29 Jul

Kids in America

Who remembers Kim Wilde? The singer burst onto the music scene in 1981 with her iconic hit 'Kids in America', one of the most memorable anthems to emerge from the UK during the ‘80s that kicked off her career in a big, big way. And while I set you all humming away the tune all day in your head, we’ll return to the theme of ‘kids in America’ with news of the recent US Junior Closed Championship, an event that likewise has kicked off the careers of many top players.


The first US Junior Open Championship (called the “USCF National Junior Chess Championship”) took place in July 1946, in Chicago, and was won by 16-year-old Larry Friedman of Cleveland, ahead of a field that included Hans Berliner and Larry Evans. Friedman went on to repeat his success the following year and was then followed in the winner’s circle by Arthur Bisguier, who won the title in 1948 and 1949.

However arguably the most famous winner of the title was a certain Bobby Fischer, who in 1956 at the Franklin Mercantile Chess Club in Philadelphia, burst on to the US chess firmament by winning the title at the age of just 13 years and 4 months old - and for his efforts, he was given a portable typewriter. Fischer’s repeat win in 1957 - with an almost perfect score of 8.5/9 - in San Francisco proved he was strong enough for an invite to play in his first US Championship proper. The rest, as they say, being chessic history.

The US Junior Championship has thus become a prestigious tournament with a long history. And apart from past winners Fischer and Bisguier, other notable title-holders have been Yasser Seirawan, and Hikaru Nakamura (who bested by months Fischer's record to be the youngest-ever winner of the title). And since 1966 the US Juniors are played as an invitational, separating it from the US Junior Open tournament.

And the latest edition of the US Junior Closed Championship took place earlier this month at Rex Sinquefield's  Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, and was won by Texas top-seed Jeffery Xiong, 15, ahead of second place teenage sensation Awonder Liang, only 13 years old, who chased him all the way to the finish line.

But Xiong - the highest ranked player in the world under the age of 16 - held his nerve with some very mature play  to take the title with his winning score of 6.5/9, as he edged out new teenage sensation Liang by just a half point.  And apart from the title, Xiong also took home the $6,000 first prize (somewhat more useful perhaps than Fischer’s typewriter!), not to mention the more coveted ‘bonus prize’ of an automatic spot for the 2017 US Championship, also in Saint Louis.  

Last year, Xiong was a wildcard into the US Championship and performed above his rating. And with his impressive second place in his debut in the US Junior Closed Championship, Liang is now the one being heavily tipped as the leading candidate for the 2017 wildcard spot, where the two can continue their ‘kids in America’ teenage rivalry.

Final standings
1. GM Jeffrey Xiong 6.5/9 ($6,000); 2. IM Awonder Liang 6 ($4,000); 3. IM Li Ruifeng 5.5 ($3,000); 4-5. IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti, FM Michael Brown 5 ($1,750 each); 6. IM Akshat Chandra 4.5 ($1,200); 7. FM Nicolas Checa 4 ($1,000); 8-9. GM Kayden Troff, IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy 3.5 ($700 each); 10. IM Michael Bodek 1.5 ($500)

IM Michael Bodek - GM Jeffrey Xiong
2016 U.S. Junior Closed Ch., (3)
Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Qxd4 a6 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Qd2 e6 8.0-0-0 Be7 9.Bf4 Ng4! Black is always doing well in the Sicilian if he has full control over the e5-square; and even more so, if this square gets occupied by a knight - and this is the mature approach adopted here by Jefferey Xiong. 10.h3 Nge5 11.Nxe5 Nxe5 12.Bh2 0-0 13.f4 Nc6 14.Kb1 b5 15.Be2 This looks a bit too timid. White faired better with 15.Bd3 b4 16.Ne2 a5 17.h4 a4 18.h5 Ra5 19.h6 g6 20.Bg1 and White went on to win a complicated game (52) in Socko,B-Duda,J Chorzow 2013. 15...Rb8 16.f5 b4 17.Na4 Qa5 18.b3 e5 There's nothing wrong, per say, with Black's move, but again occupying the e5 square with the knight with 18...Ne5! - as we said earlier - is crucial for control in the Sicilian.  And here, the knight dominates from its central outpost, and if White exchanges it off for his bishop, Black will have the bishop-pair and control of the dark squares. 19.Bg1 Nd4 Now we see what Xiong has in mind with his 18...e5. By giving up a pawn, he'll get attacking chances on the black squares; and the f6-a1 diagonal could well be a game-winner. 20.Bxd4 exd4 21.Qxd4 Bb7 22.Nb6 Black's bishop pair now come into their own by setting up numerous threats - particularly down the dangerous f6-a1 diagonal. 22...Bf6 23.Nc4 It's easy to see how quickly White's position can collapse here with 23.Qxd6? Bxe4 24.Na4 Qxf5 and total carnage. 23...Qb5! Of course, Black want to keep the queens on the board, especially with an eye to mating threats on that vulnerable f6-a1 diagonal! 24.Qxd6? This is just "asking for it", as it opens more lines for Black's active pieces. White has to tread carefully here just to survive and had to play 24.Qe3!? Rfe8 25.Bf3 Rbd8 26.Qb6! Qxb6 27.Nxb6 Bxe4 28.Bxe4 Rxe4 29.Nd5! where, with the queens off and White's knight dominating d5, we simply have an equal game and a likely draw in the offing. 24...Bxe4 25.Bd3? I can only imagine that White had to have made a serious miscalculation here, as all he's doing now is opening the game up for Black's wonderful bishop-pair. Instead, after 25.Qf4 Bxf5 (Not 25...Bxg2?! 26.Rhg1 Bb7 27.Rd6! and White is not without his own resources here to win!) 26.Bd3 and Black's better, but White is still in the game with good chances of survival. 25...Rbd8 26.Qg3 Now if 26.Qf4 Bxg2! 27.Rhg1 Qc6! and Black is back in full control again. 26...Qd5 Powerful, very powerful. Black not only regains his pawn but sets up a series of lethal back-rank threats and pins. 27.Qf2 The dangers are there for all to see: 27.Bxe4?? Qxd1+ 28.Rxd1 Rxd1#. 27...Bxg2 28.Rhg1 Be4! (See Diagram) Black could also play 28...Bxh3 and win a pawn - but the text is more powerful, as it returns to the theme of those nasty back-rank mating threats that ties White in knots. 29.Rge1 h6 A little "luft" can never be bad! 30.a4 Bc3 31.Nb6? White cracks under the relentless pressure. He's in a bad way, but his only (slim) hope was with 31.Rf1 though he still has a somewhat desolate position. 31...Qc6 32.Bxe4 Qxe4! Again, the back-rank mating threats come up trumps. 33.Rg1 White is totally lost now, no matter what. If 33.Rf1 Bd4 34.Qf4 Qxf4 35.Rxf4 Bxb6 picks up a whole piece. 33...Bd4 34.Qg3 Now thanks to the back-rank mating threat White loses "only" the exchange and not a full piece. 34...Bxg1 35.Rxg1 Qd4 36.Nc4 Rfe8 37.Nb2 Re3 38.Qf2 Rxh3 39.Qg2 Rh5 40.Rf1 Rg5 41.Qh1 Qf6 42.Qe4 Rd4 43.Qe3 Rd5 0-1

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