This morning marked the end of the World Junior Championships, which were 11-round Swiss tournaments held in Tarvisio, Italy over a span of almost two weeks from November 13-25. However, as the saying goes, it wasn’t over until it was over. This was, in fact, the case for both the Open and Girls’ sections. For those who were awake to watch the round, it proved to be a suspenseful couple of hours.
In the Girls’ section, the tournament wasn’t decided until the last round game between U.S. native Jennifer Yu and Kazakhstani native Zhansaya Abdumalik. Down half a point (8 vs. 8.5), Jennifer Yu needed a win in order to leapfrog her opponent and win first place outright. However, in what started as a symmetrical English, middlegame pawn structure and king safety were what made the difference in this one, allowing Abdumalik to win with the Black pieces and the tournament outright by a full point at 9.5/11. Despite her last round loss, Jennifer Yu still finished with a Bronze (3rd place) with 8/11 since she was alone at second place going into the round. This game, however, was not the one that caught my attention from the top boards in the last few rounds; it was the 10th round game between Davaademberel Nomin-Erdene and Jennifer Yu that piqued my interest.
To elaborate, this game caught my attention due to its dynamic nature of piece play and the role of square color control and weakness. We saw how White obtained a grip on the dark squares on the kingside early in the middlegame, but the “outstanding” bishop on h8 held the kingside long enough for Black to be able to generate counterplay on the light squares on the queenside/center. This ended up being one of those cases where the counterattack proved to be stronger than the original attack; Black’s queenside pawns led the way as the major pieces found entryways en route to the king, which decided the game in the end.
In the Open section, more than one game was involved in the last round in terms of possible tournament winners. Among those possible winners was the 12-year-old world sensation Praggnanandhaa. All in all, seven (!) people were capable of winning the tournament going into the last round, with all but one of them at 7.5/10 (the only exception was top-seed Aryan Tari at 8/10). As described in the tournament description for the World Juniors, the winner of the section would automatically receive the GM title. This presented an added excitement factor for pretty much everyone in the chess world sans Sergey Karjakin. If Praggnanandhaa was able to win the tournament, he would crush Karjakin’s record for youngest ever to achieve the GM title by 3+ months. Unfortunately, to the dismay of much of the aforementioned people of the chess world, Praggnanandhaa only drew the last round, finishing at 4th place at 8/11 behind the three co-champions at 8.5/11. While his last game didn’t present him much of a chance as Black, a game that Praggnanandhaa would most probably want back was the 10th round game against Lomasov. With time trouble present, the two players reached this position during the sudden death portion of the time control:
The winning move in this position is the relatively hard-to-find 57. Qa8, which protects the rook and threatens to penetrate with Ra7. Most likely due to time pressure, Praggnanandhaa missed this idea and instead went for the perpetual with Qe6+/Qg8+. If he had won that game, he would have had the chance to play Tari on even ground for the chance to win the tournament in round 11. That didn’t happen, though, and Tari drew rather easily to maintain his position atop the rest of the competition.
With that, another World Junior Championships has concluded, and it did not fail to display the off-the-charts talent of some youth in the chess world. Next time around, I will probably be discussing something related to the London Chess Classic, as that tournament is starting in about a week! And, as always, thanks for reading!