Tom In his Own Words

This Post continues on my previous posting about Tom, which can be viewed here.

My name is Tom Nordeman, I was born April 9, 1983, and I am the oldest of five children. When I was six months old I was diagnosed with Cerebral palsy. This means that the part of my brain responsible for muscle movement and coordination has been injured. When my parents found out I had Cerebral palsy they were devastated and afraid because they did not know a lot about this condition and were left with many questions. However, they also loved me with their whole hearts and were committed to finding ways to allow me to live my life to the fullest. They asked my uncle John to be my godfather.
Uncle John is a wonderful person. When I was a young boy, he and I would take many trips together. We would go to the zoo or downtown Philadelphia and sometimes to the New Jersey Shore. One of my favorite trips with Uncle John was to St. Charles Seminary. We would visit a friend of his Joe Watson (now Fr. Joe Watson) who at that time was studying to become a Catholic priest. Uncle John would later enter the seminary and become a priest himself. Both my parents and Uncle John were instrumental in my Catholic upbringing.
Some may wonder how I get through life. After all they say I face so many challenges and difficulties. This is true for sure, but there is one thing that helps me get from one day to the next. I strongly believe that is God. I also feel that nothing is impossible with God; therefore, I am always open to new possibilities. The Lord in fact has worked many great miracles in my life and showered me with many blessings.
Around 2000 I decided I was becoming a man and I wanted to move away from home. My parents were providing excellent care and support for me, but it was still difficult for me to have a social life like my parents and siblings had. My brothers and sisters played sports throughout middle school and high school; they played basketball, baseball and football. I was unable to participate so I felt left behind. It was around this time that I discovered Chess. Here was a sport in which I could fully participate. I no longer was just a passive spectator sitting on the side lines, but now I was an active participant. This was extremely exciting for me. Chess was my game. I actually did not start playing in tournaments until two years into my chess career.
When I moved from my parents suburban home in order to be more independent I, moved to a wheelchair community called Inglis House. Although Inglis House is classified as a nursing home, it is definitely not what one would think of when they think of a nursing home. For example, most people in nursing homes are senior citizens sixty five or older; however at Inglis many residents are younger than fifty five. Inglis also provides many recreational activities each day, for example there’s poker, art classes, Tae-Kwan-Doe, and occasionally has outings into the community. I have been to some interesting places with Inglis; there is an Amish restaurant called Plain & Fancy in Lancaster that I go to every year. They serve home-style lunches and everything is freshly made and natural; the Amish do not believe in using man made preservatives in their foods. Another interesting trip that I attended was the Herr’s potato factory in Nottingham. The people at Herr’s gave us a tour of the factory and showed us how they make their products. They also gave us freshly made straight from the conveyer belt potato chips.
It was when I moved to Inglis house at age twenty that my Chess career accelerated. I began playing at local clubs and tournaments. There are two reasons I enjoy playing Chess. First, it presents me with a challenge and an opportunity to learn something new. In chess the same game is never played twice. Players are constantly trying to come up with new ideas to outwit their opponents. The second aspect of Chess that I thoroughly enjoy is the socialization. When I attend tournaments I have the chance to meet new people. I am often inspired by the youth who not only are strong Chess players, but they also treat me with infinite kindness and compassion. One young person I would like to highlight is Akshat.
I first met Akshat last spring at the Philadelphia Open. I went to my board to play the last round and he was sitting next to me preparing for his game. I really wanted to talk to him but at the same time I did not want to break his concentration. After a few minutes I decided I would take a chance. I said “Excuse me I do not want to bother you but may I ask you a question”. He replied, “You are not bothering me,” and he allowed me to talk with him. Akshat’s compassion touched my heart, and from that time on I knew I had a very special friend. The littlest things make the biggest difference.

When I am not playing chess I enjoy academic studies. I also speak to young people about my faith in God. Two years ago I obtained my associate’s degree in general studies from community college of Philadelphia. I hope to one day complete my Bachelors and go on to become a youth counselor.
I would like to thank Akshat for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. Sometimes it feels like when I go to chess tournaments I meet a chess player. However there is no time for me to talk with my opponents and see what really makes them who they are. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy meeting chess players very much, but it is as if they are wearing an invisible mask. Hopefully through this writing my chess mask has come off and people can see who I really am.
Tom Nordeman


Tom with his godson, David

Knowing Tom

While at the Philadelphia Open a few months ago, I came into contact with a local chess enthusiast – Tom Nordeman. An ardent chess player, Tom, in his own words, says that he is “intrigued by chess because it is so complex.” He discovered chess when he started high-school, and since then, the game has remained a close friend of his. Tom suffers from a condition called cerebral palsy, however, which makes studying and playing chess harder for him than others.

Tom enjoying the crispy Fall air in the beautiful courtyand of Inglis House, where he stays

Tom enjoying the crispy Fall air in the beautiful courtyand of Inglis House, where he stays

We’ve had multiple informal online sessions over the past few months, when I review some of his games and advise him as best I can.  During these sessions, I’ve been able to glean that besides being an ardent chess player, Tom possesses a strong understanding of the game.

There are some awkward situations Tom encounters while playing tournament games. For example, sometimes his opponents accidentally forget to press his clock, an action Tom needs assistance in doing. His sad moments are when he is winning on the board, but under time pressure ends up losing. There are occasions when he finds the opponents blitzing their move out to win on time, when they find themselves lost on the board. Tom realizes these challenges, but takes them in his stride, and remains upbeat.

I’ve played in Europe and Asia, and typically in those locations someone accompanies or is assigned to a player who needs such assistance with moves and clock. If Tom has no one to accompany him, then perhaps organizers should consider assigning some help or obtaining assistance from volunteers. This will allow Tom and others needing similar assistance to save time, while also not disturbing the concentration of their opponents. A “Helping Tom” list should be put next to the Pairing board, and volunteers can put their name for a reasonable time shift, like a 30-minutes one. Most tournaments are teeming with parents and non-players, who would gladly help if informed and given a chance.

It’s inspiring to see how Tom is not allowing the difficulties he faces to stop him from continuing to play chess. I’ve been contributing to his zeal by helping him with sessions, although they’re few-and-far-between. Since I’m not always available, I thought I’ll do this posting which will allow other chess enthusiasts to reach out to Tom, and perhaps play a game or go over some positions with him on ICC/Skype.

Tom can be reached at:

Tom-Contact-Info-ImageTom wrote a bio of himself, which I’ll post shortly.

Good luck, Tom!

Tom with his parents, a few hours before his Philadelphia Open game, where he met me. April 2015

Tom with his parents, a few hours before his Philadelphia Open game, where I met him. April 2015

Tom with his Uncle John - a very important influence on him. You will learn more when you read the backgrounder to be appended later.

Tom with his Uncle John, who has been a very important influence on him

The US Junior Championship 2015
Winning the strongest US Junior event ever in my first appearance!

The US Junior Closed Chess Championship is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the United States – next only to the US Championships. This was my first time playing the US Junior, and I was looking forward to competing in this event. The chief attraction of the invitational Junior Championship is that the winner qualifies for the following year’s US Championship, in which they get to play top world-class players in a typical round-robin format, just like other elite tournaments. With next year’s edition potentially having a lineup that could include Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Gata Kamsky, each participant in the Junior championship had sufficient motivation to go all out.
The players arrived in St. Louis on July 6, one day before the event was to begin, and we all drew our pairing lots during the opening ceremony that evening. The picking of the lots was done by last name, but in reverse alphabetical order. By the time I got around to picking, all the 5 White lots had already been selected, and I had to content myself with the 4 Whites draw. The strongest US Junior ever had begun.

Luke Harmon Vellotti playing Akshat Chandra in Round 1

Luke Harmon Vellotti playing Akshat Chandra in Round 1

In Round 1, I had the Black pieces and faced a good friend of mine, the precocious International Master Luke Harmon Vellotti. This was a tough game to start off the tournament. Although one may have been tempted to play a solid opening, especially with the Black pieces, I decided to go for a more fighting and complex game by revisiting an old friend.


Akshat Chandra and Luke Vellotti after Round 1

Akshat Chandra and Luke Vellotti after Round 1

It felt great to start the tournament off with a victory as Black against a strong opponent. I carried the momentum through the next 3 rounds and raced out to 3.5/4. In Round 5, I faced FM Ruifeng Li, as Black.

Ruifeng Li playing Akshat Chandra in Round 5

Ruifeng Li playing Akshat Chandra in Round 5

The game started off horribly, as I got trapped in my opponent’s preparation, like an insect trapped in tree sap. Ruifeng was incredibly well prepared, and was blitzing out his moves. He literally got a near-decisive advantage with his preparation. Meanwhile, I was sweating it out and had already fallen way behind on the clock. Under enormous pressure, I ended up making a horrible blunder, which I realized as soon as I had moved. I saw the winning continuation for Ruifeng, and thought I was going to lose any moment. The only consolation was that Ruifeng was out of his preparation. It was here that the tide of the game started to turn. Ruifeng missed the killer blow, and I started to outplay him despite being an exchange down. His advantage dissipated after inaccurate moves from his side, and I found myself holding the advantage now. However, I was so relieved of not being in any danger of losing that I decided to simplify matters and force a draw.

Akshat Chandra playing Ruifeng Lee

Akshat Chandra playing Ruifeng Lee

Here is the game, annotated by tournament analyst Mackenzie Molner:

Akshat Chandra playing Michael Bodek in Round 6

Akshat Chandra playing Michael Bodek in Round 6

After a bloodless draw in R6 against IM Michael Bodek, I faced GM Jeffery Xiong, with the Black pieces. This was easily the most anticipated match of the tournament, with the two top seeds facing off in the crucial 7th round. I had a ½ point lead over Jeffery at this stage, and so it was essential to hold my ground and not lose my grip on the tournament standings.

Jeffery Xiong playing Akshat Chandra in Round 7

Jeffery Xiong playing Akshat Chandra in Round 7

I decided to roll with the Taimanov once again. Things were fairly balanced, and we soon traded Queens into a minor piece endgame with rooks on the board. The position was completely even, but I had fallen into serious time trouble. I had about 2 minutes to complete the last 12 moves and as a result, I made some serious mistakes. When we reached the time control, Jeffery had a near-decisive advantage. I defended tenaciously for the next few moves, while Jeffery kept playing accurately to hold his advantage. But suddenly, Jeffery made a blunder, overlooking a fantastic resource of mine. This allowed me to simplify into an easily drawn 2 vs 1 Rook endgame, and the game was eventually drawn.

In R8, I faced FM Arthur Shen with the White pieces. While I had drawn my last three games, Arthur had reeled off four straight wins to join me in the lead with 5/7. It was only fitting that we played in the penultimate round.


Akshat Chandra playing Arthur Shen in Round 8

Akshat Chandra playing Arthur Shen in Round 8

Arthur surprised me in the opening by offering me to go into the main line Ruy Lopez, something he has never played before. After some thought, I decided to decline by going for 6.d3 instead. I managed to win a pawn after an inaccuracy by him, and though he had compensation, Arthur was unable to find the best continuation. I was able to consolidate, and show good technique to close out the game effectively.

Akshat Chandra in game against Arthur Shen in R8

Akshat Chandra in game against Arthur Shen in R8

Going into the last round, I was the sole leader at 6/9, with Jeffery following close behind at 5.5/9. It was reassuring to know that things were in my hands, and I had control of the tournament’s outcome. I faced FM Awonder Liang with the Black pieces.

Awonder Liang playing Akshat Chandra in Round 9

Awonder Liang playing Akshat Chandra in Round 9

I stuck to my Taimanov once again, and Awonder surprised me in the opening by going for a variation he had never played before. I responded in the most solid manner, but Awonder was still in his preparation, and continued playing swiftly. This was quite uncomfortable, and I decided to throw him out of his preparation by developing my bishop to d7, instead of the natural looking 14…exf4. This seemed to do the trick as Awonder began to think now. He was able to gain an impressive-looking center, but it turned out to be rather flimsy. I enhanced the pressure and Awonder cracked, allowing me to build up a decisive advantage. The game went on for a few more moves, before White resigned.

I was thrilled to have won the 2015 US Junior Championship, and earn a spot into the 2016 US Championships. It is exciting to know that I could be playing the likes of Caruana and Nakamura next year!

It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It was a great feeling to view the screens displaying my picture as I walked out of the playing hall

It takes a great team to organize such a major tournament flawlessly. Arbiters Tony Rich and Mike Kummer did a great job officiating the event, and the production staff did an impeccable job of broadcasting the games and commentary online. In many ways, the organization of the US Junior was like a dry-run for the Sinquefield Cup which begins in August. Judging by the way they managed the US Junior, the team is definitely more than ready to host the world’s elite once more.

Some of the US Junior production team members Sitting (L to R): FM Aviv Friedman, Ben Simon, GM Ben Finegold Standing: Bishop, Paige Pederson, Nick Schleicher, Laura, Jonathan Schrantz, Nicole Halpin, Austin Fuller, Tammy Hyde, and The King

Some of the US Junior production team members
Sitting (L to R): FM Aviv Friedman, Ben Simon, GM Ben Finegold
Standing: Bishop, Paige Pederson, Nick Schleicher, Laura Schilli, Jonathan Schrantz, Nicole Halpin, Austin Fuller, Tammy Hyde, and The King :)

Finally, I’d like to thank Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield for providing juniors an opportunity to compete in an elite environment and conditions. Without their support and vision, the level of chess interest in America would not be where it is today.

Rex Sinquefield playing Rachel Li (Ruifeng’s sister)

Rex Sinquefield and Rachel Li

Arbiter Mike Kummer with his magic wand

Arbiter Mike Kummer with his magic wand

Arbiter Tony Rich going over the pre-game announcements

Arbiter Tony Rich going over the pre-game announcements

Mika Brattain

Mika Brattain playing Akshat Chandra

Yian Liou playing Akshat Chandra

Yian Liou playing Akshat Chandra

Akshat Chandra playing Curran Han

Curran Han playing Akshat Chandra

Photo Credits: Austin Fuller of CCSCSL and Akshat Chandra

Annotation Credits: GM Mackenzie Molner and Akshat Chandra

Winning the National High School Championship 2015!

The National High School Championship K-12 is by far the strongest national scholastic event in the US. The 2015 edition was held in Columbus, Ohio, from April 10 to 12, with the National High School Blitz Championship a day earlier on April 9.

I was the top-seed, and this meant that I would be be playing only lower rated players in the tournament. This situation adds another level of complexity, since the top-seed has to constantly work to win every game and overcome the drawish lines often played by lower-rated opponents, many of them underrated relative to their chess knowledge. On top of that, the 2015 High School edition was the strongest National Scholastic championship yet. However, these factors did not deter me since I wished to capture the prestigious title of being America’s National High School Champion for 2015. What concerned me though was the exhausting schedule, about 30 hours of Chess in 53 hours, and my ability to recover from a fatiguing Philadelphia Open tournament just prior.

On April 9, Thursday, the Blitz tournament was held. This was exciting, as Blitz usually is, although no increment on the time-control meant piece-throwing was rampant in the closing seconds. I scored 11.5/12, dropping 1/2 a point because I didn’t stop the clock in-time when my opponent  flagged, resulting in my flag also appearing thereafter. The TD said that because I didn’t claim the opponent’s flag in time, the game was a draw.

I became the National High School Blitz Champion and took the 1st place on tiebreak over the talented Christopher Wu, who also scored the same points. It was interesting to observe that the top-3 ranks went to players from New Jersey (Akshat, Chris, Arthur Shen).

The 2015 US National High School Blitz Champion Trophy

The 2015 US National High School Blitz Champion Akshat Chandra

The main event kicked off the next day under shimmering colorful light panels giving the impression of Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights, with 472 players competing in the Championship section and 1492 players in all sections.

The National High School Championship at The Hyatt in Columbus, Ohio

The National High School Championship at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio

In the 1st round, I played a budding talent, 6th grader Vincent Baker from Ohio. I got a pretty good position out of the opening. But I started to make some extremely weird moves, and Vincent started to play really strong, and suddenly I found myself in a hopeless drawn rook endgame. I only had 20 seconds (with a 5 second delay), while Vincent had about 20 minutes. Somehow I managed to win after Vincent made several inaccuracies in the endgame. I really felt sorry for my young opponent for he had played great, and I didn’t deserve to win. But such is chess.

Akshat Chandra playing Vincent Baker

Akshat Chandra playing Vincent Baker

In Round 2, I overcame Taylor Bagley from Kentucky. This was another sub-par game from my side, as I was worse out of the opening, before outplaying him. The outplaying led to a winning opportunity which I missed, leading to what began to look like a drawish game with precise play. Fortunately, Taylor missed the optimal defense, and I was able to get the win. I was disgusted with the way I had been playing, as this is not the level of chess I expected of myself.

I was determined to play better the next day, and managed to do just that, winning a nice positional game against Abhishek Obili from Texas.

In Round 4, I beat Ben Li, a 7th grader from Minnesota. This was another strong game from my side, as I completely outplayed my opponent and dominated the game.

In Round 5, I faced the talented and a regular National player, FM Cameron Wheeler, from California. This was an awful game from my side, as I missed two strong continuations which would given me a substantial advantage, and was just worse after that. Cameron had an advantage when we decided to draw.

Heading into the final day, there was only 1 person on a perfect 5 / 5 – IM Kesav Viswanadha. Then there were quite a few players, including myself, trailing him at 4.5 / 5. I figured that a winning score would be 6.5, considering the strength of the tournament.  It was important for me to play strongest in the final two rounds.

In Round 6, I faced Michael Chen from Michigan. It was clear that my opponent was playing for a draw from the start, and even though I had a slight advantage, it was looking difficult to win. But slowly I began to outplay him, and eventually we reached a Rook endgame where I was a pawn up. But the problem was that I had only 30 seconds, while my opponent had around 30 minutes! However, I managed to stay calm and methodically advanced my Kingside majority to victory. I even checkmated my opponent, who strangely didn’t resign even after I had made 2 Queens against his lone king.

After the penultimate round, there were 4 players on 5.5 / 6 – Kesav, Cameron, Kapil Chandran, and myself. I had the best tie-breaking going into the final round, which was nice to know but not conclusive. This was just like the situation I encountered while playing the K-9 SuperNationals in 2013 – and the similarities didn’t end here. I knew I had to Win the last game to make it decisive.

By the time the 6th round had concluded, about 30-minutes before the final round, my Dad told me that Arthur Shen had defeated Kesav on the top board. So I began to prepare for Arthur, a good friend of mine, as it was obvious I would play him. But when the pairings came out 10 minutes before the round, I saw that I was playing Kesav instead. I was bewildered, and couldn’t understand how I was playing Kesav. But then I saw that Kesav was also on 5.5, which meant he had drawn his game with Arthur not lost. Looks like my Dad was mistaken! I was flustered. This was not the first time my Dad had done such a mixup.  In my only previous National Championship appearance – the K-9 SuperNationals 2013 – before the final round he told me that Safal Bora had won against Cameron Wheeler in the penultimate round.  So while I checked out Safal’s game in the few minutes left for the last round, the pairings came out just moments before round-time.  In fact, Cameron had won against Safal, and he was going to play me in the final round of the K-9 SuperNational Championship. With no time to prepare, I just shook my head and went on to play Cameron. Inspite of this confusion two years ago, I was able to win the game and the K-9 SuperNational title. So my Dad seems to have made this inaccurate results information into a tradition, and I’m just happy there are no more Nationals to play anymore for him to jolt me. Just before I walked to the board, he told me to bail him out once again for the last time.  I wonder if it will indeed be the last time :)

So here I was experiencing a true deja vu situation in the final round of the National High School Championship. There was no time to prepare now for Kesav, and I had unnecessarily tired myself chasing a wrong opponent. Walking to the board, I decided to just play something I had never done before, to avoid any potential preparation from my opponent. I knew that the line I was going to play was harmless for Black, should he play accurately, but figured it would have a good surprise-effect. The game evolved into a highly sharp and complicated position, when Kesav suddenly made the decisive mistake.

It felt great to win, as Kesav was a tough opponent. The win put me on 6.5 / 7, and since the other two players had drawn, this meant that I was sole 1st!

Akshat Chandra - 2015 National HIgh School Champion K-12 section

Akshat Chandra – 2015 National HIgh School Champion K-12 section

Overall, I was thrilled to have won the tournament, despite playing some poor chess in a few of the games, being unable to prepare for the opponents, as several of my opponents had no games in database, and being quite tired during some of the games as I was coming after playing a very intense 9-rounds at the Philadelphia Open. The competition here at the National High was extremely tough, and several players were underrated. So it was extremely satisfying to capture the title of the National High School Champion 2015.

This was my second national tournament, and like before I found the tournament well-organized. It’s quite hard to organize a tournament of this size so flawlessly and the USCF team needs to be commended.

Just like the last time at the K-9 SuperNationals, my father ended up purchasing the final-round Chess set. I still have the previous one and should probably consider using it some time :) .

Down the Memory Lane - 2 years back at the SuperNationals 2013 - K9 Champion Akshat Chandra

Down the Memory Lane – SuperNationals 2013 – K9 Champion Akshat Chandra

Goodbye Nationals!

Or maybe I’ll be back next year 😉

(USCF coverage of the event can be seen here and here.)

WIth my brother Addy who helped me by leaving me alone :)

WIth my brother Aditya “Addy” Chandra, who helped me by troubling me less during the tournament :)

Akshat Chandra at the awards ceremony - Winning the 2015 National High School Championship

Akshat Chandra at the awards ceremony – Winning the 2015 National High School Championship