Friday, August 30

Mechanics Roll Over LA

Mechanics board 4 Siddharth Banik
(National K-8 Champion)
FM Andy Lee recaps the first week of the 2013 US Chess League season.
It took last year’s Mechanics squad eight weeks to win a match – this year’s group got the ball rolling in week one with a convincing 3-1 victory over Los Angeles. 

Team captain John Donaldson took no chances, sending out the killer kid lineup in round one that clocks in at an average rating of 2452.  A strong move, but I was worried about the plan if we lost or drew the match – there’s no stronger lineup to go to in week two to recover!

Fortunately, the kids (plus GM Vinay Bhat, no longer a kid, although once America’s youngest master) lived up to their ratings, and then some.  
Click here to read the full reportLet's Go Mechanics!!

Monday, August 26

US Chess League Kicks Off!

The San Francisco Mechanics kick off the 9th season of the US Chess League on Tuesday evening.  Always competitive, the local team reached the playoffs in six of the previous eight seasons, winning the league championship in 2006.  Over the years, noteworthy titled players included GM Josh Friedel, GM Sam Shankland, GM Vinay Bhat, GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky, IM David Pruess and captain IM John Donaldson.  The San Francisco recipe for success, now copied throughout the league, depends on cultivating underrated young talent to man board 4, thereby opening enough space under the 2401 rating cap for the highly rated professionals on boards 1 and 2.

The 2013 roster for the San Francisco Mechanics consists of 10 players: 6 kids and 4 adults.  The top five, representing the team nucleus, have earned at least 25 caps each.  The next three also saw playing time last season.  The bottom four represent the Bay Area's latest crop of young stars--all age 13 or less and National Scholastic Champions!  The team selected January 2013 as the official rating list for determining a legal weekly lineup.

2013 Mechanics Roster
(January Rating, September Rating, Difference)
  1. GM Jesse Kraai (2567, 2567, 0)
  2. GM Vinay Bhat (2555, 2555, 0)
  3. GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky (2553, 2590, +37)
  4. FM Yian Liou (2432, 2492, +60)
  5. IM David Pruess (2431, 2431, 0)
  6. FM Andy Lee (2294, 2316, +22)
  7. FM Cameron Wheeler (2276, 2276, 0)
  8. NM Kesav Viswanadha (2213, 2261, +48)
  9. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (2191, 2278, +87)
  10. Siddharth Banik (2033, 2151, +118)
A glance at the above roster reveals several observations.  The trio of Grandmasters are interchangeable, and, depending on availability, I expect to see them take turns on boards 1 and 2 for much of the season.  Likewise, the three "Chess Punks" (Cameron, Kesav and Vignesh) appear close in strength and will divvy up many weeks on boards 3 and 4.  Finally, if bottom-rated Siddharth simply holds his own against master level opposition, then the team can afford to field a top-heavy power lineup more often.

Check out some of the possible lineups at captain Donaldson's disposal.  Unfortunately, availability may again become a driving factor in determining who can play, as in recent years.
  • two of Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + Liou/Pruess + Banik
  • two of Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + two of Lee/Wheeler/Viswanadha/Panchanatham
  • Kraai/Bhat/Naroditsky + Pruess + two of Lee/Wheeler/Viswanadha/Panchanatham

One peculiarity of the US Chess League allows captains to submit a lineup rated over 2400 in spite of the 2401 rating cap. Indeed, 60% of the San Francisco team is currently rated north of their "official" January rating.  Consider the lineup of Kraai + Naroditsky + Liou + Banik, rated 2450 on the September list!!  Few teams can equal that.  Even stronger may be substituting Bhat, the club's all-time leading scorer, on board 1--exactly as Donaldson has done for week 1.

The league schedule shows one match per week for the next 10 weeks, on either Tuesday or Wednesday evening.  The Mechanics compete in the Pacific Division and will face the Arizona Scorpions, Los Angeles Vibe and Seattle Sluggers twice each.  The top pair of teams from each of the four Divisions will participate in the league playoffs in November.

In a big change, the US Chess League has moved to  Basic accounts are free, allowing anyone to follow the action live.  The planned coverage includes a live TV broadcast of every round.  The action kicks off with a California Clásico against Los Angeles on Tuesday at 6:15pm!

Saturday, August 10

FIDE World Cup from Norway


Tromsoe in northern Norway.
The mesmerizing first round of the always exciting FIDE World Cup kicks off with 64 royal contests on Sunday morning at 6:00am Pacific time.  An array of 128 elite chess masters, including 38 members of the 2700 club, have made the trek to the remote town of Tromsoe, Norway, located north of the Arctic circle.  Most will not stay for long thanks to the cold-blooded nature of a knockout tournament.  Indeed, only 32 will play for more than 5 or 6 days.  A lucky two will contest the final round on Labor Day weekend.  Both finalists also qualify for the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

The knockout format has not varied much over the past decade.  Much like the annual college basketball championship tournament, the top seeds face the lowest rated participants in the first round.  Conversely, players ranked in the 50s get opponents in the 70s, most rated within merely 30 FIDE.

2013 World Cup Statistics
  • 128 total players
  • 38 rated 2700+
  • 52 rated 2600-2699
  • 27 rated 2500-2599
  • 11 rated U2500
  • highest rating = 2813
  • median rating = 2647
  • lowest rating = 2304

In each pairing, the participants play two games at a classical time control of 40/90 + G/30 with inc/30 starting on move 1.  The winner of this two day head-to-head encounter advances to the next round while the loser goes home.  Many matches invariably end in a tie, to be broken on the third day.  The tiebreaks start with a pair of G/25 + inc/10.  If still tied, they play a pair of G/10 + inc/10.  If still tied, they play a pair of G/5 + inc/3.  If the match remains deadlocked after two slow games and six rapid or blitz contests, then comes one Armageddon game (white 5 minutes versus black 4 minutes and draw odds).  No doubt these playoffs are stressful; those who advance from the first two slow games earn a valuable rest day.

A generous prize fund of $1.6 million will be divided among the 128 participants (although FIDE deducts a 20% tax).  Post tax, the 64 first round losers go home with $4,800.  The World Cup winner earns a cool $96,000.  All players pay their own travel expenses out of the prizes.

Top 10 Seeds
  1. Levon Aronian (ARM) 2813
  2. Fabiano Caruana (ITA) 2796 
  3. Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2784 
  4. Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 2785
  5. Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2772
  6. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2772
  7. Boris Gelfand (ISR) 2764
  8. Gata Kamsky (USA) 2741
  9. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (AZE) 2775 
  10. Leinier Domínguez Pérez (CUB) 2757 

Most top players in the world signed up for the richest tournament on the 2013 calendar.  Only three stars will sit out.  World Champion Viswanathan Anand and official challenger Magnus Carlsen are busy preparing for November's title match in Chennai, India.  The 2012-13 Grand Prix winner Veselin Topalov also chose to stay home.  Not coincidentally, these three already punched tickets to the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

The American delegation consists of nine Grandmasters, headlined by Top 10 seeds Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky.  The other seven will be tested from the start.  Indeed, six of those seven are paired up in the first round!  Historically, the Americans have fared poorly in the World Cup, except for Kamsky, who actually won the 2007 edition!  Unfortunately, it appears unlikely for anyone except the top pair to survive beyond round 2.

Americans at World Cup
  • #6 - Hikaru Nakamura 2772
  • #8 - Gata Kamsky 2741
  • #55 - Alexander Onischuk 2667
  • #83 - Ray Robson 2623
  • #95 - Larry Christiansen 2584
  • #97 - Alejandro Ramirez 2588 
  • #99 - Gregory Kaidanov 2574
  • #106 - Alexander Shabalov 2546
  • #112 - Conrad Holt 2539 
Round 1 Results: Nakamura, Onischuk and Robson are through to round 2.  Kamsky and Ramirez face tiebreakers on Tuesday. The other four were eliminated.  Kamsky moved on after four rapid games.  Unfortunately, Ramirez lost the Armageddon game against Tomashevsky, rated 2706 FIDE.

For live coverage beginning at 6:00am PDT daily, check out the official website and the Internet Chess Club.  Do not try to watch all of the games during the early rounds; just follow your favorite players and some top seeds.

Predictions?  I actually filled out a bracket just like for March Madness.  Quarterfinals: Aronian vs Kamsky, Wang Hao vs  Bruzon, Giri vs Polgar and Kramnik vs Nakamura.  Semifinals: Aronian vs Wang Hao and Giri vs Nakamura.  Final: Nakamura over Aronian!

Friday, August 2

NorCal Top 20 Masters

GM Sam Shankland in Ningbo, China
FM Yian Liou in Chongqing, China.

Check out the Top 20 Masters in Northern California ranked by their August USCF or FIDE rating.  The top 7 names are identical, and should be familiar to the readers.  The young stars GM Sam Shankland, GM-elect Daniel Naroditsky and FM Yian Liou spent the summer trotting across the country (St. Louis, New York and Washington DC) and flying around the globe (China, Spain, Germany and Latvia), at each destination playing the royal game and representing the USA.

Unfortunately, there are no juniors under age 16 to be found on the international rankings, and just one on the national list.  Indeed, I count merely five players (six on USCF) under age 30, with four of those near the top.  Perhaps we should investigate the "graying of California chess masters" under 2475 USCF or 2400 FIDE.  The Nachwuchs, currently represented only by 13-year old NM Colin Chow, better arrive soon!

Rank Name USCF Name FIDE
1 GM Shankland, Sam 2673 GM Shankland, Sam 2599
2 GM DeFirmian, Nick 2586 GM DeFirmian, Nick 2509
3 GM-e Naroditsky, Daniel 2570 GM-e Naroditsky, Daniel 2503
4 IM Zierk, Steven 2543 IM Zierk, Steven 2485
5 GM Browne, Walter 2525 GM Browne, Walter 2454
6 FM Liou, Yian 2491 FM Liou, Yian 2402
7 SM Sharma, Arun 2478 SM Sharma, Arun 2398
8 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2454 IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2397
9 IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2441 IM Donaldson, John 2390
10 IM DeGuzman, Ricardo 2439 IM Zilberstein, Dmitry 2389
11 IM Pruess, David 2431 IM Mezentsev, Vladimir 2364
12 IM Donaldson, John 2413 IM Pruess, David 2363
13 IM Kaufman, Ray 2408 IM Kaufman, Ray 2326
14 NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2379 NM Ishkhanov, Tigran 2314
15 IM Tate, Emory 2362 IM Winslow, Elliott 2300
16 NM Manvelyan, Hayk 2340 IM Tate, Emory 2284
17 FM Lee, Andy 2316 FM Cusi, Ronald 2272
18 NM Chow, Colin 2313 NM Manvelyan, Hayk 2270
19 FM Porter, Ryan 2308 FM Cunningham, Robin 2266
20 IM Winslow, Elliott 2280 FM Lee, Andy 2260

NorCal Top 20 FIDE Rated Juniors

Chess Punks learning from Daniel Naroditsky in 2010. From left to right:
Vignesh Panchanatham, Allan Beilin, Danya, Kesav Viswanadha and
Cameron Wheeler. Three of the students are now masters themselves.
NM Colin Chow, photo by Shorman
A new wave of talented Bay Area juniors has begun filling the highest level.  A year and a half ago, there were only four local young masters.  Today, eight have broken the magical 2200 USCF mark, and the trend promises to continue. The Chess Punks of 2010 have grown into the Chess Masters of 2013.

However, the international FIDE ratings lag up to 200 points behind the national USCF ratings.  The sheer number of underrated youngsters has transformed FIDE points into a precious commodity at local events.  I counted an incredible 40 NorCal kids who have earned a published FIDE rating, yet more than half are rated below 2000.  Most shocking to me: the youngest two were born in 2005!

Kudos to NM Colin Chow for gaining an impressive 100 FIDE points in the past 8 months.  His USCF rating also rocketed up to 2324.  Well done making the Sacramento Chess Club proud!

Rank Name FIDE
1 GM-e Naroditsky, Daniel 2503
2 FM Liou, Yian 2402
3 FM Wheeler, Cameron 2176
4 NM Chow, Colin 2162
5 Ruddell, Solomon 2136
6 NM Viswanadha, Kesav 2134
7 nm Liu, Daniel 2095
8 Apte, Neel 2082
9 Tong, Benjamin 2081
10 Beilin, Allan 2075
11 Jirasek, Ladia 2064
12 NM Panchanatham, Vignesh 2058
13 NM Zhu, Jack 2056
14 Shin, Kyle 2046
15 Klotz-Burwell, Hunter 2020
16 Nagarajan, Pranav 2012
17 Cao, Joshua 2007
18 FM Vasudeva, Tanuj 2000
19 Iyengar, Udit 1993
Handigol, Abhishek