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SANDS: Kamsky, Krush win playoffs for U.S. chess titles

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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.

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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.

Krush-Zatonskih, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, May 2014

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 c5 5. O-O Nc6 6. d4 dxc4 7. Qa4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Qxd4 9. Bxc6+ Bd7 10. Rd1 Bxc6 11. Qxc6+ bxc6 12. Rxd4 Nd5 13. Rxc4 Kd7 14. e4 Nb6 15. Rc2 f5 16. f3 fxe4 17. fxe4 Bd6 18. Be3 Rhc8 19. Nd2 e5 20. Rd1 Ke6 21. Rdc1 Kd7 22. Nb3 Rc7 23. Na5 Rac8 24. Kg2 c5 25. Nb3 Na4 26. Nd2 Nb6 27. Nc4 Nxc4 28. Rxc4 Ke6 29. b3 Kd7 30. Ra4 Ke7 31. Kf3 Rf8+ 32. Ke2 Rb8 33. Ra5 Rbc8 34. Rc4 Ke6 35. Rca4 c4 36. Rxc4 Rxc4 37. bxc4 Rxc4 38. Kd3 Rb4 39. Rxa7 h5 40. Rxg7 Rb2 41. a4 Ra2 42. Rh7 Ra3+ 43. Ke2 Ra2+ 44. Kf3 Ra3 45. Kf2 Ra2+ 46. Kf1 Ra1+ 47. Kg2 Ra2+ 48. Kh3 Rxa4 49. Rh6+ Kd7 50. Rxh5 Rxe4 51. Bg5 Ke6 52. Rh8 Ra4 53. Rh4 Ra2 54. Kg4 Kd5 55. Rh8 Ra4+ 56. Kf5 Ra2 57. h4 Rf2+ 58. Kg4 e4 59. Rd8 Ke6 60. Re8+ Kd5 61. h5 Rf3 62. Bh4 Rf7 63. h6 Be5 64. Bg5 Kd4 65. Be3+ Kxe3 66. Rxe5 Kd3 67. Kh5 e3 68. g4 e2 69. g5 Ra7 70. Re8 Ra8 71. Rxe2 Kxe2 72. h7 Kf3 73. g6 Ra5+ 74. Kh6 Kg4 75. h8=Q Black resigns.

Shankland-Naroditsky, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, May 2014

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. d4 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O exd4 8. Nxd4 Re8 9. f3 Nc6 10. Be3 Nh5 11. Nc2 Be5 12. Nd5 Bxb2 13. g4 Ng7 14. Rb1 Bf6 15. Kh1 Ne6 16. f4 Bg7 17. g5 Nc5 18. e5 Ne4 19. Bd3 Bf5 20. exd6 Qxd6 21. Rb3 Ne7 22. Nxe7+ Rxe7 23. Qf3 Rd8 24. Ne1 Bd4 25. Bxd4 Qxd4 26. Nc2 Qc5 27. Rb5 Rxd3 28. Qxd3 Nf2+ 29. Rxf2 Qc6+ White resigns.

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

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