Saturday, November 8

2014 World Chess Championship

Anand begins Game 1 with the white pieces. Credit: Chessbase.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen (NOR) vs Challenger Viswanathan Anand (IND).

G1 G2 G3 G4 G5 G6 G7 G8 G9 G10 G11 G12 Total
Carlsen = 1 0 = = 1 = = = = 1 x 6.5
Anand = 0 1 = = 0 = = = = 0 x 4.5

Format = 12 Game Match, first to 6.5 wins.
Schedule = Games on Nov 8 - 25. Rest on every 3rd day. If needed, tiebreaker on Nov 27.
Play begins at 3:00pm Moscow time, 7:00am New York time, 4:00am California time.
Time Control = 40/120, 20/60, G/15 with a 30 second increment after move 60.

Game by Game Log
  1. White = Anand. Exchange Gruenfeld opening. Anand held a small middlegame advantage, but then Carlsen began pressing in even endgame. Drawn in 48 moves.
  2. White = Carlsen. Ruy Lopez, Anti Berlin Wall 4.d3. Carlsen loaded Alekhine's Gun on move 28. Under pressure, Anand blundered on move 34 and immediately lost!   
  3. White = Anand. Classical Queen's Gambit Declined. Carlsen challenged Anand in a theoretical line, allowing a protected passer on c7.  Anand won prosaically in 34 moves.
  4. White = Carlsen. Sicilian with 3.g3. A quiet opening gave Carlsen a small advantage, but Anand defended well in a Queen endgame. Drawn in 47 moves.  
  5. White = Anand. Queen's Indian with 4.g3. Anand obtained superior development, but this edge evaporated with careful defense. Drawn in 39 moves.
  6. White = Carlsen. Kan Sicilian, Maroczy bind. Despite a horrible double blunder on move 26 when Anand could have won, Carlsen scored in 38 moves using his strong bishop pair.  
  7. White = Carlsen. Ruy Lopez, Berlin Wall 9... Ke8. Theory for 24 moves. Anand sacrificed a piece to draw an endgame with all pawns on Queenside. R+N vs R drawn in 122 moves
  8. White = Anand. Classical Queen's Gambit Declined. Playing swiftly all game, Carlsen equalized without much difficulty. Drawn in 41 moves.
  9. White = Carlsen. Ruy Lopez, Berlin Wall 9... Ke8. Surprisingly, drawn by repetition in just 20 moves. Carlsen retains the lead, but Anand plays white in 2 of last 3 games.
  10. White = Anand. Russian variation of Gruenfeld. Anand played an interesting line using the bishop pair, but gave up his advantage on move 28. Drawn in 32 moves
  11. White = Carlsen. Ruy Lopez, Berlin Wall 9... Bd7. Anand obtained good position after 23... b5, but overpressed with 26... Rdb8 and 27... Rb4. Carlsen clinched in 45 moves.
  12. Not necessary

Monday, November 3

Preview of Carlsen vs Anand II

Carlsen and Anand before Game 1 of 2013 match. Credit: A. Karlovich

Exactly one year ago, the chess world became captivated by a Battle for the Ages in Chennai, India.  A young lad from Norway, just 22 years old, dared to challenge the reigning champion, a veteran with two decades of experience among the chess elite.  Alas, the champion capitulated on home turf, scoring nary a victory in a result as shocking as the meteoric rating gains already achieved by the Norwegian.  Meet Magnus Carlsen, the 16th World Champion.

Magnus Carlsen - the World Champion!
Much changed over the past year.  Carlsen earned a record rating of 2882 in May, but his recent results have proven modest by his lofty standards.  Indeed, he awkwardly found himself looking up to a peer!  Not only did Fabiano Caruana exceed the performance of the World #1, but he inched within 24 points of the top ratingDoes Carlsen hear the increasingly loud steps of his pursuers?  

On the other hand, the 15th World Champion Vishy Anand recovered from a slump in 2012-13 to gain 20 rating points this year.  Most importantly, he dominated the Candidates Tournament in April to become the official challenger.  In better form and no longer feeling pressure to defend the world title at home, the Tiger from Madras can compete with renewed vigor!

Artist rendering of venue in Sochi 2014.
While accounts of the first Carlsen vs Anand match describe a lopsided victory achieved through endurance and endgame technique, the storyline could have been very different had Anand seized opportunities in the first three games.  The veteran equalized easily with black in Game 1, and then found himself with the advantage in both Games 2 and 3.  The materialistic 29... Bxb2 in Game 3 should have been sufficient to take an early lead.  Alas, Anand was too timid, under too much pressure, and too respectful of his opponent.  Consecutive defeats in Game 5 and Game 6 sealed the Indian champion's fate.

The Rematch kicks off this Saturday, November 8, on neutral ground in Sochi, Russia.  The first to score 6.5 wins; there will be a rapidplay tiebreaker in case of a tie after 12 games.  The venue is the ultra modern Media Center of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the organizers promise live coverage comparable to the recent Sinquefield Cup and Tromsø Olympiad.  Rounds begin at 3pm Moscow time, which converts to 4am in San Francisco.  Wake up to watch the critical 3rd and 4th hours of play while enjoying breakfast!         
Official website =

Who will win the Rematch in SochiPlease vote in the unscientific poll at the upper right side of this blog.  Select the victor as well as the margin of victory.

Sunday, September 28

Medal Hopes in Durban

Flags of the 87 countries hang from ceiling.
After ten days of intense competition, the World Youth Chess Championships in South Africa are drawing to a close.  For the American delegation, the hunt for medals reaches a climax, with 7 players ranked in the top 4 for their section and an amazing 20 in the top 11 spots on tiebreaks.  Many of these children could claim a medal simply by winning the last two rounds.  Round 10 is underway as I write these sentences and Round 11 begins at 1:00 PDT on Monday morning.

The best medal chances for Team USA lie in the following sections:
  • Girls-U12: Jennifer and Akshita are clear 1st + 2nd and decide gold among themselves.
  • Boys-U12: David is tied for 1st, Praveen is 3rd, and Rayan + Aravind are tied for 4th.
  • Girls-U8: Rianne is tied for 3rd with Aksithi and Rochelle just 0.5 behind.
  • Boys-U10: Aydin is tied for 3rd while Andrew lurks 0.5 back.
  • Boys-U8: No Americans are in top 6, but somehow 6 squeezed into the top 14.

How many medals will Team USA collect?  Coach Ben Finegold predicted five medals at the start of the tournament.  Will he be right?  Stay tuned!

The CalChess kids have performed well too, with five scoring 6.0 or 6.5.  Three have realistic medal hopes if they can win the final two games: Rayan (B12), Aksithi (G8) and Andrew (B10).  Ashritha (G12) and Vignesh (B12) should finish in the top 10 with 1.5 out of the last two games.  Good luck!!

Sunday late night update: The Sunday round proved tragic for many of the American players.  Sigh!  The best chances remain in the Boys and Girls U12 sections.  At least there will be one medal -- Jennifer Yu (G12) clinched gold!  The CalChess medal hopes rest on the shoulders of Rayan (B12) and Aksithi (G8), while Vignesh can finish top 5 with a win.  Round 11 begins at 10:00am in Durban -- 1:00am in California.  Go U-S-A!! 

Team USA -- Average Score: 5.4 out of 9 (60%).
Team USA -- Average Score: 5.8 out of 10 (59%).

  • Nathaniel Shuman 6.0 (7th place) Drew Round 11 - Final 15th place
  • Rohun Trakru 6.0 (8th place) Won Round 11 - Final 10th place
  • Jason Yu 6.0 (9th place) Won Round 11 - Final 11th place
  • Rithik Polavaram 6.0 (11th place) Won Round 10 - Final 9th place
  • Arthur Guo 5.5 (12th place) Won Round 10 + Drew Round 11 - Final 8th place
  • Pranav Prem 5.5 (14th place) Won Round 10 - Final 14th place

  • Rianne Ke 6.5 (4th place) - Final 14th place
  • Aksithi Eswaran 6.0 (CalChess) Won Rounds 10 and 11 - Final 5th place
  • Rochelle Wu 6.0 (11th place) Won Rounds 10 and 11 - Final 6th place

  • Aydin Turgut 7.0 (4th place) - Final 14th place
  • Andrew Hong 6.5 (9th place) (CalChess) Won Round 11 - Final 10th place
  • Maximillian Lu 5.5 Won Round 11 - Final 25th place
  • Christopher Shen 5.5 Won Round 11 - Final 22nd place

  • Martha Samadashvili 6.0 (11th place) Won Round 10 - Final 8th place
  • Natassja Matus 5.5 Won Round 10 + Drew Round 11 - Final 10th place
  • Evelyn Zhu 5.5 Won Rounds 10 and 11 - Final 6th place

  • David Peng 7.5 (2nd place) Drew Round 10 - Final 5th place
  • Praveen Balakrishnan 7.0 (3rd place) Drew Round 11 - Final 12th place
  • Rayan Taghizadeh 6.5 (CalChess) Won Rounds 10 and 11 - BRONZE MEDAL
  • Aravind Kumar 6.5 (6th place) - Final 25th place
  • Awonder Liang 6.0 (14th place) Drew Round 10 - Final 24th place
  • David Brodsky 5.5
  • Marcus Miyasaka 5.5
  • Hans Niemann 5.0 (CalChess) Won Round 11 - Final 40th place

  • Jennifer Yu 8.0 Won Rounds 10 and 11 - GOLD MEDAL
  • Akshita Gorti 7.0 (clear 2nd) - Final 12th place
  • Camille Kao 5.5
  • Ramitha Ravishankar 5.5 
  • Chenyi Zhao 4.5 (CalChess) Won Round 10 - Final 34th place

  • Vignesh Panchanatham 6.0 (CalChess) Won Rounds 10 and 11 - Final 5th place
  • Angel Hernandez-Camen 5.5 Won Rounds 10 and 11 - Final 10th place
  • Bryce Tiglon 5.5 Won Rounds 10 and 11 - Final 11th place

  • Ashritha Eswaran 6.0 (CalChess) Drew Round 10 + Won Round 11 - Final 7th place
  • Priya Trakru 5.0 Drew Round 11
  • Tianhui Jie 5.0 Won Round 10

  • Kapil Chandran 6.5 (6th place) - Final 14th place
  • Edward Song 5.5 Drew Round 10 - Final 19th place

  • Apurva Virkud 6.0 (10th place) - Final 17th place
  • Agata Bykovtsev 6.0 (14th place) - Final 19th place

  • Atulya Shetty 6.0 (10th place) - Final 27th place

  • Jessica Regam 5.5 (15th place) - Final 28th place

Saturday, September 27

Mechanics Fix Sharks for Dinner

The US Chess League franchise from San Francisco showed its strong potential during weeks 4 and 5, first earning a hard-fought tie against the consensus favorites Dallas Destiny (4.5 MP, 15.0 GP), and then crushing the struggling Miami Sharks (1.5 MP, 7.0 GP).  The Mechanics (3.0 MP, 10.5 GP) moved above .500 midway through the season, and into third place in the competitive Western Division.  In each match, Daniel Naroditsky calmly kept board 1 under control while Siddharth Banik took care of business on board 4.  Incredibly, Siddharth improved his nearly flawless league record to 8.5-0.5!  Team veteran Andy Lee held a critical draw versus Dallas, while teenagers Yian Liou and Cameron Wheeler brought home full points in the rout of Miami.  Not intimidated by his Grandmaster opponent, Yian seized the center and eventually ensnared a knight on the seventh rank (see game above). 

The Mechanics return to action on Tuesday night against the Arizona Scorpions (2.5 MP, 9.5 GP) in a pivotal battle for third place in the West.  Games start at 9:00pm on ICCGood luck!

Friday, September 26

New Kid on the Block: GM Parimarjan Negi

The Bay Area has landed a new chess prodigy!  Indeed, this kid earned the Grandmaster title at the tender age of 13 years, 4 months and 22 days. He stands today as the second youngest GM in history, beating Magnus Carlsen by less than a week and the Chinese phenom Wei Yi by four months.  (Only Sergey Karjakin was younger.)  Last month, the grown-up prodigy led his native India to a surprising bronze medal at the Chess Olympiad in Norway.  Playing board 1, he scored 6.5 out of 10 against some of the best players in the world, drawing with Levon Aronian and losing just once to Fabiano Caruana.  This week, he resumes his studies away from the chess board, as a freshman at Stanford University.

Who is it?  Meet GM Parimarjan Negi, rated 2750 USCF and 2669 FIDE (#79 in the world).  Click here for his personal websiteNew In Chess magazine interviewed Negi for the latest issue, and Chessbase website reprinted the single page article here (with permission).  Check out the latest chess player at the Farm!

GM Negi is registered as the top seed at the National G/60 and G/30 Championships this weekend in Santa Clara.  Can anyone stop him?  

The game below, a crushing win against the Berlin defense at the recent Olympiad, was cited by Negi as his "best game."  In the final position, White threatens to sacrifice his Queen on h7 for a simple checkmate with two rooks.

Wednesday, September 24

Cal Kids Strong in South Africa

Inside the Playing Hall

After a very hectic 6 rounds over 4 days, today is the rest day at the World Youth Champs in Durban.  Some participants even took advantage the opportunity for a real African safari!  The chess tournament resumes tomorrow with the leisurely pace of one round per day through Monday.  Follow the top 10 boards in each section LIVE at the official website starting at 7:00am PDT.

Aksithi Eswaran
Team USA continues to score well at 62% overall.  Two girls have staked a 1/2 point lead in their respective sections, and a third player finds himself in a tie for first.  Three more guys share second place at the midpoint of the event.  Congratulations to Aksithi (G8), Jennifer (G12), Rayan (B12), Rohum (B8), Andrew (B10) and Christopher (B16)!  By my count, 14 juniors occupy the Top 10 in their section, and nearly half (34 of 70) currently have a score of 4.0 or more.  Of course, a lot can happen over the final 5 rounds.

The 7 CalChess representatives have contributed well to the statistics espoused in the previous paragraph.  Aksithi Eswaran leads Girls-U8 outright while her older sister Ashritha led Girls-U14 before a setback in round 6.  Andrew Hong and Rayan Taghizadeh carry the standard for the guys, both with 5.0 in Boys-U10 and Boy-U12, respectively.  Vignesh Panchanatham stands at 4.0, ready to continue his winning ways after two defeats earlier. Check out his daily blog reports!

Team USA -- Average Score: 3.7 out of 6 (62%).

  • Rohun Trakru 5.0 (tied for 2nd)
  • Jason Yu 4.5
  • Pranav Prem 4.5

  • Aksithi Eswaran 5.5 (clear 1st) (CalChess)
  • Rianne Ke 4.0 - won Round 7

  • Andrew Hong 5.0 (tied for 2nd) (CalChess)
  • Aydin Turgut 4.5 - drew Round 7
  • Maximillian Lu 4.5

  • Natassja Matus 4.5
  • Evelyn Zhu 4.5
  • Martha Samadashvili 4.5

Rayan Taghizadeh
  • Rayan Taghizadeh 5.0 (tied for 1st) (CalChess) - drew Round 7
  • David Peng 4.5 - won Round 7
  • Aravind Kumar 4.5 - won Round 7

  • Jennifer Yu 5.5 (clear 1st) - drew Round 7
  • Akshita Gorti 4.0 - won Round 7

  • Vignesh Panchanatham 4.0 (CalChess) - won Round 7
  • Angel Hernandez-Camen 4.0

  • Ashritha Eswaran 4.5 (CalChess)

  • Christopher Wu 5.0 (tied for 2nd)
  • Kapil Chandran 4.0

  • Agata Bykovtsev 4.0 - won Round 7
  • Apurva Virkud 4.0 - won Round 7

  • Atulya Shetty 4.0 

  • Jessica Regam 3.5 - won Round 7

Sunday, September 21

Team USA at World Youth - Top Scores

Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani Hotel in Durban (Photo: Franc Guadalupe)

Team USA started off on a roll at the World Youth Champs in South Africa, scoring a collective 75% in the first round.  Four players won the first 3 games, and 13 scored the very respectable 2.5.  Moreover, 49 of the 70 American representatives (70%) claim a plus score at this early stage.  Special recognition goes to Aydin Turgut (B10), Awonder Liang (B12), Jennifer Yu (G12) and Vignesh Panchanatham (B14) for beginning with a perfect 3-0.  Of course, it is a long tournament (11 rounds) and the competition is fierce (ratings often mean nothing).

LIVE Games available at official website!

Team USA -- Average Score: 1.9 out of 3 (64%).

  • Jason Yu 2.5
  • 9 tied with 2.0

  • Aksithi Eswaran 2.5 (CalChess)
  • Rochelle Wu 2.0

  • Aydin Turgut 3.0
  • Andrew Hong 2.5
  • Wesley Wang 2.5
  • Christopher Shen 2.5 
  • Cole Frutos 2.5
  • 2 tied with 2.0

  • Martha Samadashvili 2.5
  • 6 tied with 2.0

  • Awonder Liang 3.0
  • David Brodsky 2.5
  • 6 tied with 2.0

  • Jennifer Yu 3.0
  • Akshita Gorti 2.5
  • Ramitha Ravishankar 2.0

  • Vignesh Panchanatham 3.0 (CalChess)
  • Craig Hilby 2.0
  • Angel Hernandez-Camen 2.0

  • Ashritha Eswaran 2.5 (CalChess)
  • Priya Trakru 2.5

  • Kapil Chandran 2.0
  • Christopher Wu 2.0

  • Agata Bykovtsev 2.5
  • Apurva Virkud 2.5
  • Shaileja Jain 2.0

  • Atulya Shetty 2.0 

  • Jessica Regam 2.0

Note: Due to my travel schedule, I will not be able to update this blog until midweek.

Saturday, September 20

World Youth Begins in Durban

Vignesh and Rayan at the venue.
Hans strolls on the sand.

The 2014 World Youth Chess Championships kicked off today in Durban, South Africa.  Among approximately 950 players from 88 countries are 70 Americans, including 7 residing in Northern California.  The overall turnout is half of last year in United Arab Emirates, and Team USA shrunk from a record 94 participants.  No doubt, the tournament dates contributed to the lower turnout, especially compared to last year's event over the Winter Holidays.  Follow the results of Team USA at a glance using the Chess-Results website.

Life's a Beach in Durban.
The first impressions have been positive.  In a preview at Chess Life Online, GM coach Ben Finegold spoke of a great hotel with a plentiful buffet, immediately addressing one of the shortcomings last year.  In his chess chronicles, Bay Area NM Vignesh Panchanatham lauds the organization and good playing conditions.  The children will no doubt enjoy the adjacent beach, while adults can relax in the mild spring breezes off the Indian Ocean.

Of course, the primary focus is chess.  The schedule features 11 rounds through September 29, with double rounds tomorrow and on Tuesday, plus a rest day on Wednesday.  Most rounds begin at 16:00 local time, which converts to 7:00 in the morning PDT (rounds 2, 5 and 11 begin at 10:00 local).  Hopefully there will be live coverage of some of the top boards at the official website.

Three of the seven Northern California representatives already earned the USCF title of National Master, a tribute to their skill and experience competing against adults and juniors alike.  I expect them to fare well even against higher rated opposition.

Bay Area Delegation -- Scores after Round 3
  • WCM Aksithi Eswaran (G8) 2.5 !
  • Andrew Hong (B10) 2.5 !
  • NM Rayan Taghizedah (B12) 2.0 
  • Hans Niemann (B12) 2.0
  • Chenyi Zhao (G12) 1.0
  • NM Vignesh Panchanatham (B14) 3.0 !!!
  • NM Ashritha Eswaran (G14) 2.5 - drew with #1 seed from Russia!

Extra: Check out this fun attack and checkmate by Rayan at US Chess!

Team USA maintains high hopes of earning several medals once again.  Arthur Guo (B8) and FM Awonder Liang (B12) are rated highest in their respective sections.  Alas, they're hardly the only contenders.  In particular, watch the Boys Under 12 section with seven Americans seeded in the top 20, including Rayan and Hans from the Bay Area.  Among the young ladies, the Girls Under 12 appears most promising, with Jennifer Yu and Akshita Gorti both ranked in the top 4 of the section.  Good luck to all!  Go U-S-A!!

(Photos have been shamelessly borrowed from the Facebook pages of player parents.  Credit to Siva Panchanatham, Kaimi Niemann and Ramalingam Eswaran.)

Friday, September 19

CalChess Young Masters

Kesav Viswanadha calculates.
Michael Wang concentrates.

The Bay Area has built the reputation for supporting the growth of  talented young chess stars.  Over a few short years, many of these juniors improve to Expert, Master and Beyond!  Incredibly, 11 now hold a USCF rating above 2200 on the October supplement.  Another 5 earned their National Master certificate previously, but have since dropped a few points.  That's a total of 16 CalChess young masters!  

To put these numbers in perspective, consider that zero masters played at the CalChess Scholastics in 2003, while 2006 was the first year to see more than two masters participate.

Top CalChess Juniors (rated above 2150 on October supplement)
  1. IM-elect Yian Liou (age 17) 2502 USCF rating
  2. FM Kesav Viswanadha (15) 2429
  3. FM Cameron Wheeler (14) 2382
  4. Josiah Stearman smiles on his birthday.
  5. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (14) 2356
  6. NM Colin Chow (14) 2282
  7. NM Paul Richter (16) 2271
  8. NM Michael Wang (12) 2240
  9. NM Allan Beilin (15) 2221
  10. NM Siddharth Banik (14) 2215
  11. NM Rayan Taghizadeh (12) 2212
  12. FM Tanuj Vasudeva (13) 2209
  13. nm Josiah Stearman (11) 2185
  14. Teemu Virtanen (15) 2184
  15. Neel Apte (16) 2180
  16. nm Jack Zhu (15) 2174
  17. Ladia Jirasek (14) 2174
  18. Pranav Nagarajan (14) 2172
  19. nm Ashritha Eswaran (13) 2171
  20. nm Daniel Liu (16) 2165
  21. nm Udit Iyengar (14) 2165
  22. Jerome Sun (17) 2165
  23. Hunter Klotz-burwell (16) 2164
  24. Joshua Cao (17) 2164
  25. Kevin Moy (14) 2155
* nm = NM but currently rated under 2200

The top two players on this list both have a trio of IM norms to their credit.  Yian also achieved the required 2400 FIDE rating, while Kesav must pick up another 18 FIDE points.  We should have two new International Masters among our midst soon.

Watch out for Josiah!  The young lad spent the last month of summer on a quest for 2200.  He reached his goal in San Diego, peaking at 2215 before slipping back down.  Officially, Josiah gained 133 rating points in one month, from the August rating list to September (2066 to 2199)! 

Who will be next to make master?  Certainly anyone rated above 2150 could crack 2200 after one or two good weekends.  In addition, a pair of even younger stars, Hans Niemann (11) and Andrew Hong (9), already sport competitive ratings above 2100.

Wednesday, September 17

Blitz Tourney on Sunday at Mechanics!

Neil Falconer -
Update: At least three GMs expect to play: Daniel Naroditsky, Patrick Wolff and James Tarjan!

Five months after his passing, the Mechanics' Institute will honor trustee, patron and chess enthusiast Neil Falconer with a Sunday afternoon blitz tournament.  Mr. Falconer's dedication to the royal game spanned 75 years, from days as a high school student to sponsorship of the generous Falconer Award every year since 1999.  He remained a strong class A player even into his 80s, and challenged some of my top students.  I spoke with him several times, during the CalChess legal crisis in 2004-05 and informally at the chess club.  Unfortunately, we never crossed swords over the board.  Please read this tribute to one of the great gentlemen of Northern California chess.

The Falconer Blitz Tournament follows a similar format to the annual Ray Schutt Memorial, which has become the largest and most prestigious blitz event in the Bay Area.  Given Mr. Falconer's popularity, I expect many experts and masters to attend, including a few titled players.  Come on down for a fun afternoon of chess in the City!  

Neil Falconer Blitz Tournament 
Sunday, September 21
Location: 57 Post Street, San Francisco (Montgomery BART)
FORMAT: Five double-round Swiss

TIME CONTROL: G/5 + inc/2
(bring your digital clock)

ENTRY FEE: $10 (free for GM/IM)
This tournament is UNRATED. (Membership in USCF not required)

PRIZES: $750 total (guaranteed)
1st place: $300
2nd place: $200
3rd place: $100
4th place: $75
5th place: $50
6th place: $25

Every player takes home a book from Mr. Falconer's library!

REGISTRATION: 1 to 1:45 pm on-site only.  There will be no registration in advance.  The tournament starts at 2 pm and lasts until about 5 pm. Prize fund guaranteed by GM Patrick Wolff.

Note from Fpawn: Normally, I would jump to attend this event, especially since I knew Neil.  However, the date presents an unavoidable conflicts with other plans.  I'll be there in spirit.

Saturday, September 13

Round 3 - Mechanics Blow Thru Nor'easters

Cameron Wheeler
After a disappointing second round, the San Francisco Mechanics (1.5 MP, 5.0 GP) cranked out the first victory of 2014 against the struggling New England Nor'easters (0.0 MP, 4.5 GP).  On top board, Daniel Naroditsky won a complex time scramble against fellow Grandmaster Alexander Ivanov.  Playing black for the second week in a row, Jesse Kraai maintained sufficient activity to draw a rook endgame.  That left matters in the hands of 14-year old Cameron Wheeler, who needed 105 moves to convert an endgame up the exchange.  Unfortunately, the 11-year old playing Board 4, Hans Niemann, suffered a painful lesson at the hands of an experienced master.  Final score: 2.5-1.5 in favor of the local US Chess League junkies!

Next Tuesday night, the home team faces the Western Division leading Dallas Destiny (3.0 MP, 10.0 GP), who feature reigning MVP, 13-year old Jeffery Xiong on board 2!  Watch the games live on ICC beginning at 5:30pm Pacific.

Wednesday, August 27

Round 1 - Mechanics Draw Rio Grande

Siddharth Banik
In the first week of the 2014 US Chess League, the San Francisco Mechanics (0.5 MP, 2.0 GP) split four decisive games against the Rio Grande Ospreys (0.5 MP, 2.0 GP).  Vignesh Panchanatham and Siddharth Banik capably vanquished much lower rated opponents. Check out Siddharth's tactics in a razor sharp line of the Schliemann Defense.  Needing only to draw, both Daniel Naroditsky and Yian Liou lost to strong Grandmasters on the top two boards. Kudos to the Ospreys for splitting their inaugural league match!

The Mechanics square off against longtime rivals Seattle Sluggers (0.0 MP, 1.0 GP) next Tuesday night.

Monday, August 25

US Chess League 2014

The 10th season of the US Chess League kicks off this week!  The defending champion Miami Sharks face stiff competition from St. Louis ("Arch Bishops" feature three 2700s), New York ("Knights" star US Champion Gata Kamsky) and more than a dozen other cities around the nation. The league expanded to 18 teams, adding squads from Atlanta ("Kings") and Rio Grande ("Ospreys" from Brownsville TX).  The season stretches 10 weeks through the end of October, with 4 rounds of playoffs culminating in the Championship Match on December 3.  Teams will battle in three divisions (East, South and West), with the Top 3 in each, plus one 4th place, qualifying for the playoffs.

The San Francisco Mechanics joined the USCL in the inaugural season and have reached the playoffs in 7 out of 9 years.  Playing at the historic Mechanics' Institute, the club won the 2006 league championship, but also lost three times in the semifinals, including last year to the Sharks.  Team captain IM John Donaldson has successfully relied on one strategy while recruiting the roster each year: fill the lower boards with underrated juniors.  Case in point: the talented junior Daniel Naroditsky, who recently broke 2600 FIDE rating, will play for the 9th straight year, progressing from bottom rated in 2006 up to first board.

2014 Mechanics Roster
(Use January USCF list for official ratings.)
  1. GM Daniel Naroditsky (age 18), 2675 (August), 2614* (January), +61 (gain)
  2. GM Jesse Kraai, 2589, 2574, +15
  3. GM Vinay Bhat, 2555, 2555, 0
  4. IM-elect Yian Liou (17), 2475, 2478, -3
  5. FM Andy Lee, 2361, 2314, +47
  6. NM Vignesh Panchanatham (14), 2332, 2306, +26
  7. FM Cameron Wheeler (14), 2368, 2300, +68
  8. NM Siddharth Banik (14), 2236, 2212, +24
  9. Hans Niemann (11), 2136, 1979*, +157
(* League rules count Naroditsky as 2600 and Niemann as 2000.)

The kid on board 4: Hans!
The youthfulness of the San Francisco delegation jumps right out.  If you still consider 18-year old  Daniel as a junior, then the kids comprise 2/3 of the team!  The first round lineup (1-4-6-8) is one of the youngest in league history--an average age under 16.  Incredibly, the average August rating of 2430 still ranks among the highest for Week 1.  In fact, captain Donaldson can select from an assortment of lineups ranked above 2400 by platooning the Grandmasters on board 1 and substituting on boards 3 and 4.  The Mechanics can even field two GMs, balanced out by the rapidly improving expert Hans on board 4.  The three strongest (legal) lineups appear to be (1-4-7-8), (1-5-6-7) and (1-2-5-9), each rated between 2434 and 2440 USCF.

The US Chess League returns to the Internet Chess Club (ICC) this fall, with games scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings of every week.  Good luck to the Mechanics as they face the expansion team from the Rio Grande on Wednesday, August 27 at 5:30pm.

Sunday, August 24

Ten Student Goals for Chess Lessons

Neel Apte and Daniel Liu with Coach Fpawn at 2009 CalChess Scholastics.

The beginning of each academic year gives students time to review their personal goals for chess lessons.  The following list appears at my teaching website:
  1. Become a more confident chess player!
  2. Critique your games for mistakes and improvements.
  3. Develop the necessary patience to carefully consider the consequences of every move played during a chess game.
  4. Improve pattern recognition and understanding of tactics.
  5. Learn positional and strategic concepts, such as tempo, space, pawn structures, weaknesses, good/bad pieces, and threats.
  6. Apply standard opening rules and develop an opening repertoire.
  7. Understand the theory of common endgames.
  8. Cope with psychological pressures caused by different game situations, such as a winning or losing position.
  9. Prepare for tournaments or even specific opponents.
  10. Have fun!

Tuesday, August 12

Interview with GM Shankland at Olympiad

GM Sam Shankland has been the hero of Team USA and one of the biggest stories of the Tromsø Olympiad as a whole.  Not only did he achieve the best result on Board 5 (alternate) to date, his FIDE performance rating after the penultimate round places him third in the entire competition, behind only elite Grandmasters Veselin Topalov and Yu Yangyi!

One surprising factoid from this interview is that "Shanky" participated in his first chess tournament shortly before his 12th birthday.  Indeed, I remember him sporting a 1600 rating at his first National Open ten summers ago.  These days, the average 8 or 9 year old chess player seems to sport a 1600 rating.  Sam worked hard at chess (5000 standard games on ICC within 15 months) and reached master in less than 2.5 years!  Unfortunately, 2200 would not impress Vishy Anand, who famously said "nowadays, when you're not a Grandmaster at 14, you can forget about it!"

In the interview, Shankland speaks highly of both the Berkeley Chess School and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Good luck to Sam and the rest of Team USA at the final round of the Olympiad on Thursday at 2AM Pacific time.  Note that Wednesday is a rest day.

Saturday, August 9

Team USA Clawing Into Contention

Harbor of Tromsø with hills in background. Credit: Truong

As the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway begins its second week, the tension mounts both on and off the boards.  Teams from roughly 170 nations traveled to this remote locale north of the Arctic Circle despite sporadic flight delays, visa hassles and even threats of terrorism.  The host city has drawn positive reviews, especially for the beautiful scenery amidst water and mountains.  A few complaints included the FIDE zero-tolerance rule at the start of rounds and the use of portable toilets instead of more permanent facilities  For fans back home, the live coverage seems quite thorough.
World #2 Aronian plays white vs #1 Carlsen. Credit: Truong
After 7 rounds, a clear leader has emerged in both sections.  In the Open division, Azerbaijan (13 MP) defeated Cuba (11 MP) and moved 1 match point ahead of China (12 MP) and three other teams.  One big surprise is the Czech Republic (12 MP), which stunned top rated Russia (10 MP).  In the Women division, defending champion Russia (14 MP) knocked off top rated China (12 MP) to establish a 2 match point advantage over three teams.

Open Leaders (after Round 7)
  • 1st with 13 MP = Azerbaijan
  • 2nd-5th with 12 MP = China, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania
  • 6th-14th with 11 MP = France, Cuba, Armenia, India, Ukraine, Hungary Poland, Germany and USA
  • 15th-27th with 10 MP = Netherlands, Russia, Israel and others
Women Leaders (after Round 7)
  • 1st with 14 MP = Russia
  • 2nd-4th with 12 MP = China, Hungary and Poland
  • 5th-11th with 11 MP = France, Georgia, USA, Indonesia, Ukraine, Armenia and Colombia
  • 12th-22nd with 10 MP = Germany, India, Iran, Romania and others

The American delegation has seen ups and downs during the first seven rounds.  Both the men and women have won five matches.  However, each squad lost in third round (the men to Holland, the women to top rated China) and have since drawn an additional match, for a total of 11 match points out of a possible 14.  The men find themselves in 14th place, ahead of top ranked Russia, but the women stand in 7th place thanks to superior tiebreaks.  With four rounds to go, Team USA remains in contention for the medals, but must finish very strong.  No doubt 17 or 18 match points will be necessary for a spot on the podium, leaving almost zero room for error. 

Trivia from Tromsø
FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
  1. Open division stats: 172 teams from 167 countries.
  2. Women division stats: 134 teams from 129 countries.  
  3. Americans GM Sam Shankland and WGM Sabina Foisor are two out of only four players (from more than 1500) remaining with a 100% score after 7 rounds!
  4. Shortest win: 1.d4 g5 2.e4 f6 3.Qh5#  Seriously! (Zimbabwe vs Togo women, Round 4)
  5. Longest game: 139 moves (Vachier-Lagrave vs Jobava, 1-0, Round 7)
  6. Reigning World Champs (Magnus Carlsen and Hou Yifan) both lost in Round 7!
    13th World Champion Garry Kasparov
  7. The greatest social gathering at each Olympiad is the Bermuda party.  Chess photographer David Llada tweeted: “This was, with little doubt, the worst Bermuda party ever. Still, it was better than the average party.”
  8. The election of FIDE President occurs on Monday 8/11.  Western European countries and USA support ex-champion Garry Kasparov, but incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov remains entrenched after nearly 20 years in power.  Who will win?  Stay tuned!
  9. Weather: Sunny with low 46 / high 64.  Sunset 10:17pm.  Sunrise 3:24am.

Sunday, August 3

40th People's Tournament

The people are playing chess!  Credit: Chessdryad

The 40th annual People's Tournament took place at the Santa Clara Convention Center on the last weekend of July.  One of the Bay Area's oldest chess traditions, this event has survived changes in organizer and location in recent years.  My first People's dates back to 1995, when I was still a naive B player.  Every President's Day weekend, chess players young and old would meet at UC Berkeley for three days of mental gymnastics and listening to bongo drums.  The traditional venue, Pauley ballroom, offered a spectacular view of historic Sproul Plaza and the Campanile.  The tournament shares its name with People's Park, a nearby public park dating back to the protests of the 1960s.

Unfortunately, the chess community could not secure this breathtaking venue once student leaders moved on.  I won a hastily organized People's Replacement event of 2008 in Santa Clara.  The 35th edition in 2009 was the last at Pauley.  Subsequent years saw the tourney take on a nomadic existence under the auspices of Bay Area Chess, moving to Concord, Fremont, Pleasanton and finally to Santa Clara.  The dates also changed from February to July, avoiding a conflict with the popular Amateur Team West national championship.

This historical perspective brings us to the 2014 People's Tournament at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Roughly 175 chess enthusiasts and (for many) their parents participated in a weekend of mental gymnastics, minus the bongo drums.  The drummers were replaced by 30,000 fanatic 49ers season ticket holders attending the open house at brand new Levi's Stadium.  I cannot name any other chess tournaments held across the street from a major sports stadium!  The venue also lies adjacent to the Great America water park, which offers an evening fireworks show to complement the explosive tactics on the chess boards.

Top boards in final round. Credit: Chessdryad
Believe it or not, some people even played chess!  The top seeds, GM-elect Darwin Yang and IM Andrey Gorovets, travelled all the way from Texas.  Both finished in the money, but were surpassed in the final standings by a third Texan, SM Faik Aleskerov.  (Participants at master camps during July should recognize their coaches Andrey or Faik.)  A pair of California IMs, John Bryant and Vladimir Mezentsev, joined the 4-way tie for second behind Aleskerov.  The Bay Area youth attended in full force, with no fewer than ten players under 18 (mostly teenagers) and rated in the 2100s.  Amazingly, most of these talented experts gained rating points--at the cost of everyone else!  A special recognition goes to 10 year old Josiah Stearman, who shared top U2300 honors by vanguishing two tough emeritus NMs on the third day.

Major Prize Winners
  • Open: 1st = F.Aleskerov ; 2nd-5th = D.Yang, A.Gorovets, J.Bryant and V.Mezentsev ; U2300 = M.Aigner, J.Stearman
  • U2000: Yuan Wang
  • U1800: Seaver Dahlgren
  • U1600: Sunny Kahlon
  • U1400: Shawn Knapp, Sudha Kowtha

Aigner versus Sevillano in Round 6. Credit: my father
I turned in a successful result with an undefeated 4.0 out of 6 score.  This was my first performance above 2400 in more than six years, ironically since People's Replacement in 2008!  Actually, almost everything started badly, when I miscalculated a strong combination in Round 1 and could have resigned by move 25. Somehow, the high school student missed several tactics and traded into a drawn pawn endgame, which I botched three times (!) until he offered me a draw!?!?  I felt awful about my play, yet fortunate to have a half point.  I managed to recover and win two of the next three games, all against mid-expert level opponents. On the third day, I faced IM Andrey Gorovets and GM Enrico Sevillano, both rated over 2550, and earned two fighting draws.

Read full annotation of the Gorovets game on my website.

Thanks to Bay Area Chess for rescuing a tradition and to NM Richard Koepcke for capably directing over three long days, despite occasional periods of chaos.