2015 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - Round 9
Written and analyzed by GM Mackenzie Molner. Photos taken by Austin Fuller.
Awonder Liang vs. Akshat Chandra
After the first three rounds of the tournament these two players were the leaders, and it was presumed that this 9th round matchup could potentially decide the tournament’s results. It turned out that this was true but not the way Awonder would have wanted it. In his last five games, Awonder was only able to score one point, compared to Akshat Chandra who was still leading the tournament. A round nine win for Akshat would guarantee him first place, $6,000 and a seat in the next U.S. Chess Championship. With the Black pieces for round nine, it would prove to be no easy task.
Chandra’s form took a dip in the middle of the tournament, but he peaked in the last couple rounds and was playing his best chess of the tournament. He reacted to Awonder’s 1.e4 in his typical fashion, playing the Taimanov Sicilian. The game was a relatively quiet Sicilian, devoid of the tactical opportunities that usually characterize this particular opening. Awonder held slight pressure throughout the opening and early middlegame, but it never led to more than mild discomfort for Chandra. Chandra slowly gained control of the game. By move 33 he had a great chance to solidify his advantage with the move f4! He made the most of this opportunity, playing this move relatively quickly. Awonder’s 35th move was the cause of his demise. Rather than playing Rd3, he needed to play Rf3, with reasonable chances of defending.
By the time Black played 36… Bc6, White’s position was beyond salvation. Chandra brought the point home in convincing fashion, needing only 5 more moves before forcing White’s resignation. A quiet but very well-played game. With the win in round nine, Akshat Chandra won the 2015 U.S. Junior Closed Championship!
Curran Han vs. Jeffrey Xiong
Xiong needed to win this game in order to maximize his chances of competing for first. I thought it would be interesting to see which opening he would play in order to generate winning chances. Xiong relied on his standard Grunfeld defense against Han’s 1. d4. I thought this might not be the best choice. As a Grunfeld player myself, I often find it difficult to create winning chances against some of the long forcing variations that White can play. Han chose a solid system, with an early Be3 and Bb5. The critical point in the game was White’s 18th move. Han needed to play Rc5 instead of Rc4, the move that was played in the game. Han’s choice radically altered the evaluation of the position, immediately going from equal to a loss in just one move! Xiong finished off the game in good style, efficiently converting his advantage. The pressure was now on Akshat to at least draw for Xiong to stand a chance!
Arthur Shen vs. Luke Harmon-Vellotti
Harmon-Vellotti decided to deviate from his nearly automatic French defense against 1. e4. He played the Caro-Kann defense, perhaps looking to plan specific preparation against the Fantasy Variation, which was Shen’s previous choice this tournament. Shen deviated from his previous game, favoring the classical main line. The opening led to a very sharp middlegame position with opposite side castling. Shen’s 15th move, g4!, led to a strong kingside attack. It wasn’t until 30… Rd2 that White’s attack became unstoppable. 30… e5 was a better choice. Shen’s attack crashed through, right before the time control. Shen’s 9 decisive games is an impressive feat!