My 4th GM Norm: 5th time in Italy is a Charm Part II

Continuing, from my first part of this article a few days ago. Incidentally, in my Ivanchuk game I failed to put the game moves 40 and 41 in bold. You probably were still able to follow and in any case I just edited it. Sorry about the typo.

Anyone is welcome to use my game against Ivanchuk and annotate it themselves (for a site, or whatever) if they wish, even borrow my notes as desired, as I bet there are more things to say about this crazy game!

Before I proceed with my next games, think I left out something on a personal note. Remember the first article I wrote, for this site? https://chesssummit.com/2019/04/04/winning-two-games-in-one/ 3 months ago, on winning two games in one. I think things have picked up a bit, since that time. Must not underestimate the value of writing about personal experiences and sharing your story. Maybe it was worth adding this, so others know how I felt. People might not know/realize what it personally meant for me to reach out and describe such game/experience. It also felt like a great topic to write about! So feel free to glance back at that article.

This second part of my tournament in Italy will cover what happened on the double round day. Remember, I had 2.5/3 (wins against a 21 hundred and 22 hundred, and a draw with Ivanchuk rated about 27 hundred). There were 2 games on Tuesday 6/18: 9AM and 4pm. Was Black round 4, this time against another Indian youngster: a teenage IM rated close to 2500. The night before, when in the midst of my preparation, my internet disconnected due to a “maximum usage exceeded” error with the code I was using to connect. Realized I had to be given a new code. The front desk was empty by that time of night and I’d have to approach the reception sometime after 8 in the morning, shortly before the game and with barely time to eat breakfast. When trying to prepare for a game, I tend to do lots of position searches in the ChessBase Online Database. At the moment I find that doing these series of Online Database position searches, while a bit time-consuming, can somewhat guide my prep. So I had to decide how to work around the internet outage. I chose to just stick with whatever I’d been looking at (an opening to play, against his likely 1.e4 mainlines). As I picked a sharp sideline of an Open Sicilian, review was required. Decided to use my already created notes from awhile back, along with Hiarcs14 Book to fill in some gaps. Figured I had to allow some time to review in the morning before the 9AM game.

On Tuesday morning, just barely had time for a quick breakfast. Was also able to approach the front desk for a new internet code. This time he gave me 2 codes, in order for me to have a second one to use after the first one runs out! The morning didn’t go smoothly. Was over 20 minutes late, partly due to being in a panic that I lost my passport. When I came down, the organizer said I left it at the reception and he had it with him. So let’s see how I recovered from the morning events and lost time on my clock.

IM Arjun Kalyan (FIDE 2482) – IM Justin Sarkar (FIDE 2366) [B61] 10th Forni di Sopra (4), 18.06.2019

1.e4 c5 It was a Sicilian day. Needed a little break from double king pawns. 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 Now I had something new in mind. Bd7!? 7.Qd2 This main move defines ECO code B61. Sometimes I like to play new ECO codes, though I’ve faced it from the white side, long time ago. Rc8

Larsen Variation

This is the main move. The Larsen Variation is a bit shaky (Black hangs by a thread, in various lines), but not quite busted I don’t think. Wanted to try the black side of this variation at some point, even as a surprise weapon. Another interesting tidbit was that GM Dreev, who was sitting pretty much next to me, used to play this. 8.f4 The other main move is 8.0-0-0 and now …Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Qa5. Had a game like this with white from back in the day, where I tried 10.Bd2!? Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Qa5

10.e5 Most principled. The alternative 10.0-0-0 gives black options of the interesting exchange sac 10…Rxc3!? as I once faced (though I think this is more an attempt to equalize and hold a draw after 11.bc3 e5 12.Qb4 Qxb4 13.cb4 Nxe4 14.Bh4) or 10…h6!? 11.Bxf6 gf6 de5 12.fe5 e6 13.0-0-0 Bc6! Relatively best

13.Bb5 But here, more typical and probably more principled is 13.Nb5! The mainline is 13…Bxb5 14.ef6 Bc6 15.h4 g6 16.Bc4 Bc5, which is risky for black (and there are many variations to know) yet not entirely clear. Nd5! 14.Nxd5 This was his first serious think, of almost 15 minutes. The alternative is 14.Bxc6+ bc6 as in Karpov-Balashov, 1971. Bxb5 15.Nc3 I was aware of the alternative 15.Qxa7!? (you can tell me why black can’t take the queen) Bb4! (with idea 16.Qxb7 0-0) first played in Hort-Panno, 1970. I’ll trust the machine this is equal/unclear. Bc6 Also possible is 15…Bc5 16.Qg4 Bb4 17.Nxb5 Qxb5 as in Dolmatov-Yudasin, 1981.

16.Rd3?! Played after ten minutes of thought. The main and best move is 16.Rhf1 as first played in Beliavsky-Yudasin, 1981. I also failed to remember anything beyond this point. 16.Rd3?! was played in Berg-Lindberg, SWE 2011. Black played 16…h6 and my move is also reasonable f6 Played after 20 minutes of thought. 17.Bf4?! He took at least as long on this reply. The bishop is actually poorly placed here, despite lending the e5-pawn extra support. Another bishop retreat was preferable, though it can be a tough decision to leave the e5-pawn en prise. Qc5 Aiming for at least comfortable equality, though black can actually go for more with 17…f5 or 17…Be7 18.ef6 Qxd4 16.Rxd4 gf6 20.Ne4 Be7 21.Nd6+ What else? Bxd6 22.Bxd6? This turns out to be a blunder. The obvious 22.Rxd6 was called for. 22.Rxd6 Ke7 (or 22…e5 23.Be3) 23.Rhd1 was better than the game. Bxg2 The pawn can be safely taken. 23.Rg1 Rg8! Very important. Seemingly walking into a self-pin, but 25.Rd2 Rd8! is very strong. White is simply not fast enough, to exploit the pin on the g-file. Black already has the “strategically winning” two connected passers.

24.Bb4?! But this just makes matters worse. Rg6 25. Re1 e5 26.Rh4 Rc7 27.c4?! Bf3?! Something like 27…e4 28.b3 Bf3 was more to the point. 28.Bd6?! 28.Rf4 Rcg7 29.Rh3 Rg1 30.Rxg1 Rxg1+ 31.Kc2 Bg4?! With the trap 32.Rxh7?? Bf5+. Centralization with 31…Be4+ was stronger. 32.Rg3

Rxg3? Spent half of my remaining 7 minutes to make this trade. Not surprisingly 32…Bf5+ was stronger. White can try 33.Kb3 Rd1 34.Bb8 but even if white picks up the a-pawn, the black connected passers should be much faster than white’s extra pawns on the other side that can barely move. Black can even just play something like 34…a6 with idea 35.Rf3 Rd3+ This pure OCB ending is most certainly winning, with the 2 connected passers. Trading on g3 helps white for sure, and the f-pawn is no longer passed. I was determined to show it’s a win, but still can’t quite be sure. The main idea I saw was to play …h5 followed by at the right moment …h4 as a pawn sac, to recreate connected passed pawns followed by …f6-f5-f4. However he has to watch out for ideas of white sacking the bishop for the e&f pawns and being able to leave black with just an a-pawn so as to have the bishop and wrong rook pawn draw, along with the h4-pawn serving as a distraction once black sacs. The win is at best problematic, but was just hoping I’d work out something after move 40 time control. 33.hg3 Kd7 34.Bc5 a6 35.b4? White spent 2 and a half of his remaining 7 minutes on this. Now this struck me as a mistake. Black gets to fix the structure and make the white a-pawn a more or less useless backward pawn, while being left with a desirable b-pawn (rather than a-pawn) that can’t be touched. Had white played a move like 35.a4 or 35.Bb6 I still can’t claim to be sure whether or not it’s a win. I can’t automatically rule out the possibility but it will take precise calculation and deep analysis that I have yet to do, to see how to make progress on the kingside without allowing unfavorable changes to the queenside (such as, trading both pawns too quickly or being left with the “wrong rook pawn”) b5 36.cb5 ab5 37.Kd3 h5

Even if your engine gives a value just slightly over +1 for black, I can virtually assure you it’s winning. The main plan I saw was to play the …h4 pawn sac at the right moment. Then when pushing the connected passers (usually …f6-f5-f4 followed by a later …e5-e4-e3) be sure that white can’t play a quick a4 forcing black to take with the pawn and be left with a wrong rook pawn draw. I kept changing my mind where I wanted to place my bishop for this, but it didn’t change the outcome or eval. Still had to overcome a bit of resistance. 38.Bf8 Ke6 39.Bg7 Bd1 40.Kd2 Bf3 41.Ke3 Bd5 42.a3 Bg2 Now I decided I wanted to place the bishop back on g4, before playing …h4, to stop white’s h-pawn from moving right away, though the computer will probably suggest a quicker win such as an immediate 42…f5 followed by soon …h4. The bishop is nicely centralized on d5 for now though I decided it’s useful to be guarding the h5-square when playing the …h4 pawn sac. 43.Kf2 Be4 44.Bf8 Bf5 45.Bc5 Bg4 46.Bb6 h4 I saw no need to delay this any longer. 47.gh4 f5

48.Be3 f4 Passed pawns must be pushed, but only in ways that don’t allow a dark-square blockade. So here, order is important. The pawn must go to f4, before a later …e4 followed by …e3. 49.Bc1 Kd5 50.Ke1 Bh5 A useful waiting move, with ideas to put the bishop somewhere it can anticipate a4 pawn sac ideas followed by pushing the b-pawn, while simultaneously keeping an eye on h5. 51.Kf1 Ke4 52.Kf2 52.a4 ba4 53.b5 Kd5 won’t change anything. Be8 Here actually 52…Bg4 53.Bb2 Kd5 54.Bc1 Kc4 was stronger. 53.Bb2 Kf5 Or 53…Kd5 54.Ke2 e4 55.Bd4 Bh5+ 56.Kd2 e3+

The one important detail to see is 57.Bxe3 fe3+ 58.Kxe3 Bd1! This is the only move to win, making sure that when white plays a4 the bishop can capture so as to remain with a b-pawn rather than a-pawn. Black will eat up the h-pawn and before long, through a series of mini-zugzwangs be able to get the king over to b3 to gobble up the a3 followed by b4 pawn and win with the extra bishop and b-pawn. 57.Kd3 Bf7 Just don’t play 57…Be8?? 58.Bxe3 fe3 59.Kxe3 followed by a4 with a draw. 58.Bc3 Kg4 59.Ke4 Bg6+ 60.Kd4 Kxh4 61.a4 ba4 62.b5 Be8 63.b6 Bc6 White resigns 0-1

After this win, had just under 2 hours before the next game. Was White against a young GM rated over 2600 who was trailing me by half a point with 3/4. Ended up being 5-10 minutes late to the game.

IM Justin Sarkar (ELO 2366) – GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac (ELO 2623) [D85] 10th Forni di Sopra (5), 18.06.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 Thought he was more likely to go for a Nimzo 3.Nc3 d5 A slightly odd surprise, given how much I’ve played the Grünfeld. Had to decide what line I wanted to play. As it turned out though, I ended up not really knowing the line I chose or getting a good position. 4.cd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bc3 Bg7 7.Bb5+ This was something I wanted to try lately and had faced once or twice before, so decided to play it in this game. c6 8.Ba4 0-0 After moving quickly, Black spent over ten minutes on this obvious move. 9.Ne2 c5 No time on this. Black has a few different plans/setups to choose and it turned out I was least ready for the straightforward 9…c5 followed by 10…Nc6, despite it actually being the most popular move. 10.0-0 Nc6

11.Bxc6? Played after 6 or 7 minutes of thought. As we’ll see I had personal reasons for playing this way, but it was actually a sign of not trusting myself or my opening erudition. Kind of like I wanted to hand him at least comfortable equality, in order to clarify the game. White should play 11.Be3 and after 11…Na5 or 11…Qc7 it’s a game. While I didn’t know the lines, should’ve better trusted that white can hardly be worse just yet and has prospects to be better in this exchange Grünfeld structure. bc6 12.Ba3 cd4 13.Nxd4?! I’d call this a bit dubious and prefer the obvious pawn takes pawn recapture. While black can hardly be worse, it should be a bit closer to just flat equal with chances to soon fizzle out. For instance, 13.cd4 Qa5!? (or 13…Ba6 14.Bc5 as in Karpov-Morovic, Lindsborg rapid 2003) 14.Bc5.

Bonin system

We’ve transposed to the Bonin system, named after the legendary Jay Bonin (a fixture in the NY Chess scene, especially Marshall Chess Club). Never quite understood it, but think he has done rather well with it (at least, against his typical lower rated opposition). Wanted to see if I could hold my own by playing like Jay. He’s known though to have a slight bias, to liking knights. To me, black can’t possibly be worse, with the bishop pair in a mostly open (albeit rather symmetric) position. Avoiding the trodden path with White against higher-rated players can sometimes (like in this case) suggest certain sense of fear and make their task easier of aiming for the full point without taking excessive risks. I’ll elaborate more on this topic when discussing my very last game in this tournament, in my next part. Regarding, the general mistake of deliberately avoiding mainstream theory when white against a much higher rated player. No disrespect to Bonin, but I’d choose a Kasparov system over a Bonin system. Qc7 Black also has the move 13…c5! 14.Bxc5 Qc7 as in Bonin-Shahade, NY Masters rapid 2002. Not even sure what improvement Jay had in mind. Maybe 15.Ba3 but after 15…Ba6 (or 15…Qxc3 16.Nb3) 16.Re1 Qxc3 17.Nb3 Rfd8 18.Qg4 h5 Black can’t be worse, to say the least. 14.Qa4 Bd7 15.Qc4?! I already got things wrong and failed to play like Jay. For sure, the move is 17.Bc5, as he himself played in a published game. I saw ghosts like 17…Qe5 (even that should be equal, though hardly a reason to not play the immediate 17.Bc5). The queen is worse on c4 than a4. Not sure if it really changes the dynamics of the position. Rfc8 The guy has been playing quickly and confidently again, since castling. Now the e7-pawn is poisoned due to 18.Bxe7?? c5 followed by 19…Be6 after a knight retreat and white loses a piece. 16.Bc5 e5

17.Nc2?! A clumsy retreat square for the knight. 17.Nb3 was more logical. Maybe 17..a5 but then probably 18.Qa4 or 18.Qd3 should be OK. Qa5 18.Qb4 Qa6 19.c4?! This really just creates weaknesses along with a weak pawn on c4 though it’s tough to find something constructive to do. Probably 19.Rfb1 Be6 20.Ne3 was a lesser evil. Be6 20.Ne3 Rab8 Already 20…f5 suggests itself. Not sure what I wanted to do. Maybe 21.ef5 gf5 22.g4 though it looks a bit desperate. 21.Qc3 Rd8 22.f3 f5 23.Rfc1 Rd7 24.a4 This really weakens white more but I wanted to play a4-a5 with idea of playing a6 when the queen moves from a6, possibly fixing the a7-pawn as a target and sometimes allowing b7 as a penetration square. Rbd8 Black seems to be keeping the tension and postponing the decision whether to push with …f4 or exchange on e4. 25.a5 h5 26.Ra2 Kh7? Now is time to make a decision with the f-pawn. Such as, 26…f4 27.Nf1 Rd1 (or 27…g5). 27.Re2? Does nothing but make matters worse. White should really try 27.ef5! gf5 28.Qc2. Rd3 28.Qa4 R8d7? This slow, indecisive move throws away the advantage. A move with the f-pawn was screaming to be played: 28…f4 or exchanging on e4, with clear advantage. 29.ef5! I was worse and it made sense to change the structure of the position, even hoping to get play against his king. gf5 30.Nf1?! Why this? 30.Qe1 right away made more sense. The knight might not want to retreat. Kg6? The king is actually not very safe. At this point I had 14 minutes and he had 16, to reach move 40. 31.Qe1! For some reason this took me 5 or 6 minutes, yet I failed to work out the complications of 31…Bxc4. Ended up trying this, more intuitively. Bxc4?! He in turn took 5 or 6 minutes. This is actually not so good, though it’s tough to justify black’s play. Something like 31…Bf7 was better.

32.Qg3+? It looked tempting to check. Shame I missed 32.Qh4! f4 33.g4! This is very dangerous for black, his best bet is 33…Kh7 34.Qxh5+ Kg8 and clearly I have at least a draw (with 35.Qe8+). I can try 35.Rxe5! (or 35.Rb2 Bf7) Bf7! 36.Re8+! Bxe8 37.Qxe8+ Kh7 when again I can make an immediate draw by checking, or play Re1! White has an attack. Kh7 33.Rxe5?! This is actually inaccurate, albeit the right idea to do an exchange sac. Bxe5?! Black spent 5 minutes on this. Actually 33…Bf7! is stronger, when 34.Rxf5?? fails to …Rd1! So probably, 34.Ree1 Qxa5 35.Qg5 R3d5 34.Qxe5 Bf7

35.Qxf5+? It can be tempting to take a pawn with check in time pressure, but why not threaten mate in one with 35.Bf8! Bg6 (forced) and now play 36.Qf4. Somehow I filtered out this logical follow-up. Black is more or less forced to go for the position after 36…c5 37.Qh6+ Kg8 when after 38.Bxc5 he has nothing better than a draw (such as, by 38…Rd1). Bg6 36.Qf6?! 36.Qf4 Rf7 was a lesser evil. Qxa5 37.Qxc6 Qc7 38.Qf6 Or 38.Qf4 Rf7. Rf7 Black spent his remaining 2 minutes. Not 38…Rd1?? due to 39.Bd4! Now 39…Rxf1+ 40.Rxf1 Qd8 41.Qxd8 Rxd8 42.Bxa7 Bc2! followed by trading rooks gives black the worse side of a draw! 39.Qe6?! White should try something like 39.Bd4!? Qb8! 40.Be5 or Qe5. This might give better survival chances compared to the game. a5 40.Ne3? A move 40 lemon. The knight doesn’t belong here, though it’s tough to know what to suggest. Qf4?! The direct 40…a4 was stronger. 41.Nd5 fails to Qd8. 41.Rc4 This is what I was going to play, but used up most of my time in the second time control in coming to terms with how bad my position was. Qg5 Was actually expecting 41…Qf6 42.Qxf6 Rxf6 and I had at best vague ideas to put up some resistance but felt I was unlikely to hold (e.g. 43.Ra4 Ra6). 42.f4? Now I just collapsed, especially with no time left. Of course 42.h4 was the only try to prolong the game. Rxf4 43.Be7 Qh6 Only move to win, but quite obvious. 44.Rc7 Qg7 45.Bd6 Rf7 0-1

Losing felt at least slightly discouraging (especially as white, against an opening I’ve played many times from the other side). If anything I felt rather unlucky. Even though, 50% on one day against two higher rated opponents (both teenagers!) ought to be, at minimum, acceptable. Almost escaped this one.

So after this mixed fortune on the double round day of the 18th, it was back to just one game a day (though the final round was at 9AM). Wondered if luck was turning against me based on this game, even though I was still performing close to FIDE 2600. To see how I recovered in my next games, stay tuned for the next part! This part was meant to cover just the double round day. The next part will cover the rest of the tournament.

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My 4th GM Norm: 5th time in Italy is a Charm Part I

Italy has been like a rating haven for me. Can just about claim I’ve found my niche, in a chess tournament context. My first tournament in Italy was almost exactly a year ago: The Ad Gredine Open, in a beautiful area of the Dolomites. That tournament officially began my upward climb, after what was perhaps my longest slump. Finished strongly there, with 2 good wins against GMs.

Since then, I’ve gone back to play in Italy 4 more times, including this most recent one. My relatively worst of the bunch was Rome last December, where I gained 3 points and still played a few strong games! Not quite sure, but maybe in general Italy has a serene feeling to it. Somehow I feel at home there, even if I barely interact with people or speak the language! Last month, I went to a small town in Southern Italy called Gallipoli (wait, isn’t that in Turkey!?) for the Salento Open. It was in the middle of nowhere. When going in my hotel room, I got greeted by the sound of old-fashioned style jazz music playing through a speaker in the bathroom ceiling! Sometimes I woke up to the morning sound of bathroom wall jazz! Not your everyday occurrence. Finished well in the Salento Open after a slow start, tying for third and performing in the FIDE high 24 hundreds while facing mostly very strong IMs and GMs.

My best was yet to come. Most recently I played the Forni di Sopra Open, in another area of the Dolomites (compared to a year ago). An added attraction, which really persuaded me to go was that Ivanchuk was registered. In fact, I’d been told this, during a car ride with the organizer in Salento last month, while talking about future tournaments in Italy . Ivanchuk has been like my long time idol. This World top 30 chess great is very creative and versatile. On good days he beats world champions, on bad days he loses to much lower rated players. I’ve sometimes called myself the Vassily Ivanchuk of IMs or joked about my Ivanchuk-like inconsistencies. So, playing him would be like a dream come true. Lo and behold, I got to play Ivanchuk! More on that later.

In terms of result, I topped it up another notch and scored my 4th GM norm. Having completed my required norms, my problem is of course the rating, being slightly over a hundred points away from the FIDE 2500 promised land. While you can argue that 3 norms was enough, 4 norms can only be better. As GM norms are notoriously tough to get, this was a big accomplishment. It was 4 years since my last norm. I think the important thing is psychologically I feel I have enough norms under my belt for the GM title. It was tougher to truly feel that way, before this 4th norm. Plus, a norm certificate with the name Ivanchuk is priceless.

I’ll divide this tournament report into 3 parts. You can call it opening, middlegame, endgame. This part will cover the first third of the tournament.

The general schedule of this 9 round tournament was one game a day at 4pm. However on the fourth day 6/18 was a double round: 9am and 4pm. This will be covered in my next part. Sometimes the biggest challenge is to get off to a good start. I think ANY tournament player can relate. Sometimes the first round itself can feel like the biggest challenge, even when playing a much lower rated player. Just about every new tournament is some form of adjustment, more so in a foreign country! Was White in the first round against a player rated roughly FIDE 2100. It was a struggle. I was for sure worse somewhere, but managed to come through in the end to win.

At a glance I was just about in the middle of 1 pointers and could go up or down in round 2. All the way up or all the way down, that is the question. I considered playing the top seed Ivanchuk a bit unlikely, as we both had white. Knew there was a slight chance though, as there could’ve been more winners with white (doesn’t white usually win more than black?) so someone would have to get an extra white and that person could very well be me. Sure enough, I got paired against Ivanchuk! I couldn’t believe my eyes, or even look at any chess that night, before going to sleep. Was playing him at the first plausible opportunity, getting an extra white to do so. He could play just about anything, so I didn’t really know what to most expect. Let’s see how the game went. Well this game was NUTS! It was a real nail biter. My attempted annotations won’t do it justice or provide anything near a comprehensive overview of what was going on. I’ll just try to shed some light. We can both be very original players and in that sense, this game failed to disappoint. Just sit back, fasten your seat belts, and enjoy the ride.

IM Justin Sarkar (ELO 2366) – GM Vassily Ivanchuk (ELO 2691) [E72] 10th Forni di Sopra (2), 16.06.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.g3?! This rare move is the Pomar system. White has an array of lines to choose against the Kings Indian and this move is only the 9th most common according to Chess Base. I feel inclined to label it as dubious, as objectively speaking black seems to have more than one way to equalize whereas just about any other mainstream choice against the Kings Indian is a more serious fight for the advantage. Another thing is that if white really wants to try this system, a slightly more accurate move order against the Kings Indian is 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.Nc3 d6 6.e4, for reasons that will become apparent. This nuance I failed to appreciate. A bigger issue is that in general, avoiding mainstream theory when white against a much higher rated player (who very likely wants to beat you, right?) is usually a mistake. This actually cost me later in the tournament. I’ll elaborate on this topic in the next part(s). Somehow I know these things yet lately have been defying them a bit too many times. Have to practice what I preach. Actually there were emotional reasons here for my choice, relating to ECO codes. There are 5 hundred ECO codes, ranging from A00-E99. I’ll have to elaborate another time on my interest in ECO codes and their classifications, but for now say that sometime last summer I carefully researched Ivanchuk’s over 4 thousand published games collection to note what ECO codes were missing from his tournament practice. E72 was one of them. I decided going into the game I’d get a kick out of playing a mutually new ECO code if possible. In that sense, E72 fit the bill perfectly. E72 is defined by the move 5.g3 as I played. It was also something I recently wanted to try anyhow. My opening play here though, left something to be desired. Let’s see what happened: c5!? My move 5 surprise made him think for 4 minutes, then uncork this interesting alternative to the automatic castling. Already we have a case for the aforementioned 3.g3 move order being more accurate. It sidesteps such alternatives to castling. Whereas here, 5…0-0 6.Bg2 would transpose to that Fianchetto with 6.e4 position I gave. 6.d5 b5!?

Played after 6 minutes of thought. Must confess I failed to consider this Benko Gambit attempt. Now white should just play ball and play pawn takes pawn, not being worse with an extra pawn in a standard type of Benko Gambit position after 7.cb5 a6 (or 0-0). However, wanting to be original I got overly creative and after 6 minutes decided on something that “looked interesting”. 7.e5?! In reality this is just asking for trouble. de5 He took 32 minutes on this obvious capture, which I think gave me a false sense of security 8.Nxb5 Ne4!? Played instantly. I failed to even consider it. Probably not even the objectively strongest move, yet it tempted me to do something that was just bad, in attempt to “justify my play”. 9.d6?!!? Not even sure how to annotate this move. Objectively bad, yet with some practical value given the murky nature of the position. But Black is really going to be in control, as will be apparent. My brain just wasn’t working and I was shaking off bad form, in this game itself! Just did something after about 15 minutes thought that looked interesting and “might work”, without being able to properly calculate the consequences. Qa5+ 10.Ke2

Don’t try this at home. I realized that on 10.Bd2 if he trades everything on d2 even at the price of an exchange sac on a8 for a pawn, I’m not better to say the least. After the king move I had little clue what’s going on and was somehow just hoping my threats would give enough play. Bb7 He took 10 minutes on this 11.Nc7+ Kd7

And 7 minutes on this. By now though, it dawned on me that I could seriously be worse despite taking the exchange, maybe even in trouble. Still, totally crazy position! Not one you see too often. Talk about original players. Tough to come up with general guidelines in this position. “Develop your pieces”. “Control the center”. “Have a plan”. “Try to take pieces”. “Don’t hang pieces”. Those are just some things that come to mind. I actually had to use the murky nature of the position in attempt to keep finding resources when things got critical. Objectively speaking, things have gone horribly wrong. Think I was still a bit blissfully ignorant of how bad things actually were. 12.Nf3 Can’t quite understand why I took 13 minutes on this and chose not to take on a8 first, though it should amount to the same thing after 12.Nxa8 Nxd6 13.Nf3, etc. Was still ahead on the clock though. Actually I think his time pressure later on saved me. Nxd6 He took 5 minutes on this (13…Nc6 is also possible). 13.Nxa8 Nc6 another 4 minutes on this. 14.Bg2 e4! This move really takes control of the position. 15.Nd2 This retreat is the least of the evils. Nd4+ 16.Kf1 Rxa8 17.h4! Perhaps the best try in a dire situation, to make some luft. White might sometimes have slight hopes of activating the rook. f5! 18.h5 Else …h5 felt positionally crushing. g5

19.Nb3 A desperate attempt to untangle, at the cost of a pawn. Inserting first 19.h6 Bf6 was probably more accurate. Nxb3 20.Qxb3 Ba6 I anticipated this. 21.Qd1 Bxc4+ But he took 5 minutes on this, and now has under 6 minutes (plus 30 second increment per move) to reach move 40. 22.Kg1 While I have 29 minutes. Bd3 23.h6 Bf6 23…Bd4! was stronger, and pretty much winning. I’ll take the machine’s word for it. 24.Bd2 Qb5 25.Bc3 My Bd2 followed by Bc3 was the relatively best try in a grim situation. I was actually expecting him to take on c3, followed by something like 26…Qb2. Rb8!? 26.Bxf6 ef6 27.b3 c4

28.bc4 28.Rc1 was a better try. Nxc4? 28…Qxc4 was stronger and virtually winning, though it’s tough to grasp such nuances without a machine. 29.Bf1 Took about 13 minutes on this and got down to 7 minutes. 29.g4!? was possible. I was worried about 29…Qc5 with idea 30…Rb2 but overlooked my drawing resource 30.Rh3! So maybe, some other queen move for black. Still, if I was unsure about 29.g4, 29.Bf1 was the right move to play. This trade is useful in attempt to free my position. Ne5 He was down to 3 minutes 30.Bxd3 Perhaps immediately 30.Qb3! ed3 31.Qb3!

A very important resource, to trade queens. d2 32.Rd1? It was stronger to take on b5: 32.Qxb5+ Rxb5 33.Kf1 with drawing chances. Maybe I felt the open a-file would help me, even if it meant sacking a pawn on b3. Qxb3 33.ab3 Nf3+ He had 1 minute here 34.Kg2 While I had 4. White must avoid 34.Kf1? Re8! Rxb3? This natural move, capturing a pawn while defending the knight, was actually a mistake, not readily apparent. Black should play 34…g4! This move gets priority. I didn’t realize it either. With the black rook able to go places like e8, white is trapped. Actually the best is to give back the exchange with 35.Rxd2+ Nxd2 36.Rd1 but after …Rxb3 37.Rxd2+ Ke6 38.Ra2 Kf7 39.Rxa7+ Kg6 followed by taking on h6 black should be able to untangle in the rook and pawn ending and make the 2 extra pawns tell. If I can pinpoint one missed win by him, this is it. Note he was down to a minute to reach move 40, and taking the pawn seemed very natural. Actually it was less important. So I guess my pawn served as a decoy. 35.Ra1 Ne1+?! Stronger was the immediate 35…Ra3! The rook is taboo due to 36…Ne1+ followed by queening, and 36.Rb1 is essentially forced. On 36.Rd1? Black can just play something like …a5. 36.Kf1 Ra3!

37.Rd1 37.Rb1 is an alternative but going to d1 and gaining a tempo hitting the d2-pawn makes lots of sense. Nf3 38.Ke2 Ke6 A better try was 38…g4. Now 39.Rb1 and some move, not sure what exactly. After his time pressure move, I suddenly equalize. 39.Rb1!

Don’t fall for 39.Ra1?? Nd4+ 40.Kxd2 Rxa1 followed by …Nb3+ but 39.Rb1 puts the rook on a nice open file and creates enough counterplay. Little did I realize, I’ve now officially equalized. Actually the evaluation will remain stuck at 0.00 for pretty much the rest of the game. At the board things felt a bit scary though. g4 40.Rhd1 Or 40.Rb7!? Kf7 41.Rb7+ Kg6 42.Rh1

I got tempted by 42.Rg7+? Kxh6 43.Rg8 trying to set up a mating net, but this is just asking for trouble after 43…Ng5! d1/Q+ I was kind of expecting him to promote to a bishop! Chucky has been known to show this type of humor. I’d have to take anyway, as 43.Kf1?? would be refuted by …f4! 43.Rxd1 Ng5 44.Rdd7 a6 45.Rb6 a5 46.Ra6 Ra2+ 47.Rd2 Ra4 48.Rd5 Re4+ 49.Kf1 Nf3 50.Rd1

A very important resource, guarding the first rank. Actually spent awhile looking at 50.Kg2?? Re1 and now stalemate ideas involving 51.Rd1 Rxd1 52.Rxf6+ but they simply fall short. Re5 51.Kg2 Ne1+ 52.Kf1 Have a feeling taking on e1 followed by a5 is good enough to hold (with the idea 53…Re5 54.Ra6), but of course completely unnecessary to say the least. Nf3 53.Kg2 a4 54.Ra1 Ne1+ 55.Kf1 Nf3 56.Kg2 And here, finally he offered the draw. The move 56…Re8 as shown online, was not actually played. Maybe such move got registered when resetting the pieces. In any case, the game is completely equal. Incidentally, clock times after each move are stored in the Live Chess Cloud. It helped me to go back to check it for the time situation.

Crazy game! This was quite a save, against such World legend, from a very bad position. I think my game with Ivanchuk set the tone. By the way, one thing about playing someone like that (and a tournament like this in general) is that both your strengths and weaknesses can become more apparent. It felt though like I was still shaking off bad form, in this game itself! But anyway, I’d have to overall feel satisfied with my defensive efforts to salvage such a draw against such caliber GM. As I’ve had various issues with time pressure, it was something to actually be saved by his time pressure. Or at least, it felt a bit like that. Overall, I hope you enjoyed the game!

Round 3 I actually “played down”, with black against a rising Indian junior rated FIDE 2205. He’d beaten a GM in round 1 and of course I knew had to be taken very seriously. All I can say is that the game was pretty equal and I was kind of expecting a draw any moment but he made an unforced error in time pressure around move 30, followed by a losing blunder by move 40. So I just had to take the win I was given.

Was off to a great start with 2.5/3 and my next task was to get past the double round the next day with a 9AM 4th round. As I began with a double white, I was due black again in round 4. Was paired against a high rated young Indian IM (close to FIDE 2500). Stay tuned for the next part!

College: My Next Step

Hi everyone!  This post will be different from most of my others.  I’m not exactly going over any games.  Frankly, the title probably tells you enough.

In contrast to the other three original Chess^Summit authors, I’m only now able to say this:  I’m officially done with high school! Starting next fall, I’ll be attending the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA, USA.

My plans in terms of writing for Chess^Summit will not change – I still plan on writing articles for the Chess^Summit community.  The biggest difference will probably be in terms of over-the-board play.  In all honesty, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to play because of college work, but once I find tournaments in the local Atlanta area, I plan on playing when possible.

I also hope to get to know some chess players in the Atlanta area.  So, if any of you guys live in the area and want to get into contact with me, you can email me at vishalkobla AT gmail.  I also hope to do some group or private lessons in the Atlanta area, so if you’re interested in that, then please email as well.

But, that is that!  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!

Look Ma, I Did It: My 2019 US Chess Champs

Entering the 2019 US Women’s Chess Championship, I had zero expectations. After the 2018 Olympiad in October, I spent a few months away from the chess board to catch up on school work and prepare for various tests like the SATs. My hiatus from chess ended in a tournament in January of 2019 with a mediocre result, which I was fine with considering my lack of practice.

Before I knew it, it was March and I was at the High School Nationals. I had struggled with managing my time and work ethic in the two months since January, but I felt like I put more work in prior to the US Championships compared to previous years. Around two weeks before the High School Nationals, I created a guideline for myself where I would attempt to finish my homework early and leave at least two hours a day to practice chess. Call it my own Murphy’s law, but procrastination, getting distracted, and tests ate away at my precious chess time. Subtracting the days I skipped my routine for last-minute test cramming and good-old fashioned laziness, my chess time dwindled to about an hour a day. Although more limited than I had hoped, I felt like my practice time was much more productive than it had been previously because I started using a physical chess board to play out moves and calculate positions. Although it seems blatantly obvious to use a chess board to study, for most of my life I had either visualized positions or used a digital board on Chessbase. To be honest, I never used an actual board because it doesn’t fit on my desk and I was too lazy to sit on the floor and set up the positions. Although many people have recommended using an actual board, I always found it redundant but I decided to try it once and immediately found out I was much more focused. So if you don’t use a physical chess board when practicing chess, I highly recommend it!

Returning back to the High School Nationals, just like the US Championships, I had no expectations for myself. The main reason that propelled me to play my first nationals in years was to warm up for the US Championships, because what better way to get the brain juices flowing than a 7 round tournament in 3 days that ends the week of the US Champs? As 11th seed I had realistic chances for playing for first, but I never considered it because I knew I wasn’t in my best form and scholastics are absolutely brutal. On top of all of that, the five second delay and nonexistent second time control weren’t to my forte.

The result was more or less what I had internally expected: 4 draws against lower rateds put me at 5/7. I wasn’t elated at my result but I wasn’t disappointed either, because the tournament was exactly what I needed to slap me awake before the US Championships. The short time control without increment was sobering because I found myself playing on the delay in several games. It had been a while since I had played anything other than 30 second increment or 10 second delay, so a 5 second delay did not pair well with my heavy time usage. On several games I relied on the delay to simply not flag, which I knew would make the 30 second increment at the US Championships seem like a luxury. Moreover, I found myself in slightly worse positions out of the opening in quite an alarming amount of games, simply because I couldn’t remember any openings. I had made it a priority to do opening preparations for the US Championships in my chess routine, but losing some time here and there resulted in that just not happening. I was extremely upset at myself for skipping what I had considered the most important part of my US Championships prep, and I thought the quality of my games at High School Nationals reflected that. I only felt reassured that there would be plenty of time to prepare during the one round a day US Championships, quite in contrast with the three-round day at nationals.

Holding my 24th (!) place trophy with WGM Jennifer Shahade. Although the High School Nationals wasn’t my finest result, it was an invaluable experience before the US Champs.
Photo: US Chess

My strategy for the US Championships was, in essence, to have no strategy at all. In previous years, I had always frowned upon draws and gone all out for wins which sounds good, but really means losing perfectly fine positions by taking unnecessary risks. This basically sums up my 2018 US Junior Girls where I was so adamant against draws that I would rather go into an unsound and probably worse position if it meant I could have a chance of winning. Instead, that just led to several disastrous upsets and losing around 30 rating points. This acknowledgement of draws didn’t mean I would be happy with draws this entire tournament either, but my open mentality of accepting draws if the position calls for it led to a calmer approach to the game. It’s ironic because most of my games were unpredictable, fighting chess but I did feel like my “play what I get non-strategy” had a significant impact.

The first few rounds of the US Championship were fairly smooth sailing. I took an early lead with 4/4 but didn’t think too much of it. It was only a small lead as Anna Zatonskih trailed behind me by half a point for most of the tournament, and in round robins, early leads don’t signify much. I was fairly certain that I would get knocked down at some point and wasn’t hoping for too much. I just tried to focus on each coming game and ignore the tournament situation. In several games, I had extremely close calls where it could’ve gone the other way easily such as my games against Maggie Feng (round 6) and Sabina Foisor (round 7). These games made it easy for me to not get carried away by my lead since it was evident I had done something very wrong in both games but managed to survive only by a few practical choices, opponents’ mistakes, and sheer luck.


Pictured on the rest day with my good friends Annie Wang, Emily Nguyen, and Carissa Yip. (left to right)
Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

In the crucial 10th round, I was due to play IM Anna Zatonskih, my closest competitor point-wise who was playing brilliantly throughout the tournament. I had a half a point lead with 8/9 points versus her 7.5/9 so if I won, I would clinch the title on the spot with a round to spare. I never considered winning because in previous encounters I have always been initially worse and I was playing with black. Moreover, I didn’t know what opening to expect since she has a wide repertoire, so I decided to just give up on prepping something new altogether and stick with what I knew. My main goal going into the game was to treat it just like any other game and forget about the tournament situation. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel any pressure because needless to say, it was the most important game in my life. I wasn’t too worried because previously I have performed well under pressure. Also reassuring was knowing that she had more pressure on her side of the table because she was in a must-win situation. If we drew, she would have to risk me winning in the last round and winning the title without a chance of a play-off.

In our game, she repeated the same slav line against me as my earlier game against Annie Wang in round 5. For a brief minute, I considered diverging from my earlier lines in order to avoid whatever preparation she had in store but quickly rejected that idea since I had faith in my original prep against Annie and it was an unnecessary risk. She diverged from Annie’s line and began to quickly eat up time after a few moves. I was confused because I had no idea where her prep ended and at that point I was confident that she was on her own.

We reached this position:

The immediate move that jumped out at me was 17…Nc5! I had seen the game Shankland,S -Alonso,S Praia da Pipa 2014 where a similar Nc5 idea was made in a slightly different situation. Although it looks like it hangs material, all the lines work out into Black’s favor. I had to make sure I wasn’t making a huge mistake and spent around 20 minutes calculating complications. This was definitely my favorite move in this game because it changed the nature of the position, declaring that I wasn’t going to passively defend by immediately challenging the center. It also enters a position where it’s possible for White to make mistakes, essentially making Black completely equalized. This actually happened in the game after 18. Rxd8 Qxd8 19.Nxc5 Bxc5 20. Nxe5?! Bxf2+!

The bishop is immune because if 21. Kxf2 results in 21… fxe5 where the pin on the f-file will allow me to recapture the piece with a huge positional advantage. She had to decline the inbetween move bishop sacrifice and I was extremely happy with my position. I knew it was more than equalized at this point and I was probably better, but I somehow forgot about the possibility that I could win. That is the danger of restricting your expectations because it took awhile for me to realize that my assumption of a draw being the best result no longer held true. When I woke up from the belief that I would be worse this game, I attempted to restrict her play as much as possible and take advantage of her dwindling time. After a few passive moves by her that I didn’t anticipate, we entered the following position where she made the fatal blunder 30. Qe1??

I had seen this variation a few moves earlier and felt my heart pounding because I knew I had the game in the bag. I still took a few minutes to confirm my calculations because now was not the time to get hasty. But after 30…Bf2! 31. Qd2 Bxg3+!! the game was essentially over.

She had to take the bishop because if 32. Kg1 Qxh4 and mate on h2 will soon follow. After 32. Kxg3 Qc7+ 33. Kg4 (33.Kh3 Be6#) Be6+ she resigned because 34. Kh5 Qf7+ would lead to mate and 34. Kg5 Qg3+ would lead to mate.

I was in absolute disbelief after the game and it took me a long time to realize that I had actually become the US Women’s Chess Champion. This had always been the goal every time I had played this tournament but it was always a pipe dream that I never considered would happen. But, I’m sure glad it did! However, I still had one game remaining in the tournament and I wanted to take it seriously. It might sound a little bit funny, but I felt like I had more pressure going into the last round after I had already won the tournament than before the pivotal 10th round. I felt like I had something to prove, and after a rocky middlegame, I won an interesting endgame and ended with 10/11.

I am really proud of my result in this tournament, but it also has to be noted that I was incredibly lucky in several games. I made some inexcusable mistakes that should’ve been punished, but it managed to work out for the best. Looking forward, I’m going to work on improving my weaknesses even more as I strive for future aspirations. Winning the US Championships proved to myself that I can do it and it opens a door for all the possibilities that I never considered. I’m currently working on securing my IM title, because I only have the 2400 rating requirement left, and you can bet I’ll get started on the GM title hunt right after.

Words can’t describe my gratitude towards everyone who supported me along my chess journey because I could not have become US Champion by myself. To my family, coaches, friends, competitors, and supporters — thank you. However, this is not where my journey ends, and I hope to make y’all proud in the future.

Congratulations to GM Hikaru Nakamura for winning the 2019 US Chess Championships!

2019 US Chess Champions
Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

Foxwoods: A Near Miss Part 1

Last year, at the last round of the traditional (for me) Philadelphia Open, it was announced that the tournament was moving to the Foxwoods Casino/Resort the next year. Before I knew it, it was Easter time again, and it was time to go play a strong 9 round norm tournament—this time in Foxwoods. My Easter tournaments have ranged from truly disastrous (aka the first time I ever withdrew from a tournament) to highly memorable. After all 2 years ago, I got my third IM norm at the Philadelphia Open, and had I won the last round I would have walked away with a GM norm to top it off. Let’s see where this year fits in…

Playing in the world’s 4th largest casino definitely added an interesting feel to the tournament as opposed to your average hotel. It was definitely a strange feeling when people in the elevator wished each other good luck—not in chess but in gambling. I stayed in an adjacent tower, and it took about five minutes of fast walking to reach the tournament hall from the hotel rooms, and that was only one small part of the resort. Who needs a gym to stay in shape when you have Foxwoods?

The tournament area was separate from the casino and provided a peaceful refuge from the crowds outside. There was, however, one special thing about the play room which we found out in round 1—it was located below a bowling alley! Imagine balls rolling and pins falling… The admittedly intermittent noise was not very loud but extremely annoying. I have to give credit to the organizers for switching the play room with the directors’ room, so that in round 2 there was much less noise, and in round 3, after they moved us even deeper into the room, there was no noise at all.

Ok, now it’s time for chess!

In round 1, I got white against Mardon Yakubov (2128 FIDE, 2159 USCF) It wasn’t the greatest game… I butchered a large advantage out of the opening, and my opponent defended well to reach this position:

Yakubov 1

Black is a pawn up, but he’s under fire. With my last move 21.f4, I was naturally trying to break down black’s center. 21… exf4 loses on the spot to 22.Ne6+, and 21… e4 runs into 22.Rxe4. Black’s best option here is to get his king out of the way with 21… Kg7!, after which white has nothing better than 22.fxe5 fxe5 23.Qe3. This wins the e5-pawn back after 23… Nf5 24.Qxe5+ Qxe5 25.Rxe5, but white’s advantage is minimal if at all existent after 25… Rhe8.

Instead of that, however, my opponent played 21… Rc7?. The idea of this move was most likely to prevent my threat of fxe5 fxe5 Rxe5 (it stops the Nd7 fork), but it gives white a chance to pounce. After 22.fxe5 fxe5 I saw that I could still play 23.Qe3—after 23… Nf5 white can still play 24.Qxe5 because after 24… Qxc5+? 25.Kh1 black is losing a rook or is getting mated. However, after 24… Qxe5 25.Rxe5 Re7, he’s not in such bad shape. Instead of doing that, I played another move which was much stronger: 23.Qa5! threatening Qxc7 Qxc7 Ne6+ winning a rook. Black’s best chance was to play 23… Kg8, but after 24.Ne4 Qd8 25.Ng5, he’s in really bad shape. My opponent instead played 23… Rc8? but after 24.Rxe5! I’m crashing through. I won a few moves later.

Not too bad for a first round I guess. In round 2, I had black against William Sedlar (2217 FIDE, 2411 USCF) and this time professional swindling was required

Sedlar 1

I had been doing fine previously, but then a silly mistake got me into a worse position. Fortunately, I wriggled my way out, and by the time we reached this position, I thought I was doing fine. Material is equal and fairly reduced, and while black’s e-pawn is under fire, black has plenty of activity to compensate for that. White could play 40.Rdxe5 (or 40.Rexe5) immediately. I saw that I had at least a draw with 40… Rxe5 41.Rxe5 Qc1+ 42.Kh2 Qf4+ 43.Kg1 Qxa4, but I wasn’t sure there was anything more, and my engine confirms that it’s indeed a draw. For a human, however, it’s not clearly obvious that there is nothing for black. Instead of taking on e5, white’s best move is actually to play 40.Kh2! simply getting off the first rank. Black doesn’t have anything that concrete, but I think that with reasonable play he should hold a draw without any real problems.

My opponent instead played 40.Rd1 and offered a draw. While this position is objectively equal, I didn’t see myself losing this one and wanted to try a little… The game went 40… Rf2 41.Qc4 Qb6 42.Qb5 Qa7

Sedlar 2

Here, my opponent played the logical move 43.a5?? and ran into more or less the only trap I had in store for him: 43… Rxg2!

Sedlar 3

If 44.Kxg2, black has 44… Qf2+ 45.Kh1 Qf3+ 46.Kh2 Qxe4, after which he’s a pawn up and is on the verge of mating white. Besides that, white is just broke. My opponent tried 44.Qxe5 but after 44… Qf2 45.Rde1 Rg3, he had to give up his queen with 46.Qxg3 and resigned a move later.

2/2 so far! Admittedly it was a shaky 2/2, but I was going to take it…

In round 3, I got white against GM Zhou Jianchao (2623 FIDE, 2702 USCF) This game would’ve been exciting had it not been entirely my preparation. My opponent found all the right moves to equalize, and I decided to repeat moves as I thought I might do in my preparation. While I’m not a fan of making “nothing draws” with white, this was fairly principled and wasn’t a bad decision, especially against the #2 seed with a 2600+ FIDE rating…

In round 4, I got black against GM Kamil Dragun (2585 FIDE, 2666 USCF). I had lost to him at the Southwest Class in February, and I was looking for revenge. This game was fortunately better than the last one. I’d say that overall it was a fairly accurate draw; maybe I was slightly worse, but it was nothing really serious and I held my own.

In round 5, I got white against GM Vladimir Belous (2520 FIDE, 2621 USCF). In a nutshell, this game got spicy pretty quickly…

Belous 1

So far, this looks like a fairly normal Sicilian, but after 12… d5! it got flashy. After my move 13.exd5 I was expecting one of two options: 13… Nxd5 or 13… Bxa3.

After 13… Nxd5, white obviously can’t play 14.Nxd5 because of Qxc2#, and 14.Rc4 Bc6 is not awe-inspiring. Instead, I was planning on sacrificing an exchange with 14.Rxd5! exd5 15.Bd3, after which white has plenty of compensation—he’ll win the d5-pawn, black’s king is still in the center and will come under fire, etc. After 13… Bxa3, white should play 14.Rc4 Qa5, after which he has options: Bd4, Bd2, Kb1, dxe6, etc. In both cases, the position appears to be rather unclear.

Instead, 13… b5? came as a big surprise to me. The idea is to prevent Rc4, but will it work…? The game went 14.Bd3 Bxa3 15.Ne4 Nxe4

Belous 2

Now… once I recapture on e4, that bishop on a3 is getting evicted. Then it’ll be time to start going after black’s king! 16.Qxe4 is an exchange sacrifice after 16… Bc5, though there’s plenty of compensation there. It’s actually best to play 16.dxe6! fxe6 17.Qxe4, after which white has a massive initiative. Instead, I played 16.Rxe4 which isn’t best but isn’t bad either. Black’s best option is to retreat with 16… Bd6 or 16… Be7, but my opponent played 16… Qc3

Belous 3

After 17.bxa3 Qxd3, white can more or less resign, but fortunately I had spotted 17.Bd4! in advance. Black can play 17… Bxb2+, but after 18.Kb1 he has nothing better than 18… Qxd4 19.Rxd4 Bxd4, after which he is probably lost. My opponent tried to defend with the creative 17… Qb3!?, but black is lost after that. While my play afterwards wasn’t the most accurate, I managed to convincingly get this job done.

4/5, 4 foreigners and 3 GMs down, performance well above 2600, and a large rating gain. What could possibly go wrong…? Stay tuned for part 2!

How To Play Against Lower-Rated Players

We’ve all heard it before. An overconfident high-rated player sees that they’re paired against a significantly lower rated opponent. Thinking that it’s going to be a relatively so-called “Easy win”, the high-rated player doesn’t take the game seriously at first. Then, to his great disbelief, the lower rated player absolutely crushed and upset his higher-rated opponent. How could this have possibly occurred? Now to a not so experienced player, this scenario might be outright preposterous. Sure there’s always luck involved with chess, but shouldn’t the significantly high-rated player in his infinite wisdom and expertise beat the low rated player all the time? Unfortunately, like in life, in chess, things are not so simple. Sure maybe the lower rated player was lucky, maybe he’s underrated or hey, maybe he just had a good day. But there’s another part of to this too. Having the right attitude can make or break a chess game, and today we are going to discuss the correct way to approach playing against your secretly scary lower rated opponents.

 

Before I begin, I should probably put a disclaimer: a lot of the things that I’m about to say might seem obvious or redundant, but you’d be surprised about how many people don’t do this in their games! The first and probably most obvious rule is to go into the game with a calm mindset. Yes, you might have noticed that you are higher rated than your opponent, but that shouldn’t mean anything to you. Just go into the game with a clear head and be relaxed. The second and arguably most important rule is to not do anything you wouldn’t do against someone around your rating or higher. Don’t take any unusual risks, make any flashy moves, or do anything that you wouldn’t do normally and do the best you can throughout the entire match. The third and final rule is to not be discouraged if things don’t go as planned and you end up getting upset. Every game is an important learning experience and it’s only through your losses that you can truly learn where your gaps in knowledge are and how you can improve.

 

I hope this article, albeit short, was helpful to you. The main takeaway I’d say about the proper mindset to have when playing lower rated opponents is to just be normal. As long as you’re careful, and don’t make any silly decisions, there is a reason why you are the higher rated opponent. Until next time 🙂

 

The Funny Side of Chess

Chess is a great game and more often than not rather serious, but there can be cute moments. Even very cute… Who said that chess isn’t an art?

Underpromotions

Underpromotions pop up all the time in endgame studies but not that much in OTB chess. Sometimes you have an opportunity to underpromote to a piece that is equivalent to a queen (since your opponent will take it anyway), but as IM Justin Sarkar showed in his article, there are pitfalls…

My funniest underpromotion was:

Idnani

Black clearly should’ve resigned a long time ago… There are numerous mates in one and mates in two here. I decided to end in style with 47.a8B#!

Another example:

Eigen

Black is totally winning here, but 29… Re1 doesn’t work because of 30.Rxe1 fxe1Q 31.Qxf8#, right…? Well it doesn’t, since after 30.Rxe1, I played 30… fxe1N+! winning the game immediately.

These two examples are naturally somewhat silly since the side underpromoting was completely winning anyway, but there’s one underpromotion that is important in endgame theory…

Underpromotion

Black’s pawn is almost there… but if he plays … e1Q, white has Ra1#. Therefore black has to play …e1N+! because it is a check. The ensuing rook vs. knight endgame is a draw. The same trick works with an f- or a g-pawn, but not with an h-pawn, since the knight gets trapped in the corner.

If you haven’t seen this one before, I’d recommend you study it a little. I myself don’t actually think I’ve ever had this one on the board, but I or you probably will someday…

Stalemate

Oh boy, this is fun if you are on the correct side of the board, it really is.

There are legendary stalemate tricks in online rapid/blitz/bullet due to the existence of premoving (making a move of your own before your opponent makes their move in order to save time on your clock). And yes, this move is played as long as it’s legal, even if your opponent played something completely different than what you expected. You may think you know your opponent’s move, but you may be for a rude surprise.

Rosen

Here is Eric Rosen’s trick. Black is obviously completely lost in the pawn endgame after Kxf7, so black tried his last trick with 69… Kh8!!, and he was in luck since white premoved 70.h5 after which it is stalemate.

I recently saw another brilliant trick in the chess.com Bullet Championship:

Bortnyk

White is obviously completely winning here as well. Both players had only seconds left at this point, but black set a genius trap with 66…Bb8!!, and white, none other than Grischuk, fell for it by playing/premoving the natural 67.a8Q?? after which it is stalemate.

Unfortunately, these brilliant techniques don’t really work in OTB chess, though I have witnessed a couple examples of diabolic stalemates that were entertaining for spectators like me. There have even been a couple stalemate tricks in high-profile games like Jakovenko-Gelfand. But who says that stalemates have to be diabolic tricks…?

Colas

I was black in this game, and I had survived the worst. My queen had been harassing the white king for quite a while, but here black has one drawing move: 76… Qf6+!, since if white plays 77.Qxf6 it’s stalemate. My opponent played 77.Kc7, and since we had already had the position twice before, I claimed a threefold repetition after 77… Qc3+ and the game was a draw.

(Note: tabelbases say that 76… Qf6+ is not the only drawing move; 76… Qa1 is also supposedly a draw. I won’t pretend that I can explain why…)

Neat, right? In all seriousness, moves like 76… Qf6+ are easy to miss, especially towards the end of a long game, but they could save you half a point!

Any diabolical experiences?