Kramnik Challenge: Liang sole leader

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/15/2021 – 18-year-old American grandmaster Awonder Liang collected 3½ points in Saturday’s four rounds to climb to sole first place at the Kramnik Challenge for young stars. Former co-leader Nodirbek Abdusattorov stumbled against Zhu Jhiner and now stands a full point behind, while Vincent Keymer kept up the pace and also scored 3½ points on the third day action — the German grandmaster is in clear second place with three rounds to go. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Keymer keeps up the pace

One of the perks of following junior tournaments is the high degree of unpredictability. Any of the young talents might suddenly show a spark of brilliance and take down one of the leaders — and this happens more frequently than in the more stable elite events. Only one player had gone through the first two days of action unbeaten, and he was defeated in the very first round of day 3 by a player who at the time stood in shared 10th place.

 

Abdusattorov was sharing the lead after eight rounds and had the black pieces against Zhu Jiner in his first game on Saturday. In the diagrammed position, Black’s pieces look rather cramped, but he does not have any weaknesses — engines actually give him a slight edge.

The way to keep that small advantage was by giving up a piece for two pawns, though, which is never an easy decision to make so early in the game. Thus, instead of going for 15...Nxe4 16.Qxe4 Qxb2, creating an imbalanced position, Abdusattorov played 15...Bc6, keeping the balance.

There followed 16.e5 dxe5 17.dxe5 Ng4 18.Nc4 Qa6 19.b3, and suddenly it is White who looks to be in the driver’s seat.

 

At this point, Black erred again, by lashing out with 19...b5. Zhu quickly found 20.Nd6 and got a clear positional advantage. The 18-year-old Chinese WIM never let go of her advantage and scored her third victory of the event against a player rated almost 200 points higher than her. 

 

That single loss by Abdusattorov was critical for the standings, as his direct opponents, Awonder Liang and Vincent Keymer, had a great third day of action — both scored three wins and a draw on Saturday.

Liang’s day would have been perfect had he found the right manoeuvre in a sharp endgame against Abdusattorov in round 12.

 

The game had been a rollercoaster, with the Uzbek GM failing to make the most of a positional advantage in the late middlegame.

By this point, however, it is Liang who has the upper hand, as 62...Bc6, defending the all-important passer on the b-file was the winning move. Surely, the American feared 63.Kc3 Na2+ 64.Kb2, as both his pieces are under attack. However, 64...Kd6 would have kept everything under control.

 

After 65.Rc2 Nb4, Black is fully in control and has kept his dangerous connected passers.

None of this happened, though, as Liang played 62...a3 in the first diagrammed position. The sharp struggle continued, as White kept pushing once the knights left the board and a rook vs bishop ending appeared on the board — with Black’s a-pawn still alive. 

Naturally, both players were in perennial time pressure for the rest of the game. The draw was only agreed after 123 moves!

 

Endgame specialist Karsten Müller always keeps an eye on any instructive position that might appear on elite tournaments to share his analyses with the readers (do not miss his recent ‘Endgame Magic’ episode with Abhimanyu Mishra). Looking at the games from rounds 9 to 12, he chose another game featuring Abdusattorov, who made the most of Luke Mendonca’s mistake in a rook endgame.

 

The immediate 42.g5 was the losing error. As GM Müller explains, White needed to play 42.Kf1 first, and only after 42...Kf6 to go for 42.g5+ Kxg5 43.Rxf7, defending. Such nuances are often decisive in masters’ games!

 

Standings after round 12

 

All games

 

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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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