Tuesday, March 31

Learning Chess from the Best

Two World Champions: Hou Yifan and Magnus Carlsen. Credit: Alina L' Ami

Editor's Note:  I first published this article about two years ago.  The thoughts remain vivid and relevant today.  If you are rated 1800 or higher and struggling to move to the next level, please take the following advice to heart.  Good luck! 

One of the best ways to improve in chess is to study master games.  I strongly encourage any student rated 1800+ to regularly review the games of recent elite Grandmaster tournaments.  Watch some of the world elite or pick your own favorites.  Bay Area fans might follow American top players Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, or perhaps local prodigies Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky.  Chinese families, for example, may cheer for Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi or 15-year old talent Wei Yi, currently the youngest player over 2700.  Those with ties to India may prefer former world champion Vishy Anand.

What should you pick from these games?  A typical A player can learn from the positional strategies and tactical creativity of the super Grandmasters.  As you improve, you should attempt to mimic the strengths of your superiors.  Experienced experts and masters know to focus on their favorite openings, picking up new variations based on the latest trends.  You will find out that the strongest players pick mainstream openings simply because they offer the best chances to win.

In some sense, growth of the internet has diminished the importance of studying collections of games by the champions of yesteryear.  Nonetheless, any true disciple of Caissa should read some of the classics, e.g. Alekhine's Best Games of Chess, Life and Games of Mikhail Tal and My Sixty Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer.  You should also take advantage of the expanding wealth of information online to supplement the foundation presented in these books.  The modern chess student benefits from the many resources at his fingertips.
My favorite website to watch tournaments is, of course, the Internet Chess Club (ICC).  You can find quality event coverage, analysis, photos and videos elsewhere too, including Chess Life Online, Chessbase, Chess.com, Chess24, Chessdom, and TWIC.  The MonRoi and CCA websites broadcast the top boards at many major American tournaments.  The CCSCSL in Saint Louis offers a wealth of content, from live coverage of the US Championship to dozens of YouTube lectures.

Upcoming Major Events
  • US Championship in Saint Louis, April 1-12
  • Gashimov Memorial in Azerbaijan, April 16-25
  • World Team Championship in Armenia, April 19-28
  • FIDE Grand Prix in Russia, May 13-27
  • Norway Chess, June 15-27
  • Dortmund Chess Classic, June 27 - July 5
  • Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, August 23 - September 4
  • World Cup in Azerbaijan, starts on September 10

Monday, March 30

FM Panchanatham Qualifies for Denker

Denker players (L to R): Jack, Colin, Vignesh, Teemu, Siddharth, Cameron,
Jordan Langland (TD), Pranav, Kesav and Tom Langland (TD).

The most heavily loaded Denker qualifier in CalChess history took place last weekend at Bay Area Chess headquarters in Milpitas.  Eight high school masters competed in a high class round-robin with an average USCF rating of  2296!  In a sign of the cutthroat competition, the top three seeds each scored a win and a loss in the head-to-head pairings.  However, the favorites finished undefeated against the other five participants, and the final standings depended on the number of draws allowed.

At the end of a long weekend, 15-year old FM Vignesh Panchanatham (2365) earned a trip to the Denker Invitational at the US Open in Phoenix.  IM Kesav Viswanadha (2386) and FM Cameron Wheeler (2386) took 2nd and 3rd places.  Vignesh beat Kesav in round 2, but lost to Cameron in round 6.  Alas, Cameron succumbed to Kesav in the finale.  Along the way, Vignesh surrendered just one draw, Kesav two, and Cameron three.   Click here for the Denker crosstable.

Denker Qualifier - Final Standings
Vignesh and Rayan at 2014 World Youth.
  1. FM Vignesh Panchanatham (2365) 5.5
  2. IM Kesav Viswanadha (2386) 5.0
  3. FM Cameron Wheeler (2386) 4.5
  4. NM Pranav Nagarajan (2200) 3.5
  5. NM Siddharth Banik (2298) 3.0
  6. NM Jack Zhu (2255) 3.0
  7. NM Colin Chow (2261) 2.5
  8. NM Teemu Virtanen (2218) 1.0

Two more qualifiers occurred alongside the Denker last weekend.  In another clutch victory for the #3 seed, 12-year old FM Rayan Taghizadeh (2226) scored 1.5-0.5 against his highest rated competitors to qualify for the Barber Invitational (restricted to K-8 players).  Click here for the Barber crosstable.  The National Girls Invitational qualifier followed a similar script, when 12-year old Simona Nayberg (1821) scored 1.5-0.5 against her top challengers.  Click here for the Girls crosstable.

Congratulations to Vignesh, Rayan and Simona for qualifying to represent Northern California in Phoenix during the first week of August.  These scholastic invitationals take place alongside the U.S. Open.   Best of luck in Arizona!!

Saturday, March 28

NorCal House 3-Peats as National Champs

In white sweatshirts from L to R: GM Sevillano, IM DeGuzman,
captain Ted Castro, and FM Cusi. Photo credit: Castro.

NorCal House of Chess dominated the U.S. Amateur Team, capturing the national playoff for an unprecedented third straight year.  They qualified for the playoff by winning all six matches at the Amateur Team West in Irvine on President's Day weekend.  Today, they won two more matches, first eliminating the North champion Pinoy of Chicago by 3.0-1.0 and then crushing the East champion Virginia Assassins by 3.5-0.5.

Organized by Metropolitan Chess L.A.
Before last year, no team had ever repeated in the playoff.  NorCal House now can claim a hat trick!

Major props to the following All Star cast of coaches and students.  GM Enrico Sevillano (2554), IM Ricardo DeGuzman (2453) and FM Ron Cusi (2302) capably manned the top three boards for two straight years.  Juniors Ronit Pattanayak (1480) and Evan Vallens (1377) shared duties on the bottom board, with Ronit winning two pivotal contests today against much higher rated opponents.  Club founder and organizer Ted Castro served as team captain.

See for playoff games at Chess Life Online and in the May edition of Chess Life magazine.

Friday, March 27

Reno Draws a Gaggle of Grandmasters

Large ballroom at the Sands in Reno!

The Larry Evans Memorial attracts a mix of experienced masters and motivated amateurs to Reno each Easter weekend, .This event, organized in the self-proclaimed Biggest Little City in the World, has always been one of my favorites!  The trip to Reno always feels like a mini vacation; and I'm hardly a gambler.  The competition is always stiff.  Indeed, the early entries include 6 Grandmasters!

Last year saw a solid turnout of 201 participants.  Check out the final results.

Details of the Larry Evans Memorial (formerly Far West Open)
  • Dates: April 3-5
  • Location: Sands Regency Casino in Reno, NV
  • Format: 6 rounds in 5 sections: Open, A, B, C, U1400
  • Time control: 40/2, G/1
  • Entry fee: $156-160 (add $11 more on-site)
  • Prize fund: $26,000 based on 275 entries
  • Read the complete details here.
  • Check advance entries by section (148 as of March 31).

Note to parents: I know conventional wisdom says that casinos and kids do not mix well, but this event seems to be an exception. Dozens of kids rated from 1000 to 2400 play each year. Simply request the Regency tower while checking in so that the kids can take the elevator directly to the playing hall without walking through the casino.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, please say hi in Reno! :-)

Sunday, March 22

Top Grandmasters to Play at US Champ

Hikaru Nakamura
Wesley So

The 2015 US Championship kicks off in a week, promising an exciting battle for first featuring two of the World Top 10 and six of the World Top 100. Check out the USCF Top 20 below.  Bay Area Grandmasters Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky, both now rated over 2700 USCF, continue their steady climb!  Click on the links to visit their personal websites.
      USCF Top 20 - April 2015

      1.Nakamura, HikaruNY2881World #3
      2.So, WesleyMN2841World #8
      3.Kamsky, GataNY2762World #61+ reigning champ
      4.Robson, RayMO2750World #96
      5.Onischuk, AlexanderTX2747World #73
      6.Shankland, SamCA2742World #88
      7.Naroditsky, DanielCA2724
      8.Lenderman, AleksandrNY2706
      9.Akobian, VaruzhanCA2703
      10.Gareyev, TimurNV2688
      11.Stripunsky, AlexanderNJ2676
      12.Ramirez, AlejandroTX2675
      13.Christiansen, LarryMA2661
      14.Erenburg, SergeyVA2655
      15.Shulman, YuryIL2649
      16.Sevian, SamuelMA2642
      17.Benjamin, JoelNJ2629
      18.Troff, KaydenUT2625
      19.Hess, RobertNY2621
      20.Becerra, JulioFL2619