Greater New York Scholastic Chess Championships 2020

“Do you like the Superbowl?” Sophia Rohde asked me at the US Chess Elementary Championship in 2019.

Confused, I responded “No, not really – I gave up sports years ago as an interest.”

“Well, do you want to work the GNYSCC in February of 2020? It happens over that weekend.”

I accepted. This was her third time inviting me, actually. The first time I had a holiday rescheduling situation and the next year I was extremely sick and had to cancel my involvement. But, I finally made it and I am glad I went.

Leaving Louisville, I had my GNSYCC rules and regulations printed. I read them on the plane to acquaint myself with the rules we’d be using. For those that don’t know, chess events in the US follow the US Chess rule book. However, there are many exceptions and rules alternatives that can be used. Larger events tend to pre-publish which rules they will be using to clarify, in advance, how TDs will make rulings. This event ended up having 1640 participants (the average scholastic chess even is around 120 players).

The woman sitting next to me on the plane loaded up a chess app. I was surprised and said “Oh, do you play chess?”

“Not yet… I am just learning. I have a fairly analytical job and was told studying chess would be good for me. So, I downloaded this app. My name is Tamara by the way.”

We shook hands and I said “I am Ryan – I am a chess player and coach, actually. I am on my way to NY to help out at a tournament. What do you do that is analytical?” I asked, wondering if it was the kind of job that would interest me or if I knew others with that sort of job. After all, I know a lot of chess players who have analytical jobs.

After a small bit of hesitation she said “I work in the intelligence community.” I guess she was deciding whether or not to say anything about her job. So, I took her pause as a hint not to really get into that so I didn’t. But, it was neat knowing the intelligence community actively values chess.

“Oh, I see.” Being a fan of spy movies, I immediately began to wonder if Tamara was her real name. She looked more like a Jennifer but who knows.

Anyway, she was struggling to complete the basic King + Queen checkmate. I told her “You have to move your Queen a knight’s move away from the king, then shadow his moves” I said with a bit of emphasis on the word “then.” This knight’s move away trick works pretty well for people who are generally 4th grade and up. “Once he is on the edge of the board, it is important to trap the king on the edge by moving away from him; otherwise, you may stalemate him.” I added “When the king is in the corner, he is basically on 2 sides at the same time – most people don’t think of that – which is why you must move away; to avoid Stalemate” finishing out the mini-lesson.

“Let me try” and she started trying to checkmate. She did succeed and said “Huh… that knight’s move away tip isn’t on this app but that seemed to be the key…” she said feeling like maybe the app wasn’t that great.

“Yea… some apps fall short like that.” She didn’t show me which app she had but I didn’t recognize it. After the plane landed, we parted ways. Just before that I asked if she lived in Louisville so I could invite her to our chess club. But, it turns out, she says she was from Charlotte. I passed the ball over to the Charlotte Chess Center telling her about Peter Giannatos.

I think it is neat my journey kicked off with someone from the intelligence community who now knows how to checkmate with a King and a Queen. Hopefully US Chess and the Charlotte Chess Center gains a “Tamara” as a new member soon.

I arrived in Charlotte 45 minutes early and managed to disembark around 30 minutes early. So, I grabbed breakfast and e-mail voted on a few US Chess Executive Board items. I like to stay as active as possible, even on trips, with EB business.

As I was eating my breakfast, two people dressed in not-quite-Hazmat suits delivered a Chinese man to my gate. He didn’t speak English and he had a very large lanyard displaying his plane tickets. It seemed staff were supposed to read his tickets and get him to the correct plane – in this case, my flight. The man himself didn’t have any sort of mask on or anything. However, it made people nervous with the Corona virus scare.

On the flight, they sat him right behind me. I was not fearful of Corona virus. Actually, I was much more fearful of the flu as something like 8000 people already died from it in 2020. I washed my hands a lot, had hand sanitizer, and made sure not to touch my face while on the flight. Normal precautions during heightened flu season. When I got back home, IM Mark Ginsburg posted the following image from a CNN article (that I was unable to track down) that showed the affect radius of someone who is sick:

CNN article & Mark Ginsburg’s FB page, 2020

So, if the guy had some kind of horrible sickness, I was definitely within his radius. But, so far I feel fine.

When I landed in NY, I had to navigate the subway system for the first time. I looked up all my stops in advance to have more confidence with the process. So, it wasn’t difficult at all. While I was expecting a smell of body odor, it was more like the air was musty with a hint of pepper. Not exactly pleasant but not as bad as the rumors. I took the A-line from JFK into downtown Brooklyn, next to the famed bridge, where the tournament was.

I arrived to the hotel around 5:30 PM I checked into my room and realized I had a pretty cool street view out of my window:

My hotel room view in NY near the Brooklyn Bridge.

After snapping the photo, I went downstairs to report for duty and quickly found New York Scholastic Coordinator Danny Rohde. He was in the backroom with National Tournament Directors (NTDs) Korey Kormick, Bob Messenger, and US Chess Executive Board candidate Dave Hater. They were preparing for the tournament mostly going through wait list requests, which was an interesting process to observe. I also worked with Karl Heck – he and I were both floor TDs in the same section.

After catching up with everyone, we set up the playing halls, laid out table numbers, and called it a night. I went to the hotel bar for some food and settled on the Brooklyn Bridge Burger with no mushrooms and no onion jelly, which basically meant I just had a cheeseburger. At the next table over, Grandmaster Maurice Ashley was giving a lesson to a kid from Tennessee: “Why did you play here? What was your plan? Oh? You didn’t have a plan? That’s no way to play chess – you gotta have a plan” Maurice said giving the kid a fun lesson. Maurice was turning bad moves into fun learning – the best way to teach. Maurice is always fun to watch.

The next day is when the tournament really began. There were a whole lot of people present. Among them, Grandmaster Irina Krush. She was there both days talking with people, coaching, etc… I don’t know her personally but I see her at many events nationally throughout the year. But, I saw her when I was on my way to the Championship sections, which is where I was stationed.

My position was as a Floor Tournament Director (TD) for the Primary Championship section; though, I helped out across all championship sections like all other TDs do. My boss was section chief NTD Polly Wright and NTD / IA Aris Marghetis was the floor chief, which means he was in charge of the room and any final appeals before they are kicked up to the top to NTD David Hater, the Tournament Chief.

According to Dave Hater, day 1 went super smoothly. We did not have any issues within the tournament itself. Everything ran on time and was efficient.

That evening, Sophia Rohde, Kimberly Doo, Michelle Martinez, Martha Underwood, Danny Rohde, and Ryan Velez (me) all went to dinner at Rocco’s Tacos. It was right next door to the hotel and was excellent. They had excellent salsa, guacamole, and the entrees were very good. I am not a big food-picture-taker so I have no photos. But, I do recommend the restaurant. Their churros and ice cream were especially delicious.

This dinner was really great because it really showed chess culture well. A group of people getting together to just talk about whatever topic came up. Producing a list of said topics would be pointless as we touched on many different areas. One of my favorite moment was when Sophia Rohde was explaining to me how people around the world say New York is the city that never sleeps. “But that isn’t always true,” she said trying to disenchant the romanticized notion. “A lot of places around here close at 10 PM!” We all started laughing because her voice and expression were one of trying to set the record straight. It was a great moment.

The next day, day 2 of the tournament, was a bit more of a roller coaster ride for me. As Danny Rohde said “I used you as a swiss army knife to help different parts of the tournament when needed.”

Basically, I started in the Championship Primary section but was moved to the Under Section room. The Under sections contained most of the brand new players (and parents). This meant it got a little more hectic in there and we needed additional people. From the second round onward, we had much more success corralling the parents out of the room and the kids to their seats.

Here is an image Polly took of the Championship Sections
Martha Underwood took this image of the Under Sections room.

After we got that situation under control, thanks to NTD Martha Underwood, Danny asked me to be Former World Champion Garry Kasparov’s body guard during his book signing.

I had been in the room many times with him; however, each time I was working an event and couldn’t go meet him. I was glad to be able to finally meet him. He is one of my chess heroes for sure.

During the book signing, I actually organized 2 lines of people: parents waiting for kids to finish their games and parents who had their kids already. That worked very well, actually. People were getting books, meeting Garry, and taking photos. It was the cherry on top of the GNYSCC and made it a special event for sure. Here is a photo I took of Garry with Kimberly Doo and her daughter. Kimberly insisted “No one can be in the background” so we made sure to make it happen (I didn’t get a photo with me and Garry because, in general, a handshake is good enough for me):

Garry Kasparov, Kimberly Doo, Karsten McVey, and Michael Khodarkovsky (president of the Kasparov Chess Foundation)

After my body guarding duties, I went back to the Primary Championship section to finish out the event. Everything went very smoothly and the trophy ceremonies were efficient as you like them to be. I thought it was a pretty cool idea that they give away the idea of a “golden ticket.” Essentially, it is free entry to a huge list of Continental Chess Association (CCA) events. That is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who won one.

The final part of the event, the Super Bowl party, or since “Super Bowl” is copyrighted I’ll say “Superb Owl” party, several staffers and friendly faces gathered for dinner and talked. Mostly, we talked, and ignored the Superbowl. Here is the closest thing we had to a staff photo:

Image may contain: 9 people, including Danny Rohde and Kimberly Doo McVay, people smiling, indoor
Photo taken by our waiter with Polly’s phone. From left to right we have Michelle Martinez, Martha Underwood, Steve Immitt, Dave Hater, Danny Rohde, Korey Kormick, Ryan Velez, Polly Wright, Sophia Rohde, Aris Marghetis and his wife, Ron Young, A hidden Bob Messenger, and Kimberly Doo. Aiya Cancio was also present but she left by the time this photo was taken.

The final results of the tournament can be viewed on the GNYSCC website. I was honored to be asked to work this event. I received many compliments from people who I feel are superb tournament directors. The staff was top notch and extremely efficient, just like at a National Tournament through US Chess. I hope to be invited back in the years to come and enjoyed my time in New York. Next time, I will try to go a day early and stay a day late! Being around this event and these folks sure made me feel like I was born in the wrong city!

One thought on “Greater New York Scholastic Chess Championships 2020

  1. Great article! So glad that you enjoyed your experience at the GNYSCC! It was wonderful to get to see you and all my other chess friends! Congrats to you and all the other staffers working at the GNYSCC for all your hard work in making the tournament run like a well-oiled machine! Special kudos to Danny Rohde, Sophia Rohde and Steve Immitt for their tireless energy, time and effort behind-the-scenes to make the GNYSCC run smoothly every year. See you next year!

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