U.S. Chess Championships report by FM Mike Klein
After the first round of semifinal games of the 2011 U.S. Chess Championship and the U.S. Women’s Championship, two ladies emerged victorious while all four men agreed to peace. IM Anna Zatonskih outplayed IM Irina Krush in the opening to score the point, while WGM Camilla Baginskaite used a timely pawn sacrifice to produce a dangerous initiative against WFM Tatev Abrahamyan. Baginskaite capped the game with a crushing tactic.
Krush will need to win as White tomorrow to extend her match into Monday’s tiebreak. She has only defeated Zatonskih once in her career, but that victory came earlier in the Championship. For Zatonskih, yesterday’s win was her fifth consecutive in the tournament. She got a decisive advantage early that she used to pick off Krush’s a-pawn.
“It was a surprise to me that my opening was a surprise for Irina,” Zatonskih said of her choice of variation in the Sicilian Alapin. “I’ve played Na3 many times.” The two played similarly in 2006, but Krush chose to deviate from that game by playing 2…d5.
Abrahamyan repeated her Evans Gambit against Baginskaite from earlier in the event. “I didn’t expect her to repeat (openings),” Baginskaite said. “In women’s chess, we’re always trying to surprise everybody.” She explained that late in the game she sacrificed her b-pawn on purpose, believing that Black’s initiative warranted the offer. She was not sure what to do, she said, after 32. Ne3, but found 32…f6. The move forced a bind in White’s pieces which led to Baginskaite’s mating patterns and subsequent finishing tactic.
For much of the day, the audience could reasonably have expected all four games to produce winners, but the men did not oblige. GM-elect Sam Shankland found himself with big problems early against defending champion GM Gata Kamsky. After eschewing the chance to win a pawn, Kamsky went into a deep think, spending more than 30 minutes analyzing a speculative sacrifice that would open up his opponent’s king. Eventually he went for the continuation, but overlooked Shankland’s only saving resource, a queen sortie whereby she descended a staircase from e4 to f3 to f4 to h2.
“I went for the sacrifice and he out calculated me,” Kamsky said. “After I saw Qe4, I realized I was in big trouble.” Kamsky thought that had he not attempted the variation he could enjoy a small plus, but because Shankland allowed such a tempting move, it was hard not to try to win the game outright. “It was a great psychological trick.”
Shankland played through the complications more quickly than Kamsky, finding the series of queen moves that produced an ending where only he had any winning chances. However, afterward Shankland only focused on his poor opening play. “With all due respect, I think we both deserved to lose this game,” Shankland said. Kamsky will get White tomorrow.
GM Yury Shulman matched with GM Robert Hess, the overall top point scorer in the U.S. Championship. After Shulman’s undeveloping move 13. Nb1, Hess had to go through contortions to give all of his minor pieces enough room to maneuver. Paradoxically, the retreat netted Shulman a space gain. Later, he once again threatened to ensnare one of Hess’ bishops with the blocking 37. b5. But with his time slipping away, Shulman accepted Hess’ draw offer with only five seconds left on his clock and two moves short of the time control.
Both players admitted to the fears that they had at the end of the game. Hess had grown scared of his third piece needing a flight from the queenside, while Shulman said he needed several minutes to be able to find a good move in the final position. “At some point we both had enough,” Shulman said. “We agreed to a draw, which was a good indication of what we both thought of the position.” Hess said he overlooked 37. b5.”I really had no idea what was going on,” Hess said.
Tomorrow the second game of the semifinals will begin at 2 p.m. local, 3 p.m. Eastern. Kamsky has White versus Shankland, Hess takes White against Shulman. Krush has White against Zatonskih and Baginskaite only needs to draw versus Abrahamyan. If any of the matches end tied 1-1, the two will advance to a rapid-game playoff on Monday.