Denker, Barber, NGIT Crown National Champions

Read about this year's Denker, Barber and National Girls Invitational champs, including Alex Velikanov's dramatic path to the win.
Alex Velikanov Alex Velikanov
The three marquee scholastic invitationals that dovetail the U.S. Open concluded Tuesday. With several  dozens kids still mathematically eligible for first in the trio of tournaments, four hours were needed to decide all the winners. The oldest of the events, the Denker Tournament of High School Champions (which claims around 1000 alumni over 30 years), began the day with six players tied at 4.0/5 with one round to go. Even players on 3.5 could still cling to a glimmer of hope, but that was dashed when one of the three top boards produced a winner. Wisconsin Alex Velikanov played right into his preparation and navigated the numerous complications to win the race to his opponent's king. He said he'd been beaten by Christopher Wu 1.5-0.5 in this year's High School Nationals Blitz Tournament, but remembered his game as Black and wanted to improve on it. "Because of that blitz game, I have a lot of respect for him," Velikanov said. Here's his championship-winning affair with his own annotations, proffered just after the game without any computer assistance:
[White "Wu, Christopher"]
[Black "Velikanov, Alexander"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B47"]
[WhiteElo "2348"]
[BlackElo "2335"]
[PlyCount "80"]
[EventDate "2015.08.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.08.14"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. f4 a6 7. Nxc6 Qxc6 8.
Bd3 b5 9. Qe2 Bb7 10. Bd2 Bc5 11. O-O-O Ne7 12. a3 Bd4 {I found this
interesting idea with Bd4-Rb8-Qb6-Bc6 in my pre-game prep. After the move he
thought for about 15 minutes so I knew I caught him off guard.} 13. Rhf1 Rb8
14. Qg4 {I was on my own after this. It's a tricky move because if I continue
with my plan with 14...Qb6, I was afraid of 15. e5 with an attack. If I castle,
he can play f5. I spent about 35 minutes calculating the consequences of my
next move.} f5 15. Qh5+ (15. exf5 Qxg2 16. Qxg2 Bxg2 17. Rfe1 exf5 18. Bxf5 Bf3
19. Ne2 Bf2 {is what I calculated if he takes on f5.}) 15... g6 16. Qh4 Qb6 17.
g4 {I believe this move is a mistake. The funny thing is, after the game
multiple came up to me and asked me how I managed to win from this position as
they thought I was much worse! During the game I felt as if I was at least
equal, but then again I haven't looked at this game with an engine yet so I
could be just dead lost.} Bc6 (17... b4 18. axb4 (18. Na4 Qc6 (18... Bxb2+ 19.
Kxb2 bxa3+ 20. Kxa3 {White should survive.}) 19. Bxb4) 18... Qxb4) (17... fxg4
18. f5 b4 19. Na4 Qc6 20. Bxb4 Be3+ 21. Kb1 g5 22. Qh5+) 18. Ne2 (18. exf5 b4)
18... fxe4 19. Nxd4 exd3 (19... Qxd4 20. Bc3 Qe3+ 21. Kb1 (21. Rd2)) 20. Bb4
Nd5 21. Rxd3 (21. Bd6 Qxd4 22. Bxb8 Qe3+ (22... Ne3 23. Rxd3 Qc4 24. Rxe3 Qxf1+
25. Re1 Qc4 26. Bd6) 23. Kb1 (23. Rd2 b4 24. Re1 Qb6 25. Be5 O-O 26. Rxd3 bxa3)
23... dxc2+ 24. Kxc2 Nb4+ 25. axb4 Be4+) 21... Nxb4 22. axb4 Be4 23. Rd2 O-O
24. f5 Rbc8 (24... exf5 25. gxf5 gxf5 26. Rg1+ Kh8 27. Qe7) 25. f6 (25. Re1
exf5 26. gxf5 d5 27. fxg6 hxg6) 25... Rf7 26. g5 Bd5 (26... d5 27. Qg4 Re8) 27.
Qg3 (27. Nf3 Qe3 28. Qg3 Be4 29. Nd4) 27... a5 28. bxa5 Qxa5 29. Qa3 Qb6 30. b3
b4 31. Qb2 Be4 32. Re1 d5 33. Kb1 e5 34. Ne2 Qe3 35. Red1 Rfc7 36. f7+ Kf8 37.
Ng3 (37. Qxe5 Bxc2+ {is the simple win...} ({...but} 37... Qxb3+ 38. Qb2 Rxc2
39. Qxb3 Rxd2+ 40. Ka1 Ra8+ {is way cooler.})) 37... Bxc2+ 38. Rxc2 Rxc2 39.
Qxc2 Rxc2 40. Kxc2 Qc3+ 0-1[/pgn]
"After he played Qg3 I knew I should be winning," he said. "I knew it was a big moment." His was the first to finish among the leaders. One board down, Velikanov said he originally thought North Carolinian Steve (Tianqi) Wang would tie him by beating Indiana representative Sean Vibbert. In the end, they drew to finish a half-point off the pace. The final standings would not be determined until deep into the fourth hour. On the top board, number-one ranked IM Andrew Tang of Minnesota had an extra pawn but was furiously trying to extricate his king from various checks by Northern Californian champ Vignesh Panchanatham. At the end, Tang and Panchanatham both looked despondent. Neither was willing to risk his position by avoiding a repetition, thus injuring both of their title hopes. Tang could have moved his king to e2 instead of g2, although with only a few minutes left on his clock, wasn't willing to risk all the possible discoveries.
[pgn][White "Tang, Andrew"]
[Black "Panchanatham, Vignesh"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D36"]
[WhiteElo "1493"]
[BlackElo "2297"]
[PlyCount "94"]
[EventDate "2015.08.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.08.14"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 c6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Qc2
Nbd7 9. Nge2 Re8 10. O-O Ne4 11. Bxe4 Bxg5 12. Bxh7+ Kh8 13. Bd3 Nf6 14. h3 Bh6
15. Bf5 Qd6 16. Bxc8 Raxc8 17. Qf5 g6 18. Qf3 Kg7 19. Rac1 Re6 20. Ng3 Rce8 21.
Rfe1 Qb4 22. Rc2 Nh7 23. h4 f5 24. Nge2 Re4 25. g3 Nf6 26. Rd1 R4e7 27. Nf4 Qd6
28. Nce2 Qd7 29. Nd3 Ng4 30. Nef4 Qd6 31. Re1 Re4 32. Rec1 Qf6 33. Nc5 R4e7 34.
Rc3 Qf7 35. b4 g5 36. hxg5 Bxg5 37. Kg2 Rh8 38. Rh1 Rxh1 39. Kxh1 Bxf4 40. Qxf4
Qh5+ 41. Kg2 Kg6 42. Nd3 Rh7 43. Rc1 Qh3+ 44. Kf3 Qh5 45. Kg2 Qh3+ 46. Kf3 Qh5
47. Kg2 Qh3+ 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
"A lot of things had to go right for me in order to get first," Velikanov said. Velikanov was away from the tournament hall and had to be told he won the national championship. With it he gets $800 and also a $750 scholarship in honor of Erik Patchell, a two-time Denker player from Kentucky who passed away earlier this year. Velikanov, a Milwaukee native, is entering his senior year. He also is the top tennis player in his school, and said he might play in the U.S. Open tennis tournament later this week (not the one in Flushing, NY!). "Chess has 100 percent helped in tennis staying mentally strong,"Velikanov said, adding that his chess and tennis styles are similar. He said he's a positional chess player and in tennis he likes to wear down his opponent during a point instead of going for quick winner. He had played in the Denker once before, as an alternate! In 2013 the U.S. Open was in Madison, WI and he only got to play since the home state can send a second player to even out the field. Velikanov said that he wants to go to a college with a chess program. "Being around those players in St. Louis would be pretty cool!" he said. The Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions was far less dramatic. What it lacked in nervous tension it made up for in historical achievement.
Advait Patel Advait Patel
Oklahoman Advait Patel, the two-seed, led by a full point entering round six. A draw with Andrew Zheng of Maryland clinched the second consecutive Barber title for the Sooner. He also won $800. After a Bayonet Attack in the King's Indian Defense, Zheng pitched the exchange to try to break through. The initiative fizzled, and Patel agreed to a draw despite the better endgame chances to ensure the title.
[pgn][White "Zheng, Andrew"]
[Black "Patel, Advait"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E97"]
[WhiteElo "2121"]
[BlackElo "2297"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[EventDate "2015.08.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.08.14"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O Nc6 8. d5
Ne7 9. Re1 Ne8 10. Bd2 f5 11. b4 Nf6 12. Ng5 h6 13. Ne6 Bxe6 14. dxe6 fxe4 15.
Bg4 c6 16. Nxe4 Nxe4 17. Rxe4 Nf5 18. Qe2 d5 19. cxd5 cxd5 20. Rxe5 Bxe5 21.
Qxe5 Qf6 22. Re1 Qxe5 23. Rxe5 Rae8 24. Bf3 Ne7 25. Bxh6 Rf5 26. Re1 Nc6 27.
Bd2 Ne5 28. Bd1 Nd3 29. Re3 Nxf2 30. Bc2 Ne4 31. Bxe4 dxe4 32. Rxe4 Rd5 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
As founder Dewain Barber cited at the awards ceremony, Patel is the only two-time winner of the fledging event; in fact no other person has ever won two titles in any other three events (Denker, Barber, NGIT).
Veronika Zilajeva, Anupama Rajendra, Jennifer Shahade, Evian Xiang, Jennifer Yu and Jon Haskel Veronika Zilajeva, Anupama Rajendra, Jennifer Shahade, Evian Xiang, Jennifer Yu and Jon Haskel
The National Girls Invitational Championship entered Tuesday morning in a similar predicament to the Barber. Like Patel, New Hampshire representative Evan Xiang led by a full point over the field. But would she live free or die? The Swiss System correctly paired Xiang with the highest-rated girl with 4.0/5, and that was top-rated Jennifer Yu of Virginia. Could the leader hold on for a win or draw against the WFM? The trades began piling up; by move 25 all the minor pieces had been exchanged. Yu then broke through on the queenside and formed Alekhine's Gun to win a pawn. The resulting endgame was rook+5 versus rook+4 (Magnus Carlsen has won similar endings even without the extra pawn!). This would eventually reduce to two versus one, and after 87 moves the top-player finally mated the White king.
[pgn][White "Xiang, Evan"]
[Black "Yu, Jennifer R"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D02"]
[WhiteElo "1806"]
[BlackElo "2193"]
[PlyCount "174"]
[EventDate "2015.08.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.08.14"]

1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Nf6 3. Nf3 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. c3 Qb6 6. Qc1 Bf5 7. Nbd2 e6 8. Be2
Be7 9. h3 h6 10. O-O O-O 11. dxc5 Bxc5 12. Nb3 Be7 13. Rd1 Rac8 14. Bd3 Bxd3
15. Rxd3 a5 16. Nbd4 a4 17. Nxc6 Rxc6 18. Ne5 Rcc8 19. Qc2 Qa6 20. Rad1 b5 21.
Qe2 Bd6 22. Rd4 Qb6 23. Ng4 Nxg4 24. Bxd6 Qxd6 25. Qxg4 a3 26. Qe2 Qa6 27. Rb4
Rc5 28. Rb3 axb2 29. Qxb2 Rfc8 30. Rd4 Qc6 31. Rdb4 Rxc3 32. Rxc3 Qxc3 33. Qxc3
Rxc3 34. Rxb5 Rc1+ 35. Kh2 Rc2 36. Kg3 Rxa2 37. Rb7 g6 38. Kf3 Kg7 39. Rb4 Ra3
40. Rd4 Kf6 41. Ke2 Ke5 42. f4+ Kd6 43. Rb4 Rc3 44. Kd2 Rc4 45. Rb7 Rc7 46.
Rb6+ Ke7 47. Kd3 Ra7 48. Ke2 Kf6 49. g3 Ra2+ 50. Kf3 Ra3 51. Kf2 Rc3 52. Rb7 g5
53. Ra7 Rc2+ 54. Kg1 Re2 55. fxg5+ hxg5 56. Ra3 Ke5 57. h4 gxh4 58. gxh4 Kf5
59. Kf1 Rh2 60. Ra4 e5 61. Kg1 Rh3 62. Kf2 f6 63. Ra5 Ke4 64. Ra4+ Kf5 65. Ra5
Rxh4 66. Rxd5 Ke4 67. Rd6 f5 68. Kg3 Rh1 69. Kf2 Rh2+ 70. Kg3 Re2 71. Re6 Rxe3+
72. Kf2 Ra3 73. Re8 Ra2+ 74. Kg3 f4+ 75. Kg4 Rg2+ 76. Kh3 Rg7 77. Ra8 f3 78.
Ra4+ Ke3 79. Ra3+ Kf4 80. Ra4+ e4 81. Kh2 f2 82. Ra3 e3 83. Ra4+ Kf3 84. Rh4
Rg2+ 85. Kh3 f1=Q 86. Rf4+ Kxf4 87. Kh4 Qh1# 0-1[/pgn]
Yu's win not only made her happy, it also allowed two other girls to join her and Xiang atop the NGIT final standings.
Jennifer Yu Jennifer Yu
Wisconsin got its second title from Anupama Rajendra and Oklahoma followed suit, with Veronika Zilajeva. All won $500 in the four-way tie for first.
The winning Wisconsin team The winning Wisconsin team
It's probably no surprise that these two states tied for the top overall state prize. Wisconsin and Oklahoma both combined for 13.5/18, with the Badgers edging them out on tiebreaks. Washington took third.
Oklahoma, tied for first and second on tiebreak Oklahoma, tied for first and second on tiebreak
Other special prizes were awarded at the closing ceremony. Tennessee won best state with an average rating below 1700. Maryland won best state under 1900 and Massachusetts for under 2100. The NGIT awarded a $500 Ursula Foster Award to the best girl under the age of 13 to Thalia Cervantes of Missouri. Andrew Tang won a $500 award in the Denker for the best player under the age of 17. Steve Shutt gave a $500 award to help pay for any chess camp to Advait Patel, the best player under the age of 13 in the Barber. Below are the best game prizes, as voted on by WGM Jennifer Shahade and yours truly. Best Denker Game:
[pgn][White "Tang, Andrew"]
[Black "Brattain, Mika A"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A56"]
[WhiteElo "1493"]
[BlackElo "2336"]
[PlyCount "69"]
[EventDate "2015.08.01"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.08.14"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e5 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Be7 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 Ne8 8. Nge2
Na6 9. O-O Bd7 10. Be3 Nec7 11. f4 Bf6 12. a4 Nb4 13. Qd2 b6 14. f5 a6 15. h4
Rb8 16. Kh2 b5 17. b3 bxc4 18. bxc4 Na8 19. a5 Qe8 20. Ng1 Bd8 21. Nf3 f6 22.
g4 Bc7 23. Ra3 Qd8 24. Rfa1 Kf7 25. g5 Qe7 26. h5 Ke8 27. Bh3 Qf7 28. g6 hxg6
29. fxg6 Qe7 30. Nh4 Rh8 31. h6 Bxh3 32. Kxh3 gxh6 33. Nf5 Qd7 34. g7 Rg8 35.
Rg1 1-0[/pgn]
Best Barber Game:
[pgn][White "Liu, Aristo"]
[Black "Qi, Alexander"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B01"]
[PlyCount "79"]

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 c6 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 Bg4 7. O-O Nbd7 8.
Bf4 e6 9. Re1 Be7 10. h3 Bh5 11. Ne4 Nxe4 12. Bxe4 Nf6 13. Bd3 Qb6 14. g4 Bg6
15. Ne5 Bxd3 16. Qxd3 Rd8 17. c3 Nd5 18. Bd2 O-O 19. b4 Qc7 20. a4 a6 21. a5
Bf6 22. Nf3 Nf4 23. Bxf4 Qxf4 24. Re4 Qh6 25. Kg2 Qg6 26. Qe2 Rd7 27. g5 h6 28.
h4 hxg5 29. hxg5 Rdd8 30. Rg4 Qf5 31. Rg3 Be7 32. Rh1 f6 33. g6 Bd6 34. Ng5
Qxg6 35. Qxe6+ Rf7 36. Qxf7+ Qxf7 37. Rh8+ Kxh8 38. Nxf7+ Kg8 39. Nxd8 Bxg3 40.
Kxg3 1-0[/pgn]
Best NGIT Game:
[pgn][White "Papanek, Ella"]
[Black "Harijarbabi, Kiana"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B21"]
[PlyCount "55"]

1. e4 c5 2. d3 Nc6 3. f4 d6 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 Nf6 6. O-O Be7 7. h3 b6 8. c3 e5
9. f5 d5 10. Nbd2 d4 11. Nc4 dxc3 12. bxc3 Qc7 13. Qe1 Nd7 14. Qg3 g6 15. Ne3
Bf6 16. Nh2 Bg7 17. Nhg4 Qd6 18. f6 Bxf6 19. Nxf6+ Nxf6 20. Qf3 Nd7 21. Qxf7+
Kd8 22. Nd5 h6 23. Bxh6 Ba6 24. Bg7 Re8 25. Rf6 Nxf6 26. Bxf6+ Ne7 27. Bxe7+
Rxe7 28. Qf8+ 1-0[/pgn]
Dewain Barber Dewain Barber
Dewain Barber also hosted a trivia contest, based on the players' knowledge of He also asked many questions about his own chess experiences and gave away prizes like chessboard socks. "All of you are part of the Denker legacy," he said. Shutt also presented Barber with a handmade chess set made of plumbing and construction parts. It took two years to build and weighs more than 70 pounds. You can see the full standings for all three events here.

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