BREAKING: Favorites GM Gata Kamsky and GM Irina Krush have repeated as U.S. men’s and women’s champions, with both winning three-way playoffs at the U.S. title tournaments in St. Louis Tuesday afternoon.
The top-rated Kamsky defeated GM Varuzhan Akobian in a two-game rapid play-off, winning the second game after drawing with the black pieces in the first. Krush defeated surprise finalist WGM Tatev Abrahamyan in their two-game rapid match for her sixth women’s U.S. title, also by a 1 1/2-1/2 score.
The U.S. men’s and women’s national championships will require playoffs after Monday’s final round in St. Louis.
Co-leaders Alexander Lendermann and Varuzhan Akobian drew in the final round, tying at 7-4. That opened the door for top seed GM Gata Kamsky, who defeated GM Josh Friedel to create a three-way tie for first, with a playoff set for Tuesday.
It’s also a three-way playoff on the women’s side, as pre-tournament favorites GM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih tied with WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, all at 61/2-21/2. We’ll have a full roundup of the playoffs next week.
It’s not often that the most anticipated individual matchup of the U.S. championships comes on the women’s side, but Krush and Zatonskih have one of the best rivalries going on the American scene. Krush won five women’s titles going into this year’s event and Zatonskih four, and their head-to-head encounters typically determine who gets the crown.
The two have staged some knock-down, drag-out battles, but this time Krush, trailing her rival by a full point at the time, gets a stranglehold on the position coming out of an Open Catalan. The tactical dust-up after 8. Nxd4 Qxd4 9. Bxc6+ Bd7 10. Rd1! Bxc6 11. Qxc6+ bxc6 12. Rxd4 Nd5 13. Rxc4 leaves Black with permanent queenside pawn weaknesses for which she has no real compensation.
Tired of passive play, Black tries to change the dynamic with 34. Rc4 Ke6 35. Rca4 c4!? (continuing to hunker down with 35 … Ra8 allows White to keep probing in lines such as 36. Ra6 h6 37. Kd3 Kd7 38. R4a5 Ke7 39. Kc4) 36. Rxc4 Rxc4 37. bxc4 Rxc4 38. Kd3! (Rxa7? Rxe4 39. Ra6 Kd5 40. Ra5+ Ke6 goes nowhere) Rb4 39. Rxa7, and the weak a-pawn finally falls.
The ending provides more challenges as a White inaccuracy (better was 45. Rh6+! Kd7 46. Rxh5 Bc5 47. Rxe5 Bxe3 48. Kg4 Rxa4 49. Kf5) allows Zatonskih to generate real counterplay with her passed e-pawn.
But when the bishops come off the board, Krush always has the option of sacrificing her rook for Black’s last pawn and relying on her own passers to win. That’s what happens after 70. Re8 Ra8 (no better was 70. Ra1 71. Rxe2 Kxe2 72. g6 Ra5+ 73. Kg4 Ra4+ 74. Kf5 Ra5+ 75. Kf6 Ra6+ 76. Kg7 Ra7+ 77. Kh8 Ra8+ 78. Kh7 Ra7+ 79. g7 and wins) 71. Rxe2 Kxe2 72. h7 Kf3 73. g6 Ra5+ 74. Kh6 Kg4 75. h8=Q and Black resigned. A beautifully controlled performance by Krush in a pressure situation.
He didn’t win, but GM Sam Shankland had a big say in the selection of the 2014 champ, defeating both Lendermann and Akobian in the second half of the event to prevent anyone from running away with the tournament. The 22-year-old Californian might have made a run for the title himself had it not been for a Round 7 loss to fellow California GM Daniel Naroditsky from the White side of a King’s Indian Defense.
Black’s pawn grab in this line (12. Nd5 Bxb2!?) doesn’t have the best reputation, but Naroditsky said later he found Black has more chips in this line than has been thought. After 13. g4 Ng7 (Bxa1? 14. Qxa1 Ng7 15. Bh6 Ne5 16. f4 c6 [Nxg4?? 17. Qxg7 mate] 17. Bg5 Qa5 18. Nf6+ Kh8 19. Nxe8, and White is winning) 14. Rb1 Bf6 15. Kh1 Ne6 16. f4 Bg7 17. g5 Nc5, White has a clear spatial edge, but the Black fianchettoed bishop remains potent and he still has that extra pawn.
After 19. Bd3 Bf5, bad would be 20, Rxb7?! dxe5 21. Rxc7 because of 21 … Nc3! 22. Nxc3 Qxd3 23. Rxc6 Qxc3, with the dual threats of 24. Bxc2 and 24. Be4+. Increasingly pressed to justify his gambit, Shankland walks into a nasty counterpunch that decides the fight.
Thus: 26. Nc2 Qc5 27. Rb5 (see diagram) Rxd3! 28. Qxd3 (Rxc5 Rxf3 29. Rxf3 Nxc5 30. Ne3 Be4 and wins) Nf2+! 29. Rxf2 Qc6+, and White resigns as the material deficit will too great after 29. Qd5 Be4+! 31. Kg1 (Qxe4 Qxe4+ 32. Kg1 c6 33. Rb4 Qd3) Bxd5 32. Rxd5 Qxc4 33. Rdd2 Re4 34. f5 Rg4+ 35. Rg2 gxf5.