My 2017 Recap

Oh man, 2017 is almost over!? I remember New Year’s Eve of 2016 like it was yesterday. There is still one more tournament to go this year, but now is as good a time as any to reflect what happened and play around with the statistics.

I increased my USCF rating from 2434 to 2508 and increased my FIDE rating from 2314 to 2405. More importantly, I got my final IM Norm and became an IM! 2017 was neither my most successful (2014 gets that honor) nor my most turbulent year (that was the one and only 2016). In general, I feel that my volatility had increased without costing me much. Time for the stats!

                                                                  GAME STATS

Win Draw Loss Total
White 45 19 10 74
Black 29 24 14 67
Total 71 42 23 141


                                                                 RATING STATS  

Win Draw Loss Overall Average Performance Rating
White 2196 2480 2474 2306 2485
Black 2282 2413 2487 2372 2451

Compared to 2016, there is improvement! It’s unusual that my opponents’ average rating is so much higher when I’m black then when I’m white. I honestly have no idea why this is true…

Average game length: 43 moves. That’s fairly normal (for me at least).

Shortest “game”: 9 moves. You can probably guess the result…

Longest game: 91 moves. That’s what happens when you spend over 35 moves trying to win rook + knight vs. rook. For those of you who are wondering, this game ranks as 8th longest game of all time. I did not finish keeping score (in mutual time trouble) in the game that was for sure my longest – I can only estimate that it was about 120 moves. My longest fully recorded game is 103 moves.

Highest scalp: GM Alex Shimanov (2718 USCF, 2650 FIDE). I covered the game in my article on the Philadelphia Open.

Worst defeat: Duncan Sheppard (2144 USCF, 1785 FIDE). That game was painful. Really painful.

Longest winning streak: 5 games. That was in my eventful tournament in Charlotte…

Longest losing streak: 2 games (only twice!!!).

Longest undefeated streak: 21 games. From the period of September until November, I somehow managed not to lose a game.

Favorite move: I think it’s still my move against Brandon Jacobson which I covered before in this article.

Worst blunder: I actually didn’t blunder any queens this year, though I did benefit from my opponents’ queen blunders! I did actually blunder a rook in one game, but it was in a completely lost position anyway…

Hevia Blunder

Black to move

Here I played 65… Kf8?? and after 66.Bd6+ Ke8 67.Re7+ I noticed that my rook on a3 was hanging! I resigned immediately.

Worst fail: Come on! Not cool!

Most embarrassing moment: OK, that’s hard to choose from…

One high candidate is my round 2 game from the US Amateur Team East. I was completely winning, my team was up 2-0, and I had just turned down a draw offer a couple moves earlier. I soon found myself near-busted and managed to scrape my way to a draw. This was embarrassing, though there was some “glory” because I had “worked hard until 1:30 am to ensure my team victory”…

Another candidate is my first round game in the US Masters, where I did my best to lose to a 2000 with white. I’ll give you a sample position…

Kevin Li

Black to move

I was white. Yuck!! Somehow, I managed to swindle my way to victory in this game! But the possibility that I had gone all the way to North Carolina to play a 9-round tournament in the hope of getting a GM Norm only to lose to a 2000 in the first round was humiliating.

Most painful loss: From a pain point of view, this one is my last round game against GM Ruifeng Li at the Philadelphia Open. Had I won that game, I would have crossed the 2400 rating barrier, gotten my IM title, and gotten a GM Norm. I’ve had more depressing losses, but in the long run, this one hurts the most.

Most important game: My win against Raven Sturt, after which I became an IM. OK, I had two other shots, but this one was successful.

Meanest swindle: I actually haven’t pulled off any sick swindles this year – aka no winning any -10 positions. Therefore, I will leave this one blank.

Weirdest game: When it comes to weird games, 2017 has actually been pretty quiet. There was one little game that should be described as “unorthodox”…

Brandon Weirdo Position

Black to move

I did, however, have one bizarre day, December 10th. I was playing in the Marshall Chess Club Championship, and my morning game looked like this:


Black to move

And my evening game looked like this:


White to move

We see these kinds of typical positions every day…

My New Year’s Resolutions

What? I’m supposed to make New Year’s Resolutions!? About chess!? No way…

Free Game Analysis: Putting it All Together

In one of my earlier articles, “Analyze This”, I discussed a basic, multi-dimensional approach to analyzing a game. This method discussed physically replaying the game on a board as well as leveraging an engine to confirm decisions or show alternatives then comparing the two. In my last article of 2017 I will go through a brief but illustrative example of putting this method into action.

This game was recently submitted for analysis at Chess^Summit, a game between myself and someone I have been playing with for some time. The game took place back in September and is brief at only twelve moves, but in those moves I can showcase the tools made available in the framework I have discussed for self-analysis. First, let’s take a look at the scorecard and run through the game.


I first played through the game on a board and made some notes as I progressed. I played from each side of the board and considered alternate moves, what my idea was, what my opponent’s idea was or may have been, and where the advantage rested. Being as the game is a few months old, my ideas and playing style have changed a bit. That being said, going over older games is a great way to gauge progress as well as observe bad habits or positive trends. Now that we’ve put the board away, let’s load the pgn into an engine and compare our observations to the database.


I have been doing much of my analysis in the free version of ChessBase Reader 2017. This free but powerful software is a basic version of the industry standard and has a very user-friendly interface. I’ve highlighted the Kibitzer option at the top of the screen. This feature will show where an advantage lies and which moves are traitionally best. I have also highlighted the opening bar. If you are unsure what opening you or your opponent are playing or choosing a variation from, look no further than this bar. Now, let’s explore this game…

chessbase1 After the move e4, we can observe the Kibitzer in action at the bottom of the screen. As you can see there is little in the way of an advantage after this first move, (0.01) denoting a miniscule advantage to white if black were to play e5. You can also see a very common continuing line.

chessbase2Alright, now we are five moves into the game and we can see the Kibitzer thinking. We can see from this position that white is making a supported threat to the King with a minor piece. We can also see the control the pair of Knights has on the center of the board and that white has a fair lead in development. In the opening I compare development, King safety, central control or possession, and pawn structure. White is one step away from castling whereas if black  wants to castle short they must deflect the attack by white, use two tempi to move pieces and a tempo to castle. While both sides are missing a strong central pawn, black has had their piece routed to the side by capturing and white has many avenues to protect the King while exerting further pressure on black.


Following the scorecard, we can see that move 10 is where the noose starts to really tighten for black. White identifies the weak f7 square and looks for a way to exploit it. Offering the Bishop, white could either try to compensate and recapture or go further into the enemy camp and end the game. Black’s Bishop attempts to threaten the Queen on move 11 with …Bf6, but with that move it is too late, Qxf7#.

While it worked for white in this example, looking back and knowing what I have learned from my coach, studying, and much reading, I have to embarrassingly admit I violated some fairly basic principles in pursuit of a relentless attack, something that admittedly was very much my style in the past. Instead of Nc6, if black played Bd7 it would have been a very different game. Another opportunity black missed was move 11; Qe7 would have undermined white’s attack on f7. While many observations and notes could be and some have been made for every move in this game, for the sake of this article I will sum up my analysis with three key observations for both sides:

My top 3 takeaways for white in this game, good and bad, are:

  1. Sometimes you might get lucky, but loose or poorly supported attacks in the opening can be easily countered and put you at a significant disadvantage or cost you the game.
  2. White developed their minor pieces quickly and attacked with all the pieces.
  3. White kept consistent pressure on their opponent and didn’t leave much breathing room, but some of these moves could have crippled white’s further attack if black had countered or responded in a different way.

My top 3 takeaways for black this game are:

  1. Look at the whole board when considering your next move. Try to think WHY your opponent made that move or attack and consider what if any other pieces may be teaming up to take down the King.
  2. Identify weak squares and maintain awareness of them; again, multiple attackers were focused on that pesky f7 square and had significant firepower directed at it. A position such as this should send up some red flags
  3. When the Queen and a minor piece are in your camp and eyeing up your King, you may need to exchange or counter to survive. Options to artificially castle are present even if you need to exchange Queens and capture with the King.

I hope this brief example of leveraging technology in tandem with using your brain and growing situational awareness has helped. I’m happy I can utilize this game between a friend and myself as an introductory example of self-analysis. I feel this is a nice follow-up to my prior article on analysis and should give you all the tools you need to being your journey. As you progress and analyze your games you will begin to see trends and have data to back it up. The immense power of modern chess engines is incredible and much of it is absolutely free; I’ve attached a link to ChessBase Reader below if you’re interested.

Have a wonderful and safe holiday! I promise we at Chess^Summit will be growing and are excited for what 2018 will have to offer you. I can’t wait to share the future, our future and the future of this game we love with you!


See you in 2018,



The Exchange Sacrifice vs. Pawn Structure

This week, I’d like to visit what, in my opinion, is one of the most double-edged topics in chess – the exchange sacrifice.  When stripped to its core, the concept of the exchange sacrifice is one of the most intriguing and fascinating out there.  It’s still a sacrifice – in that when taking into account a hard count of material value, the propagator comes out in the negative.  Yet, the balance regarding the number of pieces on each side stays intact.  While the latter may seem like a rather primitive method of comparison, it can make a huge difference, especially when attacking.  They also create a dynamic imbalance in many positions, especially when considering square control, since one player has (or lacks) influence over certain sets of squares.

However, this week, I wanted to look at a different purpose for exchange sacrifices.  Specifically, I wanted to look at the use of exchange sacrifices in order to inflict pawn structure damage.  The reason for this is that I recently played a game where I was able to do just that, and while I wasn’t able to win the game, it could still serve as an instructional source.

First, let’s start with a few examples from more prominent players.

Szabo – Petrosian, Stockholm Interzonal, 1952


In this position, White really only needs one more move in order to claim the initiative.  If it was his turn, White could play moves such as Nc4, Be3, and even Qd3.  Thus, Black knows that this is a critical point in the development of the game.  Petrosian, sensing that the time to act was now, plunged forward with the exchange sacrifice

  1. … Rxc3

The main point of this is to destroy the king’s pawn cover.  However, it also accomplishes a few other things.  It loosens White’s grip on the d5 square, which allows Black to play d5 on his own and open up his dark square bishop against the newly-weakened queenside pawns.  You can see how Petrosian played against the pawns to eventually reel in the full point here.

Kramnik – Fridman, Dortmund, 2013


In this position, White lacks a clear target to attack in Black’s camp.  While White has started to push pawns on the kingside, Black’s pawn structure doesn’t offer any clear weaknesses.  Thus, Kramnik, with the intent of creating said weaknesses, decides to sacrifice an exchange with

  1. f6! Bxf6 21. Rxf6!

which shatters Black’s pawn structure.  With the clear weakness now on f6, Kramnik went to work on focusing essentially all of his pieces on that pawn and eventually broke through to get to the king, as you can see here.

For the last example, we’ll go back to that game I mentioned earlier.

Kobla – Stevens, K-12 Grade Nationals, 2017


In this position, Black’s centralized knight on d5 is the only thing worth writing home about.  Aside from it, the rooks are disconnected, and many of the pawns are immobile.  That said, Black has a fairly straightforward threat with Re8, since fork ideas with Nc3 are looming over White’s head.  In order to avoid all complications regarding that knight, I decided that sacrificing the exchange with

  1. Rxd5 cxd5 30. Nd6

would be best.  In addition, Black’s queenside pawn structure is severely weakened, as the pawns on b5 and d5 are both hanging and unprotected; the knight outpost on d6 combined with the queen’s positioning gives White full control over the e-file, at least for now.  The direct threat of Nxb5 followed by a secondary threat of Qh2+ gives White more than enough tactical compensation for the exchange.  While the game itself ended in a draw, this is still an example where sacrificing the exchange was the best way forward.

In these three games, we saw a player sacrificing an exchange for somewhat different reasons.  In the first game, we saw Petrosian sacrifice an exchange for a positional plus – White’s crippled pawn structure and control over the dark squares.  In the second game, we saw Kramnik sacrifice an exchange to give direction and coordination to his pieces such that they could converge on the damaged pawns and later the king.  In the third game, I sacrificed an exchange to get rid of my opponent’s strong point and give my knight dominance over some central squares and weak pawns.  Despite their differences, however, they all had one thing in common – making the opponent recapture with a pawn, thereby weakening their pawn structure and grip on the position.

To wrap things up, this will be my last post for 2017, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!  And, for the sake of resolutions, I challenge all of you to sacrifice an exchange and win if the opportunity presents itself at some point over the next year.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Endgame Essentials: A Year Later

After the conclusion of the 2016 World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha, I started studying various endgames that occurred throughout the two tournaments. While it hasn’t been a continuous process, I figured it would be timely to share some of my findings as the 2017 edition of the tournament approaches.

Why look at the rapid games? In a lot of these games, the top players have to rely on intuition and technique. Given the limitation of time, much of the conversion process is in the endgame: squeeze, simplify, win. This gives us a more decisive allotment of material to look through and learn from.

Magnus had a shaky start in Doha, and was unable to defend both his rapid and blitz titles (Courtesy: Maria Emilianova)

Much of the Endgame Essentials series thus far has emphasized pawn structure and static elements, but today’s games look at key material imbalances in the position. We’ll be looking at the practical power of the bishop pair and evaluating minor piece endgames.

In each of these sections, I’ll discuss the highlights, with links to further analysis for each game. Buckle up!

The Bishop Pair

Its no secret that possession of the bishop pair comes with great power. But what does winning with one actually look like? Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov gave us a convincing example of how to win the bishop pair and then convert in the second round:

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 22.46.55
Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 16. Nc5!

Despite the symmetrical pawn structure, White has a clear plus. The knight on c5 (combined with the g2 bishop) exert a lot of pressure on Black’s queenside, and at some point, Black will have to surrender the bishop pair to remedy his position. Black opted for 16…Bc8, and later had to trade on c5. But this didn’t solve everything either – just look at the position after 24. a5:

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 22.56.04
Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 24. a5

In fixing the queenside, Cheparinov now has a target on a6. Once the g2 bishop breaks free it will be superior to the knight on f6, which will allow White to ‘stretch out’ Black’s resources. White’s task proved to not be too cumbersome, and the Bulgarian soon left with the point.

Constantly putting pressure throughout your opponent’s camp is one way utilize the bishop pair, but in this next game, Chinese GM Lu Shanglei shows us that simply waiting for the right time to trade could also do the trick.

How did White win the bishop pair here?

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 23.15.06.png
Lu–Shytaj, position after 16…Nc4

With a simple 17. Rxd4 Rxd4 18. Bg7 Rh4 19. Bxh8 Rxh5, White got his bishop pair, but now what? The Chinese Grandmaster showed us that calculation isn’t everything when he came up with his plan in this position:

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 23.20.38
Lu–Shytaj, position after 21…Ba6

Here White knew he wanted to activate his rook on the g-file and target h7. Black needs time to coordinate each of his pieces, so White continued with his plan with 22. Re4. Once his rook reached g8 and his b3 bishop was on c2, White was able to win the h-pawn and push his kingside majority. Put your pieces on the best squares and good things happen!

Having the bishop pair often means having the flexibility to control the game. Do you stretch your opponent out, or do you trade your bishop pair for an even greater advantage? In both of these games, White activated his pieces and applied pressure, causing Black too many practical problems.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and we saw one of China’s best, Li Chao, neutralize White’s bishop pair:

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 23.45.29
Onischuk–Li Chao, position after 38. Bd2

White is a pawn up and has the bishop pair, but its the passivity in White’s position that stinks. White has to eliminate Black’s h-pawn and simplify to earn a draw, but White actually has weak dark square control. After 38…Nf5 Black kept the pawn on h6 and prepared …Bg1-e3 to eliminate White’s dark squared bishop. Once this trade occurs, White’s task of winning the h-pawn is much more difficult, meaning that it is Black who is stretching White, which is exactly what happened here. White missed some chances, but the pressure and trend of the game really did him in.

“Basic” Minor Piece Endgames

Bishop or Knight? That is the question. Do we just summarize that in positions where pawns span the board, bishops are better because of their range in motion? That seems like a decent general rule, but Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev showed us that’s not always true with his second round win:

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 00.18.47
Artemiev–Banikas, position after 34. Nb3

Despite the material advantage, the conversion proves to not be so simple. Artemiev starts off by bringing his knight to a dark-squared outpost, c5. With only a light squared minor piece, Black really isn’t able to stop White from planting his knight and usurping the sixth rank with Re2-e6. White missed some chances and had to “re-win” the game later, but even in a drawn position, we see the combinations the knight and the rook can draw up against the king.

Does anyone teach knight endgames anymore? Knight endgames are a lot like pawn endgames – a material advantage is often enough to be decisive. What else do you know? Norwegian youngster and future World Junior Champ Aryan Tari was tested in the first round:

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 00.41.52
Tari–Dubov, position after 38. Nd3

With his last move, 38. Nd3, Tari brings his knight behind the e4 pawn to create a shield along the 5th rank. To convert, White will need to activate his king and cross the fifth rank, with the goal of creating a passer on the e-file. Black made White’s life a little easy by playing …f7-f5, but Black was already in dire straights.

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 00.51.12
Tari–Dubov, position after 43. Kd4

With stage one of the plan (more-or-less) complete, White’s advantage is even clearer. Black is extremely passive, and at some point, White will be ready to stretch Black between the a6 pawn, and his own passed e-pawn. The extra material proved to be enough, and Tari scored a big upset in the first round.

If you’re looking for more minor piece endgame material, GM Elshan Moradiabadi’s recent lecture at the St Louis Chess Club is a good starting point:


What has this short introduction to minor piece endgames told us? Activity still matters. Pawn structure still matters. Many of the same basic criterion we had established with rook endgames can be applied to minor piece endgames.

But on a deeper level, think about how in each of these games, one side followed a plan before worrying about actually converting the result – this is probably the most important point. Endgames are incredibly difficult, and its often pointless to try and calculate every move – the possibilities are literally infinite! So optimize your pieces and identify critical targets in your opponent’s camp. Maybe the rapid strategy isn’t so bad after all – squeeze, simplify, win.

Step out! The world is a lot Bigger than we think

Have you ever watched Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween Prank Segement? When they hear the “bad news”, you can see many of the kid’s reactions as if the world is ending.

We all have bad days, bad games, or something that doesn’t go our way. These things happen to anyone. But when it happens to us, we feel the world is dropping on us.

My USCL game

I played a couple local tournaments in Atlanta in 2015 as my mini-comeback, and then chatted with the Atlanta Kings team to play in the USCL. My local tournaments had some ups and downs, but they all ended well.

I played two games for the Kings. The first game was a complete whack, I played 1.e4 e6 2. b3?!. Possibly due to too many blitz games at home, I thought this was a good opening choice. Needless to say, I was punished swiftly.

That game didn’t bother me too much, as I was more in a ‘let’s give this thing a try’ mood. And my game was not the determining factor for the team. But after this game, I got serious, and wanted to contribute more for the team.

Before the next game, I prepared for the opening, which was something I haven’t done since 2007.

The game was played on a Wednesday night. I had a normal work day, and then drove over 45 minutes to the playing site, not unusual for Atlanta traffic. A little tired, but excited to play.

The game took close to three hours, I got to use what I had prepared, and it was up-and-down until we traded queens.

Around move 40, the feeling of ‘all that work is gone’ started to sink in. It felt like déjà vu again. I resigned soon after.

We lost the match 1.5-2.5. And yes, my game mattered a lot.

The drive back home didn’t take 45 minutes, but it felt much longer, because of my mood.

Step Out

I run my first Spartan competition a week after the game, which was physically hard and painful. But mentally I gained more perspective.


While jumping over each hurdle, I knew I joined this competition as a choice. Whereas many people in the world are running in much worse conditions to escape.

My thoughts became broader, and I realized a bad game, or a bad day is really nothing compared to many tough battles in the world.

Chess is just one example. I’ve had unsatisfied school experiences, bad job interviews, or even just an annoying drive that typically takes 10 minutes turned into an hour due to road constructions (happened to me this week).

At that moment, it’s hard to swallow. But by practicing to look at the big picture, I feel more at ease, and whatever is bothering me is not much of a problem.

So the next time you have a tough day: Please try to do the following

Look at the Sky.

Enjoy the Ride.

Step Out from the problem.


Happy Holidays! And I hope 2018 will be the best year yet for you.

If you have enjoyed any chess^summit articles, please checkout Chess^Summit apparels.

A New Alpha?

Approximately twenty years ago, the chess world witnessed something groundbreaking.  Deep Blue, the IBM-build chess engine, won a match using standard tournament time controls against a World Champion for the first time.  That World Champion, of course, was Garry Kasparov.  It was the first time that the chess world witnessed machine over man.  Some believed that was going to be the extent of the experiment, but the next couple of decades implied otherwise.  Ever since that first defeat, computers, by and large, have been increasing in strength, and consequently, the gap in strength between engines and humans has widened more and more.

The developers of the top engines in the world are always making incremental improvements to the program, resulting in single-digit increases to the engines’ ratings.  This is evident on a yearly basis at the TCEC – the Top Chess Engine Championships – where engine ratings are almost always higher than in the previous year.  In 2016, the engine Stockfish came out of the tournament victorious.  It looked like the strongest engine on the planet.

However, I guess it is now safe to say that it is no longer the case.  Meet AlphaZero, a newly developed algorithm created by Google in partnership with DeepMind.  The algorithm is an offshoot of AlphaGoZero, a slightly more specific algorithm meant for the purpose of playing Go.  The remarkable point is that the only information fed to the algorithm were the rules of the game.  From there, AlphaZero used self-play to learn the chess knowledge that humans have spent centuries and even millennia discovering.  For those interested in the mechanisms behind it, essentially the algorithm played against itself, and when arriving at a position at the “end” of a game, it evaluated it as either won, lost, or draw; it then used these evaluations to reinforce its neural networks so that it could decide whether entering into that specific position would be favorable or unfavorable.  In this way, within just four hours, AlphaZero quickly strengthened into a super-engine capable of [more than] competing with the current engines of the day.

In a 100-game match between AlphaZero and Stockfish, AlphaZero crushed rather handily, ending with 28 wins to none and 72 draws.  The researchers involved published a few of those games online, and I have two of them to share with you because of their complexity and ability to fascinate us humans.

AlphaZero – Stockfish

This game caught my attention because of AlphaZero’s depth of calculation and piece maneuvering/handling.  After 18. … g5, rather than saving the piece, AlphaZero calmly develops his rook; only a few moves later, the queen travels from a4 to h4 down to the h1 corner before reappearing in the center with deadly effect.

AlphaZero – Stockfish

This game also fascinated me, but it was particularly the end of the game.  After noticing the Black queen stuck in the corner after 45. … Qh8, AlphaZero proceeds to sacrifice an exchange so that it can plant the other rook on f6 to trap the queen in the corner.  This plan immobilized the kingside and allowed White to sit while Black exhausted all move possibilities until it would have to give up material.

In general, both of these games showed how AlphaZero was able to smoothly outplay Stockfish.  In a way, all of this is somewhat jaw-dropping, since the appearance of AlphaZero to the eventual match between it and Stockfish and its victory all happened so quickly.  However, if one thing is for sure, it is that AI, neural-network-based engines seem to hold promise (or doom, depending on your opinion of chess engines) for the future.

As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Structure vs. Activity

The question of whether to aim for a structurally sound position or active play is one of the most common dilemmas known to chess. A solid structure, almost by definition, is meant not to change so easily, and opening lines of play or creating weaknesses in order to play more actively almost always entails some risk or structural concession. It is very natural for most people to develop some kind of stylistic preference, but this is not always a good thing. Attacking for the sake of activity, for example, can be disastrous if you are undeveloped, have too many other problems to deal with, or are simply not tactically justified in attacking. On the other hand, trying to stay solid can easily turn into simply being passive, which may just as easily get you rolled off the board.

For the amateur player, it’s almost always a question of tactics and calculation, since in most positions it can clearly be determined what moves are certainly good or bad. However, as someone who fails to do this a lot, I know that it’s often not an easy task. In my case, laziness, fear of calculating incorrectly, or simply the preference to play certain types of positions (even if they might be worse) makes a more subjective judgment tempting. This has its ups and downs, as I discovered in a recent game against an 1800-rated player at the Pittsburgh Chess Club this week. My opponent’s interesting attempt at an active yet risky position did not prove its worth, but some ups and downs in my decisions made things interesting for a while, although I managed to stay ahead and eventually pulled off the win. Enjoy!

My Holiday Shopping Guide

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes an excuse to shop! Besides stocking up on Chess^Summit merchandise, you could take the opportunity to pile up on chess books!

I’ve based my personal recommendation on material that I myself found useful, interesting, or just plain fun. I did try my best to assign a USCF rating range to each of them. Do not hesitate to post your own suggestions in the comment section.


The amount of opening books in the market is astounding, especially considering that these are the days when information about openings is available practically everywhere. My personal opinion about opening books is that a book that has a title along the lines of “Winning with Opening ABC” or “How to Beat Opening XYZ” written by a low-key author should be taken with a grain of salt.

For beginners, knowing ideas behind openings is more important than remembering the moves. If you want a not-so-basic but not-so-overwhelming opening book, then I’d recommend Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren. It’s ideal if you are at the level when you should know the rudiments of openings but shouldn’t have to know an encyclopedia of variations – I’d say 1600/1700 and below.

Image result for fundamental chess openings

At the higher levels of chess, knowing opening theory is a must, and I’d recommend anything from the Grandmaster Repertoire by Quality Chess! Those books are high-quality and can be very helpful in both in-depth “research projects” and 10-minute pre-game preparation.


These days, the best resources for tactics are online tactics trainers (ChessTempo,, etc.). Membership to those could make a perfect holiday gift.

One non-beginner tactics book I’d recommend is Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan. I read it when I was around 2300 USCF. The exercises are far from straightforward, some are easier than others, and the minimum rating I’d give it is around 1800 USCF. If you want to hone your tactical skills on very realistic positions, I’d highly recommend it!

Another book I’d recommend is Invisible Chess Moves by Emmanuel Neiman and Yochanan Afek and which concentrates around “invisible moves” that are difficult for humans to spot. It’s a thought-provoking book that anybody could read.

Image result for forcing chess movesImage result for invisible chess moves


Middlegame specialties (i.e. positional play, dynamic play, etc.)

For amateurs, I’ll strongly advocate anything written by Jeremy Silman.  I believe everyone should read his book The Amateur’s Mind at one point or another. How to Reassess Your Chess is another excellent book, and so is The Reassess Your Chess Workbook. An off-the-beaten path book I’d recommend is Positional Chess Handbook which I read when I was around 1600-1800 USCF. It’s a great introduction (or semi-introduction) to positional play.

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I’ll wholeheartedly recommend anything written by Jacob Aagaard with a warning: IT’S NOT EASY! I’d probably give his Grandmaster Preparation series a minimum rating of 2000 USCF. The late Mark Dvoretsky has also written countless books about middlegames. They are similar to Aagaard’s books both in style and in quality.

There are also two new books, Positional Decision Making in Chess and Dynamic Decision Making in Chess by Boris Gelfand that are AMAZING and are definitely suitable for a wide audience.

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I should talk about the dreaded E word. OK just kidding…

For amateurs, I’d recommend Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. It’s divided into chapters based on rating (Class D, Class C, etc.) which I think is really useful. Another book I read and recommend is 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de Villa which is the easy way out of theoretical (rook) endgames.

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Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is a masterpiece, but a word of caution. I’ll split the book into two parts: rook endgames and all other endgames. The chapter on rook endgames is over 80 (!!!) pages long and is hardcore but brilliant – my memories of reading it when I was about 1800 USCF are not pleasant – while the rest of the book is easier. Even now I would find the rook endgame chapter difficult… If you get Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual give yourself a favor and don’t start with the rook endgames chapter!

As for non-theoretical endgames. There is Aagaard’s book Endgame Play that I had a lot of fun with over the summer. It’s part of the Grandmaster Preparation series and though it isn’t easy by any means, some of the easier exercises are doable. And then there is a favorite of mine, Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics. It’s a miniature encyclopedia of endgame tricks and tactics. It’s very entertaining, and I had lots of fun reading it while flying to Europe for World Youth in 2015. I should also recommend an “ancient” book, Endgame Strategy by Mikhail Shereshevsky, that I read when I was around 1800.

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Chess in General

When it comes to chess improvement, chess psychology, or just chess itself, I’m a big fan of Jonathan Rowson’s books. Another fun book to read it Move First Think Later by Willy Hendriks. It has an eye-catching title and is a very entertaining book to read with some fascinating insight. Stories about massive improvement are also great reads. Two examples are Pump Up Your Rating by Axel Smith and Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins.

I hope you enjoy some of the books while drinking cup of tea or coffee from our Chess^Summit cup.

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I wish you all happy holidays. May they be full of great chess moves (and books)!

Making a Plan – Setting and Achieving Goals

I recently posted an article on publicly setting my goals for 2018. A question I get asked quite often is how I developed my training plan, or why I chose certain numbers as goals. I received several messages after the article asking me to explain just this, so I will share it now on Chess^Summit.  As an amateur, setting goals can be a bit daunting. You want to make goals you can achieve, but at the same time you want to see big improvements and jumps in growth. Balancing this can be challenging, but borrowing a template from organizational psychology, I have made the process simple. I’d like to share the SMART way to progress in chess:

S – Specific – you need to set specific, quantifiable goals in order to progress. If it is clearly written out and can be judged by a simple yes or no, you have made a specific goal.

– Measurable – chess is very much a numbers game. A player’s rating will be measurable.

– Achievable – while we want to set lofty goals for ourselves, we also need to be realistic. Family and work obligations as well as other outside factors will effect the amount of time we have to train, study, and play. You want to set a goal that is a challenge, but one you can feasibly make in the timeframe specified.

– Realistic – I will not be an IM next year, no chance. It would also be unrealistic for me to put my goals higher as I am only able to make one OTB tournament a month tops. You need to be honest with yourself.

– Time Specific – if you do not set a time frame or time limit on something you will tend to procrastinate or maybe never go after the goal, that’s human nature. If you set goals with hard deadlines, you cannot procrastinate or “wait until tomorrow.”

Bearing the above in mind, let’s look at my personal goals for 2018 as seen on


I have made my personal goals very specific. Remember, if you can assign a value to it, it has specificity. These goals are measurable based on how many people I teach/gift and what my rating is on the above dates in these categories. These goals are also achievable, difficult and involving some serious time management, but I do believe them to be achievable for me. I have chosen realistic goals, goals I am confident I can make based on progress, coaching, and advice from other players. By providing deadlines, I have made this a time sensitive endeavor, and in tandem with how public I have made them, I am even more motivated.

As far as WHAT you will be training on, that is something I can only briefly touch on as it is very dependent on how you are as a learner and player. Some people are kinesthetic learners and learn from doing while others may be visual learners, it can be difficult to be an auditory learner and study chess via that path…difficult but not impossible. I recommend working with a coach, but if one is not available you can reach out to someone in the chess world and I promise they will help…it is such a great community with tons of knowledge to share.

As for me, on a day that I work I commit 3-4 hours divided among playing games online, solving tactics, and reading. I work with my coach twice a week with one ours sessions. My coach also sends me puzzles to solve and articles to read between sessions. If I have a day off and no other commitments, the sky is the limit. For perspective, on a day I work I tend to play 6 to 8 games on and on days I’m off it’s closer to 10 or 12. Working on simple tactics like the one below until I recognize the patterns and can blast through them in a short time is an important component as well and pattern recognition is a cornerstone of my study.


For now, I believe this to be the best course of action for me, but everyone is different and as we develop we need to develop our methods of learning as well. If you aren’t learning or growing, you need to assess your methods for growth and adapt. I hope this article has helped to set your SMART goals and carry them out!!! Please share your goals with me either here or on Twitter .

MVP of the Week: Non-Draws and Blunders

I’m sure you’ve heard the big headline this week from the Grand Chess Tour … 23 draws out of 25 games in the London Chess Classic: Snoozefest 2K17. While frustrated chess fans discuss ways to kill the draw offer in chess, its our job here at Chess^Summit reassure you that top-level chess isn’t dead, and that strong players do make mistakes!

Let’s start in London – where alongside the London Chess Classic is the British Knockout Championship and the London FIDE Open. In round 4 of the London FIDE Open, Swedish GM Nils Grandelius tricked his younger opponent into snacking on b2 before completing his development:

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 11…Bxb2

With his queenside still undeveloped, grabbing on b2 was proved to be an invitation for White to attack Black’s king after 12. Ng5!. Without the use of all of his pieces, Black’s position began to crack: 12… Rf5 13.Rb1 Rxg5 14.Rxb2 Rf5 15.Qc2 Rf8 16.Be4


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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 16. Be4

Both of White’s bishops are now primed to attack the monarch, and Black has yet to make any progress developing his queenside. Black decided to give up the exchange after 16…h6 17.Bc3 Na6 18.Bh7+ Kh8 19.Qg6 Rf6 20.Bxf6 Qxf6 21.Qxf6 gxf6 22. Be4, and resigned shortly after.

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 22. Be4

Where else is chess happening right now? St. Petersburg! The Russian Men’s and Women’s Championship Superfinal are just four rounds in, with a gold mine of decisive results. WGM Olga Girya smashed IM Anastasia Bodnaruk in today’s round using a popular move order trick in the London System:

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 5. h4!

Using the move order 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nc3!, Girya had tricked her opponent into a less flexible set-up and began her kingside assault early. Trying to refute the attack, Black held her breath and played 5…0-0, encouraging White to go on the offensive with the famous exchange sacrifice, 6.h5 Nxh5 7.Rxh5! gxh5 8.Qxh5.

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 8. Qxh5

It may not have been wise to enter into White’s preparation, but Black’s next few moves were puzzling, as she failed to bring her queenside pieces to aid her king: 8…f5 9.Nf3 c6 10.Bd3 Nd7 11.O-O-O Nf6 12.Qh4 Qe8 13.Rh1

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 13. Rh1


Maybe it was now that Bodnaruk realized that g2-g4 is a serious threat because after 13…h5, Black’s position was in shambles. With dark squares e5 and g5 both being weak, Black was too undeveloped to stop the infiltration.

The assault continued with 14.Ne5 Ng4 15.Nxg4 fxg4 16.Qg5 Rf6 17.Be5 Qf7 18.Rxh5, and with the kingside exposed, Black was left with a completely lost position! Black tried to generate counterplay, but to no avail and had to resign.

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 18. Rxh5

You might be picking up on a theme here, but let’s look through one more game for good measure…

Do you know where the Faroe Islands are? In a last round clash between two FMs at the recent Runavik Open, Black found himself pawn-grabbing before tucking his king away after 11…Bxe5?

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 11…Bxe5

White was quick to punish Black, and there was no time to scramble after 12. Re1 d5? 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Qxd5 O-O 15. Rxe5

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 15. Rxe5

White’s now regained his material and picked up an extra pawn, and meanwhile Black has failed to fix his development problem. The pair of bishops alone were enough to discourage Black from getting back in the game. 15…Be6 16. Qe4 Nf6 17. Qe1 Rfe8 18. Bxe6 fxe6 19. h3 Nd7 20. Re4 Qf6 21. Bxh6 1-0

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 21. Bxh6

Black resigned here. Arguably premature, but with a material deficit and four isolated pawns, Black decided that it was not worth playing on.

What do these three recent games tell us about chess? Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Develop your pieces! Even strong players mess this up, and the consequences can be lethal.
  2. Take the initiative! If you’re opponent is not developing, see if you can prevent your opponent from getting back into the game by forcing them to respond to threats instead.
  3. Keep that king safe! Just because your king is castled, doesn’t mean it’s safe. As we saw in Grandelius’ game, a king is weak without sufficient protection.

Maybe this theme of development is what Levon was getting at after all…

Maybe the London Chess Classic will pick up now that Caruana is at +2, but if not there are plenty of other great games happening across the world!