Zatonskih, Kamsky Draw Even with Leaders in U.S. Champs
By FM Mike Klein   
May 15, 2012
Dramatic finishes punctuated an unpredictable day at the 2012 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship. When the final pawn was captured, a 101-move game ended in king versus king. In both events a pair of trailing players caught up to the leaders.

IM Anna Zatonskih got the better of WIM Iryna Zenyuk in a bishop-and-pawn endgame. With weaknesses on both sides of the board, Zatonskih had no trouble infiltrating and clearing a path for her pawns.


Entering the day behind by one-half point, the win nearly gave Zatonskih sole possession of the lead, as tournament leader IM Irina Krush got all she could handle from IM Rusudan Goletiani. 


In an atypical affair where Krush's king voluntarily moved to f1 and Goletiani's knights occupied f8 and h8, both players thought they were better. “Once the knights come out, my advantage is not permanent,” Krush said. Krush was caught off guard by the sacrifice 35...Nxf3. Afterward, she expected the immediate material equalization 36...e4, but instead the initiative-minded Goletiani preferred to step up the pressure by making a battery on the f-file. Krush survived the onslaught largely by ignoring it. Her counterattack was just enough to force a repetition of position.

The top two rated women will face off tomorrow. In what has become their usual yearly battle, they enter the game tied for first with 4.5/6. Neither woman has lost a game. “Good thing I didn't ruin everything today,” Krush said. “It was sharp; anything could have happened.”

The story repeated in the U.S. Championship, where tournament front-runner GM Hikaru Nakamura tried everything he could but could only draw against GM Yury Shulman. This allowed defending champion GM Gata Kamsky to catch up, as he was able to overcome the blockade of GM Alex Stripunsky.

Nakamura and Shulman played the longest game of the tournament. After five and a half hours and 101 moves, they were down to just their kings.


 After fruitlessly trying for more than 60 moves to win with an extra kingside pawn, Nakamura looked across the room for much of the final moves, seemingly chastising himself for missed opportunities. Shulman guessed that he was unhappy the minor pieces were allowed to be traded after 77...Be6+. Thanks to the zwischenzug 78...Re5+, Shulman entered an easily drawing rook-and-pawn endgame. Still, he insisted that the ending is drawn even without the “petite combinaison.” Nakamura has still never defeated Shulman in a tournament game.

Shulman's staunch defense, coupled with the tenacity of Kamsky to find a way to clear the path for his hanging pawns, means Nakamura and Kamsky are now equal first with 5/7. They will not meet until Friday's penultimate round ten.

Stripunsky and Kamsky had drawn many previous games, but today Kamsky won for the first time ever in classical chess, though he had won a rapid game in 2006. 


After a lot of circular movement, Kamsky made the time control and got his c- and d-pawns moving. In the final position, he had promoted a second queen, with one more on the way.

The most entertaining game of the day was unequivocally GM Alejandro Ramirez against GM Gregory Kaidanov. 


After a stunning victory, Ramirez was still trying to collect himself and figure out what happened. “This game was crazy,” he said. With arrows and variations strewn haphazardly all over the computer screen in the commentary room, Ramirez offered what he knew about the game, and what he was still sorting out. “I was just trying to get to the time control alive,” he said. “This was psychologically very difficult for me because I went from winning to really struggling. We had like two minutes left. We didn't know what we were doing.”

With both kings in danger, the underdeveloped Kaidanov found the subtle defense of retreating his one developed piece on move 32. “...Rg8! Wow! That was quite a move,” Ramirez said. The point was that the rook on a8 cannot be captured due to 33...Qe3+ 34. Kh1 (34. Rf2 Rf8) 34...Qg3 35. Rg1 (35. Bh3 Rxa8) 35...Qxh4#. In all variations, the wandering white queen is suddenly out of bounds. But after the time scramble resourcefulness, Kaidanov placed his king on the light square e4 and fell victim to an advancing a-pawn. Scrambling to get his rook back again, this time he was met with a skewer on the long diagonal. Ramirez was shocked at the turn of events, which saw him go from groveling for a draw to simply winning. After starting with two wins and two draws and sharing the early lead, Kaidanov has lost his last three.

Chasing Kamsky and Nakamura with 4/7 are Shulman and GMs Alex Lenderman and Alex Onischuk, who also drew today. Onischuk received one of the biggest surprises of the tournament when his former student, GM Ray Robson, uncorked the implausible Belgrade Gambit. Onischuk played the only move he knew against it, 5...Be7. He admitted that his theoretical knowledge ended there, as his position was super solid. “The position was equal all the time, but he still tried to torture me,” Onischuk said. Asked if he would now learn more about the opening, he continued, “If I play against some 2300-player, I'll have to come up with something else.”

Lenderman kept his unbeaten streak alive by holding the draw in mixed battle against GM Yasser Seirawan. “It was one of the strangest games I ever played,” Lenderman said. “It was unclear all the time. I thought I was better with initiative or attack, but after a turn of events, I was in a precarious endgame. But then without an obvious mistake from him, I was playing for a win.” Seirawan guessed that he should have made better use of his kingside pawn phalanx. After losing his first three games, Seirawan, a four-time champion, has now won 2.5 out of his last four.

GM Varuzhan Akobian again jettisoned his favorite French Defense but used the Caro-Kann to eventually win a knight-and-pawn ending against GM Robert Hess.

FM Alisa Melekhina won her second game in a row to earn a plus score. She sits on 3.5/6 after winning against the luckless WGM Camilla Baginskaite. Melekhina already has more than twice the number of points she earned in seven rounds last year. “I didn't expect Alisa to play so aggressively with such theoretical stuff,” Baginskaite said afterward. Melekhina repeated her Moscow System that she previously used against Krush, but this time she offered her two center pawns to open the game quickly. “I'm not sure it's objectively the best thing to do, but practically it is,” Melekhina said of her bellicosity. The fork 24. Qf3 pressured her opponent sufficiently to make a catastrophic error, dropping a knight. “I didn't want to get so hopeful because the other day against Alena Kats I was up the exchange and four pawns and she fought back so hard.”

In other women's games, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan bravely walked her king up the board in beating WGM Sabina Foisor. WIM Viktorija Ni got back to an even score by using her extra rook to eventually overpower WFM Alena Kats's bishop.

Round eight for the U.S. Championship and round seven for the U.S. Women's Championship will begin tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central, 2 p.m. Eastern. Come visit the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis or tune in to for live commentary from WGM Jennifer Shahade and the club's GM-in-Residence Ben Finegold.

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