The 2022 Junior Speed Chess Championship quarterfinals, brought to you by SIG, commenced today with GM Nihal Sarin taking on IM Christoper Yoo in an explosive encounter that ended with a 15-11 score in favor of the reigning champion.
Proving dominant in the 5+1 portion where he accrued a three-point lead, Nihal continued to build throughout the match and was able to maintain a four-point margin notwithstanding a powerful display in the quicker time controls by Yoo.
The next pairing will be the round of 16 match between GM Raunak Sadhwani and IM Mahammad Muradli on Thursday, April 28, at 7 a.m. Pacific / 16:00 Central European.
The Junior Speed Chess Championship presented by SIG is the second leg of the 2022 Speed Chess Championship where top junior players compete in a series of speed chess matches. Each match consists of a 5+1 blitz segment, a 3+1 blitz segment, and a 1+1 bullet segment, with the player who scores the most points winning the match. If there’s a tie, players play a four-game 1+1 match to decide the winner. If the tie persists, an armageddon game with a bidding system decides the winner.
Blitz 5|1: Nihal-Yoo 5.5-2.5
The first blitz game of the match was a balanced affair where the players duked out a known version of the Nimzo-Indian Defence. Nihal managed to drain half of Yoo’s time from the clock as he steered the game toward a drawish knight and bishop ending and then struck, splintering Yoo’s center with his king and taking the first game.
Much like his round of 16 match against GM Aronyak Ghosh, Nihal showed that he would play for a win no matter the position. The strategy paid off and Yoo quickly became the victim of four back-to-back losses as Nihal continued to create chances out of thin air.
Nihal’s best game in the 5+1 segment was the third, where he launched a potent attack on Yoo’s kingside, calmly moved his king to f1 to avoid counterplay, and then sacrificed a bishop to end his opponent’s suffering.
Though Nihal’s attack was one of the best of the day, the engines found a brilliant way for Yoo to capitalize on a supposed inaccuracy from the Indian GM.
Yoo was able to settle his nerves and showed some zeal in the first game after the break, defending down a knight in a tough endgame to hold a draw. The determined defense from Yoo continued and the next two games were also drawn in an uneventful manner.
The American GM-in-waiting seemed to have found some energy off the back of his first results in the match and managed to win the final game of the 5+1 portion. The game was a textbook example of pressuring an isolated queen pawn, which he eventually won, culminating in a winning rook and queen ending.
With this victory, Yoo reduced the deficit to just three games heading into the 3+1 section.
Blitz 3|1: Nihal-Yoo 5-4
Yoo kept the momentum rolling into the 3+1 games and trounced Nihal with a timely kingside tirade that left the two-time champion defenseless.
Perhaps spurred on by an apparent lapse from Nihal, Yoo hoped to continue in his winning ways but was rudely interrupted by a dynamic resurgence in the tenth game of the match. Nihal employed the Three Knights Variation of the Grunfeld Defence and utilized Benoni-esque ideas to dominate Yoo’s queenside. The play was decisive.
The two prodigies traded blows over the next few games and Nihal managed to keep his three-point lead. Most of the games during this period were decided in the endgame with one, in particular, standing out. In it, Yoo missed an opportunity to save the game and procure a “Vancura Draw,” a fascinating rook and pawn ending where progress cannot be made despite one side having a material advantage.
Historical German player Siegbert Tarrasch’s tongue-in-cheek adage “all rook endgames are drawn” seemed far less sarcastic when commentator Naroditsky highlighted the amazing resource.
After showing the exquisite idea, Naroditsky lamented the perception that endgames are boring. Fortunately, he would be supported throughout the 3+1 period as Yoo played a magnificent, edge-of-the-seat knight and pawn ending.
With the scores at 9.5-6.5 in favor of Nihal, the onus was on Yoo to reduce the difference to just two points with a win in the final game of the 3+1 segment. Nihal decide to ruin the party though and stepped up to stretch the lead to four points.
Bullet 1|1: Nihal-Yoo 4.5-4.5
The highly anticipated bullet portion of the match got off to a blistering start with both players predictably showing the breakneck speed that has allowed both of them to cement their spots near the top of the Chess.com bullet chess leaderboard.
Nihal was particularly smooth, handling the late middlegame better and highlighting his proficiency in liquidation with only seconds of thinking time.
Yoo also cruised to two wins at the back end of the portion but by then it was already too late, with a four-point margin still separating the players as the match clock expired.
Nihal was relaxed in the post-match interview and wryly smiled when he suggested that he had “tried to make it not too interesting” for Yoo, which seemed to downplay the extraordinary technique Nihal has consistently displayed so far in the tournament.
Today’s match may have been a different story had Nihal not gotten off to such a flying start. However, consistency is rewarded across the three-time controls in the Junior Speed Chess Championship and Nihal again proved why he is the frontrunner for a record third straight title.
All Games – Quarterfinal
Junior Speed Chess Championship 2022 Bracket
The 2022 Junior Speed Chess Championship is an online tournament for top junior players. The qualifiers happen March 31-April 8, while the main event runs April 11-May 13. Players battle for a piece of the $35,000 prize fund and a spot in the 2022 Speed Chess Championship.