John Henderson
By John Henderson

They seem to have ‘international days’ to commemorate everything these days – and chess is no different! Today, July 20th 2018 is the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the governing body of chess, the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, better known to all by its French acronym, FIDE, that took place in 1924 during the eighth summer Olympic games in Paris. And since 1966, as proposed and accepted by UNESCO, this day has been observed and celebrated worldwide as ‘International Chess Day’.

The idea is for the global playing of chess today – whether you be young, old, disabled, able-bodied, male or female. Internationally, there are many various events organised to also showcase and promote chess in each and every community. An added coincidence is that many regular international tournaments run through International Chess Day, such as the two recent tournaments we have been keeping tabs on: the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Germany, and the U.S. Junior Championships held at the internationally renowned chess hub of the Saint Louis Chess Club.

This is the premier, invitation-only tournament in the country for the nation’s top rising stars. It also comes with a $20,500 prize fund in the top tournament, with $6,000 going to the winner – and the even bigger attraction for the winner is that it also comes with an automatic invite into the 2019 U.S. Chess Championship, also held in Rex Sinquefield’s fabled Saint Louis Chess Club.

And after getting off to a relatively slow start by his own standards, and then finding himself involved in a six-way tie at the top by the end of round six, GM Awonder Liang, as befits his status as the defending champion, moved into the sole lead with a timely and very instructive win over FM Alex Bian. He now sits atop the field with 5/7, half a point ahead of GM Akshat Chandra and IM Advait Patel, in what looks to be a close race going down the home stretch.

U.S. Junior Ch.: 1. GM A. Liang 5/7; 2-4. GM A. Chandra, IM A. Patel, IM P. Balakrishnan 4.5; 5-6. GM J. Burke, FM A. Bian 4; 7. GM L. Ruifeng 3; 8. NM M. Brattain 2.5; 9-10. GM A. Tang, WGM A. Wang 1.5.

U.S. Girls Junior Ch.: 1. FM C. Yip 5.5/7; 2-3. WGM J. Yu, WIM E. Nguyen 5; 4-5. WIM M. Feng, WFM T. Cervantes 4; 6-7. WCM R. Wu, WFM M. Samadashvili 3.5; 8. WFM N. Matus 2.5; 9-10. WFM S. Vittal, CM S. Morris-Suzuki 1.

Photo: GM Awonder Liang moves into the sole lead with a dynamic win | © Austin Fuller (Official site – SLCC)

 

GM Awonder Liang – FM Alex Bian
U.S. Junior Championship, (7)
Reti Opening
1.Nf3 c5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 g6 4.0-0 Bg7 5.c3 When you see an opening set-up like this from a grandmaster, what they are doing is taking you away from known theory and looking to have you think on your feet. 5…Qb6 Black want’s to stop White from getting in d4 – the only drawback is that the queen can get hit by a potential Nc4. 6.e4 d6 7.Re1 e5 Black is reinforcing the ‘big clamp’ on d4 – but Liang finds a very dynamic way around this obstacle. 8.Na3 Nge7 9.d4! With White ahead in development and his king safely castled, this quick strike leaves Black facing an awkward defence now. 9…exd4 10.cxd4 Nxd4 The only logical capture. Too risky is 10…cxd4?! 11.Nc4 Qc5 12.b3 0-0 13.Bf4! and the coming Rc1 is going to pose Black some serious questions. 11.Nxd4 Bxd4 As noted above, after 11…cxd4?! 12.Bf4! Black is in a fix of what to do about the coming Nc4, as even after 12…Be6 13.Qa4+! Bd7 14.Qb3 Qxb3 15.axb3 0-0 16.Nc4 the active White pieces will soon regain the pawn and then some. 12.Nc4 Qa6 13.Bf1 It’s a double-edged position – but one where just one minor slip from Black could prove fatal. 13…Be6?! Fatal is as fatal gets.  Instead, 13…0-0 simply had to be tried – but now, Bian falls right into a devious tactical trick from Liang. 14.Be3! Bxc4 Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions now, as 14…Bxe3?? loses on-the-spot to 15.Nxd6+! 15.Bxd4 0-0 16.Bf6! This finesse, hitting the Ne7 and preventing …f5 while keeping full control of the dangerous c3-h8 diagonal and its many mating threats, is simply winning. 16…Bxf1 17.Qd2! [see diagram] Ouch! The finesses are coming thick and fast now from Liang – and to prevent the mating threats with the queen and bishop, Bian can only survive by voluntarily heading for a doomed ending. 17…d5 18.Bxe7 Rfe8 19.Bxc5 Bd3 20.exd5 Qc4 21.d6 Even more clinical was 21.Be7! as after 21…Qxd5 22.Rad1! wins a whole piece.  But in fairness to Liang, he’s quickly spotted how easy the endgame win is going to be with the advanced d-pawn, so has opted for this. 21…Bf5 22.Bd4 Qd5 23.Qf4 Re4 24.Rxe4 Qxe4 25.Qxe4 Bxe4 26.Bf6! Control of the queening square is the final nail in Bian’s coffin. 26…Bc6 27.Rc1 1-0 Black resigns. The threat is Rxc6 and forcing home the d-pawn – and if 27…Bd7 28.Rc7 Be6 29.Rxb7 there’s no way to stop the looming d7-d8 queening.

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