A Giveaway, My Top 3 Chess Events of 2016, and Looking Forward to 2017

In the spirit of New Year’s coming up, we are all reflecting back on the year as well as looking forward to the next year!

 

The Giveaway:

To end the year, we will be holding our first giveaway!

Here’s what we are giving away:

A metal water bottle from the last Millionaire Chess Open

 

img_7067

A poster from the World Chess Championship

All you have to do is like our page on Facebook and comment on our post about this article, telling us your favorite chess event of the year- either one you watched or attended- and one you are most excited for in 2017! We will randomly pick a winner January 31, 2017 and message them, asking for an address to send the prizes to.

 

The top 3 chess events I attended this year:

1. US Amateur Team East in New Jersey- February 14-16, 2016

This was my fifth time in a row playing in this tournament! Held in Parsippany, New Jersey, the tournament is a bit isolated from tournaments I’m used to in the Northeast (Philly, NYC, Boston, etc.). However, it never fails to disappoint. It’s been a bit of a tradition for me to attend every year, and I’m glad I did since I met Irina Krush for the first time one year, as well as the legendary Garry Kasparov!

Oftentimes, I play tournaments in hopes of earning a bit of prize money, but this is one of the tournaments I play completely for fun. My goal this past USATE tournament was actually just that, to have fun, as I was convinced it would be my last USATE tournament for a while since I would go to college (which turned out to not be true, as I will likely be going in 2017).

My team ended up tying for first place under 1500 (average team rating), but we lost the tiebreak so we did not earn the plaque. It was the best my team ever performed at USATE, but I was also on a team with some friends and was able to see many players that I rarely see otherwise.

2. Millionaire Chess in Atlantic City- October 6-10, 2016

img_5506
Credit: Daaim from The Chess Drum

BEST WEEKEND OF MY LIFE! I think the article says it all.

3. World Chess Championship in New York City- November 11-30, 2016

img_0091

The WCC was my first time attending any sort of elite tournament in person and it just happened to be a world championship. It was at this event that I met the greatest variety of people, from chess journalists to chess enthusiasts to chess players. I was also able to see many friends that traveled to see the first world championship on US soil in many years.

Quite intriguing was the fact that I gained new journalistic opportunities. For Chess^Summit, I became a regular contributor and wrote a well received, well researched article about the WCC tiebreaks. For Chess Club Live, I was promoted to Director of Journalism and they also covered my costs to attend the event. For US Chess, I was able to write an article about the format of the match. Overall, I feel like I was blessed to attend the World Chess Championship in the city I live in.

 

Honorary events: The two US Chess School camps I went to in NYC! I wrote an article about my first experience earlier in the year. I love helping out with social media and taking pictures during the camps. The kids who attend the USCS are always extremely inspiring to me.

img_5798

 

These are the top 3 events I’m looking forward to going to next year:

1. U.S. Championship & U.S. Women’s Championship in St. Louis- March 29-April 14, 2017

This will be the first time I go to St. Louis! This past year, I followed the tournament every day and decided 2017 HAS to be the year I actually go! I always enjoy the St. Louis Commentary team and have been wanting to meet Yasser for a long time.

I am planning to go during my spring break (April 11-18), and will stay there after the tournament in order to spend time at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis and the World Chess Hall of Fame.

I will be cheering for several friends, and I think it will be quite an exciting tournament to attend. My picks for the US Champs of 2017? Fabiano Caruana and Nazí Paikidze-Barnes (the two winners of 2016).

2. Paris/Leuven legs of the Grand Chess Tour- June 19-July 3, 2017

I cheated by grouping these two events together. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to these tournaments as of right now, but I’m hopeful. Going to these tournaments would be quite an adventure, as I have never been to Europe before. I followed these events this past year as well, and rapid/blitz tends to always be exciting to watch.

3. Sinquefield Cup & St. Louis Rapid of the Grand Chess Tour- July 31-August 20, 2017

I cheated again! I grouped these tournaments together because they are both in St. Louis and one after another. I have never been to a Sinquefield Cup before, and they are one of the most intense and exciting tournaments of each year. This tournament always has a strong showing and gains a lot of attention.

 

What was your favorite chess event of 2016? What are you looking forward to most in 2017? Remember to comment on our Facebook post and you could win our first giveaway ever!

 

 

 

Leading up to a Tournament

Heading into tournaments, I have always been asked how it is I prepare – do I play lots of games online? Memorize openings? Study books? Listen to lectures? Ideally, it would be a combination of all of these… but with high school and now college, time hasn’t really allowed for it to happen.

Before anything else, it is important to understand what is one’s stronger points and weaker points – for me, I tend to be easily drawn to very aggressive tactical plans while I have always struggled with positional games where I really shouldn’t even be thinking about sacrificing a piece. Once you know what your weak points are, concentrate on those. Again, for me that would include looking at examples of strategic piece placements as well as learning and grasping a better understanding of my openings (something else I have always struggled with).

Prep.jpg
Webster University’s team analyzing a position during training

Of course, what I have been speaking of so far is the kind of long-term plan that one should always be aiming towards. But what happens if your upcoming tournament is in a few weeks, or even a few days? In such cases, I suggest very strongly that you blitz through as many tactics as you can a day and play blitz games online when possible in order to build your instinct, which will help with analyzing any position you are faced with more quickly in the tournament.

As simple as this may sound, sometimes the deciding factor of who comes out as the victor in a game is who is able to think on their feet better and who is wasting less time simply grasping an understanding of the position.

Chess^Summit is Going Abroad!

Another semester finished! While most college students will be looking forward to these next few weeks to decompress, I’ll be hitting the books to get ready to play tournament chess again – though I have to admit, I’m planning for my preparation to last a little past the Pan-American Collegiate Chess Championships this week.

img_5097
That moment when you realize finals are over!

Since the US Junior Open last summer, my goal to reach National Master hasn’t exactly gone as smoothly as I had hoped. After being humbled in Philadelphia at the World Open and then again in Orlando, I had to seriously revaluate my goals and work ethic going into the Washington International.

Even though I showed significant improvement over the board, my score in Rockville showed there was still a lot of work to do to reach National Master and beyond. By the time I started my fall semester, many of my games felt like I was just trying to prove that I was where I was a year ago, and each poor result felt like I was running into an invisible wall of sorts – what happened?

To an extent, I do think my workload hurt my ability to improve as the semester wore on, in some cases even forcing me to pass on tournaments to stay on top of my classes. Outside of my weekly games with Beilin, I also haven’t had many opportunities to play opponents rated over 2000 – six to be exact. Needless to say, that’s not a good number for anyone trying to play at high level, goals aside. So now what?

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-20-37-49
My first game abroad against Jiro Tsujimoto, owner of the En Passant Chess Club in Osaka

As 2016 concludes, I’ll be entering my thirteenth year of playing chess competitively. While I only started to take my development seriously about six years ago, I’ve always loved the idea of playing abroad, and I got my first chance in 2005 at a local Osaka tournament. While Japan isn’t known for chess, having family there made arranging travel easy, and I returned in 2008 and more recently in 2013, punctuating that trip with a 4th place finish in the Pan-Japan Junior Chess Championships in Tokyo.

Last May, a particular US Chess article by then-FM Kostya Kavutskiy (who has since written for Chess^Summit) about his trip to Europe reminded me of the adventure it truly is to play overseas. While the dream of going to Europe had been in the back of my mind far before reading his article, I had never really stopped to think when or if it could happen. Being a second year mathematics major at the University of Pittsburgh, I can certainly count on my classes getting tougher, and beyond that, I have no idea what life will bring me. After weeks of on-and-off discussion with my parents, we finally decided to take off my 2017 spring semester so I could travel to Europe and compete in various tournaments. My dream was coming true! Once the US Junior Open finished last June, I started drafting iteneraries and researching tournaments. It wasn’t until I left for Pittsburgh when I had a firm itenerary set, and much later when I purchased my airplane boarding passes.

With no classes from now through late April, this will likely be the last time in my lifetime (or at least for a very long time) I can put everything else aside and just focus on chess for an extended period of time. I won’t be leaving for Europe until early February, so I’ve also arranged for some tournament appearances stateside too. Enough chatter – here’s what I’ll be up to for the next few months!

Getting Ready

I have three tournaments in the United States before heading off to Europe, and somehow each of the three locales are of unique interest for me.

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 21.40.22.png
Last year I went undefeated, scoring 4.5/6 and taking home a top upset prize in Cleveland

Pan American Collegiate Chess Championships (New Orleans, LA) December 27-30

Marking my return to the site of the US Junior Open. The competition will be tough, but Pitt brings its strongest ever team to the tournament.

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 21.47.53.png
Marshall Chess Club – calm before the storm

Weekend FIDE Tournament (New York, NY) January 6-8

Last time I played in the Big Apple, I broke my curse and won my first ever adult tournament to kick off my summer. This time I’ll likely enter as a much lower seed with the hopes of gaining some experience against top notch opposition.

Liberty Bell Open (Philadelphia, PA) January 13-16

In my last tournament before I head to Europe, I’ll revisit the battleground of the World Open. Trust me, I’ve had this circled on my calendar for a while now.

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-21-57-29
I’ll get one chance to redeem myself in Philly before flying to Europe

The Trek

Having never been to Europe, I can’t tell you as much about the venues. But as always, I’ll be posting to Chess^Summit throughout the trip, so make sure to stay tuned!

titelbild
2016 Schachfestival Bad Wörishofen Open

 

tournament-hall-2016-dec
Courtesy: Laszlo Nagy – Tournament Director
reykjavik-open-02-c2a9roman-gerasymenko
Reykjavik Open

Dolomiten Bank Open, Lienz, Austria February 11-18

Liberec Open, Liberec, Czech Republic February 25-March 4

Schachfestival Bad Wörishofen Open, Bad Wörishofen, Germany March 10-18

First Saturday Tournament, Budapest, Hungary April 1-11

Reykjavik Open, Reykjavik, Iceland April 19-27

I’m also planning on touring Paris, Munich, Venice, and Vienna throughout my stay. I will be leaving in early February, so in total, I’ll be abroad for 82 days and get in 46 rated games in Europe. Including my games before I leave, I’ll play a total of 62 games this ‘semester’! I’m very curious to see what this trip will bring to my game, and I am looking forward to the many on- and off-the-board experiences I will have while I’m away.

I’m really thankful for everyone who helped me put this trip together – my parents, my coach GM Eugene Perelshteyn, various tournament directors, as well as anyone who has offered me any advice along the way! I’m planning on making the most of this opportunity, and I hope all of you will follow along here on Chess^Summit!

National Scholastic Tournaments: Cost vs. Benefits

With the annual K-12 National Scholastic Chess Championships ending less than a week ago, I felt that it was a relevant time to write about national tournaments in general.  The National Scholastic Chess Championships have been around for a long time.  In its younger days, these tournaments were full of strong players and were a must-attend.  However, in more recent years, the overall strength of these tournaments has decreased.  Why that has been the case?  I can’t know for sure.  Travel costs haven’t increased; if anything, they’ve been decreasing.  The number of players in the US has been on the rise every year.  In that case, what is the reason for the decrease in interest in these tournaments?  Perhaps it has to do with age.  Every section tends to have fewer players as the grade level increases.  That could be due to the fact that high school workload is exponentially greater than that of an elementary schooler; in addition, these tournaments require missing a day of school.  Another possible reason to abstain from playing in these tournaments is rating.  This is especially apparent in the higher rated players.  The circumstances of the tournament make it a very probable that high rated players will lose rating by the end; these include the relatively high number of rounds per day, short time controls, and facing opponents who only play in scholastic tournaments.  Now, I’ll admit, I have lost rating in most of these tournaments, with the exception of a few.  Despite the change in rating, though, I was still able to receive place trophies for the performances.  Though I understand why these reasons might deter kids and/or parents from participating in these tournaments, I have a strong belief that the benefits of these tournaments outweigh the costs.  There is much experience to be gained from playing in these scholastic tournaments, especially of one’s goal is to play in national open tournaments at a later point in time.  Schedules would be awfully similar, with multiple rounds per day, and traveling being tiring as always.  These tournaments also provide kids with the ability to spend a weekend away from work and being able to play the game they love.  They are able to meet kids from around the country and just have a good time altogether.  I’ve made a point to attend every single K-12 tournament since I began playing chess almost seven years ago.  This past tournament, however, I had to miss, but it was not for any of the aforementioned reasons.  The tournament had to be inconveniently scheduled the week following my week-long marine science field trip to the Bahamas.  Missing an entire week of school proved to be too much to handle, and the workload would have been unmanageable if I missed yet another day of school, especially since I had two tests from two AP classes on that Friday.  However, I am 110% sure that I would have gone if the field trip and the tests were scheduled earlier or before the actual timing.  Since I missed this one, though, I do not plan on missing the next national tournament May of 2017, which happens to be the Supernationals.  These national tournaments typically boast a much stronger field due to their rarity – it’s a quadrennial event.  If you have not played in a national tournament yet or have not played recently, I highly suggest you try to make this trip out to Nashville.  Similarly, if you are an adult and are unable to play yourself, try to convince as many kids as possible to play.  It will truly be an unforgettable experience and worth the costs.  Although it’s still approximately six months away, the sooner you begin to plan for the trip, the better.  So, I hope to see as many of you as possible over there!  And, as always, see you next time!

Extra Material Fends off Furious Endgame Activity

During another Friday evening game with Isaac, I battled through one of the ugliest openings ever to reach an ending up a piece for two pawns, but facing a rather formidable pawn storm. I was soon able to capitalize on an error to end matters quickly, but we felt compelled to spend a good chunk of time (and several impromptu mini-games) debating the merits of material versus activity in that endgame.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-21-56-09
Beilin – Isaac: after 21…bxc6

The short answer (according to me) was that material should eke out a win. The bar for compensating for lost material isn’t simple to meet. The flip side has burned me a few times as well, but more often than not, the material scale in chess is a good one. Isaac thought Black’s upcoming pawn storm would be crushing. We’ll get to the opinion of a certain silicon friend later.

The Game

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. h4 h6

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-23-19

I’d asked Isaac to play the Caro-Kann so I could practice in the Advanced Variation. Unfortunately, Isaac had only prepared for my previously favored 4. Nf3, but having little time recently to study main lines and having dabbled in 4. h4 in the past, I was willing to give the latter a few more tries. 4…h5 is generally considered most reliable, but Isaac’s choice of 4…h6 is an older try that usually leads to 5. g4 Bd7 6. h5. The other try is…

5. g4 Bh7?! 6. e6! fxe6 7. Bd3
screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-36-57

Objectively, Black is still in the game, but Black’s temporary neglect of e6 and the cornered h7 bishop gives White good play on the light squares at the expense of a pawn.

7…Be4!?

Now White can accept a slight weakness in exchange for kicking the bishop with f3, or slowly go after the tripled pawns. I chose the latter.

8. Bxe4 dxe4 9. Ne2 Nf6 10. Ng3 c5 11. g5 hxg5 12. hxg5

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-47-06

It looks like Black will have to trade rooks and move out of f6, allowing an unpleasant Qh5+. But with d4 en prise and Black up a pawn, there is another option I hadn’t considered.

12…Rxh1 13. Nxh1 cxd4!?

Black gives up the knight for a mass of admittedly scary-looking pawns. The next few moves are virtually forced.

14. gxf6 exf6 15. Qh5+ Ke7 16. Ng3 Qd5 17. Qxd5 exd5 18. Nf5+ Ke6 19. Nxd4+ Ke5

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-52-36

In hindsight, I would have expected 20. Be3 to go fairly smoothly. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible after 20. Nc3?! (seeing if Black will fall for 20…Kxd4? 21. Nb5+ and 22. Nc7, but what else?) 20…Nc6 21. Nxc6+ bxc6.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-55-11

As I mentioned above, I wasn’t particularly worried about Black’s pawn rushes, but now that Be3 is no longer possible due to …d4, developing the queenside was proving a bit more annoying. Fortunately, Black didn’t do much to inhibit my makeshift queenside development plan and fell victim to a tactic on e4.

22. Ke2 g5 23. f3 Bb4 24. Bd2 Rh8?? 25. Nxe4!

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-59-50

Isaac had apparently overlooked that after 25…Rh2+ 26. Ke326…Bc5+ was impossible. After 26…dxe4 27. Bxb4 exf3? (27…Rh3 last chance to put up resistance) 28. Kxf3 Rxc2 29. Bc3+ Kf5 30. Kg3, I quickly rounded up f6, and later the other pawns.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-23-02-44
1-0

Digging Deeper

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-22-55-11
After 21…bxc6

Right away, we can see that White’s bishop is rather inhibited and Black’s plans involving …d4, f- and g-pawn storms, and going after the f2 pawn, the last resistance to Black’s potential passers.

None of this was particularly convincing to me, since pawns (even several of them) aren’t particularly effective against minor pieces and White’s only real weakness is f2. While it may take White some time to untangle (although untangle White does, after …d4/Nd1/b2-b3/Nb2 etc.), the extra pieces give White extra tactical possibilities and defensive opportunities to compensate for the lost time. I thought the ending would always be tricky in practical play, but was probably much better for White with best play.

Of course, these judgments call for empirical analysis, so Isaac and I blitzed out the ending from the original position several times, which didn’t help our cases too much; I dominated the first few games, but Isaac more or less closed the gap in the last few. Isaac may have overlooked the aforementioned tactical resources for White, but I was surprised to lose a number of close bishop vs. three-pawn endings. I did note some of the earlier simplifications into equal-material or pawn-up (for White) endings, just to confirm that the ending wasn’t completely winning for Black.

Eventually, we lended an ear to Stockfish, who evaluated the position after 21…bxc6 as +1 for White, basically in line with White’s material advantage. Unfortunately for me, the evaluation dwindled to 0.0 after 22. Ke2 (Stockfish liked 22. Ne222…d4 23. Nd1 (Stockfish preferred a4).

We didn’t record any of the mini-games, but Isaac shored up the e4 pawn with …f5 and tried various bishop placements en route to developing Black’s rook, and clamping down with a passer whenever I tried f3. I just tested whatever seemed most intuitive (to untangling the back rank) for various Black tries. A sample line might run (after 23. Nd1):

23…f5 24. f3 (in hindsight, I don’t like this as much) 24…Be7 25. Nf2 Rh8 (25…g5 26. fxe4 fxe4 makes the pawns more manageable for White to deal with) 26. fxe4 fxe4

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-01-09-28

27. b3 is closer to what I attempted in most of the mini-games, providing a flexible choice for developing the big pawn on c1. After 27…Rh2, it seems best to disrupt the potential …e3 threats with 28. c3 d3+ (28…c5 looks possible, but opening up the c-file could prove fatal for Black) 29. Kf1 Rh4 30. Be3 (finally!), and perhaps 30…g5.

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-01-13-49

Now that White is finally untangled, 31. Bxa7 seems tempting, though I’d probably start worrying again after 31…c5 and questioning whether White really needs or wants the extra material. Against the straightforward 31. Kg2, Black might be out of gas, although there are still some tactics to watch out for. One caveat is the potential minor piece vs. 2-3 passer endgames, which could be more complicated than I’m letting on. I’d personally defer these possibilities to someone with more feel for time and those endings. The above is, of course, just one line of many. In a complicated ending that starts at +[0,1], there’s enough room for the position to swing either way.

As it turns out, Isaac and I underestimated (at least a little) the resources at each other’s disposal. A material advantage is powerful, and provides a lot of security in terms of tactical options (more powerful pieces, more possibilities) and conversion (into simpler positions). On the other hand, it is entirely possible for activity to produce longer-term advantages or tactical opportunities (which I missed) with a few great moves or inaccuracies from the other side. Our analysis is yet another reminder that my endgame intuition isn’t quite crystal clear (based on my eagerness to trade into losing piece-for-passed-pawns endings!). And whatever your faith in material advantages, structural advantages, spatial advantages, or activity, there’s always more than meets the eye!

The Last Leg of the Grand Chess Tour

The final tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is finally upon us: the London Chess Classic. Wesley So, the winner of the Sinquefield Cup, is far enough ahead of the other players in the Tour that the only way for him to not win would be for Hikaru Nakamura to win the London Chess Classic.

31418948211_0ac422bf1c_k
Nakamura vs. So

Oddly enough, So and Nakamura had to face each other in the first round of the tournament – ultimately resulting in a win by So with black. As of right now (after Round 5), Wesley So is in the lead by half a point in front of Caruana, Kramnik, Aronian, and Nakamura. Should things turn around, there is still a chance that someone will take over the tournament!

This year’s tournament has been relatively more exciting than last year’s where there were many rounds of only draws and most rounds were primarily composed of draws. Another point that is very interesting this year is that the World Champion Magnus Carlsen is not competing. Nevertheless, the field is extremely high-leveled and competitive.

The tournament so far has turned out many exciting games – I advise you to explore them all, even the draws! I can’t wait to see who comes out as the victor in this close race towards the finish line and to all those college students out there – good luck on your finals!

Free Game Analysis: Strategy in the Veresov

img_1397
Even with term finals coming up, I’ve snuck in a few blitz games! Here’s a fun position I got with White… Good luck finding a non-losing for Black!

Without any new tournament games to share with you all for my post today, I was delighted when I recieved a Free Game Analysis request from a strong player in the Pittsburgh area last week. As many of you know, Chess^Summit offers Free Game Analysis to all of our readers, and if you want to join the fun, you can send your game PGNs to chess.summit@gmail.com, along with any questions you may have about the game!

Today’s game was submitted by Pitt teammate Behnam Esymali. Behnam recently crossed 2000 at the Pennsylvania State Championships, and has since proven to be a cornerstone of the University of Pittsburgh Chess team in our local league matches. Off the chess board, Behnam is working on his PhD in mathematics, and writes regularly for the American Mathematical Society Graduate Student Blog (you can check out an article of his here!).

In his game today, Behnam chose the Veresov as White, an opening I discussed extensively for Black in my post about my World Open post last summer. While the Veresov doesn’t really promise any advantage for White, its rarity has made it a good surprise weapon. Even at the Grandmaster level, these 1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 openings have started to gain attention, particularly from Baadur Jobava, the star of the Baku Olympiad.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-17-40-00
The focus for today’s post. Does White have anything after the push 4. e3, or does Black get an easy equality? Even without the most accurate play Black got a respectable position.

What I like about this game is that it shows that even if you want to avoid main line openings, you still need to have some theoretical understanding to put together the best blueprint for the middlegame. In this opening, White erred as early as move four and was stuck with an equal position until the early middlegame when Black misunderstood the position and left his king exposed in exchange for a pawn. Moral of the story? Know your openings!

A Criticism of the WCC Venue

Note: These views are not expressive of Chess^Summit’s opinions of the World Chess Championship, only the author’s

When I first heard the rumors that the World Chess Championship would feature Carlsen and Karjakin playing on some busy avenue in Manhattan, with glass windows so that average people could see them battling it out over the board, I was excited. I wanted people to see how amazing chess could be, how thrilling it was to watch one of the biggest chess events of the year. I should have realized that this idea AGON was considering was too good to be true.

The actual venue, the Fulton Market Building, came as an extremely huge surprise for me. I have been going to South Street Seaport my whole life and visited in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was restored beautifully, but I felt that it was not busy enough to hold an event that chess fans desperately hoped would encourage more popularity for the game. I even visited the area a week or so before the match was scheduled to be played.

I did not see anywhere that the match could be held as there was a lot of construction going on around the Fulton Market Building, but I found out where the entrance was when I arrived on November 10th.

img_5456          img_5457

My first thoughts upon entering the building were that it was small but sleek and modern looking. The windows displayed the Brooklyn Bridge in all its glory, contrasting against the bright sky and the river.

img_5624

November 10th was the press day, and it was quite fun being one of the first people allowed into the venue.

img_5472

Of course, it was quite obvious from the beginning that the spectators’ area was goin
g to be a huge problem. I imagined that ticketholders would be aimg_5492ble to sit in a theater and watch the players behind glass, like I had seen in Pawn Sacrifice. At the very least, I expected chairs and a large room where spectators could go in and out freely. What we got was chess fans crowding around a glass wall, no seats nor order to who could be in the front, who could see. Eventually, each person was assigned a fifteen minute time slot of when they were allowed to into the viewing room, which was absolutely ridiculous. Fans paid expecting to actually have the privilege of seeing Carlsen and Karjakin play, not for fifteen minutes but for a full four hours, five hours. It seemed that chess fans paid $75 each game to sit outside of the glass wall room and watch the game on screens, which they could have done in the comfort of their own homes.

Other complaints included an insufficient amount of chairs and tables in the playing area next to the chess café were raised by every chess fan I was able to talk to. It was often hard to snag a seat and get a good game going. I saw kids with their own sets playing on the floors surrounding the area and realized that overall, there was enough room to include more tables and chairs that chess players desperately needed.

 

The biggest problems in the venue were img_5713most prominent on the second day of the match when hundreds of fans showed up. The line to enter the venue ran around the corner of the building across the street. I was excited to see this at first. So many people showed up simply for chess! Inside, I instantly recognized that the venue was simply too small to fit everyone. The line to enter the viewing room was too long and the atmosphere not only included excitement, but also annoyance. This should not happen at a World Chess Championship match.

 

Despite all these issues, it is probable that AGON had some serious issues securing a building to host the event. There have always been hardships getting sponsors and venues even for the most prestigious events. It was certainly better than some choices. For example, The Trump Tower, which had been under consideration as a possible venue, wouldn’t have worked, as the presidential election finished just around the time the match started. Protests raging around it would have most likely prevented the event in some way. I commend its efforts to popularize chess by choosing the historic spot, but I am unsure it was the best it could do.

img_6420
Iselin traveled from Norway to New York!

On the value of seeing the match live, for the high price, I would not have been able to attend the match every day. Some loyal fans traveled all the way from Norway to cheer on their hero and there was no shortage of fans from various states such as Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia. However, many were left in the dark, unable to afford the steep VIP tickets that went for hundreds of dollars or just the general admission tickets. No matter what, though, many rounds were sold out. I caved in—the first World Chess Championship on American soil since I was born was an experience I could not miss. In the end, chess fans generally agreed and the match attracted over 10,000 fans who decided it was worth it to see the match live.

Memories From an Exciting 2016

Last Sunday, I drew my final rated game of 2016 in a league match against a young expert, Maxim Yaskolko. I found myself executing a crushing mating attack right out of the opening, but missed a few immediate wins around moves 15-20 and settled for an R vs. N+P ending. I chose a rather naive attempt to convert the ending, and Maxim found a resourceful draw right as it looked like the board was opening to my advantage.

It’s a strange but fitting end to a year in which I’ve seen a number of unexpected and unfamiliar chess experiences – some good, some bad. Overall, it’s been a very successful year; I gained almost exactly 100 USCF rating points to reach my unknown (as of now) but projected rating in the 2125-2130 range.

As you might expect though, one number doesn’t tell the whole 2016 story.

ratings_graphr

One probably wouldn’t guess from “2026 to 2130” that I plateaued at low expert, broke 2100 by a pretty big margin, undid more than half of that in three weeks, and regained most of that by the end of the year.

As recent as last year, I thought of myself as a consistent and solid player. Obviously, that perspective has changed as the strength of my competition has changed. Still, in 2014 or 2015, I wouldn’t have seen myself with a mating attack out of the opening, beating a strong expert in 16 moves, or failing to convert some of the endings I’ve botched. And while I’d experienced inconsistency in my results before, I’d never experienced alternating stretches of bad results (most specifically in the late summer, where I compiled a 0.5/6 record against Class A players before a hot September-October streak sent me back to 2100).

Such unexpected results were probably on their way, since as I’ve mentioned, I have barely two years of experience at the 1800+ level. My more inconsistent play has reflected my willingness to try a lot of new things: new openings, faster time controls, taking more risks, etc. Nevertheless, usually one can’t be truly inconsistent and make 2200, so this does indicate that I still have a lot of work to do. However, I’m optimistic because inconsistency means that theoretically, the good aspects of my play have improved while I will be able to improve the bad aspects.

To close out the USCF season, I’d like to share a few of the more memorable moments from my 2016 games, in no particular order:

Nxf7 (Liberty Bell Open)

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-00-39-50
Hauge (2046) – Li (2026)

In true last round spirit, my opponent seized the moment with 18. Nxf7!! forcing 18…Nxg3 19. Nxh6+ Kh8! (the only move to stay in the game; 19…gxh6 20. Rxe6 is not pretty, for Black will struggle to last against 20…Rf7 21. Rg6+ Kf8 22. fxg3 Rxf1+ 23. Kxf1).

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-00-48-12
Hauge – Li

I remembered this game for White’s missed opportunity of 20. Ng4!! here, and due to the (basically) open a2-g8 diagonal, and e-f-h files, Black has no defense against Rxg3-h3, e.g. 20…Nxf1 21. Rh3+ Kg8 22. Bxe6+. Instead, White settled for 20. Rxg3? but after 20…gxh6 and some accurate play by both of us in time trouble, I managed to hold a draw with a rook, bishop, and knight against White’s queen and a few pawns.

Avoiding a “Benoni” (US Amateur Team East)

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-01-02-54
Dewelde (1922) – Li (2058)

Black has several reasonable choices including 5…d6 and 5…Qa5+. However, for some reason I was really afraid that after 5…d6 I’d later have to play …e6 transposing into a Benoni, and “avoided” it with 5…b5??, incidentally the second-worst move that doesn’t immediately lose material.

Indeed, I regretted it the next move; after 6. e46…Qa5+ was forced to prevent the immediate e4-e5, but White got his wish anyway after 7. Qd2 Qxd2+ 8. Nxd2 a4 9. c4 b4 10. e5 Ng8.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-01-06-43
Dewelde – Li

For the sake of chess White had better win this position, and he did; I was mated in 19 more miserable moves as punishment for my most costly opening mistake ever.

 

First Win Against a 2300 (Pennsylvania G/60)

I covered this game at the end of a previous post. It’s hard to understate the significance at that point, since I’d never been in such a terrible streak before. Beating my toughest opponent in Pittsburgh with Black was an unexpected but nice way to turn that around.

16-Move Win (Pennsylvania State Championship)

I covered this in my post on the state championship.

Suffice it to say that these don’t come by easily at the expert level, especially when playing the slower openings I play (then again, I was almost proven wrong this weekend). However, unlike my weekend game, this was an example of a very normal-looking Closed Sicilian idea getting demolished by a harmless-looking nuance, which is hard to find in the Closed Sicilian.

On the Other Hand… (Cherry Blossom Classic)

The Bishop’s Opening is also not normally something where White expects to win quickly. But given the right player and the right circumstances (me!), it’s possible. That’s not good.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-01-25-42
Samuelson (2347) – Li (2125)

For anyone interested, the position arose after 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Bd6 7. Nc3 dxe4 8. Ng5 O-O 9. Ncxe4 Bf5?! 10. Qf3 Bg6 11. h4 Nxe4?? 12. dxe4 (also, this is the only time I’ve seriously attempted 1…e5). White still had 90 minutes (the time control was 30/90+SD/60 with a 30-second increment) to my 60. It was move 12, and I was dead lost (White threatens h4-h5 and/or catastrophe on f7).

A Real Escape (Liberty Bell Open)

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-01-32-16
Liu (1840) – Li (2026)

It wasn’t easy looking at this position on move 12 as Black (yes, 12…Rd7 is forced). However, my opponent missed a few chances to put the game away, and traded queens, unexpectedly allowing me to generate a surprising attack.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-01-37-18
Counterplay!

Eventually, White was forced to give back the Exchange and I escaped with a draw on move 31.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-01-39-48
Liu – Li, 1/2 – 1/2

A disaster isn’t a disaster if you redeem yourself during the game.


Although I’ve finished with rated play for the year, be on the lookout for some more analysis on some of my wrap-up games. See you in two weeks!

Women’s World Chess Championships

Disclaimer: These are simply my thoughts after reading into multiple sources about the championships and do not at all represent the thoughts of Chess^Summit as a whole. In addition, if there are more relevant issues I am unaware of, please feel free to express your thoughts and concerns on this topic. The main purpose of this article is to create discussion about this topic as with the recent World Championships, I feel like the controversy over the Women’s Championships is being overlooked.

So if you haven’t heard already, the Women’s World Chess Championships will be held in Iran this coming February. For basically the first time ever, there have been extremely popular and non-chess based interfaces that are covering this championship due to the fact that all participants are required to wear a hijab.

Numerous people have spoken out about this situation – most notably, the US Women’s Champion, Nazi Paikidze has decided to completely boycott the tournament: even though it has been her dream to participate in the Women’s World Championships since she was sixteen. On the other hand, there are Iranian feminists and chess players who argue that by boycotting this tournament, people are in fact discouraging the feminist movement in Iran, as this will be the largest female sporting event ever hosted by the country and acts as a huge boost to the morale of their female athletes.

womens-world-championship
The Current US Women’s Champion: Nazi Paikidze

Chess is a game about expression – everyone has a different style of play, whether it be aggressive or passive, different mannerisms at the board, whether it be our attire or the position in which we think and analyze the position. By making them wear the hijab, the players lose a part of their identity, a part of the aura they give off at the board, and probably most important of all, a part of their confidence. For me personally, I will almost always be in a comfortable pair of jeans with a loose sweater on top of a pair of boots or sneakers and I prefer resting my chin on my hands. The few times where I have changed my attire and gone outside of my comfort zone, I’ve found that my performance itself is greatly affected. With my own personal experience in mind, I don’t believe that the enforcement of a hijab upon the participants is in any way fair to the players.

Now, before you jump to conclusions – I’m not saying that personal performance should be the priority here or that it is more important than the feminist movement in Iran. The core issue here is the individual’s personal choice to choose for themselves what they wish to wear in the environment of an international tournament. Iranian women have faced restrictions upon their participation in international events for wearing a hijab due to “safety reasons,” and while most competitions now allow them, they are still prevented from competing in some international sporting arenas like the international basketball championships. In such situations, people supporting the participation of Iranian women have continuously expressed that a person’s dress should not be the determining factor in their participation. So why is it that the case for this tournament?

I’m all for feminism, I really am – and honestly if it weren’t for the US government’s warning against traveling to Iran, I’d say this tournament would be an amazing opportunity for both the players and the country as a whole. I’m genuinely happy that the tournament is being held in a place where simply its occurrence will create positive impact on the community.

From what I understand, the hijab has a primarily religious and cultural symbol and a symbol of choice. It represents a part of a person, shows what culture or religion one believes in. By forcing other members of society who don’t actually believe in the same cultural or religious ideas, it is almost like the symbolism of a hijab is being depreciated since those who do not practice the cultural and religious beliefs that a hijab represents are wearing one.