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Troff on Top; Lone Grandmaster Upends Tourney Leaders
By Brian Jerauld
SAINT LOUIS (June 28, 2014) — For the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed, GM Kayden Troff decided to change up his tournament strategy — on the only day he didnt play chess.
The top seed of the event began his 2014 campaign claiming the expected headlines after taking an early lead in the standings, but then his focus seemed to waver. Back-to-back draws made him momentarily fall out of the limelight and then, literally, the worst: A loss to FM Michael Bodek — and on the day before the break.
He needed a change.
Ive always said: Going into the rest day with a loss is just terrible — just an entire day to sit around and think about it, Troff said. But this year, I turned it into a huge benefit for me. Clear my head, do some fun things and relax, try to come into the second part of the tournament as if it was a new tournament. I just wanted to try and start over.
The reset button has been pushed. Troff (5/7) emerged from Wednesdays rest day and walked straight into clear first, by using the most direct line possible: Stepping on literally everyone in his way. Troff has put together two consecutive victories, first over IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti and then Friday on top of IM Jeffrey Xiong — both of whom shared the tournament lead during the rest day.
His hard work up front places the onus directly on those who chase him, as Troffs remaining two games in the round-robin format come against the tournaments two lowest-rated players.
Meanwhile, after the seventh-round loss, Xiong (4.5/7) finds himself without a share of the lead for the first time all tournament — and also finds himself immediately tested for his share of second place. Today Xiong takes the white pieces against Bodek (4.5/7), who has surged into a tie for second with 3 points over his last four rounds, including Fridays win over Harmon-Vellotti in a third-place fight.
Friday afternoon delivered the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed its longest, yet most-exciting day of chess throughout, another to feature decisions in four out of five games. IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy (3.5/7) joins a four-way tie for fourth after a slow and stubborn smothering of FM Arthur Shen in a 106-move, six-hour epic; and FM Justus Williams outmuscled FM Josh Colas in their latest chapter of the New York rivalry. The seventh rounds only draw came in a dramatic back-and-forth fight between IM Sam Sevian (3.5/7) and NM Matt Larson, the tournaments lowest-rated player who has turned in 2.0 points against three of the tournaments top-four seeds — and still with a ninth-round meeting with Troff on Sunday.
Throughout the 2014 event, Troff had seen Xiong arrive daily and blast his opponents with opening over-preparation — and he looked to remove that advantage early with 5. Nbd2 in a Catalan.
From what I’ve seen from Jeffrey, especially in this tournament, is he prepares very specifically for his opponents, Troff said. I just wanted to avoid all that, take him out of his preparation with this Nbd2 move, which Ive never really played. Maybe its not the best move, but to get someone out of their prep is sometimes more of a benefit than playing the best line.
The strategy worked, with Troffs gambit offer accepted at 5…dxc4, sending Xiong into fresh territory. Compensation for the sacrifice was apparent immediately, as white quickly developed while black stayed busy tending to a clog of queenside pawns. The awkward opening set a theme for the rest of Xiongs afternoon.
As expected between two of the tournaments highest seeds, both veterans to the annual Junior Closed event, the games mistakes were not centered around material loss but instead positional malfunctions. The players agreed Xiongs troubles started with 11…Be7, a confusing move backwards and a vital loss of tempo in a position that already lagged behind. Troff was able to break open the queenside clog with his a-pawn, who helped recover the gambit plus one with 16. Qxc4. Black soon after sacrificed the exchange, but compensation was too little, too late.
Losing, Xiong went for broke with a late charge at whites castled king with 22…f4 and began circling his remaining forces for an attack. But it was all technique for Troff, who traded off bishops and eventually blacks remaining rook. After a brief king walk, Troff found his way to a queen trade that sealed his advantage.
Promising to shake up the top of the standings even further was the third-place battle between Bodek and Harmon-Vellotti, a result that continued the momentum of both players headed in opposite directions. For a long while, however, Bodeks victory was well in doubt.
Harmon-Vellotti got everything he wanted out of the opening, pushing black through a French Exchange and allowing 7. cxd5 without immediate recapture. Instead, black used the extra tempo to completely unpack his attack, using pins to issue early restraint on two of whites minor pieces. Harmon-Vellotti reclaimed his material at 23…Nxd5.
The middlegame was a slow positional wrestle, one that Bodek began to lose on the board, but another that Harmon-Vellotti began to lose on his clock. In time trouble, Harmon-Vellotti won a pawn with 37…Bxb3, but overlooked a combination of white queen checks that dropped two of his own.
I realized objectively I was worse, and all I was trying to do was prevent the knockout blow and avoid losing immediately, Bodek said. I was a lot worse, and I got a little lucky in a time scramble before the first time control, finding a trick that got me back into the game and gave me the edge.
The queen-and-pawn endgame kept the match tense through its finale, though Bodek patiently saw his advantage through. He sacrificed his a-pawn to allow his passed d-pawn a sprint to the seventh rank, then thrust Harmon-Vellotti into zugzwang with 78. f4.
The 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship enters its final weekend, with two rounds remaining on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. CST. The rounds will be streamed live at www.uschesschamps.com, with commentary, analysis and player interviews by GM Ben Finegold and FM Aviv Friedman.
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– GM Susan Polgar