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!
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.
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!
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:
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.
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:
A game to be proud of, for sure! And another name to keep in mind.
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’!
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.