- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The field is set for next month’s 2011 U.S. Championship as veteran GM Gregory Kaidanov and 16-year-old newcomer GM Ray Robson of Florida grabbed the last two spots in the 16-player field.

Mr. Kaidanov took one of the slots on offer by winning the St. Louis Invitational Tournament outright earlier this month with a 6-3 result. Mr. Robson tied for second with GM Alejandro Ramirez and then prevailed in a tense two-game rapid playoff to qualify.

This year’s national title tournament again will be held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis starting April 13. Defending champion Gata Kamsky will be the top seed, although GM Hikaru Nakamura, the nation’s top-rated player, will not participate this year. An intriguing entry in the field this year is GM Yasser Seirawan, a four-time national champion who has been largely inactive for the past seven years.

New Jersey GMJoel Benjamin, a three-time national champ or co-champ, did not get an invitation to this year’s dance, but he did pull off a nice win against California GMJesse Kraai in the first round of the St. Louis event. In a complex Nimzo-Indian, Mr. Benjamin’s high-stepping knights proved the difference in the piquant ending.

The antics of both the White and Black knights make this a wickedly difficult game to analyze, as Mr. Kraai’s knight pair invade the White position via the a and b files. But it is Mr. Benjamin’s lone knight that proves critical in the final battle that decides the game. Black’s queenside invasion in fact looks to be tipping the balance decisively his way, but White’s counterplay arrives just in time.

After 33. hxg4 f6 (Nd3 34. Qg3 Rxd6 35. Rxf7 Rf6 36. Rxf6 gxf6 37. Nf5 leaves things roughly in balance) 34. g5 Nd1!? (see diagram), 35. Qxd1!? Qxe3+ 36. Rf2 Qd3 (Qxc3?! 37. Nc6 Rd7 38. Qh5 g6 39. Qh6) 37. Qh5 Qxd6 38. Qf7 e4 39. gxf6 gxf6 40. Rf5 would have produced a very murky position.

Instead, White takes a gamble that pays off with 35. gxf6! Qxe3+ 36. Qxe3 Nxe3 37. Nc6 Nxf1?? (Rxd6?? 38. f7 also loses for Black, but 37…Ra8! 38. fxg7+ Kxg7 39. Re1 Ng4 40. d7 Nc5 41. d8=Q Rxd8 42. Nxd8 a6 would have led to a fiendishly complex ending with chances for Black to hold) 38. Nxd8 Nc5 (gxf6 39. d7 Nc5 40. Nf7+ wins, as does 38…Kg8 39. Nb7) 39. f7 Nd7 40. Ne6 Ng3 41. Nc5!.

The knight can be an excellent blockader of pawns - except when challenged by another knight. Black resigns, as the pawns can’t be restrained after 41…Ne2+ (Nxc5 42. f8=Q mate) 42. Kf2 Nf4 43. Nxd7 Ne6 44. f8=Q+ Nxf8 45. Nxf8 Kg8 46. d7.

India, hardly a chess power in modern times, soon may claim both the men’s and women’s world crowns. GM Viswanathan Anand has held the men’s title belt since 2007, and compatriot GM Humpy Koneru has emerged from a series of qualifying tournaments for the right to challenge Chinese women’s titleholder Hou Yifan later this year.

The 22-year-old Miss Koneru long has been seen as a contender and holds the record as the youngest female grandmaster ever. One sample of her powerful play came a decade ago against strong Yugoslavian GM Dragutin Sahovic at a tournament in Belgrade.

White drifts without a plan in this Queen’s Indian, and Miss Koneru as Black is only too happy to assume the initiative. White’s jumbled, uncoordinated forces prove only too vulnerable to a perfectly timed positional shot.

Thus: 22. Bxd6 Bd4 23. e3 (trying to relieve the pressure on f2, but Black just presses ahead) Nxe3! 24. fxe3 Bxe3+ 25. Kh1 Bxd2, when 26. Qxd2 would be met by 26…e3! 27. Qe2 Qf2! 28. Qxf2 exf2 29. Nc2 Bxg2+ 30. Kxg2 Rad8 31. Rd2 Re6 32. Bf4 Rxd2 33. Bxd2 Re2 34. Be3 Rxc2 35. Bxf2 Rxb2, with an easy endgame win.

But 26. Rxd2 loses even more quickly as Miss Koneru plays the same pawn thrust while offering up a queen: 26…e3! 27. Re2 (only prolonging the agony was 27. Qxf5 exd2 28. Bxb7 dxe1=Q+ 29. Kg2 Qd2+ 30. Kh3 Qxd6 31. Bxa8 Rxa8) Qf1 mate, taking advantage of the pin on White’s light-squared bishop.

Benjamin-Kraai, St. Louis Invitational, St. Louis, March 2011

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Nc6 7. e4 e5 8. Ne2 d6 9. Ng3 Nd7 10. Be3 Na5 11. Bd3 c5 12. d5 Nb6 13. Qe2 Na4 14. Qc2 Nb6 15. Qa2 Na4 16. O-O Bd7 17. Nf5 Qc7 18. Rac1 b5 19. cxb5 c4 20. Be2 Rab8 21. Qc2 Bxb5 22. f4 Bd7 23. fxe5 Rb2 24. Qd1 dxe5 25. d6 Qb7 26. Ne7+ Kh8 27. Bf3 Nb3 28. Rc2 Be6 29. h3 Rd8 30. Bg4 Qxe4 31. Rxb2 Nxb2 32. Qe1 Bxg4 33. hxg4 f6 34. g5 Nd1 35. gxf6 Qxe3+ 36. Qxe3 Nxe3 37. Nc6 Nxf1 38. Nxd8 Nc5 39. f7 Nd7 40. Ne6 Ng3 41. Nc5 1-0.

Sahovic-Koneru, TGSM October Tournament, Belgrade, October 2001

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O O-O
7. Nc3 Ne4 8. Bd2 f5 9. Rc1 Bf6 10. d5 Na6 11. a3 c5 12. Qb3
Nc7 13. Rfd1 exd5 14. cxd5 d6 15. Be3 Kh8 16. Nxe4 fxe4
17. Ne1 Re8 18. Rd2 b5 19. Rcd1 Qd7 20. Qc2 Qf5 21. Bf4 Nxd5
22. Bxd6 Bd4 23. e3 Nxe3 24. fxe3 Bxe3+ 25. Kh1 Bxd2 26. Rxd2
e3 27. Re2 0-1.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washingtontimes.com. His column can also be found online at www.washingtontimes.com.

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