Happy National Chess Day!

A happy National Chess Day from chess^summit! I’ll put out a video tomorrow, but for the mean time, here’s a puzzle for you to enjoy! When you’ve come up with answer, grade yourself using the points that I’ve distributed below.

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Katz–Steincamp (Maryland Open, 2012) Black to Move and Win!

White just played the seemingly innocent move 22.Qd3?? Hoping to strengthen his defenses, but missed the instantly winning 22… Nf4! (5 points) Threatening checkmate on g2. The knight is invincible since 23. gxf4 is punished by 23…Qxd3, taking advantage over White’s weak third rank. White Resigned. The most testing defense, 23.Qf3 can be met in two ways. First, the simple 23… Rxe2 winning a piece is enough for Black to convert (1 point). But the best move on the board is 23…Rc3!! – a rook sacrifice (3 points). 24. Qxc3 is not possible because of 24… Qg2#, but upon looking deeper, you hopefully found that 24. Qh1 is met by the delightful checkmate 24… Ne2# (1 point).

How’d you do? Total up your points and compare to below!

10 points: Great full board awareness. Even though you knew the knight was hanging on d2, you looked for better and found that 23… Rc3 was completely winning for Black. Keep up the good work!

7-9 points: Maybe a slight miscalculation towards the end, but you had to find the removing the defender idea to earn more than 5 points – so good job!.

5-6 points: Good job finding the start to the attack. 22… Nf4 is the only way for Black to play for a win. However, its important to look deeper when calculating such lines. Its one thing to be up a piece, its another to have checkmate!

0 points: This puzzle wasn’t easy, and maybe you just needed more time to find the right combination of forcing moves. Check out my article, Building up Your Tactical Arsenal for study techniques to improve your pattern recognition.

China’s Ascension to the Top

I thought for today’s post, I’d share an ongoing development in chess – China’s sudden emergence as one of the world’s strongest national teams. China really caught my eye this summer with Wei Yi’s immortal game against Bruzon Batista, in addition to their 29-21 thumping of Russia last July. While the national team lost steam in their match against eventual World Cup winner Sergey Karjakin, I feel like the World Cup tiebreaker between Wei Yi and Ding Liren more than demonstrated the true strength that the country has to offer.

China has had a lot to offer to chess over the last few years, but their top players haven’t emerged at the top level tournaments on a regular basis (i.e. Sinquefield Cup, 2015 FIDE Grand Prix, Gashimov Memorial, etc). Former Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan may prove to be an exception, but her performances in the recent Tata Steel and the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting proved she has a long ways to go to compete with the very best.

Two time Women’s World Champion Hou Yifan may be one of the most famous players in China besides Wei Yi, but who else is ready to compete at the top level?

When I was younger (seven years ago), I remember hearing a lot about Bu Xiangzhi through the Internet Chess Club summaries of major tournaments – particularly a game he played against Vassily Ivanchuk, where he managed to lose in the first nine moves! Bu for the most part has not been active on the highest level since 2010, but since then, quite a few young players have drawn the spotlight of the Chinese chess scene: Wei Yi, Wang Hao, Ni Hua, Yu Yangyi to just name a few.

At sixteen, Wei Yi is already being compared to Magnus Carlsen. Can the fan favorite live up to the hype?

I think that the recent renaissance of chess in China will see it offer a challenger to the World Chess Championships within the next four years. You’ve probably (and hopefully) already seen Wei Yi’s immortal game, so here are two games by two different Chinese Grandmasters that I think have a lot of potential in the near future.

Ding Liren

Ding might be one of the most modest chess players I’ve seen over the years, which makes him just as dangerous to play against over the board. When asked in a New in Chess interview about Wei Yi following the 16 year old’s ascension to 2700, Ding said:

“Maybe I’m just a little stream or a little hill in front of him and it’s just a matter of time for Wei Yi to pass me.” –New in Chess, 2015 Magazine #6

Even if this is true, Ding Liren is still the 8th best player in the World, and of all the players on the Chinese National team, the most deserving of international attention. Back in January, Ding tied for second in the Tata Steel with 8.5/13, only a half point behind Magnus Carlsen. In that tournament, Ding posted 7 wins (more than any other of his adversaries) including victories over Radjabov, Aronian, and Wojtaszek. In his book, After Magnus, Anish Giri praises Ding Liren as “one of the best players of our time”.

Its only a matter of time before Ding Liren qualifies for the Candidates tournament. The real question is, will Wei Yi beat him there?

Ding Liren – Boris Gelfand (Ding Liren–Gelfand, 2015)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bd3 O-O 8.O-O dxc4 9.Bxc4 b5

Gelfand grabs a tempo here to gain space, but the downfall to making this b7-b5 push is that the c8 bishop lacks active squares.
Gelfand grabs a tempo here to gain space, but the downfall to making this b7-b5 push is that the c8 bishop lacks active squares.

10.Bd3 Bb7 11.a3 h6 12.Rd1 a6 13.b4

Ding Liren plays b2-b4 to stop any opportunity for Black to play c6-c5. If Gelfand can open this long light square diagonal, he can put a lot of pressure on the f3 knight.
Ding Liren plays b2-b4 to stop any opportunity for Black to play c6-c5. If Gelfand can open this long light square diagonal, he can put a lot of pressure on the f3 knight.

13…a5 14.Rb1 axb4 15.axb4 Nd5 16.Nxd5 exd5

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Definitely the right way to take as cxd5 would forever block in the b7 bishop and create an isolated pawn on b5. This move does have its own problems though. Black’s bishop on b7 will likely need to relocate back to c8 to become active, and Gelfand now has a backwards pawn on c6. White has a weak pawn and a bad c1 bishop, but I prefer White here.

17.Bh7+ Kh8 18.Bf5 Re8 19.Bd2 Nb6 20.Ne5 Bxe5 21.dxe5

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A positional pawn sacrifice. By clearing the d4 square, White begins to open the long dark squared diagonal for his bad bishop. Meanwhile Black still has yet to solve his problems.

21…Rxe5 22.Bc3 Re8 23.Ra1 Qe7 24.Bd4 Nc4 25.Qc3 Qg5 26.Bc2 Kg8 27.Rxa8 Rxa8 28.Ra1 Rxa1+ 29.Qxa1

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Black’s knight on c4 seems annoying but it really doesn’t pose a threat to White’s position. Black’s pieces are not coordinated while White’s bishops bear down on the kingside and the queen can attack from the sides with the a-file.

29…Qg4 30.h3 Qe2 31.Bf5 Nd6 32.Bg4 Qd2 33.Qa7 h5 34.Qb8+ Kh7 35.Bxh5

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White bites the bullet. In all honesty, Black is playing down a piece and White’s defenses are too strong.

35…Ne4 36.Qf4 Qe1+ 37.Kh2 Qxf2 38.Bxf7 Qxf4+ 39.exf4

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White invites the queen trade. With the bishop pair, Ding Liren takes no risks in this endgame.

39…Nd6 40.Be6 Bc8 41.Bxc8 Nxc8 42.Bc5!

The final straw. White's bishop covers all of the knights squares and leaves Gelfand in passivity as Ding gets the time he needs to advance his kingside pawns.
The final straw. White’s bishop covers all of the knights squares and leaves Gelfand in passivity as Ding gets the time he needs to advance his kingside pawns.

42…Kg6 43.g4 Kf7 44.f5 Kf6 45.h4 Ke5 46.h5 d4 47.Kg3 1-0

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Gelfand resigns here as every move loses. For instance, if 47… Ke4 48. Kf2 Kd3 49. f6! and either the f- or the h-pawn will promote. if 47… Kf6 48. Kf4! The pawn isn’t going anywhere 48…d3 49. g5+ Kf7 50. Ke3 and Black cannot defend the kingside march.

A nice display from Ding Liren! In the New in Chess article about Ding Liren, there was mention that Gelfand was injured after two draws into the match, but I don’t think that it takes away from the quality that Ding brought to this game. From what was seemingly an equal position, Gelfand was constantly punished for having a bad light square bishop, while White managed to sacrifice a pawn for activity. Instructive stuff!

Lu Shanglei

If you’ve heard of Lu Shanglei before, I’m quite impressed. To be quite honest, he only caught my attention when he held Veselin Topalov in the 2015 World Cup to force a tiebreak. Despite losing that match, Lu pushed Topalov to the edge, and the duration of that match likely played a small role in Veselin’s exit the following round against eventual finalist Peter Svidler. A relative unknown to the greater chess world, Lu Shanglei is the 16th best blitz player in the world, making his 2599 standard rating seem extremely deceiving. I don’t think he’ll be playing for the candidates tournament anytime soon, but at the age of 19, I think he will have plenty of time to reach 2700 and play with the best.

Lu Shanglei proved he can take the world’s best in the recent World Cup. How will he build on that performance?

Mikhail Kobalia – Lu Shanglei (Aeroflot Open, 2015)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.O-O a6 5.Bd3 Ngf6 6.c3 e5 7.Bc2 b5 8.d4 Bb7 9.Qe2 Be7 10.dxe5 dxe5

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We’ve reached a critical position where Black has a weak d5 square, but White is behind in development. Lu Shanglei hopes to use combined pressure against the e4 pawn and the d-file to get an initiative.

11.Rd1 Qc7 12.c4?!

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I don’t think I like this move. White’s trump in the position was that he could play for d5 while the d4 square was covered by the c3 pawn. With this move, Kobalia surrenders his hold on the center and suffers a space disadvantage.

12…b4 13.Nbd2 O-O 14.Nf1 Rfd8 15.Bg5 h6 16.Bh4 a5 17.Ne3 a4 18.Nd5 Bxd5 19.exd5 Bd6

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The point of taking on d5. Lu Shanglei places his bishop on d6 to blockade the passed pawn while creating the threat of e5-e4, putting pressure on h2.

20.Bg3 Re8 21.Bf5 Nb6 22.Nd2 e4!!

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A brilliant shot! White cannot take the pawn thanks to the pin on the e-file. If 23. Nxe4 Nxe4 24. Bxe4 f5! and the pressure is just too much.

23.Bxd6 Qxd6 24.Bh3 g6 25.g3 Re7 26.a3 b3 27.Nb1 Ne8 28.Nc3 Qe5 29.d6 Nxd6

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White makes a short-term pawn sacrifice, but in the last few moves, its become increasingly clear how weak White is in the center. With moves like …b3, Lu Shanglei has made the pawn on c4 weak while dominating the long dark squared diagonal.

30.Nd5 Nxd5 31.Rxd5 Qf6 32.Rxc5 Qd4 33.Rc6 Rd8 34.Rd1 Nf5!

Brilliant! Black is winning in all lines. White has nothing better than give the two rooks for the queen.
Brilliant! Black is winning in all lines. White has nothing better than give the two rooks for the queen.

35.Rxd4 Nxd4 36.Qe3 Nxc6 37.Qc5 Rd1+ 38.Kg2 e3 39.fxe3 Rd2+ 40.Kg1 Rxb2

Who needs knights? Here the passed b3 pawn is the much bigger threat, and White lacks any coordination to do anything with his short-term material advantage.
Who needs knights? Here the passed b3 pawn is the much bigger threat, and White lacks any coordination to do anything with his short-term material advantage.

41.Qxc6 Rc2 42.Bf1 b2 43.Qc5 Re6 44.Qc8+ Kg7 45.Qb8 Rxe3 46.Qf4 Re1 0-1

A great display from Lu Shanglei! What made this game truly enjoyable for me was how he was able to combine long-term positional strategies with tactics to seize the advantage. Once White tried 12. c4, Black’s play seemed really fluid, and Kobalia really wasn’t able to make a real effort to win the game.

If anything’s clear, its only a matter of time before the best of the Chinese team make regular appearances at the top level. The thought of Yu Yangyi, Wei Yi, or Wang Hao taking on a Fabiano Caruana or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is already making my mouth water.

Like this article? Make sure to check out my gofundme page to help me get to New Orleans for the 2016 US Junior Open!

Pavel Eljanov – The Player That Turned Baku Upside Down

If you followed the World Cup before the Svidler v. Karjakin final earlier this week, then one name you’ve definitely seen in the media is Pavel Eljanov. Besides winning his first 6 classical games, he managed to eliminate Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko, and Hikaru Nakamura before losing in the semifinal to Sergey Karjakin.

At the conclusion of the 2015 Chess World Cup, Eljanov gained 35 rating points, making him the 13th best player in the world with a rating of 2752.

I first started studying Eljanov’s games after I watched his draw against Richard Rapport in the 48th Biel International earlier this year. In that game, Eljanov showed how to contain the Dutch Stonewall and gain a significant advantage with moves like 10. Rad1 and 18. Bd6, showing that is possible to control the center against Black’s fortress (to see that game, click here).

Though a relative unknown when compared to the likes of Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen, and Anish Giri, Eljanov’s ability to gain space and contain his opponent’s is a major staple of his play, and definitely one of the reasons I find him very entertaining to watch. While some players find this style of play boring, the strongest players find Eljanov’s solidarity challenging to play against – even Hikaru Nakamura.

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After losing the first game to Eljanov, Nakamura was faced with the challenge of winning with Black. Unable to make a break in an equal endgame, the American took a draw and bowed out of the World Cup.

I watched most of Eljanov’s games live, but the most inspiring performance by far was his second game against Alexander Grischuk in the third round. After narrowly escaping with a win with Black, Eljanov only had to hold a draw with the White pieces to continue to the next round. Grischuk, one of the world’s most elite players (10th heading into the World Cup), didn’t stand a chance.

Eljanov – Grischuk (World Cup, 2015)

1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 c5 3.e3 Nf6 4.c4 a6 5.a3 b6 6.Nc3 cxd4 7.exd4 d6

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Black sets up a Hedgehog Structure, a dubious decision for a must win game. Black will allow White to gain space while targeting the c-file. Once Grischuk finishes his development, he will then try to find ways to break in the center.

8.Bd3 Be7 9.O-O Nbd7 10.Bf4 Bb7 11.h3 O-O 12.Re1 Re8 13.b4 Bf8

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Opening up the e8 rook, while still protecting the d6 pawn. It’s hard to say that Black has messed up, but these kinds of positions play to Eljanov’s strengths.

14.Bg5 Qc7 15.Rc1 Rac8 16.Nd2 Qb8 17.Nb3 h6 18.Bh4 Ba8 19.Bf1 Qb7 20.f3

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Seemingly a harmless move, but Eljanov blunts the long light square diagonal after re-routing his knight to b3. The h4 bishop can now go to f2, making it clear that White has achieved both solidarity and flexibility. Usually, players like to avoid this f3-g2-h3 structure because of the weak dark squares, but with Grischuk’s bishop on f8, this isn’t a concern.

20…Nh5 21.Qd2 Qa7 22.Bf2 Qb8

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It’s been subtle, but Eljanov has made progress. First, he played Rc1 to put his rook on the same file as the queen, and now Bf2 to be on the same diagonal on a7. Black has lost time, giving White the time he needs to optimize his army.

23.Rb1 Be7 24.a4 e5?! 25.d5

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After Black prematurely pushed in the center, Eljanov asserts himself in control over the position. The bishop on a8 is immobile, and essentially lends Black to playing down a piece. Meanwhile, its already not so clear how Grischuk will find counterplay. f7-f5 ideas seem natural, but White’s structure makes a kingside pawn storm ineffective.

25…Bg5 26.Qd1 Qc7 27.a5 bxa5 28.Nxa5

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A knight on the rim is grim? I think not! By not recapturing with the pawn, White maintains control over c5, and the knight actually does a good job of protecting c4 while limiting Black’s ability to maneuver his queenside pieces.

28…Bf4 29.Ne2 Bg5 30.h4 Be7 31.g4!

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With Black’s pieces stuck on the queenside, Eljanov decides to dominate both sides of the board. Grischuk needs a big mistake from the Ukranian for any hope of moving to the net round.

31…Nhf6 32.Ng3 Qd8 33.h5 Bf8 34.Bd3 Nh7 35.Bf5 Ng5 36.Kg2 Rc7 37.Ne4

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By not rushing the kingside attack, Eljanov has furthered his grip on the position by strengthening his pieces. The bishop on f5 seems like it might be trapped, but Grischuk’s inability to control the light squares makes this impossible!

37…Be7 38.c5 Nxe4 39.Bxe4 Nf6 40.c6

With this move, White clamps down on the position with a passed pawn. Black is completely lost. Who would have thought that ...e6-e5 would have been such a mistake?
With this move, White clamps down on the position with a passed pawn. Black is completely lost. Who would have thought that …e6-e5 would have been such a mistake?

40…Rc8 41.Qd3 Nxe4 42.Qxe4 Bg5 43.Be3 Bxe3 44.Rxe3 Rf8 45.Qf5 Rb8 46.Nc4 Rb5 47.Rd3 Qc7 48.Nd2 a5 49.Ne4 Rxb4 50.Rxb4 axb4 51.g5

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After waiting for over 50 moves, Eljanov makes his first dynamic strike. Black’s pieces are not coordinated, and therefore the attack is lethal.

51…Qa7 52.gxh6 gxh6 53.f4 1-0

A great win by Eljanov, as he progressed to the next round to take on Dmitry Jakovenko. Even though Grischuk was playing for the win, the Ukrainian made the game look easy, with almost an effortless point. If you enjoyed how Eljanov played this game, I highly encourage you to check out his other games here.

Like this article? Make sure to check out my gofundme page to help me get to New Orleans for the 2016 US Junior Open!

Catching Up – A Season in a Post

Hi everyone, I’m back with my first real post in ages!

As some of you already know, I’m repurposing this blog from breaking 2000 (which I successfully completed last November) to documenting my journey to the 2016 US Junior Open, and my goal to win the event. Obviously I’ve played a lot of chess since my last post, so here’s what I’ve been up to in the last couple months.

Part 1 – Summer Struggles

The last tournament I posted about was my performance in the Cherry Blossom Classic, in which I pulled a big first round upset by beating Jennifer Yu, a gold medal winner of the 2014 World Youth Chess Championships. After what had been a rather euphoric tournament for me things got harder before they got easier.

My next tournament was the World Open in Northern Virginia. Playing in the U2200 section, I didn’t exactly have many expectations, but I definitely wanted to see a continuation of progress in my level of play. My first round game proved to be one of the most testing, as I played an ambitious attacker. While the end result was a draw, the game was very dynamic and over the course of five hours went back and forth from the opening to the endgame.

Steincamp – Zinski (World Open, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 Bc5 4.Nc3 a6 5.Nf3 d6 6.d3 Nge7 7.O-O h5 8.h4

One thing to keep in mind with the h7-h5 pushes is that Black makes life difficult for himself for a few reasons. 1) If he were to try f7-f5, the g5 square becomes a great outpost for my knight. 2) moving the g-pawn will significantly weaken the f6 square. 3) Black hasn’t fully resolved his king’s safety.

8…Bg4 9.Nd5

When your opponent plays on the wings, play in the center!

9…Qd7 10.a3 Nf5 11.e3 Nd8 12.b4 Ba7 13.Qb3 Ne6 14.Bb2 c6 15.Nc3 Ke7??

For some unknown reason, I just knew my opponent would make this mistake. I now must try to break the center of the board.

16.c5 Bxf3 17.cxd6+ Nxd6 18.Bxf3 g5 19.Ne4 f6 20.d4

The only way to hold the advantage. I have to be very accurate with how I play. One mistake and the game could be lost!

20…exd4 21.exd4 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 gxh4

Here White misses a crushing resource with 23. Rad1! With the same idea as 23.Bf5, but this time has the added threat of d4-d5, which would punish Black for such an unorthodox way of moving his king!

23.Bf5 Kf7 24.Rae1 Rae8 25.Re3 Qd5 26.Qxd5 cxd5 27.Rfe1 Ng7 28.Rxe8 Rxe8 29.Rxe8 Nxe8 30.gxh4 Nd6 31.Bd3 Nb5 32.Kg2 Bxd4 33.a4 Bxb2 34.axb5 axb5 35.Bxb5 Bc3 36.Be2 Bxb4 37.Bxh5+ Ke6 38.Kf3 Ke5 39.Be8 Bf8 40.Ke3 d4+ 41.Kd3 f5 42.Bd7 Bg7 43.Be8 Kf4 44.Bh5 Bf6 45.f3

I was getting a little complacent as well as tired in this opposite colored bishop ending. Here my opponent missed the fantastic 45… Ke5! putting me Zugzwang as there is noway to hold the pawn on h4!

45…Kg3 46.Bg6 f4 47.Ke4 b5 48.h5 b4 49.Bf7 Bg7 50.Bd5 Bf6 51.h6 Bh8 52.h7 Kf2 53.Bc4 Ke1 54.Kd3 Kd1 55.Bd5 Kc1 56.Kc4??

After trying to hold a draw for the last hour and a half, I should have lost the game here with the simple push 56… b3! now after 57. Kxb3 d3, I can’t use the dark squares and can’t stop the successful promotion of the pawn!

56…Kd2 57.Kxb4 Ke3 58.Kc4 d3 59.Be4 d2 60.Bc2 Ke2 61.Ba4 Ke3 62.Bd1 Bg7 63.Ba4 Ke2 64.Bc2 Kxf3 65.Kd3 Kg2 66.Kxd2 f3 67.Be4 1/2-1/2 I got lucky in the endgame, but the opening went really well.

I actually wound up losing my second round, which was a first for me at the World Open (last year I had two wins and seven draws!), so I had to regroup. I won an uninspiring game in Round 3, but woke up the next morning and won a great game in the King’s Indian with Black.

Higgins – Steincamp (World Open, 2015)

Faced with a friend of mine in Round 5 that night, we took a quick draw to head into the last four rounds. With a score of 3/5, I was really liking my chances of leaving with a great result. The next morning, I played as an underdog, and after leaving the opening position with an equal position, my opponent hyper-extended and gifted me the point.

One element you don’t hear much of at the World Open is pure exhaustion. After round 6, I had spent 20 hours at the board. Even though I improved to 4/6 with a Round 6 win, the six hour game was draining, and was a big reason I couldn’t match my opponent’s high level of play. The final two rounds had the same story as well. My opponents and I were both fatigued, and caught in unfamiliar opening territory, I made big tactical errors in each to end the tournament on a three game skid.

While my first six rounds had given me a promising start, it was hard to process the bitter ending to the World Open. I hadn’t lost three games in a row in tournament play since December of 2012, and had me worried perhaps my Cherry Blossom Classic was only a blip and I still had a long ways to go before reaching the next level.

My next rated game was in my final game in the DC Chess League where I reached an interesting position on move 15:

Cousins–Steincamp (2015 Summer DC Chess League)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 a6 6.Be3 c6 7.Qd2 b5 8.Bh6 Bxh6 9.Qxh6

White’s queen is menacing, but since I haven’t castled, it can’t do any harm to my position.

9…Qb6 10.e5 dxe5 11.dxe5 Nfd7 12.O-O-O Nxe5 13.Re1

An important decision, if White had instead tried 13.Qg7 Qe3+ 14.Rd2 Rf8 15.Nd1 Qe1, my opponent’s lack of development would really make it hard for him to continue.

13. … Qf2 14.Qe3 Qxe3+ 15.Rxe3 Nxc4??

A critical mistake as Black gains nothing for the second pawn. Now it is White who is ahead in development, and it is Black that has to play defense. Better would have been 15… Nbd7 16. Nh3 f6 and White as no way to really prove compensation for the one pawn.

16.Bxc4 bxc4 17.Nge2 Ra7

Here I realized how much trouble I was in, I think the move I played was the only way to play for anything:

17… Nd7 18.Re4 Nb6 19.Rd1

17… c5 18.Ne4 Nc6 19.N2c3 O-O 20.Nxc5

17… e6 18.Rd1 O-O 19.Re4

17… Be6 18.Nf4

18.Re4 O-O 19.Rxc4 Be6 20.Rc5 Nd7

Its important to not get too carried away as White still has trumps 20… Rd8 21.Nf4 Rd6 22.Re1 Bf5 23.g4 +=

This line is enough to show that Black will have to give up a second pawn, I played Nd7 to force the issue with tempo.

21.Rxc6 Ne5 22.Rb6 Rc8 23.Kb1 Nc4 24.Rb4 Rd7 25.Kc1 Ne5 26.Rd4 Rxd4 27.Nxd4 Bxa2 28.Kc2 Bc4 29.Re1 Nc6 30.Nxc6 Rxc6 1/2-1/2 With having to rush the last five moves to make time control, a draw was a good enough result. What did I learn from this game? Don’t be greedy! I had my opponent completely outplayed after 13… Qf2, only to let him back in later for a pawn.

The draw was disappointing, but learning from this opening actually paid off at the Washington International a month later. My next tournament was the Potomac Open, where, just like my DC Chess League match, I played really well in the openings, only to play the rest of each game mediocre at best. Finishing with a score of 1.5/5 (three draws and two losses), my winless streak extended to nine consecutive games, and with a week before the Washington International, I was honestly having a hard time finding out what had gone wrong.

Since the World Open, I had been working on my fatigue problem by exercising regularly. I had been studying chess every day, and since the spring, I had brought my tactics trainer rating from 2200 to 2400. I was going over openings and watching live commentary, so my recent spell of results had been puzzling. At the conclusion of the Potomac Open, I took a drastic measure and stopped studying completely. I jogged for 45 minutes everyday that week and focused on eating right and getting plenty of sleep. I wasn’t necessarily confident, I just wasn’t stressed – which I think is equally as important.

Part 2 – Redefining My Play

Looking back, the Washington International really reshaped my outlook on chess and my mentality over the board. I didn’t exactly have preparation to fall back on, so I used positional indicators to help me make decisions throughout each of the seven games.

Entering my first game, I remember feeling a surge of confidence as I waited for my opponent to come to the board.  While my opponent was much lower rated and lacked the skill set to really challenge me, I really liked the way I played, and found it to be quite instructive for some of my peers:

This was an important game, as my nine-game winless run came to an end, and set me off with a running start. The next game would not prove as easy, as I got to play the top seed in my section, a 2200 rated player from Florida.

Xanthos–Steincamp (Washington International, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 a6 6.Be3 c6 7.Qd2 b5 8.Bh6 Bxh6 9.Qxh6

Already, a little deja vu!

9…Qb6 10.Qd2 e5 11.c5 dxc5 12.dxe5 Nfd7 13.Qd6 c4

White’s dynamic play has been scary, but I have a concrete static advantage. With this move I threaten both Qe3+ and the move Nd7-c5. The c5 square is a great outpost for my knight, and justifies the doubled pawns on the c-file.

14.e6 Qe3+ 15.Nge2 Nc5 16.exf7+ Kxf7 17.Qf4+ Qxf4 18.Nxf4 g5 19.Nh5 Rd8

After forcing my opponent’s best pieces off the board, I have a clear developmental advantage, and White is stuck with a terrible light-squared bishop.

20.g4 Be6 21.h4 h6 22.Ng3 Nbd7 23.Nf5? Bxf5

I don’t think my opponent expected this move, but this trade helps me significantly. In his slow kingside expansion, White has serious dark square weaknesses.

24.gxf5 Ne5 25.Ke2 b4 26.Nd1 g4 27.f4 Nf3 28.Ke3 Nxe4!!

The knight is poisoned due to …Rd8-e8# threats! White is completely lost!

29.Bxc4+ Kf6 30.Be2 Ng3 31.Bxf3 Nxf5+ 32.Kf2 gxf3 33.Kxf3 Rd3+ 34.Kf2 Rd2+ 35.Ke1 Rad8 36.Rh3 Rg2 37.a3 Ng3

A general concept from Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman – When handled correctly, a static advantage will become a material advantage. Here White’s lack of mobility proves costly.

38.Rxg3 Rxg3 39.axb4 Rg1+ 40.Ke2 Re8+ 41.Kd2 Ree1 42.Rc1 Rxd1+!

This endgame was about to get tricky, so I took my only opportunity here to get a clear cut win – Simplification!

43.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 44.Kxd1 Kf5 45.Kd2 Kxf4 46.Kd3 Kg4 47.Kc4 Kxh4 48.Kc5 Kg5 49.Kxc6 h5 50.Kb6 h4 51.Kxa6 h3 52.b5 h2 53.b6 h1=Q 54.b7 Qc6+ 55.Ka7 Qc7 56.b4 Kf6 57.Ka8 Qc6 58.b5 Qf3

The last part of the puzzle. My queen will go to a3, where it will have access to d6 and f8, critical square I need to win this game. I have a couple ways to win. Force my opponent to play Kb8 and use the tempi to bring over my king, or play to put my queen on b8 and win the pawns.

59.Ka7 Qa3+ 60.Kb6 Qd6+ 61.Ka7 Qc7 62.b6 Qd7 63.Ka8 Qa4+ 64.Kb8 Ke7 65.Kc7 Qf4+ 66.Kc8 Qf8+ 67.Kc7 Qd8+ 0-1 As I had eluded to earlier, my prior DC Chess League game over the summer gave me a big theoretical advantage over my opponent which helped me grind out my second ever win against a 2200 rated player.

While I got off to a good start in Round 3, my opponent found defenses, and I wasn’t prepared for the counterstrike, ultimately costing me in what would be my only loss in the tournament. I evened the score for the day with another win over a lower rated player that night.

My Round 5 game was my most memorable challenge. Playing a rival from my scholastic days, I had one last opportunity to sneak in a win against him before moving to Pittsburgh the following week. Faced with 1… b6, I put together an unorthodox response and quickly seized the initiative. My coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, even came out with a video on the game, documenting the way my opening put my opponent in a bind from the start (you can watch it on chesslecture.com, here). While both my opponent and I missed 32…Qd1!=, I left really happy with my performance as the win pulled me to 4/5.

Steincamp – Shih (Washington International, 2015)

You can watch the video linked above for comments from a Grandmaster, but I’ve left the analysis for the critical moment of the game.

1.c4 b6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Nge2 Bb4 5.f3 Bxc3 6.dxc3 d6 7.Qc2 Nd7 8.Be3 e5 9.O-O-O Qe7 10.g4 g5 11.Ng3 Qf6 12.Nf5 Ne7 13.Qd2 h6 14.h4 Nxf5 15.hxg5 hxg5 16.Bxg5 Qg7 17.Rxh8+ Qxh8 18.gxf5 f6 19.Be3 O-O-O 20.b4 Ba6 21.c5 Bxf1 22.cxb6 axb6 23.Rxf1 Qh3 24.Qe2 Kb7 25.Kb2 Rg8 26.Rf2 Qh7 27.Qc4 Rg7 28.Qd5+ Kc8 29.a4 Qh1 30.a5 Rg2 31.Qa8+ Nb8 32.a6?? Rxf2+ 33.Bxf2

The critical moment. Black missed 32… Qd1!!= and the game is drawn. After 33. a7 Qd2+ 34. Kb3 Qd1+ 35. Kc5, Black has the incredible resource 35… d5+ and now White cannot escape the net.

33…Qf1 34.a7 Qe2+ 35.Ka3 Qa6+ 36.Kb3 Qb7 37.axb8=Q+ Qxb8 38.Qxb8+ Kxb8 39.Kc4 Kc8 40.Kd5 Kd7 41.b5 Ke7 42.Kc6 Kd8 43.Be3 Kc8 44.Bh6 Kd8 45.Bg7 1-0

I drew my last two games with relative comfort, taking a third place finish and 43 rating points for what would be my last tournament in the area before I moved to Pittsburgh.

Part 3 – The Move to Pittsburgh

Yeah, there’s still more – and I hope you all are starting to forgive me for not posting much this summer.

I moved in mid-August to the University of Pittsburgh to study Economics and Statistics, and I honestly had no idea what that would do to my chess.

Over the summer I had won an article contest on chess24 using my piece on Sam Shankland, and I was really excited to see my prize:

IMG_3493
The newest offline engine, Isaac! Named after me, this computer has a rating of only 1300! I think you all can beat him!

Perhaps having an engine named after me was a sign of good things to come.

Two weeks ago I played in the Pennsylvania G/60 State Chess Championships and finished 5th, finally (FINALLY) getting a top five state finish for the first time of my career. While G/60 isn’t my favorite time control, my 2.5/4 score gained me a few rating points, and this punishing game to share:

Steincamp – Wang (Pennsylvania G/60 State Chess Championships, 2015)

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.d3 d6 6.e4 Nbd7 7.Nge2 e5 8.O-O a5 9.h3 Nc5 10.Be3 Re8

Lower time controls against lower rated opponents has never been my strength, but this move was the first red flag since now f7-f5 ideas lack a lot of sting.
Lower time controls against lower rated opponents has never been my strength, but this move was the first red flag since now f7-f5 ideas lack a lot of sting.

11.Qd2 Ne6

I might already be better. Black wasted time to set up the c5 outpost and then put the knight on the much weaker square.

12.f4 exf4 13.gxf4 Qe7

With this move, the game started to feel more like a G/15 online game. If Black were serious, he would have tried Nh5 and Qh4. But even there the play isn’t very convincing.
With this move, the game started to feel more like a G/15 online game. If Black were serious, he would have tried Nh5 and Qh4. But even there the play isn’t very convincing.

14.Ng3

Eliminating any future Nh5 ideas. Now Black has to get creative to find moves.
Eliminating any future Nh5 ideas. Now Black has to get creative to find moves.

14…Nd7 15.f5 Nef8 16.Nd5 Qd8 17.Bg5 f6 18.Be3 g5 19.h4 c6 20.Nc3 h6 21.hxg5 hxg5 22.d4

Where is Black's play. With the center in my control, I have a firm grasp of the position with lots of flexibility.
Where is Black’s play. With the center in my control, I have a firm grasp of the position with lots of flexibility.

22…Re7 23.Kf2 Nh7 24.Rh1 Ndf8 25.Bf3

Planning Bh5 and Bg6 at the right moment.
Planning Bh5 and Bg6 at the right moment.

25…Bd7 26.Rh3 Be8 27.Rah1 Bf7 28.d5

Not sure if this was right. I almost went for b3, but I really didn’t want to deal with any sac exchange funny business on a4 in this time control. I’m pretty sure I’m better there, but this should be crushing. If he takes, I retake with knight (followed by queen) and after Bd4, Black will struggle to find play. I was just trying to make a second weakness which I received with my opponents move as I got the b5 square as an outpost for my knight.

28…c5 29.Nb5 Be8 30.Nc3 Rc8 31.Kg1 Rcc7 32.Qh2

Yes h7 needs protecting, but the queen says hello from h2 to the pawn on d6. The knight is coming to b5 soon.

32…Bh8 33.Bh5 Bxh5 34.Rxh5 Rg7 35.Nb5 Rce7 36.Bd2 Nd7 37.Rh6 Ne5 38.Qe2 g4 39.Bf4 Nf3+ 40.Kg2 Rd7 41.Nh5 Rgf7 42.Rg6+ Kf8 43.Bh6+ Ke7 44.Nf4 Nhg5 45.Ne6 Qe8 46.Bxg5?

My only slip-up. 46. Nxg5 is much more efficient as 46... Nxg5 47. Bxg5 fxg5 48. Re6+. My line 46. Bxg5? allows for 46... fxg5, and now I have to sacrifice my knight to win the queen.
My only slip-up. 46. Nxg5 is much more efficient as 46… Nxg5 47. Bxg5 fxg5 48. Re6+. My line 46. Bxg5? allows for 46… fxg5, and now I have to sacrifice my knight to win the queen.

46…Nxg5 47.Nxg5 fxg5 48.Re6+ 1-0

Simply crushing. The following week I played in my first match for the University of Pittsburgh against Carnegie Mellon University’s “B” team (all four boards over 1950!), and I won my game against an expert in 20 moves. Want to see that game? Make sure to check out my Youtube Channel on Sunday for a full recap!

And well now I’m here. With a goal to win the 2016 US Junior Open in New Orleans, I think that this should be a fun year. Make sure to check out my GoFundme page here to help me reach my goals for this year!