Swindles and Surprises at the US Junior Champs

The new US Junior Champion, 14-year-old Awonder Liang. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club
For most of the tournament (rounds 2-8), GM Kayden Troff was the sole leader of US Juniors---at times even a full point ahead. However, in the last round, with the stakes and tensions high, everything changed. Mika Brattain's excellent opening preparation against Troff gave him a comfortable initiative, which he pressed to his first victory of the tournament.

Tactic #1

[pgn][Event "US Junior Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.07.17"]
[Round "?"]
[White  "Brattain, Mika"]
[Black "Troff, Kayden"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "D90"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4rr2/pp1qppbk/6pp/2pnP1B1/1n3N1Q/5N2/1P3PPP/3R1RK1 w - - 0 21"]
[PlyCount "6"]
[SourceDate "2017.07.17"]{With so many of his pieces in active positions on the kingside, Brattain
decided to break into Troff's position with} 21. e6 $5 Qd6 (21... Qc6 {was
essential to hold Black's position together.}) 22. exf7 Rxf7 23. Bxh6 $1 {In
high-level games, often the tactics are behind-the-scenes, affecting the
choices of both players but not played out over-the-board. What happens if
Troff plays} Bxh6 $4 *[/pgn]
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "US Junior Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.07.17"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Brattain, Mika"]
[Black "Troff, Kayden"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4r3/pp2prbk/3q2pB/2pn4/1n3N1Q/5N2/1P3PPP/3R1RK1 b - - 0 23"]
[PlyCount "10"]23... Bxh6 $4 ({In the game, Troff played the only move} 23... Kg8 {and
Brattain went on to win after:} 24. Bxg7 Rxg7 25. Nxd5 Nxd5 26. Rfe1 Rf8 27.
Re5 e6 28. Qe4 Rf6 29. Ng5 Re7 30. g3 Qc6 {A blunder, but Black's position is
very difficult to defend.} 31. Rexd5 {1-0}) 24. Ng5+ Kg7 25. Qxh6+ (25. Nfe6+ {
also wins convincingly.}) 25... Kxh6 26. Nxf7+ Kg7 27. Nxd6 exd6 28. Nxd5 {
leaves White a rook ahead.} 1-0[/pgn]
This unexpected result left a wide open opportunity for Awonder Liang to clinch the championship, without even needing a playoff---if he could win his game against the very solid IM Michael Brown. Liang was up for the challenge and played an excellent middlegame, full of both positional and tactical play.

Tactic #2

Awonder Liang vs. Michael Brown

Although Liang found a sufficient winning idea, he overlooked a fascinating tactical possibility in this position. Can you find it?
White to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "US Junior Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.07.17"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Liang, Awonder"]
[Black "Brown, Michael"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C66"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1r1qr3/2p3bk/1p4bp/pP1P1Npn/2P5/P3NRPP/1BQ4K/5R2 w - - 0 45"]
[PlyCount "19"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]45. Nxg7 $1 ({Liang went on to win with} 45. g4 Bxb2 46. gxh5 Be5+ 47. Kh1 Bxh5
48. Ne7+ Kg7 49. Nc6 Qd7 50. Nf5+ Kh8 51. Re3 Bf6 52. Nxb8 {Black's weakened
position simply collapses.} Rxb8 53. Re6 Rf8 54. Ng3 {1-0}) 45... Bxc2 46. Nxh5
{and White has too many threats against Black's open king. One sample
variation is} Bg6 47. Nf6+ Kh8 48. Nxe8+ Kh7 49. Rf7+ Bxf7 50. Rxf7+ Kg8 51.
Rg7+ Kf8 52. Nxc7 Qd6 53. Ne6+ Ke8 54. Ng4 1-0


US Junior Girls

The 2017 US Junior Girls Champion Akshita Gorti. Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

In the US Junior Girls Championship, Akshita Gorti virtually sealed the deal in round 7 when her victory against Bykovtsev gave her a 1.5 lead over the field---which she didn't relinquish for the rest of the tournament.

[pgn][Event "US Junior Girls Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.07.15"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Gorti, Akshita"]
[Black "Bykovtsev, Agata"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E71"]
[PlyCount "97"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3 O-O 6. Be3 e5 7. d5 a5 8. c5 Na6
9. cxd6 cxd6 10. Nf3 Bd7 11. Nd2 Nc5 12. Bxc5 dxc5 13. a4 Ne8 14. Bb5 Bc8 15.
Bxe8 Rxe8 16. O-O f5 17. Nc4 f4 18. d6 Be6 19. Nd5 Qg5 20. Ra3 Rf8 21. Ndb6
Rad8 22. Kh1 Rf7 23. f3 Bf8 24. Rd3 Qh5 25. Qd2 Bg7 26. b3 g5 27. Kg1 Qg6 28.
Qxa5 Rdf8 29. d7 Rd8 30. Qxc5 Bxc4 31. Nxc4 Bf8 32. Qc7 Qf6 33. Nxe5 Rg7 34.
Rfd1 h5 35. Rd5 g4 36. hxg4 h4 37. g5 Qxg5 38. Ng4 Qe7 39. Nh6+ Kh7 40. Nf5
Rxg2+ 41. Kxg2 Qg5+ 42. Kh2 h3 43. Rg1 Qf6 44. e5 Qxf5 45. Qxd8 Qc2+ 46. Kh1
Qf2 47. Qh4+ Qxh4 48. d8=Q Qf2 49. Rd7+ 1-0[/pgn]

Since Gorti had mathematically secured 1st in round 8, the last round was a battle for 2nd. A draw against Bykovtsev gave Maggie Feng 5.5 points. Meanwhile, in the last game to finish, Annie Wang needed a victory to tie for 2nd place with Feng. However, her opponent, Rachel Ulrich, managed to sneak away with a draw in a tricky two-pawn down queen ending.

Tactic #3

Rachel Ulrich vs. Annie Wang

White to move and draw.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "US Junior Girls Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.07.17"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Ulrich, Rachel"]
[Black "Wang, Annie"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/Q7/4p3/7p/4q1p1/5kP1/7K/8 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "2"]1. Qf2+ Kxf2 {Stalemate.} 1/2-1/2[/pgn]

For more information on the U.S. Junior Championship, visit the Official Website

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