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Favorites draw at Women’s Champ, Harper tops Junior leaderboard

[imagefield_assist|fid=5861|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=IM Anna Zatonskih held off an aggressive IM Irina Krush to secure a draw and a first-place tie.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=250]By Mike Wilmering and Katie Baldetti

The streak has been broken.

After 30 straight decisive games at the U.S. Women’s Championship, a run that began during round six of the 2009 U.S. Women’s Championship, the two early favorites agreed to a draw after an enthralling battle.

An aggressive yet calculated gamble by IM Irina Krush was countered by IM Anna Zatonskih’s solid defense, and the rivalry that has been stewing for years will be placed on the back burner pending a possible playoff to decide the championship.

With Black, Krush chose to play the Benoni, an uncharacteristic decision designed to surprise her opponent.

“I thought it was a good decision, a fighting opening,” Krush said.

Krush only has played the Benoni two other times five years ago, games she admittedly forgot, but she said she thought there[imagefield_assist|fid=5862|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=GM Ray Robson looked to be back in control with a solid win over FM Steven Zierk.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=375]was no way Zatonskih would have been expecting her prep.

“It was really risky, and I think Anna ... stumbled on to a venomous line for Black,” Krush said.

Zatonskih, however, fell into time trouble, a possible result of Krush’s somewhat unorthodox opening. She said she is still not playing to her true form, which she put on display at last year’s U.S. Women’s Championship.

“I just didn’t calculate clearly,” Zatonskih said. “There were probably too many missing opportunities for me.”

Today, Krush was clearly going for the win.

“Of my own volition, I wound up in this sort of dubious line, and I went for not such a principle move [9...]Qc7,” Krush said.

Krush said Black can get dominated in this line without any counter play.

“I feel like I got away with a slightly provocative play in this game” Krush said. “I kind of got lucky to get out of this opening like this.”

After losses by WIM Alisa Melekhina and WIM Iryna Zenyuk, Krush and Zatonskih sit atop the leaderboard, each with scores of 2.5/3.

The U.S. Junior Closed Championship has an unlikely early leader after three rounds. FM Warren Harper won his game today with White against NM Tyler Hughes, which puts Harper at 3/3 atop the heap.

“[14...]f5 was I think the main point where [Hughes] went wrong,” Harper said. Around move 8…c6 Harper said he liked his position much better, and also said he thought Hughes could have played defensively better later on in the game.

Hughes said he isn’t going to let Harper’s win upset him. “You try your best to destroy each other on the board even though you’re friendly off,” Hughes said, “It’s what makes the tournament more enjoyable.”

Harper’s perfect score puts him at the top above the highest-rated player and tournament favorite GM Ray Robson.

Robson, with Black, defeated FM Steven Zierk, who tried to disrupt Robson’s comfortable Sicilian with 3.Bb5+. After trading bishops on d7, Robson was able to better manage his time this round to overwhelm Zierk. He said he felt he had winning chances after the 14th move.

[imagefield_assist|fid=5863|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=NM Parker Zhao managed to defeat wunderkind FM Darwin Yang to pull into a two-way tie with GM Ray Robson at 2.5/3.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=375]“After [14...]Qd4, I just thought I’d have a really comfortable game,” Robson said. “I didn’t think I played so well in the games leading up to this one, but I think I played decently this one, so I was happy about that.”

The 46-move game gives Robson a score of 2.5/3 and good chances to defend his title.

WFM Tatev Abrahamyan secured her second victory of the tournament with a win over WIM Alisa Melekhina. Abrahamyan played a line very similar to the one she employed at last year’s U.S. Women’s Championship against Melekhina, a game that Melekhina won.

This double-edged game featured a queenside attack by Abrahamyan while Melekhina attempted to mount a kingside assault. In the end, Abrahamyan prevailed to earn her second point, which puts her just a half point behind the leaders.

NM Eric Rosen made headlines once again with an upset victory over FM Conrad Holt. Holt, who has played in three major events in less than two months including Copper State, the World Open and the Philadelphia International, came into the tournament as a player to watch after a number of strong performances. Thus far, however, he has a score of just 0.5/3 and is looking to bounce back in his round four game against Zierk.

Rosen chose to play in only the Philadelphia International before coming to Saint Louis.

“Ive been taking it slowly, studying openings on Chessbase and doing tactics,” Rosen said. “One of the most important things before a tournament is to just get rest.”

In June, Rosen said he also attend GM Yury Shulman’s camp, which featured GM Alexander Onischuk, GM Gregory Kaidanov, and GM Mesgen Amanov.

“Getting lessons from the top players in the country is pretty cool,” Rosen said. 

IM Sam Shankland was able to score a come-from-behind victory against FM John Bryant to earn his first point of the tournament. WGM Camilla Baginskaite also scored a victory from a worse position against WGM Katerina Rohonyan for her first point.

For all of the scores and pairings, and to watch live coverage of round four, visit