Eight Lessons From the Junior High School Nationals

As the All-Girls Nationals (April 22-24) and Elementary Nationals (May 6-8) loom, Pete Karagianis pinpoints eight lessons from the Junior High School Nationals, held April 16-17 in Indianapolis.  It was an exciting (and long) weekend at the 2016 Junior High (K-9) Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. By and large, the top seeds held serve, with the two 2300+ players in the K-9 championship section - Maggie Feng (6.5) and Ben Li (6.0) - remaining in the top two positions when all was said and done. In the K-8 Championship, Danial Asaria also matched his finish with his seed, finishing first in tiebreaks ahead of his final round opponent, Wesley Wang. Here are my eight takeaways from the championship weekend. Number 1: Tactics Matter! Yeah, like “Pin it to win it.” Remember all of those neat rhymes and sayings and memory tricks to help recall the way to maximize your threats? They, of course, will always find a way into the games at Nationals. Take, for example, the following position from the K-8 U1000 section between Nigel Cooper and Avighnav Vasudevan:
[pgn]

[Event "Analysis variation"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.04.16"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Cooper, Nigel"]
[Black "Vasudevan, Avighnav"]
[Result "*"]
[Annotator "Karagianis,Pete"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "3r2k1/2p3p1/p1n5/1p1rp1p1/5qP1/P1P2P1P/2PN2R1/2KRQ3 b - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "4"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

{In this analysis position, white is in serious trouble. Black only has to
remember: put pressure on the pinned piece!} 1... Na5 2. Rf2 Nc4 3. Re2 {And
now black has multiple ways to proceed, but c6! leaves a nice impression -
white is out of moves for his pieces.} *[/pgn]
As it happened, black missed his chance and fell for a fork later in the game, losing. Tactics count! Number 2: Hoodies are in Style  CgHmQDOWcAACKw2 If you scoped the USChess Twitter feed (@USChess), you may have noticed the power of the hoodie sported by Ben Li in the K-9 Championship section. It guided him to an undefeated 4.5/5 score and sheltered him from the elements, glaring light, and, well, pretty much everything else. The hoodie was, in fact, a very popular bit of attire across all sections. Perhaps I can learn something from this fashion “do.”   IMG_5216Jeffrey Xiong, who is currently causing a stir at the US Championship with his excellent result, would certainly approve. DSC_2995 Number 3: It’s OK To Go Backwards Let’s give the parents some love. They get the rooms, book the flights, find food, and generally sit around nervously for (today, anyway) nearly twelve full hours. Well, some of them. Others play in the Friends and Family section! In the following somewhat strange early(?) middlegame between Vinoth Rajakumar and Gerald Roberts, what is white’s best move?
[pgn]

[Event "JH Friends and Family"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.04.16"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Rajakumar, Vinothkumar"]
[Black "Roberst, Gerald"]
[Result "*"]
[WhiteElo "1573"]
[BlackElo "2030"]
[Annotator "Karagianis,Pete"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r3k2r/2p1ppb1/p1n1bn1p/1p4p1/6P1/P1NP1N1P/1PPBBP2/1K1RR3 w kq - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "1"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. Na2 {Was played in the actual game- and yes, the knight is going backwards!
But perhaps this was the wrong piece to send in reverse...} (1. Bf1 {seems
best, planning to reposition the piece to the longest diagonal while
simultaneously opening up the e-rook on the half-open file. Now, black must be
careful. For example...} O-O (1... O-O-O {Was more or less necessary.}) 2. Bg2
{And already there is no good defense to Nxg5!}) *[/pgn]
Number 4: Sleep Matters Day two, Saturday, was the marathon day - the only day with three full rounds. In between the second round of the day (round 4 overall) and round 5, I rounded the corner from the “Under” sections headed to Chess Control to nearly stumble - quite literally - over a chess team that was completely asleep in unison - every member - equipped with eye masks and earplugs - while the chess parents watched carefully over their flock. It made me drowsy and, in fact, was a solid reminder of the greatest enemy of all tournament players: fatigue. Day two was more of a “survival” day than anything else. Number 5: Beware the Trojan Horse The following “Shot in the dark” definitely wins the “amazing tactic of the day prize” for me simply because it’s sort of unexpected, sort of deep, and really cool. Always look for shots and always beware the Trojan Horse - just because you can take a piece doesn’t mean you should. The following example comes from the K-8 Championship round 3, where Sina Mohammadi had white against Advaith Prabu:
[pgn]

[Event "K-8 Champ analysis"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.04.16"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Mohammadi, Sina"]
[Black "Prabu, Advaith"]
[Result "*"]
[WhiteElo "1846"]
[BlackElo "2011"]
[Annotator "Karagianis,Pete"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1r1q1rk1/bpp2ppp/2npb3/p7/2P1N3/PP2PB2/1B3PPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "11"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

{Here white uncorks the very cool...} 1. Nf6+ {A speculative sacrifice which
looks terrifying to try to defend. The idea is simple: mate! But does black
have an unusual defense?} gxf6 2. Bxc6 bxc6 3. Qf3 {This was white's idea.
Quite terrifying, and it's certainly understandable that in the game, black
tried declining the sacrifice with ..Kh8 instead of ...gxf6. But it turns out
there is a very odd defense. The king must march!} Kg7 4. Qg3+ Kh6 ({not} 4...
Kh8 {because...} 5. Qg5 {Pin it to win it, remember?}) 5. Qh4+ Kg6 6. f4 {OK,
I guess black is living, but this really, really doesn't look like a whole
bushel full of fun for the second player.} *[/pgn]
Number 6: Dress for Success All weekend long on the USChess Twitter feed, Greg Shahade posted an ongoing montage of the “best dressed” competitors. The funny thing is - he never ran out of material. The well-dressed competitors were a step above the Nationals participants I remember from my own youth, where athletic shorts and a 3-sizes-too-big “Just Do It” T-shirt were en vogue. The times have changed, however. As National Tournament Director Chris Merli put it, “These kids came to play!” Number 7: Calculation Counts! In the final, and ultimately deciding (though not decisive) game of the K-8 Championship section, co-champions Danial Asaria and Wesley Wang battled it out in a well-fought draw. Both players had to flash some well-conceived tactical ideas in order to stay in the fight proving that even in cases of a split point, calculation counts.
[pgn] [Event "JH National k-8"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.04.17"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Wang, Wesley"]
[Black "Asaria, Danial"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B30"]
[WhiteElo "2166"]
[BlackElo "2227"]
[Annotator "Karagianis,Pete"]
[PlyCount "98"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Qb6 4. Nc3 e6 5. a4 a6 6. Bc4 Nf6 7. d3 d6 8. O-O
Be7 9. Rb1 O-O 10. Be3 Rd8 11. d4 d5 12. exd5 exd5 13. Be2 Bf5 14. h3 cxd4 15.
Nxd4 Nxd4 16. Bxd4 Bc5 17. Bxc5 Qxc5 18. Bd3 d4 19. Ne2 Rac8 20. Bxf5 Qxf5 21.
Nxd4 Qg6 22. c3 Rc5 {Up a solid pawn, white does not remain content to rest on
his laurels, but, with nerves of steel, initiates tactics.} 23. Nf5 {!?
Perhaps better was the setup (and otherwise generall useful) move 23. Re1! but
this flashy move stands up tactically.} Re8 (23... Rxd1 24. Ne7+ Kf8 25. Nxg6+
hxg6 26. Rfxd1) 24. Ng3 Rg5 25. Qf3 h5 26. Rfe1 h4 27. Rxe8+ Nxe8 28. Re1 Nd6
29. Ne2 Qe6 30. Rd1 Re5 31. Nf4 Qf6 32. Nd5 {White is ready to liquidate, but
harming his own pawn structure in such a way was probably unadvised.} (32. Qg4
{The point is black cannot continue to harass the queen and thus must look for
something else. e.g.--} Rg5 33. Rxd6) 32... Qxf3 33. gxf3 Nc4 34. b3 Na5 35. b4
Nc4 36. Rd4 Nb2 37. Nb6 g5 38. Rd2 Re1+ 39. Kg2 Rb1 40. f4 gxf4 41. Kf3 Nd1 42.
Rc2 Kg7 43. Kxf4 {And now it is black who shows off his stone-cold calculation
skills to even up the game. White should have refrained from grabbing f4,
instead simply a5 or many other moves would have held an edge, but now comes...
} Nxc3 {! Well-timed. The game is now level.} 44. Rxc3 Rxb4+ 45. Rc4 (45. Nc4
b5) 45... Rxb6 46. Kg5 Rf6 47. f4 Rg6+ 48. Kxh4 Kf6 49. Rb4 Kf5 {And a
well-fought draw ensures a tie for top honors.} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Number 8: Space, The Final Frontier No, not the “space” you might find Rey and Kylo flying through, but instead territory on the chessboard. Squares are the critical and often final frontier two players battle over. Take, for example, the following game from the K-9 overall winner, Maggie Feng, where she squeezed her opponent in the late middlegame and managed to convert the ending.
[pgn]

[Event "US JH Nationals"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.04.17"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Feng, Maggie"]
[Black "Kobla, Vishal"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E60"]
[WhiteElo "2302"]
[BlackElo "2115"]
[Annotator "Karagianis,Pete"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. b3 Bg7 4. Bb2 O-O 5. Bg2 d6 (5... d5) 6. d4 Nbd7 7. O-O
e5 8. dxe5 Ng4 9. Qd2 Re8 10. c4 Ngxe5 11. Nxe5 Nxe5 12. Nc3 Rb8 13. Nd5 Be6
14. f4 Bxd5 15. cxd5 Nd7 16. Bxg7 Kxg7 17. e4 {Space! The final frontier!
Black now finds himself in an uncomfortable position without much space. b6
only complicates matters, making c7 particularly weak.} b6 18. b4 f6 19. Rac1
Rc8 20. Rfe1 Re7 21. Bh3 Qe8 22. Qd4 h6 23. Be6 {not the most precise, as it
allows black a breath of freedom.} c5 24. bxc5 Rxc5 25. Rxc5 bxc5 26. Qb2 Qb8
27. Qxb8 Nxb8 28. e5 {again, breaking before necessary. Probably better was to
improve with Kg2-f3, or even perhaps Rb1.} (28. Rb1 Na6 29. a3) (28. Kg2 {
might even be better. the idea is that black cannot really activate without
leaving behind serious problems, for example:} Rb7 29. Kf3 Rb2 30. Re3 Rxa2 31.
Rb3) 28... fxe5 29. fxe5 dxe5 30. Rxe5 Kf6 31. Re3 Na6 32. Ra3 Nb4 33. Rc3 Rc7
{Allowing the d-pawn to move with tempo is, unfortunately, the losing move for
black.} (33... Ke5) 34. a3 Na6 (34... Rb7 {might now have been an interesting
last try.} 35. axb4 (35. Rb3 {is objectively now best.} a5 36. Kg2) 35... cxb4
36. Rc1 b3 37. Kf2 Ke5 38. Ke2 a5 {the conncted passed pawns are quite
dangerous.}) 35. d6 Rb7 36. d7 Ke7 37. Re3 Kd8 38. Bh3 1-0[/pgn]
That’s it! Chess Mamba Out. Like the kids, I, too, had quite the long weekend but was impressed with all of the competitors’ dedication to the game, hard work, and sportsmanship. Also see IM Greg Shahade's wrap-up report and full results here. Look out for coverage of the All-Girls Nationals (April 22-24) and Elementary Nationals (May 6-8) coming up.

Comments

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Excellent articles both by Pete Karagianis and Greg Shahade, I have attended many chess National tournaments, but since starting of this year I have seen lot of good changes in USCF. First is introducing Greg Shahade as an editor/reporter he has tremendous energy level, before most of the tournaments you see glimpse of editors enjoying pool or reading their novel but I see Greg Shahade continuously walking in and out and covering every piece of information he can find it. Bravo!!. Thank you for all your hard work!! USFC management also deserve recognition as they did excellent work beginning from the discipline to make sure pairing should be up well before each round so there was ample time for each player for next game.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

[…] #6 article in Best of US Chess 2016 is Eight Lessons From the Junior High School Nationals by Pete Karagianis. Judges praised Pete’s humorous writing style and useful insights into the […]

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

[…] – Eight Lessons From the Junior High School Nationals by Pete Karagianis (Judging […]

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