Monday, January 30

Aronian Analyzes Round 10 Victory

Have you ever wondered what an elite Grandmaster thinks about while playing? Shortly after a spectacular positional win, the champion of Tata 2012 shares some of his thoughts with the media and an internet audience. This video on YouTube lasts 17 minutes.

The official website has many similar videos from every round. Watch candid interviews with Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and even some players in Groups B and C. Enjoy!

As a small tribute to Levon Aronian, the Internet Chess Club released its Game of the Day video from round 12 to the public. Aronian clinched first place with this win as black against Boris Gelfand. Watch nearly an hour of detailed analysis by the popular Alex Yermolinsky!

Sunday, January 29

Levon Aronian Wins Tata 2012

(Giri vs Aronian, the beginning of a brilliancy. Photo from tournament website.)

This weekend, #2 ranked Levon Aronian further established himself among the World elite by taking clear 1st at the 2012 Tata Chess Tournament at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. The Armenian scored 9.0 out of 13, losing twice, but winning an impressive seven games to finish a point ahead of the field. Showing his ability to fight on either side of the board, three of his victories came with the black pieces. Aronian gained 15 FIDE rating points to push his live rating up to 2824, surpassed only by two men ever--Garry Kasparov and the current #1, Magnus Carlsen.

Special congratulations both to Aronian and his former coach, Melik Khachiyan (now living in Southern California). In fact, both Grandmasters have a taste for positional exchange sacrifices, such as move 13 in Giri vs Aronian (round 10).

Three challengers stayed hot on the winner's heels, but could not catch up. As the top seed, Carlsen can be disappointed with plus-3, especially his one defeat. In post game interviews, he criticized his own play, at one point even uttering a profanity. He did manage to hold on to his 2835 rating. Teimour Radjabov was the only player to escape defeat in Tata 2012, bringing his new rating up to 2784. And the young Italian star, Fabiano Caruana, cracked the top 10 of the World with four wins and just one setback, gaining 26 rating points.

Final Standings
  • 9.0 Aronian
  • 8.0 Carlsen, Radjabov and Caruana
  • 7.5 Ivanchuk and Nakamura
  • 7.0 Kamsky
  • 6.5 Karjakin
  • 5.5 Van Wely
  • 5.0 Topalov, Gashimov and Gelfand
  • 4.5 Giri and Navara
The bottom of the standings included a few surprises. Not so long ago, Veselin Topalov was at the top of his game. However, the Bulgarian lost four times in Wijk aan Zee, winning once. The oldest rated over 2700, Boris Gelfand still expected to score better than minus-3 as he prepares for a title match this May against World Champion Viswanathan Anand. Lastly, the Dutch youngster Anish Giri started out well at 4.0/7, but then lost five in a row to drop into the cellar. I am sure he will be back soon.

The two Americans moved up in the rankings with scores above 50%. Both won three rounds, but Gata Kamsky lost twice while Hikaru Nakamura just once. Nakamura now stands as #6 in the World, behind Carlsen, Aronian, Kramnik, Anand and Radjabov.

Let me complete my round-by-round list of favorite games from Group A.
  1. Karjakin 0-1 Aronian -- Ruy Lopez closed
  2. Aronian 1-0 Nakamura -- Dutch Leningrad
  3. Carlsen 1-0 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined + BN vs R endgame
  4. Navara 0-1 Karjakin -- Ruy Lopez Berlin + pawn endgame
  5. Nakamura 1-0 Navara -- English Opening, reversed Dragon
  6. Gelfand 0-1 Nakamura -- Dutch Leningrad
  7. Kamsky 1-0 Navara -- Ruy Lopez Berlin + R and B endgame
  8. Giri 0-1 Gashimov -- Sicilian Najdorf, 6.Bg5
  9. Ivanchuk 1-0 Giri -- Queen's Gambit Declined + R and N endgame
  10. Giri 0-1 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined + exchange sacrifice
  11. Carlsen 1-0 Topalov -- Bb5 Sicilian (Canal-Sokolsky)
  12. Gelfand 0-1 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined, Petrosian
  13. Kamsky 1-0 Topalov -- Queen Pawn Game, Indian

Wednesday, January 25

GM deFirmian Returns to Bay Area

News from Chess Room Director IM John Donaldson:

The Mechanics' Chess Club welcomes Nick deFirmian as its Grandmaster-in-Residence. This will be a return home for the native Californian and UC Berkeley graduate. Grandmaster deFirmian has a long association with the Mechanics' dating back to his days as an undergraduate, and served as a member of the organizing committee for the M.I.'s "Pan-Pacific" International Chess Tournaments in 1987 and 1991.

The past three decades Nick deFirmian has excelled in many areas of the chess world. A world class player for many years, Grandmaster deFirmian is a three-time US Champion and an eight-time member of the US Olympiad team. He served as the Captain of the US team at the 2002 Chess Olympiad held in Bled, Slovenia.

The author of several books on the games, including three editions of the well-received Modern Chess Openings, deFirmian has also written for such leading chess publications as New in Chess, Chess Life and Inside Chess.

He is well known for his role in helping prepare openings for the IBM computer Deep Blue that defeated World Champion Garry Kasparov in a historic battle in 1997. This was the first time a computer had beaten a reigning human World Champion in a match.

The past decade Grandmaster deFirmian has concentrated his energy on teaching chess to children in New York City. This teaching included working with Public School 130 in Chinatown and Horace Mann, a private school which won the 3rd and 5th grade national championships. He has also coached kids in such events as the World Youth Championships and taught at summer chess camps throughout the country.

Grandmaster deFirmian will focus his energy on the Mechanics' Chess Club's Scholastic Outreach program. He will also be the lead instructor at an expanded number of chess camps held at the Mechanics' and will start a Thursday evening group class for enthusiastic amateurs players.

Additional Links

Additional comment by fpawn This certainly counts as exciting news! The Mechanics' has been without a Grandmaster-in-Residence since 2008, the year when Alex Yermolinsky moved to South Dakota. DeFirmian brings the experience of a veteran Grandmaster who won the US Championship three times and many times represented the country abroad. He also is one of only a few American GMs born in the USA! After the departure of Sam Shankland, Josh Friedel and Jesse Kraai, the Bay Area should embrace the new arrival. Welcome home!

Saturday, January 21

Tata Through Round 7

(Gelfand faces the Dutch from Nakamura. Photo from Chessbase.)

The Tata Steel Chess 2012 tournament has reach the halfway point with the top two rated players in the World continuing to share the lead. In the past three rounds, both Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian drew twice and won once, leaving them with 5.0/7. American star Hikaru Nakamura picked up ground with a pair of exciting victories. On the other hand, three players lost twice since the first rest day: Vugar Gashimov, Boris Gelfand, and David Navara.

Standings After Round 8 of 13
Updated 1/22: All round 8 games were drawn except for Giri 0-1 Gashimov.
  • 5.5 Aronian and Carlsen
  • 5.0 Radjabov
  • 4.5 Caruana, Ivanchuk and Nakamura
  • 4.0 Giri and Van Wely
  • 3.5 Kamsky, Karjakin and Topalov
  • 3.0 Gashimov and Gelfand
  • 2.0 Navara
The biggest surprises are the two local players, seeded 12th and 14th out of 14. The youngster Anish Giri has two wins against a single defeat (1/22: now two defeats) while the veteran Loek Van Wely managed seven straight draws. Most disappointed must be World Championship challenger Gelfand and the highly rated Vugar Gashimov. There is still plenty of time for fortunes to change since six rounds remain to be played.

Here are my favorite games from Group A, one for every round.

  1. Karjakin 0-1 Aronian -- Ruy Lopez closed
  2. Aronian 1-0 Nakamura -- Dutch Leningrad
  3. Carlsen 1-0 Aronian -- Queen's Gambit Declined + BN vs R endgame
  4. Navara 0-1 Karjakin -- Ruy Lopez Berlin + pawn endgame
  5. Nakamura 1-0 Navara -- English Opening, reversed Dragon
  6. Gelfand 0-1 Nakamura -- Dutch Leningrad
  7. Kamsky 1-0 Navara -- Ruy Lopez Berlin + R and B endgame
  8. Giri 0-1 Gashimov -- Sicilian Najdorf, 6.Bg5

Friday, January 20

Shankland Takes First at NorCal International

Fifth seed GM Sam Shankland won the 2012 Northern California International with an undefeated score of 7.0 out of 9. Rounds 6 and 7 turned out to be critical, when Sam defeated the early leader, IM Greg Shahade, and the top seed, GM Georg Meier of Germany, both in under 30 moves! A trio of Americans shared second place at 6.5: GM Alejandro Ramirez, GM Josh Friedel and IM Marc Arnold.

The tournament attracted 60 competitors to Fremont on January 2-8, including 8 Grandmasters and 16 International Masters. Players arrived from around the World, representing Georgia, Mongolia, Peru, Zimbabwe, and 9 other countries. The many flags hanging from the ceiling at the playing hall underscored the international flair.
One goal of any such event is to offer GM or IM norms to players who perform above 2600 or 2450, respectively. Three norms are required to earn a title. Kudos to Azeri master Faik Aleskerov for earning an IM norm with 5.0/9! IM Arnold and IM Shahade were among the leaders, but missed GM norms in the final round. C'est la vie! Unfortunately, the number of foreign participants (18) was less than expected (at least 20) due to multiple last minute dropouts, decreasing the norm opportunities. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and 13-year old FM Kayden Troff both played very well to finish at 5.5/9, but alas, neither faced the requisite number of foreign opponents. Tragic!
Many thanks to organizers Arun Sharma and Ted Castro for hosting the tournament. By all accounts, people enjoyed a week of chess and mild weather in the Bay Area. For local participants, this was a chance to play against strong masters without traveling far. And the nine players under the age of 16 received an invaluable face-to-face learning opportunity. Given the high level of enthusiasm, hopefully the Bay Area will host many future Internationals!

(Photos courtesy of Inga Gurevich and Ted Castro.)

Wednesday, January 18

Wijk aan Zee Tournament

(World #1 Carlsen plays white against #2 Aronian. Photo by Chessbase.)

The beginning of each new year brings two of the most prestigious chess events: Wijk aan Zee in January and Linares in March. Both tournaments attract star players--this time 7 of the World's top 10. Chess enthusiasts from around the globe analyze every single game, hoping to understand the brilliant ideas behind the moves. Masters watch for the latest opening innovations while amateurs try to pick up a few tricks to use in their own games. Only the World Championship, Olympiad and World Cup can match this level of excitement.

More than a thousand serious fans brave the snow, cold and ocean breeze on the coast of the Netherlands to participate in a chess festival that began in 1938. Amateurs play in the same hall as the super-Grandmasters, and might even rub elbows with them. For over a decade, the steel company Corus funded the tournament. When Tata bought Corus two years ago, they assumed fiscal responsibility for continuing a tradition. Unfortunately, next year (2013) might bring the end; Tata has not indicated that it will continue the generous financial support.

Who are the players in Tata 2012? The all-star lineup in Group A includes the top 2 rated and 7 of the top 10 on the January FIDE Rating List. The bottom half of the field includes two (and a half) Americans. All but one player is rated over 2700--the unofficial threshold for super-GM. The average rating is a mind-boggling 2755!
  • #1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR 2835) -- chasing record rating of 2851 set by Kasparov
  • #2 Levon Aronian (ARM 2805) -- 2011 was best year of his chess career
  • #5 Teimour Radjabov (AZE 2773)
  • #6 Veselin Topalov (BUL 2770)
  • #7 Sergey Karjakin (RUS 2769)
  • #8 Vassily Ivanchuk (UKR 2766)
  • #10 Vugar Gashimov (AZE 2761)
  • #12 Hikaru Nakamura (USA 2759) -- top rated American
  • #16 Boris Gelfand (ISR 2739) -- challenger to World Champion Anand in May 2012
  • #17 Fabiano Caruana (ITA 2736) -- born in USA but moved to Italy at age 12
  • #20 Gata Kamsky (USA 2732) -- second American and reigning US Champion
  • #28 Anish Giri (NED 2714) -- youngest player at age 17, but top rated Dutchman
  • #30 David Navara (CZE 2712)
  • #54 Loek Van Wely (NED 2692) -- frequently plays Open tournaments in USA
Unfortunately, a pair of big names are missing from this list: #3 Vladimir Kramnik (RUS 2801) and reigning World Champion #4 Viswanathan Anand (IND 2799). Kramnik will probably play in Linares. Anand is taking an extended break to prepare for his title defense in May.

The traditional format is a 14-player round-robin, meaning all-play-all. The entire tournament lasts over two weeks--13 rounds interspersed by 3 rest days. Four rounds are now in the books, and the two 2800s share the lead at 3.0/4. They squared off in round 3, with Carlsen pulling out a victory in a wild endgame. On the other hand, Aronian won each of his other three games, including a middlegame win as black against Karjakin and a fighting game against Nakamura's Leningrad Dutch (see adjacent photo). Radjabov and the rising junior Caruana stand in third place, half a point behind the leaders.
I strongly encourage all of the advanced kids reading this article to play through the games of Group A. You may choose to select a couple of top players to follow throughout the year. Over time, you will learn the style of these Grandmasters and see what you need to do to improve. Although not my primary goal, you should also pick up some new opening theory. Any junior rated over 2000 should already be analyzing GM games on his/her own. I think most 1800s are strong enough as well. Now get to work! :-)

While browsing the Official Website, make sure to check out the B and C groups. Group B is an impressive Grandmaster tournament in its own right, with an average rating over 2600. The third invitational, Group C, seems somewhat weaker; still there are six Grandmasters, including two rated around 2650. One small detail: the winner of Group C earns a spot in Group B next year, while the champion of Group B plays with the big boys.

Tuesday, January 10

Golden State Open THIS WEEKEND in Concord

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This weekend's Golden State Open is the most exciting annual adult chess tournament in Northern California. Popular national organizer Bill Goichberg and his Continental Chess Association guarantee a minimum prize fund of $21K, with a projection of $30K based on 290 fully paid entries. The past two years saw an average of 250 participants and they hope for a modest increase.

Players may opt to stay at the comfy Concord Hilton while commuters benefit from easy access to I-680 at Willow Pass Road. Dining options are plentiful: Willows Shopping Center across the street (Claim Jumper, Quiznos and Jamba Juice), Sun Valley Mall just off the freeway, and family restaurants in almost every direction.
  • Event: Golden Gate Open
  • Dates: January 13-16 with 3-day and 2-day schedules (no Open in 2-day)
  • Location: 1970 Diamond Blvd, Concord CA
  • Format: 7 rounds in 5 sections (Open, U2100, U1800, U1500, U1200)
  • Primary Time Control: 40/2, G/1, d/5
  • 4-day schedule: Reg by Fri 6PM. Rds: Fri night, Sat (2), Sun (2), Mon (2)
  • 3-day schedule: Reg by Sat 10AM. Rds: two G/75, then Sat night, Sun (2), Mon (2)
  • 2-day schedule: Reg by Sat 9:30AM. Rds: four G/40, then Sun night, Mon (2).
  • Entry fee: $150 on site
  • Prize fund: guaranteed $21,000; projected $30,000
  • Information:
  • Advance Entries:
No doubt, I would have played in this event. Alas, my long term health issues do not permit it. Sigh! However, I plan to visit for a few hours on either Sunday or Monday afternoon. It would be just my second Bay Area chess tournament since May 2010. I'm looking forward to seeing lots of old friends and former students! Please say hi!!