High School Nationals - Dallas, Texas

Danny's Story:

I was unaware that I had played the tournament of my life until about an hour after my last game. One of my compatriots informed me that by winning my last round against IM James Rizzitano and scoring 6 out of 9 in The Foxwoods Open, I had earned myself an International Master Norm. Three International Master Norms would give me the IM title.

Unfortunately, there would be no relishing the victory or the achievement because the next "biggest tournament of my life" was just around the corner. In fact, the extent of my celebration was a momentary shared happiness over the phone with friends and family, and ice cream at the Foxwoods Casino Buffet (I usually do not allow myself sugar a week before or during a big event)!

After a long restless night, I caught a ride to the Providence Airport and waited three hours for my flight to Phoenix. Back at home my close friend and partner in "chess crime", Pieta Garret, had been spending his weekend preparing for the upcoming National High School Championship in Dallas, Texas. Pieta picked me up at the airport and after a little chat about my experience in Connecticut we began to focus on the looming tournament in Dallas.
Bang Won Adamcik of Mesquite Junior High.
Nick Grothe of Gilbert Junior High and Danny Shucker of Mesquite Junior High talking over their next round.

Still tired beyond words because of the last week’s tournament, the few days before we left for Dallas were a blur. Aside from the discussions I had with Pieta, I don’t remember thinking about the coming weekend at all. I “think” I finally realized what GM Yermolinsky meant when he tried to tell me the problem with chess players is: they “think” too much! What I do know is that I was up early on Thursday to catch my flight to Dallas.

Pieta and I had separate flights and we parted ways at the airport. Pieta was traveling alone and I was flying with the Gilbert High School Chess Team. The plane flight was smooth and we arrived in Dallas at about 9:30 in the morning on Thursday. Because I had to wait a few hours to check into my room, Mark Davis, a Burk Chess parent who was very helpful and supportive to both Pieta and I throughout the whole trip, lent me his room to relax
Burk team room
Burk Coach Michael Reading.

After Pieta arrived later on that day we had dinner. Pieta went on to play in the Blitz tournament while I took the opportunity to catch a nap. This would be my last peaceful sleep before the tournament. When Pieta returned from the Blitz it was late (about 11:30 pm) and we got ready for bed. Pieta then told me how he finished in the Blitz. He told me that he was ranked number one heading into the tournament, but he ended up in third place. Hearing Pieta’s story made me more nervous about the tournament than I had been up the that point. I was tense the whole night.
Gilbert Junior High's top board Kaylan Burleigh.
Gilbert High School huddle.

The next day came and when I sat down at board one on the podium with the other top boards, I was focused and ready to play in my last scholastic tournament ever. In fact, I was a little too focused! Robert Riddle, a chess player from Illinois whom I have played many times, was to sing the National Anthem. When Robert started the anthem on stage next to board one it took me a few seconds to register what he was doing. I guess it was a little more than a few seconds because he was already singing the verse, “By the twilight’s last gleaming”, when I awoke from my trance to see the entire room of about 2,000 people staring directly at me because I was still sitting... Needless to say it was quite embarrassing, and I apologized to Robert afterwards.

Once the game started I was able to forget about my faux pas and play the game (a few people joked with me later by asking if I was trying to make an anti-war statement). The first three games were a relative breeze for both Pieta and me. The fourth round was another walk-off for Pieta, but I had trouble. My opponent, Christopher Toolin (rated 2026), was able to get me into an uncomfortable position. I was on the defensive the entire game, but when time pressure approached, I was able to swindle him and win nicely.
Danny's 4th round game against Christopher Toolin.

The fifth round was the start of the really difficult games, and all mine and Pieta's games from here on out would be a clear example of just how hard it is to "win a won game". Pieta and I figured out our pairings before they were posted. I was going to play Asuka Nakamura and Pieta was going to be paired with Altay Omarov. I had played Asuka (rated around 2200) only once before. We drew that game, which was my only set back on the way to winning the Junior High School Championship back in 2000. Although Pieta‘s opponent, Omarov, was from Arizona, they had never met over the board. We were able to prepare because of good guess work, and I felt confident I had done a good job mustering up a surprise for Asuka.
Pieta Garrett 5th round Altay Omarov.

Only ten minutes into the round it seemed as if my preparation alone would win the game! Sure enough, Asuka was quite taken aback by my opening choice and he was quickly put on the defensive. Asuka was nearly lost a few moves after the opening and it stayed that way up until the endgame. Unfortunately, a little blunder put me in a position that was very hard for me to win, and it allowed Asuka to save himself from a loss. Although I was still winning even in the final position, a draw was agreed upon because Asuka proved that we had played 50 moves with no progress (the 50-move rule*). (See analysis of Rensch vs. Nakamura.)
Danny versus Asuka Nakumara in the 5th round.
If Igor could only see Pieta now.

Pieta emerged victorious in his game with Omarov and headed into the last day as the only player with a 5-0 score. I was among seven or eight players with 4 and 1/2 points.

In the sixth round Pieta was paired with the second highest rated 4 and1/2 behind me (Pieta and I could not be paired because we were teammates). Pieta expected to be in for a rough game because his opponent’s rating was 2338. Nonetheless, Pieta seemed confident that he should win because his superior preparation would give him the upper hand. I was paired with one of my good friends and long time rivals from Tucson, Arizona, Leonardo Martinez. Leo surprised me by playing a different opening than what he usually plays and he was able to reach a decent middlegame. It took me a long time to achieve a slight edge in the position. Time pressure caused me to lose my advantage, but after some wild Blitz I was able to pull out a win. Pieta seemed like he would win throughout the entire game. He had reached the position he wanted and only needed to put the game away when he slipped, and his opponent was able to make it complicated again. After missing his final chance to stay in the game, he blundered and lost immediately. Shaken up, it was clear that Pieta was going to have a tough time letting go of the game. Actually, he never did let go, and it came back to haunt him in his last round where he was upset by a lower rated player, and finished the tournament with five points.
Pieta's 6th round game against Salvijus Bercys.
Danny before his 6th round match against Leo Martinez.

In the last round I was paired with Alex Lenderman, a young talented player rated about 2250 from New York. Earlier in the tournament I had seen Alex play a particular opening, so I spent some time preparing a line against it. My preparation was for naught as he played something I hadn’t expected. I stayed calm and decided to go right into an opening variation I had been practicing the week before my trip to Connecticut. Lenderman played directly into it. I am sure he quickly realized just how ready I was after I started playing good moves and playing them quickly. Although to many by-standers it looked equal throughout most of the game, the reality was, because of my preparation, he never had a chance. The game lasted 87 moves until he finally resigned. I was the National Champion. (See analysis of Rensch vs. Lenderman.)
ACE thanks Lynn Schucker for taking the pictures
Danny's 7th round against Alex Lenderman.

* The 50-move rule: a draw can be claimed when one side has not made a capture or a pawn move for 50 moves.

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