Hi, I’m Xiao

Hello Chess^Summit fans!

My name is Xiao, and I’m glad you’re joining me on my first article with the team.

In this post, I’ll chat with you on my chess stories and how chess shaped me in many aspects outside of the game. Without further ado, let’s get started.

My Chess Beginnings

I learned chess in China when my mom brought home a chess board from work. And then I joined a chess club in kindergarten to get started in chess training.

My memories are fuzzy about the details of these chess days, but I do remember chess always brought more fun for me.

Losing in chess were not painful at all for me during this period.

One thing led to another, while in China, I joined a chess school, where my foundation was build.

I played in many tournaments in and out of my hometown Tianjin. Around third grade, I also worked with a chess trainer, who helped me further improve my chess fundamentals.

Losing now started to become annoying, but not much more than that.

Continuation of Chess in the U.S

In 2001, I came to U.S with my parents. And without much break, my parents found the Atlanta Chess Center after a month in Atlanta. My chess days in the U.S. started there. When you go thru my rating history, about 80% of my tournaments were played in the Atlanta Chess Center.

From 2001 to 2007, I played chess intensely, and really worked towards improving my game and rating.

2005 to 2006 were my highlight years, but for some reason, the painful lost games were always more memorable. I suppose this is human psychology at work.

I will talk about more about one of the painful games in my next post.

Going to College. Stopped Playing Chess

Before my senior year in high school, I decided to take a break from chess. Academics was a driver, my SAT was not good, and I haven’t taken any AP classes yet.

Another reason was my lack of tool set in terms of running the chess marathon. My psychology was reactive. I was chasing the destination instead of the journey.

The initial one year break, turned out to be over 7 years. I followed chess sparingly. However, my mind was unconsciously connecting the dots between chess emotions with everything outside of the game.

This period is when I started to think about psychology in and out of chess, and today it is still an interesting topic for me to pander.

My psychology to losing in anything become more robust. And I started to enjoy the process of running a marathon than crossing the finishing line.

Came Back to Teach Chess

I started working in 2014 and I learned the concept of side hustle during this time. I immediately found it enticing. Teaching chess was an easy choice, and it didn’t take long for me to get started.

When I teach chess classes, talking about chess concepts is certainly important, but I try to constantly relate to student’s chess emotions.

The vast amount of chess knowledge online has made information much easier to acquire. Simply type ‘chess’ in Google and you can get started.

However, building a strong emotional foundation in and out of chess is a more intense process. I’m still trying to figure out the route for myself, and I hope to share with the readers.

Chess^Summit Journey

I’ll write about chess analysis from time to time. But I’d want to talk more about chess psychology in my posts at Chess^Summit.

Welcome to my Chess^Summit journey, and I hope you had enjoyed the first run so far!

See you in the next post!

P.s: I’m always happy to chat on Twitter (simplerxiao). Say hi next time you’re there or to the Chess^Summit team.

 

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Pawns vs. minor piece

Here we go again! Material imbalances. The amount of articles about material imbalances seems never ending… don’t worry, there’s only a finite amount of material combinations to write about! Anyway, this time we’ll be taking a look at the pawns versus minor piece imbalance.

On the material scale a minor piece is worth 3 pawns, right? That is true, but don’t assume that three pawns are worth a minor piece! A couple of factors…

  • The number of pieces on the board – with the help of a few cronies, the minor piece can be a lot more effective than the three pawns. The more pieces, the better for the side with the piece.
  • The number of pawns on the board – the more pawns there are on the board means that there is a larger chance that the side with the piece will queen one in the endgame.

A simple example to illustrate point #2: say black has an extra piece and white has pawns on f2, g2, and h2 (original, I know)! If that’s it on the board, then white has all the winning chances, though it is objectively drawn. However, if you add some extra pawns on the queenside, far away from the white king, white is going to be in trouble, if he isn’t lost already.

Of course, other factors in the position should not be ignored, but those two are fairly logical rules that I’ll try to apply to the following three examples from my games.

A “normal” example

Jacobson, Brandon (2316 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2350 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2016

Let’s not go to any extremes early….

Brandon 1

This position is unusual. Black is temporarily a pawn up, but the pawn structure is plain bizarre. I could have gone 31… Qe8, but I didn’t like the prospect of dealing with white’s central pawn mass and my shaky g-pawn. However, my silicon friend says black is perfectly fine….

Instead, I went for another option by playing 31… Bxe5+!? 32.dxe5 Qxe5+ 33.Kh1 Rxf1+ 34.Qxf1 Qxe4+ 35.Kh2 b6

Brandon 2

Black temporarily has four pawns for the piece. The g7-pawn is going to fall next move, but the other three pawns are fairly secure. Black’s king will be safe hiding on a6, while white’s king is exposed and could be the victim of a perpetual. There aren’t enough pieces or pawns on the board for white to be better – the position is objectively equal.

The game went 36.Qf8+ Kb7 37.Qxg7+ Ka6 38.Qf6 Qc2+ 39.Kh3 Qf5+

Brandon 3

After the queen trade, white will win black’s remaining pawns on the queenside, but his king is too far away from the queenside. Black will make a draw by getting all the pawns off (he actually only needs to get the c-pawn off because the a-pawn is of the wrong color…). After 40.Kxh4 Qxf6 41.Bxf6 Kb5 42.Kg5 we agreed to a draw.

That part of the game was fairly typical. I sacrificed a piece to get three pawns and equality. However, not all games with this imbalance are typical…

A mess

Breckenridge, Steven (2399 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2300 USCF) UT Brownsville IM Norm Tournament 2015

Yes, this game was a mess. It’s in the databases, you can replay it here. My opponent sacrificed a piece for an attack, but nothing much came out of it. Queens were soon traded, and I had a piece for three pawns. It was a situation where I, with the piece, was on top. Things soon went haywire in time trouble, and after missing a couple wins, I reached this position.

Breckenridge 1

With my last two moves, I decided to bring my king into the game. However, I began to regret that after seeing the strength of the white bishops. Basically I didn’t want to get mated. Therefore, I played 38… Bb3? allowing a rook trade that favors white. Instead, I should have just gone 38… Ra2! where white has no mate (or any trace of mate for that matter). I needed to keep the rooks on, and had I done that, I would have been much better.

White should go 39.Bxa6 Bxd1 40.Bc4+ to get a tempo up version of the game (more about that later). Instead, my opponent played 39.Bc8+?. I should have gone 39… Ke5! 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4 Nd4!, stopping the b-pawn from advancing. Black retains a sizeable advantage there. Instead, I went 39… Kf6? 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4

Breckenridge 2

After reaching the time control, I realized that black doesn’t have much, because the white b-pawn is running fast and will tie up the black pieces. With the king on e5, I could go Nd4 here which would make for a totally different story. Later on, I declined two draw offers in a dead drawn position and tried playing for a win, getting myself in trouble in the process. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything serious, and we made a draw.

What’s the moral of the story? Passed pawns without any heavy pieces on can be annoying and hard to deal with! However, I can’t talk about annoying passed pawns without mentioning the next game.

An absurd situation

Gorti, Akshita (2315 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2430 USCF) Eastern Chess Congress 2016

In this game, I tried some “fake grinding” (aka trying to win an objectively equal/slightly worse position). Everything was within reasonable bounds of equality until I blundered an exchange. Oooooops…. However, I managed to get some noise going, and we reached this position

Akshita 1

White has four (!) connected passed pawns on the kingside, in exchange for a knight that is stuck on the other side of the board. I was really worried here…

Now, how should white win? Let’s first get one thing clear: all four passers will not go marching down the board side by side until the finish line. No, no, no! We’re being realistic here… a fast passer or two should do the job. Black’s hope to survive here is to make noise with the rook + knight combo. In light of that, white’s best move here is 47.Rf5!, giving up the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Rxe3+ 48.Kf6, white can push his g-pawn, and all noise is too late. White is just winning.

Instead, Akshita played 47.Kf4? protecting the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Nc1!, I got the noise I wanted. As crazy as it may seem, white may no longer be winning here! Akshita decided to give up the e3-pawn by playing 48.Rd5 Ne2+ 49.Kg5 Rxe3 50.h4

Akshita 2

The f3-pawn is obviously taboo on account of Rd2+, winning the knight. Now it’s time to bring my king back to civilization with 50… Kc3 and after 51.f4 I played 51… Re8!, harassing the white king. White’s best try is 52.Rd6, with the idea of blocking on g6. However, after 52… Ng3!, threatening a fork on e4, white should go 53.Rc6+ Kd4 54.f5 Ke5

Akshita 3

Black is now fine!

Instead, Akshita gave up yet another pawn with 52.h5 Rg8+ 53.Kh4 Nxf4. White doesn’t have enough to win, and we soon drew.

Conclusion

What’s the overall conclusion? First of all, the power of the pawns should not be underestimated in the endgame, especially with no rooks on the board. In light of that, the side with the piece should, in general, try to keep the remaining pawns on the board, and the side with the pawns should trade pawns – with caution, of course! Blindly following principles is never a good idea!

The pawns vs. minor piece imbalance is a fascinating one and isn’t easy to figure out. Anyway, I hope what I’ve said in this article makes sense, or that at least it’s made you think about it. Until next time!

Building a Strong Foundation

Like any other endeavor, success in chess begins with a solid understanding of its basics. There are many things to keep track of during a game such as weak squares, hanging pieces, or blocked minor pieces just to name a few. So how do we navigate this complex game and find success? My firm belief is we find more consistent victory and enjoyment by creating a strong understanding of the basics.

I was introduced to the game at the age of 5 or so by my father. Although I greatly enjoyed the game, there wasn’t much of a chess scene where I grew up around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Like many other kids my age, I soon replaced chess with video games and less academic interests. It wasn’t until much later that I returned to the game and with a passion I had never had for any other venture. Now 20 plus years older than when I moved my first pawn, I have learned how to learn and have developed a more mature way of thinking (although my wife may disagree). Essentially relearning chess at an older age has given me a unique perspective on the game and way of teaching the basics, a way that I believe to be simple and effective.

My goal in writing for Chess^Summit is simple: to share concepts and examples that anyone can digest and learn from. There is some “common knowledge” in chess that may not be available to beginners if they never had a coach or formal training. Indeed until I started working with a coach there were many, many basic principles I just didn’t know. While my articles may seem primarily aimed at a novice to intermediate level, there is always something to be rediscovered in studying the fundamentals of the game. Truly, masters of any discipline need to revisit the basics from time to time.

As a resident author at Chess^Summit, I will be sharing biweekly articles with you. In an effort to make the material as accessible as possible, I will keep most things as basic without going into too much theory. I think one of the great joys of the game is finding a topic you’re interested in and doing your own research leading to your own unique conclusions, discoveries, and “aha!” moments. As I am more of a visual learner myself, I will also share easy to understand diagrams and examples to reinforce ideas. I’m excited to share on this platform and look forward to discussing the game we love with you.

You can follow me or chat with me on Twitter @danschultzchess

 

 

Recent Game Analysis:  Back to the Basics

As promised last time around, today I will show a game that I played just last month which I believe was instructive in multiple ways, especially for a few fundamental basics that we may need reminders for from time to time.  I had the black pieces against a player of relatively equal strength in a DC Chess League game.  The game began with the main line Catalan.  You can use the provided game viewer below to follow the game, as all notes and comments are located within the game text.

 

Steele – Kobla, DCCL, 2017

 

Except for a few inaccuracies (like 20. … Nd3), it was a fairly well-played game from the Black side in my opinion.  There were definitely a few lessons that I was able to take away from this game, and hopefully, they can be of help to you, too:

  1. Every tempo counts

We saw how White lost a tempo in the opening with the maneuver Bc1-f4-d2, which allowed Black to equalize with relative ease.  It goes to show how one must be accurate and definitive in his or her plans in the opening, as mixing up variations and move orders rarely makes one’s job easier when all is said and done.

  1. Active pieces make a difference

With the help of some early pawn breaks like 12. … c5, Black’s pieces had active prospects early on in the middlegame.  This paved the way for moves like 15. … Qd3 and 24. … Rd4, among others.  Not coincidentally, these active moves played a significant role in the final outcome of the game.

  1. Tactics, tactics, tactics!

It may seem like this point is overstressed, but it’s for good reason – all material gains, combinations, and positional motifs are all a result of tactics when analyzed at the roots.  In this game, for example, the concept of throwing a wrench in White’s system with 15. … Qd3 was a tactic that helped Black gain a few tempi and control over the center of the board.  Later, the trade of light-squared bishops and the subsequent use of the queen to influence that diagonal was a tactic in its own right, leading to a pin and eventually a mating net.

Hopefully, the game was interesting to follow and that the concepts discussed afterward were helpful.  Even though the concepts were probably ones that we’ve all heard before, it doesn’t hurt to recap them every once in a while, as we sometimes lose focus on what the most important “rules” are.  And with that, good luck in your future games, and, as always, thanks for reading!

The Pressure in the Room: Return to the Pittsburgh Chess Club

As we left it, the Sorenson Memorial at the Pittsburgh Chess Club was in full swing. In the first round, the lower seeds put up resistance against their higher rated counterparts, but the favorites ultimately prevailed, setting up an intriguing second round.

IMG_1894
NM Nabil Feliachi taking on PCC regular Vassil Prokhov in the second round

Though there were still a few mismatches in the top bracket, all eyes were on the top board, as National Masters Franklin Chen and Kevin Carl clashed in the first all-2000+ matchup of the tournament.

Having competed in this format several times, I’ve always found the second round to be especially dangerous. Get a slightly worse position against the wrong opponent, and you might just find yourself starting at 1/2 with four rounds to go. That is an incredibly small margin of error if you’re hoping to win a prize!

IMG_1887
Kevin’s game captured the spotlight for the round!

While convenient, this tournament schedule can also be extremely unforgiving. Winning a tournament like this means playing consistently good chess for six consecutive weeks against the best players in Pittsburgh – not an easy task by any means! If you want to beat the best here, you really have to be the best. This of course is what makes chess in Pittsburgh so much fun!

Brilliancy of the Tournament

…and I’m not really kidding either. Things seemed to be headed Franklin’s way after the opening, but had a crucial miss when he essayed 21. fxg5?

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 22.38.08
Chen–Carl, position after 21. fxg5?

Just like in his first round game, Kevin found a way to rebound with the stunner, 21…Bxf3!!, offering his queen for an unstoppable attack. After 22. gxf6 Rg8-+, the game reached a quick end with mate on the board!

The Long Haul

While there was an abrupt end to the top board, there were still other players in the field  trying to reach the 2/2 mark. NM Nabil Feliachi improved to 2/2, and with half point byes Chip Kraft and Evan Park each improved to 1.5/2. That left Melih Özbek in the chase for a perfect score.

IMG_1876
Melih was the last player on the night to reach a perfect score of 2/2

Out of a Tarrasch, the opening didn’t seem to promise much until White erred with 16. h3?!, unknowingly weakening his own king.

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 23.10.13
Kostyak–Özbek, position after 16. h3?!

After 16… Ne5 17. Nxe5 Qxe5, White quickly came to the painful realization that 18. f4 is forced, as 18. g3? collapses to 18…d4!, opening up Black’s light-squared bishop to wreak havoc on the White king.

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 23.41.55
Kostyak–Özbek, position after 18. f4

Now, having moved so many squares in front of his king, White stood much worse, and Melih was able to use his bishops to ground out a nice win.

Familiar Faces

IMG_1950
PCC regular Yisrael Isaacson looking over his third round game

The Sorenson Memorial’s third round pairings proved to be extremely difficult for the field. Evan Park, back from his half point bye, had Black against his former coach Franklin Chen for their first ever tournament encounter. Tournament Titans Kevin Carl and Nabil Feliachi squared off on board 1, while further down the list, long time friends Finn Overlie and Jeffrey Schragin were paired for their 22nd contest.

In my opinion, the tournament narrative really develops here. Pittsburgh lays claim to a handful of experts (and stronger), but with so many local tournaments each year, rematches among the top players are the norm. Preparation can play an integral role at this stage – weak opening repertoire? Good luck moving beyond these match-ups.

IMG_1960.jpg
Paul Cantalupo and Melih Özbek catching up before the start of the round.

Clash of the Titans

Kevin and Nabil seemed to be on collision course when they entered the tournament, though to see the pairing with three rounds to spare was a bit of a surprise. Nabil was in cruise control until he erred with 28…Qxa3?, thinking he was winning material:

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 09.45.20.png
Carl–Feliachi, position after 28…Qxa3?

But imagine his surprise when after 29. Nxb5 Qc1+ 30. Nf1! +- keeping the full piece. As I mentioned before, chess is particularly cruel. Just a few moves before, Black had missed his chance when he played 24…Rac8 instead of 24…Qa4! winning on the spot.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 09.50.08
Carl–Feliachi, position after 23. Rb3

The rooks lack oxygen, and after 25. Rb1 Bxe2 26. Nxe2 Ne4 28. Rd3 Qc2! -+, Black is simply winning material and the game.

IMG_1957.jpg
Doesn’t matter how you get there, 3/3 is still 3/3!

Elsewhere, there were nearly upsets on every board. Chip Kraft won with Black against Melih, and Evan Park triumphed in his showdown on board 3. Even more surprising, was that 1800-2000 rated players only scored 50% against lower rated opposition. When trying to beat familiar opponents, you have to be willing take risks. But as this night showed, sometimes taking chances can backfire.

Onwards

IMG_1958
Student meets Coach

After a dramatic three rounds, only NM Kevin Carl holds a perfect score, but both youngster Evan Park and Chip Kraft are only a half point behind at 2.5/3 and should pose interesting challenges over the next three rounds.

With 1900+ rated players scoring anywhere from 1/3 to 3/3, I think the current standings are proof for the original claim I made in my first tournament report: Pittsburgh is one of the toughest places to play chess. 

As the tournament moves into the second half, I will be particularly interested in who can play the most consistently. In the race for first, the remaining three rounds is practically a single-elimination tournament.

IM Kostya Kavutskiy’s Positional Sacrifices Promo Code!

Remember Kostya? For those of you who are new to Chess^Summit, I got the chance to stay with the International Master in Iceland for last April’s edition of the Reykjavik Open during my European Tour. Kostya had the tournament of a lifetime, placing 6th in one of the most prestigious open tournaments in the world, and we also had a lot of fun putting together instructional round-by-round recaps of the tournament. Here’s one from the fourth round!

Having worked with Kostya in the past here on Chess^Summit, I’m really excited to share his Positional Sacrifices course from ChessUniversity with you all today!

When I think about landmark games in 2017, Kramnik-Harikrishna (Shamkir Chess) and Aronian-Carlsen (Norway Chess) immediately stick out. Why? The power of the positional sacrifice.

Kostya’s ChessUniversity course is really well put together and is a fun and friendly introduction to positional sacrifices. As a coach and chess writer, I think its especially valuable that Kostya finds top-level Grandmaster games from both past and present to help build your intuition on how to analyze positions. Make the most of the course, and I promise you will be a stronger player for it! Check out this clip from his 45-part series:

Luckily enough for you all, Kostya has given Chess^Summit readers a special deal on his course. Use the discount code: SUMMIT, and receive 20% off when you order his Positional Sacrifices series.

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Kostya and I at the Closing Ceremony in Reykjavik

As a current undergraduate student, finding time to study chess can be hard, but the ChessUniversity interface makes it easy for me to start right where I left off whenever I have the time between classes. So what are you waiting for? Punch in the discount code SUMMIT, save 20%, and get started on this high-quality course from IM Kostya Kavutskiy!

 

Blitz With Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson and I have different jobs. Every two weeks, I write an article in which I decide how many question marks to put next to my mistakes. Ben, on the other hand, interviews interesting personalities of the chess world in his Perpetual Chess Podcast. That may help to explain why, in the Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes, Ben got 9 points, and yours truly got a score of big fat zero. Really, I did.

Ben started the Perpetual Chess Podcast in December 2016, and it is getting more and more popular. I was interviewed in Episode 21. Ok, perhaps not all people he interviews are that interesting J. Since then, Ben has gone on to interview big chess personalities, such as Rex Sinquefield, Hikaru Nakamura, Judit Polgar, etc.

Now for my amazing World Cup predictions:

Winner: Carlsen

Runner-up: Nakamura

Best American: Nakamura

Best Russian: Grischuk

Best Chinese: Wei Yi

Most Draws: Nakamura

Most Wins: Carlsen

Top <2700 player: Rodshtein

Does Carlsen make top 4?: Yes

We won’t even start discussing where they went wrong… Ben, on the other hand, correctly predicted that Aronian would win!

I played my part in the sweepstakes by offering one of the prizes: a 30-minute blitz match, and Ben was the prize winner! What a wonderful coincidence. Ben’s rating is in the 2100’s, though he doesn’t play much these days. From his podcasts, however, Ben knows all the secrets of the top players…

I ended up winning 3-1, though it was eventful…

Game 1 was a quick win after Ben blundered a piece early on. Ok, I’ll take that!

In game 2, my position was looking good, but my clock wasn’t. I ended up flagging in a queen up position. Ben obviously forgot to read my article about when to resign. More about my revenge later…

Summary of game 3: 1.e4 a6!! 0-1… yes, I really did play 1.e4 a6 but no, the game wasn’t so smooth… I finally got the better of Ben. In the final position, where I was a queen up, Ben flagged, and not the other way around.

I got my revenge for the flagging incident in the final game, game 4. Ben hung a pawn on move 4. Good start! However, I managed to ruin my good position, and by move 40 I was busted in both departments: position and clock. Then a miracle happened. Out of the blue, I trapped Ben in a mating net! He couldn’t get out, and I managed not to flag this time around.