"It's Never Easy:" David Hater on the JHS

The 2019 National Junior High School Championship is emblematic of how competitive National Scholastics are, and how hard it is for even elite junior players to win these events. The time control (G/120 with 5 second delay), multi-game and multi-day playing schedule, and the presence of so many up and coming junior players make this a gauntlet for every player, But the top-rated players have targets on their backs every single round. The strongest players can usually can count on navigating Friday’s games and getting to 2-0 before the real battles start on the Saturday triple-header. This year the upsets (and near misses) started right out of the gate and struck the top boards immediately. K-9 Championship section top seed Alexander Costello ran into trouble on board one in round one.  We start with the position after 37. c4.
Here Costello is in time pressure with only 3 minutes on his clock in the sudden death time control.  He is winning with 37. … f3. If White defends the threatened rook with either 38. Rf2 or 38. Rb2, Black’s attack is just too strong. He threatens … Be6 to deflect the queen and moves like … Qf4+ and … Rg3. But instead Costello played the time pressure blunder 37. …  Bf3?, and the DGT board registered the move. Realizing at the last second that Bf3 loses the piece, Costello attempted to play … Be6 instead of … Bf3, telling tournament directors that he didn’t release the bishop and so could play it to another square. (Note that the DGT board can’t determine if the piece was released or not). His opponent objected, claiming the piece had been released. After listening to both players and reviewing the DGT record, the TD ruled that the piece had been released and Costello was forced to play …Bf3. The game didn’t last much longer, as one might expect, and so the K-9 top seed was defeated in round one. Costello handled the situation with class, playing himself back into contention for first place in the last round. But he drew with third seeded Anish Vivekananthan, and finished a half-point out of the first place tie, taking home the seventh place trophy on tiebreaks. Costello also took first place (with Max Lu) in the bughouse and fourth place in the blitz. While I’m sure he was disappointed not to have won the Championship, earning a major trophy in every event is still quite an accomplishment. There was less excitement in round one of the K-8, but top board Shunkai Peng survived a scare in round two. In this position (after Peng’s 30. … g6), Black is down a pawn. While Peng is probably not in too much danger of losing, he is slightly worse. It will be quite difficult to create complications and win the game unless his opponent decides to eschew simple positions.
White can, for example, play 31.a4 with the idea of Rb5. If White can liquidate some pawns and eliminate Black’s dangerous b-pawn, the position would become quire stale and drawish. Instead, play continued 31. Ra7 Ra1 32. Rd7 (32.Ra4 with the idea of Rb4 is also quite good), 32. … Rxa3 33. Rd3 Kg7 34. g3 Ra2 reaching the following position:
White can remove the pesky b pawn with 35. Rbxb3 and after moves like 35. … Rxb3 36. Rxb3 Rxh2 37. gxh4 Rxh4, I would expect for Peng to try to create something out of nothing, but I would be surprised if he won such a position. Instead, White played 35. Rdd2 and after 35. … Rxb2 36. Rxb2, and while the position is still equal, there are some dynamic possibilities in light of Black’s passed b-pawn. Peng was able to outplay his opponent and win in 52 moves. Max Lu had his hands full in round three against Kai Shah. Lu was actually just a bit worse in a queen ending, but held the draw. More evidence that the top players were having to work in every game, even when paired down several hundred points.

[Event "2019 JHS K-9 Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.04.27"]
[Round "3.1"]
[White "Lu, Maximillian"]
[Black "Shah, Kai Mahesh"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E01"]
[WhiteElo "2325"]
[BlackElo "2023"]
[PlyCount "92"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 e6 4. Qc2 Nf6 5. g3 Bd6 6. Bg2 Nbd7 7. O-O O-O 8. Nbd2
b6 9. e4 dxe4 10. Ng5 Bb7 11. Ndxe4 Be7 12. Rd1 h6 13. Nxf6+ Nxf6 14. Ne4 Qd7
15. Bf4 Rfd8 16. h3 Nxe4 17. Qxe4 Bf6 18. Rac1 Rac8 19. b4 Qe8 20. Bf1 Rd7 21.
c5 Qd8 22. Bd3 g6 23. Bd6 Be7 24. Be5 Bf6 25. Be2 Bxe5 26. dxe5 Rd5 27. Qe3
bxc5 28. bxc5 Qc7 29. f4 Rcd8 30. Bf3 Rxd1+ 31. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 32. Bxd1 Qa5 33. Bb3
Ba6 34. Kf2 Qb5 35. g4 Qf1+ 36. Kg3 Kg7 37. Ba4 Bb5 38. Bxb5 Qxb5 39. f5 exf5
40. gxf5 gxf5 41. Qd4 Qe2 42. e6+ Kg6 43. exf7 Qe1+ 44. Kg2 Qe2+ 45. Kg3 Qe1+
46. Kg2 Qe2+ 1/2-1/2

We return to the K-8 section for the fourth round. This time it is Shelev Oberoi who had to work hard for the win against Aparna Yellamraju. After 69 moves, the position is equal, but Black errs and allows White to obtain a winning pawn ending. We start with the position after 69. Bf5.
Yellamraju can play 69. … Kd8 and maintain the balance. However, she played 69. … Nd7 and allowed a transition to a winning pawn ending. It is not surprising that Aparna Yellamraju gave Oberoi a tough game. Aparna and her twin sister Ambica Yellamraju won a significant amount of hardware this weekend. The sisters helped their team – Canyon Vista Middle School from Austin Texas – win the K-8 National Team Championship. They also led their team to the Blitz Team Championship, with Aparna finishing in 19th place on tiebreaks with a score of 8.5/12. The sisters finished 7th in the Bughouse for good measure, and could have taken home another trophy had they won in the final round! Our round five example comes from the K-9 Championship section. After Pedro Espinoza started with 2-0, he was paired up 5 times in row, and played a number of exciting games. While paired up, he scored two wins, two draws and suffered only a last round loss to finish in 18th place on tiebreaks. His round 5 game, a Sicilian Wing Gambit, featured a fair amount of fireworks.

[Event "2019 JHS K-9 Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.04.27"]
[Round "5.6"]
[White "Espinosa, Pedro"]
[Black "Cheng, Daniel"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B20"]
[WhiteElo "1911"]
[BlackElo "2078"]
[PlyCount "123"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]

1. e4 c5 2. a3 Nc6 3. b4 cxb4 4. axb4 Nxb4 5. c3 Nc6 6. d4 d5 7. exd5 Qxd5 8.
Na3 Nf6 9. Nb5 Qd8 10. d5 Ne5 11. Bf4 Nfd7 12. Nf3 f6 13. Nfd4 Nb6 14. Bxe5
Nxd5 15. Bg3 e5 16. Nf3 Be6 17. Bc4 Rc8 18. Bxd5 Qxd5 19. Qxd5 Bxd5 20. Kd2 a6
21. Na3 g6 22. Nc2 Bh6+ 23. Ne3 O-O 24. Kc2 Be4+ 25. Kb3 Rc6 26. Ra4 Rfc8 27.
Rxe4 Rxc3+ 28. Kb2 f5 29. Bxe5 fxe4 30. Bxc3 exf3 31. gxf3 Rf8 32. Ng4 Bg7 33.
Ne5 Bxe5 34. Bxe5 Rxf3 35. Bg3 Rf5 36. Rd1 Rb5+ 37. Kc3 h5 38. h4 g5 39. hxg5
Rxg5 40. Rd8+ Kf7 41. Rd7+ Ke6 42. Rxb7 Kf5 43. Kd4 h4 44. Be5 Kg4 45. Ke4 Kh3
46. f4 Rg1 47. f5 Re1+ 48. Kd5 Kg2 49. f6 h3 50. Rb2+ Kg1 51. f7 Rf1 52. Ke6 a5
53. Bf6 h2 54. Bd4+ Kh1 55. Be5 Kg1 56. Bxh2+ Kh1 57. Bg3 a4 58. Bf2 a3 59.
f8=Q axb2 60. Qf3+ Kh2 61. Qg3+ Kh1 62. Qh3# 1-0

Second place winner Rohit Gundam obtained an advantage in his round six game, but his opponent defends very well and they eventually agree to a draw.

[Event "2019 JHS K-8 Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.04.28"]
[Round "6.10"]
[White "Gundam, Rohit"]
[Black "Pullabhotl, Ven"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E28"]
[WhiteElo "2162"]
[BlackElo "1990"]
[PlyCount "106"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 d6 7. Bd3 e5 8. e4
Re8 9. f3 Nh5 10. Ne2 Qh4+ 11. g3 Qh3 12. Kf2 Nf6 13. Qf1 Qxf1+ 14. Kxf1 c5 15.
d5 Bd7 16. Be3 Ba4 17. Ke1 Nbd7 18. Kd2 Rab8 19. Rab1 a6 20. Rb2 b6 21. Rhb1
Rb7 22. Bc2 Bxc2 23. Kxc2 Ra8 24. a4 a5 25. Kd3 Ne8 26. g4 g6 27. Bh6 f6 28.
Ng3 Rbb8 29. h4 Kf7 30. Rh1 Nc7 31. g5 Ne8 32. h5 fxg5 33. Bxg5 Nef6 34. Ke3
Rg8 35. hxg6+ hxg6 36. Rbh2 Rg7 37. Rh4 Re8 38. Rh6 Reg8 39. Bxf6 Nxf6 40. Rb1
Rb8 41. Rh4 Rh7 42. Rxh7+ Nxh7 43. f4 Kf6 44. f5 Ng5 45. Rh1 Rg8 46. Rh6 Nf7
47. Rxg6+ Rxg6 48. fxg6 Kxg6 49. Nf5 Kf6 50. Kf3 Ng5+ 51. Ke3 Nf7 52. Ng3 Nh6
53. Nf5 Nf7 1/2-1/2

Among the drawn seventh round games was the matchup between Kevin Pan and Nicholas Ladan. Both players needed a win in order to have a chance to tie for first, but they agreed to split the point in a complex position.

[Event "2019 JHS K-8 Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.04.28"]
[Round "7.9"]
[White "Pan, Kevin"]
[Black "Ladan, Nicholas"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B23"]
[WhiteElo "2214"]
[BlackElo "2063"]
[PlyCount "52"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 a6 3. g3 b5 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. d3 e6 6. f4 b4 7. Nce2 d5 8. e5 Ne7
9. Be3 Qb6 10. Nf3 Nd7 11. O-O Nc6 12. Qd2 Be7 13. g4 h5 14. h3 hxg4 15. hxg4
g5 16. c3 gxf4 17. Bxf4 d4 18. cxd4 Nxd4 19. Nexd4 cxd4 20. Rac1 Rg8 21. g5 Nc5
22. Rc4 a5 23. Rxd4 Bxf3 24. Bxf3 Nb3 25. axb3 Qxd4+ 26. Be3 Rxg5+ 1/2-1/2

With all of the exciting games and complex struggles, several players survived the gauntlet and emerged as champions. There was a four way tie for first in the K-9 Championship. Jason Metpally and Daniel Hung entered the last round with 5.5/6. A draw guaranteed each player at least a share of first, and sure enough, a (fighting) 35 move draw was played. This allowed other players to catch them. Aydin Turgut, whose only loss was to Metpally, and Max Lu both won their final games to tie for first with 6/7 points.
The K-9 Champions (photo R Anderson)
The K-9 Team Championship was won by T. H. Rogers School from Houston, Texas with a combined team score of 19 points. Led by top board Daniel Hung, their championship was especially impressive as they only entered four players, and a team’s top four scores are summed in the team standings. Three schools finished a half-point point back: Speyer Legacy School (NY, NY), I.S. 318 (Brooklyn, NY), and Princeton Day School (Princeton, NJ).
T.H. Rogers School, 2019 K-9 Team Champs (photo R Anderson)
Because the K-8 Championship section was much larger than the K-9, with 292 entries compared to 162 in the K-9, it was not out of the question that the section could finish in a massive first place tie. Two players entered the last round at 5.5/6 - Shunkai Peng and Shelev Oberoi – and 17 players trailed by half a point at 5/6. Had board one ended in a draw, any of 19 players could have shared the championship. But Shunkai Peng had other plans. He defeated Oberoi to finish at 6.5/7 and as the undisputed National K-8 Champion.
Shunkai Peng, 2019 K-8 Champion (photo R Anderson)
The K-8 Team Championship was, as mentioned above, won by Canyon Vista Middle School from Austin, Texas with 22 team points . Hopkins Junior High (Fremont, CA) finished in second place, while University Prep Science/Math Middle School (Detroit, MI) took third place.
Canyon Vista Middle School, 2019 K-8 Team Champs (photo R Anderson)
GM Michael Rohde will analyze some of the winner’s key games in a subsequent article, so I will not present those games here, but they can be found at uschess.live. US Chess had the elite duo of IM John Bartholomew and WGM Sabina Foisor streaming on-site for the final three rounds. Sean Pry was of immense help in ironing out the inevitable technical glitches, and his contribution was most appreciated by streamers and staff. The video is available for play at the US Chess Twitch channel: http://www.twitch.tv/uschess. All the tournament details including final standings and rating reports can be found at http://www.uschess.org/tournaments/2019/jhs/. Under-section winners were: K-9 Under 1250 Individual: Luke Walsh & Mitchell Kellen, 6.5/7 K-9 Under 1250 Team: I.S. 318, Brooklyn, NY, 22 points K-8 Under 1000 Individual: Canaan McDougle, 7/7 K-8 Under 1000 Team: Metcalf, Burnsville, MN, 22 points K-8 Under 750 Individual: David Kadari, 7/7 K-8 Under 750 Team: I.S. 318, Brooklyn, NY, 22.5 points K-9 Unrated Individual: Jaxon Green, 7/7 K-9 Unrated Team: Highland Oaks Middle School, Memphis, TN, 21 points

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