Friday, July 31

Samyukta Ties for 4th at Polgar

(Board 1 in the final round. Yang Dai played 1.d4 and Samyukta responds with Nf6.)

Oh so close, and yet so far away. You simply can't win 'em all.

Playing on board 1 against the top seed rated more than 300 points higher, Samyukta Bhat fought all the way to the end, blundering only in time pressure. In the words of Polgar Invitational organizer and namesake GM Susan Polgar, she "fought valiantly. The position was very close." In spite of this setback, Samyukta finished tied for 4th place, together with the defending champion and two other girls. There's no doubt that she made all of us in Northern California proud to have her as official representative!

Final standings of Polgar Invitational
  • 6.0 -- Yang Dai (2057) 6.0
  • 5.0 -- Rachel Gologorsky (1704) and Epiphany Peters (1797)
  • 4.5 -- Linda Diaz (1882), Courtney Jamison (1984), Samyukta Bhat (1740) and Joanne Koong (1683)
Check back for Samyukta's round 5 win, which I will post as soon as it is available online. Click here for photo albums from the tournament.

Tuesday, July 28

Samyukta Bhat Leads Polgar Championship

Update on Thursday night: Samyukta Bhat won today and is in clear 2nd place with 4.5 out of 5! She faces top seed and tournament leader Yang Dai (2057) in Friday's final round, needing a win to become national champion. On behalf of all of Samyukta's fans back home, here's wishing you all of the best of skill!

Samyukta Bhat, winner of the
CalChess Girl's Championship, remains tied for first with a perfect 3-0 score at the halfway point of the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls. The photo at right shows Samyukta posing with GM Susan Polgar. The two other girls sharing the lead are the top seeds: Yang Dai (2057) of Virginia and defending champion Courtney Jamison (1984) of Texas. An incoming 9th grader rated 1740, Samyukta started out ranked #9 out of 60 girls. No doubt the competition will soon become much tougher, starting tomorrow against Julia Jones (1869), also from Texas. Here's wishing her all the best of luck!

Samyukta is not the only Fremont area girl playing in Texas. 8-year old Alisha Chawla has a single point (see photo at left), competing against mostly older and higher rated opponents. No doubt she will benefit from the entire experience, including instructional lectures, puzzle contests and blitz tournament.

Watch this post and my Twitter feed for updates throughout the week. There will be one round daily through Friday. For more photos of young ladies playing chess, click on album #1 and album #2.

Silicon Valley Challenge on August 1

(The playing hall is actually a dance studio. Watch out for the mirrors!)

The 7th Silicon Valley Challenge by the Sun Chess Club is coming up soon! This year's event on Saturday, August 1, will again be held at Susan's Dance Studio in NE San Jose.

Organizer Charles Sun, a longtime student of mine and now a senior at Saratoga High School, volunteers each year to host one or two tournaments. This gives him a broader perspective on the royal game than simply being a player. Click on the links to read about Challenge #5 and Challenge #6, both held last summer.

Already 16 participants have registered, split almost evenly between the Open and U1600 sections. The top section may prove to be very strong, with at least four masters! The deadline to mail your entry is on Saturday, or you may procrastinate and enter on-site early in the morning before round 1. Note that only 54 entries will be accepted due to the capacity of the playing venue.

Update on Tuesday evening: There are now 30 entries and counting.
  • Event: Silicon Valley Challenge #7
  • Date: August 1
  • Location: 2146 Ringwood Avenue, San Jose (off I-880 near Milpitas).
  • Format: 4 round swiss in 2 sections (Open and U1600).
  • Open schedule: Reg: 8:30-8:50. Rounds: 9:00, 11:30, 1:45, 4:00.
  • U1600 schedule: Reg: 10:30-11:15, Rounds: 11:30, 12:30, 1:45, 3:00.
  • Time control: G/60 for Open; G/30 for U1600.
  • Entry fee: $35 adults, $30 juniors by July 15 or August 1, $10 more on-site.
  • Prize fund: $510 total including $100 for 1st place in Open section.
  • Go to Sun Chess Club website for the entry form and advance entry list.
  • Site capacity: 54 players.
I highly encourage my students to come to play on August 1. Even I intend to play, just to have fun and hang out with my students.

Sunday, July 26

CalChess Top 20 Adults -- August 2009

(Photos of the top three players in Bay Area: GM Friedel, IM Shankland and GM Kraai.)

Check out the USCF website for a list of the top 200 active players in Northern California based on the August 2009 rating supplement. If you are rated 1870 or above, you can look up your official state ranking! This census includes 10 senior masters, a total of 50 masters and 59 experts.

I took into account several players who no longer live here plus a couple who have not played since summer 2008 to generate the following list of CalChess Top 20 Adults. I also included top rated and two-time state champion GM Josh Friedel, who resides in El Cerrito but remains registered under New Hampshire.









































Thursday, July 23

How To Get From 1600 to 2000?

CalChess High School co-Champion and the Bay Area's newest master, 12-year old Yian Liou, wrote the following essay. He shares his own experiences about what it takes for a promising 1600 to reach 2000.

As a talented young 1600, it is never easy to become a 2000 player. For me, getting to 2000 meant that I had to be able to beat 1800s when I was 1600. By 1900, I needed to win almost all games against lower rated while earning good results against 2000s. That is much easier said than done!

Foremost, are the aspects of your game. You have to work on your openings with books or Chessbase and prepare them to face specific opponents. Playing on a chess server against stronger opponents helps you get used to the opening traps, ideas and so on. You should work on tactics just in case your opponent doesn’t see a trick to win material. I recommend a program like CT-Art or an Internet tactics site. Also work on the positional aspects of the game, meaning where to put your pieces and how to find ideal squares for your pieces and pawns. Do exercises from a book for that. It helps to develop a good intuition, which means you know where in general you should move. Finally, since you have your opening and middlegame done, go to the ending. You should study theoretical positions like rook and pawn vs. rook. Get Silman’s endgame course, or if you are very serious, Dvoretsky’s endgame manual.

Since you can do well against higher rated opponents with the advice I have above, now turn to the next challenge: beating lower rated players consistently. Lower rated players, in general, will blunder material and you can win easily. However, what happens if they don’t? In this case, you have to outplay them, make them more and more uncomfortable until they finally blunder. The technical aspects of the game are now good, but now we move on to the psychological part of the game.

What I mean by psychological is the skill to stay focused during a long game and not get tired. To keep your physical strength during a game, I suggest some type of physical activity that requires you to exercise your whole body. For me, it is soccer and tennis; other sports like swimming and running are good too. These sports will help you stay sharp as a game progresses. To focus during a chess game, you must also be patient and take your time. These skills take time and cannot be learned immediately. Once you learn those, you are ready to be a 2000 chess player.

Yian reached 1600 USCF during Labor Day weekend in 2006 (at age 9) and became an expert within two years at the 2008 Pacific Coast Open. Exactly a year later, he earned his master certificate at the 2009 Pacific Coast Open. Apparently, Yian did something right over the years! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the readers.

Wednesday, July 22

Do YOU Have What It Takes to be a Master?

White to move and achieve a clear advantage. Do you see a tactic in this position? Would you have found that tactic if nobody had told you to look for one?

This position comes from round 5 at Pacific Coast Open, a game between brand new master Yian Liou and NM Julian Landaw (2283). Arguably this single move pushed Yian above the master threshold last weekend. Most people would automatically play Bf4 or Bd4, but there is something deeper in the position. Can you find it?

I will post the solution in the comments section below.

Sunday, July 19

NM Yian Turns Heads in Agoura Hills

(Top board in the final round: Yian plays white against GM Khachiyan.)

As expected by many, including the majority of voters in a poll on this blog, 12 year old Yian Liou became the newest CalChess junior to earn the USCF master title. The CalChess High School co-Champion did so in style, scoring 4.0 against 6 masters at the Pacific Coast Open in Agoura Hills. He defeated IM Edward Formanek while losing merely once, to GM Melik Khachiyan on top board in the money round. Despite the last round loss, Yian tied for top U2300. With an amazing performance rating over 2450, his USCF rating jumped 50 points to 2212. Congratulations Master Yian!
  • Name: Yian Liou
  • Title: National Master
  • Current ratings: 2212 USCF and 2188 FIDE (estimated)
  • National ranking: #4 for age 12
  • CalChess ranking: #6 under 18
  • State championships: K-12 in 2009, K-6 in 2008 and K-3 in 2005
  • First tournament: July 2004
  • First established rating: 1022 in March 2005
  • Last 12 months: Gained 224 points in 93 rated games at 18 tournaments
  • Latest tournament: Scored 4.0/6 in Open at Pacific Coast Open
  • Biggest scalps: IM DeGuzman (11/08 and 4/09), IM Formanek (7/09)
It has been a real pleasure for me to watch Yian grow up from a shy 8 year old rated 1200 to reach the hallowed rank of chess master. He developed steadily in all disciplines of the game, as he demonstrated this weekend by crushing NM Julian Landaw (2278) after an opening mistake yet also easily drawing an endgame down a pawn versus NM Garush Manuykan (2357). Anyone who watches Yian play or analyze will quickly become inspired by his pure enthusiasm for the royal game. The sky is truly the limit for Yian with two full years to improve before he goes to high school.

Photos from Agoura Hills

The top row of players are Bay Area teens while the bottom row of youngsters are still in elementary school. Two things that they all have in common: love and talent for the game of chess. They all entered in the top three sections (Open, U2100 and U1900) at the Pacific Coast Open just for the challenge and experience.
  • top row left to right: Evan Sandberg, Michael Zhong and Arthur Liou
  • bottom row left to right: Tanuj Vasudeva, Samuel Sevian and Daniel Liu
Final standings of Pacific Coast Open:
  • 5.5 GM Khachiyan
  • 4.5 IM Matikozyan and IM Tate
  • 4.0 IM Sevillano, NM Manukyan, NM Tanaka, NM Kudryavtsev and NM Y.Liou
Regretably, both Michael Zhong (U2100) and Tanuj Vasudeva (U1900) lost their last game to finish outside of the prizes. However, Arthur Liou (U2100) won his last three games to finish in the money at 4.5. He also hit the 2000 rating milestone to officially become an expert. Way to go dude!

Brief Update from Agoura Hills

(Playing on top board, Yian Liou concentrates against IM Edward Formanek)

More than a dozen Northern California players drove down to Agoura Hills (near Los Angeles) for the Pacific Coast Open. Four of my students and a carload of precocious Chesspunks have arrived, eager to snatch rating points from unsuspecting opponents. Their names are well known around the Bay Area, and soon our friends down south will know them too: Tanuj, Vignesh, Kesav, Allan, Armaan, Samuel, Evan and Yian.

Two stars have done especially well so far. 12-year old Yian Liou has an undefeated 3.0 out of 4 in the Open section for a performance rating around 2500! He crushed IM Edward Formanek in the first round and easily drew as black against NM Garush Manukyan (2357) in the fourth. If Yian plays well on Sunday, then he will become the Bay Area's latest preteen master! In the U1900 division, 8 year old Tanuj Vasudeva won his first three games and is tied for the lead at 3.5 out of 4. The kids keep getting younger and better!

Partial results after round 4:
  • Open: IM Emory Tate 3.0, Yian Liou 3.0, NM Michael Aigner 2.5
  • U2100: Michael Zhong 3.0, Arthur Liou 2.5
  • U1900: Tanuj Vasudeva 3.5, Daniel Liu 2.5
Mid afternoon update: Yian Liou, Michael Zhong, Arthur Liou and Tanuj Vasudeva all won to put themselves in contention for money.

Tuesday, July 14

Danya Scalps GM in Holland

As a former World Champion, FM Danya Naroditsky struts his stuff at tournaments all around the planet. After a mixed performance in Philadelphia at the biggest Open in the World, the young star flew across the Pond to play in the Leiden Open in Holland, where he now has 4.0 out of 5. He struck gold in his round 5 game against Ukrainian Grandmaster Yuri Vovk (2567). After a lightning kingside combination that began with 50.Qg5 and ended with 54.Rc5, Danya finally could claim his first ever GM scalp. Congratulations!

Sunday, July 12

Fremont Chess Club on Friday Nights

The New Fremont Chess Club announces the launch of a website created by teenager Aditya Kumar. The club offers unrated play on most Fridays evenings with occasional special events. The USCF rated April swiss was won by rapidly improving junior Hayk Manvelyan (2071) ahead of 12 other participants. On June 26th, popular IM Emory Tate (see photo at right) gave a simul for 12 players and 8 spectators, scoring 11 wins and a single loss to Francisco Anchondo (1954).
  • What: New Fremont Chess Club
  • When: Friday nights from 7 to 11pm
  • Where: 3375 Country Drive in Fremont
  • Who: Rated and unrated players of all ages
  • Website:
  • Contact: Send email to Kenneth Zowal at kenneth.zowal (at) sbcglobal (dot) net

Saturday, July 11

Kramnik Channels Tal and Blows Away Carlsen

(Photo of the ceremonial first move. Kramnik plays white while Carlsen has black.)

Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik frequently faces criticism from chess fans about his boring approach and far too many short draws in the Catalan or Petroff openings. At the Dortmund tournament in Germany, Kramnik defied his usual style and demonstrated that even a positional genius can entertain with a flurry of tactics when the position warrants. His opponent was none other than Magnus Carlsen, the 18 year old Norwegian superstar whom most pundits pick to soon become world champion.

The action begins with a simple pawn sacrifice 18. f5 to weaken the king and culminates with a decisive rook sacrifice on e6. Your silicon monster may demonstrate that black seems to survive with 25... Qc5, but no human would find the variation 25... Qc5 26. Ne4 Qxc4 27. Nf6 and now Ke7!?!? Amazingly, white can't exploit the discovered check.

Enjoy the game below! I most certainly did.

Wednesday, July 8

CalChess FIDE Rated Juniors - July 2009

The number of FIDE rated juniors in the Bay Area shrunk dramatically after the graduation of a strong class of High School seniors. Consequently, 13 year old FM Danya Naroditsky (photo at left) climbs to the top spot with FM-elect Steven Zierk (photo at right) close behind. Special kudos to Steven for cracking 2300 FIDE and thereby earning the FIDE master title! Ironically, the two state K-12 co-champions Evan Sandberg and Yian Liou appear at the bottom of the FIDE rankings--a sure sign that they still have plenty of room for improvement as they both seek the master title.
  1. FM Danya Naroditsky 2356
  2. FM-elect Steven Zierk 2306
  3. NM Gregory Young 2264
  4. NM Rohan Agarwal 2197
  5. NM Nicholas Nip 2147
  6. Evan Sandberg 2146
  7. Yian Liou 2134
Five FIDE rated local juniors graduated from High School in June. Congratulations to Adarsh Konda (2115), Alan Naroditsky (2113), Michael Zhong (2113) and Louiza Livschitz (1963) for each leaving their mark on Northern California chess. Of course, the big name in the graduating class of 2009 was IM Sam Shankland (2448, see photo at right), who recently earned a pair of GM norms and now stands at the verge of the most prestigious title in the world.

Agarwal Shoots for Cadet Title

NM Rohan Agarwal of Fremont sits in first place at the US Cadet Invitational (under 16) in Crossville, Tennessee. He beat Jarod Pamatmat (Texas) and Deepak Aaron (New York) and drew with Christian Tanaka (Southern California). All three of his young opponents are rated in the low 2200s; in fact, two earned the NM title within the past month. Master or not, they were unable to handle the wild tactical complications that Rohan prefers in all of his games. A special mention goes to Rohan's mentor Richard Shorman, who inspired his aggressive playing style. (Photo by Shorman at ChessDryad.)

Update on July 10: Congratulations to national U16 champion Andrew Ng from New Jersey! Rohan finished in 3rd place at the US Cadet, losing a pivotal contest in a 100+ move queen endgame. Final standings: Ng 5.5, Shen 5.0, Agarwal 4.5 (all out of 7).

Roster for US Cadet Invitational
(age as of May 1, but the eligibility cutoff was Jan 1)
  • Victor Shen, 2320, 16, NJ
  • Deepak Aaron, 2216, 14, NY
  • Christian Tanaka, 2212, 15, CA/S
  • Rohan Agarwal, 2207, 16, CA/N
  • Jarod Pamatmat, 2201, 12, TX
  • Michael Yang, 2191, 14, MN
  • Andrew Ng, 2168, 14, NJ
  • Matthew Dahl, 2122, 15, MN
I will maintain round-by-round updates on my Twitter feed at the right sidebar of my blog. For more information, check out this press release and a brief report on Chess Life Online.

Fpawn Rolls Over Opponents in Sacramento

(Left: Fpawn holds the trophy and 1st place check. Right: Masters Koepcke and Lazetich battle on top board in the final round.)

The annual Sacramento Chess Championship on 4th of July weekend provides a leisurely opportunity to push pawns on a holiday weekend. Even the mild weather was enjoyable this year! The 72 player attendance was down nearly 20% from last year, but that did not decrease the competition in the top section. I was paired with three veteran masters and three talented youngsters who all may be over 2200 by next summer. At the end of three days, I finished at 5.0 out of 6 for undisputed 1st place. NM Zoran Lazetich, NM Richard Koepcke and 11 year old Kyle Shin (rated only 1956 officially) shared 2nd at 4.5, with Kyle earning the top prize for players under 2200.

As a scholastic coach, I focus attention on the many up and coming local juniors. Two earned 2250+ performances in their quests to become masters themselves! 12 year old Yian Liou (first photo at left) started out hot with a perfect score after three rounds, beating FM Kenan Zildzic. However, he lost twice to finish with a modest rating gain, leaving him 39 points short of his goal of 2200. Not to be outdone, 11 year old Kyle Shin (second photo at left) picked up the slack. After losing badly in the first round, he recovered to win four straight games, including a pivotal victory against Yian. Kyle was even tied for the lead going into the final round, but only was able to draw. With an impressive 2273 performance rating, Kyle gained 48 rating points to 2045, and he may be near 2100 when the ongoing Tuesday Night Marathon is rated next week!

Several other youngsters gained both experience and rating points in the Master/Expert section. Honorable mention goes to Roland Zhu (3.0 points, +14 rating) and 8 year old Tanuj Vasudeva (2.5 points, +26 rating). Kudos to everyone who fought hard!

On a personal note, I must mention how difficult it is to play a serious game against your own students. On one hand, I want the kids to do well and improve; on the other hand, I really hate to lose or even draw! Making matters worse, the kids know my favorite openings, forcing me to improvise. This led to disaster in round 2, when Yian beat me after a stupid blunder--I hung an undefended knight on c6 to a simple fork with Qd5 check. I reentered into the 2-day schedule and was determined to atone for my mistake; unfortunately for Kyle, he was first in line to play an angry fpawn. The fresh start worked out well for me, and luckily Kyle was able to bounce back from the loss.

The 48 player Reserve (under 2000) section saw stiff competition between the A players and the up-and-coming adult B players. With the elite juniors all playing up in the Master/Expert section, this was the opportunity for Sacramento resident Robert Russo (see photo at right) to dominate. By scoring 5.5 out of 6, Robert certainly earned his promotion to A player! Mathew Benson (rated only 1646 going in) and Michael Da-Cruz shared second place at 5.0. Amazingly, the only junior to win money in the Reserve section was Ted Xiao at 4.0--who won the "top junior" prize.
A few readers have commented how rare it is to see a photo of me on this blog. It makes sense considering that I am usually behind the camera. After I won the final round in Sacramento, the tournament organizer John McCumiskey and some others insisted that I pose for the candid camera. Thanks to parent Jung Shin for taking the photo at the top of this article.

Sunday, July 5

The Young and the Younger

(Tanuj at left prepares to write down IM Shipman's latest move.)

A total of 72 chess enthusiasts of all ages turned up for the Sacramento Championship on the 4th of July. The 25 player Master/Expert section features a competition between 5 masters and 11 nationally ranked juniors. After four rounds, 3 masters are tied for first at 3.5/4: NM Zoran Lazetich, NM Richard Koepcke and this writer, who took the reentry option. The top kids are just half a point behind at 3.0, both losing to one of the leaders. 12 year old Yian Liou already beat two masters while 11 year old Kyle Shin defeated a pair of experts. The final two rounds are scheduled for Sunday.

The exciting pairing that I hoped for in my blog post three days ago did indeed occur. The tournament's youngest player, 7 year old (edit: he turned 8 recently) Tanuj Vasudeva (1800), challenged the sly veteran 79 year old IM Walter Shipman (2209) in a battle for the ages. They traded into an endgame of queens, rooks and pawns that should have been drawn by best play. In the end, the young kid got greedy and took a poisoned pawn, allowing the more experienced master to deliver a mating attack. No doubt that's a lesson that the kid will now know.

Thursday, July 2

Battle of Generations in Sactown This Weekend

(The young and the old! 7 year old Tanuj Vasudeva next to 79 years young IM Walter Shipman.)

The Sacramento Chess Championship is one of the stalwarts on the Northern California tournament calendar, occupying the 4th of July weekend since 2001. In an era when one-day G/45 or G/60 events have become the norm, it is a relief to still find long games (30/90, SD/60) against serious competition, directed by well-respected TD John McCumiskey. The relaxed atmosphere at the Best Western Expo Inn on Howe Avenue contributes to the fighting spirit seen on dozens of 8x8 boards.

The advance entry list sets the scene for two intriguing subplots in the Master/Expert section. It will be nationally ranked juniors against masters and kids under 10 versus seniors over 65. Both CalChess K-12 co-champions, Yian Liou and Evan Sandberg, will no doubt hunt for master scalps and rating points as they near 2200 themselves. Another exciting pairing could pit the nation's top 7 year old, Tanuj Vasudeva, against a legend dating back to the 50s and early 60s, 79 years young IM Walter Shipman.

It is not too late for procrastinators to enter. A total of 58 players have signed up by Thursday afternoon; some others intend to sign up at the door. Players may choose between the leisurely 3-day schedule or the more economic 2-day option with three G/60s on Saturday. I would not be surprised to see IM Ricardo DeGuzman, defending champion NM Daniel Schwarz (see photo at left) and another two or three masters show up on Saturday morning for the 2-day schedule.

The annual Cal Expo fireworks show is scheduled for Saturday (July 4) evening at 9:30, but I expect to see fireworks at the chess boards begin much sooner. Be there!