Monday, December 30

Wide-Ranging Carlsen Interview

The 16th World Champion spoke candidly for half an hour on Norwegian television about chess and other topics, some a bit awkward for him.  The program aired on December 25.  Fortunately, the video has English subtitles.  Check it out!
  • Importance of self-confidence
  • Any superstitions?
  • Donald Duck fan
  • Strategy for blindfold chess 
  • Nightmares about chess
  • Girls and relationships
  • Kasparov and Fischer
  • Autism and IQ
  • Does he cry sometimes?
  • Modelling for G-Star
  • His view on money  

Thursday, December 26

A Christmas Chess Story

Apparently I ran across this article a day or two late.  The Philadelphia Sunday Item published this story on December 20, 1908.  A century has passed, but this old tale is worth repeating.

It was a snowy, blustery Christmas Eve, and the Chess Player was glad to be indoors, sitting by the roaring log in the fireplace, with his beloved chessmen and board before him. During the evening he had been playing over some of his favorite selections from the immortals--Horwitz, Staunton, Lowe, Anderssen, Lowenthal, and Kieseritsky--he had mulled over and over the masterpieces of problem-lore, and now, half lazily but with full interest, he was examining the sub-variations of one of Morphy's brilliant endings. As he fondly pushed the pieces to and fro at the close of such an evening as many a chess player has spent, he was startled by a noise at his side, and turned in time to see Santa Claus emerge from the chimney place.

"Why, hello Kris!" greeted the Chess Player, springing to his feet and extending his hand. "I caught you this time. Hey?"

"I must admit it," replied the merry fellow as he drew himself to his full height, shook the snow from his immense coat, and warmly returned the hand-clasp. Then he turned and spied the chessmen.

"Ho! So you play the royal game, do you?" exclaimed Santa.

Click here to continue reading.  And don't forget to follow the chess game.

Wednesday, December 25

Crunch Time at World Youth

1818 Kids Represent 121 Countries!

If Santa Claus arrived tardy at your house yesterday, then blame the 94 American juniors competing at the World Youth Chess Championships deep inside the desert of the United Arab Emirates.  No doubt, this lengthy detour cost Santa and his reindeer valuable time.

Burj Al Arab luxury hotel in Dubai. Photo: tripadvisor
After a day of rest and sightseeing to coincide with Christmas, the chess tournament resumes tomorrow (Thursday) with three rounds left to play.  Rounds 5 to 8 left a brutal toll on Team USA, with the players struggling to a 53% overall score (compared to 64% in the first 4 rounds).  A dozen kids have scored 6-2 or more, but only half appear strong enough to seriously compete for the medals.  Given the increased turnout this year, a score of 8.5 will probably not be sufficient for a medal in the U14 and lower sections.

The best American chances lie with the U10 age group.  Top rated FM Awonder Liang won all 8 rounds to open up a full point lead.  The biggest surprise to date is Bay Area expert Josiah Stearman, currently second on tiebreaks with 7-1.  He caught the eyes of ChessBase website, because he has no FIDE rating yet; locals know he improved rapidly this year, with a current USCF rating of 2090.  Two U10 girls, Carissa Yip of Massachusetts and Sanjana Vittal of New Jersey, have also made waves and find themselves within striking distance.  

The final contenders are GM Daniel Naroditsky (U18) and expert Agata Bykovtsev (U14).  The two Californians currently find themselves in 4th place, narrowly outside the medals.

Click here for the complete results of Team USA.  Result of Round 9 in GREEN.

  • U18 - Open
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky 6.0 (4th) WON
    • FM Atulya Shetty 4.5
  • U18 - Girls
    • WFM Jessica Regam 4.5
  • U16 - Open
    • NM Michael Brown 5.5 Drew
    • NM David Hua 5.0
    • FM Michael Bodek 5.0 WON
  • U16 - Girls
    • Margaret Hua 5.0 Drew
    • WCM Ellen Xiang 4.5 WON
  • U14 - Open
    • NM Edward Song 5.5 WON
    • NM Vignesh Panchanatham 5.0 
    • NM Siddharth Banik 4.5 WON
    • NM Colin Chow 4.5 WON
  • U14 - Girls
    • Agata Bykovtsev 6.0 (4th) Drew
    • WCM Maggie Feng 5.5 
    • Ashritha Eswaran 5.5 WON
  • U12 - Open
    • NM Ruifeng Li 5.5
    • Brandon Nydick 5.5
    • NM Nicolas Checa 5.5
    • Andrew Zheng 5.0
  • U12 - Girls
    • WFM Jennifer Yu 5.5 WON
    • WFM Annie Wang 5.5 Drew
    • Joanna Liu 5.0
    • Trakru Priya 5.0 WON
    Josiah is all smiles. Photo: McCarty
  • U10 - Open
    • FM Awonder Liang 8.0 (1st) WON
    • Josiah Stearman 7.0 (2nd)
    • CM David Peng 6.0 (9th) WON
    • CM Christopher Shen 5.5 Drew
  • U10 - Girls
    • Carissa Yip 6.0 (7th) WON
    • WCM Vittal Sanjana 6.0 (8th)
    • Martha Samadashvili 5.0 Drew
    • Shreya Mangalam 5.0 WON
  • U8 - Open
    • Logan Wu 6.0 Drew
    • Kevin Chor 6.0 WON
    • Balaji Daggupati 6.0 
    • Atreya Vaidya 6.0 Drew
    • Anthony He 5.5
    • Maximillian Lu 5.5 WON
    • Maurya Palusa 5.5 WON
  • U8 - Girls
    • Anh Nhu Nguyen 6.0 (9th)
    • Aksithi Eswaran 5.0
    • Maggie Ni (5.0) WON
    • Annapoorni Meiyappan 5.0
    • Subramaniyan Keertana 5.0 WON
    • Nastassja Matus 5.0 Drew
Wishing best skill to all!!!

Tuesday, December 24

And To All, A Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Feliz Navidad

Frohe Weihnachten

Joyeux Noël

Buon Natale

Vrolijk Kerstfeest 

God Jul

Maligayang Pask

Miilaad Majiid  

Shèng Dàn Kuài Lè

Saturday, December 21

Team USA Heating Up In Al Ain

Main tournament playing hall

Saturday, the fourth day of the 2013 World Youth Chess Championships in Al Ain, featured the lone  grueling double-round of the tournament.  By the evening, only 17 competitors out of  1800+ could claim a perfect 5-0 score, most in the U10 and U8 age categories.  One week from today, a dozen new champions will be crowned.

Two rooks or a castle? Photo: McCarty
If the medal ceremony were held today, then Team USA would bring home 4 medals, one gold, two silver, and one bronze.  FM Awonder Liang of Wisconsin and CM David Peng of Illinois, two of the top three seeds in U10, remain perfect at the top of the leader board.  NM Edward Song of Michigan sits in second place of U14 and plays on board 1.  And in U18, the California star GM Daniel Naroditsky holds third place on tiebreaks despite yielding a pair of draws.

Another 7 American children rank in the Top 10, seemingly within striking distance of the medals.  Indeed, 20 kids have scored 4.0 out of 5 or higher.  Amazingly, 60% of Team USA sports a plus score (3.0 or more).  While these statistics point to an encouraging start, 6 rounds remain to be played.

Click here for the complete results of Team USA.

  • U18 - Open
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky 4.0 (3rd)
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky. Photo: CCSCSL
    • FM Atulya Shetty 2.5
  • U18 - Girls
    • Rochelle Ballantyne 2.5
    • WFM Jessica Regam 2.5
  • U16 - Open
    • NM Michael Brown 4.0 (7th)
    • FM Michael Bodek 3.5
    • NM Christopher Wu 3.5
    • NM Safal Bora 3.5
  • U16 - Girls
    • Alice Dong 3.0
    • WCM Apurva Virkud 3.0
    • WCM Claudia Muñoz 3.0
  • U14 - Open
    • NM Edward Song 4.5 (2nd)
    • NM Kesav Viswanadha 4.0 
    • NM Daniel Mousseri 3.5
  • U14 - Girls
    • WCM Maggie Feng 4.0 (6th)
    • Agata Bykovtsev 4.0 (7th)
    • Ashritha Eswaran 3.5
  • U12 - Open
    • NM Nicolas Checa 4.5 (5th)
    • NM Albert Lu 4.0 (9th)
    • Brandon Nydick 3.5
    • NM Ruifeng Li 3.5
  • U12 - Girls
    • WFM Annie Wang 4.0
    • WFM Jennifer Yu 3.5
    • FM Awonder Liang
    • Joanna Liu 3.5
  • U10 - Open
    • FM Awonder Liang 5.0 (1st)
    • CM David Peng 5.0 (2nd)
    • Josiah Stearman 4.0
    • CM Christopher Shen 3.5
  • U10 - Girls
    • WCM Vittal Sanjana 4.0
    • Shreya Mangalam 3.5
  • U8 - Open
    • Balaji Daggupati 4.5 (4th)
    • Anthony He 4.0 (10th)
    • Rishith Susarla 4.0
    • CM Kevin Chor 4.0
    • Ethan Pau 4.0
    • CM Maximilliam Lu 4.0
  • U8 - Girls
    • Anh Nhu Nguyen 4.0

Thursday, December 19

1001 Arabian Nightmares

Sheikh Sultan and FIDE President

Reports from United Arab Emirates continue to document excessively long waits at the cafeteria, especially for lunch before the afternoon rounds.  The university campus, while modern, appears to lack some resources required by 4000+ hungry chess players, parents, coaches and officials.  The German Chess Federation took a humorous perspective, referencing 1001 Arabian Nights
In their fairy tale, the Sultan ordered three Magic Lamps.  He asked the first to deliver endless food.  The Lamp complied, but the servants ran out of dishes, utensils, tables and chairs.  The second Lamp was assigned to the Algebra of pairings.  Alas, it forgot some names or paired others as both White and Black on different boards.  The Sultan asked the third Lamp to ensure that he could watch all boards over the internet.  Yet, he could see... nothing.  
Frankly, and in all sincerity, I hope the nutritional needs of all delegates will be addressed promptly.  I am also looking forward to seeing games online.  The Emirates certainly are not a Third World country.

Does anyone know if Santa Claus delivers pizza to the Persian Gulf?

NorCal Kids Take on the World!

American stars from 2012: Cameron Wheeler (Silver U12), Sam Sevian
(Gold U12) and Kayden Troff (Gold U14 from Utah)

The Bay Area once again fields a significant percentage of Team USA at the World Youth in United Arab Emirates.  Out of 94 Americans, I counted 19 children from Northern California (20%) with 13 boys and 6 girls.  Quite a few local participants bring experience, having weathered previous editions of these annual Championships.  All of the American youngsters dream of following in the footsteps of five Bay Area champions over the past six years.

U12 Champ Naroditsky
Photo: Dujiu Yang

Unfortunately, the initial reports from UAE describe an organization unprepared for 1800+ players and 4000+ delegates, including parents, siblings, team coaches and officials.  For everyone's sanity, we can only hope the conditions improve quickly.  On a positive note, the Pairings & Results have been finally been posted online (presumably without additional errors).

The following list includes the entire Northern California contingent.  Ratings are first USCF, then FIDE (for most kids, USCF is significantly higher than FIDE).  If I overlooked someone, please post a comment or email me..

  • U-18 GM Daniel Naroditsky 2614, 2531 2-0!
  • G-16 Taylor McCreary 1886, unrated
  • U-14 NM Kesav Viswanadha 2300, 2142
  • U-14 NM Vignesh Panchanatham 2272, 2097 2-0!
  • U-14 NM Colin Chow 2266, 2138
  • Playing hall (Photo: Sarah McCarty
  • U-14 NM Siddharth Banik 2196, 1974
  • G-14 Ashritha Eswaran 2183, 1948
  • G-12 Joanna Liu 1833, 1777 2-0!
  • U-10 Josiah Stearman 2090, unrated 2-0!
  • G-10 Chenyi Zhao 1738, unrated
  • U-8 Balaji Daggupati 1871, 1737 2-0!
  • U-8 Milind Maiti 1815, 1458
  • U-8 Rishith Susarla 1762, unrated 2-0!
  • U-8 Maurya Palusa  1705, unrated
  • U-8 Advait Budaraju 1703, unrated
  • U-8 Callaghan McCarty-Snead 1702, 1587
  • U-8 Chinguun Bayaraa 1555, 1609
  • G-8 Annapoorni Meiyappan 1336, unrated
  • G-8 Aksithi Eswaran 1130, unrated

After 2 rounds, the Bay Area contingent has 6 perfect scores and an overall 67% against tough competition..  Keep up the good work!  Good luck!!

Tuesday, December 17

World Youth in United Arab Emirates

View Larger Map

The final two weeks of 2013 bring one of the most exciting events on the international chess calendar: the annual World Youth Chess Championships.  Usually held in late October or November, the organizers in the United Arab Emirates chose to host the tournament over the European winter holidays.  The change in dates helped boost the overall turnout to 1800+ from 120 countries, up from 1584 children last year.  The American delegation has swollen to more than 90 players, not counting parents, siblings and coaches!  There are 12 sections differentiated by age (U-18, U-16 through U-8) and gender (Open + Girls).  The chess competition promises to be fierce; for example, the U-18 section features a record 10 Grandmasters, including the Bay Area's own Daniel Naroditsky.

Attending an event of this magnitude requires careful planning.  A typical flight to the United Arab Emirates includes a stopover of several hours in Frankfurt or London.  Upon arrival in Dubai, the weary travelers must endure a 2-hour bus trip to the inland oasis of Al Ain.  All delegates will spend two weeks living at a modern university campus.  The next challenge is overcoming the jet lag--a 12 hour time difference from California.  Many families flew in several days early to adjust to the complete reversal of the body clock.

United Arab Emirates University

The tournament runs 11 rounds from December 18 to 28, with one game daily except for a double-round on the 21st.  The rest day after round 8 will coincide with the major religious holiday of Christmas.  Will Santa and his reindeer find their way deep into the Arabian desert?  Perhaps Santa should hire a camel instead.  On the bright side, the relaxed schedule allows young players time to review their games with a professional team coach (GM or strong IM) and learn from the inevitable mistakes.  

Royal family at Opening Ceremony (Photo: McCarty)
Team USA hopes to improve on a strong performance in 2012, bringing home four medals including gold in both U-14 and U-12.  This year, a total of 94 players registered: 53 boys and 41 girls.  On one hand, there are 21 USCF masters, most competing in the challenging U-18, U-16 and U-14 Open sections.  On the other hand, 27 precocious kids are 8 years old or younger!  The Americans comprise the second largest delegation in Al Ain, behind Russia (111), but ahead of the host country (87) and India (82).

Museum (Photo: McCarty)
Stay tuned to this blog for coverage of Team USA as a whole, and especially the 19 participants from Northern California.  The first round pairings have not yet been posted, probably to accommodate late arriving travelers from all regions of the world.  I eagerly await eyewitness reports at the official World Youth website, Chess Life Online, various chess blogs (some of my favorites: Susan Polgar, Claudia Muñoz, Vignesh Panchanatham) and, of course, social media (Facebook + Twitter).

Good luck to all. Go U-S-A!

SLO Teen Competes in World Youth Chess

San Luis Obispo High School junior Taylor McCreary knows how to think ahead.

The 16-year-old will be matching wits with some of the best young chess players in the world over the next couple weeks.

Taylor is playing in the World Youth Chess Championship in the United Arab Emirates, which started Tuesday and continues through December 28.  The event, held in Al Ain about 80 miles from Dubai, is considered the elite competition for young chess players.

“I study chess every day,” Taylor said before departing Sunday. “I go over games, I practice endgames, I read books, I study chess tactics. It’s addicting. For how much pain you get from losing, the joy you have from winning keeps you going.”

Click to continue reading in the San Luis Obispo Tribune. (December 17, 2013)

Monday, December 16

Yian Liou Wins Falconer Award

Yian playing at 2013 US Junior Invitational (Photo by CCSCSL)

SM Yian Liou earned the prestigious Falconer Award given annually to the highest rated chess player under 18 in the Bay Area.  The junior at Monte Vista High School (Danville) will receive a check for $2478, equal to his rating on the December USCF rating supplement.  Yian, who already has a pair of IM norms and a peak FIDE rating of 2403, will try to score his final IM norm at the Bay Area International in the first week of January.

Mr. Falconer in 2011 (Photo by Jim Eade)
The Falconer Award is sponsored by longtime Mechanics' Institute trustee Neil Falconer, himself a strong and competitive tournament player, holding a 1900+ rating up to age 85.  Over the past 15 years, three recipients of this generous prize have gone on to earn the highest title in chess: Grandmaster.

  • 2000 SM Vinay Bhat
  • 2001 SM Vinay Bhat
  • 2002 IM Vinay Bhat - now GM
  • 2003 NM Michael Pearson
  • 2004 NM Nicolas Yap
  • 2005 NM Matthew Ho
  • 2006 NM Matthew Ho
  • 2007 NM Nicolas Yap 
  • 2008 NM Sam Shankland
  • 2009 IM Sam Shankland  - now GM
  • 2010 SM Steven Zierk - now IM
  • 2011 SM Daniel Naroditsky
  • 2012 IM Daniel Naroditsky
  • 2013 IM Daniel Naroditsky - now GM
  • 2014 SM Yian Liou  
Yian and fpawn in 2008

Congratulations to Master Yian!  You make your old chess teacher a very proud pawny. :-)  

Thanks to IM John Donaldson of the Mechanics' Chess Club for sharing this good news!  Yian will receive his award at a ceremony at 5:15pm on Tuesday, January 21st. 

Monday, November 25

16th World Champion Magnus Carlsen

Magnus the Champ!  (photo from Chessbase)

Once the subject of a book titled Wonderboy, the Norwegian superstar Magnus Carlsen has reached the pinnacle of chess.  He played in his first tournament at age 8, became Grandmaster at 13, earned the #1 rating in the world at 19, and finally claimed the World Championship one week before his 23rd birthday!

In a match watched around the globe, Carlsen defeated the Indian national hero Viswanathan Anand, nearly twice his age, with a dominant performance.  The final score was 6.5 to 3.5.   Already the youngest to reach #1 and the third youngest Grandmaster in history, Carlsen now stands as the second youngest champion, barely older than his former trainer Garry Kasparov.

The following list includes all of the classical World Champions, following the lineage of Kasparov after he broke away from FIDE in 1993. Vladimir Kramnik vanquished Kasparov in 2000 and reunified the chess championship in 2006.

  1. Wilhelm Steinitz 1886-1894
  2. Emanuel Lasker 1894-1921
  3. José Raúl Capablanca 1921-1927
  4. Alexander Alekhine 1927-1935 and 1937-1946
  5. Max Euwe 1935-1937
  6. Mikhail Botvinnik 1948-1957, 1958-1960 and 1961-1963
  7. Vasily Smyslov 1957-1958
  8. Mikhail Tal 1960-1961
  9. Tigran Petrosian 1963-1969
  10. Boris Spassky 1969-1972
  11. Bobby Fischer 1972-1975
  12. Anatoly Karpov 1975-1985
  13. Garry Kasparov 1985-2000
  14. Vladimir Kramnik 2000-2006
  15. Viswanathan Anand 2006-2013
  16. Magnus Carlsen 2013-

Make sure to check out this Time magazine article written by Kasparov himself.

Wednesday, November 20

Carlsen Takes Command in Chennai

Carlsen plays e7-e5 after Anand opened 1.e4.
This article appeared first at the Internet Chess Club.
Eight games into the World Championship match, Magnus Carlsen leads Vishy Anand by two points, 5:3.  Who could have predicted this?  Two weeks ago, pundits touted the importance of match experience as a factor favoring the reigning World Champion.  Yet the veteran blinked first, and then again.  Contrary to popular belief, the youthful challenger displayed nerves of steel, calculating precise moves when pressured, all while patiently waiting for his opponent to slip.

After four rounds of draws, blood spilled in Game 5.  Carlsen maintained a small but steady advantage with the White pieces, forcing a favorable endgame by move 20.  Over the past two decades, Anand has survived many similar positions against elite competition.  However, the determined young Norwegian maximized the complications, and the champion finally collapsed.

Game 6 followed an eerily similar script, except that Anand played the White pieces.  Carlsen equalized quickly, and by move 30, draw seemed almost inevitable.  No doubt any self-confident Grandmaster around the world would expect to hold the draw.  How would they fare against Magnus?  Alas, it took just two substandard moves for Anand to lose the second game in a row.

A press conference follows every game.
To the chagrin of chess fans in India and elsewhere, Games 7 and 8 ended
peacefully without adventure.  One can understand Carlsen's motivation: every draw brings him closer to the title.  Anand, however, trails two sets to none while playing on home turf, in front of his greatest supporters.  Roger Federer overcame this deficit often enough.  Why not Vishy?  Has the champion given up?

The 43 year old Indian emerged on the world stage in the late 1980s.  Anand won at Wijk aan Zee for the first time in 1989, nearly two years before Carlsen was born!  Some readers may recall the 1995 PCA World Championship match between Garry Kasparov and Anand, held at the World Trade Center in New York City.  Perhaps, after all these years, Father Time has tapped on Anand's shoulder.  Indeed, Carlsen headlines the new generation in a chess hierarchy that keeps becoming younger.

Say it ain't so, Vishy!  Fight to win a game--for your billion fans.  Tune into the Internet Chess Club on Thursday and Friday mornings to watch and listen.

And don't forget to visit the Official Website for reports, videos and photos. 

Thursday, November 14

Carlsen vs Anand for World Championship

The 15th World Champion Vishy Anand.
This article appeared first at the Internet Chess Club.

Easily the most anticipated chess event in years, the 2013 World Chess Championship in Chennai remains locked at a score of 2:2.  To the chagrin of millions of chess enthusiasts around the globe, neither the veteran title holder Vishy Anand nor his youthful challenger Magnus Carlsen has broken through yet.  Alas, not all draws can be considered boring.  In particular, Game 4 extended into the sixth hour of play and drew praise on Twitter from none other than 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov for “deep strategic planning” and “fighting human chess.”

#1 Rated in History: Magnus Carlsen.
Both competitors missed promising opportunities as the action heated up.  Playing White in Game 3, Carlsen repeated the Reti opening, but Anand confidently asserted himself for the third contest in a row.  Indeed, pundits fully expected the Indian hero to be strongest in the openings, given over two decades of experience battling the Top 10 players in the world.  The advantage grew in the middlegame and the defending champion could have captured a pawn in complications on move 29.  In time pressure, the Norwegian cleverly escaped into a drawn opposite colored bishop endgame.  

The colors and roles were reversed in Game 4, and for the first time, the challenger showed why he owns the highest chess rating in history.  He employed the Berlin defense, an opening closely associated with the Kasparov - Kramnik title match in 2000.  While Vladimir Kramnik successfully used the Berlin as a draw weapon, Carlsen wanted more.  Fearlessly, he grabbed the poisoned a2 pawn, and nearly cashed it in for victory.  Alas, Anand demonstrated that he, too, could defend cleverly, and traded into a rook endgame, still down a pawn, but dead drawn.

The gloves have come off and I expect more exciting action after the rest day.  Will Carlsen finally achieve an advantage with his third White?  Games 5 + 6 are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with another rest day on Sunday.

Check out many more photos at the Official Website.

Tuesday, September 24

Too weak, too slow!

During my vacation, I leave this video to entertain readers of all ages.  World #1 Magnus Carlsen (wearing green shirt) plays an over-the-board bullet match (1 minute game) against the speedy Laurent Fressinet, the #3 ranked Frenchman at 2708.  Is Magnus really too weak and too slow?  Watch for the unexpected checkmate at the end!

Monday, September 16


Setting up one of the famous Beer Tents at the Oktoberfest in Munich.

The Alps near Berchtesgaden.
Once again, I will spend much of the fall season on vacation in Germany.  No, this extended trip has little to do with chess.  Instead, my parents and I plan to spend time with family and old friends in the shadows of the grandiose Alps.  The itinerary includes a day among the throngs of tourists at the real Oktoberfest--gleefully singing while drinking beer by the mug and devouring 2-foot-wide soft pretzels!

Despite the change in scenery, I usually begin to miss sunny California after a few weeks.  Fortunately, I expect to have reliable internet access.  And I might even get to push wood at the Traunstein Chess Club. Schachmatt! 

Saturday, September 7

Sinquefield Cup Starts on Monday

Carlsen plays basketball at Webster. Photo: Truong
Aronian plays blitz with amateurs. Photo: CCSCSL

Over the next week, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis hosts an unprecedented chess event.  Never before have Grandmasters rated above 2800 FIDE squared off in a tournament on American soil.  Indeed, the four participants average an astronomical 2797 in the international rating system.  The Sinquefield Cup, named after chess club benefactor Rex Sinquefield, pits the two highest rated players in the country against the top two in the world for a prize fund of $170,000!

Final Standings
  • 4.5 Magnus Carlsen (2862)
  • 3.5 Hikaru Nakamura (2774)
  • 2.5 Levon Aronian (2802)
  • 1.5 Gata Kamsky (2741)

The spotlight will fall upon the two visitors, in particular #1 Magnus Carlsen, the challenger and heir apparent to the reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand in November's title match.  The 22 year old Norwegian has become a jack of all trades, moonlighting as a fashion model and chess coach for little children, along the way rubbing elbows with TV comedians and powerful billionaires!   At the chess board, he has exhibited few weaknesses and broke the all-time record rating achieved by his mentor, ex-champion Garry Kasparov.  He carries the mantle of favorite, although this event distracts from preparation before the Anand match.

If Carlsen has bigger fish to fry, then the other three Grandmasters will no doubt take advantage.  World #2 Levon Aronian hails from the chess mecca of Armenia, where as a child he studied with Melik Khachiyan, the gregarious Grandmaster now residing in Los Angeles.  The strongest Americans, Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky, won a combined seven US Championships, including the last five.  Nakamura currently holds the higher rating (by 31 points), but the veteran Kamsky narrowly missed playing for the world championship four times, twice in the mid 1990s and twice within the past five years.

The Sinquefield Cup kicks off on Monday with the pairings Carlsen vs Kamsky and Nakamura vs Aronian.  The double-quad format runs six rounds, daily except for the rest day on Thursday.  The CCSCSL promises a spectacular multimedia presentation for the Sinquefield Cup, with Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley conducting live analysis of every round.

Friday, August 30

Mechanics Roll Over LA

Mechanics board 4 Siddharth Banik
(National K-8 Champion)
FM Andy Lee recaps the first week of the 2013 US Chess League season.
It took last year’s Mechanics squad eight weeks to win a match – this year’s group got the ball rolling in week one with a convincing 3-1 victory over Los Angeles. 

Team captain John Donaldson took no chances, sending out the killer kid lineup in round one that clocks in at an average rating of 2452.  A strong move, but I was worried about the plan if we lost or drew the match – there’s no stronger lineup to go to in week two to recover!

Fortunately, the kids (plus GM Vinay Bhat, no longer a kid, although once America’s youngest master) lived up to their ratings, and then some.  
Click here to read the full reportLet's Go Mechanics!!

Monday, August 26

US Chess League Kicks Off!

The San Francisco Mechanics kick off the 9th season of the US Chess League on Tuesday evening.  Always competitive, the local team reached the playoffs in six of the previous eight seasons, winning the league championship in 2006.  Over the years, noteworthy titled players included GM Josh Friedel, GM Sam Shankland, GM Vinay Bhat, GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky, IM David Pruess and captain IM John Donaldson.  The San Francisco recipe for success, now copied throughout the league, depends on cultivating underrated young talent to man board 4, thereby opening enough space under the 2401 rating cap for the highly rated professionals on boards 1 and 2.

The 2013 roster for the San Francisco Mechanics consists of 10 players: 6 kids and 4 adults.  The top five, representing the team nucleus, have earned at least 25 caps each.  The next three also saw playing time last season.  The bottom four represent the Bay Area's latest crop of young stars--all age 13 or less and National Scholastic Champions!  The team selected January 2013 as the official rating list for determining a legal weekly lineup.

2013 Mechanics Roster
(January Rating, September Rating, Difference)
  1. GM Jesse Kraai (2567, 2567, 0)
  2. GM Vinay Bhat (2555, 2555, 0)
  3. GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky (2553, 2590, +37)
  4. FM Yian Liou (2432, 2492, +60)
  5. IM David Pruess (2431, 2431, 0)
  6. FM Andy Lee (2294, 2316, +22)
  7. FM Cameron Wheeler (2276, 2276, 0)
  8. NM Kesav Viswanadha (2213, 2261, +48)
  9. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (2191, 2278, +87)
  10. Siddharth Banik (2033, 2151, +118)
A glance at the above roster reveals several observations.  The trio of Grandmasters are interchangeable, and, depending on availability, I expect to see them take turns on boards 1 and 2 for much of the season.  Likewise, the three "Chess Punks" (Cameron, Kesav and Vignesh) appear close in strength and will divvy up many weeks on boards 3 and 4.  Finally, if bottom-rated Siddharth simply holds his own against master level opposition, then the team can afford to field a top-heavy power lineup more often.

Check out some of the possible lineups at captain Donaldson's disposal.  Unfortunately, availability may again become a driving factor in determining who can play, as in recent years.
  • two of Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + Liou/Pruess + Banik
  • two of Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + two of Lee/Wheeler/Viswanadha/Panchanatham
  • Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + Pruess + two of Lee/Wheeler/Viswanadha/Panchanatham

One peculiarity of the US Chess League allows captains to submit a lineup rated over 2400 in spite of the 2401 rating cap. Indeed, 60% of the San Francisco team is currently rated north of their "official" January rating.  Consider the lineup of Kraai + Naroditsky + Liou + Banik, rated 2450 on the September list!!  Few teams can equal that.  Even stronger may be substituting Bhat, the club's all-time leading scorer, on board 1--exactly as Donaldson has done for week 1.

The league schedule shows one match per week for the next 10 weeks, on either Tuesday or Wednesday evening.  The Mechanics compete in the Pacific Division and will face the Arizona Scorpions, Los Angeles Vibe and Seattle Sluggers twice each.  The top pair of teams from each of the four Divisions will participate in the league playoffs in November.

In a big change, the US Chess League has moved to  Basic accounts are free, allowing anyone to follow the action live.  The planned coverage includes a live TV broadcast of every round.  The action kicks off with a California Clásico against Los Angeles on Tuesday at 6:15pm!

Saturday, August 10

FIDE World Cup from Norway


Tromsoe in northern Norway.
The mesmerizing first round of the always exciting FIDE World Cup kicks off with 64 royal contests on Sunday morning at 6:00am Pacific time.  An array of 128 elite chess masters, including 38 members of the 2700 club, have made the trek to the remote town of Tromsoe, Norway, located north of the Arctic circle.  Most will not stay for long thanks to the cold-blooded nature of a knockout tournament.  Indeed, only 32 will play for more than 5 or 6 days.  A lucky two will contest the final round on Labor Day weekend.  Both finalists also qualify for the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

The knockout format has not varied much over the past decade.  Much like the annual college basketball championship tournament, the top seeds face the lowest rated participants in the first round.  Conversely, players ranked in the 50s get opponents in the 70s, most rated within merely 30 FIDE.

2013 World Cup Statistics
  • 128 total players
  • 38 rated 2700+
  • 52 rated 2600-2699
  • 27 rated 2500-2599
  • 11 rated U2500
  • highest rating = 2813
  • median rating = 2647
  • lowest rating = 2304

In each pairing, the participants play two games at a classical time control of 40/90 + G/30 with inc/30 starting on move 1.  The winner of this two day head-to-head encounter advances to the next round while the loser goes home.  Many matches invariably end in a tie, to be broken on the third day.  The tiebreaks start with a pair of G/25 + inc/10.  If still tied, they play a pair of G/10 + inc/10.  If still tied, they play a pair of G/5 + inc/3.  If the match remains deadlocked after two slow games and six rapid or blitz contests, then comes one Armageddon game (white 5 minutes versus black 4 minutes and draw odds).  No doubt these playoffs are stressful; those who advance from the first two slow games earn a valuable rest day.

A generous prize fund of $1.6 million will be divided among the 128 participants (although FIDE deducts a 20% tax).  Post tax, the 64 first round losers go home with $4,800.  The World Cup winner earns a cool $96,000.  All players pay their own travel expenses out of the prizes.

Top 10 Seeds
  1. Levon Aronian (ARM) 2813
  2. Fabiano Caruana (ITA) 2796 
  3. Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2784 
  4. Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 2785
  5. Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2772
  6. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2772
  7. Boris Gelfand (ISR) 2764
  8. Gata Kamsky (USA) 2741
  9. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2775 
  10. Leinier Domínguez Pérez (CUB) 2757 

Most top players in the world signed up for the richest tournament on the 2013 calendar.  Only three stars will sit out.  World Champion Viswanathan Anand and official challenger Magnus Carlsen are busy preparing for November's title match in Chennai, India.  The 2012-13 Grand Prix winner Veselin Topalov also chose to stay home.  Not coincidentally, these three already punched tickets to the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

The American delegation consists of nine Grandmasters, headlined by Top 10 seeds Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky.  The other seven will be tested from the start.  Indeed, six of those seven are paired up in the first round!  Historically, the Americans have fared poorly in the World Cup, except for Kamsky, who actually won the 2007 edition!  Unfortunately, it appears unlikely for anyone except the top pair to survive beyond round 2.

Americans at World Cup
  • #6 - Hikaru Nakamura 2772
  • #8 - Gata Kamsky 2741
  • #55 - Alexander Onischuk 2667
  • #83 - Ray Robson 2623
  • #95 - Larry Christiansen 2584
  • #97 - Alejandro Ramirez 2588 
  • #99 - Gregory Kaidanov 2574
  • #106 - Alexander Shabalov 2546
  • #112 - Conrad Holt 2539 
Round 1 Results: Nakamura, Onischuk and Robson are through to round 2.  Kamsky and Ramirez face tiebreakers on Tuesday. The other four were eliminated.  Kamsky moved on after four rapid games.  Unfortunately, Ramirez lost the Armageddon game against Tomashevsky, rated 2706 FIDE.

For live coverage beginning at 6:00am PDT daily, check out the official website and the Internet Chess Club.  Do not try to watch all of the games during the early rounds; just follow your favorite players and some top seeds.

Predictions?  I actually filled out a bracket just like for March Madness.  Quarterfinals: Aronian vs Kamsky, Wang Hao vs  Bruzon, Giri vs Polgar and Kramnik vs Nakamura.  Semifinals: Aronian vs Wang Hao and Giri vs Nakamura.  Final: Nakamura over Aronian!

Friday, August 2

NorCal Top 20 Masters

GM Sam Shankland in Ningbo, China
FM Yian Liou in Chongqing, China.

Check out the Top 20 Masters in Northern California ranked by their August USCF or FIDE rating.  The top 7 names are identical, and should be familiar to the readers.  The young stars GM Sam Shankland, GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky and FM Yian Liou spent the summer trotting across the country (St. Louis, New York and Washington DC) and flying around the globe (China, Spain, Germany and Latvia), at each destination playing the royal game and representing the USA.

Unfortunately, there are no juniors under age 16 to be found on the international rankings, and just one on the national list.  Indeed, I count merely five players (six on USCF) under age 30, with four of those near the top.  Perhaps we should investigate the "graying of California chess masters" under 2475 USCF or 2400 FIDE.  The Nachwuchs, currently represented only by 13-year old NM Colin Chow, better arrive soon!

Rank Name USCF Name FIDE
1 GM Shankland, Sam 2673 GM Shankland, Sam 2599
2 GM DeFirmian, Nick 2586 GM DeFirmian, Nick 2509
3 GM-e Naroditsky, Daniel 2570 GM-e Naroditsky, Daniel 2503
4 IM Zierk, Steven 2543 IM Zierk, Steven 2485
5 GM Browne, Walter 2525 GM Browne, Walter 2454
6 FM Liou, Yian 2491 FM Liou, Yian 2402
7 SM Sharma, Arun 2478 SM Sharma, Arun 2398
8 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2454 IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2397
9 IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2441 IM Donaldson, John 2390
10 IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2439 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2389
11 IM Pruess, David 2431 IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2364
12 IM Donaldson, John 2413 IM Pruess, David 2363
13 IM Kaufman, Ray 2408 IM Kaufman, Ray 2326
14 NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2379 NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2314
15 IM Tate, Emory 2362 IM Winslow, Elliott 2300
16 NM Manvelyan, Hayk 2340 IM Tate, Emory 2284
17 FM Lee, Andy 2316 FM Cusi, Ronald 2272
18 NM Chow, Colin 2313 NM Manvelyan, Hayk 2270
19 FM Porter, Ryan 2308 FM Cunningham, Robin 2266
20 IM Winslow, Elliott 2280 FM Lee, Andy 2260

NorCal Top 20 FIDE Rated Juniors

Chess Punks learning from Daniel Naroditsky in 2010. From left to right:
Vignesh Panchanatham, Allan Beilin, Danya, Kesav Viswanadha and
Cameron Wheeler. Three of the students are now masters themselves.
NM Colin Chow, photo by Shorman
A new wave of talented Bay Area juniors has begun filling the highest level.  A year and a half ago, there were only four local young masters.  Today, eight have broken the magical 2200 USCF mark, and the trend promises to continue. The Chess Punks of 2010 have grown into the Chess Masters of 2013.

However, the international FIDE ratings lag up to 200 points behind the national USCF ratings.  The sheer number of underrated youngsters has transformed FIDE points into a precious commodity at local events.  I counted an incredible 40 NorCal kids who have earned a published FIDE rating, yet more than half are rated below 2000.  Most shocking to me: the youngest two were born in 2005!

Kudos to NM Colin Chow for gaining an impressive 100 FIDE points in the past 8 months.  His USCF rating also rocketed up to 2324.  Well done making the Sacramento Chess Club proud!

Rank Name FIDE
1 GM-e Naroditsky, Daniel 2503
2 FM Liou, Yian 2402
3 FM Wheeler, Cameron 2176
4 NM Chow, Colin 2162
5 Ruddell, Solomon 2136
6 NM Viswanadha, Kesav 2134
7 nm Liu, Daniel 2095
8 Apte, Neel 2082
9 Tong, Benjamin 2081
10 Beilin, Allan 2075
11 Jirasek, Ladia 2064
12 NM Panchanatham, Vignesh 2058
13 NM Zhu, Jack 2056
14 Shin, Kyle 2046
15 Klotz-Burwell, Hunter 2020
16 Nagarajan, Pranav 2012
17 Cao, Joshua 2007
18 FM Vasudeva, Tanuj 2000
19 Iyengar, Udit 1993
Handigol, Abhishek

Tuesday, July 30

USA 6th at World U16 Olympiad

Team USA-2 from left to right: Arthur, Chris, Yian, Michael, Kevin and Mr. Shen.
After ten rounds over eight days, the World Youth Chess Olympiad in Chongqing, China ended with a Closing Ceremony on Monday.  As expected, the race for gold came down to the top two seeds.  Russia and India, both featuring lineups rated over 2400, scored eight wins each.  The difference came in round 6, when the scholastic chess superpowers squared off in a match that saw three tense draws and only one victory, by India's third board.  The #2 rated Indians faced 8 of the top 10 teams, impressively beating 6 and splitting with #3 Hungary and #7 Turkey.  The higher rated Russians still could have shared top honors; alas, they halved a match with the upstart China-2 team right after the rest day.

Final Team Standings
  1. #2 India (18 MP, 30.5 GP)
  2. #1 Russia (17 MP, 30.0 GP)
  3. #7 Turkey (15 MP, 26.0 GP)
  4. #3 Hungary (15 MP, 25.0 GP)
  5. #4 China-1 (14 MP, 29.0 GP)
  6. #6 USA-2 (14 MP, 26.0 GP)
  7. #16 SCWY School (14 MP, 24.5 GP)
  8. #8 Iran (14 MP, 23.0 GP)
No doubt the host Chinese are disappointed not to have earned a team medal.  Indeed, three Chinese squads were among the top 5 going into round 9, after China-1 crushed #5 Australia by 4-0 and China-2 nicked the Russians 2-2.  And as a pleasant surprise, SCWY School checkmated the Czech Republic.  However, all three local teams lost in round 9, shattering their medal dreams.  Nonetheless, the future appears bright for the talented students at the elite Chinese chess academies.

SM Kevin Wang
SM Chris Gu
The American teams also hoped for better results.  To their credit, the official team USA-2 managed to claw back to respectability with a share of 5th place.  They faced only two higher rated squads, halving the match against #3 Hungary and subsequently losing a showdown with #1 Russia by the narrowest margin.  The low point came following the rest day, when the Americans lost to #10 Kazakhstan and, a few hours later, tied with the overachieving students of SDQD School.  Each member of USA-2 tasted defeat at least once, some due to an embarrassing blunder or with a match hanging in balance.  Board 3 Kevin Wang (78% record) and alternate Chris Gu (81% record) posted the best results, both scoring six wins.  Kudos to Chris for earning 3rd board prize among eligible alternates!

The extra team USA-1 struggled throughout the event, especially against the underrated local schools.  They finished above 50% with 11 MP, good for 25th place out of 72 teams.

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