Tragicomedies from the US Women's Championship
Today we will look at endgames from the US Women's Championships. The positions that I chose are from the genre of endgame tragicomedies. Either one or both sides misplayed the endgames presented here. There were big and huge blunders, blunders in the last round that cost thousands of dollars, blunders that cost full or half points, generally all kinds of mistakes. But we are all human and make all kinds of mistakes, for this reason we can relate to endgame tragicomedies. In endgames as in any other stage of the game mistakes can be classified into ones due to lack of skill, miscalculations or psychological reasons. Some mistakes are made under a severe burden of responsibility - players choke under pressure. It pains me to give a position from the playoff for the title of the US Women's Champion here but there is no way avoiding it as I set out to write about endgame tragicomedies.
Anna Zatonskih missed a win earlier on when she missed a win of a rook in one move. A player with a rating of 2510, Zatonskih does not often miss tactics that are pretty straight-forward. The only explanation is that the pressure of the second tiebreak game was too high. She lost the first game and was in a situation where she had to win the second game at all costs with black pieces. Anna did an excellent job of getting an almost winning position but then couldn't finish it off. In the following position she still has a material advantage and good chances for a win. She played R:c4 and after N:c4 she resigned - a blunder that possibly cost her the title.
When during one of the rest days we went to see a Cardinals game I got a chance to meet a baseball legend, a former pitcher for the St.Louis Cardinals, who performed especially well under high pressure. When I asked him what is the secret to performing well under high stakes and not choking under pressure he answered that "this is like second nature to me." The way I understood it, he meant it as: you either have it or you don't.
We will look at five endgames and try to understand the reason for mistakes made and how to avoid them in the future. Let us start from my own game as I can give you more insight, since I played it. By this time of the game I already thought my position was close to losing - underestimation of white's defensive resources. Being low on time and having to make two moves is not easy too. I had an important defensive idea of undermining the g6-pawn with the h4-h5 push but didn't see it during the game. What is the reason for the mistake? Not realizing that the pawn chain has to be undermined from the very base. The other reason is not having enough faith in the position. No wonder that the second mistake came shortly and I lost the game without much fight.
In the next example black is up two pawns and white seemingly has no compensation. Black has an outside passed a-pawn and it should not take her long to promote it. Black's plan is clear - push the a-pawn as far as possible and tie up the white forces with it. Then create a second weakness or push the d-pawn forward. It should be enough for a win. Instead black played without a plan and lost track of the winning plan, blundering two extra pawns and ending up with a draw instead of win. Playing without a plan is not the best idea.
White's move g4 in the next position is a slip in a much better position that allows black to come back. The correct defense required placing the queen on an open file, which at the same time prevented the black queen from getting to the active d5-square. Instead of improving the queen's position, black "improved" the king's position. Time-trouble is probably the only explanation for the Kf7-move.
White is up a pawn in the following endgame but due to the activity of black pieces and advanced e-pawn her position is not better anymore. This is the last round and the difference between the 4th and 8th place is at stake here. Melekhina wants to win at all cost to tie for the 4th place, while a draw or a loss will result in 7th or 8th places - not a nice prospect. Trying at all cost to win this endgame resulted in a series of positional misevaluations that led Alisa to eventually lose it. There is no recipe for situations like that, one can admire the fighting spirit of Alisa who kept playing for a win and refused to settle for a draw.
The last example is an ultimate tragicomedy. I have no idea how to explain the f3 move at the very end of this position. Victoria did not know how to explain it either.
Some mistakes cannot be categorized. Overall, there was plenty of fighting chess in the US Women's Championship and plenty of mistakes that usually follow the fighting chess. Next week we will look into some endgames from the US Championship.