2015 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - Round 1
Written and analyzed by GM Mackenzie Molner. Photos taken by Austin Fuller.
Luke Harmon-Vellotti vs. Akshat Chandra (Game of the Day)
Two of the highest rated players, and potential favorites in the tournament, were tasked to face-off right off the bat during the first round matches. The game began in a slightly offbeat line of the Grunfeld Defense that is a pet line of Harmon-Vellotti. I know personally that he has plenty of experience with this line, because he beat me with it last year! Harmon-Vellotti has even played this tactic before in the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed, in the match against Jeffery Xiong.
This particular line from White is often played to avoid a lot of the sharp, complex, and lengthy variations of the Grunfeld, with the option for White to play a simplified endgame. Harmon-Vellotti prefers to keep the game in very combative territory by sacrificing a pawn with his move 6. Bh4. 6. Bf4 would be the more dull alternative, which usually leads to a peaceful endgame. White’s pawn sacrifice leaves him a nice pawn center and more active pieces, but the strength of the extra pawn shouldn’t be underestimated in the long-term.
Black is the first one to err, with the move 11… Bb7. On the surface, this looks like a standard developing move. It protects the rook on a8 while developing, however, the bishop’s placement isn’t improved much on b7. It has no new active possibilities. 11… Nd7 would be a better way to combine Black’s intentions of protecting the a8-rook while also developing. Black on the next turn will play Nb6, placing the knight on a great square, from which it still has chances to improve, with possible jumps into a4 or d5. On b6 it also keeps an eye on the rook on a8. Black will be able to develop the light-squared bishop to a more active square, like e6 or f5, achieving very harmonious development.. White’s best way to try to take advantage of this was the move 12. Qb1. It threatens the immediate Bxc4, which would instantly regain the pawn due to the pin on the b7-bishop, as well as looking to play Qb4, preventing Black from castling.
The game tensely continued until move 19, when it was White who went wrong. White played 19. Rfb1 which seems to improve White’s last piece left out of play. It turns out that it’s still not active enough, allowing the strong response, 19… e4 which is exactly what Chandra plays in the game. Chandra earned a strong initiative which he never let go of. Despite Black castling as late as move 26(!) it was White’s King who faced major troubles. Chandra played a series of strong attacking moves beginning with 27… Bg3, trading off White’s only kingside defender, allowing Black’s pieces to quickly circle the White King. Black’s 31st move fxg4, signaled the end for white, with Black now introducing two new attackers on White’s King, the f8-rook and the g4-pawn, which would play an important role in creating a mating net. With the attacking count to 3 pieces versus no defensive pieces, there was little that White could do.
In a very difficult position, Velotti made his final mistake with 34. Qh6. Although there was no sufficient defensive solution, Qg1 instead would force Black to demonstrate accuracy before winning the game. Chandra brought the last piece into the attack with 35...Rbf7! White resigned due to Black’s unstoppable threats of Qxg1 or Rf5. An impressive and hard-fought struggle from both players led to a great way to kick off the championship!
IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti v. IM Akshat Chandra, Round 1 // Annotation by GM Mackenzie Molner
Yian Liou vs. Arthur Shen
Perhaps the most surprising game of the round. Liou played the opening in very convincing and aggressive style with a nice novelty 12...c3, improving over games played by players even as strong as Topalov! Black’s response 12…b5 is a completely standard move in the Najdorf but left Black’s position overextended on the queenside. White played the middlegame very precisely. By ruthlessly undermining Black’s queenside pawn structure, he achieved a decisive advantage that he exploited smoothly.
Ruifeng Li vs. Michael Bodek
Li starts out the game with quick and confident moves on the White side of the Dragon, that seem to indicate that he was in his preparation deep into the opening. He could have made the most of this preparation with the move 17. Rb5! This would have held White’s extra pawn, along with a healthy advantage. Instead he played 17. Bd4 which passed the initiative over to Black. Bodek brilliantly seized his chance with a temporary piece sacrifice earning a significant endgame advantage. Bodek held onto a large advantage until 32… f5?. Although Black was still better, Li defended stubbornly and made the draw on move 47.
Jeffrey Xiong vs. Mika Brittain
Xiong comes into the game as the highest rated player in the tournament and, after winning the Chicago Open, must be the favorite to win the event. After achieving a pleasant opening advantage, Xiong faced stiff resistance in the middlegame and the position quickly went from pleasant for White to dead equal. The game was soon drawn, with the players shaking hands on move 32.
Awonder Liang vs. Curran (Ray) Han
Liang came into the game with a sizable rating advantage. The game started out as a Samisch King’s Indian which has an aggressive reputation for White. Despite the aggressive nature of the variation, the queens were traded off by move 11. The position was approximately equal but Liang slowly outplayed his opponent in a positional fashion that shows a level of maturity not normally seen from players of his age. Can put up sturdy resistance but Liang kept up the pressure until he won on move 44.