The 2009 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, already had a clear winner going into the final round, but there was heavy drama in the battle for money, place and qualification for other tournaments.
Defending U.S. Champion Anna Zatonskih, of Long Island, N.Y., finished off the tournament in style with a positional crush of Yun Fan, of Greencastle, Ind. She won the record $15,000 first place prize fund. Zatonskih ended with eight wins and one draw in nine games, and her 8.5 points were tied for the best result in the championship in more than 20 years. She said the championship was the best performance of her career.
“I think it was the strongest U.S. Championship I ever played,” Zatonskih said.
She scoffed at the idea of taking a short draw today.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “I had such a good position out of the opening.” She added that the superior quality of the tournament organization and conditions “made me feel like I was doing something important.”
The battle for second place, which began with three women mathematically eligible, crystallized when 42-year-old Camilla Baginskaite, the tournament’s oldest participant, rebounded from a rough eight loss. Baginskaite, of Sioux Falls, S.D., finished with six wins and one draw after beating Sabina Foisor, of Baltimore, Md., in the longest game of the day to pull one point ahead of both Alisa Melekhina and Irina Krush.
Melekhina, of Philadelphia, Pa., found a late checkmate tactic to beat Battsetseg Tsagaan, of Ellicott City, Md., and briefly pulled into a tie with Baginskaite, whose game was still in progress.
Krush, of Brooklyn, N.Y., failed to keep pace. She began the round on equal second with Baginskaite but could not stay tied, as she lost to Tatev Abrahamyan, of Glendale, Calif. Krush’s loss ended her streak of three consecutive wins.
With the win, Baginskaite won $12,000 and avoided a complicated tiebreaker system that would have left second place highly in doubt. This was especially important because the top two finishers in the tournament qualified for the next Women’s World Chess Championship, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey.
Zatonskih and Baginskaite are the only two American women to gain births so far to the 64-player knockout event. Krush may still qualify based on her high rating.
Baginskaite said she noticed that Krush lost and all she needed to do was draw her position to clinch second place. But judging that her game was better, she risked thousands of dollars in prize money and her world championship qualification to play for the win.
“I couldn’t see any way for (Foisor) to hold. Why should I play for a draw?” she said. “It’s about self-respect. You have to win this position.”
After more than 30 years of playing chess, Baginskaite also earned her first international master “norm,” a title she will acquire with two more norms.
Melekhina, the youngest player in the event, finished in a tie for third place with Krush at 5.5 points. They will both take home $7,500.
All five games were decisive in the last round. The last draw was in round five, more than 20 games ago. In many men’s events, more than half of the games end in draws. At this championship, fewer than a quarter ended peacefully.
For final standings, go to www.saintlouischessclub.org/US-Womens-Championship-2009/standings.