The best chess player in the world right now is Hikaru Nakamura. Forget the household names – Carlsen, Anand, Caruana, and Kramnik, chess is changing, and so are the best players.
But why isn’t the American capturing any real attention when it comes to discussions of the next World Champion? Nakamura has been called the “Player of the Year” by many, claiming either 1st or 2nd in each event he’s played in this year (excluding the World Cup). While top performances in the FIDE Grand Prix, Gibraltar, Millionaire Chess, and the Grand Chess Tour have propelled Nakamura to the top, his success has yet to lend itself to the one result he wants most: a win over Magnus Carlsen.
While this one fact separates players like Fabiano Caruana and Vaseline Topalov from Nakamura, it doesn’t detract from his quality and consistency. Let’s look at some games.
A truly inspiring performance from Nakamura, as he took a slight advantage over the world’s youngest grandmaster and made the conversion seem effortless. Hikaru’s energetic play covers all openings, 1. e4, 1. d4, and the English, making him impossible to prepare for. For the second game today, I was tempted to put in Nakamura’s win over Anand from the recent Sinquefield Cup, as he left a powerful impression on me during his interview about older players, specifically Vishy:
Vishy is of course a quite bit older than most other players so unfortunately for him he made a mistake at the critical moment…
–Hikaru Nakamura after Round 1 of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup
This is something which I think Kramnik is struggling through too – its just harder to compete on the highest levels as an older player. If this alone is a reason for why they make mistakes, then younger players do have some sort of stamina advantage. While that game was interesting, it was mostly equal until Anand played f7-f5 too early and fell apart in the endgame, so it wasn’t the most exciting.
With Wesley So’s recent switch to the United States, its not too hard to imagine seeing So v. Nakamura becoming a regular rivalry to determine the best American player. That being said, the most exciting game between them may have already happened at this summer’s Sinqufield Cup. Where Nakamura beat So in a dynamic King’s Indian. With So’s incredible victory against Ding Liren at the Bilbao Chess Masters earlier this week in the same line of the King’s Indian, I thought that gave this game the nod.
I’ve been really inspired by Hikaru’s play as of late, and even though he’s had some disappointing games, he has been the most consistent players this calendar year. Only one hurdle remains for the American – the Word Championship. He’ll have to beat Magnus, not just in one sitting, but an entire match. With the way he’s been playing as of late, I would put my bet on him to get the job done.
It’s Tuesday, which means more game analysis from fans of the blog! If you want to have your games analyzed by me on the blog, email your game PGNs to email@example.com, and check back the following Tuesday to see if I chose your game for my post!
For today’s post, we have two more games from chess^summit fan Maciek Kowalski, who sent in games from this past World Open.
Not a bad game by either side, as each player played at their respective rating levels. White, unfamiliar with the Benoni set-up, gave Black the initiative, after which, Black fell behind with moves like …Qb6 and …Re7. While White for the attack, he had to take drastic measures and create weaknesses which were just enough for Black to hang on before going for a bad sacrifice on f7. Fun game!
I liked this game for White because after falling behind early, Maciek quickly made up for lost ground by using his queenside pawn majority and bishop to closed off the position. With the exception of the bxa5 slip up, White played a very respectable game.
Well, that sums up Free Game Analysis! Stay tuned for more articles, and send in your games!
For today’s video, I played a G/15 ICC game which reached an instructive conclusion. After completing my opening development with relative equality, I just solidified my position while I allowed my opponent to create weaknesses of his own. Unlike my last Live Chess video where I was able to push the a-pawn to expose Black’s queenside weaknesses, this game was unique because I never really needed to establish a plan. I think the main takeaway from this game is when your opponent makes a move, you should not only ask why they make each move, but if their intentions put your position at risk. Once my opponent played Bc1-d2, Qd1-e2, White’s position became passive while I continued to expand on the queenside. Enjoy!
Who said chess wasn’t a sport? Since 1999, chess has been identified as a sport by the International Olympics Committee – but what about our game is athletic? Let’s take a look at a recent example from Norway Chess 2015:
Hammer – Topalov (Norway Chess, 2015)
After 6 hours of play, Jon Ludvig Hammer looked ready to draw his round 5 game against tournament leader Veselin Topalov. In a position where 74. f5 would be enough to liquidate the game, Hammer thought he could win the game with 74. Kc6?? aiming to push the bishop and promote the a-pawn. Unfortunately, after 74… Ke6 Topalov saw an immediate resignation from the Norwegian as the black king was ready to move to f5 and win White’s kingside pawns. 0-1
This game gave Topalov a crucial half-point, that eventually helped put him in first place. I remember watching the live broadcast for the event, and the reaction was obviously that of shock for a 2600 rated player to make such a mistake in a high level game. While as a spectator, its easy to see such errors and take them for granted, as a player I can also relate to the issue of endurance. When I first broke 2000, I started competing against a much harder level of competition, which really pushed my mental stamina. After winning the last round of the 2014 Virginia Closed Chess Championships, I went from October 2014 to April 2015 without winning the final round of a chess tournament. Its not fair to compare my level of play to that of a Grandmaster, but I feel like at some point, every player struggles with endurance – and even at the highest level we are constantly reminded by the intensity of the game. Here are a couple gaffes of my own:
Steincamp – Wu (National Chess Congress, 2015)
45. Nxd3 Draw offer and my opponent quickly agreed. I had gotten an overwhelming advantage in the opening, but lost it trying to evade time trouble. Now five hours into the match with only 15 minute left on my clock, I offered a draw, trusting that the rook endgame was equal. However, here it’s not too difficult to see that after 45… Rxd3 46. Ke1 Escaping the checkmate threat of …Rd3-d1# 46…bxc6 47. bxc6 that I have a passed pawn and a much more active king. While I am not winning, this position could easily be reached, and White would have a risk-free (and better) position. Unfortunately with draw offers, they can be seen as a “way out” – and that’s the disappointing decision I made here.
Rajasekaran – Steincamp (Potomac Open, 2015)
In this position, I am strategically better. Playing the reigning 2-year Virginia Scholastic State Chess Champion, I’d managed to surprise my opponent in the opening, gaining a massive advantage and subduing him into passive play. However, things hadn’t been going my either. I had drawn three of my four games, and I just finished my morning game an hour earlier, where I had managed to blow a significant advantage with the white pieces. Needless to say, I really wanted to win and chose the un-calculated thrust 21… f4? which lead to unclear play and me losing material. If I had just relaxed and played the natural 21…b6 (or a move like it), White would be out of options, and there would be no queenside counterplay. A basic rule of thumb before attacking is to develop all of your pieces, and here I uncharacteristically jumped on an unrealistic attack before developing my bishop on c8 and my rook on a8.
If you read my article, Catching Up – A Season in a Post, I also mentioned my three round collapse at the World Open, where I started 4/6, but then finished 4/9 and actually lost a rating point in the event. So what can we do to avoid these moments?
Well, I have to believe that practicing for longer time periods with a consistent intensity never hurts. When I was a scholastic player, my dad always told me to “practice the way you play”, and while he was never was a great chess player or anything, there is a little bit of truth to that. Another aspect of my game that I have been working on is my athletic training and regular exercise. While I’m not exactly sure how much this has contributed to my game, running regularly and eating healthy certainly cannot hurt.
How do you improve your chess endurance? Feel free to comment below!
Hi everyone! This is my first Free Game Analysis post on chesssummit.com, and I’m really excited to get this section of my blog underway. For those of you who don’t know, if you would like to have your games analyzed by me for free, send your PGNs to firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you are lucky, I will post them on my blog!
For today’s post, I was sent two games from an up-and-coming amateur from the Northern Virginia area, Maciek Kowalski, who recently competed in the Washington Chess Congress. In just the last year, his rating has increased by roughly 275 points, getting him to his current best, 1472! That being said, let’s take a look at two of his games.
Kowalski – Offertaler (U1700 Washington Chess Congress, 2015)
Interesting games to pull out two wins, but I think the second game provided the most concerning point with the early Ncxe5?. Generally, when you are better, you want to hold your advantage. If you have the initiative, but continue to make the game even more complicated, you can risk losing your advantage entirely. Once you are better, don’t be afraid to play simple chess and just improve your overall grip on the position.
As some of you may know, the World Blitz Chess Championships in Berlin were last week, in which Magnus Carlsen failed to defend his title, making way for Russian Grandmaster Alexander Grischuk to take the throne. In what was a rough day for the World Chess Champion, he further proved that he is mortal:
While Magnus is considered to be one of chess history’s best players, he definitely has been sliding this year. The FIDE Grand Chess Tour proved to be the beginning of his unwinding, first in his home country, Norway Chess, and then again in St. Louis at the Sinquefield Cup. Even with his 14/21 score at the World Blitz Championships, Carlsen was a full 1.5 points behind Alexander Grischuk, finishing 6th and falling from 1st to 2nd in the world blitz standings. With only a few months to go before the Candidates Tournament in March, Magnus’ time to get out his slump is limited, and the London Chess Classic, the last leg of the Grand Prix, will be a big indicator as to his progression.
For today’s article, I decided to put a different concept of chess under the microscope – weak squares. In my recent posts and videos, I’ve focused a lot on poor pawn structures and lack of space, and while instructive, doesn’t really encapsulate all of the natural elements of positional chess.
Weak squares, as defined by Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman in his book, The Method in Chess, are squares that can no longer be defended by a pawn, and can be attacked by the opponent’s pieces. Generally, these squares become great outposts, and can dictate the result of the game. For my first few examples, I would like to demonstrate how careless pawn moves can result in completely worse positions.
13…Ne5 14. Be2? White doesn’t really sense the trouble in this position. I do not want the pair of bishops, as my knight from e5 is far superior to the scope of the f3 bishop. 14…b5 15. Qc2 Qb6 Now that I’ve acquired the e5 outpost, I need to create more play on White’s weak dark squares 16. Kh1 Rae8
17. Bg5 h6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd1 White is lost for ideas and the position is completely lost. 19…c4
20. Nf2? Qe3-+ I identified the second weak square here, and was easily able to convert the game. I don’t like the Four Pawns Attack for White, but my opponent had a tenable position before giving me the outpost on e5, after which he was lost for ideas and fell apart.
In this next game, I was on the losing side, and the one mistake I made in the opening cost me from start to finish – let’s check it out:
Grenias–Steincamp (Baltimore Open, 2015)
13.Rc1! Immediately asking me to defend against discovered tactics along the c-file. Nc5 14.Bd4 Qc8 Still not realizing my disadvantage, I simplify into a much worse ending. 15.Re1 Bh3 16.e4!
16…Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Qb7 I have lost a lot of tempi with this …Bh3 maneuver and have no play to show for it. 18.f3 Nxb3 19.Qxb3 Nd7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Nb5
21…Rfc8 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Rc8 24.Rc6 +-
2) Identifying Weak Squares
At the higher levels, players are generally more conscientious of creating such weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that weak squares don’t exist. In the first game I’d like to show, I was paired against a young opponent and had played a fairly respectable game, but my opponent sealed my fate when he identified the weak squares in my position.
33.Bb5! The idea is to reroute the bishop to c6, keeping my rooks from becoming active. 33…Rb8 34.Bc6 Rb6? The real mistake. The best option was for me to play 34… b6 and open the position. While I have an isolated e-pawn, the endgame is closer to a draw than a win. Either way, by moving the bishop to c6, White obtains something to play for, thus increasing his wining chances. 35.b5! No second chances! Now …e7-e6 doesn’t work because White can capture with the d5 pawn and bring the rook. By letting my opponent secure this outpost, I quickly found that I had nothing to play for, and resigned a little over 10 moves later. 35…Kf8 36.Rb4 a6 37.a4 a5 38.Rh4 Kg7 39.Rf4 Ng8 40.h4 Rb8 41.g4 Nh6 42.Rfe4 Kf8 43.Kg3 Rb6 44.R4e2 Ng8 45.Kf4 Nf6 46.Kf3 Rb8 47.h5 1-0
A nice win from my opponent, where he managed to demonstrate superior endgame knowledge over the board. This next weak square earned the winner $38,000 at the recent Millionaire Chess Open:
Yang – Mandizha (U2400 Millionaire Chess 2, 2015)
26. Nf1! Superb idea! Regardless of the computer’s assessment of the position, the game just became a lot more complicated for Black. From f1, the knight will reroute to e3 then d5, taking advantage of Black’s inability to control any light squares, while blockading the d6 pawn. Mandizha is limited in his possibilities, as the Sicilian Najdorf line he prepared did not go as planned. He has a bad bishop on e7, which is blocked by the central pawns. in just a few moves, Yang proves that his knight is much better than Black’s bishop. 26… Bd8 27. Ne3 Bb6 28. Nd5 Bc5
29. f6!! And now White has all of the winning chances. Black erred immediately in the game but if black plays 29… gxf6, White can play 30. Rf3!+-, with the idea of taking on f6 with the rook. This idea is the “Principle of Two Weaknesses” as White will seek ways to put pressure on both f7 and d6 while improving his position. The knight is still untouchable and its not clear how Black escapes the bind. 29…g6? Tired, Mandizha makes the game losing move. 30. Ne7 And White only needed a few more moves to win the $38,000 prize.
3) Creating and Securing Weak Squares
Some openings just don’t create enough weak squares. This is where positional play becomes dynamic; finding forcing moves to create weak squares is another way to generate an advantage. Here’s a game I played online:
leika (me)-jondrich (Internet Chess Club, G/15) 24…b5
25…Ne8 26. Kf2 Ba5 27. Ba3 b4?
28. Bc1 Bb6 29. Be3 My bishop can’t do too much, but this move puts pressure on c5 while covering the d4 square. 29…a5 30. a4 Locking down the queenside. If Black makes the mistake of taking en passant on a3, I will recapture and the c3 square become accessible for my e2 knight. 30…Nc7 31. g4
While its important to identify weak squares and put your pieces on them, its also important to keep that outpost, or trade them for better ones. I had a cute maneuver in my round 3 win at the World Open this past year:
Steincamp-Williams (World Open, 2015)
26.Bh3! Black cannot surrender control of the e6 square, so he must return his bishop to d7. 26…Bd7 27.Bg2!
27…Bxa5 28.bxa5Qd8 29.Rc7 Bc8
30.a4 Opening the a3 square for my bishop to attack d6. 30…Ne7 31.Ba3 Bf5 32.e4 Bc8+-
In all of these games, the position went from seemingly equal to dead lost because of one weak square. Use these squares to make pieces active and blockade weak pawns, and you will see significant returns in your gameplay!
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Well, I’ve finally done it. This past Sunday I played against an expert in the Pittsburgh Chess League and pulled out a nail biter to get the win. The win puts me at 2/2 (both games with black) in the league, but more importantly will help me get the 8 points I need to cross 2100 for the first time in my career. Even though the game was far from perfect, I thought it would still be worth sharing, as the endgame is far from simple. Here we go.
Atwell – Steincamp (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2015)
A crazy game, and a lot for me to work on before the Pennsylvania State Chess Championships next week. Either way, breaking 2100 is really exciting for me – and hopefully, reaching master is around the corner.
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I played an interesting game earlier this week on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). After reaching a position similar in nature to my game against Jennifer Yu, my opponent deviated from the line, missing my one crucial resource – my space-grabbing a-pawn. Watch my video of the week as I manage to use this pawn to dominate the half-open c-file!
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