2015 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - Round 8
Written and analyzed by GM Mackenzie Molner. Photos taken by Austin Fuller.
Akshat Chandra vs. Arthur Shen
Round eight featured the two leaders facing off in a pivotal game for this year’s U.S. Junior Championship. Chandra has maintained at least a shared lead throughout the entire tournament, while Shen’s 1 out 3 start was impressively improved upon with 4 consecutive wins. Shen’s game have been sharp and interesting with only decisive results. The two have been great entertainment for the fans and spectators watching. Shen chose a more solid opening today, relying on the Ruy Lopez defense against 1. e4. The way Arthur played allowed him the option of playing one of the many mainlines, or potentially a Marshall Gambit. Chandra chose 6. d3 which looks quiet but has a lot of advocates on the white side. It has the benefit of avoiding the Marshall Gambit which is extensively analyzed and doesn’t leave much room for either side to play for a win.
After a peaceful opening, the middlegame transformed into a very complicated struggle. Shen sacrificed a pawn to deal with pressure against his f7 pawn. He got a lot of compensation in return. Both sides had a lot of potentially interesting continuations in the middlegame but the big moment came when Shen played 19… e4. This turned out to be a big mistake even though it appeared as a natural looking move. Shen needed to be more patient; bringing his last pieces into the game. 19… bxc4 followed up by Qc7 and Rad8 would have given him respectable chances. His continuation in the game lost the positional trumps that he had, such as the strong light-squared bishop and central control. By the time he played 24… Qh4, Shen looked like he was generating some serious threats. However, with Chandra not being unfamiliar with king walks, he was planning to march his king up to safety on the f3 square.
The final turning point in the game happened when Chandra played Bxg4 on move 27. He eliminated one of Black’s best attackers. The rest of the game was characterized by a slow build-up from Chandra and eventually transforming his slightly vulnerable position into a position ready for attack. The final blow came with 33. Nxh6. Shen’s kingside was collapsing completely and he was soon resigning and giving Akshat sole first place once again! A very exciting game with huge implications at the top of the standings.
Ruifeng Li vs. Curran Han
Ruifeng Li has been in a similar boat to Yian Liou throughout this tournament. He had several incredible opportunities to knock off the leaders, Chandra and Xiong, but failed to do so. If he had converted, he would be in great position to compete for first. Like Liou, he would not give his opponent any second chances in round eight. Unfortunately, Han’s struggles would continue once again even though the opening battleground would be slightly different. Ruifeng chose the Closed variation of the Sicilian for White and gradually earned enough positional advantages to bring down his opponent. 39. e6 was the highlight of the game, breaking down Black’s kingside.
Jeffrey Xiong vs. Awonder Liang
Jeffery Xiong needed to win today if he wanted to maintain realistic chances of competing for first place. Awonder Liang who had started off the tournament on fire, had cooled off over the last few rounds and was struggling to return to his high quality play. His struggles continued today when paired against the highest rated player in the tournament. Liang chose the Benoni defense against Xiong’s 1. d4. I don’t recall this normally being a part of Awonder’s opening repertoire, but he did manage to reach an acceptable middlegame position. Jeffrey’s experience and positional skill eventually grounded his young opponent, leading to a complete collapse of Black’s position by the time he played the classical blow against the Benoni, e5 on move 27. Xiong has black tomorrow against Han, who has been struggling this tournament. The win keeps pressure on Chandra to at least draw tomorrow.
Yian Liou vs. Mika Brattain
I imagine coming into this game Liou must be feeling unsatisfied with the results he has gotten so far. He could have easily been competing for the top spots had he finished off his opponents in several winning positions. For round eight against Brattain, he could not leave his opponent with tricks or resources. Brattain chose an offbeat opening that is a favorite of the strong American GM Varuzhan Akobian. The opening did not achieve the desired result and by the time 16. Nf5! it was clear that Black would be under big pressure for a long time. The position was extremely difficult to play, and Brattain’s position quickly collapsed. Liou collected the full point on move 24.
Luke Harmon-Vellotti vs. Michael Bodek
In round seven, Bodek was on the wrong side of a big swindle in losing to Arthur Shen. Round eight held hope for redemption. He was on the Black side of a very positionally oriented Nimzo-Indian defense. The game featured a Carlsbad pawn structure often seen in d4 openings. Bodek commented after the game that 14. Qb4 was where White began to go wrong because White usually intends to play b4-b5 with a standard minority attack situation. Despite this slight inaccuracy White’s position remained extremely solid and it was only by the time Black played 25… Nh5 that White was in trouble. Bodek convincingly built his advantage from that point onward and gave White no second chances. Black won on move 50 creating the fifth decisive game of the day!