Medals in Maribor: A Coach's Perspective
By GM Alejandro Ramirez   
November 21, 2012
Newly crowned World Under 14 Champ Kayden Troff with coach GM Alejandro Ramirez
The final day of the World Youth Championship, which I also wrote about here, started with mixed feelings.  On one hand, Kayden's opponent has a very weak repertoire against the Catalan, and he ends up playing one of his sidelines which is simply bad.  On the other hand, by the time I arrive to breakfast there is no more champagne.

Our team room has been taken over by some Kasparov character, so we move our laptops and arrange our chess sets in the Mezzanine.  The first game of interest is Cameron's.   Cameron reaches move 40 before spending 25 minutes off the clock, putting him with more time than he started with.  His opponent is not as fast, but is not far behind.  After our player obtains a winning position with Black, we are hopeful but still tense.  As our senior coaches remind us, it is never too late for everything to go wrong.  Their words almost seem to jinx the situation, as Cameron gives back a large portion of his advantage and now has an unclear endgame.

By this point, Samuel and his opponent have played no more than 14 moves.  The tension is high, but it seems like the Russian is getting the better side of the opening preparation.

I peak at Kayden's game: a clear advantage.  His opponent has played as predicted, a dubious variation in the Catalan has given our player the edge, and the Indian only makes things easier by playing very questionable knight maneuvers.  Our player is a full point behind his opponent and doesn't know his tiebreak situation.  He just knows a draw will probably leave him empty handed.

Our First Medal
It's been a mere 20 some moves, but we see no way for Black to defend.  Kayden is winning on every variation.  The most logical moves win, the fancier ones crush, the precise ones force resignation.  Kim Troff is running Houdini on the laptop.  It announces mate in 4.  Looking at the position it's obvious to me he won't play it.  Johnny B (IM Bartholomew) comes up and suggests a move - Qe5.  Yes, that looks logical, it wins without calculation.  As if by telepathy, it is on the screen. 


The opponent, ending his suffering, allows a mate in one.  It's instantly played on the board and it is all over.  The first tiebreak is clear and spelled out - direct encounter:  Kayden wins, catches his opponent on the standings and leaps over him on tiebreak.  We have our first World Champion.

Christopher Shen, Photo Cathy Rogers
An oversight and a pleasant surprise
In the previous report, I forgot to mention a key name.  Christopher Shen goes into his last round tied for third but fifth on tiebreaks, with 7.5 points.  He needs a little help to medal, and today is America's day.  The u8 top board is a draw, knocking out one of the 7.5s from contention.   The second board sees the Turkish second place 8.5 win against another 7.5, knocking him out.  In 5th board, there is a Russian with only 7 points, and he dispatches the Mongolian representative with 7.5.  Everything is in Christopher's hands now and he pulls through.  His victory against Mohan Kushagra is a pleasant surprise - unfortunately the u8 open section was not being relayed live so we had no idea how it was going.

But as soon as he comes up to the Mezzanine his beaming face says it all: he has clinched bronze.

Also worth mentioning is that in this group we also got places 9, 10 and 11, just out of the prize winners list.  Congratulations to the players that managed such super placements.

Cameron Wheeler, Photo Cathy Rogers
The U12 rollercoaster
When every move in the position wins, there is a high chance you will choose something that doesn't even seem legal and play it, destroying your advantage.  Cameron's sequence is not that bad, but now we doubt if he is winning.  His position now has a queen and a pawn against a rook, a pawn and a dangerous looking passed pawn.  But Cameron has the advantage, and the pressure, and the clock pressure!  He finds a superb zugzwang, and then another, and another.  His opponent is playing on increment and the pressure is mounting.  Suddenly, it is all over.  The board shows 0-1 in a winning position. 


It is unclear if he flagged or resigned, but we don't care.  Cameron has clinched a medal. 

While this is going on, Samuel is locked in an intense battle.  His position is better, but is it enough to win?  What are the tiebreaks if a draw happens?  Who is this Chinese guy that has caught Cameron and potentially Samuel and his opponent if they draw? Who drank all the Champagne and why is there no more? 
Samuel Sevian at the board, Photo Cathy Rogers

Lunch starts and no one has answers to anything.  Halfway through, the result is official.  A draw.  A few hours pass before any standings are published, but the news couldn't be better:  Samuel is World Champion, Cameron is Silver medal.

For young chess players, there is only one way to celebrate the end of a tournament, especially a victory.  A marathon session of bughouse and blitz games on the floor with just enough chess boards, sets and clocks to prevent the kids from killing each other in order to have their turn at playing.  The mezzanine is loud, it's happy, it's an American celebration.  Kids trickle in as they finish their lunch or games and soon it seems like our entire delegation is either chatting or playing.  The parents are exhausted, the players are tired, the coaches are relieved, and it is adrenaline that keeps us enjoying this wonderfully bonding time.  And as if to make everything better, Garry Kasparov comes and meets the US team to take a picture with us.  He duly congratulates our medal winners as the young ones have a once in a lifetime opportunity to shake their idol's hand.

Kayden Troff with Garry Kasparov
Closing Ceremony
Garry Kasparov was the highlight of the closing ceremony.  It was a well-organized and lively affair, with the top 8 places from each section receiving some sort of special recognition, the top 3 a medal, and the champion a trophy.  Some musical intermezzos were also in place, some more appropriate to the age groups than others.  We have four medals, and that makes us the 3rd best delegation of the tournament.  Only Russia and India, with 8 medals each, best us.

Our medalists proudly go up with a USA flag wrapped around them.  The entire delegation is proud of them, and proud of our players, who have done an outstanding job.  With multiple 8/11 results, not to mention players that barely did not make the top 8, with players winning over 50, 60 and sometimes even 70 rating points, it is clear that our showing has been very strong.

Wrap Up
I've nothing negative to say about the entire experience.  The people in Slovenia were accommodating nice, and hosted a great event.  Our kids had a fantastic event, and they even behaved fantastically!  I look forward to being part of the delegation again next year.  UAE is the host, and rumors are that it will be in December.  (The tournament was originally planned for August, but then the organizers realized it would just be too hot for everyone).  I hope that the next year will bring even more successes.