The ‘Match of the Millennials’ - a new initiative between the Scholastic Center and Chess Club of Saint Louis (CCSCSL), in cooperation with the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF), U.S. Chess Federation, World Chess Federation (FIDE) and FIDE Trainers’ Commission - dramatically turned into Black Friday for the hopeful US team, as the Rest of the World juniors turned in a class performance on day 3 of the contest with big scores in both the U17 and U14 competitions, as they ran out convincing winners of the match with a day to spare.
It turned out to be a truly unexpected result, as the US - who on paper had the higher ratings throughout the top boards - had the big guns of GMs Sam Sevian, Jeffrey Xiong and GM-elect Awonder Liang and were the big favourites to win, with the World’s team being a bit of an unknown quantity, as other than pre-teen sensations IM Praggnanandhaa Babu of India and Uzbekistan wunderkind IM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, all the rest were relatively obscure.
But the World seemed to quickly gel as a team and showed terrific fighting spirit from start to finish. In the end, the Under-17 contest was won by the World team 19-13, with the Under-14 contest even more convincingly going to the World team by 11½-4½, making the final score: the World 30½-17½ USA; the winner’s taking home $20,000, the losers $10,000.
The match of tomorrow’s stars proved to be a more than fitting curtain-raiser to the Sinquefield Cup that gets underway at the CCSCSL on Wednesday, as today’s elite stars led by Magnus Carlsen et al do battle in the next leg of the Grand Chess Tour - and Vishy Anand and Wesley So were on hand to award the prizes to both junior teams.
But in a decades’ time, which of the young stars from the Match of the Millennials will we see competing in the Sinquefield Cup of 2027? My money is on 11-year-old Praggnanandhaa, who looks destined to be a future world title hopeful. He scored an unbeaten 3/4 for a 2570 performance in St. Louis - and it could have been higher than that, as he failed to convert a won position in his first game against IM Awonder Liang, the recently-minted US Junior Champion.
IM Andrew Hong - IM R.B. Praggnanandhaa
Match of the Millennials U14, (4)
Ruy Lopez, Smyslov/Barnes Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 The Ruy Lopez Fianchetto Defences, such as the Cozio Defence (with 3...Nge7 followed by ...g6) and here the Smyslov/Barnes variation, were once thought to be 'offbeat' but have become quite popular over the last few years - and a good defence that can quickly surprise an unprepared opponent. The first to write about it was Albert P. Barnes in the Canadian Spectator in 1880, and Harry Pillsbury successfully took it up - and for much of the 20th century, it thereafter lay dormant, only for ex-world champion Vassily Smyslov rehabilitating it during the late 1960s and through the '70s. 4.c3 The awkward line is 4.d4!? exd4 5.Bg5! that somewhat disrupts the flow of Black's natural development. 4...a6 5.Bc4 Bg7 6.d4 d6 7.Bg5 Nf6 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Nbd2 0-0 10.0-0 And invariably what tends to happen in the Smyslov/Barnes, is that White opts for a set-up like this, which suits Black as it's just more or less a transposition into a good solid line of the Pirc/Modern Defence. 10...h6 11.Be3 Qe7 Preventing White laying a territorial claim with Bc5. 12.h3 Rd8 13.Qc2 Nh5 A typical knight hop in the Pirc/Modern Defence - the knight is heading to the f4 outpost. 14.Rfd1 Qf6 15.b4 Re8 This is wrong and a waste of time. If possible, you should never move the same piece twice in the opening - and here, Black had the simple and better plan of 15...Nf4 and following up with ...Be6, as is typical in the Pirc/Modern. 16.a4 a5 17.b5 Ne7 18.Kh2 Praggnanandhaa has wasted a couple of moves here, and fortunately, his opponent begins to somewhat worry unnecessarily over a speculative sacrifice on h3. Instead, the unlikely retreat with 18.Be2!? defending the Nf3 was just good for White, as now after 18...Nf4 19.Nc4! Black is left with the dilemma of just how to defend his e5 pawn? 18...b6 19.Qb3 Bb7 Hitting e4, and with it, preventing - for now - White moving his Nd2. 20.g4?! It's a bad plan based on a speculative attack that only serves to loosen the protection around White's king. 20...Nf4 From here in, Black takes full control. 21.Nxe5?! Nfd5!? The trouble for the Indian wunderkind here is that he can't see the woods for the trees - the win was staring him in the face, but he got caught up in the complexities of the position. Instead, the simple path to victory was 21...Qh4! Now, admittedly, it looks too simple to be good, and so therefore not easy to spot, and perhaps that's why Praggnanandhaa opted for his more complex choice. 22.Bxf4 (What else is there, as it's not so easy to defend both h3 and e5 at the same time? So if 22.Bxf7+ Kh8 23.Bxf4 Qxf2+ we more or less end up with the same as in the mainline.) 22...Qxf2+ 23.Kh1 Qxf4 24.Nxf7 Kh7 25.Qc2 Rad8! and White's position is ripe for collapse, with there being too many threats hanging in the air, such as ...Rxd2 followed by ...Bxe4+, and if 26.Nxd8 Rxd8 with threats of ...Be5 or ...Rxd2 and ...Bxe4+ all winning for Black. 22.Nd3 Nxe3 23.fxe3 Rf8 Slightly more accurate was 23...Red8 - but Praggnanandhaa was just being cautious over the f7 attack, and also saw this as a way to quickly get his queenside rook into the game. 24.Rac1? With White's pawn structure shattered, this just gives Black more time to set-up his ideal attack. Hong could have made life more difficult for his opponent with 24.Rf1! that would concentrate his mind on the mounting attack now looming on f7. Now, if 24...Qd6+ (Too dangerous is 24...Qxc3?! 25.Qa2! Be5+ 26.Kg1 Bd6 27.Rf2 and suddenly there's a threat of doubling to rooks on the f-file and Black having a major headache defending f7.) 25.Kg2 Kh7 26.Rad1 White is more coordinated and retains excellent chances of saving the game. 24...Rad8 25.Kg2 Defending against the tactical threat of ...Rxd3 followed by ...Qd6+ and ...Qxd3 with a winning position. 25...Qg5 White's game is hanging by a thread here, as Black's bishops, queen and rooks combine forces for a swift and deadly breakthrough. 26.Kf2 Qh4+ 27.Kg2 Kh7! The prelude to the winning breakthrough, as with the coming ...f5 Black will simply bludgeon a path through to the White king. 28.Nf2 Be5 29.Nf1 Rxd1 30.Qxd1 f5! 31.Qf3 Kg7 32.gxf5 Rxf5 Black's forces swiftly combine for the final thrust. 33.exf5 Bxf3+ 34.Kxf3 Qxc4 35.e4 gxf5 36.Ne3 With White's king wandering dazed and confused in no man's land, there's no hope of avoiding the inevitable. 36...fxe4+ 37.Nxe4 Qf7+ 38.Ke2 Qh5+ 39.Kd3 Qxh3 40.Rg1+ Kh8 41.Nf2 Qd7+ 42.Ke2 Bf4 43.Neg4 Qe6+ 44.Kf3 Qf5 45.Rd1 h5 46.Ne3 Bxe3+ 47.Kxe3 Nd5+ 0-1