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National Junior Congress Comes to Orange County Print E-mail
By Randy Hough   
March 4, 2014
Balloon creates turban effect on Barber
Southern California’s Orange County Great Park is a work in progress. It comprises 1347 acres, part of a decommissioned Marine Corps naval air station, which are slowly being turned into public attractions amidst the open space. The signature attraction at this point is an orange balloon that, in normal weather, takes passengers to an altitude of 500 feet, providing a panoramic view. 

An old aircraft hangar in the park provided a venue for the National Junior Congress, February 28 – March 2, with a shuttle to a nearby hotel. (This was also the site of the Southern California Scholastic Championship four years ago.) Alas, the weather failed to cooperate; what was by Southern California standards a major storm hit the area for four days. The intended outside tent to accommodate parents and coaches could not be put up, and The Balloon wasn’t going anywhere! (A carousel near the hangar was up and running by Sunday.)

Organizers Joe Hanley and Dewain Barber worked extremely hard to mitigate the weather-related problems for the 213 players and their families, with generally good results. The parents and coaches sat in the playing room and were generally quiet, and the weather had improved sufficiently for the awards ceremonies to be held outside as each of the seven sections finished.

organizers Hanley & Barber with trophies

The Congress is technically not a scholastic event, as players up to age 20 compete, but there were few college-age players. The sections are arranged purely by age (though younger players can play “up” as much as they wish), which leads to many severe rating mismatches. The time control was Game/90. The number of rounds, less than a typical national entails, meant quick elimination from top prize consideration for some. One second seed suffered an almost 300 point upset in the second round. 

The 20 and Under section went to a local player, 18-year-old Daniel Pascoe (1820), who upset master Siddharth Arun of Massachusetts in the last round to go 4-1. Arun and Leo Creger tied for second, a half point behind. Despite that big upset, the game Daniel modestly gave us was an uneven but fascinating contest in which he misplayed a strong attack, reached a rook ending two pawns up but with a problematic pawn structure…and agreed to a draw!


Daniel was bluffed by Black’s offer to trade rooks; 36.Rxe5 Kxe5 37.c4! wins. And in the final position, White still should be victorious with a properly timed c3-c4 advance.

16 and Under saw a 5-0 sweep by Albert Lu, who recently turned 13. His rating is nearing 2300. Albert didn’t feel that any of his games “made the cut” for publication (rapidly rising ten-year-old Brandon Xia gave him a tussle in the final round, but finally succumbed to the pressure); here’s the last round game of second place finisher Stephanie Shao. It displays the  effects of both last round nerves and the time pressure that sudden death controls entail:


White got a clear advantage and could have enhanced his attacking chances with such moves as 20.Bh4 and 25.Ne3. With his advantage gone and Black standing better, he disdained a draw offer on move 40 and soon blundered a piece and lost.

Ten-year-old (!) Joaquin Perkins finished fifth. He played an interesting if somewhat flawed attack in the last round:


Having missed 20…b4! winning a piece (21.Bxb4 Qb6+), Black invited a piece sac on g6 and Joaquin obliged. But 24…d4 would have stopped White in his tracks. A king hunt ensued, but Joaquin went wrong, missing 34.f5, and Black began an attack of his own, which altered the course of the game. 46…Rc2 appears equal, and after 47.Qa7+ (47.Rxe4!) Kd8 would again have restored the balance. And 48…Rc2 was the last chance.

Local star Craig Hilby, 13, who tied for first in last year’s Barber K-8, played in his “proper”section, 14 and Under, and tied for first as he was unable to make any headway against 12-year-old Danial Asaria with Black in the last round, and they were declared co-champions (at least Craig gained one rating point!). Craig’s second round game was a typical Yugoslav attack against the Sicilian Dragon; 19.h6+ might have improved, but he nonetheless stood much better when Black blundered with 26….Qe5 rather than 26…e5 (intimidation, or fingerfehler?).


part of playing room with Sun - Wang in front

Another Southern Californian, Annie Wang, 12, took 12 and Under with a perfect 5-0 and earned her first Master rating. This makes her the youngest ever female master in the US, surpassing Irina Krush's previous record by over a year! 

Her victory came with a difficult win in the last round on the Black side of an Exchange French. She stood worse in the middlegame (White missed the strong 18.f5 and should have refrained from 25.g5, though), but still was worse when the scoresheet breaks off. Black’s queenside pressure later prevailed in a time scramble.


Aaron Chang was second with 4½ in this 45-player section.

Another perfect score was turned in by local player, Anthony Ge, 10, in the 10 and Under group. His last round game against the nationally tenth-ranked player of that age provided an interesting spectacle. Two very young players duked it out in the sophisticated Breyer variation in the Ruy Lopez!


White was winning easily at this point, though the game lasted another 48 moves.  

Black could have virtually equalized with 17…c5 rather than the weakening move he played, and White could have expedited his attack with such moves as 29.Bb3. Still, quite an impressive performance! Costello’s tiebreaks earned him second place ahead of seven others with 4-1.

The bottom two sections played five double rounds at Game/45 to accommodate the number of players. Eight-year-old Northern Californian Callaghan McCarty-Snead turned in a perfect 10-0 in 8 and Under, lapping the field by a point and a half. Robert Reyes was second.

And local junior Raphael Manahan, 6, took 6 and Under with 9-1, a point ahead of Rohan Mathew. This writer can’t resist pointing out that Raphael, Anthony Ge, Annie Wang, and Albert Lu all have all honed their skills at the Pasadena Chess Club (among other venues) and still play there regularly.

No Cal House of Chess coaches Ted Castro, IM de Guzman, and FM Cusi with most of the trophies and a few of the 40 players they fielded

The Congress also featured spirited competition among clubs, with the Northern California House of Chess (whose adult team won the recent Amateur Team West), sent no less than 40 players, coached by organizer Ted Castro, IM Ricardo de Guzman, and FM Ron Cusi. They took honors in 14/Under, 12/Under, 10/Under,and 8/Under. Hanley’s Chess Academy (yes, organizer Joe) edged NCHS out in 6/Under and 20/Under (with Pascoe leading the way), and Whittier Chess Club (sparkplug: Joaquin’s dad Kele Perkins) tied NCHS in 16/Under. Most of the NCHS players hit the road as soon as their respective prize ceremonies ended, but our invaluable photographer Dewain Barber captured the remaining ones with some of the hardware they earned.

Trophies have more than one purpose!

Organizers Hanley and Barber succeeded in providing a positive and memorable experience for everyone, though perhaps the weather made it a bit too memorable. After all, the old song “It Never Rains in California” was an ironic one.