This year’s World Junior Championship is taking place in New Delhi, India, and although it’s been overshadowed by events on the Isle of Man it’s still a prestigious tournament. 14-year-old Praggnanandhaa was battling to follow up winning the World U18 Youth Championship with an amazing double, but that now looks unlikely after he lost to both 20-year-old co-leaders Evgeny Shtembuliak of Ukraine and Miguel Santos Ruiz of Spain. 18-year-old Russian Polina Shuvalova may manage the double in the girls section, however, as she hit the sole lead with 3 rounds to go.
Ukrainian FM Yuriy Krykun, who is studying at Webster University in St. Louis under Susan Polgar, has been blogging on the World Junior Championship, and we’ll be quoting his analysis below. Yuriy explains why the World Junior Championship still matters at a time when the best youngsters have far more opportunities to play than they did in the past:
Besides the obvious fact that every ambitious young player dreams of being World Champion, first among Juniors and then by beating Carlsen, winning this tournament guarantees a young player a rather large boost for his career. What does this mean? First of all, World Junior Champions automatically get a spot in the World Cup, which is a chance to try and get to the Candidates Tournament. Of course this is unlikely to happen in their first World Cup attempt, but they can gain precious experience of dealing with the pressurised setting of this incredibly tense event. Besides that, a winner always gets invited to Wijk aan Zee, to the Tata Steel Challengers. It’s called the Challengers because the winner gets to play in the Masters group a year later.
Also, even though this is a rare situation for a winner to end up in, he might get the GM title directly. Of course, most winners of the Open section are already strong grandmasters, but this can sometimes be useful – for example, in 2017 Praggnanandhaa had a chance to win and become the youngest GM in history. Or last year Alexandra Maltsevskaya won the girls section and got her WGM title instantly.
The 11-round tournament is taking place in New Delhi, India, from the 15th to the 25th October. Chess has been growing at an incredible pace in India, and many people believe it will soon be the world's strongest chess country, as the Soviet Union was back in the day. The World Youth Championship in younger categories (U18, U16 and U14) just finished in India a few days before this tournament, and many players are participating in both! Of course, such a marathon is not easy.
In the Open Section there are three GMs above 2600 – Tabatabaei from Iran, and Karthikeyan and Aravindh, both already Indian Chess Champions. Of course it's natural to say that the top seeds are the favourites, but things are not so simple – very often in junior events players from the top 10 or even the top 20 demonstrate that they are no less ambitious and strong.
18-year-old 2642-rated Tabatabaei has in fact struggled and finds himself on only 4.5/8, but the reason for that is not only about chess. The talented generation of young Iranian players regularly now faces an impossible dilemma in open events when they’re paired against Israeli players. Their government insists that they can’t play, and if they do they face potential sanctions back in Iran – at the very least being banned from playing for their country. In Round 4, 18-year-old 11th seed Aryan Gholami didn’t appear for his game against Israel’s Alexander Zlatin. That was the last we saw of Aryan in the tournament.
Then in Round 6 the same happened to the top seed Tabatabaei, who was meant to play Israel’s Or Bronstein. He forfeited that game, but this time was able to continue playing the event. As Yuriy comments:
The organizers excluded [Tabatabaei] from the pairings and the tournament, but then, after discussing the matter in the Appeals Committee for many hours, and receiving a pledge from him that next time he would play, they let him play. A very unfortunate situation, and I really feel sorry for the players, who have no choice in these situations.
The main battle, of course, has been on the chessboard, and you can watch all the action using the selector below:
One game stood out for Yuriy in Round 5:
I think that a real masterpiece of this round is the game played by my friend and teammate Aram Hakobyan, who went on to beat one of the leaders, Santos Ruiz, very impressively with White. He prepared till move 17(!) in a pretty low-theory line and then went on to play a really impressive game. But now comes a question to you, dear viewers: White to play – what is his ONLY winning move?
The White bishop is pinned - is White going to lose his extra piece? No, Aram had foreseen everything! 30.f4! and suddenly the rook on e1 is protected by the bishop on h4! Black resigned.
In that same round 20-year-old Ukrainian GM Evgeniy Shtembuliak handed a first defeat to Praggnanandhaa. Evgeniy was introduced as follows by Yuriy:
He’s studying in the US at the moment, at Texas Tech University. During the last two years he has made fantastic progress, gaining about 150 rating points and becoming a GM! I know him personally and think that with his dedication and talent he can definitely aim at the highest possible result, if he turns out to be in shape.
He clearly is in form and took the sole lead in Round 7 against the same Aram Hakobyan:
Evgeniy was White, he started 1.Nf3 2.g3, trying to avoid theory. I would also like to mention that these two already played with exactly the same colours last month in St. Louis and Aram won a highly complicated game, having surprised the opponent in the opening [they ended with 4 queens on the board!]. So this time Evgeniy didn't get involved in a theoretical battle.
The position looks rather balanced and it's hard for either party to come up with a plan that would pose serious issues. However, here Aram had to be careful. For example, 20...b6 or 20...c6 would be good enough. Unfortunately for my teammate, he went 20…Bf8? How should White continue to seize the initiative?
21.c4! Be6 22.d4!
Evgeniy opened up the position and it turned out that Bf8 was a bad move as now the diagonal opens up and the f6-pawn may hang in many lines. White went on to play a more or less perfect game - a great achievement for Shtembuliak!
A round later Spain’s Miguel Santos Ruiz would join him in the lead by becoming the second player to defeat Praggnanandhaa. As Yuriy writes:
Santos Ruiz went on to win a brilliant miniature versus Praggnanandhaa. Look at this position:
Do you feel the hidden power of the b2-bishop? Right, it’s there! Pragg went wrong with 19…c5? here and let White unleash the attack on the kingside by 20.g4!
Soon the game was over after 20…Bb7 21.Rhg1 Be4 22.gxf5 Bxc2 23.Qxc2 exf5? 24.Qxf5 Ne8:
25.Rxg7+! Nxg7 26.Qe5! Rf7 27.Rg1 and mate was inevitable. That left the standings looking as follows with three rounds to go.
Meanwhile in the women’s section it’s also been tough for the top seed, 17-year-old 2507-rated Zhu Jiner from China, who lost two games to 2033 and 1868-rated opponents to drop 28 rating points and find herself in 37th place after 8 rounds. The leader, meanwhile, is familiar, since it’s two-time World U18 Girls Youth Championship winner Polina Shuvalova from Russia after a run of four wins in a row.
Yuri comments on Round 8:
The previous leader, Iran’s Mobina Alinasab, drew two games in a row, which let Shuvalova catch up and even surpass the Iranian. Shuvalova faced Bibisara Assaubayeva, and in this interesting position the talented Kazakh girl sacrificed a pawn too optimistically:
17…a5?! 18.Bxb5! a4 19.Nc1 Rfb8 20.c4 and then Polina played a brilliant game, never letting her opponent off the hook.
Check out all the games in the women’s section – if you hover over a name you’ll see all of a player’s results so far.
There’s also live commentary from a team of experts that includes Praggnanandhaa’s coach RB Ramesh and IM Tania Sachdev if you sign up for free (unusually a phone number as well as an email address is required) at wjcc2019.com.
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