Irina Krush wins her 8th U.S. women’s title

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/25/2020 – Irina Krush won her eighth national women’s title on Saturday after scoring a perfect 2 out of 2 on the last day of action to edge second-place Carissa Yip by a half point in the standings table. 17-year-old Yip, born in Boston, is the youngest female player to ever defeat a grandmaster. Dorsa Derakhshani finished in sole third place.

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Covid survivors

Irina Krush won the U.S. Women’s Championship seven times between 1998 and 2015, getting the title four times in a row between 2012 and 2015. After failing to win the championship four years in a row, she has collected her eighth title in the online tournament organized this year by the Saint Louis Chess Club. Krush now needs one more victory in the women’s national event to equal Gisela Kahn Gresser’s record of nine title wins — born in Detroit, Kahn Gresser won the competition nine times between 1944 and 1969.

Notably, Krush was one of the first chess players known to have been diagnosed with Covid-19, as reported here at the end of March. As stated by herself and commentator Jennifer Shahade in the post-game interview, Krush has been suffering from long-term effects related to the virus. Fortunately, the 36-year-old grandmaster has been feeling better after consciously improving her health-related habits during the last few months. Krush explained:

I’ve been walking every single day for a few months now — I walk close to an hour a day. I feel like that’s improved my fitness in a big way. [...] What I found is that consistency matters a lot. If you go out rain or shine at any time of the day and you get your one-hour walk, it’s gonna add up. I feel really good, I’ve lost close to 20 pounds in the last couple of months. [...] Even during this tournament I got to my record-low weight. It’s another demonstration of how stressful it is to play chess — just in a few days, I lost probably at least 2 to 3 pounds. [...] Playing chess takes a pretty big physical toll on you. 

Krush pointed out that she felt better about her chances of winning this event after seeing how Joel Benjamin won the senior national tournament last week, as Benjamin was also diagnosed with Covid-19 and managed to recover.

It was an exciting fourth day of action. Yip was a half point behind Krush going into the final two rounds, and kicked off the day by coming back from a lost position to beat Anna Zatonskih. Yip then comfortably beat Thalia Cervantes with white in round 11. Thus, Krush needed to win both her games to get clear first place. The 8-time national champion handled the situation exemplarily: 

It’s true that she’s been winning her games. The good part is that I never really noticed that, because I never checked throughout the day — yesterday I had no idea that I was in second place. [...] My only thought was, ‘I’m gonna play one game, and then I’m gonna play another game, and then it’s gonna end’ (smiles).

Once it was over, she could not hide her immense satisfaction:

Round 10

During the penultimate round, it seemed like Krush would not have much trouble to get the title, as second-placed Yip was in deep trouble against Anna Zatonskih:

 

A 4-time U.S. women’s champion, Zatonskih had a rough time in this edition, as she finished winless and in last place. In round 10, however, she got a completely winning position against Yip. 33.Qb8+ in the diagrammed position, followed by 33...Kh7 34.gxh4, would have kept things under control for white, with the queen ready to deal with any attempts by Black to create some sort of counterplay on the kingside.

Instead, White went for 33.Rc8+ Kh7 34.Qxf7 while very low on time. Yip created chances to give a perpetual check with 34...hxg3 35.fxg3 Qd4+ and ended up winning the game after Zatonskih refused to accept the repetition. 

Meanwhile, Krush stopped Sabina Foisor’s attack and scored a convincing victory with the black pieces to keep the sole lead with one round to go.

Going into the last day, Yip was not alone in second place, as Dorsa Derakhshani was also a half point behind Krush. Unfortunately for Derakhshani, however, she failed to make the most of her advantage against Cervantes in the first round of the day:

 

Black went for 47...c5 giving her opponent hopes of saving a draw after 48.Rxd7 Bxd7 49.f4 with two strong connected passers for White. Instead, the straightforward 47...Rxd4 48.Kxd4 c5 49.Kd3 Ke5 was a simple win. Cervantes ended up saving the half point, which meant Derakhshani was now a full point behind the leader in sole third place.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Round 11

Yip, true to the style she showed throughout the event, played enterprising chess in the final round, beating Cervantes with the white pieces by using a clear-cut attacking strategy out of a Sicilian.

Krush, in the meantime, scored a third consecutive convincing win, this time over Emily Nguyen:

 

Once again, Krush got a clear positional advantage out of the opening, and after Nguyen was imprecise in the early middlegame, the now 8-time national champion went on to swiftly up the pressure until getting the win. In the diagrammed position, White damaged Black’s pawn structure by 14.g4 Be4 15.f3 Bg6 16.h4 h6 (16...h5 also has its drawbacks) 17.Nxg6 fxg6.

Nguyen defended stubbornly, but Krush patiently continued to create threats until getting the victory that would secure her first place in the championship.

 

Final standings

US Women's Championship 2020


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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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