Most of the best young chess players in the United States have never had their games broadcasted live all over the world. Chess has slowly been coming into its own as a “broadcast sport” over the past few years, but the events covered are almost always at a very high grandmaster level. While it’s great that top events are being covered, it’s also true that not much attention has been given to the up and coming, the rising stars.
All of that changed last year when ChessKid.com, in partnership with the USCF, started the National Online Invitational Chess Championship to showcase the potential of American chess youth. Now in its second year, this event is back with twice as many sections, competitors and exciting games. The tournament is a round-robin broken up into eight-player sections based on age: Under 8, Under 10 (new), Under 12, and Girls Under 13 (new). The best and brightest young players in the U.S. will log onto Chess.com from June 14-17th, 2013 to compete for an official national title. A total of 32 invited players will compete for $1000 worth of chess lessons (per section) from the top coaches. Best of all, the entire tournament will be broadcast live on ChessKid TV, with commentary from titled players.
More than half of the participants have attended one of the past three World Youth Chess Championships. Many of the boys in the Under 8 section played in last year's event in Maribor, Slovenia (where several of the older Americans finished on the podium and on the cover of Chess Life).
GM Garry Kasparov presents awards to two Americans
at the 2012 World Youth Championship
Some of the Under 10 and Under 12 players played in Slovenia, as well, and were old enough to compete in the 2011 edition in Brazil. The top seed of the Under 12 section, Nicolas Checa, played in both 2011 and 2012. For the Girls Under 13 section, their history goes back even further - both Devina Devagharan and Emily Nguyen played in Greece in 2010 (but Nguyen's biggest success was in the 2012 Pan-American Youth Championships, where she won double-gold in the blitz and classical time controls). Several other girls have played in the Pan-Ams, including Maggie Feng, who won a silver medal last year.
In the Under 10 group, all players are nine years old except for eight-year-old Joaquin Perkins, co-champion of the inaugural Under 8 section last year. Perkins has won gold at a North American Youth Championship, and finished just out of the medals in Slovenia. He is also one of the youngest players to ever defeat a National Master in a rated game.
Joaquin Perkins at the 2012 Online National Championship
You might expect that because there is an all girls section you wouldn’t see any girls in the other sections. Not true! Both Maggie Ni (Under 8) and Carissa Yip (Under 10) not only qualified for their respective sections, but are ranked in the top half of their group. All the sections are close and competitive. For example, in the Under 10 section the top and bottom players are separated by only 75 rating points.
Most of the Under 12 section is comprised of 11-year-olds, except for Andrew Zheng and Luke Xie, who are both 10. This will be a very challenging octagonal as all eight boys are Experts and several could pass the Master threshold by the end of the event (the tournament is USCF rated).
While the players come from all over the country, there are a few “pockets” of the country represented by several players (Ohio, the Bay Area, Dallas and Houston, etc). One "dynasty" will be present - brothers Henry and Charles Hawthorn will play in the Under Eight and Under 10 sections, respectively, while their cousin, Albert Lu, qualified in the Under 12.
Even the small differences in age manifest the evolution of chess thinking and style amongst the players. Most of the Under Eight group said they like "tactics and attacking" the best. Rishith Susarla put it simply, "Attacking is fun." Kevin Chor said, "I like the blood rush of the endgame."
As you move up the age spectrum, players still preferred attacking setups but were much more likely to appreciate the endgame and a balanced style. Yip: "I am a universal player." Checa: "I don't have a particular style, I just play the position...I don't like prioritizing, [all aspects of chess] are equally important." Two players said they enjoyed defending - Devagharan and Nguyen - those same two girls who have played in international events the longest.
The tournament gives the players a chance to add to their varied memories of their brief chess careers. Many said their favorite experience in chess was competing a spring national scholastics, or a Supernationals. Atreya Vaidya remembers winning $300 when he was not even five years old. Susarla beat an 1800 with one second remaining on his clock. Harvey Zhu forced a repetition just after his opponent promoted a second queen (GM Serper would be proud). Kiana Arab has one of the most interesting back stories. She is the youngest ever WCM from her native Iran. Kiana received the title after winning the Girls Under 10 section of the ASEAN Games. She got a chance to move to the U.S. after her mother won a green-card lottery, despite the chances of winning at less than one percent!
Kiana Arab after winning a national blitz title
Brian Wu beat a Master when he was seven, and Anthony Ge once won despite staring down three passed pawns from his opponent.
Besides vivid memories of master scalps, international trips, and playing alongside the Stars and Stripes, most of these youngsters advised other kids to enjoy playing, work hard, and to keep the game in perspective. Albert Lu had a more specific warning: "Remember to hit the clock." Devagharan said, "Stay calm and drink water!" Nguyen's approach was the most direct. "Two pieces of advice I would give: A) Do not lose. B) Do not draw."
Here is an example of fine play by one of the participants, sacrificing both rooks to defeat one of Chess.com's own staff members!
For more information on the tournament structure and security, as well as a complete list of players and ratings, click here.
Make sure to tune into ChessKid TV June 14-17, and watch the tournament unfold live with commentary from titled players!