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Denker, Barber, NGIT Crown National Champions Print E-mail
By Mike Klein, Chess.com, reporting for US Chess   
August 5, 2015
Alex Velikanov

The three marquee scholastic invitationals that dovetail the U.S. Open concluded Tuesday. With several  dozens kids still mathematically eligible for first in the trio of tournaments, four hours were needed to decide all the winners.

The oldest of the events, the Denker Tournament of High School Champions (which claims around 1000 alumni over 30 years), began the day with six players tied at 4.0/5 with one round to go. Even players on 3.5 could still cling to a glimmer of hope, but that was dashed when one of the three top boards produced a winner.

Wisconsin Alex Velikanov played right into his preparation and navigated the numerous complications to win the race to his opponent's king. He said he'd been beaten by Christopher Wu 1.5-0.5 in this year's High School Nationals Blitz Tournament, but remembered his game as Black and wanted to improve on it.
"Because of that blitz game, I have a lot of respect for him," Velikanov said.

Here's his championship-winning affair with his own annotations, proffered just after the game without any computer assistance:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.f4 a6 7.Nxc6 Qxc6 8.Bd3 b5 9.Qe2 Bb7 10.Bd2 Bc5 11.0-0-0 Ne7 12.a3 Bd4
I found this interesting idea with Bd4-Rb8-Qb6-Bc6 in my pre-game prep. After the move he thought for about 15 minutes so I knew I caught him off guard.
13.Rhf1 Rb8 14.Qg4
I was on my own after this. It's a tricky move because if I continue with my plan with 1...Qb6, I was afraid of 2. e5 with an attack. If I castle, he can play f5. I spent about 35 minutes calculating the consequences of my next move.
14...f5 15.Qh5+

15.exf5 Qxg2 16.Qxg2 Bxg2 17.Rfe1 exf5 18.Bxf5 Bf3 19.Ne2 Bf2 is what I calculated if he takes on f5.
15...g6 16.Qh4 Qb6 17.g4

I believe this move is a mistake. The funny thing is, after the game multiple came up to me and asked me how I managed to win from this position as they thought I was much worse! During the game I felt as if I was at least equal, but then again I haven't looked at this game with an engine yet so I could be just dead lost :

17...b4 18.axb4 (18.Na4 Qc6 (18...Bxb2+ 19.Kxb2 bxa3+ 20.Kxa3 White should survive; 18...Qc6 19.Bxb4) 19.Bxb4) 18...Qxb4; 17...fxg4 18.f5 b4 19.Na4 Qc6 20.Bxb4 Be3+ 21.Kb1 g5 22.Qh5+]
18.exf5 b4
18...fxe4 19.Nxd4 exd3

19...Qxd4 20.Bc3 Qe3+ 21.Kb1 (21.Rd2) ; 19...exd3
 20.Bb4 Nd5 21.Rxd3
21.Bd6 Qxd4 22.Bxb8 Qe3+ (22...Ne3 23.Rxd3 Qc4 24.Rxe3 Qxf1+ 25.Re1 Qc4 26.Bd6) 23.Kb1 (23.Rd2 b4 24.Re1 Qb6 25.Be5 0-0 26.Rxd3 bxa3) 23...dxc2+ 24.Kxc2 Nb4+ 25.axb4 Be4+
21...Nxb4 22.axb4 Be4 23.Rd2 0-0 24.f5 Rbc8
24...exf5 25.gxf5 gxf5 26.Rg1+ Kh8 27.Qe7
25.Re1 exf5 26.gxf5 d5 27.fxg6 hxg6
25...Rf7 26.g5 Bd5
26...d5 27.Qg4 Re8

27.Nf3 Qe3 28.Qg3 Be4 29.Nd4
27...a5 28.bxa5 Qxa5 29.Qa3 Qb6 30.b3 b4 31.Qb2 Be4 32.Re1 d5 33.Kb1 e5 34.Ne2 Qe3 35.Red1 Rfc7
36.f7+ Kf8 37.Ng3
37.Qxe5 Bxc2+ is the simple win, but(37...Qxb3+ 38.Qb2 Rxc2 39.Qxb3 Rxd2+ 40.Ka1 Ra8+ is way cooler :))
 37...Bxc2+ 38.Rxc2 Rxc2 39.Qxc2 Rxc2 40.Kxc2 Qc3+ 0-1

"After he played Qg3 I knew I should be winning," he said. "I knew it was a big moment."

His was the first to finish among the leaders. One board down, Velikanov said he originally thought North Carolinian Steve (Tianqi) Wang would tie him by beating Indiana representative Sean Vibbert. In the end, they drew to finish a half-point off the pace.

The final standings would not be determined until deep into the fourth hour. On the top board, number-one ranked IM Andrew Tang of Minnesota had an extra pawn but was furiously trying to extricate his king from various checks by Northern Californian champ Vignesh Panchanatham.

At the end, Tang and Panchanatham both looked despondent. Neither was willing to risk his position by avoiding a repetition, thus injuring both of their title hopes. Tang could have moved his king to e2 instead of g2, although with only a few minutes left on his clock, wasn't willing to risk all the possible discoveries.

"A lot of things had to go right for me in order to get first," Velikanov said.

Velikanov was away from the tournament hall and had to be told he won the national championship. With it he gets $800 and also a $750 scholarship in honor of Erik Patchell, a two-time Denker player from Kentucky who passed away earlier this year.

Velikanov, a Milwaukee native, is entering his senior year. He also is the top tennis player in his school, and said he might play in the U.S. Open tennis tournament later this week (not the one in Flushing, NY!).

"Chess has 100 percent helped in tennis staying mentally strong," Velikanov said, adding that his chess and tennis styles are similar. He said he's a positional chess player and in tennis he likes to wear down his opponent during a point instead of going for quick winner.

He had played in the Denker once before, as an alternate! In 2013 the U.S. Open was in Madison, WI and he only got to play since the home state can send a second player to even out the field. Velikanov said that he wants to go to a college with a chess program.

"Being around those players in St. Louis would be pretty cool!" he said.

The Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions was far less dramatic. What it lacked in nervous tension it made up for in historical achievement.

Advait Patel

Oklahoman Advait Patel, the two-seed, led by a full point entering round six. A draw with Andrew Zheng of Maryland clinched the second consecutive Barber title for the Sooner. He also won $800.

After a Bayonet Attack in the King's Indian Defense, Zheng pitched the exchange to try to break through. The initiative fizzled, and Patel agreed to a draw despite the better endgame chances to ensure the title.

As founder Dewain Barber cited at the awards ceremony, Patel is the only two-time winner of the fledging event; in fact no other person has ever won two titles in any other three events (Denker, Barber, NGIT).
Veronika Zilajeva, Anupama Rajendra, Jennifer Shahade, Evian Xiang, Jennifer Yu and Jon Haskel

The National Girls Invitational Championship entered Tuesday morning in a similar predicament to the Barber. Like Patel, New Hampshire representative Evan Xiang led by a full point over the field. But would she live free or die?

The Swiss System correctly paired Xiang with the highest-rated girl with 4.0/5, and that was top-rated Jennifer Yu of Virginia. Could the leader hold on for a win or draw against the WFM?

The trades began piling up; by move 25 all the minor pieces had been exchanged. Yu then broke through on the queenside and formed Alekhine's Gun to win a pawn. The resulting endgame was rook+5 versus rook+4 (Magnus Carlsen has won similar endings even without the extra pawn!).

This would eventually reduce to two versus one, and after 87 moves the top-player finally mated the White king.

Yu's win not only made her happy, it also allowed two other girls to join her and Xiang atop the NGIT final standings.
Jennifer Yu

Wisconsin got its second title from Anupama Rajendra and Oklahoma followed suit, with Veronika Zilajeva. All won $500 in the four-way tie for first.

The winning Wisconsin team

It's probably no surprise that these two states tied for the top overall state prize. Wisconsin and Oklahoma both combined for 13.5/18, with the Badgers edging them out on tiebreaks. Washington took third.

Oklahoma, tied for first and second on tiebreak

Other special prizes were awarded at the closing ceremony. Tennessee won best state with an average rating below 1700. Maryland won best state under 1900 and Massachusetts for under 2100.

The NGIT awarded a $500 Ursula Foster Award to the best girl under the age of 13 to Thalia Cervantes of Missouri. Andrew Tang won a $500 award in the Denker for the best player under the age of 17. Steve Shutt gave a $500 award to help pay for any chess camp to Advait Patel, the best player under the age of 13 in the Barber.

Below are the best game prizes, as voted on by WGM Jennifer Shahade and yours truly.

Best Denker Game:

Best Barber Game:

Best NGIT Game:

Dewain Barber

Dewain Barber also hosted a trivia contest, based on the players' knowledge of Barberchess.com. He also asked many questions about his own chess experiences and gave away prizes like chessboard socks.

"All of you are part of the Denker legacy," he said.

Shutt also presented Barber with a handmade chess set made of plumbing and construction parts. It took two years to build and weighs more than 70 pounds.

You can see the full standings for all three events here.