Last month, I competed in the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship from July 7-18 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). This was my fourth time participating in this tournament, so I was one of the few returning veterans looking to win. Going into the tournament, I had high expectations to win to earn a chance to go to the 2018 U.S. Women’s Championship and 2018 World Girls’ Junior Championship. I had come very close to winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship before, but I fell short due to heartbreaking moments. In 2014, I ended up tying for first with 5.5/9, but I got third on tiebreaks. In 2015, I had to settle for third place with 5.0/9 after losing a won position in the last round. Then in 2016, I had my worst performance by only scoring 4.5/9 points and getting 5th place. This was why I wanted to redeem myself at the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
The 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship was an invitational only tournament between the top 10 girls under 20. I started the tournament as a second seed and was one of the favorites picked to win the tournament. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to win the tournament, mainly due to missing a lot of chances. Nevertheless, I was still able to finish in clear second which is always a good result. Now, let’s take a round by round look at my games at the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship
In the first round, I played one of my well-known friends. We have played each other a number of times, so we were very familiar with each other. In the following game, we reached this important position.
In this position, I am clearly better with my better placed pieces and more space. I just played 25.Nh4 with the idea of of attacking the Bishop on g6 and having plans of f4 sometimes. My opponent responded 25…Ne5 which was a good move to centralize her pieces. My next move was not the best, and it was the move that turned the game around. I should have played a move like 26.Kg2 to improve the king and have ideas of f4. Instead, I played 26.Bxe5?!. It’s not necessarily a blunder, but it’s also a too forcing move. In better positions, you don’t need to force the position. Instead, you can slowly improve all your pieces and win more slowly and smoothly. My opponent responded with 26…Rxe5, and the game continued 27.Nxg6 hxg6 28.Qg3 g5 29.Kg2 g6 30.h4 Kg7 31.h5 Rh8 32.Rh1 gxh5 33.gxh5
We reached this opposite color bishops position, with my advantage slowly disappearing. The game had become more complex with the opposite colored bishops than the position I had before. Later, I would blunder into a worse position, but I was able to escape with a draw, luckily.
In this round, I also played a well-known friend, and we played each other a lot too. Our game featured a long opening variation with a lot of heavy theory, and, unfortunately, I ended up on the wrong side of the theory. I was the one that didn’t know the opening well, so I tried my best to play the right moves at the board and I did alright. We reached the following position.
I’m up a pawn in this position, but my king is a little bit weaker. With 21.Bd2, White wanted to have ideas to play g4 to get rid of my strong knight on f5 and open up the king. I didn’t want to give up my h4 pawn that easily since the h4 pawn closes down the h-file, so I played the interesting move 21…g5. This move exposes my king more, but I thought that I could bring my queen over, and my king would still be protected. The game continued 22.Qg4 Ng7 23.Ne2 and I played 23…Qg6 sacrificing the h4 pawn. I just wanted to trade queens so my king wouldn’t be attacked anymore. The game would peter out to a bishop of opposite color endgame and we drew quickly.
I scored my first win this round, although it was kind of lucky. I had white against the number one seed. We played a fairly even game, but I had slight pressure on my opponent. Then, my opponent made a very strange decision giving me a free pawn and a huge advantage. Take a look at the following position.
In this position my opponent played the horrible blunder 26…Bc6?? which gives me the f7 pawn. Every one makes these moves once in a while, usually when we’re really tired. Anyway, after this blunder I won the game fairly easily.
This was a special day for me. It was my birthday and I was turning 17! A big shout out to the CCSCSL for wishing me happy birthday on that day! Anyway, in this game I reached a slightly better position in the endgame. However, I didn’t push very hard in the position and ended up settling for a draw. The ending position was still slightly better for me, but I thought it looked like a draw, so I didn’t continue playing. This was one of the games where I could have gotten a half point more.
This was my best game of the tournament. I was playing the lowest rated player as white, but I dominated the game after my opponent made a few mistakes.
Can you find the nice tactic here that finished the game immediately?
I played the reigning 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion this round. In last years tournament, I suffered an early loss to her, so I wanted to redeem myself this year. This game was evenly balanced from the beginning, and I didn’t have huge chances to gain an advantage. I also didn’t take much risks. We agreed to draw on move 33.
This was an important round as I was only one point behind the leader. It was essentially a must win game to try to catch up to the leader. I was white against a strong opponent that I have played many times before. Here is the first important moment in my game.
In this position, I just played 27.Rab1 which is a mistake. I missed a nice tactic that my opponent also missed too. Can you find it?
Black should play 27…Nxg3+!! (27…Rxe5!! works too) 28.hxg3 Rxe5! threatening mate on h5 29.fxe5 Bxf1 30.Qxc5 Bxg2+ 31.Kxg2 Rxc5 and black is up 2 pawns
Instead the game continued 27…Rb6? 28.Qxa7 f6 29.Ba1 Ra6 30.Qb7 Bc4 31.a4 Rac6 32.Rfe1 Ba6 33.Qb2
In time pressure, my opponent made a big mistake and played 33…d4?? This opened the door for me to play 34.Rxe2 Bxe2 35.Qxe2 giving me two bishops for the rook, although my bishop on a1 was badly placed. After maneuvering my pieces around to better squares I was able to win the d4 pawn. Then we reached this position.
This position was completely winning. I just had to use the fact that black’s king had no defenders, and I could attack it. I missed the winning move here as I opted for the move 49.Bc3? Black played 49…Rxd3 50.Bxb4 Rxd2+ 51.Bxd2 Rxa4. This is a theoretical drawn endgame of 2 pieces vs a rook with pawns on the same side. I knew about this endgame, but I wanted to see if my opponent would make a mistake. I tried to make progress in the endgame, but my opponent defended well and we agreed to a draw. The winning move in the above diagram was 49.Qe3! This was a relatively simple move as it moves the queen out of the pin and threatens Qe7+. Black can’t take the pawn with 49…Rxa4 because of 50.Qe7+ Kg8 51.Rc2 threatening Rc8#.
I played the leader as black this round, and I was down one and a half points. This was a must win game for me if I wanted to contend for first place. I approached this game like a regular game, and I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to win. I just wanted to play good chess. Unfortunately, I didn’t play good chess, and I got a worse position out of the opening by mixing up my opening moves.
This position is terrible. All of my pieces are horribly placed, and my bishop on c8 and both rooks will not see life for a long time. I fought hard and played good moves afterwards, but it was too late. My opponent only needed a draw, and she got a draw rather easily. I wish I could have played a better game, but everyone has their bad days, unfortunately.
We already knew the first place winner before this round, so I was fighting for clear second place and $2000. I was white this game, and I walked into some nasty preparation from my well-prepared opponent. At one moment, my opponent had more than 90 minutes while I had to spent 30 minutes navigating the opening. After the opening, I was not in the good position, so I decided to simplify into the drawn rook endgame. We drew quickly then.
I ended up scoring 5.5/9 with 2 wins, 7 draws, and 0 losses. I got clear second, a nice trophy, and $2000. Overall, this was a good experience and fun tournament for me. I could have done better, but I’m still happy with my result. Finally, I want to thank the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for organizing a top notch tournament in the chess capital of the U.S., and I also want to thank everyone for taking the time to read my first chess article here at chess-summit!