My intent when I showed up at the New Jersey Junior Championships was not to qualify for anything. The last time I had played the event, I was the lowest rated player in the section by about 300 points, with winner Chris Wu having about 800 points on me. I just came to play chess and learn something. The first surprise of this year was that I was nearly the highest rated player in the section. The second surprise was that, despite some errors, I managed to win the tournament, surrendering only half of a point on the way. The unlikely possibility that I would qualify for the Denker Tournament of Champions, one of the most prestigious invitationals in the country, had become a reality. Six weeks later, I packed my bags and drove down to Virginia with my family.
Arriving minutes before the 3:00 check-in time for a special opening ceremony for all Denker, Barber, and National Girls Tournament of Champions participants, I sprinted through the rain while trying not to get my nice shoes wet. It will suffice to say that several people were later than I was, and the ceremony started at about 3:30. In the mean time, I got to meet several other players. Initially, I was expecting to be lost in a sea of geniuses casually discussing things I would never understand. Instead, I found a bunch of high school kids about as awkward as me nervously waiting for the start of the ceremony. I shook hands with nerds, geeks, and a few normal people from all around the country. These were my type of people.
We were not all there to stare at each other awkwardly, of course. There was chess to be played. After changing out of out our fancy clothes, a bunch of teenagers came to a room to sit and think for upwards of six hours. (It was more exciting than it sounds.) My personal tournament was not particularly exciting, but it was archetypical of those of us in the lower range of ratings (1300-1800) so I will give a brief review. In the first game I played reasonably against a national master from California but eventually was outlasted by his immense tactical prowess. Next, I on against the representative from DC, a relatively new player who had a provisional rating before this tournament. Next, another NM crushed me, this one from Colorado. The next game, against the representative from Hawaii, was more eventful. He made a careless mistake in the opening, then totally outplayed me and won a game in which he had been down a clear center pawn. I rounded out my tournament with two draws against players of similar rating to me. I ended the tournament with 2 points out of 6, a respectable but unimpressive score in a tough field. Below is my final game against the New Hampshire representative, which I found to be the most interesting one of my tournament.
In conclusion, the Denker is a great tournament and I am grateful for having been able to participate in it. The opportunity to meet other people like me and learn from their play and their lives was invaluable. While I find it unlikely, I would be ecstatic to go next year if I should manage to win the qualifier again.