It’s been nearly two months since my last rated game, and this break from playing actively in tournaments has been a great chance for me to take some time off from chess altogether (i.e. Winter Break) and then to get into a fresh training groove. In the last couple of weeks I have been consistent every day with the following daily training plan:
5 tactics problems on a real board, with a clock set to 10 minutes for each problem
30 minutes of reviewing lines in my opening repertoire
20 minutes of reviewing key positions from Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, as well as spending 15 minutes introducing 5 new key positions.
This regimen usually takes up about two hours of my day, but with the soccer season having come to an end, it is now doable for me with a bit of extra dedication. I have already noticed a significant increase in the quality of my online blitz play, gaining close to 100 rating points on chess.com’s live chess server.
Although online blitz performance should of course not be taken as an absolute measure of over-the-board playing strength, my superior online play is a reflection of the increased tactical sharpness and greater confidence in basic theoretical positions, both in the opening and in the endgame, that I have enjoyed as a result of my consistency in training during the last couple of weeks. My hope is that if I stay consistent with my chess studies in the coming months, I will have plenty of success to look forward as I return to playing competitively.
Stay tuned for a post on a rapid tournament that I will be playing this coming Sunday!
I was hoping that this article would be more productive… but it’s not. I’m going through an interesting phase of my life, and part of that constituted me buying a new computer. All that to say, I hope that you can expect better articles from me in the upcoming weeks.
Last post, I told you guys about how my rating plummeted since going over 1800. My situation has not gotten better since. I lost a Thursday night rated game to a 1334 local player, and my rating is down to 1710. 😦
What happened? I feel that for my strength, I need to be sitting down and calculating variations over the board. I’ve always been an intuitive player, so calculation is sometimes an easy step for me to skip. And when you do calculate, it is important to evaluate the position after your calculations. If you realize that the path you plan to go down is not favorable for you, then it may cost you a good position. That’s exactly what happened here.
Let’s go over this game and see what we can learn from it. Again, I would encourage the reader to set this on a board to get the most out of the analysis and moves. I do add diagrams for the reader to enjoy, and in case they want to jump to the critical moments of the game. 🙂 I was Black against John DeVries (1334 USCF). I played the French Defense, 1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. e5, c5, and John played the unusual 4. Be3(?!).
One of my tendencies as a chess player is that if I feel like my opponent played an inaccurate opening, I need to “refute it”. That’s simply a wrong mindset. For one, my opponent’s move is by no means “bad”, it’s just not nearly as common as 4. c3. When your opponent plays an inaccurate opening move, it is important to stick with the basic opening principles, and only break the rules if you have a concrete reason to do so (material, outpost, etc). As early as move 4, there is no variation where I can claim to have any sort of advantage.
The game continued. I don’t feel that my play for the next few moves was bad, though my mindset was definitely wrong. I played 4… cxd4, 5. Bxd4, Nc6 (natural moves so far) 6. Bb5, Qa5+ (probably unnecessary). 7. Nc3, and I played 7… Bb4. Again, my mindset was completely off. The pin looks very good, though if my opponent finds good moves, he’s completely fine. My opponent played 8. Bxc6, bxc6, and after 9. Nge2, we reached the first critical moment.
Before I go on, I’d like you to take a look at the position. What would you play as Black here and why? After you’ve made that decision, find out whether the move is good or not, and if it is not good, find out why, and come up with an alternative.
You see, I found a move, but failed to follow the next 2-3 steps. The move that looks attractive (and spoiler, I played it!) is 9… c5(?).
9… c5 is a move that certainly looks good. It appears that his Bishop only has one retreat square, which allows a fork on d4. The problem is that he does not have to retreat his Bishop. 10. a3(!) saves his position. In fact, he has a pretty good position after 10. a3. My problem is that I did “see” that he had 10. a3 as a response, though I failed to evaluate the resulting position. Had I actually done that, I would never go for 9… c5 in the first place. A move like 9… Nh6 should be 100% fine for me.
After 10. a3, cxd4 11. axb4, Qxb4 12. Nxd4 (12. Qxd4 is also good for him), Bd7 (to keep the Knights off b5) 13. Ra2, Ne7 14. O-O, O-O 15. Re1, Rfc8, my opponent started to build up his great position.
My Kingside is very naked. My only piece who can really defend, the Knight on e7 to g6, would likely get kicked away with a potential h4-h5, and the Knight on g6 would be misplaced anyway. It also dawned on me (something I should have noticed when calculating 9… c5) that my Bishop is horrible compared to his dream Knight. While I have no way to comfortably defend my Kingside, White has a clear path to the promised land with 16. Re3(!!). The move in itself may not be “double-exclam” brilliant, though the idea that he is innovating, a Rook lift, is very instructive for us to see. Stockfish may evaluate this position as roughly equal, though in human reality, I’m on my knees the whole game.
I struggled on after 16… Rc4 17. Nce2(!), Nc6 18. Nxc6, Rxc6 (possibly 18… Bxc6 is slightly more accurate) 19. Nd4, Rc4 20. c3, Qb7 21. Rg3, Qb6 22. b3, Rc5 23. Qg4
My opponent reaps the fruits of his position, and I’m forced to weaken my King with 23… g6. I don’t know why Stockfish gives White “only” +0.87 advantage. I’m already struggling to survive!
My opponent handles the game well from here. He played 24. Rf3, Be8 25. Qf4, Ra5. This is what the computer would call a blunder (it’s calling equality after 25… a5! edit: Stockfish 10 gives +2.32 after sitting for awhile at 34-move depth. Still low in my opinion.), though my position was very bad to begin with. This game is certainly a good lesson that the computer evaluation is not to be trusted at all times. Computers can find only moves, resources to defend, etc, though when analyzing a game, it’s vital to give your “human” evaluation before consulting with the computer. My human evaluation says “just about losing”.
My opponent played 26. Rxa5, Qxa5, 27. h4(!!), Qa1+ 28. Kh2, Rc8 29. Qf6(!!)
Wow. My opponent can immediately shut the game out with 29. Nxe6+, and yet, he choses to make life as hard for me as possible.
I am desperate and losing at this point. Not a good combination! The game was over in short order after 29… Qa6 30. h5, gxh5 31. Rg3+, Kf8 32. Rh3 (32. Rg7 is mate in 4), Qa5, he forced resignation after 33. Nxe6!
I learned a lot for sure from that game. 1334s are not to be underestimated! Also, for my future tournaments, I need to make an effort to calculate every move I want to play over the board and (importantly) evaluate the resulting position! Had I evaluated the position after 9… c5, I would never go for that move!
Tough loss for me, though I hope that this was instructive to my readers. Thanks for sticking with me to the end! Feel free to leave a comment, or message me on Chess.com (my handle is EOGuel). I have a blog over there you are welcome to read.
I started playing chess when I was around 4 years old in China, once I picked up the game, it became a continuity.
After coming to the U.S. around 11 years old, the intensity increased, and more tournaments in the U.S. meant more chess as well.
Before college, I decided to take some time off from chess. And that time off really did not stop, as I never got back into the game competitively since then.
Looking back, I would have preferred more strategic breaks between 4-17 years old Xiao. Breaks to clear thoughts, and to realign next steps of the journey.
I’ve enjoyed the journey with Chess^Summit team over the past year, and read many thoughtful posts from the team myself.
After a year or so of writing, it’s time for me to take a step back from Chess^Summit. What that means for my chess content creation is still an unknown, but the adventure of producing chess content on the internet is only the beginning.
Thanks to Isaac and the team for the opportunity, and thanks especially to the readers.
The annual Tata Steel Masters chess tournament, held at Wijk aan Zee ended a few days ago, and GM Magnus Carlsen edged out GM Anish Giri by half a point to win the 14-player single round robin. It was fitting that the two players with the highest score could battle it out in the last round. Giri, with the white pieces, could have caught Carlsen at the top of the tournament standings had he won their head-to-head matchup. Alas, Carlsen held a draw, which confirmed that he would win the tournament. Congratulations to him.
However, the biggest takeaway from the tournament didn’t have anything to do with Carlsen, or even any of the contenders, for that matter. After the tournament, longtime grandmaster and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik announced his plan to retire from classical chess. It’s worth noting that he specified he would only be stepping away from classical time controls, as he added he might return for rapid, blitz, or simultaneous events in the future. He also mentioned he plans to continue scholastic instruction, such as through camps.
Even if Kramnik’s play wasn’t as strong near the end of the career, the announcement is still significant in the chess world as he is still one of the most iconic players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Born in 1975, he first made waves when he joined the Russian team at the World Chess Olympiad in 1992. Three years later, he served as a second for Kasparov, who played and won against Viswanathan Anand in the World Championship match in 1995. One year later, in 1996, Kramnik briefly usurped Kasparov as the #1 player in the world based on a tiebreak rule, despite both players having the same rating. At the time, Kramnik broke the record for being the youngest player to reach #1 in the world (Carlsen would break that record 14 years later in 2010). In 2000, Kramnik bested Kasparov to win the World Championship, essaying the now-infamous Berlin Defense on multiple occasions as Black to stymie Kasparov while securing a couple crucial wins as White. He kept his title as World Champion until 2007, when he was beaten by Anand. Still, Kramnik maintained top-level play. He continued to win several tournaments, and he notably won the Chess World Cup in 2013. In 2016, he reached his peak rating of 2817 and climbed up to the #2 rank behind Carlsen.
By playing such a long and illustrious career, Kramnik accrued numerous notable games. Thus, in order to appreciate just how well he played some games, I’ve provided a few below for your ultimate enjoyment.
The above four games are just some of Kramnik’s lengthy list of “good” games, with the most recent occurring just this past year at the 2018 edition of the Candidates tournament. In each of these games, Kramnik either had a menacing attack or outdueled his opponent positionally (or a combination of both) to secure the victory in convincing fashion. The amazing thing is that each of these games is from a different period of his career – the first, being before his working with Kasparov; the second, after working as Kasparov’s second and near the time he overtook him as World #1; the third, during his tenure as World Champion; and fourth, much later in his career. It goes to show how Kramnik was able to keep playing at a high level for such a long time, and it’s an admirable quality that I’m sure a lot of chess players strive for, me included.
Overall, Kramnik has had an incredibly successful career, so it doesn’t come as very much of a surprise that he decided to step away at this point. It’ll be nice to see him coming back occasionally for tournaments with shorter time controls, like a few legs of the 2019 edition of the Grand Chess Tour.
Even though Kramnik will (probably) never see this, I wish him luck in his future endeavors and hope he can continue changing the chess world for years to come!
Upon hearing the word sacrifice, most of us think about brutal sacrificial mating attacks, but that’s not always the case. Exchange sacrifices can be based purely on positional reasons in endgames. They can be a way out of a bad position, or they may be the best way to get winning chances.
How do you know that your exchange sacrifice is worth it? Obviously it all depends on your position, but I’d say that the following factors would be good indicators
Afterwards your pieces will be well-placed (that’s obviously a plus!)
Your opponent’s rook(s) is/are not active or will not have an easy time infiltrating
Your opponent’s pieces aren’t so active in general
Your position is relatively secure
You have passed pawn(s) that your opponent needs to worry about
Last but not least, the more pawns you have in return for the exchange, the better
Now I’m obviously not claiming that ordinary exchange-down positions are ok for you. No, no, no! A rook is better than a minor piece in most circumstances. And of course you have to calculate accurately, since you really can’t justify losing by force. Let’s look at a few examples.
At the recent U16 Olympiad, I did make a (good) exchange sacrifice.
I was black in this strange position. White has passed pawns on g5 and f6 that are blockaded but do tie up black’s pieces. Meanwhile, white’s bishop does a much better job blockading the g5-pawn. Black doesn’t have a clear plan of action here, and if white can get a rook to the h-file (say after Kf2 and Rh1), black’s position won’t be pleasant.
Taking everything into account, I decided to play 24… Re5! here, with the idea of sacrificing an exchange on g5. This is a good idea from a practical perspective. White’s f6-pawn will still be a thorn, but I’ll be able to take care of it by playing Kd7-e6. Besides that, the only realistic problem with black’s position is that white invades with a rook and takes my queenside pawns, which will become an issue but doesn’t seem to be too concerning.
While white is still the one pressing, this is a better scenario for black than if he waited around and let white proceed with his plans. In the game, I was able to successfully hold a draw after some adventures.
While the idea of sacrificing an exchange came to me naturally there, I’ve had some mishaps in the past. Take this example from 2014, when I was ~2250 USCF:
Again, I was black in another fairly strange position. Black has a pawn lodged on d3, but white has his a knight lodged on d6 in return. How to handle this? Black is in check and obviously has limited options. A tempting possibility here is to remove the knight from d6 by playing 19… Rxd6! 20.exd6 Nf5.
White’s life is far from easy here. If black could simply play Nxd6-e4, he’d be dominating. Since 20.Rc1 attacking the c5-pawn is simply met with 20… Kb6, white will probably play 20.e4 Nxd6 21.e5, where black has lots of compensation after 21… Ne4, Re8, Nf5, etc. This is because black has a solid blockade on the light squares, his d3-pawn is strong, and white’s rooks simply don’t have open files to exploit. While it’s not so bad for white, black is for choice.
Instead of that, I played 19… Kb6, which isn’t a bad move. It’s after 20.a5+ Kc6 21.Rc1 that I made my howler.
Here I should have also gone 21… Rxd6!. After 22.exd6 Kxd6, black will have a lot of compensation for similar reasons like above. Instead of that, I played 21… Rb8??, preventing Bxb4, but after 22.e4 I found myself in a lost position, since I won’t be able to save my c5-pawn. I went on to lose.
Looking at this game now, I’m totally shocked I didn’t sacrifice the exchange. The first time is ok, but the second time!?
Those two games had some similarities. Both were fairly strange positions full of imbalances, though they were also fairly closed positions in which rooks weren’t that powerful. It was also easier for me to establish a blockade after sacrificing the exchange than to play the positon “normally” in both situations.
Scanning through my games, I’m surprised how rare these positional exchange sacrifices are in my practice. This goes to show that yes, being an exchange up is usually a good thing, but there are situations in which a minor piece and a pawn are more useful than a rook.
This painful experience of mine from a couple years ago shows that a rook can truly be dominated.
I thought I was doing all right in this position, but not after I got hit with the strong sacrifice 33.Rxc8!. After 33… Rxc8 34.Nxf5+ Kf7 35.Ne4, black is in big trouble.
White’s knights are quite well-placed and powerful, especially compared with their black counterparts. Moreover, they’re attacking the d6-pawn. If it falls, black’s position will be in ruins. I therefore played 35… Rd8, but after 36.Ba5 Rd7, my rook is literally stuck. To be more precise, it’s totally dominated. I went on to lose this position.
Long story short: positional exchange sacrifices do exist and can be quite good in various situations. If it looks like you have a lot of purely positional compensation after an exchange sacrifice, it’s worth a shot!
Recently, time for playing serious chess tournaments, other than the occasional Friday night blitz tournament, has been very sparse. Luckily for me, with my schooling being off due to winter break, I had enough free time to play in a serious long time-control tournament- The Atlanta Open! Despite my rustiness and my fear of repeating a rudimentary poor performance in my prior tournament months ago, I somehow managed to win the tournament and become the Atlanta Open Champion! Let’s go over one of my early games this tournament.
Game 1: White against Weston Sharpe (2051)
In my experience, the first game after a long break is always the hardest. Additionally, although I reviewed my openings somewhat before the tournament, my opening knowledge prior to the game was at best, sufficient. If this wasn’t enough setback already, this was the second time I’ve played this opponent. The first game I played against him, I was crushed with the black pieces, and although I was excited at the prospect of potentially getting revenge, I wasn’t too confident going into the game. With all of that said, let’s jump right into the game.
After a couple of random moves in a KIA-esque opening, black is already close to equality. Already my opponent, if he should desire, could simply take my knight on e4 and go bf6 and already be close to equality. However, he decided to try something more aggressive.
Nxe4, dxe4 Nf6
With this series of exchanges, I found my e4 pawn under attack. While it seems natural to gain space with e5, I was hesitant to go into this variation. Instead, I found a knight maneuver that interested me enough that I decided to go for it.
Nd2 Nd7, Nc4 b5, Ne3 a6
After a couple of nonsensical moves from black, I started liking my position. Why? White’s dark square bishop is staring directly at black’s king. Additionally, my pieces are well placed and can easily shift from the kingside to the queenside and vice-versa should I choose to do so. Finally, black’s king is relatively undefended and acknowledging the fact that my pieces are well placed to begin an attack, I decided to do so.
Ng4 Rfd8, f4 Bb4, Rf1 Nf8, c3 Bc5+, Kh1
And now all my pieces are ready. With the f pawn getting ready to march down the board with the support of the rook on f1 and my dark square bishop ready to open up at any moment’s notice, the pressure was too much for my opponent and he immediately blundered.
This move is simply too much. Although I’m not completely sure what my opponent missed, my best guess is that he was planning on Bh5 at some point without realizing that I simply have Nh6+ with a discovered attack on the Bishop and winning a pawn.
f5 Bh7, f6 h5, fxg7 hxg4, gxf8=Q+ Kxf6, Qxg4
After those series of exchanges, black is now down a pawn. Furthermore, his king is completely open and with white’s heavy pieces staring right at the black king, Black is completely lost. It only took two more moves until black threw in the towel.
Qe5, Bc1 Bg6-black resigns 1-0
Forgetting that his f pawn was pinned, black quickly realized after hitting the clock and immediately resigned.
Not a bad game to resume my journey in chess. Although the opening was nothing special, though some precise play and with the help of several inaccuracies from my opponent, I was able to surmount a successful kingside and win the game. While it was sweet to get revenge against my opponent and start off the tournament with a win, the tournament was only about to get harder. But that’s a topic that can be saved for another article. Until next time! 🙂
Many of you may know who I am. I maintain a blog on Chess.com where I have posted my personal chess journey, master games I found of interest, puzzles, random stuff, etc. I’m also active generally with the Chess.com community.
Who am I? I’m just an ordinary seventeen-year-old chess player rated 1737 USCF residing in the middle of Texas living life. What is this series about? Ever since I started taking chess seriously, I had a few goals in mind: reach Class-A (1800 USCF), Expert (2000 USCF), and National Master (2200 USCF). Seems simple right? Back in March, I had a huge performance at the Texas State High School Championships, where I tied for 6th place at 5/7, including a win against the top seed of the event. My rating went from 1704 to 1817 (100-point jumps in a single tournament get very rare at this level), and I thought NO ONE would stop me from eclipsing the Expert rating and ultimately the Master title!
You see, I peaked out at 1828 USCF, and my rating has seriously plummeted since. I would go through this phase of having a bad tournament, good tournament, bad tournament, and so on. It’s not a very stable way of competing. It was in December when I was on the brink of breaking 1800 USCF, I was having a bad event at a local tournament, and in the final round, I collapsed and lost to my own student! Merry Christmas!
[sighs]. All this to say, I will tell you about something that my former coach had warned me about, and I wish I understood when my rating was dropping. It’s very dangerous to pay close attention to ratings. It simply is. What happens is that when you play chess games by rating instead of the best moves, it will damage your true chess games, and your decisions will be made purely by raw emotion rather than how a real game should be decided: calculation and good moves.
All this to say, while I am still openly vying for the Expert and ultimately Master title, I feel that I am only endangering myself when I talk about my chess career in terms of rating rather than good moves and learning from my mistakes.
This past weekend, I participated in another local tournament. My rating stayed the same. It was slightly disappointing not to win rating back, though I felt like I learned a lot from the event (even though I am still analyzing the games!), and I would like to share some of my key moments with you from each game.
For warm up, how about a puzzle? This was my first game against Robert Morgan (1217). Look at the diagram below:
My second game was against Christopher Cook (1535). He played a Tarrasch French against me (1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. Nd2), and we got a very interesting fight. After some struggling, we got the position below: (I would encourage the reader to set this up on a board, as this is a relatively deep series of moves, and the position is very interesting to study anyway!)
In the position above, Black has a lot of pressure against the e5-square. I snap with 22… Bxe5, 23. dxe5, and I sidestepped my Queen with 23… Qb8. I assumed that I was winning a pawn, as both of my Knights and Queen are attacking the e5-pawn, and White does not have a good way to defend both! White played 24. Rb1 and surrendered the pawn, though, during analysis, it turns out that White has a legitimate shot thanks to his strong Bishops! White’s only move is 24. Qa4(!), when if I take the pawn with 24… Ndxe5(?) (I should defend with a move like Rf7 or something), White will sacrifice the exchange with 25. Rxe5(!), and after 25… Nxe5, White plays 26. Qd4.
Black’s e5-Knight is “pinned” to the checkmate square on g7! And I have no good way to defend the e5-Knight. Had Chris tried 24. Qa4, I likely would have fallen for this variation.
My round three game was a loss to Jason Howell (2036). And… I guess I’ve got to show something from the game? 🙂
The position above is hard to assess, as I slipped up earlier in the endgame. I probably have a better chance of surviving taking on d4 rather than what I did during the game. Let’s just say that I stopped paying attention, playing 10… h6, and crumbling from there. Not much to say honestly. On to the last game, which was another case of losing my focus when it mattered:
In the final round against Raghav Aggarwal (1648), my opponent and I traded all of our heavy pieces and seemed to be headed for equality. I played an autopilot move which hurt me with 26. Kf2(?). My opponent quickly played 26… Nd3+, and I realized that I was in trouble. After 27. Kf1, Nxb2, obviously angry with myself, I played the reactionary 28. Nc6(?), which allowed him to take another pawn on a3! Fortunately for me, he missed that and played 28… Bf8. After 29. Nb4, a5 30. Nc2, we got the position below:
My opponent allowed me great drawing chances after 30… Nc4(?!), and after 31. Bxc4, bxc4, I was able to hold a draw given his two weaknesses on a5 and c4 will be hard to defend for victory.
I ended the tournament on 2.5/4, tied with several people for 3rd place in the local event, and broke even with my rating. If you stayed with me to the end, I must personally congratulate you for this accomplishment!
The whole purpose of this “Jumping The Hurdles” series is going to be for me to document my chess studies, games, etc. in writing so that I may be kept accountable. I’m not sure exactly what the structure of my future posts are going to be. I have another tournament this coming Saturday as well as this one-game-per-week tournament I am doing on Thursday nights, so my next post might be just like this one. Who knows. To close off, let me show you this cool puzzle I got earlier this week. 🙂
I would love to hear feedback from you guys. You can email me at email@example.com, I assume you can drop a comment down below, or contact me on Chess.com at EOGuel. I hope you all have a great day!