Pivotal Matchups Await 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Finale

FM Michael Bodek is turning in a fantastic tournament performance and finds himself just a half point behind the leader, GM Kayden Troff, heading into the final round.

By Brian Jerauld

SAINT LOUIS (June 29, 2014) -- The 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship has been decisive in its theme, with victories claimed on four of five boards in each of the tournament’s last four rounds -- and today seems like another good day for a fight.

The final round of the national championship for America’s best players under 21 begins Sunday at 11 a.m. CST, with all of its matchups poised to deliver one last shock to the standings. At stake is the place-distribution of more than $10,000 in prizes as well as an invitation to the 2015 U.S. Championship for the winner, a bid that GM Kayden Troff (6/8) currently holds in his hand.

The tournament’s top seed retook control of the standings after round 7, with two rounds to go against the field’s two lowest seeds -- though there will be no walks through the park here. On Saturday, FM Josh Colas more-than questioned the leader, putting the grandmaster on the ropes before one fatal misstep by his king allowed Troff to desperately squeak past. And now today, Troff takes on tenth-seed NM Matt Larson, the event wildcard who has lived up to the moniker. Larson has scored all 3.5 of his points undefeated in the last six rounds -- two of those points from three opponents who outrate him by more than 300, including his win over IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy.

Yesterday’s foe now turns into a friend for Troff, as Colas faces the only player who can catch pace in the standings in FM Michael Bodek (5.5/8) on Sunday. Bodek has surged into clear second thanks to 3.5 points over his last 4 rounds, including a fifth-round win over Troff and yesterday’s outmuscling of IM Jeffrey Xiong in a battle for second place.

Also highlighting Sunday afternoon are two third- vs. fourth-place matches, decisions that could flip-flop positions in the standings. Xiong (4.5/8) and IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti (4/8) shared the tournament lead at its rest day, but since then both have fallen to each of the tournament leaders -- and now face each other to end their skids. Also battling over place is Ostrovskiy (4/8) against IM Sam Sevian (4.5/8), on a surge of his own with 3.5 points over the last 4 rounds -- and only one draw all tournament.

If needed, playoffs will be held at 5 p.m. CST on Sunday.

Crosstable after Round 8

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 GM Troff, Kayden W 2494 x 0  1  1  ½  1  ½    1  1  6.0
2 FM Bodek, Michael H 2389 1  x 0  1  ½  1  ½  1  ½    5.5
3 IM Sevian, Samuel 2442 0  1  x 1    0  0  ½  1  1  4.5
4 IM Xiong, Jeffrey 2437 0  0  0  x 1    1  ½  1  1  4.5
5 IM Ostrovskiy, Aleksandr A 2423 ½  ½    0  x ½  1  0  1  ½  4.0
6 IM Harmon-Vellotti, Luke 2412 0  0  1    ½  x ½  1  1  0  4.0
7 FM Williams, Justus D 2278 ½  ½  1  0  0  ½  x 0    1  3.5
8 NM Larson, Matthew W 2160   0  ½  ½  1  0  1  x 0  ½  3.5
9 FM Shen, Arthur 2331 0  ½  0  0  0  0    1  x 1  2.5
10 NM Colas, Joshua 2247 0    0  0  ½  1  0  ½  0  x 2.0

Bodek has well earned clear second-place with two wins over the last two rounds, the first from a third-place battle with Harmon-Vellotti and then Saturday’s point over Xiong in a fight for second.

As black, Bodek’s Dragon Sicilian seemed to get off to a chunky start, stagnant on the queenside and castled toward white’s activity, bringing Xiong’s attack quickly. His sacrifice 11. h4-h5 opened up a dangerous lane towards Bodek’s king, and then 16. exd5 went to work on the center. Xiong began to pry away black’s defenders, and 19. Qc3+ f6 exposed the black monarch even further. But despite the precarious-looking position, Bodek reportedly found comfort on the next move.

“Out of the opening, I was really struggling at first, but I felt like Jeffrey released some of the pressure with (14. Bxg7),” Bodek said. “Still, I was really not happy with my position at the start, and it was very difficult for me to equalize. But at (20...) Bf5, I felt like I had done so.”

Despite its drafty position on g7, Bodek’s king stood safely on its ground and led a fantastic turnaround assault on white, not being chased until the desperate ending moments of Xiong’s game. Black put together a rook battery on the c-file to coordinate with his f5-bishop, pressure that Xiong released with 27. Rd8 that ultimately gave him control of Bodek’s back rank. Yet the black king still stood safe.

By the time Xiong was finally able to deliver check -- a lone strike at 32. Qg8+ -- Bodek’s pieces lay poised for attack. His 34...Bxc2 forced the action, and 35...Qe4-Qb4-Qe4 offered him the perpetual draw -- as well as pause for thought.

“I realized a draw is basically like giving the tournament away,” Bodek said, who now trails Troff by just a half-point. “So I just decided to go for the win. I figured I had good chances, why not? It’s better than taking a perpetual, then going home and just putting it into an engine.”

Bodek 38...Rc7+ kicked off a combination, ultimately winning white’s bishop and driving Xiong’s king into a hole. Bodek got into a tight spot of his own, cut off on the h-file by both the queen and rook, but all of white’s mating attacks were slow. His 45...Rb7 forced a faster threat, and Xiong bailed out with the hopes of perpetual check. It did not come.

“I don’t control my tournament fate, so all I can do is just play the game,” Bodek said of Sunday’s final round against Colas. “I would have played it for a win, even if I had just one point.”

The 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship will stream its final round live at 11 a.m. Sunday at www.uschesschamps.com, with commentary, analysis and player interviews by GM Ben Finegold and FM Aviv Friedman.  If necessary, a playoff will be held at 5 p.m. CST.