The US Junior Championship 2015
Winning the title at the strongest US Junior event ever!

The US Junior Closed Chess Championship is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the United States – next only to the US Championships. This was my first time playing the US Junior, and I was looking forward to competing in this event. The chief attraction of the invitational Junior Championship is that the winner qualifies for the following year’s US Championship, in which they get to play top world-class players in a typical round-robin format, just like other elite tournaments. With next year’s edition potentially having a lineup that could include Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Gata Kamsky, each participant in the Junior championship had sufficient motivation to go all out.
The players arrived in St. Louis on July 6, one day before the event was to begin, and we all drew our pairing lots during the opening ceremony that evening. The picking of the lots was done by last name, but in reverse alphabetical order. By the time I got around to picking, all the 5 White lots had already been selected, and I had to content myself with the 4 Whites draw. The strongest US Junior ever had begun.

Luke Harmon Vellotti playing Akshat Chandra in Round 1

Luke Harmon Vellotti playing Akshat Chandra in Round 1

In Round 1, I had the Black pieces and faced a good friend of mine, the precocious International Master Luke Harmon Vellotti. This was a tough game to start off the tournament. Although one may have been tempted to play a solid opening, especially with the Black pieces, I decided to go for a more fighting and complex game by revisiting an old friend.

 

Akshat Chandra and Luke Vellotti after Round 1

Akshat Chandra and Luke Vellotti after Round 1

It felt great to start the tournament off with a victory as Black against a strong opponent. I carried the momentum through the next 3 rounds and raced out to 3.5/4. In Round 5, I faced FM Ruifeng Li, as Black.

Ruifeng Li playing Akshat Chandra in Round 5

Ruifeng Li playing Akshat Chandra in Round 5

The game started off horribly, as I got trapped in my opponent’s preparation, like an insect trapped in tree sap. Ruifeng was incredibly well prepared, and was blitzing out his moves. He literally got a near-decisive advantage with his preparation. Meanwhile, I was sweating it out and had already fallen way behind on the clock. Under enormous pressure, I ended up making a horrible blunder, which I realized as soon as I had moved. I saw the winning continuation for Ruifeng, and thought I was going to lose any moment. The only consolation was that Ruifeng was out of his preparation. It was here that the tide of the game started to turn. Ruifeng missed the killer blow, and I started to outplay him despite being an exchange down. His advantage dissipated after inaccurate moves from his side, and I found myself holding the advantage now. However, I was so relieved of not being in any danger of losing that I decided to simplify matters and force a draw.

Akshat Chandra playing Ruifeng Lee

Akshat Chandra playing Ruifeng Lee

Here is the game, annotated by tournament analyst Mackenzie Molner:

Akshat Chandra playing Michael Bodek in Round 6

Akshat Chandra playing Michael Bodek in Round 6

After a bloodless draw in R6 against IM Michael Bodek, I faced GM Jeffery Xiong, with the Black pieces. This was easily the most anticipated match of the tournament, with the two top seeds facing off in the crucial 7th round. I had a ½ point lead over Jeffery at this stage, and so it was essential to hold my ground and not lose my grip on the tournament standings.

Jeffery Xiong playing Akshat Chandra in Round 7

Jeffery Xiong playing Akshat Chandra in Round 7

I decided to roll with the Taimanov once again. Things were fairly balanced, and we soon traded Queens into a minor piece endgame with rooks on the board. The position was completely even, but I had fallen into serious time trouble. I had about 2 minutes to complete the last 12 moves and as a result, I made some serious mistakes. When we reached the time control, Jeffery had a near-decisive advantage. I defended tenaciously for the next few moves, while Jeffery kept playing accurately to hold his advantage. But suddenly, Jeffery made a blunder, overlooking a fantastic resource of mine. This allowed me to simplify into an easily drawn 2 vs 1 Rook endgame, and the game was eventually drawn.

In R8, I faced FM Arthur Shen with the White pieces. While I had drawn my last three games, Arthur had reeled off four straight wins to join me in the lead with 5/7. It was only fitting that we played in the penultimate round.

 

Akshat Chandra playing Arthur Shen in Round 8

Akshat Chandra playing Arthur Shen in Round 8

Arthur surprised me in the opening by offering me to go into the main line Ruy Lopez, something he has never played before. After some thought, I decided to decline by going for 6.d3 instead. I managed to win a pawn after an inaccuracy by him, and though he had compensation, Arthur was unable to find the best continuation. I was able to consolidate, and show good technique to close out the game effectively.

Akshat Chandra in game against Arthur Shen in R8

Akshat Chandra in game against Arthur Shen in R8

Going into the last round, I was the sole leader at 6/9, with Jeffery following close behind at 5.5/9. It was reassuring to know that things were in my hands, and I had control of the tournament’s outcome. I faced FM Awonder Liang with the Black pieces.

Awonder Liang playing Akshat Chandra in Round 9

Awonder Liang playing Akshat Chandra in Round 9

I stuck to my Taimanov once again, and Awonder surprised me in the opening by going for a variation he had never played before. I responded in the most solid manner, but Awonder was still in his preparation, and continued playing swiftly. This was quite uncomfortable, and I decided to throw him out of his preparation by developing my bishop to d7, instead of the natural looking 14…exf4. This seemed to do the trick as Awonder began to think now. He was able to gain an impressive-looking center, but it turned out to be rather flimsy. I enhanced the pressure and Awonder cracked, allowing me to build up a decisive advantage. The game went on for a few more moves, before White resigned.

I was thrilled to have won the 2015 US Junior Championship, and earn a spot into the 2016 US Championships. It is exciting to know that I could be playing the likes of Caruana and Nakamura next year!

It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It takes a great team to organize such a major tournament flawlessly. Arbiters Tony Rich and Mike Kummer did a great job officiating the event, and the production staff did an impeccable job of broadcasting the games and commentary online. In many ways, the organization of the US Junior was like a dry-run for the Sinquefield Cup which begins in August. Judging by the way they managed the US Junior, the team is definitely more than ready to host the world’s elite once more.

Some of the US Junior production team members Sitting (L to R): FM Aviv Friedman, Ben Simon, GM Ben Finegold Standing: Bishop, Paige Pederson, Nick Schleicher, Laura, Jonathan Schrantz, Nicole Halpin, Austin Fuller, Tammy Hyde, and The King

Some of the US Junior production team members
Sitting (L to R): FM Aviv Friedman, Ben Simon, GM Ben Finegold
Standing: Bishop, Paige Pederson, Nick Schleicher, Laura Schilli, Jonathan Schrantz, Nicole Halpin, Austin Fuller, Tammy Hyde, and The King :)

Finally, I’d like to thank Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield for providing juniors an opportunity to compete in an elite environment and conditions. Without their support and vision, the level of chess interest in America would not be where it is today.

Rex Sinquefield playing Rachel Li (Ruifeng’s sister)

Rex Sinquefield and Rachel Li

Arbiter Mike Kummer with his magic wand

Arbiter Mike Kummer with his magic wand

Arbiter Tony Rich going over the pre-game announcements

Arbiter Tony Rich going over the pre-game announcements

Mika Brattain

Mika Brattain playing Akshat Chandra

Yian Liou playing Akshat Chandra

Yian Liou playing Akshat Chandra

Akshat Chandra playing Curran Han

Curran Han playing Akshat Chandra

Photo Credits: Austin Fuller of CCSCSL and Akshat Chandra

Annotation Credits: GM Mackenzie Molner and Akshat Chandra

Winning the National High School Championship 2015!

The National High School Championship K-12 is by far the strongest national scholastic event in the US. The 2015 edition was held in Columbus, Ohio, from April 10 to 12, with the National High School Blitz Championship a day earlier on April 9.

I was the top-seed, and this meant that I would be be playing only lower rated players in the tournament. This situation adds another level of complexity, since the top-seed has to constantly work to win every game and overcome the drawish lines often played by lower-rated opponents, many of them underrated relative to their chess knowledge. On top of that, the 2015 High School edition was the strongest National Scholastic championship yet. However, these factors did not deter me since I wished to capture the prestigious title of being America’s National High School Champion for 2015. What concerned me though was the exhausting schedule, about 30 hours of Chess in 53 hours, and my ability to recover from a fatiguing Philadelphia Open tournament just prior.

On April 9, Thursday, the Blitz tournament was held. This was exciting, as Blitz usually is, although no increment on the time-control meant piece-throwing was rampant in the closing seconds. I scored 11.5/12, dropping 1/2 a point because I didn’t stop the clock in-time when my opponent  flagged, resulting in my flag also appearing thereafter. The TD said that because I didn’t claim the opponent’s flag in time, the game was a draw.

I became the National High School Blitz Champion and took the 1st place on tiebreak over the talented Christopher Wu, who also scored the same points. It was interesting to observe that the top-3 ranks went to players from New Jersey (Akshat, Chris, Arthur Shen).

The 2015 US National High School Blitz Champion Trophy

The 2015 US National High School Blitz Champion Akshat Chandra

The main event kicked off the next day under shimmering colorful light panels giving the impression of Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights, with 472 players competing in the Championship section and 1492 players in all sections.

The National High School Championship at The Hyatt in Columbus, Ohio

The National High School Championship at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio

In the 1st round, I played a budding talent, 6th grader Vincent Baker from Ohio. I got a pretty good position out of the opening. But I started to make some extremely weird moves, and Vincent started to play really strong, and suddenly I found myself in a hopeless drawn rook endgame. I only had 20 seconds (with a 5 second delay), while Vincent had about 20 minutes. Somehow I managed to win after Vincent made several inaccuracies in the endgame. I really felt sorry for my young opponent for he had played great, and I didn’t deserve to win. But such is chess.

Akshat Chandra playing Vincent Baker

Akshat Chandra playing Vincent Baker

In Round 2, I overcame Taylor Bagley from Kentucky. This was another sub-par game from my side, as I was worse out of the opening, before outplaying him. The outplaying led to a winning opportunity which I missed, leading to what began to look like a drawish game with precise play. Fortunately, Taylor missed the optimal defense, and I was able to get the win. I was disgusted with the way I had been playing, as this is not the level of chess I expected of myself.

I was determined to play better the next day, and managed to do just that, winning a nice positional game against Abhishek Obili from Texas.

In Round 4, I beat Ben Li, a 7th grader from Minnesota. This was another strong game from my side, as I completely outplayed my opponent and dominated the game.

In Round 5, I faced the talented and a regular National player, FM Cameron Wheeler, from California. This was an awful game from my side, as I missed two strong continuations which would given me a substantial advantage, and was just worse after that. Cameron had an advantage when we decided to draw.

Heading into the final day, there was only 1 person on a perfect 5 / 5 – IM Kesav Viswanadha. Then there were quite a few players, including myself, trailing him at 4.5 / 5. I figured that a winning score would be 6.5, considering the strength of the tournament.  It was important for me to play strongest in the final two rounds.

In Round 6, I faced Michael Chen from Michigan. It was clear that my opponent was playing for a draw from the start, and even though I had a slight advantage, it was looking difficult to win. But slowly I began to outplay him, and eventually we reached a Rook endgame where I was a pawn up. But the problem was that I had only 30 seconds, while my opponent had around 30 minutes! However, I managed to stay calm and methodically advanced my Kingside majority to victory. I even checkmated my opponent, who strangely didn’t resign even after I had made 2 Queens against his lone king.

After the penultimate round, there were 4 players on 5.5 / 6 – Kesav, Cameron, Kapil Chandran, and myself. I had the best tie-breaking going into the final round, which was nice to know but not conclusive. This was just like the situation I encountered while playing the K-9 SuperNationals in 2013 – and the similarities didn’t end here. I knew I had to Win the last game to make it decisive.

By the time the 6th round had concluded, about 30-minutes before the final round, my Dad told me that Arthur Shen had defeated Kesav on the top board. So I began to prepare for Arthur, a good friend of mine, as it was obvious I would play him. But when the pairings came out 10 minutes before the round, I saw that I was playing Kesav instead. I was bewildered, and couldn’t understand how I was playing Kesav. But then I saw that Kesav was also on 5.5, which meant he had drawn his game with Arthur not lost. Looks like my Dad was mistaken! I was flustered. This was not the first time my Dad had done such a mixup.  In my only previous National Championship appearance – the K-9 SuperNationals 2013 – before the final round he told me that Safal Bora had won against Cameron Wheeler in the penultimate round.  So while I checked out Safal’s game in the few minutes left for the last round, the pairings came out just moments before round-time.  In fact, Cameron had won against Safal, and he was going to play me in the final round of the K-9 SuperNational Championship. With no time to prepare, I just shook my head and went on to play Cameron. Inspite of this confusion two years ago, I was able to win the game and the K-9 SuperNational title. So my Dad seems to have made this inaccurate results information into a tradition, and I’m just happy there are no more Nationals to play anymore for him to jolt me. Just before I walked to the board, he told me to bail him out once again for the last time.  I wonder if it will indeed be the last time :)

So here I was experiencing a true deja vu situation in the final round of the National High School Championship. There was no time to prepare now for Kesav, and I had unnecessarily tired myself chasing a wrong opponent. Walking to the board, I decided to just play something I had never done before, to avoid any potential preparation from my opponent. I knew that the line I was going to play was harmless for Black, should he play accurately, but figured it would have a good surprise-effect. The game evolved into a highly sharp and complicated position, when Kesav suddenly made the decisive mistake.

It felt great to win, as Kesav was a tough opponent. The win put me on 6.5 / 7, and since the other two players had drawn, this meant that I was sole 1st!

Akshat Chandra - 2015 National HIgh School Champion K-12 section

Akshat Chandra – 2015 National HIgh School Champion K-12 section

Overall, I was thrilled to have won the tournament, despite playing some poor chess in a few of the games, being unable to prepare for the opponents, as several of my opponents had no games in database, and being quite tired during some of the games as I was coming after playing a very intense 9-rounds at the Philadelphia Open. The competition here at the National High was extremely tough, and several players were underrated. So it was extremely satisfying to capture the title of the National High School Champion 2015.

This was my second national tournament, and like before I found the tournament well-organized. It’s quite hard to organize a tournament of this size so flawlessly and the USCF team needs to be commended.

Just like the last time at the K-9 SuperNationals, my father ended up purchasing the final-round Chess set. I still have the previous one and should probably consider using it some time :) .

Down the Memory Lane - 2 years back at the SuperNationals 2013 - K9 Champion Akshat Chandra

Down the Memory Lane – SuperNationals 2013 – K9 Champion Akshat Chandra

Goodbye Nationals!

Or maybe I’ll be back next year ;)

(USCF coverage of the event can be seen here and here.)

WIth my brother Addy who helped me by leaving me alone :)

WIth my brother Aditya “Addy” Chandra, who helped me by troubling me less during the tournament :)

Akshat Chandra at the awards ceremony - Winning the 2015 National High School Championship

Akshat Chandra at the awards ceremony – Winning the 2015 National High School Championship

 


 

Titled Tuesday
Chess.com’s Online Blitz Tournament

Blitz chess is the most exciting format of a chess game. Players usually have between 3 and 5 minutes for the entire game, and several times the game gets decided in wild time scrambles. The experience is extremely exhilarating for the players, and audience as well. With less time to think, the game is mostly played on intuition. I have an affinity for Blitz, and shorter time control in general, and incidentally learnt a few days ago that I am the #1 Junior (U21) Rapid Player (15 to 25 minute Time Controls) in the United States!

A few months ago, Chess.com started an online Blitz tournament for Titled players. Known as “Titled Tuesday,” the tournament occurs on the last Tuesday of each month, and attracts a pool of Titled Players, including several renowned GM’s, from all over the world. I decided to play the Titled Tuesday tournament yesterday, which turned out to be the strongest edition to date (probably because the prize fund increased from 1000$ to 2500$ :) ). Hikaru Nakamura, the #1 US chess player, Maxime Vachier Lagrave (MVL), the #1 French player, Baadur Jobava, the #1 Georgian Player, who had already won 3 editions of the Titled Tuesday, were some of the prominent names who participated in the event. The time control was 3 minutes with a 2-second increment per move.

Since I recently started playing on Chess.com, my website blitz rating was 2196, which meant my starting rank was fairly low – 70 out of 100 players. I didn’t mind that, as it meant that I’d be playing more higher rated than lower rated. In round 1, I faced an IM rated 2500 (Chess.com Blitz rating) as Black. The game was uneventful, and ended in a boring draw. In R2, I faced Ukranian GM Vovk Andrey, rated 2642 FIDE. I blundered a pawn early on in the opening, although the computers say it was the best move! But he made an error, followed by the decisive mistake, and I won the game.

That set the tone for me, and I raced onwards to 5.5/6, defeating a Russian FM (anonymous), a French IM (anonymous), FM Eric Rosen (2299 FIDE)  from the United States, and Armenian GM Gevorg Harutjunyan (2459 FIDE) in a cliffhanger game.

I was now tied for second with 2 other GM’s, heading into the home stretch. In R7, I was White against the #1 French player MVL! I played poorly, and my opponent outplayed me and had a nearly-winning advantage. But then he made a blunder, and I realized that I might have a win, but messed up the move-order, and played a losing move instead. MVL found the only move that wins for him, and won the game shortly after.

I lost the 8th round to an IM from Argentina, but was able to rebound in the last round, and beat a very strong blitz player, GM Igor Kovalenko (2656 FIDE, 2700 FIDE Blitz!) as Black. I finished tied 3rd on points with 6.5/9, and 10th on tiebreaks. The tournament was won by GM’s Eltaj Safarli (2641 FIDE) from Azerbaijan, Jose Carlos Ibarra Jerez (2537 FIDE), and (of course) the #1 Georgian player, Baadur Jobava (2696 FIDE).

Overall, it was an extremely thrilling tournament, and I was happy with how I played. The next Titled Tuesday is on March 3 2:00 EST, so don’t forget to tune in then!

 

“Training” with the US Chess Champion
5-hours with GM Gata Kamsky

In January, I played one of Mike Regan’s 5-round tournaments, the Championship section of the Chesapeake Open at Rockville, Maryland. This year’s edition was quite strong, and happened to attract none other than the reigning US Chess Champion, GM Gata Kamsky! Gata is a 5x US Champion, and was regularly among the world’s elite for several years. His rating has dipped a bit from 2740 FIDE to 2675 over the last 2 years, but that is hardly an indication of his actual strength.

GM Gata Kamsky

GM Gata Kamsky

I faced a bright youngster in the first round, Brandon Jacobson (1981 FIDE). He played the Berlin (who doesn’t these days?), after which the game evolved into a typical Ruy Lopez position. Brandon played extremely well (he’s definitely underrated by at least 100-150 FIDE points), and the game was still complex when he made the decisive blunder.

IM Akshat Chandra

IM Akshat Chandra

 

FM Karl Dehmelt and IM Akshat Chandra

FM Karl Dehmelt and IM Akshat Chandra

In the 2nd round, I played Karl Dehmelt (2241 FIDE) as Black. He played a rare line to avoid the Open Sicilian, but later on ended up getting an inferior version of the Open Sicilian type positions for White. I then won two pawns, and reached the time control with an easily won position. Karl resigned 14 moves later.

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Nikala Huschenbeth

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Nikala Huschenbeth

The competition started to become tougher now, as I faced German GM Niclas Huschenbeth (2548 FIDE)  as White in Round 3. I played an interesting line, and quickly built up a strong advantage. We made some inaccuracies, and eventually traded down into a promising endgame for me. But I made a couple of mistakes which blew the advantage, and so I had to settle for a draw. It was frustrating to let a strong GM off the hook, as one has to make the most of such opportunities.

IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and IM Akshat Chandra

IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and IM Akshat Chandra

I played local IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (2417 FIDE) as Black in Round 4. He was particularly solid with White, so I decided to just play something normal and see what happens. On move 11, I spent an outrageous 40 minutes trying to figure out the best way to proceed. I was putting myself at a handicap on the clock once again. I found the correct way to proceed, but with each move I was getting lower and lower on time. After 20 moves, I was down to my last 5 minutes, while my opponent still had about 40. I was able to find some accurate moves to continue my advantage though, and the see-saw was beginning to tilt in my favor even more. Then, I nearly lost my nerves in the following position:

So now I was 3.5/4 with one round to go. As expected, I played Gata in Round 5, and was Black again. Hey, why couldn’t Gata get a double-Black instead of me :) . Our game was a rather dull affair, with White having a slight, nagging advantage, but nothing more. I kept the balance for 40 moves, but upon reaching the time-control, I made a hideous blunder which destroyed everything. Gata found a neat breakthrough to refute my move.

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Gata Kamsky

IM Akshat Chandra and GM Gata Kamsky

It was sad to lose against the US Champion when I had kept things in balance all throughout. This game was the last one to finish, and was a 5-hour affair. I’m referring to this as “training” , as I gained some vital experience, and learnt some lessons from my game with the US Champ!

GM Gata Kamsky and IM Akshat Chandra

GM Gata Kamsky and IM Akshat Chandra

Overall, I was content with how I played the tournament, though the last round loss to Gata will sting for a while. I’ll just have to get him next time ;) .

 

Some other titled players at the tournament

GM Lawrence Kauffman and GM Gata Kamsky

GM Gata Kamsky and GM Lawrence Kaufman

GM Mark Paragua

GM Mark Paragua

IM Levan Bregadze

IM Levan Bregadze

All pictures are either my own or from official website.  For more official pictures click here.