Desperate push for qualification continues at U.S. Championships

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Desperate push for qualification continues at U.S. ChampionshipWith two more rounds to go in the preliminary stage, a desparate push for qualification continues at the U.S. Championships. After five rounds, title holder Gata Kamsky leads with Yuri Shulman in the A group while Robert Hess is in clear first in B. With four consecutive wins, Irina Krush grabbed the lead in the women's preliminary group.

IM Irina Krush beats IM Anna Zatonskih in round 4 | Photo © St. Louis Chess Club

General info

The 2011 U.S. Championship and 2011 U.S. Women's Championship take place April 14-28 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. The games of the Championships can be followed live here. Like last year, there's a daily live show with GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade, produced by Macauley Peterson, including trivia, polls, viewer questions and lots of prizes given away.

GM Hess on a tear, IM Zatonskih nearly out of the semi-finals... here's the latest recap video of round 5:

The full 4+ hour live show is also available for replay in four parts each day at

Report rounds 4-5

By FM Mike Klein

Round 4: Youth Movement Continues at U.S. Championships Past the halfway point at the 2011 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, the students are schooling the veterans. After four rounds at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, most of the leaders could not tell you what life what like in the 1980s.

Maintaining her lead in the women’s championship, Baltimore college student WGM Sabina Foisor beat WIM Iryna Zenyuk to get to 3.5/4. She survived a scary-looking rook for knight sacrifice to consolidate and win a queen-and-pawn endgame. Afrer being initially worried, Foisor found the winning path and said she “relaxed because at some point I was worse.” Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura called Foisor his dark-horse pick to win the title.

She kept her half-point lead over IM Irina Krush, who won for the third consecutive day, thus becoming the first player in either championship to do so. This time she took out her Olympiad team-mate and long-time rival IM Anna Zatonskih. The two have played many times, including at the last half-dozen U.S. Women’s Championships, but this was Krush’s first win ever in their lifetime series. Krush played the rare 8. g4, which was briefly in vogue more than a decade ago, until then-World Champion Garry Kasparov crushed it as Black. Krush unearthed it from obscurity and briefly caused Zatonskih to hold her head in her hands. After a few minutes, Zatonskih eventually found a reasonable reply, only to be edged much later in the game.

Krush vs Zatonkih

Krush beats nemesis Zatonkih in round 4

The other two women’s games were also decisive. Just as Foisor and Krush found, the White pieces were for choice this round.

WGM Camilla Baginskaite tore open FM Alisa Melekhina’s kingside to earn the point and get to a plus-one score. WFM Tatev Abrahamyan got to the same score by defeating IM Rusudan Goletiani. Not surprisingly, the four women who won in round four right now hold the four qualifying positions to the semifinals.

In the U.S. Championship, GM Robert Hess continued his torrid play in Group B. As Black, Hess beat GM Alexander Shabalov to get to plus two and a tie for the lead in his group. “I forgot my preparation and had to think for 20 minutes,” Hess said. “I’ve been playing much better with Black than with White. My coach (GM Miron Sher) told me that I should just ask for seven Blacks.” Hess cannot claim to even be a college student yet. The Samford Chess Fellowship recipient said he will attend Yale in the fall after his gap year ends. “It looks like [Hess] is in good form and confident,” said fellow competitor GM Larry Christiansen.

Hess is level with GM-elect Sam Shankland, who equalized in the easiest way against GM Yasser Seirawan. That game got so dull so quickly that Shankland said Seirawan momentarily forgot the 30-move draw rule and offered one on move 21. Shankland reminded him to play to move 30 and the game was duly drawn when they reached the required number. Shankland said his formation was like an improved Panov-Botvinnik formation, as his light-squared bishop got outside the e-pawn and therefore prevented any attack on h7. He said if Seirawan did not liquidate by exchanging his isolated queen-pawn then he would have been worse. Still, by not gaining any advantage with the move, commentator GM Maurice Ashley said, “This is like giving up,” on the game and the tournament. For his part, Seirawan has remained positive and has stayed after his game every round to chat, analyse and be interviewed.

Sam Shankland

Sam Shankland, an easy draw with Yasser Seirawan

GM Alexander Onischuk only partially bounced back from his loss yesterday. He drew with GM Gregory Kaidanov but remains one point out of a qualifying spot. Christiansen is still lurking one half-point back, as he could only draw local GM Ben Finegold.

In Group A, the veterans took control. Past champions GM Gata Kamsky and GM Yury Shulman lead the way with three out of four. Both won today. Explaining his opening as Black against GM Jaan Ehlvest, Kamsky said, “I just wanted to develop and not to go into complications right away.” Ashley questioned Ehlvest’s decision to resign so early. “You mean two knights for a rook is not enough?” Kamsky said rhetorically. “These positions are not played at this level. [Ehlvest] used to be a world championship candidate. He knows he will lose and he wants to save his energy.”

GM Ray Robson, leads the teenage brigade in Group A. He won today over GM Alexander Stripunsky’s offbeat opening to get to plus one. Along with Shulman and Kamsky, Robson is the only other player in the group to not have a loss on his card, but he trails them both by a half-point. IM Daniel Naroditsky continued his solid play with this third draw, this one against GM Varuzhan Akobian.

Games round 4

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Round 5: Desperate Push for Qualification Continues Round five of the U.S. Championship produced the most fighting chess so far at the 2011 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. Players of the Black pieces won an astounding six games, and half of the games went into the sixth hour. Three-fourths of the games ended with a winner, and even the defending champion could not get an easy day off.

GM Robert Hess stretched his lead by getting a chess “turkey.” He won his third game in a row to move to four points, the most of any player in the U.S. Championship. The young grandmaster chose an opening against GM Gregory Kaidanov with low risk where his pawn majority could be pressed. “I got exactly what I wanted with three against two on the queenside,” Hess said. “It’s annoying to play for Black.” Hess said he had great respect for his veteran opponent, and referencing his opponent’s nickname, Hess said, “I wasn’t going to play something risky against Grisha.”

GM Sam Shankland, tied with Hess in Group B going into the round, did not attain such a stable position. He entered the preparation of GM Alexander Shabalov, and for 14 moves his opponent played automatically. After accepting an exchange sacrifice, Shankland found his pieces tied down and his supposed material advantage illusory. “None of my rooks ever did anything,” Shankland said. Talking to Shabalov after the game, Shankland said, “You beat me like four games in a row with Black. It’s not fair.” Shabalov replied, “I would still trade places with you.” Shankland stays with three points, while Shabalov’s win got him to two out of five. Shabalov is still mathematically alive to finish in the top two of his group, if only barely. When asked what he has left to play for, Shabalov joked, “There’s always money!” Each place difference for the non-qualifiers is about $1,000 difference.


Alexander Shabalov, now on 2/5

GM Larry Christiansen entered the round in sole possession of third place in the group, but he yielded that placement to GM Alex Onischuk after losing their head-to-head battle. “I didn’t get so much from the opening even though I knew the line,” Onischuk said. Though the win puts him in third place for the time being, Onischuk was quick to explain that he has to work in the last two rounds. “Still it’s not clear if I’m going to qualify,” he said. Going into the tournament, Onischuk was a heavy favourite to be a qualifier to the semifinals.

In other Group B action, GM Yasser Seirawaran recovered from a slow start to win his first game of the event by besting GM Ben Finegold after the latter willingly entered a complicated but losing king-and-pawn endgame. Finegold felt frustrated after the game. While he resigned in a losing position, he said that the variation Seirawan prepared to continue with was not the best and would have led to a draw. In Group A, both GM Yury Shulman and GM Gata Kamsky protected their lead by negotiating draws.


Akobian-Shulman, with Seirawan also watching

Shulman’s draw versus good friend GM Varuzhan Akobian came without too much fuss, but Kamsky had to work for quite some time against GM Alexander Stripunksy. Kamsky closed the entire position by locking up the pawns but a determined Stripunsky fought hard to open an avenue for attack. After exhausting all resources, Stripunsky settled for a split point. Kamsky was highly critical of his own play, but both he and Shulman remain in the drivers’ seats with 3.5 out of five.

Gata Kamsky

Gata Kamsky, defending his title in Saint Louis

GM Ray Robson failed to catch up as his knight got ensnared on the a-file against 15-year-old IM Daniel Naroditsky. Robson extricated his knight, but at great cost, and his younger opponent eventually barrelled down the edge of the board to win the game. “He defended like a tiger,” Naroditsky said. “He was down to five seconds each move but he found the best move each time.” Both Naroditsky and Robson now sit at 2.5. The even score is outstanding for the former but represents a missed opportunity for the latter.


A game between the youngest participants Robson and Naroditsky

GM Alexander Ivanov and GM Jaan Ehlvest also drew their complicated queen versus two rooks ending.

In the U.S. Women’s Championship, IM Irina Krush moved into sole possession of the lead for the first time in the tournament by winning her fourth game in a row. Krush outmaneuvered FM Alisa Melekhina in an equal ending to get to four points. Melekhina insisted she is playing well but is not finding any luck in her games. Early tournament leader WGM Sabina Foisor suffered her first hiccup of the event. She lost to IM Rusudan Goletiani, but Foisor remains tied for second place with two rounds to go.


Irina Krushin sole lead after five rounds

Equaling Foisor with 3.5 out of five is WFM Tatev Abrahamyan, who won for the first time ever against IM Anna Zatonskih. Despite having an extra queen, bishop, and pawn about to promote, Abrahamyan almost threw away the win. “I finally play one good game and I can’t finish it well!” she said. After her king took a long walk to the other side of the board, Abrahmyan found shelter and netted the point. Zatonskih will need to move quickly in rounds six and seven to qualify for the semifinals.

WGM Camilla Baginskaite won her third game to continue to come back from an opening-round loss. Her victory over WIM Irina Zenyuk moved her to 3.5 and with a great chance to qualify.

The top four women are Krush with 4/5 and then Foisor, Abrahamyan and Baginskaite with 3.5/5.

In round six, the young Naroditsky will face defending champion Kamsky. Asked what his strategy was, Naroditsky joked that he would be “grovelling,” a term chess players use to mean they are hoping for a draw. Christiansen will be desperate against Hess, and Shulman will try to keep place against Robson.

The top four women need to do little more than to play for draws, so Zatonskih will need to find a way to win as Black against Goletiani.

Games round 5

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U.S. Championship 2011 | Preliminaries, Group A | Round 5 Standings

U.S. Championship 2011 | Preliminaries, Group B | Round 5 Standings

U.S. Women's Championship 2011 | Preliminaries | Round 5 Standings


Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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