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Armageddon! Just the very word alone strikes immediate terror into the minds of many people, all because of the very fearful and graphic biblical prophesy that foretells of the final, cataclysmic struggle battle between Good and Evil, as found in Revelation 16:16: “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”

The word can also strike fear these days for players in the context of a nerve-wracking finale to a chess tournament.

That’s because “armageddon” is also the relatively new form of “sudden death” tiebreak decider available in the event of a tie. And two players – Nazi Paikidze, the 2016 US champion, and Annie Wang, the rapidly rising new US girl’s sensation – gathered together into a place called in chess circles as the Saint Louis Chess Club, to ultimately decide the outcome of the 2018 US Women’s Championship title.

It came as a surprise as, yet again, all the pre-championship hype was firmly focused on GM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih, the multi-time past champions and old rivals doing battle for the title, and 2016 champion Paikididze. But, much like the open championship, that was sensationally won ahead of the favorites by underdog Sam Shankland, there was almost a parallel underdog winner in 15-year-old Annie Wang.

Last fall, the California-born rising star made a name for herself by bringing back home the gold medal (U16 girls) at the 2017 World Youth Chess Championship. And in Saint Louis, the teenager came close to winning yet another major title, this time that of being the youngest women’s US Chess champion since 14-year-old Krush. And going down the home stretch, frontrunner Wang showed she was the future and the one to catch after she sensationally beat 7-time champion Krush in round 8.

And although she held a half point lead over her nearest rival going into the last round, Wang suffered a dramatic reversal of fortunes by losing, from a better position, to defending champion Sabina Foisor – a result that opened the door for former champion Paikidze, who duly won to force a playoff between the two for all the marbles.  And in the playoff, Wang got off to a flyer by beating Paikidze in the opening rapid game – but the pressure mounted as the teenager went on to lose the next game, and then found herself being outplayed in the all-deciding armageddon game, which Paikidze won to capture her second US title and the $25,000 first prize.

But the armageddon decider wasn’t the end of the world for Wang, because not only did she take home her biggest payday with the $18,000 runners-up prize, she also put a marker down as the one to watch next year.

US Women’s Championship final standings:
1-2. IM Nazi Paikidze*, FM Annie Wang 8/11; 3. GM Irina Krush 7; 4-5. IM Anna Zatonskih, FM Jennifer Yu 6.5; 6. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan 5.5; 7. WGM Sabina Foiser 5; 8-10. WGM Anna Sharevich, FM Akshita Gorti, FM Maggie Feng 4.5; 11. IM Rusudan Golentiani 3.5; 12. IM Dorsa Derkhshani 2.5. (*Paikidze wins the playoff to take the title)

WGM Sabina Foisor – IM Nazi Paikidze
US Women’s Championship, (8)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin/Vienna Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bg5 dxc4 This Ragozin Vienna Variation; a line that resembles the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, but it can become complicated and über-sharp. So if you play it or play into it, you better come to the board well prepared! 6.e4 c5 7.e5?! The complications from this move just plays into black’s hands. More testing from white has been 7.Bxc4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qa5 10.Bb5+ Bd7 11.Bxf6 gxf6 12.Qb3 0-0 13.0-0 Bxb5 14.Nxb5 Nc6 where white has a little edge – but both sides have equally bad pawn structures, that invariably sees the game fizzle out to a tame draw. 7…cxd4 8.exf6?! Foiser is giving black all she want’s from the Vienna – best was 8.Nxd4 and transposing back into the known territory, as in the above note. 8…gxf6 9.Bh4 Nc6 10.a3? Foiser has only succeeded in bamboozling herself with all the complications, as all she has done is allow her opponent a defense to f6 with …Bxd8 in the event of the queens being traded. Her last hope of staying competitive in the game came with 10.Nxd4!? Nxd4 (Trading the queens first only benefits white. If 10…Qxd4? 11.Qxd4 Nxd4 12.Bxf6 Nc2+ 13.Kd2 Nxa1 14.Bxh8 and black will soon lose the Na1.) 11.Bxc4 Be7 12.0-0 with equality the game likely panning out with 12…Nf5! 13.Qh5 Qd4 (The only option, as 13…Nxh4 runs into 14.Bb5+ Kf8 15.Rfd1 Qc7 16.Qh6+ Kg8 17.Qxh4 and white has a big advantage with his rooks set to dominate down the open c- and d-files, and black’s king lacking security.) 14.Bb5+ Kf8 15.Bg3 Nxg3 16.hxg3 Qc5 17.Qh6+ Kg8 18.Rfd1 where black has the extra pawn and the bishop-pair, but white has enough compensation with the more space, better piece-play, and safer king. 10…Ba5 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Bxc4 Nf5! It could be that Foiser had overlooked this very resourceful move – which does at least explain why she has fallen into such a bad position from arguably not knowing a very sharp opening. 13.Bb5+ Ke7 The black king is well placed here, with the monarch protected by the pawn shield, and playing an important role defending the critical f6-pawn. 14.Qa4 Nxh4 15.Qxh4 Qd5! [see diagram] Paikidze’s dominant queen now plays a decisive role in a quick outcome of the game, as Foiser’s king is now forced to stumble around fatally wounded in no man’s land. 16.b4 Qe5+ 17.Kd2 Rd8+ 18.Kc2 Bb6 More clinical was 18…Qf5+! 19.Qe4 Qxf2+ 20.Be2 f5 21.Qf3 Bb6 with an easy endgame win. But you can understand the obvious attractions here of keeping the queens on the board with the perilous state of the white king. 19.Qxh7 Bd4 20.Rad1 Qc7 21.Rd3 e5 With no way to stop …Be6 and …Rac8, white’s king is doomed. 22.f4 Be6 23.fxe5 Bxe5 Black could have cut straight to the chase with 23…Rac8! 24.exf6+ Bxf6 and white will face a heavy loss of material, as there’s no way to save the pinned Nc3. But in fairness, all roads lead to Rome here. 24.Re1 Rac8 The game is effectively over here – white is either getting mated or faces a heavy loss of material. 25.Ree3 a6 26.Ba4 Qc4 27.Rxd8 Qa2+ 28.Kd1 Rxd8+ 29.Rd3 Bg4+ 0-1 Foiser resigns, understandably not wishing to be mated after 30.Ke1 Bxc3+ 31.Rxc3 Qe2#

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