Battle of the Prodigies: Who Will Be the Next U.S. Junior Champion?

The 2016  U.S. Junior Closed Championship begins on Friday, July 8th. With so many American youth chess players reaching new heights and breaking records, this year's field is particularly strong.

The Defending Champion

Akshat Chandra

Akshat Chandra at the US Junior Championships Akshat Chandra at the 2015 US Junior Championships. Photo: Austin Fuller
  • Title: International Master
  • US Chess Rating: 2562
  • Fide Rating: 2493
  • Achievements: 2015 US Junior Champion and National High School Champion
  • Age: 16
Last year, at his debut in the championship, Chandra won the title convincingly with an undefeated score. He also won the 2015 National High School Championship and currently has two GM norms. Chandra is a highly motivated chessplayer, ultimately hoping to become a grandmaster, and he'll do everything he can to retain his U.S. Junior title. In addition, Chandra is an accomplished chess journalist, writing for ChessBase and his own blog, Quest to GM.

The Top Seed

Jeffery Xiong

DSC_2995 Jeffery Xiong at the U.S. Championships. Photo: Austin Fuller
  • Title: Grandmaster
  • US Chess Rating: 2730
  • Fide Rating: 2641
  • Achievements: #1 in the world for players age 15 and 2015 Chicago Open Champion
  • Age: 15
Although he was the favorite last year, Xiong narrowly missed winning the championship. Throughout the event, he was just a half point behind Chandra. Will the top seed be able to claim his first U.S. Junior title this year? Xiong is currently the highest rated 15-year-old in the world. He was the 2015 Chicago Open champion and 2013 U.S. Chess League MVP. He made his debut in U.S. Championships this year and held his own in the highly competitive field. He finished in clear 6th place with draws against Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So and a victory against Gata Kamsky.

The Past Champion

Kayden Troff

Kayden-Troff@2x Kayden Troff at the St. Louis Chess Club
  • Title: Grandmaster
  • US Chess Rating: 2630
  • Fide Rating: 2543
  • Achievements: 2014 U.S. Junior Champion and 2012 World Youth Champion (Under-14)
  • Age: 18
Kayden Troff won the U.S. Junior Championship in 2014 and will definitely be looking to re-claim the title this year. Troff was the 2012 Under-14 World Youth Champion. He's competed twice in the U.S. Championships. He's also a part of the Young Stars-Team USA Program, receiving training for Garry Kasparov himself.

The Winning Streak

Ruifeng Li

Ruifeng Li at the National Open. Photo: Tim Hanks. Ruifeng Li at the National Open. Photo: Tim Hanks.
  • Title: International Master
  • US Chess Rating: 2624
  • Fide Rating: 2535
  • Achievements: 2016 National Open and Philadelphia Open Champion, #1 in the country for players age 14
  • Age: 14
Ruifeng Li finished a respectable fourth at last year's championship and has improved drastically since then. Within the last few months, he's been on a winning streak, winning both the National Open and the Philadelphia Open over line-ups of experienced grandmasters. In the process, he passed a US Chess rating of 2600 and a FIDE rating of 2500 for the first time. At the Philadelphia Open, he also achieved his first GM norm.

The College Competitors

Along with Troff, there are four other college students competing for the championship.

Luke Harmon-Vellotti

Luke Harmon-Vellotti at the Chicago Open. Photo: Betsy Dynako Zacate. Luke Harmon-Vellotti at the Chicago Open. Photo: Betsy Dynako Zacate.
  • Title: International Master
  • US Chess Rating: 2539
  • Fide Rating: 2434
  • Achievement: Idaho State Champion
  • Age: 17
This will be Luke Harmon-Vellotti's four appearance in a row at the championship, making him the most experience U.S. Junior Closed player in the field. In addition, he recently achieved one of his strongest tournament performances ever, earning his first GM Norm at the Chicago Open. Harmon-Vellotti's achievements extend beyond chess. At age 17, he is looking forward to his senior year at UCLA with a double major in Applied Math and Computer Science.

Michael Brown

IMG_3535 (1)
  • Title: International Master-Elect
  • US Chess Rating: 2519
  • Fide Rating: 2425
  • Achievement: 2015 Southern California Champion
  • Age: 18
This is Michael Brown's debut at the U.S. Junior Championship. Over the last year, Brown has achieved numerous chess milestones. He broke a US Chess rating of 2500. He won the 2015 Southern California State Championship.  Recently, he earned his final IM Norm at the Chicago Open. In the process, he defeated a super-Grandmaster for the first time.

Michael Bodek

Michael Bodek at the 2014 U.S. Junior Championship. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club. Michael Bodek at the 2014 U.S. Junior Championship. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club.
  • Title: International Master
  • US Chess Rating: 2511
  • Fide Rating: 2408
  • Achievement: 2014 National Chess Congress Co-Champion
  • Age: 18
This is Michael Bodek's third appearance at the U.S. Junior Closed, and he's been fairly successful in previous years, such as 2014 when he was the only player to defeat the eventual tournament winner, Kayden Troff. Bodek's greatest success was tying for first place at the 2014 National Chess Congress over grandmasters of the caliber of five-time U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky.

Aleksandr Ostrovskiy

Aleksander Ostrovskiy at the 2014 U.S. Junior Championship. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club. Aleksander Ostrovskiy at the 2014 U.S. Junior Championship. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club.
  • Title: International Master
  • US Chess Rating: 2494
  • Fide Rating: 2372
  • Achievements: Nine-time National Scholastic Champion and Liberty Bell Open Champion
  • Age: 19
Aleksander Ostrosky is no stranger to winning tournaments over grandmasters. At age 14, Ostrosky set the record as the youngest New York State Champion. Last year, Ostrosky won his second NY State title. Recently, he tied for first place at the Liberty Bell Open.

The Youngsters

Although Liang and Checa are the two youngest players in the tournament, they are fierce competitors with a list of impressive accomplishments for any age.

Awonder Liang

awonder liang (1)
  • Title: International Master
  • US Chess Rating: 2508
  • Fide Rating: 2430
  • Achievements: #1 in the world for players age 13, World Youth Champion in 2013 (Under-10) and in 2012 (Under-8)
  • Age: 13
Awonder, the youngest competitor in this year's championship, is known for resetting national records. At age eight, he became the youngest U.S. expert and the youngest player to defeat an International Master, a record previously held by Fabiano Caruana. At age nine, he became the youngest U.S. Master in history and the youngest player to defeat a grandmaster worldwide. Last year, at age twelve, he became the youngest International Master in American history Awonder has also won the World Youth Championships twice: the Under-10 in 2013 and the Under-8 in 2011. Recently, Awonder earned his first GM Norm at the Continental Championships.

Nicolas Checa

On the right: Nicolas Checa, 3rd place finisher at last year's U.S. Cadet Championship On the right: Nicolas Checa, 3rd place finisher at last year's U.S. Cadet Championship
  • Title: International Master-Elect
  • US Chess Rating: 2484
  • Fide Rating: 2380
  • Achievement: Youngest New York State Champion in history
  • Age: 14
This is Nicolas Checa's first appearance at the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. Last year, Checa finished third at the U.S. Cadet Championship. Checa recently earned his final IM Norm  at this year's World Open. In addition, he's the youngest New York State Champion in history, winning the title at age eleven. In 2012, he became the National Under-12 Champion in the US Chess/ Invitational Championship. Look out for updates throughout the event on the US Chess Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! For more information on the U.S. Junior Championship, visit the Official Website. The U.S. Junior Closed runs from July 8-17. Rounds are everyday at 1 p.m. CST, except for the final round which is at 11 a.m. 

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