The first U.S. Junior Open Championship (called the “USCF National Junior Chess Championship”) took place back in July 1946, in downtown Chicago, and was won by 16-year-old Larry Friedman, of Cleveland, ahead of a strong field that included top grandmasters-to-be, Hans Berliner and Larry Evans. And Friedman went on to repeat his success the following year; and he was then followed in the winner’s circle by the late great GM Arthur Bisguier, who won the title in 1948 and 1949.
The tournament has showcased many rising stars in the U.S. Chess firmament, with arguably the most famous being a certain Bobby Fischer (at the age of 13 years and 4 months) who, in 1956, at the Franklin Mercantile Chess Club, in Philadelphia, captured his first major U.S. title. The following year, Fischer had a repeat win in San Francisco – and with an almost perfect score of 8.5/9 – that proved he was strong enough for an invite to play in his first U.S. Championship proper. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1966, the tournament became a closed invitational and a rebranding to the U.S. Junior Championship – and a new generation of rising stars are currently doing battle for the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior Chess Championships being held at the fabled home of U.S. Chess at the Saint Louis Club (SLCC), running through July 11-21, 2018.
The top seeds in this year’s 2018 U.S. Junior Championship field include GM Ruifeng Li, 17, defending champion GM Awonder Liang, 15, GM Andrew Tang, 18, and GM John Burke, 17 – but this year’s top tournament also includes an exciting prospect for the future, with 16-year-old WGM Annie Wang, from LaCanada, CA, also competing against her all-male opponents, making her only the fifth female – behind Irina Krush, Jennifer Shahade, Tatev Abrahamyan and Sarah Chiang – to have played in the tournament.
She secured the wildcard spot after her spectacular second-place finish against IM Nazi Paikidze during an exciting playoff for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in April, where she came close to becoming the youngest winner of the title since Irina Krush. And despite being unlucky to lose in the opening round, Wang showed plenty of spirit and character, and competing at this level can only improve and help hone her game.
U.S. Junior Championship standings:
1-2. IM Advait Patel, FM Alex Bian 1/1; 3-8. GM Ruifeng Li, GM Awonder Liang, GM John Burke, GM Andrew Tang, IM Praveen Balakrishnan, Mika Brattain 0.5; 9-10. GM Akshat Chandra, WGM Annie Wang 0
U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship standings:
1-3. WGM Jennifer Yu, FM Clarissa Yip, WIM Emily Nguyen 1/1; 4-7. WFM Thalia Cervantes, WFM Martha Samadashvili, WFM Sanjana Vittal, WFM Nastassja Matus 0.5; 8-10. WIM Maggie Feng, WCM Rochelle Wu, CM Sophie Morris-Suzuki 0.
Photo: WGM Annie Wang | © Austin Fuller (SLCC)
IM Advait Patel – WGM Annie Wang
U.S. Junior Championship, (1)
King’s Indian Attack
1.Nf3 e6 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.0-0 Be7 5.d3 c5 6.Nbd2 b6 7.e4 We have a King’s Indian Attack, as favoured by Bobby Fischer in his youth – but Fischer would more likely only have entered into the KIA via a Sicilian or a French Defence. 7…Bb7 8.Re1 Nc6 9.c3 In Fischer’s day, he would have preferred the normal KIA set-up with 9.e5 Nd7 10.Nf1 and follow-up with h4 and Bf4, N1h2-g4 etc. 9…h6 10.Qe2 Qc7 11.a3 d4 12.cxd4 cxd4 13.b4 e5 14.Bb2 0-0 15.Rac1 b5 16.Nb3 Qb6 17.Nh4?! White misses a big early shot with the exchange sacrifice 17.Rxc6! Qxc6 18.Nxe5 Qe6 19.Na5 and already Black’s game is on the brink of collapse, as after 19…Qxe5 20.Nxb7 Rac8 21.f4! Qe6 22.e5 Nd5 23.Bxd4 and, as d4 falls, Black will be struggling to stay alive. 17…Nd7 18.Nf5 Bg5 19.Rc2 Again, White misses another big shot! After 19.f4! Black is in dire straits again, as she can’t recapture with 19…exf4 20.gxf4 Bxf4 due to 21.Rxc6! Bxc6 22.Bxd4 Qd8 23.Bxg7 practically winning on the spot. So Wang dodged a bullet there. 19…Ne7 20.h4 Nxf5 21.hxg5 Ne7 22.gxh6 Qxh6 23.Nc5 Simple and strong was 23.f4! threatening to rip the game open to White’s advantage. 23…Bc8 24.Nxd7 Bxd7 25.Rc5 Qd6 26.Qh5 Ng6 27.f4! Better late than never, I suppose! 27…exf4 28.e5 Qe7 29.Bxa8 It takes the no-nerves chutzpah of a playing engine to find the winning move, and that’s 29.Kf2! clearing a path for Rh1 and serious mating threats down the h-file. It’s not easy for Black to counter this threat, as after 29…fxg3+ 30.Kxg3 Qe6 31.Rh1 Rfe8 32.Bxa8 Rxa8 33.Bxd4 the major threat is simply Rc7 and Rxd7. 29…Rxa8 30.Bxd4 fxg3 31.Be3 Re8 32.d4 Qe6! Wang has weathered the storm, and now, after a couple of inaccurate White moves, begins to realise the position might not be quite so bad as she thought it would be, as she has excellent compensation for her material loss with genuine mating threats down the long a8-h1 diagonal. 33.Rc2 Bc6 34.Rc5 What else is there? If 34.Rf1 Qb3! 35.Qe2 Be4 36.Rc5 Bd3 37.Qd1 Qa2 38.Qd2 Qxd2 39.Bxd2 Bxf1 40.Kxf1 Nh4! and now, suddenly, Black has serious winning threats with many knight forks looming, not to mention the passed g-pawn. 34…Ba8 The intent here is very clear – Wang wants to set-up a queen and bishop battery down the long diagonal. 35.Bc1 a6 36.Re2? White faces a major dilemma trying to stop the queen and bishop battery and walks right into a blunder. As dangerous as it looks, White had to try 36.Rc3!? Qd5 37.Rxg3 Qxd4+ 38.Be3 Qe4 39.Bd2 Qc6 and, while the engines may all say “0.00”, the human gut instinct with the king open to the elements will – rightly – be fearing nothing but the worst. 36…Rd8? Missing the point of everything she’d hoped for up to now – there was no real answer to 36…Qd7! 37.d5 (Forced now, as after 37.Be3? there comes the killer blow 37…Nf4! and White is facing imminent resignation.) 37…Bxd5 38.Rd2 Nf4! which quickly wins. 37.Rec2 Be4 38.R2c3 Qd7 39.d5 Again, the engines shows nerves of steel with the simple solution of 39.Rxg3! Qxd4+ 40.Be3 Qa1+ 41.Rc1 Qxe5 42.Qxe5 Nxe5 43.Bg5! Re8 44.Bf6 Ng6 45.Bb2 f6 46.Rc7 Rd8 and, although White is a little better, the game will likely fizzle out to a draw. 39…Re8?? I can only imagine this was a time-trouble error, as the obvious move was 39…Bxd5! 40.Rc7 Qe6 41.Rxg3 Nxe5 and Black still holds the edge with threats to the White king of of …Nf3+ etc. 40.e6 Even stronger was 40.d6 with Rxg3 to follow. 40…fxe6 41.Rxg3 Qf7 42.d6 The clinical forcing line was 42.dxe6! Qxe6 43.Qg4 Qf6 44.Rc8 Qd4+ 45.Re3! Rxc8 46.Qxc8+ Nf8 47.Qg4 Qa1 48.Qxe4! Qxc1+ 49.Kf2 Qd2+ 50.Re2 with a big material advantage. 42…Rf8 43.Qe2 Qf6 44.Qxe4 Qf2+ 45.Kh1 Qxg3 46.Qxe6+ Rf7 47.Rc8+ Kh7 48.Qxf7 Qh3+ 49.Kg1 Qxc8 50.Bb2 Qg4+ 51.Kf2 [see diagram] An entertaining, topsy-turvy battle should now just fizzle out to a draw by perpetual after 51…Qh4+ 52.Ke3 Qg3+ 53.Ke4 Qg2+ 54.Qf3 Qc2+ 55.Qd3 Qxb2 56.Qh3+ Kg8 57.Qe6+ Kh7 58.Qh3+ etc – but alas…. 51…Nf4?? Wang got over-worried about the attack on g7, not realising there was no way for White to avoid a perpetual without losing the Bb2 as in the previous note. Sad, as she truly deserved the half-point for her survival instincts by finding a creative way to stay in the game after weathering the early storm 52.d7 Qg2+ 53.Ke3 Nd5+ 54.Kd3 Qg3+ There’s no perpetual here – all Black is doing is checking the White king to safety. 55.Kc2 Qg2+ 56.Kb1 Qe4+ 57.Ka2 Qc4+ I presume that when Wang played her 51…Nf4, she may not have fully appreciated that after White’s next move, that …Qf1+ wasn’t an option, as the square is covered by her opponent’s queen. 58.Ka1 1-0