Live Chess: Psychological Factors

Don’t believe that psychology plays a major factor in chess? Watch this video to see how my mentality changes after a mouse slip from my opponent … and how it almost cost me the game!

I didn’t think the level of chess was anything special this game, but after re-watching the video, I thought the shift in my mindset was very visible and a distraction to my calculation process. Take this as a lesson – the game isn’t over till its over!

Trading into Better Positions

Since I’ve spent most of the last week discussing opening play, I decided to discuss trades in today’s post.

A few years ago when I was a student at Castle Chess Camp, I had the pleasure of working with Grandmaster Grigory Serper. While his use of metaphors and clichés to describe chess were particularly memorable, he did leave an impression on me regarding trading. Some of you may be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s one red paperclip project, where through internet trading, he managed to trade a paperclip for an entire house.

As Serper pointed out, winning in chess is very similar. We want to checkmate our opponent, but often times our opponents aren’t so willing to cooperate. So instead, we take over small advantages and cash them into bigger ones – just like how MacDonald started with a trade for a pen, then a doorknob, and eventually down the road, a house.

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When looking for grandmaster games for today’s post, I decided to only select games from the recent rapid tournament, the 25th Paul Keres Memorial. We start with the third round upset of the top seed, Peter Svidler.

Svidler – Kulaots (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)

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In this position, either side has practical winning chances. While Kulaots has the pair of bishops, Svidler has a fair amount of compensation. Black’s pawns limit the abilities of his own light squared bishop, and White’s knight has a strong outpost on f4. While some may argue that Black has the long-term advantage because of the pair of bishops, even that’s not so clear, as Svidler has a passed pawn on a3. In order for Kulaots to prove an advantage, he needs to activate his pieces.

23…Re4!

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A critical moment! Black attacks both the pawn on d4 and the knight on f4, asking Svidler to trade on his terms. 24. Rxe4?? loses to 24… dxe4 and both knights are under attack.

24. Nh5

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Svidler finds a tactical solution to his positional problems. Should Black try 24… Rxd4? 25. Re8+!! Qxe8 26. Nxf6 is winning. While White evaded the threat this turn, he hasn’t solved his problems yet. Svidler will have to decide if he wants to trade rooks on e4 and un-double Black’s pawns, or allow Kulaots to have a permanent weakness to attack on d4.

24…Kf7 25. Nb4 Qe8 26. g3 =+

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White realizes that with …Kf7-g6 looming, he needed a safe square for his knight. Retreating to g3 wasn’t an option because of …f5-f4, so this move will cover the knight on f4.

26…Kg6 27. Nf4+ Bxf4

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The first important trade. Black gives up the bishop pair, but in exchange makes another structural weakness on f4. Black will now increase the pressure on d4 and f4 until Svidler decides to take on e4, a trade that will only help Black mobilize his pawns.

28. gxf4 Qd7 29. Qd2 Qc7

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Attacking the f4 pawn while simultaneously defending c6. While Black’s bishop is still bad, Kulaots can just target White’s weaknesses. White is so paralyzed that Svidler can’t punish Black for his bad bishop.

30. Rac1 Ra8

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“Sometimes the threat is stronger than the execution.” Sure, Black could’ve taken on f4 with the rook, but that doesn’t actually help Kulaots. The pawn on f4 can be taken whenever, but more importantly, it’s blocking in White’s queen. Instead, Black makes the mature decision to attack White’s pawn on a3, the last remaining advantage that White had back when Svidler played 23. Re1.

31. Rc3 Bd7 32. Rxe4

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Unable to deal with the pressure of …Ra8-d8, White makes the second trade for Black. While this closes the e-file, it resolves Black’s structure. Meanwhile, f4 and a3 are still targets.

32…fxe4 33. Rb3 h5

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It’s still not clear if Kulaots is going to pull the upset. Without clear ways to improve his pieces, Black expands on the kingside.

34. Nc2 h4 35. Kf1 Bc8

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Preparing to maneuver the bishop from c8 to a6. Once the bishop reaches this diagonal, it can no longer be considered bad since it is outside of the pawn chain.

36. Ke1 Ba6 37. h3?!

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Trying to complicate the position, Svidler creates another weakness on h3. Rather than trying to force his way through, Kulaots decides to limit White’s play.

37…Bc4!

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Needing to defend both a3 and h3 simultaneously, the rook must stay on the third rank, surrendering the b-file, and entering a realm of passivity.

38. Rc3 Rb8

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With the simple threat of …Rb8-b1+, though blocking with the knight offers the best defense, from b4, it won’t be able to protect White’s kingside.

39. Nb4 f5 40. Kd1 Kf6 41. Kc1 Rg8 42. Nc2 g3 -+

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Forcing the last trade, and this time, it’s decisive. Black will now have a passed pawn on g3 and e4 though the strength of the g-pawn alone should be enough.

43. fxg3 hxg3 44. Ne3 Bd3 45. Rb3 Ke6 46. Ng2 Bf1 47. Ne3 g2 0-1

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A paralyzed Svidler has no way of stopping the pawn and here resigned. A great display by Kaido Kulaots!

This game was decided by three trades, the bishop for knight trade on f4, the rook trade on e4, and the opening of the floodgates on g3. Kulaots won this game by optimizing his position between each trade, paralyzing White to his structural weaknesses. Even though the f4 and d4 pawns dictated the pace for this game, Black didn’t have to win them to procure a result. Let’s move on to the next game.

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Peter Svidler is a top 10 player, and will be one of a few Candidates to face Magnus Carlsen in the 2016 World Chess Championships. Expect the Russian to brush off this loss – he’s a world class player!

Kukk – Eljanov (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)

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Pavel Eljanov is one of my favorite players to watch, and while he didn’t perform at his full strength this tournament, he still showed how he was one of the best here.

In this position, White seems to be standing well. The knight on e5 well placed and Kukk has both of his rooks on open files while Black seems to be lingering behind in development. But Eljanov has his own ideas too. After rerouting from d7, the knight on b8 can enter the contest at any moment via c6. Furthermore, White’s bishop on b2 is passive behind the d4 pawn and will need to spend some tempi to reroute it.

18…Nc6 19. a3

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White plays this move to take away the b4 square from White’s knight. While this may stop Black’s plans for now, Kukk has created a hanging pawns structure on the queenside, and could prove to become key weaknesses in the future.

19…Ne7

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An odd-looking move but Eljanov intends to play …Nf6-e5, so this move allows the queen from b7 to protect the knight. Black also offers the first critical trade of the game.

20. Rxc8 Rxc8

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With this move, Eljanov moves from paperclip to pen. Black’s resolved his development problems and has a clear plan going forward.

21. Rc1 b5 22. b4

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By going for this structure, Kukk has completed a trade of sorts. In exchange for the c5 outpost, he’s put all of his queenside pawns on dark squares, limiting his bishop’s mobility.

22…Rxc1+ 23. Bxc1 Qc8

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Black uses the tempo from the trade to grab the initiative. By rerouting his queen, Eljanov quickly shifts the attention to the kingside, where White has fewer active pieces.

24. Nb3 Ne4

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With this move, Eljanov offers Kukk a choice. White can either try to play around the knight on e4 or can weaken his structure with f2-f3. Unfortunately for White, he can’t easily put a knight on c5 with Black’s knight in the center, so he chose to kick it.

25. f3 Ng3 26. Bf4 Nh5 27. Bd2 f6

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This move highlights the awkwardness behind 25. f3. Now the knight must retreat to g4, where it will have no active options.

28. Ng4 Qc4!

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Same idea as the last game! White has a weak d4 pawn, and a trade on c4 will only strengthen Black’s growing grip on the position.

29. Nf2 Ng3

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Constricting the movement of the king, and being prophylactic! Black wants to play …Ne7-f5, so this move also stops g2-g4.

30. Nc5 Nef5 31. Qxc4 bxc4 32. Nxa6 Nxd4

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The decisive trade. Not only does Kukk give up a central pawn for a wing pawn, but he now faces threats like …Nd4-e2+ followed by a discovered check by moving the g3 knight. While White, like Black, has two passed pawns, they aren’t as advanced, and the White army is too passive for them to make a difference.

33. Nd1 Nde2+ 34. Kf2 d4 0-1

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Here Kukk resigned, as Eljanov’s d- and c-pawns are just too much. White has no mobility, and he’ll have to give up a minor piece when Black pushes …c4-c3.

Since his performance at the World Cup, Pavel Eljanov has been invited to the currently ongoing edition of the Tata Steel in the Netherlands. Check out our post on him from last October here!

As you may have noticed, in each of these games, the winner didn’t count on tactical trumps to beat the other but rather milked small positional edges, forcing the other side to make concessions. When you identify candidate moves, it’s extremely important to know what trades will help your position or weaken your opponent’s.

Dancing with the Dutch: Post-Mortem

As you may recall from Sunday’s video against the Dutch, we left with two critical questions:

1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?

2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?

While Black folded rather easily (until I missed a simple win), I thought this game was a good starting point for today’s article, which asks us not one, but two critical theoretical questions about one of Black’s most common responses to 1. d4. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, you can catch up here:

ChessBase’s online database gives us a really nice breakdown of White’s second move options, and as you may notice 2. Nc3 is not all that uncommon.

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In fact, it scores rather well, 58% in 2163 games. While this line has received special attention from top grandmasters Alexander Grischuk, Santosh Vidit, and Erwin L’ami, it has been played several times by the famous theoretician Boris Gelfand, though he hasn’t brandished it since 2014.

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Boris Gelfand has always been an elite force to be reckoned with in the chess world, having won the World Cup in 2009, and challenged Vishy Anand for the World Championship in 2012.

While I will discuss both the positives and negatives of 2. Nc3 against the Dutch, please do note that most of its appearances in the Mega Database are from blitz tournaments – meaning that it may be used more as an element of surprise than an actual attacking weapon at the highest level. Let’s take a look at what can go wrong when Black doesn’t know how to handle 2. Nc3.

Jobava – Sandipan (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2014)

1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5

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Look familiar? Think back to my ICC game, where my opponent played 2… d5 – same idea! This structure of pawns on d5 and f5 with a knight on f6 turns out to be the most common defense for Black, after which Black will opt for a Stonewall-like structure. Of course, this differs from my game on ICC, where my opponent tried to get a Leningrad structure.

4. e3 e6 5. h4

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Jobava plays what he does best – find novelties. While 5. Nf3 is by far the most common move, Baduur chose this line to secure the g5 square and route his knight to f4 via h3. Aggressive isn’t  the way to go about describing this move, but rather optimistic. 5. Nf3, as we’ll see, tends to get more equal positions with best play.

5…Be7 6. Nh3 O-O 7. Qd2 Ne4

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The standard Stonewall move, but already Black has a few problems. 1) Though White’s piece play is certainly unconventional, Black is falling behind in development. The light-squared bishop from c8 has no scope, and 2) with White due to castle queenside, Black can’t hope for the cookie-cutter attacking lines he gets in a main line Stonewall Dutch.

8. Nxe4 dxe4?! 9. O-O-O Nd7 10. Nf4 Nf6 11. Bc4

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Highlighting the problem with 8…dxe4?!. White’s f1-bishop springs to life here and attacks the king. Meanwhile, White’s amazing knight on f4 also pulls on the e6 weakness. It’s clear that Black’s development has been too slow.

11…Qd6 12. Qa5!

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Optimizing the queen, but can you see the threat?

12…h6 13. Qxf5 +-

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Exposing the pin along the a2-g8 diagonal. Black could take the bishop on g5 with 13… hxg5, but 14. Nxe6 has the whole kingside falling to shambles.

13…Nd5 14. Qxe4 Bxg5 15. Nxd5 1-0

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And on just the 15th move, Chanda Sandipan submits his resignation. Though 15… Bd8 could avoid immediate material loss, Black would find that his weaknesses on the light squares are just too much to bear after 16. Nc3 and 17. Bd3. With an undeveloped army, Black would face a kingside pawn storm with absolutely no counterplay. So what did this game tell us about the Veresov-like lines against the Dutch?

1) If Black cannot resolve the problems of his light squared bishop, it becomes extremely difficult to play for a win.

2) When White castles queenside, “textbook” Stonewall ideas aren’t effective.

Sure, this was a blitz game, and black wasn’t offering the best resistance, but these elements dictated the pace of the game. If Black wants to really maximize his chances, he needs to find a way to bust open the center. Let’s take a look at an antidote here from Vassily Ivanchuk.

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While Ivanchuk has never been a classical World Champion, he’s a very accomplished player. Once the 2nd best player in the world, the Ukranian Grandmaster still plays actively. In 2007, he won the World Blitz Chess Championships.

Gelfand – Ivanchuk (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2012)

1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 c5

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The critical move for Black. While there are only 19 games in the Mega Database with this line, 74% of the outcomes favor Black. By not placing a pawn on c6, Black has a natural square for development and more space to solve his light squared bishop complex.

6. Bb5+?!

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After some computer analysis, I can’t say I like this move. Black will block with his bishop, and will be more than happy to trade off his worst piece. From d7, the bishop doesn’t take away the square from his knight, thanks to his early …c7-c5 deviation. Based on the game, White might have as well just tried 6. Be2, but 6. Ne5 is promising. In van Wely–Reinderman, 2015, the game continued 6… Be7 7. g4 fxg4 and then 8. Bb5+ for a crazy game and a win for White. You can check out that game here.

6…Bd7 7. Be2 Nc6 8. Ne5 Be7 9. Nxd7

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Not wanting to allow a trade on e5, Gelfand makes a major concession here, trading off his best piece for Black’s worst. Even though White does get the pair of bishops, it’s not clear how the light squares will be important with the construct on d5-e6-f5.

9…Qxd7 10. dxc5

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Allowing Black to play …c5-c4 and box in the bishop on e2 would defeat the purpose of trading the knight away, so Gelfand releases the tension and takes a passive position.

10…O-O 11. O-O Bxc5 12. Na4 Bd6 13. c4 d4!

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Allowing the trade of the c- and d- pawns would allow White’s bishop to get back in the game, so this move leaves the pawn on c4 in its way. Furthermore, intuitively this is a great decision. When you are better developed than your opponent, sometimes the best way to capitalize is to open the position. While that usually favors the pair of bishops, here White’s structure and development isn’t coordinated enough to take full advantage.

14. exd4 Nxd4 15. Nc3 Rad8 16. Be3 Be5 17. Nb5 Nxb5 18. cxb5 Nd5 19. Bc5 Bxh2+!

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This pawn grab is enough to be decisive! Should White recapture on h2, …Qd7-c7+ is waiting, picking the c5 bishop back up.

20. Kh1 Bd6 21. Bxd6 Qxd6 22. Bf3 e5 23. Bxd5+ Qxd5 24. Qxd5+ Rxd5

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And the endgame was technical for White. I’ve attached the rest of the game with diagrams for the sake of completion.

25. Rac1 Rxb5 26. b3 g6 27. Rfd1

Black to Move
Black to Move

27…Rf7 28. Rc8+ Kg7 29. Rdd8 e4

White to Move

30. g3 Re5 31. Kg2 e3 32. fxe3 Rxe3

White to Move
White to Move

33. Rc2 Rfe7 34. Kf2 h5 35. Rb8

Black to Move
Black to Move

35…R3e6 36. Kf3 Kh6 37. Kf2 Kg5

White to Move
White to Move

38. Kf3 Re3+ 39. Kf2 Kg4 40. Rc4+ R3e4 41. Rbc8 g5 0-1

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What changed? Well, Black definitely took some initiative with 5… c5. While reaching the Stonewall position helps limit White’s light squared bishop, it was critical that Black take advantage of White lacking a pawn on c4. Just like some Veresov lines, White really lacks any dynamic play because he doesn’t have a way to contest the center. Through further research, most Super-GM success with 2. Nc3 against the Dutch is against lower rated players, so perhaps it’s just a weapon to catch a lower rated player off-guard or out of preparation.

So that answers the first question – when it comes to dynamic play, the straight-forward 2. c4 is favored. Look no further than last week’s post for proof!

Now, the h-pawn march against the Leningrad. What can Black do? Well first, let’s see the idea played in it’s true form, played by the sixth best player in the world, Hikaru Nakamura.

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I put together a post on reigning US Champions Hikaru Nakamura a couple weeks ago, click here to check it out!

Nakamura – Barron (Toronto Open, 2009)

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3

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If you want to have the option of playing h2-h4 should Black choose the Leningrad, it’s important to insert this move. By doing so, White can play e2-e4 once he’s distracted the f6 knight.

3…g6 4.h4 Bg7 5.h5 Nxh5 6.e4

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Unlike my game on ICC, Nakamura chooses a much more finesse move order in 6. e4. Now when he sacrifices on h5, the queen can immediately recapture without having to wait a move.

6…fxe4 7.Rxh5 gxh5 8.Qxh5+ Kf8 9.Bh6

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In my game on ICC, Black fell apart when he traded his bishop on e5 for my knight, surrendering the dark squares. Here, Nakamura highlights the same principle, forcing the trade of Black’s best defender.

9…Bxh6 10.Qxh6+ Kg8 11.Qg5+ Kf7 12.Nxe4

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While White is still down an exchange, he has full compensation. Black has zero development and White’s pieces are already on the crime scene.

12…Qg8 13.Qf4+ Ke8 14.Qxc7 Nc6 15.O-O-O

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Well, king safety is important, but Nakamura’s point is to bring out the rook.

15…Qg6 16.Re1 Kf7 17.d5 Nb4 18.Nf3 d6??

This move seals Black's fate as e7 is now exposed to both the rook and the queen.
This move seals Black’s fate as e7 is now exposed to both the rook and the queen.

19.Neg5+ Kg8 20.Qd8+ Kg7 21.Rxe7+ Kh6 22.Nf7+

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Building the mating net. Already, if Black tries to win material with 22… Qxf7 23. Qxd6+ Qg6 24. Qf4+ and mate is inevitable on the next move.

22…Kh5 23.Re5+! dxe5 1-0

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Black resigned before White could complete his masterpiece, as 24. Qh4# ends the game. Nearly a miniature from the American, and not a convincing defense in sight.  So the question persists, what should Black do?

While Black has won games in this line, I can hardly see the middlegame positions being what Black desires from move 1. That’s why I’m going to suggest a different, more flexible move order for Black.

1.d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d6!

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Not a brilliancy by Grandmaster-level thinking, but it turns out that this extra tempo takes White out of the line. The next move, 4. Nf3, the most common choice puts an end to the h2-h4 shenanigans since the sacrifice on h5 doesn’t work with the queen’s entry blocked.

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Should Black try 4… g6, 5. h4? makes little sense since the thematic e2-e4 push won’t work without Qd1-h5+.

While this move means Black must be prepared for different sidelines, it does mean that he gets more “Dutch-like” positions and can rely on intuition more than just pure calculation.

Well, that’s bad news for White – a great exchange sacrifice ‘refuted’ due to a slight move order change. In these past two weeks, I have easily been the most I’ve ever written about the Dutch. Expect a little bit of fresh air on Friday, it’s time to look at something new!

Opening Experiments on ICC

For those of you who may recall, I did a video + analysis post on the Berlin last month, and today I decided to try a similar format for a new opening. I played 1 d4, hoping for a Queen’s Gambit or Nimzo-Indian, but my opponent instead tried a Dutch. In an effort to be different, and have something new to talk about Tuesday, I tried 2. Nc3 to immediately threaten e2-e4.

After going into a “Leningrad Structure”, I tried a thematic h2-h4-h5 push to bust open my opponent’s king for what should have been a routine win. However, being careless in my calculations, I missed a simple way to extract my opponent’s king and had to find a cool mating idea later to get the result. See if you can find the win before I did!

Since my opponent didn’t exactly play winning chess, I think on Tuesday, my goal is to answer 2 questions:

1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?

2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?

That being said, I hope you enjoy today’s video!

Attack of the Youngsters: Benjamin Bok

For today’s article, I wanted to “introduce” a new grandmaster to chess^summit – which is something I haven’t done for a while. For those of you who have followed this blog since its conception back in 2014, you probably remember my posts on Mikhail Tal, Fabiano Caruana, Sam Shankland, and more recently, Pavel Eljanov. Today, I wanted to introduce a much less well-known Grandmaster from the Netherlands, Benjamin Bok.

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At just 20 years old, Benjamin Bok is a 2600 level Grandmaster and the 8th best player in the Netherlands.

Bok earned his GM title back in 2014 and boasts wins against players like Yu Yangyi, Loek van Wely, and Robin van Kampen. While he hasn’t cracked the elite level of play yet, he’s shown a lot of progress, and in doing so earned an invite to the Challenger section of the Tata Steel this week. Let’s take a look at his Round 2 win.

Bok v L’Ami (Tata Steel Challengers, 2016)

1. Nf3

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The first surprise from Bok this round. Predominantly a 1 e4 player, Bok shows his versatility in opening play by choosing a more strategic set-up.

1…f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. d4 O-O 6. c4 d6 7. Nc3 c6 8. b3

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With the pawn on d4, White’s weaknesses on the long diagonal are temporary. Here we have a Dutch where Black has yet to commit the e-pawn to e6 or e5. Since Black has already played …c7-c6, …e7-e6 is less appealing since it wouldn’t transpose to a true Classical Dutch. As you will see, Black’s inability to play …e7-e5 and contest the center will play a big factor in Bok’s win.

8…Na6

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An odd-looking move, but perfectly principled. From a6, the knight can go to c7 and help control the center, or like later in the game, b4 and then c6. While “knights on the rim are grim”, the position here is slow enough thatBlack can afford to spend the extra tempo maneuvering this knight.

9. Re1

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With this move, Bok makes his intentions clear. If he can play e2-e4 and bust open the position, he can punish Black’s slow play. This idea is a great example of a well-known development principle: when your opponent is behind in development (or it’s inferior to your’s), sometimes the best option is to change the dynamic of the position by making the position more open. In doing so, you test the general optimization of your opponent’s army.

9…Ne4 10. Bb2 d5?!

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Black would have loved to push 10…e7-e5, but tactically this won’t work with the knight on e4. For example 10… e5 11. dxe5 Qb6 (attacking f2) 12. Rf1 dxe5 13. Nxe4 fxe4 14. Nd2 += and now the position sours as Black’s central doubled pawns make L’ami’s position nearly untenable.
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Going back to the game, 10… d5 is a very committal move. While L’ami is increasing his control over the e4 square, the move …e7-e5 is no longer an option, and he’s now boxed in the bishop on c8. More interesting was 10… Nac5, using the pin along the long diagonal.

11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Ne5

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Highlighting the other problem with 10… d5 – Black’s ceded control over the e5 square. While the knights on e4 and e5 look equal, White still can attack the e4 square with f2-f3, while Black as no pawn push to attack the knight on e5.

12…Nb4 13. Rc1 Be6 14. a3 Nc6 15. Nxc6

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Why the knight trade? Already controlling the c-file, a backward pawn on c6 would make a nice target. Furthermore, after a move like f2-f3, the c5 square could make for a nice outpost.

15…bxc6 16. Na4 f4 17. f3 Nd6 18. Nc5

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Bok has achieved positional domination, thanks to Black’s move 10… d5. With no effective way to kick the knight from c5, Black’s army will be subdued, While White can aim for an e2-e4 push once again.

18…Bd7 19. e4 g5

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Desperate to find some source of counterplay, Black shoves his g-pawn down the board, unfortunately, he missed the strength of White’s plan.

20. exd5 cxd5 21. Re5!!

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A powerful blow to Black’s position, as White attacks both the d- and g-pawns. Unfortunately, there’s little L’ami can do, as 21… Bxe5 loses to 22. dxe5 and 22… Nf5 23. Qxd5+ e6 24. Qxd7.

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21…e6 22. Nxd7 Qxd7 23. Rxg5 Nf5 24. Qd3 Rab8 25. Bh3

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With no threats from Black, White can take his time optimizing his pieces and preparing for an attack.

25…Kh8 26. Rh5 Qf7 27. Bg4 h6 28. gxf4

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Eliminating all sources of …fxg3 counterplay. Though Bok opens his king, Black can not seriously hope to exploit this.

28…Ne7 29. Re1 Ng6 30. Bc1 Nxf4 31. Bxf4 Qxf4

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Though it may not seem like White has improved the position that much, he’s managed to trade his most inactive piece, the bishop on b2, for one of Black’s best defenders.

32. Kg2 Rbc8 33. Bxe6 Rce8 34. Re2 Bxd4 35. Bg4 Rd8??

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Black’s last chance to stay in the game was 35… Rxe2+ where White stands slightly better. However, in this brief moment of Black’s lack of coordination, Bok blows L’ami off the board.

36. Re7 Bg7 37. Qg6 Qd2+ 38. Kh3 1-0

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With no checks left in the position, L’ami resigned. The bishop on g7 is not only attacked, but pinned to the h7 square, and should Black protect the rook, Bg4-f5 is coming, and there’s no way to stop mate without giving up too much material.

A great win from the Dutch Grandmaster against his fellow countryman, as after 10… d5, his play flowed and there was a clear-cut plan throughout the whole game. While this game showed us the importance of fluidity at the highest level, it also showed the importance of having a broad opening repertoire. Bok rarely deviates from 1. e4, but here likely threw away hours of Erwin L’ami’s preparation. Good win!

Bok currently sits at 2/5 in the Challengers Section, with tough games against Grandmasters Sam Sevian and Nijat Abasov left. We’ll see if there’s more to come this year from the Dutch youngster – with play like this win, he just might reach 2700!

Back from Boston and Philly, Ready to Make 2016 Count

Well, it’s been a long, tough two weeks. Competing in the Open sections of both the Boston Chess Congress and the Liberty Bell Open proved to be a tough challenge but after ten difficult games, I can say I’ve learned a lot more about what it takes to reach master, and what it takes to get there. On a whole, I gained rating points from each event, but only five on aggregate – meaning that on a whole, I performed at my rating level.

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Though most of my time in Boston was consumed at the chess board, I did get some time to walk around the Boston Harbor. Here was a view from my hotel floor!

Boston proved to be a much harder venue for me as after a lucky break in round 1, I quickly found myself competing alongside Grandmasters and other 2300+ rated players. If you didn’t get a chance to check out my escape from a lost endgame last week, you can check it out here:

After starting 1/1, I lost the next three before flying home with a 1/4 score. I had some opportunities in my last round, but under time pressure (ironically the reverse of my first game) I collapsed when it counted most. In my preparation for this past weekend, I had a couple of objectives:

1. Manage my time better: Time influenced too many of my games in a negative manner. Traditionally, managing the clock hadn’t been an issue, but against a higher level of competition, I needed to be more confident and less timid.

2. Don’t Panic: I found that my mistakes in Boston stemmed from stress in critical positions, and lashing out when I didn’t need to. Ideally, managing my clock would take care of this, but as I found at the Liberty Bell Open, this was not the case.

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Caffeine, chocolate, lucky pen – but most importantly – a sense of confidence. I can’t recall the last time I was excited to play as I was going into the Liberty Bell Open.

The last time I played in Philadelphia, as you may recall, was the National Chess Congress, which I pronounced the “toughest tournament” I had ever played in at the time. Returning to a similar field, I wanted to improve from my previous performance, meaning that I was aiming for a 2.5/6 or 3/6 score (I needed a round 7 bye to get back to Pittsburgh). Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:

Round 1: Steincamp – Katz (IM)

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White to Move

In my second ever game against an International Master, I found myself in a slightly worse position and decided to grab a pawn with the tactic: 21. Nxd5 Bxd2 22. Ne7+ Kf8 23. Nxc6 Bxc1 24. Bxg7+

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Black to Move

While I do reach a material advantage, the bigger question became: where is my knight going? 24… Kxg7 25. Nxd8 Ba3 26. Nb7

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Black to Move

Here Black could have played 26. Rc6, but was feeling ambitious and tried 26… c4 and after 27. dxc4 Rc7 I missed my first chance to reach some sort of equality.

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White to Move

Here I played 28. Nd8? and eventually had to trade my knight for the pawn on e6, but if I had found 28. Na5! Bb4 29. a3! I could have saved the piece, or at least traded it for a bishop.

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Black to Move

I don’t know if my opponent saw this, but the position will simplify to a 2-agianst-1 structure on the queenside against my 4-against-3 on the kingside. Arguably equal, but still a lot to prove against an International Master.

I did miss one more chance to equalize, but in time trouble, I blundered and missed my opponent’s best move:

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White to Move

Here I went completely wrong with 48. Rg5?? thinking that Black’s king wouldn’t be in time to reach my final pawn storm and missed the drawing 48. Rg1!!. For example, 48… Rxa2 49. Rd1+ and Black cannot let my rook reach the 7th rank, 49… Rd2 50. Rc1 Bc3 51. Rg1 Bg7 52. Rc1 Rc2 53. Rd1+ … I think you guys can see that the repetition is inevitable.

Close game, but for G/60, a tough ask to find all the best moves there – too bad I only needed to find one. The next round is the most instructional game, and therefore, the center of this article’s attention.

Round 2: Li – Steincamp

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 O-O 8.g4??

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A terrible blunder! White goes against all the principles here with this pawn heave and immediately faces the consequences with my next move. Here are some important takeaways you need to address such positions in your own games:

1) Black has made no mistakes so far. That’s right, no mistakes. So far my moves have been theoretical and principled, so logically this attack cannot “work”. Since we assume that with best play from both sides, chess is a draw, then naturally, since I know I haven’t erred, this isn’t winning for White. This means that there is a move in this position that Black can make that neutralizes this idea. Keep in mind that we aren’t assuming that White has blundered, we’re just validating the idea that Black isn’t in trouble.

2) White has yet to finish development or castling. It’s under this principle that we can assume that White has gone wrong to some extent. If we want to punish this move, we want to highlight White’s lack of king safety, which means busting open the position. Sometimes the best defense to a wing attack is to attack the center, which is what I do here.

8…d5 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.e5 Ne4

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Perhaps getting carried away with trying to stop f2-f4 ideas. I knew that the resulting position after the trade would be roughly equal, but I believed I had the easier position to play. In reality, 10… Nd7 11. f4 f6 is great for Black.

11.f4 Nxc3 12.bxc3 f6!

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An easy way to break down White’s center. Notice how once the f-file opens, I would have achieved my goal of exploiting White’s weak king.

13.Bd4 fxe5 14.Bxe5 Bxe5 15.fxe5 Rf4

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Threatening …Rf4-e4 while maintaining structural flexibility. My queen is headed to f8.

16.Bf3 Ba6

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Stopping White from castling, but more importantly preparing …Qd8-f8. Notice that 16… Qf8? is bad because 17. Bxd5+ cxd5 18. Qxd5+ and the a8 rook is hanging.

17.Rb1 Qf8 18.Kf2 Qh6 19.h4 Raf8

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An important decision, as 19… Rxf3+, the natural sacrifice gets murky after 20. Kxf3 Rf8+ 21. Kg2 Qe3 22. Qe1. Since this game was G/60 and it was evident that I was already winning, I decided the best course of action was to win the g4 pawn.

20.Rh3 Rxg4 21.Rb4 Re4 22.Kg2 Rxe5

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Notice how I’m in no big rush to make some sacrifice to try to convert. In retrospect, I may have looked at 22… Rxf3 more here with more time, but what can White do about losing yet another pawn?

23.h5 Bc4

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A psychological blow here for White as I cut off the b4 rook from entering the fray. With his last move, it was clear that White needed this piece for an attack to work so I actually played this before my ten-second delay ran out.

24.Qd4

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I decided here that it would be too risky to try to find some tactical solution to checkmate White, so I just tried to find ways to trade down to a winning endgame.

24…Qg5+ 25.Rg3 Rf4

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Complicated at first glance, but simple to figure out. If 26. Rxg5 Rxg5+ 27. Kf2 Rxd4 28. cxd4 Bxa2 gets me to my winning ending. as White’s remaining pawns are harmless. If White stalls, let’s say 26. a3?? Bf1+! is deadly – in retrospect, I could have done this first, but only found this idea after …Rf4 during my opponent’s think.

26.Rb8+ Kf7 27.hxg6+ hxg6 28.Qxa7 Bf1+

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Finding the correct continuation is critical, but Black wins by force with all of the checkmate threats.

29.Kf2 Re2+ 30.Kxf1 Qxg3

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Materially the game simplifies to a queen and rook ending, but White’s pieces are too far from the king.

31.Kxe2 Qxf3+ 32.Kd2 Qf1

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I saw this when playing Bf1+. My opponent thought I was going to trade queens from f2, but I had no intention of going into a rook endgame where my opponent had a passed pawn. This move cuts off the king from c1, and with no checks, White must play along.

33.Qa8 Rf2+ 34.Ke3 Qe2+ 35.Kd4 Qc4+ 36.Ke3 Qf4+ 0-1

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Moral of the story? Don’t make unprincipled moves in the opening. Each of White’s problems throughout the game stemmed from 8. g4? and thus resulted in a strategically lost position. I thought another important point was that when time is limited, don’t try to make things too complicated. I had several opportunities to sacrifice on f3, and I’m sure some lines may have worked, but why take the risk if the win is already guaranteed? Sometimes it’s easy to forget how common sense is a factor in chess. Just ask 4th round me from last week’s Boston Chess Congress.

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Based in the Central City District in Philadelphia, I had a lot more opportunities to explore the city after my games to search for food. While Philadelphia hasn’t proven to be the best chess locale for me personally in terms of performance, I have to admit the experience of playing in the city is one of the better chess adventures I’ve had in my career. This Liberty Bell Open marked the 4th time I’ve played in Philadelphia.

I guess if there was one last major lesson worth sharing with all of you, I would have to skip to the critical moment of my round 5 clash.

Round 5: Steincamp – Hutton

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White to Move

The most important element of this position is the one you can’t see, time. With 13 moves before the next time control, I have 41 minutes, compared to my opponent’s 3. Trying to find natural moves and keep my opponent on the clock, I tried for 27.d4?! Qxd4 28. Qg3 Qf6, achieving the position I wanted, but it’s not clear what I need to do now.

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And now, I blundered spectacularly with 29. Ne6?? a perfectly natural move, but missing that 29… Nh5 is winning because Black is threatening …Qf6-e5+ should I move my queen. I would have had to play 30. e5 dxe5 and settled for a worse position. Fortunately for me, my opponent, with around 2 minutes left, played 29… Nxe6 giving me the endgame I wanted after 30. dxe6 Rg7 31. Qxg7+ Qxg7 32. Rxg7+ Kxg7 33. exf5 and not only is Black’s knight cornered, but he’s about to lose his queenside pawns as well.

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So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t worry about your opponent’s clock! Wait a minute, this almost feels like something I tell all of my own students – maybe I should listen to my own advice! Let’s go back to the original position.

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White to Move

With a little more time, and knowing that endgames are good for me, 27. Qb2 would not be an unrealistic alternative to the contrived d3-d4 push. Now I’m threatening d3-d4, and …fxe4 will always be met with Bxe4+, activating my bishop from h1. My opponent in time pressure would have likely folded as in the game, but here I at least don’t need to worry about losing! If your opponent is going to make mistakes in time pressure, let them do it on their own.

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I’m not much of a food critic, but I do love a good meal in between rounds. For future tournaments in Philly, I recommend the Foodery Rittenhouse. It’s a popular sandwich place that’s open late with fairly cheap prices. Finding a table is difficult, but that’s probably a good sign.

So how did I do on my goals? Well, I reached 2.5/6 which was my goal, and I scored 2.5/3 against people within 100 rating points of me. While my play wasn’t perfect, it was enough to get the results against the opponents I could beat. Though time trouble was not an issue for me (with the slight exception of the first game), I did find myself “panicking” or playing too timidly against the higher rated players. I guess it takes a few games to really build the confidence against them.

My next major tournament is the Pittsburgh Open in March, but I have a couple smaller events between now and the end of the semester – the G/75 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships and the Pittsburgh Chess League, to name a few.

Lastly, I’d like to thank all of my supporters at GoFundMe for helping me make this month possible. Since I started my campaign three months ago, I’ve raised $600, which have helped me cover costs at the National Chess Congress, Boston Chess Congress, and the Liberty Bell Open. Without all of your help, I would not have been able to attend these tournaments and get the experience I need to become a better player going into the summer’s US Junior Open. There’s only a few months left, and I’m really hoping to make them count!

Studying with Isaac – Grandmaster Games

Before I take off for the Liberty Bell Open this weekend in Philadelphia, I made a different kind of video. In an effort to show how I analyze Grandmaster games, I chose a game from the Brazilian Chess Championships and recorded myself reviewing it. I thought this was an interesting experiment, because just like you, I had never seen the game before, and luckily enough, White played beautifully.

I hope you enjoy – and if you enjoy the format, let me know!