Reptilian Draw


Just before turning in for the night, I pulled up and saw that in round 7 Drew would be facing another American player, Callaghan McCarty-Snead.  Playing a team mate means that there are certain restrictions on what the on-site coaches can cover — specifically, no opening preparation.  I quickly sent an email round the world to see if we could set up an impromptu session with Drew’s coach back home in the morning . . . my head hit the pillow, and before I knew it, I felt a little tap, tap on my shoulder.

Drew has asthma.  It is very mild and usually only acts up when he has a cold.  Unfortunately, he gets colds at very inopportune times, like three days before leaving for the Middle East.  The congestion has now settled to his chest, and the air was particularly dry last night.  It was 3:12 when he woke me with a coughing spell that just wouldn’t stop.  A cough drop, 4 puffs on the rescue inhaler, sips of water, elevating his head in the bed, and letting in some cooler outside air, finally led to more sleep sometime after 4 am.

I woke up around 8 o’clock to the iPad buzzing with a FaceTime call.  Within the hour I had moved the coaching session with GM Panchanathan to noon, reviewed the games available for Drew’s opponent, and gotten Drew ready to Skype with IM Carlos Perdomo back home.  We connected with Carlos around 1 am Atlanta time, and he prepared Drew for facing the Wing Gambit.  (For those of you who really get a kick out of chess, check out this lesson on — it will give you a good chuckle:  Although Drew would not end up facing this novel (to us) opening today, the preparation and encouragement (and sacrifice of sleep) offered by Carlos definitely gave Drew confidence heading into the round.

Ganmama headed off to the camel market (more on that in another post), and Zoe helped Drew with his preparation for the round. Team USA had some big games this round in U14 girls with Maggie Feng, Agata Bykovtsev, and Eswaran Ashritha on boards 2, 3, and 4.  The U10 section had Awonder Liang and David Peng representing the US on boards 1 and 2.  Daniel Naroditsky continued to hold board 1 in the U18 section, and in Drew’s U8 section, the US was on boards 3, 5, 6, and 7.  Although Drew is not in contention to medal as are the above and other American players, this round would be very important for his overall tournament performance.

Link to round 7 game:

The round 7 game ended up not going as long as I expected since Drew forced a draw by three-fold repetition on move 32.  I pulled out the iPad to email Kyle and dashed off a note that Drew had forced a three-fold reptilian draw! (Got to love that auto-spell feature.)  Since Callaghan is rated about 300 points higher, Drew was satisfied with the outcome of his game.  It was a great game for him and a good result.  He did miss one move that would have led to a clear win.  See if you can find it in the following position (leave your ideas in the comments — answer in next post):

Round 7 puzzle:  Black to move

During analysis with IM Jan van de Mortel, Drew was challenged as to why he forced the draw rather than pressing for a win.  Jan and Drew agreed that the position was better for black and that black had the control of the game.  But the path to victory was not clear, nor easy.  Jan shared with Drew his new “rule” for chess which applies to himself and his students:  no offering draws and no accepting draws.

So, now I am left with one task for the day:  figure out how to draw parallels between reptiles and chess.  I have learned that if you put the word “reptilian” into the draft of a blog post, you come up with the most crazy “related content” blogs — more people are writing about being abducted by alien reptile species than you can possibly imagine.  What came to my mind though were chameleons.  Sometimes beautiful, sometimes drab and unnoticeable, these creatures not only adjust to the color of their surroundings, but like all reptiles, to the temperature as well.  In chess, you have to adjust to the position that you face on the board.  You may not get the opening that you want.  Your opponent may not respond to your threat the way you expected.  There are times that the position may dictate that you cut your losses and settle for a draw instead of pushing for a win.  But evaluating the position is penultimate.  Do not accept a draw without first looking for the winning move.  And in life as in chess, do not settle for just fitting in when there is something more significant waiting …

Revelation 3:14-22

I am definitely not blending in!
I am definitely not blending in!

Halfway Home

US players and coaches pose for a team picture.  The US has the largest delegation with 94 players.
US players and coaches pose for a team picture. The US has the largest delegation with 94 players (many are not pictured here as it is difficult to get everyone together).

We are getting to know more of the American players here, which is wonderful for team camaraderie, opportunities to practice chess, and of course, tossing the football, but it is leaving me less time for blog posting (and more to write about!)  I have added in a number of pictures to older posts, so be sure to scroll through and take them in.

Back:  Kevin Chor, Henry Hawthorne, Ethan Pau, Balaji Damalapati, ??  Front: Andrew Teng, Logan?, ?, Drew Justice
Back: Henry Hawthorne, Ethan Pau, Balaji Daggupati, Harvey Zhu.   Front:  Kevin Chor,  Andrew Tang, Logan Wu, Eddie Wei, Drew Justice

Yesterday’s second game brought a much tougher opponent than his  first game of the day.  Drew was paired against an American, Atreya Vaidya from Texas.  Atreya is playing his second WYCC, having competed last year in Slovenia. (The word on the street is that the tournament in Slovenia was much more well-organized and ran much more smoothly than here in UAE.) With a solid FIDE rating and a USCF rating about 500 points higher than Drew’s, we knew that Atreya would be difficult to beat.  Once again, there was not much time for preparation.  We were able to locate games on chess-db, and Drew studied these on his own before trekking to the tournament hall for a 4 pm start.  The game lasted almost four hours, and Drew played well, but he came away with a loss in round 5.

Drew shakes hands with opponent Atreya Vaidya from Texas before their game.
Drew shakes hands with opponent Atreya Vaidya from Texas before their game.

Link to round 5 game:

Drew was able to get a good night’s rest — he has always been one who was asleep by the time his head hit the pillow — and felt good going into round 6 paired against an opponent from Saudi Arabia.  In chess tournaments, players are typically paired against someone with the same or similar number of points.  With wins in rounds 3 and 5, Drew had garnered two points thus far in the tournament. His opponent also had two points:  one bye and one forfeit win.  Magesh prepared Drew for some opening traps during the am coaching session and then we escaped campus to visit the Bawadi Mall for a change of pace.

I have never seen Zoe smile so big about a piece of cheese pizza!
I have never seen Zoe smile so big about a piece of cheese pizza!
This picture speaks for itself! While eating in the food court, we met a couple who live in Hiram, GA -- very close to home!
This picture speaks for itself! While eating in the food court, we met a couple who live in Hiram, GA — very close to home!
Another taste of home!

After returning to campus, Drew and I boarded a packed bus to head to the tournament hall.  I had just gotten set up in the skittles area to do some writing when Drew came bouncing in, only 35 minutes into the round.  He won in 18 moves.

Abdalla Mezin told us that his parents are Iraqi, but that he has lived his whole life in UAE.
Abdalla Mezin told us that his parents are Iraqi, but that he has lived his whole life in UAE.  He is competing for Saudi Arabia in the tournament.

We are just over halfway though the trip and the tournament.  With six games down and five to go, it is

Drew vs. Middle East:  3-0                          Drew vs. Rest of World:  0-3

Hopefully he can even the score against the “world” in the days to come.

Round 6 game:

Round 6 puzzle:  White to move and mate in 2

Answer to puzzle:

1.  Bg4+  Ke7  2.  exf6#


The stillness of the morning has always been a special time for me.  A time of preparation, reflection, looking forward to the new day.  This morning, I had planned to sleep in, but I awoke while the night was still thick and black and there was no sound.  Checking the time, 5:22 am, I turned and spoke gently the name of Jesus as I snuggled back into the thick white comforter planning to drift back to sleep.  But my thoughts tumbled in my head, and I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what is really important in life.

Just then, I heard the sound of the muezzin, the voice calling the adhan or Muslim call to prayer.  The call sounds five times a day here. Each adhan, having seven parts, includes the basic tenets of the Muslim faith and the call to hurry to the prayer.  The pre-dawn adhan includes an eighth part which translates to:  prayer is better than sleep.  The call is of course in Arabic, so I had to look up the translation.  And the call is a haunting sound.  After it is done, the sound hangs in the air, echoing in my head, and I am not sure whether it is finished or still continuing.

Mosque in Al Ain at the Green Mubazarrah.
Mosque in Al Ain at the Green Mubazarrah.

I remain in bed, but I listen, and I watch, and I pray.  The sky slowly begins to lighten, and I can now hear the sound of birds chirruping.  There are surprisingly few animals here.  Since arriving seven days ago, I have seen one giraffe (as we passed a zoo), and a few camels in the distance as we travelled from Dubai to Al Ain.  All the other animals I have seen are flying things:  gnats, common flies, and yes, birds.  I love the birds.  This morning there are flocks of birds swooping into the pool in the courtyard, skimming the surface, I suppose to take a drink of water.  They will then flit and frolic up into the trees as I look down on the whole dance from my fourth floor window.  Occasionally, one will break free from the others and soar toward me, pulling up at the last moment to alight on top of the building above my head.  I have only been a bird watcher in the most novice capacity, watching the black capped chickadees and house wrens visit my father’s bird feeder, but I can see why people spend hours watching these lively creatures, and I pull out the camera to attempt to catch their gaiety in flight.

Birds swooping into the pool in courtyard.
Birds swooping into the pool in courtyard.

Again the cool breeze of morning flows in the window, and my soul is refreshed as I enjoy the creation that God has placed around us — a picture of his love, care, and creativity. And I also give thanks for the freedom to worship, to pray, to speak about my faith, that I enjoy at home.

View from my dorm window.
View from my dorm window.

Another believer has travelled here recently, and I look up his post, mulling over his thoughts as I turn to prepare for the day:

The buses are beginning to travel their routes between the dormitories and the main campus, the sound of their engines carrying up to my window.  The birds begin to quiet and roost.  I hear the swish, swish of the outdoor daily cleaning crew sweeping the sand from the many crevices in the stone courtyards, and the chatter in the halls as the indoor crew begins to make their daily rounds.  They are diligent, mopping every floor, wiping every surface, sweeping each ceiling and each vent of each hall and every room, every day.  (I will have to transition back to the dust in my own home!)  The silence of the morning is gone, but I will hope to maintain the presence of the Lord that it brings as the day moves on.

Addendum:  About thirty minutes after I published the above post, I was in my room with Drew getting ready for his morning coaching session.  I could hear voices in the courtyard below, which is not unusual.  Then the most incredible sound, wafting in through the window — the sound of a few saints gathered, singing Amazing Grace.  What a sweet, sweet sound it was!  I leaned far out the window and joined my voice to theirs. Hark the Herald Angels Sing followed, and we praised the Lord together — them gathered in the courtyard, me four floors above looking into the clear blue sky and breathing in the very breath of God.

A Win Is a Win (x2)

Following tough round 1 and round 2 match-ups, Drew was paired against weaker opponents in rounds 3 and 4.  He was able to easily win both games.  Although a win is always the best outcome, neither game gave particularly interesting or instructive positions.

For round 3, Drew was paired against Al Amiri Saad from Kuwait.  Although there were no games in the database for Saad, we were able to get the notation from his round 1 loss to American Ethan Pau.  From looking at the game, GM Panchanathan decided to prepare Drew to face the King’s Indian Attack.  This was an opening that Drew had not ever heard of before this coaching session.  Panchanathan also told Drew that he felt Drew would win.  Coming out of the round, Drew said, “Magesh must be magical.  He knew that my opponent would play King’s Indian, and he knew that I would win!”  While I do not think that there was anything “magical,” I do think that Panchanthan’s experience was helpful.

Drew with his round 3 opponent, Al Amiri Saad from Kuwait.
Drew with his round 3 opponent, Al Amiri Saad from Kuwait.

Round 3 game

Round 3 puzzle:  black to move and mate in 1

One of the things Drew is enjoying most here is the chance to get to know the other players his age from around the US.  Just before going in for round 4, he received encouragement from Atreya Vaidya who played in last year’s World Youth.

Drew with U8 team mates Maurya Palusa, Malind Matinda, and Atreya before round 4.
Drew with U8 team mates Maurya Palusa, Milind Maiti, and Atreya Vaidya before round 4.

Day four of the tournament is the one day that the players have to face two opponents, having a 9 am round as well as a 4 pm round.  Waking up early to shower, I checked Drew’s pairing online and found that he was set to face Mohamed Mustafa from UAE (his mother told me they are Syrian, via Saudi Arabia, now living in UAE). According to chess-results, Mustafa had a round 3 win against a player from the Russian federation.  With no games to draw from and no time for coaching before the 9 am round, Drew would be on his own for this one.  After 1.  e4  Nf6  2.  e5  Ng4  3.  Qxg4, Drew felt confident and came away with a quick win and time to rest and prepare for round 5.

Drew shakes hands with round 4 opponent Mohamed Mustafa before they begin play.
Drew shakes hands with round 4 opponent Mohamed Mustafa before they begin play.

Round 4 game

Round 4 puzzle:  white to move and win a pawn

With the second round of the day coming up soon, I must sign off.  I will try to post again this evening and include some non-chess content …

Answers to puzzles:

Round 3: 1 …  Rh3#

Round 4: 1  Bxb8  Kxb8  2  Bxc6

Facing the Dragon

Entering the tournament hall.
Entering the tournament hall.

Day 2 of the World Youth Chess Championships proved to have challenges of its own.  After not enough sleep (my own fault for staying up too late), I was able to have a nice breakfast with no line, and to bring back food for Drew who was sleeping in.  The early bird does get the worm (but is also tired throughout the day).

There was a flurry of emails between US players and organizers as the pairings for the round were posted in two different places online, and they conflicted.  The official site had Drew playing black again while gave Drew the white pieces.  The US head of delegation instructed the team to go by the chess-results website.  Though not the official site, it seemed to be more accurate.

Now that we have made the foray into international competition, we are able to access games online for some of the opponents that Drew will face.  Visiting, I was able to pull up seven games of Drew’s round 2 opponent, Siddanth Lohia from India. Since Drew would have the white pieces (we hoped), we looked mainly at the opponent’s games as black in which he consistently played the Sicilian dragon defense — also known as just the dragon.  I pulled Drew out of bed at 8:45, and he padded up the stairs in his sock feet and bed-head, to meet with his coach GM Magesh Panchanathan.

Round 2 miraculously started on time, and Drew was seated and ready to go at 2:55.  His opponent did indeed play the Sicilian dragon leading to the following position after move 10:

Drew’s coach had wisely advised Drew in this position to move  Kb1 prior to black placing the queen on a5, but Drew instead pushed g4 allowing black the initiative on the queenside.  Following 11.  …  Qa5, Drew could have salvaged the mistake with a3, but play proceeded with 12.  Kb1  Rfc8  13.  h4  Rxc3  14. Qxc3  Qxa2, forcing Drew’s king to the middle of the board.  After this point, Drew was playing out of his element and missed some opportunities to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses.  He fought a good fight, but fell to the dragon after more than three hours of play.  He would not be successful against the dragon this time, as he was at the Supernationals in April where he defeated the dragon in round 7 to tie for the championship and qualify for this adventure.  Links to his full round 1 and round 2 games are below.

Siddanth Lohia from India.
Siddanth Lohia from India.

Since I put off writing the blog post until morning, it is now around 11 am local time.  I am sitting in a sun filled room with the window wide open, feeling the breeze on my face.  The weather is strikingly beautiful here, warm and sunny during the day, with cool breezes in the morning and evening.  Zoe and Ganmama have made an excursion today into the desert while Drew prepares for round 3.  We continue to meet people from around the world and to experience the beauty and diversity that is abundant here.

Round 1 game:

Round 2 game:


In chess, as in life, there are complications.  When playing chess, there are times to simplify, and times to complicate the position in order to make it more difficult for your opponent to hold an advantage.  Of course, if you choose to complicate the position, you must be sure to maintain perspective and to not be brought down yourself by the difficulties that you have created on the board.

So, life is full of moving pieces.  And today was a day of complications.  The main issue here so far seems to be getting food.  Breakfast required a wait in line for over an hour, with many of the breakfast choices  having run out by the time we reached the counter.

The line for breakfast extended through the cafeteria and spilled out into the courtyard.  This is at 10:15 -- breakfast service was supposed to end at 10:00!
The line for breakfast extended through the cafeteria and spilled out into the courtyard. This is at 10:15 — breakfast service was supposed to end at 10:00!

Next it was on to the team meeting to hear from our heads of delegation regarding technical details of the tournament.  Here we learned that the start time for round 1 was being pushed back two hours due to issues with ID badges and players still having difficulties at the airport with visa issues.  With dinner now being encroached upon by a hopeful 5 o’clock start, we wisely chose to forego the cafeteria and visit the food court for lunch.

A very welcome taste of home!  Still no sweet tea though!
Subway! A very welcome taste of home! Still no sweet tea though!

So, after a long day of waiting, Drew was anxious, and I felt he needed to burn off a little energy.  Zoe, Drew, and I were throwing the football around on a patch of grass when I noticed a boy looking longingly at the game from a bench nearby.  When I asked him to join us, his mom politely said, “no English,”  but I motioned for him to come, and he readily joined in.  After some initial foibles, he quickly learned to catch and throw the oddly shaped ball, and jumped ahead of both Drew and I in a game of pick-up.  Too soon it was time to head in and prepare for the round.  Through halting words, I learned that the boy is from Iran, and his mother and I exchanged smiles and encouragement.  Interestingly, I later ended up talking for an hour with another Iranian parent, mostly about chess, a little about life, and again found much common ground.

Amir and Drew following a friendly game of "American Football."
Amir and Drew following a friendly game of “Jackpot 5000.”

Once again, things got a little harried as we attempted to make it to the first round of play.  The pairings were not posted when it was time to leave for the playing hall.  Packing up the laptop, we took the brisk walk from the women’s campus over to the men’s.  Again, the tightly packed mass of people trying to find their way into too small doors, impatient for a round now three hours late.  Finally, a tip from a mom of one of the three representatives of Fiji, and I located Drew’s pairing on a sheet of blue paper with small print taped inside the glass of the hall.  Drew faced a player from Mongolia who is ranked 17th in his section of about 170 players.

Round 1 Opponent
Tugstumur Yesuntumur (“Tugs”) from Mongolia.

I had hoped to be able to share Drew’s game with you, but suffice it to say that more complications arose.  Drew resigned the game on move 48 in a lost position, conceding the win honorably to his worthy opponent.  Analysis with GM Nick DeFermian revealed sound opening play, after which he was unable to hold off an aggressive attack.  During the game Drew mounted a protest to the tournament director when his clock did not operate properly and maintained his composure when the director did not fix the issue.  He also spoke with the US head of delegation to explain the problem so that hopefully it will be fixed for tomorrow’s games.

Gaining perspective on the day, it was all in all both wonderfully diverse and yes, complicated.  When the complications can be seen as opportunities, the frustration eases and the beauty of the great diversity of God’s creation encourages the spirit.  Being thankful in the moment for whatever the moment holds …

This breakfast line neighbor from Azerbaijan jumped into my attempt to take a photo of the long breakfast line.  He later prompted to Drew to escape the line and retrieve a few trays for us from the next line over.
This breakfast line neighbor from Azerbaijan jumped into my attempt to take a photo of the long breakfast line. He later prompted to Drew to escape the line and retrieve a few trays for us from the next line over.

Sand in the Desert

My main thought for today is that there is a LOT of sand in the desert.  You would think that this should be obvious.  But when in Dubai, the sand is largely hidden.  There are a very few empty lots which are bare sand, but almost all of the land is covered with either buildings or immaculately manicured landscaping.  Every median is covered with green grass bordered by yellow and orange marigolds, huge marigold plants which add up to probably millions of individual marigold blooms in the city.

Marigolds in Dubai

Dubai consumes more water per capita than maybe anywhere else on the globe.  97% of the water they use is desalinated sea water.  This technology has allowed the city to transform the desert into a lush landscape with gardens everywhere.  But we left Dubai today, and there is quite a stretch of desert between the largest city in the UAE and the oasis city of Al-Ain which will be our home for almost two weeks.  We have not had time to explore the city here, but we experienced more authenticity in the first three minutes of arriving than in all the time spent in Dubai.


Upon arriving at the dormitory, we were greeted by university students who have given up their holiday to play host to the World Youth Chess Championship.  These Emerati girls are on duty 24/7.  Some of them are literally sleeping in the lobby of our dorm so that they can be available at any time that a need arises.  They greet us with smiles and go above and beyond to grant any request.  I feel like I am back in the south!  (If only I could find some Chick-Fil-A nuggets and sweet tea to go with those smiles!)

One of our sweet dorm hosts -- she is a student here at UAEU.
One of our sweet dorm hosts — she is a student here at UAEU.

Well, actually, I felt like I was back in the south until I went to dinner.  In the process of securing our spot on the number three bus from Dubai to Al-Ain, we missed out on lunch and thus headed for dinner in the cafeteria a few minutes early to try to be at the front of the line.  (Thank you Sarah for the tip!)  When the doors opened, there was a mad rush for the trays and silverware, followed by jostling to secure a salad and a place on the line to reach the hot foods: bodies pressed against each other, Drew exclaiming, “my head doesn’t have any room!”, and me blocking out the chess dad so that I could let Zoe and Drew slip in ahead of me.  A large man pushed Ganmama aside with a gruff, “sorry,” to skip the salads and head straight to hot food.  Another “gentleman” moved the silverware cart so that he could cut across from his line into ours.  Memories from a long ago trip to Budapest came to mind — difficulty reaching the counter at McDonald’s — but I have watched plenty of football since then so I was prepared this time.  Chess parents are indeed a breed of their own.

So, now, we embark in earnest on the chess part of the journey, which is indeed the whole purpose of the journey to begin with.  Enough with waxing eloquent on the various sites and sounds of this foreign land and on to analysis of opening moves, strategy, and putting away the opponent.  (Or the opponent’s parent in the cafeteria as the case may be!)  As is true of all large chess tournaments, the players must be concerned with their preparation over the board while the parent must manage the hairy details of finding food fast, ensuring the player gets enough rest, and attending to the various details involved in keeping everything moving smoothly. (Task for tomorrow:  locate a finger nail clipper. Task #2:  locate a cord to connect camera to computer so I can show y’all some real photos and not just these ones from my phone!)

But before I leave this post, I have to go back for a moment to the sand in the desert.  The flowers in Dubai remind me of a book I read back in high school, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The flowers are beautiful, but sometimes what is good is not best.  Hopefully tomorrow Drew will look past the good move that he sees and find the best one.


Chess adventures with the Justice family