Thursday, March 11

Denker Qualifier FAQ

(Group photo of prize winners at 2009 Denker Invitational in Indianapolis. Local hero Evan Sandberg is in front row at the right.)

Update on March 15: I have finally accounted for all but one of the local juniors rated above 2000. The top seeds for the Denker Qualifier this weekend will be 2008 champ FM Steven Zierk, 2009 champ Evan Sandberg, Samuel Sevian, Hayk Manvelyan, Nicholas Karas, Kyle Shin, Arthur Liou and maybe NM Rohan Agarwal. Sevian and Shin are ineligible to qualify because they are too young. Click to view the official advance entry list.

The 35th CalChess Scholastics will be held at the Santa Clara Convention Center (near Great America) on April 17-18. This year, there is a second worthy scholastic event for top players to consider: the Denker Qualifier at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara on March 19-21. The Denker Qualifier doubles as the K-12 section of the Bay Area Chess Regionals.

Why are there two state championships?

Last year, CalChess made the unfortunate decision to schedule the state scholastics on the same weekend at the National High School Championship in Columbus, Ohio. The High School Nationals have never drawn a large crowd from the Bay Area, although sometimes a few elite players attend with the goal of bringing home a national title (like Michael Zhong in 2007). My students at Saratoga High School also achieved some success, finishing as high as 3rd place team in the country.

In order to allow top players a (theoretical) chance to attend the National High School Championship and still have a chance to represent CalChess at the Denker Invitational this summer, there will be two separate events, one in March and one in April. However, only the winner(s) of the April championship may call themselves state champs.

What is the Denker Invitational?

The Denker is a prestigious invitational tournament open only to high school state champions each year. There are approximately 50 invitees, one for each state (two for California). Named after the late Grandmaster Arnold Denker (photo at right), the field includes many experts and usually tops out in the mid 2200s, with maybe one or two players above 2300. Only juniors currently in grades 9 through 12 are eligible; younger players cannot qualify. Recent Northern California representatives were: Evan Sandberg (2009), Steven Zierk (2008), Nicolas Yap (2007) and Daniel Schwarz (2006).

The invitational takes place each August at the US Open, held in different places each year all around the country. This year is a bit special because the location will be in Irvine, Southern California. The dates are July 31 through August 3. After completing six rounds in the Denker, players may choose to also play in the 6-day schedule of the US Open. That's 15 games of chess (each up to 5-6 hours) in 9 days. Most likely, I will play in the more leisurely 9-day schedule of the US Open.

Who should play in the Denker Qualifier?

Technically speaking, any student in K-12 may enter the Denker Qualifier, although a minimum rating of 1200 is needed for those in elementary or middle school. Very few, however, have a realistic chance to qualify. Generally speaking, only high school students rated over 2000 have a decent chance to win. Seven high school players are rated over 2000: FM Steven Zierk, NM Gregory Young, NM Rohan Agarwal, Evan Sandberg, Hayk Manvelyan, Nicholas Karas and Arthur Liou. Players younger than 9th grade may play for practice, but cannot qualify for Denker even if they win.

I suggest that you should play in the Denker Qualifier on March 19-21 if you fall into one of the following categories:
  • You are in grades 9-12 and are rated above 2000.
  • You are in grades 9-12, are rated above 1600 and wish to face tough competition.
  • You are in grades K-8 and are rated above 1800 and feel that you need to face older and stronger opponents to get better.
  • You are in grades K-12, are rated above 1200, and simply want to get your butt kicked--just for a learning experience.
Should I choose the 2-day or 3-day schedule?

I expect most players to choose the 2-day schedule (three G/60 then three more G/120). Those who prefer slower time controls and are free on Friday night can play the 3-day schedule (three G/90 then three more G/120). The two schedules will merge in round 4. Note: based on early entries, the 3-day schedule is significantly stronger with nobody rated under 1800.

Which tournament will be stronger?

I predict that the March event may actually be tougher than the official state championship in April, for the following three reasons:
  • Top players tend to be more interested in qualifying for Denker than winning a state championship. Plus, one or two masters might go to Ohio for nationals instead.
  • The Denker Qualifier presents a great opportunity for all of the talented elementary and middle school kids to compete against the top high school players. I expect most of the A and B rated K-6 and K-8 kids to be back in their normal age groups at the CalChess Scholastics.
  • There won't be many weak players at the Denker Qualifier (currently 17 of 28 early entries are over 1800). On the other hand, the CalChess Scholastics attracts school teams, including many lower rated players.
Where is the advance entry list?

Click here for the advance entry list posted at the Bay Area Chess website. As of March 10, there are 28 entries in the Denker Qualifier. (3-day schedule: 10 players, median rating 1888. 2-day schedule: 18 players, median rating 1763.) Only three of the seven eligible high school students rated above 2000 have entered so far. However, there are seven elementary school kids rated above 1800 who have chosen to play up.

Make sure to register for the Denker Qualifier before the entry deadline on Wednesday, March 17! (St. Patrick's Day) Follow this link to the Bay Area Chess online payment system.

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