U.S. Championship Round 1 & 2 Update
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Two rounds underway the U.S. Championship in St Louis is a tight affair, as ten of the twelve games played so far ended in draws. But hard-fought draws they were! Ray Robson and Aleksandr Lendrman are the ones who have 1.5 points. The women's section, on the other hand, saw only three draws out of ten games, and there Irina Krush is tied for first place with Sabina-Francesca Foisor - both are on 2.0/2.
This report was co-written by Brian Jerauld
Lights! Camera! Quick-draw?? Before the first round was well underway, one of the games in the U.S. Championship had already finished. Timur Gareev and Gata Kamsky played a Chebanenko Slav, White traded pawns in the center, some pieces were developed and then the two grandmasters started repeating moves. Not an ideal start for such a prestigious tournament, but what to do?
Kamsky, the reigning champion, clearly didn't mind too much that he lost his chance to win the $64,000 special prize for repeating Bobby Fischer's 11-0 win at the 1963-4 U.S. Championship. “I consider it like football: you have to know where to save energy, and you have to know where to spend it and go for a win,” he said. “The way I played it, I forced him to make a decision right there on the spot whether he wanted to spend time and energy to win this game. He has to make this decision early on, without being able to see the final result or the position that may arise later.”
“I don’t have to beat Kamsky to get first place,” Gareev said. “The possibilities I saw were more double-edged, rather than necessarily better for me. I figured instead of gambling, I might as well just take it slow and be better in the next round.”
Out of the six games played, a total of four would end in a draw. The two winners were Ray Robson, who defeated Sergey Erenburg, and Aleksandr Lenderman, who won against Josh Friedel.
Robson's game was probably the best of the round. The 19-year-old grandmaster convincingly dismantled his opponent's Petroff's Defense for the full point. In one of the more quiet lines, where both sides castle queenside, Robson found a nice pawn sacrifice on move 25 that allowed his rook to the seventh file and a fast track to Erenberg’s king.
“A critical moment was g6, and I think it was a pretty good sacrifice - he just can’t get rid of my rook on the seventh,” Robson said. “I’m going to put one rook on it, and eventually another rook, and he’s going to have big problems. I was a little worried that he might try to play something like Rg1 - he’d still be worse, but he could try to exchange one pair of rooks. I wanted to keep both of my rooks on the board, because eventually the other one is going to come to the seventh as well. He probably still had some chances to defend, but it was very difficult, especially with low time.”
In the Women's Championship the youngest participant, 13-year-old (!) Ashritha Eswaran, stole the show. After a back-and-forth pendulum of a game, the 50th move saw Ni with considerable control into the endgame, including a rook to Eswaran’s bishop and a king well-positioned to defend black’s passed pawns.
But Ni’s 56. a4, with intentions to spring her b-pawn toward promotion, was incorrectly calculated and did little more than tie up her major piece in defense against Eswaran’s own a-file passer. Both players could have declared draw-by-repetition by move 70, though the back-and-forth only served to build clock time by way of the 30-second increment. Eventually Eswaran found the winning 70...e5, which created a shield to any checks by the white rook, and released the black bishop from a pin -- threatening a surprise checkmate-in-one after 71...Bc4.
Ni was quickly forced into submission as her rook failed to defend Eswaran’s passed connectors and pesky bishop, ultimately seeing her king smothered in the corner.
“I just try to relax and think about the position,” Eswaran said. “No matter what happens, I just try to do my best.”
Round 1 video commentary
The second round of the Championship showed even more that it's a rather tight event: all six games ended in draws! Sam Shankland had his chances against Ray Robson thanks to excellent preparation, but then he made a typical mistake: but continued playing fast. “I didn't slow down when I had to,” he said.
Ashritha Eswaran couldn't repeat her success in the second round of the women's section. Against top seed Irina Krush it already went wrong in the opening and so it was never a real fight.
Round 2 video commentary, part 1
Round 2 video commentary, part 2
Round 2 video commentary, part 3
U.S. Championship 2014 | Round 2 Standings
U.S. Women's Championship 2014 | Round 2 Standings
You can find a complete listing of the standings and pairings here.
Thanks to Mike Wilmering of the St Louis Chess Club. Tune into live play-by-play of round 3 on Saturday at 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET, 20:00 CET with GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade at Chess.com/TV!
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