D.C.-area scholastic chess tournament smashes attendance records



The DMV represented, and the future of American chess is blindingly bright.

That’s two easy conclusions in the wake of the U.S. Chess Federation’s record-shattering 2022 National K-12 Grade Championships, held Dec. 9-11 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The gathering at the Potomac River showplace crowned 13 new national individual and team champions at every grade level from kindergarten through high school.

You can credit the timing, the lifting of COVID-19 over-the-board restrictions, the quality of the playing facilities or the proximity to Washington and so many historical sites, but the National Harbor event proved a massive success. Organizers said the event attracted some 2,463 scholastic players from 42 states — including more than 600 entrants from Maryland, Virginia and the District. That obliterated the previous attendance record of 1,827 set in 2017 in Orlando, Florida.

USCF officials said they knew they had a blockbuster on their hands when the rooms in the overflow hotel to handle extra guests were all booked a month before the tournament even started.

The full list of winners, dominated by a huge contingent of New Yorkers and Floridians who descended on Prince George’s County for the event, would take up the rest of the column and can be found online at http://www.uschess.org/tournaments/2022/k12/index.php. But we can single out the 10th grade and 12th grade teams from Alexandria’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which took home the national team titles for their grade.

The chess was pretty good, too, with most sections going down to the wire before a winner could be crowned. Arizona FM Sandeep Sethuraman was the top seed in the 11th grade section but had to work for the title. Needing a win against his closest pursuer, IM Maximillian Lu of Connecticut, to clinch the title, Sethuraman came through in style.

Some combinations appear out of nowhere, a tactical opportunity that opens up through a mistake or oversight by your opponent. But most arise like seedlings, organically sprouting from the superior position with the right amount of skill and nurturing. That’s the case here as Sethuraman as White claims a clear positional edge out of this Queen’s Fianchetto Defense, translating that pressure into a win with a string of major pieces sacrifices.

Already under some pressure, Black goes wrong by castling into an attack before his center is fully secured: 9. Bb5+ c6 (Nd7? 10. Ne5 11. Bc8?? 12. Nc6 would have made for an amusing miniature) 10. Bd3 c5 11. 0-0 0-0?! (getting the king to safety is usually a sound idea, but here 11…cxd4 12. cxd4 0-0 first would have saved Black a lot of grief) 12. d5! exd5 13. exd5 g6?! (weakening a lot of defensive squares; less damaging was 13…h6 [Bxd5? 14. Bxh7+ Kh8 15. Rd1, with a big edge] 14. c4 Bf6 15. Rb1 Re8) 14. Bh6 Re8 15. Bb5, with tremendous pressure.

Lu makes a good practical decision to jettison the exchange to relieve the burden, as after 17. c4! (cementing central control, as the Black rook isn’t going anywhere) a6 18. Bxe8 Nxe8 19. Rfe1 Nd6, the White center is firmly blockaded and Sethuraman still must find a concrete way to cash in his material edge.

Black seeks counterplay on the a-file, but in the end only leaves himself exposed to White’s more powerful army: 21. Rad1 b5 (otherwise, White will just transfer his pieces at leisure to the kingside and play for mate) 22. cxb5 axb5 23. Qf4 Ra4 (Rxa2? 24. Nc6! Bxc6 25. dxc6 Be7 26. Qe5 wins) 24. Qc1 Qc8 (White can answer 24…c4 again with 25. Nc6 Qc8 26. Ne7+ Bxe7 27. Rxe7 Nf5 28. d6!) 25. Nc6 Nf5 26. Bg5 Rc4 (see diagram), and now White’s positional trumps take the trick with an always pleasing queen sacrifice.

Thus: 27. Qxc4! (fun to play and also the clearest path to victory) bxc4 28. Bxf6 Bxc6 (h5 29. Ne5 Nd6 30. Be7 Nf5 31. d6, and the pawn is a monster) 29. dxc6 Nd4 (Qxc6?? 30. Rd8+ exposes the back-rank weaknesses that will prove fatal for Lu) 30. c7!, not tempted by 30. Bxd4? cxd4 31. Rxd4 Qxc6, with real chances to save the game for Black.

Having given up a queen, White now twice offers a cheeky rook in the game’s finale: 30…Kf8 (Qxc7 31. Re8 mate is out, but the Black king’s move still leaves him firmly trapped in a mating snare) 31. Re5 Qxc7 32. Rxc5! Qb7 (Qxc5 33. Rxd4 and there’s no good defense to the threat of 34. Rd8 mate) 33. Rd5!, and Black resigned, as on 33…Qxd5 34. Rxd4, the only way to stop mate is to give up his queen.

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With the holiday season upon us, we offer up again a little unexpected gift from a previous Yuletide column about Hollywood legend and Christmas baby Humphrey Bogart, born Dec. 25, 1899.

Bogie regularly tops the list of Hollywood celebrities who played a mean game of chess, and his acumen and love for the game were so well known that he and actress wife Lauren Bacall posed in 1956 for the best-looking cover of Chess Review ever.

Despite taking lessons from famed Los Angeles master Herman Steiner, Bogart from the evidence appears to have been something short of expert-level strength. But he was skilled enough to hold the great Sammy Reshevsky to a draw in a 1956 simultaneous exhibition in Los Angeles, a year before the actor´s death.

Reshevsky employs the classic simul tactic of a sharp opening to flummox his lower-rated opponent, but Bogart handles things relatively well despite coming out a pawn down. On 12. Bxb7 Rd8, Black has a nice lead in development for his material deficit and even sets a trap for the grandmaster: 13. Re1 0-0! 14. Nd2, not “falling” for 14. Rxe5? Rd1+ 15. Re1 Rxe1 mate.

Black recovers his pawn after 24. Rd1?! (b3 Re8 25. f3 Nd6 26. Kd2 Rd8 27. Kc2 might have been a better way to try to exploit the queenside majority) Rxd1 25. Kxd1 Nxb2+ 26. Kc2 Na4 27. Bd4 Bxd4!? (c5! 28. Bxf6 gxf6 would straighten out Black´s kingside) 28. cxd4, and Reshevsky conceded the draw — with a bishop for knight, White could torture his opponent for many moves in the endgame, but the split point here is a very honorable result.

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Hope to see lots of chess friends next week at the 47th Annual Eastern Open, being played this year over four days starting Dec. 26 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. It’s always one of the strongest events on the local chess calendar. Watching the grandmasters, masters and ordinary mortals who compete is free, and there will be books and chess paraphernalia on sale.

For more details and playing schedules, check it out here at http://www.chesstour.com/eo22.htm.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)

Sethuraman-Lu, National K-12 Grade Championships, National Harbor, Maryland, December 2022

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 b6 3. Nc3 Bb7 4. Qc2 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Nf3 e6 7. e4 Nxc3 8. bxc3 Be7 9. Bb5+ c6 10. Bd3 c5 11. O-O O-O 12. d5 exd5 13. exd5 g6 14. Bh6 Re8 15. Bb5 Nd7 16. Qa4 Nf6 17. c4 a6 18. Bxe8 Nxe8 19. Rfe1 Nd6 20. Ne5 Bf6 21. Rad1 b5 22. cxb5 axb5 23. Qf4 Ra4 24. Qc1 Qc8 25. Nc6 Nf5 26. Bg5 Rc4 27. Qxc4 bxc4 28. Bxf6 Bxc6 29. dxc6 Nd4 30. c7 Kf8 31. Re5 Qxc7 32. Rxc5 Qb7 33. Rd5 Black resigns.

Reshevsky-Bogart, Simultaneous exhibition, Los Angeles, 1956

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. d4 f6 7. dxe5 fxg5 8. Qxd5 Qxd5 9. Bxd5 Be7 10. O-O Bf5 11. c3 Nxe5 12. Bxb7 Rd8 13. Re1 O-O 14. Nd2 Bf6 15. Ne4 Bxe4 16. Bxe4 h6 17. Be3 a5 18. Bc5 Rfe8 19. Rad1 Kh8 20. Rxd8 Rxd8 21. Kf1 Ng4 22. h3 Ne5 23. Ke2 Nc4 24. Rd1 Rxd1 25. Kxd1 Nxb2+ 26. Kc2 Na4 27. Bd4 Bxd4 28.cxd4 Draw agreed.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]





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