Personal Experience at the U.S. Women's Championship. Part 2.
In my previous article we looked at the first three games from the U.S. Women's Championship. This article will cover the next three rounds I played.
In the round-robin format all the participants play each other, so it seems the order doesn't really matter. For me, I find it is very important not to face two high-rated players in a row. For example, after Irina Krush I would rather not to play Anna Zatonskih. This is because it is easy to fall into a black streak - after losing two games it is hard to recover for the next game. In this sense I was lucky in this tournament. The top three finishers were distributed: Krush in the second round, Abrahamyan in the fourth and Zatonskih in the eighth. I ended up losing to all three but these losses seemed not to influence the results of the other games.
After three rounds I had two points and was in good spirits as the quality of the games was satisfactory. In round four I faced Tatev Abrahamyan with black and we decided to play the Sicilian Dragon.
WGM Abrahamyan and WIM Zenyuk at the 2013 U.S. Women's Championship
The opening was not a wise choice in this particular situation, for several reasons. First of all, Tatev attacks very well in Sicilians. She has an incredible score with white against the opening. Secondly, I don't get to play enough of the "real" Dragon. Although it is one of my main openings, many players opt for the Maroczy Bind instead, since I allow it with the move order I play. Therefore, memorizing all the lines for three hours before the game wouldn't do you any good during the game. And most importantly, the price for mistakes for black in the Dragon is way too high. You can lose instantly because of one move. And unless you are 100% sure about your memory, then one shouldn't play lines like that and give away points almost for free.
Anyway, I hope not to make this mistake in preparation in the future. Let us go through the opening moves to reach the critical position.
It is hard to understand what is going on here, but basically black will take Bg5 and play e6, so white needs to do something about this threat. The strongest move according to the analysis is a3 and Tatev knew about it but forgot during the game. In the resulting positions, as you can check in the analysis, black is not doing well.
However, Tatev played f4 instead a3 which is a mistake. I am slightly better after Nc4. So white went from being better to being worse and the game continues. After f4 I pretty much have only one move that does not lose the game. Normally, one does not want to play a position where only one move is an acceptable solution. I did not find the right move and the position immediately went from slightly worse to losing. The rest of the game Tatev played without giving me a single chance - it was a great game by her.
It didn't take me much to recover from the game - what can one do? One move can cost a game. I just felt that this game was not really even a game but a giveaway point. Luckily for me I had white the next day against Camilla Baginskaite, whom I don't have a good score against - but who is a solid player who won't likely play unpredictable openings. The Nimzo is her main weapon and I had an idea what kind of positions we will reach. We obtained a critical position without losing too much time.
Camilla's last move was a surprise. Although it has been played before, I haven't analyzed it at home. It cuts down white's main idea Bb5. Typically, black's plan is ...e4, ...Rd8 (in either order), then ...Bg6 and a rook lift to the kingside ...Rd5 and...Rg5. White counters this plan by exchanging the light-squared bishop for the Nc6 and then pushing c4 to cover the d5-square. Then we get the positions with hanging pawns for white and if you are interested in exploring these ideas I recommend Vladimir Potkin's games.
The move ...a6 prepares ...b5, so the question is whether to play a4. Both possibilities are fine for white. During the game I didn't find the correct plan with a4, Ba2 threatening d5, c4. Sure, there are lines to calculate with ...b5, but they are not so good for black. The game withered quickly into a three-fold repetition.
The next round should have been a break as I played one of the lower-rated participants Alena Kats. However, she surprised me in the opening and I ended up spending one hour just on the first 12 moves, leaving 30 minutes for the remaining 28 moves - not a prudent decision. I just did not remember how to play this line for black and was worried that I would lose on the spot. Here is the opening stage:
I could breathe freely now after the queens are gone. I have a bishop and more pawns in the center. In the next stage of the game I got a comfortable advantage by putting pressure on the f2-pawn and having an active king.
Black is better - white's two knights are not doing much and have to defend each other. Here, I made a mistake that cost me all the advantage - I exchanged a pair of knights that let white comfortably defend the weaknesses on the queenside after c3.
The correct plan was to slowly improve the position of the pieces. Nd7 covering the b6-square was a good first step, then bringing the king and rook up and pushing the central pawns. It is very important to keep the knights on the board as the white knights do not have good squares. Still, after the knights exchange, the position would be equal if not for another horrible move that I made, ...Rc4. The rook needs to be on the open file and on c4 it is very badly placed. After that I had to defend and hope for a draw, which I was able to get after Alena didn't find a win in time trouble.
Well these three rounds only brought one point, and it seems that fatigue had set in already. For players like me who play in American open tournaments, the typical schedule is five days for a nine-round event. During the U.S. Women's Championship we play for nine days with one rest day, which is not the schedule I am used to. On the other hand, players in good physical form should be able to finish the event strong. And in the next three rounds I did manage to get a decent result, which I will explore in the next article!