- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2019

She first appeared in this space five years ago when we wrote of Ashburn, Virginia, middle-schooler Jennifer Yu’s impressive second-place finish in the Under-2200 section of the 2014 D.C. International.

Yu, now a woman grandmaster, has been a column regular ever since as her rating and her trophy case have swelled. Among the milestones: a World Under-12 championship, numerous U.S. scholastic titles, a bronze medal breakthrough performance with the U.S. women’s 2018 Olympiad team and, most notably, a stunning 10-1 result this spring to claim the U.S. women’s national title, the first teenager to win the title in nearly two decades.

At age 17, the rising high school senior takes on another challenge as the only female in the U.S. Junior Championship that starts Wednesday in St. Louis. The 10-player invitational includes four grandmasters, topped by two-time defending champion GM Awonder Liang.

“It’s exciting, but I think I’m ranked ninth out of 10, so I’m not expecting that much,” Yu said in a phone interview late last week in which she demonstrated a low-key, matter-of-fact attitude about her recent remarkable successes. “I’ll try not to do too horribly,” she added with a laugh.

She said her play at the U.S. women’s tournament was a pleasant surprise and may have benefited paradoxically from a poor prior performance at a national high school scholastic event. She said her practice regime has been “on and off” as she deals with schoolwork and a looming decision on whether to put off college for a bit to devote herself to chess full time.



“Recently, I have been interested in seeing how far I can go in chess,” she said. “Check back with me in a year.”

She started the national championship with four wins, more than held her own against veteran rivals and kept the pedal to the metal with 5½ points in her past six games. “There was definitely some luck, but I felt confident in positions that could have gone either way,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I have always felt the game is not over until it’s over.”

Yu says she doesn’t really have a strategy going into the junior championship other than to play consistently and to get playable positions out of the openings.

“I’ve had a problem in the past of playing very well against the top players but then losing games to lower-rate opponents. That’s definitely something I need to work on,” she said.

In an interesting gambit, the St. Louis Chess Club will be staging three national championships simultaneously from Wednesday to July 20: the U.S. Junior Championship, the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the inaugural U.S. Senior Championship, an invitational for the top American players 50 and older. The senior field includes such decorated veterans as GMs Alex Shabalov, Joel Benjamin and Larry Christiansen.

Yu recalled in her interview the encouragement and instruction she got at the late, much-missed Ashburn Chess Club and said the Washington area was a great training ground for a young player because of the numerous local events where one could play and improve. Today’s game comes from a local George Washington Open in 2016, with a 14-year-old Yu dispatching Indian GM Akshayraj Kore with a killer final attack.

Yu as White claims a major space advantage as Kore adopts a cramped but solid defensive crouch. But when Black’s knight gets exiled on a5, White wastes no time exploiting her temporary material superiority on the other flank.

Thus: 16. f5! (an aggressive but promising pawn sacrifice) exf5 17. gxf5 gxf5 18. Bh6!, seeking to remove Black’s best defensive piece. After 18…fxe4 (Be5!?, just to change the dynamic of the game, might be a better practical plan, though White can’t be worse after either 19. Bxf8 or even 19. Ng3!?) 19. Nxe4 f6 (f5 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Qc3+ Kg8 22. Nf6+) 20. N2g3, the grandmaster just has too many pieces standing around not helping, and White may already have a decisive edge.

On 22. Nh5 Qe7 23. Nexf6+ Kh8 24. Qh6 Ne5 (see diagram), Yu clinches the point with the powerful 25. Nxh7! Rxf1 (Qxh7 26. Rxf8+ Rxf8 28. Qxf8+ Qg8 28. Qh6+ Qh7 29. Qf6+ Kg8 30. Qd8+ Kf7 31. Rf1+ Bf5 32. Qg5, winning) 26. Rxf1 Ng4 27. Nf8+! Nxh6 28. Ng6+ Kh7 29. Nxe7 Bg4 (losing quickly, but hardly better were lines such as 29…Ng8 30. Nxc8 Rxc8 31. Be4+ Kh6 32. Ng3 Rd8 33. Nf5+ Kg5 34. Ng7 Rd7 35. Ne6+ Kh6 36. Rf4, and the mate threat will cost Black major material) 30. Be4+ Kh8 31. Rf6!, and Black resigned in light of 31…Bxh5 (Ng8 32. Ng6+ Kh7 33. Ne5+ Kh8 34. Nf7 mate) 32. Rxh6+ Kg7 33. Nf5+ Kg8 34. Rxh5 and wins.

Yu-Kore, George Washington Open, Herndon, Virginia, March 2016

1. c4 b6 2. Nc3 Bb7 3. e4 e6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. Nge2 Ne7 7. 0-0 0-0 8. d4 d6 9. Be3 a6 10. f4 c5 11. Qd2 Qc7 12. Rac1 Nbc6 13. d5 Na5 14. b3 Rad8 15. g4 Bc8 16. f5 exf5 17. gxf5 gxf5 18. Bh6 fxe4 19. Nxe4 f6 20. N2g3 Ng6 21. Bxg7 Qxg7 22. Nh5 Qe7 23. Nexf6+ Kh8 24. Qh6 Ne5 25. Nxh7 Rxf1+ 26. Rxf1 Ng4 27. Nf8+ Nxh6 28. Ng6+ Kh7 29. Nxe7 Bg4 30. Be4+ Kh8 31. Rf6 Black resigns.

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

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