Drama Heightens at the K-12 National Scholastics
By Matan Prilleltensky   
December 12, 2010
Grade Nationals playing hall, Photo Polly Wright

Some 1350 students have descended on Orlando, FL for this year’s edition of  the National K-12 Championships. As always, this tournament is a spectacular of upsets, kids, school cultures, and chess lovers from around the United States. The former is a particularly recurring theme in this seven-round endurance test, as kids are pushed outside their comfort zones by out of state players, coaches, and opening repertoires. In the tenth grade section, Sam Silberman, Gulliver’s (Miami, FL) leading player, knocked off the higher rated Jacob Fauman on the tournament’s second day. 

In the final position, Black is still OK after 31...Rb8 but flagged.

Sam had positive things to say about Gulliver, calling this Miami college preparatory school “hard but good”. He has recently returned to chess after a two-year hiatus, studying with Miami’s leading Grandmaster, GM Julio Becerra. Sam may break 2000 this tournament, but don’t expect him to wait around there for too long!

At ten years old, Cassandra Tanner may be the youngest Tournament Director in American history. When I asked her name, she exclaimed, “I know a lot but people never ask me!” Cassandra is directing because she was late with the registration process. The Phoenix native thoroughly enjoying her new role. She described her duties as “telling TDs stuff, putting up pairings, and answering questions...when people finally ask me!”

One combination team room is playing host to the Lusher school (New Orleans, LA), Heatherstone Elementary (Olathe, Kansas) and California Trail (Olathe, Kansas). Rene Phillips, one of the only listed professional chess coaches in the United States, was holding court when I entered. This retired police officer has returned to his first love, teaching in both Atlanta and New Orleans. The Lusher school, which his students attend, has undergone major changes since hurricane Katrina. It became a charter school, added grades 10-12, and in the words of one parent, is “trying to make chess one of the opportunities that emerges from Katrina’s challenges.”

With two days gone, the likely battles for first place are beginning to emerge. In kindergarten, Stephen Gerald Barrick and Milind Maiti take perfect scores into their crunch penultimate round encounter. In first grade, Tan Nguyen and Corwin Cheung do battle atop the leaderboard tomorrow, both with picket fences. Second grade sees a logjam at the top: The final day will be required to separate Marcus Ming Miyasaka, Josiah Paul Stearman, Akshita Gorti, and Hudson Beaudoin from one another. Third grade is led by Danial Asaria, Sophia Zhang, and Ramitha Sai Ravishankar, all with clean 5-0 tallies. Zachary Chen Tanenbaum, Matthew James Stevens, and Thomas Knoff share the upper hand in fourth grade. Fifth grade sees yet another leading triumvirate comprised of Michael L Chen, Cameron Wheeler, and Udit Iyengar.

The sixth grade pacesetters, with 4.5, are Kesav Viswanadha, Allan Beilin, Atulya Vaidya, Bryce Mc Clanahan, Kendrick D Nguyen, and Abhinay Dommalapati. Seventh grade sees Josh Colas alone at the top with 5, with Lilia Meilan Poteat, and Vaughan McDonald in hot pursuit with 4.5. Eighth grade also has a lonely leader, with Michael William Brown holding the only perfect score. The ninth grade section is co-led by John Lodge Hughes, Sam A. Schmakel, and Nicholas Rosenthal. In tenth grade, Christopher Heung takes a half point lead into his clutch encounter with Justin Karp in round six. The eleventh grade summit is shared by Michael Boris Vilenchuk, Vincent Huang, and Ben Gershenov. Finally, Bronx Science teammates Raven Sturt and Nitai D. Leve have perfect scores and will not play in round six.

The team leaders are as follows: Kindergarten: Oak Hall, Gainesville FL. 1st grade: Dalton, NY, NY. 2nd grade: Dalton, NY, NY. 3rd grade: Hunter College Campus School, NY, NY. 4th grade: Scicore Academy, Hightstown, NJ. 5th grade: Regnart Elementary School. 6th grade: IS 318k, Brooklyn, NY. 7th grade: IS 318k, Brooklyn, NY. 8th grade: IS 318k, Brooklyn, NY. 9th grade: TXS031. 10th grade: Horace Mann, NY, NY. 11th grade: Solomon Schechter Westchester, NY. 12th grade: Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, NY.

The final day will decide which leads hold and which are surpassed! A day of high drama awaits in Disneyland.  

Stay up to date on http://www.uschess.org/tournaments/2010/k12/?page=RESULTS and look for Matan's final report Monday. Also see the recent US Chess Scoop series from the National Chess Congress for a video interview with Matan.