Hi everyone, welcome to the newest edition of Chess^Summit! As I mentioned in my last few posts prior to the US Junior Open, I’ll be adding three ambitious players to the site who you’ll get to know very well in the upcoming weeks. While the four of us may have somewhat similar goals, our unique perspectives and understandings of chess will make each of our journeys to the next level vastly different. I’m really excited to continue sharing my own experiences here on Chess^Summit, but with the added twist that I too will now get to learn from this site that I created two years ago.
With the US Junior fully behind me, I’ve had some time to assess my play and consider new goals for the remainder of the summer and beyond. Knowing from personal experience that setting a goal to win a tournament is perhaps not the greatest idea, it would seem as if setting a rating goal would be rather appropriate. However, even this has its flaws. When looking back on my tournaments in NYC, Washington DC, Charlotte, and New Orleans from earlier this summer, I think it’s clear that I’ve made progress in various aspects of my game, yet the mere 13 rating points I’ve tacked on seem to speak against that. So worrying about the number and not my own play seems a little silly. But the question still remains, what will my goal be for the upcoming months? As of today, my goal is to become a National Master.
Of course, there is the inherent flaw that this specifically means breaking 2200. In order to work around this, I’m going to purposely avoid checking my rating, calculating my performance at the conclusion of a tournament, and looking at my opponent’s rating before the start of each round. My dad has agreed to notify me when I break 2200. I think this will be very difficult for me at first, but hopefully, it will mean that all that matters is the quality of chess that’s being played over the board.
So what specifically am I going to work on to become a National Master? Personally, I think it would be a grave error to not focus on improving my calculation skills. While positionally I have matched reasonably well with stronger opponents this summer, in several key moments my own short-sightedness has proven itself toxic to getting the satisfying result I desired. While improving my tactical skills will help me become more precise, improving my mental fortitude will help me achieve the state of mind I need going into each game. Keeping a clear mind throughout each tournament will help me remain relaxed and focused on playing my best. By eliminating outside distractions such as ratings or performance, I hope I can directly improve my concentration at the board.
So enough abstract – let’s talk chess! I’ve got a gruesome double-header coming up in Philadelphia, as I’ll be competing in the Open section of the World Open, followed by a tough Philadelphia International. I’m going to take some half point byes, but I believe it will still be the most number of rated games I have ever played in an eleven day period. I will be sharing my overall performance in my next post on July 12th (two weeks). Meanwhile, I decided to dig up a past game I’ve played that I thought was worth sharing.
Senft – Steincamp (Kingstowne Chess Festival, 2013)
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4 O-O 6. Nf3 c5 7. d5 Bg4
A Four Pawns Attack, which if I’m not mistaken was Sean’s (and still is) pet line against the King’s Indian Defence. I believe I briefly mentioned this game when I first launched Chess^Summit back in 2014, but without any analysis or diagrams – what a disservice to what might have been the best game I played in all of 2013!
Here I chose 7… Bg4, with the idea of trading on f3 and setting up a Benoni structure with queenside pressure. At the time, I didn’t really understand the nuances of move order, and had I fully recalled my then future coach’s video series, would have instead chosen 7… e6, keeping my options open for my bishop following the trade on d5. With the way my opponent handled the opening, this slight difference didn’t matter in the end. 8. Bd3 e6 9. O-O exd5 10. cxd5 Ne8
A backwards knight move? Again, I think 10… Nbd7 makes a little more sense, but with the pin on f3, the position will transpose. This move serves a few functions. First, my g7 bishop now covers the e5 square. In these Benoni positions, it’s absolutely critical to not allow White to break open the position with an e4-e5 push. With the pin on f3 and a knight coming to d7, White cannot hope to immediately take advantage of my lack of development. Next, my knight on e8 will reroute itself to c7 to help support a …b7-b5 thrust. By bringing my knights to the queenside, my goal is to take advantage of some of White’s dark squared weaknesses such as the d4 square or the b2 pawn. 11. Be3 Nd7 12. h3 Bxf3 13. Qxf3 a6 14. a4 Nc7 15. Qg3?!
Up until this point, both sides have played rather coherently, each attaining their ideal set-up. White is nicely developed and possess a nice space advantage, while Black has counterplay coming with …b7-b5. With his last move, 15. Qg3, White has made a move that is rather reminiscent of sub-2000 rated play. The only reason for the queen to be on g3 would be to attack g6, but as you can see, f4-f5 isn’t realistic, as the e5 square become an outpost for my d7 knight. This means White now would need two tempi to push the h-pawn to h5 to execute this idea, but already it’s not clear what he’s achieved. With these fianchetto structures, generally, the g6 pawn is the strongest point in the formation. With White failing to improve his position, I continued with my plan. 15…Rb8 16. a5 b5 17. axb6 Rxb6
With this trade on b6, the structure has changed. Rather than pushing a pawn storm down the queenside, I now have a half open b-file for my rook to target the b2 pawn. While the position is roughly even, Black holds more strategic trumps – the g7 bishop is menacingly cutting through the position, my queen can enter the game through b8, and White can’t push e4-e5, even with the help of his misplaced queen. While White can probably hold this position with best play, it’s not easy, and already we can see how White can regret his choice of 15. Qg3 just a few moves ago. 18. Ra2 Qb8 19. Qf2
Admitting the mistake. This is a hard thing to do, even for much stronger players, but unfortunately this it just too passive given the nature of the position. I remember thinking that White could have been better off here playing 19. Rfa1 during the game, ditching the b2 pawn for the a6 pawn, but after 19…Rxb2, the c3 knight is hanging, giving me some nice discovered attack potential on a1 once the knight moves. With my more experienced eyes, I have a strong feeling that this bishop on e3 is misplaced, as it means a rook on e1 cannot support a future e-pawn push. One mentality when playing against the Benoni is to avoid opening the queenside structure, surrendering space for the sake of time elsewhere. Thanks to some of my research with National Master Franklin Chen prior to the US Junior Open, I’ve found that in similar main line Benoni positions (1 d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6), sometimes it’s best to omit a2-a4 and ask Black what his intentions are. With some deeper analysis, I’ve found that while 14. a4 was perfectly fine, perhaps the insertion of 16. a5 hurts White strategically more than it hinders Black’s expansion. 19…Rb3 20. Bxa6?
White’s had some small inaccuracies up to this point, but simply trading the material weaknesses does not rid White of the positional weaknesses his position holds. This is probably one of the biggest distinctions between amateurs and experts, as positional considerations matter much more when assessing the position. With this trade on a6, White’s rook will become inactive while mine will have VIP access to the second rank. 20…Nxa6 21. Rxa6 Rxb2 22. Ne2 Qb5 -+
White’s position is now beyond repair, and as a result, will now cost him an entire piece. I like to show this game to my students because I think it shows what happens if you memorize opening theory but don’t seek its strategic elements. Once White completed his development, he made slow moves in a dynamic position, and quickly found himself too passive when the position required him to attack. That’s not to say White played a terrible game, I think I had surprised him with this set-up, and after 17…Rxb6, it’s very difficult to provide answers in this position without prior research. Unfortunately for him, that meant reaching a lost position in five moves. 23. Rxd6 Rxe2 24. Qf3 Rxe3 0-1
A cute finish for a game that had long since been over (…Bg7-d4 is coming if the queen recaptures). If I played a game like this now, I think I would label it as nothing special, but as an 1800 picking up my then career-best win, I remember this game being a huge confidence booster for me at the time. With proper opening play, strategy always prevails!
For today’s game, I decided to choose a three-year-old game to celebrate the beginning of what I hope will become a fun project here at Chess^Summit. One of my motivations to invite new authors to this site was to present you with some elements of chess that are lost in the near perfect play of grandmasters. To become a strong player, you must have a full working understanding of positional and strategic imbalances, and here on Chess^Summit, we hope to present you with new ideas through the lens of our own improving understandings of chess. While we won’t be showcasing every great moment of the careers of Karpov, Kasparov, or Carlsen, we will be sharing instructive (and hopefully proud) moments from our own tournaments – even if that means going back a little in time.
I hope you all enjoy the weeks to come here on Chess^Summit! These next two weeks should be a fun ride!