Reports Jul 31, 2017 | 9:59 AMby Colin McGourty

World juniors crush the USA in St. Louis

World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong said “they managed to blow us out of the building” as his US team was crushed 30.5:17.5 in the Match of the Millennials by a world team featuring the likes of Praggnanandhaa and Abdusattorov. What had looked and begun as a balanced contest was all but decided on the third of four days, when the world racked up a 10.5:1.5 score. Vishy Anand and Wesley So were on hand to award the trophies as they returned to St. Louis for the Sinquefield Cup, which starts on Wednesday.

Vishy Anand hands over the trophy to his Indian apprentice and near namesake Praggnanandhaa | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

The statistics of the Match of the Millennials make tough reading for US eyes. Over the course of three days the US teams failed to win a single match in 12 attempts, with all of their players but one losing rating points. All but one of the world team gained rating as they excelled both as individuals and a well-honed team. Let’s take a look at the sections one-by-one:

U14: “I wasn’t really sure how to play against players so young”

That quote comes from Awonder Liang, who is a grandmaster elect and US Junior Champion at the advanced age of 14. He was referring to 11-year-old Indian IM Praggnanandhaa and 12-year-old Uzbekistan IM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, perhaps the two top prodigies in world chess at this moment in time. You can see Awonder’s interview, more interviews and the closing ceremony in the video from the final day in St. Louis:

You can replay all the U14 games using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all their results:

The world team in the U14 section heavily outrated the US team, largely on account of the rating gap on the girls’ boards. 

Nurgyul Salimova had a tricky start, but then won her last two games | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

That didn’t show up in the score after two days, however, since top-seeded Bulgarian player Nurgyul Salimova had a start to forget, losing on time in the first round after being surprised by the lack of extra time at move 40 and then missing an instant kill in Round 2:

52.g1=Q+ 53.Bxg1 Rh4# is mate! Instead after 52…Rh4+ Carissa Yip actually went on to win with the white pieces.

Carissa Yip didn't need to be asked twice to grab the full point 

Nurgyul got back on track with wins in the last two rounds, though that wasn’t enough to avoid being the only world player to lose rating points. The beneficiary of the loss on time in Round 1, Martha Samadashvili, was the only US player to gain rating, even though she lost her remaining three games.

The world team’s star performer (in both sections) was 13-year-old Bibisara (“call me Sara”, she said in her interview) Assaubayeva, who justified her 2386 rating with a perfect 4/4 score. The Kazakhstan-born Russian player showed a will to win even drawish positions and no lack of confidence when she said she’d like to play in the Sinquefield Cup. That’s a realistic ambition – currently she’s the no. 1 U14 girl, and the no. 7 overall.

Hair, shoes and furniture were colour-coordinated as Tatev Abrahamyan translated from Russian while Bibisara Assaubayeva shared her ambitions with Maurice Ashley | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

Three of the players currently ranked above Sara in the U14 ratings were in action in the boys’ section in St. Louis, including no. 1 Awonder Liang. 

The world's top-rated U14 player, Awonder Liang | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

He only lost one game, on the worst evening of the event for the world team. They lost 3.5:0.5 in the U17 section, and 4:0 in the U14:

Awonder went from attacking to resigning in the space of a few minutes after Pragnannandhaa’s 26…g6:

It was time for Awonder to admit his aggression had failed and play an endgame a pawn down after the possible 27.Qh6 Qxh3. Instead his queen set off on an unfortunate journey to the other side of the board: 27.Qe2?! Qxh3 28.Qxb5? Ba6 29.Qb6 (29.Qa4 would prolong the game, but probably not by much) 29…Nc8 30.Qxa5 (there was no escape) 30…Be2!

And here White resigned, since e.g. 31.Qe1 Nf3+! 32.Nxf3 Bxf3 is mate – there’s no way to cover both g2 and h1.

Praggnanandhaa will have to grow into the couch, but he was already reeling off chess variations faster than his listeners could follow | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

Pragnannandhaa finished unbeaten with two wins and two draws. His colleague Abdusattorov had two wins and one loss, since he fell victim to a nice attacking win by Awonder in the final round. Nodirbek’s fighting spirit was nevertheless on display at move 15 in the game:

The players had been repeating moves with Ng5-f3 and Rf8-e8 and Awonder Liang had just thought for over nine minutes before allowing a 3rd repetition and a draw. Nodirbek could have settled for that draw against a higher-rated opponent and ensured a +2 performance, but instead he varied with 15.a3?! 

Abdusattorov hadn't travelled over 10,000 km to take a quick draw! | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

The way that move was described by Awonder shows that the US Junior Champion is also ready to move up to the big league when it comes to post-game interviews:

I was really hoping to get another fighting game today and we played this kind of topical Svidler Zaitsev, except he played this move a3, which I’m sure it’s a move – everything’s a move – but it didn’t look very impressive to me.

He tried to explain the team’s loss:

I wasn’t really sure how to play against players so young… They definitely have a different style than what I’m used to. We didn’t get that much of an opportunity to get used to their style of play and analyse their weaknesses.

Overall the score was 11.5:4.5 in favour of the World in the U14 section, with 3 wins for the World and 1 draw in the individual rounds.

The world players had great camaraderie, helped by mostly sharing a common language - Russian - and Assaubaeva, Esipenko and Sarana all being trained by the same Prof. Chess Club | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club 

U17: The World overwhelms the US

While the U14 US team was expected to struggle, it seemed they would be favourites in the U17 section, which had double the number of rounds. Jeffery Xiong and Sam Sevian in particular are already established as strong 2600+ grandmasters with great promise, while the world team consisted of players still relatively unknown – none of them had made the kind of dramatic rise we saw from Wei Yi.

Watching chess outside in St. Louis | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

After the first two days nothing foretold the drama to come, with a draw in the first three rounds and then a narrow victory for the world in Round 4. That match might have been drawn as well if Xiong had won a better endgame, while the most memorable moment was the one win for Nicolas Checa (he lost his remaining four games), when 17-year-old Haik Martirosyan made close to the worst move in the position with 17…b5?

The position was simply resignable after 18.cxd5!, since there’s no reasonable defence against Qc6 next move, winning the unfortunate a6-bishop. After a very bitter 16 minutes’ reflection Haik stumbled on with 18…Nb8 19.dxe6, but there was to be no miracle.

Haik had support from his compatriots - Sam Sevian was born in the US, but has Armenian parents

The world simply didn’t look back after that. Alexey Sarana, who finished on an unbeaten +2, got things going early on Friday morning with 20.e6! against Nicolas Checa:

White was simply winning, with Alexey handling the tactics perfectly: 20…hxg5 21.Nxb6 fxe6 22.Bxc6 Rxc6 23.Nxd7 Qc7 24.Qxg6 Rd8:

25.Ne5! was a nice flourish, with the knight of course immune to capture. The game ended very quickly, with the commentators suggesting that Nicolas should have stopped for a long think earlier simply to prevent the world team gaining the confidence boost of knowing they'd win on one board.

17-year-old Sarana played a candidate for game of the tournament | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

The match situation saw Jeffery Xiong, who said he needs to work on his endings, lose an entirely unnecessary game to Haik Martirosyan:

31.h4?! This simply proved to be an unjustified pawn sac after 31…dxe4! (31…gxh4 32.e5! is ok for White) 32.fxe4 gxh4 and Jeffery went on to get very harshly punished for his ambition. He later reflected:

I think basically what happened is once we started falling behind early everyone felt inclined to push for wins, and as a result we lost many games, but no excuses, give all the credit to the world team’s players and coaches. They played lights out and then they managed to blow us out of the building.

That was most visible on Friday evening, when the 4:0 victory for the World in the U14 section was combined with a 3.5:0.5 win in the U17 section, with wins for Martirosyan over Sevian, Smirnov over Li and Sarana over John Burke. The latter chose the wrong way to defend h2 when he played 19.Bf4? (19.h3! is still better for Black, but a vast improvement on the game):

19…Qc5! hit the bishop on c6 and the f2-pawn. With 20.h3! John was able to limit the losses and fight on, but it was no surprise that he had to concede defeat after 62 moves.

On the final day the US team managed to restore respectability with two 2:2 draws, but there was no stopping the World from winning the U17 section and the event as a whole:

The world team with their prizes (from left to right) - Esipenko, Sarana, Abdusattorov, Smirnov, Assaubayeva, Martirosyan, Praggnanandhaa, Chopra and Salimova | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

Three kings in one photo | photo: Lennart Ootes, St. Louis Chess Club

Ultimately, though, the score didn’t really matter, since chess is an individual sport and it was just a thrill to see so many future stars of the game gathered in one place. Let’s hope this happens again sometime soon!

On one of the shows the commentators hinted at a coming "Chess Legends" event - what about chess legends vs. juniors? :) | photo: Austin Fuller, St. Louis Chess Club

The attention of the chess world isn’t going to leave St. Louis for long, since on Wednesday 2 August the Sinquefield Cup begins. 

Sergey was in St. Louis only a couple of days after his wife Galiya gave birth to a second son - our congratulations!

The 3rd leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour is the first classical event this year, and will feature World Champion Magnus Carlsen:

That’s of course only the start of an incredible month of action, with the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz that follows featuring comeback kid Garry Kasparov! You’ll want to stay tuned to it all here on chess24.

See also: 

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