Winning Equal Positions: An Imperfect Job

My past few articles have all been about my tournaments, and it was about time I wrote about a different topic.

Getting an advantage out of the opening is far from guaranteed these days, especially with black. Even with white, it’s hard to get an advantage against a well-prepared opponent. Naturally, the opening isn’t the only part of the game, and it’s up to you to complicate matters and outplay your opponent. Doing this in a complex middlegame where one mistake from your opponent could seal his fate is one matter, but winning an equal endgame is another story.

Going from equal to winning in an endgame usually happens in baby steps. You put pressure on your opponent, who gives you a little bit, which then grows bigger and bigger, until you win. But how to provoke those mistakes? Playing the most primitive and forcing way usually won’t do the job, assuming there aren’t pitfalls for your opponent in the critical lines. Instead, keep the tension, improve your position, play healthy moves, and eyeball plenty of ideas without necessarily committing to any. Your job is to confuse your opponent into making mistakes. By mistakes I don’t mean blunders, I mean moves that will give you what you want.

Let me show you what I mean. I played this game a couple weeks ago against a 2250. After an early queen trade, I didn’t get anything real with black out of the opening, but it’s not like I made any mistakes. I went on to win after inaccuracies from both sides. I feel that in this game I managed to create enough pressure for my opponent to cave into my demands.

Carter 1

Both players’ positions are fairly solid. White’s rook on h1 isn’t doing anything for the moment, and his superfluous knights aren’t awe-inspiring, but he can improve his pieces. The e2-knight can get relocated to d3 via c1, and the c3-knight can support white’s center. He could also consider grabbing space in the center with f4 at the right moment. Meanwhile, black’s pieces aren’t great either. The bishop on e5 looks nice

As for moves. 17… Rd8 is what intuitively comes to my mind first (putting the rook on an open file), but it’s not really useful, since white has everything covered along the d-file. He can’t go 18.Rd1 because of the h2-pawn (yes, the bishop can get rescued here), but after a logical move like 18.Nc1, improving the knight, what does black do next? What does black have here? Nothing really.

I decided to play 17… g5!?. It’s a healthy move that secures my bishop on e5. I’m eyeing going Nh5-f4 and, more immediately, generating play on the kingside with …g4. But what if white responds to …g4 with f4? What have I accomplished? Nothing. After the strongest move 18.Nc1! here, I would not have gone 18… g4. I probably would’ve played 18… Nh5 with the idea of going Nf4 in the near future and 18… Nd7, with the idea of pulling my bishop back to f6 and taking it from there. Another reasonable option is 18.h4 g4 19.f4 Bxc3 20.Nxc3, where white should be able to hold his position together. The position is around equal in either case, though I do think black is for choice.

Instead, my opponent played 18.h3?!. This prevents …g4 and doesn’t force the white rook to stay and babysit the h2-pawn. However, it’s quite a committal move that weakens the dark squares, especially f4—a very nice outpost for my knight. My problem is that the primitive 18… Nh5 is met with 19.h4!, ruining everything. Here’s where I played a tricky move: 18… Rg8!

Carter 2

My idea is simple: I want to play 19… Nh5 and meet 20.h4 with either 20… gxh4 21.Rxh4 Rxg2 or 20… g4 (importantly there’s no f4). White will most likely have to allow the black knight to land on f4, and in case of a trade, I’ll recapture with the g-pawn, highlighting another advantage of having the rook on g8. Though it already looks suspect for white, it isn’t bad for him. After 19.b4 Nh5 20.g4!, followed by a quick h4, is actually equal despite appearing to be antipositional.

Fortunately, my opponent let me get what I wanted. He played 19.Nc1 Nh5 20.Nd3 Bc7 21.Re1 (21.g4 is now met with 21… Ng3!) 21… Nf4 22.Nxf4 gxf4 23.Re2

Carter 3

White’s rook is now tied up to the g2-pawn and doesn’t have any future prospects. Looking at the first diagram, getting this far is quite an accomplishment. My plan was to:

  • Solidify my bind with …e5
  • Improve my king, most likely by putting it on e6
  • Improve my bishop (a square like d4 looks nice)
  • Open up the queenside at the right moment

At least I have a concrete plan here! Unfortunately, I got a little ahead of myself by playing 23… e5?!, to which my opponent correctly responded with 24.b4!. White grabs territory on the queenside and will likely generate counterplay. Oops! I quickly realized I should’ve gone 23… a5! to prevent white from playing b4. What to do now? I decided to improve my king and act like nothing was happening. After 24… Kd7 25.a5 Ke6 26.Na4, I decided to prevent Nc5 once and for all with 26… b6

Cater 4

Again, I’m back to not having any advantage. After 27.axb6 axb6 28.Kb3, white’s position is fairly compact, and he has everything under control. Where’s my advantage there? More unnerving was the idea of 27.axb6 axb6 28.b5!?, temporarily sacrificing a pawn with the idea of breaking black’s position up and securing the d5-square. What to do after that? Looking at it right now, I’m genuinely stumped.

My opponent played 27.a6?!, keeping the queenside closed. This looks perfectly reasonable, but there’s the drawback that the a6-pawn could become vulnerable in an endgame. For that reason, his main idea is to still play b5. That’s why I should’ve played 27… b5 myself, no matter how counterintuitive it looks. After 28.Nc5+ Ke7, white’s knight is nice but is eyeing empty squares. Instead, I played 27… Rd8?!. White should have gone 28.b5! cxb5 29.Nc3 here. Yes, black does get to keep his pawn after 29… b4 30.Nb5 Bb8, but white has plenty of play after 31.Kb3. My rook will infiltrate, but white’s position will hold together.

My opponent played right into my hands by playing 28.Rd2? Rxd2+ 29.Kxd2. After 29… Kd7 (29… b5! is more accurate, but what I played shouldn’t blow anything) 30.Kd3 b5 31.Nc5+ Ke7, I got exactly what I wanted.

Carter 5

I’ll go Bd6, kicking the white knight out of c5, and will then march with my king to b6 and win the a6-pawn. White’s only counterplay is on the kingside, but for that he’ll have to pull his knight back to f1/e2 and play g3. That is what my opponent ended up doing, but it’s way too slow. I went on to win without any further adventures.

Conclusion

This is not a model game by any means, but I thought it was instructive. Here are my takeaways:

  • Try to complicate matters with ideas that actually may not be that good (17… g5 with the “idea” of …g4). You don’t have to follow through if it doesn’t work out, but who knows which your opponent may not want to allow.
  • Don’t cave in to your opponent’s demands (letting me get pressure on the g2-pawn for free).
  • Once you get a bind, make sure your opponent doesn’t get counterplay (me allowing him to play).
  • Don’t give your opponent second chances (me allowing him to play b5 twice, even if he chose not to do it either time).
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My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Junior Girls Championship (Part II)

In Part II of the article, I want to focus on the US Junior Girls Championship. It is encouraging to see a strong tournament with so many young, high rated girls and the list didn’t include the defending champion Akshita Gorti and Annie Wang. I can say without exaggeration that I cannot imagine such a tournament being organized 10-15 years ago due to the lack of girls playing chess. Carissa Yip dominated the tournament with 7/9 and was a full point ahead of closest rival, Jennifer Yu, going into the last round. With a comfortable draw in the final round against Jennifer herself, Carissa secured her tournament win and an invite to next year’s US Women’s Championship.

Lesson 1: know your openings. Not just the theory and the long lines, but the main ideas behind them. This moment in the game between the 12 year old Rochelle Wu and Carissa Yip clearly demonstrates Rochelle’s lack of experience, which is a funny notion considering that her opponent was 14 at the time.  White’s last move was 13.Bd3. Try to figure out why this normal looking developing move was a crucial mistake.

WuvsYip

13… c5! threatening c4. White has to react somehow 14. Qa3 (14. Bb5 c4 15.
Qb2 Nf6 allowing this looks ugly for White, but better than the alternative (
14. bxc5 Nxc5 15. dxc5 d4 White’s position is falling apart}16. Qa3 (16. Qc2
dxe3 17. O-O Rxc5 18. Ra3 Qa5) 16… dxc3 17. Rd1 Qe7 Black will have an
extra pawn and two bishops) 14… cxd4 15. Nxd4 Bxd4 16. exd4 Qg5! oops!
There is no good way to defend the pawn 17. g3 (17. O-O Bh3) 17… Bh3 18. Ne2 Rfe8 19. Qb2 Qg4 20. Rg1 Re7 21. Rd1 Rce8 22. Rd2 Nb6 23. Qb3 Qf3 24. a5 Rxe2+ 0-1

Carissa was leading with 4.5/5 but had a hiccup in round 6 after the day off. She was white against lower rated Sophie Morris-Suzuki who had 0/5. On paper, Carissa was the clear favorite and was set to score another point. What tactical shot did Sophie play in this position to score her first victory?

Carissavssophie

33… Rxd4!! note that all of White’s pieces are on dark squares 34. Qxd4
Rd8 35. Qf4 (35. Qe3 Rd3 36. Qf4 Bxc3 isn’t much better) 35… Nd3 36. Qh6
Bf8 (36… Nxe1 Black can start collecting White’s pieces but perhaps Sophie
saw a ghost 37. Nce4 Qxe5 38. Ng5 Rxd2) 37. Nce4 now White actually has some threats Nh5 38. Qg5 (38. Qe3 would have made Black’s task more difficult Nhf4 39. Nf3) 38… h6 (38… Nhf4 threatening the queen 39. Nf6+ Kh8 40. Qh4 h6 White has no threats and everything hangs 41. Nb3 Nxe1 42. Rxe1 Qa8 43. Qg3 Ne2+ 44. Rxe2 Rd1+) 39. Qh4 (39. Qe3 the queen needs to go home to defend her army) 39… Nhf4 40. Nf6+ Kh8 we already saw a similar position in the analysis 41. Nb3 Nxe1 42. Rxe1 g5 43. Qg3 Rd3 44. Re3 Rxb3 45. Qf3 Qxe5 46. Rxb3 Qa1+ 47. Kh2 Bd6 48. Rb1 Ng6+ 0-1 You can replay the game here

In the post-game interview, Sophie explained that she treats every round like a new tournament and returned to the board rejuvenated after the day off. She went on to score 3/4 in the second half of the tournament.

Sophie also played one of the most creative games against another youngster and a math genius Nastassja Matus. A lot of crazy things happened in this game so I will feature several diagrams. First, find a winning idea for Black in the following position:

Matusvssophie

39… Re8 Sophie did not find the winning idea but the position remains balanced (39… Rd6!! blocking the h2-b8 diagonal and threatening gf5 40. b7 Qe5+ 41. Kg1 Qxa1+ 42. Kh2 Qe5+ 43. Kg1 Rd1+) 40. Rc1 gxf5 41. b7 Qd2 precise move threatening a perpetual 42. Rc3 (42. b8=Q Qh6+ 43. Kg3 Qe3+ 44. Kh2 Qh6+ 45. Kg1 Qe3+) 42… Kg7 43. Rb3 (43. b8=Q Rxb8 44. Qxb8 Qxc3) 43… Re6 44. b8=Q Rh6+ 45. Kg3 Qe1+ 46. Kf4 Qxe4+ 47. Kg3 Qe1+ 48. Kf4 Qe4+ 49. Kg3 Qe1+ 50. Kf4 the game should end in a draw but Black decides to go for adventures Qf2+ How should White proceed in the position below?

Matusvssophie2

51. Rf3 (51. Ke5!! this is very scary to play over the board but Black runs out of checks Re6+ 52. Kd5 Qd2+ 53. Kc5 Qf2+ 54. Kb4 Qd4+ 55. Ka5) 51… Qd2+ 52. Kg3 Qe1+ 53. Kf4 Qe4+ 54. Kg3 Rh3+ 55. Kf2 Qd4+?? a big blunder and a heartbreak for Sophie (55… Rxf3+ 56. gxf3 Qxf3+ 57. Kg1) 56. Ke2 Bxf3+ 57. gxf3 the h2 square is covered and the queen has ran out of checks Qg1 58. Qe5+ Kh6 59. Qf8+ Kh5 60. Qxf7+ Kh4 61. Qf4+ Qg4 62. Qxh7# 1-0  Feel free to play through the craziness here

I couldn’t talk about this tournament without mentioning the game between Emily Nguyen and Maggie Feng in round 7. Robert and I were fascinated by this game well because…

EmilyvsMaggie

Who doesn’t like a king in the middle of the board in the middlegame? 14…
g6 threatening mate. Guess what is the best move in the position? 15. h4 (15.
Kf4!! Robert’s idea and objectively the best move. I don’t know how Emily resisted the temptation. How often do we get the chance to play such moves? Bh6+ 16. Kg3 Bxc1 17. Qxc1 Nc6 18. Qd2 the king is perfectly safe ong3. Black’s structure is busted due to the dark square weaknesses on the king side and light square weaknesses on the queen side}) 15… Bh6+ 16. Ng5 Nc6 17. f4 Ne7 18. g4 f6 19. exf6 Nxf6 20. Bd3 Qc6 21. Kf3 O-O 22. Qe2 Bxg5 23. hxg5 Ne4 24. Bxe4 dxe4+ 25. Qxe4 and white went on to win the game.

Since I am partial to the French, I really liked the turn of events in the game between Sanjana Vittal and Maggie Feng.

Sanjanavsmaggie

37. h4 White is up a pawn but I feel like she starts losing the thread of the
game with this move g5 38. hxg5 hxg5 39. fxg5 Kg6 now Black has clear
counterplay and doesn’t have to just sit 40. Be3? the bishop needs to stay
on b6 to keep the d7 pawn push as a threat (40. h4 Rh7the difference is that
the pawn doesn’t hang with a check, thus not hanging at all since d7 would win
the game 41. Rb1 Rch8 42. Rf1 shielding the king. These moves are really
hard to find if you don’t have an engine! Rxh4 43. d7 Rh2+ 44. Ke1) 40… Rh8
41. Kg3? one of the hardest things to do in chess is adjusting to the changes
in the position and switch gears. Sanjana didn’t sense the danger (41. Rxc4
Rxh2+ 42. Kf1 Rdh7 43. Rc8 Rg2 44. Rg8+ Kf7 45. g6+ again, some crazy
computer lines but we see a theme: White’s king is in trouble! Even in an
endgame opposite color bishops allow for mating patterns) 41… Rdh7 42. Bg1
Bd5 43. Rb1 Kxg5 44. Kf2 Kf4 Black won the game after her King collected all the central pawns

Last but not last the game between best friends Jennifer Yu and Emily Nguyen was highly instructional. I won’t provide a lot of analysis but play through the game and note how quickly Jennifer’s bishop pair dominated the position. I would suggest going through the game in solitaire chess format where you try to guess Jennifer’s moves here or check out her play below:

JennifervsEmily
At first glance, the position looks completely normal and even equal. Check
out how Jennifer activates her bishops} 15. g4! grabbing some space Nc4 16.
Qe2 Ne4 17. Be1! transferring the bishop and threatening the piece Ned6 18.
b3 Nb6 19. f3 Nd7 20. Rxc8 Qxc8 21. Bg3 the transfer is complete. White is now completely dominating Qc3 22. Ra2 e5 23. Qc2! exchanging her opponent’s only active piece. The endgame is completely winning Qxc2 24. Rxc2 e4 25. Bxe4 Nxe4 26. fxe4 dxe4 27. Rc7 Nb6 28. Rxb7 Nd5 29. Bf2 a6 30. Ra7 h5 31. Rxa6 hxg4 32. hxg4 Rc8 33. Ra5 Nf6 34. Rc5 Ra8 35. g5 Nd7 36. Rd5 Nf8 37. a4 Rb8 38. Bg3 Ra8 39. Re5 Ne6 40. d5 Nc5 41. d6 1-0

 

 

Quest to NM #3: Washington International Part 1

On August 8th through 15th I played in the expert section of the 7th Annual Washington International Tournament. It is fair to say that it was one of the most impressive tournaments I have every played in: the top section featured an enormous pool of very strong titled players (including numerous grandmasters), wooden boards with adequate space were provided, and rounds were limited to two per day!

Aside from the very pleasant playing conditions, the first half of the tournament could be best described as a cold shower for me. After rarely studying chess for over a month during my travels in Europe, I came back to the board with rather rusty calculation skills and a serious dent in my tactical vision.

Round 1

I got off to a shaky start in round 1 against Sathis Nath (1817 USCF, 1861 FIDE) when I played with excessive ambition, only to find myself defending a seemingly hopeless endgame:

WI Round 1 #1

Black has just played the direct 18…e5 in an attempt to dampen White’s activity along the e-file. White could easily play 19.Bd2 and try to nurture a slight spacial edge, but I instead chose the much more direct 19.dxe6 e.p. After 19…Nxe6 20.Nxe6 Rxe6 21.Qxe6+ (What else?) Bxe6 22.Rxe6 Be5 23.Bxe5 Nxe5 24.Ne3 Qf8 25.Bd5 Kg7 26.f4 Nd7?!, White has very decent compensation for the queen. However, after achieving my desired position, I made a serious strategic mistake…

WI Round 1 #2

In the following position, White has a couple of decent options: 27.Re1 is rather natural, to stop Black from trading off rooks on the e-file, while 27.f5 is in fact the most forceful and arguably strongest move. The computer offers the following sharp line to demonstrate what happens if Black tries to trade rooks: 27…Re8 28.Bxb7 Rxe6 29.fxe6 Qe7 30.exd7 Qxe3+ 31.Kg2 Qd2+ = with a draw in sight. However, in the game I played the rather poor 27.Ng4, allowing my opponent to comfortably trade off my rook on the e-file. 27…Re8  (Black is able to swap off his inactive rook for one of white’s active rooks.) 28.Rce1 Rxe6 29.Rxe6 Nb6 and Black’s position is already looking quite promising. A few moves later, my situation began to look hopeless.

WI Round 1 #3

After 34…Qxa3, Black is easily winning due to his two connected passed pawns on the queenside that will be ushered down by his queen. By some miracle, involving some help from my opponent, I was able to escape from this position alive and managed to draw the game.

Rounds 2-4

After coming so incredibly close to a round 1 loss against a significantly lower rated opponent, I played rather safe and uninspired chess in the following three rounds, finishing on 2/4 against approximately 1900-rated opposition. I knew that if I was going to make something of this tournament, I had to step up my game for the remaining five rounds. Step up my game I did!

Gearing up for the 43rd World Chess Olympiad

The 43rd Chess Olympiad (September 23 – October 6) is less than a week from starting, and with it comes all the hype that this biennial event always seems to bring.  The largest team chess event in the world will surely attract many spectators and online viewers for its two-week duration.  This year, the event is being held in Batumi, Georgia, which is very close to the venue for last year’s World Cup held in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Chess_Olympiad_2018_official_logo
The official logo for this year’s Olympiad!

One of the most intriguing storylines about the Olympiad has to do with a bit of history.  For the first time ever, the team from Russia will not hold the top seed in average rating.  In a way, however, it is almost fitting, as the new top-seeded team, the U.S., will try to defend their championship from two years ago in Baku.  The U.S. team will bring the same lineup as they did two years prior:  GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Wesley So, GM Sam Shankland, and GM Ray Robson.

There are some changes to overall team makeup and standings as well, including regulars who are not playing and some newer faces.

Perhaps the least surprising of the absences is GM Magnus Carlsen, who has the World Championship match to prepare for.  Russian regulars GM Alexander Grischuk and GM Peter Svidler will both not be playing, too.  However, the Russian team is still very much in good hands with GM Vladimir Kramnik, GM Sergey Karjakin, and GM Ian Nepommniatchtchi on the top three boards.  Lastly, GM Veselin Topalov will be missing from the scene due to the banning of Bulgaria from international events by FIDE.

On the other hand, a number of players that have committed to playing might surprise us.  Firstly, despite being the challenger for the upcoming World Championship match, GM Fabiano Caruana is still playing in the Olympiad amid his already-busy summer schedule.  Secondly, GM Vishy Anand is playing for the India team for the first time in over ten years, and his presence should greatly improve India’s chance at the gold.

The top five seeds, in order, are:

  1. The United States
  2. Russia
  3. China
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. India

The Chinese team has greatly increased in strength as well, mostly due to the significant rating jumps of both Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi compared to where they were last time.  Azerbaijan, who is led by GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, has also increased in strength.  India now has GM Vishy Anand and GM Pentala Harikrishna as a 1-2 punch, and with three players over 2700, they also expected to be competitive.

In general, the return of most of the strongest players and some shifting among the top teams should make for an extremely interesting Olympiad, especially since team events are always fun to follow.

My next article is scheduled right in the middle of the event, so I should hopefully be able to pull together a few notable games to share at that time.  Until then!

An Unstoppable Maghsoodloo Clinches First Place at World Juniors

With one round to spare, a world junior champion has already been crowned. Although he started out as the top seed and a heavy favorite, no one could have predicted such a dominating performance. 18-year-old, Iranian Grandmaster Parham Maghsoodloo destroyed the field and currently has 9.5/10. This score puts him 2 points over 2nd place and notches him a live performance rating of 2976.

Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 3.01.53 AM.png

Becoming champion grants Maghsoodloo both automatic entry to the 2019 World Cup as well a spot in the Challengers section of Tata Steel. With a live rating of 2691 (after gaining over 100 points this year), only bright things can be expected of this young Iranian talent.

What impresses me the most about Maghsoodloo besides his amazing performance is his dedication to chess. Allegedly, Parham studies chess for 20 hours a day!! Although this might be a far-fetched estimate, the serious time he devotes to chess cannot be overlooked as a serious factor that has attributed to his success in becoming the World Junior Champion. Another thing I like Parham is his determination to fight every game. In positions that could be considered equal Parham did what he does best. He found the best plans, understood complicated positions better than his opponents and overall played extremely accurate. In no game did he actively go for a draw. Instead, he gave every game his all which is really shown in the fact that he “only” drew one game against fellow Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja.

While Maghsoodloo has already clinched first place, the tournament is not over yet. Today he is paired against the 16-year-old Russian grandmaster Andrey Esipenko. Will the young Russian talent be able to put a halt to a seemingly unstoppable Maghsoodloo? Only time will tell.

Live and previous games can be found in the link below:

https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2018-fide-world-junior-open-championships-u20

 

 

 

My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Juniors Championship (Part I)

For the second year in a row, I was invited to do commentary for the US Junior and Girls Championships. The tournament has become a staple in the US tournament calendar, especially since it is now being held at the Saint Louis Chess Club and offers quite a nice prize fund along with an invitation to the US and US Women’s Championship to the winners. I really enjoy the tournament because there is less pressure on the commentators unlike in the GCT events, the games are fun and exciting and it’s interesting to watch the young talents in action. It was also fun to see them interacting between the rounds and after the tournament; so many of them are good friends outside of chess! It is also encouraging to see so many young girls around 2300-2400 FIDE, especially for the future of our Olympiad team. The junior section was extremely strong and featured 5 GMs. This list doesn’t include Jefferey Xiong, Sam Sevian and Kayden Troff, all of whom declined their invitations. Can you imagine a national junior tournament that has 8 Grandmasters?! By now I’m sure the readers are aware that Awonder Liang defended his title, thus qualifying to the 2019 US Championship.

This year the commentary team was just me and Robert Hess with no third person on the smart board. Robert really insists on not using the engine which is quite refreshing but also challenging. I noticed that I could remember the games better and figuring out the positions on our own was also a great learning experience for me. Of course, it also resulted in mistakes and mishaps which were later pointed out by YouTube viewers.

For example, in this game between Ruifeng Li and Annie Wang we reached the following position in our analysis:

annie vs ruifeng

In this position we were trying to figure out what to do after 19…Bc6 we tried 20. Qd2 but after Bc7 the queen cannot move away from the d file with check. Of course, simple 20. Qc4+ Kh8 21. Qe6 does the trick!

Later on in the same game, we couldn’t figure out a win by Annie in the following position:

annie vs ruifeng2

The game ended in couple of moves after:  33… Qxe3 34. R5xe3 Rdd1 0-1

I really love the fact that Annie accepted the wildcard to play in the Junior section. Although her result wasn’t spectacular, how often does a player around her rating get the opportunity to play in a tournament with 5 GMs? There is a lot of pressure in playing in these fancy events with live coverage and everyone watching, but at the end of the day it’s just another round robin event for her that I think will tremendously help her growth.

Awonder may have won the tournament but it wasn’t a smooth sailing for the young champ. Trouble came in round 5 in his game against Mika Brattain:

Mika vs Awonder

16. Nfxg5!? interesting sacrifice hxg5 17. h6 Bh8 18. Rh5?! (18. h7+ Kf8 (
18… Kg7 19. Nf6 Nd7 20. Qh3 Kf8 21. Qa3+ Re7 22. Rh5 the game is over after
White takes on g5) 19. Qa3+ Qe7 this line was pointed out by Robert and is
completely winning for White. Black can’t move any of his pieces) 18… Bxe4
19. Qxe4 Nd7 20. Rd3? (20. Bd3 time to finish the development. White can
play for the long term initiative) 20… f5! Awonder shows great resilience
21. exf6 Nxf6 22. Rxg5+ Kf8 23. Rf3 Ke7 brave! The king is completely safe now – great defense and nerves by Awonder! All is well that ends well.

I can’t talk about this event without mentioning one particular player. Alex Bian may not be a household name yet, but the young man had the tournament of his life. He qualified to Junior closed by winning the US Jr. Open and proved that he belonged in the tournament even though he was the lowest rated player. He started the tournament by defeating two GMs and finished with a respectable score of 5/9, gaining 50 FIDE points. Alex will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall and won’t have much time for chess, so this tournament was sort of his one last hurrah.

One of my absolute favorite games of the event is the one between John Burke and Alex Bian. I would suggest to anyone reading this to go take a look at that game and analyze before reading my notes.

BurkvsBian

22. h3 {preparing g4} Qh8! Robert loved this move. Can you blame him? 23.
g4 Kg8 24. Be2 Nc5 25. Kg2 a4 26. b4 Nb3 27. Rd1 Bb2 very brave decision to ignore White’s play and collect pawns on the queen side 28. gxh5 Bxa3 29. hxg6 Bxb4 30. f4 very creative play by both players. White is ignoring the a-pawn and is activating his bishop Bc5 31. Bg4 a3 (31… fxg6 32. Be6+ Kg7 computer suggestion that looks scary but Black can start bringing his rooks to the king side) 32. Rxb3 (32. Qa2 White can also put an end to all this}) 32…a2 33. gxf7+

BurkvsBian2

33…Kf8?? fatal mistake leaving the pawn on f7. The finish is
beautiful (33… Kxf7 34. Bxc5 bxc5 35. Rxb8 Rxb8 36. Qe1 Qb2+ 37. Kh1 Kf8 
according to the engine this is 0.00 but who plays chess like this?) 34. Be6
Qg7+ 35. Kh2 a1=Q 36. Rxa1 Qxa1 37. Bxc5 Ra2 38. Rg3 1-0

I have last track of how many times I have shown Alex’s last round win over Praveen Balakrishnan to my students. It is a great example of how to attack with opposite color bishops.

alexvspraveen

In this position Robert and I were trying to figure out how to launch an
attack for White. The straight forward way doesn’t quite work. 15. Rdg1 Qf3
the queen has to go here to cover f6 (15… Qh3?? 16. Rxg7+ Kxg7 17. Rg1+
Kh8 18. Qg5 threatening mate both on g7 and f6) 16. Qh6 (16. Rxg7+?? Kxg7 17. Rg1+ Kh8 18. Qh6 and there is nothing after the simple Rg8) 16… Bg4 17. Qg5 Rfd8 18. Bc3 h6 very annoying resource! Again, the engine spits this line out but can someone find this over the board? 19. Qxg4? Rd1+ winning the queen

15. Bc5! upon looking deeper into the position it becomes
clear that the bishop on d4 is misplaced. Where would the bishop like to go?
To f6, of course. 15… e3 Praveen collapses immediately. The point of this
move is to play Rfd8, but Rfe8 was necessary to guard the e7 square 16. Qxe3
Rfd8 17. Rdg1 Qd5 Black is looking for counterplay 18. Rxg7+ Kh8 (18… Kxg7
leads to mate 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. Qf6+ Kg8 21. Rg1+) 19. Rhg1 Bf5 20. Qh6 Qxe5 21. Be7! the bishop is untouchable Rd6 22. Rg8+ 1-0

Although I praised Alex, I have to feature another one of his losses to none other than the winner. Black misplayed in the critical moment, and his opponent was unforgiving.

awondervsalex

13… Be6 Black has snatched a central pawn and plays a normal looking
developing move 14. Be3! taking advantage of the fact that the d4 bishop
cannot move due to the misplaced queen on a6. Now Black has a big decision to
make. Take a pause and think about how to proceed here Bxc4 (14… Bxe3 
is impossible 15. Nxd6+winning the queen) (14… O-O 15. Bxd4 cxd4 16. Qxd4 Black has to accept a worse position) 15. Bxd4 O-O Black hangs on to the material but his king is so weak 16. Bf6 Bxf1 another opposite color bishop position 17. Qd2?! surprisingly, this is an inaccuracy! (17. Qc1! is the more precise continuation d5 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. exd5 {and unlike in the game, there is no annoying Qd3 harassing the white queen}) 17… d5 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. Bxc5 Bd3 (19… Qd3 is a better defensive try but the endgame doesn’t look good for Black. White can also keep the attack going with Qh6) 20. exd5 Qc4 21. d6 Bf5 (21… Qxc5 22. Qxd3 the d6 pawn is deadly) 22. Bd4 Qd5 23. Qf4 forcing Black’s hand as g4 followed by Qf6 is a threat Re4 24. Rxe4 Qxe4 25. Qxe4 Bxe4 26. Bf6 Bc6 27. Rc1 1-0

Instructive endgame alert! The game between Annie Wang and Alex Bian was a crazy affair, but before reading my notes take a pause and figure out why Annie’s 70.Ke1? loses

AnnievsAlex

70. Ke1? up until now Annie defended meticulously, but got careless with
this move Kb6 Black misses his opportunity (70… Rxb5 unlike in the game,
White is now a temp behind 71. Bxb5 the pawn ending is lost but the problem
is the bishop has nowhere to go (71. Bf3 Rb3 72. Kf2 Rxf3+ same problem as
before 73. Kxf3 Kd4) (71. Be8 Rb8 72. Bf7 Rb7 73. Ba2 Kd4) 71… Kxb5 72. Kf2
Kc5 73. Ke3 Kc4 74. Ke2 Kc3 75. Ke3 h5 {the reserve tempo is key} 76. Ke2 Kc2
77. Ke3 Kd1) 71. Kf1 Rxb5 again, I would suggest pausing here and trying to
figure out a way for White to make a draw. I don’t want to give it away, so check out the rest of the game here.

Let’s end Part I with another Annie game. Advait Patel got a great position against her with the White pieces, but allowed the position to get unnecessarily wild.

adyvsannie

42… Rf8 Annie finds the only defensive move. Now White has to be accurate
43. Qe2 Qf6 threatening Qh4 44. Qxe4 going down a forced line Qf2+ 45. Kh1 Qxg3 46. Qxe6+ Rf7 47. Rc8+ Kh7 (47… Nf8 $4 48. Rxf8+) 48. Qxf7 Qh3+ 49. Kg1 Qxc8 50. Bb2 a practical try for White. Black should have a perpetual but the mate threat and the d6 pawn give White some chances Qg4+ 51. Kf2 Nf4?  this natural looking move fails! Robert and I also only analyzed this move as it makes so much sense: Black brings another piece close to the king and defends g7 (51… Qh4+ 52. Ke3 Qe1+ 53. Kd3 Qd1+ White either has to part ways with the d6 pawn or allow a perpetual. The king can’t escape 54. Ke4  simply loses the bishop Qe2+ 55. Kd5 Qc4# White can even get checkmated if he tries too hard) 52. d7 Qg2+ 53. Ke3 Nd5+ 54. Kd3 now the knight actually gets in the way and the black queen isn’t positioned properly Qg3+ 55. Kc2 Qg2+ 56. Kb1 Qe4+ 57. Ka2 Qc4+ 58. Ka1 1-0 You can also replay the ending here.

Check back in for part 2 of the article where I’ll talk about my favorite moments from the Girls Championship!

The Journey From U1000 to 1500

Going from a new player to 50th percentile in USCF rating (around 700) is about reducing oh-no moments and tactics.

The journey from USCF 700 to 1500 is a path that continues on tactic improvements, but a shift of focus on strategical ideas start to emerge.

In this post, I’ll talk about a few common themes and recommend a Strategy book in the end.

Here are three things I see on the path to 1500

  1. Zero oh-no moments
  2. Activate your pieces
  3. Gain more space

Zero Oh-No Moments

When you start to play in U1000 instead of U400 sections, the oh-no mistakes will be punished swiftly. Opponent’s are stronger, and they don’t give back the gifts that your present to them.

Activate Your Pieces

In U1400 section games, losing a piece in 1-2 moves does not happen often. The result of wins and losses generally occur based on active vs. passive pieces.

U1000_1

White is down a pawn in the diagram above, but is very much in control of the game. Black’s bishop and rook are out of the game, and it’s only a matter of time that white’s attack will bring to fruition.

Practice asking yourself how to improve my pieces, and try to get them to active positions as much as possible in your games.

Gain More Space

The concept of Space is less clear for U800 players, but after a few games of getting squeezed, s/he could sense the pain.

The skill that players need to develop is to build more confidence. The reason many 1000 players are afraid is because they worry if they push too hard, the ‘backyard’ would become empty.

U1000_2In the position above, many players would choose d3 instead of d4.

d3 looks like a safe move and keeping things solid, but d4 is what really showcases white’s development advantage.


Getting to 1500 is a longer journey, and strategic components of the game starts to get more important.

I’d recommend Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Strategies for anyone who are interested to improve their strategy understanding in chess.