All-Girls Tournaments: The Solution to Gender Issues in Chess?

I have never taken part in an all-girls chess tournament, but I have always wanted to go to one. I only discovered the All-Girls Nationals my last year of being a scholastic player, but I could not make it. I knew in my heart I’d never get the opportunity to play in an all-girls tournament, but I realized I could live vicariously through all the girls I met at those tournaments.

This weekend, I got that opportunity by going to the First New York State Girls Team and Individual Chess Championships, which was held at The Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. 200 or so girls had the chance to experience what I never did, and I was proud of that. It meant that these girls were making friendships and growing as chess players. There was a friendliness that seemed to override the feeling of competition. At many chess tournaments, there is the tension of impending battles over the board, but what I observed in the atmosphere this weekend was more of a camaraderie.

For some, this tournament was not only the first all-girls tournament, but their first ever tournament. There were prizes specially for unrated players. The general sections were:

K-12 Championship
K-12 Under 1200
K-6 Championship
K-6 Under 900
K-3 Championship
K-3 Under 600
K-1 Championship

Amy Sun, the top seed for the K-6 Elementary Championships, used this in preparation of future tournaments. This was her “first all-girls tournament but she wanted some extra preparation for the All-Girls Nationals,” said her parents. They claimed she had no preference between the ordinary tournaments and an all girls one, however. In fact, Erica Li, tenth place in the K-12 Championship, and Juliette Shang, ninth place in the K-12 Championship, told me that they also saw no difference between the mixed and the all-girls ones. WFM Carissa Yip commented to me personally (she was not at the tournament but had some good thoughts to provide me) that although all-girls tournaments definitely do encourage more girls to play chess, she also didn’t see much difference.

 

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WFM Carissa Yip at the US Amateur Team East 2017 | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun.

I feel that there may not be much of a difference to the more experienced kids, but the girls just starting out in scholastic chess may benefit from all-girls tournaments the most. After talking to excited kids and parents alike, I decided that at the very least, girls could go to these sorts of tournaments and think that there are other girls just like them who play chess and also think it’s a cool game. It is really obvious in every Goichberg tournament that there is a huge gender disparity, and girls can feel less alone as they understand that there is a community for them.

The one big side event the tournament boasted was GM Irina Krush’s lecture. As a former US Women’s Champion, Irina was a perfect choice to inspire the girls. Of the tournament, she said that she liked this one in particular because “it just gets 200 girls together and makes it easier for them to make friends.“

 

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GM Irina Krush | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun
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Irina signing items for the host school | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun
It was clear that underlying the competition was the USCF pushing their initiative to support these female future champions. Right when you walked in, there were flyers for the All-Girls National tournament. There was the US Chess banner for the USCF Women’s Committee, which I had seen at several other tournaments. Surveys were conducted by Kimberly McVay, a member of the USCF Women’s Committee, asking various questions about female involvement in chess. The USCF is currently collecting data in order to understand what exactly they should target in terms of improving conditions for females in chess. Ideally, the USCF’s big goal would be for females to make up 50% of the player population. Currently, they are miles away from their mark, which is evident in every tournament we all compete in.

An interesting new change to the USCF website, though, was the addition of more top 100 lists. This was received rather positively by a woman on the Top 100 list for Women Over 50, Maret Thorpe- so much so that she wrote an article on this very topicI was also personally thrilled to see myself on these lists and found it encouraging to want to move up in my personal rankings.

A possible idea proposed by the K-12 Champion of the tournament, Sophie Morris-Suzuki, was that there could be more camps or programs for just girls. Citing Chess Girls DC and Chess Girls NY as examples, Sophie feels that although there are a few camps/programs that are all-girls, they are often for beginners or younger kids. One such example is the United States Chess School , which holds invitational chess camps for the most promising young players in the United States and has held all-girls camps before. She, and I feel that many older players may feel the same, desires more camps for older players. It would certainly help encourage continual involvement in chess beyond the middle school years. She also suggests that there be an increase in women’s tournaments because too much of the gender equality efforts are focused on young girls.


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 Sophie Morris-Suzuki

K-12 Champion

Photo credits: Vanessa Sun


It is clear that there is no one solution, but it cannot be denied that the chess community has been failing to actively support female chess players adequately for a long time. Girls and women still face many obstacles in achieving more recognition and success in chess. With these tournaments and new changes, we seem to be improving every day and every year. I myself had the opportunity to connect with both parents and some scholastic players because of this past weekend. Girls tournaments such as the First NYS All-Girls Championship provide a weekend of fun for the female chess players and is no doubt quite the place to feel empowered, supported, encouraged, and to make friendships.


 

Standings from the First NYS All-Girls Team and Individual Championships:

Individual:

K-1 Championship                Stephanie Weinberg won Clear First

K-3 Under 600                     Lia Skarabot and Chloe Stark each won all 5 games; Lia won the speed playoff for First over Chloe


K-3 Championship               Lilian Wang won on (secondary)  tiebreaks over Maya Figelman

K-6 Under 900                     Ella Mettke won Clear First

K-6 Championship               Julia Miyasaka won Clear First (6-0)   

 K-12 Under 1200                 Larisa Bresken Won Clear First

K-12 Championship              Sophie Morris-Suzuki won Clear First

 

Teams:

K-1 Championship: Lower Lab School PS 77

K-3 Under 600: Chelsea Prep PS 33

K-3 Championship: Chelsea Prep PS 33

K-6 Under 900:

K-6 Championship: The Dalton School

K-12 Under 1200: East Side Community High School

K-12 Championship: IS 318

You can see the full results at:

www.chessgirls.win

IS 318 won top team in the K-12 Championship section | Photo credits: Alex Ostrovsky

This tournament was made possible because of contributors, The Hewitt School, the New York State Chess association,  Little House of Chess, and The Chess Center of New York.

5 Things I Missed Out on as a Non-Scholastic Chess Player

I had never been to a huge scholastic tournament before this past weekend when I went to the Greater New York Scholastic Chess Championships, or the “City Championships”, as my friend called it. I only played chess competitively in a few small scholastic tournaments and Goichberg tournaments. I never had a school chess team, never competed with a team of friends or with other children, even though I longed for it- and still somewhat do. I’ve recently been living vicariously through watching kids and covering tournaments instead of actually playing in them.

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Now that I have at least poked around a scholastic tournament a bit, there are a few things I feel that I have missed out on because I didn’t grow up playing in tournaments every weekend or have close chess friends. They are things that sometimes make the scholastic chess experience so fun and life-changing.

 

FIVE THINGS I MISSED OUT ON (in no particular order):

1) Having time

This one’s obvious: having the time to improve or just play when school (or work if you’re older) isn’t eating away your energy and effort. This one doesn’t require much explanation.

 

2) Close chess friends (although that has been somewhat remedied in the past year)

dsc00449What I mean, though, is friends I sparred with over the board every week or every few tournaments, friends that I confided in about more than chess. Or at least chess friends that actually lived nearby. What I don’t mean is the people you say hi to and see at every few tournaments, have dinner or catch up with, and don’t talk to much until you see each other again. While those friends are nice and I have plenty of those, I mean the ones you see often, the ones that go to the same after school programs or clubs. In the same way that kids make friends exclusively through baseball or ballet, I wish I had made those kinds of connections through chess.

I think chess friends in any respect are an essential part to the chess experience, as they are the ones who support you, help you grow as a person and as a chess player. I often feel that I have missed out on growing up with chess friends, although I’m glad for the many I have now.

 

3) Parents being so excited when I won a game

This one requires a story:

Today I watched a kid come out of the playing room. His mom said “You won?!” He said yes and his mom swept him up into a hug and kissed him. It was clear she was so happy for him, probably because he most likely won some sort of prize, but it was obvious that she was so proud of him.

I don’t mean to say that parents aren’t supportive. Alice wrote a great article on how important it is to have supportive chess parents that you can refer to about parental support. I mean this thing on my list in the way that parents brag to their friends about their children’s achievements over tea. I mean this in that I never got into chess at an age where I was young enough to be fussed over, shown such outward support and pride. I mean this in the way that parents don’t obsess over their eighteen or thirty year old child’s victory in the way they did when they were six. I never got that, which may arguably be a good thing, but it’s all a matter of perception, and I feel that it might be something I missed out on.

My friend pointed out that this parent’s actions may not have been best for the child because it breeds the thought that winning is so important, but the way I’ve spun it is so that the kid knows how proud his parents were of him not only for his success, but also in general for showing up that day and fighting it out over the board.

 

4) Trophies!

dsc00793Okay, this is meant to be a bit of a funny one, but obviously I don’t get trophies anymore (I have a few from when I was K-12 nonetheless). They only give out money at non-scholastic tournaments (sometimes plaques and other prizes). Of course, I’m not complaining about getting money, but I saw many kids running around in glee with their trophies and I rarely got that experience!

 

5) A school teamdsc00805

I’ve never been part of a school team before. It is sort of related to the chess friends idea, but I never got to participate in team activities, to play as a team and win as a team. I wish my school or more schools where I grew up had these opportunities to play together with classmates, but I guess I got unlucky. The cheering as kids received a big trophy represented growth and success together. The achievement could be celebrated with others and that is a feeling that cannot be replicated when chess is often so individualized

BONUS: World Youth (and any other cool invitational, scholastic tournament like Denker,
Barber, Susan Polgar’s Girls Invitational, etc.)- This sort of relates to #5 on the list because in a way, the delegation is a “team” of sorts.

This one kind of isn’t the typical scholastic experience, as World Youth is special.

I only found out about World Youth last year when I was seventeen. Too old for a beginner to rise up. I knew it was something I’d never get to experience and many of my chess friends have.

dsc00860And let’s be real, the jackets stand out at every tournament. Who doesn’t want one of those jackets? Every time you go to a Goichberg tournament, there’s a kid with one of them! I want a jacket. I know never getting a World Youth jacket. Every kid secretly wants one. You know you want one. But anyway, every time someone who really knows anything about getting to top level chess in this country sees the jacket, he/she knows the exclusivity and symbolism of the jackets alone. They say I represented my country. They say I’ve reached a level that most people don’t reach.

Everyone who has one has the right to flaunt it. Every kid has earned it!


If you had the chance to experience these things I never got to, reminisce on those memories a bit. For scholastic players reading this, enjoy it. Cherish these things, record them in your mind (and maybe on your phone too). You are likely to never forget it, whether you are able to go to World Youth or are just able to participate in a national championship.

If you did not grow up in such a vibrant chess scene, I hope this article I’ve written expresses how you feel, just a bit. But clearly, you are not alone in missing these things. If chess has proven anything in the past, it is that it’s never too late to start playing, to make your own chess friends. The game is for people of all ages. Remember that whenever you realize what you missed out on. There’s always more opportunities, new things to appreciate.

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Sometimes maybe you’re not meant to have those experiences. I for one, cannot believe how much my life has changed in the past year through my chess adventures. I met so many chess players and made new chess friends. I went to my first World Championship. I took up a little bit of chess journalism and chess photography and yesterday, someone told me he enjoyed my articles. Today I got to shake Garry Kasparov’s hand and tell him my name. I didn’t have the traditional chess experience I will always long for, but I always have something to look forward to in the future. I am not going to stop making chess memories because I did not get something in the past. I want to write articles about the Grand Chess Tour, World Youth at some point, the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, and more. No matter what happened or didn’t happen in the past, there are always going to be things to look forward to in the chess world- new friends, new experiences, and new adventures.

 

Revolutionizing Early Childhood Learning: Chess at Three

Note: Research on the company was done with only information from the company’s website.

What is the best age to learn how to play chess?

Recently, the standard has been changing to younger and younger, especially in the United States. News articles in the United States have shown chess players achieving breaking extraordinary age barriers at younger and younger ages, such as Carissa Yip’s record of achieving youngest female master at 11 years old. It seems that every few months/years, the kids are breaking records. It seemed only a short while ago that I heard Maximillian Lu was the youngest master in US History at 9 years old, 28 days before his 10th birthday. This record was recently broken by Christopher Yoo. Awonder Liang’s amazing 8 year old chess expert was recently succeeded by Abhimanyu Mishra’s 7.

However, we’ve always had our child prodigies in the chess world, from Bobby Fischer, who became a grandmaster at 15 to Sergey Karjakin, who achieved it at age 12. One of the most recently broken international records was the one for youngest IM in history, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, who achieved the title at 10 years old.

It is clear that along with the fact that these kids inherently possess immense chess talent, there is an added factor that children are learning at early ages. Of course, there is no designated age to learn- anyone can learn to play chess at any age and excel.

I have recently discovered a chess company based in New York City called Chess at Three that believes that three years old is a great time to start learning to play chess! After reading about the company, I have come to believe that this company is truly revolutionizing the learning and teaching process of chess.

You see, this company teaches in an entirely unique way.

It is no doubt extremely difficult to teach any game to a three year old. There’s a problem with getting the child to concentrate long enough, stay still enough to learn. There’s a problem with simply getting the child to listen. There’s a problem with getting the child to understand. Chess at Three teaches with a curriculum that uses storytelling to teach chess.

But why? Why this method?

Well, kids love to ask the question WHY?!  The company started with that curiosity, as the CEO, Tyler Schwartz, had taught chess and found that upon learning how each chess piece moved, kids often asked why they moved the way they do. There was no clear reason to say, so Tyler made up a reason why the king only moved one square: he eats a lot of food, rendering him unable to move more than one square at a time. The reaction was uncontrollable laughter and there was a new idea for teaching. Combined with his friend, Jon Sieber, now co-founder and president of Chess at Three, the stories told to the children who take lessons with Chess at Three begun to take form as a part of the closely guarded trade secret to success: the Chess at 3 Core Curriculum.

This curriculum fosters the affinity for enjoyment and excitement about learning chess that every child needs. I have already seen young kids excited about learning chess in some classroom settings myself, but never have I come to think of such a receptive learning process. The idea behind using storytelling to teach chess in itself is just so clearly genius. How could a child ever feel the pressure to learn chess when lessons are just focused on fun?

And that’s largely what chess should be. Chess is, at the end of a day, just a game. It is meant to evoke excitement, meant to be fun for players. Otherwise, there is no point to playing at all, if it stops being fun.

Chess at Three is also special in the way that it introduces people from all walks of life to chess- and not just children at that. A stereotype of chess players and chess teachers can be that they are “nerdy-looking,” antisocial, “boring,” and perhaps aggressively competitive. However, the company gives artists, actors, storytellers, and writers the chance to join the chess community in an amazing way. It promotes a new kind of chess culture, suggests that you don’t have to be the most accomplished chess player to teach children to play chess. To begin, you need the discipline and maturity to teach, passion, and a belief in the power of storytelling.

The values that Chess at Three also teaches amidst the chess are also worth mentioning. Chess teaches sportsmanship, for sure. The very nature of a handshake before and after a game shows the kindness afforded to opponents. It teaches acceptance and diversity in a way, as chess is a game for all people, regardless of race, nationality, gender, ethnicity, economic background, sexuality, etc. According to the Chess at Three website, though, Chess at Three also teaches “Literacy, Chess History, and Math,” and “lessons include interactive moments, physical movements (chessercizes), and guidelines for game play at each level of development.” These lessons set the company’s curriculum apart from others, guaranteeing development in many unprecedented ways.

I think it is important to distinguish that no, this article is not a promotion of Chess at Three simply because I hope to work there after a bit of paperwork and logistics. Instead, this article is meant to praise the new way a company wants to teach chess to children that promotes a fun environment and method of learning. I speak as a journalist, as a chess player, and someone passionate about chess and expanding the chess community. I speak as a writer, a reader, and an artist. I believe in the mission so strongly, that chess can be told through stories.

And if you’re not convinced enough that this company has some seriously cool credit, check out this testimonial:

“Tyler’s stories and lessons have our two children loving chess! We’re proud to have it in our home, and think every child should be learning Chess at Three.”

– Hugh Jackman (Actor)

THEY TAUGHT HUGH JACKMAN’S CHILDREN? Sign your kid up right away!

A Giveaway, My Top 3 Chess Events of 2016, and Looking Forward to 2017

In the spirit of New Year’s coming up, we are all reflecting back on the year as well as looking forward to the next year!

 

The Giveaway:

To end the year, we will be holding our first giveaway!

Here’s what we are giving away:

A metal water bottle from the last Millionaire Chess Open

 

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A poster from the World Chess Championship

All you have to do is like our page on Facebook and comment on our post about this article, telling us your favorite chess event of the year- either one you watched or attended- and one you are most excited for in 2017! We will randomly pick a winner January 31, 2017 and message them, asking for an address to send the prizes to.

 

The top 3 chess events I attended this year:

1. US Amateur Team East in New Jersey- February 14-16, 2016

This was my fifth time in a row playing in this tournament! Held in Parsippany, New Jersey, the tournament is a bit isolated from tournaments I’m used to in the Northeast (Philly, NYC, Boston, etc.). However, it never fails to disappoint. It’s been a bit of a tradition for me to attend every year, and I’m glad I did since I met Irina Krush for the first time one year, as well as the legendary Garry Kasparov!

Oftentimes, I play tournaments in hopes of earning a bit of prize money, but this is one of the tournaments I play completely for fun. My goal this past USATE tournament was actually just that, to have fun, as I was convinced it would be my last USATE tournament for a while since I would go to college (which turned out to not be true, as I will likely be going in 2017).

My team ended up tying for first place under 1500 (average team rating), but we lost the tiebreak so we did not earn the plaque. It was the best my team ever performed at USATE, but I was also on a team with some friends and was able to see many players that I rarely see otherwise.

2. Millionaire Chess in Atlantic City- October 6-10, 2016

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Credit: Daaim from The Chess Drum

BEST WEEKEND OF MY LIFE! I think the article says it all.

3. World Chess Championship in New York City- November 11-30, 2016

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The WCC was my first time attending any sort of elite tournament in person and it just happened to be a world championship. It was at this event that I met the greatest variety of people, from chess journalists to chess enthusiasts to chess players. I was also able to see many friends that traveled to see the first world championship on US soil in many years.

Quite intriguing was the fact that I gained new journalistic opportunities. For Chess^Summit, I became a regular contributor and wrote a well received, well researched article about the WCC tiebreaks. For Chess Club Live, I was promoted to Director of Journalism and they also covered my costs to attend the event. For US Chess, I was able to write an article about the format of the match. Overall, I feel like I was blessed to attend the World Chess Championship in the city I live in.

 

Honorary events: The two US Chess School camps I went to in NYC! I wrote an article about my first experience earlier in the year. I love helping out with social media and taking pictures during the camps. The kids who attend the USCS are always extremely inspiring to me.

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These are the top 3 events I’m looking forward to going to next year:

1. U.S. Championship & U.S. Women’s Championship in St. Louis- March 29-April 14, 2017

This will be the first time I go to St. Louis! This past year, I followed the tournament every day and decided 2017 HAS to be the year I actually go! I always enjoy the St. Louis Commentary team and have been wanting to meet Yasser for a long time.

I am planning to go during my spring break (April 11-18), and will stay there after the tournament in order to spend time at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis and the World Chess Hall of Fame.

I will be cheering for several friends, and I think it will be quite an exciting tournament to attend. My picks for the US Champs of 2017? Fabiano Caruana and Nazí Paikidze-Barnes (the two winners of 2016).

2. Paris/Leuven legs of the Grand Chess Tour- June 19-July 3, 2017

I cheated by grouping these two events together. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to these tournaments as of right now, but I’m hopeful. Going to these tournaments would be quite an adventure, as I have never been to Europe before. I followed these events this past year as well, and rapid/blitz tends to always be exciting to watch.

3. Sinquefield Cup & St. Louis Rapid of the Grand Chess Tour- July 31-August 20, 2017

I cheated again! I grouped these tournaments together because they are both in St. Louis and one after another. I have never been to a Sinquefield Cup before, and they are one of the most intense and exciting tournaments of each year. This tournament always has a strong showing and gains a lot of attention.

 

What was your favorite chess event of 2016? What are you looking forward to most in 2017? Remember to comment on our Facebook post and you could win our first giveaway ever!

 

 

 

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.

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.

Millionaire Chess: The Best Weekend of My Life

Best. Weekend. Of. My. Life.

There is honestly no other way to introduce my first Millionaire Chess experience. I am not saying that it was my best performance ever nor my best tournament ever. I am saying that out of all the weekends I have ever had, whether it was full of chess or not, this was by far the best.

I had no expectations going in except that it would be a cool tournament to meet some famous grandmasters. With a new Olympic gold medal under his belt, I have to admit I was most excited to meet Sam Shankland and have him sign my chessboard. Equally exciting were my prospects of meeting Jeffery Xiong and Varuzhan Akobian. I was also excited to see friends and make new ones.

When I arrived at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City on Thursday night, I felt a little nervous. I hadn’t done as much opening prep as I wanted to do. My coach was encouraging but I worried what I had spent all this time studying was never going to be enough. I didn’t think it would help, however, to cram any of it that night. Instead, I went to see friends and was happy to reconnect with them.

MY DAY ONE:

I suppose I was right to be nervous as my first game was an absolute nightmare. I do not recall another game I ever played where I felt as paralyzed as I did in that one. It was frustrating to experience that in my first round of the tournament. My attitude turned sour and I was not feeling positive as I went into my next game, which was better, but still ended in a loss. With two games left, I could not afford to feel discouraged, though. I was facing a lower rated opponent which meant I needed to win. Fueled by necessity, I went on to win the game. Then, I won the next, against someone who was higher rated than the two players I lost to. The night ended well, therefore, and my faith in myself was restored.

MY DAY TWO:

I was more determined the next morning. Cheered by the fact that the time control was longer, I felt ready… but like the previous day, I started my day with a loss. Following that was another loss. I was crushed. I lost a lot of confidence. I desperately searched for the way to recover quickly and found it friends and a good meal with them. After all, I had achieved “not the best result, but good company and good food are the most important things in life.”

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MY DAY 3:

The next day started just as disastrously. I could tell I was going to lose my game about halfway through, but I still fought for a draw. I began to count how many people had higher results than I had. I was vying for the U1200 prize in the U1600 section, so my overall tournament results actually did not matter so long as I made the top 5 under 1200 for some prize money in return. I counted four people with more points than I had, so at that point, I could only try for 5th place money: $600. I figured the money would be split for 5th place because there was no online mention of a playoff for the prize, and I was satisfied that I would be receiving some money.

I returned to my room, content to be receiving some $200 (I counted a 3 way tie for 5th). Because a friend had made the open section’s Millionaire Monday playoff, I returned to the hall about half an hour after the scheduled playoff time to watch him.

Imagine my surprise when I read a flyer on a board claiming the U1600 section had playoffs for the U1200 prize.

My name was on the list!

I scrambled to ask the first man I saw for the time and he just happened to be Maurice Ashley. I was half an hour late! I had missed the playoff!

I hightailed it into the room where the playoff was occurring and was relieved to see that it had not yet begun. My heart was racing from my sprint into the room. I sat down at my seat and tried to make sense of my situation. Firstly, it was clear that I did not know how to count. There was a 4 way tie for the last place to qualify for Millionaire Monday. I had completely miscounted and would perhaps be eligible for the finals. Secondly, I knew I didn’t have much blitz practice. I heard so many quotes that blitz rots your brain and had limited my blitz play immensely throughout the years. I never liked the pressure of the quickness, either.

Luckily, I had friends to support me. My nerves were at an all-time high as I realized I could qualify to play in Millionaire Monday for more money and some temporary fame. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling, though, except to calm myself down.

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Photo taken by David Llada
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Photo taken by David Llada

With many hugs, a few handshakes, reassuring squeezes, and exclamations of good luck, I started my games.

 

 

It was a double round robin, but one of the players failed to show up. I played two girls, twice each, and emerged the winner by some miracle. Only one game made it to Chess24’s broadcast.

That meant I needed to brace myself for the more intense games that awaited. I had dinner with my friends and was happy to learn that two of them had made it to their respective matches for the following day. After small celebrations, we retired to our rooms to prepare for the real battle: Millionaire Monday.

MY DAY 4: MILLIONAIRE MONDAY:

The next morning, I felt tired but excited. I can clearly remember trying to soak in all the prestige of the playing hall.

“You made it here to the Hall of Champions,” Maurice said in a speech before we started our games. No, we were playing in the U.S. or World Chess Championship. We wouldn’t be glorified for this our whole lives. But we were already champions in our own right and on our own scale. In that moment before we started our games, I felt pride and accomplishment I had never experienced so overwhelmingly before.

And that made it all worth it.

Of course, we still had games to play.

Mine were all blurred together. I won every game as white and lost every game as black. I do not feel the need to go into explaining them, but you can see the games on Chess24. I’m not particularly proud of them as they were born in desperation and the quick ticking down of a clock. I was living on adrenaline, as anyone would in this situation. Regardless, I fought with an opponent back and forth for hours, eventually playing the only Armageddon of the tournament. It was my first ever Armageddon game, which I lost. This landed me third place, as one man in the section failed to show up. I was disappointed but at the same time grounded by the fact that I never thought I would even make it to Millionaire Monday.

CELEBRATIONS & LESSONS:

Later, I honestly felt I was celebrating not only my third place, but I was overwhelmingly happy for the sake of my friends, GMs Dariusz Swiercz and Cristian Chirila, who won the Open Section and the Under 2550 prize within the Open. Feeling happy for my friends’ successes made the celebration meal all the more exciting, as my company included people who were in good moods. From this celebratory dinner, I learned something else that was valuable to the tournament experience: the sense of community through chess. Everyone celebrated in their own way. Every chess player, I feel, understands what it is like to fit in, to find a place in the chess world. I had never felt I had such a good group of friends, or at least company, at a tournament as I did at Millionaire. I feel that no tournaments henceforth will ever as enjoyable because the company would not be quite the same. In this group, I felt a comfortable belonging, maybe bordering on a small family.

Despite all the positives, I had a lot of personal issues that arose from the tournament. Going into the event, I had many hopes that somewhat became failures by the end. I had pushed myself to be playing better chess. Even though I was constantly paired with people rated more than 200 points higher than I was, I felt I had studied enough to hold against them. At the end of the initial seven rounds, I felt quite disappointed in my 2/7 score, even though I knew I was the 61st seed out of 65 in the U1600 section. It seemed like I was never going to improve and sometimes I still feel that way. This is probably the attitude and discouragement that turns many people away from chess.

I didn’t expect to win. It was simply unrealistic. Despite this, I wanted to do better. After all, I had decided months ago that I would play in the tournament and had been training since. Sometimes the little improvements aren’t that obvious, though. A grandmaster friend once told me chess isn’t about results. I feel that when my coach tells me my games have been much better. I feel that when I play a good game and lose, but I know I can learn a lot from it. I think it takes great courage to overcome a bad result. It takes courage to keep going. I think you have to understand that it will never be easy, but you push through anyway.

Additionally, as long as chess remains fun, it will be worth it. Tournaments like Millionaire teach us the importance of having fun in the midst of pressure. It was exciting, it was intense, and it was everything I could have hoped for. It was the culmination of every little bit of happiness and excitement of the roller coaster ride that was Millionaire Chess 3 that made it so successful. I doubt I will ever have a tournament experience quite like Millionaire Chess again. I’m extremely dismayed that this past tournament was perhaps the last Millionaire. I hope one day it may be able to make a comeback, that it will find support like never before, but no matter what, I will always remember my experience there fondly.

CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOUS:

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With the winner of the Open Section!

To close, I would like to congratulate all the winners, especially Dariusz Swiercz.

I would also like to thank the people vital to this amazing weekend. Amy Lee and Maurice Ashley get the bulk of my thanks for organizing the best tournament of my life. They are truly inspiring and I admire their efforts to hold such an event. My coach, Isaac, deserves so much thanks for his support before, during, and after the tournament. I could not have done anything without him.

My sincerest thanks to Alejandro Ramirez, Alice Dong, Sophie Morris-Suzuki, Dariusz Swiercz, Yaro Zherebukh, and Cristian Chirila for being the best tournament company I could ever hope for. Many thanks to Arthur and Joel for your dedication to cheering me on, and to Alex Wiener, Greg Shahade, and Fabi who gave me so much love online. Lastly, I owe many thanks to David Llada for taking the time to photograph so many amazing pictures of me, despite the obligation to take pictures for the overall tournament.

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Photo taken by David Llada