Back to the Grind

Hi everyone!  For everyone living in the Midwest region and East Coast of the United States, it’s recently been a winter wonderland.  I hope everyone is enjoying the snow as much as I am!  If not, well, you’ll probably have to get used to it, because the latter part of this winter seems to show promise for lots of additional snow!

80781f27-f1c6-4a08-87da-0c91a4461a2c
Snow!!!!!

However, this is isn’t a meteorology report, so let’s get to the chess!  Admittedly, I haven’t been very active in the chess-playing world over the last six or so months due to all of the college applications, but with that process finally winding down, I recently had the chance to get back to the board.  This past Friday, I played in a DC Chess League match against someone I had never played before.  I was somewhat relieved about that part because it meant the game would just come down to who the better player was and didn’t rest on opening preparation.

I’ve attached the game with comments and analysis below in the game viewer for your convenience:

Vogler – Kobla, DCCL, 2019
 
What a ride!  There were times when I was a bit rusty and missed some better moves, but overall, I’m more than satisfied with the game I played.  Any time you can win as Black against a player of similar strength, I’d call it a success.  From the start, I was satisfied with how I was able to plant my knight on e5, which could simultaneously control a lot of key squares and blockade White’s isolated pawn.  Once I could get in d5, I was confident in my ability to at least hold a draw, but my opponent’s blunder was certainly a game changer.  At that point, it was just a matter of closing out the game.  White still had pressure while my king was out in the open, but after I could tuck my king away in the corner, my pieces could be more mobile.  The last chance for my opponent slipped away when he took the a6 pawn with his queen, after which I could bring down the hammer with Qg5 and unleashing an attack on his king.  With his queen unable to defend, my major pieces and extra knight overpowered whatever defense he could muster.

Overall, I’m happy with how I played.  Next week, I’m playing in the Chesapeake Open, so I’m hoping that I can continue the success I found in this game.  However, I’m also hoping to prepare more for this tournament, as I’ll be playing in the Open section.

In other news, the Tata Steel Masters tournament started recently, with most of the top players in the world participating.  It’s worth noting that Caruana is not participating, likely resting after all the work put in near the end of last year for the World Championship match.

Good luck in your future games, and always, thanks for reading!

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Revisiting the Past

It’s always interesting to go back in my personal games database and look at some old games of mine. It brings back good and bad memories and highlights how much things have changed. The other day I revisited a game from 2014, when I was rated around 2150. At the time, I thought it had been a very nice game, except for a small theoretical slip-up. Upon taking a closer look, I found that that wasn’t exactly the case…

pascetta 1

In this French, I had sacrificed an exchange on f3 as black to reach this position. Back in those days, I was a bit of a chicken, and sacrificing an exchange was about as “wild” as I’d generally go. In this position, black has two pawns for the exchange in the form of a central pawn mass. Black’s rook on c8 is nicely placed, his knight on g6 is temporarily guarding the h7-pawn, and his queen can easily hop into the action. Meanwhile, white’s queen is fairly active, white’s h3-rook looks strange but it’s useful, and his a1-rook will join the game pretty quickly. Black’s plan is to play …e5, with ideas of e4, Nf4, piling up on the c2-pawn, etc. If white sits back and does nothing, things could turn sour for him very quickly.

Looking at this position today, it seems pretty natural that white should generate counterplay. He doesn’t have to perform an all-out attack on the king; he can just keep an eye on it. This could be accomplished with a move like 18.Rf1. 18… e5 could quickly turn into a disaster after 19.Qf5!. Black will probably play 18… Qb6 instead, but after a move like Rf2, Kh1, Rg3, etc. white is doing all right. Black will most likely not get away with 19… Qxb2, and it really isn’t clear what he will do next.

My opponent played 18.Re1, which is a pretty natural move, though it isn’t best. I replied with 18… Qb6. Then came 19.Rb1?.

pascetta 2

This is a move that sets alarm bells off in my IM brain. What really surprises me is that I didn’t make any comment about this move in my notes. 19.Rb1 defends the b2-pawn, but is that a serious issue in the first place? if white say plays 19.Kh1? If 19… Qxb2, white has 20.Qe2 Nf8 21.Rf3, generating counterplay against the black king. One critical resource to spot here is that 21… Qxc2?? loses to 22.Rxf8+! Kxf8 23.Qxe6 Qc4 24.Kg1. White doesn’t even have to play like this. Alternatives include 19.Rf3 and 19.Rf1 (yes, this does waste a tempo compared to 18.Rf1, but it’s still fine for white), after both of which 19… Qxb2 is actually bad for black. Black could play 19… e5 instead, but after 20.Qf5!, white’s counterplay is coming just in time. Another thing to point out is that playing 18.Re1 on the previous move, white is moving his rook right back to the awe-inspiring square of b1 in response to a reasonable move from black (18… Qb6). Wasting a tempo can’t be good, and the white rook will be doomed to babysitting the pawn.

To summarize 19.Rb1: no, no, no, and NO!!!

I naturally wanted to play 19… e5, but I was worried about 20.Rxh7 Kxh7 21.Qh3+, hitting the rook on c8. What I missed was that I actually don’t have to recapture on h7; I can go, for instance, 20… Nf4 21.Qf5 d3+ 22.Kh1 Rxc2, with a totally winning position. My d-pawn is close to queening, white’s king is suddenly shaky, and white’s attack is nonexistent.

Instead, I played 19… Qc5?. Now I’m protecting the c8-rook in those variations and am “attacking” the c2-pawn. However, this is a mistake that gives white a second chance to activate his rook. If white simply moves the rook away with 20.Rf1!, 20… Qxc2 is no longer a threat on account of 21.Qxd4. And if black plays 20… e5 instead, he’ll be met with 21.Qf5! where white is clearly getting serious counterplay. My opponent instead played 20.Rc1?, another bad move. I replied with 20… e5 and got my pawn mass rolling. After 21.Kh1 e4 22.Qd2 d3 black is already winning. My opponent tried to generate counterplay with 23.Qg5, but I played 23… d4 24.Qg4 d2 25.Qe6+ Kh8 26.Rf1 Qc4 27.Qf5

pascetta 3

Wow, those pawns really are rolling. Comparing this to the starting position, it’s fairly clear that white has lost a gigantic amount of ground without getting anything real in return. I finished the game off with an elegant trick: 27… Qxf1+! 28.Qxf1 Rxc2. White has a queen for a knight and three pawns, but he is helpless in preventing 29… Rc1. Not bad! My opponent resigned.

After the game, I really liked my play. True, the ending where my pawns were rolling down the board was picturesque, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. One thing which strikes me now is how wrong my 2014 notes to the game were. Yes, it was nice to live in the bubble that this game had been a masterpiece and that my position had been good all along. I think I didn’t understand that the position is, in reality, around equal. I’ve had a few other such “masterpieces,” where my play was far from brilliant and where my opponents greatly helped my cause.

Takeaways:

  • Don’t judge a position by its cover. Yes, that position was easier to play for black, but white wasn’t helpless against black’s great plans.
  • Don’t just sit there and wait for your opponent to execute his plan. Try to mix things up. If it looks like you will get steamrolled if you do nothing, you should try to generate some counterplay ASAP.
  • Try not to be passive. In this case, white should have tried to keep his rook active instead of dooming it to eternal babysitting with Rb1 and Rc1.
  • Don’t automatically recapture pieces. We all do it, but once you figure out that things aren’t so good after recapturing, look for alternatives. When I was looking at lines with Rxh7, I was always recapturing Kxh7 and didn’t realize that I’m winning after Nf4.

Energy Level

Or Domino Effects.  

When I had a good week of chess training sessions, the following week felt like a walk in the park.  

Easy to get up, excited to set-up the board, energized to do more. 

In a different week, I kept saying I’ll wait until tomorrow, after that next activity, or next week – to get started.  

Even at that new point, I felt lazy, not feeling like doing anything. 

The domino effect, and my energy level follows the same pattern.  


We’re wrapping up 2018 and getting ready for a exciting new year.

There is no way of knowing which week will be tough and which smooth.

But let’s tip the scale a bit more to the active mode, and favor towards motion forward.


Be Active. Play More. Let the domino fall in an energetic way! 

Happy New Year!

2018 Wrap-up

2018 was a wild ride for me. There were ups and downs, highlights and lowlights, victories and failures, and more. Since the year is almost over, it’s time to reflect on what happened in 2018. Instead of giving a monologue about what happened, how about some statistics…?

Shortest game: 9 moves. It was (shockingly) a draw.

Longest game: 79 moves. That was the 5th round of the U16 Olympiad, the day after we beat the top seed Uzbekistan, where my game lasted “only” 77 moves. Chess is tough :(.

Highest scalp: GM Sergey Erenburg (2656 USCF) at the last round of the East Coast Open in May.

Lowest-rated loss: William Graif (2293 USCF). Considering that this is my worst lost over an entire year, this isn’t that bad.

Longest winning streak: 5 games. After beating GM Erenburg, I won my next four games at the Stamford Open before taking a draw in round 5 to win the tournament.

Longest losing streak: 3 games at the U16 Olympiad, which was a really awful time to pull something like that off…

Longest undefeated streak: 13 games. This was a streak from July-August that unfortunately ended in round 8 of the Washington International (more on that later).

Highlights: I had my fair share of successes winning a few tournaments. My most memorable victory was tying for first at the NY International. The fact that I lost my first round in that tournament made it special.

Lowlights: Two awful fails stand out: the first was at the Washington International, where I lost my last two game when 1.0/2 would’ve gotten me a GM Norm. The second was at the U16 Olympiad, where I lost three games in a row in rounds 5-7.

Funniest moment: That was for sure when the lights went off for the third (!) time during round 5 of the Washington Chess Congress.

Favorite move: Somehow, I haven’t had the opportunity to play any eye-popping brilliant moves this year. Instead, I’ll make a strange choice for this one:

Arias 2

This was the 8th round of the Philadelphia Open. On the previous move, white could have played 26.Re1 g6 27.Qf3 dxc3 28.bxc3, but the game is headed towards a draw. Instead of going for that, I spiced things up with 26.c4!?. This relatively sound pawn sacrifice bore fruit: the game went 26… g6 (26… g5 was possible as well) 27.Qf3 Bxc4 28.Re1 Ne3? 29.Bc2!, after which white magically wins a piece. While what happened in this game is far from brilliant, I’m glad that this kind of educated risk-taking worked out. If only that could be said about uneducated/irresponsible risk-taking…

Worst blunder: I’ve had a few, but this one is by far the worst and the most painful:

Ortiz Suarez 3

In this position, I playepd 35.bxa5???? and had to resign on the spot after 35… Bc8+. The worst part about this was that I would’ve gotten a GM Norm had I won this game.

New Year’s Resolutions: Uh oh, now is the time to make intelligent, realistic New Year’s resolutions. Well, that’ll be hard…

NM Pursuit #3: Reflecting on 2018

As the year 2018 comes to a close, one image has been at the forefront of my mind:

Progress #4

The following image of my rating progress this past year presents the following blunt, yet essential question: what went wrong? After all, I finished the year lower rated than when I started, dropping below the 2000 mark for the first time in quite a while. Moreover, I did work on my chess quite a bit, finishing the first book in Yusupov’s improvement series. As I reflect on my chess development this past year, two fundamental problems in my approach to improvement have suddenly become quite clear to me:

  1. I forgot about calculation. I don’t mean that I forgot how to calculate (in which case I probably wouldn’t even be a 1400 player), but rather that I forgot to work on and develop my calculation abilities. During my last few tournaments of the year, I suffered quite a few blunders and managed to lose multiple winning positions. The majority of these conversion slips were linked to sloppy calculation at critical moments.
  2. Lacking Theoretical Knowledge. This applies both to the endgame and the opening: most of the time I don’t really know what I’m doing by move five or so, with the occasional exception, and I often don’t manage to achieve the correct theoretical result (whether it be a win or a draw) in a given endgame position.

In order to address the two problems above, I will be focusing much more on tactics training with a board and pieces in 2019, as well as powering through Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual to develop my endgame knowledge. As for opening study, I will start reviewing my lines for at least thirty minutes every day rather than waiting until a tournament comes along and frantically preparing in the final minutes before each game. With consistent effort, and perhaps a bit of luck, I am confident that these changes in my training will reintroduce a positive trend to my rating graph this coming year.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

Learning From Blitz

Blitz is played everywhere. Whether it be just for fun between friends in the skittles room or in tournaments, blitz is arguably one of the most common forms of chess played. However, blitz chess sometimes has the reputation of “ruining” your chess or being bad for general improvement. While blitz chess can arguably have some negative implications, I believe, with moderation, there are benefits and things you can learn from playing chess.

Firstly, Blitz can be a wonderful way of improving your intuition. In contrast with classical chess, blitz is very fast paced. With not a lot of time to think per move, you often have to trust your gut and just move it. This causes blitz to be a big test on how well your intuition and your understanding is of the type of position you’re in when you’re making these high-speed decisions. Playing blitz can be good practice and a good check for how well you understand unique positions that often result from chess, and studying these positions post-game can be a great way to learning and discovering how to play in different types of positions. 

Secondly, blitz can be used to improve your overall chess ability is by testing how well you know an opening. Learning move orders and opening nuances is an integral part of understanding and learning how to play an opening. Luckily, blitz chess is perfect practice for learning these things. In blitz, move order slip-ups, while common, can prove disastrous during games. As a result, it’s very important that you know your stuff when going into a game. As such, playing blitz can show you how well you really understand and know opening theory. Blitz can also serve as a testing ground for any opening ideas you might have and their practical usages.

Another use of blitz can be used to positively benefit you is by making your tactical awareness stronger. Blitz chess is far from perfect. Often, especially in time scrambles, blunders are followed by blunders and blunders and blunders. Because of this, blitz can be a great way of testing how well you are at catching these blunders in a fast time frame and taking advantage of them and punishing your opponent. Blitz chess is essentially a practical tactics trainer.

Finally, blitz chess is a great way of checking how well your time management is and how well you operate when you’re low in time in time scrambles. As previously stated in the beginning of the article, blitz is generally fast-paced and it’s very common to end games with seconds on the clock. This characteristic of blitz means that not only is blitz great practice for how you act when you’re behind on the clock, blitz can also help your ability to think when you’re low in time in classical chess. Blitz can also teach you how to be pragmatic with how you use your time per move in classical chess and when to spend low amounts of time and when to really invest in your clock when making key decisions.

Clearly, blitz chess is not deserving of the bad reputation it often gets. Hopefully, this article has helped you see how blitz is not so bad, and how it can actually help you as a chess player get better and faster.

Tournament Experiments

The K-12 Grade levels tournament is concluding as I type these words. Kids from all over the country flew to Orlando for the festival.

Many of the players prepared days, weeks or even months for the tournament, and as the popularity of chess increases, the number of local events has also increased.

In this post, I will discuss my views on tournament experimentation.

In major chess hubs like New York and California, there are multiple scholastic tournaments per week.

For the causal players, I’d suggest participate once per month, and as the student’s interest increases or decreases, the number of tournaments should be adjusted accordingly.

For the more ambitious group who are trying to reach USCF 1000 within 3-6 months and then 2000 before end of the elementary school, playing in 1 or even 2 tournaments a week to prepare for national events is not unheard of.

How should we use the local tournaments to prepare for the big events (nationals, or big open tourneys such as World Open)?

Chess improvement is a marathon, and every strong player has gone thru periods of ups and downs. However, the stronger players knows how to use small tournaments effectively to prepare for bigger ones.

They have their eyes on the prize.

At local tournaments, it’d be good to test out playing up a section, or at another to try out new openings. Since the goal is to make adjustments and getting ready for the big events.

Thru the experiments, they will find what they are comfortable with, and prepare further arsenals both from chess as well as psychological point of view.

The experiments in low-stake environment (local tourneys) does not have to be successful all the time, it is more important to learn more about oneself.

Once the big event comes along, they will be ready to use the tools they’ve crafted from prior training instead of improvise on the go.


Now the grade level is wrapping up, the next scholastic tournament season will be in the spring.

Start plan out what experiments you’d like to try out in local tournaments to help you get the maximum energy for the big tourney!