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Miami Madness: National Youth Action East Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
December 13, 2011
play begins.JPGDespite living minutes away from Miami-Dade, this year’s host to the first-ever National Youth Action East, we very rarely venture south across the county line.  Driving to Miami is simply too nerve-wracking, requiring heightened awareness, nerves of steel and cat-like reflexes; sadly, public transportation in South Florida is hardly a viable option, given our region’s significant lack of multimodal interconnectivity.  Once I’ve safely reached my Miami destination, car parked and survival instincts disengaged, I always rediscover the magic of Miami’s vividly distinctive architecture and unique vibe, a colorful kaleidoscope of laid-back beachy cool, multicultural diversity, Mediterranean charm and cutting-edge urban chic.  And, after a few relaxing, reviving shots of throat-tingling, thickly sweet, steaming Café Cubano (which, considering the concentrated influx of caffeine and sugar, seems counterintuitive – but somehow it works), I’ll remind myself to visit more often.  

Then comes the harrowing drive home and the renewed vow never to drive in Miami ever again.

But what we won’t readily do for ourselves, we’ll gladly do for our children, gritted teeth, white knuckles, gray hairs, et al.  In fact, most of my reluctant driving forays into Miami are for my children...and most are chess-related.

So Friday night found Nicky and me heading south to the National Youth Action East’s kickoff event, the ever-popular bughouse tournament, nervously negotiating everything I dislike about Miami driving: bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic – even worse, airport rush-hour traffic, adding lost-tourist meanderings to the mix – while gingerly weaving through sporadic torrential downpours, ongoing highway construction and abrupt lane closures that led to poorly placed, barely-visible, last-minute exit signs forcing a heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping zip across four busy traffic lanes, no less (cue the violins).  Even Nicky knew when it was time to shut off the music and stop talking.

In the end, the drive was worth it: Nicky and his partner, Sam Silberman, captured the bughouse championship title, going undefeated 8-0.  

Nicky and Sam Silberman, National Youth Action East bughouse champions
Not a bad start to a fun, fast-paced scholastic tournament.  National Youth Action tournaments offer the speed-fueled antidote to traditional standard games: a grueling nine-round, action-packed two days, with a G/30 time control that allows little room to ponder and even less margin for error.  Yet it seems most of the participants, especially the younger ones, thrive on the challenge.  

The bulk of our 330(ish) players hailed from Florida, with heavy emphasis on South Florida, perhaps due to tough economic times and the need to stretch tournament travel dollars.  Still, participants arrived from South Carolina, Illinois, New York, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Michigan and Virginia to vie for the titles.

Like the county itself, scholastic tournaments in Miami-Dade are unique.  They’re unusually well-attended, fueled, in large part, by teams funded through Title 1-sponsored chess programs.  Even though Title 1 money is not specifically allocated toward chess in Miami-Dade public schools, approximately 180 schools opt to apply portions of their Title 1 dollars toward a chess program, thereby making chess accessible to about 4,700 children, according to Title 1 chess supervisor Ramon Sanchez.

Many of the Title 1 students attending events in Miami-Dade never appear at national tournaments or even at state tournaments held outside of South Florida.  And yet their substantial presence at every local tournament speaks volumes about a universal hunger to compete and a love for the game that transcends financial restraints.  For those of us who travel regularly to tournaments, it’s a fresh opportunity to meet and engage with new people right in our own backyard.  

Elizabeth Tejada, Florida Scholastic Chess League commissioner and tireless force behind Miami-Dade’s Title 1 chess program, was on hand for the entire tournament, working with head tournament director, Frank Guadalupe, and beaming happily over the performances of her county’s students, parents, teachers and coaches. At the closing ceremonies, she was presented with a well-deserved plaque honoring her efforts.

Frank Guadalupe and Elizabeth Tejada at the closing ceremonies

Mr. Guadalupe ran his usual efficient tournament despite ongoing difficulties with the venue itself.  On Friday night and all day Saturday, a rollickingly cheerful convention took place alongside our conference center hall, featuring inspirational speakers, pep rallies and uplifting songs blared over an impressively loud sound system (I mean, really, what player wouldn’t be compelled to push for the win to the motivational, albeit somewhat banal and histrionic, strains of lyrics such as, “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains...You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas…”?).  With our rooms barely separated by a thin partitioned wall and a few curtains, sequined and suited conference attendees began crossing through the tournament hall in search of extra bathrooms (and to escape the singing, perhaps) with increasing frequency. And, to add to the riotous confusion, right before the Saturday evening blitz competition, caterers began noisily preparing and plating dinners in the curtained area dividing the rooms while showgirl entertainers rambled into the hall wearing little more than their stilettos, tail feathers and headdresses.  Talk about distracting the players (and most of the onlookers, too)!

Even though tournament staff and parents had lodged numerous complaints to management throughout the day, to no avail, by evening enough was enough: blitz was moved away from the dinner party into quieter quarters upstairs, where the floor still pulsed to the DJ’s beat below, but the clanging and clatter diminished appreciably.  Sam Silberman emerged unscathed to capture the K-12 blitz championship 8-0, followed by a 7-point tie for 2nd between Epiphany Peters of Michigan and Nicky’s teammate, Frank Hauser (Epiphany took 2nd on tiebreaks).  In K-6, Gabriel Lee won with 7 points.  Notable in the K-6 section was that 2nd through 4th places were won by an impressive female trio consisting of Katherine Davis (2nd), Anna Nuryasin (3rd) and Samhitha Dasari (4th):great to see emerging powerful, feminine faces of chess.

Epiphany also won the Open section's chess puzzle competition with a perfect score; again, a trio of girls rounded out the top three spots in this event’s division, while Srihitha Dasair took first place in U-1000 (noticing a trend?).

Fortunately, by Sunday, the party next door mercifully ended and chess finally reigned supreme in the conference center.

Although anything can happen in any tournament, this faster-paced format seems especially ripe for upsets.  Yet in K-12, despite numerous surprises within the section, top-rated player Reinaldo Perez held steadily, defeating all challengers (Nicky included) to clinch first place even before the last round began.  Nicky ended the tournament with his loss to Reinaldo, six wins and two draws, landing in a three-way tie for 2nd with Sam Silberman and Luciano Aguilar, winning the 2nd place trophy on tiebreaks.  

Some K-12 trophy winners (left to right): Sam Silberman (tied for 2); K-12 champion Reinaldo Perez; and Nicky (tied for 2)

 Here is Nicky’s very quick Round 4 match against Raul Rodriguez:


In the K-9 section, Andy Beam of Louisiana won with 8.5 points, toppling top-rated Epiphany Peters in a crucial Round 6 match.  Second place went to Jose Machado of Florida; Epiphany tied for third with Nicky’s local friend, Cory Riegelhaupt.  Here is Cory’s Round 4 game against David Lopez:


In the other sections, Ethan Hinds won K-6 with 8.0 points and Elliot Starkman swept K-3 with a perfect 9.0 score.

National Youth Action is also one of the few scholastic tournaments that permit club teams, layering on an additional level of competitive fun.   Nicky’s three-person team from the Boca Raton Chess Club, comprised of Nicky, Jared Lassner and Frank Hauser, fought valiantly, but ultimately ended in fifth place.  Although each played well separately and received individual trophies, without their planned fourth player (who withdrew due to a last-minute college application flurry), they were simply no match for the juggernaut teams that impressively and deservedly steamrolled their way into the top four spots.  Congratulations to the victors, Southwest Miami Senior High School in the K-12 Divine Savior Lutheran Academy in the K-9 and Tampa Chess Club in the K-6 and Riverside Elementary in the K-3.

team boca.JPG
Boca Chess Club team members (left to right): Nicky, Jared Lassner and Frank Hauser


Rivalries extended beyond the chessboard as players jockeyed for the limited outdoor open spaces between rounds.  Some of the Miami teams brought along a soccer ball, taking their outdoor sport as seriously as their indoor one; Nicky, of course, toted his ever-present frisbee to pursue his latest sports obsession, Ultimate Frisbee.  As space grew tight, opposing camps surprisingly and democratically decided to award land rights to the winner of a chess showdown.  However, after Epiphany accidentally threw the frisbee into a locked, walled, nearly-impenetrable generator compound, the issue became moot as Ultimate Frisbee shut down for good.

Melinda Matthews in her Harvard Square days
I actually remained in and around the tournament hall full-time, something I haven’t done for quite a long while.  These days, whenever we travel, Nicky tucks a key into his chess bag so I can volunteer, take refuge in our room or explore while he plays.  Locally, I usually leave Nicky at the hall; my latest indulgence is to scout out the nearest yoga studio and treat myself to a class (or two).  This venue, however, charged $5 for parking each time I left the lot; the thrifty side of me could not bear to continually hand over the cash.

Instead I packed up my always-behind book club reading (two down, one to go), my sketch pad, a few yoga magazines and hunkered down for the long wait.  Having Au Bon Pain in the attached Merchandise Mart also helped pass the time pleasurably; I downed cups of full-bodied coffee and relived memories of a Boston summer spent studying urban design as a pretext for hanging out at ABP’s flagship Harvard Square store, where I sucked down multiple Café Americanos and almond croissants while watching the locals play fierce and fast chess – a foreshadowing of my future life as a chess parent.

I look forward to reading Randy Hough’s account of our counterpart tournament in the West, having enjoyed his highly detailed and informative posts in the past.  And of course, since chess is a serious, sober, intelligent game played by serious, sober, intelligent people, I would never think of demeaning the noble sport by stoking a little crass competitive fire as the individual regional winners prepare to meet online to battle for the national titles. No, I would never stick out my tongue, waggle my fingers, and taunt: GO, East!!  It simply would be bad manners.  Instead, I’ll maintain proper decorum, offer my sincere and hearty congratulations to the regional winners, and wish all players in the finals – both east and west – good luck…and good games. (GO, East!)

See individual standings
team results on the official site.