Slow Start and Second Chances

Let’s just say that reacclimatizing to the fall semester and playing quality chess hasn’t gone according to plan. It’s been tough – adjusting to new responsibilities as a senior, entering the job search, trying to graduate on time – was I too naïve in defining my NM goal?

Despite a reasonably respectable performance in the Washington International Blitz tournament last August, I lost my footing in the Pittsburgh Summer Open scoring 0.5/3, and tanked again in the Pennsylvania State G/60 Championships when I failed to convert this position:

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Steincamp–Schragin, position after 26. Bb2

Thud. A thirty point rating drop in a week over the two performances, and my confidence took quite the hit. Things didn’t get any better when IM Alex Katz beat me in 10 consecutive games playing irregular openings in my Challenger’s Corner stream on chess.com. So, as you can imagine, I was really struggling to find something to hold on to. Nothing seemed to be going right, despite forcing myself to train even more throughout the week. Can I even call myself a 2100 rated player anymore?

Despite the downward spiral, my Tuesday night pairing at the Pittsburgh offered me a unique second chance: a rematch with Jeff Schragin – the very player who had swindled me in the aforementioned position. Knowing I’d have the Black pieces, I knew I could not afford to lose the rematch. Not just because I was supposedly the higher rated player, but I knew I needed this game for me.

Over the past year, a lot of my closest supporters have given up on me, telling me it’s time to move on, that the NM title not only isn’t happening, but will never happen for me. And it’s been really hard to block out the noise, as each tournament “failure” comes with an increasing sense of doubt in myself. Admittedly, I haven’t been strong enough psychologically to fight for myself, but I knew this game was a potential breaking point for me. Can the free fall stop?

I returned Tuesday evening from Pitt’s career fair, and in suit and tie, I cranked out my homework, leaving me just 30 minutes to prepare my lines for the upcoming match. Before I knew it I was plugging in my headphones and starting to head out the door.

There she goes, there she goes again
She calls my name, pulls my – Ouch!

As I was gathering my things, my leg hit the edge of my bed, leaving a nasty bruise. Shi*t, smart move genius. So I was off to a great start. With Spotify still shuffling, I caught the nearby bus, and passed by my old apartment as I picked up some things at the nearby convenience store. Perrier was the lucky drink of the evening. I headed out and starting walking to the club building.

The rails are caught now
And I am falling down
Fools in a spiral
Round this town of steam

I got to the board, and set my clock, dodging questions about how I had botched my game last Sunday. It happens, but I won’t let it happen again. I was running a few minutes behind schedule, but I felt relaxed. Even with all the pressure I had built up in my head, I could only think I’m the underdog now as we shook hands and started the clocks. As I predicted, we quickly walked through some main line King’s Indian theory:

Schragin,Jeffrey (1929) – Steincamp,Isaac (2066) 

21st Fred Sorenson Memorial (2), 25.09.2018

1.Nf3 g6 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 0–0 6.Be2 Na6 7.0–0 e5 8.dxe5

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Schragin–Steincamp, position after 8. dxe5

Honestly, not the deviation I had expected. I’ve played Jeff a few times before, and he usually defaults to 8. Be3 or 8. d5.  Caught a little off guard, I was a bit relieved. This King’s Indian line usually favors Black, thanks to the superior central structure.

8…dxe5 9.Qxd8 Rxd8 10.Bg5 Re8 11.Rad1 h6 12.Bxf6?! Bxf6

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Schragin–Steincamp, position after 12…Bxf6

Opening theory at this point has basically concluded. White has elected to give up his bishop pair, which will bode well for me in the long run. Structurally, my plan is quite simple. I will play …c7-c6 to take away the d5 outpost, and as White tries to contest the d-file, I will aim to place a piece on the d4 square, since White has already extended with e2-e4 and c2-c4. White shouldn’t be much worse at this point, but if he isn’t careful, it would be particularly easy to fall behind

13.Rd2 c6 14.Rfd1 Nc5 15.b4 Ne6 16.Bd3?!

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Schragin–Steincamp, position after 16. Bd3

This move didn’t make a lot of sense to me. In the past few moves, I’ve rerouted my misplaced knight on a6 to e6 where it hits the d4 pawn, and managed to make White structurally commit to b2-b4. On the other side of the board, White doubled his rooks on the d-file so he could block it with Be2-d3.

I kind of have a free move here with this extra precautionary measure from White. I could try to launch my knight on to the d4 square, but tactically, it’s not as strong after 16…Nd4? 17. Nxd4 exd4 18. Ne2, and my pawn on d4 seems to be more of a liability than a strength. Seeing this, it didn’t take long to find the right plan, 16…a5!, trying to pry open the c5 square. White could try 17. a3, but in the game I had seen axb4 18. axb4 Ra3 19. Nb1 Ra4 20. Rb2 Rd8 21. Bc2 Rxd1 22. Bxd1 Ra1 23. Nc3 Nd4

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Variation after 23…Nd4

Black is clearly better here, so instead White opted for 17.b5, but this clears the c5 square, and after 17…Nc5, my c8 bishop could finally get into the game.

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 22.02.38.png
Schragin–Steincamp, position after 17…Nc5

This is a big development. My plan was to trade my light squared bishop (which can never attack d4) for the f3 knight (which can attack d4). A dream position would be if I could trade my f6 bishop for his c3 knight, leaving his useless light squared bishop on the board, as my knight finds comfort on d4.

18.Be2 Bg4 19.h3 Bxf3 20.Bxf3 Rad8?!=

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Schragin–Steincamp, position after 20…Rad8

A bit too weary of an incoming Rd2-d6 idea, I decided my best chance to play for an advantage was the minor piece endgame, missing the strong idea 20…Bg5! 21. Rd6 Be7 22. R6d2 =+

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Variation after 22. R6d2

There’s still a long ways to go, but Black is really flexible, and White’s pieces are misplaced. Here I can continue to play for …Nc5-e6-d4, with the added perk of a potential …Be7-b4. Black stands better.

Instead of going for the ending, White erred with 21.Bg4?, and was never able to fully recover. I had anticipated 21. Rxd8 Rxd8 22. Rxd8+ Bxd8 23. Bd1 with the following endgame:

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Variation after 23. Bd1

I was fully aware that with best play, White should hold. However, I liked that I didn’t have any clear weaknesses in the position. Even if I allowed White to play 23. Bf3-c8 in one move, it still cannot dislodge my pawn structure.

Speaking of pawn structure, my knight still stands strong on c5, and its powers can be augmented with a future …f7-f5 push. There’s a lot of chess to be played still, though I admit, 20…Bg5! was a key miss.

Luckily enough, 21.Bg4? allowed me to insert 21…Rd4 22.bxc6 bxc6 -/+, and there was no doubt that I was clearly better here:

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Schragin–Steincamp, position after 22…bxc6

White’s center is about to collapse, as both e4 and c4 are weak pressure points. White’s bishop on g4 still isn’t compatible with the pawn structure, and I have the luxury of playing …Rd8 or …Rb8 if needed. With not a glimpse of activity left in the position, White is basically strategically lost. My opponent fell apart in just a couple moves.

23.Bf3 Rxc4 24.Ne2 Bg5 25.Rd6 Nxe4

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Schragin–Steincamp, position after 25…Nxe4

Clipping a second pawn. Here White realized that the point of 24…Bg5 was that if 26. Bxe4 Rxe4 and there isn’t time to win the pawn on c6 because the knight on e2 is hit. Instead, my opponent blundered immediately with 26.Kf1?? Nxd6 With the rook hung, White tendered his resignation.

Even with what’s proven to be a difficult September, I doubled my point total with 2/2 with four rounds to go. Emotionally this was a big win for me, but I’m not going to pretend like all of my problems are fixed now with this result. Looking beyond some of my confidence issues this month, a lot of my recent games have shown me that I really need to revaluate how I make some of my decisions over the board. This is going to be a long rebuilding process, and I need to be vigilant in these next few months.

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Glimpse from my over-dressed second round performance (photo credit: Finn Overlie)

It wouldn’t be Pittsburgh if the week didn’t finish with another opportunity to get in a game. Sunday afternoon marked the opening weekend for the Pittsburgh Chess League, one of the oldest chess leagues in North America. After grabbing brunch with a friend in Oakland, I found myself with a couple hours to warm up on University campus before my game started. It didn’t take long to find the computer lab in the library to play some music and online blitz.

I’m looking to the sky to save me
Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something help – is that mate?

So yeah, I was feeling pretty good. Now with the White pieces, I decided to take some opening liberties against an expert: 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 c6?! 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. g4?!:

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Steincamp–Standley, position after 5. g4?!

Maybe a bit too confident here, but why not? Black has willingly boxed in his c8 bishop, and basically wasted a move with 2…c6. I don’t play this kind of stuff often, but it’s not like the g2-g4, h2-h4 ideas are totally original in these structures…

To his credit, Black actually defended reasonably well, but it came at the cost of time.

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Steincamp–Standley, position after 16…Nf5

I needed to keep the pressure on Black, so I immediately sacrificed the exchange on f5 to win a massive pawn center. During the game, I figured it was justified since all of the files are closed and d5 falls. It isn’t the machine’s top choice, but I maintain that it was still an extremely practical decision since the knight on f5 is well suited. 17. Rxf5!? exf5 18. Nxd5 Qa5+ 19. Nc3 Rc8 20. Bf3 b5 21. Kf2 0-0

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Steincamp–Standley, position after 21…0-0

Here I hold a nice advantage, my goal is to bring my knight to f4, while cementing my central hold with c2-c3, and expanding on the kingside with h2-h4. Already in a massive time hole, Black traded queens and bishops, making the endgame even more favorable for me.

As I was cruising, our team was already down 0-2, so I had to be careful and avoid any mistakes to save our outfit from losing the opening match of the season. The final critical position required some brute force calculation, but the idea was straightforward:

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Steincamp–Standley, position after 42…h5

Nearly all roads lead to Rome, but I forced myself to see the entire line before continuing. Let’s see if you can too: 43. Ke5 h4 44. Nh5 h3 45. Nxg7 h2 46. Nf5+ Kd8 and now the best move is not 47. Ng3 (though it will also get the job done), but rather to play for mate! 47. Kxd6! h1Q 48. e7+ and now Black realized that he had to let me promote, and the game ended shortly after.

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Steincamp–Standley, position after 48. e7+

So after a week of drowning in bad chess, I got to finish September on a high note. There’s a lot of tough games ahead, and I need to hold myself to a higher standard as they approach. But if this week taught me anything, I’ve earned the right to tell myself: you got this, bro.

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U.S. Teams Cruising at the World Olympiad

Last time, I previewed the World Olympiad – the largest chess team tournament in the world.  We are now approximately halfway through the tournament, which is being held in Batumi, Georgia.  Unsurprisingly, there are already multiple worthy storylines forming.  Only time will tell whether these will still hold true at the finish line, but until then, we can marvel (or, in some cases, be surprised) at these headlines.

  1. The U.S. Women’s team is a powerhouse

Through the first five rounds, the U.S. women’s team has been unstoppable, and this might just be the biggest headline thus far.  GM Irina Krush is on a perfect 4/4, top-rated IM Anna Zatonskih is on 4.5/5, and FM Jennifer Yu has almost swept board four points, also with 4.5/5.  After five rounds, the team is the only one left with a perfect 10/10 score (two points per match win; one per draw).  Round six will present them with their toughest opponent yet with a match against the strong team from India, but at the rate that they are going, will momentum carry them all the way through?  Time will tell, but the best we can say is “good luck!”

  1. The U.S. Men’s team isn’t doing too bad, either

While the men’s team isn’t perfect anymore – as they drew their round 5 match with Israel – they are still at a solid 9/10, still good for tied-for-5th with three other teams at 9/10.  Four teams are still at a perfect 10/10, those being Azerbaijan, Poland, Czech Republic, and Ukraine.  They’ll need to fight hard for the next couple rounds to keep within arm’s reach of proving their top-seed status going into the tournament.  This should be possible, fortunately, since we are getting to the point where the top teams will begin to knock each other off the top.  They are paired against Bosnia & Herzegovina in round 6.

  1. Speaking of U.S. Men’s…Fabiano Caruana

GM Fabiano Caruana has been on fire as board one for the last two rounds on the U.S. Men’s team.  After sitting out the first round and drawing the next two rounds as black, Fabiano Caruana has picked it up quite quickly, executing two miniatures as white in the fourth and fifth rounds against GM Vishy Anand and GM Boris Gelfand, respectively.  In the fifth round, however, his win was canceled out by Sam Shankland’s loss to GM Emil Sutovsky, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Caruana has already been playing better in the more recent rounds.  The world championships challenger will continue to play board one in the rounds to come as he practices for the upcoming world championship match in November with Magnus Carlsen.

  1. Russia hits a speed bump

It seems as if the chess fans waiting for the much-anticipated U.S. vs Russia match will have to wait just a bit longer, and they might not even have their hope fulfilled.  After a strong 3/3 start, Russia lost a shocker to Poland, getting upset 2.5-1.5 by the significantly lower-rated team.  To be fair, Poland is one of the only four teams on 5/5 now, but just based on the rating differences on paper, most expected Russia to win that match.  Despite the loss, Russia was able to salvage a fifth round to finish with 8 points in the first five rounds, but it’s definitely an uphill battle from here for that team.

  1. Georgia’s host teams surprising

As the host country for the tournament, Georgia has three teams enrolled in the tournament, named Georgia 1, 2, and 3.  Interestingly enough, Georgia 3 is currently the highest in the standings out of all three teams with 8/10, despite being the lowest rated of the three and not having a player over 2500.  If anything, this just goes to show how much the dynamic changes when comparing a team tournament to an individual tournament.  In typical tournaments, if a player is higher-rated, they should perform better, and that is fairly expected.  However, when it comes to a team tournament, all members have to play well in order for the collective team to get points, so even if one player is very highly rated, it doesn’t guarantee anything for the team.

These are just some of the most interesting storylines that have come up in the first half of the Olympiad.  But, with that said, there are still six rounds to go in the tournament, and with many teams near the top, including the U.S. in both sections, it will definitely be interesting to see who comes out on top.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

How To Get Over A Win

You probably just read the title and are now very confused. Isn’t winning a good thing? Why should anyone ever care about how they react to their wins, shouldn’t we care more about dealing with losses? Is Vedic crazy? Although it’s true that learning how to deal with your losses is a very important characteristic to develop as a chess player, so is learning how to respond to your wins. This article will cover why that is and how to respond appropriately to your wins.

When you are first taught how to move the pieces, you are told that in chess, you either win, draw, or lose. It doesn’t get more simple than that, right? However, chess is so much more than that. In my opinion, in chess, psychology is a huge factor in determining how well you play. At the end of the day, it’s what your head tells you that decides the moves that you play. Because of this, it’s extremely important that you keep a cool, calm, and collected mindset throughout your game. However, not being able to get over a win can affect the calmness that you should have. Winning can have the positive effect of making you happy,  but it also can have negative effects. For example, winning a chess game may lead to you getting overconfident. As a result, you might be too full of yourself the next game you play and rush through variations that could be critical. In fact, if you’re too excited and confident with yourself, you might not even take the next game seriously. I see this so often in the tournaments I play. For example, something I see a lot is that a player just scored a huge upset but then just completely self-destructs his next game. Why did this happen? Perhaps it’s because he was playing a stronger player, or maybe, it was because he was nervous. But perhaps it was also because he let his emotions get the best of him. Maybe because he was so overconfident because of his win against his previous significantly higher rated opponent that he simply did not take his next opponent seriously.

We’ve just seen how winning can actually negatively impact you. How exactly should we deal with our wins then? While I’m not saying it’s bad to get happy after a chess game, you can’t get too happy. Winning is great as a morale booster but that’s all should do. It’s critical to not allow your wins to fuel your ego. I approach my response to wins nearly the same way I approach my losses. I allow myself to feel happy about it, but I also try to keep in mind that my wins have no effect on my next game. Keeping this simple idea in my head helps me keep things in perspective. Although it is hard, treating each game as a fresh start and new opportunity to show your opponent what you got is always the best way to deal with really any result. Overconfidence is the Achilles heel of all chess players.  but hopefully, by reading this article, you have a better understanding of how best effectively to react to your wins and hopefully help you win some more games :). That’s all from me this week. Until next time!

 

Alexa – How Can I Improve in Chess?

In an earlier post, I talked about AI and Chess. An adjacent topic to AI is the advancement of Voice capability.

We will discuss a few ideas I had for developing Voice Product for Chess in this blog post and a not-so-surprising answer to my question in the title.

Vision: Voice Product for Chess

How can voice help for the following groups

  1. Learn Chess for Kids
  2. Improve chess for serious players
  3. Play chess on the go as a hobby

Learn Chess for Kids

Learning chess visually is still by far the most effective way for kids to pick up the game. However, voice can supplement the learning steps.

Alexa Skills can remind kids to develop pieces and castle early for new players.

As a young player starts to playing tournaments, a good check-up would be to make sure they do not drop pieces easily.

Improve chess for serious players

For the more serious chess players, the integration between chess database, engine, and Alexa would be important.

Some powerful questions to leverage via Alexa:

a) What are the top novelties played today?

b) How many games played today by over ELO 2600 players used the Sicilian Dragon line

Play chess on the go as a hobby

Let’s get back to the chess hobbyist for a moment.

If given a chance, many people would glad to learn chess instead of playing candy crush to kill time.

The problem today is the friction and effort to pick up chess easily.

What if Alexa can combine historical chess facts together with the simple to digest chess rules and gamify the chess learning process.

We have the historical chess facts in Google.

And we have chess rules all over the internet.

What we’ll need is an Alexa Skill the integrate the information and design an gamify-version of the learning process


We’re very early in Voice chess products development, and I’d say AI chess products are way ahead due to chess engine developments.

When I asked ‘How can I improve in chess?’ Alexa told me ‘I don’t know how to answer this question.’

Unfortunately no straightforward way to use Alexa yet today, but don’t bet against the concept.

Alexa and other voice products will soon change the way chess players’ improvement journey.

 

Winning Equal Positions: An Imperfect Job

My past few articles have all been about my tournaments, and it was about time I wrote about a different topic.

Getting an advantage out of the opening is far from guaranteed these days, especially with black. Even with white, it’s hard to get an advantage against a well-prepared opponent. Naturally, the opening isn’t the only part of the game, and it’s up to you to complicate matters and outplay your opponent. Doing this in a complex middlegame where one mistake from your opponent could seal his fate is one matter, but winning an equal endgame is another story.

Going from equal to winning in an endgame usually happens in baby steps. You put pressure on your opponent, who gives you a little bit, which then grows bigger and bigger, until you win. But how to provoke those mistakes? Playing the most primitive and forcing way usually won’t do the job, assuming there aren’t pitfalls for your opponent in the critical lines. Instead, keep the tension, improve your position, play healthy moves, and eyeball plenty of ideas without necessarily committing to any. Your job is to confuse your opponent into making mistakes. By mistakes I don’t mean blunders, I mean moves that will give you what you want.

Let me show you what I mean. I played this game a couple weeks ago against a 2250. After an early queen trade, I didn’t get anything real with black out of the opening, but it’s not like I made any mistakes. I went on to win after inaccuracies from both sides. I feel that in this game I managed to create enough pressure for my opponent to cave into my demands.

Carter 1

Both players’ positions are fairly solid. White’s rook on h1 isn’t doing anything for the moment, and his superfluous knights aren’t awe-inspiring, but he can improve his pieces. The e2-knight can get relocated to d3 via c1, and the c3-knight can support white’s center. He could also consider grabbing space in the center with f4 at the right moment. Meanwhile, black’s pieces aren’t great either. The bishop on e5 looks nice

As for moves. 17… Rd8 is what intuitively comes to my mind first (putting the rook on an open file), but it’s not really useful, since white has everything covered along the d-file. He can’t go 18.Rd1 because of the h2-pawn (yes, the bishop can get rescued here), but after a logical move like 18.Nc1, improving the knight, what does black do next? What does black have here? Nothing really.

I decided to play 17… g5!?. It’s a healthy move that secures my bishop on e5. I’m eyeing going Nh5-f4 and, more immediately, generating play on the kingside with …g4. But what if white responds to …g4 with f4? What have I accomplished? Nothing. After the strongest move 18.Nc1! here, I would not have gone 18… g4. I probably would’ve played 18… Nh5 with the idea of going Nf4 in the near future and 18… Nd7, with the idea of pulling my bishop back to f6 and taking it from there. Another reasonable option is 18.h4 g4 19.f4 Bxc3 20.Nxc3, where white should be able to hold his position together. The position is around equal in either case, though I do think black is for choice.

Instead, my opponent played 18.h3?!. This prevents …g4 and doesn’t force the white rook to stay and babysit the h2-pawn. However, it’s quite a committal move that weakens the dark squares, especially f4—a very nice outpost for my knight. My problem is that the primitive 18… Nh5 is met with 19.h4!, ruining everything. Here’s where I played a tricky move: 18… Rg8!

Carter 2

My idea is simple: I want to play 19… Nh5 and meet 20.h4 with either 20… gxh4 21.Rxh4 Rxg2 or 20… g4 (importantly there’s no f4). White will most likely have to allow the black knight to land on f4, and in case of a trade, I’ll recapture with the g-pawn, highlighting another advantage of having the rook on g8. Though it already looks suspect for white, it isn’t bad for him. After 19.b4 Nh5 20.g4!, followed by a quick h4, is actually equal despite appearing to be antipositional.

Fortunately, my opponent let me get what I wanted. He played 19.Nc1 Nh5 20.Nd3 Bc7 21.Re1 (21.g4 is now met with 21… Ng3!) 21… Nf4 22.Nxf4 gxf4 23.Re2

Carter 3

White’s rook is now tied up to the g2-pawn and doesn’t have any future prospects. Looking at the first diagram, getting this far is quite an accomplishment. My plan was to:

  • Solidify my bind with …e5
  • Improve my king, most likely by putting it on e6
  • Improve my bishop (a square like d4 looks nice)
  • Open up the queenside at the right moment

At least I have a concrete plan here! Unfortunately, I got a little ahead of myself by playing 23… e5?!, to which my opponent correctly responded with 24.b4!. White grabs territory on the queenside and will likely generate counterplay. Oops! I quickly realized I should’ve gone 23… a5! to prevent white from playing b4. What to do now? I decided to improve my king and act like nothing was happening. After 24… Kd7 25.a5 Ke6 26.Na4, I decided to prevent Nc5 once and for all with 26… b6

Cater 4

Again, I’m back to not having any advantage. After 27.axb6 axb6 28.Kb3, white’s position is fairly compact, and he has everything under control. Where’s my advantage there? More unnerving was the idea of 27.axb6 axb6 28.b5!?, temporarily sacrificing a pawn with the idea of breaking black’s position up and securing the d5-square. What to do after that? Looking at it right now, I’m genuinely stumped.

My opponent played 27.a6?!, keeping the queenside closed. This looks perfectly reasonable, but there’s the drawback that the a6-pawn could become vulnerable in an endgame. For that reason, his main idea is to still play b5. That’s why I should’ve played 27… b5 myself, no matter how counterintuitive it looks. After 28.Nc5+ Ke7, white’s knight is nice but is eyeing empty squares. Instead, I played 27… Rd8?!. White should have gone 28.b5! cxb5 29.Nc3 here. Yes, black does get to keep his pawn after 29… b4 30.Nb5 Bb8, but white has plenty of play after 31.Kb3. My rook will infiltrate, but white’s position will hold together.

My opponent played right into my hands by playing 28.Rd2? Rxd2+ 29.Kxd2. After 29… Kd7 (29… b5! is more accurate, but what I played shouldn’t blow anything) 30.Kd3 b5 31.Nc5+ Ke7, I got exactly what I wanted.

Carter 5

I’ll go Bd6, kicking the white knight out of c5, and will then march with my king to b6 and win the a6-pawn. White’s only counterplay is on the kingside, but for that he’ll have to pull his knight back to f1/e2 and play g3. That is what my opponent ended up doing, but it’s way too slow. I went on to win without any further adventures.

Conclusion

This is not a model game by any means, but I thought it was instructive. Here are my takeaways:

  • Try to complicate matters with ideas that actually may not be that good (17… g5 with the “idea” of …g4). You don’t have to follow through if it doesn’t work out, but who knows which your opponent may not want to allow.
  • Don’t cave in to your opponent’s demands (letting me get pressure on the g2-pawn for free).
  • Once you get a bind, make sure your opponent doesn’t get counterplay (me allowing him to play).
  • Don’t give your opponent second chances (me allowing him to play b5 twice, even if he chose not to do it either time).

My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Junior Girls Championship (Part II)

In Part II of the article, I want to focus on the US Junior Girls Championship. It is encouraging to see a strong tournament with so many young, high rated girls and the list didn’t include the defending champion Akshita Gorti and Annie Wang. I can say without exaggeration that I cannot imagine such a tournament being organized 10-15 years ago due to the lack of girls playing chess. Carissa Yip dominated the tournament with 7/9 and was a full point ahead of closest rival, Jennifer Yu, going into the last round. With a comfortable draw in the final round against Jennifer herself, Carissa secured her tournament win and an invite to next year’s US Women’s Championship.

Lesson 1: know your openings. Not just the theory and the long lines, but the main ideas behind them. This moment in the game between the 12 year old Rochelle Wu and Carissa Yip clearly demonstrates Rochelle’s lack of experience, which is a funny notion considering that her opponent was 14 at the time.  White’s last move was 13.Bd3. Try to figure out why this normal looking developing move was a crucial mistake.

WuvsYip

13… c5! threatening c4. White has to react somehow 14. Qa3 (14. Bb5 c4 15.
Qb2 Nf6 allowing this looks ugly for White, but better than the alternative (
14. bxc5 Nxc5 15. dxc5 d4 White’s position is falling apart}16. Qa3 (16. Qc2
dxe3 17. O-O Rxc5 18. Ra3 Qa5) 16… dxc3 17. Rd1 Qe7 Black will have an
extra pawn and two bishops) 14… cxd4 15. Nxd4 Bxd4 16. exd4 Qg5! oops!
There is no good way to defend the pawn 17. g3 (17. O-O Bh3) 17… Bh3 18. Ne2 Rfe8 19. Qb2 Qg4 20. Rg1 Re7 21. Rd1 Rce8 22. Rd2 Nb6 23. Qb3 Qf3 24. a5 Rxe2+ 0-1

Carissa was leading with 4.5/5 but had a hiccup in round 6 after the day off. She was white against lower rated Sophie Morris-Suzuki who had 0/5. On paper, Carissa was the clear favorite and was set to score another point. What tactical shot did Sophie play in this position to score her first victory?

Carissavssophie

33… Rxd4!! note that all of White’s pieces are on dark squares 34. Qxd4
Rd8 35. Qf4 (35. Qe3 Rd3 36. Qf4 Bxc3 isn’t much better) 35… Nd3 36. Qh6
Bf8 (36… Nxe1 Black can start collecting White’s pieces but perhaps Sophie
saw a ghost 37. Nce4 Qxe5 38. Ng5 Rxd2) 37. Nce4 now White actually has some threats Nh5 38. Qg5 (38. Qe3 would have made Black’s task more difficult Nhf4 39. Nf3) 38… h6 (38… Nhf4 threatening the queen 39. Nf6+ Kh8 40. Qh4 h6 White has no threats and everything hangs 41. Nb3 Nxe1 42. Rxe1 Qa8 43. Qg3 Ne2+ 44. Rxe2 Rd1+) 39. Qh4 (39. Qe3 the queen needs to go home to defend her army) 39… Nhf4 40. Nf6+ Kh8 we already saw a similar position in the analysis 41. Nb3 Nxe1 42. Rxe1 g5 43. Qg3 Rd3 44. Re3 Rxb3 45. Qf3 Qxe5 46. Rxb3 Qa1+ 47. Kh2 Bd6 48. Rb1 Ng6+ 0-1 You can replay the game here

In the post-game interview, Sophie explained that she treats every round like a new tournament and returned to the board rejuvenated after the day off. She went on to score 3/4 in the second half of the tournament.

Sophie also played one of the most creative games against another youngster and a math genius Nastassja Matus. A lot of crazy things happened in this game so I will feature several diagrams. First, find a winning idea for Black in the following position:

Matusvssophie

39… Re8 Sophie did not find the winning idea but the position remains balanced (39… Rd6!! blocking the h2-b8 diagonal and threatening gf5 40. b7 Qe5+ 41. Kg1 Qxa1+ 42. Kh2 Qe5+ 43. Kg1 Rd1+) 40. Rc1 gxf5 41. b7 Qd2 precise move threatening a perpetual 42. Rc3 (42. b8=Q Qh6+ 43. Kg3 Qe3+ 44. Kh2 Qh6+ 45. Kg1 Qe3+) 42… Kg7 43. Rb3 (43. b8=Q Rxb8 44. Qxb8 Qxc3) 43… Re6 44. b8=Q Rh6+ 45. Kg3 Qe1+ 46. Kf4 Qxe4+ 47. Kg3 Qe1+ 48. Kf4 Qe4+ 49. Kg3 Qe1+ 50. Kf4 the game should end in a draw but Black decides to go for adventures Qf2+ How should White proceed in the position below?

Matusvssophie2

51. Rf3 (51. Ke5!! this is very scary to play over the board but Black runs out of checks Re6+ 52. Kd5 Qd2+ 53. Kc5 Qf2+ 54. Kb4 Qd4+ 55. Ka5) 51… Qd2+ 52. Kg3 Qe1+ 53. Kf4 Qe4+ 54. Kg3 Rh3+ 55. Kf2 Qd4+?? a big blunder and a heartbreak for Sophie (55… Rxf3+ 56. gxf3 Qxf3+ 57. Kg1) 56. Ke2 Bxf3+ 57. gxf3 the h2 square is covered and the queen has ran out of checks Qg1 58. Qe5+ Kh6 59. Qf8+ Kh5 60. Qxf7+ Kh4 61. Qf4+ Qg4 62. Qxh7# 1-0  Feel free to play through the craziness here

I couldn’t talk about this tournament without mentioning the game between Emily Nguyen and Maggie Feng in round 7. Robert and I were fascinated by this game well because…

EmilyvsMaggie

Who doesn’t like a king in the middle of the board in the middlegame? 14…
g6 threatening mate. Guess what is the best move in the position? 15. h4 (15.
Kf4!! Robert’s idea and objectively the best move. I don’t know how Emily resisted the temptation. How often do we get the chance to play such moves? Bh6+ 16. Kg3 Bxc1 17. Qxc1 Nc6 18. Qd2 the king is perfectly safe ong3. Black’s structure is busted due to the dark square weaknesses on the king side and light square weaknesses on the queen side}) 15… Bh6+ 16. Ng5 Nc6 17. f4 Ne7 18. g4 f6 19. exf6 Nxf6 20. Bd3 Qc6 21. Kf3 O-O 22. Qe2 Bxg5 23. hxg5 Ne4 24. Bxe4 dxe4+ 25. Qxe4 and white went on to win the game.

Since I am partial to the French, I really liked the turn of events in the game between Sanjana Vittal and Maggie Feng.

Sanjanavsmaggie

37. h4 White is up a pawn but I feel like she starts losing the thread of the
game with this move g5 38. hxg5 hxg5 39. fxg5 Kg6 now Black has clear
counterplay and doesn’t have to just sit 40. Be3? the bishop needs to stay
on b6 to keep the d7 pawn push as a threat (40. h4 Rh7the difference is that
the pawn doesn’t hang with a check, thus not hanging at all since d7 would win
the game 41. Rb1 Rch8 42. Rf1 shielding the king. These moves are really
hard to find if you don’t have an engine! Rxh4 43. d7 Rh2+ 44. Ke1) 40… Rh8
41. Kg3? one of the hardest things to do in chess is adjusting to the changes
in the position and switch gears. Sanjana didn’t sense the danger (41. Rxc4
Rxh2+ 42. Kf1 Rdh7 43. Rc8 Rg2 44. Rg8+ Kf7 45. g6+ again, some crazy
computer lines but we see a theme: White’s king is in trouble! Even in an
endgame opposite color bishops allow for mating patterns) 41… Rdh7 42. Bg1
Bd5 43. Rb1 Kxg5 44. Kf2 Kf4 Black won the game after her King collected all the central pawns

Last but not last the game between best friends Jennifer Yu and Emily Nguyen was highly instructional. I won’t provide a lot of analysis but play through the game and note how quickly Jennifer’s bishop pair dominated the position. I would suggest going through the game in solitaire chess format where you try to guess Jennifer’s moves here or check out her play below:

JennifervsEmily
At first glance, the position looks completely normal and even equal. Check
out how Jennifer activates her bishops} 15. g4! grabbing some space Nc4 16.
Qe2 Ne4 17. Be1! transferring the bishop and threatening the piece Ned6 18.
b3 Nb6 19. f3 Nd7 20. Rxc8 Qxc8 21. Bg3 the transfer is complete. White is now completely dominating Qc3 22. Ra2 e5 23. Qc2! exchanging her opponent’s only active piece. The endgame is completely winning Qxc2 24. Rxc2 e4 25. Bxe4 Nxe4 26. fxe4 dxe4 27. Rc7 Nb6 28. Rxb7 Nd5 29. Bf2 a6 30. Ra7 h5 31. Rxa6 hxg4 32. hxg4 Rc8 33. Ra5 Nf6 34. Rc5 Ra8 35. g5 Nd7 36. Rd5 Nf8 37. a4 Rb8 38. Bg3 Ra8 39. Re5 Ne6 40. d5 Nc5 41. d6 1-0

 

 

Washington International Part 1

On August 8th through 15th I played in the expert section of the 7th Annual Washington International Tournament. It is fair to say that it was one of the most impressive tournaments I have every played in: the top section featured an enormous pool of very strong titled players (including numerous grandmasters), wooden boards with adequate space were provided, and rounds were limited to two per day!

Aside from the very pleasant playing conditions, the first half of the tournament could be best described as a cold shower for me. After rarely studying chess for over a month during my travels in Europe, I came back to the board with rather rusty calculation skills and a serious dent in my tactical vision.

Round 1

I got off to a shaky start in round 1 against Sathis Nath (1817 USCF, 1861 FIDE) when I played with excessive ambition, only to find myself defending a seemingly hopeless endgame:

WI Round 1 #1

Black has just played the direct 18…e5 in an attempt to dampen White’s activity along the e-file. White could easily play 19.Bd2 and try to nurture a slight spacial edge, but I instead chose the much more direct 19.dxe6 e.p. After 19…Nxe6 20.Nxe6 Rxe6 21.Qxe6+ (What else?) Bxe6 22.Rxe6 Be5 23.Bxe5 Nxe5 24.Ne3 Qf8 25.Bd5 Kg7 26.f4 Nd7?!, White has very decent compensation for the queen. However, after achieving my desired position, I made a serious strategic mistake…

WI Round 1 #2

In the following position, White has a couple of decent options: 27.Re1 is rather natural, to stop Black from trading off rooks on the e-file, while 27.f5 is in fact the most forceful and arguably strongest move. The computer offers the following sharp line to demonstrate what happens if Black tries to trade rooks: 27…Re8 28.Bxb7 Rxe6 29.fxe6 Qe7 30.exd7 Qxe3+ 31.Kg2 Qd2+ = with a draw in sight. However, in the game I played the rather poor 27.Ng4, allowing my opponent to comfortably trade off my rook on the e-file. 27…Re8  (Black is able to swap off his inactive rook for one of white’s active rooks.) 28.Rce1 Rxe6 29.Rxe6 Nb6 and Black’s position is already looking quite promising. A few moves later, my situation began to look hopeless.

WI Round 1 #3

After 34…Qxa3, Black is easily winning due to his two connected passed pawns on the queenside that will be ushered down by his queen. By some miracle, involving some help from my opponent, I was able to escape from this position alive and managed to draw the game.

Rounds 2-4

After coming so incredibly close to a round 1 loss against a significantly lower rated opponent, I played rather safe and uninspired chess in the following three rounds, finishing on 2/4 against approximately 1900-rated opposition. I knew that if I was going to make something of this tournament, I had to step up my game for the remaining five rounds. Step up my game I did!