Chess Openings: Staying with THE Times and MY Timeline

One of the most frequent challenges of a chess player is making adjustments in playing style. With the rapidly increasing role of technology in chess, any player who does not embrace this challenge is at a disadvantage. I have never been close to an opening theoretician. My chess strength has been my tactical vision. In personal training, openings were not as high of a priority as tactics, positional strategy, or endgames.

In my earlier years, I would try to keep my openings as simple as possible. My most flagrant example of this is the use of the London system against the King’s Indian and the Grunfeld. This led to several drawn out, non-confrontational games where both players had to be very patient. While the vast majority of the games were relatively stale, I benefitted from avoiding the main lines of the King’s Indian and the Grunfeld, both of which have several branches and are studied extremely carefully by players who play these systems.

I decided it was time for me to change my openings to truly fit my style and bring out the best of myself. I began to look at e4 e5 openings for both sides. This was my first time attempting to use openings to my advantage instead of trying to limit the disadvantage of my lack of theory. Not only was I abandoning 1. d4, but I was also ridding myself of the French defense that I had played for about seven years. I immediately appreciated the combative nature of the positions and realized that e4 e5 lines suited my style very well, combining positional fundamentals with various tactical possibilities.

The precision of chess enabled by the numerous engines including Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish have contributed to a high proportion of draws. Thus, creating winning opportunities requires a more thorough approach to theory with premeditated manipulations of the subtle details in any type of position. The deliberate style from my old openings is not suitable for the modern era of chess, especially if I want to exploit my opportunities with the white pieces to seize the initiative in the opening.

Coming Home

If you’re following me on any social media or have interacted with me in any way in the last year or so (and actually based on the topics I have been covering recently), you probably know that due to college and some personal things, chess has been sitting in the backseat for about the last year of my life. I’m happy to say that I will be jumping – maybe stupidly diving is a better term – back into my chess career during the upcoming World Open.

So I’m an extremely superstitious player. And for some reason my past performances at World Open have been half the tournaments great and the other half is trash. But that was back when I still competed relatively consistently. Right now, all I really want is to not blunder away any games through piece drops.

My friend and fellow writer Vanessa Sun recently asked me why I haven’t been focusing more on chess, was it because of different priorities? Or just being busy overall? I would say that it was a combination of believing that I should be prioritizing school and the lack of a real chess community around where my college is. The closest chess hub to my school is probably in Philadelphia – still about a forty minute train ride away. There is also the small issue of how there is no chess club at my school yet (something I plan on changing this coming year since I have grasped how to take care of myself better in college now). Without a chess club or community around you, there is no one to play with, no one to have weird debates with about tactics.

Sure, there are always those amazingly supportive friends that want to challenge you or ask you to teach them, but it is still different with having fellow tournament players nearby. While our team wasn’t amazing, just having a chess team in high school really helped to spur my continued passion and participation in the game as my schedule grew busier and busier. As I catch up with those friends, I hope to also be re-discovering my love and drive to improve myself, step by step, as I try, as well as I can by myself, to relearn how to study and figure out what I personally need to finally get myself to master.

Endgame Swindles

In my past two tournaments, I confess that I got lucky in a couple games. Big time…

In the past, I’d gotten ridiculously fortunate in some games. This endgame is probably my most insane swindle ever:

Abdi, Farzad (2254) – Brodsky, David (2305) Eastern Class Championship 2015


White to play

As black, I had the infamous f-pawn. The problem, however, was that it was still on f3. If it were on f2, it would be a draw.

In the textbooks, against the pawn on f3, white wins by giving checks, eventually forcing the black king in front of the pawn, bringing his own king closer to the pawn, and so on until white can win the pawn or give mate.

However, white has only one winning move here, 68.Qa6+!. There white performs the process described above. Had he played it, I would have resigned in a few moves. Instead, my opponent gave another seemingly fine check, 68.Qa1+??.

Where’s the catch? Try to find it.

I went 68… Kg2 69.Qg7+ Kf1!. Incredibly, white has no other checks besides Qa1+ and Qg7+. He cannot force the black king to f2! It is a draw!

Does this qualify as a swindle? I admit I went for this endgame a) because I had nothing better and b) as an excuse not to resign immediately. I guess it was sort of a swindle, as I doubt my opponent thought there was only one winning move. Especially considering that he had a queen, everything should be winning, right?

That game was played over 2 years ago (time flies!), and since then, none of my swindles has come anywhere near that one. It’s really, really, really rare that something like this happens. But if you keep trying, fortune will smile at you eventually.

Luck aside, it’s your job to try and trick your opponent in positions where you are pressing but don’t have enough to objectively win. You can’t count on them making mistakes out of the blue, but you can give them an opportunity or two to make those mistakes. As they say, in chess, you make your own luck.

In endgames, chances are both you and your opponent are getting low on time and tired, mistakes will start creeping into your play, and your calculation start getting faulty… In my humble opinion, the endgame is as good a phase of the game as any to swindle your opponent.

Still, how to do it? I have three pieces of advice:

  • come up with innovative ideas (that have a chance of working)
  • lay (realistic) traps
  • keep trying

Did I mention keep trying? By that, I don’t mean play king + rook vs. king + rook for 50 moves hoping your opponent generously blunders his rook or gets mated. No! I mean keep trying realistic winning attempts. If you throw enough of them at your opponent’s head, he may eventually crack.

The question is how to best combine the three. The traps shouldn’t be that obvious. There is a reason why they are called traps. Still, there are only so many non-obvious traps in the position… In the following two games, those were the kinds of questions I had to answer.

Let’s first start with my round 2 game from the Cherry Blossom Classic:

Brodsky, David (2485) – Fellman, Mike (2201)


White to play

Earlier in the game, I had expected to get more out of my position, but somehow it didn’t materialize. The position’s big trump is my b-pawn, which is fairly advanced. I can go 64.Rh8, harassing the black bishop. However, black will most likely go 64… Rg3+ 65. Kh2 Bxb6 66.Bxb6 Rxf3 67.Rxh4


Black to play

This is of course a draw, but holding rook + bishop vs. rook is not an easy task, as practice has shown. However, black has an extra pawn, and it is strong and centralized. Will I be able to even win that e-pawn? Unlikely. That did not seem promising.

How to proceed? Go for that endgame and hope it’ll work out? Honestly, I felt that I should try something else to see if it worked before trying that option.

I went 64.Kh2 Rb7 65.Kh1!?. My idea was to get out of Rg3+ if my opponent went back with 65… Rg7 which is what happened. It was not necessary for him to go back, and probably another rook move like 65… Rf7 would have made his life easier. I now went 66.Rh8!.


Black to play

Now black has to decide how to react. 66… Bf6 might lead to trouble after 67.Rc8 followed by Rc7. Probably the best thing to do is to bail out with 66… Bxb6! 67.Bxb6 Rf7 68.Kg2 e4 69.fxe4 (69.Rh5+ Kc6! attacking the bishop is a key resource. It’s understandable to miss it in the heat of the battle.) 69… Kxe4 70.Rxh4+ after which we get rook + bishop vs. rook, without any pawn for black. Compared with the position I could have gotten had I played 64.Rh8, this is an improvement! Winning rook and bishop vs. rook would be another story, but at least white realistically has serious winning chances there.

Instead, my opponent made the losing mistake with 66… Rd7?. After 67.b7!, black has to give up his bishop for the pawn, and he can’t get the white f-pawn off the board. I won the game a few moves later.

Just like that, in three moves, I turned a seemingly nothing position into a winning one! What’s the moral of the story? My best interpretation is that ideas like Kh3-h2-h1, which at first glance look ridiculous, can actually be good.

Last weekend, I had another endgame where I swindled my opponent in a similarly drawn endgame. But first a warning: this endgame was a lot more complicated than the previous one. The game itself was unusual and interesting, and I’ve decided to analyze this one starting right after the time control, where I had to make decisions how best to make my opponent’s life miserable.

Brodsky, David (2477) – Subervi, Jonathan (2249) Northeast Open 2017


Black to play

I had been better for most of the game, but a careless move had blown it all away. White is temporarily a pawn up, but black will win it back after he takes the c6-pawn. With my last move, 40.Nd2-f3, I reached the time control, attacked his bishop, and realized I had absolutely nothing if my opponent played 40… Bxc3 41.Nxg5 e5!. It will be equal material once black takes the pawn, and I’ve got to be careful about black’s passed b-pawn.

Instead, my opponent, who was in time trouble, played 40… Bf4?. Now, I had some time to decide what to do next. If you want, take a think and see what you can come up with for white.

The critical move was 41.Nd4, as it leads to a pawn endgame after the moves 41… e5 42.Ne6+ Kxc6 43.Nxf4 gxf4. Then, it turns into a race after 44.Kf3 (or Kh3) Kc5 45.Kg4 Kc4 46.Kf5 Kxc3 47.Kxe5 b5 48.Kxf4 b4 49.e5 b3 50.e6 b2 51.e7 b1Q 52.e8Q


Black to play

I saw this position in my calculations, and I thought I should have good winning chances, as black can’t check me with 52… Qc1+? because of 53.Qe3+, forcing a queen trade into a winning pawn endgame. Tablebases confirm my suspicions by telling me that this position is mate in 67 (!). Of course, I had no way of knowing that, but during the game, this looked like a decent winning attempt to me.

Then, it was time to see if black has any alternatives in that variation, and that’s how I found the move which troubled me. On move 48, instead of paying 48… b4, black should go 48… Kd4! 49.e5 Kd5 50.Kf5 b4 51.e6 b3 52.e7 b2 53.e8Q b1Q+.


White to play

Ironically, black queens last in this version, but he does so with check. His king is a lot better positioned in this version, meaning that it a) won’t get in the way of black’s checks and b) could help stop the f-pawn in some variations, even making some pawn endgames a possibility. I was not confident that I would win this position, and tablebases do confirm that this position is a draw.

Time to backtrack. Is it a good idea to go down that forcing path with 41.Nd4? I don’t have any real way to get out of those lines. If my opponent finds the move 48… Kd4!, will I have anything?

Therefore, I decided to go for another option, 41.Kh3, where I didn’t see a totally forced draw for black. The game went 41… Kxc6 42.Kg4 Kd6 43.Nxg5 Bd2

White is a pawn up, but black will win the c-pawn in exchange for the e6-pawn. That appears to be promising, but the black b-pawn runs fast and cannot be easily stopped by the white knight. Still, it’s the best I have.

I decided to go for fancy tricks with 44.e5+!?. 44.c4 would have led to something similar. The game went 44… Kd5 45.c4+ Kxc4 46.Nxe6. This leads to the kind of position described above. The turned into a pawn race after 46… b5 47.Nc7 b4 48.e6 b3 49.e7 b2 50.e8Q (50.Nb5!? is one of those study-like moves that could work in some positions and you should be on the lookout for, but I didn’t think it would be effective after 50… Bb4) b1Q


White to play

From afar, I had thought that because I queen first, I should be able to get something against the black king. Plus, the queen and knight are a tricky combo and are good at creating mating threats. However, that isn’t the case. The deeper I looked, the more I realized that I have no forced win or anything.

How to proceed? Well first of all, if I wanted to win this one, I’d need to hide my king from perpetual checks. The black checks can come from everywhere, but the ones on the b1-h7 diagonal are preventable. The tricky ones, however, are the ones that come on the first rank (Qg1+ and maybe Qd1+). Therefore, I decided to drive the black king to the first rank so that my king could hide. The game went 51.Qc6+ Kb3 52.Qb5+ Kc2 53.Qc4+ Kd1 54.Kf3 Qf5+ 55.Kg2 Qg5+ 56.Kf1 Qf5 57.Nd5


Black to play

My king is hidden from the checks, and my knight is coming closer towards the black king. The position is still objectively drawn, but there’s nothing forced.

Now, for laying traps. What are some of black’s most compelling moves? There is no obvious follow-up if 57… Qh3+ 58.Kg1. What else? How about 57… Qf3 threatening Qh1#? If 58.Kg1, black has 58… Qe2! and white’s coordination is getting disrupted.

My opponent, not seeing the trap, played that. Can you find the nasty surprise I had in store for my opponent?

I went 58.Ne3+! Bxe3 59.Qd3+. Black can’t move his bishop because it’s pinned, and after 59… Kc1 60.Qxe3+ I force a queen trade after which black can’t catch the white pawn. My opponent had to resign.

I do admit that last endgame was one heck of a ride! Still, it goes to show that chess is a hard game and that tricks and traps do work sometimes. However, laying those traps is the hardest part, but if you try, you may get lucky. Good luck with your future swindles!

Tough Tests, Tough Results

Last time I wrote here on Chess^Summit, I shamelessly compared chess to making pizza, and posed the 50 million dollar question: “Am I getting better?” After two consecutive games with Black against higher rated players, I have some answers – and more questions. Let’s get started!

Square One

Lost in thought Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

Earlier this month, I started training a player trying to make expert, and since I myself am only a few years removed from being at that level, much of the program I’ve designed for him consists of positions I’ve studied relatively recently. Rereading over all this old material has been entertaining, but it’s forced me to look at my own games more critically – am I following these positional fundamentals in my own games? Do I really ask myself the right questions when I calculate? If I had any indicator, my third round game at the Richard Abrams Memorial against my friend and 2300+ rated player Eigen Wang was probably not a good sign. Consider the following position:

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 23.21.31
Wang – Steincamp, position after 14. Bg5

My pieces aren’t exactly on the best squares, but my pawn structure gives me some chances for queenside counterplay, so objectively White should be no more than slightly better. Once this innocent-looking 14. Bg5 found its way on the board, I immediately started calculating the break 14…b4!?, after all, if I was going to make progress, it had to be on the queenside, right?

The problem with this approach was that it failed to ask the most simple question in chess, what is my opponent’s plan? While yes, my candidate move 14…b4!? is in the right spirit of the position, skipping to this step now proved to be how I reached a strategically lost position in just three moves! White has been itching to play the central thrust d3-d4 for the entire opening, and while he had chances earlier, improving his pieces first is never a wrong idea. Naturally I was aware of this idea, but I failed to look further for one more important detail:

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 23.34.00

If it were White’s turn right now, he would play 15. d4 which comes with tempo since the opening of the d-file would result in a simple tactic, removing the defender on f6 with the threat of taking the hanging bishop on d7. What should have registered in my calculation here was that if I do nothing about this, White’s next move comes with tempo! This is an extremely important detail when I start looking for candidate moves – in fact, there should really only be two: 14…h6 and 14…b4!?. So taking the mental shortcut made me reach a similar conclusion, but this next part explains why this lazy man approach to thinking is no good:

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 23.42.04
Wang – Steincamp, variation after 15…b4!?

As I started looking at 14…b4!?, it didn’t take long to realize that after 15. Nb1 the knight is headed to c4 via d2, targeting d6. As it turns out, this idea for White is actually not that strong, but from so far out, it’s not entirely obvious. Now if I had asked the right questions, I would compare the move to 14…h6 and play the move that I thought was the best of the two. But this temporary blindness I had imposed upon myself meant thinking I had time to prepare my own play, so I immediately faltered with 14…a4? and already after 15. d4 my position was extremely unpleasant. I would resign only nine moves later – usually its the one move in which we pay the least attention that proves to be the critical position.

This past week was the Three River Arts Festival in Pittsburgh

After having spent an entire week preparing and getting motivated for this game, it was pretty disappointing to make such a simple mistake. Admittedly, as I would discover in my next game, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well, and that hindered my ability to play relaxed, creative chess. I think since playing against higher rated players in Pittsburgh is fairly rare, it was really easy to raise my personal expectations. It’s a good thing that I’m taking these games seriously, but as I chase the National Master Title, I need to treat these games like I did against similarly rated opponents in Europe.

As I continue training my student, I’ll need to keep this in mind and see this an opportunity to work on my own play too!

Building Blocks: A Draw is a Draw

While I was in Europe, I identified a lot of new strengths in my game, namely, my ability to make more practical decisions. But I had some appalling over-the-board moments as well. Perhaps the most memorable was my round five draw in Reykjavik where at times it seemed like I was trying to lose a drawn rook and pawn ending. For those of you who missed it, I attached my video analysis of that endgame with IM Kostya Kavutskiy below.

Now it’d be easy to brush aside this performance as a one-off bad day, but the nice thing about theoretically drawn rook endings is that the theory never changes. Having learned my lesson here, how well could I remember this particular endgame? Turns out my fourth round game would be a pop quiz – and I’d be in serious time trouble!

The most dramatic game I’ve played so far this year! Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

In my fourth round game, I was paired with Black again, this time against National Master Kevin Carl. Though the game started as a drawish Queen’s Gambit Declined, my opponent ambitiously decided to grab the center, setting the narrative for the rest of the game. Being on the worse side of equal, I needed to play dynamically to change the nature of the game. Can you find the equalizing shot I found?

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 00.45.12
Carl – Steincamp, position after 18. Qe3

Even though I’m holding the center, White’s plan is simply to build pressure on the center, waiting for me to crack. The key resource he missed for me was 18… dxe4 because once White decided on 19. fxe4?!, my idea 19…Nd5! was in the cards, and the forced trade of knights on c3 meant that my position was no longer cramped. Of course, White should have recaptured on e4 with one of the knights, but resolving to an IQP position here doesn’t promise much since I will have an established outpost on d5.

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 00.51.36
Carl – Steincamp, position after 19…Nd5!=

Now that doesn’t mean that the rest of the game was simple. I still had to play against White’s massive pawn center, and my opponent had to be on the constant lookout for counterplay. The game was tense, and as it wore on, our clocks started to dictate the pace of the game. We reached this critical position in White missed a beautiful shot, but with only so much time on our clocks, how could he find such a move? I’d recommend taking some time trying to find this one. I actually found it over the board, but my evaluation of the final position turned out to be wrong – I was not holding!

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 00.54.01
Carl – Steincamp, position after 33…Kg6

I attached the answer a little later in the analysis, along with the solution to the next critical position. In the game, White played 34. Nxd5, and simplifications followed. White had pressure, and as it turned out, my pop quiz was now – how well did I know my theoretically drawn rook endings? Black to move and draw:

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 00.59.51
Carl – Steincamp, position after 41. Rb3?!

Remember that horrendous ending I played in Iceland? Turns out that one game just over 2800 miles away last April made a difference between a comfortable draw here and a painful loss. How well did you do across these three critical moments? 

After a tough four-hour dogfight, I was more than pleased with my result. White had his chances, but a draw was well-deserved by both sides.

Where to next?

IMG_1090 2
There’s never a bad time for tacos! Summer time is a great time to get to the kitchen!

As I’m learning from these weekly games, I’m also trying to get ready for the Columbus Open at the end of the month. In what will likely be one of my bigger events for the summer, I’m hoping to make progress towards the National Master title, while attempting to keep my recently boosted FIDE rating at the level it is now.

To get there, I’m going to continue the study regimen that I set up for myself in my last article. But first, I’ve got two tough games left in the Richard Abrams here in Pittsburgh. Sometimes its best to ease into these things one game at a time… Until next time!





Ten Tournaments to Follow/Play This Summer- A Pretty Obvious Selection by Vanessa

In order of occurrence, not personal preference.

1. Norway Chess: June 6-17

Obviously, you can’t play this tournament this summer. You can have a lot of fun watching it, though!

Altibox Norway Chess 2017 is nearly over, but has certainly featured a few cool surprises along the way that must be noted.

The fun event kicked off with a blitz tournament, won convincingly by Magnus Carlsen. He could not keep that level of success throughout the tournament, though.

With an impressive two wins, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian lead the tournament so far. This could change over the next few days, but as the leaders are one point ahead of their competitors, it may be difficult for GMs Karjakin, Kramnik, Giri, and So to catch up.

As for another surprise worth mentioning: there is no doubt that it is always widely spread news when someone beats the World Champ and GM Levon Aronian gets to boast about his win over World Champion Magnus Carlsen this tournament. Magnus has yet to beat someone- not a particularly strong showing on his part.

The finish should be quite exciting and as the players emerge from the rest day, they will hopefully bring more fighting chess! You can check out more information about the tourney on their official website and watch commentary on Chess24.

2. National Open: June 14-18

This is always one of the biggest chess festivals of the year. The $100,000 prize fund is always tempting, but what is most exciting is perhaps the numerous side events including simuls, lectures, book signings, and raffles, as well as cool prizes, such as The Freddie award, given to a U14 player who played the most exceptional game in the tournament.

Held in Las Vegas, a great location for adults, there is even a poker tournament to play as a side event. With eight sections, it is worth playing or at least watching the titled players face off in the open section. They will be broadcasting a few games on their website.

3. New York International: June 21-25

Last year, one of our writers, David Brodsky, earned his first IM norm at the event. This is a relatively small tournament compared to the others, but it is one to watch out for because there are usually IM or GM norms earned at it. Always with a strong turnout, the tournament is going into its 10th year.

The Marshall Chess Club, where it will be held, does not release the entry list for it, but I can let Chess^Summit readers in on a secret:

GM Yaro Zherebukh, who played at the U.S. Championships this year and is the current Marshall Chess Club Champion, will be vying for that first prize.

4. World Open: June 29-July 4

I feel like all American chess players play in the World Open at one point in their life. Of course I’m exaggerating, but it’s a tournament many players play in, partly because a lot of their friends play in it and partly because the prize pool is enormous. The first prize for the open section is a cool $20,000, so many titled players are drawn in. So far, GM Le Quang Liem is the top seed, but with such a strong field, anyone could win it.

For those of us who are non-GMs, the tournament is still fun and can yield great results. There are also a few side events around the tournament, such as a Women’s Championship, to get the fun started. Lectures by three different GMs are scheduled. I’ll be preparing for this tournament myself, so be sure to say hello to me if you recognize me! It will be my first time playing and reporting on the tournament for ChessBase.

5 & 6. U.S. Junior & U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships: July 7-18

As qualifiers for the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships are two significant tournaments for young chess players in the United States. The winner of each tournament has the honor of playing in the U.S. Champs. Last year, they were won by GM Jeffery Xiong and WIM Emily Nguyen.

The fields this year are as strong as ever, and I feel that GM Xiong is a favorite to win the U.S. Junior Championship again. After all, he won the World Junior Championship and is one of the top 15 players in the country.

Top seed Carissa Yip is my favorite to win the U.S. Girl’s Junior Championship (Sorry to all my other friends who are playing- I’m rooting for everybody nonetheless). Winning the tournament would qualify her for her third consecutive U.S. Women’s Championship. However, she has extremely tough opponents who will not let her wrest that coveted spot so easily.

7. Match of the Millennials: July 26-29

This is a newly introduced tournament supported by The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, the USCF, FIDE, and FIDE Trainers’ Commission. Four players U17, two players U14, and two girls U14 will make up a team and the American team will face off against a team of young players from around the world. Although there is not too much information about this tournament, a press release can still be found on ChessBase. Despite the lack of news, the coming-together of these five organizations is sure to bring an exciting tournament. The American players are definitely the future of American chess and the players from all over the world can prove their worth against them. The kids playing in this tournament are the children to watch for years to come.

8. Sinquefield Cup: July 31-August 12

Not much explanation is needed for this event, as it has consistently been one of the greatest tournaments to watch every year (but you can find more information on their official website anyway). 

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *
I figure anyone can win it, as it has been a different winner every year (2013: Fabiano Caruana, 2014: Magnus Carlsen, 2015: Levon Aronian, 2016: Wesley So). However, I hope there is a fresh, new winner this year to make it more exciting. The field is always a bit different, so there are always new possibilities!

9. St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: August 13-19

This one is super special to watch out for due to a couple of reasons: Isaac will be reporting from this event and it is new to the Grand Chess Tour! I apologize for leaving out the Paris and Leuven legs of the Grand Chess Tour, but because I could only choose 10 events for a Top 10 list, I wanted to go with a new tournament.

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *

 I am hoping for some diversity in the new field, as the Grand Chess Tour decided to add more wildcards into their tour. It remains to be seen if their wildcards could possibly win it all!

For more information, see their official website.

10. U.S. Masters Chess Championship/North Carolina Open: August 23-27

Many GMs like to play in the U.S. Masters tournament held in North Carolina. The likes of GMs Sam Sevian, Niclas Huschenbeth, and Ruifeng Li will be playing, and I am sure many more grandmasters will register as the tournament draws closer. Norms can be earned and for this championship, titles are even required. Five games will be broadcasted every round, with a special $150 sponsorship enabling the organizers to add more boards.

The North Carolina Open and North Carolina Open Scholastic Section also happen in conjunction with the U.S. Masters, drawing in many lower rated players. The open section is FIDE rated, which is good for the players who may not want to play in the much stronger U.S. Masters field. With four sections and lower class prizes in each section (ex: U1400 section has U1200 prizes), there are even more prizes to win. The top two boards will also have their games broadcasted.

What tournaments are you playing in this summer/following?

A Game of Chance

On paper, if a player is paired against a significantly higher rated player, he or she is supposed to lose.  That is how the rating system is supposed to work.  However, we also know that upsets occur all the time when the higher rated player fails to win.  So, if they’re not supposed to occur, then why do they?  More specifically, how are upsets created?

While not always the case, the higher rated player is typically a better positional player than the lower rated counterpart.  Therefore, it is justified to assume that if two players are locked in a positional effort, the higher rated player will come out on top the majority of the time.  This leaves the flip side of the coin, a tactical game – when it comes to a tactical game, it comes down to which player is better at tactics and calculation rather than who is higher rated.  In general, it is easier to gain an advantage against a higher rated player through tactical means than it is through positional means.

We’ll investigate a case in point here with a game between a high 2300-rated IM and super-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.


Figure 1: Samsonkin-Nakamura, Position after 16. … e5


The knight is attacked, so it has to move; the question is, where?  White has three safe retreat squares, but none of them are appetizing since Black will continue with Nf6 and d5, which will seriously question White’s control of the center.  In addition, White would not have a concrete plan, which comes as a consequence of losing presence in the center.  Thus, White takes a chance with a tactical sacrifice, justifying the decision with the knowledge that he will probably lose if he plays passively.  Let’s see how that decision held up.

17. Ne6!

A good practical decision, forcing Black on the defensive.

17. fxe6

Forced.  If 17. … Qb8, 18. Nxg7+ followed by Nh5 leaves White with a clear advantage.

18. Qh5+

The correct follow-up.  Once again, playing forcing moves makes it exponentially easier to calculate variations.


Figure 2: Samsonkin-Nakamura, Position after 18. Qh5+

18. … g6   

If 18. … Kf8?? 19. fxe6+ and mate comes next move.

19. fxg6 Nf6 20. g7+

An important intermezzo that allows the queen to enter deep into Black’s position.


Figure 3: Samsonkin-Nakamura, Position after 20. g7+


20. … Kd7 21. Qf7 Qe8 22. gxh8/N!

An important detail that really proves this variation worthwhile for White.

22. … Qxh8 23. Ne2!


Figure 4: Samsonkin-Nakamura, Position after 23. Ne2!


After the recapture by the queen, White had to really think about how to continue the attack, and he delivers with this accurate move.  The knight move clears the c-file for the rook, which cuts off escape squares from the king and simultaneously threatens Rc7+.

23. … b5

This move actually protects against Rc7+.  The key point becomes clear after 24. Rc7+ Kxc7 25. Qxe7+ Nd7 26. Rc1+ Bc6 and the option of 27.  b5 is no longer available.

24. Bg5 Qg8 25. Rxf6 Qxg5 26. Qxe6+ Kd8 27. Rc7!

White keeps mounting the pressure and creates a dual mate threat.


Figure 5: Samsonkin-Nakamura, Position after 27. Rc7!


27. … Qe3+ 28. Kf1 Kxc7 29. Qxe7+ Kb6 30. Qxd6+ Ka7 31. Qc7 1-0


Figure 6: Samsonkin-Nakamura, Position after 31. Qc7!


The threat of Rxa6+ followed by mate is unstoppable and Black resigned.  This game was an example of when taking the risk with a tactical combination could pay off, especially against a higher rated player.  While this example was purely tactical, it should be noted that an early positional miscue by the opponent can also be exploited if played correctly.

As we have seen, timid/passive play against a higher rated player is not a good idea.  Although the game might last a long time, in the end, you will probably lose.  In contrast, playing actively and boldly is the best approach against a higher rated player if one wishes to have a chance at beating or drawing since many tactical combinations have the possibility of ending in a perpetual check as well.

Upsets happen quite regularly in tournaments, and it goes to show how hard it can be for top seeds to beat every lower rated player that they play.  Next time, we will investigate the opposite – how likely it is to beat lower rated players in a tournament.  That is, how likely it is for a high rated player to finish with a perfect or near-perfect score in a tournament when playing all lower rated players.  And, as always, thanks for reading!

Life After Master on the West Coast

Earning the National Master title in April has been one of the proudest achievements of my life, and certainly of my chess career. After notching several master-level (and better) performances to finish the job, there seemed to be little doubt that I was ready to see what lie beyond master. Alas, I soon had to deal with various life matters such as final projects and exams in school, visiting my family in Indiana, and preparing for my summer internship. Although I found time to stream a 49-game bullet match with Isaac during finals week, I haven’t been quite the force in the chess world as of late: my first tournament as NM (which included, among other things, losing to a 1900 despite winning a clean pawn on move 7) was one of my worst in recent times, and for the first time since starting college, I went a month (May) without playing a tournament. My most recent tournament (here in Seattle) was better, but it was clear that I wasn’t quite there mentally: everything seemed unusually complicated and unfamiliar, and I often found myself unwilling to make critical tough decisions.

Apparently, similar “post-master” syndromes are not uncommon. I wouldn’t say that dropping 40 points after becoming master is normal, but a dip in results after that milestone is not unheard of. After all, 1900-rated kids are no pushovers, and a 2200 rating is not that different from 2150, or even 2100. As FM Ethan Li wrote yesterday, the mental aspect of chess is undeniably important, and in many cases shows what makes master-level chess. So I still have a lot of work to do if I want to stay competitive among masters.

In last weekend’s tournament, I faced three rapidly improving but lower-rated kids in a G/90;+30 quad, scoring 2/3. In my first game against an 1853, against my usual instincts, I sacrificed a pawn for dynamic play. Although my technique was far from perfect, I eked out a fun win.

My second game against a 2021 was the main example of my lack of tenacity in recent times. My opponent erred early and allowed me to simplify into a positionally dominant endgame, but thinking it was nearly impossible for me to lose, I blocked up the position making it harder for me to break through, then straight-up blundered a pawn; I was fortunate not to lose.

My last game against a 1938 was a little too complex for me, as I was already tired from the long games. I’ll likely analyze this in more detail in a future post, but have provided the exciting game for viewing pleasure.

Probably one of the few pictures I can take in my building…

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that there is more to life than chess, and this summer, that means making the most of my time in the wonderful city of Seattle. Being from the Midwest, this is a pretty new experience that I have yet to figure out, but I’m looking forward to a lot of challenging work, meeting new faces, and exploring a lot of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, my photography skills are basically nonexistent and I have no hope of matching Isaac’s picture game, but I’ll do my best to keep chess^summit posted on my summer!


Downtown Seattle from my room

As far as my chess plans are concerned, I’ve committed to a “quality over quantity” approach to choosing tournaments as I look to get the most out of each event I play. The two major events I am eyeing this summer are the Seattle Seafair Open, a local event that regularly draws many strong masters, and the U.S. Masters Championship in Greensboro, NC – one of the country’s premier national events. Stay tuned for information about these tournaments and my preparation for them in the coming weeks!