The latest edition of the World Junior Championship – won in the past by Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand — in Gebze, Turkey turned into an almost total triumph for the rapidly rising young star Parham Maghsoodloo. The 18-year-old Iranian Grandmaster stamped his authority on the tournament by racing to an unbeaten score of 8.5/9, dropping only a draw to his younger colleague, Alireza Firouzja, as he dominated the strong field with a 1.5-point lead over his nearest rivals.
Parham could easily have coasted to victory with a couple of quick “GM draws” in the final two rounds – but the teenage ace has a reputation of being a determined fighter at the board, and he’s not one to easily rest on his laurels. In the penultimate round, he won yet again, to move to 9.5/10 to clinch the title with a round to spare, and claiming in victory, that “It’s always good to play for a win and be a fighter.”
But this redoubtable fighting policy backfired in the final round when a draw was really the only realistic result achievable, and he paid the price by over-pressing with his only defeat of the tournament, losing to the Russian GM Andrey Esipenko, for a final score of 9.5/11 and a TPR of 2823. And so ended what ominously at one stage looked to be the most dominant World Junior Championship victories of the modern era (the highest score coming from the late Bill Lombardy in 1957 in Toronto, where the American clinched the title with a perfect score of 11/11 – but he did so against arguably the weakest field ever in the long and storied history of the competition).
Yet despite the setback with his final round shock loss, Parham – who has now become the first Iranian player to win a prestigious international chess title – looks to be the ‘real deal’ and definitely the one to look out for as a potential World Chess Championship challenger going into the future. And in the past month, Parham has been racking up the titles and up the world rankings with back-to-back tournament victories, and could well be set to become the next big thing.
Before heading to Turkey, the Iranian also swept to victory in the 2nd Aftab International Cup in his homeland with an unbeaten score of 8.5/9. And coupled with his recent World Junior Championship victory, he’s now climbed 44 places in the unofficial live rating list with a spike of 36-points, to reach 2684.5 and world number 58, and close to breaking the 2700 barrier – and what’s even more remarkable for the recently turned 18-year-old, is that he’s done it all without a coach to properly train him, with his rapid rise solely attributed to his working on his own at home!
And just as Magnus Carlsen was the one to watch as he made his sensational breakthrough as a teenager to playing among the world’s elite, Parham could also now be the one to watch. His next major event will be later this month at the Batumi Chess Olympiad, where he’ll play top board for his country. He’s also confirmed that he’s accepted an invitation to play in the Tata Steel B tournament in Wijk aan Zee next January, where victory will see a promotion the following year to the Tata Steel A tournament, and a likely first super-tournament meeting with Carlsen and Caruana et al.
Final top standings:
1. GM Parham Maghsoodloo (Iran) 9.5/11; 2-4. GM Abhimanyu Purnaik (India), IM Sergei Lobanov (Russia), GM Andrey Esipenko (Russia) 8.5. American scores: 28. GM Awonder Liang, 5/11; 98. GM Andrew Tang, 5/11.
Photo: Could the new 2018 World Junior Champion, Parham Maghsoodloo, be the next big thing? | © Official Site
GM Parham Maghsoodloo – GM Awonder Liang
57th World Junior Championships, (9)
1.Nf3 c5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 e5 4.d3 g6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.c3 Nge7 7.a3 0-0 What we basically have here, is an English Opening Botvinnik System Reversed with White playing a King’s Indian set-up. 8.b4 d6 9.e4 b6 10.Bb2 Bb7 The placement of the bishop here is a little of a puzzle because in the Botvinnik System it would normally go to e6 (e3 for White) to help support an …f5 push or more likely …d5. 11.Nbd2 Qd7 12.Qb3 h6 13.Rfe1 Kh7 14.d4! The breakdown of Black’s central pawns will only be to White’s advantage – and how! 14…cxd4 15.cxd4 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 exd4 17.Nf3 Ng8?! For me, this is another strange move – and I wonder if perhaps Liang was over-thinking the position here. He really had to strike back now to stop Maghsoodloo gaining more time to centralise his pieces. He should have immediately have released the tension with 17…d5! 18.Bxd4 dxe4 19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.Rad1 Qc7 21.Qb2+ Kh7 22.Ne5 Rad8 and look to hold here, as there’s nothing to fear in 23.Ng4, where now 23…Ng8! is a good move. And in view of this, I wonder if he was over-analysing and worrying about Maghsoodloo’s threat down the line of Ng4 and Nf6+? If he has, then the waste of time relocating the knight to f6 just gives his opponent the time needed to dominate the centre with his pieces. 18.Nxd4 Nf6 19.Rad1! Rfe8 Black can’t play 19…d5 now, as after 20.Nc2! White simply wins the d5 pawn with a crushing advantage. 20.f3! A nice move to have at your disposal! With e4 now full-protected, Maghsoodloo is going to take control of the white squares by relocating his bishop with Bf1, that now forces Black into several weakening concessions. 20…Rac8 21.Bf1 a6 22.b5! Ra8 The position has turned very ugly, very quickly for Liang. He can’t play 22…a5 as 23.Nc6! is crushing. And with that in mind, he has no other option other than to further weaken his queenside. 23.bxa6 Bxa6 24.Nb5 What’s not to like here for White? His position has no weaknesses, and now Black has sitting targets of weak pawns on d6 and b6 – one or both will undoubtedly fall. 24…Re6 25.a4 Bxb5 26.axb5 Stronger than capturing with the bishop, as now White can play Rc1-c6 or even Ra1-a6 to pile on the pressure. 26…Qc7 27.Rc1 Qa7 28.Ra1 Qb7 29.Ra6! Something will have to give for Black here. And despite Liang trying to mount a rearguard action, what’s impressive is how his Iranian opponent just systematically pushes him off the board from here. 29…d5 30.Rea1 Rf8 31.Bh3! Maghsoodloo has total control of the board – but rather than looking for the quick kill, he just continues to turn the screw to squeeze the very life out of the Black position. 31…Ree8 32.e5 Nd7 33.Ra7 Nc5 34.Qc2 Qb8 35.f4 Ne6 36.Bxe6 Also strong was 36.Qc6 – but capturing on e6 is equally good, as d5 will surely fall. 36…Rxe6 37.Qd3 Kg8 What else is there? This is just agony for any player to have to defend, but with f7 under attack, 37…Rd8 is ruled out. And if 37…Qd8 38.Ba3! will quickly win. 38.Qxd5 Maghsoodloo has Liang at his mercy, and the rest is basically Black fighting for his very survival, waiting for the killing blow to come – and to his credit, the Iranian doesn’t look for anything flashy nor rushes anything, he just finds a forcing line that trades off most of the pieces to leave him with an easily won ending. 38…Rd8 39.Qf3 Bf8 40.Ra8! The end is nigh, as the placard-wielding street soothsayers would say. 40…Qc7 41.Rxd8 Qxd8 42.Ra8 Qd7 43.Ba3 Re8 44.Rxe8 Qxe8 45.Qc6! [see diagram] It’s total domination now, with Black’s queen and bishop effectively shut out of the game. And, of course, Black can’t trade queens as the c-pawn will easily promote. 45…Qd8 46.Bd6 Kg7 47.Kg2 The winning plan is simply to walk the king to d5 and then c6 to capture on b6. 47…h5 48.Kh3 Kg8 49.Kg2 Kg7 50.Kf3 Kg8 51.Ke4 Kg7 52.Kd5 Kg8 53.Qb7 1-0 Liang finally succumbs to Maghsoodloo’s impressive power-play, as after 53…Kg7 54.Kc6 b6 falls.