Sunday, August 28

2011 FIDE World Cup Begins

Bay Area star GM Sam Shankland (right) stunned super-GM Peter Leko (left) in round 1!

The FIDE World Cup has evolved into the largest and one of the most prestigious chess tournaments. An incredible 128 players arrived in the remote Russian oil town of Khanty-Mansiysk for a Wimbledon style knockout championship. Each mini-match consists of two classical games, one per day. If still tied, the match goes to a third day of tiebreaks, first rapid, then blitz and, if necessary, an Armageddon finale. Only one competitor can advance, meaning the competition is both grueling and nerve-wracking. The field shrinks in half after every round; round 2 has 64 players, round 3 has 32 and so forth.

The participants play for a huge prize fund of $1.6 million and three spots in the next World Championship cycle. Most players qualified either by rating (top 20) or by placing near the top of a country or continental championship (e.g. US Championship). The winner takes home $96,000; each of the 64 losers in round 1 gets $4,800. The two finalists plus the winner of the third place match advance into an 8-player Candidates Tournament (2013) to determine the challenger for a World Championship match (2014).

Considering these stakes, it seems a little surprising that only half of the top 10 rated players chose to participate. Of course, Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand are already busy preparing for a title match in May 2012. Then Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik probably expect to be invited to the Candidates Tournament by rating (top 3). However, the absence of Veselin Topalov and Hikaru Nakamura is more difficult to understand.

Six Americans made the lengthy trip to the middle of nowhere, or more precisely, 500 miles due north of Kazakhstan. Gata Kamsky earned his spot by rating; he actually won the 2007 World Cup. The other five (Alexander Onischuk, Yury Shulman, Ray Robson, Sam Shankland and Alexander Ivanov) all qualified at the 2011 US Championship in St. Louis.

Official website: (very good site!)
Games also available on ICC. Type "/finger WorldCup11" with library links at bottom.

American Results: MAJOR UPSET! Shankland eliminated Leko in round 1!!  Click here to view his win.  Unfortunately, only Kamsky managed to get past round 2.  Kamsky was knocked out by Svidler, who subsequently won the entire tournament!
  • #8 Kamsky - eliminated by #9 Peter Svidler (Russian champ) 0.0-2.0 in round 4
  • #51 Onischuk - eliminated by #14 David Navara in round 2
  • #83 Shulman - eliminated by #43 Vladimiir Potkin in round 1
  • #103 Robson - eliminated by #26 Etienne Bacrot in round 1
  • #111 Shankland - eliminated by #82 Abhijeet Gupta in round 2
  • #112 Ivanov - eliminated by #81 Igor Lysyi in round 2
Schedule:40/90, G/30 + 30 sec/move added from move 1
  • Opening ceremony, August 27
  • Round 1, August 28, 128 players
  • Round 2, August 31, 64 players
  • Round 3, September 3, 32 players
  • Round 4, September 6, 16 players
  • Quarterfinal, September 9, 8 players
  • Semifinal, September 12, 4 players
  • Rest Day, September 15
  • Final + 3rd place, September 16 (two 4 game matches)
  • Closing ceremony, September 20

Friday, August 26

Chess: The Road to College

(Where does this internationally certified chess nut go to college?)

The end of summer brings upon us the annual ritual of starting school. And those who managed to graduate from high school in June now begin a whole new chapter of their lives. Four of the Bay Area's elite scholastic players moved into college dorms this week. I was fortunate to have taught three of the four. They combined to win the past four state High School titles, with each victorious at least once. This post serves as a small tribute.

IM Steven Zierk definitely counts as the star of the class of 2011, both academically and based on chess results. He had many phenomenal results, but three stand out in my mind:
  1. Clear 1st in A section of 2007 People's tournament with a published rating of 1527.
  2. Beat GM Loek van Wely in 27 moves with black at 2009 Western States (Reno).
  3. Gold medal at 2010 World Youth U-18 in Greece, earning the IM title.
While chess played big role in Steven's youth, he had a broad range of interests. As I found out accompanying him at the 2008 US Open in Dallas, he loves math puzzles and devours books of different genres. An active athlete, he played and refereed soccer, earned a second degree black belt in tae kwon do and even joined the school track and field team (shot put). Of course, he also excelled at Los Gatos High School. The photo at the top of this post leaves no doubt where Steven chose to go for college: MIT.

A year ago, NM Evan Sandberg (photo at right) became my sixth student to achieve the rank of master. Yet his greatest achievement came in 2009, when he shared 1st place in the High School section at the CalChess Scholastics (with Yian Liou), thereby earning the right to play in the Denker Invitational in Indianapolis. An active member of the Mechanics' Institute chess club, Evan continued to participate in the Tuesday Night Marathon through this summer. The streak will necessarily end since Evan decided to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey.

NM Rohan Agarwal (photo at left) reached 2200 despite never being one of my students. However, I wrote a tribute to his aggressive playing style titled "The Master Gambiteer". Sadly, he didn't have time for many tournaments over the past two years at Irvington High School in Fremont. He did leave a mark by teaching the next generation at Weibel Elementary. Rohan won't need to go far for college as he decided to attend UC Berkeley.

Expert Nicholas Karas (photo at right) of Rio Americano High School in Sacramento started out with a provisional rating of 395 and then rocketed through the rating scale to a peak of 2159. Much of the teaching credit goes to his first coach--and my longtime student--NM Daniel Schwarz. Nicholas saved the best for his senior year, winning clear 1st in the High School section at the CalChess Scholastics and then attending the Denker Invitational in Orlando. He also became a Golden Bear as he began studying at UC Berkeley.

to Steven, Evan, Rohan and Nicholas! (I admit that I'm a little late.)

Each year, the most talented young chess players typically get admitted to the best universities around the state and nation. Take GM Robert Hess, America's top rated junior, as an example; he just matriculated at Yale University. Among my growing group of ex-students, there's no doubt that Berkeley has become the most popular school, with at least a half dozen: David C, Jeff Y, Kevin H, Charles S, Michael L and now Nicholas. Five of these six reached 2000 at chess, establishing a quasi benchmark for future Berkeley applicants. And I believe three guys remain at Stanford (Marvin S, Aaron G and Adam G) after the June graduation of Daniel Schwarz.

Numbers aside, however... Go Stanford! Beat Cal!