When I think back to my early years in chess, the most vibrant memories are from the World Youth Championships; of course, the competition itself, but also the traveling to a new place and making friends from around the world.
One game from the World Youth has a special place in my memory to this day. It was from the 11th round of the 1993 Girls U-10 Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia, a new country beginning from January 1st of that year. I had 8/10 and, having three extra pawns in this rook and bishop ending, was not far from a final score of 9/11, which would have been a tie for first place (although I would have been second on tiebreaks). But history was written differently…
I wound up getting clear fourth place, out of the medal spots. I remember walking the streets with my dad after this game and crying for a long time. I remember how sad it was at the closing ceremony, where there were no prizes at all for anyone besides the medal winners. Now, where else will a child learn such valuable lessons? 🙂
I’d play at many World Youths after that, but that was the closest I’d come to medalling until much later, when I finally won a bronze medal at the 1998 World Junior.
Now it’s 2016, and for the first time since 1999, I return to the World Youth, in a slightly different role. In Batumi I am chaperoning/coaching Nura Baalla, a New Yorker playing in the Girls Under 10 section.
The US delegation has over 50 girls and boys in Batumi, with the bulk of them in the under 8 and 10 categories. I’m trying to get to know our players and their parents, but admittedly it’s difficult to make the acquaintance of more than a fraction of our total representatives.
One major differentiation between the kids is geography: I’ve met kids who live in or near to big chess centers, and get to play tournaments frequently, while others have to fly or drive 3-5 hours to get to a tournament. Chess is a big commitment in any case, but you’ve gotta admire those families who face the extra hurdle of geography to support their children’s pursuit of chess. To my surprise, I learned that some of our top rated kids are emerging from chess-remote locations, like Alabama! When I heard that Rochelle Wu, our nation’s top ten year old girl, is from Alabama, I tried to make some association in my mind between this state and chess/chess players/ chess tournaments and drew a complete blank. Arthur Guo’s father told me that there are only a couple of tournaments per year in Georgia for Arthur to compete in, such as the Castle Grand Prix and the Georgia State Championship, and the rest of the time they fly to big open tournaments across the country.
The venue for this World Youth (it’s recently been renamed the World Cadet, following the division of the World Youth into two events, one for under age 12, and one for under age 14 and up) is pretty great. Batumi is a port city on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. Although we were greeted with heavy, nonstop rain when we arrived, the weather gradually got better, giving us a very sunny day for the first round. Most of the American team lives in the Sheraton hotel, which is also the playing site. We’re a minute’s walk from the famous Batumi Boulevard, a 7 km promenade along the beach adorned with numerous sculptures, which make for great photos.
The center of Batumi is quite small and easily coverable on foot.
The under 8 section is too young to have any internationally recognizable names, but among the top players from the US we have Marvin Gao and Dimitar Mardov. Marvin ran into a strong unrated Chinese player in round 1, who made a timely transition to the hanging pawns structure which he ably exploited, very impressive to see in the youngest section!
In the younger sections, ratings are not very indicative of a player’s strength; country of origin is more so. It’s safe to assume that countries with a strong chess tradition will have the most competitive players, but that list is ever-evolving. Twenty five years ago one would not think of India as a strong chess country, but now it definitely is. A few years back Kazakhstan didn’t have much of a presence in the world youth championships, but now it can fill many sections with players seeded in the top ten.
The open under 10 section has some already familiar names, such as 9 year old Islombek Sindarov from Uzbekistan, rated 2229, and Ilya Makoveev from Russia, winner of multiple Russian, European, and World Youth titles. There is a lot of strong US representation in this section, led by Arthur Guo from Atlanta, seeded third at 2168.
Also perfect in the Open Under 10 is Nico Chasin. Here’s his first round win:
The American field in the girls under 10 section is spearheaded by ten year old Rochelle Wu from Alabama, who recently made expert, and Rianne Ke, also approaching that milestone. Rianne had a tough start in Batumi, defeated by a girl from the surging chess nation of India.
As we go to the higher age category, under 12, we see markedly fewer US representatives. The top three 12 year old boys in the country are missing from the US roster, for example. That likely has something to do with the fact that it becomes more difficult to miss school in the higher grades. The World Youth is always held in the fall of the school year, and it’s a shame that so many of our top young players have to make the choice between fulfilling their academic duties and participating in the World Youth. It would be so much better if schools would offer their support to kids who’ve shown passion and commitment to excel at something.
In the girls under 12, we are led by Marta Samadashvili and Nastassja Matus, currently ranked top US girls in the 12 and 11 year old category, respectively. The open section sees masters Andrew Hong, Andy Huang, and Aydin Turgut vying with the international stars R Praggnanandha of India (the world’s youngest IM ever at age 10 years, 10 months, 19 days), who recently made headlines by defeating GM Axel Bachmann (2645) in 18 moves with the Black pieces at the Isle of Man tournament, Javokhir Sindarov (probably the older brother of Islombek Sindarov), Vincent Keymer of Germany, and Jonas Bjerre of Denmark.
So much exciting chess is in store! US Chess will keep you posted on the journeys of our top young players!
After two rounds, here is the full list of perfect 2-0s. Find full results here.
Girls under 8- Kally Wen
Open under 8- Dimitar Mardov, Brian Huang
Girls under 10-Gauri Menon, Nura Baalla
Open under 10- Arthur Guo, Jason Wang, Nico Chasin, Boris Peter Theodore, Kevin Pan, Davis Zong, Jr, Christopher Yoo
Girls Under 12-Nastassja Matus, Evelyn Zhu
Open Under 12-Andrew Hong, Andy Huang, Aydin Turgut