2015 US Amateur Team East by Julie Lee
This was our 3rd year in a row going to the US Amateur Team East (USATE) in Parsippany, and the second year where Justin was part of an ICA team. We were happy that he was on a team comprised of kids under the age of 10, eligible for the “Top Future” team prize. Our team, named “Oops… You did it again! You got checkmated by a kid!” included Aryeh-Leib Shlionsky on first board, Justin Lee on second board, Matthew Lerman on third board, and Suran Gao on fourth board. We were fortunate to be associated with these talented young kids for the USATE. ICA is known not only for their strong young adult and adult players but also for their fostering of young talent.
The USATE is one of those rare chess events where not only individual performance matters, but also as important, if not more important, is how well the team does overall. This is similar to most sports where kids are used to competing individually and as a team. However, this type of team philosophy is not typical of most chess tournaments. The USATE is also a highlight for many in the chess world because it brings together all those chess players that you have ever been acquainted with – and then some. You are likely to see past and present coaches, classmates, and opponents from national, state, and local chess tournaments. This is also one of the few places where you will see many grandmasters and masters battling, as well as other famous chess faces, such as Gary Kasparov (present last year) and those depicted in the movie Brooklyn Castle. In addition, you are equally likely to play a team composed of such a smattering of individuals. You may have a grandmaster on a top board accompanied by his grandson, a beginner, on one of the lower boards, like we faced last year.
The 6 rounds, spread across 3 days, is somewhat a test not only of skill, but also of endurance. Games can last as long as 6 hours, with turnaround time potentially as little as 30 minutes. Justin, in his 2nd round, reported being extremely tired at around 10 pm, about 1 ½ hours past his usual bedtime. I urged him on, telling him that his more senior opponent was likely tired too, but the winner would be the one who did not succumb to his fatigue. Later victorious, I was glad to see that he did not give in to his fatigue, and was able to press on.
Chess in general, but especially at the USATE, is special because it is the one of the few times in life that age, size, race, or gender of the player makes no difference--the only factor that matters is one’s skill. It was funny to see the expressions on people’s faces when they sat down against our team, all of whom hover around 4 feet tall and have an average age of about 8. I think our team was often underestimated, that is, until they started playing, and many of the players were surprised by the strength of the kids’ playing. One of Justin’s opponents, a NYU student, refused to reveal his rating, insinuating that his rating was well above Justin’s. We subsequently discovered his rating was equal to Justin’s.
Life lessons, such as that capability shines through above all else, and that hard work and perseverance pay off, are some of the most important things I hope our kids will take away from their experiences at the USATE. Though both players and parents were tired at the end of the tournament, we were glad to have participated in the USATE once again. The icing on the cake for our team this year was winning the prize in our category, Top Future! Many thanks to Diana for her support and for putting our excellent team together! Also, special thanks and congratulations to teammates Aryeh-Leib, Matthew, and Suran, as well as their parents, for putting forth their best efforts!!