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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

U.S. Chess Championships 2014: Armageddon Looms

Hello chess friends, here's the penultimate-day update by Brian Jerauld from the U.S. Chess Championships 2014:

SAINT LOUIS (May 19, 2014) -- The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a “vast, decisive conflict or confrontation.” The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis agrees.

Armageddon will hit Saint Louis on Tuesday, as the 2014 U.S. Chess Championships spill into overtime for one final day of reckoning. Both tournaments have gone fully around-the-robin, seeing 11 rounds of play in the U.S. Championship and 9 rounds of play in the U.S. Women’s Championship - but America’s top chess talent refuses to stop fighting.

Six players entered Monday’s finale with mathematical chances to win the national title, though when the day was done, nothing had added up to a decision. Each tournament finished regulation in a three-way tie for first place, triggering a playoff on Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET, to settle the score.

Alex Lenderman drew Varuzhan Akobian in the final round of regulation at the U.S Championship. The two will play an Armageddon game to determine who faces reigning champ Gata Kamsky for the title. Image Credit: Lennart Ootes

U.S. Championship leaders Varuzhan Akobian and Aleksandr Lenderman, tied entering the last round, faced off against each other in round 11 with the winner promised the crown - though neither could wrestle the other to a decision. Their draw opened up Tuesday’s playoff, but not just for the two of them: In a nightmare scenario, reigning four-time champion Gata Kamsky caught pace with the leaders at the finish line, and with momentum. After eight frustrating draws and just two wins this tournament, Kamsky’s eleventh-hour mauling of Josh Friedel on Monday was a startling announcement that the champion still had plans to fight for his throne, despite earlier declarations that the national title was up for grabs.

Similarly in the Women’s Championship, another third wheel has hitched a ride into the playoffs. Tatev Abrahamyan - forever the outsider looking in on the U.S. Women’s title - caught pace with leaders Anna Zatonskih and reigning champion Irina Krush, who both failed to find wins in Monday’s final round. Both Krush against Viktorija Ni, and Zatonskih against Katerina Nemcova, narrowly escaped with draws from losing positions, while Abrahamyan convincingly smashed through Camilla Baginskaite with a Nimzo to join the knot in front. Krush and Zatonskih have combined for the last nine women’s championships, while Abrahamyan seeks her first.

The perfect combination of wins and draws has brought a three-way tie for first in both title races, forcing a playoff on Tuesday to decide the 2014 national champions. In a wonderful storyline, the playoff day will feature the introduction of a candidate to challenge each reigning champion, as both Kamsky and Krush lead by tiebreaks. The two remain the only unbeaten players in each tournament.

Both Akobian and Lenderman, as well as Zatonskih and Abrahamyan, will first battle in one 45-minute Armageddon game. The contest begins with a silent bid from both players in an attempt to win the black pieces, as well as draw-odds. Both players will bid time away from their clock, with the lowest bid receiving black and the shortened time to find a draw. The white pieces will receive the full 45 minutes and must win.

The reigning champions await the winners of the Armageddon matches. Both Krush and Kamsky will face their candidates in two rapid games, which feature 25 minutes on the clock and a 5-second-per-move increment. Should the players tie the rapid games 1-1, the 2014 national titles will be decided by one final Armageddon game.

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