Thursday, September 10

Follow the World Cup in Baku

The 2015 Chess World Cup begins on September 11 in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and the birthplace of the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov.  A total of 128 participants have been paired much like college basketball's March Madness, with the top seeds facing the lowest rated in the first round.  Each round consists of two classical games (40/90, G/30, inc/30) followed by a third day of rapid and blitz tiebreaks (if necessary).

At the end of 7 rounds over 26 grueling days, the champion earns $96,000 and, perhaps more significantly, the top two qualify for the 2016 Candidates Tournament to determine the official challenger to Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Champion.  Can former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik win two World Cups in a row, or will one of the young superstars finish on top?

View from hotel in Baku. Credit: Caruana

Top 16 Seeds (with Live ratings)
  • #1 Veselin Topalov (BUL) 2813
  • #2 Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2816
  • #3 Fabiano Caruana (USA) 2796
  • #4 Anish Giri (NED) 2798
  • #5 Wesley So (USA) 2760
  • #6 Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2777
  • #7 Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 2774
  • #8 Ding Liren (CHN) 2782
  • #9 Levon Aronian (ARM) 2784 eliminated in round 2
  • #10 Dmitry Jakovenko (RUS) 2748
  • #11 Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2762
  • #12 Evgeny Tomashevsky (RUS) 2758
  • #13 Boris Gelfand (ISR) 2741 eliminated in round 1
  • #14 Pentala Harikrishna (IND) 2737 eliminated in round 2
  • #15 Michael Adams (ENG) 2742
  • #16 Peter Svidler (RUS) 2727

On one hand, three of the Top 5 seeds represent the USA.  On the other hand, there are six Russians among the Top 16 participants.  N.B.: The seeds reflect the August rating list, not the more current September list.

Nine Americans 
  • #2 Hikaru Nakamura 2816 advanced to round 3
  • #3 Fabiano Caruana 2796 advanced to round 3
  • #5 Wesley So 2760 advanced to round 3
  • #41 Ray Robson 2680 eliminated in round 1
  • #47 Gata Kamsky 2680 eliminated in round 1
  • #54 Alexander Onischuk 2662 eliminated in round 2 by #11 Karjakin (RUS)
  • #63 Sam Shankland 2656 eliminated in round 2 by #2 Nakamura (USA)
  • #79 Varuzhan Akobian 2635 eliminated in round 1
  • #112 Sam Sevian 2556 eliminated in round 1 by #17 Radjabov (AZE)

The format of the World Cup favors many upsets, starting as early as the first round!  Even one miscalculation could mean a premature flight home.  Four years ago, local star Sam Shankland scored the upset of his life by eliminating the Hungarian super-GM Peter Leko!  The following young players are poised to defeat higher seeded opponents in Baku.

Fpawn Upset Watch List
  • #22 Yu Yangyi (CHN) 2721 (age 21) advanced to round 3
  • #24 Wei Yi (CHN) 2734 (age 16) advanced to round 3
  • #45 Vladislav Artemiev (RUS) 2675 (age 17) eliminated in round 2
  • #46 Hou Yifan (CHN) 2671 (age 21) eliminated in round 2
  • #64 Ivan Bukavshin (RUS) 2657 (age 20) eliminated in round 1
  • #78 S.P. Sethuraman (IND) 2640 (age 22) advanced to round 3
  • #80 David Anton Guijarro (ESP) 2628 (age 20) eliminated in round 1
  • #90 Alexander Ipatov (TUR) 2625 (age 22) eliminated in round 2
  • #97 Lu Shanglei (CHN) 2599 (age 20) advanced to round 3

Wednesday, September 2

CalChess State Champs on Labor Day

The view of airplanes landing at SFO is sometimes breathtaking.

The annual CalChess State Championships, open to chess warriors of all ages, will be held this coming weekend at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, south of SFO Airport.  Veterans will recall this event as the Labor Day Festival, which for many years took place on Van Ness Avenue in the City itself. In those days, Labor Day was the biggest adult tournament in the Bay Area.  While the Golden State Open in January now boasts a larger prize fund and turnout, winning on Labor Day weekend brings more prestige--state champions will be crowned in every section!

Last year saw a pair of Grandmasters, Ioan Cristian Chirila and Oliver Barbosa, share first place, with Chirila awarded the trophy.  The defending champion will be back in 2015!  The top challengers include local GM and author Jesse Kraai, visiting GM Giorgi Margvelashvili, at least three International Masters, and one high-rated math professor.  Of course, one or two surprise entries show up on-site each year.

Update: 223 players have already registered.  

  • Event: CalChess State Championships
  • Date: September 5-7 (3-day) or September 6-7 (2-day
  • Location: San Francisco Airport Hyatt Regency in Burlingame (map here)
  • Format: 6 round swiss in 6 sections (Open, Expert, A, B, C and D/E/Unrated).
  • 3-day schedule: Reg: Sat 8-9:30. Rounds: Sat 10, 3:30; Sun 11, 5; Mon 10, 3:30.
  • 2-day schedule: Reg: Sun 8-9, Rounds: Sun 9:30, 12, 2:30, 5; Mon 10, 3:30.
  • Time control: 40/120 G/30 d/5; except rounds 1-3 of 2-day schedule at G/61 d/5.
  • Entry fee: $154 includes late fee; $25 extra to play up.
  • Prize fund: $20,000 based on 249 players, including $2,500 for 1st place in Open and between $1000 to $1500 for 1st place in each lower section.
  • Tournament flyer
  • Information page
  • Advance entry list
  • 2014 Results (266 players!!)

Traffic alert!  There will be no BART service from the East Bay to San Francisco for the entire weekend. Expect heavier than usual traffic on the bridges. More info at

Thursday, August 20

"Pawn Sacrifice" Coming to Theaters Soon

This exciting new chess movie will hit theaters across the country on September 18.  The film follows the life of Bobby Fischer, specifically his rise as the top American chess player during the Cold War.  Alas, the protagonist is both a genius and a madman.  How does the internal personality conflict become Fischer's greatest obstacle to success?

To read more about the "Pawn Sacrifice" movie and its production, check out the official website.

Monday, July 13

Sam Sevian Plays in Armenia

Sevian begins his game against Petrosyan. (Photo: Armen Sevian)

What has former Bay Area resident GM Sam Sevian been up to lately?  Readers of my blog may have noticed that he declined to participate in the US Junior Closed.  Apparently, America's youngest Grandmaster ever has bigger fish to fry these days.

Instead of Saint Louis, Sam chose to play in a category XV (average of 2618) invitational at Lake Sevan in Armenia.  The 10 players include 5 of the top 20 juniors in the world: Vladislav Artemiev (2660, RUS), Jan Krzysztof Duda (2632, POL), David Anton Guijarro (2632, ESP), Hovhannes Gabuzyan (2611, ARM) and Sam Sevian (2578, USA).  The older half of the field hopes experience will overcome youthful enthusiasm.  Incidentally, one name jumps out: Tigran Petrosyan may be strong at 2630, but he is not the 9th World Champion by the same name!

Lake Sevan International

Wednesday, July 8

Follow the US Junior Invitational

The players are ready to start! (Credit: CCSCSL)

The annual US Junior Invitational pits many of the country's top players under age 20 against each other in a 10-RR tournament.  The 2015 edition features four International Masters and four FIDE Masters.  Excluding the Junior Open qualifier, this elite field boasts an average rating of 2519 USCF!  The highest seed and clear favorite is GM-elect Jeffery Xiong, who recently earned his third and final GM norm at the Chicago Open!  Second seed IM Akshat Chandra has one GM norm to his credit.

Luke (left) battles Yian. (Credit: CCSCSL)
California chess fans can cheer for two local representatives.  Third seed IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti attends UCLA (at age 16!!) and IM Yian Liou will be a freshman at UC Berkeley next month.  Luke and Yian battled for many hours in Round 2, finally acquiescing to a draw after 120 moves.

Live coverage begins daily at 11:00am Pacific time.  Check out the running commentary by GM Ben Finegold and FM Aviv Friedman Excellent stuff!

US Junior Standings (Final)
  • 7.0 IM Akshat Chandra (2588, NJ, 15) - CHAMPION
  • 6.5 IM Jeffery Xiong (2616, TX, 14) - 2nd place
  • 6.0 FM Arthur Shen (2475, NJ, 18) - 3rd place
  • 5.0 FM Ruifeng Li (2503, TX, 14)
  • 4.5 FM Michael Bodek (2535, NY, 18)
  • 4.5 IM Yian Liou (2501, CA-N, 18)
  • 3.5 IM Luke Harmon-Vellotti (2542, ID, 16)
  • 3.5 FM Awonder Liang (2459, WI, 12))
  • 3.0 NM Mika Brattain (2452, MA, 16) 
  • 1.5 NM Curran Han (2211, TX, 17)

Once again, thanks to the world-class Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for hosting this prestigious event and guaranteeing the top-notch conditions that the talent deserves.  The prize fund alone is worth $20,000, including $6,000 for first place. 

Tuesday, July 7

Chinese Prodigy Achieves Immortality

Last week, the 16-year old superstar Wei Yi played one of the most beautiful attacking games in modern times at a tournament in Danzhou.  Facing the strong Cuban Grandmaster Lazaro Bruzon, the reigning Chinese national champion sacrificed his rook and later a bishop to snare the enemy in a mating web.  The helpless black monarch finishes its journey on h3, having been chased all the way across the board.  This brilliancy has been called the Game of the Decade by some and an Immortal Game by others.  Even ex-champion Garry Kasparov described it as "impressive."

Either watch the exciting 18 minute video by British GM Simon Williams or simply play through the moves at your own pace.

Monday, July 6

Tony Lama Turns 80!

The chess club banner flies.
Tony Lama (credit: ChessDryad)

The Mechanics' Institute wishes to congratulate longtime security guard Tony Lama on the occasion of his 80th birthday!  Anyone who attended weekend tournaments in the City was certain to meet Tony at the front entrance.  He knew the names of many regulars.  When I entered, he would kindly ask whom I was playing.  Upon departure, he inquired of my result.  Never a master himself (2088 peak rating), his love for chess remained strong over five decades.

Tony Lama 80th Birthday Blitz 
Sunday, July 12
Location: 57 Post Street, San Francisco (use Montgomery BART)
FORMAT: Six double-round Swiss (12 games total)

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

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

PRIZES: $650 total
1st place: $300
2nd place: $200
3rd place: $100
Top U2000: $50

Also, every player takes home a book prize!

REGISTRATION: On-site only from Noon to 12:45.  There will be no registration in advance.  The tournament will be held between 1 and 5 PM.

Tuesday, June 30

Check Out My Teaching Website

Off and on for the past 2+ years, I worked on my new Fpawn Chess website.  This site will not replace my chess blog, but instead functions as my teaching homepage.  I also post regularly on two social media platforms: Facebook and Twitter.  The reader can guess my username.

Check out the following categories on the left side:
Photo in July 2013
issue of Chess Life.

  • Chess Bio and Photo Album - All about me!
  • Chess Rules & Advice - Rules of thumb to know..
  • Chess Quotes - 55 of my favorite quotes.
  • Student Goals - 10 goals for a chess student.
  • Chess Links - Dozens of interesting chess websites.
  • Honor Roll - Achievements of my top students.
  • NorCal Top 100 - Top juniors and adults in NorCal.
  • Chess Lessons - Check them out!

Yes, I am open to accept some new students over the summer.  Please read my lessons page for more information.  The majority of my experience has been coaching students in 7th grade and older, rated at least 1500.  That said, I may consider younger or lower rated students, especially with referral from someone I know.  Contact me at (remove the six letters in caps from the address).

Monday, June 29

Ashritha Eswaran Wins US Junior Girls

Ashritha the Champion!

Bay Area 14-year old Ashritha Eswaran won the US Junior Girls invitational with a score of 6.5 out of 9, finishing a full point ahead of her nearest competitor.  Sponsors Frank and Jim Berry brought ten of the country's best young ladies to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  There were seven USCF masters and eight held an international title, including a pair of Women's International Masters.  All participants were ranked in the Top 30 of the country for women, regardless of age!

On the other hand, the round-robin was tightly packed, with less than 150 rating points separating top from bottom.  There were no favorites.  Anyone could beat anyone else.  Indeed, each girl lost at least twice, and Ashritha was the only one not to drop three games!  Perhaps it still came as a surprise that the lowest rated finished on top of the hill.  (USCF rating report)

Congratulations to Ashritha, her parents, her dedicated coach GM Dejan Bojkov and the entire staff at NorCal House of Chess!  In addition to the national title, she earned an invitation to the 2016 US Women's Championship.  Readers may recall that she played in the 2014 Women's Champ, impressing spectators with her mature and aggressive play.

More information and photos in this article at Kasparov Chess Foundation website.

Most people would relax after such an achievement.  Alas, Ashritha flew to Colombia the very next day, where she entered the Pan American Youth Festival.  She already won the first three rounds while playing up in the competitive Girls-U18 divisionGood luck!!

In related news, the US Junior Closed (for boys) kicks off next Tuesday in Saint Louis.  The Bay Area will once again be represented by IM Yian Liou, who graduated two weeks ago from Monte Vista High School in Danville. 

Chess Camp in Davis, July 13-16

My friend John Langreck organizes a summer chess camp in Davis each year.  This year's session is scheduled for July 13 to 16 (4 days), from 1-5pm daily.  The location is on Cowell Boulevard in South Davis, adjacent to I-80.

John is a USCF Life Master with experience teaching chess to beginners, experts and those in between.  He will solve tactics puzzles, cover basic strategy, and discuss game analysis - among other important topics.  Activities include Play the Master, blitz and bughouse!

If you are interested, then print out this flyer and contact John Langreck to reserve your spot.  Don't forget to let him know that Fpawn sent you. :-)

Sacramento Championship This Weekend

The annual Sacramento Chess Championship takes place this weekend at the Holiday Inn Express off Business-80 in Northeast Sacramento.  The tournament is the biggest and strongest event in the Sacramento region each year, attracting a good number of players from the Bay Area.  Can we break 100 participants this year?  Players rated above 2000 should take note that the Open section will be FIDE rated for the first time.  

Last year saw Bay Area experts Byron Doyle and WFM Uyanga Byambaa split the top prize ahead of five masters.  Check out Uyanga's report and annotations.  IM Ricardo DeGuzman won this event frequently over the years, most recently the 2013 editionWho will show up this year?  Check the advance entry list.

The weather forecast calls for low to mid 90s on Friday through Sunday, considerably more comfortable than the 100s projected for the week.  Dress comfortably!

Wednesday, June 24

MSJE Says Yes2Chess!

The Champions! (Credit: Hui Wang)

Already crowned State and National K-6 champions, the Mission San Jose Elementary chess team capped a magical year by winning the Yes2Chess World finals!  This multiple stage competition began with online matches and culminated in an expenses paid trip to London.  Congratulations to Coach Joe Lonsdale, team coordinator Hui Wang and, most importantly, the young champs themselves!

Kevin was only kid to beat Grandmaster
David Howell in simul. (Credit: Yes2Chess)
 Team MSJE
  • David Pan, 6th grader rated 2000
  • Rishith Susarla, 4th grader rated 1891
  • Kevin Pan, 3rd grader 1802
  • Annapoorni Meiyappan, 4th grader rated 1702
  • Leo Jiang, 4th grader rated 1393

The USA finals saw the California kids pitted against three top tier squads from New York City.  The players must have felt a little bit like Bobby Fischer facing all of the Russians.  Needing a team victory in the last match, MSJE prevailed 4:1.  They advanced with 5 match points out of 6, narrowly ahead of second and third place.

Group photo of all 8 countries in front of Parliament. (Credit: Yes2Chess)

Eight countries competed in the World finals.  This morning, the Americans dispatched schools from Sweden, Spain and Norway in Pool A to advance to the championship match.  Then they dominated Pool B winner Portugal 4.5-0.5 to claim first place!  More details to come.   

Way to go!! 

NM Gabriel Bick

Gabe played GM Kudrin in Reno. (Credit: Joseph Bick)

Kudos to Gabriel Bick for earning the National Master title!  He cracked 2200 by scoring 3-0 at a Bay Area Chess tournament Cupertino.  He had held GM Walter Browne to a draw over Memorial Day, his first against a GM.  By my count, 22 local juniors can now call themselves masters (although a few have since dropped under 2200).  Gabe also became my 10th private student to achieve this lifetime distinction.  Woohoo!

Thursday, June 11

Endorsements for USCF Election

Randy Bauer
Boyd Reed (credit: Shabazz)

I received my ballot for the US Chess Federation national election today.  Following the trend of recent years, the number of official candidates is rather disappointing.  The ballot shows only two names for two seats on the Executive Board.  Alas, this year's election is being contested thanks to the presence of a write-in candidate.

I urge registered voters to reelect Randy Bauer of Iowa and write-in Boyd M. Reed of Pennsylvania  For the write-in candidate, voters must include his USCF ID 12479484.

Both Bauer and Reed have an extensive history of service to the chess community, at the local and national level.  Rated over 2300, Bauer has written hundreds of instructional chess articles and book reviews.  He served on the Executive Board off and on since 2004, contributing his extensive expertise as an accountant.  Active chess players may recognize Boyd as a director at many major tournaments, including the Millionaire Open, Chicago Open and scholastic nationals.  Also active as a player, parent and online chess forum advocate, he recently reached 2200 for the first time.

The third candidate is Anjelina Belakovskaia, a WGM who emigrated from the USSR before its collapse in 1991 and now operates her Chess Academy in Arizona.  A former currency trader who teaches finance classes, she has lived the role of chess professional as both a player and coach.  While seeking to represent other professional players, Belakovskaia has unfortunately garnered little to no support among top Grandmasters.  Moreover, her lack of background in national chess governance contrasts sharply with the other two candidates.

Please mark Randy Bauer and write-in Boyd M. Reed 12479484 on your USCF ballot.

Friday, May 22

CalChess Champions Over the Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 21

Commencement Address By Garry Kasparov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12

Fabiano Caruana Returns to Team USA

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10

Andrew Hong + MSJE Excel at K-6 Nationals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, May 8

MSJE Hunting for More Trophies in Nashville

A huge glass roof covers the Opryland Resort.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, May 7

Play Team 45 45 on ICC This Summer

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 5

CalChess Crowns New Scholastic Champs

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to all of the State Champions!

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

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

Youth Movement for Team USA

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 1

NorCal Top 20 Junior High + High School

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

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

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

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

NorCal Top 20 Elementary

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

Top 20 Elementary
(Age 11 & Under)

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

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

Monday, April 27

Ray Schutt Blitz on Sunday!

Mechanics' Institute Chess Room. Credit: ChessDryad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16

2015 US Champs: Nakamura and Krush

Hikaru Nakamura
Irina Krush

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 1

Meet the Players at US Championship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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