Expectations for 3 Tournaments vs the Reality (to come)- Part 1

After covering the U.S. Open for a chess website and not actually playing in the tournament, I am excited and gearing up to jump back into tournament play. Surprisingly enough, my next three tournament choices happen to be one weekend right after another. These tournaments are: the Manhattan Open (8/18-20), the North Carolina Open (8/25-27), and the New York State Championships (9/1-4).

As someone who plays very infrequently, it will be quite bizarre for me to be playing three tournaments in a row, and even more difficult for me to play 3 day long tournaments. Luckily, my school year does not start before the Manhattan Open, I can skip my first day of school for the NC Open, and the NY State champs will be held on Labor Day Weekend.

Going into these tournaments, I have a series of expectations, that I hope will happen in reality. I will write an article later on which of them became a reality.

I hope to…

peak

Never a consistently playing chess player, I did not get my rating past the most amateur levels. I will only need to gain 13 more points to peak, which is easy at a U1200 level.

pass 1200 USCF

Connected to my last expectation, I do not have to reach so far to pass this point, either. I need 54 points, which can likely be achieved in one tournament, much less 3. This depends on my performance, of course, but no one is a stranger to big rating jumps if a tournament goes well.

eat more healthy foods during the tournaments

This one is always difficult post scholastic chess period. No more parents to run around buying meals and take care of you! Worst of all, round times are always tricky. Eating schedules get all mixed up and worse, it is hard to find food at near midnight in some places. I recall at Millionaire Chess 2016, I had buffalo wings so many times at the only restaurant open after the games were done at midnight (or later). For those under 21 like me, bars are not an option, either. Regardless, I’m looking eat healthier in order to keep the energy high. After not playing for a long while, stamina might be an issue.

Also imperative to my performance is eating not too close to the round times or too many heavy foods. Red meat, for instance, takes hours to digest and I do not want to have my body working on some hard digestion while I play.

play better in the endgame

Without a doubt, my biggest weakness at the World Open tournament was my endgame play. I struggled a lot with winning won games and had good games to analyze as a result. Improving upon this weakness currently with my coach, it’s reasonable to hope that I will see some improvement. It is definitely my biggest desire to improve upon that aspect in chess.

meet many new people

Honestly, this has to be my favorite part of chess playing and reporting by far. From the highest seed grandmaster to the youngest beginner of the lowest sections of a tournament, there are always new people to meet, learn from, and share new memories with. It’s always a wonder what old friends I see at tournaments- I bet there will be many at the U.S. Masters/North Carolina Open- and which new friends I make. Especially important to me is to make friends with more female chess players and encourage younger female players to continue with their chess dreams.

learn a bit about tournament organizing and directing

Now that I’ve started doing reporting as well as playing chess, I’d like to continue a more well rounded education and watch what it takes to run tournaments. Maybe in the future I’d like to run some fundraising tournaments or events.

All in all, I feel my expectations are reasonable and perhaps I am not even challenging myself enough, but they are certainly attainable. If anything at all, I am probably most likely to fail the food diet expectation but this deviation from the normally unhealthy experience of a chess tournament is relatively difficult to overcome given time restraints.

What sorts of expectations, if at all, do you set before a tournament (or tournaments in a row)??

 

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What I Learned from a Weekend in Norfolk, Virginia

Much to my personal detriment, right after a subpar World Open, I decided to quit playing chess for a month. It was mostly due to my summer class, so I felt it was rather reasonable. Then, I decided to also opt out of playing the US Open, which I was planning to cover for ChessBase and the USCF Social media. Again I’m in a rut where I cover more events than I play- that’s the life of a chess journalist, I guess. However, I did learn a lot about the chess community while covering the scholastic tournaments around the US Open (The Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions, Dewain Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, and the National Girls Tournament of Champions) that I would not have noticed if I was focused on playing a tournament.

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Naomi Bashkansky’s hair was braided by her mother | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#1: Chess parents are a LOT more dedicated than I always expect (a re-affirmation)

At the Denker/Barber/NGTOC, I saw everything from obsessive camera dads to moms braiding their kids’ hair, to parents bringing water bottles to the board. Perhaps this is obvious at every tournament, but much more so in this one.

After parents were asked to leave the tournament floor, I even took a video in which chess parents clearly crowded the ropes to watch their children start their game.

As a member of the press, I was given permission to photograph the players during gameplay. Several parents asked me if I could be so gracious as to take quality photographs of their children playing, as they were not allowed to do so.

Here’s to all the chess parents out there: thank you for being the financial providers of our chess adventures, the transportation, the people we rely on to feed us when our minds are elsewhere, and for hoarding chess photos of us!

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Justin Wang v Christopher Shen| Ended in a draw & the boys are co-Barber Champions | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#2: Someone who plays on the top board every round can still have worse tiebreaks and miss out on the biggest prize money (TLDR: Tiebreaks are cruel)

I sympathize with Justin Wang, who tied for first in the Barber Tournament. I photographed him on the top board every round of the tournament, yet it was Christopher Shen who eventually clinched the $5,000 college scholarship. Even with a near perfect tournament, sometimes the tiebreaks are just cruel.

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#3: Age does not matter (another reaffirmation)

Both the winners of the Barber and the NGTOC were much younger than the maximum possible age in their tournaments. Many players were older than them or just around the same rating. However, Rochelle Wu of Alabama triumphed at age 11. Some of her older competitors like Annie Wang and Veronika Zilajeva (who just returned from the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational) had relatively strong showings, but a younger competitor won out in the end. This may show a trend in stronger players at younger ages: after all, the SPFGI tournament also yielded a young, 12 year old winner, Nastassja Matus.

Christopher Shen, the winner of the Barber, is twelve- a few years younger than the maximum age for the Barber tournament.

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Veronika Zilajeva v Rochelle Wu | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#4: More people watch these scholastic tournaments than you think!

Keep in mind these tournaments are not the Sinquefield Cup (which started just as the tournament ended) or the World Chess Championship. Maybe you think that only chess parents who are anxious about their kids’ results watch the games broadcasted. However, I realized how big a deal tournaments like these are when I took over the USCF Twitter. I had tweets from chess clubs supporting players, journalists asking me for pictures, and increasing involvement in my tweets. Hundreds of likes and retweets over the past few days showed both the importance of social media and keeping connected with tournaments, as well as the scholastic tournaments themselves! These kids help to bring a fresh, new, exciting view of chess as a sport to non-chess world folks and also remain as a huge staple in American chess culture.

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2 of 4 Co-Champions of the Denker | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#5: I need to go to All Girls Nationals this coming year

After chatting with some NGTOC girls this weekend, I realized I’ve still been missing out on the chess community in a large way. Although I’ve made many friends over the past year or so of chess playing and reporting, I have missed out on making friends with other female players, which I feel is an essential part to every chess girl’s experience. The social aspect of chess is encouraging to females in a male dominated sport like chess. All girls tournaments seem to be a big aspect of chess that I have been missing out on and the NGTOC was the last straw: I made a vow to myself that I have to go to the All Girls Nationals this coming year because I haven’t felt like I gave myself enough opportunities to immerse myself in this aspect of chess.

 

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.

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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.