ST. LOUIS, Oct. 9, 2009 -- At the dawn of the tournament's only rest day, the fifth round of the 2009 U.S. Women's Championship on Friday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, gave every player both added incentive to fight hard and a reason to be nervous. After many careful calculations, all 10 participants found themselves low on time and close to forfeiture, with several women within 10 seconds of losing by not making the required 40 moves in the first two hours. In the end, all boards cleared the time hurdle, and a hectic scramble gave way to a clearer picture of who has the best chance to win.
Defending champion and pre-round leader Anna Zatonskih, of Long Island, N.Y., won her fourth match in five rounds (the other was a draw) to increase her tournament lead to one point. She said her position against Tatev Abrahamyan, of Glendale, Calif., was approximately equal, but tournament rules prohibit players from agreeing to a peaceful tie before 30 moves have been made. The two played on and Zatonskih eventually found a pawn advance that irreparably weakened Abrahamyan's king.
One of Zatonskih's two closest rivals, who she will play in round six on Saturday, remains the tournament's youngest player, 18-year-old Alisa Melekhina, of Philadelphia, Pa. She drew the No. 3 seed Rusudan Goletiani, of Hartsdale, N.Y. In her five games, Melekhina has 3.5 points from two wins and three draws. Melekhina has adopted a new opening system for the championship against the popular Sicilian Defense, and it was good enough to split the point against her favored opponent.
Melekhina was also the youngest competitor during her first U.S. Championship in 2007. She said she prefers being in the underdog role, as there is less pressure. The college sophomore said she had not yet thought about preparing for the pivotal battle with Zatonskih; Melekhina has an online test to take at noon Friday.
Melekhina is joined in second place by the tournament's oldest player, 42-year-old Camilla Baginskaite, of Sioux Falls, S.D. She defeated tournament tail-ender Yun Fan. Like Melekhina, she has two wins and three draws for 3.5 points. After a period of semi-retirement following motherhood and a return to college, Baginskaite has been hinting that she wants to rededicate herself to chess.
In a battle of good friends and shared names, the favored Irina Krush, of Brooklyn, N.Y., fought to a wild draw with Iryna Zenyuk, of Pittsburgh, Pa. After a peaceful opening that offered a stalled initiative, Krush found a unique breakthrough, but missed a win with only seconds remaining on her clock. Only in the post-game analysis was the winning shot found, but with only seconds remaining on her clock, Krush overlooked it during the game. So far Krush has scored a dismal 50 percent, calling Friday's result a "never-ending disappointment." Following the game, the two friends analyzed with good humor, but only one was satisfied with the result. "Why is Irina playing chess?" Krush said.
Battsetseg Tsagaan, of Ellicott City, Md., again played the longest game of the round for the third day in a row. She upset Sabina Foisor, of Baltimore, Md., who has dropped two games in a row since briefly approaching the top of the standings.
For complete standings, go to www.saintlouischessclub.org/US-Womens-Championship-2009/standings.
The players have Friday off from competition, but many will be doing civic and charity events around St. Louis. Round six play resumes Saturday at noon Central time. Games can be followed live at http://www.saintlouischessclub.org/US-Womens-Championship-2009/Live-Cove... and the broadcast can be heard at www.chessclub.com/chessfm.