- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The election is still (still!) a week away as this is written, but this columnist can report that two crucial voting demographics — seniors and women — have already selected this champion.

In online title tournaments that concluded last week, GM Joel Benjamin, 56, captured the U.S. senior crown while GM Irina Krush, 36, held off a pack of young challengers to win the U.S. women’s title.

For both worthy winners, the victory marks a milestone. Krush has now won eight U.S. women’s titles, dating back to 1998. With his win, Benjamin now boasts a generation-spanning resume that includes two U.S. junior titles (1980 and 1982), three U.S. national titles (1987, 1997 and 2000), and a senior title. Remarkably, both champions came back from bouts of the COVID-19 virus earlier this year.

And both played some strong chess in the rapid format. Krush went undefeated at 8½-3½ to barely hold off young challengers IM Carissa Yip and NM Dorsa Derakhshani, helped by a final three-game winning streak. The streak was kick-started by a fine victory over veteran WGM Tatev Abrahamyan.

In a Queen’s Gambit line, Black’s aggressive but premature 10. Be2 d4?! (trying to strike while White’s king is uncastled, but simpler and safer were moves like 10 … h6 or 10 … Be6) 11. Rd1 Nd5?! removes a key kingside defender and practically invites a mating attack.

After 19. Qe2 h6, Black appears to have weathered the first storm, as 20. Nf3?! Qa6 21. Qxa6 Nxf3+ 22. gxf3 bxa6 23. Bxh6 Rfc8 limits White’s initiative, but the aggressive Krush has no intention of retreating: 20. Rd5! (Nxf7 right away was also strong) Qc7 21. Rc1 Nc6 (see diagram) 22. Rxf5!, blowing up the Black defensive fortress.

Abrahamyan never recover her bearings as her kingside is cracked wide open — 22 … hxg5 (gxf5 23. Qh5 hxg5 24. hxg5 Qe5 25. Rxc6! bxc6 26. g6 Qg7 27. Bd4 is no better for Black) 23. hxg5 gxf5 24. Qh5 Qe5 25. g6 (the pin on the f7-pawn is killing Black’s survival hopes) Qg7 26. Bh6 Qf6 (Qh8 27. gxf7+ Rxf7 28. Qxf7 mate) 27. Bd2! Qg7 (Qh4 only delays the inevitable after 28. Bxf7+ Rxf7 29. gxf7+ Kg7 [Kf8 30. Bh6 mate] 30. f8=Q+ Rxf8 31. Bh6+ Kh8 32. Qxh4 Bxh4 33. Bxf8 with an easily won ending) 28. Bc3, and Black resigned rather than play out lines such as 28 … Bf6 29. Bxf6 Qxf6 30. Qh7 mate.

There was beauty of a very different kind in Benjamin’s win over GM Patrick Wolff. In a quiet Sicilian line, White claims the tiniest of positional advantages after the surprising 15. Bg5 Bf8 16. Bxf6!?, where the blocked Black pawn on e5 cramps Wolff’s bishop.

Black’s 22. Qxc4 Qc6?! seems the tiniest of positional concessions, dividing the queenside pawns while Benjamin’s pawns remain intact. Still, a draw seems the likely outcome.

But Black engineers a surprising breakthrough in a barren position: 40. Ka6 f6 41. a4 Bf2 42. b5 Bd4? (losing to a surprising motif; critical now was 42 … cxb5! 43. axb5 g5 44. Na5 Kd6 45. Nc6 Kc5 46. Nxa7 Kc4 47. b6 Bxb6 48. Kxb6 Kd3 49. Nc6 Ke3, and it’s an open question whether White can save his pawns) 43. Na5 cxb5 44. axb5 Kb8.

Wolff’s king seems to have arrived in the nick of time, but then there was this: 45. Nc6+ Ka8 46. Nxa7! Bxa7 47. b6 (the point — 47 … Bb8 48. b7 mates with just pawn and king) f5 48. bxa7, and White’s king will soon rush to the kingside to pick off Black’s helpless pawns; Wolff resigned.

The U.S. national championship is also being played this week, with GM Wesley So setting a blistering pace with a 3-0 performance on the tournament’s first day Monday. Right behind him in the 12-man field are GMs Jeffery Xiong and Ray Robson at 2½-½.

And this got a bit lost in the rush of U.S. events this month, but FIDE has announced it is delaying the resumption of the world championship candidates tournament, which was supposed to re-start Nov. 1 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, until the spring of 2021. World chess officials cited the coronavirus threat and questions about whether Chinese GMs Ding Liren and Wang Hao would be able to participate next week as reasons for the postponement.

France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi were tied for first when the tournament was halted at the midpoint in March, with American GM Fabiano Caruana just a point behind with seven rounds to go. The winner (should we ever get one) will play Norwegian world titleholder Magnus Carlsen for the crown sometime next year.

Krush-Abrahamyan, U.S. Women’s Championship, October 2020

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bf4 c5 7. dxc5 O-O 8. e3 Nc6 9. Nf3 Bxc5 10. Be2 d4 11. Rd1 Nd5 12. Ng5 g6 13. Nxd5 Qxd5 14. O-O Be7 15. Bc4 Qa5 16. h4 dxe3 17. Bxe3 Ne5 18. Bb3 Bf5 19. Qe2 h6 20. Rd5 Qc7 21. Rc1 Nc6 22. Rxf5 hxg5 23. hxg5 gxf5 24. Qh5 Qe5 25. g6 Qg7 26. Bh6 Qf6 27. Bd2 Qg7 28. Bc3 Black resigns.

Benjamin-Wolff, U.S. Senior Championship, October 2020

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bxd7+ Nxd7 5. O-O Ngf6 6. d3 g6 7. Re1 Bg7 8. c3 O-O 9. d4 cxd4 10. cxd4 e5 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 dxe5 13. Nc3 Qb6 14. Qe2 Rfc8 15. Bg5 Bf8 16. Bxf6 Qxf6 17. Nd5 Qe6 18. Rac1 Rxc1 19. Rxc1 Rc8 20. Rc4 Kg7 21. Qc2 Rxc4 22. Qxc4 Qc6 23. Qxc6 bxc6 24. Ne3 Kf6 25. Nc4 Ke6 26. Kf1 Bc5 27. Ke2 Bd4 28. f3 h5 29. b3 h4 30. h3 Bc5 31. Kd3 Bb4 32. a3 Bc5 33. b4 Be7 34. Na5 Kd6 35. Kc4 Bg5 36. Kb3 Kd7 37. Ka4 Be3 38. Nc4 Bd4 39. Ka5 Kc7 40. Ka6 f6 41. a4 Bf2 42. b5 Bd4 43. Na5 cxb5 44. axb5 Kb8 45. Nc6+ Ka8 46. Nxa7 Bxa7 47. b6 f5 48. bxa7 Black resigns.

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

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