Melinda Turns it to Nicholas: On the Way to San Diego
By Nicholas Rosenthal   
April 3, 2014
At one of Nicky's first scholastic tournaments, I met a chess father whose 10-year old son was already a seasoned veteran of multiple tournaments. As we waited for the round to finish, the father told me his son had recently placed 8th in the Elementary Nationals. Impressed, I pointed the boy out to Nicky and we spent the rest of the tournament staring at him in awe.

Eight years later, Nicky has laid claim to a few national titles of his own, several of which I've documented in CLO articles. I'm not sure if other kids gawk at Nicky the way we once gaped at top players, but people know him and have followed his exploits due, in part, to my articles. So it's anticlimactic and bittersweet that I won't be accompanying Nicky to his final High School Nationals or writing from the tournament. Instead, Nicky's good friend, Nicky Korba, and his mother, Kerri, will act as his surrogate family for the duration while I cheer from the sidelines. 

As you can guess, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, it's tough to let go. On the other, it's exciting to watch Nicky grow into a capable young adult traveling cross-country solo. Kerri echoes my sentiments. "Being involved in chess tournaments has allowed Nicky [Korba] to become extremely independent, responsible, well-traveled, and very social," she says.

Since I'm not part of this tournament (except as a bicoastal observer), it seemed fitting and much more fun to ask Nicky for his pre-tournament thoughts, including how it's felt to be the subject of my often (too) personal articles (I told him to be honest!). So for this piece, I'm backing away from the keyboard, kicking up my feet, and having Nicky take over. Enjoy! - Melinda


Nationals have always been special because they're large and exciting and I get to meet up with my friends from other states. I especially like the spring nationals because there's such strong competition that I'm usually not in the top 10 or in serious contention for the championship.   Not being one of the top seeds takes a lot of pressure off me so I can fly under the radar and just try to play good chess.  (Editor's Note- See the list of pre-registered players here, which includes Darwin Yang, just approved for his GM title conditionally upon rating.)

Usually I like to take a break a week or two before a major tournament because I seem to play better when I do. I'm just coming off the state scholastic tournament, which was two weeks ago, so since then, I haven't been playing a lot of chess. Maybe this isn't the recommended way to prepare for a tournament, but it works for me.

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Playing blitz with John Ludwig after the state tournament (Photo by Mark N. Taylor)


 
Even though I've attended tournaments alone before, this will be my first (and last) solo scholastic nationals. I'm not looking forward to the 8-hour flight, but I'm not too worried about the effects of the 3-hour time change. When I was in Las Vegas at the 2013 North American Open, I played until midnight (which felt like 3 a.m. EST) against a slightly higher-rated opponent and won in a complicated tactical game.

I'll be flying to Los Angeles and driving to the tournament with my friend, Nicky Korba, and his mother. I like staying with another chess player because we can go over our games and prepare openings together. Even though we know we might have to play each other it doesn't affect our friendship and our willingness to help each other improve. I asked Nicky [Korba] how he felt about rooming with me and he said something similar: "We're always on top of our game and focused when we stay together because we can get in the right mindset and prepare together." A side benefit is that I have someone to play blitz with me whenever possible. 

 
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Nicky Korba and me at SuperNationals V


For the past few years, my mother has been reporting from tournaments based on our experiences together. Being the subject of her articles has been interesting for me, mostly in a good way. People come up to me at tournaments and say hi, which is fun because I always like meeting new people. Sometimes they act like they know me. That can be a little awkward because they assume I know who they are as well. Also, some people believe me to be a better player than I really am because my mother writes nice things about me. 

A surprising number of people seem to be aware of my games and my playing style.  One coach came up to me recently and said his team calls it "pulling a Nicky" when someone wins from a seemingly lost position. Unfortunately, I don't want to be known for this style of playing, but I'd rather win from a losing position than lose from one!

As much as I would like to share my last High School Nationals with my mother, it feels good to be going out on my own. Hopefully, this tournament will be memorable and as exciting as I'm anticipating. Perhaps I'll make some new chess friends, and maybe I'll even try out a different opening or two in my games. While I am uncertain about what will happen at the tournament, the one thing that's for sure is that I cannot wait for it to start.

Follow pairings and standings at http://www.uschess.org/tournaments/2014/hs/ and look for more reports and dispatches on CLO. Share your own photos and games from the event for possible publication on CLO at jshahade@uschess.org.