Making the Most of a Tough Week in Philly

This cover of Chess Life, sent to me by my coach after the tournament concluded perhaps best described my performance relative to the amount of progress I have made in recent months.

I think I could have also tried the title The Quest to Break 2000 Backwards or Philly Phailures, but I hardly think that this is an appropriate way to describe my first tournament back since the US Junior Open. As I mentioned in my last post, I pushed myself to play in the top section of the World Open, pitting me against the toughest level of competition I had ever encountered over the board. Across the six games I played (I had three half point byes), I had the longest in tournament losing streak of my career (five – six if you include the final round of the US Junior Open!), and in a majority of the games, I was simply outclassed by my opponents on both sides of the board. To put things simply, by my own personal historic standards, this year’s World Open could have very well been one of the worst tournaments of my career.

But I would like to think that this is a shallow understanding of my overall performance. Sure, I had my failures this tournament, but what my stay in Philadelphia showed me is that there is an entire realm of chess I had never seen before and that in the eyes of a Grandmaster, I am once again a beginner. But this is okay – learning something new means finding something you have never seen before, and this performance is another step in the age-old process of becoming a better chess player. What do I mean?

Three of our Chess^Summit authors participated in this year’s World Open – Beilin, Alice, and myself. Vishal was unable to attend but he was here in spirit!

After completely collapsing in the first four games of this tournament, I got a call from my coach in which he told me the opening repertoire I had counted on since breaking 2000 would no longer cut it at this level competition, and I would need to improve and find better openings to get more competitive positions. Bam! A new weakness had been discovered in my play, and despite my progress, that problem started with move one (well, metaphorically). I can probably make master without fixing my repertoire, but seeing as my ambitions are much higher than this, I will be revamping my openings with the hopes of returning to the World Open next year with a much more competent result. I have no idea what this means for my current goal in the short-term, but I’d like to think that if I can persevere, I can still achieve great things despite my not-so-young age…

Persevere. That’s a strong word – and the biggest positive I can hope to take away from my experience in Philadelphia. Around the time my coach called, my parents, who have always been supportive of my chess, offered to let me withdraw and pick me up early from what was quickly turning into a miserable result. Somewhat stubbornly (perhaps the same trait that makes me a chess player), I declined with two games left to go. My confidence had taken a serious blow after quickly reaching lost positions in each of my first two games, and after two more humbling defeats, I was quickly realizing that as a positional player, it was somewhat foolish to think I could have fared well against a level of competition that understood my very strength better than me. For my last two games, I decided to focus on two aspects of my game that I previously stated I wanted to work on the most: calculation and mental fortitude.

Trying to relax between rounds. Just like how Iceland was finding out it had a long way to go before competing with teams like France, I too was having my own humbling experience

Sure, I was reaching worse positions out of the opening, but I knew the only way I could have any chance was to be strong and focus on making the best moves I could every move. At this point I was very aware of the real possibility of losing all of my games, as well as falling far below 2100 – though as I’ve mentioned rating no longer matters to me if I’m improving. For today’s post, I want to share my last two games, as they play into a greater story going into my last round.

My fifth game was both a blessing and a curse. Faced with the Veresov, my limited opening knowledge meant I had to calculate from move four, draining my time and causing an unforced error on move 19. While such a quick loss would be discouraging to many, I took it as a positive because I had succeeded to get out of the opening with no prior knowledge and reached an arguably better position. As I tried to describe to my dad, I was flying! Unfortunately, it was just a little too close to the sun… Here we go:

Arthur–Steincamp (World Open, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 Bf5 4.f3

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Back in January when I played in the Boston Chess Congress, my 2300 rated opponent played 4. Bxf6, which was what I was expecting when I played 3…Bf5 at the time. Following my thought process from that game, I played the same move, the idea being that if White wants to take on f6, he better do it before I play …e7-e6. By playing 3…Bf5, I can play …e7-e6 without making a bad bishop. But now, six months later, it’s a different time and different opponent. With 4. f3 I was out of book, and my only weapon was my  brain. 4. f3 is the second most common move played in this position and has a concrete idea. White will take on f6 to make way for an e2-e4 central push, hoping to gain a lead in development as well as a structural advantage in turn for the bishop pair. At first, I liked 4…Nbd7, but quickly recognized the “fork trick” we all see as a child with 5. Nxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 and so forth. In our post-mortem, my opponent said this is a line (indeed! It is the most common move), but with no prior knowledge, such an attempt would not be practical. At this point, I realized how critical the d5 pawn was to my position, seeing as it was my only hold on the center. In an effort to be solid, I opted for 4…h6, a move Spassky chose back in 1981 at Linares and won a convincing game with as Black. Of course, I did not know this at the time, but if a great like Spassky played this move, then I must be on some sort of right track. My opponent played a move that has never been played at the Grandmaster level, but this is likely because the Veresov rarely finds its way into the top, if ever 5.Bxf6 exf6 6.e4 Be6 7.Bd3 c6

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I spent some more time here to calculate various …c7-c5 lines. I think here, it’s already important to see that 7…dxe4 8. exd4 Qxd4?? loses immediately to 9. Bb5+ and the queen is lost. This idea is important because many simplifications where the d-file opens will meet the same fate. For example, one of the first lines I saw 7… c5 8. dxc5 Bxc5? 9. exd5 Bxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5?? 11. Bb5+ and again we see the same pattern. Of course, I had found the improvement 8…d4 followed by capturing on c5, but this was all moot because White can take on d5 first and the same tactical problems persist. I took the more solid route, since 7…c6 ensures that with trades on d5, I will maintain the bishop pair, which is presently my only real advantage in the position. 8.Nge2 Bb4

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This move kicked off the rapid consumption of my time, as the decision to place this bishop here on b4 or d6 was an important one. My gut originally ruled out this move because this pin doesn’t last long, and spent a significant amount of time thinking about 8…Bd6 to stop Nf4 ideas. 9. exd5 cxd5 10. Nb5 0-0 should be equal, but I found a good resource for White with 8…Bd6 9. Qd2 and now the idea of Nf4 is a real idea and it is not quite clear why I’m going to give back the pair of bishops along with two structural weakness.

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If White executes this idea, my d-pawn becomes isolated and keeping the bishop pair become doubtful thanks to the pressure on d5 and the eventual threat on Nc3-b5.

After a while, I reconsidered the text move, and realized it asks White to do something about the pin (which is committal since now I can castle), but the real point is that if a2-a3 and b2-b4 my bishop will go to b6 and attack the dark squares since White doesn’t have this bishop anymore. Then the king will look bad on g1 and White will have to do something about the d4 pawn. I think I spent about 15 minutes here, but as the engine has informed me, this was the correct decision! Since this position has never occurred in a Grandmaster game, I’m curious how much my opponent knew in this position. In our post-mortem, he said that I even have to play this move, which suggests that he was aware of this position, or is simply a strong player – or perhaps both! 9.O-O O-O 10.Kh1 Re8

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After the game, my coach told me here that I have 10 moves that are absolutely appropriate to play in this position, which I guess suggest I spent too much time here trying to find the silver lining. However, up to this point in the tournament, I had failed to establish such a solid position by move 10 which makes this position a small victory for me personally. That being said, I think the insertion of this move was critical for the future course of the game. First, I am fully prepared for the e-file to open with my rook on e8, but I also give my bishop two options in case of retreat: a5, and the path I took during the game, f8. Though the bishop may seem misplaced on f8, it is a long range piece and is just active, while also providing my kingside with some form of defense. I spent some time here trying to develop my knight, but I concluded that if 10…Nd7 11. exd5 is well timed because now the position opens and now my knight seems misplaced. My opponent said this is what he would have played if my knight had moved at this point, regardless of d7 or a6. Having established full equality, my opponent decided to change the pace of the game with 11.Ng3, allowing me to play 11…dxe4 and break up White’s center.

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Without a knight on f6, I had to make sure that I wasn’t opening myself to any kingside attacks, but the aggressive 12. fxe4?! Qxd4 13. Nf5 Bxf5 14. Rxf5 failed to impress, as White is down a pawn and has an imaginary attack. This move put me below 50 minutes to make move forty, as I had to find an effective way to meet 12.Bxe4 as d4-d5 is threatened. Quickly I saw that if White succeeded to trade his d-pawn for my c6 pawn, my lack of development would leave me in a worse endgame, as well as tactical problems on b7. So I had to find my next move as well, 12…Qa5 =+

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At this point, I’d like to believe that I have solved all of my opening problems, sans the knight on b8, while also asking White questions of my own. On top of threatening to win a pawn on c3, I’m preparing to play …f6-f5 to attack the bishop and open the f6 square for my knight. I also had some strategic ideas here of doubling the c-pawn in the case of 13. Qd3, and then using the c4 square with a …Nd7-b6-c4 maneuver with some serious queenside pressure. This move also acts as prophylaxis, stopping d4-d5 because tactically I can play …Re8-d8 and win material. At this point in the game, I was already somewhat confident that I could finally get the position I had yearned for all tournament, but my clock was already of some concern… With some engine analysis, both sides are playing well thus far, as we are both selecting one of the computer’s best move with each turn, keeping the game around equality. 13.Nce2 Bf8

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Because 13…f5 would have been met with 14. c3, I decided now would be the best time to relocate the bishop, seeing as it no longer has a purpose on b4. This move revives the threat of …f6-f5, followed by quick development from Black. I thought White’s best plan was to slowly build the position with 14. c3 (as played in the game) but followed calmly with b2-b3, and eventually c3-c4, which would once again establish a strong center. As the game showed, trying to expand on the queenside favored me as it created some weak squares like c4. 14.c3 f5 15.b4?! Qa6!

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A critical find, highlighting the positional importance of 10…Re8. The f5 pawn is not hanging because after 16. Bxf5? Bxf5 17. Nxf5, the knight on e2 does not have enough defenders and White loses a piece. By provoking this move, I’ve also managed to create a big positional weakness in White’s camp, the c4 square. An example line to prove this would be 16. Bd3 Bc4 17. Bxc4 Qxc4, and in addition to White’s weak light squares, Black now has the added idea of bringing a rook to e3, as well as …g7-g6 to protect f5 and play …Nd7-f6. My position isn’t winning, but it plays itself, unlike White’s. I believe White chose the best move in 16.d5 given the complications, and my lack of time at this point (around 30 minutes for 14 moves!).

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One of the reasons this move is so strong is because if my rook were to leave my back rank, White can play Qd1-d8 in some lines forever freezing my mobility. For example, 16…fxe4 17. dxe6 Rxe6 18. Qd8! is strong, and Black’s win of material is irrelevant after 18…exf3 19. Rxf3 Rxe2 20. Nxe2 Qxe2 because now I only have one piece that can move, while White can quickly activate his rooks and win the game.

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Position after variation 20…Qxe2. Black has no moves!

In this position, I thought it was important to keep enough pieces on the board, as that will be the only way to take full advantage of the weak c4 square and establish counterplay. I decided on the more practical 16…cxd5 because now I can bring my knight to c6 and finally complete development. I haven’t suffered because of this lack of activity, but there’s no reason to delay this any further. 17.Bd3 Qd6 18.Bxf5 Nc6 19.f4 g6??

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And a perfectly good position slides out of reach. Needing to play at roughly a minute a move until move forty, I cracked under pressure here, thinking I could hold tactically, giving myself enough time to bring my bishop to g7. My opponent, a friend of Grandmaster Joel Benjamin and famous coach in New York, said after the game that every move should have two good reasons to make it – one is simply not enough! In this case, he was more than right. While I probably should have seen the ensuing tactic, my position is already falling apart after the trade takes place on e6. In reality, my position would have been a lot more optimistic if I played my other candidate move 19…Rac8 or had found various endgame positions after 19…Bxf5. Of course I can’t say I would have won, after all, there is a price to pay for not knowing openings! 20.Bxe6 fxe6 21.Qd3 Ne7 22.Ne4

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The oversight – not only am I worse, I can actually resign here because the bishop cannot help me hold the crippling position since all my pawns are on light squares. I would go on to play a few more moves, but that was more inertia than me actually thinking I had a chance. Of course in severe time trouble, it’s easy to miss “Maurice Ashley moves” like these, but in the future, I will have to do better to ensure a better result.

I played really well for 95% of this game, but as we all know, chess is cruel and every move counts. While it’s no fun to have a lost game on the 22nd move, I was proud of my ability to be accurate in the opening and be resourceful in unfamiliar territory. But my work with the Veresov wasn’t done yet. I had two half-point byes prior to my last round game, but my final opponent had seen this game and thought he could replicate my time trouble with a different take on the Veresov.

With my roommates for the weekend and long time friends, Jeffrey and Matthew. We all had our own tough experiences at the World Open, but that didn’t stop us from having fun!

I guess psychologically he had hoped this would be enough to give a final punch to a player who in his eyes was extremely weak (how else could you see a 0/5 player?). I’m not really a fan of this strategy, as it’s not like I had forgotten why I set my structure the way I did, but also I don’t think the Veresov was in my final opponent’s repertoire. Personally, I don’t like to prepare completely new openings unless I know enough about what my opponent plays over the board – just ask Chess^Summit colleague Beilin Li! So now with over 24 hours of rest heading into my last game, I was determined to play to the best of my ability and save myself from a disappointing showing. I had already decided to withdraw from the Philadelphia International, since my coach and I decided it would be best to go home and fix my opening problems rather than have these lessons retaught. Luckily for me, I was able to conquer my last round curse quite convincingly.

Wettasinha–Steincamp (World Open, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.f3 e6

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With the bishop on f4 and not g5, my position is a lot more flexible, allowing me to play this move since e2-e4 is currently not possible. Because of this, I had already envisioned my plan for the middlegame, which meant I could play quicker and respond to my opponent’s threats when needed. My plan is to play …c7-c5 (now possible thanks to my e6 pawn), develop my knight to c6, and then see what my opponent does to make more positional decisions. 5.g4 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.e3 c5

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If you’ve read my posts prior to the Chess^Summit relaunch, you’ll see that I’m often a big believer in opening principles. While my opponent has gained space on the kingside, his king will have to make some critical decisions, while I have yet to make any positional commitments. As promised I’ve continued with my plan, and carrying it out has taken minimal time. White now decided to trade off light squared bishops which certainly doesn’t hurt my position. 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.Qxd3 a6

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Making sure that I can recapture on c5 without allowing the nasty Qd3-b5+, winning a minor piece. Funny story here. The following morning as I was confirming my room cancellation and preparing to leave for Richmond, I ran into my opponent, who proceeded to tell me that this move was a blunder because he can play his king to f2, and because of the weak b6 square, I’m as he put it “simply lost”. I was extremely skeptical of this, but figured there was likely some sort of engine work behind this and brought it up with my coach on the train ride home. With further analysis, lost is not only a strong word, it’s completely incorrect. My opponent’s idea of playing Ke1-f2 and then opening the e-file is dangerous, and if anything is just unclear. I had no such hunch during the game, as a solid position held by principles typically prevails against one that does not. I guess it was the typical chess player hubris that exists after losing. Sure this Ke1-f2 improvement is much better than 10.O-O-O?, but it does not punish hundreds of years of conventional thinking. 10…Nc6 11.Nge2

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With plenty of experience in race positions out of various openings, I was already optimistic about my winning chances – and not without good reason. During this point in the game, I remembered a quote from GM Greg Serper a few years ago at Castle Chess Camp where he said that Soviet players used to joke that the extra “O” in queenside castling notation also is recorded on the final result as a loss for that side. Using the last round win I had in New York as a base example, I knew that to have more success in a race position, I needed to find forcing moves and find the most accurate move order. Every move my opponent spends defending is a move he can’t attack the kingside. 11…Qa5 threatening …Nc6-b4 12.Kb1 c4 13.Qd2 b5

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So far every move has been forcing, and now …b5-b4 threatens to trap the knight. My thought with this move order was that if 11…c5 12. Qd2 Qa5, White has a little bit more flexibility (though not much) to choose a move here since he hasn’t played Kc1-b1 yet. By getting him to play the standard prophylactic move, the c3 knight has no safe squares. That opening time advantage my opponent was hoping for? Instead of only having 20 minutes until the 40th move, I’ve only used twenty. I started to calculate a lot more from here, but that’s because I had a slight suspicion that my game would never make it that far if played accurately. 14.Nc1 Bb4

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As my coach would later point out, 14…b4 should also work, but during the game, I thought this got rather messy. I liked this move because it provokes the mistake made in the game, 15.a3? but the point was that should 15. N1e2 Be7! be played, now the threat on the c3 knight is revived, and White must choose between 16. Nc1 or 16. a3, meaning I win a tempo or create a serious weakening of the queenside. I wanted to be able to connect my rooks before going all in, so that a kingside assault would be even less effective from White. I briefly considered sacrificing on a3, but not having access to b8 meant that this attack was more hopeful than concrete, so I reverted to my original plan 15…Be7 16.Qh2?

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At this point in the game, I was instantly reminded phrase I find myself saying often to 1500 rated players: Tricks are for kids! This case is no different. White’s one move threat (Bf4-c7 trapping the queen on a5) is easy to see but now makes it much harder to play a move like g4-g5, as the queen would be left exposed on an open h-file. This move gives me time to play …Ra8-a7! which means I can put my rook on b7 in the future, making sacrifices on a3 a very real possibility. Once White plays this move, there’s no going back, and it was at this precise moment I knew I could win, maybe even by force. 16…Ra7 17.Bd6 trying to stop …b5-b4 pushes Rb7 18.N1a2 further reinforcement of b4 Kd7! -+

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With the trade of dark square bishops, not only do I trade off White’s best piece, I can bring my h-rook into the game and use the b8 square! White doesn’t have any attractive options here, as moving the bishop back to g3 means crashing through with …b5-b4, and going to c5 only delays problems as I can consider trading on c5 then pushing the b-pawn, or playing …Rh8-b8 and winning. 19.Bxe7 Kxe7 20.e4 b4 21.axb4 Nxb4 22.e5

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When I saw this move, it felt like my opponent was resigning by getting rid of his only true dynamic resource. Without any counterplay, I had a hunch that this game had only a few precise moves left before I win. I entertained myself a little by considering leaving this knight here and just winning on the queenside, but with the way the weekend had gone (and let’s face it, the way conventional players play), I continued to deprive White of any counterplay. 22…Nd7 23.Nc1 Rhb8

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I was considering 23…Nd3, and it should be promising too, but it’s a much stronger threat now with two rooks on the b-file. My opponent’s move loses immediately, but what else can he do?

24.Rd2 Nc6 Threatening the c3 knight, and then …c4-c3, winning a rook. 25.N1a2 Rxb2+ 26.Ka1 Qa3 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 13.39.04Once again, the simplest solution is the best solution, as the impulsive move, 26…Nb4 hangs b2, and 26…Rxa2+ 27. Nxa2 Nb4 28. f3 might even be winning for White. My opponent resigned as …Rxa2+ and …Qb2# are coming, and I have the added threat of …Nb4 should he find anything to stop it (there isn’t). So finally a win in the last round – something that I wish had come earlier, but I rightly had to suffer in order to earn.

My experience at the World Open gave me a new found respect for chess. Here I was, some Candidate Master from Virginia thinking I could simply pull a few upsets and have yet another impressive result. While my various preparation helped me in critical moments in each of my rounds, this result shows me that there is a long ways to go until I can play with these guys, and I’m sure once I fix my repertoire, there will be some other problem that needs to be ironed out – this is chess.

After a tough week, there is only one direction – onward!

On my train ride home, I received an email, and before I knew what it was, I realized it was the ratings report from the USCF. While I have vowed to not look at my rating, I think this slip up shows that there is always a sign of hope when we persevere. With a significant drop, my rating is exactly 2100, which offers me two lessons. First, never stop fighting! Even on our worse days, we will be rewarded in the most obscure ways. While a number shouldn’t have to tell you that, it’s certainly nice to know that the system “rewards” perseverance. The second lesson? Read the email subject line – that stuff’s there for a reason! Thanks for reading this far if you’ve made it here – this is easily the longest post I’ve ever written. Until next time!

Anatomy of a swindle (and how to avoid one)

It is often said that the first sentence of an article is the most difficult to write. I agree, so I’ll just skip it!

My name is IM Alexander Katz, probably best known for my uncanny ability to win games from massively worse positions. This is probably a quality earned by way too many hours of online bullet, but it’s a useful skill to have nonetheless; throughout my career, I’ve managed to win games with computer evalutions as low as -145. It seems logical, then, that I should write something on that subject.

Of course, it’s impossible to consistently execute these types of game-reversing swindles without help from the opponent, no matter how many practical traps and complications one manages to create. So while there is a certain art to constructing a masterful escape, there is a straightforward (but not simple!) way to avoid it: constant awareness.

The reasons for this are simple. As chess players, we are subject to certain attractions; to selection biases coming from two competing — but not unrelated — sources. The first is the pursuit of beauty; from the incredible feeling one gets when executing a beautiful sacrificial attack. Everyone loves to end a game in such a way, even to the point that some (the gambiteers among us) will structure their entire gameplan around the possibility of creating one. But it is dangerous to get attached to this desire for a simple reason: everyone remembers their beautiful sacrificial mating attacks, but nobody remembers all the times the opponent simply takes all the material and stifles a yawn.

Still, while we are attracted to the beauty of a stylish finish, we are also defined by our pursuit of simplicity: our desire to end games with as little risk and effort as possible. Sometimes this approach is justified, as there’s no reason to enter unnecessary complications when one has a safe edge. But all too often, it results in the exact opposite: by conceding something in exchange for apparently simplicity, suddenly the opponent may be in a much better position to create complicated counterplay.

Swindles are built off of these two principles: the chess player is both over- and under-confident at different points of the game. Determining which state the opponent is in — and how to best exploit it — is the hallmark of the swindler.

Let’s see some examples of these phenomena in action.


Larson – Katz, USCL 2014

Clearly Black has outplayed White from this position, and holds all the advantages one could hope for from this opening. The c5-square, normally a point of serious contention, is firmly under Black’s control. White’s pieces — especially his rooks — are staring into thin air while Black is preparing to start an assault on the White king. All in all, though the computer gives the cold-blooded 0.00 evaluation, practically speaking Black has excellent winning chances.

Unfortunately, I chose instead to lash out in the search of an aesthetic finish:

19… b5?? 20. bxc6 b4 21. cxd7 bxc3 22. Rxc3 Nxd7

and here I was forced to realize that my “combination” had resulted only a slightly worse position, where my b-file counterplay was barely sufficient to balance the pawn deficit. Shortly thereafter I overpressed and was quickly punished.

The cause for the loss here wasn’t a miscalculation, or time pressure, or any other of a number of excuses we tell ourselves to mask the true reason: the loss was due to a massive failure in judgement. One needs to retain objectivity in all positions — even the ones that are clearly in his or her favor — to maximize the score.

This last game an example of over-confidence; pressing the position too hard to force a “fun” finish. The opposite — playing too safe and allowing counterplay — is just as deadly:


Katz – Francisco, USCL 2014

In this position I found a strong combination:

15. exd6 cxd6 16. Bxe7 Nxe7 17. d5! Bg4 18. Bb5

where White is simply up the exchange for no compensation.


Katz – Francisco, USCL 2014, position after 23… Bxb2

Just a few moves, White needs to decide whether to continue with 24. Rab1 or 24. Nxf5. Both options are still winning of course, but I was afraid of the complications that might result from 24. Rab1 Nxd6 25. Rxb2 Re8. Without thinking much more, I immediately played the “safe” option

24. Nxf5? Bxa1 25. Ne3 Bd7 26. Qxa7 Be5

when suddenly Black has some very annoying compensation for the pawns due to the two bishops aimed at the white king.

Had I taken the time and effort to actually analyze the alternative line, I probably would have found

24. Rab1 Nxd6 25. Rxb2 Re8 26. Nf6+! +-

which is, of course, a very simple win. Instead, as we both drifted into time pressure, Black’s counterplay became stronger and stronger until I wasn’t able to keep my grasp on the position to the point that I almost lost. However, in an amusing display of irony, my opponent also backed out into the “safe” option and forced a perpetual check when a win was available.

That about covers the pitfalls. Now let’s see how one can avoid them!


Katz – Kacheishvili, USCL 2016

In this position, Black — a strong grandmaster — has just sacrificed the exchange to combat the center. White can certainly take a “safe” approach, playing something like 16. Qh3 and trying to make use of the extra exchange later on, but this would give Black unnecessary counterplay against the e5-pawn. In fact, it turns out that Black would be no worse if White took this approach.

Instead, it is necessary to not be lazy and instead charge forward into the complications:

16. Qh5! g6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 18. Qxg6 Qg7 19. Qe8+ Qf8 20. Qg6+ Qg7 21. Qxg7+ Kxg7 22. Rc1 Nc6 23. O-O Ndxe5 24. Rc3!

Normally I would have included a diagram somewhere in the middle of that long line, but I choose not to this time because it is necessary to see the entire variation before entering into these complications. So much for lazy play!


Katz – Kacheishvili, USCL 2016, position after 24. Rc3

The point is that Black’s pieces are simply too poorly placed despite the nominal material advantage, and Black’s king is in serious danger. White won shortly thereafter.

Now, an article about swindling wouldn’t be complete without a full-blown swindle, so let’s explore one now:


Katz – Getz, USCL 2012, position after 51… Rf8

It’s not hard to see that White is completely busted: he’s down a pawn (and a key one at that), his bishop is horribly placed, and there is no real counterplay to speak of. In fact, the position is close to resignable. Well, close.

Instead of rolling over and awaiting Black to figure out a way to crash through, it’s important to get something of one’s own going. After all, things can’t get too much worse! This motivates White’s next move:

52. g4!?

Positionally suicidal of course, but practically necessary to even hope to achieve anything.

52… hxg4 53. hxg4 g5?

The first mistake, caused by lazy play. Black’s intention is clear: to prevent White from playing g5 himself. But had Black taken a bit more time here, he would have realized that g5 is not half as dangerous as the threats Black can make with a move like 53… Qb5! (threatening Rh8 and Ne2+, d3, etc.). Of course, the game move is winning as well, but now White has a plan he can put together:

54. Kg3!?

Another seemingly silly move, but necessary to get some counterplay going. The idea is to use the h-file in conjunction with the weaknesses Black has just created (on the light squares) to at least annoy the opponent.

54… Qb5 55. Rh1


Katz – Getz, USCL 2012, position after 55. Rh1

Here, Black panics in view of the upcoming Qf5, though it is simply not dangerous. A line such as 55… Rf7 56. Qf5 Ne2+ 57. Kf3 Nf4 illustrates this well: White is simply getting mated and cannot generate real threats. But it scared Black nonetheless, causing him to prevent it with

55… Ne2?! 56. Kf3 d3??

which finally allows White to complete the swindle:

57. Qa7+ Rf7 58. Rh7+!!


Katz – Getz, USCL 2012, position after 58. Rh7+!

and Black was forced to settle for the draw.

Of course, it is impossible to perfectly avoid and execute swindles, and it is generally a fruitless pursuit to try. But there are basic principles that are immediately applicable to one’s own play: setting maximum problems for the opponent, remaining alert at all stages of the game, and so on. These help even when not hopelessly behind!

In any event, it is important to be aware of one’s own selection biases, because it applies to many more cases than a simple style of play. It is easy to ignore the real reasons behind a loss, and thus never contend with them, while remembering all the flashy victories one accumulates over a career. This is a very dangerous approach to the game, and perhaps the most prominent reason for stagnation.

Anyway, it is often said that the last sentence of an article is the most difficult to write. I agree with this one too, so I’ll just skip it as well. Thanks for reading!



Attacking Chess: More than Meets the Eye

Hi everyone, I’m Vishal Kobla.  For those of you who don’t know me, I reside in Northern Virginia.  I started playing chess relatively late – my first tournament was when I was two weeks shy of 10. Two weeks after I turned 10, my rating was a novice-like 467, but since then, I’ve been able to progress through the ranks quite well, and I currently find myself in the mid-2100s (for the past year or so).  I play mostly in local open tournaments in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.; I sometimes get the opportunity to travel around the country to play in national tournaments.  My most recent nationals was the 2016 National Junior High Chess Championships in Atlanta, GA in April where I had my fourth straight top-10 finish.  My best performance at a national tournament was at last year’s Junior High, in which I placed 4th but tied for 1st overall with five other players and became a National K-8 Co-Champion.  As of now, my next goal is to achieve the title of National Master, which means breaking the 2200 rating barrier.  With the experiences and help I have obtained along the way in my career so far, I hope to reach that soon, so I can move on to the next goal and continue my career.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Isaac for starting Chess^Summit and giving me the opportunity to be a part of this as a co-author and provide a platform to express my thoughts. Alright, enough about me – let’s talk about some chess.

Every up and coming chess player dreams of the day where he or she will be sitting across from a Master and is able to execute a stunning sacrifice to take over the game.  I’ll admit, I had those moments too.

The following game showed similarities.  I was playing at the Virginia State Scholastic Chess Championships during the first weekend in March this year when my dad informed me of an interesting progression of events that had occurred while I was playing my last round game.  Everyone else on my team had finished their games up to that point and was counting on me to finish strong in order for the team to be able to get a trophy.  The position was as follows against the highest rated player in the section, WFM Jennifer Yu, the 2014 Under-12 Girls World Youth Champion.

Figure 1:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 24. Re3!

Around this point, my dad asked one of the lesser experienced players to go check out my game and see how it was going.  When he came to the board, I couldn’t really tell what he was thinking; yet, according to my dad, he thought I was getting crushed, most likely due to the material disparity he saw.  Skeptical, and knowing that I would have most likely resigned already if I had been down that much material with no compensation, he asked a well-known friend, who was at about the same skill level as I was, to see if he could evaluate my game any better.  When he returned, his opinion was that I was at least equal and may have been better.  The discrepancy in evaluation is an interesting byproduct of gaining experience and skill in the game.  As a player gets better, he or she will be able to study the position based on more factors than just the material count – and that is what has to be mastered if a player wants to become that attacking magician. Chess is more than meets the eye!

After conducting research on many of the game’s [widely regarded] most famous attacking games, I have come up with what I believe are the unwritten rules of attacking chess with a sacrifice that every chess player should know.  We will discuss the first of those in this week’s article.

Rule #1:  Never discount a move or a set of moves solely because it “loses” material.

We’ve all been told not to be afraid to sacrifice material if we think it’s justified.  Yet, in positions where sacrifices are speculative, it becomes much harder to convince your brain to go through with that.  Note:  More about speculative sacrifices will be discussed in the next rule.

Here is that game with Yu once again, but during the calm before the storm.

Figure 2:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 12. Qg3

Both sides have developed their pieces and staked control in the center.  The one difference?  White has safeguarded his king, while Black’s is still stuck in the center.

12. … b4

Attacking before the king is safe.  A different plan of action with, 12. … 0-0-0!? is an interesting possibility that could be considered, as in Spassky – Fischer, World Championship 1972, Game 15.  With the king still stuck in the center, this move allows a tactical shot:

13. Nd5!

Figure 3:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 13. Nd5!

13. … exd5

Forced.  Any other capture or move leaves White with an advantageous position.  This type of knight sally is a thematic sacrifice in many Sicilian lines.  The point is that White wants to get to the king before it can castle into relative safety.

14. exd5

Prying open the e-file against the king.

14. … Kd8 15. Nc6+!

Figure 4:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 15. Nc6+!

Opening up the d-file now

15. … Bxc6 16. dxc6 Nc5!

Figure 5:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 16. … Nc5!

The best move in the position.  16. … Qxc6 is not recommended due to 17. Bxf6 Nxf6 (17. … Bxf6 18. Be4) 18. Qxg7.

17. Bh4 Rg8 18. Bxh7

Figure 6:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 18. Bxh7

18. … Rh8

18. … Nxh7 falls to 19. Rxe7.  White is already down one piece, so what does he do? 

19. Qxg7!

Sacrifice another!  The queen must find an entryway into the fray.

19. … Rxh7 20. Qxf6!

Figure 7:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 20. Qxf6!

The queen is untouchable.

20. … Rxh4 21. Qxf7 Rh8 22. Re5

Figure 8:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 22. Re5

22. … Rf8 23. Qg7 Na4 24. Re3!

Figure 9:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 24. Re3!

We have reached the position from earlier.

Two pieces were sacrificed earlier, and in return, White received open files, a weakened enemy king stuck in the center, enormous piece activity, and a few pawns as compensation.  Yet, there is no clear win in the near road ahead; this itself might be enough to deter the willingness to sacrifice such a large amount of material of some players.  At one point, I was like that, too.  However, with the experience I’ve gained through playing many games, and the knowledge of many top-level games, I’ve been able to train my brain to look at more than just material – i.e. piece activity, coordination, and king placement; and I hope that this article will be able to help in doing just that.

Despite no upfront winning move available at first, I do have a clear plan – Double the rooks on the e-file, tie down Black’s pieces, and push my kingside pawns, all while keeping Black’s knight out of play.  The game continued:

24. … Ra7,

This adds a defender to the bishop in preparation for my next moves.

25. Rde1 Re8 26. f5

Figure 10:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 26. f5

Black’ s pieces are all tied down to defensive posts, while I will just push the f-pawn down the board.  Surprisingly, there already isn’t much Black can do .

26. … Qxc6 27. f6 Rc7 28. R1e2!

This is much better than 28. fxe7+, after which Black can escape White’s attack with 28. … Kc8 29. Qg4+ Kb7 30. Qxb4+ Nb6 and the only thing left is an unclear position.

28. … Qb5 29. f7!

Figure 11:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 29. f7!

The rook is worth more than the bishop!  Once again, taking the bishop allows Black to escape the pressure.

29. … Nb6 The knight finally finds its way back into play, albeit a bit too late. The point is that after 29. … Rf8, White can effectively end the game with 30. Rxe7!, and Black’s position falls apart.

30. fxe8/Q+ (30. h4! was better, when Black is still paralyzed. Nonetheless, this move still leaves with a better position.)

Figure 12:  Kobla – Yu – Position if White plays 30. h4!

Despite the advantage, I was not able to win the game in the end, as my opponent played accurate defense after that and with a time control of G/90, we soon agreed to a draw.  In the many times a position like this has occurred, she was the only one that was able to hold the draw, so hats off to her for being able to defend such a position – not many can do that in their time in this line.

Keep in mind that this rule does not only apply to games at master level.  Numerous top-level games have been played in which grandmasters were not afraid to “lose” material in order to conduct an attack.  We will look at one such game.

Anand – Svidler (World Chess Candidates, 2016)

Figure 13:  Anand – Svidler – Position after 17. … dxe4

Most people in this position would opt for the mundane 18. Bxe4 and would try to grind out the rest of the game up a pawn.  However, after 18. … Bxe4 19. Rxe4 Qd5, the position yields nothing for White.  Instead, Anand opts for the beautiful

18. Rxe4!

He reasons that giving up the exchange for the pawn and the unopposed Spanish bishop is more than adequate compensation for the rest of the game, even when no forced win exists as of yet.  Svidler, seeing that many variations after taking the rook could be forced, decides to go in another direction.

18. … Nb3?!

Figure 14:  Anand – Svidler – Position after          18. … Nb3?!

This move was most likely based on a miscalculation.  The rook now gets a free elevator lift to the kingside, and Anand does not forgive.

19. Rxa8 Bxa8 20. Ng5! Nxc1 21. Qh5!

Figure 15:  Anand – Svidler – Position after 21. Qh5!

Forsaking material balance in order to go for the king!

21. … h6 22. Qxf7+ Kh8 23. Rg4

Figure 16:  Anand – Svidler – Position after 23. Rg4

Game over.  There is no stopping Qg6.

23. … Qa5 24. h4!

The last accurate move needed to seal the deal.  If 24. … Qe1+ 25. Kh2 Ne2, then White defends any last chance for Black with 26. Nh3! and White wins after the ensuing Qg6.

Figure 17:  Anand – Svidler – Position if White plays 26. Nh3!

Black Resigned.

As we have seen, when a position warrants an attack, we should not be afraid to sacrifice some material in order to start up that attack.  Often, the material is a small price to pay in regards to all the compensation that the position could receive back, as we saw in my game against Yu and in the game between Anand and Svidler.  These two examples are not the only ones out there, especially at the top level.  If a little research is conducted, numerous examples of players fearlessly start an attack by playing that ignition sacrifice.  More often than not, they come out on top.  If you see an opportunity to attack, by all means, go for it.  It might just pay off in the end.

I will present more rules in my next post in about 2 weeks! Please do leave any feedback! Bye for now, and I wish you good luck in your future attacking games!

2150 in (Eight Plus) Two Years!

Good morning, everyone! First, a quick note about me: I’m a rising third-year math student at Carnegie Mellon University. At most of my chess tournaments, I can be found in my Federer hat and walking around the playing area when it’s not my move. I’ve played the bulk of my chess since starting college (and met Isaac when he came to Pittsburgh a year later).

First meeting with Isaac over the board.

For my first post here, I’d like to discuss how my unconventional chess background led to the perspectives that guide my approach to the game.


Most strong players around my age (i.e. within 2-3 years) established some history of formal study and serious competition experience, and were naturally pretty good in the years leading up to their peak. This was not the case for me.

However, in the last two years I’ve been able to focus extensively on:

  • fundamentals: Consistently applying seemingly basic principles is a hugely underrated aspect of amateur chess, even among strong players. It’s often overlooked in favor of more specialized knowledge or simplified to mantras like “don’t hang pieces.” In a way, my relatively modest background forced me to master this on my own, since I couldn’t rely on theoretical knowledge to get me through games.
  • learning from mistakes: Since I’ve started annotating all my games, I’ve been good about internalizing lessons from tough experiences (especially since I can’t stand not knowing what I do wrong). I think most players are capable of identifying mistakes, but don’t always address them effectively. Being able to do pays off very well in the long run.
  • mental: Being able to swindle two strong masters from dire positions in this weekend’s World Open G/10 Championship was one good indicator of improvement for me, considering a year ago I’d have been shaking in my shoes when up material on anyone rated 2000+ (fear of blunders). Mental strength comes in many different forms, and we need them all.


2006 – 2009

I played my first tournament when I was 10 (probably a year or two after learning how to play) and played 15-20 local tournaments over the next few years. However, Indiana often faces a shortage of strong younger players due to its relatively low population and availability of tournaments, as well as the pressure on most kids to shift to other (usually academic) pursuits by middle school. I spent most of 2006-2009 in the 500-1200 bubble, as a typical squirmy kid who played too quickly.

I liked reading Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess TacticsWinning Chess Strategies, and Winning Chess Openings over and over again (this is how I knew 1-3 main lines of every major opening pretty well, as well as a few iconic games, but not much else until recently). I also had a coach, an interesting Class A player and son of the master who popularized 2. Qh5?!. Even though his weird openings held little interest for me, his enthusiasm (I think he charged $5/hour) was a big influence on my interest in chess.

Still, I was no exception to the middle school exit tradition. However, in 7th grade, rated 1125 at the 2009 scholastic championship (my last tournament before I stopped playing regularly), I narrowly missed a win against a rising 1700 player and notched a 1500+ performance overall. It was a nice indicator of my future potential and thus ensured I’d at least keep chess in my peripheral vision.

2010 – 2013

This is probably a good time to clarify the title. I’ve always taken online blitz seriously enough for it to be useful (to practice fast calculation, intuition, etc.), and after 2009 I certainly kept an interest in chess and played online a lot (I also kept up my habit of rereading those chess books, at least when I was really bored). When I started playing regularly again, my performance ratings were consistently at least 1800.

However, I only played in four tournaments from 2010 to 2013, which isn’t ideal for demonstrating a lot of improvement in case of slips. The most heartbreaking example:

Li (1323) – Cooklev (2162)

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 03.54.59
Position after 9. dxe5

This messy position, reached from the Ruy Lopez Schliemann after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5!? 4. Nc3 fxe4 5. Nxe4 Nf6 6. Qe2 d5 7. Nxf6+ gxf6 8. d4 Bg7 9. dxe5, is one of the last positions in which I’d expect someone to hold their own against an opponent rated 800 points higher. Somehow I managed to do that, but shortly after I declined my opponent’s draw offer, I blundered a queen to a bishop pin. The loss kind of ruined the mood for me and I lost to a 937-rated player next round.

To summarize, I’m definitely proud of going from 1332 to 2100+ in two years, but it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds. Just wanted to provide the full context.

Overconfidence and Forgetting Fundamentals

I was remarkably consistent in my first year of regular competition. In my first year of playing in Pittsburgh, I only lost to two players rated under 2000. I broke expert myself in August 2015, and planned to work on consistency under pressure against higher-rated players.

Unfortunately, I was still relatively inexperienced and being 2000, I started to believe in my own spontaneous ideas a little too much. This led to some inexplicable practical decisions that went against my whole approach to playing soundly. One, from the 2016 US Amateur Team East, was particularly disastrous (it would have been really funny if I wasn’t the victim, too):

Dewelde (1922) – Li (2058)

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 04.33.44
Position after 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 Ne4 3. Bf4 c5 4. f3 Nf6 5. d5.


Somehow, I was afraid that if I played 5…d6, we’d go into a Benoni, so I played 5…b5?? which happens to be the second-worst move that doesn’t immediately lose material, after 5…c4. There was absolutely no objective reason (e.g. basic development principles) to choose 5…b5. Just for laughs, after 6. e4 Qa5+ 7. Qd2 Qxd2+ 8. Nxd2 a6 9. c4 b4 10. e5 Ng8 we reached:

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 04.40.06
Anyone want to be Black here?

To make matters even worse, my 1800-rated teammate was upset by a 1200, so we ended up tying the match despite out-rating the other team by quite a bit. So much punishment for one move, but I guess 5…b5?? was bad enough to deserve it.

Mental Edge: Balancing Overconfidence and Underconfidence

This is also something I’ll explain more in a later post, but I wanted to share an example of the old fearful days. For the examples from the World Open G/10, I’ve written a little bit here.

At the 2015 Pennsylvania State Championship, I was shocked in the first round by a 1527-rated veteran but fought back to 3/4 going into the last round against Peter Minear of Eastern PA with a chance to catch 2nd place.

Li (2029) – Minear (2327)

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 04.58.38


Frustrated with a rare lack of counterplay in the Kings Indian, Black fatally weakened b6 and now 26. Qf2! Qb8 27. Ba7 Qc7 28. Bb6 won the Exchange and a pawn. Despite having plenty of time to boot, I basically only considered safe-looking moves and missed at least two immediate wins before ironically blundering back the Exchange into a losing endgame. The fact that I never considered moves that would have put away the game faster goes to show that there wasn’t a good balance between being careful and being confident in good moves.

Thanks for reading my long and tortuous self-introduction. It’s great to be a part of the Chess^Summit relaunch, and I am looking forward to sharing more in my future posts here!


Eugene Perelshteyn Teaches the English!

For our first Chess^Summit guest author, we are very excited to introduce Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn! In today’s video, GM Perelshteyn shares a recent game he played in the English Opening against a strong player where he won using positional concepts. This is a great resource for players who play the English, but also for those that play the Hyper-Accelerated Sicilian as recommended by Perelyshteyn’s book Chess Openings for Black, Explained. While the opening seemed unambitious, White was able to quickly able to expand on the queenside and create a potential passed pawn as discussed in the video!

Make sure to check in next week, as our authors Beilin Li and Vishal Kobla introduce themselves to Chess^Summit and discuss their goals for the upcoming year. Have a great Independence Day weekend!