2020 U.S. Junior Championship - Day 3 Recap
2020 U.S. Junior Champion, GM John Burke
In one of the most thrilling finishes ever, GM John Burke managed to win the 2020 U.S. Junior Championship after getting the best of GM Jeffery Xiong in an Armageddon playoff that ended with the U.S. #5 ranked player losing on time in a winning position. The final game took place after the players both finished with 6.5/9 points during the regular event, leading to a two-game rapid playoff match that was also tied.
2020 U.S. Junior Runner-Up, GM Jeffery Xiong
Finishing in 3rd place with 6.0/9 was #2 seed GM Sam Sevian, who despite a poor start managed to fight his way back to a bronze finish.
3rd place finisher GM Sam Sevian
Check out all the games (including the rapid playoff) from the final day of action here, and you can watch a video replay of the event’s live coverage featuring WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Maurice Ashley here.
Coming back from a loss to Sevian in the final round of the previous day, Xiong started off strong today with an efficient win over IM Josh Sheng; the co-leader Burke only drew against GM Nicolas Checa. This gave Jeffery a half-point lead going into the final rounds.
In the meantime, GM Sam Sevian kept his medal chances alive with a win over FM Christopher Shen, finding some accurate tactics to win material in a typical King’s Indian middlegame:
After 13...Nxe4!, winning a pawn and eventually the game for GM Sevian
In the penultimate round Xiong continued to play solidly, taking advantage of a late endgame blunder by IM Christopher Yoo to trade down into a winning king and pawn endgame:
After 36.Ke3?, allowing Xiong to trade rooks into a winning endgame.
But the ‘Burkenator’ kept pace, defeating a key rival in GM Brandon Jacobson to stay within a half-point of Xiong:
After 34.f4!, the start of a nice strategic maneuver, with idea Nh2-f3-e5.
Sevian also won his game against IM Josh Sheng, to stay a point behind Xiong and half a point behind Burke, with just one round left to go.
Going into the final round with a half-point ahead of his nearest rival, Xiong could clinch the title with just a win over IM Bryce Tiglon, who was struggling for most of the event. But as luck would have it Tiglon managed to outplay his 2700-rated opponent, seizing the initiative and launching a dangerous attack against White’s king. Fortunately for Xiong, Tiglon cashed in a bit too early and the leader was able to escape with a draw in a calm rook ending.
IM Tiglon almost pulled off the stunning upset after finding 19...Bg4!, which put the top seed and clear leader on the ropes
This draw opened up the chance for Burke to catch up, who then pulled off a clutch win against IM Praveen Balakrishnan and managed to tie Xiong with 6.5/9.
Final position from the game Balakrishnan - Burke, where Black’s last move 34...b4! decided matters.
Sevian then won his third game of the day, earning him clear third place in the event, but all eyes were on the rapid playoff about to take place between the two winners.
The playoff started off with two rapid 10+2 games. In the first game Xiong was able to generate a large advantage as Black in an unbalanced endgame with two rooks and a knight each, but couldn’t find a way to improve his position and ended up repeating moves to draw the game. In the second game Xiong was again better, this time in a bishop endgame, but rushed his advantage somewhat and Burke managed to defend the second game as well.
Xiong had big advantages in all three playoff games, but just couldn’t convert.
This led to the final Armageddon game, with Xiong getting five minutes plus the White pieces against four minutes and draw odds for Burke. Once again, Xiong was able to seize a large advantage as White, netting an extra pawn in a very promising endgame. Things looked like they were all but over but Burke managed to hold on long enough to take things into a messy time scramble. Despite his extra material, Xiong ran out of time before he could checkmate his opponent and ended up losing the game.
Final position, Armageddon Playoff
Asked about the rapid playoff, Jeffery felt he “jumped the gun a bit” in terms of his conversion in some games, but didn’t feel too bad about losing in the eventual time scramble, focusing on his own mistakes. “The key was not being precise earlier, and then once we were low on time it was just a mouse race so it was not in my control,” said Jeffery.
Burke was able to cap off an incredible run that started with a first round loss to Xiong in the event, needing to win game after game to stay within reach of the leaders. “After losing the first game I was worried that it might turn into a not-so-good tournament, but somehow I was able to keep focusing on one game at a time.” With this win Burke will qualify for the 2021 U.S. Championship, as well as earning an additional $6,000 in scholarship money.
The 2020 U.S. Championships continue with the U.S. Senior Championship, which starts Saturday, October 17, with live coverage from WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Maurice Ashley starting at 12:50 PM CDT on USChessChamps.com, YouTube, and Twitch.
The 2020 U.S. Championships features a series of five national title events, all taking place online from Oct 8-29, starting with the 2020 U.S. Girls Junior Championship. For full details, pairings, and results of the events, make sure to check out USChessChamps.com.