Blitz, Bug, Two Rounds, and Much More on First Days of K-12 Grade Championships

Today's recap of the first days of the 2023 National K-12 Grade Championships has a lot of content to catch you up. And there's no rest, either, as round three has already concluded and the fourth round is already underway in Orlando. In this recap…

  • Bughouse & Blitz Results – Columbia Grammar dominates the K-12 side events.
  • The Generous GM (simul report) who is delighting crowds.
  • GM Maurice Ashley’s post-commentary activities, observations, and a big question about the future of top-level chess in the U.S.
  • Oak Hall (FL) teams topping several sections
  • Dalton’s “Decade of Dominance” dream update


Bughouse and Blitz

Bughouse K-12

Columbia Grammar (NY) teammates FM Brewington Hardaway (who has earned all three IM norms and the 2400 FIDE rating requirement to become an IM) and IM Nico Chasin cruised to victory in the K-12 Bughouse championship with a perfect score of 10/10 (sweeping the two-game sets against five different opposing teams). It was not their first time playing bughouse, but it was their first time playing together. Nico matter-of-factly observed, “We were the two strongest players, together on a team. Yes, there’s often more to it in bughouse, but we played quickly, and …”  “… dropped pawns on h6 a lot!” added Hardaway. (Editor’s note: Hardaway is referring to the strategy of “placing” a pawn on h6 as White during one’s turn in bughouse, in order to open up the enemy’s kingside, and not the more familiar act of “blundering” a pawn on h6 by leaving it hanging.)

Three teams garnered eight points each. Finishing second, third, and fourth respectively were Nate Ziegler & Brian Bird (FL), Aaron Marian & Advait Nair (FL), and Chase Bellamy & Akshay Rajagopal (NC).


Blitz K-12

Hardaway swept two games from FM Gus Huston (who also has met the qualifications for an IM title) in the sixth (final) round of the K-12 Blitz tournament, finishing a full point ahead of his bughouse partner, Chasin. A third Columbia Grammar student made it a trio at the top as WFM Megan Paragua (fifth grade!) was just a half-point behind Chasin. When asked if she was surprised by her result, she shrugged with a smile “Not really. I finished third last year, too!” Chasin chimed in, “She’s very strong at Blitz,” adding with a smile, “I’m afraid of her.”


Hardaway Paragua Chasin
Image Caption
Teammates Hardaway (L), Paragua (front), and Chasin together at the top of the blitz leaderboard (photo Sophia Rohde)


IM Max Lu and Will Moorhouse equaled Paragua’s 10/12 score, earning the fourth- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, on tiebreaks.

Special mention for Texas freshman Logan Shafer, who was the only player rated under 2000 (1984) to finish in the top 31 places (he earned 20th place). Tough field!

New York City’s Columbia Grammar scored 31½ points, giving them an impressive 5-point margin of victory in the team standings. Dalton and Hunter (both NY) were second and third, respectively, with 26½ points apiece.



Blitz K-6

Expert Santhosh Ayyappan (NJ) took first on tiebreaks over Nehanraj Ramesh (IA) at 11/12. Five players finished with 10/12, and after tiebreaks landed in this order: Tariq Yue, Kushagra Bhargava, and Oliver Rana, then the alliterative pair of Sivavishnu Srinivasan and Liam Liu.

PS77 Lower Lab (NY) won the team championship with 24½ points. Just one stalemate, perpetual, or maybe dual flag drops behind was Speyer Legacy with 24 points.


Generous GM Georgiev!

In his simul Friday morning, GM Vladimir Georgiev gave up some entertaining draws, and other draws? … He just handed out for free!



Consistent with his generous spirit, as games finished, eager chess fans pleaded to jump in and play on boards that were now clear, and GM Georgiev shrugged affirmatively. In one of these “bonus” games, he continued his generous draw-giving with a Legal’s Mate-style queen sacrifice.



Later, GM Georgiev played Blitz against all comers, but the line was long, so he cut it in half by constantly playing two games at once for the entire two hours! Oh, and he gave two-minute time odds (five minutes for the challenger, three minutes for himself) on both boards! He truly is “The Generous GM!”



“Let’s All Be Impatient!”

Of all the noteworthy guests, coaches, and spectators in attendance, Grandmaster Maurice Ashley stood out as a man with a mission. The charismatic GM and (former?) commentator toured the main ballroom carefully for over 45 minutes, paying attention to boards in each section. In the end, he spoke about his observations, his responsibility to be more than just an inspiration, and his speculation that the next generation of top-level American GM’s may not develop without some infusion of something!


Ashley in Action

Since his decision to step away from commentary (for now?), Ashley has been pleasantly surprised by the opportunities that have presented themselves to him. He has two new books that will be released (coincidentally) on April 2, 2024:

Life Changing Magic of Chess (for young readers, aged 5-8), which is an autobiographical picture book, and Move by Move (for adults and young adults) which contains life lessons from chess.

A big fan of the late IM, Ashley is excited about the upcoming release of the new Chessable course he produced, “Reassess Your Chess, by Jeremy Silman.”


Maurice’s Musings 

As we moved from his current work to the reason for his visit to Orlando, Ashley’s face became pensive and resolute at the same time. He told me that he wanted to see how many young African American players were competing in this event. By his “unscientific” count, it was about 4% of the field, which is 10% below the number of African American youth members of US Chess (14%).

“It seems like nobody is asking questions like ‘Why is it a disproportionate number of African Americans who are participating here?’ and ‘Does it matter?’”

He continued, “I want to spread the joy of the game to everyone, but I also know that there is a value in pursuing excellence in chess. Those who play chess may not be reaching the next level because they lack guidance from someone who can tell them what they need to do.”

“Excellence inspires, and inspiration gives you the power to rise. You see someone who looks like you succeed and say, ‘I could do that!’”

After many more poignant observations and semi-rhetorical questions, GM Ashley spoke about what he sees as a looming issue that needs to be addressed in the coming years.

He pointed out that, unlike 10 years ago, America’s top GMs are no longer in their 20s besides, “Sam Sevian and Jeffrey Xiong, and that’s really it.”

He knows that GMs Hans Niemann and Abhi Mishra are exceptional players, “ … but when you have five or six elite players, there should be 15-to-20 young players below them who are working to become elite players themselves in the coming years.”

GM Ashley then shook his head and asked, “If we want the U.S. to continue to compete, we have to be doing …,” and trailed off, shrugging uncertainly.

“We have to find a way to harness the talented youth. We have to be ready to do something different. Who will step forward to take the necessary steps? We can’t wait around for someone else to do what’s necessary – Let’s all be impatient!

More on GM Maurice Ashley’s journey into the above topics will be covered on CLO in the future.


Image Caption
Laurel Aronian (11th grade) kicks off the opening ceremony with her rendition of the national anthem. Read more about Aronian and her loves of chess and singing on Faces of US Chess (photo Caroline King)


Now, back to the tournament…

Oak Hall School

After just two rounds, Oak Hall School (Gainesville, FL) either leads or shares the lead in three grades and is in the top four in three other grades!

I spent a few minutes in the team room and snagged some inspirational coaching moments. As I walked in, head coach Tim Tusing was giving out pairings to his 50 players board by board, encouragingly telling one young player who was discouraged by their pairing, “No, that’s a good thing! You want to play a 1300, not a 300.”

In a nearly seven-minute pep talk before the second round, he reminded his players to fight hard and to look at the board. “Your eyes are your windows to your brain. Open them so you can use your brain! If you don’t, you are going to lose.”


Dalton’s 12th Grade Team

If you saw Thursday’s preview, then you know that Dalton’s team of 12th -graders is trying to win its 10th consecutive Grade Championship. Well, after the first day of action, there are several teams trying to stop their streak! While they are equal with the Stuyvesant team (each has five out of a possible six points), four more teams are just one point behind. The drama!

Speaking of which, Huston's second-round win came down to a last-second decision to allow a rook trade by Daniel Pressman, who was press-ing the whole game against Huston despite the almost-800-point rating difference:



Upset of the day…

An 865-point deficit did not deter Andres Lopez (1353), who emerged victorious against a Master (2218) in the first round of the 11th Grade section!


Scenes We’ve Seen

Shortly after the start of round two, a teary-eyed girl asked me what time it was as she approached the exit. She was holding her completed scoresheet, so I knew exactly what was going on. “It’s 6:25,” I replied, to which she groaned as she turned slowly back towards the room full of players. It hurt me to tell her, but I said “Sorry, I know your coach will be upset that you’re out so soon, but you’ll do better next round. … Unfortunately, you can’t stay in here.” Bigger groan. Slumped shoulders. Slow walk out the door.


JJ's Teachable Moments

Editor's note: While making Coach Jay run around Orlando chasing down GMs and covering the frontlines, I've been tucked away at home, playing through all of the broadcasted games from the tournament. Here are three-and-a-half takeaways from the first day of action.


Don't Be Afraid


It's Not a Threat If You Can't Follow Through On It


Talk To Your Pieces, Especially in the Endgame


Bonus: Don't Be Afraid (Alternative Title: Chess is Really Hard)



Schedule for Saturday, December 16th

9:00am – Third Round (2nd-12th Grades)
9:30am – Third Round (K-1)
10:00am – Preparing for International Youth Events Seminar
10:30am – Girls Room: Chess Trivia
10:30am – Round one Friends & Family Tournament
11:00am – Girls Room: Girls Simul with WIM Carolina Blanco and GM Krush
11:30am – Lecture by GM Vladimir Georgiev
12:00pm – Girls Room, Teen Girls Pizza Lunch
12:30pm – Round two, Friends & Family
1:30pm – Fourth Round (ALL SECTIONS)
2:15pm – Scholastic Meeting
2:30pm – “All Comers” Blitz with GM Georgiev
2:30pm – Round three Friends & Family
3:00pm – Girls Room: Human Chess Game
3:15pm – Safe Play Meeting
4:30pm – Round four Friends & Family
5:30pm – Fifth round (K-1)
6:00pm – Fifth round (2nd-12th)
6:00pm – Live stream of Top Boards

Quick Links

All coverage on Chess Life Online

Tournament info

Schedule of events

Results and pairings

Live games

Twitch (rounds five through seven)

Twitter hashtag #K12Grades