Challengers Tour Finals: Keymer and Liang in semis

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/15/2021 – Vincent Keymer and Awonder Liang made it into the semifinals of the Julius Baer Challengers Tour Finals after beating Leon Mendonca and Nodirbek Abdusattorov respectively. Keymer, who finished the preliminary stage — consisting of four tournaments — atop the overall standings table, had to work hard to take down Mendonca.

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Mendonca put up a great fight

All four participants of the Challengers Tours Finals who played their quarterfinals matches on Friday are 18 or younger. The youngest of the four is Leon Mendonca, a 15-year-old grandmaster from Goa, India. Of course, the age difference between these prodigies has more to do with statistics than anything else — they are all incredibly strong for their age.

However, an additional factor in the case of Mendonca is that he only got his first GM norm a year ago, in October 2020. Remarkably, the youngster got his three norms in a bit over three months, while stranded in Budapest! He and his father could not return home when the pandemic hit in March last year. Luckily for them, as Lyndon (Leon’s father) noted, they were stuck “in one of the most beautiful cities in the world”.

Mendonca lost his match against second seed Vincent Keymer, but only after taking the confrontation to blitz tiebreaks. Vladimir Kramnik praised his remarkably quick progress once the match was over.

The Indian’s great performance does not take away from Keymer’s victory, who at 16 has already become a household name among chess aficionados. The German star finished first in the overall standings table of the tour — and he also got to play in the main event of the Grenke Chess Classic in 2019!

Julius Baer Challengers Tour Finals

The one coming back from behind in the duel between the German and the Indian was, in fact, Keymer, who after a rather peaceful draw lost the second rapid game of the match. Mendonca was on the better side of an opposite-coloured bishop position with all four rooks still on the board.

 

White cannot make progress, while Black will slowly break through by pushing his f-pawn and advancing his mobile majority on the queenside. Mendonca showed good technique to get the full point in the 52-move game.

Keymer bounced right back. Sadly for the Indian, a mouse-slip put an end to the game in a completely equal position.

 

A draw followed, and the match went to tiebreaks. The first blitz encounter also finished peacefully, and Keymer went on to win the next encounter in what turned out to be a tense, nerve-wracking struggle.

 

The other quarterfinal saw Awonder Liang getting the better of Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Lian kicked off the day with a fine win.

 

Endgame expert Karsten Müller analysed this position (in the replayer below), and noted that here 31...Rxg4+ 32.Nxg4 Rxg4+ was almost forced, with good chances to get a draw.

On the other hand, Abdusattorov’s 31...Rh6, trying to counterattack, was too slow. Liang immediately activated his king with 32.Kg3, and quickly created a strong attack with his rook, knight and central pawns.

This was the final position.

 

A rollercoaster game followed, with both players missing chances to get a win (especially Abdusattorov) — the game ended in a 55-move draw. After a second draw, Liang scored another win to secure match victory.

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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