A View From Aviv: The World Youth

Coaches The coaches, in a rare moment of relaxation at the World Youth in Greece
When the leaders of the federation toyed with the idea of opening the World Youth Championships to everyone - setting aside all qualification criteria, the biggest dilemma was how would this experiment work logistically. It was obvious that a site like a resort in warm and friendly Greece, on top of the chance to play for your country in the world champs, would mean great interest, and new records. In response to being asked my opinion on the matter, I borrowed the same answer I got myself the previous year, when significant changes were made to the criteria: it's worthy of a try, and if it doesn't work, we can change it the following year. In my heart I forgot my agnosticism for a moment. and prayed we are all right! After all, it's not every day that a delegation with 130 players, and 310 in total (coaches, parents, family members etc) travels to a world event! Having just returned, I can fully say that the event as a whole, and the experiment have been very successful! Before speaking about the event itself, I must first pay thanks to the many who have been involved with, and helped: Thanks to the US Chess Executive board, our Executive Director Jean Hoffman, director of events Franc Guadalupe, special projects consultant Jerry Nash, our loyal federation office personnel, my co-HOD Michael Khodarkovsky, our fantastic team coaches, the many parents who contributed through the Google group (especially Noah Chasin, who administrated it, and who also arranged for the team's uniforms), Two Sigma, who generously donated a whole set of uniforms to all team members, the main organizer Nikos Kalesis and his competent and dedicated staff, especially technical director Sotiris Logothetis, both of whom provided me with direct lines of communication, and quick solutions, making life much easier for everyone!
VswThpnl3xl-8JAm_xOtpvwkvIFKG19ytggLF_O3fT4 The Girls Under 8 team, sporting Sigma Two uniforms
I have been to many World Youth events - well organized ones, and some which were less organized, but the ones in Greece (2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, and now 2015) are the measuring sticks of how to run such a mega-event properly. Bravo to Nikos and all for managing to provide professional tournament organization and officiating, alongside excellent logistics, and accommodations. With the staggering size of our delegation, both Michael and I had full-time positions as co-heads of delegation. In previous years, we also had coaching assignments. This blessed decision allowed for faster resolution of questions, concerns, and issues, as well as maintaining sanity :) When October 24th came, everyone was settled at the Sithonia hotel in the Porto Carras resort complex, ready to perform one of the 4 C's: compete, coach, comfort, and coordinate. 'War began' on the next day, with round 1, and all following rounds of the event starting at 3 pm (and with all parings up the night before - something I have never seen before). 42 players qualified or paid for coaching, and were promptly divided in a 6:1 ratio amongst our team's very able coaches.
Yoo preparing Christopher Yoo preparing
They got morning preparation of roughly 30 minutes per player, in the coaches' respective rooms. In addition to using databases and online resources to research opponents, this year featured a very serious 'parents network." On a Google group parents solicited games from other parents, whose child has played the same opponent in a previous round. After the games, the coaches met their players for game analysis at a colorful place named the Purple Bar in our hotel. Other players brought private coaches to the event for extra support or arranged for long distance communications with coaches back home. Others relied on their form, opting to skip coaching. On a personal note, I believe that budget permitting, it's a wise idea to get some sort of chess assistance during the event. It's part of the experience of playing in a one round a day event, where you can research for your game, as there is no 'evening round', like we are so used to in the US. Traditionally  our team does pretty well in the first few rounds, and around the 4th or 5th round, face an incline. This year was no exception. Still we have had several kids with perfect or near perfect scores, and hopes were high for the rest of the event. In such a long and grueling competition, even with good conditions, top finishers aren't necessarily the top ranked players, but those who have good stamina and regimen, and manage to keep healthy and fit! 4x_dBDYi3-TRPZjB5TrUnhJcMJUw9Yt5aLZHKbZCuLk From my end as co-HOD, while very busy with concerns, questions, and issues (phantom and real :)), I was quite pleased with the way the event was running. I made a note to track and hug the person in T-Mobile who decided on their 'unlimited free data and text in 130 countries', which meant that despite the stuttering internet in the resort (no surprise with so many people there!), I was always connected, which made my work a whole lot easier. A (co)HOD really understands the meaning of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. There are highs and lows, and following our kids in such an event is quite dramatic. Take for example our Bronze winner in the boys under 10, Justin Wang. This summer, Justin attended a camp I ran, and left a lasting impression. A true speed demon, and possessing an amazing tactical eye, made him a candidate for a high finish. However, the under 10 section he played in, had some serious competition, particularly Indian phenom Praggnanandhaa, the eventual gold medalist - who two years ago swept the u 8 section with a perfect 11/11, and Russian superstar Ilya Makoveev, who won the silver, and who recently won the European champs, and last year's world u 8 section. Justin stormed with 5/5 (including a very lucky win against Arthur Guo, another American rising star), then had a solid draw against the Indian. After a win in round 7, and a tough draw in a see saw game against the Russian, he was paired against 4th seed Oglaza from Poland. Here is what happened:

[Event "WYCC Open 10"]
[Site "Porto Carras"]
[Date "2015.11.03"]
[White "Wang, Justin"]
[Black "Oglaza, Oskar"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B22"]
[WhiteElo "2046"]
[BlackElo "2118"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r5k1/ppq1bppp/2n1p3/3rN3/3Pb1P1/PQ2B2P/1P2BP2/2RR2K1 w - - 0 19"]
[PlyCount "36"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:05:39"]
[BlackClock "0:03:15"]

{ Black played this Alapin Sicilian inaccurately, and Justin has a
nice edge. What's more, he continues forcefully:} 19. Bf4 $1 Bd6 20. Qe3 $1 f6
$2 {a mistake in a difficult position, but 20...Bg6 for example would have
been answered with 21. Bc4!} 21. Qxe4 fxe5 22. dxe5 {Here I was expecting 22...
Rxd1+ 23. Bxd1 Bf8, where white is up a pawn with a better position, but
black's next move got me going!} Rxe5 $6 {this is a desperation move, that
should have been a 'loss-accelerator'!} 23. Bxe5 Bxe5 24. Bd3 g6 {Diagram [#]
This felt like seventh heaven. Up an exchange, and in a better position, many
roads lead to Rome, but of course the easiest here is 25. Bb5!} 25. b4 {still
winning of course! but...} (25. Bb5 $1 {for example:} Bxb2 26. Qxe6+ Kh8 27.
Bxc6 Bxc1 28. Rd7 {and black gets a tissue. Instead Justin misses a defensive
idea, and gets rattled:}) 25... Rf8 $1 {with the idea of:} 26. Rf1 $2 {a 'cry
before you are hurt' move, borne out of realizing ...Qb6. Instead:} (26. b5 Qb6
$1 {with undeserved counterplay. Of course white needs not play b5, and has
nothing to worry about yet.}) (26. Bc4 {and white can actively attack, and
also defend his second rank}) 26... Rf4 27. Qg2 $6 (27. Qe3 $5) 27... Qd6 28.
Be4 Nd4 29. Rc8+ Kg7 30. Bxb7 $2 {completely losing the thread of the game.
Now black can draw.} Ne2+ 31. Kh1 Qd3 $1 {all of a sudden it is hard to stop
the check on g3, and the idea of ...Rf3} 32. Ba8 $2 {Diagram [#] I nearly
fainted when I saw this 'pass' move. Now the tables completely turn, and black
is in the driver's seat} (32. Rc5 Ng3+ 33. Kg1 Ne2+ {was a draw}) 32... Rxf2 $3
{winning} 33. Rxf2 (33. Qb7+) (33. Qxf2 Qxh3+ {is just mate next}) 33... Ng3+ (
33... Qb1+ 34. Rf1 Ng3+ 35. Kg1 Bd4+ {is the way to go}) 34. Qxg3 $4 (34. Kh2
Ne2+ 35. Kh1 {would at least force black to find the win, and short of time,
who knows! This makes it easier}) 34... Qxg3 35. Rg2 Qe1+ 36. Rg1 Qf2 {a
heartbreaking loss, cause the win was right there, and having played his two
main rivals, the road to gold looked bright. Still, a bronze medal is a
fantastic achievement, especially in this field, and Justin is a name to
remember!} 0-1 [/pgn]
Carissa Yip and Agata Bykovtsev
In the last round our main gold chances lied in Californian Agata Bykovtsev, in the girls u 16 section. Agata is another junior player, who made some serious progress of late. In this event, after 4 wins, she lost two games, and to some seemed out of the race. However, if you know Agata, you'd know she is a fighter from the land of fighters, and is never to be counted out! Four straight wins (including as Alejandro mentioned elsewhere, wins versus the under 14 world champ from last year, Zhou, and strong US junior Ashrita Eswaran), propelled her back to board 1. What's more, with her tie breaks, a draw would be enough to clinch the world championship.
[pgn][Event "WYCC Girls U16"]
[Site "Porto Carras"]
[Date "2015.11.05"]
[White "Bykovtsev, Agata"]
[Black "Tsolakidou, Stavroula"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B90"]
[WhiteElo "2117"]
[BlackElo "2279"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r4r1k/1pqb2pp/p3p3/3Pb3/3N4/1PN3R1/1PP3PP/R2Q3K w - - 0 19"]
[PlyCount "10"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:02:02"]
[BlackClock "0:13:45"]

{Diagram [#] Black just played ...Be5?!. When I saw this move, I said OMG so
many times, I thought I'd turn into a valley girl!} 19. Rd3 $6 {But that's not
why! Perhaps if nerves weren't playing a part, and Agata could just played
relaxed, she would have embraced the following easy to calculate line:} (19.
dxe6 $1 Bxg3 (19... Bc6 20. Rh3 $1) 20. exd7 Bd6 21. Ne6 Qxd7 22. Nxf8 Rxf8 23.
Ne4 Rd8 {and white is playing for two results, with no risk at all...
essentially securing the gold medal}) 19... exd5 20. Nxd5 Qd6 21. Nf3 Bf5 22.
Rd2 Bxb2 23. Rb1 Bf6 {Black recovered her pawn, and while white is still okay,
with a solid position and the bishop pair, it's much easier to play with black.
, who eventually won after a long endgame, and one big blunder by white.} 0-1

When Agata came back, and saw me she was understandably inconsolable, thinking that she ended up with no prize. Her second visit, a moment after I also realized that her score was good enough for a bronze, saw a transformation to justified elation! A well deserved one! Before you label me the voice of doom for reporting of some of the 'chess tragedies', please allow me to quickly shift to some positive drama! Last year I was David Peng's coach at this event, where he was ONE MOVE away from winning the gold, on more than several occasions, only to miss and finish in fifth place. This year in the open u 12 section, he started slow with 3/5, but then won 4 in a row. At this stage I told him, tongue in cheek, that according to my calculations, he owes me two more points. With or without this 'order', young Peng did just that, finishing in equal first, and third on tie breaks. His win with black against the Iranian 3rd seed was especially impressive:
[pgn] [Event "WYCC Open U12"]
[Site "Porto Carras"]
[Date "2015.11.05"]
[Round "11.1"]
[White "Firouzja, Alireza"]
[Black "Peng, David T"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B62"]
[WhiteElo "2364"]
[BlackElo "2231"]
[PlyCount "66"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:02:12"]
[BlackClock "0:01:59"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Bb5 Bd7 8.
Bxc6 bxc6 9. Qf3 Qb6 $1 {In a theoretical Richter - Rauzer, David is choosing
the most challenging, and best practical reply. The exclam is for that decision
} 10. Bxf6 {the main discussion is between 0-0-0 and Nb3} gxf6 11. Nde2 (11.
Qxf6 $6 Rg8 {is a dream pseudo pawn sac for black}) 11... Be7 12. b3 Qa5 13.
O-O {white chosen setup isn't so bad, but he needs to curtail the black
bishops later, a task he failed in, and David was there to pounce} h5 14. Rad1
h4 15. h3 Rg8 16. Rd2 $6 {the wrong direction! 16. Na4!? with the idea of
Nb2-c4 was worth a look} Qg5 $1 17. Rfd1 e5 $1 {excellent play by the Chicago
master} 18. Na4 {too late for that... Kh1 was really needed} f5 19. c4 $2 {
Diagram [#] mega-optimism that should have been punished instantly!} fxe4 20.
Qxe4 f5 {good enough, of course, but even funner would have been:} (20... d5 $1
21. cxd5 Bf5 22. f4 (22. Qf3 e4 {wins at once}) 22... Qg6 23. Qf3 Be4 {with
dire consequences}) 21. f4 fxe4 22. fxg5 Rxg5 {the smoke has cleared, and
black holds all the trumps: an extra pawn, two soon-to-be agile bishops, and
better coordination. David brings the point home nicely} 23. Kh1 Bf5 24. Nec3
e3 25. Re2 Rg3 26. b4 Bg6 27. Rb2 Bf7 28. b5 Bxc4 29. bxc6 Rc8 30. Rc1 Rxc6 31.
Ne2 Rg6 $1 32. Ng1 Bd5 33. Re1 Rc4 0-1

A game to be proud of, for sure! And another name to keep in mind.
PercyCarissa Percy and Carissa Yip
Our top achiever was CL front pager, NM Carissa Yip. In his recap to this event, GM Ramirez splashed one superlative after another about Carissa, and I am in full agreement! She may be small in stature, but this girl got spunk, and 'chess fangs' that can really leave a mark. Here is a sample from the penultimate round, where in a quiet opening, after putting her opponent to sleep, she wakes her up with a 'board eviction notice'!
[pgn][Event "WYCC Girls 12"]
[Site "Porto Carras"]
[Date "2015.11.04"]
[Round "10.2"]
[White "Yip, Carissa"]
[Black "Asadi, Motahare"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B01"]
[WhiteElo "2007"]
[BlackElo "1780"]
[PlyCount "59"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[WhiteClock "0:40:47"]
[BlackClock "0:11:45"]

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 a6 6. Be2 b5 7. O-O Nc6 {
black is doing her best to play provocatively, but Carissa is not imptressed,
slowly improving her position} 8. a3 Bb7 9. Re1 Rd8 10. Be3 {The engines
advocate ideas involving a pawn sac on d4, in lieu of defending it, but white
is not in the mood for giving just yet} e6 11. Bd3 Be7 12. Ne4 Nxe4 13. Bxe4 f5
14. Bd3 O-O {Diagram [#]} 15. a4 $1 {it's time to act! Some players might have
been concerned with black's ideas of ...f4, pushing the defending bishop away
from d4, but young Ms. Yip properly evaluates this as good for white. As such,
it is time to tickle the advanced black queenside} f4 $2 {and black cannot
resist. Much better would have been to follow the axiom that a side action is
best answered with a central strike:} (15... e5 $1 16. dxe5 Nxe5 17. Nxe5 Qxe5
{with equal chances, and a whole game to follow}) 16. Bd2 Nxd4 17. Nxd4 Qxd4
18. Bc3 Qd5 19. Qg4 $1 {excellent! Black might be a pawn up, but her structure
is nothing more than a house of cards: mate is in the air, Be4 is on the
agenda, and many black pawns are weak} Qg5 20. Qxe6+ (20. Qxg5 Bxg5 21. axb5
axb5 22. Ra7 Bd5 23. Rxc7 {was another yummy option}) 20... Kh8 {Diagram [#]}
21. Qh3 $1 {Carissa's play is as relentless as a hyena in pursuit!} Qxg2+ $4 {
this amounts to folding... perhaps the opponent was already tired and
demoralized by how things turned out. To keep going she had to do 'damage
control':} (21... Rxd3 22. cxd3 Bd6 {and black is still alive}) 22. Qxg2 Bxg2
23. Rxe7 {the rest is for the protocol} Bh3 24. Rxg7 b4 25. Rxh7+ Kg8 26. Rg7+
Kh8 27. Be5 Rd5 28. Rh7+ Kg8 29. Rh8+ Kf7 30. Bc4 1-0

In the last round Carissa was a lot wilder against her Vietnamese opponent, was winning, then lost, and eventually won to secure her well earned silver! In addition to our medal winners, our team had many high finishers, including several who made it to the top 10 in their sections: 2 time world champ Awonder Liang finished 5th in the under 12 with 8.5/11. Most would be happy with such a place and score, but for this super talent anything but first place was lukewarm. I'm keeping tabs for next year! IM Elect Nico Checa has been consistently improving, and is very serious about his chess. His 8th place in the open u 14 was nothing to sad about, but I am sure that he had bigger hopes. I'm adding him as well to people to watch for net year. ELO unrated Adi Murgescu played inspiring chess, and can be extremely proud of his 8.5/11, and a shared 3-4 place in the open u 8 (4th on tie breaks). Another unrated, Surya Vanapalli, was only a half a point behind, and finished in a great 8th place at the same section. US women's closed participant, NM Ashrita Eswaran is always a formidable opponent, but in this event just couldn't get it going. For her a 10th place and 7.5/11, is just an 'I can and will do better' statement! She is added to my tab list for next year :) WFM Martha Samadashvili is already a veteran of world events, and a continental champion. Her 7th place ranking, with 8/11 included a hard fought last round draw against the gold medalist, and a result she can smile at! I'm sure she will aim further in 2016, and so she makes it to my running tab! Another player who left a great impression, and was not at all far from a medal, is WCM Nastassja Matus. She also lands on my watch for next year list, as her 8/11 and 8th place in the girls u 10, may have just been a prelude for next time. In 2016, the World youth splits in two: One event (Batumi, Georgia) will hold the open and girls under 8/10 and 12, while the other (Khanty Mansiysk, Russia) will host the under 14/16 and 18 ones. I'm positive that once everyone recovers from this event, they'll start working hard for these upcoming tough challenges next year! Looking forward to those, and please help support these flagship tournaments for our youth teams! Browse full results here and find more information on the official website. Also see GM Alejandro Ramirez's piece and the official PR on the US Chess partnership with Two Sigma.

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