2023 K-12 Nationals Recap

Playing Chess, Making Friends

December was an exciting time for MCA students. In addition to the thrills of the holiday season, they got to compete in the K-12 Nationals. This is one of the biggest chess events in the United States each year, boasting over 2000 players. Each year, it crowns 13 National champions and hosts various entertaining side events, so it’s a must-play event for kids all across the country.

I’ve had some experience playing this event, competing quite a few times and even becoming the 11th grade National Champion in 2022. I can say that winning is an unbelievable feeling, but even those tournaments I didn’t do too well in were extremely enjoyable. Nationals is where you make a lot of friends and meet people from all over the country.

Coach Uthra (front) with just some of the MCA students who were playing chess and making friends in Florida.

Kindergartener vs Grandmaster

One of our students, Druv, had the opportunity to play against the strong grandmaster, Mr. Georgiev. Having these opportunities as early as in kindergarten is vital to a player’s growth, and looking at this game in a simul shows us how this applies to Druv. The game started with a standard Italian Opening, when GM Georgiev decided to unleash the brazen sacrifice with d4. While these aren’t necessarily the engine’s top choices, these moves are often employed by GMs to confuse lower rated opponents and get a double-edged position out of the opening. Druv reacted well at first, but soon the pressure got to be too much and he ended up making a few inaccuracies and losing the game. Check it out here: https://www.chess.com/analysis/library/4KroNvJB5G

Druv came ready to play, even against a GM

Survive The Opening

It’s incredibly important to survive the opening phase in these large scholastic events. Everyone wants the title, so they come equipped with all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. The most common of these traps are undoubtedly the 4 move checkmate and the Fried Liver attack. While these ones are fairly simple to counter if you’ve studied them, there’s hundreds of traps your opponent can set. Make sure to check out MCA’s Opening Traps Camp to discover all of them. In this game, Charles played a strong counter to the very popular King’s Gambit to score a quick knockout on the way to a highly successful tournament. Check it out the game:

Charles showed his fun face and his serious thinking face.

All About Tactics 

Chess was famously said to be 99% tactics, and while this is an exaggeration it still holds partially true as in this miniature by Diya. After quickly equalizing from the Black side of a standard Italian Opening, she won a piece to a simple but beautifully executed piece trap and eventually showed great technique by simplifying into a winning ending. This skill of simplification is very important especially at a young age in these scholastic events. Check out the game: 

Diya had all the tactics.

Keep Calm and Chess On

Maya wasn’t feeling well and missed her first round, but she exhibited the best quality in a chess player: never giving up. We can see this clearly in her games where she fought tooth and nail, like this one where she had to fight back after some opening mistakes in the Fried Liver and almost ended up winning the game. While the result didn’t go her way, this game presents an invaluable experience that will definitely help her development as a player. Check out the game below.  We also noticed that, when she was on form, Maya was capable of winning smoothly



Boost Your Rating

Anthony had an exceptional tournament, finishing with 4.5/7 and gaining about 100 rating points, bringing him closer to his immediate and future goals as a player. His play has been improving a lot recently, and it showed in his games from this tournament where he was able to put up great fights against much higher rated opponents. In this miniature in the London system, he was able to recognize weaknesses and attack them (check the tactic on move 26). Check out the whole game below: 

The weather was nice and so were Anthony's chess moves. 


Play The Board, Not The Player

Despite feeling very intimidated by the much higher rated opposition he was facing, Miles persevered and scored 4/7 to gain over 80 points. He was able to take out almost all the opposition that was equal or lower rated to him, and two of his losses came to opponents rated over 500 points higher. These presented many learning opportunities for him to improve. We examine one of them in the embedded game below.  Against similarly rated opponents, Miles produced some dominating wins as well: https://www.chess.com/analysis/library/t7fuPNsHg.




Tough Opposition

Will started with an amazing 5/5 in one of the strongest sections in the tournament. In the 5th round he took one of his highest ever over-the-board scalps when he defeated his friend (an FM) with Black (this game contains annotations by Will himself). The next two rounds, he was matched with the leaders of the tournament, and while he was met with two rough losses, those are the games you can learn from the most. For players in Will’s position, this is often how Nationals goes: running into one top seed after another. That’s a good thing though; playing stronger players is the most important step in becoming one of those players yourself.


Mark Your Calendar

Next year’s K-12 National Championships will be hosted in the DC area at the National Harbor Convention Center, so for those of you that live close to there (and even those far away!), make sure to gain that valuable experience by competing against the best talent in the country. Find your state scholastic events and play in them; these are great practice for the National championships, and sometimes even act as qualifiers for invitational events like the Denker, Haring, Barber, and Rockefeller (we have a listing of national and state scholastic events on our website soon and you can also check the USCF National Events)

About The Author

(IM) Sandeep Sethuraman
This article was written by International Master (IM) Sandeep Sethuraman.  Sandeep is a high school senior in Arizona and one of the top players in the USA for his age.  In 2022 he won the 11th grade section of the K-12 Nationals tournament. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published