Endgame Essentials: From Khanty to Krulich

In spending Thanksgiving here in Pittsburgh, I finally got to sit down and start my preparation for December’s Pan American Intercollegiate Games. This year’s edition of the Championships will be in New Orleans, marking my second trip there this year, having already made the trip south for the US Junior Open this past summer. Last year I managed to hold my own on board 4 in Cleveland, scoring 4.5/6 with no losses throughout the tournament to earn my Candidate Master title, while also producing this tactical gem against a Webster University team:

This year, our team is much stronger, and I know my teammates will be depending on me to perform once again for a strong team finish. I will play again as a fourth board, and I plan on making the most of my second appearance for the University of Pittsburgh.

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Growing up a fan of good, defensive football, last Saturday’s game was a headscratcher for me.

Speaking of making the most of opportunities, how about the Pitt Panthers defense this past Thanksgiving? Last Saturday, I went to the final Pitt regular season game against Syracuse, in which the two teams for a college football scoring record in a 76-61 Panther win. How does this have to do with chess? Hear me out – Pitt was never in danger of losing the game, consistently up two to three touchdowns throughout the second half. However, the defense lacked the technique to lay the knock out punch to end the game. There was no critical third down stop, late interception, so the Orange kept scoring and forcing Pitt to prove it could stay on top.

Our game is a little more brutal. Fail to put your opponent away, and you leave yourself open to even losing – no matter how much material you are up! So technique is probably one of the most important elements of tournament preparation.

As of last week, I thought I had my mind made up on what I wanted to discuss in today’s post (and trust me, I will at a later time), but last Saturday’s game pushed me to add to my ongoing series, Endgame Essentials, which you can find by searching the title in the search bar.

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The Pitt campus is ready for winter break! All I want for Christmas is a strong Pan Ams showing!

Endgames, generally speaking, are the toughest phase of the game, and a lack of good technique can make the difference when it comes to converting an advantage. With Saturday’s game in mind, I decided it was time to expand on my Endgame Essentials series.

For today’s post, I’ve selected four recent non-World Championship games to discuss. I chose two positions because I thought the planning behind White’s play in each game was particularly instructive, and really punished Black for poor decision-making. In the latter two, I will discuss “the grip”, a term that was formally introduced to me by chess.com’s death match between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. I will briefly go over that game, and then share a recent Nigel Short game in which Black tried to break the grip, which ultimately decided her fate.

With the exception of Carlsen’s game, I chose games from the Khanty-Mansiysk Women’s Grand Prix, and the recent Beautiful Minds Krulich Cup, which featured many strong players in a round-robin rapid tournament. Let’s start with the Vallejo Pons’ game from Krulich.

Settling In

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Vallejo Pons – Bezold, 2016

As we can see here, the Spanish GM has a nice lead in development, as well as more logical piece placement. But how does this become enough to win? We have a symmetrical pawn structure, and Black has no weaknesses. It took Paco exactly six seconds to make his next move which I find amazing! After some (brief) consideration, White decided he needed to play for squares and chose 14. f5!. This makes a lot of sense, Black’s pawn on f6 makes it impossible to put a piece on e5, so White points out that e6 can no longer be protected by a Black pawn. This will also make it difficult for Black to find a good square for his c8 bishop, which further highlights the awkwardness that is Black’s position. While White placed his e2 knight on f4, Black was rushing to get his d7 knight to c4. The game followed 14…Nb6 15.Nf4 Nc4+, giving us this position:

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Position after 15…Nc4+

Is Black out of the woods? Not yet. While the Black knight seemingly found a good square, it’s life there turns out to be rather short lived. Black meanwhile has problems defending the e6 square, as a visit from the f4 knight is looming ahead. 16. Kc1 is an option I think many players would play without much consideration, but Paco wass able to point out that Black must do something about the impending landing on e6, and found a creative way to change the structure.

Here he chose 16. Bxc4! willingly parting with the bishop pair, because Black must now take on f4. In doing so, all of Black’s active pieces come off the board, leaving White with a technical task. The game continued 16…Bxf4+ 17.Qxf4 Qxf4+ 18.gxf4 dxc4 19.Rhg1 Rg8 20.Ne4!

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Position after 20. Ne4!

Now having drawn the Black rook to g8, the knight makes a cermonious entry into the game. Black cannot afford to take on f5 as Black will lose two pawns after 20…Bxf5? 21. Nxf6 Rh8 22. Rxg7 and Black might as well resign. With this tactical justification, we see that White’s structural choice is justified. Black’s pieces are stuck where they are, guarding g7 and f6. Now White’s technique is critical. Should the position up too quickly or Paco were to miscalculte, the bishop on c8 could get out and the game can become much harder to win. In these kinds of positions, it’s easy to get lost in complications, so instead Paco makes the simple decision to heckle Black’s c4 pawn with 20…Ke7 21. Kc3 b5?

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Position after 21…b5

Perhaps the “?” is an overstatement considering Black’s task to defend is extremely difficult, but now Black has created a path for White’s king. Black doesn’t have an effective way to control these dark squares, and doesn’t have much counterplay to slow White down, and after 22. Kb4!, the recognition of the game became clinical for Paco. It’s important to note that 21…Bxf5? loses on the spot to 22. Ng3+ since the king is exposed to the e1 rook. White has more than enough targets to win now, and the Spaniard does so with ease. 22… Bd7 23.Kc5 Raf8 24.Ng5+ Kd8 25.Ne6+ saw the conclusion to the game that Paco had planned out over ten moves ago!

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Position after 25. Ne6+

With Black having to take on e6, White’s rook will enter Black’s camp for a clean up on aisle six as the c6 pawn drops and the d-pawn becomes a passer. I have a lot of admiration as to how Vallejo Pons played out this game, and his technique made his 2500+ grandmaster opponent look like a patzer! The conversion is relatively simple from here, and if you wish to see it, you can visit the game here.

We’ve got other things to see, so let’s fly over to Khanty-Mansiysk to see how Ukranian Grandmaster Natalia Zhukova found a nice way to put her French counterpart away with good technique.

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Zhukova – Skripchenko, 2016

For those of you who aren’t following the tournament, this particular leg of the Women’s Grand Prix is especially important, as it will select one player to qualify for the Women’s World Championship match.

The position we have here looks like it should peter out to a draw, as again we have a symmetrical pawn structure. How would you react if I told you Black lost in just 12 moves? Of course its hard to fault Skripchenko as she was in serious time trouble, and when the game ended, she had less than a minute with seven moves left before the next time control. Nonetheless, Zhukova made practical decisions while also pushing her opponent to the edge. Here she started with 23. a4!, in my opinion, the only way to play for an edge.

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Position after 23. a4!

This idea of creating a potential passed pawn is an idea I’ve discussed numerous times on Chess^Summit. Here Black realizes that she cannot push the a-pawn since Qe4-a8+ would see it fall to a simple fork. Recognizing this, the pawn on a7 immediately becomes a valuable target – should it drop, White’s a-pawn will roll down the board and promote! Pressed for time, Skripchenko made natural moves, but this idea prevailed and wins the game. 23…f5 24. Qc6 Rc7 25. Qa8+ Kh7 26. Rb8

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Position after 26. Rb8

While a7 might be Black’s only structural weakness, now Zhukova has strong control over the eigth rank, which will help draw out the Black king. As I covered in my first Endgame Essentials, king safety is extremely important in endgames, and that will turn out to hold true here too. Black toggled around for the next few moves before bailing out with a queen trade, but the damage has already been done. 26…Qf7 27.h4 Kg6 28.a5 Qd7 29.Rd8 Qc6+ 30.Qxc6 Rxc6

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Position after 30…Rxc6

The a7 pawn will drop, but Skripchenko had …Rc6-a6 and …Bd6-b4 planned to get the a-pawn back and draw. But Zhukova saw farther. Can you see what she saw? I gave you a hint earlier if you’ve been reading closely, when you think you have it, check out the rest of the game here and see if you calculated like a Grandmaster!

The Grip

Now time to discuss the “real lesson” for today’s Endgame Essentials lesson. As I mentioned before, I first heard of this as a term from chess.com’s Death Match, so I figured I’d share that moment here (Youtube won’t let me truncate the video, the game ends about 5 minutes in):

As you can see, the grip offers a slight advantage when handled correctly – you could even see GM Robert Hess’ opinion of the position change as it became more apparent that only White could play for a win. Now that you’ve seen the grip used by the world’s best, let’s see it in action in Krulich as former World Championship challenger Nigel Short uses it to take down former Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk.

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Short–Muzychuk, 2016

Before we get too carried away, I should start by saying that Black was vastly out prepared in this line. The former World Champion chose 12…Qb6?! to attack f2, but after some calculation, we realize that …Ng4xf2 is not possible because White will play Nc3-a4 and the knight on f2 will fall before it can win the exchange. With this tactical failure, it’s not too difficult to see that soon Black’s d6 pawn will just fall and White will be simply better.

However, it’s technique that we care about today and Short was able to use the grip to crush Black’s position. He started with 13. f3 Ne5 14. Qxd6 Qe3+ 15. Qd2 Qxd2+ 16. Rxd2

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Position after 16. Rxd2

It’s already not too hard to see where this game is going, White is planning to advance his kingside pawns and create a grip. Black must decide how she intends to counter – develop or stop White’s plan, both of which seem rather grim. Muzychuk opts for 16…b6?!, letting White create the grip. After 17. f4 Ng6 18. e5 Be7 19. g3 Bb7 20. Bg2, we arrived at this position.

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Position after 20. Bg2

Here we see that Black’s decision to finachetto her light squared bishop may have been a mistake, as now they are coming off the board, and White managed to get a grip with minimal counterplay from Black. Hard to criticize Muzychuk though, she was already in a worse position, and its not exactly natural to continue putting off development in such a position, especially in rapid time controls.

Realizing that h2-h4-h5 is coming to harrass the Black knight on g6, Muzychuk took her chances and tried to break open the grip. In doing so, she creates a new set of problems. 20…Bxg2 21. Rxg2 f6 22. exf6 gxf6 23. Re1

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Position after 23. Re1

We can talk about pawn islands now, right? An elementary concept, but an important one nonetheless – in breaking the grip, Black has new targets on e6 and f6, and its not so clear how the Ukranian intends to hold on. This may have been necessary though, the computer’s choice of claiming the d-file is worse after 21…Rfd8 22. h4 h5 23. Ne4 (see below) and White enjoys flexibility while Black has very little.

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Variation after 23. Ne4

This isn’t that hard to calculate, so this means that Muzychuk deliberately chose against, even if at face value it seems easier to play. Black’s knight has no mobility, and if it moves, an idea like g3-g4 with the idea of attacking the king is not inconceivable. Thus is the power of the grip. Our game continued with a cute tactic, 23…Kf7 24.Rhe1 Bb4 25.Rxe6! Ne5 26.Rxf6+ Kxf6 27.Nd5+ Kf7 28.Rxe5

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Position after 28. Rxe5

The position has settled down, and in return for the exchange, White now has a significant pawn majority on the kingside and a weak king to attack. Once White plays c2-c4 this knight will become planted in the center and will be worth at least a rook! White won rather simply, just pushing the kingside pawns after winning h7, and Black didn’t really have a chance to equalize. You can check out the last of this game here.

Takeaways

So as you can see, in each of these four games, endgame technique was crucial in getting a win and not giving the opponent any chances.

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Getting to the victory formation shouldn’t take so much work, right?

As I’m sure the Pitt defense will do this week, I’ll be evaluating my own technique to make sure I can put away “won games” in each phase of the game. Tactics and strategy are important, but being able to recognize winning endgames takes practice and great patience. After all, you shouldn’t be allowing the other team to score 61 points in any game anyways!

The (Thanksgiving) Home Stretch

On behalf of the entire Chess^Summit community, I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving!  Remember to tell your loved ones that you’re thankful for them!  I am thankful for my parents, siblings, and friends for giving me everything I could possibly ask for in life.  I am also thankful for my two chess coaches, Mr. Tim Rogalski and Mr. Larry Christiansen, for all their time and effort to help me become the chess player I am today. Enjoy your time at home this holiday season!

In other news, the World Championship match is also in its home stretch.  It has so far been quite the ride; albeit, one that took what seemed like forever to get started.  After seven straight draws, there were two types of people:  Those who were begging for a decisive result, and those who were entertaining the idea of a never-ending match consisting of all draws.  The former had their wish granted in a roller coaster of a game in Game 8.

 

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Figure 1: The players prior to Game 8

 

The previous games of the match must have clearly taken their toll on Magnus at this point.  He was clearly seen laughing and in a good mood after the first few games, but as each game ended in yet another draw, he became more and more agitated.  It had hitherto reached its climax after Game 5, when Carlsen came as close as possible to losing without doing so.  Without further ado, let’s take a look at the only decisive game so far:

Karjakin – Carlsen, WCC 2016, Game 8

In this game, we saw an on-tilt Carlsen play all out for a win, simultaneously passing by multiple opportunities to force a draw.  Making such a rookie mistake ultimately cost him.  Pushing too hard and losing as a result has to be a bummer, especially in the World Championship Match.  That agony clearly carried over after the game when Carlsen stormed out of the press conference room.  While that may be deemed legal (albeit disrespectful, but still nothing consequently wrong) in a typical super-tournament, this was actually a breach in this match’s code of conduct and a penalty may be enforced.

 

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Figure 2: A Twitter user alertly realized the potential consequences of Carlsen’s actions

 

After this game, a couple of revolutionary thoughts to consider:

  1. Carlsen was behind in a World Championship match for the first time in his career
  2. Yes, everyone makes amateur mistakes – even the best players in the world

So, Carlsen, very much devastated, had a rest day following that game.  In the situation he was in, perhaps that was exactly not what the doctor ordered.  Either way, the tournament went on as scheduled.

In Game 9, we saw another equally bizarre game.  This time, it was Karjakin pushing for the win.  However, unlike Carlsen, Karjakin eventually realized that it was futile to play on; the extra pawn he had was not enough, due to his crippled pawn structure.  I will present the game here, although without notes since it is not the focus of the article.

Karjakin – Carlsen, WCC 2016, Game 9

After 9 rounds, the chess world is in an unprecedented situation.  Karjakin is, at most, three games away from claiming the World title and dethroning Carlsen.  Hopefully, the next few games will offer exciting play for the chess world to follow.  But, until then, thanks for reading this week’s article and see you next time!

In Defense of Draws

I would ask you for your understanding that this is a long match, and there aren’t going to be fireworks every game. Magnus Carlsen

Although fans may be a little more satisfied after Sergey Karjakin’s unexpected victory against Magnus Carlsen with the Black pieces in Game 8 of the World Championship, it’s hard to ignore the groans over the 7 draws before that.

But Carlsen summarized a world-class match situation just about as well as anyone could. Most of the chess public is radically out of touch with the professional and practical factors behind the many draws at the top of the game (if we weren’t, we’d all be a lot better at chess!). Much of chess is about avoiding positional, tactical, and other mistakes, and since anyone worth their salt at the elite level does that for the most part, risks are less enticing up there.

Still, the public’s frustrations were understandable. Draws at the elite level have a tendency to seem more boring, partially because the games are often balanced throughout. The more “exciting” draws are caused by imbalances, which often means mistakes (for example, Game 3, which ended in a draw after Carlsen and Karjakin missed multiple winning and drawing chances, respectively). However, an odd fear of draws has found its way into the heads of many amateur players, for example, through their opening choices. I frequently hear other players dismiss the Caro-Kann as too drawish, but that’s a story for another time. (for what it’s worth, I’ve played the Caro-Kann in almost every serious game over the last two years with three draws, all of which rank among the scariest or most exciting games I’ve ever played).

From an improvement perspective, this is hardly fatal, but it does demonstrate that many players underestimate the prevalence and importance of mistakes in their play, especially compared to the elite level. Obviously, something like the below isn’t the most interesting position in the world, and would be assuredly drawn for players of Carlsen and Karjakin’s caliber. But even at the expert and master level (hint: personal experience), I’ve seen players make egregious mistakes in positions much simpler than the one below. So if you’re looking to avoid draws, simply avoiding the Queen’s Gambit, etc. should not be the highest priority.

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But my perception of draws is a little biased, as I dislike losing a lot, especially for “bad” reasons (of course, it’s important to take responsibility for those reasons, and doing so has made me a much better player). Nevertheless, I remember that while it’s never good to rely on opponents’ mistakes, we still make many of them. Since I’m not someone with a great feel for deep positional nuances or thinking many moves deep, I try to remember that in many positions, there may be multiple reasonable moves.

For the most part, this balances a small but consistent fear of blundering on my part, especially with regards to time management. There’s a certain excitement that comes with the feeling that I’m missing something while checking possible tactics, even in the most boring positions. But I’ve never had a lot of patience for studying other peoples’ games in general, so I decided to try to study one of the Carlsen-Karjakin draws from that perspective.

If you’re ever bored with grandmaster draws, I’d suggest trying a similar exercise if you can!

Just a Tidbit about the World Chess Championships

Can I just say – for those of you who have seen me recently, for the billionth time – how incredibly excited I am that the World Chess Championships are being held in New York City this year? That’s only like, what three to four hours of travel from Swarthmore? Okay, I’m going to be completely honest – those hours of travel are not exactly the most exciting things ever, but perhaps – just perhaps – I’ll finally meet Magnus Carlsen.

Alright, enough of the fan-girling. But then again, how often is the World Championships of something you’re passionate about only a train and bus ride (add some possible subway travel) away? I’m just going to guess and say that the answer is rarely, if it even happens.

So what’s so fascinating about this World Championship? For one, the World Chess Championships have not been held in the US for about 21 years now – the last players being Kasparov and Anand. The return of a tournament of this caliber to the US speaks to how much chess has advanced in recent years in the US.

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The two competitors at a young[er] age
The average age of the two players is 25.5 (quite literally, Carlsen is 25 while Karjakin is 26). Having such young competitors at the very top I think shows a great image to other people about the game of chess: that through hard work, age doesn’t matter. Personally, I also feel as though having these two men compete here can really further boost the recent surge of interest in the game of chess throughout America. At the very least, it gives me a very relatable reason to keep talking about chess.

So far in the four games that have been played, there have been four draws. Now, from my scans over various chess and regular news outlets, I felt like Carlsen has been the favorite for the championship but these games show that Karjakin is most definitely deserving of sitting in that chair across Carlsen and will be giving him a run for his money.

One thing I would like to point out before allowing all of you to go back to following the championship – keep a close eye out for any new or interesting openings played. I actually picked up a refutation against a line I absolutely abhorred playing against during the match between Anand and Carlsen. Even if it’s not a line you play, the openings that either Carlsen or Karjakin ultimately decide to play will most definitely be impacting the choices of the rest of the chess community as well so it can’t be a bad thing to be aware of these possible new novelties.

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PC Vanessa Sun

Trust Your Guts: How Studying GM Games Can Help You Play Rapid Chess

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Getting a head start on homework at Coffee Tree Roasters in Shadyside. Believe it or not, I bumped into a Chess^Summit reader there just last week!

November is an interesting month for chess in Pittsburgh. Outside of the traditional Chess League fixture, there are traditionally only two other weekend tournament options in the city: the Gateway Open, and the G/15 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships, both of which feature time controls of thirty minutes or fewer.

Admittedly, I’ve never been as strong of a rapid player as I have a long time control player, but at a time when I’m still getting over the board experience in my new repertoire, I’ve come to embrace these opportunities as practical tests for myself, even if it comes at the expense of a few rating points.

On paper, this past weekend seemed to be quite of a wash for me, underperforming at the Gateway Open with 2/4, 6.5/10 in it’s corresponding blitz tournament (in which I had a humorous split with fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin to tie for second), and then a routine win against a 1500-rated player in the Pittsburgh Chess League. That being said, I got to play a bunch of new lines for both colors, including a close fight against a 2350+ rated FIDE Master.

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Grabbing dinner at a nearby deli with Beilin after the Gateway Open, while managing to catch the 4th quarter of Pitt upsetting #2 Clemson in football! Somehow my life still has time for sports…

For today’s article, I had a choice between two topics based on my games from this weekend. The first thing that caught my eye was two wins I notched over 1500 rated players, not because of my ability to overwhelm them with my positional or tactical knowledge, but because they failed to adhere to basic opening principles. Both of the games were effectively over within fifteen moves, and without much effort on my part. I’ve covered opening fundamentals quite a bit already on Chess^Summit, and I encourage you to take advantage of our Free Game Analysis feature on the site if you want more information on such topics.

I thought that for today I’d address a much more compelling topic, which is how I apply ideas that I’ve seen in chess literature and various Grandmaster games and use them in my games, especially in rapid time controls where there isn’t much time to calculate every single line.

By the second round of the Gateway Open, my tournament position was already critical, having been humbled in the first round by a lower rated player. Paired with White against an up-and-coming expert from the area, I knew I had to make the most of this game to make up for lost ground. Needless to say, I wound up surprising myself with my quality of play, using many different positional ideas to get a win.

I’ve formatted this article like a test to make this a more interesting read for you, but also because I do expect my approach to this game will be much different than many of yours. If you feel like different plans could have been employed, feel free to comment below – I’m curious to see what you all think! That being said, let’s start!

The Test

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My opponent has just played the move 10…a6 with the idea of playing …b7-b5, trying to lock up the position and create equality. With White to move, what would you do?

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Black made a waiting move with 11…Re8, giving White time to improve the position. What move would you make?

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Black just played 16…Qd6, getting the queen to a better square. Black has the bishop pair, but White has the more active pieces. How can White keep his grip on the position?

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Black retreated the bishop to e7 with his last move, and is ready to kick the knight on c5 with …b7-b6 and finally get his bishop on c8 off the back rank. What must White play?

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Black is more tied up than ever before after 22…Bd8 was played to stop the a4 knight from reaching b6. How can White take advantage of Black’s lack of coordination?

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With less than five minutes left, I took on e8 and converted a win out of the endgame. However, there is a much prettier way to win here! Can you find the line that wins on the spot?

The Answers

Hopefully you didn’t find any of these too hard, and perhaps you even figured out the move I played based on the following position I presented. Now that you’ve had a chance to look at each position, let’s compare notes! I’ve attached sources to my in-game inspiration where applicable.

In this position, Stockfish rates twenty four different moves as equal or slightly better for White, and it turns out my choice, 11. a4 is one of them! I don’t know if I would play this move every time I were to reach this position, but it is logical. This stops the immediate advance of …b7-b5 and I intend to fix the Black queenside structure. This idea of using the rook pawn as a positional resource is fairly well-known, with players like Magnus Carlsen regularly employing it in their openings. This is an idea I’ve covered a bunch on Chess^Summit over the past year, but if you’d like a more recent example, IM Anna Rudolf’s recap on Leuven for chess24 shows this idea in action from Carlsen-Anand, where Magnus was able to use his space advantage on both sides of the board. If you have the time I encourage you to watch it – I’ve attached it below for your convenience:

It turns out this wasn’t the hardest part of the game though, the fun was just beginning!

Again, a lot of right moves here, and I chose the crazy looking 12. Qb1. Why was that? I already knew I wanted my rook on f1 to go to c1 and play on the open file, so I needed to use this free move to put my queen on a better square. After some thought, I placed her on b1, thanks to an idea I got while reading on of Greg Serper’s articles for chess.com in which he discussed a particularly famous Karpov-Kasparov game. While Black still has a light squared bishop, its boxed in and will have a hard time contesting the b1-h7 diagonal. Even though I don’t know how exactly this will help me get an advantage, the appeal of this pattern drew me to this move!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-59-06Flash forward a bit and to 16…Qd6, I immediately responded with 17. f4!, employing the Bird Bind technique. This is the first “priyome” mentioned in Andrew Soltis’ 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets, and I’m sure that any Dutch Stonewall players out there are fairly familiar with it. If you want to see it in action, here’s a link to a 1992 game where the Bird Bind destroyed Black! This has the added caveat that the Black queen on d6 is no longer pointed at my king, and …e6-e5 is nearly impossible. Black would love to play …f7-f6 to support this push, but then my move 12. Qb1 pays off because it can land on g6 with an attack (not to mention the h4 bishop is trapped)!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-08-51This move carries out the precedent I set with 11. a4. By playing 19. a5!, I fix Black’s pawns stopping the natural …b7-b6 push to kick the knight on c5 and getting the c8 bishop to b7 so the Black rooks can contest the c-file. Black once again is hard-pressed to find a plan, and especially with the short time controls, it made his position that much more unbearable. I quickly followed this with b2-b4 and kept my grip on the position.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-12-44Could you find the stinger 23. Nxf7!!, winning on the spot? A combination of the Bird Bind and light squared dominance made this possible, thanks to various mating threats. I’ll attach a link after the answer to the next problem, so you can play through all of the critical variations that ensue.

Everything leading up to this point hasn’t been original, but also hasn’t been from opening preparation – this win happened because I study a lot of Grandmaster games, regardless of opening, and I hope the take away is the same for you too!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-16-54If I could only have found this move 29. e4! – the simple mating threats are too much to handle, and in fact, with best play, White is mating in all variations! Of course the time trouble made me too materialistic, and after taking on e8, I had to convert my endgame advantage which was not as exciting.

As you can see, all of these ideas played into each other, and made the game much more easy to play considering the thirty minute time control. To come full circle, this is how this part of the game played out in whole!

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After finishing my Calc midterm last Friday, I won’t have another test between now and finals! Time to buckle down and get back to calculating!

How do you find these mini-positional lessons? My best advice is to work through a collection of Grandamster games, and study how that particular player handles different kinds of positions. There are also plenty of articles out there that can be of great help – Greg Serper’s column on chess.com, various Youtube videos from the St. Louis Chess Club, or of course, even here on Chess^Summit where you can even ask the authors questions about each position dierctly!

Next week’s G/15 State Championship should be an interesting test for me, and hopefully I’ll have more moments like these – unfortunately, I won’t be notating those games, but I promise I’ll have something big in store for my next article!

Playing on Tilt: Defending My State Title

On Tilt – To gamble recklessly and aggressively after a bad or improbable beat or series of bad or improbable beats. Usually results in losing all of your money and then some. Good gamblers avoid this at all costs, even if it means going home earlier than expected. (Urban Dictionary)

The PA State Championship returned to Pittsburgh for the second year in a row, the first time in the tournament’s history and a great stroke of luck that afforded me convenience in my attempt to defend my 2015 state title. Thus, before the tournament even started I was lucky that I didn’t have to travel 5 hours to Philadelphia for the weekend. I entered the tournament as the top seed, with fellow masters Petesch, Minear, and Eidemiller close behind.

I took a half-point bye in round one on Saturday (it worked so well last time!) to grill meat (last year I did so to make an interview, so maybe the necessity was slightly questionable this time). I was quite rusty and probably had played at most a couple blitz games in the past month due to time commitments. Arriving late to round two, I played Isaac with the white pieces, which he has already mentioned in a previous blog post. Not wanting to deal with normal chess, I played a questionable line in the Vienna that somehow afforded me a slight edge. I quickly allowed Isaac back to equality in a rash endgame decision around move 20, and I thought my chances to repeat were going to end right then and there. Unfortunately for Isaac (and fortunately for me), he wasn’t able to find the route to secure the clear equality and actually self-destructed soon after. I was relieved that I hadn’t allowed a draw with the white pieces against an opponent 300 points lower rated than me, but it was clear I was not playing anywhere close to good chess, and that I would have to seriously step up.

After taking a nap, I arrived at round three and received as easy a pairing as possible against 2100-rated Joe Mucerino. Little did I know that I would go on to play one of my worst games in recent memory, committing blunder after disastrous blunder and continually not being punished for them. Possibly still dissatisfied with my previous round performance, I was clearly on tilt, playing feckless moves that failed to consider simple possible replies from my opponent. Time after time, I stared at what I had done in disbelief, and thought my tournament was going to end right there. Even if I avoided losing, a draw was still a terrible result and would make winning the tournament quite difficult. To give you a sense, here’s a sampling of what I did:

novpost1

I played 21…0-0?? here, forgetting the simple reply of 22. Qg3 after which I am certainly lost. I struggled to find lines in which I wasn’t getting mated or losing large amounts of material. An imprecise move order allowed me to escape, but not for long:

novpost2

While I have to tread carefully here, I should be perfectly fine after a move like 32…Ne5, but instead I played 32…Nf6 which was met by 33. Raf1! and left me shaking my head. White achieves powerful pressure. The most grotesque mistake followed soon after:

novpost3

Here I quickly moved 36…Bc8???????? Which should have run into 37. Nc6, game over, I resign. Instead, I survived even this mistake, and went on to win a horribly imperfect and nerve-wracking game after four and a half hours, with both of us reaching around a minute left on the clock. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared in a psychological or chess sense, and my dumb play was barely squeaking by thanks to large amounts of luck.

Thankfully, I returned Sunday refreshed and hopeful of actually playing chess in the last two rounds. I delivered a smooth victory over Franklin Chen in Round 4, allowing me extra rest time (I won round 4 quickly last year too) while Minear and Petesch dueled it out on Board 2 to determine who would play me in the final round. Their game came down to the wire, with Petesch coming out on top but probably more fatigued than I was going into the last game. I had the Black pieces and decided to not press too much, as a draw would still clinch a tie for first. Again, a stroke of luck came my way when Petesch began to burn insane amounts of time on the clock, falling behind by almost an hour. This allowed me to slowly grind him down in a relatively equal position with natural moves, as he had to move almost instantly towards the end of the game.

Thus, I was able to retain my state title for another year, but it was clear I had to have a lot of things go right for me on the first day. I’m fortunate that my opponents didn’t take full advantage when I was on full tilt and I had to forget those things quickly for the second day, in which I calmed down and played less heart attack-inducing chess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time and Time Again (Part 2)

Following up on my promise from two weeks ago, I have compiled and analyzed the data from the 2016 Sinquefield Cup.  Before I begin, I tweaked one of the goals so that it would better serve the chess community.  I had previously stated that I was going to use all 45 games from the tournament; however, since the second half of the tournament tends to have more games peter out to early draws after the players get a feel for who has a significant chance to win the tourney and who doesn’t, I decided to only use the first 25 games.  Sure, it’s a smaller sample size, but the data will be more telling.

I have grouped the moves in such a way that they have more impact since players tend to also ask, “Which area of the game should I spend the majority of my time?”  The groupings will be as follows:  Moves 1-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-30, and 31-40.  As stated in my previous article here, I am only analyzing the first 40 moves because the number of games that go the distance is relatively few and time controls after the first 40 moves are not always constant.  Before we move on to the data, some definitions:  Mean is the average value of the elements in the set; standard deviation is the variance (I meant to use the square root of the given values, which is the actual standard deviation; what is shown now is the variance.  When time permits over the weekend, I will try to edit these tables to show the correct values) in the data (the larger the standard deviation, the more spread out the data is); standard error is the standard deviation put into perspective based on the sample size.  Mean(x1-x2) will show the mean time spent for each interval of moves.  AverageTotalTimeSpent(x1-x2) will show the average total time spent during the interval of moves.  All measurements of time will be displayed in seconds for consistency.  For every move, the lowest and highest value were discarded in order to account for outliers.

Let’s start with moves 1-10:

nov10_table1-10

The table shows the calculation used and the resulting values.  The first three rows are move-specific, while the last two (in orange) are in regards to the whole interval.  The mean time spent on the move increases throughout the interval, which is expected.  The moves become less automatic as the game develops out of the opening.  However, no more than two minutes was spent on any move on average for these first 10 moves.  This is, once again, expected, since most games are still in “book” and the players know the moves they are playing by heart.

Moves 11-15:

nov10_table11-15

Unlike in the previous table, the means here are not in perfectly ascending order.  This denotes a couple things:

  1. The opening stage typically comes to an end around here since the times are not as low and not in ascending order
  2. Any difference or value that doesn’t follow a linear path is normal and purely due to the fact that it turned out that way, and there is no other explanation.

Just by comparing the mean times from this interval to the previous, it is easy to see that the players are already beginning to slow down at this stage.  Disclaimer:  If your opening knowledge extends beyond this point, then, by all means, continue to play faster.  This is merely a general guideline for the common opening.  It is also possible to see a steadily increasing value for standard deviation; this signals that at this point, the times spent per move are varying a great deal.  This suggests that the typical middlegame begins around this point.

Moves 16 – 20:

nov10_table16-20

Shockingly enough, the trend seems to be reversing at this point!  The mean time spent during this interval is decreasing move-by-move.  While the middle game might not be over yet, the data suggests that the most crucial part of the game is nearing its end.  Once the players have cemented their plans, the moves begin to play themselves, and not as much thought is required.  After all this, there seems to be one discrepancy:  while the mean time is beginning to decrease, the total time spent is still higher than previously. This is most likely due to the fact that some games were still in their opening phase during the 11-15 interval, while all games were in the middlegame phase at this point.

Moves 21-30:

nov10_table21-30

The trend continues with the mean time decreases steadily as the move count increases. Also, the standard deviation values are also beginning to stabilize after they were quite volatile in the previous intervals.  These are likely due to the fact that some games are beginning to liquidate and, as a result, not as much time is being spent on moves as a whole.  The inflated value for average total time spent is solely due to the fact that there are 10 moves in this interval as opposed to 5 in the last two sets.  In reality, if they were all sets of 5, the average total time spent would be significantly lesser.

Moves 31 – 40:

nov10_table31-40

This last set comes as no surprise that the mean times spent for moves in this interval are even lesser.  For many of the games, the position at this point was at the endgame and not as much was being spent; specifically for the draws, the moves were basically being blitzed out.  It is best to ignore the last column – the time retrieving software from this website couldn’t get those times for any game’s 40th move.  However, the rest of the moves are still perfectly reliable.  The standard deviation value is still steadily decreasing.  Any odd calculations (like move 32) are, once again, purely due to the fact that it just happened that way, and there were no other significant factors in those specific results.

Now that we have an idea for how these grandmasters divided up their time based on the situation of the game and the move interval that they were at (important since they had to make the first time control in 40 moves), it is possible to look at all of the moves as a whole.  For sake of consistency and lack of a need to waste space, I will not be presenting the whole set of data; that would just take up way too much space.  However, in order to represent that data, I have created a couple graphs to depict the visible trends.

nov10_histogram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bar graph here plots the move number against the average time spent on that move. The basic shape of a distribution can be visualized from this.  The varying values that are encountered while nearing move 40 are due to the fact that fewer games reach that point, thereby leaving the mean values the chance to move drastically at the slightest change.

nov10_scatterplot

This graph uses the same set of data but utilizes a scatter plot of all of the means instead. The ability to fit a regression to this data aids in the visualization of this data.  While the regression is not a perfect distribution, Excel does not allow distributions to be fitted to data, so a polynomial regression was the next best option.  It is easier to visualize the relationship between the time in the game and the time spent per move with these graphs and it offers insight into the minds of grandmasters and how they manage their time while playing their games.

To wrap up, we can conclude that the majority of clock time should be spent in the middle game, and typically, long thinks should only be made while attempting to formulate a plan.  Once a plan has been decided upon, it should not take as much time to make the moves on the board.  For the most part, these results are reliable since they come from the world’s best players.  There were a couple limitations in this study.  The most important one was that there was a difference in the players in the tournament; sure, some of these players are known to play faster or slower than others.  However, in the end, they are all around the same skill level and know equally well how to manage their time.

If time permits, I hope to be able to analyze the data even further so that I am able to provide more situational results instead of a generalized picture.  If I am not able to, I will discuss another topic next time.  I hope that the information presented today will help you in the future in managing your time wisely at the board.  As always, thanks for reading, good luck in your games, and see you next time!

A Dogged Start and a Trick to Secure Candidate Master

After an excellent October stretch that saw me return to the 2100s, the Pennsylvania State Championships proved quite the test to finish the month. For the most part, I got what I wanted, taking down a strong expert and a master for a solid 3/5 performance in a strong and crowded field.

With those two wins, I secured my fifth USCF Candidate Master norm and the title. Although it’s a largely symbolic accomplishment, it signifies a certain degree of high-level experience (roughly speaking, CM norms represent performances that would be impressive for a 2000 player) and has separated me from my regular Chess^Summit colleagues until now (despite me being the oldest by 7 months). Somehow, it makes me feel a bit more worthy of my place in the 2100s.

(Speaking of age, I have the honor of marking Isaac’s birthday. Welcome to the 20s, Isaac, and may this bode well for you in this weekend’s Pittsburgh events!)

 

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Isaac at the state championship


My first task was to start strong, and in particular avoid my first round disaster from last year, in which I crashed out to a 1527. This year’s first round went more smoothly; I coaxed a small advantage from the Black side of a Torre, and converted a won ending after my 1704-rated opponent was forced to wreck her kingside pawn structure.

However, being seeded in the middle of the pack meant facing top opposition early, and I was promptly paired against young NM Christopher Shen of Ohio. His choice of the 4…Qxd5 line of the French Tarrasch led to an odd pawn structure that turned in his favor:

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Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

I had just played 12. Qe2 to protect my c4-bishop when Black unleashed 12…Ng4!?. Unsure of whether my lead in development would compensate for the loss of the bishop pair after 13. Qxg4 Qxc4, I inserted 13. Bb5+!?; however, after a later …b4, Black’s b-pawn was not looking quite so weak.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-20-55-37
Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

I was at a loss for ideas on how to counter the cramping effect of Black’s b4-pawn and the open a-file, and went with the weird looking 18. Nb5!? to make more of a push for the queenside. Unfortunately, after 18…Qe5! 19. c4 Bxb5 20. cxb5 Bc5 I went for counterattacking the b7-pawn with 21. Qf3?! and ended up a pawn down after the resulting struggle. However, it wasn’t so clear, as I was able to trade off Black’s b-pawn, leaving us with…

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-20-59-40
Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

It then seemed to me that it would be nearly impossible for Black to win the a-pawn and I could hold. Unfortunately, I was forced to play h3 to relieve the back rank, and in time trouble, was pushed into:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-05-16
Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

I had rabidly avoided trading queens up to this point, because some of the rook endings involved Black’s king rushing to the a-pawn faster than mine. Unfortunately, in time trouble I had overlooked 43…Rd8! 44. Qe2 (to prevent 44…Rd1+44…Qc1+ 45. Kh2 Qc7+ 46. Qg3 which at least, is playing with fire after 46…Qc1 targeting both h1 and a3.

Oddly though, Black (with 20 minutes on the clock to my 4) rushed into 43…Qc1+? 44. Qxc1 Rxc1+ 45. Kh2 Rc7??

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-12-09
Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

In fact, 45…Rc8 draws… barely, as Black’s king is just in time to catch the a-pawn. 45…Rc7 cost Black a tempo over that, and made all the difference as I got to b6 first. Clearly, no one could be happy with such a result, but to Chris’s credit, he bounced back and scored 2.5 in his last 3 rounds to tie for second.

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Digging deep against Chris Shen in Round 2

While I was surprised at the comeback, I had a lot of motivation to keep the possibility alive. As I’ve mentioned before, breaking master requires beating masters more than occasionally. Also, from a tournament perspective, momentum is rather important at all stages of a tournament. While Isaac ultimately scored the same as me, he wasn’t able to produce enough momentum after a rough start. As for myself, I at least wanted to avoid simply oscillating between high-rated and low-rated opposition.

Unfortunately, I was a little too rushed in my next round game against NM Franklin Chen, simply blundering a pawn after equalizing. Nevertheless, I was glad to be able to play a nonintuitive Nimzo-Indian line correctly for the first time.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-30-53
Chen (2173) – Li (2116)

Here, I somehow mustered enough to play 11…c5!? (the more normal looking 11…Qd7 was also fine), which looked rather ugly after 12. dxc5 bxc5 13. Rc1 Qb6 14. Bxf6 gxf6.

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Nonchalantly admiring my ugly-looking pawn structure (photo credit: Franklin Chen)

However, unlike many of the other positions I aim for, Black’s immediate goals are clearly of the more dynamic nature, and after White’s attempt to untangle with 15. Rc2 Nc6 16. e3 Bxf1 17. Bxf1, it looked like the game was floating toward equality.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-35-17
Chen (2173) – Li (2116)

Unfortunately, I promptly followed with 17…Rab8 (the more active 17…Rad8 was more in spirit with the reasons behind this line) 18. Ke2 Qb5+? 19. Qxb5 Rxb5 20. b4!, and amazingly, Black has no way to regain the c5-pawn after 21. bxc5 (trust me, I tried!).

Although I was not at all happy with how I tanked the previous game, I didn’t have much to complain about the following morning, when I unexpectedly dispatched a strong expert in just 16 moves.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-43-16
Li (2116) – Moore (2145)

It’s hard to believe Black will be checkmated in just 8 more moves, but that’s what happened after Black played the seemingly harmless 8…Nd4?! leading to 9. Bxd4! cxd4 10. Nb5 Qb6 11. Qb4.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-48-32
Li (2116) – Moore (2145)

In contrast to my first test run of this at the Pennsylvania G/60, Black attempted to hold onto the pawn with 11…Kd7?! but I was prepared with 12. e5! dxe5 13. Nd2 and Black resigned after 13…Ne7?? 14. Nc4 Qa6 15. Qc5 Nc6 16. Qd6+.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-51-01
Crunch!

This gave me a match I had been anticipating for some time, against Eastern Pennsylvania’s NM Peter Minear. Last year, Peter had denied me a dream comeback, swindling me after I’d fought back to 3/4 and went up an Exchange and pawn against him, so I was naturally eager to straighten out the score, although I knew it would be tougher with Black.

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A high-stakes rematch of last year

Unfortunately, despite my three hours of rest, it was not to be as Peter simply outplayed me from the beginning. Still, I managed to keep things interesting by escaping from a crushing kingside attack into a knight ending that, while clearly losing for me, demanded a bit of patience by White.

As I’d expected, Peter played the 3. f3 Fantasy Caro-Kann and I made the mistake of going into a safer but more strategically demanding French-like line with 3…e6. Although I clearly had no idea what I was doing, I was able to achieve a safe-looking position that had a bit more venom that it seemed.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-04-49
Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

Peter had failed to punish some awkward decisions by me (including an earlier …Bb4-a5-c7/…b6/…Ba6/…Nxa6 maneuver) and I was half expecting him to close up with 15. e5, after which I was ready to train sights on f5. Instead, he played the trickier 15. f4, and without the pawn on e5, I failed to see the danger of f4-f5 with 15…dxe4?! 16. Ncxe4 Rad8? 17. f5!.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-09-38
Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

I realized only then that my knight on g6 was horribly placed. 17…exf5 18. Nxf5 f6 was more or less forced (White was threatening 19. Nf6+!). However, a few moves later, I spotted a practical chance, however small.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-13-38
Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

White had broken through with h4-h5-h6, but I still had to try 26…Qe3+!? 27. Qxe3 Rxe3. Although the ending after 28. Ng4 Rxf5 29. Nxe3 Rxf1+ 30. Kxf1 must be clearly winning (White is up a pawn, with a much more active knight and king), it wasn’t as easy as it looked (knight endings rarely are!). At one point, I was able to keep my hopes up with this:

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-19-40
Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

The plight of White’s knight was confusing; it had been trapped, yet untouchable and also keeping my own knight on f7. However, it wasn’t clear how White would resolve the issue of his knight without possibly letting me have a chance at taking g4.

By move 50, Peter had erased almost all his time advantage but in time trouble myself, I chose a shorter end.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-11-23-17
Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

While White should win pretty easily after 52…Nb7 53. Ne3+ Ke6 54. Ke4, it’s not a foregone conclusion when both players are down to minutes. However, I insisted on ending the game via 52…Ne6?? 53. Ne3#


On the next board over, Grant scored a convincing victory over co-leader NM Gabe Petesch (both had fought back from an early half-point deficit due to early byes), taking the state title for the second year in a row. Congratulations, Grant!

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Grant and Isaac in the unofficial Chess^Summit state championship picture (photo credits: me)

As for myself, I didn’t like ending the tournament in such a drastic fashion, but overall, I was very satisfied with my game, and of course happy to achieve that final USCF CM norm and trek back into the mid-2100s. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but if I have too much time on my hands (read: play rated games all day, every day for the rest of the year), I may even flirt with the idea of breaking master by the end of the year!

See you all in two weeks!

Kostya’s Spontaneous Venture to the Isle of Man

This story starts in early September, just a few weeks before the 2016 Chess.Com Isle of Man International was to take place and much closer to the event start date than a typical ‘chess Eurotrip’ should begin to be planned. Previously I knew the IOM international was a strong tournament, now going into its 3rd edition, but assumed it would be too expensive to fly to some random island in the UK and play a tournament for 10 days and so I didn’t look into it much.

Then a beloved non-chess friend offhandedly mentioned that a round-trip flight to Dublin, Ireland was surprisingly cheap (starting at $400, plus some annoying baggage fees). Upon hearing this news I immediately looked up where the Isle of Man actually was (turns out, close to Dublin!) and started calculating as to whether the trip was feasible. I was aware that the tournament would be packed with GMs, including the U.S. Big 3 (Naka, Fabi, & Wesley) and would be an excellent opportunity to go for a norm. The final norm…

For those that don’t know me, hi, I’m FM Kostya, I have two IM norms and have been painfully close to that third one on more than one occasion. Here, read this and then this.

So while flying to Dublin and then to IOM and back seemed plausible, I didn’t want to do it alone. So I asked IM Keaton Kiewra if he would be interested in joining. Keaton is currently on his own quest for the GM title and having roomed with him in previous tournaments, I figured he may be down to join and a great travel companion. Well, he was down, a little skeptical at first about making such a trip on short notice, but eventually said “YOLO” and we started booking our trip.

We decided to spend a few days in Dublin to get used to the time difference and also because we wanted to take the opportunity to do some sightseeing. This turned out to be a great decision, as Keaton and I share a mutual love for trying new cuisine, and Irish food did. not. disappoint. It started with a huge Irish breakfast, followed by several feasts throughout our brief stint in Dublin. We also tried Guinness beer, which rumor has it actually tastes better in Dublin, due to the water (?), and again we were not disappointed. It was much better than any Guinness I’ve ever had, smooth and dark and overall delicious. A local friend also suggested this speakeasy in the heart of Dublin which served some gorgeous cocktails:

cocktailThe so-called “Dirty Wizard”

OK so now it was time to go to the Isle of Man and actually play some chess. Based on my rating, I was slated to play against someone in the top 8-15 or so, and as it turned out, I got paired with GM Alexei Shirov. Yep, former number two in the world/world championship candidate/overall tactical genius Shirov. A player I followed when I was growing up and always amazed by. I went into the first round ready to fight and fully expecting him to play 1.e4 and checkmate me. Well to my surprise he trotted out 1.d4, traded queens in the opening and quickly played a technical gem.

kostya-vs-shirovKostya sticking to his beloved King’s Indian vs. Alexei Shirov (Photo: Mike Klein)

In Round 2 I defeated an FM whose FIDE rating had dropped below 2100, so a tough fight regardless of the rating difference. Then in Round 3 I was paired up again, this time against GM Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan, who outplayed me in a sharp Nimzo and won with Black. In Round 4 I played another sub-2100 player, tricked him in the King’s Indian and won a smooth game. Round 5 gave me another crack at a strong player, IM Martin Zumsande from Germany. I focused on playing solid with White and we drew close to move 40.

So, I broke the cycle! It felt good to gain a positive result against a higher rated opponent, even if it was just a simple draw, and it meant that I would play up again the next round, raising my rating average for norm purposes. In Round 6 I was paired with GM Tiger Hillarp Persson, a well-known figure in the chess world whose sharp and dynamic style has scored him many beautiful wins. I played the King’s Indian once again and after a tough battle ended up losing, though not without my chances. In the post-mortem Tiger was exceptionally friendly and generous with his advice, and even said that I had “great King’s Indian instincts”, which I immediately blushed at and could only respond with “Wow, that’s high praise :)”.

kostya-keatonWith IM Keaton Kiewra in Dublin, trying our 1st (or was it 2nd…maybe 3rd?) pint of Guinness

Despite the loss my mood was quite decent–there was still everything to play for with three rounds to go, not to mention my good mood after speaking with Tiger about our game. In Round 7 I was paired against WIM Dharia Parnali, who held me to a draw in the first round of the Cannes Chess Festival earlier this year. This time the game had an opposite progression. She outplayed me in the opening, equalized easily with Black and even started playing for the win at some point–but in a tricky R+B vs. R+N ending I managed to seize the initiative and win the game. Despite my bad play in the opening, I was happy to stay tough and find my chances in the endgame.

Back to an even score, in Round 8 I played up again, facing IM Antony Bellaiche from France. I did some quick norm math and realized that a win in this round would give me theoretical chances based on who I played in the final round. So I prepared my favorite King’s Indian for a few hours and pumped myself up before the game (by listening to Eminem, of course). What followed was a far-from-perfect but fascinating struggle where I managed to come out on top. I was especially happy upon seeing that from move 30 until the end of the game I found the absolute “only-moves” to decide matters in my favor.

kostya-at-iomThe final round–Kostya gets pretty nervous during chess games. (Photo: Mike Klein)

Now with 4.5/8 my well-versed norm calculating skills dictated that in the last round, to achieve a 2450 performance I would need just a draw if I played someone rated 2583 or higher, whereas only a win would suffice if their rating was 2582 or lower. And then it was as if the pairing was handed down from destiny itself: White against GM Babu Lalith, 2586 FIDE. Now Lalith is a strong player no doubt, but he could have just as easily been rated 2582 for this event, and if so I would need to beat him if I wanted to earn my last norm. So I felt it was kind of divine providence that all I needed was a draw, with White! How hard could it be?

Well a disappointing finish, but what are you gonna do, not play chess? We all know that’s not an option 🙂 . Ending with 4.5/9 really ain’t bad, I gained about 16 points and had a wonderful time in Europe, trying so much amazing food and really enjoying the “one-round-a-day” culture, where you get ample time to prepare and rest after each round! A week after this event ended I played in the 2016 Spice Cup, my recap of which will soon be posted on US Chess. Until next time!

Kostya Kavutskiy is a professional chess player, coach, and author currently residing in Mountain View, CA. His first book, Modernized: The Open Sicilian was published in February 2015. For more of Kostya, check out his official Twitter and blog.

Crossing that Bridge: When Chess Becomes More than ‘Just a Game’

In high school, there was always one phrase that would annoy me no matter when it was said – “You compete in chess? But that’s like… just a game!” Yeah, ok. Technically chess is a sport, albeit a sport of minds.

For almost all people, chess does start out as ‘just a game.’ It’s something we go to when we’re feeling tired or down – a source of entertainment or a distraction from what is going on in our daily lives. Something I never realized until I got to high school was just how much this so-called ‘game’ meant to me. It had become part of me and my identity. Soon, I was known as ‘that girl who plays chess’ and even today, in college I get that all the time.

So when does one start to realize what chess means in their lives? For me, it was when I started playing for myself, for the enjoyment of the game rather than the success of the wins. I started to go to tournaments because I missed chess not because I wanted to win my section. It was also around that time that I became proud to be a chess player. Soon, the confused but amazed faces my peers when they found out I was a player amused me rather than scared me.

chess

Now, I know there are some of you out there who have also felt this change in what chess means in your life – what was it that led you across this bridge?