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Emotions Run High in Pittsburgh Print E-mail
By Betsy Dynako   
May 15, 2008
K-3 Co-champions Danny Angermeier and Tom Polgar-Shutzman with National Events Director Pat Knight
What national chess tournament demonstrates unrelenting stress, uncontrollable joy, and players that cry and fall asleep at the board?  At the Burt Lerner K-6 National Elementary Chess Championship, (check complete results ) the emotional roller coaster ran non-stop. Over 2,100 children descended on Pittsburgh, PA this past Mother’s Day weekend for a few days of fun and intense battles.

Side Action

The action started on Thursday with the Blitz and Bughouse side events.  The Bughouse field was considered small with only 54 teams; Jaffe Rosenthal prevailed over Birnbach-Chi on tiebreaks. 

There was no shortage of players for Blitz.  In the K-3 section, 77 children played while 204 players bellied up to the K-6 section.  Bryce Mc Clanahan of Illinois beat fellow Illinoisan Alex Bian in the final round to win the K-3 Blitz with 9.5/10 points.  Bryce’s brother Gavin Jacob Mc Clanahan also impressed in the K-6, placing second on tie breaks over Michael Brown of CA and Brian Li of VA (All had 9/10).  Aleksandr Ostrovskity of NY, with a rating of over 1900, was the favorite to win the K-6 and he did, with 9.5/10.

On Friday morning, Alexander Shabalov took on 31 players in a simul.  Shabalov won 30 of the 31 games.  The victor over the Grandmaster was William Graif of NY, who is currently rated 1699. 

Parent's Eye-View

The main event started on Friday afternoon.  It seemed like the flow of parents and players entering the room would never stop. Fortunately the playing hall was massive – 82,450 square feet with the ceiling almost three stories above. 


Windows that allowed parents a birds-eye view of the action lined the top.  At that distance you might wonder how much one could really see.  However, chess parents are smart and resourceful.  Walking along the windows, you would have thought that someone was selling binoculars and telephoto lenses outside of the convention center, because there seemed to be an endless supply.  For more on being a chess parent, check out Mark Schein's A Parent's Perspective Part I and Part II.

Parents at the award's ceremony. The largest telephoto lens wins?

 Don't Try This at Home

There was one very unusual occurrence that Bill Snead had to share. It turns out that a father was determined to have his rated son play in the unrated section.  As mentioned above, chess parents are smart and resourceful, so despite the fact that this chess parent knew it was wrong for his son to play as an unrated player, the father called the USCF home office to ask permission.  When his request wasn’t granted, he decided to take matters into his own hands.  He bought a new membership for his son on line.  He changed his son’s name ever so slightly and listed a different apartment number for their address.  It didn’t work.  This was caught before the pairings for the first round were ever made, and his son was placed in the appropriate section and played there with his rating the whole time.  What becomes of dad at this point is up to the ethics committee, where the matter is being referred.

Mother's Day Surprise

A crop of notable names roamed the halls including GM Susan Polgar.  Polgar was not in attendance as a USCF board member or world class player.  She was simply being mom to her son Tommy, who finished as co-champion K-3 Championship. However, she also took time to encourage the 245 young players and relate to their parents.


 Polgar graciously posed for pictures and signed autographs before the round started.  She said her son’s championship title was “A great Mother’s Day present.” Tommy said he is anxious to win more championship titles. Here is one of his games:



 GM Joel Benjamin and GM Nick DeFirmian were also coaching; both were fresh from their hall of fame induction ceremony the week before in Florida.    Elizabeth Vicary was on hand with I.S. 318, who earned the title of 2008 K-6 National Team Champion.   Elizabeth will be posting a few additional photos and games from her team in a separate report.  David MacEnulty of “Knights of the South Bronx” movie fame was coaching with a soft voice and steadfast support for his students. According to the rumor mill, GM Maurice Ashley was also in Pittsburgh.

K-6 Championship team I.S. 318 with coach Elizabeth Vicary

The Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin, author of “The Art of Learning” and subject of the book-turned-movie “Searching for Bobby Fisher” signed autographs and shook hands with players and parents for hours on Saturday. The always charming Josh answered the usual questions about his childhood and chess but his most heartfelt discussions focused on learning and his new project, The JW Foundation.    After his book was published, Waitzkin was approached by numerous educational groups, which desired to put the philosophy of his book into practice. It is his intention with the JW Foundation to change education in America.  The JW Foundation will host a weekend seminar on learning and performance psychology this June 20-22 in Rhinebeck, NY.    When asked if he felt a bit nostalgic attending the Lerner Championship Waitzkin said, “If I went to the playing floor I might.” 
Look for more on Josh Waitzkin in an upcoming Dynako-Waitzkin interview

A Chess Coach Don't  
A TD was walking behind a coach who was yelling at one of his players.  As the TD got closer, he tried to think of a way to politely end the berating the player was receiving.  At that point, in full yelling volume the coach said, “You said you gave me 100 percent, and I looked at your game and you lied to me.  I want to know what you were thinking about when you weren’t giving me 100 percent!”  The child answered matter-of-factly in meek little voice, “Cookies.”  While the player’s answer was quite funny, the scene is not.  This ugly side of scholastic events sadly exists.  Fortunately the negative displays are countered by the majority of parents, who hug their children in consolation. A K-1 player put it best when he told his opponent, who was afraid to lose and had starting crying that, “It is OK to lose, this is supposed to be fun.” 

The young are rarely so wise, but they are often under-rated. This was well demonstrated by Roland Feng (652), who tied for 1st place in the K-1 Championship with Tanuj Vasudeva. Both had 7/7.

 Roland Feng (652) tied with for 1st place in the K-1 Championship. Photo courtesy Feng Family

A Success

Regarding the success of the event, Chief TD Bill Snead said, “There were many small issues to deal with but there were no major disasters.”  He said that was thanks to excellent staff and numerous volunteers.  Those who step up and help out at national scholastic tournaments are kind people who come from all different walks of life.  There is eight-year-old Evan Jensen who always volunteers to help while his older brother plays.  Evan really enjoys the work he does.  When asked how he got started volunteering, he said, “I just follow around the people who are working.  I get to know them and I help.”  On the other end of the spectrum, one woman even volunteered from her wheel chair.   Contact Tom Nelson if you or someone you know is interested in volunteering (no chess knowledge necessary): [email protected].

Super-volunteer Evan Jensen

All of the players took home a medal of accomplishment to show off.  Pre-kindergarten through first grade players received a small participant trophy instead.  The main awards ceremony was packed, but the ceremony only took one hour and fifteen minutes from start to finish, thanks to the organizational skills of Kim Cramer.  Even better, the tournament was officially rated half way through the ceremony, thanks to the back room staff headed by Chief Phil Smith.  The last trophy awarded in Pittsburgh ended another great National Scholastic tournament and season. Be sure to plan in advance for next year's Super Nationals in Nashville.

May - Chess Life Online 2008

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