Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 U.S. Chess Championship

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 The 2014 U.S. Chess Championship was held from May 7 to May 20 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. It was the sixth consecutive year that the tournament was held at this venue. The U.S. Chess Championship was held simultaneously with the U.S. Women's Chess Championship. Both tournaments were round-robin events featuring most of the top players in the country. There was also a $64,000 Fischer Prize for any player who could replicate Bobby Fischer's perfect score in the 1964 U.S. Championship – the first time that that opportunity was also presented in the Women's Championship. However, no player made a serious run at the bonus in either tournament.
Championship Results
The Championship event was a 12 player round-robin featuring a field composed entirely of grandmasters. With Hikaru Nakamura not present,Gata Kamsky was the clear favorite – though he was expected to be challenged by players like Alexander Onischuk, Timur Gareev, and Varuzhan Akobian.
While Kamsky got off to a slow start, he ultimately managed to tie for first place with Akobian and Aleksandr Lenderman, with all three players posting 7/11 scores. That led to a tiebreaker round in which Kamsky was given a bye to the final, while Lenderman and Akobain (on the basis of having weaker tiebreakers) were forced to play a single Armageddon game in order to face Kamsky.
In the Armageddon game, Akobian took the black pieces and checkmated Lenderman – far better than the draw he needed to advance. That led to a final mini-match of rapid games between Akobian and Kamsky.
In the first game of the playoff, Akobian was held to a draw with the white pieces, giving Kamsky the chance to clinch the title with a win in the second game. Kamsky was able to build a strong position, going up three pawns before forcing the win of a queen for a rook, causing Akobian to resign on the 38th move.
It was the 5th U.S. Chess Championship title for Kamsky, and his second consecutive win in the event. Kamsky won a prize of $45,000 for first place; all 12 players in the tournament were guaranteed a prize of at least $4,000, with a total prize fund of $172,000.

Women's Championship Results
The U.S. Women's Chess Championship was widely expected to be a two horse race. Grandmaster Irina Krush and International Master Anna Zatonskih were clearly the two strongest players in the field, and had been dueling for the championship on an annual basis for several years. The tournament format was again a round-robin, though with a slightly smaller ten-player field.
Heading into the last round, Krush and Zatonskih shared first place by a half-point. But when both only secured draws in their games, that allowed Tatev Abrahamyan to claw her way back into the race with a win over Camilla Baginskaite, leaving the top three players with identical 6.5/9 scores.
That meant that the women were required to play an Armageddon tiebreak as well. Krush had the best tiebreaks, forcing Zatonskih and Abrahamyan to take their chances in the qualifying round. Zatonskih was the favorite here, but Abrahamyan was able to secure a draw with the black pieces – and under Armageddon rules, that was sufficient to see her through to the final.
That set up a David and Goliath final, where five-time champion Krush was taking on the relatively unheralded Abrahamyan – though many, including Zatonskih, were quick to point out that she was a very strong rapid player, giving her a reasonable shot at taking her first U.S. Women's Championship.
But it was not to be. Krush won the first game with White after converting a two rooks and pawn vs. two rooks endgame. Abrahamyan had the chance to strike back with the white pieces in the second game, and did manage to create a position that gave her some chances. But any advantage she might have had slipped away, and in the end, she was forced to accept a draw in a losing position, handing Krush her sixth title.
The Women's Championship had a prize pool of $72,000, with $20,000 of that amount going to Krush as the winner. All players were guaranteed to win at least $2,000. 

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