“Now we have the future,” said Garry Kasparov as he opened the Match of the Millennials in St. Louis. The event sees US and Rest of the World teams compete in U14 and U17 age categories, with some of the world’s top juniors such as 11-year-old Praggnanandhaa and 12-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov getting their first feel for the intense scrutiny of elite events. The match is also notable in terms of chess politics, with Kasparov and St. Louis working together with FIDE under acting President Georgios Makropoulos.
In its nine years of existence the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis has taken over top-level US chess to the extent that its claim to be the Chess Capital of the USA is undeniable. It used to be that, despite the Sinquefield Cup supertournament, the occasional description of the city as the Chess Capital of the World was taken as a slip of the tongue or simply outrageous hype – how could it compete with all the events held, for instance, in Moscow? Since then, however, as more and more matches and tournaments have been organised for players of different levels, earning that title has become a clear goal. That was a point made continuously at the opening ceremony, a formal event that seems to mark a watershed in chess politics:
Garry Kasparov commented, “It’s a beginning of new relations with the World Chess Federation”, which was echoed by octogenarian Jorge Vega, who as President of the Confederation of Chess for the Americas had been instrumental in ensuring Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was elected instead of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in previous FIDE elections.
This time round, however, he’s switched to become a fervent opponent of the current president, with 29 of the 34 federations he represents agreeing not to support any candidate under sanctions at the upcoming FIDE elections:
There’s likely to be a battle ahead, of course, since Kirsan
also has notable supporters. He recently met with
Russian President Vladimir Putin:
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: FIDE is to hold the next election of its president next year. I think that Russia should not yield this position, and I decided to run for FIDE president again.
Vladimir Putin: I think it will be decided by those eligible to vote, but as we see it from a distance, I think you are quite worthy, you do a good job with the responsibilities and running the federation. Undoubtedly, you have already gained significant experience and have every chance of winning. At any rate, you have the right to run and fight for it. For my part, I would like to wish you success.
The main focus, of course, was on the current event, with Kasparov comparing the matches to the old USSR or Russia vs. the world tournaments and noting the success of the youth program in the USA:
It shows the results that we’ve achieved in the United States that now the US can take on the rest of the world.
One other country has recently tried taking on the world at chess – Iran – with their array of young talents impressing against a team of largely veterans from around the world in the recent Stars Cup. Sadly the top talents from Iran such as Alireza Firouzja and Parham Maghsoodloo were unable to make it to St. Louis, since gaining a US visa proved an insurmountable obstacle:
The line-ups nevertheless feature some wonderful talents, with 11-year-old Praggnanandhaa from India having already become the youngest IM in history and having a great chance of beating Sergey Karjakin’s record as the youngest ever GM, while Nordirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan was beating grandmasters at the age of nine.
The US Team
The World Team
Of course all the players taking part are remarkable, and we’ll learn more about them as the event progresses. The format of the tournaments is essentially a double Scheveningen System, where all members of a team play twice against all members of the opposing team, with the distinction that one player per team sits out in each U17 round, while in the U14 event the girls only play the girls and the boys the boys.
The event once again features the slick production values of every top event in St. Louis, with Jennifer Shahade and Alejandro Ramirez joined by Maurice Ashley for analysis and interviews. There are two shows each day that you can find on the St. Louis YouTube account, with the first featuring an interview with Garry Kasparov:
Garry was asked for his view on the current form of Magnus Carlsen ahead of the Sinquefield Cup:
Definitely his phenomenal performance in Paris and especially Leuven gave him the momentum, but let’s remember: rapid and blitz. We could see him dominating the field, the best players, especially in blitz, but now here he’ll have to prove that he can convert this domination into classical chess, and so far this year was not a good year for Magnus Carlsen in classical chess and I think St. Louis is a big test. It’s a big test for him to prove that he’s still the best classical player in the world.
How is it that he can dominate in rapid and blitz and yet in classical he can be in such a crisis?
His opponents, the other top players, they spend a lot of time working on chess, and in classical it’s quite difficult to get an advantage and to demonstrate the steady hand throughout the whole game, because other players, they know how to hold the positions. The less time on the clock, the bigger Magnus’s advantage, because if you reduce time on your clock naturally it affects the quality of the moves you make, and every player suffers from that, but Magnus least of all. The quality of the moves he makes in rapid and blitz is quite close to the quality of moves he makes in classical, which is amazing. So with little time on the clock other players make mistakes – I’m not talking about blunders, I’m talking about positional mistakes, inaccuracies – while the average quality of moves Magnus makes in blitz and rapid, especially in blitz, is phenomenally high.
Garry was asked about his own “comeback” for the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz and explained that he was only playing in St. Louis “because it’s such a special place”:
I wish I had real time to prepare, but I want just to warn people that have big expectations: read my lips, my retirement will be resumed on August 20th!
Of course not everyone who has used "read my lips" in the past has followed through… In an interview with Ben Johnson for the Perpetual Chess Podcast, St. Louis Chess Club founder Rex Sinquefield explained that Kasparov had volunteered, “I’ll be one of the wildcards!” at a dinner where the upcoming tournament was being discussed. Rex said he “thought for about a nanosecond” before approving:
While Kasparov later protested to Maurice, “I’m no longer a professional player,” there’s no doubt he took a more than spectator’s interest in the chess played by the young stars. He commented on their sharp opening choices:
It’s what you expect of young players. They will have plenty of time to play solid, positional openings. Now it’s time to have fun!
Meanwhile, on the chessboard, what stood out were the wild swings in many of the games. In part it may have been the understandable nerves of young players finding themselves under the TV lights for the first time, though it was also down to the fast time control. After a normal 90 minutes for 40 moves there’s no added time, so the players are forced to play on the 30-second increment they receive each move.
U17 Match of the Millennials (click a result to replay a game with computer analysis)
In John Burke’s game against Aryan Chopra in the U17 section it at first it seemed the ending was heading for a draw, then Chopra had chances to break, then Burke broke through and was about to queen a pawn…
He did so, but first he should have picked up Black’s b-pawn with 76.Ra4 or various other options, rather than going for a tactical solution with 76.Rb5+ Nxb5 77.c8=Q+, only to realise that Black’s knight, bishop and pawns were very tough to beat with a lone queen. Soon White had nothing better than a draw, when disaster struck:
90...Ke7?? Nc6+ White resigned, since the queen is lost.
Chopra went from strength to strength, also beating Nicolas Checa in Round 2. The only player who could match his 2/2 score was Sam Sevian, who was also in trouble in the first game. He admitted that his attempt to surprise Russia’s 15-year-old Andrey Esipenko with the Benoni had backfired when he found himself in a razor-sharp line he didn’t know well.
It all turned round in the space of a couple of moves, though: first 18.Nxb5 was the wrong recapture by Andrey, then he reacted badly to 18…Nb3:
19.Ra3? ran into 19…Bf5! and the rook was totally out of play while the white c-pawn became a monster. Instead 19.Ra2! Rxa2 20.Bxc4! would have defused the situation.
The next game against Armenia’s Haik Martirosyan was another epic battle, though Sam Sevian deserved his eventual victory for his fine 20th move:
Black seems to have done everything to stop the e5-break, but it happens anyway: 20.e5!! fxe5 21.Nxe5! Nxe5 22.Bxe5 and Black can’t play 22…dxe5 since 23.d6! would win the rook on a8.
For Sam Sevian it was a significant moment in his rivalry with fellow 16-year-old Jeffery Xiong. Jeffery had stormed ahead in the previous year, winning the World Junior Championship and threatening to enter the 2700 club. Since then Jeffery had suffered a temporary slump, though, while Sevian has been flying, and with these wins he caught up with Xiong on the live rating list.
In the U14 section we only have one round each day, but we immediately got the most awaited clash: Awonder Liang vs. Praggnanandhaa – pitting perhaps the most promising US player against the most promising junior in the world. They didn’t disappoint, since Praggnanandhaa played the hyper-aggressive 6.h4 Najdorf and although Awonder swapped off queens on move 14 he came under heavy pressure for the remainder of the game. He managed to hold, however, for the only draw in that section in Round 1.
U14 Match of the Millennials
There were, of course, hard-luck stories. Andrew Hong was close to claiming the scalp of Nodirbek Abdusattorov, but he went astray at the critical moment:
Here Hong had the right idea and played the almost brilliant 28.Ne6+!?, but after 28…fxe6 the black king had an escape route, and after 29.dxe6? (29.Qg5+ Kh8 30.Re3 and White should still win) the advantage had all but gone and White went on to get ground down in an endgame. Instead 28.Nc6! would cut off Black’s pieces from the defence of the kingside without allowing the black king to escape. Since 28…Bxc6 29.Qh6+ is mate-in-2, Black has to sacrifice the exchange with 28…Rxc6 and again after 29.dxc6 Qxc6 White has 30.Re3!, bringing lethal reinforcements into the action.
In the girls’ games Russia’s Bibisara Assaubayeva out-calculated and out-evaluated Carissa Yip, seeing her three minor pieces would be superior to Black’s two rooks, though it needed 102 moves. Nurgyul Salimova was close to beating Martha Samadashvili and inflicting a crushing loss on the US team, but after missing a win in a rook ending she then even lost on time, giving the world only a 2.5:1.5 victory.
The event continues for another three days, so we’ll get a much closer look at some of the world’s best juniors, with shows starting at 17:00 and 00:00 CEST each day. You can follow all the action here on chess24: Under 14 | Under 17. You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:
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