Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2007 arrow April arrow Junior High:Big Winners & A Big Tie
Junior High:Big Winners & A Big Tie Print E-mail
By Elizabeth Vicary   
April 6, 2007
Darrian Robinson, Rochelle Ballantyne and Najeebah Williams , all members of I.S. 318, winners of the K-8 Open,K-8 U750 and K-9 U1250. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

by Elizabeth Vicary

“Where are we going? What have we thought?”

I read this inscription below the grinning stone head looking out at visitors in front of the Sacramento Convention Center on Saturday morning, when my students all seemed to be playing quickly, hanging pieces, and heading for disaster. The head seemed to understand exactly how I felt, desperately pressing itself against a disembodied hand. But the old truism that nothing matters at Nationals until Sunday held true. Points can always be made up in a long Swiss, and somehow my students played themselves into shape. More on me later….

I’m sure Sunil Weermantry felt none of this. His team, Hunter, perennially dominates the K-9 section and this year was no exception. By round three, they were off to a three and a half point lead over Masterman, the gifted magnet school from Philadelphia coached by Steve Shutt. Hunter’s winning formula is simple: top notch coaching plus the smartest public school students in New York City equals unlimited first place finishes. Admission to Hunter is highly competitive: thousands of students take the rigorous entrance exam every year, but only about 40 are accepted. Sunil’s recipe of exceptionally bright students, a team of talented teachers, and a lifetime of his own hard work has proven impossible to beat.

Hunter finished with 21 out of 28 possible points in the K-9 Open, 4.5 ahead of Masterman. Leading the team was Alec Getz (6/7), followed by Michael Thaler, Christopher Sugino, and Jonathan Williams, all with 5 points. It would be interesting to see how such a strong team (two experts, two 1800s, and two 1500s) would do in the High School Nationals. It’s hard to believe they wouldn’t be the favorites, even against defending champion Edward R. Murrow High School of Brooklyn, led by IM Alex Lenderman.

Alec Getz of Hunter. Photo Betsy Dynako

The fight for individual first in the K-9 came down to the wire. With a perfect score going into the last round, Alec Getz played black in a complex Modern Benoni against Christian Tanaka. The next four boards were all a full point out; they needed to win and Getz to lose to tie for first. Michael Yee upset Getz’s teammate Thaler; Yee kindly annotates the game for us.


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0–0–0 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Kb1 Qc7 12.h4 Rfc8 13.h5 Qa5 14.hxg6 fxg6 15.a3 Rab8 16.Bd3 b5 17.Qg5 a6 18.Rh2 Qc7 19.Rdh1 b4 20.Rxh7!!
This spectacular sacrifice made me very nervous!
I felt this was the only logical response as any other moves allow White to retain the rook on h7 to participate in the attack.
I had already anticipated this move after the rook was sacrificed. It was this move that made me really feel like I was about to lose this game.
A forced move, due to threat of Qxh7+.
A very good move that continues the attack by taking advantage of the pinned knight on f6 and threatening Qxg7++.
A forced move that allows me to be able to move the e pawn and enable the Queen to help defend.
Kxa2 was best
I was starting to feel like I could survive!
24.Rxg7+ Qxg7 25.Qxg7+ Kxg7
I was surprised that my opponent traded down, which gives me back the advantage. 26.Ba7 Ra8 27.Be3 bxa3 28.bxa3 a5 29.Bb5 Rab8 30.a4 d5 31.exd5 Nxd5 32.Bd2 Nb6 33.Kc1 Nc4 34.Bc3 Kf7 35.Kd1 Ke6 36.Ke2 Nd6?
Best was Rc5.
37.Bd3 Rc5 38.g4 Rh8 39.Kf2??
Losing, as it gave me the tempo I needed.
39...Rhc8! 40.Be1 Rxc2+!! 41.Bxc2 Rxc2+ 42.Kg3 Rxa2 43.Bxa5 Rxa4 44.Bc7 Ra3 45.Kf2 Nc4 46.f4 Kd7 47.Bb8 Ra8
Forcing White to give up his last remaining piece.
48.Bxe5 Nxe5 49.fxe5 Ra3 50.g5 Ke6 51.g6 Kxe5 52.g7 Ra8
White resigned 0–1

Michael Yee with his parents. Photo Doreen Tanaka.

Grant Ho avoided a repetition and outplayed Adarsh Jayakumar on the white side of an unusual Sveshnikov. I was happy to have been invited to participate in the post-mortem for this interesting game. I had met Grant at last year's Miami Open, where I played a Sveshnikov against him. Remembering that I knew something about the variation, he found me (actually, Mrs. Jayakumar found me!) and asked if I would look at the opening with them. The following notes are based on the thoughts of all three of us.


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Nd5 Qa5+
This move offers a three time repitition. I play it myself occasionally, since the positions where white doesn't take the draw are extremely interesting. Unfortunately, it's black who has to chicken out first if she/he doesn't want the draw, so white can enter the mainline by force if black actually wants to play.
10.Bd2 Qd8 11.Bg5 Qa5+ 12.Bd2 Qd8 13.Nxf6+
There are three choices here; the most dangerous is c4, but Bd3 and the text move are also played.
This move is very bad, but natural for a Sveshnikov player. In the tactical main line with 9. Bxf6, black is compelled to play 9... gxf6, since 9... Qxf6 loses immediately to 10. Nd5 Qd8 11. Bxb5 axb5 12. Nxb5. In this position, black must give an exchange, since white has the serious threat of Nbc7 and Qg4#. But if you don't know the move is forced in the mainline, it stands to reason you think it was inherently a good move and do it here. The real theory here goes: [13...Qxf6 14.c4!? (14.Bd3!? Qg6 15.0–0 Be7 16.c4 Bg4) 14...Qg6 15.f3 Be7 16.cxb5 Bh4+ 17.g3 Bxg3+ 18.hxg3 Qxg3+ 19.Ke2 Nd4+ with crazy complications. Like all the most interesting positions, a perpetual is hidden somewhere here.....]
14.c4 f5 15.cxb5 Nd4
After the game we all thought this move was dubious since it leads by force to doubled d pawns, but fritz 10 (the ultimate arbiter of truth?!) likes it just fine.
16.Bc3 Bg7 17.Bxd4 exd4 18.Bd3 axb5
My experience is that black never really wants to recapture this pawn. Instead you just take a deep breath and accept that the queenside isn't going to be your playground. [¹18...fxe4 19.Bxe4 d5]
19.0–0 0–0 20.exf5 Qf6
We tried to make a few moves work here, but most attempts to attack on the kingside (Qg5, Bb7) are met either by f4, or Qh5 and f6.
21.Qh5 b4 22.Nc2 Ba6 23.Nxb4 Bxd3 24.Nxd3
This position is essentially lost for black. The knight on d3 is much better than the bishop and white has a simple long term plan of pushing the queenside pawns. 24...Ra5 25.g4 d5 26.a3 Qa6 27.Rad1 Re8 28.Rfe1 Qb5 29.Rxe8+ Qxe8 30.Re1 Qd7 31.Qg5 h6 32.Qe7 Qxe7 33.Rxe7 Rb5 34.Re8+ Kh7 35.b4 Rb7 36.a4 Ra7 37.a5 Rc7 38.a6 Bf6 39.b5 Ra7 40.b6 1–0

Steven Breckenridge upset Michael Yang and Gregory Young defeated Jared Tan to reach six points. All four last round winners--Breckenridge, Young, Yee and Ho-- were left to wait anxiously, hoping Tanaka could take down the leader and cause a six tie for first. Rooting the hardest for Christian was Michael Yee; the two have been close friends since playing together in the Pan American Youth in Brazil in 2005. They share the same coach, Armen Ambartsoumian, and compete against each other frequently. To his peers’ evident joy, Tanaka triumphed, so he and Getz joined the other four as K-9 co-champions. Look for this fascinating and critically important last round game, with annotations by Christian Tanaka, in the upcoming Chess Life article on the tournament.

Five of the co-champions from the National Junior Championship. Left to Right: Steven Breckenridge, Gregory Young, Alec Getz,Christian Tanaka, and Grant Ho. Photo Doreen Tanaka.

K-8 Open champion and current Cadet champion Marc Arnold. Photo Betsy Dynako.

Marc Arnold dominated the individual K-8 championship, cruising to a perfect 7-0 victory.


Tied for second with 6/7 were Tianyi He, Kevin Zhang, Daniel Gay and Michael Peguero, who I have the good fortune to coach. What’s extraordinary about Michael’s achievement is that he learned how to play chess just a year and nine months ago. Last year he won the Under 750 section with a perfect score, and he still seems to improve almost daily. Here is his favorite game, a sixth round Grand Prix against Yang Dai, the top rated girl under 14 in the country.


1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bb5 Nd4 6.0–0 Qb6
6...Nxb5 is the main line
7.Nd5 Qd8
not 7...Qxb5? because 8.Nc7+
8.Nxd4 cxd4 9.f5 Nf6 10.Nxf6+ Bxf6 11.Qf3 a6 12.Bc4
a great tactical shot was.... 12.e5! axb5 (12...Bxe5 13.fxg6 Bf6 14.gxf7+) 13.exf6 exf6 14.Qe4+ Qe7 15.Qxd4
12...Qc7 13.d3 d6 14.g4
14.Bh6 should also be considered, preventing castling
Black can keep the kingside closed with 14...g5
15.Kh1 was better. This threatens g5, which forces the bishop to move, and then fxg6, uncovering an attack on f7.
15...Rxg6 16.g5 e6
Black should attack the pawn while it is still pinned 16...h6 since defending it with 17.h4 leads to the opening of the h file, which means the white king will not find shelter on h1 17...hxg5 18.hxg5
17.Kh1 Be5 18.Bf4 b5 19.Bb3 Bb7 20.h4 Bxf4 21.Qxf4 Qe7 22.Qf2h6 23.Qxd4 hxg5 24.Qh8+ Kd7 25.Qh7 Rf8 26.Rf2 Rf6 27.Raf1 Rxf2 28.Rxf2 gxh4 29.Qh6 f5 This move opens up the black king too much and allows a tactic. 29...d5 was much better
30.Bxe6+! Kd8 31.Rxf5 Rxf5 32.Bxf5 d5 33.Qf4
White threatens Qc8+, winning the bishop
This allows white to trade into an easily winning pawn ending. Ke8 was a better try. 34.Qb8! Qc7 35.Qxc8+ Qxc8 36.Bxc8 Kxc8 37.exd5 Kd7 38.c4 b4 39.c5 a5 40.d4 Kc7 41.d6+ Kc6 42.d5+ Kd7 43.Kh2 a4 44.Kh3 a3 45.bxa3 bxa3 46.Kxh4 Kd8 47.c6 Kc8 48.Kg5 Kd8 49.Kf6 Ke8 50.c7 Kd7 51.c8Q+ Kxc8 52.Ke7 1–0

Eric Zhang finished tied for 13th (20th on tiebreaks), but played a number of interesting games. Witness this vicious attack against the talented and vastly underrated Drew Dawson from Washington State.


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Be7
Eric recognized this as an unusual move order, but probably it just limits black's choices rather than allowing white any chance to deviate.
5.0–0 b5 6.Bb3 Nf6 7.Re1 d6 8.h3 Bd7 9.c3 0–0 10.d4 exd4 11.cxd4 Qc8
Eric felt his opponent played the opening passively, but pointed to this as the first real mistake. Black may dream of sacking on h3, but the queen is misplaced here.
12.e5! dxe5 13.dxe5 Ne8 14.Nd4 Bc5
After this move, which allows white to take on c6 and play e6, Eric felt he was clearly better.
15.Nxc6 Bxc6 16.e6
[16.Qc2 Bb4 17.Bd2 Bxd2 18.Nxd2 Qb7+-]
16...Nd6 17.exf7+ Nxf7 18.Qh5
Eric saw Qc2 in the game and was tempted by it, but preferred Qh5, which begins a creative and dangerous attack.
18...Bd6 19.Re6 Qd7 20.Bc2 h6 21.Qg6 Ng5?
This loses. Rfe8 was necessary.
22.Bxg5 hxg5 23.Qh7+ Kf7 24.Bf5
24...Rh8 25.Qg6+
25.Rf6+ Kxf6 26.Qg6+ Ke5 27.Bxd7
25...Kg8 26.Rxd6! Qxd6 27.Be6+ 1–0

He was also proud of this instructive pawn ending:

White to Move

1.Kg2 f4 2.gxf4 Kxf4 3.Kf2 Ke4 4.Ke2 Kd4 5.Kd2 Kc4 6.Kc2 a5 7.bxa5 Kxc5 8.Kb3 Kb5 9.a6 Kxa6 10.Kb4 b6 11.a4 c5+ 12.Kc4 Ka5 13.Kb3 c4+ 14.Kxc4 Kxa4 15.Kc3 b5 16.Kb2 Kb4 17.Kb1 Kb3 18.Ka1 Ka3 19.Kb1 b4 20.Ka1 b3 0–1

Jasmine Grant, a student at IS 229 in New York, had an incredible tournament for a 1300, beating an 1100, 1500, and a 1700, and drawing a 2000, 1800, and a 1600. Naturally, this earned her the top Under 1400 prize.


I am tremendously proud to say that my school, IS 318 from Brooklyn, NY, won the K-8 Open section by a margin of 1.5 points, as well as the K-9 Under 1250 (by the same margin) and the K-8 Under 750 by half a point. Two individual team members deserve kudos: Kevin Izquierdo, a sixth grader who tied with Gabriel Ewing of New Mexico for first in the Under 1250, and Markel Brown, who, despite falling asleep for 45 minutes in his fourth round game, tied for first in the Under 1000 section with Miguel Sotolongo of Florida Rockaway Prep and Amit Saha of Mott Hall in New York.

I.S. 318 student Markel Brown, co-winner of the U1000 section. Photo E.Vicary

What makes 318’s achievements special is that it is an otherwise ordinary public middle school—not a gifted or magnet school, nor a private school with large financial resources. It’s my opinion that an excellent public school system is a vital prerequisite to the ethical acceptability of capitalism, so it makes me both personally and politically proud to be a part of such an exceptional program. At 318, anyone can join the chess team and there is no charge for any part of our program; the school even foots the bill for Nationals. The lack of cost means that students can participate as much as they want-- many players on the team spend 20-30 hours a week on chess. They can play before school, at lunch, every day after school, during chess class (which some students have with me 5 days a week), in spare periods when their regular teacher is absent, at the free weekly scholastic tournaments run by Chess-in-the-Schools and The Right Move, and at night, on one of the twenty accounts ICC generously donated to the school. It’s a kind of chess-immersion program, in which kids eat, breathe, and sleep chess.

Some of I.S. 318 top scorers: Michael Peguero, Mel Romero, Rochelle Ballantyne, Angelica Berrios and Darrian Robinson. Photo E.Vicary

I am particularly happy that 318 has a large number of successful female players: Darrian Robinson (1737), Angelica Berrios (1631), and Rochelle Ballantyne (1568) all contributed to the K-8 Open team victory by scoring 4.5/7, while Najeebah Williams (987) scored 6 to finish tied for second in the Under 750 section. (All ratings are post-tournament.) A great deal of credit for 318’s success also goes to the talented and dedicated teachers who visit weekly: GM Miron Sher and IM Irina Krush. Finally, I must give my heartfelt thanks to IM Greg Shahade, NM Arun Sharma, and IM Yuri Lapshun who selflessly volunteered their time to help coach in Sacramento (Yuri received purely nominal compensation when compared to the long hours he worked.). Their generosity, patience, and thoughtfulness are incredible.

In closing, accolades are also due to Florida Rockaway, who won the Under 1000 section with an exceptional 23/28 points, to Kyler Stole of Oregon, whose perfect performance won the individual Under 750 section, and to Peter Sherman (rated 355), who beat an 1100 to win the biggest upset prize.

Sacramento Photo Gallery

Students from Duffield Elementary School from Detroit cheering for team-mates at the awards ceremony. Photo Betsy Dynako

Dana Hannibal. Photo Betsy Dynako

The event was held at the Sacramento Convention Center. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

A chess hat gets this kid in the mood. Photo Betsy Dynako

Vanessa Wong from the U750 section. Photo E.Vicary