For the fifth year in a row, 30 talented American youngsters competed in the ChessKid Online National Invitational Championship (CONIC). US Chess-sanctioned national titles were at stake.
While these precocious pre-teens may make you feel inferior about your own game, that's not the intention! ChessKid.com, the scholastic extension of Chess.com, seeks to give these children a chance to become a national champion without the expenses and logistics of travel. Most played from their local chess club
In addition, for the younger players, it's often their first time to compete in an invitation-only event, adding to the the prestige.
This past weekend, competitions were held in five divisions: 6 and Under; 8 and Under; 10 and Under; 12 and Under; and Girls 13 and Under. In the quintet of five-game round robins, four scholastic players won outright, while one section went to a tiebreak.
The Garden State did well, notching two wins. Here's the full list of first-place finishers: Sebastian Prestia (NY, 6 and Under); Abhimanyu Mishra (NJ, 8 and Under); Chinguun Bayaraa (CA, 10 and Under); Brandon Jacobson (NJ, 12 and Under); and Lily Zhou (Canada, but with US Chess rating, Girls 13 and Under). Winners receive $300 in chess lessons from grandmasters, courtesy of Chess.com.
In addition, all players earned one year diamond memberships to Chess.com, one year gold memberships to ChessKid.com, and a free t-shirt. The top three in each section will receive engraved plaques.
New York had five players in the two younger divisions, while California was very well represented in the others and had 13 participants overall.
The little guys surprisingly had the most parity, with Prestia scoring 3.5/5 to win his section and everyone earning at least 1.5 points.
Sebastian Prestia, six years old and already north of 1400. He played his games at the Marshall Chess Club.
Round four was key, as Prestia showed better knowledge as Black of his opposite-side castling position against second-place finisher Nitish Nath (CA).
Spurning grandmaster tendencies, Nath performed much better with Black. He rebounded in his final round to win and finish in a tie for second place, making his final line 0-2 as White and 3-0 as Black.
The other second-place finisher was Royal Buchanan, who was clearly meant to succeed at the royal game! The Chess NYC prodigy dropped his first two games, then rebounded to win the final three despite a street parade that caused him and a few others to arrive late for one round. Grandmasters take note: of the 25 games in the 6 and Under, only two games ended in draws.
Did you know the Marshall Gambit when you were in first grade?
GM Ben Finegold coaching? Well, that's his main job, but this weekend he was the TD for Archer Watson (GA), who loves to play the Wilkes-Barre (Traxler) Gambit. Every player had a TD or impartial proctor on site while competing.
Fourth place for the little ones was shared by Abinav Sundar Dinesh (OH) and Nathaniel Mullodzhanov (NY) with 2.0/5 each. Archer Watson (GA) took sixth with 1.5/5.
In the 8 and Under division, Mishra went undefeated with two draws followed by three wins to take first with 4.0/5. That's not as impressive as another fact: ages were as of January 1, and he was actually eligible to play in the 6 and Under. It's not often you play up for experience, but win anyway! His dad said that he loves a challenge.
Abhimanyu Mishra (orange shirt) with Girls 13 and Under player Angelica Chin and TD Noreen Davisson.
Playing out of IM Dean Ippolito's "Dean of Chess Academy" in New Jersey, he showed perfect defense in the face of a would-be brilliancy.
Second place was earned by Vishnu Vanapalli (NC), the 2014 winner of the 6 and Under section. He also went undefeated, but suffered one more draw than Mishra to finish on 3.5/5.
Three things before you play over his best game. First, Black did not win every decisive game at CONIC, despite what the opening to this report might suggest. Second, it would seem that the winner beat the new Asian Champion, S.P. Sethuraman. Did the GM commute from Tashkent to Mesa, Arizona and do a Benjamin Button? Nope, Black was Arizonan Sandeep Sethuraman.
Third, and most important, make sure you stick around long enough to see the excellent breakthrough on White's 36th move.
Adi Murgescu's 3.0/5 was good enough for clear third. He was still in contention until his last-round loss to the (younger) Sethuraman. Murgescu is knocking on the door of 2000 USCF and here's his best game:
Sethuraman and Tommy Wen (CA) tied for fourth with 2.0/5 and Lucas Foerster-Yialamas (of "ThirstyDonkey" video fame on Chesskid.com) was sixth with 0.5/5.
In the 10 and Under, perseverance won out. Last year, Chinguun "Bay Area" Bayaraa (an actual resident of the Bay Area, not just a clever name!), finished last in the same section, with only a solitary draw on his card.
Fast forward to 2016 and Bayaraa inverted his scorecard, notching four wins and then a draw in the final round to secure first. The games get a little more sophisticated in this section; unsurprisingly many of the competitors are knocking on the door of master.
Chinguun Bayaraa at his dad's Chinggis Chess Club. That's what we call a committed family!
Bayaraa played some sparkling tactics, but his opening game was the most fun. Even without the queens, both kings looks destined to be mated at one point. This looked like a game of King of the Hill.
This is the second CONIC title for Bayaraa according to organizer Kele Perkins. Who's the only other player with two? Kele's son Joaquin. A father should know that!
If you win two titles, I guess you get two photos in the report!
Milind Maiti of Cupertino, CA took a bite out of the second-place Apple by having a perfect Sunday to finish with 3.5/5. That's the same score as SoCal player Robert Shlyakhtenko (Los Angeles).
We feature a Maiti-miniature from his final round:
Shlyakhtenko was the only player to play a training game at the 90+30 time control on Chess.com, and that helped him achieve an undefeated 3.5/5. Here's his win on the White side of a Sicilian (this section at times looked like a Sicilian theme tournament).
Jason Yu (WA) was clear fourth with 2.5/5, Danny Soong (CA) fifth with 1.0/5 and Ethan Pau (CA) sixth with 0.0/5.
In the 12 and Under, regulation time was not enough to decide the title. Jacobsen and Ivan Ke (CA) both ended the classical portion on 3.5/5 thanks to a last-round turnaround where top-seeded Jacobsen won and Ke lost.
Brandon Jacobson, the highest-rated player in the event. His t-shirt came true.
Here's the clutch final round from another Marshall Chess Club member. The 19 bullet games he played in between rounds four and five didn't hurt him a bit! White's extra d-pawn looked doomed many times, but it just kept marching onward.
Ke played a beautiful finishing maneuver to end his round-two game. It's the kind of unnecessary move that gives coaches heart attacks but kids love to show off in the post-mortem!
Jacobsen, who is closing in on senior master, then won the one-game Armageddon playoff Sunday night. He took White and 25 minutes, while Ke had Black, 10 minutes, and draw odds. There was also a five-second increment.
Ivan Ke, at home on wet and dry land.
Black never really got in the game as White saddled the second player with weaknesses all along the c-file, as well as a sad bishop.
Alexander Costello (CA) finished in third with 3.0/5. He can also be proud of handing the eventual winner his only loss, and quite convincingly.
Rounding out the section, fourth was shared by Rohan Talukdar (ON) and Kevin Yang (CA) with 2.0/5. Sixth was Anthony Ge (CA) with 1.0/5.
In the Girls 13 and Under, Zhou became the only player to net a perfect 5.0/5.
Girls 13 and Under Champion Lily Zhou.
In her Friday night opening round, she channeled her inner Fischer. You could actually argue she did one better. By playing the King's Indian Attack versus a French setup (an old Fischer favorite), but as Black, she ceded one ply from the main lines but still won in overwhelming fashion.
Angelica Chin, yet another New Jersey product, took second clear second with 4.0/5 (she was still in it until then end, when Zhou beat her in the last round). She endured several worse positions, but showed great tenacity in winning many games where she was much worse.
Check out this effort, where after dropping a pawn early, she battled for 93 moves to earn the comeback win.
Third place was shared by Sasha Konovalenko (MI) and Ritika Pandey (WI) with 2.5/5. Fifth was Cindy Zheng (CA) with 1.0/5. Rianne Ke (CA) was disqualified for undisclosed reasons.
Many thanks to the numerous on-site TDs who assisted and to the players' parents for helping in their children's careers. Also a very special thanks to the US Chess Federation for its assistance in organizing, and to IM David Pruess and GM Eugene Perelshteyn for their many hours of live commentary. Finally, thanks to IM Danny Rensch for being the Chief TD and Kele Perkins for his months of copious organization and TD work.