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Upsets Abound at the Denker Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
July 28, 2014
We’re at the halfway point for the Denker, Barber and NGIT events, and the top-seeded players in all three tournaments have taken at hit. The early losses blew the hinges off the tournaments, leaving the championships wide open and up for grabs.

In the Denker, top seed FM Sam Schmakel (IL) fell to NM Nicky Korba (S. CA) in the third round. Schmakel has won all his games since and now has 3/4. Five leaders stand with 3.5/4: Joshua Colas (NY), Christopher Gu (RI), Christopher Wu (NJ), Colin Chow (N. CA) and Nicky Korba.


Second-seed FM Kevin Wang (MD), who has had a particularly rough start, lost to NM Michael Wang (WA) in the second round and to Expert Kushan Tyagi (IA) in round three.

In the Barber, top seed NM Joshua Sheng (S. CA) lost to Emmanuel Carter (NC) in the first round.

NGIT’s highest-ranked player, WIM Annie Wang (S. CA), was defeated by Expert Becca Lampman (WA) in the third round.


Opening Ceremonies: An Homage to Mitchell Denker, 1947-2014

The chess community, scholastic chess in particular, lost a true friend and ally earlier this year when GM Arnold Denker’s son, Mitchell Denker, passed away. For the past 8 years, Mitchell had continued building and promoting the tournament his father founded, simply saying, “I shared my father’s enthusiasm for helping young players. When my father asked me to keep the tournament going after him, I agreed.” This self-effacing statement belied the extraordinary effort, time, dedication, and enthusiasm Mitchell gave to the Denker tournament and to young chess players everywhere. 

The emotionally-charged opening ceremonies for the Denker, Barber, and NGIT paid homage to Mitchell Denker’s life, work, and legacy, taking on a much more somber note than in years past. Even the weather mourned his loss: the skies opened up, rumbling and groaning throughout the tributes. Long-time friend and retiring US Chess Trust Managing Director, Barbara DeMaro, offered a particularly moving and touching remembrance, punctuated by heavy, poignant silences that spoke volumes. Throughout the ceremonies, speakers shared their own good memories about Mitchell. It was clearly evident he is and will be missed by the many people whose lives he touched.

In an official acknowledgement of Mitchell’s outstanding contribution to scholastic chess, Mike Nietman, representing the USCF Executive Board, announced that the board had voted unanimously to honor Mitchell with the 2014 USCF Scholastic Service Award. 

Although Nicky participated in the 2011 and 2013 Denkers, we never formally met Mitchell Denker. So while I can’t say I knew him personally, the Mitchell I observed was a jovial good sport who donned mouse ears at the 2011 Denker in Orlando and a cheese hat at the 2103 Denker in Madison. He struck me as someone who did not particularly want or need the spotlight, but he could certainly play to the crowd if required, and he visibly relished his role in bringing the tournament to life.

Barbara DeMaro and Mitchell Denker Wearing cheese hats at the 2013 Denker in Madison, WI, denkerchess.com

Although the ceremonies were bathed in a reflective mood, Dewain Barber and NTD Jon Haskel lightened the proceedings with an irreverent sketch before turning the spotlight onto the real stars of the show: the 139 Denker, Barber, and NGIT participants.  

Steve Shutt, who has become the de-facto master of ceremonies, kept the roll call flowing, interjecting interesting facts and tidbits about each state as the representatives came to the stage.
Participant medallions, photo Frank Johnson

Jaye and Dylan Denker, with Dewain Barber, Photo Frank Johnson

Pre- and post-tournament adventures
Our own Orlando adventures began with a series of misadventures – some comical, some not-so-much. We departed much later than anticipated (my fault; don’t ask), then braved multiple torrential downpours, nightmarish traffic, a whole series of miscommunications at the hotel, a dead car battery, and a blooper-filled airport caper while meeting Nicky Korba at baggage claim.  In fact, I later realized that, for every smiling photo I posted on Facebook, my tagline had inadvertently become, “All’s well that ends well,” speaking to the mostly silly challenges we had pushed past in order to reach our happy Facebook moment.  
A well-earned Friday night dinner – (left to right) Nicky Korba, Southern California Denker rep; Ben Rosenthal; Nicholas Rosenthal, Florida Denker rep; Ford Nakagawa, Hawaii Denker rep

Work constraints meant I had to leave to tournament Sunday in order to be back at my desk on Monday morning. The flip side is that, due to the shortened time frame, Nicky’s brother, Ben, and sister, Kimmy, were able to join us. They exhausted themselves at Islands of Adventures during Saturday rounds while I prowled the tournament hall attempting to take photographs.  Fortunately, I have quite a bit of talent and a keen eye in this regard….for finding really great photographers! This time, Georgia delegate and US Open participant, Frank Johnson, came to my rescue and graciously shared his wonderful portfolio with me.

A rare photo of all three Rosenthal siblings in one place! Wishing Nicky good luck in Round Two.

Post-Denker, Nicky and Nicky Korba (who are sharing a room) will be playing in the four-day US Open after a much-needed one-day break between tournaments. Following that, they’re taking their show on the road and moving to Bahama Bay resort to participate in Greg Shahade’s always-excellent US Chess School, Orlando-style.
The two Nickys, photo Kerri Korba

Final thoughts
Life’s twists and turns are wonderful and unpredictable. Chess never factored into my life – not even a tiny bit – until Nicky became enchanted with this lyrical and challenging game. And now, years later, it has led to unimagined bounty for both Nicky and me. Never would I have thought that Nicky would enter college with a chess scholarship – a fact that his high school principal mentioned, with surprise, at his graduation ceremonies. Nor would I have guessed that his chess friendships and connections would lead to Nicky’s latest venture – a weekly golf column with the Sports Quotient.

As for me, the Denker marks a definite turning point that dovetails nicely with several personal beginnings and endings, including the close of my AmeriCorps year and the start of the next phase of my professional life. While I’m hesitant to declare this to be my final CLO piece (after stating one too many times that an article was the Last.One.Ever.), what I can say, unequivocally, is that I’ve truly enjoyed becoming immersed in the chess world and sharing our tournament stories over the years. Even though I will never look at a chess board with anything close to a calculating eye, for the rest of my life I will never look at a chess board without smiling.  

I bow in gratitude to all of you who make the magic happen – the participants, their families and supporters, and every single person in front of and behind the scenes. And to the amazing Denker, Barber and NGIT players: Here’s to spectacular grand finales. Wishing all of you good games, in chess – and in life!

Follow standings at the Denker, Barber and NGIT. The traditional schedule of the US Open is also underway, and you can follow it along here. Find games on Monroi.com.