Youth and Experience Clash in FIDE-Rated Midwest Events

Growing up as a teenager in North Carolina in the 2000s, it never occurred to me that I could play FIDE rated chess. Sure, I occasionally received postcards advertising tournaments where the top two sections were FIDE-rated. But as a class B player, this meant nothing to me. Maybe if I lived somewhere like New York, there would be more opportunities to play tournaments where each game lasted at least four hours. Instead, it was a life of “weekenders” at faster time controls for me. Indeed, it was not until I was over 2000 USCF and living in Chicago that I first played a FIDE-rated event.

With this background in mind: kids today sure have it good. Over the past few months, NTD Bill Broich has organized FIDE rated events around the Midwest. This Fall alone, Broich has directed events in Lincoln, NE, Kansas City, MO, and in his home base in Des Moines, IA.

These events have provided opportunities for many up-and-coming talents to square off against some local and regional legends, resulting in some interesting and instructive games. -JJ Lang

Kansas City Invitational

When nine-year-old Irene Fei of Ames, IA, sat down to play her fifth and final game of the Kansas City FIDE Invitational, she had no idea that she was only the latest of the many rising Iowa chess players over the years to face IM Michael Brooks of Kansas City.   

Iowa’s top chess players have been squaring off against IM Brooks for over four decades.  If you were ever anybody in Iowa chess since the early 1980’s, you’ve played IM Brooks. If you were lucky, you got a draw. 

Wearing a plaid Western-style shirt with his forest green hooded Carhart jacket hanging off the back of his chair, Brooks, now 62 years old, removed his glasses and placed his hands on his forehead. The subtext was clear: Fei was really making him think.


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IM Michael Brooks (courtesy Bill Broich)


This should come as no surprise to those following Fei’s journey. Already, she is the top-rated nine-year girl in the nation at the time of publication. She is also the reigning world under-nine champion, having captured the title this past June in Panama City. She elected to play the open section, and won as the lone girl.  



Irene Fei
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Irene Fei dares you to make that joke about the London System to her face (photo JJ Lang)


But on this early December Sunday, Fei met the same fate as dozens of Iowa’s top players over the years.



With this victory, IM Brooks remained undefeated to win the Kansas City FIDE Invitational. His patient style reaped dividends all weekend, allowing his opponents to make difficult decisions and punishing them for it.



Fei was not the only rising chess star participating in this event. Eight-year-old Shengjie Fan traveled from California to play, as well. Fan is the 20th rated eight-year-old in the nation at the time of publication. His third-round showdown with Fei lived up to the hype.



Fei Fan
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Fei (L) versus Fan (photo courtesy Bill Broich)


The game between 17-year-old Sikander Baker-Nagar, from Colorado, and 13-year-old Aayush Wahdhwa (KS) ended up in a similarly instructive endgame, albeit from a completely different path where White came within one move of ending the game in the early stages.



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Sikan Baker-Nagar (photo Bill Broich)


Overall, this invitational featured ten players representing six states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. More of these events are being planned. The idea is to attract players with FIDE ratings of 1600 or higher, giving class A and expert rated players five good games against FIDE rated opponents.


Des Moines Fall Classic

In addition to this invitational, the local youths have had additional opportunities to compete with big names in several FIDE-rated open tournaments. In the Des Moines Fall Classic, held November 19-20, Iowa veteran Tim McEntee shared shop honors with Nebraska’s Nicholas Lacroix, but the story of the tournament had to be St. Louis, Mo.’s CJ Elam.


CJ Elam
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CJ Elam (photo courtesy Brenna Jean Photography)


Finishing with 3/5 and picking up a whopping 165 national rating points, this was something of a breakthrough for Elam. He went 1½/3 against players rated over 2000, and he has annotated his games here. Notes in brackets by JJ Lang.





Great Plains Open

In the Great Plains Open, held November 12-13 in Lincoln, NE, “experience” again topped the standings as Missouri’s Bob Holliman survived a weekend of Nebraska and Iowa’s attempts at an upset.



But once again, the most noticeable results were lower on the cross table. Or, in the case of Kansas’s Maria LeBouef the 17th ranked nine-year-old girl in the country — not on the table at all. LeBouef’s event was characterized by what could have been, typified by a tense struggle in the first round against Chicago's Megan Chen.



Megan Chen
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Megan Chen (photo JJ Lang)


Chen was visiting Nebraska as part of her quest to become the first female player to play a rated tournament in all 50 states. She is now 70% of the way done with her quest.

Another noticeable name was Kansas’s Samuel Mehlhaff. With a couple of impressive, not to mention energetic, victories with the black pieces over much higher rated players, this is another name to take note of. His win over Nebraska’s Ryan Dong, himself a rising talent [and student of mine – ed.] typified his style.



But even more impressive was his win over Irene Fei.


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Mehlhaff versus Fei (photo JJ Lang)


Looking at these three events, the youngest of the winners was still over twenty years old. And other than IM Brooks, none of the players boasted FIDE titles. Still, the opportunity for so many young players to play such slow, competitive games against some of the strongest amateurs in the region is a real fortunate opportunity.