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U.S. Women's Championship Preview Print E-mail
By Greg Shahade   
July 15, 2007
Irina Krush (left) and Anna Zatonskih. Photos Irina Krush and Jacob Okada.

by IM Greg Shahade

Going into this event it seems like it should be a two horse race. Both IM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih drastically out-rate their competition, with only two players within 200 points of them. Is it possible that one of them won't win? I think it's possible, but pretty unlikely.

My sister won the US Championship on two occasions, and both times she was a clear underdog to win the event. On one occasion, in 2001, she really went crazy by defeating GM Sagalchik, two other players rated above 2500 and drawing with Seirawan, Fedorowicz and Kudrin.

I believe that my sister's success in these tournaments was because of the fact that she took them so seriously. The US Women's Championship was the most important event for my sister every year, and she put every ounce of her energy into winning it. In order for one of the lower rated players to have a chance to win this year, they are going to have to come in with the same kind of focus and drive and not go in treating this like "just another tournament".

I encourage readers (well, only USCF members actually) to write in their own predictions in the comments section. Feel free to give percentages like I have, let us know who you think will win, or simply let us know who you will be rooting for. Here are my predictions, broken up into three groups, "Favorites","The Second Tier" and "The Underdogs" :

Favorites (70% chance to win)

IM Irina Krush (2497)

I give Irina a 40% shot at taking the title. Her rating is similar to Anna Zatonskih's, but she has been much more active lately, and has recently gotten her rating above 2500. Also Irina has had a tremendous US Championship drought. She hasn't won the event in many years, despite winning it when she was just 14. After winning that event one would have expected her to win at least 4 or 5 titles in the past nine years, but somehow she hasn't won a single time.

It's really incredible when you look back on it, although it didn't help that she had to sit out a few times, due to conflicting events. Surprisingly, Jennifer Shahade is the only player to have won two US Women's titles in the past 10 years (I bet even she didn't realize this). [SECTION:211]The last 9 Championships have produced 8 different winners. [/SECTION]

In any case I think Irina is playing too well right now and she simply outclasses most of the field. It doesn't help her that she has the black pieces against Zatonskih, but she still has five whites overall. In the past year she has victories over GM Korchnoi and GM Akopian along with many more less accomplished GM's. She is the highest rated player in the field, the most active and she seems improving a lot. It's hard to ask for more than that.

IM Anna Zatonskih (2491) - Anna gets a 30% chance from me. A year ago I would have made it even money between these two players, but Anna hasn't been so active in the past months as she recently gave birth to her first child. The match-up between Anna and Irina in round 4 could easily determine who gets the title.

The Second Tier (28% chance to win)

WGM Camilla Baginskaite (2361) -

I'll make her the 3rd most likely to win. She's very solid and has the most experience out of everyone aside from the top two. However she hasn't been very active lately and so she should have a tough time with the higher rated Krush and Zatonskih. Of course Camilla did defeat Nakamura in the 2006 US Championship, so she is clearly capable of an upset. Camilla has a solid style that's very tough to crack when she's white. This is bad news for Krush and good news for Zatonskih, as Camilla is white vs Krush and black vs Zatonskih. She also happens to be the oldest player in the tournament at only 40 years old. I'll give Camila a 10% chance to win.

WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs (2275) -

I believe she is the most likely to win outside of the top two players. She has shown a penchant for coming up big in major events, such as her powerful performance in the 2005 US Championship. She is young, plays with a lot of energy and I'm sure she is excited about the opportunity. When I originally wrote this I made her the most likely to win outside of the top two. However after some less emotional reflection, it's hard to choose her over someone with Camilla's credentials and ability. I give Chimi an 8% shot.

WGM Katerine Rohonyan (2304) -

Rohonyan is relatively unknown in the United States. This will be her first US Championship, and it's always dangerous to face someone their first time in the event. At some point players can become bored of playing every year, but their first or second time, they can be filled with energy and excitement, hoping to put their name on the map. Katerine was the Ukranian women's chess champion when she was just 16, so it's perhaps bit of an insult to put her so far down on this list. The problem is that she isn't nearly as active as she was in her youth, instead focusing more on her studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I make her 5% to win.

Tatev Abrahamayan (left) and Batchimeg Tuvshintugs. Photos courtesy Irina Krush.

WFM Tatev Abrahamayan (2258) -

Somehow Tatev isn't a WIM, but it could be that she simply doesn't care about the title, so hasn't bothered to apply for it. She's only 19 years old, which is a good sign. The problem is I've never seen her have a result that would indicate that she has good chances win this tournament. In 2004 she tied for first place in the US Womens Championship, but this was in a large part due to the Swiss System pairings, which gave her a much easier path than some of her opponents. Hope springs eternal with youth however, at any time a young player is capable of breaking out and having a star performance. You can look at Teddy Coleman as an example. He has been rated 2200-2250 for a long time and suddenly blew up at the World Open, beating and drawing GM's left and right. She is just around the same rating as him and wouldn't need nearly the same kind of performance to win this event. However she will need a breakout type of event to win the title. I also give Tatev a 5% chance.

The Underdogs (2% chance to win)

Perhaps I am being too pessimistic with these final players, but they all suffer from either inexperience, inactivity and/or relatively low ratings. The players below are listed in rating order. I do believe that there is a reasonable chance that one of these players could finish in the top three, although that would be a fantastic result for any of them.

WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg (2234)

Battsetseg is not very active these days, playing only one event in the last two years. Her main chess activity nowadays is probably her spot as manager of the Baltimore Kingfishers in the US Chess League. She is a fierce attacking player, but she is up against stronger opposition, and she hasn't played a tournament in over a year. Because of this it's hard to see her winning, but if she gets some nice attacking positions she could perform quite well.

Alisa Melekhina (left) and Elizabeth Vicary (right)- Melekhina photo J.Shahade, E.Vicary photo Betsy Dynako

WFM Alisa Melekhina (2168)

Alisa is only 16 years old, but her composure at the board is that of a much older player. She always seems very calm and relaxed and from what I've seen of her play, I'm quite surprised that she isnt rated around 2250-2300 yet. I can easily see her playing inspired chess and achieving a plus score, but winning the tournament is just too much to ask.

WFM Chouchanik Airapetian (2157)

Chouchanik is going to have trouble with the highest rated players, but you can't forget her performance at the 2004 Chicago Open, in which she ended the tournament with 4 straight wins, including two over IM's, to finish with 5/7 and qualify for the US Championship. The problem for her is that while that was probably the best result of her career, it might require even more this time around, as the two IM's in question are rated about 100 points higher than the ones she beat in Chicago. You can tell by that result that she does have the potential for a big tournament, and one shouldn't be shocked if "Airplane" pulls off a few upsets.

WFM Elizabeth Vicary (2155)

Elizabeth Vicary is the player I was thinking about when writing the opening paragraphs, as she is approaching this event with a lot of fire and determination. She approached the 2005 US Championship in the same fashion, and she had a solid result, defeating FM Igor Schneider and NM Jake Kleiman on the way to a respectable 3.5/9 score. This will be her first test against an all female field. You can read a recent CLO interview with Elizabeth about gender and chess, that touches on her excitement about this tournament. The expectations will be a lot higher than the 2006 US Championship, in which she was expecting to get paired up nearly every round. This time around she will be paired up every round, but much of the time the difference will be less than 100 rating points. If she comes to every game completely focused and prepared, she is definitely capable of an even or plus score.

In summary: I think there are two players who are the runaway favorites to win (Krush and Zatonskih). However, I believe that every player in the event is capable of achieving a plus score if things break correctly. The first few rounds will be key, as psychologically it can be very difficult to recover from a 0-2 start.