The 86th Annual Southwest Open Chess Championship, sanctioned by the Texas Chess Association (TCA) and hosted by the Dallas Chess Club (DCC), was held at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Irving from September 4 to September 7.
The TCA has a long history in Texas. It was founded in 1935 by Dallas resident John Charles Thompson. After WWII, the Texas State Championship Series began, and its founder won several titles before he moved abroad in 1952. Thompson passed away in 1999.
The DCC has about 300 members and is recognized as one of the United States’ major chess organizations. It is governed by The United States Chess Federation (US Chess or USCF), which is the governing body for all chess competitions in the United States and is the representative for the U.S. in the World Chess Federation, also referred to as the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), which governs international chess organizations.
The tournament was broken down into Open, Reserve, Novice and Scholastic Sections for chess enthusiasts from grades K-12.
Parents of the contestants were hurrying around, keeping up with when and where their child or children needed to be, as well as rankings after rounds were played.
“I have two boys here today,” said parent Ganesh Raghu. “The elder one, Anirudh, is a 17-year-old Senior at Coppell High School and is playing in the Open Section. He started [playing chess] when he was in second grade. His school had a chess program where he had some chess lessons, so that’s how he got started. And then he started playing some tournaments and kept going, and that’s how we got involved. We just continued playing,” Raghu said.
“[Anirudh] went to a school called Universal Academy [a Charter School in Coppell] in his early years, and there, chess was a standard part of the curriculum. They had like 40 minutes of chess every day. Then, he started entering tournaments and started doing very well. In fact, he founded, and is the president, of his high school Chess Club. He takes chess very seriously. He has been consistently ranked in the Top 50 players in the country since 2012,” said Raghu.
“Anirudh achieved a peak rating of 2115 (USCF) and peak national ranking of 36. He has played in over 324 tournaments in nine years in different parts of the US. Lately, he has been focusing his time on training kids of all levels in Chess,” said Raghu.
Anirudh ‘s most recent accomplishments from the Texas State tournament held in McAllen, Texas this March include Texas State K-12 Chess Blitz, 1st place Champion; Texas State High School Bughouse, 2nd place; and Texas State High school Championship, 4th place.
“His [younger] brother, Siddharth, is just starting out. He’s seven and just now starting to play. Anirudh teaches him. He also goes to Universal Academy,” said Raghu.
After some commotion in the hallways and texts coming in on cell phones, Raghu said, “We just got word about who [Anirudh] is going to be playing, and now that he knows which color he is, he has about 45 minutes to prepare for his next game.”
An algorithm is used to determine which color and opponent each participant will get.
“They use the Swiss Pairings algorithm, which matches you up by splitting the whole playing field,” Anirudh said. “Let’s say you have 16 players on the playing field. Then you will have #1, which is the highest rated player, playing #9. Number 2 will play #10, #3 will play #11 and so on. It’ll go like that so that you’re not playing equally rated players in the first round. But that will change in later rounds,” he explained.
“The colors are important because the player beginning with white pieces has a slight advantage because white moves first. They are already ahead by one move. So, Anirudh will go to a practice board and play the black pieces [that he got assigned to] and look at all the possibilities he can do and just refresh his mind,” said Raghu.
“I don’t play chess, but we have an independent coach for Anirudh, and Siddharth is being taught by his older brother,” said Raghu. “We’re letting our youngest figure out if this is what he wants to do. Of course, you win some and you lose some.”
“Basically, I played in a high section with a lot of competitive players. This is another way to improve my ratings and get better at the same time. We go to tournaments like this because they provide a more competitive atmosphere,” said Anirudh. “Chess is a really broad sport in the sense that you have kids from about 6 years old to adults. Sometimes the adults are aged 60 and higher. These players can be equally rated, but vastly different at the same time.”
“I haven’t played [in person] in about 5 months in outside tournaments due to COVID,” Anirudh said. “Around that time, I was just preparing my openings and the lines that I had prepared. I was making sure that I was still in touch with the game. Every day, I would just play online with a lot of other strong players. There are also a lot of online Blitz tournaments going on, which involve Grand Masters and International Masters and a lot of other strong players.”
“One thing I like about this sport is that you see wins and losses, so it makes you better as a [person] because you don’t just gloat on your high days because you know the next day may be very different,” Raghu explained. “This is the first time in nine months that [Siddharth] has played against a real person. He’s been practicing on ChessKid.com, where he can play against other kids. But it is very different from being here, where he’s sitting opposite another chess player in reality.
“Siddharth had some good success at the Texas State grade level tournament last year in Houston by placing in the Top 10,” said Raghu.
Anirudh had an average performance in this tournament, but still holds formidable state and national rankings. He ranks at 97th percentile Nationwide, 99th percentile in the Junior category and 99th percentile in the state.
However, he has gone above and beyond, giving back to the sport that he loves.