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A Dream Fulfilled in Dallas: Keaton on Wan's Win Print E-mail
By IM Keaton Kiewra   
May 27, 2014
Wans.jpgJoseph Wan doesn’t always play in the Elementary Nationals, but when he does…he wins!  Joseph tied for first the last time he played the nationals as a third grader:  The 2011 K-3 National Championship.  After a three year hiatus from national play, Joseph returned to the 2014 K-6 National Championship in Dallas, Texas and won that championship outright with a stellar 6.5/7 score.  Joseph’s overall record in his last two Nationals appearances is 12 wins, 2 draws, and no losses through 14 games.

Joseph was a long shot to win the tournament, both because he entered seeded ninth, and because he is from Nebraska where chess opportunities are rare.  I should know, I was raised in Nebraska too.  But being Nebraskans brought Joseph and I together.

I have coached Joseph since his family moved to Nebraska in 2009.  Joseph has always been a rewarding student to work with because of his immense passion for chess.  Like most players, he likes to win, but what he really loves is the study of chess—the challenges, complexities, and the search for solutions.  I remember being impressed by his patience and thoughtfulness as early as our first lesson.  These traits are rare among young players.

 When Joseph decided to play the 2014 Nationals, I naturally agreed to coach him there along with ten of my other private students.  Although Joseph entered the field of 196 participants as the number nine seed, I knew from my own childhood experiences of playing and winning National Championships, that these tournaments are all about taking care of business.  Very often if you can avoid the upset bug and beat lower rated opponents it is possible to win the tournament without facing too many top seeds.  Joseph, with his rock solid style, is very good at beating lower rated opponents, and despite facing some very capable opponents in the early rounds he cruised to a 4-0 start.  

By round 5, all 8 players ranked ahead of Joseph had already stubbed their toes, and Joseph found himself on Board 1 playing black against a slightly lower rated foe from Illinois.  This game was an all out battle that saw the players agree to a draw in a position that was equal, but still far from over.  Both Joseph and I felt okay about this result as it left him in the hunt for first place, but I also knew in the back of my mind that if Joseph were to falter in one of the final 2 rounds on Sunday that he would look back to this game and the potential half point he left on the board.  Fortunately, this situation never arose.  Joseph showed up for the final rounds on Sunday, and just flat out got it done!  In round 6 Joseph was white on Board 2 against another slightly lower rated opponent.  Joseph played a very solid opening, lured his opponent into a risky pawn grab that left the black King stranded in the center, and then won the game in style.  All this led to the final round.  Joseph was back on board one, playing black against chess expert Andrew Hong, a third grade phenom who moved to the U.S. from China.

KeatonWan.jpgAs the final round started, I was extremely pleased with Joseph’s performance, and of course was hoping beyond hope for a final round victory…yet I cannot say that I felt optimistic.  I knew that to win the championship Joseph would most likely need a win, and beating a higher rated opponent with black is not a simple thing to do, ask any chess player ;)  My level of optimism did not improve when one of my students who had finished his game reported that Joseph was down a minor piece.  Yet, as time went on with no sign of Joseph returning from the tournament room, I knew that he was at least putting up a good fight.  Then just like that, it was all over.  Joseph emerged from the tournament room with a huge smile on his face, and I, along with his family, knew that he had won!  This was one of the proudest moments I have ever had as a chess player or coach, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.  As one of the other parents noted, the chess coach who always has a response for everything was at a loss for words.

 Now that I’ve seen the final game, the words come easy:  One of the most inspired games I have ever seen.  I told Joseph that most chess players only dream of winning a brilliant game chalk full of tactics and sacrifices to win a National Championship.  Joseph lived the dream!  Here is the game with my annotations:

Hong,Andrew (2038) - Wan,Joseph (1993) [C18]
2014 K-6 Nationals (7), 11.05.2014
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4

Big credit here goes to Joseph's other coach, IM John Watson, who did an outstanding job of preparing Joseph in the Winawer variation of the French Defense. John is a French Defense guru, and also a Nebraska native!
4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 dxc3 12.Qd3 d4
So far both players have been following theory. 12...d4, which strengthens Black's grip on the dark sqaures and frees the d5 square for his Knight, is the latest trend at the elite level. 12...Bd7 has been played a lot more, but seems to be disappearing from Grandmaster play.
13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 Bd7 Gives Black dynamic equality for his sacrificed pawn. Every black piece except the a8 rook is on a good square, and the c3 pawn is a bone in White's throat.
13...Bd7 14.Ne4 0–0–0 15.h3?

White has played very well up to this point, but this move is hard to figure out. The natural 15.Nd6+ claiming the central 6th rank outpost is preferable here. Perhaps Andrew intended to grab space by playing g4 and then fianchettoing the Bishop on g2, but as Joseph demonstrates, time is at a premium here for White.
No guts, no glory! Joseph seizes the initiative with this audacious sacrifice and never returns it. although it is thematic to sacrifice a piece for 2 pawns and pressure against the opponent's King, it is by no means clear to the human eye whether Black can obtain full compensation for the sacrificed stallion. Kudos to Joseph for being willing to take such a big risk in the most important game of his life thus far!
16.fxe5 Qxe5 17.Qe2!

Well spotted by Andrew. This is the only defensive move that keeps the game within reach for White. The purpose of this move is to unpin the Knight and also neutralize Black's Queen along the e-file.
17...Nd5 18.Rb1?!
18.Nc5 was stronger with the idea of trading some pieces, ideally the Queens! It is well known, however, that in chess it is much easier to attack than to defend. Even Grandmasters often fail to find the strongest defensive moves.
A natural move, but nevertheless the only one that gives Black a decisive advantage. The pressure on White's center and King position is becoming unbearable.
19.Nf2 Ne3!
Joseph continues to play with pinpoint accuracy. The White pieces, from their mostly undeveloped positions, are unable to fend off the Black onslaught.
20.Bxe3 dxe3 21.Nd3 Qg3+ 22.Kd1 e5!

 Joseph continues to demonstrate a perfect feel for the initiative. The text, which threatens to win decisive material by pushing e4 is once again the only winning continuation for Black.
At this point White's best bet was to cut his losses with 23.Qe1, allowing Black to reclaim his piece with e4 attacking the pinned Knight, but at least getting the Queens off the board. White might have some small practical chances in the endgame 2 pawns down. [23.Qe1 e4 24.Qxg3 Rxg3 25.Rc1 f5 No rush to capture the Knight on d3, it's not going anywhere. 26.Ke2 exd3+ 27.cxd3 Kb8µ]
23...e4 24.Rxc3 Qe5 25.Qe1
25.Rxc6+ bxc6 26.Qxe3 Although losing, was White's last hope. Now Joseph finishes the White king off in style.
25...exd3 26.cxd3 Kb8

No need to hurry! Joseph takes time to enjoy his winning position, unpin his Bishop, and prepare for the knockout blow.
27.Rg1 Ba4+ 28.Kc1 Rc8 29.Rxc8+ Rxc8+ 30.Kb1 Rc3

Threatening Rb3+ with mate to follow.
31.Qe2 Rc1+ 32.Kxc1 Qa1#

A picturesque finish to a brilliant game! 0–1

Find out more about Keaton Kiewra and his lessons at http://keatonkiewra.com/ and find the full Elementary Nationals story by Al Lawrence here.