More Fall Adventures

After my recent rough streak, my luck finally turned this weekend at the Eastern Chess Congress in Princeton, NJ.

First rounds are generally rocky affairs for me (and others). This one fortunately followed the principle that higher rated players always find a way…

Girsh

In heavy time trouble, my opponent blitzed out 36.Nxe2? running into 36… Re8! winning the e3-pawn. 36.Kxe2! was completely fine for white. Even that endgame down the e3-pawn is not very dangerous for white, but I was able to consolidate and win.

In round 2 against Peter Boris (2046 USCF), everything was going according to plan, until, when faced with too many choices for my own good, I went greedy.

Boris 1

White’s position is fantastic here. He has the bishop pair, a powerful knight anchored on b5, and very active pieces all around. And black’s c8-bishop isn’t even developed yet. What more could I want after only 20 moves? But what to do now? There are so many good options such as 21.Rad1, 21.Nd6, 21.Qg3, etc. After any one of those moves white is borderline winning. Instead, I went for 21.Qd6?! which was met with 21… Ne6!. 22.Qxb6?? would lose the queen to 22… Ra6!, so to justify my previous move, I played 22.Bxe6?! Bxe6 23.Qxb6 Nh4

Boris 2

White has won a pawn, but his king is getting drafty. Black is even threatening Nxg2 in this position! I decided to pull my queen back to civilization with 24.Qd6. The queens were traded after 24… Rfd8 25.Qf4 Qxf4 26.Bxf4

Boris 3

Though white is still better here, it’s a far cry what it was before. Though I still went on to win this time, the moral of the story is clear. Greed isn’t always good!

In round 3, I got to play up against GM Fidel Corrales (2595 USCF). My pro tip for this kind of situation is not to lose, and unfortunately I didn’t follow my own advice.

Corrales

After going for a shaky/outright disastrous idea out of the opening, I managed to stabilize the position to this endgame. This looks like a textbook good knight vs. bad bishop endgame, but black has the c-file. To “liberate” my bishop, I played 26… Rc4?!. Though it’s nice to revive that bishop, black is still worse after 27.Rxc4 dxc4 28.Rg3 g6 29.Re3. White’s big advantage is that he has clear plans to solidify and improve his position, white black doesn’t. Long story short, after a few more errors, I went down.

Instead of that, I should’ve swallowed my pride and traded all the rooks with 26… Rxc3 27.Rxc3 Rc8. Yes, I know it looks ugly and that white is on top, but with some accurate play from black (i.e. going …f6), white shouldn’t be able to get through.

After winning round 4 and taking a bye in round 5, GM Corrales went on to win clear first! For me, this loss was not pleasant at all, especially in a short 5-round tournament. I made the best of things and managed to beat two 2200+ opponents in the last two rounds.

Xiexin
White to play and win!
Ardito
Bust white’s ambitious play.

By scoring 4/5, I gained 3 measly rating points. Though you won’t see me obsessing about rating anytime soon, it’s annoying that I need 4/5 to maintain my rating, which has been the theme in almost all 5-round tournaments I have played this year. The pros are that you can experiment with openings more freely in these kinds of tournaments, and you do gain experience after all. The cons are that you have to score heavily.

There are unfortunately only that many tournaments on this side of the pond that have strong fields, not to mention norm chances, and most of those are clustered during the summer. Well, life as a big cat is tough :(.

Well, it’s nice to have a decent tournament after a rough streak. Onward!

Answers: In the first puzzle, 18.Bb4! wins. After 18… Re8 19.Ng5, black can’t defend f7. He could pitch a pawn with 18… c5 or give up the exchange, but he’s lost either way.
In the second puzzle, 13… Ne7! simply wins. 14.Qb5+ is met with c6, and after 14.Bb5+ Kf8, white is just down too much material.

Advertisements

Chess.com Isle of Man Open Won by GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek

DqniljJXcAAP6nLphoto was taken from IOM chess twitter page (https://twitter.com/iomchess) All rights belong to respective owners

On October 28th, tied with 7 points in 9 rounds, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, after drawing his last round with co-leader Arkadij Naiditsch, defeated the latter in their Armageddon game with the white pieces after tieing the initial blitz playoff match 1 to 1. See the game as well as some of my thoughts on it in the link below.

https://www.chess.com/analysis-board-editor?diagram_id=4628220

With a dominating finish to a closely fought and tense playoff, Wojtaszek secured first place, over thirty-seven thousand dollars as well as the isle of man open champion title. This wasn’t the only good thing to happen to him, however, this tournament. His wife, IM Alina Kashlinskaya, won the first place prize for best performing woman and, after clinching a GM norm with a round to spare, she followed through with a crushing win over the strong 2600 American prodigy Samuel Sevian. I’d highly recommend taking a look in the link before to see how Kashlinskaya punished Sevian’s lackluster play and even sacked a piece in favor of her more than passed pawns.

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1937576

I can’t say it was a surprise that Grandmaster Radoslaw Wojtaszek won this tournament. He went undefeated, was never really in any trouble of any of his games and seized his opportunities when they presented themselves. What is surprising to me is the mediocre performances by the countless of super GMs. An example of this could be seen in Wesley So. He was only able to win 2 games while drawing the remaining 7 which really demonstrates the toughness of this open tournament. By round 8, none of the top 10 seeds had played each other It was only in the final round that two of the top 10 seeds, Grandmasters Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk, were paired against each other. Grischuk, in an interview with Fiona after his victory against MVL, commented on how he felt this tournament felt too short for him.

Another surprising thing to me was the performances of many of the juniors this tournament. For instance, 18-year-old Grandmaster, Jeffery Xiong was only half a point away from first place. Additionally, youngsters like Pragnannandha and the Hungarian wunderkind Vincent Keymer were able to pull off upsets against the likes 2016 winner Pavel Eljanov and Boris Gelfand respectively.

Overall this tournament was extremely exciting to watch. I think it’s a great thing that Super Grandmasters are willing to play in these open tournaments and as a chess viewer, it’s cool to see these grandmasters play against people knew and give them a chance to prove themselves. My gratitude goes to the sponsors chess.com and the Scheinberg Family. I hope we will see many many more of open tournaments of these calibers for years to come. As always, thanks for reading. Until next time!

 

 

NM Pursuit #1: A New Beginning

It’s time for a new beginning.

After coming back from the summer without having invested much time into chess, I managed to play myself back into form during the Washington International. Although I started the tournament rather poorly, I managed to turn the tide and win my last four games against only slightly lower rated opposition. While the games were far from perfect, I was happy to pick up a few wins and finish the tournament on a positive note. I even gained a few rating points and managed to finish in the top 10 with my late comeback:

Washington International Rating

Following the Washington International, I played in a small local tournament, scoring evenly against slightly lower rated opposition over the course of three rounds.

September Swiss Rating

My stagnant results, not only since returning from my summer travels, but also over the course of the past year, have caused me to think deeply about where I see myself in chess. I am currently a junior in high school, and therefore school is always a top priority. Furthermore, other activities such as soccer and jazz band take up reasonably large chunks of time on a daily basis. However, one thing is blatantly clear to me: I am not happy with where I am in my chess journey and want to keep progressing. My enjoyment of chess stems not only from the game itself, but also from my ability to grow in knowledge and skill. Neither “stumbling” from tournament to tournament during breaks from school, as I have during the past year, nor giving up chess completely are paths that I am willing to take.

Consequently, I have committed to making an aggressive push toward the 2200 USCF mark. This aggressive push, while comprised in essence of consistent training and playing, is outlined in a bit more detail below:

  1. 1 lesson from the Yusupov Series… Monday-Friday: What more can I say? Every day of the school week, I will be completing one lesson from Artur Yusupov’s extensive improvement series. If I am not able to complete a lesson on a given day, I will use Saturday as a “catch-up day” to complete that lesson. As I am almost finished with the first book from the series, exactly fifty-three more lessons lay ahead. These lessons will be the cornerstone of my daily training for the coming months.
  2. Coaching and game analysis: I recently hired a chess coach, and will be working with this coach on a weekly basis to help enrich my analysis of tournament games. My hope is that guidance from a strong titled player will help me identify the most gaping holes in my play and patch those holes as quickly as possible. As I have been reasonably consistent in analyzing my tournament games from the past year, I will continue to do so during the coming months. Game analysis and lessons from a coach will be the focus of weekends in particular, when I am not busy with Yusupov study.
  3. Playing! I plan to play in two major tournaments during the month of November and will continue to play actively in December and January. It is important to reap the fruit of one’s labor, and therefore I will be playing on a consistent basis as a part of my NM Pursuit.

October Spreadsheet

This neat little spreadsheet will keep me on track until the end of October.

When pursuing any type of goal, it is most important to understand your “why.” Why am I working hard for this? Why do I want to achieve this? My “why” is that I want to become a national master because it has been my goal ever since I started playing chess competitively, and it would make me incredibly happy to see this goal through. Until next time!

Playing the Double King Pawn Game on Feel

The most analyzed positions in the open games (1. e4 e5) must be the ones in the mainline Ruy Lopez, which as such, is not in my repertoire. But many other double-king-pawn middlegames commonly arise, that are not part of the Ruy Lopez. Although most are not considered as critical at high level, they share a lot of similarities to our Ruy. Of course, there are too many to name, and too many for most players to analyze in detail, so many of them are played on some basic principles that most players develop as they play these positions often enough. Sometimes, it’s more complicated than that, but in a recent game I played against an up-and-coming junior (rated about 2150), it was enough for a crushing win in what looked to be a long, closed game.

Before going over that game, I would be remiss to omit the continuation of, well, the namesake of my last two posts. During my recent trek to Berkeley (in which I was wise enough to stay overnight instead of driving an extra 100 miles…), I scored one win and one loss in my first two games, being borderline lost in the first and crushing from the beginning in the second. Although it might appear that I played like a normal human being this time, and lost the first but won the second, a read of my last two posts will suggest (correctly) that I won the first, against an expert, and lost the second, against a very tricky Grandmaster Enrico Sevillano. When I sort those out in my studies of chess psychology, I will revisit those, perhaps in a later post! But for now, it’s double king pawn games.

Li (2225) – Vidyarthi (2153), Berkeley October FIDE

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Bc5 4. Nc3 c6

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.20.15 AM
Position after 4…c6

Although White’s move order is intended to spring f2-f4, when Black is able to counter with …d5, we usually revert back to usual double-king-pawn play. Black can settle for …d6 anyway (as in the game) or strike out with …d5.

5. Nf3 b5 6. Bb3 d6 7. Ne2

This is a plan that should be familiar to most players of these and similar lines; White getting ready to reroute a knight to g3 and hopefully f5.

7…O-O 8. Ng3 h6?!

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.24.19 AM
Position after 8…h6

This is already a step in the wrong direction, as …h6 is rarely helpful to Black in the long run (especially after castling, when it is just a target), Understandably, Black does not want to be bothered by Bg5, but with a knight on g3 I probably wouldn’t have bothered, as after …h6 the bishop cannot keep the pin.

Of course, we are still far from the dream scenario, but if white gets to post a knight on f5, Black is going to be a bit uncomfortable, as trying to kick the knight with …g6 will hang the h6-pawn in most lines.

9. O-O Be6 10. c3

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.30.28 AM
Position after 10. c3

About as reasonable a decision as any; White’s bishop is powerful, but usually can’t stay on the diagonal for long. I don’t have too much experience in these types of games, but it seems that when Black blunts the a2-g8 diagonal, it’s time to switch gears and train sights on f5 and beyond. 10. Bxe6 fxe6 in particular did not seem helpful.

It’s a good time to take stock in what both players may want. I obviously wanted a knight on f5, but trying to have both knights trained on f5 is hard (Nh4 gets squashed by Nxe4 discovered attack, for now). Regardless, from that perspective it’s important to keep the pawn on e4.

Black is clearly helped by the pawn on e5, but supporting it will become a bit of a challenge if he tries to break in the center with …d5 (which I believe he should have tried). Most importantly, it’s important to keep notice of White’s possibilities on the kingside.

10…Nbd7 11. a4 a6 12. h3

Possibly not necessary, but seemed like a good way to improve my position before taking any action. 12. h3 in particular was based on the possibility of Black trading off a pair of minor pieces on the kingside; for example, otherwise 12…Bg4 13. h3 Nh5! (and if hxg4, Nxg3!). Note that h3 is not a target in the way that h6 is for Black.

12…Bb6 13. Bc2 Qc7?

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.38.32 AM
Position after 13…Qc7

When I saw this move, I was a bit confused as it didn’t seem to jive with 12…Bb6. I suspect Black just wanted to keep the bishop away from d3-d4 and finish development, but “developing” Black’s queen is not a huge deal at the moment, and if he wanted to, 13…Qe7 was a much better option, preventing 14. Nh4.

I’m not really sure what I would have done. Nf5 intending to answer Bxf5 with exf5 is not the end of the world, but that needs to be prepared reasonably well as Black takes a lot of the center after that with …d5. Now White is guaranteed a knight on f5, with a fairly substantial advantage.

14. Nh4 Rfd8 15. Ngf5

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.42.25 AM
Position after 15. Ngf5

Now things are starting to get scary for Black, as White is poised to follow with Qf3, Qg3 etc. There are many threats after Qf3, so determining the best response takes a bit of thinking. 15…Kh8 seems relatively best, when the hasty 16. Qf3 d5 (e.g.) 17. Qg3 runs into 17…Nh5 followed by the surprising 18…Ndf6!.

15…Nf8? 16. Qf3

Perhaps Black intended to move his king but missed that White is also threatening 17. Nxh6.

16…Bxf5 17. Nxf5 N6h7 18. Qg3

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.46.38 AM
Position after 18. Qg3

Because of the dual threats of Nxh6+ and Qxg7#, Black is kind of toast already. The only try is to block the g-file, but Black is not coordinated enough to deal with White’s counters to that.

18…Ng6 19. h4 Nf6 20. Bd1 h5 21. Bg5

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 1.49.48 AM
Position after 21. Bg5

Black had only one way to stop h4-h5, but White again threatens Bxf6 and Bxh5, winning probably much more than just a pawn. Black’s pieces are all helpless to protect the kingside.

21…Kh7 22. Qf3

Trying to beef up the attack; Black did not oblige and sacrificed the exchange with 22…Ng4 but White’s attack kept up and I was able to win the rest without significant trouble.

Despite a fairly even-handed opening, the rest was pretty much on common open game principles. Black would have done well to keep in mind White’s mechanisms for activating that h4-knight and preparing active counterplay such as …d7-d5.

Stay tuned for next month’s post, which will feature some games from the upcoming Bay Area Emory Tate Memorial!

Caissa’s Unexpected Gift

img_0555.jpg
A rare break from Pitt (not pictured: cat clawing me five seconds later)

In the past few weeks, my relationship with chess has taken a drastic change. Between managing a full academic schedule and preparing to enter an arduous job search, my ability to study effectively and consistently has been effectively decimated. Honestly, knowing my schedule and workload now, I think my previous semesters pale in comparison, especially when you add on my chess.com streaming and responsibilities for the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers. Perhaps you’ve been waiting to call me out for being unusually mum here (sorry!).

With all of the recent changes in my regular schedule, it’s really forced me to evaluate how I can approach chess differently, especially given my 30 rating point collapse last September.

Historically speaking, I think some my poor quality of play has been plagued by my own unrealistically high expectations. Failure to have a strong performance pushes even more pressure on to the next tournament until I break the cycle, only to follow that up with another disappointing showing, beginning the cycle again. A lot of stress, a lot of work – very little improvement.

However, with the copious amount of stress that this semester has brought, I think it’s  actually engulfed my stress from chess entirely.  I literally/physically cannot be more stressed than I am now. Which, while not ideal from a work-life balance standpoint, has actually forced me to improve psychologically in the limited time I do have over-the-board. I don’t have time to prepare for my opponents like I used to, or dwell on upcoming games, so my tournament appearances now just feel like breaks from school – which is what chess should be for us non-professionals, right? Here’s a couple perks I’ve noticed over the last few weeks:

  1. I am more confident – Perhaps you could argue that my confidence is misguided given my lack of preparation, but my new mindset allows me to feel like I have nothing to lose. I know there’s a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t be playing well right now, but I’ve been pushing those externalities aside, and just embracing that chess is hard.
  2. I am more creative – We saw a bit of this with my 5. g4 adventure last article, but I’ve actually been experimenting with a few openings for both colors this past month, and it’s given me new positions to explore. Some experiments have been more successful than others, but my games have become more interesting as a result.
  3. I am less emotional during games – If you’ve ever watched me play in person, I usually wear my emotions on my sleeve. But lately, when I reach critical positions I’ve been surprisingly calm, and I’ve even rejected more draw offers than I have ever previously. I think it’s in these moments where I think to myself “take the draw and do homework, or keep on playing?”. Not a professional set of mind, but I’ll take it. In games where I’ve been offered draws this past month, I’ve played on and scored 3.5/4 from roughly equal positions.

In turn, I would argue that my time management has slightly worsened, but the tradeoff is not too bad. I think another element that’s really helped is that internally, I’ve stopped making excuses for myself like, I would have played better if I didn’t have a midterm, I could have prepared more if I wasn’t trying so hard to be involved in the online chess community, and so forth.

Strong chess players are successful because they can play well in spite of their other conflicts. Most players I’m playing now have jobs, families, other obligations – I’m not the only active tournament player in the room who’s busy, so why excuse myself for it? When I lose now, I’m working really hard to ignore the particular distractions that may have caused me to fail, but rather embracing the fact that chess is hard, and using that as a vantage point for my next round. I can’t drop out of Pitt to play chess (or rather, won’t), but I can at least have a more positive mindset about my play.

But does this work? Perhaps this is not a sustainable approach in the long-run, but Caissa has been a particularly generous friend of mine since I last shared on Chess^Summit. After starting 2/2 in the Pittsburgh Chess Club’s Fred Sorensen Memorial, I tried main line 1. d4 (surprise!) against National Master Kevin Carl, and managed a draw from a position of strength. Though I probably should have continued playing instead of offering a half point, this game gave me a lot of confidence going into the next two rounds.

IMG_2545
Both of us in a deep think early into round (Photo Credit: Franklin Chen)

Composure Wins Games

The equal decision pitted me in a match-up with my former trainer NM Franklin Chen with the black pieces. Ugh this is literally the worst time to get this pairing. Franklin played a significant role in preparing me for the 2016 US Junior Open, and was thus (I would argue) is most familiar with my opening repertoire and weaknesses, barring my coach. To add insult to injury, having the Black pieces meant that Franklin had a week to prepare with White on a specific line, while I had to generally prepare my responses against 1 e4, 1 d4, 1 c4, 1 Nf3 – you get the idea. I guess a draw would be a favorable result. I did not have any expectations going in as I had yet to beat Franklin in a competitive game, and his opening understanding is much deeper than mine. Just get out of the opening.

Chen, Franklin (2123) – Steincamp, Isaac (2076)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c3 Bg7 4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 d5 6.e5 Bg4 7.Nbd2

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.36.42
Chen–Steincamp, position after 7. Nbd2

At this point in the game, I couldn’t tell if Franklin was actually playing out of his preparation, or was improvising. Either way, all I remembered was that I don’t take the knight on f3 in this line. 7…Nc6 8.h3 Bf5 9.Bb5 

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.40.38
Chen–Steincamp, position after 9. Bb5

He spent some time here, which I took as him not expecting me to play …Bf5. While White has more space in the center, the knight on d2 slows down White’s queenside development. In the meantime, Black will set-up a French-like structure without the bad light-squared bishop. 9…Qb6 10.Qe2 e6 11.Nb3 Nge7 12.0–0 a6

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.44.28
Chen–Steincamp, position after 12…a6

Presenting White with an awkward decision. Should White play 13. Bd3, he will lose a lot of time as 13…Bxd3 14. Qxd3 Nb4 followed by Ra8-c8 will give Black a lot of queenside counterplay. At that point, the knight on b3 would be misplaced since an eventual …b7-b6 would kick out any Nb3-c5 ideas. Avoiding the pressure, Franklin instead chose to give up the bishop pair with 13.Bxc6+ Nxc6 14.Be3 Qb5 15.Qxb5 axb5

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.50.28
Chen–Steincamp, position after 15… axb5

At this point, I was really happy with how the opening concluded. Black is more active with the rooks ready to launch to the queenside, and I hold the bishop pair going into the queenless middlegame. While Black’s play is fairly simple, White will need to be both creative and accurate to hold the balance. Without any natural pawn breaks, White erred with 16.Ne1?, with the idea of g2-g4, followed by f2-f3 to snare my f5 bishop.

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 12.57.26
Chen–Steincamp, position after 16. Ne1

This felt like a psychological turning point. White spent about 5 minutes on each of the next three moves, while my moves were mostly forced. This gave me a time advantage that I was able to keep for the rest of the game and press with in the late endgame. While the idea of trapping my bishop may be appealing, White’s voluntarily disconnected his knights, and its not quite clear where the knight can go from e1. 16…h5 17.f3? h4 18.Rf2 

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.06.53
Chen–Steincamp, position after 18. Rf2

With the change in pawn structure, we can see that Black is now clearly better. White is having to spend time to find a new home for the e1 knight, and in the meantime, I can activate my dark squared bishop via f8. 18…Bf8 19.Bg5 Be7 20.Bxe7 Kxe7

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.10.09
Chen–Steincamp, position after 20…Kxe7

While I give up my bishop pair, White now cannot play on the dark squares, so my h4 pawn is no longer a real weakness. With the simplification, I can revert to my queenside conquest. 21.Rd2 b6 22.Rc1 Rhc8 23.a3 Ra4 24.Kf2 Rc4 25.Rxc4 bxc4 26.Nc1

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.14.20
Chen–Steincamp, position after 26. Nc1

While it’s not decisive yet, my advantage is growing. White’s pawns on the queenside are nagging weaknesses since the pawn structure is fixed. Furthermore, each of White’s knights are pretty anemic. As long as I can keep my hold an push it should be smooth sailing… 26…Na5 27.Na2 Nb3 28.Rd1 f6?=

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.19.59
Chen–Steincamp, position after 28…f6?

I had a jolt when I played this move because I realized I had erred here. This gives White the opportunity to clear the e5 square for a knight, which make the position extremely difficult to win. Luckily for me, Franklin opted for a different continuation, but my advantage lessened since White’s active king is able to make up for his poor knight play. 29.f4 fxe5 30.fxe5 Rf8 31.Ke3 g5 32.Nf3 Rg8 33.Rh1

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.25.18
Chen–Steincamp, position after 33. Rh1

As I was returning, Franklin offered me a draw and I made a point of declining before I sat down. The position is somewhat difficult still, and psychologically it can be easy to give up. That being said, only Black can win here – White’s knights are poor, and g2 and b2 are both promising targets. I wasn’t sure how I would carry it out, but I was seeing an idea of bringing my knight on b3 all the way to f5. Maybe a …g5-g4 insertion becomes possible. Why not keep playing? 33…Na5 34.Nc3 Kd7 35.Ne2 Bd3 36.Nc1 Be4 37.Ne2 Bd3 Always repeat! 38.Nc1 Be4 39.Ne2 Nc6

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.29.25
Chen–Steincamp, position after 39…Nc6

Now my plan is coming to life! White can’t stop my knight from coming to f5. Once my knight reaches the destination, I’ll venture into various …Kd7-c6 ideas to activate my king and push on the queenside with …b6-b5. 40.Rg1 Ne7

It’s worth noting that 41.g4 is not a real option as after 41…hxg3 42.Nxg3 Bxf3 43.Kxf3 Rf8+ 44.Ke3 Rh8 45.Rh1 Rh4 Black is clearly better.

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.35.19
Analysis after 45…Rh4

The game continued with a couple repetitions and slow progress from Black on the queenside. 41.Kd2 Nf5 42.Nh2 Bd3 43.Nc1 Be4 44.Ne2 Kc6 45.Ng4 b5 46.Nf6 Rg7

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.38.34
Chen–Steincamp, position after 46…Rg7

Franklin’s managed to plop his knight onto the f6 square, but it must have been a cold shower when he realized that it doesn’t change the impression of the position. The knight has no targets from here, and Nxe4 will only help me create a passed pawn and open the d5 square for my king. With only limited time here Franklin tried his best to hold with passive play. 47.Kc3 Bd3 48.Nc1 Ng3!

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.43.34
Chen–Steincamp, position after 48. Ng3!

Having to lose a tempo due to 49. Nxd3 Ne2+, White had to concede 49.Re1, giving me time to tickle the chronically weak g2 pawn with 49…Be4 forcing 50.Nxe4 Nxe4+ 51.Kc2 Rf7 and with the file, my advantage is near decisive.

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.47.44.png
Chen–Steincamp, position after 51…Rf7

Now both in time trouble, I did my best to keep calm and bludgeon my way into the kingside. 52.Re2 Ng3 53.Rd2 Nf1 54.Re2 Rf4 55.Kc3 Ng3 56.Rc2 Re4 57.b3 I stopped notating here because I was confident that this was the final straw in White’s position. 57…Nf5 58.bxc4 dxc4 Opening the d5 square for my knight while limiting White’s potential counterplay with the a-pawn. 59.Ne2 Ne3 60.Ra2 Nd5+ 61.Kd2

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 13.50.39
Chen–Steincamp, position after 61. Kd2

61…Rxe2+!–+ 62.Kxe2 Nc3+ 0–1

And just like that, I hit 3.5/4 in the tournament, a personal best for the four round mark at any Pittsburgh Chess Club event. My confidence soared following the match, and it was really feeling like all of my previous studies were finally paying off. Just a few days later I even managed a draw against a 2700+ (chess.com, not FIDE) rated International Master in the Royal Arena Kings event:

So things were going well… I was finally starting to feel in the driver’s seat with my play, which is hardly ever a bad sign.

Reality Check

Before my fifth round of the Sorenson Memorial, the weekend offered the Pennsylvania State Championships, and immediately, my level of play seemed much worse than the week before. I dropped to 0.5/2 when my opponent found this nice tactical gem to force immediate resignation!

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 14.04.40
Mucerino–Steincamp, White to move and win

After an embarrassing blindspot early in the game to drop an exchange, I was starting to make a comeback, and if I can win the pawn on b3, I’ll actually have some winning chances. That’s why it was imperative that White find the showstopper 27. Bf6+! to close the curtains and prompt resignation. 27…Kxf6 28. Qe7+ Kf5 29. g4# and 27…Bxf6 28. Qf8+ Kh7 29. Qg8# so I fell back to earth.

My lone bright spot of the tournament was an endgame grind Sunday morning to reach 2/4 heading into the final round. Without getting into too much detail, I’ll share the critical moment:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 14.14.31
Demetruk–Steincamp, position after 19. Be2

This was a pretty tricky moment in the game, and while I wanted to play 19…Qe3 to stop White from castling, I couldn’t keep the attack going. White’s idea of Ng3-e4, followed by Qc7-Qc5 is quite strong since the queen trade is forced and the endgame is worse, since my lack of development is quite limiting. After 20. Ne4, I realized that neither …Ne7-d5 or …Ne7-f5 yields anything, and instead found the critical 20…b4!, opening the possibility of …Bc8-a6 should White dare take the b4 pawn. Play continued 21. Qc5 Qxc5 22. Nxc5 bxc3 23. bxc3 Nd5 24. Kd2 Nf4 25. Bf1 Rb8, with Black seizing the initiative:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 14.20.08
Demetruk–Steincamp, position after 25…Rb8

Now, unlike the endgames before, Black is clearly in the driver’s seat. My pieces are developing with tempi, and unlike before instead of having a weak b5 pawn, it’s White who holds the biggest weakness on c3! After four hours of grinding the position, White finally crumbled. I guess that makes favorable endgame transpositions tactics too!

Nice win aside, I mangled a completely winning position in the final round to finish 2/5, so the tournament as a whole proved to be a disappointment. While there were a bunch of small tweaks I wanted to make from my mistakes before my Tuesday night match-up, my coursework required attention, and the two days passed quickly, leaving me no real time to prepare.

I tried something new with Black, and immediately the position became quite double-edged. My opponent was very close to winning when he missed 32. Rxe2! +-

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 14.49.20
Özbek–Steincamp, position after 31…Qh5

I understood that this was a winning shot before I played 31…Qh5, but there was really no way to avoid this. I tried to maintain a calm posture and let White’s clock work its magic. Under pressure, White opted for 32. Bg6?? which loses instantly with 32… Rxf2! and now White realizes the queen cannot be captured:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 14.52.54
Özbek–Steincamp, position after 32…Rxf2!

White tried to survive after 33. Rxe2 Qxe2 34. Nhf3 but 34…Rh2+ forced resignation since mate is inevitable. A scary way to jump to 4.5/5 – after checking the game with Stockfish, it’s quite evident that I probably did not “deserve” to win… What can I say? I guess in the eyes of Stockfish it’s a miracle that I win any of my games.

Despite an ugly finish, the win guaranteed a share of first place, and a peaceful draw this past Tuesday sealed the clear tournament win for me. While the competition was not significantly higher rated than me, it was a great feeling to win a tournament for the first time since my Marshall Chess Club appearance in 2016.

Steady Finish

I was able to end October on an emphatic note with my Pittsburgh Chess League match up against NM Thomas Magar, as the University of Pittsburgh took on the Monroeville Chess Club. With the match level at 1.5-1.5, my opponent offered a draw to lock a 2-2 tie in this position:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 15.04.52
Magar–Steincamp, position after 31. Kh2

I found rejecting this offer to be somewhat psychologically difficult – I had been defending the entire game, and not that it should matter, but my opponent was higher rated. So a deep think ensued…

With White’s last move, 31. Kh2, my opponent has blocked in his rook, and so …Qd7-e7 asks White to find resources to deal with …Rf6-f8. With this slowing down any Ng3-e4 ideas, I was able to convince myself that I wanted to see what he would do after 31…Qe7. After 32. Nxf5 Rxf5 33. Rh3 Qg5, I’m clearly better, as the resulting rook endgame gave me a material advantage:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 16.37.33
Magar–Steincamp, position after 33…Qg5

White lost the h-pawn, and after trading a pair of rooks, White realized that his rook has no way to become active, my h-pawn is an unstoppable force. After trading the a-pawns, we reached this position:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 16.42.04.png
Magar–Steincamp, position after 48… Ra7

Here White has an uncomfortable position. Aside from …Ra7-g7 ideas, I can always go after the b3 pawn or place my rook on the 6th rank to support my only weakness while assisting the h-pawn up the board. With no real active ideas left, White tried 49. f4 exf4+ 50. Kxf4 Rf7+ 51. Ke4

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 16.46.18
Magar–Steincamp, position after 51. Ke4

Now we realize that Black’s position is improving. The White king looks active on e4, but it actually can’t make progress, as my rook and the d6 pawn cut it off. While White’s g1 rook cuts off my king, it can’t infiltrate my position effectively, which is a problem since he will need to stop my h-pawn after 51…h4. White tried to put his rook behind the pawn, but it’s already too late. 52. Rg4 Kh5 53. Rg8 Rf6 54. Rh8+ Kg5 55. Rg8+ Rg6:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 16.51.21
Magar–Steincamp, position after 55…Rg6

Should White trade the rooks, the pawn endgame is winning, so my opponent has to surrender the g-file. If he plays 56. Rh8, I will simply play 56…Kg4 and …h4-h3, so the only viable option was 56. Rf8, and after 56…h3 57. Rf5+ Kg4 58. Rf4+ Kg3, my opponent lost on time, but the result is fairly clear:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 18.33.52
Magar–Steincamp, position after 58…Kg3

Black will simply escort the pawn to a1, and should White attempt 59. Kf5 Rf6+! will win the pawn endgame, as the rooks will come off the board.

What a month! After a September that saw me drop as low as 2066, I somehow found a way to recover completely and re-break 2100 for the umpteenth time:

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 18.38.04

Honestly in writing all of this, I think one thing has become extraordinarily clear – chess is hard. And it should be! We’re all going to hit rough patches, there will always be bad games, and we will always find a way to ask ourselves “how did I miss that??”. My biggest lesson from October is, don’t fight normal! Instead, actively look for ways to improve, and don’t find any external reasons as to why you lost. If you made a blunder, own it – don’t let it hold you back. Don’t give yourself an excuse to not play your best.

If you’re out there Caissa, thanks – this was exactly the kind of month I needed!

What do I do Now?

This is a question I hear often from students when opening is finished and there are no clear tactical moves.

Let’s take a moment to think about this scenario.

The reason we often get stuck is because we’re looking prematurely for the final punch, even though there are plenty of game to be played.

Instead of thinking to finish the game, let’s take a step back, and make small improvement moves for our positions.

There are two questions we can ask

  1. How to activate my pieces
  2. How to stop my opponent’s plans

Activate My Pieces

what_to_do_1

Black to Move

All the minor pieces are developed for both side, now black should consider to bring rooks to the center and find ways to open up the files for the rooks.

Re8 or Qd7 are two good choices here. These moves does not win the game or have any immediate threat, but we are ‘waking up’ our heavy pieces.

Stopping Opponent’s Plans

what_to_do_2

White to Move

Similar to the previous position, white’s minor pieces are developed. Rb1 is a good idea to control the b-file, however, we can make this move later as well.

More importantly, what is black’s plan here. Where should black develop the light square bishop?

Once we ask this question, we can see g4 is the ideal square to pin white’s knight and queen. Based on this h3 would be a good prophylaxis move.


Chess can be a fast and furious game, but it can also be strategic in nature.

When the next time you don’t see clear cut moves, make sure to search for small improvements that will help you in the long haul.

How To Not Mess Up The Win

Losing a winning position is arguably the worst experience a chess player can ever have. It’s also probably one of the most common phenomena that can occur in a game of chess. How many times have you heard “I was completely winning but lost!” when you ask your friends how their game went? How many times have you yourself experienced defeat from the jaws of victory? Like everyone, I have bungled and lost multifarious chess games. While there is no way to completely avoid losing games you have no business in losing, through my many years of playing as well as asking experienced masters about this topic, I have come up with a couple of strategies which I hope can help you avoid this dilemma.

 

  • Manage Your Time Well

 

While this is an important attribute to always have during a chess game, it is especially important to display good time management practices when you’re in a winning position. How often do you hear people complaining about “being winning but not having enough time”? Blunders most commonly stem from having low time on your clock, and while it always depends on the position, it is usually not necessary to spend vast amounts of time on positions where you have a huge advantage. While rushing should be avoided, so should spending obsessive amounts of time each move. I find that people do this usually because they’re scared of messing up which leads to my next point.

 

  • Be Confident … But Not Too Confident

 

Overconfidence often leads to ruin but so does underconfidence. In order to find the right balance, it’s important to have the right mindset in managing a winning position. The way I try to think about it is this: Believe in your chances while also believing in your opponents. While some winning positions are relatively simple to win, not every position is set in stone. Even though you might be winning, all it takes is one bad move to throw everything away. By keeping that in mind, you’ll likely be more cautious to any counterplay your opponent might have. To avoid underconfidence, simply be positive. Trust that you can convert your chances and never give up hope even if you mess up.

 

  • Stay Calm

 

It’s easy to get nervous when you’re winning. It’s easy to have thoughts about what might happen if you mess up and lose. It’s also easy to let your nerves overcome you and cause you to lose the game you’ve fought so hard to acquire a winning position in. Not being able to manage your nerves can easily cost you the game. To avoid this try not to focus on the big picture. Instead, try and focus on the task at hand which is converting your position. If you think that you might mess up your position, that will probably happen. Instead, just focus on the position and finding the best moves you can.

  • Be Patient

And for my final piece of advice, we will be discussing every chess player’s worst enemy, impatience. It’s so easy to get bored when you’re winning. We’ve all had thoughts like “why hasn’t my opponent resigned yet?” or “Can my opponent move already so I can win?”. This impatience can have disastrous consequences and cost you the game. To avoid being impatient, just try to remember that the game is never over until your opponent pauses the clock and offers you his hand in resignation. Remember that your opponent has no obligation to resign. It’s up to you to win, and if you’re not willing to put in the hours of work it might take into achieving the win, then you didn’t deserve to win in the first place.

I hope this article helps you avoid losing winning positions. I know that these strategies have certainly helped me in my chess career and I hope they can do the same for yours. If you have any of your own tips and strategies, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until next time!