US Junior Championship: winner's impressions

by Akshat Chandra
8/2/2015 – The US Junior Closed Chess Championship is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the United States – next only to the US Championships. The ten-player round robin event, open to best juniors younger than 21 years, was won by 15-year-old Akshat Chandra – who often writes for our news page. Today he tells us in his captivating style what it is like to play and win such a prestigious event.

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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.

Final Impressions of the US Junior Championship

By Akshat Chandra

This was my first time playing the US Junior, and I was looking forward to competing in this event. The chief attraction of the invitational Junior Championship is that the winner qualifies for the following year’s US Championship, in which they get to play top world-class players in a typical round-robin format, just like other elite tournaments. With next year’s edition potentially having a lineup that could include Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Gata Kamsky, each participant in the Junior championship had sufficient motivation to go all out.

The players arrived in St. Louis on July 6, one day before the event was to begin, and we all drew our pairing lots during the opening ceremony that evening. The picking of the lots was done by last name, but in reverse alphabetical order. By the time I got around to picking, all the five White lots had already been selected, and I had to content myself with the four Whites draw. The strongest US Junior ever had begun.

In Round 1, I had the black pieces and faced a good friend of mine, the precocious International Master Luke Harmon Vellotti. This was a tough game to start off the tournament. Although one may have been tempted to play a solid opening, especially with the black pieces, I decided to go for a more fighting and complex game by revisiting an old friend.

[Event "US Junior 2015"] [Site "Brownsville"] [Date "2015.07.07"] [Round "1"] [White "Vellotti Harmon, Luke"] [Black "Chandra, Akshat"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D91"] [WhiteElo "2430"] [BlackElo "2495"] [Annotator "Chandra,Akshat"] [PlyCount "70"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2014.11.26"] {In Round 1, I was faced with Luke Harmon Vellotti. I decided to suprise Luke in the opening by revisiting an old friend of mine, the Gruenfeld.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 $5 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bg5 {My opponent has only played this line against the Gruenfeld, and so this was expected.} Ne4 6. Bh4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 dxc4 8. e3 $5 {Now this was an unpleasant surprise. I wasn't aware of any concrete theory here, and only had a vague sense of the general ideas for Black.} (8. Qa4+ {is what my opponent had previously played in all his games.}) 8... b5 9. a4 c6 10. Be2 a6 11. O-O Bb7 $6 {An inaccurate move which allows White to seize the initiative.} ({I refrained from} 11... Nd7 {because of} 12. Nd2 {is more natural, and would tranpose to the game after} (12. d5 {not realizing that after} Nb6 (12... Nc5 {looks natural, but it allows some activity for White after} 13. Nd4 cxd5 14. Nc6 $13 {[%cal Ra4b5,Rc6e7]}) 13. Nd4 cxd5 14. Nc6 Qd6 15. Nxe7 (15. axb5 e6 $19) 15... Bb7 $17) 12... Bb7) 12. Nd2 ({The immediate} 12. Qb1 $1 {[%csl Rb7][%cal Re2c4] was stronger.} Qc8 13. Qb4 {If Black now tries to hold onto his extra pawn with the dicey looking} f6 {then} 14. Rfb1 Nd7 15. Nd2 Ra7 16. Bg3 $14 {gives White excellent compensation for the pawn.}) 12... Nd7 13. Bf3 Qc8 14. Qb1 f6 {This looks ugly, but it's only (hopefully) temporary .} (14... Bf6 {was an alternative I was considering, but I didn't like} 15. Bxf6 Nxf6 16. Qb4 Qc7 (16... Rb8 {is more accurate, but things still remain unclear after} 17. Qc5 $13) 17. Rfb1 {when White is winning the pawn back by force.} Rb8 (17... c5 18. Qxc5 Qxc5 19. dxc5 Bxf3 20. gxf3 $14) 18. axb5 cxb5 19. Bxb7 Rxb7 20. Nxc4 $14) 15. Bg4 f5 {As I said, only temporary!} 16. Bf3 e5 (16... e6 {was a more restrained approach.}) 17. Qb4 $2 (17. axb5 $1 axb5 18. Rxa8 Bxa8 19. Nxc4 $1 {We both missed this.} bxc4 20. Qb4 Bf6 21. Bxf6 Nxf6 22. dxe5 Ng4 $11 {and White has several moves now which provide him with enough activity to draw.}) 17... Bf8 18. Qb2 Bd6 19. Rfb1 e4 20. Be2 Rb8 21. f3 (21. Bxc4 $5 bxc4 22. Nxc4 Bc7 (22... Qc7 $4 23. Nxd6+ Qxd6 24. Bg3 $18) 23. Qa2 Kf8 24. Qa3+ c5 25. dxc5 Bc6 {is where I had stopped my calculations, but it seems that after} 26. Rb6 $1 Ne5 27. Na5 { White has succeeded in complicating the game, giving Black the uneviable task of finding precise moves to consolidate his advantage.}) 21... exf3 22. Bxf3 Qc7 23. axb5 (23. h3 O-O 24. axb5 axb5 25. e4 {was what I was expecting.}) 23... cxb5 (23... axb5 24. Ra7 Nb6 25. d5 {looked too scary for me!}) 24. Bxb7 Rxb7 25. Rxa6 Bxh2+ 26. Kh1 O-O {Finally my king escapes to safety!} 27. Qa3 ( 27. Nxc4 Bg3 (27... Qxc4 28. Kxh2 Ne5 29. Qb3 Qxb3 30. Rxb3 {I thought that White should be able to hold this endgame without much difficulty.}) 28. Bxg3 Qxg3 29. Nd2 Nf6 30. Nf3 Ne4 $17 {[%csl Rh1][%cal Rf5f4,Rb7f7] with excellent winning chances.}) 27... Bg3 $1 28. Bxg3 Qxg3 29. Nxc4 Nf6 30. Ne5 Ng4 $1 31. Nxg4 ({Now it's too late for White to try to hold the position together with} 31. Nf3 {because of} Nxe3 $19) 31... fxg4 {Black's attack develops swiftly.} 32. Qd6 Qh4+ 33. Qh2 Qf2 34. Qh6 (34. Qg1 Qg3 (34... Qf5 $19 {is also good enough.}) 35. Qh2 Qxe3 $19) 34... g3 35. Rg1 Rbf7 {A great start to the tournament - winning with Black against one of the tougher players.} (35... Rbf7 36. Raa1 Rf5 $19) 0-1

Chatting with Luke after Round One

It felt great to start the tournament off with a victory as Black against a strong opponent. I carried the momentum through the next three rounds and raced out to 3.5/4.

In Round five I faced FM Ruifeng Li (above), as Black. The game started off horribly, as I got trapped in my opponent’s preparation, like an insect in tree sap. Ruifeng was incredibly well prepared and was blitzing out his moves. He literally got a near-decisive advantage with his preparation. Meanwhile, I was sweating it out and had already fallen way behind on the clock. Under enormous pressure, I ended up making a horrible blunder, which I realized as soon as I had moved. I saw the winning continuation for Ruifeng, and thought I was going to lose any moment. The only consolation was that Ruifeng was out of his preparation.

Ruifeng Li playing tournament leader Akshat Chandra in Round five

It was here that the tide of the game started to turn. Ruifeng missed the killer blow, and I started to gain on him, despite being an exchange down. His advantage dissipated after inaccurate moves from his side, and I found myself holding the initiative now. However, I was so relieved of not being in any danger of losing that I decided to simplify matters and force a draw. Here is the game, annotated by tournament analyst GM Mackenzie Molner.

[Event "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Site "Chess Club and Scholastic Cen"] [Date "2015.07.11"] [Round "5.1"] [White "Li, Ruifeng"] [Black "Chandra, Akshat"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B84"] [WhiteElo "2394"] [BlackElo "2495"] [Annotator "Mackenzie Molner"] [PlyCount "95"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2014.11.26"] [WhiteClock "1:15:18"] [BlackClock "0:24:05"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 {This already is a bit of a surprise. Earlier in the tournament Chandra played the Najdorf against Yian Liou.} 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be2 Nf6 7. Be3 a6 8. a3 Be7 9. f4 d6 10. g4 {It seems like in every Sicilian White is playing g4. This is yet another game that shows why it is so dangerous...} Nd7 11. g5 b5 12. Nxc6 $1 {A nice way to help accelerate White's development} Qxc6 13. Qd4 O-O 14. O-O-O {Black is already in a serious dilemma. White's fully developed and is ready to launch f4-f5. It's clear that the opening has turned out strongly in White's favor.} Rb8 15. f5 Ne5 16. f6 $1 {Li is playing perfect attacking chess. He is wasting no time, playing forceful moves, trying to pry open his opponent's king at the cost of a pawn.} gxf6 $2 {This is a very cooperative move. White's attack along the g-file will be overwhelming.} (16... Bd8 {This is not an appetizing move to have to play but compared to the alternative, it is a massive improvement. White will still have a clear advantage after the following} 17. fxg7 Kxg7 18. Qxd6 Qxd6 19. Rxd6 {This is still relatively playable for Black, although White is clearly better.}) 17. gxf6 Bxf6 $4 18. Bh6 $2 (18. Rhg1+ $1 {If Li had played this, the game would not have lasted much longer. The best case scenario for Black is going into an endgame a full rook down after} Kh8 19. Bh6 Qc5 20. Qxc5 dxc5 21. Bxf8 Bb7 22. Bxc5) 18... Bh8 $1 {This is the only move that keeps the game going. From this point on, Chandra defends resourcefully despite being at a significant time disadvantage.} 19. Bxf8 (19. h4 $1 {This idea looks very strong. White intends to play h4-h5 and follow up with a check in the guarantee that will win material. It's hard to offer Black a worthy defense.}) 19... Kxf8 20. Qd2 Ke7 21. Rhf1 Kd7 22. Qh6 Kc7 23. Qxh7 Bd7 24. Rd2 Qc5 25. Qh3 b4 {A good move. Black has another good alternative} (25... a5 $5 { The threat of b4 is a major inconvenience to White. In spite of White's material advantage, most players would prefer to play black here. Unbelievably, it is now White's king that is in greater danger than Black's!}) 26. Nb1 $2 Bg7 27. Kd1 bxa3 28. Qxa3 Bh6 29. Qxc5+ dxc5 30. b3 Bxd2 $6 {This is the last chance for Black to fight for more than a draw. The remaining moves don't need much explanation} (30... c4 $1 {White's rook has nowhere to go and can be captured whenever Black deems it necessary. The b3 pawn is a serious weakness. White will need to defend accurately to make a draw.}) 31. Nxd2 Rh8 32. Nc4 Nxc4 33. Bxc4 f5 34. exf5 exf5 35. Bd3 Rxh2 36. Bxf5 Bxf5 37. Rxf5 Kb6 38. Kc1 Rg2 39. Kb2 Rh2 40. Rf4 Rg2 41. Kc3 Rh2 42. Kd3 Rg2 43. Rf6+ Kb5 44. c4+ Ka5 45. Rc6 Rg3+ 46. Kc2 Rc3+ {[%cal Gg3c3] [#]A cute trick that brings the game to an immediate end. Capturing the rook here or on the next turn results in an immediate stalemate.} 47. Kb2 Rxb3+ 48. Kxb3 1/2-1/2

After a bloodless draw in Round six against IM Michael Bodek (above), I faced GM Jeffery Xiong, with the black pieces. This was easily the most anticipated match of the tournament, with the two top seeds facing off in the crucial seventh round. I had a ½ point lead over Jeffery at this stage, and so it was essential to hold my ground and not lose my grip on the tournament standings.

Jeffery Xiong playing Akshat Chandra in Round seven

I decided to roll with the Taimanov once again. Things were fairly balanced, and we soon traded queens into a minor piece endgame with rooks on the board. The position was completely even, but I had fallen into serious time trouble. I had about two minutes to complete the last 12 moves and as a result, I made some serious mistakes. When we reached the time control, Jeffery had a near-decisive advantage. I defended tenaciously for the next few moves, while Jeffery kept playing accurately to hold his advantage. But suddenly, Jeffery made a blunder, overlooking a fantastic resource of mine. This allowed me to simplify into an easily drawn 2 vs 1 rook endgame, and the game was eventually drawn. The following game notes by tournament analyst GM Mackenzie Molner.

[Event "US Juniors"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.07.13"] [Round "7"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Chandra, Akshat"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B49"] [Annotator "Mackenzie Molner"] [PlyCount "160"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2014.11.26"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 {Chandra's previous handling of the Taimanov was not as impressive as displayed in this game} (2... d6 {Against Yian Liou, Chandra chose to play the Najdorf.}) 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Be2 b5 8. Nxc6 Qxc6 (8... dxc6 {A playable alternative}) 9. Bf3 Bb7 10. e5 Qc7 11. O-O Bxf3 12. Qxf3 Rc8 (12... Rd8 {This move was chosen in the only game I can find in this position. Chandra's move is a perfectly acceptable novelty}) 13. Rad1 Ne7 14. Rfe1 Ng6 15. Bd4 Be7 16. Ne4 {Both players have been playing at a very high level up until this point. Chandra's next move is very reasonable but he could have been more daring with 16... Qxc2!} O-O (16... Qxc2 {Black will soon castle and in order for White to regain the pawn, Xiong will need to capture on d7, quickly allowing Black gain activity along the d-file, ending White's attack.} 17. Bc3 O-O 18. Rxd7 b4 19. Rd2 Qa4 20. Bd4 Rfd8 {An example of how Black's coordination improves by trading the c-pawn for the d-pawn.}) 17. c3 Nh4 18. Qg4 Nf5 19. Nf6+ Kh8 20. Nd5 Qb7 21. Nxe7 Nxe7 22. Re3 b4 23. cxb4 (23. Rh3 $1 {It's very unlikely that White can checkmate Black here, but it forces Black's knight to f5 in order to protect the kingside. This is a concession that gives White a better position. Black would rather play bxc3 and be able to meet Bxc3 with Nd5}) 23... Qxb4 24. Qe2 Nd5 25. Rb3 Qa4 26. Ra3 Qb5 27. Qxb5 axb5 28. Ra7 Rfd8 29. a3 Kg8 30. g3 f6 31. Rd3 Ra8 32. Rb7 Rab8 33. Rxb8 Rxb8 34. Rb3 Kf7 35. f4 Ke8 36. Bc5 Kd8 $6 37. Kf2 Kc8 38. Kf3 Rb7 39. Kg4 Kc7 40. Bf8 g6 41. exf6 Nxf6+ 42. Kg5 Nd5 43. Kh6 Kd8 44. Kxh7 Ke8 45. Bd6 Kf7 46. Kh6 Rb6 47. Be5 d6 48. Bd4 Rb8 49. Kg5 Ne7 50. g4 Nc6 51. Bf6 $6 (51. Be3 $1 {With strong chances to win}) 51... b4 $1 {Black's new found counterplay with Rb5 is enough to salvage the game} 52. Rd3 bxa3 53. bxa3 Rb5+ 54. f5 gxf5 55. Rxd6 fxg4+ 56. Kxg4 Kxf6 57. Rxc6 Ra5 58. Rc3 Ra4+ 59. Kg3 Kf5 60. Rb3 e5 61. Rf3+ Kg5 62. Re3 Kf5 63. Rb3 Kg5 64. Rf3 Rg4+ 65. Kf2 Ra4 66. Rb3 Kf5 67. Ke1 e4 68. Ke2 Kf4 69. Rc3 Ra8 70. h4 Rb8 71. h5 Rb2+ 72. Kd1 Rh2 73. a4 Rxh5 74. Ke2 Rh2+ 75. Ke1 Ra2 76. Rb3 Rxa4 77. Ke2 Ra2+ 78. Ke1 e3 79. Rb8 Kf3 80. Rf8+ Ke4 {An exciting and difficult defense for Chandra. With two rounds left, both players still have everything to play for!} 1/2-1/2

– Part two of this report will follow shortly –

Previous report

Akshat Chandra wins 2015 US Junior Championship
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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Topics Juniors, USA

Born in 1999 Akshat is currently on a quest for the GM title. He started playing chess at the comparatively late age of nine, but made rapid progress and at the age of 15, has an IM title, a GM norm, and a 2490 FIDE rating. He is also a budding author who has attended the online advanced writing program of John Hopkins University. More about him on his blog QuestToGM..
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A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 8/4/2015 04:01
ff2017 --You do understand that ad hominem is not really a valid form of argument, don't you?

The tournaments I referred to, held in the US, attracted world champions and challengers for the world title. The US and World Opens I mentioned still do. The US junior? Rarely....except for Fischer, who could not be bothered with such a weak event. This is in fact almost axiomatic, since US juniors are too weak and inexperienced to compete for the title (Fischer at age 15 being the obvious exception).

I could have easily listed more recent tournaments as examples. You are however grasping at straws by dwelling upon the year.
The issue was never that the US Junior does or does not have prestige. It clearly does have some prestige. The issue is that it is an absurd claim that its prestige is second only to the US Championship. Why you would get upset over someone pointing that fact out is difficult to understand.
ff2017 ff2017 8/3/2015 09:43
Wow, senile people should limit their postings. Talking about tournaments last held in 1966....

If the author of the article feels participating and winning a tournament is prestigious then it is prestigious to him. That fact that some random 1700 patzer doesn't think it is prestigious and seeks to denigrate said author's victory ... is well .... rather pathetic.

I guess 2015 Biel isn't prestigious either cause Hou Yifan isn't playing this year. (oops I contradicted my point)
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 8/3/2015 03:22
@Bertman -- Well, I look at my copy of 60 Memorable Games, and it lists Fischer as playing in the US Junior Championship in 1955 - 57. But thanks for the comment anyway.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 8/3/2015 03:17
@akshat chandra -- I have no idea why you think the mere fact it is a national title or even an invitational gives it great prestige. It is not the title, it is the strength of the tournament, that creates the prestige. The US junior is small potatoes.
akshat chandra akshat chandra 8/3/2015 04:43
@A7fecd1676b88 You mentioned the Piatigorsky Cup, last played in 1966, and Lone Pine tournament, last played in 1981. It's 2015. And you're telling me that I should "get out more?" Also, tournaments like the World Open and US Open are open tournaments where anyone in the world can play. They are not national titles, unlike the US Junior Closed and US Championships, which in addition are also invite-only tournaments.
Bertman Bertman 8/3/2015 03:38
@A7fecd1676b88 You are aware the author said "is", which means now. I am not sure, but I think it has been a while since the Piatigorsky was last played.... Also, Fischer never played in the US Junior Closed.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 8/2/2015 10:16
"The US Junior Closed Chess Championship is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the United States – next only to the US Championships."

In fact, Fischer stopped playing in it after 1958.
Anybody with a knowledge of US Chess history can easily name more prestigious US events than the US Junior. Lone Pine and the Piatagorsky Cups for example. Even the US Open and World Opens. Perhaps the author should get out more.
vishyvishy vishyvishy 8/2/2015 08:16
In India also National Junior & Girls (U-19)Chess Championship 2015 took place. India's future star Aravindh Chithambaram won it convincingly 9.5/11 !! ... His Last Round game was worth to mention here ---
[Event "PSNA National Junior Chess Championships 2015"]
[Site "Dindigul"]
[Date "2015.07.30"]
[Round "11"]
[White "Chithambaram, Aravindh"]
[Black "Dhulipalla B C, Prasad"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteELO "2507"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackELO "2207"]
[BlackTitle ""]
[Source "MonRoi"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be2 a6 7.O-O Nf6 8.Be3 Bb4 9.Na4 Be7 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Nb6 Rb8 12.Nxc8 Qxc8 13.e5 Nd5 14.Bc1 Bc5 15.c4 Ne7 16.b3 Qc7 17.Bb2 d6 18.exd6 Bxd6 19.Qd4 c5 20.Qxg7 Bxh2 21.Kh1 Rg8 22.Qc3 Bd6 23.Rfe1 Nc6 24.Bh5 Nd4 25.Qh3 Kf8 26.Rad1 Be5 27.Bc1 Bf4 28.Ba3 Nc2 29.Bxf7 Qxf7 30.Bxc5 Kg7 31.Rxe6 Rgd8 32.Rd5 Kh8 33.Be7 Rxd5 34.cxd5 Re8 35.Bf6 Qxf6 36.Rxe8 Kg7 37.Qd7 1-0