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US Chess Championships 2011 (1)

Foisor upsets Krush; Onischuk, Christiansen win

The return of Yasser Seirawan. He looked in decent shape in the first round but games with black will be the real test.

The return of Yasser Seirawan. He looked in decent shape in the first round but games with black will be the real test. |

There was a very lively first round of the US Championships in Saint Louis. The main surprise came in the women's event when Irina Krush dropped a queen against Sabina-Francesca Foisor in a very playable position. Yasser Seirawan didn't back down against some very slow play by Gregory Kaidanov and at one point had a very good position. In the men's A-Group all the games were drawn. The B-Group which is regarded as wide-open by the competitors saw wins for Christiansen and Onischuk. Read Mike Klein's official press release account of the first round.

Foisor upsets Krush; Onischuk, Christiansen win By FM Mike Klein

Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade in commentary. Photo ©

The first round of the 2011 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship concluded late Friday night at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. A scattering of wins greatly buoyed hopes of national titles for some, but most players got off to a walking start as eight of the 12 games ended in draws. The championships involve preliminary round-robins and finals and conclude April 28.

Irina Krush probably got frustrated at the good play of regular victim Sabina-Francesca Foisor and committed a terrible blunder. Photo ©

The most surprising result sprung from the Women’s Championship. Woman Grandmaster Sabina Foisor, playing Black, derailed defending champion Irina Krush’s attempt to get off to a fast start. Facing serious pressure on her king, International Master Krush slipped up and allowed a devastating rook invasion that netted Foisor a queen. Krush resigned the game but still has plenty of time to qualify for the finals after the preliminary round-robin portion of the event. Foisor said she was not happy that the drawing of placements earned her a first-round matchup with Krush. She said she fears being the last-place finisher but that ignominy will be unlikely after starting with a win.

Woman FIDE Master Tatev Abrahamyan joined Foisor atop the leaderboard with a long win against Woman Grandmaster Camilla Baginskaite. Abrahamyan, who is the most improved player in the field since last year’s event, used the centuries-old Evan’s Gambit to gain space. After a little more than five hours, she eked out a win in the endgame. The two played the longest game of the first round.

Other winners included one of the pre-tournament favorites, Grandmaster Alexander Onischuk. Ranked second, Onischuk grabbed a pawn and survived the complications against Ben Finegold, the Grandmaster-in-Residence of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. The local player initially thought his g-pawn was taboo until it was captured, then he changed his mind.

Ben Finegold didn't like his position from early on against Alexander Onischuk. Photo ©

Finegold tried to justify his early pawn sacrifice by tossing in two more pawns, but Onischuk coolly captured them all and lived to tell the tale. "I was happy that Ben played fighting chess, " Onischuk said. "It gives me chances."

Larry Christiansen was in control throughout against Alexander Shabalov. Photo ©

The final decisive game came from two stalwarts of the U.S. Championship. Three-time winner Grandmaster Larry Christiansen united his pieces harmoniously and crashed through four-time champion GM Alex Shabalov’s defense. The 54-year-old Christiansen, who won his first championship in 1980, joked continuously about his advancing age. "The younger Larry would’ve sacked on f5 at some point, but with such a beautiful position, why?" he said. He said his daily routine is getting upset by the tournament. "I’m always getting up early. Spanish-time kind of guy. Only I can’t take a siesta here. This is grueling. I can’t wait for the free day already." The player’s rest day will come after round seven.

In a case of the headline not explaining the story, the two-thirds of the games that resulted in draws produced their own dramatic moments as well. The younger players had a particularly incendiary day.

Tournament rookie and youngest competitor IM Daniel Naroditsky saw his h-file attack rebuffed. The 15-year-old then gathered himself to split the point in a worse endgame against GM Jaan Ehlvest, who was once the third-best player in the world. "Of course I was nervous," Naroditsky said. Once the game began his focus quelled his jitters almost instantly he said. His gangbuster attack on the kingside ended with Ehlvest’s saavy queen-trade antidote. On missing 27…Qe7, the teenager chastised his own blindness. "I just told myself, ‘Okay, I’m an idiot.’" Then Naroditsky doubled down on defense and held the balance.

Sam Shankland against Robert Hess. Photo ©

The most complicated draw of the day was turned in by reigning U.S. Junior Champion and GM-elect Sam Shankland and Samford Fellowship recipient GM Robert Hess,. In the analysis room after the game, Shankland spewed a multitude of variations rapidly, concluding after each that he had "no idea what is going on." Hess has surprised opponents in the opening in St. Louis before, and this round was no different, as he essayed the King’s Indian Defense for the first time in his career. "The King’s Indian is essentially the only thing I wasn’t prepared for," Shankland said. Reflecting on a decision late in the game to activate his rook with 25. Rc2, Shankland said, "The question is, ‘Do I get mated or do I queen my d-pawn?’ And I’m still not sure." Both men seemed satisfied with the result.

Yasser Seirawan against Gregory Kaidanov. Photo ©

In another heavily-anticipated match, GM Yasser Seirawan came out of retirement and played a fighting draw against longtime rival and friend GM Gregory Kaidanov. Seirawan had not played in a U.S. Championship or a tournament of any kind since 2003. "I fell for my old weakness of grabbing a pawn," Seirawan said. Kaidanov is mostly a chess instructor these days but many pundits still claim him to be the best American never to have won a U.S. Championship. Speaking to his opponent after the game, Kaidanov joked, "I thought I would confuse you by playing recklessly and carelessly."

Gata Kamsky and Alexander Ivanov quickly reached a drawn position but they had to play on past move 30. Photo ©

Defending champion GM Gata Kamsky could not engineer much action as Black against GM Alexander Ivanov’s stale Four-Knights Opening, and the two earned a draw without much conflict. Other drawn games included past champions GM Yury Shulman and GM Alex Stripunsky.

GM Varuzhan Akobian has a huge lifetime score against GM Ray Robson, but Robson was able to hold the draw in round one.

Anna Zatonskih complained of jetlag after having just flown in from Germany. She admitted to not playing very well. She didn't do a very good job at hiding her delight at Irina Krush's loss in Round 1. Photo ©

The final two women’s games also ended in draws. IM Rusudan Goletiani’s extra pawn was not enough against WIM Iryna Zenyuk. Top-rated IM Anna Zatonskih equalized against FM Alisa Melekhina, even though the latter carried a slight plus into the endgame.

After the first week of play, the two championships will advance their top players to the finals. The U.S. Championship is split into two groups of eight players each while the U.S. Women’s Championship has one group of eight players. The top two players from each group of the U.S. Championhsip advance to the finals and the top four women will advance to a quad knockout to determine the U.S. Women’s Champion.

The two events continue tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. local time. Follow all the action live at

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Another important aspect of our mission is to develop in-school and after-school scholastic chess programs. Chess teaches valuable lessons for developing students like problem solving, critical thinking, spatial awareness and goal setting. If you'd like more information about the CCSCSL, our mission or our programs, or if you'd like to support our cause with a financial contribution, please call us at 314.361.CHESS (2437), or e-mail

ch-USA GpA Saint Louis (USA), 15-21 iv 2011 cat. XIV (2579)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Kamsky, Gata g USA 2733 * . . . . ½ . . ½ 2540
2. Shulman, Yuri g USA 2622 . * . . ½ . . . ½ 2578
3. Akobian, Varuzhan g USA 2611 . . * . . . ½ . ½ 2522
4. Ehlvest, Jaan g USA 2586 . . . * . . . ½ ½ 2438
5. Stripunsky, Alexander g USA 2578 . ½ . . * . . . ½ 2622
6. Ivanov, Alexander g USA 2540 ½ . . . . * . . ½ 2733
7. Robson, Ray g USA 2522 . . ½ . . . * . ½ 2611
8. Naroditsky, Daniel f USA 2438 . . . ½ . . . * ½ 2586
Round 1 (April 15, 2011)
Shulman, Yuri - Stripunsky, Alexander ½-½ 61 A52 Budapest Defence Main Line
Akobian, Varuzhan - Robson, Ray ½-½ 46 D43 Anti-Meran Gambit
Ivanov, Alexander - Kamsky, Gata ½-½ 38 C49 Four Knights Metger
Naroditsky, Daniel - Ehlvest, Jaan ½-½ 61 B32 Sicilian Labourdonnais
ch-USA GpB Saint Louis (USA), 15-21 iv 2011 cat. XIV (2580)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Onischuk, Alexander g USA 2678 * . . . . . . 1 1
2. Christiansen, Larry M g USA 2586 . * . . . . 1 . 1
3. Seirawan, Yasser g USA 2636 . . * ½ . . . . ½ 2569
4. Kaidanov, Gregory S g USA 2569 . . ½ * . . . . ½ 2636
5. Hess, Robert L g USA 2565 . . . . * ½ . . ½ 2512
6. Shankland, Samuel L m USA 2512 . . . . ½ * . . ½ 2565
7. Shabalov, Alexander g USA 2590 . 0 . . . . * . 0
8. Finegold, Benjamin g USA 2500 0 . . . . . . * 0
Round 1 (April 15, 2011)
Christiansen, Larry M - Shabalov, Alexander 1-0 44 B35 Sicilian Defence
Seirawan, Yasser - Kaidanov, Gregory S ½-½ 42 A13 Reti Opening
Shankland, Samuel L - Hess, Robert L ½-½ 32 E91 King's Indian Classical
Finegold, Benjamin - Onischuk, Alexander 0-1 39 E21 Nimzo Indian 4.Nf3
ch-USA w Prelim Saint Louis (USA), 15-21 iv 2011 cat. V (2363)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Abrahamyan, Tatev wf USA 2326 * . . . . . . 1 1
2. Foisor, Sabina-Francesca wg USA 2350 . * . . . . 1 . 1
3. Zatonskih, Anna m USA 2499 . . * . ½ . . . ½ 2304
4. Goletiani, Rusudan m USA 2367 . . . * . ½ . . ½ 2245
5. Melekhina, Alisa f USA 2304 . . ½ . * . . . ½ 2499
6. Zenyuk, Iryna USA 2245 . . . ½ . * . . ½ 2367
7. Krush, Irina m USA 2472 . 0 . . . . * . 0
8. Baginskaite, Camilla wg USA 2342 0 . . . . . . * 0
Round 1 (April 15, 2011)
Abrahamyan, Tatev - Baginskaite, Camilla 1-0 69 C51 Evans Gambit
Zatonskih, Anna - Melekhina, Alisa ½-½ 49 C44 Scotch Gambit
Goletiani, Rusudan - Zenyuk, Iryna ½-½ 66 A10 Dutch, QI and KID Systems
Krush, Irina - Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 0-1 30 D11 Slav Defence

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