- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2017

This could be fun.

The news broke Monday that world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway has agreed to play in September’s FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia, the 128-player knockout scrum in which players must win two-game minimatches to advance.

Carlsen is said to be a fan of the unpredictable knockout format. Ironically, the top two finishers in Tbilisi will win spots in next year’s Candidates Tournament, which will determine the next challenger for Carlsen’s crown. Theoretically at least, Carlsen could take both events and wind up playing himself for the title.

One potential loser from Carlsen’s decision: Greek GM Dimitrios Mastrovasilis, who, as the 65th-ranked player in the field, right now stands to face the champ in the very first round.

It’s a bit tough going through life with a first name like “Awonder,” but 14-year-old Wisconsin GM-to-be Awonder Liang seems to be managing just fine. Having already set a slew of age records, including becoming the youngest-ever American to earn the international master title in 2012, Liang added to his resume with his first U.S. junior championship this month, nipping front-runner GM Kayden Troff of Utah with a last-round win at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

Liang’s most entertaining win in St. Louis was a Round 7 clash with top-rated GM Li Ruifeng in an unconventional, fighting Sicilian Moscow line. Varying from a Carlsen game with 10. Na3!?, Liang blasts the center open to draw the Black king into the center with the middle game hardly begun: 18. fxe6 dxe4? (too reckless — 18…fxe6 19. exd5 Qxd5 20. Qxd5 Nxd5 21. Ne5 Bb4 22. Re4 Bf5 23. Re2 h5 gives Black strong piece play for his pawn deficit) 19. fxe7+ Kxf7 20. Ne5+ Ke6 21. Qc3.

But with White’s king facing its own troubles, the big break comes quickly: 23…Nd5 24. Qc4! Bh3 (see diagram: 24…Kxe5 25. Qxe4+ Kd6 [Kf6 26. Rf1+ Kg7 27. Qxg4+] 26. Bf4+ Nxf4 27. Rad1+ Bxd1 28. Rxd1+ Kc7 29. Rxd8 Bc5+ 30. Kh1 Raxd8 31. Qxf4+) 25. Qxe4! (both players are losing their queens, but White gets the better of the bargain) Bc5+ 26. Kh1 Bxg2+ 27. Qxg2 Rxg2 28. Nc6+ Kf5 29. Nxd8 Rf2 30. Nf7 — the smoke is cleared and White is a knight and a pawn to the good. The only remaining hurdle is not to get mated.

Liang manages that with the clever 32. Ng5+ (less convincing is 32. Rg3+ Kh4 33. Bxh6 Rxf7) hxg5 (Kh4 33. Ne4) 33. Rg3+ Kh4 34. Bxg5+ Kh5 Rag1, and it is the Black king that is in a mating net. After 37. Rf5! Rg8 38. Rxd5 Rxg5 39. Rxg5+ Kxg5 40. Kxg1, resistance is futile, and Li resigned.

Congratulations also to local star Akshita Gorti, the 15-year-old WIM and pride of Chantilly, Virginia, who cruised to the U.S. women’s junior championship in St. Louis. Gorti’s performance was so impressive that she clinched the title with a round to spare, finishing an undefeated 7-2, 1½ points clear of runner-up WCM Maggie Feng.

Liang-Li, 2017 U.S. Junior Championship, St. Louis, July 2017

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. O-O a6 5. Bd3 Ngf6 6. Re1 b5 7. c4 g5 8. Nxg5 Ne5 9. Bf1 bxc4 10. Na3 Rg8 11. d4 cxd4 12. f4 Bg4 13. Qxd4 Nd3 14. Bxd3 cxd3 15. Qxd3 e6 16. f5 h6 17. Nf3 d5 18. fxe6 dxe4 19. exf7+ Kxf7 20. Ne5+ Ke6 21. Qc3 Nd5 22. Qd4 Nf6 23. Qc3 Nd5 24. Qc4 Bh3 25. Qxe4 Bc5+ 26. Kh1 Bxg2+ 27. Qxg2 Rxg2 28. Nc6+ Kf5 29. Nxd8 Rf2 30. Nf7 Kg4 31. Rg1+ Kh3 32. Ng5+ hxg5 33. Rg3+ Kh4 34. Bxg5+ Kh5 35. Rag1 Rf3 36. Rxf3 Bxg1 37. Rf5 Rg8 38. Rxd5 Black resigns.

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

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