The Chess Drum’s Highlights of 2021!

This year was the 20th year for The Chess Drum. On February 12th, I posted a very lengthy chronicle of the site’s history with key moments each of the 20 years. I put a lot of effort into that post, but it was fulfilling to recount the special moments, not only for The Chess Drum, but for those who were being highlighted. Some of these highlights were also featured in an article I wrote for New in Chess (2021/1).

New In Chess (2020/8)New In Chess (2020/8)

The year 2021 was one of intriguing transitions. After one year of online activity and the esport, many players longed for over-the-board interaction. Had there been online fatigue as there was “ZOOM fatigue” in the academic and business worlds? Perhaps.

Jimmy Canty

There were a lot of online success stories that came out of 2020 and it continued in 2021 when Jimmy Canty and Frank Johnson signed eSports contracts. Followers of this site may know them for many years.

Hikaru Nakamura served as a catalyst for developing the online streaming platform. Starting his channel in 2018 on Twitch, Hikaru had been an online warrior for more than a decade. The old days of Internet Chess Club marathon battles were a faint memory, but with COVID sweeping the globe, the online platform exploded. Indeed, but we are so glad to be back OTB!

The biggest story of the year may the Magnus Carlsen retaining his championship title on December 11th. The World Championship in Dubai was hosted concurrently with the EXPO 2020 and The Chess Drum was there! Check out my reflections here.

Recap of the 2021 World Chess Championship

(Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

The result turned out to be disappointing, and Carlsen made a pronouncement that he could possibly leave the cycle if there isn’t an able challenger from the new generation. He named Alireza Firouzja, but there are others waiting as the World Rapid & Blitz demonstrated. During the final press conference, I asked both players what they thought of including other disciplines. Nepo nixed the idea while Carlsen was very open. In fact, his pronouncement after the match gave the impression that he had thought about this topic deeply.

Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion
Magnus Carlsen, 2021 World Chess Champion
Photo by Eric Rosen

There were some interesting discussions and the world was still buzzing about “Queen’s Gambit.” I did a piece on it titled, “Gambit and Katwe… Two Queens, Two Lessons,” but I also added an analysis including Phiona Mutesi’sThe Queen of Katwe.” This movie did not get the fanfare, but of course, the lessons of her life may have been unrelatable for most.

Queen of Katwe Queen's Gambit

We saw some interesting stories including Levon Aronian switching federations due to dissatisfaction with the change in the political climate in Armenia. While Aronian is a big name who has been based in St. Louis, there is another St. Louis resident who is doing great things.

Justus Williams started his “Black Squares” initiative of exposing children to chess for personal development, particularly those in the Black community. The initiative seem to give Justus motivation as he went on to clinch his IM title by earning the requisite 2400 rating.

IM Justus Williams
Photo by CCSCSL

As far as other young talents, Tanitoluwa Adewumi and Brewington Hardaway had many bright moments. “Tani” earned his National Master’s title at 10 joining Hardaway who had also earned in at 10. Both are very active in tournament play and improving rapidly. Tani won the North American Youth under-12 in August.

Hardaway recently eclipsed the 2300 rating mark and won the 7th-grade national championship. Most will remember also that Abhimanyu Mishra broke the age record for the Grandmaster title. Young players are benefiting from the wealth of resources for chess, but most notably the sacrifices of their parents.

Speaking of young players, there was a touching McDonald’s commercial featuring three chess-playing girls from the southside of Chicago.

Video courtesy of the McDonald’s Corporation

There was an interesting story out of Kenya as Fred Sagwe walked 165 kilometers (102 miles) to advocate the inclusion of chess in the curriculum. It was a very creative and noble effort by the current Head of Chess-in-Schools. This led to a debate on the floor of the Kenyan Parliament! Speaking of policy, I penned an op-ed piece touting for increasing diversity of chess ideas.

Unfortunately, not all stories were happy. We lost a number of chess players although not as many as in 2020. Obituaries were presented here for the following players:

GM Roman Hernandez Onna

GM Román Hernández, 71
Afro-Cuban Grandmaster who earned the GM title in 1978
(story, obituary)

Jerome Works, 66
Philadelphia native, club manager

Joseph Gadson, 36 – Detroit native, coach, chess promoter (obituary)

FM Albert Chow, 57 – Chicago native, coach, writer
1994 U.S. Open co-champion













Happy New Year!

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