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-O 5. a3! White grabs the bishop pair, hoping it will count in the long run.
5... Bxc3
5... Be7 6. e4 Is much better for white
...   )
6. Qxc3 d6 7. e3 e5 8. Be2 a5?! Too slow
8... e4 The 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. Nd4 c5 10. Nb3 Bg4 11. f3! exf3 12. 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. b3 b6 10. Bb2 Bb7 11. d3 White 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... Nbd7 12. O-O Qe7 13. Rfe1 Rfe8 14. Rac1 d5? This is a mistake, and Xiong is quick to pounce.
14... Nc5 was better. White is a bit more comfortable, but the game would continue.  )
15. d4! e4 16. Ne5! The center has come under siege.
16... Rec8 17. 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... bxc5 The engine's recommendation, which was no better.
18. Nxd7 Qxd7 19. dxc5 Black has a better pawn structure than in the game, but Black has enormous dangers to deal with along the a1-h8 diagonal.  )
18. cxb6 Nxb6 19. a4! Simple and strong. White fixes a Black's weakness on a5.
19... Rc7 20. Qd2! Another excellent move. White will follow-up with Bc3 and the pawn on a5 will fall.
20... Ne8 21. Bc3 f6 22. Bxa5 The rest is easy for Xiong and requires no comment.
22... Rxa5 23. Qxa5 Nc8 24. Nxc6 Rxc6 25. Rxc6 Bxc6 26. Rc1 Bb7 27. b4 Ncd6 28. Qc5 Kf7 29. a5 Nc4 30. Rxc4 dxc4 31. Bxc4+ Kf8 32. a6 Ba8 33. b5 Nd6 34. b6 g6 35. Bd5 Bxd5 36. Qxd5 Kg7 37. a7 Nf5 38. a8=Q Qb4 39. Qdg8+ Kh6 40. 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. 

Karthikeyan, Murali vs. Xiong, Jeffery
World Junior Ch. | Bhubaneswar, India | Round 7 | 21 Aug 2016 | 0-1
Qa6 The 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... Bxb3 And White has lost a vital pawn because of a simple pin.
19. Rf1
19. axb3 Qxa1 Black's queen is not even close to getting trapped  )
19... Rac8 White could almost resign as he must lose more material.
20. Bd2 Be6 21. Rac1 Nc4 22. Qe2 Nxd2 23. Qxd2 Qa5 24. Nb1 Qxd2 25. Nxd2 Bxa2 26. e5 Bxe5 27. Bxb7 Rxc1 28. Rxc1 Rb8 29. Ba6 Bd4 30. Bc4 Rb2 31. Ne4 d5 32. Bxa2 dxe4 33. Bd5 Rxf2 34. Kh1 e3 35. Bc4 Be5
Xiong, Jeffery vs. Aravindh, Chithambaram VR
World Junior Ch. | Bhubaneswar, India | Round 8 | 21 Aug 2016 | 1-0
24. f4 exf4?? 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... cxd3 Was simple and very good for Black.
25. fxg5 dxc2 26. gxf6 Bb1 If 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+ Kg8 28. b3 Qxb3 29. f7+ Kxg7  )
25. gxf4 cxd3 26. fxg5 dxc2 27. gxf6 Bb1 28. Bg7+ Kg8 29. b3! Now Black's attack is under control and White is preparing Rg1.
29... Nc5 Desperation
29... Qxb3 30. f7+ Kxg7 31. Rhg1+ And the open g-file means Black will be checkmated.  )
30. Nxc5! a4 31. Kb2! axb3 32. Nxb3 c1=Q+ 33. Nxc1 Bxe4 34. Rhg1 Ra5 35. Rg5 c5 36. Rfg1 c4 37. Qxb4 c3+ 38. Qxc3 Rb8+ 39. Nb3 Rxg5 40. Rxg5 Bd5 41. Bh6+ Kh8 42. Rxd5 Rxb3+ 43. Qxb3

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
Bg7 7. Bc4?! A strange continuation in a really unambitious opening. Though Xiong has Black, he already has a promising position.
7... Na5 8. Be2 Nf6 9. Qe1 Nc6 10. Bc4 Nd4! No draw for you!
10... Na5  )
11. Qh4
11. Nxd4 cxd4 12. Nd5 Nxd5 I 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... Nxc2 12. Rb1 White 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. Nxd4 cxd4!
12... bxc4 Is 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. Nxb5 Qb6! 14. a4 a6! 15. a5 Qc6 16. Na3 Nxe4 White'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. d3 Nf6 18. Nb1 Trying to do something about the knight, but it's painfully slow
18... d5 19. Bb3 Qc5 20. Re1 Ng4! Black will play Ne3 next, after which White's position is already critical.
21. Re2 Ne3 22. h3?
22. Nd2 Would have been a better move, but White would still be in big trouble.
22... O-O 23. Nf1 Nf5  )
22... O-O 23. Qe1 Rab8! Simple and strong. Black activate another piece. Since White cannot take on e3 without losing too much material, he is hopelessly lost.
24. Ra3 Rfc8 25. Kh1 Bf5! 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. Bd2 This stops Bxd3, but blocks the rook on e2, which is also hopeless for White..
26... Nxc2  )
26... dxe3 27. Rxe3 Bxb2 28. Ra2 Bd4 29. Rf3 h5 30. Nd2 Bc3 31. Qf2 e6 32. Qxc5 Rxc5 33. Nf1 Rxa5 34. Rxa5 Bxa5 35. Kh2 Bc3 36. g3 a5 37. Ne3 Rb4 38. g4 hxg4 39. hxg4 Bxd3 40. Ng2 a4 41. Bxa4 Be4 42. Rxc3 Rxa4 43. Ne1 Ra1 44. Re3 Rc1 45. Re2 Kf8 46. Kg3 Ke7 47. g5 Kd6 48. Kf2 Bf5 49. Nd3 Rh1 50. Ne5 Rh2+ 51. Ke3 d4+ 52. Kd2 Rxe2+ 53. Kxe2 Kd5 54. Kd2 Ke4 55. Nxf7 Kxf4 56. c3 d3 57. Nd6 e5 58. Nc4 e4 59. Ne3 Kxg5 60. Ke1 Bg4 61. Nd5 Kf5 62. Kd2 Ke5 63. Ne7 g5 64. Ke3 Bf3 65. c4 g4 66. Ng6+ Kd6 67. Nh4 Kc5 68. Nf5 Kxc4 69. Kd2 Kd5 70. Ke3 Ke6 71. Ng3 Ke5 72. Nf1 Kf5 73. Ng3+ Kg5 74. Nf1 Kh4 75. Kf2 Kh3 76. Ke3 g3 77. Nd2 g2 78. Kf2

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. Nf4 Nd3? 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. Kh2 Rd2 46. Rf5+ Ke6! And Black is fine since the pawn on h4 cannot be taken.  )
44... Kg7
44... Ke7 45. Ng2 Rd1+ 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.  )
46. Nxh4 Ne2+ 47. Kf2 Nc3+ 48. Kf3 Rd3+ 49. Kg2 Nd5 50. Rf3 Rd1 51. Kg3 Rg1+ 52. Kf2 Ra1 53. Nf5+ Kg6 54. Kg3 Rg1+ 55. Kh2 Ra1 56. Nh4+ Kg7 57. Rb3 Nf4 58. Nf3 Ra2+ 59. Kg3 Ne2+ 60. Kh4 Nf4 61. Rb7+ Kg6 62. Rb6+ Kg7 63. Rb4 Ng2+ 64. Kg3 Ne3 65. Rb7+ Kf6 66. g5+ Ke6 67. Rb6+ Ke7 68. Rb5 Kf7 69. Kf4 Ng2+ 70. Kg3 Ne3 71. h4 Nf1+ 72. Kh3 Ra3 73. Rf5+ Kg8 74. Rf4 Ne3 75. Kg3 Nd5 76. Rd4 Ne3 77. Re4 Kf7 78. h5 Nf5+ 79. Kf4 Ne7 80. Ne5+ Kg7 81. Rd4 Ra7 82. Kg4 Ra5 83. Nf3 Nf5 84. Rd7+ Kf8 85. h6 Kg8 86. Nh4 Ne3+ 87. Kh5 Ra7 88. h7+

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