Awonder Liang and Carissa Yip are the 2018 U.S. Junior Champions

by Antonio Pereira
7/23/2018 – Saint Louis hosted the 2018 editions of the U.S. Junior Chess Championship and the U.S. Girls Junior Championship last week. Awonder Liang and Carissa Yip qualified to the national main event by winning in each category. This was Liang's second consecutive win in this event, while Yip improved greatly on her eighth place from last year. | Photos: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Steady hands

Both Awonder Liang and Carissa Yip won due to their untimely high level of maturity. Liang displayed the same confidence that he had shown in this year's U.S. Championship to finish as the only player in both competitions that did not lose a single game. Meanwhile, Yip had a more dominating run amongst the girls, as her sixth round loss against Sophie Morris-Suzuki did not prevent her from taking first place with a one-point advantage.

After half time in the open section, Advait Patel was leading the standings. His fall from grace came in round six, when he was almost mated by Akshat Chandra. This game — which finished with an overwhelming attack — proved to be essential to Liang's eventual victory:

 

Advait Patel could not hold on to the lead | Photos: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Patel still had chances to finish first in the last round, though for that to happen he needed to win and Liang had to lose. Liang drew quickly against Chandra, securing first place, but Advait defeated the rating favourite Ruifeng Li anyway. In the game, Patel survived a strong attack against his open king and later converted his big material advantage into a win:

 

In order to reach the final round in such a strong position in the standings, Awonder Liang beat Praveen Balakrishnan in the penultimate day of play. The position remained balanced until the very last moves, when Balakrishnan stumbled in a rook and knight endgame. It is strange to say it when referring to such young boys, but Liang's experience was the key factor in this encounter:

 

Liang and Chandra signed a quick draw in the last round | Photos: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

A player that was a highlight in this year's open event was Alex Bian, who managed to end the nine rounds without drawing a single game. His final win over Balakrishnan lasted only 22 moves and included a very attractive direct attack against Black's king:

 

Bian finished in shared third place with John Burke and Akshat Chandra, half a point behind Advait Patel, who was clear second.

Nothing stops Carissa

The champion amongst the girls, Carissa Yip, prevailed from start to finish. She showed great endgame technique and admirable patience — especially for a 15-year-old! Only three of her games finished with queens still on the board. However, no one would have thought that this was going to be the style of play that would eventually lead her to a tournament victory after seeing her first round win:

 

Friends and competitors, Yip and Yu | Photos: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Jennifer Yu finished in shared second place. After signing scoresheets with decisive results in the first seven rounds, she split points in her final two games. In the sixth round, she managed to checkmate Natassja Matus' king in the middle of the board:

 

The other girl that finished a point behind Yip was Emily Nguyen. In order to get there she recovered from a penultimate round loss by defeating Matus on Saturday. Coincidentally, Nguyen and Yu were the only players that drew with the eventual winner.

Chess never stops in Saint Louis | Photos: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Final standings - Open

 

All games - Open

 

Final standings - Girls

 

All games - Girls

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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macauley macauley 7/24/2018 11:23
@ Zmeu - Indeed. That was fixed.
thesavage1234 thesavage1234 7/23/2018 10:20
Anyone notice something strange about the names on the scoresheet?
Zmeu Zmeu 7/23/2018 04:40
The text introduces specific games but then the widgets simply display all games played, always in the same order. Please fix.
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