Article by Aviv Friedman
Saint Louis, September 16, 2011 — The Kings vs. Queens match came to an end with another exciting day of fighting chess. The early round saw the Kings dominate once more with a comfy 3.5-1.5 win, but the Queens got them back with a sweet, high-note finish of 3-2 in the rapid.
Stellar commentator GM Yasser Seirawan (who along with WGM Jennifer Shahade provided insightful color commentary throughout the event) spun the ‘wheel of fortune’ to draw for the chess960 position. Remarkably, the final product was a nearly standard chess position, with one difference:
Amazingly enough, GM Hikaru Nakamura, who took first in the individual overall standings with a 9.5/10 runaway, had this very position three years ago in one of his games in the chess960 in Mainz, Germany. He played the opening a-tempo, while his opponent, IM Irina Krush, consumed oodles of time trying to figure out things. The opening saw the tourney winner sacrificing a pawn as early as move two(!), saying after the game that it is a good equalizing continuation. If white attempts to keep her extra pawn …
… with 5.c4 there follows 5…Bf5 6.d3 Ne5! and black regains his pawn with interest. The other attractive option of 6…Nxc4 7.g4 Ne5 8.gxf5 Nf3+ 9.Kd1 Nxg1 10.fxg6 is less clear.
In the actual game black was fine throughout, and even gained the upper hand at some moment, only to allow white to equalize again. The climax of the game was on move 34.
Black should have played 34…Bf8! with a winning position, as the natural 35.Rc3?! runs into 35…a6!, embarrassing the rook. When Nakamura played 34…Ne3+ instead, Krush could have chosen 35.Bxe3! fxe3 36.Ke2, corralling the e3 pawn, while holding on to d5. Her 35.Nxe3?! followed by 36.Bxe3? (36.Be1!?) got her into a bad rook ending, which she could not hold for long.
Nakamura brought his ‘A game’ to the rapid encounter. He cunningly opened with 1.Nc3 and managed to steer the game into a Caro Kann-like structure, one that Krush was not very familiar with. What’s more, he was moving lightning fast, and had a large time advantage from beginning to end. In a clearly better position, black accelerated defeat with her 22.Qc7? …
… that was followed by 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Nxf7! Nd5 (of course the knight was immune!) 25.Qxe6! and black gave up (25…Qxf7 26.Qxc6 and wins). A remarkable near-perfect showing for the top-ranked player in the U.S.!
The hosting club’s GM-in-Residence, Ben Finegold, ended up in second place overall with an excellent 7.5/10 finish after scoring 1.5-.5 versus IM Martha Fierro. The chess960 was all black, when white’s dark squares across the board looked like Swiss cheese, and her a1 knight looked hopelessly passive. White managed to trade some material, but the black bishops were just too much. The position just before (and after) the final move is worthy of a diagram:
38…h5! and white is in zugzwang. Game two was a sedated Scandinavian defense, where black was fine, and white initiated a move repetition, to guarantee himself clear second place.
IM Jacek Stopa tied for third place, with a 6/10 result, after splitting the points with GM Kateryna Lahno. The first game saw both players trying to be creative in a drawish and semi-closed position that arose after an almost normal opening. Black opened the position too soon and found herself in some trouble.
32.c4! Rxd4 33.Rxd4 Rxc7 and now 34.Ke2! would have left white on top. In the end white chose a more passive approach, and eventually had to give back the exchange for a bishop and pawn, so the players agreed to a peaceable draw.
The rapid game between the two was one of the liveliest of the event! A wild French culminated with white offering a whole rook for an attack:
19.0-0!! Black defended mightily, but when he blundered with 22…Bd7? (22…Kd7 was the only try), white was clearly winning: 23.Qg5! Nc6 and now the obvious 24.h7 would have forced resignation. Even the game’s 24.Rxf7 was not bad, but white had to continue with 25.Bb2! as 25…Qxb2 26.Bg6+ leads to forced mate, and otherwise black loses his queen. Lastly, after the actual game’s: 25.Qg6+? Kf8 26.h7 it was black who was winning had he avoided the repetition with 26…Qa1 27.Qh6+ Qg7 28.Qh5 Be8 29.Qh4 Qa1 30.Qh6+ with a repetition. His fantastic resource was 26…Rxh7! 27.Qxh7 Qa1 28.Qh6+ Qg7 29.Qh4 Kg8 and the white attack reaches a cul-de-sac. With both players missing their chances, a draw seems to be a fair result.
IM Marc Arnold was the other player tied for third place, also with 6/10 points. He won his chess960 game versus IM Anna Zatonskih, after the latter hung a pawn in an equal position.
21.b3? Qe3+ 22.Kg2 Qxd4, with a clear edge for black. White tried her best to muddy the water, giving some more pawns in the process, but her young opponent steered the game into a rook ending which he later converted to a full point.
Zatonskih equalized in the rapid game. It was an English where white was trying to sweep on the queenside, and black was mobilizing her forces on the kingside. Black’s action seemed a bit faster, when white’s attempt to open the center backfired quickly.
24.f3?! g4! 25.exf4? Bxf4 26.Qe1 and now …
… after the shot 27…Bxh2!, white acknowledged defeat.
The last match was between NM Kevin Cao and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. In round one, Kosteniuk picked up a pawn at the very beginning of the game …
3…Qe5+ 4.Be2 Qxh2! and proceeded to convert it while giving Cao no chances to defend. In the final position, the white knight that penetrated the black territory found itself trapped, which signaled white’s time to resign.
In game two Kosteniuk applied the Ruy Lopez squeeze on Cao, who was deprived of any counter play. White’s methodical advance on the kingside proved decisive, and she could have had a shortcut to victory on move 38.
38.Rh1! wins the knight while continuing the attack, as 38…g6 39.Rd3! and 40.Rh3 is easy. In any event, white’s position was just too good to spoil, and missing this only postponed white’s win, but did not alter it. The win was Kosteniuk’s fourth straight victory, which propelled her to be the top finisher among the Queens with 5.5/10.
And so ended this action-saturated match – this time with the Kings reigning supreme, but certainly there would be other such competitions, and the Queens will have their chance to settle this ‘open account’!
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