Posted on February 11, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Iran Hosts Women’s Chess and Anti-American Chanting

Update (2017/02/13): And if it was not apparent that much of the screaming at Americans for not wanting to obey the Iranian modesty laws was not enough to demonstrate the incredible double-standard, check out this hypocrisy from Sweden.

Women from around the world sat down at chessboards in Tehran, Iran yesterday to begin the first round of the 2017 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship. The venue was filled with local celebrities, dignitaries, and in true Iranian fashion, some of the world’s most controversial figures including FIDE’s own Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. As usual, Kirsan did not pass on an opportunity to give us more to laugh about thanks to the quick British wit of GM Nigel Short.

 

And as most people know, the decision to hold the Women’s Championship in Tehran caused a great deal of controversy with protests from American GM Nazi Paikidze and GM Mariya Muzychuk because of the compulsory hijab requirement. For Nazi Paikidze, the decision not to travel to Iran was also partially because of the significant Anti-American sentiment and warnings from the US Government about American citizen travel to Iran. Enough has already been written by countless news agencies and blogs to make it necessary to rehash the debate itself. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some events that occurred in Iran yesterday at the same time the championship was about to begin…

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Headline from Friday’s edition of The Independent. (Credit: The Independent UK)

Protestors took to the streets yesterday in Iran chanting the traditional Death to America and Death to Trump as the country celebrated the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. What I found interesting is that this celebration coincided with the Women’s Chess Championship, which was touted as a representation of women’s rights advancements in the country. Yet, the Iranian Revolution itself marked a significant  turning point in women’s rights for the country. With the revolution came the restriction of women to their homes without male escort and loss of many other basic rights to the discretion of the country’s theocratic leadership.

When Nazi Paikidze announced her intention to boycott the event, she faced the typical media backlash that claimed her protest would damage the plight of women’s movements in Iran. Just as the first players began moving pieces the country was showing its true colors to the rest of the world by burning American flags, hanging an effigy of President Trump, and chanting for the death of the United States. Still, the calls from the media and from major political activists were deafly silent, which underscores the true hypocrisy of the Iranian government, FIDE, and the multitudes who tried to silence Nazi and others like her. It is okay to protest selected events, groups, or governments, but those protests must be sanctioned by the media and by the special interest groups that claim a monopoly on human morality.

We all knew that the event would go on in Tehran regardless of protests by players because Iran’s regime represents the kind of government and leadership style preferred by FIDE’s dear leader. But I for one am proud of those women who refused to give in to social and political pressure to play in the tournament. If the Iranian government is truly as open and accepting as it claimed to be in response to the protests, then Nazi, Mariya, and others would have been able to voice their protest without receiving the significant backlash they faced. Yet, that is not the reality we live in.

Posted on December 1, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Magnus Carlsen Retains World Chess Title

Magnus Carlsen put the final nail in the coffin for the 2016 World Chess Championship with a spectacular finish in the 25 | 10 rapid tiebreaker. Carlsen had been frustrated throughout the event and fell behind before managing to equalize the standings in Game 10. He went on to win the last two games of the rapid event, which finally put an end to his challengers efforts and solidified his place as World Chess Champion for the next two years. As the main portion of the event drew to its conclusion, many in the chess world began taking note of the precarious position Sergey Karjakin could find himself in against one of the strongest rapid and blitz players in the world.

The first two tiebreaker games were drawn with Karjakin narrowly escaping a loss in the second game but unable to stop the onslaught that ultimately allowed Carlsen to retain his title.

Carlsen’s incredible finish to the rapid tiebreaker event.

The position above is stunning and reaffirms why Magnus Carlsen is the best chess player in the world. With Qh6+, Magnus brought his opponent’s bid to become the next world champion to his stunning halt. There were moments throughout the event where it seemed that Sergey Karjakin was poised to overtake Carlsen, but never found a way to convert his opportunities into solid wins. Of course, there were moments throughout the event were Magnus seemed to struggle both with his chess abilities and his ability to keep his emotions in check (no pun intended). Magnus took a little bit of criticism on social media for his outburst following his loss in the classical round, but I have to say that him storming out of the press conference is the kind of stuff that chess needs if it wants to become a popular, respectable, and marketable activity in the United States.

Viewership Review

Agon, which has become a four letter word In the chess community has refused to release (at least for now) the exact number of people who purchased their premium package for viewing the event, but initial estimates project that less than 10,000 people paid for the premium streaming and commentary package. Personally, I was pleased to be able to follow the games as a premium member of Chessbase, on ChessBomb, and to watch the exceptional commentary and analysis from some of my favorite people over on chess24.com. Still, just a long way to go if it wants to build an American audience to the point where corporations like Pepsi, Red Bull, or other major corporations are willing to sponsor the events. As mentioned in an excellent news article published shortly after Carlsen’s victory, chess needs a series of dramatic stories in order to sell itself to the American people. Bobby Fischer made history as the lone genius who challenged the world’s greatest chess power, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War which allowed the American people to relate what was happening on the board to what was happening every day in their news. When professional chess can find a way to bring the drama and excitement of playing the game to people in a way that relates to their everyday struggles and experiences, then it will find itself at a buffet of sponsors and fans. Compelling drama and personal connection sells products, not frivolous litigation.

Posted on November 29, 2016 by Wesley Surber

WCC2016 Tie Breaker on Wednesday

The World Chess Championship ended its standard round series yesterday with a whimper as Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin drew the final game after a mere 30 moves.

So, what happens now? As Magnus celebrates his birthday on Wednesday, he will face Karjakin in a series of rapid and blitz games to determine who will be the overall champion. For those games, the will be four rapid games at 25 | 10 with blitz games scheduled if the rapid games end in a tie. In the unlikely event that all of those games are tied then there will be a 5 minute for white, 4 minute for black game where the winner will take all.

Posted on November 27, 2016 by Wesley Surber

WCC2016 Tied Entering Final Round

The 2016 World Chess Championship in New York City has been nothing short of a nail biter and will at least come down to determination in the final round scheduled to be played Monday at 1400 EST. Games 7 and 8 offered some tense moments in which Magnus missed opportunities to turn the tide of the tournament against his opponent. However, his over aggressiveness prevented him from capitalizing on these positions as he would normally be able to.

But everything changed in Game 8 when that over aggressiveness finally backfired and awarded a powerful win to challenger Sergey Karjakin.

Some believed that Magnus would be unable to recover from the loss but managed to pull out a win shortly thereafter in Game 10 to even things up.

The tournament remains tied and goes into Monday’s final round with the very real possibility of a rapid or blitz playoff being needed to decide the overall winner.

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Wesley Surber

WCC2016: Too Early to Draw Any Conclusions

All eyes are on New York City as Magnus Carlsen defends his World Chess Champion title against Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. Carlsen is the heavy favorite to win the tournament but if the first few games are any indication of what to expect from the whole tournament, we might be in for a long ride. As the name of the post suggests, its too early to draw any conclusions from these games, but there are many conclusions in these games that end in draws

Game 3: Bending Space and Time

Hopes were high after the first two games that there would be some dramatics appearing in the third game and they came…in a sense. Reminding players, commentators, and fans alike that chess requires mental and physical resilience, the players battled it out in a 7-hour, 78-move nightmare that ended…you guessed it..in a draw.

Game 4: Drawing Up A New Strategy?

After the marathon of Game 3, I was very impressed that the players were able to squeeze out the next game, which went 94 moves before ending in another draw. It was apparent in this game, however, that Magnus was becoming frustrated with Karjakin and that a draw was certainly not on his list of game ideas for the day.

Game 5: Drawn of the Dead

Game 5 was played earlier today and felt like a blitz game at times. The moves were fast in some areas deep into the position with Magnus finding himself in trouble against his challenger for the first time in the match. There were certain moments in the game when Karjakin had clear advantage on the board, but Magnus was able to bring these situations back into balance and force a draw on move 51.

Posted on November 12, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Carlsen-Karjakin Tied After Second Round

The showdown for the title of World Chess Champion between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is tied at 1 point each after rounds one and two ended in a draw. Carlsen drew white for Game One and opened with a homage to recently elected President of the United States Donald Trump with a combination called the Trompowsky Attack, which some have re-branded as the Trumpowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5). An unusual opening at this level of play, the response from Karjakin neutralized the attack and led to a draw between the two.

Game One also had its share of American celebrities on hand as Actor Woody Harrelson made the ceremonial first move to begin the match.


Woody Harrelson makes the first move in Game One! (Credit: FIDE)

Game Two had some interesting twists and turns throughout, with Chess24 demonstrating throughout why it is a revolutionary medium for watching high-level games. Guest commentary by various Grandmasters and assertions that Game Two was boring led to some interesting and entertaining social media exchanges.

Game Three will be held at 1400 EST on Monday.

Posted on September 16, 2016 by Wesley Surber

United States Victorious in Baku!

It was long before I was born the last time that the United States won a gold medal victory at a Chess Olympiad. That kind of drought is long enough for many American chess enthusiasts to start each Olympiad off with little to no hope for a competitive finish. Countries like Russia and China have dominated the scene for years, but all of that changed in the final round of the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku when the United States defeated Canada to earn its first gold medal since 1976! This got me to thinking…what was the world like the last time that the United States won a gold medal in a Chess Olympiad?

  • Height of the Fischer Chess Boom after the 1972 match against Boris Spassky.
  • First flight of the Concorde airplane.
  • Apple Computer Company was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
  • The Canada CN tower was completed.
  • Howard Hughes dies at age 70.
  • Viking I Lander arrives on Mars.
  • Fidel Castro becomes President of Cuba.

My, how far we have come… The Fischer boom is long gone and most people under 25 probably do not remember the Concorde. But it is 2016 and chess in America is undergoing a renaissance. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis has hosted some of the strongest tournaments in American history and the United States Chess Federation continues to transform itself into a powerhouse of chess promotion and advocacy. That strong advocacy led to the acquisition of Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana, who won the United States Chess Championship earlier this year. With a renewed vigor and youthful dynamic, the United States team steam rolled into the Baku Chess Olympiad to capture a series of early victories and never letting up on their competition.

Power Out of the Gates It was readily apparent at the outset of the tournament that the United States team was a force to be reckoned with. They earned four victories early before falling behind a point to Scotland in Round 2.

From that point on, the United States team held a solid momentum to compete for placement in the tournament’s top three positions. The drama lasted, however, until the very end.

It was readily apparent that the United States team outplayed their Canadian counterparts, but was not able to pull off a complete win in that final round. Once the American games were completed, attention focused to the Ukrainian team who was competing to break a virtual tie. Despite a strong performance by the Ukraine team, it was not enough to overcome their deficit and defeat the Americans. With the tiebreaker over, the United States left Baku with chess gold!

The United States Chess Team was:

  • Captain: IM John Donaldson
  • GM Fabiano Caruana
  • GM Hikaru Nakamura
  • GM Wesley So
  • GM Samuel Shankland
  • GM Ray Robson

National Pride I am incredibly proud and feel blessed everyday to be able to play chess and to know that my country is starting to embrace the game on a grander scale. Now we can turn our attention to New York as the United States prepares to host the greatest event in chess: the World Chess Championship!

Posted on September 3, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Baku Chess Olympiad is Underway!

It seems like such a short time ago when chess headlines were adorned with stories of the Tromsø Chess Olympiad in 2014 where visa challenges, bathrooms, and high food prices were among the hottest topics leading up to China’s triumphant victory in the event. But here we are looking down the barrels of the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, the home country of former World Champion Garry Kasparov.

After a breathtaking opening ceremony on Thursday, main tournament play began Friday with my beloved United States team winning all 4 of their first matches against players from Andorra. Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland, and Ray Robson each scored well-earned victory against their opponents to launch the team off to a powerful start in the Olympiad.

US Champion Fabiano Caruana is leading the US Olympiad Team

In the second round, Sam Shankland was the only member of the United States team to not earn a win in the round against Scotland. Caruana, Nakamura, and Robson all earned wins and although it is still early in the event, I would say that the United States team is going to be a team to watch throughout the tournament!

The National Gymnastics Arena – the Baku Olympiad venue.

This year’s Olympiad is being held in the National Gymnastics Arena in Baku, Azerbaijan. The country has increasingly positioned itself throughout the past few years as a place of intense international sport and competition. Known to the chess community as the birth home of Garry Kasparov, the 42d Chess Olympiad’s host nation continues to impress both players and fans alike.

Watch the Baku Chess Olympiad live on Chessbomb, Chess.com, and Chess24.

Posted on August 28, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Austin Wins Annual Shootout

Each year the cities of Austin and San Antonio send their best and brightest chess players to compete in an annual shootout to determine which city is the best of South Texas. As with everything else in Texas, this shootout is quite a big deal. Preparations begin early each year and culminate with the penultimate event in August. This year, San Antonio lost to Austin 26-24 points, which means that San Antonio only lost by a one-game outcome!

After the first round, San Antonio faced an incredible 7.5-17.5 point standing with three draws and two losses on the top five boards. However, the lopsided round results were not enough to keep the San Antonio team from bowing out early. The Alamo City came roaring back in the second round to bring itself within 2 points of its northern neighbor, but it was not enough to overcome the earlier deficit and bring the victory home.

Maybe next year…

Some noteworthy moments:

  • Jose Silva (SA) went 2-0 through the match.
  • The highest rated player was IM Miguel Paz (2465).
Posted on August 17, 2016 by Wesley Surber

2016 Sinquefield Cup: So Wins It All 

The Sinquefield Cup is always an amazing event and has come to solidify its place as one of the most prestigious chess tournaments in the world. Every year, the best chess players from around the world converge on the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to compete in the round robin tournament. The Sinquefield Cup is also memorable for Fabiano Caruana’s incredible run in 2014, which I built a commemorative wall piece to celebrate the tournament. After some scheduling changes due to the upcoming Baku Olympian, this year’s event included Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Veselin Topalov, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri, Vishy Anand, Peter Svidler, and wildcard Ding Liren.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen opted out of this year’s event so that he could focus on the upcoming World Chess Championship in New York.

After some thrilling games between the world’s elite players it was Wesley So, the former Webster University prodigy, who took a commanding lead early in the tournament and cruised to a solid victory with 5.5/9 pts. The Sinquefield Cup is part of the second Grand Chess Tour, which aims to promote professional chess around the world. The Grandmasters featured in the Sinquefield Cup are regular participants in the tour. For details and photos from the Sinquefield Cup, check out the detailed analysis on Chessbase.