Junior Speed Chess Championship Semifinal: Maghsoodloo vs. Xiong
It's the final four of the Junior Speed Chess Championship.

Junior Speed Chess Championship Semifinal: Maghsoodloo vs. Xiong

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On Thursday, Parham Maghsoodloo of Iran plays Jeffery Xiong of the United States in the first semifinal of the Chess.com Junior Speed Chess Championship, sponsored by ChessKid

Thursday's match winner will play the winner of the other semifinal between Wei Yi and Alireza Firouzja, which is scheduled for July 28 at 8 a.m. PDT (17:00 CEST).

You can watch Parham Maghsoodloo vs. Jeffery Xiong on Thursday, July 18 at 9 a.m. Pacific (18:00 CEST), with expert commentary on Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/chess

Junior Speed Chess Championship Bracket

The 18-year-old Maghsoodloo (@Parhamov) was born in Gonbad-e Kavus (historically known as Gorgan), in the province of Golestan in the northeast of Iran. He started playing chess when he was nine, and earned both the IM and GM titles in 2016. '

Maghsoodloo won the Iranian championship in 2017. A year later he scored his first international successes, winning the Mumbai Open and then also the Sharjah Masters.

In what may be a preview of his preparation for Xiong, Maghsoodloo went away from the King's Indian attack in his quarterfinal match vs. Sarana after the first six games of the match miraculously ended in a win for the player with the black pieces. From there, he switched up to 1. e4 to challenge Sarana's Najdorf.

Will Maghsoodloo venture into uncharted waters against Xiong?

When asked whether this was strategic, Maghsoodloo conceded: "Okay, I think he was more prepared in the King's Indian attack and I was not ready. I also didn't check one game so I hoped to surprise him in the Najdorf."

Perhaps Maghsoodloo's dynamic nature will be what puts him over the top against a staunch challenge in the top-rated American junior player.

Maghsoodloo is typically able to find success in the faster time controls, including this beautiful example of timely opportunism:

In his quarterfinal match vs. Sarana, Maghsoodloo showed a deft touch in punishing a rare mistake by his opponent with accurate endgame execution.

Still, coming off a deceptively uncomfortable win vs. Sarana in the quarterfinal,Maghsoodloo will now face a stiffer test vs. Xiong in a match that will feature two world junior champions for the first time during the Junior Speed Chess Championship.

Xiong won the world junior title in 2016 while Maghsoodloo won it in 2018.

While he was able to avoid preparation by Sarana, Maghsoodloo recognizes the clear threat posed by the recently-2700 Xiong: "Jeffery has much better openings (than Gledura). I think it will be a very tough match." he said. 

Parham Maghsoodloo Junior Speed Chess Championship

Born in Plano, Texas, the 18-year-old Xiong (@jefferyx) is the third-youngest grandmaster in the U.S. after Junior Speed Chess contestants Awonder Liang and Sam Sevian, who were both eliminated in the round of 16.

Xiong is also the second-highest-rated junior player in the world, behind another contestant: Wei Yi of China.

In the quarterfinal, Xiong defeated Hungary's Benjamin Gledura, but it wasn't an easy victory. In a marathon match that required overtime, Xiong's stamina was the difference between two players known for their excellent preparation and positional prowess. Xiong also drew upon his ability to bounce back from a string of bad games.

The commentator Anish Giri took note of Xiong's perseverance, despite losing a few games in a row to allow Gledura back into the match:

"When you're happy, you produce a smile and when you produce a smile you get happy," said Giri, who was referencing Xiong's ability to take losses in stride towards the end of the match.

"I was just happy to play on in a very fun match," said Xiong.

In the game above, Xiong demonstrated a level of accuracy that has been unmatched so far in the Junior Speed Chess Championship.

At the start of this month, Xiong took his live rating beyond the 2700 mark at the World Open, where he tied for first with 7.5/9. Sitting at his peak rating of 2703, Xiong must now face the defending world junior champion and a player currently ranked fifth among all active bBlitz players on Chess.com.

Jeffery Xiong Junior Speed Chess Championship
Can Jeffery Xiong continue his success over Parham Maghsoodloo or will he finally succumb to the defending junior champion?

A key factor debated by fans is whether the amount of time between their grueling quarterfinal matches will play a role in the two players' performances during Thursday's match. Maghsoodloo was able to dispose of Sarana over the course of a normal match on July 11, while Xiong just completed his nail-biting overtime win over Gledura on Tuesday, July 16.

One important thing that fans may not take into consideration is that Maghsoodloo will be playing in a rapid tournament in Iran on the same day as the semifinal, bringing into question his ability to stay focused during a long day of chess, where he'll be forced to begin at a relatively late hour of 8:30 p.m. Tehran time.

If fans are treated to the brilliance on display in the game shown below from the 2016 World Junior Chess Championship, they should be more than satisfied regardless of the result:

Xiong's masterful 16. Nbd4! in the game above may be a preview of the fireworks fans will be treated to on Thursday.

Despite his prior success vs. Maghsoodloo, Xiong isn't taking the challenge presented by the reigning world junior champion lightly: "Obviously the four players in the semifinals are incredibly strong," he said. 

Indeed, all four players left in the competition are ranked in the top five junior players in the world and are arguably the four strongest. 

Giri had a bold view of these players' futures in a clip from the JSCC broadcast: "Any of these players who don't quit their chess career and continue working as they working now are going to cross 2700," he said. "It's just a matter of time. A much more interesting question is which of these players will end up challenging for the world championship."

Anish Giri Junior Speed Chess Championship
Anish Giri will once again join the commentary team for this JSCC semifinal match.

The match will start with 90 minutes of 5|1 blitz, continue with 60 minutes of 3|1 blitz, and end with 30 minutes of 1|1 bullet. (Find all regulations here.)

"Parham and I have played two times over the board and two times online and generally I've had good results," said Xiong. "We'll see what happens. I think it'll be anybody's match."

Maghsoodloo was in the ChessTV chat during Xiong's match vs. Gledura, no doubt studying his opponent's approach to a hard-fought battle. It's well-known among Chess.com insiders that Maghsoodloo loves battling against the top players on site simply for the competition.

When previously asked about his focus on prize money, Maghsoodloo simply replied: "We're very young and the money isn't important. Playing to enjoy the chess and improve is much more important at this age."

Junior Speed Chess Championship prizes

The prize fund for the semifinal matches is $2,400 each. The winner earns $1,200 and advances to the final, while the other $1,200 is split by win percentage.

The Junior Speed Chess Championship is sponsored by ChessKid, the world's number-one site for kids to learn and play chess. All JSCC matches are broadcast live with chess-master commentary on Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/chess.

Here's the full schedule for the semifinals:

  • Maghsoodloo vs. Xiong: July 18 at 9 a.m. PDT
  • Wei Yi vs. Firouzja: July 28 at 8 a.m. PDT

For a full schedule, see our events calendar or this general Speed Chess Championship article.

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