U.S. Junior Championship - Round 9 Recap

2017 U.S. Junior and Junior Girls' Championships

by Denes Boros 

Gorti won the Girls’ Section with one round to spare, but there was still a lot of action in the last round in both sections!

U.S Girls’ Junior Championship
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Akshita Gorti already won the tournament, but she arrived hungry for some more chess! She played Apurva Virkud, and even though she was Black she took the initiative early on with 11…Ba6! and 12…b5!. Virkud, however, fought hard and managed to hold, even though Akshita Gorti was trying hard to win her last game. A nice fighting game from both players, especially from Akshita, playing for a win even though the tournament was already decided!

Maggie Feng came second, as she managed to draw a difficult game against Bykovtsev. Emily Nguyen had a good chance for second place, but she had to console herself with a tied third place as she lost to Carissa Yip after her Queen got trapped in an equal position. 

Thalia Cervantes also tied for third place, just like Annie Wang, but Emily Nguyen was awarded the third place due to better tiebreakers. Thalia won a nice game against Eswaran. Thalia Cervantes equalized early with Black, and she managed to slowly push her opponent off the board. A nice technical win from Cervantes!
The last game of the whole tournament was played by Annie Wang and Rachel Ulrich. Both of them played a fantastic fighting tournament, and their personal encounter wasn’t any different! Annie Wang played the famous Breyer variation, and even though she was initially slightly worse, after hours of play she took control of the game. Rachel Ulrich didn’t give up however, and fought hard until they reached a Queen endgame. After the long struggle Annie ran into a perpetual check, but one slip was enough and it seemed that Ulrich missed the draw. At that moment, Ulrich found the fantastic resource 80.g3+ Kf3  and she came with the move of the tournament, Qf2!!, Kxf2 Stalemate! A wonderful display of the fighting spirit of the tournament!

U.S. Junior Championship
Everyone expected a swift finish with a dominating Troff, even though Liang was half point behind, Kayden seemed to be in position to become the U.S. Junior Champion.

Chandra although not the mathematical favorite to win it all, was the first to drop out of contention. He was facing Checa and needed to win to keep his winning chances alive. Chandra did manage to get a preferable position, but it was extremely difficult to convert the advantage into a win, and the players agreed to a draw after the repetition of moves. 

That left the leader Kayden Troff, and his rival Awonder Liang to duke it out for the U.S. Junior Championship title. Troff did not change his tactics, and played his usual lines, but his opponent Mika Brattain was very well prepared against Troff. Troff wasn’t prepared for this variation and was clearly in trouble and it was clear that Brattain won the opening phase. Meanwhile, Liang also had to get acquainted with a type of position he had not seen before. Michael Brown played the Berlin Defence, and an early d6. Liang did not seem to be familiar, so it was clear that there would be a long struggle! Hours later Mika Brattain played the courageous 16.d5!, which seemed to me to be the strongest and most natural. He followed it up with energetic play, centralizing his pieces with 18. Rad1! and 19 e5!, Troff was forced into defensive. At this moment Liang’s position wasn’t clear, but Brown seemed to be at loss and it was increasingly difficult to find plans for both sides!

Getting closer to time trouble, Mika Brattain launched his final attack; it was just too strong, and even though Troff tried to defend it, the defensive front eventually collapsed and Mika Brattain won against Troff!
This was the golden moment for Liang, as a draw would force a tiebreaker match with Troff, but a win would mean the Championship Title! Liang doubled up on  the ”e” line and after Brown’s inaccurate move 34…e4, Liang opened up the position with the powerful 34.f3! At that moment it was clear, with precise play, Awonder Liang was going to win.

Precise he was, and after some nervy play from both sides, Liang broke through with the knight maneuver Ne2-d4-f5! putting decisive pressure on Brown’s position. Brown resisted heroically, but Liang was unstoppable and with confident play, he converted his advantage! Liang, with this clutch win, won the 2017. U.S. Junior Championship!
Troff came second and Rufieng Li and Akshat Chandra tied for third. Akshat Chandra became third on account of his better tiebreaker. A great U.S. Junior Championship ended with a dramatic final. Troff and Akshat Chandra played good chess, but Liang proved to be the strongest, as he managed to win the most critical games at the crucial moments! The Champions of the 2017 U.S. Junior Championships are Akshita Gorti and Awonder Liang.
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