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Krush Wins Her Second Championship Print E-mail
By Chris Bird   
October 1, 2007
WGM Katerina Rohonyan. Photo: Betsy Dynako
Standing in the playing room was a young lady with rosy, shining cheeks, a glowing smile and a joyful look on her face. It was a refreshing sight given that over the previous five days, her look had been more determined: very serious with the fate of the world seemingly resting on her shoulders. Her head was usually buried in a book when she wasn’t playing chess, staying out of the limelight and just generally minding her own business.

The jubilant lady was IM Irina Krush, winner of the Frank K. Berry 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship held in Stillwater, Oklahoma, from July 16-20, 2007. Going into the tournament as the slight favorite had caused Irina to take the tournament even more seriously than usual, preparing for the event with a determination to succeed and live up to the chess nation’s high expectations.

Irina’s performance was very businesslike. She came to the tournament with a job to do and she did it. There was nothing spectacular about her games, no brilliant sacrificial slaughters and nothing to make use of the regular “Krushing” puns that typically accompany her name in chess articles. After five grueling days over the chessboard, her second U.S. Women’s Championship title was secured thanks to an overnight change in her opening repertoire, and also thanks to a young 16-year-old playing in her first tournament! More on that later.

The championship was a 10-player round-robin event with the top-rated female players in the country invited to participate. Despite a few players declining invitations that I’m sure we would all like to see participate (Polgar, Goletiani, Shahade), when the final list was compiled we had two IMs, Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih; two WGMs, Camilla Baginskaite and Katerina Rohonyan; two WIMs, Batchimeg Tuvshintugs and Tsagaan Battsetseg; and four WFMs, Tatev Abrahamyan, Chouchanik Airapetian, Elizabeth Vicary and Alisa Melekhina. The average USCF rating was 2290. Of the players, three of them had previously won the title: Anna Zatonskih in 2006, Camilla Baginskaite in 2000 and Irina Krush in 1998 when she was just 14.

International Arbiter and organizer Frank Berry, recent sponsor of the 2007 U.S. Championship also held in Stillwater, put up the $25,000 prize money for this event and once again showed tremendous hospitality (as he and his brother Jim seemingly do at every tournament), running players to and from the airport (a 65-mile drive), providing drinks and food during the event and just generally being available to all players at all hours.

The tournament began with a “Wow!” look on the competitors’ faces when Frank told them that the beautiful House of Staunton wooden boards and sets they were going to use would be given to them after the tournament, thanks to a donation by Jeff Smith from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Round 1: In the beginning …

When play eventually began at noon on July 16, all ten players sat waiting at their boards, ready to get their personal adventures started. The drawing of lots had taken place back at the USCF office on July 3 and the players informed of the pairings about 10 days before the event started, giving them the chance to prepare for their opponents.

Defending Champion Zatonskih got off to a winning start against the youngest player in the tournament, Melekhina. Having given birth just four months before the tournament, Zatonskih’s participation was uncertain as she was breast feeding and unsure how little Sophia would react to the necessary travel. Fiancé GM Daniel Fridman (currently listed as playing for Germany) completed the family circle and took care of Sophia while Zatonskih played her games.

Krush started off badly, at least from her point of view, drawing against Tuvshintugs with the white pieces. Considering she was one of the players who had only four whites and was going to receive black against two of her biggest rivals (Zatonskih and Baginskaite), it was hardly the start the 1998 champion was looking for.

Round 2: Only one winner. Can you guess who?

Four draws in this round (but three of them were fighting draws). The one decisive victory in this round belonged to the lowest-rated player in the tournament, Vicary, over Airapetian. Baginskaite and Krush decided to delay the fight until the next round, agreeing to a relatively short draw in just 17 moves. After just two rounds, nobody had a perfect score!

Round 3: Five wins!

Five decisive results! Rohonyan showed that the first two rounds were no fluke as she produced a masterly show against fellow WGM Baginskaite. The last game to finish produced one of the wildest positions I have ever seen in a game of chess:

Four pawns for two pieces

WFM Tatev Abrahamyan (2272)
WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs (2282)
FKB 2007 U.S .Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 3), 7.17.2007


After 28. Ng3

28. ... Rxf2

A nice sacrifice.

29. Be3!


29. ... Rxe2 30. Bxb6 Rxb2 31. Bxd8 Rc2 32. Ne4 f5 33. gxf5 gxf5 34. Ng3 f4 35. Ne4 Re2 36. Nf6+ Kf7 37. Ng4 h5 38. Nf2 Bc5   39. Bh4 Re3 40. Rd5 Ke6 41. Rad1 Rxc3 42. Rxc5 Rxc5 43. Ne4 Rxh3 44. Nxc5+

They don’t teach you how to play these types of positions in books—Tuvshintugs has four pawns for the two pieces, which should not be enough.

44. ... Kf5 45. Bf2 Ra3 46. Rd2 e4? 47. Rd5+ Kg4 48. Nxe4 Rxa2 49. Kg2!

Abrahamyan was down to about two minutes while Tuvshintugs had about 15 minutes.

49. ... f3+ 50. Kh2 c3 51. Rd4

51. Rc5! is winning in all variations, although with less than two minutes left on your clock it is difficult to find such moves 51. ... c2 (51. ... h4 52. Nf6+ Kf4 53. Nd5+) 52. Nf6+ Kf4 53. Nd5+ Kg4 54. Ne3+.

51. ... Kf5 52. Kg3 c2 53. Be3 Ra3 54. Bd2?!

Best is 54. Bh6! h4+ 55. Kf2 Ke5 56. Rc4 Kd5 57. Nd2 which should still win for Abrahamyan, as long as she can mate with bishop and knight!

54. ... Ke5 55. Rc4 Kd5 56. Rxc2?

White maintains material after 56. Rc3!

56. ... Kxe4 57. Bg5 a5 58. Rc4+ Kd3 59. Rc8 Ke2 60. Re8+

White should repeat the position: 60. Rc2+! Ke1 61. Rc1+ Ke2 62. Rc2+!

60. ... Kf1 61. Kh2?

White keeps the f-pawn under control with 61. Be3! f2 62. Kf4 a4 63. Rc8.

61. ... Ra2+

Now Tuvshintugs is winning!

62. Kg3 Rg2+ 63. Kh4 Re2!

Not the flashy 63. ... Rxg5? which is only good for a draw 64. Kxg5 f2 65. Kh4! Kg1 (65. ... a4 66. Ra8) 66. Rg8+.

64. Rf8 f2, White resigned.

Round 4: The clash of the titans … Not!

Sadly, especially for the many spectators watching online, the eagerly awaited game between the two highest-rated players in the tournament, Zatonskih and Krush, ended in a quick 11-move draw. However, the fans were kept glued to their screens as Baginskaite put on quite an impressive display to dispatch Abrahamyan. 

Battsetseg ensured that she finished the second day’s play in sole first place with 3½/4 after beating Airapetian, who once again only had to make one decisive mistake to end up losing the game. Rohonyan couldn’t match her Maryland compatriot’s pace after drawing an interesting game with Vicary. 

Melekhina secured her first win of the tournament and in doing so put a huge dent in Tuvshintugs chances. A not so obvious blunder from Tuvshintugs was punished to the maximum by Melekhina, who had calculated all the necessary moves to win at least two pawns and leave her in a dominating position.  Melekhina finished off the game in a clinical fashion, showing maturity beyond her years.


Four Knights (C48)
WFM Alisa Melekhina (2189)
WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs (2282)
FKB 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 4), 7.17.2007
Notes by Alisa Melekhina

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Nd4 5. Nxd4 exd4 6. e5 dxc3 7. exf6 Qxf6

The Rubinstein in the Four Knights wasn’t a line that I knew too well, so I was a bit worried that she would play 7. ... cxb2 or 7. ... cxd2+ instead, going for the material advantage. However, that is a very risky gambit for Black to attempt, so 7. ... Qxf6 was probably the correct reply.

8. dxc3 Bc5 9. Qe2+ Qe6

The line I knew went 9. ... Qe7, so I was a bit surprised at this point. It seems to me that now there is a bit of a dilemma developing the c8-bishop. Either way, I feel a lot more comfortable playing with queens off the board.

10. Qxe6+ fxe6 11. Bf4 c6 12. Be2 0-0 13. Bg3 e5

I was not expecting this move. After 13. ... d5, which is what I was anticipating, 14. f4 would probably be the only way of protecting the f-pawn and subsequently allowing me to castle queenside. Here are a few possibilities after 13. ... d5 14. f3 (14. f4 Bd6 15. Rf1 Re8 16. 0-0-0 e5 17. fxe5 Bxe5) 14. ... Be3 15. Bf2 Bf4.

14. f3 Re8 15. 0-0-0 b5

Also possible is 15. ... d5 16. c4 Be3+ 17. Kb1 d4 18. Bd3 b6 (18. ... Be6 19. Rhe1).

16. Rhe1 a5

Preparing a future d7-d6 when b2-b4 will not pick off the d-pawn.

17. c4 b4 18. Bd3 Bd4?

Better is 18. ... d6 19. Be4 Bb7.

19. Bxh7+! Kf8 20. Rxd4 exd4 21. Bd6+ Kf7 22. Bg6+ Kxg6 23. Rxe8 Bb7 24. Re7

Here I thought for a long time about exchanging the rooks, which is still most likely winning, but I didn’t like the idea of heading towards a bishop-of-opposite color ending, and so decided to simply try and win more pawns. In retrospect the following line: 24. Rxa8 Bxa8 25. Bc5 d5 26. cxd5 cxd5 27. Bxd4 Bc6 28. Bb6 a4 29. Bc5 b3 30. cxb3 axb3 31. axb3 Kf5 looks quite good for White.

24. ... Kf6 25. Rxd7 Ba6 26. Bc5 Bxc4 27. Bxd4+ Kf5 28. Rxg7 Re8 29. b3 Bb5 30. g4+ Ke6 31. f4 Kd5 32. Be5 Ke4 33. Rd7

Even though 33. h4 wins by force here, I played 33. Rd7 as an extra precaution from all of the threats that could arise from ... Rd8 and ... Be2. I just wanted to promote the pawns without any interruptions or worries. White has no problems after 33. h4 Rd8 34. h5 Be2 35. h6 Rd1+ 36. Kb2 a4 37. bxa4 c5 38. h7 c4 39. h8=Q c3+ 40. Bxc3 bxc3+ 41. Kxc3.

33. ... Be2 34. g5 Kf5 35. Rd6 Bf3 36. g6 Bd5 37. g7 Rg8 38. h3 Ke4 39. h4 Kf5 40. h5 Kg4 41. h6 Be4 42. Rf6

Also strong is 42. Rxc6!

42. ... Bh7 43. Rf8 Kh5 44. f5 Kxh6 45. f6, Black resigned.

Round 5: 25. g5!!

This was a “crunch” round with Rohonyan playing Zatonskih, both going into the round just a half-point off the lead, and Krush playing overnight leader Battsetseg.

Undoubtedly the best game of the round was Rohonyan against Zatonskih.  Zatonskih ditched the Caro-Kann she had played in round three in favor of 1. … e5.  A wild game ensued and Rohonyan uncorked 25. g5!!, as far as I’m concerned the best move of the tournament, although her own Exchange sacrifice in round three and a saving rook move against Krush later on provided stiff competition! If Rohonyan had followed up with the best continuation, we would be looking at this game as the brilliancy prize winner. 

The Best Move of the Event

WGM Katerina Rohonyan (2291)
IM Anna Zatonskih (2497)
FKB 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 5), 7.18.2007
Notes by Katerina Rohonyan


White to play

25. g5!! Ne4 26. Bxe4?

Giving away such a great bishop.  26. Nxe4! Bxe1 (26. ... dxe4 27. Rxe4 cxd4 28. Qh5+ Kf8 29. Qxh7 wins) 27. Qh5+ Kf8 (27. ... Ke7 28. Nc6+ bxc6 29. Bxc5+ Ke6 30. Ng3) 28. Ne6+! Bxe6 29. Bxc5+ Kg8 30. Nf6+ clearly winning.

26. ... dxe4 27. Rxe4 Bd7 28. Ndb5 Bc6  29. Qh5+?

The most intuitive move, especially in time pressure. Better is 29. Qg4. It was necessary to play 29. ... Bxe4 30. Nxe4 Qd7 31. Nbd6+ Kg8 32. Qxd7 Nxd7 33. c3! I didn’t even notice that the bishop can be trapped. My attention was fully concentrated around the king. Queen trade? Forget about it! Now White compromises her position and Black steals my thunder.

29. ... Kg8 30. Re1 Nxa4!

There are no threats to the king, so the black pieces come alive.

31. Qe2

31. Rd1 was slightly better, but Black is better here because my king is in more danger.

31. ... Nxb2

Much stronger is 31. ... Qd7! preventing my next move and threatening ... Qxh3.

32. Qe6+ Kh8 33. Nd6 Qf8?

33. ... Qd7 would lead to a draw 34. Nf7+ Kg8 35. Nh6+ Kh8 36. Nf7+. Black errs because of time trouble.

34. g6?

The correct way to play the attack is 34. Nf7+ Kg8 35. g6.

34. ... Bxc3?

White has only a draw with a perpetual check after 34. ... Qf6!. Also losing is 34. ... Be8 35. Nxe8 Bxc3 36. Nd6 Bxe1 37. Nf7+ Kg8 38. gxh7+ Kxh7 39. Ng5+ Kh8 40. Qg6 Bxf2+ 41. Kg2.

35. Nf7+ Kg8 36. gxh7+ Kxh7 37. Ng5+ Kh8 38. Qg6 Be4 39. Rxe4, Black resigned.

Krush ensured that she got firmly back into the hunt as she managed to hold off Battsetseg’s desperation attack.  Tuvshintugs made the most of a slip by Baginskaite to move to within one point of the leader. 

Round 6: Krush joins the lead

Krush made her way into the lead for the first time after an efficient performance against Airapetian:


Sicilian Defense, Rossolimo Variation (B31)
WFM Chouchan Airapetian (2157)
IM Irina Krush (2512)
FKB 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 6), 7.18.2007

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. 0-0 Bg7 5. Re1 e5 6. Nc3 Nge7 7. Nd5 0-0 8. c3 d6 9. d3 h6 10. Bd2 Kh7 11. Nxe7 Qxe7 12. b4 cxb4 13. cxb4 Bg4 14. Bxc6 bxc6 15. h3 Be6 16. Rc1 Rac8 17. a4 f5 18. Bc3 Rf7 19. Nd2 Rcf8 20. f3 Bf6

Krush’s position is preferable because of the edge in space and the bishop pair, however there is much work left to be done to realize those advantages.

21. Nf1 f4!?

It seems a strange idea to keep the f-file closed given where Krush’s rooks are and to keep the bishops blocked in. However, Krush is looking further down the line and the potential for opening the position with a ... g6-g5-g4 advance.

22. d4 h5 23. dxe5 dxe5 24. Qc2 g5 25. Nh2 Rg7 26. Re2 Rfg8

The rooks shuffle over one file.

27. Bd2 g4 28. hxg4 hxg4 29. Bxf4 gxf3!

Not 29. ... exf4? 30. e5+

30. Nxf3 Bh3! 31. Ne1 Bh4 32. Qc3?

The only move that provided any chance of surviving the attack was 32. Qd3. With Krush playing the best moves, Airapetian’s task was not easy 32. ... Bg4 33. Be3.

32. ... Bg4!

Winning a piece. The game is already over.

33. Nf3 exf4 34. e5 Bg3 35. Qxc6 Qxb4 36. Qe4+ Qxe4 37. Rxe4 Bxf3 38. gxf3 Bh4+ 39. Kh1 Rg3 40. Re2 Rxf3 41. Rh2 Rg4 42. Rg1 Rfg3 43. Rxg3 fxg3 44. Rd2 Rxa4 45. e6 Kg7 46. Rd7+ Kf6 47. Rh7 Kxe6 48. Kg2 Ra2+ 49. Kf1 Bf6 50. Rh6 Kf7 51. Rh7+ Ke8, White resigned.

Round 7: Everyone put on your best Irish accent, raise your glass and say, “Brilliant!”

Krush and Rohonyan both managed comfortable victories, over Melekhina and Airapetian respectively, to extend their lead to a full point as their nearest rivals both lost. It allowed both of them to conserve some energy for their critical eighth round match-up.

However, the game of the round goes to Vicary for her “Goddesschess Brilliancy Prize” winning game against Baginskaite.  The prize was worth $300 and donated by www.goddesschess.com.


Advance Bogo-Indian (E11)
WGM Camilla Baginskaite (2361)
WFM Elizabeth Vicary (2157)
FKB 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 7), 7.19.2007
Notes by  Elizabeth Vicary

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Bd2 Qe7   5. g3 Nc6 6. Bg2 Bxd2+ 7. Nbxd2 0-0 8. 0-0 d6 9. e4 e5 10. d5 Nb8 11. Ne1 a5 12. Nd3 Na6 13. a3 Bg4 14. f3 Bd7 15. b4 c6

This is all theory. I learned it straight from Perelshteyn’s (Alburt and Dzindzichashvili are co-authors) very readable book, Chess Openings for Black, Explained, and from his Bogo-Indian lectures on chesslecture.com. He even mentions the idea of pinning Nc4 with ... Bb5 in one line. (Thanks Eugene!)

16. dxc6 e.p.

This struck me as a little strange, not for any actual or logical reason, just because I haven’t seen it before. This made me start thinking about how extraordinarily persuadable people are in chess, more than in their normal lives—the assumption that what is done by other people is correct is fundamental to how chess theory works, and I wonder if chess players would be so quick to accept this in real life. It’s amazing to me that the statement “That’s what is played” will shut almost anyone up in an analysis session. And if it doesn’t, it’s only because they are going to reply “No, this is also played.”

16. ... bxc6

I spent 30 seconds considering 16. ... Bxc6 before it struck me that it loses a piece.

17. f4 Rab8

I played this because I thought it wasn’t clear how she could defend the pawn, although I worried slightly about 18. Qa4. I figured I’d answer 18. ... Qd8.

18. Rb1 axb4

Generally, Black doesn’t take this pawn, but I figured its OK now since there’s no longer a rook on the a-file.

19. axb4 Rb6

When I made this move, I considered her response 20. fxe5 and 21. c5. I thought 20. ... Ng4 was interesting and 20. ... dxe5 21. c5 Rxb4 would be fine. You know how it is when you look quickly at a variation and decide “Oh, no problem there,” and then your opponent immediately heads for it? And you think, “God, I hope I’m right, really I should have looked more carefully?!” That was me, here.

20. fxe5 dxe5

I spent some time considering 20. ... Ng4—it’s quite interesting. 21. exd6 Qxd6 22. c5 (22. Qf3 Nxb4) 22. ... Qd4+ 23. Kh1 Rb5 I wasn’t sure about this, I felt like one precise move by Camilla and I might be lost. On the other hand, it looked extremely interesting and like a lot of fun. On a different day, I would have played like this.

21. c5 Rxb4

A nice move, but I can’t take too much credit since it’s also completely forced at this point. If I retreat, she plays Nd2-c4-d6, and while I can probably trade that knight off, it’s a huge downer for me.

22. Nxb4 Qxc5+ 23. Kh1 Nxb4

I have two pawns for the Exchange plus nice control of the dark squares (which I think means I should avoid trading queens, on the grounds that my queen can attack dark squares), and she has a terrible bishop.

24. Qb3 Rb8

The only alternative was 24. ... Na6, but I wasn’t about to play that.

25. Qc4

Probably not a great move. 25. Nc4 or 25. Rfc1—something more active is called for in this position.

25. ... Qd6 26. Qe2

Annoying is 26. Rfd1 Ng4.

26. ... c5

This move does some nice things for me—defends the knight and opens the diagonal for the bishop to come to b5, but I was slightly hesitant, because it is also more exposed here.

27. Nc4 Qe6

I was remembering a theory Roland Schmaltz (generally better known as “Hawkeye” on ICC) proposed to me a few years ago, which was that the best chess moves are all short moves. A really stupid idea, I thought at the time, and still think, but in general I think it’s good to make theories about the world. The short-move theory is probably fallacious in the same way that “most accidents occur within five miles of home” statistic is. In any case, the queen is nice on e6: it defends a potential knight on g4 in case the d7-bishop finds better work, hits the c4-knight, and defends the e5-pawn.

28. Rfc1 Bb5 29. Bf1?

A big blunder. Chris Bird suggested after the game that 29. Qe3 was critical, and he’s probably right. 29. Qe3! Rc8 probably defending the pawn is better, since it also gets me out of the uncomfortable pin on the b-file. (29. ... Bxc4?! 30. Qxc5 and everything is hanging in a confusing way.) 30. Nb6! I was about to type “such a computer move” but one thing I noticed in this tournament is that when I make this comment I actually mean “Now that I use Rybka constantly, I’m much lazier and less able to actually analyze positions myself.”

29. ... Nxe4 30. Qe3

30. Qxe4?? Bc6.

30. ... Bc6 31. Bg2 f5 32. Nd2

Her moves seem a little random. The move Kg1 is probably called for here or in one of the preceding moves, although I should be significantly better by now.

32. ... f4! 33. gxf4

If she doesn’t take, my idea is just to push the f-pawn as fast as I can. Here is an example of that plan: 33. Qe2 Nxd2 34. Qxd2 f3 35. Bf1 f2+ 36. Bg2 Rf8.

33. ... exf4 34. Qe1

34. Qxf4 This lets my rook in, when I have too many pieces on the kingside for her to survive 34. ... Rf8 35. Qe3 Nf2+ 36. Kg1 Qxe3.

34. ... Ng3+ 35. hxg3

She only had about 10 minutes here, and I guess didn’t see the tactic, although 35. Kg1 also loses. 35. Kg1 Ne2+ 36. Kf1 Bxg2+ 37. Kxg2 Qg4+ 38. Kf1 (38. Kh1 In my head during the game, I actually thought 38. ... Qf3 was mate here, but it doesn’t matter since I’m winning anyway. Taking the rook is simplest, although computers like 38. ... Rd8 getting out of the pin and preparing ... Nd3) 38. ... Qh3+ 39. Kxe2 (39. Kf2 Qxh2+) 39. ... Re8+.

35. ... Qh3+, White resigned.

Zatonskih stayed within a point of the two leaders as she beat Tuvshintugs.  Zatonskih grabbed a quick pawn in the opening after reverting back to using the Caro-Kann. She then quickly consolidated her position, managed to pick up another pawn, and then smoothly converted the winning rook and pawn ending. Abrahamyan spoiled any hopes Battsetseg had of winning the tournament after winning yet another thrilling encounter.

Round 8: Kat getting Krushed but uses one of nine lives to escape!

Krush and Rohonyan, the two clear leaders going into the round, played an extremely tough fighting draw. The game was thrilling to watch and exemplified the quality of chess that had put them out in front with just two rounds to play.


Queen’s Gambit Declined, Tarrasch Variation (D34)
IM Irina Krush (2512)
WGM Katerina Rohonyan (2291)
FKB 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 8), 7.19.2007
Notes by Irina Krush

This penultimate round game against the co-leader, Katerina Rohonyan, carried all the pressure and intensity usually reserved for final rounds. A decisive result here would’ve essentially determined the champion, and I definitely didn’t want to squander the only white I had against the other top seeds.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. cxd5 exd5

The Tarrasch. Katerina is quite experimental in her black openings versus 1. d4, having tried everything from Benkos to Chigorins to various Indian-type defenses. However, the Tarrasch has been the one consistency in her repertoire over the years, and it seems that it’s her weapon of choice when facing stronger players. In hindsight, I should’ve spent more time preparing for it.

5. Nf3 Nc6 6. g3 Nf6 7. Bg2 Be7 8. 0-0 0-0 9. Bg5 c4

And although this is one of the two main moves in this well-known theoretical position, I hadn’t bothered to look at it. Katerina had previously played 9. ... cxd4. So from here on out, I was on my own, guided by some vague memory of what White is supposed to do.

10. Ne5

This knight hop is by far White’s most popular option in this position, with the direct 10. b3 coming in a distant second.

10. ... Be6

A natural move, supporting the d5 pawn.

11. Nxc6

11. f4 is a totally different possibility for White.

11. ... bxc6 12. b3 Qa5

On 12. ... cxb3 White recaptures with the a-pawn.

13. Qc2 Rfd8 14. e3

Protecting d4 in preparation for the eventual opening of the d-file.

14. ... Rac8 15. bxc4 dxc4 16. Ne4

Unbeknownst to me, this position had already been reached quite a few times. I was looking forward to doubling Black’s pawns on the f-file, but apparently this is not even a major threat: Black often accepts those doubled pawns in this line, judging that his king will be safe enough and counting on his passed c-pawn for counterplay.

16. ... Qf5

16. ... c5 17. dxc5 Rd3 has been tried by Short, but isn’t supposed to be enough for equality after 18. Bxf6 gxf6 19. Rfd1.

17. Bxf6

More common is 17. Rac1, but Black equalized in the game GM Joel Lautier-GM Alexander Grischuk, Wijk aan Zee 2002: 17. ... c5 18. dxc5 Rd3 (18. ... Nxe4!? 19. Bxe7 Rd3) 19. Bxf6 gxf6 Black was forced to take on the double pawns, but has the bishop pair in return. (19. ... Bxf6?? 20. Nd6) 20. Qb2 Qe5 (20. ... Bd5!?) 21. Qb7 Qc7 22. c6 Bd5 23. Bh3 Qxb7 24. cxb7 Rb8 25. Bf5 Ra3 26. Rfd1 Ra5 27. Rxd5 Rxd5 28. Bc8 f5 29. Nc3 Rc5 30. Kf1 Bf6 31. Ke2 Kf8 32. Rc2 Ke7 33. Kd2 Kd6 34. Rb2 Ra5 35. Kc2 Kc5 36. Bxf5 Bxc3 37. Kxc3 Ra3+ 38. Kc2 c3 39. Rb1 Rxa2+ 40. Kxc3 Rxf2 41. Bxh7 Rxh2, draw.

17. ... Bxf6

In the only other game where White immediately captured on f6, Black preferred 17. ... gxf6 which would have been a surprise to me during the game, but not after having studied this line. Keeping the dark-squared bishop means that ... c5 remains a more realistic option for Black, and of course Black’s whole counterplay revolves around this move: the only way the c4-pawn will become powerful is if Black manages to open up the c- and d-files for his rooks.

18. Nxf6+ Qxf6

An important moment; we’ve now completely left the opening and it’s time to decide on a plan. If White does nothing to stop it, Black’s next move is ... c5. So ...

19. Rad1!

Not only is this a prophylactic move, but, by leaving the other rook seemingly dormant on f1, White creates the possibility of a pawn advance with f4-f5.  How to place the rooks? At first, it seems that the f-rook should go to d1, given that the only open file on the board is the b-file, and shouldn’t one of my rooks occupy it? Or maybe I should go for Rac1, Rfd1 deployment? Actually, though, there is not much to do on the b-file and Rac1, Rfd1 is a rather passive positioning of the rooks since it only tries to react to Black’s idea of ... c5 without creating any plan of its own. Also 19. Rfd1 runs into a specific tactical problem in 19. ... c5! and on the intended 20. d5 Bxd5! 21. Bxd5 Rxd5 the rook on d1 is overloaded.

19. ... h5

Unexpected for me, but clearly indicating aggressive intentions on the kingside with ... h4. Now on 19. ... c5 White has  20. d5 and Black will lose the c4 pawn. I was looking at more defensive stances, such as 19. ... Qe7 20. f4 f5.

20. f4 g6

This is practically forced, since Black can’t afford to allow me to play f4-f5.

21. f5!?

The decision to make this positional pawn sacrifice was the toughest decision of the game for me. In the end, I simply didn’t see any other good plan for White. I can’t play e3-e4 at the moment, because the d4 pawn is hanging. 21. Qf2, defending the pawn, came to mind, but it seemed to me that the queen was awkwardly placed, and even after I got in e4 there would be problems after ... Bg4. And, finally, I wasn’t even sure how effective e4 was as a plan, since even if I manage to put the pawn on e5 and create a nice looking phalanx from h2 to d4, it’s not clear where I’m going after that.

21. ... gxf5

Not 21. ... Bxf5?? when 22. e4 nets a piece.

22. Rf4

Establishing my control over the dark squares on the board.

22. ... Rd6

Not the move that I was expecting, but a good one nonetheless: if White doesn’t come up with anything, then Black can try ... Rcd8 and ... c6-c5.

23. Be4

This move starts to force events; White could’ve considered less forcing options.

23. ... Qe7!?

Again, this caught me by surprise.  After 23. ... Qg5 I’d have a choice between retreating with 24. Bf3 and trying to prepare Rh4xh5 or the rook endgame after 24. Bxf5 Bxf5 25. Qxf5 Qxf5 26. Rxf5 which should just be equal.

24. Bxf5 Bxf5 25. Qxf5 Qxe3+

The last few moves have changed the position dramatically. We now only have major pieces on the board, and neither of our kings have adequate pawn cover.

26. Kf1

26. Kh1 hiding away the king in the corner may seem more natural, but after 26. ... Qe6! 27. Qxh5 Qd5+ Black forces an exchange of queens and is just better in the double-rook endgame.

26. ... Rf8!

This is better than the other move I was considering, 26. ... Rc7.

27. Qxh5 c3

Now, in this sharp position, I thought I saw a win  ...

28. Rh4

This leaves the f-file to Black, but the checks lead to nothing: Here is a nice variation that we found in the post-mortem: 28. Re1 Qd2 29. Re2 Qd1+ 30. Kg2 c2 31. Rh4 Rh6 32. Rg4+ Rg6 33. Rxg6+ fxg6 34. Qxg6+ Kh8 35. Qh6+ Kg8 36. Qg6+, and White has nothing better than perpetual check because there is a mate threat on f1! 28. Kg2 is another way to play for the win, but Black should hold there as well: 28. ... c2 29. Rdf1 Qd3 (29. ... c1=Q?? 30. Rg4+) 30. Rh4 Qxf1+ 31. Kxf1 c1=Q+ 32. Kg2 Rh6 33. Qxh6 Qxh6 34. Rxh6 Rd8 35. Rxc6 Rxd4 and all rook endgames are drawn, aren’t they? Incidentally, 28. Rg4+ Rg6 29. Rxg6+ fxg6+ loses for White since there is a discovered check on the f-file!

28. ... Rh6!

A great deflection defense—and one that I had, obviously, completely missed. If it weren’t for this, Black could resign. Anyway, after this move, I had to readjust to the disappointing reality that I wasn’t going to wrap up the championship in this game. 28. ... Rf6+ 29. Kg2 Qf2+ 30. Kh3 Qf5+ 31. Rg4+ Rg6 32. Qxf5 wins.

29. Qxh6 Qf3+

Black gained access to the crucial f3 square, and now the game ends in a forced repetition.

30. Kg1

The alternative 30. Ke1 walks into 30. ... Re8+ mating quickly.

30. ... Qxd1+ 31. Kf2

31. Kg2 Qd2+ would not be good for White.

31. ... Qc2+

31. ... Qd2+ 32. Qxd2 cxd2 33. Ke2 should be a draw as well, but at least White is a pawn up.

32. Kf3 Qd1+ 33. Kf2 Qc2+ 34. Kf3 Qd1+, Draw agreed.

So, it wasn’t quite the result I had hoped for, but it was the highest-quality game I played in Stillwater. Now, everything was still up for grabs in the last round.

Zatonskih kept up her chances of defending her title as she won against Baginskaite to move to within a half-point of the leaders, thanks to their draw with each other. 

Round 9: Bring on the playoff … maybe!

Going into the round, Krush and Rohonyan shared the lead, a half-point over Zatonskih. If both were to win, then playoff games would decide the title. Zatonskih ensured that the pressure on the top two remained as she was the first of the three of them to finish after beating Vicary.

The next of them to finish was Krush, whose win meant that Zatonskih could no longer win the title. Krush prepared a special line just for Abrahamyan, and this paid dividends as she finished off her young opponent in yet another clinical performance.


Sicilian Defense, O’Kelly Variation (B28)
WFM Tatev Abrahamyan (2272)
IM Irina Krush (2512)
FKB 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship
Stillwater (Round 9), 7.20.2007

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6

The O’Kelly Variation. Krush told me after the game that she specially prepared this variation for Abrahamyan overnight. She did not want to face Abrahamyan in an open Sicilian and this move was played to put her onto more unfamiliar territory. Her boyfriend, GM Pascal Charbonneau, had mentioned to her to definitely look at 3. c3 as part of her preparation, proving to be extremely useful advice!

3. c3 d5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. d4 Nf6 6. Be2 e6 7. 0-0 cxd4 8. cxd4

An isolated queen’s pawn position has been reached and Krush’s plan of getting Abrahamyan out of the normal open Sicilian set-ups has been obtained.

8. ... Nc6 9. Nc3 Qd8 10. Bg5 Be7 11. Rc1 0-0 12. Bd3 Nb4 13. Bb1 b5 14. Ne5 Bb7 15. Bxf6 Bxf6 16. a3 Nd5 17. Ne4 g6 18. Nc5 Ra7 19. Qf3 Ba8 20. Rfe1

20. Be4 leads White with a slight edge.

20. ... Bg5! 21. Rcd1 Ne3!

Krush wins the Exchange and the rest is just technique.

22. Be4 Nxd1 23. Rxd1 Bh6 24. Bxa8 Qxa8 25. d5 Qc8 26. Ne4 exd5 27. Nf6+ Kh8       28. Qxd5 Qe6 29. Nfd7 Qxd5 30. Rxd5 Rc8 31. g3 Bg7 32. b4 Bxe5 33. Nxe5 Rc3 34. Rd3 Rac7 35. Nxf7+ Kg7 36. Ne5 Rxd3 37. Nxd3 Rc3 38. Nc5 Rxa3 39. Kf1 Kf6 40. Ke2 Ke5, White resigned.

So everything came down to Rohonyan who was playing 16-year-old Melekhina. Obviously, Rohonyan was expected to win. But the 16-year-old’s impressive play led to a draw,  although she managed to give Krush, who was watching the game live over the Internet in her room, a few figurative heart attacks.

The top three players ensured their qualification for the FIDE Women’s World Champion cycle by virtue of their performance in this tournament and I’m sure we all look forward to them representing the U.S. in that tournament. .

For an interview by Betsy Dynako with  new U.S. Women’s Champion Irina Krush, check out the Chess Life Online archives for July. For even more games that didn’t fit in this printed version of the report, see the online version at uschess.org and click on the October Chess Life cover image.