(WARNING: Lots of pictures ahead!)
From Nov. 6-19 I was in Maribor, Slovenia for the 2012 World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC). The World Youth is an annual 11-round event with multiple age categories: U-8, U-10, U-12, U-16, and U-18, with both "girls" and "open" sections. Qualification is highly prestigious, and competitors in each group hope to come away with one of the precious few medals (gold, silver, and bronze - just like the Olympics).
This year's event featured 1,584 players from 92 countries!
I was attending as one of the coaches for the US team. I never managed to qualify for the WYCC as a player (qualification was even stricter 10 years ago), so now I'm making up for lost time . Our delegation was huge: 89 players, 13 coaches, and a whole lot of parents! Giving a blow-by-blow account of the entire event would be near impossible, so I'll focus on the highlights.
On the first day, we met the US ambassador to Slovenia, Joseph Mussomeli:
He gave the kids a nice pep talk and remarked that we were the largest ever group of Americans to come to Slovenia!
With a student of mine, Ethan Tang (U-8 Open)
Afterwards, GM Alejandro Ramirez (another US coach) and I ventured over to the Draš Center for the opening ceremony:
Inside, it looked like a gigantic aircraft hangar!
Necessary space for 1,600 players!
I can't find the words to express how awesome it is to see so many young players from different countries united by a passion for chess.
As a coach, my duties were to prepare each of the players in my group (I had seven), and review games after each round. We worked each day from 9:30 am-1:00 pm, then 5:00-8:30 pm. Rounds were at 3:00 pm each afternoon.
Preparation with Becca Lampman (U-16 Girls). She finished with 5.5/11, 1974 performance rating.
Preparing for these games was tricky! Oftentimes we were working with little or no information, particularly in the youngest age groups (four of my seven players were in the U-8) where hardly anyone has accumulated games in the database. Sometimes we found success. For instance, in round eight I was assisting Agnes Wang, a girl in the U-8 section. Agnes was White, and we noticed in the bulletin (a daily compilation of the previous round's games; absolutely invaluable to a coach!) that her Bulgarian opponent had played Black in a game that went 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7. Now, 3...Be7 isn't the most critical response to the Giuoco Piano, so I suggested to Agnes that she might try testing her opponent in this same line. Agnes had never played the Giuoco Piano before, but she proved to be a fast learner and easily absored everything I showed her. Her diligence ultimately paid off, as she won a six-move game just a few hours later: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7 4.d4 exd4 5.c3 dxc3?? 6.Qd5! Black resigns. This is a well-known trap that we had covered in detail. Black should have continued with 6...Nh6 7.Bxh6 0-0 when Agnes knew to play 8.Bxg7 Kxg7 9.Nxc3 with advantage, but her opponent was too demoralized to continue. A hard lesson.
Players from the US took home a total of four medals, including two golds:
- Kayden Troff (GOLD U-14)
- Samuel Sevian (GOLD U-12)
- Cameron Wheeler (SILVER U-12)
- Christopher Shen (BRONZE U-8)
Special congratulations to Kayden, who I've come to know pretty well over the last year or so. He recovered from a third-round loss to score a remarkable 7/8 in his remaining games, including a must-win victory in the final round:
California's Samuel Sevian played steady, professional chess throughout the event, and fully deserved his gold. I was impressed by his mastery of the bishop pair in the following game (remember, White is 11!):
Standouts from other countries include 14 year-old WGM Aleksandra Goryachkina (she dominated the U-18 girls section with 9.5/11), and FM Anh Khoi Ngyuen, who absolutely CRUSHED the U-10 open field with a perfect score, 11/11! He won a couple games in the Najdorf that were Kasparov-esque.
Speaking of the big man, guess who showed up!?
The former World Champion was on hand to present awards at the closing ceremony.
Here are a few more pictures I took throughout the event:
On the free day, many of us toured the cities of Bled and Ljubljana. Here's the 1,000 year old Bled Castle.
The view of Lake Bled from the castle was spectacular.
The Slovenian capital, Ljubljana
Christopher Shen, U-8 bronze winner!
Young chess enthusiast at the book store
Kayden on stage receiving his gold medal
Me and GM Alejandro Ramirez
In closing, here's an awesome moment from Kayden's ninth-round victory over Pavlo Vorontsov. GM Ben Finegold was so taken by Kayden's move here that he declared it "one of the top ten best moves of all time"!
White has just played 27.Bb2-f6. How should Black respond?
If you prefer a real-life view, I've got you covered!
Slovenia is a great country, and Maribor was a fantastic host! The WYCC is truly a spectacular event for all those involved - most importantly, the young players.
I'm currently back in the states over Thanksgiving, but I'm departing again soon. Next up, the London Chess Classic