From December 14th through the 16th, 1,701 players gathered at the Rosen Shingle Creek hotel in Orlando for the National K-12 Grade Championship. I was fortunate enough to be one of them. In the 8th grade section, which I was playing in, there were 128 total players, including 9 players rated over 2,000. Heading into the tournament, I was seeded at 13th, so all I was aiming for was a finish in the top 10, which would be good enough for a trophy. To say I was excited for the tournament would be an understatement. I always love national scholastic tournaments because they allow me to make friends my age from across the country. Additionally, Orlando would provide an escape from the Idahoan weather that was getting colder by the week.
My mom and I left Boise at approximately 5 am on the 13th. We landed in Orlando at around 4 pm local time. After checking into the hotel, storing our luggage in the room (and a quick check of Instagram), we left the hotel to go to the Universal City Walk. Despite not being able to go to Universal Studios or Disneyland, the City Walk was enough to provide the magical feeling that accompanies any trip to Orlando. The next day, the main tournament started. In round 1, I managed to win a close game against Franklin He of Florida, who I had actually met on Instagram a few months ago. I also won game two against Zachary Pan of Washington DC. Round 3 brought a very interesting game against Connor Dong, who was from New York. After a tense struggle, I came out victorious. At this point, I was at 3/3. I knew my next game would be tough, but I didn’t expect to get paired against the highest rated player in the 8th grade section, Logan Wu (from Tennessee). I would be on board 1 of the section, which meant that the game would be live-streamed online. I didn’t realize during the game that many of my friends back in Boise would be watching the chess game. I misplayed the opening, and for a large portion of the game, I found myself defending passively against Logan’s Maroczy Bind. The position opened up, and his passed a-pawn made the difference and won him the game. My next game was quite a bit easier, and I easily beat my opponent, Jessica Hyatt, a 1700 from New York. In this game, I gave my opponent a backward e-pawn, a huge positional liability and was able to open up the queenside and win material.
For the next round, I found myself paired against Washington’s Daniel Shubin. At this point, I figured that this may be my most important game of the tournament. A win would boost my chances of getting a top prize. Anything else would seriously hurt these chances.
Kevin Xu (1947) - Daniel Shubin (2031)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.Nf3 c6 6.e3 Qa5 The Cambridge Springs. At the time of the game, I was not familiar with the theory. 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8. Qb3 8. Qd2 is theory. 8… Bb4 9.Rc1 0-0 9… e5! 10.Bd3 c5? Giving white a huge advantage 11.0-0 cxd4 12.Nxd5 exd5 13.exd4 Bd6 14. Bb5?!
14...Qb4? Better was 14…a6!. After that move, black is considerably better off than he is after 14...Qb4. Somehow, I had completely missed this response when I played Bb5 and was planning just to move my bishop back to d3, and I would retain an advantage. 15. Qxb4 Bxb4 16.Rxc8 Raxc8 17.Bxd7 Now black is busted. 17...Rc2 18.Rb1 h6 19.Be3 Rd8 20.Ba4 Rc7 21.Bb3 a5 22.a3 Be7 23.Ne5 g5 24.Bd2 b6 25.Ng4 Bf8? I was winning anyway but my opponent blundering away the d5 pawn makes it easier. 26.Nf6+ Kh8 27.Nxd5 Rc6 28.Ne3 1-0
Going into the last round, I was sitting at 5/6. It is important to mention that throughout the tournament, I had very good tiebreaks and going into the last round, I had the best tiebreaks out of anyone with 5/6. I knew that a win would probably get me third or fourth but that a draw might not get me a top place. However, winning with black against Nicolas de La Colina (from Florida), a strong player, is not easy. Out of the opening, I was in a bad position and Nicolas could’ve ruined my position even more, but didn’t. Instead, we got into a queen and rook endgame that I was probably better in, but the game petered out into a draw. I was not happy with the result because I didn’t think it would get me a top place, but the other crucial results worked out perfectly for me, giving me 3rd place (3rd-9th tied for points but I had the best tiebreaks. Other people that finished with 5.5/7 include Logan Wu (2240), the top seed that had beaten me, and two other 2000+ rated players. However, the chess tournament was not the only thing that brought me joy. As mentioned previously, these scholastic tournaments are great because you get to meet a lot of friends from around the country. This tournament was no exception. I met my good friend Raghav Venkat (who ended up 2nd in my section) again and he introduced me to some of his friends from Florida. After round 1, a group of us gathered to play an hour or two of basketball, which was very fun. Overall, it was just a phenomenal experience and one that will stay in my memory for ages.