Zhao: ‘It’s cool’ to be state Chess Federation champ

When Hardin Valley Academy junior Eric Zhao attended HVA Chess Team’s first 2019 Spring Team Scholastic Chess Tournament at the school Feb. 2, he did not expect to be standing in front of his peers.

Nevertheless, he stood up, blushing, as Susan Kantor with the U.S. Chess Federation announced Zhao was the state U.S. Chess Federation Players Award champion for 2019.

“It’s cool,” Zhao said about the win. “I feel like I won because I played a lot of out-of-state tournaments. There haven’t been a lot of tournaments (held) in Tennessee.”

“The U.S. Chess Federation runs a Junior Grand Prix program,” Kantor explained. “(Participants) get points for playing specific tournaments.”

The JGP competition, which is new to the USCF tournament line-up, is a yearlong contest designed to promote “the type of play most beneficial to the development of young talent,” according to USCF website.

Junior Grand Prix awards points only for scoring against players rated at least 100 points above that player, Kantor said, adding the scoring is based on all the tournaments he played in 2018. “Eric played a lot of tournaments last year,” she said.

As winner, Zhao receives a one-year membership to chess.com.

The HVA junior founded his school’s chess club last year. Kantor said Zhao’s win stood out because he is the first youth from Knox County to win.

Overall tournament

About 75 students, from first grade to high school all around the region, teamed up to compete in the inaugural Hardin Valley Academy event.

Hosted by HVA’s chess club, the tournament drew players from as far as Nashville and Kingsport.

“It’s a very good turnout,” said Amanda Danson, the teacher sponsoring HVA’s chess club.

Participants comprised 17 teams at the event, she said, adding students from one school or are home-schooled could mix into a team with students from other schools.

Locally, two of the teams were Hardin Valley Academy students, four teams were Webb School of Knoxville students and one team was made up of Farragut Intermediate School students.

Top three teams in the kindergarten through third-grade section were: first place, Crazy Chesskids (Bochen Jiang, John Nguyen, Lucas Hu and Jason Zhang); second, place CIA Agents (Rehan Gallege, Manav Nagar, Noah Wells and Abbie Liu); and third place, The Rookies (Gray Kenny, Evie Lawrie, Jonathan Ford, Alex Jesse and Oliver Kowalski).

Top three teams in the fourth- through sixth-grade section are first place, Knoxville Chess Nerds (Trip Meiners, Daniel Idell, Jack Quigley and Max Sisson); second place, Random Chesskids (James Nguyen, Andrew Weast, Stephen Xiao and Gavin Koentop); and third place, Spartan Knightmares (Isaac Lawrie, Henry Jay, Elizabeth Jesse and Jackson Moss).

Top and only team in the seventh-through ninth-grade section is Rook b4 You Leap, made up of Jeremy Miller, Robert Davis, Ainslee Davenport and Ian Moore.

The top three teams in the 10th- through 12th-grade section are: First place, 1.d4 team (Eric Zhao, Ben Koob, Jacob Fanikos and Trey Barrett), second place, Backward Pawns (Justin Li, Jose Vowell, Austin Rhea and Tono Vowell); and third place, Rebel Knights (Aidan Henopp, Mason Hunt, Austin Brashear, Troy Cashion and Jackson Chartier.