My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Junior Girls Championship (Part II)

In Part II of the article, I want to focus on the US Junior Girls Championship. It is encouraging to see a strong tournament with so many young, high rated girls and the list didn’t include the defending champion Akshita Gorti and Annie Wang. I can say without exaggeration that I cannot imagine such a tournament being organized 10-15 years ago due to the lack of girls playing chess. Carissa Yip dominated the tournament with 7/9 and was a full point ahead of closest rival, Jennifer Yu, going into the last round. With a comfortable draw in the final round against Jennifer herself, Carissa secured her tournament win and an invite to next year’s US Women’s Championship.

Lesson 1: know your openings. Not just the theory and the long lines, but the main ideas behind them. This moment in the game between the 12 year old Rochelle Wu and Carissa Yip clearly demonstrates Rochelle’s lack of experience, which is a funny notion considering that her opponent was 14 at the time.  White’s last move was 13.Bd3. Try to figure out why this normal looking developing move was a crucial mistake.


13… c5! threatening c4. White has to react somehow 14. Qa3 (14. Bb5 c4 15.
Qb2 Nf6 allowing this looks ugly for White, but better than the alternative (
14. bxc5 Nxc5 15. dxc5 d4 White’s position is falling apart}16. Qa3 (16. Qc2
dxe3 17. O-O Rxc5 18. Ra3 Qa5) 16… dxc3 17. Rd1 Qe7 Black will have an
extra pawn and two bishops) 14… cxd4 15. Nxd4 Bxd4 16. exd4 Qg5! oops!
There is no good way to defend the pawn 17. g3 (17. O-O Bh3) 17… Bh3 18. Ne2 Rfe8 19. Qb2 Qg4 20. Rg1 Re7 21. Rd1 Rce8 22. Rd2 Nb6 23. Qb3 Qf3 24. a5 Rxe2+ 0-1

Carissa was leading with 4.5/5 but had a hiccup in round 6 after the day off. She was white against lower rated Sophie Morris-Suzuki who had 0/5. On paper, Carissa was the clear favorite and was set to score another point. What tactical shot did Sophie play in this position to score her first victory?


33… Rxd4!! note that all of White’s pieces are on dark squares 34. Qxd4
Rd8 35. Qf4 (35. Qe3 Rd3 36. Qf4 Bxc3 isn’t much better) 35… Nd3 36. Qh6
Bf8 (36… Nxe1 Black can start collecting White’s pieces but perhaps Sophie
saw a ghost 37. Nce4 Qxe5 38. Ng5 Rxd2) 37. Nce4 now White actually has some threats Nh5 38. Qg5 (38. Qe3 would have made Black’s task more difficult Nhf4 39. Nf3) 38… h6 (38… Nhf4 threatening the queen 39. Nf6+ Kh8 40. Qh4 h6 White has no threats and everything hangs 41. Nb3 Nxe1 42. Rxe1 Qa8 43. Qg3 Ne2+ 44. Rxe2 Rd1+) 39. Qh4 (39. Qe3 the queen needs to go home to defend her army) 39… Nhf4 40. Nf6+ Kh8 we already saw a similar position in the analysis 41. Nb3 Nxe1 42. Rxe1 g5 43. Qg3 Rd3 44. Re3 Rxb3 45. Qf3 Qxe5 46. Rxb3 Qa1+ 47. Kh2 Bd6 48. Rb1 Ng6+ 0-1 You can replay the game here

In the post-game interview, Sophie explained that she treats every round like a new tournament and returned to the board rejuvenated after the day off. She went on to score 3/4 in the second half of the tournament.

Sophie also played one of the most creative games against another youngster and a math genius Nastassja Matus. A lot of crazy things happened in this game so I will feature several diagrams. First, find a winning idea for Black in the following position:


39… Re8 Sophie did not find the winning idea but the position remains balanced (39… Rd6!! blocking the h2-b8 diagonal and threatening gf5 40. b7 Qe5+ 41. Kg1 Qxa1+ 42. Kh2 Qe5+ 43. Kg1 Rd1+) 40. Rc1 gxf5 41. b7 Qd2 precise move threatening a perpetual 42. Rc3 (42. b8=Q Qh6+ 43. Kg3 Qe3+ 44. Kh2 Qh6+ 45. Kg1 Qe3+) 42… Kg7 43. Rb3 (43. b8=Q Rxb8 44. Qxb8 Qxc3) 43… Re6 44. b8=Q Rh6+ 45. Kg3 Qe1+ 46. Kf4 Qxe4+ 47. Kg3 Qe1+ 48. Kf4 Qe4+ 49. Kg3 Qe1+ 50. Kf4 the game should end in a draw but Black decides to go for adventures Qf2+ How should White proceed in the position below?


51. Rf3 (51. Ke5!! this is very scary to play over the board but Black runs out of checks Re6+ 52. Kd5 Qd2+ 53. Kc5 Qf2+ 54. Kb4 Qd4+ 55. Ka5) 51… Qd2+ 52. Kg3 Qe1+ 53. Kf4 Qe4+ 54. Kg3 Rh3+ 55. Kf2 Qd4+?? a big blunder and a heartbreak for Sophie (55… Rxf3+ 56. gxf3 Qxf3+ 57. Kg1) 56. Ke2 Bxf3+ 57. gxf3 the h2 square is covered and the queen has ran out of checks Qg1 58. Qe5+ Kh6 59. Qf8+ Kh5 60. Qxf7+ Kh4 61. Qf4+ Qg4 62. Qxh7# 1-0  Feel free to play through the craziness here

I couldn’t talk about this tournament without mentioning the game between Emily Nguyen and Maggie Feng in round 7. Robert and I were fascinated by this game well because…


Who doesn’t like a king in the middle of the board in the middlegame? 14…
g6 threatening mate. Guess what is the best move in the position? 15. h4 (15.
Kf4!! Robert’s idea and objectively the best move. I don’t know how Emily resisted the temptation. How often do we get the chance to play such moves? Bh6+ 16. Kg3 Bxc1 17. Qxc1 Nc6 18. Qd2 the king is perfectly safe ong3. Black’s structure is busted due to the dark square weaknesses on the king side and light square weaknesses on the queen side}) 15… Bh6+ 16. Ng5 Nc6 17. f4 Ne7 18. g4 f6 19. exf6 Nxf6 20. Bd3 Qc6 21. Kf3 O-O 22. Qe2 Bxg5 23. hxg5 Ne4 24. Bxe4 dxe4+ 25. Qxe4 and white went on to win the game.

Since I am partial to the French, I really liked the turn of events in the game between Sanjana Vittal and Maggie Feng.


37. h4 White is up a pawn but I feel like she starts losing the thread of the
game with this move g5 38. hxg5 hxg5 39. fxg5 Kg6 now Black has clear
counterplay and doesn’t have to just sit 40. Be3? the bishop needs to stay
on b6 to keep the d7 pawn push as a threat (40. h4 Rh7the difference is that
the pawn doesn’t hang with a check, thus not hanging at all since d7 would win
the game 41. Rb1 Rch8 42. Rf1 shielding the king. These moves are really
hard to find if you don’t have an engine! Rxh4 43. d7 Rh2+ 44. Ke1) 40… Rh8
41. Kg3? one of the hardest things to do in chess is adjusting to the changes
in the position and switch gears. Sanjana didn’t sense the danger (41. Rxc4
Rxh2+ 42. Kf1 Rdh7 43. Rc8 Rg2 44. Rg8+ Kf7 45. g6+ again, some crazy
computer lines but we see a theme: White’s king is in trouble! Even in an
endgame opposite color bishops allow for mating patterns) 41… Rdh7 42. Bg1
Bd5 43. Rb1 Kxg5 44. Kf2 Kf4 Black won the game after her King collected all the central pawns

Last but not last the game between best friends Jennifer Yu and Emily Nguyen was highly instructional. I won’t provide a lot of analysis but play through the game and note how quickly Jennifer’s bishop pair dominated the position. I would suggest going through the game in solitaire chess format where you try to guess Jennifer’s moves here or check out her play below:

At first glance, the position looks completely normal and even equal. Check
out how Jennifer activates her bishops} 15. g4! grabbing some space Nc4 16.
Qe2 Ne4 17. Be1! transferring the bishop and threatening the piece Ned6 18.
b3 Nb6 19. f3 Nd7 20. Rxc8 Qxc8 21. Bg3 the transfer is complete. White is now completely dominating Qc3 22. Ra2 e5 23. Qc2! exchanging her opponent’s only active piece. The endgame is completely winning Qxc2 24. Rxc2 e4 25. Bxe4 Nxe4 26. fxe4 dxe4 27. Rc7 Nb6 28. Rxb7 Nd5 29. Bf2 a6 30. Ra7 h5 31. Rxa6 hxg4 32. hxg4 Rc8 33. Ra5 Nf6 34. Rc5 Ra8 35. g5 Nd7 36. Rd5 Nf8 37. a4 Rb8 38. Bg3 Ra8 39. Re5 Ne6 40. d5 Nc5 41. d6 1-0




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.


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+


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.


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.


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


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.


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!