Looking back: Xiong in the Capablanca

by Alejandro Ramirez
7/3/2016 – "Fast and furious" is the headline of an article published in the Cuban newspapers: but they were not referring to Ivanchuk, who won the Elite group in the Capablanca, or any of the players in that section for that matter. It was a teenage boy that was ripping apart the Premier section that caught everyone's attention. Jeffery Xiong continues to make headlines, and for good reason.

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The Capablanca Memorial is always more than just one tournament. Even though the international press tends to focus on the Elite event, which consitently has featured the top two Cubans joined by incredibly strong foreign 2700s, there are other tournaments which are worth mentioning happening at the same time.

The Open event attracts players all over latinamerica, and is one of the most popular destinations for players trying to earn a norm. However, this year the Premier section was the one that was, at least to me, of particular interest. Two young American players where invited to participate in Cuba, just in time as the country is opening up politically to the United States.

Sam Sevian had a decent performance, but it was Jeffery Xiong that stole the show. Jeffery won the tournament outright with an amazing +4 score, finishing half a point ahead of a strong field and earning 14 rating points.

Jeffery started with a win in round one against a luckless Morovic, and he never let go. He finished the event with a win with the black pieces to secure his first place, a performance of 2741 and a great rating jump.

Jeffery Xiong's rating graph: skyrocketing!

With this rating jump Jeffery is now 2641 at the tender age of 15 (he will turn 16 on October 30th). Wei Yi, who is currently 45 points higher rating than Jeffery, is over a year older than him (Wei Yi turned 17 this past June 2nd). It is without a doubt that the future is very bright for this youngster from Coppell, Texas, and he has the coaching to make things happen.

Winnners! Ivanchuk won the Elite, Xiong won the Premier

Jeffery is currently one of the Young Stars – Team USA program that 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. These players are also individually trained by prominent grandmasters and famous coaches, including Alexander Chernin.

Other big names in this upcoming group of players include Sam Sevian, Kayden Troff, John Michael Burke, Carissa Yip, Awonder Liang, among others.

Cuban press took notice of the amazing performance in the Premier section

With three 2700s in their Olympic team, and with Jeffery's meteoric rise, team USA is looking quite fierce for the upcoming Olympiads!

I leave you with a couple of wonderful examples of Jeffery's precise play in Cuba:

[Event "51st Capablanca Mem Prem"] [Site "Varadero CUB"] [Date "2016.06.10"] [Round "2.5"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Gomez Garrido, Camilo Ernesto"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C45"] [WhiteElo "2627"] [BlackElo "2546"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2016.06.09"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 {Jeffery has studied under the guidance of Garry Kasparov. Should it come as a surprise that he has the Scotch in his repertoire?} Bb4+ 5. c3 Bc5 6. Be3 Bb6 7. Nf5 g6 (7... Bxe3 {is the mainline, but the move played in the game has become more and more popular recently.}) 8. Bxb6 axb6 9. Ne3 Nf6 10. f3 Qe7 11. Be2 (11. c4 Qb4+ 12. Qd2 {is the usual way to continue, including a game Wang Hao-Aronian. Jeffery deviates just a bit.}) 11... O-O 12. c4 Qc5 13. Qd2 Nd4 14. Bd1 b5 $1 {Black tries to put pressure on White as he is better developed. If White finishes his development the bind with the pawns on c4 and e4 will give him an advantage.} 15. b4 $1 {The appropiate response! This might seem risky considering how many lines will be opened, but everything is cooly calculated.} Qe5 16. Nc3 c5 17. Rc1 $1 {An excellent move. White prepares Ncd5 and is not afraid of any pawn trade on the queenside.} cxb4 18. Ncd5 Nxd5 19. Nxd5 d6 20. O-O $1 {White is down a pawn but knows he will regain it sooner rather than later. It is already apparent that White has a bind and will be able to kick out the knight from d4 soon, leaving him with a nice advantage.} Ne6 $6 {Helping White's cause.} 21. cxb5 Qd4+ 22. Qxd4 Nxd4 23. Rc4 b3 {This was Black's idea, but it is a miscalculation.} 24. Rxd4 bxa2 25. Ba4 $1 Be6 26. Ra1 Bxd5 27. exd5 Ra5 28. Rxa2 Rfa8 {Perhaps Black was hoping that this bind was permanent, but White has a way to untangel himself.} 29. Rb4 b6 30. Kf2 Kg7 31. Ke3 Kf6 32. Kd4 h5 33. Kc3 g5 34. Kb2 Re8 35. Bd1 Rxa2+ 36. Kxa2 Re1 37. Rd4 Ke5 38. Re4+ $1 { Again, very precise.} Rxe4 39. fxe4 g4 40. h3 gxh3 41. gxh3 h4 42. Bh5 Kxe4 43. Bxf7 Kd4 44. Kb3 Kc5 45. Kc3 Kxb5 46. Kd4 Kb4 47. Ke4 Kc5 48. Kf5 b5 49. Ke6 b4 50. Bg6 {The endgame is, of course, hopeless.} 1-0

[Event "51st Capablanca Mem Prem"] [Site "Varadero CUB"] [Date "2016.06.11"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Gonzalez Vidal, Yuri"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2555"] [BlackElo "2627"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventDate "2016.06.09"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. g3 b6 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. O-O g6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 d6 9. Rd1 Nbd7 10. Be3 Rc8 11. Rac1 a6 12. b3 O-O 13. Qh4 Rc7 {All of this is recommended by yours truly in the Benko 2 DVD, which deals with anti-Benkos. You can find the explanation of Black's previous moves there.} 14. g4 $5 Rc8 $1 {An idea that can be attributed to Karjakin.} 15. Bh3 b5 16. cxb5 axb5 $5 {A novelty, and a very interesting one. Previously Karjakin and Sargissian had tried} (16... Qa5 $5) 17. g5 (17. Nxb5 Rxc1 18. Rxc1 Qa5 19. Nc3 Rc8 {is kind of dangerous for White.}) 17... Rxc3 $1 {Forced} (17... Nh5 18. Nxb5 {Leaves Black without justification for the pawn.}) 18. Rxc3 Nd5 19. Rcd3 Nc3 {White must give the exchange back.} 20. Rxc3 (20. R3d2 Nxe2+ 21. Rxe2 Bxf3 {forces Black to give the exchange back anyway, but down a pawn.}) 20... Bxc3 21. Nd4 b4 22. Nf5 $5 {Yuri starts a powerful attack on the kingside. His threats cannot be underestimated, but if the fire is extinguished from the kingside then he will be in a tough position structurally.} Ne5 (22... gxf5 23. Bxf5 { is unplayable, of course.}) 23. Nh6+ Kg7 24. f4 Nd7 25. f5 Qc7 $5 {Jeffery isn't intimidated easily: even though it seems that his king is in danger, he simply chooses to develop} (25... Ne5 {again putting the knight on this great square, was perhaps the best move.}) 26. f6+ exf6 27. Nf5+ $1 Kh8 (27... gxf5 28. Qh6+ Kg8 29. Bxf5 {is again bad.}) 28. Qh6 {Black is holding on by a thread, but it is sufficient.} fxg5 29. Rd4 (29. Bd4+ Bxd4+ 30. Rxd4 Rg8 {is also fine for Black.} 31. Nxd6 Qc1+ 32. Kf2 Ne5 $1 {and the counterplay is at least enough for a perpetual.}) 29... Rg8 30. Nxd6 Nf6 $1 {Again forced but sufficient. Black is parrying all the threats.} 31. Qxg5 Bxd4 32. Bxd4 Qxd6 33. Qxf6+ $6 (33. Bxf6+ Rg7 34. Be5 Qc5+ 35. Kf1 Qf8 {is just about enough for equality.}) 33... Qxf6 34. Bxf6+ Rg7 {Black is cramped, but he will slowly untangle and emerge up a pawn.} 35. Kf2 h5 36. Ke3 Kh7 37. Bxg7 Kxg7 38. Kd4 f5 {White will win b4, true, but Black's pawns on the kingside are very fast.} 39. Kc5 Kf6 40. Kxb4 g5 41. Bf1 g4 42. e3 $6 {Not the best, but I think White was aleady lost. If he wasn't, it would take a tremendous effort.} Ke5 43. Kc5 h4 44. b4 h3 {The winning plan: Black threatens to play g3.} 45. Bxh3 gxh3 46. b5 Ke4 $1 {The only winning plan is to queen Black's f-pawn.} 47. a4 Kxe3 48. a5 f4 49. a6 Bc8 $1 {The only way to stop the pawns.} (49... Be4 50. b6 f3 51. b7 f2 52. b8=Q f1=Q 53. a7 {is probably winning, but quite unclear.}) 50. Kb6 Bf5 $1 {Again the only move for the bishop, as anything else would put it on the way of the f-pawn or too close to the White king.} 51. Ka7 f3 52. b6 f2 53. b7 f1=Q 54. b8=Q Qf2 55. Qe5+ Kd3+ 56. Kb7 Be4+ 57. Kc7 Qa7+ {A magnificent display of precision.} 0-1

Photos: Wayne Xiong

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.
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johnmk johnmk 7/7/2016 02:38
Yes to judge from these games, Xiong is more of a technician and a counterpuncher, not a dashing romantic. For my money, among the young stars I prefer Ruifeng Li who tries to attack in every game. He doesn't always succeed in the attack but gives the spectators a thrill.
Eigenfunction Eigenfunction 7/4/2016 10:32
Two excellent technical displays!
nhanduyenhoahop nhanduyenhoahop 7/3/2016 08:49
Nice annotation...thankš