Better Position != Winning

I don’t get to play Titled Tuesday much on

When I do, I always want to make use of the opportunity to brush off some rust and study new opening ideas.

Here is the Full Game Analysis


To summarize:

I played an interesting opening and got what I wanted out of the opening. In the middle game, I had the tide on my side and would have made small improvements to make it less complicated.

When it turned to the endgame and time scramble, nerves got in the way, and I couldn’t finish off the game.

In the end, mission to brush off rust and study new openings were accomplished for this game, but the result was not satisfactory.

This game helped me to feel even stronger about how blitz can help me improve.

For anyone in the Southeast, CCSCATL will have an in-person Blitz Tourney on Saturday, July 21. Hope to see you there!


Accept Draw, Reflect Later?

Unfortunately, useful statistics on draw offers are hard to find, but my guess is that on people believe draw offers are too common, on average. I am inclined to believe this myself, if nothing else because I have noticed a lot of players (at lower levels) accepting draws in clearly better positions. Of course, when we’re at the board ourselves, our perspectives are likely to change as our natural (for many of us) human risk-averseness kicks in. While I was stuck around 2000 USCF, I couldn’t even hold my winning positions against higher-rated players, so it was hard to imagine I could be upset with a draw against anyone 2200+ or so.

That attitude has changed dramatically in the 3 years since. Nowadays, I play more open sections where I’m the underdog, and thus more opponents that are not inclined to draw without a good reason. This occasionally presents some interesting dilemmas.

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Li (2159) – Velikanov (2403)

In this game (March 2018, Chicago), I managed to surprise my much higher-rated opponent in the opening, and he offered a draw in a very difficult position. Against most players, this wouldn’t be much of a decision, but a rare easy draw on move 12 against a 2400 seemed pretty welcoming. Objectively though, White has a huge advantage, and I concluded that if I couldn’t at least draw this position, I didn’t deserve the draw anyway. So I played on, and there were no regrets over that decision, although I royally messed up a 3-pawn-up rook ending later on and had to settle for a perpetual.

However, my fear of messing up such an advantageous position did not come out of nowhere. It’s quite possible that I simply had bad memories of declining a draw only to lose the game later. For example:

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Linde (2096) – Li (2093)

In the deciding game of this team match from the 2017 Pan-Ams, my opponent offered a draw after playing 19. Rd1. Black has avoided serious weaknesses and is getting close to a freeing …d6-d5 break, although that loosens up his pawn structure a bit and requires care. Probably the position is about equal. It came up in our post-mortem that my opponent wasn’t feeling well at the time, which explains the draw offer. Not knowing that, I decided to play on, as I felt pretty comfortable positionally, and I wanted to play a good game after playing mostly way up or way down the whole tournament. Unfortunately, despite taking the advantage late in the game, I blundered a piece in time trouble and lost.

The same scenario would play out twice more during an otherwise stellar 2018. At the Philadelphia Open in March, I decided to press on in a very symmetrical ending against a 2100, only to hang an Exchange and lose. And a month later in a rapid tournament, I declined a draw – and clear first – against a slightly lower rated opponent in a somewhat better position. This backfired yet again when I went on to reverse a winning position by hanging a piece in time trouble!

So by the time summer rolled around, I was feeling pretty cautious about the whole draw offer concept. Especially true at critical moments of the Chicago Open and National Open, which I talked about in my last two posts.

Although I escaped the humiliation of losing after turning down the draw offers, it started to dawn on me that I might have veered too much in the other direction. In the first game, my opponent took a long think before playing 18…Ne5 and offering me a draw, which I accepted despite a better position where he had only 40 minutes left. The second was in someways more questionable. I thought my only option was to repeat with 15…Qa5+ 16. Bb4 Qc7 17. Bd6 and take a draw in a position where my opponent only had 18 minutes. In reality, after 15…Qa5+ 16. Bb4, 16…Qf5 was completely fine (I was worried about my queen being vulnerable on the kingside, but White is not developed enough to exploit this). Unlike the Chicago game, this created some tournament difficulties as I had 2.5/4 and had little room for winning money.

However, in spite of my excessive caution in both games, they exhibit the point that there is often no right answer in these draw offer dilemmas. Giving up a half point, after all, is much less disastrous than giving up a full point, and I ended up surviving both of my decisions, as in Chicago, I was primarily playing for improvement, and in the National Open, I ended up winning the rest of my games to tie for 4th in my section.

For most ambitious and alert players, premature draws clearly should not be too regular an occurrence. But it is always important to keep one’s ambitions in check (as I learned early on!) and realize as I did later, that thinking about draw offers does not have to be agonizing, merely a learning experience. This is, of course, important not only to offering and accepting draws, but to all of chess.

How to Bomb the World Open 101

DISCLAIMER: This article is NOT an endorsement of the strategy exhibited by the author. Furthermore, the author has no intentions of writing a “How to Bomb the World Open 201” article. Ever.

The World Open is one of the largest open tournament in the US, and it’s quite an event. The $20,000 first prize in the open section attracts dozens of GMs whose participation brings norm hunters like me flocking. I was feeling fairly optimistic after three good tournaments in a row, and I was looking forward to playing 9 rounds of good chess, staying near the top boards, and fighting for a GM Norm.

Instead, I followed a different strategy. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Draw the first game
  • Do your best to lose the second game but save it in the end
  • Get destroyed in the third game
  • Do all of that against significantly lower rated opponents
  • Your tournament is ruined in a record 3 rounds, and there’s no need for more butchery
  • You may now resume playing your regular chess

Simple, isn’t it? Here’s how I pulled it off.

In round 1, I got black against Eddy Tian (2223 USCF, 2083 FIDE). I got a comfortable edge out of the opening with black, but I wasn’t able to exploit it.

Tian 1

All of black’s pieces appear to be active and well placed, while the same can’t be said about white’s counterparts. Unfortunately, black doesn’t have a clear plan to exploit them, but white doesn’t have anything convincing either. When my opponent played 26.h4, I decided to open a second front with 26… h6!?. It’s not a bad idea, but I butchered the execution. The game went 27.Re1 g5 28.hxg5 hxg5 29.g4 Kg7 30.Kg2

Tian 2

I thought the natural move 30… Rh8 would be met with 31.Rh1, leading to a rook trade. Black is on top over there, but I thought I had something better. I went 30… e5? with the idea of meeting 31.Rh1 with 31… e4!, after which white’s rook isn’t very useful. However, I ran into 31.Qf5! which is the flaw in my idea. 31… Qxb3!? may be black’s best. Despite being seemingly suicidal, white doesn’t have anything concrete besides taking the g5-pawn which will lead to complications. Instead, the game went 31… e4 32.Nxg5 Qxf5 33.gxf5 Rd5

Tian 3

Black is winning the pawn back, but after 34.f3! he has no advantage. I tried to win for 25 more moves but didn’t get anything concrete. That was a blow to my tournament plan. For one thing, this was going to hurt my opponents’ rating average for norm chances. Still, this was only one game, and I felt I hadn’t played so badly.

I thought my round 2 game against Prateek Mishra (2166 USCF, 1992 FIDE) would be a fairly smooth win, since I had a large rating edge and the white pieces. I was dead wrong. I stumbled into old theory which I had to figure out over the board, and I didn’t do a very good job. To be more precise, I was practically lost my move 25. Eventually we reached this position:


White’s position is on the verge of collapse here, and a lot of moves (32… Rd8, 32… Qxb4, 32… f3, etc.) would’ve finished me off. Fortunately, my opponent let me off the hook by playing 32… Qxd4?. After 33.Qxd4 Rxd4 34.Rxc2 Rxb4 35.Rxc7 white has enough activity to equalize, and the game soon ended in a draw.

This was so not my plan. Half of me was relieved that I hadn’t lost, but  the other half of me was utterly disgusted with myself for playing such an awful game.

In round 3, I got black against Zhaoqi Liu (2381 USCF, 2118 FIDE), and I was desperate to win. Watch me get crushed.

Zhaoqi 1

This position is fairly imbalanced. The d5-square is a juicy outpost for a white knight, but black has the bishop pair and is fairly active. Objectively speaking, white may have a slight edge, but there’s plenty to fight for.

With his last move, my opponent attacked my rook, and I replied with 15… Rd7?. 15… Rde8! was stronger. 16.Qxd6?? loses to 16… c4+, and white will likely play a normal move such as 16.Ng3. But wait, what’s wrong with 15… Rd7? You’ll see…

16.Qf5 hits the rook and clears out the d5-square for the white knight. I replied 16… Qb7, thinking that everything was under control. 17.Nd5?? hangs a piece, and 17.Nf4 is met with 17… Nd4! 18.Qg4 f6, after which black is on top. However, I hadn’t considered my opponent’s next move seriously: 17.Bf6!! was a nasty surprise.

Zhaoqi 2

17… gxf6 is suicide on account of 18.Nd5!, and 17… Bxc3 18.Nxc3 doesn’t seem to help black. Because white is threatening 18.Qg5 with mate coming soon, I played 17… Ne7 which was met with 18.Qg4 Ng6 19.Nf4!

Zhaoqi 3

The second wave of attack comes, and it’s really powerful. Black won’t survive after 19… gxf6 20.Nh5, as on top of everything, white has two knights that can join the melee. What else to do? Next up is 20.Nh5 or 20.Ncd5 smashing my kingside. There was one move that I had, 19… Bxc3!. After 20.Bxc3 I totally hated my position, but after 20… f5!? there may be hope. This was necessary, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I had gone into a complicated position with the hope of winning, and now I was groveling for chances to stay in the game by move 20!?

After a long think, I played 19… Qc8? which loses fairly quickly. My idea was to trade off queens with Rb7, but that doesn’t help much. After 20.Nd5, I realized that 20… Rb7 runs into 21.Nfxg6 Qxg4 22.Ne7+! winning an exchange, and white has similar alternatives that also win. Therefore, I played 20… Re8 21.Nh5 Rb7, but after 22.Bxg7 I’m dead lost. I decided to allow checkmate by playing 22… Qxg4 23.Ndf6#

Zhaoqi 4

Ouch!! That one still hurts!

I had 1/3, and my tournament situation was awful. I was losing a lot of rating, and of course my norm chances were beyond extinct. I wasn’t playing well at all. I considered withdrawing, but my gut told me not to. I felt that once I got the bug out of my system, my chess would be back to normal.

Fortune smiled down upon me, and I managed to win my next three games which were fairly decent overall. I had 4/6 with 3 rounds to go. This was a fairly decent score by my standards, except that how I got there was the problem. In round 7, I did get a chance to play up against IM Gabriel Flom (2551 USCF, 2515 FIDE). I was hoping to hold my own this game, but things went wrong from the very start.

Flom 1

After an offbeat opening, I thought I should be fine here after the recapture 8.exf4 dxe4. Unfortunately, I completely missed 8.Qg4!, and I quickly realized that I had messed up big time. Black is going to lose a pawn. 8… dxe4 9.Qxg7 Ke7 10.exf4 didn’t look fun to me, 8… 0-0 9.Qxf4 dxe4 10.Qxe4 looks even worse, and 8… g5 is nonsense. My best shot was 8… Bd6! 9.Qxg7 Ke7. Though I’m a pawn down, and my king is on e7, it isn’t that bad for me. I can always trade queens with Qg8. Instead of that, I went 8… Qf6?! which was met with 9.Bxd5! 0-0 10.Qxf4 Qxf4 11.exf4 exd5

Flom 2

Black is a pawn down here, and he has a lot of suffering ahead of him in this endgame. Not surprisingly, I went down. It was really unfortunate that I blundered like this and spent practically the entire game on the back foot. Despite this humiliation, I managed to win two fairly smooth games against 2300+ USCF opponents to finish the tournament with 6/9.

That was actually higher than I’d ever finished at the World Open—in 2016 and 2017 I got 5.5/9. Nevertheless, thanks to my disastrous start, my misadventures cost me quite a few rating points.

My summer adventures continue on the West Coast at the US Cadet which starts tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

GM At Last!

After a long, suspense-filled journey, chess phenom Praggnanandhaa has officially become the second youngest to ever achieve the grandmaster title.  To say the least, it was a very long road.  Nevertheless, the achievement is still magnificent, although possibly bittersweet for him.

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Praggnanandhaa at the 2017 World Junior Championships

Let’s take a trip through time to examine how Praggnanandhaa came to reach such an achievement at this incredibly young age.  Praggnanandhaa first broke onto the scenes as a FIDE Master just before turning 8 years old when he won the U8 Open section at the Asian Youth Chess Championships in 2012.  Fast-forward three years later, and Praggnanandhaa became the youngest-ever International Master in 2016 at the age of 10 years and about 10 months after gaining the third and final IM norm at the KiiT International Chess Festival.  At this point, the chase for the GM title was officially on, and to break Sergey Karjakin’s record at 12 years and 7 months, Praggnanandhaa had about one and three-quarters years to gain three GM norms (performance rating of 2600+) and peak his rating above 2500.  Plausible, right?

The First GM Norm

Praggnandhaa earned his first GM norm at the 2017 World Junior Chess Championships.  This was a big story, but it was probably overshadowed by the potentially bigger story – one that never materialized.  This event was (and still is) one of several around the world that offer immediate titles to the top finishers of each section.  In the top section, the first-place prize was, in fact, an immediate GM title.  Unfortunately, Praggnanandhaa fell half a point short with “only” 8/11.  Still, he had finally gotten the first norm that he needed, and he had about five months to gain two more in order to beat Karjakin’s record.

The Second GM Norm

After winning his first norm in November 2017 and with a large number of events coming up, many believed Praggnanandhaa could feasibly gain his last two norms before March 2018, when he would become the same age as Karjakin when he won his title.  Unfortunately, Praggnanandhaa never seemed to catch a lucky break, and he came very close on many occasions, but could never seal the deal.  Thus, the March 2018 deadline came and passed.  But, it definitely wasn’t the end of the world for him, since Praggnanandhaa still had six months to beat the second-fastest time, which was held by Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan.  Indeed, about a month after the deadline in April of 2018, Praggnanandhaa gained his second GM norm at the 4th Heraklion “Fischer Memorial” GM-Norm tournament, finishing in clear first half a point ahead of the rest of the field.  He only had one more to go.

The Third GM Norm

The band Linkin Park has a song that goes: “Night gets darkest right before dawn / What don’t kill you makes you more strong / And I’ve been waiting for it so long.”  Indeed, that seemed to ring true for Praggnanandhaa, who had one of his worst performances in early June at the Schaakweek Apeldoorn GM tournament in the Netherlands, going a frightening 3/9.  Yet, all seemed to work out in the end, as later in the month, he played in the 4th ad Gredine Open in Italy and captured the last GM norm and the GM title in the 8th round of the tournament.  To put on the finishing touches, he won the last round as well and tied for first place in the end.  A fitting finish.  Congrats to Praggnanandhaa!

While he wasn’t able to break Karjakin’s record in the end, Praggnanandhaa’s journey was still fascinating and fun to follow.  And, what’s bad about being the second fastest to GM?!

Some now even call him the 2nd Tiger from Madras, as his hometown is in Chennai, India, and it happens to be the same as former World Champion Viswanathan Anand.  Those are big shoes to fill, but it seems very possible as he is yet to 13.  Once again, congrats to Praggnanandhaa, and I’ll see you next time!

Product Development for AI and Chess

Product and feature refinements are part of the development cycle for every technology company.

As chess gets popular and into the mainstream tech and AI world , it has many potential to be integrated as part of the software product features.

To build on top of Chess and AI in general, here are three ideas I had brainstormed

  1. Automation of tedious tasks
  2. Image recognition to seamlessly integrate physical and online world
  3. Chess Self-learning from the machines


There are thousands of games played daily in the chess world, and a few hundred will be published in TWIC.

Stronger players would like to dig thru all the latest trend in the openings, and new players would like to improve their favorite tactics from all the games played recently.

Human can do both of the above tasks, but it is much more efficient to have the machines to automate these tasks, and have chess players access the information needed with a click of a button.

Image Recognition

Historically, chess students learn history or famous players by reading thru books. In today’s world, books are still more organized than online platforms.

What if an image recognition software can take a picture of a chess diagram, and immediately sync-up with any chess database, then we can merge any information from the physical world into the web sphere.

Essentially we want to build a chess encyclopedia crowdsourced by chess fans.

Self-Learning from Computers

DecodeChess is helping chess players translate Stockfish evaluations. What I’ve been thinking ahead is to have AI learn from historical famous chess players, and build a program to imitate that particular player.

Once the program is activated, chess fans around the world can choose their own favorite player, and have that program imitate the style.

We are in an exciting time to help chess gain popularity thru technology.

Chess players with tech interests can gain more by leveraging the technology advancement to improve their own games.

When you need a break from studying a complicated rook-endgame, take a walk outside, think about how AI and technology can help your chess and popularize our favorite game to more interested players!

Winging The 2018 National Open

One of the problems with any type of pre-tournament preparation is that there are always surprises in chess – just ask the guy who played 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Bg5 h6 5. Bd2?! against me last Saturday. On its own, there is nothing to lose from that (besides time), but I see many seasoned players comment that they feel very prepared before a tournament but run into trouble as soon as there are surprises. I do believe there’s value in reining in big expectations and developing the skills to handle the unexpected.

That doesn’t mean I like to go into every tournament cold. After narrowly surviving last month’s Chicago Open, I decided to cover the holes in my opening repertoire for Black and replace some difficult lines that I’d only played because there was nothing else I knew. But completely revamping openings can’t really be done in a few weeks between tournaments, and in this case would have required me to learn two completely new openings featuring a lot of nuances in specific move orders. So I decided that wasn’t worth it for now, and thus arrived at my next big tournament – the National Open in Las Vegas, Nevada – ready to wing it. In the end, I came back from an early loss to finish 5.5/7 with some big rating gains (broke 2200 USCF for the second time, and gained about 40 FIDE points) to match.

On paper, the Under 2300 section promised a much more reasonable field (where I was seeded 40th out of about 100) than the Chicago Open. However, even in a 7-round tournament, it’s still fairly difficult to recover from a slow start, and in the first three rounds of the tournament, it was pretty clear that I would have to do a lot better.

In Round 1, I won a rather ugly game against my 1975-rated opponent on the White side of a Closed Sicilian. Objectively, my kingside attack wasn’t very sound, but Black’s position proved unpleasant to defend in practice. Despite missing numerous tactical shots, I eventually won on move 33.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same fortune in Round 2, where a few simple oversights turned the tables on a great position. Despite standing slightly worse out of the opening, I had managed to outplay my opponent on the kingside and seemed to be in the process of converting against a harmless kingside attack.Simply 27…Rag8 followed soon by …Kg8 would keep a large advantage, but unfortunately, I managed to bring my queen back instead, and after managing to “admit” my mistake with the genius maneuver …Qb6-d8-b6 fell into a mating net for which there was no good defense.

Round 3 was pretty much the opposite. A Classical French went very wrong as White, and I soon found myself in dire straits facing mate (and other) threats. However, after I managed to get the queens off the board, it seemed like I could hold, and my opponent offered a draw. Despite being close to losing a few moves before, I was already thinking about staying in prize contention and thought Black could make no progress. My opponent must have had similar thoughts, as he overpressed a few moves later into a losing ending.

Having gotten through Round 3 with a decent score, I started to think about staying in prize contention. In a Round 4 game reminiscent of Chicago, I acquiesced to an early draw, this time as Black. My opponent, a foreign master, played a harmless-looking opening (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Bg5 h6 5. Bd2?!) very slowly and had only 18 minutes on move 18, but I misjudged the position and thought I was worse if I deviated from the repetition. Acutely aware of my extraordinarily luck in Rounds 1-3, I decided to avoid any chance of overpressing. However, this meant I would likely have to win my last three games – typically, in most 7-round tournaments with a similar prize structure, 5.5 points are required for a significant prize.

If nothing else, I will remember Round 5 for taking an unreasonably long time. I played up again, and was close to winning straight out of the opening as White. However, when my opponent sacrificed the Exchange, I started draining a lot of time and quickly drifted into a much worse position trying to fend off a massive kingside attack that looked impossible merely a few moves earlier. However, after a few inaccuracies by my opponent I escaped into an Exchange-up ending. Despite some technical challenges (as there always are in my endgames) I managed to collect the full point.

Anticipating a Black in Round 6, I assumed it would be tough to stay in prize contention. However, I also knew doing something crazy against a strong opponent just to keep winning chances alive would likely not work at all. As Black, the first order of business was to equalize. The opening took longer than usual, because White sprang 1. b3 on me, and I tried to play a main line (as much as there can be in such a rare opening). I managed a solid position with the bishop pair compensating for White’s more active position. On move 17, White, already playing quickly, lost the Exchange to a two-move tactic, and although there were some detours along the way, I managed to convert without major issues.

The tournament couldn’t have ended any better, in what was by far my best game of the tournament. I’m no stranger to last-round disasters, but the round went basically as well as I could have hoped for in every stage of the game. My opponent faced challenges early on navigating the unfamiliar opening as Black, and I emerged with a nice advantage, simply improving my position as fast as Black solved his problems. Black eventually gave up a pawn facing pressure on the queenside and center, trading into a pawn-up ending that culminated in this:

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The simplest way to end matters is the classic breakthrough 49. b5!, the point being White doesn’t care about the bishop after 49…axb5, since after 50. c6 bxc6 51. a6 Black’s tangled pawns+knight complex can’t stop the a-pawn! Even after seeing so many breakthroughs in endgame puzzles and the like, it was pretty cool to play it in a serious game.

Getting the critical last win in this way was not only enough to tie for the 4th place prize, but also enough for a solid rating boost (+31 USCF, +41 FIDE), notably pushing me above 2200 USCF for the second time ever, to an all-time high of 2209. After a lot of thoroughly documented ups and downs, I’ve rebounded with some great results this year, but it’s still been quite the challenge getting back to the master level. This time though, momentum is on my side, so hopefully I’m here to stay!

My Swiss Gambit

The New York International is a 9-round norm tournament held every summer, organized by the Marshall Chess Club. I have really good memories from the tournament. I beat my first GM at the 2015 NY International, got my first IM Norm in the 2016 edition, and became an IM in the 2017 edition. This year was a little different… from the very first round.

While a traditional Swiss Gambit involves drawing the first round to face weaker opposition, I took a more extreme approach at the New York International when I lost my first round. I was the only higher rated player who “chose” this “strategy,” except that I didn’t do so voluntarily. It did work out well in the end—at the expense of any GM Norm chances.

Part 1: Bad start

In the first round, I got black against Brandon Nydick (2329 USCF, 2130 FIDE). After a fairly unusual opening, things heated up.

Nydick 1

I wasn’t impressed with my position here as black. White has control of the d-file and a nice bishop, while black’s pieces are somewhat passive. White’s pawn structure, however, isn’t the most secure. The b3-pawn is hanging, and white’s e3-pawn isn’t awe-inspiring either… I was expecting 23.Rd3, after which I was planning 23… Qc7 with the idea of Ne5. I correctly estimated that the position was about equal.

Instead, I got hit with a surprise: 23.b4?. It’s an enterprising idea, but objectively it’s bad. After 23… cxb4 24.c5 I made a bad decision.

Nydick 2

24… b3! keeping a passer on the b-file and shutting down the a3-f8 diagonal for the white bishop was best. The reason I didn’t play it was because I thought 25.Qc4 hitting the e6-pawn was very strong. Somehow I missed both 25… Qe4! and 25… Qb5! both of which will lead to a queen trade. Black is much better in that endgame. I also spent time calculating the intriguing consequences of 24… bxa3 25.c6, after which white is fine.

Seeing nothing better, I went 24… Nf8? which is an awful move. After 25.c6 Qc7 26.Rfd2 white had full compensation for the pawn if not more. It became difficult for me to play, and I eventually cracked.

That hurt. My GM Norm chances were gone, since I’d get to play relatively low-rated opposition the next few rounds, bringing down my rating average and performance way too low. It would be practically impossible to get my rating average above 2380 (the minimum average rating required for a GM Norm).

A crazy fact was that this was my first time losing the first round in a 9-round Swiss tournament ever. From that perspective, this kind of game was way overdue! I stayed positive and came back. After all, with 8 rounds left, there was plenty of chess left in the tournament. Despite knowing that my norm chances were fictional, I kept going.

Part 2: My comeback

I won a fairly nice game in round 2 against Rey Jomar Magallanes (2325 USCF, 2101 FIDE). It wasn’t the cleanest win ever, but my play wasn’t bad at all. Here’s an interesting moment from the game:


I had been better for most of the game, and I had just won a pawn. My pieces, however, were a bit scattered. Black should go 31… Bf7! here, preparing … e5. White doesn’t have much of an advantage after that. My opponent instead played 31… e5? which I met with 32.d5!. My idea was that 32… Bf7 is met with 33.Bc5! Bxd5 34.Bxd6. Though both of white’s rooks are hanging, c7 will drop with a deadly effect. My opponent reduced the damage by going 32… Kd7 33.Bc5 Rac8, but he’s lost, and I won shortly afterwards.

In round 3, I won another nice game with black against Bahadur Khodzhamkuliev (2283 USCF, 2164 FIDE). I simply got a very good position and was winning by move 25. Not a bad boost!

Unfortunately, my roll came to a temporary halt with a draw in round 4; and trust me, it could have been worse. I was white against Rawle Allicock (2288 USCF, 2198 FIDE) and out of the opening we reached this position.

Allicock 1

This is a strange position. Black’s pawn structure is damaged, but white’s pieces aren’t in the best shape either. I had my eyes on the e4-pawn which was a nice target. If 24.Qb1, attacking the pawn, I wasn’t impressed by my chances after 24… c5. Another option to consider was 24.Nc4, planning to relocate the knight to e3, and white might claim a small edge after that. The best move which I didn’t consider was 24.Ra5!. It looks strange but was actually very strong, since it prevents c5.

Instead, I prematurely played 24.c4? and got hit with 24… c5 25.d5 e3!.

Allicock 2

Black isn’t worse at all after this one. 26.fxe3 Nxd5! Is very strong for black. I went 26.Rxe3 Rxe3 27.Bxf6, eliminating the f6 knight and the Nxd5 tricks with it. After 27… Qe8!, however, I completely overreacted.

Allicock 3

28.fxe3 Qxe3+ 29.Kf1 Bxf6 doesn’t look fun for white, but white isn’t in bad shape after 30.Qe2!. Instead, I went 28.Bxd8?? Re1+ 29.Qxe1 Qxe1+ 30.Nf1, completely underestimating how bad the position is after 30… Bd4 31.Bh4 g5 32.Bg3 Bc8. The white bishop will be dead after f5 and f4, and his position is just lost. Luck, however, was on my side. While gaining time on the clock, my opponent accidentally stumbled into a threefold repetition. Phew!! Okay, this is NOT the game I wanted. So here I was with 2.5/4 against players whose FIDE ratings were all under 2200. This wasn’t part of my plans at all, but it wasn’t a total disaster either. Oh well, there were still 5 rounds to go…

In round 5, I got back on track with a win against Aaron Jacobson (2373 USCF, 2259 FIDE). Things went exceptionally well for me, and by move 20, I was a clean pawn up with black. What more could I want? I went on to exploit my advantage and won a fairly smooth game.

Part 3: Fun at the top boards

With 3.5/5, I finally got to play up. I was white against IM Alex Ostrovskiy (2508 USCF, 2414 FIDE). Though the rating difference was very small, I was glad not to be playing down! I got a nice position out of the opening, but Alex defended well, and I wasn’t able to get through. I was disappointed that I only got a draw out of it, but I got over it. After all, I had gotten seriously lucky in round 4…

In round 7, I started a late-tournament charge by beating IM Kim Steven Yap (2441 USCF, 2363 FIDE) with black. After turning down two draw offers, I ground him down from a fairly dry position. Going into the last day, I had 5/7. Not bad at all, but I needed a strong finish.

Round 8 was the game that blew the tournament open for me. I got white against Brandon Jacobson (2449 USCF, 2303 FIDE) who, at that point, was leading the tournament with a 2700+ FIDE performance! He needed 0.5/2 on the last day to get a GM Norm. If things went sour, I wasn’t going to hesitate to offer a draw. I knew, however, that winning this game would be huge and blast the tournament wide open for me and others.

Brandon 1

With his last move 25… Kh8, Brandon offered a draw. I declined with 26.Re5!, as I felt that black had problems to solve after this one. 26… Rxe5 27.dxe5 is bad for black (more about that later, since the game got into very similar territory).

If 26… Rg2, I was planning 27.Rf1, since after 27… Nb4 28.Bb3 Rxd4 29.Re7!, black has to go back with 29… Rd8 to prevent mate, and it’s clear that black is in big trouble. Black, however, can play 27… b5!. Things don’t look pleasant for black, but white doesn’t have a crystal clear follow up. For that reason, 27.Bxd5! cxd5 28.Re7 may have been stronger. I missed that after 28… Rc8 29.c3 Rf8 30.Rxb7 Rff2, the b7-rook prevents Rxb2, meaning that everything is under control.

Black’s best move was probably 26… Rg3! If 27.Bxd5 cxd5 28.Re7, it turns into a pawn race after 28… Rxh3 29.Rxb7. White should have the upper hand with the rook on the 7th, but it isn’t clear at all how much he actually has. 27.Rf1 Nc7! is annoying, since the h3-pawn is hanging in a lot of lines. White should be better, but it isn’t anything dramatic.

Brandon instead played 26… h6?!. 27.Rxg5 hxg5 looks nice for white, but 28.Rg1? runs into 28… Nf4!. Instead, I simply played 27.h4, as I felt that the inclusion of the moves …h6 and h4 would help me. Brandon decided to go 27… Rxe5 28.dxe5 b5, but that is just very good for white.

Brandon 2

28… b5 was necessary to prevent white from going c4 and winning the knight. Now, 29.b3 will be met with 29… b4, and white is stuck. Therefore, I played 29.c3! with the simple idea of playing b3 and c4 on the next move, since black will no longer be able to go en passant in case of b4. Black is in big trouble, and he may be lost already. After 29… a6 30.c3 Re8 31.Bxd5 cxd5 32.Rxd5 g5 33.hxg5 hxg5 34.e6, I went on to win.

NY Intl rd 8 pairings

And that’s how I found myself in a tie for first going into the last round! Not bad at all… My last round game against GM John Burke (2600 USCF, 2518 FIDE) was no peaceful draw. It was actually the longest game of the round! I was worse for most of the 5+ hour game, but I scraped out alive. That landed me in a 4-way tie for first with GMs Mikhalevski, Hess, and Burke!

As I mentioned above, my GM Norm was practically impossible after the first round loss. My comeback wasn’t shabby, but I didn’t even achieve an IM Norm performance (it was 2438). Objectively, I lost my first round, and I shouldn’t be whining about not getting GM Norm chances! It’s unfortunate that botching up one game can obliterate my norm chances, but it is what it is. In the end, I’m happy about this tournament. I did my best given the circumstances, and after all, I tied for first! (you can check out final standings here)

Congratulations to Brandon Jacobson and Levy Rozman on getting IM Norms, and thank you to the Marshall Chess Club for running the tournament!

Note to self: There is absolutely no need to repeat this Swiss Gambit experiment!!