- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The future of American chess was on display as the country recently crowned its male and female junior champions, with rising Indian-American stars taking the honors in both events.

New Jersey IM Akshat Chandra, 16, is the new U.S. junior champion, capturing a title once held by such stars as GMs Larry Christiansen and Hikaru Nakamura. Chandra came into the invitational, held at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, seeded second behind red-hot Texas IM Jeffery Xiong, but Chandra found himself clinging to a half-point lead over Xiong going into the ninth and final round.

When Xiong dispatched NM Curran Han, Chandra knew he had to defeat master Awonder Liang to win the tournament. It was a tough struggle, but the New Jersey teenager proved up to the task, clinching first place, the $6,000 first prize and a slot in the 2016 U.S. national championship tournament with a clutch performance.

Liang gets a small edge from the White side of this Taimanov Sicilian, but Black defends carefully in turning back White’s kingside pressure: 13. Qe1 e5 14. Qh4 Bd7! (better than 14…Bd6 15. f5 Bc4 16. g4!, and White’s attack takes off) 15. Rae1 exf4 16. Rxf4!? (worth a look was 16. Nd5 Nxd5 17. exd5, with an unpleasant mate threat on h7) Qh5!, when a queen trade would only ease Black’s defensive chores.

White’s pawn center looks impressive, but it can never get moving and comes under increasing pressure from Black’s pieces after 23…Rfe8 24. h3 f6 25. Rfe3 Qa5 26. Qf2 Qb6. White’s need to defend his central pawns forces his pieces onto awkward squares, and Chandra alertly takes advantage at just the right moment: 32. Kh2 Qg5! 33. Qc3 f5!, exploiting the pin on the e-pawn. Black’s f-pawn, as will soon be seen, is destined for bigger and better things.

Under growing pressure, Liang makes a defensive slip that leads to a quick collapse of his position after 34. e5 f4 35. Rd3? (Rf3!, putting pressure on the Black f-pawn and slowing its advance, was far tougher) dxe5 36. dxe5 Bc6 37. g3 f3, and suddenly the passed proves very hard for White to slow down.

A nice little combination clinches the win and the title for Chandra: 38. Nf4 f2 39. Rd1 Bb5 40. h4 (Nd3 Qe3! is very strong) Qg4 41. Qc1 (see diagram) Qxd1, when White is just lost after 42. Qxd1 f8=Q; Liang resigned.

Ashritha Eswaran was definitely not one of the favorites at the 2015 U.S. Junior Girls Championship, starting the event tied for the lowest rating in the 10-player field in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But the 14-year-old California master overcame two losses with six wins over higher-rated opponents to finish at 6½-2½, a full point ahead of NM Annie Wang. One of Eswaran’s most impressive wins came in a tricky knight-and-pawn ending with 11-year-old Massachusetts junior Carissa Yip, who earlier this year generated headlines of her own by becoming the youngest female master in U.S. history.

A nice struggle develops out of this transposed King’s Indian, and White appears to have real pressure on Black’s game after 19. Bc7 Be5 (Black never likes to part with the fianchettoed bishop in this line) 20. Bxe5 Nxe5 21. Nb6 Rb8 22. Nxc8 Rbxc8 23. Rd6 Re7 24. Rad1, but Yip’s knight proves a strong blockader on e5, and Black even manages to grab a pawn after 34. Bxe4 Ng5! (with a double threat on e4 and h3) 35. Rxf8 Qxf8 36. Qe3 Nxe4 37. Qxe4 Qxc5.

But Black may have outsmarted herself trying to consolidate her material edge into the ending: 39. Nf4 Qc2+? (with Black’s king so exposed, there may be no win for Yip, but this misguided combination sets her on the path to an unexpected loss) 40. Qxc2 Ne3+ 41. Kf3 Nxc2 42. Ne6!, keeping Black’s king bottled up in the corner; remarkably, Yip’s king will not move for another 18 moves, even as White’s king scoots clear across the board.

Black’s extra pawn proves no match for the White king’s mobility, with Eswaran repeatedly winning extra tempi by attacking the Black knight. White obtains an outside passed a-pawn, and with 63. a6 Kf6 64. Kd5!, prevents the Black king from coming over to help (64…Ke7 65. Kc6). It’s over after 66. Kc5 Kf4 67. Kb6 Kg3 68. Kxa7 Kxh3 69. Nf5, when 69…Kg4 70. Nxh4 Kxh4 71. Kb7 is an elementary win for White. Yip resigned.

Liang-Chandra, U.S. Junior Championship, St. Louis, July 2015

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Bd3 Nf6 8. O-O Nxd4 9. Bxd4 Bc5 10. Bxc5 Qxc5 11. Kh1 O-O 12. f4 d6 13. Qe1 e5 14. Qh4 Bd7 15. Rae1 exf4 16. Rxf4 Qh5 17. Qf2 Ng4 18. Qg3 Ne5 19. Rf6 Nxd3 20. cxd3 Be6 21. d4 Kh8 22. Rf3 Rad8 23. a3 Rfe8 24. h3 f6 25. Rfe3 Qa5 26. Qf2 Qb6 27. Qd2 Rc8 28. Ne2 Rc4 29. Rc1 Rxc1+ 30. Qxc1 Bd7 31. Qd2 Qb5 32. Kh2 Qg5 33. Qc3 f5 34. e5 f4 35. Rd3 dxe5 36. dxe5 Bc6 37. g3 f3 38. Nf4 f2 39. Rd1 Bb5 40. h4 Qg4 41. Qc1 Qxd1 White resigns.

Eswaran-Yip, U.S. Girls Junior Championship, Tulsa, June 2015

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. O-O O-O 5. d4 d6 6. c4 Nbd7 7. Qc2 e5 8. Rd1 Re8 9. Nc3 c6 10. e4 exd4 11. Nxd4 Qa5 12. f3 a6 13. Be3 d5 14. Nb3 Qc7 15. Bf4 Qb6 16. c5 Qa7 17. Na4 dxe4 18. fxe4 Nh5 19. Bc7 Be5 20. Bxe5 Nxe5 21. Nb6 Rb8 22. Nxc8 Rbxc8 23. Rd6 Re7 24. Rad1 Qb8 25. Qe2 Rce8 26. Nd4 Ng7 27. Qc2 Qc8 28. h3 Rf8 29. Ne2 f5 30. Qb3 Kh8 31. Rf1 Nf7 32. Rd4 fxe4 33. Rxe4 Rxe4 34. Bxe4 Ng5 35. Rxf8 Qxf8 36. Qe3 Nxe4 37. Qxe4 Qxc5 38. Kg2 Nf5 39. Nf4 Qc2 40. Qxc2 Ne3 41. Kf3 Nxc2 42. Ne6 Nb4 43. a3 Nd3 44. b3 b5 45. Ke3 Ne5 46. Kd4 Nd7 47. Nc5 Nf6 48. Ke5 Nd5 49. Nxa6 Ne3 50. a4 bxa4 51. bxa4 Nc4 52. Kd4 Na5 53. Kc5 h5 54. Kb6 Nc4 55. Kxc6 g5 56. Nc5 h4 57. gxh4 gxh4 58. Kd5 Ne3 59. Ke4 Nc4 60. Nb7 Kg7 61. Kd4 Nb6 62. a5 Nc8 63. a6 Kf6 64. Kd5 Kg5 65. Nd6 Na7 66. Kc5 Kf4 67. Kb6 Kg3 68. Kxa7 Kxh3 69. Nf5 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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