US Junior Championship: winner's impressions (2)

by Akshat Chandra
8/4/2015 – In part one of his article 15-year-old Akshat Chandra described the course of the first first seven rounds of the Championship. He was undefeated but had drawn his last three games, while his closest rival, Arthur Shen, had reeled off four straight wins to join him in the lead, both players with 5.0/7. In part two Akshat tells us how he defeated Shen and went on to win the title.

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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 (part 2)

By Akshat Chandra

In part one of this article I described the first seven rounds of the Championship. I had won three games and drawn four, sharing the lead with Arthur Shen. This is what the cross table looked like:

In Round eight I faced FM Arthur Shen with the white pieces. While I had drawn my last three games, Arthur had reeled off four straight wins to join me in the lead with 5.0/7. It was only fitting that we played in the penultimate round.

Arthur surprised me in the opening by offering me to go into the main line Ruy Lopez, something he has never played before. After some thought, I decided to decline by going for 6.d3 instead. I managed to win a pawn after an inaccuracy by him, and though he had compensation, Arthur was unable to find the best continuation. I was able to consolidate, and show good technique to close out the game effectively.

[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.??.??"] [SourceDate "2014.11.26"] 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

Going into the last round, I was the sole leader at 6.0/9, with Jeffery following close behind at 5.5/9. It was reassuring to know that things were in my hands, and I had control of the tournament’s outcome.

I faced FM Awonder Liang (above) in Round nine with the black pieces, and stuck to my Taimanov once again. Awonder surprised me in the opening by going for a variation he had never played before. I responded in the most solid manner, but he remained in his preparation and continued playing swiftly. This was quite uncomfortable, and I decided to throw him out of book by developing my bishop to d7, instead of the natural looking 14…exf4. This seemed to do the trick as Awonder began to think now. He was able to gain an impressive-looking center, but it turned out to be rather flimsy. I enhanced the pressure and Awonder cracked, allowing me to build up a decisive advantage. The game went on for a few more moves, before White resigned.

[Event "Chess Club and Scholastic Cent"] [Site "Chess Club and Scholastic Cen"] [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.??.??"] [SourceDate "2014.11.26"] [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

Final standings (after nine rounds)

I was thrilled to have won the 2015 US Junior Championship, and earn a spot into the 2016 US Championships. It is exciting to know that I could be playing the likes of Caruana and Nakamura next year!

It was a great feeling to see the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It takes a great team to organize such a major tournament flawlessly. Arbiters Tony Rich and Mike Kummer officiated the event marvelously, and the production staff did an impeccable job of broadcasting the games and commentary online. In many ways, the organization of the US Junior was like a dry-run for the Sinquefield Cup which begins in August. Judging by the way they managed the US Junior, the team is definitely more than ready to host the world’s elite once more.

Sitting (L to R): FM Aviv Friedman, Ben Simon, GM Ben Finegold; standing: Paige Pederson,
Nick Schleicher, Laura Schilli, Jonathan Schrantz, Nicole Halpin, Austin Fuller, Tammy Hyde

Finally, I’d like to thank Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield for providing juniors an opportunity to compete in an elite environment and conditions. Without their support and vision, the level of chess interest in America would not be where it is today.

Rex Sinquefield playing Rachel Li (Ruifeng’s sister)

Checking for electronic devices: Arbiter Mike Kummer with his magic wand

Arbiter Tony Rich going over the pre-game announcements

Photos: Austin Fuller of CCSCSL, Akshat Chandra; annotations by Mackenzie Molner and Akshat Chandra

Previous reports

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'.

US Junior Championship: Winner's impressions
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 what it is like to play and win such a prestigious event.


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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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