In these strange times where everything has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, with just about every culture and sporting event either cancelled, postponed or suspended, not to mention the great danger to everyone’s health, it’s nice to discover a Covid good-news story – and it came with the look of sheer joy and overwhelming relief on the face of Irina Krush last week after she realised she had just won her eighth US Women’s Championship title.
This year all the major US championship titles normally contested in the hallowed arena of Rex Sinquefield’s Saint Louis Chess Club had to be moved online due to the pandemic. The US Women’s Championship was held 21-24 October with a $100,000 prize-fund, one of the biggest-ever prize funds in the women’s game. The 12-player single round-robin had a quicker time control of 25 minutes plus a five-second increment.
Back in March during the onset of the pandemic, New Yorker Irina Krush endured a very difficult recovery from Covid-19, developing breathing problems and genuinely fearing she might die while in quarantine. She was subsequently admitted into Community Hospital in Brooklyn, and only weeks later did she start to feel significantly better.
“It’s not just a disease,” Irina told the New York Times back in late May when it featured her recovery battle. “It’s a life trial. Chess players know what it’s like to be in a bad position, to suffer. I realized it was going to be a long game, with no easy victory.”
Krush is nothing if not one of life’s great fighters, and she did indeed come through her “long game” by winning her eighth US Women’s title – and doing so with a little élan with some sparkling games – with an unbeaten score of 8.5/11 to take the $25,000 first prize, edging out closest rival young rising star Carissa Yip.
“After these four days of play, with all the stress, all the preparation, I mean for it to finally end in the way you want it to end, what you’ve been working for, I mean that just feels amazing,” added Irina in her post-victory interview. “I feel the support of my friends, my family, my students, my coach, all these people that are supporting me and watching the games and hoping I do well. I want to make them happy.”
Before the women’s championship, three other U.S. Championships were held this month: for Juniors (won by GM John Burke), Girls (IM Carissa Yip), and Seniors (GM Joel Benjamin). The main 2020 U.S. Championship runs October 26-29 with top seeds GMs Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez, Hikaru Nakamura, and Jeffery Xiong. The games will be played live on lichess.
US Women’s Championship final standings:
1. GM Irina Krush, 8.5/11; 2. WGM Carissa Yip, 8; 3. IM Dorsa Derakhshani, 7.5; 4. WGM Jennifer Yu, 6; 5-6. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, WIM Ashritha Eswaran, 5.5; 7. WIM Emily Nguyen, 5; 8. WFM Martha Samadashvili, 4.5; 9-11. IM Annie Wang, WGM Sabina Foiser, WIM Thalia Cervantes, 4; 12. IM Anna Zatonskih, 3.5.
GM Irina Krush – WGM Tatev Abrahamyan
US Women’s Ch., (9)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Classical Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 The Classical or Capablanca variation was popular in the early days of the Nimzo-Indian, made famous by being adopted by the great Jose Raul Capablanca. The idea is for White to try and gain the bishop pair without compromising the pawn structure after …Bxc3, and at the same time possibly planning on domineering the center with e4. 4…d5 The Noa variation can often lead to a sort of Queen’s Gambit Exchange variation, as happens in the game. 5.cxd5 exd5 [Safe and sound, heading for that QGD Exchange variation we mentioned – but the critical line is the recapture 5…Qxd5!? 6.Nf3 Qf5!? keeping the game more dynamic, with a firm grip on the e4 square. 6.Bf4 c5 7.dxc5 0-0 8.e3 Nc6 9.Nf3 Bxc5 10.Be2 d4 11.Rd1 Nd5?N It’s hard to call this a novelty, as it just seems as if Abrahamyan may well have gotten carried away with the position, “forgetting” that the key line continuation here is: 11…Qb6!?, as witness 12.exd4 Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.0-0 Bd7 15.Qd2 Bxc3 16.Qxc3 Rac8 17.Qa3 a5 that ended in a competitive draw in MVL-Ding Liren, during the first lockdown super-tournament, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. 12.Ng5! And with this one moves, Abrahamyan begins to realise she is in a bad way, as Krush gets to build up her kingside attack with tempo. 12…g6 One of the hardest things to do in chess is fessing up to a mistake with a humbling retreat, and here 12…Nf6 may well have been the best choice to try and avoid the coming tsunami on the kingside. 13.Nxd5 Qxd5 14.0-0 Be7 15.Bc4 Qa5 16.h4! If this isn’t a statement of intent from Irina Krush, then I don’t know what is! 16…dxe3?! Another serious misstep from Abrahamyan – marginally better was 16…Bg4 17.Rc1 Qb6 18.a3 Bf5 19.Qd2 but, long-term, the weakness on f7 and the kingside attack is going to be difficult for Black. 17.Bxe3 And a misstep from Krush, her only one of a near-flawless win. The playing engine gleefully points out that the clinical tactical kill with 17.Nxf7! Bf5 (After 17…Rxf7 18.fxe3! there’s going to be carnage down the f-file with the pin on f7, such as 18…Bf5 19.Qb3 Nd8 20.e4! Bg4 21.Rxd8+! Qxd8 22.Bxf7+ and Black can resign.) 18.Nh6+ Kh8 19.Qb3 exf2+ 20.Rxf2 Bc5 21.Nf7+ Rxf7 (Not 21…Kg7?! 22.Bh6+! Kg8 23.Qxb7 and resignation is looming large on the horizon for Black.) 22.Bxf7 Rf8 23.Bd6! Bxf2+ 24.Kxf2 Bg4 25.Bxf8 Qf5+ 26.Kg3 Bxd1 27.Qc3+ Qe5+ 28.Qxe5+ Nxe5 29.Bd5 and as the dust settles, White’s bishop-pair and the multiple mating threats just can’t be contained, the best Black can hope for is losing the queenside pawns and a losing endgame after 29…Nd3 (Not 29…Nc6? 30.Kf4! followed by Kg5 and; 29…b6 30.Bb4! etc.) 30.Bxb7 Nxb2 31.Bc5! and the a-pawn falls, leaving White the simple task of pushing the a-pawn home. 17…Ne5 18.Bb3 Bf5 19.Qe2 h6? The final, fatal slip in a perilous position – Abrahamyan simply had to play 19…Ng4!? 20.Bf4 Rae8 21.Nxf7! and try to cling onto the wreckage with 21…Kg7. 20.Rd5! The “Krush” now comes quickly. 20…Qc7 21.Rc1 Got to love how Irina gets everything in with tempo! 21…Nc6 22.Rxf5! [see diagram] Equally winning was 22.Nxf7! but Irina’s sacrificial onslaught is just as prosaic as it is spectacular. 22…hxg5 Hanging on to avoid the other debacle with 22…gxf5 23.Nxf7 Rxf7 24.Qh5 Bf8 25.Qg6+ Bg7 26.Bxh6 Kf8 27.Bxg7+ Rxg7 28.Qf6+ Ke8 29.Re1+ etc. 23.hxg5 gxf5 24.Qh5 Threatening simply g6 mating. 24…Qe5 25.g6 Qg7 26.Bh6 Qf6 27.Bd2! The transfer of the bishop to c3 can’t be stopped. 27…Qg7 28.Bc3 1-0