SANDS: Kamsky tops Ramirez in playoff for U.S. chess title

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Breaking news — It came down to a single “armageddon” playoff game, but top-seeded GM Gata Kamsky claimed the 2013 U.S. championship in a thrilling finish Monday at the Chess Club Scholastic Center of St. Louis. He defeated Texas GM Alejandro Ramirez in a rapid playoff after the two finished atop the 24-player field with 6½-2½ scores.

Popular New York IM Irina Krush won her fifth women’s U.S. title in the 10-woman invitational, leading wire-to-wire to finish at 8-1, a half-point ahead of top rival IM Anna Zatonskih, whom Krush beat in their individual encounter.

GM Alex Onischuk came up just short in his bid for a second U.S. title, finishing a half-point behind Kamsky and Ramirez at 6-3. But his win over the ever-inventive GM Alex Shabalov was one of the highlights of the tournament, a seesaw battle that at one point saw the two players with seven passed pawns on the board.

Their Open Catalan was already highly unbalanced after a dozen moves, with Onischuk as Black giving up a piece for a passel of queenside pawns on 12. d5 exd5 13. e5 0-0 (Nd7!? 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. Rxd5 bxa2 16. Nd4 0-0 17. Nc6 Qe8 18. Nxb8 Nxb8 19. Qxa2 was an interesting alternative) 14. a3 Nc6 15. exf6 Bxf6. By 24. axb5 axb5 25. Qd3 c4, it looks as if Black’s pawns will sweep White right off the board, but Shabalov finds real chances as the time control looms.

Thus: 31. Qf5 g6 32. Qxf7 (the White pieces are suddenly buzzing around the Black king) Bg7?! (Ra2! keeps Black on top after 33. Bxg6 Rb7 34. Qe8+ Kg7 35. Be4 Rba7 36. Rxa2 bxa2 37. Ra1 Qd6 38. Qxd5 d3 39. Qxc4 Qe5) 33. Qf4! (with the threat of 34. Qh4+ Kg8 35. Bd5+ Kf8 36. Qf4+ Bf6 37. Ra7! Qxa7 38. Qxf6+ Ke8 39. Bc6+ Qd7 40. Re1+ and wins) Rd8 34. Qh4+ Kg8, when White could have kept his chances alive with 35. Ra6! Bf6 (Qxa6 36. Qxd8+ Kh7 37. Qh4+ Bh6 38. Qe7+) 36. Rxb6 Bxh4 37. gxh4 with a wild position.

Shabalov-Onischuk after 35. Bxg6.

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Shabalov-Onischuk after 35. Bxg6. more >

Onischuk finally defangs the attack at the cost of his queen after 35. Bxg6? (see diagram) Qf6 36. Qh7+ Kf8 37. Rf1 d3 38. Ra7 d2 39. Rf7+ Qxf7 40. Bxf7 Kxf7, and need only escape the White queen checks to cash in his advanced pawns. But finding shelter proves difficult, and the computer claims White may have missed his chance on 60. Qe7+?, when 60. Qc5+! Rc6 61. Qe7+ Kc8 62. Qe8+ Kc4 63. Qe4+ Rd4 64. Qe6+ Kc5 65. Qe5+ Rd5 66. Qe7+ leaves Black still searching for a safe harbor,

It’s over on 66. Qe7+ Kb6, as Black finally finds respite in lines like 67. Qf6+ (Qe3+ Rc5 68. Qe6+ Ka5 69. Qxb3 cxd1=Q+ 70. Qxd1 Rc1 and wins) Ka5 68. Qc3+ Ka4 69. Rxd2 Rxd2 7-. Qxd2 Ra1+ 71. Kf2 c1=Q. A fascinating game.

With one of its own set to challenge for the world championship for the first time ever, Norway is hosting what is likely to be the strongest invitational tournament of the year, with favorite son GM Magnus Carlsen headlining a 10-grandmaster field that includes the five highest rated players on the planet.

The much-anticipated Round 2 encounter between Carlsen and Indian world champion Viswanathan Anand ended in a 59-move draw. The game may be their last clash before their 12-game title match later this year.

Anand had much better luck a round later against Veselin Topalov, the Bulgarian former world champ who just captured the Category 20 FIDE World Cup event in Zug, Switzerland. In a battle between two of the finest tacticians of the modern age, it is Anand who finds a killer shot that leads to a decisive material advantage.

White breaks on top in this Najdorf Sicilian on 18. Bxf4 exf4 19. Nd5! (stiff-arming any Black hopes of d6-d5) Bxd5 20. exd5 Nxd5 21. Qxd5 Qxa5 22. Rg4, and Anand’s bishop dominates his Black counterpart. Topalov’s search for counterplay with a queen sortie to the kingside allows White in the end a clinching combination in the center.

The critical sequence begins with 28. f4! (exposing the Black queen to continual harassment) Bd6? (the players agreed later Black’s best bet was to plunge ahead with 28Qxh4) 29. Bg2 Bxf4 30. Bxd5 Kg7 31. Qe4! Qe3 32. Qh1!, guarding the back rank, supporting White’s powerful rooks, and — as noted by GM Gilberto Milos on Chessbase.com — setting up slick tactics such as 32Be5 33. R4d3 Qe2 34. R1d2 Qg4 35. Qe1 Re8 36. Rf2 Rc7 37. Rdf3 Qc8 38. Re3 Rce7 39. Rxe5! Rxe5 40. Rxf7+ Kh8 41. Rf8+ Kg7 (Rxf8 42. Qxe5+ Rf6 43. Qxf6 mate) 42. Rg8+!! Rxg8 43. Qxe5+ Kf8 44. Qf6+ Ke8 45. Bc6+ and wins.

With his pieces all lined up for the kill, Anand finds the winning shot: 34. Qf3 Bh2 (see diagram) 35. Be6! Re7?! (Anand said later the best practical chance might have been 35Qxe6 36. Rxd7 Rf5) 36. Re4 Rxe6 37. Rxe5 Rcxe5 38. Rd8 Re4 39. Ka2 Bf4 40. Rd7 Kg8 41. Ra7, and White collects the point in lines such as 41Rc4 (White threatened 42. Rxa6 and the Black rook on e4 would be hanging) 42. Qb7 Rc7 43. Qb8+ Kg7 44. Rxc7 and wins.

Shabalov-Onischuk, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, May 2013

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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