When Things Don’t Go Well

Everyone has bad tournaments. It’s part of playing chess. And I shouldn’t only be writing about my successes; my failures are equally important, though much less pleasant.

As I mentioned in my article on the Philadelphia Open, I got my last IM Norm, and the only requirement that I was missing for the IM title was the FIDE rating. My May FIDE rating was 2380 which is not far from 2400, especially considering that my K-factor is 20…

Earlier this month, I played in the Maryland Open. I won my first two games, and in the third game, I had my shot to cross 2400 if I had beaten IM Levan Bregadze with the white pieces. The nerves killed me, and I lost. Still, I finished well, and I gained 8 FIDE points. Creeping closer…

2388 is not quite close enough to make it by winning a game against a significantly lower rated player, but it is close enough that winning two games against master-level opponents would do the job. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too…

I played the Cherry Blossom Classic over Memorial Day weekend. It had a strong field, especially considering that it was at the same time like the Chicago Open. The ideal plan would be to win the first game against a lower rated player and then win the second game against someone of about the same rating. That would under all reasonable circumstances put me over 2400. I didn’t even have to do it in the first two rounds. I had seven rounds to do it.

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A picture of the tournament hall from the tournament’s Facebook page.

Things went wrong in the first round when I drew FM Trung Nguyen (2267 USCF, 2065 FIDE) with black. I played for 4.5 hours until 12:30 a.m. to try to win a drawn rook endgame. It was no use. It appears I didn’t have a win anywhere.

The end of my tournament? Absolutely not! Just an unfortunate setback. It did, however, cost me 7.2 FIDE rating points, which was almost the amount I had gained at the Maryland Open.

In round 2, fortune favored me in my game against Mike Fellman (2201 USCF, 2027 FIDE). I had an edge, most of which I blew, until I managed to bamboozle him in a position where the realistic best-case scenario for me looked like rook + bishop vs. rook. It was a long game lasting nearly 5.5 hours. Even though I won, I wasn’t playing my best chess.

Round 3 was actually an objectively decent game against GM Michael Rohde (2472 USCF, 2407 FIDE). I got a little edge with black and turned down a draw offer. However, I didn’t have a concrete plan to get through, and things soon turned around. However, I managed to sneak out with a perpetual check and make a draw.

It was decent and it was “only” 45 moves long, as opposed to my 82 and 77 move games in the first two rounds. I was losing a little rating, but still, I was due white the next game. The next game could be the turning point in the tournament if I won. My rating would probably be a little bit in the plus, and I’d most likely get to play a strong enough opponent, that a win would propel me over 2400

Instead, disaster struck in my round 4 game against FM Sahil Sinha (2305 USCF, 2249 FIDE). I managed to lose the game in a disgusting style with the white pieces.

Now, to drag myself out of the dump…

OK, it is inevitable that you will have a bad tournament. They just happen. They are frustrating, they suck, but they will happen.

Try to forget what happened in the previous rounds? Easier said than done. However, there are ways…

Winning a game can really help your confidence, even if it is a very low-quality game or it is against a significantly lower rated opponent you should nearly always beat. Or at least stopping the bleeding by drawing.

A draw is better than a loss. That statement is common sense, but when things aren’t going well, people sometimes do crazy things. Let me rephrase that. Committing suicide on the board will not help your tournament.

Enjoy chess! I know I sound like a partial lunatic, but yes, just enjoy the games. Don’t worry so much about how much rating you are losing, how this game will affect it, just enjoy playing chess.

To withdraw or not to withdraw?

Withdrawing is essentially limiting the damage. Everything is going wrong, you feel like you can barely play chess…

Lots of people withdraw, some less, some more, some very often. I hardly ever do so. For non-traveling, non-emergency, but purely chess reasons, I’ve only withdrawn from two tournaments in my career (Philadelphia Open 2013, Washington International 2016). They were that bad, and I just couldn’t face the chessboard anymore.

My honest opinion on withdrawing is that withdrawing is OK as long as you don’t do it too often. Don’t withdraw every time something goes wrong in a tournament. Being able to pull off comebacks is an important skill. It will come in especially handy in round robin tournaments, where you don’t have the option of withdrawing. If you withdraw, there is no such a thing as leaving on a good note. You leave with a bad feeling no matter how much you believe it was the right decision. After all, the tournament did go wrong. If you keep playing, there is a chance that at least the last few days will make you feel better.

Withdraw if things are going badly, and you either don’t feel like it’s worth finishing the tournament or you feel like finishing the tournament will only make things worse.

How did my tournament end? I know I’ve kept you waiting…

In round 5, I made a stupid decision in the opening and went for a fairly drawish line with black against Justin Paul (2239 USCF, 2191 FIDE). I got some winning chances, but they weren’t enough to win.

That made things worse. Not a motivation boost, but at least I didn’t lose. At this point, it was practically impossible for my rating to break even. Still, I felt optimistic since I was due to have the white pieces in the next round. Not that it would guarantee that I’d win, but it’s better than being black.

And I turned out to be right. In round 6, I won a powerful game with white against Andrew Zheng (2310 USCF, 2261 FIDE). Things just went great for me out of the opening, and I was completely winning by move 30.

That win did give me that boost I was talking about. Still, there was one more round to go.

In round 7, I was fortunate to get a double white against Andrew Samuelson (2369 USCF, 2277 FIDE). However, my play was pretty terrible. I wonder if someone spiked my food…

After getting an excellent position out of the opening, I made an unexplainably bad decision, and the position was probably around equal. A couple more bad decisions after the time control led to me getting into big trouble. It’s not unlikely that I was losing there. However, Samuelson blundered, and the position settled back to equality, though with him pressing. Then, instead of taking a draw, he went overboard, and I won soon after.

I guess I did get my fair share of luck during this tournament (rounds 2 and 7).

In the end, I scored 4.5/7 and ended up only losing 8.8 FIDE rating points, losing only one more point than I had gained at the Maryland Open. I felt justified that I kept on playing. I did limit the damage, gained back a few now very important FIDE points, and left on a good note.

After the tournament:

Find what went wrong. If there are similar mistakes you made in multiple games, try to work on that. Look for patterns, both objective and psychological.

In my case, I’m not quite sure what went wrong. It’s not always easy to identify. I can pinpoint that I wasn’t able to create enough chances with black (rounds 1 and 5), but what accounts for the other rounds? Playing bad moves? Not exactly helpful…

Anyway, I’m quite relieved that my rating loss this tournament was a single digit on both USCF and FIDE. I didn’t botch it up as badly as it looked after round 5. If this tournament had “only” been played backwards, I would have gotten my 2 strong wins and I’d have crossed 2400 after the second round. If, if, if…

This rating hunt is not helping my nervous system. I don’t want to obsess about every single rating point, but not thinking about the rating when I’m this close is well… impossible. I never had to play this rating game before, and I’m not good at it. I refused to participate even when it came to the NM title. I didn’t withdraw when I crossed 2200, and yes, I did lose the following game and didn’t make NM in that tournament, but I succeeded in the next one. No regrets there.

Still, my FIDE is not miles away from 2400, and I’ll have plenty of chances this summer.

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Play Like a Master! (A Guide to Playing Your Worst and Efficiently Losing Rating Points)

It’s been a downward slide for most of 2017 for me, as after reaching a peak at the end of 2016, my rating has fallen to almost exactly where it was at this time last year. Often when this happens, I attribute it to just the ups and downs that every player inevitably goes through playing this game. But recently, my performances have been downright puzzling headscratchers. Based on some of the moves I’ve played, it even looks like I am straight up throwing games, or that I simply cheated my way here. I’m dreading the day when everyone finds out that it was the Russians who have helped me get to where I am (particularly in late 2016).

Below is a sampling of the crazy things I have done, and a guide to how to play like a master:

  1. Assume everything wins

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Position after 38…b3

I had slowly outplayed my opponent and am on the verge of delivering checkmate with Rh3. My opponent threw out the desperation move b3, and if I just take the pawn (or ANY OTHER REASONABLE MOVE besides the one I played) his position is resignable on the spot, as he either loses a bunch of material or gets mated. Having an enormous time advantage and having written off the game as over several moves ago, I just assumed every single move won, and played 39. Cxd5???

After 39…dxc2 40. Rh3, time control was reached and I was preparing for my trip home for the night. The forced 40…f6 41. gxf6 occurred, and I still thought I was clearly winning. Then my opponent verified time control was reached and got up from the board. Puzzled, I noticed in horror that the c2 pawn was a step away from promotion, and Black can simply recapture with Rxf6. Unable to recalibrate myself, I refused to force a draw several times, and even ended up losing the game. A master class on how to throw away a winning position!

Ya that was pretty bad, right? Wait for the next one…

  1. Drop mate in two and lose in 16 moves

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Position after 15. Neg5

A 500 rated player with 2 seconds on the clock and drunk out of their mind would notice what White’s threat is. Bxh7+ Kh8 Nxf7 is mate in two. I saw this instantly, and proceeded to plunge into a 10 minute long think about the move g6. I saw the possibility of g6 Nxf7 Kxf7 Ng5+, and was calculating several variations. The positions seemed fine for me but highly messy, and I was concerned about too much complications. Therefore, I thought in my head, “Screw all that, I’ll just avoid those lines” and made the genius decision to play h6 (triple exclam)!!!

My opponent looked at me like I was out of my mind (like he rightfully should have thought) and plopped the bishop on h7 while I reflected on whether I should just quit chess for the rest of my life.

The only upside to this? I got easier pairings for the rest of the tournament and became the luckiest PA state championship winner ever, my third in a row.

  1. Miss a one-move fork

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Position after Qh8

Playing Black here, I knew the position was drawn but figured I could press for a little bit given how White’s pawns are separated, and I had connected central passers. Again plunging into thought (why do I even bother doing that?), I tried to figure out if I could march my king deep into enemy territory to shield from the checks, calculating some pretty lengthy variations. I thought I saw a way in, and continued my habit of missing one-move threats, playing Kg6 (this one only deserves a double exclam)!! My opponent played Qg8+ instantly, which won the d5 pawn, and subsequently the game after I allowed an easy queen trade.

Qg8 was literally the only safe check White could have played after Kg6, yet I failed to even register it in my calculations. Maybe I have a concussion or some kind of severe brain damage; can anyone recommend a good specialist to check me out?

  1. Play a theoretical opening you have never played before, and be out of book on move 1

^Ya long story short, don’t do that. At least try to know something about what you are playing. Preferably the ideas of the opening, or what moves to play. Or you risk being blown off the board. Feels bad man. And it feels worse if your opponent didn’t know exactly what they were doing either, yet still beat you.

Bonus: do any of the above in consecutive games

Super Bonus: do any of the above to players rated 200-300 points below you

This was the killer. With the exception of #1, all of these things happened to opponents rated around 200-300 points lower rated than me, which allowed me to really give away those rating points efficiently! This is a disturbing trend, considering I hadn’t suffered upsets of that magnitude since I was probably an A player 7 or 8 years ago.

Super super bonus: do it all in consecutive tournaments. Big win!

 

To top it all off, all of this is only since March. I had talked about my other failures in my last post, so this isn’t even all of it. To have a string of concentrated embarrassing oversights like this definitely is making me think about what I need to do going forward. The core issue clearly isn’t understanding of the game, but rather maintaining concentration and focus for every single move. Chess is cruel in that one slip, no matter how well you had played up to that point, can decide the game instantly. Improvement is all about consistency, and that starts with being consistent from move to move.

 

Basically, don’t be me.

Starting from Scratch: Making the Dough

Another two weeks, another two games in Pittsburgh! In the spirit of my last post, I thought it would be fun to break down the last two weeks and share some general thoughts I’ve had about chess and my progress towards National Master! Now I know what you’re thinking, no – this is not a cooking article – so if you really want to learn how to make stuff, this was a good start. Happy? Cool – let’s talk chess.

Take a chill pill, buddy

Just a day after coming out with my last post, I played my first game back in the United States. Paired with Black against a class player and Pittsburgh Chess Club, I expected a nice warm-up game, but instead erred badly in a Vienna and dropped a pawn.

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With Beilin off to Seattle, I’ve spent a lot of free time cooking! Who doesn’t like pizza?

Admittedly, my lack of sleep and rush back from work were negative factors for me, but as a player trying to make that last jump to make National Master, I expect better from myself. That good feeling of playing well in Europe? Gone. Now I had to play chess a pawn down with minimal counterplay.

Of course, as chess players, we all have a responisbility to play our best in worse positions, and so I persisted. I think the most important lesson from this game is to keep putting your opponent in positions where they have to make decisions. In the early middlegame, my opponent played the most natural moves, but once he had to come up with a plan, the evaluation of the position started to drift, and bam! I got this slam dunk tactic to swindle my opponent:

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Isaacson-Steincamp, Black to Move and win!

In a game I most certainly deserved to lose, pattern recognition saved me, and I started with an unconvincing 1/1.

This was a wake-up call. While key aspects of my game improved in Europe, this game showed me that I have to keep pushing myself to work hard on my chess at home as well! Now that I was acclimatized to life in Pittsburgh and my work schedule, I planned out how and when I was going to prepare for my next round. With a weak showing like this, it was no secret that there would be a target on my back next round…

Turning back the clock

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A nice day in Pittsburgh, and a nice day to study outside!

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to put an emphasis on classics to seek new positional and strategic ideas. While I had orignally thought Capablanca would be a good player to study, I got drawn to the balance of creativity and practicality of Bobby Fischer, and thus proceeded to thumb through my copy of My 60 Memorable Games.

Unlike the formatting of My Great Predecessors, I really like how there is minimal attention to opening theory (of course the theory has changed over the last half century!), and the focus is really on critical positions.

Since I’m not a routine 1. e4 player (putting aside the exception in Reykjavik), one might ask, what do I benefit from studying the various tactical Yugoslav and Sicilian positions of Fischer? I suggest you try to figure out White’s best move in the position below from the 1959 Candidates Tournament.

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Fischer-Benko, 1959, position after 13…b4

Fischer is quick to give 13…b4 a question mark, though it should be noted that Stockfish does consider it to be one of the better moves in the position for Black. Regardless, Fischer taught all of us a nice lesson in this game!

This idea of sister pawn pushes is certainly not new to me, but it’s applicable in a lot of different positions – in fact, in 2016, I executed this idea to break open the center and win with Black!

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Li-Steincamp, 2016, position after 8. g4?!

Some similarities? Just like e5 and b4, d5 and g4 are sister squares, and I went on to win a nice game. If you’ve seen this game before, thanks for being a long-time reader of Chess^Summit! If not, you can find the ending to this game here.

Ideally, I’d like to apply some of Fischer’s ideas into my own games (not just review them), but you get the idea – building your horizons beyond what you are most comfortable is the best way to see new things – and that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do by studying classics. At the very worst, I’ll learn some chess history!

The Magic Number is 51

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Nearly 100 points in three months. Now the closest I’ve ever been to master, it’s time to really put in the work!

As I started to get into a rhythym with my studies following my embarrasing win (is that a phrase?), I got an important notification on my phone. My USCF rating results from Europe were in, and it certainly gave me the push I needed to work harder as I got settled in at an all time high. With only 51 points to go, its more important now than ever to put in the quality study time to make that last jump. Even though I’ve had a pretty euphoric run, it wasn’t so long ago that I tanked in Philadelphia, reaching lost positions in three games early in the opening.

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On my way to work through downtown!

The way I see it, if I can get consistent results against my lower rated competition, making master will mean solving five to ten puzzles correctly against my higher rated foes. What do I mean? Over the next few months, I will reach critical positions where I will need to find positional, tactical, or strategic resources to get an advantage. My ability to handle such positions with accuracy will determine how quickly I can make master.

Such opportunities are limited, so to prepare for them, I need to solve puzzles! Fellow Chess^Summit author IM-elect David Brodsky has often referenced Aagard’s series, Grandmaster Preparation, and since I finished Positional Play in the run-up to last year’s US Junior Open, I’m working my way through Strategic Play, as well as Arthur Jussupow’s Boost Your Chess 3 to work on my tactical acumen. How tough are some of these? I worked out one with a local Pittsburgh expert, and it took us a while to reach the right answer. Do your worst:

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Shaw-Atalik, 2003, position after 18.Nbxd2

Check here for the solution. A big part of strategy is finding the right plan and asking the right questions. I’d say to any player trying to improve, you ought to get your hands on Aagard’s books – so makes that two Chess^Summit testimonials!

Am I actually getting better?

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Directing my first ever blitz tournament! I’ve been trying to start my own line of chess tournaments, and this was the first. Check out the site for more!

The 50 million dollar question. Of course one dedicated week of study is not enough to improve over night, but I had a chance to prove to myself I was moving in the right direction.

A week after my embarrasing opener at the Richard Abrams Memorial, I had a chance with White to redeem myself against an up-and-coming junior from the area. Just like in Bad Wörishofen, I did minimal opening preparation – even asking a non-chess player how I should start the game. When posed with the out of context question, “English or London?” the day of the round, my response was country over city, so 1. c4 it would be!

Even with my lack of preparation going into the game, my experience proved to be the difference – and in my opinion, the game was even strategically won as early as the eigth move! There was a nice tactic I had to find during the game that didn’t appear on the board, but let’s see what you can do 😀

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Steincamp-Narkeeran, 2017, variation after 20… gxh4 – White to Move and win!

If I still had doubts, this was a confidence booster! Now 2/2 – nothing to jump over the moon about since I was favored to win in both games, but this win was special near-miniature for me. In round three it looks like I’ll finally be playing up, so maybe the answer to the 50 million dollar question won’t be so unclear… My preparation strategy will be the same – classics, tactics, strategy. We’ll see how that goes!

It’s amazing how much you can benefit from working on the fundamental parts of your chess. If we go back to the pizza we started this article with, I had to prepare the dough after the first round debacle – getting back into the habit of studying chess again. Topping it off with some dynamic opening play really helped in the second round, but I’d like to think I really won that game with my technique, the main focus of my preparation.

Yeah, I just wrote 1500 words to say studying chess is like making a pizza. Yup, I did that… Until next time!

 

 

SuperNationals VI – From the Outside

Two weeks ago I attended my 2nd SuperNationals. Not as a player, but as a coach and spectator. This year the tournament grew to 5,577 players – the largest tournament in the world. Anyone who has ever been to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel knows that the hotel itself is intimidating with its massive size, rivers, boat rides, waterfalls, and restaurants. Throw in 5,000 plus players and their families and you are quickly overwhelmed! This article will focus on some of the many side events, and other attractions going on during SuperNationals.

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Meeting the great Kasparov!

My own personal best moment was getting the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov. I made sure to get his signature on his wonderful book Test of Time. Several chess personalities such as; Bruce Pandolfini, GM Maxim Dlugy, GM Maurice Ashley, GM Irina Krush, WGM Sabina Foiser, and GM Sam Shankland were on site signing books and other chess merchandise for the fans. There were long lines for the opportunity to challenge one of these players to blitz showdowns throughout the weekend.

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GM Irina Krush taking on all comers in a blitz showdown!

My friend and super coach from California, Jay Stallings organized a wonderful 2 hour “mini-camp” on Thursday and Friday. This camp called “New To Nationals” was perfect for those young players and families who have never been to an event of this size. I was excited that Jay asked me to help out with the Friday morning camp which had close to 50 participants. The main focus is just to go over what to expect, and to take away some of the anxieties of the young players and their parents. We received nothing but positive feedback, and will definitely plan to hold these at the larger scholastic events in the future.

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Coach Jay hard at work!
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Yours truly working with the next generation of strong players!

As a coach, SuperNationals provides great opportunities to network, learn different approaches, attend seminars and lectures, and see old friends. I was able to attend the USCF Scholastic Meeting, Preparing Players for International Competition, Sam Shankland lecture, and the Maurice Ashley lecture. All of these side events gave me a better understanding of the current happenings of scholastic chess in the United States.

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USCF Scholastic Meeting

One thing I know for sure – kids love learning from GM Maurice Ashley! His energy and enthusiasm when teaching was truly inspiring. I took some of his ideas and lessons and applied them in my school classes with great results!

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GM Maurice Ashley inspiring, motivating, and making chess fun!

Every family involved in scholastic chess should put the SuperNationals on their must attend events. Being that this tournament only happens every four years will give families time to prepare for 2021!

 

Tournament Review: Supernationals VI

During the May 12-14 weekend, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee in order to play in Supernationals VI, one of the most awaited tournaments for K-12 players around the country.  The tournament only comes around every four years, making it all the more prestigious if one performs well in the tournament.  The event was held at the Gaylord Opryland, which, in my mind, is one of the most accommodating hotel/convention centers that a tournament could be held in.

 

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Always love playing here!

 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect heading into this tournament.  Knowing that I was going to be dealing with a relatively shorter time control (G/120 + d/5) and that I hadn’t exactly had a lot of free time to prepare for the tournament since I had multiple end-of-year exams to prepare for in the weeks prior.  In addition, scholastic tournaments are difficult in general, but that discussion is for another day.  Opting to take the 10-hour drive to Nashville rather than flying, I had more than enough time to prepare during the car ride and to take rest.  So, if there was one positive for me to consider going into the tournament, it was that I was fairly well-rested.

I began the tournament as the 49th seed out of 272.  Prior to the first round, the tournament directors announced that they would be using accelerated pairings for the first two rounds, which meant that if I was to win the first round, I would play up in the second round.  In the first round, I was paired against a newer player from Arizona who was rated 1965.  A late oversight by my opponent allowed me to capitalize and win the game from there.

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Bellisario – Kobla: Position after 22. Bxc5

Do you see what I played here?  Check here for the answer.

As expected, I played up in the second round, albeit higher than I had initially imagined – I was paired against the 8th seed, a 2449 rated player.  The critical positions were in the mid-20s when my opponent found an ingenious plan to crack my fortress, which led to his eventual win.

See if you can find what the best move(s) are in the position:

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Kobla – Feng: Position after 26. Rc1

Check here for the answer.

Finishing the first day with 1 point out of 2, I went to bed content with myself anyway, since I had beat the players that I was supposed to and had given my best against a higher rated player.  The next morning, I woke up to find myself paired with an 1876 rated player; in fact, it was a player that I had played before in a previous national tournament, but the exact one I don’t happen to remember at the moment.  In regards to the game, my opponent found a good move in a critical position, at which point I had lost any advantage that I might have had.  The game ended in a draw.  Although I wasn’t too happy with myself for that result, I knew that the next round would be easier for me, and there was still a lot of tournament left.

In round 4 I was paired against another lower rated opponent that I had played in a previous national tournament.  In the previous encounter, I had lost the game due to a blunder made in time trouble; so this time around, I was determined to get my revenge – and I was able to in a fairly convincing fashion.  My opponent allowed a lethal double check at one point, which net me an exchange.  A few moves later, I played a move that kept my advantage and I eventually won.  However, the computer found a nice variation that would have ended the game much quicker, which I had not found due to its length and complexity.

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Kobla – Yu: Position after 31. … d5

Any idea what the silicon beast found in this position?  If you’re stumped (or if you think you got it), check your answer here.

Round 5 was the last round of the second day of the tournament, and I was paired against a 1956 rated player, and I’ll be honest, I was lucky with this game.  I had a solid -3 advantage (as black) before a series of inaccurate moves brought me back to around 0.00, when a horrible blunder on my part caused a jump to +6 for my opponent.  Fortunately for me, my opponent offered a draw in the midst of time trouble, and I accepted without hesitation.  I most certainly would have lost that game, but sometimes things just go your way.  I went to sleep that night knowing I was lucky, but I knew I shouldn’t dwell on it too much.  I still wasn’t able to win the game, and I had already drawn a couple games to lower rated players.  Thus, I had to focus on winning games on the last day.

On the morning of the next day, I spent some time with my family because it was Mother’s Day!  How often does that happen?  For round 6, I was paired against a 2008 rated player.  The game was perhaps the most autonomous game I have ever played against a decently high rated player.  Taken out of book early, I developed my pieces, castled, doubled rooks on the e-file, cemented a knight on the central d4 square, and virtually paralyzed my opponent’s position.  Then I proceeded to push the kingside pawns for an attack until my opponent decided to sacrifice a pawn to trade queens, but I converted the endgame without much sweat.

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Kobla – Zhao: Position after 20. Re5 Anyone want to Black here?

For round 7, the last round of the tournament, I was paired against a 1969 rated player.  The opening was weird, but somehow, my opponent misplaced a piece, which allowed me to win a pawn early in the opening.  After winning that early pawn, it was a matter of simple technique from there.  When compared to the other days, the games I had on the last day were of much easier difficulty, which is ironic, since games are supposed to become harder as you progress in the tournament.

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Yu J. – Kobla: Position after 12. … Qd8 The threat is the simple Qb6, and White can’t defend both pawns in time

After 7 rounds, I finished with 5/7 points, with one loss and two draws as the results that cut off points from the final result.  With the enormous amount of competition in the top section, 5/7 was barely good enough for a tied-for trophy in the end.  However, considering the difficulties I had earlier in the tournament, my rating did increase a few points in the end.  Overall, I wish I had been able to perform better since this was my last chance at Supernationals.  The next time this tournament comes around, I’ll be in college!  Yet, 5/7 still wasn’t a horrible score, and I was still able to take some hardware home, and I had a lot of fun, which is what counts in the end.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!

The Endgame Challenge: Rook and Bishop vs Rook

Recently, I’ve personally seen the infamous rook and bishop versus rook endgame in play several times. A few things struck me oddly. First of all, the number of times I’ve seen it arise is quite considerable even though it is considered a fairly rare endgame. Secondly, even though the games I’ve seen were played by strong players, there were major errors made by both sides. That is definitely quite understandable, as many players probably forgot or never learned the correct defense or winning method. I also forgot how to win this position too, but after seeing the endgame in the exciting Paikidze-Zatonskih at the US Women’s Champs, I made it my duty to refresh my memory! It would be a shame to lose a half or whole point because of forgotten endgame theory. This is why I want to make a quick article that goes over the most important ideas in this endgame.

Most people know that this endgame should be a draw if no blunders arise, the defender’s king isn’t pushed to the edge of the board, and correct play is involved.

Note: In certain cases, the game could still be a draw even if the defender’s king is on the edge.

However, even if the attacker does manage to successfully drive the defender’s king to the edge of the board into the Philidor position, an extremely accurate and difficult series of moves will be needed to get the full point. For simplicity’s sake, we would discuss how to win the position if it arises in the central files.

The Philidor Position

BishopRookvsRook1

This is the starting point of the Philidor Position. If this were Black to move, this position would be a draw because of the only move Re7+, and the white king will have to retreat. That also means that if Black were unable to play this check, he will be lost even if it was his move. Anyways, White’s first moves are simple. 1. Rc8+ Rd8 2. Rc7. White takes control of the seventh rank.

BishopRookvsRook2

Here, the immediate threat by White is 3. Rh7, with unstoppable mate. If Black keeps his rook along the 8th rank like with 2…Ra8, he looses immediately to 3. Rh7. That means he either has to move 2… Kf8, or take his rook off of the 8th rank. After 2… Kf8, White has a straightforward win with 3. Rh7, still threatening mate. After 3…Re8+ 4. Kf6 Kg8 5. Rg7+ Kh8 6. Rg5 Kh7 7. Rh5+ Kg8 8. Kg6 and mate will come soon. Well that wasn’t so bad!

But if your opponent wants to give you a hard time to get that win, they will move the rook to either d3, d2, or d1. I will tell you right now that 2…Rd2 is the most tenacious defense for Black, and you will see in a second why 2…Rd3 or 2…Rd1 loses more quickly.

2…Rd2. Now, White plays a clever waiting move, 3. Ra7. The point is that Black must move his rook off of the second rank because any king moves loses. 3… Rd1

3… Rd3 looses quicker and is less intuitive. First, White wins time with 4. Re7+ Kd8 (4…Kf8 5. Rh7 Black can’t stop the  mate with Rg3 because of the bishop.) 5. Rh7! Swinging to the other side. (5. Ra7?! would not work because of the simple 5…Ke8) 5… Kc8 6. Rc7+. Another maneuver to win time. 6… Kd8 (6…Kb8 walks into the discovered attack) And now, the amazing 7. Rc4!

BishopRookvsRook3

White is threatening 7. Bf6+. Black must play 6…Ke8. Now, 7. Bd4! There is no way Black can stop the mate without losing his rook.

4. Rg7. The rook zips to the other wing.

BishopRookvsRook8

Although 4. Rh7 looks prettier, since it gives more space between the Black king and White rook, the rook should go to the g-file for a reason you will see soon. 4… Rf1

4…Kf8 5. Rh7 Rg1 6. Ra7 Kg8 7. Ra8+ Kh7 8. Rh8+ Kg6 9. Rg8+. And Black loses his rook.

5. Bg3!! What a brilliant and stunning move!

BishopRookvsRook4

This is why the rook had to be on the first rank. The e1 square is controlled by the White bishop so the king is protected from annoying checks. The bishop also controls the f2 square, so if the rook were to move, it’d have to go to the third rank. 5… Rf3

5…Kf8 does not work. 6. Rg4 (and this is why the rook should go to g7, not h7.) 6… Ke8 7. Ra4. Switch sides! 7… Rd1 (7… Kf8 8. Be5 Kg8 9. Rh4 and mate) 8. Bh4!! My favorite move in the ending!

BishopRookvsRook5

This is the kind of move that would be impossible to find over the board if the White player didn’t know it beforehand. The bishop is an octopus, guarding the vital e1 square, and now threatening mate because the rook can no longer go to d8. Black is toast. 8…Kf8 9. Rg4 with imminent mate.

After 4… Rf3 5. Bd6 creats a mate threat. 6… Re3+ 7.Be5

BishopRookvsRook6

This position is similar to the one we started with, but with one vital difference. Because of the mate threat, the black rook cannot return to the second or first file and will find itself on the deadly third rank.

7…Rf3. Now the win is almost the exact same as after 3…Rd3. 8. Re7+ Kf8 9. Ra7 Kg8 10. Rg7+ Kf8 11. Rg4 Ke8 12. Bf4 +-

BishopRookvsRook7

We did it!

Note: It is important to note that the Philidor Position is also winning on the bishop files, however, some new defensive variations may come about. Unfortunately, the Philidor is not winning on the knight’s file. Good news though, is that the Philidor Position is surprisingly winning on the rook’s file! 

There is often a lax of attention on the Rook and Bishop vs Rook ending. It is beneficial to refresh your memory on this ending every once in a while. You never know when your knowledge will come to fruit!

I hope this article have helped you all in some way… Next time you enter this endgame, be prepared to play out this grueling but fun maneuver!

Free Game Analysis: Budapest Gambit

Today’s game is from aspiring Chicago-area player Megan Chen, whom I know from our overlapping time at CMU. Like me, Megan picked up chess again after a hiatus for school, and after two short but chess-filled years has established an undoubtedly conspicuous presence in Chicago, gaining over 600 rating points to close in on 1600!

It’s always interesting to see what little it takes to turn a game around. In one of Megan’s more flashy victories, a last-round win over a top seed in her section at the 2017 Mid-America Open, a grave positional error by White (her opponent) in a dead equal-looking position set the stage for some unexpected tactical flurries that surely made for a memorable game. Enjoy!

McCully (1698) – Chen (1530)

I’m not a big fan of the Budapest Gambit approach, which is not considered particularly sound. That said, it is certainly playable for anyone comfortable with it, so I understand why Megan, a more adventurous player going into the last round craving a win to even her tournament record, would be willing to go for it.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Bf4

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 11.36.55 PM

5…Bc5

As with the main move 5…Bb4+, Black gains a tempo, intending to quickly regain the sacrificed pawn with …Qe7. This plan is essentially forced, because otherwise, White will simply blow Black off the board after h2-h3. However, the game move has the drawback of allowing Nb1-c3-d5, giving White an obvious positional asset and potentially taking advantage of Black’s misplaced queen (Black’s c5 bishop is also vulnerable to a rapid queenside expansion). In contrast, 5…Bb4+ is safer, although it does give White the bishop pair and a slight edge after 6. Nbd2 Qe7 7. a3 Ngxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. e3 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2.

6. e3 Qe7 7. Be2 Ngxe5 8. O-O d6 9. Nc3

White sensibly chooses to finish kingside development first. Although Black easily regains the e5 pawn, there isn’t much to be done about Nb1-c3-d5, since something like …c6 just leaves d6 vulnerable. This gives White easier play on the queenside and a fairly stable advantage, underscoring the long-term disadvantage of eschewing 5…Bb4+.

9…Ng6?!

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 12.22.21 AM

This move actually gives White a tactical justification for a rapid b2-b4 push! In all fairness, it’s probably not the first tactic that comes to mind (see if you can find it before reading on), so I hesitate to peg the game move as a serious error. Still, the knight doesn’t do much in its new position – White can as easily play 10. Bg3 and ask where the knight is going from g6.

10. Nd5 Qd8 11. a3! Nxf4 12. Nxf4 a5

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 12.32.25 AM

With Black’s knight still on e5, this would have stopped b2-b4 forever, as that would allow Black to trade rooks on the a-file and grab the b-pawn. But in the game position, White can get away with 13. b4!, where Black would be well-advised to avoid 13…axb4? 14. axb4 Rxa1?? 15. Qxa1 Bxb4 (or 15…Nxb4) 16. Qxg7, when Black’s position falls apart. Instead, White overlooks the opportunity, and finds his queenside play stalled.

13. Qc2?! O-O 14. Bd3 h6 15. h3 Ne5 16. Nxe5 dxe5

Black has equalized comfortably. Notice in particular that Nd5 is rendered harmless, since the trade of knights on e5 allows the formerly-undesirable …c6. White had an advantage earlier, but failed to press it in a timely fashion.

17. Ne2?!

This traps the d3-bishop needlessly and allows Black to gain unnecessary tempi on the kingside, as 17…f5 immediately threatens to win a piece, and basically forces …e4 with tempo next move. More natural was to reroute the knight via 17. Nd5 c6 (to prevent 18. b4) 18. Nc3, which I would assess as roughly equal. Black has some chances on the kingside and the bishop pair, but White’s pieces are placed more harmoniously for the moment.

17…f5 18. e4?

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.22.22 AM

After this clear positional blunder, there is no going back for White. After just two moves, White is toast. Black is guaranteed a massive kingside attack, with pawns, bishops, etc. all ready to rip open the kingside.

18…f4 19. b4 axb4 20. axb4 Rxa1 21. Rxa1

White attempts to stave off …f3 by deflecting the dark-squared bishop. Although Black can certainly take the free pawn first, ignoring the threat to the bishop is apparently adequate as well. It’s a little flashy for my taste (remember that you just need *a* win, and usually the “sure” win is the way to go), but to each their own.

21…Qg5!? 22. bxc5 Bxh3 23. Nxf4 exf4 24. Bf1??

A puzzling decision, since it looked like the point of 23. Nxf4 was to clear the second rank for 24. f3. Granted, White is down a pawn after 24…Qxc5+ with a horrible bishop and king, but he’s not quite mated yet. The game move goes down quickly.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 1.38.29 AM

24…Bxg2 25. Qd2 Rd8

Slightly unnecessary (time pressure?), since White has the “option” of 26. Qxd8+ and 27. Kxg2, after which Black must mop up White’s pawns and win the boring way. On the other hand, 25…Bxe4+ (as played a move later) just mates after 26. Kh2 Qh4+ 27. Bh3 Bf5.

26. Ra8 Bxe4+ 27. Kh2 Qh4+ 28. Bh3 Rxa8, White resigned.

A particularly brutal finish for White. Black did well to equalize after a sketchy opening (sorry, Megan), but White did not truly go wrong until 17. Ne2 and 18. e4. This just goes to show that it only takes one or two moves to truly mess up a position, even when the position looks solid. Congratulations to Megan for fighting back (both in the tourney and in the game), for the ruthless mating attack, and (hopefully) for soon crossing 1600 and beyond!

As always, if you would like a game analyzed, feel free to send it to chess.summit@gmail.com for us to see!