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Krush on Orlando: What It Takes To Be a Champion Print E-mail
By GM Irina Krush   
December 22, 2014
GMs Giorgi Kacheishvili, Irina Krush and Tamaz Gelashvili
When I was asked to write the CLO story on Grade Nationals, I wasn't sure what angle I'd wind up going with and whether I'd be able to produce anything beyond a recap of who won their respective sections. In such a tightly scheduled event that races by in three days, with thirteen sections and over a thousand kids, it's not easy to gather material into a story. As it turned out, I had a little thread of connection to the winners of the first, second, and third grade sections, and so these children will represent our 'champions' category and theirs are the stories we'll hear. 

My initial report from Orlando left off right before the critical last day, which closes with two rounds at 9 AM and 1 PM. After a long Saturday with three rounds, kids come back to the board early for the games that will decide who goes home a champion.

Before we get to that, let me just mention the final event that I participated in in Orlando: live (and most importantly, online) commentary with IM Danny Rensch for Play Magnus & chess.com's Carlsen simul.

Magnus, playing White in all games, faced 11 challengers in 25 minute rapid games with 25 second increment, 9 of whom qualified on chess.com, 1 from chesskid.com, and one celebrity who qualified by...being a celebrity (Rainn Wilson from the TV show The Office). Amongst his opponents there was an International Master and several masters.


You would think that in equal time conditions and up against eleven people, Magnus would be the one worried about the clock, but he played strikingly fast and with no exceptions had each single opponent in time pressure. Most games he won with more than 25 minutes on the clock. His approach to the simul did not seem geared towards a maximal result; he played creative (but risky) openings, giving his opponents a chance to get into the game without first having to equalize as Black, and played so quickly that it opened up the possibility of an oversight. For the spectators and commentators, it was the perfect approach. Magnus' creativity led to fun and sharp games, some with material imbalances, such as the following, Magnus' favorite game of the simul:

MagnusCarlsen (2862) - penguingm1 (2384)

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.c5 Ne4 8.Rc1 f5 9.h3 c6 10.b4 Bf6 11.Bd3 a5 12.a3 axb4 13.axb4 b5 14.0-0 Re8 15.Ne2 Bb7 16.Ra1 Qe7 17.Ne5 Rxa1 18.Qxa1 Nd2 19.Rd1 Ra8


Definitely not forced, as White can simply move away to c3, but Magnus was generous with material in this simul. Magnus thought the queen sac offered at least good compensation with the rook coming down on the a-file. 20...Bxa8 21.Rxd2 Bb7 22.Ra2 Qd8 23.Ra7 Nxe5 24.dxe5 Qb8 25.Rxb7 Qxb7 26.exf6 gxf6


Queen for three pieces, you don't see that every day! The comp judges this as equal but soon the pieces will overpower the queen. 27.Bd6 Qa6 28.Nd4 Kf7 29.Be2 Qc8 30.Bh5+ Kg7 31.f4 Qd7 32.Kh2 Kh6 33.g4 fxg4 34.hxg4 Kg7 35.g5 f5 36.Kg3 Kg8 37.Be5 Qc8 38.g6 hxg6 39.Bxg6 Qa6 40.Kh4 Qa1 41.Kg5 Qa7 42.Nxc6 Qd7 43.Nd4 Qe7+ 44.Bf6 Qf8 45.Nxe6


 Total domination.  45...Qh6+ 46.Kxh6 It's not stalemate as Black can move the d pawn! A really fine aesthetic achievement by Magnus. 1-0

The lone loss did result from one insufficiently examined move, a zwischenzug that Magnus had thought could be thrown in without hurting anything, but which met a powerful queen sacrifice in response! A typical way for the master to go down in a simul. Magnus took it in stride and congratulated his opponent on a good game after the simul was done.
MagnusCarlsen (2862) - stepanosinovsky (2360)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5 3.d5 Ne4 4.Bc1 e6 5.c4 b5 6.cxb5 Qa5+ 7.Nd2 exd5 8.e3 a6 9.bxa6 Nxa6 10.Ngf3 Be7 11.Be2 0-0 12.0-0 Bb7 13.Ne5 Qc7 14.Nxe4 Qxe5 15.Ng3 g6 16.Bd2 Bf6 17.Bf3 Bc6 18.Bc3 d4 19.exd4 cxd4


20.Re1?? dxc3! 21.Rxe5 cxb2 22.Rb1 Bxe5


Black's protected b pawn will decide the day. 23.Bxc6 dxc6 24.Ne4 Nb4 25.f4 Rfd8 26.Qb3 Bd4+ 27.Kf1 Rab8 28.Rxb2 Na6 29.Qc4 Rxb2 30.Qxa6 Bg7 31.Ke1 h6 32.a4 Kh7 33.Qxc6 Rdb8 34.Nf6+ Kh8 35.Nd7 R8b3 36.Qa8+ Kh7 37.Qd5 Ra3 38.Qd1 Rxg2 39.Kf1 Rxh2 40.Kg1 Raa2 41.Qd5 Rhd2 0-1

We got a chance to interview Magnus post-simul (which you can watch on chess.com), and he was in a noticeably good mood, patiently answering Danny's questions, and not looking in the least bit like he'd rather be elsewhere.

Although Danny was the main interviewer, I did manage to throw in one question that was of interest to me! I asked Magnus if he remembered a game he had played against my coach Giorgi in an open in Germany when he was about ten years old (it was in 2001). Giorgi tells this story of how he came to the first round of an open tournament, saw a child in front of him, and relaxed, confident he'd dispatch him quickly and go enjoy the evening. Instead, he had to sweat out a completely unclear rook endgame where he was worse at some point and to finally win after six hours. The child was Magnus Carlsen. Now, most people are not going to remember games they played when they were ten, but Magnus didn't need any help recalling this game: he didn't ask "Giorgi who?" or "What happened in that game?" Instead he said, "At the time I didn't know I had been better at some point, so I wasn't upset at losing. Now I can't understand how I didn't manage to make a draw!" That's what a World Champion memory is like!

As a chess fan, it was a great event to be a part of; thanks to Magnus for the generous spirit in which he conducted it.  I should mention that the event was done partly to promote Magnus' app, called Play Magnus, where you can play an engine that's designed to reproduce Magnus' playing style at various ages. Sounds like something fun to try!


While I was busy with the commentary, the children were settling in to play their final round. As I mentioned in my initial report, I was keeping a close watch on the 2nd grade section, because there were two talented New York boys in the running for first place, including one of the favorite students of my coach Giorgi, eight-year-old Nico Chasin. 
Nico, in his trademark cap and blazer

And the final round match up worked out to be precisely between these two boys, the only two on perfect scores, one point ahead of the field, as they had just defeated the other two boys who'd been on perfect scores with them. 
Lucas Foerster-Yialamas, already a grandmaster in smiling, and with a great tactical eye!

There's often a back story to such match ups, because the top kids have likely faced off somewhere before, and this was no exception. At the 2013 Grade Nationals in Orlando, Lucas Foerster-Yialamas had won against Nico in the 6th round and gone on to win the 1st grade section with a perfect score. Since then both boys had raised their ratings by about four hundred points, to ~1800, and represented the US at the World Youth Championships u-8 in South Africa. With such a back story, you can see why this would be an intriguing duel!

In such a situation, where you are playing an equal rival, every little nuance can make a difference, and Nico's preparation with Giorgi before the game was probably a considerable factor. You may be wondering, what 'preparation' you can do with 8 year olds in the middle of such a schedule that would actually help them rather than tiring or stressing them out, but...it turns out you can do something.

There were more moves played but White eventually converted this large advantage.

It was funny for me to see that the approach Giorgi uses to prepare grandmasters is equally effective for 8 year olds! The game plan he envisioned was reproduced on the board; White won a pawn in the opening and converted it without allowing any counterplay. Besides actual chess preparation, Giorgi gives his students psychological preparation and emotional support, sketching the chess/character profile of their opponent and motivating them to do their best. Obviously all this has to fall on fertile ground. A good coach is a valuable aid, but the child himself has to possess the right combination of qualities to bring this help to fruition.

I'm sure most of our readers have seen the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, and remember how the young character of Josh becomes interested in the game by watching it played by hustlers in Washington Square Park. Apparently, this is not such an unusual way of becoming introduced to chess, at least if you're from NYC! Nico's dad Noah said that Nico learned to play just before he turned five, "after being mesmerized by watching the game in Union Square (not Wash Sq) park. A player named (Big) John sat him down, showed him the pieces' movements, and was really his first teacher. Nico still loves to play with him. He then worked with Robert Holyfield, Saudin Robovic, Fred Wilson, and Alex Rasic before finding Giorgi, the coach he wants to stay with until he becomes a grandmaster (and beyond!)."

Giorgi with Nico after the final round

I'm not sure why no one thought of shooting "Searching for Bobby Fischer 2" at the Orlando Nationals. Everything was in place...the adorable child who'd learned to play chess from the rough guys in the city parks, the disappointing loss to a rival in a previous championship, ending with a redeeming win one year later with his parents and coach by his side. The only difference is that in the movie, Josh's rival is a rather grim child, prodded to success by ironclad discipline and study, while Lucas is outgoing and happy, just like Nico actually. After the round I saw him playing with his little sister and he looked in such good spirits I thought he had won. Even though that was not the case, it was good to see that he had taken it in stride and was not crying in a corner- from what I had observed, there are enough tears at Nationals for that not to be an unlikely scenario.

This is Nico's first national championship title. He has been working with Giorgi for almost a year. I asked Giorgi to list some factors that contributed to Nico's result. He said "hard work, good tournament regime, obedience." His mom Michelle said that Nico was really focused during the tournament, eschewing opportunities to hang out with his school mates in the team room, and she could feel that he really wanted to win. Both Nico's parents were there to support him.

His dad put it this way, "After losing to Lucas last year in Orlando, he went into this year's grade nationals with no other objective than to win seven games. He was incredibly disciplined and determined, and Giorgi's prep and support were invaluable. This nationals was his first with his coach present, and it made a huge difference. Also minimizing goofing around between rounds, eating well, sleeping enough, and playing every round as if he was facing a GM. After having come so close to his dream of a national championship last year but falling just short, he seemed to have an added drive, not to mention resiliency, that stayed with him through seven rounds."

The memory of disappointment is a great impetus towards improvement-we'll see this theme again.

It's also important to emphasize the 'hard work' aspect of Nico's success, which I think is universal among all the winners. Chess is prioritized amongst all other activities, with time allotted for private lessons, group lessons of Giorgi and Tamaz's Grandmaster School at the Marshall Chess Club, camps, and weekly tournaments.

One last thing that his dad shared with me: "I'm not sure this affected his play, but before every round he was clear: this is a tournament and I want to look sharp. And on went the velvet blazer and pageboy cap." Maurice, a child after your own heart! (I'm sorry if only a few of you get this reference).

Chinguun Bayaraa

The next section of interest was the third grade. The top seed in this section was a boy named Chinguun Bayaraa from Northern California (Chesskid.com's FM Mike Klein said he'd been nicknamed Chinguun "Bay Area") whom I'd met when he came to play a blitz game against me on Friday afternoon. Chinguun was the sole child rated over 2000 in his section, and already had the grandmaster look, thinking over his moves so intently that he almost became a part of the board. Out of everyone I saw in Orlando, his board posture was the one I most closely identified with. Could anyone get between him and the title? It didn't seem likely, and although his last round opponent, Maximillian Lu from Connecticut (his closest rival by rating), gave him resistance into a long endgame, ultimately Chinguun prevailed and reached a perfect score as well.

Chinguun Bayaraa vs. Maximillian Lu

This isn't Chinguun's first victory at the national level; he was the 1st grade champion in Orlando two years ago and won the 2014 Chesskid.com Online National Invitational in the 8 and under category. However, in an interesting parallel to Nico, he had also tasted disappointment at the 2013 Grade Nationals, losing in the last round to the boy who went 7-0.

During the event, I actually had no idea what was happening in the 1st grade section and was pleasantly surprised to learn that a boy I knew had become its champion! I met Jonathan Chen this year at the National Open in Las Vegas, where I was a guest of the Youth Festival.

Irina and Jonathan
At the closing ceremony, I handed out trophies to the winners, and Jonathan received a couple of trophies from me, for third place in the u-14 reserve section and as part of a winning team. To be honest, I saw so many kids that there was no way I'd remember one in particular, but apparently Jonathan remembered me fondly as the bestower of his trophies and has called me "Auntie Irina" ever since. I saw Jonathan again at the Millionaire Open in Las Vegas, and his father reminded me of our earlier meeting, and for the third time this year we met in Orlando! Now Jonathan has ensured that I will never forget him- he just had to become the 1st grade national champion :)

Jonathan has been a rating point gobbler this past half year, going up to 1549 after the Nationals! That is about four hundred points since June! His dad has kept him on a steady diet of adult tournaments, and I have to say, there were not many six year olds playing in the Millionaire Open! Besides playing many tournaments in California (Jonathan lives in Diamond Bar, a city in eastern Los Angeles County), Jonathan's dad has taken him to Texas, Las Vegas (twice) and Orlando in the past half year, really an impressive allocation of time and resources to chess.

Jonathan Chen at the Millionaire Chess Open
Jonathan's main rival in Orlando was six year old Marvin Gao. Both boys are now rated about 1550, and were the highest rated in their section by some margin. They faced each other for the first time in this year's Nationals, in the penultimate round. I asked Jonathan's dad Harlin if Jonathan felt any nervousness going into this game, or whether children that young are still impervious to such a feeling. His dad related the following amusing anecdote: "In the evening of the second day when we finished round 5, Marvin passed by us with his dad, and he said "Jonathan I will beat you I will beat you..." After he left, Jonathan told me, "Daddy, I believe I can beat Marvin tomorrow." I didn't feel his nervousness. :-)" A blessed state, fearlessness!

I asked Harlin about the keys to Jonathan's success, and he said "I believe his great interest in chess and his hard work contributed the most to his victory. When we came back to LA, one of his classmates asked him, "how did you win all the games?" His answer was, "Because I have more patience and I am more focused.""

Jonathan's dad alluded to something important: the kids who improve so fast at this young age do so due to the great enthusiasm they have for chess, which propels them to spend so much time on it. After the 7th game was done, how did Nico relax? By playing a game on chess.com. Even in the middle of the tournament, Chinguun took advantage of the opportunity to get in a game against a strong player (relatively speaking).

And by the way, the winner of the 8th grade section, Jack Easton, is the same Jack Easton who was the recipient of my Bxh7 sacrifice in the first report! I am glad that his participation in the simul brought him good luck :)

Krush,Irina - Easton,J [D10]


18.Nf6+! gxf6 19.fxe5
[I missed 19.Bxh7+! Kxh7 20.Qh5+ Kg8 21.gxf6+-] 19...fxe5 [19...f5! had to be played] 20.Bxh7+ A typical sacrifice before Black can block that diagonal. 20...Kxh7 21.Qh5+ Kg8 22.g6 fxg6 23.Qxg6+ Kh8 24.Qh6+ Kg8 25.Kh1


25...Rxf1+ 26.Rxf1 Bc8 27.Qf6 Kh7 28.Rg1 1-0

Jack Easton overtook many higher rated players to win the 8th grade section clear with 6.5/7

There were many other winners in Orlando, and I tried to catch most of them at the closing ceremony so that they can be recognized here. Congratulations to them, and I'm sorry that I was not able to snap all their pictures before they escaped.

Cole Frutos (right) and Logan Wu tied for first with 6.5/7 in the 4th grade.

Andrew Liu, 10th grade champion

Josh Colas, 11th grade Champion

Thank you to Franc Guadalupe from the USCF for inviting me to Orlando. I had a wonderful time! Thank you to the parents who generously answered my questions to make this report more interesting. Thank you to the children whose effort and accomplishment were the inspiration for this article. I wish for all the children mentioned and not mentioned here to keep their love for chess and to unearth all their chess potential!

I'll end with a quote from Michelle, Nico's mom: "It's an amazing thing as a parent to watch your child feel such deep passion, to want something so badly that they're willing to really work for it. It's also amazing to watch your child experience disappointments along the way and make the choice to never give up."