Co-Champions Crowned at 2024 National Middle School Championship

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Nikash Vemparala (L) and Eric Chang Liu are our 2024 K-8 Co-Champions (Photo Caroline King)


FM Eric Chang Liu and CM Nikash Vemparala are the 2024 K-8 Co-Champions, with Vemparala taking first on tiebreaks after the pair drew their head-to-head game in round six.


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Nikash Vemparala had to "play up" three rounds in a row, and was rewarded with a tiebreak victory for his performance (Photo Caroline King)


Vemparala's tournament victory is something of an upset, considering that the Washington-based eighth-grader entered the tournament seeded 11th and rated 2171. Liu, in comparison, entered with a 2468 rating. Nevertheless, their round six duel was evenly matched, with Liu having a few chances with a strong knight against Vemparala's rather hemmed-in bishop, but Vemparala showing excellent defensive acumen at key moments. The 85-move battle went down to the wire, with both players under five minutes on their clock by the end.



Entering the final day, Vemparala and Liu were the only perfect scores, and only two players trailed them by a half-point. But when those players — WFM Megan Paragua and Kyle Wang — drew their game, this created a logjam of players with an outside chance of claiming a co-championship. If both Vemparala and Liu drew or lost their final game, then any of the other eight players (besides Vemparala and Liu's opponents, who could also claim a co-championship with a victory) with 5/6 scores could become a co-champion with a last-round victory. 


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Liu (front right) and Vemparala (back right) both had to win their last game to maintain their lead over the ten players a half-point behind them (Photo Caroline King)


Dreams of madness were short-lived, however, as both leaders won their games. Not to say that either game was easy. In fact, this would be Vemparala's third straight game as the lower-rated player, after defeating CM Ethan Guo (2291) in round five before drawing Liu. Now, he would have to face fellow Washingtonian CM Neeraj Harish (2293):



Vemparla's win meant that Liu would need a victory to claim a co-championship, and nobody else could catch either of them. While Liu was the highest-rated player in the event, Californian FM Isaac Wang (2326) was actually Liu's first opponent of the weekend rated over 2200. The game was as hotly contested as the ratings would suggest, with both players going under a minute on their clocks by the end:



Of the eight players entering round seven with 5/6 scores, three of their four boards produced decisive results, creating a three-way tie for third with 6/7 scores. In tiebreak order: CM Ethan Guo (CA), WFM Megan Paragua (NY), Kyle Wang (TX).


From left (and in tiebreak order): Ethan Guo, Megan Paragua, and Kyle Wang (R) (Photos Caroline King)


The future is bright for this trio, with Wang being the oldest of the group as a sixth-grader, while Guo and Paragua are both fifth-graders. Their seventh-round victories are all included below:





Co-championship was the theme of the weekend, with two New York teams actually tying for first with 17½/28 scores. Congratulations to Columbia Grammar and Prep (first on tiebreaks) and Speyer Legacy School! 


The K-8 Team Co-Champions: Columbia Grammar and Prep (L) and Speyer Legacy School (Photos Caroline King)


In total, 1,175 players from 36 states competed in Atlanta. Results for all sections are available here



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