The 15-year-old American becomes the second-youngest champion in the history of the championship.
Jeffery Xiong, a 15-year-old grandmaster from the United States, has won the 2016 World Junior Championship. The 13-round competition, which is for players under 21 years old, ended Sunday in Bhubaneswar, India.
Xiong is the second youngest World Junior Champion ever after Joel Lautier of France, who was a few months younger when he won the title in 1988. Xiong is also the seventh American, and the first since Tal Shaked in 1997, to become champion.
With a score of 10.5 points, Xiong had already clinched the title before the final round began. He finished 1 point ahead of the silver medalist, and top seed, Vladislav Artemiev of Russia. Narayanan Sunilduth of India took the bronze on tie-breakers over Xu Yi of China.
I have always believed that in order to win a youth championship of any kind or to win a tournament with a massive score like the one that Xiong put up, a competitor has to both play very well and be a bit lucky. This was absolutely the case for Xiong. He played fantastic chess and also took full advantage of every good break that fell his way.
My favorite victory of Xiong’s from the tournament was his effort in Round 4 against Qingyu Yuan of China. Xiong, who had White, forced Qingyu to trade a bishop for knight, so that only Xiong retained his bishop pair. That did not seem to be very important as Xiong was behind in development and there were no open lines for Xiong’s bishops to exploit. But Xiong changed that quickly and made it look easy — before long, his bishops were ravaging the board.
Xiong, Jeffery vs. Qingyu Yuan
World Junior Ch. |Bhubaneswar, India |Round 4 |21 Aug 2016 |1-0
O-O5. a3!White grabs the bishop pair, hoping it will count in the long run. 5... Bxc3
( 5... Be76. e4Is much better for white ... )
6. Qxc3d67. e3e58. Be2a5?!Too slow
( 8... e4The computer insists that this would have been a better move, with the follow-up being Bg4. While I do think this is better than what Black played, White should not be worse. 9. Nd4c510. Nb3Bg411. f3!exf312. gxf3!The engine prefers Black, but to a human it looks very dangerous. White has a big center and the half open g-file on which to operate. )
9. b3b610. Bb2Bb711. d3White is a little better because he has the bishop pair. But the bishops are not yet doing anything special and Black's pieces are well placed. I think it is very impressive, therefore, how quickly Xiong carves Black up. 11... Nbd712. O-OQe713. Rfe1Rfe814. Rac1d5?This is a mistake, and Xiong is quick to pounce.
( 14... Nc5was better. White is a bit more comfortable, but the game would continue. )
15. d4!e416. Ne5!The center has come under siege. 16... Rec817. c5!Another very strong move. White shuts down Black's light-squared bishop and forces Black to create a deficient pawn structure. 17... c6
( 17... bxc5The engine's recommendation, which was no better. 18. Nxd7Qxd719. dxc5Black has a better pawn structure than in the game, but Black has enormous dangers to deal with along the a1-h8 diagonal. )
18. cxb6Nxb619. a4!Simple and strong. White fixes a Black's weakness on a5. 19... Rc720. Qd2!Another excellent move. White will follow-up with Bc3 and the pawn on a5 will fall. 20... Ne821. Bc3f622. Bxa5The rest is easy for Xiong and requires no comment. 22... Rxa523. Qxa5Nc824. Nxc6Rxc625. Rxc6Bxc626. Rc1Bb727. b4Ncd628. Qc5Kf729. a5Nc430. Rxc4dxc431. Bxc4+Kf832. a6Ba833. b5Nd634. b6g635. Bd5Bxd536. Qxd5Kg737. a7Nf538. a8=QQb439. Qdg8+Kh640. Qaf8+
That victory moved Xiong into a tie for first with 3.5 points. He then separated himself from the field in the middle of the tournament with victories against two of the top Indian players. This is where some of the aforementioned luck came into play. In one game, his opponent made a simple blunder; in the other, his opponent made a bad decision as each player was waging an all-out attack against the other’s king. That mistake allowed Xiong’s attack to come first.
World Junior Championship official site
Jeffery Xiong, left, vs. Chithambaram Aravindh, in Round 8.
Karthikeyan, Murali vs. Xiong, Jeffery
World Junior Ch. |Bhubaneswar, India |Round 7 |21 Aug 2016 |0-1
Qa6The position looks pretty balanced to me, as Black's pieces are active enough to compensate for the weakness of his pawn on d6. But the game ends in a hurry. 18. b3??Not the best move I have ever seen. I wonder what White missed?
( 18. Bd2!With b3 to follow, after which White might even be a bit better. )
18... Bxb3And White has lost a vital pawn because of a simple pin. 19. Rf1
( 19. axb3Qxa1Black's
queen is not even close to getting trapped )
19... Rac8White could almost resign as he must lose more material. 20. Bd2Be621. Rac1Nc422. Qe2Nxd223. Qxd2Qa524. Nb1Qxd225. Nxd2Bxa226. e5Bxe527. Bxb7Rxc128. Rxc1Rb829. Ba6Bd430. Bc4Rb231. Ne4d532. Bxa2dxe433. Bd5Rxf234. Kh1e335. Bc4Be5
World Junior Ch. |Bhubaneswar, India |Round 8 |21 Aug 2016 |1-0
24. f4exf4??I am unsure in which universe Black thought it would be a good idea to open the g-file, but this was clearly a bad idea.
( 24... cxd3Was simple and very good for Black. 25. fxg5dxc226. gxf6Bb1If you compare this position to what happened in the game, the g-file is closed and White can basically resign. He could improve his position, but no matter what he did, absent a blunder by Black, White would have been losing. 27. Bg7+Kg828. b3Qxb329. f7+Kxg7 )
25. gxf4cxd326. fxg5dxc227. gxf6Bb128. Bg7+Kg829. b3!Now Black's
attack is under control and White is preparing Rg1. 29... Nc5Desperation
( 29... Qxb330. f7+Kxg731. Rhg1+And the open g-file means Black will be checkmated. )
Those victories gave Xiong the lead and it became his tournament to lose, which also put the pressure squarely on his back. That makes his victory over Paulo Bersamina of the Philippines in the penultimate round, which clinched the title, all the more impressive. In this case, there was no luck at all; he just played better chess.
Bersamina, Paulo vs. Xiong, Jeffery
World Junior Ch. |Bhubaneswar, India |Round 12 |21 Aug 2016 |0-1
Bg77. Bc4?!A strange continuation in a really unambitious opening. Though Xiong has Black, he already has a promising position. 7... Na58. Be2Nf69. Qe1Nc610. Bc4Nd4!No draw for you!
( 10... Na5 )
( 11. Nxd4cxd412. Nd5Nxd5I would prefer Black, but this was a better continuation than what White played in the game. )
11... b5!?I like this move for its simplicity. There were other paths to an advantage, but this one gives White no counterplay.
( 11... Nxc212. Rb1White has threats of playing f5 and Ng5, though Black still has an edge. The move Black played in the game takes fewer risks and is less stressful. )
( 12... bxc4Is the computer's suggestion, but I think it does not provide as clear an advantage for Black as the continuation chosen in the game. 13. Nf3 )
13. Nxb5Qb6!14. a4a6!15. a5Qc616. Na3Nxe4White's knight is sidelined on a3 and Black has a big pawn center and a nice space advantage. The position is already quite difficult for White to play. 17. d3Nf618. Nb1Trying to do
something about the knight, but it's painfully slow 18... d519. Bb3Qc520. Re1Ng4!Black will play Ne3 next, after which White's position is already critical. 21. Re2Ne322. h3?
( 22. Nd2Would have been a better move, but White would still be in big trouble. 22... O-O23. Nf1Nf5 )
22... O-O23. Qe1Rab8!Simple and strong. Black activate another piece. Since White cannot take on e3 without losing too much material, he is hopelessly lost. 24. Ra3Rfc825. Kh1Bf5!And the threat of Bxd3 forces White to take on e3, after which the rest of the game is easy for Black, even if it does take another 50 moves to score the point. 26. Bxe3
( 26. Bd2This stops Bxd3, but blocks the rook on e2, which is also hopeless for White.. 26... Nxc2 )
Vladislav Artemiev of Russia during the last round.
Artemiev won the silver with a fine technical effort in the final round. The players were clearly very tired after such a long tournament and it made have contributed to a critical mistake by Artemiev’s opponent, Chithambaram Aravindh of India.
Artemiev, Vladislav vs. Aravindh, Chithambaram VR
World Junior Ch. |Bhubaneswar, India |Round 13 |21 Aug 2016 |1-0
43. Nf4Nd3?Late into a long game, Black slips
( 43... Ne4!Would have given Black very decent chances to draw )
44. Rf5+!It's important to play this check first.
( 44. Ng2?Rd1+45. Kh2Rd246. Rf5+Ke6!And Black is fine since the pawn on h4 cannot be taken. )
( 44... Ke745. Ng2Rd1+46. Rf1! )
45. Ng2!And the pawn on h4 falls. Now White will win. 45... Nc1
( 45... Rd1+46. Rf1!The key reason White needed to play check before playing Ng2. )
For several years, I have felt that the World Junior Championship is outdated (which is one of the reasons I never played in it, despite qualifying three times), and that it should only be for players under 18. Unlike in 1951, when the tournament was first played, today’s top players under 21 very often are already among the top players in the world, and so every year several eligible players who are rated over 2700 simply skip the event.
Nevertheless, the winners of the World Junior Championship in recent years — a list that includes Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France (2009), Dmitry Andreikin of Russia (2010) and Yu Yangyi off China (2013) — were either amongst the world’s best when they won the tournament, or on their way to joining that elite company. And Xiong’s victory was achieved in a strong open tournament with many strong grandmasters.
It seems that Xiong has a very bright future ahead of him.
After his victory last month in the United States Junior Championship, I wrote in a “Game of the Day” feature on this site that I thought he was not yet strong enough to play on the United States national team. But if he posts one or two more results like he just did, I will be delighted to eat my words.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 5 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
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