Kostya & Isaac Finish Strong In Reykjavik

Well guys we did it, we finished the 2017 Reykjavik Open AND kept our promise to do a detailed post-mortem after each round. I ended up scoring the best performance of my career, finishing with 7.5/10 — good for Top U2400 and T-6th overall. Isaac stumbled in Round 8 but finished with two wins to close out his trip. I have to say I loved working on this project, it really made for a very engaging tournament experience. Full report coming soon (eventually). For now, here are our recaps from Round 8-10. (warning: only watch if you’re interested in getting better at chess).

In Round 9, unbeknownst to me, I ended up winning the brilliancy prize for a sterling piece of preparation in the King’s Indian. Isaac won a game that he was kind of ashamed of, but still pretty interesting. See for yourself:

In Round 10 I played White against an aggressive opponent and seized my chance to turn the game in my favor. Really nice rook endgame technique from me in this one, should raise your rook endgame ELO by at least 20-30 points! Isaac *accidentally* played 1.e4 and won in style.

That’s all from me for now! Please look forward to a full recap of the event coming as soon as I come to grips to my performance. A lot of things went well for me in this tournament, I should probably figure out what they were so that I can repeat the performance!

Out of Book, [Out of] Luck

Often times, tournaments have a book vendor on site with loads of good reads.  Naturally, most of them are opening books, whether popular or sidelines.  Take a stroll through the skittles room, and more often than not there will be players analyzing an opening or a game in the opening phase.  Minutes before the round, most of the top-rated players will be focused on their computers, preparing for their upcoming opponent.  For those who have coaches, chances are, the time they spend on openings is significant enough to count as a substantial amount.  So much emphasis is put on opening knowledge these days, and players are often compared to each other by the depth of opening knowledge that they have stored in their brains.  As sometimes is the case, games are won based on superior opening knowledge.  A couple decades ago, if someone had a deep opening knowledge, they were often given the upper hand over opponents of similar strength.

Nowadays, however, preparing for a game by memorizing as many lines as deep as possible in your favorite lines tends to be inadequate for a clear upper hand over a similar-strength opponent, due in part to the fact that the opponent probably prepared in the exact same way.  So, other methods of preparation need to be experimented with.  One of these methods is the polar opposite of the type of preparation we just examined, and it just may take you by surprise – preparing something you’ve never played before.

This technique is especially effective against a frequently-played opponent who probably prepared for whatever opening you would typically play.  By preparing something completely different, you have an immediate upper hand out of the opening, especially if it is an obscure line that probably hasn’t been prepared against by your opponent.  However, this technique has the potential to work against almost anyone, as long as the line is prepared for deep enough and in enough different directions.  If prepared correctly, obscure openings can become your strongest weapons.

There is also the other side to it all – assuming that you will never see an opening over the board and thus choosing not to study it can be disastrous.  Not having a clue what to do in a position can lead to making a seemingly innocuous move, only for it to be a blunder; and that’s not even mentioning the possibility of extreme time discrepancies resulting from it.  I’ll admit, I’ve been on both sides of this – I’ve prepared sidelines for frequent opponents just before a game, and I’ve also had to face obscure lines without any clue of knowing what to do as well.  Luckily, I was able to pinpoint and dig up the exact games I was thinking of so I can share some of them with you.

Del Rosario – Kobla, Potomac Open, 2014

In this game, right from the gates, I didn’t have a clue what the best moves were.  However, I should have realized in the middlegame that the position was similar to typical Pirc setups; this would have allowed me to at least stand a better chance.  However, playing aimless moves while bleeding time wasn’t a good recipe, and White won fairly easily.

Kobla – Schenk, ACC Action, 2014

Just a month after the aforementioned game where I was surprised out of the opening, it was now my turn to return the favor to another unsuspecting opponent.  After the first few moves, knowing basic ideas of the position allowed me to build up a menacing attack that eventually allowed me to win the game.

Kobla – Theiss, NVA Chess League, 2017

Although I got off lucky with a good position, this game had all the ingredients for a possibly bad game.  As White in the Sveshnikov, no player ever wants to trade off the beautifully-placed Nd5.  However, that was something I had to commit to if I was to avoid the three-move repetition.  If Black had seen the idea behind 17. … f4, it would have been interesting to see what the outcome of the game would have been.

From the examination of a few games, a few conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone for openings. At the end of the day, it could be the key to winning the game, and playing new openings/positions always adds fun to the game.
  2. Never neglect sidelines. They are just as important to study as the main lines, since losing a game due to not knowing a sideline could occur in the worst possible circumstances.  Such losses are definitely preventable, but it is up to the player to make it that way.
  3. When playing someone you have played multiple times before, switch it up if you’re up for it. Keep in mind, the earlier the deviation, the better, since you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where your opponent is able to spring a surprise on you before you can play your own!

And, as always, thanks for reading.  See you next time!

The 2017 US Women’s Chess Championship- A Player’s View

Hi everyone! I had recently just finished playing in the US Women’s Chess Championship held in St. Louis during March 27-April 10. For those of you who follow chess news, you may know that this tournament, held with the US Chess Championship, is highly publicized. Therefore, many of you have probably already read recaps about them on Chess.com or on US Chess. That is why I feel it would be redundant to simply go over popular tactics, blunders, or shocking opening moves from both tournaments as numerous articles about them have been published already. Instead, I want to share with you all a different perspective of the championships from a player’s point of view.

Before I start, I would like to congratulate both GM Wesley So and WGM Sabina Foisor, the 2017 US Chess Champion and 2017 US Women’s Chess Champion!

This is the most unique chess tournament I have ever participated in, in my life. I have never played in tournaments with as much coverage as this tournament before. There is live coverage, online commentary, live commentary, media stories, and so much more. It doesn’t seem like it may be that much, from the spectator’s view, but for me it was overwhelming. With only 12 players in each tournament, there isn’t a wide range of people to be focused on. There are only six games each round. And in each game, each move would be picked apart, analyzed, scorned, admired. This year was my third time participating in this event. And every year, it gets slightly easier for me to play from the gained experience I had from the year before. But I, personally, still felt the nerves and pressure from playing in such a major tournament. I know what most people say and would think about this: Don’t worry about all that… Focus on the chess! Trust me, I get that, but it is much easier said than done.

Let’s start with the first year I went (After I finished writing this article I realized I went kind of off topic but now you get the ‘whole’ story). In the 2015 US Women’s Chess Championship, I was a wildcard competitor. I was fresh out of winning my World Youth gold medal and had high expectations. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what led me to inevitably have one of the worst tournaments of my life. Well, to be honest there are a multitude of other variables, like the fact that I was definitely not prepared up to my full potential, but what I said before made up a healthy amount. See, this was my thought process. I was a newbie. I can play good chess (sometimes). I have potential. Plus… I was a FREAKING WORLD CHAMPION! You see, I thought that this tournament was my chance to make a dramatic entrance. It could have been like one of those classic sports movies everyone loves where the underdog beats the champions. I mean, dream big right? I’m guessing, now, that some of you must be thinking that I got cocky and overconfident. That I wasn’t careful. But, in fact, the opposite arised. I got too careful. It was because the nerves got to me.

The first game was a strange wake up call that never actually woke me up. I was paired with White against WGM Anna Sharevich. It started off okay and I managed to get a winning position after a few misjudged sacrifices from my opponent. Unfortunately, later on I succumbed to time pressure and lost. And… that was that. WRONG! See what happened was on every single move I could literally hear my heart pounding. On every single move I looked at every single variation I could possibly physically see and then looked over every variation over and over and over and over again until I simply ran out of time. It’s funny to me now, that the real reason I lost the game was because I was so terrified to make a mistake. But I knew then that people were watching, and what they could be saying. And for the rest of the tournament, I boarded a one-way train to blunderville. I ended up tying for last place and scoring 2.5/11. However, I did learn valuable cliches like confidence (but don’t be too confident), hardwork (preparation), etc.

Anyways, the 2016 Championships went a lot more smoothly mentally. There were definitely some major mistakes I made during the tournament, but overall, it was much better than my disastrous 2015 Championships.

And that brings us back to 2017! I definitely improved my game skill-wise over the last two years and I had no pressure. Before the tournament, I was placed by rating somewhere in the bottom half of the pack. All I had to do was go ahead and play normal games. Well… normal, yeah, that totally didn’t happen. Observe my statement above, that I didn’t have any pressure, well that was pretty much a blatant lie. I wasn’t supposed to have any, but it is incredibly hard to forget about the outside world and only on the game when there is a camera two feet away from the board. And because my mind was on that camera half the time, I made some VERY strange choices in my games.

Here is a position in my round 8 game against WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. I was black in this position and had maybe a minute or so left. White had just moved 51. Re1. Take note that black was previously completely lost before the game suddenly turned around.

Black to move. How would you play?


The correct move here is 51… b2! Yes, I know that that is the most obvious move here, but it is the bold considering that black is ignoring the dangerous threat the white rooks made. After 52. Rhxe6+ Kd8 53. Re8+ Kc7 54. R1e7+ ( 54. R8e7+ Kb6 55. R7e6+ Rc6! and black promotes one of the pawns the next move) Kb6 55. Rb8+ Kc6! This is the critical move. It disrupts the coordination beteween the white pieces (Over the board, my brief analysis ignored this strange move because it walks into a skewer and instead looked at the king hiding along the a-file. That would not work because black will end up losing since the king will end up getting checkmated by checks on the e-file followed by a bishop check.) If 56. Bf3+ Kd6 and white suddenly has no checks left. If 56. Bf3+ Kd6 and white again, doesn’t have any checks left. If 56. Rc8+ Kd6 and one of the pawns will promote. Therefore 51…b2! is winning.

In the game, I played 51… c1?. I knew that after this move the game will end up in a draw. However, I was not entirely confident about the position after 51… b2!. If I had five minutes I would have played it for sure, but my opponent and I were both out of time and I decided not to risk it. It was an incredibly hard decision to make and I think how I played the tournament so far affected my decision. I decided that I needed every point I could get and therefore went for the safe decision. I guess that my logic here was correct but also flawed at the exact same time. Oh well…



In this game, I was black against 7 time US Women’s Chess Champion GM Irina Krush. She had just moved 38. g3 and we were both in a time scramble to get to time control. I decided to do a simple repeat to gain time. 38…Bh3 39. Kd3 Bf1+ 40. Ke3 Bh3 41. Kd3. Yes! Time! Here, I knew I was winning in this position. The question is how to?


Black to play

The main line I looked at was 41… Bf5+ 42. Kc4 (42. Be4 Be6 and the a2 pawn is lost) 42…Bb1 43. Bxc5 bxc5 44. Kxc5


At first, I dismissed this because black simply loses a pawn. Then I saw, 44…Bxa2. Now, the bishop is invincible because if it is captured, b3 and a3 will make sure at least one pawn promotes. But it’s not over yet! I was ready to play this when I realized that white didn’t have to take my bishop. What if she just moves it away like 45. Be4, ? Now, my b-pawn is attacked and I’m forced to move 45… b3. Well now it seems like I’m pretty much winning! All I need to do is push the b- pawn WAIT, WAIT what if I can’t move the b-pawn? What if 46. Bd5!


I remember that when I reached this position in my calculation, I did a mental face-palm and thought how grateful I was that I didn’t actually move 41…Bf5. All of a sudden, white can even play for a win now! The b-pawn is frozen because if it moves, the bishop will be lost. The a-pawn is dead now, and the b-pawn will soon fall. Therefore, this line and the valuable time I spent on it is complete trash. I took a major backpedal to the starting position. I guess I have to start from scratch.


Here, I decided that I should just simply move 41… Bf1+ Then, I have a simple plan of h5, bringing the king up, putting the bishop on e6, and that should suffice for the win.

Now here is a moment that I wanted to clarify. Many of the viewers and commentators thought that I was going to take a draw with this move since unknown to me AND to my opponent, we have a reached a position 3-times. I’m sure all of you now know that that wasn’t my plan, as I saw a straightforward win afterwards. I simply didn’t see the repetition [insert crying tears of laughter emoji]. The tricky part was, the moves didn’t repeat three times, the position did. The first time was after 38.g3, the second time was 40. Ke3, and if my opponent were to call the arbiter, she could have claimed the draw because 42. Ke3 would have been the third time the position repeated. Luckily for me, we both missed this trippy repetition. After 42… h5, I went on to win.

I definitely did not have a lack of interesting games this tournament (I also didn’t have a lack of interesting mistakes either ;D ). If I were to include all of the moments from this tournament I want to share with you all, I fear that would be way too long and probably bore you all out of your skulls. Anyways, I just have a few more words, so I’ll get along with it.

The 2017 US Women’s Chess Championship is one of the strangest tournaments I have played yet. If you don’t believe me, a brief look through my games should convince you. I have made the simplest of mistakes, but also have seen some beautiful ideas that I am quite proud of. I ended up with a great +1 result (6/11) with a very uneven performance. What I mean by that statement is that I scored 4.5/6 against the top 6 seeds (Zatonskih, Krush, Paikidze, Abrahamyan, Nemcova, and Foisor) while only scoring 1.5/5 against the lower 5 seeds (Sharevich, Virkud, Feng, Nguyen, and Yip). Oh, the irony in that! And I found out so many things… I learned that I am not too far off from the strongest American female players. I think I handled this tournament very well mentally, which was a challenge before. I also learned that, I , am a swindler??? (I never considered myself a swindler in chess before, but for some reasons I keep finding weird ways to swindle people in this tournament [insert thoughtful emoji].)

But most importantly, I had fun, and that’s all that really counts.

Thank you for staying with me and reading through this entire article… Until next time!

Kostya & Isaac in Reykjavik! Quick Tour and Round 6 Games

Hi everyone! Only a few days left here in Europe, but here is a quick tour of the Reykjavik Open tournament hall. We subtely snuck in a clip of Anish Giri in here…

The tournament is nearing its end, I’ve got a 3/7 score, while Kostya tallied a win in Round 7 to reach 5/7, just a half point behind the tournament’s top seed! Here is a quick recap from Round 6!

Kostya & Isaac Get Rekt In Round 5 Of Reykjavik Open

Hey guys, check out our recap of Round 5 of the 2017 Reykjavik Open! First I show what not to do in the Sicilian and how to lose in <25 moves to an effortless Nd5 sacrifice by GM Helgi Dam Ziska, the strongest player to come out of the Faroe Islands. Then Isaac shows a very practical rook endgame that will hopefully be instructive for y’all. Lots of dual commentary on this one, interesting stuff!

My First US Championships

Airport Misery

I had my fair share of airport struggles the weekend of the end of the U.S. Chess Championships. Although I may not have had as bad of an experience as the United Airlines man, I ended up miserable, defeated, and utterly enraged by the time I arrived in St. Louis. At some point, I was wondering if going on the trip was even worth it.

I had been planning to be in St. Louis on April 7th. It was a trip I had obsessed over for several months and would cover the last leg of the Championships and my spring break. However, my flight was cancelled due to weather conditions. I stayed on standby for 9 flights spanning 3 days, which were all overbooked flights.

I finally made it to the US Chess Championships on April 10th- to watch, of course, not to play!

An Exciting Playoff

The Games

 Although I missed all the normal rounds, I did get to see a playoff, which was a good consolation prize for having chosen to actually fly to St. Louis after spending more than 20 hours at the airport.

The match format was 2 G/25 rapid games, then some mix of blitz and Armageddon if further play was required. The players tied for first were GMs Wesley So and Alexander Onischuk, who had both scored 7/11 in the tournament. With a huge unbeaten streak and much higher rating, Wesley was the favorite to win the playoff and therefore the championship.

So-Onischuk, 1-0

  1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. e4 d5 4. cd5 ed5 5. e5 Ne4 6. Nf3 Bf5 7. Be2 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Qb3 Nc6 10. Nd5 Bc5 11. Ne3 Bg6 12. Qb7 Nd4 13. Nd4 Bd4 14. d3 Nc5 15. Qb5 Rb8 16. Qc4 Ne6 17. f4 Bb2 18. Rb1 Qd4 19. Rb2 Rb2 20. Bg4 Rb4 21. Qd4 Rd4 22. f5 Nf4 23. Nc2 Ra4 24. Bf4 h5 25. Bd1 Bh7 26. Ne3 Ra2 27. e6 fe6 28. Bb3 Re2 29. fe6 Re8 30. e7 Kh8 31. Bg5


So it’s clear that So won the first game. Onischuk had to fight hard in order to have a chance at winning the championship. He needed a win.

Instead, he was only able to pull off a draw against the opponent more than 150 points higher rated.

Onischuk-So, ½-½

  1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Bg4 4. O-O Nd7 5. d3 Ngf6 6. h3 Bh5 7. Nbd2 e5 8. e4 Be7 9. Qe1 O-O 10. Nh4 Re8 11. Ndf3 de4 12. de4 Nc5 13. g4 Bg6 14. Ng6 hg6 15. Ne5 Bd6 16. Nc4 Nce4 17. Nd6 Qd6 18. Qd1 Qc5 19. Be3 Qa5 20. c4 Rad8 21. Qc2 Nc5 22. Rfd1 Ne6 23. Qc3 Qc7 24. Qa3 b6 25. b4 g5 26. Qa4 c5 27. bc5 Nc5 28. Qc2 Ne6 29. a4 Nf4 30. Bf1 Rd1 31. Rd1 Ne4 32. a5 Nc5 33. ab6 ab6 34. Qf5 f6 35. h4 Re5 36. Bf4 gf4 37. Qf4 Qe7 38. Bg2 Re1 39. Re1 Qe1 40. Kh2 Qe7 41. Qb8 Kh7 42. Qb6 Qe5 43. Kg1 Qd4 44. Qb1 Nd3 45. Qc2 Kh8 46. Qe2 Ne5 47. Bd5 g5 48. h5 Kg7 49. Kg2 Kh6 50. Kg3 Qf4 51. Kh3 Qd4 52. Kg3 Qf4 53. Kg2 Qd4 54. Be6 Nd3 55. Kg1 Nf4 56. Qc2 Qa1 57. Kh2 Qe5 58. Bg8 Nh5 59. Kg2 Nf4 60. Kf3 Ng6 61. Qe4 Nh4 62. Ke3 Ng2 63. Kf3 Ne1 64. Ke3 Nc2

The Atmosphere

The first playoff game was the first game of the tournament I got to see. A small group of photographers, journalists, and fans crowded around the players. It was eerily silent like most chess tournaments are, but it felt bizarre because activity was so focused on one board. I was afraid to move around and take pictures because the shutter sound would have caused attention.

behind the scenes playoff

I ended up roaming the other areas of the club.

Downstairs, fans watched the commentary screens obsessively.

playoff watching2

I found the glass chess set trophies that list the past U.S. Champions and Women’s Champions. They were beautiful and made of crystal. I typically don’t like the transparent/translucent chess sets, but the sets pass my approval test!

champs trophies


The young players from the U.S. Women’s Championship, Carissa Yip, Jennifer Yu, Emily Nguyen, Maggie Feng, and Apurva Virkud, all joined me, marveling at the trophies with me. We joked around, chatted about the playoff, and the girls posed for several pictures for and with me.


jennifer and emily
(L to R): Jennifer Yu & Emily Nguyen
me with the girls
(L to R): Me, Carissa Yip, Jennifer Yu, Emily Nguyen
me hugging carissa
(L to R): Me & Carissa Yip

I also caught Lotus Key, Wesley So’s mother, reading while Wesley played his playoff games. I postulated that she was too nervous to watch Wesley’s games. As a mother, I would probably feel the same!

Lotus Key

The girls and I ventured to Kingside Diner for a change of commentary scenery. We watched GMs Finegold and Hansen talk about the games while the girls commented on their commentary!

girls watching commentary.jpg

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

In general, though, I think the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is the most beautiful place to play chess and I have definitely never played in quite a place like it. My local club is the historic Marshall Chess Club, but it is definitely nowhere near as luxurious.

I would definitely describe the club with that adjective: “luxurious.” One of the biggest aspects that I loved about it was simply how new and therefore clean it was. Perhaps it is simply more well maintained than other clubs and has a bigger staff to keep it running so smoothly! The chairs are soft and comfortable, the sets are clean and new-looking, and portraits of chess players hanging on the walls glisten. It was simply a nice space to be in and play chess in. I even enjoyed editing my photos and writing articles downstairs.

I also have to commend the club for how well it was able to handle and organize the tournament. I heard good testimonials from so many people who thought that it was one of the most organized tournaments they had ever been to.

For example, GM Yaro Zherebukh, who placed sixth in the U.S. Championship, said of the tournament, “It was organized on the highest and best level.”

I cannot stress enough how excited I am to go back to St. Louis as well as the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis specifically. I hope to be back for the U.S. Junior Closed, Match of the Millennials, Sinquefield Cup, and St. Louis Rapid tournaments—and hopefully this time actually make it in time to watch some games!


Kostya & Isaac: Reykjavik Open Rounds 2-4

Round 2 featured two wins by both Isaac and Kostya. First check out how Isaac dominates a Scotch opening while Kostya shows a masterclass on the f3-e4 structure in the Modern Benoni. Very instructive, you will learn about chess by watching this!

After our victories in Round 2, we were both humbled by our higher-rated opponents in Round 3. Isaac blew a promising position against IM Alina L’Ami, while Kostya gets ground down like a child by GM Joshua Friedel. Really instructive analysis on an important aspect of the game — the so-called ‘switch’!

In Round 4 we bounced back from the previous night’s disappointment to win both our games in style! Although, we both used different styles, as you’ll soon find out. Isaac had to outplay a draw-loving 1700 while Kostya had to retake the initiative after earning a lost position with White against a 2100. Enjoy!

I’M an IM (Almost)

The Philadelphia Open, which is always held over Easter, is a popular 9-round norm tournament. It is also generally not one of my greatest tournaments. And that’s an understatement. If I made a list of my top 5 worst tournaments, 2 would be the Philly Open (2013 and 2015 to be more precise). Let’s just say I was hoping that this tournament wouldn’t join the club nor did I wish to test my abilities to recover from a horrible start.

I apologize ahead of time, but I will have to save some of the games for next time. There were just too many critical moments I would like to highlight, but you have only that much time to read this article and I need to hit the publish button at some point…

Rounds 1-2: Warmup

In round 1, I had white vs. Kevin Yang (2264 USCF) (2016 FIDE).

I didn’t commit harakiri this time, but still…


White to play

OK, I had some better ways to play before this moment, but here’s where things went wrong. After 27.Kd3, white is a little better. However, I thought I should have more and played 27.e5? completely missing 27… Rb5! winning my d5-pawn. Fortunately, white has enough compensation for a draw, which is what happened, but he has nothing more. Here we go again. A draw to a lower rated opponent just like last year. Last year I started with 3 draws straight all against lower rated opponents.

That just added to our Wednesday list of unfortunate events: closed roads, a long list of forgotten things, and an urgent care visit for my brother (which turned out fine).

In round 2, I had black vs. Alex Wang (2121 USCF) (1985 FIDE). My prep actually worked this game; I  thought he’d play the line he played, and since the round was at noon, I had a lot of time to doodle around in ChessBase. I won without any major problems.

Rounds 3-5: The rampage and opposite colored bishops galore!

In round 3, it was time to face the GMs. I had white vs. GM Mark Paragua (2627 USCF) (2521 FIDE).

Chaos. Chaos. Chaos. Here’s where the drama got spicy and gathered quite a few confused spectators:


White to play

This position is totally unclear and could go either way. White is a pawn up, but the black bishop on f6 is a really good piece. My threat was to play e5 Bxe5 f6, where I both attack the black rook and have mate threats on g7. The game went 24… Qe5 25.Rd5 Qf4 26.e5 Bh4 27.f6 Bf2!


White to play

A sneaky intermezzo. Now, if 28.Qg2, black can go 28… Bxe1 29.Bxc8 g6, and white no longer has Qxe1. The position is probably still unclear, but it didn’t appeal to me for white. Instead, I played 28.Rd4!? offering an exchange which black can take in two ways. I know it looks like complete lunacy, but it has a point. White actually has decent compensation if black grabs the exchange. Anyway, GM Paragua backed out of it by playing 28…Bxg1 29.Rxf4 Bxh2.

Soon after, we reached the following position.


Black to play

White has some pull here. The pawn is a problem, as it can possibly walk up to e7, and if black takes on e6, he loses the h7-pawn and gets exposed on the 7th rank. The game went 36… Bxb3 37.cxb3 fxe6 38.Bxe6+ Kh8 39.Bf5 Rd8 40.Rxh7+ Kg8 41.Ra7


Black to play

White will win the a6-pawn soon and will have 3 connected passed pawns on the queenside. Black’s one f-pawn is no match. I soon won the game.

Oops. I had just broken one of my norm rules – lose to all Filipino GMs. More on that later.

My reward for playing until midnight and beating a GM: the next round, I got to play the top seed, GM Alex Shimanov (2718 USCF) (2650 FIDE) with black! I also made it behind the ropes, where I would stay for the rest of the tournament.

Here’s the point where I took over:


Black to play

A somewhat unusual position. White has the bishop pair and has grabbed serious territory, but his bishop on c1 and rook on a1 aren’t in the game yet. White is thinking of going f5, so I decided to prevent that by playing 21… f5 myself. I had expected GM Shimanov to capture en passant, but instead he played 22.b3 Nc5 23.e5 Rfd8 24.Qe2


Black to play

I thought this should be good for black, as white’s bishop pair doesn’t have much scope in this closed position. Now, what to do? My pieces are probably going to get kicked back soon, especially my c5-knight. Where would it like to go? The e4-square!

I played 24… Nd5!. The point is that if white plays 25.Nxd5 cxd5, my knight is going to be extremely secure on the e4-square, and I really like black’s position. The game went 25.Bb2 Nxc3 26.Bxc3


Black to play

A pair of knights has been traded, and the e4-square thing seems like it won’t be happening. However, it is happening after my move 26… Ne4!. The point is if white plays 27.Bxe4 fxe4 28.Qxe4, black goes 28… Qxh3, which is deadly. GM Shimanov played 27.Be1, but after 27… Rd4 black is clearly on top. How I won the rest will be saved for next time!

This was my highest win by both USCF and FIDE in my career! That was a solid boost!

Round 5 was an even longer game than the previous two, and it ended in yet another victory for me. I was white vs. GM David Berczes (2587 USCF) (2500 FIDE), and it was a long grind with rooks + opposite colored bishops. I’ll save most of this game for my next article whose topic will be (surprise surprise) about opposite colored bishops, but I just want to show you the end:


White to play

This endgame is winning for white (technically mate in 30 according to tablebases), but it is not as easy as it looks, thanks to the infamous wrong-colored bishop. I had seen a couple random examples of this in top games, but I couldn’t quite remember the winning technique. However, the good news was I had about 40 minutes on the clock to figure things out, while GM Berczes was down to 3(!) seconds (with a 10 second delay). The ride wasn’t that bad, and if you want to take a look…

I was on a roll! My performance was in the stratosphere! In the next round, I was black against GM Angel Arribas Lopez (2553 USCF) (2498 FIDE). 3 GMs in a row, what’s another one?

Round 6: the messup

Let’s just say I was the first game done in the Open Section. And it was not a short GM draw.

One excerpt should explain this game: the positon after move 16.

Arribas Lopez

Black to play

Have fun playing this for black! Spoiler: it’s dead lost for him, and I was black :(.

Yeah, that was a combination of me forgetting my preparation and not turning my brain on in time. Accidents like this happen from time to time, and they usually suck. Still 3 out of 4 against GMs!

Rounds 7-8: “solidifying”

Round 7 was not very solid. That’s why I put the double quotes there. I was white against IM Daniel Gurevich (2530 USCF) (2465 FIDE) who was, like me, fighting for a norm and at that point had a GM Norm performance.


White’s position is pretty awful. Any bidders? After 27… Rxg1+ 28.Qxg1 Bxd4 29.cxd4 Nf5, white has a long road of suffering ahead of him. Instead, Daniel went 27… Rdg7? 28.Rxg7 Rxg7 29.Nc2!


Now, it isn’t so bad for white. The game went 29… Qxd1 30.Rxd1 Rg2?


What’s the catch? Daniel missed my next move 31.Ne1! winning material. White is probably winning here, but it isn’t as easy as I thought it should be after 31… Rxb2 32.Bxc5 Rxa2. I missed a couple accurate winning continuations a few moves later, messed it up, and the position went back to equality. Neither one of us messed it up enough after that to change the end-result.

Not exactly the cleanest game, but at the end, we were both relieved with a draw, as we were both lost at one point or another. After getting smashed in the morning, I was glad I didn’t lose both games on Saturday.

There were only 2 rounds to go, so it was time for norm number-crunching. Here’s what my status looked like:

An average of at least 2480 guaranteed me an IM Norm even if I lost my last two games. Under any other reasonable circumstances, 0.5/2 would be enough for an IM Norm. Interestingly enough, I reached this very same scenario (0.5 out of 2 guarantee) when I scored my two previous norms.

Scoring 1.5/2 against an average of at least 2526 would give me a GM Norm. Otherwise, I needed 2/2.

Round 8: a solid draw with black against GM Kayden Troff. OK, I was worse the entire game and didn’t have any real chances to win, but I held on.

My last IM Norm was secure! I would need to lose to someone unrealistically low not to get it, and there simply wasn’t such a person with 5.5 points. One round to go!

I knew that in order to get a GM Norm, I’d need to win against someone with a FIDE of 2560 or higher. To top that off, my FIDE would cross 2400, meaning I’d become an IM! Not easy at all, but with the white pieces I’d have my shot…

Looking at the pairings, playing a 2560 or higher looked unlikely. It turns out I did get to play someone who met the requirement…. GM Ruifeng Li, rated 2565 FIDE. With black.

“Don’t even joke about me getting double black today!” – Me sometime shortly before the start of the 8th round talking to a friend.

Desperate must-win games with black generally don’t look pretty for black (i.e. Carlsen-Karjakin game 4 of the tiebreaks).

My winning attempts backfired, and I was much worse by move 20 without any realistic hopes of winning the game. I defended for a while, but after the time control, I missed my chance to greatly improve the quality of my position and probably hold the draw. Instead, my move was most likely the losing mistake, and Ruifeng capitalized on it.

Where does this put me?

Philly Norm

Me getting my norm from Colonel David Hater

This was my last IM Norm. I got my first IM Norm at the NY International in June 2016 and my GM norm from the Washington Chess Congress in October 2016, which can be applied to both IM and GM title. Assuming all the paperwork goes through, I’ll be an IM-Elect! Once my last two FIDE tournaments get rated, my FIDE rating will be 2380, 20 points away from the required 2400. My title will be conditionally approved and become official the moment I reach 2400 FIDE (even in the middle of a tournament).

How difficult is it to get the rating? That depends. In order to get a norm, one needs not only to play really, really well, but he has to do so in a tournament where all the technicalities align: number of foreigners, titled players, ratings, etc. None of that matters for the rating. You don’t need 9-round tournaments or foreigners or titled players. What you do need is consistency.  Unfortunately, consistence and my FIDE rating don’t seem to go together. My FIDE graph says it all.  If you play badly, you won’t end up losing a norm or two, but you may find yourself at the bottom of one of your rating valleys being further away from your goal than you were a month ago.

Congrats also to Andrew Hong for getting an IM Norm with an extra half-a-point and 2 rounds to spare!

Last but not least, I must admit that I am a fraud. When I got my GM norm, I made a guide on how to get an IM/GM Norm… except that I disobeyed 5 out of my 8 rules this tournament!

To make up for that, I’ve decided to revise it.

My guide to getting IM/GM Norms (based on a strong statistical sample of 2 3):

  1. Get white against a significantly lower rated player in round 1, and win or draw a low-quality game.
  2. Draw round 2 as black against an IM (suffering is allowed). Wow, in this tournament, I didn’t even get black against an IM. I should throw this one out.
  3. Blow a winning position in round 3 as white and draw it.  Yet another problem with my round 3 game!
  4. Beat a foreign IM/GM with black in round 4. YES!!!
  5. Win against the same opponent, preferably someone you have a pathetic score against, in round 7. I never played Daniel Gurevich before, so this one can go to the wastebasket.
  6. Lose to all Filipino GMs you play. Oops… I need to find some other pattern(s) in my losses in these tournaments.
  7. Have at least 3 games where you prepare for something extensively, and your opponent doesn’t play it. In at least one of those games your prep should end on move 2 (or earlier #1.g4). Your prep ending on move 3 in another game is also a good sign. Have 2 games where you didn’t prepare for your opponent at all due to last-minute repairing.
  8. Get lucky! No problem there!

Clearly, my conclusions were completely wrong, but now I know exactly what to do next time :).

Magyar Mayhem: Undefeated in Budapest

As it turned out, a two-week break was all I needed to put together a breakthrough performance. If you recall, my previous outing in Bad Wörishofen was marred by an inability to convert slightly better positions, and by the end of the event I was fighting the collective exhaustion of three back-to-back tournaments.

Trying Hungarian food in the Inner City

The First Saturday Tournament in Budapest had a much different narrative. Placed in the FM group, I got to compete in my first double round-robin against a field of mixed strength, ranging from 1700 to International Master level. Even though I managed to finish the ten game tournament undefeated, I think to say I outclassed most of the field would be a bit of a stretch. In many of the games, I often found myself in equal or slightly worse positions, but I found my time management and decision-making in critical moments to be the main contributors to my performance. That being said, I think even with an 8/10 final score, I will still have a lot to learn from this tournament.

While my tournament started with a relatively easy win, I had my first critical test in the second round against an experienced Hungarian International Master. Never having gotten a result against this level of competition before, my mentality going into the game was just to enjoy myself and play smart, but as the game wore on, it became clear I could do better than this. We reached this complicated endgame before the game petered out to a draw.

Late night view of the Danube

This draw gave me a lot of confidence throughout the rest of the tournament – not only in my second match-up with Black against the International Master, but against my lower rated opponents as well.

One aspect of chess I think I’ve improved the most at is getting a sense for when my opponents are going to make a mistake. Whether by reading their facial expressions or seeing their ability to manage their time, you can get a sense of how comfortable your opponent is. In this next game, after reading my opponent during the opening, I just slowly piled on threats and won quickly. Sometimes just playing natural moves is enough to create problems.

Ready to play! Moments before my 7th round encounter with the IM! Photo Credit: Laszlo Nagy

Across my next three games, I scored another two wins and secured an ugly draw against an FM to reach 5/6 before the second leg of my match-up with the International Master. While I typically would be a bit nervous with Black against a higher rated foe, I was confident in my chances to get a result thanks to our first game.  In what turned out to be my biggest surprise of the tournament, I outplayed my IM opponent for most of the game before my clock forced me to regroup and equalize. Even though I was losing at one point, I think this is one of my proudest moments so far this trip.

Of course energy started to become a factor with just three games left. Even though I won my next game with relative ease, I struggled to draw a lower rated opponent in the ninth round, effectively knocking me out of any serious first place contention. While that was a little deflating, it set up for a fun, no pressure, final round match-up with an FM. While my opening play was a little sloppy, my endgame technique helped me find the way to victory and finish with a splendid 8/10 and 2nd place finish.

While I had never competed in a round-robin format before, I have to admit I had a lot of fun with it, and would highly recommend this kind of format for players looking to improve. If only we had more tournaments like this back in the US…

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2238: the highest performance rating I’ve had so far this trip!

Where does this put me going into Reykjavik? With roughly a 60 FIDE rating point gain soon to come from this tournament, I will have jumped just shy of 200 rating points since landing in Europe just two months ago. More importantly, my USCF rating finally jumped back over 2100 with this tournament still pending, thus marking the end of a long stretch of sub par results. My only hope is I can keep this up in Iceland and make a serious push for National Master once I return stateside.

With only a few days before the big finale of my trip, I’m presently enjoying some time in Paris before I take off for Iceland. While nothing is certain yet, it would seem that I will be paired on one of the top 20 boards in the first round, so there’s a chance you all can watch my first game on chess24! I was hoping I could bring up my rating high enough to play Anish Giri in the first round, but regardless of who I play, I am looking forward to taking on the world’s best in one of the strongest tournaments on earth!