SAINT LOUIS (May 19, 2014) -- Three has become a crowd.
Monday brings the final round for the 2014 U.S. Chess Championships and, in both races, three players are crowding the finish line. In the U.S. Championship, leaders Varuzhan Akobian and Aleksandr Lenderman (6.5/10) were able to break away from the pack over the weekend, but could not shake each other after both drawing their respective games on Sunday.
Which leaves the scheduling gods smiling upon the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis: Lenderman takes white against Akobian on Monday, with a win guaranteeing someone their first U.S. Championship. And if wearing America’s crown on the spot isn’t enticing enough, Gata Kamsky’s hot breath should provide extra incentive: He trails by a half point, leaving the door open for the reigning four-time champion to join a Tuesday playoff party, should Lenderman and Akobian decide to draw. Kamsky first must win as white against Josh Friedel (5.5/10).
U.S. Championship Ranking
|1||GM Akobian, Varuzhan||6.5||M||2643||2720||+1.04||½||½||½||½||1||1||1||1||0||½|
|2||GM Lenderman, Aleksandr||6.5||M||2582||2720||+1.89||1||½||1||1||½||0||0||1||1||½|
|3||GM Kamsky, Gata||6.0||M||2713||2682||-0.38||½||½||½||1||½||½||1||½||½||½|
|4||GM Shankland, Samuel L||5.5||M||2634||2640||+0.11||½||½||½||0||½||1||0||½||1||1|
|5||GM Friedel, Joshua E||5.5||M||2505||2646||+1.92||0||½||½||½||½||1||1||½||1||0|
|6||GM Onischuk, Alexander||5.0||M||2668||2602||-0.90||½||½||½||1||½||½||½||0||½||½|
|7||GM Robson, Ray||5.0||M||2631||2602||-0.40||1||½||½||0||0||1||0||½||1||½|
|8||GM Naroditsky, Daniel||5.0||M||2543||2626||+1.11||½||½||0||½||1||½||1||½||0||½|
|9||GM Gareev, Timur||4.0||M||2653||2532||-1.68||½||½||1||1||0||0||½||½||0||0|
|10||GM Ramirez, Alejandro||4.0||M||2595||2537||-0.80||½||½||0||½||1||0||0||½||½||½|
|11||GM Erenburg, Sergey||3.5||M||2633||2499||-1.81||0||½||½||0||½||½||½||0||0||1|
|12||GM Molner, Mackenzie||3.5||M||2522||2516||-0.10||½||½||½||0||0||0||½||½||½||½|
The women’s championship also sees three horses down the stretch, though the rest of the field will have a say in the matter. Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih (6/8) are tied up top after eight rounds, setting up yet another fight to the end for the national championship: It will mean the tenth straight title combined between the two.
But spoiler alerts abound on Monday afternoon. Trying to break the trend is Tatev Abrahamyan (5.5/8), who trails the duo by a half point and remains alive to join a potential Tuesday playoff. Zatonskih takes white against Katerina Nemcova (4.5/8), Krush defends as black against Viktorija Ni (3/8), and Abrahamyan also has black in her must-win over Camilla Baginskaite (1.5/8).
U.S. Women's Championship Standings
|1||GM Krush, Irina||6.0||F||2489||2463||-0.13||1||1||½||1||½||½||½||1|
|2||IM Zatonskih, Anna||6.0||F||2469||2454||-0.02||½||1||1||½||1||1||1||0|
|3||WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev||5.5||F||2366||2404||+0.49||1||0||1||½||½||1||½||1|
|4||WGM Nemcova, Katerina||4.5||F||2282||2286||+0.12||0||½||0||1||½||1||1||½|
|5||WIM Zenyuk, Iryna||4.0||F||2249||2287||+0.41||½||½||½||½||½||1||0||½|
|6||NM Eswaran, Ashritha||3.5||F||1979||2225||+2.22||1||0||1||½||0||0||1||0|
|7||WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca||3.0||F||2238||2223||-0.27||1||1||0||0||½||0||½||0|
|8||WIM Ni, Viktorija||3.0||F||2206||2163||-0.56||0||½||0||½||½||0||½||1|
|9||FM Melekhina, Alisa||3.0||F||2151||2200||+0.33||0||0||1||½||½||½||0||½|
|10||WGM Baginskaite, Camilla||1.5||F||2267||2007||-2.59||0||½||0||0||½||0||0||½|
It was no secret that wildcard GM Mackenzie Molner was having a rough run through his first U.S. Championship, though he did manage to uncover a personal best over the weekend - and disrupted the tournament standings in the process. Molner admitted a boost of confidence after Saturday’s game against Kamsky, calling him the best player he’s ever faced - who was hungry at the time for the new-GM’s half-point.
On Sunday, Molner was able to fend off another hungry tournament leader in Lenderman. His French Defense progressed through a familiar line Lenderman had used to shock Alejandro Ramirez in round 3, racing his h-pawn toward an early surprise attack, though this time his setup was less flashy.
The game progressed through the middlegame in a balanced positional battle, though the live audience got rowdy after the awkward-looking 26. c4 looked to tip the board in black’s favor. Lenderman missed his shot, however, missing a Bg4 attack on white’s queen and rook that would have triggered a collapse of Molner’s position.
“I realized he had chances to do something (with 26...Bg4), but I didn’t actually think it was winning either,” Molner said. “We must have seen the same things and just assumed that it wasn’t working.
Instead, Lenderman gave his short-lived advantage back with 26...e4, an equally awkward move that seemed to roadblock black’s lanes of attack. The game followed with straightforward liquidation.
MOLNER-LENDERMAN Game Analysis by GM BEN FINEGOLD
Akobian also had chances in his headliner-matchup against Kamsky on Sunday, though they were less concrete than Lenderman’s opportunity and ultimately played into a no-risk draw for the tournament leader.
Kamsky defended with the Dutch, though sat for 10 minutes before his third move, later admitting that he had played a wrong move order than the line he had originally intended. He never found traction for the rest of the game.
Akobian’s early lead came from his knights’ overwhelming central control coupled with Kamsky’s bad light-squared bishop, a slight advantage he attempted to carry into the endgame. He offered liquidation early, inviting Kamsky’s knight for a bishop at 10...Nxd3 and then initiating the nifty 14. Rxc5 Rxc5 15. Bd6, forking the rooks. The open c-file served to liquidate even further, including Akobian’s 20. Qxc8+, a voluntary trade of the queens that he later believed surrendered his advantage.
A pivotal moment came after Kamsky’s 24...Nd7, which offered a knight trade and a step closer to a winning endgame for Akobian, with the superior minor piece. He gave back a sizable time advantage and then some on the decision, falling below Kamsky by ten minutes before finally deciding on 25. Ndf3. The board soon after became locked.
“It was difficult; I think I had some chances, but I think he defended well,” Akobian said. “I was trying to win, and I had an advantage, but I misplayed it. I had a great position, but I think I should have kept the queens on the board.”
Sam “the Spoiler” Shankland has done it again. It’s a pity that the 22-year-old couldn’t convert against the tournament’s weaker players - all draws against the bottom half of the field - as he has been a thorn in the side of tournament leaders. Shankland knocked down both Akobian and Lenderman earlier this week, during rounds where both opponents led the U.S. Championship, and he tripped up yet another tournament frontrunner in Josh Friedel on Sunday. Friedel was putting together a fantastic closing sprint, scoring 3.5 points across the last four rounds to join a tie with Kamsky in third place, but Shankland stomped out Friedel’s hopes.
The game was an instant sprint out of the gate, racing through the first 11 moves of an English that left Friedel with a perpetual draw in hand after 12. Nb5. A win was needed, however, and Friedel built a small advantage through the middlegame. Black’s 27...b5 was slow, allowing white dominating control over both open c- and e-files thanks to 28. Qc1. Soon the white queen was actively roaming, and Shankland was on his heels.
Time pressure got the best of Friedel, however, as his 34. Rd1 slowed initiative and 39. h4 simply killed it, a desperate and ultimately poorly supported attack on black’s king made just before time control.
“I probably should have just tried to really hold the position instead of making a play on his king,” Friedel said. “It was very easy to miscalculate those positions, so I probably should have played it safer and played for a draw when I didn’t have time. Instead I was trying, not necessarily to win, but I tried something more complicated which did not pay off that well.”