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Top Juniors Update Print E-mail
By Greg Shahade   
July 9, 2007
IM Robert Hess, Photo Jennifer Shahade

by IM Greg Shahade

My apologies for the long delay in getting this report to you. I was planning to publish it in May. However, the June rating list wasn't published until June (usually it comes out a bit early) but I was preoccupied for most of the month. You will find out a bit about one of the things that distracted me in my story coming up later this week, "The Richest Chess Game Ever."

Expect the next junior report to come when the August rating list is released, which should be sometime in....August! The overall report will be coming in a week or two as well.

1. GM Hikaru Nakamura: 273819-years old (Last Ranking: 1st, Rating Change: -17)

Only about a year and a half left until someone else is the top junior in the country. Leave your guesses as to whom the next #1 ranked junior will be in the comments section. I'd make Robert Hess and Ray Robson the clear front runners. I think if I had to make odds, I'd say 60% on Robson, 35% on Hess and about 5% on everyone else.

My apologies for not focusing on Hikaru so much. Since I'll be writing the overall rating list report shortly, that is where I will focus on his recent results. I have another question to give your opinion about in the comments section. Hikaru gives a simul against the nine players listed below. Time control is 40/2, SD/1, but he gets white in all nine games. What is his score? I think he would get around an even score, but it would probably be close and I might be way off. If I had to bet on Hikaru or the field, I'd put my money on Hikaru.

If you give him mixed colors, probably he's more likely to score 50% or -1. He is just such a great speed player that I don't think the time disadvantage would affect him as much as it would affect other top players. Anyway please post your opinions on the extremely important questions listed above. If anyone below is insulted by this prediction, don't worry, I think you would win your game.

2. IM Josh Friedel: 2542, 20 years old (Last Ranking: 2nd, Rating Change: -2)

Note that there are actually two Josh Friedel's playing chess in the USA. One of them is rated just 100 though, so it's hard to get them too confused. Josh had a horrendous US Championship, but came back strong with fine performances in both the Chicago Openand the National Open.

It's unfortunate as if Josh had been able to maintain his consistency and perform well in the US Championship, he could be right on the brink of 2600. Instead he's stuck in his familiar 2550 land. Josh's best scalp in the past supplement was his win over current US Champion, Alex Shabalov. To read his account of the ups and downs of the last two months, check out the first installment of his regular column, Adventures of a Samford Fellow.

3. IM Lev Milman: 2531, 19 years old (Last Ranking: 3rd, Rating Change: -8)

Booo Milman! Lev has played only one tournament in the past six months, the Final Four Collegiate Championship for the Duke Blue Devils. In less important news, Lev is probably doing well in school. Stay tuned for some Milman action when the US Chess League begins and he attempts to lead the Carolina to the postseason for the 2nd year in a row.

4.IM Salvijus Bercys: 2485, 17 years (Last Ranking: 4th, Rating Change: -27)

Not to be outdone by the three players above him, who all lost rating points since the last list, Sal lost 27 of them. Sal accomplished this feat by losing 6-7 points in every event he played. Unfortunately he continued his downslide, by losing 20 points in the just finished World Open. My favorite tournament of his was the "NY Foolish Open", for no reason other than the name.

5. IM John Bartholomew: 2473, 20 years old (Last Ranking: 5th, Rating Change: +9)

I refuse to look at the FIDE website to see John's birthday, so it'll be a big surprise when he suddenly disappears from the list. It could happen at any moment, so exciting! John gained a solid 9 points in the last supplement. I predict 2500+ within the next year. John is also the new manager of the US Chess League's Dallas Destiny

6. IM Robert Hess: 2472, 15 years old (Last Ranking: 6th, Rating Change: +25)

Robert had an outstanding Foxwoods Openwith wins over GM Alex Ivanov and draws against GM Perelshteyn and IM Friedel. Robert has gained 80 points in the last year and 150 points in the last two years. This is nothing incredible for someone so young, but it is much more difficult to gain points at such a high rating. I just have a feeling that he's ready to breakthrough and get to the 2550 level pretty soon. Sometimes the experience playing and beating high rated players on a regular basis is all a young player needs.

7. IM Alex Lenderman: 2455, 17 years old (Last Ranking: 7th, Rating Change: none)

Lenderman is on the move! That wouldn't seem to be the case since his rating didn't change at all, but he has really been taking advantage of the summer months, and has gotten his rating up to almost 2500. On the next list he should break into the top five.

I still believe Lenderman has potential for greatness, but I still feel that he's going about realizing this potential in the wrong ways. He hasn't been playing many serious events, only action tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club. As an example of some of his competition, he recently scored 3.5/4 in the Marshall Chess Club Thursday Night Action, and lost 2 rating points! To see serious improvement he needs to stop playing for the money against weaker opponents, and go out of his way to play strong competition.

8. FM Daniel Ludwig: 2411, 17 years old (Last Ranking: 8th, Rating Change: +14)

Daniel has gained some points but had a relatively boring few months. He had a rather lackluster World Open and is due to lose about 20 rating points, let's hope he can stay afloat and keep his spot in the top 10.

9. NM Kazim Gulamali - 2411, 19 years old (Last Ranking: none, Rating Change: +25)

Photo David Woolf, Georgia Chess Association

Uh Oh. Yes Gulamali has made his first ever appearance in the official top ten rankings, but the way things are going he may not be here long. He has had three consecutive poor performances at the National Open, the Emory Castle Grand Prix and the World Open. He will probably need to either gain some points or hope for John Bartholomew to get older really fast if he wants to stay in the top 10.

10. NM Joel Banawa: 2391, 17 years old (Last Ranking: 10th, Rating Change: +19)

Things were looking bright for Joel up until this week. He got his unofficial rating above 2400 for the first time with a 4-0 score in the LA Masters, while even managing to play one master in the process!

He then had a few more fine showings to get his unofficial rating up to 2422, although he has taken a step back in the World Open, losing approximately 15 points. I have some psychological tendency to treat a 16 year old player as a young player with lots of talent whom can improve a ton in the next few years, and an 18 year old as someone who is more likely to show a bit of steady improvement, but not make any leaps and bounds.

According to my extensive calculations, 17-years-old is right in the middle. This is the year that should give a great hint as to whether Joel has what it takes to become a regular 2500-2550+ player, or someone who never breaks the 2500 barrier. After all, GM Jesse Kraai has already proven that once you are past 18 years old, it's impossible to get any better at chess.

Others to Watch
Ray Robson - 2378, 12 years old He finished a point behind Marc Arnold in the US Junior Championship. Instead of talking about Ray, I'm instead going to rant about the US Juniors for a minute. The tournament has somehow become a joke. When I was playing, over 80% of the field was above 2400. Somehow in this year's event there was not a single player above 2400. The most exciting incentive to play and try to win the U.S. Junior is to earn a spot in the World Junior and the U.S. Championship, but this just doesn't mean as much as it used to. The U.S. sends a larger delegation to the World Youth and the U.S. Championship is a larger field so talented 2400+ juniors can qualify for these events in many ways. The USCF needs to find a way to make sure that all of the top talents play in the event, and bring the glory back to the title of US Junior Champion. The title has been rendered much less relevant.

In any case, I considered leaving Ray off the "Others to Watch" list this time around, as there were a few other players who I wanted to talk about, but I kept him on because he's pretty good at chess, and he's 12 years old. I need a much better reason to wield my power and exclude probably the most talented young player in the nation (not counting Nakamura of course). I wish he would please just make the top 10 list soon so I could make predictions on when he would pass so and so. He's doing a crappy job of it so far by losing a few points at the World Open. In any case I'll be surprised if he's not on the list within 2 lists from now. If he's not on it in 3 lists, I refuse to list him as an "Other to Watch" anymore as punishment.

Marc Arnold - 2335, 14 years old

Congratulations to Marc for winning the US Junior Championship. Even with a watered down field, you have to give props to a 14-year-old winning the title. This is actually the second year in a row it was won by a 14 year old (Robert Hess won it last year. Marc is rated 2355 at just 14 years of age. He started the World Open off with some great maturity, holding GM Shabalov and GM Perelshteyn to draws. He slipped a little bit at the end, but his strong start ensured that he would gain at least a few rating points. This is another player that I hope we will see in the top ten relatively shortly. His rating is now nearing 2360, and this puts him one great tournament away from the list.

Teddy Coleman - 2258, 17-years-old

Teddy is coming off an incredible performance at the World Open, with an amazing win over GM Ljubomir Ftacnik, another win over strong FM Marcel Martinez, and draws against GM John Fedorowicz, GM Bosko Abramovic and GM Lars Bo Hansen. Simply Outstanding! It seems like every year one young player breaks out at the World Open and this year clearly belonged to Teddy. He's expected to gain a ridiculous 60 points! He will be just around 2300, because he lost points at the US Junior, but hopefully this kind of result gives him the confidence he needs to really step up his game. He's a talented and smart kid, who showed the kind of potential that everyone has been waiting for. He's starting at some school called Harvard University in the Fall, let's hope he finds time to keep working on his game during the school year. It should be no problem, I hear Harvard's pretty easy.

Watch out later this week for Greg Shahade's thrilling account of the "Richest Chess Game Ever." His update on the overall rating list will also appear in mid-July.