Watch out, Bobby Fischer!

by admin on November 29, 2009

Your record 19-game winning streak is in jeopardy! Thadeus Frei, a 16-year-old player from Santa Cruz, went 6-0 in the class B section of the CalChess State Championship this weekend. He also won 5 games in a row in his last tournament, so he is now riding an 11-game winning streak. He seems to have worked out how to beat class-B players: play a solid opening, wait for them to do something foolhardy, eat their material, and repeat as often as needed. Ironically, the only game where he was remotely in trouble was against one of the other Santa Cruz players, Cailen Melville, whom he plays regularly at home. Cailen won a pawn and should have won the endgame, but for some reason he didn’t push his connected passed pawns.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance later to post some of Thadeus’s games on this blog, but for now you’ll have to settle for a picture of the new Northern California Class-B champion.

(Sorry about the graininess — my camera didn’t flash.) Thadeus is standing next to the pairing chart, on which his name never left the top all weekend. With a rating of 1790 he was the top seed in the section, and he won every game.

I don’t think that Thadeus will ever be able to play in a class-B section again. After this weekend’s sterling performance, I think his rating may go over 1900. I warned him that class A might be a little tougher; there will be more solid players like him, and fewer chances to win a pawn with tactical tricks.

As for the big boys, the Master section, there was a two-way tie for first between Sam Shankland and Jesse Kraai. Jesse was leading by half a point going into the last round, and so he played a three-move draw (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. ed ed ½-½) with Steven Zierk. That gave Sam a chance to catch up, which he did by beating Gregory Kotlyar as Black. Sam won the title of Northern California state champion on tiebreaks, for the second year in a row. To me this was a rare case of justice being served by tiebreaks. Who deserves the title more, someone who plays a three-move draw in the last round or someone who beats a 2400 player with Black? Also, the result was fair for another reason. The state champion qualifies for the national tournament of state champions, and the winner of that tournament qualifies for the U.S. Championship. That is, in fact, how Sam Shankland qualified last year, and so he now gets a chance to repeat the feat. Jesse, on the other hand, has already qualified for the U.S. Championship, and so he didn’t really “need” this state championship as much as Sam did.

As for yours truly, I had kind of a humdrum tournament. (Now there’s a word you don’t see very often.) I finished with a score of 2½-3½, way out of the running for any kind of prize. But it was definitely not a waste. I lost in both rounds 4 and 6, but both games were very interesting and complex battles in favorite opening variations of mine. In game 4, against Kotlyar, I played the Marshall Defense (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d5). Jesse scolded me for continuing to play this lame-o opening. He said, “It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for the GM house, because even though you don’t live there, you’re a friend of the house.” (That’s also what he thought about David Pruess’s playing the King’s Gambit in the San Francisco Mechanics’ losing playoff match in the U.S. Chess League.) Nevertheless, I thought I really got a good position out of the opening — Kotlyar made no real effort to refute it — so I will have to look hard at the game and think hard to see if I really agree with Jesse.

In round 6 I gave the Radchenko Gambit another try against Gregory Young, but lost my second game in a row with it. (This is a subvariation of the Fritz Variation of the Two Knights Defense, where Black sacrifices a whole piece on move 9.) It is another of my favorite lines, but I really need to take stock of whether it’s doing me more harm than good.

Between those two games, in round 5, I played my one really nice game of the tournament, which I will definitely write a blog post about. It was also the only game where I was paired down, against an expert named Arthur Liou. I think he must be related to Yian Liou (perhaps an older brother?), and like Yian he plays very fast. He used only 24 minutes for the whole game, while I used an hour and 57 minutes! This game was a good lesson in how to beat a quick and superficial player … but I’ll save that discussion for later.

Overall, I think the tournament — which was really a new experiment, playing the state championship on Thanksgiving weekend rather than Labor Day weekend — was a success. There were 153 players, a little bit below the target of 166, but nevertheless Salman Azhar decided to pay out the whole prize fund. The only real problem was in the top two sections, with only 14 players in the Expert section and 19 in the Master. If he could have just gotten 25 players in each of those sections, then he would have more than met the target. Can you believe that among the oodles of strong players in northern California, only 19 of them considered it worth their trouble to vie for the title of state champion? But even if that isn’t motivation enough, take a look at the odds of winning. Half of the players in the Expert section won a prize. In the Master section, there was just one GM and a couple of IMs. You’d think that some of the people who play the USCF Grand Prix circuit would be attracted by those odds. All we can hope is that word will get around. That is, in a nutshell, why Salman decided it was worth paying out the full prize fund.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

dfan November 30, 2009 at 8:40 am

According to the USCF website, that tournament brought Thadeus Frei to 1904. Congratulations!


Michael Aigner November 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Congrats to Thadeus! Nice result, 6-love, the only person to achieve it this weekend.

If Kraai had won on tiebreaks, then the qualifying spot to the state champions tournament fell to the next in line, being Shankland.

When two French specialists play the Exchange variation, there’s little else to do but share hands after three moves. It was also a sign of respect towards Zierk, who now has a 2600 performance in his last 12 games, including 4 GMs and 4 IMs.

Arthur and Yian are not related, only in the fact that they occasionally move way too fast. I’ll have to chew him out some more.

Michael Aigner


admin December 1, 2009 at 9:31 am

Hi Michael,

You’re very charitable in your interpretation of the Zierk-Kraai draw. However, lest my comments be interpreted as a criticism of them, I should say that I would probably do the same thing if I were in their shoes. In fact, I was once sort of in that situation. Back when I lived in Ohio, I was once tied for first place at a tournament with one other player, going into the last round, and we were paired against each other. We agreed to a draw in about 8 moves. Some of the other players criticized us for the “GM draw,” but all I could say is, wait until you’re in that situation with that pressure on you, and see what you do.

I’ll probably do a blog post pretty soon on the game with Liou. You can either force him to read it (as his punishment) or tell him not to read it, as you see fit. I will be gentle on him.


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