The “Camp Feeling”

NM sgpennock1
Aug 5, 2013, 10:17 PM |


2013 Western Invitational Chess Camp: Group Photo


Two weeks after the 2013 Western Invitational Chess Camp...I’m going to try my best to put the whole week of camp into perspective, for all of those who’ve never experienced it, to get a sense of what it’s all about; and for those who have attended to nod their heads uncontrollably in agreement. My mission is to paint a picture that most, if not all, attendees feel, and share it with the rest of you. To try to capture and describe the unique “camp feeling” is not an easy task, but here we go...


Let me start by saying, I look forward to this camp every year. The camp director and founder, IM-Elect Robby Adamson, throws together a pretty awesome camp. 


It consists of five of the best days of the year. He hires a handful of the strongest coaches in the country to give valuable lectures to the groups of strong chess players. This crazy good list has included: GM Alejandro Ramirez, GM Yuri Shulman, GM Melikset Khachiyan, GM Larry Christiansen, GM Gregory Kaidanov, GM Josh Friedel, GM Alexander Onischuk, GM Alex Yermolinsky, GM-Elect Mac Molner, IM Danny Rensch, IM Levon Altounian, IM Mark Ginsburg, IM John Bartholomew, FM Ken Larsen, and last, but not least, the BLITZMASTER himself, IM-Elect Robby Adamson. That’s a TON of great coaches!


Not only is the camp extremely instructive, but it is also plenty of fun too. I cannot think of a single time where I could say I was bored at camp. In all honesty, it doesn’t even feel like a chess camp sometimes, it’s just a great time of useful chess learning with some awesome people.


For me, the “camp feeling” starts with jitters and excitement the night before everyone arrives for camp. Since people come from all over the country to partake in the Western Invitational Chess Camp, it’s natural for them to show up a day or two early to settle in. As a camp host, I house about 4 to 5 of the same people every year, including: John Williams, John Gurczak, Likeke Aipa, Michael Vilenchuk, and Michael Bowersock (who couldn’t make it this year), and let me tell you, we have a BLAST. So, as the memories of the previous years run through my head, I patiently await for everyone to get here. See the picture below from last year's camp - and almost all of these people returned in 2013!!



Let me just say, if it weren’t for the camp, I would not have the great friends that I do today. My life would be completely different, and I’m dead serious. The camp has bonded me with some of the most genuine and awesome people you’ll ever meet. For instance, Likeke Aipa and I have been playing chess together since we were little. It wasn’t until a few years ago that we became close friends, but the camp helped. He lives in Hawaii, and I live in Arizona, so it makes visiting each other difficult, but we’ve made it work!

 IM John Bartholomew with my great friend, Likeke Aipa.

Others, like the John’s (John Gurczak & John Williams) are closer to home. As with Likeke, both of the John’s and me have known each other for a long time. But again, if it wasn’t for the camp and having them stay with me these past couple years, we wouldn’t have been as close. John Gurczak and I still can’t remember when we became friends, but we have an awesome friendship now. With J-Will (John Williams), man, there have been multiple nights of philosophizing (heart to heart talk) when he’s stayed at my house. Chess players really have perspective on life. We can’t forget Michael Vilenchuk too! He’s one of the nicest and open hearted people you will ever meet.

My long time friends, NM John Williams and John Gurczak in the camp tournament.

 Michael Vilenchuk poses for the camera while Charles Yang sports his hard to forget orange hoodie.

 Last, but not least, through Robby and his camp I’ve became very close friends with Michael Bowersock, who unfortunately wasn’t able to make this camp, but he was there in spirit. I consider Michael one of my closest friends, and if it weren’t for chess, and this camp especially, we would have never met.  

It’s Sunday morning, the camp has arrived, and everyone is here. Imagine a giant family reunion where everyone is gathered, only you actually know everyone! Every day goes as such: Lecture, practical exercise, lunch break, camp tournament game, review of game by instructor,  final lecture, and nightly event (more on that below).

The camp is divided into several groups, based solely on rating. Robby looks at a players current rating and peak rating in making up the groups. This year, there were 19 players in Group 1 - 7 masters and 19 overall rated over 2100. I was in group 2, which because of the size of the group, was divided into 2 groups of players rated 1900-2099. Group 3 was for those rated 1700-1900, Group 4 1530-1699, and Group 5 1530/below. Also, the instructors rotate between the groups, so you are not with the same instructor the whole week.



 Group 1


Group 2A


Group 2B


Group 3


 Group 4


 Group 5



The lectures are incredibly useful and taught by some of the best coaches. My favorite lecture had to be IM John Bartholomew’s when he taught us about psychological aspects of the game. The practical exercises are always interesting and never fail to surprise. You get a fairly equal position, once played by titled players, and pair up with someone to play the position against, and afterward you review what happened with the instructor. Lunch break, well, there are plenty of restaurants to chose from. The camp tournament games are always a challenge because they are against the other strong players in your group and then you get to review it with one of the awesome coaches! Its very interesting to get the opinions of different instructors.


One of the best parts of the camp are the nightly events. This year, the events included: a 2-min tournament won by Nicolas Rosenthal from Florida.  The next night, we went to Bedroxx for some bowling and video games. 


 Danny Rensch plays Alejandro Ramirez bullet chess, while John Gurczak and Scott Treiman look on.

 Post bowling and shooting hoops in the arcard picture.

Tuesday night there was a bughouse tournament, with an interesting twist - the players in the bottom group were able to choose anyone in the camp they chose! My partner was Lucas Johnston.



 Derek Chen, picked by future star, Justin Friedlander, was the first student picked for the bughouse tournament. Derek is known for this tactical prowess.

Wednesday night (night #4) there was a blitz tournament at the Jewish Community Center, site of the local Tucson chess club. GM Josh Friedel, one of the camp instructors, won it with a perfect 10-0 score! 

 GM Mac Molner takes on GM Alejandro Ramirez


All of these evening activities are always fun to attend because they always end in some story that will be told the following day. Last year it happened to be Charles Yang’s bowling. This year, I’d say the cake goes to Anna Matlin’s superb solo bughouse simuls. Anna, rated 2150 and a student in Group 1 was forced to simul both boards because there was an odd number of players and because NOBODY PICKED HER! SHAME!!

Finally, there was a party at Robby's house where students, parents, and coaches gathered to celebrate a week long of fun! 

Everyone enjoys the Mexican Food. Michael Shin Reed had multiple, numerous, and several helpings.

GM Melik Khachiyan, John Gurczak, Likeke Aipa, my mom, Karen Pennock, and myself .

Parents enjoy the evening party.


The camp keeps you very busy and it drains you really quick, so it’s important to get your sleep at night. Even after the nightly activities end, and the day is over, there is still time to go hang out with the people you love to be around. Be warned, you WILL be drained after this camp from all the learning and all the fun you’ve had throughout the week.


The constant work/play atmosphere of the camp, keeps everyone going. Because everyone is with their friends and doing something we all love to do, it never really feels like a chess camp. The “camp feeling” ultimately consists of good memories, good people, and good learning. It is just a really great week. It truly is one of the best weeks of the year and I’d recommend anyone to come to it.



ROBBY ADAMSON - for running the camp - 10 years and going strong!

GM JOSH FRIEDEL and GM-ELECT MAC MOLNER - awesome instructors and co-winners of the just completed U.S. Open. Josh qualified for the 2014 US Championship by winning the playoff!

MY MOM KAREN PENNOCK and ENRIQUE HUERTA for running the Ye Olde Pueblo (tournament after the camp)!

HUGH FOX, my student (right) for winning the Booster Section of the Ye Olde Pueblo Open! Congrats Hugh!!

ULTRA SPECIAL SHOUTOUT TO CHESS.COM AND IM DANNY RENSCH for sponsoring the camp with diamond memberships, sexy looking hoodies, and hats!!


See the awesome articles written on the camp by:

John Bartholomew

Anna Matlin

Michael Vilenchuk

Robby Adamson

For more information about specifics of the camp, visit   SEE YOU NEXT YEAR EVERYONE!