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New Winners Shuffle Standings in US Champ Race

While the U.S. chess king questioned who might bear his crown next, America’s queen began resizing hers.

Four-time champion Gata Kamsky walked through another uneventful draw on Monday afternoon – his fourth split in five rounds – while Varuzhan Akobian, Alejandro Ramirez and Daniel Naroditsky each gained traction in the standings by notching their first wins of the tournament.

Afterward, nodding to the competitive 2014 field and expressing frustration with his current inability to win, Kamsky admitted: “Probably you’re going to see a new U.S. champion this year.”

In the U.S. Women’s competition, however, reigning champion Irina Krush reminded us: Probably not.

Article by Brian Jerauld

USA Chess Championships 2014 r5

Photo courtesy of Lennart Ootes

Krush, seeking a three-peat and her sixth title, showed no inefficiency in collecting wins and grabbed control of yet another U.S. Women’s Championship race. Krush rolled on Monday, stomping out Camilla Baginskaite’s Nimzo-Indian to take clear first in the 2014 event with 3.5/4.

Anna Zatonskih, who entered the day tied for first, lost pace after narrowly escaping with a draw against Viktorija Ni and now holds clear second with 3/4. Tatev Abrahamyan and Ashritha Eswaran trail in third with 2.5/4.

Aleksandr Lenderman (4/5), who collected three wins through the first four rounds, drew for just the second time this U.S. Championship on Monday against Sergey Erenberg, yet continues to set the pace by a full-point. Kamsky, Akobian, Alex Onischuck and Timur Gareev share second place (3/5); Ramirez and Naroditsky lurk with 2.5/5.

Baginskaite has done well in keeping her half-point from Krush’s grasp in past women’s championships, including a 2010 matchup that settled in a 12-move draw-by-repetition, a relationship that prompted a look ahead in the schedule by the reigning queen.

“That was one of the things I noticed when I got the pairings: that I was white against Camilla,” Krush said. “I have made a couple draws with her in these championships with black, and I had to play pretty sharply in order to win the games I’ve won. She has a lot of experience and she’s a solid player, so I thought it was a good thing to get white against her.

“This win was a little bit different from what I usually get, because I don’t get to win so stylishly so often.”

Indeed, Krush looked formidable on Monday, tearing open Baginskaite’s Nimzo-Indian and forcing resignation after 23 moves in dominating fashion. Black’s 16…Be4 was a mistake, sending the game down a line that Krush said she had calculated earlier, while maneuvering her knight through a4. What Baginskaite missed was 18. Rd5, a fantastic zwischenzug that kicked off a lethal attack. 19…f6 was a loser, an attack on Krush’s knight ignored after exposing the black monarch to a quick demise.

Akobian’s often straightforward, bend-but-don’t-break style had produced four consecutive draws and may have kept him jogging along in the tournament’s early going, but it would ultimately leave the No. 4 seed slow on any intentions to make a run for the national title. Round 5 made it clear that the 30-year-old planned on opening up his stride.

Akobian won with black on Monday against Timur Gareev, who entered the day in clear second, heating up with back-to-back wins and without many difficult positions to speak of in his tournament’s start. Akobian’s French defense looked to lead the game down his standard storyline, especially after his 11…Qd5 created a false threat on the white g-pawn and left him chasing equalization after losing a tempo to Gareev’s natural 12. Nf3.

But Akobian noted 28. Kh2 as a turning point, an inaccuracy that left Gareev’s f-pawn unguarded – gobbled up by 30…Nxf2 after three straight knight moves. The game soon after raced toward time control, and when it hit, Akobian was seeking more than a half point.

“It was quite complicated and we both had one or two minutes,” Akobian said. “Then after move 40 I was already better. I think (41.) Nd4 is where I spent about 13 minutes out of my extra 30 minutes, liquidating pieces and going into the rook endgame, which gives me chances. I don’t know if it’s winning, probably a draw with very precise play, but I think Timur made some mistakes and just got into a losing position.”

Stacked pawns on the a-file proved to be the bane of white’s endgame initiative, as Gareev was left to force a slower idea with his h-pawn. Akobian’s passer on the c-file easily walked.

U.S. Juniors Closed Championship winner Naroditsky knew his position was familiar, just not on the board. Naroditsky last played Ray Robson in the 2011 U.S. Championship – at the same venue, in the same round, and with the same color – and on Monday it proved to bring the same result.

Naroditsky won as black in the fifth round to serve Robson his second consecutive loss, despite being shocked early by his opponent’s surprise 6. Ba4.

“I was a little nervous, especially with Ray, who is known for his opening preparation,” Naroditsky said. “When he confidently plays a novelty, and it looks pretty dangerous, then I’m immediately on my heels. But there’s no magic in chess, he didn’t refute the Ruy Lopez, so I just gathered myself and found a way out of it.”

More accurate was that Robson got himself into it, sending his rook astray in an endgame and losing it inside the black camp. Despite emerging from the opening in a promising position thanks to dominance of the open d-file, Robson’s rooks were pestered all game, first by Naroditsky’s knight at 19…Nf4 and again at 21…Nd5, pushing the white rook behind black’s pawn structure. Dangerous, yet isolated, the major piece became an early focus of battle and ushered in liquidation.

But the rook-and-knight endgame saw Naroditsky with a more active king, who switched wings to help harass Robson’s other probing rook. By 37. Ra6, it was in an awkward spot, and soon the black army had it sealed in the corner. Once again, time trouble got the best of Robson: He received his 30 minute bonus after the 40th move time control and was back below 3 minutes after 42. b3. Naroditsky easily leaned on the added pressure through 63 moves.

For a complete replay of all the games, click here. Round 5 of the U.S. Women’s Championship and Round 6 of the U.S. Championship begins today at 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET.
Catch all the action live at www.uschesschamps.com/live.

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