Sasha Velikanov, senior, recently placed first in the qualifying chess tournament, the Denker Tournament of High School Champions. Thanks to this first place positioning, Velikanov became the representative for the state of Wisconsin and will be competing on a national level.
Created in 1984 by Arnold Denker, an American Grandmaster, the Denker Tournament has existed for almost 31 years. The Denker Tournament of High School Champions, or more commonly, the ‘Denker’, consists of 51 representatives from all across the US, all competing for the title of Denker Champion of Champions.
“It’s a super prestigious tournament,” Velikanov said. “I think … it’s a really strong tournament, [and] even if I don’t place well, there’s a really good competition.”
Velikanov has participated in the Denker previously.
“I’ve participated once before when I was a freshman, and in that case, Wisconsin was the host state, so … I tied for first, and I was just the alternate,” Velikanov said.
In previous years, the Denker Champion of Champions have received full scholarships, and other prizes.
“It’s kind of a pity because every single year before my year, the winner of the Denker got a full scholarship to pretty good colleges,” Velikanov said, “The year I was [in the tournament] was the first year that they didn’t actually offer a scholarship, there was a prize, but a far cry from a full-ride scholarship.”
Despite the lack of scholarship prizes, the competition has not dwindled. This year, for the qualifiers in Wisconsin, almost a hundred high school students and chess players under the age of 21 competed for the chance to be the Wisconsin representative at the finals.
The matches are decided by rankings of players, who are matched to other opponents accordingly.
“The system evaluates who you’re going to play based on rating … rating is something you accumulate over the years of playing in tournaments … [and] my rating is just below 2400, so [around] 2398,” Velikanov said.
This rating places Velikanov as third overall in the state, and gives him the title of FIDE master. To accumulate his rating, Velikanov has played in many tournaments over the years, such as the North American Youth Chess Championship, and the FIDE World Junior Chess Championship Open. In fact, Velikanov has been playing in chess tournaments for almost as long as he can remember.
“[Chess] kinda runs in my family,” Velikanov said. “My dad was a chess player, my grandpa was a chess player, so around when I was three or four years old, my dad started teaching me to play and I liked it a lot.”
Despite learning from an early age, Velikanov believes that anyone can play chess, no matter what age or level.
“The nice thing about chess is that you can start at any level at any age and still end up very good … As long as you put the time in, results will appear,” Velikanov said, “It’s like anything else: if you put effort into it…and are willing to work at it, you can also achieve.”
While chess is a major part of Velikanov’s life, he still considers it a hobby, and continues to explore career options for the future.
“I haven’t completely committed to one thing,” Velikanov said, “but at this point I would say [I am considering careers in] maybe business, computer science, and a sports [management].”
Velikanov also teaches chess to younger players and plays tennis competitively.
“I love playing tennis. I played on the SHS team for the past 3 years and past couple years I was in varsity … It’s a great hobby of mine,” Velikanov said.
Along with chess and tennis, Velikanov also enjoys his free time with table tennis, and hanging out with friends.
by Shimana Bose