What Counts as a Healthy Tournament Schedule?

Growing up around tournaments have always made me wonder – what counts as a healthy frequency for tournament play? If there were multiple tournaments within a single weekend… should you play both tournaments?

Up until tournaments began to interrupt my ability to complete all my schoolwork, I would compete in what tournaments I could almost every week. I was always completely fine with it as I enjoyed going to tournaments and thus taking breaks from academia. I always thought that such a schedule was normal but now that I look back, it seems almost crazy to be playing so often, especially as school curriculums become more and more difficult.

So what counts today as a healthy schedule for tournament play – especially for students? Per usual, this is dependent upon what the students themselves are like – but I still believe that there is a threshold that people can use to determine what’s best for their kids or for themselves. The most important thing in my opinion is that as long as you are still interested into playing the tournament by the end. The worst thing one can do to oneself or one’s kids is force them to continue playing when they are already having issues concentrating during their current games.

11 Crazy Things that happened to me in Europe this Summer: On and Off the Board

Having been inspired by the one and only Kostya Kavutskiy and his Best of US Chess of 2016 article,  I spent 2 months traveling through Europe this summer as a chess vagabond.

I’ve been so grateful to use chess as a vehicle for seeing new places, meeting new people, and experiencing new things.

Here are some of highlights of my summer trip that will hopefully inspire other readers to try the nomadic chess lifestyle:

I got obliterated by Shirov

Growing up, I had idolized Shirov. I’ve had a copy of Fire on the Board for as long as I can remember. When I got the opportunity to play him in a small rapid tournament in Latvia, I was eager to put up a tough fight.

Unfortunately, I did the complete opposite of putting up a tough fight. I totally collapsed in the opening. It was ugly. My position was resignable on move 11. To make things even more embarrassing, the whole catastrophe was caught on video:

I got crushed by Sveshnikov

Later in the same tournament, I got to play Evgeny Sveshnikov. I played d4 to avoid his Sveshnikov variation, but he beat me anyway.

I saw a flying polar bear

IMG_9804Prague, Czech Republic

My Czech friend Katerina Nemcova has always told me that Prague is a magical city. I didn’t realize it was this magical.

My two queens were not enough for Nabaty’s two rooks and bishop

Rosen-Nabaty after 65...Rf8+

As I stared at this position with less than 1 minute ticking down on my clock, I realized my doom. It’s not everyday you reach a position where your king and two queens are all under attack. Kudos to GM Tamir Nabaty for finishing me off in spectacular fashion.

Rosen-Nabaty
Photo by Pavel Kirs

Here’s the full masterpiece:

//www.chess.com/emboard?id=3572170

I let some fish snack on my feet

Prague, Czech Republic

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This so called “fish spa” is actually a popular thing in Prague.  These special breed of fish called Garra Rufa nibble away dead skin, leaving the feet feeling silky smooth. I paid about $35 for 20 minutes of nibbling. My feet were super smooth for the following several weeks!

I snacked on some fish

Teplice, Czech Republic

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When I ordered the trout, I was not expecting the entire trout (eyes, teeth, and bones included) to be sitting on my plate. I reluctantly consumed the meal, but I don’t think I’ll be ordering trout again anytime soon.

I executed a queen sacrifice leading to double checkmate.

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The heading should offer enough of a hint…Black to move!

Here’s the full game:

//www.chess.com/emboard?id=3572238

I defeated a WGM in 9 moves

I had the honor of playing WGM Jana Bellin who has won multiple British Women’s Championships and currently serves as the medical officer for FIDE. Unfortunately for her, she did have the best game and actually apologized afterwards for losing so quickly.
//www.chess.com/emboard?id=3572240

I flew through the mountains of Benasque, Spain

With a drone that is.

I defeated Magnus Carlsen’s former coach, Simen Agdestein.

The full game is well analyzed by FM Chris Chase in The Boston Globe.

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The day after defeating Agdestein, I discovered the following music video on YouTube…

 

I’m so glad I didn’t watch this video before I played Agdestein. It’s a difficult thing to unsee.

I witnessed someone become a GM

That someone is Andrey Kvon. He defeated GM Ivan Sokolov (with the Blumenfeld Gambit!) in the last round of the Xtracon Open in Helsingør, Denmark to secure his final GM norm. His rating going into the event? 2500 exactly. Here’s what becoming a grandmaster looks like: 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

//www.chess.com/emboard?id=3572266

Rook vs. 2 Minor Pieces

I would like to continue exploration of material imbalances. Last time we dove into queen vs. pieces. This time we will analyze rook vs. two minor pieces. Rook vs. two minor pieces is a more common imbalance than queen vs. pieces, and it seems like a natural follow-up to my last article. Even though this imbalance is more common, the ability to correctly evaluate these kind positions doesn’t come easily, or at least it hasn’t for me.

There’s a reason why we’re taught as beginners not to go Ng5 followed by Nxf7 in the Italian. The two pieces are generally better than a rook and a pawn, even though according to the material scale we are all taught, two pieces and a rook and a pawn are both worth 6 points. However, there are cases when the rook is better than the two pieces, say if the rook side has better placed pieces, has better coordination, has better pawn structure, etc.

However, there’s a common theme that in the endgame, if there is a lone rook on the board, then it can be better than the two pieces. However, if you add an extra pair of rooks on the board, then the side with the two pieces is usually in great shape.

I’ve played plenty of games with this material imbalance, but I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to November 2014. The fall of 2014 was a good period for me; I made the push from the upper 2200’s to 2300. Yet, I had two games, played eight days apart, where I totally botched up the rook vs. two minor pieces imbalance. In both games, I had the rook and overvalued my chances.

Episode #1: Ignorance is bliss!

Brodsky, David (2277 USCF) – Barsky, Sam (2130 USCF) Marshall U2300 November 2014

Barsky1

White to play

I just snagged a pawn via a little tactical trick. However, if 26.Bd2, black has very active pieces and has pretty good compensation, say after 26… Re2. Therefore, I decided to play 26.Bxg7 Rxg7 27.Nxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf5 Rd8 29.Raf1

Barsky2

Black to play

OK, I’d like to quote my notes I made back in 2014 just to show how ignorant I was.

“In the endgame, a rook is usually stronger than the two pieces. I thought that I should be on the verge of winning here.”

Er… ehm… [insert guttural noise] *tries not to choke*

First of all, the first sentence usually isn’t true if there is an extra pair of rooks on the board…

When I run my engine, its evaluation is… 0.00!? OK, had I gone 29.Rg5+, I would have been +0.3, but that’s not the point. This is totally not “on the verge of winning”. But why did I think I was near-winning? That is the question. Well, I think I overvalued my active rooks and thought that the black minor pieces weren’t well coordinated. Still, was that sufficient justification? No, it wasn’t.

If 29… Be7, black is completely fine. A key idea is that if 30.Rf7+ Kg8 31.R1f5, black can calmly go 31… Re8!, and white is in trouble (I think missing that was part of my misevaluation). Instead, my opponent played 29… Bf8? 30.Rf7+ Kg8 31.Rxb7

Barsky3

Black to play

Now white has snagged another pawn and actually is on the verge of winning. However, it’s not so clear even here how to win. White has 3 pawns, but it will take a while to push them through. Meanwhile, black can get active, as he did in the game.

I soon snagged a fourth pawn but let my opponent get very active. Eventually, we reached this position.

Barsky4

White to play

Not bad activity! For black that’s it. A prime example of what you want to achieve with 2 pieces and avoid if you have the rook. This was a no-nonsense situation, especially with my king in trouble. I should have gone 38.h4!. The point is that if 38… Ne2, white has a perpetual check with 39.Rb7+, as the black king can’t escape via g5 anymore. Instead, I played the totally irrelevant move 38.a4? and 38… Ne2! was a pretty rude wake up call. I either get mated or lose a rook. I chose the latter and eventually lost.

What’s the moral of the story? First of all, don’t underestimate the pieces! Don’t assume the rook is better in the endgame, especially if there is an extra pair of rooks on the board. Second of all, don’t be too materialistic! I made the terrible mistake of grabbing a pawn but letting my opponent get very active, and it cost me big time.

8 days later…

Episode #2: My $1,000 blunder

Yes, this was for real and yes, I did type the right number of 0’s.

Brodsky, David (2276 USCF) – Shen, Arthur (2434 USCF) National Chess Congress 2014

Shen1

White to play

Things had gone great for me, and I was just winning here. White is a pawn up and has a beautiful knight on d5; black’s king isn’t safe, and his pieces aren’t doing a great job… basically, white has the pawn AND the compensation.

However, there isn’t an immediate knockout punch. Still, had I done something reasonable like 26.Rf3, thinking of doubling up on the f-file and contemplating going Rc3, I would have been winning (+3 according to the engine). Black is near-paralyzed, and white can improve his position. Instead, I got carried away…

I went 26.Nf4 Re5 27.Ng6+?? hxg6 28.Bxe5 Nxe5 29.Qxb7

Shen2

Black to play

White has a rook and two pawns for two minor pieces. The queenside pawns are somewhat advanced, and black’s bishop isn’t the greatest. However, the knight on e5 is very powerful, and as the game shows, the pawns aren’t that powerful. In simple English, white is still better, though it is a far cry from the winning position he had in the previous diagram.

The game went 29… Qc8 30.Qxc8 Rxc8 31.b5 axb5 32.axb5 Rb8

Shen3

White to play

The b-pawn is far advanced. However, it won’t be queening any time soon. What to do? The best way to play is 33.Ra1! Kg8 34.Rfb1. With white’s a-rook well-placed, the position is unpleasant for black.

Instead, I blew what remained of my advantage with my next move 33.b6?. After 33… Kg8 34.Rb1 Nd7, I’m losing the b6-pawn. The position is about equal, though maybe white has slight pressure. I played 35.Rf3, and we agreed to a draw.

I’m not lying in the tile. It was the last round of the tournament, and had I won this game, I would have won $1,200. Instead, I won $200. My stupidity cost me $1,000 in prize money.

During the game a part of me knew that what I was doing was absurd. Yet I didn’t listen to it!

Is the rook really that bad?

So far I’ve portrayed the rook side of the argument quite negatively. Is that appropriate? Yes and no. The two pieces in general are more powerful than the rook and pawn. However, there are cases when the rook is better than the two pieces. For instance, I had a recent game at the Philadelphia Open, where I got this position.

Wang, Alex (2121 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2457 USCF) Philadelphia Open 2017

AlexWang1

White to play

It’s fairly clear that black is on top. He has a rook and two pawns for the two pieces, and there isn’t an extra pair of rooks on the board. Also, white has some loose pawns that need protection. Black may not be technically winning, but he has a big edge, and I went on to win the game.

The rook can be good. However, in my experience, the two pieces have usually been better than the rook. Of course it all depends on the situation, but if you don’t have a good reason why the rook is better, then the pieces should be on top.

Time Trouble: Tick Tock Goes the Chess Clock

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Grabbing a coffee at Biddle’s Escape

Today’s article is a case study on time management. Admittedly, this article won’t prove to be fairest comparison, but my goal is to show how consciously managing your time can make a difference in your games.

Since my last post, I’ve played two games at the Wild Card Open. In my second round, I wound up losing a close encounter with FM Gabriel Petesch, though as we will see in this post, had I managed my time better, I might have found myself getting my revenge from our previous match. In the next round, I managed to crack open the resilient defense of a lower rated player, thanks in large part to my active time management.

How can you actively manage your time? Learning how to do this takes lots of experience, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. What are the critical positions? Knowing when to stop and think is a good first step. If there are five or six good options in a position, it would be a mistake to spend more than five minutes on that move! Of course, some positions require more attention, and knowing when those moments occur is also critical.
  2. How much time are you spending in the opening? Unless you’ve been surprised out of the opening, it’s not advisable to spend more than ten minutes in the opening, especially if there is no second time control.  Learning your opening repertoire well isn’t just supposed to give you a good position, but it has the secondary intention of not wasting time in the opening. Critical positions happen later, save it for then!
  3. Endgames require proper analysis. Endgames are delicate creatures, as poor technique can spoil an entire game’s work. Your goal should be to have at least thirty minutes on the clock once you reach move 30. If you can do this, you should have enough time to complete the game!
  4. Make smart decisions! If you have the static advantage, don’t waste time calculating risky ideas, look for ways to improve your position.
IMG_2807
Thinking…

For those of you who have trouble managing your time, following these tips can already improve your results. After all, it’s better to make a small inaccuracy with lots of time left than make a blunder with just a few seconds left.

When I was growing up, there weren’t many exercises focused on time management. In fact, the only tip I can remember before I broke 1700 was to continuously work on tactics. To an extent, this is true. Working on tactics does help you calculate faster and recognize patterns, but as I’m sure you already know, during a practical game there is not a tactic on every move.

Do You Crack Under Pressure?

So how can you work on time management off the board? Well, today you’re in luck! In today’s article, I’m going to share six positions from my loss to Gabe Petesch.

Your goal is to find the best move in all seven in under 50 minutes.  All of these positions occurred before move 30, and during the game, I spent about 70 minutes across all of these positions. On move 30, I had ten minutes left and proceeded to blow my nice edge I had worked so hard for – how nice would it be to have an extra 20 minutes?!

Just like a tournament game, it is your job to decide how much time to allocate for each move. Remember, in the spirit of the exercise, you should be doing these in sequential order – do you spend more time now for and hope for an easier game later? If you’ve got the time, I would recommend setting up a board and using a clock. If you’re pressed for time, I’ve got a link to the entire game below this exercise, but you would be missing out!

In each of the positions, it is White’s move!

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position after 10…c6
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position after 12…Qb6
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position after 14…Qc7
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position after 18…Nd7
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position after 19…b6
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position after 20…a5
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position after 23…Ne4

Tough test? Just remember that every minute you spent beyond the limit, you have even less time for what proved to still be a complex game after move thirty. On top of that, we haven’t even begun to discuss what the various psychological effects that come with playing someone nearly 2400 strength can do to your clock are – but let’s stay focused on the over-the-board positions for now. If you’re ready, let’s see how you did, and where you possibly lost time.

Processing Results

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Studying at Carnegie Mellon’s Collaborative Commons. Who knew having an extra monitor could be so nice?

Around this time last year, I learned that my opening repertoire was strategically unsound, and now I’m learning that my time management could be better. Of course time management isn’t an over night fix, but I do have the chess knowledge to apply the points from above. I guess what I’m trying to say is that time management is not the worst problem to have, and it is no reason to be discouraged.

In my next game, I played a much weaker player, but just like my first round opponent, found a lot of defensive resources to hold on. I could have tried to calculate a lot of subtleties out of the opening, but instead I just focused on making natural moves and had 46 minutes left on move 30! What a turnaround! This proved to be the advantage that tipped the scales – even though I was better for much of the game, my opponent collapsed on move 45 with less than a minute left, where I still had 20 to spare.

IMG_1476
Watching the Sinquefield Cup with some homemade ramen.

This wasn’t my best game ever, nor was my opponent of a similar strength, but what this did show me was how familiarity with a pawn structure can go a long ways towards ensuring active time management. My opponent opted for a tame London System, and once we reached the Carlsbad pawn structure, where I simply knew more than my opponent. By move 14, I had the better position, and then proceeded to manuever until White fell apart.

As I began the article, to compare these two games as equals would be unfair. My loss to Gabe was clearly more complicated, and had a lot more pitfalls when it comes to active time management. Sure. However, what my win does show is how time management can be used as a way to win games! Actively managing your clock takes practice, but constantly finding places to improve in your own games means getting better results.

Upcoming Chess Adventures

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The last time I was in Cleveland, I earned the Candidate Master Title, and got recognized by US Chess for my second round win!

I have got a fun end to the summer planned out, and its all about chess! Beyond the last two rounds of the Wild Card Open, the Cleveland Open starts next weekend with my second trip to Ohio this summer! I seem to have a pretty good record in the Buckeye State, so I’m hoping for a strong performance to finish the summer.

Just days after returning to Pittsburgh, I’ll be off to St. Louis to catch the conclusion of the Rapid and Blitz, in which Garry Kasparov will make his return to competitive chess. Even if it’s just a one time thing, I’m going to be pretty content knowing I was there for it! Do I think Kasparov can win? No. But then again, these are the tournaments that legends are made of, and Kasparov is certainly a legend needing no introduction.

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 09.14.30As the fall semester here at Pitt begins, I’ll be continuing my work towards the National Master title, but also preparing the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers for what should be an exciting 2018 PRO Chess League Season. In case you’ve missed it, we’ve already started selling shirts to get ready for the next campaign!

If you enjoy watching the Pawngrabbers and want to see an even stronger team next year, I highly encourage you to get some gear or make a donation on the site!

This summer is coming to an end pretty quickly, and its hard to believe I’m going to have to take classes again for the first time in nine months! That’s going to be rough… but until then: chess, chess, chess!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers T-Shirt Sale!

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 09.14.30Yinz got game? We’re pretty big Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers fans here at Chess^Summit and we’re thrilled to see the Black and Gold be one of the 24 returning teams for next season!

This is great news for Chess^Summit, as we will be streaming the Pawngrabbers’ matches live each week, and featuring some of Pittsburgh’s best players here on the site.

Yesterday, the Pawngrabbers announced a T-shirt sale to help gear up for the 2018 PRO Chess League Season, and if you’re a hardcore Pittsburgh fan like us, you’ll make sure to grab this limited edition shirt before the sale ends! The Pawngrabbers are in the market for a strong free agent, and are hoping to use the proceeds from this sale to sign a top flight Grandmaster to play alongside World Chess Hall of Famer Alexander Shabalov!

Shabalov Name Card
Who is going to play alongside Shabalov next season?

This is your chance! If you want to be a part of the Pittsburgh team, get a shirt! I’ve already snagged mine and I’m pretty excited to wear it next season!

Taking the King for a Walk

In the midst of an otherwise rough tournament, I was at least able to check an item off my chess bucket list (I get the feeling that it’s something that a lot of people would like to do occasionally, or at least once, for their personal story). Wise? Perhaps not (see explanation below), but enough to get me the win in that game, and memorable enough. Enjoy!

 

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Li – Oliver, Seattle Seafair Open 2017

With more central space and active pieces aimed at Black’s kingside, White has a quite safe and sizable advantage. Black, understandably attempts to spice things up.

10…d5 11. f3

11. c5 is also fine, but allows 11…Nc4 when it’s a bit annoying to avoid giving up the bishop pair, as moving the bishop away from e3 opens the door for …Nc6 and …Bf6 targeting d4.

11…Bh4+

It was only now that I realized that after 12. g3 allows 12…Bxf3. Interestingly enough, 13. O-O! is complicated, yet good for White after 13..Bxe2 14. Qxe2 when 14…dxc4 allows 15. Be4 threatening b7 and h4, and Black must also look out for Bxh6. This is probably something you’d want to see before playing 11. f3, or else…

12. Kd2?!

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With the center possibly to be opened with …dxc4, …c5 etc. what could possibly go wrong? In all seriousness, I figured Black would have to deal with his bishop on g4, and I would quickly develop the a1-rook and hide the king on the queenside. Instead of 12…Be6, which would have forced …Nc4, I was rewarded with:

12…Bh5? 13. Nf4

The automatic response, attacking d5 as well, because of 13…dxc4? 14. Bh7+.

13…Bg5!? 14. Nfxd5

Supposedly my “safe” option, as 14. Nxh5 is squashed by the surprising 14…Bxe3+ 15. Kxe3 and not 15…Qg5+ but 15…Qh4! threatening the deadly …Re8+. However, the game move was evidently not as safe as I imagined.

14…Bxe3+ 15. Kxe3

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Since I didn’t feel like this sequence was worth it if I had to give back the pawn, this seemed oddly logical. In reality, it will take White several moves to protect the d4-pawn with anything else, so even 15…Nc6 poses some problems for White, as Black again threatens the ugly …Qh4, essentially forcing White to give back the pawn. Though there is still the option of:

15…Na6 16. a3?

16. Kf2 was likely the safest choice to get out of any danger right away, but I was worried about 16…Nxd5 17. cxd5 (17. Nxd5 c6) Nb4. After 16. a3 though, Black has simply 16…Re8+ 17. Kf2 (or 17. Kd2 Nxd5 18. cxd5 Qg5+ doesn’t look fun for White) 17…c6 forcing White to give back the pawn.

16…c5 17. dxc5?! Nxc5 18. b3?

Again, once I intended to keep the pawn, there was no going back, even if the computer considers this too dangerous. The familiar theme is 18…Qh4 (probably other options are good for Black as well), but after meekly trading on d3, Black’s opportunities fizzled out.

18…Nxd3? 19. Qxd3 Bg6 20. Qd4 Nxd5 21. Nxd5 Re8+ 22. Kf2

With White’s active queen and king relatively safe, it was hard for Black to create any problems after this. Despite some far from perfect play from both sides, I ended up winning in the end, and had survived trying to hold onto a pawn with a king on e3.

An Instructive Showcase

The perennial Potomac Open was held from July 29-31 in Rockville, MD.  Finally having a weekend free after a summer filled with school-related course work and activities, I decided to play in what would have only been my second full-length tournament of the summer, the first being the Continental Class Championships soon after school let out.  Apart from tournaments, most of my chess was delegated to playing in league matches every few weeks.

To be truthful, my recent play of late has not been up to par.  Ever since peaking my rating at 2207, I have, for the most part, only been dropping points; my current rating before this tournament was all the way down to 2150.  Since this was my first tournament in a while and I had a week to prepare, I was hoping that this would be my turnaround performance.  Of course, such things don’t just come to you; you have to work for it.  So, naturally, I tried to prepare as thoroughly as possible prior to this tournament.  I was also playing in the U2300, which was different than the typical U2200 sections one would see at most open tournaments.  While the difference wasn’t drastic, it certainly was enough to make the preparation stage not that straightforward.

In the first round, I was paired with someone I had never played before with a rating of 2012 as Black.  Halfway through the first time control, I was able to net a pawn through a complicated tactic, but it proved futile as the endgame that resulted did not offer any chances to win, especially with the clock ticking down.  In the second round, I was paired against another lower rated player, but one I had played a few times in the past.  As it turned out, I had not prepared the opening that this game went into as well as I had for the other games.  However, it didn’t seem to matter too much, but somewhere in the middlegame, my opponent found a positional exchange sacrifice that cemented an advantage, and she went on to win.  Starting the tournament with 0.5/2 was far from what I had wanted or imagined, for that matter.  However, it was what it was.  The only thing that I could do from that point on was to play out the rest of the games and try to win as many as possible in order to avoid tanking my rating even further.  In the third round, I was paired against a 2075-rated youngster as Black, and after what I believed was a well-played opening and middlegame, I was able to grind down my opponent.  After that confidence-lifting performance, I was able to back that up with another win against a 2100-rated young adult in a tactical game where I sacrificed a piece early with the king in the center.  With two straight wins, I had come back to a respectable 2.5/4, but I still had a game to play in the last round.  In the last round, I was paired against a 2079-rated adult who had played above his level and already had netted a few upsets.  That game ended in a draw in 19 moves after I found myself in a worse position and my opponent offered a draw, citing tiredness as the reason.  Finishing with 3/5 and getting back $50 from the entry fee, it was an “okay” performance in my mind.  Although I didn’t start the tournament as well as I hoped, I was able to salvage the rest of the tournament and kept my rating stable (part of this was because my second round opponent went on to upset two other higher rated players and increased 67 rating points).  Of all my games, I believe my third round game was the most instructive, regardless of the result.  So, I will be providing that game with notes for today’s article.  The other games may be showcased in some articles in the future if they become relevant.

Zheng, M – Kobla, V – Potomac Open, 2017

ZhengKobla
Position after 14. … Rfd8

The opening thus far was quite an interesting one, with White backing away from the typical main lines and going for a relatively awkward structure with the knight on f3 and a bishop on b2.  Black, meanwhile, has a standard structure with connected rooks and prepares a d6-d5 push to open the position as he is ahead in development.

  1. Nd5

White correctly decides to close the position by blocking the advance of Black’s d-pawn.

  1. … Bxd5 16. exd5 Nb8 17. c4 Re8

A key move, as the autopilot move 17. … Nbd7 would allow 18. Nd4! from White, since the bishop on e7 is now unprotected.

ZhengKobla2
Position if the side variation with Nbd7 and Nd4 had occurred
  1. Rad1 Nbd7 19. Nxe5!?

An interesting combination that forces the trade of a couple pieces, but it looks good only superficially.

ZhengKobla3
Position after 19. Nxe5
  1. … Nxe5

Not 19. … dxe5? which would give White the two uncontested bishops.

  1. Bxe5 dxe5 21. d6 Qb6 22. dxe7 Rxe7 23. Qc3 e4

The best way to defend the pawn.  This move increases the number of defenders on the pawn, limits the scope of the e1-Rook, and further constricts the mobility of the f1-bishop, which was already a bad bishop.

ZhengKobla4
Position after 23. … e4
  1. Re3

This move temporarily halts the forward progress of the e-pawn, but it also prevents the rook from being able to control the open d-file.  This makes the next move by Black fairly intuitive.

  1. … Rd8

Challenging White’s control of the d-file and forcing White to make a choice.  However, no choice is beneficial, as all will end up with Black having control of the only open file on the board.

  1. Rde1

White doubles rooks and temporarily pins the e4-pawn, which could open the door to a future f2-f3 push.  That isn’t a threat just yet, however, since White has to first negotiate the would-be pin on the g1-a7 diagonal.

  1. … Rde7

Swiftly sidestepping the pin and cementing control of the d-file.  Black is now firmly in the driver’s seat and it will remain that way for the rest of the game.

ZhengKobla5
Position after 25. … Rde7
  1. Rg3 Qd4 27. Qc1 Qd2 28. Qa1 Qd4 29. Qc1 Qd2 30. Qa1 Qf4

I repeated moves once in order to throw my opponent off psychologically, and it must have worked to some extent, as he offered a draw after blitzing out 30. Qa1.  I, of course, was going to play on.  On f4, the queen is perfectly stationed, hitting the f2-pawn while making way for the rooks to penetrate.

ZhengKobla6
Position after 30. … Qf4
  1. Rge3 Rd2 32. R3e2 Rd4

The move 32. … e3 was also an interesting try worth mentioning.

  1. g3 Qf5 34. Bg2 h5 35. Qb1 Re8

White has been able to unwind slightly, but not completely yet.  With Re8, Black sets a practical trap that White falls right into.

ZhengKobla7
Position after 35. … Re8
  1. f3

After having been on the defensive for many moves, White goes the only try for activity, but it also creates an immense weakness on g3, and that proves fatal.

  1. … Qg5 37. Kh2 h4 38. gxh4

This move seemingly nets a pawn, but it leaves White’s kingside in shambles.

  1. … Qf4+ 39. Kg1 e3

Creating a passed pawn and essentially imprisoning the f1-bishop, all at the cost of only a single pawn.

ZhengKobla8
Position after 39. … e3
  1. Qc1 Rd3 41. Rd1 Red8 42. Rde1 Re8 43. Rd1 Qd4

Again, I repeated moves once before diverting.

ZhengKobla9
Position after 43. … Qd4
  1. Rxd3 Qd3 45. Bf1

The bishop attempts to make some sort of threat against the queen, but if the rook moves from e2, Black will just continue on with e3-e2.  As a result, the rook is still stuck on e2 for now.

  1. .. Nh5

Now, the dark square weaknesses on the kingside become apparent, as White cannot stop the Black knight from entering.

  1. Qc2 Qd4 47. Qb2 Qb6

One last accurate move.  This move avoids the trade of queens but also prevents the only counterplay that White could have had with Rg2 and Be2 ideas.

ZhengKobla_10
Position after 47. … Qb6
  1. c5 Qxc5 49. Rc2 Qb6 50. Be2 Qg6+

Swinging to the other side of the board to deliver the final blow.

  1. Kh1 Nf4 0-1

The move threatens mate-in-one with Qg2, and coupled with the e-pawn screaming down the board, White resigned.

ZhengKobla_11
Position after 51. … Nf4

This, in the end, was probably my best game out of the entire tournament, and it came at the perfect time, as I was able to turn it around finished 2.5 out of the last 3 games.  This was also the most instructive game that I had, with many key points scattered throughout the entire game.  These included how to use open files, how to capitalize on weak squares, and prophylaxis, among others.  I hope that you will be able to use, or continue to use, these concepts in your future games.  And, as always, thanks for reading and see you next time!

 

 

What I Learned from a Weekend in Norfolk, Virginia

Much to my personal detriment, right after a subpar World Open, I decided to quit playing chess for a month. It was mostly due to my summer class, so I felt it was rather reasonable. Then, I decided to also opt out of playing the US Open, which I was planning to cover for ChessBase and the USCF Social media. Again I’m in a rut where I cover more events than I play- that’s the life of a chess journalist, I guess. However, I did learn a lot about the chess community while covering the scholastic tournaments around the US Open (The Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions, Dewain Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, and the National Girls Tournament of Champions) that I would not have noticed if I was focused on playing a tournament.

naomi.jpg
Naomi Bashkansky’s hair was braided by her mother | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#1: Chess parents are a LOT more dedicated than I always expect (a re-affirmation)

At the Denker/Barber/NGTOC, I saw everything from obsessive camera dads to moms braiding their kids’ hair, to parents bringing water bottles to the board. Perhaps this is obvious at every tournament, but much more so in this one.

After parents were asked to leave the tournament floor, I even took a video in which chess parents clearly crowded the ropes to watch their children start their game.

As a member of the press, I was given permission to photograph the players during gameplay. Several parents asked me if I could be so gracious as to take quality photographs of their children playing, as they were not allowed to do so.

Here’s to all the chess parents out there: thank you for being the financial providers of our chess adventures, the transportation, the people we rely on to feed us when our minds are elsewhere, and for hoarding chess photos of us!

justin and chris shen.jpg
Justin Wang v Christopher Shen| Ended in a draw & the boys are co-Barber Champions | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#2: Someone who plays on the top board every round can still have worse tiebreaks and miss out on the biggest prize money (TLDR: Tiebreaks are cruel)

I sympathize with Justin Wang, who tied for first in the Barber Tournament. I photographed him on the top board every round of the tournament, yet it was Christopher Shen who eventually clinched the $5,000 college scholarship. Even with a near perfect tournament, sometimes the tiebreaks are just cruel.

DSC08480.JPG

 

#3: Age does not matter (another reaffirmation)

Both the winners of the Barber and the NGTOC were much younger than the maximum possible age in their tournaments. Many players were older than them or just around the same rating. However, Rochelle Wu of Alabama triumphed at age 11. Some of her older competitors like Annie Wang and Veronika Zilajeva (who just returned from the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational) had relatively strong showings, but a younger competitor won out in the end. This may show a trend in stronger players at younger ages: after all, the SPFGI tournament also yielded a young, 12 year old winner, Nastassja Matus.

Christopher Shen, the winner of the Barber, is twelve- a few years younger than the maximum age for the Barber tournament.

DSC08216.JPG
Veronika Zilajeva v Rochelle Wu | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#4: More people watch these scholastic tournaments than you think!

Keep in mind these tournaments are not the Sinquefield Cup (which started just as the tournament ended) or the World Chess Championship. Maybe you think that only chess parents who are anxious about their kids’ results watch the games broadcasted. However, I realized how big a deal tournaments like these are when I took over the USCF Twitter. I had tweets from chess clubs supporting players, journalists asking me for pictures, and increasing involvement in my tweets. Hundreds of likes and retweets over the past few days showed both the importance of social media and keeping connected with tournaments, as well as the scholastic tournaments themselves! These kids help to bring a fresh, new, exciting view of chess as a sport to non-chess world folks and also remain as a huge staple in American chess culture.

praveen and bryce
2 of 4 Co-Champions of the Denker | Photo by Vanessa Sun

#5: I need to go to All Girls Nationals this coming year

After chatting with some NGTOC girls this weekend, I realized I’ve still been missing out on the chess community in a large way. Although I’ve made many friends over the past year or so of chess playing and reporting, I have missed out on making friends with other female players, which I feel is an essential part to every chess girl’s experience. The social aspect of chess is encouraging to females in a male dominated sport like chess. All girls tournaments seem to be a big aspect of chess that I have been missing out on and the NGTOC was the last straw: I made a vow to myself that I have to go to the All Girls Nationals this coming year because I haven’t felt like I gave myself enough opportunities to immerse myself in this aspect of chess.