Akshat Chandra wins 2015 US Junior Championship

by Priyadarshan Banjan
7/19/2015 – The Championship is open to the best US juniors younger than 21 years. Previously it has been won by the likes of Fischer, Bisguier, Seirawan and Nakamura. This time the title went to 15-year-old Akshat Chandra, who scored 7.0/9 and a performance of 2688. Akshat is well known to our readers – he writes reports for us. Which led Garry Kasparov to refer to him as 'the journalist'.

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The US Junior Championship is a prestigious tournament with a long history. Among the past winners are former World Champion Bobby Fischer, Arthur Bisguier, Yasser Sairawan, and Hikaru Nakamura. Since 1966 the US Juniors are played as an invitational, separating it from the US Junior Open tournament.

2015 US Junior Closed Championship

For the sixth consecutive edition, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis hosted this tournament. The time control was 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game plus 30 seconds increment per player per move.

IM Akshat Chandra and FM Arthur Shen went into the eighth round as co-leaders, with 5.0/7. As Caissa would have it, they were pitted against each other in what turned out to be the most crucial game of the tournament.

The crucial showdown between FM Arthur Shen…

… and IM Akshat Chandra

After a peaceful opening, Arthur Shen could only watch in horror as his kingside collapsed completely. Moving to 6.0/8, Akshat launched into sole lead once again with this win.

[Event "US Junior Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.07.14"] [Round "8"] [White "Chandra, Akshat"] [Black "Shen, Arthur"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C77"] [Annotator "Mackenzie Molner"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 {Immediately showing that Akshat has no interest in playing any Marshall or mainstream Ruy Lopez lines} b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3 O-O 9. Nc3 Nb8 {Wesley So has popularized this move. Recently he lost to Vishy Anand in this variation, but it has a good reputation for Black} (9... Nd4 {This move has also been played frequently but I would trust Nb8 more} 10. Nxd4 exd4 11. Ne2 {The d4-pawn is weak and White's kingside play is pleasant}) 10. Ne2 Nbd7 11. Ng3 Bb7 12. Re1 (12. Nf5 {This looks like a very tempting move. Black retains a solid position but I like White's long-term chances with the bishop pair.}) 12... Re8 13. c3 Bf8 14. Ng5 $1 {A critical choice} d5 15. exd5 Nc5 $1 (15... h6 $2 16. Ne6 $1 {A powerful blow that holds on to the extra material for White} fxe6 17. dxe6 Kh8 {Black needs to deal with the threat of e7+} 18. exd7) 16. c4 c6 $5 (16... Nxb3 $1 { This looks more to the point. Black will still follow up with moves similar to the game but having an uncontested light-squared bishop on the long diagonal, is already very good compensation.} 17. Qxb3 c6 18. dxc6 Bxc6 {Now Black's bishop comes to life.} 19. Be3 (19. cxb5 Bd5 $1 20. Qd1 axb5) 19... Ng4 20. N5e4 Nxe3) 17. dxc6 Bxc6 18. Bc2 (18. Ba2 $5 {This would also lead to complicated play. Some variations that illustrate the tactical possibilities here are} b4 $1 (18... Nxd3 $2 19. cxb5) 19. axb4 $6 Nxd3 {Without cxb5, White is no facing some pressure}) 18... h6 19. Nf3 e4 $2 {This is where it starts to go wrong for Shen. If he found 19... bxc4, things would be very different} ( 19... bxc4 20. dxc4 Qc7 21. b4 Rad8 {Black's pieces are incredibly active and well coordinated. Both sides still have everything play for}) 20. cxb5 $1 { Including this move, Chandra plays the rest of the game incredibly well.} (20. dxe4 $2 bxc4 {Black has good compensation here once again}) 20... exf3 21. bxc6 Rxe1+ 22. Qxe1 fxg2 23. Be3 Ng4 24. d4 $1 {Not fearing any kingside ghosts.} Qh4 {This looks very dangerous but Chandra correctly calculated that he is in no serious danger} 25. Kxg2 Ne6 26. Bf5 Re8 (26... Qxh2+ 27. Kf3 {Possibly not for the faint of heart, but Black has no strong follow up. Qh1 is White's next idea, trying to eliminate Black's dangerous attacking piece.} Nxe3 28. Qxe3 Ng5+ 29. Ke2 {White's king has made it to safety}) 27. Bxg4 Qxg4 28. Qd1 Nf4+ 29. Kh1 Qh4 30. Qf3 Nd3 31. Nf5 $1 Qd8 32. Rg1 {The tables have turned, and all of White's pieces are now attacking Black's king. Shen's next move is a mistake but he is in a difficult position anyway} Kh7 $2 (32... g6 $1) 33. Nxh6 Rxe3 34. fxe3 $1 {Black can't avoid huge material losses or the strong threats to the King. Chandra picked a great time to play his best chess of the tournament! A very clean performance from Akshat and a tough set back for Arthur Shen.} 1-0

IM Jeffery Xiong, scheduled to become USA’s latest grandmaster, went into the penultimate round in the second spot with 4.5/7. He played a fine game to eliminate FM Awonder Liang and stay in the race with 5.5/8.

[Event "2015 US Junior Closed Championship"] [Site "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Date "2015.07.14"] [Round "8.2"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Liang, Awonder"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A56"] [WhiteElo "2606"] [BlackElo "2428"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:32:58"] [BlackClock "0:05:24"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 g6 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Bg7 6. Bd3 (6. Nf3 {is much more famous.}) 6... O-O 7. Nge2 e6 8. O-O exd5 9. cxd5 b6 (9... a6 {is usually seen in this position.}) 10. a4 Na6 {[%cal Ga6c7] the point is to transfer the knight to c7 and then play ...a6 and ...b5. Also possible is to send the knight to b4 which was weakeed by white's a4 move.} 11. Ng3 Nc7 (11... Nd7 $1 12. Bf4 (12. f4 Nb4 13. Bc4 Ba6 (13... Qh4 14. Be3 Nf6 15. Be2 Ng4 $11) 14. Bxa6 Nxa6) 12... Ne5 $11 {[%csl Ge5]}) 12. Bf4 a6 (12... Ng4 $1 {[%cal Gg4e5]}) 13. Qd2 Re8 14. h3 Rb8 15. Rab1 b5 16. axb5 Nxb5 17. Bxb5 axb5 18. b4 c4 19. Ra1 h5 20. Bg5 Re7 $2 ({Stockfish gives a fantastic line here:} 20... h4 21. Qf4 $1 (21. Bxh4 Nxe4 $1 22. Ngxe4 Qxh4 23. Nxd6 Bxh3 24. Nxe8 (24. gxh3 Bd4 25. Nxe8 Qg3+ $11) 24... Bxg2 25. Kxg2 Qg4+ $11) 21... hxg3 22. fxg3 Bf5 $1 23. exf5 Nh5 24. Qc1 f6 25. Bf4 g5 26. Be3 Nxg3 $11) 21. Ra5 $16 Reb7 22. Qf4 Qe7 23. Qh4 Bd7 24. f4 Be8 25. Kh1 Rc8 26. Ra6 Rcc7 27. e5 {Black is losing at least a piece, if not more.} 1-0

At the end of eight rounds, Akshat needed a draw with the black pieces to seal first-place, when IM Xiong would need a win, to force a playoff.

Akshat took on FM Awonder Liang in the last round…

…while IM Jeffrey Xiong (above right) faced Curran Han.

[Event "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Site "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Date "2015.07.15"] [Round "9.2"] [White "Han, Curran"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D85"] [WhiteElo "2211"] [BlackElo "2606"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:20:17"] [BlackClock "0:26:47"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 (5... Bg7 6. Nf3 Nxc3 7. bxc3 c5 8. Be3 Bg4 9. Rc1 O-O 10. Be2 {is the main line.}) 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Nf3 c5 8. Be3 Bg4 9. Bb5+ (9. Rc1 {is the main move here.}) 9... Nc6 10. O-O cxd4 11. cxd4 O-O $11 12. Bxc6 bxc6 13. Rc1 Rc8 14. Qa4 Bxf3 15. gxf3 Qd7 (15... e5 16. dxe5 Bxe5 17. f4 Qh4 18. fxe5 Qg4+ 19. Kh1 Qf3+ $11 {is a method to draw.}) 16. d5 $15 {Black can already sense a little plus here thanks to the weakened light squares around the white King.} Qh3 17. dxc6 Qxf3 18. Rc4 $4 (18. Rc5 Qg4+ 19. Kh1 Rfd8 20. c7 Rd7 $15) 18... Be5 $19 19. Re1 Qg4+ 20. Kf1 Rfd8 21. Qb5 Qh3+ 22. Ke2 Qh5+ 23. Kf1 Qxh2 24. Qb7 Rc7 25. Qa6 Qh3+ 26. Ke2 Qg4+ 27. Kf1 h5 28. Qa5 f6 29. Bd4 Qh3+ 30. Ke2 Rcc8 31. Qxa7 Ra8 32. c7 Bxc7 33. Qxc7 Rxa2+ 34. Rc2 Rxd4 0-1

IM Jeffrey Xiong cleaned up his lowest seeded opponent to pass the ball to Akshat’s court.

And when it mattered, the champion delivered!

[Event "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Site "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Date "2015.07.15"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Liang, Awonder"] [Black "Chandra, Akshat"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B48"] [WhiteElo "2428"] [BlackElo "2589"] [Annotator "Mackenzie Molner"] [PlyCount "82"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:29:07"] [BlackClock "0:31:18"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 {Akshat trusts his mainstay opening of the tournament, the Taimanov Sicilian. Here White has many options. Awonder's choice is the second most popular.} 7. Bd3 Nf6 8. O-O Nxd4 9. Bxd4 Bc5 10. Bxc5 Qxc5 {The computer prefers Na4 or Qd2.} 11. Kh1 $6 ( 11. Qd2 O-O 12. Rae1 d6 13. Qe3) 11... O-O 12. f4 d6 13. Qe1 e5 $1 14. Qh4 Bd7 $1 {This is probably most accurate move. Be6 could give White an unpleasant tempo to start a kingside attack.} (14... Be6 $6 15. f5 Bc4 16. g4 $1) 15. Rae1 exf4 16. Rxf4 Qh5 $1 (16... g5 $6 {This wouldn't be an ideal choice based on the tournament situation.} 17. Qh6 gxf4 18. e5 {Leading to at best a perpetual check for Black}) 17. Qf2 Ng4 (17... Be6) 18. Qg3 Ne5 19. Rf6 $1 Nxd3 20. cxd3 Be6 21. d4 Kh8 22. Rf3 Rad8 {Black has equalized and can begin to hope for more.} 23. a3 (23. d5 {This was an interesting continuation although not leading to anything special for White.} Bg4 24. Rfe3 f6 25. h3 Bc8 26. Ne2) 23... Rfe8 24. h3 f6 25. Rfe3 Qa5 26. Qf2 Qb6 {White's center is becoming a little unstable and is now more of a target, rather than an asset.} 27. Qd2 Rc8 28. Ne2 Rc4 29. Rc1 Rxc1+ 30. Qxc1 Bd7 31. Qd2 Qb5 32. Kh2 Qg5 33. Qc3 f5 $1 { Akshat seizes his opportunity! White's awkwardly placed rook on e3 allows Black to play this undermining move. Black's advantage steadily increases from this point onward.} 34. e5 f4 35. Rd3 $2 {After this move, Awonder never gets a second chance.} (35. Rf3 $1 {Black still has a slight advantage after this move but it is a much tougher nut to crack.}) 35... dxe5 36. dxe5 Bc6 37. g3 f3 38. Nf4 f2 39. Rd1 Bb5 40. h4 Qg4 41. Qc1 Qxd1 $1 {Guaranteeing promotin of the f-pawn and massive material gains. An impressive, well played game from Chandra! Congratulations to the new champion!} 0-1

With this victory, IM Akshat Chandra became the 2015 US Junior Chess Champion with a score of 7.0/9, earning a spot in the 2016 US Championship. Like Akshat, IM Jeffery Xiong too won his final two games, but had to remain content with the second place at 6.5/9. Jeffrey had a draw more than the champion did.

With six wins and three losses, FM Arthur Shen was the only player in the tournament
with no draws! With this uncompromising play he finished third at 6.0/9.

FM Ruifeng Li finished fourth with 5.0/9

No guns, no electronic devices? The obligatory security check at chess tournaments these days

IM Akshat Chandra with his (we are going to assume) proud father

Adulation and media attention before the young champion plays in YAST (yet another strong tournament)

Checkmate? Rex Sinquefield battles out a tough opponent in the sidelines of the event

Commentators FM Aviv Friedman (black shirt) and GM Ben Finegold (orange)
with the staff at Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

Final standings (after nine rounds)

Photos Austin Fuller, annotation Mackenzie Molner

"The Journalist"

Born in 1999, 15-year-old Akshat Chandra is clearly a stellar chess talent. He started playing in 2009, and received a FIDE rating of 1548 in January 2010. In four years and ten months, went from FIDE 1548 to 2489 rating, and is currently the strongest player in his age group in the US.

Akshat started writing for us almost exactly a year ago – with "Quest for a first GM norm" part one and part two. He followed that with numerous reports on our news page, baffling us with his erudite diction and mature style. We suspected that he was receiving assistance, from his parents, perhaps? No, Akshat assured us, he had taken a University course in writing "when I was young". Like when you were eight?

Conducting an interview for his report on the Qatar Masters Open 2014, with the winner Yu Yangyi. The Chinese GM was not comfortable with English, while Akshat's Mandarin was non-existent. So how did they manage? By typing in questions and answers and using Google’s online translator. So clever!

Akshat has participated in two chess evaluation session conducted by Garry Kasparov as part of the “Young Stars – Team USA” program, sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis since 2012. These sessions gather a group of young and promising chess players, who are assessed and evaluated by Garry himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky (left in the above picture). At the start of the first session Garry referred to him as "The journalist", knowing his ChessBase reports. The name has stuck.


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Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.
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Dragonbay Dragonbay 7/19/2015 05:46
Interestingly, judging by the family names, the winner is of Indian ethnicity and six out of ten participants are of Chinese ethnicity.
basschess basschess 7/19/2015 04:01
All the Best Akshat..
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 7/19/2015 01:48
congrats akshat!
Ajay Annamareddy Ajay Annamareddy 7/19/2015 03:19
Very well done, Akshat. His articles are also of good quality in Chessbase, I especially liked the one he wrote on his training with Gary Kasparov.
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