Monday, December 28

Spending the Holidays Playing Chess in Las Vegas!

Howdy from Bally's Hotel and Casino on the world famous Las Vegas Strip. Las Vegas baby!

Considering all of the other entertainment alternatives, it is hard to imagine over 600 players at a chess tournament with games lasting 4 to 6 hours each. The annual North American Open attracts a broad spectrum of players: chess professionals, casual gamblers, hobbyists seeking a vacation, young children with their families, and of course chess nuts. Grandmasters rub elbows with novices. Despite the talk about Americans curtailing their travel due to the recession, this year's attendance actually seems to be about 10% higher than 2008! By my count, about 25-30 players either flew or drove from Northern California.
I am watching closely my folk of nine current and former students. (Photo at top right: students Steven, Evan and Kyle chat.) No fewer than six play with the big boys in the Open section (not really surprising since four are masters). I hope to update the highlights list below whenever I have free time between rounds.
  • Danya 3.0/3 -- beat GM Sundarajan Kidambi of India (see photo at top left)
  • Steven 2.5/3
  • Yian 2.0/3 -- two consecutive draws vs 2400+ rated FMs
  • Greg 2.0/3 -- drew with GM Victor Mikhalevski of Israel (see photo at right)
  • Fpawn 1.5/3 -- got crushed by GM Mesgen Amanov

Thursday, December 24

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas
Frohe Weihnachten
Feliz Navidad
Joyeux Noël

God Jul
Nollaig Chridheil Huibh
С Рождеством Христовым
Mele Kalikimaka
کریسمس مبارک
Merii Kurisumasu

Tuesday, December 22

How Kiddie Became an All Star!

The 2009 US Chess League season drew to a close with the Championship match on December 7. The New York Knights, behind GM Giorgi Kacheishvili on board 1, knocked off the Miami Sharks in a thrilling blitz playoff that ended after 1:00 in the morning Eastern time. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Mechanics (team photo above) were eliminated from the playoffs in the semifinals by longtime nemesis Miami.

Over the past two weeks, the league announced its post-season All Star teams. Only twelve players earned this distinction out of 122 listed on the unofficial league rating list. In past seasons, the Mechanics were led by their well-known stars GM Josh Friedel, GM Vinay Bhat and IM Sam Shankland. However, this year Mechanics unveiled a secret weapon, and en route the playoff semifinals, unsuspecting opponents were left moaning "Yawn, Who?"

Having seen him in action, I think few would question that 12 year old NM Yian Liou deserved his spot as the 3rd Team All Star for Board 4. Yian definitely was San Francisco's MVP! While the regulars on boards 1-3 were busy traveling to Europe for tournaments, the always cheerful middle school student (photo by Shorman at top left) played 10 out of 12 rounds, scoring 65% against opposition that included one International Master, one Senior Master and eight masters in all. He defeated IM Mehmed Pasalic of Chicago in a back and forth middlegame and then outwitted 2008 All Star WFM Bayaraa Zorigt of Dallas in an endgame study! Despite losing in the pivotal semifinal round, "Kiddie" finished with a mind-boggling 2360 performance, significantly higher than his 2226 USCF rating. In addition to being named an All Star, Yian was also a serious contender for the USCL's Rookie of the Year.

Certainly, this far exceeded what team captain IM John Donaldson had in mind last July when he emailed me if I knew a suitable junior to add to this year's Mechanics roster. Ironically, I was in Agoura Hills, playing at the Pacific Coast Open. I wrote back to John:
This one is easy! Yian Liou was 2019 in September 2008 and is exactly 2200 after today's games in Agoura Hills. He is tied for 2nd after four rounds against 2300+ average opposition. He showed me some of his games a few minutes ago and I was impressed how he squeezed IM Edward Formanek as white and then drew a pawn down endgame against NM Garush Manukyan with black.
After recruiting a young player who could hold his own more than 300 points above his official league rating (2019 on September 2008 rating list), captain Donaldson submitted an unusual team roster. Given the league's rating limit of 2400, San Francisco was left with only two options for board 4; Yian plus alternate NM Greg Young who, per rules, could play no more than twice. This strategy could easily have backfired, but it allowed the Mechanics to rotate its six titled players to match their busy travel schedules.

So how did a precocious and unknown youngster from the Bay Area find so much success in the country's professional chess league? Yes, Yian is ranked #2 for his age in the nation and he won the CalChess High School Championship last year as a sixth grader, defeating the 2300+ rated defending champion in the final round. Perhaps unknown to the country, Yian already made waves here in California.

Most importantly, Yian took each week seriously like a class in school. He prepared for every opponent, both with Chessbase (see photo at right) and by reviewing opening material from his stronger teammates. Having always been creative in the middlegame and competent in the endgame, the time spent on openings made the biggest difference. I am sure that Yian will benefit from these hours of preparation in many future tournaments--but hopefully not against me!

Yian also benefited from analysis with the team's Grandmasters. Usually sporting a wide smile, "Kiddie" quickly became the club favorite. IM John Donaldson described it best in one of the Mechanics Institute's chess newsletters: "Seeing GM Patrick Wolff patiently explaining the intricacies of an ending to Yian in a post mortem was watching the knowledge of a great player of the past being transferred to a future star right before my eyes." Not only did the 12 year old star contribute to his team's success, but the experience should help propel him to even higher chess goals. Some other teams seem to have already copied this strategy, most notably New Jersey and Arizona.

What does the future hold for the San Francisco Mechanics? IM Sam Shankland (new website!) attends Brandeis University next fall; and I'm sure the Boston Blitz will gladly accept the services of a near-Grandmaster. The loss hurts, but the Bay Area has a deep pool of GMs and IMs. Likely the strongest lineup for captain Donaldson next season will feature two titled players plus two kids. I quietly hope that, one day we will see a GM and three elite juniors: GM Josh Friedel, FM Danya Naroditsky, NM Greg Young and NM Yian Liou. The youngsters need to improve by about 50 points each for this lineup to be competitive.

That beckons a final question: Who will be the Mechanics' secret weapon next year? I can think of at least four juniors that may fit the requirements: rated under 2100 in September 2009 yet having sufficient potential to play at master level by next summer. We shall see!

Ten Goals for Chess Lessons

(Bottom board at the 2007 U.S. Championship. At least I can say that I qualified!)

I was cleaning up a few broken links on my website when I came across an older page. This page reminded me that, whether you're a chess student, parent or coach, it always helps be aware of the big picture.

Ten Goals for Chess Lessons
  1. Become a more confident chess player!
  2. Critique your own games for mistakes and improvements.
  3. Develop the patience to carefully consider the consequences of every move.
  4. Improve pattern recognition and understanding of tactics.
  5. Learn strategy and positional concepts, such as tempo, space, pawn structures, weaknesses, good/bad pieces, and threats.
  6. Understand the theory of common endgames.
  7. Apply standard opening rules and develop an opening repertoire.
  8. Cope with psychological pressures caused by varying game situations, such as a winning or losing position.
  9. Prepare for tournaments or even specific opponents.
  10. Have fun!

Thursday, December 17

Parents Survival Guide to Scholastic Championships

(Anxious Bay Area parents patiently wait for games to finish in Dallas. For more photos, check out the Picasa album by Rob Wheeler.)

Here's a great topic for someone to write a book about: the many roles of parents at chess tournaments. More than a few anxious parents may feel better simply reading and learning from the experiences of someone who has been there in the past. Over the past week, Chess Life Online published a series of articles from the National K-12 Championships in Dallas to offer three unique personal perspectives into the wacko world of scholastic tournaments.
Here's how the last article (my favorite!) begins: Ever since my son, Nicky, began playing chess, I’ve worn numerous parental hats in support of his tournament play. I’ve been his food and drink delivery service, his chauffeur, his dreaded sleep enforcer, his social coordinator. I’ve been his biggest, brashest, most ardent champion and fan. I’ve been that parent pacing nervously outside many a tournament hall, cheering every win energetically and consoling painful losses sympathetically. And I’ll sheepishly admit I’ve been that crazed, hysterical parent who strikes fear in the hearts of scholastic tournament directors everywhere (twice, tops, I swear...and it was justified, honest!).

Tanuj Smiles for Camera on CBS 5

Did you see 8 year old FM Tanuj Vasudeva on the CBS 5 Tuesday evening news? If not, click on the video image below to replay the story or read about the experience at his blog. Tanuj shows off his trophies, checkmates coach Ted Castro in blitz and talks about trips to distant lands. He even manages to smile for the camera! Gimme five Tanuj!

Monday, December 14

RayanT Leads Bay Area Trophy Winners!

A weekend of great promise at the National K-12 Championships in Dallas ended with a group of 20 local juniors collecting ten big trophies and one national title! The youngsters from the Bay Area (see photo at right) played on the top boards in every section from 1st grade to 6th grade, competing against kids from New York, Texas and across the country. Congrats to 2nd Grade National Champion Rayan Taghizadeh (photo at left) for finishing at the top with a perfect 7-0 sweep!

The delegation could have earned another national title or two, as no fewer than six local kids had a mathematical chance of tying for first place heading into the final round. Alas, the competition is always incredibly fierce and we must be proud of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th place and 7th place trophies. Here's a special pat on the back for 5th grader Allan Beilin and 6th grader Kyle Shin, both who were tied for the lead but came up one game short. On a more positive note, 4th graders Cameron Wheeler and Vignesh Panchanatham drew in consecutive rounds against 2097 rated Tommy He, the top seed from Texas. And last but not least, 5th grader Kesav Viswanadha did everything right except for losing to the 2119 rated winner, earning a well-deserved 2nd place trophy on tiebreaks. Kudos to Coach Ted Castro for the wonderful job he did in training and preparing many of these young stars.

Final Standings (click here for the official website or the rating report)
  • 2nd grade: Rayan Taghizadeh 7.0 -- National Champion!!
  • 5th grade: Kesav Viswanadha 6.0 -- 2nd place!
  • 4th grade: Cameron Wheeler 6.0 -- 3rd place!
  • 6th grade: Kyle Shin 5.5 -- 4th place!
  • 4th grade: Vignesh Panchanatham 5.5 -- 6th place
  • 5th grade: Allan Beilin 5.5 -- 7th place
  • 1st grade: Solomon Ge 5.0 -- 9th place
  • 4th grade: Jeffrey Tao 5.5 -- 11th place
  • 6th grade: Daniel Liu 5.0 -- 13th place
  • 3rd grade: Anirudh Seela 5.0 -- 15th place
  • 4th grade: Alvin Kong 5.0
  • 4th grade: Siddharth Banik 5.0
  • 1st grade: Josiah Stearman 4.5
  • 4th grade: Udit Iyengar 4.5
  • 5th grade: Armaan Kalyanpur 4.5
  • 2nd grade: Bryce Wong 4.0
  • 3rd grade: Amit Sant 4.0
  • 4th grade: Shalin Shah 4.0
  • 4th grade: Eric Zhu 3.5
  • Kindergarten: Muthiah Panchanatham 3.0
  • 5th grade: Blake Wong 3.0
Even one former Bay Area kid (his family moved to Nebraska last summer) performed well in Dallas. Talented 2nd grader Joseph Wan took the 2nd place trophy with 6.0, losing only to Rayan on top board. Imagine how strong MSJE would be with his 1561 rating!?

Finally, thanks to Rob Wheeler for updating his new blog and Twitter page throughout the weekend. Check it out! The photos at the top of my article came from his site.

Saturday, December 12

Bay Area Kids at Nationals in Dallas

Over 20 CalChess juniors and their parents made the trek to Dallas for the National Scholastic K-12 Championships this weekend. The kids compete among 1200 young chess players in one of 13 sections, one for each grade level from Kindergarten to 12th grade. By Sunday afternoon, all will have finished seven tough rounds at the time control of G/90. Can any of our kids bring home a trophy? The local delegation actually did quite well last year in Orlando: Kyle Shin (photo below, eating Texas sized ribs) won 5th grade, Arun Khemani won Kindergarten and five others earned either a place trophy or honorable mention.

Since most of the Bay Area kids are ranked near the top of their section, the two rounds on Friday were supposed to be just a warm-up. Not surprisingly, 11 have perfect 2-0 scores before going to bed. However, the three rounds on Saturday should be a wee bit more challenging. Go ChessPunks!

Click here for the official pairings and standings.

FINAL Local Standings
Highlights: Rayan Taghizadeh won all seven rounds to become National 2nd Grade Champion! Unfortunately, both Allan Beilin (5th) and Kyle Shin (6th) lost in the last round while sharing the lead. Bay Area kids brought home a grand total of 10 trophies.
  • 1st grade: Solomon Ge 5.0 -- 9th place
  • 1st grade: Josiah Stearman 4.5
  • 2nd grade: Rayan Taghizadeh 7.0 -- National Champion!!
  • 3rd grade: Anirudh Seela 5.0 -- 15th place
  • 4th grade: Cameron Wheeler 6.0 -- 3rd place!
  • 4th grade: Vignesh Panchanatham 5.5 -- 6th place
  • 4th grade: Jeffrey Tao 5.5 -- 11th place
  • 4th grade: Alvin Kong 5.0
  • 4th grade: Siddharth Banik 5.0
  • 4th grade: Udit Iyengar 4.5
  • 5th grade: Kesav Viswanadha 6.0 -- 2nd place!
  • 5th grade: Allan Beilin 5.5 -- 7th place
  • 5th grade: Armaan Kalyanpur 4.5
  • 6th grade: Kyle Shin 5.5 -- 4th place!
  • 6th grade: Daniel Liu 5.0 -- 13th place
My readers may wish to hop over to an exciting new blog written by Cameron Wheeler and his father Rob. Thanks also for the frequent Twitter updates! Finally, some of the top boards from each round appear to be available at the MonRoi website (free registration).

Friday, December 11

Watch Hikaru vs Magnus on Saturday Morning!

The organizers of the 2009 London Chess Classic invited an intriguing group of eight players to the capital of England, including four from the home country plus four foreigners. The average FIDE rating is impressive at 2696. The three veterans were former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik and a pair of Englishmen who have been among the elite for many years: Nigel Short and Michael Adams. Most of the media attention, however, has focused on the younger generation, in particular two stars.
  • Magnus Carlsen (photo at top left)
  • 19 year old from Norway
  • #1 in World with 2810 live rating
A growing number of chess aficionados around the globe see Carlsen as heir apparent to the throne of our royal game. Over the years, the handsome young Norwegian attracted a sizable sponsorship that other Grandmasters only can dream of. His coach is the legendary maestro Garry Kasparov, the undisputed #1 player in the World for 20 years. Imagine what Kramnik must be thinking: I thought Kasparov retired four years ago, but now I face him again through his pupil Carlsen! Read Magnus' blog here.
  • Hikaru Nakamura (photo at top right)
  • 22 year old reigning US Champion
  • 2718 live rating
The young two-time US Champion has a strong following among American players, some who think he may become the next Bobby Fischer. Playing under the username "Smallville" on the Internet Chess Club, Nakamura holds records for highest rating in every category except for chess variants. His official FIDE rating climbed steadily and he is now ranked in the top 25 of the World. Playing in London and then Corus A next month, Nakamura hopes to convince skeptics that he belongs among the elite. Check out Hikaru's blog here or order his hot new book Bullet Chess: One Minute to Mate online at Amazon.

On Saturday, Nakamura plays against Carlsen for the first time at a classical (slow) time control. They actually squared off in the final round of a blitz tournament two weeks ago in Norway, where Nakamura prevailed by 3:1. Carlsen will definitely be eager for revenge with the white pieces. Coming off a day of rest, I wonder what special preparation Carlsen and Kasparov will have cooked up?

The game begins at 6am Pacific time, but the tension typically peaks in the third or fourth hour of play. To watch, log into ICC and open the Events list (BlitzIn) or select Events tab on the Activities Console (Dasher). If necessary, navigate using the Window menu at the top. You may also examine the completed game later in the day from the Events list.

London Chess Classic Standings
(After three rounds using 3-1-0 scoring system like soccer.)
  1. 7.0 Magnus Carlsen, 2801 (+2 =1 -0)
  2. 6.0 Vladimir Kramnik, 2772 (+2 =0 -1)
  3. 3.0 Luke McShane, 2615 (+1 =0 -2)
  4. 3.0 Hikaru Nakamura, 2715 (+0 =3 -0)
  5. 3.0 Michael Adams, 2698 (+0 =3 -0)
  6. 3.0 David Howell, 2597 (+0 =3 -0)
  7. 2.0 Nigel Short, 2707 (+0 =2 -1)
  8. 2.0 Ni Hua, 2665 (+0 =2 -1)
Today's big game was drawn in 45 moves, with Nakamura pressing towards the end.

Saturday, December 5

Saving Your Games to Library on ICC

(This screen shot of ICC's Dasher interface shows game board and library list.)

The following post was first published on November 5, 2008.
The Internet Chess Club gives each member a 300 game library. You can save your favorite online games or you can enter moves from real life tournaments. Once saved, you can show your best wins to your friends or your worst losses to your teacher. It is a good idea to enter your games soon after the tournament so that you remember what happened and can correct any mistakes in your notation. I also ask my students to upload their games so that we can review them more efficiently during class.

  1. To open a blank board, type /examine into any console.
  2. Use your mouse to play through all of the moves.
  3. Type /setwhitename Anand and /setblackname Kramnik for the player names.
  4. (Optional) Type /tag whiteelo 2785 and /tag blackelo 2763 for player ratings.
  5. Type /libkeep to save the game.
  6. To see stored games, go to Actions Menu --> Show my personal library.
  7. Right click on the game that you just entered and select Examine to play through it.
  8. To manage your library, right click and use Libdelete or Libappend.
  9. To save for Chessbase, Fritz or other program, right click and select Save PGN.
  10. Open games from PGN file at Game Menu --> Open PGN.
  1. To open a blank board, go to Action Menu --> Enter Examination Mode
  2. Use your mouse to play through all of the moves.
  3. Type /setwhitename Anand and /setblackname Kramnik for the player names.
  4. (Optional) Type /tag whiteelo 2785 and /tag blackelo 2763 for player ratings.
  5. To store the game, click on Save to Game Library icon at top right of board.
  6. To see stored games, go to View Menu --> My Profile --> Games and scroll down.
  7. Right click on the game that you just entered and select Examine to play through it.
  8. If you don't have Fritz, try the cool Toggle Computer Analysis Window.
  9. To manage library, right click and use Delete Game or Save to Library Slot.
  10. To save to Chessbase, Fritz or other program, click Save icon at top left of board.
  11. Open games from PGN file by clicking on the Upload Game icon.

Friday, December 4

CalChess Top 20 Adults -- December 2009

The December rating list is considered the 'annual' supplement by the US Chess Federation. With this in mind, I compiled the Top 20 chess players in CalChess, including both adults and elite juniors. Check out this link on the USCF website for a longer list of 200 players, dropping down into the 1800s.

The big mover this fall was 16 year old FM Steven Zierk (photo by Shorman at right), who jumped from 2312 over the summer to 2401 after the State Championship on Thanksgiving weekend. The bulk of the increase came at the Western States Open in Reno, where "Zkid" shocked GM Loek van Wely with this miniature, drew with two other Grandmasters and beat strong IM Enrico Sevillano. Another successful local player was GM Vinay Bhat (photo by Truong at top left), who gained 67 USCF and 36 FIDE rating points at two tournaments: the Montreal International and the SPICE Cup at Texas Tech University.

CalChess Top 20 Masters (USCF Rating, FIDE Rating)
1 GM Friedel, Josh 2609 2551
2 GM Bhat, Vinay 2566 2510
3 GM Kraai, Jesse 2545 2509
4 IM Shankland, Sam 2541 2486
5 IM Florean, Andrei 2484 2420
6 IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2453 2404
7 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2432 2392
8 IM Pruess, David 2419 2389
9 FM Strugatsky, Vladimir 2414 2390
10 IM Donaldson, John 2390 2394
11 FM Zierk, Steven 2387 2306
12 FM Naroditsky, Danya 2375 2339
13 IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2367 2383
14 FM Cusi, Ronald 2325 2322
15 IM Ganbold, Odondoo 2322 2346
16 NM Schwarz, Daniel 2313 2232
17 NM Lee, Andy 2305 2273
18 FM Evans, Bela 2282 2262
19 NM Pearson, Michael 2280 2167
20 FM Cunningham, Robin 2279 2302

Thursday, December 3

FIDE Master Tanuj Vasudeva, Youngest in USA!

Here is a kid who trots around the world with his father, having discovered the fountain of youth at the chessboard. He brought home medallions of gold and silver from his conquests in far away lands such as Argentina and Turkey. At home, he has become a veteran of adult tournaments, playing in them since his sixth birthday. While playing, he is a wizard who may checkmate before you know what hit you! His infectious smile brightens any room that he enters, earning attention from 500s and 2500s alike. He was ranked #1 in the nation for age 7 and currently checks in at #2 for age 8. Now he is #1 in the Americas and #2 in the World, both under age 8.

To those of us who know him well, his name is simply Tanuj. To everyone else, his name now comes with a set of initials: FM Tanuj Vasudeva. As in FIDE Master, a lifetime title in the World Chess Federation. By winning the Pan American Championship Under 8 in Argentina this summer, he automatically became the youngest FM in USCF history and currently the youngest in the world. Not skipping a beat, Tanuj followed up 9-0 at the Pan Am with an even more impressive silver medal at the World Youth Under 8 in Turkey. Thanks to his father Tarun for the photos from Turkey at left and right. Tanuj became the Bay Area's third medalist in as many years at World Youth, behind FM Danya Naroditsky (gold in Under 12 in 2007) and IM Sam Shankland (bronze in Under 18 in 2008).
  • Name: Tanuj Vasudeva
  • Title: FIDE Master
  • Age: 8 years old
  • Current ratings: 1913 USCF, unrated FIDE
  • National ranking: #2 for age 8
  • CalChess ranking: #4 for age U12
  • First tournament: October 2006 (at barely 5 years old!)
  • First established rating: 751 in January 2007
  • First adult tournament: July 2007
  • Last 12 months: gained 293 points in 108 rated games at 28 USCF tournaments
  • Recent successes: Scored 9.0/9 (gold!) at Pan American Under 8 in Argentina (Aug 2009) and 8.5/11 (silver!) at World Youth Under 8 in Turkey (Nov 2009).
  • Biggest scalps: NM Arthur Wang (Feb 2009) and 2175-rated Marek Jankowski (July 2009)
  • Website/Blog: plus Photo Gallery
  • Chess Life for Kids: Cover story "Mr. Perfect" (October 2009)
  • In The News: NBC Bay Area (Nov 30, 2009)
Tanuj joins a rich tradition of young masters in the San Francisco Bay Area, dating back to 1995 when 10 year olds Jordy Mont-Reynaud and Vinay Bhat both broke the USCF's youngest master record in short succession. A year and a half ago, Nicholas Nip lowered the mark even further, cracking 2200 a month before his 10th birthday! At 8 1/2 years old, Tanuj has a shot at this hallowed record too. However, it seems likely that another talented Bay Area kid, Samuel Sevian, about half a year older and already rated 2123, might get there first! Stay tuned! Best of luck to Tanuj, Samuel and all of the other kids who aim for the stars.

For a sample of Tanuj's playing style, check out this ruthless attacking game from the final round of the World Youth. His opponent is Hamzah Amier of Malaysia.