Looking at the pairings, I expected some deep home preparation from the players. I was surprised to see that the tournament spontaneously turned into a Carlsbad Theme Tournament instead!
U.S. Junior Championship
The first crucial matchup was between Ruifeng Li and Akshat Chandra but did not feature the Carlsbad structure. Surprisingly, it was the third time Ruifeng played 1. b3!?. He did quickly achieve a tangible advantage, after his unusual third move 3.Nf3! On the other hand, the hometown favorite, Akshat Chandra held on strong and managed to stabilize his position, and achieved a draw without many problems. A nice quality game from both players!
The second key matchup was played between Kayden Troff and Michael Brown. Brown came up with an novel plan in the Carlsbad, but he was still slightly worse against Troff. Black’s position was passive, but solid, so Troff went for an early flank attack, which was unfortunately for him slightly premature. Brown stopped Troff’s attack on the Queenside, and went for the counterattacking h5-h4! Soon Troff’s position became critical, but Kayden came up with some inventive attacking moves that confused Brown. Michael Brown could have won with 27…Rc8!!, but he opted for Nxe4 instead, which was losing, as Kayden’s king found a safe haven on d1 and mate was inevitable! A truly dramatic game, which was crucial for the Open Section’s standings!
Andrew Tang played a fighting game against Nicolas Checa. Tang essayed the London System, but Checa was well prepared and was never in real danger. Checa took over the initiative after the surprising 28…Qxd6!, he developed a devastating initiative. He won after 45 moves. Checa has shown very consistent chess so far, and now he is tied for second place!
U.S Girls’ Junior Championship
Gorti and Nguyen shared first place before the 4th round, so both players were eager to play some aggressive chess.
Emily Nguyen played Annie Wang, who opted for a setup already familiar to us: the Carlsbad Variation! Emily Nguyen, however, was more comfortable with the ensuing positions and won in style.
Gorti had to win to catch up with Nguyen, but faced a tough test facing Thalia Cervantes with Black. Thalia Cervantes had a nagging pressure, but then the position became extremely complicated for both sides. Cervantes was winning at one point in the last time control, but could not capitalize on her advantage in the end. The game ended in a draw after the 70th move.
The best fighting game was played between Bykovtsev and Ulrich. Both of them played exciting games, so the commentators were ready to see an interesting fight between them.
Bykovtsev again played her pet Fisher-Sozin line, but this time she faced 6…Qb6 instead of 6…Qc7 in the Najdorf. Bykovtsev decided to change the character of the position, and came up with the ambitious 18. Nb6!?. The idea did not seem completely sound, but Rachel Ulrich had some problems she needed to solve at the board. She did defend quite well until move 22, when she rushed to play the move Rb8. It was the first step in the wrong direction, as Tatev Abrahamyan pointed out in the commentary, 22…Rc8 would have been more precise overprotecting her pieces. After that, Bykovtsev could not be stopped, as she continued her onslaught with 23 e5! completely opening up the position; and, after the elegant 25 Qxe5! sacrifice by Bykovtsev, Ulrich’s position became hopeless. Bykovtsev won on move 29.
After round 4, Kayden Troff is clear first with a point lead in the Open Section, while Emily Nguyen has a half point lead in the Girls’ Section.