A rare rainy day in Southern California did nothing to dampen the spirits of 24 of the Southland’s top juniors who trekked to College of the Canyons, 30 miles north of Los Angeles, to do battle on February 27. This was not a regular tournament, but a special exhibition held sporadically over the last 30+ years, pitting the juniors (with 75 minutes) against four top masters (with 90 minutes) in six-board clock simuls.
GM Melikset Khachiyan and IMs Enrico Sevillano, Andranik Matikozyan, and Armen Ambartsoumian headed four teams with approximately equal average ratings. A team’s master plays simultaneously against the other team’s juniors and vice versa. Juniors are placed on their own coach’s team if possible. This concept was developed in the 1970s by a gifted chess promoter, the late John Rykowski, and junior players in early iterations of the event included future IMs Vince McCambridge and Doug Root.
While the Master-Junior Simul is an unrated, fun event, competitiveness is hardly absent. GM Melik called his players together before the first round for a pep talk as they prepared to take on Team Matikozyan. Whether this was the reason, they did eke out a win, 6½ –5½, with Khachiyan juniors Hubert Jung and Terrence Sun earning draws while only Jared Tan could earn a half-point for Team Matikozyan. (Terrence was the lowest-rated junior to earn a draw on the day, and Melik promptly demonstrated that he should have had good winning chances.)
The real Round One treat for the many spectators came in the Sevillano – Ambartsoumian match, though. Sevillano was teamed up with the four San Diego juniors who had comprised “Two and a Half Asians” in the Amateur Team West two weeks before. They were augmented by young WFMs Simone Liao and Annie Wang. Enrico played quickly, conserving his strength for the second, decisive round, drawing with Christian Tanaka, Austin Hughes, and Cheston Gunawan.
Meanwhile, Armen was still playing all six opponents when Enrico finished! And one of them, Annie Wang, put on a performance reminiscent of Horatius at the Bridge. She occupied an inordinate amount of Armen’s time as he frequently pulled up a chair to concentrate on her board. Meanwhile, his time deficit on the other games grew. Annie eventually blundered a piece but reduced her opponent to one second (plus five second delay) on the clock, forcing him to remain in visual range of her board. By the time Annie got mated in the excitement, several other games had gone dramatically downhill for Armen.
Another win by Alan Tsoi and a draw by Kyron Griffith (fresh from breaking 2200 the previous weekend) left Team Sevillano with a match victory and a half-point lead in the individual score tiebreak as we broke for a wonderful catered lunch.
Armen Ambartsoumian is a renowned coach who frequently accompanies U.S. junior teams overseas, but he hasn’t played competitively since 2003, and the rust was apparent in the first round. He shook it off in the finale, going 6-0 while Christian Tanaka and Austin Hughes drew with Matikozyan, making the score 7-5 for Team Ambartsoumian.
But the real action was in the other match, the battle for first. The well-rested Sevillano was deadly, establishing winning positions in five games within the first hour. Andrew Kao held on to earn a draw for Team Khachiyan. Melik kept up, eventually winning five games, and it came down to his contest with Board Three, Jason Qu.
Black’s three pawns don’t stand up well against the piece, and Khachiyan was ready to take a draw – until he realized that this would leave his team losing on tiebreak. So he had to try to make something out of nothing, though the other games soon finished and it became one on one. Thus Team Sevillano emerged on top, tied with Team Khachiyan on match points (1½), and ahead on game points 13 – 12½. An exciting finish!
The Master-Junior Simul was sponsored by the Sean Reader Fund, a memorial to a young player who lost a valiant battle against leukemia 3½ years ago but inspired many chessplayers and others. The Fund donates tuition, entry fees, and chess camp fees to young players who cannot otherwise afford them. It also provides chess kits (with the strongest magnetized pieces) to patients at Children’s Hospital. Although this was not a fundraising event, parents and other spectators were moved to donate a total of $1200 to theFund!
Jay Stallings of the California Youth Chess League and his family worked indefatigably to make this event a success. Features included programs with participant bios, photo mementos, a medal for each junior, winner trophies, and plaques for the best games against each master (Jesse Orlowski and Jason Qu were joined by Christian Tanaka and Austin Hughes in winning these). This writer served as arbiter. Great competition,.instruction, and new friendships formed – a great day for chess!