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Irina Krush on the All-Girls-Nationals Print E-mail
By IM Irina Krush   
May 2, 2008
Simone Liao, with Evan Xiang in the background.
Photo Sheldon Liao

I had a great time at the Fifth Annual All-Girls Nationals, organized by the Kasparov Chess Foundation in Dallas, Texas from April 25-27, 2008. On the one hand, I got a chance to catch up with two people I haven’t seen for at least several years, Eliot Weiss (still Mr.Weiss to me!), the coach of my high school chess team, and Michael Khodarkovsky, the president of the KCF whom I know better as the head coach of the 2004 U.S. Women’s Olympiad Team. And on the other hand, I really enjoyed my interaction with all the girls and their parents.

The event started out with me giving a twenty-five-board simul on Friday night. The last game to finish, and the one that gave me the most worries, was against the top rated girl (1896) I was facing, Darrian Robinson, an eighth grader at I.S.318 in Brooklyn, NY. I had won an exchange in the middle game, but thanks to my extremely proficient technique, as you can see, Black now has three pawns for the exchange, one of which is a real super- pawn. The position is quite unbalanced, with Black’s king fearlessly lounging about in the center, within easy reach of my heavy pieces, who are unable to produce anything other than useless checks:
Krush-Robinson, Black to Move

I was afraid of the more direct 1...c2 2.Rc1 e4!? indirectly protecting the c2 pawn with the threat of back rank mate. For example: 3.Rxe6 e3! 4.fxe3 Qb7 and Black should win.
White's only reasonable move is to give back the exchange
2...Nxa5 3.Qxa5+

Position after 3.Qxa5

The last critical position of the game. Which way should the Black king head? Darrian tried to find safety by going backwards, to d6-e7, but White has a simple intermediate move to keep the king in the center. 
By process of elimination, the only way for Black to try to save the game was by moving up the board with 3...Kd4! Now the win wasn't obvious to me; here's what we found after the game: 4.Rb4+ (4.Qb6+ Kd3 5.Qa6+ Kc2 6.Qa2+ Kd3) 4...Kd3 5.Qa6+ Kc2 6.Qa2+ Kd3 (6...Kd1 7.Qb1+ Ke2 8.Qf1#) 7.Qb1+ Rc2 (7...c2?? 8.Qb3+ Ke2 9.Qf3+ Ke1 10.Re4+) 8.Qf1+ Re2 (8...Kd2 9.Rb1!+-) 9.Rb1! Qa4 (9...c2 10.Re1+-) 10.Rd1+ Qxd1 11.Qxd1+ Rd2 In the post-mortem, I thought that Black could have enough counterplay for a draw here, but the computer isn't fazed by the passed c-pawn and the coordination of Black's pieces. 12.Qa4 c2?? 13.Qb3+ Kd4 14.Qe3+ Kc4 15.Qxd2 Still, ...Kd4 would have given me a lot of trouble.
The king is forced back to the middle of the board before White takes the c3 pawn.
4...Kd5 5.Qxc3
I can't remember exactly how the next few moves went, but the Black king didn't have much longer to roam the center of the board.

Darrian Robinson. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

An interesting psychological aspect of simuls stems from the power of the simul-giver. There are so many details of simuls that are at the discretion of the ‘masters’, from how quickly they walk the circle, to whether they give players some extra time when they arrive at a board in which a player is not ready to move to how many passes they allow beyond the usual three. All these powers make it very tempting to change behavior once concerned about a  particular position. If you’re doing well, it’s easy to be patient as people contemplate their moves, give them passes, or even offer occasional helpful suggestions. But once you sense danger, you just want to race back to the problematic board, hope your opponent moves quickly, and makes an error in his haste and nervousness. Michael told me a story about how Korchnoi, upon landing in a bad position during simuls, would go back to the board he was unhappy with before completing the full circle, loudly tap his knuckles on the table, and growl at his opponents to hurry up and move. Whenever I play simuls and get a position I’m not satisfied with, I make a conscious effort not to alter my behavior to reflect my position. I try to remember that no matter how much I want to win, a simul is really about creating an experience for the person playing against you; the experience of playing against a strong opponent, getting a fair chance to beat or draw them, and coming out of it feeling that the person you played is a good representative for the game, and not a Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde character,  magnanimous in victory and graceless in defeat.

But on to the tournament: I don’t have an anecdote on the order of “Harper-Weser, 2008 High School Nationals” to share with you, but I’m still hopeful of capturing your interest with the following chess drama, played out on one of the top boards of the Girls Under 18 section:  

When I began watching earlier, Black had an extra pawn on the queenside in a King+Knight versus King+Bishop technically winning endgame. Now the knight has disappeared and so have Black's 3 queenside pawns. But Black still has a draw in hand- they take the h2 pawn, White defends her remaining pawn with Bc7, Black marches their king to g4 and forces the trade of White's last pawn. The next time I see the position it looks like this:


Everything still looks normal. Black can pick which way to trade off the g3 pawn: h5-h4 or f5-f4. Let's see what happens...
1...h5 2.Ke3 Kf5
What's this? Why move the king back from its already ideal square on g4? As we shall see, Black had an idea behind this move...
3.Kf3 g4+
Black has hit upon the only possible way to lose the game- advancing the g-pawn uselessly so as to allow White to retain their last pawn. [3...h4 4.g4+ Ke6 5.Bb8 f5 is one simple draw; another is; 3...Kg6 4.Bc7 f5]
This move looks very natural but is actually an inaccuracy, because it takes away the h6-c1 diagonal from the bishop. 4.Kf2 or Ke2, although more passive, were necessary to maintain winning chances.
Black had one last chance to trade off pawns: 4...Kg5 5.Bf4+ Kf5
 This is quite unusual, as White is in zugzwang! Any move by their king lets go of protecting the bishop and Black can play ...h4, any move by their bishop off the h6-c1 diagonal lets Black play Kg5, and if Bh6 Black can repeat moves with Kg6-f5. 6.Bh6 Kg6 7.Bf4 Kf5=]
Why there?? Why take away that square from the king?  White could have won with 5.Bc7 Kf5 6.Bf4 Ke6 7.Ke4 f5+ 8.Kd4 Kf6 9.Bc7 Ke6 (9...Kg5 10.Bd8+ Kg6 11.Ke5) 10.Ke3 Kf6 11.Kf4
5...Kf5 would revert to the zugwang position we saw earlier, and would draw for Black.
6.Bb8 Ke6 7.Kf4


White, finally achieving a completely winning position where all she needs to do is pick off Black's pawns one by one, offers a draw(!!?!?!) and Black accepts. As my eyes bulged out of their sockets, the players calmly walked off as if nothing unusual has happened and a draw is the natural result of the final position. Did White have insufficient time to win the game? Actually, White had 2 minutes 40 seconds remaining....versus Black's 40 seconds!! More time, a hopeless position for Black...a good moment to offer a draw!? See, wasn't this fun? :) But on a serious note, I sincerely hope that these girls devote some time to studying the endgame.

Medina Parrilla. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

The grand prize of the event, a $65,000, four year scholarship to the chess powerhouse University of Texas at Dallas, went to the winner of the Girls under 18 section, Medina Parrilla. Medina is a junior at Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and an ardent fan of the San Antonio Spurs.

Michael Khordakovsky, James Stallings and Medina Parrilla. Photo Irina Krush

Medina is a basketball player herself, and plays for her school’s team. Observing her at the board, I found Medina to be focused and concentrated, using her time at the right places, and never making an important decision lightly. Her biggest rival in the tournament was the higher rated  (2073) Courtney Jamison, and their match up in round 4, in which Medina won with Black, was extremely important in deciding first place.

Courtney Jamison. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

I don’t have the complete score of Parrilla-Jamison, so instead I’ll go with another one that I feel that, based on the middle game position,  was a big hurdle for Medina to overcome on her path to tournament victory. Don’t be deceived by her opponent’s low rating, as Alexandra is actually from Canada and has a Canadian rating of 1800.


I began watching the game at this point, and I didn't envy either player, especially White. There is an unusual equilibrium on the board, where both sides have uncastled kings and excellent minor pieces, but have difficulty improving their relatively ineffective queens and rooks. I couldn't find a plan here for White at all, but at least Black has some play based on the ...a4 break. Therefore, I thought Black's chances were preferable. However, Alexandra started to play on the wrong side of the board...
27.Rd1 g5?
 This one decision, opening up play on the side of the board that she should have kept closed, costs Black the game. [27...a4 seemed good to me during the game, but White actually has a very strong reply in 28.c4! and the game gets crazy. A sample line: 28...axb3 (28...dxc4?? 29.Nxb5) 29.Rxb3 Rxa3 30.Rxa3 Bxc4 and White can't go for the g8 rook because the king will be left to fry on e1 31.Ra8+ Kd7 32.Rxg8 Qb4+ 33.Rd2 Qxd2#]
The correct response; this is stronger than fxg5.
I thought that 28...gxf4 was better, but in the analysis it turned out that White has no fear of the opening of the g-file: 29.Rxf4 and Black can't take on g2 because of mate 29...Rxg2 30.Qh8+ Kd7 31.Rxf7#
 29.Re3 a4
Black tries to initiate play on the queenside now, but the kingside has been fatally damaged:
30.Qh7 Rf8
30...Rg6 31.Qh8+ Kd7 32.Qf8 and the White queen infiltrates Black's position.
31.Rxe4! dxe4 32.Qg7 Re7 33.Bxe7 Kxe7 34.Qf6+ Ke8 35.Nxb5 Qg1+ 36.Kd2 Qc5 37.Kc1 Qb6 38.Nd6+ Kd7 39.Nc4+ and White won.  1–0

And here is a sample from one of the younger sections, played between the top two 9-year-old girls in the country:

World Youth representatives Simone Liao and Evan Xiang were the top rated in the 10 and Under section, and their round five encounter was a big factor in determining the winner of their group. Simone won, drew her last game, and took first place.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Be3 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.f3
This move, in conjunction with Bc4, doesn't work out so well for White. They should prefer 7.Bc4 0–0 8.Bb3.
 7...0–0 8.Bc4 Qb6
 This move has been known for a long time. The b2 pawn is threatened, as well as a discovered attack on the Nd4.
9.Bb3 Nxe4
We're still in theory. 9...Ng4 has also been tried.
A critical mistake- White acquiesces to emerging from the opening down a pawn. White can avoid losing a pawn with: 10.Nd5 Qa5+ 11.c3 Nc5 12.Nxc6 dxc6 13.Nxe7+ Kh8 14.Nxc8 Raxc8 15.0–0 Rcd8 16.Qc2 Qb5 17.Rfd1 Kg8 18.Rxd8 Rxd8 19.Rd1 Re8 20.Bf2 a5 21.Bxc5 Fischer-Panno, Portoroz 1958 1/2
 10...Bxd4 11.Bxd4 Nxd4 12.Qd2 Nf5
This knight retreat, intending to trade queens with ...Qe3, is fine, but not the only way to play the position.  How about 12...Nxb3 13.axb3 Rd8 with ...d5 next, making use of Black's extra pawn in the center?
13.0–0–0 Qe3 14.Rhe1 Qxd2+ 15.Rxd2 d6 16.Ng5!
White drums up play against the e7 and f7 pawns.
16...h6 17.g4?!
The right idea, but the wrong move order. 17.Nxf7! Rxf7 18.g4 Kf8 19.Bxf7 Kxf7 20.gxf5 Bxf5 and White has good winning chances. 17...Nh4
17...hxg5 18.gxf5 Bxf5 19.Rxe7 and White will regain their pawn with a superior position.
18.Nxf7 Rxf7
 This plays right into White's hands, and now White wins the exchange and the game.
I was wondering about 18...Nxf3 but  19.Rxe7 Nxd2 20.Nxh6+ Kh8 21.Kxd2 is very good for White- they have amazing pieces.; Black still would've been fine if they had found the nice defensive move 18...e6! blocking the a2-g8 diagonal, and saving the threat of ...Nxf3 for their next turn.
 19.Rxe7 Nxf3 20.Rf2 Ne5 21.Bxf7+ Nxf7 22.Rfxf7 Bxg4 23.Rxb7 a6 24.Rg7+ Kf8 25.Rxg6 Be2 26.Rxh6 d5 27.Rh8# 1–0

The only perfect score in the tournament was achieved by Angelica Berrios of Brooklyn, NY in the under 16 section. Angelica was part of a fairly small group I taught at I.S.318 in the 2006-2007 school year. She was a quiet, unassuming girl who nonetheless was the strongest player in the group. Still, at the time, her rating was about 1400 (going up to the mid 1500’s by the end of the school year) and she was quite a ways behind the top players at her school, some of who were in the 1900 range. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Angelica rated 1790 going into this tournament! I asked Angelica what accounted for her improvement, what motivated her? And her answer was quite striking: she explained that at her school, there was a rating list of all the school’s players (it hangs at the entrance to the chess room), and she was motivated by the idea of moving up that list, to the very top.

Angelica Berrios and Jasmine Fermin. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

We hear a lot about how girls are less competitive than boys, but this was a very competitive answer, very results-oriented, and particularly surprising in that it was coming from a quiet, unobtrusive girl like Angelica. It made me realize that the competitive spirit isn’t always an in-your-face conspicuous thing, it’s not about how hard someone hits the clock or bangs their pieces, who’s the loudest in making fun of their opponents or even who participates the most in class. It reveals itself in how determinedly someone moves towards their goals…I really appreciate Angelica’s drive and how she shows us that, by the way, competitiveness takes interior as well as exterior forms, and it doesn’t bear just one gender. And I’ll end on that.



Irina at a recent tournament in Istanbul

May - Chess Life Online 2008

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