Virginia Closed This Weekend

Chess season starts this weekend, and I could not be any more excited! I’ll be playing in the Open section of the Virginia Closed Chess Championships, hoping to improve on my 2.5/6 score from last year. This year, I’ll be playing in the Blitz tournament tomorrow night, so I have a lot to look forward too.

What am I most looking forward to though? As of right now, my first round would be against Super Grandmaster Sergey Erenberg. I’ve played him in a simultaneous chess exhibition before, but I’ve never played a GM in rated play before.

As I said back in the beginning of the summer, my goal is 3.5/6 this tournament. I think it should be a fun tournament for me, and while there are some lower rated players, there are also a lot of players rated over 2100, so I should get some strong games.

I’ll be back Tuesday with some games and more posts!

More Forcing Chess

I played an ICC game this morning that I thought was worth sharing. In this game, Black made several bad positional and tactical decisions that allowed me (White) to start a strong attack on the queenside.

leika v. WellWellWell (ICC, G/15)

1. c4 g6 2. g3 Bg7 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. d3 e5 6. e4 d6 7. Nge2 Be6 8. O-O Qd7 9. f4

9…Bh3 Black offers to trade bishops. However, my Bishop on g2 is not very active, so I think this is a good trade for me.

10. Nd5 Bxg2 11. Kxg2

11…O-O-O? Black needed to consider 11…0-0. I don’t have a serious f4–f5 threat since Black can always trade on d5 breaking my center.

12. a3 I made this move to prepare b2–b4, but I think 12. Be3 Ng4 13. Bg1 could have been interesting as my bishop is on a strong diagonal, and it isn’t clear what Black’s knight is doing on g4.

12…Nxd5 13. cxd5

13…Nd4?? A bad choice, Black creates a wall in the center making it difficult for him to protect his king. Time to attack!

14. Nxd4 exd4 15. Bd2 Qb5

16. Qc2 My goal right now is to put my pieces on the c-file and start a minority attack.

16…Kb8 Allowing the Black rook to slide to c8.

17. Rac1 More accurate may have been 17…Rfc1, but I wanted to leave the option of f4-f5 to stretch Black.

17…Rc8 18. a4

18…Qa6? Tactically and positionally unsound, the queen does little on a6, and begs to be trapped.

19. b4 c6 20. dxc6 Rxc6

21. Qb3! Threatening b4–b5 with a fork, and the f7 pawn. This forces a very favorable trade on c1 for me.

21…Rxc1 22. Rxc1 f5 23. b5 Qb6 24. Qf7

24…Bh6 In this position, I have a definite advantage. But if I slow play this position, Black may have time to reorganize. In order to keep a definite advantage, I needed to find forcing moves and found a cool idea.

25. a5! If 25…Qxb5?? 26. Qc7+ Kh8 27. Qc8+ Rxc8 28. Rxc8#

25…Qd8 The only move.

26. a6 Threatening mate on b7. Black finds the only move, but it will not help that much.

26…Qb6 For a second, the coast looks clear, but can you find the winning move?

27. Ba5!! I don’t like to brag, but this is pretty sweet. If Black takes the bishop, Qxb7 is mate, and if he takes the b-pawn, he runs into the Qc7+ idea from before. With nothing to do and mate to come, Black resigned. 1-0

Always look for forcing moves! Checks, Captures, and Threats!

The Mentality Needed When Being an Underdog

For today’s game, I want to go back to a match that I played in 2011, before I broke 1500. I think for 1300–1400 rated players, the biggest challenge is getting a result against a higher rated player. Often times, a lower rated player might play passively, and aim for a draw from move 1! I can’t imagine this works well for most players. While I will analyze the actual moves in today’s game, I hope that for any lower rated players out there, the main takeaway is the fighting spirit from the style of play.

Steincamp – Sinha (Fairfax Open, 2011)

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2

4…Be7 Going into this game, I knew I was a 300 rating point underdog, so to count on silly mistakes would be foolish. However, with my limited chess knowledge at the time, I knew that this was a very passive move. My goal in this position is to open the center with d2–d4, and use my lead in development to acquire the initiative.

5. e3 d6 6. Nge2 Bf5

7. d4 This is in sync with my plan, but I think 7. e4 Be6 8. d3 0-0 9. 0-0 would have been much better for me. While the position is closed, this is the traditional pawn structure of the English, and I am ready to push f2–f4 with a good position.


8. Nxd4 An immediate pawn capture would have been better, as Black’s position would have been somewhat cramped. Generally, if you have less space, trades favor you as it allows for more mobility.

8…Nxd4 9. exd4

9…c6 I remember not understanding this move, but its meant to block my nice g2 bishop. Anyways, my plan here is to optimize my pieces, Black’s bishop on e7 is out of place, so I might be able to gain some sort of positional advantage.

10. O-O O-O 11. Bf4 Qb6 12. Qd2 Nh5 13. Be3

13…Nf6+= I am slightly better here. My opponent does not really have a clear plan as his knight maneuver has not improved his position. My goal now was to gain space in true English style.

14. d5

14…c5 My knowledge of opening theory was very poor, but this a Benoni structure. The correct plan would be to find ways to undermine the d6 pawn. Black’s queen on b6 is misplaced, and makes the typical counterattack awkward. Since I was not familiar with this position however, I continued to improve my pieces.

15. Rfe1 Rfe8 16. Bg5 h6 17. Bf4 Nd7 18. h4 Bf6 19. Rac1 Ne5 20. Bxe5 Bxe5 21. Kh1 a6 22. a3

22…Qb3 I didn’t see this move during the game, and when my opponent made this move, I realized that I was worse. A key positional takeaway for me would be that the b2-b4 idea was far from fruition, and thus the a2-a3 push opened a weakness on b3. Pawns cannot go backwards!

23. Bf1 Re7 24. f4 Bf6 25. Rxe7 Bxe7 26. Be2 Bh7 27. h5 Re8 28. g4

28…f6?+= I have control over the position again. I wasn’t really threatening g4-g5 since my queen is tied down to b2, so this move further shows how the bishop on e7 is misplaced. Black has the pair of bishops, but it yields no benefits.

29. f5= The wrong idea, as it gives black the e5 square on his rook. In all fairness though, as a 1400, I don’t think I could have found better. I wanted to trap in the h7 bishop. However, here I need to find ways to remove the queen from b3. An interesting try could be 29. Rg1 with the idea of a rook lift to g3. This way I can move the knight without allowing …Qh3+ which could prove annoying.

29…Bd8 30. Bd3 Ba5 31. Re1 Re5 32. Rxe5 fxe5 33. Qc2 Qb6 34. Ne4 Qd8 35. Qh2

35…Qe7 The Black queen is no longer on b3, but there is no clear plan for white, my opponent offered a draw and after calculating I took it. Black’s h7 bishop is bad, but the same goes for mine, and there is no easy way to push my kingside pawn majority without the dark squares. 1/2-1/2

While I didn’t win, I still played in a positive manner, and I reached a very respectable position against a much higher rated player. Because I created a plan, seized space, and had control over the center I was able to earn a respectable result. When you are a significant underdog, don’t play passively. Odds are your opponent knows how to punish you. If you are going to lose, make your opponent beat you, don’t beat yourself.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!

Avoiding Theory: The Nh3 Queen’s Gambit Declined

For those of you who love avoiding theory yet reaching perfectly playable positions, this post is for you. If you are a d4 player, odds are you are fairly familiar with the Queen’s Gambit lines for both the Accepted and Declined lines. If you read my post last month, Going Out of Book, you probably noticed that while my Nh3 maneuver was unorthodox, I got a great position and beat an expert convincingly. I think this approach is solid and its great for blitz, but for the most part its untested in standard tournament play.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6

4.Bf4 Already, this is different than the main line Tartakower Bg5 lines. This move in it of itself  is not uncommon, but can often lead to draws with passive play. Black wants to play …Bf8–d6 and trade of the dark squares. If he plays …Bb4, the opening transposes to a Nimzo–Indian and White is okay playing 5. e3 and playing sound chess. Should black elect the passive …Be7 approach, then he cannot play the standard c7-c6 move, as the d6 square becomes uncomfortable after a move like Nbd7. Long story short, if Black wants to play a solid Queen’s Gambit Declined line, he must play Bd6 in the near future.

4…c6 I find that when I play blitz, this is the most instinctive response. For most lines of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, this is a textbook response. If 4… Bd6, 5.Bxd6 Qxd6 6.Nb5 could pose an awkward position for Black. 6… Qb4+ 7. Qd2 Qxd2+ 8. Kxd2 and Black’s lack of development will begin to cause him significant problems.

5.Nh3!? This is the awkward move that this article is about! My idea is that my opponent will play ..Bd6 and force me to capture on d6 to avoid doubling my pawns. This move develops a piece and means that …Bd6 is not a forcing move. I find that Black likes to sit around and wait for white to commit to a line, so this move forces Black out of his comfort zone.

5… Bd6 Black makes this move to castle kingside, not to force a trade on d6. The struggle in this position is who wants to trade bishops. If Black captures on f4, I have a nice square for my knight and can relocate to d3 and e5. Whereas if I take on d6, Black recaptures with the queen and is perfectly fine. In the case of 5… dxc4 6.e3 b5 7. a4 creates some exciting play. Even though White may not regain the pawn, he will definitely have the initiative with moves like Qd1–f3.

6.e3! The only way to improve the position. Now if Black ever takes on c4, White can just retake with the bishop. At this point, Black has two responses …0–0 and …Bxf4, but usually the lines transpose. The important point is to not play cxd5 until Black has traded on f4. This is because c4xd5 followed by e6xd5 opens Black’s light squared bishop to attack the h3 knight. Keep the tension in the position for as long as possible!

6… 0-0 7. Be2

7… Bxf4 The tension is too much for Black, and his need to develop takes precedence in this position. Black cannot play Nbd7 without hanging the bishop, and Na6-c7 ideas are too slow. Black’s only other move is 7…dxc4 8. Bxc4, but white is comfortable in this position, and black has not solved his problem in development.

8. Nxf4 Nbd7

From this position, White for the most part can play based on intuition and have a very comfortable position. There are two different plans here, one for aggressive players, and the other for more positional players. White can opt to castle kingside, and just play on the c-file, followed with a minority attack after an exchange on d5. The other idea, which I have not played as much is to capture cxd5 and play Nf4-d3 followed by f2-f4. This follows the basic Stonewall Dutch ideas to some extent, since White would then want to play Ne5, and then an h-pawn push on the kingside. Though there is not a pawn on c3, White doesn’t need to worry about …Nb4 counterattacking ideas since Black’s knight is on d7 and not c6. The latter idea is better for blitz because White’s king is generally unsafe.

With this Nh3 line, you can reach respectable positions and confuse your opponent, so win-win!

Feel like I forgot something? Feel free to comment below!

A Quick Trap in the Slav

Its fairly important to know the tactical elements in your opening repertoire. For today’s post, I want to share a quick trap that I learned and used in a tournament game in the Slav.

Steincamp – Karell (Maryland Open, 2013)

1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5

3. cxd5 When I played this, I liked the Exchange Variation because it required little opening knowledge, and focused more on actual chess play. For the most part, the opening is based on intuition and common sense.

3…cxd5 4. Bf4 Nf6 5. Nc3

5…e6? There is no real need to block in the light squared bishop. I find this move odd, because usually I find that Slav players tend to want to develop this bishop before this move, thus being why they play …c6 before …e6.

6. e3

6…Bd6?! This is generally the right trade, but I think that this may not be the best positional idea. Black’s queen doesn’t add value to Black’s position from d6, and leaves c8 hanging. Thematically, this is the right idea, but positionally this move is the wrong approach.

7. Bxd6 Qxd6

8.Rc1 Immediately seizing the file. This was one of the reasons I liked this line, because generally I could reach this kind of position with little pressure. I threaten Nb5 attacking the queen, then Nc7+ with a deadly fork.

8…a6 The b5 square is weak, but that leaves black open to a quick discovered attack from the powerful rook on c1.

9. Nxd5!! Attacking the bishop. My opponent makes the only move in the position, as Black cannot allow Rxc8+.

Nc6 10. Nxf6+ gxf6 +- Black kingside is unsafe, and its quick uncomfortable to castle queenside. On top of this, I am up a pawn, and black only has a slight advantage in development.

I have to give my opponent a lot of credit because after this trap I got lazy and let her back in the game. However, this trap gave me both a material and positional advantage out of the opening.

Feel like I missed something? Feel dress to comment below!

Managing Time on the Clock with Forcing Moves

For today’s post, I want to talk about managing time on the clock. As many of you may know, there are two time controls in adult tournament play, one for the opening, and one for the middle game. Usually the second time control is not added until about move 30 or 40, so time trouble early in the game is not uncommon. In this game, I want to show how forcing moves can help you both manage your time and play strong chess.

Harvey – Steincamp (Virginia Closed, 2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. e3 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O Nbd7 7. h3 c5 8. c3 b6 9. Bh2

9…Bb7 I hadn’t prepared for a London System, but I still think this is the right idea. Because I wanted to play modern style chess, I knew I wanted to exchange one set of pieces on e4 so I wouldn’t feel cramped.

10. Nbd2 Re8 11. a4 Ne4 12. Nxe4 Bxe4

13. Ng5?! I didn’t consider this move in my calculations, so at this point in the game I began to use my time. I had 17 moves until the next time control. Since my opponent was playing a London System, I knew I would have to be creative to avoid a draw. 

13…Bb7  So far so good. I know I need to weaken the d4–b2 pawn chain to make my g7 bishop better, so my plan was to push the e–pawn and perhaps relocate my knight f8 then e6.  

14. Qb3 This took me by surprise, and for a second I thought I had missed some tactic. In these kinds of situations it is crucial to step back and look at the situation. To this point I have played very principled chess, and there have been no clear blunders. My opponent, on the other hand, played an unorthodox Ng5 move and there is no clear tactic. That being said, I knew that I still have to defend f7 in a manner that doesn’t give any weaknesses. In the game, I calculated 14… Rf8, 14… d5, and 14… e6. Moving the rook back is a concession of tempi, and gives white the initiative. I looked at 14… d5 for a while, but stopped when I found 15. e4! exploiting the weak diagonal. That left 14… e6 with the discovered attack on the knight from the queen.


15. f4? There is not enough time to try a f4-f5 sacrifice. This move blocks in the h2 bishop and weakens whites light squares.

15…cxd4 White’s play on the kingside isn’t convincing, and now I can play on the c-file. Also, I now have more space, so I can relocate both my d7 knight and b7 bishop.

16. cxd4 Bd5 17. Qb4 Nf6 18. Bb5

18…Rf8 I think this was a strategic slip-up. I didn’t consider 18… Re7 during the game. The f7 pawn doesn’t need protecting right now, and this rook lift to c7 could yield faster play.

19. Rae1 h6 20. Nf3 a6

21. Bd3 At this point with 9 moves left, both my opponent and I had less than 15 minutes each. So time management skills will play a large role in this middle game.

21…Be4! Stopping the e3–e4 push and creating an outpost. I thought 19. Rae1 was not a strong plan for white, so I thought this idea was a good way to punish my opponent.

22. Bxe4 Nxe4 23. Rc1

23…Qd7 This move should be an easy find. I need to play for the c-file. If white grabs the b6 pawn, I can snap a4 and get interesting compensation on the b-file.

24. Rc2

24…b5 I played this move to play …Rfc8 and have control of the a-file, but this isn’t necessary.

25. axb5 axb5 26. Rfc1

26…Rfc8 When I made this move, I calculated enough moves to get into the next time control. Both my opponent and I have fewer tun 2 minutes. My thought is that with this move, after I trade rooks, White must play Qe1 to protect the back rank, giving me a positional advantage.

27. Rxc8+ Rxc8 28. Rxc8+

28…Qxc8 Now that I’m threatening Qc1+ and other tactics, my opponent went below the 30 second mark. Because I have been making the forcing moves, I have used only seconds for each move since 24… b5. My opponent on the other hand, has done little to improve his position, and has reacted to each of my moves one by one. Generally, if you play reactionary chess, you won’t win many games.

29. Kh1 Qc1+ 30. Bg1

30…Ng3+ Making time control. I wasn’t in nearly as much pressure to make it to move 30 as my opponent, and the forcing moves have a lot to do with it. Since move 24, the only calculating I really had to do was decide between 30… Ng3+ and 30… Nf2+. I decided on the text move because I can relocate to f1 attacking e3 or to e2 attacking the bishop, whereas the followup to 30… Nf2+ wasn’t so clear.

31. Kh2 Nf1+ 32. Kh1

32…Nxe3 My opponent has also made time control, but for him it is an uphill battle down a pawn.

33. Nd2?? Nd5 34. Qa5 Bxd4 35. Qd8+ Kg7 36. Nf3 Bxg1 37. Nxg1 Qxf4 38. h4 Ne3 39. Nh3 Qg3 White cannot defend against the threat on g2, and with no more checks, chose to throw in the towel. 0-1

I won this game because when we were both in time trouble I found tactical resources to gain an advantage. It seems elementary, but you do really need to look for forcing moves when in time trouble: checks, captures, and threats. Odds are you might find something. I guess the other key note to take away from this game is that tactics are essential. While I got a positional advantage in this game, I won with tactics. Do tactics everyday, and it’ll help you when it counts!

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!

How to Beat Crazy Chess Play

Ever play against someone who played a bizarre opening against you? Its really easy to lose those games sometimes, especially if the opponent plays aggressively. However, the key is to stick to the basic opening principles. Here’s a game I played last year at the Virginia Closed.

Steincamp – Nolan (Virginia Closed Chess Championships, 2013)

1. c4 b6 2. d4 Bb7 3. Nc3 e6

4. e4 The Queen’s Indian is a fairly uncommon opening. While I am not well-versed in theory, I did know that in this position, Black wants to try d7–d5, so this seemed to be the easiest way to stop it.

4…Bb4 Transposing to a Nimzo–Indian. Well, kind of. Most Nimzo players like to have a Bishop on a6 rather than b7, so this already won’t be a typical Nimzo opening. I decided to punish black for putting his light squared bishop on the wrong square.

5. f3! Transposing into a good Saemisch Nimzo–Indian for me. Now the b7 bishop is blunted I just need to follow up the with the main ideas…

5…f5?! Looks like a change of plans. This move is in no way theoretical, so its time to sit down and calculate, Black wants to undermine my e4 square. By doing this, Black has neglected developing, and now is king could become unstable if not castled soon.

6. Bd3 Here I chose to develop my bad bishop. Its not on a great square but, I reaffirmed my control over e4 and now I can play Ng1–e2 without blocking in my bishop.

6…Qh4+?! And another odd move. Now I’m pretty confused. This is an unprincipled approach, and there is no tactic, so I cannot be losing. It is critical here for me to play without creating weaknesses.

7. g3

7…Qh5 This is an interesting try by my opponent. By putting pressure on f3, I cannot easily develop my knight. However, this is not a forcing move. Because of this, I now need to look for ways to punish my opponent for not following basic principles.

8. exf5 exf5

9. Bf4 A natural move in an open position. I develop a piece while threatening c7.


10. Qa4+! Punishing the natural move with a quick tactical shot. My opponent’s poor opening play has left his pieces with no coordination, and it is impossible to save the bishop.

10…Nd7 11. Qxb4

11…Bxf3 The battle still isn’t over, despite being up a piece. Black is going to try to give me everything he’s got.

12. Nxf3 Qxf3 13. Kd2 Ne7

14. Rae1 Developing is important when having a decisive advantage in the opening. Black’s queen is in an awkward spot and could be trapped if not careful.

14…O-O-O Offering the knight instead of the h1 rook and f5 pawn. This is still good for me, but I decided to punish black’s queen for being in an awkward spot.

15. d5! A critical move for two reasons. The queen cannot go back to the queenside. This means it will have to not only find refuge another way, but also means that the light squares for black are extremely weak.

15…Nc5 16. Be2 Qg2 17. Reg1

17…Qh3 The queen is now on the humiliating square h3, where it accomplishes absolutely nothing. With the queen lacking any form of counter play, it is time to play on the kingside.

18. Qa3 a5 19. b4 axb4

20. Qxb4 +- If not already, my opponent is strategically lost. I can now push my a pawn to a5, where it will bust open the enemy king.

h6 21. a4 Ng6 22. Be3 Nb7

23. Bxb6! Already up a piece, it is hard to say that this move is truly a sacrifice. Black will not be able to fix his queenside or save the game.

cxb6 24. Qxb6 f4

25. a5 Missing 25. gxf4! Which threatens Bg4+, thanks to protection from the g1 rook. I was in a little time pressure since I had spent too much time trying to trap the queen, so I decided to play for an easy win without any complications.

25…Rd7 26. a6 Rc7

27. axb7+ Here 27. Nb5 is a little more humiliating, but it hardly matters.

27…Rxb7 28. Qc6+ Rc7 29. Qxd6 1-0 As a result of luring the rook of the b–file, my opponent has no counter play with Rb2+ so he decided to call it a game.

I won this game because while my opponent did  not stick to principle, I did, and his lack of coordination resulted in a tactic early out of the opening. Furthermore, after winning the piece, Black still had no compensation after 11…Bxf3, because his other pieces were underdeveloped and his kingside was extremely weak. When your opponent goes out of common theory, take your time, and find sound ways to improve your position.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!

My Favorite Chess Website

I can’t remember where I first heard about this website, but I’m sure glad I found out about it. Tim Krabbé’s website Chess Curiosities is filled with great games, tactics, and studies. Krabbé keeps an open chess diary, and posts interesting notes about the evolving world of chess. The great thing about Krabbé’s site is that it offers a lot of free PGN downloads that work for both Mac and PC. If you haven’t seen his site before, I would highly recommend giving it a look!

You can find Chess Curiosities here:

Winning with the f-pawn Push

In my last post, I talked about how Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana won by gaining space with pawn pushes, particularly with the f4/f5 pawn push. I figured that for today’s post, I would show how placing your f-pawn deep into enemy territory is such a strong point in your position.

Going into this game I was rated 1799, and seeing that my opponent was similarly rated, a win would guarantee that I gain at least 1 rating point.

Wiseman – Steincamp (Kingstowne Action Plus, 2013)

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be3

5…O-O An immediate …Ng4 could have been more interesting, but seeing as this tournament had a shorter time control, I decided to stick to what I knew,

6. Bd3?! Already I know that my opponent is not too familiar with the King’s Indian Defense, as the traditional square for the light squared bishop is e2. From d3, it will be behind 2 pawns, e4 and c4. Right now I want to shut down the center to limit the scope of this poorly placed bishop.

6…e5 7. d5 Nbd7

8. b4 An unusual approach. White usually solidifies on the kingside before trying this pawn push and attacking on the queenside. Before I start my kingside play, I will eliminate White’s counter play on the queenside.

8…a5 9. a3 axb4 10. axb4 Rxa1 11. Qxa1

11…Ng4 With phase 1 of my plan mostly complete, I decided that I need to punish White for leaving his bishop on e3. In the King’s Indian this is a very common maneuver, and is sometimes even follow up with Ng4–h6–f7 in true Bronstein style.

12. Qc1 Nxe3 13. Qxe3 c5

14. b5 Locking down all of the light squares. Now I should aim for the thematic f–pawn push.

14…Qa5?! Not necessary, an immediate 14… f5 would have been solid, as after 15. exf5 gxf5, and I have a strong center.

15. Nge2 f5 16. O-O

16…f4! The critical point of this game. Now that I control the f4 squares, I can exploit White’s kingside weaknesses at my will. I will play for a fast g–pawn push, and White will need to become creative to find a defense.

17. Qc1 Qd8

18. f3 The typical response to the enemy pawn on f4. 17… f3 didn’t yield any play for me though, as after 18. g3, there is still some play for White. While this is a typical defense mechanism, it creates 2 problems for white. First, it helps make my g–pawn push idea very effective, and secondly, now he cannot put his knight on f3. Defending the h2 square will become problematic.

18…Nf6 Putting my knight on f6 gives me a further hold on the g4 square.

19. Qa3? Missing the point. White has no play on the queenside, and he takes away a piece for defending.

19…g5 20. Ra1 g4 21. fxg4

21…Nxg4! Since I have exchanged off White’s dark squared bishop, I need to take advantage of the weak squares in his position, made possible by my f4 pawn.

22. h3 Ne3

23. Nd1 A natural looking move. However, it blocks off the queen and the rook from defending the king. In these kinds of positions, it is very important to look for all forcing moves.

23… Nxg2! 24. Kxg2 f3+ 25. Kh2

25…Qh4 An immediate 25… Qg5! is much more effective, but this is winning too. It is critical to not take the knight however, as it does a nice job of blocking out my opponent’s pieces.

26. Ng1 f2 27. Nxf2 Rxf2+ 28.Kh1 Qg3 29. Bf1 Qh2# 0-1

While limited opening preparation certainly did not help my opponent, he lost because of my pawn on f4. By having a strong pawn on f4, my opponent could not easily defend his kingside, while I had all the space  in the world to attack. Furthermore, by closing off the center, I could safely attack with my g-pawn without risk to my king. For black, these dark-square openings like the King’s Indian Defense revolve around these f7-f5-f4 ideas, so for me, eliminating the opponent’s dark squared bishop was critical towards attacking his king.

Don’t believe in the power of the f–pawn push? Here’s another game!

Chava – Steincamp (Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships, 2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 Nbd7 7. O-O e5 8. d5 a5 9. Be3

9…Ng4 Again, the immediate Ng4, eliminating the dark squared bishop. Should black try 10. Bg5, I can play 10… f6 or 10… Qe8, both of which are respected theoretical lines for Black.

10. Qd2 Nxe3 11. Qxe3

11…Nc5 So far I have achieved my dream position. I have a knight on c5, and I can push the f–pawn whenever I wish.

12. a3 f5

13. b4? A critical thematic idea, but poorly timed. What is the winning intermezzo move?

13…f4! 14. Qc1 Nb3 15. Qb2 Nxa1 16. Rxa1

16…g5 Now up an exchange, and my opponent’s pieces far from his king, it is time for the g–pawn push. Since White’s knight is on f3 rather than a pawn, I ideally want to play g5-g4 then f4-f3 opening the g–file.

17. bxa5 g4 18. Nd2 f3 19. gxf3 gxf3 20. Bxf3

20…Bh3 Up an exchange, I am more than happy to give away a few pawns to open the enemy king. My pieces are all well–placed, and there seems to be no escape for the White king.

21. Kh1 Qh4

22. Nd1 Defending f2, but again blocking out his own pieces. White cannot move the knight on d2 to allow the queen to protect f2 because the bishop on f3 hangs, and white cannot afford to give up another exchange with 22. Rf1.

22…Bh6 Threatening the famous removing the defender idea. Generally in these pawns structures, if Black can activate his dark squared bishop without jeopardizing his king, White is in a world of hurt.

23. Bg2 Bxg2+ 24. Kxg2 Bf4 25. Kf1 Bxh2

26. Nb3 The knight must move, and the position collapses for white.

26…Qxe4 27. Qe2 Qh1# 0-1

In this game, my opponent allowed me to place a pawn on f4 and push my g–pawn to bust open his position. This time, by using the f4–f3 push, I created an open file and won by exposing the enemy king.

So how to defend against the f4 push? Surely, there must be a way! And there is. Here’s a rule of thumb my old coach taught me to protect yourself against these ideas. If your opponent plays f7–f5, planning f5–f4, you have three options:

1. Play f4 yourself, opening the position.

2. Play exf4, if your opponent isn’t prepared, you might be able to place a knight on e4 and grab hold of the position.

3. Find a move that renders kingside play obsolete. If you can eliminate the material needed to attack, it is only a small space advantage.

In most cases, #1 or 2 are the best option, but every now and the the pawn thrust is harmless. You must calculate in these positions, as a critical misstep can ruin a perfectly good game!

I hope you now know how to play not only as the side pushing the f–pawn, but also that you now know how to defend against it. This is a strong idea, and I hope you can implement it in your games!

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!

Winning Play from Italian Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana

Morning everyone! A couple weeks ago, I broke down some games of Paul Morphy in my post, “The Fun and Games of Paul Morphy”. In those games, Morphy’s play was tactical and aggressive, and he found ways to win quickly. For today, I have decided to analyze the games of a current super Grandmaster, Fabiano Caruana from Italy. GM Caruana earned his title in 2007, and has seen much success, including three wins against reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen over the last three years (Bilbao Masters, Tal Memorial, Gashimov Memorial).

Caruana – van der Heijen (2007)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 d6

6. g4!? An aggressive approach. This eliminates the typical development of Ng8–f6. With preparation, this is a sound approach. White can always play f2–f3 to solidify his g4 pawn, or further extend his position with f2–f4. By trying this move order, Caruana has created more options for play.

6…Nge7 7. Be3 a6 8. Nb3 b5

9. f4 Further controlling the center. While white hasn’t castled yet, Caruana has better development, and Black has no way to immediately refute the kingside pawn push.


10. Na4! The premature queenside play from Black gives White the a4 square. The b6 square is now weak, and it isn’t clear how Black will deal with the annoying White pair of bishops that are limiting his play. So far Caruana is winning the opening battle, as he dominates both the kingside and the queenside. In this position, it appears that Black’s traditional Sicilian queenside plan is moot. The pawns can’t advance in an attacking fashion, and already there are too many weak squares in the position.

10…Rb8 11. Qd2 Ng6 12. O-O-O Be7

13. g5 This cannot be the kind of play that Black was hoping for. Both of van der Heijen’s bishops are misplaced, and will have to result to keeping his king in the center. Meanwhile, Caruana has clear play on the kingside, as his pawns dare his opponent to castle.

13…e5?? Giving black the f5 square and complete control of the position. Generally, when White plays for rapid pawn play on one side of the board, he wants to control f5 if on the kingside, or c5 if on the queenside. By creating space, White creates more options, but also limits his opponent’s ability to play.

14. f5 Nf4 15. h4 h6 16. Rg1 hxg5 17. hxg5 Bxg5

18. Kb1 White has lost a pawn but has created a half open g–file. Black has a weakness on d6, and it still isn’t clear how the c8 bishop will get in the game.

18…Rh6 19. Nb6

19…Rxb6 The pressure is too much for Black. White wins an exchange, and there is no compensation for Black.

20. Bxb6 Qxb6 21. Rxg5 Kf8

22. Nc1?! Perhaps a relocation idea but the knight goes back to b3 later. 22. Bc4 is stronger as brings another piece into the game.

22…Nd4 23. Qf2 Bb7 24. Nb3

24…Qd8 Both of Black’s knights are on great squares, but they are powerless to do anything. White can always snap on d4 with Nxd4, and all of the squares that the f4 knight can move to are controlled by white.

25. Qg3 Nh5 26. Qe3 Nf4 27. Rg4 Nxb3 28. axb3 Rh1 29. Qf3 Rh6 30. Bc4 Rh3 31. Qf1

31…Rh6 While Black has been out of ideas, Caruana has slowly improved his position.

32. Qg1 Qf6

33. Qa7! White has put his queen on the perfect square. Black is too stretched out now to do anything.

33…Bxe4? 34. Rxd6! Bxc2+ 35. Ka2 Bb1+ 36. Ka1 And the king is out of Black’s grasp 1-0

In this game, Caruana got a big space advantage out of the opening, allowing him to put his pieces on great squares while his opponent had no chance to get back in the game. As White’s pieces got onto better squares, tactical opportunities opened up, giving him further control of the position.

This next game was in the 2010 World Blitz Championship against well-known theoretician Boris Gelfand.

Caruana – Gelfand (2010)

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. O-O Nf6 7. d3 O-O

8. f5! A key thematic idea in the Grand Prix Sicilian. By sacrificing a pawn, White dismantles the kingside. While Black isn’t losing, it is clear he must play defending chess for a while.

8…gxf5 9. Qe1 fxe4 10. dxe4 Be6 11. Nd5 Ne5 12. Nxe5

12…dxe5 It’s hard to imagine that this is prepared by Black. White has both the initiative and the pair of bishops, and it isn’t clear how Black plans to find compensation. Typically Black avoids the …gxf5 lines and plays e7–e6 before white can get in the traditional pawn push.

13. Bg5 Bxd5 14. exd5 Qd6 15. Qh4

15…Nxd5? Perhaps the losing move, Black takes away a defender from the king, and gives White even more play, now on the d–file. I think black could have tried b7–b5 here. The idea being that if white captures, Black plays … Qxd5 and tries to trade queens. Gelfand is still worse here, but it could have been an interesting try.

16. Rad1 e6

17. Rf6! White doesn’t bother with Bxd5 and the Be7 winning an exchange, Caruana already sees a win!

17…Qc7 The rook is poisoned, if the knight were to capture, the queen is lost, and if 17… Bxf6?? 18. Bxf6 and Black must give up his queen to avoid mate with 18… Nxf6 +-

18. Bxd5 exd5

19. Rd3 Another rook lift. Rather than trying to calculate sacrifices, Caruana doesn’t complicate anything by bringing in more pieces. Black can’t take the f6 rook, so there is plenty of time to improve the position.

19…Rfd8 20. Bh6 Bxh6 21. Qxh6 e4 22. Rg3+ 1-0

Caruana beat Gelfand fairly handily there, as the f4–f5 push seemed to throw Gelfand off-guard. White developed fairly easily out of the opening, and like the last game, expanded his kingside by attacking the f5 square. Once Caruana was much better, he just continued to improve his pieces while limiting his opponent. After 8…gxf5, Gelfand never found a way to get back into the game.

This last game is a little more recent, from the 2013 London Chess Classic against Emil Sutovsky.

Caruana – Sutovsky (2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bf4 d6 4. h3 c5 5. dxc5 Qa5+ 6. Qd2 Qxc5 7. Nc3 Bf5 8. Nd4 Ne4 9. Nxe4 Bxe4

10. f3 After a slightly unorthodox method of combating the London System, this move accomplishes exactly what White wants. Caruana will follow this with an immediate e2–e4, where his f1 bishop will be better than Black’s light squared bishop.

Bc6 11. e4

11…e5 Black forks the pieces, but there is no worry for Caruana.

12. Be3 exd4 13. Bxd4 Bh6 14. Qf2 Qa5+ 15. Bc3 Qd8 16. Bxh8 f6

17. Qh4! The critical follow–up. Caruana punishes Black’s attempt to trap the White bishop. A key idea in chess is that you should not move pawns for short term plans, because every time you move a pawn, you create a weakness. Here the weakness is h4, because the Black queen is cut off.

17…Bg5 18. Qxh7 Qa5+

19. c3 White’s king seems weak in the center, but Black’s pieces are not well coordinated to put anything together.

19..Nd7 20. Qxg6+ Ke7 21. h4 Be3 22. Bxf6+ Nxf6 23. Qg7+ Ke6

24. g3 Threatening Bh3+! If the opponent’s king is in the center, you must attack it!


25. Kd2 Capturing the bishop allows Black some counter play with …Qb6+ followed by …Qxb2, while it may not be winning, Caruana’s logic is just to eliminate all initiative for Black.

25…Be3+ 26. Kc2 Bxe4+ 27. fxe4 Qa4+ 28. b3 Qxe4+

29. Kb2 Blocking with the bishop allows for Qg2+, so again Caruana chooses to eliminate all counter play for once and for all.

29…Qf3 30. Bh3+ 1-0 Black resigns because 30… Ke5 31. Qe7+ Kd5 32. Qxb7 is inevitable, and Black will lose the queen.

So in these three games, Caruana found ways to gain either a spacial or tactical advantage, either through fast pawn pushes or better piece placement. For the Italian, the key was to build upon his position by optimizing his pieces and eliminating his opponent’s play throughout the middle game.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to comment below!