Sunday, January 8

PRO Chess League Kicks Off

After 11 seasons, the internet-based US Chess League has expanded into the PRO Chess League.  There are three major differences between the two leagues.  While the USCL had teams from all corners of the United States, the PCL will be an international affair with teams from five of the seven continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.  To attract greater spectator interest, games will be played at a rapid time control of G/15 + 2 second increment.  Players from one team will face all four from the other team, for a total of 16 games.  Finally, each team may field one "Free Agent" in their weekly lineup, in addition to three local players, as long as the average rating does not exceed 2500 FIDE.

Perhaps most exciting is that the PRO Chess League promises to showcase several elite chess players of the world!  Indeed five of the top 7 on the January 2017 FIDE list will participate.

  • #1 Magnus Carlsen (Norway)
  • #2 Fabiano Caruana (Montreal)
  • #4 Wesley So (Saint Louis)
  • #5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Marseille)
  • #7 Hikaru Nakamura (Miami)
  • #13 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (San Jose)
  • #22 Lenier Dominguez (Miami)
  • #29 Li Chao (Montreal)

Two Bay Area squads have registered among 48 total entries from around the world.  The San Francisco Mechanics, organized by the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club, were one of the founding members of the USCL.  Grandmasters Patrick Wolff and Vinay Bhat will lead the way, backed up by International Masters Yian Liou, Cameron Wheeler (IM-elect) and Teddy Coleman.  Youth will be served by four high school students: Cameron, FM Rayan Taghizadeh, FM Josiah Stearman and NM Siddharth Banik.

The other local team was formed by Bay Area Chess to represent Silicon Valley.  The San Jose Hackers, among the highest rated in the league, feature a quintet of Grandmasters headlined by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, ranked #3 in the world on the rapid rating list.  The other GMs are Rauf Mamedov, Daniel Naroditsky, Zviad Izoria and Cristian Chirila.  The San Jose roster also includes two IM-elects and a trio of juniors: NM Teemu Virtanen, NM Ivan Ke and 10 year old NM Christopher Yoo.

Both Bay Area squads will compete in the Red Division against other American cities in the Central and Pacific time zones.  Indeed the locals square off head-to-head in round 2 on January 18!  The competition will be stiff, with the Saint Louis Arch Bishops, Webster Windmills, Rio Grande Ospreys and Dallas Destiny all fielding strong rosters.  The other three sections are the Blue Division (Eastern time zone plus Canada and South America), Green Division (Europe, Asia and Africa) and the Orange Division (Europe and Africa).  Click here for a list of players for all 48 teams.

Matches take place every Wednesday on, starting on January 11.  Since the matches consists of four mini rounds and 16 games total, a whopping 384 rapid games will be completed each week.  The pairings for the first six weeks have been predetermined.  The seventh week (February 22) will be a playoff positioning round.  During the playoffs, each division crowns a champion.  The division winners will square off in semifinals on Saturday, March 25 and a final on Sunday, March 26.  The four division champions are guaranteed at least $3,000 from the prize fund and the league champion wins $20,000!

Good luck to both the San Francisco Mechanics and San Jose Hackers in the inaugural season of the PRO Chess League!

PRO Chess League Links

Thursday, January 5

NorCal Top 20 for January 2017

Bay Area star GM Sam Shankland faces Super-GM Levon Aronian at 2015 World Team Championship.

NorCal Top 20
January 2017 USCF ratings
  1. GM Sam Shankland 2755
  2. GM Parimarjan Negi 2742
  3. GM Daniel Naroditsky 2732
  4. GM Cristian Chirila 2593
  5. GM Nick DeFirmian 2566
  6. IM Steven Zierk 2559
  7. IM-e Cameron Wheeler 2479
  8. SM Arun Sharma 2468
  9. IM Kesav Viswanadha 2456
  10. IM Vignesh Panchanatham 2450
  11. IM Ricardo DeGuzman 2431 
  12. IM David Pruess 2408
  13. IM Ray Kaufman 2402
  14. NM Faik Aleskerov 2399
  15. NM Jack Zhu 2399
  16. FM Rayan Taghizadeh 2375
  17. NM Andrew Hong 2370
  18. FM Andy Lee 2361
  19. NM Daniel Schwarz 2360
  20. NM Ladia Jirasek 2343
In general, all players have completed one Bay Area tournament within the past year. Exceptions made for local titled players who are active out of state or abroad. 

Honorable Mention (players with local roots who have been less active recently)
  • GM Vinay Bhat 2570
  • IM Yian Liou 2500
  • IM Vincent McCambridge 2496
  • IM Vladimir Mezentsev 2435
  • IM John Donaldson 2412

Sunday, January 1

From Chesspunk to International Master

Chesspunks pose with their coach FM Daniel Naroditsky during a
training session in 2010. From left to right: Vignesh, Allan Beilin,
Daniel, Kesav and Cameron {credit: Cameron's blog)

Silicon Valley's own Chesspunks, trained in da 'hood, are on a mission to conquer the world!  Six years ago, they were just wannabes, promising young chess players searching for a title.  Today, all four are masters, two are fully fledged International Masters, and a third is now an IM-elect.  And their former trainer is a Grandmaster ranked in the Top 120 of the planet.

Kesav Viswanadha received the IM title first, earning his third and final IM norm at the 2014 US Masters in North Carolina.  Next came Vignesh Panchanatham, who scored his third norm at the 2016 World Open in Philadelphia.  Finally, Cameron Wheeler caught up with his friends by completing his third norm last week at the 2016 North American Open in Las Vegas.

Credits: Kesav (left) by Greg Shahade; Vignesh (middle) and Cameron (right) by Richard Shorman.

Congratulations to the Bay Area's latest trio of International Masters!  Kesav, Vignesh and Cameron join an impressive fraternity of local prodigies to be awarded this prestigious title before graduating from high school!

  • GM Vinay Bhat -- IM in 2001 -- GM in 2008
  • GM Sam Shankland -- IM in 2008 -- GM in 2011
  • IM Steven Zierk -- IM in 2010 -- has 2 GM norms
  • GM Daniel Naroditsky -- IM in 2011 -- GM in 2013
  • IM Yian Liou -- IM in 2014
  • IM Kesav Viswanadha -- IM in 2014
  • IM Vignesh Panchanatham -- IM in 2016
  • IM-elect Cameron Wheeler -- IM is pending