U.S. juniors battle it out

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New York master Marc Tyler Arnold is the new U.S. junior champion, having edged young Florida FM Ray Robson by a half point in the 10-player invitational that ended yesterday in Tampa, Fla.

Maryland master Alex Barnett, a recent graduate of Kensington’s Albert Einstein High School, scored a respectable 4-5 in his debut in the event. Barnett, the national high school co-champion, was hurt by early tournament losses to Arnold and New Jersey master Mackenzie Molner and never got into the title hunt.

The tournament field included some of the country’s most promising stars younger than 21. Past winners include Bobby Fischer and 2006 U.S. champ GM Hikaru Nakamura.

Barnett deserved better in his lengthy duel with Molner, playing some tenacious and imaginative defense under difficult conditions. But just when Black has worked his way back to a playable endgame, Barnett goes astray and loses the point.

White takes the play to his opponent right from the start in this Sicilian and appears on the verge of an early knockout after 15. Bf4 Qc7 16. Rxd6!? Qxd6 17. Bxe5 Qb6 18. Bc7. But with White’s bishop pair primed to take over the game, Black finds 21. e5 Bb8! (perhaps the only move that holds) 22. Bxb8 (Bxa8 Bxc7 23. b4 Bxe5 24. Qe3 Bc7 looks equal) Rxb8 23. Ne4 Rb6, keeping him in the game.

Black uses some intricate tactics to fend off a second White onslaught just a few moves later after 26. Nc6 Qg5 26. Qxg5 hxg5 27. Ne7 (Black seems doomed to lose material, but Barnett sees that White’s far-flung knights will have trouble getting back to safety) Nxe5! 28. Ndxc8 Nxf3+ 29. gxf3 Rb7 30. Rd1 Rc7 (getting back two minor pieces for a rook) 31. c3 Rcxc8 32. Nxc8 Rxc8 33. Rd7 Kg8 34. Ra7 Rc6 and, remarkably, material is now dead even in an ending in which Black may be slightly better.

Black centralizes his king and keeps the White king out of the queen-side but errs in letting White emerge with two queen-side passed pawns after 48. Kg2 Kf4 49. Rxa6 Rxc3 50. Rb6 Rxf3 51. Rxb5. Barnett’s king proves to be misplaced, and he can’t generate enough pressure on the White king to offset the queen-side pawns.

A nice finesse gives Molner a new queen on 55. Re6 Ra5 56. b6! Rxa6 57. b7, and it’s over on 59. Qd6 g4 60. Kf1, as Black has no good moves. If 60…g5 (e3 61. fxe3+ Ke4 62. Qd4+ Kf3 63. Qf4 mate), White mates with 61. Kg2 g3 (e3 62. Qd4+ Re4 63. fxe3 mate) 62. hxg3+ Kg4 Qd1 mate. Black resigned.

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America has produced its latest world champion: Rybka.

The software program designed by U.S. IM Vasik Rajlich took clear first in the 15th World Computer Chess Championship, which wrapped up Monday in Amsterdam. Rybka dominated with an 11-1 (10-0-2) score, topped by a last-round win over strong German entry Shredder, a former silicon champ.

Alone in second was another U.S. entry, Zappa, a former world champion by Illinois programmer Anthony Cozzie.

Two stars of the computer world — the Dutch-German program Fritz and the Israeli program Junior — did not log on for the Amsterdam event. However, Rybka’s strong play throughout the tournament could make it a real challenger to the two market leaders.

Against the Baron, a Dutch program, Rybka used some classic computerlike moves and some old-fashioned mating combinations to score a pretty win. Black’s 15. Qxd3 g6?! (Nb6 16. f5 Qd7 17. Nc5 Bxc5 18. dxc5 Nc4 looks more playable) is a panicky reaction to the threatened push of White’s f-pawn. With oddball moves like 17. Na5! (an original way to thwart 17…Nc4) and 19. g4!, Rybka soon has major pressure on both the king-side and along the c-file.

That translates into a winning attack on 28. fxe6 (it’s interesting that White eschews 28. Nc6+! bxc6 29. Qxa6, with major threats) fxe6 29. Qg6 Re8 (see diagram) 30. Nxb7+ (exploiting the overworked Black queen) Qxb7 31. Qxe6 (with the idea of 32. Ba5, winning) Bf8 (Ba3 32. Qf6+ Re7 33. Rc6 Nd7 34. Ba5+ Ke8 35. Qg6+ Kf8 36. Qh6+ Kf7 37. Rg6 also is hopeless for Black) 32. Qf6+ Be7 33. Qg6, and the renewed threat of 34. Ba5 forces Black to give back the piece.

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