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Serious Fun in Orlando Print E-mail
By Elizabeth Vicary   
December 14, 2006
Daniel Ludwig swept the 11th grade section.

by Elizabeth Vicary

Too close to college?
It's rare enough to win a single game in a tournament on forfeit, but Eric Rodriguez (2209, FL), this year's twelfth grade champion, pulled it off twice! Strange as that with 2 out of two points, Eric was paired against his friend Daniel Rohde (1828, NY). When Daniel didn't show up, Eric took out his phone and tried to call his room. He was prevented from doing this by a floor TD, according to Eric because a TD mistakenly believed they had seen Daniel awake earlier that morning. TD Walter Browne suggested later that the floor director had simply been enforcing the rule against using cell phones while playing. For whatever reason, Daniel was not called and forfeited the game. He then showed up, and Eric graciously agreed to play the game after already having been declared the winner. They played a shorter time control (G/40 or G/30 by two different accounts), which Eric also won. With a perfect score on Sunday morning, he was paired on board one against second seed Corey Acor (2254, FL). Acor and his roommate, fourth seed Chris Williams (2176, MA) both overslept and forfeited their games, Acor to Rodriguez, and, to further the comedy, Williams to Daniel Rohde.

12th grade champion Eric Rodriguez, playing blitz.

Rodriguez went on to draw top seed Alex Barnett in round seven in what he described as his best game of the tournament. Eric describes his style as positional, an approach he learned from his first coach, FM Victor Delgado. He feels tactics are both a strength and an area in which he wants to improve, explaining, "I don't go looking for tactics, but when they are there I see them." Recently, he began taking lessons from GM Julio Becerra. While he claims not to do too much serious studying on his own, Eric plays frequently, looks carefully at his tournament games with Chessbase and Fritz, and enjoys playing blitz and bullet on ICC.

A clean sweep in 11th grade

IM Greg Shahade described eleventh grade champion Daniel Ludwig (2388, FL), as "a huge, huge talent, easily one of the most promising juniors in the country." "Really," Greg added, "it's a complete joke that the guy is rated 2350." Ludwig swept the eleventh grade section with a perfect score, 1.5 points ahead of Vaishnav Aradhyula (2156, AZ) and Kayin Barclay (2029, IL). Here is his fourth round game against Derek Tan:


Ninth move alternatives include....0-0-0, ....g6 or ...g5. Better than 11...Qe7? was 11.....Bf2! 12.Qxf2 Qe4+ 13. Kd2 Qxh1. 15...Bf2 turned out badly-but Nb6 16.b4 Bd6 17.f4 doesn't work out much better.

A serious student of the game, Daniel studies chess an average of an hour and a half daily in the summer. During the school year he has less time for chess, since in addition to his schoolwork he plays multiple sports and runs 6-8 miles each day. He prefers to study alone, with books (Life and Games of Mikhail Tal is his favorite) and Chessbase. Unusually, he dislikes using Fritz (because it gives no reasons for its choices) and works without a coach. Daniel did not always have this self-reliant streak: in seventh and eighth grade he took lessons with renowned trainer GM Gregory Kaidanov. However, following a bad tournament, he decided to take a break from playing and studying. On his return, Daniel felt he needed to take full responsibility for his own growth as a player, and so decided to work alone. He cited tactics and opening theory as his primary strengths, and consistency and endgames as the areas he would most like to improve. See the upcoming Chess Life article on this tournament for Daniel's thoughts on how to study effectively, the importance of "playing smart," and why losing a winning position against French GM Laurent Fressinet marked a huge step forward for him.

The eleventh and twelfth grade team titles were easily won by Catalina Foothills High School of Tucson, AZ. The team is coached by FM Robby Adamson, with indirect help from IM Lev Altunian, who works with several team members privately. Robby describes himself as a demanding coach who gives plenty of homework and teaches his top students in five-hour weekend strategy sessions.

The tenth grade section was led by Matt Perry (2135, NY), who beat Scott Lalli (2021, NY) to finish with 6.5/7. Second place winner Joseph Thuemler (1714, FL), upset Medina Parrilla (1938, NY) in the last round. Despite having no player in the section rated over 1300, Columbus Alternative High School of Ohio edged out Roanoke High of Virginia to finish first with 11.5 points.

Ninth graders Shinsaku Uesugi (2175, MD) and Thomas Riccadi (2148, NY) shared first with 6/7. In the last round, Riccardi beat the sixth round leader, Stanley Yang (2038, TX), while Shinsaku ("Shin" to his friends) outplayed Jayson Lian (2021, NY) in a complicated Gruenfeld.


This old line of the Grunfeld has a lot of subvariations. One exciting line instead of Karpov's favorite 13.Bxf7, in the game which was favored by Karpov, is 13.Bd3 Be6 14.d5!? Bxa1 15.Qxa1 when White has very dangerous compensation for the exchange.

After 22.a4?, Qxa4 was the more incisive capture. White seemed to have some dangerous play to compensate for Black's advanced passed a-pawn, but Black managed to hold it all together with 23...Nd6!

Recently, Shin has spent most of his chess studying time concentrating on openings because his coach, Victor Sherman, identified it as a primary weakness. In addition to the Gruenfeld, Shin plays the highly theoretical Sveshnikov. He mentioned Nunn's Chess Openings as his favorite book.

Power Coaches
For the most part, team prizes at Grade Nationals are collected by a handful of long-established, expertly-coached scholastic chess powerhouses like Hunter, Dalton, and Catalina Foothills. However, this year's ninth grade section was won by three friends who study chess only with each other and are newcomers to the tournament. Twins Chase and Jared Carron and their friend Casey O'Meilia all attend the prestigious public Suncoast High in Riviera Beach, Florida. While the school has a weekly chess club, no direct instruction is offered. Instead, the three friends spend hours analyzing, sharing opening ideas, and playing together, often on ICC.

NM Sunil Weermantry heads the legendary chess program at Hunter, a highly selective public school in New York. They had another fine year, capturing first in 2nd, 3rd (tied with Dalton), and 7th grades; with second place finishes in kindergarten, 4th, 6th, and 8th grade; third in 5th grade; and fifth in 1st grade. Sunil attributes the success of his team to its depth (42 players competed), noting that with the exception of expert Alec Getz, they have no super-high-rated stars. In the upcoming February, Chess Life Magazine article on the Grade Nationals, Sunil shares some surprising insights about improving at chess ("the trick is what not to learn"), openings to avoid, and why studying the endgame is not as important as everyone pretends.

Hunter's main rival in the elementary and primary grades is the private school Dalton, coached by GM Miron Sher, WGM Alla Grinfeld and David MacEnulty, whose teaching career at CES 70 is immortalized in the film Knights of the South Bronx (2005) . This year Dalton finished first in 3rd and 4th grade, second in 1st grade and fourth in 2nd grade.

MacEnulty says that before a big tournament he concentrates instruction on tactics, openings, and thinking techniques. "I used to just teach general opening principles," he explained to me, "But then my kids would get beaten by players whose coach taught them very specific lines. So I had to change my approach." He also believes in teaching endgames, which he thinks are very important, but concentrates on teaching concepts rather than specific positions or techniques. When I expressed disbelief that the very young students he works with (at Dalton, chess instruction starts in kindergarten) can understand rook endings, he explained that he makes the ideas as simple as possible: "If I am showing, for example, how to play rook and king against king and pawn, the important idea is that the rook and king must control a square the pawn has to cross. Even a very young kid can understand that, but it's really an important concept. Without it, you won't win the game."

Other team winners included Oak Hall (FL) in the kindergarten section, The Village School (TX) in first grade, PS 124 (NY) in fifth grade, Liberty Middle School (FL) in sixth grade, and T. H. Rogers (TX) in eighth grade.

Junior High and Elementary school winners

Mark Heimann (2246, PA) and Victor Shen (2209, NJ) drew in round seven to share first in the eighth grade section.

In the seventh grade, Andrew Ng (1948, NJ) drew Michael Yang (2103, MN) on top board in a closed Sicilian, allowing Alec Getz (2135, NY) and Zachary Young (1973, NY) to catch them by beating Boris Xu (1948, GA) and Connor Allsteadt (1659, CT) respectively. All four tied with six points, but Andrew took the first place trophy on tiebreaks.

After gaining an early advantage with black in an unusual line of the French Winawer against Hibiki Sakai (1856, PA), sixth grader Christopher Heung (1853, FL) played a fantastic middlegame: securing a safe haven for his king on the queenside, discoordinated white's pieces with a well-timed …c4, and increasing his space advantage on the kingside. Somehow Sakai was able to avoid losing, but the draw cemented Heung's half point lead and clinched clear first for the Floridian.
In the fifth grade section, Alec Ho (1733, WA) drew the white side of an open Sicilian against second place finisher Atulya Shetty (1843, MI). He tied with Sylvia Yang (1819, TX), who defeated Alex Yung (1551, NY).

K-6 Blitz co-champion Kevin Cao (1700, MO) drew with fourth grader Jarod Pamatmat (1728, TX) in an exchange French to share first place in that section.

Benjamin Moon (1653, GA) dominated the other third graders with a perfect 7-0 score, grinding out a win on the white side of a Queen's Indian in the last round against Mika Brattain (MA, 1489). He finished a full point ahead of second place winners Daniel Ng (1478, TX), Kyle Shin (1660, CA), and Joel Pena (1418, NJ).

In the second grade, top seed Christopher Wu (1631, NJ) faltered early, upset in round three by Justin Yu (1024, WA). This opened the way for Tom Polgar-Shutzman (1499,NY), the eldest son of Susan Polgar In the final round Tom played the London system on top board, achieving a very comfortable position early in the game with a space advantage and two bishops. He showed impressive patience, blockading and winning his opponent's passed c-pawn to collect the full point and the first place trophy.

The first grade and kindergarten sections were both won easily by the top seeds, Jonathan Chiang (1564, TX) and Raymond Sun (1460, TX) who outrated their closest opposition by 150 and 600 points, respectively.

The college section was won by top seed Daniel Fernandez (2463, FL), despite his loss in round 5 to Lilia Doibani (2134, TX). The team prize was a fight between two University of Texas teams, with Dallas triumphing over Brownsville by 1.5 points.

Chief Organizer Diane Reese and Chief TD Phillip Smith deserve kudos for running a smooth and enjoyable event. With over 1600 entries and almost no problems, this year’s tournament was a resounding success. In particular, several parents commented that the blitz tournament, which sometimes drags on for hours, was punctual and well-run. I think everyone appreciated the choice of location: in addition to enjoying the (relatively) warm weather and the hotel’s outdoor hot tub, many players finished the tournament by visiting nearby Disney World and Universal Studios.

Photo Gallery by Betsy Dynako

A natural lucky charm in Orlando.

Funny moves

A closer look.

The Parents and Friends tournament-a welcome distraction for chess parents. Matthew Okunevich won the rated section, and Ignacio Barrera won the Unrated section.
GM Susan Polgar gave a simul, and also supported her sons who were playing in the tournament!

Read the Press Releaseon the event, with a concise list of winners.

Check out Alexey Root's December Chess Life Magazine interview with Susan Polgar on what's it's like to be a Grandmaster Chess Mom.