Nihal and Niemann Both Win: 2022 Junior Speed Chess Championship

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The 2022 Junior Speed Chess Championship by SIG returned today with double the action as GM Hans Niemann toppled GM Kiril Shevchenko in their quarterfinal matchup, while GM Nihal Sarin ended GM Awonder Liang’s run with a nearly impeccable effort to book his spot in their semifinal faceoff.

The two matches juxtaposed each other. The first was a tight encounter where Niemann edged out Shevchenko by a two-point margin, while Nihal ousted a resilient Liang, eventually garnering a lead of 15 points, with such a phenomenon becoming a regular occurrence for Nihal.

The next quarterfinal match between GM Arjun Erigaisi and IM Mahammad Muradli will take place on Monday, May 16, at 9 a.m. Pacific / 18:00 Central European, 


The Junior Speed Chess Championship presented by SIG is the second leg of the 2022 Speed Chess Championship where top junior players compete in a series of speed chess matches. Each match consists of a 5+1 blitz segment, a 3+1 blitz segment, and a 1+1 bullet segment, with the player who scores the most points winning the match. If there’s a tie, players play a four-game 1+1 match to decide the winner. If the tie persists, an armageddon game with a bidding system decides the winner.


Blitz 5|1: Niemann-Shevchenko 5-5

Niemann kicked off the first match on Thursday with wins in the first two games, immediately showing his intent to play quickly and in an unorthodox manner. Game two saw Niemann come out firing when he was able to find a lacerating knight sacrifice that culminated in a winning rook and pawn endgame.

Shevchenko bounced back immediately and won a hat trick, three games that were the highlight of the 5+1 section. The Ukrainian grandmaster showed great resolve to dismantle Niemann’s opening escapades, with no better example than his defensive effort against the Blackmar-Diemar Gambit. Shevchenko survived a kingside onslaught, dissolved Niemann’s initiative, and avoided reaching a Vancura position (a known draw in the rook endgame) to convert the full point.

Shevchenko’s lead was short-lived, though, and Niemann was able to take advantage of a major oversight to swindle his opponent and tie the score at 3-3.

The players traded wins throughout the remainder of the 5+1 segment and found many “brilliant moves,” according to Chess.com’s Game Review feature. Shevchenko’s 21.Ng4 in the seventh game was the most notable of these, where he was able to turn a seemingly calm position into a miniature.  

 

Blitz 3|1: Niemann-Shevchenko 3-5

In the upper echelons of speed chess, it is common to see players punished for allowing major time deficits. However, Shevchenko today proved that three seconds and a dream was all he needed to take down his lofty opponent.

Niemann could only look on in disbelief as Shevchenko rescued numerous worse positions with less than five seconds on the clock from the early middlegame. 

The American GM was not without his own chances after setting up an instructive zugzwang in a king and pawn ending, but he was dealt a major blow in the form of a mouse slip that allowed Shevchenko to reach a drawn endgame and was left counting his lucky stars.

Alekhine’s gun was featured late in the segment and Niemann looked to be taking advantage of the conspicuous but effective battery. Shevchenko showed extreme resourcefulness to dodge the bullets until Niemann ran out of ammo and proceeded to take over the initiative, leaving Niemann with a smoking gun and a missed target.  

The final game of the 3+1 section was so chaotic that words could simply not do it justice. Enjoy the clip below that features one of the most exciting finishes in the Junior Speed Chess Championship thus far.

Bullet 1|1: Niemann-Shevchenko 6.5-2.5

Bullet dominance was on the menu for Niemann in Thursday’s match and it quickly became apparent that Niemann would be able to pull the match back into contention and beyond. 

A remarkable moment came when, after 100 moves of a flat evaluation bar, Niemann spotted a splintering rook sacrifice, leading to a position where Black could not stop White from promoting. The position stunned commentators Hess and Naroditsky, with Naroditsky proclaiming: “This is art. This is art!”

After taking a two-point lead, Niemann seemed to be professional in his approach to winding down the match clock, even playing 50 moves of a rook against rook endgame. In the penultimate game, though, Niemann possibly let his opponent off the hook and instead of forcing his opponent to speedrun a knight and bishop checkmate (in just over one minute), Niemann resigned in a dramatic scene, giving his opponent one last chance to tie the match.

The drama continued throughout the final game where the evaluation bar briefly swung in favor of Shevchenko, but the chance to convert was missed. Niemann, the “speed demon,” finally prevailed and claimed a two-point victory in the match.

Blitz 5|1: Nihal-Liang 6.5-3.5

In the much-anticipated match between Nihal and Liang, who both achieved their GM titles at the age of 14, Nihal took an early lead after winning two instructive endgames. In the second, Nihal was able to manufacture a winning position after spotlighting his opponent’s additional pawn island and capitalizing on the weakness

With two pawn islands versus his opponent’s three, Nihal isolates White’s weak pawns with his king and takes control. 

It took some creative handiwork for Liang to score his first win in the fourth game, where he found a cutting rook sacrifice to gain a decisive edge.

After seven games, the two were poised at 3.5-3.5. Nihal again proved why he is such a strong contender for his third Junior Speed Chess Championship title and stormed away with a three-game streak that quickly denied any chance of Liang taking an unexpected lead in the segment.

Nihal repeatedly flashed signs of tactical cunning during this period and refused to settle for a draw in each of the games. In the tenth game of the match, he was able to execute a plan that left commentators Naroditsky and Xiong, world-class blitz players in their own right, floored.

Blitz 3|1: Nihal-Liang 7.5-1.5

A glimmer of hope appeared for Liang as he took the initial game of the 3+1 portion off the back of an opening that transposed into an IM Eric Rosen classic, the Stafford Gambit.

IM Eric Rosen, a practitioner of the Stafford Gambit, won the Chemmy for the Best Cinematography in 2021. Picture: Chess.com

It must be said that the opening was not responsible for the result of the game, as Nihal developed an advantage early. However, Liang’s play in the late middlegame allowed him to swing the game back in his favor.

Sensing a resurgence from Liang, Nihal ramped up his speed and accuracy and proceeded to decimate his opponent in the middle section of the match. While Liang maintained a level that would have held against most GMs in the world, Nihal began to choose continuations that unsettled Liang and became impossible to defend.

A miraculous save by Liang in the 15th game was the only thing standing between Nihal and a ten-game streak in Thursday’s match! Opting for the St. George Defence, a sign of Liang’s desperation in the match, he found himself down a queen for two pawns and a bishop. Nihal was unable to stop Liang’s b-pawn from sprinting away to promotion though, and with only seconds on the clock, the Indian GM was forced to settle for a draw by repetition.

Nihal’s impressive highlight reel of tactics continued building as the match went, the player barely missing a beat when his opponent made the smallest of inaccuracies. 

 With a number of clean wins heading in the bullet portion, Nihal was able to procure a commanding nine-point lead before the final segment. After playing a come-from-behind match that went all the way to tiebreaks against GM Brandon Jacobson, Liang remained positive despite a gargantuan task ahead.

Bullet 1|1: Nihal-Liang 8.5-2.5

With the match slipping away from Liang, he began selecting double-edged openings to take Nihal out of his comfort zone. A King’s Gambit went horribly wrong for the American in the first game of the bullet segment and was over in only eight moves!

Liang did bounce back to win a fine game two games later in yet another King’s Gambit, this time declined. Colorful tactics led to checkmate on the board, but with the deficit at an inapproachable 10 points, the match was no longer being contested.

Simplicity became key as Nihal closed out the bullet portion and his unwavering awareness would have no doubt become tiresome for his opponent.

A final score of 22.5-7.5 left an immense 15-point gap between the players, credited to Nihal’s overtly punishing play throughout. Securing his spot in his third final in successive years, the Indian GM has continued to re-assert himself as a tournament favorite regardless of his opponent. Only time will tell if he can continue his reign over the Junior Speed Chess Championship.

All Games – Quarterfinal and Semifinal

Junior Speed Chess Championship 2022 Bracket

The 2022 Junior Speed Chess Championship is an online tournament for top junior players. The qualifiers happen March 31-April 8, while the main event runs April 11-May 13. Players battle for a piece of the $35,000 prize fund and a spot in the 2022 Speed Chess Championship.


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