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CCC and ChessKid Host Inaugural ChessKid National Festival: Full Recap!

Charlotte Chess Center 2024 ChessKid National Festival
2024 ChessKid National Festival

Last weekend, the Charlotte Chess Center and ChessKid partnered to host the first-ever ChessKid National Festival at the Charlotte Convention Center. A total of 430 (!) young players came out to participate in the festivities over President's Day weekend, representing 23 states as well as the District of Columbia, three Canadian provinces, Mexico, and the nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Included among the numerous attractions were:

  • The six-round main event, with seven sections ranging from K-8 open to K-1

  • The ten-round blitz tournament, featuring a K-8, K-5, and K-3 championship

  • Side events such as a bughouse tournament, "Chess Fencing" and "Hula Hoop Chess," simuls, and facepainting, as well as a Moms of the CCC booth

  • Appearances from chess celebrities such as FM James Canty, IM Levy Rozman (GothamChess), Alexandra and Andrea Botez, WGM Jennifer Shahade, FM Mike Klein (FunMasterMike), IM Danny Rensch, and CCC Coach GM Daniel Naroditsky

Charlotte Chess Center ChessKid National Danny Rensch
IM Danny Rensch at the ChessKid National Festival

The event was also covered live with commentary from some of the aforementioned special guests, with VODs still available on both the ChessKid YouTube and Twitch pages.

The Main Event

The main event at ChessKid Nationals was a six-round tournament with a time control of g60+5, with two rounds each on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (President's Day). The seven sections were K-8 (Championship and U1500), K-5 (Championship and U1200), K-3 (Championship and U800), and K-1.

Charlotte Chess Center ChessKid Nationals Festival
ChessKids deep in thought at the 2024 ChessKid Nationals!

In the K-8 Championship, two players finished on 5/6 and tied for first place: Andrew Wu and Krishna Rallabandi. The two players each finished undefeated with two draws, one of which was the game between them. Here's Andrew Wu's first round victory, featuring some flashy tactics in a c3 Sicilian:

Rallabandi, who has been a very frequent participant in Charlotte Chess Center events in recent months, displayed his own attacking prowess with the white pieces against second-seeded Benjamin Amrany. White's middlegame setup of Ne5-f4-Qf3 in the Carlsbad structure has often been called "the Pillsbury Attack," as it was first popularized in the 1890s by Harry Nelson Pillsbury.

Heading into the last round, Wu and Rallabandi were tied atop the standings alongside Vihaan Purohit, who also had 4/5. The board one matchup of Purohit and Wu was a marathon game, ultimately coming down to white's blunder on move 74 after defending for many moves in deep time pressure:

At the same time, Krishna Rallabandi won as black after snatching two pawns with 27...Qxd4+ and 28...Qxe5, creating a tie atop the standings. With a very narrow edge in the tiebreak procedures, Rallabandi ended up receiving the first-place trophy.

Two CCC regulars finished in the top two spots in the K-8 U1500: Nishita Jaikumar with a perfect 6/6(!) and Harith Hmimda at 5.5/6. Both players' ratings jumped to new peaks, with Jaikumar breaking 1500 USCF for the first time.

Charlotte Chess Center ChessKid Nationals Grant Oen
Tournament Director Grant Oen makes announcements prior to Sunday's games.

The clear winner in the K-5 Championship section was Alan Chen, finishing with 5/6 and breaking USCF 2000 for the first time. In his critical fifth round game against Naitik Rathi, he demonstrated how dangerous it can be for black to go pawn-hunting in the opening:

The above game was Rathi's only loss of the tournament, as he went 4.5/5 in the remaining rounds to tie for second place with Kishan Karthigeyan. Meanwhile, the K-5 U1200 (with a whopping 112 players!) featured a tie for first between Vincent Xi and Joseph Toth at 5.5/6.

In the K-3 Championship, Alexander Joseph and Advik Manchanda tied for first place with 5/6. The two players had a crazy last-round encounter in which white sacrificed a piece for some attacking chances. Although the immediate threats quickly fizzled out, white still had some opportunities (perhaps even pushing for a win with 42. f6!) before the two competitors agreed to a draw.

Ty Humphrey and Alondra Avalos tied for first in the K-3 U800, drawing each other and winning all their other games to finish with 5.5/6.

ChessKid National Festival
ChessKid National Festival

The only player to finish with a perfect 6/6 in the main event was Khabir Muhammad in the K-1 section. In a crucial last round matchup against CCC Advanced student Alex Sedlock (who also entered the round on 5/5), the two players reached the following king and pawn endgame:

Charlotte Chess Center Alex Sedlock Khabir Muhammad

In the game, Sedlock played what looked like a natural move (56...Kb7), but soon found he was outside the square of white's passed pawn after 57. h4, winning the game for Khabir Muhammad. However, it turns out that black had a key resource in this position to restrict white's kingside pawn majority and even create a winning position for himself. Can you spot it?

The top fifteen finishers in each "championship" section received trophies at the end of the tournament, as well as the top ten finishers in each "under" section and the top ten teams in each section. See this link for detailed rating results of the main tournament.

Blitz Tournament

The blitz tournament was held from 5:30 to 7:30 PM on Saturday. The tournament featured three sections (K-8, K-5, and K-3) each at a time control of 5+0.

Benjamin Amrany took sole first place in the K-8 section, ceding only one draw to Vihaan Purohit en route to a very impressive 9.5/10 score. Andrew Wu scored 8.5 points for clear second place, while Arjun Malik, Lindaadyakssh Venkataraja, and Eshwar Kothapalli each scored 8/10.

In the K-5 section, Kishan Karthigeyan finished in clear first with 9/10, losing once to Alan Chen and winning every other game. Other top finishers included Naitik Rathi and Brian Zhang (tied second with 8.5/10), while Alan Chen and Ryan Ratliff (8/10 each) rounded out the top five.

Our top scorer in the K-3 blitz was Pranav Arun, scoring 9.5 and gaining nearly 200 points of USCF blitz rating in the process. Thomas Egelhof scored 9/10, while Advik Manchanda took clear third with 8.5 points and Diya Balamurugan, Jesper Liu, and Kirill McNaughton each finished with 8.

In the same timeslot the next day, the organizers hosted an unrated bughouse tournament open to all tournament participants. This author was told by some very reliable sources that the bughouse was one of the most fun parts of the entire event!

Detailed blitz results and the resulting USCF rating changes can be viewed at this link.

Assorted Fun Events!

Throughout the weekend, players had the opportunity to participate in many fun activities hosted by well-known personalities in the chess world.

On the evening of the 16th, the night before the tournament, kids faced off in a Survivor Simul against a team of four titled players: FM James Canty, IM Levy "GothamChess" Rozman, GM Daniel Naroditsky, and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

Charlotte Chess Center Levy Rozman
IM Levy "GothamChess" Rozman

IM Rozman gave opening remarks at the beginning of the first round before hosting a signing event for his book How to Win at Chess. Meanwhile, GM Naroditsky, FM Canty, and FM "FunMasterMike" Mike Klein each hosted blitz and/or bullet challenges against hordes of enthusiastic children!

Charlotte Chess Center ChessKid Nationals Mike Klein
FunMasterMike receiving a vicious pie-in-the-face!

While hosting the ChessKid National Festival, the Charlotte Convention Center also played host to the 2024 Junior Olympic USA Fencing Championships, as top junior fencers came to the city to compete for the national title across different age groups. This made for an unusual chess-fencing crossover, as FM Mike Klein and IM Danny Rensch faced off against each other in both games at once!

This pink booth was hosted by the Moms of the Charlotte Chess Center. The Moms of CCC meet at the Main/South location of the Charlotte Chess Center once every month, with the goal of helping chess moms support their children in chess and learn more about both the world of chess and the game itself.

For more about the ChessKid National Festival, see here for's recap, or find the archived broadcasts of the event on Twitch or on YouTube. Thank you to Daniel Schipper and Kelly Centrelli for providing the photos in this recap, and a big thanks to all who participated in the event!

For upcoming tournaments, bookmark our Events Schedule. The CCC hosts nearly 8 events a week at our facilities in North and South Charlotte, along with bi-monthly major events such as the upcoming 2024 Spring Open and ALTO tournaments.

Not a member of the CCC? Join over 800 members today!

NM Dennis Norman

Chess Coach - Club Journalist

Charlotte Chess Center


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