Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2008 arrow September arrow Hilton Blogs from the Denker: Part II
Hilton Blogs from the Denker: Part II Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
August 6, 2008
Denker Co-champs: Julian Landaw, Daniel Yeager and Scott Low

The Denker Tournament of High School Champions
ended Tuesday afternoon in a three-way tie for first. FM Daniel Yeager of Pennsylvania, NM Julian Landaw of California, and soon-to-be NM Scott Low of Maryland shared the top spot at 5.0/6.0. Although the three were immediately declared co-champions as they took the stage at the closing ceremony, one question remained: who would receive the 4-year scholarship awarded by the University of Texas at Dallas? As the three tournament winners posed for photographs in the limelight, the audience waited in suspense for Mr. Jim Stallings, the representative from UTD, to come to the podium and make the much-anticipated scholarship announcement.

I have been a witness to many such chess scholarship moments in my career, but they have never lost their excitement for me. Whenever a full scholarship is on the line and players I consider my friends are involved, I still find myself caught up in the suspense and agony of waiting to hear the decision. There are rarely any hard-and-fast rules to determine whether only one scholarship will be awarded—and if there can only be one recipient, will a playoff game or tiebreaker points be used?

Examples of both methods abound. As I sat in the audience, I recalled the general trends I’ve noted over the years. Large national scholastics often favor computer tiebreaks, whereas smaller Round Robin events sometimes favor playoffs, such as the dramatic Armageddon match between Elliot Liu and Sarkis Agaian in the 2005 U.S. Cadet Championship for a full ride to UMBC. However, where does this leave the Denker? It is a closed tournament, and it is not anywhere near as large as the Nationals. Yet it is still four times as large as the U.S. Junior Closed and the Cadet combined!

As Mr. Stallings came to the front of the room, he explained that Julian Landaw—who had already graduated from high school—was ineligible for the award. That left only two possible recipients: Low and Yeager. Yeager’s tiebreaks were better, but only by a hair; I had my fingers crossed that Mr. Stallings’ next word wouldn’t be about the tiebreaks.

“So, what do you do when you have two tournament winners eligible for a full scholarship?” Mr. Stallings asked the audience. The question lingered as the crowd fell silent. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to give them both scholarships!” he declared, pulling out two large brown binders from the inside of the podium. A wave of applause roared and crashed throughout the room, echoing loudly against the walls. Yeager and Low smiled in relief and shook hands with one another. For Yeager, this Denker victory had come after two previous unsuccessful attempts in 2006 and 2007. For Low, the victory came as an amazing surprise, propelling him past the 2200 rating mark for the first time. And for Julian, the victory brought a fitting conclusion to his scholastic chess career. It was an exciting time to have been a participant in the Denker.

Daniel Yeager and Scott Low receive their scholarships from Jim Stallings

The three-way tie for first would have turned out much differently had Yeager not defeated tournament leader Matt Parry on Board 1 in the last round. In a positional struggle, Yeager fought tooth-and-claw to grind Parry out in the endgame. Parry had given up only one draw in his first five rounds and led the field by half a point; a draw would have allowed him to cruise to first on his impeccable tiebreak record. Despite the last-round loss, Parry’s first five games constitute an incredible tournament performance sure to make his fans back in New York proud.


Robert Lau of Hawaii, who took the author of these lines out in Round 4, also came close to winning the tournament. He drew with Yeager in Round 5, but lost a strong position to Landaw in the ultimate round. Landaw pulled together a strong tactical defense in the center despite having critically weak dark squares around his king.


Meanwhile, my own experience at the Denker involved meeting tons of other strong juniors from around the country, developing a strong sense of camaraderie with my fellow Champions, and six hard-fought games. After starting off with 2.5/3.0, I learned a tough lesson in tactics from Robert Lau of Hawaii in Round 4. Polgar-winner Courtney Jamison and I experienced together a most disastrous game against each other that night—and, after we had each committed several gross errors, we decided to call it quits and agree to a draw. I did win my last round to finish with 4.0/6.0, tying for 7th-12th.

4th-6th place finishers Matt Parry, Michael Yang and Ricky Selzler pose with Mr.Denker, son of the tournament's founder.

By the end of the tournament, I was upbeat and cheerful about my performance. In keeping with my experience playing at the Denker two years ago, I cultivated new and old friendships with my fellow state Champions that I suspect will last for a long time to come. Just sitting there in the skittles room, analyzing the tournament’s many swindles with Parry and Landaw, is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a tournament. It brought back to mind the energy and passion I witnessed when I joined Tyler Hughes of Colorado and Alexander Chua of Texas as they analyzed their remarkable Denker draw back in 2006. No matter whether a Denker participant wins in fine style or loses due to an awful blunder, he or she can always find a fellow Champion and show the game. After my loss and draw on Monday, I felt I was having a repeat of “Hilton on Not Winning Nationals” , but by the tournament’s end I actually felt like a true Champion among forty-eight other Champions. The spirit of comradeship among the Champions was just too strong for me to need any consolation for not having taken first place myself. At the Denker, being a Champion is about having a winning outlook on the opportunity to compete with fellow Champions—not just about taking first place.

Read Jonathan's first blog on the Denker and be sure to follow the Denker Champions on Monroi.com and uschess.org as they join the 5 and 6-day schedules of the U.S. Open.