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Live From Milwaukee: Robson Leads and Analyzes Print E-mail
By Alex Betaneli   
July 15, 2009
IM Ray Robson is leading the U.S. Junior Closed after four rounds. Check out his annotations below. Photo Betsy Dynako
At times the US Junior Closed Championship does not draw many titled players, but this year's edition features a powerful field of four International Masters (one is already GM-elect), three FIDE masters, and a candidate master. (See crosstable here.)   The popular IM Sam Shankland flew in on Saturday, July 11th to give himself more time to adjust to the new environment. Sam adapted just fine: his luggage was left behind in Chicago, but was promptly delivered to him the following day. His introduction to gyros was a great success and now Greek food rates among his favorites. Other participants arrived to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the newly renovated Ramada Hotel on Sunday. IM Ray Robson was accompanied by his parents, FM Michael Lee came with his father, whereas GM-elect Alex Lenderman, IM Sal Bercys, FM Joel Banawa, FM Elliott Liu and CM Maxx Coleman came with just their laptops. 

The players and their companions were treated to the first unofficial "opening ceremony" that took place over a relaxing dinner at Houlihan's. To quote the arbiter Frank Berry, "it took an hour to get the food, but it was hot and tasty." There was no need to discuss time control (SD/90+30sec/move increment), round times or even pairings and colors as everything was known to the players well ahead of time. Frank announced that he just might use the new FIDE rule about forfeiting players who are late for the round and he encouraged the players not to make any short, lifeless draws. This was hardly necessary as the juniors came to battle.

Joel Banawa, Sam Shankland and Elliott Liu at the welcome dinner at Houlihan's.

The way participants were chosen and invited to the tournament is very straightforward:  the top seven junior players by peak rating (as of April 2009, going back a year) were joined by last year's US Junior Open Champion. A few players declined their invitation due to other obligations (Robert Hess, Daniel Ludwig, Marc Arnold, John Bryant, and Mark Heimann) and the players next in line were invited in turn until seven players accepted. Many thanks to Chuck Lovingood who compiled the list of players for the organizers: as peak ratings are used, this was indeed a long task! Alas, some very strong players just missed out on the invitation, including last year's champion Tyler Hughes. 

Top row: Salvijus Bercys, Alex Betaneli, Joel Banawa, Elliott Liu, Maxx Coleman, Frank Berry, Bottom Row: Michael Lee, Ray Robson, Sam Shankland and Alex Lenderman


The players showed they came to fight hard. Sam Shankland and Sal Bercys played a fascinating game that ended in a draw (annotated for the readers by both players in this earlier CLO report ). Alex Lenderman was upset by Elliott Liu but showed good sportsmanship in praising Liu's play.  Michael requested improved lighting and two lamps were brought in to satisfy his request. Sam requested more points, but he was told to wait until later rounds. 

Players at the Oakland Gyros
LUNCH BREAK: most of the players dined at Oakland Gyros, the favorite place in Milwaukee of one of the organizers (Ashish Vaja). In fact, a true connoisseur  Josh Friedel (who teaches in Milwaukee every summer) enjoys this food, especially the robust lamb shank. This was Sam's second time at the place and the food inspired him to play some great chess in the next round. One of the players ordered the traditional Greek Philly cheese steak and enjoyed it immensely. 


Alex was on the ropes against Sal, but escaped with the draw. "I cannot believe I let the game go," Sal said, who turned cheerful fifteen minutes later. Sam showed some great technique in the endgame as he beat Joel. Ray beat Maxx in a nice sacrificial style. The last game to finish was the draw between Elliott and Michael where white had winning chances, but could not quite convert his advantage in time trouble. The game actually ended with stalemate, testifying to the players' desire to fight to the end. Sam, Elliott, Michael, and Ray finished the first day with 1.5/2 points each.  After the games, Frank Berry supervised a Hawaiian pizza party.


All games were decisive this time. Sal scored his first victory (over Elliott), Alex beat Joel, Sam overcame Maxx, and Ray defeated Michael with the black pieces. Robson annotated his win in an instructive style:


Michael normally plays c4, and likes to play the positions after c4 c5. However, after c4 I play e6. With this move order Michael is hoping for c5, which is what I always play, because then he can play c4! and trick me into his opening.
A surprise for my opponent! Now we were both on new territory.
2.d4 d5 3.exd5
Since Michael never plays e4, I guess that he wanted to get a simpler position where theory wouldn't matter as much.
3...exd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Be7 6.Nc3 0–0 7.Be2
7.cxd5 was also interesting.
7...dxc4 8.Bxc4 Bg4 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Qd2?

This move was unexpected for me, but also not very good.
10.0–0 seemed more natural, when I was going to play 10...Qd7 followed by Rad8.
 I think this was a good move, as now I have ideas like Ne4 in the air. Also, I always have the option of Bxf3.
11.Qd3 Qd7
Preparing Rad8 and possibly supporting the move Bf5.
12.a3 Ba5 13.b4 Bb6 14.Bb5
I was threatening Bxf3 followed by taking the d4 pawn.
14...Rad8 15.Ne2 a6?
15...Bxf3 16.gxf3 a6 17.Bxc6 (17.Ba4 Ne5! is a nice trick.) 17...Qxc6 would have been very good for me.
16.Bxc6 Qxc6 17.Ne5 Qxg2 18.Rg1
I had originally underestimated white's position.
18...Bxe2 19.Kxe2
19...Qe4? Originally I was planning to play this move, but then I saw the stunning 20.Rxg7+!! Kxg7 21.Rg1+ Kh8 22.Qxe4 Nxe4 23.Bh6 and there is no defence to Bg7+ and Bf6 mate! 23...Nc3+ (23...Rg8 24.Nxf7#) 24.Kf3
Due to the game continuation, this may not have been the best move.
Now I have the threats of f6 and of taking on d4, due to the fork on f4.
21.Rg4 f6 22.Qf5
White threatens Rxg7+. 22.Qb3+ Kh8
22...Kh8 23.Qf3
The only move. 23.Nf3 g6 24.Qe6 Rfe8
23...Qxf3+ 24.Nxf3 g6
After this I was able to convert the pawn advantage without too much trouble.
25.Kd3 Ng7 26.Bh6 Rfe8 27.Bxg7+ Kxg7 28.Re4 Rxe4 29.Kxe4 c6
Preparing to bring my rook to d5 where it will have a lot of scope.
30.a4 Rd5 31.Rd1 g5 32.h3 h5 33.Ke3 Kg6 34.Rg1
Trying to stop g4, but this hastens the end.
34...Kf5 35.Rd1 g4 36.hxg4+ hxg4 37.Ng1 Re5+ 38.Kd3 Bxd4! 39.Ne2 Bxf2 40.Rf1 Re3+ 41.Kd2 Rf3 42.b5 axb5

Here my opponent resigned.
42...Be3+ 43.Ke1 Bd2+? 44.Kxd2 Rxf1 45.Ng3+ 0–1

This put Ray Robson and Sam Shankland at the top of the crosstable with 2.5/3.

LUNCH BREAK: half of the players enjoyed an outing to a local Chinese place, while others rested and prepared for their upcoming battles individually. Joel tasted pot stickers for the first time and approved the food.


More blood was spilled on Tuesday evening as only one game (Sal versus Joel) was drawn. Alex scored his second victory, this time against Maxx in a game Alex thought was of high quality. Michael delivered a victory over Sam in a wildly complicated game, annotated by Michael.


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.Rc1 Kh8?!

13...Ng6 main line 14.c5 Nxc5 15.b4 Na6 16.Nb5 Bd7 17.Nxa7
As Sam and I discussed after the game, Nd3 moved the knight to an unfavorable position. [14.c5]
 Based on an unsound idea
15.c5 Nf6 16.cxd6 cxd6 17.Nb5 g4?!

The idea, sacrificing a rook for the attack. However, it is unsound, but hard to disprove over the board.
18.Nxd6?! An interesting idea, suggested by Sam 18...Qxd6 19.Bc5 Qd8 20.Nxe5 Rf8 But White has no follow-up.
18...g3 19.Nxa8+-
Crazy complications. White is theoretically winning, but the complexity of the position is beyond human calculation, and difficult to refute. 20.Kh1?!
Based on the wrong idea for defense. Black has many threats. 20.Nc7 Ng6 21.Ne6 And White can survive.
 20...Bh6 21.Be1?!
21.Bg1? Bh3 22.Ne1 Nf5! 23.exf5 Qg5 I thought this position was winning, but the computer found 24.Bf2 Qh4 25.Bg1 Qg5=; 21.Bxa7! Found by Sam in the post-game analysis, Black's tries don't work here. 21...Nc6?! 22.dxc6 Qh4 23.Bg1 Bh3 24.Ne1 Qg5 25.Bc4! gxh2 26.Bf2 Bxg2+ 27.Kxh2
22.Nf2 Qh4 23.h3 gxf2 24.Rxf2
24.Bxf2 Rg3!–+ Sam admitted afterwards he had missed this move.
24...Bxh3 25.gxh3
25.Kg1 Ng3 26.Bb5 Bf5 27.Rf1 Qh1+ 28.Kf2 Nxe4+ 29.Ke2 Qxg2+ 30.Bf2 Nd4+–+
 25...Qg3 shankleefinal.jpg

The longest game was Ray's win over Elliott.

This put  Ray Robson at the top of the list with 3.5 points out of 4 with Sam Shankland, Sal Bercys, Alex Lenderman and Michael Lee chasing him with 2.5/4. In the remaining rounds Robson has to face Sam, Alex and Sal, so it will not be easy to hold on to the lead!

Open Late enough for chessplayers!
After the games, Five players went out to Oakland Gyros as it officially became the group's preferred restaurant. As dinner took place around 10:00pm, Sal’s muddy perception that “everything closes at five in Midwest” was soundly refuted. 

The tournament is co-sponsored by the United States Chess Federation, Vaja International Chess Academy , and by Wisconsin Chess Academy. See the Wisconsin Chess Blog for detailed updates and tournament crosstables. Kudos to John Veech, Tommy Schneider, Troy Zimmermann and Erik Santarius for helping out with Internet Chess Club relays (please see USJunior09 for all games).
Player Bios

GM-elect Alex Lenderman, Photo Betsy Dynako
GM-elect ALEX LENDERMAN (age 19)
State of Residence: New York
Titles: World Youth u-16 Champion in 2005; Most Valuable Player award for the 2008 season of US Chess League; 2008 Grand Prix winner
Recent Chess Success: three GM norms in less than two months (2009 Copper State International; 2009 Philadelphia International; 2009 World Open)
Alex has recently become a professional chess player.

IM Salvijus Bercy, Photo Betsy Dynako
IM SAL BERCYS (age 19)
State of Residence: New York
Titles: Bronze medalist at the 2002 World Youth Championship as a Lithuanian representative. Sal earned his IM norms at the 2005 World Open, the 2005 US Championship, and the 2007 World Open.
Sal represented United States at the 2004 World Youth Championship and participated in two US Championships. He is a prominent character in the "Kings of New York" book by Michael Weinreb.


Joel Banawa lives in Los Angeles, California. He started playing chess when he was 7 in his native Philippines. "I love playing chess not just because it's fun but also because it teaches discipline and creates a completely different environment and challenge." Joel's family moved to the United States when he was 13. "I would say my greatest accomplishment in chess, if I had to pick one, was when I represented United States in the World Youth chess championship in Batumi. It's always a pleasure and a great honor to be able to do such thing." Banawa's goal in chess right now is to strive to get an IM title and hopefully someday "GM". Joel's favorite players are world champions Fischer, Kramnik, and especially Karpov.

Maxx Colema, Photo Betsy Dynako
CM-elect MAXX COLEMAN (age 19)
State of Residence: Kansas
Titles: 2005 US Open A-class co-champion; 2006 US Open A-class champion; 2008 US Junior Open champion.
Maxx represented Kansas in the famous Denker tournament of state champions three times (2005, 2006, and 2007). 

Michael Lee, Photo Elizabeth Vicary
State of Residence: Washington
Titles: 2003 National Champion (grade 4), 2005 National Champion (grade 6), 2008 National K-9 Champion.
Recent Chess Success: first IM norm at the 2009 World Open
Michael is also a talented piano player (he performed with the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra and Sammamish Symphony!) and likes math, science and reading.

IM Ray Robson, Photo Betsy Dynako
IM RAY ROBSON (age 14)
State of Residence: Florida
Ray Robson went from becoming a master at age 11 to earning his final International Master norm at age 13 at the Reykjavik Open in Iceland in March of 2008. He is the youngest IM in the United States.

Ray's father, a professor of education, taught him how to play chess when he was three years old. By the age of seven, Ray started to play in scholastic events, and he earned several national titles before leaving the scholastic scene for high-level adult tournaments. In 2007, Ray qualified for the US Chess Championship, making him the youngest player in the history of the event to participate. In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship, which should aid him as he works towards his present short-term goal: the grandmaster title. Ray intends to become a professional chess player, and one of his long-term goals is to be able to compete internationally with the world's strongest players.


State of Residence: California
Titles: North California State Champion at the age of 16; World Youth u-18 Co-champion in 2008; 2009 New York International co-winner
Recent Chess Success: two GM norms in 2009 New York International and 2009 Philadelphia International. Sam qualified for and participated in the last two US Closed Championships.

FM Elliott Liu, Photo Betsy Dynako
State of Residence: California
Titles: 2005 U.S. Cadet Champion, 2006 Pan-American u18 Gold Medalist; two IM norms
Elliott represented United States in three World Youth Championships (2004, 2005, and 2007) and played in the US Championship in 2006. He will be a sophomore at Stanford this fall.

Chief TD: International Arbiter FRANK BERRY
Frank is famous for his terrific sense of humor. He organized and sponsored the 2006 and 2007 US Championships.
The U.S. Junior Closed is being held at the Ramada Conference Center in Milwaukee. The contact for hotel arrangements was Joya Zamora (

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