Friday, December 4

Fpawn Featured By Agadmator

The legendary internet commentator Agadmator, whose YouTube channel attracts more than 875,000 subscribers, nominated your humble pawn for the Brilliancy Prize at the Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities. Watch the video above for the game against Adriano Albiani Barata of Brazil, complete with cogent analysis.

Other internet chess celebrities have likewise been tasked to determine the best game from the Olympiad. FIDE will announce the winner, who receives a special trophy sponsored by Gazprom, the largest natural gas company in Russia. 

Nominees: (click on the winner to view the games)

Looking Back at the Olympiad for Disabled

The first FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities proved a success with the participation of nearly 400 players on 60 teams representing 44 countries from 5 continents. No doubt many would have been unable to travel to an over the board Olympiad, even sans pandemic. The level playing field allowed unheralded outsiders to compete with veteran champions, and upsets naturally occurred. After seven rounds, squads from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Philippines, Germany, Croatia and Israel finished among the Top 10. Russia-1 took first, Ukraine-3 got second and Poland-1 recovered from an earlier upset to slip into third place.

Four leading teams were invited to battle for the medals in a knockout format. After an extensive fair play analysis resulted in one disqualification, the underrated Poland-3 selection moved up to claim the fourth spot in the semifinals, narrowly edging Philippines-1 on tiebreaks. Match play semifinals saw Russia-1 edge past Poland-3 while Poland-1 thumped Ukraine-3. In the two-day final match, Russia-1 claimed the early lead, but top seeded Poland-1 roared back to seize the gold medal. 

Final Standings:

  • GOLD = Poland-1
  • SILVER = Russia-1
  • BRONZE = Ukraine-3
  • FOURTH = Poland-3
  • 10 MP = Philippines-1, Poland-2, Germany, Russia-2, Croatia
  • 9 MP = Israel, Hungary, Venezuela, India-2, North Macedonia, Ukraine-2, United States of America, Chile, India-1
  • 8 MP = Cuba, Russia-3, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Turkey-1, Brazil, Ukraine-1
  • Total of 58 teams completed all seven rounds

Team USA surprised the world and exceeded all expectations by sharing 10th place in the final standings. Seeded 39th out of 60 with an average FIDE rating of 1582, the Americans competed each day against the top half of the field, including three opponents seeded among the top 10 with lofty ratings over 2000. Nobody can forget the first round tie with the mighty Russians, the miraculous comeback versus Romania-2 or the stunning blowout of North Macedonia. The team shed the underdog label during the final round by confidently clinching a fifth upset on the strength of three crushing games, each decisive within 30 moves. 

  1. Tied 2-2 with #9 Russia-2
  2. Lost 0-4 to #3 Philippines-1
  3. Won 2.5-1.5 against #30 Romania-2
  4. Won 3.5-0.5 against #10 North Macedonia
  5. Lost 1-3 to #18 Chile
  6. Won 3-1 against #25 Argentina
  7. Won 3-1 against #24 Brazil 

The success arose from a full team effort. Playing board 4, Jessica Lauser was the most indispensable member since the regulations mandated the participation of one woman each round. Paired against underrated opponents in most rounds, she won twice and stayed true to her aggressive playing style.

Jessica Lauser vs Marija Arsova (1-0)
USA against North Macedonia

Pranav Shankar scored five wins on board 3, with his results mimicking the team outcomes. A fearless warrior, the 13 year old crossed swords daily, delivering a pair of checkmates in under 30 moves to conclude the tournament. Pranav also distinguished himself by defeating an opponent later forfeited for cheating.

Pranav Shankar vs Elias Moyses Sobrinho (1-0)
USA against Brazil

Board 2 Griffin McConnell persevered in spite of challenging foes and medical distress every day, finishing with four wins. The 16 year old became the team magician, twice winning hopeless positions many others would have resigned. Griffin showed his class against North Macedonia, calmly converting a complex middlegame.

Griffin McConnell vs Vladimir Trkaljanov (1-0)
USA against North Macedonia

Your reporter NM 
Michael Aigner manned the top board, scoring three wins and two draws versus the strongest disabled players around the world. While playing chess at six in the morning was brutal, the games proved enjoyable after all. Check out the positional squeeze from the last round against Brazil.

Michael Aigner vs Adriano Albiani Barata (1-0)
USA against Brazil

The critical role of captain NM Lior Lapid must not be understated. He served as chief strategist, openings coach and team psychologist. He directed daily meetings on Zoom to debrief the players and prepare for subsequent matches. Nightly emails confidently prognosticated the team's future triumphs against the odds.

USA Commentary Team
Captain Lior Lapid and alternate Oskar Zoffer 

Neither of the alternates Oskar Zoffer and Nguyen Tran saw action, but their youth (ages 11 and 8) guarantees playing time in the coming years. Oskar seized the unique opportunity to become team mascot, always projecting positive vibes to the combatants. Two words: enthusiasm wins!

Also check out the US Chess website: Team USA Shocks The World

Personal postscript: I was deeply honored by this opportunity to represent the United States and compete against the best disabled chess players in the world. The camaraderie, team spirit and infectious enthusiasm made the experience all the more memorable. Many thanks to US Chess, our captain and my teammates. 

The online format provided for a more inclusive tournament, eliminating concerns involving travel logistics. Frankly, the 36+ hour trip to Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia) would be impossible due to my power wheelchair and other serious daily medical limitations. I only hope FIDE sees fit to continue this online event even post pandemic, so people such as myself may participate.

Friday, November 27

USA Wins Again, Finishes in Top 10

This will be a short update. A longer article will follow.

Once again Team USA defied pre-tournament seedings to defeat a higher rated opponent. After losing to Chile and beating Argentina over the past two days, the Americans dominated Brazil. Coincidentally, the score in all three matches was identical: 3-1. This morning, Michael, Pranav and Jessica each established a large opening advantage and never looked back, all winning around move 30. Veni, vidi, vici.

Round 7: #39 USA vs #24 Brazil == 3-1
  1. Michael vs Adriano Albiani Barata (2144) == 1-0
  2. Jose Eduardo Bastos Maia (2043) vs Griffin == 1-0
  3. Pranav vs Elias Moyses Sobrinho (1884) == 1-0
  4. Marcia Maria Dias Lopes (1363) vs Jessica == 0-1
A lopsided, but fun attacking game.
Michael Aigner vs Adriano Albiani Barata (1-0)

This win placed the Americans at 9 match points out of a possible 14, good for a share of 10th place overall, 16th on tiebreaks. For perspective, consider that Team USA was seeded 39th out of 60 and that 14 squads started with an average rating greater than the FIDE rating of our board 1. 

US Chess released a press release this afternoon. Go U-S-A !!!

Thursday, November 26

Argentina No Match for Team USA

The late soccer great Diego Maradona also promoted the royal game.

One day after falling against Chile, the Americans crossed the Andes to defeat Argentina, a country mourning the passing of its soccer hero Diego Maradona. First, Pranav Shankar unleashed his inner f-pawn, advancing f5-f4-f3 to checkmate the white monarch on g1. Meanwhile on top board, Michael Aigner resisted playing his favorite pawn until move 43 and instead nursed a positional advantage into an endgame victory. Even the magician on board 2 came through, somehow escaping checkmate to seal a 3-1 result. 

Round 6: #25 Argentina vs #39 USA == 1-3

  1. Leonel Amato (2100) vs Michael == 0-1
  2. Griffin vs Luis Sanz (2186) == 1-0
  3. Valeria Simone (1453) vs Pranav == 0-1
  4. Jessica vs Raul Grosso (1746) == 1-0

Team USA improved to a tie for 16th place with 7 match points, clinching a minimum 50% final score despite difficult opposition rated more than 200 points higher in every round.

Valeria Simone vs Pranav Shankar (0-1) 

Leonel Amato vs Michael Aigner (0-1) 

Round 7 tomorrow concludes the swiss stage of this Online Olympiad and four top teams advance to a knockout semifinal. After a tie today, Russia-1 leads with 11 match points while four countries lurk one point behind (Poland-2, Germany, Philippines-1, Ukraine-3) and three more trail by another point (Poland-1, Russia-2, India-1). Since as many as six teams may reach the 11 point plateau, tiebreaks (most game points) become decisive. An interesting quirk is the pairing of the two Polish squads in essentially an elimination match. Stay tuned for some wild scrambling!

Round 7 Pairings:

  1. Russia-1 (11) vs Philippines-1 (10)
  2. Ukraine-3 (10) vs Germany (10)
  3. Poland-1 (9) vs Poland-2 (10)
  4. Russia-2 (9) vs India-1 (9)

Standings After Round 6:

  • 11 MP = Russia-1
  • 10 MP = Poland-2, Germany, Philippines-1, Ukraine-3
  • 9 MP = Poland-1, Russia-2, India-1
  • 8 MP = Israel, Poland-3, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, Philippines-2, Ukraine-1, Croatia
  • 7 MP = Romania-1, Canada, India-2, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Ukraine-2, USA, North Macedonia, Turkey-1
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

Team USA concludes its tour of South America with a match against #25 seed Brazil on Friday at 6:00 AM PST. Once again the Americans enter as underdogs, but past success brings cautious optimism. Check out all of the games at Chess24 or FollowChess.

Wednesday, November 25

Chile Wins in Round 5

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

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

Michael Aigner vs Cristian Gonzalez Astete (1-0)

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers

Tuesday, November 24

USA Crushes North Macedonia

North Macedonia is the southern part of the former Yugoslavia.

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

Jessica Lauser vs Marija Arsova (1-0)

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23

Miracle at the Chess Board

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

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

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

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

It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win.
Mihai Dima vs Griffin McConnell (0-1)

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22

Highly Ranked Philippines-1 Shuts Out USA

Filipino board 1 FM Sander Severino

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

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

Michael Aigner vs Sander Severino (0-1)

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21

USA Ties Russia-2 in Round 1

Team USA meeting on Zoom.

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

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

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

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

Polina Taranenko vs Pranav Shankar (0-1)

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

Standings after Round 1:

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

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

Friday, November 20

Opening Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18

Meet Team USA

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

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

Without further ado, please meet Team USA:

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16

Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 11

Weekly Online Tournaments for Sacramento

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

Sac Kids & Amateurs

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

Sac Pawn Storm

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

Additional information for both events

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

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

Past results:

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

Play US Chess Rated Online!

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

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

ICC schedule 
(click here for more info)

3+2 blitz on Mondays @ 4pm Pacific

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

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

View past ICC Rating Reports

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

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

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

View past Rating Reports

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

Thursday, May 28

Results at Online Cup for Disabilities

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

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

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

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

Final Standings (see Chess-Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay home. Be safe. Play chess. #checkmatecoronavirus

Tuesday, May 19

Fpawn Interview on Blog

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17

FIDE Online Cup for Players with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12

All Fpawn Masters - Peak USCF Rating

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

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

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

Zkid, Students Dominate Birthday Blitz

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

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

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

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

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