Brave Chess at the US Junior
By Vanessa West   
July 11, 2015
After five rounds, IM Akshat Chandra is half a point ahead of the field at the 2015 US Junior Closed. The event, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, features ten of the top young talents in the country. Trailing behind Chandra in second is top-rated IM Jeffery Xiong. Xiong gained ground on Chandra this round, battling for 124 moves in the endgame against IM Yian Liou for the win. Although Chandra's led the tournament since round two, the tournament is only at the halfway point. With such a strong field of dedicated juniors competing, anything can still happen.

To me, the most compelling moment of the tournament so far occurred in the fourth round in the game between IM Yian Liou and FM Ruifeng Li. Even though the game began as a Najorf Sicilian, by move 24, something unusual occurred: the position became reminiscent of the King's Indian Defense.

When I was a junior myself, I used to play the Black side of the King's Indian Defense. My coach at the time, GM Eduard Gufeld, taught me the opening. Gufeld was known for playing imaginative games in the King's Indian Defense, and he really emphasized the spirit of the position. In many of the variations, White obtains more space, queenside pressure, and a wealth of other positional advantages. So, why would anyone want to play the Black side of this?

The appeal of the opening is, while White builds up a sound positional plan and gradually eats away at Black's queenside, Black gets the opportunity to prepare his pieces for a do-or-die kingside breakthrough. I'll always remember one idea Gufeld showed me (that I ended up using to win a couple games) where White attacks Black's rook on the queenside, and Black just leaves the full rook hanging. The couple extra moves gained on the kingside end up making the attack unstoppable.

Going back to the Liou vs. Li game, Black attempted to create kingside play with 16...f5, but later his pieces found themselves in somewhat cramped positions. Other than one rook that could reach the open g-file, most of Black's pieces lacked the scope to create weaknesses around White's king. Meanwhile, White mounted queenside pressure with 24. c5.

At this point, Black faced a critical decision: try to defend against White's queenside pressure or figure out a way to launch his own attack?

Li decided to epitomize the spirit of the King's Indian Defense by playing ...Ne5!?, sacrificing a knight for a pawn. This move absolutely fascinates me. According to GM Mackenzie Molner, "Objectively, this move sacrifices a piece for a mere pawn, and was probably not fully sound; however, White was faced with serious practical problems."

After White accepted the sacrifice, Li gained a strong, mobile pawn center, and his light-squared bishop (that could barely move before) becomes the centerpiece of his attack. With perfect play, White may've capitalized on his material advantage. However, in my opinion, a sacrifice where you get to pursue your own counterattack is vastly better than an equal game of purely passive defense. Li was rewarded for his brave move and went on to win.

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