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U.S. WOMEN'S CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP GETS OFF TO COMPETITIVE START
ST. LOUIS, Oct. 4, 2009 -- The opening round of the 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship gave a taste of the combative play that will come over the next 11 days. The championship will take place at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, from Oct. 3, 2009. The first day's action gathered 10 of the highest-rated women in the country as they faced off in five duels, with four ending in victories.
The lone draw, and biggest surprise of the round, came at the hands of 18-year-old Alisa Melekhina of Philadelphia, the tournament's youngest participant. She played solidly in her battle with second-seeded former champion Irina Krush of Brooklyn, N.Y. Melekhina holds the second-highest female title, women international master. She is riding a hot streak, coming off an individual gold medal at the World Team Championships last month in China.
Krush, an international master and woman grandmaster, eschewed the sharpest opening lines on the white side of a King's Indian Defense (a black system formerly favored by former World Champion Garry Kasparov), but later tried to drum up complications with a pawn sacrifice. Melekhina accepted the pawn, but shortly after the game came to an impasse and the two players split the point by repeating moves three times.
The tournament's most seasoned participant jumped out to a fast start as well. Fifth-seeded Women Grandmaster Camilla Baginskaite, 42, of Sioux Falls, S.D., used the advantage of the white pieces to orchestrate active pieces against sixth-seeded Woman FIDE Master Tatev Abrahamyan, of Glendale, Calif. With Abrahamyan down to only seconds on her clock, she overlooked a devastating sacrificial knight fork and was forced to resign. Baginskaite also won the event, in 2000.
The other three matches were all won by the players with the black pieces. Fourth-seeded Woman Grandmaster Sabina Foisor, 20, of Baltimore, played 71 moves over six hours before narrowly getting by tenth-seeded National Master Yun Fan of Greencastle, Ind. Fan is only one year younger. The two women are the only rookies of the event.
The title defense of 2008 champion Anna Zatonskih, of Long Island, N.Y., began as she would have liked. She used an unorthodox opening system to stymie any pre-match preparations of eighth-seeded Woman International Master Iryna Zenyuk of Pittsburgh, Pa. The top-seeded woman grandmaster used a malleable pawn structure to avoid modern theory, and cleared the middlegame complications with an advantageous knight against two pawns imbalance.
In the final game, third-seeded Woman Grandmaster Rusudan Goletiani. of Hartsdale, N.Y., squared off with ninth-seeded Woman International Master Battsetseg Tsagaan, of Ellicott City, Md. Goletiani, also a past U.S. Women's Champion, pirouetted her queen around the board before finally corralling her opponent's king.
Overall, past champions -- Zatonskih, Baginskaite, Goletiani and Krush -- had three wins and one draw. But in the tournament's all-play-all round robin format, the champions and the first-time title contenders will have to meet shortly.
Round Two will begin Monday at 2 p.m. Games can be followed live at http://www.saintlouischessclub.org/US-Womens-Championship-2009/Live-Cove....
For a complete listing of all events surrounding the 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship, go to http://www.saintlouischessclub.org/US-Womens-Championship-2009.
The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization that opened in July 2008. Founded by retired investment fund manager Rex Sinquefield, it has more than 500 members. The club offers free classes, discounted tournament entry fees and discounted merchandise for club members. For more information, please visit www.saintlouischessclub.org, or call 314-361-CHESS.