Thursday, July 24

One week until Tromsø Olympiad

Aside from the World Championship, the most important international chess tournament is the Olympiad, organized every other year.  The 2014 Chess Olympiad takes place during the first two weeks of August in Tromsø, a Norwegian city located north of the Arctic Circle.  The statistics are staggering: 310 teams (Open and Women) with more than 1500 players, including roughly 275 Grandmasters.  A half dozen squads field a top-4 average rating above 2700 FIDE.  However, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) actives promotes participation by weaker nations, and no fewer than 40 teams rated under 2000 FIDE will compete in the Open section.
Tromsø lies amid water and mountains.



PREVIEW by IM John Donaldson

The two American teams have serious aspirations to bringing home a medal.  The men are seeded 6th and the women 7th. Team USA last reached the podium in Dresden, Germany in 2008, when both squads earned the bronze medal.  Fortunately, the strongest American masters will all represent the red, white and blue, including current World #5 Hikaru Nakamura plus reigning US Champions Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush.  The team brings plenty of experience to Norway, with the top four men and top three women returning from 2012. Watch the newcomer for the men--the Bay Area's own Sam Shankland!

Team USA - Open (2701 average)
  • Board 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura (2787) -- World #5
  • Board 2 GM Gata Kamsky (2706) -- World #44
  • Board 3 GM Alex Onischuk (2659) -- World #92
  • Board 4 GM Varuzhan Akobian (2653) 
  • Alternate GM Sam Shankland (2624)
  • Captain IM John Donaldson
  • Coach GM Wesley So 

Team USA - Women (2406 average)
  • Board 1 GM Irina Krush (2474) -- World #29
  • Board 2 IM Anna Zatonskih (2468) -- World #36
  • Board 3 WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2366) -- World #93
  • Board 4 WGM Katerina Nemcova (2315)
  • Alternate WGM Sabina Foisor (2252)
  • Captain GM Melik Khachiyan
  • Coach GM Yuri Shulman

No doubt, the Americans will face stiff competition from around the globe, especially from the countries of the former USSR.  Indeed, USSR, Russia, Ukraine and Armenia won gold in the Open section at every Olympiad since the 1970s!  In recent years, Armenia (2012, 2008, 2006) and Ukraine (2010, 2004) have taken the top honors, while perennial top seed Mother Russia has failed every year since Garry Kasparov retired.  Four countries dominated the Women's category for the past eleven Olympiads: Russia (the last 2), China (4 golds out of 11), Georgia (also 4) and Ukraine (just gold in 2006).  China and Russia once again field the highest rated ladies squads.

Top Teams - Men (New Ratings from August 1)
World Champion Magnus Carlsen
  1. Russia 2773 -- Kramnik + Grischuk + Karjakin + Svidler
  2. Ukraine 2723 -- Ivanchuk + Ponomariov + Eljanov
  3. France 2719 -- Vachier-Lagrave + Bacrot + Fressinet
  4. Armenia 2705 -- Aronian + Sargissian
  5. Hungary 2703 -- Leko + Rapport
  6. USA 2701 -- Nakamura + Kamsky
  7. China 2699 -- Liren Ding + Wang Yue
  8. Azerbaijan 2694 -- Mamedyarov + Radjabov
  9. Israel 2683 -- Gelfand
  10. England 2681 -- Adams 
  11. Netherlands 2677 -- Giri
  12. Germany 2671 -- Naiditsch
  13. Cuba 2669 -- Dominguez
  14. Norway 2666 -- Carlsen
  15. Poland 2662 -- Wojtaszek

Most of the world's top players will participate.   Caruana (Italy) and Topalov (Bulgaria) have signed up, but their countries are not contenders.  The most glaring absence is #7 Anand, who has not represented India since 2010.  (In an interesting parallel, the top rated Indian woman, #2 Humpy Koneru, also will skip Norway.)  The next highest rated GM to sit out is Wesley So, who remains embroiled in a contentious battle to switch federations from the Philippines to USA.  Unable to play for the red, white and blue this year, So will assist the team as coach.

Top Teams - Women (New Ratings from August 1)
Women's Champion Hou Yifan
  1. China 2549 -- Hou Yifan + Zhao Xue
  2. Russia 2520 -- Lagno + Kosteniuk
  3. Ukraine 2510 -- A.Muzychuk + M.Muzychuk
  4. Georgia 2499 -- Dzagnidze
  5. India 2421 -- Harika
  6. Romania 2407 
  7. USA 2406
  8. Poland 2402
  9. France 2390
  10. Armenia 2383

Miscellaneous:  1. World Champion Magnus Carlsen will lead the home team.  How will he continue to handle the glare of the media?  2. Aside from the chess competition, the Olympiad allows chess delegates from around the globe to meet and set the direction for FIDE.  3. The most important pairing features Kirsan Ilyumzhinov against Garry Kasparov in the election for FIDE President.  The USA and Western Europe support the 13th World Champion, but the electoral landscape (one vote per country, no matter how small) favors the incumbent.  Will the chess community be able to resist a smiling leader who grows money on trees, socializes with aliens, and allegedly ordered the murder of a suspicious journalist?  4. Aside from chess and politics, the most exciting event at every Olympiad is the Bermuda party.  Definitely the place to go see a tipsy GM or fifty.  5. Given the northerly latitude of Tromsø, this may be the first Bermuda party held in daylight!  Hopefully the participants will be able to sleep longer than the 3-4 hours of twilight each evening

Saturday, July 19

Cal Boyz Pwning Grandmasters in Europe

Many American masters crossed the Atlantic seeking norms for the most prestigious titles in chess (GM and IM).  The close proximity of many countries permits easy travel from one event to another.  European organizers also benefit from open borders, helping them attract the necessary foreign players to award international title norms.  Opportunity knocks for American masters who can afford to spend a month playing chess in Europe.

After picking up his High School diploma from Crystal Springs Uplands School, Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky set out to play three consecutive tournaments in the vicinity of Barcelona, Spain.  Having already achieved the highest title in chess, his objective became gaining experience and rating points.  Consider the mission accomplished!  Danya added 28 points total to raise his FIDE rating to 2587, boosted by a 2701 performance at Teplice.  Check out the game above to see how he tears down the Berlin Wall against fellow 18-year old talent, GM Karen Grigoryan of Armenia.    

Now the top rated scholastic (K-12) player in Northern California, 17-year old FM Yian Liou also entered a trio of European tournaments, although he flew to Belgrade, Serbia.  In three weeks, he picked up a valuable pair of IM norms (his third and fourth) and earned 30 points for a projected 2417 international rating.  Yian scalped his first Grandmaster in Novi Sad, and then repeated the feat a week later in Paracin!  The latter success came by a powerful attack against Serbian GM Borko Lajthajm (see game below).

Tuesday, July 8

Experts Win in Sacramento!

California's newest National Master: Uyanga Byambaa!

The 2014 Sacramento Chess Championship attracted 90 players old and young to the comfortable Holiday Inn Express on Auburn Blvd over the 4th of July weekend.  The weather outside was seasonably hot and the competition heated up as well, with a Sacramento area record $5000 up for grabs!  Naturally, the weekend saw plenty of fireworks, both on and off the chess boards.  Perhaps half of the participants psyched up for round 4 by watching the scintillating penalty shootout between the Netherlands and Costa Rica on a big screen in the spacious lounge.

The Open section drew 35 entries, including five rated 2200 or higher.  The conspicuous absence of defending champion IM Ricardo DeGuzman left the field wide open.  Top rated NM Jimmy Heiserman turned in a solid performance of 3 wins and 3 draws, but this proved insufficient for first place.  Congratulations to WFM Uyanga Byambaa and her boyfriend Byron Doyle for sharing top honors!  They took home $525 each, with Byron earning the trophy on tiebreaks (not that it mattered).  Officially rated as experts, both co-champions gained many rating points: Uyanga to 2206 and Byron to 2164.  Special kudos to Uyanga for earning the National Master title with her final round miniature against FM Kenan Zildzic!

Section Winners
  • Master/Expert: Uyanga Byambaa and Byron Doyle
  • Reserve (U2000): Bernie Lu, Ziad Baroudi and Bayaraa Bekhtur
  • Amateur (U1600): Srinivas Susarla

National TD John McCumiskey capably organized this event, as he has done each year since 2001.  The location on Auburn Blvd offers a quiet and air conditioned playing hall with plenty of elbow room for all sections.  The skittles room includes tables, bar stools, sofas, large TV screens, and free wifi internet.  Great for chess players and parents alike.  Almost perfect--if you ask me.

Friday, July 4

Yian Liou Secures 3rd IM Norm!

Yian wears his Stanford colors while playing chess in Paracin, Serbia

Bay Area 17-year old Yian Liou completed his third and final norm for the International Master title this week at a small invitational tournament held in Novi Sad, Serbia.  Rated in the middle of the field, his opposition included four GMs, three IMs and three fellow norm contenders.  He scored an undefeated 6.0 out of 10 for a 2471 performance, despite the handicap of being paired as black six times.  While most of the strongest players hailed from Serbia, Yian also faced opponents from Russia, Germany, Italy and the USA.  A true international event.

Center of Novi Sad, Serbia.
The first two rounds clearly set the tone: first a solid draw with the black pieces against top seeded GM Borko Lajthajm (2526) and then a win against veteran GM Vladimir Kostic (2400).  The latter game became Yian's first Grandmaster scalp, although he already accumulated a lengthy history of draws against strong titled players.  The second victory came in a complex endgame versus the American junior IM Akshat Chandra (check out his Quest to GM blog).

Yian's first two norms came at Metropolitan Chess in Los Angeles and the North American Open in Las Vegas, both in 2012.  He achieved a peak FIDE rating of 2403 in fall 2013.  However, the results stagnated over the past year, no doubt a consequence of a demanding academic and athletic schedule.  He begins the senior year next month at Monte Vista High School in Danville.

Yian at age 10. I promised not to embarrass
him too much in this article.  Sorry mate!
I still remember teaching young Yian as an 8-year old, fearful of my wheelchair.  He has doubled his rating since then, and lost any inhibition towards me or even the best chess players in the world.  When FIDE approves his title application, Yian will become my third former student to hold the IM title, behind Daniel Naroditsky (now a GM) and Steven Zierk (currently studying at MIT). 

What comes next for the young globe trotter?  The tour of Serbia continues this weekend at the Championship of Central Serbia in Paracin (top seed is GM Richard Rapport, rated 2701).  A third event follows, back in Novi Sad.  Good luck maestro!!  Pick up more rating points and maybe even a GM norm. :-)