Over 2000 Turnout for Elementary Nationals
By FM Mike Klein   
May 9, 2010
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Two of the leaders in the K-6 Championship, Benjamin Moon and Justus Williams. Photo Shaun Smith

Fate granted the USCF and thousands of chess children a lucky reprieve for the 2010 nationals season - the schedule didn't include the somewhat regular stop in Nashville. The submerged Gaylord Opryland Hotel, still recovering from the recent floods that have decimated the city, would have been a chess puzzle without an answer. After hosting the Supernationals last year, the city will host national scholastic events the next three years.     

Instead, 2057 children from two Californias, the District of Columbia and 38 other states are converging this weekend on the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta for the 2010 Burt Lerner Elementary Chess Championships. While not a record turnout, the final numbers suggest that USCF's largest annual tournament is nearly recession-proof.

The site, which also hosted the 2008 High School Nationals, is being stretched to capacity. Two years ago, the nationals here hosted about 1300 players and many fewer coaches and parents. Still, given what could have been, players and support teams surely prefer the inundation of crowds to water.

Chief Tournament Director Francisco Guadalupe admitted to "space issues"  but gave high marks to the support of the Georgia scholastic chess scene, which sent more than 300 players, second only to New York, which topped 400. "It is tight," Guadalupe said. "The first round was pretty bad."

Prior to the start of the event on Friday, bottlenecks formed, especially in the room hosting the younger K-3 students. This was due in part to the parents being forced to leave the room completely, as opposed to other rounds in which they could remain in a cordoned-off viewing area.

Players and adults seem to be adjusting and the process has become more streamlined and effective.  With thousands of children alternating between hours of intense concentration and short excited bursts through the hallways, the hotel's takeover is either a perfectly tuned Montessori adventure or a journey into chaos physics, depending on your stake in the event (thankfully, no other conventions seem to be competing for space). Some children will run the equivalent of a marathon throughout the weekend, while some coaches won't see the light of day until Monday morning.

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Women's World Champ Kosteniuk at her Atlanta simul, Photo Shaun Smith
The races are therefore off and are there are no less than nine racetracks at last count - K-1, K-3, K-5, K-6, K-3 Under 800, K-5 Under 900, K-6 Under 1000, K-3 Unrated and K-6 Unrated. Throw in a Friends and Family Tournament, a Blitz, a Bughouse, a simul with Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, a Fide Women's Trainers meeting, scholastic committee meetings, and this sentence has gone on for far too long.

The memories will surely run long too, and most of the children are still too tender to realize the preciousness of their creation. For some, holding down food is itself a challenge. If newly discovered body odor is the emanation of the Middle School Nationals, then regurgitated breakfasts of champions permeate the hotel carpets of the Elementary Nationals.

After four rounds, some leaders have done their best to surprise no one, as the peloton of potential challengers grows ever thinner.

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James Black, winner of the K-6 Blitz (took home first place trophy on tiebreak over Daniel Gurevich), Photo Shaun Smith

One pre-tournament favorite had all sorts of adventures on the first day. After his first round opponent failed to show, Expert James A. Black was assigned another single opponent. The pairing was either completely appropriate or unjustifiably ad hoc, depending on whom you ask. Before delving into the particulars, sixth-grader Black (2070), who also was co-champion of the Blitz, shared his wild first-round affair against Kevin Moy (1444).



A game usually ends with a winner and a loser, but this game's result would not be decided until Saturday afternoon, a full day later. And as CLO goes to press, the issue keeps changing every hour. The controversy surrounds the pairings of the players who didn't have first-round opponents. In the K-6 championship, as in other sections, section chiefs group all the players without opponents and then pair a traditional Swiss with those players. This dutifully occurred in Black's section, but regrettably all six players without opponents were in the top half of the draw, meaning three of the players who would have played down now had to play up. Further complicating the issue was the tardy discovery of two additional players in the same situation. For their part, the players accepted their new opponents, and as the previous game showed, fought a long fight.

After the round, coaches appealed the decision, and the chief floor TD overruled the games and pairings of three of the four games, leaving only the late pairing to stand since it involved a top player playing a bottom half player. The three invalidated games were changed to double forfeit wins, seemingly negating their actual outcomes. Rating points gained and lost were allowed to stand, and the situation reminded one of the famous Battle of New Orleans, in which combatants incurred actual casualties, but didn't count for much since it began after the War of 1812 ended.

The implications of the decision included a loss of invaluable tiebreak points for the winners of the games, and a win instead of a loss for the others. The process had only just begun however, as interested parties quickly noted that the tournament booklet allows for such pairings by stipulating: "The TD will try to re-pair players on the floor in round one." That there were no great available pairings was besides the issue according to IA Carol Jarecki, who said, "You can't have players not play. [Pairing players] is the lesser evil." Jarecki herself paired players in this way in the K-3 section, and she also did so at the other nationals this year. "I've been working at the nationals for many years and that's the way we've always done it."

The story involves more wormholes and technical details, and eventually the decision to invalidate the games was overturned, then modified. Saturday afternoon Guadalupe reversed the reversal, allowing all first-round games to stand as played. But since this resulted in original first-round losers getting tougher pairings without the benefit of a point, they were later given second-round forfeit points, despite actually losing their second round games. Confused? Baffled? Stay tuned - the novella's ending may not have been written yet.

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Christopher Wu, Photo Shaun Smith

After five rounds, the K-6 Championship, which features several experts, no longer has any perfect scores and may go the way of the high school nationals this year, when 6 out of 7 points produced a 10-way tie for first. The five who are tied with 4.5 are Christopher Wu (NJ), Justus Williams (NY), Benjamin Moon (GA), Jackson Chen (CO), and Tip Wolfe (VA). Wolfe is pacing his team, Moody Middle School, as they sit atop the K-6 team competition with 16. In the K-5, the last two without a blemish are Allan Beilin (CA) and Michael Lim (NJ). In the team, the two-horse race is down to Stevenson Elementary in Bellevue, WA and Half Day School, who is putting in full days in Atlanta but is based in Lincolnshire, IL. Both teams have 16.5. In the K-3, six players still have perfect scores: Roland Feng (WA), World Youth silver-medallist Tanuj Vasudeva (CA), Aravind Kumar (NJ), Aaron Householder (CA) and Rishi Rajendran (NJ) and Jeffrey Oliver Yan (WA).

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Aravind Kumar, Photo Shaun Smith


Dex Webster made a name for himself against Kosteniuk in the simul on Friday. The 1595-rated youngster from New Orleans held her to a draw, the only child to do so. When asked what part of New Orleans he is from, Webster looked at me incredulously and said, "You know, New Orleans."

It was recently announced that the top player in the Elementary K-6 Nationals will earn a ticket into an upcoming US Chess School in Dallas or Seattle. As the action wraps up today, follow standings & pairings here and look for Mike Klein's wrap-up story tomorrow.


For more writing by FM Klein, see his Best of CLO bio, which links to more articles by him. Klein will also be writing from the site of the 2010 US Chess Championship. Stay tuned to uschesschamps.com.