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„At age 12, Awonder Liang is the youngest competitor in the U.S. Junior Closed Chess Championship this week in St. Louis.

But that didn’t stop the Madison youth from getting his week off to a great start Tuesday when he won his first-round match over 17-year-old Ray Han of Houston, Texas. The tournament features 10 of the top chess players under the age of 21 in the U.S.

Liang entered the tournament a two-time world champion having earned gold medals in the Under-8 World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil (2011), and later the Under-10 World Youth Chess Championship in the United Arab Eremites (2013). He also holds the distinction of being the youngest player to beat an international master and the youngest American to beat a grandmaster in a standard time control.

Liang will take on Mika Brattain, 16, of Lexington, Mass., in the second round Wednesday afternoon.

Other players in the competition are: Akshat Chandra, 15, of Inselin, N.J.; Michael Bodek, 18, of New Rochelle, N.Y.; Ruifeng Li, 14, of Plano, Texas.; Yian Liou, 17, of Alamo, Calif.; and Arthur Shen, 18, of Edison, N.J.; Luke Harmon-Vellotti, 16, a junior at UCLA; and favorite Jeffery Xiong, 14, of Coppell, Texas.

“We have some really talented kids here, and they are all good chess ambassadors,” Tony Rich, executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They’re also good students and good people. They are good sportsmen and professionals and role models. … They’re superstars.”

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