The Denker Trio

The Denker Trio


Jonathan Hilton

October 27, 2008

 Some play chess for fun. Others play chess for blood. We play chess for honor.  Who are we? We are the Denker representatives, and we come from Alaska to Hawaii, from California to Maine.  We represent not only ourselves, but our state federations, home clubs, schools, coaches, friends, and families—the chessplayers and non-chessplayers that have shaped us into champions.  Success for a Denker representative does not solely consist in winning the tournament. Success is achieved by playing with pride.  Fighting spirit, camaraderie, and etiquette are traits possessed by the ideal representative. Personal respect at the Denker is unparalleled—there are no cheap psychological tricks, no routine intimidation tactics.  During this six-round, four-day, 48-player tournament, not a single dispute arose, reported chief tournament director Dewain Barber (NOTE: Denker TD was Alan Losoff and Barber was the organizer). By the afternoon of the fourth day, however, a true champion of champions is decided. The champion of champions is someone with extraordinary mental stamina, a fierce sense of danger at the board, and an incredible ability to win games when the chips are down. This year, three co-champions shared the glory with 5/6—a rare tie, making 2008 an exception in the Denker’s recent trend toward clear winners.  In fact, the last time more than two tied for first place was eight years ago! Each winner had a unique story, with FM Daniel Yeager (PA) on one side, Julian Landaw (CA-S) on the other, and expert Scott Low (MD) falling somewhere in between.  One thing the members of this unlikely trio shared? They all admitted to having followed, consciously or unconsciously, some piece of advice given by USCF Executive Director—and former Denker representative—Bill Hall during his rousing speech at the opening ceremony! Daniel Yeager: A fierce competitor takes time to travel It is hard to get one’s head around the powerful brain of FM Daniel Yeager. A young man of few words, he lets his incredible chess record speak for itself. With the unyielding concentration of a fighter pilot and the thorough eye of a computer, Yeager did not lose a single game during his entire stay in Texas—four wins and two draws in the Denker; three draws, five wins, and a bye in the U.S. Open. Total:  fourteen consecutive games without a single loss! Yet, to many, Yeager remains a mystery. Perhaps the most reticent player in the Denker, the Pennsylvanian can hold an entire conversation without saying a single word! Often, he communicates through grins, shrugs, and laughter. He has a hunger to hunch over the chess board in deep concentration, and comes to scholastic tournaments with the clear intention of capturing the top prize. He is disciplined and does what it takes to churn out top performances—during his 7-0 victory at this year’s high school nationals, Yeager was sure to look after himself, heading off to bed early on multiple nights. A few days after the Denker, I asked Yeager what he enjoys most about chess. He instantly broke into a grin; after some initial hesitation, he gave a surprisingly honest answer: “I love to win!” he exclaimed. Thus, I was surprised to discover how much traveling and socializing Yeager accomplished during his stay in Texas. Even before the start of the Denker, he and his father, Richard Yeager—a likeable extrovert whose supportive presence is a key factor in Daniel’s success—took a day trip out to see the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). James Stallings, the director of the UTD chess program, had arranged a special tour for Denker participants, so both Yeagers eagerly signed up to go. This turned out to be a wise move: Daniel Yeager wound up capturing one of two full four-year scholarships awarded by UTD during the Denker event!  The other was awarded to Low. Landaw, who has graduated high school, had already enrolled in UC Berkeley.

 I rarely saw Yeager unaccompanied by fellow Denker comrades. Whether he was visiting local eateries with Scott Low, hanging out in the weight lifting room, or just exploring the hotel with friends, the Pennsylvanian chess machine always showed his human side between rounds. He was living the chess player’s dream, traveling the country and enjoying every moment in Dallas. Yet he maintained an unrelenting positional control throughout all six rounds, including this last-round win over then-tournament leader Matt Parry:

 Queen’s Indian Defense (E15)

FM Daniel Yeager (2353)

Matt Parry (2279)

2008 Denker Tournament of High School Champions (6), 08.05.2008

Notes by Yeager

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Bb4+

Forcing White’s bishop to the awkward d2-square. The downside is that the move 5. Bd2 could also be a useful developing move for White.

5. Bd2 Be7 6. Bg2 0-0 7. 0-0 c6

Aiming for a closed Catalan position. After 7. … dxc4 8. Qc2, White’s fifth move has proved useful, clearing the way for Rc1.

8. Qc2 b6 9. b3 Ba6

A good move, preventing 10. Nc3 due to the attack on the c4-pawn.


10. a4


Aiming to play a4-a5 and exploit the slightly awkward position of the bishop on a6. 10. Rd1 Nbd7 11. Bf4 is another option, reaching a Queen’s Indian Defense. Black soon strikes with … c5, leading to a complicated position.


10. … Nbd7 11. a5 c5 12. Nc3!?


Offering a pawn sacrifice on c4 which Black should accept. 12. Rd1 would have been the safer and better option, when Black is running out of useful moves. If 12. … Rc8 13. axb6 Black has to take back with the queen, leading to a structural advantage for White: 13. … Qxb6 14. Ba5 Qb8 15. Nbd2.


12. … bxa5?


Once White regains the a5-pawn with Qa2, Black will have a tough time holding everything together. Black must accept the pawn sacrifice: if he doesn’t, the bishop on a6 did not fulfill its duty.


12. … dxc4! 13. bxc4 Bxc4. The diagonal has opened for the bishop on g2, but Black is solid. White has no immediate threat.


13. cxd5 exd5 14. Qa2 Qb6 15. Qxa5


Even better is 15. Ne5! Rybka gives 15. … Rad8 (15. … Qe6 16. Qxa5 Bb7 17. Nd3 cxd4 18. Nf4) 16. Nxd5 Nxd5 17. Bxa5 Qe6 18. Bxd8 Nb4 19. Bxe7 Nxa2 20. Bxf8 Nxf8 21. Rxa2 with a clear advantage for White.


15. … Bb7 16. Na4


16. Ne5 was again worthy of consideration.


16. … Qxa5 17. Bxa5 Rfe8 18. e3 Rab8 19. Rfc1 Ne4?!


19. … Rec8 20. Bh3 cxd4 21. Nxd4 Bd6 is a better try.


20. Bh3!


The bishop finds a great diagonal and attacks one of the key defenders of the c5- pawn.


20. … Bc6 21. Nxc5


I considered 21. Bxd7 Bxd7 22. Nxc5 Nxc5 23. dxc5 Rxb3 24. c6 but I didn’t like the idea of giving up my great bishop. However, this option would have been great for White.


21. … Ndxc5 22. dxc5 Nxc5 23. Nd4


Of course, not 23. b4? Nb3.


23. … Ba8 24. b4 Nd3 25. Rc7 Rb7 26. Rxb7 Bxb7 27. Bd7 Rb8 28. Bc7 Ra8 29. b5 Nc5 30. Bc6


Removing a key defender and planning to play Nd4-c6.


30. … Bf6 31. Bxb7 Nxb7 32. Ra6


Preparing to play b5-b6. 32. b6? a5 was certainly not to my liking.


32. … Nc5 33. Ra5 Nb7 34. Ra2 Bxd4 35. exd4 f6 36. Ra6 Rc8 37. Bf4 g5 38. Be3 Rb8


A better try was 38. … Rd8 39. Rxf6 Nd6 40. Bxg5 Nxb5, but White has the shot 41. Rb6! axb6 42. Bxd8 Nxd4 43. Bxb6 with a winning endgame.


39. Rxf6


39. Rxa7 Nd6 and Black could hang on for a while. Now Black’s kingside pawns fall, and he resigned on move 58.






Julian Landaw: Hakuna matata


Julian Landaw, the representative from Southern California, blundered in round three to Karel Gonzalez of Florida, losing on the spot. He laughed the loss off quickly and came back fighting—only to trade a winning position for a losing one in round four against Haizhou Xu of Vermont. But, through Caissa’s divine intervention, Xu returned the favor and dropped a rook in a nutty endgame time scramble. But then in round six, his closed Sicilian brought him a dismal position. He held on for dear life as his opponent’s dark-square bishop ravaged his kingside. “I kept messing up and getting bad positions, but I kept my cool and managed to turn them around,” says Landaw. This was indeed the truth—in that fateful round six game, Landaw regrouped mentally, regrouped his pieces to the center, and then capitalized swiftly on a blunder from his opponent to win the game. What brought Landaw success in the Denker? Although he admits “luck” was involved, Landaw’s unusually relaxed attitude allowed him to breeze through a Denker-winning ordeal that would have proved an emotional roller coaster for anyone else. His calm attitude—which reminds one of the Swahili phrase “Hakuna matata,” meaning “no worries”—allowed him to rise to the top of the pack when the four days of Denker drama were done. In an audio interview I did with Landaw shortly after the tournament (available at news.html), Landaw explained that he has grown and matured in his emotional handling of chess. “When I was younger, I used to be very emotional,” he admitted. “I don’t feel much pressure … I just walk around, cool myself off, get some water, talk to people—and I feel really light, really relaxed.” He said that he definitely agreed with Bill Hall’s message about not letting a Denker loss bring one down. Here Landaw describes his emotional reaction to one of his tournament’s many surprises.








Bird’s Opening (A03)

Tony Chen (1926)

Julian Landaw (2297)

Denker Tournament of High School Champions (1), 08.02.2008

Notes by Landaw


1. f4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 Bg4 4. Be2 Bxf3 5. Bxf3 c5 6. 0-0 Nc6 7. b3 e5 8. fxe5 Nxe5 9. Qe2 a6 10. Bb2

Qc7 11. d4 Nxf3+ 12. Qxf3 Bd6 13. g3 0-0 14. dxc5 Be5 15. Bxe5 Qxe5 16. Nd2 Qc3 17. Qe2 Rae8 18. Rfe1

Qxc5 19. Qd3 Re7 20. c4 Rfe8 21. Nf1 dxc4 22. Qxc4 Qxc4 23. bxc4 Ng4 24. Rab1 Ne5 25. Rec1 Rc8 26. Nd2

Rd7 27. Nb3 Rxc4 28. Rxc4 Nxc4 29. Nc5 Rd2 30. Rxb7 h6 31. Nxa6 Rxa2 32. Nc5 Nxe3


Even after analyzing with Fritz, I am still not certain as to whether this position is theoretically a win for Black or a draw.


33. Rb1 Rg2+ 34. Kh1 Rc2 35. Ne4 f5 36. Nd6 g5 37. Re1 f4 38. h4!


A powerful move. White trades off two pairs of pawns, leaving me with only one pawn left on the board.

If he could then trade his knight for the pawn, a drawn R+N vs R position might be reached.


38. … Kh7 39. hxg5 hxg5 40. gxf4 gxf4 41. Nb5? Rd2?


I unfortunately miss the powerful move 41. … Nf5! After 42. Na3 Ra2 43. Nc4 Ng3+ 44. Kg1 f3, when the threats of … f2 and … Rg2 mate cannot be stopped. It’s good news that I didn’t find this line, because otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to see Chen’s brilliant idea later on!


42. Nc3 Kh6 43. Ne2 f3


At this point I felt very confident. My pawn cannot easily be stopped, and I can soon move my king up the board with strong penetration.


44. Ng1!!

After this move I felt probably three different emotions. First I was thinking, “Wow, what is this kid doing?” I thought Chen just had to go 44. Ng3, in which case I would play 44. … Ng4, threatening 45…. Rh2+ 46. Kg1 f2+. Then, after looking over some of the lines in my head I found Chen’s stalemate idea. My reaction was, “Oh no, did he just completely trick me here?” And finally, with about a couple of minutes left in the game, I felt an acceptance and thought, “Well, let’s just see if this will work out somehow.”


44. … f2 45. Rxe3 f1=Q


And here is the brilliance in Chen’s play: he has stalemated his own king and has the plan of simply checking me with his rook until I have to capture it. The game would end in a lousy draw!


46. Rh3+??


Unfortunately, White does not find the correct plan! He needs to prevent my king from entering the queenside, as we will see in a couple of moves. White could draw with 46. Re6+!! Kg5 47. Rg6+!!, after which Black has the surprising 47. … Kf4! 48. Rf6+ Kg3! (Threatening mate! Isn’t this exciting?) 49. Rg6+ Kf2 50. Rf6+ Ke1 51. Rxf1+ Kxf1 52. Nh3 with a theoretical draw! Of course, I would try for a swindle in this type of endgame with Black, but it is still disheartening that I might not have been able to win!


46. … Kg5 47. Rh5+ Kf6 48. Rh6+ Ke5 49. Re6+ Kd4 50. Rd6+ Kc3 51. Rc6+ Kb4 52. Rb6+ Ka5


Now my king finds a safe haven since after 53. Ra6+ or 53. Rb5+ I can snag the rook with my queen.


53. Rb2 Qg2 mate.



Scott Low: The middle ground


Scott Low from Maryland fell somewhere in between the contrasting styles of Yeager and Landaw. His first three games were won with Yeager-like precision; he made few, if any, slight mistakes and patiently outplayed his opponents. Yet his tournament turned into a Landaw-styled roller coaster during round 4, in which he had to rely on a flag-fall to score the full point in a messy position versus Karel Gonzalez. Then, in round 5, he suffered defeat at the hands of Matt Parry. His hopes of winning the tournament rested on beating Kentucky’s Erik Patchell in round 6—and his prospects seemed bleak from his unlucky thirteenth move. Then, there was a strange twist of fate…


Sicilian Defense (B32)

Scott Low (2184)

Erik Patchell (2085)

Denker Tournament of High School Champions (6), 08.05.2008

Notes by Low


1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nb5 d6 6. N1c3 a6 7. Na3 b5 8. Nd5 Nge7 9. c4 Nd4 10. Bg5 h6 11. Be3 Nxd5 12. cxd5 Be7 13. Bxd4?

Losing the bishop pair and turning the initiative over to Black.

13. … exd4 14. Qxd4 0-0 15. Be2 f5 16. 0-0 Bf6 17. Qb4 fxe4 18. Nc2 Qb6 19. Rad1 Bd7 20. Ne3 Rae8 21. a4

21. Bh5, with equality, was better.

21. … a5 22. Qb3

22. Nc4 Qa7 23. Nxa5 e3 24. f4 bxa4 holds the balance.

22. … Rb8 23. axb5 Bxb5 24. Bxb5 Qxb5 25. Qa3 Qc5 26. Qxc5 dxc5 27. Ra1 Rxb2 28. Rxa5 Bd4 29. Nd1 Rb1 30. Ra2 Rc1 31. Re2 Rb8 32. Rxe4 Rbb1 33. Ree1 Bc3??

33. … Kf7 and Black is only slightly better, surprisingly.

34. Nxc3, Black resigned.

During a post-Denker interview, I asked Low his favorite part of Bill Hall’s opening speech. “The message to thank your parents for being behind you every step of the way was something really important I took away from it,” Low remarked. After a moment of reflection, he began to wonder aloud if he’d actually remembered to do it. He gave me permission to thank them publicly here in Chess Life.

To Scott’s parents, and to all the parents of the Denker champions—including my own—thanks!



2008 Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions At A Glance

Date: August 2-5, 2008

Location: Westin Park Central, Dallas, Texas

Top Finishers: 1st-3rd: Daniel Yeager (PA), Julian Landaw (CA-S), Scott Low (MD), 5; 4th-6th: Matt Parry (NY), Michael Yang (MN), Ricky Selzler (WA), 4.5.

US Open Chief Tournament Director: Bill Snead, Denker TD: Alan Losoff



See the August archives of Chess Life Online at for more about the Denker by Jonathan


(Editor’s Note:  The complete article appeared in the November 2008 issue of Chess Life Magazine.

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