Highlights From 100,000 Members Only Blitz

Editor's Note: This story first ran in the May 2023 issue of Chess Life Magazine. We have republished the piece, with a number of additional puzzles, below. Consider becoming a US Chess member for more content like this — access to digital editions of both Chess Life and Chess Life Kids is a member benefit, and you can receive print editions of both magazines for a small add-on fee.



It was August 2019, or what I have come to think of as the “before-time.”

US Chess events and publication staff assembled in a meeting room at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida. The occasion was the 2019 U.S. Open, but the reason for our meeting was to talk about the future.

With roughly 90,000 members on the books, and knowing how membership ebbed and flowed with the scholastic calendar, we were beginning to think about how to celebrate the 100k mark, which we thought we would hit as early as the spring.

And then... well, you know what happened.

We suffered some brutal years in 2020 and 2021. Membership cratered, bottoming out at just over 51,000 in April 2021. But then COVID-19 vaccines became available for all people age 16 and older. Kids were increasingly back at in-person school, and people began to feel more comfortable engaging in social activities like over-the-board chess. Combine this with the tailwind from “The Queen’s Gambit” and the streaming boom, and our members came back in droves.

By April 2022 we had broken 80,000 members. By January 2023 we were at 96,000 and growing. Staff were alerted to the possibility of our breaking the 100,000 member mark in February, and we thought we had a few weeks to come up with a plan.

We had four days. (Or what felt like four days, anyway.)

How do you commemorate such an important milestone in US Chess history? The first step was to try and identify our 100,000th member, a task that was surprisingly tricky given the rapid pace of membership purchases and voucher redemptions. Eventually a US Chess forensic team — ok, this is an exaggeration, but not by much! — was able to figure out that nine-year-old Luna Thomas from Salt Lake City, Utah, was lucky number 100,000. You can read more about Luna in our April issue.

But we wanted to do more, because this achievement really was a cumulative effort. Our staff had persisted through some trying months. Members had renewed for years at a time to help us keep the lights on. Donations had come in, and in all shapes and sizes. What could we do to thank everyone for pitching in and supporting US Chess?

And then our Art Director, Natasha Roberts, landed on it: “What about a tournament?”

The First Annual Members Only Blitz Tournament took place on the evening of March 10, online at Chess.com, with 433 players turning out to compete in nine rounds of G/3+2 action. US Chess and Chess.com memberships were awarded to the top five players overall as well as the top five U1800 and U1200 competitors. (See the “At a Glance” box for the winners.)

There were also “bounty” prizes placed on the five US Chess employees — Chess Life editor (and your author) John Hartmann, Digital Assistant JJ Lang, Senior Director of Strategic Communications Dan Lucas, Assistant Director of Events Pete Karagianis, and Director of Member Services Korey Kormick — who participated. The first players to defeat each of our staff members received gift certificates to US Chess Sales.

With such a short organizational lead time, we didn’t know what to expect. Would people turn out on a Friday night to compete for membership extensions? Would they compete with integrity? Would our staff members lose all their games?

I’m pleased to report that everything went about as well as could be hoped for. Chief Tournament Director Judit Sztaray ran a tight ship, and the event was largely free from fair play violations.

Turnout exceeded our expectations, with one player — IM Justin Sarkar — deserving special mention. The only IM in the field, Sarkar “latejoined” the tournament after playing in the Friday night blitz at the Marshall Chess Club. Starting with a zero-point bye, he went a perfect 8/8 to claim a share of first place. Thanks for playing, Justin!

From this player’s perspective, the event was a success, despite the lost rating points! Ultimately I scored a reasonable 5½/9, which — after a total brain freeze in the first round, where I turned a drawn position into a loss by forgetting to move — felt just about right for my level of play.

Team US Chess was led by Pete Karagianis, who finished with 7½ points. Other staff scores: JJ Lang ended the event with 6½/9. Korey Kormick finished with five points, and Dan Lucas was in the middle of the pack with an even score.

Already we have hired a coach and are training for the Second Annual Members Only Blitz, coming sometime in 2024.

Until then, replay some of the tactical highlights from the tournament below:



Members Only Blitz At a Glance

March 10, 2023 | Chess.com

open: 1st-5th (in tiebreak order): Adrian Parra, Kumar Kona, Stephen Willy, CM Drhuv Khosla, IM Justin Sarkar, 8/9.

U1800: 1st: Saad Al-deen Mohammad, 7/9. 2nd: Hayk Sardaryan, 7. 3rd-5th: Sebastian Suarez, Bohan Wang, Suranga M. Dharmarante, 6½.

U1200: 1st: JC Abadesco, 5½/9. 2nd-4th: Justin A. Lee, Milam Dobbins, Alexander Rapoport, 5. 5th: Rishik Bhattacharyya, 4½.

Full Report

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