Interview Over Cake: GM Awonder Liang

Awonder Liang at the U.S. Junior Championship, which he went on to win. Photo: US Championship Website

Ask me who the second highest rated player to ever bring me a slice of cake is and I’m going to stare back blankly at you.  You can give me all the time you like on my clock and I’m still going to lose on time.  Ask me who the highest rated person to do so is, and I can unhesitatingly answer “Grandmaster Awonder Liang.”

EB Member Mike Nietman, Awonder Liang and Senator Risser

On Tuesday January 16th an event was held at the Sequoia Library in Madison, WI to honor Awonder.  Immediately afterwards, the young star instantly switched personas from youngest current GM in the World (currently rated 2572 FIDE)  to gracious host, serving cake to guests. Chess fans gathered in the meeting room at the library to watch GM Liang receive a Proclamation from the Wisconsin State Senator.  On hand was State Senator Fred Risser, who represents part of the Madison area.  Also involved in the honor was State Senator Mark Miller’s office. This was not the first time Senator Risser had been involved in honoring Awonder.  He participated in prior events to honor the two time World Youth Champion, as Awonder won the U8 championship in 2011 and the U10 in 2013. Working tirelessly to shepherd the Proclamation from concept to reality was US Chess Executive Board member and Wisconsin Chess Association President Mike Nietman. After a short acceptance speech in which Awonder thanked friends and supporters from over the years an intermission took place where both Awonder and his father Will made sure that everyone present had the chance to enjoy some of the treats on hand, including the most delicious mandarin oranges I’ve ever tasted. Once everyone had their fill of refreshments Awonder demonstrated a recent game of his from Round Four of the Sunway Sitges tournament.  “This game was a good example of using the initiative and transferring advantages.”

[pgn] [Event "Sunway Sitges Open 2017"] [Site "Sitges ESP"] [Date "2017.12.18"] [Round "4.11"] [White "Liang, Awonder"] [Black "Raja, Harshit"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteTitle "GM"] [BlackTitle "IM"] [WhiteElo "2573"] [BlackElo "2420"] [ECO "A14"] [Opening "English"] [Variation "Neo-Catalan declined"]1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Be7 5. O-O c5 6. d4 cxd4 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Nxd4 O-O 9. Qb3 Nc6 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. e4 Nb6 12. Rd1 Qc7 13. Nc3 e5 14. Qc2 Bc5 15. b4 Bxb4 16. Nd5 Nxd5 17. exd5 Bg4 18. Rf1 c5 19. a3 Ba5 20. d6 Qc8 21. Bb2 c4 22. Rac1 Rb8 23. Bxe5 Qe6 24. Bf4 Be2 25. Bd5 Qxd5 26. Qxe2 Qd3 27. Qxd3 cxd3 28. Rc5 Bd8 29. Rd1 Rb3 30. d7 Bf6 31. Rc8 1-0[/pgn]
Afterwards I was able to sit down with Awonder for a brief talk about upcoming plans and goals, and what future path he sees for himself. Chris Wainscott: During your lecture you spoke about the fact that you have a couple of smaller events coming up before the US Championship, but that you are primarily focused on training.  Are you referring to training in general, or specifically training for the US Championship? Awonder Liang: My trip to Europe showed me that I have a lot of things that I need to improve. So right now I’m just trying to train in general.  I still need to round out many points of my game and then I can focus on training for specific events such as the US Championship. CW: I know that you have done some work with the SPICE program and some of the GM’s there.  Other than that are you working with a trainer at all? AL: It’s cool to work with some of the SPICE GM’s!  Currently I’m trying to fix my own problems.  I feel that once I fix some of those then perhaps I can work on some of the finer points which would require a trainer. CW: For at least the last three years I’ve been hoping to see you win the Samford Fellowship.  If the committee where sitting in front of you and asked why you should win the award what would you tell them? AL: I think that’s really a question that my dad would be more suited to answer.  I know that he’s wanted to get a full time coach for me in the past, so of course an award such as the Samford would help bear the load for that.  In the meantime it’s great having a dad who is so supportive of me and my career. CW: When you’re not playing in an event, what’s your typical day like?  Whether it’s training, time with your family, or hobbies you may have? AL: I don’t have a specific schedule. I might go through some books or check out some old games. Or I might go through some recent games and shore up some openings I might have had issues with. I like to play with my siblings a lot.  Just spending time together and enjoying their company. CW: You showed your game against Raja from Sitges.  Is that your favorite recent game? AL: I feel that it was a really nice game.  It was fairly smooth with no major mistakes.  I really like the move 15. b4 followed by 16. Nd5 (see full game above).  The computer wasn’t overly impressed by it, but it felt like from that point on I was controlling the game.

Position after 14....Bc5

CW: What’s your favorite game of all time? AL: There was a game in the 72 match between Fischer and Spassky.  There was an endgame that was rook, bishop, and pawn vs. rook and five pawns.  Fischer’s rook was locked in on g8 so it was basically king and five pawns vs king and rook.  Just a fascinating endgame battle.

[pgn] [Event "Fischer - Spassky World Championship Match"] [Site "Reykjavik ISL"] [Date "1972.08.10"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "13"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Boris Spassky"] [Black "Robert James Fischer"] [ECO "B04"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "148"] 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 g6 5. Bc4 Nb6 6. Bb3 Bg7 7. Nbd2 O-O 8. h3 a5 9. a4 dxe5 10. dxe5 Na6 11. O-O Nc5 12. Qe2 Qe8 13. Ne4 Nbxa4 14. Bxa4 Nxa4 15. Re1 Nb6 16. Bd2 a4 17. Bg5 h6 18. Bh4 Bf5 19. g4 Be6 20. Nd4 Bc4 21. Qd2 Qd7 22. Rad1 Rfe8 23. f4 Bd5 24. Nc5 Qc8 25. Qc3 e6 26. Kh2 Nd7 27. Nd3 c5 28. Nb5 Qc6 29. Nd6 Qxd6 30. exd6 Bxc3 31. bxc3 f6 32. g5 hxg5 33. fxg5 f5 34. Bg3 Kf7 35. Ne5+ Nxe5 36. Bxe5 b5 37. Rf1 Rh8 38. Bf6 a3 39. Rf4 a2 40. c4 Bxc4 41. d7 Bd5 42. Kg3 Ra3+ 43. c3 Rha8 44. Rh4 e5 45. Rh7+ Ke6 46. Re7+ Kd6 47. Rxe5 Rxc3+ 48. Kf2 Rc2+ 49. Ke1 Kxd7 50. Rexd5+ Kc6 51. Rd6+ Kb7 52. Rd7+ Ka6 53. R7d2 Rxd2 54. Kxd2 b4 55. h4 Kb5 56. h5 c4 57. Ra1 gxh5 58. g6 h4 59. g7 h3 60. Be7 Rg8 61. Bf8 h2 62. Kc2 Kc6 63. Rd1 b3+ 64. Kc3 h1=Q 65. Rxh1 Kd5 66. Kb2 f4 67. Rd1+ Ke4 68. Rc1 Kd3 69. Rd1+ Ke2 70. Rc1 f3 71. Bc5 Rxg7 72. Rxc4 Rd7 73. Re4+ Kf1 74. Bd4 f2 0-1[/pgn]
CW: An obvious goal for you would be to get to 2600.  Other than rating goals, what kinds of goals do you set for yourself? AL: One goal is to get through the US Championship.  By ‘get through it’ I mean that I know I’ll probably lose a few games here and there, but if I fix up my weaknesses and some decent positions out of the opening and into the middle game I feel like I’ll have done good.  So it’s really just about focusing on improving my own play. CW: Where do you think you’ll finish in the US Championship?  What’s your goal there?  I know you have one!  Of course everyone says they just want to play well, but they also have a goal of where they expect to finish. AL: (laughing) OK, well coming in as the lowest seed I want to play my best chess and not finish last.  I just want to seize the opportunity and play against the top guys.  I’ve been following their careers for years.  Dan Schultz, one of judges this year for Best of Chess 2017, flips the board and interviews Chris here.