Late Surge Establishes Pittsburgh as PRO League Threat

Despite a tough loss to the San Francisco Mechanics last night, the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers are primed to prove they are much stronger than their ratings suggest.

San Francisco Mechanics (10) Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers (6)
GM Patrick Wolff: 2564 GM Alexander Shabalov: 2563
GM Vinay Bhat: 2519 NM Alexander Heimann: 2271
IM Yian Liou: 2414 FM Gabriel Petesch: 2260
FM Cameron Wheeler: 2398 NM Grant Xu: 2193

Commentators were rough on Pittsburgh from the beginning as San Francisco quickly chalked up a 7-1 lead. Shabalov, seen as the main hope for the team, fell to Wolff and Bhat via an early opening blunder and a queen hang in a drawn ending, respectively. At the tail end of Round 2, however, NM Grant Xu put Pittsburgh on the board with an incredible swindle against IM Liou.

This completely turned around matters for the Pawngrabbers, who earned some healthy praise from GM-commentator Yermolinksy by the end of the night. Although Mechanics’ early margin proved too much for the Pawngrabbers in the end, Pittsburgh took the last two rounds 5-3.

GM Shabalov led Pittsburgh to a 3-1 sweep in Round 3, grinding out IM Liou in a tricky minor-piece endgame. NM Alex Heimann completely swindled FM Wheeler in a drawn exchange-down ending, and FM Gabriel Petesch recorded a big win over GM Patrick Wolff.

This gave Pittsburgh an outside shot of tying the match, but FM Wheeler overcame GM Shabalov’s characteristic fighting chess in a time-scramble, with both players missing wins in a wild ending. Fortune was clearly not on the GM’s side this match, but he will be very tough to beat after finding his stride.
Heimann, Petesch, and Xu faced tough tasks against their IM/GM opponents, but Heimann’s offbeat Alekhine Defense paid off in the end. Grant Xu was once again the story of the round as he tested GM Wolff with the Smith-Morra and later turned around one of the most depressing endings ever, despite having to play on mobile due to a computer crash (!).
If you want more on the match through video, check out Isaac’s video recap from this morning!

The Pawngrabbers will look to bounce back next week against the Minnesota Blizzards, who defeated the Portland Rain last night by 10.5-5.5. Tune into TV and the Live boards on Wednesday, January 18, 9 pm ET for a great match!

-Beilin Li, Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers Co-Manager

The Importance of Parental Support

When I was holding my NJ All-Girls Chess Camp about a month ago (article on that coming up!), I had several parents taking time out of their day to wait for when I was not running around trying to organize the girls into the correct room just to thank me for holding the camp, expressing how happy they were that their child could participate.

We see articles about talented children all the time: Jeffrey Xiong, Jennifer Yu, and Carissa Yip to name a few – but rarely do we see an article giving as much credit to the people behind the scenes – the parents – as much credit as they deserve. This lack of light upon the efforts of parents to change jobs in order to locate their kid in a more busy chess community, to drive hours and take days off from work to take their kids to tournaments, to use their hard earned money to find them a coach really struck me me when I was reading ChessLife’s December issue’s article on Jeffrey Xiong: there was a page-long excerpt in the middle of his article about his father!

I remember being like, “Wow! He does so much for Jeffrey – even runs with him every single day.” And then I realized that the majority, if not all of the top chess players in the world today would probably be nowhere without the support of their parents. A prime example would be Magnus Carlsen: his father has been his constant companion to tournaments since he started playing and even today, he travels with Magnus and trains with him.

Magnus Carlsen and his father

Even though I’m not a child prodigy like many of the other players that I have mentioned here, I would still be absolutely nowhere today without my parents support. Having started at a relatively old age compared to many of the other players nowadays at the age of eight, I had a hard time really getting into the game and letting it into my life. In addition, I was often teased in elementary school for being so “Asian” and “nerdy” for playing chess and spending my weekends doing that rather than say, participating in a sport or going to the amusement park. The fact that I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere and that chess had if anything become a sore subject for me led to a period of time where I just desperately wanted to quit. But my parents didn’t let me even though it meant that an childish me was lashing out at them for no apparent reason. Instead, they worked hard to be able too move our family to a better neighborhood where I could start over and where I already knew there was another serious chess player in the area.

So to the parents who thanked me at the All-Girls Chess Camp, and to all other parents who have done everything in their power and more to give their kids the chance to learn how to play: Thank you. Thank you for helping to expose your kids to the beauty of chess, and while there may be many bumps on this path – I promise you, your kids will come to thank you one day as well.

2016 Pan-Ams: a brief board 2 Recap

2016 came to a close at the 2016 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships held in New Orleans, Louisiana from December 27-30. Our Pitt Panthers fielded a 2205 average team with Thomas Riccardi on board 1, myself on board 2, John Ahlborg on 3, and Isaac Steincamp on 4. We entered seeded 16th out of 60 teams, but with sharks like Webster University, UT Dallas, and newcomer Saint Louis University in play, this was always going to be an exciting tournament. Both Isaac and Tom have both published their own recaps of their tournament(s) as well as describing the city of New Orleans. Isaac’s can be found here and Tom’s here. For this piece, I will just focus on my games. Each of the Round headers is a link to my games. Enjoy!

Round 1: Hibiki Sakai (2233, H2P) vs. Jasper Zaporteza (1592, University of Central Florida) 1-0

What was supposed to be a straightforward round 1 almost turned into a complete disaster for us. Tom, John, and I were losing at one point in each of our games, but we somehow ended up sweeping them 4-0.

My game opened with a sharp line in the Advanced Caro-Kan. I played the opening a bit sloppily but managed to pull ahead with a timely pawn sacrifice. My impatience got the better of me, and I attempted to end the game by force only to see my naked king almost manhandled by Zaporteza’s queen.

Oh dear…

Black had just captured my knight on c3 with his bishop after I had tried to force the issue on the kingside (hence the queen on h8). Black can proceed with Qa5 threatening Qxc3+, when white’s king will regret not having castled sooner. In the game, Zaporteza continued with 18…Qg5, only to realize later that my king can slink away to b2, after which black’s attack fizzles, leaving him with little to show for his exchange. Crisis averted.

I have to commend our opponents for their fighting spirit and sportsmanship. They put up a hell of a fight for playing up 600 points.

Round 2: Illia Nyzhnyk (2713, Webster University-A) vs. Hibiki Sakai (2233) 1-0

All of the sudden, we were paired on match 1 against the top-rated Webster-A boasting a lineup featuring world #30 Quang Liem Le and prodigies GM Illya Nyzhnyk and GM Ray Robson. I had the opportunity to play my very first GM and put up a fight before being ground down in time pressure.

I decided to play into a Queen’s Gambit Accepted not because I knew what I was doing, but because I wanted to fight for a win and didn’t want to play into a quiet QGD. I managed to keep the pawn out of the opening and had just about consolidated when a series of time-pressured inaccuracies allowed Nyzhnyk to capitalize and seize the initiative.

Critical position after 22.Bg2

I had slowly fortified my position with an awkward Bd7-e8 and Rd8-d6 maneuver (and somehow avoided a Bxh6 sacrifice, which would have killed the game a few moves before). My plan was to remove the e5 knight with Nd7, but I decided to attack the d4 pawn with Nc7, allowing white to regain some control with g4-g5 and Qc2-e4. I blundered away the game a few moves later. Tough luck.

Round 3: Hibiki Sakai (2233) vs. Joseph Fennessey (1956, University of Chicago-B) 1-0

Round 3 saw me play Joe Fennessey, who I’d last played about a decade ago at some SuperNationals in Tennessee. I played into a drawish endgame out of a Taimanov which I somehow managed to win. I won a pawn early out of the opening, but black equalized quickly and looked set to hold.


Black had offered a draw a few moves prior, but I decided that I would try to poke him until he cracked. Fennessey proceeded to go after my a-pawn, which turned out to be a bad idea:

Tragic for black, who defended tenaciously

After the trade on a3, black had nothing to stop my c-pawn(s) from advancing.

Round 4: Alexander Ilnytsky (2053, Rutgers University) vs. Hibiki Sakai (2233) 0-1

Round 4 was a much more straightforward game. Ilnytsky played into a dubious line in the Semi-Slav before breaking in the center with his king still on e1.

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 6.26.13 PM.png
“Uh-oh” – white’s king, probably

After a series of exchanges, white’s king was forced to f1, and I won pretty comfortably. We also swept Rutgers 4-0, which gave us a boost of confidence going into round 5.

Round 5: Hibiki Sakai (2233) vs. David Berczes (2584, UT Dallas-B) 1-0

We knew going into the round that we’d be facing a team around 2500, but I wanted personal redemption for my round 2 loss against Nyzhnyk, and this provided the perfect opportunity. Tom warned me not to “fall for Berczes’ time-pressure shenanigans” – he is apparently infamous getting himself into time pressure.

Berczes’ games in the database suggested that he played a lesser-known variation in the Chigorin starting with 12…exd4 and Nd7, and sure enough, we played into the same line over the board. He’d played his line against a few GMs (Ray Robson, among others), but I chose a continuation with 15.Ne3. We soon reached a critical position a few moves later:

Position after 21…Qb6

Black’s position is pretty cramped: his queen is stuck defending the a5 knight and cannot move off of the d8-a5 diagonal. White has plenty of space in the center as well as the bishop pair. But black has an immediate threat of Rxc2, which must be addressed. I found my next move almost instantly but thought little of it at first. I then looked at Rxe8 followed by Rd1, but that looked unconvincing. I returned to my first move, and something clicked.

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 8.00.10 PM.png

Out of seemingly nothing, white has killed the game instantly. With Qb6, black inadvertently sidelines the queen from the defense of his king. The bishop sacrifice exploits that fact – after 22…gxf5 23.Nxf5 Bxb2 24.Qxb2, black can do nothing to prevent white from rerouting his queen to h6 via d2. As it happened, I did not realize this queen maneuver was unstoppable and played something else, prolonging the game. I managed to win in the end though, so no harm done. Still counts!

Our team fought tooth an nail to try and snatch a victory, but UTD-B managed to walk away with the victory 2.5-1.5. So close.

In our final round, we played UT Austin. My opponent played a Semi Slav Exchange Variation, and we took an early draw to wrap up the tournament.

All in all, the 2016 Pan-Ams was a great experience for us. I got to play my first two GMs and even took home my first win! I’d like to thank the University for flying us all down, Tom Martinak for getting our team organized, and that guy I sat next to on the plane who kept his reading light on the entire 5am flight. Last but not least, I’d like to thank and commend my teammates Tom Riccardi, John Ahlborg, and Isaac Steincamp for Hailing to Pitt. H2P!


Back to New York! Making the Most of Awkward Pairings

As I stepped into Penn Station last Friday afternoon, I entered the Big Apple with a renewed sense of optimism. Of course, the Marshall Chess Club has special meaning to me, being the site of the only adult tournament I’ve ever won, but I felt like I had more pushing me forward.

Unlike last summer, I got to stay in Times Square for the weekend

While my result in New Orleans left me feeling incomplete, much of my team’s performance in the Pan American Championships showed me that anything is possible. John’s draw against Ray Robson and Hibiki’s crushing win over a grandmaster were both particularly encouraging, and my mouth was watering at a second opportunity to play a titled player after losing a very close game against a 2500+ International Master last week.

Admittedly, I entered the Marshall’s Weekend FIDE somewhat blind to the competition. Since the event was to be FIDE rated, I assumed that not only would I play tougher competition than I did last week, but that I would be one of the lowest rated players in the event. In reality, this turned out to be somewhat false, as I played both an unrated opponent and a 1300 in two of the four rounds of the event. That being said, I did get the second chance I wanted, both against the famous New York IM Jay Bonin and a young National Master. But to put things bluntly, my opening experiments in both games failed and I finished 2.5/5 (last round half-point bye).

In meeting Vanessa this past weekend, I’ve “finally” met all of the senior Chess^Summit authors! Who thought it would have taken that long?

I think the position I’ve been in these last two tournaments can be very relatable for just about any tournament player. I remember when I was around 1500, my tournaments would bounce between opponents rated 1200 and 1800, leading up the last round where I finally got to play someone my own rating. This was even more exaggerated when I was still in elementary school trying to improve through scholastic tournaments. What can I say – these tournaments can be incredibly frustrating. You win when favored, you lose against the much higher rated folk, you still lose a couple rating points. What did you do wrong?

In such cases its really easy to be discouraged by the short term loss, and its even easier to forget the long term benefits of having played stronger opponents. But experience is so much more important. As of today, my rating is the lowest its been since August of 2015, yet I strongly believe that I would beat the player I was at my peak if I played him in a match.

Me trying to save my second round game against IM Jay Bonin. Credit: Vanessa Sun

Just like my tournament this past weekend, many of my tournament appearances last semester whittled my 2142 rating all the way down to where it is now. I really wasn’t in control of who I was paired against in many of those events, and coupling that with the fact I’ve been learning a new opening repertoire as Black, gaining points has not exactly been easy. That being said, I know I am a stronger player for having endured this, and I hope to show this in a much more level field next week at the Liberty Bell Open.

For those of you who may recall, on my very first post upon the relaunch of the site, I proclaimed my intention to not look at my own rating until I make master. Quite truthfully, I’ve been a little lazy about this since I know I’m moving in the opposite direction, but I’m going to force myself to not look at my rating again since it’s a distraction from actual improvement.

Life lessons aside, in looking over my games from New York, I do see signs of improvement in my games – even in the wins against the much lower rated opposition. I really liked how I handled my first game against an unrated opponent. While I would guess that my opponent was no stronger than 1800 (I didn’t know this going in), I was posed with some not so trivial decisions as Black. Here’s an example:

Position after 11. c3, Atakay–Steincamp

Black is clearly not worse, in fact, thanks to the pair of bishops, Black is fighting for the edge. Yet the best route isn’t so easy to choose, if White can complete his development quickly, he is probably only marginally worse and can play on with reasonable chances to equalize. I think many players would simply make a decision here (11…Bf5 for example) and play on, confident in their ability to outplay weaker opponents from equal positions. However, I happened to know that my opponent was an exchange student from Turkey, and perhaps he might be “x good”, just with no USCF experience.

So I decided to use my time advantage here to try to find the continuation that offered Black the best winning chances, and after thirty minutes, I managed to find a line that we reached on the board eight moves later with a clear plus for Black. I don’t really see many examples of such problems in books, so I thought I would pose one here – what is the best way for Black to maximize the advantage of the pair of bishops? There’s several reasonable ways to continue, but I thought my choice offered the most practical chances to get an advantage. When you think you have something, check my game out here!

At some point I will have too many photos of this room!

As it turns out, this was my opponent’s first game, and after four rated games, he finished just shy of 1700. Regardless, I’m still proud of myself for coming up with this continuation in an over-the-board setting.

So where does the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships and this tournament at the Marshall Chess Club put me? Hard to say – I’ve scored a combined 5/10, and in each of my wins my opponents failed to put up some measurable resistance. That being said, I’ve also had five tough losses running the gamut from blowout to heartbreaker, each of them proving to be critical tests of my weaknesses as a player. While I haven’t exactly had many chances to prove it against simillar opposition, I would like to think that the sudden inundation of chess I’ve had since the conclusion of the fall semester is pushing me in the right direction. How much it really has, I’ll know next week at the Liberty Bell Open. No matter how I do, I’ll be well on my way towards being fully prepared for the Dolomiten Bank Open in Austria, an I’m looking forward to getting some competitive games in Philadelphia!


The History of My Openings: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Openings are an interesting topic nowadays. I would like to write a series of articles on openings and decided to start by talking about the history of my personal opening repertoire.

I learned to play chess in the spring of 2009, when I was 6. I started taking lessons in the fall of 2009 and played my first non-rated scholastic tournament in January 2010.

At first I had a standard beginner opening repertoire. I played 1.e4 e5 as black and the Giuoco Piano as white. I learned basic openings from Winning Chess Openings by Yasser Seirawan. The book didn’t go really deep, but it was an excellent introduction to the land of openings. I got a general idea about various openings which gave me a little bit of an advantage over my opponents.

Recently, I discovered a treasure trove of casual games I played against my brother during this period. A couple days ago I looked at one of them and thought “what kind of opening play is this???”. Then I looked in ChessBase and found that I played a main line for the first 10 moves of the game until my brother deviated. OMG!!! IN THIS OPENING I KNEW MORE THEORY WHEN I WAS 8 THAN I DO NOW!!!

Sometime in 2010, when my rating was about 1000, I was facing a disturbing situation. I was losing to my younger brother in casual games when I played 1.e4 e5 a little more often than was to my liking. Older siblings do not tolerate this. If that’s not a reason to update your opening repertoire, then I don’t know what is.

I eventually chose the French. Why the French? Okay, there is no such thing as “the best chess opening” (though there are things like bad openings). When choosing an opening, there is always a subjective reason or two why you want to play it. My “objective” reasons were:

  • I first faced the French in a chess camp in the summer of 2010 and I got crushed in both games with white
  • My opponents would likely be unaware what to do
  • A big hope of mine was that my opponents would play 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 and then they wouldn’t find the best move 5.f4, and would instead do something like 5.Nf3 and after 5… c5 I’d eventually win their e5-pawn

Bullet point #3 didn’t really happen, but French and I really suited each other, and I had success on the black side of it. I was slowly getting somewhat obsessed with openings, especially given my rating.

At 1500, I got Chessbase and started making my own opening “databases”. The analysis was low-quality, but it was mine. It consisted of me copying in semi-random games between top players. The games were sometimes old and not theoretically relevant, but I got an idea about the ensuing positions. I ran my openings through my coach but mostly to check I wasn’t completely off. Most importantly, I did majority of the work on my own and therefore learned a lot, not only about the openings but also about the resulting positions, and analysis itself.

You may find this shocking, but I didn’t use an engine till I reached 1950. It may be controversial, but I think it was good for me overall. I do admit it may have resulted in some flaws in my analysis, but I’m glad I used my brain in analyzing rather than the engine. However, above 2100, using an engine for openings is pretty much necessary. Without it, my analysis would just be too low quality.

At 1800, things started getting tough. Those 1900+ players knew their openings better than I did (usually), and I had to step up my game. My analysis started getting more serious. My main goal was to know the lines and positions really, really well. The improvements in my analysis included:

  • Concentrating on single lines — no more tree of variations I could play
  • Shortening the lines. If you want to review an opening quickly, going through 80 moves of random games is not really so useful. Instead, cutting the games around move 15-20 and putting an evaluation is a lot more practical.
  • Adding model games to my databases – those were games which I thought were model ways to play the opening. Those let me see general ideas quickly.

Those things worked. I soon switched from the QGD to the Slav after getting sick and tired of the Exchange QGD.

Fast-forward to fall 2014, when I was around 2250. My repertoire had pretty much the same infrastructure, and I knew the lines I played really well (with the occasional hiccup). The problem was my repertoire was super-duper narrow. Way too narrow. It was time to add an additional opening.

I decided on the Caro-Kann. Why the Caro? Well, it is supposed to be the next-door neighbor of the French, and there used to be times when the Caro really annoyed me from the white side.

I patched together some analysis on the Caro within a week of my decision and went on to play it in round 1 of the next tournament. I won the game, and my Caro soon reaped success. Don’t try this at home! One week is usually not enough to learn a new opening, but I had a general idea what I wanted to do against most of white’s replies and somehow put it all together.

The big project, however, was the Nimzo-Indian for black. This one took way longer than 1 week. It did not bring immediate success. Let’s be honest, it brought immediate disaster! However, after two tournaments, I started scoring heavily in it against lower rated players.

My personal history doesn’t end here. I continue working on my opening and have made changes since, but I better keep a few surprises up my sleeve.

You can say things have worked out pretty well for me, and I cannot really disagree with you, but looking back there are things I would have done differently. I believe I should have introduced a couple systems for both white and black when I was 1800-1900. Also, I probably should have added an additional opening for black earlier, say around 2100, rather than at 2250.

Next time I would like to address general questions about openings, like when to add them and how risky it is to do so. If you have any questions you would like answered, leave them in the comments.

My First Ever Chess Goals

As far as sitting down and thinking about what my future chess goals are, I’ve never really done this. To be honest, I’ve just gone with the flow without aiming towards anything concrete for the past 10 years, as I’ve felt setting hard goals is restrictive. I’ve always felt they were pretty arbitrary, and I’ve always felt “doing my best” and “improving as much as I can” were sufficient enough direction for me. To many others, goals such as “breaking 2000” are quite useful. For me, it was easier to just play and not have any outside pressure to achieve something. But as I’m on the verge of climbing over 2400 USCF, I realize that improvement comes slower and slower, and titled players are a whole different animal to take down. To that end, I’ve outlined a list of things I would like to accomplish by the end of this year, my first chess goals if you will, as I know that instinct and blind faith has its limits, and if I want to keep improving I need to reach towards something (instead of nothing):

  1. 2300 FIDE and the FM title:

I’ve played in relatively few FIDE tournaments in my career, so this one may actually prove to be one of the toughest goals to accomplish. I’m currently hovering right around 2200 FIDE, but I would like to bring that up significantly. Doing so would prove I can hold my own against stronger and more varied opposition (generally FIDE rated tournaments are much stronger). It’s easy to have an inflated USCF rating simply from playing the same people or in the same area all the time, so I would like to perform well outside my usual bubble.

  1. 2450 USCF:

If the first goal was the hardest, I would say this goal might be the easiest, though still not trivial or simple by any means. I have around 50 points to go, but gaining rating points from this point will be a slow climb, unless I have a godly performance at one tournament. I think sudden breakouts are super tough though at this point, so I’m aiming for steady improvement. If I had a huge block of free time when I could just study chess nonstop, it might be possible. With college and work and other stuff, it’s hard to commit a ton of time or even consistent time to study chess. The important thing is to keep playing though, as rust is a real thing. I’m actually playing more regularly now than in my last two years of high school, and my performances have slowly been getting better.

  1. IM Norm:

Screw it, this might be the toughest. Checking the US top under 21 list, I might be the highest rated junior that doesn’t have at least one IM norm yet. I’ve only ever played in one tournament where a norm was even possible, so I have no concept of what it really takes. What I do know is I have to score well against many titled players, which goals 5, 6, and 7 will all help with. The most likely tournaments I will play are the Washington International and the US Masters, but this is still to be determined.

  1. Threepeat:

This year’s PA State Championship will be in Lancaster, and in March. I imagine the location of Lancaster instead of Pittsburgh will attract some stronger competition, but I look forward to kicking spring break off with an attempt to defend my title and repeat as state champion for the third year in a row. Like goal 3 (but a little easier), this will involve strong, consistent play, and a will to try to win against anyone.

  1. Improve Calculation

I’d like to say I have a decent intuition and understanding of the game, but my calculation is seriously lacking. This will involve doing some engine work and doing some difficult tactics. Also, I think endgame studies will also be quite helpful, as the more empty the board the harder it is to calculate, as the range of viable candidate moves increases.

  1. Have an Opening Repertoire

Yeah, I’ll admit it, my openings are probably like 1700 level. They suck. That’s not gonna cut it against stronger opposition, so I finally have to study my least favorite part of the game and do some memorization. On a side note, I think chess960 is a great idea, as chess really shouldn’t be a contest of who can memorize the most moves to start a game. But whatever, it is what it is, and I will need to improve on this if I am serious about getting better.

  1. Be Clutch

Be able to perform under pressure and when it counts. I spoiled a tremendous position and a 40 minute time advantage against IM Eylon Nakar in the Pan-American last week, which would have saved the match for the CMU team. I’m not totally sure how to work on this, but I think just gaining more playing experience in these situations goes a long way. Being able to do this will help with goals 3 and 4.

All in all, I’m excited for the challenges that lay ahead and to be working towards what I have outlined above. Cheers to a great 2017 of chess for all of you, and may you reach your goals, whatever they may be!

Chess^Summit Challenge: Beilin takes on Alice

We finally ran our first live stream today! The team and I have been discussing getting this started since our relaunch last summer, and I think for a first try this turned out great. Let us know in the comments if you have any feedback for us, setting up these shows is still a work in progress and any tips you give help go a long ways!

Being a commentator wasn’t easy, but watching Beilin face Alice in our first Blitz Match gave me enough fun to work with 🙂 We’re hoping to run more streams in the future, so subscribe to our Youtube channel to get notifications!

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers! We’ll be covering stories from the team throughout the season.

Hope you enojoy!

Inspiring Starts and Disappointing Ends

Before I begin, I want to take this opportunity to wish the Chess^Summit community Happy New Year!

The Eastern Open was an open tournament held December 27 – 30, in between the Christmas and New Year’s weekends, at the Doubletree in Bethesda, MD.  While it was held across a string of typical work days, Winter Break gave kids an opportunity to play in a tournament held at such a point in the week where they typically wouldn’t be able to; I was one of them.  Entering the tournament with a published rating of 2180, I had the chance of choosing whether to play in the U2200 or the Open section yet again.  Knowing that the tournament was 7 rounds and that it was easier to gain rating in a higher section, I enrolled in Open.

Finding myself in the middle of the pack prior to round 1, I was sure to either play one of the top seeds or one of the lowest seeds.  As some higher rated players were registering on-site, a pairing against a top seed seemed more and more inevitable.  That judgment proved correct, as I was eventually paired against the very strong IM Tegshuren Enkhbat.  You can play through the game in the following hyperlink to the game viewer, and my comments will appear there as well.

Kobla – Enkhbat, Eastern Open, 2016

I was definitely satisfied with my round 1 performance after the first night.  I just had to go in tomorrow and try to repeat or even one-up this performance the next day.  Unfortunately, the game did not go well, and I was slowly outplayed by Akshita Gorti, a strong 2300 player known to many in this area.  Finding myself in a 0.5/2 hole, I knew I had to win the next round to keep up with the competition.  I was pitted against tournament organizer Tom Beckman.  Once again, you can view the game and its associated notes in the following hyperlink.

Kobla – Beckman, Eastern Open, 2016

Disregarding the few points in the game where I could have improved upon my text moves, I still came out of that game feeling quite happy with my play.

Going into the third day with 1.5/3, I had some options as to the way I could play my next few games.  I was paired against veteran Allan Savage.  That game was drawn fairly quickly after only 14 moves.  The position was approximately equal, and while I could have played on in an attempt to win, I took the draw offer with the reasoning that it was a draw with the black pieces against a higher rated player; I would have ample time to rest and prepare for the next round.  Lastly, on my trek to 2200, every point counts, so there was no hurt in playing it safe.  For round 5, I was paired against Christopher Shen in what was going to be the most interesting game I would play the entire tournament.

Kobla – Shen, Eastern Open, 2016

Wow.  It was a fun and nail-biting game to play.  Although I didn’t end up finding the winning move in that one position, these are still the games I live to play.  With 2.5/5 points going into the sixth round on the fourth and final day of the tournament, I did not have luck on my side.  I was paired against the ever-improving Michael Bennett and was thoroughly ground down in a 5.5-hour game.  Right from the start, I had no idea what to do in terms of plan or position.  Out of the opening, I was taken into a position where all I could do was sit and defend an oncoming attack that finally broke through mere moves before time control.  To make matters worse, I had little to no time to eat and prepare for my last round game.  All I need was a game as white against a lower-rated player to right the ship once again.  In the end, neither of those hopes came to light, as I was paired against the higher-rated Trung Nguyen with black.  In that game, too, I was being ground down before he had to leave with his parents for an event, so I was saved by a draw offer.  Sometime in the future, I’ll have to return that half point, but that’s for later.

At the end, after seven grueling games lasting four days with little sleep, I was rewarded with a single rating point.  At least I still peaked my rating and got one point closer to achieving Master, though.  Although I missed a nice win in my fifth round game, it was probably offset by the lucky draw I escaped with in the last round.  All in all, I played fairly well in my first tournament since the Northern Virginia Open almost two months prior.  2017 is the year I hope to achieve Master.  January and February offer a few more tournaments to play in, including the Chesapeake Open, the US Amateur Team East, and a few others.  I was hoping to attain the title of Master before the end of 2016, but at least I significantly progressed towards the goal towards the end of the year.

Thanks for taking the time to read my articles over the past months.  2016 was an exciting year for me in being able to partake in the Chess^Summit program, and I hope to provide further value in my articles in 2017 as well.  As always, good luck in your future games and see you next time!

Recapping the 2016 Pan Ams

The 2016 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship was held this past week from December 27-30 in New Orleans. This was my second time participating in this tournament and my first for the University of Pittsburgh since starting Dental school this fall.

Before the tournament we tried to see a little of Nah’Leans and ventured into the French Quarter. The architecture here was amazing and made me wish I had more time to spend exploring. We had a nice meal of Jumabablalalalala (Jumbalaya) and alligator! Chess had a way of finding us and we stumbled upon the famous Jude Acers who swindled me in a friendly game.

Jude Acers at work in The French Quarter


A local band – New Orleans is known for music right?


Going into the tournament, I had no individual expectations as I had not played seriously since last year. The Pitt team on the other hand was quite strong for a school that does not offer chess scholarships. Our average rating was above 2200, and this may have been the strongest Pitt team ever!

If you were to look at the final results, you probably assume our team performed just where we should; we beat the teams we were expected to, and lost to two monsters. This was actually far from the experience we had, coming close to upsetting one of the top seeds, and also escaping a few scares against lower teams.


Round 1 A Crazy Escape.

We played an average team rating of ~1500. Supposedly our easiest match right? This was actually our scariest moment of the tournament. At one point we were all losing and this all started with me!


Sunny French Quarter. During this game I was wishing I was here…


This game is quite possibly one of my best swindles ever against a strong opponent (~2100). Here is my game. I felt quite bad even playing on in this game, and probably would have resigned if it weren’t for the situation being a team tournament.

Somehow with a miraculous escape, I won this game and our team also won 4-0! Phew!


Round 2 – A Big Fish

Photo: Paul Truong


We were paired with Webster A on board 1. I was excited to play  Le Quang Liem, Vietnamese #1 and former World Blitz Champion. Coincidentally, the World Rapid and Blitz Championships took place this past week in Doha. I’m sure those participating in Doha were happy Liem was my problem instead of their own. I was ground down in a tough game but was a great experience.

Before the match, our team jokingly placed bets on what the chances were that we would even score against Webster A. I’m happy to share that we did nick them for a half point. I even think at one point we were close to splitting the match with them. Hibiki was better on board 2, and if John and I held who knows. Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t meant to be. Here is the game between our board three John Ahlborg vs. Ray Robson.


Rounds 3-4

We won our third and fourth rounds against respectively University of Chicago B and Rutgers University putting us at 3-1. We knew would play another big fish!


Round 5 – UTD-B  Missed Opportunity

This match was our biggest chance at making some noise in the tournament. I was paired with Holden Hernandez. I got my pet Grunfeld defense and muddied the game up with an exchange of a piece for three pawns. Hernandez was definitely better but blundered giving me great winning chances. In the end, I erred, and lost another tough game. Argh. I hate Grandmasters.


Hernandez-Riccardi Black to move

Here I played Rb2+?! Overlooking Ra8! giving black good winning chances after picking up the a5 pawn. This pawn eventually led to my doom.


I’m sure each of my teammates would love to replay this match. I had good chances to win, John held a miraculous draw, and Isaac had chances to win as well.


But the real hero of this round was our board 2 Hibiki. He beat his first Grandmaster ever in scintillating fashion! Below is the position where Hibiki broke through. Can you play as well as Hibiki Sakai? Hibiki will post the answer to what he played in week or so 🙂

Sakai-Berczes White to move – What did Hibiki play?


Round 6 – Chess is anything but The Big Easy

The last round was a tough one for us! Initially running high at the thought of knocking off a top team, we were running on fumes after three exhausting days of chess. Also it does not help that Isaac snores. Somehow we were able to beat UT Austin A 2.5-1.5 thanks to John winning a dead drawn bishop opposite color endgame (he’s the luckiest chess player I know, even luckier than me after that miraculous first game).

My game was probably the easiest and cleanest of the tournament. My opponent was a sport and let me place mate on the board. I don’t even remember the last time someone let me do that!

Riccardi-Chandra after 33…Qd4: White to play mate in four


Overall the tournament was a great time. We finished 4-2 with some ups and downs, and also some ‘what-ifs’, but hey that’s chess. I really want to thank Tom Martinak for organizing and being a behind-the-scenes guy for our team. Without him, this would not have happened. I look forward to next year’s edition in Columbus, Ohio!

Looking to 2017: Quality over Quantity

It wasn’t the smoothest ride ever, but I ended 2016 at a respectable 2136 USCF rating, 100 points closer to master. Of course, it’s perhaps the most popular goal in the chess world, so it won’t surprise anyone that I’m aiming for master in 2017 (conceptually, I think it’s roughly as difficult as going from 1900 to 2100, but that’s a discussion for another day). And after reflecting on the wild ups and downs of 2016, it’s clear that I’ll be focusing on making the most out of each tournament I play.

I didn’t realize how much I’d been playing until I actually went through my USCF history. I was known as a chess fanatic in elementary school, and I played more in 2016 alone than I’d played before entering college. For that reason alone, I can probably expect to be less active in 2017!

First, I’m rather keen on avoiding another wave of the aforementioned “ups and downs” largely due to my dabbling in quick time controls. My best performances came in October and December against experts in four shady quick games (in the way of chess, not ethics) that honestly should have gone in other directions. If you’re on the final push for master, that kind of uncertainty is not your friend.

Additionally, 2016 has shown me the importance of staying alert during all stages of a game. While the mental aspect of my play has steadily improved over the last few years, I faced quite a few disappointing results in the last few months of 2016 due to lapsing in critical stages of games. It’s entirely possible that I was a little burned out from playing too much, in which case it will help to be more deliberate about my tournament choices.

The final reason has more to do with logistics than chess itself; 2017 is poised for a number of changes in dates and formats to tournaments I’ve gone to in the last two years.

  • US Amateur Team East: Certainly a fun event, albeit one that requires missing a day of class. I’ve been lucky to avoid conflicts so far, but with CMU planning to spend an extra night in Parsippany to avoid late-night hassles, this could change.
  • Pittsburgh Open: For the first time in a few years, the Open will take place a week before CMU’s spring break. A weekend at a remote Pittsburgh Airport area inn may not be out of the question, but is far from certain!
  • Pennsylvania State Championship: Suffice to say that it moved from October to March, and to Lancaster in Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s during spring break, but travel possibilities are questionable.
  • Pittsburgh Chess Club events: The PCC’s move toward faster time controls, along with my newfound stint as one of the tournament directors, may well lead to me directing more and playing less.
  • Summer: I’ll be working in Seattle this summer, and will certainly be a busier than last year. How much chess I can fit in remains to be seen!

It’s still possible that everything falls into place despite the new changes. However, academic and professional commitments are heavier in the later years of college, so prioritizing will be different than in the past. That’s why it will be important for me to make the most of my playing opportunities this year!

That said, I have a few exciting events lined up for 2017, starting with the Liberty Bell Open in Philadelphia over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (January 13-15), where Isaac, Grant, and I will be playing in the FIDE Open section. Shortly after that, the Pittsburgh Chess League resumes, with the top four teams (by rating and score) battling out a round robin. CMU, just a half point behind Pitt, is still in it to win.

However, for Pittsburgh, the big news of the new year is our new PRO Chess League team, the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, featuring Isaac and myself as managers. With GM Alexander Shabalov (no introduction needed), GM Eugene Perelshteyn (as a free agent), Grant (approaching 2400 USCF), and the return of masters Gabriel PeteschTom Riccardi, and Alex Heimann (all over 2300 USCF) to Pittsburgh, we’re looking to have a great season in the league. Finally, as a sponsor of the Pawngrabbers, Chess^Summit will be piloting a blitz livestream featuring myself and Alice, so feel free to drop by (more details to come very soon).

Stay tuned for games from the Liberty Bell Open, along with more news from the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers. Thanks to Isaac for getting our team off the ground, and of course, all of our players. If you’re in Pittsburgh (or not!), we’d love to have your support as well!