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Pivotal Matchups Loom in Round 8 of U.S. Championships Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
May 11, 2013
Despite missing a startling tactic, a shaken GM Gata Kamsky collected himself to hold a draw against the much lower-rated GM Alejandro Ramirez in round seven of the 2013 U.S. Championship. The oversight cost him any chance to expand his central majority to fight for the win, but since GM Alex Onischuk could also only draw, Kamsky retained his half-point lead over both Ramirez and Onischuk.

“I had a lot of problems preparing for this game because all of the lines I play, Kamsky plays as black,” Ramirez explained. His work with former teammate GM Cristian Chirila convinced him that 1…e5 “is the best chance to equalize.” Ramirez said in his last game against Kamsky, he was “massacred” when he played the Sicilian Defense.  “There’s the French, but I saw what he did against (GM Alex) Shabalov in round one,” Ramirez said. A double king-pawn opening was all that was left. “We’re old people. We need to start playing the Spanish before we die,” the 23-year-old said.

After facing the prospect of defending a worse ending, Ramirez found a stunning shot that immediately turned the initiative. “My position’s crumbling but he missed this …Bh3 move,” an ebullient Ramirez said. “I was just trying not to get crushed.”

“Bh3 – wow! That’s not okay,” Kamsky said. “After that I was just trying not to lose. It was not a very pleasant moment.” After initially shaking his head and closing his eyes for a few minutes, Kamsky returned to the task at hand, and found a line that equalized. “He’s not  this expressive usually,” Ramirez said.

In the 2013 U.S. Women’s Championship, leader IM Irina Krush also found herself in difficulties, at least that was her perception of the game. In mutual time pressure with WIM Viktorija Ni, Krush pulled out her sixth win in seven games to protect her lead. “I was kind of outplayed,” Krush said, despite analysis showing she was never glaringly worse. “I was just trying to keep my position together. I only allow one game per tournament like this.” Krush’s biggest oversight was the one-two punch 29. Bxe5! Dxe5 30. Qxa7!, undermining black’s back rank.

“Sometimes it’s harder for me to play the lower-rated players, the people that aren’t in the running to win the tournament,” Krush said. “I have everything to lose. It makes me nervous – you know you need to win today. It’s part of the script.”

The leaders of both events will have their biggest matches of the event tomorrow. Kamsky will take black against second-seeded GM Timur Gareev, who can attack with the best of them (his blistering formation today ended GM Ray Robson’s win three-game winning streak in round seven). Krush will also take black. She gets WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, and a win would clinch the tournament with one round to go.

Onischuk had his hands full with collegiate GM Conrad Holt, who continues to outperform his rating expectations. “So far it was my toughest game,” Onischuk said. He was impressed at how calm Holt remains at the board. “I thought I was just losing. If I don’t have 26…Qh4 I think I am just lost.” Later, he nearly panicked when he saw the possible variation 30…b4 31. gxh6 bxc3 32. h7+! When black is basically mated. “Once I saw h7+, I realized I had to sacrifice the exchange.”

“I feel good,” the occasional triathlete Onischuk said. “I am in good shape. These last two games will decide who will be the winner. Everybody is a little bit tired now.”

Chess fans have been waiting for Gareev to make his move in the tournament, and he finally did today. Playing in his first U.S. Championship, Gareev said today he used the analysis of a “very strong computer” to assist in beating the streaky Robson. The first 11 moves were in his preparation. Gareev said if 11…e6, “I was planning on Rxh7, which I prepared, and I don’t think he has very good chances to resolve his issues. The computer shows advantage for black but it’s really complicated.”

The victory inches Gareev closer; he is now within one game of Kamsky. The two will meet tomorrow, and Gareev gets white again. “I’ve got to win some games to get to the top,” Gareev said. “I didn’t pursue that dream of winning but now maybe I will. We’re going to have a nice long game. He won’t be all that ecstatic about pursuing a quick draw either.” No matter the results tomorrow, there is no possible calculation for Kamsky to clinch first place in round eight.

Ramirez gets white against Onischuk on board two. Should either of them win, and Kamsky draws, they will be tied with the top-seed going into the last round. Also very much alive are GMs Joel Benjamin and Holt. Benjamin dampened the heroism of FM John Bryant today by winning despite ceding the bishop pair. Players with four points – GMs Larry Christiansen, Sam Shankland and Alex Shabalov (all of whom won today) – are just barely still in the hunt, if only mathematically. Neither Christiansen nor Shabalov have yet to draw a game in the 2013 Championship.

Krush’s lead (6.5/7) increased today since WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (5.5/7) could not keep pace. She was up a pawn but only managed to draw her endgame against lowest-rated WFM Sarah Chiang, who has recovered from a poor start. IM Anna Zatonskih managed to beat WFM Alena Kats to join Abrahamyan on 5.5/7. She will likely need to win both of her final games and get some help to overtake Abrahamyan and Krush. All other women are officially eliminated from title contention, but some are vying for personal bests.

WIM Iryna Zenyuk is +2 thanks to a gamely queen sacrifice against the struggling WGM Sabina Foisor.

Log on to www.uschesschamps.com at 1:00 Central, 2:00 p.m. Eastern for live grandmaster commentary of round eight.


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