California's Chess Talents! #2: GM Andrew Hong

by FM Kevin Pan

The number one highest rated 17-year old in the U.S. and recent Scholar Chess Player of the year winner, Andrew Hong is a famous young grandmaster currently attending Saratoga High School. He has scored wins over top players like GM Ian Nepomniactchi and GM Wesley So in the Pro Chess League Arena. We take a deep dive into his chess career so far and his mindset that lead him to be so successful 

KP: Hello everyone. Today we have GM Andrew Hong with us. 

KP: Andrew, Congratulations on your Scholar Chess Player of the Year Award, the most premier award any scholastic chess player in the US could ever receive, recognizing not only excellence in chess, but also in academics, leadership and community impact. How do you feel?

AH: Well. First of all I am very grateful, very blessed and honored to receive this award. Hundreds of qualified candidates. Just blessed to receive this award.

KP: Great..great. So, you received the prestigious GM title in 2021, during the COVID pandemic, when most chess players were not able to play tournaments at all. Can you share your journey? How were you able to keep playing these high level tournaments?

AH: During the pandemic, I feel like I was pretty similar to everyone else. I feel I was a little bit out of it, but .. the one thing the pandemic did was it gave me a little bit more time. I couldn't see too far into the future. At that time I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I just worked a little bit every day. So when tournaments started to come back again, it started to pay off.

AH: Yeah like most of us, you are taking advantage of the online school right? Easier (to manage time) and spent more time at chess…

AH: Yeah, it's a bit easier (to manage my time) . so I just worked a little more. Small footsteps.. Paid off

KP: It took you two years from FM to IM, and also two years from IM to GM. It doesn’t seem like these titles are hard for you. Was there any particular moment or any tournament you felt particularly frustrated or challenged? 

AH: I still say there were challenges … I was always challenged. When I was an IM, I was a bit frustrated during that time ..I was tilted..I had the potential to be a lot stronger but my rating didn’t reflect what I thought I could be. So I was frustrated and challenged during this time. But there is nothing you could do. Just have to keep working and see what happens. 

KP: That's a good message. So was there a game or two you particularly liked? 

AH: My favorite game…I think for all three of my norms I achieved I had to win on demand at the last round as black. So those games are probably my favorite (in the journey towards) GM title because those games really reflect my resiliency and my willingness to fight and not back down.

KP: When the pressure was on you were able to perform. That was very impressive. So now let’s talk about your overall chess journey. I noticed two interesting things. You started playing chess in Jul 2012. And you managed to achieve a 1600 rating during the first month. For most beginners that was pretty amazing. Could you share how you started? Did you start elsewhere?

AH: I started learning chess at a local chess club in China. The first time I saw a game was when my brother brought home that sheet of six tactics. I saw those games and I don’t know…it just sort of clicked to me. I got interested in it right away. Soon I began attending that same club. I have big shout-outs to the instructors there. They (helped) build a very very solid foundation.  After I learned there soon I came to the US. I guess the 1600 rating was pretty impressive. I attributed that to the instructors from the local chess club. 

KP: Tying back to this, for players at your caliber, usually they have hundreds of tournaments in their US Chess history. I was very surprised to find you have played less than 150 tournaments in US Chess. Was it by design, like you take time between tournaments to improve, or? Why did you do this?

AH: Some people play many tournaments to learn and get better. Or you can be like me playing a lot less - for me it was by design. Between tournaments I analyzed my games. My goal was to play one tournament per month ideally. Sometimes that even never happened because of schools and so on. Also esp. When I was very young, I was a bit scared (of playing tournaments). Was confident enough all the time. It was not my style to play lots of tournaments. I wanna be more confident before I play tournaments. Nowadays I am a lot more experienced. Confidence is no longer an issue. 

KP: If you were your younger self, would you tell yourself to play more tournaments, or are you happy with where you are?

AH: I am happy with how it pans out but I think it'd be interesting to see how playing lots of tournaments would turn out. One of the most prominent examples I know was when I played grandmaster Hans Niemann. He is famous for playing lots and lots of tournaments and that is how he learned. I think it'd be interesting to see the other way but I am in general very happy with where I am. 

KP: Moving onto more general questions. Which part of chess do you like the most? 

AH: In general I like the ability to create - creativity and imagination. That was why I loved composing studies a lot. Because there is so much beauty in them. You get to think outside of the box and create positions that wouldn’t happen in real chess games. 

KP: I am sure many people can relate to that. Now the other side. Anything you dislike?

AH: I like the game but sometimes it gets a little boring. I started to dislike tons of opening preps. I feel like it takes the fun and beauty of the game away. But it is necessary to do opening prep so you just have to do that. Preferably I would like to play maybe a couple decades ago when there was more room for creativity.

KP: Yeah I have to agree with that too. The opening prep is not my thing. Which chess player do you admire the most? And why do you like them?

AH: All along my biggest inspiration  is the 13th world champion Garry Kasparov. I have always admired his energetic attacking, very aggressive style - he likes to take initiative a lot. As a kid I always modeled my games after him, not being afraid to give up material, sacrificing and playing energetically. He really had this passion for the game that meant a lot to me. On another note, I also like Grandmaster Sasha Grischuk because he has a lot of humor - if you ever watched any of his interviews you’ll see he’s very intelligent.

KP: Ok now let’s move on to life outside of chess. We mentioned in the beginning you are a chess scholar. Would you mind sharing the academic success that you are most proud of? Or any positive community impact you have, maybe using chess?

AH: I took a lot of APs, AMC (math contests) and a bunch of other things. I led my school chess club, grew the membership, and also brought tournaments to the local community, hosted fund raising for our schools. I also did lectures, teaching mostly for the school chess club but also outside. For the past few months, we’ve expanded outside of school into the community. Our high school is trying to reach out to other high schools and broaden the scope of our impact. Our team provides teaching resources as well as hosting events and tournaments for younger players. 

KP: That's definitely very helpful for the community. You mentioned so many things. As a grandmaster, how do you balance your chess with so many other things? What does your typical day look like?

AH: To be honest, junior year is extremely busy. I probably slacked off a bit in terms of chess training. Ideally I would have liked to train a bit more. Just do the best you can, you can’t ask for everything. Prioritize things. ..yeah it is tough. A typical day…I go to school, then maybe an hour of chess? I like…and I play a lot of sports. Time is extremely limited 

KP: Would you mind sharing what sports you play?

AH: This year in the spring I did track and field. I think next year I will play basketball. As for any tips I'd share - prioritize. Sometimes you may have to finish an assignment which is worth a lot of points, you just have to do that. Do a little bit and there…just do the best you can and make the best out of it.

KP: That was a very good mindset. Moving on … how do what you learn in chess apply to your life outside of chess? Any specific lessons? 

AH: I like that the game is like a metaphor for life. Say you are a pawn. When you reach the last rank, you can become any piece you like. That’s a metaphor for life. It doesn’t matter where you start. You can start like a pawn. But your life…you can do your best and work hard. And you can become anyone you want to be.

KP: Wow. That's very deep and motivating. Looking into the future. You are a GM now. What’s your next goal? Super GM?

AH: My goal …I don’t have any quantifiable goal I guess. I just want to become better. I still have a lot of room to improve.

KP: Ten years from now how do you see yourself?

AH: I still want to pursue another career. I don’t know what I want to be . Let's say a data scientist? I also want to be a top player too.  I want to pursue both but whether that's possible or feasible remains to be seen.My goal is to try to do both. 

KP: Nice… so one final question, for a 6 year old out there who wants to replicate your success, what suggestion would you give to him or her for the chess career? 

AH: Take one step at a time. As long as you have interests and passion for the game, just keep pursuing it.  You don’t really need to set a goal like I need to be at this rating. Everyone has his or her own path. Everyone learns at their own pace. As long as you keep working, it’s not about how fast you get there. Just keep working, keep going forward and that’s what’s important.

KP: Ok that wraps it up for today. Thank you. Thank you for your time.

Here is one of Andrew’s recent brilliant games at the 2022 U.S. Junior Championships where he finished second. 

[Event "2022 U.S. Junior Championship"]

[White "Hong, Andrew"]

[Black "Brodsky, David"]

[Result "1-0"]

[ECO "B99"]

[WhiteElo "2504"]

[BlackElo "2496"]

[PlyCount "67"]

[SourceVersionDate "2022.07.25"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3

Qc7 9. O-O-O Nbd7 10. g4 h6 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. h4 Nb6 13. g5 Bxd4 14. Rxd4 Qc5 {

A relatively well-known position in the Najdorf} 15. Qf2 {Andrew's novelty,

placing white's queen in line with the black queen, opening up discovered

check opportunities} hxg5 16. e5 $1 gxf4 (16... dxe5 17. Rd8+ Kxd8 18. Qxc5 {

Qf2 comes into play}) 17. Bd3 f5 $2 {Trying to stop Ne4} 18. exf6 e5 19. fxg7

Rg8 20. Bg6+ Ke7 21. h5 $1 {Giving up the rook in exchange for double passed

pawns!} Qxd4 22. Qh4+ Kd7 23. h6 Kc6 24. Be4+ Kc7 25. Qf6 (25. h7 $2 Rxg7 26.

h8=Q Rg1+ 27. Rxg1 Qe3+ 28. Kd1 Qxg1+ 29. Kd2 Nc4+ $1 30. Ke2 Bg4+ {And black

wins}) 25... Bd7 26. Rd1 Qe3+ 27. Kb1 Kb8 28. h7 {The pawns come charging

forward} Ka7 29. hxg8=Q Rxg8 30. Qf7 Rc8 31. g8=Q Rxc3 32. bxc3 Qxe4 33. Qff8

Nc8 34. Qg1+ {With two queens on the board, black resigns} *