The Canadian Chess Challenge is the national scholastic chess tournament for grades 1 to 12. The national finals were held May 18 to 19 in Winnipeg. Three local players we know well at Annex represented their grade in Ontario – and came home victorious!
Tigran Ghazarian (the grade 1 winner) and Nicholas Vettese (the grade 4 winner) are regular players at the Annex Chess Club. And Mark Plotkin (the grade 10 winner) recently played in the Toronto Closed and GTCL Cup at Annex. From all of us at Annex Chess Club, congratulations, Tigran, Nicholas, and Mark!
Ontario was also the winning team at the event. Here is the whole provincial team list:
Dangerously close to an Expert rating (2000), Nicholas Vettese’s current CFC rating of 1956 makes him the top-rated player on the Canadian Under-10 list.
The great leap forward
Last July, Nicholas was rated only 1524 when he earned a modest 17th place at the 2013 Canadian Youth Chess Championship Under-10 in Ottawa. Since then, while some of his cohort appeared in newspaper articles as they prepared for the World Youth Chess Championship at the end of the year, he kept a relatively low profile, playing at local chess clubs and weekend tournaments – mostly in Toronto, but also in Aurora, Guelph, and Campbellville.
I like to play really sharp positions because there are a lot of options for me.
He didn’t win any big prizes playing in and around Toronto, but he racked up a lot of games. Over the whole year, he’s logged an impressive total of 165 rated games, and his rating has shot up over 700 points – from under 1200 at the beginning of January to over 1900 at the end of December.
With a rating gain of over 400 points since the CYCC in July, by December Nicholas had surpassed the players who were representing Canada in his age category at the WYCC – only two of whom broke into the top 50 at the event.
Canada’s 2013 WYCC Under-10 Open Team
Rohan Talukdar (placed 38th)
Luke Pulfer (placed 46th)
Moreover, many of these players have now graduated to Under-12, where they’re competing with the likes of Sergey Noritsyn – rated 2127. Nicholas, who’s just turning 10 this year, still has another, “senior” year in U-10.
Chess whiz kids
His success this past year can be measured against players in his age group, but Nicholas plays a lot of games against players older than himself at Annex Chess Club, at Scarborough Chess Club, and in weekend tournaments. But he says it’s not a big deal to beat adults and older youths at chess because he doesn’t pay attention to the age of his opponent: “I don’t really think about beating adults and older kids. Almost every game I win, it’s the same to me.”
He’s not surprised, either, that young players like himself are better at chess than many adults. “I think it’s easier for kids to learn most things,” he says. “They are quicker and have better memories.”
I started playing CFC tournaments when I was eight.
Nicholas’ favourite players are Fischer and Carlsen: both were prodigies when they were young. American legend Bobby Fischer (the World Champion from 1972) won the US Championship at age 14 and became a grandmaster at age 15, setting a youngest-grandmaster record that stood for over 30 years – from 1958 to 1991. When it was finally broken by Judit Polgár, she was just one month younger than Fischer.
Norwegian Magnus Carlsen (Nicholas’ other favourite player) was 22 when he became World Champion last November, the second youngest Champion ever after Garry Kasparov. And he was just 13 when he became a GM, the then second youngest GM ever after Sergey Karjakin. Karjakin’s record – he was only 12 when he earned his title in 2002 – still stands today.
Nicholas’ attraction to Fischer and Carlsen is not just that they were World Champions and child prodigies; he likes the way they play. He likes Carlsen because he squeezes wins out of draw-like positions, and he likes Fischer because his positions are often unusual and unexpected .
Coaching and training
If kids are becoming stronger and stronger at younger and younger ages, what’s their secret? What does a young chess player like Nicholas do to train? People talk about the role of computers in chess, but Nicholas doesn’t seem to use computers very much. “I don’t know what a chess engine is,” he says.
One thing he does for sure is to play a lot. Besides the two nights a week he spends on the Toronto club scene – at Annex on Mondays and at Scarborough on Thursdays – he puts in about ten hours a week playing online on chess.com. And apart from that? “I read a little bit,” he says. “I don’t really do any other training.”
He does meet with a chess coach – Saša Kulić – once a week. Kulić lives in Toronto, but he’s originally from Sarajevo “where video games didn’t exist,” as he states on his chess teacher website. He says he tries to instill in his students not only a strong understanding of chess, but also an appreciation for “the beauty of the game.” And it’s Kulić who gave Nicholas his book on Bobby Fischer – Garry Kasparov on Fischer: My Great Predecessors, Part 4.
From his teacher’s point of view, the secret to Nicholas’ success is that he is so passionate about the game. “He’s thinking about chess when he doesn’t seem to be working on it,” Kulić says. “And he’s not pushed or told to do it. He works on it when he wants to, and uses his own creativity.”
First moves in chess
We’ve had some great chess imports in Canada, but Nicholas is a home-grown Canadian chess talent. He started playing when he was six – through a Chess ’n Math lunch programme at his school – and he took to it immediately. “I liked chess right away after my mom signed me up for the lessons at school,” he says. “And I started playing CFC tournaments when I was eight.”
If Nicholas’ meteoric rise to the top of his age group, nationally, has happened somewhat “under the radar,” he’s still managed to pick up a trophy or two along the way. In our interview, Nicholas neglected to mention any chess accomplishments, but his mom is proud to point out that he won the 2013 CMA Ontario Chess Challenge for Grade 3 and, representing Ontario, went on to become Grade 3 Champion at the 2013 Canadian Chess Challenge in Ottawa last May – tying for first in the regular rounds and winning the playoffs.
Nicholas feels most confident in the opening and the endgame, but playing complex tactical middle-game positions is what he likes most about chess: “I like to play really sharp positions,” he says, “because there are a lot of options for me – and I also like a nice tactic that wins the game.”
I think it’s easier for kids to learn most things. They are quicker and have better memories.
Nicholas is more than just a chess superstar; he is also a well-rounded kid. He doesn’t just play chess, but also skis and hikes, plays basketball, and plays computer games. In fact, many of his friends at school don’t even know how good he is at chess. “I don’t know if they know that I play chess.” Chess is an important skill for kids to learn, Nicholas says, and he agrees it would be a good idea for chess to be a mandatory subject in school. “I think chess skills help me with math.”
What does the future hold?
As a short-term chess goal, Nicholas is currently working on a rather obscure but sometimes necessary ending skill: “I would like to remember the bishop, knight and king against king mate,” he says. An example of the piece coordination required for checkmate is shown below:
I think chess skills help me with math.
Will he rise to the top of Canadian chess in the next ten or fifteen years? One thing’s for sure. He’s a strong up-and-coming player at Annex Chess Club, and he’s off to a good start in 2014: Nicholas finished second in our New Year’s Blitz tournament.
For now, he’s still a local player: “I have never played chess outside of Canada,” he says. “My most interesting chess trip was the CYCC in Ottawa.” But he’s got high hopes: “Long term, I would like to become a grandmaster.”
Here’s one of his recent games. (It’s his Round-3 game from the Campbellville Open in November. Campbellville was probably his best tournament of 2013: Nicholas scored 3/5 in the top section, placing 6th and posting a performance rating of 2194.)
Featured Game: Nicholas Vettese (1811) vs. Wenlu Wu (1966)
Annex Chess Club kicked off 2014 with a blitz tournament – five double rounds (two games, one as black and one as white, against the same opponent) at a time control of 4+2 (all moves in a total of 4 minutes each, with 2 seconds added before each move).
At the end of the night, Wajdy Shebetah won clear first, young Nicholas Vettese won clear second, and veteran Erik Malmsten tied with our arbiter, Tyler Longo, for third. Congratulations to the winners and good luck to all – in chess as in life – in 2014!
Complete results are posted below.
SwissSys Standings. New Year’s Blitz 2014
The 2014 Club Championship starts next Monday and runs for six Mondays, not including Family Day. Round One starts at 7:30 pm on January 13. (Arrive by 7:00 pm to register.)