Mystery grandmasters + grandmasters named Alex

by admin on October 14, 2010

Last night I watched Survivor on television for the first time this year, along with my wife, who watches it religiously. I unexpectedly got a giggle out of the preview of next week’s episode. The biggest loudmouth on the show, a guy named Marty Piombo, is shown making a big “revelation” about himself. “I am a chess grandmaster!” he says. Then someone else is shown saying, “It makes sense.”

Many times these two-second video clips are a little bit misleading, so we will have to see next week how this plays out. But I knew instantly that Marty is no chess grandmaster. My wife asked me, “How can you be so sure? Do you really know every grandmaster in the U.S.?”

“Yes, I do,” I said. “There are only about 25 or 30 grandmasters in the country, and I am pretty sure that I have heard of all of them. Most of them have Russian names, anyway, not names like Marty.”

However, this conversation got me thinking. How many current GMs are there in the United States? Is it really true that I have heard of all of them? And, by the way, who is the strongest USCF player named Marty (assuming there are no GMs with that name)?

I’ll leave the first question unanswered for the moment, in case you want to take a guess.

As for the second question, it turns out that there is one grandmaster in the United States, who is a USCF member, and whom I had never heard of until this morning. His name is Babakuli Annakov. According to his website, he is the first grandmaster from Turkmenistan, and he moved the the United States in 2000. Interestingly, his FIDE rating chart shows that his rating has dropped like a stone since then, from 2600 in January 2000 to 2429 today. Even though I am very familiar with the pain of losing rating points as you get older, this seems like a pretty dramatic drop for someone who was 28 years old in 2000 and is still just 38 years old. Do you think maybe there is a little rating inflation going on in Turkmenistan?

There were a few other unfamiliar names on the list of GMs who are USCF members, but all of them except Annakov are listed on the FIDE website as nationals of other countries. For example, Axel Bachmann turned out to be from Paraguay, and Ioan Cristian Chirila turned out to be from Romania. These are probably people who just came over to the U.S. and joined the USCF so they could play in a few big-money tournaments.

Of course there are no GMs named Marty, and in fact there are no IMs, and not even an FM. However, there is a National Master: Marty Frank from Pennsylvania. His rating history is pretty similar to mine: a peak of 2237 in the late 1990s, and down to 2157 today.

Now back to the first question: How many grandmasters live in the U.S.? This question turns out to be unexpectedly problematic, but I think that the correct answer is 44. When you search for grandmasters on the USCF top players list, you got a list of 64 names. However, we need to delete the women’s grandmasters from this list, which takes the number down to 58. Next we have to delete the people on the list who are not really U.S. players. I went through the list one by one and eliminated all the ones who are shown by FIDE as playing for other countries. So here is, I believe, a complete list of the current grandmasters who are registered with FIDE as U.S. players:

  1. Hikaru Nakamura
  2. Gata Kamsky
  3. Alexander Onischuk
  4. Yury Shulman
  5. Varuzhan Akobian
  6. Yasser Seirawan
  7. Jaan Ehlvest
  8. Robert Hess
  9. Larry Christiansen
  10. Alexander Stripunsky
  11. Alexander Shabalov
  12. Aleksandr Lenderman
  13. Gregory Kaidanov
  14. Joel Benjamin
  15. Julio Becerra
  16. Alexander Ivanov
  17. Benjamin Finegold
  18. Ray Robson
  19. Ildar Ibragimov
  20. Boris Gulko
  21. Sergey Kudrin
  22. Alexander Fishbein
  23. Alexander Goldin
  24. Eugene Perelshteyn
  25. Alexandra Kostenyuk
  26. Nick De Firmian
  27. Melikset Khachiyan
  28. Alex Yermolinsky
  29. Vinay Bhat
  30. Jesse Kraai
  31. Joshua Friedel
  32. Renier Gonzalez
  33. Walter Browne
  34. Michael Rohde
  35. Gennady Sagalchik
  36. John Fedorowicz
  37. Miron Sher
  38. Dmitry Gurevich
  39. Lawrence Kaufman
  40. Babakuli Annakov (!)
  41. Semion Palatnik
  42. Rashid Ziatdinov
  43. Anatoly Lein
  44. Arthur Bisguier

So my original estimate of 25 or 30 was way too low. By the way, although we have no GMs named Marty, it is interesting to see that there is one name that is appears with unusual frequency on this exclusive list. Nine of America’s 44 grandmasters have names that are some variation of Alexander (including one Alexandra!). I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a tenth “Alex” in the not too distant future, because GM Alejandro Ramirez of Costa Rica is a student in the U.S. and might just want to stay here.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Evans October 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I believe Yasser Seirawan, while an American citizen, now lives in the Netherlands. Therefore he does not live in the USA.


Kelly October 14, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Maybe they were named after Alexander Alekhine.

It isn’t a stretch to think that a kid that gets into chess has a parent that is also into chess. So maybe that parent chose a legendary chess namesake.

Or Alex is a very popular name.


Jochem October 15, 2010 at 5:53 am


I was thinking, there must be a lot more GM’s and in fact you didn’t include the inactive players (maybe that was on purpose), which I think are relevant for answering the question. Here are all grandmasters who are listed under USA federation according to FIDE:


Brian Karen October 15, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I too was stunned when Marty said he was a Grandmaster. The next episode will be interesting. I hope it becomes obvious that he is lying since he will give chess players a bad name :).

Babakuli Annakov public handle on ICC is Gahan, he is well known at the Internet Chess Club and has been an active member for many years.


Felix Rudyak October 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Kosteniuk is registered to play for Russian Federation. Ziatdinov lives in Uzbekistan these days if i am not mistaken. Babakuli Anakov got married and raising his daughter. He used to be a very strong GM at his prime.


Marty Frank February 17, 2011 at 5:12 am

After being directed to this discussion I am now driven to become not only the strongest Marty in the land but to pursue the FM title. I would gleefully play a match for a fair amount of cash with Mr. Piombo as he not only gives chess players a bad name but besmirches my own name.


admin February 17, 2011 at 10:39 am

Hey Marty, glad you finally heard about this post! Maybe I’ll get to meet you some day. Hope you reach your goal of the FM title — that’s something I would like to achieve someday, too.


Giev Dedus April 25, 2013 at 11:53 pm

FM Marty Appleberry lives in Paris and plays for France currently, but is a US citizen from Alabama and became a strong master in the States, in the San Francisco Bay area especially.
By the way, Annakov was indeed a strong Grand as a younger man, especially when he had state support back home, but it’s easy to suppose that since he has a family now in the states he may be working too hard to keep up with chess.


Bill Fitts September 19, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Marty Appleberry was a very good friend of mine. We went to school together about 1964-5 in Huntsville, Alabama. Our fathers were both Engineers working in the Space Program. We spent many of our school days walking around the Heart of Huntsville Shopping Center. He played chess with my older brother. It would e nice if I could open a line of communication with him after so many years.

Thanks for any help,
Bill Fitts


admin September 9, 2016 at 9:32 am

Alexey Root sent this comment to me via e-mail:
Dear Dana,
I came across your blog post
You wrote, “For example, Axel Bachmann turned out to be from Paraguay, and Ioan Cristian Chirila turned out to be from Romania. These are probably people who just came over to the U.S. and joined the USCF so they could play in a few big-money tournaments.”
This is not correct. Axel Bachmann came to the U.S. to attend The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College (see for example and Cristian Chirila came to the U.S. to attend The University of Texas at Dallas (see for example the crosstable here College chess programs have brought a number of titled players to this country.
I have in fact seen Chirila at a number of tournaments since writing this post, so it was clear that he wasn’t just here to “play in a few big-money tournaments.” I shouldn’t be so hasty to jump to conclusions! Thanks to Alexey for the information.


Gerald March 4, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Martin (Marty) Appleberry is an American USCF Master living in France. He formerly lived in Huntsville Alabama.


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