The U.S. Junior Championships and the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships were held simultaneously at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis from the 7th to the 18th of July 2017. In impressively competitive sections boasting some of the strongest juniors (U21) players from around the country, there was much hype leading up to the tournaments. In the Open section, we saw 7 of the 10 players rated well north of 2400 and all players within 20-30 rating points of each other. In the Girls section, we saw much of the same. But would that hype translate into the exciting, close combat play that many expected going into the tourneys?
In the Open section, the 14-year-old Arizona native Awonder Liang weathered the storm and was the last man standing when the tournament ended, winning with 6.5/9. However, the path was far from easy. The six players that finished behind Liang were all within 2 points. Liang was not even leading the pack going into the last round. Down half a point to Kayden Troff going into the last round, Liang was able to win and preserve his chances while Troff untimely lost his own game. In the Girls’ section, the dust seemed to have settled much earlier, with Virginia native Akshita Gorti leading the pack by 1.5 points with two rounds left to go. Drawing the two last games, Gorti cruised to a tournament victory while keeping the rest of the pack at arm’s distance away. In fact, I was recently able to sit down with Gorti and ask about what she thought of the tournament and her overall performance in this tournament and in the past year. The full interview is provided below.
Vishal Kobla: First, major props. Congratulations on your result! How do you feel?
Akshita Gorti: Tired, haha. But happy, of course, I won the tournament.
Vishal Kobla: What was your mindset going into this tournament? Obviously, you came in wanting to win the entire thing, but what were your true expectations?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I definitely wanted to win. I mean, there were a lot of players, so I had to try to win against all of them. But basically, I just wanted to win.
Vishal Kobla: How has the year been so far for you? I know you traveled quite a bit. Where all did you go and how did you do and what were those experience like?
Akshita Gorti: First, I went to Iceland. Iceland was a nice place, it was cool. I played in the Reykjavik Open. So, it was a good experience, saw a lot of top players, and I played with a couple IMs and GMs. So, yeah, that was Iceland. Then, it was Chicago Open, but that was more of a normal tournament. After that, it was Russia [for the World Team Championships]. Yeah, I don’t play any other tournaments, really.
Vishal Kobla: Did you prepare any differently for this tournament, maybe different from other local tournaments?
Akshita Gorti: Not really… cause I was busy this entire month because I had to go to Russia, Chicago Open before that, and then right after I came back, played in World Open, so I didn’t have much time to prepare for it specifically, so I just, you know, played basically.
Vishal Kobla: Did you prepare in general before the whole string of tournaments?
Akshita Gorti: Yeah, yeah, I did prepare stuff in general.
Vishal Kobla: Obviously, you had a great start to the tournament, right? After a draw and a couple wins. Can you give me a round by round run down of what was going through your mind? Where you eager, nervous, growing in confidence?
Akshita Gorti: Well, usually, before every round, I was a bit nervous, but after I won a couple of games, I started to grow a little bit more confident. In the middle of the game, if I’m in a good position or something, then I’m confident and I just try to win.
Vishal Kobla: So, this was a one-game-per-day kind of schedule, right? So did you have a daily routine that you would have before the game, after the game? Or was it different every day?
Akshita Gorti: Yeah, no…it was pretty much the same. I would wake up, do some tactics, and then look at openings – that was my preparation. Then I would eat my lunch and go for the round [at 1 pm]. That was really all.
Vishal Kobla: Did you have a favorite game from the tournament?
Akshita Gorti: I think my game against Agata [Bykovtsev].
Vishal Kobla: Right, that was the game…you had a pretty crushing game. Was there a game that you were maybe the least happy about? Or did you get lucky in any games?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I wasn’t really happy with my first game because I didn’t really play that well. Yeah, first game, it was equal, but I slowly got worse in the position, but then somehow I was able to get back and make it equal and it was a draw, but I didn’t think I played too well so I didn’t like too much about my first game.
Vishal Kobla: So did you have a game that you believed was the most crucial or the toughest for you in the entire tournament? Was that the first game, or was it another one?
Akshita Gorti: The toughest game was probably the one that I drew against Thalia because I was actually worse in that position, but then it became equal again…and then it went to an ending where I had a piece for a three pawns and I had to hold that endgame, and I had barely any time left. Well, we both didn’t have any time, so I didn’t want to lose that game, so I had to make it a draw, and I did, but it was pretty crucial because I had to make a draw there. And I had trouble in the opening, too.
Vishal Kobla: What was, I guess, your overall opinion of the tournament? Was there anything that you would have liked to be different?
Akshita Gorti: Uh, no, not really. It was a well-conducted tournament, all organized well.
Vishal Kobla: This clearly should check off another box on your wish list for chess – winning the Junior Championship. What are your next immediate goals, long-term goals? Where do you go from here?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I want to become an IM, that’s a goal. And, U.S. Women’s Championships, I’m playing in there, so I want to do well there. Those would be my main goals right now.
Vishal Kobla: In your opinion, what do you think were the major reasons for your success in the tournament?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I think I worked really hard for it, and basically, I was tired after World Open, but still I prepared really hard and I tried to play my best so I think that’s also why I won.
Vishal Kobla: Do you think that playing in all those tournaments right before helped in the end?
Akshita Gorti: Yeah it does, because you stay in form, and you can see tactics and moves much easier, so yeah, it helped.
Vishal Kobla: What do you think you will need to work on or improve upon going forward from here?
Akshita Gorti: How, after getting into winning positions, how to convert them. Like, in my last game and the previous game that I both drew, I had a good position, and I was not able to convert them. And even before this tournament, like in World Open, I also had trouble with that.
Vishal Kobla: So how do you plan on working on that, then?
Akshita Gorti: Probably working at more positions at home in which I’m better and try to figure out how to win them.
Vishal Kobla: Alright, thank you for the time!
Gorti – Bykovtsev, U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship (7), 2017
Notes by Akshita Gorti; my additional comments are in italics
1. d4 was, by far, the most popular opening choice of the players in this tournament.
1. … Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3
So, this is a King’s Indian, and this is actually my first time playing this h3 and Be3 setup. Basically, the idea is that you can keep the option of g4 to prevent the f5 idea, because I know I saw a couple games and she always likes to play e5, f5, so anyhow, she would do that. So, keeping that option open kind of frustrates that idea.
5. … 0-0 6. Be3 e5 7. d5 a5 8. c5
The idea of [a5] is to play Na6 followed by Nc5, so before that happens, I played c5 so the d6-pawn also becomes weak after I trade those pawns.
8. … Na6 9. cxd6 cxd6 10. Nf3
So this approach here I knew, but the right move [for Black] is Nc5 here, and then I would [play Bxc5, dxc5] and Bb5 to prevent this Ne8 idea. So, if Ne8, I take it, actually.
10. … Bd7 11. Nd2
A staple maneuver in the King’s Indian. The knight is better placed on d2 than f3 since it has the option of rerouting to c4 and applying pressure on the weak d6 pawn; it also vacates f3 for the pawn to advance, which would support the pawn on e4.
11. … Nc5 12. Bxc5 dxc5 13. a4 Ne8 14. Bb5 Bc8
And here, she moved back, which she probably shouldn’t have. Now, it’s literally the same position [from the analysis on move 9] except I have my knight on d2 and the pawn on a4, which is actually better.
15. Bxe8 Rxe8 16. 0-0 f5 17. Nc4 f4 18. d6
I thought this was a good idea, to get my knight to d5, and it’s really annoying, the passed pawn.
18. … Be6 19. Nd5 Qg5 20. Ra3
I really like this move, too. It just prevents Bxh3 and f3 ideas.
20 … Rf8 21. Ndb6
I played this move because I saw some ideas where after [21. … f3 22. Rxf3 Rxf3 23. Qxf3 Bxd5] and the double pawns are just unnecessary. So I thought like, if I just play f3, then she has no threats, and that would be pretty good.
21. … Rad8 22. Kh1 Rf7
A passive response from Black, allowing White to accomplish her plan of blockading with 23. f3. A more active response was possible with 22. … Qh4, which prevents 23. f3 by White for now, at least, and also threatens 23. … f3 from Black’s perspective.
Now, White has accomplished what she wanted to do and can return her focus to the center and the queenside.
23. … Bf8 24. Rd3
And she was taking a lot of time, so I just wanted to play simple ideas and not anything too complicated.
24. … Qh5 25. Qd2
She was threatening Bxh3, so now I have Kg1, Qg2.
The full variation that Gorti refers would go 25. … Bxh3 26. gxh3 Qxh3+ 27. Kg1 (protecting the f1-rook) Qg3+ 28. Qg2, which prevents any more checks.
25. … Bg7
She didn’t have much time, so I was just making moves that made sense.
26. … g5 27. Kg1 Qg6 28. Qxa5
I was thinking of taking on a5 [with the knight], but I’m like, “Why keep this knight undefended?” And this just helps my position.
28. … Rdf8 29. d7
A truly suffocating bind by White. Black has no counterplay and it is just a matter of time before White finds a way to break through, one way or another.
29. … Rd8 30. Qxc5 Bxc4 31. Nxc4 Bf8 32. Qc7 Qf6 33. Nxe5
And from here, I think it’s clearly winning. This game also gave me a 1.5 point lead, so it was very important.
The rest of the game will be provided without notes.
33. … Rg7 34. Rfd1 h5 35. Rd5 g4 36. hxg4 h4 37. g5 Qxg5 38. Ng4 Qe7 39. Nh6+ Kh7 40. Nf5 Rxg2+ 41. Kxg2 Qg5+ 42. Kh2 h3 43. Rg1 Qf6 44. e5 Qxf5 45. Qxd8 Qc2+ 46. Kh1 47. Qh4+ Qxh4 48. d8/Q Qf2 49. Rd7+ 1-0
Being able to ask questions to Akshita Gorti about the tournament and about chess, in general, would not have been possible if it had not been for her, so thanks to her for letting me do this. There are many things that I will be able to take away from this interview and the chance to go over a game with her, and I hope that is the same for all readers. For one, we learned that preventing our opponents’ plans is just as important and following through on our own. We saw this exemplified in Gorti’s choice to play an early c5, a move that she may have never been able to play later. We also saw how opening plans tend to be relevant in most positions, even if they appear at unnatural times. For example, Gorti knew that the main variation of the opening at move 10 would end up with her playing Bb5, inhibiting Ne8 from Black. Although Black went out of book in that position, Gorti still found herself able to harness the same idea in a slightly different position. Lastly, we saw how strong and effective prophylaxis can be. In the middle game, White took the time to play Kh1 and f3 to ensure that Black had no lasting plan before continuing with her own ideas on the other side of the board. By using all of these ideas, along with others that are probably beyond my own ability to explain, Gorti was able to deliver a crushing blow and all but ensure her first place finish. Although Gorti states that she needs to work on converting wins, it is really something that all chess players must constantly work on; if anything, this just confirms what the great Emanuel Lasker said so many years ago: “The hardest game to win is a won game.”
Either way, I wish Akshita good luck in her future games and may there be many more performances like this one to come! And, as always, thanks for reading!