Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Perfect weekend for 15-y-o Calabar student

Published:Friday | December 23, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Shreyas Smith (left) stands beside his Calabar super senior Frederick Cameron after the end game of the final match of the 2011 Frederick Cameron Open held at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston on December 17 and 18. Fifteen-year-old Smith topped the tournament and became the youngest person to win a major tournament in Jamaica. - Contributed
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Claire Clarke, Contributor

It was the perfect end, to a perfect weekend, with a perfect score comprising the scalps of one national master (NM), one candidate master (CM) and one fide master (FM) that gave Calabar High's Shreyas Smith the perfect birthday present last Sunday evening at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.

En route to the title of Frederick Cameron Open winner 2011, Smith disposed of NM Geoffrey Byfield, CM Laurence Davey and FM Shane 'The Magician' Matthews. His other opponent failed to show.

With four points from four games, Smith, who celebrated his 15th year on Earth on Sunday, became the youngest winner of this tournament that was formerly the Christmas Open.

A teen this young has not won a major tournament in Jamaica since prodigy Sheldon Wong rocked the foundations of Jamaican chess when he topped the National Championships at age 16, approximately 35 years ago, to become Jamaica's youngest NM.

Minutes before his final round duel with FM Matthews, Smith predicted ChessMate Vol 1 No. 4 would have an interesting story this week. And he delivered.

FM Matthews, one of two internationally titled players at the tournament, uses the word "impressive" multiple times to describe Smith's performance.

"It is really an achievement," said FM Matthews who has been playing chess for more than 30 years. "I did not start playing in tournaments like this until I was 16," he added. While admitting disappointment with his own performance, FM Matthews would take nothing away from the youngster's victory.

He added: "What is good to see in Shreyas is his enthusiasm and his love of the game."

The beaten NM Byfield was also full of accolades for the teenager. "That was an overwhelmingly excellent performance. I lift my hat off to the guy," NM Byfield, founder of the Liguanea Chess Club, said.

On hearing of last weekend's events, Jamaican Grand Master Maurice Ashley expressed surprise. While he cannot comment specifically on Smith's abilities, he said: "For a young person to take down seasoned veterans is always a strong indicator of talent and mental fortitude, and it shows he might have what it takes to become a star in years to come."

Smith, who has the Olympiad team next year and becoming Jamaica's youngest national master on his mind, beams with confidence. "Playing against an FM, what pushed me is that you aren't expected to win. I was motivated to beat him."

A positive attitude is ultra important for quality performances in tournaments. NM Byfield notes: "Part of what is required to play chess is confidence and when you gain a certain level, it is hard to stop." Getting the better of NM Byfield put Smith in an ideal frame of mind to seriously tackle FM Matthews, both masters agree.

The Calabar youth's weekend exploits were not without warning, he was the under 14 champion at age 12 and the under 16 champion at age 13. He credits coach NM Ryan Blackwood, who said: "Shreyas has shown potential from early ... he has an excellent work ethic. I want him to break Sheldon Wong's record of being the youngest NM. NM Blackwood, the founder of Chess Whizz Kids, adds that Smith at age 12 was one of the first students he worked with.

Recently, Smith started working with FM Warren Elliot, founder of WEChess. FM Elliot said: "We knew these results would come and it's what we prepare for, but I must admit I'm pleasantly surprised they've come this quickly."

Frederick Cameron, who the tournament is named after, handed over the winner's trophy. He said: "It was an outstanding performance by the youngster and he shows promise for the future." Cameron, himself a Calabar past student, is the only surviving member of the trio that founded the Jamaica Chess Federation in 1969 (deceased are Enos Grant and John Powell).

ChessMate Analysis 4

(See diagram above.)

Today we look at Shreyas Smith's final round game with FM Shane Matthews

"I needed to beat The Great 'Magician' in this last game to bring it all home!" writes Smith in his post-game analysis. Right through his analysis, the work ethic that coach NM Blackwood speaks about is evident. Smith has been watching FM Matthews' games and is confident he can take him out of his comfort zone. He was prepared for this tournament.

See ChessMate diagram 4, it is white to play at move 50. FM Matthews plays c5? Smith remarks "And here The Great Magician blundered due to time trouble I believe with less than a minute on his clock." The continuation of 50...dxc5+ 51.Rxc5 Bxe4 52.fxe4 Rxc5 53.Rxc5 Rxb2 54.g3 Rxh2 55.gxh4 Rxh4 gives Smith a superior endgame as he has a pawn advantage.

It is, however, not a straight forward win as with each player having a rook on the board, the senior masters in the room rushed outside abuzz with chatter about whether the teen would find the right moves to counter the experience of FM Matthews.

The game continues with a fascinated crowd anxiously watching: 56.Ra5 Rh3 57.Rxa4 Rb3 58.Ra5 g5 59.Rf5+ Kg6 60.Re5 g4 61.Rxe7 g3 62.Re8 Kf7 63.Re5 Rxa3 64.Rg5 Kf6 65.Rg8 b5 66.Rg4 Rb3 67.Rg8 Ra3 68.Rg4 b4 69.Rg8?

International Master Jomo Pitterson analyses that FM Matthews blunders away the draw with this move. More effective would have been Kc4! which forces the fall of a pawn and a draw.

The game continues 69. ... Rc3 70.Rg4 Rf3, after which the queening of a black pawn is unstoppable and FM Matthews stops the clock.

Smith writes: "And here The Magician closes the curtain on his act and admits defeat. Other than the fact of this being my biggest win, I enjoyed my game with one of Jamaica's legends. And with this victory I finished the tournament on a remarkable 4/4 and on my birthday nonetheless. Truly the greatest gift I have ever received!"

Young Smith shook the master's hand and leapt from his chair with joy and punched the air. The other juniors in the room looked on knowing they witnessed a special moment in Jamaican chess history.

In the other tournament played this week, the Rio Cobre Rapids at St Jago High in Spanish Town, NM Mikhail Solomon won with another perfect performance of six points from six games. Thirty-seven players participated.

ChessMate Glossary

Candidate master this is a fairly recent World Chess Federation title. It ranks below the fide master title and is awarded to players who achieve a rating of 2200 or more.

Upcoming tournament

Next month January 21-22: John Powell Open Memorial

Email feedback, send in your games or upcoming tournaments to yourchessmate@yahoo.com and join the facebook page chessmate.Claire Clarke is a former Women's National Champion, three time Jamaica Women's team Chess Olympiad representative, trained journalist and editor.