Charlotte GM Hunting: Korley Earns Norm #1, Zierk Earns Title

The first Charlotte Chess Festival (June 6 – 16, 2018) is in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was recently awarded “Chess City of the Year” by US Chess. The festival features hundreds of chess players and dozens of titled players, and involves three premier events:

  • Charlotte Chess Center’s Summer 2018 GM/IM Norm Round Robin Invitational
  • The third Carolinas Classic, a 244-player open weekend tournament
  • Charlotte Chess Center Elite Camp, featuring GMs Jacob Aagaard and Boris Avrukh

Summer GM/IM Norm Invitational

Although the summer 2018 GM/IM Norm Invitational was the sixth one organized by the Charlotte Chess Center, it broke many of our records in terms of players, international representation, and norms achieved.

Forty players were divided into four round-robins, with two GM norm sections and two IM norm sections.

The invitational featured a very diverse and strong field, with 20 federations amongst the 40 participants, including Grandmasters, International Masters, and FIDE Masters from Belarus, Belgium, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, India, Mexico, Moldova, Philippines, Serbia, Ukraine, United States, and Zimbabwe.  There were 7 GMs, 16 IMs, 13 FMs, and 4 NMs, all with US Chess ratings over 2300.

Title norms were achieved in all four groups!

In Group GM A, Californian IM Steven Zierk scored an undefeated 6.5/9, earning clear first place half a point above second place, Hungarian GM Gergely Antal.  More importantly, Steven scored his final GM norm, thus fulfilling his final requirement for the Grandmaster title.  His title should be approved at the next FIDE Presidential Board Meeting in July.

Zierk, who is coached by GM Melik Khachiyan, has played four GM norm events in Charlotte, and he continues the trend of GM John Michael Burke, GM Andrew Tang, and IM Kevin Wang, who all recently achieved their final title requirements in recent Charlotte norm events.  Khachiyan told US Chess:

Zierk deserves it. He’s been on a quest for the GM title for almost eight years. He is the first American kid who I helped from expert level to the GM title. He is has very bright future, and hopefully one day he will compete at US Championship!

Congratulations to GM-elect Steven Zierk!

GM-elect Steven Zierk congratulated by organizer Peter Giannatos

 Group GM B was also quite promising norms-wise.  IM Michael Brown, IM Denys Shmelov, IM Kassa Korley, and NM Mika Brattain were all in norm contention on the last day.  Michael Brown, who was seeking his final GM norm, finished in clear second with 6/9.

Kassa Korley

But it was New York’s IM Kassa Korley, representing Denmark, who scored the required 6.5/9 to earn his first GM norm.  Kassa played very fighting chess, dealing Belgian GM Tanguy Ringoir his first ever defeat in Charlotte (this was GM Ringoir’s fifth event!).  Despite losing in round 3 to IM Farai Mandizha, Kassa managed to pull off the norm with a huge finish in the last rounds (3.5/4).

Korley wrote, “Just got my first grandmaster norm! Feel like Will Smith at the end of Pursuit of Happiness.”

Here is Kassa’s favorite game from the event, his round 6 victory over IM Advait Patel, a very strong effort in the Maroczy Bind:

Two players in Group IM C earned their first IM norms: FM Yoon-Young Kim (Connecticut) and FM Brandon Jacobson (New Jersey).  It was a very competitive section, the only group where no one finished undefeated.  Although only needing a draw in the last round, Kim won his game against FM Alex Velikanov to earn a 2508 performance – Kim had six victories in addition to his loss to top seed IM Zurab Javakhadze in round 3.

FM Yoon-Young Kim scores his first IM norm

Brandon Jacobson also played excellent chess, rising to the occasion after needing to score 3-0 in the final rounds for the IM norm.

14-year old Carissa Yip was the story of the IM group D – after reeling off four victories in the preliminary rounds, she cruised to her “triple norm” with 3.0/5.  Carissa achieved many titles for her 7/9 score, including her first IM norm, first WGM norm, final WIM norm, and the US Chess Senior Master (2400) title.

Carissa’s showed great defensive and calculation skills in her round two battle against FM Balaji Daggupati, which featured a Caro-Kann Defense with opposite side castling.

Congratulations to all five players who earned norms!

3rd Carolinas Classic

The 2018 Carolinas Classic, organized by Dr. Walter High and the Charlotte Chess Center’s Peter Giannatos, attracted 244 players.  Although GM Elshan Moradiabadi was not available to defend his title from the previous two years, the $10,000 guaranteed prize fund ensured that there would be a strong field, and the Championship section featured two GMs, an IM, a Senior Master, and dozens of National Masters from many states.

GM Julio Sadorra (2660), pictured below, swept the section with a perfect 5-0, defeating GM Alexander Shabalov (2662) and local Senior Master Daniel Cremisi (2406) in the final rounds to earn the $1200 prize.

GM Julio Sadorra, 2018 Carolinas Classic champion

Here is Julio’s round four game with GM Shabalov:

Karen and Walter High, organizers of the Carolinas Classic and the US Masters

Other section winners include:

  • Under 2000 – Mohak Agarwalla (Alabama)
  • Under 1800 – Andrew Chen (North Carolina)
  • Under 1600 – Aditya Dias (North Carolina)
  • Under 1400 – Joshua Soutiere (North Carolina)

Charlotte Chess Center Elite Camp

After both of the weekend’s tournaments, the Charlotte Chess Center hosted an elite chess camp for the top juniors in the country.  It was taught by two of the most renowned trainers and authors in the world: GM Jacob Aagaard and GM Boris Avrukh.

GM Boris Avrukh and GM Jacob Aagaard signing books for International Arbiter Thad Rogers

 Lectures from the camp include Grandmaster opening preparation and “the four types of decisions.”

The camp includes 24 of America’s next champions, including:

Test yourself with two positions from GM Aagaard’s exercises:

  1. (MEDIUM) – Black to move and win

  1. (HARD) – Black to move and draw

Overall, the Charlotte Chess Festival was a great success, awarding norms to five people.  Special thanks to the event staff who made it possible, including Peter Giannatos, Walter and Karen High, Thad Rogers, Rudy Abate, Anna Wyzywany, Alex Velasquez, and Grant Oen.  Pictures from the various events can be found on the Charlotte Chess Center’s facebook page.

The Charlotte Chess Center’s upcoming schedule includes the U.S. G/10, G/30, and G/60 National Championships, July 20-22, and two more GM/IM norm invitationals during Labor Day and Thanksgiving Weekends.  We hope that chess enthusiasts of all levels will join us soon for chess in Charlotte, the Chess City of the Year!

Grant Oen is the Assistant Director at the Charlotte Chess Center and the FIDE Events Manager at US Chess.


  1. Congratulations to my fellow Connecticut chess player Yoon-Young Kim for taking away at least some of the stench from the recent lawsuit in which U S C F was a co-defendant. Without knowing who legally was at fault it is my opinion that the root cause of this lawsuit was Connecticut organizer egotism.

  2. Korley’s certificate in the picture has the IM box checked. Probably need to update that before sending to FIDE.

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