Friday, May 22

CalChess Champions Over the Years

Since the turn of the century, the CalChess State Scholastic Chess Championship (occasionally misnamed the Super States) has emerged as the single largest annual USCF rated tournament west of the Rocky Mountains, consistently drawing at least 800 eager young chess enthusiasts.  Indeed, the record turnout of 1319 in 2006 compares favorably to the National Championships each spring.  The first weekend of May saw the 40th edition of this Bay Area event.  Two emeritus organizers deserve the lion's share of credit for building up the event during the 1990s and early 2000s: Ray Orwig and Alan Kirshner.

Unfortunately, those 40 years of history are in danger of being forgotten.  Until recently, the champs were honored in the yearly program booklet and online.  Dr. Kirshner diligently compiled lists of individual and school team champions from 1986 to 2011, but the official record at the CalChess website ceases after 2012  Seeing a need, I extended the honor roll of scholastic champions through 2015.

Curiosity drove me to analyze the ranks of individual champions more closely.  For example, Vinay Bhat won the High School division in four out of five consecutive years (1998-2002), but he sat out of the middle year (2000).  Another three masters captured a hat trick of K-12 titles: Andy McManus (1987-1990), Dmitry Zilberstein (1994-1997) and Cameron Wheeler (2013-2015).  Out of this esteemed foursome, only Cameron managed to win (or share first place) in three consecutive years!

Readers may have already mistakenly concluded that winning a scholastic title is easy pickings for a phenom destined to become Grandmaster (like Vinay) or International Master (like Dmitry).  Not true!  Sam Shankland, the strongest player to grow up in the Bay Area during the past three decades, was never crowned champ at the biggest kids tournament.  To his credit, Sam won the adult State Championship at just 16 years old!

To me, the real question was whether anyone achieved a career Grand Slam?  The four pillars of the Grand Prix are the Varsity or Open divisions in Primary, Elementary, Middle School and High School.  Both the K-5 and K-6 sections count for Elementary School.  All players tied for first place are considered co-champions (e.g. five K-5 winners in both 2008 and 2010). 

5-Time Champions
  • Vinay Bhat K-3, K-12, K-12, K-12, K-12
  • Neel Apte K-3, K-5, K-6, K-8, K-8 (needs K-12)
  • Cameron Wheeler K-5, K-6, K-12, K-12, K-12

Since 1986, nobody collected more than five CalChess titles.  However, both Neel (11th grade) and Cameron (10th grade) could break that record next spring..

4-Time Champions
  • Micah Fisher-Kirshner K-3, K-6, K-6, K-12 (missing K-8)
  • Adam Lischinsky K-3, K-3, K-8, K-12 (missing K-6)
  • Daniel Naroditsky K-3, K-6, K-12, K-12 (missing K-8)
  • James Kwok K-3, K-6, K-8, K-8 (missing K-12)

Sadly, all of the quadruple champions have run out of eligibility.

3-Time Champions
  • Andy McManus K-12, K-12, K-12
  • Alan Stein K-8, K-12, K-12
  • Dmitry Zilberstein K-12, K-12, K-12
  • Keith Yost K-6, K-8, K-8
  • Daniel Schwarz K-3, K-8, K-12 (missing K-6)
  • Steven Zierk K-3, K-8, K-12 (missing K-6)
  • Yian Liou K-3, K-6, K-12 (missing K-8)  
  • Kyle Shin K-5, K-6, K-8
  • Tanuj Vasudeva K-3, K-5, K-6

Kyle (11th grade) and Tanuj (9th grade) could still add a High School championship to their bulging trophy cases, although neither has played competitively for some time.

Therefore, the answer to my question is a disappointing no!  Interestingly, eight different juniors managed to score 75% of the Grand Slam (see green color).  And with a small dose of luck, Neel Apte could even complete the career Slam by winning the K-12 division next spring.


Alan Kirshner said...

It is wonderful having two historians
for chess in the Northern California Chess State--you and Kerry Lawless. You both have placed a near permanent fingerprint of chess life in Northern California online.

I also want to thank you for remembering the father and grandfather of scholastic chess in Northern California. I will let you decide which one is which.

Just a note on the number of players listed for the CalChess State Scholastics on the USCF website. Up until 2008 or so those who played in the blitz championships were not included in the total. Translation, the rating the large blitz tournament I held in 2006 our numbers would have reached close to 1400. I can't remember which year it was 2003 or 2004 Richard Peterson added a number of large sections that did not require USCF memberships and, therefore, were not rated. His numbers would with the blitz added also have been close to 1400.

In 2005, as you know the organizer of the CalChess States changed from the initial contracted date to the same day I had set up for a regional event. The CalChess States drew 399 players and the Northern California Regionals had 915 players. That days total of 1314, that would have likely been the total of the players at the State meet, was likely close to 1400 as well if we had rated the Blitz.

Since you state that people leaving comments should not make any accusations, I will leave it up to you to speculate on why the numbers have radically decreased.

I do believe that if Judit continues to reach out to the myriad of chess programs that are no longer attending the CalChess State Championships we will see a record breaking event in the near future.

Michael Aigner said...

Thank you Dr. Kirshner for your remarks.

Let me address the attendance figures that I used. I looked up every year since 1986 in the MSA at the USCF website. The official total at the top of each tournament report counts each USCF ID number once. If a player participates in multiple sections, then he counts only once. The addition of a rated blitz tournaments did not significantly increase the player count, except for a handful of kids who played only in the blitz. I understand that one particular organizer added side event entries to his unofficial attendance figures.

The numbers I got for 2005 were 397 in Oakland and 906 in San Jose, for a combined total of 1303. The official record set in 2006 was 1319.

I am glad that you didn't mention names when you referred to the ugly scholastic meeting of 2008. I remember this meeting for the way it ended, with a barrage of profanity from several key individuals. One coach whom you respect had some particularly harsh words for me, in the presence of some of my students. I was simply trying to reclaim my team room after a meeting that ran nearly 2 hours. His wife later apologized, but he never did. Now you might understand why I am hardly disappointed by his boycott.

Alan Kirshner said...

Michael, granted the recent number of players in the Blitz many not increase the numbers dramatically, but what I was trying to identify was that some of the official numbers pre-2008 were far higher if you counted the unrated Blitz or the sections that were not USCF rated. Yes, I am satisfied with my "official" record of 1319. I just hope it will be broken in the future as all records should be.

Yes, one particular organizer did add side events to his unofficial attendance records. In one case he even added T-shirt sales to the tournament numbers before the event. When I questioned the practice he went and paired the T-shirts in the initial posting. :-)

I never mentioned the ugly scholastic meeting of 2008. I never mentioned any programs boycotting the CalChess States. I just stated that a large number of programs are not presently attending the States. The only official boycott I know of was my Weibel Chess program. I think I know the individual you are referring to and from what he has told me is that when the JV section of the States was reduced from two days to one day that it took away a major reason for his 40 plus kids for going--staying overnight in a hotel. I certainly wouldn't argue with your calling it an unofficial boycott. I just wanted to be clear that I did not bring up the ugly meeting or the term boycott.

I did provide Judit with a list of around ten coaches of fair size programs that are not attending either of the State Championships last summer. I suggested she contact them and meet with the coaches and parents as she did with Weibel. I do believe that if she did it would certainly bring the attendance up to near the former numbers. As far as you hardly being disappointed by the unnamed coaches not attending, yes I can certainly understand that, but I still would like to see his program and others return. Saying that, I reserve the right to have my parents vote on a boycott again if a public verbal attack is made in the future on our players and parents and/or any of my players are placed in a situation that could cause them physical harm by any organizer of the State Championships.

Michael Aigner said...

Thank you for your additional insight.

Unknown said...

Love the original post. Somewhat amused, somewhat saddened by the comments. Scholastic chess is truly a different world from the one that I am used to as an adult chess player. On another note, I think it's important to remember history, and so it's a huge service that you are keeping the historical flame alive and even adding some research to it. I'll definitely be rooting for Neel Apte to complete the unprecedented Grand Slam of scholastic championships!