The World Junior Championships for players under 20 came to an end this Sunday in Mexico City, with two of the youngest winners in the history of the competition: 16-year-old Marc’Andria Maurizzi, from France, and Candela Francisco of Argentina, who just turned 17 a few weeks ago, clinched the titles in a thrilling finish. Both ended the championship unbeaten, with 8½/11.
Their victories are not an absolute record, as Joel Lautier, also from France, won this event at a record 15 years old, while the youngest one to earn the title in the Girls‘ category was Alexandra Goryachkina, at 14 years old (and then again, the next year). However, this doesn’t diminish the remarkable achievement of the 2023 winners in the slightest.
Maurizzi’s victory could not be confirmed until the last moment, and it was decided thanks to a better tie-break over Arseniy Nesterov, Luka Budisavljevic, and Mamikon Gharibyan, all with 8½/11. This four-way tie in the top place was partly caused by the fact that Marc’Andria slowed the pace towards the end of the event and finished with two draws in the final two rounds. However, the French Grandmaster is an unquestionable winner: undefeated, he became the first sole leader in round 4, and his round 9 victory over Ivan Schitco is a masterpiece that became an instant classic, adding much to his credit.
Arseniy Nesterov is also a worthy winner of the silver medal. After a strong start, he suffered a little bump in the road between rounds 4 and 7, when he only scored 1½ in four games, losing pace with the leaders.
However, thanks to a strong finish with four consecutive wins, he could claim the place he deserved – with a bit of luck: his rival in the last round, the top seed Hans Niemann, was forced to win to keep some chances of a medal, so rejected a draw by perpetual check and went for an inferior line instead, allowing Nesterov to turn the tables and win the game.
The Serbian Grandmaster Luka Budisavljevic completes the podium, in third place. He was remarkably consistent during the whole event, finishing undefeated. In the last round, he had Black against Maurizzi, and he fought almost till the bare Kings in order to get a shot at winning the event. The impression is that his result could have been even better, had he played a bit sharper at critical moments.
A bit disappointing was the result of the top seed, Hans Niemman, who could only finish 8th, on 7½/11, with two losses. His overall level of play through the event was not at par with what one would expect from a player of his calibre – but he deserves all the credit for taking part in a competition where he had little to win and lots to lose.
While the final result in the open category was very much in consonance with what we saw during the event, the Girls’ category was a completely different story. The last three rounds were quite a thrill, with massive swindles in key games that turned the standings upside down. The top seed, Carissa Yip, seemed to have the event under control: her play was not so convincing in a couple of games, particularly in the opening, but thanks to her resourcefulness and class, she managed to score the points anyhow. This changed in Round 9, when she was paired against the tournament’s revelation, 13-year-old Miaoyi Lu (pictured below), who defeated her in great fashion.
That, combined with the victory of Beloslava Krasteva, allowed the Bulgarian WGM to take the lead. The next day, Miaoyi was very close to repeating this feat and defeating the tournament leader, as she obtained a crushing position against Krasteva. However, the tenacious Bulgarian managed to pull off one of the biggest swindles of the event, winning the game and heading into the final round one whole point ahead of her rivals.
Only a defeat in the last round, where she had the advantage of the White pieces, and a genuinely unlucky combination of results, could prevent Krasteva from becoming World Champion. In fact, the arbiter in charge of the pairings spent some time after round 10 checking if she was mathematically a winner with one round to spare. As it turns out, she wasn’t.
The American Continental Champion, Candela Francisco, from Argentina, became the stone in Krasteva’s show. “Candelita”, the favourite of the Mexican fans, conceded a draw in round 2, so her tournament was a bit discrete, and her name didn’t make it to the very top places in the leaderboard until as late as round 9.
But she won when it matters the most: in the decisive last-round game. The masterful way in which she outplayed Krasteva with the black pieces is worth a world title; first, with the advance h5-h4-h3, and then with a queen sacrifice that gave her attack the definitive impulse. The worst possible combination of results added up with the Bulgarian getting neither the gold nor the silver, but the bronze medal.
The silver went to Carissa Yip, who tied with Candela and Beloslava on 8½/11. For that, she had to win in the last round against Trisha Kanyamarala, which was easier said than done. Carissa had the initiative during most of the game, but only in a laborious rook endgame could she finally overtake her opponent. Not winning the Junior’s title in the last year she was eligible to play is probably a bit of a disappointment for Yip, who is clearly one of the strongest players of her generation. But second place is a decent consolation prize.
Written by David Llada
Photos: David Llada
Official website: juniorchesschampionship.fenamacajedrez.com/