The 2019 National Elementary Championship, held May 10-12 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, has been the largest rated event in American chess for 24 consecutive years. (The last time anything was larger was in 1995, when the National Elementary drew “only” 1182 competitors and the World Open had 1435 players.) Some may contest this fact, as there have been six SuperNationals during this 24 year stretch, but because the Elementary is the largest division at SuperNationals, it still holds pride of place as the year’s “biggest tournament.”
This year’s event had 2303 players spread across 14 sections, and there were 7757 rated games played. It takes a lot of people to run such a large event. There were 66 tournament directors (TDs) on site as well as 20 non-directing staff members, all working to handling a myriad of logistical details. Of the current list of 97 National TDs – the top achievement a TD can earn – in the country, there were an incredible 21 NTDs in Nashville. An event like this is a marathon, not a sprint, and all of the TDs certainly have their work cut out for them. My pedometer tells me I walked 26.9 miles during this event and I’m sure I didn’t have the most steps!
The country’s newest and youngest NTD was part of the team. The National Elementary was 17 year old Sam Shoykhet’s first event as an NTD. He learned at the event that he recently passed the exam and is now the record holder for the youngest NTD! Here’s Sam at this year’s U.S. Championship, while he was waiting to hear the results of his testing.
Sam Shoykhet is a Senior Tournament Director, and currently testing to be the youngest NTD in history. Why? Sam told me that he wants to be a lawyer, and chess law is just like all law: a finite set of rules that apply to an infinite set of situations. #USChessChamps pic.twitter.com/5H0NTLoaIS
— US Chess (@USChess) March 24, 2019
I also noticed at least four other NTDs who were not on staff, but were on-site in some other capacity such as coaching.
Speaking of coaches: you can look around at any National Scholastic and see a who’s who of famous coaches, including several of whom have had book and movies made about them. This year was no exception, but one person merits particular attention.
Before the last round of the 2019 #ElemChessChamps the @daltonschool team cheered their coach David MacEnulty, who is retiring on June 1. David is a former recipient of the US Chess Scholastic Service Award. Learn more about him here: https://t.co/igtMWPtVe4 pic.twitter.com/V0hIeOJQGr
— US Chess (@USChess) May 12, 2019
David MacEnulty has been coaching chess for over 25 years in New York City schools, and he was the first to teach chess as part of the academic curriculum. MacEnulty currently teaches chess at The Dalton School, but he will retire this year on June 1st after a distinguished career. MacEnulty was recognized as 2007 Chess Educator of the Year by the University of Texas at Dallas, and he earned a “Lives That Make a Difference award” from A&E Television among a large list of significant recognitions.
Even though MacEnulty has a host of individual honors, I’m sure he is most proud of his team’s accomplishments rather than his own. Over the years his schools have won numerous championships. His current Dalton teams did not win the National Championship this year, but they finished near the top of every Championship section.
Dalton finished in 4th place in the K-6 Championship. In the K-5 Championship, they finished in second place by a mere half-point, while they tied for second (third on tiebreak) in the K-3! For those who want to see more about this great coach, I recommend viewing the movie “Knights of the South Bronx,” which was inspired by his story and stars Ted Danson.
As you might imagine, with such a large number of players, there are a lot of players to be recognized for their excellent play. By my quick count, this tournament awarded 1238 trophies. While I cannot recognize all of them in this article, you can check out www.uschess.org/results/2019/elem to see all the prize winners, results, pairings, standings, and rating reports.
This year two of the three Championships were won by siblings. Vyom Vidyarthi won the K6 Championship (on tiebreaks) while his sister Omya Vidyarthi won clear first in the K3 Championship section.
Vyom Vidyarthi scored 6-1 in the K-6 Championship and had the highest tiebreaks of any of the six co-champions. Seeded fourth at the outset, Vyom won his first four games andworked his way up to board one by round four. Vyom surrendered a draw in round 5 to Harry Le, but then won a nice attacking game in round six to retake the lead going into the final round.
Vyom’s round six victory was over Daniel Mero from New York’s Columbia Grammar. Mero is only in 6th grade, but he has been organizing Charity Chess Challenges for the last three years. Over that time, he has raised over one hundred thousand dollars to benefit cancer research! Here is the game from round six:
Vyom got an edge against Abinav Mundayat in the final round, but could not quite bring home the fill point. This allowed four other players to catch up and join Vidyarthi and Mundayat as co-champions. The six co-champions are in tiebreak order: Vyom Vidyarthi, Abinav Mundayat, Aghilan Nachiappan, Adi Murgescu, Evan Park and James Oh.
Meanwhile, Vyom’s sister Omya Vidyarthi also started as the 4th seed in the K-3 Championship. Like her brother, Omya also started off 4-0. She too surrendered a draw in round five before winning in round six to take the lead going into the last round. But Omya won in round seven, finishing with 6.5 points to take clear first and emerge as the K-3 National Champion. Here is her last round victory over Anjaneya Rao.
This was not the first time that siblings have won scholastic championships, but it appears that this is the first time it was a brother-sister combination. Twice two brothers have won national championships in the same year. In 1997, Asuka Nakamura was co-champion in the K-6 section of the first SuperNationals while his brother Hikaru Nakamura went 7-0 to win the K-3 Championship. The next time this occurred was in 2006 when Ryan Moon was Co-Champion in the K-5 section and his brother Benjamin Moon was the K-3 Co-Champion.
This year’s K-5 Championship also had a clear champion, but not one named Vidyarthi! Cooper Ho won his first six games before drawing in the last round to finish at 6.5 points as the K-5 Champion. The crosstable shows that Cooper dominated the tournament, but the games tell a more interesting story.
Cooper played very tactically and in rounds 5 and 6 sac’d pieces a bit speculatively. Objectively, the sacrifices shouldn’t have worked, but in complicated positions, his opponents made mistakes and Cooper won both games. If nothing else, he certainly played fearlessly! Here are diagrams from those games:
In this position, White has to be a bit careful, but he is winning. White needs to play 32. Nd4 and the d-pawn will fall and White’s extra material will be decisive. Instead, White played 32. Bc5? And Ho took advantage with 32. … d2+ and now it is Black who has the extra material and will go on to win the game.
In round six, Ho again had good fortune.
Ho sacrificed two pieces for a rook and pawn 8 moves earlier. While Black is not winning, the two pieces are better than the rook. Black should play 35. …Nd6 and work to prove the advantage. Instead, Black played 35. … Qd6?? And after 36. Rxe8+ he had to resign.
There was another pair of brothers in the under sections who nearly “did the double.” Abyl Dowshen Flores finished 7-0 in the K-5 Under 900 section. This was only good for a co-championship as Helen Hong also scored 7-0, but Abyl had the higher tiebreaks. Abyl’s brother Miles Dowshen Flores started 6-0 in the K-3 Under 700 section and was on board one in the last round, but he lost and had to settle for fourth place with a 6-1 score.
The top games from the K-6, K-5, and K-3 Championship sections are available online at uschess.live. Chess Life will feature a story on the event in the August issue.