The strong U.S. Junior championship has come to a close. Even though junior national events rarely attract as much attention as top level elite events, this one was a tournament that was certainly worth watching.
Jeffery with his dad, Wayne Xiong; he mentioned that they come to Saint Louis so often,
he opened up an office ten minutes away from the chess club!
With two grandmasters on the field as well as some of the most promising juniors on the planet, the 2016 edition was a very hard fought one. From the get-go it was easy to favor GM Jeffery Xiong as the eventual winner of the tournament, but even though he ended up winning the tournament it was certainly a rocky road.
His first game against Ruifeng Li was against a known rival: since both Xiong and Li play at the Dallas Chess Club, they have 34 games played in USCF rated events! With the score at seventeen wins each and three draws, the fourth draw was bound to happen at the Junior.
Ruifeng Li is not the most expressive player, but he is a strong talent.
The fact that he was very unsatisfied by his third place finish speaks volumes.
Jeffery managed to win his next two rounds, but was surprisingly taken down by Alexander Ostrovskiy. Jeffery commented that he was simply outplayed, "it was like a 2000 facing his first GM". Honesty and self-awareness are key ingredients for a top player, but his remark really surprised me. Knowing that the tournament had blown wide open, Jeffery calmed himself down and started an impressive winning streak. His demolition of Kayden Troff was textbook, while his win against rival Akshat Chandra showed the playing strength difference between the two players: one is a talented GM, the other a GM with serious notions about a soon 2700 rating.
Akshat Chandra looking at Jeffery's final game
After this series of wins it was finally cruise control for Jeffery. With a couple of draws in the last rounds he secured his first place. However, the second place finisher deserves plenty of praise.
Awonder Liang is not a new name to anyone that follows closely who the next candidates for World Champions are. At only 13 years of age, Awonder is well over 2400, has a GM-norm and is rising meteorically. His play in the US Junior was among the most stable of the event, while his expertise in endgames betrayed his young age. His win in the last round against a helpless Ostrovskiy was a true testament to Awonder's abilities.
The old "trade of queens and beat them in a boring endgame"
doesn't work against today's younglings, unfortunately
Both players will keep a busy schedule: Jeffery will travel from the U.S. to China to participate in the Chinese league, while Awonder will be going to Europe. "Where exactly are you going" I asked him about the tournament, "I don't know!" was the answer of a talented young boy who is still very dependent on his parents to travel and pursue his dreams.
It's very little surprise that both Jeffery and Awonder have had such successes in the recent past. Before this tournament, most notably was the performance of Jeffery in the U.S. Championship and his win at the Capablanca Memorial Premier section and Awonder's was certainly his GM-norm at the Continental Championship. They are both part of the Young Stars program. The Young Stars – Team USA program has been sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) since 2012. A group of young and promising chess players are assessed and evaluated by Garry Kasparov himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky. The lead coach for this program is the world famous Alexander Chernin.
Kayden Troff and Akshat Chandra have also been part of this program, which attests to its great merit.
Kayden Troff didn't have the tournament of his life...
But he did receive a unique award: On the free day we celebrated the fact
that he is now the World's only chess grandmaster and Eagle Scout!
Exemplary fighting spirit! Nicolas Checa (pictured here with his dad) started 0.0/2, but recovered valiantly.
Away from the cameras: even though the production team was not as big as for the Sinquefield Cup, the fans could still watch every single second of the US Junior with live commentary. In the control room was director Ben Simon.
The staff that made it all happen at the Saint Louis Chess Club
Alexander Ostrovskiy must be one of the people that feels the worst about the tournament. Starting with a brilliant 3.0/4, he only managed 3.5/9. That doesn't take away from his excellent summer of chess, as he comes hot off a great World Open in Philadelphia.
Awonder receiving his second place prize, pictured with Arbiters Tony Rich and Mike Kummer
An ecstatic Jeffery with his first place prize
After the tournament, of course it was time for bughouse and blitz. For kids, they are truly terrible at bughouse.
You can replay all of the games below, but before that we bring you annotations of every single round's key game, provided by strong grandmaster Robin Van Kampen, currently the GM in residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club.
Select from the dropdown menu to replay the games
Select from the dropdown menu to replay the games
Not a bad prize fund for a junior event!
With this victory not only does Jeffery win his $6,000, but he also is guaranteed a spot at the 2017 U.S. Chess Championship!
Photos by Austin Fuller
The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.