2003 US Chess Championship
2003 US Chess Championship (Round Two)


In round two, GM Ashley and FM Muhammad had to show their toughness in their respective encounters  which will certainly help prepare them for tougher battles ahead. They both fought to tough draws against solid opponents in games that can be characterized as true "Gladiator" battles.

In Ashley-Yermolinsky, the Brooklyn-based  Grandmaster developed what appeared to be a huge spatial advantage out of the Alekhine's Defense. The two players followed both Janosevic-Kavalek (Sarajevo, 1967, 0-1, 48) and Janosevic-Gheorghiu (Skopje/Ohrid, 1968, 0-1, 37) up until 18… Na5. Ashley diverted from 19.Bg5 seen in those games and played 19.Rb4!?

The game exploded after Ashley's  24. e4! (diagram) and the initiative immediately swung in his favor. After exd4 25.Nxd5, black played 25…Nc6? sacrificing a piece for two pawns after 26.Rxa8 Rxa8 27.bxc6 bxc6 28.Nb6 Ra7. Players at the Internet Chess Club (ICC) were debating other alternatives involving 28… Ra2 (with the idea of d3), but that is simply met by 29.Qb3!

Yermolinsky desperately tried to create counterplay, so he played a "last chance" queen sally 43…Qa2 (diagram). Ashley responded with 44.Qd3!? going for a mate! The players at the ICC were correct in stating that Ashley missed a win after 44…Rxa4 45.Qh7+ Kf8 46.Qh8+ Ke7 47.Qe5+ Kf8 48.Kh3! After 48…Ra7, black is dead after the suggested 49.Rf5!

When the "time pressure" smoke cleared, and the queens traded, a drawn ending resulted. Certainly a well-played game by Ashley despite losing his way at the critical juncture.

Ashley-Yermolinsky (position after 24.e4!)

(Position after 24.e4!)
Ashley-Yermolinsky (position after 43...Qa2)

(Position after 43…Qa2)

FM Muhammad also had to show his mettle in Benjamin-Muhammad. The game developed into a complicated Ruy Lopez which featured dynamic piece play, parries, threats, feints, and tactical skirmishes. Both of these players appear to have similar styles of play and this was certainly a crowd-pleasing game from beginning to end. It appears as if Muhammad wrested the initiative with 17…d5! and 20…c5!? The game entered tremendous complications after 22…Qxa5 23.Bd7. At this point, the audience at the ICC felt Muhammad was fading, but he powered back into the game and only had to prevent a last ditch attempt at a Benjamin mating net. The game ended quietly and both players agreed to a truce.

Supersonic Play

Perhaps one of the most intriguing games was Finegold-Kraai… a bloody 80-move war. The normally restrained French Defense became tactical right from the outset as white had a pawn on g7 on the 7th move and another pawn on h7 on the 14th! White sacrificed a pawn for counterplay, but black side-stepped all traps, pocketed an extra piece, and proceeded to grind out the point after 80 moves.

Another French Defense occurred in
Mulyar-Akobian… and the result was the same.  The young Armenian émigré sacked an exchange for a pawn and a couple of  towering knights. After winning a second pawn, black's queenside pawns started the avalanche, but white resigned before the pawns could run over both of white's rooks.

Donaldson-Stripunsky was a game of sheer power on black's part as white had developed a rook and two passed pawns for two laser bishops. It would be the open board and the slicing power of the bishops that would result in a deadly kingside attack. Donaldson resigned before black could play 34…Be5!

Exciting matchups in Round 3 are:
Kraai-Gulko, Nakamura-DeFirmian, Browne-Christiansen, Ashley-GoldinMuhammad-Mulyar.

Report by Dr. Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

Round #2 Information Center

Selected Games

GM Maurice Ashley - GM Alexander Yermolinsky, ½-½
GM Joel Benjamin - FM Stephen Muhammad, ½-½
IM Benjamin Finegold - IM Jesse Kraai, 0-1
IM Michael Mulyar - IM Varuzhan Akobian, 0-1
IM John Donaldson - GM Alex Stripunsky, 0-1

PGN download (all 29 games)