ST. LOUIS—The 2014 U.S. Championships, one of the country’s biggest chess tournaments, produced two champions, men’s and women’s respectively, from 22 players who took turns stealing headlines and taking their shots at the top in a near two-week long competition that was hosted in St. Louis from May 7 to 20. The two champions, Grandmasters Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush, retained their titles from last year’s Championship.
In the men’s competition, Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian made second place after losing to Gata Kamsky 1.5 to 0.5 in a playoff on Tuesday. The win made it Kamsky’s fifth time holding the title.
Similarly, in the women’s competition, Glendale native Grandmaster Tatev Abrahamyan came in second after losing to GM Irina Krush 1.5 to 0.5 in a playoff on Tuesday. Irina Krush secured a Championship three-peat with the win, her sixth year as title holder. Though both champions admit struggling with the 2014 fields, Kamsky and Krush were the only players to finish undefeated.
“It has been a tough tournament for me, I can feel all these guys: they have been preparing and playing really well,” Kamsky said of his 11 challengers. “Of course, there were a lot of blunders because they wanted to win, but that made everything very competitive. It was nice to win this event.”
Akobian and GM Aleksandr Lenderman, tied in first place entering the final round, fought each other to a draw when a win for Akobian would have earned the title outright. It opened up the extra playoff day, which turned out to be a three-way playoff, as Kamsky, who had struggled throughout the opening rounds, finally caught pace with a win on Monday.
“I felt [the three-way playoff] was really exciting, it was really good for me,” Kamsky said. “Considering the game [Monday] that they played where Akobian could have won, I feel very lucky.”
Krush also left her sixth title in doubt, falling sick mid-event and suffering through a stretch of draws that left her a full point behind the leader with two rounds to go. But she caught pace with a win over rival International Master Anna Zatonskih in round 8, then was fortunate that another draw in the final round was good enough to keep her up top – though not alone. The women’s competition also featured a three-way playoff.
“All of these championships are hard – it’s not like what people think ‘oh, she wins every year,’” Krush said. “But the thing is, they are always difficult. Maybe last year was my smoothest victory, but a year before that I had a playoff with Anna (Zatonskih), and now I had a playoff with Tatev.”
Tuesday’s three-way playoff first began with a single “Armageddon” match designed to knock one player from each race. Kamsky and Krush had earned advantage due to tiebreaks, setting up Akobian and Lenderman, as well as Abrahamyan and Zatonskih, to square off in an Armageddon game. In the specialized match, the player with the black pieces receives draw-odds and only has to avoid losing to advance. Abrahamyan had black and knocked out Zatonskih with a perpetual check; Akobian passed over his draw odds and just brought Lenderman down by checkmate.
It set up the finals, which was two rapid games – 25 minutes with a 5-second-per-move increment – to declare the champion. Akobian drew the first game with the white pieces, while Kamsky won in the second game as white. In the women’s final, Krush took the full point in her first game as white, then played Abrahamyan to a draw in the second game.
“One thing I know is that in a rapid game you need good nerves and a fresh mind,” Krush said. “It’s not really decided by opening preparation.”