2015 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - Round 2
Written and analyzed by GM Mackenzie Molner. Photos taken by Austin Fuller.
Arthur Shen vs. Ruifeng Li (Game of the Day)
With the White pieces today, Arthur Shen was looking to make it back to an even score after a tough loss in the first round. Li, who is usually a Sicilian player, chose to combat 1. e4 with the Najdorf Sicilian. Shen chose a very combative opening variation beginning with 6. h3, preparing a quick kingside pawn storm. Interestingly, it was this very same strategy that proved too tough to deal with for Shen when he played the Black side of the same opening in round one. The game had all the characteristics of a sharp battle right from the beginning with the opposite side castling and pawn storms heading for the kings.
Often in very sharp games such as this, the first inaccurate move can lead to a very difficult position due to the high stake nature of the game. This is exactly what happened on move 14 when Black played Nc4. The slow maneuvering it took to get the knight to this square proved to be too big of a loss of time. This allowed Shen’s strong response 15. Bxc4! which caused a change in the pawn structure and lessening Black’s attacking chances. 14… Nxd4 was needed in order to maintain Black’s fair share of counter chances. Black’s position would remain flexible - with a chance to pawn storm or use the c-file for counterplay. White’s dangerous attacking chances soon transformed into a material advantage which Shen took into a winning, 2 pawn up endgame. Shen converted his advantage in good style. He slowly improved his position while keeping his opponent’s pieces tied down to Black’s weaknesses.
Another hard fought game which has become the norm at the U.S. Junior Closed Championships! Shen’s games from both round one and two show how effective the kingside pawn storm can be in the Sicilian. As a fan of the Sicilian, I hope that we will see Black strike back soon!
Awonder Liang vs. Mika Brattain
In the past, Awonder Liang has played some daring defenses against 1. d4, such as the King’s Indian. Today Liang started the game in a more solid style: opting for the Ragozin defense. Liang’s 8… Be7 looked uncharacteristic of the Ragozin, and it appeared that White would have decent chances to gain an opening advantage. Brattain was unable to obtain any tangible advantage but maintained a lead on the clock, which would later prove important. The game remained relatively equal until time trouble began to make its’ presence felt. By the time the dust settled from the first time control, Brattain had earned himself a nagging endgame advantage. Despite showing strong technique for a large portion of the endgame, Brattain had to eventually settle for a draw
Jeffrey Xiong vs. Michael Bodek
Before the game, this was my pick for the most exciting game of the round. Halfway through the round, I realized that the opposite was likely to be true. Unfortunately for the spectators, the opening played in the game had a drawish reputation. Both sides played very accurately throughout the entire game, eventually reaching a symmetrical endgame that was agreed drawn on move 30. A short but high quality game.
Curran Han vs. Akshat Chandra
In round one, Chandra won on the Black side of the Grunfeld defense against one of the highest rated players in the tournament, Luke Harmon-Vellotti. Today, the tables were turned and he was on the opposite side of the same opening. Curran was in a difficult situation, getting Black for the second time in a row, against a player fresh off of a confidence-boosting win. Chandra’s 5. Bd2 was recently featured in the World Championship match between Carlsen and Anand. Chandra continued on with his good form from round one and slowly turned a small positional advantage into the full point.
Yian Liou vs. Luke Harmon-Vellotti
In round one, Harmon-Vellotti lost with the White pieces against Chandra’s Grunfeld defense. Yian Liou on the other hand, was off to a great start, with a round one victory over Arthur Shen. Harmon-Vellotti tried his luck with 1. e4 today opposed to his first round choice of 1. d4. He faced a former favorite of Magnus Carlsen, and one of Black’s most solid responses to 1.e4, the Breyer variation of the Ruy Lopez. Many of the variations of the Ruy Lopez tend to lead to closed positions, with lots of maneuvering. Vellotti chose not to close the position but this allowed Liou a chance to open up the game favorably for the Black pieces, with 17… exd4! Black generated a strong initiative which soon turned into a decisive advantage. The size of Black’s advantage varied throughout the rest of the game. Luke Harmon-Vellotti was finally able to bail out into a worse, but theoretically drawn endgame. Finally, after more than 120 moves Luke was able to secure the draw. Liou found out why his opponent has a nickname here in St. Louis of Lucky Luke.