Grade Nationals: The Experience

Above the Garden Conservatory of the Gaylord Opryland Resort

Above the Garden Conservatory of the Gaylord Opryland Resort

The National Grade Championships, one of the most popular scholastic events in the country, allows players to fight for recognition as the best of their specific age group. The 2016 edition of this huge competition, spanning from kindergartners all the way to seniors in high school, took place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, one of the largest and most festive hotels in the world. The entire resort was decked out for the holidays, including a Christmas themed ride, the Opryland Express Train, located directly below the tournament hall.

Next year, the Gaylord Opryland Resort will also be the site of SuperNationals VI, the biggest scholastic tournament in the U.S, combining the National Elementary, Junior High, and High School Championships into one epic event. In fact, in 2013, SuperNationals V broke the record for the largest rated tournament in history. 

Fighting Chess

It’s easy to see a last round draw on 1st board and assume that the players agreed to a quick, “grandmaster draw” instead of fighting it out over-the-board to be champion. This was definitely not the case on many of the top boards in this event.

On 1st board of the 9th Grade section, Praveen Balakrishnan, the highest ranked player in the entire tournament, needed only a draw to secure 1st place. Despite this, even as the game reached a drawish rook endgame, he continued to fight for a win, offering a two pawn sacrifice and setting a fascinating trap for his opponent, Albert Liang.

However, Liang was able to find the correct defense. What is Black’s only move?

Balakrishnan vs. Liang

Black to move.


Max Lu, fighting for a win on the top board during the last round

Max Lu, fighting for a win on the top board during the last round

On the 5th Grade top board, the draw between Max Lu and Gus Huston that led to a nine-way tie for 1st place, was similarly very hard-fought.

The Champions


National Kindergarten Co-Champion, Dhruva Patil, and his last round opponent, Elijah Gerson

National Kindergarten Co-Champion, Dhruva Patil, and his last round opponent, Elijah Gerson

The Kindergarten Championship ended with a 3-way tie between top seed Dhruva Patil, 2nd seed Inay Vellore, and underdog winner Hudson Lutfiyya, who began the tournament over 400 points lower than the other two co-champions. Lutfiyya won a must-win game over the tournament leader, Vellore, in the last round to secure a tie for 1st place. His impressive performance gained him nearly 200 rating points.

1st Grade


The National 1st Grade Champion, Steve Wongso

Top seed Steve Wongso won the 1st Grade Championship with a perfect 7-0 score. What’s amazing about this very talented young player is that he only began playing in tournaments this year, rising from his starting US Chess rating of 547 to his current 1770 rating in only 11 months. Wongso is currently ranked 3rd in the country for 7-year-olds.

2nd Grade

National 2nd Grade Champion Jack Yang

National 2nd Grade Champion, Jack Yang

Jack Yang, the National 2nd Grade Champion, greatly exceeded expectations. He began the event ranked 11th. Yet, he went undefeated and managed upset victories against several players 100+ points higher and a draw against 2nd seed Varun Gadi, who was nearly 250 points above him. Yang’s tournament victory gave him his first 1600+ US Chess rating.

3rd Grade

Jonathan Chen, tied for 3rd place, and National 3rd Grade Co-Champion, Dimitar Mardov

Jonathan Chen, 3rd place, and National 3rd Grade Co-Champion, Dimitar Mardov

Top seed Dimitar Mardov and Luke Ye tied for 1st place, each going undefeated with 6.5 points. Mardov and Ye are 4th and 5th in the country for 8-year-olds.

4th Grade

Jack Levine, the National 4th Grade Champion

Jack Levine, the National 4th Grade Champion. Photo credit: Jeff Levine

Jack Levine achieved one of the few perfect scores of the event, clinching the National 4th Grade Championship. Levine is in the top 20 for players his age and has competed in every grade nationals since he started playing. This year’s victory improves on last year’s result when he finished at the top (by tiebreaks) of a 10-player tie for 2nd.

5th Grade

Max Lu, National 5th Grade Co-Champion, 1st by tiebreaks

Max Lu, National 5th Grade Co-Champion, 1st by tiebreaks

The 5th Grade Championship had more Co-Champions than any other section by far—with nine players tied for 1st place:

Max Lu

Nathaniel Shuman

Gus Huston

Antony Gospodinov

Henry Burton

Hersh Singh

Vincent Stone

Gauri Menon

Sameeth Sheshappa

National Master Max Lu was the top seed and defending 5th Grade Champion. He is currently 2nd in the U.S. for 11-year-olds.

Nathaniel Shuman, National 5th Grade Co-Champion, 2nd by tiebreaks

Nathaniel Shuman, 5th Grade Co-Champion, 2nd by tiebreaks

Gus Huston, National 5th Grade Co-Champion, 3rd by tiebreaks

Gus Huston, 5th Grade Co-Champion, 3rd by tiebreaks

The greatest underdog was Sameeth Sheshappa, who entered the tournament rated 1155, over 1000 points lower rated than his fellow Co-Champion, Lu, the top seed. Sheshappa gained over 300 rating points.

6th Grade

National 6th Grade Champion, Sumit Dhar

National 6th Grade Champion, Sumit Dhar

Sumit Dhar was the oldest player to achieve a perfect score, winning the National Championship for his grade for the 2nd year in a row.

Here is one of Dhar’s best games from earlier this year, which was chosen by Grandmaster Mark Paragua as the “Chess NYC Game of the Week”:

7th Grade

National 7th Grade Co-Champion Wesley Wang

National 7th Grade Co-Champion, Wesley Wang

The 7th Grade Co-Champions are Wesley Wang and Evelyn Zhu.

Wesley Wang was the defending champion from last year’s 6th Grade Nationals. In addition, this victory makes Wang a double National Champion for 2016. Earlier this year, he tied for 1st in the K-8 section of the Junior High Championships. He was also a member of the winning team at the 2016 World Amateur Team Championship. Wang is the 3rd highest in the country for players age 13.

7th Grade Co-Champion Evelyn Zhu

7th Grade Co-Champion, Evelyn Zhu

Evelyn Zhu is 2nd in the U.S. for girls age 12. Watch Zhu’s upset blitz victory against Arthur Guo at the US Chess School:

8th Grade

Rick Sun from Arizona entered the tournament as the 2nd seed and went undefeated, earning 6.5 points, to become the National 8th Grade Champion. His victory gives his a new peak rating, 2192, just 8 points away from the National Master title.

9th Grade

National 9th Grade Champion, Praveen Balakrishnan, the 3rd ranked 14-year-old in the world

National 9th Grade Champion, Praveen Balakrishnan

Entering the event at 2516, Fide Master Praveen Balakrishnan was not only the top seed of the 9th Grade Championship—but the entire tournament. He won clear 1st with 6 points and is the 3rd ranked 14-year-old in the world.

10th Grade

Californian Life Master Albert Lu won the 10th Grade Championship. Although he was the top seed, Lu had to recover from an early upset loss and defeat his closest rival in the last round to gain clear 1st.

11th Grade

Fide Master Tommy He is the National 11th Grade Champion, finishing with 6.5 points and defeating top seed Ethan Li along the way.

12th Grade

12th Grade Champion Abhishek Reddy Obili

National 12th Grade Champion, Abhishek Reddy Obili

The 12th Grade Championship featured numerous lead changes and a struggle to take over the top board. In the end, top seed Abhishek Obili recovered from two early upset draws to knock out the tournament leaders and claim sole victory.

The Experience

Although becoming a national champion is a monumental achievement, there is much more to gain than the prizes. Less than 1% of the over 1500 players can take home 1st place trophies. For most, what really counts is the experience.
















Best Thinking Caps of the Tournament

Thinking Cap

Panda - cropped

Bunny ears

King activity

Share your favorite moments of the event with the Official hashtag: #K12ChessChamps .

For a complete list of results, view the National Grade K-12 Championships Standings.


  1. It should be noted that Wesley Wang and Evelyn Zhu, 7th Grade Co-Champions, are actually from the same school: Jericho Middle School!

    Congratulations to all the champions!

  2. I enjoyed being a TD here. Also enjoyed watching Hersch Singh and Gauri Menon finish in the tie for first in 5th grade. Both play in the same club I do in Milwaukee.

  3. the girl of 7th grade co-champ is 1st by tie breaks. thought you’d be excited to include that info in your article if a girl wins the 1st place champion.

  4. It should be noted Dhruva Patil is at his 1200 floor, but a once 1400 rating for a five year old is extremly impressive

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press