Liu Leads Field Headed Into Last Day of National Middle School Championship

The National Middle School Championship has over 1,250 players. Franc Guadalupe, Chief Tournament Director, says 1,260 players registered. Bill Buklis, Chief Tournament Director for the backroom (computer area), calculates that, taking out no-shows, the final player count is 1,251. After the fifth round, Saturday night, perfect scores remain in all but one section.


Still Perfect

Going into Sunday’s sixth and seventh rounds, several players still have perfect scores. In the Championship section, CM Eric Liu has the only perfect score, as top-seeded FM Brewington Hardaway drew against Vaseegaran Nandhakumar in round five. As the top-rated player with 4½/5, Hardaway will take the black pieces in a pivotal sixth-round showdown against Liu.



Before his fifth-round draw, Hardaway was in fine form, defeating Floridian Cannon Farragut in a tense endgame:



Liu has taken a more aggressive approach to the top of the leader board, winning in style with this third-round Najdorf that could have gone either way:



Joining Hardaway in the tie for second place are Nandhakumar and four other players. The top-rated is Californian Julian Colville (our mystery Bughouse player from yesterday). Colville has been playing adventurous and spirited chess, as illustrated by this non-theoretical win:



There have been a number of upsets, as well. Texan seventh-grader Sunny Zhang may have been a 300-point underdog against her third-round Californian opponent, but she didn't play like it in the resulting endgame.



There have been too many exciting games to recap here. IM Douglas Root, who is covering today's games live on Twitch with WIM Emily Nguyen, has selected a few more that are available for replay in the Lichess study.

The smallest section of the tournament — Under 1700, with only 62 players — has no perfect scores. Ian Helfing and Krish Mohan share that section’s lead with 4½/5 but had already drawn their game with each other. Gabe Bencosme-Lee leads the Under 1400 with a perfect score. Three perfect scores top the Under 1100, achieved by Abraham Baez, Raf Goldman, and Mateux Hendranto.

The Under 900 section has five perfect scores and the Under 700 has eight perfect scores. They are the two biggest sections, with 252 and 386 players respectively.

The Unrated section is the second-smallest, with 88 players, yet still has two players with perfect scores: Chukwuemeka Agu and Esteban De La Garza. Full standings are available here.


Lost and Found

A badge allows non-players access to the playing hall during rounds. At 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, I picked up my badge from the backroom. Around 9:30 a.m. I lost my badge, somewhere outside the playing hall (Editor's note: holding on to a press badge for a full 30 minutes might be a record for chess journalists, as we are a notoriously forgetful bunch). Buklis said he would make me another one. I dropped by at 10:30 for my replacement badge, but Buklis was directing the Friends & Family tournament (later won, with a perfect 4/4, by Marcos Antonio Casares, Sr.).

I left the backroom dejected because I was badge-less. A few minutes later, a girl approached me and said she knew where my badge was. I asked, “Did you recognize me?” She said, “No, I saw you drop your badge.”


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Not all heroes wear capes! Lyla Martens to the rescue (courtesy Alexey Root)


The girl is Lyla Martens and she attends Laurel Mountain Elementary School in Austin. On Friday, Martens and her mother came to the Girls Club Room for WIM Luciana Morales’ presentation. After reuniting me with my badge, Martens came to my Girls Club Room presentation.


Girls Club Room

For my “Alexey on Endgames: Learn and Play” presentation Saturday in the Girls Club Room, I placed a white king on e6 and a white queen on c6. Black has a king on the second rank adjacent to a black pawn on that same rank, one square away from promoting. I asked participants to play out four positions: Black with an a-pawn, b-pawn, c-pawn, or d-pawn. In this endgame, an d-pawn is equivalent to an e-, g-, or b-pawn, an a-pawn has the same outcome as an h-pawn, and an f-pawn is equivalent to a c-pawn.



After 20 minutes of playing, participants’ votes were still split as to whether White wins each position. Would you know what to do here?



With the help of participants who joined me at the demonstration board, I showed three answers, for the a-, b-, and d-pawns. With best play, Black draws with the a-pawn but loses with the b- or d-pawns. But I ran out of time to show whether White wins when Black has a c-pawn.



Participants will have to figure out that position on their own, or by playing with the interactive study above. This exercise is taken from my book Science, Math, Checkmate: 32 Chess Activities for Inquiry and Problem Solving. Thanks to chess coach IM Joshua Posthuma, who assisted during my presentation.


Teams Who Made The Trip: Detroit

Speaking of Posthuma, he is at the National Middle School as the coach of U Prep Science & Math, a charter school in Detroit competing in the Under 900 section. His home is in between Detroit and Ann Arbor and he coaches chess in both cities. He has been a full-time chess coach since he graduated from high school.


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Posthuma (center) with Twyla Woolwine (L) and Jacob Allen (courtesy Alexey Root)


Also at the National MIddle School from Detroit is LaRhonda McCann, Director of the Detroit Metro Scholastic Chess League. The top three public school teams from the league's middle school division of that league are all participating this weekend.


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LaRhonda McCann, Director of the Detroit Metro Scholastic Chess League (courtesy Alexey Root)


Bates Academy, Ralph J. Bunche Preparatory Academy, and Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy (listed in order of how they finished in the league) are sharing a team room. After five rounds, Bates is currently in the top ten of the Under 900 team standings.


Title I

Hamilton Meadow Park School is attending the National Middle School thanks to financial support from the US Chess Title I program and from RISE Scholars, Inc. Abel Talamantez, Hamilton’s Chess Program Director, previously served 3 years as the Chess Director of the Mechanics' Institute in San Francisco, the oldest continuously running chess club in the country.

Talamantez says the Hamilton team is not focusing on winning titles at the National Middle School but on life lessons. Regarding chess, Talamantez says, “Hamilton kids work hard, demonstrate teamwork, and give their best efforts.” Travel is a new experience for most Hamilton students. Talamantez says that they are benefiting from meeting new people and seeing new places.


Official event website

Live broadcast of top boards

Schedule of all events

Pairings and Results

Twitch for rounds five through seven