Ups and Downs at the New York International

“I have a midterm tomorrow in Art History and guess where I am?” I said to a chess parent, gesturing around the Marshall Chess Club. It was Wednesday night, the first day of the New York International. Despite a test looming, I would not miss the beginning of the tournament, where many of my friends- and many players I did not know- were playing.

It was a good thing I did not miss it. In the first round already, surprises showed that the tournament was going to be exciting. The most surprising of which was CM Maximillian Lu’s draw with GM Irina Krush. Sure, the top 11-year old chess player in the country did not win the game, but when a 2100 player draws against someone like the former women’s U.S. champion, it turns heads.

The next great (and wonderful) surprise was that FM David Brodsky, one of our writers, reached the 2400 FIDE that he needed to make his International Master title. Okay, it was not too much of a surprise- it was obvious that David would get his title eventually. However, it was quite fitting that the tournament in which he gained his first IM norm last year was the tournament that secured his IM title. His article on his achievement articulates his experience more clearly.

 

For most of the tournament, GMs Yaro Zherebukh and Axel Bachmann seemed head to head. Then, IM Raja Panjwani outplayed GM Yaro Zherebukh in a game, changing the odds.

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Photo by Vanessa Sun
raja
Photo by Vanessa Sun

 

 

 

IM Raja Panjwani

 

 

 

 

After what GM Zherebukh claimed was “probably the worst game I played in years,” he was discouraged, knowing he was now tied only for second place. He came back with a quick win over GM Gil Popilski by the next round. I’ll let him tell it.

See full game annotations by GM Yaro Zherebukh

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The final position in Popilski-Zherebukh
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How I Always Feel After a Win | Photo by Vanessa Sun

But again, another surprise changed the standings. Despite GM Krush’s previous hiccup, she managed to beat the top seed, GM Axel Bachmann. This result put her in the running for first place going into the last round. After Irina’s success, there were four players vying for first going into the last round: IM Raja Panjwani and GMs Bachmann, Krush, and Zherebukh.

In the end, GM Krush, beating GM Zherebukh in the last round, and GM Bachmann, beating FM Joshua Colas, tied for first-second. It was a crazy series of ups and downs, with a few of the highlights as the tournament leaders changed countless times. However, the two grandmasters pulled through in the end, enduring long games and with Irina enjoying some upsets. You can see the final results posted on the Marshall Chess Club website.

Although I’m sure it was difficult to annotate a loss that was so crucial to the tournament result, GM Zherebukh annotated this game as well:

See full game annotated by GM Yaro Zherebukh

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Final position in Krush-Zherebukh

Overall, the tournament was thrilling to experience. The Philly International gained more of a crowd than this one, but New York tournaments still draw in quite a few players. No doubt some players used the tournament as preparation for the World Open tournament, which promises some more exciting action to come. This New York International was the 10th edition, but it was my first and hopefully not be my last visit!

Oh, and I got an A+ on my Art History midterm, too.

Some extra pictures I took:

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FM Ethan Li | photo by: Vanessa Sun
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Photo by: Vanessa Sun
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Sophie Morris-Suzuki | Photo by: Vanessa Sun

Long-Distance

It’s funny, everyone tells me distance kills friendships and relationships, but at the same time if that were true, how would anyone in the chess community still be friends with each other? With the creation of social media also came the ability for us to keep in touch with people across the country, even across the world, from us. I have friends in California, in Europe, in Asia whose lives I keep in touch with thanks to various social media platforms. Just the other day, a friend who I haven’t seen in about two years now if not more, messaged me and we were able to have a conversation like we’d never stopped talking, as though the tournament where we met was just yesterday.

In fact, fellow ChessSummit writer Vanessa Sun and I theoretically met through a mutual friend – online. It wasn’t for months even until we officially met at Millionaire’s last October. Especially since going to college and participating in tournaments less, I have been surprised to find that I am able to reconnect with people from the chess world so easily even after no contact for an extended period of time. 

The above interactions prove what I feel like I’ve repeated many times here already – chess is always something you can come back to. The people, the game, the community. So once you’re in – sorry, we’re not letting you go. 

2400.4

I was originally not going to write this article. A week ago Vanessa and I made a deal. She would cover New York International, and I would write about something else. But then things started happening…

Don’t worry Vanessa will still write about New York International, but I will selfishly talk about my own play.

MCC

Historically speaking, good things seem to happen at the New York International.

  • In the 2012 edition, I crossed 1900 and made the All American Team for the very first time.
  • In the 2015 edition, I beat my first GM
  • In the 2016 edition, I got my first IM Norm.

Held at the Marshall Chess Club for the past three years, the New York International is a local tournament with a strong field and norm chances, and it does appear that it is the tournament where I cross a big item off my summer bucket list. This year was no different…

As I mentioned in my article about the Philadelphia Open, my goal after getting my 3rd and final IM Norm was to get my FIDE rating to 2400 which would fulfill the last requirement to become an IM. After some (mis)adventures hunting rating points, my FIDE rating of 2379 was reasonably close to 2400.

I got off to a good start in round 1 by beating Juan Sena (2251 USCF, 2073 FIDE) with the black pieces. We had played a game about a year and a half previously with the same colors which I won. We followed that game for 25 moves until he deviated. Still, the position was very good for me and I soon won.

Round 2 was a surprisingly quick win against IM Jay Bonin (2378 USCF, 2263 FIDE), my first one ever!

So far, so good. 2/2. In round 3, I got black against Raven Sturt (2548 USCF, 2442 FIDE). This game would be a big deal: if I won, my live FIDE rating would cross 2400. It would be 2400.4 to be exact.

The third time’s the charm. Yes, this was the third game where winning would mean crossing 2400 FIDE. And this time I did win!! A year after getting my very first IM norm, my IM quest came to its end.

2400.4                                            Me moments after reaching 2400.4!

Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it to happen. After all, many of my firsts took place at the Marshall Chess Club even when it is not the New York International. They include:

  • My first win over an NM
  • My first draw against an IM
  • My first draw against a GM

Since this game was so important, I’ve decided to just present it in its entirety.

Getting a rating over 2400 in the middle of a tournament fulfills the rating requirement for IM, and there was no reason for me to withdraw to get the IM title. There were 6 rounds to go and more chess to play

Generally, when people get a norm, get a title, or in simple English have a big success, they very often have a bad tournament shortly after it. I don’t know why exactly that happens, but it just does. I knew I should party with caution – I did not want to botch up my remaining 6 rounds for no reason.

In round 4, I held my own with the white pieces against GM Gil Popilski (2623 USCF, 2544 FIDE). The position was roughly equal out of the opening, then I probably got a little worse. Still, I managed to sneak out and make a draw.

A solid result. However, everything comes to an end. My run ended in round 5 when I got the black pieces against GM Axel Bachmann (2674 USCF, 2653 FIDE). I probably equalized out of the opening, but a small concession on my side gave GM Bachmann a slight but nagging edge. Things spiraled downhill, but I made the best out of it and reached this position.

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White to play

White has a very powerful passed pawn, but my pieces are blockading it. I had been expecting 31.Na6, protecting the pawn. White will not be able to queen that pawn, but black will not be able to kick the white pieces out either. I really dislike black’s position.

Instead, I was surprised when he went for a technical solution with 31.Nxe6!?. The game went 31… fxe6 32.Rb6+ Kd7 33.Rxe6! Kxe6 34.Bh3+ Kd6 35.Bxc8 Kxc7 36.Bf5 Nf8

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White to play

The dust has settled after the forced moves. White is a pawn up, but all the pawns are on the same side of the board. In those kinds of positions, the knight is supposed to be better than the bishop. I felt fairly optimistic that I should be able to hold a draw here…

The game went 37.f4 Kd6 38.Kf2 g6 39.Bc8 h6 40.Ke3 Nh7 41.fxe5+ Kxe5 42.d4+ Kd6 43.Kf4 Nf6 44.Bg4 Ng8 45.h4 Nf6 46.Bf3 Ke6 47.g4 Nh7

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White to play

Over the past few moves, white has slowly built up his position, while I’ve improved my knight. The waiting games are now over; black wants to play g5+ on the next move, forcing the white king back. White must act.

I felt confident I should hold this one, but GM Bachmann thought for about 20 minutes on his next move and crunched things out to the end. If you want a hardcore calculation exercise, go ahead! Try to find how white wins this endgame. Then compare your solution to what happened in the game.

OK, that was a bit disappointing, but considering the rating difference, losing that game wasn’t surprising. I was still unofficially over 2400 at the end of day #3.

In round 6, I got the white pieces against Qibiao Wang (2401 USCF, 2294 FIDE). The game can be summed up with this diagram.

QibiaoWang

Look at the black queen! It should be stuck, right? That’s what I thought too. I thought I should be able to trap is somehow… but how? At worst case, her majesty can run away via a4 to c6. And how to even get an advantage with white? I thought for a long time on my next few moves and found nothing concrete for white at all. I didn’t proceed to get anything in the game either, and we eventually drew.

In round 7, I got black against FM Marcus Miyasaka (2250 USCF, 2197 FIDE). This was my 9th (!) game against Marcus. Marcus uncorked some offbeat opening preparation on me, and I was faced with a choice early on: play objectively best moves which would allow Marcus to essentially force a draw OR play something else to get into a slightly worse position with the hope of outplaying him.

I chose the latter. I ended up in trouble but wriggled out to an approximately equal position. I then proceeded to get myself into trouble again. I then wriggled out again to get into a very complicated position where it seemed that all three results were possible. Marcus then had to be careful not to get in trouble, and he managed to get out and reach a drawn endgame. I pressed on for a very long time (probably longer than I should have) trying to win, but to no avail.

Those two draws took some wind out of my sails, but still, there were two rounds to go.

NYI AnalysisStill enjoying chess… Photo by Vanessa Sun

In round 8, I won a powerful game with white against Sophie Morris-Suzuki (2152 USCF, 1790 FIDE), who was having a breakout tournament. In a slightly worse position, she made a positional error that gave me a dominating position which I converted with some flashy rook sacrifices. When it comes to forgetting about what happened earlier in the tournament, there’s nothing like winning a game!

In round 9, I got black against GM Michael Rohde (2468 USCF) (2413 FIDE). I had played him with the same colors about a month previously, so I could recycle some of my preparation… there was another factor to consider; if I drew the game, I would get my 4th IM Norm. Only three norms are required to become an IM, but FIDE needs to approve them. It does not hurt to add extra norms on the application in case FIDE finds something amiss with any of them.

And I did draw the game. It was a fairly correct game from both players; neither of us had anything by move 20 when we agreed to a draw.

Brady-Me                         Me with Dr. Frank Brady and Frank Marshall…

What’s the overall conclusion? I scored 6/9, got an extra IM Norm, gained 18 FIDE and 12 USCF rating points, getting to my peak ratings on both, but most importantly I crossed 2400 in the middle of the tournament reaching 2404.8 after round #4. A solid performance.

What’s next for me?

FIDE will hopefully approve my IM title in October at the 88th FIDE Congress. The question that now faces me is where to go next. And for the moment, I’m not quite sure. For now, I guess I’ll just play chess…

Next on my tournament schedule is the World Open, which starts in a couple of days. We’ll see how it goes…

Since this is quite a big achievement, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on my quest so far, namely, my coach, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Greg Shahade and the US Chess School, the Marshall Chess Club, all the organizers that gave me a chance in their invitational tournaments, and many others that helped me by analyzing or advising or just being there for me.

Jedi Mind Trick: Fooling Myself to Victory

It took nearly two months, but this past weekend I finally saw the benefits my European excursion had on my play. A performance rating over 2350 at the Columbus Open and my first win against a 2400+ rated player were certainly unprecedented, and proved to be my next big jump towards National Master. Where did this performance come from? Here is a story about how I needed to trick myself to start playing good chess again.

Welcome to the Dark Side

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Getting into trouble on a Tuesday night. I was lucky to save a half point here…
A week before my trip to Ohio, I played in a local rapid tournament to prepare for the grueling two day schedule. I’ve never been a particularly strong rapid player, but I was fairly dissapointed by my 2/4 score, as my games were marred with mistakes and uninspired play.

I was ready to brush it off as a bad day at the office, but the last round of my Tuesday night tournament also screamed the same word: Slump! After getting a great position out of the opening, I somehow found myself getting outplayed by a lower rated player and miraculously got a draw.

So the script going into the Columbus Open was already written. Those glory days I had in Europe were long over – my undefeated triumph in Budapest and opening creativity in Reykjavik were just memories now. Clearly I had bad form – it was Tuesday night, and I had until Saturday morning to stop atrophying.

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Burger night in the ‘Burgh
But across three days, what can you do? Not much really – of course I did about an hour of tactics each day, but I just tried to relax and focus on my cooking. With each passing day, I just braced myself for a rough weekend, as the competition in Columbus seemed to be toughest I had faced since last summer’s World Open (and I didn’t need any reminders as to how I did there). That National Master title seemed really far away, so I just wanted to play good chess. This would just have to be another one of those dreaded “learning experiences”.

Making the Most of Things

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Chess^Summit co-author Grant Xu sharing his round 3 draw!
It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about how changing a pregame routine for the sake of one game can help a lot, but what about for a whole tournament?

For the sake of convenience, I decided to limit my packing to a backpack, which meant some wholesale changes to my tournament approach. Typically, I like to dress fashionably for my games – button down shirts, sweaters, and so forth. If the pros do it, why can’t I? Not this time – I didn’t want to draw attention to my games, so t-shirts it was! Instead of the wooden set I have brought to tournaments for most of the last decade, I brought a cheap plastic set. I packed to just play chess and have a fun weekend away from Pittsburgh. Road trip!

What I didn’t realize was that I had already tricked myself. Backpacking? I just did that for three months in Europe. Just play chess? That was my exact mantra going into the Dolomiten Bank Open last February. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Columbus was the next stop on my European trip.

By believing National Master was out of reach, I tricked myself into throwing all stress out the window.

Taking Down the Death Star

As Grant and I walked into the Union at Ohio State University, our phones buzzed with our first round pairings, and I had quite the test. Paired with Black against a 2400+ rated FM, I’d have to take on one of the top 50 blitz players in the country in a G/60 game – a simillar time control to the previous week’s rapid event. My record against 2400+ opposition hasn’t been great, so my expectations were minimal going into this early morning round.

In a pairing that had all the makings of a blowout win, the result proved to be exactly that – though after only needing 8 minutes on my clock, it was my opponent who extended his hand to tender his resignation. My first 2400 scalp, and a masterclass against the London System at that!

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I wonder if Brutus plays chess…
I was fairly relaxed for my next two games against 2300+ opposition. I finished the day at 1.5/3, which was impressive considering the level of competition. Admittedly I could have had an even better score, but I was just having fun, remember?

I opened Sunday morning with an easy draw against a National Master, giving me White in my last game against an expert. A win would mean finishing on a plus score with a great overall tournament performance, and a loss would flip the narrative.

Playing 1 e4 was not my Intention!

As I needed it in Reykjavik, I needed to count on my opening creativity and willingness to explore to get the point. After 1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. e4 e6 6. d5 we reached a French by transposition:

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Steincamp – Jakob, position after 6. d5
Now if I were a 1 e4 player, and my opponent a French (or Sicilian) player, this would have just been a normal position reached by 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 cxd4 5. cxd4 Nc6 6. Nc3 or 1. e4 c5 2. c3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 d5 5. e5 Nc6 6. Nc3. But I’ve only played two King’s pawn openings in recent memory, and as I had researched prior to the game, my opponent played the Alekhine’s against 1. e4, so we were both out of book.

Luckily for me, I wrote an extensive article about the French last year here on Chess^Summit, and so conceptually I was able to identify plan’s for White. As I discussed in the aforementioned article, the French is inherently strategically risky for Black because it lets White grab space in the center and locks in the c8 bishop. In return, Black gets dynamic possibilities to break the center with various pawn breaks, but should Black fail to prove a homeostasis in the position, White will have a simple static advantage and no risk position.

One thing I really liked about this transposition was that Black has already “released the tension” on d4 since we reached this position through the Exchange Slav. This early trade is not to most French players’ liking, as sometimes its helpful to insert …Qd8-b6 before trading on d4. After 6…Nge7 7. Nf3, my opponent erred with 7…Ng6?, giving me a lasting edge with 8. h4!

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Steincamp–Jakob, position after 8.h4!
I actually think Black is already strategically lost because he loses the ability to play …f7-f6 by force, so he has no ability to counter the center. Even though 7…Ng6? was an obvious error, this just goes to show how thin the line can be between equality and a lost position in the French for Black. Black’s play must be action-oriented. I got a dominating position in just a few moves, and even though I blundered later in the game, my position was still strong enough to get the win.

The Force Awakens

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Fried chicken in an outside restaurant in Columbus! Food in the city was easily one of the many highlights of this trip.
Ideally I won’t need regularly deflating performances to help me play better chess, but what this tournament showed me was that when I throw stress out the window I’m a much stronger player! Going forward I’ll be treating these tournaments more as weekend getaways than chances to make National Master. So it may be a while before I wear a button down shirt to a game again…

My rating jumped from 2134 to 2159, so I can start to smell the title, but it’s still a few good performances out. Since I have a while before my next weekend tournament, I’m going to focus a lot on tactics and calculation as I try to close the gap to 2200. I definetly feel a lot more confident in my play than I did a week ago, so I’m hoping to keep it up!

 

 

 

CHESSanity: A Story

“Dad! I want to teach too!” cried my little brother, Wesley, then only ten years old.

My dad (who then was, ironically, trying to solve some chess tactics himself) huffed in annoyance at my brother’s irritating persistence.

“You’re too young to teach,” he sighed for the umpteenth time. “Your brother is already fourteen and almost in high school. Nobody wants to learn from a ten-year-old.”

Undeterred, my brother continued his tantrum. After half an hour of incessant wailing, my parents finally gave in and found a willing six-year-old student who lived only five minutes away from our home. In an unexpected turn of events, my brother’s fervent passion for teaching actually transcended his supposedly young age.

It was around this time that parents in my community began latching onto the notion that chess could really benefit their child’s development. As relatively cheap but effective options, my brother and I were the perfect fit for beginners. His students, as well as mine, began growing in number.

Soon enough, the inquiries about my brother’s and my availability to teach overwhelmed my parents’ WeChat inboxes. As full-time students with extracurricular activities outside of chess, my brother and I did not have the time to give chess lessons to 10 students a week. So, in order to accommodate the heavy influx of requests we were receiving, my brother and I began giving group lessons every Friday night starting from early 2014.

Our inaugural group of 6 to 8-year-olds was probably the most talented group I have ever worked with. Some alumni include Liran Zhou (currently the #1 ranked 9-year-old in the nation and 2016 K-3 National Champion), Ellen Wang (currently the #1 ranked 9-year-old girl in the nation), Lisa Jin, Edison Huang, and Jeffrey Zhai. All of these brilliant young kids are currently ranked in the top 100 in their age group in the nation—and to think they arrived at our weekly Friday night lessons without a clue on how to play chess.

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Greater NY Scholastics (2/5/17); Back, left to right: Wesley and Warren Wang; Front, left to right: Lisa Jin, Ellen Wang, Jeffrey Zhai, Edison Huang, Liran Zhou

With such success so early on, what was there to lose?

And so our teaching career took off, and CHESSanity’s foundation was born.


By the fall of 2015, I had been teaching chess in the aforementioned manner for over a year and a half. It’s incredibly hard to ascertain what exactly sparked the idea of our next initiative, but the thousands of dollars in tuition we had thus far collected from students wasn’t just about to go to a new iPhone or a new video game console.

Still, there is one memory in particular that stands out when I reflect back on various inspirations for our current main project: CHESSanity’s Adopt-A-School-Initiative.

When I was in tenth grade, my school’s varsity badminton team traveled to Hempstead High School for an away game. Entering the school, I was shocked to see metal detectors embodying the entrance and armed guards patrolling the hallways. Having been fortunate enough to be sheltered from such conditions, I had only seen such sights on TV or on the news. Yet, Hempstead High School was only a 20-minute drive away from my home…

At the end of the day, although my team won, my biggest takeaway was not the victory, but the memory of a then unimaginable sight.

After some research, I discovered that Hempstead wasn’t alone—this aforementioned visual typifies many school landscapes. Over time, I came to realize that these excessive safety precautions were actually representative of an inherent sense of trouble and unrest in the surrounding environment. In these schools, crime filled a void in students’ lives early on—a void that exemplified a lack of resources. It was crime that became their escape from reality.

By this time, I had achieved the USCF Candidate Master title as well as a multitude of experience as a chess teacher; I knew what beneficial impact chess could have on an individual. In winter of 2015, while running my weekly Friday night lessons, I had an epiphany. For my pupils, I was able to transform chess from a board game into an inherent part of their lives. Why not introduce chess to these underprivileged students? Why not chess to fill their void?

Using our newfound Adopt-A-School initiative as a springboard, I began my journey to mitigate the problems schools like Hempstead faced. Soon, the “sent” tab of my Gmail became littered with unanswered messages. Undeterred, I continued to persevere—I felt obligated to ameliorate these students’ plight.

A breakthrough came in the spring of 2016. Through a series of email exchanges, a meeting with the superintendent, and a generous donation of 55 chess sets, CHESSanity was accepted into the Wyandanch School District and invited to a Board of Education meeting.

Other schools began to follow in quick succession. My brother and I completed a 3-hour intensive training session for Roosevelt school district’s elementary and middle school students in March. Additionally, during the past spring, we conducted lessons every other Thursday for 1st-3rd graders in the Hempstead school district.

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Jackson Main School (Hempstead, NY) – 3/23/17
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Lesson Time! (Jackson Main School)

Overall, the positive feedback we are seeing is enormous—after a few sessions at Hempstead’s Jackson Main elementary school, I found that the impact I strived for had been realized. These young children were beginning to spend their free time studying from their very own “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” book. We had finally filled their void.


Though, over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m not only teaching to fulfill some parents’ unrealistic expectations for their children, nor am I teaching in order to supposedly improve critical thinking abilities in these same children (of course, that’s just an added bonus).

What I’m really hoping for is that these students will take an intense liking for chess—it can be a passion that they will take with them for a lifetime. 

After all, aren’t we all just playing chess because we love it?

A Surprisingly Good Game

My chess games aren’t usually very good.  I tend to win mainly by staying semi-relevant in slightly to clearly worse positions.  Well, I guess maybe I’m exaggerating…… a little bit.  But I can say for sure that I don’t specialize in one-sided victories in which I’m in control the whole game.  However, today I am happy to present my best game ever- a straightforward and crushing win.  In this “miniature”, I toasted an International Master with sharp and accurate moves.

I am playing white here, and my opponent is Zlatko Martic, rated 2321 at the time.

The game began:

1.e4 e6  2.Nf3 d5  3.Nc3 d4  4.Ne2 c5  5.c3 Nc6  6.cxd4 cxd4 7.Qa4 Bc5

Black’s play has already been questionable (in particular his 3rd move), and white can’t be worse here.  Black’s d4 pawn is overextended and vulnerable.  How can I take advantage of this?

DIAGRAM 1.  How do I chip away at black’s central control?

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8. b4!

I will pry black’s bishop from it’s defense of d4, whilst gaining an important developmental tempo.  My c1 bishop is ready to burst free.

8.  …               Bb6?

That can’t be a good move.  Black probably should have taken the pawn with 8. …Bxb4, after which play could have proceeded: 9.Nexd4 Ne7, and black should be able to maintain material equality, albeit with a slightly awkward position. 

9. b5               Na5

DIAGRAM 2. Should I “cash out” and take the d4 pawn?

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10. Ba3!  

Indeed.  That d4 pawn is not going anywhere, and there’s no reason to snag it.  It is best to add another piece to the attack, and this Bishop on a3 will be quite an asset, slicing through black’s position and making castling difficult.  If 10. … Ne7, I was intending 11.Qb4, after which black is quite uncomfortable.

10.  …               d3?  

Encouraging me to go where I wanted to go anyway.

11. Nf4             Bd7

DIAGRAM 3.  Should I “bail out” and capture the d3 pawn?  OR should I make a move that threatens checkmate on the next move and will shatter black’s kingside?

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12. Nh5!      

Boom!  This Threatens Nxg7 (checkmate!) on the next move, and fascinatingly enough, black has no legitimate way to protect this pawn.  If you guessed 12.Qb4, that’s also a reasonable idea since this also threatens a checkmate- with Qf8 on the next move.  However, I thought this could be answered with 12. … Qe7, after which white’s attack seems to dry out (13.Qc3 Qf6), and he may indeed have to  settle for a pawn-up endgame.

12.  …               f6                                 

A sad defense.

DIAGRAM 4.  Should I “sell out” and take either the d3 or g7 pawn??

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13. e5!

There will be no pawn-related cashing, bailing, or selling-out in this game.  I am not interested in black’s lousy pawns and that’s final!   The text move prepares to chip away at black’s kingside, while also giving my queen the freedom to swing over to the kingside and wreak havoc.

13.  …               g6

14. Qb4

Threatening checkmate in one move- for the second time in this brief game (I’m threatening Qf8++)!

14.  …               Kf7

Uh-oh, black saw my threat.  Is this the end of the attack?  Have I been led astray by my seeming addiction to eschewing the capture of free pawns and threatening Checkmate-in-One’s?

DIAGRAM 5. It’s time to finally bust open black’s position.

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15. exf6!

Finally I’m taking a pawn- although it looks like I’m giving up a knight as a result.  But the reason is that if 15. … gxh5, I’ll continue with 16. Ne5+ Kxf6, 17.Qf4+ Kg7…… And now, the crucial point is that I have 18.Bf8+, after which black has to play 18. … Qxf8, and then 19.Qg5++ is checkmate.

16. …               Nxf6

17. Ne5+         Kg8

DIAGRAM 6.  Can you find the move I played which caused black to resign immediately?

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18. Qf4!

Black resigned because NxN would allow Qf7++, while gxN would allow Qg5++.  And there’s no way for black to adequately protect his f6 knight.

How was I able to play such a game?  I think I did a few things right in this game:

  • Patience:  I was able to continually look for better options instead of settling for good ones.  “If you find a good move, look for a better one”.  Usually these “patient” moves involved improving my pieces or getting another piece into the game.
  • Timing: I sensed when the position called for more- for example I was able to play 13. e5 and 15. exf6 because I sensed that I was in a position to do something very strong on those moves.
  • Precise Calculation When Necessary: On move 13, I pretty much had to see until the end of the game (that’s the only way I could resist taking such a juicy g-pawn).  This involved seeing the moves Qb4 (not obvious), and exf6 (sacrificing a knight), and potential lines which required a Bf8+ sacrifice in order to work.  Precise calculation will often be necessary to reap rewards in a good position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curse of the Top Seed

If you were going into a tournament as the top seed, what would your thought process be?  Would you expect to win the section?  Or at least have a decent chance of doing so?  Ostensibly.  Furthermore, let’s assume that as the top seed, you play lower rated opponents outside of your own class (Expert, A, B, etc.).  Would this make it significantly easier?  Again, an ostensible conclusion.

Let’s start with a scenario.  This top seed is playing in a U2200 section in a 7-round tournament.  Furthermore, it is known that the player will play against one 1900, three 2000s, and three 2100s, in that order.

To show how likely (or unlikely, for that matter) it is to win a tournament like this as the highest seed, several active players’ performances against lower- and equal-rated players were compiled from uschess.org with the ‘Game Statistics’ tool.  The weighted averages of the group’s probability of beating 1900s, 2000s, and 2100s were used.  These averages were then slightly increased/decreased to give us the potential performance of an “ideal” player that would theoretically be stronger than the average of the given players.

 

DataTable1
The table shows the probability of the result, as described on the left, against each opponent in a 7 round tournament

 

Shown above is a table with the rounded values for the probabilities of winning, drawing, and losing to each rating class that the opponent for that round would fall into.  We see how as the rating of the opponent decreases, the probabilities of winning increase – that’s expected.  On the flip side, the chance of losing a game decreases as the opponent’s rating decreases – also expected.  However, it is interesting to note how the chance of drawing games do not follow such a clear cut pattern; the chance of drawing to a 1900 and a 2000 player is virtually identical, but the probability spikes as the opponent’s rating approaches the rating of our ideal top seed.  In fact, it surpasses the probability of winning such a game.

Since we are looking at the chances of winning a tournament, the only possible scores we will look at include 7/7, 6.5/7, and 6/7.  After getting to 5.5/7, the different paths (loss + draw, three draws) to get to 5.5 points become so large that attempting to calculate the chance of reaching said points is flat out impractical.  Furthermore, the chance of winning a tournament with 5.5 points out of 7 is much less in its own right since many more players are capable of reaching that score.

The number of ways of reaching each distinct score was laid out, and the respective probability of each result was used to calculate the probability of each distinct path of reaching a certain number of points.

 

DataTable2
The only path to obtaining a result of 7-0
DataTable10
The 7 different possible paths of obtaining a result of 6.5-0.5
DataTable6
The 28 different possible paths of obtaining a result of 6-1

 

The combination computations led to 1 possibility for obtaining 7-0 (all wins), 7 possibilities of obtaining 6.5/7, (a draw in any of the 7 rounds), and 28 possibilities of obtaining 6/7 (7 possibilities of losing a game in one of the rounds plus 21 possibilities of two draws in two distinct rounds).  The probability of obtaining 7/7 was the only result of its class, so it was turned into a percent to find the actual percent chance of running the table in such a tournament.  The seven possibilities of obtaining 6.5/7 and their respective probabilities were summed to find the overall probability of obtaining such a score.  Lastly, the 21 different possibilities of obtaining 6/7 and their respective probabilities were summed to find the overall probability of obtaining such a score.  The resulting probabilities and their derivations are displayed in the following tables.

 

DataTable3
The probability of obtaining each result described in the left column
DataTable7
The calculations to find the overall probability of obtaining a result of 7-0; white cells signify a win.
DataTable8
The calculations to find the overall probability of obtaining a result of 7-0; white cells signify a win and yellow cells signify a draw.
DataTable9
The calculations to find the overall probability of obtaining a result of 6-1; white cells signify a win, yellow cells signify a draw, and red cells signify a loss.

 

As we can see, despite being the top seed in the tournament, our ideal player only has about a 0.53% chance to score 7/7.  Scoring 6.5/7 should be much easier, right?  Well, it is 5 times more likely, at about 2.66%, but it is still not overly convincing since that is still only a 1/40 chance.  We see this probability increase almost threefold when the score comes to 6/7, up to 7.28%.  Even still, this is relatively low!  Here we see that our ideal player would theoretically only go 6/7 in approximately one out of every 13.8 tournaments.  So, if the probabilities of a player are so low in regards to obtaining a high score in a tournament, why do we still see a fair amount of high scorers in 7-round tournaments (or the like)?

The answer to this question is similar to that of the birthday paradox.  If you haven’t heard of this, I encourage you to search it up, as it has some fascinating concepts.  The question simply runs, “If there are 23 people in a room, what is the chance of any two people sharing a birthday?”  As absurd as it seems, the answer is 50%.  That is because we haven’t established a specific reference; for example, if we said, “What is the chance that someone in the room has a birthday on January 1st,” then the probability would be exponentially smaller.  However, since no reference was ever given, the number is much less.  We have a similar situation in this case.  If you pick out any single player and calculate their probability of winning the tournament with any of these points, the probability would be as low as we calculated above.  But, if you have, say, 10 of these very strong players in a section, then the probability of one of these players obtaining a score of 6, 6.5, or 7 is increased tenfold from our original probabilities for the single player.  There are also other factors that could potentially increase or decrease a player’s chance at obtaining a high score in a tournament.  If a section is extremely competitive with not many players “playing up,” such as in the World Open, the probabilities decrease.  On the flip side, if there are many lower-rated players in a section, whether they are there because of the choice of playing up or if they have to, such as in grade-based scholastic national tournaments, then the probabilities increase.

Now that you have an idea of how hard it is to actually win a tournament, the next time a parent or friend asks why you didn’t win a tournament even if you were the top seed, you have statistics to defend yourself!  And, as always, thanks for reading!