SuperNationals VI – From the Outside

Two weeks ago I attended my 2nd SuperNationals. Of course not as a player, but as a coach and spectator. This year the tournament grew to 5,577 players – the largest tournament in the world. Anyone who has ever been to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel knows that the hotel itself is intimidating with its massive size, rivers, boat rides, waterfalls, and restaurants. Throw in 5,000 plus players and their families and you are quickly overwhelmed! This article will focus on some of the many side events, and other attractions going on during SuperNationals.

Kasparov
Meeting the great Kasparov!

My own personal best moment was getting the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov. I made sure to get his signature on his wonderful book Test of Time. Several chess personalities such as; Bruce Pandolfini, GM Maxim Dlugy, GM Maurice Ashley, GM Irina Krush, WGM Sabina Foiser, and GM Sam Shankland were on site signing books and other chess merchandise for the fans. There were long lines for the opportunity to challenge one of these players to blitz showdowns throughout the weekend.

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GM Irina Krush taking on all comers in a blitz showdown!

My friend and super coach from California, Jay Stallings organized a wonderful 2 hour “mini-camp” on Thursday and Friday. This camp called “New To Nationals” was perfect for those young players and families who have never been to an event of this size. I was excited that Jay asked me to help out with the Friday morning camp which had close to 50 participants. The main focus is just to go over what to expect, and to take away some of the anxieties of the young players and their parents. We received nothing but positive feedback, and will definitely plan to hold these at the larger scholastic events in the future.

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Coach Jay hard at work!
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Yours truly working with the next generation of strong players!

As a coach, SuperNationals provides great opportunities to network, learn different approaches, attend seminars and lectures, and see old friends. I was able to attend the USCF Scholastic Meeting, Preparing Players for International Competition, Sam Shankland lecture, and the Maurice Ashley lecture. All of these side events gave me a better understanding of the current happenings of scholastic chess in the United States.

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USCF Scholastic Meeting

One thing I know for sure – kids love learning from GM Maurice Ashley! His energy and enthusiasm when teaching was truly inspiring. I took some of his ideas and lessons and applied them in my school classes with great results!

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GM Maurice Ashley inspiring, motivating, and making chess fun!

Every family involved in scholastic chess should put the SuperNationals on their must attend events. Being that this tournament only happens every four years will give families time to prepare for 2021!

 

Tournament Review: Supernationals VI

During the May 12-14 weekend, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee in order to play in Supernationals VI, one of the most awaited tournaments for K-12 players around the country.  The tournament only comes around every four years, making it all the more prestigious if one performs well in the tournament.  The event was held at the Gaylord Opryland, which, in my mind, is one of the most accommodating hotel/convention centers that a tournament could be held in.

 

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Always love playing here!

 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect heading into this tournament.  Knowing that I was going to be dealing with a relatively shorter time control (G/120 + d/5) and that I hadn’t exactly had a lot of free time to prepare for the tournament since I had multiple end-of-year exams to prepare for in the weeks prior.  In addition, scholastic tournaments are difficult in general, but that discussion is for another day.  Opting to take the 10-hour drive to Nashville rather than flying, I had more than enough time to prepare during the car ride and to take rest.  So, if there was one positive for me to consider going into the tournament, it was that I was fairly well-rested.

I began the tournament as the 49th seed out of 272.  Prior to the first round, the tournament directors announced that they would be using accelerated pairings for the first two rounds, which meant that if I was to win the first round, I would play up in the second round.  In the first round, I was paired against a newer player from Arizona who was rated 1965.  A late oversight by my opponent allowed me to capitalize and win the game from there.

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Bellisario – Kobla: Position after 22. Bxc5

Do you see what I played here?  Check here for the answer.

As expected, I played up in the second round, albeit higher than I had initially imagined – I was paired against the 8th seed, a 2449 rated player.  The critical positions were in the mid-20s when my opponent found an ingenious plan to crack my fortress, which led to his eventual win.

See if you can find what the best move(s) are in the position:

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Kobla – Feng: Position after 26. Rc1

Check here for the answer.

Finishing the first day with 1 point out of 2, I went to bed content with myself anyway, since I had beat the players that I was supposed to and had given my best against a higher rated player.  The next morning, I woke up to find myself paired with an 1876 rated player; in fact, it was a player that I had played before in a previous national tournament, but the exact one I don’t happen to remember at the moment.  In regards to the game, my opponent found a good move in a critical position, at which point I had lost any advantage that I might have had.  The game ended in a draw.  Although I wasn’t too happy with myself for that result, I knew that the next round would be easier for me, and there was still a lot of tournament left.

In round 4 I was paired against another lower rated opponent that I had played in a previous national tournament.  In the previous encounter, I had lost the game due to a blunder made in time trouble; so this time around, I was determined to get my revenge – and I was able to in a fairly convincing fashion.  My opponent allowed a lethal double check at one point, which net me an exchange.  A few moves later, I played a move that kept my advantage and I eventually won.  However, the computer found a nice variation that would have ended the game much quicker, which I had not found due to its length and complexity.

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Kobla – Yu: Position after 31. … d5

Any idea what the silicon beast found in this position?  If you’re stumped (or if you think you got it), check your answer here.

Round 5 was the last round of the second day of the tournament, and I was paired against a 1956 rated player, and I’ll be honest, I was lucky with this game.  I had a solid -3 advantage (as black) before a series of inaccurate moves brought me back to around 0.00, when a horrible blunder on my part caused a jump to +6 for my opponent.  Fortunately for me, my opponent offered a draw in the midst of time trouble, and I accepted without hesitation.  I most certainly would have lost that game, but sometimes things just go your way.  I went to sleep that night knowing I was lucky, but I knew I shouldn’t dwell on it too much.  I still wasn’t able to win the game, and I had already drawn a couple games to lower rated players.  Thus, I had to focus on winning games on the last day.

On the morning of the next day, I spent some time with my family because it was Mother’s Day!  How often does that happen?  For round 6, I was paired against a 2008 rated player.  The game was perhaps the most autonomous game I have ever played against a decently high rated player.  Taken out of book early, I developed my pieces, castled, doubled rooks on the e-file, cemented a knight on the central d4 square, and virtually paralyzed my opponent’s position.  Then I proceeded to push the kingside pawns for an attack until my opponent decided to sacrifice a pawn to trade queens, but I converted the endgame without much sweat.

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Kobla – Zhao: Position after 20. Re5 Anyone want to Black here?

For round 7, the last round of the tournament, I was paired against a 1969 rated player.  The opening was weird, but somehow, my opponent misplaced a piece, which allowed me to win a pawn early in the opening.  After winning that early pawn, it was a matter of simple technique from there.  When compared to the other days, the games I had on the last day were of much easier difficulty, which is ironic, since games are supposed to become harder as you progress in the tournament.

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Yu J. – Kobla: Position after 12. … Qd8 The threat is the simple Qb6, and White can’t defend both pawns in time

After 7 rounds, I finished with 5/7 points, with one loss and two draws as the results that cut off points from the final result.  With the enormous amount of competition in the top section, 5/7 was barely good enough for a tied-for trophy in the end.  However, considering the difficulties I had earlier in the tournament, my rating did increase a few points in the end.  Overall, I wish I had been able to perform better since this was my last chance at Supernationals.  The next time this tournament comes around, I’ll be in college!  Yet, 5/7 still wasn’t a horrible score, and I was still able to take some hardware home, and I had a lot of fun, which is what counts in the end.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!

The Endgame Challenge: Rook and Bishop vs Rook

Recently, I’ve personally seen the infamous rook and bishop versus rook endgame in play several times. A few things struck me oddly. First of all, the number of times I’ve seen it arise is quite considerable even though it is considered a fairly rare endgame. Secondly, even though the games I’ve seen were played by strong players, there were major errors made by both sides. That is definitely quite understandable, as many players probably forgot or never learned the correct defense or winning method. I also forgot how to win this position too, but after seeing the endgame in the exciting Paikidze-Zatonskih at the US Women’s Champs, I made it my duty to refresh my memory! It would be a shame to lose a half or whole point because of forgotten endgame theory. This is why I want to make a quick article that goes over the most important ideas in this endgame.

Most people know that this endgame should be a draw if no blunders arise, the defender’s king isn’t pushed to the edge of the board, and correct play is involved.

Note: In certain cases, the game could still be a draw even if the defender’s king is on the edge.

However, even if the attacker does manage to successfully drive the defender’s king to the edge of the board into the Philidor position, an extremely accurate and difficult series of moves will be needed to get the full point. For simplicity’s sake, we would discuss how to win the position if it arises in the central files.

The Philidor Position

BishopRookvsRook1

This is the starting point of the Philidor Position. If this were Black to move, this position would be a draw because of the only move Re7+, and the white king will have to retreat. That also means that if Black were unable to play this check, he will be lost even if it was his move. Anyways, White’s first moves are simple. 1. Rc8+ Rd8 2. Rc7. White takes control of the seventh rank.

BishopRookvsRook2

Here, the immediate threat by White is 3. Rh7, with unstoppable mate. If Black keeps his rook along the 8th rank like with 2…Ra8, he looses immediately to 3. Rh7. That means he either has to move 2… Kf8, or take his rook off of the 8th rank. After 2… Kf8, White has a straightforward win with 3. Rh7, still threatening mate. After 3…Re8+ 4. Kf6 Kg8 5. Rg7+ Kh8 6. Rg5 Kh7 7. Rh5+ Kg8 8. Kg6 and mate will come soon. Well that wasn’t so bad!

But if your opponent wants to give you a hard time to get that win, they will move the rook to either d3, d2, or d1. I will tell you right now that 2…Rd2 is the most tenacious defense for Black, and you will see in a second why 2…Rd3 or 2…Rd1 loses more quickly.

2…Rd2. Now, White plays a clever waiting move, 3. Ra7. The point is that Black must move his rook off of the second rank because any king moves loses. 3… Rd1

3… Rd3 looses quicker and is less intuitive. First, White wins time with 4. Re7+ Kd8 (4…Kf8 5. Rh7 Black can’t stop the  mate with Rg3 because of the bishop.) 5. Rh7! Swinging to the other side. (5. Ra7?! would not work because of the simple 5…Ke8) 5… Kc8 6. Rc7+. Another maneuver to win time. 6… Kd8 (6…Kb8 walks into the discovered attack) And now, the amazing 7. Rc4!

BishopRookvsRook3

White is threatening 7. Bf6+. Black must play 6…Ke8. Now, 7. Bd4! There is no way Black can stop the mate without losing his rook.

4. Rg7. The rook zips to the other wing.

BishopRookvsRook8

Although 4. Rh7 looks prettier, since it gives more space between the Black king and White rook, the rook should go to the g-file for a reason you will see soon. 4… Rf1

4…Kf8 5. Rh7 Rg1 6. Ra7 Kg8 7. Ra8+ Kh7 8. Rh8+ Kg6 9. Rg8+. And Black loses his rook.

5. Bg3!! What a brilliant and stunning move!

BishopRookvsRook4

This is why the rook had to be on the first rank. The e1 square is controlled by the White bishop so the king is protected from annoying checks. The bishop also controls the f2 square, so if the rook were to move, it’d have to go to the third rank. 5… Rf3

5…Kf8 does not work. 6. Rg4 (and this is why the rook should go to g7, not h7.) 6… Ke8 7. Ra4. Switch sides! 7… Rd1 (7… Kf8 8. Be5 Kg8 9. Rh4 and mate) 8. Bh4!! My favorite move in the ending!

BishopRookvsRook5

This is the kind of move that would be impossible to find over the board if the White player didn’t know it beforehand. The bishop is an octopus, guarding the vital e1 square, and now threatening mate because the rook can no longer go to d8. Black is toast. 8…Kf8 9. Rg4 with imminent mate.

After 4… Rf3 5. Bd6 creats a mate threat. 6… Re3+ 7.Be5

BishopRookvsRook6

This position is similar to the one we started with, but with one vital difference. Because of the mate threat, the black rook cannot return to the second or first file and will find itself on the deadly third rank.

7…Rf3. Now the win is almost the exact same as after 3…Rd3. 8. Re7+ Kf8 9. Ra7 Kg8 10. Rg7+ Kf8 11. Rg4 Ke8 12. Bf4 +-

BishopRookvsRook7

We did it!

Note: It is important to note that the Philidor Position is also winning on the bishop files, however, some new defensive variations may come about. Unfortunately, the Philidor is not winning on the knight’s file. Good news though, is that the Philidor Position is surprisingly winning on the rook’s file! 

There is often a lax of attention on the Rook and Bishop vs Rook ending. It is beneficial to refresh your memory on this ending every once in a while. You never know when your knowledge will come to fruit!

I hope this article have helped you all in some way… Next time you enter this endgame, be prepared to play out this grueling but fun maneuver!

Free Game Analysis: Budapest Gambit

Today’s game is from aspiring Chicago-area player Megan Chen, whom I know from our overlapping time at CMU. Like me, Megan picked up chess again after a hiatus for school, and after two short but chess-filled years has established an undoubtedly conspicuous presence in Chicago, gaining over 600 rating points to close in on 1600!

It’s always interesting to see what little it takes to turn a game around. In one of Megan’s more flashy victories, a last-round win over a top seed in her section at the 2017 Mid-America Open, a grave positional error by White (her opponent) in a dead equal-looking position set the stage for some unexpected tactical flurries that surely made for a memorable game. Enjoy!

McCully (1698) – Chen (1530)

I’m not a big fan of the Budapest Gambit approach, which is not considered particularly sound. That said, it is certainly playable for anyone comfortable with it, so I understand why Megan, a more adventurous player going into the last round craving a win to even her tournament record, would be willing to go for it.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Bf4

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5…Bc5

As with the main move 5…Bb4+, Black gains a tempo, intending to quickly regain the sacrificed pawn with …Qe7. This plan is essentially forced, because otherwise, White will simply blow Black off the board after h2-h3. However, the game move has the drawback of allowing Nb1-c3-d5, giving White an obvious positional asset and potentially taking advantage of Black’s misplaced queen (Black’s c5 bishop is also vulnerable to a rapid queenside expansion). In contrast, 5…Bb4+ is safer, although it does give White the bishop pair and a slight edge after 6. Nbd2 Qe7 7. a3 Ngxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. e3 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2.

6. e3 Qe7 7. Be2 Ngxe5 8. O-O d6 9. Nc3

White sensibly chooses to finish kingside development first. Although Black easily regains the e5 pawn, there isn’t much to be done about Nb1-c3-d5, since something like …c6 just leaves d6 vulnerable. This gives White easier play on the queenside and a fairly stable advantage, underscoring the long-term disadvantage of eschewing 5…Bb4+.

9…Ng6?!

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This move actually gives White a tactical justification for a rapid b2-b4 push! In all fairness, it’s probably not the first tactic that comes to mind (see if you can find it before reading on), so I hesitate to peg the game move as a serious error. Still, the knight doesn’t do much in its new position – White can as easily play 10. Bg3 and ask where the knight is going from g6.

10. Nd5 Qd8 11. a3! Nxf4 12. Nxf4 a5

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With Black’s knight still on e5, this would have stopped b2-b4 forever, as that would allow Black to trade rooks on the a-file and grab the b-pawn. But in the game position, White can get away with 13. b4!, where Black would be well-advised to avoid 13…axb4? 14. axb4 Rxa1?? 15. Qxa1 Bxb4 (or 15…Nxb4) 16. Qxg7, when Black’s position falls apart. Instead, White overlooks the opportunity, and finds his queenside play stalled.

13. Qc2?! O-O 14. Bd3 h6 15. h3 Ne5 16. Nxe5 dxe5

Black has equalized comfortably. Notice in particular that Nd5 is rendered harmless, since the trade of knights on e5 allows the formerly-undesirable …c6. White had an advantage earlier, but failed to press it in a timely fashion.

17. Ne2?!

This traps the d3-bishop needlessly and allows Black to gain unnecessary tempi on the kingside, as 17…f5 immediately threatens to win a piece, and basically forces …e4 with tempo next move. More natural was to reroute the knight via 17. Nd5 c6 (to prevent 18. b4) 18. Nc3, which I would assess as roughly equal. Black has some chances on the kingside and the bishop pair, but White’s pieces are placed more harmoniously for the moment.

17…f5 18. e4?

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After this clear positional blunder, there is no going back for White. After just two moves, White is toast. Black is guaranteed a massive kingside attack, with pawns, bishops, etc. all ready to rip open the kingside.

18…f4 19. b4 axb4 20. axb4 Rxa1 21. Rxa1

White attempts to stave off …f3 by deflecting the dark-squared bishop. Although Black can certainly take the free pawn first, ignoring the threat to the bishop is apparently adequate as well. It’s a little flashy for my taste (remember that you just need *a* win, and usually the “sure” win is the way to go), but to each their own.

21…Qg5!? 22. bxc5 Bxh3 23. Nxf4 exf4 24. Bf1??

A puzzling decision, since it looked like the point of 23. Nxf4 was to clear the second rank for 24. f3. Granted, White is down a pawn after 24…Qxc5+ with a horrible bishop and king, but he’s not quite mated yet. The game move goes down quickly.

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24…Bxg2 25. Qd2 Rd8

Slightly unnecessary (time pressure?), since White has the “option” of 26. Qxd8+ and 27. Kxg2, after which Black must mop up White’s pawns and win the boring way. On the other hand, 25…Bxe4+ (as played a move later) just mates after 26. Kh2 Qh4+ 27. Bh3 Bf5.

26. Ra8 Bxe4+ 27. Kh2 Qh4+ 28. Bh3 Rxa8, White resigned.

A particularly brutal finish for White. Black did well to equalize after a sketchy opening (sorry, Megan), but White did not truly go wrong until 17. Ne2 and 18. e4. This just goes to show that it only takes one or two moves to truly mess up a position, even when the position looks solid. Congratulations to Megan for fighting back (both in the tourney and in the game), for the ruthless mating attack, and (hopefully) for soon crossing 1600 and beyond!

As always, if you would like a game analyzed, feel free to send it to chess.summit@gmail.com for us to see!

 

Facing Reality

I came into college believing that I’ll have more free time, more time overall to play tournaments and to study chess, after all, college provides a more flexible time sheet, no?

Boy I could not have been more wrong.

I remember my junior year of high school, I was talking to a friend of mine who played chess who was in college and we were just catching up since I hadn’t seen her in a year or two. One thing that stuck with me that she said after she found out I was already a junior but was hoping to break master before going to college was that I didn’t have that much time left. I remember thinking to myself, “Really? But there’s still two years plus the summer before college.” Yeah, I was wrong then too.

Maybe it’s different for students at schools with chess clubs or chess teams, but I keep finding myself in a repeated cycle where I keep saying I’m going to play a tournament, or study one day, and then by the time I get around to it its already 2 am or something. And I’m not sure if I exponentially aged in college or something, but I most definitely cannot pull all nighters or survive on tiny amounts of sleep like I did in high school (Yay TV, thanks for ruining my sleep schedule!). So logically, I chose to sleep over studying chess or dragging my night out longer to add that into my schedule.

Just remember, whenever someone tells you that you’re not going to have as much time as you think you well as you progress in life – they’re probably right. And speaking from experience. So listen. And take advantage of the time you have now before you graduate and move onto an even busier part of your life.

Rifle-Paper-Co-Graduation

 

The Curse of Move 41

If one move is traditionally thought to be cursed in chess, it is move 40. Generally, it is the last move before the time control. In the midst of the time scramble, people are supposed to blunder. It has happened many, many times at all levels… The solution? Have more time on your clock? I’m not going to talk about finding a magic cure to the time trouble disease here. That’s near impossible. I am going to talk about a different phenomenon.

A more dangerous psychological trap, however, lies right after the time control. The time control has been reached, and the time scramble is over. You made it. You survived. You can breathe and relax. Now you have a lot of extra time, and it’s time to crunch the position out, right?

Not really. Right after the time control, you may not be so focused, and you can easily miss things.  Perhaps it’s because now you have time, and the worst is supposedly over with. Or maybe you’re mad at yourself because of what happened in the time scramble that your mind is stuck at a different position. You could also be thinking mainly about the variations and ideas you found before the time control and don’t consider anything new. There’s no easy explanation, but it just happens.

It’s better to take a little break. Go to the bathroom, walk around, look at the other games… You’ll come back to the board refreshed, and you’ll see things anew and more clearly.

My first big experience with this phenomenon was actually on move 42, because move 41 was essentially forced.

Brodsky, David (2249) – Katz, Alex (2380) Bradley Open 2014

Katz

White to play

White has a solid edge with his pawn mass and more active king, but where’s the win? I thought I had messed things up, and now I had nothing! Wrong.

Mentally, I was stuck somewhere before the time control where I thought I had lost my advantage. Where was my mistake?

I played 42.Kb4? Bxd4 43.Nxd4 Nb2 and for some reason accepted Alex’s draw offer. White still has a big advantage over there, but I was busy making excuses to myself to take the draw. “I am tired”, “This is objectively a draw…”, “I don’t want to lose this one…”

Instead, had I looked with a fresh head, I probably would have found the winning move 42.Bg1! after which black loses a piece. The black bishop and knight are quite inconveniently positioned. If 42… Bxa3, after 43.Kb3 Bc5 44.Kxa4, the white knight defends the bishop. That’s why the bishop must go to g1.

More recent examples have been more painful… by a cruel coincidence, this one was at the same location in the same round (round 3) over two years later.

Samadashvili, Martha (2147) – Brodsky, David (2387) Hartford Open 2016

Martha

Black to play

We survived the time scramble. Some mistakes were made, but no pieces were blundered! Phew. Now, I for some reason felt optimistic about my winning chances here, which are near nonexistent.

White’s plan is to play Rh1 followed by Rxh5 and mate me. Solution: play 41… h4?? with the idea that after 42.Rh1 black has 42… h3, and if 42.gxh4 Rf2 43.Ke5 g3, black has some noise going with his passed pawn. Where’s the problem?

I discovered it after Martha played 42.Re5! threatening Rh5#. There was nothing I could do about it. After 42… Kh7 43.Kf7 I had to resign.

I was transfixed by the ideas I had discovered in the time scramble, namely the idea that white will go Rh1 and mate me. I was relieved I made it through the time scramble without any blunders that my sense of danger went down, and my optimism went a little too high…

What is more dangerous in this situation: pessimism or optimism? I gave one example of each.

I’d say that optimism is more dangerous. When you are pessimistic, you are most likely mad enough at yourself to look hard for something good. However, when you are optimistic, you are happy enough about your position to not notice some of your opponent’s resources…

Seeing those games, don’t expect me to blunder like that after move 40! I, like everyone, will make some mistakes, but a quick five minute break will help me make better decisions after the time control.

Moral of the story is to take a break after the time control and take a fresh look at the position. Spend a little bit of your extra time to refresh yourself; it’s better than staring at the position with your mind still stuck somewhere around move 30. You won’t always make the perfect decision after the time control; that would simply be impossible. Refreshing your mind, however, will help you make better decisions.

P.S. Before taking a break, make sure you actually reached the time control. There are better ways to join the club of Nakamura (orange juice against Vallejo), Carlsen (thinking there was a second time control after move 60), Ivanchuk (forgetting a move on his scoresheet), and many other top players.

Hocus Pocus: What’s Up Pittsburgh?

Just a few weeks after returning from my European Expedition, I’m back here in Pittsburgh for the summer. Since I haven’t been to any tournaments since the Reykjavik Open, I thought for today’s post I would compile a bunch of smaller chess anecdotes from the past week for you all. So … let’s see what happens!

Moving in

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Something tells me this is going to be a fun year….

For some of our older readers, perhaps you remember the hassle of finding a roommate and an apartment during college (or maybe after, I wouldn’t know about that yet…). All the roommate “interviews”, apartment visits, contracts and paperwork – it’s a lot! Luckily, right before I took off in February, fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin Li offered a room in his apartment, and that was that! I’m curious to see what this does for our chess, if anything at all. Needless to say, I think this is going to be a fun year! In just the first few days, we’ve already completed round 2 of the Chess^Summit Challenge, in which Beilin walloped me in bullet, 30-19… I attached the replay below, but seriously, viewer discretion is advised – the number of blunders was disgusting, and so was my ability to manage the clock…

 

Being in Pittsburgh for the summer for my internship is going to make things interesting for my tournament opportunities in the coming months. While I now live across the street from the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I can’t say for sure when my next major open will be. I’m hoping to make National Master before the year comes to a close, but a lot of that will depend on how many more rating points I get from the latter half of my Europe tour (still pending, though it could be as much as 60 rating points!), and how much I can play this summer. Either way, my first tournament game back in the US starts tomorrow night, and I’m pretty excited about seeing how far I’ve come.

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Getting ready for the first day of my intenrship!

Speaking of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I bumped into a former expert, who after 20 years, was looking to get back into tournament play. After playing a practice game with him, my opponent asked for some advice on what to study from home to get back into shape.

Perhaps this is generalizing, but I think for players in this situation, keeping a 2000+ rating after such a hiatus will feel like having to break 2000 once again. Knowing that this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my chess “career”, I have quite a few suggestions for getting over the edge – and surprisingly, none of them really require a vast knowledge of opening theory.

Looking back at my own games from before I broke 2000, I think the biggest adjustment was shifting the focus from looking for tactics to looking for positional and strategic resources. This is why I recommend studying pawn structures! Learning how to play with (and against) certain pawn structures can help you dictate various positions, and I would highly recommend Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide by Mauricio Flores Rios. IM John Bartholomew has a glowing review of the book on his Youtube Channel, which you can check here. Of course, this is just the start, but it’s certainly a good one!

Processing Results

Having down time here in Pittsburgh means really trying to understand what worked (and didn’t) in Europe. Of course, my 186 FIDE rating point gain is euphoric, but admiring that alone won’t help me become a stronger player.

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One advantage of playing in Europe is that not every scholastic player has a vastly underrated FIDE rating – this was one of main factors that contributed to my meteoric gain

As I’m analyzing my games in finer detail, I’m learning a lot about how I lose games. With such a great sample of games, I can go a lot more in depth than I did a year ago when I was preparing for the US Junior Open in New Orleans. While I’m not interested in making my over-the-board weaknesses public, I decided to replicate this process on a game I lost last year at the Carolinas Classic, which coincidentally starts in a few weeks in Charlotte.

In this game, I had White against NM Karthik Ramachandran, a former US Junior Open Champion. Even though I lost, I think still to this date, it was my proudest defeat. I think often times with chess, we get so enamored with the result and computer evaluation that we often forget the quality at which a game was played. I really like this game because despite being lower rated, I kept on finding ways to create problems for my opponent – enough so to reach a complicated – but winning – position.

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6…Nh6?! was a surprise, but do you think my opponent expected 10. g4!? Here’s a photo from that second round game!
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Steincamp-Ramachandran, after 24. Rh3?!

This game taught me two things: 1) I needed to work on prophylaxis. As we saw, letting my opponent bring his knight to b4 let him back in the game. Even though I outplayed him once again later, this game may have tipped in my favor if I had taken this resource more seriously. Playing 24. Rh3?! proved to be an instructive point, as my opponent’s persistence started to pay off here.

2) Calculation and Endgames! Of course for our long-time readers, you’ll recall that around this time I was working on my Endgame Essentials series here on the site, which would pay off dividends in New Orleans just a few weeks after this game took place. Even though there were moments where I was clearly moving in the right direction by sacrificing pawns to create passers, there were questionable elements later in the game once time trouble became a factor. These are the kinds of things I look for in my losses (and some draws) for improving, and I would highly encourage this practice for our readers.

With only so much time to study, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my study time to looking at classics, particularly Jose Raul Capablanca. I’ve never put such an emphasis on studying classics, but after having made videos with Kostya in Iceland, I realized one of the biggest deficiencies I had compared to him was an ability to compare top level games to those of my own. While I’ve had some success applying my own games and lessons into my play, it’s about time I turn back the clock and learn from some of the greatest chess players who have ever walked the planet.

Blast from the Past

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Me at my first SuperNationals 12 years ago! I wonder who that guy on the right is?

Before last night, I think this article would have ended here – but let’s not forget that there was a pretty not-so-small tournament in Nashville this past weekend called SuperNationals!

While there were some pretty big names in the top section, I was following a much smaller subplot, the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Class of 2017. Perhaps I’m a bit biased having been coach of many of the players in this graduating class, but upon the completion of this tournament, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this graduating class is the most accomplished high school chess team you’ve never heard of!

Back in 2014, when this class entered MLWGS as freshmen, I had the pleasure of coaching them as a junior, and watching them win the U1200 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, California! In just one year, a school with absolutely no past chess tradition was on the map and a local scholastic superpower was born in Richmond.

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The 2014 U1200 National High School Championship winning team (from left to right): Shreya Shetty (assistant coach), Bobby Grayson, Bryan Kaperick, Yang Zhang, Yaoquan Song (sitting), David Normansell, Jeffrey Song (sitting), Matthew Normansell, and myself

Of course, over the next few years, these players all had masive rating jumps – shooting up from sub-1000 ratings to as high as 1750! By the following year, the defending U1200 champs placed 5th in the U1600 section in Columbus, Ohio, another massive triumph for the class of ’17. While I would graduate that spring and leave north for the University of Pittsburgh, the team kept on getting results, as well as giving back to the local scholastic chess community.

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Jeffrey analyzing games at the 2015 Dragon Chess Camp

When I was coaching the team, we set up various chess camps and tournaments for younger scholastic players in Richmond, even managing to bring GM Sergey Erenburg to come out and run a few simultaneous exhibitions for us. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Class of 2017, these programs kept running after I graduated, and in many ways contributed to a “golden age” in chess in Richmond. For the first time in my chess-playing memory, there was chess culture in Richmond, and various elementary schools created chess clubs in the spirit of MLWGS.

It wasn’t always easy. In the weeks leading up to SuperNationals, there was great uncertainty if the team of seniors would be able allowed to compete, given that the tournament conflicted with the rigorous AP exam schedule, and available hotel rooms were already dwindling in single digits. But thank goodness they made it!

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Matthew Normansell, who has had games analyzed here on Chess^Summit, was crowned the K-12 U1900 National Champion!

Despite the team being split over several different fields (K-12 U1900, U1600, U1200, etc), the senior class finished with as loud of a statement as they started.

Even with only three players in the K-12 U1900 section, MLWGS flexed their muscles and took fifth – but the most surprising result was that of Matthew Normansell, as the senior notched an unbeaten 6/7 to claim a tie for first as joint- U1900 national champion!

As I called him last night to congratulate him on his biggest accomplishment to date, he was still in some disbelief. I guess sometimes with these things, they have to happen in order for you to believe they can happen. To Matthew and the rest of the MLWGS Chess Team, you guys should all be really proud of the work you’ve put in these last four years, and the accolades you have all received is a testament to the effort you have all put in. It’s been fun watching you all grow, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where life takes you all, whether it is on the chess board or not! To any school adminstrators out there, let the efforts of this graduating class show you how having chess is an asset to your school. I have never seen as much accomplished in such a short period time, and it goes without saying that MLWGS Class of 2017’s efforts over the board was able to bring the Richmond community closer over just 64 squares. After all, much of my work with MLWGS led to the creation and inspired mission of Chess^Summit 😀

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Yours truly with much of the MLWGS Chess Team!

And on that note, that’s all I’ve got for this week! When I’m back, I’ll be sharing some of my games from the Abrams Memorial here in Pittsburgh. Fingers crossed I can keep some positive trajectory!