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Melinda's Reflections on Madison Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
August 2, 2013
The Universe is sending a message, shimmying and shaking its bejeweled tail feathers at chess players everywhere: time to shape up, get up, and put on those boogie shoes! At SuperNationals V, held in April, chess shared the venue with the glittery Show Choir Nationals competition.  The trend continued at the Marriott Madison West, which played simultaneous host to this week’s scholastic invitationals and the US Open, and to the 4th Annual Ballroom & Latin Dance Showcase. As the more sedate tournaments got underway, sequined and sassy ballroom dancers strutted their stuff nearby to an infectious Latin beat.  Unable to still their dancing feet, ballroom competitors enthusiastically spilled out into the lobby, moving and grooving atop a temporary floor that hotel staff had thoughtfully arranged into a whimsical sixty-four square chessboard replica.

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Photo: Dan Lucas

Although the opening ceremony for the three invitationals –  the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, and the National Girls Invitational Tournament (NGIT) – could not possibly match the ballroom showcase sequin for sequin, it had its share of sparkling moments.  Emceed by Steve Shutt, the event was replete with welcoming speeches and generous praise upon the sponsors: the US Chess Trust; ICC, which provided two free years of memberships to every participant; and The University of Texas at Dallas, which provided full tuition scholarships to the winner of each event.  

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Steve Shutt, enthusiastic Master of Ceremonies Photo: Fun Fong

The ceremony also acknowledged the many people who were instrumental in organizing the event and welcomed several guest visitors, including Bucky Badger, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mascot, who stopped by to pose and mug shamelessly for the camera.

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USCF President Ruth Haring and US Women's committee chair Jennifer Skidmore waiting to be called onstage Photo: Fun Fong

Nicky had participated in Orlando’s 2011 Denker, so, as a seasoned “veteran” of two Denker tournaments, it was interesting to experience firsthand the familiarity and thread of tradition weaving through the opening ceremony. Not much had changed from two years ago: serious (eulogies to tournament founder, GM Arnold Denker) interspersed with silly (mouse ears in Orlando, cheesehead hats in Wisconsin).  As before, event organizers even included a fanciful tableau to the host state:

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Photo: Fun Fong
And Dewain Barber added one new touch to this year’s ceremonies: a Panama hat placed on an empty chair, ensuring that a space will always be reserved for GM Denker.  

This year’s theme was “College Chess and Beyond,” but the real focus seemed twofold: being in service and following your dreams.

USCF President Ruth Haring perfectly captured the twin themes in her speech, beginning with this Chinese proverb, “When someone shares something of value with you, and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it with others.”  

She referenced GM Denker’s substantial contributions of time and energy toward scholastic chess, now carried forward by Dewain Barber and Denker’s son, Mitchell.  Dr. Haring ended by advising the audience to seize the day – Carpe Diem! – quoting Garry Kasparov for inspiration. “Attackers may sometimes regret bad moves, but it is much worse to forever regret an opportunity you allowed to pass you by.”  

Keynote speaker, GM Julio Sadorra, further elaborated upon the importance of following your dreams, speaking eloquently and animatedly about his childhood, his choices, and how he tries to “make decisions based on priorities.”  He emphasized that holding onto one’s dreams and having priorities are not mutually exclusive; in fact, he thinks the best way to achieve a dream is to set priorities based upon the goals one values most.
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GM Julio Sadorra delivering his speech Photo: Fun Fong

Especially meaningful portions of the ceremony celebrated the tournament’s history. Established in 1984, the 29-year old Denker Tournament of High School Champions was created to give state high school champions the chance to meet and compete.  Since then, the scope has expanded to encompass a family of events which Dewain Barber has described as father (the Denker), child (the three-year old Barber), and newborn (NGIT).   All three tournaments honor the original intent of the Denker: to bring together some of the best players in each state for a long weekend of competition and camaraderie.

The legacy begun by GM Denker was manifested in the faces of 138 eager state champions.  This year, 48 players competed in the Denker and 50 in the Barber – a steady increase over past years – and 40 players came for the brand-new NGIT.
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Nicky, representing Florida in the Denker, and Epiphany Peters, representing Tennessee in the NGIT, waiting for the state roll call. Photo: Fun Fong
 

With the increase in Denker and Barker participants, and the inclusion of the NGIT, it seems that some of the opening speeches could be cut or shortened to allow more emphasis on the players, and to tighten up the proceedings in general.  The state roll call came at the very end of the ceremony and felt a bit rushed.  By the time everyone gathered for group photos, less than two hours remained before the start of the first round.  I’m sure many participants (or, most likely, their parents, me included) had stopped focusing on the ceremony and had begun to wonder if there was enough time left to change clothes, eat dinner, rest, and prepare before the tournament began.

Thanks to Florida Scholastic Chess League Commissioner Elizabeth Tejeda, our state was fully represented in the invitationals.  Demonstrating her commitment to our Florida champions, Ms. Tejeda accompanied Barber representative Danilo Rivera and NGIT representative Helen Morejon when their parents, for various reasons, could not.  
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Left to right: Florida reps Nicky, Helen Morejon, Elizabeth Tejeda, and Danilo Rivera Photo: Elizabeth Tejeda

Both Danilo and Helen recently relocated from Cuba – Danilo,14, has been in the United States four months and Helen, also 14, has been here six – and both are multiple province champions who studied with the same  teacher, GM Leinier Dominguez.  Although Danilo and Helen knew each other in Cuba, neither was aware the other had arrived in Miami until they met up earlier this year at our state tournament!

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Helen and GM Dominguez in Cuba Photo: Helen Morejon

All three tournaments moved at a relatively relaxed pace over four days, with one round on the first and last days, and two rounds on days two and three.  This gave the players sufficient time to rest and recharge between rounds, and, most significant for Nicky, to sleep in without a pesky early morning alarm.  A host of affordable food options were easily available within walking distance, ranging from Starbucks to Sprecher’s, a local pub with awesome, incredible homemade root beer on tap.

NTD Jon Haskel, chief tournament director, left no detail to chance, beginning with his pre-tournament emails and newsletter blasts filled with helpful links, suggestions, and instructions. Within these lists, I was pleased to note one improvement from Nicky’s 2011 venture: dress code instructions that now acknowledged the many female players.
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Chief Tournament Director, NTD Jon Haskel
As the tournaments ended, no clear winner emerged from any of the three events, so the spotlight was shared among several deserving players.  The Denker saw a three-way tie between Kapil Chandran of Connecticut, Safal Bora of Michigan, and Michael Brown of California.  Kapil won the UTD scholarship and World Youth slot on tiebreaks.   All three received a $600 stipend, generously rounded up from $567 by Mitchell Denker.  Both Kapil and Safal are 9th graders, and Michael is a 10th grader, so expect to see all of them back in fighting form over the next few years.  

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Denker winners, L to R: Michael Brown, Safal Bora, and Kapil Chandran with Mitchell Denker, Arnold Denker’s son, and Scholastic Director Jerry Nash Photo: Fun Fong

Fourth and fifth places were split among Alexander Katz of New Jersey, Kevin Zhou of Virginia, and Wisconsin’s own Alexander Velikanov, who each received a $167 stipend.  Here’s Kevin’s final game against Arizona representative, Dipro Chakroborty, which he thought was one of his best:


In the Barber, four competitors – Andrew Liu of Massachusetts, Andrew Tang of Minnesota, and Vignesh Panchanatham and Craig Hilby, both from California – shared the championship, with Liu finishing first on tiebreaks.  All received a $400 stipend.

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Barber champions, L to R: Craig Hilby, Vignesh Panchanatham, Andrew Tang and Andrew Liu Photo: Fun Fong

The NGIT crown was split between Akshita Gorti of Virginia and Apurva Virkud of Michigan, with Akshita taking first place on tie breaks.  Each received a $650 scholarship.  Third place ended in a four-way tie between Emily Tallo of Indiana, Rebecca Deland of New Mexico, Michelle Chen of Massachusetts, and Saithanusri Avirneni of Georgia, all of whom received a $100 gift certificate. 

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NGIT Champions: Akshita Gorti and Apurva Virkud with USCF President Ruth Haring and US Women's committee Chair Jennifer Skidmore Photo: Polly Wright

In addition to the championship titles, multiple side awards were presented.  Jennifer Shadade reviewed and selected the best games for each event.  Michelle Chen won the NGIT honors, Alex Velikanov finished first and Dipro Chakroborty second in the Denker, and Ziwen Zhou received the Barber nod.  All four received gift certificates for their outstanding play.  Jennifer also presented copies of her book, Play Like A Girl, to every class winner in the NGIT.

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Jennifer Shahade at the awards ceremony Photo: Fun Fong

The Ursula Foster scholarships – $500 to the top finisher under age 16 – went to tournament champions Akishta Gorti and Kapil Chandran.  Ursula Foster was another strong advocate of fostering young chess talent.  A Holocaust survivor who knew Anne Frank, Ms. Foster learned to play chess while in hiding.  After her death, her sons established the awards to honor her commitment to civic service and to youth chess.

Nicky finished the Denker with two wins, three draws, and a second round loss to Massachusetts master, Mika Andrew Brattain, for a final score of 3.5.  Final scores for our other Florida representative were four points for Danilo and three for Helen. Danilo felt his toughest game, and hardest loss, was to FM Awonder Liang.  And, as luck or fate would have it, Helen met Nicky’s girlfriend, Epiphany Peters, over the board in Round 4, sending me into a quandary over whom to root for! (Epiphany won after a long, well-fought battle.)  

Here’s their game:


With the close of the invitationals, Nicky has already segued into the 6-day US Open.  Epiphany, who originally planned to leave as soon as the NGIT ended, convinced her mother to stay for the open at the very last minute.  Kim, the impressive force behind Chess Control, did yeoman’s duty in registering Epiphany and changing Nicky from the 4-day to 6-day event after the deadline had passed, managing to get them both paired in time for Round 1. 

Now that Epiphany’s in Madison for the duration, it’s a safe bet I’ll have plenty of time alone.  Between rounds, Nicky and Epiphany have split their time between her room and ours, although Nicky prefers Epiphany’s room because her mom, Yoko, brought along her rice cooker and has been preparing his favorite sticky rice. In return, Nicky seems to have taken a page from my book and is teaching Epiphany’s little brother, Theo, how to bust a few yoga moves.
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Nicky and Theo practicing eagle pose

Meanwhile, Jennifer Shahade and I had a yoga date of our own, meeting in the fitness room to undo the effects of too much sitting still. 

In the remaining days, I hope to finally meet some of the kind and interesting members of the chess community who have reached out to Nicky and me online.  I’ve also made reservations to Taliesin, which I’ll be touring with Jennifer Shahade and a few other Frank Lloyd Wright aficionados.  And, in a strange unforeseen twist, I’ll be sitting in the Delegate’s Meeting part-time as the Florida alternate.  It’ll be an interesting glimpse into how decisions are made and policies are shaped.  I’m actually looking forward to listening and learning – as long as I don’t miss that mustard festival!

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A Personal Postscript: Transitions and Following Your Dreams
The beginning of the Denker marked the temporary end to my city planning career.  I recently handed in my resignation to accept a year-long assignment with AmeriCorps; my last day at work was two days before we left for Madison.  

Additionally, thanks to a little luck and a generous scholarship, I’ll also be completing the first of four required modules toward my 500-hour yoga teacher certification at the inspirational Kripalu Center in the Berkshires.  Thus begins my own extremely personal transition; perhaps that’s why transitions are very much on my mind, and why this year’s invitational themes struck an exceptionally poignant chord.  
Although my timing is particularly awkward (but is there ever a good time?), I have many reasons for choosing this path now, which eventually boiled down to one simple philosophy: Live a life with no regrets –  echoing GM Sadorra’s and Kasparov’s messages to follow your dreams and not let opportunities pass you by. Or, as Nicky is constantly reminding me: YOLO (You only live once).

This transition means major lifestyle tweaks that my wonderful family has supported wholeheartedly, including a diminished ability to travel as frequently with Nicky to tournaments, or to write from them.  At this juncture, it’s unclear if I’ll be able to contribute CLO articles during my year of service.  AmeriCorps maintains a very strict and narrowly defined prohibition against “outside work,” and by the time my service year is over, Nicky’s scholastic chess days will have come to an end.  So in case this becomes a protracted – possibly permanent – hiatus, I wanted to take this moment to thank each and every one of you (you know who you are) for your support, thoughtful comments, and encouragement.  (Of course, if AmeriCorps allows me to continue writing in a “volunteer” capacity, I still consider this the perfect opportunity to say thank you anyway for allowing us to share our experiences over the years.)

Drawing upon my yoga tradition, I’ll end this by saying “Namaste,” which, loosely translated, means,“The light in me bows in gratitude to the light in you.”  Namaste, my friends – and always follow your dreams!
 
 
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August - Chess Life Online 2013

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