Tuesday, April 15

Strong Chess Festival in Reno on Easter

An old photo of playing hall in Reno. Do you recognize some familiar faces?

Every Easter weekend, the Larry Evans Memorial (formerly Far West Open) attracts a mix of experienced masters and motivated amateurs to Reno, the self-proclaimed Biggest Little City in the World.  This tournament has always been one of my favorites!  The trip to Reno always feels like a mini vacation.  As of last week, 111 players registered, including seven Grandmasters headlined by Timur Gareev, fourth highest rated in the country. (Update: 144 registrations posted on April 15.)

Does this sound interesting?  Then be there!  And please say hello if you read this blog.

  • Event: Larry Evans Memorial 
  • Dates: April 18-20
  • Location: Sands Regency Hotel in Reno, NV
  • Format: 6 rounds in 5 sections: Open, A, B, C, U1400
  • Time control: 40/2, G/1 (max game can go 6 hours)
  • Entry fee: $144-148 (add $11 more on-site)
  • Prize fund: $21,000 based on 250 (2/3 guaranteed)
  • See this website for complete details.
  • Check advance entries by section
  • Rating report from 2013.

A final note to chess 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 or Dynasty tower while checking in so that the kids can take the elevator directly to the playing hall without walking through the casino.  This weekend also represents the final opportunity to practice before the CalChess Super States

Sunday, April 13

R.I.P. Neil Falconer 1923-2014

Walking into the chess room.
The Mechanics' Institute lost a giant earlier this month.  Aside from a successful legal career, Neil Falconer will be remembered as a competitive chess player and a generous chess philanthropist.  Over 75 years, he served in nearly every capacity at the history San Francisco chess club, from one of the top amateurs to becoming a member of the Board of Trustees.  He remained a strong class A player even well into his 80s.

I saw Mr. Falconer off and on over the years, both at weekend tournaments and Tuesday lectures.  Strangely, we never crossed swords, although he battled fiercely against several of my star students.  Foremost an attorney, Mr. Falconer capably represented (pro-bono) the state organization CalChess against a rogue scholastic organizer in 2004-05.  He seemed to navigate legal complexities as methodically as Vladimir Kramnik would convert a positional advantage.
The following paragraphs first appeared in this obituary at Chess Life Online.

Watching a tournament game.
The Mechanics' Institute Chess Club has had nine Chess Directors and three Grandmasters-in-Residence in its 160-year existence, but there is no doubt that the person with the longest and most important connection with the Chess Club has been Neil Falconer. His involvement with the club spans nine decades from his first visit in 1938 as a Berkeley High School student to the end of his life.

A native Californian, Neil first joined the Institute in 1945 after finishing his service in the U.S. Army and soon after established himself as one of the strongest chess players in California, finishing third in the state championship in 1946. When former World Champion Max Euwe visited the Mechanics' in 1949 Neil was one of those who held him to a draw. That same year, Neil graduated from the Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley, passed the bar and started working at the firm where he would later rise to named partner - Steinhart and Falconer. New responsibilities did not slow down Neil's rise as a chess player, and in 1951 he won the California Open title at Santa Cruz.

Chess tournament flag.
In 1999 Neil established the Falconer Award at the Institute which awards a cash prize to the highest-rated junior player under 18 in Northern California.  Grandmasters Vinay Bhat, Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky are among those who have won the Falconer Award, which has awarded more than $35,000 to support excellence in chess.

One of Neil's defining characteristics besides his generosity of spirit and dry sense of humor has been a lifelong interest in learning. He was a regular attendee of former Grandmaster-in-Residence Alex Yermolinsky's weekly endgame lectures and has always had a keen interest in solving chess puzzles and problems. The past decade he has played with pleasure in more than one 5-minute chess tournaments at the Institute, matching wits with players almost 80 years his junior!

Thursday, April 10

Can Cats Play Chess?

I like cats and I love chess.  In dreams, my imagination seeks ways to combine these two passions.  Many of my young chess students have heard of my fictional Cat(FM), who actually existed, but did not possess any special talents beyond knocking over all the pieces.

Thanks to my friend NM Dana Mackenzie for introducing his curious kittens to the royal game and videotaping the experience.  The chess segment begins around the 1:25 mark.  Hilarious!  And click for another YouTube video featuring a compilation of chess cats.  (Not to be confused with the Cheshire cat of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland fame.)

Cat lovers may check out (pun intended) Dana's entire YouTube channel dedicated to a kitten named Max and other cute felines.

Tuesday, April 8

Close But No Cigar - High School Nationals

Cameron Wheeler - 7th place
Kesav Viswanadha - 4th place

A modest-sized delegation of 39 from Northern California made waves at the National High School Championship in San Diego, but finished short of bringing home the first place trophies.  At the end of a long weekend of competitive chess, the Bay Area teams earned eight individual and two team trophies.  Congratulations to the successful squads from Kennedy Middle School (2nd place) and Monta Vista High School (4th place), both from Cupertino.  Each school depended on the strong individual performances by their top board: FM Cameron Wheeler (7th place) and NM Kesav Viswanadha (4th place), respectively!

Robby on Chess Life cover.
By all accounts, San Diego saw the strongest K-12 Nationals ever, with 33 masters in attendance, including 15 from California alone!  Amazingly, accelerated pairings magically whittled down the number of perfect scores, and after just five rounds, only one player from 345 remained unblemished.  To nobody's surprise, GM-elect Darwin Yang of Dallas won his first six games to finish as undisputed champion with 6.5 out of 7.  On the other hand, the team competition came down to the wire, with underrated Catalina Foothills High School of Tucson pulling ahead at the end, in large part thanks to the tireless effort of legendary coach FM Robby Adamson

NorCal Final Results  

  • NM Kesav Viswanadha 6.0 - 4th place 
  • FM Cameron Wheeler 5.5 - 7th place
  • NM Allan Beilin 5.5 - 18th place
  • NM Vignesh Panchanatham 5.0 - 22nd place
  • Neel Apte 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • NM Michael Wang 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • NM Udit Iyengar 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • Hans Niemann 4.5 - 15th place blitz
  • Kennedy Middle School 19.5/28 - 2nd place
  • Monta Vista High School 19.0/28 - 4th place (tied for 3rd)

Friday, April 4

National High School in San Diego

The big playing hall at National High School.  Credit: Martha Underwood.

The 2014 spring national scholastic chess championships kick off with the strongest National High School Championship ever!  By my count, there are two International Masters, 15 players rated above 2300 and 33 masters in all.  As always, the talented Northern California delegation appears poised to bring home some hardware and maybe even a national title.

Out of 950 total participants, about 340 signed up for the competitive High School Championship.  Given the convenient location at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego, 39 local players made the trip down I-5 for an intense weekend of chess.  Of the 27 Bay Area representatives in the strong Championship section, 9 are rated above 2150, including 2300+ rated FM Cameron Wheeler, NM Kesav Viswanadha and NM Vignesh Panchanatham.

In addition to the battle for individual honors, 3  Silicon Valley schools have entered teams of 4+ students.  Last year's CalChess K-12 Champions Kennedy Middle School of Cupertino, now boasting three masters and two strong 1900s, figures to challenge perennial national power Murrow High School from Brooklyn, New York.  Monta Vista High School, comprised of graduates from Kennedy Middle, should be competitive as well.  Finally, Saratoga High School, no longer quite as strong as last decade, fields a team of four B and C players.

NorCal Watch List
National High School
Final Results
Congratulations to GM-elect Darwin Yang for clear 1st with 6.5/7! 

  • FM Cameron Wheeler (KMS) 5.5 - 7th place - drew Darwin Yang in last round
  • NM Kesav Viswanadha (MVHS) 6.0 - 4th place - beat Y.Xia (2286) in last round
  • NM Vignesh Panchanatham 5.0 - 22nd place
  • NM Siddharth Banik 3.5
  • NM Allan Beilin 5.5 - 18th place
  • NM Udit Iyengar (KMS) 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • NM Michael Wang (KMS) 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • Neel Apte (MVHS) 5.0 - Honorable Mention
  • Joshua Cao 4.5 
  • Hans Niemann 4.5 - 5th grader!
  • Kevin Rosenberg (MVHS) 4.0
  • Daniel Zheng (MVHS) 4.0 - drew Rosenthal (2274), S.Liao (2189) and T.Lu (2185)
  • Arhant Katare (KMS) 4.0 - drew S.Liao (2189)
  • Pranav Srihari (KMS) 4.0 - drew Miller (2258)
  • Faisal Albannai (SARA) 3.5 
  • Alex Li (SARA) 3.5 - rated just 1435, played up all 7 rounds, +167 rating points
  • Kennedy M.S. 19.5/28 - 2nd place 0.5 behind Catalina Foothills H.S. (Tucson)
  • Monta Vista H.S. 19.0/28 - tied for 3rd with Murrow H.S. (Brooklyn)
  • Saratoga H. S. 12.0/28 - 27th place

Here's wishing plenty of good luck and skill to all!

Sam Sevian Chases GM Title

Sevian at Bay Area International in January.
Now a fully fledged International Master, 13 year old Sam Sevian aspires to the highest title in chess: Grandmaster.  If he completes the requirements before December 2015, he would break the record for the youngest American GM, currently held by Ray Robson at 14 years and 351 days old.  After earning his first GM norm for a 2nd place result at Foxwoods Open in January, Sam appears well on track to shatter the record.

The following article about Sam's quest appeared in the Boston Globe on March 30.

In many ways, Sam Sevian resembles a typical American teenager. Just a touch stocky, with a mop of brown hair, a round face, and wire-framed glasses, he’s slightly awkward, especially around adults he doesn’t know that well. He likes to watch sports, specifically the NHL and the NBA — he roots for the Bruins and the Golden State Warriors. And he does his best to avoid household chores, having recently managed to wriggle his way out of one particular task. ("He was supposed to do vacuuming," says Armine Sevian, Sam’s mother. "It was very ... not good," she says with a laugh.)

Sam Sevian receives the U12 gold medal from
Kasparov at the 2012 World Youth in Slovenia.
What makes Sam Sevian different from his peers is that he can play chess better than any other 13-year-old in American history. Last November, a month before his birthday, the Southbridge resident earned the title of International Master. He’s the youngest American player ever to attain that second-highest ranking in chess, besting the mark set in 2008 by Ray Robson, then 13. Bobby Fischer, the gold standard of American chess, didn’t reach the International Master level until he was nearly 15. ...

"We’ve been watching him for two and a half years," Garry Kasparov writes of Sam via e-mail. "He’s a very hard-worker and has all the talent needed to become a top player as he matures and gets his emotions under control."

Read the full article at this link.

Monday, March 31

NorCal Top 100 Lists

Do you recognize these young stars?  All are now masters, and two
won at World Youth U12. Photo from Cam's Chess Blog in 2010.
Almost two years have passed since I completed the last thorough analysis of the Bay Area's representatives on the USCF Top 100 Lists.  The USCF office made two administrative changes: publishing the rankings monthly and moving the cutoff date to the third Wednesday of the previous month (from the first Friday).  Consequently, the player ratings will be more current.

Congratulations to the 119 local youngsters who earned a spot on the national Top 100 rankings for their age.  The most competitive categories appear to be Age 8 and Age 13-14.  At least a dozen Northern California juniors are ranked in Top 100 for each of those three years, including 5 or more in the Top 20!  Many of the same kids represented California and the USA at the World Youth Chess Festival in the United Arab Emirates last December.  Veteran Bay Area players and directors watched the 13-14 year old bunch grow up, and now a new bunch of promising talents has formed. 

Given the explosion in strength of local youths, I began tracking their FIDE ratings.  Indeed, 53 ranked juniors already have earned an official international rating!  Only a decade ago, no more than a half dozen players under age 18 had achieved this goal.  Many thanks to John Donaldson, Richard Koepcke, Salman Azhar, Arun Sharma and other organizers for offering plentiful opportunities to play FIDE rated tournaments without traveling far.

Without further ado, I present the cream of the crop, the best of the west, to earn virtual gold, silver and bronze medals!  Please visit my website for the complete NorCal Top 100 Lists.

Gold Medal (Top 5)
  • Ashritha Eswaran #1 girls U16  
  • Yian Liou #1 age 16 
  • Daniel Naroditsky #1 age 18
  • NM Kesav Viswanadha
  • Balaji Daggupati #3 age 8
  • Josiah Stearman #3 age 10
  • Cameron Wheeler #3 age 13 
  • Gregory Young #3 age 18
  • Andrew Hong #4 age 9
  • Kesav Viswanadha #4 age 14
  • Hans Niemann #5 age 10
  • Rayan Taghizadeh #5 age 11
  • Michael Wang #5 age 12
  • Joanna Liu #5 girls U13
  • Vignesh Panchanatham #5 age 14
Silver Medal (6th to 15th)
  • Arnav Lingannagari age 6
  • Samik Pattanayak age 6
  • Milind Maiti age 8
  • Chinguun Bayaraa age 8
  • Callaghan Mccarty-Snead age 8
  • NM Michael Wang
  • Andrew Peng age 8
  • Tanuj Vasudeva age 12
  • Siddharth Banik age 13
  • Colin Chow age 14
  • Allan Beilin age 14
Bronze Medal (16th to 25th)
  • Kevin Pan age 7
  • Rishith Susarla age 8
  • Maurya Palusa age 8
  • David Pan age 10
  • Udit Iyengar age 13
  • Kevin Moy age 13
  • Pranav Nagarajan age 14
  • Teemu Virtanen age 14
  • Neel Apte age 15
  • Daniel Liu age 16
List adapted from Fpawn Chess
Photo credit Bay Area International

Saturday, March 29

NorCal Top Juniors - March 2014

FM Yian Liou
FM Cameron Wheeler

In anticipation of the upcoming National and State Championships, I completed the long-overdue update of my NorCal rankings for the best juniors and adults.  This post recognizes the Top 10 highest rated youngsters, both by USCF and FIDE (international) rankings.  Please follow this link for a more extensive listing, including the Top 20 players per category.

The explosion of talented juniors living in the Bay Area continues.  No fewer than ten chess kids 14 years old or younger can call themselves "master" today!  Three more teens currently find themselves within 20 points of the 2200 threshold, and another two reached the magic number but have since fallen below.  By my count, there are 39 experts and masters under age 18 who push pawns and sacrifice knights in Northern California.  Amazing!

NorCal Top 10 Age 12-17
  1. FM Liou, Yian (age 16) 2475 USCF
  2. FM Wheeler, Cameron (13) 2345
  3. NM Viswanadha, Kesav (14) 2334
  4. NM Panchanatham, Vignesh (14) 2325
  5. NM Banik, Siddharth G (13) 2247
  6. NM Eswaran, Ashritha (13) 2231
  7. NM Chow, Colin (14) 2224
  8. NM Beilin, Allan (14) 2219
  9. NM Iyengar, Udit (13) 2218
  10. NM Wang, Michael (12) 2215
NorCal Top 10 Age 11 & Under
Rayan Taghizadeh
  1. nm Taghizadeh, Rayan (age 11) 2181 USCF
  2. Stearman, Josiah Paul (10) 2102
  3. Niemann, Hans Moke (10) 2054
  4. Liu, Joanna (11) 2006
  5. Hong, Andrew Zhang (9) 1977
  6. Daggupati, Balaji (8) 1919
  7. Pan, David (10) 1862
  8. Murugappan, Ganesh M (11) 1855
  9. Zhou, Anthony (11) 1853
  10. Feng, Justin (10) 1830
NorCal Top 10 FIDE Rated Age 17 & Under
  1. FM Liou, Yian (age 16) 2387 FIDE 
  2. FM Wheeler, Cameron (13) 2229
  3. NM Viswanadha, Kesav (14) 2194
  4. NM Panchanatham, Vignesh (14) 2121
  5. NM Beilin, Allan (14) 2096
  6. Apte, Neel (15) 2095
  7. nm Liu, Daniel (16) 2091
  8. NM Chow, Colin (14) 2082
  9. Li, Edward (16) 2077
  10. NM Wang, Michael (12) 2062
List adapted from Fpawn Chess
Photo credit Bay Area International 

Friday, March 28

Eswaran To Play in US Women's Champ

Ashritha posing with Garry Kasparov at Girls Nationals.

Here is great news from Ted Castro of NorCal House of Chess.
Congratulations to my student Ashritha Eswaran for being invited at the US Women's Championship (most prestigious chess tournament in the US) to be held at the world famous St. Louis Chess Club in May. She's presently the #1 ranked Girl U16 in the country and is newly minted National Master! Thanks to our team of coaches and very supportive parents!
In addition to earning the NM title and #1 national ranking, Ashritha ranks as the top woman in Northern California and Top 20 in the country.  Although lowest rated in the Women's Champ, the 13 year old appears poised to score a few upsets.  Go get 'em!

NorCal Top 5 Women - March 2014
  1. NM Eswaran, Ashritha 2231 USCF 1982 FIDE
  2. NM Tsodikova, Natalya 2226 2135
  3. WFM Byambaa, Uyanga 2136 2050
  4. Liu, Joanna 2006 1756
  5. Mccreary, Taylor 1998 1876
List adapted from Fpawn Chess

NorCal Top Adults - March 2014

GM Sam Shankland
GM Daniel Naroditsky

A quintet of Grandmasters headlines the list of active chess masters in Northern California.  The top rated pair, Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky, will proudly represent the Bay Area at the 2014 US Championship in St. Louis beginning on May 8.  Can Shanky or Danya join the local veterans Walter Browne (6-time winner) and Nick De Firmian (3-time winner) as national champions?  Good luck guys!

NorCal Top 20 Adults - March 2014
  1. GM Shankland, Sam 2698 USCF 2611 FIDE
  2. GM Naroditsky, Daniel A 2632 2543 
  3. GM De Firmian, Nick E 2582 2509 
  4. GM Kraai, Jesse 2574 2518 
  5. IM De Guzman, Ricardo 2487 2406 
  6. IM Li, Wen Liang 2481 2429 
  7. FM De La Cruz, Alfredo 2480 2336 
  8. SM Sharma, Arun 2478 2398 
  9. FM Liou, Yian 2475 2387 
  10. GM Browne, Walter 2474 2444 
  11. IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2432 2356 
  12. IM Donaldson, William John 2413 2390 
  13. IM Pruess, David 2407 2347 
  14. IM Kaufman, Ray 2401 2332 
  15. FM Silber, Henning 2378 2267 
  16. NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2369 2298 
  17. NM Manvelyan, Hayk 2354 2265 
  18. FM Wheeler, Cameron 2345 2229 
  19. IM Ganbold, Odondo 2338 2327 
  20. NM Viswanadha, Kesav 2334 2194 
List adapted from Fpawn Chess
Photo credit Bay Area International 

Tuesday, March 11

Naroditsky Wins the Samford Award

The gaze of a Grandmaster!
Bay Area Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky was awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship for 2014. Each year, the Samford recognizes a talented young master who has both the potential and work ethic to represent this country at the highest levels of international chess. The award includes a generous stipend of $42,000 for one year, which may be renewed for a second year.  In the words of IM John Donaldson, this prize gives "brilliant young American Grandmasters the support and resources necessary to enhance their skills and reach their full potential."

Last summer, Danya dominated the US Junior Championship and, a few weeks later, completed the requirements for the Grandmaster title. Indeed, his summer vacation in Europe proved quite successful, and he netted 45 rating points in three tournaments.  Now 18 years old and rated 2543 FIDE, he finds himself among the top 25 of the country and one of the top 25 juniors in the world. Not just a terrific player, he wrote two well-acclaimed chess books and is working on a third. Make sure to visit his website for more details.

Naroditsky becomes the fourth Bay Area star to earn this recognition in the last decade, joining IM David Pruess (2006), GM Vinay Bhat (2008) and GM Sam Shankland (2013).  Fellow GM Josh Friedel lived here when he won in 2007.  Two additional honorees, GM Patrick Wolff (1989) and GM Tal Shaked (1996), currently work locally, although they have retired from over-the-board competition.

Congratulations Danya!  Good luck at the 2014 US Championship in May.  No doubt, you have many fans in California cheering you on to 2600 and beyond.

Monday, March 3

Candidates Tournament 2014

World #2 Aronian
14th World Champ Kramnik
15th World Champ Anand

In the world of professional chess, a Candidates Tournament seeks to determine the next challenger to the reigning World Champion.  Over the years, this elite event has taken one of two formats: either a series of knockout matches or a traditional round-robin.  The 2014 FIDE Candidates Tournament features an 8-player double round-robin for the right to face Magnus Carlsen.  The octet will contest 14 rounds from March 13 to 31 in the remote Russian city of Khanty-Mansiysk

16th World Champ Carlsen
The 2771 average field consists of two former champions, four Russians and the current top three on the live ratings, excluding the #1 ranked Norwegian himself.  Two players qualified at the 2013 World Cup, two from the 2012-13 Grand Prix and two more by rating.  The final participants are the loser of the 2013 World Championship and a local player selected by the organizer.

  1. Levon Aronian 2830 (#2 ranked from Armenia)
  2. Vladimir Kramnik 2787 (14th World Champ from Russia)
  3. Veselin Topalov 2785 (Bulgaria)
  4. Viswanathan Anand 2770 (15th World Champ from India)
  5. Sergey Karjakin 2768 (Russia)
  6. Peter Svidler 2758 (Russia)
  7. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2757 (Azerbaijan
  8. Dmitry Andreikin 2709 (Russia)  
Seven of the world's top dozen Grandmasters will participate. Unfortunately, the top American, Hikaru Nakamura, did not qualify despite achieving several excellent results over the past two years.  And in light of the current events, it is fortuitous that no Ukrainian earned an invitation. 

Karjakin as dark horse?
Who will win?  While almost anyone could conceivably finish first, the smart money says either Aronian or Kramnik.  Each of the top four brings more than a decade of top level chess experience to the table.  The dark horse could be Karjakin, a talented and still young prodigy whose recent results have been inconsistent.  Please vote in the poll at the right side bar.

Don't forget to follow the action starting on March 13!  Depending on your schedule, watch the games live or play through the moves later.  Check out the official website or enjoy the Game of the Day videos at the Internet Chess Club (members only).

Monday, February 10

Join Team 45 45 on ICC for Practice

The Team 45 45 League on the Internet Chess Club is accepting signups for a new tournament! Each person plays one game each week for six 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 may last 2-3 hours. The league, which has been active on ICC for 15 years now, offers sections at 200 rating point intervals to allow everyone the opportunity to play opponents near their own rating.  There is no cost to join the league, but ICC membership is required.

I have played in T4545L for quite a few years and I also volunteer as a section TD. Over the years, many of my students have played in the league--great for tournament practice! There are several teams of Bay Area kids, both elementary school and middle school. Please email me for references. The league is both highly recommended and fun to play!

Before joining, please carefully read the Quick Guide and Player Handbook. The T4545L has some strict rules which require a modest level of personal responsibility.  They take computer cheating very seriously and check all games played.  When negotiating a time to play, it helps to be somewhat 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, you may wish to ask your captain to sit out that week. Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

R.I.P. Mike Parmon 1945-2014

This sad news reached me over the weekend.  Mike Parmon, easily the most popular 1200 rated player at the Sacramento Chess Club, passed away last Thursday at the age of 69.  While I have not attended the Tuesday evening club since the move to Great Escape Games, I still hear the echoes of his voice.  He seemed to know everyone, and never hesitated to critique the play of many a stronger player‒always in jest, of course It is difficult to imagine the Sacramento chess scene without Mike.

Parmon will be best remembered for spreading the gospel of Caissa to dozens of cheerful youths (and a few adults) every year.  He dedicated himself each week to explaining basic chess strategies to wide-eyed kids, at both the adult club and the Sacramento Chess School.  Check out these photos of the coach and his protégés.

Apparently, they needed another chess teacher in heaven.  Rest In Peace.

Update: Check out this tribute on KXTV News10.

Tuesday, February 4

Bhat versus Carlsen

While Magnus Carlsen won the Zurich Chess Challenge against elite competition, pushing his record rating to 2881, one Bay Area chess aficionado came to grips with his close encounter with the World Champion three weeks ago.  Indeed, GM Vinay Bhat not only locked horns with the Wonderboy himself, but actually had a chance to pull off the stunning upsetMust see TV!

Fortunately, Bhat shares the story with the readers of his chess blog.  He annotates the blitz game and points out the missed opportunities in the endgame.  He also comments on the setting and the demeanor of his esteemed opponent.  Thank you Vinay!
When we shook hands, he shocked me immediately when he said that he reads this blog on occasion, although he admitted he used to read it more when I was playing regularly! He also told me about how he first heard about me, after a game of mine against GM Wang Yue from China in 2002 showed up in New In Chess. It was a Bb5+ Sicilian where he remembered some nice tactical sequences I used, but also that I didn’t manage to win from a
GM Vinay Bhat
much better position.
Read more at Moral and Not So Moral Victories.
One other thing I realized from the bughouse and blitz games (and this was confirmed in between the two by his team), is that Magnus is ultra-competitive and hates losing even a casual game.
Additional comments at The Tale of the Tape.

Tuesday, January 28

Carlsen Meets Technology Leaders

In his first business trip as the 16th World Chess Champion, the Norwegian born Magnus Carlsen rubbed elbows with some of the movers and shakers of the tech boom.  The journey began at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where he calmly swept all 20 challengers in a simul organized by Nordic Semiconductor.

Coach Joe Lonsdale (Sr) + Carlsen
Below: Exec Joe Lonsdale (Jr)
The following week, Carlsen flew into the Bay Area for his second visit.  At a social event hosted by Joe Lonsdale, the youthful co-founder of Palantir and Addepar, the champion posed for photos with guests and narrowly defeated local Grandmaster Vinay Bhat in a bullet game.  Check out ChessDryad for photos taken by Richard Shorman.  The next day, Carlsen challenged Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after dining with top executives, a game which has been politely described as a lesson.

Lesson with Facebook founder.
However, the most popular event was a Question & Answer session hosted by the tech forum Churchill Club.  Chess master Peter Thiel, perhaps better known for founding PayPal, moderated an exciting discussion that touched on diverse topics, from his recent title match against Vishy Anand to the role of computers in the royal game.  For those unable to attend (like me), the hour long dialog was recorded and uploaded to YouTube (click on video at top).  Highly recomended!

Saturday, January 11

Tata Kicks Off At Wijk aan Zee

Amateurs play in same big room as elite Grandmasters in Wijk aan Zee.

Dating back to the 1970s, the beginning of each new calendar year promised a pair of elite chess tournaments: one in the coastal Dutch town of Wijk aan Zee and the other in the Andalusian city of Linares.  Both attracted the strongest Grandmasters on the planet, e.g. Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and Carlsen.  Unfortunately, the Spanish financial crisis claimed Linares as a casualty in 2011.  However, the steel conglomerate Tata maintained the tradition at Wijk, despite a shrinking budget that reduced the number of participants this year to 12 (from 14) and the number of Top 10 players to merely 5.

The small decrease in size does in no way signify a decrease in the relevance of Tata Steel Chess.  Ten players rated over 2700 will battle over the next fortnight (through January 26).  These Grandmasters will author many thrilling games for audiences around the world to enjoy.

Indeed, these games yield worthwhile study material for any serious chess master (or wannabe master).  Any young or aspiring player rated over 1800 should take the time each day to review the latest games (up to 13 per round, counting the Challengers section).  Check out your favorite players or openings.  Try to learn from the middlegame maneuvers and endgame technique.  Ask yourself if you could play like the Grandmasters.  At the Internet Chess Club, go to the Events list under the Window menu or in the Activities console to find the games and daily videos.  Or visit the official website, which features instant analysis by the Houdini 2 engine.     

Hikaru Nakamura
Tata Masters (A section)
  • Titles: 12 Grandmasters, including 5 of the Top 10
  • Average Rating = 2743 FIDE
  • Favorites: Aronian, Nakamura, Caruana and Karjakin
  • Americans: Nakamura, Caruana (Italy-USA) and Wesley So (Philippines-USA)
  • Comment: Despite the conspicuous absence of World Champion Carlsen plus ex-Champs Kramnik and Anand, the competitive field still features #2 ranked Aronian and #3 Nakamura. 

Tata Challengers (B section)
  • Titles: 10 Grandmasters plus 4 International Masters (norms are possible)
  • Average Rating = 2579 FIDE
  • Favorites: Wojtaszek, Jobava, Yangyi Yu and Saric
  • American: Kayden Troff (Utah)
  • Comment: There is no clear favorite as several young (and underrated) wolves try to make their name.  Indeed, 2 of top 3 seeds lost in the very first round!

Saturday, January 4

Big Names at SF International

GM Wei Yi
GM Ipatov

The start of a new calendar year brings fresh opportunities for the talented young stars of the Bay Area chess community.  The San Francisco International brings foreign titled players to Santa Clara for the kind of tournament more often seen in Europe than in America.  Over 70 competitors representing 15 different countries will cross swords over seven days.  Many aspire to earn one of the precious norms required for the highest titles in chess: Grandmaster and International Master.

Leading the field are 14 Grandmasters, 20 International Masters and 4 ladies holding the corresponding women's titles.  The five top seeds, rated over 2600 FIDE, include 2012 World Junior Champion Alexander Ipatov of Turkey, the current youngest Grandmaster on the planet, 14 year old Wei Yi of China, and the Berkeley Chess School talent Sam Shankland.  Sam won the 2012 edition of this event.

The one, the only, GM Shanky
Among the leading norm contenders are IM Wang Chen of China and IM Joshua Ruiz of Colombia, both strong finishers at the North American Open last week in Las Vegas.  Certainly don't count out the American juniors participating, including seven masters under age 18 representing the Bay Area.  Youth will be served!

This event would not be possible without the organizational genius of Berkeley Mathematics Professor Arun Sharma and Technology Guru Salman Azhar, founder of Bay Area Chess.  Why else would so many young Grandmasters from Turkey, China, Canada and Hungary mysteriously wander to Silicon Valley for chess?

For those readers wondering where I am?  I'm at home wishing I could play.  Alas, the week-long schedule proves too much for me and my longstanding health problems.  Instead, I will prepare myself for the Golden State Open in Concord, just two weeks away.  Yes, I registered already.

Wednesday, January 1

World Youth In Al Ain Draws To Close

David Peng (left) and Awonder Liang stand next to the FIDE President.
For hundreds of more photos, check out South Africa on Facebook

Happy New Year!  Before we continue with 2014, let me wrap up the final results of the 2014 World Youth Chess Championships in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.  GM Ben Finegold reported on Chess Life Online and this post merely provides supplemental material.  Another report on ChessBase website includes photographs from the awards ceremony.

On the bright side, Team USA brought home two medals, both in the U10 division.  Kudos to FM Awonder Liang (10-1) of Wisconsin and CM David Peng (9-2) of Illinois for earning the gold and silver medals, respectively!   Total domination!!  Bay Area youngster Josiah Stearman (7-4) found himself in contention after 8 rounds, but ran out of energy down the final stretch.

Outside of the Playing Hall
On the other hand, the American delegation had hoped to win more hardware.  Six more children finished in the Top 10 for their age.  A pair of girls, Jennifer Yu (U12) of Virginia and Carissa Yip (U10) from Massachusetts, took home 4th place honors, only a tiny bit short of a medal.  In the U18 section, GM Daniel Naroditsky knew his tiebreaks were inferior and played aggressively in a valiant yet unsuccessful attempt to complicate the last game as black against a fellow Grandmaster.  C'est la vie!

Click here for the complete results of Team USA.

  • U18 - Open
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky 7.5 (CA-N)
    • FM Atulya Shetty 6.5
  • U18 - Girls
    • WFM Jessica Regam 6.5
    • Rochelle Ballantyne 5.5
  • U16 - Open
    • FM Michael Bodek 7.5
    • NM Safal Bora 7.0
    • NM Michael Brown 7.0
    • NM Christopher Wu 7.0
  • U16 - Girls
    • WCM Ellen Xiang 6.5
    • WCM Apurva Virkud 6.0
    • Taylor Mccreary 6.0 (CA-N)
    • Margaret Hua 6.0
  • U14 - Open
    • NM Edward Song 8.0 (7th)
    • NM Colin Chow 7.0 (CA-N)
  • U14 - Girls
    • Agata Bykovtsev 7.5 (9th
    • Ashritha Eswaran 7.5 (CA-N)
  • U12 - Open
    • NM Albert Lu 7.5
    • NM Ruifeng Li 7.0
  • U12 - Girls
    • WFM Jennifer Yu 8.5 (4th)
    • WFM Annie Wang 8.0 (8th)
    • Priya Trakru 7.0
  • U10 - Open
  • Awonder
    • FM Awonder Liang 10.0 (1st)
    • CM David Peng 9.0 (2nd)
    • Josiah Stearman 7.0 (CA-N)
    • Christopher Shen 7.0
  • U10 - Girls
    • Carissa Yip 8.5 (4th)
    • WCM Vittal Sanjana 7.5 
    • Shreya Mangalam 7.0
    • Martha Samadashvili 7.0
  • U8 - Open
    • Maximillian Lu 8.5 (5th)
    • Logan Wu 7.5
    • Kevin Chor 7.5 
    • Maurya Palusa 7.5 (CA-N) 
    • Balaji Daggupati 7.0 (CA-N)
    • Advait Budaraju 7.0 (CA-N)
    • Rithik Polavarem 7.0
  • U8 - Girls
    • Maggie Ni 7.5
    • Anh Nhu Nguyen 7.0
    • Annapoorni Meiyappan 7.0 (CA-N)
Closely following the round-by-round results from the tournament, I observed some trends.  Frankly, I was shocked by the sizable role of momentum.  The American kids were remarkably streaky!  One young man won his first three games, then lost the next three!  An unfortunate lady won three straight, then lost the next four!  A boy in youngest division won the first four rounds, but somehow ended up under 50%.  On the other hand, a teenager lost twice to lower rated opponents in the first three rounds, yet finished with a respectable 7-4.

Aside from wavering confidence and difficult competition, the young players faced a variety of challenges off the board.  They slept in a foreign country, in a dorm room, and had to adjust to the 9 to 12 hour time difference.  Many faced unbearably long lines (60 minutes or more!) at the cafeteria.  Towards the end of the fortnight in the Arabian desert, exhaustion and homesickness took its toll on some.  No doubt a few children (and their parents) battled minor illnesses.  Hopefully, most will look back at this journey as an adventure.

Monday, December 30

Wide-Ranging Carlsen Interview

The 16th World Champion spoke candidly for half an hour on Norwegian television about chess and other topics, some a bit awkward for him.  The program aired on December 25.  Fortunately, the video has English subtitles.  Check it out!
  • Importance of self-confidence
  • Any superstitions?
  • Donald Duck fan
  • Strategy for blindfold chess 
  • Nightmares about chess
  • Girls and relationships
  • Kasparov and Fischer
  • Autism and IQ
  • Does he cry sometimes?
  • Modelling for G-Star
  • His view on money  

Thursday, December 26

A Christmas Chess Story

Apparently I ran across this article a day or two late.  The Philadelphia Sunday Item published this story on December 20, 1908.  A century has passed, but this old tale is worth repeating.

It was a snowy, blustery Christmas Eve, and the Chess Player was glad to be indoors, sitting by the roaring log in the fireplace, with his beloved chessmen and board before him. During the evening he had been playing over some of his favorite selections from the immortals--Horwitz, Staunton, Lowe, Anderssen, Lowenthal, and Kieseritsky--he had mulled over and over the masterpieces of problem-lore, and now, half lazily but with full interest, he was examining the sub-variations of one of Morphy's brilliant endings. As he fondly pushed the pieces to and fro at the close of such an evening as many a chess player has spent, he was startled by a noise at his side, and turned in time to see Santa Claus emerge from the chimney place.

"Why, hello Kris!" greeted the Chess Player, springing to his feet and extending his hand. "I caught you this time. Hey?"

"I must admit it," replied the merry fellow as he drew himself to his full height, shook the snow from his immense coat, and warmly returned the hand-clasp. Then he turned and spied the chessmen.

"Ho! So you play the royal game, do you?" exclaimed Santa.

Click here to continue reading.  And don't forget to follow the chess game.

Wednesday, December 25

Crunch Time at World Youth

1818 Kids Represent 121 Countries!

If Santa Claus arrived tardy at your house yesterday, then blame the 94 American juniors competing at the World Youth Chess Championships deep inside the desert of the United Arab Emirates.  No doubt, this lengthy detour cost Santa and his reindeer valuable time.

Burj Al Arab luxury hotel in Dubai. Photo: tripadvisor
After a day of rest and sightseeing to coincide with Christmas, the chess tournament resumes tomorrow (Thursday) with three rounds left to play.  Rounds 5 to 8 left a brutal toll on Team USA, with the players struggling to a 53% overall score (compared to 64% in the first 4 rounds).  A dozen kids have scored 6-2 or more, but only half appear strong enough to seriously compete for the medals.  Given the increased turnout this year, a score of 8.5 will probably not be sufficient for a medal in the U14 and lower sections.

The best American chances lie with the U10 age group.  Top rated FM Awonder Liang won all 8 rounds to open up a full point lead.  The biggest surprise to date is Bay Area expert Josiah Stearman, currently second on tiebreaks with 7-1.  He caught the eyes of ChessBase website, because he has no FIDE rating yet; locals know he improved rapidly this year, with a current USCF rating of 2090.  Two U10 girls, Carissa Yip of Massachusetts and Sanjana Vittal of New Jersey, have also made waves and find themselves within striking distance.  

The final contenders are GM Daniel Naroditsky (U18) and expert Agata Bykovtsev (U14).  The two Californians currently find themselves in 4th place, narrowly outside the medals.

Click here for the complete results of Team USA.  Result of Round 9 in GREEN.

  • U18 - Open
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky 6.0 (4th) WON
    • FM Atulya Shetty 4.5
  • U18 - Girls
    • WFM Jessica Regam 4.5
  • U16 - Open
    • NM Michael Brown 5.5 Drew
    • NM David Hua 5.0
    • FM Michael Bodek 5.0 WON
  • U16 - Girls
    • Margaret Hua 5.0 Drew
    • WCM Ellen Xiang 4.5 WON
  • U14 - Open
    • NM Edward Song 5.5 WON
    • NM Vignesh Panchanatham 5.0 
    • NM Siddharth Banik 4.5 WON
    • NM Colin Chow 4.5 WON
  • U14 - Girls
    • Agata Bykovtsev 6.0 (4th) Drew
    • WCM Maggie Feng 5.5 
    • Ashritha Eswaran 5.5 WON
  • U12 - Open
    • NM Ruifeng Li 5.5
    • Brandon Nydick 5.5
    • NM Nicolas Checa 5.5
    • Andrew Zheng 5.0
  • U12 - Girls
    • WFM Jennifer Yu 5.5 WON
    • WFM Annie Wang 5.5 Drew
    • Joanna Liu 5.0
    • Trakru Priya 5.0 WON
    Josiah is all smiles. Photo: McCarty
  • U10 - Open
    • FM Awonder Liang 8.0 (1st) WON
    • Josiah Stearman 7.0 (2nd)
    • CM David Peng 6.0 (9th) WON
    • CM Christopher Shen 5.5 Drew
  • U10 - Girls
    • Carissa Yip 6.0 (7th) WON
    • WCM Vittal Sanjana 6.0 (8th)
    • Martha Samadashvili 5.0 Drew
    • Shreya Mangalam 5.0 WON
  • U8 - Open
    • Logan Wu 6.0 Drew
    • Kevin Chor 6.0 WON
    • Balaji Daggupati 6.0 
    • Atreya Vaidya 6.0 Drew
    • Anthony He 5.5
    • Maximillian Lu 5.5 WON
    • Maurya Palusa 5.5 WON
  • U8 - Girls
    • Anh Nhu Nguyen 6.0 (9th)
    • Aksithi Eswaran 5.0
    • Maggie Ni (5.0) WON
    • Annapoorni Meiyappan 5.0
    • Subramaniyan Keertana 5.0 WON
    • Nastassja Matus 5.0 Drew
Wishing best skill to all!!!

Tuesday, December 24

And To All, A Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Feliz Navidad

Frohe Weihnachten

Joyeux Noël

Buon Natale

Vrolijk Kerstfeest 

God Jul

Maligayang Pask

Miilaad Majiid  

Shèng Dàn Kuài Lè

Saturday, December 21

Team USA Heating Up In Al Ain

Main tournament playing hall

Saturday, the fourth day of the 2013 World Youth Chess Championships in Al Ain, featured the lone  grueling double-round of the tournament.  By the evening, only 17 competitors out of  1800+ could claim a perfect 5-0 score, most in the U10 and U8 age categories.  One week from today, a dozen new champions will be crowned.

Two rooks or a castle? Photo: McCarty
If the medal ceremony were held today, then Team USA would bring home 4 medals, one gold, two silver, and one bronze.  FM Awonder Liang of Wisconsin and CM David Peng of Illinois, two of the top three seeds in U10, remain perfect at the top of the leader board.  NM Edward Song of Michigan sits in second place of U14 and plays on board 1.  And in U18, the California star GM Daniel Naroditsky holds third place on tiebreaks despite yielding a pair of draws.

Another 7 American children rank in the Top 10, seemingly within striking distance of the medals.  Indeed, 20 kids have scored 4.0 out of 5 or higher.  Amazingly, 60% of Team USA sports a plus score (3.0 or more).  While these statistics point to an encouraging start, 6 rounds remain to be played.

Click here for the complete results of Team USA.

  • U18 - Open
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky 4.0 (3rd)
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky. Photo: CCSCSL
    • FM Atulya Shetty 2.5
  • U18 - Girls
    • Rochelle Ballantyne 2.5
    • WFM Jessica Regam 2.5
  • U16 - Open
    • NM Michael Brown 4.0 (7th)
    • FM Michael Bodek 3.5
    • NM Christopher Wu 3.5
    • NM Safal Bora 3.5
  • U16 - Girls
    • Alice Dong 3.0
    • WCM Apurva Virkud 3.0
    • WCM Claudia Muñoz 3.0
  • U14 - Open
    • NM Edward Song 4.5 (2nd)
    • NM Kesav Viswanadha 4.0 
    • NM Daniel Mousseri 3.5
  • U14 - Girls
    • WCM Maggie Feng 4.0 (6th)
    • Agata Bykovtsev 4.0 (7th)
    • Ashritha Eswaran 3.5
  • U12 - Open
    • NM Nicolas Checa 4.5 (5th)
    • NM Albert Lu 4.0 (9th)
    • Brandon Nydick 3.5
    • NM Ruifeng Li 3.5
  • U12 - Girls
    • WFM Annie Wang 4.0
    • WFM Jennifer Yu 3.5
    • FM Awonder Liang
    • Joanna Liu 3.5
  • U10 - Open
    • FM Awonder Liang 5.0 (1st)
    • CM David Peng 5.0 (2nd)
    • Josiah Stearman 4.0
    • CM Christopher Shen 3.5
  • U10 - Girls
    • WCM Vittal Sanjana 4.0
    • Shreya Mangalam 3.5
  • U8 - Open
    • Balaji Daggupati 4.5 (4th)
    • Anthony He 4.0 (10th)
    • Rishith Susarla 4.0
    • CM Kevin Chor 4.0
    • Ethan Pau 4.0
    • CM Maximilliam Lu 4.0
  • U8 - Girls
    • Anh Nhu Nguyen 4.0