There were just 15 minutes of focus at the opening ceremony of the 2013 U.S. Junior Closed Championship – when the players selected numbers to determine who would control the majority of the white or black pieces. But the impact of those selections were omnipresent through all of Friday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, when a decisive round 1 saw four of the five players playing white emerge victorious.
By Brian Jerauld
Only 15-year-old FM Yian Liou was able to claim a point with the black pieces, which he did against FM Sam Sevian. The two West Coast FIDE masters have become increasingly familiar with each other, including a split of the 2012 Metropolitan Closed tournament title, where each earned an IM norm. The past experiences prompted Liou to make some changes heading into Friday.
“I’ve played as black the past couple times [against Sevian],” Liou said. “And my record was pretty bad – I had to do something about it.”
What he did was deviate from his plan on move 2, leaving the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicilian by pushing g6 – entering into a Hyper-Accelerated Dragon line. Liou played all afternoon with heavy initiative on the queenside, keeping Sevian’s pieces relatively harmless until 26. c4, when his white bishop became all-but passive. Through the rest of the game, Liou delivered clean pressure to close. He eventually found his material advantage with a knight-rook exchange at 31. … Nxd5. Sevian looked for drawing chances with 33. f5, trying to completely close the board, but the accurate Qc8 response ensured that Liou would indeed break through.
“My first game is always my most nerve-racking game,” Liou said. “I have to get used to a new board, new clock, new pieces – and I also have to get used to playing in a tournament again. I can’t say this win makes me confident – just maybe comfortable, knowing I can do something with the black pieces.”
If there was one tough loss from Friday, it was suffered by IM Kayden Troff, the U-14 World Champion who played in Saint Louis last month in his first U.S. Championship. Troff, normally under the affliction of a permanent smile, instead wore his frustration after losing to FM Luke Harmon-Vellotti.
“I’m a bit upset that I lost,” Troff said. “I didn’t think I was losing, and I’m not sure where things went wrong.”
Troff’s analysis started deep in a game that opened up early and stayed sharp throughout. Suffering from time pressure that saw him under a minute, Troff swapped Harmon-Vellotti’s knight with 28. … Bxd6, leaving him to second-guess if Re2 would have been more sound. The trade allowed Harmon-Vellotti to coordinate his remaining two rooks into a battery that ultimately wrecked Troff’s queenside pawns and any hopes for a score.
“It’s going to be hard for anyone to get seven points here [at the U.S. Junior Closed Championship],” Troff said. “No matter if you lose, as long as you stay consistent, you should be able to pull through until the end. I’m just going to get up tomorrow and try for a win.”
It didn’t take long for FM Atulya Shelly to kick himself for faulty preparation on Friday. After the opening ceremony, the 2013 K-12 Supernational Champion took just a few glances at a possible 1. … b6 defense before skipping to another chapter, convincing himself: “He’s never going to play that.”
But indeed his opponent, Robert Perez, did respond with b6 – “just to annoy” Shetty – though it did not have such lasting results.
Despite his timely defensive surprise, Perez burned much of his clock through the opening, going into a deep think as early as move 6. But while his 7. … Bd6 left analysts scratching their heads, Shetty happily accepted the bishop trade to leave Perez with pawns stacked and isolated on the d-file. Even after Perez was able to gain a material advantage – Shetty’s own d-pawn on move 11 – black’s inherent weakness on the d-file left Shetty with little concern.
Perez’ time burning from the opening caught up with him by the endgame. By move 20, he still felt equal in the position, but admitted he had no idea on how to proceed. And by the last ten moves of the game, all his time-consuming consideration left him playing on the increment, eventually giving way to the worst of blunders: a knight fork on his king and queen.
IM Daniel Naroditsky, highest-rated competitor in the field, closed out a sound game against the lively FM Jeffrey Xiong. The two had met before at the Golden State Open, with Xiong claiming the point, but things would be different this time around. Where the first game fell into the Reti, Friday’s matchup went through a line of the Bogo-Indian.
And though Xiong followed some theory, his position out of the opening left him behind considerably in both space and time – and Naroditsky was awarded the advantage of the bishop pair.
“Out of the opening, I was in a slightly worse position, leaving [Daniel] with two bishops,” Xiong said. “After that I tried a few practical chances, but we went into an endgame where he was just better. He made some precise moves to finish the game.”
Xiong credited Naroditsky’s 10. Nd2 to wrecking his preparation, a move that took firm control of the e4 square and left Xiong’s pieces bottled up for much of the game. Naroditsky eventually converted his better position to material advantage with a convenient tactic (32. Rxg7 Kxg7 33. Bxe5+) that forked Xiong’s king and rook to earn a pawn.
Friday’s board 5 between IM Victor Shen and WFM Sarah Chiang saw the day’s most lopsided matchup. Chiang found her position weakened before even leaving the opening, due partially to an early 3. … Bb4 that left her bishop useless. Her 12. … Qe7 suffered her first major bruise, a move she admittedly thought was playable for her position at the time – but did little more than bring the queen into the path of some of Shen’s best punches.
Chiang was already suffering material disadvantage just four moves later, and by move 19 she found her pieces in a near state of zugzwang, with no initiative. She resigned before her 22nd move.
“I’m trying to keep a clear head – this month has been pretty rough on me,” said Chiang, who had visited the Saint Louis Chess Club in May as a competitor in the U.S. Women’s Championship. “My competition at the U.S. Women’s, most of them were maybe 100 points within my rating – some were even closer. But now I’m 200 points behind all of these players!
“It’s obviously great playing against stronger players, great for my chess as it just tests me better. For me, it’s just good experience just to be here – and I’m lucky to be here. We’ll see what I can salvage by the end.”