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Krush Crowned; Playoffs Await Kamsky, Ramirez Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
May 12, 2013
After four unsuccessful attempts, IM Irina Krush finally defended her U.S. Women’s Championship title today. Her draw with WGM Camilla Baginskaite made her score 8/9 and put the tournament out of reach for IM Anna Zatonskih, who won today but finished a half-point behind Krush. The U.S. Championship offered no such clarity, as GM Gata Kamsky nursed a half-point margin but could not defeat GM Ray Robson. Three players could have won to catch Kamsky, but only GM Alejandro Ramirez got a full point. The two will play tomorrow at noon in a two-game rapid playoff.

“This has been my smoothest victory,” Krush said of her five championships, before pausing to recall them all. “Well actually when I won my first with 8½ out of nine, that also went well.” That first title was in 1998, the only time she competed without Zatonskih in the field. The two have mostly traded titles the last few years. “We have to break this pattern,” Krush joked.

In today’s game, Krush got exactly the position she wanted against Baginskaite. There were no intricate tactics and no strategic imbalances. Krush won a pawn in a riskless knight-and-pawn endgame, so she decided to play for the win. “I’m supposed to win this endgame, but all of the sudden, I allowed all this counterplay. I decided to offer the draw before things got out of hand.” The win nets her $18,000, which she said she will use for a down payment on an apartment in Brooklyn. “I also like to take exotic vacations. Maybe Belize.”

Krush could not explain why she did so well. “Sometimes you just wonder why it all comes together. This is what I came to do and I got the job done. I think I’m getting happier by the minute.” She said that her round three win as black against Zatonskih essentially set the table for the rest of the event. “That basically decided the result.” She also won as black in the penultimate round against the third seed and third-place finisher, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan.

Kamsky had a chance to clinch clear first place, and it looked for a time like a win as black would be possible. Robson, fighting for a top six finish for a 2013 World Cup qualification, mixed it up early by jettisoning some pawns to open lines.

“He surprised me with b4, sacrificing two pawns for an attack,” Kamsky said. “I thought I should be winning, but somehow he had all these tactical resources.” Later, Robson kept the fire burning by sacrificing an additional exchange to keep the initiative.

Robson said he would have played solidly if possible, but he took what the position gave him. “There’s no way you can force a win against Gata,” Robson said. “[Kamsky] can punish you if you go for a win too much. Probably I just overestimated my position.” 

The draw might still have been good enough for clear first, were it not for the continued heroics of the much lower ranked GM Alejandro Ramirez. He first offered his a-pawn to tie down black’s bishop and rook, and then switched to probe the other side of the chessboard. Eventually weaknesses were created, and a passed e-pawn sealed the deal.  “His queen is so badly placed on b6 that it is difficult to hold the kingside together,” Ramirez explained. “I didn’t see a defense for him.”

His game finished before Kamsky, so the only way he could be taken out of contention would have been for Robson to blunder. “I haven’t cheered for Ray this much ever,” Ramirez said about the waning moments of the top board.

“I really didn’t ever expect to be in this position,” Ramirez said of his impending playoff tomorrow. “It’s like a dream. Wow! It’s actually happening.” The two will meet Monday at noon in a pair of 25-minute rapid games, followed by an Armageddon bidding match if the score is tied 1-1.
“Tomorrow’s going to be very stressful. I’ve never played a rapid playoff,” Ramirez said. Kamsky has played several tiebreaks in the World Cup, and has been successful twice in St. Louis at previous U.S. Championships.

Two other players could have stayed alive in the hunt, but neither GM Alex Onischuk nor GM Conrad Holt could keep pace. Onischuk could not gain an edge over IM Kayden Troff, who earned his first grandmaster norm with the draw. Troff said it was his third final-round attempt to earn a norm. “This time was scary,” he said. “Black against Onischuk. But I got through it.”

Holt had more chances to win, but GM Timur Gareev navigated to an endgame in which any winning chances were his. Playing only on increment, Holt was ground down and in his first lost position of the game when he let his flag fall. A deflated Holt sat alone at the board for a few minutes. The game was the last to finish.

“You just have to press, press, press. That’s the nature of competition,” Gareev said.

Players on lower boards had their own personal achievements to play for. IM-elect Yaacov Norowitz won against FM John Bryant to finish with an even score. “My first U.S. Championship was really special,” Norowitz said. “I got an even score and I’m happy.” He said he got an up-close look at how his competitors will exploit any weakness or limitation in his game. “In the first round Larry (Christiansen) just killed me in one of my openings, and everyone hopped on the train. He exposed the hole, so I tried to make little adjustments but it’s tough.” Today Norowitz trotted out his favorite Caro-Kann and won thanks to an extra pawn. Bryant resigned rather than wait for …f5, when the Black pawns can make their way down the board without the help of the king.

In the women’s championship, Abrahamyan’s 6.5/9 is a personal best, while WIM Irina Zenyuk scored 50 percent for the second year in a row. WFM Alena Kats only scored 1.5/9 in her first championship, but acquitted herself by doubling that total this year.

Log on to www.uschesschamps.com tomorrow at noon Central, 1:00 p.m. Eastern for the rapid-play tiebreak between Kamsky and Ramirez.


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