Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2015 arrow May arrow Irina Krush on Elementary Nationals: Study the Endgame!
Irina Krush on Elementary Nationals: Study the Endgame! Print E-mail
By GM Irina Krush   
May 15, 2015
My walks around the Elementary Nationals and observing examples like the one below, reinforced the headline of this article: Study the Endgame, Kids.

Tragicomedy in the endgame

Black was thinking....thinking too late. How sad, isn't it, to have an advantage of two connected passed pawns in the endgame and squander it? From what we see here, we can surmise that Black played ...h2 not long ago- an unfortunately premature advance that makes it impossible to make progress now as White can play for stalemate.

I did a fair amount of spectating during the rounds in Nashville, and two themes stood out: the number of 'dead' light squared bishops staring into a d5 pawn from b7 or e6, and the many games that were decided in the endgame. It certainly seemed to point to the idea that if you're looking to improve your practical results, acquiring a better understanding of the endgame would be a key step.

Niehues,Lukas (1572) - Poliannikov,Danila (1834)

White is on the defensive, since Black has the more active king, but can he draw with best play? I thought he could but Black can turn this into a famous Q on Q endgame!
1.f3 Ke2 2.fxe4 fxe4 3.Kf4 Kd3 4.h5 h6


White's in zugzwang and has to go for the h-pawn for counterplay. He'll have an h-pawn vs a queen, a well-known draw.
5.Kf5 Kxe3 6.Kg6
I am not sure what happened in the game from this point though I know that White did lose. However, if Black found
then he indeed is losing:
7.Kxh6 e3 8.Kg7 e2 9.h6 e1Q 10.h7

It turns out that Black's king is close enough to force the following position:
10...Qe7+ 11.Kg8 Kf5 12.h8Q Kg6


Black wins!
How often do you see this famous position reached over the board!? In general, this Nationals was a treasure trove of instructive endgames, ones that are hard to come by in grandmaster games.
Deep in thought about how to stop that a-pawn...

A pawn endgame reminiscent of a famous theoretical ending was reaching in the game of New Yorker Haruki Izumi (Speyer Legacy School, black pieces). Haruki had only a couple minutes left to figure this pawn ending out, but his opponent didn't make it too hard for him. At some point he pushed his h-pawn (tantamount to resignation). Black won.

Anyway, let's get on to the winners. The K-3 was won with a perfect score by eight year old Rithik Polavaram from Austin, Texas (rated 1866 going into the tournament). This isn't his first success at the national level; he was also the 2013 first grade co-champion at grade nationals.

Rithik with his mother
Rithik was paired against his friend and fellow 2014 World Youth participant, Nathaniel Shuman from NY. As I found out, this was actually their third meeting, and Rithik improved his score to 3-0! He really means it when he says it is "not tough to play against friends." :) From what I saw, Rithik emerged from the opening with an extra pawn and it did not take him long to convert.

Rithik has three coaches: Mike Feinstein whom he works with in Austin, and two online coaches, GM Melik Khachiyan in L.A. and Rama Raju in India. He takes two online lessons per week.

When asked how he felt about winning the tournament, Rithik said, "I feel ok, but I feel happy that I can play bughouse." Hard not to smile at that reply.

Rithik gave the answer closest to my heart when asked what he wanted to be when he grows up: "a chess player!"

The K-5 was won on tiebreaks by Tan Nguyen, from Leesburg, Virginia, over Daniel Levkov and Winston Ni, who all scored 6.5/7.

Tan doesn't have a coach, but he does have an older brother, Trung (who was playing in the K-6 section), whom he studies chess with: "we try to learn from each other". He'd like to have a coach, but has found that online lessons were "so boring that I fell sleepy throughout."

I asked him if he went into the tournament planning to win, or if his result was a surprise:   

"I always want to win every tournament I play but it doesn't always happen.  I wanted to go to several tournaments before I went to nationals but I was really busy those weekends with my music rehearsals and recitals.  I was not happy that I missed the Maryland Open and a couple of local tournaments but I couldn't do anything about that.  For 4 weeks before Nationals, I didn't play any tournament and that is unusual for me.  I am not surprised at all that I won but my parents were.  They thought I did very well because I didn't get to go to the MD open. 

Coming into the last round, Daniel Levkov was half a point ahead of me but I had the best tie breaks.  I didn't know my tie breaks  at the time but I knew I wanted Daniel to draw and I win and we can share first.   I didn't know Daniel and Anthony He had drawn their last round when I was playing Mailind Maiti.  I knew I needed to win no matter what and I am glad it worked out for me.  I also got first on tie breaks in 2012 when I won the k-3 championships.  I love nationals now.  I want to win every one of them.  I wish I went every year."

Tan was rewarded for his maximalist attitude; he won, his rival drew, and he took home the first place trophy.
Tan with his training partner. No wonder he is so strong!

Tan is also no stranger to international competition, having represented the US in the World Youth in Slovenia in 2012. He loves chess "for the chance to compete and win. I love it when I win but also, I get to travel and eat in restaurants and not have to focus on schoolwork." In addition to chess, Tan plays the piano, has recently picked up the violin, and shares his ambitions for the future: "I want to be a great composer and a pianist and a super grandmaster at chess.  I also want to be super rich." When I was his age, and filling out the questionnaire for the All-America chess team, I think I wrote I wanted to be a model or a lawyer when I grew up, but I became a chess player :)
Tan & Irina

Nguyen,Tan (2052) - Dommalapati,Aasa (1799) [A59]

2015 K-6 Elementary Championships (4.7), 09.05.2015
Tan was most pleased about his victory over fellow Virginian, Aasa Dommalapati, whose only loss in the tournament was to Tan! (She was the highest placed girl in K-5 at 6 points).
Aasa is a strong and solid player from Virginia. I've played her a couple of times before and I knew I can't underestimate her. I didn't want a draw so I wanted to play actively and create imbalances throughout the game.
1...Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5
She is playing the benko gambit.
4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6

Now we are in gambit formations. In gambit formations if you are the one up a pawn then you will want to trade off to an endgame.
5...g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.e4 Bxf1 8.Kxf1


Even though my king is unsafe and can't castle any more, I only need a few moves to get it to safety. 8...d6 9.g3 Bg7 10.Kg2
Now my king is perfectly safe.
10...0-0 11.Nf3 Nbd7 12.h3

preventing the f6 knight to jump from g4 to e5.
12...Qa5 13.Qe2 Rfb8 14.Re1 Ne8 15.Bg5

attacking the e7 pawn and preventing the knight from being flexible
She missed a tactic that I missed too. I did not see it until my big brother pointed it out to me. [15...Rxb2 now she gains a pawn 16.Qxb2 Bxc3 17.Qb7 Qa7 18.Qxa7 Rxa7 19.Bxe7 this doesn't work (19.a4 Bxe1 20.Nxe1 Nef6 and black is doing well) 19...Bxe1 20.Nxe1 f6 now my bishop is trapped] 16.Nd1 h6 17.Bd2 Qa6 18.Bc3
re-positioning my bishop to a better diagonal
18...Nb6 19.b3
preventing knight to a4 or c4
19...Qxe2 20.Rxe2
 The queen trade is good for me because I am up a pawn and she has less play now.
This is a bad move because it gives up control of d4 and allows my knight to jump there.
21.Nd4 cxb3 22.Nc6 Rb7 23.axb3 Rxa1 24.Bxa1

After the exchange of pawns and rooks, my position is very good because I have a passed pawn and an active knight and bishop.
24...Rc7 25.Bd4 Nc8 26.b4

I am just trying to slowly promote my pawn.
26...e6 27.Nc3 exd5 28.exd5 Nxd5
This is a blunder that allows me to get her knight.
29.Nxd5 Rxc6 30.b5 Rc1 31.Re8+ Kh7 32.Bxg7 Kxg7 33.b6

And now she is forced to take on b6 and lose her knight.
33...Nxb6 34.Nxb6
 I am just winning right now, it just requires some technique.
34...Rd1 35.Kf3 d5 36.Ke2 Rh1 37.h4 Rb1 38.Nxd5 Rb2+ 39.Kf3 Rb3+ 40.Ne3 Kf6 41.Kf4 Rb2 42.f3 Rb4+ 43.Re4 g5+ 44.Kg4 Rxe4+ 45.fxe4

Trading off the rooks made it alot easier for me to win because it is now less complicated with the rooks off the board.
45...gxh4 46.gxh4 Ke5 47.Kf3 h5 48.Nf5 f6 49.Ng7 Kd6 50.Nxh5 Ke5 51.Ng7 Kd6 52.h5 Ke7 53.Nf5+ Kf7 54.Kg4 Ke6 55.h6 Kf7 56.Kh5 Kg8 57.Kg6 Kh8 58.Nd6 Kg8 59.h7+ Kh8 60.Nf7# 1-0


Eleven-year-old New Yorker Daniel Levkov (1986) managed to defeat top seed Christopher Shen  (2168) in round 6, who up that point had been defending his seat near the stage from all pretenders. It turns out that this was a principled rematch of a game that had taken placed three years earlier between the two!

Three years ago at the Nationals, they were also paired in round 6; Daniel was winning until he got distracted counting chandeliers (there were 162 in the Hilton Anatole in Dallas), made one fast reply and blundered a rook. Yes, concentration is important in chess, just not concentration in counting chandeliers :) Daniel was happy to get a rematch...this year the game between them was extremely long (over a hundred moves) and Christopher missed some winning opportunities along the way...however, the rook endgame that they reached seemed unwinnable for Daniel unless his opponent would overstep boundaries and commit hara-kiri trying to win. Another example of the endgame making a critical difference in the games in Nashville.


His dad said, " Going into his last round, Daniel was 6-0 but his approach was as if he was playing round 1. However, he played two 3.5 hour games and was exhausted. He was going for a win. He was disappointed by the tiebreaks, but mostly pleased with his result knowing that tiebreaks are out of his control." Daniel is coached by GM Tamaz Gelashvili, and what he loves most about chess is...competing.
Daniel Levkov & GM Tamaz Gelashvili

The schedule at these nationals events is grueling, with three rounds on Saturday. That is, the kids can be playing for up to four hours each game, for a total of 12 hours per day. This is not so relevant for the younger kids, since their games don't last long anyway, but when you get to the K-5, K-6 sections, there are plenty of games going past three hours. I can't recall which tournaments for adults have this kind of schedule, 3 games x 4 hours with a maximum of 12 hours at the board. Perhaps the K-5 and K-6 sections should start playing Thursday night, so that no day has more than two rounds.
Baker v. Hong

The winner of the K-6 was the top ranked seed (rated 2255), something which rarely happens! Moreover, Andrew Hong from Saratoga, California (northern California) is still a fourth grader! Andrew turned in a perfect 7/7 score on his way to the title. In the last round, he was half a point ahead of his opponent Vincent Baker from Ohio, and won on the Black side of a Sicilian after his opponent played the opening too passively. He said he was nervous before the game, but "I think he was also nervous" and told himself to 'play calm'. Just like Rithik, Andrew takes weekly online lessons from GM Melik Khachiyan. Congrats to coach Melik on such great performances by his students! Andrew likes soccer and basketball, and his next big tournament is the North American Youth Open in Mexico at the end of May.

I didn't want to get into routine questions like how long or what he spends his time studying, so I tried a shortcut: I asked what was the last chess book he had read. He said he is reading several simultaneously and named two books in Jacob Aagaard's series 'Grandmaster Preparation': Practical Chess Defense and Positional Play. This was pretty funny, as I reached into my handbag and pulled out a book I have been working through recently...Positional Play by Jacob Aagaard ! So I can confirm that it's a good book, and definitely the kind of book you should be studying if you're aspiring to be a winner at Nationals.

Hong,Andrew (2255) - Serota,Adam (1896)

Andrew said his favorite game was the following, which he finished in style: 33.Rxg6+! Kxg6 34.Rg1+ Kf7 35.Qh7+ Ke6 36.Re1+ Kd5 37.Qxd7 1-0

K-1 was played in a separate room, quite a walk from the rest of the sections, and I somehow never made it there. Alex Zhao of Illinois (1283) won it with a perfect score. The one thing that is striking is the high rating of these young children, so many first graders between 1300 and 1600. Some are even still kindergarteners! In this section, though, rating is least likely to predict result, and the top spots went to high rated kids, but not the highest rated.

Franc Guadalupe

Thanks to the USCF and tournament organizer Franc Guadalupe for inviting me to be a guest at the event. It was definitely fun for me, especially the part where I could roam around and take pictures of all the instructive endgames I would show to my students in the future :) Thanks also to the parents and the kids for talking to me and providing the material for this article. I hope that their efforts and fighting spirit have been inspiring to our readers!

Check out full results and team standings here.

Photo Gallery

This is Johji Nakada, first grader, with his dad Peter (he finished with 5/7 individually, and his team, Speyer Legacy School, won the K-1 section!) Read carefully, it tells you what chess is :)

K-3 section, Lucas Foerster-Yialamas, holding the queen he is about to promote (Lucas scored 5.5/7 and was the top 2nd grader, on tiebreaks, in the K-3 section).

I did an extra session of "take on all comers blitz" on Sunday morning, as it was a popular event on Friday.

Nico Chasin, whom I wrote about in my article on the K-12 Nationals in December, played a few grades up in the K-5 section and scored 5/7. His school, PS 41, tied for first in the K-5 standings, but was second on tiebreak (first was Speyer Legacy School, also from NYC).

Winston Ni from NJ tied for 1st but got third on tiebreak (K-5)