K-12 Grade Championships: A December to Remember

As many areas of the United States face plenty of snow in the first few days of December, chess players traveling to K-12 Grade Championships in Florida, had no such treatment. Instead, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort welcomed over 1800 kids with 50 degree weather and open arms, guaranteeing a fun weekend for all. This year’s championship boasts many special features. GM Elshan Moradiabadi is a special guest at the tournament. He played a 30 player simul, had an interesting lecture, and held “All Comers Blitz,” where anyone could challenge him to a blitz game.
GM Elshan Moradiabadi , Photo Vanessa Sun
U.S. Women’s Champion WGM Sabina Foisor was also invited to work at the “Girls' Club Room.” The United States Chess Federation’s Women’s Committee organized this room for players to have their games analyzed for free by the champion, to get boards signed, to play Sabina, and to have a free play space. Most importantly, though, the room is meant to inspire and empower female chess players, giving them a space to learn from role models like Sabina, although boys are allowed too.
US Women's Champ Sabina Foisor in the Girls' Club Room, Photo Vanessa Sun
Also volunteering with the Women’s Committee is WIM Carolina Blanco, who drove from Atlanta, which experienced heavy snow right around the start of the tournament. She has similar responsibilities to Sabina in the Girls Room.
Carolina Blanco coaching in the Girls' Club Room, Photo Vanessa Sun
“A lot of girls that want to review their games, focusing on their mistakes,” says Blanco. She is enjoying the work thus far, mentioning, “People are so serious about chess here. There are a lot of distractions because the tournament is held at Disney, but the kids seem focused on their games.”
Girls' Club Room in the K-12 Champs, Photo Vanessa Sun
The atmosphere is indeed intense, especially in the upper sections. The top seed of the highest section rated over 2400, an indicator of a tough field. With one last shot at winning this scholastic tournament before moving on to college, the 12th graders are giving the games their all. One such case is second seed FM Ethan Li, who was recently highlighted on US Chess .
Photo Vanessa Sun
The intensity of the very top level does not undermine the struggle in other sections, however. FM Nico Chasin and NM Eddie Tian mentioned their expectations pre-tournament as well. https://twitter.com/USChess/status/939672316795072513 https://www.instagram.com/p/BcafznOATRV/?taken-by=us_chess Everyone at the tournament has different goals even with a fight for 1st place. Some kids are out to win trophies, but most players have the simple goal of raising their ratings. Those who played in the tournament previously wish to improve from the last time. Mickey Colombo from Georgia hoped to win a trophy, which he did by placing 11th in the blitz tournament. In a rather mature mindset, first grader Aaryan Pujari said, “I want to learn from my mistakes.”
Photo Jim Doyle
Even more unique than each players’ goals are their stories about this year’s competition. Krish Chintareddy from Alabama recounted how he was completely losing in one game, but he kept checking his opponent until he found a checkmate. The 700 rated player also had a few upsets against kids rated 900 and even 1000! Edward Conason, who is playing in the 5th grade section, recalled that in the 4th round, he played a particularly poor game after spending too much time on his iPad before the round. His mother told him to relax after his heartbreaking loss and he sought to improve his habits to make a comeback. “I didn’t do anything after my round, like play video games. I got some rest, but I had a stomachache before the game. It went away and I actually just crushed my opponent!”
Edward Conason, Photo Vanessa Sun
Despite having to work hard, chess players at the tournament are definitely having fun. Everyone had a different story to tell about why the tournament is a unique one. Many players love meeting new people and making new friends- sometimes players feel that small, local tournaments tend to attract the same players and national scholastics allow them to see new faces. Alice Wu from Florida reported meeting players from New York to Atlanta, noting that she was also able to befriend most of the 4th grade girls, even ones from faraway states. Even tournament directors can speak to why the tournament is unique. Ryan Velez, a TD at the tournament, is thankful that “TDs have been asked to make safety their number 1 goal. Floor TDs are also being given 15 - 30 minute breaks which means the world to us.” He also stresses how well organized the tournament is. It is notable that the all rounds seem to start on time, which is rare for such a large tournament. https://twitter.com/USChess/status/939623658334703616 What really makes the championship experience special, though, is clearly the location. Chess moms Heather Qi and Christina Fan emphasize how the tournament setting helps their children “associate chess with fun.” Their sons love to play chess, but of course, visiting the Disney parks are something extra to look forward to after the tournament is over. No one can deny the infectiously excited atmosphere amidst the struggle of chess- truly, the K-12 Grade Championships is special indeed. Watch the top boards live on the US Chess Live Broadcast and see standings here.