Back in the day, junior chess tournaments were few and far between but nowadays there are numerous tournaments catering for different age groups and genders. When the world junior championship began in 1951 to a great fanfare, the tournament was limited to players under the age of 21. Most entrants were 18 or 19 - and this was then believed to be the age once thought the youngest to compete in international tournaments.
But with the growth of school chess clubs, and chess beginning to make its way directly into the classrooms with scholastic programmes following the Bobby Fischer boom years, the ages of players learning and playing chess more seriously became younger and younger. Junior chess had to be rebranded as “youth chess,” and exploded in the decades after that.
A world cadet under-16 championship was launched in 1977, then an under-14 event two years later, followed by under-12 and under-10 competitions in 1986. Separate gender sections were organised - although Judit Polgar (who went on to beat Fischer’s age-record of world’s youngest grandmaster) of Hungary won the world under-12 “boys championship” in 1988.
Currently, the stars of tomorrow are on show today with the annual World Youth and Cadet Championships taking place in Greece. There are 12 sections for open (boys and girls) and girls under eight, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18, with over 900 players in total taking part.
Thanks to a generous sponsorship deal from Two Sigma Investments, the US has sent its largest delegation in history to the event, with 123 players - also including a large coaching staff, that includes former US Champion Nick DeFirmian - representing the Stars and Stripes.
The strongest chance of a US medal can be found in the under-12 section. Andrew Hong (California) is currently tied for the lead on 7.5/9, and close behind him in the chasing pack are David Peng (Illinois) and Hans Neimann (California) with 7/9.
And Andrew Hong could well have been in the sole lead going into the medal-deciding final rounds, had he not missed the killing blow in today’s game against the highly-rated top seed Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan.
Andrew Hong - Nodirbek Abdusattorov
WYCC Open U12, (8)
Ruy Lopez, Chigorin Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 The Chigorin Variation is one of the oldest main-lines of the Ruy Lopez, and has developed a correspondingly larger body of theory. Chigorin strategy tends to be extremely slow and often quite subtle. 12.d5 Nc4 13.b3 Nb6 14.a4 bxa4 15.bxa4 a5 16.Na3 Ba6 17.Rb1 Rfb8 18.Bg5 Ne8 19.Be3 Qd7 20.Nd2 f5 21.exf5 Nxd5 22.Bb3 Nec7 23.Ne4 Qc6 24.c4 Nxe3 25.Rxe3 Rf8 26.Nb5 Bb7 27.Qg4 Bc8 28.Rg3 Ne8 29.Bc2! Bxf5 Also an option was 29...Rb8 but after 30.Nec3 heading for d5, White has a nice grip of the position. 30.Nf6+! The tactics will favour White. 30...Rxf6 31.Bxf5 Rd8 32.Nc3! What's not to like here? The knight is heading for the better outpost on d5, and he also brings his rook into the fray down the b-file. 32...Rh6 33.Nd5 Bf6 34.Rb6 Qa8 The point being that Black can't take the pawn on a4, as the rook proves decisive on the seventh: 34...Qxa4 35.Rb7 Qa1+ 36.Kh2 e4 37.Be6+ Kh8 38.Rf7 and White will quickly win. 35.Bd7 Bh4 36.Bxe8 Bxg3 37.Bc6 Bxf2+ 38.Kxf2? The quick kill was actually ignoring the bishop with 38.Kh2! after which Black will lose his queen to either 39.Ne7+ or 39.Rb7. 38...Rf8+ 39.Kg1 Qd8 40.Rb7 Rf7 41.Bd7 Rg6 Much better was 41...Kh8! forcing 42.Bc8 Rxb7 43.Bxb7 Rh4 44.Qe2 Rd4 and Black has an equal game. 42.Be6 Rxg4 43.Rxf7 More clinical was 43.hxg4! and White is winning, as his king now has shelter from the queen checks. 43...Rxg2+ 44.Kxg2 Kh8 45.Re7 Qb8 46.Rf7 h5 47.h4 If it wasn't for all the "air" surrounding his king, White would easily have won this. 47...Qe8? This is a fatal slip that should have now lost. Instead, after 47...Qb3! 48.Bf5 Qb2+ 49.Kf3 Qb3+ 50.Ne3 Kg8 Black should easily draw, as he's going to pick off the White pawns on a4 and h4 - and the White king is also still bereft of cover from the checks. 48.Ne7 Kh7 49.Bd5 Kh6 50.Nf5+ Kg6 51.Nxd6 Black would have no escape from the mating threats after the killer blow of 51.Be4! Qd8 (If 51...Qxf7 52.Nxd6+ wins easily.) 52.Rb7 Kf6 53.Nxg7 Qh8 54.Kf3! and zugzwang. 51...Qxa4 (See Diagram) 52.Rf8?? The mating net really wasn't all that difficult to find: 52.Be4+! Kh6 53.Nf5+ Kg6 (53...Kh7 54.Ne7+! Kh6 (54...Kh8 55.Rf8#) 55.Ng8#) 54.Rf8! Qa2+ 55.Kg3 Qb3+ 56.Ne3+ Kh6 57.Rh8# 52...Kh7 53.Be4+ g6! Now there's no more mating nets, and White's bare king gets caught by the queen checks and/or the advancing a-pawn. 54.Bd5 Qd1 55.Rf7+ Kh6 56.Rf3 Qd4 57.Ne4 a4 58.Rf8 a3 59.Rh8+ ½-½