East Bay Fight Club
By Jesse Kraai   
January 28, 2007
IM Jesse Kraai

by IM Jesse Kraai

Bay Area Chess is comprised of two different worlds: the matured San Francisco chess scene vs. the bellicose posturings of Oakland's young punks. At San Francisco's Mechanics Chess Club , the pieces are made of wood. On a late afternoon a huddle of elderly gentlemen ponders the vagaries of the Caro-Kann. They wane into the evening when GM Alex Yermolinsky, aka the Yermonator, will pronounce upon positions in his evening lecture. His judgments are buttressed by the ghosts of the world champions who walk the Mechanics' halls.

If you grow weary of analysis and chess philosophy and decide you'd like to actually play a game, you need to go to Oakland. Walk down Post Street to catch the Bart, pass the hipsters in their corporate gear, the wine shops and elegant architecture stretching into the fog. Surfacing on the East Side of the Bay, you will find cargo loading cranes guarding an industrial wasteland. They inspired the Imperial Walkers used in the Landing of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back and now silently menace the decadence of the Mechanics Chess Club in the distance. Your next stop is the Coliseum: concrete, Raiders and scrap metal yards.

Two ambitious young players, IMs David Pruess and Josh Friedel, run their chess club out of a shipping warehouse. A dirty carpet and some plywood tables are the sole requirements for a style of chess that resembles a bloody feast more than a decorous discussion. Pruess and Friedel's chess is as uncompromising as their spartan furnishings. They are about as likely to accept a draw as Jack Bauer is to respect the Geneva Convention.

Fight Clubs like the East Bay Chess Club are appearing across the land. Lacking high-level European style nine-round norm events, up and coming players are now organizing their own. Whether it's the East Bay , Chicago, Miami , or New York , you’ll find a host of strong players in a dank cellar at the bottom of a church or a cheap hotel battling for glory.

In a recent edition of the East Bay Fight Club, GM Sharavdorj from Mongolia was playing the Yermonator and the following defining moment in Fight Club History occurred: Sharavdorj was pushing a drawn position to the exasperation of the Yermonator. As time pressure ensued, the dungeon’s torches flickered and failed. Clocks are never paused at Fight Club. A flashlight had to be found, and in the resulting chaos, Yermo petitioned a peaceful resolution. Now, no one really knows if Sharavdorj understands English, but at this precise moment he chose not to. Flashlights held by uncertain hands arrived and the Mongolian GM continued to play. This was perhaps too much Fight Club for the veteran of the Mechanics Chess Club, who is accustomed to more civilized circumstances. "Do you think we are playing blitz in Ulan Bator?" Yermo demanded. Sharavdorj now understood, and a draw had to be negotiated.

Fight Club '06 (December 16-23 2006, Oakland, California) was spiked with the participation and sponsorship of Mr. Clint Ballard. He supported the tournament on the condition that we play with his anti-draw formula where a win with black nets three points, a win with white two, and draw with black one and a draw with white none. Whilst the virtues of the system were vigorously debated on the web, it made little difference to the nature of the tournament. Draws aren’t especially common at any fight club. And the modest prize fund offered by Mr. Ballard was less important than the opportunity of GM norm glory.

Mr. Ballard’s aggressive style of play does fit quite nicely with his must-win system however. For even though the pieces are made of plastic in the East Bay, it was widely stated that Mr. Ballard does not push wood, he throws it. Out of ten rounds Mr. Ballard did not draw a single game!

My first round encounter was critical to my GM-norm campaign. I faced the formidable Justin Sarkar who had beaten me in the final round of the 05' fight club and who recently scored his first GM-norm at the Marshall Fight Club in New York. IM David Vigorito’s lecture series on the Catalan at chesslecture.com was essential in this win.


1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.d4 The Catalan; Kramnik has resurrected this ancient weapon for a more civilized time. 4...dxc4 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.0–0 This move is far more dynamic than the usual Qa4 regaining the pawn. 6...Rb8 7.Nc3 b5 8.Ne5 Nxe5 9.dxe5 Nd7 10.Qd4 Bc5? Black will face some serious French-style pressure on the kingside after this move. Better was either c5 or Bb7. 11.Qg4 Kf8 12.Rd1 h5!? Black looks to solve the problem of his rook on h8. The problem is that a flank attack rarely succeeds without central control. Nevertheless it's hard to give Black any good advice here. 13.Qf4 h4 14.a4 hxg3 15.hxg3 b4 16.Ne4 Be7 17.Be3 a5 18.Ba7 Rb7 19.Nc5 Bxc5 20.Bxc5+ Ke8 21.Bc6 A picturesque position, Black can no longer move his pieces. 1–0

IM and Duke student Lev Milman. Photo Jacob Okada.

IM Lev Milman also achieved his second GM norm. Games like the following will have all American chess fans wishing that he quit college to pursue chess full-time:


1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c6 3.d4 d5 4.e3 Bf5 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Topalov experimented with this plan in the tiebreak phase of his match with Kramnik. I personally don't like it, white trades a nice knight for black's bad bishop. 6...Bg6 7.Nxg6 hxg6 8.a3 Nbd7 9.g3 Be7 10.f4 white's play is odd but consistent. His last three moves place his pawns on dark squares. With this he intends to blockade the dark squares and emphasize the power of his unopposed bishop on f1. 10...dxc4 11.Bxc4 c5 12.dxc5 Nxc5 But Milman simply changes the structure of the position and white's pawn moves no longer seem logical. 13.Qf3 0–0 14.0–0 Rc8 15.Qe2 Qc7 16.Bd2 Qb6 17.b4 Nce4 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.Rac1 Bf6 20.Bd3 Nxd2 21.Qxd2 Rxc1 22.Qxc1 Bb2 23.Qxb2 Qxe3+ 24.Qf2 Qxd3 25.Qxa7 b5 A very plea sant endgame for black due to white's more exposed King. If white could only take those pawn moves back he would be fine! 26.a4 bxa4 27.Qxa4 Qd4+ 28.Kg2 Rd8 29.Qb3 Qe4+ 30.Qf3 Qxb4 31.h4 Qc4 32.Rf2 Rd3 33.Qg4 Qd5+ 34.Kh2 Re3 35.Qh3 Rf3 36.Qg2 Rxf2 37.Qxf2 The spectators assessed this position as drawn. Perhaps it is, but watch how Milman demonstrates a nice mixture of problem-setting and patient massage to gain the full point. 37...Kh7 38.Qe2 Qf5 39.Kg2 Qh5 40.Qe3 Qd5+ 41.Kh2 Qa2+ 42.Kh3 Qc2 43.g4 Qd1 44.g5 Qd5 45.Kg3 Qh1 46.Qd4 Qe1+ 47.Kh3 Qf1+ 48.Kg3 Qe2 49.Qc3 Qe4 50.Qc7 Qe3+ 51.Kg2 Qe2+ 52.Kg3 Qe1+ 53.Kh3 Qf2 54.h5 Qf3+ 55.Kh2 Qe2+ 56.Kg1 gxh5 57.Qxf7 h4 58.Qe8 Qe1+ 59.Kg2 Qg3+ 60.Kf1 Qf3+ 61.Kg1 h3 0–1

A friend of mine recently tried to study with the young punks of Oakland. To his dismay he discovered that the cultivation of chess truth and wisdom was not high on their list of priorities. They wanted to play. Testing each other in game upon game. This raw experience defines the east bay chess scene. Its energy is the basis of our chess future and the heritage of places like the Mechanics--Donate to the Eastbay Fight Club!

East Bay Masters '06
Final Standings (10 Rounds)
1-2- IMs Jesse Kraai and Lev Milman - 7.5
3. IM Josh Friedel -7
4-6.GMs Magesh Panchanathan, John Federowicz and Dashzegve Sharavdorj-6
7-8. IM Vladimir Mezentsev and Daniel Rensch- 5.5
9. IM Justin Sarkar- 5
10. IM David Pruess-4.5
11-13. IM Thomas Rouseel-Roozmon, WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs and Joshua Gutman-3.5
14-15. Andy Lee and Samuel Shankland- 3
16. Clint Ballard- 1

East Bay Masters Crosstable