9Queens Presents the Best Games at the U.S. Women's
By 9Queens Best Game Judges   
October 28, 2009
9Qlogo.jpg Four judges ranked their favorite five games from the 2009 US Women's Championship in a Best Games Contest sponsored by 9queens, a Tucson-based non-profit that promotes chess to those most in-need of its benefits especially girls and at-risk youth. The prizes were $300 for 1st place, $200 for 2nd and $100 for 3rd. The first place winning game won by a landslide, while the other awards were hotly contested.

Meet The Judges

1.    Newly anointed Grandmaster and a commentator at the US Women's, Ben Finegold
Ben Finegold, in the commentary room with Macauley Peterson and Jennifer Shahade

2.    Dr. Alexey Root, WIM, former US Women's Chess Champion and Monroi blogger. Alexey is also the author of three books, 1.Science, Math, Checkmate, 2. Read, Write, Checkmate and 3. Children and Chess: A Guide for Educators. Find out more about her books here. (pdf)
Alexey Root with her three books

3.    IM Greg Shahade, founder of the US Chess League and the US Chess School
Greg Shahade, Photo Jen Shahade

4.    Amanda Mateer, USCF expert and 9queens instructor 
Amanda Mateer at 9queens Annual ChessFest in Tucson, Photo Jeff Smith

#1- Anna Zatonskih-Alisa Melekhina, Round 6, 14 points
Anna Zatonskih and Alisa Melekhina, Photo Betsy Dynako


Amanda Mateer:
Overall, I really enjoyed this game for a lot of reasons. Anna had no shortage of decent games throughout the tournament (which is obvious from her tremendous score,) but to me this was her most creative win. It also helped it was at such a critical moment; round 6 vs. Alisa, who was proving to be one of her biggest competitors. Anna poured a lot of creativity into this game, and I thought a lot of her moves were clever – from 14. Ng5! to 41. a4!. Alisa definitely put up a strong defensive effort, but Anna’s ability to prevent any sort of real counter play was well executed. It looked like at the end there may have been a few other missed opportunities to try to hold on (instead of 48…Rg8, Qxb3 looked like it could have potentially had a shot,) but the direct pressure applied by Anna for over 60 moves never really let up. Overall, I thought it was a pretty amazing effort that sealed the deal for Anna’s tournament victory- 1st place, 5 points

Ben Finegold: I ranked this highest, because, it is VERY difficult to see what Melekhina did wrong, and, she gets a lost position.  Also, this game was key to the final standings of the event, and, it was Melekhina's first loss-1st place, 5 points

Position after 41.a4

Greg Shahade: I felt that this is the game that you could really tell the difference in class between Zatonskih and the rest of the field (at least in this tournament there was a class difference.). My favorite part of this game is when Zatonskih is clearly attacking the black king, but instead of rushing into the attack, she plays the move 41. a4. Don’t ask me whether it’s the best move or not, it just shows a level of maturity to calmly improve one’s position like that, and I don’t feel the other players were capable of showing this—2nd place, 4 points

Anna Zatonskih also won the $500 goddesschess prize for Fighting Spirit , bringing her take-home to $15,800.

There was a three-way tie for second place with 7 points each:

Abrahamyan-Krush,1-0, Round 9:
Tatev Abrahamyan


Greg Shahade:
A great game by Abrahamyan, in which she convincingly defeated a higher rated opponent. Word on the street is that 38.Rxf7 is a blunder if you Fritz-check the game, but once everyone Fritz checks every game, then all the fun attacking games are shown to be unsound and everyone wants to rank the boring games with no risk at the top. Fortunately Krush is not Fritz (and the same can be said for all of Tal’s opponents) and she succumbed quickly to Abrahamyan’s sacrifice- 1st place, 5 points

After 37...Ke7

Amanda Mateer: Round 9 was a surprisingly exciting around, given that the tournament was not on the line as Anna had already clinched the title. This game really reflected Tatev's climb up in the second half of the tournament, leading her to a strong finish in 5th place. Though the game wasn't perfect (38. Rxf7+?? did not quite work, as Irina could have taken it and after 39. e6+, played 39...Ke7,escaping) but given the time situations that blunder was not taken advantage of. Even though it could have ended completely differently, the game was still an exciting finale from Tatev.- 4th place, 2 points  

Ben Finegold: This game was VERY exciting, and had GREAT TIME TROUBLE as well!  But, I did not think it was close to top 5, because there were too many errors at the end.  The key point was move 38.  White wins with 38.Qxg6! Instead, 38.Rxf7+?? losing to 38...Kxf7 39.e6+ Ke7!  ...instead, 38...Ke6?? is terrible.  Black as better most of the game, and lost due to time trouble, allowing the winning attack, then double blunder- Not Ranked, 0 points

Baginskaite-Abrahamyan, 1-0, Round 1 
Camila Baginskaite discusses her round one victory with Macauley Peterson


Alexey Root: Both players showed familiarity and understanding of the opening. In fact, the first error didn't come until Black's move 17. And it wasn't a blunder, but a reasonable try to undermine White's center. After that, Baginskaite's pieces leapt impressively into action. Black was forced to defend squares, and Baginskaite ended the game efficiently with the killer blow 29. Nxd6. 4 points, 2nd place.

After 28...h5

Ben Finegold: This is like my first choice (Zatonskih-Melekhina) in that it is difficult to pinpoint Black's mistake this game.  White smoothly increases her advantage the whole game, and wins seemingly effortlessly- 3rd place, 3 points 

Greg Shahade:
I didn’t rank this game because it seemed too simple to me, and the final combination was really obvious. Also white is the more experienced and higher rated player and made completely normal and unspectacular moves the entire game except for the final move which I’d expect most IM’s to play in a blitz game, if not for the fact that basically every other move is completely winning also- Not Ranked

Amanda Mateer:
I didn't rank this game because it sort of slipped into oblivion to me. Because it was played in round one, I just found myself attracted to so many other games after this one - it was definitely a beautiful effort by Camilla, it just didn't resonate in my mind as well as others did throughout the tournament- Not Ranked

Tatev Abrahamyan vs. Alisa Melekhina (0-1), Round 3
Tatev Abrahamyan and Alisa Melekhina, Photo Betsy Dynako


Amanda Mateer: There were a lot of games throughout the tournament that had exciting endings, especially due to the fact a lot of games seemed to result in some pretty serious time troubles that led to crazy finishes. This was a game I felt that up to move 25, nothing super exciting was happening on the surface, and from then on Alisa unleashed a seemingly flawless onslaught against Tatev. 36…Rxg3 was a very pretty, well-calculated decision that ended the game quickly. The game just took on a whole new look when Alisa picked up the reins and went for it – and I think this game was a well-controlled, beautiful, and decisive victory on her part.  4 points, 2nd place
After 36.Ra6

Alexey Root: This game started quietly, in a not-very-theoretical opening. White erred by giving up the center with 12. exf5, and Black set up a monster center. I liked how Black weakened White by trading on g3, then piled up on it with her rooks, bishop, and queen. 3 points, 3rd place

Greg Shahade
: Another nice game that I probably had ranked in the 6th-8th range, but didn’t quite make my top 5 especially after the last round. Melekhina played energetically and strong, but I just wasn’t quite drawn to it like the other games. Not Ranked

Ben Finegold:
This was quite good from Alisa's point of view, but, again, White made some errors.  This was CLOSE for me, maybe 7th or 8th best game, not quite top 5.  But close!- Not Ranked


Although 1st place game was a runaway, there were a long list of games were in contention for 2nd-4th. That's not too surprising with a tournament that featured 20 decisive games in a row!  Enjoy some of the runners-up below and feel free to chime in on your thoughts on who played the best games of the event. Also see CLO editor and 9queens co-founder Jennifer Shahade's (Jen was not an official judge) rankings on the 9queens website.

Goletiani-Zatonskih (6 points)


Ben Finegold: Another great win for Anna (and with black).  Anna beat both IMs in this event, and, in this game, she showed her tactical prowess, winning easily with black, after Rusa weakened her kingside.  Wonderful.

Amanda Mateer: Besides her game vs. Alisa, this was another one of my favorites by Anna. The way she responded to Rusa’s overaggressive kingside pawn pushes was admirable – she didn’t back down at all, and instead correctly countered them aggressively. The pretty sacrifice with 27…Nxf4! was the beginning of a crushing final ten moves, where Anna seemed to deliver blow after blow. Overall, an aesthetically pleasing game where white’s inaccuracies were punished quickly and mercilessly in a way that Anna made look nearly effortless.

Foisor-Goletiani  (5 points)


Alexey Root: Both players showed familiarity with the opening. Black went astray with the ...a6 & ...b5 plan, and White energetically grabbed the center (and weakened Black's kingside) with 14. Ng5! I like how White efficiently wins her already advantageous position, starting with 24. Rxc5!

Fan-Goletiani (5 points)


Greg Shahade: A clean crush by Fan over a much higher rated and more experienced player. There were a few nice tactics thrown in also like 23.Nxe4 and 29. Rxg2. I generally don’t mind a game being so one sided in these rankings when the winning player is 300 points lower rated than their opponent.

Alexey Root: This game had massive entertainment value, as White won both of Black's rooks by forks executed by White's light-squared bishop. White also played the attack with beautiful tactical flair, such as 19. Ne7+ and 23. Nxe4.

Krush-Zatonskih (4 points)


Ben Finegold: Of course, these were the two tournament favorites, and, Anna won with Black!  The amazing move b5! makes this easily the one of the Games of the Tournament. 

Baginskaite-Foisor (2 points)


Greg Shahade: I liked White’s technique this game. I found that the move Bd1 could be very instructive for kids….you want to get your knight to f4, and so sometimes you have to make a strange non developing move to make it happen. As you saw, once the white knights took control of the key outposts, black collapsed pretty quickly.

Abrahamyan- Zenyuk (2 points)


Amanda Mateer: I think what attracted me to this game was how committed to the attack Tatev remained – it was very cool, calm, and powerful at the same time. She never really let up once they were out of the opening, and her initiative on the kingside grew the more she pushed. I liked the slow dominance that she executed, including the moves 30. Nf5+ and 34. Rxf6!. It’s the kind of game you wish you could play more often, and it flowed nicely from start to finish.

Zenyuk-Melekhina (1 point)


Ben Finegold: I like this game, because I was expecting Black to win after getting a big opening advantage. Instead, Zenyuk fought back brilliantly, and made threats all over the board!  A nice tactical sequence gave Zenyuk a winning advantage, in an exciting game featuring opposite side castling.

Group shot by Betsy Dynako. Front row: Sabina Foisor, Rusudan Goletiani, Tatev Abrahamyan, Iryna Zenyuk, Yun Fan, Batseetseg Tsagaan. Back row: Alisa Melekhina, Camila Baginsakite, Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush

For more photos, bulletins and all the games from the Championship, go to the website of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Also look for FM Mike Klein's upcoming Chess Life Magazine cover story on the US Women's. Find out more about 9queens on the official website, and see Jen Shahade's rankings on the 9queens blog.