[imagefield_assist|fid=10540|preset=fullsize|lightbox=true|title=NM Gregory Young sits with GM Ben Finegold after his round two victory over FM John Bryant.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=700|height=467]
By Ken West
Gregory Young is the 2011 U.S. Junior Champion, taking the title with a win Friday before the final round of play even began.
Of the 10 people playing, Young’s 2384 rating entering the tournament was seventh in the field. His performance rating will be much higher as he finished the tournament with a final score of 7.5/9. He said he did not have high expectations because he had not played chess in six months.
“I’m practically speechless,” he said after clinching the title. “Even getting invited is incredible enough to play at this incredible chess club in Saint Louis. I wasn’t even thinking about results. I was thinking about it as a tournament to get back into rhythm and play.”
Young’s rhythm threw most players out of step. In round 8, he played another Sozin Bc4 against Warren Harper’s Najdorf Sicilian. Young used the line in his earlier win over John Bryant only to choose another line against Harper on move 13, f4 instead of Nf3. After Young’s 15.f5, Harper moved his king to h8, breaking the pin on his g pawn. Young gave up his bishop on h6 by playing fxe6.
“This piece sacrifice may determine first place,” said Grandmaster Ben Finegold, who is providing commentary on the games with FIDE Master Aviv Friedman.
Young followed by trading rooks on f7, getting his pawn on the square, supported by the bishop on b3. Harper began pushing his h pawn late in the game with the idea of getting his knight and queen into a kingside attack.
“What a game,” Friedman said.
“It’s all due to this pawn on f7,” Finegold said.
When Young pushed his pawn to e5, to let his light squared bishop work with his queen for mate, Harper had to give up his queen. He let Young play the position to mate. Finegold praised Harper for playing it out even though the young master knew it was over, saying it provided a great final ending for Young’s run to the title.
With the 2011 title, Young wins $3,000 for first and entry into the 2012 U.S. Chess Championship. He said he also is headed the World Open in Philadelphia that begins June 28.
Every game on Friday proved decisive as several were fighting to move up in the standings in a field that had a crowd in second place. Going into Friday’s round, three players were tied at 4.5. A loss by Young would have had them battling for first. When Young clinched, six players were fighting for second.
At the start of play on Friday, Conrad Holt was in second at 5.5 after a rough start. He drew his first game and lost his second game before getting a third-round win.
After a fourth-round loss to Young, Holt went on a tear, winning his next four, including Friday’s game against Alec Getz. Holt played d4 and Getz went into a King’s Indian. As Holt danced his knights around the board, Finegold showed the wit that makes him a favorite with viewers, saying he must have been in touch with Bob Seger (“Night Moves”). The commentators pointed out Holt’s knight on e4 was much better than the bishop Getz had on g7.
However when Getz played Ra4 on move 24 followed by c6, Finegold said he was getting counterplay. But Holt ended with a more active rook and gobbled pawns. Getz resigned in the final position with his rook against Holt’s rook and two advanced pawns.
In other round 8 action, Victor Shen scored a win over Raven Sturt, Daniel Naroditsky lost with the black pieces against Bryant; and Kayden Troff, the youngest in the field at 13, won against Saint Louis local Jialin Ding.
“It’s never fun to just lose a lot of games,” Troff said. “This game would have been hard to lose.”
The champion had already been decided, but fighting chess continued for the ninth and final round of the U.S. Junior Closed Championship at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis Saturday.
Young clinched the day before but second place was up for grabs. When the final round ended, Shen held a draw with Young for a score of 5.5/9 and Getz beat Sturt for the same score. Holt also finished with 5.5/9. Holt would have had clear second with a win but lost to Troff, who won his last two games to finish with 3/9. Holt had been on a tear, winning his previous four games.
Naroditsky drew Ding to end the championship with 5/9, tied with Warren Harper and John Bryant. Harper beat Bryant Saturday to get the tie — with Holt’s loss, Bryant could have had clear second with a win.
When the matches ended, the players talked about what they learned from the experience.
“I don’t think I played well the entire tournament,” Shen said. “I had some games where I got lucky. Kayden had a winning position against me. Warren also had a winning position. I think I scored more points with bad positions. In my game with Gregory, I had a slight pull but it was never clear.”
As for improving his game, Shen said he will work more on his openings to broaden his repertoire and work to avoid time trouble.
“I need to improve my tactics,” Sturt said. “It cost me four points. There were positions I could have held to draws.”
Sturt said by round 5 he thinks he gave up subconsciously. “I have to work on my fighting spirit,” he said.
Naroditsky told Finegold that he put too much pressure on himself and collapsed.
Harper said he also could have improved on his performance. “I don’t think I prepared well,” he said.
Bryant played uncompromising chess throughout the event, sometimes sacrificing pieces in positions that surprised Finegold and Friedman. He had five wins and four losses.
“I just try to play the best lines and it happens sacrifices are the best moves in my positions,” Bryant said.
Bryant also said he found it hard to study for his opponents as his computer recently quit working.
Troff said he will use his computer less frequently.
“I’m going to analyze more by myself,” he said. “Computers can be cool, but it’s hard not to get carried away using them. I’ll also work on my openings a little bit and improve my positional understanding.”
Ding said as the tournament went on he felt he gained confidence after being somewhat overwhelmed by his opponents’ higher ratings.
“This was a big tournament for me,” Ding said. “I need to manage my time better. I played more openly as the rounds went on.”
Friedman pointed out that Ding was fine in nearly every game around move 25 only to make a mistake or an oversight that cost him a few moves later.
In the Shen-Young game, commentators Finegold and Friedman preferred Shen’s position most of the game. On move 20, Shen played c4, protecting his passed pawn and having both bishops. Young’s dark-squared bishop stuck on g7 with a pawn on f6. Shen thought he was better but he didn’t know by how much. He had a bishop when the game ended but no way to attack Young’s pawns.
Holt stuck with his Slav defense in his game, but his 10. f4 against Troff baffled the commentators. He followed it by capturing on e3, which Troff recaptured with his bishop.
“He gave away his f pawn with tempo,” Friedman said.
However, on move 14 Holt placed his queen on a5. The move forced Troff to bring his queen back to c2. That pulled Holt back in the game but he said he made “a random bad move” with rook to d8 on move 24. Both players were in time trouble.
In the Harper-Bryant match, the last to finish, moves 15 to 17 cost Bryant a pawn.
“He’s down a pawn, it’s passed and d6 is weak,” Friedman said.
“As we have said many times this week, white is a pawn up with good compensation,” Finegold joked.
The early moves of the game were the same as Harper’s game against GM Ray Robson in the final game of last year’s U.S. Junior Closed Championship. Harper won that game, preventing Robson from winning the event.
The Naroditsky-Ding game began as a symmetrical English and began looking like a Grunfeld. Finegold and Friedman said Ding was comfortabe throughout the game and had slightly better piece placement.
Sturt had a rough tournament and had no respite the last game against Getz. His bishop remained stuck on g6 and Getz played Bc5 on move 24 to trap Sturt’s queen. The trapping of the queen was preceded by bishop takes e6 on move 23 by Getz.
Young takes the first-place prize of $3,000 and receives an invitation to the 2012 U.S. Chess Championship to take place at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis on a date yet to be set.