2016 U.S. Junior Closed
Jeffery Xiong of Coppell, Texas, is the highest ranked player in the world under the age of 16. He has shown tenacity well beyond his years. At age 15, he already has had an impressive list of results: the 2010 Under-10 North America Continental Champion, a silver medalist in the 2010 Under-10 World Youth Chess Championships, 2013 MVP of the United States Chess League for his perfect record in regular season for the Dallas Destiny, 2015 Chicago Open Championship, 6th place finish in the strongest U.S. Championship in history (2016), and was recently awarded the 2016 U.S. Outstanding Player Achievement Award by USCF. However, it is his creativity on the board and his maturity in defeat that has caught the eye of some of the most renowned chess grandmasters.
From a very young age, Xiong has seen his losses, though painful, as an opportunity to improve. While some of Xiong's older competitors have been known to display their frustration with difficult losses, he remains collected—analyzing where his play could have been stronger. This maturity has helped enlist legendary Grandmaster Garry Kasparov as a mentor in the Young Stars program, and it has led to numerous impressive victories and awards since.
Home-schooled now, Xiong already has been awarded a four-year scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas. The school’s faith in him is well-founded, particularly since his undefeated play in this past spring’s UT Dallas vs. U.S.A. Junior All-Stars event helped his team, the Junior All-Stars, achieve victory over that same UT Dallas university program he may one day attend.
2014 proved to be highlight in the career of young Kayden Troff, earning his Grandmaster title at the Saint Louis Invitational in May, and then returning to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis the following month to win the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship with a convincing 7/9 score. The victory earned him a seat at the 2015 U.S. Championship, his second appearance in the national title event.
Troff first demonstrated chess ability at the age of three, learning to play by watching his father teach his older brothers. By the time he was six, his father had him tutored by Grandmaster Igor Ivanov, who was impressed with how well the youngster played.
Troff was among the first selected into the Young Stars-Team USA program, a joint partnership between the Kasparov Chess Foundation and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which sought to train the country’s top emerging players to compete with those around the world. Through the program, Troff has participated in several training sessions with Garry Kasparov, as well as frequent sessions with GM Alex Chernin.
Troff’s accomplishments include several Utah scholastic and adult championships, as well as a gold medal at the U14 World Youth Chess Championship title earned in Maribor, Slovenia in 2012 -- an upgrade from the silver medal earned in the U12 World Youth Chess Championship in Greece in 2010.
Fourteen-year-old IM Ruifeng Li is currently the highest rated under-14 year old in the USA and is also ranked 4th in the world for the under the age of 16. Ruifeng returns this year for his second appearance in the U.S. Junior Closed Championship.
Ruifeng started exploring chess when he was 5 years old in Michigan. He won the Arkansas State Championship in 2011 at the age of 8. Later the same year he was the silver medalist in the World Youth Chess Championships under-10 section.
His early success landed him a spot in the Young Stars program in 2012—an elite youth training program designed to maximize the potential of rising chess prodigies in the U.S., coached by Garry Kasparov. A few months later Li earned the NM title.
His FIDE rating climbed over 200 points from 2013 to middle of 2014. He has been rapidly improving, gaining another 150 points in the last year and recently crossing 2600 USCF. He received his IM title last year and is on the verge of earning the GM title. Ruifeng scored an undefeated 7-2 at the 10th Annual Philadelphia Open which was held in March of 2016, winning first place, and also obtaining his first GM norm in this tournament. Ruifeng’s best results include several draws during major chess tournaments against world class players such as Fabiano Caruana, Gata Kamsky, Luke McShane, and Alexey Dreev.
A strong self-motivation and independent working ability has helped him to achieve large successes both in chess and academics, confirming that chess really helps education for kids. Ruifeng is honored to represent his home state of Texas, appreciative of all the people who have ever helped him, and he also looks forward to promoting American Chess in the future.
Defending U.S. Junior Closed Champion, International Master Akshat Chandra started learning chess at the age of about 9 years—a relatively late start compared to peers who started at the age of 4 and 5 years.
In January 2010, Akshat received a starting FIDE rating of 1548 and in less than 5 ½ years, crossed the Grandmaster rating level of 2500 in May 2015. His accelerated progress from such a late start is the largest and quickest rating increase in the world.
Akshat is the highest ranked junior rapid chess player in the country, and is among the leading junior blitz players in both online and on-board chess. Besides winning the 2015 US Junior Championship in his first appearance, Akshat is the 2015 US National High School Champion in both classic and blitz forms of the game. In 2013, Akshat won the K-9 Super Nationals Junior High Championship, and the Under-18 North American Youth Championship.
Away from the board, Akshat is an avid writer. Besides writing for Chess publications, he also has a comprehensive and unique chess blog (QuestToGM.com) that recounts his journey as a chess player from a beginner to a grandmaster. Academically, Akshat was a recent recipient of the 2016 U.S. Chess Trust Scholar-Chess Player award, sponsored by the U.S. Chess Trust and the National Scholastic Chess Foundation.
Akshat doesn’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly. In fact, as a fan of the New York Jets, his outlook echoes the words of former quarterback Joe Namath: “If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?”
At some point, IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti moved beyond simply being a precocious young man—he’s full-fledged wunderkind. Born in 1998 in Boise, Idaho, Luke found early success in chess and academics alike.
A multiple National Chess Champion and All-American Chess Team member, Luke had been crowned the Idaho Chess Champion and had published his first book by the time he was only ten years old. Academics and chess both came easily to him, as he found himself the recipient of numerous academic awards, even while taking advanced classes far beyond his age group. Since then, he has become his home state’s first international master, and at 17 he is looking forward to his senior year at UCLA, finishing up a double-major in Applied Math and Computer Science. He currently fills his free time working as a software development intern at the Santa Monica based startup Heal and coaching some of Southern California's top youth chess players.
Luke’s ultimate goal in chess is to achieve the lauded title of grandmaster, but he admits that his life ambitions extend beyond chess alone. After he finishes his undergraduate degree, Luke wishes to attend medical school to become a doctor, as he has placed a premium on making the greatest positive impact on the world around him. Even so, he has already succeeded in finding ways to use chess as an instrument of good by raising funds for numerous causes through simul charity events. Luke was recently featured in the UCLA Optimists 4.0 ad campaign which highlights significant alumni and undergraduates for their work in the community, He also represented Unicef this past year in their Power to Youth partnership with ING Bank that identified teenagers from around the world who were maximizing their potential.
18-year-old IM Michael Bodek will arrive at this year’s U.S. Junior Closed Championship riding a wave of impressive recent success. The native of Rochelle, NY will enter the tournament with a personal all-time peak rating of 2528, as a result of his excellent play over the past year.
Before the tie-breaking round in the 2014 National Chess Congress last November, Michael managed a four-way tie for first place in a premier section that included such American chess greats as Grandmasters Gata Kamsky and Sergey Erenburg. Additionally, this past May Michael seized victory in his section of the UT Brownsville International Master-norm tournament.
This will be Michael’s third time competing in the U.S. Junior Closed Championship, and his play in the previous years’ competition shows promise for him in the upcoming tournament. In 2014, Michael finished in third place, and he was the only player to defeat the winner of the Championship, GM Kayden Troff. A new year brings new competition, and Michael looks to parlay his recent success—and his U.S. Junior experience—into a Championship victory.
At just 13 years of age, the sensational child prodigy Awonder Liang is entering the tournament as the highest rated Under-13 player in both the U.S. the world. He learned how to play chess from his father and two brothers while growing up in Madison, Wisconsin. He attributes much of his success to support he has received from his family.
Awonder is well-known in the chess community for the record-shattering pace at which he continues to improve. A week after his eighth birthday, Awonder became the youngest chess expert in U.S. history—breaking the record previously held by Sam Sevian. He also broke the record for youngest national master in U.S. history 17 days before his 10th birthday.
Awonder holds the distinction for the youngest-ever player to beat an international master and the youngest American to beat a grandmaster in a standard time control. At the age of 9 years and 111 days, Awonder defeated GM Larry Kaufman in the Washington International—breaking the record previously held by Fabiano Caruana.
Awonder is entering the tournament a two-time world champion having earned gold medals in the Under-8 World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil (2011), and later the Under-10 World Youth Chess Championship in the United Arab Eremites (2013).
Known for his humble and kind demeanor, Awonder is not one to boast about his success; he sometimes wishes the fame would just go away. Despite being one the youngest and lowest-rated players in the tournament, Awonder is clearly one to watch in this year's U.S. Junior Closed Championship.
Aleksandr Ostrovskiy was born in 1996 in Moscow, Russia. Five years later, his family immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, where he was raised and have lived since. Around this time, he engaged in an unusual communication method with his grandfather who was still living in Moscow: correspondence chess through e-mail. Taught the game by his father at a young age, Aleksandr attended a chess school for kids and played with his relatives as a hobby. However, after he showed quick progres, chess started to become a more serious affair and he began competing in tournaments.
With the support of family and coaches, Aleksandr made headway into the chess world by attaining the title of national master at the age of 13, the title of FIDE Master at the age of 14, and the title of international master at the age of 17. Consistently ranked among the top 100 players in the United States, Aleksandr achieved his peak ranking of 53rd in the United States with a rating of 2535.
Aside from these accomplishments, another few things to note are the nine national, five state and eight scholastic champion titles. He also set the record as the youngest New York State Champion at the young age of 14 while clenching the title as the first person in history to win the New York City Elementary, Junior High and High School Championships.
Currently Aleksandr is conducting a freshman at Baruch College. In addition to continuing to compete in chess tournaments, he has also branched out as a chess instructor. Operating both privately and in schools, he coaches all ages and skill levels to spread his passion for chess to others.
Michael Brown, age 18, has already traveled the world, all because of chess. With the support of his parents, Michael got his first chess coach in second grade which sparked chess as a lifelong opportunity. What started as an after school hobby once a week in first grade has led him from Slovenia to Dubai. Michael has translated his passion of chess to his community through his Eagle scout project: building chess tables at a local park.
Michael began studying at Brigham Young University in the fall of 2015 where he plans to study applied mathematics with an emphasis in modeling and theoretical work. While in college, he hopes to continue studying chess in his free time. Michael currently has three international master norms and is in the process of submitting his application to gain his IM title.
Michael earned the title of national master in 2011 and the FIDE master title in May 2014. This past spring, he broke 2500 USCF, a landmark goal of his. Michael is making his first appearance at the U.S. Junior Closed this year and is looking to continue his upward climb.
Nicolas Checa is an 8th grader at Dobbs Ferry Middle School, in Dobbs Ferry, New York. When he is not playing chess, Nicolas is a karate Black Belt and an avid soccer player, normally playing as a midfielder. 2012 started Nicolas’ chess achieves when he became U12 National Champion in the USCF/Chess.com invitational championship. He has since been a member of the All-American Chess Team.
At age 11, he became the youngest New York State Champion in history—a record that he still holds which led to his profiles in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In 2014 he placed second in the U14 section of the North American Youth Chess Championship and obtained 1st place in the NAYCC Blitz Open. 2015 brought continued success as he tied for 5th place in the World Youth Chess Championship in Greece, where he was the official U.S. player in the U14 section. Nicolas has also played in World Youth Chess Championships in the United Arab Emirates, Slovenia, and Brazil.
This July, he achieved his third norm (World Open in Philadelphia) and his FIDE rating has crossed 2400. In December 2015, he achieved two norm performances (Marshall Chess Championship and North American Open). As the 2016 Champion of the Chess Club of Fairfield County (Norwalk, Connecticut), and the newest IM-elect, Nicolas is sure to bring a challenge to the U.S. Junior Closed field.