August 21 Update

Below, please find a weekly update report written by Coach and former Events Coordinator Sahan:

This week the chess club, having had some community input on Discord, is switching back to Arena tournaments. In addition, we will be hosting the tournaments on chess.com. The move to chess.com will not be permanent. We intend to foster a similar player base to our lichess page, so as to give our club access to variants that are only available on chess.com.


The main variant that came to define the late nights spent at the Hart House Chess Club was certainly bughouse. A variant only available on chess.com, so in our quest to capture some essence of the atmosphere in the reading room, we are aiming at broadening our online platform.


In addition, we have variants that are new to the club. Many members are no doubt unfamiliar with four player chess. No doubt it seems impossible to keep people invested in a game so seemingly opposed to chess, but I hope that you will keep an open mind and feel a sense of adventure as we try out new ideas at the club!

Finally, congratulations are in order for Henry Vu for winning the Hart House Blitz.

Recap of the Week

Below, please find a report written by Sahan on last week’s tournaments and on all of the exciting things happening at HHCC:

Last week the Hart House Chess Club expanded on their latest initiatives. Mark Plotkin provided yet another puzzle and video, and our discord became more active, and is hopefully on its way to become a kibitzer’s paradise.

Congratulations are in order for Chris Knox who had a perfect score in the blitz tournament securing a well earned first place. We hope as many people will join the bullet tournaments as did the blitz!


Yet on another front, we would like to thank everyone posting and responding to Mark’s puzzles on Facebook. It is great to see people coming together and taking the time to figure out the solution to each puzzle. You can find this week’s puzzle at the following [LINK] — be sure to give it a try before the solution comes out next week!

Push towards Discord

Below, please find a weekly update from Sahan, including some details about a new way to stay connected with old friends…

Last week was the beginning of a movement at the Hart House Chess Club towards greater communication between members. We may not fully recreate the warmth of the Reading Room will over a chat room in an online tournament, but we think we could come close! You can find our Discord server at this [LINK].

With our move towards a Swiss tournament for the Blitz, players have more time in between
games, and are able to kibitz more freely. Trying to stay true to our slogan, ‘The Kibitzer is King’,
we hope to have more communication between groups of players on discord, especially for the
blitz.

Sahan Karunaratne will be on Discord for the duration of the blitz tournament. Many of you
know him personally, and we hope that may encourage you to join us!

A discussion of the previous week would not be complete without mentioning Mark Plotkin and
his puzzles. Expect puzzles and solutions to be posted on Facebook, with the links available with the Friday email!

Congratulations are in order for ‘ChessMaster’ for winning the blitz, and ‘Itsjustahobby’ for
winning the bullet!

First-Ever Hart House Online Swiss Tournament!

Below is a report written by the club’s very own Sahan Karunaratne on the first tournament of this kind, along with some exciting news about … online Bughouse Chess!

Hart House Chess Club’s blitz Swiss tournament went off to a flying start surrounded by the excitement of a new tournament format. Then immediately everyone felt the meditative calm of having a long wait in-between games. Feeling for the first time in an online tournament the ability to spectate was refreshing, and had more in common with an in-person tournament. While no one tried it out, this week we are certainly encouraging the use of the Discord for chatting amongst members in between games! After all, we are a club where the Kibitzer is King.

Our Discord can be found [HERE]

Congratulations are in order for the SeriouslyDoubtful with an assured win! [LINK]

Hart House Bullet remained the same, with no new additions. However, the consecutive game format of a standard Lichess tournament does seem to complement the bullet tourney. SeriouslyDoubtful again dominated this format this week. [LINK]

Starting from the following week, we’re replacing the Rapid events with Bughouse tournaments to try something new! Here’s a link to the first one taking place on July 31st: [LINK].

New Additions to HHCC Online

Below, please find an update from Sahan about a wonderful new feature of HHCC Online and some news about tournaments!

There are exciting news at the Hart House Chess Club this week!

First we shall have Mark Plotkin going over our first weekly puzzle at the end of the week. The puzzle shall be sent out to all of you with our Friday email, and subsequently Mark will go over it on Sunday. You can find the puzzles and Mark’s video solution on the HHCC Facebook page — here’s a [LINK] to the first video!

In addition, this Friday we shall be having our very first Swiss blitz tournament. The tournament
will be 7 rounds, with a 3+1 time control. Bullet will undergo no changes, but rapid will be in the
evening. (We’ll host the rapids later in the evening than last week so that more people can attend!)

This week we had Mark win the bullet, and Henry Vu win both the rapid and the blitz!

An Update to the Rules for Online Tournaments

Below, please find a report on the July 10th tournaments and rules update written up by the event organizer Sahan Karunaratne:

We have had another incident of sandbagging and, therefore, I am sorry to say we have
increased the restrictions to join tournaments.


From now on you will require to be approved before joining the team. This is so that we can
examine your profile (make sure you’re not a sandbagger, etc.). In addition, our tournaments will
be restricted to those who have an ‘official’ Lichess rating. That is to say, you won’t be able to
join a tournament if your rating for that particular variant or time-control is still provisional.
More generally, if you have any suggestions for how the tournaments should be run please do
reach out to us either on Lichess (message user GodardGodard) or on Facebook.


I would like to congratulate the wonderful ‘Mango’ for yet another blitz tournament win. This
reminds me of how ‘Mango’ used to have a type of blitz tournament named after him. He
demonstrated his usual dominating presence with a 94% berserk rate. ThePlotThickens and
Rowaanb clinched the second and third place. Shoutout to Rowaanb, in his first Hart House
Tournament, hopefully we will get to meet in person someday! Alas some incredibly competitive
players such as BarryAllenFlash and Jadanac were late to join the party.


You can see the tournament leaderboard at the following [link].

In addition, the bullet tournament had a bit of an upset, with Mark Plotkin frying his laptop. Being
out of the picture after six games, he still clinched third place! Apologies to anyone looking forward to his stream. Rowaanb with his second tournament produced an improvement scoring second. But ThePlotThickens (with an apt name) came first robbing him of his first win! The tournament leaderboard for the bullet can be found at this [link].

Jimmy Bartha – Treasurer

Jimmy is entering his final year of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto with a focus in business and project management. Chess has been a part of his life since fifth grade when he began playing competitively in scholastic tournaments. While his rating may not show it, he has had some success representing Saskatchewan at seven consecutive national championships. Jimmy had the privilege of playing for U of T Team B in the 2016 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship where he grew his passion for the Hart House Chess Club; a passion which kindled long before he began university when he discovered the club online.

Jimmy will be serving his third term on the Executive as the Treasurer of the club; a position he both enjoys and is very familiar with. He is delighted to have another opportunity to continue investing in the immediate and long-term advancement of the club and looks forward to meeting this year’s members and shaking off some rust over the board.

A Tale of Two Tournaments

The following is an amazing report of the July 3 tournament written by the event organizer, Sahan Karunaratne! You can also watch FM Mark Plotkin’s livestream of the bullet tournament here!

Two mysterious characters descended on Hart House’s online tournaments this week. During the blitz tournament, upon asking for “Mr. Plotkin” and claiming to be children the two players wreaked havoc over the board. What was terrible was that they were somehow rated below 1200, with one of them being rated 900. There were some cries in the chat that the players were underrated. However, being a welcoming and positive club, it was naturally assumed that the two were merely using old accounts. Accounts which were reflective of their blitz rating in the past. Perhaps FM Plotkin had been teaching them in his spare time?

Then the bullet tournament started and the situation became suspicious. Mark Plotkin was edged out and trailing in the first part of the tourney. Then he fell, well behind. Not too mention both players were rated in their 700’s in bullet. 1900 points under Plotkin. Checking their accounts revealed that they had created the accounts on the day of the tournament, and had subsequently lost all of their games to get their ratings as low as possible. A quick check of their games revealed early resignations.

It became a story of Mark Plotkin triumphing against two unknown entities. Eventually when he found his rhythm he crushed all competition with berserking blows. At the end of the tournament he had a berserk rate of 100% with 148 points to show for it. The two individuals with their vain attempt at humour trailing in a distant second and third.

What these individuals don’t seem to realize is that many members of the club look at their online rating to gauge improvement. This can play a pivotal role to keep them motivated to play chess. Their sole target, Mark Plotkin, was the only person who didn’t stand to lose much.

Everyone else particularly the weaker players were obviously disheartened. That is not to say
that Plotkin was entirely happy, as can be seen on his stream. We take this behaviour very seriously. Multiple members have reported these two to lichess. However, it has made us question the value of hosting rated tournaments. That being said, for now I can see that rated tournaments add an additional layer of competition and so we shall continue our trend of having rated tournaments. I hope to see you all (with your proper ratings) next week!

First Online Hart House Blitz Arena

On Friday, March 27, club Coach and former Events Coordinator Sahan organized an on-line blitz tournament for HHCC players. The event was a phenomenal success–you can read Sahan’s exciting report below! More events are forthcoming and you can stay updated (and, better yet, participate in an upcoming match!) by clicking this link: https://lichess.org/team/hart-house-chess-club


I would just like to take the opportunity to first of all thank everyone who participated. Not only did people show up but everyone demonstrated enough energy, and curiosity, to light up the chat, and figure out who’s who. It also appeared that there was still a blazing fire, behind the faceless screens, immediately after the tournament came to a close. With no post-tournament break, people started to lament the fact that they missed out on playing with one or two individuals. Special shout out to Alex, who was instrumental in distracting everyone with his after-game put-downs and pregame shenanigans.

Ultimately as a first tournament there was bound to be some mistakes. I unfortunately failed to take into account how rated games were unfair to players with poor internet. I apologize and here on out we will make most tournaments casual, so as to be most accommodating.

As cruel as it may be, there could only be one winner, Mango (think of a member whose name begins with ‘m’) who compromised his games with a ridiculous 94% berserk rate, still snagged second. Alex who came in third with a 0% berserk rate only found out, just what on earth this whole ‘berserk’ thing was after the tournament. In first place, was the mysterious ace1886. A man who I initially suspected to have a ridiculous obsession with a certain Joe Burrow of college football fame. I found my suspicions leading to a quick google search. Whereupon I found the user’s Reddit account and his penchant for words like ‘drastically’ and very bold statements. All of which, I would like to emphasize will be used by the Crown in court.

Thanks once again everyone, and well done Ace! Considering the competitiveness, even for a player of your strength, you should be very pleased!

I would like to add just one more special shout out to Mike in fourth place who still managed a fantastic score despite only playing half the possible games.

That concludes this post, if you feel I missed anything or want to provide your own perspective; please by all means feel free to do so!

2019 Pan Ams

Here is team captain and external event coordinator Tanner McNamara’s brilliant report on this year’s Pan Am competition!

For PanAms this year, I had the pleasure of experiencing the tournament both as a player and as the external events coordinator with Hart House Chess Club. There were a few scares from a few different players before any of the chess began, but eventually everyone was able to travel, allowed to participate, and, importantly, actually showed up to the airport on time.  Not just that, I guess, but we even got everybody to the right gate even after a late switch meant a fifteen-minute walk across the airport.

 

In fact, the trip actually got off to a very nice start as Joseph and I were rewarded for our decision not to take the default travel schedule. Booked together for just the one-way trip to Charlotte, we were upgraded to first class while the rest of the travel party, on the roundtrip booking, remained in the back of the plane. Of course it was just a short flight, but that had its advantages too, compared to the cross-country trip of last year and the accompanying time change. I could not have had a better first class companion than Joseph, even if he is a Patriots fan. I’ve never heard anybody ask “is it free?” that much, and, come to think of it, I’ve never heard a flight attendant laugh that hard at a passenger. Clearly they made the right choice upgrading us, we were right where we belonged.

 

After the long wait for everyone to deboard, we collected our things and split up into a couple Ubers to get to our hotel. We had a nice team dinner across the highway and returned to inspect the playing hall. Disappointed with the lack of water bottles he could steal from the hotel, Joseph took a trip to the local grocery store to buy a 32 pack of water bottles. Back in the hotel room, Mark tossed out some puzzles for us to get our brains working, here’s my favourite: White has no light-squared bishop, and the e-pawn is on e4, Black has the e-pawn on e6, the c-pawn on c6, and no d-pawn, otherwise the position is as in the starting position. It is easy to see how this position can be reached in 3 moves, but how can this position be reached on Black’s fourth move?

 

The next day provided us with our most free time. After a team breakfast near the hotel, we took the lightrail into downtown Charlotte where we spent the afternoon. We got off at the Spectrum Center, where a couple people were hoping to see the Hornets play, but alas the schedule did not allow for that. We walked around the city a bit, found a sad looking park (but at least it was playing host to some Canadian geese), came across the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and eventually found a Mexican lunch spot where the primary entertainment was watching Dai suspiciously eye the guacamole. Eventually he would try it, but I don’t think it’s his favourite, and he would later admit that upon first sight it reminded him of wasabi.

 

We returned to the hotel, but not without a small adventure as an unnamed member of our team had to exit the lightrail in order to use a washroom. In a great show of team spirit, we all hopped off with him and waited for his return on the platform. If we could maintain such a collective supportive attitude throughout the tournament, it would be a successful event. 

 

In round one, our A team was paired against UCLA and our B team against UMBC – two familiar foes from last year. The UMBC lineup was unchanged from the year before, and that strong team took out our B team with a 4-0 score, though we put up a couple good fights. The UCLA lineup was unrecognizable compared to the year prior, and we avenged our 2018 loss with a clean sweep against the new UCLA in 2019.

 

In round two, our A team was paired up against Missouri, a new scholarship school backed by Rex Sinquefield and the St. Louis Chess Club and led by Cristian Chirila. Having been embarrassed by these opponents in China just a month earlier, we were looking for a better showing this time around. While we ended up losing the match 3.5-0.5, we certainly weren’t embarrassed with Joseph holding a draw on board 2 against his grandmaster opponent in a fascinating game while Mark had chances to draw in his endgame and Dai played some enterprising chess leading to a double-edged position with plenty of winning chances. My game was probably the worst of the bunch, though even I managed to reach a roughly level heavy-piece ending before I carelessly let my weak king decide the game.

 

In round three, our A team got paired down, this time against the all-women team from Texas Tech. Honestly, we played some sketchy chess this round, with Mark just playing a dubious opening to reach, well, a bad position. Joseph was struggling with the black pieces, Dai reached a slightly better endgame but it wasn’t clear that he had many winning chances at all, and I was taking my time putting away a much lower rated opponent on board four. In the end, Mark tricked his opponent, Joseph won on time, Dai was held to a draw, and I converted a better endgame to give us a 3.5-0.5 match victory that was much closer than the final score would suggest.

 

In round four, our A team was paired up against another scholarship school, the B team from University of Texas at Dallas. Slightly weaker than Missouri on paper, we thought we should have some chances for an upset. Unfortunately, Mark did not have his best game, and we never really had chances on that board. Joseph got into a complicated position with chances for both sides, while Dai and I were trying to hold draws on the bottom boards – we still had a chance for a drawn match if everything went our way. Unfortunately, Joseph came out of the time scramble losing, Dai could not manage to hold, and my draw on board four was the only thing keeping us from being swept. Actually, that was my first classical draw against a grandmaster, but that provided little consolation with the team going down 3.5-0.5.

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It’s always important to make time to go outside, walk around, and get some fresh air, even if it’s a little rainy. And who knows, maybe you’ll see a fun bird.

 

In round five, our A team was paired down again, this time against a Cal Tech team that was performing very well. Mark very quickly got a powerful attack, Dai got a similar endgame to the one he drew a couple rounds prior, and I got another uninspiring position with black against a lower rated opponent, this time from an exchange Slav. In the end, Mark crashed through with ease, my opponent gifted me a mating attack out of nowhere, Dai showed some nice endgame tricks with a good knight against a bad bishop, and we were able to secure a 3-1 match victory even with Joseph losing his game.

 

In round 6, our A team faced the University of Central Florida, a team doing well in the competition but one that we outrated by a good margin. Joseph bounced back from his disappointments the day before with an easy mating attack out of the opening. I followed quickly, playing some inspired chess (inspired by Mark, who was constantly making fun of me for all the boring chess I was playing), meaning I made some dubious moves to confuse my opponent and then watched him crumble by move 20. Mark himself played some sketchy chess but pulled out a victory in the end. Dai ground out another endgame, this time from the black side of an exchange French. With this, we achieved our second 4-0 sweep and finished the event on 4 out of 6 match points.

 

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Sahan and I walked past this rainbow on the lake on our way to get coffee between the last round and the awards ceremony. A much prettier sight compared to the rainy day before. 

 

Overall, we played two scholarship teams, one of which qualified for the final four (UTD B), and we played two additional prize-winning teams – our Texas Tech opponents took home the prize for top women’s team (beating out the favourites from Saint Louis University), and Cal Tech won the award for top small school (under 5000 enrollment). Like any good team, we did as our board one did. Mark finished on 4/6, with four wins, all match wins for the team, and two losses, both coming in the matches we lost. Everyone on the team finished above 50%, and we hit 15.5 game points (out of 24 total possible), which was really quite a good result. No team seeded below us finished ahead of us, we ended 6 spots above our rank on the starting list. Princeton A was the only non-scholarship school to finish ahead of us. Of course with their GM-IM-IM-FM lineup, they outrated us by 300 points on average. With our result, we took home the prize for Top International Team.

 

Our second team was seeded very highly in the 1600-1799 rating division, and really we had excellent chances to bring back more hardware. After the loss to UMBC in the first round, they bounced back immediately in a big way, sweeping the second team from University of Michigan. Next up was a tough loss to a higher rated squad – the A team from University of Minnesota. After that was a comfortable win against Tulane, and that was followed by the biggest upset by either UofT squad in round 5 – our B team got a big upset draw against the Texas Tech B team, which had an average rating advantage of 300 points. Mahip and Jack got a couple important wins that round, with Jack facing a rating disadvantage near 400 points. That result put the team in the outright lead for the Division IV prize, but also ensured a tough final round matchup. With multiple teams a half-point behind, we needed to add to our point total, though we had excellent tiebreaks to fall back on in case of a tie. In the end, we managed a couple draws from Mahip and Juntong, but fell 3-1 to Arizona State’s A team. University of Minnesota B came away with the Division IV prize, but our B team put in a great effort and came really close. Mahip led the team with a strong result of 4/6, but the whole team did really well considering they were underdogs in four of the six matches.

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The happy group all together with our Top International plaque. Back row L to R: Mahip, Mark, Dai, Jack. Front row L to R: Juntong, Tanner, Sahan, Joseph. 

 

As a group, my travel mates for this trip generally made me feel old. At times, it would seem that they had a carefree attitude about many things, and I felt like I had to be the responsible one, I had to remind them about the flights, bug them about getting their eligibility forms filled out, stuff like that. Not to mention, I saw all their birth dates when I booked international flights for them, and it actually was a young group. Of course, I’m a PhD student myself, I can certainly forgive them for all being undergrads. Then again, I got used to taking out this group of seven undergrads to dinner each night, and they were always full of energy, and, believe it or not, the first question at every restaurant was “what kinds of juice do you have?”

 

So at these events, of course I’m playing my own chess, but I do also feel somewhat responsible for the whole team. This year, very few people woke up in time for breakfast, so that meant going out and bringing breakfast sandwiches back to the hotel for everyone. Juntong reliably kept me company on these trips, but many of the others woke up at the last minute. Dai in particular, well, we had to wake him up twice a day; invariably he fell asleep after lunch, but we needed him to play in the 6pm games too. Joseph played the longest games, and he always needed a fresh water bottle before his time scrambles. I also had to take advantage of the close proximity to a Food Lion to buy some poptarts for everyone as well (and bananas too, we don’t just eat junk food). And Mark, well, he just opened a package and bit right into two at once. I think there was a bit of a misunderstanding over how exactly poptarts are like sandwiches, and yeah, there’s just a filling in the middle of each poptart, it’s not a poptart on the bottom, poptart on top and filling in between. Now Mark knows, and it’s always a great feeling to share a bit of culture from my home country with my Canadian friends.

 

In addition to our travel party, it was great to see friends from the Ivy League Challenge and the 2019 World Prestigious University Chess Invitational Tournament, two November events held in Toronto and China respectively. Missouri fell just short in their quest to qualify for the final four in their first season of competition. Congratulations to Saint Louis University, who also beat us quite badly in China, for making the cut to qualify – Alejandro Ramirez was already on me about making sure his players get visas to come play in Toronto next year. Texas Tech, winners of the qualifier with a perfect 6 match points out of 6, and Webster round out the final four in addition to SLU and UTD. Congrats to all those teams. Princeton, MIT, Harvard, they all had good showings at PanAms, and even helped give me hope for my future – maybe I’m not so old. I ran into my friend Michael from Harvard one evening, and I invited him out to dinner with us. It was around 10:30, just after the evening round finished up. He then described to me his routine of eating lunch after the first game, eating dinner before the second game, and then politely declined the invitation explaining that it was already bedtime. 

 

As always, a big thank you to Hart House for making this trip possible. Thanks to Cynthia Nevins, Tom Moss, and Mauro Barillas for all their assistance in making arrangements. Thanks to Sahan for stepping up to captain our second team, and thanks to Mark, Joseph, Dai, Juntong, Mahip, and Jack as well for making this such a fun trip. I had a blast and I’m very much looking forward to hosting this event next year.