Wednesday, June 26

Sacramento Championship on July 5-7

Are you looking for some hot chess competition during the dog days of summer?  If you're not attending the World Open in our nation's capital, then join the fun at the Sacramento Chess Championship.  Enter one of three rating sections and choose from the leisurely 3-day schedule (6 rounds of 30/75, G/45 + 30 second increment) or a thrill ride in the 2-day schedule (rounds 1-3 at G/50 + 15 second increment).  You can always count on an efficient event with the experienced National TD John McCumiskey at the helm.
NTD John McCumiskey

This annual tournament has attracted 70 to 80 players in recent years, but 100 would sound nice.  Probably a half dozen masters will enter the Open section, including an IM or two.  Indeed, IM Ricardo DeGuzman won the 2010 and 2011 editions, but he was trumped by FM Kenan Zildzic in 2012Yours truly intends to participate for the first time since 2009--when he actually won!

The latest weather forecast calls for low-90s on Friday through Sunday, much more comfortable than this week's 100s.

Monday, June 24

IM Daniel Naroditsky Wins US Junior

IM Daniel Naroditsky in Saint Louis.  Photo credit: CCSCSL
The Bay Area star IM Daniel Naroditsky clinched the 2013 US Junior Invitational with a dominating final round victory against MIT student Robert Perez.  The California master benefited from vast experience far beyond his peers, remaining undefeated and in control throughout the championship at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.  Danya won two games with white and two with black, and calmly drew against all of his closest competitors.  Even the tense moments passed within a few moves, leaving the audience to wonder if there was ever any doubt.

Thanks to IM John Donaldson at the Mechanics' Institute for pointing out that Daniel is the third Bay Area star to win the US Junior in four years!  He joins 2010 champ IM Sam Shankland (now a GM) and 2011 winner NM Gregory Young.  Our hopes remain high for future years, especially for 12 year old Sam Sevian who shared second place this year, just 0.5 behind.

In the following contest, Daniel attacks his opponent's IQP and wins an instructive battle.  

10 year old Daniel at 2006 CalChess Scholastics.  He went 5-1
in a K-12 section won by NMs Daniel Schwarz and Drake Wang.
Having conquered his peers, Daniel plans to spend the summer before his senior year at Crystal Springs Uplands School playing chess in Spain and Latvia.  His goal: earn the elusive final norm for the Grandmaster title.  His first two GM norms came at Villa de Benasque two summers ago and the Philadelphia Open this past March.  Good luck Danya!

Check out the official Naroditsky chess website for the latest exciting tournament news.  How many high school students can boast of two published books on their college applications?  Danya can!  Indeed, all of us can learn from Mastering Complex Endgames, a thorough instructional work published last year.  For someone with so many different talents, only the sky is the limit.

USCF Election

Some adult readers will receive their ballot for the USCF Executive Board election in postal mail within the next week.  Frankly, chess politics make me cringe, and I sympathize with chess players who display zero interest as long as tournaments get rated promptly.  However, a national organization of 80,000 members needs competent leaders.

Six candidates vie for four seats.  The top two finishers earn 3 year seats and the next two are elected for 2 years.  Each voting member may vote for as many as four candidates.

Here are my three endorsements
  • Ruth Haring hails from Northern California and attends local tournaments.  As current USCF President, she applies experience in business to help the chess community.
  • Mike Atkins organizes and directs major tournaments on the east coast.  In his first term on the Board, he served the federation with an open mind and a steady hand.
  • Randy Bauer is a chess master and an accountant in Iowa government.  A former Board member, he brings to the table financial guidance that the USCF often lacks.
I choose to vote for only three names on the ballot.  The other three candidates are: Beatriz Marinello, Tim Redman and Chuck Unruh.  While all six candidates appear dedicated to chess, I have specific reasons for not endorsing a fourth person.

Saturday, June 22

Exciting Finish at US Junior Invitational

Bay Area U12 World Champions IM-elect Sevian versus IM Naroditsky.

 Final Standings
  • 6.5 Daniel Naroditsky
  • 6.0 Sam Sevian and Luke Harmon-Vellotti
  • 5.5 Victor Shen 
  • 4.5 Kayden Troff and Yian Liou
  • 4.0 Robert Perez and Jeffery Xiong
  • 3.5 Atulya Shetty
  • 0.5 Sarah Chiang
(All photos have been borrowed from CCSCSL.)

The surprise of the tournament: FM Harmon-Vellotti.
Round 9:  The 2013 US Junior closed on a high note for the three talents from the San Francisco Bay Area.  The top seed and favorite Daniel eliminated all suspense by calmly obtaining a pleasant position as black in the KID.  On move 32, his opponent Robert blundered his queen--for the third time in the tournament.  Congratulations Danya!  Luke could have shared first with a win, but his monarch was stranded in the center in a French.  Just as it appeared Jeffery might even score an upset, the Idahoan forced a perpetual.  The precocious IM-elect Sam left nothing to chance versus tail-ender Sarah, picking up a swift point with the Nimzo-Indian.  Sam shared 2nd place with Luke, an impressive performance for a 12 year old!  The match-up of the second and third seeds Victor and Kayden went in favor of white in a positional Gruenfeld.  And on the last board, California kid Yian beat Atulya in a game that meant little more than pride and rating points.    

FM Yian Liou
Round 8:  The pressure mounts as the tournament nears its end.  The most important game involved two California boys, white sitting in first place and black struggling to get back to 50%.  Daniel obtained a pleasant position in the "Spanish Torture," but Yian held on with creative and resourceful defense.  The inevitable draw allowed Luke to once again move into a tie for first.  He calmly pushed Robert off the board in the Najdorf, advancing passed pawns on both rook files.  Victor essayed the Berlin defense against Sam, and they split the point after move 40.  The Texas youngster Xiong tested Kayden in the Benko gambit, earning an easy 30 move draw.  On the last board, Shetty sacrificed a piece for three pawns in the Queen's Gambit exchange variation and slowly asserted the power of his connected passers.

Wednesday, June 19

Chess Players Graduate - Class of '13

Andrew and Benjamin

Over the years, I have been blessed by the opportunity to coach some of the brightest kids in Northern California.  Simply spoken, smart children play chess, and chess offers a competitive arena to exercise their cerebral talents.  I always knew my students had the brains to excel.  Every June, it seems that the graduates move on to some of the best colleges in America.  Well done mates!

Many hearty congratulations to the High School Class of 2013!  Former chess students will matriculate all around the country in the Fall: Stanford (Kevin), UC Berkeley (Andrew and Ted), MIT (Jonathan), Yale (Benjamin) and NYU (Embert) in the Fall.  These young stars not only achieved state and national recognition in chess, but also in math and science.  Here is a special shout-out to Kevin and Andrew for being recognized as finalist and semifinalist (respectively) in the Intel Science Talent Search!

The nine main members of the 6-time CalChess K-12 Champion team at Saratoga High School have all moved on, with four choosing Stanford and four attending UC Berkeley (plus one guy at Duke).  David and Jeff have graduated from Berkeley while Marvin and Aaron earned their diplomas from Stanford.  Aaron will continue at MIT for graduate studies.  Congratulations guys! 

The following list shows the number of former chess students who enrolled at prestigious universities (including new freshmen) Unfortunately, I lost track of a few students.

  • 11 = UC Berkeley
  • 6 = Stanford 
  • 3 = MIT
  • 2 = UCLA and UC San Diego 
  • 1 = Yale, Northwestern, Duke, NYU, Rutgers
  • 1 = Pomona, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz

Monday, June 17

US Junior Middle Rounds

IM-elect Sam Sevian
IM Daniel Naroditsky
FM Yian Liou

Current Standings
  • 5.0 Daniel Naroditsky
  • 4.5 Luke Harmon-Vellotti, Sam Sevian
  • 4.0 Victor Shen, Kayden Troff, Robert Perez
  • 3.0 Yian Liou, Jeffery Xiong
  • 2.5 Atulya Shetty
  • 0.5 Sarah Chiang

(All photos have been borrowed from CCSCSL.)

Round 7:  Friday turned out to be a California day!  Yian, who struggled all week, crushed the leader Luke in 27 moves, snaring the black queen in a gambit line of the French Tarrasch.  Top rated Daniel took care of business against bottom rated Sarah, thereby occupying the lead with only two rounds left.  Can he overcome the curse on first place?  The wizard Luke remains in second place just 0.5 behind, joined by 12 year old whiz kid Sam.  In a battle of World Youth gold medalists, Sam sacrificed both knights on consecutive moves to rip open Kayden's defenses in a topical Najdorf.  Victor outplayed Atulya from the white side of a semi-Slav while Robert and Jeffery played a peaceful middlegame from the Chigorin variation.  Any of six players could win or tie for first place depending on how the chips fall in the final two rounds.  Stay tuned!

Round 6:  After a day of relaxation and basketball, Luke the Magician struck to seize the lead again.  He overcame a dangerous passed pawn and three pawns down to play a decisive combination.  While objectively losing, the wizard from Utah cherishes complicated positions and never gives up.  The other joint leaders after round 5 were unable to keep pace.  Daniel seemed content to force a draw after some adventures against the Taimanov essayed by fellow IM Victor.  Robert lost his queen and eventually the game out of a Benoni-like opening, allowing his young opponent Kayden to move into a share of second with Daniel.  Sam won the exchange versus Atulya's English opening, and played energetically to bring home the point.  The last board saw a short but tense Ruy Lopez draw between Jeffery and Yian.

Round 5:  For the first time in three days, the leader(s) did not lose.  Daniel defended the black side of the Ruy Lopez against fellow Northern California native Sam.  Although white won a pawn, black's activity and bishop pair provided compensation. The draw allowed two competitors to catch up to the lead, although both can thank their lucky stars.  Luke got outplayed in a Queen's Indian, but kept fighting for counterplay until Victor blundered.  Robert lost a pawn in the middlegame, but managed to activate his king when Yian went astray.  Jeffery converted two connected passers into a win against fellow Texas native Sarah.  In the last game, Kayden had an advantage as black in the English, but Atulya found enough weaknesses to save half a point.

Round 4:  The musical chairs continue in the US Junior Closed.  Yesterday's hero Luke fell victim to 12 year old Sam's superior piece activity against the Worrall Attack, facing checkmate after just 30 moves.  A few feet away, Daniel took care of business with white in a French Tarrasch, first picking off the IQP and then winning the exchange.  At 3.0 out of 4, the top rated International Master now occupies the pole position.  Three would join Luke in second place with 2.5 points.  Kayden nursed an advantage against Yian, and eventually cashed in the rook endgame.  Sarah showed her attacking skills by nearly upsetting Robert from the black side of a Nimzo, but the tables turned and the MIT student escaped with a full point.  Jeffery and Victor danced for nearly 80 moves in a queen endgame with 7 pawns each before shaking hands peacefully.

Commentary by GMs Ben Finegold and Yasser Seirawan.
The biggest chess news today did not involve the US Junior.  The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis announced a four player super Grandmaster event this September.  The participants will be World #1 Magnus Carlsen and World #2 Levon Aronian against USA #1 Hikaru Nakamura and USA #2 Gata Kamsky.  All four are currently ranked in the Top 10 overall.  W-O-W!!!

Important links for the 2013 US Junior:

Friday, June 14

US Junior Early Rounds

Daniel wears light blue shirt in foreground. Sam plays white vs Yian in the back.
Photo credit: Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Current Standings
  • 2.5 Luke Harmon-Vellotti
  • 2.0 Daniel Naroditsky, Victor Shen, Atulya Shetty
  • 1.5 Kayden Troff, Robert Perez, Yian Liou
  • 1.0 Sam Sevian
  • 0.5 Jeffery Xiong, Sarah Chiang

Round 3: The co-leaders Victor and Atulya both won with black yesterday and, predictably, they promptly lost with white today.  Victor and Robert played a back-and-forth Najdorf, where two knights proved more important than a second queen.  Speaking of the black cavalry, Atulya seemed fine in the English until one of Luke's knights landed on e3.  The sudden change in fortunes allows Luke to climb to the top of the leaderboard.  The three California boys found themselves uncomfortably close to losing, but all managed to split the point.  The highly anticipated pairing of favorites Daniel and Kayden saw black dominate the center, but the veteran Daniel escaped into a double rook endgame.  The two 12 year old IM-elects Sam and Jeffery battled in a French, and Sam should count his lucky stars as his king escaped certain demise.  Finally, bottom-rated Sarah got on the board by drawing against Yian.

Round 2: After four white wins in round 1, black achieved a plus score today.  The early leaders at 2-0 both triumphed with the black pieces.  Atulya won when Jeffery failed to find the critical moves after sacrificing a queen in a French.  And Victor took full advantage of an inopportune moment of blindness by Yian.  The other two first round winners, Luke and Danya, drew after white got exactly nowhere against the Nimzo.  Robert and Sam blitzed out 25 moves of theory in the Botvinnik, then drew by repetition just a half dozen moves later.  Kayden found himself in a scintillating battle worthy of a James Bond film, and the 007 predictably escaped with a subtle combination to force a pawn promotion.

Round 1: The tournament kicked off with a bang.  All five games ended decisively, and two California boys won.  The most exciting game of the day was the Najdorf battle between Luke and Kayden that saw white milk an endgame win out of a small middlegame advantage.  Yours truly closely watched the pairing of Bay Area talents Sam and Yian, which ended in favor of black after a positional struggle in the Accelerated Dragon.  Top seed Daniel punished Jeffery's unusual treatment of the Bogo Indian while Victor showed no mercy to bottom rated Sarah, the US Junior Open qualifier.  Robert gifted a free point to National High School champion Atulya by blundering his queen out of the blue.  Friday saw four white wins and one black win on a day of youthful fighting chess.

The San Francisco Bay Area has become one of the premiere locations in America for talented young chess players.  Indeed, 6 of the 10 participants in the US Junior have sharpened their skills in regional tournaments.  In addition to the three local residents (Daniel Naroditsky, Yian Liou and Sam Sevian), the two Mountain Time Zone stars (Kayden Troff and Luke Harmon-Vellotti) and one from Texas (Jeffery Xiong) traveled here to play.  Indeed, Jeffery earned an IM norm at the Golden State Open five months ago.

Important links for the 2013 US Junior Closed:

Wednesday, June 12

US Junior Kicks Off on Friday

IM Daniel Naroditsky
FM Yian Liou
IM-elect Sam Sevian

For yet another year, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis will generously host many of the top juniors in the country, including a trio from Northern California.  The 2013 US Junior Closed returns to its traditional format of a 10-player round-robin at the leisurely pace of one round each day.  The players compete for a $10,000 prize fund and a coveted spot in the next US Championship.

The 10 invitees comprise quite a competitive field, with average rating of 2469 USCF and 2361 FIDE.  Three hold the International Master title, plus another 2 are IM-elect after fulfilling the norm requirements without the minimum 2400 FIDE rating.  The top 9 players are separated by only 120 points, meaning that literally anyone could catch fire and finish first.  Recent history even supports that possibility, since NM Greg Young dominated in 2011 as the eighth seed.

Participants in 2013 US Junior Closed
  1. IM Daniel Naroditsky (CA-N, age 17) 2558 USCF, 2494 FIDE
  2. IM Kayden Troff (UT, 14) 2528, 2443
  3. NM Robert Perez (FL, 17) 2521, 2359
  4. IM Victor Shen (NJ, 20) 2511, 2411
  5. IM-elect Jeffery Xiong (TX, 12) 2496, 2370
  6. FM Yian Liou (CA-N, 15) 2469, 2385 
  7. FM Atulya Shetty (MI, 17) 2465, 2320
  8. IM-elect Sam Sevian (CA-N, 12) 2464, 2390
  9. FM Luke Harmon-Vellotti (ID, 14) 2441, 2340
  10. WFM Sarah Chiang (TX, 16) 2234, 2101
This championship features a diverse crop of young chess masters.  Two attend prestigious universities (Robert at MIT and Victor at Columbia) and a third (Luke) has been admitted to UCLA for the fall.  Two more (Daniel and Atulya) will begin their senior year of high school.  On the other hand, the two 12-year old prodigies (Jeffery and Sam) have yet to start high school.  Of course, age and education make little difference once the games begin.

Three Bay Area stars were invited for this national championship.  Top ranked Daniel Naroditsky brings vast experience to the board for every round.  Two GM norms leave him on the cusp of the highest title in professional chess.  Incredibly, 17-year old Daniel also authored two chess books, which have received positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.  Yian Liou begins his first US Junior in the middle of the field, both by age and rating.  He won the 2010 US Cadet and, more recently, earned his second IM norm at North American Open last December (scoring 50% against 4 GMs and 2 IMs).  The youngest California representative, Sam Sevian, has amassed experience far beyond his years.  In addition to winning World Youth U12 last November and completing all three IM norms, Sam participated in the US Championship itself just a month ago!   Will one of the local boys bring home the Bay Area's second Junior title in three years (after Greg in 2011).

The tournament kicks off with an Opening Ceremony on Thursday evening and round 1 on Friday.  All rounds begin at 11:00am Pacific time, except the last one on Sunday, June 23.  The organizers plan to offer live coverage with commentary by Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan and Ben Finegold Stay tuned for plenty of crazy tactics and even some subtle positional play!

Bay Area Kids Play in Online Invitational

Ashritha ponders her next move.
Thanks to David Petty for this exciting press release. Make sure to watch the action this weekend LIVE on! is set to host the 2nd Annual Online National Chess Championship, June 14th-17th 2013. Founded and organized in June of 2012, last year's event was the first of its kind as the only ever online National Chess Championship - approved by the United States Chess Federation (USCF). is the "scholastic extension" of the world's largest chess website - By bringing so many of the nation's best and brightest youth chess players together for an event of this magnitude, and the USCF hope to provide more exposure for the great game of chess, as well as all the benefits the game has on a child's cognitive development and critical thinking skills.

For many of these strong junior chess players, it is their first experience playing in an "invitational / closed" event - a format generally reserved for very prestigious, high level tournaments. Like the first, this year's event brings together the nation's best scholastic chess players in each respective age group to battle over the web for a national title. To add to last year's Under 12 and Under 8 divisions, has added two additional sections: an Under 10 and Girls Under 13.

Josiah sees everything.
The "Round Robin" format will see each player have a chance to face off against everyone in their age group. Each child will compete from a public location (mostly chess clubs) in their area, or from home under the observation from a "neutral" adult observer and their parents. The games will be broadcasted over the internet, with live commentary from National and International Master level chess coaches.  The time control is G/90 with a 30 second increment.

Each of the four sections includes at least invitee from Northern California.  Most will play their online games from the NorCal House of Chess in Fremont.  Best of skill to all!

Participants from Northern California
Click here for the list of all players
  • U-8: Rishith Susarla 1739
  • U-8: Balaji Daggupati 1549
  • U-10: Josiah Stearman 1927
  • U-12: FM Tanuj Vasudeva 2117
  • Girls-13: Ashritha Eswaran 2121

Saturday, June 8

The Lost Art of Playing Down

The vast Playing Hall at SuperNationals.
Let me begin this column with a confession.  Like other coaches, I routinely encourage students to sign up for higher rated sections at tournaments.  The underlying philosophy asserts the importance of playing stronger opponents, and subsequently learning from the inevitable defeats Alas, good intentions appear to have gone too far over the years.

The father of one former student emphasized the instructional value of facing equal or lower rated opponents.  Do not enter a higher section before demonstrating consistency at beating those lower rated.  An improving junior should not match wits with A players until he proved proficient at beating B players.  You don't necessarily need a perfect score, but enough to gain rating points (e.g. 80% against those 100-200 points lower).

Indeed, the skills required to consistently win playing down differ from playing up.
  1. Avoid unnecessary risks and allow the opponent chances to go astray.  
  2. Learn to identify and take advantage of mistakes big and small.  
  3. Rely on your greater experience (e.g. in endgame) to win an objectively equal game.  
  4. Keep fighting when in trouble, by maximizing counterplay.  
  5. Maintain your focus and confidence throughout the game.
Some young players achieve noteworthy results against strong opponents, but cannot defeat their peers.  They may end up being overrated, subsequently dropping points and doubting their ability.  Further progress depends on patching the deficiencies in chess development.  The ultimate test would be beating a rapidly improving yet still lower rated junior.  Those fortunate enough to earn the master title have repeatedly passed this test.

Postscript:  At many Bay Area events, juniors must play up simply to face their rating peers.  I regret this paradoxical trend.  Why have an A section when most entries come from B players?