The Pawn likes nothing better than an undignified catfight, and the rumpus over the Krush–Zatonskih Armageddon game which decided the US women’s championship is one of the finest of recent years in that regard. For anyone who’s missed it, Zatonskih won on time in a lost position with less than one second remaining on her clock – well, actually Zatonskih was comfortably winning the position on the board, but Krush had a rook rolling around the table somewhere which had never in fact been captured, and once that had been restored to the board it would have altered the balance of power in Krush’s favour.
So far, so blitz, but Krush then wrote a superbly petulant open letter to the USCF demanding that the title be shared and protesting that it was all terribly unfair because Zatonskih had moved faster than her, as can be seen from the video evidence (YouTube, if anyone’s interested). Even that wouldn’t have been so funny but for the magnificent lather some of her supporters, who frankly could use a cold bath, have been working themselves into. Prissy observations like ‘blitz isn’t chess’ have been commonplace, and one fellow in particular, for whom nothing short of a chastity belt and a ban on downloading internet pictures of female chess players would do, has been hurling around words like ‘robbery’ and ‘cheated’, and expressing the remarkable view that blitz is all about TAKING TURNS. Presumably his keyboard can’t support internet postings in green ink.
The Pawn cannot resist observing that blitz is in fact all about MOVING FASTER THAN YOUR OPPONENT, and NOT LOSING ON TIME. Chepukaitis, the St Petersburg blitz king, with his blitz rules, the first of which was always to make moves on the same side of the board as the clock, would not have recognised the notion of ‘taking turns’.
Anyway, the general opinion seems to be that Armageddon is a Bad Thing, and the whole episode reinforces the view the Pawn has held for a long time that there must be still more sponsor-friendly ways of resolving these vexing ties, especially in women’s competitions.
For a start, you can see on the video that Krush loses precious split seconds when the sleeves of her designer jacket fall over her wrists. Zatonskih’s more sensible T-shirt wins her the title, but do we really want the choice of US Champion depending on what wardrobe the players have selected for the day? Of course not. We need a level playing field. Players should be required to be naked during these playoffs.
Secondly, Krush is clearly right that Zatonskih moved faster than her, and when you think about it, is this really fair? Should physical reactions decide the winner? The Pawn thinks not. If the contest were to take place in a bath of Jello, that would be much fairer. Neither player will then be able to move much faster than the other, and pure chess skill can come out on top.
But, after all, is even this fair? Zatonskih hasn’t yet replied to Krush’s letter, but when she does she may well make the point that it was unfair that Krush was able to make stronger moves on the board than she was. And, when you think about it, she has a point. Is it really right that the mere ability to make strong moves should determine the destination of this sort of prestigious title? If the best of three submissions is good enough for the customers at some of America’s livelier houses of gentlemen’s entertainment, it should be good enough for the US Championship.
With these modifications such playoffs could once again be something we could be proud of. I bet the sponsors would love it, and what’s more I have a sneaking feeling some of Krush’s more vocal internet claqueurs wouldn’t mind it either.