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On Chess: Local amateurs shine at Metro Class Chess Championships

The St. Louis Metro Class Chess Championships pair players with similar rankings.
Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

The St. Louis Metro Class Chess Championships were held recently at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center, drawing in a record 60-plus participants looking to cash in on a quick title.

The U.S. Chess Federation awards the National Master title to any player who passes a rating of 2200. Below that, any player who passes a rating of 2000 is referred to as an Expert. Further down are the rest of us: Roughly 95 percent of competitive chess players are considered “class” players, falling in at some varying level of enthusiastic amateur (though conversely, it may be a stretch to refer to many chess players as a “professional”).The USCF designates Class A players as anyone rated 1800-1999, Class B for those in the range of 1600-1799, and so on down the scale. Class C players and above should be considered worthy of good competition, and strong social players could expect to find themselves entering around 1200 in Class D. Scholastic players fall into the lower classes, with a major milestone of earning a four-digit rating coming to the strongest of these.

In Open (to-anyone) tournaments, where everyone is thrown into a pairings pool regardless of rating, class players are generally nothing more than first-round snacks for some higher-rated Expert or Master -- which makes the Metro Class Championship a desirable event to the promising amateur, isolating players to opponents only within their own class. With every enemy, at worst, less than 200 points away -- well-within striking distance -- the chance to become this year’s Class champion was realistic to all participants.

Since it is impossible to keep the big dogs away from competition, last weekend’s Metro Class Championship did feature an Expert/Master section. The section was won by Lindenwood University standout and International Master Priyadharshan Kannappan, a very active, well-known player around the St. Louis chess scene who remains tantalizingly close to earning the coveted Grandmaster title.

In the third and final round of Saturday’s Class Championship, Kannappan tangled with NM Doug Eckert, an international tax CPA and one of the more-active chess-playing board members of the CCSCSL. Eckert is a graduate of Lindbergh High and a former back-to-back U.S. Junior Open Champion in 1983 and ‘84, but on Saturday, rated more than 300 points below Kannappan, he fought down to below one minute on his clock and slipped in a minor-piece endgame, giving Kannappan the win.

Proving that anyone within your class should be considered within striking distance was Jack Thain, from Charleston, Ill. -- Class B’s lowest-rated player. Thain scored wins in each of his first two rounds, then fought Ryan Deering, a junior at Patterson High School in Wayne County, Mo., to a draw in the final round. The two split the Class B title and $250 prize.

On the upper levels of chess, “mistakes” often come as small, positional weaknesses or a simple loss of tempo -- but for the rest of us: tactics, tactics, tactics are the key to quick class advancement. Grandmaster Ronin Har-Zvi, a regular face in the CCSCSL’s Resident GM rotation, believes that the majority of class chess games are decided by a single tactical oversight and that the simple ability to see those piece-gobbling tricks before your opponent does can carry a player to as high as Class A without much extra effort.

Tactics, and not age, decided Class C on Saturday. Middle-schooler Sachin Laxman Milli almost became another underdog story, just scraping into the bottom of Class C rated right at 1400. After winning his first two games to challenge for the class title, he came out with a strong opening against Joseph Bean, of Hannibal, Mo., who is nearly 30 years older than Milli. But Milli’s middlegame blunder led to Bean’s crippling tactical strike and eventual win.

The Class E title was shared by three players, two of them female. 18-year-old Hannah Whatley, a four-time scholastic state champion from South Carolina, went undefeated as the highest-rated player in the class. Also in on the Class E title was Nigina Aripov.

The Aripovs are a strong chess family out of Webster Groves: Her elder brother, Iskandar, is a rising National Master who won the 2013 CCSCSL Club Championshipas a 17-year-old high school junior (topping both Kannappan and Eckert, and several other titled players); the elder sister, Nozima, is a strong Class A player; and 10-year-old Nigina looks to be falling right in line. The youngster won her first two games on Saturday, though fell into a losing endgame in her final match. But she flashed some technique beyond her class, showing off good understanding of king placement and thwarting the advance of a passed pawn to earn the draw.

Also winning 2015 class titles were Todd Plagemann (Class A); Chris Shelton and Scott Anderson, who split the title for Class D; and Yasin Hollis in Class E with Whatley and Aripov.

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