Texas Chess Champions at National Invitationals

by Alexey Root
7/30/2021 – Alongside the U.S. Open are five tournaments of state chess champions, for different age and grade categories. Each state affiliate may nominate one player for each tournament. Participants in the five tournaments compete together in blitz. Woman International Master Alexey Root previews the state champions tournaments from a Texas perspective. | Photos: Niki Riga / Texas Chess Association

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This Ain’t My First Rodeo:

Texas Chess Champions at National Invitationals

The tournaments of state champions are July 31–August 3, concurrent with the U.S. Open (July 31–August 8). Washington, DC is considered a state, and California is split into two states (Northern California and Southern California). Players who complete all six rounds of a state champions tournament may register onsite for the U.S. Open’s 4-day schedule, 6-day schedule, or 9-day schedule (with byes) for 50% of the early U.S. Open’s entry fee.

Four of the five state champions tournaments are for young players:

The fifth tournament, for players who are 50 years old or older, is the 

Participants in all five tournaments have the option to play in the Weeramantry Blitz.

Weeramantry Blitz

Before the opening ceremony of the state champions tournaments is the FM Sunil Weeramantry National Blitz Tournament of State Champions, a game in 3 minutes plus 2-second increment (G3 +2) four-round tournament. Each round has two games, one with each color, against the same opponent. Only participants in the state champions tournaments may enter and the blitz is optional for them. The 2021 Weeramantry Blitz top-seed is Grandmaster Awonder Liang (US Chess rating of 2674).

Irwin Senior (50+)

As of mid-July, my husband International Master Doug Root (US Chess 2556) is the second-highest rated player signed up for the Weeramantry Blitz. He is the Texas representative for the John T. Irwin National Senior Tournament of Champions. Currently, Root is the highest US Chess-rated state representative in the Irwin Senior, for players ages 50 and older. Grandmaster Ben Finegold (US Chess 2538) of Georgia, International Master Igor Khmelnitsky (US Chess 2488) of Pennsylvania, Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin (US Chess 2474) of Connecticut, and Grandmaster John Fedorowicz (US Chess 2466) of New York have also registered. Look for my ChessBase article about the Irwin, coming soon!

Texas Representatives

To become Texas representatives, young chess players had a two-step qualification process. First, they played in the April 3, 2021, Texas State Scholastic Chess Championships online. On May 15, the top finishers from April 3 played in four round robins, which had six players each, to determine who would represent Texas in the Denker, Barber, Haring, and Rockefeller national tournaments. The May 15th Texas Qualifier’s time control was game in 25 minutes plus a 5-second increment (G25 +5) and games were played online.

Those national state tournaments of champions will not be the first rodeo for any Texas representative. Each Texan should place well compared to representatives from other states. The state whose representatives have the highest combined score (in the Denker, Barber, Haring, Rockefeller, and Irwin) will be recognized. Gift certificates for the U.S. Open bookstore will be awarded to each player from the three highest-scoring states. In addition, gift certificates will be awarded to each player of the highest-scoring state whose players’ average rating is Under 2100, Under 1900, or Under 1600. A total of $400 of gift certificates will be awarded. States must have at least three players from the five simultaneous national state champions invitationals to be eligible for team prizes. 

Individual prizes, such as qualifying for the World Youth Championship, depend on winners meeting other eligibility requirements. The Weeramantry Blitz and all five state champions tournaments are free to participants.

Texas has representatives in all five state champions tournaments. The average US Chess rating of Texas representatives is 2285. Thanks to the


for supporting each Texas representative with a $500 stipend.

Denker High School

Founded in 1985 by Grandmaster Arnold Denker (1914–2005), the 2021 GM Arnold Denker National Tournament of High School State Champions is in its 37th annual edition. The tournament’s champion qualifies for the World Youth Championship and the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. $18,519 in prizes will be awarded, including $5,800 to the champion.

The ratings favorite for the 2021 Denker is Grandmaster Awonder Liang, representing Wisconsin. The Texas representative is FIDE Master Anish Vivekananthan (US Chess 2388).

Barber Middle School

The Dewain Barber National Tournament of Middle School State Champions invites each state affiliate’s nominee to compete for the title of 2021 Barber National Champion. $18,519 in prizes will be awarded, including $5,800 to the champion. The Barber Champion also qualifies for the World Youth or the World Cadet Championship and the U.S. Cadet Championship.

The highest-rated player in the 2021 Barber is FIDE Master Nico Chasin (US Chess 2411), representing New York. The Texas representative is Aryan Gutla (US Chess 2080). About his preparation for the 2021 Barber, and his reasons for attending it, Gutla emailed, “I divide the phases of the game for preparation. I spend 20% of my time in the opening, 35% in the middlegame, and 45% in the endgame. My motivation is what I had always wanted since I was little—to make a name for myself. Now the opportunity is here!”

Aryan Gutla

Haring Girls

The WIM Ruth Haring National Tournament of Girls State Champions is held annually in the model of the Denker and Barber Tournaments. The tournament is named in memory of Woman International Master Ruth Haring (1955-2018), a former US Chess President. The winner will qualify for the World Youth or World Cadet Championship. She will also be seeded into the U.S. Girls Closed Championship and will receive a scholarship and prizes. 

The highest rated player in the 2021 Haring is Woman Candidate Master Ruiyang Yan (US Chess 2245), of Northern California. Woman Candidate Master Alice Lee (US Chess 2214) of Minnesota is playing in the Barber. As of mid-July, there is not a Minnesota representative listed for the Haring.

The Texas representative is Woman Candidate Master Ambica Yellamraju (US Chess 2097). About her preparation for the 2021 Haring, and her reasons for attending it, Yellamraju emailed:

I am preparing by doing the following: Playing games online daily, daily tactics, studying/reviewing opening lines, practicing on the board with my sibling, and following top tournaments and looking at grandmaster games for interesting ideas.

I want to thank the Texas Chess Association for allowing me to play in the State Championship and the Qualifier. I take pride in representing Texas Chess at National and International events. It is a chance for me to show that we have a competitive and robust scene in Texas. The last time I had an opportunity to play over-the-board chess at a national level was the National K-8 Junior High Championships in 2019; our school team, Canyon Vista Middle School, came first in the country, and I also won an individual trophy. From a personal standpoint, my motivation to participate in this tournament is having the opportunity to play in such a prestigious event. Also, it will be great for me to meet and play with strong players from other states. It is also an honor to play in an all-girls tournament and showcase female presence in chess.

Ambica Yellamraju | Photo from the World Youth Chess Championship 2018 | Photo: Niki Riga

Rockefeller Elementary

The John D. Rockefeller III National Tournament of Elementary School State Champions is an annual invitational event in its second year. The 2020 champion was a national master with a US Chess rating of 2203. $18,519 in prizes will be awarded, including $5,800 to the champion. The Rockefeller Champion qualifies for the World Youth or the World Cadet Championship and the U.S. Cadet Championship. 

The ratings favorite in the 2021 Rockefeller is the Texas representative, Ryo Chen (US Chess 2304). I wrote about his path to becoming the Texas representative in this article for SparkChess.


Games from the tournaments of state champions and from the U.S. Open should be available starting July 31st from a link available at the tournaments’ main website: http://www.uschess.org/tournaments/2021/usopen/

The Texas representatives for the Barber and the Haring annotated their best games from the May 15 Texas Qualfier, with additional comments by International Master Doug Root.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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