- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

Major upsets have left the field wide open as the U.S. Chess Championships head for the finish line in San Diego this weekend.

Defending champ GM Hikaru Nakamura of New York scored just a half-point his first three games, opening up his half of the 64-player bracket for a host of other contenders. GM Gata Kamsky, the top seed in the other half of the field, also got off to a slow start with some early draws, leaving him with some serious catching up to do.

Going into Thursday’s Round 7, GMs Alex Onischuk and Yuri Shulman were atop the two flights, both at 5-1, but with a number of strong rivals close on their heels. The section winners pair off in a two-game rapid final tomorrow for the title. We’ll have a full wrap-up of play and highlights next week.

Former U.S. champ Larry Christiansen, showing he still is a threat in this event, posted an early entry for the tournament brilliancy prize with a short, sharp demolition of Maryland GM Alex Wojtkiewicz.

Christiansen wins points for doing his homework: 11. e5! is a pawn sacrifice he has used before in this Sicilian Sozin line and 14. f4! looks like a big improvement on the usual 14. Nxe6 Qd7. Faced with his opponent’s prepared line, Black reacts badly with 14…Ng6?! (Nc4 is a tougher test) 15. Nxe6 Qd7 16. Rhe1 Kf7 (Rg8 17. f5 Nf8 18. Bxf6 wins) 17. f5!, and White dominates the position.

Christiansen finishes efficiently with 18. Bxf6! Bxf6 19. Rxd6 Qc8 (IM John Donaldson in his postmortem notes that 19…Qe8 also loses to 20. Nxf8 Qxf8 21. Rd7+ Kg8 22. Ne4! h6 [Bxe4 23. Qb3+] 23. Nxf6+ Qxf6 24. Ree7 Qg5+ 25. Qxg5 hxg5 26. Rxg7+ Kf8 27. Rdf7+ Ke8 28. Rxb7) 20. Ng5+! Kg8 (Bxg5+ 21. Qxg5 wins at once) 21. Rxf6! gxf6 22. Nge4+ Ng6 23. fxg6.

With 24. g7, 24. Nxf6+ and 24. gxh7+ among the looming White threats, Wojo gave up.

The event’s 14 women had a strong start, with a string of fine wins and near upsets. The top-scoring females in each group will hold their own two-game rapid playoff for the U.S. women’s title.

IM Anna Zatonskih, the highest-rated woman in the field, nearly beat former U.S. champ Boris Gulko in Round 1, allowing a threefold repetition in a dominant position. Two rounds later, WGM Camilla Baginskaite defeated Nakamura, who has just a plus-one score after six rounds.

Most impressive, though, may have been 19-year-old Mongolian-born master Tuvshintugs “Chimi” Batchimeg, who defeated GM Alex Fishbein in the first round and GM Boris Kreiman two rounds later — her first grandmaster scalps ever.

Her back-rank combination against Kreiman was one of the highlights of the early rounds. We pick it up from today’s diagrammed position, where Batchimeg’s last move — 21. Nb3-a5! — sets a diabolical trap.

Black is already worse but could struggle on now with 21…Qxa5 22. Rxd7 Rxd7 23. Rxd7 Qxa2 24. g3 Bf6 25. Rxb7 Rd8, although White still rules after 26. Qc6. Instead, Black’s choice in the game falls to some very nice tactics.

Thus: 21…Bc8 22. Rxd8+ Bxd8 23. Qa4! (threatening 24. Qe8 mate) b5 24. Qf4! (the queen is immune: 24…Qxf4?? 25. Rxd8 mate) e5? (the last mistake, although White also is close to winning on the doughtier 24…Bd7 25. Qxc7 Bxc7 26. Rxd7 Bxa5 27. Kf1) 25. Qxe5 Be6 26. Rxd8+! Qxd8 27. Nc6, forking queen and rook. Black’s back-rank woes proved fatal.

A change of scene and strategy has done wonders for FIDE world champ Veselin Topalov at the Category 21 Morelia/Linares SuperGM Tournament. In the first half of the tournament in Morelia, Mexico, Topalov’s usual sharp style betrayed him, leaving him next to last in the eight-grandmaster double round-robin.

But Topalov switched to more positional power chess as the event moved to Linares, Spain, for the final seven rounds. The result: three straight wins to get back to a plus score and even threaten tournament leader Peter Leko of Hungary going into today’s final round.

In its clarity and simplicity, Topalov’s Round 9 victory over French GM Etienne Bacrot may not be typical of the Bulgarian’s usual play, but the game is a masterpiece in its own quiet way, a game the great Capablanca would have been proud to call his own.

Bacrot as White gets nothing from this Slav Queen’s Gambit, and Black patiently builds his small positional advantages into an overwhelming bind. White’s impetuous 15. h3 Rd8 16. Be4?! only makes things easier for Black after 16…Bxd4 17. Nxd4 N7f6 18. Bxd5 Nxd5 19. Qb2 0-0 20. Rac1 Bg6.

Black has a tiny edge in having a bishop to White’s knight, and Topalov masterfully restricts the scope of his opponent’s minor pieces with modest but critical moves such as 21…f6! and 23…Qe6!. White is induced to advance his pawn to e4, where it becomes a chronic weakness and takes away further squares from his own knights.

Without his other pieces contributing to the attack, Bacrot’s dominance of the c-file proves useless. The exchange of queens after 32. Qc4 Qxc4 33. Rxc4 Rd3! only accentuates White’s problems, as now his two knights are frozen in defense, while Black can focus on the weak e- and a-pawns at his leisure.

With such positional dominance, the Capablanca-like minicombinations blossom naturally: 34. a4 (GM Mihail Marin on the ChessBase.com Web site notes that 34. Ra4 b5 35. Ra6 is no better after 35…Nd4 36. Nxd4 exd5) Ra3! (threatening to win the a-pawn with 35…Bf7) 35. Nb1 Ra2 36. Nc3 Rc2! — beautiful play, as the pin freezes White’s game.

The threat now is just 37…Bxe4, winning a pawn, but White’s parry only makes things worse: 37. Rc5 Nb4 (with threats of 38…Na2, 38…Nd3 and even the flashy 38…Rxf2+!) 38. Ne1 Rc1!, attacking the knight and reviving the threat of 39…Na2. On 39. Kf1, the cleanest win is 39…Rxe1+! 40. Kxe1 Nd3+, winning a piece. It takes an enormous amount of sophistication to beat a world-class grandmaster in so simple a fashion.

2006 U.S. Championship, San Diego, March 2006


1. e4c513. Bxe6fxe6

2. Nf3d614. f4Ng6

3. d4cxd415. Nxe6Qd7

4. Nxd4Nf616. Rhe1Kf7

5. Nc3a617. f5Nf8

6. Bc4e618. Bxf6Bxf6

7. Bb3b519. Rxd6Qc8

8. Qf3Qc720. Ng5+Kg8

9. Bg5Nbd721. Rxf6gxf6

10. 0-0-0Be722. Nge4+Ng6

11. e5Bb723. fxg6Black

12. Qg3Nxe5resigns

23rd Morelia/Linares SuperGM Tournament, Linares, Spain, March 2006


1. d4d520. Rac1Bg6

2. c4c621. N4f3f6

3. Nf3Nf622. g3e5

4. e3a623. a3Qe6

5. Bd3Bg424. e4Ne7

6. Nbd2e625. Rc7Rd7

7. 0-0Nbd726. h4Rfd8

8. b3c527. b4h6

9. cxd5Nxd528. Rxd7Rxd7

10. Bb2Be729. b5axb5

11. Qb1cxd430. Qxb5Nc6

12. Bxd4Bf631. Kg2Kh7

13. Rc1Bh532. Qc4Qxc4

14. Rc4Qe733. Rxc4Rd3

15. h3Rd834. a4Ra3

16. Be4Bxd435. Nb1Ra2

17. Nxd4N7f636. Nc3Rc2

18. Bxd5Nxd537. Rc5Nb4

19. Qb20-038. Ne1Rc1

White resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]washington times.com.



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