What’s With All These Middle-Schoolers Anyway?

by admin on April 22, 2012

I know, I already posted earlier this week about Elizabeth Spiegel and the awesome job that she has done with I.S. 318 in Brooklyn. But that was before I understood the full scope of their accomplishment. I only realized it when I looked at her web page this morning, specifically this post with a clip from the Rachel Maddow Show that calls their team “The Best New Thing in the World Today.”

You see, they’re a middle school. And they just won the U.S. high-school chess championship!

It’s hard enough to be national champion at anything. (I can now speak from experience, having fallen just short yesterday in my own quest to be on a champion team.) But to be champions in a higher division than you technically qualify for! It would be as if my U.S. Amateur Team team (maximum rating < 2200) entered in the U.S. Chess League (maximum rating < 2400, with certain loopholes) and won.

Then I went to Michael Aigner’s blog, and read this entry about the CalChess scholastics (the individual state championship), which are also taking place on this busy weekend. In that tournament, too, the middle-schoolers rule! Michael listed the top pre-registered players in the high-school section:

  • Colin Chow 2053 (now 2117 after beating two IMs in Reno)
  • Joshua Cao 2050
  • Paul Richter 2048 (was 2010 CalChess High School co-champion)
  • Ted Xiao 2033
  • James Kwok 2009

Compare them to the top pre-registered players in the middle-school section.

  • NM Cameron Wheeler 2126 (now 2204 after beating three masters in Reno)
  • Vignesh Panchanatham 2103
  • Neel Apte 2093 (defending champ and 2011 Barber rep)
  • Udit Iyengar 2069
  • Siddharth Banik 2051
  • Allan Beilin 2044
  • FM Tanuj Vasudeva 2014

I think you’ll agree that the middle-school tournament shapes up to be tougher than the high-school tournament.

What gives? Well, I think there is a negative, cynical explanation and a positive one. The negative explanation, which Rachel Maddow didn’t know about, is that the very top high-school players don’t actually play in high-school tournaments. They’re good enough to play in big, important adult tournaments, and the high-school state or even national championships appear (to them) insignificant by comparison.

Like Michael, I wish I could slap a little sense into their heads. I repeat, most people do not get any chances to be state champion or national champion at anything, ever. Such chances are not to be thrown away lightly. And to the outside world, high-school national champion actually sounds better and more meaningful than, say, earning an IM norm in Budapest. That’s why the Rachel Maddow Show features the winners of the high school national championship, but not the winners of the aforesaid IM norms.

The positive explanation for this middle-school dominance is that we have an incredible surge of talent at the middle-school level, at least in places like Brooklyn and San Jose. I can’t wait to see this talent competing at the high-school level and then on the national and international chess scene.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Aigner April 22, 2012 at 11:04 am

A few corrections. The two youngest of the experts signed up in Middle School retreated back into their normal age divisions. Still, the top four players remain in Middle School, making for a frightening section. Even more scary, is that three of those four attend the same school.

Four Bay Area masters chose not to play at all this year. The highest two, Daniel Naroditsky and Yian Liou, already won the High School section–before ever making it to high school. Mind you, when you’re 2550 or 2375, you don’t get excited playing A players and experts.

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Michael Aigner April 30, 2012 at 9:40 am

I neglected to make one key point. Three of the “high school” players that you referenced, namely Colin, Joshua and Paul, aren’t even in high school yet! And 8th grader Joshua ended up winning.

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