Thursday, May 28

Results at Online Cup for Disabilities

The participants joined an international Zoom meeting. (credit: FIDE)

The 1st FIDE Online Cup for Players with Disabilities on May 21st saw 36 competitors representing 27 countries on five continents battle for five intense rounds of rapid chess at the platform. The diverse field included amateurs and professionals, ranging from one Grandmaster and six International Masters to a handful of unrateds. A quarter of the participants were women. Click for an article at the ChessBase website.

The World Chess Federation (FIDE) organized the tournament as part of a global effort to promote chess and Checkmate Coronavirus. During the brief opening ceremony on Zoom, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich of Russia welcomed the players and encouraged everyone to "stay safe and play chess." International Arbiter Marco Biagioli of Italy directed a smooth event.

When the bits finally settled, GM Marcin Tazbir of Poland took first place on tiebreaks over FM Sander Severino of the Philippines. Tazbir currently ranks as the strongest blind chess player in the world while Severino suffers from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and is confined to a wheelchair. Two Russians shared third place with the Hungarian representative.

Final Standings (see Chess-Results

  1. GM Marcin Tazbir (2510 from Poland) 4.5 out of 5
  2. FM Sander Severino (2364 from Philippines) 4.5
  3. IM Yuri Meshkov (2351 from Russia) 4.0
  4. Denis Palin (2110 from Russia) 4.0
  5. Gabor Acs (2047 from Hungary) 4.0
  6. FM Mihail-Dacian Pribeanu (2207 from Romania) 3.5
  7. IM Dmitrij Scerbin (2260 from Russia) 3.0
  8. FM Vit Valenta (2127 from Czech Republic) 3.0
  9. IM Andrei Gurbanov (2301 from Israel) 3.0
  10. FM Ilia Lipilin (2189 from Russia) 3.0
  11. WIM Natasha Morales Santos (1949 from Puerto Rico) 3.0
  12. FM Sargis Sargissyan (2269 from Armenia) 3.0
  13. Handenur Sahin (1997 from Turkey) 3.0
  14. WCM Annegret Mucha (1998 from Germany) 3.0
  15. Ezekiel Masiko (1830 from Uganda) 3.0 

Competing in my maiden international invitational as the lone American, I aspired to perform sufficiently well to earn a signature win. The results were mixed. My score of 2.0 out of 5 seemed respectable considering the challenging pairings - two IMs and two FMs. Unfortunately, detailed analysis of the games showed that I missed too many tactical combinations, even considering the time control of G/10 + inc/5. In the first round, I achieved a dominant position within a dozen moves as black against an Israeli IM, yet inexplicably left my rook en prise on move 19. At least I could blame the 6:00 AM start time for that blunder. Three rounds later, I gleefully forced a draw by repetition after an inferior opening, but failed to even consider a crushing zwischenzug.

IM Andrei Obodchuk
(credit: ChessFest2019)
FM Ilia Lipilin
(credit: Dora Martinez)

While I did defeat an underrated young man from Uganda, my signature result was a draw versus Russian IM Andrei Obodchuk, the 8-time (former) world champion of the Physically Disabled Chess Association (IPCA). Nobody would confuse this game with a brilliancy, but my students know how much I cherish saving difficult endgames.

In the final round, I faced FM Ilia Lipilin from Russia, the 2-time defending World Junior Champion for Players with Disabilities. The opening went well, but my opponent turned the tables after a missed opportunity on move 27. Well played young master!

Regardless of my personal result, the Online Cup for Players with Disabilities was well organized and a truly enjoyable opportunity for the players. I deeply appreciated the invitation from FIDE and US Chess to participate.

Stay home. Be safe. Play chess. #checkmatecoronavirus

Tuesday, May 19

Fpawn Interview on Blog

Kirk Ghazarian (credit: David Llada
at 2019 Bay Area International)
How well do you really know fpawn? Chess blogger and longtime mentee NM Kirk Ghazarian was determined to find out. Kirk asked the right questions and I gave him my honest replies. Check out the following sample of the topics:

  • How did you improve as a player to reach the NM title?
  • How do you inspire your students to achieve their goals?
  • Do you have advice for a player who stagnated in improvement.

Kirk included several photos and three games to illustrate the power of the King's Bishop Pawn - a trio of Black wins in my favorite Dutch Defense opening.

Thank you Kirk for inviting me for this interesting interview. Keep up your good work!

Sunday, May 17

FIDE Online Cup for Players with Disabilities

Participants at 2019 World Junior Chess Championship
for Players with Disabilities in New Jersey.

The cancellation of chess tournaments around the globe due to COVID-19 also forced the postponement of the first Chess Paralympiad scheduled for late July in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. In its place, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) introduced a new Online Cup for Players with Disabilities.

Unfortunately, a small Online Cup can in no way replace the larger Paralympiad. Instead of teams of four players plus an alternate from each invited nation, only 38 individuals will battle for five rounds of rapid chess at on Thursday morning, May 21st. The first round begins at 6:00 AM Pacific time.

I felt honored to be able to accept the invitation to represent the United States!

The registration list shows that I start near the middle of the pack. The field of 38 includes one GM, six IMs and a total of twelve players rated above 2200 FIDE. Nine women were invited. Most participants hail from Europe or Asia, with just three from Africa and four from the Americas.

  • Europe (22): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany (2), Hungary, Israel (2), Moldova, Poland (2), Romania, Russia (6), Turkey, Ukraine 
  • Asia (9): China (2), India (2), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Philippines, Vietnam
  • Africa (3): Kenya, Uganda, Zambia
  • Americas (4): Canada, Puerto Rico, United States, Venezuela

Wish me luck, as I will certainly need it against this competitive field. Since there are only five rounds, even the pairings may boil down to luck.

Tuesday, May 12

All Fpawn Masters - Peak USCF Rating

Future Grandmasters Daniel Naroditsky and Steven Zierk
at 2008 CalChess Scholastic Championships

  1. GM Daniel Naroditsky 2738 - became NM in 2007
  2. GM Steven Zierk 2608 - became NM in 2008
  3. IM Yian Liou 2502 - became NM in 2009
  4. FM Gregory Young 2477 - becamw NM in 2007
  5. IM Gabriel Bick 2475 - became NM in 2015
  6. NM Daniel Schwarz 2370 - became NM in 2006
  7. NM Kirk Ghazarian 2321 - became NM in 2018
  8. NM Richard Yi 2290 - became NM in 2017
  9. NM Matt Zavortink 2279 - became NM in 2017
  10. NM Nicholas Karas 2273 - became NM in 2012
  11. NM Neel Apte 2244 - became NM in 2015
  12. NM Evan Sandberg 2242 - became NM in 2010
  13. NM Daniel Liu 2214 - became NM in 2012
  14. NM Michael Lin 2213 - became NM in 2013
  15. NM Joshua Cao 2202 - became NM in 2017

  • Peak USCF Rating Updated May 2020.
  • Students took private lessons for at least 6 months.
  • Includes results achieved after we stopped lessons.
  • A teacher merely lays the foundation and cultivates love for chess. Ultimate success depends on personal effort and motivation. Elite students often study with several coaches, all who deserve credit.

Zkid, Students Dominate Birthday Blitz

Steven Zierk at age 12.
Grandmaster Steven Zierk won the first eight rounds en route to victory in the Fpawn Birthday Blitz Bash on For the second straight Sunday, Zkid dominated Northern California's best at blitz, scoring a combined 19.5 out of 22. This week, after overcoming difficult positions in rounds 3 and 4, the GM asserted himself with the white pieces in the English opening. This game would determine the top medals, as IM Yian Liou became the lone competitor to finish within shouting distance of the region's 800 lb gorilla.

Saratoga HS and Redwood MS
teams in 2007.
This evening of socially distanced blitz doubled as the birthday party for Coach Fpawn. Nearly half of the 36 participants were either current (5) or former (12) private students. Here's a big shout out to four members of the Saratoga High School team that captured six consecutive state titles from 2005 to 2010: Brian, Charles, David and Evan! Kudos to school captain David Chock for a strong performance a dozen years after his last USCF rated chess tournament. Other past students who joined the virtual party were AlexAndrew, Dan, Eric, Gabe, Josh, Steven and Yian.

Perhaps it comes as small surprise that the top six places were occupied by five former students and one current mentee. The domination was complete; only one unaffiliated player scored more than 5 out of 10! Thanks guys for making your coach proud even after so many years.

Final Standings of the Fpawn Birthday Blitz Bash (full results here)
  1. GM Zkid (Steven Zierk) 9.0 out of 10
  2. IM RolyPolySword (Yian Liou) 8.5
  3. NM 2Bf41-0 (Kirk Ghazarian) 7.5
  4. IM cheese111 (Gabe Bick) 7.0
  5. NM DSchwarz (Dan Schwarz) 7.0
  6. chockbored (David Chock) 6.0
  7. chessforme17 (Advay Bansal) 6.0
  8. Ten tied at 5.0: mzhong21, fpawn, ericlgame, agrossman, mykehawke, championps, EM-TheChessShark, vish1080, knvsback and Mangonel
Mechanics' Institute
in San Francisco
Unfortunately, yours truly failed to play up to his usual standards. The frustration ran deep, e.g. flagging up a pawn with two extra minutes on the clock or moving a knight into capture in an easily winning position. Then came the inexcusable 21 move loss against the hippo. Next time!

Thanks to everyone who joined! It felt great watching some of you push pawns after so many years. Also thanks to Judit Sztaray of the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club for promoting the evening and hosting the virtual Meet & Greet on Zoom before the first round.

Monday, May 4

GM Zierk Wins Mechanics' Memorial Blitz

Due to the COVID pandemic, the Mechanics' Institute organized its annual Memorial Blitz online at This special event honors the memory of three masters who have departed after leaving their mark on the Bay Area chess community: NM Ray Schutt, SM Steve Brandwein and IM Jay Whitehead. In previous years, the large crowd of participants would socialize and munch on snacks between rounds of serious chess.

GM Steven Zierk
(credit: Alberta Chess)
Fortunately, the mandatory move online did little to dampen attendance - 104 players joined, including two Grandmsters, two International Masters, three FIDE Masters and at least seven National Masters. The competition was fierce starting in the first round, when three titled players lost or drew and a fourth overslept. No doubt, Ray, Steve and Jay would have enjoyed watching all of the fighting chess, even while socially distanced.

Veteran IM Elliott Winslow stormed out of the gate for the early lead, winning six straight games. The top seed, super-GM Rauf Mamedov of Azerbaijan, finally reeled him in. After round 7, four players shared the lead with 6-1: GM Mamedov and IM Winslow were joined by GM Steven Zierk and talented 13-year old IM Christopher Yoo.

The two Grandmasters clashed in round 9. Zierk, playing the black pieces, emerged victorious in a theoretical line of the Tarrasch variation of the French, gaining the advantage of two minor pieces against a rook and extra pawn.

Both Zierk and Mamedov held serve in rounds 10 and 11, allowing the local GM to clinch the tournament despite blundering into last round draw by repetition against this reporter. Congratulations Steven!

Final Standings of the Memorial Blitz (full results here)
  1. GM Zkid (Steven Zierk) 10.5 out of 12
  2. GM Muisback26 (Rauf Mamedov) 10.0
  3. FM KyronGriffith 9.0
  4. qing29 (Abhinav Penagalapati) 9.0
  5. IM ChristopherYoo 8.5
  6. NM 2007checkmate (Vyom Vidyarthi) 8.0
  7. FM Marty435 (Jason Liang) 8.0
  8. IM ecwinslow (Elliott Winslow) 8.0
  9. NM jij2018 (Ruiyang Yan) 8.0
  10. NM fpawn (Michael Aigner) 8.0
  11. Atrozen (Anthony Rozenvasser) 8.0 
The blitz tournament was broadcast on Twitch with live commentary from the multi-talented Mechanics' Institute staff, including GM Nick de Firmian and FM Paul Whitehead. Replay the entire show at your leisure on YouTube! The game Mamedov vs Winslow begins at 1:25:00 while Mamedov vs Zierk starts at 1:48:40. Readers of this blog might enjoy the tense final round match between Zierk and Aigner at 2:20:25.