Round 1 Recap - U.S. Junior, Girls' Junior & Senior Championship

Yesterday the U.S. Junior, U.S. Junior Girls, and U.S. Senior Championships kicked off at the Saint Louis Chess Club.  This is the first year all three events are taking place at the same time in the same location. The first round didn’t disappoint, as there were many exciting battles in all three sections.

U.S. Junior Championship

The U.S. Junior began with an eclectic mix of positional and tactical struggles.  IM Brandon Jacobson got an overwhelming opening advantage as White against IM Hans Niemann, and finished off the game with fancy tactical play, including the move 27. B6! Temporarily sacrificing a queen.  

GM Nicolas Checa had slight positional pressure in an endgame against Atulya Vaidya, but the bottom seed was defending quite well.  Unfortunately for him, his 40th move Bd5 allowed Nicolas to trap his awkward rook on b5, and Atulya immediately had to resign.

The game between GM Andrew Tang and IM Joshua Sheng looked balanced for a long time.  Joshua grabbed a pawn on h4, and while Andrew probably had ways to get good compensation, he failed to prove anything. After that things went from bad to worse, and Sheng reeled in the point quite convincingly. Defending champion GM Awonder Liang converted a rook and knight endgame against IM Craig Hilby.  Hilby had his chances, but in the end Liang proved too mighty a foe.  

WGM Jennifer Yu took an exchange by grabbing a rook on a8, and afterwards was duly punished by GM John Burke.  

Yu,Jennifer - Burke,John [A34]
US Junior Championship (1), 11.07.2019
[GM Josh Friedel]

1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Nc7 7.0–0 e5 8.d3 [These symmetrical English lines with d5 often lead to sharp play. Black has a space advantage, but is often behind in development and has to maintain the pawns in the center.]

8...Be7 9.Nd2 [A typical maneuver, trying to transfer the knight to c4 and put pressure on Black's center.]

9...0–0 10.Nc4 f6 11.f4 Be6 [11...exf4 is more common, but John probably didn't want to develop White's c1 bishop.]

12.f5 [An interesting decision. White takes pressure off the center, but secures some space and the e4 square by doing so.]

[12.fxe5 attempting to leave Black with a weak e5 pawn looks more natural to me.]

12...Bd7 13.Ne3 Kh8 14.Kh1 b5 15.g4 Nd4 [An important moment in the game. To take the rook or not to take it?]

16.Bxa8?! [Jennifer told me she immediately regretted this decision. She wanted to achieve Ng2–e4, but it was never possible.]

[16.b3 was her preference, keeping her position nice and solid.]

16...Qxa8+ 17.Kg1 [John thought putting the king on g1 was risky, but the alternative wasn't so pleasant either.]

[17.Ng2 Bc6 (17...b4 worried Jennifer, and might be even stronger.) 18.e4 (18.Rf2 might hold on better, but it looks rather flimsy.) 18...c4! cracking White's pawns and securing a nice advantage.]

17...g6! [I like this decision, immediately forcing White to worry about her king.]

18.Ne4 Rg8 19.Ng3 c4 [This looks a little rushed to my eyes, though it is certainly tempting.]

[19...Ne8 planning Nd6 next looks extremely strong.]

20.fxg6 Rxg6 21.Nef5 [Jennifer wants to sort out her pieces, but this is very hard to hold.]

[21.dxc4 looks incredibly scary, but Black still has something to prove.]

21...Bc5 22.e3 Nde6?! [22...Nxf5 23.gxf5 Rg7 and John didn't see anything convincing for himself, but to my eyes it looks miserable for White.]

23.Nh4 [23.dxc4! attacking the bishop is quite strong, and now after 23...Bc6 (23...Nf4 24.Rxf4 allows White to take too much material.) 24.h3 it is important than Nf4 no longer threatens mate!; 23.h3 Nf4! forces White to sacrifice an exchange.]

23...Rg8 24.Qf3? [24.h3 trying to consolidate was the best bet, as after 24...Nf4 White has 25.Kh2 , but this is very hard to play, and after 25...Nxd3 Black has an excellent position.]

24...Nd5! [This excellent move leaves White pretty much defenseless against all the threats. Time pressure had a strong impact on the rest of the game, but Jennifer's position is nearly impossible to hold in practical play.]

25.Ne4 Nd4 26.exd4 Bxg4 27.Qg3 Be2 28.Ng5 [28.dxc5 Rxg3+ 29.Nxg3 Bxf1 30.Kxf1 might still be lost, but I'd at least give it a try.]

28...Bxd4+ 29.Rf2 fxg5 30.Nf5 Bxf2+ 31.Kxf2 Nf4 32.dxc4 Qe4 33.Ne3 Rf8 34.Ke1 Bxc4 [A tough loss for Jennifer, who no doubt regrets her decision to take on a8, but John played some really inventive attacking chess. A fun game!] 0–1

WGM Jennifer Yu got a little too greedy against GM John Burke

U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

The girls section saw White knights capturing rooks on a8 in two separate games.  This worked quite poorly for 9-year-old Rachael Li, who dropped too much material in her quest to take the rook and lost in short order to WIM Agata Bykovstev.  To be fair to Rachael, Agata was putting her under some pretty strong pressure before she went after the rook. The risk paid off for WIM Rochelle Wu, however, who won an extremely complex fight against WIM Emily Nguyen. It looked dubious at first, but Emily allowed Rochelle to capture her queenside, and eventually those pawns won the game for White.

Defending champion FM Carissa Yip scored a nice positional win against bottom seed Veronika Zilajeva.  Particularly sweet was her move 20 Bb5, which secured her a strong knight against a bad bishop. WIM Thalia Cervantes had some chances as black against Ruiyang Yan, but opposite colored bishops proved to be too big an obstacle to overcome, and they drew their game after a long struggle.

Finally, WFM Martha Samadashvili drew a long game with FM Maggie Feng. It looked like Maggie was putting Martha under pressure in a lengthy struggle, and perhaps even could have pressed more in the final position, but in the end could find nothing better than delivering a perpetual.  

Defending Champion Carissa Yip won a nice positional game against Veronika Zilajeva

U.S. Senior Championship

When you think of the U.S. Senior Championship, sharp and exciting play may not be what first leaps to mind, but that is exactly how the first round began.  3-time US Champion Larry Christiansen destroyed the kingside of Jaan Ehlvest and won in convincing style in a mere 14 moves. Alex Yermolinsky seemed to be pressing against Igor Novikov, but was unable to generate any serious chances, and the game was drawn after 33 moves. 

Alex Fishbein and Maxim Dlugy played down a theoretical line of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted where Black sacrifices the exchange. It looked like Maxim, playing Black, allowed Alex to simplify the game too much. In what appeared like a dead lost ending, however, Alex went astray and allowed Max to draw.  Alex Goldin got a promising opening position where he had a lot of extra space, which later transformed into a queen against rook and bishop advantage. Joel found pesky ways to defend, but in the end his position proved impossible to hold, and Goldin took the full point.  

Alex Yermolinsky checking out his position against Igor Novikov from another angle

Below are the standings after the first round for each section.

Round two pairings are listed below.