Locals Win Big in Math Tournament

More than 350 high school students representing 44 schools flocked to the Science Center for the first annual November version of the Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament last Saturday.

In an attempt to draw more local students, participants were limited to those who attend a school within 75 miles of Cambridge and had not previously participated on a top-10 team at the February tournament, the main competition that has been held each year for the past decade.

The competition involved two individual rounds, a team round, and a “gut round,” where teams work 12 sets of three problems. The score is automatically updated and publicized each time a team rushes to turn in a set and receives a new one.

“The gut round is probably unique to our tournament,” said Yi Sun ’09, a co-tournament director, who compared the round to Jeopardy. “The room becomes unbelievably hectic.”

According to Sun, the problems were easier and covered simpler topics than the problems at the main tournament because participants were not expected to have an extensive background in math competitions.

John S. Trabucco, a 10th grade student from Roxbury Latin High School in West Roxbury who finished first place individually, described the problems as “reasonably manageable.”

Jae Eui Shin from Phillips Academy, Andover placed second, and Yidan Li of Phillips Exeter Academy placed third. Cash prizes, custom-made glasses, and passes to the MIT Splash program were awarded as prizes.

“Math is great because it involves more creativity than other subjects,” said Trabucco, whose favorite topic is combinatorics. He said he was enthusiastic about returning to compete in the February tournament.

The Harvard-MIT Mathematics Competition, run entirely by undergraduates from the two schools, began in 1998, with local students from Lexington and Newton taking top honors.

Over the years, teams from around the nation started to attend and dominate the competition, according to Sun. In fact, a team from China plans to compete in the tournament this February, he said.

But the fierce competition led to a decline in local students’ participation, providing the inspiration for the November tournament.

“Our goal was to bring math to the local kids and make them excited about it again,” Sun said.