Kingstowne Chess Festival Next Week!


Well, after a long wait, next week I’ll be playing in my first long time control tournament at the Virginia Closed. Last month in the State Championships, I finished 7th with a score of 4/6, with only one loss to Grandmaster Sergey Erenburg in what was one of my best performances of the past year.

Next week, I’ll only have four rounds to try to keep up the solid play at the Kingtowne Chess Festival. Last year I scored 1.5/4, but was a significant underdog in all my matches, so this year I aim to double that with a score of 3/4 or better. Its a bit ambitious, but I’ve done the work, and hopefully pulling my Tactics Trainer rating on to 2100+ will pay off.

The Magical, Tactical, Mikhail Tal

As you may remember, I occasionally post a profile of famous Grandmasters, both retired and current. So far, I’ve shown games from Paul Morphy and Fabiano Caruana, and today, I will add Mikhail Tal to that list. If you consider yourself a tactical guru and enjoy this post, I highly suggest the book The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal by Karsten Müller for quality tactics from the Soviet Grandmaster.

For this first game, I would like to show a game from a simultaneous exhibition Tal played in 1958 in Stuttgart, Germany. While the opponent’s name is unknown, this game is considered to be one of Tal’s best

Tal – NN (Stuttgart, 1958)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 Bd7

9.O-O-O White’s intentions are clear. In a true Yugoslav style, Tal will push his pawns on the g- and h-files. Black must find counter play quickly on the queenside in this race position.

9…Qa5 10.Kb1 Rc8 11.g4

11…h6? Black will now find it much harder to castle with white’s pressure on h6. Furthermore, by making this move, Black loses a tempo to expand on the queenside.

12.h4 a6 13.Be2

13…Ne5?! Not the greatest move, Black has yet to improve his position or get his king safe. Now Tal will go for the king.

14.g5 hxg5 15.hxg5 Rxh1 16.gxf6! Sacking the rook! Rxd1+

17.Nxd1!! The only winning option. By attacking the queen via discovery, White gets the critical tempo he needs to win.

17…Qxd2 18.fxg7 Brilliant, just brilliant! Black must stop mate with 18… Be6 but after 19. g8=Q+ Kd7 20. Qxc8+ Kxc8 21. Bxd2 White is up a piece and Black has zero compensation for the lost material. Seeing this, Black resigned. 1-0

Tal was able to win this game because his opponent made two mistakes: 11…h6 and 13…Ne5. When the opponent plays passively or creates weaknesses, you must challenge them!

This next game I want to show Tal played when he was only 13 years old! Still we see the same attacking style and charismatic play from the future World Chess Champion as he wins in a short 16 moves!

Tal – Strelkov (Riga, 1949)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Ng3 c5 7.c3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 a6 9.Bd3 Nc5 10.Bc2 e5

11.Qe2! A critical find! Black was probably expecting the knight on d4 to retreat, but with this move, White begins to punish his opponent for wasting the move 10… e5

11…Bd6 12.Ndf5 O-O

13.Bg5 The most principled move. This causes Black a lot of trouble as the queen must always monitor f6.

13…Bc7? This move invites Tal’s response. Black is much worse here, but perhaps 13…Bxf5 is worth a shot? By trading down pieces, Black reduces some pressure in the position.

14.Rd1 Perhaps 14. 0-0-0 is better, but the idea is still the same. Get the rook on the open file.

14…Ncd7 15.Nh5 Bb6 16.Bxf6 Black resigned as 16… Nxf6 is easily met with 17.Nhxg7 +- and 16… gxf6 is not exactly a pretty alternative. 1-0

In this game, Tal was much better after 10…e5?! as he used the critical move 11. Qe2 to gain the initiative. Black was never really able to challenge Tal after that because he pieces were undeveloped. Even in the last position, Black still has a rook on a8 and a bishop on c8 being block by a knight on d7.

This last game was a blitz match, but still shows Tal’s tactical skills with a critical kingside sacrifice against a Grandmaster well known for opening theory innovations, Roman Dzindzichashvili.

Tal – Dzindzichashvili (New York, 1991)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 e6 7.Nc3 Qd6 8.Bd3 Nf6 9.O-O Be7

10.Re1 While White does not have a tangible advantage in this advantage, Tal’s mindset is to play aggressively, and gain an advantage due to Black’s blocked in Bishop on c8. If he can obtain an active position and Black fails to find a way to match him, Tal will surely win.

10…O-O 11.Bg5 Rd8 12.Qe2 Nb4 13.Bc4 Bd7 14.Rad1

14…Bc6 A good and thematic idea from Dzindzi! This is a common way to solve the problem of the bishop on c8. While it may seem awkward on c6, the idea is synonymous with a fianchetto on b7. While Black loses the game, this move is a good thematic idea if you are a Sicilian player.

15.Ne5 Bd5 16.Nxd5 Nbxd5

17.Rd3 With the idea of a rook lift to g3. White must act fast before Black gets too much counter play.

17…h6 18.Bc1 Rac8 19.Rg3 Kf8 20.Bb3 Rc7

21.Qf3 Putting the queen on the same file as the king, but will it be in time?

21…Rdc8 22.Bd2

22…a6 A tactical oversight, but since it is a Blitz game, its hard to speculate if Dzindzi saw this idea. Either way, this is a good pattern to know when attacking the kingside pawn structure and king.

23.Rxg7! Kxg7 24.Bxh6+

24…Kh7 Not much here for Black. 24…Kxh6 or 24… Kh8 both lose immediately to 25. Nxf7+ +-. 24… Kg8 isn’t any better as 25. Qg3+ makes for an easy win.

25.Qh3 Ng8 26.Bf8+ Black resigns. 1-0

What can we takeaway from these 3 games? Take advantage of slow development with fast activation. Furthermore, in the first two games, the critical mistakes were both pawn moves. Pawns cannot move backwards, so its always critical to look at weak squares exposed after each pawn move. If you’re picking up a theme between my Grandmaster posts, active play wins games.

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

Isaac’s Mailbag, 2nd Edition

If you read my blog last week, I introduced a new segment to my blog, Isaac’s Mailbag. Each week, I will answer 4 questions which I have been asked about chess. Without further ado, let’s get started!

1) What do you have against 1. e4 e5 for Black?

This often comes up when I talk about openings. The problem I have with 1 e4 e5 for Black is that after 2 Nf3, there is not exactly a dynamic positional approach for Black. Against the Ruy Lopez, Black can try the g6 lines, but as seen in the Nakamura–Carlsen game of the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen could not get an advantage after trading the light squared bishop. The Four Knights and Giucco Piano does not really offer too much variety, and the Two Knights Defense relies a lot on prior memorization. This doesn’t even account for the King’s Gambit, where White forces the game into tactical game early. My problem with 1… e5 is Black doesn’t control the kind of position as much as he can in a Sicilian, French, or even a Scandinavian. The same lines get boring after a while.

2) Chess season is starting, and I’m a chess mom who needs help coaching kids rated below 1400. What would you recommend?

Many scholastic clubs are starting, but often times coaches don’t know where to start. Here is the ChessKid Curriculum. Many coaches use this for private lessons, and while it is kind of a cookie-cutter course, it does provide a framework to start with. If you have a competitive middle school club, try getting a USCF Affiliate to play rated games. Rated games are the best way to practice, and will force your players to calculate.

3) What is the coolest tactic you’ve seen this week?

Grandmaster Andrei Volokitin found this nice gem against Mushgev Asgarov in the 2014 Baku Chess Festival. See if you can find Volokitin’s brilliancy before seeing the answer (position courtesy of!

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 13.01.41


1. Qc5!! and the game is over. If 1… Qxc5 2. Rd8#, and 1… Qc6 runs into 2. Rd8+ +- anyways. The knight cannot move as a result of the pin, so Black is totally lost. Good job Volokitin!

4) Who won the Bilbao Masters Last week?

Former World Chess Champion Vishy Anand drew easily to Ruslan Ponomariov in Round 5 to guarantee a first place finish. The section featured a total of four players: Anand, Ponomariov, Levon Aronian, and Francisco Vallejo Pons.

Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section if you want to have a question answered next week!

Famous Rook Endgame

Rook endings are tough, and you never know when gimmicks can save you a result.

White to move – Is there a draw?

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 12.39.55

This famous position is from Bernstein–Smyslov, Gronigen 1946. If you found 1. Rxb2!! you have found the only way to reach equality. 1… Rh2+ runs into 2. Kf3!! as capturing the rook will result in stalemate. Furthermore, if Black tries 1… Kg4 2. Kf1 draws because 2… Rh1+ 3. Kg2 will not allow Black to skewer White’s pieces. 1/2–1/2

Know this position! This is a key defensive mechanism when the opponent’s pawns are separated by several files.


Rook Endings – Now Aren’t They Tricky?

I played in a quad yesterday, scoring 2/3 and tied for first place. While I feel like I should have done better, I left the tournament with this little gem.

Stevens – Steincamp (Meadowdale Quads, 2014)

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 8.32.02

My opponent had been fairly passive in the endgame, and now after 37… Re3, I can threaten 38…h5-h4, because after 39.g4 Rxh3 40. g5 Rg3 and I am up a pawn. And if White should trade 41. Rxg3 hxg3 42. g6 g2 41. g7 g1=Q -+. My opponent, not finding anything to do, played 38. g4?!. h3-h4 would have been a much better alternative. 38… Rxh3 39. g5 Rh5+ This check is critical for this line to work. 40. Kb5 Rg4 Now should White trade rooks, my king is in the pawn square, so I will win easily. 41. Rd7+ Kc7 42. Rd5?? Instantly loses the game. I found 42… a6+ 43. Kxa6 Kc6! and my opponent resigned.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 8.32.17

This move not only threatens the rook, but checkmate with Ra4+. White cannot stop the checkmate with 44.Ra5 obviously, so the rook is lost.

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

Stalemate Skills – Pawn Endings

For today’s post, I have 2 positions where a player uses a critical stalemating technique to preserve a half point. I highly recommend setting these up on a board a visualizing these variations. After all, these are the kind of skills that you will need to have developed in a real game!


Postion 1: White to Play (Gorgiev)

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 18.21.51


Before we delve into the variations, it is critical to recognize that with doubled h-pawns, White’s ability to win fully depends on Black’s quality of play. However, this means that it is White that is playing for a draw, while Black will challenge for the point.

1. h6 “Passed Pawns must be pushed!” Its a bit dogmatic, but White needs Black’s king to move away to have any shot of a result. 1… Kf8 2. h5 Covering the g6 square. Notice how the white pawns do a nice job of covering both g7 and g6. 2… Kf7 Black blocks any hope of entry for White’s king. This next move is critical for White.

If you thought 3. Kf4 was correct, well check again after 3…f5 4. Kg3 Kg8 -+ Black has won the endgame, as White’s king is stuck on g3/f4. Black will snack on the h-pawns and rendezvous with his passed pawns for the win.

If you saw the only other option, 3.  Ke3! Kudos to you. Let’s start with one of two responses for Black. 

3… f5 Not the best move, but must be calculated. 4. Kf4 Kf6 5. Kg3= or 4… Kg8 5. Kxf5! g3 6.Kg6 g2 7. h7+ Kh8 8. Kh6= The key technique. Any major piece promotion results in stalemate, and a minor piece promotion is insufficient for Black to checkmate.

3…Kf8 is more challenging but still equal using the same technique in the variation before. 4. Kf4 f5 5. Kxf5! g3 6.Kf6 Kg8 (not 6…g2?? 7. h7  g1=Q 8.h8=Q+ Qg8 and now White has to find 9. Qh6+ Ke8 10. Qe3+ Kd8 11. Qe7+ Kc8 12.Qe6+ to win.) 7. Kg6 g2 8.h7+ Kh8 9. Kh6= and the same position from before has arisen.

Now that you have seen this concept, let’s see if you can apply it for Black in this game from 2001 (Lont–van der Heijen)!

Postion 2: Black to Play

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 18.39.39



1…. h5 An easy move to find. A trade guarantees a draw. For example 2. gxh5+ Kh6 3. Kf3 Kxh5 4. f5 Kg5 5. f6 Kxf6 6. Kg4=  2.g5 h3 3.Kf3 h4 Same idea as before. Create a wall so the White king need more tempi to attack the pawns. 4.Kf2 Kf5 5.Kf1 Again, like before, 5. Kf3 Kg6= only draws. 5…Kxf4 6.g6 Kf3 7.Kg1 Kg3 8.g7 h2+ 9.Kh1 Kh3= And the draw is achieved.

This is a good idea to have in your endgame arsenal in tournaments. You never know, this could save you a half point!

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

Isaac’s Mailbag

I decided over the weekend to add a new installment called “Isaac’s Mailbag”. In this post, I want to answer common questions that people have asked me about chess. If you wish to send me a question, feel free to leave it in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in the next installment of this post.

For this week’s post, I’m going to answer questions prompted by members on my school team at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.

1) What is a strong system to play against 1. b3 (the Larsen Attack)?

This was probably the hardest question I got this week, so I figure I would tackle this one first.

The Larsen Attack is a different opening, and is rarely seen at amateur tournaments. I sometimes will play 1. b3 in Blitz, but then will transpose to an English (c4 openings) or the Bird’s (f4 openings). I find that this seems to be the common trend with Larsen players, so its even rarer to see someone else play something different. While it means taking a theoretical approach, I find that the positional struggle is often better than the tactical melee for Black.

1… e5 and 1… d5 are the most common defenses for black, so I suggest looking at those first. 1… b6 is interesting but its symmetrical and can lack dynamic play. While I think its a good approach to play positionally, there are still many positional lines to consider. I suggest looking through these Grandmaster games and choosing a system that feels comfortable for you.

1      2      3      4      5


2) What is a good goal (for my tournament this weekend)?

Setting a goal is probably one of the most important things you should do before going into any tournament. Having an expectation for yourself and trying to meet it is healthy, and can easily drive your performance. Ideally, a good goal is to play good chess, but it is nice to gain a few rating points while doing it.

If you are the highest rated player in your section, you need to find stronger competition.

If you are within 100 points from the highest rated player, you should always aim to win the tournament.

If you are in the top half of your section, your goal should be to get a norm, in most cases meaning that you perform at over 200 points above your rating.

If you are in the middle of the section, I suggest aiming for at least a half point above equilibrium, so 3/5, 3.5/6, or 4/7 are all good results.

If you are in the bottom half (or at the bottom), push yourself to finish at equilibrium. This means a quality performance.

A lot to remember? That’s what I thought, play good chess and the goals above will happen!


3) Did Kasparov win that FIDE Election?

Unfortunately, the former World Chess Champion lost the FIDE election by a wide margin. While the election is over, he wrote a thought provoking article on chess24 that you can read here. While there are some politics as to how FIDE should be run, Kasparov does point out that there are some clear problems that need to be fixed with chess.


4) What is a good book for studying how to play the Smith–Morra Gambit as white?

For those who are not familiar with the Smith–Morra Gambit, it starts

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3

White sacrifices a pawn for development, and gets full compensation, if you are a Sicilian player, you ought to know a defense to this line, both inside and out!

Mayhem in the Morra by Marc Esserman is a clear first. Being a Sicilian player, the thought of looking through this book scares me. Esserman’s variations are very detailed and account for many ways that the Morra could go out of book. I have a friend from Maryland who won a game in 9 moves at the World Open last summer from knowing the theory present in this book. A lot of people say that the Evans Defense is the cure for the Smith–Morra, but I wouldn’t be so sure after giving Mayhem in the Morra a read.

Chess Season is Coming Up! What’s in Your Plans?

If you’re in that 1000–1200 rating range, and you’re trying to quickly add that next set of hundred points, what’s the easiest way to do it? Tactics? Openings? Positional play? All wrong. If you’re in this rating range, you really just need to get out there and play some games. I’d even say tournament play is more important than practice.

Here’s why:

  • Opponents in this 1000-1200 range, while may seem tough, will make mistakes. Part of being 1400 is just identifying tactical opportunities. Your opponents aren’t Grandmasters, so apply the tactics you’ve learned and the points will come naturally.
  • Playing rated play is the best way to identify misunderstandings in your game. For a 1200 rated player, its not expected that you make the best move every move, but that you understand how to follow the basic principles and get respectable positions. Playing in many tournaments will not only test your principals constantly, but it will make your calculation process more efficient, which is critical for your development.
  • By reviewing your games, you will identify openings that you need to study. Studying and understanding practical openings is much more important than memorizing loads of theory.

When you’re planning your chess calendar this fall, just remember that the brain is like a muscle. The more you play chess, the more accustomed you will be with each event. Play many rated games and you will improve!

A Fun Study by Matous (1979)

This is a study I found composed by Mario Matous back in 1979. Kudos to you if you can solve it! (White to move and win)

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 11.57.53


The Answer:

1. Kf2! Bringing in the king. 1. Kxf1 fails to 1… Ba6. The other option 1. Qxf1+ only draws because the light squared bishop covers too many squares to create an effective mating net. 1… Bg2 Covering the threat of Qxf1+, Qg1+, Qg3#. This also allows the queen to get in the game from a7. 2. Bf3 Reinforcing the threat of Qxf1+ with mate. Black must respond with 2… Qg7 With everything good to go, Black can expect a draw, right? 3. Qh4+ Extremely critical. 3. Qxf1+ is truly tempting, but after 3… Kh2 4. Qg1+ Kh3 5. Bxg2+ Kh4, all Black needs to do is trade queens to draw. While a computer might see white as having the initiative, good luck finding the win over the board! 3… Nh2 This is the critical position. How can white possibly continue? 4. Qh8!! Brilliant! 4… Qxh8 allows 5. Bxg2# So the Black queen must not be deterred from protecting the g-file. It should be noted that both 4. Qh7 and 4. Qh8 are much less precise because 4… Qb2+ is possible, making the position messy. 4… Qg6 5. Qh7 Not 5.Qa1+? as after 5…Nf1, the line transposes to the same Qxf1 variations as mentioned before. 5…Qg5 6.Qh6! The point of this maneuver. Now after 6…Qg8 7. Qc1+ is winning because 7…Nf1 and now, after much waiting, 8. Qxf1+ Kh2 9.Qg1+ Kh3 10. Bxg2+ Kh4 11. Qh2+ Kg5 works because the white queen skewers the black king to his queen. 12. Qg3+ 1–0.

Wow. That was impressive!

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