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!

New York, New York! Part 1

New York, New York!!!

As a scholastic chess coach based in Virginia I am constantly trying to find ways to improve my teaching skills, chess knowledge, and net-working with trainers and coaches from around the world. After becoming a level IV certified USCF certified coach I became interested in becoming a certified trainer on an international level through FIDE. The seminars to become a FIDE trainer are mostly held in Europe, and at this time in my life a lengthy travel was not ideal. When I learned that the United States would be hosting a FIDE seminar for trainers at the historic Marshall Chess Club in New York at the same time as the World Championships, I knew I could not miss this opportunity. WIM Beatriz Marinello together with GM Efstratios Grivas organized the 3 day 15 hour seminar at the Marshall Chess Club.

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                                               Portrait of Frank Marshall

GM Grivas is the secretary of the FIDE Trainers Commission and came with a wealth of knowledge and experience from conducting seminars all over the world. WIM Beatriz Marinello brought years of experience teaching in a variety of settings, and is currently the trustee of the US Chess Trust. In 2008, Ms. Marinello also received the honor of receiving Chess Educator of the Year award from the University of Texas Dallas.
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Unfortunately, on the Sunday before day one of the seminar there was a problem with Mr. Grivas’s passport flying out of Turkey. Mr. Grivas was not going to be able to physically be on location to conduct the seminar. Though not ideal, Ms. Marinello was able to solve the problem last minute allowing Mr. Grivas to conduct the seminar using Skype and Team Viewer, and Ms. Marinello would help facilitate.

Creating a nice learning environment was the excellent exhibit “Into the Human Light: Uganda.” – photo exhibit by Dora Leticia Martinez. Eye catching and inspiring photos greeted everyone at the entrance of the Marshall Chess Club all the way into the room where the seminar took place. Here are two of my favorite pictures from the exhibit.

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Most of day one involved solving all the technical issues needed to conduct the seminar. Audio was a big problem, but thankfully one of the coaches lived close enough to the Marshall and had a blue tooth speaker ready! Also, connection issues were frequent – everyone of course was patient and understanding.

My favorite topics of the seminar spoke of the importance of nutrition and sport. I know every coach cringes when they take their teams to states and nationals and their students are eating a ton of fast food and junk food. By the later rounds the students are burned out and cannot perform their best. Also, students are excited to be at such events and never take a break from chess, and are usually found playing a ton of bughouse between rounds. I try to encourage the families of my students to bring healthy snacks, go for nice walks between rounds, etc…I remember at the last Super Nationals IM Daniel Rensch from chess.com saying that coaches should even minimize analysis between rounds as the hard work for the event should have already been completed! The point was not to burnout your students with heavy analysis between games which often can demotivate them-especially after a long game that was a loss. It is more beneficial to relax, go for a walk, and eat something healthy before the next round.

The class also discussed valuable points such as; working with parents and schools when developing your programs, being open and honest with parents – even if they do not like what you are saying at first, base your training with students around their common mistakes, do not follow rating blindly as they are just an indicator of what you did in the past – not where you are going (love this one!), when playing online play 15-30 minute games with analysis instead of hours of blitz. Lastly, we discussed the mysterious word “talent”. Mr. Grivas addressed this word by stating that, “Talent is the ability to work hard. In order to create talent you have to provide good education, good teaching skills, and develop a good program.”

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                                    Coaches and Trainers in discussion

I also enjoyed the discussion of innate chess assets, and attainable chess assets. I have listed them below for the readers to think about and discuss.

Innate Chess Assets

1) Self-control.

2) Ability to think on subjects.

3) Intense mental activity.

4) Obedience of will.

5) Proper distribution of attention.

6) Perception of position dynamics.

7) Combinative creative skill.

Attainable Chess Assets

1) Good health condition.

2) Strong nerves.

3) Perception of data conveyed by our senses.

4) Objective thought-process.

5) Powerful memory.

6) High mental level.

7) Self-confidence.

8) Control of emotional urges.

9) Feeling for the position (combination of thought and emotions).

As you can see there are more areas in attainable chess assets that can be worked on for the trainer and student. The two I see frequently from both sides with scholastic chess is self-control and controlling emotional urges. These two areas are common in scholastic chess at the elementary level which is what I mainly work with throughout the school year.

For me personally, the most advantageous part of the seminar was meeting and networking with coaches from all over the country and world. Spending three days with others who share your passion for teaching is inspiring and motivating. I took so much away from listening to how the other coaches approach their classes, small-groups, and private lessons. It was an honor to meet, make new friends, and make connections with everyone. I would attend another seminar just for this alone in the future. I encourage all coaches and trainers to attend one of these seminars if possible.

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             All of the participants with seminar completion certificates

In a follow-up article of my New York trip I plan to talk about experiences visiting the world championship.

 

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:

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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:

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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:

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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.