Naroditsky Clear First at U.S. Junior Closed Championship

IM Daniel Naroditsky, the top seed entering the tournament, leads the U.S. Junior Closed Championship by a 1/2 point after four rounds.

By Brian Jerauld

SAINT LOUIS (June 18, 2013) -- Nobody is safe on top of the 2013 U.S. Junior Closed Championship.

After a third round that saw two perfect-score frontrunners fall with the white pieces, Monday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis was more of the same for the leader. FM Luke Harmon-Vellotti entered atop the standings with 2.5/3 points, but he fell in glorious fashion to FM Samuel Sevian in round 4. The full-point victory was one of four on the day, with only one draw in the round between IM Victor Shen and FM Jeffrey Xiong.

The standings remain tight, with seven of the ten players still within one point of each other, entering round 5. Calfornia 17-year-old IM Daniel Naroditsky now sits atop the leaderboard on the proverbial hot seat and, with two wins and two draws in four rounds, is the last player in the field without a loss. Four players sit in a tie for second place, a half-point behind Naroditsky with 2.5 points.

Not 20 moves into Naroditsky’s game versus FM Atulya Shetty, things looked to be headed into a dead draw, which would have created a six-way tie for first place. Shetty gave fight with the French defense, producing an isolated queen’s pawn. It was one Naroditsky was up to the task of blockading, but unfortunately it was black’s only slight weakness.

But Shetty missed 19. … Bxd4 20. Bxd4 f6, which would have ushered in an opposite-colored bishop endgame and left white with no prospects. Naroditsky capitalized, with a powerful 24. Qg3 to set up the winning Re5 on the next move. Shetty blundered his major pieces to a knight fork soon after, and Naroditsky closed the game with some great back-rank tactical work.

“I just misevaluated the position,” Shetty said of his drawing chances. “I thought he would be able to keep pushing for awhile, with me suffering. I guess it was an easier draw than I thought it would be.”

Harmon-Vellotti had been nothing short of impressive through the first three rounds, including a win over IM Kayden Troff and a draw with Naroditsky, the field’s two highest-rated players. But his fourth-round match on Monday versus Sevian was a quick reminder that there would be no getting comfortable in this field.

Boise, Idaho’s 14-year-old pride looked solid through the earlygoings of a Ruy Lopez, prompting Grandmaster commentators Yasser Seirawan and Ben Finegold to comment on Harmon-Vellotti’s polished openings thus far in the tournament. But the middlegame held a different story.

If 16. c4 was confusing, then 18. Nfg5 was downright wrong. The former move, in a position that looked primed for white to push b4, greased the wheels for Sevian to come on the attack, and the latter simply sent a minor piece into the barbs of the enemy camp for no compensation.

“It was just one of those games where everything I calculated just didn’t work,” Harmon-Vellotti said. “I thought b4 didn’t work, because I was losing material – but I’m not. Then c4 was supposed to start this crazy kingside attack, where I thought I could get d4 and have something  – but I don’t. Then Nb6, [Sevian] had several refutations – but I didn’t see any of them.”

Troff converted a solid endgame into a full point in his match versus FM Yian Liou. The Utah IM and reigning U-14 World Champion, who turned 15 while playing in his first U.S. Championship in May, came out clean against the Queen's Gambit-Declined Slav defense and found himself with an early advantage. Liou’s 17. … b6 was suspect, especially without his king castled, and Troff created the first weakness in his opponent’s army with an isolated c-pawn.

But he fell a bit flat on his choice of attack, opting for 19. Bb5 which was met by Ra7, and Troff voluntarily traded minor pieces and queens to speed toward the endgame. But Liou missed 23. Bf6, which would have brought the devastating 24.  … Bd4+ and paved the way for an easy draw. Instead, Troff cleaned up in an excellent rook-and-pawn endgame. Liou’s choice of 23. a5 was the one he wanted back.

“It wasn’t miscalculating as much as it was just misevaluating how much of an easy draw [Bf6] was,” Liou said. “I just thought a5 led to an easier draw.”

With a draw in round 3, her first points on the board, WFM Sarah Chiang looked to be warming up and cruising to a convincing win versus Robert Perez on Monday.  She came with the Classical Nimzo-Indian, including c5 and Na6, to disrupt Perez’ middle and stack his c-pawns.  After 20 moves, Chiang was looking strong and coming heavy with attack, while Perez played with under 15 minutes on his clock and another 20 moves needed before time control.

Chiang’s attack, however, seemed just a tempo late, as Perez had just enough defense set up to avoid an otherwise lethal 24. Rg4. As it was, the move did little more than trap her own rook. Still, Chiang hung solid all the way through 34. gxf3, a position which Perez had all but conceded to time troubles.

“After [34. Gxf3], I thought I was dead, because she was so far up on time. That position was really annoying to defend low on time,” Perez said. “After that, I didn’t know. I couldn’t figure out what to do. My pieces were passive, and her pieces were active.”

But her 37. Kg7, instead of Kh7 which would have drawn, brought Perez’ shocker of 38. Ne6+, bringing mate in several ways if 38. … fxe6.  Chiang lost her queen to a fork with her king at move 40. Nf8.

The draw between Xiong and Shen also featured a Ruy Lopez, but one Xiong fell out of line of rather early. The result saw an early attack on his white-squared bishop and struggling to find initiative in the early going. He stumbled through an awkward advance through the center that momentarily left his king exposed, but he was able to eventually close the board and create a pawn fortress, where he weathered the storm through the endgame.

Shen found slightly more play with the black pieces throughout the middle game, but trading the knights at move 29 all but sealed the draw.

To watch live grandmaster commentary with GM Yasser Seirawan and Ben Finegold, tune into

Pairings round 5 

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 FM Shetty, Atulya 2.0 2320 IM Troff, Kayden W 2.5 2443
2 FM Sevian, Samuel 2.0 2390 IM Naroditsky, Daniel 3.0 2494
3 IM Shen, Victor C 2.5 2411 FM Harmon-Vellotti, Luke 2.5 2340
4 WFM Chiang, Sarah 0.5 2101 FM Xiong, Jeffrey 1.0 2370
5 FM Liou, Yian 1.5 2385 Perez, Robert M 2.5 2359