The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog

The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog: parents Guy and Ludmila with children NM Ethan and WIM Naomi

Monday, May 7, 2018

Epic Magazine, Epic Interview, Epic Photoshoot

A Novel in Letters, Interviews and Photos

Letters - Set Up

On June 30, 2017, Emma Gross from the Epic Magazine (they sell stories to Hollywood!) contacted us about a possible photo essay, after reading the seminal Seattle Times story about Naomi.

Our 2017 summer chess tournaments schedule was packed: at the moment Naomi was in Costa Rica for the Pan-American Youth Chess Championship on June 29 - July 6, to continue on vacation in Costa Rica on July 7 - 11.

From Costa Rica we'd fly directly to the North American Youth Chess Championship in New Jersey on July 12 - 16, then flying back home.

And then we'd fly off to the National Girls Tournament of Champions in Norfolk, VA on July 29-31, then flying home again.

Emma would be out on July 11 - 17, so she asked when Naomi might have time for a phone interview.  

On July 1, Emma wrote: "So our editorial and art departments are on slightly different schedules for this project. There will be a short article to accompany each photograph, and the editorial department wants drafts turned in well before we send out photographers. My deadline for a rough draft of Naomi's story was initially July 6, but I understand you're in the midst of a tournament, so speaking before then might be tricky.  SO, this is all to say, Naomi, if you're open to an interview (which I hope you are!!!!), as soon as we could hop on the phone would be awesome, but it's really whenever is best for you. I'll let my editor know if we need to shift the deadline."

On July 2, Naomi replied from Costa Rica: "We have a half day off on July 4th, so I can talk anywhere from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm (Costa Rica time, which is one hour ahead). If that's not a good day, I'm free July 7th in the evening."

Emma: "July 4 at 11am Costa Rica Time (10am Pacific Time) would be awesome. Thank you! What's the best number to reach you?"

That was a question easier asked than answered.  Naomi's smartphone is not international, so the choice was between Google Hangouts, Skype, mom's Project Fi smartphone, San Jose hotel room phone.

Interview 1 - Warm Up

In the end we arranged for the first interview to be conducted via Google Hangouts on Air (later known as YouTube Live), resulting in the following very nice video, watch it -- even just a little bit:

We thought that's it, now it's a smooth sailing to Hollywood celebrity.

For Emma though, this turned out to be just a warmup.  She has only tasted Naomi's story, and now she wanted more.  The appetite comes during the meal, especially for a reporter.  We've seen enough of them to generalize.

Interview 2 - Screw Up

On July 27, Emma wrote: "Naomi, I was wondering if you might be open to a quick follow-up interview? Your narrative is mostly complete, but I'd love to get a bit more information from you:

I'd like to zero in on the World School Chess Championship you played last December. The one where you had three draws in a row at the beginning, and then ended up taking first place. I want you to walk me through all details you can remember including:
  • What was going on in your life leading up to the tournament? Were you in school? What were you studying at that time? Were there any big school projects you remember? OR was it over the holidays / winter vacation? If so, what were you and your family doing at that time? Any details-- family dinners? Movies you saw? Birthday parties you went to?
  • How did you prepare for the tournament? Do you remember specific sessions with you had with your coach? Aspects of the game you and your mother went over?
  • I believe you said you were ranked first at that time, and so were pretty confident going into the games. Is this correct? Tell me more about how you were feeling leading up to the tournament, what you thought your prospects would be.
  • Where was the tournament held? Had you been to that part of the world before? What was the hotel like? What was the tournament space like? I'd love for you to describe the interior of a chess tournament hall, for someone who has never been to one-- what is hanging on the walls? How are the tables organized? Are there screens? Where do people wait to play their games? Do crowds watch each game? Or is it mostly just a few parents and coaches? Is the space loud, or pretty quiet?
  • Walk me through those first few rounds. Who did you play? What gender were they? What did they look like? Had you played them before? Had you met them before? What did you know about them going into the games?
  • What moves led to the draws? Was it in the opening? The middle section? Take me through each game.
  • What was running through your head during the first draw? What about the second? The third? What were your emotions? What were you thinking?
  • What did you and your mom talk about after each game? What was the advice she gave you?
  • Tell me how you ended up winning the tournament? How did you refocus yourself after the three draws? What were those next winning games like?
  • How did it feel once you finally won the tournament? When do they announce the winners? How do they announce the winners?
I know there are A LOT of questions here, but they're just to get you thinking and remembering the tournament.

Guy and Ludmila-- if there are any details you remember relating to these questions, those would be awesome as well!

SO, Naomi, would you be able to talk tomorrow or sometime this weekend? Whenever is best for you! Just let me know! "

On August 4 at 1pm, exactly one month after the first interview, Emma and Naomi had a follow-up interview over Google Hangouts on Air, like the first one.  

Unfortunately, this lovely interview is now lost to humanity because of my technical screwup. Typically, after the Hangout recording starts, I hit the Mute button on my own account, to avoid distracting Emma and Naomi.  Alas, this time I have accidentally muted the Hangout host account instead, thus the audio was lost.

The deep remorse over this irreparable mistake still physically pains me.  Both Emma and Naomi were gracious and forgiving, even though I totally deserve that deep inside they would mentally roll their eyes at my cosmic blunder.  Coincidentally, just a few days later Google killed Hangouts on Air and switched to YouTube Live.  Maybe it's karma?

Interview 3 - Fix Up

On August 6 at 1pm Emma interviewed Naomi again, with a similar set of questions.  This time Emma has recorded the interview on her phone. Which is totally understandable after the rueful fiasco of Interview 2 with Hangouts on Air, two days earlier.  That final interview became the base of Emma's excellent article. However, the magazine still needed Naomi's professionally made photos for the photo essay.

Photos 1 - Close Up

On August 14, the Epic Magazine's photographer Kathryn Harrison emailed that she will fly to Seattle on August 21 to shoot Naomi's photos for the photo essay. ("Quick note for wardrobe: nothing black.")

Notably, there was a solar eclipse on August 21 in Seattle, reaching 90% maximum at 10:20 am.  It would have been totally epic if Naomi's photos had this solar eclipse background.  During the eclipse, I managed to capture a few reflection photos in our backyard, and stole one direct photo from a friend who had a proper filter and a large lens, plus traveled to Oregon for the totality.  See these once-in-a-lifetime Great American Solar Eclipse photos.

Kathryn came at 7pm, an hour before the 8pm sunset, and took literally more than a hundred photos, including many with her large-format view camera, whose negative plates cost dozens of dollars each!  These cameras have the mystical aura of your grandparents' photoshop.  Just try to nail the Scheimpflug principle.

I photographed the photographer photographing the photographic object, at photogenic sunset:

Epic Article - Write Up

On September 24, Emma emailed Naomi a couple of quick follow-up questions.  In the reply, we bragged that, in the beginning of September, Naomi (14) has won first place at the North American Junior Girls Under 20 Chess Championship in Dallas, TX.  This got her the title of Woman International Master and a "norm" (i.e. 1/3 title) towards Woman Grandmaster.  

Emma heartily congratulated Naomi and wrote "I've been traveling through the Middle East for work, so have been in and out of WiFi and time zones."  That surely sounded as journalistically heroic as it can possibly get.  We knew our little chess story can wait.

Then, on January 13, 2018 we found all the essays at

And Naomi's story is first!  Read it here:

Emma's piece about Naomi is a gripping and dramatic triumph of journalism. We like her professional writing style.  She follows the old advice to aspiring scriptwriters, "Find a hero; put him in trouble." Or rather "her".  Among the other essays, the stories of Igor and Daniel are so cool and crazy they merit a movie script.

Photos 2 - Finish Up

Having witnessed the professional photographer Kathryn taking more than a hundred photos, and her spending hundreds of dollars worth of large-format view camera negative plates, we desperately wanted to see more results than just one story-cover photo shown online.  On February 23, 2018 we asked Kathryn and Emma for permission to see the rest of the photos, and they both immediately agreed!

It took a bit of time, because Kathryn was in the midst of her master's thesis and classes, and Emma was "in the midst of an assignment: in search of epic, true love stories".  Her official job title is "Story Hunter", how cool is that?  Kathryn should go with "People Snapper".  

They both have shown great interest in Naomi, who meanwhile moved to 9th grade and became very busy with studies (no time for dance anymore).  She likes Math, Chemistry, English, and especially Coding and French, while still getting straight A grades in all subjects.

On April 8, 2018, Kathryn sent us a selection of 38 screenshot-resolution unedited photos.  Here is the work of a professional, for your admiration:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Grand Pacific Open 2018

No losses, one win, two draws with 2300-2400!
The 12th Annual Grand Pacific Open chess tournament took place in Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, BC on March 30-April 2, 2018.  We almost always go to this annual tournament. We   just   love   Victoria.

Naomi played in the strongest Premier section, and finished 14th out of 43, a good result.  She has not lost a single game.  Her two draws with 2300-2400 rated players are even more impressive than her one win.

IM Mark Ginsberg (L) has beaten IM Raymond Kaufman in the the most critical game and eventually has won 1st place in the Premier section, along with $1000 and a trophy, presented by organizer Paul Leblanc (R):

2nd - 5th places were shared by Zulfikar Sali (L), Andrew Hemstapat (2L), FM Ian Findlay (C) and WIM Agnieszka Matras-Clement (R), who got $250 each:  

Under 2100 -- Louis Cheng (L), WIM Naomi Bashkansky (R) and Mike Murray (abs.) got $270 each:

Top Women (Courtesy of Goddess Chess) --  WIM Agnieszka Matras-Clement (2L) $125, NM Valeria Gansvind (2R) $100, WIM Naomi Bashkansky (R), Anna Van (U2000 section) $50, Kate Jiang (U1700 section) $25:
Organizer Brian Raymer (L) invited Naomi there, like he did last year.  Thanks to all 3 organizers.

Read organizer Roger Patterson's event report, and Naomi's own writeup: "If you can’t beat them, confuse them".

Beautiful Victoria

A thousand pictures are worth a million words:

Moon and Lighthouse from the Ferry

Hatley Castle

Victoria South Shore

The Butchart Gardens

Round 5

Victoria Inner Harbor

Funny Money

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

High School State Team Championship

Newport takes 1st in King County, shares 1st in WA State!
The 2018 High School Washington State Team Chess Championship took place in Interlake High School
in Bellevue on March 2-3, 2018.  It's the central annual event of the Washington State school chess life.

The board order (1 to 5) of each school team is constant: board 1 the strongest player, board 2 the next
strongest player, and so on. Some schools had more than one team, e.g. Team A and Team B.

The 28 participant teams were selected according to the results of the chess league in their respective
counties, a great achievement in itself.

Naomi's Newport High School Team A took first place in King County!  Congratulations!
Before that, Newport High took 1st in King County only once, in 2013, with Naomi's brother Ethan.

And then ... drumroll ...

Naomi's Newport High School Team A shared first place in WA State!  Double congratulations!
Before that, Newport High took 1st in WA State only once, in 2014, also with Naomi's brother Ethan.

Newport A winners: Gabriel Tafalla, Ronen Huang, Luke Xie, Naomi Bashkansky (Joseph Truelson is absent)

Remarkably, Gabriel Tafalla from Newport A got 5 out of 5 possible points, playing on board 3.  

A statistically improbable event has occurred -- FIVE high school teams (each with 5 players) each took exactly
18 points after 5 rounds and shared 1st place: Newport A, Garfield A, Interlake A, Bellevue, Lakeside.

It's a strong tournament. The players on the first boards in the winning schools all have high USCF ratings:
Garfield A - Roland Feng (2481), Lakeside A - Bryce Tiglon (2472), Newport A - Luke Xie (2159), Interlake A -
Derek Zhang (2150), Bellevue - Wenyang Du (1955), and the runner-up Inglemoor - Kyle Haining (2262).

In short, all Washington State high school chess stars were here!  Here's the winning teams collective photo:

5 teams -- Newport A, Garfield A, Interlake A, Bellevue, Lakeside A -- share 1st place

To play for the school, Naomi and many other participants had to forgo a very interesting tournament with 3 (!)
Grandmasters especially invited to our state. Games with Grandmasters would look impressive on the chess
players' resumes.  That tournament was held at the same time in the Seattle Chess Club.


However, on the eve of March 1, the Seattle Chess Club hosted lectures of the three Grandmasters:
- GM Andrey Gorovets: "How to improve the pieces"
- GM Julio Sadorra: "My Secrets in Conducting an Effective Attack"
- GM Yaroslav Zherebukh: "How to do the impossible: reflections on beating world’s #3 and losing to 1200"

The lectures were followed by a blitz tournament, where Naomi played with GM Yaroslav Zherebukh:

It was a glorious, cherishable defeat -- see GM Zherebukh vs WIM Bashkansky blitz video.