International Master Irina Krush was seen more than a decade ago selling autographed cards at the World Open. There was never been a question of her talent and in the 2010 she has shown again why her chess spirit gets so much acclaim. Krush came into the tournament with a sour memory from the 2008 tiebreak against IM Anna Zatonskih. That tournament ended famously in a dispute with Zatonskih getting the win.
In this tournment Zatonskih admitted to not playing her best chess, but still held the lead until the last round when Krush squeezed a win against the hapless Abby Marshall. Krush stated that it was her toughest battle. She ended on +7 (TPR 2686) which has to be considered a dominant performance. In the post-game interview, Krush felt good about her play and credited yoga with helping her calm her nerves. It is already well-known that Krush is an avid fan of rap music and vowed to do a number at the closing ceremonies if someone would write one!
Krush will play in the Moscow Blitz before representing the U.S. Women’s team in Khanty-Mansiysk for the 2010 Olympiad. Zatonskih and WFM Tatev Abrahamyan, both ending on 7.5/9, will join her as teammates. Abrahamyan was in top form losing only to Krush.
IM Samuel Shankland, won the under-18 championships two years ago, has two GM norms, but has had a rough go lately. After narrowly missing his last GM norms and playing badly as of late, he entered the U.S. Junior with high hopes. As the number-two seed, he would be in competition with GM Ray Robson and other promising juniors for the crown. His start was not auspcious. He promptly lost his first two games which may have cemented his notion of quitting chess, a pronouncement made prior to the tournament. However, Shankland steadied himself and made perhaps one of the greatest comebacks in U.S. history by scoring 6/7 to force a tiebreak.
Perhaps Robson is the most disappointed of all after coasting through the tournament and building what was thought to be an unsurmountable lead. He would face FM Warren Harper needing on a draw to clinch. Harper had lost five straight games and a draw seemed doable. However, things went terribly wrong for Robson as he was brutally crushed. Parker Zhao then had a chance to win the tournament if he beat FM John Bryant. Going into the ending two pawns up, it appears that Zhao would win, but he made some serious errors in the ending and Bryant was able to hold a draw. This would force a three-way playoff.
Since Robson had the best tiebreaks, he could take a bye and play the winner of Shankland-Zhao. After beating Parker Zhao in a nice attacking game, Shankland would face top junior in Robson, who many feel represents the future of American chess. In an unusual twist, Shankland bid 31 minutes for his time and would receive black with draw odds. In the “Fantasy Variation” of the Caro Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3), he passed the test with flying colors and stated in the post-game interview that he was surprised at his opponent’s choice.
By virtue of his win, Shankland earns a spot in the 2011, but in the post-game interview had nixed the World Junior Championship citing previous committments. However, it may well be the opportunity for earning the final GM norm and may help put the young star back on track for future chess endeavors.