Kamsky, Shulman, Abrahamyan, Zatonskih reach U.S. Championship finals

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Finals U.S. Championship start todayThe finals of the U.S. Championship start today in Saint Louis. In the men's final the fight will be between Gata Kamsky, who eliminated Sam Shankland, and Yuri Shulman, who was too strong for Robert Hess. Anna Zatonskih beat Irina Krush in the tie-break Armageddon game to reach the women's final. She will face Tatev Abrahamyan, who beat Camilla Baginskaite 2-0 in the rapid tie-break.

The semi-final clash between Irina Krush (l.) and Anna Zatonskih | 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. The full 4+ hour live show is also available for replay in four parts each day at www.USChessChamps.com/video.

Report semi-finals



By FM Mike Klein

Saturday: Women's Games Decisive, Men Decide Nothing After the first round of semifinal games of the U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women’s Championship, two ladies emerged victorious while all four men agreed to peace. IM Anna Zatonskih outplayed IM Irina Krush in the opening to score the point, while WGM Camilla Baginskaite used a timely pawn sacrifice to produce a dangerous initiative against WFM Tatev Abrahamyan. Baginskaite capped the game with a crushing tactic.

Krush will need to win as White tomorrow to extend her match into Monday’s tiebreak. She has only defeated Zatonskih once in her career, but that victory came earlier in the Championship. For Zatonskih, yesterday’s win was her fifth consecutive in the tournament. She got a decisive advantage early that she used to pick off Krush’s a-pawn.

“It was a surprise to me that my opening was a surprise for Irina,” Zatonskih said of her choice of variation in the Sicilian Alapin. “I’ve played Na3 many times.” The two played similarly in 2006, but Krush chose to deviate from that game by playing 2…d5.

Zatonskih-Krush

Abrahamyan repeated her Evans Gambit against Baginskaite from earlier in the event. “I didn’t expect her to repeat (openings),” Baginskaite said. “In women’s chess, we’re always trying to surprise everybody.” She explained that late in the game she sacrificed her b-pawn on purpose, believing that Black’s initiative warranted the offer. She was not sure what to do, she said, after 32. Ne3, but found 32…f6. The move forced a bind in White’s pieces which led to Baginskaite’s mating patterns and subsequent finishing tactic.

Camilla Baginskaite

For much of the day, the audience could reasonably have expected all four games to produce winners, but the men did not oblige. GM-elect Sam Shankland found himself with big problems early against defending champion GM Gata Kamsky. After eschewing the chance to win a pawn, Kamsky went into a deep think, spending more than 30 minutes analyzing a speculative sacrifice that would open up his opponent’s king. Eventually he went for the continuation, but overlooked Shankland’s only saving resource, a queen sortie whereby she descended a staircase from e4 to f3 to f4 to h2.

“I went for the sacrifice and he out calculated me,” Kamsky said. “After I saw Qe4, I realized I was in big trouble.” Kamsky thought that had he not attempted the variation he could enjoy a small plus, but because Shankland allowed such a tempting move, it was hard not to try to win the game outright. “It was a great psychological trick.”

Gata Kamsky

Shankland played through the complications more quickly than Kamsky, finding the series of queen moves that produced an ending where only he had any winning chances. However, afterward Shankland only focused on his poor opening play. “With all due respect, I think we both deserved to lose this game,” Shankland said. Kamsky will get White tomorrow.

GM Yury Shulman matched with GM Robert Hess, the overall top point scorer in the U.S. Championship. After Shulman’s undeveloping move 13. Nb1, Hess had to go through contortions to give all of his minor pieces enough room to maneuver. Paradoxically, the retreat netted Shulman a space gain. Later, he once again threatened to ensnare one of Hess’ bishops with the blocking 37. b5. But with his time slipping away, Shulman accepted Hess’ draw offer with only five seconds left on his clock and two moves short of the time control.

Both players admitted to the fears that they had at the end of the game. Hess had grown scared of his third piece needing a flight from the queenside, while Shulman said he needed several minutes to be able to find a good move in the final position. “At some point we both had enough,” Shulman said. “We agreed to a draw, which was a good indication of what we both thought of the position.” Hess said he overlooked 37. b5.“I really had no idea what was going on,” Hess said.

Yuri Shulman

Tomorrow the second game of the semifinals will begin at 2 p.m. local, 3 p.m. Eastern. Kamsky has White versus Shankland, Hess takes White against Shulman. Krush has White against Zatonskih and Baginskaite only needs to draw versus Abrahamyan. If any of the matches end tied 1-1, the two will advance to a rapid-game playoff on Monday.

Player interviews: Jen and Maurice talk to Shulman, Hess, Kamsky, Shankland, Zatonskih and Baginskaite.



Sunday: Kamsky Advances, Others Need Tiebreak In round two of the 2011 U.S. Championship semifinals, defending champion GM Gata Kamsky pressed his initiative and broke through against GM-elect Sam Shankland to become the first player to advance to the finals. GMs Robert Hess and Yury Shulman played another game devoid of wild swings; their second straight draw meant the match will continue tomorrow with a pair of rapid games.

Kamsky’s game was the first to finish. He said his goal going in to the game was to “have some simple position with a little bit of pressure, and I got an ideal position.” His two bishops and open files for his rooks were enough to overcome his crippled queenside pawns, which were never in any danger of being lost. According to Kamsky, “…b5 was just horrible.” He preferred the passive defense Nd8, but all players, including grandmasters in the audience, agreed that Shankland’s problems began by trading queens. Kamsky said he realized Shankland might have some endgame weaknesses, which became evident to him in their first semifinal game. He said it was a big mistake for Shankland not to press for the win more yesterday.

“I’m still very happy with my result,” Shankland said. The 19-year-old decided against playing the Caro-Kann as Black because he said he was “scared” of Kamsky’s record against it. Ironically, Kamsky said after the game that he was expecting Shankland to play the Caro-Kann instead of the Sicilian Defense. Shankland admitted that he did not spend much of his time studying Kamsky’s offbeat 9. h3.

Of all the players who have lost a game during the semifinals, Shankland remained the most upbeat. “Just because I’m not in the running for first place doesn’t mean the tournament is over.” He will go on to play a consolation match against the loser of the Hess-Shulman playoff. “Plus third place sounds cooler than fourth. You can call it a bronze medal.” Shankland said he thinks his day off tomorrow will end up being a useful advantage against whoever his future opponent will be.

The other 19-year-old in the semifinals, GM Robert Hess, got very little out of the opening with White. Like last year’s U.S. Championship, he chose the Tarrasch Variation against Shulman’s French Defense, but this time he managed to hold the draw. Last year Shulman won by playing 3…a6; this year he switched rook pawns and played 3…h6.

On the comical switch of peripheral pawns, Shulman shrugged and said, “Everything is playable in chess, until you know what’s going on.”

Hess-Shulman

“At first I thought I was comfortable but then I played a lot of loose moves,” Hess said. When pressed for where his substandard moves were, Hess replied, “Just about everywhere!” Shulman said he got a slight plus after Hess shuffled his pieces too much. Eventually Hess’ White pieces regrouped back to the center to liquidate the position and nullify any thoughts of Shulman’s a-pawn march.

The U.S. Women’s Championship produced two decisive games yesterday, but today both women who trailed enacted revenge, thus requiring all four players to enter a playoff tomorrow. IM Irina Krush dramatically came back in her match against IM Anna Zatonskih. After playing an abysmal game in round one of the semifinals, she took over both sides of the board and sacrificed a bishop on g6. Zatonskih saw that capturing it meant getting checkmated but leaving it meant going down a lot of material.

Zatonskih-Krush

After yesterday’s dispiriting loss, Krush seemed elated to get a fresh start today. “When I sat down to play, I suddenly got a good feeling of energy, that I was really going to enjoy playing,” Krush said. “I had that feeling until I played h3. When you make a move like that, you feel like you’re playing like you did yesterday.” She said that the game turned when Zatonskih’s 13…e5, which seemed natural, created a more dynamic game. Krush said she appreciated the sharpness of the positions that followed. After 14. dxe5, Bxc5 falls victim to 15. Qc2, with dual ideas on the c-file and the light squares.

“I was very grateful to get this position and have something to play for,” Krush said. “I’m happy to have earned myself a chance to keep playing.” Asked about her momentum for tomorrow’s twin G/25 matches, Krush said, “Whether I’m the favorite or not, no one cares how you evaluate your chances. You have to show it on the board.”

WFM Tatev Abrahamyan was in an even direr situation than Krush. Not only did she have to win today, she also had Black against one of the most solid players in either field, WGM Camilla Baginskaite. Playing the longest game of the day, Abrahamyan worked around her opponent’s thorny c-pawn, and then got her own h-pawn deep into enemy territory. After transferring to a rook-and-pawn endgame, her active king and menacing rook pawn were enough to tie down her opponent’s pieces. With zugzwang looming, Baginskaite allowed an invasion, but at the cost of nearly all her remaining pawns. She soon resigned.

Abrahamyan said she also faced a must-win situation at the 2005 U.S. Championship. She played IM Rusudan Goletiani in a two-game match for the title, where she also lost the first game as White. “I learned a lot of patience from that match,” Abrahamyan said.

Tomorrow’s playoff will be two G/25 games with a five-second increment from move one. If still tied, there will be a G/45 Armageddon game with Black having draw odds. A silent bidding process will determine colors – the player bidding the lower amount of time gets that amount of time plus color choice, while the other player gets the full 45 minutes.

Former World Champion Garry Kasparov gives his thoughts on the games and the players, live from Moscow via Skype.



Jen and Maurice review the Easter Weekend semi-final action, a prelude to Monday's rapid playoffs!



Monday: U.S. Championship, U.S. Women's Championship Finals Begin Tomorrow After much talk of the youth movement at the 2011 U.S. Championship, the veterans will have the final say. GM Yury Shulman won the second game of the two-game tiebreak today against teenage GM Robert Hess, setting up a repeat of last year’s final with GM Gata Kamsky. At the 2010 Championship, Kamsky defeated Shulman in a one-game draw-odds playoff, which ended in a draw, giving Kamsky the title. This year, the two will play a two-game match, starting Tuesday, under classical time controls.

The loss was Hess’ first of the tournament and follows a series of three draws against Shulman. They drew two games in the last two days and added a third during the first rapid game today. “To Yury’s credit, he played really well,” Hess said.

Hess’ tournament is not over. He will play fellow 19-year-old GM-elect Sam Shankland in a similar match for third place. Shankland lost to Kamsky yesterday which gave Kamsky the day off today.

In the U.S. Women’s Championship, one player got through to the finals in the rapid games, while another had to go past even that. WFM Tatev Abrahamyan won both her games today against WGM Camilla Baginskaite to advance to the finals. Yesterday she won the second of two games against Baginskaite just to earn the right to advance to today. “I don’t know how that happened!” Abrahamyan said of her three consecutive wins. “After I lost (Saturday) I sort of relaxed.” She was asked if she was now the torch-bearer for the young players remaining in the tournament. “I didn’t know I’m still in the ‘young’ category, but that’s good to know!” Abrahamyan is 23. She is the youngest woman still remaining in the field.

Baginskaite vs Abrahamyan

IMs Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih split their head-to-head match with one win each, and required a final Armageddon match to decide a winner. The two entered secret bids to determine colors and starting times. Krush bid 45 minutes, the maximum allowable, all but securing her chance to play White. Zatonskih bid much lower – 27 minutes – and earned the right to pick Black with draw odds. The two repeated their previous two games with the same colors, until Zatonskih used the prepared move 13…Nd3+ to force off a few pieces. “Psychologically it would be difficult to play opposite-colored bishops,” Zatonskih explained. Krush’s central advance never materialized and she eventually found her king in the middle of the crossfire. “With this match it seems whoever gets the better position loses,” said GM Hikaru Nakamura. After move 35, there was nothing left and Krush resigned, giving Zatonskih the right to challenge Abrahamyan for the national championship.

Zatonskih-Krush

In tomorrow’s finals, colors were drawn randomly by IA Carol Jarecki. Kamsky will take White against Shulman and Abrahamyan will have White versus Zatonskih. In the third-place games, it will be Shankland-Hess and Baginskaite-Krush. All players will switch colors for Wednesday’s games, with Thursday set aside for any necessary tiebreaks. The awards ceremony will be Thursday night.

Our second finalist, Yury Shulman, on beating Hess and his new baby born yesterday!



Interviews with Robert Hess and Tatev Abrahamyan - http://blip.tv/file/5067773



Games semi-finals



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