Revolutionizing Early Childhood Learning: Chess at Three

Note: Research on the company was done with only information from the company’s website.

What is the best age to learn how to play chess?

Recently, the standard has been changing to younger and younger, especially in the United States. News articles in the United States have shown chess players achieving breaking extraordinary age barriers at younger and younger ages, such as Carissa Yip’s record of achieving youngest female master at 11 years old. It seems that every few months/years, the kids are breaking records. It seemed only a short while ago that I heard Maximillian Lu was the youngest master in US History at 9 years old, 28 days before his 10th birthday. This record was recently broken by Christopher Yoo. Awonder Liang’s amazing 8 year old chess expert was recently succeeded by Abhimanyu Mishra’s 7.

However, we’ve always had our child prodigies in the chess world, from Bobby Fischer, who became a grandmaster at 15 to Sergey Karjakin, who achieved it at age 12. One of the most recently broken international records was the one for youngest IM in history, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, who achieved the title at 10 years old.

It is clear that along with the fact that these kids inherently possess immense chess talent, there is an added factor that children are learning at early ages. Of course, there is no designated age to learn- anyone can learn to play chess at any age and excel.

I have recently discovered a chess company based in New York City called Chess at Three that believes that three years old is a great time to start learning to play chess! After reading about the company, I have come to believe that this company is truly revolutionizing the learning and teaching process of chess.

You see, this company teaches in an entirely unique way.

It is no doubt extremely difficult to teach any game to a three year old. There’s a problem with getting the child to concentrate long enough, stay still enough to learn. There’s a problem with simply getting the child to listen. There’s a problem with getting the child to understand. Chess at Three teaches with a curriculum that uses storytelling to teach chess.

But why? Why this method?

Well, kids love to ask the question WHY?!  The company started with that curiosity, as the CEO, Tyler Schwartz, had taught chess and found that upon learning how each chess piece moved, kids often asked why they moved the way they do. There was no clear reason to say, so Tyler made up a reason why the king only moved one square: he eats a lot of food, rendering him unable to move more than one square at a time. The reaction was uncontrollable laughter and there was a new idea for teaching. Combined with his friend, Jon Sieber, now co-founder and president of Chess at Three, the stories told to the children who take lessons with Chess at Three begun to take form as a part of the closely guarded trade secret to success: the Chess at 3 Core Curriculum.

This curriculum fosters the affinity for enjoyment and excitement about learning chess that every child needs. I have already seen young kids excited about learning chess in some classroom settings myself, but never have I come to think of such a receptive learning process. The idea behind using storytelling to teach chess in itself is just so clearly genius. How could a child ever feel the pressure to learn chess when lessons are just focused on fun?

And that’s largely what chess should be. Chess is, at the end of a day, just a game. It is meant to evoke excitement, meant to be fun for players. Otherwise, there is no point to playing at all, if it stops being fun.

Chess at Three is also special in the way that it introduces people from all walks of life to chess- and not just children at that. A stereotype of chess players and chess teachers can be that they are “nerdy-looking,” antisocial, “boring,” and perhaps aggressively competitive. However, the company gives artists, actors, storytellers, and writers the chance to join the chess community in an amazing way. It promotes a new kind of chess culture, suggests that you don’t have to be the most accomplished chess player to teach children to play chess. To begin, you need the discipline and maturity to teach, passion, and a belief in the power of storytelling.

The values that Chess at Three also teaches amidst the chess are also worth mentioning. Chess teaches sportsmanship, for sure. The very nature of a handshake before and after a game shows the kindness afforded to opponents. It teaches acceptance and diversity in a way, as chess is a game for all people, regardless of race, nationality, gender, ethnicity, economic background, sexuality, etc. According to the Chess at Three website, though, Chess at Three also teaches “Literacy, Chess History, and Math,” and “lessons include interactive moments, physical movements (chessercizes), and guidelines for game play at each level of development.” These lessons set the company’s curriculum apart from others, guaranteeing development in many unprecedented ways.

I think it is important to distinguish that no, this article is not a promotion of Chess at Three simply because I hope to work there after a bit of paperwork and logistics. Instead, this article is meant to praise the new way a company wants to teach chess to children that promotes a fun environment and method of learning. I speak as a journalist, as a chess player, and someone passionate about chess and expanding the chess community. I speak as a writer, a reader, and an artist. I believe in the mission so strongly, that chess can be told through stories.

And if you’re not convinced enough that this company has some seriously cool credit, check out this testimonial:

“Tyler’s stories and lessons have our two children loving chess! We’re proud to have it in our home, and think every child should be learning Chess at Three.”

– Hugh Jackman (Actor)

THEY TAUGHT HUGH JACKMAN’S CHILDREN? Sign your kid up right away!

Progress

After reflection on my recent tournament results, I’ve noticed a very positive trend.  For the first time, I feel like I have been regularly competitive with much higher rated players.  By “much higher rated,” I mean 200-250+ rating points higher than my own.  In my last two tournaments especially, I’ve scored 1.5/3 against these players.  Although it’s a very small sample size, I’ve still been able to notice a clear improvement in my play against them, against slightly higher rated players, against pretty much everyone.

It used to be that I would be able to “hang in there” until the point where my opponent would finally see something that I miss and capitalize, or that would not happen and I would be rewarded.  Very rarely would I have the chance to be ahead in the game and capitalize on their mistakes.  Recently, I’ve been able to consistently been able to compete at the same level as my higher rated opponents, and that success has been crucial to my overall tournament success; consequently, my rating has been steadily increasing for the last few months.  Albeit, I’ve still found myself making mistakes in time pressure, but I’m confident that these are fixable.  After my most recent tournament, the Chesapeake Open, I found myself at 2197, a mere three points away from reaching my goal from the beginning.  I will share some of my games from this tournament in the hope that you will be able to get something out of my recent success and possibly apply it to your own games.

Kobla – Palani, Chesapeake Open, 2017

That game was short and real sweet.  Although I was quite satisfied with that result after the game, I knew that luck contributed a decent portion of it.  This wasn’t the first time I was paired against my opponent.  I had played him approximately a year ago, with the same colors.  As seen in the variation from 12, it was the exact same opening and played out in almost the exact same way.  In the first game, I had missed a win, but the game must have been traumatizing to play as Black.  With that logic, I assumed that I would be faced with a different opening on this occasion.  Yet, the game notation says otherwise; either he decided to give it a shot once more, or just completely forgot about our previous encounter.  In either case, I was lucky to have the game play out in the fashion that it did.  I was still able to create these threats and play perfect or near-perfect moves from beginning to end against a much higher rated player.

My success hasn’t been solely based on opening knowledge.  My improvement in endgame play has also been a key factor in some of my games.

Kobla – Karell, Chesapeake Open, 2016

The inaccurate play early in the game let to an endgame fairly quickly.  After Black’s Bf4 on move 12, I entertained the idea of sacrificing the bishop with hxg6, but in the end, I decided that it wasn’t worth the risk and I felt fairly confident in my ability to create some weaknesses in a position with so many pieces still left on the board.  In the end, that’s what happened.

Although these two games were not the only ones in which I had significant chances, there are still things I have to fix that will help me improve to be an even better player.  Disregarding that, however, I’ve found myself playing well recently and I hope that I can continue this success until I cross the sacred 2200 barrier.  Who knows, perhaps I will be able to accomplish this feat before I return for my next article!  But, until then, see you and good luck in your games!

Openings: Why, Where, When, and How

“Improvement starts at the end of your comfort zone.” GM Jonathan Rowson

I took a look at my repertoire in part 1, and now I want to talk about some questions you might have about openings:

  • Why do strong players play multiple openings?
  • How risky is it to play a new opening?
  • When to add the new opening?
  • How useful is having a new system?
  • When do I know a line/opening is not working for me? Should I trash it?
  • When and where to practice your new opening?
  • How wide and how deep should your opening repertoire be?

Let’s start with the base question.

Why do strong players have multiple openings?

There are multiple reasons for this.

  • Don’t be a stationary target.

It’s so nice for your opponent to know what you will play with 99% certainty. Even if your repertoire is sound, your opponents can cook up or defrost some opening prep that may not be a refutation, but it may have practical value.  Or imagine lower rated player who just wants to draw you.

When you play more openings, it gets tougher for your opponent to prepare. Instead of spending all his time preparing against 1 opening, he has to divide time between various openings. As a result, your opponent’s prep will probably not be so deep and impressive.

I’ve been the victim of that quite a few times and so have my opponents. One time, I prepared for 30 minutes against my opponent, currently a GM-elect whose name will remain a secret, and then he played 1.d4 instead of 1.e4.

  • Have a choice.

You can choose what to do against a particular opponent. If they play something annoying against your plan A and something not-so-great against your plan B, then you can go for plan B.

You can play against your opponent’s weaknesses.  If they are not so good in tactics, you can try spicing things up in the opening. If they are not so good positionally, try to play something calmer in the opening. It may not work out, but you can try to steer the game in a certain direction out of the opening against certain opponents rather than playing the same thing against everybody.

That’s another reason why some people think for 5 minutes on move 1. They are deciding which opening to play against you specifically.

Go to the tournament with multiple plans. If right before or in the middle of the tournament one of your openings needs a last-minute visit to the repair shop, you have another opening to rely on.

  • Get fresh positions and get out of your comfort zone.

In order to become a top player, you need to be able to play a variety of positions. There’s no way of getting around that one. The best way to learn them is by playing them.

As a 1.e4 player, I knew very little about the positions coming from the Nimzo, until I got to play them as black. I was out of my comfort zone, and I was getting beaten badly, but I learned. At least I hope I did. No need to prove me wrong.

This all sounds very nice, but…

How risky is it to play a new opening?

Okay, playing a new opening is risky the first few games when you don’t have much experience. We are all told that rating doesn’t matter, but none of us likes to see it going downhill. Yes, there probably will be games you don’t win which you would win with your old opening. Still, those losses/draws are a learning experience. Maybe you won’t know the opening well enough and fall into a trap. Maybe you mishandle the ensuing positions. Whatever it is, you will be better prepared next time.

The further from your previous repertoire the new opening is, the more you will struggle in the short-term. Yet, in the long term, those are the openings you will benefit from most, as they will give you fresh positions that will expand your understanding of the game itself.

My stats when starting out in the Caro-Kann were pretty good. I went 5 wins and 3 draws against a 2123 average before losing in it to a 2436. Isn’t that a contradiction to my previous statement? Well, I did have some experience playing against the Caro from the white side. Also in general, Caro positions are quite similar to French positions.

The Nimzo was a totally different story. First of all, I had no experience in it from the White side. The Nimzo and Slav (my previous opening) positions aren’t as related as the French and Caro are. Honestly, there is probably a larger variety of pawn structures coming from the Nimzo than in the French, Caro, and Slav combined.

I started with a glorious 0.5/3 against a 2103 average. Okay, those weren’t my greatest tournaments, but still. Had I played my Slav, I probably would have done much better in those games.

However, my temporary gamble paid off. I won the next 8 games in the Nimzo as black against a 2120 average. I guess those first three games got me started.

Is it really that easy? Just play a new opening, have a rough ride the first few games, and then start crushing everybody? Well, not usually.

When to add a new opening?

When your younger sibling is beating you up… just kidding. That’s a question I cannot answer fully. Here are some reasons why you may consider adding a new opening:

  • you are bored of the old positions and want something new
  • your openings are too predictable and your opponents are taking advantage of that
  • you plateau and there no obvious weaknesses in your chess
  • when the guy sitting next to you plays something you want to try
  • you’re having trouble against an opening so you decide to play it yourself
  • just because

If you don’t feel like adding a whole new opening, consider a new system in your opening.

How useful is having a new system?

Three words: flexible, low risk, and cheap. It is definitely less risky than going for a completely new opening, since the positions should be similar to what you have experience in. Maybe you want fresh positions. Or maybe you want a main line to play against higher rated opponents and a sideline to avoid main line theory against lower rated opponents. Whatever the reason, it’s a good thing to be flexible.

Back in the day, I trashed many systems for a variety of reasons. I returned to some of them a few years later in my “recycling” process. Trashing systems was probably a mistake on my part. I probably should have kept them, at the very least as backup plans. There is no reason why I couldn’t have played a couple different systems in my French when I was say 1800-1900.

When do I know a line/opening is not working for me? Should I trash it?

If you have some bad games in an opening, it is natural to think it is not working for you, and you may want to trash it. I admit I have trashed various systems for a variety of reasons.

If you have insufficient theoretical knowledge and lose because of that, I suggest you study it more before giving up on the line. If there is a theoretical problem with the line, then there is a problem, and if the problem is big enough you have a full right to discard the line.

A pressing problem, however, is that you mishandled the ensuing positions. They don’t suit your style. Should you replace it?

Yes and no. If you feel you can play the ensuing positions well, then you should give the line another shot. However, if you feel you have had enough, set the opening aside for a bit and play something else. But keep it as a backup plan. Say you are playing somebody who you think will mishandle the ensuing positions even worse than you. Play it. There’s no harm in that.

When and where to practice your new opening?

Training games are an excellent way to practice new openings, even if they are blitz games. You can try out your new openings without any rating risk. You can find out what you know and don’t know about the opening.

Playing it in tournament games is something you have to do at some point.When is the right moment? I think that you should play it when you feel confident enough.

Personally, I like to play new openings when I know what my opponent will most likely play against them. I’ve had some bad experiences playing new openings against people whose repertoires I did not know anything about.

Now, for the big question.

How wide and how deep should your opening repertoire be?

It depends on your level. Below 1000, openings don’t play a significant role. It’s nice to know some, but concentrating on tactics would be better.

In the 1000-1500 range, openings do start popping up. I think that having a basic opening repertoire where you have a general idea what to do against most openings is best.

In the 1500-1800 range, openings start getting serious. Starting to work on some databases, like I talked about in part 1 [insert link], is probably a good idea. Study the ideas in the position more than specific moves.

In the 1800-2000 range, openings get even more serious. That may be a good point to start expanding your opening repertoire, even if it is a few systems in your main opening.

Between 2000 and 2200, you should probably consider adding an opening or two. In the 2200+ region, the more openings you can play the better.

However, don’t go too wide. It’s better to know 1 opening well than 10 badly. If you aren’t doing well in 1 opening, patch up the holes first instead of ignoring them and going headlong into studying another opening.

Conclusion:

In general, the wider the opening repertoire, the better. Don’t be predictable. Learn to play new positions. But don’t make it too wide. It’s like constructing a building: have a solid base and build up from it, not the other way around. Once you know an opening well enough and feel like moving onto another one, do so.

These are just my personal opinions. Feel free to share your ideas.

 

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 Chess.com TV and the Chess.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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“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:

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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.

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22.Bf5!!

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!

~Hibiki

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.

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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!

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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!