|Zatonskih Still Leads at the US Women's; Zhao Falters|
|By Chris Bird and Katie Baldetti|
|July 16, 2010|
SAINT LOUIS, July 15, 2010 - Round 6 saw the battle for both the U.S. Women’s and Junior Closed Championships really start to heat up, keeping pace with the blistering temperatures that are currently hitting the Saint Louis area.
In the Women’s Championship, IM Anna Zatonskih managed to stay just a half-point ahead of IM Irina Krush and WFM Tatev Abrahamyan as they all won their respective games. With only three rounds remaining, and their nearest rivals 1½ points behind, it is now clear that the eventual Champion will be one of these players.
Meanwhile, over in the Junior Closed Championship, overnight leader Parker Zhao lost a crucial battle to FM Conrad Holt while GM Ray Robson beat Tyler Hughes. This leaves Robson tied with Zhao at the top of the standings with 4½ points. IM Sam Shankland won his second game in succession, this time against FM Darwin Yang, and both of these players are now on 3½, just a point behind the front two.
Abrahamyan’s was the first game to finish as she won convincingly against WIM Beatriz Marinello.
Abrahamyan sacrificed a pawn in the middle game, unintentionally it seems, but it worked out well since Marinello’s rook ended up out of play while her knight and bishop struggled for space.
“If it wasn’t for 21.Nxe4 this probably would have been the longest game in the tournament,” joked Abrahamyan during her post-game interview as she explained how she had already resigned herself to a long endgame battle given the position.
“After 24…Rd7 we didn’t like White’s game at all here. We didn’t know what she would do,” said GM Ben Finegold during his live commentary. Indeed, Marinello’s attempts to free herself meant giving up all of her remaining queenside pawns and she resigned on move 32.
Krush was not too far behind Abrahamyan in getting to the commentary room as she beat WGM Sabina Foisor.
Foisor produced an interesting idea in the opening with 6.Bxc4, leaving her knight en prise in the process. It is still not clear whether this was something she had prepared at home or whether it was just a mistake. Krush decided after 20 minutes thought to decline the unusual piece sacrifice, feeling either that Foisor’s attack provided sufficient compensation, or that she just couldn’t calculate everything necessary to accept it.
After the opening stage was completed, Krush decided it was her turn to sacrifice material as she offered the exchange with 19...Be6. This move caught the commentary team by surprise, although it turned out that the pawn mass on the queenside, three marauding unchallenged pawns supported by her remaining rook and bishop, were unstoppable.
“I was always looking at these ways, Be6 with the idea of Bd3 then a5, to sacrifice the exchange,” Krush revealed. “I guess I was overly ambitious. I wanted to develop my pieces and get those three pawns, you know?” she continued to a receptive audience during her live post-mortem.
“I was concerned about 28.Nxc5. If you were White you just have to take this move, otherwise you’re going to lose without any struggle at all” said Krush, when asked what Foisor could have done differently. Indeed, Foisor’s decision to not take this route ended the game quickly and she resigned on move 35, just as Krush was about to turn her pawns into queens.
Zatonskih’s game against WFM Abby Marshall was the longest game of the day and was probably a much harder fight than she was expecting. Marshall came into the game in last place, netting just half a point from the first five rounds, but she gave the defending Champion a fright, belittling her current tournament position, only losing after being ground down trying to stop Zatonskih’s passed pawn.
“I cannot believe I won this game,” said a relieved Zatonskih, “when I moved my b-pawn I was slightly better.”
Indeed the b-pawn became the savior of the day for Zatonskih when Marshall tried to use her queen to blockade it from running down the board. In the end the queen couldn’t hold up the pawn by herself and Zatonskih finished off the game with both players in severe time pressure.
“Every game I am playing I am tired, and somehow I’m playing five or six hours. After five hours my opponents might blunder; it’s hard to concentrate after four or five hours” said Zatonskih after once again being one of the last games to finish.
Over in the Junior Closed Championship Zhao’s time management was probably a major factor in his loss to FM Conrad Holt.
Both players thought Zhao’s position was better. “I was thinking that I shouldn’t have lost this one because I thought I had a better position, or maybe even winning,” Zhao said. “I think I was just too aggressive; I thought he couldn’t castle.”
Holt seemed to agree. “I was especially surprised when he passed up a winning position by [not] playing 14...Nxg2,” he said. “I was very lucky he didn’t play that.”
In the end it was yet another passed-pawn, the theme for most of the day’s games, which won the day for Holt. “I was very surprised by his move 18...Rc8, when he had like 10 minutes to think,” stated Holt who was surprised Zhao was mixing things up while short of time. Indeed, this very move allowed Holt to play the surprising 19.Ke2, followed by a very nice intermezzo (an in-between move) on move 20, something that Zhao admitted he had missed.
Zhao gave up the fight on move 35 after Holt managed to successfully promote his passed pawn.
Robson passed up the chance last night to go to the movies with the other players, instead preferring to stay in his hotel room and prepare for his game. This preparation seemed to pay off as he instantly whipped off the first 15 moves in his game against Tyler Hughes, ensuring that today he would not be in his usual time trouble.
“It’s the first time I actually got something I prepared on the board. [The game] was theory pretty much all the way until after he played 15...Qc5, up to 15.f4,” smiled a happy Robson after the game.
However, despite the successful opening preparation, a passed pawn was once again the decisive factor, with Hughes resigning when he was about to lose most of his remaining pawns while attempting to stop Robson’s passed a-pawn from becoming a queen.
Shankland’s victory over Yang continued his current resurgence in the tournament with his second win in a row. He built up a superior position with his bishop pair and launched an attack on Yang’s king. It seemed only a matter of time before the attack would crush through, but Yang held on for a long time, eventually resigning in a lost ending.
“I think Darwin made a pretty big mistake here with 20.e4,” Shankland said. “I think 20.Kh1 was correct because after 20...Qc7 I got immediate counterpla. It was the only serious mistake Darwin made in the whole game.”
In the other games from the day’s action, WIM Alisa Melekhina beat WGM Camilla Baginskaite and WGM Katerina Rohonyan beat WIM Iryna Zenyuk in the Women’s Championship while FM Steven Zierk beat FM Warren Harper and Eric Rosen drew with FM John Bryant in the only non-decisive game of the day in the Junior Championship.
Today is a rest day for the players as they enjoy some of the activities to celebrate the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis’ second anniversary.
See all of the games from round six at www.uschesschamps.com, and follow round seven action, live on Saturday, July 17 beginning at 2 p.m. CDT.