13-year-old scores GM norm in Saint Louis

by ChessBase
6/4/2014 – Saint Louis was recently named the capital of chess in America, and it is living up to its name. Only a couple of weeks after the US Championship two closed tournaments were held simultaneously; one an IM-norm and one a GM-norm section. The GM section was dominated by young kids, and the winner was 13 year old Samuel Sevian from California. Brian Jerauld brings us a full report.

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Sevian, Homa Earn Norms in Saint Louis
By Brian Jerauld

The beautiful Saint Louis Chess Club once again in action

The 2014 Saint Louis Invitational celebrated its design last weekend, handing out norms in each of two sections constructed around FIDE’s specifications for title-seekers. FM Seth Homa earned his second norm toward the International Master title with a 7/9 score in the lower section, while IM Sam Sevian notched his second toward GM with a 6.5/9 in the upper group - though his field proved to be a bit more stacked than anticipated.

A GM norm for 13-year old Sam Sevian, despite some complaints from
his opponents about his behavior during the game, something he will surely grow out of

Amongst other FIDE requirements for norm approval, Sevian needed to play against three players already holding the GM title - a task the organizing Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis addressed by inviting GMs Ben Finegold, Denes Boros and Joshua Friedel.

newly minted American GM Kayden Troff

But showing up to the event with a new glow was now-GM Kayden Troff, who joined the world’s elite just a few days earlier at the 2014 Chicago Open -- though not without a bit of uncertainty. Troff, already FIDE-approved with three GM norms, chased the title right up to its literal watermark in Chicago, earning a live rating of 2499.5 after his eighth-round draw against Yury Shulman. The question of “rounding-up” was enough to hesitate a full celebration, and then his loss in the ninth-round left the tension dangling through the Saint Louis Invitational, which began just two days later.

“Because FIDE rounds up, if I had just dropped out of the tournament, my rating would go to 2500 and everything would be good,” Troff said. “But I was tied for second at the time, and with money on the line, I wasn’t just going to drop out. I played against (eventual winner IM Priyadharshan) Kannappan, who offered me a draw early, but I thought ‘No, I want to win, so I can be over 2500.’ A few moves later, I realized ‘I’m probably a little worse here.’

14-year-old Akshat Chandra continues on his quest

“So I ended up losing the game and was left wondering does 2499.5 count now? We decided we’d celebrate and say it counts, but I guess I still really wanted to finish above 2500 - to doubly make sure.”

GM Troff checked it twice in Saint Louis. His 6/9 performance, second only to Sevian, was good enough to float him back over 2500 regardless, and FIDE soon after confirmed his moment in Chicago by updating his profile with the new title on Tuesday. Ironically, Troff’s loss to Kannappan - which ultimately left his entire week in limbo - was his only loss amongst both tournaments, 18 games over a span of 12 days.

Solid IM John Bartholomew scored a GM norm last year in this event,
but wasn't as successful this time around

“What I’ve figured out through tournaments is winning is good, drawing is OK - but don’t lose,” Troff said. “As far as rating goes, losing will kill you. Some of these openings didn’t go my way; maybe I got to a few points where I would be considered losing. But even though I was tired, I just kept trying to focus on fighting, even when things looked bad.”

Always witty GM Ben Finegold lives in Saint Louis
and often plays these GM norm events

Troff as a bonus GM helped put a shine on Sevian’s norm achievement, after the two played to a draw in the second round in Saint Louis. Sevian took clear first with the norm-necessary 6.5/9 points, and also scored 2.5 points against the other three GMs, winning as black against both Friedel and Boros.

FM Arun Sharma is a math professor at UC Berkeley

“I originally thought that I should do well with white, having them for five rounds - but the opposite happened,” Sevian said. “With white I was not getting the good positions I usually get, while with black I was easily equalizing. My game with Boros seemed like I was really passive at first, but then I got the initiative and started threat after threat. He really couldn’t parry all of them.”

IM Raja Panjwani is taking a year off before finishing his Master's at Princeton and
working on his start-up, Sage academic coaches

Sevian’s undefeated performance leaves him roughly 40 rating points and one norm short of the GM title -- still on pace to become the youngest-ever American GM. The status is currently claimed by Ray Robson at 14 years, 11 months and 6 days -- though the 13-year-old Sevian seems genuinely disinterested in the caption, stating “I think, for now, I’m just focused on getting the GM title.”

“There have been a bunch of players who made GM around 13 or 14 years old, which is outstanding in itself,” said Sam’s father, Armen. “But many of those guys, even some who made it very early, didn’t progress as much after that. So we could shoot for it and live in the clouds, but we could just as easily have a flat year with nothing happening. It’s not the most important thing -- though, definitely, it helps.”

Homa has also moved tantalizingly close to his own new title after winning the Invitational’s IM section a full point ahead of the rest of the field. His second norm achievement comes as a reward for a grueling month of training.

Seth Homa dominated the IM Section

“It’s been almost two games a day for the past two weeks, and I thought I’d be exhausted - but actually I feel pretty good right now,” said the 26-year-old from Lansing, Mich. “In some ways, I’m already adjusted to this: I watched the U.S. Championships every day for about five hours, and then I was preparing lessons for my students and also working on my own chess every day. I was already putting in 10-12 hours a day a couple weeks before Chicago and Saint Louis, and I think that all helped me with fatigue at the end.”

IM Kannappan Priyadarshan couldn't repeat his GM norm performance from Chicago

Homa had struggled in the last two installments of the Saint Louis Invitational, but played with convincing strength this year, highlighted by better results against IM players. He scored 3.0/4 points against the tournament’s IM-title standard, including wins in the final two rounds over IMs Ronald Burnett and Levan Bregadze.

“I feel really good about that -- the last couple of events, I have done poorly against IM players, including Columbus where I got crushed by two of them. In this event, those fights felt good. They felt really good.”

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Final Standings GM Section

Final Standings IM Section

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