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Norway now has not one but two world champions! Eighteen-year-old GM Aryan Tari held his nerve over the weekend final rounds to capture the World Junior U-20 Championship title with an overall storming performance in Tarvisio, Italy, in arguably one of the hardest-fought, keenly-watched and most memorable editions of the venerable junior championship title of recent years.

Tari shared first place with Manuel Petrosyan from Armenia and leading Indian Aravindh Chithambaram Vr., all scoring 8½/11.  But the young Norwegian took the title with the better tie-break score, boosted by a brace of crucial big wins over early Russian frontrunners Grigoriy Oparin and Kiril Alekseenko. At the World Junior Championship for Girls Zhansaya Abdumalik took the title with clear first on 9½/11.

World Champion and world No.1 Magnus Carlsen – who was one of a very select group of juniors who didn’t play in any world junior events in his youth – was among the first to congratulate his fellow countryman, tweeting: “The amazing @aryan_tari is the new junior world champion!! Kept his cool in a difficult position in the last round – the mark of a champion.”

The title of “World Junior Champion” – first contested in 1952 in Birmingham, England, and won by Yugoslavia’s Boris Ivkov – was originally the brainchild of legendary UK organizer William Ritson-Morry, his big idea being to use the event as a means of showcasing future generations of chess stars. Along the way, it has proved to be a successful launchpad for Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, and Vishwanathan Anand, who all went on to be crowned World Champions.


An added exciting sideshow to this year’s junior championship chase was the progress of the young Indian wunderkind, 12-year-old IM R.R. Praggnanandhaa. After beating top seed GM Jorden van Foreest in round four, he joined the leaders and stayed among the chasing pack going into the final rounds – and this was significant because had he won the title outright, he would have automatically received the grandmaster title to beat Sergey Karjakin’s all-time age record.

Although he fell short, finishing in fourth place with an undefeated score of 8/11, considering his age this was a tremendous feat, and he’s obviously the young star to watch going into the future. But all is not quite lost for the Chennai junior. His overall performance scored him his first grandmaster norm, and he now has a further three months to gain the remaining two norms to beat Karjakin’s record of being the all-time youngest grandmaster.

Photo: Ruggero Percivaldi/Official Facebook page.

IM R.R. Praggnanandhaa – GM Jorden Van Foreest
World Junior U-20 Championship, (4)
Giuoco Piano
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 The Giuoco Piano is one of the oldest recorded openings in chess, played in the 16th century, and means ‘quiet game’ in Italian. And like its name, it is initially very quiet with a slow build-up, as both sides position their pieces for the middle-game battle. 3…Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.c3 a6 7.Bb3 Ba7 8.Re1 0-0 9.h3 h6 10.Nbd2 The knight is heading to f5 via the Ruy Lopez route of Nbd2-f1-g3. 10…Re8 11.Nf1 Be6 12.Bc2 d5 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Ng3 Qd6 The queen has to defend the e5-pawn – but in doing so, it allows a niggling threat of White establishing an outpost on f5 for one of his knights. 15.Nh4 Qe7 16.Qh5 Rad8 Black rightly gets on with the task of finishing his development by centralizing his rooks, even although it allows White to take a lead by opening the game for his bishops. 17.d4! Nf4 Putting the knight into f4 to restrict the scope of White’s bishop-pair is the only correct move here. To see the dangers of not doing so, is seen with 17…exd4? 18.Bxh6! gxh6 19.Qxh6 d3 (forced; as the only way to stave off the mating attack is by exchanging queens ) 20.Bxd3 Bxf2+ 21.Kxf2 Qf6+ 22.Qxf6 Nxf6 23.Bf1 and White is a pawn to the better going into the endgame, and in all probability with the rooks also set to be exchanged. 18.Bxf4 exf4 19.Nf1 The obvious continuation looked to be 19.Ngf5, but Black is not without resources here, as after 19…Qf6! all the attacking lines to the Black king looks to be covered, leaving White in a ‘holding pattern’ defending the knight on f5. So instead, Pragg belies his young age by looks towards the endgame and seeking a mass exchange of the major pieces in an attempt to single out the pawn weakness on f4. 19…Qf6 20.Nf3 There’s an excellent tip here of how a good player looks to win games, and they do this by trying to envision the board with all the pieces removed to see if they have a winning endgame advantage. And here, this is exactly what Pragg is doing. He’s seen that, with Black’s bishop locked-in on a7, and the pawn weakness on f4, the more pieces that get exchanged the better his chances are of winning the endgame – and he now sets about doing this. 20…Re7 21.Bb3 Bxb3 22.axb3 Rde8 23.N1d2 Nd8 The knight retreat makes way for Van Foreest to attempt to play …c5 bringing his bishop back into the game – but Pragg soon stops this. 24.b4 c6 25.Qg4 Rxe1+ It’s all getting just a tad awkward for Black now. He’d like to play 25…Bb8, but after 26.Rxe7 Rxe7 27.Qc8! Qd6 28.Nb3 White has the upper-hand. 26.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 27.Nxe1 Ne6 28.Nd3 Qg5 29.Ne4 Qxg4 30.hxg4 With the queens exchanged and we enter the endgame, Black still has problems about how to get his bishop back in the game. The obvious …Bb8 – also defending the weak f4-pawn – is now going to be strongly met by Nec5 hitting b7, and forcing Black into a further concession by defending with …Nd8, leaving White’s king to march quickly to f3 (via f1-e2-f3), with a near winning game. 30…Kf8 31.Kf1 Ke7 32.Ke2 g5 33.Ndc5 Pragg waited for his opponent to commit to …g5 before taking the c5 outpost for his knight to hit the b7-pawn – and now, with Black forced into exchanging off his ‘bad bishop’, all the endgame scenarios look to be simply winning for White, as his king very easily and very quickly gets to e4, ready to either swiftly move to the kingside or the queenside. 33…Bxc5 34.bxc5! [see diagram] Now when Nd6 comes, Black will be in a bad way, as there’s no way to adequately defend his weak pawns on both sides of the board with White’s king taking the powerful central post on e4. 34…Ng7 35.Nd6 b5 The only way to defend the pawn, but unfortunately…. 36.Kd3! Ke6 37.Ke4 Black’s knight is out of the game on g7, while White’s king and knight control the board. 37…h5 38.f3! The final nail in Black’s coffin – soon he’s going to find himself in zugzwang, with any move he makes losing. 38…hxg4 39.fxg4 a5 The alternative of 39…f6 40.b4! only delays the inevitability of zugzwang by a move. 40.Nb7! White wins a pawn and with it the game. 40…a4 41.Nd8+ Kd7 42.Nxf7 Ne6 43.Ne5+ Kc7 44.Nxc6 1-0


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