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August Junior Rating Update Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
August 21, 2007

IM Alex Lenderman. Photo Jennifer Shahade
It's time for another top juniors update. I have to say I was quite happy when I looked at the list and realized that five of the top six juniors are already confirmed to compete in the US Chess League in 2007.

The question for discussion this week is: How many of the players in the top ten do you believe will become Grandmasters before their 25th birthday. Please name those that you think will do so and feel free to give your reasons. My answer would be four, including Nakamura, although it wouldn't be an absolute shock if it turned out to be five, six or even just three. This number isn't counting players like Ray Robson, who are mentioned as "others to watch" but aren't actually on the list.

1. GM Hikaru Nakamura: 2742 19-years old (Last Ranking: 1st, Rating Change: +4) hikjun.jpgHikaru maintains his slim lead over his competitors, although IM Friedel is within just 200 points. More about him in the September overall update.

2. IM Josh Friedel: 2543, 20 years old (Last Ranking: 2nd, Rating Change: +1) joshthumb2.jpg Josh has been tearing up the scene lately, resulting in a gain of one rating point. He's set to hit the fabled 2550 mark in just over a year. Josh can tell you how he's been doing better than I can, so for more information check out his blog.

3. IM Lev Milman: 2531, 19 years old (Last Ranking: 3rd, Rating Change: no change) Levthumb.jpgLev made the calculated decision that his best chance to pass Josh Friedel in the rankings was to not play in America and hope that Josh would self destruct. Instead he decided to play in the Pula Open in Croatia, scoring an impressive 7/9 and tying for second place, although it wasn't enough for his third GM norm. Lev also just finished playing in the New England Masters in which he scored a respectable 5.5/9.

4.IM Salvijus Bercys: 2488, 17 years (Last Ranking: 4th, Rating Change:+3) salthumb.jpg Sal is admittedly just tied for 4th place, but he gets the nod over Bartholomew, as I revert to the previous list if players are tied. I hope they don't harbor any ill feelings towards each other due to this intense rating list rivalry, as they will be teammates at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Sal did pass the 2500 barrier for the first time, but has been unlucky and unable to hold onto it for any official rating supplement, most recently losing 12 points at the World Open.

5. IM John Bartholomew:2488, 20 years old (Last Ranking: 5th, Rating Change: +15). johnthumb.jpgJohn had a solid World Open , drawing US Champion Alexander Shabalov, GM Eugene Perelshteyn and GM Abhijit Kunte, while losing only to GM Shulman and GM Pavlovic, and defeating a few masters. It must be heartbreaking that he is just one point shy of his quest to reach fourth place in the rankings (or at least my version of the rankings with my special tiebreak rules), especially as he is soon going to be too old for the rating list. It will be interesting to see how much John plays during the school year.

6. IM Robert Hess: 2486, 15 years old (Last Ranking: 6th, Rating Change: +14) Hessthumb.jpgRobert continues to breathe down the neck of his nearest competitors. He is only 3 points away from fourth place, and given his young age, I see no reason that he won't be a fixture in the top 3 on this list in the near future.

Robert's last few months of play haven't been so action packed. He's been picking up 4-5 points here and there, drawing a few strong players, and mostly beating the lower rated ones. Don't be surprised to see him explode soon and gain 25-40 points in a single event and never look back.

7. IM Alex Lenderman: 2480, 17 years old (Last Ranking: 7th, Rating Change: +25) lendthumb.jpgKudos to Lenderman for his recent 25 point gain. There is now just an 8-point difference between 4th and 7th on the rankings. The unfortunate news for Alex is that since this rating list has been published, he has lost these points back, with a disastrous 27 point loss in an action tournament at the Marshall Chess Club, losing to both Daniel Lowinger and Dideng Du, both rated around the 2100 level.

Alex seems to be an avid reader of this column, as he sent me a few very insightful comments after reading the last report . In the column two months ago, I insinuated that one of the roadblocks towards Alex reaching greater heights was the fact that he rarely plays in serious top-level events. He explained that he plays chess and gives lessons to help both himself and his family financially. Alex is more focused on being practical, going to school, starting on a solid career path, and then making a serious push towards all of his chess dreams when he is around 25 years old.

Alex showed a great deal of maturity in his comments to me and to quote him:

For me, the most important thing of all is to make sure I help other people out the best way I can, most importantly those who are close to me, my family members and my close friends."

It is true that some players on this list have an easier time of achieving their chess goals because they don't have to worry about finances so much. This is definitely an advantage to those players. It's a shame that there aren't 4 or 5 Samford Fellowships being given out every year. I think that one great way to improve the state of junior chess would be to give out as many of these kinds of scholarships as possible every year. The funding would be difficult to come by but not impossible and it would encourage talented kids because they would have a very legitimate shot at receiving a lot of money for their talents, as opposed to the state now, where it's a relative long shot. It's a shame that since the Samford was created over twenty years ago, no other such substantial fellowships have appeared on the scene.

8. NM Joel Banawa: 2407, 17 years old (Last Ranking: 10th, Rating Change: +16) J.Banawa.jpgJoel has finally gotten his rating over the 2400 mark on an official supplement. He was up to 2422 but he bombed at the World Open, causing him to drop back to 2407. The next year will be crucial for Joel, and if he isn't over 2450 before he turns 18, it's a bad sign. If he is in the 2450-2500+ range, then he is well on his way to achieving his potential. I think either result is possible for Joel.

9. FM Daniel Ludwig: 2399, 17 years old (Last Ranking: 8th, Rating Change: -12) Ludwigthumb.jpg Daniel had an unimpressive World Open, losing the 12 points that were rated for this supplement. He has made a nice comeback in the Southern Open however scoring 4.5/5 to gain 16 rating points for the next list. He was the highest rated player in this event, and defeated a few 2300+ opponents en route to first place. Daniel, like Joel, is another very talented player who could easily be higher ranked with the right direction, work ethic and motivation.

10. FM Igor Schneider - 2389, 19 years old (Last Ranking: NA, Rating Change: +4)igor1.jpg Igor returns to the top ten list after missing out on the last supplement. Igor has been pretty inactive lately, playing only two tournaments in 2007, and qualified for the list due to Kazim Gulamali's recent losses. He gained his four points in the World Open by starting off the event very solidly, drawing GM Mikhalevski and GM Khachiyan.

Unfortunately for Igor, it's very difficult to improve too greatly at 19 years of age while playing just a few scattered tournaments each year. Someone needs to create a chess college where all the top young players in the country would go and simply have chess class all day.

University of Texas, Dallas is similar to this, but I'm pretty sure they make you actually go to real classes dealing with stuff like Philosophy, Chemistry, English, Math and other relatively unimportant topics. We need a school where you would replace those topics with "The Bishop Pair" "Endgames" "Closed Positions" and so on. If Igor went to that school I think he would be a GM within three years, as would everyone else on this list.

Others to Watch

Ray Robson: 2372, 12 years old

Ray is almost there, tied for 11th place on the list and just 17 points behind Igor for the final spot. If he should either gain a few points or have either Josh Friedel or John Bartholomew reach the old age of 21, he is likely to start his reign on the top ten list.

James Critelli: 2337, 16 years old

James is coming off of an impressive result at the New England Masters, which included a run of four consecutive wins in the middle of the event. His result was good enough to earn an IM norm had there been enough foreigners in the field. This fine performance has ballooned his unofficial rating up to 2367, which leaves the number one ranked 16 year old in the nation knocking on the door of the top 10 list.

Evan Ju: 2309, 17 years old

Evan has been playing fantastic chess lately, getting his unofficial rating up to around the 2340 range. The main explosion from Evan was his exceptional result in the New Jersey Futurity , scoring 4.5/9 in a very strong field while entering as the lowest rated player. He defeated GM Zaitchik, IM Ippolito, IM Zlotnikov, NM Molner while drawing the eventual tournament winner, GM Sergey Erenburg. An extremely impressive display from Ju who seems braced to make a run at the top ten. Last year at this time he was rated just about 2200.

Warren Harper: 2289, 16 years old

Warren has been playing in USCF tournaments for just three years, but has already accomplished so much. Warren recently scored an impressive 5.5/6 to win the 2007 Denker Tournament of High School Champions . While his rating is not astoundingly high for a 16-year-old (It's very good of course, I'm just pointing out that there are a few players around his age that are higher than him), the fact that he's been playing for such a short amount of time probably means that he still has a lot of room to improve. Don't be surprised if Warren is solidly in the 2400+ range within the next 12 months.