Field thins out in Round Three
By FM Mike Klein
With players beginning to eye a spot in the semifinals, two-thirds of the games produced winners in round three of the 2011 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. The tournaments are being held concurrently from April 14-28 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
Group Two of the U.S. Championship offered a bounty of surprises, turned in mostly by the younger players. Late in the day, GM Robert Hess, still yet to take his first college course, ground down the nearly unbeatable GM Alexander Onischuk. Hess offered a draw in a balanced endgame, but after the 2006 champion declined, Hess marched his king into the action to win some of the few remaining pawns to earn the point.
Some players debated if Onischuk would have accepted the draw offer against a different player, but Hess did not view it as an insult. He cited Onischuk’s premature pawn advance 39. f4 as too committal. Onischuk made the move shortly before the first time control ended. Later, facing a difficult defense, Hess said he declined Onischuk’s counter-offer. The resulting rook endgame with f- and h-pawns is a theoretical draw, but “with no time it is very, very difficult to draw,” Hess said.
For Onischuk, it is only his third U.S. Championship loss. He holds the second-longest unbeaten streak in championship history. The streak ended last year.
Although Hess’s endgame alchemy pushed him to two points, he still trails GM-elect Sam Shankland by one-half point. Shankland (2.5/3) dethroned group leader Christiansen (2/3) in the longest game of the day. In doing so, he joined his opponent as the only player in the U.S. Championship to win two games in a row. Shankland, who claimed he was close to quitting chess after the 2010 championship, said, “Today I thought I played extremely well. Last year it took me nine rounds to get 2.5 points.”
Local player GM Ben Finegold also won his first game of the tournament, beating GM Gregory Kaidanov. Spectators gave Finegold the loudest applause of the event as he entered the press room to discuss his game. Finegold is the GM-in-Residence of the club and many of his fans and students were in attendance. Kaidanov is scuffling with only one draw in three games. GMs Yasser Seirawan and Alexander Shabalov also drew their game in Group Two.
In Group One action, defending champion GM Gata Kamsky held his lead by defending a Breyer Variation for the second year in a row against GM Ray Robson. He now has company, as both GM Yury Shulman and GM Alexander Ivanov won for the first time to join Kamsky with two points.
Shulman, a Chicagoan, also had many fans at the club, and used the support to beat GM Jaan Ehlvest. “I looked at this position some time ago and I wasn’t sure if Jaan knows this,” Shulman said of his early c-pawn sacrifice. Shulman is a past U.S. Champion and knows the care it takes to win. He laughed off a near-blunder during the post-game analysis, showing the audience the tactic 35. Qe5+ f6 36. Qxd6 Qxd6 37. Rg8#, which was pretty, but illegal, since the rook on g3 was pinned.
Ivanov handed IM Daniel Naroditsky his first loss of the tournament. Ivanov, known to be dangerous in the Open Sicilian, said his young opponent must have missed the thrust e5. “After this he is objectively lost,” Ivanov said. He offered a candid assessment of his chances. “I would be happy to get to the semifinals. I have a return ticket before the finals! But of course I’m fighting.”
In the U.S. Women’s Championship, IM Irina Krush got back on pace to qualify for the semifinals with her second consecutive win. She questioned the wisdom of IM Rusudan Goletiani’s opening choice. “She just didn’t know the position,” Krush said. Goletiani is known to open with 1. Nf3 and save the fight for later in the game. “She probably didn’t feel like she had anything with her normal openings,” Krush said. “To play the White side of the Open Sicilian, when you don’t know anything, is very tough.” After accepting Goletiani’s sacrificed pawn, Krush stifled the attack and then praised her own decision to go for the jugular, which was “much stronger than playing in more solid ways.”
The only woman ahead of Krush is Sabina Foisor, whose win streak ended at two but who used a draw with WFM Tatev Abrahamyan to maintain her lead. IM Anna Zatonskih is tied for second with Krush. Zatonskih drew uneventfully with WGM Camilla Baginskaite to get to two out of three. WIM Iryna Zenyuk defeated FM Alisa Melekhina for the third consecutive year. “It just seems to me I’m not a comfortable opponent against her,” Zenyuk said. “I’m the lowest seed in the tournament. My advantage is that everyone wants to beat me.”
Round four will offer even more perspective on who is likely to qualify for the semifinals in both tournaments. Monday’s games begin 2 p.m. local time, 3 p.m. Eastern Time.