More than a dozen of New Tampa’s best chess players will be competing this weekend in Orlando, as the United States Chess Federation holds its annual scholastic championships.
The 2015 National Scholastic K-12 Championships will be hosted by Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort beginning with the opening ceremony on Friday, December 4, 12:30 p.m, and concluding with the awards ceremony on Sunday, December 6, 5 p.m.
Most of the competitors attending are trained by longtime local coaches Mark Ritter and Tania Kranich-Ritter, who will be well represented in Orlando.
A dozen or so players from New Tampa and Wesley Chapel will be among the hundreds at Disney this weekend. They include:
Aarush Prasad (seventh-grader at Williams IB Middle School)
Ojas Kalia (7th, Williams)
Truman Hoang (freshman, Middleton High)
Shrey Gupta (8th, Williams IB)
Kelvin Ng (8th, John Long Middle School)
Parth Upadhyaya (5th, Lawton Chiles Elementary)
Melvin Uppgard (3rd, Chiles)
Lixin Zheng (8th, Louis Benito Middle School)
Teja Katipalli (4th, Harold H. Clark Elementary)
Jonathon Cotey (7th, Williams IB)
Khoi Cotey (5th, Richard F. Pride Elementary)
David Jin (4th, Pride)
Kevin Jin (5th, Pride)
The highest rated player in the group and the player considered to have the best chance at capturing a title is Hoang, one of the top players in the state.
Hoang, 15, is on the brink of earning Master status, boasting a 2176 rating (Masters are 2200). He is the second-highest-ranked among the 633 players from Florida competing. He is ranked in the top 100 in the country in the Under-16 age group.
“He puts in the most time and most effort at the board, it’s as simple as that,’’ said Ritter. “He loves the game and puts a lot of effort into it.”
While Hoang has a legitimate shot at a title, most of the players attend for the fun and the experience. The tournament has 569 teams registered from 39 states, and more than 1,570 players will compete in more than 60 classes, ranging from players rated anywhere from beginner to more than 2000.
“The experience is just tremendous,’’ said Ritter, who will stop by Saturday and go over the first and second round games with some of his students. “For one weekend, a gigantic hotel is taken over by chess players. Unfortunately, there is a prevalent attitude that being smart and good on an intellectual level is not cool. Suddenly, these kids are in an environment where everyone is doing the same thing they love to do.”
“It is inspirational,’’ said Kranich-Ritter, who has coached a handful of teams to nationals championships, including the 2006 Tampa Palms Elementary fifth-grade team. “You see so many children there — and you’re talking about more than 1,000 — and it’s the best in the country coming in to compete. You see that your sport, chess, that you love, is actually embraced by so many states and so many players. It’s inspirational to see so many of them under one roof. It’s the ultimate.”
Ritter and Kranich-Ritter have been running tournaments and clubs in the New Tampa area for 11 years, with club teams from around the area driving in to compete. Kranich-Ritter, who was the 1983 women’s state champion in New York, is the more serious one of the coaching combo, running local tournaments like a fine-tuned machine.
Ritter can sometimes be found comparing the talents of the 1971 New York Knicks or NBA Hall of Famers Bob Cousy and Bob Petit with, say, today’s Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James with one of the player’s dads.
An internationally-rated chess master, Ritter is one of only five Level 5-rated coaches in the country, the highest level one can reach in chess. He has tutored five individual national champions, and runs open tournaments monthly, most at the Kumon Math & Reading Center of New Tampa. He also coaches after-school clubs at Pride and Chiles elementary schools, as well as an invitation-only Champions Club that has 28 members, including most of the students listed above.
Kranich-Ritter says she is looking forward to watching the players perform following this weekend. Often, she says, the big tournaments are an impetus for a player’s speedy progress.
“I believe that chess is the matrix of everything,’’ Kranich-Ritter says. “It’s abstract, more than mathematics, more than geometry and art and painting, but it is all of the above. The lessons you learn can be retrofitted to their professions one day. It is the blueprint for everything.”