A Criticism of the WCC Venue

Note: These views are not expressive of Chess^Summit’s opinions of the World Chess Championship, only the author’s

When I first heard the rumors that the World Chess Championship would feature Carlsen and Karjakin playing on some busy avenue in Manhattan, with glass windows so that average people could see them battling it out over the board, I was excited. I wanted people to see how amazing chess could be, how thrilling it was to watch one of the biggest chess events of the year. I should have realized that this idea AGON was considering was too good to be true.

The actual venue, the Fulton Market Building, came as an extremely huge surprise for me. I have been going to South Street Seaport my whole life and visited in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was restored beautifully, but I felt that it was not busy enough to hold an event that chess fans desperately hoped would encourage more popularity for the game. I even visited the area a week or so before the match was scheduled to be played.

I did not see anywhere that the match could be held as there was a lot of construction going on around the Fulton Market Building, but I found out where the entrance was when I arrived on November 10th.

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My first thoughts upon entering the building were that it was small but sleek and modern looking. The windows displayed the Brooklyn Bridge in all its glory, contrasting against the bright sky and the river.

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November 10th was the press day, and it was quite fun being one of the first people allowed into the venue.

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Of course, it was quite obvious from the beginning that the spectators’ area was goin
g to be a huge problem. I imagined that ticketholders would be aimg_5492ble to sit in a theater and watch the players behind glass, like I had seen in Pawn Sacrifice. At the very least, I expected chairs and a large room where spectators could go in and out freely. What we got was chess fans crowding around a glass wall, no seats nor order to who could be in the front, who could see. Eventually, each person was assigned a fifteen minute time slot of when they were allowed to into the viewing room, which was absolutely ridiculous. Fans paid expecting to actually have the privilege of seeing Carlsen and Karjakin play, not for fifteen minutes but for a full four hours, five hours. It seemed that chess fans paid $75 each game to sit outside of the glass wall room and watch the game on screens, which they could have done in the comfort of their own homes.

Other complaints included an insufficient amount of chairs and tables in the playing area next to the chess café were raised by every chess fan I was able to talk to. It was often hard to snag a seat and get a good game going. I saw kids with their own sets playing on the floors surrounding the area and realized that overall, there was enough room to include more tables and chairs that chess players desperately needed.

 

The biggest problems in the venue were img_5713most prominent on the second day of the match when hundreds of fans showed up. The line to enter the venue ran around the corner of the building across the street. I was excited to see this at first. So many people showed up simply for chess! Inside, I instantly recognized that the venue was simply too small to fit everyone. The line to enter the viewing room was too long and the atmosphere not only included excitement, but also annoyance. This should not happen at a World Chess Championship match.

 

Despite all these issues, it is probable that AGON had some serious issues securing a building to host the event. There have always been hardships getting sponsors and venues even for the most prestigious events. It was certainly better than some choices. For example, The Trump Tower, which had been under consideration as a possible venue, wouldn’t have worked, as the presidential election finished just around the time the match started. Protests raging around it would have most likely prevented the event in some way. I commend its efforts to popularize chess by choosing the historic spot, but I am unsure it was the best it could do.

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Iselin traveled from Norway to New York!

On the value of seeing the match live, for the high price, I would not have been able to attend the match every day. Some loyal fans traveled all the way from Norway to cheer on their hero and there was no shortage of fans from various states such as Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia. However, many were left in the dark, unable to afford the steep VIP tickets that went for hundreds of dollars or just the general admission tickets. No matter what, though, many rounds were sold out. I caved in—the first World Chess Championship on American soil since I was born was an experience I could not miss. In the end, chess fans generally agreed and the match attracted over 10,000 fans who decided it was worth it to see the match live.

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Memories From an Exciting 2016

Last Sunday, I drew my final rated game of 2016 in a league match against a young expert, Maxim Yaskolko. I found myself executing a crushing mating attack right out of the opening, but missed a few immediate wins around moves 15-20 and settled for an R vs. N+P ending. I chose a rather naive attempt to convert the ending, and Maxim found a resourceful draw right as it looked like the board was opening to my advantage.

It’s a strange but fitting end to a year in which I’ve seen a number of unexpected and unfamiliar chess experiences – some good, some bad. Overall, it’s been a very successful year; I gained almost exactly 100 USCF rating points to reach my unknown (as of now) but projected rating in the 2125-2130 range.

As you might expect though, one number doesn’t tell the whole 2016 story.

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One probably wouldn’t guess from “2026 to 2130” that I plateaued at low expert, broke 2100 by a pretty big margin, undid more than half of that in three weeks, and regained most of that by the end of the year.

As recent as last year, I thought of myself as a consistent and solid player. Obviously, that perspective has changed as the strength of my competition has changed. Still, in 2014 or 2015, I wouldn’t have seen myself with a mating attack out of the opening, beating a strong expert in 16 moves, or failing to convert some of the endings I’ve botched. And while I’d experienced inconsistency in my results before, I’d never experienced alternating stretches of bad results (most specifically in the late summer, where I compiled a 0.5/6 record against Class A players before a hot September-October streak sent me back to 2100).

Such unexpected results were probably on their way, since as I’ve mentioned, I have barely two years of experience at the 1800+ level. My more inconsistent play has reflected my willingness to try a lot of new things: new openings, faster time controls, taking more risks, etc. Nevertheless, usually one can’t be truly inconsistent and make 2200, so this does indicate that I still have a lot of work to do. However, I’m optimistic because inconsistency means that theoretically, the good aspects of my play have improved while I will be able to improve the bad aspects.

To close out the USCF season, I’d like to share a few of the more memorable moments from my 2016 games, in no particular order:

Nxf7 (Liberty Bell Open)

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Hauge (2046) – Li (2026)

In true last round spirit, my opponent seized the moment with 18. Nxf7!! forcing 18…Nxg3 19. Nxh6+ Kh8! (the only move to stay in the game; 19…gxh6 20. Rxe6 is not pretty, for Black will struggle to last against 20…Rf7 21. Rg6+ Kf8 22. fxg3 Rxf1+ 23. Kxf1).

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Hauge – Li

I remembered this game for White’s missed opportunity of 20. Ng4!! here, and due to the (basically) open a2-g8 diagonal, and e-f-h files, Black has no defense against Rxg3-h3, e.g. 20…Nxf1 21. Rh3+ Kg8 22. Bxe6+. Instead, White settled for 20. Rxg3? but after 20…gxh6 and some accurate play by both of us in time trouble, I managed to hold a draw with a rook, bishop, and knight against White’s queen and a few pawns.

Avoiding a “Benoni” (US Amateur Team East)

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Dewelde (1922) – Li (2058)

Black has several reasonable choices including 5…d6 and 5…Qa5+. However, for some reason I was really afraid that after 5…d6 I’d later have to play …e6 transposing into a Benoni, and “avoided” it with 5…b5??, incidentally the second-worst move that doesn’t immediately lose material.

Indeed, I regretted it the next move; after 6. e46…Qa5+ was forced to prevent the immediate e4-e5, but White got his wish anyway after 7. Qd2 Qxd2+ 8. Nxd2 a4 9. c4 b4 10. e5 Ng8.

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Dewelde – Li

For the sake of chess White had better win this position, and he did; I was mated in 19 more miserable moves as punishment for my most costly opening mistake ever.

 

First Win Against a 2300 (Pennsylvania G/60)

I covered this game at the end of a previous post. It’s hard to understate the significance at that point, since I’d never been in such a terrible streak before. Beating my toughest opponent in Pittsburgh with Black was an unexpected but nice way to turn that around.

16-Move Win (Pennsylvania State Championship)

I covered this in my post on the state championship.

Suffice it to say that these don’t come by easily at the expert level, especially when playing the slower openings I play (then again, I was almost proven wrong this weekend). However, unlike my weekend game, this was an example of a very normal-looking Closed Sicilian idea getting demolished by a harmless-looking nuance, which is hard to find in the Closed Sicilian.

On the Other Hand… (Cherry Blossom Classic)

The Bishop’s Opening is also not normally something where White expects to win quickly. But given the right player and the right circumstances (me!), it’s possible. That’s not good.

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Samuelson (2347) – Li (2125)

For anyone interested, the position arose after 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Bd6 7. Nc3 dxe4 8. Ng5 O-O 9. Ncxe4 Bf5?! 10. Qf3 Bg6 11. h4 Nxe4?? 12. dxe4 (also, this is the only time I’ve seriously attempted 1…e5). White still had 90 minutes (the time control was 30/90+SD/60 with a 30-second increment) to my 60. It was move 12, and I was dead lost (White threatens h4-h5 and/or catastrophe on f7).

A Real Escape (Liberty Bell Open)

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Liu (1840) – Li (2026)

It wasn’t easy looking at this position on move 12 as Black (yes, 12…Rd7 is forced). However, my opponent missed a few chances to put the game away, and traded queens, unexpectedly allowing me to generate a surprising attack.

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Counterplay!

Eventually, White was forced to give back the Exchange and I escaped with a draw on move 31.

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Liu – Li, 1/2 – 1/2

A disaster isn’t a disaster if you redeem yourself during the game.


Although I’ve finished with rated play for the year, be on the lookout for some more analysis on some of my wrap-up games. See you in two weeks!

Women’s World Chess Championships

Disclaimer: These are simply my thoughts after reading into multiple sources about the championships and do not at all represent the thoughts of Chess^Summit as a whole. In addition, if there are more relevant issues I am unaware of, please feel free to express your thoughts and concerns on this topic. The main purpose of this article is to create discussion about this topic as with the recent World Championships, I feel like the controversy over the Women’s Championships is being overlooked.

So if you haven’t heard already, the Women’s World Chess Championships will be held in Iran this coming February. For basically the first time ever, there have been extremely popular and non-chess based interfaces that are covering this championship due to the fact that all participants are required to wear a hijab.

Numerous people have spoken out about this situation – most notably, the US Women’s Champion, Nazi Paikidze has decided to completely boycott the tournament: even though it has been her dream to participate in the Women’s World Championships since she was sixteen. On the other hand, there are Iranian feminists and chess players who argue that by boycotting this tournament, people are in fact discouraging the feminist movement in Iran, as this will be the largest female sporting event ever hosted by the country and acts as a huge boost to the morale of their female athletes.

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The Current US Women’s Champion: Nazi Paikidze

Chess is a game about expression – everyone has a different style of play, whether it be aggressive or passive, different mannerisms at the board, whether it be our attire or the position in which we think and analyze the position. By making them wear the hijab, the players lose a part of their identity, a part of the aura they give off at the board, and probably most important of all, a part of their confidence. For me personally, I will almost always be in a comfortable pair of jeans with a loose sweater on top of a pair of boots or sneakers and I prefer resting my chin on my hands. The few times where I have changed my attire and gone outside of my comfort zone, I’ve found that my performance itself is greatly affected. With my own personal experience in mind, I don’t believe that the enforcement of a hijab upon the participants is in any way fair to the players.

Now, before you jump to conclusions – I’m not saying that personal performance should be the priority here or that it is more important than the feminist movement in Iran. The core issue here is the individual’s personal choice to choose for themselves what they wish to wear in the environment of an international tournament. Iranian women have faced restrictions upon their participation in international events for wearing a hijab due to “safety reasons,” and while most competitions now allow them, they are still prevented from competing in some international sporting arenas like the international basketball championships. In such situations, people supporting the participation of Iranian women have continuously expressed that a person’s dress should not be the determining factor in their participation. So why is it that the case for this tournament?

I’m all for feminism, I really am – and honestly if it weren’t for the US government’s warning against traveling to Iran, I’d say this tournament would be an amazing opportunity for both the players and the country as a whole. I’m genuinely happy that the tournament is being held in a place where simply its occurrence will create positive impact on the community.

From what I understand, the hijab has a primarily religious and cultural symbol and a symbol of choice. It represents a part of a person, shows what culture or religion one believes in. By forcing other members of society who don’t actually believe in the same cultural or religious ideas, it is almost like the symbolism of a hijab is being depreciated since those who do not practice the cultural and religious beliefs that a hijab represents are wearing one.

WCC 2016: Is It Time for Change?

[Header Photograph taken by Maya Marlette]

Note: The ideas expressed in this article are based off of the author’s personal opinions and are not representative of Chess^Summit’s views.


The World Chess Championship ended in such a thrilling tiebreak format. The excitement in the venue will forever be embedded into my memory. I felt thankful and elated to be seeing a huge part of history, yet I felt like I shouldn’t have to be witnessing the tiebreak games in the first place.

I was first aware of the tiebreak controversies when Greg Shahade posted his critique of the loss of draw odds for the Champion.  In his short blog post, he claims, “Just as in the 20th century, the Champion should retain the title on a drawn match. There should be no rapid tiebreak. If you want the title you need to beat the reigning champion.”

I agree, but I think the issue is extremely complicated and it is hard to find the right balance between trying to please chess fans and the players alike. In this article, I will address the various solutions and opinions that a few relatively well known players have suggested and give a little bit of my own opinion on this matter. However, this article is overall about assessing the various arguments raised by the chess community and you are welcome to disagree and encouraged to comment your own opinions!

History of the tiebreak system

There are the initial 12 classical games (except the 2007 double round robin).

If there is a tie after the 12 games:

First are the rapid games, 4 of them, G/25 +10. That means each player gets 25 minutes and there are 10 seconds added on for every move. If no winner is produced, 2 G/5 +3 blitz games are played. Then two more. Then more sets of these 2 games until 5 sets have been completed. Finally, in the unlikely case of a continual tie, Armageddon with a drawing of lots for colors. 5 minutes for White, 4 minutes for Black who also has draw odds. At move 60, 3 second increment is added.

This information can be more formally found on the Rules and Regulations for the FIDE World Championship Match.

Since 2006 (with the exception of the 2007), a similar tiebreak system has been implemented, with some combination of rapid, blitz, and Armageddon games.

However, every tournament cycle, the controversy is raised again. Is it finally time for a change?

Grandmaster Irina Krush thinks so.

The current regulations, she argues, are not the best nor most logical, and “fall very short of ideal.” These tiebreak games “break the tradition of the system that’s trying to produce the best player.” After all, a lot of randomness comes into play. Faster time controls may not necessarily produce the best quality chess, at least not blitz. Even so, International Master Yaacov Norowitz thinks that the level of the rapid games is still extremely high, so that the system allows for high quality chess and sustains the credibility of the title.

Some may argue that the tiebreaks actually forced the players, perhaps, to play riskier chess in the shorter games, which always makes the game much more exciting to watch. This points out one of the biggest issues with the current format: in the initial 12 long games, the players tend to make many drawish positions. They don’t attack with the same vigor as they would in, say, blitz. There is too much risk in trying something when one loss can mean so much for the rest of the tournament. Greg Shahade thinks to combat this, we should abolish the tiebreaks, which would incentivize a player to fight harder in the classical games if they are losing.

However, I think that no matter what, there will always be some games that are simply not going to be “interesting.” Irina likes the idea of a longer classical match, with a minimum of 16 games, maximum of 24 games, helps to fix the issue. Each game has less importance this way and there is more room for the players to “show some stuff.” But even with the extended amount of games, there are still going to be the Berlins (notorious for fostering boring games at least in the past few years) and the general bores and some fans who go to watch the match live may still have less of an enjoyable experience.

Her proposed solution is as bold as the others I will talk about. She likes the involvement of the ACP to help determine the best format. The organization represents a lot of players and can figure out what the top 10 or so players say about the format and what the chess world at large thinks. Otherwise, every single tournament, the issue will be raised all over again due to such obvious discontent!

US Champion and Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana proposed an interesting tiebreak format, one that I had not heard until he told me his solution. It had apparently been discussed before in previous matches. He thinks tiebreaks before the match “make more sense” and would “discourage draws during the match.” Before the classical games start, there should be a playoff like the current tiebreaks now. The winner would get draw odds in the match so that 6-6 in the 12 classical games would mean the tiebreak winner wins. Of course if either player won outright, these games would not count.

I personally feel it would put a lot of pressure on the loser of this pre-match tiebreak. It sets the mood for the classical games, so much so that I am unsure that this is the best solution. Yet Fabi argues a good point: One of the players would have to play for a win. There would probably be no short draws, although there would be some in general, because the loser would always push him/herself to not just play the most drawish games. There would be an incentive to make the chess more exciting. Yet would they potentially crack under the pressure and the nerves? Is the disadvantage too big for the loser of the tiebreak?

I also asked him why the current champion should not have draw odds already. He thinks that if the defending world champion wants to continue claiming that he/she is the best in the world, he/she should prove so by not depending on draw odds.

In his own words:

“The world champ should be able to win the match, not just tie it.”

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez said:

“Classical should be determined by classical.”

His comment is an argument that many make. We have the World Rapid and Blitz Championships for a reason. There should just be classical games to determine the classical World Champion. I think he raises one of the strongest arguments against the current tiebreaker format.

Additionally, it is obvious that just because someone is good at classical chess, he/she is not necessarily just as good at rapid or blitz chess.

How does Karjakin fare? International Master Yaacov Norowitz thinks the playoff is fair, but that Carlsen has an advantage because “faster shows understanding of the game versus analysis.” There is no doubt that Norowitz believes Magnus is just a better player overall. I personally think Karjakin was and still is a reasonable rapid or blitz challenger to Magnus and obviously still had chances, but the overwhelming majority favored Magnus. Similarly, let’s say Caruana was the challenger and not Karjakin. He is currently the #20 rapid and #10 blitz player in the world. On the Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour, he did not fare too well. On the Leuven leg, he was at the middle of the pack. Clearly, he is not the best in the world at fast chess. Yet no one can dispute his classical success. He is the #2 player in the world (classical) and a phenomenal chess player in general. In this rapid-blitz-Armageddon tiebreak format, Fabiano would probably lose against Magnus because the rapid difference is a bit wide (Sorry, Fabi!). I have no doubt there would be quite a fight in the classical games, but clearly this fast tiebreak format would not work for all players equally.

Before I move onto the next point, I should mention that like Greg Shahade says, I don’t think Karjakin necessarily “deserved” to win the classical World Championship for this past point. He is not who I would consider to be the strongest classical player in the world and the tiebreaks were not that even/equal in terms of player strength. While I believe Karjakin is one of the best players in the world now, if someone asked ten people who they thought the best active, classical player on the planet was, I do not believe anyone would say Sergey Karjakin. Like Irina said, on the chance that Karjakin won instead of Carlsen, there would be a loss of this best player tradition. He certainly would not really prove himself to be the best classical player in the world by winning in a series of fast games. In Greg’s words:

“He does not belong in the category of Alekhine, Capablanca, Kramnik, or any other of the number of the great champions who had to knock off someone who was thought to be nearly unbeatable.”

Grandmaster Denes Boros finds the current tiebreak system exciting although it depends on the players. Nonetheless, like Alejandro, he believes the match should just end on a classical game, no matter how many games that may be. In his opinion, the classical system was more fair and fun for the audience. He optimistically believes, “players just like to play solid when they can” and:

“Chess is a beautiful game when we give it a chance.”

Citing Tal and Botvinnik’s Championship Match, he thinks classical chess still gives room for excitement in any tournament.

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Grandmaster Cristian Chirila likes the current format. He focused on the thrill of the tiebreak day when I asked for his thoughts. It’s not too bad for the fans to get a final decisive day. That excitement was so clear to me. I heard the cheers every time a game ended, the gasps after Karjakin found his cool stalemate. There was some serious emotion in the game of chess that I had never experienced before. It was the level of pleasure every tournament should aim to achieve.

And yet the flaw I see in this is that the players should not be obligated to give a match that is an audience pleaser. To Carlsen and Karjakin, the match was about their chess skills. It was not about the politics the media brought to attention. It was not about popularizing the game. It was about who was the better chess player. That is the way it’s always been to the champion and the challenger.

On draw odds, Cristian questions:

“What sport has a champion that ties keep the title?”

Chess players have been trying to legitimize chess as a sport for years. Why not hold it to the same standard as other sports? There is a strong effort to make chess more exciting and spectator friendly. Would catering to the desires of the viewers be the best way to make progress? This point probably opposes the previous one which illustrates how hard it is to find a necessary compromise.

No one knows the right way to balance out all the pros and cons of a tiebreak system and overall format for the World Chess Championship. There are too many big questions such as what can the organizers do the make the match good for the fans? There will always be limitations on chess, but it is obvious that overall, the positives and negatives of the match balanced each other out quite a bit. Not many sports have the same value of chess, that games are usually long and sometimes not boring. Seeing a chess game live can be more worth the money. Regardless of the tiebreak format, there will always be excitement in chess, luckily, and fans will always be there to support the players.

I will be posting more about the World Chess Championship over the next few days on Chess^Summit and Chess Club Live. Please tell me what you think of this article in the comments!!


I would like to thank Irina Krush, Fabiano Caruana, Alejandro Ramirez, Denes Boros, Cristian Chirila, and Yaacov Norowitz for taking the time to answer my questions and give your feedback on the WCC match/tiebreak. Thank you, Greg Shahade, for being the first person on my radar to address the tiebreak issues. Also thanks to Michael Mkpadi and Chess Club Live for enabling me to have this amazing WCC experience.

New York, New York! Part 2

With the World Chess Championship over I would like to take this time to reflect back to my New York visit to witness games three and four. After spending a large part of my day at the FIDE trainer seminar at the Marshall Chess Club, it was nice to go and relax during the afternoon into the evening at the venue hosting the World Championships. Every fan of chess that reads about the history of chess, in particular the world championships, dreams of the chance to someday to visit the summit of chess. The electricity that filled the venue was hard to resist – believe me, during the long draws of games 3 and 4 I made plans to leave several times in order to be well rested for the next day of seminar training, of course something always kept me from leaving! Seeing Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjaken up close, as well as chess personalities such as Judith Polgar, Peter Doggers, Lev Alburt, Jay Bonin, Yaacov Norowitz, Irina Krush, etc…was a wonderful experience.

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Me and blitz legend Yaacov Norowitz

Several fans in the café area clinged to every moment and would have the positions setup on theirs boards. Crowds would gather around a board and the kibitzing would be flying, hands reaching in suggesting moves, people trying to refute ideas, everyone curious as why Magnus and Sergey were making such moves was great fun to watch.

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Fans analyzing every move of Magnus and Sergey

One of my personal highlights was reuniting with my good friend Majur Juac. Majur is originally from the DC area, but then relocated to the New York area to teach chess for Chess NYC – a prominent chess teaching company in the New York area. A story came out in the Washington Post about his amazing life story – please take the time to read Pondering His Next Move.

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Myself, with Maryland player Kevin, and Majur excited about the match

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

US Chess School founder Greg Shahade brought his students attending the 37th US Chess School in New York by the match both days that I was there to enjoy the world championship, and of course they played tons of blitz!

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Greg Shahade and US Chess School students

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

The only downside of the match was that there was not enough seating to  watch the video of the match and listen to Judith Polgar was the commentate. The acoustics of the room made it next to impossible to hear the commentary. This was a common complaint I heard buzzing around the match, and online. 

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Judith Polgar

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography

It was a great honor to be able to experience the World Chess Championship in person – I can only hope that in the future it will be 4 hours or closer to where I am living! Congratulations to Magnus Carlsen for successfully defending his title! Extra special thanks to local Virginia player Bill Simmons for providing several excellent photos for this article.

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The Challenger and the Champ

Photo: Bill Simmons Photography