Northern California beats Texas

by Alexey Root
8/6/2021 – By a score of 23–22, Northern California triumphed over Texas at the national tournaments of state chess champions held July 31–August 3. Each state could send five representatives, and each representative played six games. Individual champions were also crowned. Woman International Master Alexey Root reports from the Cherry Hill, New Jersey site, which also hosts the U.S. Open. | Photos: Alexey Root

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In Chess, Northern California beats Texas

States Contest

Ratings favourites Texas (US Chess rating average of 2285) and Northern California (2206) engaged both on Facebook and over-the-board. Northern California is a separate “state” in US Chess. FIDE Master Michael Aigner’s Facebook posts, for example here and here, showed his Northern California pride. Not to be outdone, the Texas Chess Association posted an essay in support of its representatives.

Four of the five tournaments of state champions are for young players:

The fifth tournament, for players who are 50 years old or older, is the 

The time control for the five tournaments is G90 +30: 90 minutes base time with a 30-second increment added after each move.

Each Irwin player is considered the “honorary captain” of his state’s team. In 2021, all the Irwin players were men, so “his” is appropriate.


The individual champion for the Irwin is International Master Igor Khmelnitsky, representing Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania came in third in the state competition. Khmelnitsky is an actuary and a chess author. In the last round, Khmelnitsky won what had seemed like a drawn position against FIDE Master Doug Eckert of Missouri. By winning that game, Khmelnitsky finished clear first with 5.5 out of 6. Eckert, a certified public accountant, finished third with 4.5.

Igor Khmelnitsky (left) and US Chess Board Member Kevin Pryor

International Master Doug Root of Texas was second with 5. Root’s last round win was against International Master Alexander Matros. A professor at the University of South Carolina, Matros’s research sometimes involves chess. For example, his recent paper is The Queen’s Gambit: Explaining the Superstar Effect Using Evidence from Chess. Root’s research overlaps with that of Timothy Sage, the Irwin representative from Massachusetts. Sage and Root both develop and apply spectroscopic approaches, Sage at Northeastern University and Root at the University of North Texas.

International Master Elliott Winslow of Northern California contributed 3.5 points to his state’s total. For this article, Winslow annotated his win over International Master Ron Burnett. At different times in their careers, Winslow and Burnett held the position now called “technical editor” for US Chess. Burnett is still with US Chess, “making sure that all the moves in our magazines are correct since June 1994.” Their game was not broadcast on the DGT boards; those games, such as Khmelnitsky’s games, are available at the end of this article.

Elliott Winslow

Mike La Budde  of Wisconsin feels lucky to have played in the 2021 Irwin. In November of 2019, he won a qualifying tournament to be Wisconsin’s representative to the 2020 Irwin. Just two weeks before the 2020 Irwin, which was held online due to the pandemic, a motorcycle crashed into La Budde, who was on his bicycle. His neck was broken and required a cervical fusion. Allen Becker filled in as Wisconsin’s Irwin representative in 2020.

Mike La Budde

La Budde was off work for two months but, with the help of his family, friends, physical therapy, and some speed chess online, he continues with his recovery. Since another qualifier wasn’t held before the 2021 Irwin, the Wisconsin Chess Association picked La Budde as its Irwin representative. La Budde shared one of his games for this article.

About playing in Cherry Hill, La Budde said, “I’m incredibly grateful to be alive and to once again be playing over-the-board! That I am playing at the Irwin and U.S. Open makes it even more special. It’s good to see old friends and make new ones. I’ve been joking that, as the honorary team captain for Wisconsin, I should offer Awonder some advice!?”


Grandmaster Awonder Liang of Wisconsin is the 2021 Denker Champion. As noted in a previous article, Liang also won the Weeramantry Blitz. He defeated International Master Carissa Yip in the last round to clinch the title. Wisconsin’s five representatives had an average US Chess rating of 1866 and a team score of 18 points, the best among states with an average rating under 1900.

Awonder Liang

The Northern California representative in the Denker, Milind Maiti , contributed 4 points to his state’s total.

Milind Maiti


Northern California’s Vyom Vidyarthi, a FIDE Candidate Master, won the Barber and contributed 5.5 points to his state’s total. He also finished second in the Weeramantry Blitz.

Vyom Vidyarthi


Northern California’s Ruiyang Yan tied for first with Texan Ambica Yellamraju, after the latter won against the former in the last round. Both hold the FIDE title of Woman Candidate Master. Yan’s better tiebreaks meant that she earned the prizes associated with first place. However, Yan and Yellamraju are co-champions.


Ruiyang Yan

Ambica Yellamraju


As in the Haring, the last-round battle was between chess players from Northern California and Texas. Their draw gave Henry Deng of Northern California the Rockefeller Champion title with co-champions Austin Tang, Oregon and Sepehr Golsefidy, Southern California. Texan Ryo Chen finished in fourth place.

Henry Deng

Ryo Chen

Other States

Rounding out the states contest were Illinois (average rating of 2090), which won for best state team with an average rating under 2100, and Louisiana (1586), which won the under 1600. A previous article listed $400 in bookstore gift certificates for the contest among states, based on that prize amount being listed on an official website. That amount was out-of-date, on the low end. As awarded on August 3rd, prize-winning states in the overall and ratings categories shared $2,000 in bookstore gift certificates.

U.S. Open

Although the tournaments of state champions have ended, the U.S. Open, plus committee and delegates meetings, are happening at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The tournament floor is now open for spectators. Masks are required for all activities.

Games from Tournaments of State Champions


This article includes La Budde–Fuller and Burnett–Winslow provided by those games’ winners and the games played on the DGT boards in each round.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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