Fischer Prize Extended to U.S. Women's; Krush, Foisor Remain Perfect

Irina Krush and Sabina Foisor each remained perfect after two rounds of play to lead the field. Image Credits: Lennart Ootes.

By Brian Jerauld 

SAINT LOUIS (May 9, 2014) -- In the 1964 U.S. Chess Championship, a 20-year-old Bobby Fischer rolled over the nation in jaw-dropping fashion, showcasing his dominance over the field with a perfect 11-0 score. In 2014, that monumental record celebrates its 50th anniversary having never been repeated - though not without a lack of effort by Rex Sinquefield.

Since the annual chase for America’s crown found its new home in the benefactor’s St. Louis castle six years ago, Sinquefield has offered up the incentive $64,000 Fischer Bonus Prize numerous times to any U.S. Championship competitor who can match such convincing command of his challengers. But on Friday’s day two, perhaps a credit to the event’s balanced field, the hopeful chase of Fischer’s feat was brought to a quick end when all six games were drawn.

Sinquefield, however, doesn’t want his money back - and now he’s challenging America’s women to step up.

During Friday’s games, Sinquefield announced that he was extending the carrot to the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship, and two challengers emerged from the tournament hall to hear the good news. Sabina Foisor stayed perfect after two days following a quality come-from-behind win over Alisa Melekhina, as did reigning Women’s champion Irina Krush, who made quick work of 13-year-old phenom Ashritha Eswaran on Friday afternoon. Krush, in search of a three-peat and her sixth national title, turned in 7-of-9 wins in last year’s event.

The two share the lead, with Anna Zatonskih trailing in clear third with 1.5/2. Zatonskih will defend the black pieces against Foisor in the third round, set to begin today at 1 p.m. CST. Krush defends in the namesake battle versus Iryna Zenyuk.

Ray Robson and Aleksandr Lenderman lead the U.S. Championship with 1.5/2, with the only two wins turned in through two rounds.Today, Robson will attack reigning champion Gata Kamsky with the white pieces, while Lenderman defends against Alejandro Ramirez (1/2).

Lenderman made a quick exit from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis after pickpocketing Timur Gareev for a half point in the second round. Gareev came out ready to prove himself on Friday, one day removed from the two-seed’s first-round quickdraw with Kamsky, setting up a Nimzo-Indian against Lenderman.

After 7. d5 set up early tension, Gareev’s 18...Bxb4 earned him a pawn up in a cramped position, while Lenderman enjoyed a strong pawn chain through the center and wide-open activity. Gareev held, however, through a tactics-filled middlegame with a paradoxical 25...Kg6 that walked his king into discovered check - correctly.

The writing was on the wall by the 35th move, however, with Gareev’s pieces superior in position and rolling downhill toward pawn promotion. But 52...Rxb3 was a blatant miscalculation in simplification and put him one step behind Lenderman, who played perfectly down the stretch to steal the half point.

“Once it got simple, people like (Gareev) - these geniuses - they relax sometimes,” Lenderman said. “He probably thought ‘OK, I’m winning no matter what and was waiting for me to resign or something. I didn’t even see (Rxb3) as a possibility, and that’s the thing: He finds ideas that other people don’t find. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad.”


Kamsky, as the other half of Thursday’s disappointing first-round quick draw, also returned with his quality fighting spirit in a rematch of last year’s playoff for the national title with Alejandro Ramirez.

Ramirez defended with the French and had the queens traded by the 10th move, then passed on his option to castle for some early activity from his king. Kamsky’s 29. Bxg6 kicked off a tactical battle between the rooks and knights on the kingside, though Ramirez’ slight lead went backwards with 36...Nd4. While jamming Kamsky’s king into a tight position, it wasn’t tight enough and ultimately served to win black’s passed d-pawn - though it was an advantage the champion couldn’t convert. A long rook-and-two-pawn endgame proved fruitless.

GM Sam Shankland could not convert a win despite a huge time advantage agaisnt GM Ray Robson.

The Sam Shankland-Rob Robson match turned out to be a defining game for both of the grandmaster’s alter-egos: Mr. Book versus Captain Time Trouble. Perhaps surprised by Shankland’s 1.d4, Robson - notorious for playing on increment, yet bad on Friday even by his own standards - was playing on the 30-second-per-move bonus not halfway to the time control, and Shankland had only 15 minutes gone from his original 90.

But it was Shankland’s personality who got the best of him, completely booked and racing through his lines without finding more to lean on Robson. Just as the black army looked to be suffering, Shankland’s 26. Qa8 looked to stray from the initiative, and Robson easily closed for the half point.

“I made a typical mistake: A big advantage out of the opening in preparation and a huge time advantage,” Shankland said. “But while I was playing my preparation, I just kept blitzing the moves out and didn’t manage to slow down when I really needed to - if I had slowed down and calculated properly, I think we would have seen a different result. I really think I missed out today.”

Foisor took the black pieces against Melekhina and fell behind early, her defense to the advanced French first going astray with 9...Nf5. Her move 20...Bxd6 invited a white pawn deep into her camp - a threat she ignored for 21...hxg4 instead, unsoundly sacrificing her knight and allowing Melekhina a healthy lead. However, it was the seemingly innocuous 27. Qc3 - offering a queen trade and beginning the simplification process - that pushed the pendulum back toward Foisor.

“After (Melekhina) traded queens, I didn’t think I could lose anymore,” Foisor said. “I thought my position was pretty much OK, because my pawn structure was intact and I could just start pushing them. We were both in time trouble, so I thought maybe I had some chances to starting pushing the pawns without enough time for her to calculate.”

Indeed, Foisor’s pawns led a healthy charge in front of her mobilized king, and Melekhina’s advantage bishop was rendered nearly useless: Foisor’s 42...Rf8 left it suffering under both types of pins and at the focus of black’s march of pawns. Melekhina’s 44. Rf5 was a nail in the coffin, ushering liquidation by black with an easy walk to promotion.

Round three of the 2014 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship begins today at 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET. Catch live commentary of the event with GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade at