Meet the Commentators
Live Broadcast Commentators
GM Yasser Seirawan
2677 (USCF) | 2620 (FIDE)
4-time U.S. Champion
Few names in U.S. Chess are more recognizable than Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan. A four-time U.S. Champion and former World Championship contender, Seirawan was the dominant force in American chess in the 1980s.
Born in Damascus, Syria in 1960, Seirawan’s family immigrated to the United States when he was 7 and settled in Seattle. He picked up the game of chess when he was 12 years old and honed his skills playing against top players in the area, including Latvian-born master Viktors Pupols and six-time Washington State Champion James Harley McCormick.
At 13, just a year after learning the game, Seirawan became the Washington State Junior Chess Champion, and by 1979 won the World Junior Championship.
Seirawan went on to dominate the American chess scene, winning the U.S. Championship title in 1981, 1986 and 1989. He claimed the U.S. Championship title once again in 2000 and continued to play in major world-class events, including serving 10 times as a member of the U.S. team at the World Chess Olympiad, until he announced his retirement in 2003.
Seirawan was lured out of retirement in 2011 to once again play in the U.S. Championship, which was held in Saint Louis. He cited the exciting developments of the Saint Louis chess scene as a contributing factor for his renewed interest in competitive chess.
"Yaz," as he is commonly known, followed the 2011 U.S. Championship with a stunning performance at the 2011 World Team Championship, where he earned an individual silver medal for his performance on board four, defeating some of the best players in the world along the way.
He is a highly respected teacher, commentator and author and has written several books including Chess Duels, the 2010 Chesscafe.com's book of the year. He is regularly featured as the Resident Grandmaster for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
WGM Jennifer Shahade
2301 (USCF) | 2322 (FIDE)
2-time U.S. Women's Champion
Womens' Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is a chess player, writer and editor for Chess Life Online. She won the U.S. Women's Championship in 2002 and 2004, the former being the strongest Round Robin women's field to date in U.S. chess history.
In 2004, Jennifer's first book, Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport was published. The crisp writing, original interviews with players like Judit Polgar and Zhu Chen, and controversial title gave her a lot of media attention, including coverage in Reader's Digest, the New York Times, NPR radio, and Time Out New York. Besides her numerous reports in Chess Life Magazine and Chess Life Online, Jennifer's writing has also appeared in The New York Times, Games Magazine, the L.A. Times, New in Chess, and Foreword Magazine. Jennifer graduated in 2002 from NYU, with a degree in comparative literature. Jennifer also contributed to Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess (Spring, 2009.)
Jennifer was also born into a chess family. Her brother Greg is an International Master and organizes the U.S. Chess League as well as the U.S. Chess School, while her father Michael is a three-time Pennsylvania State Champion.
In 2007, Jennifer co-founded a non-profit, 9queens , devoted to promoting chess especially to girls and women. You can read more about it in Chess Life 4 Kids or the Chess Life Magazine article Hip-Hop Variation.
Jennifer blogs on www.uschess.org, and writes most and photographs much of the content for Chess Life Online. (bio courtesy www.uschess.org)
GM Maurice Ashley
2459 (USCF) | 2440 (FIDE)
Millionaire Chess Organizer
Maurice Ashley lives his passion. Through his love for chess, he not only made history as the first African-American International Grandmaster in the annals of the game, but he has translated his love to others as a three-time national championship coach, two-time author, ESPN commentator, iPhone app designer, puzzle inventor, and motivational speaker. He is now working as a Joint Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center and MIT’s Media Lab to bring the benefits of chess and other classic games to a wider educational audience through the innovative use of technology.
Maurice has traveled the world as an ardent spokesperson of the character-building effects of chess. Coming from the rough and tough streets of Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, New York, Maurice has tirelessly shared his compelling story with young people in places such as the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Detroit, the townships of Cape Town, South Africa and the poverty-stricken jungles of Belize. His book, Chess for Success (Broadway Books, 2005) crystallizes his vision of the many benefits of chess, particularly for at-risk youth, and he continuously spreads his message of living one’s dream to universities, businesses, chess clubs and non-profit organizations around the globe.
His app, Learn Chess! With Maurice Ashley, has been sold in over 30 countries, and he has received multiple community service awards from city governments, universities, and community groups for his work. His drive and enthusiasm always have him on the go. In the fall of 2011, Maurice toured six Caribbean nations to bringing chess, books, and technology to kids in the region.
Live Audience Commentators
GM Ben Finegold
2587 (USCF) | 2500 (FIDE)
U.S. Open Champion
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and received his first USCF rating at age 6. It wasn't long, around his mid-teens, until he realized he wanted to play chess professionally. GM Finegold's first major tournament win came in 1989 when he finished in a first-place tie at the U.S. Junior Closed Championship. Also in 1989, Finegold scored his biggest victory to date with a win against Boris Gelfand at the Euwe Memorial tournament in Amsterdam, Holland.
According to Finegold, this was the most famous player he had beaten at the time, and the fact that it was a Swiss tournament and he was unable to prepare for Gelfand specifically made the win that much more exciting. Finegold said he played an excellent tactical game to secure the victory. He obtained his first IM norm at the event, gained 40 FIDE points and eventually earned the title of International Master in 1990.
In 1991 Finegold won his first major, international, Swiss-paired tournament in Antwerp, Belgium. He was just 21 years old. From 1988 to 1992
Finegold lived in Brussels, Belgium. He returned to the U.S. in 1992 and, in 1993, was awarded the Samford Chess Fellowship.
The Samford Chess Fellowship is awarded each year to the most talented chess player in the United States under the age of 26. At that time, the fellowship gave Finegold a $1,200 per month stipend and also paid for all things chess related. During that time, he worked with Gregory Kaidanov, played in a number of strong tournaments, and began utilizing chess software on is computer to improve his game.
In 1994, Finegold finished in a six-way tie for first place at the U.S Open in Chicago, and then in 2002 he finished in a first-place tie with eight players at the World Open in Philadelphia where he secured his first GM norm. He won the Chicago Spring Invitational in 2005 to earn his second GM norm, and then achieved his third GM norm at the 2009 Spice Cup Chess Festival in Lubbock, Texas.
Serious chess players are divided by the question of whether it’s better to study a narrow set of openings in great depth, or play a wide variety of systems, to keep opponents wondering. Finegold falls somewhere in between. He’s been playing 1.d4 his whole life but with Black he’s more flexible and can play numerous defenses against both 1.e4 and 1.d4. Ben isn't afraid of trading Queens early in the game, and wins a lot of half points from endgame technique.
A familiar face around the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and a popular name within the Club's Resident Grandmaster rotation, Finegold has offered outstanding commentary - both live and on the broadcast - for several of the Club's elite events, including the U.S. Championships, the U.S. Junior Championships and the Sinquefield Cup.
GM Alejandro Ramirez
2677 (USCF) | 2590 (FIDE)
U.S. Open Champion
Alejandro Ramirez has become a frequent guest of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, through roles as both the Club’s Resident Grandmaster rotation and as a player in the nation’s elite events.
Ramirez was inspired by the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer when he was four years old. He became FIDE Master at the age of 9, an International Master at 13, and earned his Grandmaster title by the age of 15. That achievement set Ramirez as the first Centro-American to earn the elite title and, at the time, the second youngest grandmaster.
A competitor in the last three U.S. Championships, Ramirez displayed some of his finest chess in May 2013, when he pushed reigning champion Gata Kamsky to a playoff for the national title. He drew the first two playoff games with Kamsky before losing an Armageddon game where he had 19 minutes and 45 seconds against Kamsky's 45 minutes.
Ramirez studied video game design at the University of Texas at Dallas, earning a master’s degree in Arts & Technology, and he now currently serves as an editor for the popular chess news website ChessBase. His personal familiarity with both fields of the 2015 U.S. Championships, coupled with his outstanding, plain-talk understanding of the King’s game, makes Ramirez an outstanding commentating option for the live audience at the 2015 U.S. Chess Championships.