Friday, November 27

USA Wins Again, Finishes in Top 10

This will be a short update. A longer article will follow.

Once again Team USA defied pre-tournament seedings to defeat a higher rated opponent. After losing to Chile and beating Argentina over the past two days, the Americans dominated Brazil. Coincidentally, the score in all three matches was identical: 3-1. This morning, Michael, Pranav and Jessica each established a large opening advantage and never looked back, all winning around move 30. Veni, vidi, vici.

Round 7: #39 USA vs #24 Brazil == 3-1
  1. Michael vs Adriano Albiani Barata (2144) == 1-0
  2. Jose Eduardo Bastos Maia (2043) vs Griffin == 1-0
  3. Pranav vs Elias Moyses Sobrinho (1884) == 1-0
  4. Marcia Maria Dias Lopes (1363) vs Jessica == 0-1
A lopsided, but fun attacking game.
Michael Aigner vs Adriano Albiani Barata (1-0)

This win placed the Americans at 9 match points out of a possible 14, good for a share of 10th place overall, 16th on tiebreaks. For perspective, consider that Team USA was seeded 39th out of 60 and that 14 squads started with an average rating greater than the FIDE rating of our board 1. 

US Chess released a press release this afternoon. Go U-S-A !!!

Thursday, November 26

Argentina No Match for Team USA

The late soccer great Diego Maradona also promoted the royal game.

One day after falling against Chile, the Americans crossed the Andes to defeat Argentina, a country mourning the passing of its soccer hero Diego Maradona. First, Pranav Shankar unleashed his inner f-pawn, advancing f5-f4-f3 to checkmate the white monarch on g1. Meanwhile on top board, Michael Aigner resisted playing his favorite pawn until move 43 and instead nursed a positional advantage into an endgame victory. Even the magician on board 2 came through, somehow escaping checkmate to seal a 3-1 result. 

Round 6: #25 Argentina vs #39 USA == 1-3

  1. Leonel Amato (2100) vs Michael == 0-1
  2. Griffin vs Luis Sanz (2186) == 1-0
  3. Valeria Simone (1453) vs Pranav == 0-1
  4. Jessica vs Raul Grosso (1746) == 1-0

Team USA improved to a tie for 16th place with 7 match points, clinching a minimum 50% final score despite difficult opposition rated more than 200 points higher in every round.

Valeria Simone vs Pranav Shankar (0-1) 

Leonel Amato vs Michael Aigner (0-1) 

Round 7 tomorrow concludes the swiss stage of this Online Olympiad and four top teams advance to a knockout semifinal. After a tie today, Russia-1 leads with 11 match points while four countries lurk one point behind (Poland-2, Germany, Philippines-1, Ukraine-3) and three more trail by another point (Poland-1, Russia-2, India-1). Since as many as six teams may reach the 11 point plateau, tiebreaks (most game points) become decisive. An interesting quirk is the pairing of the two Polish squads in essentially an elimination match. Stay tuned for some wild scrambling!

Round 7 Pairings:

  1. Russia-1 (11) vs Philippines-1 (10)
  2. Ukraine-3 (10) vs Germany (10)
  3. Poland-1 (9) vs Poland-2 (10)
  4. Russia-2 (9) vs India-1 (9)

Standings After Round 6:

  • 11 MP = Russia-1
  • 10 MP = Poland-2, Germany, Philippines-1, Ukraine-3
  • 9 MP = Poland-1, Russia-2, India-1
  • 8 MP = Israel, Poland-3, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, Philippines-2, Ukraine-1, Croatia
  • 7 MP = Romania-1, Canada, India-2, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Ukraine-2, USA, North Macedonia, Turkey-1
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

Team USA concludes its tour of South America with a match against #25 seed Brazil on Friday at 6:00 AM PST. Once again the Americans enter as underdogs, but past success brings cautious optimism. Check out all of the games at Chess24 or FollowChess.

Wednesday, November 25

Chile Wins in Round 5

Michael Aigner (left) playing blitz against the late GM Walter Browne.

The two match winning streak by Team USA abruptly ended this morning as Chile dominated the lower boards. An admittedly lucky win against Romania-2 followed by a convincing result versus highly ranked North Macedonia left the Americans feeling optimistic, but Chile iced those aspirations with a 3-1 victory. This reporter, playing on top board, earned his first win of the Olympiad in full Capablanca style, confidently trading into an endgame up a pawn.

Michael Aigner vs Cristian Gonzalez Astete (1-0)

The defeat dropped the USA to an even record and a tie for 25th place, 32nd on tiebreaks.

Round 5: #39 USA vs #18 Chile == 1-3
  1. Michael vs Cristian Gonzalez Astete (2130) == 1-0
  2. Tomas Figueroa Morales (2093) vs Griffin == 1-0
  3. Pranav vs Andres Saul Tapia Loncon (1890) == 0-1
  4. Valeska Rozas Lazcano (1435) vs Jessica == 1-0

Russia-1 emerged from the showdown against Germany to move into sole first place with 10 match points. However, the results on tables 2 and 3 surprised many. Poland seized clear second place, but it was Poland-2 which upset India-1 with the lopsided margin of 3.5-0.5. The top rated Poland-1 team, led by 2018 World Champion for the Disabled GM Marcin Tazbir, lost to #3 seed Philippines-1. The Filipinos currently share third place with a quintet of squads, including Germany and two from Ukraine. After round 7, the top four teams (if necessary by tiebreaks) advance to the knockout phase of the championship.

  • 10 MP = Russia-1
  • 9 MP = Poland-2
  • 8 MP = Germany, Philippines-1, Israel, Ukraine-1, Ukraine-3, Croatia
  • 7 MP = Poland-1, Russia-2, Ecuador, Romania-1, Chile, India-1
  • 6 MP = Vietnam, Russia-3, Poland-2, Ukraine-2 and six others
  • 5 MP = Canada, Argentina, USA, North Macedonia and six others
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

The Americans seek to bounce back against Argentina, yet another higher rated opponent. Each of the first six opposing teams have been ranked in the top half of the field, while Team USA came in seeded 39th out of 60. Games begin on Thursday at 6:00 AM PST and will be broadcast on both Chess24 and FollowChess

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers

Tuesday, November 24

USA Crushes North Macedonia

North Macedonia is the southern part of the former Yugoslavia.

After the dramatic conclusion of Monday's round, the American victory against the highly ranked lineup of North Macedonia was surprisingly anticlimactic. The combination of opening preparation and tactical opportunism resulted in a sweep boards 2-4. Three-time US Blind winner Jessica Lauser had lost her first three games at the Olympiad, but she knocked out her opponent this morning with a flurry of middlegame tactics. 

Jessica Lauser vs Marija Arsova (1-0)

Team USA advanced to 5 match points out of a possible 8 despite being paired up every round, including facing three top 10 countries, and are tied for 15th place.

Round 4: #10 North Macedonia vs #39 USA == 0.5-3.5
  • Tode Zafirovsky (2138) vs Michael == 1/2-1/2
  • Griffin vs Vladimir Trkaljanov (2096) == 1-0
  • Zarko Selkovski (2007) vs Pranav == 0-1
  • Jessica vs Marija Arsova (unrated) == 1-0

As the FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities passed the halfway point, Russia-1 and Germany shared the lead with a fourth straight match victory. Top rated Poland-1 rested the tournament's only Grandmaster and only mustered a 2-2 tie against India-1. In the first heavyweight matchup of the week, #4 Israel held #3 Philippines-1 to another 2-2 tie. The underrated team from Vietnam impressed with their third upset victory. 

  • 8 MP = Russia-1 and Germany 
  • 7 MP = Poland-1, Poland-2, India-1
  • 6 MP = Israel, Philippines-1, Russia-3, Vietnam and five others
  • 5 MP = India-3, Ecuador, Russia-2, Chile, USA and three others
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

Tomorrow morning, Team USA squares off against #18 seed Chile in a rare pairing of two countries from the Americas. Look for a competitive match despite the rating gap of 350 points between the teams. The first pawn moves on Wednesday at 6:00 AM PST. Check out the games at FollowChess (live) and Chess24.

Monday, November 23

Miracle at the Chess Board

The magician himself! Please meet Griffin McConnell.
Credit: Turkish Chess Federation

Nobody knows exactly what happened. It was a miracle! After an opening crush by Pranav and a solid draw by Michael, the match was knotted at 1.5. Griffin McConnell carefully nursed an advantage on board 2 when everything went amiss. At first, a peaceful conclusion seemed likely, until black dropped his knight. Alas, white struggled to convert the win, and each spite check brought Griffin closer to a draw. Inexplicably, white returned the favor, abruptly blundering his knight - and the match point. The Americans stole the match! Indeed, a popular chess proverb says nobody ever won by resigning. 

Round 3: #39 USA vs #30 Romania-2 == 2.5-1.5

  1. Michael vs Constantin Stroe (1917) == 1/2-1/2
  2. Mihai Dima (1997) vs Griffin == 0-1
  3. Pranav vs Eugen-Cezar Vieru (1798) == 1-0
  4. Maria Lupascu (1480) vs Jessica == 1-0

It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win.
Mihai Dima vs Griffin McConnell (0-1)

The tournament field continues to thin out. After three rounds, only six teams remain perfect at 6 match points, all among the top dozen seeds. Poland-1 and Russia-1 annihilated their opponents, scoring an impressive 11.5 and 11.0 game points out of 12. Three additional countries have 5 match points. Other notable results include Philippines-1 beating Russia-2 by 3-1 and the upset by Kyrgyzstan over its northern neighbor Kazakhstan by 3.5-0.5.

  • 6 MP = Poland-1, Russia-1, Germany, Ukraine-1, Croatia, India-1
  • 5 MP = Israel, Philippines-1, Poland-2
  • 4 MP = 15 teams
  • 3 MP = Canada, Russia-2, North Macedonia, USA and seven others
  • Total of 58 teams remaining

The new pairing pits Team USA against #10 seed North Macedonia, previously known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The challenging matchups continue as the Americans face a third team rated in the top 10. Games begin on Tuesday at 6 AM PST. Find the games at Chess24 or FollowChess.

Sunday, November 22

Highly Ranked Philippines-1 Shuts Out USA

Filipino board 1 FM Sander Severino

After a successful debut against Russia, Team USA crashed back to Earth, losing four fighting games to one of the Olympiad favorites: Philippines-1. FM Sander Severino, the reigning IPCA (International Physically Challenged Association) World Rapid Champion, dominated this writer from the black side of the Caro Kann. Unfortunately, our other three boards suffered a similar fate.

Round 2: #39 USA vs #3 Philippines-1 == 0-4
  1. Michael vs FM Sander Severino (2364) == 0-1
  2. Henry Lopez (2107) vs Griffin == 1-0
  3. Pranav vs Darry Bernardo (2114) == 0-1
  4. Cheyzer Crystal J. Mendoza (1639) vs Jessica == 1-0

Michael Aigner vs Sander Severino (0-1)

After two rounds, 14 teams remain perfect with four match points, including 6 of the original top 10 seeds. Two noteworthy upsets saw Hungary defeat Cuba while North Macedonia fell to Turkey-1. However, the biggest surprise must be Vietnam, who scalped a pair of stronger squads from Kazakhstan and Romania-2.  

  • 4 MP = three Polish teams, Israel, two Russian teams, two Ukrainian teams, Germany, Turkey-1, Vietnam, Hungary, India-1 and Croatia
  • 3 MP = Philippines-1 and Russia-2
  • 2 MP = 26 teams
  • 1 MP = Canada, USA, Romania-2 and Mali 
  • 0 MP = 14 teams

The pairing for the third round pits Team USA against Romania-2, rated roughly 200 points higher in average FIDE rating. Interestingly, our previous opponents, Philippines-1 and Russia-2, meet in a heavyweight showdown. This is a brutal competition! The round time is Monday at 6:00 AM PST. Although not a live broadcast, Chess24 uploads all games upon conclusion.   

Saturday, November 21

USA Ties Russia-2 in Round 1

Team USA meeting on Zoom.

What a roller coaster! The first round of the Online Olympiad saw a bit of everything for Team USA: aggressive openings, inexplicable blunders, strong endgame technique and even a flag fall. No doubt Russia-2 expected both International Masters to score a point. While Yuri Meshkov took care of business on board 1, his colleague Alexey Pakhomov got lost in cyberspace and flagged after just 7 moves. The lower boards split too and the teams shared the match points. 

Round 1: #9 Russia-2 vs #39 USA == 2-2

  1. IM Yuri Meshkov (2351) vs Michael == 1-0
  2. Griffin vs IM Alexey Pakhomov (2315) == 1-0 (time)
  3. Polina Taranenko (1445) vs Pranav == 0-1
  4. Jessica vs Maksim Ermakov (1611) == 0-1

Board 3 Pranav Shankar had opportunities throughout his game, but technique brought home the point in the endgame. Well done!

Polina Taranenko vs Pranav Shankar (0-1)

Aside from the USA match, the first round followed form with the higher rated country winning 25 of the 30 matches. Lower rated India-4 and Vietnam scored impressive upsets against Venezuela and Romania-2, respectively, while three matches were drawn. In addition to #9 Russia-2, one other top 10 squad drew; #3 seed Philippines-1 could not defeat our neighbors from Canada.

Standings after Round 1:

  • 2 MP = 27 teams including 11 of the top 13 rated
  • 1 MP = Philippines-1, Russia-2, Canada, USA and two others
  • 0 MP = the remaining 27 teams

As reward for splitting the match with the #9 seed, Team USA was paired against the #3 seed Philippines-1 in round 2. Indeed, Canada and USA swapped their opponents. Game time is Sunday at 6:00 AM PST. Follow the action on Chess24.

Friday, November 20

Opening Ceremony

The first FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities kicked off this morning with a brief Opening Ceremony streamed live on YouTube. Highlights included the obligatory rendition of the FIDE anthem and speeches by Chief Arbiter Jirina Prokopova of the Czech Republic and FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich of Russia. Replay the video above.

The organizers scheduled a test round after the ceremony to work out any kinks in accessing the Tornelo website or screen sharing on Zoom. Technical difficulties meant a delay of more than an hour. Finally, each participant faced a random opponent from another country. While officially meaningless, Team USA gained momentum with a perfect 5-0 result, including several upsets! 

Alas, the first round pairings offer a stark reminder of challenge that lies ahead. The Russians are coming! Ranked in the bottom half, the Americans drew Russia-2, powered by a veteran pair of International Masters. Wish us luck!

IM Yuri Meshkov plays board 1.
He's a former IBCA (Braille Chess)
World Champion and a regular at
the Chess Olympiad. Credit: IBCA

Round 1: #9 Russia-2 vs #39 USA

  1. IM Yuri Meshkov (2351) vs Michael
  2. Griffin vs IM Alexey Pakhomov (2315)
  3. Polina Taranenko (1445) vs Pranav
  4. Jessica vs Maksim Ermakov (1611)
Game time is Saturday at 6:00 AM PST. Follow the action live on Chess24 and YouTube.

Wednesday, November 18

Meet Team USA

Pranav and Griffin battle at the 2018
World Junior for Players with Disabilities.
Credit: Dora L. Martinez

This article does not introduce the usual suspects named Fabiano, Wesley and Hikaru. While those gentlemen play a mean game of chess, they are not special enough to qualify for this team. The six members of Team USA competing at the FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities drive wheelchairs, wear limb supports, endure surgeries and therapies, perceive the world from one eye, struggle with social interactions and still thrive amidst a laundry list of unique circumstances.

Without further ado, please meet Team USA:

  1. NM Michael Aigner from California, 2207 USCF, 2006 FIDE
  2. Griffin McConnell (age 16) from Colorado, 2051 USCF, 1823 FIDE 
  3. Pranav Shankar (age 13) from New Jersey, 1914 USCF, 1499 FIDE
  4. Jessica Lauser from Missouri, 1804 USCF, unrated FIDE
  5. Oskar Zoffer (age 11) from Massachusetts, 1680 USCF, unrated FIDE
  6. Nguyen Tran (age 8) from Louisiana, 1132 USCF, unrated FIDE
Team captain is NM Lior Lapid from Colorado, 2302 USCF, 2124 FIDE.

Jessica Lauser won the US Blind
Championship the last three years!
Credit: Mike Dudley of Maine Chess

While the top four boards have an average USCF rating of 1994, the tournament uses an average FIDE rating of 1582 by assigning unrated players as 1000. This leaves the Americans seeded 39th out of 61 teams. Winning a medal seems unlikely given the fierce competition, but this young team aspires to surprise opponents and improve on its initial ranking. 

Stay tuned for updates. The first round begins on Saturday at 6:00 AM Pacific time. All games should be broadcast on Chess24. Go U-S-A!

Monday, November 16

Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities

In response to the cancellation of over-the-board chess events around the globe due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) organized a series of online championships. The first FIDE Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities follows the Online Chess Olympiad, jointly won by India and Russia, and two smaller events for players with disabilities, the Online Cup and the Online Junior Cup.

The Olympiad opens on November 20 and closes on December 3, the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Each participating country is represented by one or more teams of four players and up to four alternates. Teams may mix players with different impairments: physical, visual, hearing and social. However, at least one woman must play in every match. The initial stage involves a seven-round match play swiss played at one round per day. Four top teams face off in a pair of two-day semifinal matches, and then the winners meet for a two-day final. Players compete on the Tornelo chess platform, which implements FIDE regulations with a Zoom meeting to monitor for fair-play violations. The rapid time control for all stages is game in 25 minutes plus a 10 second increment.

A total of 60 teams registered, representing 44 countries on five continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America). Counting the alternates, nearly 400 players will participate, ranging in age from 8 to 77! On one hand, Team Israel boasts a Grandmaster and two International Masters. On the other hand, two African rosters comprise entirely of players lacking an official international rating. Here are some other interesting statistics.

  • Favorites (by average team rating): Poland (2259), Germany (2219), Philippines (2197), Israel (2172), Cuba (2166), Russia (2164), Ukraine (2131)
  • Teams rated over 2000 average: 14
  • Countries with most teams: India and Turkey both with 4 teams
  • Other countries with multiple teams: Poland (3), Russia (3), Ukraine (3), Philippines (2), Romania (2), Colombia (2) and Malaysia (2)  
  • Titled masters: 2 GM, 12 IM, 22 FM, 4 WIM, 3 WFM   
  • Players rated over 2400 FIDE: 2
  • Players rated over 2200 FIDE: 32
  • Players rated over 2000 FIDE: 89
  • Teams from North America: Cuba, Canada, USA, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador
  • Seeding of Team USA: 39th out of 60