David Peng Wins High School Champs: “Must-See DGT”



David Peng, Photo IM Eric Rosen

FM David Peng won clear first at the 2018 National High School Championship with an undefeated score of 6 ½ – ½.  The top section that David won looked more like a FIDE rated section than a scholastic event.  There was also an Under 1900 section and because there were more than 256 players in the top section, the pairings were accelerated.  This meant that in round one the top board masters were already playing experts and 2300+ players were not even playing on the top DGT broadcasted boards!  There were 36 players in the top section over 2200 (8 were over 2400!).

There were four International Masters, ten FIDE Masters, two Woman International Masters and one Woman FIDE Master.  While all the students were obviously from U.S. high schools, there were eleven players from other FIDE federations!  The other FIDE federations were India, Cuba, Canada, Turkey, Venezuela, and Jamaica.  Overall, 160 of the 280 players had FIDE ratings!  In scoring 6 ½, Peng played two IMs and two FMs.  While, I realize that this was not FIDE rated and there are many rules on norms, I want to put into perspective Peng’s performance:  his rating performance was at the level of an IM norm!

Tournament Hall

The event was a who’s who of scholastic chess.  Two record holders for youngest US master were on hand:  Christopher Yoo and Max Li. There were 266 players in the Championship section.  Of this number, 127 are featured on a US Chess Top 100 list for their age!  104 of the players are ranked in the top 100 players of all ages in their respective state.  At the elite level, five of the players are already ranked in the Top 100 players in the United States, including all adults.  Looking at the top 100 list for Under age 21, there were 23 players in attendance at this tournament which is remarkable since that list includes 18-20 year old players who would have already graduated from HS and wouldn’t be eligible to play.

Christopher Yoo

In round one there were already very competitive games and several of the top seeds were nicked for draws or upsets.  IM Bryce Tiglon was held to a draw by WFM Sasha Kovalenko.  FM Ben Li was held to a draw by Nicholas Cardenas.  Four masters lost in round one as NM Vincent Baker lost to Derek Chen, NM Eli Karp lost to Nicklas Breskin, NM Ricky Wang lost to Manas Manu and NM Prateek Pinisetti lost to Mark De Dona.  After the dust settled in round one, over 25% of the masters no longer had perfect scores.  Four masters lost while six gave up draws and one took a half point bye.  This would clearly be a competitive event!

In round two, two class A players beat their second master in a row! 1988 rated player Mark De Dona from traditional powerhouse IS 318 in New York defeated NM Jason Morefield and 1996 rated player Derek Chen from New York’s Edgemont HS defeated NM Jason Wang.  Also, nineteenth seeded NM Justin Paul also lost to Caleb Wan while FM William Graif went down to Nicholas Xie.  After only two rounds, half of the masters had already surrendered a draw or loss and only 18 of the 36 masters remained at 2-0!

GM Alexander Shabalov giving a simul at the High School National Championships in Columbus, Ohio

By round three even masters were paired up on the top boards.  The major upset of the round was NM Akhil Kalghathi defeating FM Andrew Hong on board 5.  De Dona continued to frustrate masters as he drew with 10th seeded FM Danial Asaria.  Derek Chen lost to the eventual tournament winner FM David Peng.  Up to this point, Peng had been flying under the radar a bit as his 2407 rating “only” made him the 8th seed in the event.

FM David Peng defeated Junior High School Champion FM Arthur Guo in round four, while FM Zhaozhi (George) Li defeated FM Ethan Li.   FM David Peng and IM George Li were the only 4-0 scores from 11 perfect 3-0s, because there were many round four draws including a marathon struggle between NM Justin Chen and IM Praveen Balakrishnan.

I was nearly ready to declare the game a draw because of the 75 move rule (same as 50 move rule except that a TD may initiate it without a player claiming).  It had been 70 moves since a capture or pawn move.  However, Chen claimed the 50 move rule and saved me from initiating.

Justin Chen

NM Christopher Shen and FM Wesley Wang drew, as did NM Alexander Crump and NM Christopher Yoo.

Wesley Wang,

FM Peng became the only perfect 5-0 score, by defeating IM George Li in a fun Sicilian, also posted in an earlier US Chess report. Peng called this his “favorite game” of the event. “I hold George Li in a very high regard and I felt that his play was very strong throughout the tournament.”

Only three players were able to win and keep within striking distance of Peng after five rounds.  IM Balakrishnan defeated NM Crump, NM Asaria defeated NM Zachary Tannenbaum and FM Yoo defeated Nalin Khanna.  That meant Balakrishnan, Asaria, and Yoo would enter the penultimate round trailing Peng by ½ point.  In round 5, Chen and De Dona both won again, and Chen stood at 4-1 and De Dona at 3 ½ – 1 ½.

Peng was the only player at 5-0 and there were 3 players at 4 ½, but there were 24 players at 4-1 that would need to win to keep their title hopes alive.   Peng had the black pieces against Balakrishnan and the game ended in a somewhat unusual way.

I started observing the game with both players in time pressure at about move 48.  Balakrishnan was up an exchange, but Peng had some compensation in a protected passed pawn on the 7th.  Still, Balakrishnan had a clear edge and was playing for the win.  In severe time pressure with each player only having seconds on their clock (with 5 second delay), some wins are missed and Balakrishnan was able to force Peng to give up a piece for a passed pawn leaving Balakrishnan up a rook, but Peng is able to force Balakrishnan to give up the rook for the protected passed pawn.  So, the fireworks conclude and there is a bishop of same color ending where each side has one pawn – dead equal.  However, Balakrishnan’s flag falls and he offers a draw (completely justified by the position) which Peng accepted with 6 seconds remaining on his clock.  Had Peng noticed, he could have won on time and would have finished the tournament 7-0!

Peng still singled this game out as his favorite of the event.

My best and toughest game was round 6 against Praveen, facing an unknown opening against a very strong player was difficult and it took a lot of effort and resilience to continue to create pressure for my opponent in an objectively lost position.

Meanwhile on board 2, Yoo defeated Asaria to catch Peng with 5 ½ – ½.  Almost all the games involving players at 4-1 were decisive.  There would be 10 players chasing Peng and Yoo, only down ½ point.  The Cinderella stories of Chen and De Dona came to an end on the last day as Chen lost and De Dona drew to both enter the last round at 4-2.  They would both be paired with masters and both finish with 4 points

In round seven, Peng obtained a nice advantage in the early middle game and then demonstrated very strong technique in bringing home the full point to win the tournament in clear first.

I didn’t expect much going into the last round, as I knew Christopher was a very strong player and simply didn’t want to repeat my last game against him, where I got crushed with the Black pieces. I think I did a fine job of not letting my emotions get in the way and playing the game like I would against anyone else.

Four of the five games involving players at 5-1 were decisive and the lower rated won three of the four games.  Board 2 saw FM Wesley Wang defeat FM Roland Feng.  On board 3, FM Ben Li defeated IM Cameron Wheeler.  NM Michael Chen and IM Praveen Balakrishnan drew on board 4 as the only draw on the top boards.  Board 5 saw IM George Li beat NM Justin Chen and finally on board 6 NM Jason Morefield beat FM Andrew Hong.

Other highlights through the weekend was an active girls club room.  There was also a group cheer for Fabiano Caruana’s World Championship quest.

The team competition went down to the wire and in the end, we crowned co-champions: Thomas Jefferson HS in Alexandria, VA and Whitney Young HS in Chicago, IL.  Both schools scored 19 ½ points.  Right behind them were Edgemont HS from Scarsdale, NY and Jericho Middle School from  Jericho, NY.

Thomas Jefferson would be favored- their top four players had the highest average at 2246 with a deep bench of 15 players.  Still, it was bound to be competitive.  Whitney’s top 4 came in at 2146, but they only had a total of 5 players. Another team to watch would be Edgemont as their top 4 averaged 2211.  They had 4 masters on the team and there only non-master was Derek Chen who pulled off the two upsets of masters in the first two round.  However, they only had 4 players and no margin for error.  Jericho also would have to be taken seriously as they had FM Wang, WIM Evelyn Zhu and two class A players.  Their 2079 average made them a darkhorse, but they couldn’t be counted out.

Going into the last round, the eventual co-champions were trailing the competition.  Edgemont was leading with 17 points, but they were tied with New York’s Stuyvesant also with 17. Five schools trailed with 16 points:  Thomas Jefferson, Whitney, Jericho, San Jose’s Mission HS and Monta Vista HS from California.

National High School Championship team, Whitney Young, Photo Jim Doyle 

Both Thomas Jefferson and Whitney Young  had huge final  rounds, scoring 3.5/4, ending up as co-champs.  Thomas Jefferson also won the Team Blitz Championship, and the team’s top board, 16-year-old Praveen Balakrishnan  had some words of wisdom, which US Chess shared in full on Facebook.

IM Praveen Balakrishnan

Yes, we were lucky.
Yes, we reduced the lifespan of our coaches and parents.
Yes, we created a thrilling must-see DGT.

But at the end, when the dust settled, we are the NATIONAL CHAMPIONS not in just one category but in both blitz and main categories, a rare feat and first in TJ history.

Thomas Jefferson High School

While the focus is rightfully on the National Champions, there were five Under sections.  We congratulate them as section winners.

The winners of each section are listed below:

Under 1900:  Robbie Galpern, IS 318, Brooklyn, NY 6 ½- ½ and Team Champion  IS 318– 19 ½

Under 1600:  Samuel Campbell, Mt Vernon HS, Mt Vernon, IN, 7-0 and Team Champions Cass Tech, Detroit, MI 19 and San Benito HS, TX 19

Under 1200: Brecon Hession, Abington HS, PA, John Patrick Corson, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, Richmond, VA and Austin Kubisiak, Nekoosa HS, Nekoosa, WI 6 ½ – ½ and Team Champions Argo HS, Summitt, IL, 23                      

Under 800: Zabdiel Green, De La Salle HS, Chicago, IL  7-0 and Team Champions Valley HS, Louisville, KY   20

Unrated: Dominic Salvino, Benet Academy, Lisle, IL  6 ½ – ½ and Benet Academy, Lisle, IL 18

Find full results from the High School Championships on the tournament website. 


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