The Odds at the Denker
By Randy Hough   
July 30, 2010
Denker favorite Steven Zierk at the 2010 US Junior at the CCSCSL
The Arnold Denker Tournament of State High School Champions, a 26-year feature of the U.S. Open, begins in Irvine, California Saturday evening. The event’s history was ably summed up by organizer Dewain Barber in his recent article. Let’s take a closer look at some of this year’s participants.

Only DC and three states were unrepresented when Dewain wrote. (And knowing him, I’ll bet he’s still working on those four!) Eleven of the participants also played last year. There are nine masters, including Southern California’s Kyron Griffith, the alternate who plays if there is otherwise an odd number. Though the rating differentials in the first round are typically at least 200 points, everyone is psyched up, and there were six upset draws in Round One last year. (2009 also marked the smashing of a “glass ceiling,” as Abby Marshall became the first girl to win the Denker; she recounted her experience on CLO.)

At the risk of inflicting something like the Sports Illustrated jinx, Steven Zierk of Northern California must be considered the clear favorite. Currently rated 2426, Steven finished equal fifth in the recent U.S. Junior Championship. Steven, the third highest 16-year-old player in the U.S., made his big breakthrough in the 2009 Western States Open, gaining 54 points as he beat GM Loek Van Wely (this reporter presented that sensational game) and IM Enrico Sevillano and drew with GMs Eugene Perelshteyn and Melik Khachiyan. He has maintained a Senior Master rating through eleven events since November.

Eric Rosen of Illinois, who finished seventh in the Junior, also has a flashy GM upset under his belt, downing John Fedorowicz in just 16 moves in last year’s U.S. Open. Though rated 2227 for the Denker, Eric’s unofficial rating after the Junior is 2279. His mother Andrea is a frequent correspondent for CLO.

Andrew Shvartsman of New Jersey checks in at 2283. A 6-0 score in this year’s U.S. Amateur Team East is one claim to fame. Andrew Wang, from Massachusetts, 2247, made a highly respectable 4-5 score in the recent strong (13 GMs and 15 IMs) New York International, gaining 36 points.

Southern California’s Christian Tanaka (2227) has many national scholastic titles under his belt, most recently third on tie-breaks in the (in)famous ten-way first place tie at the National High School this year. He has the home court advantage, living a few minutes away from the site. Deepak Aaron of New York (2216) showed his fighting spirit in the always-strong World Open (top section) this year, starting 1-4 and rebounding to win four in a row.

Kevin Zhang from Arizona (2214) earned his Master spurs in December. He gained 36 points in the American Open, but when he withdrew his rating turned out to be 2199. He crossed the threshold a week later. Bob Shao of Texas is 2113, gaining his Master title even more recently, when he won the state scholastic championship. If alternate Kyron Griffith gets to play, his rating will be listed as 2205, but his most recent tournament at the San Diego Club has left him at 2251.

And we look for those other 40 players (listed in Dewain’s article) to show what they can do! I’ll be providing daily updates (as well as results from the World Chess Live Tournament of College Champions and the inaugural Trophies Plus U.S. Girls Junior Championship), so stay tuned!

The Denker begins Saturday night at 7:30 PST in conjunction with the traditional schedule of the Jerry Hanken Memorial/US Open, the Trophies Plus Junior Girls and the World Chess Live Tournament of College Champions. See tournament details on the US Open website and look for games from the top boards on