US Junior Championship: IM Ray Robson, 14, victorious

by ChessBase
7/27/2009 – The US Junior Invitational Championship was hosted by Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 12-17th. The top seven American juniors under the age of 21 were joined by last year’s Junior Open champion for this eight-person round robin event. The tournament drew one of the strongest fields ever with one GM, three IMs and three FMs. It was won by a 14-year-old, with a 2751 USCF performance!

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2009 U.S. Junior Invitational Championship, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

By Alex Betaneli and Ashish Vaja, co-organizers

IM Ray Robson, the youngest participant, won the tournament with a fantastic six out of seven score. Aside from pocketing $1,000, Robson qualified for the 2009 World Junior Championship in Argentina and for the 2010 U.S. Closed Championship in Saint Louis.

An aerial view of the city of Milwaukee

Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, one hour north of Chicago, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin with a population of about one million. The name of the city comes from the Milwaukee River, which in turn acquired its name from the Native American word Milloke meaning “gathering place by the water.” Milwaukee is known as the “City of Festivals” with Summerfest, the most famous of them all, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest music festival in the world. Milwaukee is a city of importance for chess players as a physics professor named Arpad Elo, the famous creator of the Elo rating system, lived and taught here.

The playing venue was the beautiful Ramada Hotel of Milwaukee. With hot breakfast
provided and morning rounds starting at 11:00am, the players could afford to sleep in.

Frank Berry, International Arbiter

Frank Berry, the chief arbiter, started most rounds with humorous words of caution for the players: “Watch out for tricks and traps and remember that not all trappers you meet wear fur hats!” As there were no disputes at the event, he also acted as chief photographer. Frank is known for sponsoring the 2006 and 2007 United States Closed Championships.

Final crosstable

Note that the event was a category nine with an average rating of 2454. Ray Robson easily exceeded the GM norm requirement of 4.9 points, but unfortunately these are USCF ratings, which can be 50 to well over 100 points higher than FIDE, there were too few rounds, and there were no foreign players anyway to make it a FIDE norm.

This year's US Junior Champion, IM Ray Robson, 2491

IM Ray Robson may be only 14 years old, but his maturity and toughness at the chess board are that of a seasoned veteran. He is the youngest International Master in the United States and with FIDE rating already about 2500, Ray’s short term goal is to become a grandmaster. Ray was recently awarded the Samford Chess Fellowship that should certainly help him to fulfill this goal. Robson has received extensive attention in U.S. chess circles, with a great many people speculating about his future. But Ray, fortunately, remains level-headed and seemingly unaffected by the buzz that surrounds him. He won the tournament with 6.0 out of 7 points, by drawing his first and last rounds, and winning an astonishing five in a row in between!

Sam Shankland admires Ray Robson's powerful serve.

Ray also demonstrated his power on the tennis court, immediately after the tournament, by soundly defeating a few other participants who shall remain nameless. We can only hope that this young man does not get overly encouraged by his success in tennis and keeps chess as his primary sphere of expertise!

IM Salvijus Bercys, 2434

The second place finisher IM Salvijus Bercys, 19 years old, came to the United States from Lithuania when he was thirteen. He holds the distinction of having represented two different nations — Lithuania in 2002 and USA in 2004 — at the prestigious World Youth Championships. Known for his pragmatic playing style, Sal avoided time trouble and was the only player who never really had a worse position in this tournament.

GM-elect Alex Lenderman, 2504

At the age of 19, the 2006 World Youth U16 Champion, GM-elect Alex Lenderman, is one of the brightest stars of American chess, both as a player and a trainer. Shortly after turning pro, he scored three GM norms in a breathtaking time span of 32 days this summer! Alex may not have shown his best chess at the tournament, but he set a high standard of sportsmanship: after two tough losses, he did not look for excuses but instead praised his opponents and complimented their fine play. His wonderfully revealing annotations of the crucial loss to Robson in the penultimate round can be seen here, along with the winner’s comments.

IM Sam Shankland, 2448

IM Sam Shankland, age 17, has only been playing tournament chess for seven years. In the past year and a half he propelled himself from master to one of the strongest International Masters in the country. This meteoric rise included qualifying for two U.S. Closed Championships, becoming a co-champion at the 2008 World Youth U18 Championship, scoring two Grandmaster norms this summer, and gaining over 250 rating points. Sam’s affable personality and variety of interests earn him multitudes of fans; whereas, his uncompromising playing style makes him a highly sought participant in invitational events. He is widely considered to be one of the sharpest tacticians on the American chess circuit.

FM Michael Lee, 2347

FM Michael Lee, age 15, scored his first IM norm at the World Open earlier this month. Aside from being one of the top junior players in the country, he is a fantastic piano player who has performed with the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra.

FM Joel Banawa, 2340

FM Joel Banawa, age 19, learned to play chess in his native Philippines at the age of seven. He moved to the United States with his family at age 13 and quickly became a player to be feared. His immediate chess goal is to become an International Master. If there was a “nicest guy” award at the tournament, without a doubt, Joel would be the top candidate!

FM Elliot Liu, 2356

FM Elliot Liu, age 19, won the gold medal in the 2006 Pan American Championship. He also has two norms towards his International Master title, and will be entering into his second year at Stanford University this fall.

CM-elect Maxx Coleman, 2212

Maxx Coleman, age 19, was the first person to qualify for this prestigious event by winning the 2008 U.S. Junior Open. Despite his low score here, Maxx proved himself as a terrific fighter and gained the invaluable experience of playing substantially higher rated opponents.

The Oakland Gyros served great Greek food and quickly became the favorite dining facility for many players. Sam Shankland especially enjoyed the food, but despite several suggestions he never ordered the famous shank of lamb.

The players at the Award Ceremony
(Top: Shankland, Bercys, Banawa, Robson and Liu; Bottom: Lenderman, Coleman and Lee)

Thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball team, every participant received a commemorative jersey. Could the players be talked into a nice baseball practice in future events?! Could baseball professionals be interested in matching wits with this crop of American chess talents?!

Happy Ray Robson with the tournament organizers, Alex Betaneli and Ashish Vaja.

Ray Robson will always remember Wisconsin fondly, but we doubt he will ever start cheering for the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl!


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