You know someone is precocious when he publishes an instructional manual on positional chess — the subtlest aspect of the game and the most difficult to master — before his 15th birthday.
But California prodigy Daniel Naroditsky, the world Under-12 champion in 2007 who is now an international master, shows no signs of burnout at the advanced age of 17, capturing his first U.S. Junior Championship late last month at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.
Naroditsky, whose “Mastering Positional Chess” came out to very positive reviews in 2010, was undefeated at 6½-2½ to finish a half-point ahead of FMs Samuel Sevian of California and Luke Harmon-Vellotti, the 14-year-old pride of Boise, Idaho.
Past winners of the title include some pretty impressive names, including GMs Yasser Seirawan, Larry Christiansen, Alex Sherzer and Hikaru Nakamura, who is now the fifth-highest rated player in the world.
The new champ’s best game in St. Louis may have been his Round 4 win over FM Atulya Shetty of Michigan, a win that tested both Naroditsky’s positional understanding and tactical chops. White marks time in a rather dry French Tarrasch, giving up a bishop for knight to generate some play against Shetty’s isolated d-pawn. When Black misses a chance to steer the game into drawing channels, the two players engage in an amusing back-and-forth over back-rank weaknesses, with White proving stronger in the end.
Shetty passes up several opportunities to head for an opposite-colored bishop ending, and play finally heats up after 23. Qd3 Qg6 24. Qg3!? (more testing was 24. Qb5!?, hitting the d- and b-pawns, as 24…a5 25. Bb6! is good for White) Bf6?! (a5 25. Nd3 Re8 26. Ne5 Qf5 kept the position in balance) 25. Bxf6 Qxf6? (now Black gets in real trouble; better was 25…gxf6 [Qxg3? 26. Bxd8! — threatening 27. Re8 mate — 26…Qd6 27. Re8+ Qf8 28. Rxf8+ Kxf8 29. Bc7 and wins] 26. Qe3 Qg5 27. Nc2, though White remains on top) 26. Re5! Bg6 27. Nxd5 Qa6 28. Nc7 Qxa2, a tactical defense hoping to exploit White’s back-rank vulnerabilities.
But Naroditsky neatly turns the tables with 29. Ree1 (of course not 29. Rxa2?? Rd1+ 30. Re1 Rxe1 mate) Qxb2 30. Nxa8 Rxa8 (see diagram; Black has won a bishop and pawn for the rook but now faces a mirror mating motif) 31. Rxa7! Rf8 (Rxa7? 32. Re8 mate) 32. Qd6!, threatening 33. Qxf8+! Kxf8 34. Ra8 mate.
It’s over quickly after 32…Rc8 (on 32…f6 33. h3 Qxc3, the rook invasion with 34. Re7 Qd3 35. Qe6+ Kh8 [Bf7 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 37. Ra8+] 36. Raxb7 is overwhelming) 33. Qd7 Rf8 34. Ra8!, and Black resigns facing 34…Rxa8 (f6 35. Rxf8+ Kxf8 36. Qd8+ Be8 37. Qxe8 mate) 35. Qe8+ Rxe8 36. Rxe8 mate.
WFM Sarah Chiang of Dallas had a rough time of it in St. Louis. The lowest-rated player in the field, Chiang managed only a single draw in nine games. But she nearly scored one of the big upsets of the tournament, in a loopy and heartbreaking battle with Harmon-Vellotti in Round 6. Chiang calmly turns aside White’s unsound attack and builds up an overwhelming advantage, only to throw away first the win and then the full point by walking into checkmate.
White’s 12. g3 Qb6 13. Bxf6?! gxf6 14. Bg2 Nc6 15. 0-0 Bxe2 is a clear indication he’s focused on a kingside mating attack. Black methodically collects the pawns White offers up and after 22. Bxf3 Qxb2 23. Rac1 c4, Chiang is clearly better as her queen does valuable defensive work along the long diagonal.
With the Black c-pawn barreling down the board, White’s desperation becomes evident on 27. Rg1 Rb2! (again mixing attack and defense, threatening to snuff out White’s attack with 28…Qxf2) 28. Rg2 f4 29. Qh4 c3 30. g6 (White might as well throw everything on the pyre) hxg6 31. hxg6 (Rh2 [h6+ Kh7 32. Qe7 Rbb8] Be4 32. Qxf4 Bxf3+ 33. Qxf3 c2 and wins) Bxg6 32. Rh2, when victory is there to be had after 32…Rd8 33. Qh6+ Kg8 34. Rg1 Qf6 35. Be4 Rd1! 36. Rxd1 Bxe4+ 37. Kg1 Qxh6 38. Rxh6 c2 39. Rc1 Rb1.
But Black’s desire to open an escape route for her king actually gives White’s moribund attack new oxygen: 32…f5?? 33. Rg1!? (stronger was 33. Rd1! Qf6 34. Qh6+ Kf7 [Kg8 35. Rg2 Kf7 36. Rxg6 Qxg6 37. Rd7+ Ke8 38. Qxg6+ Kxd7 39. Qg7+ Ke8 40. Bc6+ and mate next] 35. Rd7+ Ke8 [Kg8 36. Rg2] 36. Bc6 Rb6 37. Ba4 Ra6 38. Qxa4 and White is better) Kf7 34. Rxg6 Rb1+ 35. Kg2.
Even here, Chiang could have kept the game going with 35…Rg8! 36. Rxg8 (Bh5? f3+ 37. Kxf3 Qxh4 38. Rxh4 Rxg6 39. Rc4 Rb3 40. a4 Kf6 41. Bxg6 Kxg6 and Black wins) Kxg8 37. Qh7+ Kf8 38. Qh8+ Qxh8 39. Kxh8 Kf7 40. Rc8, with complex play. But Black’s game cannot survive a second major oversight in the space of four moves: 35…Kxg6?? 36. Bh5+ (now White’s mating attack can’t be parried) Kh6 (Kg7 37. Qg5+ Kh8 38. Bf3 mate) 37. Be8+ Kg7 38. Qg5 mate.
Naroditsky-Shetty, U.S. Junior Championship, S. Louis, June 2013