during their move and making tow-hand moves – both of which I believe are illegal. In any case, it was utterly ridiculous and no way to determine the US Women's Champion.

Tobias Nordquist, Sandviken, Sweden
What we need is a clock that hinders a person whose clock is stopped to block the other player to press down and start the other clock until her own clock has started running. This is easier to say than to do. Trying to invent and make the manufactureers change this will probably cost a fortune.

Paul Maginley, Toledo, Ohio
It doesn't seem unreasonable for Krush to explore the chess ethics of playing a move on someone else's time, but after viewing the video, it appears that Anna might have a complaint to make as well. After Irina makes her moves, she has the annoying habit of extending her arm over the board in order to pull up her sleeve. Her outstretched arm might obscure and certainly distract her opponent, especially on Anna's time. Seems as if Irina could use some blitz manners as well. Live by the sword; die by it.

Anthony Andrea
Irina was out powered. By a player with faster blitz skills. Unlucky for her.

Nick Beqo, Vancouver, BC
First, I think it's not fair that the playoffs started approximately fifteen minutes after a six-hour, 106-move game and that the title of US Women's Champion is decided by an Armageddon game. Second, I think it's clear why Irina didn't protest on the spot; she was frustrated and dissapointed. Please, organize a match between them. We are talking about two champions here. It will be fair and it will help women chess in US.

James Hankins, Oklahoma City, USA
Irina's protest did come too late to change the result, that much is obvious. But, she has a good point about the ridiculous way in which a national champion was chosen. It's supposed to be a dignified chess tournament; yet what we saw were two players frantically pounding out moves like whirling dervish. They should either have just continued playing rapid games until there was a winner; or, if they must use armagedon methods, they should use computers and play it on-line. That way the times are accurate and the moves are regulated electronically and accurately.

Wallace Hannum, Menlo Park, CA USA
Thank you for publishing Krush's response to the report on this year's US Women's Championships. Rather than worry about video evidence, I think we should all agree that settling a national championship in such a manner is ridiculous. If the two women were drawn at the end of regulation AND after several blitz games, then why not simply say they shared the title? Honestly, it really is degrading for players to have to play such silly games. Making the games more and more random is not the way to settle who is the better chess player.

Dan Wigley, Port Saint Lucie, USA
After looking over the Krush/Anna game frame by frame, one could say that at the very end Anna began moving and hitting the clock simultaneously with Krush. Anyway, it seems to me that an Armageddon game is a bad way to decide something like the US Championship. Is it really that hard to get a winner using games with increments? Or how about having games where players get no time but only something like ten seconds per move? The clock would beep the last three seconds....

Shiv Mathur, Mumbai, India
I feel the solution to this problem is simple: Play these games on two computers connected by LAN, using the same software we use to play online on Then it will be impossible for anyone to play before their opponent has played.

Matthew Nelson, Lexington, Kentucky
As the tournament was not a blitz event, I doubt either competitor or the arbiters realized the illegality of the Armageddon game during the game or even immediately thereafter – though I did as soon as I saw it. In any event, hindsight is 20/20, and the proof is incontrovertible that Irina won the game and the championship according to the rules established prior to the tournament (however absurd the Armagedon format may be). Hence, the correct and just result should now be instated.

Scott Young, Baton Rouge, la. USA.
A very dumb way to get our champion. I said as much on the federations website and some lawyer got down on my case!

Rick Aeria, San Diego, USA
I agree with Irina on the issue of having national titles (played at long time controls) inappropriately decided by chaotic, haphazard tie-breaks of a clock-punching contest. Most officials and arbiters are not trained to cover all the rule nuances and infractions that are involved in blitz play – as shown in these videos. Chess in its best is a game of mental toughness, hard preparation, class and dignity. Lets do away with this so-called "Armegeddon" process and let the contestants play a short match to decide the outcome.

Michael Troy, Michigan, USA
Irina Krush reacted to her recent contest with, "... decide the title in over-the-board games, with real time controls that don't degrade the participants into clock punching monkeys." As someone who's played and watched chess for 50+ years, let me add that I'm heartsick to have seen time controls in world-class games go from 40 moves in 2.5 hours to game in a few minutes. Does no one care that the beauty of the game is being degraded?


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