Reports May 18, 2014 | 6:37 PMby Colin McGourty

Leaders crash to set up perfect US finale

Varuzhan Akobian and Anna Zatonskih were threatening to run away with the US Championships, but both saw winning streaks ended on a dramatic Saturday in Saint Louis. With one round remaining for the women and two for the men Alex Lenderman and Irina Krush now share the lead, with Gata Kamsky among the players poised to pounce just half a point behind. Follow the games live with video commentary here at chess24: Men — Women

Men’s US Championship – Lenderman bounces back

It doesn't look like it's going to be Onischuk's year | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

After a stunning 3.5/4 start to the event 24-year-old Alex Lenderman seemed to have hit a wall, suffering defeats in rounds 6 and 7 and an apparent loss of confidence. In Round 8 he was paired with Black against the unbeaten Alexander Onischuk, who had entered the tournament in a determined mood. He explained in a Russian video interview before the event why he was playing in the US Championship and not for the 15th (!) time in the Poikovsky Supertournament in Siberia:  

My time is slowly slipping away, the youngsters are developing and I think this is probably one of the last Championships when I’ll still have a chance to fight for the title.

Lenderman, however, felt he could exploit his opponent’s hunger (this quote and all the others from the US Championships are courtesy of the official press releases by Brian Jerauld - here and here):

My approach was to try and completely forget about what happened through the first half of the tournament. Approach it like it’s a new tournament. (Onischuk) never loses - but he does sometimes… it could happen, and I figured today he’s going to try and battle against me because I lost two games in a row. He was going to try and pressure me, so I knew I would get more chances than maybe I would normally get; and I was pretty optimistic that if I had a good mindset, then I would have my chances.

In the end it was a triumph for youth, with Onischuk committing an uncharacteristic blunder. GM Ben Finegold annotates the game:

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 d5 4. ♘c3 ♗b4 5. cxd5 exd5 6. ♗g5 h6 7. ♗h4 c5 8. e3 c4 Lenderman plays an aggressive line, not discouraged by his previous losses to Sam and Gata.

9. ♕c2 Quite unusual, but it gets Black out of his preparation! Normal is 9. Nd2

9... 0-0 10. ♘d2 ♗e6 11. ♗e2 ♘c6 12. 0-0 ♗e7 This can't be right. Black voluntarily retreats his bishop. Now White has a nice edge.

GM Ben Finegold commentating live in a local Saint Louis bar | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

13. b3 ♖c8? This will likely lose the c4-pawn.

14. bxc4 dxc4 15. ♖fd1 ♘d5 16. ♗xe7 ♕xe7

16... ♘cxe7

17. ♗xc4! ♘cb4 18. ♘xd5 ♗xd5 19. ♕b3

19. ♕a4 ♗xc4 20. ♘xc4 ♖xc4 21. a3 a6 22. axb4 ♕xb4 23. ♕d7

19... ♖xc4! 20. ♘xc4 ♖c8?

20... b5! 21. a3 a5! is fine for Black, although 21...a5 is very hard to see! 22. axb4 bxc4 23. ♕a4 axb4

21. ♖ac1? A terrible oversight.

21. a3! ♘a6 22. ♖ac1

21... b5! The tables have turned with a single move!

22. a3 a5! 23. e4? Onischuk clearly did not like the position after 23. axb4 bxc4 followed by 24...axb4, but this is worse!

23... bxc4 24. ♕h3 ♗e6! 25. ♕e3 ♘d3 26. ♖c3 ♕a7 27. ♖dxd3? Losing quickly. A tough day at the office for Onischuk, who almost never loses with White.

27... cxd3 28. ♖xc8+ ♗xc8 29. ♕xd3 ♗a6 30. ♕c3 ♕b6 31. f3 ♕b1+ 32. ♔f2 ♕a2+ 33. ♔g1 a4 34. d5 ♕b3 35. ♕c5 ♕d1+ 36. ♔f2 ♕d2+ 37. ♔g3 g5 38. ♕b6?

38. h3 was best, but I guess Onischuk had had enough.

38... ♕f4+ 39. ♔f2 ♕h4+ Black wins the queen after 40. Ke3 Qe1+ 41. Kd4 Qf2+.

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At least in Round 8, however, it seemed Lenderman’s heroic feat might count for little, as leader Varuzhan Akobian went on to win a fourth game in a row, this time against Sergey Erenburg, to stretch his advantage to a full point with only three rounds to go. All over bar the shouting? Not exactly...

Varuzhan Akobian was in good spirits after four wins in a row! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

In Round 9 the pressure also got to Akobian, who lost his first game of the event to 22-year-old Sam Shankland, after a Caro-Kann went badly wrong. 20…Be7 was already the sixth (!) time Akobian had moved his dark-squared bishop, and the fifth time in the last six moves. 


His position is hanging by a thread and he went on to get steamrollered by his young opponent.

Body language tells you all you need to know about the position... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Shankland commented:

Akobian pointed out that 7.c3 is not the most challenging theoretically, and it doesn’t have the highest reputation - but I think it’s actually dangerous and I had some new ideas. It’s very sharp and for Black to equalize he has to really know his stuff and play into the sharp stuff, which can be very intimidating if you don’t know it. He played this strange-looking move 10…Bc5, and very quickly I was quite comfortable with my position.

Lenderman, meanwhile, is back in the form he showed at the start of the tournament. He kept applying pressure against Daniel Naroditsky until his opponent cracked, with 47…Ba1? the last straw:


That allowed Lenderman to play the move he’s been wanting to play, 48.Ra4! (heading for a7), with tempo, and the threats could no longer be parried.

So with two rounds remaining Akobian and Lenderman are locked in the lead on 6/9, though Joshua Friedel (3 wins in his last 4) and Gata Kamsky (2 wins and 7 draws) are lurking only half a point back. All eyes will be on Akobian-Kamsky in Sunday’s Round 10!

Men's results, rankings and pairings

Women’s US Championship: Krush hits back when it counts

Anna Zatonskih remained on course for victory after defeating Alisa Melekhina... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The scenario in the women’s event was very similar. On Friday Anna Zatonskih seemed to take a giant leap towards tournament victory by easily refuting Alisa Melekhina’s sacrificial opening. Irina Krush survived yet another close call for her third draw in a row, and seemed out of sorts a full point behind the leader. The general nervy atmosphere was perhaps summed up by the unfortunate Camilla Baginskaite, who touched her a-pawn by mistake while her knight had just been attacked twice... she resigned on the spot:


On Saturday, however, the standings were transformed in the showdown between Krush and Zatonskih. They have a history of intense rivalry, which includes one of the most famous Armageddon games ever played:

This time, however, it was Krush who lived up to her name, grinding out a slow but priceless win. GM Ben Finegold annotates:

1. c4 ♘f6 2. ♘f3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. ♗g2 c5 5. 0-0 ♘c6 6. d4 dxc4 7. ♕a4 Both players didn't seem to know this line well. Here Black is pretty safe playing 7...Bd7, but played more enterprisingly instead.

There's no mistaking how much this means to both players... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

7... cxd4 8. ♘xd4 ♕xd4 9. ♗xc6+ ♗d7 10. ♖d1 ♗xc6 Most Super-GMs do not play this line, instead "sacrificing" their queen with 

10... ♕xd1+ 11. ♕xd1 ♗xc6 as was seen in a game Ulf Andersson was able to draw Kasparov in 1983.

11. ♕xc6+ bxc6 12. ♖xd4 ♘d5 13. ♖xc4 Now White just has a nice edge, and Black has to grovel to try and get a draw. Irina must have been pleased.

13... ♔d7 14. e4 ♘b6 15. ♖c2 f5 Creating more weaknesses can't be a good idea.

16. f3 fxe4 17. fxe4 ♗d6 18. ♗e3 ♖hc8 19. ♘d2 e5 20. ♖d1 ♔e6 21. ♖dc1 ♔d7 22. ♘b3 ♖c7 23. ♘a5 ♖ac8 24. ♔g2 c5 25. ♘b3 ♘a4 26. ♘d2 ♘b6 27. ♘c4 ♘xc4 28. ♖xc4 Black is almost okay here, but there are only two possible results, and Irina keeps pressing against the isolated pawns.

28... ♔e6 29. b3 ♔d7 30. ♖a4 ♔e7 31. ♔f3 ♖f8+ 32. ♔e2 ♖b8 33. ♖a5 ♖bc8 34. ♖c4 ♔e6 35. ♖ca4 c4! Anna makes the excellent decision to ditch a pawn and try to trade as many pawns as possible.

36. ♖xc4 ♖xc4 37. bxc4 ♖xc4 38. ♔d3

38. ♖xa7? ♖xe4 39. ♔d3? ♖xe3+ 40. ♔xe3 ♗c5+ and Black wins!

38... ♖b4 39. ♖xa7 h5 40. ♖xg7 ♖b2 41. a4 ♖a2 42. ♖h7 ♖a3+ 43. ♔e2 ♖a2+ 44. ♔f3 ♖a3 45. ♔f2 ♖a2+ 46. ♔f1 ♖a1+ 47. ♔g2 ♖a2+ 48. ♔h3 ♖xa4 49. ♖h6+ ♔d7 50. ♖xh5 ♖xe4 This is about 50-50 whether White will win or draw. Both sides had little time as well!

51. ♗g5 ♔e6 52. ♖h8 ♖a4 53. ♖h4 ♖a2 54. ♔g4 ♔d5? After a long think Black gives White's king the important f5-square. Probably Black can hold with

54... ♖a4+

55. ♖h8 ♖a4+ 56. ♔f5 ♖a2 57. h4 ♖f2+ 58. ♔g4 e4 59. ♖d8 ♔e6 60. ♖e8+ ♔d5 61. h5 ♖f3 62. ♗h4 ♖f7 63. h6 ♗e5 64. ♗g5 ♔d4 65. ♗e3+ ♔xe3 66. ♖xe5 ♔d3 67. ♔h5 e3 68. g4 e2 69. g5 ♖a7 70. ♖e8 ♖a8 71. ♖xe2 ♔xe2 72. h7 ♔f3 73. g6! Not Black can force the notorious queen versus rook endgame with

73. ♔h6 ♔f4 74. g6 ♔f5 75. g7 ♖a6+ 76. ♔h5 ♖a1 77. ♔h4 ♔f4 78. ♔h3 ♔f3 79. ♔h2 ♖a2+ 80. ♔g1 ♖a1+ draw

73... ♖a5+?

73... ♔f4 74. g7 ♖a5+ 75. ♔g6 ♖a6+ 76. ♔f7 ♖a7+ 77. ♔e6 ♖xg7 78. h8Q and although White is winning, it isn't easy!

74. ♔h6 ♔g4 75. h8Q A titanic struggle, and now we need to wait until Monday, at the very least (!) to see who wins the U.S. Women's Champs.

Krushing! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

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Needless to say it’s all to play for in the final round on Monday (the women enjoy an extra rest day on Sunday).

Women's results, rankings and pairings

See also:


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