Liang, Yoo Finish Top 8 in First Challengers Tour Event

Awonder Liang in the Polgar Challenge


American junior stars GM Awonder Liang and IM Christopher Yoo finished 7th and 8th place respectively in the first event of the $100,000 Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, a new series of next-generation junior tournaments organized by the World Champion’s Play Magnus Group.  

The Judit Polgar Challenge, named for the strongest female of all-time who also duals as mentor and commentator for the Challengers Tour, was a four-day online event beginning April 8 showcasing 20 of the world’s top emerging players aged 14-24. Featuring both males and females from 12 different countries, the junior all-play-all format saw five games per day using a rapid 10+5 time control. 

India’s 15-year-old phenom Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa ran away with the event, losing just twice and tallying 14 wins across 19 games; his 15.5 score was clear first by 1.5 points over four players in second place. Praggnanandha pocketed a $3,000 prize for his efforts, but perhaps more importantly secured a seat in the next event of the $1.5 million Champions Chess Tour, where he’ll face off against the likes of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, US Chess Champion Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura. 


Challengers Chess Tour Polgar Final Standings


The Americans’ 7-8 finish qualifies as more than just a strong appearance. The Polgar event was the first of four Challengers tournaments scheduled for 2021, and the top-8 performing players through those four events will be invited to a finale fifth knockout tournament with a $60,000 purse. In between, the junior players are scheduled to receive world-class training from coaching teams led by Polgar and her Challengers Tour co-host, former World Champion Vladmir Kramnik. 

Liang, who celebrated his 18th birthday on the second day of the Polgar Challenge, tallied 11 wins with 5 losses and finished clear seventh with a 12.5/19 score. The 14-year-old Yoo finished a half point behind, winning nine games and dropping four. Liang won the matchup between them, on a pivotal third day for both players. 

It was the youngster Yoo who was the early talk of the tournament, scoring 8/10 and remaining the only unbeaten player after two days of play. He closed that second day with three straight wins, including this game against China GM Lei Tingjie, which Yoo annotates. 

[pgn][Event "Polgar Challenge"] [Site ""] [Date "2021.04.09"] [Round "9.4"] [White "Yoo, Christopher Woojin"] [Black "Lei, Tingjie"] [Result "1-0"] [Annotator "Yoo,Christopher"] [BlackElo "2505"] [BlackTeam "China"] [BlackTeamCountry "CHN"] [ECO "D38"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteElo "2455"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] { [%evp 0,51,19,34,29,22,24,-14,6,6,33,16,4,9,3,45,-29,8,44,-19,41,21,62,66,78, 70,68,63,30,22,47,39,89,106,197,140,140,115,239,226,301,314,338,338,338,282, 338,338,566,856,856,892,29995,29996] } 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qb3 $5 { A rare move, which can quickly turn the game into a dynamic battle. } 5...c5 6.Bg5 Qa5 7.Bxf6 dxc4 8.Qxc4 gxf6 9.dxc5 Bd7 $6 { This move is a bit too artificial. } ( 9...e5 $5 { With the idea of Be6 would have been sufficient for equality. } 10.Rc1 Be6 11.Qh4 Nd7 $13 ) 10.Rc1 $1 { I do not have to ruin my pawn structure in case of Bxc3+. } ( 10.g3 Na6 11.Bg2 Qxc5 12.Qb3 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Bc6 $13 { White is not better due to his weak pawn on c3. } ) 10...Bxc5 11.e3 Nc6 12.Be2 { Black's weak king is why this position is much easier to play for White. } 12...Qb4 13.Qd3 $1 { It is important to keep the queens on the board for chances to attack. } 13...Ne5 14.Nxe5 fxe5 15.Bf3 { Preventing Black from taking the h1-a8 diagonal with Bc6. } 15...f5 { This move is the start of letting a big attack from White happen. } ( 15...Bc6 16.Bxc6+ bxc6 17.O-O $16 { Black's pawn structure is very weak, which is why White is much better. } ) 16.O-O e4 17.Bh5+ Ke7 18.Nd5+ $3 { After this move Black shouldn't even take! } 18...exd5 $6 { Black is completely losing after this move. } ( 18...Kd6 { Black has to go to a very sad endgame instead. } 19.Nxb4+ exd3 20.Nxd3 Bb6 21.Rfd1 $16 ) 19.Qxd5 Be6 20.Qe5 $1 ( 20.Qxc5+ Qxc5 21.Rxc5 Rhc8 { and there is no attack. } ) 20...b6 21.Qg7+ Kd6 22.Rfd1+ Kc6 23.Qe7 $1 { Giving the illusion that the queen is hanging, but thankfully not a blunder due to the pin of the bishop on c5. Black has no way to defend the bishop. } 23...Rac8 24.Qxe6+ Kb7 25.Rd7+ Ka8 26.Qd5+ { A nice attacking victory! } 1-0 [/pgn]

Yoo entered the third day just a half-game off the leader Praggnanandhaa’s pace, with a chance to leapfrog the Indian in their round 11 game. There he suffered his first loss of the tournament, however, setting an ominous mood for the day that saw him drop another game to Liang and tally just a 2/5 score, which included a forfeit win. 


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And while Yoo was slowing down, Liang was heating up. Beginning in round 7 on his birthday, Liang put together an impressive 9.5/10 run which included a perfect Day 3 with five wins, and the lone draw coming with the black pieces against Praggnanandhaa. The streak pushed him within a point of the leader, though scoring just a half point in his final three games settled Liang in seventh place. 

Yoo looked balanced again in his final day and was even able to play the role of spoiler, with an upset over Germany’s Vincent Keymer that knocked him from second to sixth place in the 19th and final round. Yoo annotates.

[pgn][Event "Polgar Challenge"] [Site ""] [Date "2021.04.11"] [Round "19.3"] [White "Keymer, Vincent"] [Black "Yoo, Christopher Woojin"] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "Yoo,Christopher"] [BlackElo "2455"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] [ECO "A50"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteElo "2591"] [WhiteTeam "Germany"] [WhiteTeamCountry "GER"] { [%evp 0,86,18,18,25,6,17,22,33,2,40,39,41,31,31,26,37,36,45,53,19,13,3,-16,57, 61,40,56,66,58,49,48,56,46,43,35,38,32,40,31,52,53,77,74,53,67,66,49,82,126, 110,67,53,60,106,58,55,25,43,19,33,7,0,0,45,57,43,-70,-29,-134,-65,-294,-308, -352,-140,-135,-127,-143,-132,-124,-130,-155,-165,-313,-344,-346,-368,-396, -277] } 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 b6 { Choosing a sideline, hoping for something not too theoretical. } 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.Qc2 d5 { This leads to a Grunfeld-like structure. } 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 { Rather than playing the traditional e6, I go for an interesting pawn sacrifice. } 7...e5 $5 8.dxe5 Nd7 9.Nf3 Qe7 { The idea is 0-0-0 followed by Nc5 with dynamic play. } 10.Bb5 O-O-O 11.O-O a6 { It was better to just take the pawn, but this move is also fine. } ( 11...Nxe5 { There was nothing wrong with simply taking the pawn. I was afraid of some Nd4 but it doesn't amount to anything for White. } 12.Nd4 Qh4 $1 { I underestimated this move. } 13.f3 ( 13.f4 Bc5 $1 14.fxe5 Rxd4 15.cxd4 Bxd4+ 16.Kh1 Bxe5 17.h3 Qg3 $19 { is a cool variation. } ) 13...Bd6 14.a4 a6 $13 ) 12.Bxd7+ ( 12.Bg5 $5 f6 13.Bxd7+ Rxd7 14.Bh4 $14 { was worth trying. } ) 12...Qxd7 13.Bg5 ( 13.Be3 { This move gives me more options, and could have been a bit more annoying. } 13...Qd3 14.Qb3 Qxe4 15.Qxf7 Ba3 16.Rad1 $14 { The position is quite complicated, but White is definitely pressing with his extra pawn. } ) 13...Be7 14.Rad1 Qe6 15.Bxe7 Qxe7 { Despite being down a pawn, White's bad pawn structure makes this about equal. } 16.Rd4 c5 { This move is ok, but there is a move I like better. } ( 16...g5 $1 { going for g4 and Qxe5. } 17.Qe2 g4 18.Nd2 h5 19.f4 gxf3 20.Nxf3 Rdg8 $13 ) 17.Rxd8+ ( 17.Rdd1 $5 { White has provoked c7-c5 and looks to exchange rooks to his conditions. } 17...Rxd1 18.Rxd1 Rd8 19.Rxd8+ Kxd8 20.Qd2+ Ke8 21.Qf4 $14 ) 17...Rxd8 18.h3 { This move doesn't seem to do much. It was better to start with a4. } ( 18.a4 $14 ) 18...h6 { making sure Ng5 is never possible. } 19.a4 Bc6 $6 { Now White can create some weaknesses. } ( 19...a5 { Stopping all a4-a5 ideas and paving the way for Ba6. } 20.Rb1 Qe6 21.Nd2 Ba6 $13 ) 20.Rb1 $1 b5 $6 ( 20...Kc7 { It is better to not commit to b5 until White plays a5. Black's position still looks fine. } 21.a5 b5 $13 ) 21.axb5 axb5 22.Ra1 { Now White has a nice advantage. } 22...Qb7 23.Re1 Qd7 24.Qa2 { Black's position is very problematic now. } 24...Kb8 25.Qa3 Qa7 26.Qc1 Qa2 27.Qf4 $2 { This natural move doesn't have a good follow up to it. } ( 27.Qe3 $1 Qc4 28.e6 $1 f6 29.e5 $1 f5 30.e7 $1 Re8 31.e6 $1 $16 { A very funny variation, though not forced from either side, they are pretty natural moves. } ) 27...Kb7 $1 { Getting out of e6+. } 28.Nh4 Qd2 $1 { This seemingly forces a Queen trade, but it was possible to avoid it! } 29.Qxd2 ( 29.Re3 $1 g5 30.Qxf7+ Rd7 31.e6 $3 { This brilliant idea makes Black play accurately to draw. } 31...Qd1+ 32.Kh2 Rxf7 33.exf7 Qd6+ 34.e5 Qf8 35.Nf5 Bd5 36.e6 Ka8 $1 { Getting out of Nd6+ and preparing to meet e7 with Qb8+ White has more tricks up his sleeve though. } 37.Nxh6 $1 Qxh6 38.Rd3 Qf6 39.Rxd5 Qf4+ 40.Kg1 Qc1+ 41.Kh2 Qf4+ $11 { A ridiculous variation, and most of the moves are only moves for both sides! } ) 29...Rxd2 30.Nf5 { This endgame should also be a draw though. Black's position is easier to play though. } 30...Kb6 { A good move, preparing to defend the pawn with Ka5 or Kb5 after b4. } 31.Nxg7 b4 32.cxb4 cxb4 33.Nf5 $2 ( 33.Rb1 $1 { White needs to prevent b4-b3 as long as possible. } 33...Ka5 34.f3 Ba4 35.e6 fxe6 36.Nxe6 b3 37.Nc5 b2 38.Kh2 Kb5 39.Nd3 Rxd3 40.Rxb2+ $11 ) 33...b3 34.Nd6 Bb5 35.Re3 Rd1+ 36.Kh2 b2 $2 ( 36...Bd3 $1 { This leads to a much better version of promoting. } 37.Rg3 b2 38.Rg8 Kc7 39.Rc8+ Kd7 40.Rb8 b1=Q 41.Rxb1 Rxb1 42.Nxf7 Ke6 43.Nxh6 Bxe4 $19 ) 37.Rb3 b1=Q 38.Rxb1 Rxb1 39.Nxf7 h5 40.g4 $2 { White finds himself in a potential mating net now. } ( 40.Kg3 { White should be able to hold this endgame. It is very chaotic. } 40...Kc5 41.Ng5 Bc6 42.f4 Kd4 43.Kh4 Bxe4 44.Kxh5 $11 ) 40...h4 $1 { Black just wins now. } 41.g5 Be2 42.Kg2 Rb3 43.f4 Bf3+ { A complicated game, where both sides had chances and I came out on top vs this strong GM! } 0-1 [/pgn]

Also appearing in the Challengers Tour is US Chess Junior Girls Champion IM Carissa Yip, though she took some lumps against the studded international field in the Polgar Challenge, scoring just 4/19 with three wins and finishing 18th. She was able to deliver a major strike in the battle of the sexes, however, convincingly thumping Indian GM Dommaraju Gukesh, who finished third place. 


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The trio of American juniors will appear in the next Challengers Tour event, the Boris Gelfand Challenge, scheduled for June 10-13. Praggnanandhaa will play in the next Champions Tour event beginning April 24. For more information, visit the official Challengers Tour and Champions Tour pages.