The Fun in Orlando Begins with Denker, Barber & NGIT Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
July 24, 2014
This summer’s annual chess mega-event – which rolls the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, the National Girls Invitational Tournament (NGIT), multiple incarnations of the US Open, and the Delegates Meeting all into one nine-day, action-packed  tour-de-force – takes place in Orlando, Florida, a familiar stomping ground for Nicky and me. 

Orlando has hosted some of Nicky’s best scholastic tournaments, including his national co-championships and the Florida state title that landed him back at this year’s Denker  But even though I was positive Nicky had played chess in every convention hotel in Orlando, this year’s venue, the Rosen Center Hotel, is a brand new addition to our Orlando chess hotel roster.

Once again, Nicky’s arriving at the Denker fresh from Robby Adamson’s excellent Western Invitational Chess Camp, where chess (almost) took a back seat to Nicky’s impressive bowling feats (4 strikes in a row!) and blackmail-worthy selfies with GM Julio Sadorra (apparently Sadorra’s first). 
Nicky and Julio (not down by the school yard)

Four other campers will be joining Nicky in his quest for championship gold – Samuel Mason (UT) in the Barber, and Nicky Korba (S. CA), Colin Chow (N. CA), and Ford Nakagawa (HI) in the Denker – attesting to the strength and popularity of Robby’s camp.

For those of you not obsessively immersed in scholastic chess (is that even possible?), here’s the tri-tournament lowdown: In 1985, GM Arnold Denker established the Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions to foster scholastic chess excellence among the nation’s top high school players.  The Denker quickly became a prestigious event that has been held concurrently with the US Open every summer since. 

In 2011, the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions was created as a sibling tournament aimed at younger players.  It was named to honor Dewain Barber, another tireless scholastic chess advocate and long-time Denker friend.  The National Girls Invitational Tournament, modeled after the Denker and Barber, debuted in 2013.

All fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, nominate one representative for each tournament (California, ever the exception, sends two). The host state (in this case, Florida) provides an alternate in case the field needs to be evened out, for a total of 53 invitees.  The University of Texas at Dallas awards a full-tuition scholarship to the Denker winner, and both the Denker and Barber champions qualify for the World Youth Championships.  And, upon tournament completion, every player receives a two-year ICC membership, discounted entry to the six-day US Open, numerous other prizes, and bragging rights as a participant.  Pretty heady stuff!

This year’s Denker, with 46 confirmed participants, is led by two strong FMs who currently are separated by a mere rating point: Kevin Wang of Maryland (2436) and Sam Schmakel of Illinois (2435). Newly-crowned 2014 US Chess Cadet Champion LM Edward Song (MI), LM Joshua Colas (NY), LM Christopher Gu (RI), LM Christopher Wu (NJ), and LM Colin Chow (N. CA) rank among the top contenders. The Denker field also boasts 10 National Masters and 12 Experts.

NM Joshua Sheng (S. CA) is the top-ranked Barber participant.  The 48-player roster includes 9 additional National Masters and 13 Experts.  The NGIT, led by NM Annie Wang (S. CA), has 45 confirmed participants.  Joining Wang is the new 2014 US Junior Girls (Closed) co-champion (and internet chess star) WCM Claudia Munoz (TX), along with closed championship participants WFMs Jennifer Yu (VA), Kimberly Ding (NJ), Becca Lampman (WA), and Carissa Yip (MA).

As I prepared this piece, I fell into one of my obsessive-compulsive modes and printed all three tournament participant lists so I could obtain the stats above.  One interesting and unexpected fact jumped out as I compared lists. Three sister teams are competing(!): Shahrzad Hajiarbabi (KS) in the NGIT and Kiana in the Barber; Amelia Wyzywany (LA) in the NGIT and Annastasia in the Denker; and Susanna Ulrich (WI) in the NGIT and Rachel in the Barber.

I mean, seriously, how freakin’ cool is that? (excuse me, please, while I take a moment for a happy Girl Power woot-woot!)

Nicky graduated from high school this past spring, so this will be his last Denker appearance; in fact, the Denker will be his final scholastic tournament ever (sniff, sob).  He’ll be starting at Lindenwood University in August, where he’ll study sports management and (finally!) experience life as a chess team member.  He’s joining a group of super-strong players at Lindenwood, including USCL powerhouse Priyadharshan Kannappan, and he’ll be steeped in St. Louis’ rich chess culture.  So while it’s hard to close the book on scholastic chess, I can’t help but look forward to Nicky’s exciting adult-chess future (while looking back wistfully, of course).

Ready for Lindenwood!

But for now we’re living solely in the present: Scholastic chess rules!  On Friday we’ll hit the road one last time with snacks in the car and tunes on the stereo.  And despite my Orlando ennui, I’ve come to believe it’s only fitting that Nicky’s scholastic tournament days end in our home state – the place where Nicky’s (and my own) great chess adventures began.

I’ll be back later with a mid-tournament report.  See you in a few days!

Find more information on the US Open website, as well as the official sites for the events, and