Saturday, October 24

Fpawn Takes a Vacation

This blog will be quiet for the next two weeks as I take a vacation with my family. No chess! Little net access! No cell phone! No Blogger or Twitter! The break allows me to relax and avoid the hectic life in the 21st century. At times, I wonder how I'll manage.

Good luck to those who play at the Western States Open in Reno this weekend. And in the US Chess League, may the San Francisco Mechanics team build on last week's success to earn the #2 seed in the Western Division playoffs.

Friday, October 23

Steven Zierk Defeats GM Loek Van Wely!

Playing on the top board tonight at the Western States Open in Reno, FM Steven Zierk scalped former world class Grandmaster Loek Van Wely of Holland. Although Van Wely no longer competes with Kasparov and company, he remains a formidable opponent rated 2733 USCF and 2650 FIDE. Check out the spectacular 27 move long attacking game below. Even Tal may have been impressed. Way to go Steven!!

Play online chess

Thursday, October 22

Bay Area Well Represented on All-America Team!

(FM Naroditsky presents a lecture at left while Sevian calculates a position at right.)

According to this press release by the US Chess Federation, eight CalChess stars earned a spot on the 2010 All-America Chess Team sponsored by Trophies Plus! The requirements for this prestigious honor are quite strict: players must exceed a very high rating depending on their age (ranging from 1800 for age 8 & under to 2450 for age 18). Only 43 juniors made the team--an average of merely four per age group.

Kudos to the following CalChess kids! Readers of this blog are already familiar with the names, and now folks around the country will recognize them as well.

Bay Area juniors on All-America Team (age as of January 1).
  • IM Sam Shankland (17)
  • FM Steven Zierk (15)
  • FM Daniel Naroditsky (13)
  • NM Greg Young (13)
  • NM Yian Liou (11)
  • Samuel Sevian (8)
  • Cameron Wheeler (8)
  • Tanuj Vasudeva (7)
The All-America team highlights a fact that Bay Area coaches have known for several years: the local kids can compete with those from the scholastic hotbeds of New York and Texas! With eight All-Americans, CalChess narrowly edged New York and Texas, both with seven. No other state has more than four.

The Bay Area has become a prime breeding ground for the nation's elite kids, sharing the role that New York dominated for many years. Much of the credit goes to the Mechanics' Institute for fostering an environment that motivates kids. Regular tournaments offer the rising stars a chance to match wits with experienced adult masters and experts, while the San Francisco School of Chess hosts lectures by experienced Grandmasters from around the world. A final factor is that Silicon Valley kids tend to become comfortable with computers at a young age; I have watched kids as young as 5 and 6 playing chess on ICC!

Monday, October 19

Countdown to Western States Open

(Photos from past Reno tournaments: parking lot entrance, playing room and lecture hosted by GM Larry Evans and organizer Jerry Weikel.)

The Western States Open in Reno is one of my favorite events to play. I participated in every WSO since 2000, a streak which will end this year because of the timing of my family's annual vacation. Nonetheless, a number of my top students will attend. Check out the advance entry list at the Reno tournament website.

The two annual Reno events offer the opportunity to escape the hassles of work or school. The organizers, Jerry and Fran Weikel, and the Sands Regency Hotel go out of their way to keep players happy. No wonder they come back year after year! The Open section will be strong with a dozen or more GMs and IMs. Even with the poor economy, I am sure that the attendance will approach 300 players, more than any Bay Area adult tournament. The advance entry list shows 170 names as of last Thursday!

Some parents are shy about Reno because of the casino atmosphere. Rest assured that the chess tournament maintains a quiet family-friendly atmosphere. Second-hand smoke has decreased since 2007 when Nevada banned smoking except on the casino floor. I recommend that parents request a room in either the Regency or Dynasty towers so that the kids can take the elevator straight up from the playing hall to your hotel room. Then you only pass through the casino on the way to restaurants.

Best of luck to all players! May all your pawns promote!

Wednesday, October 14

GM Ian Rogers Teaches Top Kids at Mechanics Institute

(The elite chess class is hard at work! From left to right: GM Rogers with students Samuel, Greg, Yian, Kyle and Tanuj.)

Grandmaster Ian Rogers visited the Mechanics' Institute last weekend in conjunction with a meeting of the Ken Whyld Association of chess historians. Known as the strongest player ever from Australia, GM Rogers achieved a peak FIDE rating of 2618 in 1999 (about top 50 of the world back then). He faced many of the world's top players in the 1980s and 1990s, earning a draw as black versus Anatoly Karpov and swindling a checkmate against Viktor Kortchnoi!

On Sunday, October 11, GM Rogers (seated next to FM Naroditsky at right) took time from his busy schedule to tutor some of the Bay Area's elite juniors. The lecture carried on the inspiration of the San Francisco School of Chess, a program seeking to boost promising young chess players in Northern California both through interactions with GMs and IMs as well as their fellow juniors. Sunday's topic quickly caught the attention of the audience: the rapid improvement of teenager Magnus Carlsen to 2800 and beyond. The class delved deeply into Carlsen's openings and middlegames from the recent Nanjing tournament, with lengthy variations and occasional jokes flying around the room from all sides.

The group was small and intimate, yet highly competitive with five of six students ranked in the top three of the nation for their age! These kids no doubt comprise the present and future stars for the San Francisco Mechanics squad in the US Chess League. The team has a seemingly endless supply of underrated juniors for the next few seasons. If the kids keep improving like this, next year's team may field a GM plus three 2300+ rated juniors! (a.k.a. Panda and the three bamboo sprouts)
  • FM Danya Naroditsky, 2378, #1 age 13 (Board 3)
  • NM Greg Young, 2272, #2 age 14 (Alternate)
  • NM Yian Liou, 2226, #2 age 12 (Board 4)
  • Kyle Shin, 2088, #6 age 11
  • Samuel Sevian, 2079, #1 age 8
  • Tanuj Vasudeva, 1904, #3 age 8

Saturday, October 10

Busy Weekend at the Mechanics' Institute

The top seeds at the Dolan Memorial G/45 tournament sit side-by-side for the early rounds. IM Ricardo DeGuzman (sitting at left) and expert Romulo Fuentes (not in photo) split the top prizes with a last round draw after Fuentes took down NM Michael Pearson (wearing white shirt). A total of 33 participants (see photos below) visited the historic Mechanics' Institute despite the nice weather, nearby Navy show and other conflicts.

The chess players were joined this weekend by a group of (mostly) gray haired men attending the Ken Whyld Association of chess historians. Presenters at this two day seminar include chess club director IM John Donaldson, IM Tony Saidy, GM Ian Rogers and FM Danya Naroditsky. Surely the former World U12 champion will be a tad out of place among the celebrities, but none of them had their first book published at age 13! (To be released in spring 2010.)

Thursday, October 8

Fpawn Rating List - November 2009

Within the last week, the USCF posted the Top 100 lists for October and official ratings for November. As usual, the Bay Area is well represented among the elite of the nation. Three kids are ranked #1 for their age: FM Danya Naroditsky (13), NM Nicholas Nip (11) and expert Samuel Sevian (8). Four more follow in the top 3: IM Sam Shankland (17), NM Greg Young (14), NM Yian Liou (12) and A player Tanuj Vasudeva (8). Another four check in at either #5 or #6, bringing the total to 11 Bay Area stars ranked in the Top 6 of the nation for their age!

The November USCF rating supplement includes the 154 player Labor Day Festival (not officially the state championship this year) plus an assortment of smaller tournaments. A total of 25 present and former students attended on Labor Day weekend, but only one became "pseudo state champion." Props to Alan Naroditsky (see photo at right) for scoring an undefeated 5-1 in the Expert section, playing against three talented juniors and three conniving adults! Alan's annual improvement has been quite steady: 1784 in 2006, 1927 in 2007, 2014 in 2008 and now 2092 in 2009. He began his freshman year at UCLA a few weeks ago, but I expect to see him push some more pawns during school holidays.

Look for both Naroditsky brothers among the rankings of all my 2000+ rated students.

Top Students Overall (minimum rating = 2000, current students in red)
  1. FM Danya 2378
  2. FM Steven 2333
  3. NM DanielS 2313 -- Stanford
  4. NM Gregory 2272
  5. NM Yian 2226
  6. David 2095 -- UC Berkeley
  7. Alan 2092 -- UCLA
  8. EvanS 2092
  9. Kyle 2088
  10. Nicholas 2049
  11. Arthur 2014
I updated my student rankings as well. Click here for the Fpawn Rating List or check out the National Rankings page on my website. I copied my trio of Top 5 lists below.

Top 5 Grades K-6
  1. Kyle 2088 -- 2008 National 5th Grade Champion
  2. Neel 1800 -- 2009 CalChess K-5 co-Champion
  3. Richard 1620
  4. Leland 1600
  5. Rahul 1449
Top 5 Grades 7-8
  1. NM Yian 2226 -- 2009 CalChess K-12 co-Champion
  2. Sam 1953
  3. James 1848
  4. Roland 1773
  5. Tyler 1654
Top 5 Grades 9-12
  1. FM Steven 2333 -- 2008 CalChess K-12 co-Champion
  2. NM Gregory 2272 -- 2008 US Junior co-Champion
  3. EvanS 2092 -- 2009 CalChess K-12 co-Champion
  4. Arthur 2014
  5. Brian 1854

New Hot Rod!

After waiting six months, I finally got my new wheelchair today! I cannot tell you how relieved I am that this episode has come to a close. The process was frustrating; it should never have taken this long. One more reason why this country needs health care reform!

Those of you who visit the Mechanics' Institute for either the Dolan G/45 tournament on Saturday or the SF School of Chess lecture on Sunday (by Australian GM Ian Rogers) will get to see my new hot rod. It is similar to my old one, except that I now can pop a wheelie.

Wednesday, October 7

RIP Jerry Hanken (1934-2009)

The venerable chess master Jerry Hanken passed on to a higher chess board on October 1, succumbing to complications of diabetes. He was 74. Jerry was best known as a correspondent for Chess Life magazine and Chess Life Online, mixing in human interest stories with tournament results. He would interview not only with the Grandmasters, but also winners of the lower class sections. His byline included the title "Original Life Master," referring to the old days when masters earned a 2200 floor by playing 300 games. Everywhere he went, Jerry would spread his infectious enthusiasm for the royal game.

For more information about the life of Jerry Hanken, check out the two obituaries written by former USCF President Bill Goichberg and close friend Randy Hough. Or read Jerry's final online article about the Pacific Coast Open in July.

To close, I wish to share a funny--and true!--personal story about Jerry Hanken. As he grew older, his chess playing strength deteriorated sharply from a peak of about 2350. He would lose to 1800 and 2000 rated kids with alarming frequency, yet his rating remained stuck at 2200 because of the floor. (Aside: Jerry still showed flashes of his old brilliance. In fact, he defeated teenage FM Daniel Yeager, rated 2388, in his next to last tournament.)

Back in 2005, the Saratoga High School chess team and I traveled to play at the Western Class Championships held at a hotel near LAX airport. After seeing my round 3 pairing, white against Hanken, I boldly informed my teenage charges that, should I lose this game, I would jump out of the hotel room window. There was absolutely no way I could afford to go down against the old man without losing face before my students!

The game started out with a boring Bird's Opening (1.f4) setup. Perhaps I showed some of my overconfidence because the aggressive play on the kingside (9.h4) was not justified. The alert sacrifice 16... Nxg3 allows black to force a draw by repetition, but I had little interest in a peaceful result with an old man. Yet by move 26, I was practically mated and would have had to resign after 26... Rf2+ 27.Kg1 Ne2+. Very embarrassing indeed!

My students followed the game in the hotel room using Fritz and knew the end was near. Even Caissa saw my desperate situation. At the last possible moment, I set a subtle trap--and Jerry unwittingly walked right into it. After the seemingly reasonable 26... Nf3+, I replied with a stunning queen sacrifice to turn the tables! The Fritz evaluation changed from -6 to +7 in a single move. And with this fateful move, Jerry Hanken snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Poor guy!

Returning to the hotel room, my students immediately became quiet. One quickly moved in front of the window, just in case I was a man of my word. Expecting me to be depressed, another started to express his sympathies. The chessboard on the floor showed my hopeless position. Little did they know that, by the grace of Caissa, I had won!

Always a fan of queen sacrifices (he called them "parting with the lady"), Jerry illustrated the final combination in his magazine article. More than once since then, he told people how he saved my life. Thank you Jerry, for your infectious love of chess, your tireless efforts on behalf of the USCF and, of course, for saving my life! RIP YHR.