Everything But An Upset On First Day of National High School (K-12) Championships

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Photo Caroline King


Class C Players Consistently Crush Masters in D.C.

Now that we have your attention (“April Fools'!” by the way) …

The drama and early elimination of contenders for the 2023 National High School Championships began before this event’s first move was even played!

A couple of weeks before the event, US Chess staff realized that the playing site had been overbooked by the Hilton and, as a result, a cap was placed on the number of participants in the main event (1,700 then expanded to 1,780) and in the Blitz (308). Despite the cap, a new record (unofficially 1,760) broke the previous record of 1,681 set in 2019.


Carol Meyer
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Executive Director Carol Meyer at the Opening Ceremony, before crossing Connecticut Street with a brigade of blitzers (photo Caroline King)


One memorable product of the overbooking was the bonus exercise that some of the Blitz players (literally led by US Chess Executive Director Carol Meyer over the Connecticut Avenue bridge) chose to engage in instead of using the shuttle service offered by US Chess to get from the site hotel (Washington D.C. Hilton) to the resourcefully obtained Omni Hotel about a mile away.



The only reason that Bughouse does not attract hundreds of teams is that it’s held before most teams arrive! While some coaches discourage (or downright prohibit) bughouse play right before a big event, others see it as a fun way to relax and perhaps train your eye to look for ways to create weak squares.

29 teams showed up to compete. The winning team was Kitana Olson and L. Jiang with a perfect score of 10-0! Kitana Olson chose to play in the Championship section despite having a rating of 1454, and at the time of this writing, I cannot find any record of an L. Jiang in the main event. More on this mystery tomorrow! Final standings for Bughouse here.



When a side event venue is a mile away from the site hotel, you would expect a large percentage of late and absent players, but with the shuttle buses and aforementioned Pied Piper routine by our executive director, only the usual number of players bustled in after the scheduled start time. Maybe having a bus forced them to plan better!

After the final king was mated, the top 16 finishers of the 292 players had ratings with a “2” as the first digit (and all had four digits!). So, yes, competition was tough.

Expert Aarush Vinod (Virginia) took first on tiebreaks over co-champion IM-Elect Nico Chasin. Each scored nine wins and a draw out of the ten games (5 double-rounds in which you face each opponent twice – once with each color). Of the eight players who finished a half-point back, there were two each from Illinois, Virginia, and New York.


Kaplan and Ladan
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Illinois masters Avi Kaplan (L) and Nicholas Ladan finished third and fifth, respectively, in the blitz tournament (photo Caroline King)


Players from Connecticut and Florida rounded out the top ten. Final standings for Blitz here.

The co-champions’ teams took the top two spots in the Blitz Team awards, but this time it was Chasin’s team that finished in first: Columbia Grammar 34½, Thomas Jefferson HS 34. The third-place team came with an interesting story…

When the current seniors at Hunter College Campus School (NY) were on a K-1 team, they took the national title. Their famed coach, FM Sunil Weeramantry, promised them that if they went to Nationals as seniors, he would make the trip with them! More on this story tomorrow!


GM Rashad Babaev Simul


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18 players took on the grandmaster in residence (photo Caroline King)


GM Babaev scored 17 wins and one draw against a tenacious group. The lone draw was earned by Aidan Baker, a fourth-grade B-player from Illinois. Nicely done, Aidan!


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Aidan Baker had to find some clever rerouting moves with his pieces, but ultimately his Najdorf was good enough to hold a grandmaster to a draw (photo Caroline King)


You can see his steel resolve in the face of the grandmaster's crushing attack below (and in the photo above!), and click onto the study to see a game that Babaev almost lost as well as the last game to finish.



Babaev then went on to take on all comers over the next two hours of blitz. After his lectures today and tomorrow, he will once again be open for challenges.



The Main Event

After a mere two rounds, no fewer than 48 players are still perfect in the Championship section. Worth noting is the lowest rated among them, Henry Zaslow is a senior from Illinois rated only 1465. Zaslow had upsets of about 300 and 400 points in his two wins. Very impressive, Henry!


Game of the Day: A Narrow Escape on Board Three


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New Jersey's Pranav Shankar gave Ohio's finest everything he could handle in round one (photo Caroline King)


In round one, Pranav Shankar (2006, New Jersey) had FM Jason Wang (the defending North American Open champion) on the proverbial ropes in this position. Can you beat a 2500?



Precision was key, but with four seconds on the clock, the ten-second increment seemed to feel like just three seconds to Shankar and he moved quickly until finally offering a queen trade that would seal his fate.



Even in the ensuing time scramble, Shankar missed one chance to force a draw with a dangerous h-pawn.



After the game, Wang candidly admitted that he thought he was losing. In the meantime, Shankar was oblivious to the strength (2504!) of his opponent.


FM Jason Wang
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FM Jason Wang: "a little higher" than 2100 (photo Caroline King)


He asked Wang “Are you about 2100?” to which Wang replied “A little higher.” When I interjected (incorrectly) that Wang was 2400, Shankar almost fell over! Here's the full game:



Team Standings

First, a public service announcement: check your team listing and make sure that everyone is on it! Tournament Directors will not fix your omissions later in the tournament.

Usually, the first day is no time to talk about team standings, but it was surprising to see a team in the K-12 Championship section with three players under 1900 who joined their 2100-rated captain with a perfect score after two rounds! This Hunter team (mentioned above) needed four upsets of 200-300 points to accomplish this. And yet, it can only put them even with the mighty Dalton whose top four boards average over 2200. But, there will be much to say on the team competition over the next two days!


The Best Move of the Event? The Title I School National Event Grant

What is it?

In the words of US Chess’s Director of Development, Geoff Isaak:

“This program (the Title I School National Event Grant) is special. If you don’t believe me, just spend some time talking with some of the high school students who’ve participated in it. Their experiences go straight to the heart of our mission – they’re empowered, their lives are enriched, and they’re enhancing our communities through chess. This program is an excellent example of how chess can tangibly impact the lives of young people who just need an opportunity to play.”

Three programs received grants for this event. Each day, we will highlight a different program.


Chess in the Schools

Shaun Smith, Director of Programs at Chess in the Schools said that the sponsorships enable them to bring players who otherwise would never have this opportunity. “For more than a few of our students, they will always remember this trip as their first time on Amtrak, their first time staying in a hotel, and, perhaps most memorably, their first scholastic nationals. There’s something special about these national events that seems to really impact our players.”


Goals for the Event

“While some of the traditionally competitive schools in the Chess In the Schools program worked to place four players in each of several sections {a team score is made up of the top four players from a single school}, with hopes of top five finishes, others are here because they have impressed their coaches with their dedication and recent improvement, and we just want them to have this opportunity.” Shaun said that the process of selecting which students would attend really began in December when they started thinking about who would attend the US Amateur Team East (also called the World Teams since it is the biggest event in the U.S.).

Shaun also expressed a great appreciation for IM Dmitry Schneider who supported their programs with $50,000 in memberships and courses from Chessable, as well as GM Pascal Charbonneau who provided students with premium memberships and events from Chess24. “When the world shut down, the kids were just sitting at home and Dmitry and Pascal simply asked, 'How can we help?' That’s the chess community that we are so fortunate to have supporting us.”

Play resumes today with three more rounds, with top boards being broadcast on uschess.live

GM Mesgen Amanov and Gopal Menon will be streaming commentary of round five at 6:00 p.m. ET on twitch

A full schedule of events is available here.