New Openings, New Struggles

Being in a low-stakes chess environment (for example, after becoming a master) is a good time to try out some new things. Unfortunately, I took this a little too far at the Pennsylvania State Action (G/30), where I lost to a slew of lower rated players in strange, unfamiliar openings, easily making it my worst tournament of the last few years. While it is not wrong to wade in uncharted waters, there is a wide range of unfamiliar that requires some reasonable judgment. All I can say is, when you find yourself in a close game against someone several hundred points lower, you only have yourself to blame for playing 1…a6.

A better idea is to start with smaller changes, which in my case (since I don’t study openings very heavily) means slight deviations in lines I otherwise play very often. Nevertheless, there are some difficulties to be expected along the way, like when I tried (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3) 3…a6 against rapidly improving 10-year old expert Evan Park. Although this looks like Black is just fooling around, this is in fact a useful waiting move, as White is tempted into the choices of:

  • 4. exd5 (a harmless Exchange Caro-Kann)
  • 4. e5 (an Advanced Caro-Kann where White has already committed to Nc3, making …c5 more attractive)
  • 4. Nf3 (what Evan played)

4. Nf3 was followed by 4…Bg4 and soon Be2, Bxf3, Nf6, e4-e5, etc. where Black has sort of a French Defense without the problematic light-squared bishop. Note that …a6 can be useful to Black in some lines (at worst it’s harmless since the position is relatively closed), unlike my try of 2…a6 against Isaac in a Sicilian. While I got a nice position for Black, I was unfamiliar with the plans and overlooked a tricky tactic around move 15, making the rest of the game a huge uphill task.

Games against lower-rated players are also good opportunities to try out new openings as long as they aren’t joke openings like I played a few times, but for example, some Open Sicilians I’m not so familiar with, like against a local 1609 in the first round of the ongoing Robert Smith Memorial. A much higher-rated player should still be able to outplay an opponent based on “normal” skill.

After my recent quick chess troubles, I was looking forward to start over at the Pennsylvania G/15. Unfortunately, things didn’t seem to be heading my way as Evan Park outplayed me from an equal ending in my favorite Classical Caro-Kann. A critical matchup developed in a crazy Round 6 against none other than Isaac to even our head-to-head record. Unfortunately, it just so happens sometimes that the most exciting games are the ones where you can’t keep score properly… but here is the game, to the best of my efforts!

With that victory and a final-round draw against NM Eigen Wang in Round 7, my score of 5.5/7 was good enough for 2nd place. While it’s not a particularly high-stakes victory (quick rating points and some pocket cash), it does give me a boost going into the end of 2017. Like Isaac, despite some rough patches, I very much look forward to finishing the year strongly!

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Don’t Get Discouraged!

Maybe I spoke too soon. After a triumphant performance at the Pennsylvania State Action, I collapsed just over a week later in the Pittsburgh Chess League when I made this faux pas:

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Naser–Steincamp, position after 43. f6

Thinking I could delay capturing on f6, I played 43…h4??, only fall prey to 44. f7! and the game ended shortly after, as the paralysis of my rooks made it impossible to stop White from queening. My stroll along euphoria lane had come to an end, as this game was easily one of the worst I’ve played in all of 2017. Luckily for me, my teammates bailed me out, and Pitt won by a final tally of 3-1.

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Watching Pitt at Heinz Field. This has not been the season to H2P…

So how to pick up the pieces from here? I had only 48 hours until my next rated game, and I needed to play well for my Pittsburgh Chess Club return. The next morning, I woke up, pulled myself out of bed and went for a four mile run through Oakland. I need to be fit again. After a quick shower, I pushed myself tactically. I need to be sharp again. After pushing past 2600 on chess.com’s tactics trainer, I was feeling good. Okay, I can do this.

To recover from an inexplicable loss, I just needed some perspective. These things happen – don’t freak out! Relax, focus, and identify what you can do to improve. My goals for the upcoming week? Simple:

  1. Sleep better. Well, if you’re a college student (or grad), you know how easy it is to stay up late and binge watch videos on Youtube and Netflix. This needed to change. I decided I would only stay up late to do schoolwork, but otherwise, I needed my sleep.
  2. Eat healthier. More veggies and fruits in my cooking. I guess I should’ve been listening to my mom all along…
  3. Work out more. Working out builds endurance, which means more energy for long chess games. Also, its a great way to destress, so there’s that too.
  4. Train smarter. This is the big one. My studying to this point was all over the place. I needed to direct my studies more effectively. A balance between calculation, opening studies, and looking over top level games – with a strong emphasis on calculation. This should keep me in form for a while.

Things are going to be fine! With my plan set, I was ready to play again. Which Isaac was going to show up?

Return to the Robert Smith Memorial

It’s fitting that my return to the Pittsburgh Chess Club was the very same as my first major tournament in Pittsburgh: the Robert Smith Memorial. In that edition of the tournament, I played for first in the final round against my soon-to-be trainer Franklin Chen and lost to score 4/6. As a result of that game, Franklin earned the National Master title, and I claimed my share of second place – my best finish to date at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.

Hoping to put together a strong opening night performance, I managed to weave a 16 move miniature with Black:

My opponent deviated with 16. Ba3 and resigned after 16…Nxa2 as the position proved too much. But what if 17. Bd2? … here’s where all that tactical training comes in!

Somewhat amusingly, this game still took over two and a half hours despite its brevity. I guess some combination of ambitious opening play from White and a higher than usual level of caution will do that! I felt pretty good about this game, but there are still five tough rounds ahead. With nine players rated over 2000 competing, a bloodbath seems quite likely. Back to training!

Back to Rapid: Endgame Success and Opening Blunders

The G/15 State Chess Championships proved to be a mixed bag of results for me. I had some good moments like this one:

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Gao–Steincamp, Black to Move

My main strategy for this tournament was to win in the endgame against lower rated players. I scored a perfect 3/3 when employing this strategy, and here I played 1…g5! (I was able to recreate this position from memory, so I don’t know the move number) making sure to stop f2-f4 so I can play a well-timed …c5-c4 to create a queenside passed pawn. With a passive position, White couldn’t do much, and I simplified down to a dream endgame for Black.

Other moments? Not so great… Take this position from my “clash” in the French with local National Master Nabil Feliachi:

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Steincamp–Feliachi, position after 11. Ke2
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Stuck in an opposite colored bishop endgame in the fifth round

Here I realized I had missed the incredible 11…Bb5!! almost immediately. Nabil missed this, but luckily for him, my position was so miserable that it was impossible to mount a serious comeback. Turns out that experimenting with 1 e4 in rapid with no theoretical knowledge is an easy way to lose with White… While this opening was particularly painful for me, I figured I might as well attach it so you all can learn from my awful mistake. Ouch – don’t do this in tournaments!

Ultimately, my tournament really came down to a rematch with Chess^Summit author Beilin Li. That round was insane – as all my games with Beilin are. In a tense, roughly equal but dynamic game we both found creative ways to steal the initiative which resulted in a pawn race with two extremely weak kings. In what felt like a coin-toss game, Beilin prevailed to tie up our non-blitz head-to-head record at 2.5 apiece. Luckily for Chess^Summit, Beilin recorded the game, so you’ll get your chance to relive our rapid game later this week!

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Is it that time of year? I guess there’s still Thanksgiving…

After the loss to Beilin, I won my last round with some minor piece endgame technique, and pushed my score to 4.5/7, which was enough to tie for 7th place. It’s kind of hard to know how to assess a performance like this. I got paired down a lot throughout the tournament, so if anything, it was just a great warm-up for my upcoming Robert Smith Memorial match-up.

It’s going to take a lot to overcome the jaw-dropping rating drop I had from my Pittsburgh Chess League slip-up last week. But I’m confident in my training and the work I’m doing towards my chess, and that’s all that matters. Sometimes the US Men’s National Team loses to Trinidad and Tobago, Appalachian State beats Michigan, and I lose to a significantly lower rated player. It’s part of sports. True strength is being able to get up the next day and pick yourself up. I’m ready to fight, and I’m ready to finish 2017 on a strong note.

Role of a Chess Coach

How to find a chess coach?

This is one of the most popular questions from chess parents.

The short answer:

A coach should provide

  1. Knowledge Transfer (KT) – Showing a new player from basic tactics (fork, pins, etc.) to advanced strategies (prophylactics, piece activity, etc.).
  2. Habit Transfer (HT) – Ask students what s/he does to study and improve in chess, then make further suggestions.
  3. Psychological Preparation – Help students to acquaint the ups and downs of winning and losing.

Now the longer version.

1) Knowledge Transfer (KT)

In the old days, this is a chess coach’s main job. But that has changed in our information-world today. What Bobby Fischer had to search in Soviet-language chess books can be found online in a couple of mouse clicks today.

If you want to learn Knight and Bishop checkmate 20 years ago, your coach will need to setup a specialized training session. Then you and other students will practice for half a day until it is mastered.

In today’s world, a five-years old student can open Google Chrome and type in Knight and Bishop mate and watch the video. Then launch Stockfish, play against the the engine for a few games, and practice until s/he becomes very confident.

Chess coach can still help for (KT), as there are 100s or more chess concepts. The coach’s role for KT is to point out specific focus based on each student’s need, so students are not drown into the sea of information.


Pure Knowledge Transfer is being commoditized. Technology such as AI may one day organize all the themes in chess. Hence, coaches need to provide value in two other aspects.

2) Habit Transfer (HT)

In most of our work-place or schools, we have heard of KT, however, rarely had I hear about HT.

I believe that needs to be changed. Google can provide 80%+ of KT today, but it is not ready (or at least not as competent) in telling you what you should work on yet.

HT is a quest for a student to become a life-long learner. And a coach is the ‘tour guide’ to provide encouragement, focus, and support to help the student build and maintain the desire to learn more in chess.

3) Psychology Preparation

Experience and feelings of playing chess. A coach has stories based on his/her experiences from playing chess.

Psychology preparation is  the furthest from being automated by a machine.

A coach will LISTEN to a student describe his/her feeling and thinking from a game or a tournament. Then discuss together and tell stories from previous experiences or encounters to help student build psychological muscles for chess.

I hope this helps. Feel free to provide comments, I’m always happy to have an informative discussion on this broad topic.


Happy Thanksgiving week to everyone in the U.S!

Puzzling through My Game

This time around I want to try something different.

I’ll give you a crazy game I played recently, against FM Matthew Larson, in the form of puzzles, and you try to solve them. Take it as some kind of test with no time limit and no restrictions – just no peeking. I ought to warn you in advance. First of all, these positions are not easy – both my opponent and I are guilty of messing many of these up. Don’t expect to find the answer by looking at the next diagram!!

Even answering only a few questions correctly is great – both my 2400+ opponent and I are guilty of messing some of these up…

Anyway, let the games begin!

Puzzle 1

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What should black do in this Benoniesque position?

Puzzle 2

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How should white exchange the DSBs?

Puzzle 3

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White’s initiative is brewing. How should black counter it?

Puzzle 4

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What is white’s best move?

Puzzle 5

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Again, how to counter that initiative?

Puzzle 6

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How best to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 7

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Again, how to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 8

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Black has two pieces, but there are coordination and king safety problems. How to solve them?

Puzzle 9

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The last move before the time control. What should black do?

Puzzle 10

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Should white play 49.h4?

Puzzle 11

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Black to play and win!

Puzzle 12

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Can white hold this?

Puzzle 13

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Black to play and win!

Now here’s the game starting from the first position… The game contained so many interesting moments, I couldn’t pass the opportunity. And there’s no way I’d be able to describe it in my “conventional” way of highlighting a couple critical moments when in reality there are 13!

If you got a feel for the middlegame position and solved numbers 3-5 correctly, kudos! If you solved puzzles 11-13 correctly and figured out this seemingly simple endgame, another kudos! And if you solved puzzle 7 (which is the hardest IMHO), more power to you! If you feel like it, let me know how you did on the test by replying to this post.

I hope you enjoyed it! Until next time…

Chess^Summit Merchandise on Sale Now!

2017 was a big year for us. Three years of free, instructional, and relatable Chess^Summit content. New authors from across the United States, and new adventures around the globe.

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Wow – we’ve come a long ways since 2014. In just over three years, Chess^Summit has been a resource for over 30,000 chess players and enthusiasts – that’s simply incredible.

In 2018, we’re hoping to do bigger and better things, which is why we’ve decided to start early by doing something we’ve never done before: offering you premium Chess^Summit merchandise. If you enjoy reading Chess^Summit articles or watching our Youtube videos, this is the best (and easiest!) way to show your support for the work our team does.

In our first ever sale, we’re offering shirts, sweaters, mugs, and even stickers to help raise funds for cool future projects right here on Chess^Summit. Even better? Ordering is easy! Click on the link below and order through TeeSpring where you can have your new favorite shirt shipped right to your door before the holidays!

Let’s ring in 2018 with some Chess^Summit pride!

Analyze This

Mikhail Botvinnik, legendary world champion and a pioneer of computer chess, once said “chess is the art of analysis.” Indeed, anyone who plays the game long enough will see that it is a sempiternal exercise in examination and re-examination. By examining one’s own games and those of other players and masters, you can begin to see patterns or discover better moves. Quality analysis and the ability to analyze are essential for any player to grow and become a strong competitor. And now with incredible advancements in technology and the seemingly endless amount of options and platforms to find digital chess analysis, there is an unprecedented amount of information available. So, considering all the information above, where do you start?

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If you are newer to the game, the best analysis would be a one on one with a coach or an experienced player. While having a computer program analyze your game has many advantages, it is a bit too much information for someone new to the game and will not help you develop the same way a human can. Much like a soccer coach watching video after a game and going over it with their team, a trained and experienced eye can spot mistakes or opportunities you may otherwise overlook. For instance, when I first started playing my coach noted that I was very inconsistent with developing my minor pieces early in the game. By doing this I was giving away tempi and crippling my attack. This observation would not be noted if I simply used a computer to show blunders and best moves. The best way I can put it is that a human can give you a unique perspective and develop you into a well-rounded player, a computer will build upon this foundation and present other opportunities.
Another way that a coach can help your development is by analyzing well-known games or educational ones with you. My coach recommended analyzing some of Jose Capablanca’s games, games that exemplified what topic or idea he was trying to share with me at that time. I analyzed these games on my own, playing them out on a board then on a computer with and without an analysis engine running. Lastly, my coach and I went over a game together. This comprehensive, well-rounded analysis not only improved my understanding of some core concepts my coach was trying to teach through the game, but also helped my board memory, gave me some new ideas in certain situations, and boosted my confidence in my ability to analyze games. This exercise helped establish a foundation I still use today and will continue to use throughout my career.
Once you have learned how to analyze a game, you could and really should analyze any games you find interesting whether they be yours or someone else’s. First, play through the game a few times on your own to see the flow. Look for any ideas that jump out at you or anything you find noteworthy. This part of the game is a bit of homework, so you really must keep a notebook handy. A fun exercise is to guess the move then compare your decision to that of the other player. When you do this, ask “why was that move picked?” “why that move instead of this one?” “how would I respond to that move?”. This type of methodical and deliberate examination and study will develop your awareness and your understanding even further.
A very popular and tremendously productive way to analyze your play is with an engine. From top level players like Vishy Anand to club players, this is a common practice and in today’s competitive environment, an absolute necessity. The number of engines out there and the millions of games recorded is staggering. Do you want to see what your favorite player’s most successful opening is? It’s there. What percentage of games with the c4 “English” opening, on average, end with a win for white? That information is there too. Computer analysis can be a double-edged sword for the inexperienced or unguided, however. Without a sound understanding of the games fundamentals and mechanics, you can easily fall down a rabbit hole and be quickly misdirected. Personally, I suggest holding off on computer analysis until it is recommended to you by your coach or a trusted, experienced player. Used in conjunction with coaching and guidance, this technology is indeed a very powerful analytical tool that will certainly bring your play to the next level.
So where should you begin? To get started, pick a game, any game. This game can be one of your own or just one your find interesting. I strongly recommend you play through it a few times on a board, preferably one with algebraic coordinates to make following or adjusting notation easier. The reason I recommend a board is the distinct view and feel you gain. You can walk around the board or view it from angles that you cannot from a static 2d board. It may sound silly, but I gain much perspective this way and find it notably more productive than just playing on my laptop. If available, walk through the match a few times with another player or a coach. This can bring up some dialogue or showcase ideas you may not have reached on your own. For as much time as we spend buried in our phones, books, or computers, chess is after all a social game and one that generates conversation.

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Once you have played through the match a few times from both sides of the board, either create or load up a PGN of the game.

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I use chess.com and its powerful Stockfish engine to analyze games. This one tool offers so much information it is without equal on many levels. 1. You can see what advantage is to whom with a basic black and white bar, essentially a tug of war. 2. You can see what moves are most commonly played and what their outcomes are. You can explore other options for certain situations or identify blunders. In the example below, I have highlighted these features on move 7 of a recent game. I am playing as black here. You can see I have a 1.64 advantage (shows as -1.64 when you are playing as black). You can also see a few moves and what advantage they would gain or leave.

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I hope you now see the options available to you and feel inspired to dive in and analyze this beautiful game. There has truly never been a better time to be a chess player with all the resources and powerful tools available, many for free. A great option I truly cannot recommend enough is a high-quality analysis right here on Chess^Summit. Our dedicated and skilled team will give you an expert analysis to help you develop absolutely free.

https://chesssummit.com/category/free-game-analysis/

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2017’s Game of the Year?

This past week, the chess world witnessed what many believe to be a once-in-a…well…year event.  In this past match of the Chinese League, a huge 12-team event that takes place over the course of about nine months, Ding Liren was paired as black against Jinshi Bai (2585).  When this game started, no one could ever expect what was in store; yet, when it ended, many were debating whether it could take the title of Game of the Year for 2017.  Without further ado, let’s take a look.  Note:  My comments are located within the game viewer.

Jinshi Bai – Ding Liren, Chinese League, 2017

Simple a stunning performance by Ding Liren, and the king hunt at the end was nothing short of flawless.  This was made possible from the start with Black’s early d5 lunge, which set the tone for the rest of the game in terms of counterplay.  Of course, that pawn ended up making its way all the way to b2 before being taken.  The critical point was when Black sacrificed his queen in order to keep play on the open d-file and queenside.  If White had blocked with 17. Rd2, the game may have ended differently, but the text move essentially guaranteed a middlegame king hunt, something we see so rarely these days due to long and safe opening preparation.  After that move, Ding Liren played the rest of the game perfectly, with every move after 17. … Rxd8 being the engine’s top choice.

After playing through this game for the first time, I was immediately reminded of another “game of the year” caliber game from just two years ago between Wei Yi and Lazaro Bruzon Batista.  As the reaction to that game told us back then, both of these games were masterpieces of attacking.

While the chess world continues to sit in awe, Ding Liren now turns his attention to Magnus Carlsen when the two begin a mini rapid and blitz match in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, at the time of this article’s posting, I will be in New York City for a day trip.  Thanks for reading, good luck in your future games, and I’ll see you next time.