The Junior Closed Field
14-year-old IM Jeffery Xiong of Coppell, Texas, has shown tenacity well beyond his years. His resume already is impressive: the 2010 Under-10 North America Continental Champion, a silver medalist in the 2010 Under-10 World Youth Chess Championships, and the 2013 MVP of the entire United States Chess League for his undefeated play for the Dallas Destiny. But 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, Jeffery has seen his losses, though painful, as an opportunity to improve. While some of Jeffery’s older competitors have been known to display their frustration with difficult losses, Jeffery 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, Jeffery already has been awarded a four-year scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas, with the chance to compete for their prestigious chess team. The school’s faith in Jeffery is well-founded, particularly since his 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. Jeffery heads into this year’s Junior Closed Championship riding a wave of recent success: winner of this May’s Chicago Open, Jeffery seized victory over many of the nation’s top grandmasters, achieving his third GM norm.
International Master Akshat Chandra started learning chess at the age of 9 ½, during a visit to India - a relatively late start compared to most leading chess players who learn the game at the age of 5 or 6. When his family relocated there for nearly four years, Akshat was unable to play his favorite sports of basketball and football, so chess filled the competitive void.
In January 2010, Akshat received a starting FIDE rating of 1548 and, in just four years and ten months, improved his FIDE rating to 2490. His accelerated progress from such a late start is believed to be 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. He is the 2015 K-12 US National Champion in both classic and blitz forms of the game. In 2013, Akshat won the K-9 Super Nationals Championship, the Under-18 North American Youth Championship, and achieved his international master title as well.
Away from the board, Akshat is an avid writer and the youngest chessbase author. He 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?” You can learn more about Akshat from his blog QuestToGM.com.
17-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 second time competing in the U.S. Junior Closed Championship, and his play in last year’s competition shows promise for him in the upcoming tournament. Last year, 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 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 has 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, he has become his home state’s first international master, and at sixteen he has finished his second year at UCLA, working on a double-major in Math and Computer Science.
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 a way to use chess as an instrument of good: in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, Luke helped raise funds for the cause by running a twenty board simul charity event.
Ruifeng Li is entering the 2015 US Junior Closed Championship as the highest rated under-14 player in the country. He became the Arkansas State Champion in 2011 at the age of 8. Later that year he was a 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 US, coached by Garry Kasparov. A few months later Li earned the NM title.
His FIDE rating climbed over 200 points in 2013 and by mid-2014 he earned the FM title. Li obtained his first IM norm in March 2015, as well as the senior master title. This year marks Li's first appearance in a US Junior Championship. His rating and chess aspirations have never seemed to slow down and he is hopeful to one day play in the US Chess Championship.
Equipped with a higher rating and a newly earned International Master title, Yian Liou of Alamo, California once again looks to leave his mark on the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. As a veteran of the tournament—Yian played in the 2013 U.S. Junior Closed—he knows well what it will take to succeed at one of chess’ premier youth tournaments. In 2013, Yian noted the difficulty in playing games in a new environment—with new boards, clocks, and pieces—but his familiarity with the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center should help give him a leg-up on his performance from the previous tournament. Coupled with his exceptional play, Yian simply is a contender who cannot be overlooked.
Born in 1997, Yian’s dominance in chess began early, winning tournaments such as his state’s high-school championship—as only a sixth-grader. Since, he has tied for first place in both the 2010 Cadet Championship and 2012 Metropolitan Closed. The past year has been a successful one for Yian, as he has received his prestigious IM title, pushed his rating above 2500, and been awarded the Falconer award - which is bestowed along with a cash prize to the highest rated chess player under eighteen in northern California. Yian looks to continue his good fortune this July amongst some of the nation’s best youth chess players.
Arthur Shen is returning this year for his second straight appearance in the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. Shen is a creative player that is always looking for new ways to improve his game. His positive attitude has lead to a steady increase in his rating year after year.
Shen became a FIDE master in 2009 and is now an IM-elect. The 18-year-old has put together a very impressive resume. Shen was the winner of 2011 U.S. Cadet Championship and tied for second in both the Liberty Bell Open (2015) and the 2015 High School Nationals. He has been a member of the USCF All-American Chess Team from 2010 – 2015. He has also been recognized by the U.S. Chess Trust as a 2014 Scholar Chess Player Award winner.
Shen is proud of his home state and has brought a lot of success to New Jersey. He is the winner of two New Jersey Junior Championships (2011, 2013), and he also played for his state in four seasons of the U.S. Chess League, for the New Jersey Knockouts. He is looking forward to representing his state in this year’s U.S. Junior Closed Championship.
Mika Brattain will look to make a strong impression in what will be his first U.S. Junior Closed Championship. Though the 16-year-old Lexington, MA native should be well-prepared for the level of competition he will be facing in this year’s tournament.
A participant in the 2014 U.S. Cadet Championship and the winner of the 2014 83rd Massachusetts Open, Mika can already claim success in high level chess play. In last year’s MA Open, Mika had to earn his state champion title by beating the two former champions, GM Alexander Ivanov and Robert Perez, in consecutive rounds. Clearly, Mika is a player who does not shrink when facing strong competition.
Mika found pleasure in chess early, learning how the pieces move at 6 years old, and at 10 seizing victory at the 2009 K-5 Chess Super National Championship, winning him a college scholarship. Mika credits his rapid development on his practice and study at the Metrowest and Boylston chess clubs, as well as the support of his father, Michael. In the near future, Mika looks to collect IM norms and to push his rating above the 2500 threshold. A year ago, one of Mika’s goals was simply to qualify for the U.S. Junior Closed. Now that he is in the tournament, we can assume he wants even more.
At just 12 years of age, the sensational child prodigy Awonder Liang is entering the tournament as the highest rated Under-12 player in the US and the second highest rated Under-12 player in 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.
Curran Han is one of several competitors representing Texas this year. Han is entering his Junior year at Bellaire High School in Houston. Last year Han lead his high school team to victory in the 2014 Texas State High School Championship. He also won the 2014 Houston Open Scholastic tournament, and tied for second at the 2015 High School Nationals.
He earned his national master title last year, for his impressive performance in the 2014 Under-21 U.S. Junior Open. He was one of three players to share first place in the tournament and he demonstrated his ability to play well beyond his rating.
Han may be entering this year’s tournament as an underdog, but he is certainly not to be underestimated. His success against higher-rated opponents in the past proves that he is capable of his fair share of upsets.