Over 1000 Compete in K-12 Nationals in Dallas
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
November 19, 2011
Subramaniyan and Beatty
Dallas, Texas -- Freshly emerged from a victory in the second round of the 2011 National K-12 Championships, first-grader Keertana Subramaniyan got plenty of kudos from her coach for her flawless execution of the Caro-Kann Defense.

“She played it perfectly,” her coach, Mark Beatty, director of the Greater Memphis Chess Center, said of his young protege from Grahamwood Elementary School in Memphis, Tenn., as the young girl smiled and soaked up her coach’s praise.

Similar scenes played out over and over Friday and Saturday here in the corridors of the opulent Hilton Anatole, where nearly 1,200 youths have journeyed to compete in a seven-round, Swiss-style tournament that features nearly a dozen teenage masters, some of the toughest chess-playing tykes in the nation, and hundreds of other players -- from teams to individuals -- with a wide range of skills and abilities.

The prizes range from a University of Dallas Texas scholarship to the top high school senior, to trophies for those who distinguish themselves in their respective class.

One important distinction about the National K-12 Championships: students compete only against other students in the same grade, not those with whom they are similarly rated. So it creates a situation where, in the 5th grade, for instance, a player who is rated under 900 might square off against another player who is above 1500.

“It’s all about who’s the best in your grade,” explained Jon Shacter, chief director of the tournament. “What attracts a lot of people to this tournament is you get a lot of higher-rated players than at other tournaments.”

To get a sense of the strength and potential of some of the younger competitors, consider the fact that the highest-rated kindergartner is Chingum Bayraraa, of California, (1290).

At the high school senior, junior, sophomore and freshman levels, the number of masters -- or those who’ve crossed the 2200 threshold -- is four, three, three and one, respectively.

One of those masters, Bryan Hu, of Arizona, is the clear favorite in the 9th-grade section, with a rating of 2221 -- well above that of his fellow freshman.

Shacter said he was pleased with the turnout -- the official count is 1,177 -- and the overall strength of the players, particularly given the fact that the tournament is taking place at the same time as the World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil, which attracted some of the top American youths.

“We were hit somewhat by the timing in that the World Youth is going on at the same time,” Schactor said. “So some of our stronger players weren’t able to make it.”

The National K-12 Championships is being held in conjunction with the 2nd George Koltanowski Memorial Conference on Chess and Education, where speakers are providing insights on topics that range from how to break down barriers that chess programs face in getting into schools, to new tactics meant to instill various chess principles into students. Expect full coverage of the Koltanowski Memorial Conference on Chess and Education at a later date, and a wrap-up of the K-12 Championships at the conclusion of the event.

Follow standings and pairings on the official site.