Monday, March 31

NTD John McCumiskey

(Monkey or tournament director? New NTD John McCumiskey poses candidly.)

Congratulations to John McCumiskey for earning the esteemed title of USCF National Tournament Director (NTD)! John has long been the best respected director in Northern California and he completed the requirements for the top national honor by scoring well on a very difficult essay exam (on his second try). Although John is not the only NTD living in our midst, he is the only one who directs more than a couple of events each year. He serves as Chief TD for the CalChess Scholastics, the largest annual chess tournament west of the Continental Divide. John also directs weekend events for the Sacramento Chess Club and assists at the adult State Championship on Labor Day.

Sunday, March 30

Breaking News from Tulsa

Qualifiers for 2008 Frank K. Berry US Championship (May 13-21): GM Jesse Kraai (5.5), GM Alex Yermolinsky (5.5), IM Dean Ippolito (5.5), GM John Fedorowicz (5.5), FM Daniel Ludwig (5.0), NM Sam Shankland (5.0) and IM David Pruess (5.0). Click here for the complete crosstable at the bottom of the article.
Note that GM Julio Becerra (5.5), GM Alexander Ivanov (5.0), GM Sergey Kudrin (5.0) and GM Eugene Perelshteyn (5.0) are officially seeded by rating (because several higher rated players declined to participate) and therefore didn't actually have to play in the Qualifier.
Other noteworthy Northern California scores: IM Vinay Bhat (4.5), FM Danya Naroditsky (4.5), NM Michael Aigner (4.5) and IM Walter Shipman (4.0). For those of you wondering, NM Sam Shankland will now skip the CalChess Scholastics because it conflicts with the US Championship.

CalChess Polgar Qualifier

I received the following email from TD Richard Koepcke regarding the playoff for the annual Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls. The K-12 division at the CalChess Girl's Championship last month ended in a tie for first place between two of my students: Rebekah Liu and Samyukta Bhat.
Rebekah Liu won the match (1.5 to 0.5) yesterday at the Mechanics' Institute. When reporting to the USCF on who is our Representative for the Polgar tournament, you should list Rebekah Liu as the primary and Samyukta Bhat as the alternate.
Congratulations to Rebekah and good luck in Texas this summer! I am sure both girls will have many more chances in the coming years.

Saturday, March 29

Round 5 Standings and Round 6 Pairings

(US Championship organizer and sponsor Frank Berry of Stillwater, Oklahoma. Photo by MonRoi from last year's tournament.)
After five rounds, the tournament standings have settled down. The Grandmasters find themselves at their familiar location at the top of the pairings, followed by various lesser maestros. In fact, all but two of the 24 players with 3.5 or more have the GM, IM or FM title; the last two are rapidly improving NMs who will become FMs themselves soon.
The only guy at 4.5 is none other than GM Alex Yermolinsky, formerly the GM-in-Residence at the Mechanics' Institute in San Francisco, but now the highest rated resident of South Dakota. The group of nine with 4.0 includes Northern California players IM Vinay Bhat and NM Sam Shankland, who swindled IM Josh Friedel this evening. Two more locals have 3.5: IM David Pruess and FM Danya Naroditsky. I am stuck tied for 25th place at 3.0 points.
Here are the tentative pairings for round 6.
  • GM Yermolinsky (4.5) vs GM Kraai (4.0)
  • NM Shankland (4.0) vs GM Ivanov (4.0)
  • GM Kudrin (4.0) vs IM Bercys (4.0)
  • GM Fedorowicz (4.0) vs IM Bhat (4.0)
  • FM Bick (4.0) vs IM Ippolito (4.0)
  • GM Becerra (3.5) vs IM Bonin (3.5)
  • GM Perelshteyn (3.5) vs NM Schoonmaker (3.5)
  • FM Ludwig (3.5) vs IM Finegold (3.5)
  • FM Kleiman (3.5) vs GM Goldin (3.5)
  • IM Pruess (3.5) vs IM Burnett (3.5)
  • IM Bradford (3.5) vs FM Beelby (3.5)
  • FM Naroditsky (3.5) vs IM Brooks (3.5)
  • IM Shipman (3.0) vs IM Friedel (3.0)
  • NM Aigner (3.0) vs IM Robson (3.0)

The final two rounds are at 9:00am and 2:00pm Central time. You can watch the top boards live on ICC and on MonRoi website.

Saturday in Chess Nirvana

(13 year old IM Ray Robson, my opponent for round 6 on Sunday morning.)

Well, heaven it was not. Actually, chess is a lot of hard work, as one astute player, wearing an industrial hardhat, observed on a sign that he posted next to his board. At the US Championship Qualifier Open in Tulsa, Saturday was by far the most difficult day with three (!) rounds on the agenda. Playing three rounds in one day is unheard of in serious chess tournaments, except for faster schedules featuring G/60 or G/90. In Oklahoma, the time control is G/90 with a 30 seconds per move increment, which amounts to approximately G/120 for an average 60 move game. In other words, we could expect to play for 10 to 12 hours in a single day, against extremely stiff competition!
The day didn't begin well for me. I overslept! I had set my alarm for 7:15 so that I could read email, shower, eat breakfast and prepare for my 9:00 game against an International Master. At precisely 8:43, I awoke in shock! It turns out that I had properly set the alarm on my cell phone, but the phone was still on silent mode! Oh dear. I skipped the email, showered, skipped breakfast and preparation--and got to my board only 9 minutes after the round had begun. Whew! Fortunately, the opening went well for me and I easily drew with IM Dmitry Zilberstein (2457) as black.
I followed up my solid draw with a convincing win as white against Glenn Bady, a former master now rated 2186. Actually, I probably could have won more easily, but I was never in any danger. Fortunately for me, both of my games were medium length, meaning that I had two hours between rounds 3 and 4 plus one hour between rounds 4 and 5. Getting adequate food and rest takes on additional importance with that critical third game. Unfortunately, I went down in flames in the nightcap against talented teenage IM Salvijus Bercys. This final game, featuring my pet Dutch defense, was broadcast live on MonRoi and all of my games are in my ICC library ("liblist fpawn") starting at slot #30.
I currently have 3.0 out of 5. Before the first round, I predicted that anyone with 5.0 or more after seven rounds will qualify for the 2008 Frank K. Berry US Championship, plus maybe a couple of 4.5s with good tiebreaks. Thanks to my draw in round 1, my tiebreaks are awful. In other words, I need two wins on Sunday in order to qualify, a tall order no matter who my opponents end up being.
My pairing in round 5: superstar 13 year old IM Ray Robson (2426). Ugh!

Friday, March 28

Round 2 Standings and Round 3 Pairings

(Best Western hotel airport shuttle. Note the chess board!)

Here are the tentative pairings for round 3. There are 19 players with a perfect score, including all 8 Grandmasters. The big surprises so far have been Conrad Holt (2053), who has 2-0 after beating NM Carl Boor and IM Ron Burnett, and Jennifer Acon (1972), who beat FM Jim Dean and drew with FM Jake Kleiman. Amongst the top rated players, only IM Ben Finegold gave up half a point to FM Michael Langer.

  • IM Ippolito (2.0) vs GM Becerra (2.0)
  • GM Ivanov (2.0) vs IM Pruess (2.0)
  • IM Bercys (2.0) vs GM Perelshteyn (2.0)
  • IM Bhat (2.0) vs GM Kudrin (2.0)
  • GM Goldin (2.0) vs IM Bradford (2.0)
  • FM Robson (2.0) vs GM Yermolinsky (2.0)
  • GM Kraai (2.0) vs IM Mulyar (2.0)
  • IM Bonin (2.0) vs GM Fedorowicz (2.0)
  • IM Friedel (2.0) vs FM Ludwig (2.0)
  • IM Finegold (1.5) vs Conrad Holt (2.0)
  • IM Zilberstein (1.5) vs NM Aigner (1.5)
  • Brad Sawyer (1.0) vs FM Naroditsky (1.0)

Day 1 from Tulsa

(Black to move. Sadly, I was black in this position in the first round. Yes, I'm down an uncompensated exchange and completely busted. Rybka says +2.9. For example, white can play Na4-b6 to threaten my c8 bishop. Believe it or not, I drew this game! Mad skills.)
Here I am, once again playing chess in Oklahoma. I must be crazy, eh? I'm one of those chess nuts boasting by the foyer. Nonetheless, I can only say that this experience is both fun and a challenge as a competitor. Each day, I rub elbows and exchange pleasantries with many of the country's top players. Yesterday, I spoke with Cuban-American GM Julio Becerra. This morning, I ate breakfast with Texas ranger IM Joe Bradford. Before games, I would smalltalk with a variety of players, some from Northern California but others from around the country. Of course, the relaxed environment is merely a reflection of the friendly and at times jovial mood of organizers Frank and Jim Berry plus Tom Braunlich.
Unfortunately, the chess has not gone quite as well for me. In round 1, I was paired with Devin Hughes, a talented high school kid from Oklahoma, underrated at 1877. I stumbled into a line of the symmetrical English opening that obviously he knew much better than I did. I lost the exchange (see above) and probably would have resigned if he found one more tactic, but instead he traded into an endgame that gave me chances to draw. Somehow, I did just that. In round 2, I played WIM Alexey Root, senior lecturer for the renowned UT Dallas college chess program and official blogger for Chess Life Online (read her round 1 report). I played somewhat optimistically against the French defense and only later realized that my position wasn't as good as I had planned. Fortunately, my opponent blundered her e-pawn and, with it, the entire game. Type "liblist fpawn" on ICC to review my games, starting at spot #30.
At 1.5/2, I am paired as black against IM Dmitry Zilberstein (2457) in the morning. Danya Naroditsky has 1.0/2, having lost to IM Josh Friedel this evening. Why do we come all the way to Oklahoma to play someone from CalChess?
Games from the top 10 boards are available live at MonRoi (free registration). It is possible that my game tomorrow morning will be included. The organizers intended to post the complete standings online at the OKChess website either late tonight or tomorrow morning. Remember that tomorrow, Saturday, is the day from hell with three rounds, scheduled at 9:00am, 2:30pm and 7:00pm CDT.

Thursday, March 27

US Champ Qualifier Predictions

I have handicapped the qualifying field into three categories: favorites, second tier and dark horses. Since the 90+30 time control benefits younger players, I predict a strong showing by the kids. Anyone not listed below is, in my humble opinion, a longshot. If there are any strong last minute entries on Friday morning, then I'll update my predictions. Can one of the dark horses or even a longshot prove me wrong by qualifying? We'll see soon.
  • Favorites (7): GM Becerra, GM Ivanov, GM Perelshteyn, IM Finegold, GM Kudrin, GM Yermolinsky and IM Bhat
  • Second Tier (8): GM Goldin, GM Kraai, GM Fedorowicz, IM Friedel, IM Pruess, IM Ippolito, IM Bercys and FM Robson
  • Dark Horses (11): IM Bradford, IM Zilberstein, IM Brooks, IM Lugo, IM Burnett, IM Bonin, FM Ludwig, FM Andrews, FM Langer, NM Shankland, FM Naroditsky
Tulsa weather report. Thursday afternoon: 85 degrees, sunny and humid. Thursday night: 45 degrees, windy with tornados elsewhere in the state. Forecast for Friday afternoon: 56 degrees and overcast. This certainly ain't California weather!

Toto, We're Not in California Anymore

After a five hour flight from Sacramento via Phoenix, I arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the US Championship Qualifier Open. Actually, I have been in town for 24 hours already to rest for the big weekend, but I spent the first night near the airport before checking into the tournament venue today. The event will be held at the Best Western Trade Winds Central (see photo above) on the southern side of Tulsa. My first impression of the hotel was quite positive and my room is quite comfortable. In fact, I have both a microwave and a refrigerator--and I've stocked up on food for between rounds or at night.
The chess tournament begins on Friday at noon CDT. Unfortunately, there will not be any internet coverage as far as I am aware. The time control is G/90 with a 30 seconds per move increment. In effect, a 60 move game may last up to four hours. Two rounds are scheduled for Friday, three (!) on Saturday and the last two on Sunday. Some players will request a bye for round 5 on Saturday evening, but I have not yet decided.
Seven players will qualify for the final field of 24 in the 2008 Frank K. Berry US Championship, which has once again been sponsored by the generosity of <drum roll please> Frank Berry. Three more players chosen by the organizing committee will receive a wild card invitation. Considering that the field of about 100 players will comprise of at least 8 Grandmasters and 13 International Masters, the odds of qualifying are quite slim unless you're rated at least 2400. I predict a score of 5.0/7 will earn a qualification spot, with possibly one or two players getting in with 4.5 and good tiebreaks.
I am playing for fun and to learn something. My student, FM Danya Naroditsky, signed up to gain experience against strong opponents, but after his success in Reno last weekend, I am sure that now he dreams of achieving even greater success here in Tulsa. Many other players with ties to Northern California will participate: GM Alex Yermolinsky (who moved to South Dakota late last year), IM Josh Friedel (who moved back to New Hampshire), IM Vinay Bhat, IM David Pruess, IM Dmitry Zilberstein, NM Sam Shankland and IM Walter Shipman. Will anyone qualify? Stay tuned!
For more background, check out the wonderful Qualifier Open Preview written for Chess Life Online by Tom Braunlich. Or read the statistics presented by Northern California expert Dana Mackenzie in his fine chess blog. IM Ben Finegold also has a good blog.

Reno Has Been USCF Rated

(Yian and Andrew goofing off before the last round.)
This promises to be my final blog entry about the 8th Far West Open in Reno. Honestly, I have written enough on the USCF website a for a short novel. At this rate, my next book project will be a sequel to David Bronstein's masterpiece Zurich 1953.
Check out the USCF rating report for the crosstables and rating changes. The big winner among my students was Danya, who gained an impressive 41 points to 2307. Steven gained 38 points to 2145, Alan gained 6 to 2049, Yian gained 9 to 1937, Nicholas gained 20 to 1795 and Samyukta gained 19 to 1667. Other CalChess kids did well: Rohan Agarwal gained 18 to 2113, Evan Sandberg gained 34 to 1960, Mukund Chillakanti gained 87 to 1868, Vijay Mohan gained 21 to 1777, Kartik Chillakanti gained 17 to 1706 and Kesav Viswanadha gained 51 to 1515. Congratulations to everyone! (I lost 4 points to 2267.)
Finally, check out all of the photos that I took at my CalChess photo album. I deleted some bad photos, but 60 pictures remain as a memory of this tournament.

Monday, March 24

Reno: The Next Generation

(9th grader Steven Zierk hard at work against WIM Batchimeg "Chimi" Tuvshintugs in the last round. He won this game to claim a share of second place in the Open section.)

The legal age to win money in the Nevada casinos is supposedly 21, but that didn't stop three Northern California juniors from hitting the jackpot at the Far West Open chess tournament. The lifetime achievements of 6th grader FM Danya Naroditsky have been well chronicled, and still he managed to elevate his chess game to a higher level. Joining in the youth wave were a pair of talented 9th graders: Steven Zierk and Rohan Agarwal.
  • Danya: tied for second place (behind GM Khachiyan) with undefeated 4.5/6 ; 2600+ USCF performance rating ; beat IM Mezentsev for first IM scalp ever ; drew GM Kudrin and GM Yermolinsky for first two GM draws ever ; cracked 2300 USCF rating to become the top rated junior in CalChess
  • Steven: tied for second place at 4.5/6 and top U2200 by a full point ; 2400+ USCF performance rating ; beat WIM Tuvshintugs (2289) and drew FM Strugatsky (2450)
  • Rohan: scored a solid 3.5/6 including win against Bryant (2314) and draw against Aigner (2271)
(11th grader Alan and 6th grader Danya Naroditsky pose together outside of the playing hall. The brothers are truly inseparable.)

Three of my eight students won major money by finishing in the top two of their rating division. I already mentioned Danya and Steven. The other big winner was Yian, who took second place in the A section with 4.5/6 (behind San Francisco's own Evan Sandberg). Way to go! Two other students each finished with a score of 3.5/6: Nicholas in the A section and Samyukta in the B section. Finally, Alan only scored 2.5 points in the difficult Open section, but gained rating and a lot of experience from playing masters.

As you may have already noticed, I drew as black against Rohan in the last round to finish at 3.5 out of 6--a disappointing result considering that I was much better or even winning in both of my last two games, but lost one and drew the other. Both my USCF and FIDE ratings will drop about 6 or 7 points from this tournament. I really wish that I had beaten someone rated over 2050, but my pairings were not kind. I will need to play better next weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma!

I plan to work on the final report for Chess Life Online sometime on Tuesday. Look for it! (Edit: This report won't appear until Thursday. Sorry, I've been busy in between major chess tournaments.)

Saturday, March 22

Scores Through Round 4 of Far West Open

I won my fourth game in Reno against fellow blogger Kevin Gafni (2005), who kindly made my task easier by trading into a good knight versus bad bishop endgame. This result leaves me at 3.0 out of 4, having faced three opponents rated near 2000 and GM Yermolinsky. I am slightly frustrated by my unlucky pairings, especially the fact that all of my wins have come against players without a FIDE rating. Argh! The good news is that I expect to face someone around 2300 USCF in round 5 on Sunday morning (with a FIDE rating).

Danya drew against FM Michael Langer (2322) in round 4. Alan won against Igor Margulis (2145). Steven also won. Sam and Rohan both lost to higher rated opponents.

Partial standings after round 4 (out of 6):

Open: Khachiyan, Sevillano, Kretchetov at 3.5 ; Kudrin, Yermolinsky, D. Naroditsky, Aigner at 3.0 ; Shankland, Zierk, A. Naroditsky at 2.5 ; Donaldson, Pearson, Agarwal at 2.0
Class A: Yian at 3.0 ; Todd and Nicholas at 2.0
Class B: Samyukta at 2.0

Naroditsky Takes No Prisoners in Reno

The big story so far at the Far West Open in Reno has been the success of Bay Area juniors in the Open section, especially FM Daniel Naroditsky (see photo at left). After three rounds, Danya is tied for first place at 2.5, having defeated IM Vladimir Mezentsev and drawn with top rated GM Sergey Kudrin. I believe these are the highest rated opponents that Danya has ever beaten and drawn! He is playing with a poise well beyond his years. In fact, he feeds off the pressure of playing a strong opponent on the stage.

Three other local kids have done well. Steven Zierk drew with FM Vladimir Strugatsky (2450) before losing to FM Alexandre Kretchetov (2402). Rohan Agarwal (see photo at right) beat strong NM John Bryant (2314) before losing to Bryant's father, IM Enrico Sevillano (who is 3-0). NM Sam Shankland drew with GM Alex Yermolinsky in round 3 and both are tied for second at 2.5.

I have two wins against 2000 average opponents and a miniature loss to GM Yermolinsky. You can read more about my loss to Yermo and the tournament overall in my second blog entry at the USCF homepage. If I feel like it, I may post an update late tonight after round 4.

Friday, March 21

Steven Zierk Wins Reno Blitz Tournament

Congratulations to my student Steven Zierk for winning the Far West Open blitz tournament this evening in Reno with an undefeated score of 17 wins and 2 draws. Steven defeated two masters along the way: FM Nick Raptis and me. I finished in third or fourth place after a disappointing showing. The 20 player round-robin became as much a test of skill as endurance and the winner passed both with flying colors. Certainly Steven, a 9th grader at Los Gatos High School, has come a long ways since winning World Open U1400 at age 7 and then partially retiring from chess until the beginning of 2007. Although he is still 100 points away, I have little doubt now that Steven will soon become my fourth chess student to break 2200 USCF.

The first round of the main tournament begins on Friday at 12noon. So far, I have met with students Steven, Adam and Nicholas with several others probably hiding from me somewhere in this large hotel complex. I will have three students in the Open section, three in the A section and two in the B section. Wish us all luck!

I just emailed off my first report to Chess Life Online, which should be posted on Friday morning. In the meantime, you may wish to follow the Foxwoods Open this weekend in Connecticut (check out the games link to MonRoi). Everyone's favorite IM Josh Friedel drew with GM Yury Shulman on board 1 this evening.

Wednesday, March 19

Hello From Reno!

I arrived in Reno a day early this year, giving me a chance to relax on Thursday and watch the first round of March Madness. Maybe I will study a few chess openings as well. Most of my students arrive tomorrow late afternoon or evening and I'll be busy from that point on.

Check this blog over the weekend for updates from the Far West Open. Round 1 is on Friday at noon PDT (sorry, no live games on the internet). I expect around 200 players to show up. Also make sure to visit the USCF homepage because I have been bribed by the webmaster to write "exclusive" reports and a summary at the end of the tournament. Unfortunately, IM Josh Friedel set the bar pretty high with his descriptive and humorous articles (here's a sample from last year).

For those of you driving up tomorrow or Friday, here is a preview. Have a safe trip!

Tuesday, March 18

You've Gotta Be Kidding Me!

This game today from the Melody Amber rapid tournament began innocently enough with 6.Bc4 in the Scheveningen/Najdorf. However, on move 14, Vassily Ivanchuk uncorked a stunning queen sacrifice against Sergey Karjakin and won in the endgame. Some of us might have considered Nxe6 or Bxe6, but not Qxe6! I have heard stories over the years that Ivanchuk is crazy. If so, this game adds credibility to the theory that there is a fine line between insanity and brilliance.

To play through the entire game, click on this link to Chess Publisher.

Monday, March 17

Poll Results: Invite Famous Player to Bay Area

(Garry Kasparov poses with Bay Area whiz kids on April 22, 1999. From left to right: Jordy Mont-Reynaud, Philip Wang, Vinay Bhat, Kasparov, Alexander and Zachary Karnazes. Photo from

The lastest poll has closed and it is time to tabulate the results. If you had the resources to invite a famous modern chess player to lecture and host a simul in the Bay Area, whom would it be? Thanks to the 76 people who voted over two weeks.
  1. Garry Kasparov at 27%
  2. Viswanathan Anand at 27%
  3. Magnus Carlsen at 15%
  4. Gata Kamsky at 7%
  5. Hikaru Nakamura at 7%
  6. Vladimir Kramnik at 5%

These results reflect the rating and reputation of the players themselves. Garry Kasparov was the world's top rated player for about 20 years until he retired three years ago. Since then, Viswanathan Anand has taken over the pinnacle of chess. However, 17 year old rising star Magnus Carlsen is hot on his heels and will be ranked about 5th in the world after successes at Corus (tied for 1st) and Linares (2nd place) during the first three months of 2008. The top American players, Gata Kamsky and Hikaru Nakamura, each received 7% of the votes in this unscientific poll. Last place fell to Veselin Topalov, who failed to garner a single vote after his role in the infamous "ToiletGate" scandal of 2006.

Given a choice between Kasparov and Anand, I would pick the Indian native Anand for one reason: Kasparov already visited the Bay Area once in 1999, drawing an overflow crowd to Stanford University for a discussion about the limits of human performance in chess. Perhaps many techies in the audience of 500+ came to see the man who lost to the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue just two years earlier. I participated behind the scenes, including a formal dinner in Palo Alto, and even had the honor to introduce the World Champion at a Q&A session with many of the Bay Area's elite juniors.

Photos from Silicon Valley Challenge

More photos from the Silicon Valley Challenge on March 15.

Sunday, March 16

Silicon Valley Challenge was a Success!

The 4th Silicon Valley Challenge took place on March 15 at the dance studios of the Century Arts Alliance Foundation. Despite a wide selection of chess tournaments in the South Bay, this event attracted 48 players ranging from master to novice. Although most of the participants were juniors, they competed not for trophies but for cash prizes. Thanks to the successful turnout, the total prize fund was increased to $700.

The 30 player Open section featured stiff competition at the top with 9 competitors rated 1800 and up. After four rounds of G/60, two players emerged from the fray with 4-0 scores: Fleford Redoloza rated 1897 (see photo at right) and this blogger. The perfect scores did not mean that the road to victory was easy. Redoloza, who got back into chess last fall after an extended break, defeated veteran expert Daniel Burkhard and two of the area's top K-6 players: Paul Richter (1988) and Alex Grossman (1720). On the other hand, I defeated three 1900s, facing especially tough resistance from teenagers Jay Kumar and Jeff Young, both who should reach 2000 by the end of the year. I intend to annotate the exciting last round game against my student Jeff and will post on this blog in a few days.

The other prizes in the Open section went to Jeff Young, Rohan Sathe, Jaydee Tenioso and Daniel Liu, all with three wins and one loss. The first three names should not surprise anyone, as they are all (under)rated above 1900. However, Daniel Liu came into the event rated just 1133 officially (1149 on the MSA website) and faced four straight opponents more than 400 points above him, beating three (including an A player) and losing only in an endgame to Sathe. He will gain over 200 USCF rating points for a performance rating over 2000! The funny story is that Daniel, the little brother of my student Rebekah, signed up for the U1400 section, but the sections had to be merged due to insufficient entries. Another player who had a good result yet didn't win a prize was 6 year old Tanuj Vasudeva (1547), who scored 50% against three A players and one B player. Daniel and Tanuj demonstrated that playing against stronger opponents is a win-win situation: either you gain rating points or experience--sometimes both!

Although those in the U1200 section had lower ratings, the competition among the 18 players was equally fierce. Congratulations to Kiarash Mavandad for winning with a perfect 4-0 score. William Weber, Vedaank Tiwari, Colin Ma and Vikram Vasan tied for second place at 3.0.

Thanks to organizer Charles Sun (see photo at left) and his always helpful parents for putting together another successful tournament. In spite of being a 10th grader at competitive Saratoga High School, Charles still finds the time to contribute to the chess community at least one weekend each year. The event ran smoothly and the venue in northeast San Jose was comfortable for both the players and the parents. Most, if not all, participants had a great time playing chess while indulging on extras such as complimentary croissants, chips, diet soda and water. Charles hopes to run another tournament when his school commitments allow. I'll be there!

Addendum March 20: The tournament has finally been USCF rated. Note that Daniel Liu's rating jumped from 1149 to 1372!

Friday, March 14

Mechanics' Institute Chess Room

Mechanics' Institute Chess Room
Oldest Chess Club in the United States!
57 Post Street, San Francisco CA, 4th floor (click for map)
Hours: weekdays 11-9, weekends 11-5, longer hours on tournament days
Browse to or call (415) 421-2258
Chess Director: IM John Donaldson

Wednesday, March 12

Local Chess Star Appears in Sports Illustrated

Chess in Sports Illustrated? We often read about strategy decisions by professional team coaches being compared to a chess game. Readers may remember Seattle Seahawks' star running back Shaun Alexander, who has donated both time and money to help youngsters play chess. How many of these coaches and players actually have a chess rating, either over-the-board or online? Which chess masters have been featured in Sports Illustrated?

One answer to the last question is FM Daniel Naroditsky! The reigning World U12 Champion is featured under "Faces in the Crowd"--a column which recognizes high achieving athletes with a photo and a short profile. In between Australian rules football and basketball we find the chess master. Here's what SI wrote about Danya:
Daniel, a sixth-grader at Crystal Springs Upland School, won the boys' under-12 world championship; he is only the second American to win a world youth title. He has won two national scholastic championships and has earned the distinction of master from both the national and international chess federations.
Danya the chess jock! Way to go young man. :-)

Tuesday, March 11

Fpawn Rating List - April 2008

I have updated the USCF rating for all of my chess students using the April 2008 supplement that is now available on the MSA site. You may view the entire Fpawn Rating List by clicking on the link. One interesting question posed using these rankings: Who would win a hypothetical 5-board team match between my top elementary age students and best high school players?

Top 5 Students Overall

  1. FM Danya 2266
  2. Gregory 2194
  3. Steven 2099
  4. Alan 2043
  5. Jeff 1971
(Honorary: NM Daniel 2249 and David 2098)

Top 5 Grades K-6
  1. FM Danya 2266
  2. Yian 1928
  3. Sam 1901
  4. James 1762
  5. Alex 1745
Top 5 Grades 7-8
  1. Gregory 2194
  2. Adam 1923
  3. Arthur 1882
  4. Andrew 1737
  5. Samyukta 1648
Top 5 Grades 9-12
  1. Steven 2099
  2. Alan 2043
  3. Jeff 1971
  4. Charles 1901
  5. KevinH 1802

Monday, March 10

Fpawn Travel Schedule in March

One characteristic that distinguishes me from many other chess teachers is that I actively play in both local and national tournaments, often playing alongside (or even against) my own students. I have not yet given up on becoming a better chess player and aspire to obtain at least the FIDE Master title in the near future. However, The Road to Chess Improvement (a great book by GM Yermolinsky) has its peaks and valleys--a fact that I have become painfully aware of in recent years. Despite participating in the US Championship in Oklahoma, 2007 was mostly a disappointment for my chess game as my USCF rating slumped to 2232, well below my peak of 2340 in August 2006. I am determined to do better in 2008!

I have played in only one local tournament since December, but that will change soon with events on three straight weekends to close out March. I hope to see some of my students in San Jose on March 15 or in Reno on March 21-23. However, for me the highlight of the month will be the Qualifier for this year's US Championship in Oklahoma.
  1. Silicon Valley Challenge #4 in northeast San Jose on March 15. My protege Charles Sun is the organizer for this event and I encourage all of my students rated under 2000 to attend if possible. Entry form. Advance Entries.
  2. 8th Far West Open in Reno on March 21-23. This is one of my favorite events each year. Eight of my students have signed up so far in the Open, A and B sections. We'll have a small pizza party in my room. Website. Advance Entries.
  3. Qualifier for 2008 US Championship in Tulsa on March 28-30. Seven spots are available to join the field of 24 for this year's national championship. To date, 11 players with ties to Northern California are committed: GM Yermolinsky, GM-elect Bhat, IM Friedel, IM Pruess, IM Zilberstein, NM Shankland, FM Naroditsky, NM Aigner, IM Shipman plus experts Mackenzie and Kobernat. Website. Advance Entries.

An unfortunate consequence of my travel schedule is that I must cancel most regular chess lessons for about 2.5 weeks: Friday, March 14 through Monday, March 31. I may be able to spend time with some students at tournaments and I may schedule a couple of classes with elite (1900+) players on the few days that I am at home between trips. However, I also intend to prepare myself for the rigorous competition in Oklahoma by improving my openings and learning new middlegame strategies.

Of course, I will post on this blog about all three tournaments. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 8

Anand Wins Linares, Carlsen Moves up to Top 5

(Viswanathan Anand draws easily with the white pieces in the final round against Veselin Topalov to clinch first place. Will these two elite players meet again with the World Championship at stake? Photo from ChessBase website.)

The super-Grandmaster tournament of Linares has drawn to a close with a familiar face at the top. Viswanathan Anand, the 38 year old World Champion from India, dominated a field of seven opponents, ranging from the Ukrainian veteran Vassily Ivanchuk (same age) to the Norwegian teenager Magnus Carlsen (just 17 years old). Anand finished in first with a solid result of 4 wins, 1 loss and 9 draws for 8.5 out of 14. The youngster Carlsen took second place honors at half a point behind while the Armenian Levon Aronian and the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov shared third place with 7.5 each.

Final standings

  • 8.5 Anand
  • 8.0 Carlsen
  • 7.5 Aronian and Topalov
  • 7.0 Radjabov
  • 6.5 Ivanchuk
  • 5.5 Leko and Shirov
This year's "Wimbledon of chess" will be remembered for the fighting chess that was played on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, first in Morelia, Mexico and then in Linares, Spain. The players insisted on mortal combat starting from the first round--remarkably at this level, three of the 14 rounds finished with more decisive games than draws. Despite a disappointing final round of four draws, 25 of 56 games (45%) resulted in a winner. Every player won at least two games and all but the champion suffered more than one defeat. Chess fans were able to follow many exciting games; even some of the draws were long back-and-forth battles that could have ended differently.

Here are my favorite games from the tournament. Serious chess students, especially those rated above 1800, should get in the habit of playing through Grandmaster games on a regular basis. By studying these top level contests, you improve your intuition in many different kinds of positions, which will hopefully open your eyes to new strategies in your own games. You may also download a PGN file of these 13 games to use in Fritz or ChessBase. On ICC, type "liblist Linares08" to see all of the games or check out the ChessFM website for daily video reports.

Of course, the big winner is the reigning World Champion Anand. He once again proved that, in the absence of former #1 Garry Kasparov, he's the man to beat. The other big news is the continued success of Carlsen (see photo at the right), coming on the heels of his first place finish in Corus at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. Various websites report that Magnus will be ranked in the Top 5 of the World on the April FIDE rating list! At this rate, he will soon pass Kramnik and Anand to take over the #1 ranking! Will the best chess player on the planet soon be a teenager?

Friday, March 7

Silicon Valley Executives Play Chess

Many scholastic chess educators promote the royal game as a tool to develop future leaders and entrepeneurs. Supposedly playing chess improves the kind of strategic thinking necessary in the business world.

Thanks to Susan Polgar's blog, I came across a recent article in the Filipino online newspaper Sun Star that lists Silicon Valley executives who play chess outside their busy professional careers. Here is just a sample; read the entire article for even more names.
  • Paul Allen is an avid chess player and co-founder of Microsoft together with another chess player, Bill Gates.
  • Larry Ellison (see photo) is the co-founder and CEO of Oracle. He used to play tournament chess and says he puts a lot of time on his game.
  • Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal and was its CEO. He was at one time a promising chess player (rated 2287). I faced him six times from 1996 to 2001, scoring 4-2.
  • Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar was fascinated by chess. One of the first web-based programs he wrote was chess-by-email service.
  • Roelof Botha is a venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital. He plays master level chess.
  • David Cowan of Bessemer Ventures is a self-admitted "chess nerd" who says that he is addicted to Yahoo! chess.

Thursday, March 6

More on NM Nip

News travels fast in the era of information technology. Academic Chess coach Eric Hicks wrote his personal impressions of this milestone on the CalChess website. The USCF also recognizes the news from California, including an insightful tribute by GM Yury Shulman, the lead instructor of the week-long US Chess School camp in San Francisco just two months ago. Bay Area expert (formerly rated over 2200) Dana Mackenzie annotates his loss about 1.5 years ago to the rising star.
Here are some additional statistics for any doubters out there. According to Wayne Zimmerle's MSA program, Nicholas Nip has now played 45 games against USCF rated masters, scoring a phenomenal +13 =13 -19 for 19.5/45 = 43%! Lucky number 13? Keep in mind that the rating difference exceeded 200 points in 19 of those 45 games, with Nicholas being the lower rated in every game. The master scalps are: FM Ron Cusi, Emmanuel Perez (3 times), Michael Aigner, Albert Rich, FM Daniel Naroditsky, Paul Gallegos, FM Eric Schiller (3 times), Igor Margulis and Jerry Hanken. Way to go little chess monster!

Wednesday, March 5

NM Nicholas Nip, First 9 Year Old USCF Master!

Congratulations Nicholas!!!

Nicholas Nip has broken the US Chess Federation's record for the youngest master at the tender age of 9 years and 11 months, shattering the previous record of 10 years and 79 days held by Hikaru Nakamura. His new rating on the MSA website stands at 2207. Nicholas earned the final 20 rating points on March 5 in a G/60 quad tournament at the Mechanics' Institute in San Francisco, defeating FM Ron Cusi (2339) in the climactic game.

The youngest master record is considered one of the most hallowed marks of the USCF. Future World Champion Bobby Fischer was considered a prodigy when he became a master at the age of 13. The rise of computers and prominence of scholastic chess has pushed this record younger and younger. In 1995, two young rivals from the Bay Area earned the master rank before their 11th birthdays. Jordy Mont-Reynaud did it in 10 years and 209 days and then, merely a few months later, Vinay Bhat shaved yet another 33 days off the record. Future Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura lowered the mark almost another 100 days in 1998, a record that nobody has come close to touching until today.

Much of the credit for Nicholas' rapid improvement from a talented yet inexperienced first grader in 2005 to National Master goes to his supportive parents who travelled with him and coaches Liina Vark and Eric Hicks of Academic Chess. The teachers identified his potential in kindergarten and developed it with tender nurturing care over the years. Hicks has told me several times over the years that one reason Nicholas improved quickly is his ability and desire to study on his own, often with the help of a computer. Certainly those of us who have witnessed his meteoric rise first hand can attest to Nicholas' love for the game of chess. He would always be eager to hang around chess players and he quickly became a favorite of many older children at the Mechanics' Institute.

What does the future hold for Nicholas? The fact that he has already defeated nine (9!) different established masters, including this writer, at slow tournament time controls bodes very well. He also has a solid FIDE rating of 2143 which will surely increase over time. Perhaps it is the pedigree of former youngest masters that offers the most hope for the future for young Nicholas. Here's wishing you all the best!

(Photo of Nicholas giving a simul at the 2007 CalChess Scholastics from ChessDryad.)

A.J. Fink Amateur Results

Four of my students played in the A.J. Fink Amateur at the Mechanics' Institute on March 1-2. This 2-day adult tournament drew 51 players all rated under 2000 USCF to San Francisco on a nice and warm spring weekend. Jayakrishnan Ramachandran (1878) finished with a perfect 6-0 score to take first place, ahead of swiss gambiteer Ted Belanoff (1898) who won five straight games after losing in the first round. Perhaps not unexpected these days in the Bay Area, most of the money prizes went to juniors, with the notable exception of the overall winner.

My students all finished at 3.5 or 3.0 points. The best performance belonged to 9th grader Rebekah (1570), who scored 3.5 against a tough field including five opponents rated above 1850. On her way to the top U1600 prize, she defeated adult Hovik Manvelyan (1871) and teenager Daniel Quan (1887). After this impressive result, Rebekah's rating jumped to 1656 and soon she will appear in the top 30 of the country for girls under 16! The other strong performance came from 10th grader Michael L. (1772), who ended up with the same score as Rebekah and shared 2nd place U1800. Michael faced three of the top six seeded players back to back to start the tournament, earning a win against Solomon Beilin (1917) and then a draw against the noted Russian expert Yefim Bukh (1921).

(Photo of Rebekah from 2007 CalChess Scholastics by Richard Shorman of ChessDryad.)

Monday, March 3

GM Kaidanov Visits the Mechanics' Institute

Grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov, ranked #5 in the United States at 2697 USCF and 2604 FIDE, visited the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club on Sunday, March 2. Not only is he a strong and active tournament player, he enjoys the reputation as one of America's best chess teachers. In San Francisco for the day, Kaidanov taught a master class to Northern California's most talented juniors and gave a free public lecture prior to the final round of an amateur tournament.

During the master class in the morning, the veteran Grandmaster reviewed some of his own games from the recent Moscow Open. He focused on the thinking process required to first generate reasonable candidate moves and then calculate the best lines. It was a difficult class for all; one self-proclaimed genius in the audience would miss an obvious zwischenzug in his variation. Even the GM was not immune to self-criticism; he shared the hilarious yet humiliating story of a legally blind Russian FM rated 2500 FIDE who outplayed him with black (a draw) and later lectured Kaidanov on finer points of positional strategy! Perhaps appropriately, the public lecture in the afternoon focused on psychology in chess and the chess teacher's role in identifying weaknesses in a student's personality.

The ten students invited for the class included several of America's best for their age. Often overlooked from the East Coast, these California kids can hold their own against anyone across the country and even the world. Four of the participants have held the #1 or #2 national ranking for their age in recent months; six are presently in the top 10. All are rated over 2000 USCF or have performed at that level in recent tournaments.
  • NM Sam Shankland, 16, 2295 -- top rated junior in CalChess and #6 age 16 in USA
  • FM Daniel Naroditsky, 12, 2261 -- World Youth U12 and CalChess High School champion; #1 age 12
  • Gregory Young, 12, 2194 -- US Junior High co-champ; #2 age 12
  • Nicholas Nip, 9, 2187 -- on track to shatter record for youngest USCF master; #1 age 9
  • Rohan Agarwal, 14, 2095
  • Michael Zhong, 16, 2086 -- US High School co-champion
  • Alan Naroditsky, 16, 2042
  • Louiza Livschitz, 16, 2009 -- top CalChess girl; #9 Girls U21
  • Yian Liou, 10, 1928 -- #7 age 10
  • Adam Goldberg, 13, 1923

(Thanks to Yian Liou's parents for taking the photographs. The kids in the lower photo are, from left to right: Gregory, Adam, Yian, Alan, Daniel and Rohan. I am privileged to work with the first five.)

Saturday, March 1

Anand and Carlsen Draw, Still Occupy Top Spots at Linares

(This photo shows Anand playing a charity simul on ICC with the familiar BlitzIn interface.)

The 38 year old Indian Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand continues to lead the world's most prestigious annual chess tournament. The world's #1 rated player presently has a score of "plus 3" or 6.5 out of 10 after four wins, five draws and one loss. Two fellow competitors remain within striking distance of Anand as four rounds remain in the second half of the schedule: Norwegian teenager Magnus Carlsen at 6.0 and Armenian Levon Aronian at 5.5. However, "Vishy" has already faced both rivals, drawing with Aronian in round 9 and drawing with Carlsen in round 10.
  • Aronian 1/2 Anand (9) -- Queen's Indian
  • Carlsen 1-0 Shirov (9) -- Carlsen wins a drawn endgame out of the Ruy Lopez when Shirov accidentally allows him to queen
  • Topalov 1/2 Radjabov (9) -- Ruy Lopez, Schliemann
  • Leko 0-1 Ivanchuk (9) -- Caro Kann defense
  • Anand 1/2 Carlsen (10) -- Highly anticipated game between the two leaders fizzles out in a 22 move draw in the Sveshnikov variation
  • Radjabov 1/2 Aronian (10) -- Semi-Slav defense
  • Shirov 1/2 Leko (10) -- Shirov and Leko continue the theoretical discussion of the Marshall attack in the Ruy Lopez, with black's bishop pair sufficient to draw
  • Ivanchuk 1/2 Topalov (10) -- Topalov finds trouble in his favorite Najdorf variation yet escapes with half a point when Ivanchuk blunders two pawns

(Click on the links to view the moves in Chess Publisher's game viewer.)

The tenth round was the first one to come to a peaceful conclusion in all four games. Perhaps the players wanted some extra time to rest, as the tournament stops for a rest day on Sunday. On the bright side, 20 out of 40 games have been decisive so far, a statistic that is uncommon for events at the world's highest level. Some more observations from the past three days:

  • Ivanchuk has serious difficulty managing his nerves. He obtained excellent middlegame positions against both Carlsen (round 8) and Topalov (round 10), but lost the former due to time pressure and hung two pawns to draw in the latter.
  • On the other hand, Carlsen too often gets dubious positions in the opening. His father admitted on his blog that Magnus forgot theory at move 8 against Ivanchuk. Still, he finds a way to complicate the game and sometimes wins. GM Hikaru Nakamura bluntly said on ICC: "Smallville(GM)(166): Carlsen simply proves that older dudes need to play more 1-minute chess."

The next round begins on Monday morning at 7am PST and the tournament wraps up on Friday. If you're interested in listening to Grandmaster commentary, check out the daily video reports on the ICC ChessFM website (membership required).