Monday, January 23, 2017

Chess, Dance

Chess is a dance within
Phiona Mutesi is a Ugandan chess champion and the subject of the film Queen of Katwe, which Naomi watched recently.  Naturally when Chess4Life CEO Elliott Neff invited chess kids to meet Phiona and her Ugandan chess mates, Naomi was excited to come, and stayed for quads afterwards.  Here are the photos:


Every half year we're in for a big treat -- Naomi's school dance concert.  It's thermodynamically impossible to be more excited and agitated than the performers and the spectators at these events!  Here, share some:

19:14 Naomi dances "Electric" to the song "Sing Sing Sing" by Benny Goodman -- and it's good!  Really good, not just "proud-parent-good".  Check it out:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

North American Open 2016

Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
The North American Open took place in Bally's Las Vegas on December 26-30, 2016.  This has become our holiday-season tradition, we went there also in 2011, 2012, and 2015.

Just 10 days ago we came back from the World School Chess Championship, where Naomi took first place in the Girls Under 13 category, with the following heavy burden of fame.  

Naomi was very tired, had an 11 hour jet lag, and was 2 weeks absent from her high-pressure school program.  She stayed up at night doing homework and preparing for daily tests.  Done!  Winter break -- Las Vegas, here we come.  Can't unbuy those plane tickets.

Naomi has reached USCF rating 2108 at the beginning of November.  Which meant she had to play in the Under 2300 section at the NAO -- rather than Under 2100 where she'd have a chance to win money prize.  This is even though her rating bounced back to 2042 at the time of the tournament.  She played well with the heavies, placing in the middle of the pack, so her rating didn't change.

Tiresome Las Vegas?  It depends...

Fifth time in Las Vegas?  Fourth time in the same hotel?  You think it would become tiresome by now...  No problem, we find something new every time!  This time it was the Criss Angel Mindfreak magician show at the Luxor, the High Roller at the LINQ, the Mob Museum near the Fremont Street Experience, the Bellagio's Conservatory and the Singing Fountains (not really new...), and the National Atomic Testing Museum.

With our minds thus nourished, our bodies were overly well sustained by the gastronomic excess of the Paradise Garden buffet at the Flamingo and Le Village Buffet at the Paris.  Then the Wynn, the Palazzo and the Venetian fed our satiated eyes with their familiar luxury pop.  Take a look at the photo album... it's an offer you can't refuse:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Media Star Naomi

Victory has a thousand... journalists

After becoming the World School Chess Champion, Naomi has turned into a media star of sorts. Oh, the burden of fame!

On December 30, 2016, the KING 5 News with Lili Tan interviewed Naomi and her coach GM Greg Serper for the TV, just an hour and a half after we landed home from the NAO in Las Vegas.

That interview resulted in a January 3, 2017 KING 5 News TV segment, in three forms here:
  1. Live news TV broadcast screen video capture 7:18 PM (with different TV anchors and wording)

And here's the written press, led by Erik Lacitis' masterpiece in The Seattle Times, a gripping triumph of high-end journalism:

"You keep crushing the opponent, and squeezing them"

Stabilized video of Naomi getting first place award (starts at 37s, then runs for 30s):

Last month it exceeded 10K page views per month (and 50K at all time), as Naomi became world champion.

Which pales in comparison to the popularity of our coach GM Serper chess blog:

Happy New Year everybody!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

World School Chess Championship

Naomi becomes the world champion!

Naomi has won the 2016 World School Chess Championship in the Girls Under 13 category, held on December 2 - 12 in Grand Hotel Zhemchuzhina (Pearl) in Sochi, Russia.  Naomi becomes a world champion!  Atta girl!

With 5 wins (full points) and 4 draws (half-points), she got 7 points in 9 games, and finished in the first place -- without a single loss, undefeated.  See the full WSCC GU13 results and the FIDE report.

As a winner she is awarded the Woman FIDE Master (WFM) title, and is invited (expenses paid) to the 2017 World School Chess Championship in Romania.

Naomi's coach, Grand Master Greg Serper, is the great chess mind who prepared Naomi for this achievement over many years.  Naomi's mom is the ambitious live spirit behind the whole kids chess thing, a tiger mother incarnate.  With mind and spirit thus taken, as Naomi's dad, I am left with the organizational/financial muscle, perhaps?

2016-12-11 Naomi first place large.jpg
Girls Under 13 award ceremony: Naomi is in 1st place


December 1: LAX airport

It is a long, long flight.  Three flights, actually: Seattle to LA, then LA to Moscow, then Moscow to Sochi.  The LA to Moscow flight is three movies, two meals and four naps long.

December 2: SVO airport, opening ceremony, Ilyumzhinov

While shorts and sandals serve me well in the overheated planes and airports, they look a bit funny with the Moscow snow background.  Sochi hotel transfer, dinner and check-in takes time, so we catch only the juggler at the end of the WSCC opening ceremony, and glimpse the President of FIDE,  Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, in the foyer.

December 3: Sochi storm, WSCC Round 1

Naomi (white) draws Alina Efendieva of Russia in Round 1.  On most days, there is only one game, starting at 3:30 pm.  

We walk on the seafront to the northwest, witnessing the slow waning of the huge winter storm that ravished Sochi for a few days, and then we walk uphill inland near the Winter Theater.  The hotel room is very nice, with a great view to the Black Sea.  

The 3 times a day full-board hotel restaurant food is excellent. Home-taste Russian staples like borscht, black rye bread, Olivier salad, Beef Stroganoff, steamed meat patties, fruits, pastries, blini, and -- wait for it -- huge bowls of condensed sweetened milk, a Soviet childhood nectar and ambrosia.  We feel as if we live in a theme park.

December 4: Sochi seafront walk, WSCC Round 2

Naomi (black) draws Esma Doga Duran of Turkey.  The Turkish delegation has been delayed due to that huge storm, getting a half point bye as a result, so the Swiss system puts Naomi and Esma together.  Last year Esma ended WYCC 2015 with Naomi and now she starts WSCC 2016 with Naomi again ;-)

This time we walk on the seafront to the southeast, and then uphill inland near the Summer Theater.  The country has physically changed much to the better in the last quarter of a century.  It also feels very safe, which we can appreciate better after visiting South America (multiple times) and South Africa on previous chess trips.

December 5: Riviera Park, seafront walk, Round 3

Naomi (white) draws Aida Tukaeva of Russia. Three draws in a row!  What is this, a peace conference?  The coach, GM Greg Serper, says Naomi plays well, and brought to a draw what could have been a defeat.  As dilettantes, we can't argue, only frown silently, hoping to browbeat her into creative anxiety.

Uber works great in Sochi.  For just a couple of bucks it took us to the Riviera Park, which is mostly devoid of visitors on Monday.  We two are the primary target of the few working attraction hawkers, whereas most attractions are closed.  We gather some field intelligence for the last day (Dec 11) trip here, when Naomi could see the Dolphinarium show.  I even allow myself to fall for the ages-old trick of a photo-op with a monkey, costing us $8.

I overcompensate by shooting 20/21 (!) in the shooting gallery, thus winning a blue dragon soft toy, a present for Naomi.

We walk back from the Riviera Park to the hotel on the spectacular Sochi seafront.  It's just like exiting the inner attractions park into the outer post-Soviet theme park.  Inception, anyone?

In the evening I go for a swim at the hotel's outdoor pool.  It refreshingly contrasts the -1°C open air with the 28°C sea water.  It's such fun, I return there almost every evening after that.

December 6: Dendrarium, Round 4

Finally, not a draw!  Naomi (black) wins Nyurguiaana Baisheva of Yakutia, Russia.  Have our frowning helped?  We might never know for sure.  Or maybe it was the effect of walking and breathing fresh cool air.

In the morning, we insist on taking Naomi to the famed Sochi Dendrarium.  Walking up and down the hill, gazing at this 19 century arboretum could have helped take Naomi's mind off the tournament and reinvigorate her.

In the evening we two return to the lower part of the Dendrarium for a twilight walk.  At dinner, our hotel restaurant chef Kamo asks for help in translating what the Indian delegation tells him.  Turns out yesterday Kamo prepared an Indian dish for them which was perfect, whereas today they say it was a little bit dry.  Kamo made that Indian dish for the first time in his life, and will take the valuable feedback into account.

December 7: Excursion to Rosa Khutor ski resort, Olympic Park

This is a free day, on which all three of us go for a bus excursion.  First to Adler, a transport hub southwest of Sochi, then northeast up the Caucasus Mountains to Krasnaya Polyana, whose outskirt Esto Sadok has been developed for the 2014 Winter Olympics into world-class ski resorts Gorki Gorod and Rosa Khutor.  This procession of partially made-up names and the spectacular location along the upper flow of the Mzymta River reinforces our theme park impression.  

Just to leave a mark, I ride three cable cars to the upper level, 2200m, -17°C, snowy whirls.  My wife and daughter are smarter, they stay at the Gorki Gorod shopping plaza below.  We glimpse My Russia ethno-park from the bus window, and walk the picturesque built-up quai near the made-up "city hall".  The theme park narrative has taken over completely.  We don't complain, it all looks very nice.

The excursion ends at the Sochi Olympic Park in Adler, among many winter sport stadiums.  The nightly fountains show has been cancelled, supposedly due to the weather, which happens to be fine.  Maybe it's just our luck.

December 8: Round 5, Mt Akhun, Stalin's dacha, Winter Theater, promenade

Naomi wins Marina Kozyreva of Russia in the 10am Round 5.  Then she draws Irina Popova of Russia in the 3:30pm Round 6, after having a won position for most of the game. Her coach says: "It's like missing a soccer shot into an empty goal..."

It takes half an hour Uber drive on snow-and-ice covered serpentine mountain road to go up to Mount Akhun.  The 360° views from the iconic observation tower are beyond spectacular.  The driver waits for us half an hour and then takes us down the mountain, to the Stalin's Dacha museum in Sochi.  The entire two-hour attached-driver ride costs just $21.  Holy Uber, we worship at your feet wheels.

The Stalin's Dacha museum is another theme-park neutral-history no-viewpoint affair.  The monster-savior summer dwelling is modest-opulent, his wax figure is scary-amiable, his Soviet style desk is both warmly nostalgic and coldly oppressing.  It's all in your head, like modern art, the projection of your inner views.  The tour guide takes everybody's good roubles.

The evening walk on the upper promenade takes us past the Winter Theater to a puny public library, inevitably named after A.S.Pushkin.  We enter and suddenly find ourselves in the 70-80s Soviet childhood!  Heaps of books tied with twine, warm molding paper smell, rickety chairs, sweetly-fearsome middle-aged female librarians, almost humoristically conserved in a 1978 tone of speech.  I ask for a book on the native local Ubykh people, defeated in the Caucasian War and exiled in 1864, whose language is now extinct.  We are surrounded by towering ultramodern hotels, a veritable Russian Las Vegas.

On our way back, I join a group of people dancing to Latin American music on the steps of the Winter Theater.

December 9: Sochi History Museum, Round 7, Archangel Michael Cathedral

After the morning visit to the fascinating Sochi History Museum, Naomi quickly wins the current leader Sofiya Bandurina of Russia in Round 7.

At the History Museum, Naomi takes lots of notes for her school project.  I photograph the exhibits and translate labels from Russian to English for her.  She can read some, though slowly.  The museum is a delight, both informative and diverse in its aspects.  It even has a space hall, with a real used descending module from 1970!

My early childhood and late adulthood friend Alexander joins us for the remaining 2.5 days.  In the evening we three see the Saint Michael's Cathedral, and then walk back to our hotel on the upper promenade.  A swim at the hotel's outdoor pool seals the rebonding experience.  "Back home, water has hardened up already", ruefully says Alexander.  We talk.

December 10: Sochi Art Museum, Round 8, Winter Theater - City Lights

Visiting the Sochi Art Museum in the morning seemingly sapped some of Naomi's strength, but a hearty lunch brought it back, so she won Alexandra Afanasieva of Russia and moved to the top!  

The Art Museum collection is very decent and representative of both Russian and Soviet art.  The last couple of halls have "Sirius" gifted kids art and some fun techno stuff.

In the evening Naomi plays, and we three go to the Winter Theater for an arthouse screening of City Lights with a live string quartet.  There's a decorated New Year tree and a pianist playing in the foyer.  We feel very sophisticated, although slightly underdressed.

December 11: Sochi Round 9, Dolphinarium

This has been the decisive last game for the first place, in which Naomi played WFM Nazerke Nurgali of Kazakhstan.  And Naomi has won!  She's become the World School Chess Champion in the Girls 13 category!  

Here is the last round game:

To make best use of the few hours until the award ceremony, we all ride to the Riviera Park for the Dolphinarium show.  (This time Uber outdid itself, with a 25% discount, resulting in $1.5 cross-city fare!)

The dolphin show is spectacular, much better than most dolphin shows we've seen (except the host talks a bit too much).  It features a few normal-size local Black Sea dolphins, able to carry slender trainer girls standing, and two enormous orca-size white Arctic dolphins, able to carry large robust male trainers standing.

A few weeks ago we convinced a couple of fellow chess parents to come to this championship as well.  Their son Daniel played in the Boys Under 11 category and scored 5 out of 9, an excellent result for his first international event!  The four of them also went to the dolphin show that day.

The Dolphinarium foyer features many other attractions, but we must go back for dinner and awards.

December 11: WSCC award ceremony, flight home

After these 9 days of emotional rollercoaster, it's uniquely satisfying to see Naomi's name on top in the final ranking of the World School Chess Championship, the sole winner with 7 points, undefeated.

Bashkansky Naomi
Popova Irina
Tharushi Niklesha
Nurgali Nazerke
Afanasieva Alexandra
Bandurina Sofiya

The award ceremony is both thankfully fast-paced in all other categories, and inadequately short in our Girls Under 13 category ;-)  In all other categories I shoot decent podium-wide award photos.  

In our GU13 category, first I shoot a video of Naomi running to the podium and accepting the award -- a trophy cup, a diploma, and a personal gift from Putin, a coat-of-arms pen.  

Then I take a half-decent close-up of Naomi on the podium and descending from the stage.  

And then we discover we don't have any podium-wide photos with other top girls...  Miraculously, Alexander never moved from our strategically located seats, and took a few wide-angle photos of the scene, one of which is both obstruction-free and sharp enough to cut out and turn its central part as a great cover photo:

2016-12-11 WSCC GU13 awards 1-6, Naomi first.jpg
Girls Under 13 award ceremony: Naomi is in 1st place, 2nd place left early, places 3 - 6 are present

As Winston Churchill has said on Victory Day: "We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing".  

PS December 16: The Seattle Times journalist Erik Lacitis interviews Naomi

The Seattle Times principal journalist Erik Lacitis (1982 Pulitzer Prize finalist) interviewed Naomi on December 16 night at our home, for a story about her becoming the World School Chess Champion (Girls Under 13) in Sochi. Oh, the burden of fame!