US Junior Closed: Star-studded surprises

by Albert Silver
6/26/2014 – The US Junior Closed started last weekend and is currently at the midway point after five rounds. This year's championship is particularly fascinating as it brings two prominent youths, IM Samuel Sevian and IM Jeffrey Xiong, as well as the only GM of the tournament, Kayden Troff, and various repeats and new faces. The start has been full of upsets and who will win is anyone's guess.

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In view of his recent success and GM norms, 13-year-old Sevian was considered a favorite to take the title. However, somehow things would not click for him as instead he suffered three losses in the first four rounds, mostly due to poor focus as he botched perfectly healthy positions for no good reason.

Fellow 13-year-old Jeffrey Xiong has long been in Sevian's shadow until the last year when something clicked and the results began rolling in. Contrary to his rival, he had a dream start and took the sole lead after four rounds, with a very fine win.

IM Jeffrey Xiong has had a great start, but can he keep the momentum?

This is Xiong's third US Junior, and experience played an important role. “Experience has been big,” Xiong said. “The first few times I played (in the Junior Closed), I haven’t been as comfortable and as confident as I feel now. Probably one or two years ago, I wouldn’t have been as confident in sacrificing a piece like I did in today’s game.”

GM Kayden Troff, who had also started with 2.5/3, could not keep pace, and with a draw, stood right behind Xiong.

Heading into the round, the standings’ top-three leaders had begun to break away, separating themselves from the rest of the field by a full point -- but on Tuesday those front-runners were suddenly reminded: Not so fast. The bottom three players in the standings combined for three points, while the top three scored just a half-point.

Tournament leader IM Jeffrey Xiong was dealt his first defeat after getting bit by IM Sam Sevian, the second seed and pre-tournament favorite who had lurked dangerously in the bottom of the standings after finding three losses through the first four rounds. Sevian looked like his old self for at least Tuesday, patiently squeezing out Xiong’s Sicilian by positionally strangling him right from the start.

After a rough start, Samuel Sevian is on the comeback trail

Also slipping was the tournament’s lone GM Kayden Troff, who fell with the white pieces in his first loss of the event to FM Michael Bodek. The two front-runner defeats gave a serious shake to the standings just past the halfway mark, moving Bodek up with Troff in second place, and allowing IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti to catch pace in front after mustering the day’s only draw to FM Justus Williams.

Larson, having earned his wildcard as a promising local to the host Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, entered the tournament more than a 150-point underdog to the next-closest competitor -- though the 17-year-old has more-than proven he can hang just fine in this elite field.

Given the wildcard, Matthew Larson, the lowest rated player, has done very well, especially
considering he has only been playing for four years

Larson, who has only been playing chess for four years, scored the highest-rated draw of his career against Xiong in round 3 -- and on Tuesday he notched the highest-rated victory of his career over Ostrovskiy, who outweighed the newcomer by more than 300 rating points.

[Event "ch-USA Junior 2014"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Larson, Matthew W"] [Black "Ostrovskiy, Al"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2160"] [BlackElo "2423"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Qc2 dxc4 5. e4 b5 6. b3 cxb3 7. axb3 e6 8. Bd2 a5 9. Bd3 h6 10. O-O Bb7 11. Nc3 Be7 12. e5 Nfd7 13. Be2 Na6 14. Qe4 b4 15. Nd1 Nc7 16. Qg4 Kf8 17. Ne3 g6 18. Bd3 Kg7 19. Nc4 Nd5 20. h4 c5 21. h5 g5 22. Nh2 cxd4 23. f4 Nc5 24. fxg5 Bxg5 25. Nd6 Rf8 26. Nxb7 Nxb7 27. Qe4 Rh8 {Diagram [#]} 28. Rxf7+ $1 {A nice shot that ends the game.} Kxf7 29. Qg6+ Kf8 30. Rf1+ Bf6 31. exf6 Qc7 32. Bxh6+ Rxh6 33. Qxh6+ 1-0

Standings after five rounds

Report by Albert Silver and Brian Jerauld
Pictures from official site


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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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