Thursday, April 30
Statement About Swine Flu
"I want to first address concerns about swine flu. As an organizer, I take my cues from professionals, not from the media, and following the advice is to have hand sanitizer and avoid physical contact. I will have hand sanitizer available and you may bring some. I will also instruct the players not to shake hands (wave at their opponent as a courtesy) and to only use the pencils we use at the desk. The tournament directors and volunteers will also be using hand sanitizer regularly to avoid passing any virus. Finally, if you have any symptoms, please stay at home. That said, you have every right to make the best decision for your family and I respect will respect that." -- Salman Azhar
Tuesday, April 28
Entries for the CalChess Scholastics
The three individuals in charge are the same as last year: organizer Salman Azhar (see photo at right), National Tournament Director John McCumiskey and CalChess President Tom Langland.
Please check out the round schedule at the official website. There are 13 categories, split up by both grade level and rating. The first round begins at 9:00am on each day, although players should plan to arrive by 8:30. The Kindergarten plus 1-3 Rookie, Novice and Junior Varsity sections play five rounds on Saturday only. The 4-6 Rookie and Novice sections play five rounds on Sunday only. The other three Juniors Varsity sections (4-6, 7-8, 9-12) and all four Varsity sections (1-3, 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12) have six rounds with three on Saturday and three more on Sunday.
As of midnight on April 28, about 850 players have registered. A few more people will likely sign up late, but the entry fees increase by $10 and $20 this week. Unfortunately, the low turnout continues to follow a downward trend over the past few years: 1319 in 2006, 1172 in 2007 and 1028 in 2008. Perhaps the weak economy plays a significant role, but that's not the only factor being blamed by pundits.
- Latest entries by rating
- Latest entries by team
- High School: 9-12 Varsity
- Junior High: 7-8 Varsity
- Elementary: 4-6 Varsity and 4-5 Varsity
- Primary: 1-3 Varsity
- High School: Saratoga H.S. and Mission San Jose H.S. (Fremont)
- Junior High: Windemere Ranch M.S. (San Ramon) and Hopkins J.H.S. (Fremont)
- Elementary 4-6: MSJE, Weibel Elem. (Fremont) and St. Mark's School (San Rafael)
- Elementary 4-5: MSJE and Weibel Elem.
- Primary 1-3: Forest Park Elem., MSJE and Weibel Elem.
Good luck to all players and parents! If you read this blog and you see me on the weekend, please say hello to me. I will be busy with my students, but I also enjoy meeting people.
Monday, April 27
Advice to Chess Parents Reprinted
The annual CalChess State Scholastic Championships take place this weekend. As a chess coach, I spend my time preparing juniors for the most challenging weekend of their lives. What role do the parents have? How should a parent behave at a chess tournament? I published this article last year and now is a good time to reprint it.
To start out, you should prepare your child with the necessary food and rest before and during the weekend. Make sure to get plenty of sleep; an extra hour of sleep will help a lot during the last games at the end of each long day. Of course, the kids need something big and healthy to eat for breakfast (very important) and between each game. Those players in the older sections tend to have longer games and may wish to take a bottle of water and a small snack (chocolate, candy, or gum) with them for each round.
Somewhat more challenging is to strike a balance between keeping your child focused between rounds while not draining all their energy. Refrain from chess activities, except for reviewing the tournament games briefly with a coach or a computer. Avoid blitz and bughouse between rounds because both games cause the children to play impulsively instead of carefully thinking about the best move. Older kids may wish to bring a book or a deck of cards to play with their friends. Younger kids may prefer video games. Another idea may be to bring a ball and go outside for a little while—enough to relax but not too much to drain all of their energy.
What should the parent say right before the round? My advice is simple: try your best and have fun! For example, one big aspect to trying your best is to take your time during the game. Of course, when you get to the board, make sure to be respectful to the opponent and parent. While chess is a war game, the battle should take place only on 64 squares.
The hard part about the motto “try your best and have fun” is to stick to it afterward. If your child tried their best, then you must encourage them no matter what the result. Never get angry with your son or daughter simply because they lost, even to a lower rated opponent. A few common and legitimate reasons to get upset include moving too fast, lack of focus by looking at other games or failure to record the moves. Most children will be eager to talk about the game afterward and even parents who aren’t strong chess players may pick up key details (e.g. “I blundered” or “I had a win but I lost” or “I didn’t see his piece”). Be aware that even chess players who try their best might blunder and miss a move that they should have seen.
Let me close by profiling four kinds of parent behaviors that I hope to discourage.
1. Parent measures performance merely by wins, losses and rating points. They become upset when the child draws or loses to a lower rated player, without considering whether the game was well played or the opponent simply had a good day. My response: Chess ratings are based on a statistical formula that predicts your winning percentage. For example, a player rated 200 points higher should win 75% of games and one rated 400 points high should win 90%. We must come to expect an occasional bad result against a lower rated player. Even an improving player may have one bad game or a disappointing tournament. As I’ve told many people, progress typically comes through two steps forward and one step backwards. Look at the big picture instead of every single game.
2. Parent relies on Fritz too much. I have seen many cases where a parent reviews a game with Fritz or another computer program and finds out that the child missed one or more key tactics. The parent will typically quote a computer evaluation, often mentioning scores like +5. My response: No human can play like Fritz and even top Grandmasters sometimes overlook mate in 1 (Kramnik) or hang a piece for no reason at all. Fritz is merely a tool to get better but an impossible standard to measure your performance against. Parents (and even coaches) sometimes forget or never realized how much more difficult it is to play the game with the clock ticking than to review it afterwards with a computer.
3. Parent hates child’s rival(s). Unfortunately, I see all too often when a parent measures his or her own child against the result of the rival. It is important to score more points or achieve a milestone first. The child is often forbidden to socialize with the rival, purely for competitive reasons. My response: In recent years, the best young players in the Bay Area have benefited from the interaction with their closest rivals. Masters Nicolas Yap, Drake Wang and Daniel Schwarz, who all graduated from High School last year, competed for the same trophies at the CalChess Scholastics for an entire decade, yet also forged strong friendships that included many hours of chess analysis and blitz games. The benefits of having friends in the chess community and someone to study with far outweigh any competitive disadvantage. Take the opportunity this weekend meet your child’s rivals and their parents. Set a positive example for the children to follow.
4. Parent lives for their child’s achievements. Most parents are proud of the success by their son or daughter, but a few take it to another level by bragging. They seek success, often even more than the kids. Those same parents become resentful when the result was not quite as good. My response: It is always of utmost importance that your child has fun. Juniors who don't truly enjoy chess (independent of their parents) simply will not improve as rapidly. You can lead a camel to water, but you cannot force it to drink. Unfortunately, these youngsters, who often have been pushed hard for many years, become prime candidates to drop out of chess entirely as they turn 13 or 14.
For another insightful perspective on competitive chess parents, please read two reports on Chess Life Online written by New York parent Mark Schein from the venue of the recent Bert Lerner National Elementary School Championships. Mr. Schein writes about years of experience attending national competitions as a father. Click here for the first article and the second article.
Good luck to both the thousand players at the CalChess Scholastics and the many equally pumped up parents!
Friday, April 24
Historical Records for CalChess Scholastics
CalChess scholastic guru Dr. Alan Kirshner maintains an interesting historical website listing all of the winners at the CalChess Scholastics dating back to 1986. These records show individual winners, including ties for first, and the team champions. Due to the conflicting tournaments in 2005, both the "states" and "regional" winners are shown.
I searched these records for multi-time individual state champions. Some players won the same section in consecutive years (Vinay Bhat won clear first in the K-12 for 4 out of 5 straight years) while others earned their titles in different divisions (Daniel Schwarz won K-3 in 1998, K-8 in 2002 and K-12 in 2006). The records show that over 23 years, only four people earned more than three CalChess titles. Even the list of names at three championships (Varsity sections only) is quite thin and prestigious.
Congratulations to the ultimate CalChess champions! I count one current GM, two current IMs and eight masters among these names.
- 5 = Vinay Bhat
- 4 = Daniel Naroditsky, Micah Fischer-Kirshner and Adam Lischinsky
- 3 = Steven Zierk, Daniel Schwarz, Nicolas Yap, Alexander Setzepfandt, Keith Yost, Dmitry Zilberstein, Alan Stein and Andy McManus
Thursday, April 23
10th Anniversary of Kasparov Talk at Stanford
Never in my life will I forget the events of April 21-22, 1999. For two days, I had the honor to meet the reigning World Champion Garry Kasparov as he visited Stanford University. The world's top player was a guest of the Stanford Presidential Lecture series, although much of the job of hosting him fell to the Russian department and the nationally ranked Stanford chess team.
My chess teammates picked up Kasparov and his manager, former tennis pro Owen Williams, at San Francisco International airport and even stopped for ice cream on the way to the Westin Hotel on El Camino at University Avenue. That evening, Stanford officials and chess players met for a formal dinner at Spago's in downtown Palo Alto. Kasparov discussed everything and anything not related to chess, from world politics to the Yankees to restaurants in Rio de Janeiro. He was friendly and quite talkative, but while dessert was served, Kasparov abruptly announced it was getting late and he had to return to the hotel to finish his speech. He literally walked out while everyone else shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. I was the first to see the World Champion nervously pacing up and down Lytton Street. He politely pointed out to me that none of the passerbys identified him, something that he found odd for such a highly educated community.
On the next day, Kasparov met with the Russian department in the morning and then he had two events with chess players scheduled for the afternoon and evening. The first was a Q&A session with many of the Bay Area's elite juniors at the time, including masters Jordy Mont-Reynaud, Vinay Bhat and Philip Wang. Vinay and Kasparov bantered back and forth, analyzing crazy variations in the spectacular double rook sacrifice game Kasparov versus Topalov that was played just two months earlier. Kasparov said then that was the best game that he ever played. It was a pleasure to see the event go off successfully as I organized much of the publicity, including inviting the kids to attend. Nervously, I introduced Kasparov to the young audience as the greatest chess player of all time, a statement that I still agree with today.
The highlight of the visit came on the second evening. Stanford University's Science and Engineering lecture hall, usually filled with Biology students, was jammed packed with well over 500 Bay Area chess enthusiasts. Nobody reckoned with such an enthusiastic turnout and, unfortunately, the fire marshall ordered dozens of people sitting in the aisles to leave. Chess club President FM Adrian Keatinge-Clay introduced the World Champ.
Kasparov lectured for about 45 minutes on the "Limits of Human Performance" in chess and sports. According to Kasparov, chess can be a long and cruel game determined by time constraints and sometimes one crucial move. "If you lose psychologically, then you will lose on the board," he said. Later Kasparov took questions from a panel that included computer science professor Terry Winograd and Stanford football coach Tyrone Willingham. One controversial topic was the famous match that Kasparov lost to IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in 1997 (see photo at right), the first time that a computer defeated the top chess player in the world. Check out two articles in Stanford publications about this exciting evening: the Stanford Report and the Stanford Daily.
I can say this event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I wasn't yet a master, but I met the strongest player in history. I only wonder if Kasparov would still recognize me today. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet him at SuperNationals earlier this month.
Free Play in Palo Alto
- What: Last practice before the CalChess Scholastics
- When: Friday, April 24 at 8:00-10:30pm
- Where: Room F2 at ROLCC in Santa Clara
- Address: 1177 Laurelwood Road in Santa Clara
- Who: Anyone who loves to play chess (Unrated to 1800+ players)
- Please bring your chess set & clock!
- For additional information, send email to weiliu9397 (at) yahoo.com
Tuesday, April 21
Landon Brownell 1989-2009
Although he played for an Arizona school, I saw Landon frequently, either at nationals or at tournaments in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. He was a fierce competitor yet a gentle and social person. Landon defeated my student David Chock on board 1 in the final round of the 2006 nationals and shared first place with NM Daniel Schwarz at the 2007 nationals blitz. He also faced some other local juniors, most notably Michael Zhong.
If there is a lesson for all of us to learn, it is this: Do not drive while sleepy.
A life taken way too soon. Rest In Peace Landon Brownell.
Friday, April 17
Newest American Grandmaster: Robert Hess
Amazingly, he did all this in between taking the SAT and completing homework for his classes at Stuyvesant High School, one of the most competitive high schools in New York. If that wasn't enough, Hess played high school football a year ago!
I have known Robert Hess since we both played in the Las Vegas Masters in June 2006. When I first saw him, I thought the mature acting young man was a college kid whom I never met before. Imagine my shock when I found out this 2400 was just 14! We finished only 0.5 points apart, but he faced many top players and earned an IM norm while I spent much of the week struggling to stay out of last place. Hess and I met again in round 2 of the 2007 US Championship in Oklahoma, where I managed to swindle a draw from a losing queen endgame. Ever since, I have followed his results on ICC.
To read more about GM-elect Robert Hess, check out this interview on Chess Life Online with editor Jennifer Shahade.
Thursday, April 16
CalChess Scholastics -- Enter by Saturday!
About 600 players have registered to date, not including entries for the blitz and bughouse side events. The organizer encourages everyone to sign up early to decrease the stress of the last minute crunch. All entry fees will increase by $10 after Saturday night. If you haven't already, please register here as soon as possible.
If you're high rated and unsure which age group to play in, here's my advice: This is the state championship, the one tournament each year where you measure yourself against your peers. There's nothing wrong with shooting for the title of state champ! To that end, I only encourage a few elite students, generally those rated above 2000, to "play up" into the super competitive K-12 section. Another logical reason to move up would be if you won state or national titles within the past year.
I have compiled the following list of the top 20 juniors in Northern California. Half are already registered for the CalChess Scholastics and I expect 3 or 4 more to sign up soon. Unfortunately, some other kids have serious academic conflicts--this year's tournament dates could not really get any worse. :-(
(Added 4/17 at 1pm: all K-12 entries sorted by rating)
(Added 4/20 at 11pm: all K-8 entries sorted by rating)
CalChess Top 20 Juniors (April rating list with present or past students in bold)
- IM Sam Shankland 2477 -- not playing due to US Championship!
- FM Daniel Naroditsky 2341 -- not playing due to Young Stars (Russia)!
- NM Steven Zierk 2311 -- signed up K-12
- NM Gregory Young 2249
- NM Rohan Agarwal 2215 -- signed up K-12
- NM Nicholas Nip 2211
- Adarsh Konda 2124
- Michael Zhong 2092
- Yian Liou 2082 -- signed up K-12
- Hayk Manvelyan 2066
- Evan Sandberg 2044 -- signed up K-12
- Micah Cohen 2036
- Alan Naroditsky 2035 -- signed up K-12
- Jeff Young 2013 -- signed up K-12
- Michael Lin 2001
- Samuel Sevian 2001
- Kyle Shin 1969 -- signed up K-12
- Louiza Livschitz 1956
- Nicholas Karas 1911
- Daniel Zheng 1905 -- signed up K-6
Monday, April 13
Inspiring words spoken by 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov on April 3 at SuperNationals IV. Thanks to GM Susan Polgar's chess blog for this quote.
Friday, April 10
Checkmate! Fremont students win national chess title
The online magazine InsideBayArea.com published this article on the success of Mission San Jose Elementary's chess team at SuperNationals in Nashville. A group of 16 kids collected top 10 team trophies in three different sections, including first place in the K-6 Championship! To put this in perspective, no Bay Area school has won a national title since Lowell High School did in 1994. In fact, one of the New York City programs captures the Elementary school title in most years.
The organizer and driving force behind the team is coach Joe Lonsdale. Here he describes the achievement: "I've been aiming for this for four years. I had a group of second-graders I started with. ... I recognized I had a group with tremendous talent. I've watched them blossom," Lonsdale said. "I've always believed the students are very bright and very capable. But seeing them get the national, it's very satisfying."
Wednesday, April 8
Photos and Results from Nashville
Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in posting a report about SuperNationals IV. I am actually still recovering from the travel; my battle scars include one sprained toe, two bruises above my right eye and a mildly sprained left elbow. Despite these wounds, the trip to Nashville and back went quite well, at least away from the chess board.
Unfortunately, the results at the chess board were quite mixed. The Saratoga High School team finished in 11th place, a respectable finish in a very difficult section of 15 masters and over 50 experts. Kudos to Jeff Young for earning honorable mention with 5.0/7 and to Evan Ye for a solid 3.5/7 against five opponents rated over 1850. The U1600 team, severely handicapped by having only three players, ended up in 28th place. Despite the ups and downs, all eight players from Saratoga seemed to enjoy the team adventure.
As most readers probably already know, the Mission San Jose Elementary team went to Nashville and conquered the K-6 Championship! They blew open a tight race in the final round with a dominating 4-0 score. Special congrats to Hemang Jangle for crushing the top seed (rated 2174) and earning the 17th place individual trophy. See the photo at right of Hemang with his younger sister and former World Champion Garry Kasparov. The rest of the team joined Hemang to finish tied at 5.0/7: Jerome Sun got 20th, James Kwok 24th and Armaan Kalyanpur 33rd place trophies. MSJE also earned two more top 10 team trophies in K-5 and K-3, both for 9th place. The lion's share of credit for organizing such a successful elementary school chess club goes to MSJE coach Joe Lonsdale.
Four local players earned top 10 honors individually, led by National K-3 Champion Cameron Wheeler! Cameron won all 7 games, defeating friend Vignesh Panchanatham in the final round, and now is rated nearly 1800. The photo at left of Vignesh and Cameron was posted on Chess Life Online. Vignesh still earned the 4th place trophy as a consolation for a strong performance. Joseph Wan and Rayan Taghizadeh both got 6.0/7 in the K-1 section, earning 4th and 5th place trophies.
Click here for the final standings and the USCF rating report.
If any local parents have additional photographs that I may post, please forward them to me at the address located in the right sidebar.
Friday, April 3
Hello from Nashville!
Everyone seems to have arrived at the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville, the site of SuperNationals IV. Unfortunately, we had some unexpected adventures en route; the weather was terrible. In fact, a tornado touched down within five miles from the playing site, causing a major evacuation before we arrived. Our flights came down just minutes after the severe thunderstorm passed through, but we still saw multiple lightning strikes nearby. I wonder how come they even let us land in this storm; actually Jeff and his father were diverted to Louisville due to the bad weather and arrived two hours late.
To make a long story short, the Saratoga High School chess team players were in our hotel rooms by 8pm Central time last night. We had dinner in the hotel, although the service was quite slow. Our three rooms are nice, maybe 30% larger than the room we crammed into four years ago, and are all close to each other. Unfortunately, we are located in the Cascades area of the hotel, near the lobby yet far away from the playing site. With everything under one roof, I guess it isn't too big of a problem.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle that we encountered so far was the parking gate to the self-parking lot. Unfortunately, Charles Sun's father had to waste several hours trying many different keys just to get the
The main tournament begins today with the opening ceremony at 11am. The keynote speaker will be none other than Garry Kasparov. However, I doubt that I will attend because it will extremely crowded; less than half of the attendees can fit into the theater. Kasparov also will play the ceremonial first move on board 1 of the High School section this afternoon, which should allow our team a chance to see him up close.
The first round is at 1pm Central time and the second is at 7pm tonight. There are 5277 entries as of Friday morning, including 46 from Northern California! I do not yet see a link to the online pairings and results, but that information should be posted later today at the official website. In the meantime, check out this article on Chess Life Online for a parent's perspective on this big tournament.
Good luck to all of the CalChess kids playing in Nashville!
Update: Results and pairings will be posted here.
Wednesday, April 1
Countdown to SuperNationals
The wait is finally over! Over three dozen Northern California players will fly to Tennessee tomorrow in anticipation of one of the largest chess tournaments in world history! The entry list has 5191 participants on the eve of the festival at the Gaylord Opryland. The opening ceremony is on Friday at 11:00am CDT and the first round starts two hours later.
The CalChess delegation consists of 44 players plus accompanying parents and coaches. A majority of the participants represent one of two large school teams: Saratoga High School (8) and Mission San Jose Elementary (16). Below is a listing of the top local players in each section. Click on the links to my website for files showing players in rating order as well as by team.
K-12 Champ (357 players)
- #56 Evan Sandberg 2009
- #61 Jeff Young 1996 -- Saratoga
- #107 Arthur Liou 1859
- #107 Charles Sun 1859 -- Saratoga
- #113 Brian Wai 1849 -- Saratoga
- #124 Aaron Garg 1820 -- Saratoga
- #17 Alex Lun 1536 -- Saratoga
- #18 Sankash Shankar 1532 -- Saratoga
- #19 Avinash Kumar 1531 -- Saratoga
K-6 Champ (215 players)
- #17 Jerome Sun 1864 -- MSJE
- #21 James Kwok 1816 -- MSJE
- #25 Hemang Jangle 1737 -- MSJE
- #63 Armaan Kalyanpur 1541 -- MSJE
- #4 Kyle Shin 1905 -- reigning National 5th Grade Champion (see photo at right)
- #5 Vignesh Panchantham 1654
- #10 Cameron Wheeler 1589
- #10 Rayan Taghizadeh 1003
Mission San Jose Elementary has three teams in the K-6 Champ, K-5 Champ and K-3 Champ. The K-6 Champ team is ranked #1 by average rating of the top 4 boards. Before anyone counts their chickens before they hatch, I would caution that the usually underrated New York programs and one strong team from Virginia will offer serious competition. The younger kids from MSJE are not quite as highly ranked, but still the K-3 Champ team is seeded #8 in their section.
Wish us all good luck! Please check the Fpawn Blog throughout the weekend for daily updates, usually at night after the kids have gone to bed. I will post occasional news from my cell phone onto my Twitter feed. Of course, the USCF website will have stories each day. Finally, check the official SuperNationals website for news, pairings and results.
I Want My Own Spaghetti Tree
In 1957 the jokesters at the BBC, ran a segment on the coming of spring after a mild winter and what that meant for Swiss farmers. The answer? An unusually large spaghetti crop. According to the Museum of Hoaxes, "Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, 'place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.'" -- The Huffington Post