Nothing to See Here; Kamsky and Krush Still Champs

Nothing to See Here; Kamsky and Krush Still Champs

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

The day began at the U.S. Championship and U.S Women's Championship with no fewer than six players still alive in the race for a national title. After several more hours of play, the two defending champions slithered through the field. GM Gata Kamsky and GM Irina Krush both used their free pass to the finals to add more U.S. Championships to their profiles.

Kamsky, the winner in four of the last five years, is now only the fourth man to win five U.S. Championships. "It's going to look good on the résumé," he said.

Krush said she was well aware of the big advantage conferred by not participating in the "play-in" game. As a commentator at this year's Gibraltar Chess Festival, she watched the playoff as GM Nikita Vitiugov beat GM Vassily Ivanchuk, only to fall to GM Ivan Cheparinov afterward in a similar format.

"Vitiugov was clearly tired," Krush said. "It's very hard to start one war after another."

GM Irina Krush converts her third consecutive title, beating WGM Tatev Abrahamyan

GM Gata Kamsky receives GM Varuzhan Akobian's resignation in rapid game two

The playoff format required the bottom two players on tiebreaks begin with an Armageddon bidding game. Meanwhile, the superior head-to-head tiebreaks of Kamsky and Krush meant they had a extra 90 minutes to rest.

IM Anna Zatonskih bid the full 45 minutes, essentially guaranteeing her White. Her opponent, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, bid 29:45, so she took a seat at the Black chair but only need to draw to advance (Zatonskih thus received 45 minutes by rule, not because she bid 45!).

Zatonskih clearly wanted White, but she didn't want Club Director Tony Rich to see her bid

The winning bid on the men's side was similar. GM Alex Lenderman sealed 33 minutes in his envelope, while GM Varuzhan Akobian undercut him with 29:57.

Akobian's desire to draw quickly subsided when he found the strong Bxf2+! Lenderman's king walked the plank, but he couldn't quite get back to safe ground before Black invaded on the second rank.

GM Alex Lenderman, the surprise of the tournament

With the rook toggling back and forth between f2 and g2, a perpetual seemed imminent, and Lenderman resigned himself to his fate and offered a draw. Instead of clinching the Armageddon with an acceptance, Akobian forced mate, but all in attendance agreed that a player of his caliber wasn't risking anything.

Meanwhile, the ladies had a much more back-and-forth encounter. Like Akobian, Zatonskih sacrificed a minor piece. By all accounts it too was sound, although the proper attacking continuation was much less obvious.

After 17...Qb6 Zatonskih missed the strong zwischenzug 18. Rb1, which removes Blacks discovered defense Ne6+. Instead, Abrahamyan, who is known for her attacking prowess, defended with aplomb and forced a perpetual in a winning position. Unlike Akobian, she pragmatically repeated rather than risk making an error in a winning position.

The mood on the women's side remained much more relaxed. Abrahamyan and Zatonskih chatted amicably as Krush arrived. Kamsky and Akobian did not break focus as they prepared for their two-game rapid match.

IM Anna Zatonskih and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, neither of whom could stop Krush's championship run

In game one, Akobian got a symmetrical structure and a worse bishop, but without any tangible weaknesses. Kamsky, a former World Rapid Champion, pressed his time advantage as he got ahead four minutes to White's 20 seconds in the endgame. Akobian didn't allow any breakthroughs, and even declined Kamsky's draw offer late in the game. After 47...f5 completely sealed the wall, Akobian offered a draw in return, which Kamsky accepted immediately.

Akobian, getting some last-minute advice in between the rapid games from his second, GM Gabriel Sargissian

The upstairs of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis became very tense as all four players dipped below 30 seconds in round one. The men drew without their clocks hitting single digits, but the women tested nerves even more.

Krush hovered at or below 10 seconds for most of the endgame. The normally mild-mannered champion banged the clock after 70. a6 with only two seconds remaining. Her clock only just stayed in the black, and her lone a-pawn played the role of hero.

"It was a good move - a6!" Krush said. When asked about her clock ticking down perilously, she said, "Two seconds? I've done that several times in a row. At least it wasn't one second!"

In the second game, Abrahamyan couldn't find a way to make threats on the h-file amount to anything.

"My preparation didn't help me at all this tournament," Abrahamyan said. "It's too bad, because I had really good preparation!" Even though she's been very close three different times to winning a U.S. Women's Championship, Abrahamyan said she was buoyed by her methodical rating gains.

Across the room, Kamsky pounced on Akobian's one major error. "I understand why he played ...c5," Kamsky said, "but I consider that a losing move. After that I got the pawn on b7."

Kamsky won $45,000 for first place, while Lenderman and Akobian split second and third by rule ($25,000 each).

Krush took $20,000 for her win, while the other finalists, Abrahamyan and Zatonskih, both made $11,000.

Kamsky and Krush at the closing ceremony

Kamsky, who had said previously that he might retire when he is 40 (which he will turn this summer), did not commit to this schedule. "I'm having second thoughts," he said. Kamsky left the club to celebrate with his fiancé, who stayed to watch him during the entire playoffs.

Even though it was his fourth title in five years, he sensed that he needed something extra to win this time. "I didn't expect to win this year...maybe she's my guardian angel?" Kamsky said. He has not lost a game at the U.S. Championships since 2012.

He said he plans to play the National Open in Las Vegas in June and he has confirmed his participation on the U.S. team at August's Chess Olympiad.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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