Teenagers 2, Grandmaster 0! (I think)

by admin on March 20, 2009

Note: In the first version of this post I got a very important name wrong, and I have corrected it throughout. — DM

Michael Aigner, of “fpawn” blog fame, is fond of complaining about all the youngsters who snap up the top prizes in northern California tournaments. Well, judging from my current visit to Norway, Oslo seems to have the same “problem”!

I arrived at the Oslo Chess Club last night (Thursday) around 6:30 PM, half an hour before the beginning of the six-and-a-half-th round in the club championship. I’m calling it that because it was not a scheduled round, but a day for making up games that had been postponed from previous rounds. Next week will be round seven, the final round, and of course all the games from prior rounds have to be complete before then.

When I arrived at the club, the only person there was Leif Johannessen, a grandmaster, who was sitting in the office that you can see at the end of the hall in the second photo in my previous entry about the Oslo Chess Club. He had read my blog, and he was glad to catch me up on what was going on in the tournament. The leader was Nikolai Getz, who is all of 17 years old, and has 5 points out of 6. Last week Getz really made waves by beating Johannessen himself! It was the first time that Getz has beaten a GM. I was told by someone else that the game appeared in an Oslo newspaper; unfortunately, I can’t link to it because the chess column is not online.

Johannessen told me that Getz is a student in a chess program for high schoolers that is run by GM Simen Agdestein. You’ll appreciate what an amazing opportunity this is when I name-drop the names of a couple other students in this school. Have you ever heard of Magnus Carlsen? Jon Ludwig Hammer? Both GM’s, both with ratings north of 2500. According to Johannessen, both of them are graduating this year (it’s a three-year program), so Agdestein is going to lose his two prize pupils. But it sounds as if the talent level is not going to drop off TOO far, with students like Getz in the school!

Last night’s opponent for Johannessen was another talented youngster named Roar Elseth Nikolas Mellem, a FIDE master (which means his rating is over 2300). Leif was expecting a tough game; one of the bystanders said that they drew the previous time they played. I did record the moves of this game, so I will be able to show you the crucial position after I have a chance to analyze it myself. Johannessen sacrificed a pawn in the opening but I thought he was in no real danger. However, he spent several moves on a plan to win the pawn back, and Mellem took advantage of the opportunity to mount an attack on the kingside. Johannessen won two pawns on the queenside, but then Mellem played a nice rook sacrifice that appeared as if it would lead to a draw.

Then things got crazy! Johannessen had about one minute left for seven moves, and Mellem had about two. It looked to me — but remember, I haven’t analyzed it yet – as if Johannessen picked the wrong way to decline the sac, and then Mellem was able to offer a second rook sac that could not be declined. They then blitzed out about ten forced moves, and when the smoke cleared (and time control passed), they were in an endgame where Mellem had a queen and three pawns versus two rooks and no pawns. It was getting late by this point, so I left for my hotel. However, I feel almost certain that Mellem, who had played so well, wasn’t going to let this endgame out of his grasp. So I think that Johannessen went down to his second straight defeat.

If that’s correct, it means that the co-leaders going into the last round are … Getz and Mellem! They are both 5-1. No one can catch up after all the unplayed games are finished. So it looks as if it will be Getz vs. Mellem for the club championship next week. [This paragraph is incorrect because I was assuming it was Elseth who had beaten Johannessen, which would have given Elseth a score of 5-1. Mellem’s score was a more modest 3½-2½. Sorry about the confusion.]

As I was riding home on the bus, I started daydreaming about what a great thing it would be if there were a match between Oslo and San Francisco junior players. I don’t think San Francisco really has anyone who could compete with Magnus Carlsen, but I would love to see Sam Shankland take on Hammer and Danya Naroditsky play Mellem and Nicholas Nip or Steven Zierk play Getz. But why does it have to be a dream? There’s no reason it couldn’t happen! Both clubs (I’m referring to the Mechanics Institute and Oslo Chess Club) have computers. The Oslo club appears to have only three computers, so they might have to bring in some laptops if there were going to be more than three boards, but I assume that’s a solvable problem.

In a way it’s a logical matchup. Both are cities of about half a million people. Oslo probably has a slight advantage because it’s a national capital and thus tends to attract the best talent from the whole country, while San Francisco has to compete with places like Los Angeles and New York. However, if you’re talking about juniors that advantage should be negated somewhat, because most juniors don’t have the freedom to move anywhere they want (at least until they get to college age). Such a match would be more meaningful than, say, Dallas versus Oslo, because Dallas’s players would be mostly imported from Europe. By contrast, all of San Francisco’s players would be homegrown.

Leif Johannessen and John Donaldson, if you’re reading this, why don’t you send each other an e-mail and see if you can set up a match on ICC?

Anyway, back to last night. Of the other games, I thought the most interesting one seemed to be between FIDE Master Ole Christian Moen and Daniel Kovachev (whose picture appeared in my last blog post about the Oslo Chess Club). Kovachev as Black seemed to have the advantage most of the way, and prevailed in a tricky K+P endgame. In the post-mortem, Moen was trying this way and that to save a draw, but it looked as if nothing quite worked.

I played a few 10-minute games for fun, against Sverre Johnsen (whom I mentioned last time) and also against the father of a junior player who was playing in the tournament. I’m pleased to report that I felt much less nervous this time and played more like myself. Sverre is about to travel to Thailand, where his wife comes from, for a month, and he will play in a tournament there. I wished (and wish) him good luck.

For those who weren’t playing in the tournament and who weren’t playing skittles games, the main excitement was watching the Carlsen-Aronian games from the Amber tournament in Nice, France. I wasn’t sure whether we were watching the blitz game or the blindfold game. Although, as I mentioned in my previous post, Carlsen rarely if ever comes to the Oslo Chess Club, his virtual presence was nevertheless felt!

In my next post, after I get home, I will have some analysis of the Mellem-Johannessen and Moen-Kovachev games, as well as photographs. Now it’s time for me to get some sleep!

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Aigner March 21, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Interesting post. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that the Bay Area could compete with GM Agdestein’s program. The students spend several hours each day at school studying chess with a GM. Only a home schooled kid in America could even hope to compete.

The Bay Area kids have a second obstacle to overcome: lack of quality local teachers. There is no GM Agdestein around here who is both strong enough and has the experience to teach well. While I enjoy teaching expert and master level kids, I don’t think that I am qualified. I am, after all, just a high 2200 myself.

By the way, there are now six Bay Area juniors over 2200: Sam Shankland 2464, Daniel Naroditsky 2371, Steven Zierk 2318, Gregory Young 2249, Rohan Agarwal 2224 and Nicholas Nip 2211. Greg and Nicholas haven’t played many tournaments in the past year, although Greg is still quite active online but hasn’t had the time to play on weekends; I think he has gotten significantly stronger despite not playing as much. Regretably, I think Nicholas has pretty much quit chess; maybe he will return in a few years like Steven did.

Now are you ready for the final twist? One of the top Norwegian kids grew up in the Bay Area and attended the Berkeley Chess School. Who is it? What was his rating when he went back to Norway and what is his rating now?


admin March 24, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Hi Michael,

I think you are too pessimistic! As long as the Oslo team doesn’t have Magnus Carlsen playing for it, I think we would stand a decent chance, even on first board. I think that Sam Shankland might be able to hold his own against Jon Ludwig Hammer.

I also don’t think you should be so intimidated by Agdestein’s school. There are lots of reasons. First, a GM player is not necessarily a great teacher. I have no idea whether Agdestein is a good teacher or not — the success of his pupils suggest that he is — but you should not necessarily assume that because he is a GM, he is a better teacher than you. Second, from what Johannessen said (he also spent a year in the school) a lot of the training is just going over the students’ games. Same thing that you do. I think that what really makes kids improve the most is top-quality opposition from other kids. And the Bay Area kids are getting that!

My guess for your quiz would be Hammer, because I know he has played in the U.S. (see the game between Mark Ginsburg and him that I linked to) … but that is really just a guess, and probably wrong. Do any of the readers have a better guess?


Michael Aigner March 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Jon Ludwig Hammer is correct. He was rated 1049 USCF after the Weibel quads in June 2000. I remember speaking with him and his father several times. Presumably they moved to Norway soon after that. He returned to America in December 2006 for a blitz tournament in Berkeley (he didn’t do so well) and the North American Open in Las Vegas (about a 2400 performance).

Sam Shankland is good, but I do not think he is in the same class as Jon Ludwig Hammer. How can he? Sam studies with 2400s and 2500s. Jon studies with a 2800. Enough said.


Tarjei March 25, 2009 at 5:02 am

Hi Dana,

Small correction: Johannessen did not lose against Roar Elseth in the game that you attended. His opponent was Nikolas Mellem (2112 FIDE). Full standings can be found at this address: http://turneringsservice.sjakklubb.no/standings.aspx?TID=OSSvarturnering2009-OsloSchakselskap


Tarjei March 25, 2009 at 5:14 am

Knowing Jon Ludvig, Magnus, Agdestein and after having attended the chess school for three years myself, I have to agree that the chess school is a great thing for Norwegian chess. However, I think many people are overestimating Agdestein’s role. He is surely not known as a great chess teacher, but the fact that he is a grandmaster and possesses a lot of valuable knowledge, is surely helpful for anyone attending the school.

In the three years I attended the school, I gained around 600 rating points, and I think the main reason for my progress, was just the fact that I was attending the classes and being around my class mates playing through chess games and playing tournaments. For Jon Ludvig, I think he has mostly been working his way up on his own, although surely being around guys like Magnus and Simen has contributed as well. Not to forget playing thousands of blitz/bullet games on ICC…

I can also mention a few other students in the same school with a lot of progress lately. Lasse Østebø Løvik (born 1992) gained 200 points or so and is now around 2300 (several times close to an IM norm).

FM Joachim Thomassen (born 1990) has two IM norms, FM Espen Forså (1990) (2300+) etc.


admin March 25, 2009 at 7:18 am

Hi Tarjei,

Thanks for writing! I can’t believe I got the wrong name again. Johannessen had two unplayed games at that point, and I just guessed that it was the higher rated opponent. Surely Leif couldn’t lose two games in a row to 2100-rated players? But he did. This makes Mellem’s (and also Getz’s) accomplishment even more impressive.

I will correct the name in the entry above and also in my following entry.

Your comments about Agdestein’s school are very interesting. It seems as if the environment is more important than any specific information being imparted by the teacher. The teacher can’t play the game for you, and there is as yet no known way to transfuse rating points or brain cells from one person to another!

By the way, John Donaldson liked my suggestion of an ICC match between Oslo and San Francisco juniors. Is Johannessen the best person to contact to see if that can be arranged?


Tarjei March 26, 2009 at 10:57 am

Actually, Mellem is a former student of Agdestein as well (like me), so maybe that explains his accomplishment a little bit better? And I wouldn’t exactly call him a teenager, as he is 26 years old now 🙂

The match is a nice idea, although except for Hammer and Getz, we do not really have many other strong juniors (under 20) in the club. Like I said, Mellem is 26 and actually not even a member of the club. We have Jathavan Suntharalingam (14, around 1900 FIDE), but the other decent players we have, like Daniel Kovachev (23) all have passed junior age. Not saying this is a problem, just keep that in mind 🙂

I suppose you can contact Leif, but Ole Christian Moen, the chairman of the club, is a better person to contact 🙂


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