As many readers probably know, 17-year-old Daniel Naroditsky won the U.S. Junior Championship last weekend in St. Louis, with a score of 6½-2½ (four wins and five draws). Daniel was the only player to go undefeated. For his victory he earned a prize of $3000 and, perhaps even better, an invitation to the U.S. Championship next year.
The U.S. Junior was an invitational tournament, featuring ten of the strongest young players in the country, including three International Masters. Michael Aigner provided some great round-by-round coverage on his blog, and I don’t really have anything to add to it. Among other things, he posted Daniel’s very nice victory over Chess Life cover boy Atulya Shetty of Michigan. It’s amusing because Shetty plays a queen sacrifice that (if accepted) would give him a back-rank mate … and then only three moves later Daniel plays a “copycat” rook sacrifice with exactly the same theme! However, there was a big difference. Shetty’s sac was just a one-time trap, while Danya’s was the prelude to an irresistible attack. As I said, you can play over the game on Michael’s blog.
Of course I’m thrilled with Daniel’s victory and I’m looking forward to seeing how he does next year in the U.S. Championship!
The other big story of the U.S. Junior Championship was the incredible performance by the left side of the country. Players who live west of the Mississippi took five of the top six positions. Naroditsky (California) finished first; Samuel Sevian (California) and Luke Harmon-Vellotti (Idaho) tied for second; and Kayden Troff (Utah) and Yian Liou (California) tied for fifth.
Naroditsky, Sevian, and Liou are all from the San Francisco area. Sevian continues to amaze me. When he was ten or so, I had the impression that he was a very technical player without a lot of life to his games. But now that he has reached the ripe old age of twelve, his play is completely different! In his game against Troff, he played like a young Tal, sacrificing pieces left and right! Obviously his game has developed a whole new dimension over the last couple of years.
As for Liou, he was too inconsistent to challenge for first place, but he nevertheless should get credit for an “assist.” In essence he was responsible for Daniel Naroditsky’s margin of victory, because he beat both Sevian and Harmon-Vellotti, who were Danya’s closest pursuers. The game against Harmon-Vellotti was sheer madness, a French Defense with a piece sacrifice on move 7 (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nc6 4. Ngf3 Nf6 5. e5 Nd7 6. Bd3 f6 7. Ng5!?) that led to wild complications. The piece sacrifice could not be accepted, but Liou ended up sacrificing three pawns to tear open the lines leading to Black’s king. These juniors play for blood, I tell you!