Chess is used in sports analogies frequently and many athletes will pride their strategic acumen to “playing chess.” While most of these statements are figurative, some athletes are actually passionate about the game.
Lennox Lewis is one of the famous names to credit chess as well as the Klitschko brothers (Vladmir and Vitali), Shaun Alexander and perhaps the most well-known supporter of chess,John Urschel. More recently two more athletes graced the news pages with a professed affinity to chess.
Le’Veon Bell (New York Jets) Photo by New York Post
Recently the New York Post ran a story about Le’Veon Bell who learned to play chess back in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Bell is a two-time Pro-Bowler and is known by his deceptive style of running which relies on cutbacks, delayed acceleration, feints and finding small openings to gain yardage. In actuality, Bell has a thinker’s running style.
“It translates to football in a lot of ways. That’s why I kind of run the way I run. I know what hole I want to get to, so I’m kind of setting up guys and putting pieces in different spots to get to the hole I want to get to. That’s why chess helps me out in football.”
Kyler Murray learned at Deagan Elementary School from one of his science teachers. According to a recent feature on ESPN, Murray had already been adept at board games and routinely dominated relatives at Scrabble and Connect 4. His experience was a testament that the image of chess has changed a bit.
Chess may have been one of the activities that may have helped Murray keep his composure on the field. He never abandoned games he was losing or swept the pieces off the board. This is the demeanor that led to his All-American quarterback and Heisman trophy winner at Oklahoma. He is currently the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.
Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) Photo by Oklahoma Sooner Athletics
Is there much credence to athletes claiming to benefit from chess. One has to admit that while chess may not be able to assume credit for one’s excellence, it does help one to think in a very disciplined and methodical way. At the least it is wonderful exercise for the brain.
“The chess club that I had wasn’t perceived as a nerdy thing or just for the intellectuals,” said Staten, who became Murray’s home room and science teacher in fifth grade. “It was just a popular thing among everybody. We had all types of people in there, from students who had a hard time learning and doing well, to students who were straight A’s and gifted and talented, to the athletic kids. It was a real good mixture of everyone.”
Society has many different views of chess. For some, it is the embodiment of good decision-making skills and for others an esoteric activity for socially-awkward geniuses. While the chess metaphors dominate business and athletic sphere, they are also somewhat overused and overstated. Nevertheless, the fact that chess can provide athletes with tools to think more tactically and strategically may be enough to claim that chess is a wonderful tool for enhancing one’s performance in any given endeavor.
The 2019 African Junior Championship was an exciting event with the results very much in doubt until the last round. In general, the tournament is usually dominated by a singular talent, but in this year’s event, the top-seeds had to hold off the competition until the very end.
WFM Luiza Pires (Angola) and GM Adham Fawzy (Egypt) holding aloft their championship trophies. Photo by Ghana Chess Federation
This year’s events were won by GM Adham Fawzy of Egypt and WFM Luiza Pires of Angola. Adham had to rally to nip the competition with three consecutive wins at the end. He successfully defended his 2018 title. Pires dominated the event, leading throughout and yielding only two draws.
Angola has been a consistent incubator of African talent since the late 1980s. At one time, they wielded five International Masters when few African federations had no titlists. IM Manuel Mateus was one such promising junior player and while there was no African Junior Championship during his time, he began a winning Angolan tradition.
IM Pedro Aderito won in 1993, IM Roberto Erikson twice (2011, 2012), IM David Silva three times (2014, 2015, 2017). For the girls, WIM Caxita Esperanca won the African Girls three times (2013, 2014, 2016) and now Luiza Pires will add her name to the rolls of champions.
GOLD- GM Adham Fawzy (Egypt)
SILVER- IM Fy Rakotomaharo (Madagascar)
BRONZE – FM Massinas Djabri (Algeria)
GOLD – WFM Luiza Pires (Angola)
SILVER – Chahrazed Djerroud (Algeria)
BRONZE – WCM Refilwe Gabatshwarwe (Botswana)
Adham Fawzy was the only Grandmaster in the field and was coasting until round six when he took a loss to Adham Kandil. IM Fy Rakotomaharo had sole possession of 1st place for a couple of rounds, but was defeated in the penultimate round by FM Massinas Djabri.
Nigeria’s Issac Okeke was in joint 1st (with Fawzy) going into the last round, but lost to Djabri and was left off the medal stand. While West Africa is beginning to make a push, it will take a determined effort to see the type of progress needed to consistently compete for medals.
After Fawzy’s lost in round six, it was big news. We usually get excited at upset victories or the fact that Goliath was defeated. There was anticipation for a breakthrough by an unheralded player. Nevertheless, Fawzy won his last three games while other front-runners beat each other in the process. So, Egypt stood atop the medal stand once again as they had in the African Championships and the All-Africa Games.
L-R: IM Fy Rakotomaharo (Madagascar), GM Adham Fawzy (Egypt) FM Massinas Djabri (Algeria)
Egypt National Anthem
Luiza Pires went as “Luzia” the entire tournament. This misspelling of her name did not deter her from holding onto the top table for the entire tournament and winning her first African championship. As a result, she will earn a title promotion and continue the national history of winning national juniors.
Pires won the event with an undefeated 8/9 and was able keep her composure and beat her ambitious rivals. One of the threats was Chahrazed Djerroud (1456) of Algeria who pulled into joint 1st in round two after beating Emmanuella Trust Enomah (1924). Pires and Djerroud drew in round four, but the Algerian would fall to Refilwe Gabatshwarwe of Botswana in round five. It would be Djerroud’s only loss. She ended on 7.5/9, but was unable to compete for the gold.
Gabatshwarwe, who celebrated her 14th birthday during the tournament, lost only to Pires in round three and drawing with Enomah for her 7.5/9 tally. She earned the bronze medal. It turns out that despite beating Djerroud in the head-to-head battle, her competition had a slightly lower average rating (1st tiebreak). It is interesting that they used the average rating of opposition instead of the direct head-to-head outcome as the first tiebreak since it was such a small field.
FM Massinas Djabri winning over the front runner makes things more interesting. Photo by Babatunde Ogunsiku (African Chess Media)
Accra, Ghana has just gotten a bit hotter from the excitement of the penultimate round. The Open Section is undecided as the frontrunner Fy Rakotomaharo (2428) was beaten by Algerian FIDE Master Massinas Djabri (2134) in perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament. With the loss, Rakotomharo fell into 2nd place after leading the tournament since the beginning.
GM Adham Fawzy (2478), who lost to Adham Kandil (2309) in round 6, soared back into joint first with an unlikely partner in Nigeria’s Issac Okeke (2007). Both won their games over Abdallah Alfaitori (1919) and Filipe Marco (2121) respectively. The Egyptian Grandmaster will have the “easiest” pairing in the finale and has the tiebreak advantage having beaten Okeke. The Nigerian will face the giant-killer in Djabri. He has already scored a solid tournament (+5) and a win would secure him a medal. As far as Rakotomharo, he will be facing Jonathan “Joeboy” Oyelabi of Nigeria.
Angola’s Luiza Pires on the verge of taking the crown back to Luanda. Photo by Babatunde Ogunsiku
The girls’ competition will also go down to the wire as top-seed and frontrunner Luiza Pires of Angolan has been holding down board 1 since the first round. As is common in such small tournaments, the later rounds are usually mismatches between players of different point categories. Pires, on 7/8 will be playing Ivorian Yowel Lorng who has 2.5 points.
Pires has played all of the other contenders and has only given up draws to Algeria’s Chahrazed Djerroud and Togo’s Ivana DeSouza. The surprise of the tournament may the Djerroud who has only lost one game! She will face Ghana’s Maud Benson who has also had a strong showing.
Refilwe Gabatshwarwe celebrating her 14th birthday with Botswana Chess Federation President, Mothokomedi Thabano, Ghana Chess Federation Vice President, Christiana Naa Merley Ashley and Chief Arbiter, IA Ogbonnaya Obinna
Luiza needs a draw to get the gold medal. Even if Djerroud wins, the Angolan will get the gold on tiebreaks. Botswana’s Refilwe Gabatshwarwe, who just celebrated her 14th birthday, still has a chance to vie for the silver medal.
Emmanuella Trust Enomah of Nigeria has had a decent tournament losing only to Pires and Djerroud. She currently holds the 4th position and needs to win her last game to have a chance at a medal. Djerroud holds the head-to-head tiebreak over Enomah, but if Gabatshwarwe suffers an upset loss then the winner of the bronze medal would most likely be decided by a few tiebreak points.
It has been a good tournament for the young stars. There were no Egyptian girls playing in this tournament so it leaves room for new faces to emerge. The tournament has been an initiation party for West African players. Togo’s Ivana De Souza (4.5/8), Ghana’s Maud Benson (4.5/8), and Ivory Coast’s Tchetche Marie Yavo (4/8) had creditable results.
It will be an exciting finish tomorrow will medals hanging in the balance!
Today, seven youths from the Ivory Coast will trek to neighboring country of Ghana to compete in the 2019 African Junior Championships. The past several years have seen the Ivory Coast take substantial steps toward relevancy in the chess world.
At the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, the Ivorian delegation make an impression with their orange accented outfits and the fiery activism of their President, Dr. Essis Essoh. At this point, Essoh and his executive staff already had big plans for the future growth of Ivorian chess.
Ivorian delegation (Charles Lorng, Privat Kouakou, Essoh Essis) in Tromso, Norway for the 2014 Chess Olympiad Photo by Daaim Shabazz
The following players will be traveling for the 2019 African Junior Championships (Accra, Ghana)
Aroll Junior Foua (19) Ange Kouame (19) Yao Aubin Maximilien Tanoe (18) Yowel Madeleine Lorng (17) Amin Richard Branch (14) Tchetche Marie Yavo (14) Elijah Pharell Niamkey (12)
Trainer: Francklin Kouya
The event will run through November 3rd and will feature 41 players from 11 nations. All of the Ivoirian players will be looking to get a FIDE rating or enhance the ones they currently have. There are also opportunities for the FIDE titles. The Ivorian Elephants will be ready! Bonne chance!
Africa rounds out the year showcasing its young talent as the African Junior Championship opens on October 25th. The hotbed of draughts (10×10 checkers) on continent, West Africa is one of the regions looking to increase its profile in chess.
The Egyptian will be looking to defend his title in Accra and one of his closest challengers will be his brother Kandil, an International Master. He is the third seed. Madagascar will make a strong bid with IM Fy Rakotomaharo who won the 4.3 subzonal tournament with an impressive 8/9 score. Second-seed Rakotomaharo will be looking to affirm his status as one of the brightest talents to emerge in recent years.
Ghana Chess Federation President Philip Ameku has been blazing the chess trails and has succeeded in putting Ghana in a leadership position in the region. This will be the first time that the event has been hosted in West Africa. It is an opportune moment for players in the region to make an impression. In an interview with Africa Chess Media, he stated:
I saw this as a unique opportunity for the Ghanaian and of course West African chess players, because if you observe, you would realize that federations from our zone especially, find it difficult travelling to Southern Africa or Northern Africa to participate in tournaments. Therefore hosting this tournament is a way of giving our players that kind of exposure and opportunity.
In fact, the Ivory Coast is sending seven players, all of who received training earlier this month from GM Maurice Ashley. Ghana also received the world-famous Grandmaster. Perhaps the Grand Chess Tour event and the accompanying West African tournament can be seen as a type of catalyst for this year’s success.
Philip Ameku (President, Ghana Chess), Angela Ayiku (Ghana), Christiana Naa Merley Ashley (Vice President, Ghana Chess), Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum) and Ogunsiku Babatunde (Africa Chess Media) during the Grand Chess Tour Rapid and Blitz in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The spirit of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah lives on! Photo by The Chess Drum
In fact, the problem with travel and the vastness of the African continent may be why there is not maximum participation. While events like the 2019 All-Africa Games put chess in the spotlight, continental events still struggle to get a majority of the federations to send players. On the bright side, the African Championships held this year was the strongest in history and this tournament will prove to be a valuable training ground to get to the next level.
Ivory Coast completed the training with GM Ashley and will be prepared to make an impression in Ghana. Photo courtesy of FIDEC
Eleven nations and 41 players will compete at the tourney. Interestingly enough, many of the top federations around the continent did not send players. A surprise omission would be South Africa. Nevertheless, there will be fierce competition and players will be looking to increase their rating, earn norms and perhaps earn a higher FIDE title.
Magnus Carlsen greeting Nigerian International Master Oladapo Adu (winner of ECOWAS blitz) at the closing ceremony while Maurice Ashley, Graham Jurgensen (Technical Director), François Cernejeski (Managing Director-Pullman Hotel), Claude Paulin Danho (Côte d’Ivoire Minster of Sport) and Dr. Essoh Essis (President, Fédération Ivoirienne Des Echecs) look on. Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Ashley told The Chess Drum in an interview in Abidjan that he would be returning to West Africa provide more training for these growing communities. Ashley returned to both Côte d’Ivoire (“Ivory Coast” in English) on October 3rd and Ghana on October 11th for training sessions and was met with warm receptions in these neighboring nations. He posted on his Facebook page…
“The first day of training in Abidjan was fabulous. Six hours of chess, a break for lunch, and a day full of love and excitement. Feeling very appreciated. And grateful to be able to make an impact. #chess #abidjan #cotedivoire #africa #passion #purpose”
GM Maurice Ashley in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
A hero’s welcome at Félix Houphouët-Boigny Airport!
Dr. Essoh set the charge for the occasion as “cadets in training” by GM Ashley. This would be a selection of juniors who would be trained as the next generation of top players in the West African nation. This is to be the beginning of a long-standing project to raise the level of play in the Ivory Coast and the continent in general. Ashley had been the national coach of the Ivorian team in 2016 for the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan. Dr. Essoh was away on work assignment, but left the organization in capable hands.
GM Ashley with Charles Lorng at the closing dinner Photos by Fédération Ivoirienne Des Echecs
After a week of training in Abidjan, Ashley heading to Accra, Ghana. He was delighted to be back in the “Land of the Gold” after being in the “Coast of Ivory.” These are two countries we love because they are major producers of cacao (cocoa), the main ingredient in chocolate! Ashley also had with him a special guest to accompany him… Rochelle Ballantyne of the “Brooklyn Castle” fame.
“I am extremely grateful that Rochelle Ballantyne – a former student, Expert chess player, Stanford graduate, now at Columbia getting her Master’s in Education Policy – agreed to take a break from her intense university schedule to join me for a few days in inspiring the youth (and adults) of Ghana. The African-American Association of Ghana opened its doors to welcome us at the wonderful W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Center. What a welcome! Rochelle dropped some bombs on the best players in the country to show how a powerful intelligent Sista gets down. 🙂 Now it’s time to go change lives! #accra #ghana #africa #grateful #inspiration”
Welcoming Rochelle Ballantyne and GM Maurice Ashley to Ghana!
Rochelle blitzing against some of Ghana’s top players
Photos by Maurice Ashley (Facebook)
Ballantyne, who is a graduate of Stanford University in 2017, and current Columbia student, was making her first trip to Africa. The occasion has greater significance because of the 400-year commemoration of the arrival of slaves in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
These were actually not the first slaves to arrive in the U.S., but the first in the colonies. Slaves had arrived in the 1500s in Florida. Nevertheless, it is an important time to visit Ghana and the iconic slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina. It will certainly be an emotional trip.
Both Ashley and Ballantyne will provide training sessions for the juniors at the Accra Sports Stadium. Both will most certainly be treated to a royal tour of the land where many Blacks from the Western Hemisphere had originated. It is considered a return for many Black and the “Sankofa” symbol is often used to indicate a need to reflect on the past in order to build a successful future.
The African-American Association of Ghana welcomed the two guests at the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture, a popular tourist destination. Ghana’s founding President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah led Ghana to independence in 1957 and afterwards invited African-Americans to migrate to Ghana to help build the new nation. Some have been there ever since and represent a very sizable community along with many migrants from the Caribbean.
Historian, scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois migrated to Ghana in 1961 after becoming disenchanted with the social progress of Blacks in America. He was also maligned by the U.S. government for professing the virtues of communism. DuBois was a professor at the iconic Black graduate school Atlanta University and the author of the classic book, The Souls of Black Folk. Ironically, DuBois was at odds with Jamaica-born Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. DuBois eventually adopted Pan-Africanist views and died in Ghana at the age of 95. His remains rest on the grounds of the museum.
This trip is symbolic on so many levels. Another daughter has returned home and the world’s first African-American Grandmaster is personifying the spirit of Sankofa. In fact, Ashley has arranged with ChessBase to provide both nations with with software to help in their chess development.
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
After such a successful year of African chess (African Championships, Grand Chess Tour, All-Africa Games), the continent has reached a watershed moment. Will 2019 represent the change in momentum for African chess? Will the new FIDE administration provide a plan to propel African players forward? Will African players begin to assert themselves and become the next region to blossom?
Dr. Nkrumah asserted at the 1958 All-Africa Peoples Conference in Accra, Ghana that 20th century would be Africa’s. We see the “Asia Boom” in chess. Will the 21st century be Africa’s in chess? The success of 2019 and the visits by Ashley will certainly give the continent hope and promise.
Journalists use their pens in a variety of ways. With a deft hand and cunning mind, a single article can move hearts, spur thoughts, and enrich souls. In the chess arena, a journalist has the task of presenting the intrigue of the royal game. Jamaal Abdul-Alim has been able to hold this intrigue in his years of covering chess events for U.S. Chess.
Jamaal Abdul-Alim interviewing Illia Nyzhnyk at the 2018 World Open
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
A Milwaukee native and 1996 Mass Communications graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jamaal fondly remembers being introduced to chess with the cheap plastic pieces and a board accented with olive green and black squares. As is common in chess stories, it would be his father showing him the moves.
My father and I used to joke about the fact that we were speaking French or whatever. It felt like we knew something kind of esoteric. We knew it was a special move.
~Jamaal on learning the “en passant” rule
Jamaal would graduate to a wooden chess set which he ultimately set up on a coffee table. It was more for decoration than for anything else. Practically skipping chess in his teen years, it wouldn’t be until 2005 that Jamaal developed a more profound passion for chess. While on an assignment for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he reported on Quan Caston, a former Air Force reconnaissance photographer.
“The thing that impressed me so much about Brother Quan was how he used the principles of chess to teach Black youth about how to make good decisions and succeed in life. “You can think like a chess player out here on these streets,” Brother Quan told the young people enrolled in his program.” (story)
Jamaal has since covered many stories, including his time as a crime reporter in Milwaukee. After serving as a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan, he moved to Philadelphia in 2008, where he got involved with the chess community. He reflected on a touching story about a student named “Dionte” as part of the After School Activities Partnership (ASAP) program.
“One of my proudest moments as a chess instructor at Philly ASAP is when — using a lesson I borrowed from a book titled, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess – I taught a young man named Dionte, who was about 10 years old at the time, how to execute a back-rank checkmate. I gave Dionte the lesson about an hour before a five-round tournament at Temple University. The lesson immediately came in handy. Dionte was losing badly, but then his opponent left his king vulnerable on the back rank. Dionte swooped in with a rook for the win. This enabled Dionte to get 3 out of 5 points and a third place medal. You should have seen how happy he was to win a medal at his very first tournament. And to think it was all because of that one lesson I taught him on how to do a back-rank checkmate. I sometimes wonder how much further Dionte could have gone if I had more time with him.”
Jamaal on the move at 2019 World Open
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Jamaal wanted to get back into the chess scene and moved to take advantage of the energy that was in the air in the nation’s capital. In fact, President-elect Obama visited the Sasha Bruce House, a youth shelter, in January 2009 to help paint a mural in observance of National Day of Service. It is also well-known that Obama is supportive of youth initiatives involving chess.
Jamaal reached out to administrators at Sasha Bruce and volunteered to start a chess program. He started bringing in chess boards and mentored the young players on the importance of getting into college. He would bring in scholarship books and guest speakers to reinforce the point. Some of his invitees included a college advisor, a Black female attorney and Nathan Saunders, and an educator who was part of the Washington Teachers Union. His idea was to expose the young people to successful Black professionals.
2013 CJA “Journalist of the Year”
Besides his community involvement, Jamaal has held several posts at various media organizations. Some of his work includes writing on the educational sector for the Wall Street Journal, Education Week, The Atlantic, US News & World Report, and Diverse Issues in Higher Education. He is mostly known in chess circles for his articles in U.S. Chess Life and has served the publication since 2010.
Jamaal is active with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and won awards for journalism at the 2011 and 2013 conferences. In 2013, he was honored by Chess Journalists of America (CJA) as the “Journalist of the Year” and had won accolades in subsequent years. Other affiliations include the National Press Club and the Education Writers Association.
Jamaal continues to write for Chess Life and recently penned an article about Tanitoluwa Adewumi in Chess Life for Kids. In the current issue of Chess Life, he covers the 2019 World Open, which includes an interview with Le Quang Liem. Jamaal has been the Education Editor for The Conversation since November 2017. Finally, Jamaal was the interview subject on U.S. Chess podcast, “One Move at a Time” where he discusses the evolution in journalism and some of the inspirations of his work.
This year’s World Cup had some interesting twists and turns. New faces emerged as world beaters as the world got a chance to look at bright talents such as Jeffery Xiong and Alireza Firouzja. However, it was the usual faces that made it to the semifinals. In fact, two of the players (Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Ding Liren) were in the semifinals two years ago.
In an unprecedented result, Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan won the 2019 World Cup by defeating Ding Liren of China for the $110,000 first prize. He also qualified for the 2020 Candidates tournament and made the implicit announcement that his hiatus from top-level play is over. Despite the defeat, Ding also qualified for the Candidates and won the $80,000 second place prize.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) defeated Yu Yangyi of China, and qualifying for a possible wild card spot in the Candidates. This is a new feature in the Candidates cycle giving the 3rd-4th place match new relevance. In fact, MVL can also qualify through the FIDE Grand Prix, but has decided to skip the Isle of Man qualifier. He won $60,000 while Yu Yangyi got $50,000.
Few could have predicted that Teimour Radjabov would be standing after five rounds of play. After defeating Vachier-Lagrave, the Azeri play got a chance to win against top seed Ding Liren in the final. Ding had defeated his compatriot Yu Yangyi in the semifinals and would make a return to the finals.
In 2017, he lost to Levon Aronian, but interestingly enough, he was a cinch to qualify for the Candidates on rating. The pressure was not so great.
Radjabov had already played a remarkable tournament, but had to face and in-form Ding Liren who had defeated Magnus Carlsen this summer at the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. Radjabov won the match on the strength of winning the blitz tiebreaker after Ding missed some key opportunities.
Ding Liren goes down in consecutive World Cup finals. Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
MVL also took both of the tiebreak games and showed impeccable endgame technique in the first 25’+10″ game after surprising Yu in the opening. In the second game, Yu tried 7.Qa4+ against the Grunfeld and after 7…Nd7!? Wei Yi had played the same move against Yu in their third round matchup. That game was drawn. Yu tried a different approach against MVL, and was demolished quickly.
It had been a long tournament. The finalists and semifinalists had been in Khanty-Mansiysk for three weeks, not to mention Ding’s summer rigorous schedule. Radjabov did not appear to be emotional after winning his biggest result of the past few years. He did mention the exhaustion. Here was his reaction…
Video by FIDE
This result does beg the question. Now that Ding and Yu have lost, the all-China semifinals seemed to unsettle the Chinese. Ding had already qualified (in rating) while Yu will have no chances to qualify.
With China on the cusp of challenging for the world title, they will certainly examine what needs to happen to get to the next level. It seemed that there was less stability as the tournament wore on. Was it fatigue? Perhaps. If Ding wins the Candidates, China will be in a good position to make a title run.
However, the story will be Radjabov’s comeback. Will he be able to parlay his success at the World Cup into the Candidates where he will be facing formidable competition every round. He hopes to improve on his disastrous 2013 account, but for now, he will enjoy his glory and perhaps last stand for the world title!
Ding wins Chinese derby… will face Radjabov in finals!
The table is set… both Ding Liren and Teimour Radjabov will meet in the final match of the 2019 World Cup. Both also qualify for the Candidates tournament to be held in the early part of 2020. Radjabov, who returned from a hiatus, upset Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to advance. Ding, the top seed, defeated compatriot Yu Yangyi to advance. Yu defeated both Ian Nepomniachtchi and Nikita Vitiugov, but was certainly fortunate in the latter match.
The Ding-Yu match raised speculation that the Chinese would decide that Ding would lose the match so that two Chinese could be in the Candidates. Ding is already poised to qualify by rating. The British newspaper The Guardian displayed no class when hinting that Chinese would engage in collusion so that Yu would advance. This is a very cynical view and certainly insulting to the Chinese Chess Federation.
Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi battle in the semifinals, a historic account. Few have mentioned the historicity of two Chinese players making the semis for the first time. What makes the feat more remarkable is that only seven Chinese players entered the World Cup. Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
There were two interesting classical games. The first was tense but ended in three-fold repetition; the second ended after black had a perpetual check. This game was a Nimzo-Indian which ended up with a strange position. The commentators warned the fans not to try these type of strategies in their games. White’s king was sitting on e1 next to an open d-file and after 18.Rh3 had lost all castling privileges. The bishop was also on f1 and the e-, f-, and g-pawns had not moved. Meanwhile, black’s pieces were active.
White’s exposed king seemed to be in trouble, but would try to help shepard the pawn advantage to victory. Unfortunately, the king had no shelter from the checks and the two agreed to a draw. In the first rapid tiebreak, Yu Yangyi took a risk with 8.d5?! and lost the initiative after 8…Na5 and 9…Nxc4. Black had an extra pawn, but Yu was able to hold the balance. The next game would be a fierce fight.
In the second tiebreak, Yu trotted out a novelty in 13…Nd7!? and proceeded to sacrifice the exchange after 16…Nxd5!? 17.Bh7+ Kh8 18.Ng6+(diagram 1) Kxh7 19.Nxf8+. It was interesting how deep Yu’s preparation was as his pieces were swarming white’s position. Black collected two pawns for the exchange, but made a miscalculation 26…Qe6 instead of the more active 26…Qxd4. Despite the inaccuracy, black looked fine after 29…Re2(diagram 2).
A tactical melee ensued and black was holding the dynamically-equal position until he had to blitz out 33…h4? driving the imprisoned queen to an active square with 34.Qg5. Perhaps black should bail out with 34…Ba2 winning the exchange back and heading for a probable draw. After 34…Rxc7? Yu missed that 35.Rxb2+ Qxb2?? would be met by 36.Qd8+ with a winning position. Instead black remained down an exchange in a clarified position. With white’s rooks ready to invade the 7th rank, black resigned.
“Ding also refuted the conspiracy theory that he might lose on purpose today, to get two Chinese players into the Candidates’ tournament. That was because if he hadn’t qualified via the World Cup, Ding would have almost certainly qualified by rating.”
~Peter Doggers, chess.com
Many believe that Ding is a rightful challenger to Magnus Carlsen. No less a personality than Garry Kasparov touted Ding’s worthiness after beating Carlsen in a tiebreaker during the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. This is all the more important since Carlsen will not be able to settle for draws in the classical games and overwhelm in the quicker time control. He defended successfully against Fabiano Caruana using this strategy. He was even criticized for not pushing for a win in a better position in game 12.
After a hiatus, Teimour Radjabov is #10 in the world and is going to the Candidates. Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
Before we declare Ding as the challenger, he has to win the Candidates. Teimour Radjabov will have a long-awaited shot at the title. Radjabov started a family and withdrew from the professional circuit for 13 months, but did play in the Batumi Olympiad. He will have a chance to redeem himself from his last Candidates appearance in 2013 where he scored an abysmal 4/14 (+1-7=6). Beating MVL was quite a feat given the Frenchman’s penchant for deep preparation. Radjabov played a brilliant attacking game squashing hopes for the Frenchman to qualify for the Candidates.
Radjabov will be the underdog against Ding, but it is fine form. The match resumes on Monday.
Xiong’s run is over… Russia is out… China guaranteed a finalist
One of the most remarkable stories of the 2019 World Cup has been the performance of Jeffery Xiong, the 18-year old rising star from Plano, Texas, USA. As with any tournament with elite players, one has to traverse many landmines and have a bit of fortune on one’s side.
Xiong took his share of chances, won several beautiful games and in the end, had a performance of a lifetime. His loss to Teimour Radjabov did not tarnish his tournament and it may have given observers an idea of his fighting resolve. He indeed made a graceful exit.
Yu Yangyi’s win guarantees a Chinese finalist Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
One of the developments that has shown the changing balance of power in chess is the presence of China’s two semi-finalist despite only starting with seven players. On the other hand, Russia started with 28(!) players and none got past the quarterfinals. This also happened in 2017 World Cup in Tblisi, Georgia. As shocking as it may seem, it appears that the era of Russian dominance is long past.
Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan is one product for the Russian School of Chess having been a child prodigy made famous by beating Garry Kasparov at Linares at age 15. He actually created a small controversy when Kasparov protested his winning of the “most beautiful game” prize. In playing Xiong, Radjabov avoided being on the other side of history. He will face Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) in the semifinals.
MVL ousted aspirant Levon Aronian after the Armenian blundered in a fit of time pressure. It was a very disappointing end for Aronian who was the defending champion and also won the World Cup in 2005. In fact, Aronian beat MVL in the semifinals in 2017.
Facing further tiebreaks, Aronian uncorked an exchange sacrifice hoping to capitalize off of white’s exposed king with his powerful knight. In fact, MVL blundered with 30.Rxe3 giving black a winning attack. After 30…Qxe3+ 31.Kh2 black missed the powerful 31…Ne4! initiating a mating attack on the white king. The white queen can only look on helplessly.
Aronian had outplayed the Frenchman with the exchange sacrifice, but lost the thread after 37…h5?? with 38.Rf3 winning a piece.
Aronian played 31…Qe2+?! and could’ve repeated the winning idea, but snapped the pawn with 32…Nxd3? helping to rid white of a barrier to protect his own kingside. In addition, the move set the knight on the wrong course. Lost for an idea, Aronian played 37…h5? and white seized a chance to stitch together a defense with 38.Qd1. Suffering from a blindspot, Aronian played 38…h4?? and tossed a piece after 39.Rf3. Overcome by his oversight, he played on seeking to liquidate pawns and set up a blockade, but it would not be. MVL finished the game in fine style.
Nikita Vitiugov and Yu Yangyi had a fierce battle that carried all the way to the Armageddon game. Both had played spirited game, but neither could gain an edge. There was a trade of wins in the 10’+10″ segment. After a couple of draws in the 5’+3″ the to went to the final Armageddon game. White would have five minutes to black’s four, but would have to win to advance. Black need only a draw to win the match.
Something very strange happen. Perhaps fatigue had set as we saw in the MVL-Aronian battle. In the opening moves, the Chinese player had a total mental lapse…
After 9.Be4?? 10.Nxg2 Kf2 10.Nxf4, Yu was down two pawns by move nine. This was not a sacrifice and there was no compensation in sight! When one is losing in blitz, it’s important to complicate matters as much as possible. Yu went forward to do this and took chances. Nevertheless, Vitiugov had a chance to end the game immediately after 17…Qc5! threatening to win the Nd4 and a deadly discovered check on the Qh5.
After Vitiugov’s 34…Rc8?? Yu played 35.Rg8+!
After this missed opportunity, Yu used the open lines created by the missing f- and g-pawns to penetrate black’s camp. Soon he had doubled rooks on the seventh! Yu had a chance to win the exchange with 32.Rce7 and 33.Nd7+, but missed it. As the Russian realized he had allowed white a winning position, he scrambled to simplify and played 34…Rc8?? Yu pounced with the cute 35.Rg8+! and after 35…Rxg8 36.Rxc8+ white wins a rook after 37.Nxg8. Vitiugov played on a few more moves seemingly by reflex, but resigned the humiliating game. The aftermath of the game was even more crushing than the loss itself. Vitiugov was seen sitting in his seat shellshocked after everyone had left the hall. Brutal loss that will sting for many years to come.
Jeffery Xiong’s run at the 2019 World Cup is over, but will not be forgotten for a long time. In perhaps his biggest moment on one of the world’s biggest stages, the 18-year old exceeded all expectations by reaching the quarterfinals. His combination of creativity, courage, and principled play won the hearts of many fans who were seeing him for the first time.
Many of us in the U.S. have seen Jeffery as sure as we saw Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana trod the halls of American Swiss tournaments. In fact, Jeffery has cut his teeth on these competitive events and was most recently captured in a tiebreak against Le Quang Liem during the 2019 World Open. A 2016 U.S. Junior Champion, he is rounding out a banner year and now sits on a 2712 live rating surpassing Sam Shankland.
(Then IM) Jeffery Xiong defeating GM Lazaro Bruzon at 2015 Chicago Open Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Jeffery’s run in Khanty-Mansiysk was accented by wins over Anish Giri and Jan-Krzysztof Duda during which he showed courage and it paid off. His clinching win over Giri was a crowning achievement over an elite player.
Shocked at the result, Jeffery recounted in the interview that he had a strategy of playing for complications and getting Giri out of his preparation. For Giri, it was a disappointing end to what would have been an opportune time to qualify for the Candidates tournament. Nevertheless, the world discovered a new star on the horizon.
Traveling with his father Wayne Xiong, he advanced to face the Polish phenom Duda. This match reached epic proportions going eight games with six decisive games to start the match. After Jeffery staved off elimination twice, he won the last 5’+3″ blitz game in style.
Against Teimour Radjabov, he played one of the most exciting games of the round with so many twists and turns. In the end, he missed some crucial moves in the time scramble, but delighted fans with his positive attitude and humble demeanor. Leontxo Garciawrote a nice article about the young American and marveled at the 45-minute postmortem.
Leontxo Garcia (left) watches the Radjabov-Xiong postmortem. Wayne Xiong is seated. Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
Thus, he ended with a solid result and won a legion of fans worldwide including a few more in the U.S. While the most of the chess world may have never heard of Xiong, he has long been touted as a supreme talent in the American chess scene. If Garcia’s article is prescient, Xiong’s curiosity about Europe may find him playing more high-level chess overseas. He will also be positioning himself for a spot on the U.S. Olympiad team for next year. A bright future awaits!
2019 World Chess Cup September 9th-October 4th, 2019 (Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia) MATCH PAIRINGS (Quarterfinals)
Woods will head to India for a big test at the World Youth Chess Championships in Mumbai, India. Last year she attended the same tournament in Chalkidiki, Greece and scored 4.5/11. Woods has been one of the bright spots in Detroit scholastic chess participating since she was in the second grade at Chrysler Elementary.
“The community definitely helps a lot.”
~ Charisse Woods
Woods hopes to continue to improve in quest of her goal to become a National Master. This trip would not have been possible without support from the larger Detroit community. The event will take place October 1st-14th, 2019 at the Renaissance Convention Centre Hotel, Mumbai.
Starting with 128 competitors from around the world, the World Cup will be decided in about a week. Remaining are two Russians, two Chinese, one Armenia, one Azeri, one Frenchman and one American. Starting the competition, Jeffery Xiong would have been the most improbable American to reach round five, but his focus, cool demeanor and daring play has gotten him to the quarterfinals. He won a thrilling tiebreaker against Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Jeffery Xiong yielded one draw in eight games Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
This match lasted eight games with Xiong winning on demand twice and Duda once. It appeared that the American had more chances in the match gaining an edge in the first game, but losing his way despite being an exchange up. He also missed a winning attack in game five. In a match where white won every game, Xiong said he felt confident even after falling behind in the match twice. Such bloodletting is unusual in a match.
Why would Xiong play 28…Rh8-e8 removing his rook from an aggressive post to protect a measly pawn? It was one of the mysteries of the thrilling match.
Objectively, it wasn’t as much the dominance of white as it was some of the mistakes that were made in the match. In game four, Duda went 1.a3 and got a strange position against Xiong’s Dragon setup. Again… Xiong got a winning position only to drop an exchange and cede another tiebreak.
In game five, Xiong trotted out the Caro Kann and got another overwhelming position. After his pieces were aimed at the white king ready to deliver a knockout blow, he missed the winning 28….Ng3+! and inexplicably played 28…Re8?? To move an attacking rook on h8 to protect a pawn on e6 was strange indeed and gave Duda the time to unravel and focus on his own counterattack. The tables turned and Xiong had to win another game on demand.
Duda never quite equalized with his Petroff, but then Xiong took a chance with 18.Ne5!? At this point fatigue may have been setting in as mistakes were piling up. In a drawn ending, black allowed white to raid the kingside pawns and gain a passer which eventually morphed into a queen. Despite queening a pawn, Duda never got a chance to move his new queen and resigned two moves before checkmate.
After a draw, Xiong trotted out the Four Pawns Attack against the Alekhine, an opening you don’t often see at top level, but it is psychologically intimidating. Xiong got a strong attack against the king and the game became complicated, but salvageable. In the ensuing complications, Duda collapsed and crash out of the tournament.
Jeffery Xiong showed courage and determination Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
In the Ding-Alekseenko, the Cinderella story ended for the Russian as the Chinese player proved to be too strong in the rapid tiebreaks. He upset Pentala Harikrishna and had his chances against Ding Liren. In the classical games, Ding was put under pressure in both games, but was able to hold. In the rapid, Ding dominated play and the Russian crashed out.
The Grischuk-Dominguez game was interesting, but the Cuban player lost a textbook ending by mixing the move order.
Grischuk got crushed in the second game when he overextended his attack. After the win, Dominguez got nothing in his Italian game. In the last rapid game, he appeared to get lost in the complications and ended up down a piece. It would be the end for Dominguez who had previously played for Cuba making it to round 3 in 2007, round 2 in 2009, round 4 in 2011, round 3 in 2013 and round 3 in 2015. In 2017, he was in the process of switching federations.
Nikita Vituigov won a nice game against Wesley So in a study-like bishop ending. In the end the b-pawn stood for 20 moves at b7 tying up any hopes of black counterplay. In the end, the pawn promotion resulted in a mating attack for white and So was eliminated.
Teimour Radjabov was a projected world championship contender 20 years ago. Will he have another chance in the World Cup? Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
A couple of matches had storylines. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was playing longtime friend Teimour Radjabov. There is always discomfort in playing someone you know. The first five games were rather uneventful and there was a thought that the two were going easy on each other. In the end someone had to advance. Shakh’s 35.Nxf7!? Kxf7 36.f5.
In the end, white didn’t have enough compensation and his position collapsed rather quickly. With Radjabov not being on the professional circuit these days, this may be his last chance to qualify for the candidates. Mamedyarov will have other opportunities. Yu Yangyi upset Ian Nepomniachtchi with a brilliant queenless attack. Nepo’s bishops were caught offside and white broke through. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Yu will advance to the final eight.
Xiong upsets Giri…five Russians advance… Wesley So cruises
Jeffery Xiong provoked sharp battles to upset Anish Giri Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Down to the “Sweet Sixteen” at the 2019 FIDE World Cup. There were a couple of surprises in today’s action as Jeffrey Xiong took down Anish Giri. The match went six games and ended when Xiong delivered a blistering attack.
Xiong was surprised at the result and mentioned in the post-match interview that his strategy was to make the games complicated. His 22…Rxh3!? in second rapid tiebreak showed tremendous courage. All of the games in the tiebreak were tense and the young American phenom showed that he has the ability to keep his calm during tense moments. He plays Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland in the next round.
The other surprise of the round was Pentala Harikrishna bowing out to Kirill Alekseenko, a promising 22-year old Russian. He would lose both games to the disappointment to the massive Indian fan base. Vidit Gujrathi was also eliminated. There was ample coverage of the Indian players by ChessBase India and we can expect their players to go deeper in future tournaments.
Vidit Gujrathi was ousted by Wesley So, but a bright future awaits. Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
Not much is know about the Russian star who earned his GM title in 2015. He has won the Chigorin Memorial three times and competed in the 2018 European Individuals scoring 7/11 and beating Vassily Ivanchuk in the process. Alekseenko has had an auspicious World Cup debut advancing to the 4th round. He will play top-seed Ding Liren who outclassed Alireza Firouzja winning both tiebreak rapid games.
Alireza Firouzja showed flashes against Dubov Photo by Kirill Merkuryev
Ding has been able to get through quite comfortably although he claims that he is not in top form yet. This match was highly anticipated since Firouzja is one of the world’s most active streamers at Twitch. He also played a brilliancy against Daniil Dubov (37.exd6!!). However, facing a 2800 is a totally different beast.
In the first rapid game, Ding won a game that appeared to be completely drawn. He stated he had more time on the clock so he continued to play on. The second game was a complete demolition as Firouzja took chances with the white pieces, but was thoroughly crushed. So the Iranian will exit having made an impression. This trend shows that the balance of power has shifted and China, India and Iran are producing prodigious talents.
Five Russians made it to the next round, but not the ones most anticipated. Sergey Karjakin, Vladislav Artemiev and Dmitri Andreikin are headed home. On the other hand, Alexander Grishuk and Peter Svidler will lead the Russian contingent. Svidler beat Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu in the battle of personalities (earring vs. pony tail).
Grischuk’s nice tactical flourish in the first game (37…Bxe5!) won him plaudits from chess fans around the world…
Not to be outdone, he finished off the overachieving Xu Xiangyu with an impressive positional squeeze.
While Russia has five players remaining, the U.S. has Xiong, So and Leinier Dominguez. A Cuban national, Dominguez switched his federation last year and has a chance to advance further. His last match with Wang Hao was thrilling as the tiebreaks featured two successful “win on demand” situations. He won the first of the 5’+3″ and held the draw in the second to win the match.
Maxime Vachier Lagrave went eight games before beating Dmitry Jakovenko and Le Quang Liem advanced over Vladislav Artemiev.
Firouzja on fire! Twelve Russians advance to last 32
Alireza Firouzja has become a sensation over the past couple of years since making an impression at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. At that time he was the 13-year old national champion of Iran and was playing fourth board behind Parham Maghsoodloo. He has since become the top Iranian player and has vaulted over 2700. In this tournament, he created a buzz with his win over Russia’s Daniil Dubov.
His 37.exd6!! got a shower of gold coins and showed that this 16-year old is a huge talent. He advanced and will get a stiff test against the top seed Ding Liren.
Another young prodigy in 15-year old GM Nihal Sarin received a lot of attention in this round after conducting a clinic on attacking the king. His win over Eltaj Safarli got high praise from Magnus Carlsen…
In severe time pressure, Nihal Sarin errs with 32…Rg6?? after which Eltaj Safarli snapped off the bishop with 33.Bxf2.
The mating attack at the expense of Safarli drew comparisons to Anatoly Karpov, but perhaps the attention became too great for the 15-year old. In the next game, Safarli trotted out the Evans Gambit looking for a fight. It was the first time in his life and will probably be the last. Sagar Shah of ChessBase India did a deep analysis of this game and discussed the amount of time that Nihal was spending on each move… some of them simple recaptures. By move 16, Nihal had 24 moves to make in 10 minutes! Then disaster struck…
In this clearly better position, Nihal who only needed a draw to go into round 3, played …Rg6 and simply blundered his bishop. Safarli took the bishop on f2 and won the game. It was a complete blackout moment for the youngster. Tiebreaks tomorrow.https://t.co/FaOdFLMzLppic.twitter.com/FSuCkPMT7J
Some figured that he was thinking he rook was already on f8. In fact, any reasonable move with his a8-rook would be enough for a draw. It is heartbreaking to see so much energy put into a game and have it lost on a simple mistakes, but that’s chess. It can be a cruel game sometimes. Unfortunately for Sarin he also lost the tiebreaks. Let’s hope that he learns from the experience and that he moves on from this loss quickly.
Wei Yi is a player who has quietly entered the third round. Many have been wondering if the Chinese prodigy has stopped improving, but he shows that he is still a dangerous opponent. He will face his compatriot Yu Yangyi next. Perhaps the most exciting match was Daniel Yuffa versus Luke McShane, the world’s strongest amateur player.
Mikhail Botvinnik – Mikhail Tal 24th World Championship, 28 April 1961 Black wins 83…Bf4+
In the first game, there was an intriguing ending that arose with K+B+B vs. K+N. Yuffa was trying to pry the knight away from McShane, but was unable to convert the TableBase win. McShane went for the toughest defense which is to keep the knight on b2, b7, g2 or g7. McShane shuffled his knight from g7 to e8 for several moves then ran down to the b2 square with his knight and set up the same structure. A draw was granted.
Forced mate with best play from both sides is 66-78 moves depending on the configuration. However there are cases like in Dreev-Cabrera (2005) where the Russian won the bishop due to a blunder. Mikhail Tal also beat Mikhail Botvinnik (WCh 1961, Game 17) in only seven moves after achieving the K+B+B vs. K+N. Jan Timman was also successful against Jonathan Speelman (Linares 1992).
Yuffa went on to win 5-3 and is one of a dozen Russians to make it to the round of 32. The usual suspects are still in the hunt with Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Peter Svidler, Nikita Vitiugov, Dmitry Jakovenko, Dmitry Andreikin, Evgeny Tomashevsky and Vladislav Artemiev advancing. Besides Yuffa, Maxim Matlakov and Kiriil Alekseenko finish the contingent. Starting with 28/128 (21%) they improved with 12/32 (37%).
One of the vanquished Russian was former European Champion Evgeny Najer who lost a wild match to Anish Giri. Daniel King gave a synopsis of the key tiebreak games.
As far as the Americans, Hikaru Nakamura was surprisingly eliminated from the tournament. Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu discussed the first game featuring a queen sacrifice. It was suspected that Nakamura had gotten the move order wrong and was punished for it. Nisipeanu was very gracious in his comments during an interview. With Sam Shankland and Nakamura gone, Wesley So, Jeffery Xiong and Leinier Dominguez advance to the round of 32. Who is now the youngest of the event?
Jan: "Abdusattorov is out, so Nihal Sarin is now the youngest in the event" Lawrence: "No, he's not, it's Jeffery" Jan: "Jeffery is like 3 years older" Lawrence: "No, it's definitely Jeffery. He's the Xiongest in the event" 🙂 #Boom#FIDEWorldCup