Monday, May 31, 2010

where would you go, firebird

Nigel Bryant - Elizabeth Vicary
black to move
where would you go??

In other news, there's a new free open source chess engine, firebird, that beat Rybka in Greg's unofficial home match 44-16.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I am the premier scholastic fantasy chess coach in the country

Every year the US Championship is after nationals, just when the kids and I are both getting bored with serious work, so we spend a fun two weeks looking at some of the best games/moments. This morning we saw Stripunsky's amazing defense against Jaan Ehlvest's rook sac. Of course, we all enter the fantasy contest, and I'm pleased to say that three of my students, Yuxin Zhao, Brian Aguirre, and David Kim, are tied for first for the second day in a row. Last year, Orlando Gonzalez won the grand prize of a Monroi and a board signed by all the participants. I am very proud, even though my team:

1. GM Alexander Onischuk (2765)
2. GM Yury Shulman (2669)
3. GM Robert Hess (2657)
4. GM Melikset Khachiyan (2613)
5. GM Ray Robson (2607)
6. GM Jesse Kraai (2528)
Average Rating: 2639.83

is only tied for 50th - 88th, because it's all about the children.

In other news, I was called into my principal's office after returning from Elementary Nationals and told I was one of the 6400 teachers slated to be laid off as part of NYC's Department of Education budget cuts. That would be a sad ending to the story, don't you think? I'm not worrying about it because I'm in denial.

Are you looking for a chess coach for your child or school? Let me recommend Matan Prilleltensky, an expert who just moved to NYC from Florida and is studying to be a teacher. He's analyzed with many of my students and is great: very strong at chess, patient, friendly, and clear. You will really like him. Email him at

Matan at the library

Look, here's a NY Times article about my building. Also, Steve Goldberg wrote about Rochelle in his Chesscafe scholastic column.

a couple puzzle positions from elementary nationals:

How could Mariah (white) have won in this simplified position?

Henry's opponent played 45. g4 here. How should black have responded?

Alex Bradford was black against Jonathan Spinnell. How could black have won material?

A nice article in the economist about optimism and human progress:
THIRTY years ago, Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich entered into a famous bet. Mr Simon, a libertarian, was sceptical of the gloomy claims made by Mr Ehrlich, an ecologist best known for his predictions of environmental chaos and human suffering that would result from the supposed “population bomb”. Thumbing his nose at such notions as resource scarcity, Mr Simon wagered that the price of any five commodities chosen by Mr Ehrlich would go down over the following decade. The population bomb was defused, and Mr Simon handily won the bet.

In general, things are going nicely for me. Jonathan declared last night Crepe Night and made me dinner. I've been doing a lot of bicycling. My mom bought us a gas grill and Jonathan's parents bought us two superfancy reclining deck chairs:
I discovered I was being underpaid by the board of ed and submitted my master's degree documentation three years late, so I get a nice raise. I broke my laptop, but it's only 3 months old and so Dell or whomever will fix it. I decided not to play in the World Open, on the grounds that it's in King of Prussia, but instead will play at the Marshall soon. IS 318 will have Alumni Day on June 19 (noon-5 pm) and I hope to see all my old students. I'm taking some kids on a field trip next Friday to the Whitney Museum to see the biennial.

answers to chess problems
1. Mariah could have won a piece with 1. Rd1+ Kc7 2. Rxd7+ Kxd7 3. Rb7+ *

2. Henry should have played 45... Kg6, which draws easily. Instead, he went wrong with 45... hxg4+ 46. fxg4+ Kf4 47. h5 e4 48. h6 e3 49. h7 e2 50. h8=Q e1=Q 51. Qf6+ Ke3
52. Qxg5+ Kd3 53. Qg6+ and white won.

3. Alex could win a pawn with 1... Bxf3 2. Bxf3 b6 3. Rc1 Nxd4 4. Rxc7 Nxf3 5. Qxf3 Qxc7

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Repairings in Elementary Nationals

At Elementary Nationals last weekend, there was a protracted and very poorly handled dispute over first round repairings. Whether repairing kids whose opponents don't show is a good idea or not is an interesting question. On the one hand, kids travel a long distance to play chess and they should get an opponent. On the other hand, nationals are about fairly determining individual and team champions, and repairings do distort the normal patterns of things (although so do accelerated pairings—they especially mess with team standings). Further, repairings create the weird problem that if you are in the bottom half of the tournament (and thus paired up in round one), you can simply show up 30 minutes late for the round, because by then your original opponent will be playing someone else and you will either get a forfeit win or be repaired against a randomly chosen late player, who is probably lower rated than your original opponent. Overall, I don’t care either way if they do repairings or don’t, but I do feel strongly that once repairings are done and games are played, they should count.

Whatever you think of the idea, repairing kids whose opponents do not show up in the first round of nationals is standard practice. It has happened every year I have been coaching (11 years). If you look at results pages for any nationals (elementary, junior high, high school, grade nationals, any year) , you will see there are almost no full point byes and no forfeit wins. It is also stated in the tournament booklet rules that players will be repaired in the first round.

In round one, eight players did not show up, including the opponent of my student, James Black (2070). James was repaired with Kevin M** (1450), who was 250 points stronger than the original opponent. James won, but we noticed in the standings that his win was recorded as a forfeit. No one came to us to explain why this played game was not being counted. John Galvin, my school’s assistant principal went to inquire, and was told that Sunil had complained about the repairings and that floor chief Wayne Clark (the same section chief who misapplied the en passant and touch move rules in the last round on a top board at the high school nationals two years ago) had “felt” the rule was unfair and decided not to count 3 of the 4 already played games for the tournament. The fourth game he allowed to stand. (The three games that were not counted would be rated as a separate tournament.)

Wayne claimed (in the presence of John Galvin, Franc Guadalupe, Sunil Weermantry, Steve Shutt, Shaun Smith and myself) that he did not originally know that two Hunter kids were involved, despite the fact that Sunil was appealing. I cannot believe that Wayne does not know Sunil represents Hunter. Another TD told John that he thought the Scholastic Council had ruled on the decision, and that’s why it was overturned. Sunil does wear a name tag that says Scholastic Council on it; perhaps this caused the confusion.

Of the two Hunter players involved, Sophia F******* (1498) was paired down to a 1300 and lost, and Spencer G*****-S*** (1598) was paired down to a 100 and won. Sophia’s loss was overturned and she was given a forfeit win, but Spencer’s game was counted and he was allowed to keep his tiebreak points (James was not). Wayne explained that the G*****-S*** game was allowed to stand because it was the only game in which a player in the top half was repaired with a player in the bottom half.

I questioned whether the rules really required first round repairings to be top vs. bottom half, as Wayne and Franc claimed. (Of the 8 players whose opponents did not show up in round one, all but one of them was in the top half of the tournament itself. Within the repaired group, top half was correctly paired against bottom half.) I asked the TDs to look up this rule, and Franc admitted they had not done so yet (This was Saturday afternoon, a full day after the decisions were made, and after Franc had told John Galvin unequivocally that this was the rule.) I had to ask three separate times before Franc attempted to find a rule book. Wayne had joined the discussion after Franc had admitted to the group that he had not looked up the rule, and then made the mistake of insisting that he and Franc had looked the rule up the night before, even though Franc had admitted 10 minutes before that they had not.

When they finally looked it up, they found there was (is) nothing in the rules preventing top vs. top half repairings. Despite this, Franc still refused to override Wayne’s decision. I said to both of them, “Look, the rules say it’s ok; it is always been done like this at every nationals; you yourselves repaired the kids and they played the games already, but now one person has decided he feels it’s unfair and so you are pretending not all, but some of the games didn’t happen?” Franc and Wayne agreed with my summary of the situation but stood by their decision. They later accused me of being emotional.

As I understand it (I wasn’t present for this), Franc changed his mind after speaking to Carol Jarecki and learning that players were repaired in every other section of the tournament (as they always are and always have been) and that these results stood. Franc then reversed Wayne’s ruling, allowing the original results of the repaired games to stand.

This upset Sunil, who said overtly threatening things like, “The gloves are off" to Shaun Smith and “It’s personal now” to John Galvin. John is a very friendly, laid-back guy, and he replied, “Sunil, what are you talking about, I appealed a ruling about my own kid; it’s personal with whom?” and Sunil said “You.” (Sunil and I had had a cordial relationship until last December at Grade Nationals, when he came up to me-- Beatriz Marinello and Michael Khodakovsky were present and can verify this-- made some wildly inaccurate accusations, told me everyone is against me and announced that I was being “blacklisted.”)

Franc amended his ruling again later, and gave the players who lost the repaired round one and lost round two a full point paired win (not a forfeit win) in round two. This “made up for” their undeserved harder pairing in round two. For example, Sophia F*******, who lost to an 1100 in round one and to a 1900 in round two, was given a full point against her second round opponent, Benjamin M***, despite the fact that she lost the game. (He was also given a full point, which was lucky for him, because he went on to tie for first.)

I was involved in the matter in the first place because my student, James Black, had been repaired with a 1450, Kevin M**. I had seen the game, and understood from it that Kevin was a very strong player and that his tiebreak points would be meaningful for James’ final standings. (M** finished with 5 points.) I did not know of Sunil’s involvement at all until the matter began to unravel. I did not protest or get involved in the decision about the free second round points because it did not directly affect my students.

I feel it looks very shady for games to be played and then to have a TD decide not to count them after the losing player’s coach complains. It looks even worse for the TD to cherry pick which games should count based only on his personal opinion of fairness that has no basis in the rules or precedent. It’s also a problem that this is done entirely behind closed doors. We were not informed that James’s result was changed, and it was impossible to find out any information about the repairings or results from the website. There is no way for another coach to find out that one Hunter player lost and another won and only the favorable result was kept. (Galvin did this through some superhuman detective work.) The fact that no official is in any way forthcoming, and that Wayne clearly lied twice* to a large group of people, makes the whole organization and tournament look dirty.

Because of his (frankly) bizarre ruling two years ago, this incident, and his consistent arrogance, rudeness and refusal to admit his own mistakes, I think Wayne Clark should not be allowed to direct another national scholastic tournament. Franc has always been a very reasonable person, but I feel like he went too far in protecting Wayne’s decision and ego at the cost of fairness. He also should have looked the rule up on Friday, and not waited until I insisted he do so Saturday afternoon. Whether or not anything underhanded went on, Sunil’s apparently cosy relationship with members of the TD staff, combined with his inappropriately aggressive behavior towards other coaches while he is wearing a badge that says Scholastic Council, creates the impression of serious impropriety. Sunil claimed he was resigning from the Scholastic Council (he holds a lifetime advisory position); I think this is appropriate and hope he is held to this and not reinstated.

Elizabeth Vicary
May 11, 2010

*Once about having looked the rule up the night before, and the second time about having no idea that Sunil was representing Hunter or that Hunter kids were involved, despite having looked at the pairings (I assume, since he ruled on them) and having known Sunil for years.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

no charge for awesomeness, part three

This weekend, IS 318 won the National Elementary (K-6) and the National Elementary Blitz Championships. Justus Williams took individual first on tiebreaks in a 4 way tie for first in the K-6 Championship section. James Black (the National 6th Grade Champion) took first on tiebreaks in a 2 way tie in the blitz championship (he placed 7th in the real tournament).

Last month, IS 318 won the K-8 Junior High Nationals and our B team came third in the K-9. We won the K-9 blitz tournament. Alexis Paredes won clear second in the K-8. IS 318 teams won places 2-6 in the Junior High Bughouse Championships.

We came fifth in the High School Nationals and James Black placed 22nd. We came third in the high school blitz tournament. We won National Girls 12 and Under and 14 and Under Championships. Rochelle Ballantyne, who graduated from 318 last year, won the Girls 18 and Under National Championship and the full scholarship to UTD ($60,000 out of state!).

In December, we won the 6th and 7th grade championships and came second in 8th grade. James Black won the 6th grade championship and the grade nationals K-6 blitz championship.

We are a 6-8 school. :)

Justus Williams, National Elementary Chess Champion, and James Black, National Elementary Blitz Champion

The three top scoring members of the IS 318 team: Isaac Bareyev, Justus Williams, James Black

number four: Kenneth Martin

Less competitive than the grown-ups: IS 318 students and Moody Middle School (1st and 2nd place teams in the K-6) students play blitz, ignoring the awards ceremony going on behind them

Thursday, May 6, 2010

James Black is National Elementary Blitz Champion!

Justus Williams expresses his views on Greek austerity measures and the consequent riots

We arrived today in Atlanta for Elementary Nationals.
James Black and Justus Williams, seeds 3 and 4 in the K-6. Justus is imitating the expression of an Athenian woman pictured in today's New York Times in the article on the riots.

Justus, Isaac and James play Settlers of Catan with me. (I was winning, but we didn't finish because they had to go the blitz tournament. Admittedly, it was their first time playing. update: I crush them unbelievably in our rematch and mock their understanding of probability)

crafty James

thoughtful James

Tristan Dalhouse

Sunday, May 2, 2010

pictures, elementary nationals, holiday in Spain


Life is treating me well. Elementary nationals are coming up and we are only taking 10 kids, which should be cake. I think we are probably the favorites in K-6, as we have three experts and a couple 14-1500s. VAMOOD looks like the main competition with an 1800, 2 1700s and a 1600. I should mention that we lost to a team with similar ratings in the K-9, so I perhaps shouldn't feel so confident.

the K-5 section is going to be much more interesting: there're a number of crazy strong teams.

Stevenson from Washington (WASTEV) -- where Michael and Megan Lee went to school-- has 2 1700s, a 1630, 1541, 1414, 1382. I think they have to be the favorites, even though the Illinois team might look better on paper, because of their track record at nationals. A few years ago they cleaned up in the under 900 section because their kids weren't USCF rated. (They have some Washington rating system) That same year they came top 10 in the k-5 open section with nobody over 1050, and then they won it last year with some 13 and 1400s. Good job, whoever coaches there; I'm totally impressed.

There's also an interesting team from Illinois, ILL004, with two 1800s, a 1676, 1426, and 1378. I suspect they might be from this one school district that petitioned the USCF a couple years ago. Their rural district is divided really strangely into one K-2 school, one 3-4 school, one 5-6 school, etc: just one school for the whole district, but with maybe 12 classes in each grade. I'm making up the number twelve, but you can see the potential pedagogical advantages of this set-up. Then all the kids go on to the next horizontally enormous district school two years later. The kids are seriously disadvantaged at nationals because they can't play their whole elementary team together. Of course, they probably would have had two elementary schools in their district if they did that, but you can see how unfair it must seem to the kids. (If it's the same school, very possibly it isn't.)

The rule as it is now says:

"A school is defined as an institution which has one name, is located in one building or connected adjacent buildings, and is under one administrator and which provides core curricular instruction in English, math, science, and social studies. A’ local public school’ for a home schooled or virtual school student is defined as the public school the student would attend if attending public school. The local public school for a third grade home schooled or virtual school student is the local public elementary school the child would attend if going to public school. A ‘public school district’ is a grouping of public schools (most usually within a city or county but may be a single school in a small city) recognized and designated as being a public school district by that state’s department of education. A ‘local public school’ is not the entire district but is the area that a single public school covers."

I wasn't in favor of changing the rules, just because it's such a slippery slope down. Pretty soon feeder schools would be wanting to play with their junior high school, and imagine the complaining parents all around. It seemed crazy to open that can of worms. but maybe they will win this year anyway, although they are all in third and fourth grade, and I think being younger is a real disadvantage in a tournament as grueling as nationals.

Horace Mann has three kids preregistered (1827, 1547, 1361) and I imagine they probably have a fourth somewhere.

In other news, I'm planning The Greatest Summer Ever. It starts with the World Open, where I will win before even playing by staying with Greg for free. Then I will go to the US Chess School in Dallas (July 7-11) with James and Justus. and on July 21, Jonathan and I leave on our European Apartment Swap Special. We'll go to stay with my father in London for a week, then we are doing an apartment swap with two Spanish friends of Jonathan for two weeks each. We'll stay in Barcelona for 2 weeks and Tarragona, a small city on the beach about 45 minutes outside Barcelona, for another two weeks. Jonathan will paint and I will study chess and we'll go for long walks and make nice meals and it will be wonderful.

Everything with Jonathan is going great. We remind me a bit of Erin and Andy from the Office. It is nice when someone makes you every meal and is always interested in you and your thoughts.