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Play got underway on Thursday on the opening day of the Polgar Challenge, the first leg of the new $100,000 (£73,800) online initiative from the Play Magnus Group for rising talents, the Julius Bär Challengers Tour, with two mixed gender teams of ten under-18 male players and ten under-25 women doing battle in an all-play-all which ends on Sunday.

The young stars of chess represent 12 nations and are competing for a prize pot totalling $100,000 and places on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour – the big incentive being that the winners will get a golden early opportunity to test their mettle against the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, and the grandmaster elite.

The teams are split into “Team Kramnik” and “Team Polgar”, with the two chess legends, Vlad and Judit, also acting as mentors, team captains and online commentators for this unique contest.

Team Kramnik:
Nodirbek Abdusattorov (aged, 16, Uzbekistan); Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (15, India); Dinara Saduakassova (24, Kazakhstan); Jonas Bjerre (16, Denmark); Leon Mendonca (15, India); Lei Tingjie (24, China); Christopher Yoo (14, United States); Olga Badelka (18, Belarus); Carissa Yip (17, United States); Nurgyul Salimova (17, Bulgaria)

Team Polgar:
Nihal Sarin (aged 16, India); Awonder Liang (17, United States); Vincent Keymer (16, Germany); Gukesh D (14, India); Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (24, Iran); Volodar Murzin (14, Russia); Polina Shuvalova (20, Russia); Zhansaya Abdumalik (21, Kazakhstan); Jiner Zhu (18, China); Gunay Mammadzada (20, Azerbaijan)

Fittingly, the new Julius Bär Challengers Tour focusing on rising stars comes in the 70th anniversary year of the first tournament to showcase emerging new talents, the first World Junior Championship for players under 20. That first edition that ran 11-23 June 1951, with shared venues in Coventry & Birmingham, was won by Yugoslavia’s Borislav Ivkov, who is now a very sprightly 87-year-old.

That original junior initiative was the brainchild of one of English chess’ great characters and tournament organisers, the cheroot chain-smoking “notorious jailbird” William Ritson Morry, and from its creation it quickly became the choice spawning ground for the senior species by producing many illustrious winners, with Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand all capturing the Under-20 crown en route to the ultimate world crown.

At the end of the opening day of the Polgar Challenge, top seed Nodirbek Abdusattorov shares the lead with India’s exciting prodigy R Praggnanandhaa and the youngest International Master in American history, 14-year-old Christopher Yoo.

There was a lot of spirited fighting chess on display, but unquestionably the highlight of the opening day proved to be leading US junior Awonder Liang, on the eve of the Wisconsin junior’s 18th birthday, ending his last day as a 17-year-old with a certain amount of panache and style, with what turned out to be a very picturesque and imaginative smothered mate that even had Kramnik and Polgar applauding.

All matches will be played in chess24.com’s PlayZone and broadcast live with expert commentary from 16:00 CEST on chess24’s YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels.

 

GM Awonder Liang – IM Gunay Mammadzada
Polgar Challenge, (5)
Reti/King’s Indian Attack
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 c6 3.Bg2 Bg4 4.0-0 Nd7 5.c4 Bxf3 6.Bxf3 Ne5 7.Bg2 Awonder opts to ‘go on an adventure’ with a speculative pawn sacrifice, rather than being saddled with the alternative of 7.cxd5 Nxf3+ 8.exf3 Qxd5 9.Nc3 Qd7 10.d4 e6 and the isolated d-pawn and doubled f-pawns. 7…Nxc4 8.d3 Nd6 Better and more solid was 8…Nb6, as from d6 the knight just gets in the way of things, with a coming e4 stopping …Nf6 due to e5. 9.e4! e6 10.Nc3 White has good compensation for the pawn with the more fluid and easier development. 10…Ne7 11.h4 Capturing more space on the kingside and threatening to push on with h5, stopping Black playing …Ng6. 11…Qd7 12.Be3 dxe4 13.dxe4 Nc4 14.Qe2 Vacating the d-file for a rook to harass the queen, and also delaying Black from castling queenside with the a7-pawn under attack. It’s just all a little ‘awkward’ for Mammadzada right now, but not lost. 14…Nxe3 15.Qxe3 Nc8 16.Rad1 Qc7 17.Qg5 Also good was 17.h5 – either way, Black has a pawn but faces a challenge completing her development and getting her king to safety. 17…h6 18.Qg4 Nb6 19.e5 Awonder is testing his opponent’s nerve here, almost double daring her that the pawn can’t be captured. 19…h5?! It was a difficult position for a human to dare snatching another pawn, but, in fact, it’s the best move – so long as you find the correct follow-up! After 19…Qxe5! 20.Rfe1 h5! More or less forces the trade of queens after 21.Rxe5 (Not 21.Qf3? Qf6 22.Qe2 Bb4 23.Ne4 Qg6 and Black is looking good with two extra pawns, development completed, ready to castle kingside, and the knight swiftly coming to the d5 stronghold.) 21…hxg4 22.Re4 Be7 23.Rxg4 0-0 White may have won back a pawn, but the danger is gone for Black with the queens traded and an extra pawn and solid position. 20.Qg5 Nd7 Stopping the queen annoyingly coming to f6 after …g6. 21.Rfe1 g6 Threatening …Bh6 trapping the queen – but Awonder’s queen has done its job by creating lots of holes and weaknesses in Black’s position. 22.Qc1! 0-0-0 The weakness on f7 is now Black’s big handicap – and there’s no way of defending it. If 22…Bh6 23.f4 0-0-0 24.b4 and the position is not easy for Black to defend. And snatching another pawn with 22…Nxe5? is fraught with danger, especially after 23.Nb5! Qb6 24.Qc3! Rh7 (The alternatives were worse: 24…cxb5 25.Qxe5 Rh7 26.Re3 doubling on the d-file.; and 24…Qxb5?? ends in misery after 25.Rxe5 Qb6 26.Rxe6+! winning. 23.Qf4! The weakness on f7 can’t be defended against – and with it, the game turns in Awonder’s direction, as his opponent’s position dramatically collapses under the pressure. 23…Bg7 24.Qxf7 Nxe5 25.Qxe6+ Kb8 26.Ne4 Nd3 Better would have been 26…Rhe8. 27.Re3 Nxb2? This is just too dangerous, and play’s right into White’s hands with his actively placed pieces. In hindsight, better was admitting the errors of your way and retreating back with 27…Ne5 that at least centralises the knight. 28.Rb1 Rd1+?? Black was severely pressed for time by this stage – but the best try to hang on comes from the engine, that wants to take the tactical route with 28…Na4 29.Qb3 Nb6 30.Nc5 Bh6 31.Ne6 Qe7 32.Nxd8 Bxe3 33.Nxc6+ bxc6 34.fxe3 Re8 and White still has a lot of work to do in order to convert his advantage. 29.Rxd1 Nxd1 30.Rb3! The pressure is mounting, with Awonder threatening to bludgeon his way through to the Black king with Nc5 or Nd6. 30…Ka8 31.Nd6 Rb8 32.Rxb7!! Awonder spots the eye-catching winning combo that leads to a very picturesque and publishable smothered mate. 32…Rxb7 33.Qe8+ Qb8 34.Qxc6 a5 35.Nc8 Threatening 36.Qa6+ Qa7 37.Qxa7 mate. 35…Bd4 At least covering the Qa7 mate, but opening the door for a spectacular finale. 36.Qa6+ Ba7 37.Nb6# 1-0 [see diagram] It’s the position of the opening day, and not a bad way to start the celebrations early for your 18th birthday!

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