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Women's and Junior Closed Champs feature fighting chess

[imagefield_assist|fid=5773|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=Conrad Holt drew his round one game against Tyler Hughes.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=250]By Mike Wilmering and Katie Baldetti

Fighting chess continues to be the theme for the U.S. Women’s Championship.

After 20 straight decisive games closed out the 2009 U.S. Women’s Championship, this year’s event followed suit as all five games produced a clear winner.

The first decisive game of the tournament featured WFM Abby Marshall, the first-ever female winner of the Denker Invitational Tournament of High School Champions, against 2009 U.S. Women’s Championship competitor WIM Alisa Melekhina. Marshall, who opened with a King’s Gambit, said she felt like she got a good position out of the opening.

“I was down a pawn at the opening but felt I had some compensation for it,” Marshall said.

Melekhina said that she spent a lot of time preparing for Marshall’s King’s Gambit. Once Marshall got into time trouble and started trading off her pieces, Melekhina said she knew she was better.

“[16.] Nd4 is where she went wrong,” Melekhina said. “I guess my preparation worked for this round.”

This is Marshall’s first U.S. Women’s Championship, and she said she was enjoying the experience, except for losing her first[imagefield_assist|fid=5774|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=IM Irina Krush used her bishop pair to overwhelm Beatriz Marinello.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=375|height=250]game.

“It sucks losing in like 26 moves,” she said.

The longest game of the tournament was played between reigning U.S. Women’s Champion IM Anna Zatonskih and WGM Katerina Rohonyan. The 68-move game lasted almost six hours.

“I even offered a draw, but my opponent declined,” Zatonskih said. “Probably she was not better, but we both had one minute, so it’s okay for her to take a risk.”

Zatonskih, who had White, said the draw was offered approximately around 62. Rxg3. Rohonyan had a good position throughout much of the game.

“I played a couple careless moves, the wrong plan, maybe,” Zatonskih said. “It was a game of blunders. I won in time pressure.”

The 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship featured one major upset, as NM Parker Zhao defeated IM Sam Shankland, and one close call for GM Ray Robson, the highest-rated player in the tournament and 2009 U.S. Junior Closed Champion.

In a match-up that featured the greatest rating differential in the tournament, Robson (2613) took on NM Eric Rosen (2209). Rosen did not let the 404-point difference faze him.

“It was a hard pairing, playing Ray in the first round,” Rosen said. “It’s always good to play the strongest player to get them out of the way.”

[imagefield_assist|fid=5775|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Hikaru Nakamura provided commentary and analysis to a live audience. The audio and video feed was also broadcast to thousands via the Internet.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=250]Early on, Robson used more than 10 minutes on 9…Nc5. “I think I used way too much time in the opening,” he said.

Robson said it was a complicated position in the middlegame that led him even deeper into time trouble.

“I was doing fine up until I blundered [37…] Kh7,” he said.

This allowed Rosen to fork Robson’s rook and queen, winning the rook and putting pressure on the defending champion. Robson managed to advance his a-pawn down the board and, after a series of rook checks by Rosen, the two agreed to a draw.

Board two of the Junior Closed Championship featured the biggest surprise of the tournament as Zhao, with White, managed to defeat Shankland in 48 moves. Shankland, who recently announced he was leaving chess, seemed overmatched by Zhao, who recently returned to chess after a brief hiatus.

“Every move [felt like] I was getting close to equalizing, but Parker played extremely accurately so I never got a chance,” Shankland said.

Zhao said he felt comfortable for basically the whole game. “[Shankland] never really put that much pressure on my position,” he said.

“I have to start somewhere,” Zhao said, in reference to his successful first round.

Shankland confirmed that he would retire from chess after this tournament once he fulfills a few pending obligations. “It would be[imagefield_assist|fid=5776|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=IM Sam Shankland suffered the first major upset of the tournament, but maintained relatively good spirits at his post-game interview with Jennifer Shahade.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=250] nice to go out with style,” Shankland said.

On the women’s side of the playing hall, IM Irina Krush pulled off a nice victory with Black against WIM Beatriz Marinello.

“The game was not as complicated as I would have liked it,” Krush said.

With Black, Krush said, she usually likes to equalize first, then play accurately and await a mistake from her opponent. Marinello finally obliged with 16.e4, which ultimately relinquished the bishop pair. After queens were exchanged, Krush was left with two bishops against Marinello’s knight and bishop.

“I do like the bishop pair,” she said. “That’s my cup of tea.”

Krush managed to whittle down Marinello’s defenses, but not before overcoming a few complications.

“It wasn’t easy for me of course. I let her get back into it with [26.] Ke7,” she said. “26…a5 was better,” Krush said, but her experience and accurate play ultimately prevailed.

Krush will have White against WFM Tatev Abrahamyan in round two.

Abrahamyan defeated WGM Camilla Baginskaite, who uncharacteristically responded to 1.e4 with 1…e5. Baginskaite often relies on the Sicilian, but Abrahamyan’s prowess on the White side of the Sicilian is well known.

Baginskaite blundered a piece in time trouble at the end of the game, although the position was probably already lost.

WIM Iryna Zenyuk exacted revenge with a win against WGM Sabina Fosior in round one. At last year’s U.S. Women’s[imagefield_assist|fid=5777|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=FM Darwin Yang is the youngest competitor at this year's event at 13. He won his first round game against FM Steven Zierk.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=375]Championship, Zenyuk had a clear advantage, but time pressure and inaccurate play allowed Foisor to pull off the win.

This year, it was Zenyuk’s turn to capitalize on Fosior’s mistakes.

“It was a nice start to the tournament,” Zenyuk said.

Zenyuk is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which keeps her extremely busy throughout the school year and doesn’t allow for much prep time for the tournament. She did, however, manage to participate in one major event before heading to Saint Louis.

“The World Open [in Philadelphia] was great preparation for this tournament,” she said.

FM Conrad Holt is coming off of a fantastic World Open performance in Philadelphia where he narrowly missed a GM norm by ½ point. In round one, Holt had White against 2008 U.S. Junior Closed Champion and 2009 U.S. Championship participant NM Tyler Hughes. Although Holt had more than 100 rating points against his opponent, Hughes managed to hold his position well with Black and was able to hold the draw.

“I might have been calculating a little slowly,” Holt said.

According to Hughes, the two players have played each other more than 100 times on the Internet Chess Club (ICC), and his prep for those matches, he said, helped pull him through most of the game.

“I didn’t actually have to think about this game … all these moves are [from the] computer, so we’ll see tomorrow,” Hughes said.

Out of the 10-player field, Holt said he’s played only FM Darwin Yang before so he’s optimistic about the following rounds. “I don’t really know if there’s any people I would be having a lot of trouble beating,” Holt said.

This is Holt’s first U.S. Junior Closed Championship. Hughes was seeded ninth out of 10, and was the last to be extended an invitation based on his rating. The lowest rated, Rosen, earned his spot by winning the 2009 U.S. Junior Open Championship.

“I was really happy to be invited, and I’m just glad I made the cut,” Hughes said.

[imagefield_assist|fid=5778|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=Abby Marshall's King's Gambit was not enough to overcome Alisa Melekhina's patient and accurate play.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=250]In round two Holt will have the black pieces against Darwin Yang and Hughes will have the white pieces against Parker Zhao.

FM Warren Harper won with White against FM John Bryant in a King’s Indian Defense.

“I think I had an advantage, and then I sacrificed a piece,” Bryant said.

The knight sac (31…Nxf4+) proved crucial as Harper was able convert the easy victory.

“I think it was probably relatively equal, I thought maybe he was slightly better, until he sacked the knight,” Harper said.

Bryant said he was familiar with some of the moves Harper played but he did not spend much time getting ready for his first opponent. In fact, he said he was already out of theory after 6…Nbd7.

“I don’t spend much time on preparation,” he said.

Harper said he familiarized himself with some of Brant’s previous games and felt relatively prepared for his opponent

“[This is] one of the best tournaments I’ve ever played, probably one of the best,” Bryant said.

Darwin Yang is the youngest competitor of the tournament at age 13, and he won his first-round game with Black against Steven Zierk.

“I hung the exchange, and it went downhill from there,” Zierk said.

Even though he was out of his preparation early, Zierk said he was feeling optimistic. “I think [20.] Qh5 was bad,” Zierk said.

Yang agreed.

“Qh5 was definitely not the most accurate move,” Yang said. “I just played two nine-round tournaments in a row just a week ago, so I was afraid I’d be in some bad form, but winning this game definitely takes the monkey off my back, as the expression goes.”

Zierk said he thinks his main competition in the upcoming rounds will be Robson and Holt.

“It’s a good tournament,” Zierk said.

Yang, mature beyond his years, said he’s now used to being the youngest competitor.

“You just head out and hope you can do your best,” Yang said.