Levon Aronian sharing wisdom prior to
South Africa Junior Chess Championships
Photo by Tendai Mubayiwa

Africa is starting off the year with hopes of capitalizing off of the momentum generated from last year’s progress. Last year an elite contingent of chess Grandmasters visited Africa as part of the historic Grand Chess Tour in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. This is part of an increasing trend to integrate the continent as an important part of the chess community. Over the years, Africa has attracted chess celebrities including Judit Polgar, Viswanathan Anand, Nigel Short, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, and now Armenia’s Levon Aronian.

Aronian was in South Africa to help launch the 2020 South African Junior Championships. His 107-board simultaneous exhibition was a hot ticket indeed. The affable and fashion-forward GM strolled the boards while donning the “Madiba smart” shirt, a style popularized to the world by Nelson Mandela.

Playing a simul of that size takes a lot of energy and focus but the Armenian begin to cut down the opposition one after the other. The difference was that Aronian had no rating limits and the players were randomized so he didn’t know where there strongest players were. There were a number of draws (due to participants having to play in the Jr. tournament), but there was one fortunate soul who claimed victory against the famed GM.

Levon Aronian against 107 in South Africa

Aronian poised to face 107 ambitious challengers
Photo by Reint Dykema

Cornelius Klaver trotted out the Center Counter and the game saw a lot of tension with both sides building up attacks on opposite wings. The game entered tremendous complications after Aronian sacrificed a bishop on e6. Klaver ignored the piece and continued mobilizing his pieces.

Aronian lost control of the thread and the South African player crashed through with a blistering attack! This would be the only blemish in Aronian’s exhibition and he would end on 78 wins, 28 draws and the sole loss to Klaver. Africa Chess Media has the game here!

What visit would be complete if a Grandmaster doesn’t play at the popular watering hole where chess hustlers are lurking? These players are a different breed and are generally make up in speed what they lack in skill. This place is Joubert Park where the action happens. Hikaru Nakamura paid a visit to the park in 2018 in a famous video on chess.com. Wesley So held court last year. Aronian would be the latest GM to face the “lion’s den,” but seemed to be in his element. Africa Chess Media posted a video of the encounter with Simphiwe Buthelezi at 3:1 odds.

Video by Africa Chess Media

The video is endearing for so many reasons besides the cool hat Aronian is wearing. The music and the excitement shows the allure of street chess. It would be the only game Aronian would lose at Joubert, but what a moment! Africa Chess Media’s Tendai Mubayiwa summed up the moment…

It was the only game I saw the GM make a blunder and appear a bit flustered the whole time in the park. Everyone else had tried and failed in Joubert Park and all hope seemed lost. But the great Simphiwe Buthelezi, (@SIMZA19 Lichess handle) saved the day! What a huge relief it was for everyone. Grandmaster Levon Aronian had mowed down the opposition and not even come close to losing in other games. Yes this unassuming young man, Simphiwe Buthelezi, Simza had done what few thought was still possible on Sunday, beating Super Chess Grandmaster Levon Aronian in Joubert Park.

Aronian has always been interested in the expansion of chess in Africa and has been a supporter of The Chess Drum over the years (interviews 2006, 2008, 2012, 2017). It is hopeful that the stream of elite players will continue to visit Africa and encourage others to actually play in Africa in order to qualify for norms. There was a very candid interview conducted where Aronian talks about many topics including the future of chess in Africa. Very insightful!

2020 Women’s World Chess Championship
January 3rd-11th, 2020 (Shanghai, China & Vladivostok, Russia)
Ju Wenjun
Drum Coverage

The Women’s World Chess Championship is at the midway point with the match score tied at 3-3. Thus far, the match has been hard-fought with the average game lasting 73 moves. Aleksandra Goryachkina has actually had more chances against the defending champion Ju Wenjun.

The games have been tense with the Russian missing winning chances in a few of the games. Ju is fortunate not to be behind in the match. She has tried 1.e4 in two white games with no success against the Berlin. One may think that she may be hiding some of the preparation that is still being done by her team.


Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina
Photo by Zhang Yanhong

Goryachkina must feel good about her performance so far. It is true that she did not make the most of her chances, but now she is heading to her homeland where she will be greeted by a throng of fans and supporters. One of the things the young Russian star will have to be wary of is getting emotionally impacted by the overwhelming support. Viswanathan Anand experienced such distractions in his title defense against Magnus Carlsen. Saying that, her stoic demeanor may by a good thing.


Aleksandra Goryachkina in one of her rare smiling moments
at a Moscow conference before the championship match.
Photo by Chess Federation of Russia

Both have tried opening experiments… Ju (1.e4) and Goryachkina (1.c4). This may be to avoid exhausting preparation of their main weapon or to avoid opponent’s preparation altogether. Ju has been on the defensive in many of the games and Goryachkina has tested her by playing longer than would deemed normal in dead equal positions.

Two of the positions in game 1 and 6 feature good knight vs. bad bishop and Goryachkina played 40 moves of shuffling the knight around the board hoping for a misplacement of the bishop. This may be a psychological message to show the champion that she is on par and can control the state of affairs.

Is “home field advantage” overrated
in championship chess matches?

It will be up to Ju to reassert her authority as the reigning champion. The change in venue could serve as a relief for Ju due to ease any homeland pressure. One may wonder whether “home field advantage” is benefit or a detriment.

Magnus Carlsen (no less) seems to prefer playing high-stakes match outside of Norway. Viswanathan Anand defended his title in Bulgaria on Veselin Topalov’s home turf and Carlsen stripped the title from Anand in Chennai, India. Ju successfully defended her title against Kateryna Lagno in Russia. Thus, she may be comfortable without the extra attention.


Ju Wenjun will spring some surprises in the second half
and will undoubtedly be confident.
Photo by Zhang Yanhong

If one has noticed Goryachkina’s button “Sima Land,” it is the largest Russian wholesale company headquartered in Ekaterinburg. While the Chinese team was ever-present in the hall, the Russian team has been kept a mystery. In a pre-match conference in Moscow, Goryachkina stated, “I will reveal my team only after the Match.” She did mention the “Chess Federation of Russia” as lending full support.

It will be an interesting second half and we can expect to see all the preparation come out early. If one player wins early, it will put tremendous pressure in what is essentially a six-game match.

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (TWIC): https://theweekinchess.com/

Liberia Liberia Liberia

2019 Liberia National Championship

Left to Right: Former Champions James Stephen Tondo III and FM Barcon Harmon with Thomas Saah wearing his championship medal. Photo by Mario Kpan

Left to Right: Former Champions James Stephen Tondo III and FM Barcon Harmon with Thomas Saah wearing his championship medal. Photo by Mario Kpan.

Kenya Chess Masala has just reported on the Liberian National Championship ending this past weekend in Buchanan City, Liberia. The winner of the championship was Thomas Saah, who in his impassioned victory speech, gave a warning to Nigeria and pledged that the regional power would not have its way in West African zone.

Saah talled +6 or 7.5/9 enroute to his first championship and with it, qualification for the Olympiad team. He was a part of the historic Batumi team that featured FM Barcon Harmon, CM (now FM) Jacob Jallah, James Tondo III and Tom Sawyer.

Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura with Liberia at 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi. Photo by David Llada

Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura with Liberia
at 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi.
Photo by David Llada

Liberia has had activity for many years and in 2007 Parker Barcolleh had launched an initial appeal to help the Liberian chess community. It took efforts by some dedicated pioneers and seven years later the Liberian Chess Federation was born. Two years later they joined FIDE. In another two years, they participated in the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. Saah will lead them to Khanty-Mansisyk for the 2020 Olympiad.

Thanks to Kenya Chess Masala’s Kim Bhari for coverage!

Results: https://chess-results.com/tnr495363.aspx?lan=1&art=1

Tata Steel Chess 2020
2020 Tata Steel Chess - Masters

2020 Tata Steel Chess – Participants (Masters)
Photo by Alina L’Ami

Coming off of a blistering 2019, Magnus Carlsen winning the Grand Chess Tour, he starts off the 2020 campaign seeking his 8th Tata Steel title. He won the event last year 1/2-point ahead of Anish Giri who is also returning. One of the criticisms of chess is that top-level events feature the same 10-12 players.

The effect of playing the same players is (1) players get familiar with each other and (2) their preparation becomes more precise. Thus, the games mostly end in 80% draws approaching the rate of draughts. GM Jonathan Tisdall made an interesting observation via Tweet…

Nevertheless, the good thing about the Tata Steel Chess event (besides the pea soup) is the diversity of the field. In general, the organizers are able to pull together a mixture of world-class talent, cagey veterans and rising stars. Both Alireza Firouzja and Jeffery Xiong will be making their first appearances in the Masters section. Firouzja won a silver medal at the recent World Rapid & Blitz Championships. Xiong played in the Challengers section back in 2017 and 2018.

The previous winner of the Challengers section gets an automatic berth to the Masters section. That honor goes to Belorussian player Vladislav Kovalev who won the group last year by 1.5 points. This field is even younger with several of the participants being less than 20 years old. Last year was saw India’s Rameshabu Praganandhaa, but this year 15-year old Nihal Sarin will carry the flag.

Other young talents here are Nodirbek Abdusattorov (15), Anton Smirnov (18), Lucas van Foreest (18) and Vincent Keymer (15). Both van Foreest and Keymer played last year finishing in the bottom half. Dinara Saduakassova also played last year and is the only woman in either section. The veterans of the field are Pavel Eljanov, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Rauf Mamedov and Erwin l’Ami… all in their 30s.

Video by Tata Steel Chess

2020 Tata Steel Tournament
January 11th-26th, 2020 (Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands)
1 Carlsen, Magnus GM Norway
2 Caruana, Fabiano GM USA
3 Giri, Anish GM Netherlands
4 So, Wesley GM USA
5 Anand, Viswanathan GM India
6 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof GM Poland
7 Vitiugov, Nikita GM Russia
8 Artemiev, Vladislav GM Russia
9 Yu, Yangyi GM China
10 Firouzja, Alireza GM FIDE
11 Xiong, Jeffery GM USA
12 Dubov, Daniil GM Russia
13 Kovalev, Vladislav GM Belarus
14 Van Foreest, Jorden GM Netherlands
1 Anton Guijarro, David GM Spain
2 Grandelius, Nils GM Sweden
3 Mamedov, Rauf GM Azerbaijan
4 Eljanov, Pavel GM Ukraine
5 Ganguly, Surya Shekhar GM India
6 Abdusattorov, Nodirbek GM Uzbekistan
7 Nihal Sarin GM India
8 L’Ami, Erwin GM Netherlands
9 Smirnov, Anton GM Australia
10 Smeets, Jan GM Netherlands
11 Keymer, Vincent IM Germany
12 Van Foreest, Lucas GM Netherlands
13 Saduakassova, Dinara IM Kazakhstan
14 Warmerdam, Max IM Netherlands
Official Site

Official Site: https://www.tatasteelchess.com/
Schedule: Masters, Challengers
Videos: (YouTube)

Michael Abron visiting his 34th state of Idaho where he won the tournament!
Photo by Idaho Chess Association

In this year of the chess championships, we will witness the loftiest of goals of a chess player. Of course, each of us have goals whether it be modest rating target, earning a title, winning a tournament prize or playing in a famous venue. While IM Jay Bonin has set records for number of games played, Michael Abron had his eyes on a chess goal that is rare indeed. Back in October he became the 6th person to play in all 50 U.S. states.

In the 70s, Tennessee was not known as a hotbed for chess activity, but the “Fischer Boom” touched the state just as it spread throughout the country and world. When Abron was at Austin-East High School in his native Knoxville, Tennessee in 1972, he was bitten by the chess bug during the championships match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. He became intrigued as media coverage enthralled an entire nation. He picked up a few books and began his chess journey.

The first tournament I played in was in Austin-East High School where I ended up winning the tournament and a fabulous chess set by defeating the sponsor of the chess club in the final round. I started playing in USCF chess tournaments in 1978 and eventually won the Tennessee Amateur Championship in 1991 with a score of 6-0 undefeated!

Montana… 47th

It wasn’t until some 30 years later that he started to toss around the idea of playing in all 50 states. The June 2008 issue of Chess Life had a cover story on Jerry Dennison and mentioned other chess voyagers. Abron was mentioned along with Alan Kobernat, Joe Felber, David Cole, and Alex Relyea. Then residing in Maryland he set out to accomplish this goal.

Back in January 2019, Abron wrote The Chess Drum stating that he only needed to play in South Dakota and Alaska to complete his goal. When he finally completed the goal in October 2019, he also became the first person of African descent to do so.

“Chess is a sea in which a gnat can drink and an elephant can bathe.”
~Michael Abron citing an old proverb

With his trip to Alaska in 2019, he completed the task during Alaska’s “National Chess Day” in October. What was interesting was that at the U.S. Chess Delegates meeting in Orlando, Alaska has just been given its state affiliate status. It was great timing for Abron.

Video by Channel 2, KTUU (Alaska)

When asked for his favorite play, he diplomatically said, “All the places were great, but I suppose that Hawaii was the most intriguing because of its warm beaches, beautiful women and Banyan trees.”

The 65-year old retiree is not finished. He now has his eyes set on conquering the world and is investigating places for visit in Africa. He has a quest to play in all continents. Antarctica may be a bit challenging, but he may be able to get the others. He summed up his experience by saying,

I know that life is a journey and that you ought to live it to its fullest! I met a lot of wonderful and generous people, stayed in a lot of marvelous places and had many fabulous experiences. If I can anybody, anybody can with inspiration, dedication and perseverance.

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!!

2019-03-17 South Dakota 2019 JACKRABBIT OPEN AND RESER (SD)
2018-11-10 Wyoming 2018 NEW WYOMING OPEN (WY)
2018-09-16 Montana 2018 BIG SKY COUNTRY (MT)
2018-09-03 Hawaii 2018 HAWAII STATE OPEN (HI)
2018-07-22 Nebraska 2018 CORNHUSKER (NE)
2018-07-14 North Dakota MIKE ABRON INVITATIONAL (ND)
2018-07-07 Arkansas SEVEN MORE STATES (AR)
2018-06-25 Mississippi MICHAEL’S TOUR (MS)
2018-06-24 Louisiana 2018 US SENIOR OPEN (LA)
2018-05-20 New Mexico MINI SENIOR (NM)
2018-05-20 Arizona UNITY WEEKLY MAY 20TH, 2018 (AZ)
2018-05-05 California 18TH CHARLES POWELL MEMORIAL (CA)
2018-04-29 Washington CLARK HARMON MEMORIAL (WA)
2018-04-22 Oregon APRIL 2018 PCC SUNDAY QUADS (OR)
2018-04-15 Idaho 2018 IDAHO OPEN (ID)
2018-03-04 Colorado 2018 COLORADO SPRINGS OPEN (CO)
2018-02-24 New Hampshire 5TH QUEEN CITY TORNADO (NH)
2006-07-29 Wisconsin SCORCHING 15 (WI)
2006-07-23 Kansas KANSAS OPEN (KS)
2006-07-16 Oklahoma OKLA OPEN 2006 JERRY SPANN MEM (OK)
2006-06-25 Michigan 2006 MICH BOTTOM-HALF CHAMPION (MI)
2006-06-10 Indiana JUNE OPEN (IN)
2006-05-28 West Virginia UNITED STATES AMATEUR SOUTH (WV)
2006-04-23 Kentucky 2ND LOUISVILLE OPEN!? (KY)
2005-06-12 Nevada 2005 NATIONAL OPEN (NV)
2003-08-10 Vermont 13TH VERMONT RESORT OPEN! (VT)
2003-06-15 New Jersey 2003 SOUTH JERSEY OPEN (NJ)
2002-11-29 Massachusetts 2002 NORTHEAST CHESS FALL GETA (MA)
2000-09-04 New York 122ND NYS CHAMPIONSHIP! (NY)
2000-08-13 Minnesota 101ST ANNUAL US OPEN – 2000 (MN)
2000-06-09 Maryland FMCA EVERY FRI KNIGHT QUICK (MD)
2000-04-23 Connecticut 2ND ANNUAL FOXWOODS OPEN (CT)
1999-06-20 Ohio 1999 COLUMBUS OPEN (OH)
1999-06-13 South Carolina SOUTH CAROLINA OPEN (SC)
1999-05-31 Illinois 8TH ANNUAL CHICAGO OPEN (IL)
1999-03-28 Florida 7TH ORLANDO OPEN! (FL)
1998-12-29 District of Columbia 25TH EASTERN OPEN (DC)
1998-10-25 North Carolina NC OPEN (NC)
1998-11-29 Missouri US CLASS CHAMPIONSHIPS (MO)
1996-03-17 Alabama 1996 SPACE CITY OPEN (AL)
1994-07-04 Pennsylvania 22ND ANNUAL WORLD OPEN (PA)
1991-12-08 Georgia 21ST ANNUAL ATLANTA OPEN (GA)

2020 Women’s World Chess Championship
January 3rd-11th, 2020 (Shanghai, China & Vladivostok, Russia)
Ju Wenjun
Drum Coverage


Today will see the beginning of the World Championship, but not the one that has been discussed in past months. Unfortunately, the World Women’s Championship has not seen as much anticipation and very little publicity has been presented. Nevertheless, defending champion Ju Wenjun of China will face the challenger, 21-year old sensation Aleksandra Goryachkina of Russia.

The match represents the two preeminent chess powers in the women’s circuit. Since 2000, China has dominated the women’s world championship with six champions: Xie Jun (1999-2001), Zhu Chen (2001-2004), Xu Yuhua (2006-2008), Hou Yifan (2010-2012, 2013-2015, 2016-2017), Tan Zhongyi (2017-2018) and Ju Wenjun (2018). The other champions during this period were: Russia’s Antoaneta Stefanova (2004-2006), Alexandra Kosteniuk (2008-2010), Anna Ushenina (2012-2013), Mariya Muzychuk (2015-2016), the latter two from the Ukraine.

Ju Wenjun receiving her championship trophy November 23rd, 2018
after defeating Kateryna Lagno in Khanty-Mansisyk
Photo by ugrafide2018.com

This year will mark the first year that the cycle will revert back to biennial matches instead of the knockout events. It should be noted that former champion Hou Yifan lost her title in 2012 during the knockout tournament. Ushenina won the title. Hou returned next year and won the title a second time in a rout over Ushenina 5½-1½. She held the title until 2015 only to nix defending in the knockout because of a conflict in scheduling. She returned in 2016 and won for the 3rd time, but later announced she would withdraw from the cycle altogether due to her opposition to the knockout format and the desire to play against stronger competition.

Aleksandra Goryachkina
Photo by allsportspk.com

The question of separate tournaments has resurfaced once again as the push for equal conditions has gained some momentum. The prize fund of this match (500,000 euros) is much more generous than past championship matches. Hou Yifan’s 10-game match against Muzychuk in Lviv, Ukraine was 200,000 euros. The present prize fund represents a significant increase.

The women’s champion has an automatic berth in a qualifying event (World Cup) to compete for the overall championship. During the last cycle there was a conflict with the Women’s Grand Prix tournament. Aleksandra Goryachkina qualified and then won the Women’s Candidates tournament with a dominating performance. She is Russia’s hope to bring the title back home since Kosteniuk did it as a 24-year old.


The first half or six games of the competition will be held in Shanghai, China ending on January 12th. The other half (also six games) will resume in Vladivostok, Russia on January 16th. The first player to 6.5 will be declared the winner without having to play the remaining games. The advantage will then be with the champion. If the score is 6:6 at the end of 12 games, a rapid (and if necessary blitz) playoff will serve as the tiebreaker.

Shohreh Bayat of Iran will serve as the International Arbiter of the match. Bayta, a Women’s FIDE Master, is also a Natural Resources Engineer by profession. An excellent interview was conducted by Kenya Chess Masala here. Photo by FIDE

The two sites bring an added element. Ju will hope to capitalize off of the familiarity of the environment and overwhelming national support. However, such comforts do not guarantee success. In fact, Ju’s own victories against Ushenina in the Ukraine and Lagno in Russia are examples. We also remember that Viswanathan Anand won against Veselin Topalov in Bulgaria, yet lost in India against Magnus Carlsen.


January 3rd Arrival
January 4th Opening Ceremony & Technical Meeting
January 5th Game 1
January 6th Game 2
January 7th Free day
January 8th Game 3
January 9th Game 4
January 10th Free day
January 11th Game 5
January 12th Game 6
January 13th Departure


January 14th Arrival
January 15th Opening Ceremony & Technical Meeting
January 16th Game 7
January 17th Game 8
January 18th Free day
January 19th Game 9
January 20th Game 10
January 21st Free day
January 22nd Game 11
January 23rd Game 12
January 24th Tie-break (if needed) or
Closing Ceremony (depending on the match’s end)
January 25th Closing Ceremony (if tie-break is needed)
January 26th Departure

Official Site: https://wwcm2020.fide.com/
Match Regulations: https://handbook.fide.com/ (PDF)
Games (TWIC): https://theweekinchess.com/

Live Games & Commentary

The games will start 3:30 p.m. Shanghai/Vladivostok, which is 8:30 a.m. CET, 2:30 a.m. Eastern and 11:30 p.m. Pacific. Chess.com will be covering the action as well as relays from a number of chess servers.

Grand Chess Tour - Rapid & Blitz 2019 - Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

The year of 2019 was an important one for The Chess Drum. There was a historic Grand Chess Tour event that took place in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. This tournament featured 10 of the world’s top players. Magnus Carlsen won that tournament, but more importantly it gave the continent a stage to show that it is capable of organizing a high-level event.

Grand Chess Tour - Rapid & Blitz 2019 - Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire

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.

Ivorian Chess President Essoh Essis chatting with
Didier Drogba, international football legend (retired)
Photos by Daaim Shabazz

The following video is with GM Maurice Ashley who was commentator at the historic event in Africa…

Video by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

The participation of Egypt’s Bassem Amin was also important because it will pave the way for other players from the African continent. Both Amin and Ahmed Adly just participated in the World Rapid and Blitz championships in Moscow and their presence brings greater credibility that talent can be successfully groomed in Africa. The process will be gradual, but this year The Chess Drum continued to highlight a number of events including the African Individual Championships and the All-Africa Games.

Moiseenko-Korley, Xtracon Open 2019
After 19.Rad1, Korley played 19…Re5!!!

Some relatively new federations arrived on the scene like Burkina Faso, Djibouti and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. There were several other newsworthy items such as Kassa Korley’s 2nd GM norm and his brilliancy game. No player is more deserving than Korley to play the game of such quality. As he enters the year 2020, he will continue his pursuit of his 2500 Elo rating along with his third GM norm to clinch the title.

Not far away we saw WGM Oleiny Linares with her third Cuban national title. Tani Adewumi’s story went viral. Brewington Hardaway earned his National Master’s title at age 10! There were others who made different types of chess accomplishments. Maya McGreen became a U.S. Chess Senior Tournament Director while 13-year old Bahamian Olga Roussos passed her FIDE Trainer’s exam. There was an inspiring story about Uganda’s Sharif Mbaziira, a chess player who suffers from a disability.

We also lost a couple of chess personalities in The Chess Drum community. Most recently National Master David Allen Sr. passed after a lengthy illness.

Dr. David Allen, Sr.
(January 31, 1960 – November 22, 2019)

Hope you enjoyed 2019! Look for some developments 2020. The Chess Drum will be updating its readership on the book project that will help to celebrate the site’s 20th year!!

Here are some of the moments to revisit…













Index of Stories (2001-2019)

With Shakira Luster, Trechelle Williams and Imani Hill 🙂

The Chess Drum, LLC is a publisher of chess news content and literature. The organization’s website has continued to demonstrate the universality of chess by covering a variety of topics through news stories, essays, interviews, and photos since 2001. Visit The Chess Drum at thechessdrum.net and follow the beat on Facebook and Twitter!

In the last top-level chess event of the year, the top brass assembled in Moscow, Russia to compete in the World Rapid & Blitz Championships. Given the rising popularity of online blitz, this event attracted professional players, blitz specialists and top chess streamers. Magnus Carlsen would be the top attraction. Back in 2014-15, he held world titles in three formats (classical, rapid, blitz). Daniil Dubov took the rapid title last year and in the blitz segment Hikaru Nakamara (2885) would try to strip the blitz crown from Carlsen.

Magnus Carlsen would attempt to reclaim the “Triple Crown”

One of the side topics going into this event was the participation of Iranian phenom Alireza Firouzja. Last week he announced that he would play under the FIDE flag protesting the Iranian Chess Federation’s decision to withdraw players from the Rapid & Blitz tournament. This occurred because Parham Maghadsoodloo and Amin Tabatabaei violated policy by competing against Israelis. Nevertheless, Firouzja would be a major threat considering his strength in quick play.

In the women’s competition, there would be the usual suspects minus Ju Wenjun and Alexandra Goryachkina. Both will be competition for the upcoming title match in January. Humpy Koneru is a welcome addition to the field taking a two-year hiatus after marriage and having a daughter. Since Ju would not defend her rapid title, Anna Muzychuk would go in as the top seed. Kateryna Lagno is the defending blitz champion.


A good mixture of players in the field included some veterans like Ilia Smirin (age 51) who in an interview was asked about keeping up with the young lions. His response referred to a nature channel in which the lion was outsmarted or defeated by its prey. In the first day of the rapid (15 minutes + 10 second increment) he was certainly up to the task finishing the first day in joint first. Wang Hao of China had a nice run, but gave an intriguing interview with ChessBase India. When asked how he felt about his qualification for the World Candidates and the prospect of two Chinese qualifying, he seemed a bit irritated.


Listening to the entire interview may lend some insight as to why Wang Hao had become alienated from the Chinese national team. Of course, it is not required to be one’s friend to make a comment about their chances in the cycle, but it was an uncomfortable question. One thing that was clear that he mentioned Ding’s determination and this is a top concern for the Carlsen camp.

After day two Carlsen had closed the day with three straight wins (8/10) to lead the pack by half-point over Wang Hao, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. In the third day, Carlsen built up a 1½-point lead with two rounds left and had to stave off a rally by Nakamura.

The Carlsen-Nakamura finale was a tense affair, but Nakamura couldn’t score the victory and had to settle for bronze. Firouzja got 4½/5 on the last day beating four heavyweights and holding Dmitri Andreikin. A lot was made over the Iranian’s performance, but he has been poised to shine anyway.

Rapid Results (Open)

Interview with Magnus Carlsen

Video by FIDE Chess

Video by ChessBase India

The silver medal is a wonderful result for the 16-year old Iranian, and the political effect of the conflict with the Iranian Chess authorities has been palpable. In the final analysis, Firouzja simply wants to play chess and realize his tremendous potential. The notion that he is serving as a “freedom fighter” is a bit of an overstatement.

The political environment in the Middle East is extremely complex and will not end soon, but it is hopeful that the Islamic Republic of Iran will find a way to mitigate these controversies. Iran’s Sarasadat Khademalsharieh weighed in.

In the women’s rapid event, the field was wide open and at the end of the first day only ½-point separated the top 15 places. Olga Girya and Meri Arabidze was joined in the lead by Irina Bulmaga of Romania with 4/4. Bulmaga won the 1st Hail Rapid Championships in Saudi Arabia back in March so she appears to be a specialist.

On the second day, the Chinese players conducted an onslaught and pulled into medal contention. Bulmaga was still holding on to a share of the lead and top-seed Anna Muzychuk rounded out the quartet of leaders. Bulmaga beat Humpy who was sizzling on 4½/5! She then drew the two front-running Chinese players to end the day on 6½/8.

Bulmaga started off with a win against Mariya Muzychuk, but then begin to falter. She failed to maintain the momentum and fell out of contention. Ekaterina Atalik quietly moved in the forefront and scored a last-round win over leader Lei Tingjie to get the bronze. Lei had to settle for silver while Koneru Humpy ended the tournament with two important wins including a last-round win over Tan Zhongyi to get at 9/12. Because of Lei’s loss, the Chinese player also ended on 9/12. Koneru had to play her in a tiebreak.

The match started with Humpy losing the first on time only to equalize with a must-win. This was improbable because she got a losing position, but fought back to force an Armageddon game. Lei won the toss and opted to take white and the extra minute. The final game was an Italian and white not only failed to secure an advantage, but lost

Rapid Results (Women)

Interview with Koneru Humpy

Video by FIDE Chess


The blitz competition would feature two days of thrilling chess. With each player facing 21 rounds, it goes without saying that having a good environment is important. There were some complaints about the gap in between the rapid games which result in much longer days and thus, more fatigue. In addition, there were delays given that some of the games went down to the very end.

Carlsen would be trying to defend his title against the likes of Nakamura (top-seed) and a strong Russian contingent. Eyes would be fixated on the games of Carlsen and Nakamura as they were the top seeds, but in a blitz tournament, there are inevitable upsets from “dark horses.” In this tournament the improbable “dark horse” Iran’s Alireza Firouzja. In fact, Nakamura actually lost a game to Firouzja and it was celebrated in social media.

After his loss to the Iranian phenom, Nakamura went on a rampage
Photo by Lennart Ootes

Despite the loss, Nakamura then rattled off five wins in a row! He was in a joint tie for first with the surprising Bartosz Socko, Carlsen and Vidit Gujrathi on 7½/9. After consecutive losses to Carlsen and Dubov, Socko faltered and rapidly fell out of contention. After the 12 rounds on the first day, Carlsen was on 10/12 with Maxim Matlokov on 9½ and Nakamura in joint third (with Dubov and Ian Nepomniachtchi) on 9.

Nakamura actually caught Carlsen in round 15 after beating Matlakov, but the world champion immediately regained his ½-point by beating Dubov. There is a saying that the better you are the luckier you are. In round 19 with Carlsen trying to hold a draw against Firouzja, the young Iranian flagged!! Firouzja then filed an appeal citing distractions from Carlsen. Here is all the action captured by ChessBase India…

Video by ChessBase India

Firouzja clearly had problems keeping his pieces on the squares knocking them over several times before he ran out of time. He immediately filed a handwritten appeal, and after consideration by the appeals committee (headed by Lukasz Turlej), it was denied. Thus, Carlsen expanded his lead over Nakamura to a full point.

This was an unfortunate situation because it would’ve turned the entire field on its head. In general, when one’s time has expired, it reduces the chances for a successful claim. Such disturbances should be addressed during the game by stopping the clock and reporting to the arbiter.

After losing his appeal, Firouzja would also lose his next game to Kramnik effectively eliminating his medal chances. Meanwhile Nakamura had to win “on demand” against Rauf Mamedov. It was an intense battle ending in a frenetic time scramble. Here is how that game ended (with Carlsen watching)…

This meant that both Carlsen and Nakamura would play a series of tiebeak games to determine the winner. Here were the two games…

Game 1

Game 2

Videos by ChessBase India (Sagar Shah)

So there it was… Carlsen’s third consecutive blitz title! This caps off a wonderful year with a number of super-tournament wins and breaking Ding Liren’s record for consecutive games without a defeat. He holds the classical, rapid and blitz titles; he holds the highest rating in classical and rapid and #2 in blitz. The only title he doesn’t hold is the 960. He will go into 2020 with supreme confidence as he waits on his challenger. Being the chess enthusiast that he is, he will be watching with great interest. He has had a great 2019 and his celebration below says it all.

Blitz Results (Open)

Interview with Magnus Carlsen

Video by FIDE Chess

In the women’s competition, Lagno would try to defend her title, but ran into stiff resistance from a trailing pack. She scored an incredible 8/9 after the first day. On the second day, she started off by beating Alexandra Kosteniuk, but Koneru Humpy was in hot pursuit. The Indian ace actually caught Lagno after she lost to Alisa Galliamova in round 13.

With fours rounds remaining, it would be a sprint to the finish. Lagno would hold some tiebreak advantage in the event of a tie. However, tragedy struck for Koneru as she lost her last three games! Both Anna Muzychuk and Tan Zhongyi put together mini-streaks and threatened the defending champion. Muzychuk had a chance to win the tournament, but lost to Zhongyi in the finale. Zhongyi had 4½ from her last five games and despite beating Muzychuk she had to settle for the bronze. So Lagno successfully defended her title.

Blitz Results (Women)

Interview with Magnus Carlsen

Video by FIDE Chess

Official Site: https://wrbc2019.com/

September Christian

Cyril “September” Christian, one of world’s most heralded warri players, died Friday, November 15th after a battle with cancer. Christian was one of a line of strong warri players hailing from the small twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda. The game came to the West Indies along with African slaves who were brought to work on sugar plantations. “Oware” or “Warri” is an African game of strategy played with a 2×6 tray with 48 pebbles (24 per side). The objective is to capture as many of your opponent’s bead in a counter clockwise fashion.

It is from the family of mancala games originating from Egypt 7,000 years ago spreading through the rest of Africa, then to Asia and as mentioned, arriving in the Caribbean with the slaves. The slaves played the game secretively, but now has become one of the many board games enjoyed on the islands.

Christian with young enthusiasts in Antigua…

…and in a casual game with a Ghanaian master
in La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland (2005)

Along with Trevor Simon, Christian served as ambassadors for the game and was responsible for developing the popularity of the game throughout the African Diaspora. The game is played on the sides of roads, but on an organized level, it is a game of cunning and strategic guile. It is called “Manacala,” “Oware,” “Ayo,” “Mbau,” “Awale,” “Omweso” among other names.

When I was living in France I was surprised one day to come across groups of Africans playing this game that I knew so well from my youth in Antigua. Later I came to understand that to them, it was much more than a game but also an expression of liberation and cultural pride in a foreign locale.

~ Trevor Simon

Many in chess would quickly try to claim the erudition of chess over other mind games like draughts and warri. Each of these games has their own unique character, but like chess, the mastery of the ancient game warri requires a level of dedication and passion. To his credit, Christian was a towering figure in warri and often spoke of keeping the tradition. It was with some irony that he thought the game’s popularization may mean that Caribbean and African nations may lose their dominant standing.

  • 2000 Silver Medallist UK Open Oware Tournament / Mind Sports Olympiad (London)
  • 2002 6th Place Antiguan Open International Tournament St. Johns
  • 2005 Silver Medallist 1ière Tournoi International d’Awélé (La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland)
  • 2006 Gold Medallist 2ième Tournoi International d’Awélé (La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland)
  • 2007 Silver Medallist 3ième Tournoi International d’Awélé (La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland)
  • 2008 Silver Medallist 4ième Tournoi International d’Awélé (La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland)

Cyril “September” ChristianBendjin Kpeglo
September 14, 2008
(La Tour de Peilz, Switzerland)

6-5-3-2-2-4-1(+2)-1-5-6-4-6-3-5(+2)-5-3-1-1-1-6-1-2-3-2-5-1-1-5-1-3-1-5-6(+2)-3-5-5-3-2-6-3-1-6-6(+4)- 4-4(+5)-2-2(+2)-3-1-1-5(+3)-1-4-4(+2)-3(+3)-6(+3)-2-1-1-2-1-6-1-5-1-4-5-1-4-5-5-3-3-1-5-5-4-4-2-1-5-2- 6(+8)-6(+10)-5-4-6-6-1-1-2-5(+2)-1. September wins 29:19

In April of 2020, the club will be hosting an HBCU tournament for all of the historic universities. There are more than 100 HBCUs across the land, but few have chess programs. Howard University Chess Club is inviting all Historically-Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to participate. The club has been rejuvenated after laying dormant for more than a decade.

Howard has previously competed in the Pan-Am Intercollegiate. That tournament actually begins today, but there are no HBCU teams registered. This tournament in April hopes to spur activity among the schools. Others schools such as Tuskegee, Hampton and Florida A&M had chess clubs in the early 2000s. In fact, Tuskegee had visits from IM Stephen Muhammad and Howard hosted IM Oladapo Adu.

Florida A&M had an active chess club and the activity was actually a part of business school curriculum. Dr. Sid Credle launched the idea at FAMU has continued this tradition at Hampton University’s. After Credle left, Dr. Daaim Shabazz was the faculty advisor for the FAMU Chess Club. Unfortunately, activity has faded at HBCUs as many players lack the mentorship and tournament experience.

Currently, Howard is advised by Nisa Muhammad and she is helping to normalize activity on the campus. Local talent Zahir Muhammad is also providing guidance for the Howard group. The tournament will be the first of its kind.

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