Five Remain Perfect at U.S. Championships

GM Larry Christiansen will bring a perfect 2/2 score into his pivotal third-round match-up against GM Gata Kamsky.


By FM Mike Klein

After two rounds of the 2013 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, there are curiously more perfect scores remaining in the latter tournament, despite having fewer than half the players of the former. Only three women (IMs Irina Krush and Anna Zatonksih and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan) and two men (GMs Gata Kamsky and Larry Christiansen) have begun with two wins, which represents about 15 percent of the combined field.

The most hyped game of the day featured teenage IM Kayden Troff against the top-seeded Kamsky. Going into the game, Troff said Kamsky was the highest-rated player he had ever faced, however the youngster drew GM Michael Adams, who is just a few points below Kamsky.

The veteran was the one who was surprised right away. “I didn’t expect Qa4 in the opening,” Kamsky said. “That really took me by surprise.” He ruminated more about his languishing pieces. “I can tell you this was not the position I was looking for when I played the Dutch Defense. I didn’t want to open the position. Next time I will be more prepared.” Kamsky praised 15. c5, with the idea than 15…d5 is well met by 16. Bxd5! and if 16…cxd5 17. Nxd5 and the black queen is left without a home. Overall, Kamsky said he could have been in serious trouble if Troff had used his active pieces to attack the king more.

“Even though it’s Kamsky, I really hate to lose,” Troff said. “This is the first time I lost to a GM in the last eight games.” Troff spent 20 minutes on his 16th move, and many spectators wondered if he would find the interesting gambit 16. Nd5! with wild complications. He said he surveyed it, along with three other candidate moves, including sacrificing the bishop on d5, or playing more simply with h4 or Bxc5. He chose the last one, but missed his chance to be more aggressive.  Kamsky said younger players should play more objectively against him instead of holding back.

Grandmaster Larry Christiansen, who won his first U.S. Championship in 1980 and his most recent in 2002, faced an uphill climb as he seeks to win a title in yet another decade. Facing second-seeded GM Timur Gareev as black, the veteran admitted that his opponent was better out of the opening. “I fought back,” he said. “When in doubt, go active! I hate passive positions – it’s not my style.” Christiansen has authored a pair of treatises on this exact idea, so he ditched his f-pawn to gain some initiative. In a balanced middlegame, he said Gareev pushed too hard to win. After the unbalanced endgame of queen for rook, bishop and some weak pawns, Gareev could not hold back the power of the queen. “Getting his bishop trapped for no reason, that was a major blunder,” Christiansen said.

Since they are the only players with two points, these two winners must play tomorrow  even though their colors do not line up. Both players are due white, but Kamsky is higher rated and will get his due color. Christiansen insisted afterward he would still play aggressively as black. “Historically against [Kamsky] you want to play actively,” Christiansen said. “You have to.” Though he did not get his preferred color, Christiansen was happy their meeting will come so soon. “I’m glad this game is coming earlier rather than later. He’s got a 20-year age advantage and I might be tired later.” Additionally, Kamsky admitted he is still adjusting to the time zone after flying back from a tournament in Switzerland one day before the event began.

The U.S. Women’s Championship so far has been far more predictable. The top three seeds are motoring, as  Zatonskih, Krush and Abrahamyan all won to go to 2-0. Zatonskih and Krush, the top two seeds and winners of the past seven titles, will face off tomorrow in their annual battle. The head-to-head matchup has served as the de facto championship in recent years. The two have played so many times that Zatonskih forgot who won in 2012 (it was a draw, but Krush won a dramatic tiebreak, which Zatonskih does remember vividly).

Today, Zatonskih had to use every facet of the game to narrowly edge the youngest player in the field, WFM Sarah Chiang. Her 34…b5 pawn lever complicated the game just enough to allow a decisive queenside breakthrough. “It is just equal,” Zatonskih said of the initial two-bishop endgame. “I needed to gamble with this move. With young players, you need to go to the endgame. I just proved this theory. I used to be like that; I could not play without a queen!”

Krush kept pace with what she called a better effort than her first round win. She played quickly, making the first 25 moves with less than five minutes ticking off her clock. WIM Iryna Zenyuk kept it close before blundering on her 40th and final move before making the time control. “It was a fight,” Krush said. “You want your opponents to put up resistance.” Krush said she used to have trouble getting motivated playing Zenyuk, who she called, “my closest female friend in the world ... She’s the one person I don’t want to play against.”

As for tomorrow’s battle between the two highest-rated players, Krush did not downplay the game as championship players often do. She called the game “critical” and said, “Everything hangs in the balance.”

Not to be outdone was Abrahamyan, who in recent years has been climbing up the ranks of the best female players in America. She needed only 19 moves to dispatch WGM Camilla Baginskaite. A knight retreat trapped the black queen, and there was no need to play on. “You don’t expect a quick win in that line,” Abrahamyan said of her opening, the Giuoco Piano, which translates to “quiet game” in Italian. Abrahamyan’s king weathered a brief storm before the tempest ended suddenly. “I’m not sure she objectively had anything but it looked really scary.”

“I didn’t recall what I’d been preparing,” Baginskaite said. “It is kind of silly. I am embarrassed.” Even if she did not hang her queen, Baginskaite would have had less than two minutes to make 22 more moves before time control. “Time pressure makes fools of us all,” grandmaster Maurice Ashley said in the live commentary.

The U.S. Championship may only have two perfect scores remaining, but a host of five other players are on 1.5/2 and lurking close behind. The most surprising among them is FM John Bryant, who played black and beat young phenom GM Ray Robson in a wild affair. With pieces on the edges of the board and pawns recklessly advancing, Bryant ignored all queenside problems and threw more fuel in the fire. After the computer had Robson at a +10 advantage, which is nearly always insurmountable, white played the reasonable but losing 27. Rb8, changing the evaluation to a whopping -18. The astonishing reversal was even more surprising since white got the first promotion, but black’s new lady was birthed with check. The forced mate was long but not complicated, and Bryant chased the white king toward his own to secure the point. “I got lucky in the end,” Bryant admitted. “I tried to come up with some tricks. I got the last attack in.”

Making another run this year is GM Gregory Kaidanov. Still seeking his first U.S. Championship, he started fast last year, co-leading after four rounds before faltering late. He had several unconventional material imbalances against GM Conrad Holt. Kaidanov’s rook and five pawns, four of which were connected and passed, at first had Holt’s three minor pieces in near zugzwang.  Later the rook vanished and it looked for a while like the famed two knights versus king and pawn endgame would arise. Instead Holt forced a repetition in an equal endgame.

For Holt, he continues to score against higher-rated opposition and will get another challenge in round three against GM Alejandro Ramirez. Both players have a University of Texas at Dallas connection, where they both were awarded scholarships. Bryant and Kaidanov will match up.

The final player on 1.5/2 is GM Joel Benjamin. His return to the U.S. Championship continues to go well, as he tiptoed by GM Robert Hess in a tight rook-and-pawn endgame. He will get black against Gareev tomorrow.

A logjam of players have an even score; many have two draws in two games including third-seeded GM Alex Onischuk, who looks to get his first win tomorrow as white against hometown fan favorite GM Ben Finegold. Every player is now on the board except FM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun, whose armada of pawns could not get mobile before he was swindled in a better position against GM Alex Shabalov.

A quartet of promising college players are all on 0.5/2 and looking to get back to even, including GM Sam Shankland, GM Marc Arnold, Hess and Robson. All four have said they have had school work conflict with the tournament.

2013 U.S. Championship Pairings: Round 3

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 GM Kamsky, Gata 2.0 2741 GM Christiansen, Larry M 2.0 2579
2 FM Bryant, John Daniel 1.5 2442 GM Kaidanov, Gregory S 1.5 2593
3 GM Holt, Conrad 1.5 2513 GM Ramirez, Alejandro 1.5 2551
4 GM Gareev, Timur 1.0 2674 GM Benjamin, Joel 1.5 2534
5 GM Onischuk, Alexander 1.0 2666 GM Finegold, Benjamin 1.0 2505
6 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 1.0 2616 IM Troff, Kayden W 1.0 2421
7 GM Khachiyan, Melikset 1.0 2518 GM Shulman, Yury 1.0 2570
8 FM Sevian, Samuel 1.0 2371 GM Shabalov, Alexander 1.0 2544
9 GM Stripunsky, Alexander 0.5 2570 GM Robson, Ray 0.5 2620
10 GM Ivanov, Alexander 0.5 2529 GM Shankland, Samuel L 0.5 2612
11 GM Hess, Robert L 0.5 2595 Norowitz, Yaacov 0.5 2451
12 GM Arnold, Marc T 0.5 2538 FM Sammour-Hasbun, Jorge E. 0.0 2463


Besides the marquee match in the women’s tournament, WFM Alena Kats will look to make the first dent in Abrahamyan’s score. She felt her drawn game today went much better than in round one. “Viktorija (Ni) and I have played the same opening twice before, and for once my opening preparation paid off,” Kats said, explaining that she lost those first two encounters. “Last year it took me like four games to get into the tournament.”

Seeking to get on the board will be WGM Sabina Foisor, who gets black against Baginskaite, and Chiang, who also gets black against WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia, who today won her first game at the U.S. Women’s Championship since 2004.

U.S. Women's Championship Pairings: Round 3 

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 WGM Baginskaite, Camilla 0.5 2278 WGM Foisor, Sabina 0.0 2300
2 WFM Kats, Alena 0.5 2144 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2.0 2280
3 WIM Zenyuk, Iryna 1.0 2243 WIM Ni, Viktorija 1.0 2262
4 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2.0 2466 IM Krush, Irina 2.0 2470
5 WGM Belakovskaia, Anjelina 1.0 2263 WFM Chiang, Sarah 0.0 2098