Friday, January 16

USCF Top 100 Juniors (U21) for February

(Here's a blast from the past. Daniel Schwarz and Drake Wang set up to play at the 2001 CalChess Scholastics in Santa Clara. Both were in 6th grade at the time; Daniel was rated 1675 and Drake was 1844. However, top seeded Alexander Setzepfandt took clear 1st place with 5.5 out of 6, drawing with Schwarz in the final round.)

It has long been established that Northern California is a mecca for scholastic chess that can compete with the rest of the nation. The February Top 100 lists confirm this fact. Impressively, 13 local juniors and college students are ranked on the most prestigious ranking list for juniors: Under Age 21.

At the top, IM Sam Shankland (#7) does not require much of an introduction after winning both the CalChess State Championship and the World U18 Championship. Besides Shankland, the most impressive player over the past four months was NM Steven Zierk (#30), who gained 74 USCF points since Labor Day, thereby cracking 2300. See a photo of Steven from 2nd grade at right. The two youngest masters in the Bay Area are also well known to readers of this blog: 13 year old FM Danya Naroditsky (#17) and 10 year old NM Nicholas Nip (#70).

These rankings are also the last hoorah for the previous generation of junior masters, those who have now gone off to college. For many years, NM Daniel Schwarz (#25), NM Nicolas Yap (#27), NM Matthew Ho (#40) and NM Drake Wang (#49) dominated the local scene. Now Daniel and Matthew attend Stanford University together FM Elliott Liu (#15) from San Diego and NM Vaishnav Aradhyula (#60) from Tucson. Go Stanford!!
  • #7 IM Sam Shankland (2441)
  • #15 FM Elliott Liu (2398) - attending Stanford University from Southern California
  • #17 FM Danya Naroditsky (2358)
  • #25 NM Daniel Schwarz (2316)
  • #27 NM Nicolas Yap (2315)
  • #30 NM Steven Zierk (2308)
  • #37 NM Julian Landaw (2292) - attending UC Berkeley from Southern California
  • #40 NM Matthew Ho (2281)
  • #49 NM Drake Wang (2262)
  • #51 NM Gregory Young (2249)
  • #60 NM Vaishnav Aradhyula (2225) - attending Stanford University from Arizona
  • #69 NM Rohan Agarwal (2212)
  • #70 NM Nicholas Nip (2211)

Monday, January 12

Fun Games from North American Open

Check out Chess Life Online for the official recap of North American Open in Las Vegas at the end of December. Georgian GM Giorgi Kacheishvili took clear first place in his second major tournament in a row after a spectacular sacrificial game against Armenian-American GM Varuzhan Akobian in the penultimate round.

As usual, my main focus has been on Northern California players. Fortunately, I found a spectacular sample of games to post on this blog. The games include two draws against Grandmasters and an incredible pair of victories against the colorful IM Emory Tate (see photo at right). To view these games online, just click on this link for a webpage automatically generated by Chessbase.
  • S Zierk 1/2 V Akobian: Steven holds a pawn down endgame vs a strong GM.
  • E Tate 0-1 R Agarwal: The legendary IM Tate has no answer to Philidor gambit.
  • Y Liou 1-0 J Irrzary: Yian goes king hunting after a strange Alekhine opening.
  • M Nita 0-1 M Aigner: This expert quickly bows to the power of the Dutch defense.
  • R Hess 0-1 S Shankland: IM Shankland smokes his main junior rival IM Hess.
  • S Shankland 1/2 J Ehlvest: For an encoure, a solid draw against a veteran GM.
  • S Zierk 1-0 E Tate: The local juniors sure gave IM Tate the one-two punch!
  • R Agarwal 1-0 K Mackinnon: NM Agarwal shows off the power of gambits.
  • M Aigner 1-0 D Haessel: The Trompowsky takes down a FM in a quick win.

Wednesday, January 7

January Player of the Month: The Master Gambiteer

(Rohan Agarwal in deep thought at the CalChess Scholastics in San Jose last May.)

I will begin recognizing one deserving Northern California chess player each month who has achieved significant success within recent weeks or occasionally an accumulation over a longer time period. It is my pleasure to award the first Fpawn Blog Player of the Month to the Bay Area's newest National Master, 15 year old Rohan Agarwal from Fremont. By earning the hallowed title of Master at North American Open in Las Vegas, Rohan became the sixth Bay Area junior in K-12 to break 2200 USCF and also solified his spot among the elite of the nation (there are only about 35 masters under age 18).
  • Name: Rohan Agarwal
  • Title: National Master
  • Current ratings: 2212 USCF and 2190 FIDE
  • National ranking: #11 for age 15
  • CalChess ranking: #5 for age 12-17
  • First tournament: December 2002
  • First established rating: 1248 in November 2003
  • Last 12 months: gained 142 points in 65 rated games at 11 tournaments
  • Latest tournament: Scored 3.5/7 in Open at North American Open in Las Vegas for a 2335 performance, including win against IM Tate and a draw with GM Lein.
  • Biggest scalps: IM DeGuzman (9/07) and IM Tate (12/08)
Rohan learned how to play at Weibel Elementary School in Fremont under the tutelage of legendary coach Richard Shorman. Even today, Rohan enjoys the opening gambits that he first learned years ago and he is not afraid to essay the Philidor Counter Gambit or the Sicilian Wing Gambit even against masters. His style may be best described as tactical or even insane--I still remember a year ago when Rohan beat a master after playing Kh1 by move 20, which wouldn't have been too unusual except that he was black in that game!?

In a newsletter, longtime Weibel advisor Dr. Alan Kirshner wrote a moving tribute. "Rohan, under the mentorship of Richard Shorman at Weibel, accomplished a milestone. I congratulate Rohan not because he was trained better than other Fremont players, but because he worked harder and had the perseverance and determination to go all the way. I might add that he is also a great all around person. I know he will spend the remainder of his High School years teaching the students at his Elementary School alma mater. I look forward to seeing him, in the future, win many more titles." Coach Agarwal's (see photo at right) young proteges won first place team trophies in both 5th and 6th grade last month at the CalChess Grade Level Championships in Stockton.

The following crush from Las Vegas illustrates Rohan's attacking style. He chooses to mix it up against the iconic IM Emory Tate out of Philidor's defense. The sly IM quickly got an inferior position (16.Nb1 simply admits failure) and it went downhill from there. White's retreat 21.Bg2 lost instantly to Nxg2 followed by an invasion along the h-file.

IM Emory Tate (2390) vs Rohan Agarwal (2196)
2008 North American Open (2)
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c4 f5 4. d3 Nf6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Be2 O-O 7. c5 Nc6 8. cxd6 Qxd6 9. O-O a6 10. a3 Be6 11. Ng5 Nd4 12. Nxe6 Qxe6 13. exf5 Qxf5 14. Be3 Rad8 15. Bxd4 exd4 16. Nb1 Nd5 17. Bf3 Nf4 18. Be4 Qg5 19. g3 Rd6 20. Nd2 Rh6 21. Bg2 Nxg2 22. Kxg2 Qf5 23. h4 Bxh4 24. g4 Qf4 25. Ne4 Bxf2 26. Rh1 Rg6 27. Kh3 h5 28. Qe2 Rxg4 29. Qxf2 Qxf2 0-1

To replay this game, click on this link to Chess Publisher.

Tuesday, January 6

CalChess FIDE Rated Juniors - January 2009

A total of twelve juniors from Northern California now have official FIDE ratings published on the January 2009 list. Special kudos to my 15 year old student Evan Sandberg (photo above) for earning his brand new international rating. Evan's FIDE rating is even quite respectable at 2131, thanks largely to a master level performance at the Tuesday Night Marathon last summer. Way to go Evan!
  1. IM Sam Shankland 2453
  2. FM Daniel Naroditsky 2362
  3. NM Gregory Young 2264
  4. NM Steven Zierk 2259
  5. NM Rohan Agarwal 2190
  6. NM Nicholas Nip 2150
  7. Alan Naroditsky 2133
  8. Evan Sandberg 2131
  9. Adarsh Konda 2115
  10. Michael Zhong 2113
  11. Adam Goldberg 2008
  12. Louiza Livschitz 1963

CalChess FIDE Top 20 - January 2009

The following list includes the top 20 players (plus ties) presently living in Northern California who played in at least one FIDE rated event on the West Coast during the past year.

Source: January 2009 FIDE rating list.

Youth will be served! Fully 40% of the players listed below are under the age of 21, including four college undergraduates, two high school students and two middle school kids. Inevitably these young players will continue to improve. At the top, CalChess Champion and World U18 co-Champion IM Sam Shankland gained 17 points and closed the gap separating him from his former teachers at the top of the rankings.
  1. GM Josh Friedel 2511 (photo at upper left)
  2. GM Vinay Bhat 2495 (photo at upper right)
  3. IM Sam Shankland 2453
  4. IM David Pruess 2422
  5. IM Andrei Florean 2420
  6. IM John Donaldson 2411
  7. IM Vladimir Mezentsev 2403
  8. IM Ricardo DeGuzman 2402
  9. FM Vladimir Strugatsky 2397
  10. IM Dmitry Zilberstein 2393
  11. FM Daniel Naroditsky 2362
  12. FM Elliott Liu 2356
  13. IM John Grefe 2348
  14. FM Shiv Shivaji 2308
  15. NM Julian Landaw 2286
  16. NM Gregory Young 2264
  17. NM Steven Zierk 2259
  18. NM Nicolas Yap 2255
  19. NM Andy Lee 2240
  20. NM Daniel Schwarz 2228
(My current and former students appear in boldface in the rankings. Four are now rated above my current FIDE rating of 2227.)

Saturday, January 3

Recap of North American Open

The annual North American Open attracted 583 chess enthusiasts to Bally's Casino (above photo taken by official webmaster Chris Bird) at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, the city bustles with tourists, gamblers and revelers--plus a few wood pushers amongst the crowds. The winter weather offered a perfect excuse to spend long hours at the chess board (especially for those under the legal gambling age of 21). Everything, from the tournament hall to hotel rooms to restaurants, is conveniently located under one roof. In fact, you can walk from Bally's to France--or at least to the adjacent Paris Casino.

About 40 Northern California players and their parents took the 1 hour flight or drove for 8-10 hours. Fortunately, gas prices are quite reasonable now! Those who arrived in the evening on Christmas Day battled heavy traffic and even an ice storm, but the rest of the week was sunny and cold, but dry. Nine of my students showed up for their final chess competition of 2008.

The tournament began rather auspiciously. Nobody could have predicted that IM David Pruess and FM Daniel Naroditsky would each start 0-2 against substantially weaker opponents, yet as a testiment to their fighting spirit, they both recovered to finish above 50%. Somehow, all five of my students in the U2100 section lost in round 1, but one still ended up tied for third. Even I struggled with draws against two low experts, perhaps a consequence of a bout with the stomach flu.

Fortunately, the final results were far more encouraging. Below are some notable scores from local players. Please click on the link for the USCF ratings report.
  • IM Sam Shankland, 5.0 in Open (top U2500, see photo above)
  • IM David Pruess, 4.5 in Open
  • FM Daniel Naroditsky, 4.0 in Open
  • NM Steven Zierk, 4.0 in Open (broke 2300 USCF)
  • NM Michael Aigner, 4.0 in Open
  • NM Rohan Agarwal, 3.5 in Open (broke 2200 USCF)
  • Yian Liou, 5.5 in U2100 (tied for 3rd place)
  • Karim Seada, 5.5 in U2100 (tied for 3rd place)
  • Michael Da-Cruz, 6.0 in U1900 (tied for 2nd place)
  • Mukund Chillakanti, 5.5 in U1900 (tied for 5th place)
  • Samuel Sevian, 4.5 in U1900
  • Roland Zhu, 4.5 in U1900 (+137 rating points up to 1760)
  • Seid Seidov, 7.0 in U1700 (clear 1st place)
  • Rahul Desirazu, 5.5 in U1700
  • Merak Arriola, 6.0 in U1300 (tied for 2nd place)
  • Jeffrey Zhang, 5.5 in U1300 (tied for 5th place)
  • Rohan Kapre, 5.5 in U1000 (tied for 3rd place)
Five local juniors had an especially memorable tournament and deserve special recognition. Two won significant money and the other three all achieved rating milestones.
  • IM Sam Shankland tied for 7th place overall and earned top U2500 with 5.0/7. After a disappointing draw in round 1, he caught fire and beat his major rival IM Robert Hess with black and then drew GM Jaan Ehlvest. At least there's still room for improvement: Sam got schooled by GM Zviad Izoria in the penultimate round.
  • NM Steven Zierk (see photo at right) impressed with 4.0 against 7 FIDE titled players with an average rating of 2408 USCF. His highlights included a solid draw against GM Varuzhan Akobian, ranked #5 in the USA, and a crushing win against IM Emory Tate. Steven also can still improve: he lost quickly to IM Shankland in the final round.
  • Please join me in congratulating California's newest master, NM Rohan Agarwal! He had quite a memorable tournament, defeating IM Emory Tate and drawing with GM Anatoly Lein on his way to a 2335 performance. Rohan's style and opening repertoire always generate many exciting tactical slugfests.
  • Young expert Yian Liou no doubt has his eyes on the master title after he tied for third place in the U2100 section with a 2219 performance. He got a much needed kick in the rear end by losing round 1, but after five straight wins, he was on board 1 in the final round (a draw with section winner Jared Tan).
  • Las Vegas was my first opportunity to watch new student Roland Zhu (see photo at right) play. Suffice it to say that he left quite an impression, far exceeding my expectations by scoring 4.0/7 while playing up in the U1900 section. As a reward, his rating jumped from 1623 to 1760!
The winner of the Open section was--no, not me!--Grandmaster Giorgi Kacheishvili with 6.0 out of 7. He took control in the fourth round and never relinquished the lead, picking up three wins and two draws against fellow Grandmasters. Five GMs tied for second: Zviad Izoria, Melik Khachiyan, Alexander Shabalov, Julio Becerra and Jaan Ehlvest. Check out the interesting tournament blog by USCL's Blogger of the Year Chris Bird for further details and a few key positions from the top boards.

Nation's Top Kids in Las Vegas

Clockwise from top left corner:
  • World U18 co-Champion IM Sam Shankland, 2441, #1 age 17.
  • IM Robert Hess, 2527, #1 age 16 (recently turned 17).
  • FM Michael Lee, 2374, #3 age 14 (will be #2 on next list).
  • FM Daniel Naroditsky, 2358, #1 age 12 (recently turned 13).
  • FM Darwin Yang, 2303, #1 age 11 (recently turned 12).
  • Expert David Adelberg, 2027, #7 age 11 (was my round 2 opponent).

Grandmasters Play in Las Vegas

Clockwise from top left corner:
  • GM Giorgi Kacheishvili from the country of Georgia won both the Berkeley International and North American Open.
  • GM Varuzhan Akobian won a bronze medal with the US Olympiad Team.
  • GM Melik Khachiyan is a highly respected teacher in Los Angeles.
  • GM Anatoly Lein still is going strong at 77 years old!
  • Reigning US Champion GM Yury Shulman teaches the prestigious US Chess School this week in Arizona, including local NMs Steven Zierk and Gregory Young.
  • GM Slavko Cicak came to Las Vegas from Sweden.

Friday, January 2

Happy New Year 2009!

Dear readers,

First of all, I wish all of you a Happy New Year 2009!

The beginning of each calendar year is a good time to reflect on your chess goals. Do you want to reach a certain rating? Or win a specific championship? Maybe you want to study tactics for 30 minutes four times a week, or learn a new opening repertoire? Perhaps you hope to overcome your mental weaknesses, e.g. poor play against lower rated opponents. Whatever your goal, it must be something reasonable. For example, it might be a reasonable challenge to aim for 2000 if you're 1800 today, but jumping all the way to master within a year is unlikely.

I have a few exciting ideas to expand my blog for the new year.
  1. Annotated Game of the Week. (probably not every single week)
  2. More short reports from super-GM tournaments.
  3. NorCal Player of the Month.
  4. Fpawn Student of the Month.
I hope to post the POTM awards within the first week of each month, but I reserve the right to maintain some flexibility. The NorCal recognition will normally go to one of the elite juniors in Northern California, whether they are my student or not. Naturally, the Student of the Month award will be limited to private students, including those with lower ratings. A player may not win a second POTM award within 12 months unless they achieve something remarkable, e.g. winning a national or international tournament.

(Undoubtedly some of you are waiting for my final report from North American Open. I was feeling ill for half of my trip to Las Vegas and have slowly recovered since then. Strangely, my performance was decent--but not quite as good as some local juniors.)