Chess Life Bonus: Melekhina Annotates Krush Draw
By FM Alisa Melekhina   
August 2, 2014
To complement our August issue of Chess Life Magazine, which features the US Chess Championship, FM Alisa Melekhina annotates her complex draw against GM Irina Krush. Login as a member to access the online version of Chess Life Magazine, and read more from Alisa in her CLO contribution, Legal Moves, on combining chess and law school.

By round 6, Krush and Zatonskih were tied for the lead with 4/5. Our game came at a critical point in the tournament that could determine who would pull ahead. The pressure, coupled with a surprise in the opening, could have been one of the causes of Krush's uncharacteristic lack of confidence at the critical moments. The result was a whirlwind of a game with several exchange sacrifices, making it my most memorable game of the tournament.


1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3

Krush and I had faced each other 6 times at the US Women's Championships, and an additional two times in open tournaments. This initial set-up was already familiar to us. Previously, I had always employed my favorite King's Indian Defense. In 2009 it led to an Exchange KID that I drew, and a Classical KID that I lost the following year. Our most recent encounter with the same colors at the North American Open in 2010 transpired into a rare Bg4 KID that I managed to win.

I was certain that Krush would have something prepared against the KID. Although I grew up with the opening and still believe in it, I realized that it is quite easy to prepare for. I therefore branched out into playing the Benko for the past year. I had already played it against Baginskaite in round 3 of the tournament.

In a tournament with stakes as high as the US Championships, preparation is everything. I spent around 4 hours preparing each night before the round, with an additional 2 hours before the 1 pm game. Move orders are paramount. Getting your opponent out of his or her prep could provide the psychological edge sufficient to direct the course of the game. Even by move three, there was a lot going on beneath the surface. Although Krush had traditionally been a 1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 player, I noticed that this year she had been trying out 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3, 1.Nf3 and 1.c4 move orders. In these instances, she would never go into the Benko Gambit. Instead, the early 3.d5 neutralizes any play with 3...b5. Since there is no longer a target on c4, the move is ineffective. It's a tricky move order that could catch the unwary.

This must have been a surprise, as I had no games in the database here. 3...g6 She must have been expecting me to repeat my game against GM Arkell from Hastings in 2012. Although I got a decent position, I played the lackluster (Old) Schmidt Benoni. If White can prepare for Black's stalwart set-up, she will have no problems. In fact, Krush seemed pleased after playing 3.d5, as if she got the position that she was aiming for.



4.Nc3 Krush had played the Anti-Benoni against Maria Muzyschuk at the Women's World Blitz Championships this year. I was expecting 4.Nc3 in the game. It doesn't give black any chances to try out a gambit, and would have been more consistent with her opening strategy.
The Blumenfeld Gambit! Undoubtedly, even more of a surprise. This was my first time playing the opening in a tournament game. Since most players go into the Benko against me, I have few chances to employ it. I thought it was a possibility in the game, and went over a few model games, but didn't have any theory memorized. However, the opening was consistent with my goals for the tournament: I wanted to play fighting chess every round, with no regrets. Coming into the tournament on the heels of finishing my law school exams, I didn't have time to prepare any deep theory. All I could do was try to obtain positions I would be comfortable in and that could give me solid practical chances.
5.dxe6 fxe6 6.cxb5 d5 7.Nc3 
Masking any notion of being surprised, Krush accepted the gambit in stride and blitzed out these first few moves. Up to 7.Nc3, we were following her game against Tatev Abrahamyan from a previous US Championship.
My deviation from that game, challenging White's ability to make the necessary e4 breakthrough to undermine black's overwhelming pawn center.



Is called for to complete White's developments. In exchange, Black gets complete control over the dangerous a8-h2 diagonal.
8...d4 9.e5 Nfd7

Now e5 becomes a new target. Black has plans of going a6 and following up with Nc6. At this point, it seemed that Krush was in unfamiliar territory and began lapsing into deep thinks. Losing time off of the clock in the opening would eventually come to haunt her later in the game.
This is where my theory ended. Although Na4 worked out against Abrahamyan because Krush was later able to recover the c3 square by diverting the d4 pawn with e3, here that is no longer possible because she has committed her pawn to e5. The knight is terribly misplaced on a4. If she tries to redirect back into the game via b2, c3 will become a new weakness. It also blocks any advance by the a-pawn. It doesn't even feel like black is a pawn down here. The correct move was actually 10.Nb1, repositioning it to c4 via d2. Understandably, making such a backwards move is counter-intuitive, especially if faced with the position for the first time. "Knights on the rim are dim," rang true for the bulk of the middlegame.

Prying open the a-file, rendering the a4 Knight even more vulnerable.
11.bxa6 Nxa6 12.Bc4 Nc7
The c7 knight solidly defends e6 against any threats. White has to watch out for it springing to d5 at any moment.
13.b3 Be7 14.Bf4
Designed to thwart taking on f3 and then on e5 at the right moment. Of course, I'd be hesitant to give up such a strong bishop anyway.
14...0-0 15.Bg3 Rf5
Instead of taking on f3, I dropped my rook just short of the knight. I decided that I could exchange on f3 at a later point and wanted to place pressure on e5 and the f-file in the meantime.

All of the commentators were rooting for  15...Rxf3!? 16.gxf3 Usually exchange sacrifices are executed in exchange for a minor piece and pawn. Here I'm already a pawn down. However, black's position is dominating. After  16...h5 17.h4 it is awkward for White to ever castle. The a4 knight is far away from all of the action. In the meantime, black piles up on the f3 pawn and prepares Bc6 followed by Nd5. A sample line could continue:  17...Qf8


18.Be2 Qf7 19.Rc1 Bc6 20.0-0 Nd5 Black is not immediately winning here. However, he has more than full compensation for the exchange and pawn, which says something about the level of black's piece activity.

Now the exchange sacrifice is no longer possible. However, I am free to use the d5 square, unencumbered, as a gateway into White's camp.
16...Nd5 17.Rc1
A good, strategic move that forestalls any tricks with Rxa4 and Nc3. It also ties my pieces down to protecting c5.

Nevertheless, the commentators were not too keen on Nf4. It's actually one of the computer's top choices in the position after Qa5+. In principle it makes sense: black is exchanging a knight for a bishop, weakening the kingside and mounting pressure on e5.
It was worth kicking in  17...h5 18.h4 first. This fixes the structure in black's favor. During the game, I had different intentions for the g-pawn. I was focused more on winning the e5 pawn than capitalizing on my structural advantage. Unfortunately, this prevented me from cashing in on my opportune opening and gave White enough time to recover. ; Inexplicably, the computer prefers 17...Qa5+ here. After 18.Qd2 Qxd2+ 19.Kxd2 N7b6 Black forces the return of his sacrificed pawn. However, after  20.Nxb6 Rxa2+ 21.Rc2 Rxc2+ 22.Kxc2 Nxb6 23.Ra1 White is now in control of the a-file and my d-pawn will not be advancing any time soon. The commentators were sympathetic with my choice to keep the Queens -- and tension -- on the board.
18.Bxf4 Rxf4 19.0-0

White has finally castled, avoiding most of the landmines in the position. I sensed that my initiative was fizzling out.

An aggressive push that was more about scare tactics than actual tactics. 19...Qf8 maintains Black's dynamic potential and challenges White to make progress.
Calm reaction that highlights the over-optimism of black's previous move. Unfortunately, the e5 pawn is indirectly defended because c5 would be hanging.
20...Nxe5 21.Nxc5 and the knight breaks free.
21.Nd3 Rh4

Before the tournament, I had recently analyzed for I game I played against a lower-rated player (Murphy - Melekhina, Hastings 2012, 0-1) in a Closed position where I also swung the rook to the h-file after capturing on f4. It looked odd, but I knew that as in that game, the rook would never get trapped. If White tried, she would end up overextending herself. The rook looks menacing on h4, but as with the g5 pawn thrust, it is hitting thin air. In a practical game, however, it is difficult to deal with.

Krush thought that she had turned the tables, but in post-mortem admitted she had missed 22.g3, not an easy move for any human to make as it opens the long a8-h1 diagonal and creates further weaknesses around the King. In fact, it's the correct way to play for the f4-breakthrough. 22...Rh6 23.f4.

Understandably, the d5 square had been off limits for most of the game for various reasons. Black is back in control. White felt pressure to "do something," leading to.
which backfires on White after
23...Qh6 24.h3
Foreshadowing the chaos of the game, the counter-intuitive defense is  24.Bf3 allowing 24...Rxh2 25.Bxd5 exd5 26.Qg4 Rh1+ 27.Kf2 and the only move is for black to exchange Queens, where white can maintain an equal game. 27...Qh4+ 28.Qxh4 Rxh4=
I have finally evened the pawn count, and what a pawn to win back!
Defending e5, but giving black time to consolidate. 25.Nxf4 Imprudent because after  25...Nxe5 26.Nxd5 exd5 27.Bf5 c4 I get the dark-square domination and pawn center I dreamed of.
Latching on again to the idea of keeping my pawn, as well as the allure of mating nets, I decided to protect f4 once and for all.

After the subtle 25...Kh8 Black is suddenly winning. The threat of Rg8 and capturing on g4 is too strong. White's only defense is to offer the exchange with Rxf4, which black doesn't even have to take immediately because the threat of Be3+ is stronger. 26.Nxf4 (26.Rxf4 Bg5 27.Rcf1 Rg8) 26...Rg8 27.Nxd5 Rgxg4 28.hxg4 Rh1+ 29.Kf2 Bh4+ 30.Kf3 exd5 with a fatal attack. White has to find shelter from Qf8#; 25...Rxa4!? 26.bxa4 c4 27.Nxf4 Bc5 first creates a discovery threat and blocks the c-file. (27...d3 28.Nxd3! cxd3 29.Rc8+ Kg7 30.Qxd3 White has a rook and three pawns for two pieces, but black has the burden of finding accurate moves to sidestep back-rank tricks. 30...Qg5 31.Rc7 Bc5+ 32.Kh1 Qxg4 33.Rxd7+ Be7 34.Rxe7+ Kg8 35.Re8+ Kg7 36.Re7+=) 28.Kh1 d3 29.Qd1 Nxe5 30.Nxd5 exd5 31.Bf5 Black unequivocally has compensation for the exchange. The three central pawns are ready to march down the board. ; 25...f3 an option that had crossed my mind, but that unfortunately doesn't lead to anything. In the game, I decided to prepare the f3 breakthrough. 26.Bxf3 Bg5 27.Rc2 Be3+ 28.Kh2 c4 29.bxc4 If black gets carried away with this break, White quickly regains control and is winning. 29...Bxf3 30.Qxf3 Rxa4 31.Qf7+.

This solid defensive move blocked my chances for a breakthrough with f3. Suddenly, my pieces are all crowded awkwardly on the king-side. I again sensed that it was time to mix up the position. We both had less than ten minutes left on the clock. It was now or never for

I went for the sacrifice mainly on the intuition that I needed my two central pawns to have any winning chances and with the goal of complicating the position while she was in time trouble. I calculated a few dangerous lines and didn't see any ways for white to immediately convert. I knew that it was concretely unsound, but I'm still proud that I had the guts to play this in such an important game. It was one of those moments where I wasn't sure what came over me. In a butterfly-effect type scenario, had something went slightly differently that morning, I probably would not have dared to play it.
After Bf3, I was poised to go  26...c4 with the idea that after  27.bxc4 (However, before I could play c4, I noticed that White could recapture with the rook. 27.Rxc4 Bxc4 28.Bxa8 Here, I missed that after 28...Bxd3 29.Qxd3 f3! gives me a cleaner version of what happened in the game 30.Bxf3 Nxe5 31.Qa6 Be3+ 32.Kh2 Bf4+ 33.Kg1 (33.Kh1 Rxh3+ 34.gxh3 Qxh3+ 35.Kg1 Qh2#) 33...Be3+=) 27...Bxf3 28.Rxf3 Rxa4.
27.bxa4 c4 28.Nb4 d3 29.Qb2 Be7

Reinforcing that it was better play Rxa4 before wasting a tempo on 25...Bg5.
30.Nxd5 Bc5+ 31.Kh2 exd5 32.Bxd5+ Kf8

White is already far better here, but I can at least make moves that make it more difficult for her to finish Black off.
33.Rxc4 Qg5

Qg3+ is another empty threat in the position.
White is still winning of course, but this moves gives Black some time to reshuffle his pieces. The f3 Rook turned into a curse that plagued all of White's subsequent winning lines. 34.Be6 Nxe5 35.Rxc5 Qg3+ 36.Kh1 and Black has nothing. The Queen on b2 and Bishop safeguard against any sacrifices to expose the king.
34...Nxe5 35.Qb8+ Ke7

The Black king is walking on shells. Amazingly, he is sidestepping any immediate mates.
36.Qc7+ Kf6
Allowing me to bring my Bishop back to safety and cover the King.
Winning was 37.Qxc5 Nxf3+ 38.Kh1! is the key. White gives back a rook for a fatal mating attack. Try seeing Kh1 with less than a minute left on the clock! (The natural 38.Bxf3 Qg3+ 39.Kh1 Rxh3+ 40.gxh3 Qxf3+ leads to a perp 41.Kg1 Qg3+ 42.Kf1 Qf3+ 43.Qf2 Qh1+ 44.Qg1 Qf3+ 45.Qf2 Qh1+=) 38...Ne5 39.Qd6+ Kg7 40.Rc7+ Kh8 41.Qf8+ Qg8 42.Qxg8#; Notably, the Kh1 swindle doesn't work if 37.Rxc5 because 37...Nxf3+ 38.Kh1 Rxh3+ 39.gxh3 Qg1#
37...Be7 38.Qb6+

Attuned to Queen checks after the 50+ I had to face against Baginskaite in round 3, I was bracing myself for 38.Qh8+ Kg6 still no mate. White has to find the daring 39.Rxd3 Nxc4 (39...Nxd3? 40.Qg8+ Kh6 41.Rc6+ with a mate in 10) 40.Bxc4 Kh6 White can now enjoy his uncontested two-pawn advantage.

I can breathe a sigh of relief because I have escaped from checks for the time-being.
As typically happens when a player is in time trouble and cannot find a concrete continuation, she makes a defensive retreat that gives away the entire advantage. Before completing Rc1, Krush's time went down to a mere second. Keep in mind we were playing with 30-second increment. I had around 2 minutes. I was holding my breath, wondering if it were possible for her to flag. Alas, she completed her move. But I was not unhappy with the outcome. Rc1 throws the ball back into Black's court.
Whereas White had previously had an overwhelming advantage, it has subsided after allowing Black time to consolidate. Again, she has to find  39.Kh1 and return the rook. 39...Nxf3 40.Bxf3.

I finally eliminate the pesky rook.
Now it was my turn to find the accurate continuation before time control. I had slightly more time -- 2.5 minutes -- to do so. My gut reaction was to play what I had been calculating for the last 5 moves: Qg3+. It's instinctive to go for the check and then take the extra 30 minutes gained at time control to calculate anew. Fortunately, the same wave of inspiration that consumed me into playing 26...Rxa4 guided me to playing the only saving move that even gave me winning chances.

The second exchange sacrifice of the game. I thought that gxh3 was the obvious response. After reaching time control, Krush spent an additional 15 minutes before moving to confirm that the line didn't lead to a forced loss.
40...Qg3+ was actually a poisoned check leading to my demise. 41.Kg1 (41.Kh1 Rxh3+ transposing to the game) 41...Rxh3 (41...Rh6 42.Qd4+ Rf6 is the correct defense, but now White is completely in the clear. If I had checked on g3, I would have certainly followed up with Rxh3.) 42.Qd4+ White is back in the game. Her Bishop and Rook reach my King first. 42...Kf7 43.Qd5+ Kg7 44.Qe5+ Kf7 45.Bd5+ Kg6 46.Rc6+ Bf6 47.Rxf6+ Kg7 48.Rc6+ Kf8 49.Rc8#.
Since Krush was spending so much time after Rxh3+, I thought there was a chance she would go for 41.Kg1 Rxf3 42.Qd4+ Kh6 43.Rc6+ but then 43...Kh5 The king escapes to safety and I am but several moves from finishing the game off after Re3.
41...Qg3+ 42.Kh1 Qxf3+ 43.Kg1 Qg3+
43...Qe3+ Back when I played 40...Rxh3+ and while she was thinking about the recapture, I saw that Qe3+ would force a queen exchange and far-advanced passers. I initially thought this was winning for me. Even days after the game, I fielded questions about whether this line was winning and why I went for the perpetual check. In fact, White can hold a draw. 44.Qxe3 fxe3

Krush saw 45.Kg2 The King is simply too close. White approaches the pawns.  (In my calculations after Kg1, I noticed  45.Kf1 Bh4 looks strong, but 

a) 45...Kf6! Apparently still wins, taking the patient route. 46.a5 Ke5 47.a6 e2+;

b) 45...e2+ 46.Kf2 Bb4 (46...Bh4+ 47.Ke3=) 47.Ke3 d2 48.Rc7+; 46.Re1 saves the day. If I take the rook, I actually lose because my king can't catch the a-pawn. Removing the h-pawn, as happened in the game, doesn't help because the a-pawn still Queens first. 46...e2+ (46...Bxe1 47.Kxe1 Kf6 48.a5) 47.Rxe2 dxe2+ 48.Kxe2=) 45...e2 46.Kf2 Bh4+ 47.Ke3.
44.Kf1 Qxh3+

Can't hurt to win the h-pawn.
Qe3+ is not enough to win for the same reasons as before. If 45.Ke1 White has to accept the possibility of a perpetual and avoid recklessly running away from the checks. 45...Qf3 46.Qb2+ Bf6 47.Rc7+ Kg6 48.Qh2 Bh4+ 49.Kd2 Qe3+ 50.Kc3 Be1+ 51.Kc4 Qc1+ 52.Kxd3 Qxc7.
45...Qg4+ 46.Kh1
46.Kh2 Qe2+ One last trick if White tries to beckon a draw with Qe3+ by retreating to g1. Now I can promote my pawn. However, looks like I had exhausted my quota of tricks earlier in the game. White simply keeps to h1 and g1, never allowing me the chance to check on e2. Even here, Kh1 would return to the status quo. 47.Kg1 (47.Kh1) 47...d2 48.Qd4+ Bf6 49.Qd7+ Kg6 50.Rb1 Qe1+.
46...Qf3+ 47.Kg1 Qg4+ 48.Kh1 Qh5+ 49.Kg1 Qg4+ 
A peaceful ending to a rollercoaster of a game. Coming into the US Women's Championships days after completing my final law school exams and launching a start-up, I had different goals than most of the players. My aim was to play fighting chess each round and keep the top players on their toes. I couldn't have asked for a better way to leave my mark on the tournament.