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On Chess: Checkmate at Christmas in the United Arab Emirates

Daniel Naroditsky at World Youth Chess Championships
Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Santa Claus is, almost certainly, a chess player. I can’t make that statement with absolute certainty as I’ve never actually witnessed the big guy over the board, but all the telltale signs are there.

Who but a chess player could lay out such a carefully detailed plan of attack and, as far as I can tell, execute flawlessly year in and year out with nary a blunder. In fact, a 1908 column by Russel Ramsey in the Philadelphia Sunday Item claims to be privy to a game played by the jolly old fellow himself.

As an obvious chess fanatic, I’m certain Santa’s been following the action at the World Youth Chess Championships in the United Arab Emirates, where a whole host of good little boys and girls from all across the world are spending Christmas away from home.

The event, Dec. 17-29 in Al Ain, U.A.E., has brought more than 1,800 of the best chess players in the world age 18 and under to compete for the title of World Champion in various age brackets.

The United States has 94 representatives at the event – that’s 94 students (and their parents) who have elected to travel to a foreign country for chess this holiday season. Now that’s dedication.

After eight rounds, the reigning U.S. Junior Closed Champion, Daniel Naroditsky, is tied for second place overall in the premier group, the Under-18 Open division. Naroditsky, 18, of Foster City, Calif., recently earned the title of grandmaster just months after winning the Junior Closed Championship, which was held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis in June. That victory earned him the right to compete in the 2014 U.S. Championship, which will be held again in St. Louis in May of next year. (Although Naroditsky is 18 now, he was under 18 at the time of the qualification date.)

In 2007 Naroditsky claimed the World Championship title at this event in the under-12 division, and he’s looking to give himself the gift of gold once more to cap off what has been one of the most successful years in his young career.

Margaret Hua, 15, is the lone representative from St. Louis. Since the Chess Club opened in 2008, Maragaret has been drawing headlines as a phenom. She is still one of the top players in the country in her age group (ranked 23rd out of all girls in the country under the age of 16), and she’s demonstrated an ever-growing dedication to the game.

Margaret won her round 8 Christmas Eve battle against Cecile Hausernot of France to improve her score to 5/8, a fantastic performance considering she entered the tournament ranked 40th out of 119 in the Girl’s Under-16 division.

Awonder Liang, 10, of Madison, Wisc., is delivering the most impressive U.S. performance thus far. He’s a perfect 8/8 with just three rounds to go, and Awonder is no stranger to big game pressure. He won this event a few years back when he was crowned the champion of the world in the Under-8 division.

Awonder is one of a few students across the U.S. who were hand-picked by the legendary 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov as part of the Young Stars – Team USA program. Kasparov meets the students in person twice a year, once in St. Louis and once in New York City, for hands-on training sessions designed to prepare them for the world stage. It appears to be working.

The tournament wraps up on Saturday, Dec. 28 and players depart for home the following day, just in time to ring in the New Year with the families and friends they might have been missing.

In the meantime, let’s just hope Santa can keep all those stockings straight.


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