2016 U.S. Junior Closed - Round 9
By GM Robin van Kampen
The final round of the U.S. Junior Championship was as exciting as one could have hoped for. The fight for first place was not decided until this round, and other top places were still within reach of several players. Even players who were no longer in the race for the highest positions in the standings, were still showing tremendous fighting spirit as though the tournament had just started!
Liang vs. Ostrovskiy: 1-0
After being criticized for his draw against Akshat Chandra in round 8, Alexandr Ostrovskiy aimed to finish the tournament on a positive note. The New-York based IM who was the star of the first half of the tournament, played a sharp line against Awonder Liang’s timid English opening. When Awonder Liang won a pawn, it seemed as though Black would get sufficient counter play against the White King, but White managed to creatively reroute the Knight back, discoordinating the Black pieces in the process. Ostrovskiy played well and managed to restore the equilibrium, until several inaccuracies in time trouble gave Liang a nagging edge in a rook endgame. Black did not find enough counter play to stop White’s simple plan of creating a passed pawn, and Liang secured the silver medal with an impressive score of 6/9.
Bodek vs. Li: 0-1
Like Alexandr Ostrovskiy, Michael Bodek was struggling in the 2nd half of the tournament. Ruifeng Li opted for a solid set-up which promised long-term dynamic play on the Kingside. When Bodek opened up his King’s position in order to stop the typical f6-f5 break, the IM from Texas cleverly regrouped, launching an attack over the h-file instead. Bodek was forced to exchange his only Bishop, granting Li full control over the dark squares. From there on the game was a textbook example, with Ruifeng showing great technique and calculation in order to convert his advantage in a better endgame. With 5.5/9, the 14-year-old IM can look back at a successful second half of the tournament, and a solid 3rd place in the overall standings.
Xiong vs. Harmon-Vellotti: ½-½
Tournament leader Jeffery Xiong played a solid line of the Catalan, which fit his tournament situation well as the top junior only needed a draw in order to secure the first place. Several pieces were exchanged in the early stage of the opening, and Harmon-Vellotti was left with a weak doubled c-pawn. When the queens were exchanged and Jeffery won a pawn, it seemed like the Texas GM was on his way to win, but with precise calculation the Idaho IM managed to keep things together. Once Jeffery saw a way to force a draw, he did not hesitate and the game ended peacefully on move 30. A great tournament for Jeffery Xiong, who managed to recuperate well after losing to Alexandr Ostrovskiy in the early rounds. Luke Harmon-Vellotti can be happy about his performance too. After Luke started out poorly in the first half, he managed to beat Alexandr Ostrovskiy and Ruifeng Li, and finished with 5/9 points.
Troff vs. Brown: ½-½
Michael Brown opted for the Ragozin defense, to which Troff replied with a fairly uncommon sideline. When Brown opted for an early Knight maneuver, the Utah GM opened up the center, although this meant that White was forced to play with an isolated pawn, reminiscent of the GM’s game against Akshat Chandra. Once Troff was able to exchange his weak pawn, he got an edge but Michael Brown surely but surely neutralized the threats. On move 35 the players reached an equal rook ending, and a draw was agreed. Like Luke Harmon-Vellotti, Michael Brown can be happy with his 5/9 score, whereas Troff will be happy the tournament is over. The GM scored well below his usual level, finishing on the shared 8th place with 3.5/9.
Chandra vs. Checa : 0-1
With only one round to go, defending Champion Akshat Chandra no longer had a shot at the first place, but could have finished third if he could beat the solid Nicolas Checa. Things did not go well for the GM-elect in the last round; after getting a pleasant position out of the opening, Chandra played too cautious. When Checa stroke back in the center, the 14 year-old International Master took over the initiative and won several pawns. Chandra’s play was all based on a decisive attack over the h-file, but Checa skillfully kept the important file closed. Once Black’s central pawns started rolling, Chandra could not manage to keep his King safe and defend against the multitude of threats at once. A more detailed take on the game here: