Tuesday, January 28

Carlsen Meets Technology Leaders

In his first business trip as the 16th World Chess Champion, the Norwegian born Magnus Carlsen rubbed elbows with some of the movers and shakers of the tech boom.  The journey began at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where he calmly swept all 20 challengers in a simul organized by Nordic Semiconductor.

Coach Joe Lonsdale (Sr) + Carlsen
Below: Exec Joe Lonsdale (Jr)
The following week, Carlsen flew into the Bay Area for his second visit.  At a social event hosted by Joe Lonsdale, the youthful co-founder of Palantir and Addepar, the champion posed for photos with guests and narrowly defeated local Grandmaster Vinay Bhat in a bullet game.  Check out ChessDryad for photos taken by Richard Shorman.  The next day, Carlsen challenged Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after dining with top executives, a game which has been politely described as a lesson.

Lesson with Facebook founder.
However, the most popular event was a Question & Answer session hosted by the tech forum Churchill Club.  Chess master Peter Thiel, perhaps better known for founding PayPal, moderated an exciting discussion that touched on diverse topics, from his recent title match against Vishy Anand to the role of computers in the royal game.  For those unable to attend (like me), the hour long dialog was recorded and uploaded to YouTube (click on video at top).  Highly recomended!

Saturday, January 11

Tata Kicks Off At Wijk aan Zee

Amateurs play in same big room as elite Grandmasters in Wijk aan Zee.

Dating back to the 1970s, the beginning of each new calendar year promised a pair of elite chess tournaments: one in the coastal Dutch town of Wijk aan Zee and the other in the Andalusian city of Linares.  Both attracted the strongest Grandmasters on the planet, e.g. Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and Carlsen.  Unfortunately, the Spanish financial crisis claimed Linares as a casualty in 2011.  However, the steel conglomerate Tata maintained the tradition at Wijk, despite a shrinking budget that reduced the number of participants this year to 12 (from 14) and the number of Top 10 players to merely 5.

The small decrease in size does in no way signify a decrease in the relevance of Tata Steel Chess.  Ten players rated over 2700 will battle over the next fortnight (through January 26).  These Grandmasters will author many thrilling games for audiences around the world to enjoy.

Indeed, these games yield worthwhile study material for any serious chess master (or wannabe master).  Any young or aspiring player rated over 1800 should take the time each day to review the latest games (up to 13 per round, counting the Challengers section).  Check out your favorite players or openings.  Try to learn from the middlegame maneuvers and endgame technique.  Ask yourself if you could play like the Grandmasters.  At the Internet Chess Club, go to the Events list under the Window menu or in the Activities console to find the games and daily videos.  Or visit the official website, which features instant analysis by the Houdini 2 engine.     

Hikaru Nakamura
Tata Masters (A section)
  • Titles: 12 Grandmasters, including 5 of the Top 10
  • Average Rating = 2743 FIDE
  • Favorites: Aronian, Nakamura, Caruana and Karjakin
  • Americans: Nakamura, Caruana (Italy-USA) and Wesley So (Philippines-USA)
  • Comment: Despite the conspicuous absence of World Champion Carlsen plus ex-Champs Kramnik and Anand, the competitive field still features #2 ranked Aronian and #3 Nakamura. 

Tata Challengers (B section)
  • Titles: 10 Grandmasters plus 4 International Masters (norms are possible)
  • Average Rating = 2579 FIDE
  • Favorites: Wojtaszek, Jobava, Yangyi Yu and Saric
  • American: Kayden Troff (Utah)
  • Comment: There is no clear favorite as several young (and underrated) wolves try to make their name.  Indeed, 2 of top 3 seeds lost in the very first round!

Saturday, January 4

Big Names at SF International

GM Wei Yi
GM Ipatov

The start of a new calendar year brings fresh opportunities for the talented young stars of the Bay Area chess community.  The San Francisco International brings foreign titled players to Santa Clara for the kind of tournament more often seen in Europe than in America.  Over 70 competitors representing 15 different countries will cross swords over seven days.  Many aspire to earn one of the precious norms required for the highest titles in chess: Grandmaster and International Master.

Leading the field are 14 Grandmasters, 20 International Masters and 4 ladies holding the corresponding women's titles.  The five top seeds, rated over 2600 FIDE, include 2012 World Junior Champion Alexander Ipatov of Turkey, the current youngest Grandmaster on the planet, 14 year old Wei Yi of China, and the Berkeley Chess School talent Sam Shankland.  Sam won the 2012 edition of this event.

The one, the only, GM Shanky
Among the leading norm contenders are IM Wang Chen of China and IM Joshua Ruiz of Colombia, both strong finishers at the North American Open last week in Las Vegas.  Certainly don't count out the American juniors participating, including seven masters under age 18 representing the Bay Area.  Youth will be served!

This event would not be possible without the organizational genius of Berkeley Mathematics Professor Arun Sharma and Technology Guru Salman Azhar, founder of Bay Area Chess.  Why else would so many young Grandmasters from Turkey, China, Canada and Hungary mysteriously wander to Silicon Valley for chess?

For those readers wondering where I am?  I'm at home wishing I could play.  Alas, the week-long schedule proves too much for me and my longstanding health problems.  Instead, I will prepare myself for the Golden State Open in Concord, just two weeks away.  Yes, I registered already.

Wednesday, January 1

World Youth In Al Ain Draws To Close

David Peng (left) and Awonder Liang stand next to the FIDE President.
For hundreds of more photos, check out South Africa on Facebook

Happy New Year!  Before we continue with 2014, let me wrap up the final results of the 2014 World Youth Chess Championships in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.  GM Ben Finegold reported on Chess Life Online and this post merely provides supplemental material.  Another report on ChessBase website includes photographs from the awards ceremony.

On the bright side, Team USA brought home two medals, both in the U10 division.  Kudos to FM Awonder Liang (10-1) of Wisconsin and CM David Peng (9-2) of Illinois for earning the gold and silver medals, respectively!   Total domination!!  Bay Area youngster Josiah Stearman (7-4) found himself in contention after 8 rounds, but ran out of energy down the final stretch.

Outside of the Playing Hall
On the other hand, the American delegation had hoped to win more hardware.  Six more children finished in the Top 10 for their age.  A pair of girls, Jennifer Yu (U12) of Virginia and Carissa Yip (U10) from Massachusetts, took home 4th place honors, only a tiny bit short of a medal.  In the U18 section, GM Daniel Naroditsky knew his tiebreaks were inferior and played aggressively in a valiant yet unsuccessful attempt to complicate the last game as black against a fellow Grandmaster.  C'est la vie!

Click here for the complete results of Team USA.

  • U18 - Open
    • GM Daniel Naroditsky 7.5 (CA-N)
    • FM Atulya Shetty 6.5
  • U18 - Girls
    • WFM Jessica Regam 6.5
    • Rochelle Ballantyne 5.5
  • U16 - Open
    • FM Michael Bodek 7.5
    • NM Safal Bora 7.0
    • NM Michael Brown 7.0
    • NM Christopher Wu 7.0
  • U16 - Girls
    • WCM Ellen Xiang 6.5
    • WCM Apurva Virkud 6.0
    • Taylor Mccreary 6.0 (CA-N)
    • Margaret Hua 6.0
  • U14 - Open
    • NM Edward Song 8.0 (7th)
    • NM Colin Chow 7.0 (CA-N)
  • U14 - Girls
    • Agata Bykovtsev 7.5 (9th
    • Ashritha Eswaran 7.5 (CA-N)
  • U12 - Open
    • NM Albert Lu 7.5
    • NM Ruifeng Li 7.0
  • U12 - Girls
    • WFM Jennifer Yu 8.5 (4th)
    • WFM Annie Wang 8.0 (8th)
    • Priya Trakru 7.0
  • U10 - Open
  • Awonder
    • FM Awonder Liang 10.0 (1st)
    • CM David Peng 9.0 (2nd)
    • Josiah Stearman 7.0 (CA-N)
    • Christopher Shen 7.0
  • U10 - Girls
    • Carissa Yip 8.5 (4th)
    • WCM Vittal Sanjana 7.5 
    • Shreya Mangalam 7.0
    • Martha Samadashvili 7.0
  • U8 - Open
    • Maximillian Lu 8.5 (5th)
    • Logan Wu 7.5
    • Kevin Chor 7.5 
    • Maurya Palusa 7.5 (CA-N) 
    • Balaji Daggupati 7.0 (CA-N)
    • Advait Budaraju 7.0 (CA-N)
    • Rithik Polavarem 7.0
  • U8 - Girls
    • Maggie Ni 7.5
    • Anh Nhu Nguyen 7.0
    • Annapoorni Meiyappan 7.0 (CA-N)
Closely following the round-by-round results from the tournament, I observed some trends.  Frankly, I was shocked by the sizable role of momentum.  The American kids were remarkably streaky!  One young man won his first three games, then lost the next three!  An unfortunate lady won three straight, then lost the next four!  A boy in youngest division won the first four rounds, but somehow ended up under 50%.  On the other hand, a teenager lost twice to lower rated opponents in the first three rounds, yet finished with a respectable 7-4.

Aside from wavering confidence and difficult competition, the young players faced a variety of challenges off the board.  They slept in a foreign country, in a dorm room, and had to adjust to the 9 to 12 hour time difference.  Many faced unbearably long lines (60 minutes or more!) at the cafeteria.  Towards the end of the fortnight in the Arabian desert, exhaustion and homesickness took its toll on some.  No doubt a few children (and their parents) battled minor illnesses.  Hopefully, most will look back at this journey as an adventure.