What I Learned from a Weekend in Norfolk, Virginia

Much to my personal detriment, right after a subpar World Open, I decided to quit playing chess for a month. It was mostly due to my summer class, so I felt it was rather reasonable. Then, I decided to also opt out of playing the US Open, which I was planning to cover for ChessBase and the USCF Social media. Again I’m in a rut where I cover more events than I play- that’s the life of a chess journalist, I guess. However, I did learn a lot about the chess community while covering the scholastic tournaments around the US Open (The Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions, Dewain Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, and the National Girls Tournament of Champions) that I would not have noticed if I was focused on playing a tournament.

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Naomi Bashkansky’s hair was braided by her mother | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#1: Chess parents are a LOT more dedicated than I always expect (a re-affirmation)

At the Denker/Barber/NGTOC, I saw everything from obsessive camera dads to moms braiding their kids’ hair, to parents bringing water bottles to the board. Perhaps this is obvious at every tournament, but much more so in this one.

After parents were asked to leave the tournament floor, I even took a video in which chess parents clearly crowded the ropes to watch their children start their game.

As a member of the press, I was given permission to photograph the players during gameplay. Several parents asked me if I could be so gracious as to take quality photographs of their children playing, as they were not allowed to do so.

Here’s to all the chess parents out there: thank you for being the financial providers of our chess adventures, the transportation, the people we rely on to feed us when our minds are elsewhere, and for hoarding chess photos of us!

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Justin Wang v Christopher Shen| Ended in a draw & the boys are co-Barber Champions | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#2: Someone who plays on the top board every round can still have worse tiebreaks and miss out on the biggest prize money (TLDR: Tiebreaks are cruel)

I sympathize with Justin Wang, who tied for first in the Barber Tournament. I photographed him on the top board every round of the tournament, yet it was Christopher Shen who eventually clinched the $5,000 college scholarship. Even with a near perfect tournament, sometimes the tiebreaks are just cruel.

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#3: Age does not matter (another reaffirmation)

Both the winners of the Barber and the NGTOC were much younger than the maximum possible age in their tournaments. Many players were older than them or just around the same rating. However, Rochelle Wu of Alabama triumphed at age 11. Some of her older competitors like Annie Wang and Veronika Zilajeva (who just returned from the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational) had relatively strong showings, but a younger competitor won out in the end. This may show a trend in stronger players at younger ages: after all, the SPFGI tournament also yielded a young, 12 year old winner, Nastassja Matus.

Christopher Shen, the winner of the Barber, is twelve- a few years younger than the maximum age for the Barber tournament.

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Veronika Zilajeva v Rochelle Wu | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#4: More people watch these scholastic tournaments than you think!

Keep in mind these tournaments are not the Sinquefield Cup (which started just as the tournament ended) or the World Chess Championship. Maybe you think that only chess parents who are anxious about their kids’ results watch the games broadcasted. However, I realized how big a deal tournaments like these are when I took over the USCF Twitter. I had tweets from chess clubs supporting players, journalists asking me for pictures, and increasing involvement in my tweets. Hundreds of likes and retweets over the past few days showed both the importance of social media and keeping connected with tournaments, as well as the scholastic tournaments themselves! These kids help to bring a fresh, new, exciting view of chess as a sport to non-chess world folks and also remain as a huge staple in American chess culture.

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2 of 4 Co-Champions of the Denker | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#5: I need to go to All Girls Nationals this coming year

After chatting with some NGTOC girls this weekend, I realized I’ve still been missing out on the chess community in a large way. Although I’ve made many friends over the past year or so of chess playing and reporting, I have missed out on making friends with other female players, which I feel is an essential part to every chess girl’s experience. The social aspect of chess is encouraging to females in a male dominated sport like chess. All girls tournaments seem to be a big aspect of chess that I have been missing out on and the NGTOC was the last straw: I made a vow to myself that I have to go to the All Girls Nationals this coming year because I haven’t felt like I gave myself enough opportunities to immerse myself in this aspect of chess.

 

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