Rook Blunders at the East Coast Open

Chess took a backseat for a few weeks due to AP Exams. I was still studying chess, but I didn’t play for a while. Fortunately I wasn’t missing out on anything important. With the exams over, it was time to concentrate on chess again.

There are plenty of places to play over Memorial Day weekend. Of course, the Chicago Open is the big one, and I’m hoping to play in it one of these days. In the past I’ve played at the Massachusetts Championship and the Cherry Blossom Classic. This year I decided to give the newly established East Coast Open a shot. The tournament is organized by Maryland Chess, and I have had only the best experiences with them.

How did it go? The tournament was a bit strange for me. After a rough start, I managed to get my game rolling. My games were fairly short, but there were a few interesting moments.

Rounds 1 & 2

I won my first round against Robert Forney (2032 USCF, 1835 FIDE) in a fairly smooth game, even if some of my ideas were a little suspicious. I lost my second round game to GM Priyadharshan Kannappan (2620 USCF, 2530 FIDE). It was an interesting game, but long story short, I didn’t play well and got rightfully beaten.

A fascinating and strange game

My round 3 game, against FM Ivan Biag (2298 USCF, 2322 FIDE), meets the above description. I got a very nice position with white out of the opening and eventually reached the following position:

Biag 1

What’s the deal here? The d6-pawn is a thorn in black’s position, and he is really cramped. On the plus side, black has a knight on d5. How should white get through? It’ll certainly involve Bxd5, and the first move to consider is playing 25.Bxd5 right at this moment.

If 25… cxd5, then white is really happy. He piles his rooks on the c-file, and by the time black jams it up with Bc6, he’ll be able to sacrifice an exchange on c6. White will be dominating if he manages to do that, no question about it.

Black can also play exd5, and that’s where my problem lay. After Rde1 (or Rfe1, I don’t think there’s a real difference), black can go Re8 and Kf7-e6 on his next moves, barricading the white pawns. I saw that I have e6 Rxd6 Bc5 but wasn’t convinced after Rxe6 Bxf8 Rxf8. Still, white is better there, and maybe I should’ve gone for it.

Is this endgame actually winning? I asked the computer and even let it run overtime. It gave a wonderful evaluation of +1.80 and suggested 25.Be2. What? This really confused me. Isn’t white’s position supposed to revolve around Bxd5? The computer’s idea is to play in one order or another g3, Bf3, and h4. Black, in the meanwhile, can run with his king to the queenside, while white doesn’t gain much on the kingside. My silicon friend’s other top suggestions include 25.g3 (going along with operation Be2) and 25.Rc1 (a rook which goes back to e1 in a couple moves in the engine’s top line), neither of which particularly impress me.

I played it a bit against the engine, and it’s quite fascinating. I had to prod it to do something constructive (i.e. bring the king to the queenside), since it was suggesting seemingly random moves with no plan while giving everything the same high evaluation.

Is the position actually winning? I don’t have an objective answer to that, and it won’t be easy to find. Computers are useful for blunder checks and calculating potential sacrifices/forcing lines, but they won’t be too handy in finding a plan. The computer’s high evaluation doesn’t convince me that white is winning. One thing is clear: white has excellent winning chances, and in a practical game, figuring out the mathematical evaluation of the position is the least of white’s concerns. When given an opportunity to reach this kind of position, just go for it! Don’t obsess if you’re objectively winning. You have excellent winning chances and, with a bit of luck, your opponent will help you win.

In the game, I decided to open a second front which turned out not to be the wisest idea. I went 25.h3 with the idea of going g4 in the near future, and I was met with 25…Be8. Now, if 26.Bxd5, he’ll go 26…cxd5, and he’s in time to jam up the c-file with Bc6. I decided to continue engineering the g4 break which somehow helped black more than it did me. A few moves later we reached this position:

Biag 2

I was getting tired of all the threats, namely those against my f4-pawn, and I decided to jam things up on the kingside with 32.g5. If 32… h5, my plan was to swing back to the queenside and aim for Bxd5 at the right moment. Instead, my opponent played 32… hxg5 33.Rxg5 Rh8 trying to get play of his own.

Biag 3

Black may be planning to go Kg8 and Rgh7 with the idea of tying me up to the h3-pawn. That doesn’t seem to be a serious problem, since I can defend the pawn by putting a rook on the 3rd rank. My f4-pawn, however, is annoying. I decided to relocate my bishop from its idealistic home on the g1-a7 diagonal to d2 to defend the pawn. Looks good, right? I calmly played 34.Bc3?? casually forgetting about 34…Ne3. Oops!!! What just happened??

Now, had I been in my right mind, I would’ve just gone 35.Be2 or 35.Bd3, because after black takes the exchange, there’s no way he’s going to win. The position is too closed. Instead, I overreacted and went on a suicide run with 35.Bxe6??! (the ! is for creativity). This looks good, but that’s the only positive thing I can say about it. The game went 35… Nxf1+ 36.Kg2 Ne3+ 37.Kf3 Nd5 38.Bxd5 cxd5 39.e6 Bc6 40.Ke3 Re8 41.e7

Biag 4

With my last move, I decided to keep my bishop and my pawns and claim to have compensation for the rook I’m down. My opponent thought for a bit and offered a draw which I, of course, accepted. It isn’t easy to get through with black, though I suspect he’s winning.

A strange game. I could spend ages analyzing it and could probably write several more articles about it. If I have a bit of spare time, I may try to find the objective evaluation of that endgame. Note to self: always look for simple tactics, even when feeling extremely safe. Nobody is above that!

My comeback

My round 4 game against Evelyn Zhu (2193 USCF, 1983 FIDE) was pretty good. I came out on top with black in a positional struggle where I played fairly accurately. My round 5 game against Stanislav Busygin (2287 USCF, 2213 FIDE) was fun. Really fun.


I was white, and if I expected the game to be quiet, I was wrong. Things really exploded when he played 13…Nxg4!? 14.hxg4 Qh4 here. I took a long think on my next move, trying to figure things out.

Busygin 2

White clearly has to bring defenders to the party. 15.Qe1 Qxg4+ 16.Qg3 looks promising, but on a second glance, I found that black can go 15…Qh3! hitting the bishop and threatening Bd4+ at the same time. That’s no good. 15.Rf2 and 15.Rf3 are possible but aren’t impressive. Black will just go 15…Nf6, and white doesn’t have a clear follow-up. I played the best move, 15.Kg2!, but not before calculating the consequences. If 15…Qxg4+, white has 16.Ng3 after which black’s attack is in shambles. After 15… Nf6 16.Rh1! Qxg4+ 17.Ng3, black’s attack doesn’t amount to much either. My opponent played the move I had been expecting: 15…Ne5!. I correctly went 16.Rh1!. After 16.dxe5 white indeed has nothing better than a draw, but I didn’t see all the details correctly. The main line goes 16…Qxg4+ 17.Ng3 Qh3+ 18.Kf2 Bxe5 19.Nce2!

Busygin 4

White is two pieces up, but his king is really shaky to say the least. The last move 19.Nce2 was forced to both protect the g3-knight and stop Bd4+. I rejected this on account of 19…Bg4? and missed that white has 20.Rh1! which wins for him. It turns out black has a slick defense here: 19…Qh2+ 20.Kf3 h5! (including Bxg3 Nxg3 is also fine).

Busygin 3

Black is threatening mate on g4, and white has nothing better to do than go 21.Nf5 or 21.Bf5, after which black will secure a perpetual. I’m glad I didn’t go for this! Yeah, I did miss things, but intuitively white’s position is rather alarming.

Back to the game. After 16… Qxg4+ 17.Ng3 Nxd3 18.Qxd3, my opponent played 18… Bxc3?!. Fighting for compensation after 18…Bf5 19.Qd1 was better. I replied 19.bxc3 (19.Qxc3 was also good) 19…Bf5 20.Qd1!. White isn’t losing anything and can enjoy his material advantage. I went on to win in a few moves.

Suffice it to say that I was relieved once this game was over, but it also felt great to win in this style.


The last day was arguably my best. I drew my round 6 game against GM Alexander Fishbein and won my round 7 game with GM Sergey Erenburg, both with black. What a finish! It was a really nice way to end the tournament. After starting with 1.5/3, I plowed my way back up and got 5/7 landing myself in a 4-way tie for first with 3 GMs in the process.

Not bad after a break! Of course, the rook blunder was a wakeup call… Obviously, I’m not 100% immune to 1200-level blunders.

I was pleased that I got to play 3 GMs in 7 rounds in this tournament which was much better than the 1 GM I got to play at the Philadelphia Open over Easter this year. Big thanks to Maryland Chess and Mike Regan for running a well-organized tournament!

Until next time!

Opening Overhaul 1: The London System

As promised, today’s article will be the first installment of the Opening Overhaul.  In case you haven’t read the preview I posted last time, I will quickly summarize what this series is going to look like.  Each article will focus on a specific opening.  These articles will start with a brief discussion of the opening’s origins and its defining moves, positions, and//or ideas.  Afterward, I will go into some of the newer ideas in the opening, illustrating how the opening has evolved since it first appeared on the board.  Of course, notable and/or recent games from renowned players or even myself (where applicable) will be included as well.



This week, we’ll be starting with the London System, a solid system for White that has been around for a long time.  The name of the system has its origins in the 1922 tournament in London when players began employing the line as a way to meet any Black response, especially the newer, hypermodern setups.  In the first few decades of play, this was the essential motive behind playing the London System – playing an opening with not much theory as the plans stay fairly constant with any Black response.  Some may have called it “playing for a draw.”  But, as the opening stuck around, the amount of theory in the opening increased, eventually to the point where people would consciously play the London System with the intent of playing for a win.

Classically, the defining moves for the London System are d4, Nf3, and Bf4 as the first three moves.  Sample starting move orders include, but are not limited to:

  1. d4 d5
  2. Nf3 e6
  3. Bf4 Nf6


  1. d4 Nf6
  2. Bf4 g6
  3. Nf3 Bg7

And so on.

A textbook London System position

The Plans

Typically, late opening/early middlegame ideas for White revolve around a few things:

  1. An e4 pawn break – when the d4 pawn is adequately supported, many times with pawns on c3 and e3, White builds up for an e3-e4 pawn break. This central break often leads to at least one minor piece trade, which opens up White’s somewhat cramped position.  It also allows the rooks to focus on the oft-open e-file.
  2. Control of the dark squares – by supporting the d4 pawn with pawns on c3 and e3 and having a bishop on f4 and a knight on f3, White often decides to focus on dark square control in the center. If White is able to establish dominant dark square control, the player is often able to maneuver pieces to holes in Black’s position and attack other sides of the board.
  3. Early queen trade – Black sometimes plays for lines with c5 and Qb6 ideas, aiming at the unprotected b2 pawn. However, White can sometimes challenge this attack by playing Qb3, offering a trade of queens.  If Black trades on b3, White recaptures with axb3, opening the rook on a1 and giving White a favorable endgame.

Interestingly enough, Black’s ideas in the London System revolve around somewhat similar concepts:

  1. An e5 pawn break – Just as White sometimes aims to break with e4, one of Black’s common ideas against the London System is to break with e5 before White can accomplish his own break. The advantage of this break for black is that, with White’s bishop on f4 and knight on f3, the push with e5 can come with great effect by gaining tempi on those minor pieces.  It can also help Black untangle his position as well, depending on how Black organizes his pieces before the break.
  2. Attacking the queenside – Since White moves his dark-squared bishop away from protecting the queenside fairly early, Black has a couple ways to try to exploit that in the opening and middlegame – namely, with the queen and with a pawn storm.
    • With the queen – As briefly mentioned earlier, the combination of c5 (hitting d4) and Qb6 is typical for Black as it activates the queen and hits the weak b2 pawn. This can sometimes create problems for White in regards to how to protect against the threat, especially if White has not played c3 yet since he wouldn’t be able to challenge the queen with Qb3.
    • With pawns – The other method of attacking the queenside is with a pawn storm. Depending on whether Black pushes his d-pawn to d6 or d5, the pawn storm can be organized differently.  If Black pushes d6, then he can follow with an eventual c5, a6, and b5 with the idea of b4, if allowed.  If Black pushes d5, then he can follow with c5, a6, c4, b5 with eventual b4, if allowed.  Either way, the goal of the pawn storm is the same – undermine the pawn support of the center and open lines.
  3. Trading off minor pieces – In a way, in the London System, White only uses half of his minor pieces in the opening phase of the game. White has the bishop on f4 and a knight on f3 which are directly involved in the fight for the center, but the light-squared bishop and queen’s knight are not.  Thus, Black often tries to get rid of the dark-squared bishop, either by using a knight with Nf6-Nh5-Nxf4(g3) or by challenging with his own dark squared bishop (Bd6).


One game that exemplifies the second plan for White (as elaborated on, above) is actually from London 1922, between two very strong chess players in Akiba Rubinstein and Savielly Tartakower.

Rubinstein – Tartakower, London, 1922

 As we saw in this game, Rubinstein was focused from the start on trying to control the dark squares in the center and eventually on the flanks.  This control that he builds on allows him the luxury to eventually shuffle pieces around, including his king, and prepare for an attack, while all Black can do is scramble to defend while not having much mobility for any of his pieces.  While the end result isn’t directly connected to the opening, the fact that Rubinstein was able to establish dark square control in order to facilitate his later attack is a testament to the dangerous potential of the London System.

New Ideas

As with any opening, though, the London System has evolved over the years.  In my opinion, in fact, the London System may be at the forefront in terms of examples of openings that have evolved recently.  I have seen an uncountable number of games over the past six to twelve months where new ideas have been played and experimented with.

While I’m obviously no expert on this opening as I don’t play it myself, my observations have deemed that, in these new lines of the London System, White is focusing more on the dark square control plan and somewhat moving away from the e4 break plan.  While streamlined opening ideas can sometimes be bad as a player’s moves may become more predictable, it seems as if the aggressiveness of White in these new lines offsets that negative.

These new ideas revolve around an early Bg3 retreat (from f4), an early Ne5, and sometimes even f4 for White if given the time.  If Black doesn’t play well or does not know how to play against this plan, White can slowly build up, at which point the position becomes a more favorable version of the Stonewall for White as his dark-squared bishop is already outside the central pawn chains.

A possible position arising from newer London System ideas

With new ideas like this continually changing the face of the London System, I expect the opening to continue as one of the most popular chess openings.  While it is sometimes given a bad reputation for being a draw-ish opening, the potential exists for it to become a dangerous weapon, and thus, chess players will continue to play the opening for many years to come.

And, with that said, thanks for reading! I hope this article was enjoyable as it is something different than what I’ve written recently.  Next time out, I’ll be covering another opening, but you’ll have to wait for the details :).

Opening Lessons from NYC

Enjoying Ramen in Pittsburgh before moving back to Richmond

Now a couple weeks removed from my tournament at the Marshall Chess Club, I’ve had some time to think about my performance and prepare for the Chicago Open. Admittedly, NYC didn’t go as planned. Playing more solid openings in a rapid tournament, while good review, kept my hands tied against talented youngsters, which forced me to concede some draws I would have preferred to avoid. All said and done, I finished 4.5/8 over the weekend.

I think what these tournaments did show me was that when I play an opening, it is much more important to understand the concepts than remember the moves. Now I’m sure many of you know this (as do I), but actually applying that can be difficult. Let’s face it  – you need to know openings for both sides, and inevitably when there’s a sharp line, it feels like you need to remember the move order to not fall for some tactical traps.

In some of my games, it felt like I was losing time between picking a move I felt like I had remembered versus a concept which I knew. In a G/45 game, that’s wasted time! As I’ve been reviewing my openings this week, I’ve found ways to improve by eliminating rote memory and looking for concepts by challenging my own openings with “human moves”.   Given how close we are to the Chicago Open, I don’t want to give away any of my opening secrets, so I decided to use this method but focused on a game I played against a ~1650 rated player in the Dutch:

As you can see, my opening moves are hardly impressive. I simply thought of what set-ups would be the most annoying for Black and took away his only ideas. And in the game Beilin beat me from last night’s stream, you could see how quickly I fell apart from not knowing the best response.

When learning a new opening, you really need to understand the key concepts. If you don’t remember the exact move you need to play in a given position, you can work backwards with: what’s your goal? what’s the ideal set-up?

If you’re just looking at the computer for the best move when you’re planning out your openings, you are depriving yourself of that exposure you really need to play sound opening chess.

As I mentioned in the video, I’ve decided to play in the U2300 section instead of the Open section. Even with a month to prepare since the end of the semester, I was asking a lot of myself to be on my best form going into the Chicago Open. I’m hoping that playing in the U2300 will help me continue to develop as a player and better prepare me for future opens later this summer.

Topics for Different Levels of Chess Players

A new player does not need to learn double pins.

A 1200-rated player does not need to analyze 20-moves deep Najdorf variations.

During each level of ratings, we should build out rough guidelines to improve based on our chess understanding.

If you’re just starting to play chess, learning complicated topics that does not apply to your games will only overwhelm and provide more anxieties than enjoyments.

So what should students learn at different levels.

Let’s separate player strength into three groups based on USCF ratings.

  1. Under 500
  2. Under 1000
  3. Under 1500

I’ve been working with many U1000 and a few U1500 players, and the important themes that I’m seeing are as follow:


-Reduce blunders, especially giving up free piece

-Learn basic tactics and checkmate patterns (1 move)

-Pay attention to captures, make sure you see two on one opportunities


Looking at the whole board

-Elimination of defenders

-Prepare mate and tactics (2+ moves)


-Activate pieces

-Space advantage

-Focus on important targets

As you can see, there are more strategic themes for U1500 then the lower rating groups.

Tactics is still very important for U1500 players. however, the opponents they are playing against will have just as much tactical prowess, therefore learning more strategic knowledge will be advantageous.

Let’s discuss Focus on important targets briefly here.


Many newly-1000 players would play the passive looking move Rab8, protecting the b7-pawn.

For stronger players, b7-pawn here is not important. The main focus now is to activate one or both of black’s rooks.

After scanning the board for 10 seconds or so, a stronger player would immediately see Rad8 and then Rxd2 taking control of the 2nd rank will soon take control of the game.

On the other hand, for the U500 players, even if they did play Rad8, the game may still take a few twist and turns to get to an unknown outcome

To summarize: players at each level should focus and improve on certain themes.

It’s good for newer players to see the the higher-level topics, but it’s much more important to hammer down the fundamentals.

Surprises for a First-Time Nationals TD

I had been directing local Pittsburgh tournaments on-and-off for a year and a half when Boyd Reed asked if I’d be interested in directing the 2018 National Elementary in Nashville. Now, this was after he’d told me all the “fun” tournament director stories… but to be honest, I was pretty interested in seeing what the tournament was like, having never been to any national scholastics as a kid. Since I had nothing to do in between finals and graduation, I was all for it.

It seemed a bit strange to go in barely knowing anything about national scholastics, and more generally tournaments of that size. My home state of Indiana has never been big on the national scholastic scene, so for a long time I barely knew anyone who had been to any of those. And the largest tournament I’d played in was the U.S. Amateur Team East, which features at most half of the number of players of the National Elementary – factoring in all the potential parents, coaches, and kids running around shows how overwhelming the thought of the event was to me. But Boyd, who is basically the most experienced TD you can find (in addition to being the USCF Director of Events), was on board, which was good enough for me. In that line of work, surprises are a necessary part of the experience.

Not everything was a surprise. Friday (the first day of the tournament) was, as expected, not the most relaxing day ever. Having my my last exam Thursday evening meant scrambling to Nashville in the early morning, unlike most TDs who arrived Thursday. I ended up staying up till 3:30 a.m. (in solidarity with a few other friends cramming for their exams) before heading out for my 5 a.m. flight and getting a solid 2(!) hours of sleep along the way.

The enormous staff and the general nature of directing was also pretty much what I expected. There were slightly more than 40 floor TDs (including me) and one chief TD for each section, in addition to the backroom/overall chief TDs. The mechanics of tournament directing are not that exciting, although that is obviously not the purpose of the job. It is often said that it is better if a tournament director is invisible, usually indicating that there are no major problems or disputes created for or by the TDs. Most of the job of a floor TD is to be alert for questions, of which there are more than you’d expect at a normal large tournament (kids being kids), or in the case of national scholastics, taking results. However, it’s a mostly quiet endeavor, and is probably best left that way.

However, over the weekend I truly realized (for the first time) that that playing chess makes me feel very old, but directing makes me feel rather young. There is a pretty obvious explanation for this – wealth of organizing/directing experience is much more tied to age than chess skill (which, if anything, is considered to be stronger in young players). Most of the other TDs had clearly been around for a long time, if not at the national level.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort, where the National Elementary is often held, is a unique experience in itself, and pretty iconic to many players growing up (including most of my fellow authors here). I had been duly warned how huge the place was, and how chaotic it would be with thousands of kids and their parents, but it’s impossible to describe the magnificence of the Gaylord complex without being there. The challenge of walking outside into the high-80s heat and the abundance of rivers, islands, sunlit domes, and (typical resort-level expensive) food ensured I didn’t need to set foot outside throughout the weekend. As a tournament director mostly running around trying to squeeze in a meal between rounds or get some much needed sleep, the perspective is a bit different than it would have been a few years ago, but I assume that as a kid the place would have been a lot of fun.

But ultimately, the two biggest surprises were the walking and the eagerness of the players with rules.

The walking is probably something I could have seen in advance; walking around anywhere for 3 straight hours (per round!) has to have some effect. Apparently, Isaac warned me about this before, but I wasn’t really listening at the time. In any case, I knew it was going to be a tough weekend when I discovered in the middle of Round 1 that’d I’d already walked 4 miles (it took another day before I felt like never walking again). One of the chief TDs (hopefully in jest) claimed 30 miles, having been awake from 7 am to 10 pm.

Most of the disputes between players seemed to be, as I predicted, touch-move disputes. Those are never smooth, because the case almost always relies on player testimony, and kids at the elementary school age often don’t understand what it takes to convince someone impartial (e.g. a tournament director) of much. The usual instinct of a TD is to deny the touch-move claim (and warn both players to be clear to avoid future ambiguities) because forcing someone to move a piece in the face of shoddy evidence is far more damaging than the other way around. Unfortunately, this isn’t always accepted by the players in question (yes, there was crying).

Touch-move aside, the players seemed to be very eager to apply their knowledge of tournament rules. Even in the K-5 Under 1200 section where I spent most of my time, there were many questions about rules that are, if I’m not mistaken, not discussed widely in the traditional chess curriculum. Given the misunderstandings, I’d have to say that it’s probably a distraction from what’s really important, but I can’t say that I (or many of my peers) would have acted differently as a scholastic player – everyone wants to feel in control of the game and its procedures, whatever they might include. However, for instance, quite a few players called me over to claim a three-move repetition because they had moved the same piece back and forth three times. The explanation (that the same position has to occur three times) is relatively simple and usually accepted, but it does seem like the kids have rushed into learning these rules.

By all accounts, the Elementary Nationals stayed alive and well throughout the weekend. It takes an enormous effort from the top down to keep a 2000+ player event (especially one with as many auxiliaries as the National Elementary), and both players and directors owe a lot of thanks to Chief TD Jeff Wiewel, as well as organizer/Director of Events Boyd Reed, for their continued support throughout the event. Thanks to the rest of the staff for making the 2018 National Elementary such a big success!

Time Management

Time management is a subject teenagers don’t seem to be qualified to discuss. Fortunately, time management in life and time management in chess are two different animals, and I do know a thing or two about the latter…

Here in the US, time controls can be confusing to say the least. The traditional time control of 2 hours/40 moves, sudden death 1 hour had been replaced with 2 hours/40 moves, sudden death 30 minutes with a 10-second delay. Or maybe there’s a 5-second delay some places. Then there’s the 30 second increment which is the standard time control internationally. Sometimes there’s a time control after move 40, sometimes there isn’t. With all this confusion, I will briefly compare the two time controls: those with delay and those with increment.

First off, being in time trouble with delay is much worse than being in time trouble with increment. 30 seconds isn’t that much to make a move, especially if you have a difficult decision to make, but it’s better than 5 or 10 seconds. No question about it. On increment you can also build up time and potentially invest it at a critical moment, while with delay you can’t.

With the increment, on the other hand, you are more likely to land in time trouble, simply because you start with 90 minutes instead of 2 hours. If there’s no time control after move 40, then you’re even more likely to end up in a situation where you, and often your opponent, are playing on the increment alone. Those situations aren’t easy to handle at all. Meanwhile, with delay, you may be a bit short on time with a couple moves to go to the time control, and most games don’t go long enough for you to burn the extra 30 minutes you get at the time control.

General guidelines

With increment or delay, time trouble is still the same kind of animal, and there are some general principles you should follow.

If your opponent is in time trouble, don’t rush and take your sweet time. Figure things out on your own. In a complicated positions, your opponent isn’t a happy camper; he’s stressed out and is calculating variations over and over again. Then some hallucinations start creeping into his thoughts… When you make a move, he has to reply fairly quickly with all this chaos going on in his head. That isn’t easy. If it’s a technical endgame or a position where your opponent has fairly easy moves to make, then there’s all the more reason for you to think. It’s not like you’re letting your opponent think more about his next fairly intuitive move…

I learned this lesson in a rather extreme way when I was rated about 1800. I was beyond completely winning, with an extra queen and piece, and my opponent had one second on the clock. I was playing quickly until… guess what? I managed to stalemate my opponent! Every chess player has had an embarrassing episode or two like this, but I did learn my lesson.

Don’t make committal decisions right before the time control—assuming there IS a time control. It’s a bad idea. In my personal experience, most of my big decisions during moves 35-40 with a couple minutes on the clock have been pretty stupid to say the least. Unless there’s a forced win or you really need to make a committal decision, just do something normal. Also, take a little break after the time control to refresh your mind. Go to the bathroom, walk around, check out the other games, etc. Just don’t continue sitting at the board crunching things out. Spending a few minutes to refresh your mind is a much better idea.

Quasi-time trouble

Say you have 5-10 minutes on the clock to make a few moves before the time control. It’s not like you have no time, but you’ve got to speed up. This isn’t an unusual scenario, and it’s a hard call what to do. It all depends on the position.

If you’re winning or near-winning, I wouldn’t recommend spending all your time looking for a knockout punch. Here’s a worst case scenario of what could happen: You play some regular moves, trying to find a knockout at every moment, while your opponent will get away with some reasonable moves. You start to lose the thread, and before you know it, your opponent is posing some problems, and you don’t have time to think about them. Then you start making mistakes/blunders and lose a heartbreaker. These kinds of games have happened before and will happen again. Unfortunately, it’s not like there’s a nice way out of it. After all, if it turns that you missed a knockout punch on that move you played in 10 seconds, you’ll be kicking yourself for not spending more time! Since you can’t see—and don’t have time to see—everything, use your intuition. If it really looks like you can finish your opponent off here and now, then do spend some time trying to figure things out. Otherwise, take a bit of time but don’t take your last big think at that moment.

If the position is totally unclear and razor-sharp, then you’re in for a (potentially not enjoyable) ride. Leave yourself with enough time so that you don’t all-out blunder, stay sharp, and hope for the best. If the position is fairly technical, however, your moves shouldn’t be that hard to play. There’s nothing wrong with dancing around a bit before the time control.

In conclusion, I’d suggest that you don’t burn your time too low unless you really feel there is a win or the position is critical. Use that little time you have left wisely!

Chronic time trouble

Some people have a serious time trouble addiction. By that I mean getting into time trouble practically every game. It’s a serious problem with no real cure. Dealing with chronic time trouble isn’t my area of expertise, since I personally have only had occasional struggles with time trouble. I’ve actually never flagged in a long time control game, though I have gotten down to one second a couple times.

It seems that, in general, time trouble is a sign of bad form for me. My worst time trouble issues came up at the 2015 Philadelphia Open, when I went into the tournament with a perfectionist attitude and spent way too much time on my moves. My result there was apocalyptical. Fortunately, this was just a one-tournament issue, and my time management was soon back to normal. In other tournaments where I was regularly getting into time trouble, I wasn’t playing very well either. In general, I was spending a lot of time on nothing special/bad moves. I’d blame it on my pre-tournament mindset rather than my time management itself. Long story short: perfectionism is a bad idea that leads to time trouble. Also, if you’re getting into time trouble in a certain tournament, try to play a bit faster the next few rounds.

What’s normal and what’s not?

There’s no big rule of thumb. How much time should you have at move 20? Move 30? How about 35? How much time should you spend after the time control? I could go on and on with these questions that have no real answer.

In some ways, time trouble is normal. Is it really expected that if you reach move 60 you’ll have 20+ minutes on the clock? No, of course not! It all depends how complicated the game is. If you’re playing some razor sharp stuff, take your time. It’s better if you’re in a bit of time trouble a few moves down the road than if you get demolished because you didn’t calculate deep enough.

If, however, you’re spending a lot of time on fairly straightforward moves without coming up with any strokes of genius, that’s a bad sign. Unless you’re at the crossroads deciding what plan of action to take, you shouldn’t be tanking. If there’s a tactical shot that looks promising but turns out not to work, and instead you play a fairly natural move, that’s time well spent. In some cases, those tactics will work, and in other cases they won’t. This is just one of those. In general, don’t spend too much time on simple decisions. If you’ve spent all your time placing your pieces to perfection and have no time by move 25, you won’t be a happy camper when complications arise.

What about critical moments? Well, a critical moment is a really vaguely defined term, and there’s no Mariam-Webster definition.  If you feel that your next move will significantly affect the course of the game, then do take your time. However, if you think every other position is a critical moment, you’re mistaken! By the time you get to an actual critical moment, you’ll have no time to figure things out… Don’t spend too much time on simple decisions.


I could go on and on with this philosophical discussion about time management. What’s the big conclusion? Really a lot depends on the game. In general, spending a lot of time on simple moves and perfectionism is a recipe for time trouble and disaster. Getting into time trouble here and there is okay, but if you get into it every game, you have a problem.

Until next time!

Opening Overhaul: A Preview

My last few posts have kind of been all over the place.  I’ve discussed blunders, shared some of my own games, analyzed grandmaster games from the top tournaments, given tournament previews/recaps, so on and so forth.   Admittedly, I haven’t been able to decide on a specific direction to go in for a few articles due to the juggling act that is the junior year of high school.  Since February, I’ve taken an ACT, an SAT, a couple SAT Subject Tests, and most recently, a couple AP Exams.  In fact, I just took the AP United States History exam yesterday, and thus, had to write up this article all last night.  But I digress.

Luckily, I only have one left during this upcoming week, after which I’m almost done for the year.  As those important aspects of the junior year come to an end, I’ll be able to focus more time on chess, whether it’s playing in tournaments, playing online, or even writing these articles – a prospect I am overly thrilled about.  And, with that, I wanted to announce a new series that I’ve been wanting to start for some time – Opening Overhaul.  In this series, I want to take some time to investigate a few openings in depth and share some of the new ideas that have come about in these openings.  These openings may or not be part of your existing repertoire, but as my former chess coach used to say, “All knowledge is good.” And, who knows, perhaps, one of these openings will strike you as worth trying out sometime.  Either way, I hope that these next few articles prove beneficial in some way or another.


In each of these articles, I plan to focus on a single opening.  In these openings, I will try to show the fundamental moves, explain some of the general ideas for each side, and finally, elaborate on some of the newer ideas in the opening, supplemented with recent games from either myself and/or some grandmasters if I can find them.

As a bit of a preview, for the first opening, I plan to write about the London System.  The London System has been around forever, but at the top levels, it was never seen amongst the strongest players.  However, over the last six or so months, I’ve seen a bit of a revival of the opening, with so many players around my rating employing the system, and with good success.  Even some of the strongest players in the world have experimented with the newer ideas in the opening recently.  But before I go into it too much, I should note that you’ll have to wait until next time for the full story on that.

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

Missed Moments: Chicago Edition

Beilin and I trying our first deep dish… now that was a lot of pizza!

…and just like that, my first tournament of the summer is in the books. Having gained a few points with an even score (+1 =2 -1), I guess it’s fair to say my debut in Chicago turned out respectably. I scored a half-point against a 2400+ rated opponent, and on paper, I was reasonably solid throughout the event. Of course, as with all “big returns” to chess, there were a few things in my play that require improvement.

Now that I’ve gone over my games a few times, I’ve pinpointed a few areas I really want to work on, based on my performance. In today’s post, I wanted to discuss candidate moves and expanding your search. While I don’t think this is my biggest weakness as a chess player right now, there were three different moments this weekend where looking for candidate moves could have helped my play.

Follow along and try to see if you can find the flaws in my calculation!

Looking for All of your Opponent’s Resources

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 23.37.21
Zhao–Steincamp, position after 72. Nxc7

To my opponent’s credit, he had put up a lot of resistance to reach this point, however Black is now winning. After much calculation I pushed 72…h2, believing I had found the winning idea. I had already seen this idea a few moves before, and confirmed that 73. Nd5+ Kd4! -+ just wins for Black, thanks to the threat of queening. My main point was that if 73. Kxh2 Kf2 White can’t be in time to stop the pawn from promoting because …g4-g3 comes with check. I had also calculated 73. Kg2 h1Q+ 74. Kxh1 Kf2 with the same concept.

My calculation had stopped after 75. Nd5 g3, and without a way to stop me from checking the White king on h1, I just assumed that the position was lost. But I missed an incredibly important detail in 76. Nf4!!:

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 23.46.39
Zhao–Steincamp, position after 76. Nf4!!

And this would force a draw, thanks to the idea of stalemate! Without a way to take the knight, White is now in time to stop both of the pawns from promoting. Luckily, my opponent missed this idea and basically resigned with 73. Kxg4 h1Q, playing on until mate.

For those of you trying to figure out the correct plan for Black, 72…Ke3 is the simplest. I’ll now push the e-pawn, and White’s king cannot leave because of the pawn on h3. Even if White can sacrifice his knight for the e-pawn, its not enough since Black still has winning material.

This knight sacrifice on f4 was a pretty hard idea to spot, especially a few moves in advance. While my opponent could have definitely put up more resistance, I was busy asking myself the wrong questions: what am I trying to achieve? How do I queen my pawns?

By not thinking about what my opponent is trying to achieve (or rather, what he can achieve), I ruled out 76. Nf4 simply because my pawn on e4 was taking away that square. This is actually a common calculation problem – missing moves because your pieces are already protecting them… look out!

Redefining a Forcing Move

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 23.59.45
Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 16…Ne7

Even though I drew a much higher rated opponent in the second round, I could have done much more with a little more accuracy. In this position, I am completely winning. The king on f8 is extremely weak, and it is only a matter of time before Black’s position falls apart. Here I opted for 17. Qh5, which is strong, but gives Black some time to regroup.

Now I’m sure you might be wondering: hey Isaac, what was wrong with 17. exf4 – isn’t that more immediate? During the game, I wasn’t sure if I liked 17…g4 18. Nf2 Bf5I knew I was better, but now my f-pawn is in the way of my attack, and f5 is an annoying outpost. So I decided to play the text move instead.

I’m sure at some point you’ve heard the mantra “checks, captures, and threats” at some point in your chess career. While its great for novice players, stronger players need a weaker definition of forcing moves: checks. In this case, both my opponent and I had missed 17. exf4 g4 18. f5!! +-, and now White is completely winning:

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 00.09.13
Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 18. f5!!

Now Black does not have time to take the knight! The h6 pawn is suddenly hit by the c1 bishop, and I’ve cleared the f4 square for my h3 knight. Meanwhile Black is completely underdeveloped and cannot protect his king from danger. Again an easy move to miss, but nonetheless, a great showcase of why breaking basic chess rules can sometimes be beneficial.

Looking Forward One Move Deeper

This one can be difficult, because how do you know when to stop calculating and just make a move? My game against Velikanov gave me one last chance to prove my advantage:

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 00.16.19
Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 17…Kg7

After analyzing 18. exf4 for an extended period of time, I opted for 18. e4, thinking I still had some edge and could extend the game, when in reality, the position already is equal for Black. So what was it about 18. exf4 that wasn’t compelling enough? In the game, I saw the following line (diagram posted below): 18. exf4 Qe8 19. Qxe8 Rxe8 20. fxg5 Bxh3 21. gxh6+ Kg6 22. gxh3 Nxe5

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 00.20.21.png
Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 22…Nxe5

I’m up two pawns, but half of my pawns are h-pawns! This was a little concerning for me, but then I started to see ideas like …Re8-e2, …Ra8-e8 and thought that with Black’s activity I could actually be in a little trouble. I figured I was maybe slightly better, but not enough to have a serious edge.

Overlooking UIC, the venue for the Haymarket Memorial

In our post-mortem, I pretty quickly found the idea 23. Rb1! which is enough to preserve the advantage. By hitting the b7 pawn, Black needs to pay attention to the queenside, giving me time to rook lift: Rb1-b2-g2. And now it is the Black king that is under immediate fire! The power of looking one move deeper can really do a lot to enhance your position!

Admittedly, these were all relatively tough finds, but moments like these are what I pay attention to after each tournament so I know where I can improve. With each of these examples, there was a key theme: stalemate, weak king, development. Building an intuition to weigh these ideas relative to material or pawn structures, can go a long ways towards looking deeper and making better decisions.

My next events are two G/50 tournaments this weekend at the Marshall Chess Club, which will be my last chances to play before the Chicago Open later this month. While I feel a lot better about getting my first tournament out of the way, I know that I’ll need to train harder to be better prepared for the Open section. I guess I’ll have a better idea of where I stand this time next week!

Play Chess With Energy

Have you had afternoons when you feel like napping for the rest of the work day in the office after lunch?

It’s not a pleasant feel when there are 10 more important tasks to take care of.

Similarly in chess, we want to bring our optimized energy into each game to play the best chess and also provide entertainment value to the spectators.

Which means nutrition is an important aspect, and many tournament surroundings does not have the most energy-boosting food options. But that’s for another article.

Back to chess. I played in the early April’s Titled Tuesday and had a sub-par overall result.

While comparing the games, I can see where I played with energy, and where my pieces were being hit left and right due to lack of energy.

Hope you’ll enjoy the games below and remember to bring more energy into you games!

No Energy





Invisible Moves

Some moves in chess are harder to see than others. Sometimes you won’t even consider the best move because, on the surface, it appears to be a blunder, anti-positional, totally illogical, etc. Your brain ignores these moves because it’s been taught to do so. It simply cannot consider every single move unless you are faced with a very simple (though not necessarily easy) position

In my experience, the existence of these kinds of moves is rare, but they can appear anywhere in a game. Here are some examples:


One of the places where you could miss an unexpected move is while following your usual plan in the opening/early middlegame, as happened to me here.


This type of position is fairly normal for this kind of KID Attack, and I had prepared it a bit. Here, in response to my opponent’s last move 11.b3, I automatically played 11… Nb6 putting pressure on the c4-pawn. In doing so, I totally missed that I have 11… Ndxe5!. The point is that after 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Qxe5, black has 13… Bf6 skewering the queen and rook. White doesn’t go down without a fight, however, since he has 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.cxd5! exd5 14.Qxe5 Bf6 15.Qxd5, where black is only slightly better.

That’s essentially what invisible moves are… moves that don’t even cross your mind. It appears that the e5-pawn is protected when in reality it isn’t. Now I’m not going to defend myself: I should’ve seen Ndxe5, and it was somewhat embarrassing that I didn’t. There are, however, much harder moves to find than Ndxe5.

Forced moves

When you play a seemingly forced move in ten seconds, usually you’ll be right. There are, however, instances when you’ve just missed a golden opportunity. For instance this position:


Here, after thinking for about five seconds, my opponent played 48.Kxf6?. After 48… Kxg4 49.Kg6 d4 50.Kxh6 d3 51.Kg6 d2 52.h6 d1Q 53.h7 Qd4 black is winning.

Well, it turns out he had 48.g5!! which was a draw. If 48… hxg5 49.Kxf6, both sides queen and it’s a draw. If 48… Nxh5? black even loses after 49.gxh6, and 48… Ne4 49.g6 Nd6+ 50.Ke6 Ne8 51.Kf7 is a draw. I had seen this coming and was relieved when he played Kxf6.

Was g5 invisible? No, it wasn’t. I had seen it coming and was worried that he’d find it. Yes, Kxf6 is the most natural move that appears to be forced, but calculation reveals that white is lost there. All you have to do then is just ask yourself if white has anything else. Like that g5 can appear on your radar. Then you take a deeper look and see that, sure enough, it’s a draw.

Moral of the story: If you’re lost or in big trouble after your natural reply, take a bit of time to see if you have a way to mix things up. Many of these invisible moves actually aren’t invisible if you look for them.

In the next game, I plead guilty to playing an automatic move and not seriously considering alternatives.


With his last move, my opponent took my bishop on g5, so I responded with 21.Nxg5+? Kh6 22.Qd2 f4 23.Nf7+ Rxf7 24.Bxf7 leading to a totally unclear position. I totally missed the killer move 21.h4!. White is bringing the h1-rook into the party. If 21… g4 22.h5 g5, white has 23.h6! winning the bishop and destroying black in the process. It’s totally winning. No excuses for me missing it, but it’s hard to see… In that game, this was my invisible move.

Middlegame positions without warning

Sometimes, flashing signs saying “you have a win/draw” would really, really help…

Doknjas 1

In this strange position, I decided to grab a pawn with 24… Qxa3?. It was a bad idea, and you’ll see why. Instead I should’ve just gone 24… g6! with a slight edge. After 25.Rb1 (25. f5! was a very strong alternative) 25… Rxb1 26.Rxb1 I realized what I had missed but played 26… g6 anyway since I had nothing better.


White has the fantastic shot 27.Bxg6!! which seals a draw. After 27… fxg6 28.Rb8+ Kg7 29.Rb7+, it’s a perpetual since 29… Bf7 runs into 30.e6. There’s nothing black can do about it if he doesn’t want to lose. He can throw in 27… Qe3+ but after the queen trade he’ll still have to take the bishop. Fortunately, my opponent didn’t see it and played 27.h3?, and I went on to win after some more drama…

It looks like 27.Bxg6 just loses a piece, but it doesn’t. I don’t know how my brain found Bxg6—admittedly a bit too late—but it looks black’s king is a bit shaky, and looking at all the possible captures you see… Bxg6. That’s the hilarious thing: Bxg6 is the ONLY legal capture in this position. You also see that black is just better if white plays normally, and somehow it pops into your head…

I could go on and on and on, but the big picture is clear. There are moves that my opponents and I don’t see. There are moves that very few people see. What’s the solution to this blindness? Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure that will make you see all the things that you missed before. There’s no ritual that will prevent you from missing things. Being human, you will always miss something.

One solution remains: do tactics. There’s more to tactics than just calculation… there’s recognizing and applying motifs. In hard tactics problems, there’s usually an “invisible” move somewhere in the maze of variations—it could be on move 1 or on move 10 of a forcing line—that you have to find. Unlike in a game, the sign is flashing at you; there is a win or a draw, and you have to be on the lookout for it.

Honestly, which one of the examples above wouldn’t be classified as a tactic? After all, tactics are usually more complex than one-move forks. They can be hard to solve just like complicated chess positions. It won’t be a cure, but it’ll help. These moves won’t stay out of reach forever, and with practice, you’ll start seeing them more and more often.