Justus prevails at U.S. Cadet!

Justus Williams has come a long from being the soft-spoken boy with the long dreadlock mane. The last five years have been a whirlwind for the 15-year old from the Bronx, New York. He is now a slender, clean-cut, bespectacled high school sophomore at Bronx School of Science and Technology who has already traveled to several countries and has even starred in the documentary “Brooklyn Castle“.


Justus Williams, 2013 Cadet Co-Champion
Photo by Elizabeth Spiegel.

Williams draws inspiration from a number of figures including GM Maurice Ashley and Lebron James, both champions with interesting stories. While Justus has not met Lebron James yet, he has rubbed shoulders with celebrities in Hollywood who were inspired by his OWN story! However, Justus seems to be very mellow about all that he has experienced. The determination that boils inside of him is disguised by his demeanor which makes makes him quite an enigmatic figure.

Justus has tasted national fame, but the accolades keep coming. Today, Justus won the U.S. Cadet Championship, a tournament featuring the top eight players under 16 years of age. Amongst the eight master-level players, he showed the most poise in his demeanor and in his play despite losing his first-round game to eventual co-champion Michael Brown of California.


Justus Williams vs. Josh Colas
in last-round battle. Justus prevailed.
After three consecutive draws, he won his last three games including a win over his friend and fellow scholastic star Josh Colas. Ironically, he would be tied with Brown on 4.5/6 and the two would play a tiebreaker with a college scholarship at stake.

In this finale’, Justus was able to apply just enough pressure with black and his opponent ultimately collapsed in a heap. With this victory, he would win a scholarship to the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMBC). Brown would be declared co-champion and earn a free entry to Washington International along with Justus and Ruifeng Li.

With his photogenic smile and growing resume’, he is certain to get more college offers and travel opportunities. However he would also like to see how far he can go in chess. His mother Latisha Ballard-Williams has always had the confidence in what chess could do for her son. She is like many chess parents who realize that chess is more than a leisure activity, but a path for realizing one’s hidden potential. Justus is becoming a case study before our eyes.

A nice game from the Cadets…

Congratulations!!

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

40 Comments

  1. Congrats!

    Daaim, did you mean to say they are the top 8 under 16 y.o? Samuel Sevian comes to mind, who, fortunately for him, has had a full time coach for years. I wish these guys did. I think Josh is ranked 31 out of 37,526 juniors (but that includes many players 16 and older).

    1. It’s supposed to be the top eight under-16. The main site describes it this way…

      The Maryland Chess Association with be hosting the 2013 US Cadet Championship from July 20-23 at the Rockville Hilton in Rockville, Maryland. The Cadet is an invitational tournament for the top US players under the age of 16. The top eight players will be playing a round robin tournament to determine the champion. The winner will receive a four-year scholarship to UMBC. In addition, the top three players will receive free entry into the Washington Internationl that starts on August 5th.

  2. 2013 US Cadet Championships
    (Final Standings)

    # Name Rtng Rd 1 Rd 2 Rd 3 Rd 4 Rd 5 Rd 6 Rd 7 Tot TBrk[R]
    1 Brown, Michael 2343 W2 L3 D4 D5 D8 W6 W7 4.5 14.75
    2 Williams, Justus 2374 L1 D7 D6 D3 W4 W5 W8 4.5 14.25
    3 CM Li, Ruifeng 2326 D8 W1 L7 D2 W6 D4 D5 4.0 14.5
    4 Krishnan, Varun 2346 D5 W8 D1 W7 L2 D3 D6 4.0 12.25
    5 Wu, Christopher 2293 D4 W6 L8 D1 D7 L2 D3 3.0 10.5
    6 Black Jr., James 2310 W7 L5 D2 W8 L3 L1 D4 3.0 9.25
    7 Hua, David 2373 L6 D2 W3 L4 D5 D8 L1 2.5 9
    8 Colas, Joshua 2398 D3 L4 W5 L6 D1 D7 L2 2.5 8.5

    *Williams won the rapid tiebreak game to determine who would get the 4-year scholarship to University of Maryland-Baltimore County. William had black with 25 minutes while Brown has 19 minutes requiring on a draw to win. Brown and Williams will actually be listed as co-champions.

  3. “… has come a long from being the soft-spoken boy with the long dreadlock mane. The last five years have been a whirlwind for the 15-year old from the Bronx, New York. He is now a slender, clean-cut, bespeckled high school sophomore at Bronx School of Science and Technology ”

    Shoud i assume that the dreadlocks mane wasnt clean cutr enough ?! That sounded a bit prejudicial, tbh !

  4. Congratulations Justus ! You played rock solid chess and your tactics prevailed at the right moments. I wish you many more success as you continue your journey.

  5. These players are not THE top 8 players under 16, but close. The others above them have either participate in the US Junior closed, or the US championship. So I believe the cadet tournament does what it is supposed to(not to mention that some players may not accept invitations.)

    While Justus should be congratulated for his monumental win, this tiebreaker was cruel. Michael won the head to head match. He should have won.

    1. I understand about the tiebreak system being brutal, but the rules were established prior and everyone knew the tiebreaking system. I believe there was an agreement, correct? It was brutal for both players and it would have been just as brutal had Michael won. They are still listed as co-champions (by score).

      At least three players were at the World Youth under-16 in China (Michael Bodek, Christopher Gu, Kevin Wang). Kayden Troff and Samuel Sevian are probably hunting GM norms these days. They both played in the U.S. Championship (I was there covering it). I didn’t ask them, but they probably have their sights on other goals. However, the scholarship is quite a nice thing to have at age 15! 🙂

      Nevertheless, this tournament is designed the top eight players under-16 and as it were, these were the top eight that were available.

      1. The tiebreaks were not “cruel”. They were understood as part of the event’s setup. Michael Brown did have superior tiebreaks to Justus Williams, but the rules of the event called for the Armageddon playoff.

        It should be noted that both players are US Cadet co-champions this year. The playoff was for the UMBC scholarship only.

        The Cadet is open to the top eight players under the age of 16 who accept their invitations to play. So, sometimes players won’t participate, for various reasons. For players like Sevian and Troff, it’s usually because they have bigger fish to fry, and don’t have to worry about things like getting college scholarships (it isn’t like they’ll have trouble getting offers, if they don’t happen to win one).

        1. It would be interesting to see Sevian involved in any kind of blitz tie-breaks. It appears that blitz has been completely ignored in his training and his blitz lags his classical rating by some 400 points. I wouldn’t expect him to do well in blitz against the Young Lions.

  6. Rating wise you can’t argue with Liceu’s opinion, but what would make for a thrilling US Junior close would be a 16-man match up between THE top 8 v the close top 8. I am sure there would be a lot of surprises. Above the 2300 level, it’s a totally different animal.

  7. I was under the impression that they had to play a blitz tie-break because they won their round 7 games. if Justus drew in round 7 to get to 4.5, would they still have played a blitz tie-break?

    1. The tie-break would have been between all players tied for first after round 7. The tie-break could have involved 2, 3, 4 or even 8 players. (Going into round 7, 4 players were on +1, and 4 players were on -1. The last-round games all involved a +1 playing a -1. If all the -1 players had won, every player in the event would have scored 3.5/7.)

  8. Actually, It’s also sort of brutal to lose because you lost the head to head matchup with the black pieces. That would’ve been Justus’ fate under different rules.

  9. Congratulations Justus Williams and Family! I recommend UMBC as a college for academics – it is my alma mater(physics and math double major) — went to grad school in physics after at M.I.T. which I also recommend.— and I am now a practicing physicist!
    Kimani A. Stancil

  10. Congrats to Justus and the Williams family. Keep on pushing!!! With the aftermath of the recent social media trial and a national tragedy it is heartfelt to see such a happy and radiant smile from this young man.

  11. Pingback: Daily Chess News Links July 26, 2013 | blog.chesscafe.com
  12. It was unfortunate timing that the 2013 U.S. Cadet conflicted with the big Youth Olympiad in China. Most of the time, the strongest Under 16 players will opt to miss a less prestigious even like the Cadet (they probably don’t have much room in their trophy case any more, but a bunch of the eligible kids who are competing for the US in China would probably have opted to play in the Cadet, if a better opportunity had not presented itself.

    Still, it is what it is, and if the circumstances meant the competition would be a tad weaker, Brown and Williams took advantage of their chance.

    It worked out well for the spectators following the event–the Cadet was close and dramatic throughout–not a surprise given the closeness of the ratings of the players who comprised the field.

    I don’t know whether or not Michael Brown had any strong desire to matriculate at UMBC, but since there were only 2 players vying for that potentially rather sizable prize, I would have liked to see them play a couple of slow games first, before resorting to the Armageddon. It would be great publicity for UMBC to sponsor a 6-8 game match between the 2 players, to take place later in the year…

    All of the players won at least 1 game, lost at least 1 game, and had at least a couple of draws.

    1. True words. True words.

      Yes… the scheduling was unfortunate timing, but it gave other players a chance. It also shows that if there are more players missing that the future is bright for U.S. chess. The junior are not doing that well in China, but as they get more chances to prove themselves internationally, they will get better results.

      I don’t believe any of these eight players will have any problem getting a scholarship whether through chess or purely academic. It is nice to go to a school with a chess tradition and schools like UMBC, UTD, Texas Tech and Webster University have started a trend. I see other universities catching on like the obscure Lindenwood and others name schools like U. of Illinois. It is simply amazing that chess can provide so many opportunities. I wish I had these opportunities as a scholastic player.

      1. I fully agree that slow games were probably a better method to decide something like the 4-year investment of a college scholarship. On a broader note, has anyone done a review recently on the academic gains that chess scholarship players have acquired through playing chess at the UTDs and UMBCs of the land? I would love to know the statistics and very much hope that they lean towards the positive!

        Kimani A. Stancil

  13. If Justus is going to compete in the Junior Closed next year, I hope he’s a stable 2400+ by then. He’s knocking on the door now, and he has been pretty stable in his ratings progress.

  14. Chess is indeed a very humbling sport, art and science. One would think that it’s easier playing down then playing up, but it’s totally the reverse. It makes me wonder, are the juniors who are guarding their ratings by only playing in tournaments where basically they have nothing to lose, are the ones who are making the best chess decisions? Just recently, one of the world best proved that it’s never an easy task playing down (rating-wise). In that sense, even though their ratings may occasionally take a beating, I have to give credit to the juniors who accept to play against smaller as well as bigger fishes no matter what effect it has on their ratings. Oftentimes, juniors who gets sting so often by smaller fishes, will make a conscious decision to stay away from them as pointed out by Boyd.

  15. When I was a scholastic player, we rarely played up. We usually stuck in our rating classes. There were a handful who played up. Now it is a forgone conclusion that if you are talented you must play in the “fast track” against the masters. I remember seeing Fabiano Caruana always playing in the top sections. He could barely see over the board, but he began to show tremendous improvement. I certainly cannot see scholastic players playing primarily in school tournaments if they want to improve quickly. My growth was stunted because I didn’t begin playing in open tournaments until after high school.

    At that time, there was an Illinois H.S. rule against players competing for money in “professional” tournaments. I believe my coach misunderstood the rule because there were other players playing in those tournaments and my lack of experience on the top board showed later on. However, once I played in open tournaments, my rating skyrocketed up 700 points in a couple of years.

    Now these players get to play the world’s best. Things are so much better now. Watching these junior players and how high their ratings are is amazing. Players can play for 50 years and not reach 2000. Now reaching 2000 by age 10 is no longer a big deal. Imagine that.

  16. I agree Daaim. A lot has change in the past 50 years and chess has kept up with the changes as well. I remember in 1995 when Bill Gates made the statement that, there will be a day, not far distant, when you will be able to conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up any great entertainment, make friends, attend neighborhood markets, and show pictures to distant relatives without leaving your desk or armchair. These 10 year old masters and 13 year GMs are proof that his prediction of the future, 18 years ago was accurate. Technology is the reason why we are seeing so many super-young kids becoming masters and grandmasters. You just have to wonder what else we will see in the next decade or so as far as chess progress.

    1. A lot. With the idea of combining computer technology with anatomy, it is scary to think that one may be able to acquire knowledge by uploading data directly into human memory. That’s a scary thought, but let’s not get too far ahead.

      I think we will see a 11-year old GM in the not-too-distant future. I also believe that older players will gain the ability to maintain their mental acumen longer. It will make for an exciting time in chess.

  17. I would like to see these guys compete in U2400 though–especially Josh and Justus because they are almost no longer eligible. I think there’s more prize money and press to be earned by winning one of those as opposed to gaining points by finishing near the top of an open section.

    1. Both used to play in that section. I believe both are trying to play the strongest competition for norms. They have had good success at beating GMs and IMs which is something many cannot claim. Since they are juniors, prize winnings are not their motive. Their parents are supporting them. They want to reach the highest levels.

      On the other hand, if you look at other Masters of African descent, they always play in the under-2400 with mixed results. They are playing for the money and not for the titles since it is almost impossible to get norms in the under-2400. Tate, Adu, Morrison and Rogers (retired) were regulars. However, this is why there is still only one African-American GM. Maurice Ashley made it 14 years ago.

      Why has no one even come close? The quandary of playing for prizes or titles. When you’re young and have your parents financial support, there isn’t the pressure. When you are an adult and have the pressures of family and expenses, then you play where you can win. I say shoot for the stars while you’re young.

  18. You are right Daaim. Both Joshua and Justus are privileged to have able and willing parents who are able to assist them financially with their chess activities. As for Joshua, he keeps coming closer and closer of having a remarkable tournament each time he plays in the Open section. Coming short of getting his 1st IM Norm does not deter me at all, for I believe there will come a day when he will get it with ease. We live in a time of instant gratification, but I am still living in the time where nothing happens before its time. So I have endless patient. Things will change for me only if Josh decides to change course. It’s possible, sure, because he’s also musically and academically talented.

  19. I agree with both of you, however I am only suggesting U2400 as a temporary supplement to playing in open tournaments. Now they are among the favorites in any U2400 (unlike when they used to play in them) and since they have huge upside, being that favorite is a temporary opportunity. I would think that any 2375-2399 who is probably going to leave the 2300’s permanently (unlike Tate, Morrison, etc.), should stop by a U2400 section now and then. Though they are supported by their parents, a prize and some attention would amount to additional assistance, no?

  20. The only problem is that favorites hardly ever win these sections. It is extremely rare.

    Here are the top winners in the under-2400 from 2013 World Open:

    1 Richard Tuhrim 2305 NY 7.5/9 (1st-$12025.00)
    2 Nikhilesh Kunche 2342 IL 7.0/9 (2nd-5th/$2682.60)
    3 Ruifeng Li 2326 TX 7.0/9
    4 Ryan Goldenberg 2311 NY 7.0/9
    5 Colin Chow 2252 CA 7.0/9
    6 Grant Xu r/e 2245 MA 7.0/9

    It’s probably better for them to hunt IMs and GMs. That’s what they are trying to become. I’ll tell you… being a favorite means that 2200s and 2300s will be gunning for them every round. That’s tremendous pressure. Not to mention, if they lose or draw a series of games they could plummet quickly. Better off going for the upsets and norms. In my opinion, they don’t have anything to prove in under-2400. As long as young players see their peers excelling and getting norms in top sections, they will continue. The Open Sections are dominated by scholastic players.

    1. It sounds like they might actually be more likely to be the target of specific preparation by those 2200s and 2300s. Interesting.

  21. Congratulations, to all who participated, but a special congrats to Justus for the win !!! Continue on to more victories, and to Justus, Josh, and James… onward to the grandmaster title.

  22. Daaim, I have a question about some less active players. Any news about the Bryant twins? Neither have played a USCF listed event since April and before that it was September-October. I think they are High School seniors and I don’t expect them to get any more active in college. Are they going to be like 23-year-old Kayin Barclay who hasn’t played a USCF event in almost 2 and a half years?

    1. Good question. I would imagine that they may continue the game at some level and come back at a later time. This is always a tough period for 17-18 year olds as they move into adulthood. They are probably focusing more on academics, but I’ll look into this.

      Kayin Barclay did not play much his entire four years at Morehouse College. He is now on Wall Street, so it will be tough. I believe he will come back at some point, but I doubt if he has any serious chess ambitions at this point. There are others such as Ahmoad Ware and Jimmy Canty who basically stopped serious activity after high school.

      Ware got to 2186 and then went to college. Canty joined the Armed Forces. I believe he is playing in the Armed Forces Championship. I can name others, but some of it has to do with life circumstances. William Lopes is another example.

      1. thanks. I hope they can follow in the footsteps of Maurice Ashley and compete in chess at the same time as adult life.

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