My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Juniors Championship (Part I)

For the second year in a row, I was invited to do commentary for the US Junior and Girls Championships. The tournament has become a staple in the US tournament calendar, especially since it is now being held at the Saint Louis Chess Club and offers quite a nice prize fund along with an invitation to the US and US Women’s Championship to the winners. I really enjoy the tournament because there is less pressure on the commentators unlike in the GCT events, the games are fun and exciting and it’s interesting to watch the young talents in action. It was also fun to see them interacting between the rounds and after the tournament; so many of them are good friends outside of chess! It is also encouraging to see so many young girls around 2300-2400 FIDE, especially for the future of our Olympiad team. The junior section was extremely strong and featured 5 GMs. This list doesn’t include Jefferey Xiong, Sam Sevian and Kayden Troff, all of whom declined their invitations. Can you imagine a national junior tournament that has 8 Grandmasters?! By now I’m sure the readers are aware that Awonder Liang defended his title, thus qualifying to the 2019 US Championship.

This year the commentary team was just me and Robert Hess with no third person on the smart board. Robert really insists on not using the engine which is quite refreshing but also challenging. I noticed that I could remember the games better and figuring out the positions on our own was also a great learning experience for me. Of course, it also resulted in mistakes and mishaps which were later pointed out by YouTube viewers.

For example, in this game between Ruifeng Li and Annie Wang we reached the following position in our analysis:

annie vs ruifeng

In this position we were trying to figure out what to do after 19…Bc6 we tried 20. Qd2 but after Bc7 the queen cannot move away from the d file with check. Of course, simple 20. Qc4+ Kh8 21. Qe6 does the trick!

Later on in the same game, we couldn’t figure out a win by Annie in the following position:

annie vs ruifeng2

The game ended in couple of moves after:  33… Qxe3 34. R5xe3 Rdd1 0-1

I really love the fact that Annie accepted the wildcard to play in the Junior section. Although her result wasn’t spectacular, how often does a player around her rating get the opportunity to play in a tournament with 5 GMs? There is a lot of pressure in playing in these fancy events with live coverage and everyone watching, but at the end of the day it’s just another round robin event for her that I think will tremendously help her growth.

Awonder may have won the tournament but it wasn’t a smooth sailing for the young champ. Trouble came in round 5 in his game against Mika Brattain:

Mika vs Awonder

16. Nfxg5!? interesting sacrifice hxg5 17. h6 Bh8 18. Rh5?! (18. h7+ Kf8 (
18… Kg7 19. Nf6 Nd7 20. Qh3 Kf8 21. Qa3+ Re7 22. Rh5 the game is over after
White takes on g5) 19. Qa3+ Qe7 this line was pointed out by Robert and is
completely winning for White. Black can’t move any of his pieces) 18… Bxe4
19. Qxe4 Nd7 20. Rd3? (20. Bd3 time to finish the development. White can
play for the long term initiative) 20… f5! Awonder shows great resilience
21. exf6 Nxf6 22. Rxg5+ Kf8 23. Rf3 Ke7 brave! The king is completely safe now – great defense and nerves by Awonder! All is well that ends well.

I can’t talk about this event without mentioning one particular player. Alex Bian may not be a household name yet, but the young man had the tournament of his life. He qualified to Junior closed by winning the US Jr. Open and proved that he belonged in the tournament even though he was the lowest rated player. He started the tournament by defeating two GMs and finished with a respectable score of 5/9, gaining 50 FIDE points. Alex will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall and won’t have much time for chess, so this tournament was sort of his one last hurrah.

One of my absolute favorite games of the event is the one between John Burke and Alex Bian. I would suggest to anyone reading this to go take a look at that game and analyze before reading my notes.

BurkvsBian

22. h3 {preparing g4} Qh8! Robert loved this move. Can you blame him? 23.
g4 Kg8 24. Be2 Nc5 25. Kg2 a4 26. b4 Nb3 27. Rd1 Bb2 very brave decision to ignore White’s play and collect pawns on the queen side 28. gxh5 Bxa3 29. hxg6 Bxb4 30. f4 very creative play by both players. White is ignoring the a-pawn and is activating his bishop Bc5 31. Bg4 a3 (31… fxg6 32. Be6+ Kg7 computer suggestion that looks scary but Black can start bringing his rooks to the king side) 32. Rxb3 (32. Qa2 White can also put an end to all this}) 32…a2 33. gxf7+

BurkvsBian2

33…Kf8?? fatal mistake leaving the pawn on f7. The finish is
beautiful (33… Kxf7 34. Bxc5 bxc5 35. Rxb8 Rxb8 36. Qe1 Qb2+ 37. Kh1 Kf8 
according to the engine this is 0.00 but who plays chess like this?) 34. Be6
Qg7+ 35. Kh2 a1=Q 36. Rxa1 Qxa1 37. Bxc5 Ra2 38. Rg3 1-0

I have last track of how many times I have shown Alex’s last round win over Praveen Balakrishnan to my students. It is a great example of how to attack with opposite color bishops.

alexvspraveen

In this position Robert and I were trying to figure out how to launch an
attack for White. The straight forward way doesn’t quite work. 15. Rdg1 Qf3
the queen has to go here to cover f6 (15… Qh3?? 16. Rxg7+ Kxg7 17. Rg1+
Kh8 18. Qg5 threatening mate both on g7 and f6) 16. Qh6 (16. Rxg7+?? Kxg7 17. Rg1+ Kh8 18. Qh6 and there is nothing after the simple Rg8) 16… Bg4 17. Qg5 Rfd8 18. Bc3 h6 very annoying resource! Again, the engine spits this line out but can someone find this over the board? 19. Qxg4? Rd1+ winning the queen

15. Bc5! upon looking deeper into the position it becomes
clear that the bishop on d4 is misplaced. Where would the bishop like to go?
To f6, of course. 15… e3 Praveen collapses immediately. The point of this
move is to play Rfd8, but Rfe8 was necessary to guard the e7 square 16. Qxe3
Rfd8 17. Rdg1 Qd5 Black is looking for counterplay 18. Rxg7+ Kh8 (18… Kxg7
leads to mate 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. Qf6+ Kg8 21. Rg1+) 19. Rhg1 Bf5 20. Qh6 Qxe5 21. Be7! the bishop is untouchable Rd6 22. Rg8+ 1-0

Although I praised Alex, I have to feature another one of his losses to none other than the winner. Black misplayed in the critical moment, and his opponent was unforgiving.

awondervsalex

13… Be6 Black has snatched a central pawn and plays a normal looking
developing move 14. Be3! taking advantage of the fact that the d4 bishop
cannot move due to the misplaced queen on a6. Now Black has a big decision to
make. Take a pause and think about how to proceed here Bxc4 (14… Bxe3 
is impossible 15. Nxd6+winning the queen) (14… O-O 15. Bxd4 cxd4 16. Qxd4 Black has to accept a worse position) 15. Bxd4 O-O Black hangs on to the material but his king is so weak 16. Bf6 Bxf1 another opposite color bishop position 17. Qd2?! surprisingly, this is an inaccuracy! (17. Qc1! is the more precise continuation d5 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. exd5 {and unlike in the game, there is no annoying Qd3 harassing the white queen}) 17… d5 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. Bxc5 Bd3 (19… Qd3 is a better defensive try but the endgame doesn’t look good for Black. White can also keep the attack going with Qh6) 20. exd5 Qc4 21. d6 Bf5 (21… Qxc5 22. Qxd3 the d6 pawn is deadly) 22. Bd4 Qd5 23. Qf4 forcing Black’s hand as g4 followed by Qf6 is a threat Re4 24. Rxe4 Qxe4 25. Qxe4 Bxe4 26. Bf6 Bc6 27. Rc1 1-0

Instructive endgame alert! The game between Annie Wang and Alex Bian was a crazy affair, but before reading my notes take a pause and figure out why Annie’s 70.Ke1? loses

AnnievsAlex

70. Ke1? up until now Annie defended meticulously, but got careless with
this move Kb6 Black misses his opportunity (70… Rxb5 unlike in the game,
White is now a temp behind 71. Bxb5 the pawn ending is lost but the problem
is the bishop has nowhere to go (71. Bf3 Rb3 72. Kf2 Rxf3+ same problem as
before 73. Kxf3 Kd4) (71. Be8 Rb8 72. Bf7 Rb7 73. Ba2 Kd4) 71… Kxb5 72. Kf2
Kc5 73. Ke3 Kc4 74. Ke2 Kc3 75. Ke3 h5 {the reserve tempo is key} 76. Ke2 Kc2
77. Ke3 Kd1) 71. Kf1 Rxb5 again, I would suggest pausing here and trying to
figure out a way for White to make a draw. I don’t want to give it away, so check out the rest of the game here.

Let’s end Part I with another Annie game. Advait Patel got a great position against her with the White pieces, but allowed the position to get unnecessarily wild.

adyvsannie

42… Rf8 Annie finds the only defensive move. Now White has to be accurate
43. Qe2 Qf6 threatening Qh4 44. Qxe4 going down a forced line Qf2+ 45. Kh1 Qxg3 46. Qxe6+ Rf7 47. Rc8+ Kh7 (47… Nf8 $4 48. Rxf8+) 48. Qxf7 Qh3+ 49. Kg1 Qxc8 50. Bb2 a practical try for White. Black should have a perpetual but the mate threat and the d6 pawn give White some chances Qg4+ 51. Kf2 Nf4?  this natural looking move fails! Robert and I also only analyzed this move as it makes so much sense: Black brings another piece close to the king and defends g7 (51… Qh4+ 52. Ke3 Qe1+ 53. Kd3 Qd1+ White either has to part ways with the d6 pawn or allow a perpetual. The king can’t escape 54. Ke4  simply loses the bishop Qe2+ 55. Kd5 Qc4# White can even get checkmated if he tries too hard) 52. d7 Qg2+ 53. Ke3 Nd5+ 54. Kd3 now the knight actually gets in the way and the black queen isn’t positioned properly Qg3+ 55. Kc2 Qg2+ 56. Kb1 Qe4+ 57. Ka2 Qc4+ 58. Ka1 1-0 You can also replay the ending here.

Check back in for part 2 of the article where I’ll talk about my favorite moments from the Girls Championship!

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One thought on “My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Juniors Championship (Part I)

  1. Jason Braun

    Excellent article! Looking forward to Part 2. I’ve listened to Robert Hess commentate a few times, including live at the US Championships, and I’m always amazed how fast he can look at a new position and immediately see multiple possibilities for both colors.

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