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A Coach's Tale: DesMarais's Path to the Win Print E-mail
By Life Master Joel Johnson   
December 23, 2014
Nick DesMarais 12th grade co-champion vs. Leo Cruger Photo by © Christopher Michael Oquendo MyChessPhotos.com

As a Chess Coach viewing the National Scholastic events from afar in Arizona, it is difficult to avoid the pervasive feeling that we are outsiders in an Armageddon War between representatives from New York and Florida in every section. Year after year, they battle for supremacy over a 64-square board, and more often than not, their players and teams reign supreme. They are both well coached and very experienced. In order for an "outsider" student to be successful at Nationals, they need to be fully prepared and perhaps a bit lucky.

My lone entrant in this year's National Grade Championships in Orlando, FL is Nick DesMarais, a Senior at Notre Dame Preparatory High School in Scottsdale, AZ. Nick is very experienced, as he has competed in many Nationals over the years. In addition, we started his training at a young age (2nd or 3rd Grade). However, he has never been able to break the dominance of the Armageddon reps. Why? Nick has always had the talent to achieve whatever his goals were, but mainly he lacked the "All-In" attitude required to reach the highest levels of the sport.

About a year and half ago, Nick told me he wanted to become the Arizona State High School Champion this year. We discuss what would be required and Nick agrees to a tougher work regiment. At the time, Nick was rated around 1800.

Now we fast-forward to a few weeks ago when Nick is competing in the 2014 Arizona AIA State Chess High School Championship. A major obstacle to winning the event is: running into other Joel Johnson trained players, in this case, the Chess Master twins, Luke and Matthew Miller. Nick did have to survive a brutal battle against Matthew Miller with Black on the way to a perfect 6-0 score and a State AIA Championship title! Mission accomplished! Yesterday's goal had become today's achievement!

Two weeks later, he mentions he is heading to the National Grades event, which is not a surprise, as he has competed many times in National Events.
In the early rounds of the tournament, Nick was his usual aggressive and sharp self, mowing down opponent after opponent, like this round 2 Budapest Gambit game.

(W) Peter Teodorescu (1697)
(B)      Nick DesMarais (2104)

[A52] 2014 National Grade Championships, (Grade 12)
Lake Buena Vista, FL,
(Round 2), 12/16/2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4 4.Nf3 Bc5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Be2 0-0 7.0-0 Re8 8.b3 Ngxe5 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.Bb2 a5 11.Nc3 Ra6 12.Qd5 Ba7 13.Ne4 


White cannot hold onto the piece.
14. ... c6 15.Qd3?
White should slow down Black with 15. Bf6! - if White has to return the piece, why not find the best circumstances? After
15. ... gxf6, the Black f-Pawn is blocking the Black Queen's path to the White kingside.
15. ... Rxe5 16.f4?
White creates a lethal weakness on the e3 square. Watch how Nick zooms in on the fatal weakness.
16. ... Re8 17.Rf3 Qh4 18.h3
18. Rh3? would lose another Pawn after 18. ... Qxf4.
18. ... Rhe6 19.Nd6 Rxe3 20.Rxe3 Rxe3 21.Nxc8 Rxh3+! 22.Nxa7 Rh1# 0-1


We reach the last round and Nick is tied for second place with his eventual co-champion Chess Master Samir Sen from Washington state. In first place, a half point ahead of the pair is Chess Master Leo Cruger from California. As fate would have it, Nick is paired on Board 1 with White against the leader of the pack and his destiny is in his own hands.

(W) Nick DesMarais (2104)
(B)      Leo Cruger (2204)

[C10] 2014 National Grade Championships, (Grade 12),
Lake Buena Vista,  FL,
(Round 7), 12/16/2014

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Be7?!

Black opts to avoid main lines, not a great idea against the creative one.
4.e5 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.dxc5 Bxc5 7.Bd3 f6 8.Qe2 fxe5 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.Qxe5 Qf6 11.Qh5+ g6 12.Qe2 Ne7 13.Bb5+ Kf7 14.Be3 Bd6 15.0-0-0 a6 16.Bd3 Bd7 17.h4 Rhc8 18.h5


Black was required to sacrifice the exchange with the move
18. ... Rxc3!. Could the pressure of his half-point lead be wearing down the Californian Chess Master? When players only need a draw, they tend to play too passively and end up with less than the desired result.
19.hxg6+ hxg6 20.Rh7+ Rg7 21.Rdh1 e5 22.Qd2!?

Nick sets a trap.
22. ... d4??

Black errs and Nick wastes no time dashing away any hopes his opponent had of securing first place.
23.Ne4! dxe3
White sacrifices a piece but proceeds to open both the f-file and the a2-g8 diagonal for his other pieces.
24.Bc4+ Kf8 25.fxe3 Qf5 26.Rh8+ Ng8 27.Qxd6+ Ke8 28.Bxg8 Qf8 29.Nf6+ 1-0


Nick also competed in the Blitz tournament before the main event. He finished with 9-3 score, a point behind the winner (Maximilian Zinski from Illinois), tied for fifth place after messing up his last round game. Here are two games from that event.

The Sicilian Dragon is a favorite among Scholastic chess players. But, as Bobby Fischer once said, all White needs to do is: Sack, Sack, and Mate - and that pretty much sums up this game.


Nick tricks Black with an obscure Sicilian line.


The Black Queen is trapped.

Find full results of the K-12 Nationals here, and read GM Irina Krush's recap here.