Champions Crowned in Nashville
By Kele Perkins   
May 16, 2012
The 2012 Elementary (K-6) National Championships, the last of the spring triumvirate of scholastic nationals, have come to a close.  It was quite a weekend for American chess fans, who could almost simultaneously follow the World Championship match between Vishy Anand and Boris Gelfand, catch live coverage of Hikaru Nakamura taking the lead at the US Championship, switch over to Anna Zatonskih in the US Women’s Championship, and still have four scholastic championship sections in Nashville to follow.  Inspiration was easy to find, with the ever-positive former Women’s World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk dropping by for book signings, photos, and autographs.

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GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, Photo chessblog.com

K-1 Championship:  Perfection Required  
As usual, this massive section of almost 300 players was the largest in the event, and run at a slightly faster time control (G/90) than the other championship sections.  In other ways, this year’s K-1 was rather unusual.  For example, in neither the 2010 nor the 2011 Elementary Nationals did the K-1 Championship section have a single player with a supplement rating over 1500.  

In 2012, there were four such players coming in as favorites:  1st graders such as top seed Kevin Chor (AZ), Atreya Vaidya (TX), and tactical wunderkind Milind Maiti (northern CA), along with kindergarten phenom Harry Wang (TX).  Alas, all four suffered defeats, two of which were delivered by Teoma Zhigulin (NY), who jumped out to 6-0 alongside home-state talent Logan Wu (TN).  Zhigulin defeated Chor and Rishith Susarla (northern CA) to earn his shot at the title.  Keeping up with them was Anthony He (WA), whose 896 USCF supplement rating contrasted sharply with his Northwest Scholastic (NWSRS) rating of 1527.  He beat Maiti in the 2nd round in an unusually early matchup of top players and overcame the challenge of a couple of strong Illinois contenders, Stefan Musikic and Pierce McDade, on his way to the 1st-place trophy on tiebreaks.  Wu’s path to the co-championship was no less difficult, as he had to get past 1st grade national champion Aryaman Bansal (TX) before slowing down Zhigulin.  As in 2011, when Aydin Turgut (IL) and Ben Rood (northern CA) ran the table with perfect 7-0 scores, He and Wu both proved themselves  worthy champions.  

K-3 Championship:  Pre-Tourney Favorites Stake Claims 
With about 260 participants, this section was slightly smaller than the K-1.  However, the talent pool was no less impressive.  Second grade co-champions Christopher Shen (OH) and Corwin Cheung (NY) came to play, and former K-1 champions Turgut, Rood, and Praveer Sharan (OR) returned to the Elementary Nationals one section higher.  Chase Frutos (TX) and Jason Tang (MA) came in as solid 1700s.  New York was already well-represented by Justin Chen, Hudson Beaudoin, and  Daniel Levkov.  But at the top of the advance entries list was 3rd grader Marcus Miyasaka (NY), a two-time national grade-level champion whose rating recently surpassed 1900.  Listed just below him were brothers and Class A players Tan and Trung Nguyen, accompanied by Akshita Gorti, Bryant Loh, and Kevin Zhang – all five from Virginia.  While Tan Nguyen had already made respectable showings in previous national championships, a national title had thus far eluded him. 

But over the last several months, he underwent a startling increase in playing strength.  Coming into the event, his supplement rating of 1845 was more than 100 points ahead of the next-highest-rated 2nd grader, and he had already scalped a USCF master  – twice before his 8th birthday, a feat unmatched even by World Youth Under 8 Champion Awonder Liang.  Both Tan Nguyen and Miyasaka appeared to breeze through the early rounds before having to settle for draws against Beaudoin and Shen, respectively.  The final round saw Miyasaka win with Black against Levkov and Tan Nguyen converting with White against Shen, to win the 1st place trophy on tiebreaks.   Both winners finished with 6.5 out of 7 points.  Beaudoin only needed one more win to become one of the co-champions, but was perhaps unlucky to have to face Trung Nguyen after drawing his brother Tan two rounds earlier, and lost with White.  For the most part, then, the ratings list was a decent indicator of the eventual outcome in this section, and congratulations are due to the new champions.

K-5 Championship:  And Then There Were … Nine
Last year, Cameron Wheeler took the section with a perfect score over a few other experts and Class A players.  This year, the sole expert in the section was Maggie Feng with a May supplement rating of 2005.  Several strong Class A players followed behind on the wall chart.  But 4th grader Hugh Chapin, a 539-point ratings underdog, held Feng to a draw in the first round.  Feng managed to fight her way back into contention, however.  Some others followed a more standard pattern:  rack up the wins first, and settle for draws if necessary later.  

After five rounds, three competitors took their perfect records into the final day:  4th grader Danial Asaria (southern CA) and a pair of players from the state of Washington, Marcell Szabo and Bryce Tiglon.  
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Marcell Szabo and Danial Asaria

Tiglon’s USCF supplement rating of 1601 was significantly lower than his NWSRS rating, 1895.  Still, Tiglon was no unknown, having ‘played up’ in the K-6 section as a 4th grader in 2011.  In the 6th round, he drew against Feng, making her comeback attempt a bit more difficult to achieve, while Szabo and Asaria also drew.  

 
This set the stage for the last round scenario:  whereas Feng needed a win over Asaria to keep any hopes of becoming co-champion, the other three only needed to draw.  And draw they did, with Szabo and Tiglon splitting the point on the top board, and Asaria again holding on for the half-point against the expert.  Feng finished just outside the co-champion group.  Others in must-win situations delivered last-round wins on demand:  Advait Patel (WV), Dex Webster (LA), Andrew Zheng (MD), Thomas Knoff (NY), Luke Xie (OH), and Zachary Tanenbaum (CT) made the most of their opportunity.  
  
This produced a nine-way tie at 6/7 for the championship, with Tiglon earning the 1st place trophy on tiebreaks. Here's a victory from co-champ Zheng: 

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Andrew Zheng

K-6 Championship:  Moazami Edges Experts  
Alex Bian, an expert from Illinois, was the only player in the top section to get through the first two days with a perfect score of 5/5.  But a loss to Vignesh Panchanatham (northern California) put Bian a half-point behind the leaders with a round to go.  Joining Panchanatham at the top board in the final round was Amir Moazami (NY), and although the two drew to become co-champions, Moazami won the 1st place trophy with the best tiebreaks in the section.  This draw opened an opportunity for nine other players, most of whom were paired against each other, and for whom last-round wins would mean a share of the championship with 6/7.  A couple of these critical games ended in draws, eliminating both players in each game from title contention.  However, Roland Feng (WA), Kevin Moy (northern CA), and Bian all came through with clutch victories to share the championship.  For  the decisions of Moy and Bian to ‘play up’ as 5th graders in the K-6 section in 2011, this event perhaps provided some justification.  While all the different section champions deserve mention here, these five winners of the top section deserve special recognition.

Epilogue:  A Prelude to SuperNationals V
The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center was the site of the last SuperNationals event, held in 2009, which saw 5200+ players participating.  By all accounts, the massive venue is a great location for major chess events.  Parent Michael Chor described the host hotel as “absolutely magnificent,” and appreciated its proximity to eateries and shopping sites.  Happily, it is also the site of SuperNationals V, to be held in April 2013.  In just under a year, the Elementary, Junior High, and High School National Championships will be decided in Music City.  Regardless of final outcomes, we can all appreciate how this particular brand of psychological strain builds strength, on and off the board.     

Kele Perkins is a teacher, former musician, and former Class A player. 

Find full standings of the Elementary Nationals at http://www.uschess.org/tournaments/2012/elem/