Big Wins for Williams, Colas in First Round of U.S. Junior Champs

Joshua Colas and Justus Williams each scored huge upset victories in round 1 of the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship. 

By Brian Jerauld

SAINT LOUIS (June 21, 2014) -- A day of decisive results marked the opening round of the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, the national title for players under 21, with all five matches finding their way to victory.

Tallying first-day points were top-seed GM Kayden Troff and IM Jeffrey Xiong -- two players in the Kasparov Chess Foundation’s Young Stars program -- though their third teammate suffered an early shocker. IM Sam Sevian, the tournament’s second seed, had his peculiar line of the Sicilian wrestled away by FM Justus Williams, who turned the action into a French defense before his d-pawn rampaged to b2 for an ultimately fatal queening threat.

“Going into the game, I thought he was going to play slow and try to grind me out,” said Williams, who scored more than a 150-point upset over Sevian. “Somehow I was able to change positions from Sicilian to a French, and I felt that kind of leveled the playing field a bit. I created some more imbalances, and that allowed me to get an advantage.”

Also winning the first round was FM Josh Colas, who notched a 150+ point upset of his own over IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti; as well as FM Michael Bodek over NM Matthew Larson. Click here for a replay of the live play-by-play of the first round.

Rankings after round 1

Rank Name Score M/F Rating TPR W-We 1
1 GM Troff, Kayden W 1.0 M 2494 3131 +0.28 1
2 IM Xiong, Jeffrey 1.0 M 2437 3223 +0.48 1
3 FM Bodek, Michael H 1.0 M 2389 2960 +0.21 1
4 FM Williams, Justus D 1.0 M 2278 3242 +0.72 1
5 NM Colas, Joshua 1.0 M 2247 3212 +0.72 1
6 IM Sevian, Samuel 0.0 M 2442 1478 -0.72 0
7 IM Ostrovskiy, Aleksandr A 0.0 M 2423 1637 -0.48 0
8 IM Harmon-Vellotti, Luke 0.0 M 2412 1447 -0.72 0
9 FM Shen, Arthur 0.0 M 2331 1694 -0.28 0
10 NM Larson, Matthew W 0.0 M 2160 1589 -0.21 0

Things looked odd early with 3. Bc4 in a Sicilian by Sevian, normally honest in the main lines, to see Williams respond with a quick 3...d6 -- immediately introducing a French flavor. White’s awkward bishop moved three times in the first 10 moves, and Sevian kicked off an early tactical shot with 14. Ne5 that ultimately won him a rook for a knight-and-pawn -- though not necessarily the advantage.

“I felt that if I didn’t sacrifice the exchange, he would just grind me out and there would be no real way for me to play,” Williams said, who abandoned his rook to 16. Nxf6. “But it just made playing easier. Two or three moves later, he started taking a lot of time and then he wasn’t playing the most accurate moves -- so I started feeling like that exchange sac had worked.”

Indeed, Williams’ gamble turned into a quick payout after his 19...d4 slashed its way to 20...dxc3 and 21...cxb2, applying heavy restraint on the white army to stop its advance. Sevian’s defense soon collapsed.

Adding concern to the upset is Sevian’s looming second-round match on Saturday against top-seed Troff -- who can share in some of his Young Stars teammate’s pain.

“I have a lot of friends that I’ve gotten to know as I’ve grown up in this chess environment, but as far as Team U.S.A., with me and Sam and Jeffrey, we’ve gone to a lot of different places to see each other and play each other and support each other,” Troff said. “I think, in a way, we’ve got to kind of prove something here: One of us needs to try and walk away with (the Junior Closed title). We’re trying to be the people that win these things.”

Troff suffered a first-round upset in last-year’s Junior Closed, which ultimately derailed his title intentions despite being one of the entering favorites.

“It’s tough: (Williams) is a strong player, but he is one of the lower ratings in this field. To start off with white -- maybe take a draw, but you don’t want to walk away with a loss like that. For me last year, it was really hard to get back into shape. As far as just morale and what it does to your head, it’s tough. I can definitely relate in that aspect.

“I’m playing him tomorrow so I guess I’ll be getting the side effects from that, maybe good or bad; I guess we’ll see.”

Troff’s first-round win as black over FM Arthur Shen came from his standard Grunfeld defense, with a rather surprising 8...a5 and 9...b5 and an early queenside pawn storm. Troff credited the rush as a line that offers several pawn break opportunities down the road, including 15. c5 which cracked a sharp middlegame open.

Colas had heard about Harmon-Vellotti’s reputation as a tactical magician in last year’s Junior Closed, and even suffered a loss to such tricks in Las Vegas’ North American Open -- creating a seemingly easy plan for revenge on Friday.

“I just tried to change his style on the board,” Colas said of Harmon-Vellotti. “Luke is a very ambitious, tactical person, whereas I’m kind of a positional player. I was looking at a few Gata Kamsky matches before the game, and I didn’t see any of Luke’s games against the London System -- I knew it was a better fit to my style than his.”

Indeed, Harmon-Vellotti found little initiative against Colas’ London setup, suffering through the slow-crawler-of-an opening and forcing the issue with 12...Ne4. It put white instantly on the offensive, with Colas’ 18. Rxd8 evoking a mistake out of Harmon-Vellotti. The response 18...Rxd8, instead of recapturing with the bishop, left the black a-pawn hanging. Colas grabbed the advantage and began liquidation, eventually picking up another stacked pawn on the e-file and rolling toward checkmate.

Each round of the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed will see its first move daily at 1:00 p.m. local, beginning Friday through June 29, with a rest day on Wednesday. The tournament will be streamed live on, with commentary, analysis and player interviews by GM Ben Finegold and FM Aviv Friedman.