Identifying Weak Squares and Creating Static Advantages

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.
1) Weak Squares Resulting from Blunders
bahamapapa – leika(me) (Internet Chess Club, G/30)

13. f5??

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 16.44.20
My opponent has played an early f4-f5 out of the Four Pawns Attack, but already you can probably identify all of the dark squared weaknesses this move creates. My knight now springs to life on e5, and White’s attack comes to a halt.

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
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 16.48.25
My knight from e5 not only controls a lot of squares, but also acts as a blockade to White’s backwards e4 pawn. By playing …Ra8-e8, I can move the knight away from e5 at any moment and put great pressure on White’s pawn.
17. Bg5 h6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd1 White is lost for ideas and the position is completely lost. 19…c4
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 16.50.58
When you have a significant static advantage, you are in no rush to cover the point. Here this move gives me control of more dark squares, which are even more weak without White’s dark squared bishop.
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)

12…b6??

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 16.55.17
A seemingly harmless move as I gain space on the queenside. My opponent here realizes that with this move, I have seriously committed an error by weakening the c6 square. White needs to limit my ability to gain space while simultaneously controlling the c-file.

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!

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 16.59.16
Dvoretsky would be proud! Realizing that the light bishops were coming off the board, White takes the time to gain central dominance and put his pawns on light squares. Now if I take on g2, I trade off White’s bad bishop, losing tempi as my opponent gains space. Even though my side of the board becomes less cramped, I lose a critical defender of the c6 square.

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

White's master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.
White’s master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.

21…Rfc8 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Rc8 24.Rc6 +-

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.04.34
After taking all of the necessary precautions, White punishes 12… b6 12 moves later. White went on to convert this endgame on move 71, as the control of the c-file and flexibility of the knight proved too much for my defenses.

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.

Miyasaka – Steincamp (Cherry Blossom Classic, 2015)

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.09.23
After having outplayed me for the last 5-7 moves, my opponent needs one last shot to push for a result. The endgame is complicated, but how can White limit my play?

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)

In this position, International Master Kaiqi Yang has White in the U2400 Millionaire Chess Final. He and his opponent, IM Farai Mandizha have drawn their past three games, leading to this blitz match. How did White make the most of this objectively (+0.17 according Stockfish) equal position?

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
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.35.32
This position looks balanced and destined for equality. Black hopes that by trading down on the queenside, he can liquidate the position into a drawn minor piece ending.
25. e5!
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.37.12
This dynamic thrust serves three purposes: 1) trade off Black’s best piece (the b7 bishop) 2) Limit Black’s dark squared bishop’s scope, and most importantly 3) force the f6 knight away so I can place my knight on e4 at the right moment.
25…Ne8 26. Kf2 Ba5 27. Ba3 b4?
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.39.35
White now holds an advantage. Black has blocked in his bishop while taking away an entry square for the c6 knight. In this position, I just have to secure the d4 square and mount a knight on e4, and I can play for a win.
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
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.43.58
Black has no ability to generate counterplay, so now my plan comes to life. Ne2-g3-e4 is coming up.
31…Ba8 32. Ng3 Nd4 33. Bxd4 Bxg2 34. Kxg2 cxd4 35. Ne1
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.45.45
The massive trades have significantly increased my winning chances. The passed d-pawn is more of a liability than a strength, and my knights are headed to d3 and e4. Just like the last game, Black really suffers from not having the right colored bishop.
35…f6 36. Nd3 Na6 37. Ne4 Kf7 38. Kf3
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.47.59
Now that I have completed my plan, it’s time to convert my position to the win. Still using the weak light squares, my goal is to move my knight away from e4 for my king. The king is a crucial attacker in the endgame, don’t be afraid to use him!
38…Kg6 39. Nd6 Bc7 40. c5
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.49.42
With this move, Black’s minor pieces are extremely limited, and now by creating a second weak square on d6, the win is easy for White. Who would have seen this position from the beginning of the endgame?

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)

25.Na5 Bb5

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.53.03
Believe it or not, the critical outpost here is the knight on a5! Attacking the b7 pawn, White hopes that Black plays b7-b6, creating the weak c6 square that we’ve already demonstrated twice. It is also not in Black’s best interest to trade away the d8 bishop since it will weaken the c7 square while the a5 pawn will act as a clamp, keeping the b7 pawn at bay. …Bd7-b5 is annoying since if I take, b7 is protected by the queen and the pawn on b5 actually immobilizes my knight, covering the c4 square.

26.Bh3! Black cannot surrender control of the e6 square, so he must return his bishop to d7. 26…Bd7 27.Bg2!

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 17.57.42
With this move, Black cannot repeat the idea of …Bd7-b5 without facing a3-a4. Before Black could trade off bishops on f1, giving him some more coordination, but now my opponent must make the concession of taking on a5. I quickly get a strong position.

27…Bxa5 28.bxa5 Qd8 29.Rc7 Bc8

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 18.00.05
Black is completely immobilized and out of ideas, as my grip on the position is extremely powerful.

30.a4 Opening the a3 square for my bishop to attack d6. 30…Ne7 31.Ba3 Bf5 32.e4 Bc8+-

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 18.01.54
I’ve achieved a significant advantage, and went on to win later in the endgame (admittedly after misplaying the position a little).

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!

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out my gofundme page to learn about my journey to New Orleans for the 2016 US Junior Open.

Advertisements

Breaking 2100: Winning Ugly

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)

1.e4 c5 2.c3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.cxd4 d5 5.e5 Bg7 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Bb5 e6
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.15.05 AM
A passive move on my part. I believe a better suggestion here is 7… f6, putting pressure on the center. I saw this during the game, but I hesitated because of 8. Qa4. This is more or less a theoretical novelty for White, and I think 8… Qd7 should do enough, as White still has to solve his central problems.
8.Nf3 Ne7 9.Bg5 Bd7 10.Qd2
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.19.18 AM
A great move by my opponent! I was planning h6 and g5, gaining space on the kingside (I had already decided I wasn’t castling), but this idea might not be as strong now because of White’s potential to sacrifice on g5.
10…h6 11.Bh4 Qb6=
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.22.39 AM
After what felt like a passive opening choice, I think I have found equality here. I’m not exactly sure if White went wrong, but now my threat of Nf5 is also extremely strong. I remember during the game finding the award move 12. g4?! with the idea of cramping Black. If I try to counter with …h7-h5, White can open up the g-file and control g5. This is a cool concept positionally, but I have the saving grace 12… Nxe5 winning a pawn.
12.Bxe7 Kxe7 13.O-O
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.26.24 AM
I honestly was not too disappointed with my position. Despite being cramped, I have the pair of bishops, and my king is safe on e7. Here I had to consider the possibility of 13… Nxe5! winning a pawn. Objectively, this is the best move, but White isn’t without play. I played the text move because I didn’t like that I give white the opportunity to put his rook on a half-open file that has my king on it. Post mortem, I think the best line for White goes something like 14. Nxe5 Bxb5 15. Bxb5 Qxb5 16. Re1 Rac8 -+ and I am completely fine. I had also seen lines with Nxd5+ possibilities, but this just ends down a piece – in other words, I had a win here. While not as good as taking on e5, I have to say my move is pretty strong as well. I take control of the open file with the correct rook, and now when I reroute my queen to d8, both of my rooks are where the action will be. By not winning the pawn this turn I’m not better, but I definitely can’t be worse.
13…Rhc8 14.Bxc6? Bxc6
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.34.59 AM
My opponent didn’t make many mistakes this game, but if I had to find three moves I didn’t like for White, this would be the first one. Even though my light squared bishop is poor, it stops the c3 knight from getting to c5 via a4. Furthermore, having the pair of bishops alone guarantees some sort of advantage – if not here, then later should the position open up. I have two plans: 1) push my a pawn to gain space and attack the queenside and 2) maneuver my king to g8 to allow my bishop access to the f8 square.
15.a4 a5 16.Qd3 Kf8 17.Nd2 Kg8 18.Ra3 Bf8
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.38.25 AM
Mission Accomplished! My opponent had the right idea of a4 to lock up the queenside, but the position was slow enough that I had time to complete my second plan, here with the added benefit of a tempo. I don’t like White’s idea of getting the rook to a3, because in some lines the a4 pawn becomes a liability. This is mistake number 2 for my opponent.
19.Rb3 Bb4 20.Nb5??
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.40.19 AM
If you’ve ever read The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal, the author, Karsten Muller, emphasizes that mistakes come in “bunches”. While not losing immediately, White lets me trade off my worst piece while doubling his pawns and taking full control over the c-file. This is mistake number 3, and from this moment onward, Black has the initiative.
20…Bxb5 21.axb5 Kg7 22.h4 Qd8
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.43.10 AM
Queens are terrible blockaders. Having served its duty on b6, I made a tempo move on the h4 pawn while planning …Qe7, threatening a4, trapping the rook. I think this is the best way for me to use my positional advantage to get more active.
23.h5 Qe7 24.Qe3 Rc2 25.Nf3 a4-+
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.44.59 AM
Iossif Dorfman preaches that if a static advantage is played correctly, it will always become a material advantage. Here, White must sacrifice the rook on b4, as letting me take on b2 would give me a strong passer with no compensation. I like this decision for White, not because it gives him winning chances, but because the position quickly becomes extremely complicated.
26.Rxb4 Qxb4 27.hxg6 fxg6 28.Nh4 Qb3
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.17.37 PM
The difficult decision of the game. Here I think I could have done better with 28… Qxb5, and when White attacks g6 with 29. Qg3, meet it with 29… Qe8. 28… Qd2 is aggressive, but after 29. Qa3! Black has to be very accurate when covering the seventh rank. I chose this move because my queen was active, and ultimately had the goal of reaching e4.
29.Qf4 Rf8 30.Qg4 Qd3 31.Qxe6 Qe4 32.Nf3 Rxb2
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.21.32 PM
Winning a pawn, but more importantly coordinating my pieces! I can’t afford to let white gain access to the c-file, so this move gives me the resource …Rb2-b1, pinning the rook to the king.
33.Rc1 Rb1 34.Qe7+ Rf7 35.Qc5 b6-+
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.22.59 PM
Winning a pawn! White can’t afford to take on b6 or play Qc5-c6 because the a-pawn starts rolling and I will queen the pawn. White must give up the b5 pawn to stay in the game.
36.Qc3 Rxb5 37.Qc6 Rb1 38.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 39.Kh2 Qf5
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.24.32 PM
The hardest move to find throughout the game. If I were to have played 39… Qb3, I think I’m in trouble. 40. e6 Re7 41. Qd6 and the e5 outpost is really strong. By playing this move, I remove this threat at the cost of a pawn, but I really don’t think its so bad. For example, if 40. Qxa4, the queen is out of play, and the plan I had during the game would be much more effective (Qf4+, Rc7-c1+ – and White’s queen can’t generate counterplay with the passed pawn).
40.Qxd5 Qf4+
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.28.58 PM
My opponent told me after the game that he thought 40… Qh5+ was much more effective, but I beg to differ. 41. Kg1 Rc7 42. Kf1 (forced) Rc1+ 43. Ke2 and its already not clear how I make progress. 43… Rc2+ Black has to keep checking because the lack of coordination is not prepared to face the massive central advantage of White 44. Ke3 (not 44. Kd3?? Qf5+ and checkmate is around the corner) 44…Rc7 The king is exposed, but its not clear if white actually benefits from having an active king. Meanwhile, Black now has uncoordinated pieces against White’s queen and center passers.
41.Kg1 Rc7 42.g3 Qc1+ 43.Kg2 Qc6
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.36.48 PM
Still a difficult position, but I am making progress. Any queen trade is decisive and in my favor, and moving the queen allows me to attack f3.
44.Qd8 Rd7 45.Qe8 Rc7 46.Qd8 Qd7 47.Qf6+ Kh7 48.e6
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.38.44 PM
I think White makes the right choice here, taking on b6 loses a tempi to push pawns for white. After 48. Qxb6 a3 should be enough for the point as …Ra7 will provide more than enough support for the pawn.
48…Qg7 49.Qh4 a3
Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.40.34 PM
And now the end is in sight. Every tempi White uses to stop my pawn is a tempi not used to push his own. White’s queen on h4 is blocked laterally by his own pawn on d4, and the knight really offers one meaningless check on g5. The result is 0-1.
50.d5 a2 51.d6 a1=Q 52.dxc7 Qxc7 53.e7 Qa8 54.Kh2 Qxf3 55.e8=Q Qxf2+ 56.Kh3 Qf1+ 0-1
I've never beaten an opponent who has two queens on the board before, but White resigned as Kg4 loses to ...Qf5#, and Kh2 falls prey to ...Qc2+ and mate on the next move.
I’ve never beaten an opponent who has two queens on the board before, but White resigned as Kg4 loses to …Qf5#, and Kh2 falls prey to …Qc2+ and mate on the next move.

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.

Did you enjoy this article? Make sure to check out my gofundme campaign to help me keep improving and push my way to the 2016 US Junior Open!

Winning with the a-pawn!

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!

Enjoy this video? Check out my gofundme page to learn about my journey to the 2016 US Junior Open Chess Championships!

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 11.58.01
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.45.45
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.49.32
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.55.53
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 18.02.03
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 18.04.14
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 18.09.04
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.19.59
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?!

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.22.44
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.26.49
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!!

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.30.19
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 17.34.35
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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.32.48
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.41.40
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.43.56
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.45.30
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.47.52
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.50.50
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.53.14
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!

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.55.08
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.56.45
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 09.59.57
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!