In an attempt to popularize chess and help it reach wider audiences, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis hosted the Match of the Millennials.
From July 2-29, youngsters from all over the world got a taste of what it’s like to be treated as true professionals and play in the same room as world champions.
Held just before the Sinquefield Cup, the youth match was a team event pitting players from the United States against international competition.
In the under-17 section, the format was a double Scheveningen, which means each player played everyone on the other team twice, for eight games. Each team had four players and an alternate.
Teams in the under-14 section consisted of two boys and two girls. They played the players of their respective gender twice, for four games.
Playing for the U.S. under-17 team were Jeffery Xiong, Sam Sevian, Ruifeng Li, John Michael Burke and Nicolas Checa. On the U.S. under-14 team were Awonder Liang, Andrew Hong, Carissa Yip and Martha Samadashvili. International masters Armen Ambartsoumian and Michael Khodarkovsky and grandmaster Alexander Onischuk coached the team. They were coached by international masters Armen Ambartsoumian and Michael Khodarkovsky, and grand master Alexander Onischuk.
Playing on the under-17 world team were Haik Martirosyan, Armenia; Andrey Esipenko and Aleksey Sarana, Russia; Anton Smirnov, Australia; and Aryan Chopra, India. On the under-14 world team were Praggnanandhaa R.B., India; Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Uzbekistan; Bibisara Assaubayeva, Russia; and Nurgyul Salimova, Bulgaria. They were coached by grand masters Efstratios Grivas and Alexander Beliavsky.
Players on the world team dominated the U.S. team by a score of 30.5 to 17.5. They won the event with still two matches to go, never giving the U.S. team any chances. In the under-14 section, the score was 11.5 to 4.5 in favor of the world team and in the under-17 section it was 19 to 13.
Surprisingly, the U.S. team never won a single match, even in the under-17 section where it out-rated its opponents significantly. The world team collected three trophies and $20,000 for their efforts.
There seemed to be a big difference in the approach to the tournament. The world team displayed better team spirit and unity, the key ingredients in team competitions. The players came to the games together, met before and after the games, helped each other prepare and had an overall understanding how team events differ from individual ones.
The lack of experience of the U.S. team in team events became obvious after the very first match, when they were leading by a score of 2 to 1. But in the lengthy last game, instead of making a draw to secure the win, the U.S. team lost, bringing the score to 2 to 2. Even though on paper the U.S. team was stronger, the aforementioned factors and experience played a bigger role. That’s also been the case at much higher levels, as year after year Russia has the highest rated team in the Olympiad, but hasn’t won the event since 2002.
Overall, the event was a great lesson for both teams, as each team was able to experience something unique. There are no team tournaments for American players to participate in and hopefully they can put the experience to good use as they represent their country at bigger stages, such as the Olympiad. There is also a stylistic difference as most U.S. tournaments are opens with big prizes, which require the players to take more risks, whereas many of the players on the world team have sponsorships and do not have to worry about the financial aspects.
All the members on the world team expressed how much they enjoyed playing in Saint Louis, praising the conditions they were provided and the high level of professionalism toward the young players, which are not conditions they are accustomed to.
As an added surprise, the World Team was presented with their winning trophies by former world champion grandmaster Vishy Anand. Unsurprisingly, they were thrilled about their results and could not wait to come back to Saint Louis for future tournaments.
Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at 8 after her father took her to the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Yerevan, Armenia. There she met grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest female player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. Currently the third highest rated female in the U.S., she has represented the United States in four Olympiads and two World Team Championships since 2008.