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On Chess: 2011 World Junior Chess Championship

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 16, 2011 - Alas, my whirlwind world tour is finally nearing its end. The 2011 World Junior Chess Championship, held in Chennai, India from Aug. 1-15, has finally come to a close and, believe it or not, I'm really looking forward to returning to St. Louis and the good old U.S. of A.

My globetrotting trek first brought me to Toronto for an exhibition, then to China as a coach of the U.S. team at the World Team Championship (we finished a credible 4th with Russia and Hungary). My next stop was India for the World Junior Championship.

Why was I at the World Junior, you ask? Did they create a special new section for players age 42 and under? Unfortunately, the answer is no. But I was asked once again to use my coaching prowess to help the U.S. win a medal on the world stage!

At this year's World Junior Championship, America's hopes rested on 16-year-old Ray Robson, a frequent visitor to St. Louis and one of the world's youngest Grandmasters! Ray has played in the World Junior once before and finished in the top 20 (at age 14!), but he certainly hoped for more this time around. My job was to help prepare him for his tough competition.

I arrived in Chennai two days before the opening ceremony and was able to do some sightseeing before work was to be done. I met up with my friend GM Ivan Salgado of Spain (He was here in St. Louis just two months ago working as Ruslan Ponomariov's coach in his match with Hikaru Nakamura) and some of his friends from South America, as they all arrived early as well. We went to a temple, the beach and a local mall, taking in a lot of the local culture.

But business is business. Ray soon arrived with his dad, Gary; and we were off to prepare. Each day we would look at Ray's opponents' games on the chess databases and figure out what was likely to happen in the opening (beginning) of the game based on past games. Some of the opponents Ray had even played before, so usually someone was out for revenge. We would discuss what openings would work to Ray's advantage and what types of positions his opponent would be strong or not so strong at playing, and try to predict the first few moves of the game.

The tournament was held in two sections, the Open section and the Girls section. The Open had 125 participants and the Girls section brought out 64 participants. With parents, coaches, arbiters, organizers and spectators, there were more than 300 people in the tournament hall and analysis rooms during the rounds. It was exciting to see so many people from different countries all over the world.

Ray played well, but unfortunately missed a medal by the smallest of margins, as he finished with 9 points out of 13 rounds (7 wins, 2 losses and 4 draws), and the bronze medal winner scored 9.5 points. Ray was on the top board in round 12, and unfortunately made two errors in a winning position with little time on his clock. At the top level, event the smallest mistake can completely change the advantage, and Ray went from winning to losing in a matter of seconds. But that's chess, and Ray fought well in his last round to win a nice game and secure 4th place. Ray was seeded 6th at the start, so a 4th-place finish was quite good, although Ray seemed disappointed not to do better, a typical sign of a fighter and perfectionist.

Ray is off to Russia to play in the World Cup, a knock-out event with most of the top 100 players in the world competing. I will be back in St. Louis Thursday night, Aug. 18, after 19 hours of flying and an eight-hour drive from Detroit. That's the life of a chess player. Travel, play and hopefully win some along the way.{jcomments on}

Ben Finegold is the Grandmaster in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

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