World Junior Champ Xiong Qualifies For Speed Chess Champs
The reigning world junior champion, Jeffery Xiong, was the unlikely winner of Chess.com's third Speed Chess Championship qualifier. How could such a noted talent be an unlikely winner? First, he was seeded 25 in the 166 player event, but second, he lost his first game! Normally, such a misstep is death in the short and cutthroat tournament that is Titled Tuesday, but Xiong rallied, scoring a remarkable 8.5/9 in the remaining rounds, taking clear first and the qualification spot.
This is a big speed chess achievement for Xiong, who is a regular Titled Tuesday competitor but never a previous winner. He will now get a shot at either Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Sergey Karjakin, or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave depending on seeding at the end of April when the four qualifiers will be allowed to choose their opponent from the aforementioned four based on their Chess.com blitz rating. The highest rating chooses first. (GMs Georg Meier and Sergey Grigoriants are the other two qualifiers. The final qualifier spot is up for grabs next Tuesday.)
Although things eventually got out of control in Xiong's Swiss-gambit opener, things initially looked promising as he wielded a strong bishop pair.
Xiong won his next four games with relative comfort before facing GM Zviad Izoria who surrendered a piece when his knight got into trouble on the queenside. As it turns out, a very pretty defense could have saved the stallion.
Everything hinged on the final two rounds. Xiong's games were not always clean, but in the midst of much complications and mud-slinging, he consistently came out cleaner than his opponent. His round-nine game had IMs Danny Rensch and Anna Rudolf enthralled as he played then-leader IndianLad. In the previous round, IndianLad had taken a quick draw from a superior position as White. As the commentators predicted, such bad karma was likely to catch up.
In the final round, Xiong had a half-point lead, a win would clinch first, and only a draw was needed to secure a playoff. Both seemed out of reach almost immediately as Xiong confused his opening moves against GM Jose Ibarra Jerez.
With that draw, only GM Eduardo Iturrizaga could catch Xiong and force a playoff, but he was playing the two-seed GM Darius Swiercz. He ended up on the wrong side of a King's-Indian-style attack and had to relinquish a piece and then the game.
Swiercz has performed well in each qualifier; will he grab a spot next week?
While Xiong was securing his qualification spot, two other champions produced memorable moments in the tournament. Hikaru Nakamura, recent claimant of the Zurich Chess Challenge triple crown, also started the tournament with a loss. His was against FM Andrii Punin in a minor-piece pawn-race.
Nakamura recovered with a creative attack against GM Alexandra Kosteniuk.
Our second memorable champion moment game from new U.S. women's champion, Sabina Foisor. She finished with 6/9, a strong score which matched reigning the Russian champion Kosteniuk's final tally. On move 47 of her round-nine game, Foisor reached the famous Troitsky endgame of two knights against a pawn.
U.S. Women's Champion Sabina Foisor with her fiancée, GM Elshan Moradiabadi.
Two knights can never mate a lone king, but the presence of a pawn can doom the defending side. The pawn can be blockaded by one knight, while the king and the other knight herd the defending king into the corner. At the last moment, the second knight is brought over to mate the king who would be stalemated were it not for the just-released pawn. It is also important to blockade the pawn as far back as possible, behind the "Troitsky line." In Foisor's case, the b-pawn should be one square too far forward, granting her opponent a draw with best play.
Want to give this endgame a go? You can test yourself in Chess.com/Drills.
Foisor executed this incredible strategy (possibly with some compliant play from her opponent near the end), but with mate in two moves pending, her opponent claimed a 50-move rule draw. Had her opponent made the only legal move 102...b4, he would have reset the count and not had a valid 50-move claim on the next turn. One of the peculiarities of this endgame is that even with perfect play, the attacking side may need more than 50 moves to mate.
Final Standings (Seven Points And Above)
|2||11||GM||jcibarra||José Carlos Ibarra Jerez||8|
|4||15||GM||Sebastian||Leinier Dominguez Perez||8|
|6||14||IM||JoachimBN||Joachim B Nilsen||8|
|8||21||GM||iturrizaga||Edwardo Bonelli Iturrizaga||7.5|
|18||45||GM||BogdanDeac||Bogdan Daniel Deac||7|
Full tournament results are available here.
Missed the live event? Watch the replay in full with commentary from IM Danny Rensch and Anna Rudolf!
Xiong won $500 for his solo victory; GMs Ibarra Jerez, Leinier Dominguez Perez, Swiercz, and IMs Vladimir Seliverstov and Joachim Nilsen each won $180 for shared second. The $100 streamer prize went to fan-favorite GM Matej Sebenik (AKA Raphael) of the Grandmaster Stream Team.