Ups and Downs at the New York International

“I have a midterm tomorrow in Art History and guess where I am?” I said to a chess parent, gesturing around the Marshall Chess Club. It was Wednesday night, the first day of the New York International. Despite a test looming, I would not miss the beginning of the tournament, where many of my friends- and many players I did not know- were playing.

It was a good thing I did not miss it. In the first round already, surprises showed that the tournament was going to be exciting. The most surprising of which was CM Maximillian Lu’s draw with GM Irina Krush. Sure, the top 11-year old chess player in the country did not win the game, but when a 2100 player draws against someone like the former women’s U.S. champion, it turns heads.

The next great (and wonderful) surprise was that FM David Brodsky, one of our writers, reached the 2400 FIDE that he needed to make his International Master title. Okay, it was not too much of a surprise- it was obvious that David would get his title eventually. However, it was quite fitting that the tournament in which he gained his first IM norm last year was the tournament that secured his IM title. His article on his achievement articulates his experience more clearly.

 

For most of the tournament, GMs Yaro Zherebukh and Axel Bachmann seemed head to head. Then, IM Raja Panjwani outplayed GM Yaro Zherebukh in a game, changing the odds.

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Photo by Vanessa Sun
raja
Photo by Vanessa Sun

 

 

 

IM Raja Panjwani

 

 

 

 

After what GM Zherebukh claimed was “probably the worst game I played in years,” he was discouraged, knowing he was now tied only for second place. He came back with a quick win over GM Gil Popilski by the next round. I’ll let him tell it.

See full game annotations by GM Yaro Zherebukh

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The final position in Popilski-Zherebukh
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How I Always Feel After a Win | Photo by Vanessa Sun

But again, another surprise changed the standings. Despite GM Krush’s previous hiccup, she managed to beat the top seed, GM Axel Bachmann. This result put her in the running for first place going into the last round. After Irina’s success, there were four players vying for first going into the last round: IM Raja Panjwani and GMs Bachmann, Krush, and Zherebukh.

In the end, GM Krush, beating GM Zherebukh in the last round, and GM Bachmann, beating FM Joshua Colas, tied for first-second. It was a crazy series of ups and downs, with a few of the highlights as the tournament leaders changed countless times. However, the two grandmasters pulled through in the end, enduring long games and with Irina enjoying some upsets. You can see the final results posted on the Marshall Chess Club website.

Although I’m sure it was difficult to annotate a loss that was so crucial to the tournament result, GM Zherebukh annotated this game as well:

See full game annotated by GM Yaro Zherebukh

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Final position in Krush-Zherebukh

Overall, the tournament was thrilling to experience. The Philly International gained more of a crowd than this one, but New York tournaments still draw in quite a few players. No doubt some players used the tournament as preparation for the World Open tournament, which promises some more exciting action to come. This New York International was the 10th edition, but it was my first and hopefully not be my last visit!

Oh, and I got an A+ on my Art History midterm, too.

Some extra pictures I took:

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FM Ethan Li | photo by: Vanessa Sun
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Photo by: Vanessa Sun
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Sophie Morris-Suzuki | Photo by: Vanessa Sun

Ten Tournaments to Follow/Play This Summer- A Pretty Obvious Selection by Vanessa

In order of occurrence, not personal preference.

1. Norway Chess: June 6-17

Obviously, you can’t play this tournament this summer. You can have a lot of fun watching it, though!

Altibox Norway Chess 2017 is nearly over, but has certainly featured a few cool surprises along the way that must be noted.

The fun event kicked off with a blitz tournament, won convincingly by Magnus Carlsen. He could not keep that level of success throughout the tournament, though.

With an impressive two wins, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian lead the tournament so far. This could change over the next few days, but as the leaders are one point ahead of their competitors, it may be difficult for GMs Karjakin, Kramnik, Giri, and So to catch up.

As for another surprise worth mentioning: there is no doubt that it is always widely spread news when someone beats the World Champ and GM Levon Aronian gets to boast about his win over World Champion Magnus Carlsen this tournament. Magnus has yet to beat someone- not a particularly strong showing on his part.

The finish should be quite exciting and as the players emerge from the rest day, they will hopefully bring more fighting chess! You can check out more information about the tourney on their official website and watch commentary on Chess24.

2. National Open: June 14-18

This is always one of the biggest chess festivals of the year. The $100,000 prize fund is always tempting, but what is most exciting is perhaps the numerous side events including simuls, lectures, book signings, and raffles, as well as cool prizes, such as The Freddie award, given to a U14 player who played the most exceptional game in the tournament.

Held in Las Vegas, a great location for adults, there is even a poker tournament to play as a side event. With eight sections, it is worth playing or at least watching the titled players face off in the open section. They will be broadcasting a few games on their website.

3. New York International: June 21-25

Last year, one of our writers, David Brodsky, earned his first IM norm at the event. This is a relatively small tournament compared to the others, but it is one to watch out for because there are usually IM or GM norms earned at it. Always with a strong turnout, the tournament is going into its 10th year.

The Marshall Chess Club, where it will be held, does not release the entry list for it, but I can let Chess^Summit readers in on a secret:

GM Yaro Zherebukh, who played at the U.S. Championships this year and is the current Marshall Chess Club Champion, will be vying for that first prize.

4. World Open: June 29-July 4

I feel like all American chess players play in the World Open at one point in their life. Of course I’m exaggerating, but it’s a tournament many players play in, partly because a lot of their friends play in it and partly because the prize pool is enormous. The first prize for the open section is a cool $20,000, so many titled players are drawn in. So far, GM Le Quang Liem is the top seed, but with such a strong field, anyone could win it.

For those of us who are non-GMs, the tournament is still fun and can yield great results. There are also a few side events around the tournament, such as a Women’s Championship, to get the fun started. Lectures by three different GMs are scheduled. I’ll be preparing for this tournament myself, so be sure to say hello to me if you recognize me! It will be my first time playing and reporting on the tournament for ChessBase.

5 & 6. U.S. Junior & U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships: July 7-18

As qualifiers for the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships are two significant tournaments for young chess players in the United States. The winner of each tournament has the honor of playing in the U.S. Champs. Last year, they were won by GM Jeffery Xiong and WIM Emily Nguyen.

The fields this year are as strong as ever, and I feel that GM Xiong is a favorite to win the U.S. Junior Championship again. After all, he won the World Junior Championship and is one of the top 15 players in the country.

Top seed Carissa Yip is my favorite to win the U.S. Girl’s Junior Championship (Sorry to all my other friends who are playing- I’m rooting for everybody nonetheless). Winning the tournament would qualify her for her third consecutive U.S. Women’s Championship. However, she has extremely tough opponents who will not let her wrest that coveted spot so easily.

7. Match of the Millennials: July 26-29

This is a newly introduced tournament supported by The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, the USCF, FIDE, and FIDE Trainers’ Commission. Four players U17, two players U14, and two girls U14 will make up a team and the American team will face off against a team of young players from around the world. Although there is not too much information about this tournament, a press release can still be found on ChessBase. Despite the lack of news, the coming-together of these five organizations is sure to bring an exciting tournament. The American players are definitely the future of American chess and the players from all over the world can prove their worth against them. The kids playing in this tournament are the children to watch for years to come.

8. Sinquefield Cup: July 31-August 12

Not much explanation is needed for this event, as it has consistently been one of the greatest tournaments to watch every year (but you can find more information on their official website anyway). 

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *
I figure anyone can win it, as it has been a different winner every year (2013: Fabiano Caruana, 2014: Magnus Carlsen, 2015: Levon Aronian, 2016: Wesley So). However, I hope there is a fresh, new winner this year to make it more exciting. The field is always a bit different, so there are always new possibilities!

9. St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: August 13-19

This one is super special to watch out for due to a couple of reasons: Isaac will be reporting from this event and it is new to the Grand Chess Tour! I apologize for leaving out the Paris and Leuven legs of the Grand Chess Tour, but because I could only choose 10 events for a Top 10 list, I wanted to go with a new tournament.

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *

 I am hoping for some diversity in the new field, as the Grand Chess Tour decided to add more wildcards into their tour. It remains to be seen if their wildcards could possibly win it all!

For more information, see their official website.

10. U.S. Masters Chess Championship/North Carolina Open: August 23-27

Many GMs like to play in the U.S. Masters tournament held in North Carolina. The likes of GMs Sam Sevian, Niclas Huschenbeth, and Ruifeng Li will be playing, and I am sure many more grandmasters will register as the tournament draws closer. Norms can be earned and for this championship, titles are even required. Five games will be broadcasted every round, with a special $150 sponsorship enabling the organizers to add more boards.

The North Carolina Open and North Carolina Open Scholastic Section also happen in conjunction with the U.S. Masters, drawing in many lower rated players. The open section is FIDE rated, which is good for the players who may not want to play in the much stronger U.S. Masters field. With four sections and lower class prizes in each section (ex: U1400 section has U1200 prizes), there are even more prizes to win. The top two boards will also have their games broadcasted.

What tournaments are you playing in this summer/following?

What Bad Tournaments Make You Think

I’ve been to countless tournaments in the past few months, covering everything from the World Chess Championship to Chess in the Schools weekly tournaments. However, I haven’t played a rated tournament game in a long time. I played in the Eastern Class Championships in Sturbridge, Massachusetts this past weekend after not playing since Millionaire Chess (October 2016).

As you may or may not know from my bio or previous articles, I am the oddball of the authors because I consider myself to be an amateur chess player. I had been playing in U1400, U1600, and U1700 tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club for a few months and held up alright, usually with 1300s.

My correct class at the Eastern Class Championships would have been the Under 1200 section, but I decided to challenge myself in playing in the 1200-1399 section. At a rating of 1152, I figured the skill level would not vary as much and I wanted to play “up,” as many players do to become stronger.

I scored a whopping 1/5, which would not have made the tournament SO horrible… but the 1 point was from the 1 point free bye I got. I lost the rated house game that did not count for my tournament score.

After this horrific tournament, I was asked to write an article, to which I wondered, “What the heck do people want to know from my new 5 game losing streak?” Then I realized that everyone can probably relate to this experience so I wanted to model those Buzzfeed relatable lists…


7 Thoughts You Have After

Bad Tournaments

(I chose 7 because it is my lucky number)

1) “Wow, I suck at chess.”

Come on. Everyone’s said it many, many, many times to themselves before. It’s often a joke, a dark sort of self-deprecating humor. Even though it is not true, losing so many games lowers the morale to that thought first and foremost. I find this deprecating comment is so common, yet most likely extremely detrimental. It connotes giving up or even brushing off lack of prep, sleep, or even just luck as factors in the game.

 

2) “What if I just change my ____? This ____ is bad luck.”

Fill the blank with “pen,” “shirt,” “drink,” etc.

Ah, the classic blame game! I play it with my pens quite often, thinking if I just changed a miniscule part of my routine that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of my play, I’ll have different luck. Chess player superstition everyone seems to have, I suppose. The only type of chess luck to have only happens OTB (Over The Board).

 

3) “Is it normal to lose this much?”

The first huge, despairing moment hits with this thought. You try to calculate if it’s statistically possible to lose so much. After all, you couldn’t have lost this many games in a tournament before, right? If Wesley So can go on large winning streaks, surely you can’t go on such large losing streaks…

 

4) “Why did I come play this tournament?”

This one relates to the luck in the 2nd point. If you hadn’t taken the gamble to play in this tournament, but maybe the next one, you could have done so much better. It is useless to follow this train of thought, as you never could have predicted such a disastrous result. Yet everyone does.

 

5) “Why did I waste so many years on this game?”

This is the next and perhaps close to the last stage of giving up. It suggests that every effort made to improve was not worth it and was a waste of time, that every game played in history was not necessary. It does not give much hope for the future.

 

6) “At least the ____ was good. But ______ sucked.”

Fill the blank with “food,” “drinks,” “company,” or “hotel”/”venue” (rare).

This thought is an attempt to stay positive, as there is usually at least one good aspect of a tournament. Often, I find that it is the company due to the “social” aspect I gain from chess, but that is not always the case. Sometimes it is only the food that can be delicious. Maybe it’s none, but it’s always fun to joke!

 

7) “I have to improve and do better next time.”

The inevitable conclusion: sometimes the only way to cheer up is to vow to improve. That is how you overcome the defeat, how you justify having lost so much. Every game is a lesson and losing is just part of the game. There will be good tournaments and terrible ones. Remember: it cannot get much worse, so it can only get better! 🙂

My First US Championships

Airport Misery

I had my fair share of airport struggles the weekend of the end of the U.S. Chess Championships. Although I may not have had as bad of an experience as the United Airlines man, I ended up miserable, defeated, and utterly enraged by the time I arrived in St. Louis. At some point, I was wondering if going on the trip was even worth it.

I had been planning to be in St. Louis on April 7th. It was a trip I had obsessed over for several months and would cover the last leg of the Championships and my spring break. However, my flight was cancelled due to weather conditions. I stayed on standby for 9 flights spanning 3 days, which were all overbooked flights.

I finally made it to the US Chess Championships on April 10th- to watch, of course, not to play!

An Exciting Playoff

The Games

 Although I missed all the normal rounds, I did get to see a playoff, which was a good consolation prize for having chosen to actually fly to St. Louis after spending more than 20 hours at the airport.

The match format was 2 G/25 rapid games, then some mix of blitz and Armageddon if further play was required. The players tied for first were GMs Wesley So and Alexander Onischuk, who had both scored 7/11 in the tournament. With a huge unbeaten streak and much higher rating, Wesley was the favorite to win the playoff and therefore the championship.

So-Onischuk, 1-0

  1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. e4 d5 4. cd5 ed5 5. e5 Ne4 6. Nf3 Bf5 7. Be2 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Qb3 Nc6 10. Nd5 Bc5 11. Ne3 Bg6 12. Qb7 Nd4 13. Nd4 Bd4 14. d3 Nc5 15. Qb5 Rb8 16. Qc4 Ne6 17. f4 Bb2 18. Rb1 Qd4 19. Rb2 Rb2 20. Bg4 Rb4 21. Qd4 Rd4 22. f5 Nf4 23. Nc2 Ra4 24. Bf4 h5 25. Bd1 Bh7 26. Ne3 Ra2 27. e6 fe6 28. Bb3 Re2 29. fe6 Re8 30. e7 Kh8 31. Bg5

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So it’s clear that So won the first game. Onischuk had to fight hard in order to have a chance at winning the championship. He needed a win.

Instead, he was only able to pull off a draw against the opponent more than 150 points higher rated.

Onischuk-So, ½-½

  1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Bg4 4. O-O Nd7 5. d3 Ngf6 6. h3 Bh5 7. Nbd2 e5 8. e4 Be7 9. Qe1 O-O 10. Nh4 Re8 11. Ndf3 de4 12. de4 Nc5 13. g4 Bg6 14. Ng6 hg6 15. Ne5 Bd6 16. Nc4 Nce4 17. Nd6 Qd6 18. Qd1 Qc5 19. Be3 Qa5 20. c4 Rad8 21. Qc2 Nc5 22. Rfd1 Ne6 23. Qc3 Qc7 24. Qa3 b6 25. b4 g5 26. Qa4 c5 27. bc5 Nc5 28. Qc2 Ne6 29. a4 Nf4 30. Bf1 Rd1 31. Rd1 Ne4 32. a5 Nc5 33. ab6 ab6 34. Qf5 f6 35. h4 Re5 36. Bf4 gf4 37. Qf4 Qe7 38. Bg2 Re1 39. Re1 Qe1 40. Kh2 Qe7 41. Qb8 Kh7 42. Qb6 Qe5 43. Kg1 Qd4 44. Qb1 Nd3 45. Qc2 Kh8 46. Qe2 Ne5 47. Bd5 g5 48. h5 Kg7 49. Kg2 Kh6 50. Kg3 Qf4 51. Kh3 Qd4 52. Kg3 Qf4 53. Kg2 Qd4 54. Be6 Nd3 55. Kg1 Nf4 56. Qc2 Qa1 57. Kh2 Qe5 58. Bg8 Nh5 59. Kg2 Nf4 60. Kf3 Ng6 61. Qe4 Nh4 62. Ke3 Ng2 63. Kf3 Ne1 64. Ke3 Nc2

The Atmosphere

The first playoff game was the first game of the tournament I got to see. A small group of photographers, journalists, and fans crowded around the players. It was eerily silent like most chess tournaments are, but it felt bizarre because activity was so focused on one board. I was afraid to move around and take pictures because the shutter sound would have caused attention.

behind the scenes playoff

I ended up roaming the other areas of the club.

Downstairs, fans watched the commentary screens obsessively.

playoff watching2

I found the glass chess set trophies that list the past U.S. Champions and Women’s Champions. They were beautiful and made of crystal. I typically don’t like the transparent/translucent chess sets, but the sets pass my approval test!

champs trophies

 

The young players from the U.S. Women’s Championship, Carissa Yip, Jennifer Yu, Emily Nguyen, Maggie Feng, and Apurva Virkud, all joined me, marveling at the trophies with me. We joked around, chatted about the playoff, and the girls posed for several pictures for and with me.

 

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(L to R): Jennifer Yu & Emily Nguyen
me with the girls
(L to R): Me, Carissa Yip, Jennifer Yu, Emily Nguyen
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(L to R): Me & Carissa Yip

I also caught Lotus Key, Wesley So’s mother, reading while Wesley played his playoff games. I postulated that she was too nervous to watch Wesley’s games. As a mother, I would probably feel the same!

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Lotus Key

The girls and I ventured to Kingside Diner for a change of commentary scenery. We watched GMs Finegold and Hansen talk about the games while the girls commented on their commentary!

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The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

In general, though, I think the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is the most beautiful place to play chess and I have definitely never played in quite a place like it. My local club is the historic Marshall Chess Club, but it is definitely nowhere near as luxurious.

I would definitely describe the club with that adjective: “luxurious.” One of the biggest aspects that I loved about it was simply how new and therefore clean it was. Perhaps it is simply more well maintained than other clubs and has a bigger staff to keep it running so smoothly! The chairs are soft and comfortable, the sets are clean and new-looking, and portraits of chess players hanging on the walls glisten. It was simply a nice space to be in and play chess in. I even enjoyed editing my photos and writing articles downstairs.

I also have to commend the club for how well it was able to handle and organize the tournament. I heard good testimonials from so many people who thought that it was one of the most organized tournaments they had ever been to.

For example, GM Yaro Zherebukh, who placed sixth in the U.S. Championship, said of the tournament, “It was organized on the highest and best level.”

I cannot stress enough how excited I am to go back to St. Louis as well as the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis specifically. I hope to be back for the U.S. Junior Closed, Match of the Millennials, Sinquefield Cup, and St. Louis Rapid tournaments—and hopefully this time actually make it in time to watch some games!

 

Who is GM Yaro Zherebukh?

Past Performances to Present

Ukrainian-born GM Yaro Zherebukh received much attention for winning the 2010 Cappelle-la-Grande Open ahead of 82 grandmasters and beating Pavel Eljanov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the 2011 World Cup. He largely disappeared from the headlines since then, focusing on his education at Texas Tech University, although he also played on their chess team and switched federations to play for the US in 2015.

Now pursuing a Masters in Applied Financial Economics at Saint Louis University and playing on SLU Chess Team’s Board 2, he is in the right city to reach more acclaim— St. Louis. The chess capital in the country boasts the beautiful Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis  and supports many chess activities and initiatives. His recent move has given him the chance to enter the chess spotlight again, starting from the U.S. Chess Championship.

Before the Games Began

GM Zherebukh was selected as the wildcard for the U.S. Chess Championship, as he was just shy of qualification by rating. The selection may have surprised many including the grandmaster himself.

“I thought it was a lot more likely that they would pick some young talents. I guess it was a coin toss, though, so I started preparing for the tournament in advance before I even got the decision, just in case.”

With a rating of 2605, he was the second-to-last seed (out of 12) of the tournament and not expected to perform exceptionally. Nonetheless, IM Greg Shahade gave him a little bit of a benefit of the doubt in his US Chess article with predictions for the championship, predicting that he was probably going to place around 9th.

GM Zherebukh admits to having glanced at Greg’s predictions, which I’m sure many American chess players and fans did. He commented, “I did read his article before the tournament. 9th place was reasonable, but I was hoping for better, of course.”

After all, 9th place would have put him out of the running for the World Cup, one of the most important tournaments in the world. There was the looming pressure of potentially qualifying for the whole championship, as this was a FIDE zonal tournament. The top 8 players would advance to the World Cup and he wanted to be part of that select group.

“My main motivation was to qualify to the World Cup because I wanted to prove to myself that my only World Cup wasn’t just an accident. I wanted to prove to myself that I could play some chess.”

The Mid-Tournament Shocks

Going into the rest day, GM Zherebukh was doing quite well and satisfied, claiming, “I felt happy I drew the world’s #2 and it called for celebration. I got to have a nice dinner, relax for the first time in three weeks. I played in the STL invitational, Final Four, then US Championship back to back, so I felt happy that I would not have to do chess for at least one day.”

Little did he know, more success was on the way. The grandmaster ended up shocking viewers after the one day break and most likely gained many fans throughout the U.S. Chess Championship.

As arguably the most surprising occurrence of the tournament, GM Yaro Zherebukh defeated GM Fabiano Caruana in the 7th round, which was the game that catapulted Yaro to tying for first place (temporarily). It was quite a dominating performance, and many admired the style of his win.

Zherebukh-Caruana, 1-0

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Scoresheet from the game!
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. a4 c5 16. d5 c4 17. Bg5 h6 18. Be3 Nc5 19. Qd2 h5 20. Bg5 Bg7 21. Rf1 Qc7 22. Bh6 Bh8 23. Ng5 Nh7 24. Nh7 Kh7 25. Be3 Qe7 26. f4 ef4 27. Bf4 Kg8 28. Rf3 Bg7 29. Raf1 Nd7 30. Bh6 Bh6 31. Qh6 Qf8 32. Qd2 Ne5 33. Rf6 Rad8 34. Qg5 Qg7 35. Bd1 Bc8 36. Qh4 Kf8 37. Qf4 Qg8 38. Kh1 Re7 39. Bh5 ba4 40. Bd1 Qg7 41. Ba4 Qh7 42. Qg5 a5 43. Kg1 Qh8 44. R1f4 Qg7 45. Rh4 Nd3 46. Rh6 Ne5 47. Rf4 Bd7 48. Qh4 Kg8 49. Qe7 Re8 50. Qg5 Ba4 51. Rf6

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GM Zherebukh poses below his portrait at the club
After his stunning win, GM Zherebukh was tied for first place, remaining atop players like GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Ray Robson, some of the country’s Olympiad team members. I’m not sure anyone expected him to win the tournament from the beginning and even at that point, though. Of course, it was never his aim in the first place.

A Bitter Burnout, But an Overall Success

After his fabulous win against Fabi, GM Zherebukh started to falter, losing against GMs Akobian and Nakamura. Still, he held other opponents to draws.

“I just got burned out,” said Zherebukh on his last few games. “Still, it was the best tournament I’ve ever played and probably the strongest.”

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6th place!
I mean, who wouldn’t be satisfied with a win against GM Fabiano Caruana, a 14 point rating gain, 6th place, and a $10,000 prize as the 11th seed out of 12? He will no doubt have some fans watching his performance in the World Cup in September to see if he can pull off similar shocking feats. No matter the case, his triumphs at the 2017 U.S. Chess Championships will be discussed admiringly for years to come.

 

CHESSanity: A Unique Class Tournament

*A quick update on my plans to cover the US Championships: My flight was canceled and I have no idea when I will make it to St. Louis. Chess^Summit still puts its support behind one of our writers, Jennifer Yu, for the tournament. However, we may be unable to report d8irectly from the US Champs in St. Louis*


Photos courtesy of Winston Wang

We have all grown up ascending through class sections in tournaments: U1000, U1200, U1400, U1600, U1800, U2000, U2200, and finally, Open. I recently discovered a newly imagined tournament section structure. The rating restrictions were 2100+ scholastic, 2200+ adults, 2050 girls- basically anyone who would typically play an U2000-Open section. Obviously, this tournament proved to be relatively exclusive with the strong rating necessary in order to play.

CHESSanity, a non-profit founded by National Masters Warren and Wesley Wang, hosted this tournament, its first Weekend Open on April 1st and 2nd. Held in Edison, NJ, it was accessible to many strong Tri-State Area and Northeastern players. The premise behind the creation was that there were not many “strong”, “quality” tournaments in the area and 2000+ rated players often find themselves playing lower rateds in their section, which can be problematic toward development and strong games to learn from. I found this concept to be intriguing and most likely never popularly done before.

IMG_0203
NM Warren Wang

To organize and afford the tournament, NM Wesley Wang had to give up playing in the World Youth and the Pan American Youth tournaments. These are two of the most important tournaments for many young American players and his sacrifice, therefore, was not lost on the chess community. IM John Burke, for example, pledged his support by agreeing to play all the tournaments and six players committed to the first 5 tournaments- Wesley Wang, Christopher Yu-Shuo Shen, Eddy Tian, Alan Zhang, Winston Ni, and Evelyn Zhu. 28 players played in the tournament (including 1 GM and 3 IMs). I consider this to be a resounding success- sometimes I don’t even see that many players at the Marshall Chess Club’s weekend tournaments!

What makes the tournament even more notable is that it will soon be FIDE rated. FIDE tournaments are often hard to find in the United States, so many players are forced to travel abroad in order to rack up those FIDE points. Because this tournament can boast such a standing, I have no doubt that strong players will be attracted to the future tournaments.

IMG_0205

There will be more tournaments coming up, namely the second installment on June 3rd and 4th. The hope is that there will be enough enrollment to start organizing every month from September 2017 forward. You can find out more about CHESSanity and their Weekend Opens at www.chessanity.org.

Behind the Scenes of a Final Four Team

With no great surprise, Webster University placed first at this year’s President’s Cup aka the “Final Four” Collegiate Chess Championship for the fifth year in a row. Facing stiff competition from longtime rivals Texas Tech and University of Texas at Dallas and the newly formed Saint Louis University, Webster managed a clear victory.

The final results:
1. Webster University: 8
2. Texas Tech University: 6½
3. Saint Louis University: 5
4. University of Texas at Dallas: 4½

Games, details, and more can be found on Chess24.

webster
Webster Team in the final round | Photo by Vanessa Sun

Congrats to Webster’s Final Four chess team- GMs Le Quang Liem, Ray Robson, Alex Shimanov, Vasif Durarbayli, Illia Nzyhnyk, and Priyadharshan Kannappan!

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SLU Team vs. Webster | Photo by Vanessa Sun

Despite some ties to the Webster team, it was another team that received my affections this past weekend. Throughout the tournament, I was personally rooting for the SLU Chess Team, the newcomers and first year qualifiers- this school year was the team’s first year of formation, first year at PanAms and the Final Four. With GM Alejandro Ramirez as the coach, there were many high hopes for the team composed this past year of 3 grandmasters, 1 international master, and an alternate.

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SLU Team’s Coach, GM Alejandro Ramirez | Photo by Vanessa Sun

The SLU team:

1. GM Darius Swiercz

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GM Darius Swiercz | Photo by Vanessa Sun

2. GM Yaro Zherebukh (who is soon playing in the US Championship so look out for that!)

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GM Yaro Zherebukh | Photo by Vanessa Sun

3. GM Francesco Rambaldi

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GM Francesco Rambaldi | Photo by Vanessa Sun

4. IM Cemil Can Ali Marandi

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IM Cemil Can Ali Marandi | Photo by Vanessa Sun

5. Nozima Aripova

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SLU Team Alternate: Nozima Aripova | Photo by Vanessa Sun

Alas, it was not meant to be as the first and second boards maintained their performances but the third and fourth boards were unable to gain momentum and fell prey to mistakes. It was an unusually tough weekend for the SLU team, but there is no doubt that they will continue to train harder, learn more, and grow as a team.

The team dynamics were to me, the most interesting aspects to observe outside of the chess. Ordinarily, no one outside of a chess team knows what goes on inside of the team’s preparations and lifestyle during a tournament such as the Final Four, but getting to experience that as both chess journalist and friend (to many of the players) gave me a taste of the struggles and inner workings of the team.

Homework.

This is so relatable to any young chess player, to be honest. Everyone had to do it. Having to balance school and chess is such an integral part to being both a student and a chess player, and homework definitely adds an extra stressor to the tournament. I saw math problems being solved, heard midterm grades discussed, and as I was covering the event, even had to do homework myself! I guess the action is not so limited to the team players, but also to young journalists watching the event.

 

Each team member has such a different personality.

I think it took a little getting used to each member of the team’s attitudes, habits, and characteristics. One person might have the loudest voice, but his roommate could be relatively quiet much of the time. One person could wear sweatpants to a game, but another could wear more professional looking blue pants. It’s clear that underlying everything, chess brings all different types of people together, and these seem to actually come out more when a team is composed.

 

Inside jokes.

I can’t reveal the inside jokes of the team, but it was interesting getting to know just how close chess team members can get by having so many inside jokes together. It shows that chess teams are just like those of other sports, and that each chess team is unique and has experiences that no one else will understand. I wondered all weekend if other teams had as many inside jokes and if that was even true of all teams.

 

Eating and Eating together.

The SLU team members ate together as a team. Maybe this helped increase the bond between the players- is there something strengthening in the act of eating together? Either way, no one ever seemed to eat alone as a general rule. There was always plenty to eat and plenty to discuss over the food. Many of the team members tried new foods as well- namely Poke and some Georgian food (which was new to me).

 

The Respect/Friendliness Toward Other Teams

I enjoyed chatting with the Texas Tech alternates, WCM Claudia Munoz and WIM Iryna Andrenko, and Nozima seemed very friendly with the two as well. Greetings were said as familiar faces were recognized. In general, amidst the competitive spirit, there was clear sportsmanship and no strong animosity toward other teams. Each team at the very least respected members of other teams and that reflects a lot about chess, which can yield vicious battles OTB but also create lasting friendships.

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Iryna playing against Nozima | Photo by Vanessa Sun