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

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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!!:

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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

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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:

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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:

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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

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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.