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Action in the West: Over 200 Compete in Irvine Print E-mail
By Randy Hough   
December 13, 2011
Joshua Sheng, Photo Janelle Losoff
After ten years, the National Youth Action Championship expanded, with two regionals. The West version, held at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California (site of the 2010 U.S. Open), was an artistic success, with 228 players competing, rounds starting on time, and few problems. There were over 200 trophies, including the side events. Eight states were represented.

In the K-12 section, the top two rated players wound up tied for first with 8-1 scores, with local sixth grader Joshua Sheng beating out the 11th grader, top seed Prasantha Amarasinghe of Minnesota (whose father Sisera directed the K-9 section) by half a tiebreak point for the trophy. He won their individual Round 5 game in style:

Black equalized out of the opening, but wasted time on his 14th and 15th moves (16…Nxh4 would have lost the Nc6). Capturing on f6 on move 21 sealed his doom, as White’s attack became unstoppable (26.Bh3, aiming at e6, might have won even more quickly) and Black was unable to organize a defense.

Joshua slipped up in round 7, losing to third seeded Christopher Kao (1859). Chris began with a half-point for two rounds; he had to take a test, and USCF Scholastic rules forbid more than one half-point bye regardless of a player’s rating or the number of rounds! He missed the chance to catch up, losing to Prashantha in a tough game in the penultimate round:

Prashantha Amardasinghe and his father Sisira
Black equalized in a Dutch Stonewall (10.cxd5 appears more accurate), but began to go awry on move 18. Both players could have improved as the game proceeded (understandably, in view of the time control): 29.Qd3, 30…Qa6, 31.Nxb7 and 32.b5. Black was slightly on top by move 36, but went badly awry (36…Bc4 or 36…Rxd1 37.Rxd1 Bc4, aiming to capture on e2 with the bishop), and White got an attack and passed b-pawn. The final 26 moves of the games are shrouded in the mists of a time scramble, but White was clearly on top after 47.b6.

Interestingly, both the co-champions study online with GMs; Joshua’s coach is Larry Christiansen and Prashantha’s is Dmitry Gurevich. Prashantha had a major prior success in the 2010 National High School Championship, finishing in the “mega-tie” (ten players) for first.

Fourth seed Jackson Stallings, who led his Hart High School comrades to the team title, was in third place, a full point and a half behind the winners, and Kao and Hart player Sammy Kennedy were tied at 6. (Incidentally, the tournament offered team trophies for either schools or clubs, but not both.)

Feiyue Yang
In K-9, Feiyue Yang, a ninth grader from Arcadia, California, was first on tiebreaks over the co-champion, seventh grader Tom Polgar-Shutzman of Lubbock, Texas (son of GM Susan Polgar, who ran the puzzle-solving competition, which Tom won easily) at 7½. They drew their individual game in Round 7. Feiyue’s biggest prior success was the American Open in 2009,when he won Under 2000. In the final round, Feiyue, who is coached by IM Ben Deng, punished Black’s experimental setup in the King’s Indian London System.

Neglecting development to enforce a quick …e5 involves too high a price, and White was clearly better even before Black dropped the Exchange, Yang concluded efficiently.

Polgar-Shutzman was also undefeated, downing Leo Creger in the final round. Nicky Korba, a local ninth grader and budding TV star who drew both the winners, was unable to catch them, splitting the points in the penultimate rounds. He was clear third with 7. His team (and Creger’s), Conejo, was first.

Albert Lu with Tom Brownscombe
Local fifth grader Albert Lu, at 2120, was a 165-point favorite in K-6, but suffered a Round 5 upset against 1767-rated Kevin Ren. Albert came back, admittedly with some luck in time scrambles (particularly with Danial Asaria, who flagged in an even position), downing second seed Jeffrey Tao in the finale after Jeffrey declined a draw. So Albert was clear first with 8 points. A recent participant in the world Youth Under 10 Championship, he has two coaches, IMs Deng and Armen Ambartsoumian,. Tao and Ren tied for second, trailing by a half point. Albert’s favorite win came in Round 8:


White was doing fine until he played the artificial 16.Bh5. He properly admitted the error of his ways by retreating on the next move, but then let Black’s attack get out of hand. 19.Bxe5 dxe5 21.Ne6 Bxe6 22.dxe6 exf3 23.Bxf3 would actually have kept White slightly on top.

Tao and Ren fittingly tied for second with 7½. Ambartsoumian’s team, American Chess Academy, took team honors.

The K-3 champion was a local player, Joaquin Perkins, who is coached by Joe Hanley. A seven-year-old second grader, Joaquin has now won nationals for three straight years, having taken Grade Level titles in kindergarten title and first grade. A particularly active player (over 50 events this year), Joaquin came in as second seed and downed the top dog, Tim Deng (Ben’s son) in the fifth round.


Joaquin Perkins with Tom Brownscombe
Joaquin got a slight advantage in a Center Counter, slipped on move 12 (12.0-0!) but was soon back on top and missed a shot with 17.g5. Black was then a bit better, but in turn missed 19…Qe4. (Jitters aren’t reserved for the last round!) After Black failed to find 30…Bxd4 Joaquin was soon in command, for the last time.

He reeled off another three wins and had clinched first before the last round – a good thing, as he finally dropped a point, to Aaryan Deshpande of Washington, who finished second with 7½. Joaquin also led his team, Hanley’s Chess Academy, to first in the team competition. All individual and team final standings, as well as the prize list (there were 20 place trophies in each section, as well as 12 class and ten team awards) can be viewed at http://chessweekend.com/nya11/individresults.html.

A great tournament features some side events, and this was no exception. We’ve mentioned the puzzle solving competition. The K-12 Blitz title went to a non-participant in the main event, Barber Champion Michael Brown, with 8-2, a half point ahead of Lu and Amarasinghe. Hart High was a narrow winner in the team competition. Jeffrey Tao swept the K-6 section, 10-0. Cimarron Elementary of Palmdale (the four Peterson kids) took team honors by half a tiebreak point over Northern California’s Folsom. And finally, Bughouse honors went to Korba and Leo Creger, ahead of Brown and Leo Kamgar (another player who avoided the main tournament) on tiebreak.

A big scholastic always has a few amusing moments. One player insisted that Black’s pawn on g4 couldn’t capture en passant after white played h2-h4, because the pawn had reached g4 by an indirect route! And shortly after the last round began, two pairs of hands shot up at adjacent boards in K-3. Rushing over, a director observed scholar’s mates on both boards. 

Another anecdote from the K-3 section is something of an inspiration. A player claimed a draw after keeping score accurately for 120 moves (remember, this was a Game/30 tournament!). It wasn’t actually clear whether the claim was of a 50-move draw or a repetition (and it might well have been valid in either case), but the opponent acquiesced before the director had to plow through that scoresheet!

Organizers Tim Just and Glenn Panner had to be disappointed by the turnout, despite the many compliments the tournament received (free parking at a fine hotel was one attraction). Substantial expenses, especially for the hotel, made the tournament costly, and the regional experiment may not be repeated. 

Chief Director Wayne Clark didn’t quite have a cast of thousands, but there were plenty of helpers for the work whose dimensions only someone who has attended a national scholastic can appreciate. Al Losoff deserves special mention for his indefatigable work on the computer, and his wife Janelle for helping out this writer by photographing the prizewinners. And to all those who didn’t attend: You missed a great one!

See rating changes at the USCF MSA page.
Also see Melinda Matthews' report on the National Youth Action East in Miami.