Full Report: Eric Liu Goes Seven For Seven, Wins National Middle School Championship

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Anjaneya Rao (L) finished in an eight-way tie for third (tenth on tiebreaks), playing here in front of the crowd of 1,251 participants (Randy Anderson)


Morning rain and cooler weather on Sunday meant that the outdoor pools were closed at the National Middle School Championship site. But chess players still swam, as is the tradition at the end of a major event. Donna Wernecke Elementary (McAllen, Texas) teammates Christopher Guerra and Justus Alvarado celebrated the end of the National Middle School Championship with a visit to the Kalahari Indoor Waterpark.


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Christopher Guerra (L) and Justus Alvarado didn't let the rain stop them from visiting the waterpark after the tournament (courtesy Alexey Root)


Other participants celebrated the championship’s end in the other traditional way, attending its prize ceremony at the end of Sunday’s games.


K-8 Championship


Eric Liu
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Eric Liu with his championship medal.


Eric Liu won the K-8 Championship with a perfect 7/7 score. As FM Sandeep Sethuraman notes in his annotations below, the game was headed towards a draw. But things never feel so simple with a championship on the line:



The championship title was particularly meaningful to Liu, as in the 2022 K-8 Championship he scored 5½/7 behind a five-way tie for first that included Brewington Hardaway and Nandhakumar Vaseegaran.


Eric Liu round 7
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Eric Liu at the start of the final round. Photo: Randy Anderson


Hardaway finished third (on tiebreaks) this year, after losing on time in round six, in an equal position, to Liu. Sethuraman provides annotations on this critical game:



Vaseegaran finished in clear second place this year with 6½/7. Sethuraman provided an interesting moment in his final-round game.



Another outstanding motif came from Ronen Wilson’s round seven win. This game allowed Wilson to tie for third through tenth with 5½/7, finishing ninth on tiebreaks.



Liu’s team, Wester Middle School of Frisco, Texas, took eighth place with only three players. Each team’s top four players’ scores count, and each team must have at least two players, making Wester’s top-ten finish even more impressive.


When asked about his chess goals, Liu said that he hopes to be a FIDE Master in three months and a grandmaster “eventually.”


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We are the champions! Millburn Middle School, from New Jersey (Randy Anderson)


Millburn Middle School, from New Jersey, finished atop the team standings in the Championship section, finishing with 19 points out of a possible 28. Hardaway’s team, The Speyer Legacy School, finished second (on tiebreaks) with 17/28 ahead of Texas’s Rice Middle School (third) and fellow New Yorkers Success Academy Hudson Yards (fourth). 


K-8 Under 1700

Ian Helfing and Srihas Maddipati each scored 6 points, with Helfing winning first on tiebreak. Helfing thought winning was “cool” and hopes to get a FIDE title someday. Helfing certainly kept his cool in the sixth round, claiming the outright lead by positionally outclassing his opponent in a strategic London System:



Maddipati said he hopes to someday be rated 2900. He certainly appreciates the importance of endgames, as his win-on-demand last game illustrated, so perhaps he will get there!



K-8 Under 1400

The National Middle School Championship was in Round Rock, Texas, this year, and the winner of the K-8 Under 1400 calls Round Rock home. Anirudh Kumar said he didn’t expect to win his section, since he started out ranked about in the middle of it and trailed his opponent by a half-point entering the final round. He said winning, with 6½ points, felt “very amazing” and he thanked his dad. Here is his calm victory over an opponent rated over 150 points higher than him to claim the outright title:



K-8 Under 1100

I.S. 318 Eugenio Maria De Hostos (I.S. 318) teammates Raf Goldman and Mateux Hendranto tied for first in the K-8 Under 1100 section, with Goldman getting first on tiebreaks. Their team also took first. Goldman’s goal in chess is, he said, “the same as everyone’s: to improve.” While Hendranto did not have any of his games on the “top board” until his quick draw with his teammate, we were able to see Goldman’s ferocious attack from round six:



K-8 Under 900

Rohan Mahesh’s perfect 7-0 score took clear first in the K-8 Under 900 section. Mahesh said that how he trained every day paid off. He thanked his coach, David Gaston of the Texas Chess Center. In the final round, his opponent also had a perfect 6-0 score, but Mahesh quickly won a rook and never looked back:



K-8 Under 700

Larry Calle Labou scored 7–0 and took first on tiebreak in the K-8 Under 700 section. He said that winning feels amazing and that he enjoys chess. Here’s the win that earned him the top prize:



Eser Ren Kilic scored 7–0 for equal first (second on tiebreak) in the K-8 Under 700 section. He also led his team, I.S. 318, to win the top team Under 700. John Galvin, Assistant Principal and Director of Chess Program, said that Kilic “just learned to play chess in this school year. For him to win his section so soon after learning chess has rarely been done before in I.S. 318 history.”


K-8 Unrated

FIve players tied for first, each with six points. There are no team awards in the Unrated section. Here is Abhik Rudra’s sixth round win:



Triple(t) Threat

On Broadway, a performer who can sing, dance, and act is a triple threat. In basketball, a player in triple-threat stance can shoot, dribble, or pass. US Chess Scholastic Council member Danny Rohde often uses triple threat analogies, such as when a pawn approaches another pawn. Then there are three possibilities: exchange the pawn, advance the pawn, or leave the tension. 

At the National Middle School, two New York City teams brought “triplet threats.” Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School has the Javeri triplets, Arhan, Riaan, and Kiaan, sixth graders. All three played in the K-8 Championship section and scores from Arhan and Riaan contributed to their team’s ninth place finish. 

Success Academy Midtown West has the Bolkhovitinov triplets, Daniel, Nathan, and Jacob, also sixth graders. Daniel’s score contributed to his team finishing seventh in the K-8 Championship section, while Nathan’s score helped his team win the K-8 Under 1700 section. Jacob also played in the Under 1700 section.


Girls Club Room

With WIM Emily Nguyen commentating on Twitch with IM Doug Root, and WIM Luciana Morales having returned to Brownsville, I was the only Girls Club Room special guest still available on Sunday afternoon. So I paid a second visit to the Girls Club Room to present chess problems. Additionally, WIM Beatriz Marinello, a US Chess Scholastic Council member, analyzed chess games with girls.


Girls Club
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The Girls Club team! Front: Emily Nguyen (L), Alexey Root, Luciana Morales. Back: Leila D'Aquin (L), Kimberly Doo (courtesy Kimberly Doo)


The first problem I presented had come to my attention during a Mechanics’ Institute Chess Café, held every Monday over Zoom. Mike Walder is a Chess Cafe regular who takes online lessons from GM Gadir Guseinov, ranked 79th in the world by FIDE (International Chess Federation). Guseinov gives Walder chess homework and this problem was from Walder’s homework. 


There were more than 40 people in the Girls Club Room who attempted this problem, including IM Joshua Posthuma. But the only person to solve it within 15 minutes was Elizaveta “Liza” Skripkina, a nine-year-old girl who is in fourth grade. She scored 5 points in the Under 900 section. For solving the problem, Skripkina won a copy of my eighth book, United States Women's Chess Champions, 1937-2020


Liza Skripkina, only in fourth grade, was the Girls Club puzzle solving champion (courtesy Kimberly Doo)


If you want to try to solve the problem, here is the only hint I gave: It is White to move. I didn’t say how many moves, or if White is trying to draw or win.