Thursday, May 25, 2017

Glittery centerfold in the "425" magazine

Rapid-fire Q&A, drop-dead cool photo

2017-05-24 Naomi in 425 magazine no flash.jpg

At the end of March, Lauren Foster, the 425 magazine managing editor, contacted our school district communications manager about a possible interview with Naomi, after learning about her on their website.

The district reached out to the school principal, who emailed us parents in turn.  We deferred to Naomi's opinion, and she benevolently gave her consent to an interview which eventually took place on April 20.

Lauren came to our house with the specially booked photographer, Carlton Canary (their staff photographer was out of town).  The pair gave out a sophisticated glitzy vibe, somewhat rare and precious in our area.  

Even their names agreed with representing a glamorous magazine: Lauren and Carlton.  Compare these to our Seattle Times (also highly professional and accomplished) reporter and photographer pair names: Eric and Erica.

Lauren went straight into rapid-fire Q&A session with Naomi, which I recorded here (click to view the video):

Naomi was relaxed and in a good mood.  It looked more like a chit-chat among girls.  Only by carefully listening to the conversation one could realize the depth and care Lauren put into her questions, and appreciate the quick adaptive follow-ups.  We learned how different journalistic styles can be, for different formats and publications.

The photographer Carlton has set up his equipment during the interview, so the photo shoot started right after.  This was pure meta - I was shooting Carlton shooting Naomi.  She posed for him effortlessly, as a true media star.  He took outside daylight shots on our view deck, with the lake-downtown-mountains background:  

Then he took inside flashlight shots with the trophies-on-stairway background:

And here is the near moment Carlton took the photo that ended up at the 425 magazine centerfold above:

For a full month after the interview, we would periodically check the 425 magazine website, hoping to find the interview there.  Eventually, on May 24, we received a large mail envelope with two printed issues of the magazine, and a drop-dead cool centerfold story, with that glamorous photo.  Well worth waiting!

And then on June 21 this article appeared in the online edition, a month after the print edition, and two months after the interview itself:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Vashon Island conquered

"The pleasure is all ours" say the islanders
Veni, vidi, vici has never been more mutually enjoyable than on Saturday, May 20, 2017, on Vashon Island.

Philip McCready is the Seattle Chess Club past president, currently living on Vashon Island, where he has started a chess club at the local elementary school.  A few months ago he contacts us through Naomi's coach, GM Greg Serper.  He proposes an event on Vashon for the chess club where Naomi would give a small lecture about her game from the recent World School Championship and then do a simul with the kids in the club.

Naomi likes the idea, so we go ahead with it.  Joe Schonbok is the organizer of the chess club on Vashon, who joins Philip in organizing the event, on the chess club's monthly meeting on a third Saturday of any given month.  Eventually, May 20 is decided upon, to allow for our other chess travel to Victoria and Nashville.  

A week before the event, Philip harnesses the Vashon weekly newspaper, the Beachcomber, to the effort.  They're going to run a news piece, welcoming to the island this expected mighty invader from the mainland.  Very smart.  If only all prospectively conquered people had such excellent foresight and wisdom.  

Sarah Low is the reporter for the Vashon Beachcomber newspaper who is writing that article.  However, by now Naomi is busy playing chess at the SuperNationals in Nashville, so a phone interview with me has to do.  Sarah makes the press deadline and publishes a great article -- positive, accurate, helpful and playful:
"Young world chess champion will speak, play at island event"  

On May 20, the fastest way to the ferry terminal is jammed by highway repairs.  But nothing will stop our army of three.  The personnel carrier is re-routed via fields and gardens.  This is our first trip to Vashon Island.  The weather is fantastic, as if hyper-compensating for the lousy spring.  Just look at the photos.

We visit the famous bicycle tree and the Point Robinson Lighthouse.  In front of the lighthouse, a small local band plays lively Irish music.  Naomi stops to listen, and suddenly one band member says: "I've seen you in the newspaper.  You are that chess champion girl who came to play at the library."  We are dumbstruck.  How many times have you been recognized from a newspaper?

The event venue is Vashon Library meeting room.  We arrive at 1pm as scheduled, and the parking lot is full.  The meeting room is jam-packed with kids and parents.  We meet both Philip and Joe, they present Naomi to the public.  Naomi gives her opening talk, analyzing her last game of the World School Championship on a demo board and answering questions.  The folks love it.  We take photos and videos.

The simul starts, and Naomi makes her first move as white on all 20 boards, after a customary handshake.  Some of her opponents are small kids, being helped by their parents.  There are quite a few experienced adult players as well.  Philip and Joe sacrifice their own yearning to play for the sake of managing the event skillfully.  There are plenty of photo-ops, unlike at usual tournaments when parents are expelled after the game starts.

The simul progresses at a brisk rate.  Naomi is circling around the room counterclockwise.  Each time she comes to a board, her opponent makes his or her planned move, then Naomi thinks for a few seconds and makes a move as well.  After a few opening moves, each circle takes about 5 minutes on average.  We are temporarily satiated with the photo frenzy and go out for a stroll to see Vashon art galleries and the closing farmers market.

By the time we come back, there's already blood on the floor.  A few cute little kids are droopy and despondent.  Some struggle to understand the meaning of Naomi's concluding handshake offer, after getting an early checkmate.  She's politely ruthless though.  There is no mercy in chess, be it child or adult.  À la guerre comme à la guerre.

Slowly but surely all 20 games progress toward their inevitable, unavoidable outcomes.  Some parents spring to the boards after each move, to help their kids last just a little bit longer.  There are more players than boards, if family teams are counted as individuals.  But this is to no avail.  Deeper analysis and machine precision allow Naomi to outpace opponents each and every time.

The islanders are good sport.  They enjoy the game, take their defeats in stride, ask Naomi for a signature and a picture, thank her and us profusely.  They seem to be genuinely impressed and delighted to meet her.  We feel much warmth and human connection.  Lovely people all around, as well as upstanding, dedicated chess players.

The pace picks up.  More and more players are knocked out.  As the pool shrinks, Naomi can dedicate more time to the remaining opponents, which puts more pressure on them and escalates the pace even more.  It's a positive feedback loop.  In the end, just two strongest adults are left.  They move to one corner, so Naomi won't have to run forth and back anymore.

The library closing time of 5pm is fast approaching.  There is a flurry of PA announcements urging people to wrap up.  By  now only one opponent is still playing, his name is Robert.  A few minutes before 5pm Naomi asks for a clock, and sets it up for an endgame deadline.  As can be seen in a dramatic video, Robert soon loses on time.  He gave a great fight, and lasted the longest, so he gets a special prize, a book.  

Naomi won all 20 simultaneous chess games with Vashon Island players.  Conquest completed.  She gets the few book prizes from Philip and Joe.

On the ferry back, Mount Rainier seem to float in the sky like a giant distant cloud.  Summer is coming.

Friday, May 12, 2017

SuperNationals in Nashville

Ten Thousand Chess Hopes

On May 11-15, 2017 Naomi played chess at the SuperNationals VI in Nashville, TN, at the vast Gaylord Opryland Resort.  See our previous trips to the Nationals and SuperNationals at that location: 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015.  There are age sections, but no gender categories.  Naomi played against best US boys.

It's a huge chess event which occurs every 4 years. This year 5,578 kids play (134 players from WA alone), grades K to 12.  Adding parents, coaches and organizers, there might be around 10,000 people involved.  It's the largest chess tournament in the world.

Before the main tournament, on May 11, Naomi played blitz in the K-9 section.  She placed 20th out of 265 participants, and Naomi's school placed second out of 35 teams in blitz.

The last blitz opponent didn't let Naomi move pieces when his time ran out, in order to make her time run out too.  Feeling distressed, Naomi haven't reported this clear violation to tournament directors.  She should have gotten 9 points, rather than 8.5.

The main tournament started on May 12 at 1pm.  Naomi played in the K-8 section -- see the results here.  There are 7 rounds overall.  Naomi has won in Round 1 against Patrick Leary from Georgia.  

Photo album: 2017-05-12 Nashville SuperNationals Opening, Round 1, 2
(don't miss Garry Kasparov's 6 minutes speech video)

(look at the crazy board numbers)

In Round 2 Naomi won against Gatlin Black from North Carolina:

On May 13, in Round 3, Naomi defeated William Wang from Illinois.

At the start of Round 3, Garry Kasparov was about to make the symbolic first move on Board 1 of section K-9.  The great Washington State player Derek Zhang was at the board, but his opponent hasn't appeared on time. Kasparov has made the first move on Board 2 instead, and then proceeded to entertain the audience:

Then Naomi lost Round 4 to Christopher Shen, OH, who went on to take 2nd place, and won Round 5 over Jonathan Gollapudi, MO.  That day, May 13, had three rounds!

On May 14, Naomi won Round 6 over Atticus Halley, GA, and lost Round 7 to Ricky Wang, IL, who went on to take 8th place.

Overall Naomi scored 5 points out of 7, and took 24th place out of 244, while playing against some of the strongest US boys her age.  That's not bad at all.  

Naomi's Odle Middle School chess team shared 2nd/3rd place in the overall team standings.  That's a remarkable result at the US Scholastic Chess SuperNationals!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Grand Pacific Open - 2017

Ghosts, spiders and odd plagues

The Grand Pacific Open, British Columbia's largest chess tournament, took place in the Hotel Grand Pacific, Victoria, on 14-17 April 2017.  The main event has been a 6 round FIDE rated Swiss with $5,000 in prizes.  Brian Raymer, Paul Leblanc, Roger Patterson have done a great job organizing this event.

Naomi has played in the top section and placed in the middle of the Final Standings, befitting her chess rating rank. She has shared the 2nd/3rd Top Women CA$90 prize sponsored by Goddess Chess.  Not bad.

We traveled to Victoria many times in the past, and always loved it: 2009 road trip, 2014 Grand Pacific Open (a Chess Travel blog post), 2015 Grand Pacific Open.

Victoria is one of those places you come back every time to discover something new on top of old memories and familiar places.  It occupies a special place in our hearts.  A favorite travel spot.

Day 1: Victoria Clipper, Bug Zoo, Round 1

To get there, in the past we always took a ferry: either Port Angeles - Victoria (with or without car), or Anacortes - Sidney, or Tsawwassen - Swartz Bay.  This time we decide to live large and pay up for the Victoria Clipper.

As we sail into Victoria's Inner Harbor, my smartphone's camera does blank.  This wouldn't be unusual, since my smartphone's screen needs to be literally warm in order to work.  I habitually press it against my skin, to use body warmth for reanimation, as usual.  Only this time the trick doesn't work!  The device seems to have died, finally, after half a year of daily agony.  That's the First Plague.

We get the room at the fabled Hotel Grand Pacific, and head straight to the Bug Zoo.  There, our amazing guide Jeanine shows each insect (or, more precisely, arthropod) with indefatigable enthusiasm.  This needs to be seen:

Day 2: Legislature, Round 2, Miniature World, Round 3, Ghostly Walks

In the morning, on our way to the Miniature World we pass a quiet and well-organized demonstration of Venezuelan dissidents on the steps of the British Columbia Legislature.  

The Miniature World initially feels a bit claustrophobic and noisy, with tight spaces, voice recordings in loops, and kids running around.  It takes time to adjust.  The experience is both slightly tiresome and very rewarding.

The miniature displays are fantastic.  Meticulous, masterful work done over many years.  They are organized by category: war history, frontier, Canada, castles, dollhouses, London, circus, Camelot.  Take a look:

At night we go for the Ghostly Walks tour with a guide who might one day become a great comic actress.  It's a riot.  Her stories about the unfortunate dead and the ghastly ways they become ghosts resonate with the crowd.

Later that night my Surface tablet dies.  It has been my favorite nighttime e-reader.  The flipback keyboard stand allowed to read hands-free.  This is no joke, the place is definitely cursed!  That's the Second Plague.

Day 3: Round 4, Churches, Round 5, Fisherman's Wharf

This being Easter Sunday, we go for a walking tour of Victoria's churches.  We discover many impressive neo-gothic buildings proudly shown off by each confession.  Victoria's synagogue is the oldest one in Canada.  In the evening, we go to see the picturesque floating houses at Fisherman's Wharf. Click on the link:

The Third Plague: Luda's fancy Google Project Fi Nexus 6P smartphone goes into the infamous boot loop.  We call support, they send an email with a 72-hour link to replacement, but it will only work back in the US.

Day 4: Round 6, Abkhazi Garden, Beacon Hill Park

The Abkhazi Garden turns out to be the hidden gem of Victoria, with a deeply compelling background love story.  

She was an English girl born in Shanghai, he was the last prince of Abkhazia, on the Black Sea.  She was adopted by rich aristocrats, his mother ran away with him into exile while his father was shot by the Bolsheviks.  They met in Paris in 1922 and fell in love, but he was penniless and her mother considered it a mésalliance.  During WWII she was interned by Japanese in China, he was interned by Germans in France.  They lost track of each other.  After the war, she moved to San Francisco and then bought a rocky plot in Victoria for $1800. He moved to New York and found her from the ship manifest.  They married a quarter century after they first met, and together Mr and Mrs Abkhazi created this beautiful exquisite garden.

There we meet the resident docent Joe Harvey, a botanist and geneticist, who tells us about all this, and about the special Bella Bella magnolia he bred:

After the last round, we take Naomi to the Beacon Hill Park and show her the flowers and the peacocks that made a lasting impression during our 2014 visit.  

We sail from Victoria knowing that we'll return.

P.S. Back home, my smartphone and Surface have miraculously revived, and Luda's smartphone replacement should be arriving soon.  The Odd Plagues are gone!