Xiong, Troff Matchup Looms Large in Round 7
By Brian Jerauld
SAINT LOUIS (June 27, 2014) -- The 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship is a round-robin event, now with a Swiss-system flavor.
Leaders have begun to collide in the late rounds of the U21 national championship, as several predetermined pairings through the tournament’s homestretch are proving favorable toward the Swiss theme.
The fireworks in the front began on a decisive Thursday as GM Kayden Troff, emerging from the rest day with a share of second place, made quick work with the black pieces over then-leader IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti, who gets leapfrogged in the standings down to third. Troff (4/6) now sits in clear second and sets his sights on the tournament’s other leader, IM Jeffrey Xiong (4.5/6), who is momentarily alone in front after squeezing out a win over FM Justus Williams on Thursday.
Set up for Friday afternoon is a clash between the clear leaders, with Xiong and Troff set to square off in round 7 at 1:00 p.m. local. The loss to Harmon-Vellotti (3.5/6) drops him two places from first, setting up today’s match with FM Michael Bodek in a fight for third place. Bodek reached a draw after an exciting battle with IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy on Thursday.
Crosstable after Round 6
|1||IM Xiong, Jeffrey||2437||x||0||1||1||1||1||½||4.5|
|2||GM Troff, Kayden W||2494||x||1||0||1||½||1||½||4.0|
|3||IM Harmon-Vellotti, Luke||2412||0||x||1||1||½||0||1||3.5|
|4||FM Bodek, Michael H||2389||1||x||0||½||½||½||1||3.5|
|5||IM Sevian, Samuel||2442||1||0||0||1||x||0||1||3.0|
|6||IM Ostrovskiy, Aleksandr A||2423||0||½||½||x||1||½||0||2.5|
|7||FM Shen, Arthur||2331||0||0||0||½||x||1||1||2.5|
|8||FM Williams, Justus D||2278||0||½||½||½||1||0||x||2.5|
|9||NM Colas, Joshua||2247||0||1||0||½||0||x||½||2.0|
|10||NM Larson, Matthew W||2160||½||0||0||1||0||½||x||2.0|
Fool me once: Last year, Harmon-Vellotti made his surprise appearance to the Junior Closed stage with a first-round upset over Troff, the decision setting an early tournament direction for both players. Call it revenge or preparation, Troff wasn’t fooled twice.
Thursday’s match was quickly lopsided, as Harmon-Vellotti with white looked to take preparation away from Troff early, but instead worked himself right into an immediately precarious position. His 2. b3 come as an admitted surprise to his opponent, though not enough to leave the comfort zone.
“He really surprised me with this b3 move,” Troff said. “I’m not sure if what I played was okay, in fact, I don’t think I equalized out of the opening. But at the same time, I did get a playable position -- which was one of my main goals: Just get into a position that is not more one-sided toward my opponent. Even if it’s slightly worse, at least make it a game I can play.”
Troff found more than a playable position after his 9...g5 shifted attention toward white’s kingside castle. Sensing pressure was Harmon-Vellotti’s 12. Kh1, which may have confirmed Troff’s kingside attention and kicked off a black pawn storm.
“(The kingside attack) did start a little bit weird,” Troff said. “I just felt like I should go for it and thought that g5 locks up f4, but it’s still kind of non-committal -- it wasn’t like he had a huge attack against g5. But once he played Kh1, (g5) just made sense, and by that point I can just go for it all. I actually had some real play.”
Indeed, Troff’s storm came fast and furious with 12...h5...g4...h4, completely cracking open white’s protection before launching black’s minor pieces inward. Further unbalancing the position was Harmon-Vellotti’s 16. Bc4, which brought several black trades and ultimately left white’s pawns stacked, scattered and isolated. Troff’s 23...Rxh2 kicked off a forced line to mate and brought resignation.
Known for his penchant to tactics, Williams has flashed several defensive brilliances throughout this tournament and Thursday’s match against Xiong looked like yet another protection of the half point -- until something went amiss in the end.
Xiong said no to Williams’ preparation with his first-ever 3. c3 against the Sicilian, though the opening surprise was admittedly returned to Xiong with with an unexpected 3...d5. What followed was a queenless middlegame fight over the open d-file, bringing quick liquidation and entering a seemingly balanced endgame between the bishop pairs -- though Xiong reported confidence in the position.
“That two-bishop endgame just looked very good for me,” Xiong said. “Good winning chances with no risk of losing, I figured I had about a 50-percent chance of winning and drawing. I think maybe objectively it was a draw, but only by the best play, which is probably only easier to see with a computer. When you’re playing the game, finding those drawing moves is not so easy. He was in a bit of time pressure and made a few errors that decided the game.”
Xiong felt Williams took his biggest step backwards with 27...Bxe3, trading off the dark-squared bishops, and allowing white’s a-pawn to break through for a sprint up the sideline. The threat demanded the attention of both Williams’ king and remaining minor piece, and after Xiong forced the bishops off with 38. Bf3, black’s remaining pawns were left without defense.
Bodek has turned in a solid tournament thus far, holding his spot in third place with Thursday’s only draw of the afternoon -- this one a wonderfully stubborn fight to the end. Ostrovskiy’s Trompowsky attack looked to direct the game into an early strategic and positional battle, though it quickly gained an edge of tactical action.
White’s queenside pawn storm in the early middle game was met with Bodek’s 11...h5...h4 toward an exchange to open up the h-file. His follow-up 15...Rb8 put the rook in position just before Ostrovskiy’s pawn advance opened the b-file. Bodek was able to win the a-pawn, then sealed off white’s center by forcing 25. cxd5 and stacking the file.
Bodek gave back his material advantage with a sacrifice at 26...Nxe3, completely wrecking any intention of white advance. Ostrovskiy’s clock had fallen below 3 minutes still with 20 moves until his bonus time, and he desperately pushed the game through liquidation. When he reached time control, the endgame featured a black with a bishop and two connected-pawn units, versus a bishop, knight and a pawn. The game was agreed to a draw after 59 moves.
The 2014 U.S. Junior Closed will resume for the seventh round on Friday at 1:00 p.m. CT and continue through June 29. Every round is streamed live on www.uschesschamps.com, with commentary, analysis and player interviews by GM Ben Finegold and FM Aviv Friedman.