Stage Set for Epic Showdown at U.S. Women's Championship
By Mike Wilmering and Katie Baldetti   
July 11, 2010
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IM Irina Krush, background portrait shots of the participants by Suzy Gorman
In 2007 Krush unseated Zatonskih, the 2006 champion, to claim her second U.S. Women’s Championship title. The following year, a heated Armageddon match allowed Zatonskih to reclaim the title and set the stage for a marquis match-up in St. Louis at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Championship. A slow start by Krush, however, and an unparalleled performance by Zatonskih allowed for a runaway victory and gave Zatonskih her third title.

The two will square off tomorrow in Saint Louis for round three, and Krush will have Black in the pivotal match-up of the tourney.

Krush is coming off of a solid performance at the 2010 U.S. Championship where she narrowly missed her second GM norm by 1/2 point. Her victory today against WFM Tatev Abrahamyan gives her a perfect 2/2 score.

“Tatev was worse the whole game, then she was much worse,” said championship commentator GM Ben Finegold. According to Finegold, Abrahamyan told him she thought she should have played 30...b6 instead of 30...Qh5.

 

“I guess she had more counterplay than I thought,” Abrahamyan said.

Although she has had fantastic results over the past few months, including a great performance at the Chicago Open where she broke 2400 USCF, Abrahamyan said she has, thus far, not been pleased with her play. 

“I’m not playing well here, so I’m not sure what my chances are, if I have them at all,” she said.
 
Krush said if she can play to her potential, she likes her chances against Zatonskih.

“I think I just need to show the level of chess that I am capable of,” Krush said.

Last year, WGM Camilla Baginskaite was the only woman who stood between Zatonskih and a perfect 9/9 score at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Championship. Today, however, a solid victory with Black against Baginskaite dispelled any rumors about Zatonskih’s less-than-stellar play in round one.


“I still can play better, but today I played so much better than yesterday,” she said. 

Like Krush, Zatonskih also has a perfect 2/2 score. (Melekhina and Zenyuk also have 2/2.)

Five more decisive games extended the streak to 30 straight games that have produced a clear winner at the U.S. Women’s Championship.

The 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship had decisive finishes in four out of five games.

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GM Ray Robson and FM John Bryant in round two

Robson, the tournament favorite and defending Junior Closed Champion, appeared to be in firm control for much of his match against FM John Bryant, but a slight misstep in the middlegame almost cost him the full point.


Robson said when he played 23. Qh4 and Bryant followed with 23...Bb5, he went from winning to just about equal in his estimation. Bryant said that at no point did he feel like he had winning chances.

“I never really felt like I was at an advantage,” Bryant said. “I looked over the opening that I was planning to play, and I changed one of my moves [8...g6], and it might have been the wrong decision.”

Robson dropped the exchange (20.Rxe5) to establish a monster bishop on f6, then 31.bxc4 gave him connected passed pawns on the c- and d-files, which created complications for Bryant. In a last-ditch effort, Bryant marched his g-pawn down the board and captured on f3 right as Robson put his c-pawn on the seventh rank. His d-pawn was already on the seventh, barricaded by Bryant’s rook. 

When Bryant promoted to a queen, Robson coolly played 50. Rf7+, then after 50...Ke6, played 51. cxde8=N+.

“I took his rook and promoted to a knight with check which was pretty interesting, and he resigned,” Robson said.

Robson once again had to overcome time trouble, a problem he said has made him grow accustomed to making accurate snap decisions.

“I tried to move faster again, but somehow I got into time trouble,” he said. “It’s kind of normal for me but not the best situation to be in.”

Robson will have Black agaisnt FM Steven Zierk, by far the strongest competition he will have faced thus far.

In October 2009, Zierk won a memorable game against super-GM Loek van Wely of Holland at the Western States Open in Reno, Nev. In that game, Zierk sacrificed a piece for a positional advantage to earn his first GM scalp.

Today at the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, Zierk employed a similar strategy in his round-two victory over NM Eric Rosen with the knight sacrifice 15...Ndxe5 16. dxe5.


“The whole idea behind the sacrifice was very similar,” Zierk said. “Give up a piece, or in some cases two, to destroy his center and keep his king there.”

Rosen said he felt good about his position, but after Zierk sacked the piece, it became complicated and unclear.

“I was never able to consolidate the center,” Rosen said. “If I had a few more tempos, I would have been a lot better.”

Zierk has White against Robson tomorrow. In the only other time they’ve faced one another, Robson won with a Sicilian.

“He’s a very strong Sicilian player, and that’s probably what it’s going to be, so I’ll definitely prepare something for that.”

Rosen will play with the black pieces against FM Conrad Holt in round three. Holt lost in round two to FM Darwin Yang who is now 2/2.

“I’m just trying to take it one game at a time,” Rosen said. “Tomorrow is obviously a tough game. No game is easy.”

In other action, FM Warren Harper delivered IM Sam Shankland yet another upset, WGM Katerina Rohonyan defeated WGM Sabina Fosior, WIM Alisa Melekhina beat WIM Beatriz Marinello, WIM Iryna Zenyuk defeated WFM Abby Marshall and NM Tyler Hughes drew NM Parker Zhao.

Watch WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Ben Finegold provide live commentary for round three tomorrow at www.ushesschamps.com.

Assistant arbiter Chris Bird contributed to this report. Go to http://uschesschamps.com forvideos, pairings and a link to the daily live stream at http://www.livestream.com/chessfm.GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Ben Finegold will provide live commentary for tomorrow's round. Also check http://goddesschess.blogspot.com for an interesting preview of the event.