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On Chess: Young defending champions face off against the favorites

Akshat Chandra, a St. Louis resident and former winner of the U.S. Junior Championship, is hoping to regain his title in this year's contest.
Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center

One of the most contested tournaments, The U.S. Junior Championships, begins this week.  The event will take place at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis from July 8-18. The winners of both the junior and girls section will automatically qualify for the 2018 U.S. Championships.

U.S. Junior Championship field

The 2017 edition of the Junior Championship will be especially strong this year, with two previous Junior Champions participating. The defending champions are Kayden Troff from Utah and the local St. Louis player Akshat Chandra. Both Troff and Chandra have won the prestigious title in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and now they return to reclaim it.

They will be challenged by the rating favorites, Ruifeng Li and Awonder Liang.

Liang had a fantastic run this year, achieving a grandmaster norm at the Continental Championship in 2016, and at the St. Louis Spring Classic this year, where he dominated the field with a score of 7.5 out of 9. Ruifeng Li, 15, is the highest rated in the field. Li has posted great results at the open tournaments in America. He is known for his consistent play and stamina, which puts him as one of the biggest favorites to win the championship.  

In such a contentious event as the Junior Championship, it would be unwise to count anyone out, as it is also a qualifier for the U.S. Championship.

Girl’s Junior Championship field

Emily Nguyen will start her campaign for the 2017 Championship as the defending champion. She won the previous edition despite being the underdog to Maggie Feng. This year’s edition will be equally challenging for the participants. Nguyen will face Junior Championship rival and  runner-up Feng. Feng made a notable debut at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Championship with wins against Nazi Paikidze and Irina Krush. Both Nguyen and Feng will be challenged by the rating favorites, Carissa Yip and Akshita Gorti.

Gorti debuted at the Women’s U.S. Championships at age 13. Gorti joined the Women’s National Team at the World Team Championship in  2016. In her first team event, she showed good fighting skills against strong opposition, which can help her in her venture for the junior title. Carissa Yip became the youngest player to become an expert, and at age 11 became the youngest female to achieve the national master title. Yip also had a great 2017 U.S Women’s Championship run. She defeated four-time U.S. Champion Anna Zatonskih and had a draw with U.S. Champion Irina Krush.    

The top rating favorites are Yip, Feng and Gorti. But with many players in shape and the reigning Nguyen participating, as well as new St. Louis resident Thalia Cervantes, it’s an open question who will become the winner of the 2017 Championship.

For a complete list of the fields, visit uschesschamps.com.

Denes Boros placed third at age 14 at the Hungarian Junior Championship and became U16 Olympic Champion in Denizli. He scored his first grandmaster norm with 10 out of 11 points. He was a grandmaster Journalist at the Carlsen-Karjakin Match by providing expert grandmaster commentary for The New York Times during the match.