After three days of play and four rounds, GM Marc’Andria Maurizzi (France) and WIM Mariam Mkrtchyan (Armenia) have emerged as the first sole leaders at the FIDE World Junior Championships in the open and girls‘ sections, respectively. They are the only players with a perfect score of 4/4.
In a field that includes a total of 14 GMs and 29 IMs, the main favourites in the open were the top-seeded GM Hans Niemann (2667), from the USA, and German GM Frederik Svane (2626). Two other serious contenders are GM Anand Pranav (2509), the current U-14 world champion, and the 2022 World Champion U-18, the Canadian IM Shawn Rodrigue-Lemieux (2485). Also notable is the presence of young chess players such as the 14-year-old American IM Andy Woodward and the Colombian Andres Garzon (2144), who is just 12 years old.
The first two rounds were smooth sailing for the top seeds, winning their games with relative ease against lower-rated opponents. The first upset came in round three when GM Hans Niemann (2667) was defeated in a compelling way by his compatriot, the 13-year-old American IM Andy Woodward (2480), the youngest titled player in the field. Woodward demonstrated superb preparation for this game and played a relatively new idea against the English opening, previously used by Daniil Dubov, which involves a pawn sacrifice on e5. In this position, although White is slightly better in theory, Black has a strong initiative and it is not easy for White to find the right path. And that’s exactly what happened: on move 21, an inaccurate move by Niemann led to his loss.
IM Woodward couldn’t hide his enthusiasm and ambition at the end of the game. „I am definitely very happy, and I will continue fighting all the games until the end, without giving up“, he said in this interview. He also mentioned that he already has two GM norms, and his goal is to achieve the third one in this event, besides earning some rating to close the gap to the 2500 threshold required to get the title.
Another interesting result was the draw achieved by the highest-rated Mexican player in the field, IM Sion Galaviz (2462), who drew against the Indian GM Anand Pranav (2509).
The games became much closer in round four, where the strongest players began to cross paths. Some well-fought games ended in a draw on the top boards, like the ones between GM Ruben Koellner (2485) and GM Arseniy Nesterov (2575), the Colombian GM Santiago Avila (2510) and American IM Kirk Ghazarian (2473). In the co-leader clash after day two, French GM Marc‘ Andria Maurizzi (2555, pictured below) won his game, beating the previous day’s hero Andy Woodward (2480).
In the Girls‘ category, the course of the event followed a very similar script, with the main favourites imposing their better play against their opponents in the first three rounds. One of the few upsets was a half-point conceded by current American Continental Champion, WGM Candela Francisco (2345), who was held to a draw by WIM Zeinep Sultanbek (2022) from Kazakhstan.
The top seed, Carissa Yip (Elo 2372), won her first three games, but in the fourth round, she had to settle for a draw against WFM Tatyana Getman (2172). The American prodigy didn’t get anything from the opening, a King’s Indian, and after the queens‘ exchange, Carissa opted to go for a line that forced the draw by threefold repetition.
This result allowed WIM Mariam Mkrtchyan (pictured below) to become the first sole leader of the event, as the Armenian won her game with White against WIM Sofiia Hryzlova. It was a close battle, but at some point, Sofiia decided to sacrifice a pawn to open lines against the enemy king but did not get enough compensation. Mkrtchyan was ruthless in converting her advantage, and she won her fourth straight game, the result that reminded of her dominant performance at the World Championship U-18 last year in Mamaia, where she became the winner with an astonishing score of 11 out of 11.
The Girls‘ category also includes some young prodigies that so far have left a very good impression with their play: 8-year-old Romi Milner (1856), from the USA; the Pan American Champion, 10-year-old Mia Guzman (1753) from Mexico; and 14-year-old WIM Miaoyi Lu (2214), from China.
The most interesting clashes in Round 4 are Marc Andria Maurizzi (4) vs Arseniy Nesterov 2575 (3½) and Rudik Makarian (3½) vs. Anand Pranav (3½), while Hans Niemann (3) will take on GB Harshavardhan (3). In the Girls‘ section, Carissa Yip (3½) will have White against Mariam Mkrtchyan (4), a matchup that has all the makings of a stellar duel, while on board two, the young prodigy Miaoyi Lu (3½) will face the much more experienced Candela Francisco (3½).
The 5th round begins at 16:00 local time (GMT-7).
Written by David Llada
Photos: official webste and David Llada
Official website: juniorchesschampionship.fenamacajedrez.com