Friday, September 19

CalChess Young Masters

Kesav Viswanadha calculates.
Michael Wang concentrates.

The Bay Area has built the reputation for supporting the growth of  talented young chess stars.  Over a few short years, many of these juniors improve to Expert, Master and Beyond!  Incredibly, 11 now hold a USCF rating above 2200 on the October supplement.  Another 5 earned their National Master certificate previously, but have since dropped a few points.  That's a total of 16 CalChess young masters!  

To put these numbers in perspective, consider that zero masters played at the CalChess Scholastics in 2003, while 2006 was the first year to see more than two masters participate.

Top CalChess Juniors (rated above 2150 on October supplement)
  1. IM-elect Yian Liou (age 17) 2502 USCF rating
  2. FM Kesav Viswanadha (15) 2429
  3. FM Cameron Wheeler (14) 2382
  4. Josiah Stearman smiles on his birthday.
  5. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (14) 2356
  6. NM Colin Chow (14) 2282
  7. NM Paul Richter (16) 2271
  8. NM Michael Wang (12) 2240
  9. NM Allan Beilin (15) 2221
  10. NM Siddharth Banik (14) 2215
  11. NM Rayan Taghizadeh (12) 2212
  12. FM Tanuj Vasudeva (13) 2209
  13. nm Josiah Stearman (11) 2185
  14. Teemu Virtanen (15) 2184
  15. Neel Apte (16) 2180
  16. nm Jack Zhu (15) 2174
  17. Ladia Jirasek (14) 2174
  18. Pranav Nagarajan (14) 2172
  19. nm Ashritha Eswaran (13) 2171
  20. nm Daniel Liu (16) 2165
  21. nm Udit Iyengar (14) 2165
  22. Jerome Sun (17) 2165
  23. Hunter Klotz-burwell (16) 2164
  24. Joshua Cao (17) 2164
  25. Kevin Moy (14) 2155
* nm = NM but currently rated under 2200

The top two players on this list both have a trio of IM norms to their credit.  Yian also achieved the required 2400 FIDE rating, while Kesav must pick up another 18 FIDE points.  We should have two new International Masters among our midst soon.

Watch out for Josiah!  The young lad spent the last month of summer on a quest for 2200.  He reached his goal in San Diego, peaking at 2215 before slipping back down.  Officially, Josiah gained 133 rating points in one month, from the August rating list to September (2066 to 2199)! 

Who will be next to make master?  Certainly anyone rated above 2150 could crack 2200 after one or two good weekends.  In addition, a pair of even younger stars, Hans Niemann (11) and Andrew Hong (9), already sport competitive ratings above 2100.

Wednesday, September 17

Blitz Tourney on Sunday at Mechanics!

Neil Falconer -
Update: At least three GMs expect to play: Daniel Naroditsky, Patrick Wolff and James Tarjan!

Five months after his passing, the Mechanics' Institute will honor trustee, patron and chess enthusiast Neil Falconer with a Sunday afternoon blitz tournament.  Mr. Falconer's dedication to the royal game spanned 75 years, from days as a high school student to sponsorship of the generous Falconer Award every year since 1999.  He remained a strong class A player even into his 80s, and challenged some of my top students.  I spoke with him several times, during the CalChess legal crisis in 2004-05 and informally at the chess club.  Unfortunately, we never crossed swords over the board.  Please read this tribute to one of the great gentlemen of Northern California chess.

The Falconer Blitz Tournament follows a similar format to the annual Ray Schutt Memorial, which has become the largest and most prestigious blitz event in the Bay Area.  Given Mr. Falconer's popularity, I expect many experts and masters to attend, including a few titled players.  Come on down for a fun afternoon of chess in the City!  

Neil Falconer Blitz Tournament 
Sunday, September 21
Location: 57 Post Street, San Francisco (Montgomery BART)
FORMAT: Five double-round Swiss

TIME CONTROL: G/5 + inc/2
(bring your digital clock)

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

PRIZES: $750 total (guaranteed)
1st place: $300
2nd place: $200
3rd place: $100
4th place: $75
5th place: $50
6th place: $25

Every player takes home a book from Mr. Falconer's library!

REGISTRATION: 1 to 1:45 pm on-site only.  There will be no registration in advance.  The tournament starts at 2 pm and lasts until about 5 pm. Prize fund guaranteed by GM Patrick Wolff.

Note from Fpawn: Normally, I would jump to attend this event, especially since I knew Neil.  However, the date presents an unavoidable conflicts with other plans.  I'll be there in spirit.

Saturday, September 13

Round 3 - Mechanics Blow Thru Nor'easters

Cameron Wheeler
After a disappointing second round, the San Francisco Mechanics (1.5 MP, 5.0 GP) cranked out the first victory of 2014 against the struggling New England Nor'easters (0.0 MP, 4.5 GP).  On top board, Daniel Naroditsky won a complex time scramble against fellow Grandmaster Alexander Ivanov.  Playing black for the second week in a row, Jesse Kraai maintained sufficient activity to draw a rook endgame.  That left matters in the hands of 14-year old Cameron Wheeler, who needed 105 moves to convert an endgame up the exchange.  Unfortunately, the 11-year old playing Board 4, Hans Niemann, suffered a painful lesson at the hands of an experienced master.  Final score: 2.5-1.5 in favor of the local US Chess League junkies!

Next Tuesday night, the home team faces the Western Division leading Dallas Destiny (3.0 MP, 10.0 GP), who feature reigning MVP, 13-year old Jeffery Xiong on board 2!  Watch the games live on ICC beginning at 5:30pm Pacific.

Wednesday, August 27

Round 1 - Mechanics Draw Rio Grande

Siddharth Banik
In the first week of the 2014 US Chess League, the San Francisco Mechanics (0.5 MP, 2.0 GP) split four decisive games against the Rio Grande Ospreys (0.5 MP, 2.0 GP).  Vignesh Panchanatham and Siddharth Banik capably vanquished much lower rated opponents. Check out Siddharth's tactics in a razor sharp line of the Schliemann Defense.  Needing only to draw, both Daniel Naroditsky and Yian Liou lost to strong Grandmasters on the top two boards. Kudos to the Ospreys for splitting their inaugural league match!

The Mechanics square off against longtime rivals Seattle Sluggers (0.0 MP, 1.0 GP) next Tuesday night.

Monday, August 25

US Chess League 2014

The 10th season of the US Chess League kicks off this week!  The defending champion Miami Sharks face stiff competition from St. Louis ("Arch Bishops" feature three 2700s), New York ("Knights" star US Champion Gata Kamsky) and more than a dozen other cities around the nation. The league expanded to 18 teams, adding squads from Atlanta ("Kings") and Rio Grande ("Ospreys" from Brownsville TX).  The season stretches 10 weeks through the end of October, with 4 rounds of playoffs culminating in the Championship Match on December 3.  Teams will battle in three divisions (East, South and West), with the Top 3 in each, plus one 4th place, qualifying for the playoffs.

The San Francisco Mechanics joined the USCL in the inaugural season and have reached the playoffs in 7 out of 9 years.  Playing at the historic Mechanics' Institute, the club won the 2006 league championship, but also lost three times in the semifinals, including last year to the Sharks.  Team captain IM John Donaldson has successfully relied on one strategy while recruiting the roster each year: fill the lower boards with underrated juniors.  Case in point: the talented junior Daniel Naroditsky, who recently broke 2600 FIDE rating, will play for the 9th straight year, progressing from bottom rated in 2006 up to first board.

2014 Mechanics Roster
(Use January USCF list for official ratings.)
  1. GM Daniel Naroditsky (age 18), 2675 (August), 2614* (January), +61 (gain)
  2. GM Jesse Kraai, 2589, 2574, +15
  3. GM Vinay Bhat, 2555, 2555, 0
  4. IM-elect Yian Liou (17), 2475, 2478, -3
  5. FM Andy Lee, 2361, 2314, +47
  6. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (14), 2332, 2306, +26
  7. FM Cameron Wheeler (14), 2368, 2300, +68
  8. NM Siddharth Banik (14), 2236, 2212, +24
  9. Hans Niemann (11), 2136, 1979*, +157
(* League rules count Naroditsky as 2600 and Niemann as 2000.)

The kid on board 4: Hans!
The youthfulness of the San Francisco delegation jumps right out.  If you still consider 18-year old  Daniel as a junior, then the kids comprise 2/3 of the team!  The first round lineup (1-4-6-8) is one of the youngest in league history--an average age under 16.  Incredibly, the average August rating of 2430 still ranks among the highest for Week 1.  In fact, captain Donaldson can select from an assortment of lineups ranked above 2400 by platooning the Grandmasters on board 1 and substituting on boards 3 and 4.  The Mechanics can even field two GMs, balanced out by the rapidly improving expert Hans on board 4.  The three strongest (legal) lineups appear to be (1-4-7-8), (1-5-6-7) and (1-2-5-9), each rated between 2434 and 2440 USCF.

The US Chess League returns to the Internet Chess Club (ICC) this fall, with games scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings of every week.  Good luck to the Mechanics as they face the expansion team from the Rio Grande on Wednesday, August 27 at 5:30pm.

Sunday, August 24

Ten Student Goals for Chess Lessons

Neel Apte and Daniel Liu with Coach Fpawn at 2009 CalChess Scholastics.

The beginning of each academic year gives students time to review their personal goals for chess lessons.  The following list appears at my teaching website:
  1. Become a more confident chess player!
  2. Critique your games for mistakes and improvements.
  3. Develop the necessary patience to carefully consider the consequences of every move played during a chess game.
  4. Improve pattern recognition and understanding of tactics.
  5. Learn positional and strategic concepts, such as tempo, space, pawn structures, weaknesses, good/bad pieces, and threats.
  6. Apply standard opening rules and develop an opening repertoire.
  7. Understand the theory of common endgames.
  8. Cope with psychological pressures caused by different game situations, such as a winning or losing position.
  9. Prepare for tournaments or even specific opponents.
  10. Have fun!

Tuesday, August 12

Interview with GM Shankland at Olympiad

GM Sam Shankland has been the hero of Team USA and one of the biggest stories of the Tromsø Olympiad as a whole.  Not only did he achieve the best result on Board 5 (alternate) to date, his FIDE performance rating after the penultimate round places him third in the entire competition, behind only elite Grandmasters Veselin Topalov and Yu Yangyi!

One surprising factoid from this interview is that "Shanky" participated in his first chess tournament shortly before his 12th birthday.  Indeed, I remember him sporting a 1600 rating at his first National Open ten summers ago.  These days, the average 8 or 9 year old chess player seems to sport a 1600 rating.  Sam worked hard at chess (5000 standard games on ICC within 15 months) and reached master in less than 2.5 years!  Unfortunately, 2200 would not impress Vishy Anand, who famously said "nowadays, when you're not a Grandmaster at 14, you can forget about it!"

In the interview, Shankland speaks highly of both the Berkeley Chess School and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Good luck to Sam and the rest of Team USA at the final round of the Olympiad on Thursday at 2AM Pacific time.  Note that Wednesday is a rest day.

Saturday, August 9

Team USA Clawing Into Contention

Harbor of Tromsø with hills in background. Credit: Truong

As the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway begins its second week, the tension mounts both on and off the boards.  Teams from roughly 170 nations traveled to this remote locale north of the Arctic Circle despite sporadic flight delays, visa hassles and even threats of terrorism.  The host city has drawn positive reviews, especially for the beautiful scenery amidst water and mountains.  A few complaints included the FIDE zero-tolerance rule at the start of rounds and the use of portable toilets instead of more permanent facilities  For fans back home, the live coverage seems quite thorough.
World #2 Aronian plays white vs #1 Carlsen. Credit: Truong
After 7 rounds, a clear leader has emerged in both sections.  In the Open division, Azerbaijan (13 MP) defeated Cuba (11 MP) and moved 1 match point ahead of China (12 MP) and three other teams.  One big surprise is the Czech Republic (12 MP), which stunned top rated Russia (10 MP).  In the Women division, defending champion Russia (14 MP) knocked off top rated China (12 MP) to establish a 2 match point advantage over three teams.

Open Leaders (after Round 7)
  • 1st with 13 MP = Azerbaijan
  • 2nd-5th with 12 MP = China, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania
  • 6th-14th with 11 MP = France, Cuba, Armenia, India, Ukraine, Hungary Poland, Germany and USA
  • 15th-27th with 10 MP = Netherlands, Russia, Israel and others
Women Leaders (after Round 7)
  • 1st with 14 MP = Russia
  • 2nd-4th with 12 MP = China, Hungary and Poland
  • 5th-11th with 11 MP = France, Georgia, USA, Indonesia, Ukraine, Armenia and Colombia
  • 12th-22nd with 10 MP = Germany, India, Iran, Romania and others

The American delegation has seen ups and downs during the first seven rounds.  Both the men and women have won five matches.  However, each squad lost in third round (the men to Holland, the women to top rated China) and have since drawn an additional match, for a total of 11 match points out of a possible 14.  The men find themselves in 14th place, ahead of top ranked Russia, but the women stand in 7th place thanks to superior tiebreaks.  With four rounds to go, Team USA remains in contention for the medals, but must finish very strong.  No doubt 17 or 18 match points will be necessary for a spot on the podium, leaving almost zero room for error. 

Trivia from Tromsø
FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
  1. Open division stats: 172 teams from 167 countries.
  2. Women division stats: 134 teams from 129 countries.  
  3. Americans GM Sam Shankland and WGM Sabina Foisor are two out of only four players (from more than 1500) remaining with a 100% score after 7 rounds!
  4. Shortest win: 1.d4 g5 2.e4 f6 3.Qh5#  Seriously! (Zimbabwe vs Togo women, Round 4)
  5. Longest game: 139 moves (Vachier-Lagrave vs Jobava, 1-0, Round 7)
  6. Reigning World Champs (Magnus Carlsen and Hou Yifan) both lost in Round 7!
    13th World Champion Garry Kasparov
  7. The greatest social gathering at each Olympiad is the Bermuda party.  Chess photographer David Llada tweeted: “This was, with little doubt, the worst Bermuda party ever. Still, it was better than the average party.”
  8. The election of FIDE President occurs on Monday 8/11.  Western European countries and USA support ex-champion Garry Kasparov, but incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov remains entrenched after nearly 20 years in power.  Who will win?  Stay tuned!
  9. Weather: Sunny with low 46 / high 64.  Sunset 10:17pm.  Sunrise 3:24am.

Sunday, August 3

40th People's Tournament

The people are playing chess!  Credit: Chessdryad

The 40th annual People's Tournament took place at the Santa Clara Convention Center on the last weekend of July.  One of the Bay Area's oldest chess traditions, this event has survived changes in organizer and location in recent years.  My first People's dates back to 1995, when I was still a naive B player.  Every President's Day weekend, chess players young and old would meet at UC Berkeley for three days of mental gymnastics and listening to bongo drums.  The traditional venue, Pauley ballroom, offered a spectacular view of historic Sproul Plaza and the Campanile.  The tournament shares its name with People's Park, a nearby public park dating back to the protests of the 1960s.

Unfortunately, the chess community could not secure this breathtaking venue once student leaders moved on.  I won a hastily organized People's Replacement event of 2008 in Santa Clara.  The 35th edition in 2009 was the last at Pauley.  Subsequent years saw the tourney take on a nomadic existence under the auspices of Bay Area Chess, moving to Concord, Fremont, Pleasanton and finally to Santa Clara.  The dates also changed from February to July, avoiding a conflict with the popular Amateur Team West national championship.

This historical perspective brings us to the 2014 People's Tournament at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Roughly 175 chess enthusiasts and (for many) their parents participated in a weekend of mental gymnastics, minus the bongo drums.  The drummers were replaced by 30,000 fanatic 49ers season ticket holders attending the open house at brand new Levi's Stadium.  I cannot name any other chess tournaments held across the street from a major sports stadium!  The venue also lies adjacent to the Great America water park, which offers an evening fireworks show to complement the explosive tactics on the chess boards.

Top boards in final round. Credit: Chessdryad
Believe it or not, some people even played chess!  The top seeds, GM-elect Darwin Yang and IM Andrey Gorovets, travelled all the way from Texas.  Both finished in the money, but were surpassed in the final standings by a third Texan, SM Faik Aleskerov.  (Participants at master camps during July should recognize their coaches Andrey or Faik.)  A pair of California IMs, John Bryant and Vladimir Mezentsev, joined the 4-way tie for second behind Aleskerov.  The Bay Area youth attended in full force, with no fewer than ten players under 18 (mostly teenagers) and rated in the 2100s.  Amazingly, most of these talented experts gained rating points--at the cost of everyone else!  A special recognition goes to 10 year old Josiah Stearman, who shared top U2300 honors by vanguishing two tough emeritus NMs on the third day.

Major Prize Winners
  • Open: 1st = F.Aleskerov ; 2nd-5th = D.Yang, A.Gorovets, J.Bryant and V.Mezentsev ; U2300 = M.Aigner, J.Stearman
  • U2000: Yuan Wang
  • U1800: Seaver Dahlgren
  • U1600: Sunny Kahlon
  • U1400: Shawn Knapp, Sudha Kowtha

Aigner versus Sevillano in Round 6. Credit: my father
I turned in a successful result with an undefeated 4.0 out of 6 score.  This was my first performance above 2400 in more than six years, ironically since People's Replacement in 2008!  Actually, almost everything started badly, when I miscalculated a strong combination in Round 1 and could have resigned by move 25. Somehow, the high school student missed several tactics and traded into a drawn pawn endgame, which I botched three times (!) until he offered me a draw!?!?  I felt awful about my play, yet fortunate to have a half point.  I managed to recover and win two of the next three games, all against mid-expert level opponents. On the third day, I faced IM Andrey Gorovets and GM Enrico Sevillano, both rated over 2550, and earned two fighting draws.

Read full annotation of the Gorovets game on my website.

Thanks to Bay Area Chess for rescuing a tradition and to NM Richard Koepcke for capably directing over three long days, despite occasional periods of chaos.  

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.



PREVIEW by IM John Donaldson

The two American teams have serious aspirations to bringing home a medal.  The men are seeded 6th 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 (2701 average)
  • Board 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura (2787) -- World #5
  • Board 2 GM Gata Kamsky (2706) -- World #44
  • Board 3 GM Alex Onischuk (2659) -- World #92
  • Board 4 GM Varuzhan Akobian (2653) 
  • Alternate GM Sam Shankland (2624)
  • Captain IM John Donaldson
  • Coach GM Wesley So 

Team USA - Women (2406 average)
  • Board 1 GM Irina Krush (2474) -- World #29
  • Board 2 IM Anna Zatonskih (2468) -- World #36
  • Board 3 WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2366) -- World #93
  • Board 4 WGM Katerina Nemcova (2315)
  • Alternate WGM Sabina Foisor (2252)
  • 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 (New Ratings from August 1)
World Champion Magnus Carlsen
  1. Russia 2773 -- Kramnik + Grischuk + Karjakin + Svidler
  2. Ukraine 2723 -- Ivanchuk + Ponomariov + Eljanov
  3. France 2719 -- Vachier-Lagrave + Bacrot + Fressinet
  4. Armenia 2705 -- Aronian + Sargissian
  5. Hungary 2703 -- Leko + Rapport
  6. USA 2701 -- Nakamura + Kamsky
  7. China 2699 -- Liren Ding + Wang Yue
  8. Azerbaijan 2694 -- Mamedyarov + Radjabov
  9. Israel 2683 -- Gelfand
  10. England 2681 -- Adams 
  11. Netherlands 2677 -- Giri
  12. Germany 2671 -- Naiditsch
  13. Cuba 2669 -- Dominguez
  14. Norway 2666 -- Carlsen
  15. Poland 2662 -- 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 (New Ratings from August 1)
Women's Champion Hou Yifan
  1. China 2549 -- Hou Yifan + Zhao Xue
  2. Russia 2520 -- Lagno + Kosteniuk
  3. Ukraine 2510 -- A.Muzychuk + M.Muzychuk
  4. Georgia 2499 -- Dzagnidze
  5. India 2421 -- Harika
  6. Romania 2407 
  7. USA 2406
  8. Poland 2402
  9. France 2390
  10. Armenia 2383

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)