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Open Letter from Irina Krush Print E-mail
By Irina Krush   
May 30, 2008
The following letter is in the original form that Irina Krush sent it in, and does not represent the views of the USCF. Here are links to the Armageddon game video , the article published right after the playoff , and Tom Braunlich's report. Anna Zatonskih, who disagrees with the claims in the letter , is planning a response on Chess Life Online.

Dear CLO,   

I would like to explain what really happened in Tulsa, which has so far been obscured by the final tournament report that you published.

Anna and I were tied at 7.5/9 points at the end of the tournament. We started our G/15 +3 second increment playoffs approximately fifteen minutes after my six hour, 106 move game against Rohonyan ended. We split these rapid games with one win each, then went into the blitz stage of G/5 + 3 second increment, which we also split with one win each.

We then proceeded to the final Armageddon game, that was to be played without increment. As the defending champion, I was told by the organizers that I had to choose how the time would be divided, and Anna would choose the color she wanted to play. I decided that White would be given 6 minutes, Black 4:30. Anna chose to be Black with draw odds.

The relevant part of the game is not that I had the initiative throughout, and maintained a winning position until the end. The relevant part is, of course, the clock, since I was deemed to have "lost" the title of US Women's Champion due to my time running out while Anna had 1 second left.

So, about the clock. Tom Braunlich, one of the organizers of the event, wrote in his report "At one point Anna had 2 seconds left compared to about 20 for Irina." This is a plainly incorrect appraisal of the time situation. Then Tom, in an attempt to explain how my 20 seconds ran out before Anna’s 2, wrote that "Anna’s draw odds were a big advantage here – she could blitz out moves hardly thinking (just moving the piece nearest to the clock), while Irina actually had to do something with her moves since she had to win." Unfortunately, this statement also has no basis in reality. Despite having a winning position, I didn't need to "do something with my moves"- all I needed to do was move quickly and the person with much less time would flag first. And, in fact, that's what I did. I moved instantly, as can be seen very clearly in the video you've posted of that game. I moved instantly, all the while having a significant time advantage until I got to 0 seconds while Anna had 1. How could this have happened?

First of all, let’s establish what the true clock situation was. Tom was certainly off in his estimate, but the essence of what he said was absolutely true: I had a large lead in time, let's say 8 seconds to 3 at one point, or as Anna herself says in her interview, “I realized that I had two seconds. I was so shocked that I am going to lose right now. She has six (seconds). I played Rb8-e8 because it was so close to clock.” So let's take 6 seconds to 2. Watching the video, seeing me move instantly, how could 6 seconds lose against 2?

And that's the crux of the matter. My opponent, seeing herself on the verge of losing on time, began playing moves before I had completed mine. She made her moves before I hit my clock, and as soon as I pressed the clock, it was punched back at me. That is how my lead in time was chipped away at, and this process began during the advance of Anna’s c-pawn, quite a few moves before the game ended.

Obviously, making moves before your opponent completes theirs is illegal. Were it legal, White, having the “disadvantage” of the first move, would always lose on time to Black if the adversaries were to settle into the rhythm of Black using White’s time to move their pieces.

The sad thing is, no one stepped in as this was happening. No arbiter, no organizer, did anything to ensure that fair play was being observed in the final moments of the game. It was a free-for-all, where the person with the worse blitz habits “won.”

People have pointed out that I should have registered my protest during the game, or immediately after. Unfortunately, while I was certainly in disbelief as I watched my opponent complete 3 moves with her last remaining second and saw myself lose on time despite starting out with a large time lead, during the game and immediately after, I had no clear grasp of how she had accomplished this. It happened too quickly for me to understand, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, and that it should be ignored.

An injustice that wasn’t brought to light at the moment it occurred is no less of an injustice. Moreover, in our particular situation, it is not an injustice that is difficult to redress. As no one in our tournament was in any way affected by our playoff, no games need to be replayed, no scores adjusted, no ratings recalculated- all that needs to be changed is the way the ending of this story is told.

It has been announced that Anna, by virtue of conserving 1 second on her clock, is the 2008 U.S. Women’s Champion.

I fervently dispute Anna's claim to the sole possession of this title. I do not believe that a Champion emerges through one second they have managed to keep on their clock through illegal means.

In my view, a winner of a tournament is someone who at some point, perhaps in some minuscule and barely perceptible way, lifts themselves above their competitors. I would be interested to hear any view that holds that Anna, through legal techniques, did anything to earn the title of Champion over me.

I’d also like to address my reaction at the end of this game, when I knocked a piece off to the side of the board before walking out of the room. This may seem like poor behavior to some, but I believe that my reaction was nothing compared to the aggression leveled at me by my opponent during the end of this game. Knocking off a piece and storming away had no power or intention to take away anything my opponent had been working for during this tournament. When my opponent moved on my time, however innocuous that may appear to be, I believe that she was committing one of the worst transgressions possible: depriving me, through unfair means, of the just rewards of my labor. That is where the aggression lies in this situation, and not in my expression of frustration and anger over being wronged.

I am pained that this incident has raised doubts about my sportsmanship. I have never in my entire career been accused of showing poor sportsmanship. I have never displayed any outward sign of anger or aggression at the end of a game, within sight of my opponent or spectators, or anywhere in the vicinity of the playing area. I have never failed to shake my opponent’s hand at the end of a game. I lost two games to Anna in the playoff, and both times I offered my hand in resignation, even though this isn’t even required protocol in blitz chess. And I have never been accused of cheating or violating my opponent’s rights in any way. I want this point to be clear: my reaction at the end of the final game had nothing to do with “losing” and everything to do with the way it happened and my perception of something unfair having occurred. And although the following piece of information is not entirely necessary as I feel perfectly capable of defending my sportsmanship all on my own, it is rather funny. Guess what Frank Berry, the sponsor and organizer of the US Championship, stated I should get an award for during his closing ceremony comments: that’s right, “sportsmanship.” Thanks, Frank.

I had hoped to resolve this matter in a friendly way, without being forced to voice my indignation in public. Four days ago, I wrote a letter to Anna explaining my position, urging her to study the video of our final game, and if she agreed with my conclusions about what happened, to write a few sentences for where she’d communicate her non-objection to sharing the title with me. In any case, I told her, I looked forward to hearing what she had to say. Unfortunately, I have not heard back from her, and since there is no guarantee that I ever will, I decided to go ahead and make my views known to the chess community.

What do I hope to accomplish through this letter? First and foremost, I want the truth to finally be relayed to the American chess public. As I’ve mentioned, the final tournament report that was offered to you was misleading, and I have yet to see a retraction of its false assertions. Secondly, I believe that to continue into the future, unthinkingly parroting that Anna Zatonskih is the 2008 U.S. Women’s Champion with no regard for how she “won” this title, is a travesty of truth and justice. I believe I have at least as much right to this title as she does, and I would like this right to be acknowledged. To this end, I am asking for responses to this letter from Frank Berry and Bill Goichberg, the President of the USCF. This event was held under their auspices, and I would like to know what they think of the results, given the evidence of what transpired.

I’d like to use this opportunity to say that despite the unsatisfactory ending of the Championship for me, this letter in no way expresses my feelings about the organization of the Championship as a whole. I had a wonderful time in Oklahoma, and wish to thank Frank and Jim Berry for their unwavering kindness and hospitality on all my visits to their home state, as well as to Tom Braunlich, who, in his capacity as organizer, was solicitous and helpful throughout the event.

To conclude, I will state that sharing the title would be an acceptable outcome for me, but I would certainly welcome any initiative to decide the title in over-the-board games, with real time controls that don’t degrade the participants into clock punching monkeys.

Irina Krush