Tuesday, September 29

RIP Jay Blem (1957-2009)

I don't like posting such sad news on my blog, but make an exception to reflect on the life of a true gentleman and dedicated fan of the royal game. Most of us knew Jay Blem as tournament director, bookseller, demo board helper and simply as the guy with all of the answers. He would strike up a friendly conversation with anyone, whether about chess, sports, politics or just about any other topic. Readers of this blog may remember him as the bookstore guy and assistant TD in Reno; he also sold books at Bay Area tournaments in the 1990s and early 2000s. Jay Blem was just 51 years old when he moved on to a higher chess board, a life taken way too young.

I knew Jay for at least 10 years and always enjoyed the opportunity to chat with him in Reno or in Los Angeles. He was often the first chess player that I would meet after arriving at a tournament. Frankly, he will be missed a lot and by many!

Please read this obituary written by his sister at the Southern California Chess Federation website. A memorial service is scheduled for October 11 in Ontario, CA. I anticipate another tribute to him at the upcoming Western States Open on October 23-25.

To close, I compiled the following quotes from the USCF Forums and Facebook:
  • I was shocked to hear the news. Jay did a great job selling books and equipment for many years at the North American Open in Las Vegas, and was always friendly and helpful. He left us much too young. -- Former USCF President Bill Goichberg
  • So very sorry to hear of this. Jay was a fine man and his wit just blossomed in private. -- Allan Fifield (Visalia)
  • What a great loss -- As a friend, and friend of the game. -- Barbara Rainey (Reno)
  • Jay was a great person and always happy about everything. I have worked with Jay at numerous events and he was an awesome person. I think he was liked by all. Jay, you will be missed! -- Alan Kantor, USCF Staff
  • There are many very nice folks in our chess community, and Jay was among the best-liked and most enjoyable of them all. I, too, shall miss his presence. Rest in peace, friend. -- Hal Bogner (Half Moon Bay)

Monday, September 21

Robson 0-1 Bhat at SPICE Cup

(GM Vinay Bhat makes a move with the black pieces against IM Ray Robson. Photo taken by FM Paul Truong at SPICE Chess Picasa Album.)

Bay Area native Grandmaster Vinay Bhat has spent this month traveling around the continent to compete in elite invitational round-robins, seeking the experience necessary to raise his game to the next level. Considering his pedigree as a former record holder of youngest USCF master (at age 10), Vinay has already demonstrated the talent to succeed at the highest level of chess. Yet despite earning the Grandmaster title last year, his current FIDE rating of 2474 is still low for a player of his skill.

First, Vinay played in the Montreal International beginning on August 27. He finished with a solid 5.0 out of 11 as the lowest rated participant. He faced opponents rated an average of 2628, about 150 points above his own FIDE rating, and scored three wins and four draws against four losses. Highlights include a shocking miniature versus reigning US Champion GM Yury Shulman, a successful sacrificial attack against the veteran GM Sergei Tiviakov and a solid draw as black with top seed GM Etienne Bacrot, rated 2721! Visit Vinay's chess blog for his own thoughts, observations and several annotated games.

This week, Vinay attends the SPICE Cup Invitational in Lubbock, Texas, where he plays in the "B" Group. This time he is the third lowest rated out of ten players, with an average rating of 2503 FIDE. After three rounds, he is tied for second place with an undefeated 2.0 out of 3, including the following tactical win today against the talented teenager IM Ray Robson. Check it out in the game viewer below.

Vinay, here's wishing all the best in your chess travels!

Play online chess

Sunday, September 20

Kiddie Plays with Fire in US Chess League

(White to move and win! What short combination did GM Jesse Kraai play to force resignation? Hint: remember that opposite colored bishops always favor the attacker.)

The San Francisco Mechanics faced their stiffest test to date last Wednesday evening against the undefeated Miami Sharks. Led by the most dominant player in the US Chess League, Grandmaster Julio Becerra, the challengers from South Florida appeared poised to play the locals tough, perhaps motivated by a 4.5-4.5 record over the past four years.

While Becerra indeed earned his customary full point with the white pieces, the Mechanics cleaned up on the other boards to secure an important 3-1 victory. GM Jesse Kraai (photo at left) solved the diagram above for his first ever league win while the youngsters IM Sam Shankland and NM Yian Liou both outplayed their opponents in the Najdorf to improve to +2 on the season. Sam pushed hard to win as black in a sharp line while "Kiddie" calmly milked a pair of connected passed pawns from his small opening advantage as white.

Three rounds into the ten week season, the San Francisco squad sits atop the Western Division standings with 2.5-0.5. They already faced the teams tied for second, tying 2:2 with Seattle and defeating Miami 3:1. Two team members appear in the latest league MVP rankings, with the 2009 CalChess High School co-champion (Yian) debuting at #8 and the 2008 World U18 co-champion (Sam) at #9. 12-year old Yian (see photo at right) looks a wee bit out of place as the only NM on this list full of GMs and IMs!

Week 3: Miami 1.0-3.0 San Francisco
  1. GM Julio Becerra vs GM Josh Friedel 1-0
  2. GM Jesse Kraai vs FM Bruci Lopez 1-0
  3. IM Blas Lugo vs IM Sam Shankland 0-1
  4. NM Yian Liou vs NM Ernesto Alvarez 1-0
The fourth round sees the Mechanics matched up against the Chicago Blaze. Team captain and historian IM John Donaldson is well aware that the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club already survived the Great San Francisco Fire of 1906. Unwilling to take chances just in case the Blaze would be fueled by 2009 US Champion Yury Shulman, Donaldson tapped the Mechanics' biggest water guns: GM Josh Friedel, GM Kraai, IM Shankland and NM Liou. Using the latest online ratings, this is the highest rated lineup ever seen in the US Chess League at a whopping 2494 USCF!

The last two weeks, elite teams from Dallas and Miami tried to match up evenly on the top boards. The strategy did not work very well--both lost convincingly by 3:1 scores! Chicago took the opposite approach: win board 4 at all cost and pray for the best on the top boards. On paper, this is a mismatch! The Chicago players are lower rated by at least 130 points on every board; the average rating of all four boards is 2416, fully 78 points less!

Certainly IM Mehmed Pasalic is the heavy favorite to hand the Mechanics' young board 4 his first league loss. Now up 1-0, Chicago simply needs the recent trend of blunders throughout the league to continue. Perhaps Josh may hallucinate another knight sacrifice, or Jesse drop another piece to a double attack, or Sam become distracted by the latest chick he met on BART. This is the US Chess League, where chess nuts crack!

Will this match be a mismatch or will it be decided by blunders? Watch the action LIVE on the Internet Chess Club beginning Monday evening at 5:30pm PDT. Log in and type "/finger USCL" for links to the games.

Week 4: Chicago vs San Francisco (Update: SF won 2.5-1.5)
  1. IM Jan van de Mortel (2456) vs GM Josh Friedel (2601) 1/2
  2. GM Jesse Kraai (2584) vs FM Florin Felecan (2452) 1-0
  3. IM Angelo Young (2398) vs IM Sam Shankland (2564) 1-0
  4. NM Yian Liou (2226) vs IM Mehmed Pasalic (2356) 1-0

Friday, September 11

GM Josh Friedel Earns Game of the Week

Over the years, GM Josh Friedel built his reputation not only as one of the nicest young adult players around the country, yet also as one of the meanest competitors that you could ever face across a chess board. In case IM Marko Zivanic of Dallas did not know before Wednesday night, I rest assured that he knows all too well now. This week's miniature earned Friedel the Game of the Week honors for the US Chess League! Thanks to Mechanics' Institute Chess Club director IM John Donaldson for providing the annotations below.

Check out Josh's cool website! He has written many interesting stories for Chess Life Online about his chess travels around the globe, including this recent article from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Within the past 24 hours, Friedel learned that he has been officially invited to play in the FIDE World Cup (knockout championship) in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia beginning on November 20. Kudos on this high honor!

First Two Rounds of US Chess League

At the beginning of September, the San Francisco Mechanics resumed fixing cars around the country. Teams from 14 cities compete in the fifth season of the US Chess League, with matches played on ICC on Monday or Wednesday nights for most weeks. The captain submits a lineup of four players each week, averaging less than 2401 USCF on a previously specified rating list. Read my prior blog post for the entire Mechanics roster and a brief summary of each player. (Note: captain Donaldson swapped Young and Wolff so that Wolff is now on the main roster while Young plays as an alternate.)

After two weeks, the Mechanics have 1.5/2 and are tied for second place in the Western Division. The home team got off to a shaky start in round 1 when GM Josh Friedel lost a piece after hallucinating in a favorable position. (Click on the links to view each game.) Fortunately, IM David Pruess pulled out a full point in an even rook endgame. The second week turned out better, as the Mechanics crushed the two-time league champions by an impressive 3-1 score. GM Friedel bounced back with a miniature crush of the 2... e6 Sicilian while 12-year old NM Yian Liou improved his league record to 1.5-0.5, both games as black in the Dutch defense.

Week 1: San Francisco 2.0-2.0 Seattle
  1. GM Josh Friedel vs GM Gregory Serper 0-1
  2. IM Eric Tangborn vs IM David Pruess 0-1
  3. IM John Donaldson vs FM Michael Lee 1/2-1/2
  4. NM Joshua Sinanan vs NM Yian Liou 1/2-1/2
Week 2: San Francisco 3.0-1.0 Dallas
  1. GM Josh Friedel vs IM Marko Zivanic 1-0
  2. IM Daniel Ludwig vs GM Jesse Kraai 1-0
  3. IM Sam Shankland vs IM Sal Bercys 1-0
  4. Adarsh Jayakumar vs NM Yian Liou 0-1

Wednesday, September 2

GM Benjamin Gives Advice to Parents of Young Talents

"Hi GM Joel, My son is 8-year-old with a rating of 1600. He consistently beats lower rated players simply because he waits until his opponent blunders. He often lost to higher rated players because they don't blunder and his positions are getting worse and worse. Based on the feedback I have, including from his coach, a local IM, he often doesn't have a plan and sometimes he makes mistakes in the opening. He reacts to his opponents' moves, even when playing White."

To read the response by 3-time US Champion GM Joel Benjamin (see photo), go to Chess Life Online. This article should be interesting and relevant for many families in the Bay Area and around the country. Frankly, I must add that I completely agree with the advice from GM Benjamin. Here are a few key quotes:

"Ratings improve because children develop certain skills that are strong enough to defeat players at certain levels, but it doesn’t mean that all their skills have reached that level."

"To me, improvement is a long-term, ongoing process, that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in wins in the next tournament."

"Every player is competing against the game, to unlock its secrets and become stronger. What other people (families) are doing—and what their ratings are--should not affect your own approach."

You may also wish to browse through other tidbits of advice that I have blogged about over the past year and a half, including my suggestion for how much to practice and appropriate parental behavior at tournaments.

Labor Day Festival in San Francisco

Check out the advance entry list, updated through Tuesday night. A total of 106 players have signed up so far. Have you? At first glance, the Master section appears unusually weak this year, but many of the usual suspects sign up on-site each year.

The annual Labor Day Festival in San Francisco is coming up soon. In an era of declining attendance at adult chess events, this has been the lone exception, drawing at least 160 players to the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway at Van Ness and Pine for each of the past seven years. Certainly one big reason that people keep coming back is the friendly and competent staff: organizer Richard Koepcke assisted by TDs John McCumiskey and Tom Langland.

Over these years, no other adult or open tournament in Northern California has attracted this many players, including multiple International Masters and even an occasional Grandmaster. The list of recent winners is quite formidable: Sam Shankland (2008), Josh Friedel (2006, 2007), Alex Yermolinsky (2005), Vladimir Mezentsev (2004), Dmitry Zilbertstein (2003) and Ricardo DeGuzman (2002). Who will win this year?
  • Event: Labor Day Festival
  • Date: September 5-7 (3-day) or September 6-7 (2-day)
  • Location: Van Ness at Pine in San Francisco
  • Format: 6 round swiss in 6 sections (Open, Expert, A, B, C and D/E/Unrated).
  • 3-day schedule: Reg: Sat 8-9:30. Rounds: Sat 10, 4; Sun 11, 4:45; Mon 10, 3:30.
  • 2-day schedule: Reg: Sun 8-9, Rounds: Sun 9:30, 11:45, 2, 4:45; Mon 10, 3:30.
  • Time control: 30/90, G/60 except G/60 for rounds 1-3 of 2-day schedule.
  • Entry fee: $70 adults, $60 juniors postmarked by August 31; $10 more on-site.
  • Prize fund: $5400 based on 160 players, including $700 for 1st place in Open section and $380 for 1st place in each lower section.
  • Tournament flyer
  • Advance entry list
I highly recommend this event to all of my students and friends! Of course, I will be there, with or without my power wheelchair. I suggest the 3-day schedule to serious players because G/60 tends to be like roulette (i.e. more luck than skill), but the 2-day schedule requires less of a time commitment. A weird feature of this tournament is that many kids play up a section, especially those rated within 100 points of the next class. For example, if you're rated above 1700, you should play in the A section for practice.

WARNING: The Bay Bridge will be closed over Labor Day weekend! If you are driving, please make sure to take I-280 or US-101 or cross at the San Mateo Bridge. You may also take BART to Embarcadero Station, walk one block north to California street and catch a #1 Muni cable car to the hotel on Van Ness. Use the trip planner at 511.org for maps and route schedules.

Finally, I must lodge a small protest. Most readers are probably unaware that the CalChess Board voted to strip this festival of its longtime "state championship" designation. Mind you that the USCF encourages states to use Labor Day weekend for state tournaments, and, in fact, many big states do run theirs on Labor Day. Instead, the Board saw fit to endorse a yet untested big money event at a brand new venue on Thanksgiving weekend. The motto "Build it and they will come" has not worked well at Bay Area tournaments in the past (e.g. the Firecracker Open fiasco in 2001). I won't say more now, but count me as a big skeptic of this Board decision. We shall see in November.

Tuesday, September 1

CalChess FIDE Rated Juniors -- September 2009

After the graduation of five high school seniors in June, the Bay Area seeks fresh blood to fill its elite ranking lists. Earning an international (FIDE) rating is one mark of an elite player. To achieve a FIDE rating, you must enter one or more official FIDE rated events, play at least 9 games with rated opponents and score a minimum 1600 performance.

There are two new faces on the Northern California list: Kyle Shin (photo at right from ChessDryad) and Hayk Manvelyan (who actually earned his first rating in April) . Both start out with solid initial ratings in the high 2000s, a tad higher than my 2054 way back in January 2000. Kudos also to new master Yian Liou for posting an impressive gain over the past two months.

Due to a recent policy change, FIDE now publishes its ratings six times a year, up from four. The following represents the official September 2009 FIDE rating list.
  1. FM Danya Naroditsky 2339
  2. FM Steven Zierk 2303
  3. NM Gregory Young 2264
  4. NM Yian Liou 2208 -- gained 74 points in two months!
  5. NM Rohan Agarwal 2197
  6. NM Nicholas Nip 2147
  7. Evan Sandberg 2130
  8. Hayk Manvelyan 2082
  9. Kyle Shin 2071