2015 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - Round 4
Written and analyzed by GM Mackenzie Molner. Photos taken by Austin Fuller.
One of the biggest stories of the tournament so far has been Awonder Liang’s incredible start of 2.5/3 and a share of first place. Many people were wondering if he could maintain this hot streak. His opponent for round four, Arthur Shen, has played some of the most fighting oriented chess of the whole tournament thus far. Arthur has only had decisive games; each one of his games has had White win in a combative Najdorf Sicilian. This created an interesting dynamic between the players because Awonder is mainly a Najdorf player. With Arthur having the White pieces today, and already having success on the White side of the Najdorf, Awonder chose 1… e5 as a more solid opening.
The game started with a quiet Italian game, with both sides maneuvering their pieces in standard fashion. White was able to achieve the move 13. d4 which usually guarantees a more pleasant position. There was still a lot of work to be done, but on move 18 Shen was presented with an interesting opportunity. Liang’s previous move, 17...d5 brought the tension in the center to a boiling point, but they only way for White to take advantage of this move was to make a committal kingside sacrifice. White had two powerful moves in the position: 18. Nxg7 or 18. Bxh6. Shen rose to the occasion and played Bxh6. Although the computer immediately prefers the Nxg7 option, after some thought, it comes around to Arthur’s choice, and recognizes that it is strong as well.
Black’s decisive mistake came on move 23 with the move fxg2. At that point, White had a clear advantage but fxg2 allowed White to earn more material than needed. Arthur converted the advantage quite smoothly, eventually winning a whole piece, forcing Liang’s resignation. A highlight of the technical phase was Arthur’s 33. f4, preparing to push Black off the board, with his extra pawns. The result has big implications in the tournament standings. Shen moves back up to an even score but Liang’s chances of contending for the championship have taken a serious dip. He wasn’t the only person to face some setbacks from round four games. With one exception, the rest of the games from round four were also very exciting! A game worthy of special mention was the Liou-Li game.
Michael Bodek vs. Curran Han
The trend of suffering in the Sicilian continues with this game. Han was able to get a very playable, and at least equal, position out of the opening. Unfortunately a middlegame misstep ruined his chances.16… Nxe4 was a fatal mistake which would cost Han his knight. Han recognized the desperation of the position and, rather than going down a piece, chose to sacrifice his queen for a large material imbalance. This unfortunately was not enough for Black. White went on to prove the worth of the Queen, earning the full point.
Akshat Chandra vs. Mika Brattain
Chandra came into today’s game in shared first place, while Brattain had solidly made 3 draws so far. The opening featured in this game must have came as a surprise to Chandra, although fitting the solid style of play that Brattain had demonstrated so far. Brattain chose to play the 4… a6 Slav. Despite being a popular opening, Chandra went on to think for over 20 minutes in this position. The opening turned out in Black’s favor but needed to be handled in more energetic fashion. 16… Ne4 followed by a kingside pawn storm starting with g5 would have been a seriously challenging idea to White’s position. The game leveled out in the middlegame but Akshat Chandra was able to make the most of his c-file control, gaining a decisive advantage by the time the endgame was reached. The game bordered between drawn and winning in a pawn up rook endgame for Chandra, but eventually he broke his opponent’s defenses, winning the game on move 65. Chandra moves into the lead by a full point with 3.5/4!
Luke Harmon-Vellotti vs. Jeffrey Xiong
This game featured two of the highest rated of the tournament. Luke Harmon-Vellotti, who came into the game with only 1/3, must have been eager to get off to his normal winning ways. However, he wasn’t able to achieve much against Xiong’s Nimzo-Indian defense. The game soon reached a situation in which both sides would have to seriously weaken their position in order to try to win the game. With the upside not being worth the risk, both players repeated moves, agreeing to the draw.
Yian Liou vs. Ruifeng Li
This game was a close second for the game of the day. The game started out with a Najdorf Sicilian that was strongly in White’s favor. White’s queenside play was clearly stronger than Black’s play on the kingside. Li chose to complicate the game with the most spectacular move of the tournament so far, 25… Ne5. Objectively, this move sacrifices a piece for a mere pawn, and was probably not fully sound; however, White was faced with serious practical problems. The problems eventually got the better of Liou. White’s 35th move, Nd2, flipped the evaluation of the position from being better for White, to winning for Black! Li’s strong attack soon proved too much for White, with Black winning on move 39. Liou was in good shape to contend for first place before this game, but the loss is a serious setback.