Best of US Chess 2016: Meet the Judges and Honorable Mentions

In Best of US Chess, we countdown the top ten articles of 2016, some of which you may have missed.  Find last year’s contest results and the winning 2015 article by GM Sam Shankland. Look for the countdown starting tomorrow. And now, meet this year’s panel of esteemed judges!

Eric Rosen

Photo: Austin Fuller Photo: Austin Fuller
Eric Rosen (single and handsome, ladies!) is an International Master and member of the Webster University Chess Team. He currently manages and competes for the Webster Windmills as part of the PRO Chess League. Eric is also an active chess coach and instructs students from around the world via the internet. He recently completed a 2-week residency at the Chess Club Scholastic Center of St. Louis. You can view some of Eric's recent lectures on the St. Louis Chess Club YouTube Channel. In addition to his chess involvement, Eric is a photographer, designer, and web developer. He will graduate from Webster University in May with BA in Interactive Digital Media. Readers can learn more about what Eric does on his personal website: 

Vanessa Sun


Vanessa Sun is an avid chess fan and freelance chess journalist. She writes for Chess Club Live, Chess^Summit, US Chess, and Follow her on Twitter: @CimsWorthIt

Michael Aigner


Michael Aigner is a master and coach living in Northern California.  He strongly believes that a quality chess coach should also be an active tournament player, practicing what he preaches. He enjoys judging this contest because it provides an opportunity to read the best stories of the previous year again. Inexplicably, he had missed one of his favorite pieces the first time!  He evaluates each article in four broad categories:

  1. Stories about chess and chess events
  2. Games or puzzles
  3. Writing style
  4. Uniqueness (i.e. Did the writer share something new, different and exciting?)

Michael Ciamarra

MC Michael Ciamarra is a FIDE Instructor and US Chess Federation Advanced Coach.  He is the chess columnist for The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, and Mobile Press Register (AL.COM).  He writes about international and local tournaments, chess history, annotates games, reviews books and software. Michael serves as chess coach to older adults, low vision and blind Veterans in a volunteer program for the United States Veterans Medical Center called Brain Games For Healthy Living – Checkmating Alzheimer’s.  He also teaches chess to older adults in the University of Alabama’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Michael works with chess teachers on best practices and how to build community coalitions for scholastic chess. He developed the partnership between the Alabama Chess Federation and the Alabama State Department of Education for chess to be taught in schools. This unique collaboration resulted in one of the first of its kind in the nation – a fully funded, statewide Chess in the Schools Initiative.

Jennifer Vallens


Jennifer Vallens is a chess mom who founded OFF da ROOK, a chess newsletter in 2013.  She teaches beginning chess and organizes chess events including chess camps, scholastic tournaments and special events.  Most recently, Jennifer worked with GM Timur Gareyev promoting his “Blindfold King” tour and organized the Las Vegas event where Gareyev set the new world record for Blindfold Chess. Jennifer enjoys writing, practicing yoga, hiking, spending time with her family and working on her own chess game. When she is not involved in chess, she is helping her husband make wine For more information on OFF da ROOK events, please visit
Honorable Mentions
"2016 was a busy, remarkable year for American chess. Chess Life Online articles chronicled the results, stories and games in real time and is an invaluable news source for American players. All of the articles selected for consideration and ranking were of enormous interest, well-written and timely insights into contemporary American chess. Therefore, ranking these selections has proven to be a difficult task! All could be tied for first place!"

-Michael Ciamarra

Blindfold King Breaks World Record

by Jay Stallings

"It may seem easy to write a report about an once-in-a-lifetime event such as Timur Gareev's attempt to break the blindfold world record, but the reporter covered all corners well: plenty of games, quotes, and descriptions, plus even a small controversy!"

-Michael Aigner

"Jay grabs the reader from the beginning as he builds up the day filled with excitement.  Great quotes weaved throughout the entire article.  Jay provides the player’s perspective through quotes rather than offering his own opinion on the day.  His editorial writing stays upbeat and positive throughout."

-Jennifer Vallens

Irina Krush on the World Youth: From Bratislava to Batumi

By Irina Krush

"The young players at the World Cadets experience all sorts of emotions and anticipation.  Krush understands what they are experiencing as she has been there and done that!  The article is a wonderful and inspiring tribute to the persistence and ambitions of our young players."

-Michael Ciamarra

"Irina is not only a supportive and skilled coach, but also a highly engaging writer!"

-Eric Rosen

My Experience at the Schein-Friedman/U.S. Chess School Camp

By Akira Nakada

"Akira Nakada shows great promise as a chess writer.  His descriptive style communicates his enthusiasm.  He not only provides a review of each day at camp, but includes what he learned.  He was obviously listening.  The article does not mention his age other than the camp was for 9-13, but his writing style and his annotations show his wisdom far exceeds 13."

-Jennifer Vallens

Celebrate Independence Day with Benko Problems

By Pal Benko

"I realized that these puzzles by Pal Benko are in a way, deeper than words in a typical article. Each problem was a new composition and a creative exploration. It showed at the heart of the game, it is still essentially what chess and chess journalism is about: the beauty, wonder, and curiosity of chess by just looking at some positions."

-Vanessa Sun

"At 88-years-young, Pal Benko's creativity and ingenuity knows no bounds and keeps going strong! He enriches the art of chess problems and endgame studies with his limitless contributions that are exclusives to Chess Life Online.  Benko’s problems and endgame studies enrich the publications of many of the world’s most famous chess trainers. It is a testimony to Benko’s vibrant creativity and genius that he can create ‘chess art’ to compliment national holidays! A national treasure!"

-Michael Ciamarra

The Best of US Chess top 10 countdown begins tomorrow!