What a wild week it has been! Playing the role of underdog, 13 year old NM Gregory Young (photo at right) took on the country at the 2008 US Junior Closed Championship in Lindsborg, Kansas. Despite a small field that was weakened by unprecedented cancellations, Gregory and his father and sister flew to Kansas knowing that a challenge would lay ahead. He was the youngest and one of the lowest rated competitors in the strange 5-player field from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, Texas and California. A score of 50% or even “minus 1” seemed respectable for his first major chess tournament outside of Pacific time zone.

For four days, it seemed like Gregory could do no wrong. He won his first three games, including this spectacular queen sacrifice against NM Edward Lu (2227) of Virginia. Perhaps the highlight came in round 3 against FM Daniel Yeager (2373) of Pennsylvania, when Gregory trapped his opponent’s king on h4 and won a piece with the double attack 30… Rbd1! By Sunday night, Gregory was on top of the standings, a full point ahead of the field.

The intensity of the tournament picked up on Monday morning against NM Tyler Hughes (2264) of Colorado. Despite allowing his opponent to play the classic pawn break 20… d6-d5 in the Maroczy bind and later displaying some horrific technique in the rook endgame (48.Kd4?), Gregory managed to save half a point in a time scramble. The “young” master (pun intended) from California displayed his never-say-die attitude once again on Tuesday with a desperado attack against FM Yeager after hanging a piece during middlegame tactics.

A pair of short draws in the penultimate round set up the final showdown on Wednesday morning. NM Gregory Young maintained his full point lead but NM Tyler Hughes (photo at lower left) commanded the white pieces and had a small advantage in the tiebreaks. What followed was incredibly sad from my perspective, but perhaps also it was Caissa’s payback for the luck of the previous rounds. Click on this link to Chess Publisher’s game viewer to follow my annotations below.

Hughes,Tyler (2264) – Young,Gregory (2213) [A81]
US Junior (9), 18.06.2008
[Aigner, Michael]

Last round of US Junior. White needs to win to tie for first. Black only has to draw. 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.c3 Nc6 This is an unusual line of the Leningrad Dutch, but both players were well prepared for it. 5.Nh3 Bg7 6.Qb3 White’s main idea is to attack black’s weakened light squares, e.g. e6, f7, g8 and b7. 6…e6 7.Nd2 d5 Black employs a solid stonewall formation, thereby weakening the critical e5 square. 8.Nf4 Qe7 9.h4 White shows his aggressive intentions. 9…b6 10.Nf3 Interesting was 10.h5 g5 11.h6 Bf8 12.Nd3 Bb7 13.Nf3 Ne4 with a small edge to white. 10…Ne4 11.Nd3 Bb7 12.Bf4 0–0 White has a comfortable position and an objective advantage. Black needs to play actively to avoid getting rolled up. 13.a4 ?! The audience on ICC suggested Qc2 or e3. 13…Na5 14.Qc2 c5 15.e3 Rfc8 16.Be5 Nc6 ?! Better was Ba6, activating the bad bishop and perhaps trading away one of the pesky white knights. If black can achieve that, he would be approximately equal. 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Nfe5 Nxe5 19.Nxe5 Nf6 The only move because white was going to play Bxe4 next. White is happy with this position, but black can still draw. 20.f4 c4 ? I hate this move, although my pet Rybka seems to like it. Why lock up the bad bishop even more? I prefer the immediate h7-h5 to prevent white’s next move. 21.h5 A typical pawn sacrifice against the Leningrad Dutch. 21…Nxh5 22.g4 White says “all in”. Perhaps playing Bf3 and Qf2/Qh2 first should have been considered. 22…Nf6 Black is careful not to create more weaknesses. 23.Bf3 fxg4 24.Bxg4 Rg8 Not falling for Nxg4 25.Rxh7+!! Kxh7 26.Qxg6+ Kh8 27.Nf7+ and white wins. The text overprotects the g6 pawn while preparing to evacuate the king. 25.Qh2 Kf8 26.a5 Garry Kasparov taught us the importance of attacking on both sides of the board simultaneously. 26…b5 27.a6 Bc8 Black is solid and white has no obvious way to break in. White’s time pressure now becomes a factor. 28.Bf3 Bd7 29.Qh6+ Rg7 30.Ke2 Rb8 This is the perfect defensive formation. Black even has some counterplay on the b-file. 31.Qh2 b4 Most people would have played Rb6 to get off the h2-b8 diagonal. 32.f5 ?! Objectively this desperation move gets white into trouble. But it sets one subtle trap. 32…bxc3 ?? Played almost instantly. Black never saw white’s devastating threat. Once again, he should have tried Rb6, after which white might play 33.fxg6 bxc3! 34.Qf4 Rxb2+ 35.Ke1 Kg8 36.gxh7+ Kh8 with complications favoring black. 33.Nxg6+ BANG!!! 33…hxg6 34.Qxb8+ Be8 35.bxc3 gxf5 36.Rhb1 In the background, the proverbial fat lady is warming up. 36…Nd7 37.Qh2 Rh7 38.Qg3 Rh4 39.Rh1 Rxh1 40.Rxh1 Qg7 41.Qd6+ Kf7 42.Qc7 Ke7 43.Qxa7 f4 44.Qb7 Bg6 45.exf4 Bd3+ 46.Kf2 Qf6 47.Qb4+ Kf7 48.Qd6 Nb6 49.Qc7+ Ke8 50.Rh8+ Qxh8 51.Qb8+ Tragic. As I.A. Horowitz and many others have said: “One bad move nullifies forty good ones.” 1–0

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