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SANDS: Title hunt: Krush notches grandmaster norm in strong Baku chess tournament

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Kudos to U.S. women's national champion Irina Krush, who earned her first grandmaster norm at the strong recent open tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan. With a last-round win over Azeri GM Vasif Durarbayli, Krush finished with a record of 5½-3½, the only non-grandmaster among the tournament's to 17 finishers. Her only loss came against Russian GM Evgeny Alekseev, who finished in a tie for fourth.

Durarbayli was the second GM to fall to Krush — veteran Belarus GM Sergei Azarov also succumbed to the rapidly improving Krush in the tournament's second round. Pinning her opponent's king against the side of the board, Krush was even about to deliver checkmate when her much higher rated opponent conceded.

White has the better of the opening play in this Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian, largely on the strength of Black's sketchy pawn structure after 13. Be2 Qxc5!? (Re8 14. 0-0-0 Nc6 15. b4 also results in equal play, though Black's kingside does not get broken up) 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Bd3 Nc6. But Azarov smartly changes the game's dynamic radically with 23. Rf3 Rb6 24. Kc2 (interesting would have been 24. b4!?. with the idea of winning material on 24...axb4 25. c5 Ra6 26. Bxa6 bxa6 27. axb4 Nxb4 28. Nxd4) a4 25. b4 Bxc4!.

Black's idea gives him three pawns for the lost piece on 26. Bxc4 Nxb4+ 27. axb4 Rxb4 28. Kd2 Rcxc4 29. Ra3 b5, and his queenside pawn duo and doubled rooks on the second file are probably enough to give him effective equality. But White is the one who makes progress in the ensuing play, getting her king to safety in the center of the board while tightening the noose around Black's king, helped by her extra piece.

After 38. Ke4 Rb4+?! (tougher was 38...Re2 39. Kf3 Kf6 40. Re5 Rh2) 39. Ke5 f6+ 40. Kd5 Rd2+ (Rxf4 41. Rg1+ Kh6 42. Reg7 Rd2+ 43. Kc6 h4 44. Rg8 Kh7 45. R1g7+ Kh6 46. Ng4+ Rxg4 47. Rxg4, winning) 41. Kc5 Rxf4 42. Rg1+ Kh6 43. Reg7, Black's king is in a box and his pawns can't advance fast enough to save him.

It's over on 50. Ka5 (Black's pawns provide the White king with much-needed shelter from checks) h3 (also insufficient was 50...Rb3 51. Rg8 a3 52. Rg2 Rg3 53. R2xg3 hxg3 54. Rxg3 a2 55. Ra3 and wins) 51. Rg3 Kh4 52. R7g4+ Kh5 55. Rg8 Kh4 54. R3g7, and Black can do nothing to prevent 55. Rh7 or 55. Rh8 mate; Azarov resigned.


American No. 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura is in the thick of the hunt as the last sixth and final FIDE Grand Prix tournament that concludes this week in Paris. Nakamura is a half-point behind tournament leader GM Boris Gelfand of Israel with four games left to be played. The twelve grandmasters in Paris are jockeying to qualify for the next world championship candidates cycle, with only Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov having secured a slot from the Grand Prix series.


The World Junior Championship, which just wrapped up in Kocaeli, Turkey, is one of the hardest events to handicap, largely because virtually every player in the field has yet to hit his talent ceiling, and rapidly improving unknowns can ambush established stars. IM Richard Wang is one of Canada's top rising players, but he was no match for unheralded Class A player Zhokhar Zhanbai Uulu when the two squared off in Round 8.

Once again, the lower-rated player gets the better of the opening, this time a Sicilian Morra Gambit, because of a superior pawn structure. Wang appears to be content to head into the endgame, where higher rated players typically dominate, but White doesn't let him get that far.

Black's 22. Kb1 h4?, looking for a kingside break, may have been the product of overconfidence. White punished the push with unexpected verve, using the now-open g-file for his own attack: 23. gxh4 Rh8 24. Qe3! Rde8 (Rxh4? 25. Qe7+ Kg8 26. Qxf6 Rh7 27. Qxg6+ Kf8 28. Qxh7 and wins) 25. Qg3 Ref8 26. Rg1 Rhg8 (see diagram; marginally better might have been 26...Rh6, but White's attack still breaks through in lines like 27. h5 Rg8 28. Bxf6! Rxh5 29. Re7+! Kxf6 30. Rge1 Bc7 31. h4 Bd6 32. Qg5+! Rxg5 33. hxg5 mate) 27. Bxf6!, when 27...Kxf6 28. Qg5+ Kg7 (Kf7 29. Re7 mate) 29. Qxg6+ Kh8 30. Qh6 is mate.

Wang tries to cover up with 27...Bd8, but White is not to be denied, finishing things off with a queen sacrifice: 28. Bc3 Qd7 29. h5! (aggressive to the last) gxh5 (g5 30. h6 Kg6 31. fxg5 lasted longer, but was just as hopeless) 30. Qg7+!, and Black resigned facing 30...Rxg7 31. Rxg7 mate. A very nicely conducted attack from Zhanbai Uulu.

And a slight correction: Our coverage last week of the event jumped the gun a little bit. Chinese 19-year-old GM Yu Yangyi actually finished alone in first, a half-point ahead of Turkish GM Alexander Ipatov. On the women's side, Russian WGM Aleksandra Goryachkina took home gold, edging Kazakh WIM Zhansaya Abdumalik.

Krush-Azarov, Baku Open, September 2013

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 d5 7. Bg5 c5 8. dxc5 d4 9. Qc2 e5 10. e3 h6 11. Bh4 Qe7 12. exd4 exd4+ 13. Be2 Qxc5 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Bd3 Nc6 16. Ne2 Qa5+ 17. Qd2 Qxd2+ 18. Kxd2 Be6 19. b3 a5 20. f4 f5 21. Rae1 Rfc8 22. Rhf1 Ra6 23. Rf3 Rb6 24. Kc2 a4 25. b4 Bxc4 26. Bxc4 Nxb4+ 27. axb4 Rxb4 28. Kd2 Rcxc4 29. Ra3 b5 30. Kd3 Kh7 31. Rc1 Rb2 32. Re1 Rcc2 33. Nxd4 Rxg2 34. Nxf5 Rxh2 35. Re7 Kg6 36. Ne3 h5 37. Ra1 Rb3+ 38. Ke4 Rb4+ 39. Ke5 f6+ 40. Kd5 Rd2+ 41. Kc5 Rxf4 42. Rg1+ Kh6 43. Reg7 h4 44. R7g6+ Kh7 45. Rg7+ Kh6 46. R1g6+ Kh5 47. Ng4 Rxg4 48. Rxg4 Rf2 49. Kb4 Rb2+ 50. Ka5 h3 51. Rg3 Kh4 52. R7g4+ Kh5 53. Rg8 Kh4 54. R3g7 Black resigns.

Zhanbai Uulu-Wang, 52nd World Junior Championship, Kocaeli, Turkey, September 2013

1. e4 c5 2. f4 d5 3. exd5 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nxd5 5. Nxd5 Qxd5 6. Qf3 Qd6 7. Bb5+ Nc6 8. Bxc6+ bxc6 9. b3 Bf5 10. d3 e6 11. Bb2 f6 12. Ne2 h5 13. Ng3 Qd5 14. Nxf5 exf5 15. Rf1 Bd6 16. O-O-O Kf7 17. Rde1 g6 18. Qf2 Bc7 19. Qd2 Rhe8 20. g3 Bb6 21. a4 Rad8 22. Kb1 h4 23. gxh4 Rh8 24. Qe3 Rde8 25. Qg3 Ref8 26. Rg1 Rhg8 27. Bxf6 Bd8 28. Bc3 Qd7 29. h5 gxh5 30. Qg7+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at

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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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