Wednesday, November 25

Chile Wins in Round 5

Michael Aigner (left) playing blitz against the late GM Walter Browne.

The two match winning streak by Team USA abruptly ended this morning as Chile dominated the lower boards. An admittedly lucky win against Romania-2 followed by a convincing result versus highly ranked North Macedonia left the Americans feeling optimistic, but Chile iced those aspirations with a 3-1 victory. This reporter, playing on top board, earned his first win of the Olympiad in full Capablanca style, confidently trading into an endgame up a pawn.

Michael Aigner vs Cristian Gonzalez Astete

The defeat dropped the USA to an even record and a tie for 25th place, 32nd on tiebreaks.

Round 5: #39 USA vs #18 Chile == 1-3
  1. Michael vs Cristian Gonzalez Astete (2130) == 1-0
  2. Tomas Figueroa Morales (2093) vs Griffin == 1-0
  3. Pranav vs Andres Saul Tapia Loncon (1890) == 0-1
  4. Valeska Rozas Lazcano (1435) vs Jessica == 1-0

Russia-1 emerged from the showdown against Germany to move into sole first place with 10 match points. However, the results on tables 2 and 3 surprised many. Poland seized clear second place, but it was Poland-2 which upset India-1 with the lopsided margin of 3.5-0.5. The top rated Poland-1 team, led by 2018 World Champion for the Disabled GM Marcin Tazbir, lost to #3 seed Philippines-1. The Filipinos currently share third place with a quintet of squads, including Germany and two from Ukraine. After round 7, the top four teams (if necessary by tiebreaks) advance to the knockout phase of the championship.

  • 10 MP = Russia-1
  • 9 MP = Poland-2
  • 8 MP = Germany, Philippines-1, Israel, Ukraine-1, Ukraine-3, Croatia
  • 7 MP = Poland-1, Russia-2, Ecuador, Romania-1, Chile, India-1
  • 6 MP = Vietnam, Russia-3, Poland-2, Ukraine-2 and six others
  • 5 MP = Canada, Argentina, USA, North Macedonia and six others
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

The Americans seek to bounce back against Argentina, yet another higher rated opponent. Each of the first six opposing teams have been ranked in the top half of the field, while Team USA came in seeded 39th out of 60. Games begin on Thursday at 6:00 AM PST and will be broadcast on both Chess24 and FollowChess

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers

Tuesday, November 24

USA Crushes North Macedonia

North Macedonia is the southern part of the former Yugoslavia.

After the dramatic conclusion of Monday's round, the American victory against the highly ranked lineup of North Macedonia was surprisingly anticlimactic. The combination of opening preparation and tactical opportunism resulted in a sweep boards 2-4. Three-time US Blind winner Jessica Lauser had lost her first three games at the Olympiad, but she knocked out her opponent this morning with a flurry of middlegame tactics. 

Jessica Lauser vs Marija Arsova 

Team USA advanced to 5 match points out of a possible 8 despite being paired up every round, including facing three top 10 countries, and are tied for 15th place.

Round 4: #10 North Macedonia vs #39 USA == 0.5-3.5
  • Tode Zafirovsky (2138) vs Michael == 1/2-1/2
  • Griffin vs Vladimir Trkaljanov (2096) == 1-0
  • Zarko Selkovski (2007) vs Pranav == 0-1
  • Jessica vs Marija Arsova (unrated) == 1-0

As the FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities passed the halfway point, Russia-1 and Germany shared the lead with a fourth straight match victory. Top rated Poland-1 rested the tournament's only Grandmaster and only mustered a 2-2 tie against India-1. In the first heavyweight matchup of the week, #4 Israel held #3 Philippines-1 to another 2-2 tie. The underrated team from Vietnam impressed with their third upset victory. 

  • 8 MP = Russia-1 and Germany 
  • 7 MP = Poland-1, Poland-2, India-1
  • 6 MP = Israel, Philippines-1, Russia-3, Vietnam and five others
  • 5 MP = India-3, Ecuador, Russia-2, Chile, USA and three others
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

Tomorrow morning, Team USA squares off against #18 seed Chile in a rare pairing of two countries from the Americas. Look for a competitive match despite the rating gap of 350 points between the teams. The first pawn moves on Wednesday at 6:00 AM PST. Check out the games at FollowChess (live) and Chess24.

Monday, November 23

Miracle at the Chess Board

The magician himself! Please meet Griffin McConnell.
Credit: Turkish Chess Federation

Nobody knows exactly what happened. It was a miracle! After an opening crush by Pranav and a solid draw by Michael, the match was knotted at 1.5. Griffin McConnell carefully nursed an advantage on board 2 when everything went amiss. At first, a peaceful conclusion seemed likely, until black dropped his knight. Alas, white struggled to convert the win, and each spite check brought Griffin closer to a draw. Inexplicably, white returned the favor, abruptly blundering his knight - and the match point. The Americans stole the match! Indeed the proverb says nobody ever won by resigning. 

Round 3: #39 USA vs #30 Romania-2 == 2.5-1.5

  1. Michael vs Constantin Stroe (1917) == 1/2-1/2
  2. Mihai Dima (1997) vs Griffin == 0-1
  3. Pranav vs Eugen-Cezar Vieru (1798) == 1-0
  4. Maria Lupascu (1480) vs Jessica == 1-0

It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win.
Mihai Dima vs Griffin McConnell

The tournament field continues to thin out. After three rounds, only six teams remain perfect at 6 match points, all among the top dozen seeds. Poland-1 and Russia-1 annihilated their opponents, scoring an impressive 11.5 and 11.0 game points out of 12. Three additional countries have 5 match points. Other notable results include Philippines-1 beating Russia-2 by 3-1 and the upset by Kyrgyzstan over its northern neighbor Kazakhstan by 3.5-0.5.

  • 6 MP = Poland-1, Russia-1, Germany, Ukraine-1, Croatia, India-1
  • 5 MP = Israel, Philippines-1, Poland-2
  • 4 MP = 15 teams
  • 3 MP = Canada, Russia-2, North Macedonia, USA and seven others
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

The new pairing pits Team USA against #10 seed North Macedonia, previously known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The challenging matchups continue as the Americans face a third team rated in the top 10. Games begin on Tuesday at 6 AM PST. Find the games at Chess24 or FollowChess.

Sunday, November 22

Highly Ranked Philippines-1 Shuts Out USA

Filipino board 1 FM Sander Severino

After a successful debut against Russia, Team USA crashed back to Earth, losing four fighting games to one of the Olympiad favorites: Philippines-1. FM Sander Severino, the reigning IPCA (International Physically Challenged Association) World Rapid Champion, dominated this writer from the black side of the Caro Kann. Unfortunately, our other three boards suffered a similar fate.

Round 2: #39 USA vs #3 Philippines-1 == 0-4
  1. Michael vs FM Sander Severino (2364) == 0-1
  2. Henry Lopez (2107) vs Griffin == 1-0
  3. Pranav vs Darry Bernardo (2114) == 0-1
  4. Cheyzer Crystal J. Mendoza (1639) vs Jessica == 1-0

Michael Aigner vs Sander Severino (0-1)

After two rounds, 14 teams remain perfect with four match points, including 6 of the original top 10 seeds. Two noteworthy upsets saw Hungary defeat Cuba while North Macedonia fell to Turkey-1. However, the biggest surprise must be Vietnam, who scalped a pair of stronger squads from Kazakhstan and Romania-2.  

  • 4 MP = three Polish teams, Israel, two Russian teams, two Ukrainian teams, Germany, Turkey-1, Vietnam, Hungary, India-1 and Croatia
  • 3 MP = Philippines-1 and Russia-2
  • 2 MP = 26 teams
  • 1 MP = Canada, USA, Romania-2 and Mali 
  • 0 MP = 14 teams

The pairing for the third round pits Team USA against Romania-2, rated roughly 200 points higher in average FIDE rating. Interestingly, our previous opponents, Philippines-1 and Russia-2, meet in a heavyweight showdown. This is a brutal competition! The round time is Monday at 6:00 AM PST. Although not a live broadcast, Chess24 uploads all games upon conclusion.   

Saturday, November 21

USA Ties Russia-2 in Round 1

Team USA meeting on Zoom.

What a roller coaster! The first round of the Online Olympiad saw a bit of everything for Team USA: aggressive openings, inexplicable blunders, strong endgame technique and even a flag fall. No doubt Russia-2 expected both International Masters to score a point. While Yuri Meshkov took care of business on board 1, his colleague Alexey Pakhomov got lost in cyberspace and flagged after just 7 moves. The lower boards split too and the teams shared the match points. 

Round 1: #9 Russia-2 vs #39 USA == 2-2

  1. IM Yuri Meshkov (2351) vs Michael == 1-0
  2. Griffin vs IM Alexey Pakhomov (2315) == 1-0 (time)
  3. Polina Taranenko (1445) vs Pranav == 0-1
  4. Jessica vs Maksim Ermakov (1611) == 0-1

Board 3 Pranav Shankar had opportunities throughout his game, but technique brought home the point in the endgame. Well done!

Polina Taranenko vs Pranav Shankar (0-1)

Aside from the USA match, the first round followed form with the higher rated country winning 25 of the 30 matches. Lower rated India-4 and Vietnam scored impressive upsets against Venezuela and Romania-2, respectively, while three matches were drawn. In addition to #9 Russia-2, one other top 10 squad drew; #3 seed Philippines-1 could not defeat our neighbors from Canada.

Standings after Round 1:

  • 2 MP = 27 teams including 11 of the top 13 rated
  • 1 MP = Philippines-1, Russia-2, Canada, USA and two others
  • 0 MP = the remaining 27 teams

As reward for splitting the match with the #9 seed, Team USA was paired against the #3 seed Philippines-1 in round 2. Indeed, Canada and USA swapped their opponents. Game time is Sunday at 6:00 AM PST. Follow the action on Chess24.

Friday, November 20

Opening Ceremony


The first FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities kicked off this morning with a brief Opening Ceremony streamed live on YouTube. Highlights included the obligatory rendition of the FIDE anthem and speeches by Chief Arbiter Jirina Prokopova of the Czech Republic and FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich of Russia. Replay the video above.

The organizers scheduled a test round after the ceremony to work out any kinks in accessing the Tornelo website or screen sharing on Zoom. Technical difficulties meant a delay of more than an hour. Finally, each participant faced a random opponent from another country. While officially meaningless, Team USA gained momentum with a perfect 5-0 result, including several upsets! 

Alas, the first round pairings offer a stark reminder of challenge that lies ahead. The Russians are coming! Ranked in the bottom half, the Americans drew Russia-2, powered by a veteran pair of International Masters. Wish us luck!

IM Yuri Meshkov plays board 1.
He's a former IBCA (Braille Chess)
World Champion and a regular at
the Chess Olympiad. Credit: IBCA

Round 1: #9 Russia-2 vs #39 USA

  1. IM Yuri Meshkov (2351) vs Michael
  2. Griffin vs IM Alexey Pakhomov (2315)
  3. Polina Taranenko (1445) vs Pranav
  4. Jessica vs Maksim Ermakov (1611)
Game time is Saturday at 6:00 AM PST. Follow the action live on Chess24 and YouTube.

Wednesday, November 18

Meet Team USA

Pranav and Griffin battle at the 2018
World Junior for Players with Disabilities.
Credit: Dora L. Martinez

This article does not introduce the usual suspects named Fabiano, Wesley and Hikaru. While those gentlemen play a mean game of chess, they are not special enough to qualify for this team. The six members of Team USA competing at the FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities drive wheelchairs, wear limb supports, endure surgeries and therapies, perceive the world from one eye, struggle with social interactions and still thrive amidst a laundry list of unique circumstances.

Without further ado, please meet Team USA:

  1. NM Michael Aigner from California, 2207 USCF, 2006 FIDE
  2. Griffin McConnell (age 16) from Colorado, 2051 USCF, 1823 FIDE 
  3. Pranav Shankar (age 13) from New Jersey, 1914 USCF, 1499 FIDE
  4. Jessica Lauser from Missouri, 1804 USCF, unrated FIDE
  5. Oskar Zoffer (age 11) from Massachusetts, 1680 USCF, unrated FIDE
  6. Nguyen Tran (age 8) from Louisiana, 1132 USCF, unrated FIDE
Team captain is NM Lior Lapid from Colorado, 2302 USCF, 2124 FIDE.

Jessica Lauser won the US Blind
Championship the last three years!
Credit: Mike Dudley of Maine Chess

While the top four boards have an average USCF rating of 1994, the tournament uses an average FIDE rating of 1582 by assigning unrated players as 1000. This leaves the Americans seeded 39th out of 61 teams. Winning a medal seems unlikely given the fierce competition, but this young team aspires to surprise opponents and improve on its initial ranking. 

Stay tuned for updates. The first round begins on Saturday at 6:00 AM Pacific time. All games should be broadcast on Chess24. Go U-S-A!

Monday, November 16

Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities


In response to the cancellation of over-the-board chess events around the globe due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) organized a series of online championships. The first FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities follows the Online Chess Olympiad, jointly won by India and Russia, and two smaller events for players with disabilities, the Online Cup and the Online Junior Cup.

The Olympiad opens on November 20 and closes on December 3, the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Each participating country is represented by one or more teams of four players and up to four alternates. Teams may mix players with different impairments: physical, visual, hearing and social. However, at least one woman must play in every match. The initial stage involves a seven-round match play swiss played at one round per day. Four top teams face off in a pair of two-day semifinal matches, and then the winners meet for a two-day final. Players compete on the Tornelo chess platform, which implements FIDE regulations with a Zoom meeting to monitor for fair-play violations. The rapid time control for all stages is game in 25 minutes plus a 10 second increment.


A total of 60 teams registered, representing 44 countries on five continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America). Counting the alternates, nearly 400 players will participate, ranging in age from 8 to 77! On one hand, Team Israel boasts a Grandmaster and two International Masters. On the other hand, two African rosters comprise entirely of players lacking an official international rating. Here are some other interesting statistics.

  • Favorites (by average team rating): Poland (2259), Germany (2219), Philippines (2197), Israel (2172), Cuba (2166), Russia (2164), Ukraine (2131)
  • Teams rated over 2000 average: 14
  • Countries with most teams: India and Turkey both with 4 teams
  • Other countries with multiple teams: Poland (3), Russia (3), Ukraine (3), Philippines (2), Romania (2), Colombia (2) and Malaysia (2)  
  • Titled masters: 2 GM, 12 IM, 22 FM, 4 WIM, 3 WFM   
  • Players rated over 2400 FIDE: 2
  • Players rated over 2200 FIDE: 32
  • Players rated over 2000 FIDE: 89
  • Teams from North America: Cuba, Canada, USA, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador
  • Seeding of Team USA: 39th out of 60   

Thursday, June 11

Weekly Online Tournaments for Sacramento


Let the Sacramento Pawns club help fulfill your craving for competitive chess during this era of social distancing. Join one of our weekly online tournaments on Saturday afternoon. Kids & Amateurs rated under 1400 in Chess.com rapid rating play at 1:30 while everyone else should log in shortly before 3:00. Be there - and don't forget to invite your buddies!

Sac Kids & Amateurs

When: Weekly every Saturday from 1:30 to 3:00 PM
Who: Open to club members under 1400 Chess.com rapid rating
Format: FOUR (4) ROUND Swiss in one section
Link: Find the Kids & Amateurs under the Tournament tab

Sac Pawn Storm

When: Weekly every Saturday from 3:00 to 5:00 PM
Who: Open to all club members regardless of rating
Format: FIVE (5) ROUND Swiss in one section
Link: Find the Pawn Storm under the Tournament tab

Additional information for both events

Where: Chess.com Live Server under the Tournaments tab at the upper right
Time control: G/10 + 3 second increment
Minimum: Need at least 4 players to avoid automatic cancellation
USCF Rated: No
Entry: Free
Prizes: Glory and Chess.com rating points

If this is your first time playing, 1. sign up for the Sacramento Pawns club and 2. read the instructions to join the tournament. Questions or comments? Please message fpawn on Chess.com or send an email to michael AT fpawn DOT com.

Past results: https://www.chess.com/club/live-tournaments/sacramento-pawns

Other chess clubs based in Northern California are also active on Chess.com. I can recommend the historic Mechanics' Institute of San Francisco, which hosts free blitz or rapid tournaments literally every day of the week, and the Auburn Chess Club. Good luck!

Play US Chess Rated Online!


The US Chess Federation partners with two leading online chess sites to offer weekly rated quick (G/11-G/29) and blitz (G/5-G/10) tournaments on the internet. Determine which rating to use by adding increment to starting time, e.g. 3+2 counts as G/5 - the fastest blitz time control permitted. Participants earn online quick or online blitz ratings that are separate from the traditional over-the-board quick and blitz categories. Breaking news: US Chess just announced a new online regular rating for G/30 or longer.

You must have a current US Chess membership in addition to an active account at one of the online partners. Find your ID number, expiration date and PIN code on your renewal email or magazine label; otherwise complete this form. The Internet Chess Club (ICC) requires a paid account to play in online events. Special: USCF members may claim a 20% discount! While Chess.com does allow free basic accounts, frankly the premium features are well worth the price. Although I am a longtime ICC administrator, I enjoy chess on both sites.



ICC schedule 
(click here for more info)

3+2 blitz on Mondays @ 4pm Pacific

15+5 quick on Fridays @ 5pm Pacific
12+3 quick on Saturdays @ 2pm Pacific
5+2 blitz on Sundays @ 11am Pacific

Download one of the official interface apps (recommend Dasher for Windows users). Log into the main server and register under the Activities or Events console. Alternatively, you can type "/tell uscf join" without quotes to sign up with the tourney robot. If this is your first time, enter your US Chess ID + PIN. Tournaments open about 20 minutes before start time and you may join late.


View past ICC Rating Reports


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Continental Chess Association has partnered with ICC to organize online rated tournaments with substantial cash prizes, including a replacement of the World Open on July 3-5. Read the special online event rules. Note that players must participate in a Zoom session to become eligible to win prizes. Check the schedule for tournament details and enter online when available.

Chess.com schedule 
(click here for more info)

10+0 blitz on Mondays @ 3pm Pacific
5+0 blitz on Mondays @ 8pm Pacific
3+2 blitz on Wednesdays @ 5pm Pacific
15+10 quick on Fridays @ 5pm Pacific
Variety on Saturdays @ 11am Pacific

At least a day in advance, enter your ID + PIN on the US Chess Authentication form and request to join the US Chess - Members Only online club. Log into the Live Chess server from the Play menu and join via the Tournaments tab on the upper right side. Tournaments open one hour before start time and you may join late. Choose from two sections: Open or Under 1450 in Chess.com rating.

View past Chess.com Rating Reports


Also in response to the pandemic, the historic Mechanics' Institute of San Francisco has begun hosting US Chess online rated tournaments with modest cash prizes on Chess.com. Check out the weekly chess newsletter and join the online club (both free!) for the latest information. Good luck! 

Thursday, May 28

Results at Online Cup for Disabilities

The participants joined an international Zoom meeting. (credit: FIDE)

The 1st FIDE Online Cup for Players with Disabilities on May 21st saw 36 competitors representing 27 countries on five continents battle for five intense rounds of rapid chess at the PlayChess.com platform. The diverse field included amateurs and professionals, ranging from one Grandmaster and six International Masters to a handful of unrateds. A quarter of the participants were women. Click for an article at the ChessBase website.

The World Chess Federation (FIDE) organized the tournament as part of a global effort to promote chess and Checkmate Coronavirus. During the brief opening ceremony on Zoom, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich of Russia welcomed the players and encouraged everyone to "stay safe and play chess." International Arbiter Marco Biagioli of Italy directed a smooth event.

When the bits finally settled, GM Marcin Tazbir of Poland took first place on tiebreaks over FM Sander Severino of the Philippines. Tazbir currently ranks as the strongest blind chess player in the world while Severino suffers from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and is confined to a wheelchair. Two Russians shared third place with the Hungarian representative.

Final Standings (see Chess-Results

  1. GM Marcin Tazbir (2510 from Poland) 4.5 out of 5
  2. FM Sander Severino (2364 from Philippines) 4.5
  3. IM Yuri Meshkov (2351 from Russia) 4.0
  4. Denis Palin (2110 from Russia) 4.0
  5. Gabor Acs (2047 from Hungary) 4.0
  6. FM Mihail-Dacian Pribeanu (2207 from Romania) 3.5
  7. IM Dmitrij Scerbin (2260 from Russia) 3.0
  8. FM Vit Valenta (2127 from Czech Republic) 3.0
  9. IM Andrei Gurbanov (2301 from Israel) 3.0
  10. FM Ilia Lipilin (2189 from Russia) 3.0
  11. WIM Natasha Morales Santos (1949 from Puerto Rico) 3.0
  12. FM Sargis Sargissyan (2269 from Armenia) 3.0
  13. Handenur Sahin (1997 from Turkey) 3.0
  14. WCM Annegret Mucha (1998 from Germany) 3.0
  15. Ezekiel Masiko (1830 from Uganda) 3.0 

Competing in my maiden international invitational as the lone American, I aspired to perform sufficiently well to earn a signature win. The results were mixed. My score of 2.0 out of 5 seemed respectable considering the challenging pairings - two IMs and two FMs. Unfortunately, detailed analysis of the games showed that I missed too many tactical combinations, even considering the time control of G/10 + inc/5. In the first round, I achieved a dominant position within a dozen moves as black against an Israeli IM, yet inexplicably left my rook en prise on move 19. At least I could blame the 6:00 AM start time for that blunder. Three rounds later, I gleefully forced a draw by repetition after an inferior opening, but failed to even consider a crushing zwischenzug.

IM Andrei Obodchuk
(credit: ChessFest2019)
FM Ilia Lipilin
(credit: Dora Martinez)




















While I did defeat an underrated young man from Uganda, my signature result was a draw versus Russian IM Andrei Obodchuk, the 8-time (former) world champion of the Physically Disabled Chess Association (IPCA). Nobody would confuse this game with a brilliancy, but my students know how much I cherish saving difficult endgames.


In the final round, I faced FM Ilia Lipilin from Russia, the 2-time defending World Junior Champion for Players with Disabilities. The opening went well, but my opponent turned the tables after a missed opportunity on move 27. Well played young master!


Regardless of my personal result, the Online Cup for Players with Disabilities was well organized and a truly enjoyable opportunity for the players. I deeply appreciated the invitation from FIDE and US Chess to participate.

Stay home. Be safe. Play chess. #checkmatecoronavirus

Tuesday, May 19

Fpawn Interview on Chess.com Blog

Kirk Ghazarian (credit: David Llada
at 2019 Bay Area International)
How well do you really know fpawn? Chess blogger and longtime mentee NM Kirk Ghazarian was determined to find out. Kirk asked the right questions and I gave him my honest replies. Check out the following sample of the topics:

  • How did you improve as a player to reach the NM title?
  • How do you inspire your students to achieve their goals?
  • Do you have advice for a player who stagnated in improvement.

Kirk included several photos and three games to illustrate the power of the King's Bishop Pawn - a trio of Black wins in my favorite Dutch Defense opening.


Thank you Kirk for inviting me for this interesting interview. Keep up your good work!

Sunday, May 17

FIDE Online Cup for Players with Disabilities

Participants at 2019 World Junior Chess Championship
for Players with Disabilities in New Jersey.

The cancellation of chess tournaments around the globe due to COVID-19 also forced the postponement of the first Chess Paralympiad scheduled for late July in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. In its place, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) introduced a new Online Cup for Players with Disabilities.

Unfortunately, a small Online Cup can in no way replace the larger Paralympiad. Instead of teams of four players plus an alternate from each invited nation, only 38 individuals will battle for five rounds of rapid chess at PlayChess.com on Thursday morning, May 21st. The first round begins at 6:00 AM Pacific time.

I felt honored to be able to accept the invitation to represent the United States!

The registration list shows that I start near the middle of the pack. The field of 38 includes one GM, six IMs and a total of twelve players rated above 2200 FIDE. Nine women were invited. Most participants hail from Europe or Asia, with just three from Africa and four from the Americas.

  • Europe (22): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany (2), Hungary, Israel (2), Moldova, Poland (2), Romania, Russia (6), Turkey, Ukraine 
  • Asia (9): China (2), India (2), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Philippines, Vietnam
  • Africa (3): Kenya, Uganda, Zambia
  • Americas (4): Canada, Puerto Rico, United States, Venezuela

Wish me luck, as I will certainly need it against this competitive field. Since there are only five rounds, even the pairings may boil down to luck.

Tuesday, May 12

All Fpawn Masters - Peak USCF Rating

Future Grandmasters Daniel Naroditsky and Steven Zierk
at 2008 CalChess Scholastic Championships

  1. GM Daniel Naroditsky 2738 - became NM in 2007
  2. GM Steven Zierk 2608 - became NM in 2008
  3. IM Yian Liou 2502 - became NM in 2009
  4. FM Gregory Young 2477 - becamw NM in 2007
  5. IM Gabriel Bick 2475 - became NM in 2015
  6. NM Daniel Schwarz 2370 - became NM in 2006
  7. NM Kirk Ghazarian 2321 - became NM in 2018
  8. NM Richard Yi 2290 - became NM in 2017
  9. NM Matt Zavortink 2279 - became NM in 2017
  10. NM Nicholas Karas 2273 - became NM in 2012
  11. NM Neel Apte 2244 - became NM in 2015
  12. NM Evan Sandberg 2242 - became NM in 2010
  13. NM Daniel Liu 2214 - became NM in 2012
  14. NM Michael Lin 2213 - became NM in 2013
  15. NM Joshua Cao 2202 - became NM in 2017

  • Peak USCF Rating Updated May 2020.
  • Students took private lessons for at least 6 months.
  • Includes results achieved after we stopped lessons.
  • A teacher merely lays the foundation and cultivates love for chess. Ultimate success depends on personal effort and motivation. Elite students often study with several coaches, all who deserve credit.

Zkid, Students Dominate Birthday Blitz


Steven Zierk at age 12.
Grandmaster Steven Zierk won the first eight rounds en route to victory in the Fpawn Birthday Blitz Bash on Chess.com. For the second straight Sunday, Zkid dominated Northern California's best at blitz, scoring a combined 19.5 out of 22. This week, after overcoming difficult positions in rounds 3 and 4, the GM asserted himself with the white pieces in the English opening. This game would determine the top medals, as IM Yian Liou became the lone competitor to finish within shouting distance of the region's 800 lb gorilla.


Saratoga HS and Redwood MS
teams in 2007.
This evening of socially distanced blitz doubled as the birthday party for Coach Fpawn. Nearly half of the 36 participants were either current (5) or former (12) private students. Here's a big shout out to four members of the Saratoga High School team that captured six consecutive state titles from 2005 to 2010: Brian, Charles, David and Evan! Kudos to school captain David Chock for a strong performance a dozen years after his last USCF rated chess tournament. Other past students who joined the virtual party were AlexAndrew, Dan, Eric, Gabe, Josh, Steven and Yian.

Perhaps it comes as small surprise that the top six places were occupied by five former students and one current mentee. The domination was complete; only one unaffiliated player scored more than 5 out of 10! Thanks guys for making your coach proud even after so many years.

Final Standings of the Fpawn Birthday Blitz Bash (full results here)
  1. GM Zkid (Steven Zierk) 9.0 out of 10
  2. IM RolyPolySword (Yian Liou) 8.5
  3. NM 2Bf41-0 (Kirk Ghazarian) 7.5
  4. IM cheese111 (Gabe Bick) 7.0
  5. NM DSchwarz (Dan Schwarz) 7.0
  6. chockbored (David Chock) 6.0
  7. chessforme17 (Advay Bansal) 6.0
  8. Ten tied at 5.0: mzhong21, fpawn, ericlgame, agrossman, mykehawke, championps, EM-TheChessShark, vish1080, knvsback and Mangonel
Mechanics' Institute
in San Francisco
Unfortunately, yours truly failed to play up to his usual standards. The frustration ran deep, e.g. flagging up a pawn with two extra minutes on the clock or moving a knight into capture in an easily winning position. Then came the inexcusable 21 move loss against the hippo. Next time!

Thanks to everyone who joined! It felt great watching some of you push pawns after so many years. Also thanks to Judit Sztaray of the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club for promoting the evening and hosting the virtual Meet & Greet on Zoom before the first round.

Monday, May 4

GM Zierk Wins Mechanics' Memorial Blitz


Due to the COVID pandemic, the Mechanics' Institute organized its annual Memorial Blitz online at Chess.com. This special event honors the memory of three masters who have departed after leaving their mark on the Bay Area chess community: NM Ray Schutt, SM Steve Brandwein and IM Jay Whitehead. In previous years, the large crowd of participants would socialize and munch on snacks between rounds of serious chess.

GM Steven Zierk
(credit: Alberta Chess)
Fortunately, the mandatory move online did little to dampen attendance - 104 players joined, including two Grandmsters, two International Masters, three FIDE Masters and at least seven National Masters. The competition was fierce starting in the first round, when three titled players lost or drew and a fourth overslept. No doubt, Ray, Steve and Jay would have enjoyed watching all of the fighting chess, even while socially distanced.

Veteran IM Elliott Winslow stormed out of the gate for the early lead, winning six straight games. The top seed, super-GM Rauf Mamedov of Azerbaijan, finally reeled him in. After round 7, four players shared the lead with 6-1: GM Mamedov and IM Winslow were joined by GM Steven Zierk and talented 13-year old IM Christopher Yoo.

The two Grandmasters clashed in round 9. Zierk, playing the black pieces, emerged victorious in a theoretical line of the Tarrasch variation of the French, gaining the advantage of two minor pieces against a rook and extra pawn.


Both Zierk and Mamedov held serve in rounds 10 and 11, allowing the local GM to clinch the tournament despite blundering into last round draw by repetition against this reporter. Congratulations Steven!

Final Standings of the Memorial Blitz (full results here)
  1. GM Zkid (Steven Zierk) 10.5 out of 12
  2. GM Muisback26 (Rauf Mamedov) 10.0
  3. FM KyronGriffith 9.0
  4. qing29 (Abhinav Penagalapati) 9.0
  5. IM ChristopherYoo 8.5
  6. NM 2007checkmate (Vyom Vidyarthi) 8.0
  7. FM Marty435 (Jason Liang) 8.0
  8. IM ecwinslow (Elliott Winslow) 8.0
  9. NM jij2018 (Ruiyang Yan) 8.0
  10. NM fpawn (Michael Aigner) 8.0
  11. Atrozen (Anthony Rozenvasser) 8.0 
The blitz tournament was broadcast on Twitch with live commentary from the multi-talented Mechanics' Institute staff, including GM Nick de Firmian and FM Paul Whitehead. Replay the entire show at your leisure on YouTube! The game Mamedov vs Winslow begins at 1:25:00 while Mamedov vs Zierk starts at 1:48:40. Readers of this blog might enjoy the tense final round match between Zierk and Aigner at 2:20:25.

Friday, March 8

CalChess State Scholastics History





Bay Area Chess hosts the annual CalChess State Scholastic Championships this weekend in Santa Clara. This year is the 44th edition of a tradition that started at a school, but has grown to fill several halls of a major convention center. Roughly 1200 children compete in 16 sections divided by age and chess skill. On Sunday evening, state champions will be crowned for the five Championship divisions: K-3, K-5, K-6, K-8 and K-12.


Check out the following trivia from more than three decades. Unfortunately, the records from 1976 through 1985 are not readily available.

  • First exceeded 500 players = 1997
  • First exceeded 1000 players = 2001
  • Largest turnout = 1319 in 2006
  • New sections added = Elementary K-5 section was only introduced in 2007 while Kindergarten began in 1997
  • Most High School individual titles = Vinay Bhat won 4 from 1998-2002. Three masters won 3 times: Andy McManus (1987-1990), Dmitry Zilberstein (1994-1997) and Cameron Wheeler (2013-2015).
  • Most High School team titles = 6 shared by Lowell High (1986-1994) and Saratoga High (2005-2010)
  • Youngest High School winner = 5th grader Daniel Naroditsky
  • Three 5-time champions = Vinay Bhat (K-3, K-12, K-12, K-12, K-12), Neel Apte (K-3, K-5, K-6, K-8, K-8), and Cameron Wheeler (K-5, K-6, K-12, K-12, K-12)
  • Four 4-time champions = Micah Fischer-Kirshner (K-3, K-6, K-6, K-12), Adam Lischinsky (K-3, K-3, K-8, K-12), Daniel Naroditsky (K-3, K-6, K-12, K-12), and James Kwok (K-3, K-6, K-8, K-8) 
  • Eleven 3-time champions = Andy McManus, Alan Stein, Dmitry Zilberstein, Keith Yost, Daniel Schwarz, Steven Zierk, Yian Liou, Kyle Shin, Tanuj Vasudeva, Siddharth Banik, Kevin Pan
  • Grand Slam champions = None! Must win all four of K-3, either K-5 or K-6, K-8, and K-12. Eight juniors have won 3 out of 4. 
  • Champions to become GM = Vinay Bhat, Steven Zierk, Daniel Naroditsky
  • Champions to become IM = Alan Stein, Dmitry Zilberstein, Philip Wang, Yian Liou, Vignesh Panchanatham, Cameron Wheeler, Kesav Viswanadha
  • Current US Champion Sam Shankland never won at the CalChess Scholastics. However, he became adult State Champ at age 16 (a record that was recently broken).
  • The Schism of 2005 saw the CalChess Scholastics in Oakland compete against the CalNorth Regional in San Jose on same weekend. The Regional drew over twice as many kids (906 to 397).
  • More than 20 false 9-1-1 calls from public telephones marred the 1998 edition at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
  • Kudos to the main organizers = Ray Orwig, Dr. Alan Kirshner, Richard Peterson, Dr. Salman Azhar, and Dr. Judit Sztaray

Please contact Michael Aigner with errors, omissions, or additional trivia. Many thanks to Dr. Alan Kirshner for maintaining the records from 1986 to 2011. 

Sunday, January 6

San Francisco Mechanics - PRO Chess League


















Photos: GM Shankland (left, credit St. Louis CC) and GM Naroditsky (right, credit Llada).  

The Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League returns to action this week on the Chess.com live server. The Bay Area is fortunate to have two strong teams in this worldwide competition. They battle in the Pacific Division against squads from San Diego, Seattle, Minnesota, Dallas, Australia and Chengdu (China). Each week, usually on Tuesday evenings, four team members rated under 2500 average each play four online games with the opposition at G/15 time control. After ten weeks, the top four teams in each Division advance to the league playoffs!

The San Francisco Mechanics are co-hosted by the Mechanics' Institute and the Berkeley Chess School. After failing to qualify for the inaugural season, the Mechanics took top honors in the league qualifier last November. The franchise actually has an extensive online history as one of the eight founding clubs of the now-defunct US Chess League. The Mechanics even brought home the USCL championship in 2006, led by a fearless young master who earned first team All Star honors on board 4!

That young master became the 2017 US Champion and is currently ranked #27 in the World. Sam Shankland will lead his hometown club after returning from Holland, where he faces Magnus Carlsen at the Tata Steel Masters beginning on Saturday. Fear not, San Francisco features five other Grandmasters, including child prodigy Parimarjan Negi of India and local superstar Daniel Naroditsky, who both studied at Stanford University. GM Vinay Bhat and GM Steven Zierk also sharpened their skills as juniors in the Bay Area and eagerly represent the Mechanics. The final Grandmaster is free agent Yannick Gozzoli of France, one of the 2018 co-national champions (check out this interview).

The roster includes two International Masters and a quintet of nationally ranked juniors who frequent tournaments at either the San Francisco or Berkeley clubs. IM Yian Liou and IM John Donaldson participated on the USCL teams of the past decade. These two veterans are reinforced by teenagers IM-elect Andrew Hong, IM-elect Ladia Jirasek and three other masters. Expect the Mechanics to spread weekly assignments around to give all the opportunity to shine.

San Francisco kicks off the season against their regional rivals, the San Jose Hackers. Hoping for a strong start, they unveil a triple GM lineup for Week 1: GM Naroditsky, GM Gozzoli, GM Bhat and FM Ezra Chambers. Check out the action on Tuesday evening starting at 5:25PM!

While this writer enthusiastically supports both Bay Area squads in the league, his true allegiance remains with three former students (GM Naroditsky, GM Zierk and IM Liou) plus several longtime friends who play for the Mechanics. Let's go San Francisco! Fix all those cars!

San Jose Hackers - PRO Chess League



Photos: GM Mamedyarov (left) and IM-elect Yoo (right, credit Llada).  

The Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League returns to action this week on the Chess.com live server. The Bay Area is fortunate to have two strong teams in this worldwide competition. They battle in the Pacific Division against squads from San Diego, Seattle, Minnesota, Dallas, Australia and Chengdu (China). Each week, usually on Tuesday evenings, four team members rated under 2500 average each play four online games with the opposition at G/15 time control. After ten weeks, the top four teams in each Division advance to the league playoffs!

The San Jose Hackers are organized by Bay Area Chess and most team members either coach or participate in local chess classes, camps and tournaments. The star of the Hackers is World #3 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan. Two countrymen join "Shak" as free agents for San Jose: World #39 Rauf Mamedov and World #63 Eltaj Safarli. The three Azeris will need to split duties on the top board, since league rules permit only one free agent to play each week.

The other Hackers all reside in the Bay Area. Grandmaster coaches Zviad Izoria and Enrico Sevillano expect to platoon on second board. Coach and journalist IM Kostya Kavutskiy, 12 year old newly minted IM-elect Christopher Yoo and rapid specialist NM Faik Aleskerov will play significant roles throughout the season. Four teen masters, all current or former students of Bay Area Chess, share duties on board 4.

San Jose narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season and will seek to improve this year. Perhaps to make a statement, the Hackers rolled out their strongest lineup for the Week 1 showdown against their rivals, the San Francisco Mechanics: GM Mamedyarov, GM Izoria, IM-elect Yoo and FM Ivan Ke. Check out the action on Tuesday evening starting at 5:25PM!

Monday, November 5

World Cadet Underway in Spain

The playing venue is at the Ciudad de la Cultura. (website)

The 2018 World Cadet Chess Championships kicked off on Sunday at the Christian pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela located in northwestern Spain. Nearly 850 young chess players from around the world compete in six sections: Open and Girls for age U8, U10 and U12. The Open U10 and Open U12 divisions both have over 200 participants. After eleven rounds, gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded on November 15.

Team USA includes 74 players, at least that many parents, 6 official team coaches and several private trainers. The American medal chances seem greatest in Open U12, where 21 kids rock the red, white and blue, including 4 of the top 10 seeds. Top contenders include Rachael Li (1st seed in Girls U8), FM Christopher Yoo (2nd seed in Open U12), IM Arthur Guo (4th seed in Open U12), NM Kirk Ghazarian (8th seed in Open U12), Dimitar Mardov (8th seed in Open U10), CM Jason Wang (10th seed in Open U12) and Crystal Gu (10th seed in Girls U8). Note that seeds are ranked by FIDE ratings, and the order may differ from USCF ratings.

Team USA hails from 17 states, including 16 youngsters from New York, 12 from California, 10 from New Jersey and 6 each from Illinois and Texas. The other states represented are: AZ, CT, FL, GA, MA, MI, OH, OR, PA, VA, WA and WI.

The official website is http://www.wccc2018.com/. The daily rounds begin at 7:30am PST except on November 10 (free day) and November 15 (final round starts 2.5 hours sooner). Watch the top boards at FollowChess or at Chess24 (with a 30 minute delay to deter cheating).

FINAL STANDINGS
Top American scores plus California kids
Rating from November USCF supplement
Age given as of December 31, 2018

OPEN U12 results link (21 players)

  • FM Chasin, Nico (12 NY 2320) = 8.5 - BRONZE MEDAL (tied for 2nd)
  • IM Guo, Arthur (12 GA 2387) = 8.5 - 4th place (tied for 2nd)
  • FM Yoo, Christopher (12 CA-N 2455) = 8.0 - 7th place (tied for 6th)
  • CM Wang, Jason (12 OH 2317) = 8.0 - 8th place (tied for 6th)
  • Tian, Eddy (12 NJ 2270) = 7.5
  • CM Zhou, Liran (10 NY 2291) = 7.5
  • NM Ghazarian, Kirk (12 CA-S 2230) = 7.0 
  • CM Xu, Arthur (11 IL 2158 = 7.0
  • Nathan, Krishna (12 CA-N 2115) = 6.5
  • Clasby, Derek (12 NJ 2231) = 6.5
  • Park, Evan (11 PA 2177) = 6.5
  • Yu, Jason (12 WA 2208) = 6.5
  • Sethuraman, Sandeep (11 AZ 2149) = 6.5
  • Oberoi, Shelev (12 TX 2045) = 6.5
  • Gu, Andy (12 CA-S 1693) = 4.5

GIRLS U12 results link (11 players)

  • WCM Pang, Ashley (11 CA-N 1737) = 8.0 - 6th place (tied for 3rd)
  • WFM Wang, Ellen (11 NY 2015) = 7.5 - 12th place (tied for 8th)
  • WCM Ke, Rianne (12 CA-S 2102) = 7.0
  • WCM Velea, Stephanie (11 WA 1668) = 6.5

OPEN U10 results link (12 players)

  • Zhao, Erick (10 FL 2067) = 9.0 - SILVER MEDAL (tied for 1st)
  • Mardov, Dimitar (10 IL 2178) = 8.0 - 8th place (tied for 7th)
  • Ngo, Bach (10 FL 2075) = 7.5
  • Lee, Jayden (10 AZ 2022) = 7.5
  • Shivakumar, Shawnak (10 CA-N 1991) = 7.0
  • Sloan, Jed (10 NY 1912) = 6.5
  • Tay, Brian (10 VA 1822) = 6.5
  • Sivakumar, Shaaketh (10 CA-N 1861) = 5.5
  • Huang, Brian (10 CA-S 1924) = 5.5

GIRLS U10 results link (15 players)

  • WCM Velea, Sophie (10 WA 1782) = 8.0 - 7th place (tied for 5th)
  • Liu, Kelsey (10 MA 1944) = 7.0
  • Evans, Serena (10 CT 1475) 7.0
  • WCM Wen, Kally (10 CA-N 1681) = 6.5
  • Elangovan, Ramya (10 TX 1593) = 6.5
  • Peng, Sophia (10 AZ 1697) = 6.5
  • Zhu, Florina (10 NJ 1623) = 6.5
  • Field, Lila (9 NJ 1310) 6.5

OPEN U8 results link (8 players)

  • Chennareddy, Yuvraj (8 IL 1901) = 10.5 - GOLD MEDAL
  • Wang, Alexander (8 NJ 1960) = 8.0 - 10th place (tied for 6th)
  • Jiang, Andrew (8 GA 1864) = 7.0
  • Woodward, Andy (8 TX 1812) = 7.0

GIRLS U8 results link (7 players)

  • WCM Qiao, Evelyn (8 GA 1641) = 8.5 - BRONZE MEDAL
  • Prakash, Nandini (8 IL 1554) = 7.5 - 9th place (tied for 8th)
  • Gu, Crystal (8 CA-S 1578) = 7.0
  • Li, Rachael (8 TX 1994) = 6.5

Sunday, November 4

Online Mate In One Test


Test your ability to solve mates in one using this fun web application. You get 10 seconds to find the correct move. If you're right, then you immediately get another position. The program stops when your move is not checkmate, or when your time expires.

Many of the positions are trivially winning, but the goal is to checkmate in one. Multiple solutions exist for some problems, and the program will accept any of them. After you have solved several hundred, you may notice that some positions repeat.

Parental warning: This game is addictive. I know several young masters who solved over 100 in a row. At least two have reached 500! At this time, yours truly only achieved a modest 41. If you wish to brag to your friends, then save a screenshot immediately after you messed up.

Finally, if 10 seconds is too fast, then simply edit the number at the end of the URL.

Monday, September 3

NorCal Top 20 - September 2018

US Champion Sam Shankland has fun teaching talented
kids at the US Chess School. (Credit: US Chess School)

NorCal Top 20 Adults
September 2018

Rank Name USCF FIDE
1 GM Shankland, Sam 2816 2722
2 GM Zviad Izoria 2718 2601
3 GM Naroditsky, Daniel 2691 2615
4 GM Holt, Conrad 2688 2561
5 GM Zierk, Steven 2565 2506
6 IM Harmon-Vellotti, Luke 2563 2455
7 GM Matamoros, Carlos (ECU) 2561 2494
8 IM Joshua Sheng 2550 2447
9 GM Sevillano, Enrico 2535 2423
10 IM Wheeler, Cameron 2503 2406
11 IM Liou, Yian 2499 2412
12 IM Kavutskiy, Kostya 2472 2424
13 SM Hong, Andrew Z 2467 2357
14 IM Viswanadha, Kesav 2457 2367
15 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2454 2378
16 IM Coleman, Teddy 2452 2378
17 IM Panchanatham, Vignesh 2451 2383
18 SM Zhu, Jack Q 2437 2373
19 SM Bick, Gabriel 2429 2381
20 SM Yoo, Christopher W 2414 2402

  • Derived from US Chess Rating Lists by State.
  • GM Negi moved to Massachusetts.
  • GM Holt and GM Sevillano listed under other states.
  • Newcomers GM Zierk (welcome back!) and IM Sheng.
  • SM Bick enters list after playing abroad for a year.
  • GM DeFirmian and IM Donaldson mostly inactive.