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.

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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.

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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.

Chess^Summit Lt Blue T-Shirt Front

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!

Free Game Analysis: Roller Coaster Ride in Philly

Do you enjoy roller coaster rides? If so, our reader Varun provides a thrilling ride in a game he played during the 2017 National Chess Congress in Philadelphia.

I’ve provided diagrams to highlight three ‘don’t hold your breathe’ moments, two out of the three were “oh-no” moments. Try to answer the questions yourself before read thru the game notes.

You can play along the GAME HERE.


Black to move. What does your sacrifice instinct say?


Why was black’s last move 25…d4 a blunder? White to move, find the best move.


White returns the favor and the game by playing 53. Ke4. Why is that the case. Black to move and win.

Whewww. Not a game for the fainted heart!

This game clearly shows that our reader, Varun, was ready to battle, and he did not consider calling it a day after early mishaps. In the end, he was rewarded handsomely.

To summarize, below are three take away from the game:

1. Opening: activate the c8-bishop before playing e6

2. In winning positions: slow down, make prophylaxis moves to avoid unnecessary chaos

3. Be tenacious to the end, and turn the table when your opponent provides the opportunity

We’ve observed an exciting game here, now it’s time for us to produce our own thrilling experience.

If you have a game that you’d like to be analyzed. Please head over HERE and submit the game to the chess^summit team.

Good Luck to the next ride!

Lessons from a Painful Game

True lessons are rarely learned from just one game, but sometimes it takes an unexpectedly nasty game to make you realize what you’ve been missing! Before moving on, it might be helpful to see my most recent game (as much as I was able to record) to see what you notice.

Immediately, it’s apparent that there’s a lot of craziness in that game, and unfortunately, a lot of it is not good (from either side). Of course, from the vantage point of a computer (or anyone screening for perfection, really), there are many mistakes to be found in almost any amateur game. So that should not take away from this G/120 victory by local Class A veteran Jeff Schragin, who did well to pour on the heat throughout the opening and, despite losing the thread later on, saw the benefits of a good time reserve as he eked out the win in a tricky knight ending.

It bears repeating that basic-looking mistakes are surprisingly common even among strong players (who can get pretty forgetful), and that worthwhile lessons are rarely limited to just one game. But there are many that show themselves in this game more than many other games I’ve played:

  • First things first; any mention of why I lost this game must start with my ridiculous time management. In particular, Black (at least with my endgame skills) simply cannot expect to waltz through that knight endgame (dynamically equal, with Black trying to use the extra pawn before White cleans up on the queenside) with 2 minutes on the clock. That situation was undoubtedly caused by several terrible decisions earlier on, starting with a nearly 15-minute think on move 5 (see next point!). Along with my traditionally time-consuming habits in the more complicated positions, this gave me no chance to calculate accurately in the later stages of the game.
  • While deep expertise in specific openings is far from necessary at almost all levels, going in completely cold is not a reliable strategy; it is important to develop a sound opening repertoire. Being surprised by a novelty or taking time in an unexpectedly complicated early middlegame is fine, but it’s probably a good idea to be familiar enough to breeze through the first 5-10 moves almost every time. You are likely not in good shape if you are spending 15 minutes on move 5 (in my case, I had been aiming for a Hedgehog but didn’t bother to remember any move orders and ended up flustered early on – this is something I’ll definitely fix in future games). Black’s somewhat-forced 10…c5 is a testament to how positionally dominant White remained for the better part of the opening.
  • Wild computer evaluations usually means major mistakes were made, and in this game plenty were made from both sides. By a certain level, most players will roll their eyes at checking all “checks, captures, and threats” but when you forget this at a fundamental level, you’re vulnerable to errors like 24…Bd6? and 25. Nd3?, which both miss 25. Nxf7 just picking up a pawn. Probably the costliest error of the game, 36…Ng4?? (which still leaves Black better, but complicated to play with 2 minutes left) could have been prevented by just checking 36…Bxc1, which immediately wins as Black brings in Nd3-b4. For his part, my opponent, who ended the game with a whole hour on his clock, probably could have benefited from a few extra seconds of blunder checking (although it is understandable to save energy and save time for later), although it should be noted that more time does not imply more accuracy, as I spent too much time on several moves checking lines that ended up not being very relevant.
  • Sometimes, the most you can do is cause as many problems as possible for your opponent to win, and sometimes it works. The caveat here is that you have to go all the way. I thought my opening position was borderline unsalvageable, but all I could do was try my best to avoid any immediate tactical disasters (which led to some technically inferior moves such as 12…Kxd8 instead of allowing 12….Rxd8 13. Bc7). Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for me as I ran into time trouble near the end. On the other hand, it is also difficult to endure a much worse or losing position after having held an edge for so long, and my opponent did well to pull off the win after I missed the win on move 36.

This is certainly not the first or the last time I’ve seen these ideas in play, but this game really puts these principles in perspective. While it’s never easy to analyze these kinds of games in depth, they can be surprisingly instructive and make us stronger as players!