How to (NOT) Play the Ruy Lopez

The Ruy Lopez has been considered one of the best openings to play as White due to its solidity and relative simplicity.  The opening has been around for many centuries, and some of the basic concepts and ideas in the opening are known to many.  Still, it’s not a two-result game every time White plays it.  Even with decent play from White, there have been many instances where very accurate play by Black has led to mind-blowing wins.

There was such a game quite recently.  The Candidates tournament is currently in progress in Berlin, where eight of the top players compete in a double round robin for a chance to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen to a match at the end of this year.  In the third round, there was a particularly crazy game between Aronian and Kramnik.  Let’s take a look:

Aronian – Kramnik, Berlin Candidates, 2018

That could definitely be one of the best performances by Black in the Ruy Lopez, if not the immaculate performance.  Granted, it did stem from some clever opening preparation, but with the knowledge that Kramnik didn’t go far into that specific line before going out of prep, it was a brilliant performance.  If there’s one thing we could take away from this game, it’s to never underestimate Black’s attacking prospects on the kingside if given the opportunity.   Kramnik didn’t hesitate to start attacking as early as move 7, and he never had to castle as he was always pushing with the initiative.

This also offers another instructive lesson – one cannot play opening moves in any random order, as playing certain moves earlier or later can change the dynamic of the position, allowing certain possibilities to come up that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  For example, in this game, if Aronian had delayed castling and playing h3 in favor of Nbd2, Nc4, Qe2, etc, he wouldn’t have had to deal with a kingside attack from Kramnik.  It is little things like this that make chess the great game that it is.

And with that, I’ll see you next time!


Closing Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers’ 2018 Season

What a season it’s been! With the Pawngrabbers falling short against the St Louis Archbishops last Tuesday night in the Round of 16, a historic run for Pittsburgh chess has come to an end. As this year’s team manager, I decided I wanted to retell some of the great moments from the Pawngrabbers’ PRO Chess League season while providing some behind-the-scenes insights as manager.

While I might not cover every detail from the past year, I hope I can share enough to help you appreciate what our players achieved this year.

Pittsburgh Offered Immediate Qualification to the 2018 PRO Chess League Season

2018 Announcement

In the closing days of my European Chess Tour, I received a notification that Pittsburgh was invited to participate in the 2018 PRO Chess League. As the League was consolidating to a more competitive 32 teams, it wasn’t so clear that we would get the bid. While we had an engaged fanbase on social media, the only Grandmaster on the roster at the time was Alexander Shabalov.

After watching us start the 2017 season 0-4, a lot of the League’s spectators bemoaned our invitation, perhaps forgetting that we won each of our final three matches. It may well have been that our narrow win over the Minnesota Blizzard to close 2017 spared us from having to enter the PRO Chess League through the qualification tournament… who knew that match nearly cost one of this year’s quarterfinalists a berth in the League?

Needing to prove our place in the League, the search began for additions to revamp the Pawngrabbers’ roster. With the season’s new expanded local rules, we added NM Mika Brattain from the relegated Columbus Cardinals fairly quickly, while also signing FM Mark Heimann and NM David Itkin from the area. This alone increased our team’s average rating significantly – but likely not enough to avoid relegation. Luckily for us, through extensive note-taking and stream watching, October’s conclusion meant a whole new batch of players were looking for teams.

NM Mika Brattain was one of the first new additions to the Pawngrabbers, and he finished 2018 with a 2430 performance rating.

Following the conclusion of the League qualifier, we were able to continue recruiting 2300+ strength local players, thanks in part to Michigan’s failure to get a team in the League. With that, Pittsburgh acquired IMs Atulya Shetty and Safal Bora, as well as FM Edward Song, who debuted for us in 2017 as a free agent. Now as local players, my managerial team (Beilin Li, Grant Xu, and myself) could begin scouting Free Agent talent to complete the roster.

IM Atulya Shetty proved himself to be an extremely solid board 3 for Pittsburgh, scoring 50% against much stronger competition.

From the outside, you all likely know the story – Pittsburgh signed GM Awonder Liang days before the start of the season, and the Pawngrabbers took off. However, for a few weeks it seemed like we were stuck with the line-up we had, as time-zone differences and financial constraints were proving to be a constant limitation for us. It was during this time we developed various match strategies to compensate for a much lower average rating.

Breaking Down the Gs and gs in Line-up

If you’re familiar with the League, you likely know that a team’s line-up for any given match is limited to an U2500 rating. Of course there are certain exemptions from this, but since we’re talking about a generalized match strategy, let’s pretend the highest rated players in the world are exactly 2700. With the exception of our clashes with Webster and St Louis, this assumption held true for all of our regular season matches. To represent this symbolically, I will use ‘G’ to indicate a player roughly rated over 2500, and ‘g’ for all other players.

The GGGg line-up proved to be the dominant strategy in 2017 as St Louis employed it throughout the playoffs and against Norway in the Championship match which they won, 9-7. This makes sense – you field three top tier Grandmasters, and hope your board 4 notches a point somewhere, totaling to at least 8.5/16 to win the match.

2018 proved to be quite the year for team chess in Pittsburgh, as Carnegie Mellon won the USATE in February. Photo Credit: Vanessa Sun

But the consolidation of the PRO Chess League to 32 teams also meant the average rating for each team grew. Now with 16 fewer teams (and 64 fewer boards on any given week), the demand for a spot on a team drastically outweighed the supply of talented players. As we saw in the case of the Archbishops and the Gnomes, the GGGg format was not so invincible, as more teams had two (or even three) grandmasters to field on any given week. The match break down between a GGGg and GGgg lineup (assuming both teams optimized their line-up to fit the U2500 constraint) would look something like this:

Team A (GGGg line-up): 2700, 2650, 2500, 2150*

Team B (GGgg line-up): 2550, 2550, 2450, 2450*

*maximum possible rating, given average constraint set by the three preceding boards

Ideal match strategy for Team B is to win each of the four games against Team A’s board 4, meaning that now Team B only needs to score 4/12 for the remainder of the match to avoid a loss. Given the rating gap between Team B’s players and the 2150 on Team A, I’d say this is highly likely – heck, I could probably give the 2150 a reasonable game, and I’m not PRO Chess League material.

To compensate for this, Team A’s 2700 must offset their 2150 by scoring 4/4, which is far more difficult than Team B’s task of beating the 2150 four times with four different players – only one player managed to do that against our line-up this season, and he happens to be the 2013 World Blitz Champion, GM Lê Quang Liem from Webster.

For the sake of evaluating match strategy, let’s give the 2700 the benefit of the doubt and assume he succeeds scoring 4/4, regardless of the actually probability of that happening. Here are the players’ remaining number of games for both teams:

Team A (GGGg line-up): 2650 (4 games), 2500 (4 games)

Team B (GGgg line-up): 2550 (2 games), 2550 (2 games), 2450 (2 games), 2450 (2 games)

With the match (theoretically) tied at 4-4, Team A’s best player is a non-factor to the outcome of the match, while all of Team B’s players are still capable to continue contributing to the score. All the sudden, Team A’s chances are winning the match are drastically reduced – if their Board 3 scores anything less than 2/4, the 2650 needs to make up the difference.

In this set-up, it just takes one player on Team A to have a bad day, and as we saw in 2018, this strategy worked for Pittsburgh and Minnesota against St Louis in the regular season, and Norway even fell shy of qualifying for the postseason. In fact, this is exactly how the Blizzard toppled Webster in the Round of 16 last Tuesday.

GM Awonder Liang gave Pittsburgh the second “G”, making the Pawngrabbers a much more formidable force in the Atlantic Division

When Awonder signed with Pittsburgh, we had our two G’s, but Atulya was our next highest rated player at 2403, meaning we could never match the desired line-up strategy on paper. Luckily, with Atulya consistently playing above his level, it meant that we just had to find a board 4 who could consistently score more than 1.5 points a game. This took all season, but in the end, we were surprised by how many players on our roster that could fit the role. I’ll discuss some of the shortcomings of the GGgg line-up in a bit, but lets start talking about actual results, and less about theory.

Pittsburgh Gets off to a Strong Start

We got to test our GGgg strategy immediately against the Buenos Aires Krakens, as the Argentineans fielded three strong grandmasters in Federico Perez Ponsa, Alan Pichot, and Leandro Kyrysa. Of course, Buenos Aires would eventually be relegated from the League, but given that they brought the same line-up to the 2017 quarterfinals, we held our breath for much of the season opener.


Two hours later, Pittsburgh had its fourth consecutive PRO Chess League win, overpowering the Krakens on all boards 10-6. Following the script, Pittsburgh held Buenos Aires’ 4th board to 0/4, and while Federico Perez Ponsa notched 3.5/4, the aggregated total between their boards 1 and 4 was 4.5-3.5 in favor of Pittsburgh. With Shabalov and Awonder each scoring 3 points, Atulya’s 2.5 were enough to clinch the match before taking into account Ed’s tactical shot in his fourth round win:

The win proved to be a confidence booster for the team, and it quickly carried over against the Montreal Chessbrahs in another decisive decision. Awonder won all four games and produced a masterpiece against GM Robin van Kampen – an early sign of things to come for the 14 year old US Junior Champion:

While IM Michael Kleinman notched an impressive 1.5/4, RvK’s 2.5/4 forced Montreal’s second and third boards to perform, and they fell short. Once again a victory for the GGgg line-up. Of course Montreal would also go on to be relegated, but at the time, they too seemed like strong League title contenders given their prior semifinal finish.

The Defining Stretch

The next three weeks proved to set the course for the season, as the then-Atlantic division leaders Minnesota Blizzard, Super Saturday, and the St Louis Archbishops stood in our way of the season mid-point. Three consecutive losses would have likely derailed our playoff aspirations, so the team’s performance was critical in these next three outings.

Despite some late game heroics from the team, Pittsburgh fell short to Minnesota in our only loss of the regular season, 8.5-7.5. The loss was tough, but Awonder produced arguably the PRO Chess League’s most entertaining game of the season with his sac-sac-mate win over surging IM Sean Nagle:

With Super Saturday approaching, we signed bullet specialist IM Tuan Minh Lê to join the team. While Minh’s heroics impressed against superior competition, it was Awonder who muscled the Pawngrabbers to a half point, with critical wins over Nakamura, Dominguez, and a draw against Yu Yuangyi. In just four hours, Awonder became an icon in the PRO Chess League.

GM Eugene Perelshteyn from and I got a chance to review Awonder’s games days after the event concluded:

A draw was a fantastic result given Shabalov’s absence from the line-up, and the confidence boost proved to come at the right time as we faced off with St Louis. As a manager, this was the real test for the GGgg line-up, as we had designed this strategy specifically because of juggernauts like St Louis and Webster – we were never going to out-rate these players on paper.

St Louis brought top grandmasters Fabiano Caruana, Vladimir Fedoseev, and Alejandro Ramirez – two 2700+ rated players. At one point, predicted we had only a 9% chance of winning the match!


One of the downsides of the GGgg strategy is simply that you don’t know if you’ve succeeded in shutting out the fourth board until the match is over. Thus playing out the match on paper feels a lot different than in real-time, as on paper, you have the knowledge that Boards 1 and 4 cancel each other out with 8 games remaining. This distinct lack of knowledge always favors the GGGg line-up, as going into the last round, the GGGg line-up is always favored to score more points than the GGgg one.

Admittedly, I was pretty nervous as I ran a solo commentary stream that night, but in the end, the strategy worked exactly as it did on paper. With Awonder’s win over Caruana, Fabiano maxed out at 3 points, which when aggregated with NM Forest Chen‘s last round win, cancelled out Fabi’s contribution to the match. This left Vladimir Fedoseev and Alejandro Ramirez with the final 8 games, in which we won the aggregate total 4.5-3.5 to secure victory.

Even better, Pittsburgh had the lead going into the final round to account for the head-to-head on-paper advantage St Louis had. Brilliant. Shabalov put together one of the most crushing positional wins I’ve seen against Vladimir Fedoseev in the third round.

Alexander Shabalov–Vladimir Fedoseev (PGH vs STL)

After the match, I congratulated him on his 3/4 performance on the night, to which he responded: “Safal won us the match”. IM Safal Bora had a tough night, only scoring 0.5/4, but his half point made the difference. Shaba was absolutely right – this was a team win. After this match, the focus of the team centered on the over-performing third and fourth boards – they were gaining confidence and had become an asset for the team.

Power of the Bottom Half

As the season progressed, it became clear that Awonder’s efforts needed to be supported by a strong secondary (“g” players). Atulya quickly did his part against Montclair, notching 3/4, including a win over Africa’s first ever 2700 rated player GM Bassem Amin.

Bassem Amin–Atulya Shetty (MCR vs PGH)

Atulya had been a strong weapon for Pittsburgh, with a performance rating consistently north of 2500, but now with a playoff bid in sight, who would take on the role of the fourth board? There were too many options and not much time left, so the strategy shifted and the focus for the team became finding the right fit.

Super Saturday saw the Pawngrabbers clinch a playoff berth with a 4th place finish, despite missing both Shabalov and Atulya in the line-up. The early story of the event was the dominance of tandem Awonder Liang and Mika Brattain:

But by the end of the day, FM Edward Song impressed the most, scoring an unbeaten 6.5/8 from fourth board. Admittedly, he barely made the line-up for the event, but he got to spend the following four hours proving me wrong over the board. IM Tuan Minh Lê also returned for the Pawngrabbers, scoring an impressive 5/8 against Grandmaster competition.

His crowning highlight was this jaw-dropper against GM Helgi Olafsson:

Because of the limitations on number of Free Agent players during the playoff matches, this would prove to be Minh’s final event with the Pawngrabbers in 2018. Had we qualified for the semifinals in San Francisco, he would have been on the line-up (as allowed by League rules) – Shabalov, Awonder, Minh, and Atulya, chiming in at a 2496 average rating. Who knows what that line-up could have accomplished?

While upsetting St Louis will likely be remembered as our signature achievement this year, our next two matches were also quite noteworthy.


Despite Webster’s deep roster, our clash featured an all-GGgg match, and Pittsburgh won in a nail-biter, thanks to a 3/4 performance from Ed. His win over FM Joshua Colas is most memorable for me, as he swiftly dismantled Black’s Sicilian:

Edward Song–Joshua Colas (PGH vs WEB)

Discounting his (narrow) loss to Lê Quang Liem, Ed was now unbeaten in 11 consecutive games and his time management had improved drastically. The match win broke Pittsburgh’s extended losing streak to Webster – one that extended far beyond the PRO Chess League.

The closing week match-up against Miami presented us with the toughest challenge we had all season as Shabalov, Awonder, and Minh Lê were all unavailable. Thus in one week, we had to plan out the gggg vs GGGg strategy. We knew Miami, trying to avoid relegation, would bring their best possible line-up, which boasted Iturrizaga, Quesada Perez, and Becerra.

In the gggg vs GGGg pairing, it is absolutely critical that the gggg outfit score 4/4 against against the opponent’s lone “g”. Failing to do this makes the likelihood of winning close to impossible, which among other things, is one of the main reasons why this kind of line-up is inferior and not sustainable long-term.

However, rather than focusing on cancelling out the top board, the gggg strategy now calls for every player to score 1+/3 in the remaining pairings to get to a minimum 8 points.

MarkHCard Debut
Unable to play for much of 2018, Mark will enter 2019 as one of Pittsburgh’s newest weapons

The team held on tight, and thanks to FM Mark Heimann’s 3/4 debut, Pittsburgh hit an 8-8 draw, as Miami rightfully avoided relegation. With Minnesota getting bashed by Montclair, Pittsburgh locked up the second seed heading into its Round of 16 clash with St Louis.

House of Cards

Unfortunately, you all know how this one plays out. St Louis got out to an early lead, and with a 7-5 advantage in the last round, and Pittsburgh failed to score three points to take the upset. While a 10-6 loss does seem like a blowout, the match was actually a lot closer on paper. NM Forest Chen’s lone win cancelled out Fedoseev’s 3/4, leaving Akobian and Zherebukh for Pittsburgh.

Even with Ed putting up another monster 3/4 performance on board 4, Zherebukh continued his dominant League form with 3.5/4, and Pittsburgh couldn’t close the gap on Akobian. Shabalov had a tough night on the top board being an underdog in three of his games, and the Pawngrabbers couldn’t seem to catch a break for the entirety of the match.

You can rewatch the match in full here:

This match was humbling as it showed some of the shortcomings of the GGgg vs GGGg match strategy. Thinking long-term, our line-up did ask our players to consistently over-perform, and while they succeeded for much of the season, inevitably there was some burnout. This makes sense – while a player may initially score a few upsets, over time that player’s performance rating will regress to their expected performance level.

For our “g” players, we managed to avoid this by constantly rotating them. Funnily enough this was intended to decide which player we wanted on board 4 for the Round of 16, but it benefited all of our players in the long-run (at least on paper).

Does this mean the GGgg line-up is impractical? No, I don’t think so, and for the PRO Chess League format I think both the GGgg and GGGg lineup have their distinct advantages. As teams continue to get stronger, I think at some point both of these strategies will become obsolete – ratings in long-time controls don’t truly represent how a player does in an online rapid format, and it will be up to team managers to decide which players are too highly rated and which players are diamonds in the rough. At some point, teams will feature a GGGline-up, where “G is a hybrid player – a “g” rated player who consistently performs at a “G” level with no burnout.

Finding such a line-up will take a few seasons of data, and naturally runs the risk of said “g” rated player becoming “G” rated. That is the fun of the U2500 average!

Outlook for Pittsburgh

Okay, this is turning out to be a longer article than I envisioned, so let’s put aside the theoretical “improbability” of Pittsburgh’s success in 2018, and talk about next year’s potential. Even with the abrupt end to our season, I think Pittsburgh will be much stronger force next year in the League. FM Edward Song finished the year on a high, but NM Mika Brattain and FM Mark Heimann also showed they are more than capable of playing at a high level this season. IM Atulya Shetty will continue to give the Pawngrabbers an anchor.

FM Jennifer Yu only played one match for Pittsburgh in 2018, but she may see more action as she continues to improve at an impressive rate!

At the rate she’s improving, I think FM Jennifer Yu will also become a much more frequent member of the Pawngrabbers’ outfit in 2019… and that only rounds out the potential for boards 3 and 4!

Of course its much harder to predict what will happen on the top boards during the offseason, so I will rightly keep my mouth shut about our options and new enhanced match strategy we are already developing for 2019. Stay scared, PRO Chess League, Stay scared.

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AI and Chess

Here is a self-composing music using AI.

I watched an AI documentary on my flight back from China, where I learned about the self-composing music using AI.

My immediate question was can this technique applied to chess as well?

The possibilities are certainly there.


AI and Chess

Deep Learning and AI has been the topic in the tech world. Ideas from self-driving cars to language translations have expedited the hype.

Chess had its own moment in the news, namely AlphaZero, where DeepMind stepped aside from the game Go to join the chess research.

AlphaZero not only took down Stockfish in record time, what’s more impressive is the new approach it brought to the game.

AI Applications in Opening Prep

Part of a chess player’s growing pain is how to prepare an opening repertoire. The vast amount of possibilities often overwhelm a strong professional player, needless to say, it’s a much more painful chore for club players.

What if there is a machine that can self-learn opening styles from top players, and then provide a repertoire based on a student’s preference or his/her chess idols?

What if once that repertoire is ready, it can be imported to or other chess databases and can be easily accessed?

One reason of the popularity for AI is the cool applications, but another is the accessibility for us mere mortals to get our hands on and experiment with the technology.

We are just at the beginning of the AI advancement, and as technology progresses further, the possibilities would only increase!

Happy brainstorming!


For those who are interested to explore further, below are some references.

Chess Reinforcement Learning:


This Week in Chess:

My Winter Recap

Looking at the snowstorm raging outside, it seems like winter is far from over. But seriously, it’s March!


You may think that chess isn’t a seasonal sport, but in some ways it is. Essential elements for winter chess in Northeast include:

  • A snow shovel
  • A full tank of gas
  • 4-wheel drive
  • A fully charged phone
  • Snow boots
  • A snow brush
  • An ice scraper

And then you try your best to get to a tournament and sometimes even that isn’t good enough. I ended up missing one round this past Friday, though the 90 mph wind gusts, not snow, were to blame there. Spoiler: it was not the only thing I missed due to bad weather.

As for my chess… My winter went pretty reasonably, minus my epic fails at the Empire City Open and in Charlotte. I regained my rating points and am sitting around my peak rating (fine, a point or two away).

Swindling, swindling, and more swindling

I found myself in some terrible positions against significantly lower rated players but managed to win them. Here are the two main big games:

Huston, Gus (2070 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2483 USCF) Marshall FIDE Premier February 2018


White to move

Yes, I was black here. After something like 25.Rg1 Rg8 (25…Nxf4? loses to 26.Ng5+!) 26.Rab1 Rab8 27.Rb5, my position is really sad. Fortunately, that didn’t happen…

Here’s the second one:

Brodsky, David (2507 USCF) – Zhou, Liran (2219 USCF) Marshall FIDE Premier March 2018


Black to move

I was white here, and my position really sucks, though I’m not officially lost. Black’s pieces are much better placed, and it’ll take me time to unravel. Miraculously I managed to swindle my way to a better position, where I grabbed the pawn on b4, survived black’s kingside attack, and grabbed the d6-pawn while I was at it. Liran defended well until he blundered his queen.

Though I received help, I got out… My trade secret? I didn’t give my opponents easy paths to domination or not to mention victory and forced them to make decisions. If you take a look at those positions, you’ll see that my opponents had plenty of choices, none of which appeared to be clearly better than the rest. They had too many good choices. I hung on until they messed up. Though winning games like this was far from ideal, I got repaid for all my bad luck in Charlotte. Otherwise, the rest of my games against much lower rated players were fairly routine wins for me without any real misadventures.

Rough and tough endgames

More of my games than usual have been decided in the endgame. Some were exciting, while others were pretty boring. I got my fair share of wins, draws, and losses. If you want to take a look at a couple, you can skim ahead to the puzzles section. Overall, I’d say my play in that department was pretty good, though there is room for improvement.

What’s next?

Well, I hope to take the snow shovel out of the car in the near future. I may even forgo the gloves and stop checking the weather forecast for more storms. As for the rest… The norm-hunting season is heating up, and I definitely want to go for a GM Norm. Considering my current rating, getting a 2600+ FIDE performance in a 9-round tournament is a longshot, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. My job now is to do as much prep as I can and hope for the best. At least the weather is likely to be on my side.


As usual, I’ll give you guys something to think about. I’ll post the solutions in the comments on Monday. Enjoy!

Puzzle 1


White to move

How should white maintain his pressure here?

Puzzle 2


Black to move

What extremely strong resource does black have?

Puzzle 3


White to move

Time for some booooooring positional chess. Just kidding, what should white play here? White has several good moves, and choose the one you think is best.

I also learned something new. Not only is it hard to play chess in winter, but it is hard to write about chess in winter. I was pretty much done with this article when we lost power, and I wasn’t able to post the article on time. Thanks snowstorm!

Until next time!

The Candidates Tournament is Back: Sweepstakes with!

Join Chess^Summit and compete in our Candidates Sweepstakes with! [Submissions are due at 5:59 AM EST on March 10th]

Who will win this year’s Candidates Tournament and challenge Magnus Carlsen in London? This is your chance to tell us what you think and win on chess’ biggest stage!


We’ve put together a Fantasy Challenge with for the Candidates Tournament, and you can win a Diamond Membership if you choose your players wisely. Enter Chess^Summit’s Sweepstakes now!

Need to get caught up? Here is Peter Doggers’ preview of the tournament!


Top 5 finishers will receive a 3 month Diamond membership!

Here are the rules to this Sweepstakes:

The Bonus Boost: Predicting the final standings just got more fun!

In this section, you’ll rank the players based on how you think they will finish in this year’s edition of the Candidates Tournament! But be careful – here’s the twist: the higher you rank a player, the more they will count towards your final score. Depending on your ranking, each player will have a different bonus boost ranging from 0 to 7, and that boost multiplied by each player’s score will be added to your point total!

For example, if we picked Kramnik to win in Berlin, his final score is multiplied by 7. So if he scores 7/14, he would score 49 points (7×7) for our submission. If we picked Grischuk to finish last, his bonus boost would be 0, meaning that if he scored 7/14, he would score 0 points (0x7). The total of all player contributions would be our score for this section!

Sergey and Fabiano topped the standings last year, can they make another push in 2018?

Freebies! In this section, we’ll give you ten tough questions. Does checkmate get delivered on the board? Who draws the most? How many times will Anish Giri tweet about the Candidates? We cover everything – answer carefully, each question is worth 5 points!

In this sweepstakes, every game matters, so make sure to watch the stream of the Candidates Tournament presented by Chessbrahs Yasser Seirawan, Robin van Kampen, Eric Hansen, and Aman Hambleton!

Enter the Candidate Sweepstakes now!

Want to know where you stand? Follow the Live Results here.

Only one submission per account, and submissions are due at 5:59 AM EST on March 10th. Good luck!

Another Year, Another VA States

The Virginia State Scholastic Chess Championships is starting today, and by the time you see this article, I’ll likely be playing.  In honor of the tournament, I wanted to spend this week talking about the tournament itself and looking back at perhaps one of the more memorable games I’ve played at the annual event.

The VA State Championships is a unique tournament.  It always takes place during the first weekend of March, which is a rather uneventful two-day weekend in any other aspect.  It’s a six-round tournament, but because it takes place on a two-day weekend, these rounds are fast-paced and rapid fire, one after another.  Here, there are four rounds on Saturday, starting at 9 am and continuing at 12 noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm.  The last two rounds are on Sunday at 8:30 am and 12 noon.  The first three games on Saturday are G/60 + d/5, and the last three (last round on Saturday and the two on Sunday).  If I’m being honest, this is pretty murderous schedule.  In years past, I’ve always been exhausted by the end of the day on Saturday, and sometimes even before the last round that day.  In contrast, top-level open tournaments have a schedule calling for one, at most two, game(s) a day with the entire tournament spread over multiple days to sometimes an entire week, whereas here there are as much as four games in a single day!  Another interesting point is the location – because of Virginia’s relatively weird shape, it’s difficult to find a single location to host the tournament every year.  To add to that, the majority of the players each year are from northern Virginia, but hosting the tournament in northern Virginia every year would make it a long drive for people that do live in the southern portion.  Thus, in order to make it as even as possible, the tournament is held in the Norfolk/VA beach area, northern Virginia, and the Roanoke area on a three-year cycle.  Lastly, while I don’t know too much about other state tournaments, I think it’s safe to say that the competition in both the K-12 and the K-8 sections is immensely strong year after year since all of the strongest scholastic players show up every time.  This makes every tournament exciting and every year, there is always a nail-biting finish.

Going into the last round of the 2016 VA State Championships last year, I was tied with 4.5/5 for second behind the leader, Justin Lohr, who was in clear first with 5/5.  The last round pairing pitted me against WFM Jennifer Yu, who was also at 4.5/5.  I’ve attached the game below in the game viewer.

Kobla – Yu, VA State Championships, 2016

This was probably the most interesting game I have played to date at the tournament.  I ended up placing 3rd in the tournament as Justin won his last round to sweep 6/6 and guarantee a first-place finish, and Jennifer finished ahead of me on tiebreaks.

It’ll be interesting to see how I perform in this year’s edition as I haven’t played much at all in the last six or so months due to junior year and school in general.  Perhaps, for the next article, I’ll write about this tournament.

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

PRO Chess League: Pittsburgh Edges out Webster, Moves to Shared First in Division

The Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers secured a spot in the playoffs in last weekend’s Super Saturday, but showed they could still play for more with a narrow 8.5-7.5 win over the Webster Windmills.

Both teams have clinched playoff spots with two matches to spare, but are still playing for preferred seeding and, for added glory points, Atlantic division winner! With last night’s big win, Pittsburgh is tied with Webster in matches and game points, and shares the division’s first place going into the last regular season match.

With a seemingly endless stream of present and future elite players to choose from, Webster has long been a thorn in everyone’s side, but especially that of Pittsburgh, who becomes the first PRO Chess League team to defeat Webster this season. Webster University teams defeated the University Pittsburgh twice and Carnegie Mellon University once at the Pan-American Collegiate. More relevantly, they demolished last year’s Pawngrabbers 11-5.

But in the PRO Chess League format and in the face of Pittsburgh’s improved roster, Webster was forced to dig deep into its up-and-coming talent, and decided on two (relatively) lower-rated players on its lower boards. Still, the Webster lineup still beat Pittsburgh’s by average rating, and Grabinsky (who played a pivotal role in the two teams’ match last year) and Colas have been top young players for quite a while.

Pittsburgh, however, managed to keep a slight edge for most of the match. Both teams were tied at the halfway point after trading close Rounds 1&2, but Pittsburgh narrowly emerged ahead after Round 3, and held Round 4 for the final 8.5-7.5 score.

Some highlights from last night’s win:

1. Wait – is that Awonder at Webster?

If you followed the discussion before and in the early parts of the match, you might have noticed none other than our own GM Awonder Liang playing in the same room as Webster’s NM Aaron Grabinsky and FM Joshua Colas for what Susan Polgar calls a “family rivalry.”


Awonder is currently training at Webster – shoutout to them for giving Awonder their support, even though he is – at the moment – their rival. 

2. Edward Song goes 3/4.

FM Edward Song was the lowest rated on last night’s Pawngrabbers lineup, playing just his third match, but you wouldn’t know it from how he played last night. Edward outperformed everyone else on the team, in part due to some meticulous preparation. He had a much better position against none other than 2739-rated GM Le Quang Liem in his first game, but blundered at the last moment in a dead-drawn position. That didn’t stop him from winning the rest of his games, including against Webster’s #2, GM Tamas Banusz.

Banusz – Song, Round 2
3. IM Atulya Shetty’s comeback against FM Josh Colas

Following close behind was IM Atulya Shetty on Board 3, who scored 2.5/4. Atulya has consistently outperformed his position this season, making him an integral part of the team’s success this season. He seemed to be dead in the water against FM Josh Colas, facing an inevitable mate on g7, but turned the tables around with a surprising 28…Qd1+!!.

Colas – Shetty, Round 4

Next week, Pittsburgh and Webster will be playing Miami and Montreal – two tied teams facing possible relegation. While the Pawngrabbers and Windmills are clear favorites in their respective matches given their results this season, we can expect Miami and Montreal to try very hard to get as many points as possible.

Be sure to tune in next Wednesday at 5:55 pm Eastern time at for our match against the Miami Champions!