Kings vs. Queens takes off in St. Louis

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage

On Sunday the first Kings vs. Queens tournament started in St. Louis, USA. It's a Scheveningen-paired tournament with a men's team (GM Hikaru Nakamura, IM Marc Arnold, GM Ben Finegold, IM Jacek Stopa and Kevin Cao) against a women's team (GM Kateryna Lahnno, IM Anna Zatonskih, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, IM Irinia Krush and IM Martha Fierro) playing rapid games in both classical chess and Chess960.

Originally Judit Polgar and Anatoly Karpov would play as well but as we reported earlier, they had to withdraw. Now the teams look like this:


  • GM Kateryna Lahno (2554) - Ukraine
  • IM Anna Zatonskih (2508) - U.S.
  • GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (2469) - Russia
  • IM Irina Krush (2472) - U.S.
  • IM Martha Fiero (2378) - Ecuador


  • GM Hikaru Nakamura (2753) - U.S.
  • IM Marc Arnold (2505) - U.S.
  • GM Ben Finegold (2489) - U.S.
  • IM Jacek Stopa (2482) - Poland
  • NM Kevin Cao (2152) - U.S.

The Scheveningen format means that each of the five team members will play each of the opposing team members twice: once in a Fischer Random (Chess 960) game with a time control of G/25 + 10-second increment and once in a rapid game with a time control of G/25 with a 5-second increment. The winning team of the event will win $20,000, divided equally between each member of that team. In addition, individual prizes will be awarded based on final standings and are are as follows:
1st: $5,500
2nd: $5,000
3rd: $4,500
4th: $4,000
5th: $3,500
6th: $3,000
7th: $2,500
8th: $2,000
9th: $1,500
10th: $1,000

Individual prizes total $32,500 and, when coupled with the team prize, the total prize fund for this event is $52,500.

GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade are providing live commentary of the event, which is open to the public. The event is also broadcast live via the CCSCSL’s Livestream web channel:

Round 1 report

By Aviv Friedman

As expected, the first day of the Kings vs. Queens tournament produced the fireworks everyone had hoped for! Taking into consideration the fast pace of both formats (rapid and chess960), the games were exciting, uncompromising and thankfully for the spectators, not free of mistakes and heartbreakers.

While on paper the teams are evenly matched with an identical average Elo rating, the results on our first day were quite lopsided. Of course, looking at the positions in real time as the games were progressing, one could not have predicted that when the smoke would clear, the men would rack up 7 points to the women’s 3.

Chess960 rapid commentary:

Classical rapid commentary:

The day started with yet another draw – this time not for colors or seed numbers, but rather for the one out of the 960 possible starting positions. In case you wonder what our brave competitors had to deal with, well here is that starting position!

A queen in the corner, the king ‘stalemated’ between his two rooks, and all the minor pieces clogged on the kingside—what more can we ask for? Of course if you spoke to GM Hikaru Nakamura, you’d get a scary (and incorrect) feeling that he knows this position as if it was old theory. In his game versus IM Martha Fiero he confidently opened with 1.g4 and after only 20 moves his opponent had to acknowledge defeat. The position went from the one above into:

As Nakamura was interviewed by commentators GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jen Shahade, Fierro stood next to me, and with her signature smile asked me jokingly: “How can you beat this guy?!”

Their rapid game was altogether a different affair. Despite Nakamura’s precautious play, Fierro kept a cool head and with solid play managed to create a complete blockade, where black’s winning chances were non-existent. After a lot of piece-shuffling, she could have played 60. Nc7!, which threatens to take on a6 and push b7, and when black stops it with 60…Rh8, there follows 61.Ne6+ Ke5 62.Nxg7 with 63.Rxf4 and white is up a pawn with serious winning chances. In the actual game after endless maneuvering, Fierro ended up winning the loose f4 pawn, and the game reached the following position:

Had she played 83.Nc7! here, Nakamura could have resigned with a clear conscience, as Rb3 with Nxa6 is coming and trying to activate the rook on e5 (say 83…Ree7) leads to mate in a few moves after 84.e5+!. Instead white played 83.Nf6?, which was still acceptable to stave off the loss, but later after allowing the black kingside pawns to advance, could no longer hold the position.

On board two GM Ben Finegold also scored the full two points against current U.S. Women’s Champion IM Anna Zatonskih. Her first round random game was going fine, until she inexplicably played 27. R1d2?? Simply overlooking 27…Nxd2, which wins the exchange, and subsequently the game. In the rapid game Finegold decided to put the game to sleep by trading queens very early in an almost symmetrical position. Surely in a long game Zatonskih would have done fine, but the fast time control was a different story. First she let her opponent get the bishop pair, and then slowly drifted in the minor pieces endgame. That very pair of bishops went on a pawn hunting rampage, and black’s attempts to sacrifice a piece turned unsuccessful.

New Yorker IM Marc Arnold, 18, is fresh off a very successful European chess summer, which propelled his ELO rating to over 2500. He managed to split the points with former women’s world champion, and current women’s chess960 champ, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. Early on in their chess960 encounter, the Russian aggressively sacrificed a pawn: 10…e4!?

Arnold took the pawn and lived to tell about it. Kosteniuk desperately gave two minor pieces to expose the white king, but lacked the firepower to succeed—0-1 on move 35.

All of this was just a precursor to the real drama that their rapid game provided! In a Najdorf white (pseudo) sacked a pawn, then black sacrificed one too. Black then gave up an exchange—again a decision that might have been harshly criticized in a regular time control game, but this gave Arnold ample counter chances in a rapid game. Both sides had their chances, but after white substituted 31.Rc7?? for what could have been a nice tactical knockout with 31.Qd5!, black was completely winning. But wait!! Now comes the amazing part: first white realized that the position repeated three times, but was not sure of it, and so did not claim it. It must have been her female intuition as on move 45 we arrived at the following position:

Here 45…h5+ or the immediate 45…Nxe1 will ‘win the world’ immediately (in fact the concept of taking the queen now that the black king is not mated like before was completely missed by both players in the heat of the battle!). Instead the clock went down to 0:00 and a relieved Alexandra informed her young opponent that he overstepped the time limit. What a finish!

The Kings’ IM Jacek Stopa was admittedly very lucky today. In game one, IM Irina Krush consistently improved her position to achieve an overwhelming advantage. Nakamura, who was observing the game, suggested moving the black queen away from the only open file, only to soon dominate it with both black rooks. He even went as far as to suggest a passive sacrifice of one of the rooks on e4, so as to recapture with a pawn, activate the black queen and with the newly formed pawn duo in the center, guarantee a pleasant outcome. With time running short, Krush allowed her Polish IM opponent some heavy-duty counter play, which eventually led to her demise.

Game two saw Stopa gambiting a pawn in the early stages of the opening, for speculative initiative. After black’s 23…Rb8 we arrived at the following position:

Here white could have played 24.f6! taking away the black queen’s best flight square. Now after 24…Bxf6 25.Nf5! it’s game over, and things are no better for black after 24…Rxf6 25.Re3.

In the actual game, white won an exchange, which should have also sufficed, but in hair-raising time trouble, black kept picking up pawns, complicating matters. The final tragedy from Krush’s point of view, came on the 53rd move:

She played 53.Ke3?? g3 54.a5 g2 and 0-1. In the diagrammed position, she could have still saved the game with 53.Rxh2! Nf3+ 54.Ke3 Nxh2 55.Kf4 and 56.Kg3…

Last but not least was the match between local 14-year-old NM Kevin Cao, the youngest player in the field, and his much more experienced opponent, former women’s world chess960 champ GM Kateryna Lahno. Kevin was very close to making a draw in game one, but like we have seen so many times already, time played a big role, and in the end Lahno’s mischievous knight proved too strong for Cao’s passive bishop.

The rapid game was a tour de force of the Ukrainian GM, as she completely outplayed her young opponent in a Pirc defense. Her queen showed hyena-like relentlessness, picking one pawn after another, forcing an eventual resignation.

So the Kings team has opened a 4-point gap, but as Kosteniuk optimistically noted, it is only day one, and there are four more full days of fight! And fights she promised!

Follow live commentary analysis at, or come on down to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to check out all of the action live!

World Chess Hall of Fame & Boy Scouts

On Saturday St. Louis area Boy Scouts played a game of human chess during an event co-hosted by the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to launch the first-ever Chess Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura participated in the event and stood in as the black king. The game ended in a draw and Women's Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade and Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan provide live commentary during the event.

NASA Astronaut and Eagle Scout Greg Chamitoff presented 15 Scouts with the badge and on Sept. 12 the new merit badge will be available to Scouts across the U.S. Also, as part of the event, Chamitoff presented  the Hall of Fame with the chessboard that flew on the space shuttle Endeavor as part his Official Flight Kit.

The World Chess Hall of Fame, is a cultural institution that showcases art, history, science and sports through the lens of chess, officially opened on Sept. 9 in St. Louis’s historic Central West End neighborhood - located across the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. The Hall of Fame relocated from Miami and chose Saint Louis as its new home due to the city’s growing reputation as a center of chess.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura participated in a human chess game outside of the World Chess Hall of Fame and Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis on September 10. The first-ever Chess Merit Badge will be available nationwide on September 12.

Women's Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade and Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan provided live commentary during the human chess game played by St. Louis area Boy Scouts during a launch event for the first-ever Chess Merit Badge. The event was co-hosted by the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

St. Louis area Boy Scouts played a game of human chess during a September 10 event co-hosted by the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to launch the first-ever Chess Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America.

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