The US Junior Closed Championship Part 2… FINALLY!
It might have seemed like I died and fell off the planet of blogging… but! It has just been a crazy, but awesome summer for me. I realize the US Junior was back in June, but it really has been that crazy of a summer. As I mentioned in my last blog (http://blog.chess.com/KaydenTroff/the-2011-us-junior-closed-championship) my August was busy. (My last blog also has details about the tournament, details on the first two games, and the actual second round game I recommend reading if you haven’t yet before reading this one).
I will go straight into my third game against IM Daniel Naroditsky. I was White so I knew he probably had prepared something against the Four-Pawns Attack since he plays the Kings-Indian Defense. But he had played another of my coach’s (Melik Khachiyan) students in the FPA and lost so it seemed like it could be a good idea.
Unlike my previous two rounds, he played what I expected (the KID). However, on move 5 he played a really weird move (Bg4). The peril of the FPA is that Black has so many sidelines that are playable, and it can make it quite dangerous for White if he doesn’t know what he is doing (that is according to my Opening coach Sam Shankland and I tend to agree with that). I have seen a lot of weird sidelines in the FPA, but unfortunately I hadn’t seen this one. Despite this, optimism seemed to populate in my brain. I moved my Queen out (since he was threatening it I figured that was a pretty good idea) and I was attacking his b-pawn which seemed logical. He moved his Knight out not protecting his pawn which I expected and Bishop out seemed forced. He then pushed his pawn which I had considered but had not deeply looked at. Now I looked at it for a while and took his b-pawn with my Queen. He took my d-pawn and I brought my Knight up (and it all seemed pretty much forced) and he Castled. This was about the point I realized how optimistic taking his b-pawn was. After that my position fell apart, I tried the creative idea of castling Queen-side later. But I eventually resigned with my King on d5. An unfortunate game, but I decided to go talk it over with my coaches and start working hard for my next game.
My next opponent was FM Warren Harper as Black. I was a little unsure about what he was going to play in the opening. I looked at a lot of different lines with my coaches and by myself for a good while. It came time for the game and he played something strange. He told me later that he played it going off of a game Topalov-Kamsky had played in the Candidate matches. He said he liked the way I played the opening, but I spent a lot of time and ended up in a passive position. He pushed his h-pawn and instead of taking eventually he pushed it to make my position a little more passive. After that I started to get a little better and close to equalizing. We were starting to get low on time and it was getting slightly complicated and he pushed this pawn. I thought about it and I had two options take it and sacrifice my Bishop or take his Knight with check and then move my Queen back. I chose the first one which wasn’t the better one. I thought I might have had some counter-play for the sacrifice, but I didn’t have as much as I might have thought. We played on and there was one point I thought he might have messed up and I was still worse but maybe not as much after this combination. But in time trouble I took with my Knight instead of my Queen and that gave him the option of pinning it instead of being forced to take and go into the line. After that I tried some things, but I thought he played well and I lost.
Another loss, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed because I didn’t play badly. To me, it is not a matter of playing win or lose (even though I prefer winning) but whether or not I played well.
Next game I was playing FM Victor Shen as White. The only time I had ever remembered seeing Victor was at the World Open in 2010 which he did very well in. I was interested in how this game would go. This game got out of my prep pretty quickly, but it was a Queen’s Indian Defense line that I knew. However, I did spend some time making sure that I remembered it right. I got a good position and started to reposition my Knight. We both pushed some pawns on the Kingside and the Kingside got locked up. I then continued my Knight maneuvering, and he decided to maneuver his Knight as well. We got into a position where the Center and Kingside were locked up and I was figuring how to make my approach onto the Queenside. I ended up finding this pawn push that I just liked and the more I looked at it the more I liked it. I just love those moments! I played it and it just seemed hard for him to stop me without making it bad for him and I was going to control the Queenside. I ended up establishing a pawn on b5 which really undermined his backward pawn on c7 especially with my Rook having control of the c-file. It got into a tight position, where I was clearly better but it was hard to progress that to a win. The sad thing was I was on the brink of winning, but my only chance was a sacrifice that I considered, but didn’t play. I continued on and had this plan that I thought looked good, but in the middle of it we started getting low on time and he made a move that looked like he might have dropped a pawn, so I moved my Knight up threatening his pawn. And then I remembered this tactic possibility that I had seen earlier that I was now open for. I just sat there hoping he wouldn’t see it, and he got down to like 40 seconds, but he eventually saw it. After that I was losing and I went on to lose the game. This game was saddening, because I had played it really well before my time-trouble blunder. It is always sad to lose a game you were better for almost the entire game except the end. Victor even admitted that I was better and deserved that game.
Sixth round, I was playing NM Gregory Young who was tied for first at this point. I felt good about my prep and I looked at the line a lot. But of course (like pretty much all my other games) he played something contradicting the games I had seen him play in the line before. This line of the Sozin Najdorf I had seen before, but wasn’t entirely 100% about it. I played a line and actually ended up feeling like I had a good position. He traded my Knight for his Bishop which stacked my pawns, but I thought it was okay for me. My biggest problem is I had a hard time finding a plan. So I just tried to develop my pieces and wait for him to give me something to build on. I kicked one of his Knights back and he eventually moved it back, but that gave me a weak pawn to focus on. I started to reposition my Rook to help the pressure on his pawn, but I had to be careful with my King since I hadn’t castled. I pinned his pawn to try and prevent him from pushing his pawn to attack my King. Then he moved his Knight up threatening my Bishop, but also giving me the choice of taking it. My first impression was that I needed to be careful because sacrificing the Knight like this is actually a common idea in the Sozin Najdorf. I looked at it and decided I probably shouldn’t take it… but then I have to decide what else I can do. I figured it out that if I just move my Bishop back then if he takes my pawn I have this really nice move to hold onto a draw. That line I looked at afterwards (because he didn’t play it in the game) with Aviv Freeman and Ben Finegold and we couldn’t find a win for White. Instead, he went back with his Knight also. I probably should have went back and seen if he would have repeated moves. Instead, I moved my Bishop somewhere else just misunderstanding his chances after he pushed his pawn and ended up sacrificing a pawn. He ended up having a good attack, but I thought I found some good defensive moves. We ended up in an endgame where I was down two pawns, but I was going to win one back. I did end up winning one of the pawns back, but he found a really good plan to kind of attack my King. He got two passed pawns and I wasn’t able to stop them both and lost. It was disappointing to lose 4 in a row and play good games. But hey, get back up and go play a good game no matter how disappointing your results.
My next opponent was FM John Daniel Bryant as White. Finally someone actually goes into my prep! But of course since he couldn’t be exact, he played a different move order than I expected in the Benoni. Since it was different, I adopted some of the ideas from the Four Pawn Attack and I ended up liking my position. We got into a position where I had substantiated a Knight on e4 with my Rook and Bishop. I thought he would move his Queen away because I was threatening to take his pawn with a Discovery. I looked at it and he had some tricks but I thought I could hold on. I took his pawn threatening his Queen and he moved his Knight up threatening my Queen by threatening to fork it. And I moved my Knight back to protect the fork. We played on for a while and he offered a trade of light-squared Bishops and I took his Bishop. After the game looking at it I noticed (with the computer) that I had a better move that gave me a decisive advantage, which was unfortunate to miss. After that I made a not so great move and my position all the sudden fell apart. After that I quickly lost.
The bad thing is I had done something similar in the tournament before in the same round (the seventh) where I just made a really bad move. But I had to pick myself up and get ready for the next game; because I was playing NM Jialin Ding who (unlike everyone else there) I was actually higher rated than.
This game I was really glad I was playing Jialin closer to the end of the tournament because he didn’t have any games in chessbase that I could study, but I could study his games from the previous rounds. This game he went straight into my prep--no weird sidelines, no different move orders, just my prep! He came up with a very interesting plan, that I liked, disliked, and wasn’t sure about all at the same time. We both ended up spending a lot of time in the middlegame, because it was hard to find a plan to try and keep a lot of pressure on him. I liked my pieces and eventually a file opened up. I thought I had control of the file because my really nice Bishop controlled the square were his Rooks would go to fight for the file. Then he found a good idea to trade Bishops which drops a pawn, but my dark-squares ended up killing me. I found an idea though (because I was very stubborn about giving up my Bishop) to sacrifice my Rook for a Bishop and pawn which was doubly interesting because we both were low on time. The idea was actually good, but after that I made an inaccuracy by taking his pawn with my Knight instead of my Bishop. He moved and then I realized the move I was planning on isn’t good. I thought I was lost for a while, but then I found a move which put me in a worse position, but not losing! We played on for a while and I found this pawn-sacrifice that I think was a good idea, because even if it wasn’t the best in time-trouble putting up complications can be a good idea. He took the pawn-sacrifice and I thought that I was equalizing or winning now. It seemed I was winning back the exchange or the more tricky line won a piece. He pushed his pawn which looked good except after I took his Knight with check, his King runs into problems finding a good square to go to. He wasn’t getting mated, but he was going to have to give me his pawn that was one-square from Queening for free, because I had a discovered check to win it. I ended up with an extra pawn and two Bishops for a Rook and he resigned shortly after.
It felt good to play a good game and actually win! Next game and the last game was against IM Conrad Holt and I was so glad I was White. I’ve seen Conrad Holt play some crushing games when he was White! At this point Conrad Holt was in 2nd place and had won four games in a row. I knew this was going to be a tough game White or not!!
He went into my prep, but played the line I least expected, I kept playing and he pushed f4 which I wasn’t quite sure about. I castled, then he took my pawn and I took back with my Bishop. I was feeling good about my position-- my Bishops looked good and so did my Queen. He brought his Queen to c7 and I thought he might want to trade his Knight for my Bishop which I didn’t like, so I brought my Queen out protecting my Bishop from being traded and improving my Queen. He moved his other Knight out and I started to think. Now it might not have been the correct plan, but I wanted to trade my Knight for his Knight. The thing I didn’t like is that his other Knight could take the place of the other one as soon as I traded threatening my Queen. I just thought it was annoying not that he was threatening my Queen, but the move in general. I played a waiting move and I moved my Bishop back one square. That way if he brought his Knight forward I could carry on with my plan and he wouldn’t be able to threaten my Queen. The only problem was he had this good move and he played it. He brought his Queen out threatening to trade Queens. I didn’t like my position after trading Queens, and if I didn’t do that I had to just move my Queen back. I decided that was a better option though than trading Queens. We continued on and he moved his Knight out, I traded Knights, he threatened my Queen with his Rook, and I put my Queen on the file of his King threatening to bring my Bishop up with mating threats. He moved his King over and I thought for a long time. I wasn’t sure what to do because his next move he would bring his Knight in front of my isolated pawn having complete control of the square in front of my pawn which would just give me a slightly worse position without me being able to do much. Like I said, I thought for a long time and finally decided to sacrifice my isolated pawn. Because I had the two Bishops I was looking for compensation to attack his King. We played on a few moves; he played it well and I played well too, but we both started to get low on time. He was better, but he made an inaccuracy and let me get my other Rook into the game. We played on for a while and we got into an interesting position with us both low on time. I thought for a little bit, moved my Queen up threatening his Rook, but hanging my Bishop. We thought after he took my Bishop it was repetition (maybe he could have stopped it), but even though he didn’t want a draw it was probably his best option. He instead moved his Rook over and I just protected my Bishop. He was still up a pawn, but my compensation had increased probably making equal or I was now better. He kicked my Queen back with his Bishop, but then he started having problems with the h2-g8 diagonal because of threats of me pinning his Queen. He got down to 5 seconds and made a mistake which I thought I might be winning now. The problem was I threatened to pin his Queen, but then I also had mating threats. We played on for a while both of us low on time. I got my pawn back and eventually an extra pawn. Then on move 39 he moved his Queen down hanging his Rook, but if I take it then he takes my Rook with check and then forks my King and Bishop. But I had a tricky move moving my Rook up threatening his Queen with my hanging Rook except if he takes it it’s not check and I can checkmate him. After that because of the mating threat and his hanging Rook I will go up a Rook and he resign.
It was awesome to win this game in such a nice way! Even though 5 losses in a row might be disappointing, it wasn’t a bad performance for me. I went in as 9th and ended up 8th. It was my first time ever playing at the Junior with amazing competition, I was the youngest one there, and I loved the opportunity to be there.
Thanks to the organizers and the commentators! It was a great experience! Also congrats to Gregory Young who went on to win it 7.5 out of 9.
Next up: 1st Metropolitan International—FIDE Master Title!!!
Here is my game with Conrad Holt: