Monday, September 29

Top FIDE Ratings for October

The world chess federation FIDE released its October rating list this morning. Former FIDE World Champion Veselin Topalov (see photo) has taken over the top spot at 2791, just a nose ahead of Alexander Morozevich, Vassily Ivanchuk and Magnus Carlsen. A whopping 32 Grandmasters have achieved "super GM" status with a rating above 2700.

There has been plenty of action over the past three months. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand sits in 5th place and former champion Vladimir Kramnik occupies the 6th place. Amazingly, Anand had been rated in the top three continuously for the past 11 years! Nonetheless, Anand is just 8 rating points out of first and even Kramnik is merely 19 points away. Look further down the rating list for well established names such as Peter Svidler, Alexei Shirov and Alexander Grischuk, all who barely made the top 20 (including ties).

  1. Veselin Topalov, 2791, Bulgaria
  2. Alexander Morozevich, 2787, Russia
  3. Vassily Ivanchuk, 2786, Ukraine
  4. Magnus Carlsen, 2786, Norway
  5. Viswanathan Anand, 2783, India
  6. Vladimir Kramnik, 2772, Russia
  7. Levon Aronian, 2757, Armenia
  8. Teimour Radjabov, 2751, Azerbaijan
  9. Peter Leko, 2747, Hungary
  10. Dmitry Jakovenko, 2737, Russia
  11. Yue Wang, 2736, China
  12. Michael Adams, 2734, England
  13. Sergei Movsesian, 2732, Slovakia
  14. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2731, Azerbaijan
  15. Sergey Karjakin, 2730, Ukraine
  16. Gata Kamsky, 2729, USA
  17. Peter Svidler, 2727, Russia
  18. Alexei Shirov, 2726, Spain
  19. Pavel Eljanov, 2720, Ukraine
  20. Boris Gelfand, 2719, Israel
  21. Lenier Dominguez, 2719, Cuba
  22. Ruslan Ponomariov, 2719, Ukraine
  23. Alexander Grischuk, 2719, Russia
The Chinese assualt on the top of the ratings charts continues this month with three super GMs. Joining #11 Wang Yue are #26 Bu Xiangzhi (2714) and #28 Ni Hua (2710). The next Chinese player is already knocking on the door: 18 year old Wang Hao (2696).

We can contrast that to the United States, which has only one player in the top 20 (Gata Kamsky) and then one more in the top 80! The lone bright spot remains Hikaru Nakamura, whose 2704 rating places him at exactly #30. Can he go higher?

Sunday, September 28

Earth vs Space Match

Here's some news that's really out of this world! Astronaut Greg Chamitoff from the International Space Station has challenged us Earthlings to a friendly game of chess. Each day, the astronaut will make his moves on a Velcro chess board in space and relay them to Mission Control in Houston. All Earthlings may then vote on the response and the most popular move will be played. (USCF membership is not required to participate!) To help us decide, the national champion chess team from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington will recommend up to four moves for us to vote on each turn.

Playing white, Chamitoff opened with 1.d4. Earth must now choose between d5, Nf6, e6 and f5. You can guess what I picked, but don't let that influence your choice. :-)

If you never participated in such a format, check out Wikipedia for Kasparov versus The World in 1999. Kasparov finally won after 62 moves over 4 months in probably the most heavily analyzed chess game ever. Read the Wiki page for an in-depth annotation of the game or simply click to play through this remarkable game.

Update on Monday afternoon: 1.d4 Nf6 was played. We now await Chamitoff's response.

Friday, September 26

October Top 100 Lists and CalChess Top 20

(This photo, taken over the summer at a session of the San Francisco School of Chess, includes three gold medalists, one silver medalist and one bronze medalist.)

The USCF has posted the October Top 100 lists a few days early. This rating supplement includes tournaments rated by September 5, thus including Labor Day weekend. In a sign of the increasing dominance of Northern California scholastic chess, the number of local juniors ranked for their age increased to 99 in October (up from 93 in June) Check out the CalChess Top 100 lists for the complete rankings.

Eight kids have earned gold medals for being ranked in the top 5 of the nation for their age. Three are ranked #1 and two more are #2. Welcome to new Bay Area resident Samuel Sevian, a 7 year old formerly from Florida who sports an amazing rating of 1889! Samuel joins the elite club of Nicholas Nip and Daniel Naroditsky as top rated players for their age. Special kudos to Arun Khemani, who at 1047 is the top 5 year old in the nation!

GOLD MEDAL (top 5)
Arun Khemani (#1 age 5)
Samuel Sevian (#1 age 7)
Tanuj Vasudeva (#5 age 7)
NM Nicholas Nip (#1 age 10)
Yian Liou (#3 age 11)
FM Daniel Naroditsky (#1 age 12, see photo)
NM Gregory Young (#2 age 13)
NM Steven Zierk (#5 age 15, see photo)
FM Sam Shankland (#2 age 16)

Players ranked in the top 10 and top 25 of the country also deserve a special recognition. The silver medal list has doubled in size this summer. The names shown in bold and italics are all current or former students of mine.

Vignesh Panchanatham (#8 age 8)
Cameron Wheeler (#10 age 8)
Jack Zhu (#7 age 9)
Kyle Shin (#9 age 10)
Nicholas Yap (#6 age 18)
Daniel Schwarz (#7 age 18, see photo)

Jeffrey Tao, John Canessa, Armaan Kalyanpur, Richard Yi, Allan Beilin, Kesav Viswanadha, Paul Richter, Daniel Liu, Daniel Zheng, Jerome Sun, Sam Bekker, Andrew Yeh, Rohan Agarwal, Evan Sandberg, Adarsh Konda, David Chock, NM Drake Wang

Also check out the Top 20 lists on the CalChess website. Can any of my readers believe that there are seven Bay Area kids in K-6 rated above 1800, including two over 2000? Another eight Elementary age kids are rated 1600 and up. The Junior High + High School rankings are topped by two FIDE Masters, two National Masters and an unprecedented seven experts. Incredibly, CalChess boasts 13 young players age 17 and younger who are rated over 2000, not including the five 18 year old masters who attend local colleges and universities!

CalChess Top 5 Elementary (age 11 & under)
  1. NM Nicholas Nip, 2207
  2. Yian Liou, 2050
  3. Samuel Sevian, 1889
  4. Daniel Zheng, 1871
  5. Kyle Shin, 1846
CalChess Top 5 JHS and HS (age 12-17)
  1. FM Sam Shankland, 2425
  2. FM Daniel Naroditsky, 2355
  3. NM Steven Zierk, 2252
  4. NM Gregory Young, 2248 (see photo)
  5. Rohan Agarwal, 2173

USCF Top 100 Juniors (U21) for October

A whopping ten Northern California juniors are ranked on the USCF Top 100 Juniors (U21) list for October. After an amazing streak of success this summer, CalChess State Champion FM Sam Shankland, standing in front of the demo board at right, has cracked the top 10. This total does not include a pair of talented college freshmen from Southern California and another from Texas who now attend local universities. Congratulations to all these young men!

How does our state compare to others? New York, which boasts 17 players on the Top 100 Juniors, including the top four (GM Nakamura, IM Hess, IM Lenderman and IM Milman). Texas has 11 ranked players, mostly due to recruiting by chess programs at several universities. Southern California is tied with CalChess at 10 each. No other state has more than a half dozen, with New Jersey at 5 and Florida at 4.
  • #9 FM Sam Shankland, 16
  • #11 FM Elliott Liu, 18 (from Southern California)
  • #19 FM Daniel Naroditsky, 12
  • #24 NM Nicolas Yap, 18
  • #27 NM Daniel Schwarz, 18
  • #33 NM Julian Landaw, 18 (from Southern California)
  • #38 NM Matthew Ho, 20
  • #43 NM Drake Wang, 18
  • #48 NM Steven Zierk, 15
  • #53 NM Gregory Young, 13
  • #73 NM Nicholas Nip, 10
  • #97 Rohan Agarwal, 15
  • #97 Jimmy Heiserman, 19 (from Texas)

Wednesday, September 24

US Chess League Showdown on Wednesday

Wednesday at 5:30pm

Watch at Mechanics' Institute or on ICC!

Since Monday marked the official beginning of autumn, we can expect some signs of the season. Students return to their studies at school or college. Politicians gear up for the elections on the first weekend of November. Retailers order merchandise for the holiday shopping season. Sports fans cheer for their favorite football teams or prepare for the baseball playoffs. And chess players also have the opportunity to support their favorite players and teams.

The US Chess League consists of 14 teams in cities ranging from New York to Miami to Arizona and Seattle. The Dallas Destiny, a team comprised largely of students at the University of Texas at Dallas, won the league last year. However, the two teams with the highest historical winning percentage over the first three seasons of the league's existence are the San Francisco Mechanics (68%) and the Boston Blitz (63%).

As luck would have it, the Mechanics face the Blitz this Wednesday at 5:30 Pacific / 8:30 Eastern. Despite their long history of success, these two teams have gone different ways to begin the 2008 campaign. The Blitz stands at 50%, having lost two straight matches and struggling to find wins on the top two boards (one win and two losses). On the other hand, the Mechanics engine appears to run smoothly with a 3.5-0.5 match record fueled by youthful success on the bottom two boards (five wins against two losses).

Here is the fight card for this week. The first player in each pairing is from San Francisco; the second from Boston. San Francisco has white on boards 1+3 and black on 2+4.
  • GM-elect Vinay Bhat versus GM Larry Christiansen. The brilliance of a prodigy who recently earned the top title in chess versus the cunningness of the skilled veteran.
  • IM David Pruess versus SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun. Fire against fire. There's no doubt which game "Misha" will be watching when he logs in from heaven.
  • FM Sam Shankland vs NM Marc Esserman. Two 2400+ rated rising stars go head to head in what should be a cage fight. This is definitely the game to watch.
  • FM Daniel Naroditsky vs NM Ilya Krasik. Normally Russians score well in chess against non-Russians. What if both players are Russian? May youth be served!
If you want to read more, check out the previews from both teams on their official blogs. My friend Chris Bird wrote for the Boston Blitz while my other friend GM-elect Josh Friedel, for unknown reasons, prognosticated a 3.5-2.0 (!?) defeat for the San Francisco Mechanics. Thank goodness Josh won't be playing!

I plan to watch the action live on ICC between my chess lessons! What about you? And what is my prediction? Mechanics win 3:1 with four decisive games.

Update on Wednesday night: Unfortunately, San Francisco lost by 1:3 to Boston, with a pair of draws earned by Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky. Kudos to Boston's top boards GM Larry Christiansen and SM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun for their victories.

Saturday, September 20

Disney's EPCOT Center

My dad took this photo with my cell phone. Here I am in front of the 18 story tall sphere that is the trademark of Disney World's EPCOT Center theme park. The acronym stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. This multinational exhibit was one of my favorite place to visit back in my youth.

Thursday, September 18

Labor Day Recap

(Photos of top players by Richard Shorman. From left to right: 2008 State Champion FM Sam Shankland, NM Daniel Schwarz and IM Dmitry Zilberstein. For more photos, please visit the excellent local website

Click here for the corrected link to my photos from Labor Day.

I briefly wish to revisit the Labor Day Festival, a.k.a. the CalChess State Championship. If there was one central theme this year, it must have been the impressive performance of elite kids, especially in the top sections. Has the fledgling San Francisco School of Chess already paid dividends or is this an indication of greater things to come?

Look no further than 1st place in the Master section and you'll find high school senior FM Sam Shankland. After beating a pair of big name Grandmasters and winning two of the strongest adult tournaments in California, "Shanky" is rated 2425 USCF and 2436 FIDE! At this rate, he will soon complete his final two IM norms and begin shooting for the GM title.

Shankland was not the only elite junior to achieve success up on the hill in San Francisco. Here are a few more highlights, limited just to my own pool of students:
  • Longtime student and Stanford sophomore NM Daniel Schwarz tied for 2nd overall with an undefeated 4.5/6, beating IM Ricardo DeGuzman once again.
  • NM Steven Zierk also defeated DeGuzman and drew with GM-elect Vinay Bhat. His FIDE rating will jump 108 points to 2240 on the upcoming October list.
  • NM Gregory Young drew with both Bhat and IM Dmitry Zilberstein and will be rated 2264 FIDE, just 36 points away from becoming the Bay Area's third FM.
  • The new kid on the block, 11 year old expert Yian Liou, beat IM Walter Shipman for his first IM scalp. His provisional FIDE performance rating was an impressive 2229!
  • Evan Sandberg gained 29 points for 4.0/6 in Expert section, up to 2051.
  • Michael Lin gained 62 points for 3.5/6 in Expert section, up to 1933.
Way to go guys! Keep up the good work and no doubt more success will come your way!

Fpawn Survives Hanna While on Vacation in Florida

(This is the crown jewel of civil engineering in the Florida Keys: the Seven Mile Bridge between the city of Marathon and Little Duck Key. Depending on the weather, the ocean may look blue, light blue or even teal!)

I returned from my Florida vacation a few days ago and have now resumed my busy teaching schedule for the fall months. Fortunately, I am more relaxed and energetic after this much needed break from chess and everything else. In fact, I left my laptop at home and spent a total of only 2-3 hours on the internet over the course of two weeks.

Perhaps many of my readers did not know that I grew up in Florida. I lived for a few years on the Florida Keys while my father worked on the Seven Mile Bridge. However, I spent the bulk of my school years living in St. Petersburg (not Russia) and graduated summa cum lauda from St. Petersburg High School in 1992 (see photo at right). Last week, I saw my high school for the first time in 16 years and even met a couple of my old friends from what feels like a prior incarnation. I could hardly believe that some are married--with children! A lot has changed over the years. For example, our neighborhood strip mall in St. Pete was replaced by a WalMart supercenter!

Some of you have wondered whether my travel plans were impacted by Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike. Yes, we had to change plans, but all turned out well. We intended to visit the Florida Keys on the same days that Ike was threatening to hit before it went further south. Consequently, we stayed longer in the resort town of Daytona Beach and rode out the winds, rain and spectacular waves from Hanna in a beach-front, ocean-facing, 5th floor hotel room. Thanks to the fact that the hotels were almost completely empty, we slept in fancy suites while paying internet room rates. Fortunately, we still were able to visit Marathon and Key West on the last two days of our vacation. We even saw a few of author Ernest Hemingway's famous six-toed cats.

Wednesday, September 3

Fpawn on Vacation Until September 13

Your humble blogger is away on a much needed break from chess for two weeks. My family vacation will be in Florida, the state where I lived for most of my school years (K-12). In many ways, this is a trip down memory lane to places such as the Florida Keys and my alma mater St. Petersburg High School, the home of the Green Devils. I have not visited my old hometown nor spoken with many old friends for 16 years. These weeks will also offer an opportunity to relax on the sands of Daytona Beach (check out this cool webcam), the Keys and St. Pete Beach. Hopefully the state won't be hit by any hurricanes. <crossing fingers>

I will not bring my laptop on this trip so that I can't get tempted to study chess. I may check my email every few days, but don't expect any further blog updates until I return home. And in case anyone is wondering, no I will not play in the big Miami Open.

Monday, September 1

Shankland PWNS CalChess State Championship

The leaner and meaner FM Sam Shankland (photo at left by Shorman) once again demonstrated that he is a primordial force to be reckoned with in Northern California chess. Although he has yet to win the CalChess Scholastics, "Shanky" can now call himself State Champion after his success over Labor Day weekend at the Golden Gateway Holiday Inn in San Francisco. He scored an undefeated 5.0 out of 6, including this refutation of the St. George's opening essayed by IM Andrei Florean. Shankland drew twice over the weekend against both of the players who tied for second place at 4.5: NM Daniel Schwarz and IM Dmitry Zilberstein. Congratulations to Sam on a successful summer that included an IM norm at the World Open, top honors at Agoura Hills, impressive wins against Grandmasters Shabalov and Erenburg, and last but not least a state title!

Sam Shankland (2410) vs Andrei Florean (2465)
1. e4 a6 2. d4 b5 3. Bd3 Bb7 4. Qe2 e6 5. a4 c5 6. dxc5 b4 7. Nf3 Bxc5 8. Nbd2 d6 9. Nb3 Nd7 10. O-O Ngf6 11. Bd2 O-O 12. a5 Qb8 13. Rfd1 Rd8 14. h3 h6 15. Qe1 Ra7 16. Nfd4 Kh8 17. f3 e5 18. Nxc5 Nxc5 19. Nf5 Nxd3 20. cxd3 Bc8 21. Nxh6 Nh7 22. Ng4 b3 23. Ne3 Be6 24. Bc3 f6 25. d4 Ng5 26. dxe5 dxe5 27. Bxe5 Qa8 28. Bc3 Re8 29. Qg3 Rb7 30. e5 Nh7 31. exf6 gxf6 32. Qf4 Rg7 33. Kh2 Qa7 34. Rd6 Kg8 35. Rad1 Bd7 36. Bd4 Qb8 37. Rd2 Rg6 38. Bc3 Be6 39. Qb4 Qc8 40. Qb6 Bxh3 41. Rd8 1-0

Final standings of Master section
  • 5.0 FM Sam Shankland
  • 4.5 NM Daniel Schwarz and IM Dmitry Zilberstein
  • 4.0 IM Andrei Florean, NM Drake Wang, NM Nicolas Yap
The weekend was marked by a slew of upsets by Northern California's pool of talented younger players against internationally titled masters. The two players that everyone expected to battle for top honors didn't even stay in contention!? GM-elect Vinay Bhat drew twice with teenage masters Steven Zierk and Gregory Young before losing to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo sophomore NM Drake Wang. Joining the upset parade, the Bay Area's most active titled player, IM Ricardo DeGuzman, castled short against a pair of my students, losing to NM Schwarz for the second time this year before also losing to NM Zierk. Even 11 year old expert Yian Liou got into the act by beating veteran IM Walter Shipman for the first IM scalp of his young life! Considering all these upsets, perhaps the smartest person this weekend was two-time defending state champion GM-elect Josh Friedel, who wisely took a break from chess after a busy summer of tournaments.

(Photo by Shorman of the top board action in round 2. On board 1, NM Zierk played GM-elect Bhat while on board 2, IM Zilberstein faced NM Young. Both games were drawn.)
The annual CalChess Labor Day Festival drew a total of 160 players in six sections and paid out the advertised prize fund of about $5,500. Organizer Richard Koepcke received assistance from CalChess President and Chief TD Tom Langland and NTD John McCumiskey. Thanks guys for a smooth and enjoyable weekend!

While I have concentrated on the Master section in this story, I wish to close by recognizing the various champions in lower divisions. Kudos to them as well!
  • Expert = Reynaldo Salvatierra and Dana Mackenzie
  • Class A = Daniel Zheng and Arun Gomatan
  • Class B = Chris Tsai
  • Class C = Harold Parker, Donovan Zhao, Albert Lin and Gabriel Ki
  • Class D/E/unr = Seid Seidov (only 6-0 score of the entire weekend)
Final standings:
Photos by Richard Shorman on ChessDryad.
Photos by Michael Aigner on Flickr.