The World Youth Experience

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GM Alexander Shabalov, Ritika Pandey, Christopher Wu and IM Armen Ambartsoumian

I was thousands of feet in the air, looking out of the window of a small plane that was flying to Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. All I could see was trees, grass, and occasional ponds or small lakes, but no sign of civilization. Finally, an expanse of brightly colored rooftops, ranging from pink to green, with the occasional blue, appeared in large numbers. A Russian voice came over the speakers, I didn’t know what it said, but I assumed it was the announcement notifying the passengers to fasten their seat belts because we were landing. My stomach swirled with excitement and nervousness. This city would be my home for the next two weeks while I played in my third World Youth Chess Championships.

Upon arriving at Hotel Olympic, one of the first things I noticed were the pictures of athletes that were displayed. Whether they were skiing, participating in a mixed biathlon relay, or playing chess, I knew this hotel had hosted the participants of several international events.

Later that day, the delegates attended the opening ceremony, which was followed by the United States players meeting where the rules and regulations of the tournament were explained.

The next day was the first round. A typical day in the championship would usually begin with a light breakfast prior to coaching in the morning. The coaching was about half an hour of opening preparation on the opponent you were to play later that day. After coaching, I usually did about one to one and a half hours of homework, followed by lunch. Subsequent to lunch I took a 20 minute nap and reviewed the preparation from that morning. Around 2:05, I took a shuttle to the tournament hall and socialized a bit with my friends before playing my round.

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Girls Under 14 pre-game peptalk: Shreya Mangalam, Ritika Pandey, Annie Wang, Photo Anastasia Popova

Most games were arduous, laborious battles across the chess board that went on for hours. Every player came to win, and over the board, no one is a friend, simply because of the raw competitiveness of the sport. Though fatiguing, the games are very captivating. Your chess board is the masterpiece of the tournament hall, there are other games that you can admire, but your focus is completely devoted to your chess board. You analyze every aspect of it and you try to perceive everything, yet there is always more to understand. The player with a better understanding of the position on the board is usually the one who is victorious. Of course it comes down to focus as well, which is the glass sculpture of the chess game. Every moment of a match is crucial, and if your concentration breaks, even for the slightest moment, that one small fracture can ruin the entire outcome you worked so many hours on.

After the round, I went to the team room, sponsored by Two Sigma, to have the coaches go over my game. Although, other players whose games were analyzed stayed and aided with the analysis of other games, by pitching potential ideas in different positions, making observations, or simply watching. After my friends were done, we ate dinner together. Laughing, dancing, and singing along to the songs being played were important aspects of our dinners. My day usually ended with another hour of homework, and a goodnight’s sleep.

Halfway through the tournament, we had a break day. I went on a bus tour of Khanty-Mansiysk, which was generously offered free of charge by the organizers. My favorite part was the gleaming bronze mammoth statues. After the tour, the entire United States delegation went for a team dinner, a gift benevolently given to our team from our sponsor Two Sigma.  The dinner really brought a team spirit to the delegation and provided us with a relaxing mental and social break from the chess tournament. The joviality in the room was palpable, and the memories are unforgettable. This dinner was the root to much of the positivity throughout the rest of the tournament, and every time I think about that dinner, it makes me smile.

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The next six rounds were a fresh new start for many players, including myself. Re-energized for my games, I found myself feeling more prepared and confident in the next couple rounds.

Finally, it was the day of the last round, in which my schedule was much more condensed. Personally, I finished the tournament with a win, so it put me in a good mood on the last day. After the round, I had lunch with my friends, all of us relieved yet wistful that the tournament had ended.

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Annie Wang wearing Two Sigma jacket, Photo Anna Volkova

During the evening, we went to the closing ceremony, which was a magnificent production. First came the award ceremonies, where I want to especially congratulate Annie Wang, on winning the bronze medal in the Girls U14 section, and David Peng, on placing sixth in Open U14 section. Following the award ceremony, were modern and traditional dances, both of which were breathtaking in unique ways. The traditional dances were elegant and graceful. In addition, they were accompanied by singing. Meanwhile the modern dance consisted of aggressive moves in sync with every beat, giving the dance an edgy, adventurous aura. Post Closing Ceremony, we assembled all of the participants of the US team to have dinner together, after which everyone gathered in the commons area of the third floor. There, we played bughouse, blitz and card games.

I want to thank every single one of my teammates: Shreya Mangalam, Simona Nayberg, Annie Wang, Cindy Jie, Julia Sevilla, Evan Xiang, Marcus Miyasaka, Gabriel Sam, David Peng, Craig Hilby, Bryce Tiglon, and Christopher Wu and the coaches FM Aviv Friedman, GM Alexander Shabalov,  IM Armen Ambartsoumian,  for making this the best experience of my life.

It was a sad day when I realized the tournament had ended and I had to say goodbye to all of my teammates, but, as my favorite childhood author, Dr. Seuss, once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Read more about Annie Wang’s bronze medal victory here, more info, photos and crosstables on the official site and find out about the Two Sigma sponsorship here. 

Look for GM Irina Krush’s coverage of the World Cadets coming up in Batumi (October 18-31) starting next week. 

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