Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How 15-year-old Evan Ju Won the 2006 New Jersey Open Chess Championship


Tate - Ju, NJ Open 2006
Black to play and win.


Tate - Ju, NJ Open 2006
Black to play and win (again).

I have annotated Evan Ju's games from the 60th Annual New Jersey Open Chess Championship 2006, which he won this past Labor Day weekend at the surprising age of fifteen, making him the youngest champion in New Jersey history (surpassing Tyler Cowen in 1977 by about five months) and the first to hold both the NJ Junior and NJ Open titles. His games tell a story of a young player, only recently of master strength, who showed himself up to the challenge of New Jersey's best players, including some with international titles. They also show that master players do not go down easy. They have to be beaten in the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame. See Ju's struggle against FM Emory Tate (from which the diagrams above are taken) for a good illustration.

IM Jeremy Silman once wrote, "you always need some luck to win a [chess] tournament," to which Thomas Jefferson might have added, "the harder you work the more luck you'll have." There is no question that Evan was a little lucky in some of his games, but that he also worked very hard to make that luck. When he was not working at creating active winning plans, he was working hard at creating difficulties for his opponent. When all else fails, after all, you can always ask, "What move would I hate to face if I was him?"

A case in point is his game with 70-year-old FM Anatoly Volovich in Round 2, where Evan was forced into a difficult endgame a piece down. Though we do not have the complete score of this game, several sources tell me that Evan posed the one problem for his opponent that he'd least like to face (and which may be all chess players' nightmare scenario): he eliminated all of the pawns and forced Volovich to try to win with Bishop and Knight against lone King in time pressure! As Jon Edwards writes: "Even many chess experts and masters cringe at the thought of having to mate with only a King, Bishop, and Knight against a lone King," in part because "this checkmate is unforgiving. A single mistake can require that you start over." And since there are some scenarios where, even with perfect play, it could take 30 moves or more to complete the mate, starting over is a nightmare. Judit Polgar once used the same tactic against Ljubomir Ljubojevic, who took over 22 moves to complete the mate. No wonder you can find so many careful explanations for how to mate with B+N v K online, including at the Exeter Chess Club, Wikipedia, Mostly Chess Tactics Blog, and Michigan Chess Association.

Some might say Evan was lucky that Volovich had forgotten how to perform this mate (which, I think it is safe to say, the very experienced FM had never encountered in over 60 years of playing). But I think Evan made his luck by creating as many difficulties as possible and by using the clock to his advantage.

Chess is sport, after all. And it is a very difficult one at that. In few of his games did Evan play perfectly, but neither did his generally higher rated opponents. In several games, especially against FM Rodion Rubenchik (2312) in Round 3 and FM Tate (2447) in Round 5, the play became tactically wild and very murky. Both players struggled to find the right move, but it was Evan who emerged victorious. Sometimes you have to risk losing in order to win.

I hope you enjoy playing over Evan's games as much as I have enjoyed annotating them. I look forward to next year's event, where I hope Evan will be at the board to defend his title. I plan to be on hand to cover it.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanx for the coverage - the star ledger had a couple games, but this is great. thank you