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Junior Congress Sets Record Print E-mail
By Betsy Dynako   
March 10, 2008
Epiphany Peters, winner of the Under 10 section in the Junior Chess Congress.
 Photo Betsy Dynako.
The 2008 US Junior Chess Congress broke records this weekend ( March 8-9, Anderson, Indiana), with its highest turnout ever, 260 players from 13 states.  The ninth largest city in Indiana, Anderson, which has hosted the event for the past three years, rests 35 miles Northeast of Indianapolis. The event has grown each year under the direction of Scott Reisinger.

The players were greeted by a snowstorm on the first day of the tournament, but things cleared by lunchtime and the skies were blue and sunny for the rest of the event. Since the weather didn’t permit playing outside, the younger participants burned energy by running and playing tag in the  hallways of the site, the East Side Middle School of Anderson.  

Of course, the real story comes from the playing hall.  The competition for the right to play alongside the trophies on the elevated top boards, "the stage" was stiff. Four juniors rose to the occasion, earning perfect scores.

In the 8 Under section Michael Chen of MI took home first with 6/6 after defeating Ian Gilchrist of Illinois dropping him to eighth place.

Michael Chen. Photo Betsy Dynako.

 Chen’s teammate Epiphany Peters was just as successful in the 10 Under section. This promising young lady also seems to know the rulebook backwards and forwards and often solves conflicts for other players before a TD is able to arrive. Here is a smooth win from Epiphany:

The youngest of Indiana’s Vibbert brothers, Sean also achieved a perfect score in the 12 Under section.  His father Terry Vibbert was busting with pride at the start of round four when all of his three boys took chairs on the stage.  Here is one of Sean's games:


Sean Vibbert faces off against Isaiah Gadson in round 4.Photo Betsy Dynako.

Sean’s older brother Daniel was able to secure second place under Samuel Ludlow, also from Indian, in the 14 Under section. The oldest, Jared Vibbert finished fourth in the 18 under section after against another perfect score, Ohioan Jonathan Hilton.

Jonathan Hilton's T-shirt reads "Ohio Chess Connection" the state magazine which he edits.Photo Betsy Dynako.

Hilton, who will be blogging for Chess Life Online live from the Foxwoods Open, kindly annotated a game from the U.S. Junior Congress for CLO:


Although the lowest-rated player I played in the tournament, my first-round opponent demonstrated the most fighting spirit. He sat composed and focused as we dueled on the stage, his pose looking a bit like that of Kasparov calculating a long line. He never once took his eyes off the board that I can recall. By the end of the game, both sides had just seconds left on their clocks.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Bb7

The Zaitsev Variation, one of the most dynamic lines in the Ruy Lopez.  If Black were aiming for a closed position, he would want to keep his bishop on c8; however, Black has his eye toward opening the center and creating counterplay against e4.

10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2

This less dangerous than the main line, 11.a4 , which forces Black to play accurately because White can close the center with d4-d5 and then bring his knight to a3 to attack the b5 pawn.

11...Bf8 12.Bc2 g6 13.Nf1

Usually, if White wishes to play Nf1, he will start with 13.a3. A few weeks prior I had played a game against Kris Meekins, an Expert, which went 13...Bg7 14.Nf1 Qd7!? followed by …Rad8 with a very dynamic struggle. Instead of 14…Qd7!?, Igor Ivanov and Michael Adams have both played 14. ... d5!?, the idea being that after 15. Bg5, Black has the cute combination 15…dxe4 16. Bxe4 exd4 17. Nxd4 Rxe4! 18. Rxe4 Qd5, which eventually equalizes and is a bit drawish.


I seize the opportunity to win the bishop pair, but this move neglects other features in the position, such as my opponent's newfound pressure on the c-file and powerful center.  In hindsight, it was also possible to play 13...Bg7 , though after 14.Ng3 I may have nothing better than 14...exd4 anyway.

14.cxd4 Nb4 15.Ng3 Nxc2?!

This I believe to be an inaccuracy. During the game, I simply believed I would have the bishop pair and a good position, but White's center is difficult to attack and his pressure on the c-file is potent. The thematic break 15...c5! gives Black sufficient counterplay, since if White decides to save his bishop with 16.Bb1, Black can respond 16...Bg7 with strong piece placement and firm pressure on the center.

16.Qxc2 Bg7

I think it was better to play 16...c5 while I still had the chance. Black is probably not worse here after 17.d5 Bg7, but I would slightly prefer White. Although Black has the bishop pair and has reached a sort of favorable Benoni structure, White does not much miss his light-squared bishop in my opinion. White's space advantage should allow him to centralize and attack with a pleasant choice of pawn breaks, e4-e5 and a2-a4.


A strong move. Alexander Naumann played 17.Bf4 and won against a player named Richter in 2005. It was in an Internet championship, so of course I was unfamiliar with the game.  I think my opponent's move is stronger because it provokes me to weaken my kingside.


If there were a way to avoid playing this, I should have played it; however, I think I did need to break this pin. Moving my queen would only serve to place it in a vulnerable position; ...Qd7 can always be met by Rad1 and e4-e5, etc.

18.Bd2 Nd7 19.Rac1?!

A mistake. Of course White should put Black in a bind with 19.Ba5! If Black responds with 19...Nb6, then after 20.b3, Black is very awkward, because ...c5 creates a pin on his knight. Thus he must go through the slow process of untangling himself with ...Rb8, ...Ba5, ...c5, ...Qd7, etc., while White increases the pressure with Rac1 and d4-d5.  I had considered responding with 19…Rac8 20. Rac1 Qe7!?, which leads to great complications but may be satisfactory for Black. Instead of 20. Rac1, White can of course play 20. d5, with continuing pressure.


Now Black has survived the worst.


After 20.d5 I had toyed with the idea of 20...a5 followed by ...a4, ...Ba6, ...Ra7, ...Nf6 and ...Ra7-e7.  Both sides have a great deal of options but Black has a sound position. My opponent chose the more concrete option, taking on c5, because it gave him more tangible play.

20...dxc5 21.Bc3

Excellent play! I must now survive the open position a few tempi behind in development and without my dark-square bishop.


"To get squares, you gotta give squares." The purpose of this move, which cedes d4, b4, and provides White with a nice target for b2-b3, was twofold: to relieve my knight of the burden of defending the c5 pawn, and to create counterplay on the d3 square.  White now takes the initiative, but I have resources to defend.

22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.Qc3+ Kh7

By this time my opponent and I each had about half an hour left on the clock. During the game I believed 23...Qf6 24.e5 to win for White, but Fritz points out the obvious: 24...Qe6 25.Nd4 Qd5 is strong for Black.


Here I face an uncomfortable decision. If I bring the queen to c7, I am taking a valuable defender away from my weakened kingside dark squares and stepping into a potential pin with b2-b3. If I bring the queen to e7, I face tactical shots with Nf3-d4 followed by Nd4-f5! from White. Although I do have resources in both variations, which I calculated for a few minutes, I found a third option that seemed to secure my position best while giving me better counterplay.


I now have the resource ...Qe8, assaulting the e4 pawn, and can activate my queen via the h8-a1 diagonal.


I felt White would have done better to begin liquidating my queenside pawn majority with a move like 25. a4 or 25. b3. I calculated several lines searching for a way to keep an extra queenside pawn and preserve winning chances, but it is difficult. If White wished to double on the d-file, perhaps 25. Rd4, defending e4 and attacking c4, was a better option. During the game, I was very happy to see 25. Rd2.

25...Qh8 26.Qb4 Qe8

The queen trade would have favored Black, but now I have kicked White's queen off of the a1–h8 diagonal and have control over f6 again.


White crumbles under pressure. I now finish off the e4 pawn. White had to begin breaking up my queenside with 27.a4!

27...Nf6 28.Qd6

White accepts his loss of a pawn calmly, but Black is close to winning at this point. 28.e5!? Ne4 is much better for Black, though 28...Bxf3? 29.exf6 Re1+ 30.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 31.Kh2, which I also calculated, is tricky but not at all good for me.

28...Nxe4 29.Nxe4 Bxe4 30.Re1 Re6 31.Qd7 Bc6 32.Rxe6 Bxd7 33.Rxe8 Bxe8 34.Re2 Rc8 35.Re7?

This move was the product of time-trouble, as White had just seconds left.

35...b4 36.Ne5 c3 37.bxc3 bxc3 38.Nd3 Bb5 39.Rxf7+? Kg8 40.Rf3 Bxd3 41.Rxd3 c2

A fascinating struggle that came down to the wire. I outcalculated my opponent in the heat of the battle, but he fought with his entire spirit and did not give in prematurely. 0–1

The following draw was contested by the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the Under 18 section, John Wolleny and Benjamin Goosman.


GM Yury Shulman was on hand throughout the event to analyze games.  Shulman, who is always gracious and generous with his time worked tirelessly to help players improve their game.  His table was often crowded with spectators.  He projected the games so everyone could follow along.

Yury teaches between rounds. Photo Betsy Dynako.

 Yury signed many scoresheets as well as numerous copies of the book he co-wrote with former student Rishi Sethi,  Chess! Lessons from a Grandmaster.  Sales of the book help to benefit his non-profit organization Chess Without Borders.

The tournament ended early on Sunday afternoon thanks to a new schedule allowing many families to avoid any costly night in a hotel.  Some players may not have appreciated this though, as it meant many of them would be in school on Monday morning.  The U.S. Junior Chess Congress may be the shortest of National Scholastic events but the attendance and enthusiasm this year proved it still provides a thrilling weekend of chess.

Photo Gallery by Betsy Dynako

Yury congratulates the participants at the closing ceremony.

Cary Kings team room

The last game to finish the round!

The players were greeted by a snowstorm

The oldest of the Vibbert brothers, Jared, playing Jonathan Hilton in the Under 18 section.

This year's U.S. Junior Chess Congress set a new record.

Emily Casella ponders a move.

Isaiah Gadson, 2nd place in the Under 12

Daniel Vibbert, 2nd place in the Under 14


18 under
1. Jonathan Hilton        6.0  2192
2. John Wolleny        4.5  1417
3. Benjamin Goosman        4.5  1202


1. Cary Kings Illinois
2. Terre Haute Chess Club
3. Highland High School Anderson, IN

16 Under

1. Gautam Nagendra     1880 5.5

2. Daniel Ryker    1760  5.0
3. Josh Matti        1564  4.5

1.    Canterbury School Fort Wayne, IN
2.    Mount Vernon High School, IN
3.    Shenandoah High School, IN

14 Under

1.Samuel Ludlow    1523 5.5

2. Daniel Vibbert    1482 5.0
3. Austin Steinforth    1406 5.0


1.    Cary Kings Illinois

2.    Knightmare Chess Club Columbus, OH
3.    East Side Middle School Anderson, IN

12 Under

1. Sean Vibbert    1846 6.0
2. Isaiah Gadson    1533 5.0
3. Timothy Ryan Tootel    1598 5.0


1.    Evansville Scholastic Chess Club, IN

2.    Montessori Oak Academy, IN
3.    Bellbrook School, IN

10 Under

1. Epiphany Peters    1574 6.0

2. Peter Chen        1631 5.0
3. Apurva Virkud    1248 5.0


1.    Troy Titans Chess Club, MI

2.    Canterbury School Fort Wayne, IN
3.    Illinois CO2O

8 Under

1. Michael Chen    1521 6.0
2. Srikar Chikkala    1195 5.0
3. Spencer Kriss    1247 5.0

1.    Troy Titans Chess Club, MI
2.    Illinois CO20
3.    Kentucky Knights Chess Club