K-12 Championships: No Shortage of Action on Day One

The first rounds of the 2024 National High School (K-12) Championship in Baltimore, Maryland, were full of suspense until the very last seconds of the second round. In the K-12 Open, 43 players boast perfect 2/2 scores, including most of the highest-rated players. The results page can be misleading, though, as several familiar names (including both reigning 12th grade champions) survived serious scares late Friday night. Read on for some dramatic, fighting chess!


IMs Gus Huston and Max Lu kick off their "farewell tour" as graduating seniors at the K-12 Championships.



But first: anybody who has attended a national scholastic event knows that there’s always plenty of entertainment before the first round even begins. A hallmark of these events is the Guest Grandmaster, who will play a simultaneous exhibition early in the weekend, before going on to play hours of blitz and provide several lectures over the next few days.


Hey...that guy playing Elshan doesn't look like a high-schooler. Why, that's Chess Life magazine editor John Hartmann!


Hopefully some of the kids gave Elshan more of a challenge than Hartmann did. Still, the GM finished his blitz session with a 31–0 record.


This year’s guest is none other than GM Elshan Moradiabadi, a Chess Life and Chess Life Online contributor, teacher, and 2022 U.S. Open co-champion.



Moradiabadi’s “simul” had all 18 of the participants thrilled to have an opportunity to play a grandmaster, but they didn’t make his life easy, either.


Moradiabadi sitting down to focus against the only player to hold him to a draw, Gnanadatta Rhamba (L), and posing with the last player to finish, David Wolff (Photos John Hartmann)


Indeed, Gnanadatta Rambha, an eighth-grader rated 1943, managed to hold Moradiabadi to a draw on the black side of a wild Sicilian. Rambha then took his momentum to upset New York’s Jessica Hyatt (2142) in the first round. You can hear Rambha’s recap of his game against Moradiabadi below, and also see the game for yourself:





Photos Caroline King


Another staple of these events is the Girls Club Room. Featuring numerous special events, lectures, guests, and activities, there’s always something going on in Room 337.




Although the official tournament did not begin until Friday, a whopping 351 players made it on time for Thursday evening’s blitz tournament. IM Nico Chasin won clear first with an 11½/12 score, while Washington’s Eric Zhang (2221) took clear second with an 11/12 score ahead of several FMs and IMs. FM Eric Liu finished third on tiebreaks with 10½/12, ahead of FM Tugstumur Yesuntumur and Virginia’s Arnav Gupta.


From left: Eric Liu, Tugstumur Yesuntumur, and Arnav Gupta all tied for third in the K-12 Blitz Championship, and finished third through fifth, respectively, on tie breaks (Photos Caroline King)


Two teams tied for first with 9/10 scores in Thursday morning’s Bughouse championship. Familiar rivals from across the board sat side-by-side as Huston and Lu tied for first place.


Huston Lu
Huston (L) and Lu tied for first in the 2023 K-12 Grade Championships last December and tied for first again — as teammates! — this year in the Bughouse Championship (Photo Caroline King)


But beating them on tiebreaks were an unexpected duo of “L. Jiang” and “K. Olson.” If anybody has information on this mysterious duo (a quick search across the standings of each section failed to come up with anybody matching these names), please email Chess Life Online and we will update this article.



As for the tournament itself, a total of 1,860 players are competing across the six sections, with 413 in the Championship.



Most of the top seeds are still undefeated in the Championship, with Ohio’s IM Jason Wang looking to add one more title to the collection before his graduation. But a junior and a freshman from New York — IM Nico Chasin and IM-Elect Brewington Hardaway, respectively — are hot on his heels. All three players enter the event with US Chess ratings over 2500.


From left: Jason Wang, Nico Chasin, and Brewington Hardaway are the three highest-rated players competing this year (Photos Caroline King)


That said, don’t count out reigning co-champion FM Sharvesh Deviprasath from Texas, as the senior is hoping for a repeat, while his fellow Texan FM Eric Chang Liu is looking to get a jump start on his high school trophy collection despite still being in eighth grade!


Two Texans looking to make a mark: FMs Sharvesh Deviprasath (L) and Eric Liu (Photos Caroline King)




In fact, don’t count anybody out! Despite gaps of several hundred points between players in the first two rounds, there were some upsets right out of the gate and many more games that could have gone either way.


Image Caption
Leo Wang (L) upset FM Isaac Wang in the most prominent upset of round one (Photo Caroline King)


In the first round, Californian FM Isaac Wang (2420) lost to fellow Californian (and fellow eighth-grader) Leo Wang (2036), while reigning 11th Grade champion Avi Kaplan (2319) lost to Vihaan Jammalamadaka (2021), from Washington.




Jammalamadaka is only in sixth grade, but is having a phenomenal tournament, having also upset New Jersey’s Roger Zhang (2244) in round two.

The most exciting part of these early-round games is the number of different paths they can take. Sometimes, the higher-rated player is able to show superior understanding of the opening, and the game is over thanks to a couple of astute moves before it really even got started. This was the case in IM Gus Huston’s victory:



But, just as often, the game can drag on well into the middlegame or even endgame before the higher-rated player has any chances to pounce. Sometimes, the best strategy is to accept that the position is objectively equal, but still put the other player in a position where they have to make increasingly difficult (and consequential) decisions. This was IM Nico Chasin’s strategy in his highly interesting first-round game:




Friday night saw several games “go the distance,” with many games going the full three (Editor's note: thanks to Judit Sztaray and Jeff Wiewel for the correction here) hours and some even featuring both players well under ten seconds for the final moves of their games. FM Kevin Pan (California), was on the losing end of one of these marathons against Bobby Qian (2116), a 7th-grader from New Jersey:



North Carolina’s Ethan Liu (2125, grade eight) had a chance to add to the list of “full-point” upsets in his game against Pennsylvania’s IM Evan Park (2452, grade 10), but eventually the players settled for a draw in a complicated position:



Last but not least, time was on the side of Huston and IM Max Lu, who both saw their second-round games go down to the wire:




Finally, one of the most tactically gripping games of the round came from Deviprasath, who saw Virginia’s Will Moorhouse (2128, grade eight) give him everything he could handle before Deviprasath managed to simplify to a winning two-pieces-versus-rook endgame.



Of the 43 players who are still undefeated, their ratings range from 2563 (Wang) to 1592 (Nathan Ehrenberg, from Washington, D.C.). In fact, 16 of the “perfect” players are rated below 2200! In other words, today we can expect the leaders to separate themselves from the pack by today’s third round (if not before).

Will there be any unfamiliar names among them? Be sure to catch commentary of round five with IM Igor Khmelnitsky and Gopal Menon tonight on Twitch at 6:00 p.m. EDT.

Also, keep an eye on our X (formerly Twitter) account all weekend for updates from our on-site staff. You may have noticed a certain Chess Life magazine editor in some of the above photos, but also keep an eye out for our new Director of Programs:



Editor’s note: Happy to have you, DeVaughn! Does this mean you’ll post this recap on our socials for me?


Quick Links

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