Saturday, March 27

World Champion Vasily Smyslov 1921-2010

The 7th World Chess Champion Vasily Smyslov died on Friday night, just three days after his 89th birthday. He will be remembered for a stellar career among the top chess players of the world that spanned four decades. His stint as champion was rather short; he won the title from Mikhail Botvinnik in 1957, but lost the automatic return match to the same player a year later. He came close to earning another shot at the title more than 20 years later, but faltered in the 1982 Candidates Final to a certain Garry Kasparov.
"Smyslov was always known for his positional style and his extraordinary endgame abilities. He was also a great combinational player, and in his games we find many spectacular tactical shots. In the opening he made important contributions to the English, Grünfeld, Ruy Lopez and Sicilian." --ChessBase website
"He is truth in chess! Smyslov plays correctly, truthfully and has a natural style. ... But I am fond of his style. I would recommend a study of Smyslov's games to children who want to know how to play chess because he plays the game how it should be played: his style is the closest to some sort of 'virtual truth' in chess. He always tried to make the strongest move in each position." --Vladimir Kramnik (photo at right from ChessNinja blog)
The following sample games from offer a glimpse into the style of the 7th World Champion.Smyslov also excelled away from the chessboard. He studied aviation science in the 40s and was an accomplished baritone singer. In fact, he often sang at tournaments (photo at top right), accompanied by the famous pianist and chess rival Mark Taimanov.

Friday, March 26

Zierk Survives Upset Parade at Denker Qualifier

(Fpawn poses between two students, 2nd place Daniel Liu and 1st place Steven Zierk.)

The Bay Area Chess Regional Championship & Denker Qualifier attracted nearly 200 players to the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency on a warm and sunny March weekend. Many of Northern California's top juniors participated in the High School division, either hoping to represent CalChess at the Denker Invitational for High School State Champions in Irvine this summer or playing just for the sake of strong competition. Although only high school students could claim the prestigious top prize, an amazing 33 out of 54 players were younger than 9th grade.

Due to the skewed attendance numbers, the high school championship turned into an epic battle between teenagers and a talented pool of elementary school kids. Would experience or youth prevail? The first round on Saturday morning was marked by a parade of 300 to 400 point upsets: 6th grader Richard Yi (1596) beat a 2010, 5th grader Russel Bik (1531) beat a 1802, 12th grader Bryan Petersen (1481) beat a 1832, 3rd grader Michael Wang (1446) beat a 1832 and 5th grader Daniel Song (1239) beat a 1743. Typically the upset winner was the younger and lower rated player; a few elementary school kids lost to even younger opponents! Some semblance of order was restored in the second round, although occasional upsets continued all weekend. Two names to watch for in the future are 3rd grader Michael Wang (now rated 1707!) and 6th grader Richard Yi, who both played up almost every round and combined for six upsets in the tournament.
Despite the wave of surprises, the highest rated players still finished near the top. Top rated FM Steven Zierk (2420) took on the role of 600 lb gorilla by squishing anyone in his path for a 6-0 score. Needing merely a draw in the final round, Steven ground down his opponent with technique that has become his trademark. The most intriguing pairing of the weekend matched Steven, the 2008 Denker qualifier, against last year's representative, Evan Sandberg (2167). Black quickly achieved a comfortable position in the Qa5 line of the French Winawer, although it took nearly 60 moves to convert the full point.

The talented and rapidly improving 6th grader Daniel Liu finished alone in second place at 5-1. He faced five of the seven players rated above 2000 in the tournament, winning three games and drawing the other two! Daniel's rating jumped a whopping 70 points to 2052. Kudos on an awesome performance--and for becoming an Expert!

Four players tied for third place at 4.5 each: 3rd grader Samuel Sevian, 11th grader Nicholas Karas, 11th grader Evan Sandberg and 4th grader Vignesh Panchanatham. Evan had a respectable result, gaining 3 rating points but leaving him at 2196, just shy of master. If Steven declines to participate in the Denker Invitational, it appears that Nicholas and Evan would need a playoff to determine who earns the right to represent CalChess.

The competition for the high school teams was as tight as possible. In fact, the race came down to the final game, pitting five-time state champion Saratoga High against newcomer Dougherty Valley High (San Ramon). Saratoga finally prevailed, but the message was delivered loud and clear: the CalChess Scholastics K-12 team competition will be fierce this year! In addition to Saratoga and Dougherty, I expect to see strong teams from Mission San Jose High (Fremont) and Monta Vista High (Cupertino).

Thanks to über-organizer Salman Azhar and his army of volunteers from Bay Area Chess for hosting a smooth and enjoyable tournament. The only complaint was about the lighter than expected attendance. Tournament directors John McCumiskey and Tom Langland had light work this weekend; it was a warm-up for the "Big One" on April 17-18. Parents and players: If you haven't already signed up for the CalChess Scholastics, make sure to register soon!

Thursday, March 11

Chess Diva To Help Haiti!

A special note from Lauren Goodkind, co-producer of "Chess Diva" TV show.

You are cordially invited to the “Chess Diva” Chess-Haiti Fundraiser!
Nationally ranked chess players Barbara and Lauren Goodkind, producers of the award winning local access TV show “Chess Diva,” will play 5-minute blitz games against the public. Non chess players will find it entertaining to watch! Parents, bring your kids!
  • Dates: Saturday and Sunday, March 20th and 21st.
  • Times: 10:00 to 4:30 on both days
  • Location: Lytton Plaza at 202 University Ave, Palo Alto (next to Pizza My Heart)
  • Suggested Donation: $5 per 5-minute blitz game
  • Good Cause: All proceeds will go to UNICEF for Haiti.
If you live in or near Palo Alto and have free time this weekend, please consider dropping by to support these two enthusiastic young women. Watch out, they're both quite strong players, both ranked in the Top 100 of the country for women!

Denker Qualifier FAQ

(Group photo of prize winners at 2009 Denker Invitational in Indianapolis. Local hero Evan Sandberg is in front row at the right.)

Update on March 15: I have finally accounted for all but one of the local juniors rated above 2000. The top seeds for the Denker Qualifier this weekend will be 2008 champ FM Steven Zierk, 2009 champ Evan Sandberg, Samuel Sevian, Hayk Manvelyan, Nicholas Karas, Kyle Shin, Arthur Liou and maybe NM Rohan Agarwal. Sevian and Shin are ineligible to qualify because they are too young. Click to view the official advance entry list.

The 35th CalChess Scholastics will be held at the Santa Clara Convention Center (near Great America) on April 17-18. This year, there is a second worthy scholastic event for top players to consider: the Denker Qualifier at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara on March 19-21. The Denker Qualifier doubles as the K-12 section of the Bay Area Chess Regionals.

Why are there two state championships?

Last year, CalChess made the unfortunate decision to schedule the state scholastics on the same weekend at the National High School Championship in Columbus, Ohio. The High School Nationals have never drawn a large crowd from the Bay Area, although sometimes a few elite players attend with the goal of bringing home a national title (like Michael Zhong in 2007). My students at Saratoga High School also achieved some success, finishing as high as 3rd place team in the country.

In order to allow top players a (theoretical) chance to attend the National High School Championship and still have a chance to represent CalChess at the Denker Invitational this summer, there will be two separate events, one in March and one in April. However, only the winner(s) of the April championship may call themselves state champs.

What is the Denker Invitational?

The Denker is a prestigious invitational tournament open only to high school state champions each year. There are approximately 50 invitees, one for each state (two for California). Named after the late Grandmaster Arnold Denker (photo at right), the field includes many experts and usually tops out in the mid 2200s, with maybe one or two players above 2300. Only juniors currently in grades 9 through 12 are eligible; younger players cannot qualify. Recent Northern California representatives were: Evan Sandberg (2009), Steven Zierk (2008), Nicolas Yap (2007) and Daniel Schwarz (2006).

The invitational takes place each August at the US Open, held in different places each year all around the country. This year is a bit special because the location will be in Irvine, Southern California. The dates are July 31 through August 3. After completing six rounds in the Denker, players may choose to also play in the 6-day schedule of the US Open. That's 15 games of chess (each up to 5-6 hours) in 9 days. Most likely, I will play in the more leisurely 9-day schedule of the US Open.

Who should play in the Denker Qualifier?

Technically speaking, any student in K-12 may enter the Denker Qualifier, although a minimum rating of 1200 is needed for those in elementary or middle school. Very few, however, have a realistic chance to qualify. Generally speaking, only high school students rated over 2000 have a decent chance to win. Seven high school players are rated over 2000: FM Steven Zierk, NM Gregory Young, NM Rohan Agarwal, Evan Sandberg, Hayk Manvelyan, Nicholas Karas and Arthur Liou. Players younger than 9th grade may play for practice, but cannot qualify for Denker even if they win.

I suggest that you should play in the Denker Qualifier on March 19-21 if you fall into one of the following categories:
  • You are in grades 9-12 and are rated above 2000.
  • You are in grades 9-12, are rated above 1600 and wish to face tough competition.
  • You are in grades K-8 and are rated above 1800 and feel that you need to face older and stronger opponents to get better.
  • You are in grades K-12, are rated above 1200, and simply want to get your butt kicked--just for a learning experience.
Should I choose the 2-day or 3-day schedule?

I expect most players to choose the 2-day schedule (three G/60 then three more G/120). Those who prefer slower time controls and are free on Friday night can play the 3-day schedule (three G/90 then three more G/120). The two schedules will merge in round 4. Note: based on early entries, the 3-day schedule is significantly stronger with nobody rated under 1800.

Which tournament will be stronger?

I predict that the March event may actually be tougher than the official state championship in April, for the following three reasons:
  • Top players tend to be more interested in qualifying for Denker than winning a state championship. Plus, one or two masters might go to Ohio for nationals instead.
  • The Denker Qualifier presents a great opportunity for all of the talented elementary and middle school kids to compete against the top high school players. I expect most of the A and B rated K-6 and K-8 kids to be back in their normal age groups at the CalChess Scholastics.
  • There won't be many weak players at the Denker Qualifier (currently 17 of 28 early entries are over 1800). On the other hand, the CalChess Scholastics attracts school teams, including many lower rated players.
Where is the advance entry list?

Click here for the advance entry list posted at the Bay Area Chess website. As of March 10, there are 28 entries in the Denker Qualifier. (3-day schedule: 10 players, median rating 1888. 2-day schedule: 18 players, median rating 1763.) Only three of the seven eligible high school students rated above 2000 have entered so far. However, there are seven elementary school kids rated above 1800 who have chosen to play up.

Make sure to register for the Denker Qualifier before the entry deadline on Wednesday, March 17! (St. Patrick's Day) Follow this link to the Bay Area Chess online payment system.

Wednesday, March 10

Naroditsky Book Signing on Sunday

Special event at the Mechanics' Institute!

Here's a brief word about a special event happening this Sunday, during the A.J. Fink Amateur at the Mechanics' Institute. The youngest chess author in the world, 14 year old FM Daniel Naroditsky, will sign copies of his new book "Mastering Positional Chess" on March 14, at 2pm. You can buy a copy of the book for $24 (I think) and Daniel will sign it. By the way, great book!

If you can't make it to San Francisco on Sunday, you can order the book from the links on Daniel's new website!

Thursday, March 4

CalChess FIDE Rated Juniors -- March 2010

The new FIDE rating list for March 2010 was released this week. Nine Bay Area juniors have earned their international rating--fully 75% of the local kids rated above 2000. Unlike just a few years ago, now there are plenty of opportunities to establish a FIDE rating simply by playing in the top section at Northern California tournaments.

Two observations this month: 1. Welcome to Samuel Sevian (photo at left by Shorman), who earned his first published rating last November. He gained 84 points since that first rating (using the higher K factor for new players). 2. The two FIDE Masters, Danya Naroditsky and Steven Zierk (photo at right from 2007 CalChess Scholastics), appear to be chasing each other's rating. Their current USCF ratings are 3 points apart; the FIDE ratings are separated by just 8 points. Go right ahead boys! Chase each other all the way to 2500!
  1. FM Danya Naroditsky 2388
  2. FM Steven Zierk 2380 -- gained 74 points in 4 months!
  3. NM Gregory Young 2268
  4. NM Yian Liou 2229
  5. NM Rohan Agarwal 2197
  6. Evan Sandberg 2159
  7. Samuel Sevian 2144 -- gained 84 points (provisional) in 4 months!
  8. Hayk Manvelyan 2087
  9. Kyle Shin 2061

Wednesday, March 3

California Budget Crunch Threatens Sacramento Chess Club

Another sad sign of the times from the Sacramento Chess Club:
As many of you are aware, the City of Sacramento has been suffering from budget problems for several years now. In 2008, those budget issues directly affected the Sacramento Chess Club, requiring us to pay rent to use the Redwood Room of the Hart Senior Center. Through the donation of generous benefactors, the Club has been able to continue to rent the space at the Hart Senior Center. Since then, the Club has also looked at the options available, with the primary focus being to avoid charging members dues, something the Club has been able to do throughout most of its existence, and remain in or close to the downtown area.
For the year 2010, the Sacramento Chess Club will need to pay $3,432 in rent to the City of Sacramento for the use of the Redwood Room. ... In a recent informal discussion with the staff of the Hart Senior Center, it appears likely that the rental rates for the Redwood Room will increase during the course of the year. This puts the Sacramento Chess Club in an untenable financial position.
During the last several months, an unsuccessful search has been on-going to find a new location for the Club to meet. Although there are still some possibilities being investigated, the outlook appears bleak for staying in the downtown Sacramento area. ... The Sacramento Chess Club has a long, rich chess history in the community and state of California. Your help is vital to the continuation of the Sacramento Chess Club and its place in the community.
The cold, hard reality of the state's fiscal catastrophe will be felt yet again. Ever since I began playing competitive chess in 1994, Sacramento was my home club. Each Wednesday night, 30 up to nearly 100 players would drop by the Hart Senior Center on J Street between 27th and 28th Street to play chess. The club was quite fortunate to meet rent free until the summer of 2008. In turn, the weekly tournaments (G/10 and G/60 were most popular) only cost $2 or $5 per player. Since the City of Sacramento began charging a steep rental fee, the club cannot keep going; it will have to find a cheaper venue for meetings.

This story mirrors the harsh reality at many other small chess clubs around the country. That's why many meet at fast food places, eager for extra business in the evenings. Unfortunately, most restaurants can't accommodate a club as large as Sacramento. I would really be sad to see a club whose history dates back to 1934 close. Hopefully that won't be necessary.