New York GM Gata Kamsky, the reigning national champion, was the first through to this year’s U.S. Championship final, defeating young challenger GM-elect Sam Shankland 1 1/2- 1/2 in their semifinal match over the weekend at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.
At deadline, Kamsky’s opponent was still to be determined, with GMs Yuri Shulman and Robert Hess heading into a two-game rapid-chess playoff after drawing both of their semifinal clashes. Kamsky will defend his title in a two-game finale to be played Tuesday and Wednesday.
Playoffs were also in order in the U.S. Women’s Championship, with IMs Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih tying 1-1 in their match and WGM Camilla Baginskaite and WFM Tatev Abrahamyan also requiring extra time on the other side of the draw.
It is fitting that Kamsky was the first to qualify, as the event’s No. 1 seed had the smoothest path to the final. He has not lost a single game so far and proved too strong technically for Shankland in their semifinal match. After holding a tough ending with Black in the first game, the veteran grandmaster took care of business in the second game to advance to the finals.
In a Najdorf Sicilian, Black’s understandable attempts to avoid complications may have cost him here, as the simplifying 11. 0-0 Bxc3?! 12. Nxc3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Nc6 14. Ba3 Qxd1?! 15. Rfxd1, while breaking up White’s pawns and getting the queens off the board, hands Kamsky a pair of bishops that will dominate the remainder of the contest. With 19. Bc7! Rxd3 20. cxd3, White has repaired his pawn structure and is ready to go to work.
With 22. Bc5 b5? (Bxa2? 23. Rxb7+ Ne7 24. Bc6 and wins, but Kamsky said later passive defense with 22…Nd8 was tougher) 23. a4!, White presses for an avenue to infiltrate the Black defenses, and after 23…Rb8 24. axb5 axb5 25. Ra1 (also strong was 25. Bxc6 Rc8 26. Rxb5, but Kamsky’s choice is more dynamic) Bd7 26. Bd5+ Ke8 27. Be4, White’s pieces dominate the position. He even snares a pawn on 33. Bd3 Be6 (b4 34. Bc4+ Kg6 35. f4 Nxd4 36. Ra6+ Nc6 [Kh5 37. Bf7+ Kh4 38. Rh6 mate] 37. Bxb4 leaves White in charge) 34. Bxb5.
The suffocating bishops leave Shankland’s position struggling for oxygen, and in the end Black succumbs to asphyxiation: 39. Kg2 Rc7 (see diagram; this move allows a winning tactic, but no better was 39…Nd8 40. Be7+ Kf5 41. Bd3+ Be4 42. Bxe4 mate) 40. h4+! Kxh4 (Kf6 41. Bd6 Rg7+ 42. Kf2 Nxd4 43. Bf8+, winning material) 41. Bxc6 Rg7+ (Bxc6 42. Rxc6 Rxc6 43. Be7+ and mate next) 42. Kf2, and Kamsky emerges a piece to the good; Black resigns.
Hess impressed last year with his play at the 2010 national title tournament, and his convincing triumph in the preliminary section will only enhance his stature. The 19-year-old Yale-bound grandmaster defeated several veteran stars in St. Louis, including an impressive demolition of former U.S. titleholder Alex Shabalov in just 25 moves with the Black pieces.
The line here is a Scotch Opening variation revived by Garry Kasparov in his successful world title defenses in the 1990s, but Shabalov’s trademark aggressiveness gets him into trouble here. White’s 16. a4 fxe5 17. f5?! is a clear bid to claim the initiative from his younger, less experienced opponent, but Shabalov may have overlooked that after 17…gxf5 18. Rxf5 Kb8 19. Qf2 e4!, 20. Rf7? is refuted by 20…Bd4!, winning material.
Handed an overwhelming pawn center, Hess proceeds to make the most of it: 20. a3 e3! 21. Qe1 Nc8 22. cxd5 e2!, and the advanced pawn, protected by Black’s queen, rook and bishop, completely disrupts the flow of White’s game, with Hess already threatening 23…Qe3+ 24. Kh1 (Qf2 Qd2!) Bxc3 25. Bxc3 Rd1 26. Rxd1 exd1=Q 27. Qxd1 Qxc3 and wins.
There followed 23. Kh1 Rf8 24. g4 (no better was 24. Rxf8 Rxf8 25. Qg1 [Black threatened 25…Rf1+] Qe8!, with the winning threat of 26…cxd5 27. Bxd5 Bd4! 28. Qxd4 e1=Q+ 29. Qg1 Qxg1+ 30. Rxg1 Rf2) Nd6 25. Qf2 (25. Rf3 [Rxf8 Rxf8 29. Qg1 Bd4! wins again] Rxf3 26. Bxf3 Rf8 27. Kg2 Qe3 28. Qf2 Rxf3! 29. Qxf3 Qd2 30. Nxe2 Bxe2 31. Qf2 Ne4 32. Qf7 Bd3+ 33. Kg1 Qe3+ 34. Kg2 Qe2+ and mate will soon follow) Nxf5 26. gxf5 Rxf5, and Shabalov resigns as the pawn comes into its glory after 27. Qxf5 e1=Q+.
We’ll have a full recap from the two finals in next week’s column.
Kamsky-Shankland, St. Louis, April 2011
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 Be6 8.g4 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Bg2 Bb4 11.O-O Bxc3 12.Nxc3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Nc6 14.Ba3 Qxd1 15.Rfxd1 Rd8 16.Bd6 f6 17.Rab1 Bc8 18.Rd3 Kf7 19.Bc7 Rxd3 20.cxd3 Re8 21.Bb6 Be6 22.Bc5 b5 23.a4 Rb8 24.axb5 axb5 25.Ra1 Bd7 26.Bd5+ Ke8 27.Be4 Kf7 28.f3 Rc8 29.Kf2 g6 30.d4 exd4 31.cxd4 f5 32.gxf5 gxf5 33.Bd3 Be6 34.Bxb5 Bd5 35.Ra6 Kg6 36.Rb6 Kg5 37.Kg3 f4+ 38.Kf2 h5 39.Kg2 Rc7 40.h4+ Kxh4 41.Bxc6 Rg7+ 42.Kf2 1-0.
Shabalov-Hess, St. Louis, April 2011
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6 9.b3 g6 10.f4 Nb6 11.g3 O-O-O 12.Bb2 Bg7 13.Nc3 d5 14.Bg2 Rhe8 15.O-O f6 16.a4 fxe5 17.f5 gxf5 18.Rxf5 Kb8 19.Qf2 e4 20.a5 e3 21.Qe1 Nc8 22.cxd5 e2 23.Kh1 Rf8 24.g4 Nd6 25.Qf2 Nxf5 26.gxf5 Rxf5 0-1.
David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.