GM MacMolner
Apr 30, 2012, 10:40 PM |

What's up everyone?

Hope your chess is going well. I just got back from the Junior High Nationals in San Diego. This was the first scholastic Nationals that I've been to in over 6 or 7 years, and the first I've ever been to as a coach. You couldn't ask for a better place to go for a tournament - but unfortunately, my swimming trunks never felta drop of water. My time was instead spent analyzing many of the local Arizona players’ games. It was a cool experience reliving my past a little bit and seeing things from a different perspective.


There is no other youth tournament in which the players feel as much pressure as they do in this tournament. The intensity allows for anything to happen - you can never predict what's going to happen at the Nationals before all of the games are played, and even then, it often comes down to a single tiebreak point! In round 6, one of the students who I was coaching (1239) was at the top of his point bracket with 3.5 and got paired against a player over 500 points below him (729) who had 4 points. My student lost the game, which is slightly surprising given the rating differential, but even more surprising was that the 729 went on the tie for first in the U-1250! Not only that, but he gained 483 rating points in one tournament. I've never seen anything like that before – I’m happy to gain 1/100th of that in a tournament!


There were, of course, many more examples of things like this happening. However, in the K-9 section of the tournament, the top seeds avoided crazy upsets for the most part. The tournament seemed to go according to plan more or less until the award ceremony. By this I mean the top seeds seemed to stay on the top boards throughout the tournament and there were not too many upsets. Michael Brown, who was the top seed at a nice rating of 2340, stayed on top board the entire tournament and tied for first with a draw in the last round when he had a half point lead on the field. With a draw in the last game, you would think that he would clinch first, but that's when the final surprise happened. Instead of Michael Brown winning first, James Black overcame him with a last round win. It's hard to imagine a scenario where someone with a half a point lead who has played on board 1 in every game does not win the tournament with a last round draw. Not only that, but James Black did not have a first round opponent due to his opponent not showing up at all. Ironically enough, Elizabeth Vicary (the coach of James's team) rightfully pointed out how the no-show was going to negatively affect James’s tiebreaks, but as we now know, James was able to clinch first by half a tiebreak point. I don't have a personal preference or bias as to who wins this tournament, but it just got me thinking: if I was Michael Brown, I would feel pretty cheated, no matter what the numbers said.


What’s funny is I guess I don't know what the tiebreaks are that they use for the Nationals despite playing in them for almost 10 years myself. They were always kind of unclear to me; and after this latest Nationals, I know I still don't understand them. In my mind, an appropriate kind of tiebreak order would look like this: 1) The average rating of your opponents and how you performed against them: therefore, your performance rating 2) Head-to-head result would be next. And after that? Well, I’m stumped - you could come up with some others. I'm curious what other people think about this tiebreak issue.

Lastly, on a total separate note, I want to congratulate Marc Arnold and Darwin Yang for their GM norms in Saint Louis. Marc is a good friend and Darwin is a new ambassador here on, so it's nice to see these guys getting norms. Hopefully we can keep this trend going!


I thought you guys might need to see some action so here is their game from the penultimate round which ended peacefully after a lot of back and forth action. The game is pretty wild with a lot of complications and was a good example of the fighting chess they showed throughout the tournament.