Friday, May 22

CalChess Champions Over the Years

Since the turn of the century, the CalChess State Scholastic Chess Championship (occasionally misnamed the Super States) has emerged as the single largest annual USCF rated tournament west of the Rocky Mountains, consistently drawing at least 800 eager young chess enthusiasts.  Indeed, the record turnout of 1319 in 2006 compares favorably to the National Championships each spring.  The first weekend of May saw the 40th edition of this Bay Area event.  Two emeritus organizers deserve the lion's share of credit for building up the event during the 1990s and early 2000s: Ray Orwig and Alan Kirshner.

Unfortunately, those 40 years of history are in danger of being forgotten.  Until recently, the champs were honored in the yearly program booklet and online.  Dr. Kirshner diligently compiled lists of individual and school team champions from 1986 to 2011, but the official record at the CalChess website ceases after 2012  Seeing a need, I extended the honor roll of scholastic champions through 2015.

Curiosity drove me to analyze the ranks of individual champions more closely.  For example, Vinay Bhat won the High School division in four out of five consecutive years (1998-2002), but he sat out of the middle year (2000).  Another three masters captured a hat trick of K-12 titles: Andy McManus (1987-1990), Dmitry Zilberstein (1994-1997) and Cameron Wheeler (2013-2015).  Out of this esteemed foursome, only Cameron managed to win (or share first place) in three consecutive years!

Readers may have already mistakenly concluded that winning a scholastic title is easy pickings for a phenom destined to become Grandmaster (like Vinay) or International Master (like Dmitry).  Not true!  Sam Shankland, the strongest player to grow up in the Bay Area during the past three decades, was never crowned champ at the biggest kids tournament.  To his credit, Sam won the adult State Championship at just 16 years old!

To me, the real question was whether anyone achieved a career Grand Prix?  The four pillars of the Grand Prix are the Varsity or Open divisions in Primary, Elementary, Middle School and High School.  Both the K-5 and K-6 sections count for Elementary School.  All players tied for first place are considered co-champions (e.g. five K-5 winners in both 2008 and 2010). 

5-Time Champions
  • Vinay Bhat K-3, K-12, K-12, K-12, K-12
  • Neel Apte K-3, K-5, K-6, K-8, K-8 (needs K-12)
  • Cameron Wheeler K-5, K-6, K-12, K-12, K-12 (missing K-8)

Since 1986, nobody collected more than five CalChess titles.  However, both Neel (11th grade) and Cameron (10th grade) could break that record next spring..

4-Time Champions
  • Micah Fisher-Kirshner K-3, K-6, K-6, K-12 (missing K-8)
  • Adam Lischinsky K-3, K-3, K-8, K-12 (missing K-6)
  • Daniel Naroditsky K-3, K-6, K-12, K-12 (missing K-8)
  • James Kwok K-3, K-6, K-8, K-8 (missing K-12)

Sadly, all of the quadruple champions have run out of eligibility.

3-Time Champions
  • Andy McManus K-12, K-12, K-12
  • Alan Stein K-8, K-12, K-12
  • Dmitry Zilberstein K-12, K-12, K-12
  • Keith Yost K-6, K-8, K-8
  • Daniel Schwarz K-3, K-8, K-12 (missing K-6)
  • Steven Zierk K-3, K-8, K-12 (missing K-6)
  • Yian Liou K-3, K-6, K-12 (missing K-8)  
  • Kyle Shin K-5, K-6, K-8
  • Tanuj Vasudeva K-3, K-5, K-6

Kyle (11th grade) and Tanuj (9th grade) could still add a High School championship to their bulging trophy cases, although neither has played competitively for some time.

Therefore, the answer to my question is a disappointing no!  Interestingly, nine different juniors managed to score 75% of the Grand Slam (see green color).  And with a small dose of luck, Neel Apte could even complete the career Slam by winning the K-12 division next spring.

Thursday, May 21

Commencement Address By Garry Kasparov

The 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov accepted an honorary doctorate and delivered the commencement address at Saint Louis University.  He spoke of memories from growing up in the communist USSR and contrasted those to the values upon which America thrives, in particular freedom and innovation.  He poignantly shared his life experience and doled out plenty of advice.  For example: "Hard work is a talent. The ability to keep trying when others quit is a talent. And hard work is never wasted."

During his speech, Kasparov wondered aloud if this graduation ceremony would be the happiest day in life of his young audience?  The answer: It does not have to be.

When I won the world championship in 1985 I was 22 years old and it was the greatest
Call him Dr. GM Kasparov!
day of my life. I imagine today is a similar feeling for many of you. You are young, you are strong, and you have a long-time goal in your hands.

On that day in 1985, a strange thing happened. I was standing there on the stage, still with my flowers and my medal, the happiest person in the world, when I was approached by Rona Petrosian, the widow of a former world chess champion from the 60s, Tigran Petrosian. I was expecting another warm congratulations, but she had something else in mind. “Young man,” she said, “I feel sorry for you.” What? Sorry for me? Sorry for me? The youngest world champion in history, on top of the world? “I feel sorry for you,” she continued, “because the happiest day of your life is over.”  .....

There are still new frontiers today, and a limitless number of new inventions waiting to be discovered by people with the curiosity and courage to look for them, and the freedom to do so. It will require belief, hard work, and the values of innovation and liberty. It will require your belief, your hard work, and your ideas. You might say you aren’t ready for a new challenge right away, that you want time to relax, to celebrate, to rest on your new laurels. I’m sorry, but the world will not wait for you. The world needs you now.

Today you have fulfilled one dream, and tomorrow you set course on a new one. If you always have a dream, the happiest day of your life is never over.

 Watch the video above (17 minutes) or read the full text at Kasparov's website.

Tuesday, May 12

Fabiano Caruana Returns to Team USA

Fabiano Caruana (Photo: Best of Chess)
Current World #3 Fabiano Caruana announced today that he will switch federations to represent the United States in international competitions.  Born in Miami and raised in New York City, the 22 year old and his family moved to Europe to further his career as a budding chess professional.  Since he holds dual citizenship, he switched to Italian federation with little difficulty.  In the past two years, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and main sponsor Rex Sinquefield made little secret of their desire to bring Fabiano back home.  The paperwork should be completed by fall, and we can expect to see Caruana at both the 2016 US Championship and the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

Starring three of the Top 10 players on the planet, Team USA can expect to be seeded second at next summer's Olympiad, right behind the Russians.  The national team continues to become both younger and stronger.  Check out the following possible lineup.
  1. Fabiano Caruana 2803, age 22
  2. Hikaru Nakamura 2799, age 27
  3. Wesley So 2778, age 21
  4. Ray Robson 2680, age 20
  5. Sam Shankland 2656, age 23
 Average = 2743 FIDE, age 23!

N.B.: Gata Kamsky retired from international team competition, and Alexander Onischuk may step aside too.  Three more young Grandmasters could compete for the final two roster spots, including Alex Lenderman, Daniel Naroditsky, and another newcomer Yaroslav Zherebukh.

Sunday, May 10

Andrew Hong + MSJE Excel at K-6 Nationals

National Champions! MSJE K-6 team with Coach Joe. Photo by Donna DePietro Woods.

The 2015 National Elementary Championship concluded successfully for the 35 player contingent from Northern California.   No fewer than 11 local children earned trophies for finishing in the top 25 or 30; plus another 5 picked up honorable mention.  Nearly everyone who made the trip to Nashville (30 out of 35) finished with a respectable "plus score" of 4.0 or more.  Well done!

This shirt (from 2012) needs an update!
Congratulations to Saratoga 4th grader NM Andrew Hong for sweeping the tough K-6 section with a 7-0 score.  He came, he saw and he conquered!  It is difficult being the top seed, because each opponent has prepared specifically for you.  Andrew took it in stride, vanquishing second seeded Alexander Costello from San Diego in the penultimate round.  Congrats also to 3rd grader Maurya Palusa for finishing alone in second place in K-3, winning six games and drawing one.

Once again, legendary coach Joe Lonsdale guided his Mission San Jose Elementary squad to victory at Nationals.  The K-6 team seized the pole in round 3 and barely held on, nudging ahead of IS 318 from the Bronx on superior tiebreaks.  This is the third K-6 national championship for MSJE since 2009! Competing schools bring along Grandmasters and other professional chess trainers. MSJE has smart kids and the irreplaceable Coach Joe.  The Fremont program garnered trophies in K-3 and K-5 as well, 4th and 8th place, respectively.  Kudos all around! 

Click here for PAIRINGS and RESULTS.
Final scores after Round 7.

  • NM Andrew Hong 2255 7.0 -- clear 1st place
  • David Pan 2087 MSJE 5.5 -- 6th place (tied for 5th)
  • Karthik Padmanabhan 2021 5.5 -- 11th place (tied for 5th)
  • Annapoorni Meiyappan 1656 MSJE 5.0 -- honorable mention
  • Rishith Susarla 1906 MSJE 4.5
  • Daniel Mendelevitch 1643 4.0
  • Kavya Sasikumar 1438 MSJE 4.0
  • MSJE team 1772 19.0/28 -- 1st place on tiebreaks

  • Milind Maiti 1899 5.5 -- 10th place
  • William Sartorio 1814 5.0 -- 26th place (tied for 22nd)
  • Anaiy Somalwar 1887 5.0 -- honorable mention
  • Chenyi Zhao 1815 5.0 -- honorable mention
  • Oliver Wu 1789 5.0 -- honorable mention
  • Jeffrey Liu 1287 MSJE 4.0
  • Atul Thirumalai 1333 MSJE 4.0
  • Abhinav Raghavendra 1167 MSJE 4.0
  • Leo Jiang 1404 MSJE 4.0
  • MSJE team 1298 16.0/28 -- 8th place (tied for 7th)


  • Maurya Palusa 1831 6.5 -- clear 2nd place
  • Kevin Pan 1807 MSJE 5.5 -- 11th place (tied for 7th)
  • Christopher Yoo 1761 5.5 -- 12th place (tied for 7th)
  • Stephen He 1247 MSJE 5.5 -- 21st place (tied for 7th)
  • Aidan Chen 1199 MSJE 4.5
  • Arnav Lingannagari 1211 MSJE 4.0
  • Allyson Wong 1132 MSJE 4.0
  • Nicholas Jiang 1152 MSJE 4.0
  • MSJE team 1366 19.5/28 -- 4th place

  • Sriram Krishnakumar 1323 6.0 -- 3rd place
  • Adrian Kondakov 1500 6.0 -- 6th place (tied for 3rd)
  • Nikko Le 804 5.0 -- honorable mention
  • Nikhil Parvathaneni 1034 4.5
  • Nitish Nath 1067 4.5 
  • Jason Liu 439 MSJE 4.0

Friday, May 8

MSJE Hunting for More Trophies in Nashville

A huge glass roof covers the Opryland Resort.

More than 2200 young chess enthusiasts plus their parents, siblings and coaches have descended upon the Nashville, Tennessee for the 2015 National Elementary Championship.  That total includes 35 kids from the Bay Area, all eager to take home a giant trophy.  Can the California boys (and girls) prove their might once again?  I think so!!

Top rated Andrew Hong
A dozen local youngsters enter the weekend seeded in the top 20 of their section, led by NM Andrew Hong, surprisingly the only master in the tournament.  Unfortunately, it is difficult being King of the Hill when literally everyone in the field is underrated--some more than others.  Watch out for the perennial powers of New York!

The only school team to travel to the Gaylord Opryland Resort was Mission San Jose Elementary of Fremont, fresh off an impressive performance at the CalChess Scholastics last weekend.  Coach Joe Lonsdale speaks highly of his teams in K-6 and K-3; even the weaker K-5 squad could finish well.  We shall see!

Click here for PAIRINGS and RESULTS.
Scores updated on Saturday evening after Round 5.

  • NM Andrew Hong 2255 5.0 -- clear leader
  • David Pan 2087 MSJE 4.5 -- tied for 2nd
  • Karthik Padmanabhan 2021 4.5 -- tied for 2nd
  • Rishith Susarla 1906 MSJE 3.5
  • Annapoorni Meiyappan 1656 MSJE 3.5
  • Daniel Mendelevitch 1643 3.0
  • Kavya Sasikumar 1438 3.0
  • MSJE team 1772 14.5/20 -- tied for 1st

Coach Joe with MSJE K-6 team at States.
  • Milind Maiti 1899 4.5 -- tied for 5th
  • William Sartorio 1814 4.5 -- tied for 5th
  • Anaiy Somalwar 1887 3.5
  • Chenyi Zhao 1815 3.0
  • Oliver Wu 1789 3.0
  • Leo Jiang 1404 MSJE 3.0
  • Jeffrey Liu 1287 MSJE 3.0
  • Abhinav Raghavendra 1167 MSJE 3.0
  • MSJE team 1298 11.5/20 -- tied for 6th


  • Maurya Palusa 1831 4.5 -- tied for 4th
  • Kevin Pan 1807 MSJE 4.5 -- tied for 4th
  • Christopher Yoo 1761 4.0
  • Stephen He 1247 MSJE 3.5
  • Aidan Chen 1199 MSJE 3.5
  • Arnav Lingannagari 1211 MSJE 3.0
  • MSJE team 1366 14.5/20 -- 4th place

  • Sriram Krishnakumar 1323 5.0  -- co-leader
  • Adrian Kondakov 1500 4.0
  • Nitish Nath 1067 4.0 
  • Nikhil Parvathaneni 1034 3.5
  • Nikko Le 804 3.0
  • Jason Liu 439 MSJE 3.0

Best of luck to all of the players!  Bring home the hardware!

Thursday, May 7

Play Team 45 45 on ICC This Summer

The Team 45 45 League on the Internet Chess Club is accepting signups for a new tournament! Every participant plays one game each week for 6 weeks (plus playoffs) against different opponents at a mutually negotiated time. The time control is 45 minutes plus a 45 second increment for every move; thus, a typical game lasts 2-3 hours. The league, which has been active on ICC for over 15 years, offers sections at 200 rating point intervals, allowing everyone the opportunity to play near their own rating.  There is no cost to join the league, but ICC membership is required.  You also must achieve a non-provisional ICC standard rating based on at least 20 games.

I have played in T4545L off and on for a decade, and I also volunteer as a TD. Over the years, many of my students have played in the league--great for tournament practice! There are several local teams. Please email me for contacts. The league is both highly recommended and fun to play!

Don't try this at home!
Before joining, please carefully read the Quick Guide and Player Handbook. The T4545L has a few strict rules that require a modest degree of personal responsibility.  You have 7 days to play each round.  When negotiating a time to play, it helps to be a little flexible in your availability, either after work or school on several days of the week, or on most weekends. If you're busy at a big weekend tournament, or out of town on vacation, you may wish to ask your captain to sit out that week. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

T65 Schedule 
  • Team Entries Open May 12
  • Team Entries Close May 26
  • Round 1 Begins on June 2
  • End of Round 6 on July 14
  • Playoffs Begin July 21

Warning: The league takes computer cheating very seriously, and checks all games.

Tuesday, May 5

CalChess Crowns New Scholastic Champs

Playing room for divisions playing on 2-day schedule. Credit: ChessDryad

The 40th CalChess Scholastic Championship drew over 900 participants, their families and coaches to the Santa Clara Convention Center.  Despite the mass of humanity at the start of each round and a country music concert across the street, most of the kids enjoyed playing chess.  Many thanks to Bay Area Chess for organizing this complex event, especially Judit Sztaray plus her most experienced directors Tom Langland and John McCumiskey.

TD Tom and Coach Joe with MSJE K-5 team.
Kudos to top seeded FM Cameron Wheeler for winning the challenging High School division for an unprecedented third straight year!  Incredibly, Cam is just a freshman and could conceivably win another three times.  His school, Monta Vista High School of Cupertino, easily claimed first place, nearly doubling the next best score.

The Elementary School divisions were dominated by well-established chess programs based in Fremont.  Mission San Jose Elementary, guided by veteran coach Joe Lonsdale, swept the K-6, K-5 and K-3 championships for the fourth straight year!  However, crosstown rival Weibel Elementary proved competitive in all three divisions, especially in K-6 where a half point separated first and second.  NorCal House of Chess won the club competition in both K-6 and K-5, but Liu Chess Club pulled ahead in K-3.  I tip my hat to Coach Ted Castro and Coach Wei Liu.

Congratulations to all of the State Champions!

Individual Champions
  • K-12: FM Cameron Wheeler
  • Denker Invitee: FM Vignesh Panchanatham
  • K-8: CM Pranav Senthilkumar
  • Barber Invitee: FM Rayan Taghizadeh
  • Girl's Invitee: Simona Nayberg
  • K-6: Eeswar Sree Kurli and Daniel Cheng
  • K-5: Rishith Susarla
  • K-3: Adrian Kondakov, Aghilan Nachiappan, Joon Kim and Prarthan Ghosh
  • K: Nitish Nath and Vaibhav Krishnan

Team and Club Champions
  • K-12 Team: Monta Vista HS (Cupertino)
  • K-8 Team: Miller MS (Cupertino)
  • K-8 Club: NorCal House of Chess (Fremont)
  • K-6 Team: Mission San Jose Elementary (Fremont)
  • K-6 Club: NorCal House of Chess (Fremont)
  • K-5 Team: Mission San Jose Elementary (Fremont)
  • K-5 Club: NorCal House of Chess (Fremont)
  • K-3 Team: Mission San Jose Elementary (Fremont)
  • K-3 Club: Liu Chess Club (Palo Alto)

Youth Movement for Team USA

Shankland draws with Armenia's top board Levon Aronian at World Team.

The USA National Team for chess is undergoing an extreme makeover, with youngsters replacing the old guard of the past decade.  Just look at the USA Top 10 list.  Start with two players near the pinnacle of the world rankings.  Then ask Who's on Third?  Add to the mix a talented new kid from Ukraine who officially changed federations in the past week.  Now observe that 6 of the 10 are 25 years old or younger.

Indeed, the 2015 US champion Hikaru Nakamura can suddenly himself a veteran at the tender age of 27.  Since former champion Gata Kamsky already announced his retirement from international play, and Alexander Onischuk cannot be far behind, it appears likely that the American squad at next year's Chess Olympiad will average under 25 years

USA Top 10 - May FIDE Rating
    Naroditsky in deep thought at World Team.
  1. #4 Hikaru Nakamura 2799, age 27
  2. #7 Wesley So 2778, age 21
  3. #64 Ray Robson 2674, age 20
  4. #65 Gata Kamsky 2673, age 40
  5. #71 Alexander Onischuk 2662, age 39
  6. #91 Sam Shankland 2656, age 23
  7. #128 Yaroslav Zherebukh 2639, age 21
  8. #131 Alex Lenderman 2636, age 25
  9. #141 Varuzhan Akobian 2632, age 31
  10. #165 Daniel Naroditsky 2622, age 19

Friday, May 1

NorCal Top 20 Junior High + High School

Yian Liou will graduate next month.
Kesav Viswanadha playing at UT-B.

Top 20 JHS and High School
(Age 12-17)

  1. IM Liou, Yian (17) 2501
  2. IM Viswanadha, Kesav (15) 2386
  3. FM Wheeler, Cameron (14) 2386
  4. Vignesh Panchanatham won Denker
    qualifier. (photo from WYCC 2014)
  5. FM Panchanatham, Vignesh (15) 2365
  6. NM Zhu, Jack Qijie (16) 2298
  7. NM Richter, Paul (17) 2278
  8. NM Chow, Colin (15) 2261
  9. NM Banik, Siddharth G (14) 2255
  10. NM Wang, Michael (13) 2249
  11. FM Taghizadeh, Rayan (12) 2226
  12. NM Virtanen, Teemu (15) 2218
  13. NM Iyengar, Udit (15) 2215
  14. NM Beilin, Allan (15) 2205
  15. NM Zhao, Art (15) 2204
  16. NM Nagarajan, Pranav (15) 2200
  17. nm Jirasek, Ladia (14) 2196
  18. Wang, Michael Lei (15) 2183   
  19. Apte, Neel (16) 2180
  20. nm Sun, Jerome (17) 2180
  21. Tao, Jeffrey (14) 2169

Check out this table for rating changes over the past year and FIDE ratings. 
Generated from the USCF Top 100 lists.
Last updated using the April 2015 supplement.

NorCal Top 20 Elementary

NM Andrew Hong. By Chessdryad
nm Josiah Stearman. By Daily Cal

Top 20 Elementary
(Age 11 & Under)

  1. NM Hong, Andrew Zhang (10) 2255
  2. nm Stearman, Josiah Paul (11) 2100
  3. Pan, David (11) 2087
  4. Daggupati, Balaji (10) 2010
  5. Feng, Justin (11) 1993   
  6. CM Chinguun Bayaraa. By Chessdryad
  7. CM Bayaraa, Chinguun (9) 1977
  8. Susarla, Rishith (10) 1906
  9. Maiti, Milind (9) 1899
  10. Somalwar, Anaiy (10) 1887
  11. Chang, Eliam Huai-Yang (11) 1874   
  12. Palusa, Maurya (9) 1831
  13. Peng, Andrew (9) 1831   
  14. Mccarty-Snead, Callaghan (9) 1817
  15. Zhao, Chenyi (11) 1815
  16. Sartorio, William Jiarui (10) 1814
  17. Ho, Stephen R (11) 1813   
  18. Zhang, Jason Shuhe (11) 1810   
  19. Pan, Kevin (9) 1807
  20. WCM Garai, Antara (11) 1804
  21. Yoo, Christopher Woojin (8) 1761   

Check out this table for rating changes over the past year and FIDE ratings. 
Generated from the USCF Top 100 lists.
Last updated using the April 2015 supplement.

Monday, April 27

Ray Schutt Blitz on Sunday!

Mechanics' Institute Chess Room. Credit: ChessDryad.

Over almost a decade, the Ray Schutt Memorial has become one of the strongest and most popular blitz tournaments in the Bay Area.  The last three years saw an average of 50 players, including many masters with several Grandmasters and International Masters.  GM Daniel Naroditsky won a year ago with a perfect 10-0 score.  Earlier this year, the Brandwein blitz attracted 6 GMs plus 6 IMs.

Due to a direct conflict with the CalChess Super States, the Schutt blitz will mostly be an adult-only event this year. Come down for a fun afternoon of chess in the City!

9th Ray Schutt Memorial Blitz 
Sunday, May 3
Location: 57 Post Street, San Francisco (use Montgomery BART)
FORMAT: Six double-round Swiss (12 games total)

TIME CONTROL: G/4 + inc/2
(bring your digital clock)

ENTRY FEE: $10 (free for GM / IM / WGM / WIM)
This tournament is UNRATED. Membership in USCF is not required.

PRIZES: $1000 total
1st place: $400
2nd place: $250
3rd place: $150
4th place: $100
5th place: $100

These prizes are guaranteed due to the generosity of the Schutt family.  Every player takes home a book prize!

REGISTRATION: On-site only from Noon to 12:45.

There will be no registration in advance.  The tournament will be held between roughly 1 and 5 PM.  Light refreshments courtesy of the Schutt family. Even if you don't play, please come and enjoy the atmosphere as we pay respect to the popular 2300 rated master.

I regret never knowing Ray. However, we did play one tournament together, and apparently sat next to each other in the first round. It was the 1998 CalChess Labor Day held in Union City.  I was rated 2124 back then and played up in Master section. Ray finished with 3.5 while I scored 2.5.   

Thursday, April 16

2015 US Champs: Nakamura and Krush

Hikaru Nakamura
Irina Krush

Grandmasters Hikatu Nakamura and Irina Krush, both top rated in the country, finished first at the 2015 US Championships in Saint Louis.  For Nakamura, it was his fourth title and the solid result left him at 2799, number 3 in the world rankings.  Undefeated and among the leaders throughout, the favorite found himself unable to separate from the competition, specifically GM Ray Robson, who took second place.  Krush captured her seventh Women's crown, tying a record dating back to the 1970s.  Her path to victory was more adventuresome and included an early defeat at the hands of second place finisher IM Nazi Paikidze.

Nakamura prowls as spectators watch. All photos from CCSCSL website.

US Championship (12 player RR)
  1. Hikaru Nakamura 8.0
  2. Ray Robson 7.5
  3. Wesley So 6.5
  4. Alexander Onischuk 6.0
  5. Sam Sevian 5.5
  6. Gata Kamsky 5.5
  7. Varuzhan Akobian 5.5
Women's Championship (12 player RR)
  1. Irina Krush 8.5
  2. Nazi Paikidze 7.5
  3. Katerina Nemcova 7.5
  4. Viktorija Ni 7.0
  5. Anna Sharevich 6.5

Outside the chess club.
The tournament did not go well for the Bay Area participants.  GM Sam Shankland ended up in eighth place, although his lone victoryn versus GM Timur Gareev earned the Best Game prize.  Unfortunately, GM Daniel Naroditsky began with a pair of losses and never recovered.

Play through the games here.  Thanks to sponsor Rex Sinquefield and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for hosting the spectacular multimedia show.

Next up in Saint Louis: a thrilling rapid and blitz exhibition between chess legends Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short on April 25-26!

Wednesday, April 1

Meet the Players at US Championship

The 2015 US Championship kicked off this afternoon at the posh Saint Louis chess club.  Over the next fortnight, twelve Grandmasters will compete for the national title, playing each competitor once.  Rounds begin daily at 11AM Pacific time and take about 4 to 5 hours (rest day on April 6).  The winner pockets $45,000 out of the $175,000 prize fund.  Even last place nets $4,000.  The superb playing conditions and generous prizes are possible through the continued sponsorship of club founders Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

The playing field includes the top eight Americans on the current FIDE rating list, including two of the world Top 10 and six of the Top 100.  The showdowns between favorites, contenders and dark horses mark an exciting time for US chess.  I have broken down the field below, including short remarks about each of the invitees.  All ratings and rankings are FIDE.

Click for live coverage with video commentary by Grandmasters Seirawan and Ashley.

Favorites -- Guys expected to battle for the Title
  • Hikaru Nakamura (2798, world #3) A 3-time US Champion and highest rated American ever, Nakamura hopes to demonstrate his superiority over rivals new and old.  Although solidly in the older half of the field, his uncompromising style endears him to many chess fans
  • Wesley So (2788, world #8) The new kid on the block plans to build an impressive share of second at Wijk aan Zee, showing his talent to fans in America as well as his native Philippines.  Well prepared in openings, So strives to milk points from the tiniest of advantages.
Contenders -- Ready to jump if the Favorites slip

Sam Shankland
  • Gata Kamsky (2680, world #63) The champion in four of last five years, Kamsky struggled in 2014 and plays in the twilight of a storied chess career.  Indeed, he qualified as a candidate for the world championship in 1993, before four of his fellow competitors were born!
  • Sam Shankland (2661, world #84) Born and raised in the East Bay, Shanky learned his moves at the Berkeley Chess School. Gold for his board at the Tromsø Olympiad became his calling card, but hardly his only success.  He is aggressive and deadly as white, yet solid as black.

Dark Horses -- Grown up Young Stars ready to fight
Daniel Naroditsky
  • Ray Robson (2656, world #94) A prodigy who grew up playing chess, Robson is now a key member of the elite Webster U team. After slumping, he recently broke into the world Top 100.
  • Daniel Naroditsky (2640) Already a world champion at 12 years old, Danya grew up on the 64 squares.  Not merely a player, the incoming Stanford freshman is an author and aspiring historian.  Solid yet multidimensional, he strives to measure himself against the best.
Wily Veterans -- When Experience matters, they're the best
  • Alex Onischuk (2665, world #75) The US Champion in 2006, Onischuk has spent a decade as one of the Top 5 Americans.  He already transitioned to coaching and works at Texas Tech.
  • Varuzhan Akobian (2622) After years playing in the US Championship and Olympiad, Akobian has become a seasoned veterans. With inspiration and luck, he can still derail anyone.
Young Stars -- Not yet Contenders, but can beat anyone
  • Sam Sevian (2548) Bay Area chess fans will recall just a few years ago, this precocious kid rubbed elbows at local tournaments.  Now the youngest Grandmaster in US history, Sevian has bigger fish to fry.  What he may lack in experience, he makes up in energy and enthusiasm.
  • Kayden Troff (2544) The strongest chess player from the state of Utah continues to improve.  Already a Grandmaster, Troff dominated the 2014 US Junior to earn his invitation.
Pretenders -- Only need a kick in the rear and a little Luck
  • Timur Gareev (2599) The free-wheeling and outgoing Grandmaster of blindfold exhibitions brings plenty of flair to Saint Louis.  While erratic, he is capably of brilliance in every game.    
  • Conrad Holt (2525) Winner of the 2014 US Open, the UT Dallas student is the lowest rated participant this year.  Thunder Holt prefers insanely complicated positions and rarely draws.

The concurrent 2015 US Women's Championship features a defending champion aiming to win her fourth straight crown against a 12-player field that welcomes five newcomers.  Top rated GM Irina Krush (2477 FIDE) is the overwhelming favorite as she pursues her sixth national title.  In the absence of chief rival IM Anna Zatonskih, the next highest rating belongs to IM Nazi Paikidze (2333), a recent immigrant from the country of Georgia.  Other challengers include two experienced competitors: IM Rusudan Goletiani (2311) and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2301).  The youngest invitees are 13-year old  WFM Jennifer Yu and 12 year old WIM Annie Wang, a pair of gold medalists at international youth championships last year.  A first place award of $20,000 highlights the record $75,000 ladies prize fund.

Tuesday, March 31

Learning Chess from the Best

Two World Champions: Hou Yifan and Magnus Carlsen. Credit: Alina L' Ami

Editor's Note:  I first published this article about two years ago.  The thoughts remain vivid and relevant today.  If you are rated 1800 or higher and struggling to move to the next level, please take the following advice to heart.  Good luck! 

One of the best ways to improve in chess is to study master games.  I strongly encourage any student rated 1800+ to regularly review the games of recent elite Grandmaster tournaments.  Watch some of the world elite or pick your own favorites.  Bay Area fans might follow American top players Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, or perhaps local prodigies Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky.  Chinese families, for example, may cheer for Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi or 15-year old talent Wei Yi, currently the youngest player over 2700.  Those with ties to India may prefer former world champion Vishy Anand.

What should you pick from these games?  A typical A player can learn from the positional strategies and tactical creativity of the super Grandmasters.  As you improve, you should attempt to mimic the strengths of your superiors.  Experienced experts and masters know to focus on their favorite openings, picking up new variations based on the latest trends.  You will find out that the strongest players pick mainstream openings simply because they offer the best chances to win.

In some sense, growth of the internet has diminished the importance of studying collections of games by the champions of yesteryear.  Nonetheless, any true disciple of Caissa should read some of the classics, e.g. Alekhine's Best Games of Chess, Life and Games of Mikhail Tal and My Sixty Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer.  You should also take advantage of the expanding wealth of information online to supplement the foundation presented in these books.  The modern chess student benefits from the many resources at his fingertips.
My favorite website to watch tournaments is, of course, the Internet Chess Club (ICC).  You can find quality event coverage, analysis, photos and videos elsewhere too, including Chess Life Online, Chessbase,, Chess24, Chessdom, and TWIC.  The MonRoi and CCA websites broadcast the top boards at many major American tournaments.  The CCSCSL in Saint Louis offers a wealth of content, from live coverage of the US Championship to dozens of YouTube lectures.

Upcoming Major Events
  • US Championship in Saint Louis, April 1-12
  • Gashimov Memorial in Azerbaijan, April 16-25
  • World Team Championship in Armenia, April 19-28
  • FIDE Grand Prix in Russia, May 13-27
  • Norway Chess, June 15-27
  • Dortmund Chess Classic, June 27 - July 5
  • Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, August 23 - September 4
  • World Cup in Azerbaijan, starts on September 10

Monday, March 30

FM Panchanatham Qualifies for Denker

Denker players (L to R): Jack, Colin, Vignesh, Teemu, Siddharth, Cameron,
Jordan Langland (TD), Pranav, Kesav and Tom Langland (TD).

The most heavily loaded Denker qualifier in CalChess history took place last weekend at Bay Area Chess headquarters in Milpitas.  Eight high school masters competed in a high class round-robin with an average USCF rating of  2296!  In a sign of the cutthroat competition, the top three seeds each scored a win and a loss in the head-to-head pairings.  However, the favorites finished undefeated against the other five participants, and the final standings depended on the number of draws allowed.

At the end of a long weekend, 15-year old FM Vignesh Panchanatham (2365) earned a trip to the Denker Invitational at the US Open in Phoenix.  IM Kesav Viswanadha (2386) and FM Cameron Wheeler (2386) took 2nd and 3rd places.  Vignesh beat Kesav in round 2, but lost to Cameron in round 6.  Alas, Cameron succumbed to Kesav in the finale.  Along the way, Vignesh surrendered just one draw, Kesav two, and Cameron three.   Click here for the Denker crosstable.

Denker Qualifier - Final Standings
Vignesh and Rayan at 2014 World Youth.
  1. FM Vignesh Panchanatham (2365) 5.5
  2. IM Kesav Viswanadha (2386) 5.0
  3. FM Cameron Wheeler (2386) 4.5
  4. NM Pranav Nagarajan (2200) 3.5
  5. NM Siddharth Banik (2298) 3.0
  6. NM Jack Zhu (2255) 3.0
  7. NM Colin Chow (2261) 2.5
  8. NM Teemu Virtanen (2218) 1.0

Two more qualifiers occurred alongside the Denker last weekend.  In another clutch victory for the #3 seed, 12-year old FM Rayan Taghizadeh (2226) scored 1.5-0.5 against his highest rated competitors to qualify for the Barber Invitational (restricted to K-8 players).  Click here for the Barber crosstable.  The National Girls Invitational qualifier followed a similar script, when 12-year old Simona Nayberg (1821) scored 1.5-0.5 against her top challengers.  Click here for the Girls crosstable.

Congratulations to Vignesh, Rayan and Simona for qualifying to represent Northern California in Phoenix during the first week of August.  These scholastic invitationals take place alongside the U.S. Open.   Best of luck in Arizona!!

Saturday, March 28

NorCal House 3-Peats as National Champs

In white sweatshirts from L to R: GM Sevillano, IM DeGuzman,
captain Ted Castro, and FM Cusi. Photo credit: Castro.

NorCal House of Chess dominated the U.S. Amateur Team, capturing the national playoff for an unprecedented third straight year.  They qualified for the playoff by winning all six matches at the Amateur Team West in Irvine on President's Day weekend.  Today, they won two more matches, first eliminating the North champion Pinoy of Chicago by 3.0-1.0 and then crushing the East champion Virginia Assassins by 3.5-0.5.

Organized by Metropolitan Chess L.A.
Before last year, no team had ever repeated in the playoff.  NorCal House now can claim a hat trick!

Major props to the following All Star cast of coaches and students.  GM Enrico Sevillano (2554), IM Ricardo DeGuzman (2453) and FM Ron Cusi (2302) capably manned the top three boards for two straight years.  Juniors Ronit Pattanayak (1480) and Evan Vallens (1377) shared duties on the bottom board, with Ronit winning two pivotal contests today against much higher rated opponents.  Club founder and organizer Ted Castro served as team captain.

See for playoff games at Chess Life Online and in the May edition of Chess Life magazine.

Friday, March 27

Reno Draws a Gaggle of Grandmasters

Large ballroom at the Sands in Reno!

The Larry Evans Memorial attracts a mix of experienced masters and motivated amateurs to Reno each Easter weekend, .This event, organized in the self-proclaimed Biggest Little City in the World, has always been one of my favorites!  The trip to Reno always feels like a mini vacation; and I'm hardly a gambler.  The competition is always stiff.  Indeed, the early entries include 6 Grandmasters!

Last year saw a solid turnout of 201 participants.  Check out the final results.

Details of the Larry Evans Memorial (formerly Far West Open)
  • Dates: April 3-5
  • Location: Sands Regency Casino in Reno, NV
  • Format: 6 rounds in 5 sections: Open, A, B, C, U1400
  • Time control: 40/2, G/1
  • Entry fee: $156-160 (add $11 more on-site)
  • Prize fund: $26,000 based on 275 entries
  • Read the complete details here.
  • Check advance entries by section (148 as of March 31).

Note to parents: I know conventional wisdom says that casinos and kids do not mix well, but this event seems to be an exception. Dozens of kids rated from 1000 to 2400 play each year. Simply request the Regency tower while checking in so that the kids can take the elevator directly to the playing hall without walking through the casino.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, please say hi in Reno! :-)

Play USCF Rated Online!

The US Chess Federation has partnered with two leading online chess sites to offer weekly rated quick and blitz tournaments on the internet.  Participants will earn a USCF online quick or online blitz rating, which are separate from the regular quick and blitz categories.  There are no plans at this time for online rated slow time control events.

You must have a current USCF membership in addition to an active account at either the Internet Chess Club or  The Internet Chess Club (ICC) requires a paid account to play in these events.  Special: USCF members may now claim a 20% discount!  On the other hand, offers free basic accounts, but the many premium features are well worth the price.  While I am a longtime ICC administrator, I play blitz on both live servers.

ICC schedule:
3+2 blitz on Mondays @ 4pm PDT
12+3 quick on Saturdays @ 2pm PDT
Log into the main server and register under the Activities or Events console.  Alternatively, you can type "/tell uscf join" without quotes to sign up with the USCF robot.  Beware the popup form!  Tournaments open 20 minutes before start time, and are open to late join.
USCF Rating Reports schedule:  
3+2 blitz on Wednesdays @ 5pm PDT 
15+10 quick on Fridays @ 5pm PDT
Log into the Live Chess server (from Play menu) and join under the Tournaments tab.  Arrive a few minutes early--no late entries!  In addition, you must fill out the USCF Authentication form and request to join the USCF group at least one day in advance.
USCF Rating Reports

Note 1: Schedule and time controls are subject to change.
Note 2: Each time control has an increment, e.g. 3+2 is G/3 min with 2 sec increment.
Note 3: You need your USCF ID and PIN to verify your membership before your first tourney.  You may find the PIN on the address label on Chess Life magazine, or by completing this form.

Sunday, March 22

Top Grandmasters to Play at US Champ

Hikaru Nakamura
Wesley So

The 2015 US Championship kicks off in a week, promising an exciting battle for first featuring two of the World Top 10 and six of the World Top 100. Check out the USCF Top 20 below.  Bay Area Grandmasters Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky, both now rated over 2700 USCF, continue their steady climb!  Click on the links to visit their personal websites.
      USCF Top 20 - April 2015

      1.Nakamura, HikaruNY2881World #3
      2.So, WesleyMN2841World #8
      3.Kamsky, GataNY2762World #61+ reigning champ
      4.Robson, RayMO2750World #96
      5.Onischuk, AlexanderTX2747World #73
      6.Shankland, SamCA2742World #88
      7.Naroditsky, DanielCA2724
      8.Lenderman, AleksandrNY2706
      9.Akobian, VaruzhanCA2703
      10.Gareyev, TimurNV2688
      11.Stripunsky, AlexanderNJ2676
      12.Ramirez, AlejandroTX2675
      13.Christiansen, LarryMA2661
      14.Erenburg, SergeyVA2655
      15.Shulman, YuryIL2649
      16.Sevian, SamuelMA2642
      17.Benjamin, JoelNJ2629
      18.Troff, KaydenUT2625
      19.Hess, RobertNY2621
      20.Becerra, JulioFL2619

Wednesday, January 14

Teenage Mutant Chess Masters

11 y/o NM Hans Niemann (by parents)
10 y/o NM Andrew Hong (by Shorman)

The explosion of scholastic chess in the Bay Area has resulted in the proliferation of a mutant subspecies of chess master.  Most of these mental wizards mastered the relevant skills in their early teens, and a few even younger than that!  Overfeeding of adult masters forced the mutants to compete against each other, and they studied diligently merely to keep up with peers.

The net results are astonishing: no fewer than 23 local youngsters under age 18 lay claim to the distinguished title of National Master!  That's 7 more than just three months ago.  Even the legendary state High School championships of 1997 (Zilberstein, Bhat, Mont-Reynaud, Pruess, Frenklakh) and 2006 (Schwarz, D.Wang, Yap, M.Ho, Shankland, Naroditsky) cannot compare to the current tidal wave of precocious masters. 

Top CalChess Juniors (rated above 2150 on January supplement)

Rank Age Name USCF FIDE
1 17 IM Liou, Yian 2502 2417
2 15 IM Viswanadha, Kesav 2389 2404
3 14 FM Wheeler, Cameron 2383 2282
4 14 FM Panchanatham, Vignesh 2365 2303
5 17 NM Richter, Paul 2281 2220
6 14 NM Banik, Siddharth G 2274 2154
7 13 NM Wang, Michael 2269 2112
8 15 NM Chow, Colin 2265 2123
9 16 NM Zhu, Jack Qijie 2254 2092
10 12 FM Taghizadeh, Rayan 2238 2160
11 15 NM Virtanen, Teemu (FIN) 2213 1985
12 15 NM Beilin, Allan 2212 2093
13 17 NM Sun, Jerome 2211 2045
14 15 NM Nagarajan, Pranav 2202 2163
15 11 NM Niemann, Hans Moke 2200 2192
16 11 nm Stearman, Josiah Paul 2195 2007
17 10 NM Hong, Andrew Zhang* 2192 2146
18 13 FM Vasudeva, Tanuj 2190 2013
19 14 nm Jirasek, Ladia** 2190 1972
20 16       Klotz-burwell, Hunter 2188 2104
21 14 nm Iyengar, Udit 2177 2035
22 15 NM Zhao, Art*** 2174 2034
23 17 nm Liu, Daniel 2159 2091
24 15       Bick, Gabriel 2156 1939
25 14       Moy, Kevin 2155 1966
26 14 nm Eswaran, Ashritha 2150 1954
nm = NM but currently rated under 2200
* Andrew broke 2200 at New Year Open
** Ladia broke 2200 at NM Lawless Champ but fell below at New Year Open
*** Art broke 2200 at North American Open

All told, there are 2 International Masters, 4 FIDE Masters, 16 rated above 2200 on January rating list.  And here's a special round of applause for the newest masters, those who broke 2200 since this post dated September 19: Teemu, Jerome, Pranav, Hans, Andrew, Ladia and Art!  (Corrected 1/20)

Who's next?

Friday, January 9

Popular Chess Video Passes Milestone

This hilarious chess video comes from the US Chess School in December 2010.  The precocious lad was, at that time, the youngest chess master in the country at 10 years old.  He destroys overconfident teacher IM Greg Shahade in both the blitz game and the kibitzing, all the while sipping 7-Up.  The video resurfaced in the summer of 2013 on the Top 50 rankings at  Today, four years after upload, it surpassed one million views on YouTube!

Whether you have seen it before or not, this video is definitely worth another look.    

Starting tomorrow, Sam Sevian, now a full-fledged Grandmaster, participates in the prestigious Tata Steel Tournament at Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands).  Many can remember him from Bay Area events as an 8 or 9 year old, already a dangerous opponent.  He certainly has come a long way, and his future appears very bright!

Wednesday, January 7

Happy New Year 2015!!

Bright winter day in the Austrian Alps.

Wishing Everyone Many Brilliant Moves for 2015!

The first Bay Area chess event of 2015 is in the books.  The New Year Championship drew 180 players to the San Francisco Airport Hyatt for $13,000 in prizes.  Elite Chinese Grandmaster Xiangzhi Bu dominated the strong Open section, finishing a full point ahead of the other two GMs.  Yours truly finished with a respectable but unsatisfying performance.  Click here for USCF rated results.

The largest local adult tournament of the year is just 10 days away!  The Golden State Open, which attracted almost 300 participants a year ago, guarantees a $25,000 prize fund.  Note that this event moved 25 miles south from Concord to the Dublin-Pleasanton Holiday Inn, near BART.  Register soon and view the advance entries at      

If you enjoy following top level international chess festivals, then you're in luck!  The Tata Steel Tournament at Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands) begins this weekend.  The Masters section features World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway plus four more of the Top 10: Italian-American Fabiano Caruana, defending champion Levon Aronian of Armenia, Dutch-Russian Anish Giri, and the young American immigrant (from the Philippines) Wesley So.  The Challengers include the Czech David Navara, the young Chinese star Wei Yi, and a pair of American Grandmasters with strong ties to the Bay Area: Orinda native Sam Shankland and the now 14-year old prodigy Sam Sevian.  Each section is a 14-player round-robin, meaning 13 rounds, beginning on Saturday at 4:30am PST.  Make sure to check out the live internet coverage when you wake up (especially Twitter and Instagram).

Happy New Year to All!