US Women's Championship: A Look from the Inside.

US Women's Championship: A Look from the Inside.

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I would like to share with you my recent experience playing in the 2010 US Women’s Championship. One of the most prestigious tournaments of the year took place July 9-20 at the already famous Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. Along with the highest prize fund in the history of US women’s chess, the organizers made sure that everything-- from airport transportation to the drinks provided during the rounds-- made the players feel as comfortable as possible to have the high spirits to play their best chess. This is my second time at the Championship in St. Louis and my third overall time in St. Louis. I must admit that playing in St. Louis makes me feel like a celebrity. The opening and closing ceremonies are hosted at historical halls with live music, good wine and limo transportation. During the games there are all kinds of foods and drinks provided, along with a choice of writing the moves via score sheet or Monroi.

Well, one just does not want to leave the playing hall – the design is really beautiful. You have to check it out yourself one day. The players are hosted at the Chase Plaza Hotel, which has a pool, movie theater, and state of the art gym. With such impeccable conditions one would expect the players to show their best at chess. The fighting spirit was definitely present throughout the Championship, with only a few draws. I happened to be the only player to have nine decisive games: four wins and five losses.

The tournament was a three-horse race. Before the last two rounds it was unclear who among those three would win the event; but it was clear that no one else could catch up with them. Anna Zatonskih was leading the pack but had to play a tough opponent, Tatev Abrahamyan in Round 8, who was one of the three horses, with just half a point less than her. Irina Krush was also a half point behind Anna, but she had relatively easy pairings: myself and Abby Marshall in the last two rounds. Irina had a strong finish, collecting two points, while Anna managed to draw two games and Tatev got 1.5 out of two. This put Irina in clear first, with Anna and Tatev tied for second-third.

Clearly, Irina showed really good quality chess; she dramatically improved over the last year. Her opening preparation was out of the tournament's league: it was strong GM’s preparation. She was not afraid to go into complicated, tactical positions, choosing the Benoni and Blumenfeld as openings for black in the critical games.

On the other hand, Anna was clearly out of shape; maybe this was due to teaching camps lately and not having enough time to rest and prepare. In most of the games she was in time trouble straight out of the opening. It was obvious that she struggled to regain her form, so what impressed me the most was how a person out of form could score 7.5 out of 9!! A very impressive result, whereby Anna showed that she has enough class to score that much even when not playing her best chess.

Tatev scored 4/9 last year, saying that it was too much pressure to handle last year. This year she tried not to think too much about the importance of the tournament and just treated it as any other tournament with strong players. Tatev did not get such great positions as Irina did out of the openings, but she outplayed her opponents in the other stages of the game, particulary during time trouble. Tatev is a fantastically strong 1-minute player: during the free day she scored well against Ben Finegold, who is also very famous for being an amazing 1-minute chess player. This is my amateur video of their encounter.  

I would like to show an example of Irina’s play by showing her crushing victory over me. Irina spent the previous night preparing for me, while I went with the chess club people to the Anna Kournikova and Lindsay Davenport tennis match, where they were playing doubles against some other team. After the match I attended a Lady Gaga concert with my friend Ed and Katia Rohonyan. The evening was tons of fun and I knew that maybe the next day I would pay the price by not being well enough prepared for the game with Irina. It turned out that I would never in my life have predicted the opening choice she had made: the Blumenfeld Gambit.


In a long time I have not lost by being overplayed in every chess element from the opening to tactics. I am happy for my friend Irina Krush for winning the Championship. As you can see from the game she truly showed high quality chess. My result would have been better if not for a losing streak in the middle of the tournament with four losses. The good part is I know which parts of the game I need to work on: converting an advantage is one of the biggest weaknesses so far. In the next article I will go into more details about the chess part of the tournament.

Along with the Women’s Championship ran the Junior Championship; I am not covering it, since has the winner Sam Shankland among its staff: I hope he shares his experience with you too. Congratulations to Sam and Irina!












The Women's Champion Irina Krush practicing her tennis skills during the free day.

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