Champions Crowned in Dallas: The K-12 Nationals
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
November 21, 2011
Matthew Dahl
Dallas, Texas -- When 17-year-old Matthew D. Dahl came here this past September to compete in the 77th Annual Southwest Open, he took a tour of The University of Texas at Dallas and left the campus very impressed.

 “I really liked the school and figured I might as well try to get the scholarship,” Dahl said of the scholarship that the university planned to award to the winner of the 12th Grade Championship, one of 13 National Championships awarded in Dallas last weekend. The events were all held from November 18-20 at the Hilton Anatole.

Dahl fulfilled his scholarship quest, emerging as the sole victor among his fellow high school seniors, including three higher-rated masters. Still, Dahl remained humble about his victory. Part of the reason is because as a longtime competitor who has played in hundreds of tournaments -- including several where he played well and still lost, and others where he played not so good and won -- Dahl knows that things could have easily gone the other way.

For instance, at one point during the event, his victory literally came within a second of being vanquished.

 “I had one second and my opponent had five,” Dahl said of the Round 3 game against Zhou Fang, who agreed to a draw in the final heated moments of the game.

 “It was a really tough tournament,” Dahl said.

Dahl, whose parents are physicians, attends Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn. His coach is Life Master Victor Adler, of Minnesota.

Asked how he trains, Dahl said he is a big proponent of game analysis and tactical training.

Dahl’s victory was just one of several outstanding achievements that took place during the K-12 National Championship, which ultimately drew 1,182 players from throughout the nation and, in some respects, the world.

Consider, for instance, the feat of 11-year-old Kiana Arab, a FIDE Woman Candidate Master who recently immigrated to the United States from Iran after her father, Iranian physician Amin Arab, won a “green card lottery” to come to the United States.

K6blitz.jpgArab took first place in the K-6 Blitz tournament scoring 10.5 out of a possible 12 points. With her limited English skills, Kiana says she won at Blitz because, quite simply, she plays a lot of Blitz. She did well in the 6th Grade Championship too, coming in 12th place after scoring 5/7.

 “I think chess is in her blood,” Amin Arab said of his daughter, who began playing chess under his tutelage three years ago.

Amin Arab, who says he is considered “the physician of chess” back in Isfahan, Iran, says he believes his daughter, whose current rating is 1943, could excel even more, but right now, his biggest challenge as a new immigrant is to find work in the United States -- a country where his previous work experience is not always relevant.

Several youths emerged from the tournament with perfect scores of 7 points.

They included 7th grader Christopher Wu, age 12, of Walter Satz Middle School in Holmdel, New Jersey.

Wu, who reached a peak of 2268 post-tournament rating, said he considers himself a tactical player. He is an admirer of two of the most well-known GMs in chess history.

 “I’ve always liked Kasparov and Karpov,” Wu said of the famous rivals.

Christopher Wu with his mother Ming Wu
Wu says he works on chess two hours on the weekend with GM Alexander Shabalov. Other than that, he says, he puts in about a half hour of study per day.

Other youths who emerged victorious spoke of studying chess anywhere from two to six hours per day. The practice is evidently paying off.

Consider, for instance, the case of 6th grader Ashritha Eswaran. When CLO first met Ashritha at the 2011 All Girls National Championship in Chicago this past April, she finished with a rating of 1488.

At the 2011 K-12 Championship, however, she entered with a rating of 1694 and finished with a rating of 1740. Perhaps more significantly, she upset two higher-rated players, including one who was rated above 2000 before the tournament and another who was rated at 1882.

In addition to the instruction of her coach, North Cal House of Chess instructor Ted Castro, also known as “Coach Teddy Bear,” Ashritha attributes her success to a strict regimen of putting in anywhere from three to four hours of practice per day. Her parents steer here away from TV and the Internet. 

Ashritha says she avoids looking at her opponents’ ratings before a game.

 “I purposefully don’t look at (their ratings), so I don’t get tense and excited too much,” Ashritha said.

Ashritha and her parents -- Eswaran Ramalingam, an entrepreneur who runs a software consulting firm, and Jackuline Theagarajan, a stay-at-home mom -- had a specific goal in mind when they trekked to the K-12 Championship: They wanted Ashritha to score enough points to reach the minimum rating requirement for the World Youth Championships 2012, which is set to be held in Maribor, Slovenia next November.

The USCF requires participants at the World Youth Championship girls under 12 section to have a rating of 1700 or higher so Ashritha attained that goal.

Her little sister, Aksithi, who also trains with Coach Teddy Bear, did well, too in the Kindergarten section. Aksithi scored five out of seven points, losing only to two players that were rated 500 points higher. In the final round, she played the tournament co-winner Chinguun Bayaraa, also of California. 

Final Results: The Winners
Individual: Chinguun Bayaraa & Maurya Palusa-6
Team: Oak Hall, Gainesville, FL

aryamanslide.jpg1st Grade
Individual: Aryaman Bansal (left)-7  
Team: Oak Hall, Gainesville,FL

2nd Grade
Individual: Christopher Yu-Shuo, Shen Daniel Levkov, Rohan Suryawanshi, Constantine Oskiper, Corwin Cheung, Luke Robert Robitaille- 6
Team: Scicore Academy, Hightstown,NJ & Columbia Grammar, New York,NY

3rd Grade
Individual: Marcus Ming Miyasaka-7
Team: Universal Academy, Coppell,TX

4th Grade
Individual: Rayan Taghizadeh- 6.5   
Team: Dalton, New York, NY,  Aspen Elementary, Los Alamos, NM & Skaggs Elem., Plano,TX

5th Grade
Individual:  Christopher Chen-7
Team: Scicore Academy, Hightstown,NJ &  Dalton, New York,NY

6th Grade
Individual:  William Graif & Vignesh Panchanatham- 6.5
Team: Canyon Vista Middle School, Texas

7th Grade
Individual: Christopher Wu- 7
Team: Hunter College Campus School, New York

8th Grade
Individual: Mika Andrew Brattain- 6.5
Team: I.S. 318, Brooklyn, NY

9th Grade
Individual: Bryan Hu- 6.5
Team: Catalina Foothills HS, Tucson, Arizona

10th Grade
Individual:   Sam Schmakel- 6.5
Team: Westwood, Austin,TX

11th Grade
Individual:  Christopher Heung- 6.5
Team: Plano East High School, Plano, Texas

12th Grade
Individual: Matthew Dahl- 6
Team: Solomon Schechter Westchester, NY & University High, Irvine,CA

Ed. Note- Several other of Ted Castro's students also became champions in Dallas: Vignesh Panchanatham tied for 1st (6th grade), Rayan Taghizadeh clear first (4th grade) and Maurya Palusa, tied for 1st (Kindergarten). He is also the co-organizer of the 2012 Northern California International
For full results, see the K-12 homepage. Jamaal Abdul-Alim is an after-school chess instructor and community program developer with Chess Challenge in D.C. He can be reached at immortalgame360 at yahoo dot com. Abdul-Alim will also contribute a report for the February Chess Life Magazine on the K-12 National Championships.