A Disney Chess Weekend: Matan on the K-12 Nationals
By Matan Prilleltensky   
December 15, 2010
Colas.jpg
Joshua Colas, Photo Polly Wright
Heading into the final day of K-12 Nationals, there was everything to play for in Orlando, with scholastic stars around the country vying for individual and team titles. The 7th grade section was among the most watched, with White Plains standout Josh Colas leading a chasing pack that included Lilia Poteat, Vaughan Mc Donald, and NM Justus Williams. A sense of balance accompanied the leader, who combined confidence with the understanding that “anything can happen”.

His key 6th round encounter with Lilia Poteat reflected the excellent progress this player is making. Josh recently started working with Alex Stripunsky, and credited his improved opening repertoire to the strong Grandmaster. He identified the finish as “nice tactical moves” that capped off a complex struggle.   



With a full point lead heading into the last round, Josh sealed the deal in a hard-fought draw with Isaac Bareyev, one of IS 318k’s leading scorers. This gives Josh his first national championship in ‘slow’ chess, with more surely to come. Josh was “very serious” before nationals, elevating his study habits in pursuit of first place. Congratulations to a worthy winner!

In the 7th grade team championship, it was the strength of IS318k that carried the day. (Full disclosure: I spent the weekend working with this wonderful group. I am not their coach, not their teacher, and not a school employee). WFM Elizabeth Vicary’s squad ran 15-deep in this section, and scoring members Justus Williams, Isaac Bareyev, and Alex Bradford set a 16.5 tally that was not matched. Alex made a mockery of his 1500 rating, and headed into the final round challenging for first, while Justus shrugged off a slow start to finish with 6, demonstrating mental strength and maturity. The Ramaz school was 2.5 points back with a strong 14, while Colas’ White Plains Middle School took third with 13.5.

12th grade saw Bronx Science run away as team champions by an amazing 4 points, led by individual champion NM Raven Sturt. The former New York Knight took a slender lead into the final round, ahead of a chasing pack that included perennial scholastic champion IM Marc Arnold (more on him later). Would Sturt aim for a draw with black against John Williams, to secure a share of first place?



ravenslide.jpg
Raven Sturt
Evidently not. This emphatic attack gave Raven clear first place and a storybook ending to his grade nationals career.

Bronx Science’s other scoring members, NM Nitai Leve and strong expert Richard Tuhrim, meant it was always going to be an uphill battle for the opposition. Rushing to catch a flight after the final round, Tuhrim attributed the team’s success to “Just being better than everyone else.” Enough said. Gilbert HS of Arizona took second, while Stuyvesant (New York City) was third.

Another player finishing his nationals career didn’t get the result he was aiming for, but nonetheless caught my attention. IM Marc Arnold of Columbia Grammar, finishing with 6/7 in 12th grade, is a rare example of an internationally titled player laying reputation and rating on the line in national scholastics year after year. Marc takes pride in “doing well for my school and my city” and believes in his ability to win every game. He also takes the idea of being an ambassador for chess very seriously, and seeks to raise the game’s profile and prestige in his school.

High drama marked the 11th grade team championship, with just half a point separating the first three teams. The balanced attack of Solomon Schechter Westchester (NY) ultimately carried the day, edging out University High (Irvine, CA) and Bergen County (NJ) in the final round.

SolomonSchecter.JPG
The Solomon Schecter squad, Photo Polly Wright


Scoring member Josh Abady credited the team’s victory to the progress its players made: “We all jumped since last year; two players went up some 300 points, and we became a more solid team”. Josh liked this sacrificial attack over J.T. Wagner in an early round:



Vincent Huang of University High (the second placed team from Irvine, CA) took the first place trophy on tiebreak over Michael Boris Vilenchuk and Michael J Fang. Huang won a solid last round as black over Solomon Schechter’s leader Ben Gershenov.



ChrisHeung.jpg
Christopher Heung, Photo Polly Wright

10th grade saw one of the most dominant individual performances of the tournament: Christopher Heung raced to 6-0 and made a last round draw with fellow Floridian Adam R Miller to take clear first. Heung got things started with a crushing attack in rd. 1 and never looked back.



The 10th grade team championship saw Horace Mann (NY) prevail in a tight battle over Whitney Young (IL) and Taos Academy (NM). Horace Mann scoring member John Maguire deserves special mention, stepping above his 1540 rating to contribute 4.5 huge points. Justin Karp and Michael Chiang also posted solid contributions for the 10th grade national champions.

9th grade saw an interesting mix: A runaway team and individual logjam. TXS031 (TX) flew the Lone Star flag in Orlando, their lineup of Brandon Flores, Jose Luis Urrutia Jr, and Jason Daniel Sauceda taking the national championship back to Texas. University School (Fort Lauderdale, FL) and Gulliver (Miami, FL) took 2nd and 3rd respectively. Things were less simple in the individual race! Sam Schmakel, John Lodge Hughes, Nicholas Rosenthal, Azeez Alade, Yuta Kakutani, and Luciano Aguilar all tallied 5.5 points to tie for first. Schmakel, of Whitney Young Chicago, IL, took the first place trophy on tiebreaks. This sharp third round win with black over Albert Ho shows the Chicago junior’s attacking style.



Special mention goes to Azeez Alade, who was unbeaten against tough opposition en route to his 5.5. (For more on Azeez, see Elizabeth Vicary's blog.) This early draw against John Lodge Hughes, who finished second on tiebreaks, shows Azeez’s unusual mix of solidity and invention.



I also encourage you to check out Melinda Matthews’ wonderfully personal report on Nicholas (Nicky) Rosenthal’s road to the first place tie. His quick smile, ever-pleasant demeanor, and natural attacking style make it impossible not to root for him. Check out his playoff games for the Miami Sharks, where he carved up higher rated players with joyful abandon. He even likes hockey! 

Eighth grade saw another tie at the top: Bryan Hu, Michael William Brown, and Michael Bodek all reached 6/7, with Hu narrowly taking the 1st place trophy on tiebreaks. This key 6th round win as black over Brown shows Bryan creatively generating counterplay after the opening:



Michael Bodek attributed his membership in the 6/7 group to his improved play over the past year. In addition to studying more, he has “started to take lower rated players far more seriously”. This win over Kevin Rosenberg reflects that: Michael calculated carefully and won a nice game over an outrated, but dangerous opponent. 



Michael also won the individual blitz, making a successful weekend for this talented and modest Solomon Schechter student.

The 8th team championship went the way of the 7th grade title mentioned in the beginning: To Brooklyn powerhouse IS 318k. With an 11-player lineup led by strong A players Danny Feng and Joel Ogunremi, it was always going to be difficult to challenge their strength in depth. Danny, Joel, and Randy Rivera all scored 5/7, leading their team to the title by two points over St. Michael’s School of Wheaton, IL. I was lucky enough to analyze with all three of these talents over the weekend, and they should all go on to strong careers in high school chess. Randy won a fascinatingly deep game in the last round, where he judged his king could race to the kingside and promote its pawns while leaving the queenside to its fate.



Third place was taken by the Spence School (NY, NY), a historic achievement for this all-girls team. Leading scorer Julie Flammang thought her group intimidated opponents used to playing against male opposition. Scoring member Kyler McVay noted that “boys are more fun to beat!”, a sentiment echoed by Natalie Berger and Romy Lassiter.
Dec.-2010-020.jpg
The Spence all-girls team with coach Fide Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky


The 6th grade team title, in a close encounter, made it a clean sweep for IS 318k, which won every team title it was eligible for (6th, 7th, and 8th grades). Congratulations to the kids for a simply remarkable achievement. Markus Pond led his group with 5/7, followed by Teraab Feaster and Anthony Asseviro with 4 and 3 points respectively. Greenwich CDS (CT) and University School (Fort Lauderdale, FL) tied for second with 10 points, with Greenwich edging it on tiebreak.

The race for individual first ended in a big cluster scoring 6/7: Atulya Vaidya, Kesav Viswanadha, Kendrick D Nguyen, Agata Bykovtsev, and Michael Gianatasio all hit the magic number. Vaidya topped on tiebreak. See his dashing final round attack with white against Joshua Kowal:



Cameron.jpg
Cameron Wheeler, Photo Polly Wright

The massive 5th grade section (178 players!) saw Cameron Wheeler post a performance to remember. His 6.5/7 was good for clear first, coming from six wins and a last round draw. Wheeler shows his strength in all phases of the game with this key win over James Wei:



This standout doubled as team lynchpin, leading his Regnart Elementary School (Cupertino, CA) to first place in the team standings. Udit Iyengar’s 6 and Pranav Srihari’s 5, along with Cameron’s 6.5, gave their team an impressive 17.5 points. Second and third were taken by PS 124 (NYC, NY) and Churchill Road School (VA), with 15 and 14 points respectively.

Fourth grade yielded another clear winner, Thomas Knoff’s 6.5/7  edging out a 5-player group with 6. Interestingly, no state appears twice in this section’s top 8, a true kaleidoscope of talent enriching the tournament. The same is true of the top 3 in the team standings: Lee John Gilyot, Charles Korndorffer, and Stephen Crocker of Stuart Hall School for boys will be taking the title back to Louisiana on tiebreaks. They edged out, also with 13 points, Scicore Academy (NJ) and Joseph A Williams Elementary (FL), who took second and third respectively.

Moving down the grades just means the kids get smaller; it doesn’t make the competition any less fierce! The third grade team championship was hotly contested, Hunter College Campus School (NY) pipping Dalton (NY) by half a point. Hunter Coach Sunil Weeramantry identified Sophia Zhang as the team anchor, and her 6/7 combined with Max Andras Selendy’s 5 and Inko Bovenzi’s 4 (or Bram Emmanuel Ellant’s 4, if you prefer) for a strong 15 point haul. Third place was taken by NEST+m (NY), just another half point behind Dalton with 14.

The individual standings saw another clear winner, Brandon Nydick justifying every point of his 1894 rating by scoring 6.5/7. He was half a point behind Daniel Asaria in the last round, but rose to the occasion to overtake his rival and take the title. Some adults could learn from the fighting spirit the kids show!

Of course, that doesn’t mean kids aren’t allowed to draw. Josiah Paul Stearman and Marcus Ming Miyasaka each raced to 6-0 in the second grade section, splitting the point with each other in the final round to finish with 6.5/7. Tiebreaks were kinder to the Californian, Stearman taking the second grade first place trophy over Miyasaka. If you score 6.5 points, nobody can say you were lucky! Congratulations to both.

Dalton took top honors in the team championship, Beaudoin Hudson, Auggie Bhavsar, and Sam Pozner/Atticus Young Chang Lee (both had 4.5) leading their team. The atmosphere in the Dalton team room must be seen to be believed: World class players (GM Miron Sher, GM Robert Hess) spend their days analyzing the games of players of all levels – starting with relative beginners – with the utmost care and attention. A massive speaking tiger (apologies if it is a Lion), apparently the team mascot, features on the table closest to the door. “Sometimes it interjects when David (McEnulty, the team coach) is speaking, to everyone’s considerable amusement” one parent noted. WIM Beatriz Marinello, one of Dalton’s coaches, touched on the differences between working on chess and working with kids on chess. “The children need to be before chess; each individual student is different, so there is a different way to talk to everyone. You also have to be very mindful of their emotions.” Second place was taken by NEST+m (NJ), with PS6 (NYC) rounding out a northeast-heavy list in third.

When I asked Dalton’s coach David McEnulty for his weekend’s stories, he graciously referred me to the triplets (!) who took the first grade championship a point and a half ahead of his Dalton team. “My hats off to them. . . I am amazed and impressed by what they have managed to accomplish”. Constantine, Nicholas, and Andreas Oskipper of Scicore Academy, Princeton Junction (NJ) all delivered solid performances to become the first group of triplets to win a national team championship.
TripletsScicoreAcademy.JPG
Look out for Polly Wright’s sidebar feature on this talented trio in the print edition of Chess Life!

In the individual standings, Joaquin Perkins justified his top seeding with a tremendous 6.5/7 performance. This favorite, who also won the Kindergarten championship last year, lived up to his billing and will be taking the title home to the Golden State  Congratulations!

Last but certainly not least, the section filled with newcomers taking their first steps in chess: Kindergarten! Oak Hall, of Gainesville, FL, marched to the team title with 14 points. Avery Bernstein (their only rated scorer) and Nicholas Dang each notched 5/7, while Frederick Huang contributed four solid points. The short trip back to Gator-land must have been pleasant for this group.

Kind.jpg
Kindergarten co-champs check their height against their new trophies. Photo Polly Wright
The individual kindergarten championship left two kids tied at the top: Peter Brendan Crowley and James T Cooper each recovered from a mid-tournament loss to score clutch wins on the final day and finish with 6-1. On tiebreak, Crowley will take the trophy back to North Carolina.
 
Congratulations to all the winners – I hope to be back at this massive chess festival next year!
Also see Melinda Matthews' report on the Nationals, browse full results and look for Polly Wright's photos and thoughts in an upcoming issue of Chess Life Magazine. Watch an interview with Matan here.