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.

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

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.

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!




One thought on “Starting from Scratch: Making the Dough

  1. Pingback: Tough Tests, Tough Results – chess^summit

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