Krush, Kamsky Remain Perfect at U.S. Championships

IM Irina Krush got the full point against her toughtest opponent, IM Anna Zatonskih, in round 3 of the U.S. Women's Championship.


By FM Mike Klein

SAINT LOUIS (May 6, 2013) -- Two premium matchups were the top layer on a chess cake that featured 13 winners in 17 games in round three of the 2013 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. The only two men with perfect scores, GMs Gata Kamsky and Larry Christiansen, took center stage for the main championship. The ladies enacted their yearly fan-favorite ritual of numbers one versus two – IMs Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush.

Both games went into the sixth hour before two winners emerged. Both Krush and Zatonskih drained their clocks down to less than one minute before Zatonskih’s king was caught in a mating net and she resigned. The final dozen moves of the game, she could do nothing but shuttle her pieces aimlessly, waiting for Krush to find a plan to break through. “You can’t blame her,” Krush said. “She didn’t have much to do in that position.”

Prior to the passivity, Krush surprised Zatonskih out of the opening, playing the King’s Indian Defense as black for the first time since 2009. The two have played so many times in recent years; including tiebreaks, they have now logged ten games head-to-head in the last three championships. In recent years, Krush has trotted out a variety of defenses to Zatonskih’s 1. d4, including a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, Catalan, Pirc, Benoni, and another King’s Indian in 2008. “It’s actually pretty difficult to prepare for me because you don’t know what I’m going to do,” Krush said after listing her previous battles.

Whatever experience was needed to play her position, Krush said she found from her numerous games on the opposite side. “You might need to know 20 or 25 moves out of the opening. But you also need experience as white. Today we were both uncomfortable, but she mixed up two lines that I both play as white, so I knew the ideas.”

At some point, I’ve got five pieces on the g-file. And hey! I’ve still got a rook on the queenside! That’s a good sign when you haven’t lost anything over there.”

Finishing just minutes before was Kamsky-Christiansen. The underdog Christiansen promised to bring the fight to top-rated Kamsky, but after 75 moves of creative play, Kamsky liquidated the last of black’s drawing chances. “I missed some of his strong moves and I was thinking, ‘Damn, this is going to be a really, really hard game,’” Kamsky said. Still just days after flying back from a super-tournament in Switzerland, Kamsky said he chose to rest more than study. “I was sleeping all day and not really preparing. Against Larry, I knew we were going to play a long game.”

The win makes Kamsky the only player on 3-0 and thus the last contender for the $64,000 Fischer Prize for an unblemished 9-0 score.

Falling off the pace but still controlling her own destiny in the women’s tournament was WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. She managed to draw as black against WFM Alena Kats, who is playing more cogent chess in her second go-round in St. Louis. Abrahamyan now sits alone in second place with 2.5/3.

She will face WIM Iryna Zenyuk in round four, who won today over WIM Viktorija Ni to get to 2/3. She is starting well as she did last year (in 2012 she had 2.5/3). In the first three contests, Zenyuk said her opening preparation has been paying off, “but it seems my opponents know [the openings] too.” Today she liked her position but struggled to decide when and how to open the pawn structure on the kingside. “I thought I had a comfortable edge the whole game, but then we got into a time scramble and it got crazy.” Both kings looked perilously close to being mated before the dust settled and Zenyuk’s extra pawns decided the issue for good.

WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia was the final player to retain a plus score today, as she got by WFM Sarah Chiang to also move to 2-1. Belakovskaia has arguably the toughest tournament beginning of anyone. Having already played Zatonskih as black in round one, her next big test comes tomorrow as she again gets black against front-runner Krush. WGM Sabina Foisor and Chiang will both try to get their first points of the event as they square off in round four.

The other big story coming from the U.S. Championship is undoubtedly the performance of two unheralded players. Collegiate GM Conrad Holt and FM John Bryant, both playing in their first championship, both scored their second upset wins to move to 2.5/3. The reward? In round four Holt will get white against Kamsky on board one, while Bryant “escapes” but still will be challenged mightily with black against Christiansen. To put the experience gap in perspective, together Kamsky and Christiansen have 34 appearances and six titles against Holt and Bryant’s three days in St. Louis. The total all-time games count is 359-6.

Today Holt dispatched GM Alejandro Ramirez in a Benko Gambit. Holt said he was surprised at the opening choice, precisely because Ramirez is such an aficionado. “He’s played tons of Benko Gambits,” Holt said. “He’s made a DVD about it. I thought he would want to surprise me.” At the end, both players are about to promote, but according to Holt “his king is completely toast.”

The galloping start has also surprised the newly-minted grandmaster. “All the time I start bad in tournaments,” he said. Like the other college students, who are mostly scuffling, Holt has plenty of school work due these next few weeks. His three finals and timed exam, to be taken on the tournaments only rest day, are not getting in the way for now.

Bryant, who miraculously escaped against one GM in round two, outplayed the veteran GM Gregory Kaidanov today. Though the Marshall Gambit has the potential to inflict pain on white’s king, Bryant said he never feared his position and welcomed the opening. He had only played against it once before (against fellow U.S. Championship player IM Sam Sevian) but declined the pawn offer that time. Since then, he has studied how to play the main lines. “Before this tournament I went back and looked at it,” he said. “I just thought I was never in trouble. I just think that white must have some advantage in any case.” Asked if he thought first place, his lofty pre-tournament goal, was becoming more attainable, Bryant replied, “I’m a moody player and the mood is really good right now.”

His exchange sacrifice 25. Rxd6 wrested the initiative away from black, while the pretty 30. f5! highlighted the coordination of white’s forces. Black resigned without waiting for tactics on the c-file to come to fruition.

Besides Christiansen, four other top GMs got themselves to 2-1 with positive results today. GM Alex Shabalov won his second in a row, with much less luck needed. After finding a tactic in an otherwise losing position yesterday, and spoiling his game in round one against Kamsky, Shabalov won today against Sevian without as much seesawing. Still, it did require two queens, but that is “typical Shabalov” Zenyuk said. “The loss against Gata was a bitter pill to swallow,” Shabalov said of the start to his tournament. He then was outplayed in the opening by FM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun yesterday, so he was not about to overlook his 12-year-old opponent today. “He’s a sensation this tournament,” Shabalov said. “Believe me, I was dead serious this game.” After narrowly avoiding a 0-2 start, Shabalov is back in the chase pack. 

Two other pre-tournament favorites getting back into the hunt were third-seeded GMs Alex Onischuk and sixth-seeded Varuzhan Akobian. Onischuk had an equal game but broke through with his queen and bishop against GM Ben Finegold. In the final position, every piece of Onischuk’s occupied a dark square while all of Finegold’s army languished on the light squares.

Akobian handed IM Kayden Troff his second loss in a row. In other action, GM Joel Benjamin held second-seeded GM Timur Gareev to a solid draw. Past winner GM Yury Shulman proved his French Defense was once again impregnable, as GM Melik Khachiyan spend several hours preparing but said he could not find any way to combat it; the two played a static draw.

The only other winner was Sammour-Hasbun, who took the full point after losing his two opening games. “I was thinking how much talent I have at losing good positions,” he said. “It’s just a tough tournament. These guys don’t give anything for free. Today my goal was just to not lose. I said, ‘Please, not 0-3.’”

For round four live coverage and grandmaster commentary, tune in to at 1:00 Central, 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

2013 U.S. Championship Pairings: Round 4

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 GM Holt, Conrad 2.5 2513 GM Kamsky, Gata 3.0 2741
2 GM Christiansen, Larry M 2.0 2579 FM Bryant, John Daniel 2.5 2442
3 GM Shabalov, Alexander 2.0 2544 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2.0 2666
4 GM Benjamin, Joel 2.0 2534 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2.0 2616
5 GM Shulman, Yury 1.5 2570 GM Gareev, Timur 1.5 2674
6 GM Shankland, Samuel L 1.5 2612 GM Stripunsky, Alexander 1.5 2570
7 GM Kaidanov, Gregory S 1.5 2593 GM Khachiyan, Melikset 1.5 2518
8 GM Ramirez, Alejandro 1.5 2551 GM Hess, Robert L 1.0 2595
9 GM Finegold, Benjamin 1.0 2505 Norowitz, Yaacov 1.0 2451
10 FM Sammour-Hasbun, Jorge E. 1.0 2463 FM Sevian, Samuel 1.0 2371
11 IM Troff, Kayden W 1.0 2421 GM Ivanov, Alexander 0.5 2529
12 GM Robson, Ray 0.5 2620 GM Arnold, Marc T 0.5 2538

2013 U.S. Women's Championship Pairings: Round 4

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 WGM Foisor, Sabina 0.0 2300 WFM Chiang, Sarah 0.0 2098
2 IM Krush, Irina 3.0 2470 WGM Belakovskaia, Anjelina 2.0 2263
3 WIM Ni, Viktorija 1.0 2262 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2.0 2466
4 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2.5 2280 WIM Zenyuk, Iryna 2.0 2243
5 WGM Baginskaite, Camilla 1.5 2278 WFM Kats, Alena 1.0 2144