Remembering the Great Mark Dvoretsky

The chess world received tragic news earlier this week when the Russian Chess Federation announced the passing away of Mark Dvoretsky at the young age of 68.  A minute of silence was held prior to the start of the Tal Memorial in his honor.


Mark Dvoretsky, 1947 – 2016


Dvoretsky was a notable Russian chess coach and author for much of his life.  He was born on December 9, 1947, in the city of Moscow, Russia.  He graduated college in 1972 with degrees in Mathematics and Economics, and he retired from competitive chess early to dedicate his life to coaching.  He was well known for being a part of Botvinnik’s School of Chess.  But, before his retirement, he had a number of successful tournaments.  Among those successes were a victory at the Moscow Championship in 1973 and a strong 5th-place finish at the USSR Championship in Leningrad, 1974.

Dvoretsky was most notable, however, for his talent as a coach.  He regularly trained players such as Alexej Dreev and Artur Yusupov.  He also occasionally trained with the likes of Garry Kasparov, Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand, Loek van Wely, and numerous others.

The author excelled at all parts of the game; however, he was most notable for his deep knowledge and understanding of the endgame.  One of his books, Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, is one of his most famous.  I, in fact, own that book, and I’ll admit that if I were to choose one chess book to be able to keep, it would be this book.  For anyone looking for instruction in the many intricacies of the endgame, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

We will go through some examples of studies that are included in the book. I suggest you try to come up with the answer to these on your own before checking the answers.


Puzzle 1:  White to play and win


Puzzle 2:  Black to play and draw



Puzzle 3:  White to play and win


Puzzle 4:  White to play, find the best plan


Puzzle 5:  White to play and draw





  1. Technique in pawn endings is important, as we will see in this example. Sometimes, it’s that one move you have to find.
  2. Some positions might not be that hopeless after all, as we will see in this example.
  3. Plans can sometimes be the difference between winning and not winning, as we will see in this example. Finding that decisive plan can help win games at the right times.
  4. It can be helpful to go back to the basics, as we will see in this example. Better safe than sorry!
  5. Looks can be deceiving, as we will see in this example. Never give up!

Hopefully, you enjoyed those mini-quizzes.  They are just some of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of studies that Dvoretsky has included in this book.

It was definitely unfortunate news to hear of Dvoretsky’s passing, and we already see some of the world’s top players voicing their thoughts.



He was able to touch the lives of many players, from amateurs to the world’s top professionals.  Together, let’s all express our sorrow and our deepest condolences to Mark’s family and friends, along with anyone who knew him.  Rest in peace, Mark, you will be missed.

Shaking a Losing Streak

It was after Isaac and I rebounded at the Pennsylvania G/60 Championships (which, by the way, Grant swept 4-0) that I realized how much our results have aligned in recent times. Both of us had been on a steady downward slide since reaching peak ratings during the summer, but produced encouraging performances at the G/60. In light of the similarities, “Also Finding Form in Short Time Controls” would have been a fitting title for this post!

However, I think Isaac’s recent results have largely reflected the challenges of adapting to a completely new repertoire, and he weathered some very tough challenges to his new openings in the G/60. In contrast, my trajectory has been more dramatic, as I completely lost my footing against lower-rated players for several tournaments, before notching my first win against a 2300 master.

After reaching 2157 in July, I managed only a 1.5/8 record against opponents rated 1800-2000, dropping my rating to 2069 in only a few weeks. For perspective, this included:

  • Blundering queen for rook in a much better position with 20 minutes to my opponent’s 3
  • Two losses to sharp players in sharp Panov lines
  • Blundering into mate with 50 minutes to my opponent’s 3
  • Blundering a rook on move 12, barely 10 minutes into the game (I resigned on move 15)
  • Another painful Panov loss in which I couldn’t come up with ideas against a simple c5/Bb5 setup.

See a pattern? It was easy to see I was uncharacteristically rushing in my games and that my lack of opening knowledge had started catching up to me. Both were difficult to accept, as openings had never been an issue, and I had always been a sensible (and often slow) player who ground down everyone under 2000. It goes without saying that I’d never experienced such a drop before, even when I was a 1000-rated kid with an exploding K-factor.

Fixing a problem takes more than identifying a problem, and after dropping 88 rating points, it wasn’t clear what my next step was going to be. However, it was obvious that I needed to change my perspective on competing:

  • Rushed mentality: Earlier, I lamented some obstacles to reaching master. This should have pushed me to prepare for a long journey, but instead I became impatient, and as reflected in my games, reluctant to spend too much energy on games I “should” win. Needless to say, if I reach those heights again, I will not be making the same mistake!
  • Openings: In the past I’ve advocated against focusing too much on openings, and I still believe this to be good advice for many at the lower level. But while studying openings may not be strictly necessary, I’ve come to regard it as something that can’t hurt, as long it doesn’t entail disregarding other aspects of play. For what it’s worth, I do know strong players who don’t dedicate much to studying openings, but their standards are often higher than mine and obviously, the value depends a lot on the opening. Playing the Caro-Kann is not something one does to avoid theory.
  • Controlling factors: This is difficult to describe. Before the Cleveland Open, sitting at a rating of 2119, I was glad not to have any expectations for the event (given a reasonable consensus against building up too many before playing), but had a terrible tournament. This again came back to bite me at the local league, which served as my warmup for the G/60 championships. Analyzing expectations was a bit of an attempt to change how I felt while playing. Even ignoring the many other factors in play, you can’t create mentality in this way.

As late as a week before the G/60 championship, I was still planning to take a break from tournaments until the state championship at the end of October. I don’t think this would have been a bad decision, but in the end I decided against the idea of intentionally making drastic changes to my regular tournament habits. Nevertheless, at this point I truly had no particular expectations for the tournament; I definitely thought of it as a more social occasion that normal, as it was the first event of the fall and would draw a large turnout.

A Slow Start

The top section alone drew 30 people for four rounds, resulting in accelerated pairings for the first two rounds. Although clearly entrenched in the top half of the draw, I was given a first-round White against NM Tom Magar.

Tom is a good player, but time is not often on his side and lower-rated players know they can often overpower him if they watch their time. However, the circumstances were different this time, as I was trying to avoid issues with rushing my play. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick the best time control to do so, and despite successfully deploying a Closed Sicilian trap, I played too passively, fell way behind on time, and eventually blundered in time trouble.

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 d6 6. Be3 e6 7. Qd2 Rb8 8. Nf3!?

Li (2084) – Magar (2200)

The first surprise of the game; 8. Nge2, would likely transpose to normal lines usually reached after the 6…Rb8 move order, involving ideas of f2-f4, Bh6, and …Nd4. In the 8. Nf3 line, a temporary Ne1 will still allow White to proceed as normal. However, Black fell for the trap, and it proved to be another example (for me) of opening knowledge being helpful at unexpected times.

8…Nd4?! 9. Bxd4! cxd4 10. Nb5

Li – Magar

The point of 8. Nf3!? is clear after 10…Qb6 11. Qb4; after 11…Ke712. e5 is strong, while after 11…Kd7 12. e5! dxe5 13. Nd2 the threat of Nc4 is strong.

Instead, Black chose to simply give up a pawn with 10…Ne7 11. Nbxd4 O-O 12. O-O Qb6 13. c3 Bd7. However, my opening success tripped me up here, and suddenly I couldn’t think of a good plan. In fact, I had a rather simple route to a full pawn center via 14. Ne2 Bc6 15. Nfd4 etc. In the actual game though, I fell into time trouble and faced a number of uncomfortable situations.

Li – Magar

Since I only had 2 minutes left to Tom’s 15, I stopped notating here, but remember the unfortunate position in which I cracked. I opted to let Black prove a breakthrough on the kingside, but surprisingly Black took the safer route of trading off the d5-knight.

Li – Magar

I calculated a chance to get rid of the f3-pawn, but I figured creating tactical possibilities involving the d5-rook couldn’t hurt, and in a naive effort to gain some clock time, played 34. Qe4+?. Of course, this alone doesn’t kill White, although after 34…Kg835. Nxf3?? certainly did.

Li – Magar

And 35…Nxf3+ 36. Bxf3 Rxd1+ won, as 37. Bxd1 Qxf2+ mates.

Settling In

Not surprisingly, I was pretty disappointed at the above conclusion. I didn’t care about being in the running for prizes, but more often than not, the start of a tournament sets the tone for the rest of the tournament. Given my recent struggles, it seemed unlikely I would recover. But after all, I was at the tournament to carry on as usual, so I had no compunctions with focusing on one game at a time.

I faced a tough challenge in Round 2 from Evan Park, who became the 5th ranked 8-year old in the country after barely a year of tournament experience. He equalized easily against my Bishop’s Opening, and I was lucky to wiggle out of a jam on the queenside when Evan’s weak back rank led to him blundering a pawn. Although there were a few tricks left after that, I was able to convert the ending without too much trouble.

The tournament got a little anticlimactic in Round 3, when I was surprisingly paired against another young player, rated 1600 (yeah, pairings when many people have 1/2 are weird). In a Classical Caro-Kann, White’s decision to delay the thematic g2-g4 push one move proved to be an inaccuracy as I traded into a comfortable endgame, playing against an isolated pawn.

Although I was given more of a break in Round 3, I expected to be paired back into the strong expert pool for one last chance to show something for my G/60 experience. My opponent turned out to be none other than NM Mark Eidemiller, who had a 5.5-0.5 record against me going into the tournament.

Back to Basics

Settling into Round 4.

This time, Mark settled for a type of Torre system where I equalized easily. However, I’d been outplayed by him in better positions before, so I wasn’t ready to rest anytime soon.

Eidemiller (2319) – Li (2084)

…Bg4 would be slightly annoying, so White’s 14. h3 was pretty natural. At this point, I had no clear idea how to proceed; the position as it stands doesn’t lend many active opportunities to Black, so I chose what I thought was a waiting move: 14…Bd7.

Up till now, I had been naively hoping to eliminate any imbalances, but after 15. Nb3, something had to give. Should Black prevent Nc5, creating a weakness? Given how annoying the knight looked from my perspective, I decided that 15…b6 would be fairly inconsequential as long as I kept my light-squared bishop, and naturally 16. Ne5 Bc8 17. Rc1 Bb7 followed.

Eidemiller – Li

18. Rc3 Rfe8?!. I dislike this a bit due to the possibility of 19. Bb5! inducing the awkward 19…Rec8. This is unlikely to be fatal or anything, but does create some unnecessary pressure for White. However, White chose a more direct defense of the e5 knight: 19. f4?

Eidemiller – Li

Sometimes in Torre, Colle, or London-like systems this is thematic, but in this case it’s simply weakening, as White isn’t pursuing an attack on the kingside. It’s possible that White overlooked my next move, which is a tad more direct than 19…Nb4 20. Bb5.

19…Ne4! 20. Rc1. At least it’s clear that 20. Bxe4? dxe4 21. Rxe4 Nb4 followed by 22…Nxa2 doesn’t help White.

Eidemiller – Li

20…f6? 21. Nxc6? Both of us overlooked 21. Rxe4! dxe4 22. Bc4+ Kf8 23. Qh5! when Black is unlikely to survive the sudden kingside onslaught. Given White’s strong, and likely winning play, I was pretty lucky to avoid this, although it is a bit difficult to notice in a shorter game. After the game move, Black is sailing smoothly.

21…Bxc6 22. Qc2?! Rac8 23. Nd223. Rf1 is of course the critical alternative.


However, White’s unfortunate 22. Qc2 allows, at the very least, 22…Bd7 23. Qd1 Ba4 with a lot of pressure on pretty much everything White tries to hold. From here, it’s not as difficult as I felt during the game. A pawn is a pawn, but always mentally tricky when playing someone who tries as hard as Mark does.

23…Qxf4 24. Nxe4 dxe4 25. Qb3+ Kh8 26. Ba6 Rc7 27. Rc3 Qd6 28. Rd1 Bd5 29. Qa4 Rd8 30. Rdc1 Rxc3 31. Rxc3 h6 32. Rc8 e3?!


Once again, the power of time trouble began to show as I slipped a bit. White found the cute 33. Qa3! winning the e3 pawn back after 33…Qd7 34. Rxd8+ Qxd8 35. Qxe3. Luckily for me, the a2-pawn was indeed safe and I just grabbed it with 35…Bxa2 36. b3 Bb1. This did make winning more difficult but White couldn’t hold the two weak pawns and airy king. However, by now both of us were well under 5 minutes so we didn’t notate further.

I can’t really stress enough how relieved I was after I finally won, although undoubtedly part of this is due to my apparently awful B+2P vs. B conversion (according to Isaac). Although I missed out on prizes (because apparently it’s possible for there to be both 4-0 and 3.5-0.5 scores), I took home a nice 19-point rating increase.

I’m going to echo Isaac in that our practice games and discussion have been good for us in recent times. There’s still a lot to do to regain form and eventually make master, but pulling off a win against my toughest opponent (and my first against a 2300+ rated master) is a great confidence booster.


Learning From the Olympiad

When it comes to studying chess games I am still looking at the classics such as Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Rubinstein, Alekhine, my heroes in chess. My attitude has always been if I cannot understand these classic players and their games that I have no chance with today’s young and modern players of the computer generation. That being said, I am always looking to expand myself and the way I look at things – so I decided to tackle the challenge of learning from games that were played in the recently completed 2016 Olympiad in Baku.

After the Olympiad was completed I downloaded the pgn of all the games played from chess24.


Now I needed a plan to organize how I would study this massive collection. There was a total of 3705 games from the downloaded list. First, I filtered the list by setting the minimum rating of games to be 2300.


I could have just looked at top games by setting the filter to say 2600 and up, but I thought it would be instructive to see how 2500 players and up defeat their lower rated competition. Next, I set up  pgn files in Chessbase with different themes that I would categorize such as; simple tactics, attacking the weakness, king-hunt attacks, trading into a pawn endgame, bishop vs. knight, rook endings, pawn breakthrough, and winning the won game.


Of course there are several more topics that I could have made files for, but since this was first time doing this type of study I wanted to keep it simple.

Now the work begins – playing through the massive list of games looking for positions that met my criteria. Once I started doing this it became very addicting! If you read my first article you will remember one of my main ideas of improving your chess is being an active learner vs. being a passive learner. During the Olympiad there was great commentary on every site from chess24, ICC,, etc…While being entertaining, I would definitely put this in the category of passive learning since you just sit there and enjoy the analysis and ideas of strong players, but you yourself are not putting in any hard work. Doing the above of playing though the games, putting positions that come up in categories, and asking the question why did they play that? (sometimes after every move!) made me feel like I was being an active learner. If I could not figure out the reason behind the move after analyzing I would consult the chess engine only as a LAST resort. Seeing the technique, tactics, and positional play of strong players was very inspiring. At the same time it was also refreshing to see that they are human and are capable of gross blunders as well! Studying this way made it easy to lose track of time – a couple hours would fly by, and I would feel totally exhausted!

Here is one of my favorite examples from my winning the won game file:

Adhiban vs. Pineda

I encourage everyone to give this study method a try! Could be a recent tournament, favorite player, or an event from chess history. Let me know in the comments of any ideas like this you might have on your journey to chess improvement.

Gender Roles in Chess

We always talk about gender roles in work environments, or even in education, but a lot of times the enormous disparity between just the number of girls that play chess vs. the number of boys. Perhaps this is an activity that interests boys more – that’s definitely possible, but I would like to say otherwise.

When I first started playing chess as part of my elementary school’s chess club in second grade, there was about fifty of us – and about half were girls. So no, the problem is not that girls are not interested in chess. But if you took the roster of players from that chess club and looked at it today, I’m pretty certain that I am the only female, if not only player as a whole, that still plays chess. Even back then, when I participated in the Ohio Unrated K-3 Girls Championships, there was only one other player from my school – what happened to the other twenty-some players?

Even at events like this, I was the only girl

I remember that at so many of the tournaments I would participate in, it would be me and maybe two or three other female players – in a section of around a hundred if not more. Perhaps it was this absence of other female players that drove my peers away. To be honest, it was this lack of other female players that drove me to continue playing chess – I always felt like I had a point to prove against my friends who were male players.

As of right now, there is only one female player in the Top 100 Standard Rated List – Hou Yifan. In fact, she is over a hundred points higher rated than the second top female player. In my opinion, the fact that Hou Yifan is in the top 100 shows us that there is definitely potential for strong female players, the question now is how to expose more young female talent to the game and how to nurture their growth in the field.

So with all of this in mind as well as my phenomenal experiences at the Susan Polgar Girls Invitational, I decided to create the NJ All-Girls Chess Camp in 2014 to at least try to provide more young female players with the opportunity to learn the game (its free to all participants), have the resources to keep playing (everyone gets a free chess set) as well as meet other female players in their area so that they do not feel alone.

Now, a good friend of mine made me realize that part of allowing girls to better nurture their skills is to teach boys to respect the female players more, not simply to isolate the girls apart from the boys. So I’ve taken the first step – I’m bringing the game to the female players – but now it’s your turn: show those around you that you respect female players as much as your male peers. Who knows, one of these bright upstarts may become the next Hou Yifan or better!


To Donate to the NJ All-Girls Chess Camp:

More questions about the camp? Contact me at


Finding Form in Short Time Controls

As some of you may have noticed, my results following the US Junior Open have been uncharacteristically poor. After taking a beating in the top section of the World Open, I followed up with an uninspired showing at the Southern Open, eventually dipping below 2100 despite much-improved play at the Washington International. Was there an end in sight?

Reunited with friends at late night Fuel and Fuddle!

Though I had been looking forward to my second year of college, moving back to Pittsburgh also posed a potential distraction from my ability to study chess. As Alice mentioned last week, with all of the academic and social obligations, the time remaining is not ideal for a chess player aspiring to become a master. In an effort to continue where the summer left off, I continued to wake up at 6:30 each morning to exercise and work through tactical exercises and opening preparation. Admittedly, getting out of bed has been quite difficult, as there haven’t been many opportunities for me to prove to myself that the preparation was making a difference.

Killing some time before the Student Activities fair during Orientation week.

To make up for this, I’ve been meeting with Beilin each week to play practice games and identify holes in my theoretical knowledge. While this doesn’t quite compensate for a lack of rated games, we really push each other to the brink when we play each other. So far, each of the six games we’ve played this year have been decisive.

For my first month back in Pittsburgh, I had two events I wanted to be ready for: the Pittsburgh Chess League season opener and the G/60 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships. The Pittsburgh Chess League, as Beilin discussed last week, is one of the most exciting chess events in the city, and is the oldest league of its kind in the United States. That being said, amidst the opening match confusion, our opponent’s forfeited three of the four boards, leaving me with no game to review going into the G/60 Championships. Forfeits seem to be really common, but this was actually the first time in 13 years (and over 800 rated games!) that this has ever happened to me. Certainly not ideal timing for a first.

Breakfast at Pamela’s! I try to grab breakfast here before I play in Pittsburgh – easily some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had!

One weakness I always felt I had is an inability to play in quick time controls, which is why, somewhat understandably, I was extremely nervous about competing in a G/60 time control against a very talented field. My fears tripled when I was paired against my US Junior Open trainer, National Master Franklin Chen, with Black in the first round. Franklin opted to reach an endgame where he could play for two results, but luckily for me, I only had one weakness and managed to hold a draw. While that game was interesting, and certainly instructive, I wanted this article to focus on my second round win against a National Master.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the posts here on Chess^Summit over the past week have been focused on attacking chess, but how do you punish your opponent for attacking prematurely? I played my second round opponent last year in the same event and thought I should quickly share that game first before comparing it to my win.

Even though I lost, you can see how White’s unorthodox way of play created too many weaknesses and surrendered the center making it far too easy for Black to equalize and more. In our second game, we reached a similar position but a tempo down. One of the things I love about the English against 1…e5 is that it’s a hyper-accelerated Sicilian a tempo up and colors reversed, so it forces Black to come up with creative solutions to make up for the lost tempo. Having played on the Black side of a closed Sicilian many times, much of that experience has helped me develop optimal play with the White pieces. In this game, Black carried through with his …g6-g5 play, and being a tempo up, I didn’t have to slow play the position with Nf3-e1. What a difference a tempo can make!

That moment when you realize you are playing chess again!

I wound up getting Black in each of my last two games, drawing each with far less impressive play than I started the day with. That being said, my ability to hold positions was strong enough to finish the day undefeated despite three blacks over the four rounds.

This is easily the best performance I’ve had since leaving Charlotte last May, and it’s an even bigger success considering I got paired with three blacks and my predisposition of not playing my best in shorter time controls. I have to attribute some of my success to my practice games with Beilin, as each of my first two games each stemmed from practice games of our own (shout-out to Beilin for beating his first 2300+ rated opponent and finishing 3/4, by the way – I hope he’s getting as much out of our matches as I am!). Of course, this one weekend alone will not make up for the past few months of poor performances, but it’s a great first step and shows I was able to build off of my Washington International performance. Hopefully, this success will make it a lot easier to continue waking up at 6:30, and realize that yes, it makes a difference!

Proper Moments to Attack

Like many of my students, most chess players have a particular lust for a great attacking game. Players see the dazzling attacking games of Mikhail Tal, the great Garry Kasparov and want to dispatch of their opponents in similar fashion. The issue for most players is that attacking greats like Tal and Kasparov had a knack for knowing the proper moments to attack.

Identifying the proper moment to attack will become easier if you take the following factors into consideration:

  • Development
  • King Safety 
  • Coordination of Pieces (misplaced pieces)

The late IM Danny Kopec once assisted me with a camp in Charlotte and noted while showing a game that a proper attack can rarely be conducted if ones rooks are not connected. I think that this is generally a good rule. In most cases your development must be completed before an attack can be conceived. Similarly your opponent may lag behind in this department giving you the cue that you’re ready to go!

Your opponents king safety as well as your own is also a good indicator of whether an attack should be conducted or not. If your opponent lacks king safety (can not castle or has not castle) this is generally a sign that you should proceed aggressively. The flip side of this notion is that if your own king is not safe, conducting an attack will not likely succeed.

Lastly, coordination of pieces is very important. “Knights on the rim are grim”, “Knights on the rim are better for him” – GM B Finegold, et cetera. Pieces should be harmoniously placed (toward center, active roles) before any dreams of attack can be fulfilled.

Now for a few games with my notes:

Boleslavsky – Dzinzichashvilli 1967

Bogoljubov – Spielmann 1919

I hope you enjoyed these games as well as the article! Hopefully your next games will feature great attacks which were conducted properly due to your acknowledgment of the factors in an attack listed above!


Until Next Time,

NM Peter Giannatos

USCF: 2301 FIDE: 2209


To Draw or Not to Draw?

It’s the age-old question that has plagued both amateurs and grandmasters alike:  At what point should I settle for a draw?  As a player that’s encountered this question myself in numerous situations in the past, I always knew it was an interesting dilemma to deal with.  However, it was not until recently that I realized how crucial it truly is to make that decision correctly the first time.  It’s almost funny because we have all had those moments where we are completely bewildered as to why someone would take a draw in a position where it seems as if playing on is a decision that’s easy to make.  On the other hand, there are also those situations where it seems almost foolish to play on because the game should certainly end in a draw, right?  Well, there’s more to it than one would think.

I, speaking from personal experience, have been on the receiving end of all three outcomes.  Due to the knowledge that a draw as the end result doesn’t teach much, we will stick to the decisive results in this article.  Of the many that I have played, there is one game that stands out above the rest when it comes to being associated with this eternal question.

Samuelson – Kobla (Maryland Open, 2016)

If there was one thing I took away from this game, it was to never, ever let your guard down, no matter the situation.  My thought process was, “It’s opposite-colored bishops, he doesn’t have control over the only open file on the board, and my rook can cut off any entrance squares.  This is a draw.”  This mindset took me out of my zone of concentration, which led to the ignorance of any possible breakthrough on my opponent’s part.  Trust me, it’s something you never want to slip into.  I hadn’t really realized it myself until the damage was done.  There are lessons to be learned from this game for everyone:

  1. Never let your guard down, even if your brain tells you a draw is certain.
  2. Always consider the possibility of a breakthrough. This goes for you being the receiver and the propagator.  If you will yourself to find one, more often the not, you can, thus allowing you to either execute it successfully or defend against it before it can be sprung.

While most people, including me, would have taken a draw as White in that position, my opponent found a creative possibility for a breakthrough, and he was able to execute it with perfection.

I have also had my fair, albeit much smaller, share of games where I won as a result of an opponent that pushed too hard for a win.  The most recent of these examples was played this past weekend, so we’ll take a look into this one.

Kobla – Shahalam (Northern Virginia Chess League, 2016)

That was quite an eventful ride.  I went from losing early on to gaining compensation to drawing even in material and eventually winning in one of the rarest fashions today.  This is what I believe happened:  My opponent had been pushing the whole game, especially after I blundered a pawn before move 10.  Even after material became even, he still had the slight edge with the passed pawn.  However, after that last plus came off the board, he was just making moves with the hope that I’d blunder.  After my last move, 71. Nc5, it probably only then dawned on him that he was not going to win the game, which subsequently caused him to forget about the other factors of the game, such as the time.  It goes to show how the aggressor is walking a tightrope when pushing for a win.  By no means is there a clause stating that there is no way to lose.  Going back to the point I made earlier, this is one of the reasons that you sometimes see players declining the opportunity to push on for a win.  It’s just not worth it; this is especially the case when no clear plan for improvement exists.  I understand why my opponent played on when he had the passed pawn (I would, too), but after the pair of pawns came off, that should be the end of it.  Time is also a factor.  In my game, we each had approximately a minute left, which is obviously not enough to even make an attempt to play on in a dead drawn position.  The things we can learn from this can be summarized in a couple points:

  1. If it’s a completely, dead drawn position, take the draw. You won’t win a position like my opponent tried to do at the end there.  As a rule, only play on if there is a clear imbalance.
  2. Always take into account the amount of time left on your clock. Usually, gauging whether the time left is enough to push without too much danger is the best place to start.

In these two examples, we looked into the simple assessments of the positions and external factors to decide whether it was justified to play on instead of taking a draw.  The first game was a perfect example where it was indeed a smart decision to play on, as there was a clear breakthrough that was there for the execution.  The second game was a clear-cut example where the player had to take a draw, as there was nothing to really play for at that point.  There were certainly lessons to be learned from these games, just as any other, but these were all connected to the idea of taking the draw at the right time.

As always, I’ll see you next time, and I wish you luck in your future games related to the topics discussed today!

A Chaotic Start to an Annual Tradition

The 57th season of the Pittsburgh Chess League kicked off this weekend, if in a somewhat messier fashion than I remember from my two years with the league. The league is apparently one of the oldest of its kind (if only because there aren’t many of them), but the gatherings of area teams and curious individuals for monthly long rounds of chess constitute one of the main avenues of competitive play in the area.

The big change for me was that I became the primary contact for the CMU teams and in charge of the rosters. Normally, managing team attendance and forming rosters isn’t so burdensome, but this did coincide with the sudden exodus of several teams with transportation issues and several others losing top players. This really shook up the boundaries between the three divisions (the top 8 and next 8 teams by rating normally play in Divisions I and II; the rest in Division III), and created a lot of guesswork in the days leading up to the opening round, since I didn’t think CMU II (mostly lower-rated players) would like being a punching bag for the experts and masters in Division I.

In the end, organizer Tom Martinak decided to scrap Division III altogether and CMU II (rated 1609, a low-ish rating for Division II) barely made it out of Division I, which looked like this:



The top half is playing the bottom half first, so perhaps 75% of the first few months’ matches will go 4-0; unfortunate, but the way of the draw. However, Pittsburgh will see a tough spring fight among the top four, which I think will come down to CMU and Pitt:

  • Phalanx Trebuchet is seeded first nearly every year due to having GM Shabalov on the roster, but its lack of a reliable lineup has led to some shockingly poor performances over the years. Despite the addition of FM Gabe Petesch and rising expert Maxim Yaskolko to the roster, Phalanx likely lacks the necessary depth to challenge the other three contenders.
  • This time, Carnegie Mellon decided against splitting into two expert teams, and now stands to gain from some strong players who’ve joined over the last two years. With ten players over 2000 (including three 2300s, e.g. Grant Xu), CMU is in a good position to take over the lead from…
  • Pitt, who’s taken first for the last three years and added two masters to a traditionally strong roster. Convincing victories over CMU and CMU Tartans sealed the deal last year, along with Isaac’s (yeah, that Isaac) stellar 6-1 record. The battle between CMU and Pitt may come down to which of the 2200s and 2300s come to bat in critical matches. Of course, one can’t really count out…
  • CMU Tartans, who have various connections to CMU (Well, mostly. See Jack Mo and Joe Mucerino), but aren’t affiliated with CMU I. The team has been able to send a surprisingly strong and regular lineup despite its smaller and slightly lower-rated (compared to CMU and Pitt) roster. Tartans took clear second last year, and can easily play spoiler if CMU and Pitt slip up.

But before that, we’ll have to get through the first four rounds. The first round was more chaotic than I remembered in many ways: a smaller room for more people, the loudest I’ve ever heard league president Tom Magar scream announcements, two accidents (of the falling/tripping kind) under the same table, etc.

Not exactly ideal conditions for the first round, so perhaps it’s fitting that I used it as a bitter sendoff of a gloomy opening. Due to extra CMU players, I opted out of the main match and played my new teammate Nathan Holzmueller in an alternate game. Recently, I’ve been struggling (a lot) with concentration and my lack of opening knowledge catching up to me in sharper positions (what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’ll save further explanation for another post!) Recently some of my opponents have done a better job than others at showcasing the dangers for Black in the 5…e6 Panov and seemingly typical IQP, activity-for-structure positions. I’m transitioning to the more active 5…Nc6, but before getting completely up to speed on that, decided to try my luck one last time.

Holzmueller (1987) – Li (2084)

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6


Until now, I’d kind of been using 5…e6 as a theoretical shortcut since I figured most of the positions were similar to each other. The only issue was that I’d never faced main lines into moves 10-15 and didn’t have a great sense of danger in these positions. My intuition was that if Karpov liked the 5…e6/6…Bb4 ideas here, I should more or less trust it.

6. Nf3 Bb4 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Bd2 Nc6 9. Bd3 O-O 10. O-O Be7


The plan of rerouting the bishop to f6 does make it awkward for White to keep the d4 pawn, but as I’ve been learning the hard way lately, White does pretty well to let it go while he still has the activity to show for it. Another recent game of mine continued 11. Qe2 Ndb4 and although I did get in 12…Nxd4, Black’s queen never got a moment of rest until I blundered into a mating attack!

11. Re1 Bf6 12. Ne4 Nxd4?! I think this is already not a great idea; 12…Bxd4 is no piece of cake either, but does avoid some of the immediate threats that I faced in the game that give White so much more initiative. 13. Nxf6+ Qxf6 14. Ng5 g6 15. Ne4 Qg7 16. Qc1 Rd8?


Direct defenses with …Nf5 aren’t always the most stable, but due to potential knight forks on f3 that isn’t a problem for the time being (e.g. 16…Nf5 17. g4? Nd4 =+). The game move was actually due to an oversight after 17. Bh6 I had quickly planned 17…Qe5?? which of course fails to 18. Bg5 and 19. Nf6+. As if I needed any more trouble with the weak dark squares and loss of the bishop pair.

17. Bh6 Qh8 18. Bc4 f6!? A primitive but interesting attempt to extricate the queen from h8. 19. Nc3 Kf7 20. Rd1 Ne7 21. Bf4?! g5?


In hindsight, this is a pretty bonehead move, but I hadn’t actually considered 21…Nef5 which would counter the Ne4-d6 threats more smoothly. To his credit, White had 21. Qf4 simultaneously clearing the 1st rank for the rooks and threatening Qxd4 and Qc7.

22. Be3 Nef5 23. Bxd4 Rxd4 24. Rxd4 Nxd4 25. Qd2 Nf5 26. Re1 Qe8 Probably the best try; having to clear f8 for the king is pretty awkward, but it’s not easy to counter Qd3 threats. 27. Qd3 Kg7??.


A real pity given the time advantage (16 minutes to 2 until move 30). 27…Kf8 would have given Black some reasonable practical chances, but the rest of the actual game isn’t particularly comment-worthy.

Perhaps “fitting” isn’t the right word for the 5…e6 Panov sendoff, but for better or worse it did showcase the problems I’d been having with opening choices and how I’m willing to address them. Here’s to more success with the 5…Nc6 Panov, and a great season of Pittsburgh Chess League!

Chess vs. College

Now that I’m a freshman in college, I’ve realized one of many things: I don’t have any. Time. Whatsoever. I find myself everyday running around between classes or going to and from the library hoping to find a nice quiet table (or one crowded with my friends) to study at or marching myself to my dorm – which, lucky me, is the only one off campus.

What baffles me is I have so many friends who still play chess in college – but how? Where in the world do you have the time? A time-turner? Was there a time machine especially made for chess players that I just wasn’t notified about? (if so, please let me know asap) With the chess Olympiads going on right now, I thought of how a grandmaster friend of mine was returning to college basically a month and a half late in order to play. A month and a half. For a freshman, that work would be overwhelming – but for a sophomore? I can’t even imagine.

Some of us are lucky, we have a chess team in our school or at least a club to just remind ourselves of how much we love the game. But some of us not so much. In fact, its up to me this year to create a chess community here, at Swarthmore. I will say though, the support from the people I’ve met here are amazing – everyone is astounded by the fact that I play, enthusiastic about the prospect of a chess club and maybe a team, and amazed that the competing chess community was so large.

Chess vs College.jpeg
Webster University Chess Team

So originally I was going to write about the Olympiads, but recently while working at my part time job, I realized just how great the college community is about embracing the game of chess and just had to write something about it. To thank everyone who’s supported me and everyone else who writes here on ChessSummit, and to just say to our younger readers – don’t give up, no matter your skill level chess is a game that will live with you forever.

The Intimidation Factor (and why not to trust stronger players)

We’ve all been through it: you’re playing a (possibly much) higher rated player and things seem to be going ho hum smoothly, and suddenly your opponent uncorks a move you hadn’t even considered, or considered and thought was impossible. What he just played has to work, right? No way he flat out just played a horrible move or is bluffing, right? You hunker down and calculate all the lines, and don’t see what he is seeing, but out of fear play a different move. A couple moves later, you realize you have played into his hands completely.

The intimidation factor is natural: members of society are taught to respect those higher up, so it makes sense to trust that a stronger opponent knows what he is doing. When you’re on the delivering side, it can kind of feel like hope chess, but if you play these “bolt from the blue” moves with confidence it can psychologically unnerve the other side. When you’re on the receiving end, it is critical to trust yourself! If you have the ability to calculate everything and have things figured out, play the move you think is best. In positions of crazy complexity or positions where you simply have a worse understanding, you might still get ultimately outplayed, but it is always better to have yourself rather than the other side dictate how you play.

This is easier said than done, and I’ll be the first to say that I have had my fair share of not trusting myself when playing against those higher rated than me. Now that I’ve gathered a little more experience (you might notice I like to pick out the psychological elements of the game), I have learned to utilize this to my advantage as well as stabilize my play more against higher rated players.

The following example involves a familiar name to you readers:


Li, B  -Xu, G, CMU Open 2016, Position after 21.a4

Black has the preferable position here, with the two bishops, better piece activity, and more prospects of improving his position. Beilin had just played a4 here to try to free himself a little bit, and got up to use the restroom. I exhibited a mental lapse, and for some reason I thought the move Rxa4 won two pieces for the rook when it actually didn’t. Thus I played 21…Rxa4 pretty quickly and confidently. A spectator commented after the game that I “played like Beilin made an instantly losing move”. Once I hit the clock though, I realized my assumption was wrong. Now Rxa4 is not a bad move, but it’s certainly not the best or easiest way for me to improve my position. Objectively, it was still a decent move. I kept my confident demeanor though, and play continued: 22. Nxa4 Qa7+ 23. Kh2 This natural move actually proves to be quite damaging. My guess is that Beilin assumed he couldn’t trade queens cause the exchange sac should work. Thus Rf2! wasn’t found, after which White can trade queens and be fine. Without Rf2, White is a step late to stop the a pawn. After 23…Qxa4 24. Qb1, I had superior piece activity and a lot of pawn targets. A rook blunder made my work easy, but still, I was able to win despite my earlier hallucination. My bluff worked!

There are a couple takeaways here. One, the body language and demeanor with which you play a move can be quite important. Psyche your opponent out! On the flip side, in critical positions I put my hands over my forehead so I only see the board and not the expressions and gestures of my opponent. Two, your opponent isn’t always right! Basically, intimidate others and don’t be intimidated. Of course, don’t play unsound moves and sacrifices all the time, just like not all of your opponent’s seemingly unsound ideas should work either. Trust your play and yourself. You’ll gain confidence and improve! (That you can trust me on)