Sunday, December 30

Hunting for Norms

The Las Vegas Strip facing south from Bally's.
FM Yian Liou
Congratulations to my long time student FM Yian Liou for earning his second IM norm at the 2012 North American Open in Las Vegas!  The high school sophomore scored 6.0 in nine rounds with an impressive performance rating of 2560 FIDE, good enough to share 7th place overall in the open swiss section.  He faced six higher rated opponents, including four Grandmasters, and lost just once.  Twice he held a draw versus a GM from the black side without much difficulty.  That feat alone takes nerves of steel!  Having clinched the IM norm before the final round, Yian played confidently and aggressively against an International Master to cap the eventful tournament with an exclamation mark (see game below).

  • Wins: NM Viswanadha, NM T.Shaw, NM Colas, IM Yankovsky
  • Draws: GM Shabalov, GM Lenderman, IM Krush, GM Gurevich
  • Loss: GM Ramirez

FM Sam Sevian
Yian was not the only Bay Area junior to qualify for a valuable norm this month.  Only a week ago, FM Sam Sevian tied for first place at the 23rd Metropolitan Chess Invitational in Los Angeles.  The reigning World U12 gold medalist has become accustomed to winning tournaments, but certainly not as the lowest rated invitee!  Magically, the precocious master scored an undefeated plus-3 in a round-robin against three experienced GMs and five strong IMs, for a 2575 performance.  Days shy of his 12th birthday, Sam completed the three norms for the IM title!  He stands to become the youngest IM in American history, but narrowly missed the world record set by Ukrainian superstar Sergey Karjakin,  It would, however, be premature to call him an IM-elect until he meets the final requirement: a FIDE rating above 2400.  That appears to just be a matter of time.  Well done Sam!
  • Wins: IM D.Yang, IM Yankovsky, IM Amanov
  • Draws: IM Kiewra, IM Matikozyan, GM Chibuchchian, GM Ramirez, GM Khachiyan, IM V.Shen
  • Loss: none

Monday, December 24

Merry Christmas To All!

Merry Christmas

Feliz Navidad

Frohe Weihnachten

Joyeux Noël

Buon Natale

Vrolijk Kerstfeest 

God Jul

Maligayang Pask

Miilaad Majiid 

Tuesday, December 11

FIDE Rated NorCal Kids - December 2012

NM Cameron
NM Kesav

Back in the dark ages, or even at the turn of this millennium, earning an official FIDE rating served as a rite of passage for a rising young chess player.  Few opportunities existed to play internationally rated games in the Bay Area, and the old rating floor of 2000 FIDE meant only the best had a shot..  IM John Donaldson and Anthony Corrales at the Mechanics' Institute organized a series of rating tournaments designed to meet this need.  Most of the elite juniors from that generation picked up their international rating this way.  Still, the number of local kids with a published FIDE rating never exceeded a handful at a time.

Times change!  At the end of 2012, more than 30 NorCal juniors are rated, with 3 above 2300 and another 13 over 2000.  On average, a player's USCF rating exceeds the FIDE by 50 to 100 points.  Since FIDE rates only slow games, someone who performs better at G/45 or G/60 will be ranked lower.  Indeed, many masters believe the FIDE rating holds more meaning than USCF, in part because faster games do not count.


1 IM Naroditsky, Daniel 2483 + GM norm
2 SM Young, Greg 2367
3 FM Liou, Yian 2352 + IM norm
4 SM Sevian, Sam 2343 + 2 IM norms
5 NM Wheeler, Cameron 2165
6 NM Viswanadha, Kesav 2130
7 Liu, Daniel 2095
8 Apte, Neel 2086
9 Tong, Benjamin 2064
10 Chow, Colin 2062
11 Zhu, Jack 2047
12 Shin, Kyle 2046
13 Panchanatham, Vignesh 2033
14 Klotz-Burwell, Hunter 2026
15 Beilin, Allan 2018
16 Nagarajan, Pranav 2009
17 FM Vasudeva, Tanuj 1999
18 Iyengar, Udit 1988
19 Richter, Paul 1957
20 Moy, Kevin 1945

Please contact me at michael(at)fpawn(dot)com if I overlooked someone.

Monday, December 10

Carlsen on Top of the World

Carlsen on top of the London Eye.
The Norwegian conqueror of chess arrived at the London Chess Classic determined to assert his dominance over his closest challengers, and to stake out a place in history. After celebrating his 22nd birthday on the day before the first round, Magnus Carlsen won five games, drew three and lost none. He started explosively, winning the first two rounds and scoring 5.5 out of 6! Alas, a pair of fighting draws at the end of the event dropped his performance rating from an astronomical 3146 to a merely mortal 2994.

Book published in 2004
Perhaps most significantly, Carlsen smashed the all-time highest official rating of 2851, a record credited to his former teacher Garry Kasparov. The new mark is 2861, and will no doubt continue to rise as the Wunderkind keeps improving.  He extended the lead over his nearest challenger to 51 rating points; .half a year ago, the gap was just 10 points.  Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik, now rated second, finished with an impressive result himself, but he was eclipsed by someone even greater.

We can only imagine how high Carlsen could go once he stops needing luck to escape from a losing position (against Luke McShane) or when he finds the critical move order to convert all pleasant advantages into victories (against Hikaru Nakamura and Viswanathan Anand).  Indeed, he has plenty of room for improvement compared to a computer programs like Houdini.  Regardless, the always opinionated Kasparov already conceded that Carlsen has the necessary talent to reach 2900, only as long as he continues to work hard.

Can he do it?  Maybe it is just a question of when?  Vote in the poll on right side panel.

Sunday, December 9

Reprint: How to Get from 1600 to 2000?

12 year old master Yian
This post is a reprint of a popular article written three years ago by one of my star students, Yian Liou.  At that time, Yian had just broken 2200 and, as a 6th grader, won the High School section at the 2009 CalChess Scholastics.  Today, he earned the FM title, has one IM norm and a USCF rating above 2400.  Yian shares his own experiences about what it takes for a promising 1600 to reach 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 3

NorCal Top Players - December 2012

World U12 gold medalist Sam Sevian
The following two lists show the top masters who are currently active and live in Northern California.  I exempted local juniors who attend college out of state from the residency requirement.  Both USCF and FIDE ratings are official as of December 2012.  Please contact me if I may have overlooked someone.

Here are some broad observations.  Not surprisingly, the twin rankings include almost all of the same players.  In fact, the only exceptions are SM Gregory Kotlyar (#19 USCF) and IM Elliott Winslow (#15 FIDE).  Nobody can doubt who the most active titled player is on the Bay Area scene: IM Ricardo DeGuzman.  Now that former World U18 champions GM Sam Shankland and IM Steven Zierk attend college in Massachusetts, only four star juniors remain: former World U12 champion IM Daniel Naroditsky, former US U20 (Junior) champion SM Greg Young, current World U12 champion SM Sam Sevian and former US U16 (Cadet) champion FM Yian Liou.  All four are concentrating on earning GM/IM norms and none has played locally in half a year.  However, Greg, Sam and Yian all participated in the Metropolitan Chess International in Los Angeles last August.



1 GM Shankland, Sam 2684
GM Shankland, Sam 2595
2 GM DeFirmian, Nick 2575
GM DeFirmian, Nick 2510
3 IM Naroditsky, Daniel 2553
IM Naroditsky, Daniel 2483
4 GM Browne, Walter 2524
IM Zierk, Steven 2477
5 IM Zierk, Steven 2519
GM Browne, Walter 2448
6 FM De La Cruz, Alfredo 2488
IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2400
7 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2468
SM Sharma, Arun 2391
8 SM Sharma, Arun 2467
IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2390
9 SM Young, Greg 2467
IM Donaldson, John 2390
10 SM Sevian, Sam 2451
FM Strugatsky, Vladimir 2390
11 FM Chumachenko, Andrey 2435
SM Young, Greg 2367
12 FM Liou, Yian 2432
IM Pruess, David 2363
13 IM Pruess, David 2431
FM Liou, Yian 2352
14 IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2429
IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2352
15 IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2423
IM Winslow, Elliott 2348
16 IM Kaufman, Raymond 2422
IM Kaufman, Raymond 2345
17 FM Strugatsky, Vladimir 2421
SM Sevian, Sam 2343
18 IM Donaldson, John 2408
FM Chumachenko, Andrey 2327
19 SM Kotlyar, Gregory 2402
FM De La Cruz, Alfredo 2318
20 NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2364
NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2306

New National Champions In Our Midst

Orlando World Center Marriott Hotel
The National Grade Level Championships took place last weekend in Orlando.  A total of 1300 players flew in from around the country to play chess and visit the House of Mouse.  The main tournament went 7 rounds over 3 days, with competitors divided into grades K through 12th.

Thirteen Bay Area juniors and their parents made the trek to Florida.  The trip proved successful, and the local delegation brought home 11 trophies: six top 10 places, two honorable mentions, two rating class prizes and one big team trophy. 

Special congratulations to the two individual national champions: Chinguun Bayaraa in 1st grade and Andrew Hong in 2nd grade!  Andrew is the new kid on the block, attending his first chess tournament merely five months ago.  By comparison, Chinguun proved himself as a veteran, playing chess since age 3 and winning his second nationals after Kindergarten last year.

The 7th grade team from Kennedy Middle School earned two individual prizes and picked up a nice team trophy to store alongside the first place K-8 award from last April.  Indeed, they finished ahead of national power IS 318 from the Bronx.  Check out reports and photos at Cameron's blog.

Northern California Scores
USCF Rating Report
  • Gr 1 - Chinguun Bayaraa 6.0 - co-NATIONAL CHAMPION 
  • Gr 1 - Maurya Palusa 5.5 - 8th place
  • Gr 2 - Andrew Hong 6.5 - co-NATIONAL CHAMPION
  • Gr 2 - Rishith Susarla 6.0 - 4th place
  • Gr 3 - Chenyi Zhao 5.0 - honorable mention
  • Gr 5 - Jason Hong 4.0 - 1st 1000-1199
  • Gr 5 - Simona Nayberg 4.0
  • Gr 6 - Amit Sant 5.0 - honorable mention
  • Gr 7 - Cameron Wheeler 5.5 - 5th place
  • Gr 7 - Art Zhao 5.5 - 6th place
  • Gr 7 - Kingsly Wang 4.5 - 1st 1200-1399
  • Gr 7 - Pranav Srihari 4.0
  • Gr 7 - Kennedy Middle (Cameron, Kingsly, Pranav) - NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
  • Gr 9 - Joshua Cao 4.5

Friday, November 30

World Top 20 - December 2012

Top rated Carlsen remains poised to smash the all-time record of 2851 set by his former teacher Garry Kasparov.  His next opportunity starts this weekend at the London Chess Classic, playing against three of the next five players in the rankings: Aronian, Kramnik and reigning World Champion Anand.  The top two Americans are also in action, with Nakamura participating in London and Kamsky bleeding rating points at the ongoing FIDE Grand Prix in Uzbekistan.  Three rounds before the end, the American-born Caruana shares the lead with Karjakin.  By my count, 14 of the top 20 players in the World compete in one of these two current tournaments.

December 2012 FIDE Rating List
Italian GM Fabiano Caruana, born in USA
  1. Magnus Carlsen 2848
  2. Levon Aronian 2815
  3. Vladimir Kramnik 2795
  4. Teimour Radjabov 2793
  5. Fabiano Caruana 2782
  6. Viswanathan Anand 2775
  7. Sergey Karjakin 2775
  8. Veselin Topalov 2771
  9. Vassily Ivanchuk 2766
  10. Alexander Grischuk 2764
  11. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2764
  12. Gata Kamsky 2762
  13. Hikaru Nakamura 2760
  14. Boris Gelfand 2751
  15. Alexander Morozevich 2748
  16. Peter Svidler 2747
  17. Dmitry Jakovenko 2741
  18. Vugar Gashimov 2737
  19. Wang Hao 2737
  20. Lenier Dominguez 2734
A total of 47 players are rated 2700 and above.

Monday, November 26

Photos of King Magnus in Bay Area!

Nicholas K and Daniel S with Carlsen.
Tom Langland poses with Numero Uno.
Not every day does a young Norwegian man makes waves in Silicon Valley.  Nov. 16, 2012 was indeed a magical day!  Magnus Carlsen, the highest rated chess player on the planet, stopped by for a small blindfold simultaneous exhibition, Q&A and many personal photos.  Check out Facebook for photos and videos by Richard Shorman.  Thanks to IM David Pruess, Tom Langland and Bay Area Chess for putting together this memorable afternoon.
GM Carlsen slouches in chair while playing four kids blindfolded!
Make sure to read Mr. Langland's new article at Chess Life Online and watch the video of Daniel Naroditsky playing blitz against King Magnus.

Wednesday, November 21

World Youth Medal Ceremony

This 12-minute long video shows the start of the final round and then highlights from the medal ceremony.  Great stuff!  Watch the 13th World Champion steal the show.
  • 3:32 - Remarks by Garry Kasparov.
  • 5:43 - Christopher Shen got bronze in U8.
  • 8:09 - Sam Sevian won gold and Cameron Wheeler earned silver in U12.
  • 9:33 - Kayden Troff won gold in U12.
Congratulations once again to the champs.  Here they smile together for the candid camera.

From l to r: Cameron, Sam and Kayden. The future of USA chess?

Monday, November 19

Hail to the Champions!

Sam Sevian, gold in U12
Kayden Troff, gold in U14

Team USA earned four World Youth Chess Championship medals!  
The 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov conferred the honors.
Photos from Facebook.  

Hail to the Champions!
And thanks to the organizers and sponsors in Slovenia. 

Christopher Shen, bronze in U8
Cameron Wheeler, silver in U12

Sunday, November 18

Climax of World Youth (Updated)

Cam vs Sam in Rd 10. Sam won to retake lead. (Photo: Rob Wheeler)
Good luck to Team USA in the last round at 2012 World Youth!  Watch the top boards Live on Sunday early morning starting at 1:00am PST.  FM Kayden Troff (needs a win in U14) and SM Sam Sevian (needs only a draw in U12) go for the gold!!   NM Cameron Wheeler in U12, WFM Annie Wang in G10 and Christopher Shen in U8 can bring home a medal!

 Sunday AM Update: FINAL RESULTS
  • FM Kayden Troff -- GOLD MEDAL in U14
  • FM Sam Sevian -- GOLD MEDAL in U12 (4-way tie for 1st)
  • FM Cameron Wheeler -- SILVER MEDAL in U12 (4-way tie for 1st)
  • Christopher Shen -- BRONZE MEDAL in U8

Several people have asked me if this is the strongest U12 section ever?  Without a doubt, this year's group is the strongest USA delegation in U12.  Back in his days competing in U10 and U12, local prodigy Daniel Naroditsky faced Illya Nyzhnyk of Ukraine (now a 2600+ GM), Ivan Bukavshin of Russia (also a GM), Srinath Narayanan of India (IM) and American Ray Robson (another 2600 GM).  It certainly seems possible that there are several future GMs and IMs lurking in U12; indeed, Sam Sevian already has two IM norms.

USA room with GM Benjamin (middle) + GM Finegold (back).

Northern California Scores
  • U12 - FM Sam Sevian 9.0 -- GOLD MEDAL and FM title (4-way tie for 1st)
  • U12 - FM Cameron Wheeler 9.0 -- SILVER MEDAL and FM title (4-way tie for 1st)
  • U12 - Vignesh Panchanatham 8.0 -- 11th place (tied for 6th)
  • U12 - Siddharth Banik 7.0
  • U12 - Kevin Moy 4.5 
  • G12 - Ashritha Eswaran 7.0 -- 14th place (tied for 12th)
  • U10 - Rayan Taghizadeh 7.0
  • G10 - Joanna Liu 7.0 -- 15th place (tied for 15th)
  • U8 - Ben Rood 8.0 -- 9th place (tied for 4th)
  • U8 - Balaji Daggupati 6.5
  • U8 - Kelvin Jiang 5.5
  • U8 - Milind Maiti 5.0
  • G8 - Zhiyi Wang 5.5

Friday, November 16

Brooklyn Castle Screening in SF

After meeting Magnus Carlsen and watching the best 11- and 12-year olds on the planet battle for gold, perhaps you wish to spend an evening watching a movie--indeed, a heart-warming chess documentary.  Starting tonight, this dream becomes reality as the popular film Brooklyn Castle makes its Bay Area debut at the Landmark Opera Plaza (601 Van Ness) in San Francisco.  Click here for a schedule of about five daily screenings. 

Although it is a chess movie, the main conflict has less to do with the 64 squares and more with how an inner city school achieved success at the national level against all odds.  In an era of crippling school budget cuts, what role can a game such as chess play in the classroom, or even as an organized extracurricular activity?  For minority kids attending I.S. 318 in the Bronx, chess meant an alternative to TV, drugs and gangs.  Here is a film review from the Chronicle.

As the trailer proclaims: "Imagine a school where the cool kids are the chess team."

After the 7:15pm screening on Saturday 11/17, IM Daniel Naroditsky will host a Q&A session.  Daniel, who recently turned 17, is a former World U12 champion and now the author of two (!) chess books.

(The showtimes originally scheduled for Berkeley have been postponed.)

Thursday, November 15

Bay Area Kids Hunting for Medals

Maribor, Slovenia lies on the Drava River.
As the medal chase heats up at the World Youth Chess Championship, many of the Northern California participants find themselves in the mix.  After six wins in a row, NM Cameron Wheeler (7.0 out of 8) finds himself at the top of the World in U12, but another half dozen Americans remain within one point in the standings, including SM Sam Sevian (6.5) and Vignesh Panchanatham (6.0).  Among the girls, Ashritha Eswaran (6.0 in G12) and Joanna Liu (6.0 in G10) are doing extremely well to represent the Bay Area on the international stage. 

Northern California Scores After 9 Rounds
(updated at 1:00pm Friday)
  • U12 - NM Cameron Wheeler 8.0 (clear 1st, white vs Sam)
  • U12 - SM Sam Sevian 7.5 (2nd, black vs Cameron)
  • U12 - Vignesh Panchanatham 7.0 (8th, but tied for 4th, white vs S. Golubov)
  • U12 - Siddharth Banik 6.0 (34th)
  • U12 - Kevin Moy 3.5 
  • G12 - Ashritha Eswaran 6.0 (8th)
  • U10 - Rayan Taghizadeh 6.0 (26th)
  • G10 - Joanna Liu 6.0 (13th)
  • U8 - Ben Rood 6.0 (21st)
  • U8 - Balaji Daggupati 5.5
  • U8 - Kelvin Jiang 4.5
  • U8 - Milind Maiti 4.0
  • G8 - Zhiyi Wang 5.5
The final three rounds begin on Friday and Saturday at 6:00am, then Sunday at 1:00am (all Pacific time).  Check out the Pairings and Results or watch the Live Games from halfway around the globe! Go U-S-A!!

Wednesday, November 14

Team USA After 7 Rounds

A melting pot of civilization outside the Dras Center in Maribor, Slovenia.
After a day of rest and sightseeing on Tuesday, the American youngsters at the 2012 World Youth returned to the task at hand: winning chess games against highly ranked opponents from around the globe.  Round 7 proved very difficult and for the first time, Team USA scored under 50% as a whole.  On the bright side, the average score of 89 players remains a solid 4.2 out of 7, or almost 60%.  The number with 5.0 or more (23) exceeds those under 50% (14).  With four rounds left, 15 contenders rank in the top 12 for their age and gender, including 4 from Northern California.  Go U-S-A!!

Alas, all is quiet indoor.  Shhh, chess games in progress!
All eyes remain fixed on the U12 section, where four Americans will play on the top 3 boards on Thursday at 6:00am PST.  Highest rated SM Sam Sevian (NCal) assumed the lead at 6.5 with a crushing Sozin Sicilian win against his teammate and second seed, FM Jeffery Xiong (Texas), who now has 5.5.  Also in the mix at 6.0 are underrated Bryce Tiglon (Washington) and NM Cameron Wheeler (NCal).  Four more Americans have 5.0 and could still end up in the top 10 with a strong finish.

The U12 section is not the only one with Americans prowling among the leaders.    Four girls in G10 stand in the top 11, led by Jennifer Yu (Virginia) with 5.5.  Aasa Dommalapati (also from Virginia) is second in G8 with an undefeated 6.0.  For the boys, Aravind Kumar (New Jersey) and Christopher Shen (Ohio) have 5.5 each in U10 and U8, respectively.  Best among the teenagers, Kayden Troff (Utah) and Agata Bykovtsev (SCal) have 5.5 each in U14 and G14, respectively. 

Team USA Leaders After Round 7
Full Results

  • U8 - 5.5 Christopher Shen; 5.0 Tan Nguyen and Balaji Daggupati
  • G8 - 5.5 Aasa Dommalapati
  • U10 - 5.5 Aravind Kumar; 5.0 Trung Nguyen and Praveen Balakrishnan
  • G10 - 5.5 Jennifer Yu; 5.0 Joanna Liu, Emily Nguyen and Annie Wang
  • U12 - 6.5 Samuel Sevian; 6.0 Bryce Tiglon and Cameron Wheeler; 5.5 Jeffery Xiong; 5.0 Vignesh Panchanatham, John Ludwig, Roland Feng and Jonathan Chiang
  • G12 - 5.0 Ashritha Eswaran
  • U14 - 5.5 Kayden Troff; 5.0 Christopher Gu
  • G14 - 5.5 Agata Bykovtsev
  • U16 - 4.0 Sean Vibbert and Michael Brown
  • G16 - 4.5 Sarah Chiang
  • U18 - 4.5 William Fisher
  • G18 - 3.5 Anna Matlin

Tuesday, November 13

Meet Magnus Carlsen This Friday!

Coach Carlsen teaching kids at camp in New York (August 2012).
BREAKING NEWS!  Magnus Carlsen, top rated chess player in World, is coming to town! 

Major props to IM David Pruess and Bay Area Chess for organizing the event of the year on short notice.  Believe it or not, the 21-year old Norwegian super-GM will visit Silicon Valley this coming Friday!  The free meet and greet is geared towards children, but a limited number of adults may attend.   

World #1 Magnus Carlsen
  • What?  Q&A and Youth Simul
  • When?  Friday, November 16, 3:30-4:30pm
  • Where?  Silicon Valley Bank at 3003 Tasman Dr in Santa Clara
  • GM Carlsen will play a small simul against a few kids selected randomly.
  • Refreshments will be provided.   
  • Space is limited! Organizers reserve the right to prioritize who may attend based on their best judgement. RSVP only on Facebook. (Now closed.) No walk-ups. Priority for Bay Area Chess members.

Back in 1999, then World Champion Garry Kasparov drew an overflow crowd at Stanford.  His protege Carlsen now stands just 3 points away from breaking Kasparov's all-time record rating of 2851.  For most people, this is a unique opportunity to meet a living legend face-to-face!

Thank you to America's Foundation for Chess and Silicon Valley Bank for sponsoring Carlsen's Bay Area visit.

Monday, November 12

Halftime at World Youth

After five days of intense chess, the World Youth Chess Championship reached halftime.  Over the first six rounds (yes, the fifth day had two rounds), the competition metaphorically separated the men from boys and women from girls.  The contenders have moved to the head of the crowded field.  The Americans have fared well to date: 26 of 89 kids scored 4.5 (75%) or better, including 7 of 13 from Northern California.  Here we go Team U-S-A!

Despite this good news, nobody wearing the stars-and-stripes has a perfect 6-0 score, and most players already lost at least once.  It is a really tough event!  After half a dozen years of closely watching the results at World Youth, I have drawn a few conclusions.  The two toughest countries overall tend to be Russia (no surprise) and India (surprise).  Apparently some national coaches organize extensive training programs just to prepare for this one event.  However, skill and preparation alone are insufficient to reach the top of the world.  Those who bring home the medals invariably are physically and mentally tough enough to handle this high level of competition.  Rarely does someone manage to taste success the first time. 
Main Playing Hall (Older Sections)

The tournament takes a well-deserved rest day on Tuesday 11/13.  Many players, parents and coaches go on sightseeing tours near Maribor, both in Slovenia (or here) and across the nearby border to AustriaThe kids, of course, will continue to talk, eat and breathe chess.  After all, five more rounds remain to be played, from Wednesday through Sunday 11/18.  The American delegation will fly home just in time for Thanksgiving.

 Northern California Scores After 6 Rounds

  • U12 - SM Sam Sevian 5.5 (1st, shared with teammate FM Jeffery Xiong)
  • U12 - NM Cameron Wheeler 5.0 (5th, tied for 3rd)
  • U12 - Vignesh Panchanatham 4.0
  • U12 - Siddharth Banik 4.0
  • U12 - Kevin Moy 3.5 
  • G12 - Ashritha Eswaran 4.5 (13th)
  • U10 - Rayan Taghizadeh 4.5 (20th)
  • G10 - Joanna Liu 4.5 (8th)
  • U8 - Balaji Daggupati 4.5 (14th)
  • U8 - Ben Rood 4.5 (19th)
  • U8 - Milind Maiti 3.0
  • U8 - Kelvin Jiang 2.5
  • G8 - Zhiyi Wang 3.0
Secondary Playing Hall (Younger Sections)
The championship has actually been easy to follow online this year, even with an active Facebook page.  My favorite links on the official website include Live Games (starting at 6:00am PST) and two rotating Webcams, one in each playing hall.  The top 10 boards in all sections except U8, G8 and G10 are broadcast live!  Fans of Team USA should surf in on Wednesday morning to watch the two highest rated players in the world U12 square off (Sam Sevian vs Jeffery Xiong).  While munching on breakfast, you may also watch and cheer for Cameron, Ashritha, Joanna, Balaji and Ben.  Good luck to the California boys and girls!

Additional Links for World Youth 2012

Thursday, November 8

World Youth 2012 Kicks Off

Town Square in Maribor
The World Youth Chess Championship 2012 began this afternoon in Maribor, the second largest city of the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia.  Out of nearly 1600 juniors from around the world, a record 87 came from the USA, including 13 from Northern California.  Through November 18, players will compete for 11 rounds in sections segregated by age (U8, U10, U12, U14, U16 and U18) as well as gender (Open and Girls). 

Board, set and clock are all provided.
The Bay Area has a rich history of success at this tournament.  In the past five years, three local talents have finished at the top of the world for their age!  Daniel Naroditsky captured gold for U12 in 2007; Sam Shankland shared first for U18 in 2008; and Steven Zierk took gold for U18 in 2010.  Daniel and Steven both now hold the IM title while Sam rocketed to Grandmaster and an impressive 2600 international rating.  Who will step up to continue the magic in 2012?

Here are the local participants in Maribor:
  • U12 - SM Sam Sevian (top seed)
  • U12 - NM Cameron Wheeler (fifth seed)
  • U12 - Kevin Moy
  • U12 - Vignesh Panchanatham
  • U12 - Siddharth Banik
  • G12 - Ashritha Eswaran
  • U10 - Rayan Taghizadeh (ninth seed)
  • G10 - Joanna Liu
  • U8 - Ben Rood
  • U8 - Milind Maiti
  • U8 - Balaji Daggupati
  • U8 - Kelvin Jiang
  • G8 - Zhiyi Wang
Team USA hopes to build on the results from last year: one gold and one silver, with ten players finishing in the top 10 for each division. This year's squad appears to be strongest in the U12 section, with SM Sam Sevian and FM Jeffrey Xiong rated at the very top of the entire field.  They are not alone; indeed 14 of the top 40 in U12 wear the red, white and blue.  In the U10 section, NM Praveen Balakrishnan and 2011 U8 gold medalist FM Awonder Liang are both ranked in the top 5.  The top contenders among the girls include Ashritha Eswaran of Northern California in U12 and WFM Annie Wang of Southern California in U10. 

The official website contains links to pairings and standings (filter by Federation = USA) and many live games (starting at 6:00am PST for most rounds).  For a quick overview of Team USA, check out the Chess-Results website.  For daily news and reports from Maribor, surf to Chess Life Online and the blogs for Cameron Wheeler and Vignesh Panchanatham.

Sunday, October 7

New Cut-off Date for Official Ratings

Starting with November 2012, the USCF monthly rating supplements will be tabulated during the night following the 3rd Friday of the previous month.  In the past, these official ratings were fixed two weeks sooner, after the 1st Friday.  Thus, readers will have to wait until Saturday, October 20 to find out their rating for tournaments in November.

This change addresses complaints about the lag time between when an event is held and when the results contribute to the players' official ratings.  The delay drops from a maximum of 8 weeks to 6 weeks.  The immediate availability of ratings online at the MSA website makes this change feasible.  Tournament directors should be able to download the monthly rating databases promptly during the subsequent week.

Monday, September 17

Grandmaster RR This Weekend @ Mechanics

This weekend, the Mechanics' Institute hosts one of the highest rated fields in its storied history.  Here's the catch: the Grandmasters will play at a rapid time control.  Read below how chess director IM John Donaldson described it in his newsletter on May 1.

GM Shankland
Thanks to the generosity of Tibor Weinberger, the Mechanics’ Institute will be holding the Third Imre Konig Memorial on September 22-23. The event, which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the death of International Master Konig, the first top rate player to reside in San Francisco, will be held as a seven-player round-robin, featuring a rapid chess time control of Game in 25 minutes, with a 15-second increment from move one. 
The invited players consist of the top six rated players from the Bay Area, led by Grandmaster Sam Shankland (who by now is nearly 2600 FIDE and top 10 in the country). The last player, Grandmaster Emil Anka of Hungary, pays respect to Konig’s ancestry as an international cosmopolitan who was born in the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Kula, in today’s Serbia. 
  • GM Sam Shankland (2597 FIDE)
  • GM Jesse Kraai (2514)
  • GM Vinay Bhat (2511)
  • GM Nick deFirmian (2510)
  • IM Daniel Naroditsky (2483) 
  • GM Walter Browne (2449)
  • GM Emil Anka (2382)
    GM Anka

IM Naroditsky
Konig studied in Vienna and improved his game in its chess cafe milieu, being particularly influenced by Richard Reti. Like the Czech, he earned a reputation as a fine author with his Chess from Morphy to Botvinnik: A Century of Chess Evolution serving as a useful instructional guide to several generations of chess players.
Konig was not only a fine writer, but also an excellent player, who twice represented Yugoslavia in Chess Olympiads. He is fondly remembered by Mechanics’ old-timers for his Old World courtliness and generosity of spirit in sharing his chess wisdom. The Mechanics’ Institute is honored to pay tribute to his memory.

The games will be broadcast on the live server, from 10 to 6 on Saturday and 10 to 4 on Sunday.  Each participant plays six rounds and gets a single bye.

Wednesday, September 5

Coach Magnus in New York

The highest rated Bronx Bomber?
The top rated chess player in the World spent the end of August in New York City, teaching and playing blitz at a Chess NYC camp, while seeing the city and meeting other prominent players.  After one lecture, he answered some serious questions.  Here is one particularly great reply.

What advice would Magnus Carlsen give to a beginner?
Just have fun, play games, a lot if you want, read chess books. That’s the way I went about it in those years. It was never really a system. I worked from the age of nine with a trainer once a week but I would also just sit at home with the board and some chess books. And I think it’s a healthy approach not to study the openings too much. I think studying the openings is useful but getting an understanding of the game, learning tactics is more important. And the way I did it back in those days is that I read books on some openings, not necessarily the entire book but some things that interested me. Then the next week I’d go to a tournament and try it out and see how it goes.
Read the full article and more interesting Q & A at  Don't forget to view the exclusive video embedded (1:48).  For another perspective, including many colorful photos (three copied here), browse the popular chess media website ChessVibes.
Ken Rogoff, renowned economist and Grandmaster, plays blitz with Magnus Carlsen.

Tuesday, September 4

Youth Movement Continues for SF Mechanics

The 8th season of the US Chess League kicks off this week, with Eastern conference teams facing off tonight and the West playing on Wednesday.  For the San Francisco Mechanics, the new year rekindles a quest for a second league Championship, after the successful campaign in 2006.  Ten weekly matches, played on both ICC and this year, will lead up to the Playoffs in November.  As always, the team's home base is the 4th floor at the Mechanics' Institute.

Youth has served the club well over the years, and a precocious trio of preteen masters will have opposing managers cursing about the Bay's waters being Juiced.  Have they not learned over the years?  At the same time, don't count out a pair of successful prodigies manning the top boards--GM Vinay Bhat and IM Daniel Naroditsky--nor the wily engineer GM Jesse Kraai.  With five adults and five juniors on the team roster, I expect captain IM John Donaldson to maintain a steady hand and field age-balanced lineups, two adults to keep two rambunctious kittens in check.

The Mechanics will use the January 2012 rating list.  The four players chosen each week must be rated 2400.75 or less in average.  The +/- number shows any rating change from January to current, including the Labor Day weekend. 
  1. GM Vinay Bhat 2555
  2. GM Jesse Kraai 2567
  3. IM Daniel Naroditsky 2546 (-2)
  4. IM Dmitry Zilberstein 2472 (-5)
  5. IM John Donaldson 2402 (+6)
  6. FM Yian Liou 2354 (+78)
  7. SM Sam Sevian 2299 (+147)
  8. FM Andy Lee 2273 (+18)
  9. NM Cameron Wheeler 2154 (+86)
  10. NM Kesav Viswanadha 2134 (+72)  
The first week's lineup of Bhat - Kraai - Sevian - Wheeler seems typical for this year.  Not many teams can match the 2452 average rating while staying below the 2400.75 cap.  The roster appears quite flexible; Naroditsky can substitute for either GM while Liou/Sevian and Wheeler/Viswanadha are both almost interchangeable.  And when the team needs to draw upon more experience, Zilberstein and Lee can drive home the even numbered boards.

Good luck to the San Francisco Mechanics!  Check the US Chess League website for weekly lineups as well as the club's regular season schedule.  To kick off the 2012 season, the local guys dance with the Cobras of Carolina on Wednesday, beginning at 5:30pm Pacific.  Games will be on ICC for Mondays (and tonight) and on for Wednesdays.  I believe the moves are relayed back and forth between servers.  However, each site plans independent live (and exciting) multimedia coverage.

Random question: How soon will the USCL include a player rated 2000+ and born after the inaugural season began in September 2005?

Monday, July 16

IM Norms for Liou and Sevian

11-year old Sam Sevian with coach IM Andranik Matikozyan.
A pair of popular Bay Area juniors traveled to downtown Los Angeles for the 20th Metropolitan Chess FIDE Invitational. Despite stiff veteran competition and long odds that became longer at the last minute, they shared first place and each earned an IM norm. Congratulations to 15-year old FM Yian Liou and 11-year old NM Sam Sevian!

The 10-player round-robin (all-play-all) featured three International Masters, four foreign players (including two of the IMs), plus a trio of talented juniors.  The competitors clashed in a grueling schedule of nine rounds over five days, each game taking up to six hours.  Originally, the organizer Ankit Gupta of Metropolitan Chess planned for a score of +4 (6.5/9) to earn one of the three norms required for the IM title.  Unfortunately, one foreign player was replaced by a lower rated one on short notice, thereby increasing the norm threshold to a very demanding +5 (7.0/9).

FM Yian Liou
Yian and Sam squared off right away in round 1, and after some adventures, they agreed to a draw.  After that, their results mirrored each other for much of the tournament.  Both found a way to score points with either color, and both won three games in a row.  Indeed, Yian and Sam finished with the same result (win or draw) against six of the other eight participants.  Both drew with top seed IM Andranik Matikozyan, who is Sam's personal coach.  Most importantly, neither lost a game.  At the end, they easily clinched norms by splitting the point in the last round. 

For my former student Yian, this was a well-deserved first IM norm after some close calls.  Bravo!  Local whizkid Sam picked up his second norm of the summer, further confirming the #1 FIDE rating in the World for U-12,  To qualify for the IM title, Yian and Sam will need to complete three norms and raise their FIDE rating to 2400.  While both broke 2400 USCF this week, their international ratings lag behind at about 2350 and 2320, respectively. 
Kesav Viswanadha

In case anyone wonders, the youngest International Master in history appears to be Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine at 11 years and 11 months.  Karjakin then became the youngest Grandmaster ever at 12 years and 7 months, and now is ranked #6 in the world.

A third Bay Area junior also left his mark.  Kudos to 12-year old Kesav Viswanadha for fighting hard against challenging opposition.  After a slow start, he finished with 50% over the last five rounds.  Kesav won one game--against second seed IM Zhanibek Amanov of Kazakhstan.  No doubt, he gained tons of experience in addition to a few rating points.

Friday, June 22

Grandmaster Falls Into Stalemate Trap

GM Alex Bachmann - FM Yian Liou
National Open 2012
Comments by GM Alex Baburin of the internet newsletter Chess Today

White to move.

White wins easily after 107.h6! Qd7 108.Qe5+ Kg8 109.Qg7+! Qxg7 110.hxg7 Kh7 111.Kh5! Kxg7 112.Kg5. Instead of that he made a natural-looking move:

107.g5?? The passers are marching together! Yet, this move is a terrible mistake as now the white king is too exposed and White no longer has the option of going into a pawn endgame with one pawn left.

107...Qd7 108.h6 Kg8 109.Kh5 Qf7+ 110.Qg6+

Black to move.

110...Kh8! 1/2-1/2 (because 111.Qxf7 is stalemate!)

What (many people) missed is that both players made an additional mistake – White could win by playing 110.g6!, while Black had to play 109...Qd1+! 110.Kg6 Qd6+ 111.Kf5 Qc5+ 112.Qe5 Qc2+ =.