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On Chess: America's juniors continue to rise

The tournament hall at the Spring Chess Classic May 16 -24, 2017.
Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

The 2017 Spring Chess Classic recently wrapped up after nine continuous days of chess at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.


The tournament has reaffirmed what many have considered true: This is the golden age of American chess. While the U.S. boasts three top-10 players, along with the current Olympic team title and World U-20 title, history has shown that those accomplishments are extremely difficult to repeat in an era where the game of chess has opened up globally and resulted in increased opposition.

This year, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis decided to run a series of quarterly tournaments that cater to rising juniors, women and established grandmasters trying to break into the elite category of chess. There are not many tournaments catering to rising professionals in chess and St. Louis wants to fill that void with steady opportunities and opposition.


“Currently, we host tournaments for top world players and top American players,” Tony Rich, Chess Club executive director, said. “But we saw an increasing need to expand chess culture by drawing attention to the world-class chess players who are working to reach that elite status. These tournaments help those players enhance their careers to reach that next level.”


For the Spring Chess Classic that ran May 16-24, the Chess Club was even more ambitious. Organizers added an additional section, which meant they ran three groups concurrently, as opposed to the usual two. The groups were labeled A, B and C and featured 10, 10 and six players respectively in an all-play-all format. Over the course of nine days, it became clear that the idea of the tournaments, and even the additional section, was paying off.


In the A group, Varuzhan Akobian, a grandmaster, continued his stellar year when he won clear first with six points out of nine games. Akobian lives in St. Louis and finds himself at a career-high ranking and in contention for one of the final spots on the five player U.S. national team. Jeffrey Xiong, America’s top ranked junior, finished with a 4.5/9, after many ups and downs.


International master Awonder Liang is 14 years old and hails from Wisconsin. A frequent visitor to Saint Louis, Liang put in what is a certainly the best performance of his career by crushing the B group with an undefeated 7.5/9. To put it into context: his 2785 chess performance rating correlates to a performance that one would expect from a top-10 player in the world. I was most impressed by the maturity in his games, where he demonstrated consistent control from start to finish as he led the field from the onset without being in much trouble.


The C Group featured the youngest grandmaster in U.S. history, Samuel Sevian. He achieved that incredible record when he was 13 years old. Now, at age 16, Sevian achieved one of his best results to date with a first-place finish in a group where he was seeded in the bottom half coming in. Sevian led for most of the event and showed some improved stability in his games. With this result, Sevian moves back over 2600, a ranking held by less than 15 percent of grandmasters, and will have his eyes set on breaking into the top 100 in the world soon.


Eric Hansen is a Canadian grandmaster. Hansen was recently the first board at the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku and member of the PRO Chess League Montreal Chess Brahs. Hansen regularly does live commentary for major tournaments at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.