Thursday, July 24

One week until Tromsø Olympiad

Aside from the World Championship, the most important international chess tournament is the Olympiad, organized every other year.  The 2014 Chess Olympiad takes place during the first two weeks of August in Tromsø, a Norwegian city located north of the Arctic Circle.  The statistics are staggering: 310 teams (Open and Women) with more than 1500 players, including roughly 275 Grandmasters.  A half dozen squads field a top-4 average rating above 2700 FIDE.  However, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) actives promotes participation by weaker nations, and no fewer than 40 teams rated under 2000 FIDE will compete in the Open section.
Tromsø lies amid water and mountains.



The two American teams have serious aspirations to bringing home a medal.  The men are seeded 5th and the women 7th. Team USA last reached the podium in Dresden, Germany in 2008, when both squads earned the bronze medal.  Fortunately, the strongest American masters will all represent the red, white and blue, including current World #5 Hikaru Nakamura plus reigning US Champions Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush.  The team brings plenty of experience to Norway, with the top four men and top three women returning from 2012. Watch the newcomer for the men--the Bay Area's own Sam Shankland!

Team USA - Open (2704 average)
  • Board 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura (2787)
  • Board 2 GM Gata Kamsky (2717)
  • Board 3 GM Varuzhan Akobian (2653)
  • Board 4 GM Alex Onischuk (2659)
  • Alternate GM Sam Shankland (2632)
  • Captain IM John Donaldson
  • Coach GM Wesley So 

Team USA - Women (2408 average)
  • Board 1 GM Irina Krush (2484)
  • Board 2 IM Anna Zatonskih (2466)
  • Board 3 WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2366)
  • Board 4 WGM Katerina Nemcova (2316)
  • Alternate WGM Anna Sharevich (2275)
  • Captain GM Melik Khachiyan
  • Coach GM Yuri Shulman

No doubt, the Americans will face stiff competition from around the globe, especially from the countries of the former USSR.  Indeed, USSR, Russia, Ukraine and Armenia won gold in the Open section at every Olympiad since the 1970s!  In recent years, Armenia (2012, 2008, 2006) and Ukraine (2010, 2004) have taken the top honors, while perennial top seed Mother Russia has failed every year since Garry Kasparov retired.  Four countries dominated the Women's category for the past eleven Olympiads: Russia (the last 2), China (4 golds out of 11), Georgia (also 4) and Ukraine (just gold in 2006).  China and Russia once again field the highest rated ladies squads.

Top Teams - Men
World Champion Magnus Carlsen
  1. Russia 2777 -- Kramnik + Grischuk + Karjakin + Svidler
  2. Ukraine 2722 -- Ivanchuk + Ponomariov + Eljanov
  3. France 2718 -- Vachier-Lagrave + Bacrot + Fressinet
  4. Armenia 2705 -- Aronian + Sargissian
  5. USA 2704 -- Nakamura + Kamsky
  6. Hungary 2702 -- Leko + Rapport
  7. China 2696 -- Liren Ding + Wang Yue
  8. Azerbaijan 2694 -- Mamedyarov + Radjabov
  9. England 2682 -- Adams 
  10. Netherlands 2678 -- Giri
  11. Israel 2677 -- Gelfand
  12. Cuba 2676 -- Dominguez
  13. Norway 2668 -- Carlsen
  14. Germany 2666 -- Naiditsch
  15. Poland 2663 -- Wojtaszek

Most of the world's top players will participate.   Caruana (Italy) and Topalov (Bulgaria) have signed up, but their countries are not contenders.  The most glaring absence is #7 Anand, who has not represented India since 2010.  (In an interesting parallel, the top rated Indian woman, #2 Humpy Koneru, also will skip Norway.)  The next highest rated GM to sit out is Wesley So, who remains embroiled in a contentious battle to switch federations from the Philippines to USA.  Unable to play for the red, white and blue this year, So will assist the team as coach.

Top Teams - Women
Women's Champion Hou Yifan
  1. China 2544 -- Hou Yifan + Zhao Xue
  2. Russia 2521 -- Lagno + Kosteniuk
  3. Ukraine 2505 -- A.Muzychuk + M.Muzychuk
  4. Georgia 2498 -- Dzagnidze
  5. India 2420 -- Harika
  6. Romania 2410 
  7. USA 2408
  8. Poland 2392
  9. France 2391
  10. Germany 2387

Miscellaneous:  1. World Champion Magnus Carlsen will lead the home team.  How will he continue to handle the glare of the media?  2. Aside from the chess competition, the Olympiad allows chess delegates from around the globe to meet and set the direction for FIDE.  3. The most important pairing features Kirsan Ilyumzhinov against Garry Kasparov in the election for FIDE President.  The USA and Western Europe support the 13th World Champion, but the electoral landscape (one vote per country, no matter how small) favors the incumbent.  Will the chess community be able to resist a smiling leader who grows money on trees, socializes with aliens, and allegedly ordered the murder of a suspicious journalist?  4. Aside from chess and politics, the most exciting event at every Olympiad is the Bermuda party.  Definitely the place to go see a tipsy GM or fifty.  5. Given the northerly latitude of Tromsø, this may be the first Bermuda party held in daylight!  Hopefully the participants will be able to sleep longer than the 3-4 hours of twilight each evening

Saturday, July 19

Cal Boyz Pwning Grandmasters in Europe

Many American masters crossed the Atlantic seeking norms for the most prestigious titles in chess (GM and IM).  The close proximity of many countries permits easy travel from one event to another.  European organizers also benefit from open borders, helping them attract the necessary foreign players to award international title norms.  Opportunity knocks for American masters who can afford to spend a month playing chess in Europe.

After picking up his High School diploma from Crystal Springs Uplands School, Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky set out to play three consecutive tournaments in the vicinity of Barcelona, Spain.  Having already achieved the highest title in chess, his objective became gaining experience and rating points.  Consider the mission accomplished!  Danya added 28 points total to raise his FIDE rating to 2587, boosted by a 2701 performance at Teplice.  Check out the game above to see how he tears down the Berlin Wall against fellow 18-year old talent, GM Karen Grigoryan of Armenia.    

Now the top rated scholastic (K-12) player in Northern California, 17-year old FM Yian Liou also entered a trio of European tournaments, although he flew to Belgrade, Serbia.  In three weeks, he picked up a valuable pair of IM norms (his third and fourth) and earned 30 points for a projected 2417 international rating.  Yian scalped his first Grandmaster in Novi Sad, and then repeated the feat a week later in Paracin!  The latter success came by a powerful attack against Serbian GM Borko Lajthajm (see game below).

Tuesday, July 8

Experts Win in Sacramento!

California's newest National Master: Uyanga Byambaa!

The 2014 Sacramento Chess Championship attracted 90 players old and young to the comfortable Holiday Inn Express on Auburn Blvd over the 4th of July weekend.  The weather outside was seasonably hot and the competition heated up as well, with a Sacramento area record $5000 up for grabs!  Naturally, the weekend saw plenty of fireworks, both on and off the chess boards.  Perhaps half of the participants psyched up for round 4 by watching the scintillating penalty shootout between the Netherlands and Costa Rica on a big screen in the spacious lounge.

The Open section drew 35 entries, including five rated 2200 or higher.  The conspicuous absence of defending champion IM Ricardo DeGuzman left the field wide open.  Top rated NM Jimmy Heiserman turned in a solid performance of 3 wins and 3 draws, but this proved insufficient for first place.  Congratulations to WFM Uyanga Byambaa and her boyfriend Byron Doyle for sharing top honors!  They took home $525 each, with Byron earning the trophy on tiebreaks (not that it mattered).  Officially rated as experts, both co-champions gained many rating points: Uyanga to 2206 and Byron to 2164.  Special kudos to Uyanga for earning the National Master title with her final round miniature against FM Kenan Zildzic!

Section Winners
  • Master/Expert: Uyanga Byambaa and Byron Doyle
  • Reserve (U2000): Bernie Lu, Ziad Baroudi and Bayaraa Bekhtur
  • Amateur (U1600): Srinivas Susarla

National TD John McCumiskey capably organized this event, as he has done each year since 2001.  The location on Auburn Blvd offers a quiet and air conditioned playing hall with plenty of elbow room for all sections.  The skittles room includes tables, bar stools, sofas, large TV screens, and free wifi internet.  Great for chess players and parents alike.  Almost perfect--if you ask me.

Friday, July 4

Yian Liou Secures 3rd IM Norm!

Yian wears his Stanford colors while playing chess in Paracin, Serbia

Bay Area 17-year old Yian Liou completed his third and final norm for the International Master title this week at a small invitational tournament held in Novi Sad, Serbia.  Rated in the middle of the field, his opposition included four GMs, three IMs and three fellow norm contenders.  He scored an undefeated 6.0 out of 10 for a 2471 performance, despite the handicap of being paired as black six times.  While most of the strongest players hailed from Serbia, Yian also faced opponents from Russia, Germany, Italy and the USA.  A true international event.

Center of Novi Sad, Serbia.
The first two rounds clearly set the tone: first a solid draw with the black pieces against top seeded GM Borko Lajthajm (2526) and then a win against veteran GM Vladimir Kostic (2400).  The latter game became Yian's first Grandmaster scalp, although he already accumulated a lengthy history of draws against strong titled players.  The second victory came in a complex endgame versus the American junior IM Akshat Chandra (check out his Quest to GM blog).

Yian's first two norms came at Metropolitan Chess in Los Angeles and the North American Open in Las Vegas, both in 2012.  He achieved a peak FIDE rating of 2403 in fall 2013.  However, the results stagnated over the past year, no doubt a consequence of a demanding academic and athletic schedule.  He begins the senior year next month at Monte Vista High School in Danville.

Yian at age 10. I promised not to embarrass
him too much in this article.  Sorry mate!
I still remember teaching young Yian as an 8-year old, fearful of my wheelchair.  He has doubled his rating since then, and lost any inhibition towards me or even the best chess players in the world.  When FIDE approves his title application, Yian will become my third former student to hold the IM title, behind Daniel Naroditsky (now a GM) and Steven Zierk (currently studying at MIT). 

What comes next for the young globe trotter?  The tour of Serbia continues this weekend at the Championship of Central Serbia in Paracin (top seed is GM Richard Rapport, rated 2701).  A third event follows, back in Novi Sad.  Good luck maestro!!  Pick up more rating points and maybe even a GM norm. :-)

Wednesday, May 28

Interview with World #2 Aronian

Check out a new interview with Armenian GM Levon Aronian, currently the #2 rated player in the World at 2815.  Widely known to be gregarious, he generously responds to written questions from MetroChess of Los Angeles, building up the anticipation of his visit in July as the lead instructor at their exciting summer camp.  This interview focuses on how Aronian learned chess as a junior.

Q: In your view what is the main benefit of learning chess during childhood?

A: Chess can teach a person to appreciate beauty in things that are not visibly beautiful at first sight. In chess you need to dig deep to see the true meaning of some moves. Another thing I learned from chess is patience. Before you react, you need to understand the situation.

Q: Is there any advice you can give to young developing chess players?

A: I think it’s important to be good at tactics and calculation. Those skills you can develop by yourself, and for strategy you will need an experienced guide. The best thing that Melik (Khachiyan) did for me was to force me to solve and play blindfold chess – it helped my calculation and imagination.

Click to read the entire interview or to learn about the chess camp in Glendale on July 9-13.

Friday, April 25

Advice for Chess Parents Revised

Daniel Naroditsky and Steven Zierk smile at 2008 CalChess Scholastics.

Editorial Note: I published this article first as an email in 2007 and on this blog in 2008.  The 2014 version has been revised more than in previous years. 

Once again, the week has arrived of the biggest scholastic chess tournament in California: the CalChess Super States in Santa Clara.  Many of the competitors—the children—have spent months preparing for the most challenging weekend of the year.  This article seeks to prepare their parents for the adventures (and stress) of a major chess tournament.  What role do adults have?  And how should a loving parent behave at a chess tournament?

Indeed, a youngster’s confidence and ability to play well reflect (in no small part) the behavior of the parents. I have seen far too many examples of adults (yes, coaches sometimes included) discouraging children, instead of offering emotional support and positive reinforcement. Is it any surprise that many of the same juniors inevitably will quit chess soon?

First and foremost, you should prepare your child with the necessary food and rest before and during the weekend. Make sure to get plenty of sleep; an extra hour of sleep will help during the last games at the end of each long day. Of course, the kids need a big and healthy breakfast (very important) plus lunch / snacks between rounds. Those in the older sections who tend to play longer games may wish to take a bottle of water and a small snack (chocolate, candy or chewing gum) with them for each round.

Trophies, trophies and more trophies!
More challenging is to strike a balance between keeping your child focused after their games while not draining all their energy. Refrain from chess activities between rounds, except for briefly reviewing the tournament games with a coach or a computer. Avoid blitz and bughouse; both cause kids to play impulsively instead of carefully thinking about the best move. Older kids may wish to bring a book, iPod or a deck of cards to play with friends. Younger kids may prefer video games. Some children go outside to play ball for a little while—enough to relax, but not as much to drain their energy.

What advice can you give immediately before the round? My suggestion is simple: "Try your best and have fun!” For example, “Try your best” means to take your time and think of different possibilities. As you walk to the board, maintain a positive attitude, but make sure to be respectful to the opponent and parent. While chess is a war game, the battle should take place only on the 64 squares.

The challenge inherent in the motto “Try your best and have fun!” is for parents to stick to it afterwards. If your child honestly tried their best, then you must offer encouragement no matter what the result. Never get angry with your son or daughter simply because they lost, even to a lower rated opponent. Legitimate reasons to become disappointed include moving too fast, lack of focus (e.g. looking at other games) or failure to record the moves. Most children are eager to talk about the game, and even parents who do not play chess will pick up key details. (e.g. “I blundered” or “I had a win, but I lost” or “I didn’t see his piece”) Just remember this maxim: Nobody is perfect.

Neel Apte, Daniel Liu and Fpawn at 2009 CalChess Scholastics.
Up to this point, I have described how you the parent can help your child be happy (and successful) at a chess tournament. In the second half of this essay, I will profile four common parent behaviors that I hope to discourage.

1. Parent measures performance merely by wins, losses and rating points. They become upset when the child draws or loses to a lower rated player, without considering the quality of the game or day-to-day fluctuations in the strength of both players. 

Fpawn responds: Chess ratings are based on statistical formulas that predict your winning percentage. For example, a player rated 200 points higher should win about 75% of games; one rated 400 points high should score about 90%. We must come to expect an occasional bad result against a lower rated player. Even an improving player may have one bad game or a disappointing tournament. As I have told many people, progress often comes by taking two steps forward and one step backwards.

2. Parent relies on Fritz too much. Many times a parent with modest chess skill reviews a game with Fritz (or another computer program) and determines that the child missed one or more key tactics. The parent typically quotes a computer evaluation. 

Fpawn responds: No human can play like Fritz and even elite Grandmasters sometimes overlook mate in 1 (Vladimir Kramnik) or hang a piece out of the blue. Fritz is merely a training tool, and represents a superhuman standard to measure your performance against. Parents (and even coaches) sometimes forget how much more difficult it is to play with the clock ticking than to review a completed game with the computer.

Daniel Schwarz poses at 2006 CalChess Scholastics.
3. Parent wants to beat the child’s rival(s). Sadly, the parent measures the child strictly against the results of the rival. It becomes important to score more points or achieve a milestone first. Moreover, the child is forbidden to socialize with the rival, only for competitive reasons. 

Fpawn responds: In recent years, the best young players in the Bay Area have benefited from the interaction with their closest rivals. Masters Nicolas Yap, Drake Wang and Daniel Schwarz, who graduated from high school in 2007, competed for the same trophies at the CalChess States for an entire decade, yet forged strong friendships that included dozens of hours of analysis and online blitz. The benefits of chess friends and study partners far outweigh any competitive disadvantage. Set a positive example for your children to follow by meeting your child’s rivals and their parents.

4. Parent lives vicariously through their child’s achievements. Most parents are proud of the success by their son or daughter, but a few take the competition to another level by boasting. And they become resentful when the result does not meet strict expectations. 

Fpawn responds: It is of utmost importance that your child has fun. Juniors who don't truly enjoy chess (independent of goals set by their parents) simply will not improve as rapidly. You can lead a camel to water, but you cannot force it to drink. Unfortunately, kids who are pushed too hard for years become candidates to drop out of chess entirely in teen years.

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 historic 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!