Here in Iasi, pronounced “Yahhj”, the former capital city of Romania, still boasting faded elegance, the voice of the President of the Romanian Chess Federation is booming across the sport hall. It signals that the World Schools Championships and Round 1 are about to begin. The parents’ applause (they are over 1000 in number) from the stands that overlook the playing floor is a vigorous kick-off to the many countries, languages and row upon row of children who are assembled. They are firmly tethered to their seats, as FIDE, the world chess organization, holds these serious young players to adult standards – those not seated when the clocks are released, will forfeit.
The players have made their journeys from home countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazahkstan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Israel and Russia, and many of these have been traveling to international tournaments and rigorously training with their teams and coaches as part of their everyday lives and education. Most already hold world rankings. For England’s talented junior champions, it is a first opportunity.
The playing floor is filled with the hum of curiosity, anticipation and a few raw nerves, and the stands are filled with hope and excitement. The stakes are high. Over the next 9 days, one round, lasting several hours, will be played each afternoon. World titles, trophies, and triumph are to be had by the winners from each category, boys and girls aged 5-18.
The official website, for standings and detailed results, is here
Round 1 pairs top seeded players against unrated ones. That places England in an early underdog position, with some surprising pairings. Under 7 Jeff Tomy is facing the top seed. Under 11 Meytal Cohen is matched against a Hungarian candidate master rated 1786. Max Elliott is facing the 6th seed, from Kazahkstan, rated 1855. Yang-Jian Zhou is facing the 5th seed, a Romanian rated 1976.
The sudden sound of a loud clap from hundreds of clocks being slapped all at once by firm hands brings the hall to silence as first moves are made on the boards. Several seats are empty, and Luke Remus-Elliot and Richard Zhu prevail for England with two early wins by default.
Under 7 Callaghan McCarty-Snead earns an quick draw against a Turkish opponent. And, in one of the day’s most exciting wins, an injured player, under 9 Tai Remus-Elliot, cracks on to victory. He was playing with two broken fingers (the most critical kind of disability a chess player can face!) Having spent the earlier part of the day being transported via Romanian ambulance to hospital, he still managed to kick up a pawn storm, opening the kings file and queening a pawn to victory. Tai says of his attacking win, “It was a funny situation, he kept moving his rook back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, on and on!”
19 other heads-in-hands, held high, came in as defeats across the next four hours. The games were long and hard fought, and each an intense challenge against a stronger player, but there were no upsets. Post-game analysis went on into the night, as the team met to together with their coaches with strong camaraderie and quite a few hindsights:
Under 9 Joshua Altman, against a Moldovan opponent, steadily reflects, “I should have trapped a bishop in the middle game, yeah, I should have done that.”
Under 13 Anna Purvis, facing a Turkish opponent rated 1638, was a pawn up, had 2 passed pawns, missed blockading with the knight on b6, and misplaced a knight on b8, costing the game. She deadpans with a quick smile, “I blame the coach!”
Under 11 Max Elliott misplaced a queen in middle game, costing him 5 tempo moves to equalise his position, and cost him the game. He declares, “I should have beaten him easily – he was only world #24!”
Under 13 Sam Cobbold, facing an Azerbaijanian rival rated 1711, declared him to have a “disturbing stare.” He shares, “It was pretty even through most of the game, I had to swap a passed pawn for a piece and it spiraled downward from there. I was felled by my scary opponent.”
Under 13 Ananth Vijayakumar, who faced an Azerbaijanian player rated 1711, got a knight, but his opponent had two passed pawns and pushed it to a queen. Ananth says, “It was unstoppable!”
Finally, for the day, Under 13 Akito Oyama brought home a beautiful win against an unseeded Romanian opponent.
- Hillary Altman