Young Stars Success

by Alejandro Ramirez
5/20/2016 – It is clear that chess in on the rise in many countries. Talents are popping up everywhere, from Armenia to India, from China to South America. However, it seems that the combined program between the Kasparov Chess Foundation and the Saint Louis Chess Club, named the Young Stars, has a key to success. They currently have the two strongest players born in the year 2000, and they only keep going up!

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The fight to be known as the best prospect for chess in America is a tough one. With the chess boom caused by the coming of top-level GMs to this country, as well as the impact of the Saint Louis Chess Club and the Kasparov Chess Foundation, there have been several impressive talented players making their ways up the national ranks. However, two of them stand head above the rest, and have recently distanced themselves even more from the pack: Sam Sevian and Jeffery Xiong, the two star students of the Young Stars program.

A typical training session for the Young Stars

The Young Stars – Team USA program has been sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) since 2012. A group of young and promising chess players are assessed and evaluated by Garry Kasparov himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky. These players are also individually trained by prominent grandmasters and famous coaches, including Alexander Chernin.

Jeffery Xiong proved that his 2600 is no accident. Photo: Austin Fuller.

Jeffery's most recent success was his wonderful performance in the 2016 U.S. Chess Championship. The strongest American national championship ever held, with three top-10 players, was held in Saint Louis, Missouri a couple of weeks back. Jeffery was the youngest participant, and a first-timer at this prestigious event. The second youngest player, Akshat Chandra, qualified through his victory in last year's U.S. Junior Championship and is also part of the Young Stars program.

Dress-wise, Jeffery is known for his lucky hoodie. Photo: Austin Fuller.

The performance of young Jeffery, hailing from Coppell, Texas, was astonishing. After nine rounds of chess he had not dropped a single full point, remaining undefeated until then and even defeating former U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky along the way. His only loss in the tournament came with the black pieces to none other than Hikaru Nakamura, at that point the defending U.S. Champion. He was aided in the tournament by GM Vladimir Georgiev, one of the KCF official coaches.

Jeffery's performance gained him six rating points, and with that he cements his position as one of the top Junior players world-wide. He currently is ranked sixth in the World for players born after January 1st, 1996, and clear first for players born in January 1st, 2000 or later.

Jeffery's meteoric ascent! Source:

It wasn't only Jeffery that was making waves around the World, however. Sam Sevian just finished an impressive performance in the very strong Hasselbacken Open in Sweden. The field was star-studded, with players such as Andreikin, Almasi, Smirin and Shirov. It was precisely the Latvian legend of Alexei Shirov that fell victim to Sevian's unstoppable chess in Hasselbacken in the fifth round.

[Event "Stockholm Hasselbacken op"] [Site "Stockholm"] [Date "2016.05.04"] [Round "5"] [White "Shirov, Alexei"] [Black "Sevian, Samuel"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C45"] [WhiteElo "2686"] [BlackElo "2589"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2016.04.30"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "SWE"] [Source "Chessbase"] [SourceDate "2016.05.13"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 {The Scotch! Kasparov tried to revive this in the GM Blitz Challenge last week, perhaps Shirov was paying attention.} Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. Qe2 (6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 {has been the main line for a long time, but the alternative played in the game might be picking up a bit of steam as White has found nothing in the main line.}) 6... Bb4+ {One of many moves that Black has tried recently. The argument is that the pawn on c3 hinders White's development.} 7. c3 Be7 8. e5 Nd5 9. Qg4 {the novelty of the game, you could say, as there are no relevant games after this in strong GM practice.} Kf8 (9... g6 {has it's own drawbacks, like weakening the darksquares and allowing 10.Bh6.}) 10. Qe4 {The position is already very crazy. White has moved his queen a bunch of times in the opening, Black has doubled pawns and cannot castle... It's not something easy to explain to beginners!} d6 {A pawn sacrifice which was, more or less, forced.} 11. c4 Nb6 12. Qxc6 Rb8 13. Nc3 Bb7 14. Qb5 {White has won a pawn, but now Black has incredible compensation. His pieces are all active and there are still threats against the roaming queen.} Nd7 $1 15. exd6 Bxd6 (15... cxd6 {was another idea, with the transfer of the bishop to f6 instead of d6.}) 16. Qg5 f6 {Of course, being down a pawn, Sevian has no interest in a queen trade.} 17. Qh5 Qe7+ 18. Be2 $5 {Giving back the pawn, but allowing White his own counterplay opportunity.} Bxg2 {Black has no choice but to accept the sacrifice, otherwise Shirov would castle and start consolidating.} 19. Rg1 Be4 20. c5 $5 {This move adds a ton of excitement to the game!} (20. Rxg7 Kxg7 21. Bh6+ Kg8 22. c5 {would, surprisingly, transpose into the game.}) 20... Nxc5 21. Rxg7 Kxg7 22. Bh6+ Kg8 23. O-O-O Bg6 24. Bc4+ {This was the point long ago of c5. The bishop targets the king in the opened a2-g8 diagonal and defending it is rather awkward, but Black still has sufficient defense.} Ne6 25. Qh3 (25. Qd5 Kf7 26. Re1 Be5 27. Rxe5 fxe5 28. Qxe5 {would be an entirely different mess.}) 25... Kf7 26. Nd5 { Shirov must have seen this far, noticing that there are some very serious threats against Black's position. However, Sevian has a beuatiful counter response.} Rxb2 $3 (26... Qd7 27. Nxc7 $1 {is far from clear, but very scary for Black.}) 27. Kxb2 (27. Nxe7 Rc2+ 28. Kb1 Rc3+ 29. Nxg6 Rb8+ $1 {An important intermediate so that the rook is not hanging on h8 at the end of the variation.} 30. Ka1 Rxh3 {and Black is up a ton of material.} 31. Bxe6+ Kxg6 { doesn't allow White to get his rook back as Be5 mate is in the air.}) 27... Rb8+ 28. Bb3 Be5+ {With White's king suddenly weak, it is Black's turn to be in the offensive.} 29. Nc3 c5 $6 (29... Ke8 $1 {Was a great time to consolidate the king, which reminds of Kasparov's approach to attacks time and time again: king safety before going for the kill.}) 30. f4 c4 31. fxe5 cxb3 32. a4 Nc5 33. exf6 $1 {Shirov has certainly managed to muddle the waters. The position is, again, far from clear.} Qc7 $1 34. Rd4 Rd8 35. Rxd8 Qxd8 36. Qe3 Qd6 {Even with this limited material on the board, Both sides have to be incredible careful as their kings are weak. It was probably a good time to bail out in this position:} 37. Nb5 $2 {The losing mistake, and this time Sevian does not forgive.} (37. Qe7+ Qxe7 38. fxe7 Kxe7 39. Be3 {should be approximately a draw.}) 37... Nd3+ 38. Kb1 Ne5+ 39. Kb2 Nd3+ {Always repeat.} 40. Kb1 Nf2+ $1 41. Kc1 (41. Kb2 Nd1+ 42. Kxb3 Qd5+ {and the queen falls next move.}) 41... Qd1+ 42. Kb2 Nd3+ 43. Ka3 Qa1+ 44. Kxb3 Qb2+ 45. Kc4 Qb4+ 46. Kd5 Be4+ {The only winning move, and a pretty one at that! White gets mated on c5 next move. A fantastic game!} 0-1

Sam in action in Sweden. Photo from official website.

The Young Star started with a demolishing 4.5/5, and even though he was "only" able to draw his last four games, all against 2600+ rated grandmasters, he managed a beautiful 2657 performance and catapulted himself over the 2600 mark. He is currently tenth in the World in the Junior list, and second in the World in the list of players born after January, 1st 2000, but he is quickly on the pursuit of Jeffery's #1 spot!

Sam's crashing start came after giving a simultaneous exhibition!

Sam will be crossing 2600 in the next rating list, when Hasselbacken is included

Also with a great performance was Young Star Awonder Liang. Despite a rough start with only 2.0/4, the youngest IM in America was able to bounce back with an amazing 5.0/5 to finish the tournament with 7.0/9! His last round victory was against strong Russian GM Konstantin Landa.

Training to be the World's best is no easy task, and there is little rest time. Both Sam and Jeffery will be attending a training session with Garry Kasparov and Michael Khodarkovsky in Saint Louis, from May 27-29. They will be joined by other American stars, such as Kayden Troff, John Burke and the rising female star Carissa Yip.

Sam Sevian, Garry Kasparov, Kayden Troff and Jeffery Xiong at the KCF Gala last year

With three players in the top ten, and such promising talent rising through the ranks, it is clear that the future of elite American chess is in a very healthy state!

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.


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