Aptos chess club tournament

by on May 9, 2009

While most serious chess fans are following the U.S. Championship, which is currently taking place in St. Louis, today I had only one tournament on my mind: the annual Aptos Public Library tournament. The library is where I run my weekly chess club for kids, and I traditionally organize a tournament every May, at the end of the school year.

This year we had a relatively small turnout, 14 players, which I attribute partly to the fact that I’ve had to miss a few club meetings in recent weeks because of trips and other commitments. So the tournament was organized a little later and didn’t get as much publicity as it has in the past. Nevertheless, this year’s tournament was very competitive and I was proud of all the players who came. We didn’t have a single dropout this year — everyone played all three rounds!

In the section for players 10 years and older, the winners were:

  1. Karen Chan (3-0)
  2. Ian Chiu (2-1, won playoff)
  3. Jonathan Cordova (2-1, lost playoff)

I was very impressed with Karen Chan. She does not regularly come to our chess club (she lives too far away for it to be convenient), so I had not seen her play in a year. She has improved greatly in that time; she plays quickly and with confidence, and also with a certain air of nonchalance. You couldn’t really tell from her reaction after the game whether she had won or lost. (Of course, this year she only won!)

Even so, I think that Karen must have been excited by beating Ian. I think they know each other well and I think he usually wins. But Ian is a little bit prone to overconfidence. In this game, he won a piece but Karen got a kingside attack that I think Ian underestimated … Anyway, he left g7 unguarded and before you knew it her queen was there, putting him in checkmate. Karen, with typical modesty, said she was just lucky.

In the section for players 10 and under, here were the results:

  1. Miles Mariani (2½-½, won playoff)
  2. Robert Lasilla (2½-½, lost playoff)
  3. Jack Jeffrey (2-1)

I also gave a special sportsmanship prize to Moira and Jesslyn Zink. Their father said that they only came to watch, not to play, but after a while they decided that playing was a lot more fun than watching! Moira even won a game in impressive fashion (see below).

Watching the games between the younger players is always interesting, because such wild shifts of fortune can occur. In many cases it is completely impossible to predict the winner by applying conventional rules of the chessboard. Here are a couple of examples.

This is an approximate position — one or two pieces might be missing or out of place, but all of the important ones are where they were in the game. Black (Hunter McConnell) won a queen early in the game, but was unable to figure out how to organize his queen and rook to checkmate White. Meanwhile, White (Moira Zink) has gotten some pretty good counterplay by chasing Hunter’s king around. Now Moira played 1. Rb7+, creating a threefold repetition of the position. (I had been watching closely, as I suspected this might occur.) I was pretty sure that neither player knew the threefold repetition rule, and I wanted to make sure that Moira knew that she could claim a draw. So I explained the rule and then I asked her, “Do you want to claim a draw or would you like to play on? A draw means a tie game.”

She said, “I’d like to play on!” And so after 1. … Ka5 she varied with 2. Nxc6+. And guess what? She went on to win! In games between kids, passed pawns are more valuable than gold because kids generally don’t have any idea of what it means to blockade or control the queening square. She eventually queened her pawn with check on e8, and it was a mate in one after that.

I think that there is sometimes a sort of karma in kids’ games, in the sense that no matter what the position on the board, the kid who really wants to win the game more will win it. And that certainly seemed to be what happened here. Hunter seemed very unsure of himself even when he was ahead in material, and meanwhile Moira had so much fighting spirit that she wouldn’t claim a draw even when given the chance.

Another very interesting position arose in the playoff between Miles Mariani and Robert Lasilla in the 10-and-under section. Miles (playing Black) won a rook, but Robert (as White) had connected passed pawns on the queenside. An experienced player would have been able to stop the passed pawns, but as I said above, in kids’ chess passed pawns are more valuable than gold. Miles eventually gave up his rook to stop one of the pawns, but there was still one more to contend with. In the position below, Miles has just played 1. … Bd8, which unfortunately is one move too late to stop the c-pawn.

I was completely expecting Robert to play 2. c8=Q+! here, and I was getting ready to congratulate him on a well-played endgame and a terrific come-from-behind victory. But alas, another rule of kids’ chess is that captures (if you see them) are forced. And so Robert played 2. cd=Q+? After all, if you can both queen a pawn and take a piece, it’s got to be better than just queening a pawn, right?

Naturally, Miles played 2. … Kxd8. In a game between experienced players this position would now be a complete draw. But this is kids’ chess, and remember that in kids’ chess passed pawns are more valuable than gold. Remember also that kids’ chess is all about the will to win. Robert clearly was a little bit deflated, and he had no clear idea of how to proceed for White. Miles, on the other hand, was the only player with winning chances, and he had a very clear plan: march his king up, march his pawn to f4, and then queen the h-pawn. And that’s exactly what happened.

Games like these remind me of Elizabeth Vicary’s delightful post on “Differences in Scholastic Chess.” In fact, two of the principles I have mentioned can be found in her post. Her rule #1 says, “Since for the most part, kids can’t blockade at all, passed pawns are like golden eggs.” Judging from these games, I would make a more precise statement: an unblockaded passed pawn on the fifth rank or farther is worth at least a rook. Elizabeth’s rule #7 says, “If a capture is possible, it is always the most likely move to be played.” So what happened in the game between Miles and Robert shouldn’t have been a surprise.

I hope that no one interprets any of my comments as criticism of any of the kids. They all played with great passion and great sportsmanship, and I can’t ask for anything more.

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