U16 Olympiad: Free Day after the Storm

The tournament goes on. The smog is gone, the food continues to be good, and we’ve settled into a routine. The English in the hotel continues to provide entertainment. Some of the food translations really give Google Translate a run for its money…

IMG_4577(1)
Who knew ovens tasted so good? I already had a chicken oven, a turkey oven, lamb frying, and many more delicacies that I had never even heard of.

The chess got even more unpredictable than the translations. We scored a massive upset against Uzbekistan, winning 2.5-1.5. At the end of that match, we were leading 2-1, and I was defending an unpleasant endgame, but I held, and we won the match. The following match with Belarus ended in a 2-2 tie after some serious drama. I’m surprised no spectators had heart attacks while watching this match… Yours truly contributed by gambling in a drawn endgame when the team didn’t look so good. Then everything turned 180 degrees, my game included

Today is a rest day. We went for an excursion of Konya. We visited a mosque/museum and a butterfly garden, and in the process we bought souvenirs, trashed talked, socialized with other teams, and just had a good time.

IMG_0283

IMG_4613
Not bad!

Tomorrow we’re back to business, another double round day. We’re tied for first with Belarus, and we get to play Ukraine. Onward!

Fingers crossed. Wish us luck.

U16 Olympiad: Hanging in There

The US team arrived in Konya, Turkey, 2 days ago for the U16 Olympiad, and we’ve been quite busy since. The first evening we managed to sneak in an exciting dance performance, courtesy of the organizers. The hotel is nice (except for slow elevators, but taking the stairs provides us with some exercise). The food is good, and the playing hall is literally right next door, so there’s no need to deal with buses. That sure helps relax the schedule. As for jet lag and the smog that hit us and Konya today, well… they’re not as good, but hopefully tomorrow there won’t be any trace of either.

Enough weather, time for chess. We’ve made it through the first three matches and have won them all. Today we survived the first of the two double round days. Currently, I’m at 3 draws (the games were actually much more exciting than the result suggests).

IMG_4553
The Round 1 Scoreboard
IMG_4570
The start of round 1

Tomorrow, we are playing the #1 team, Uzbekistan. Wish us luck!

Onward! Here’s the official website if you want to follow. I’ll be back, internet-permitting.

Connecting the Dots

I learned sequentially, now I try to zig and zag in unknown circles.

In chess, there are openings, middle games, and endgames. For a new player, each phase of the game feels like a complete different culture from the other.

Openings then Endgame

Part of the reason grandmasters understand the game better than I do is that they know how to connect the dots between different concepts.

For example, the queen’s gambit accepted (QGA) is a well-known opening. Many players play this opening, and they put in time to study the move orders or different variations.

The top players use a different approach: they study endgames that arise out of QGA. They ask themselves which pieces should be traded, or how to manage the pawn structure.

After going through this process, they come back to the opening, check variations with computers, and maybe then new ideas or concepts will be born.

Slow Chess to Blitz

There are debates on how much does blitz help slower games. The answer is not straightforward, but the idea is to improve calculation and intuition skills.

When play blitz, there are no time to think, the instant reaction and fast judgement of positions will provide valuable patterns to our minds.

By going thru blitz sessions, we subconsciously connect information that we have used or learned from slower games.


Next time you see two unrelated topics, remember maybe there will be dots to be connected.

Ups and Downs for Carlsen and Caruana Through Six

With six out of twelve classical games in the books, Carlsen and Caruana remain tied at three points apiece.  Each game thus far has been a draw, but that doesn’t mean that the games haven’t been engaging.  In fact, the first and sixth games have probably had the most action, but as promised, I will take a look at each of the six games and attempt to pull the most important learning points from each.  So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

handshake
Carlsen – Caruana: One of the most anticipated World Championship matches ever

 

Game 1: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (1), 2018

This game started out in a Rossolimo where Carlsen, as Black, tried to take control of the dark squares in typical Sicilian fashion.  Not to be outdone this early, Caruana tried to break through the f-file and doubled his rooks early in an attempt to agitate Black’s uncastled king.  Carlsen, however, simply castled queenside, and suddenly it was Black who had a solid and attacking position.  Carlsen sacrificed a pawn to open the g-file against White’s king, but Caruana held his own until move 34 when Carlsen faltered with 34. … h5 instead of the much stronger 35. … Qe5!, which also served to set up a crushing 36 … Rg3.  Even then, Carlsen still had a significant advantage until the time control move, when he played 40. … Bxc3 and lost most of the advantage.  Despite Black still being objectively slightly better, Caruana was able to hold the ensuing endgame.  The lesson to be learned from this game is to always keep an eye on all parts of the board – it was something Carlsen forgot about on the crucial 34th move, where he was likely too fixated on the kingside and missed that infiltrating with the Queen through e5-c3-b2 and setting up a crushing Rg3 was basically game over with all of White’s pieces on the right half of the board.

Game 2: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (2), 2018

This game started out in a Queen’s Gambit Declined, but the moment of truth came much earlier.  For his 10th move, Caruana blitzed out the novelty 10. … Rd8 as opposed to the known moves 10. … Re8 (see Korchnoi 1-0 Karpov, 1978) and 10. … Be7.  As evidenced by Carlsen’s answer to a reporter asking what he thought of the move – “Oh, [expletive], mainly” – he was clearly taken aback and settled into a long think.  At this point, he had the option of grabbing the bull by the horns and playing 11. Nd2, but knowing that this would likely take him straight into Caruana’s preparation, he avoided the line and played the “tamer” 11. Be2.  The only other critical point after this move was on move 17 when Carlsen had the chance to try the intriguing 17. Nxf7!?, but once again, he settled for the less-aggressive route with 17. Bf3 and the game soon fizzled out into a drawn endgame where White’s doubled f-pawns actually made the 4v3 defense easier.  This game showed us the importance of opening preparation, as it only took ten moves to reach a crossroads for Magnus, and after that point, it was Caruana in the driver’s seat.

Game 3: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (3), 2018

Just like in Game 1, Caruana opted for a Rossolimo to counter Carlsen’s Sicilian, but instead of following the horrific path the first game went down, Caruana played 6. 0-0.  A couple moves later, Carlsen confidently offered a pawn sacrifice with 9. 0-0 after only 35 seconds of thought, but Caruana kept the status quo with 10. Nbd2.  The first critical point came on move 15 when Caruana rather hastily played 15. Bd2, allowing Carlsen to continue contesting the open a-file with 15. … Raa8!.  Rather, had Caruana played 15. Rxa5 Qxa5 16. Bd2 Qc7 17. Qa1!, he would have firmly been in the driver’s seat with avenues for pressure along the open a-file and the fixated Black e5 pawn.  Instead, the game turned to an endgame where Caruana was slightly worse, but the game once again fizzled into a draw.  Twice already, Caruana’s attempt to win as White didn’t go as planned, and it was interesting to note at the time that each of the three games ended with the player playing Black pressing for the potential win.

Game 4: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (4), 2018

In a game where Carlsen opened with the English, the most interesting aspect was arguably not related to the game at all.  To be fair, the only somewhat-critical point was on the 15th move, when Carlsen had the opportunity to break with 15. b5, but after settling for the less-exciting 15. Re1, the game turned into a relatively-quick draw in only 34 moves, shorter than any of the games up until this point.  However, as previously mentioned, the most intriguing part of the round was related to some off-the-board drama.  A promo video for Caruana was posted by the St. Louis Chess Club, but it was taken down soon after it revealed a brief shot of Caruana’s ChessBase files which seemed to show quite a few opening ideas and analyzed games.  Some keen viewers on Twitter wondered if the video was uploaded as a distraction attempt to goad Carlsen into going down an irrelevant rabbit hole, but whether this is the case is unknown.  When asked about the video in the postgame conference, Carlsen mentioned he’d take a look at the video, which evidently seemed to make Caruana uncomfortable.  Anyway, on to Game 5…

Game 5: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (5), 2018

The game once again played into a Rossolimo, but Caruana stuck to the pattern of deviating first by playing 4. 0-0 instead of 4. Bxc6 and then plunging forward with 6. b4, an aggressive-looking gambit.  Despite from longer thinks from Carlsen, however, it seemed like he knew what he was doing.  After 11. … Ne7, the players reached the first critical position, where Caruana eschewed theory (12. cxd6 Qxd6 13. d4) and gambled with the forcing 12. Qe2, but Carlsen found the only move with 12. … b4.  A few moves later, with the queens off, Black was in a comfortable position, while Caruana seemed a bit annoyed with his position during a 30+ minute think on move 19.  After precise play from both sides, the game ended as a draw on move 34 once again.  The most noteworthy point from this game was Fabiano’s early aggressiveness; evidently, he was trying to play for a win from the start, but Carlsen’s knowledge of the sideline helped him to a draw.  Meanwhile, Carlsen’s “refutation” of the opening gave him a solid chance of pushing for a win, but once again, he let the opportunity slip.

magnus-after-b4
Carlsen’s facial expression after Caruana’s 6. b4!? tells you everything

Game 6: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (6), 2018

In the first game that Carlsen opted for 1. e4, he was met with the Petroff from Caruana, which has garnered quite the attention this year.  Indeed, Caruana has revitalized the Petroff as Black after essaying the opening in several tournaments so far.  On top of that, Caruana has destroyed the notion that Black plays the Petroff in order to draw, as he has had major success with the opening, including two wins against Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk in the Candidates Tournament back in March.  As for this game, the players sidestepped several variations that had been played before and quickly ventured into new territory that was visually fascinating as much as it was vexing.  Specifically, after 7. … Nd4, the players traded queens with a sequence that looks like it could have appeared on a board in a scholastic tournament: 8. Nxe7 Nxe2 9. Nd5 Nd4.  Then followed even more “dance” moves by the knights, and it’s interesting to note that by the 10th move, ten knight moves in a row had already been played.

carlsen-caruana-start
Peculiar preparation in the Petroff made for an interesting opening

However, despite the peculiar and exciting opening, the reality was that the ensuing position was rather dull until Caruana broke with 21. … c5!.  Following some shaky play from Magnus, Caruana found himself with a slight advantage.  Just after time control, Caruana had put Carlsen in a bit of a bind, and seeing no alternatives, Carlsen went for a piece sacrifice for three pawns with 43. Bf3!? in order to mitigate Black’s imminent threat of pushing the d-pawn and delivering a discovered check.  A miscalculation meant that Carlsen would only net two pawns for the piece since he seemed to have missed Caruana’s idea with 48. … Ba3 and picking off a queenside pawn with an eventual Nc3.  However, as expected, Carlsen put up a tough resistance, and he found a nice resource on move 58 with 58. a5!?, which sacrificed the lone queenside pawn, distracting Black’s pieces just enough to allow White to set up what looked to be a fortress after 64. h5.  After 67. Kg6, the engines seemed to momentarily call a forced mate-in-36, but with only ten minutes on Caruana’s clock, it was probably impossible from a human standpoint for him to find it.  Indeed, Caruana didn’t see the mating line, and while he could have arguably made Carlsen suffer more, Caruana went for a draw soon after.

Overall, despite the scoreboard showing six draws, the gameplay has been more than exciting, with each player coming very close to losing at some point – Caruana in the first game, and Carlsen in the sixth.  An interesting theme we’ve seen so far is that Black has had most of the pressing chances, which is ironic considering most high-level players outwardly prefer White.  This is especially true of Caruana, who, in three chances as White, has been stymied quite badly.  Going forward, we should see Caruana experimenting with lines other than the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian.  Additionally, since Carlsen is significantly stronger in the tiebreak formats of rapid and blitz, we should continue to see aggressive openings from Caruana, which should make the games rather fun.  We can also expect to see Caruana continuing to respond to 1. e4 from Magnus with the Petroff, which has served the challenger well.  It’ll be interesting to see which player draws first blood, since, at this point, it may determine the entire match.  But, of course, only time will tell.

The timing of my schedule lines up well with this match, so I’ll be able to provide an analysis of the second half of match next time.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

 

What’s Cooking for Thanksgiving? Turkey!

My Thanksgiving/early December schedule usually consists of going to Philadelphia for the National Chess Congress and then playing the Marshall Chess Club Championship. Come to think of it, I’ve done it for the past 4 (!) years. Those tournaments are both FIDE rated and usually attract plenty of GMs and other strong players. My adventures playing in them have ranged from drawing GM Gata Kamsky at the National Chess Congress to battling snowstorms while trying to get to the Marshall. This year, however, will be different. I’ll be playing the World U16 Olympiad in Konya, Turkey.

Go to Turkey. Represent the US. Play chess for eight days with a rest day in the middle (which is almost unheard of in the US). All in one go. On top of that, since I’ll be too old to play next year, this is literally a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. What’s not to like about it? Sorry, American circuit, but I’ll pass this year …

Out of the 44 teams registered so far, we’re ranked 8th. I’ll still be in the US on Thanksgiving (being in Turkey on Thanksgiving would be so thematic), but I’ll be flying to Turkey the next day. I’ll get settled in on Saturday, November 24th, and the fun will begin the next day.

Just like the regular Olympiad, the U16 Olympiad is a team tournament, where teams consist of 5 players, 4 of which play each round. The tournament has 9 rounds played over 8 days, with a rest day (never had one of those in the US!) and two double round days. The US’s lineup is:

  • Me
  • Hans Niemann
  • Wesley Wang
  • Josiah Stearman
  • Akshita Gorti
  • GM Sergey Kudrin (coach)

Believe it or not, I’ve actually played my teammates 14 times in total and the coach 12 times! Now we’ll be on the same side…

This isn’t the first time I’m going to play abroad, and I have no intention of it being the last time either. This kind of tournament is a brand new experience for me (the US Amateur Team East and this really aren’t comparable).

Time and internet permitting, I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going. Stay posted here at Chess^Summit! The fun begins on November 25th

Wish us luck!

World Championship- Recap Rounds 1 & 2

The World Championship is now underway in London. It has been years since the world #1 and #2 have met in a world title match which is exactly what we have now. 26-year-old super Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana is challenging 27-year-old 3-time defending world champion Magnus Carlsen in a best of 12 chess match. If they are tied after 12 games then the match will head to tiebreaks. But that’s enough about the real specifics about the match. If you’d like to learn more about the details of the match, please read the excellent article written by Vishal earlier this week. Instead, this article will serve as a quick look and overview at what has happened over and off the board in the match so far.  

The Games

phpRDbvkW

Photo Taken From Chess.com; Mike Klein

Despite the fact that both games have been drawn so far, there is much more behind these peaceful seeming results. For example, surprisingly for both games, this match, black has been the one with the edge pushing. For the first game, Magnus, repeating the opening he used to defeat Caruana in a game 2015-the accelerated dragon, came very close to opening the match with a win. However, after outplaying Caruana and gaining an arguably winning position, Carlsen committed a few inaccuracies and was forced to settle with a draw. This was not in vain, however, as he made Caruana struggle for 115 moves which was almost a record-setting game for the longest game in a world championship match. One would think that after this grueling endeavor from Carlsen that he would have had the psychological advantage going into the next game but this was not the case. The tables turned! In the second game, it was Caruana, after playing a close to novelty move in a queens gambit declined who was slightly pressuring Carlsen with black. Carlsen was able to deal with being out prepared with relative ease but it will be interesting to see how this trade of blows affects the psychology of both players for the remainder of the match.  

The Organizers

DrlMS8MU0AA2VIs

Photo Used From https://twitter.com/NoJokeChris

Another big factor concerning this match is the people who are running it. These world championships are extremely popular and are the perfect opportunity to attract new lovers of this great game. However, from what I have seen from Twitter, chess news, and other media, things are not looking pleasant. For instance, according to Mike Kleine from chess.com, people purchasing tickets for the already high price of 70 dollars were given very low viewing time of the players which will only deter people from wanting to visit the match live and experience this match from their own perspectives. Additionally, the online viewing with this match is skewed. People have complained about the high glitchiness of the website and the difficulty of tracking the games progress. This laborious process of simply trying to view a chess game will definitely prevent chess from attracting new fans and it is up to the world chess organization to fix these problems and do their best to promote chess as a professional game. If they are incapable of doing this then they should at least point interested users to sites where they can actually view games such as chess24.com, lichess.org, and chess.com where it is very simple and easy to access and look at the games from this great match.

Overall I am very excited about this match. Fabiano Caruana has proven himself time and time again as a high caliber world class player but he is playing the proclaimed best of the best, Magnus Carlsen. How will he against Carlsen for the rest of the match? What Drama can the world chess organization further cause? Be sure to stay tuned!

 

NM Pursuit #2: Training in a Time Crunch

As an amateur player with various dedications outside of chess, I have found it of utmost importance to make the most of my time in front of the board. While it may seem difficult to make serious progress with under an hour of spare time a day, here are a couple of guidelines that I have been following that have allowed me to make consistent improvements to my game.

  1. Intensity over volume! While it can certainly still be beneficial to spend hours passively reading over pages and pages of chess material online or from books, this type of low-intensity learning is not particularly efficient. In fact, I find that I get more out of an hour of intense calculation exercises where I am fully focused and am forced to actively struggle with new ideas, than I do from three hours of watching grandmaster commentary.
  2. Review old material! I described my chess note card method in an earlier post, and it is a method that I am starting to employ regularly once again as I make my push for 2200. The basic idea behind the note card method that it is much more efficient to actively review old material to ensure 100% retention than it is to go over more new material but forget half of that which was studied previously.
  3. Memorize names of specific games! While it might sound a bit overkill to look at a position from a game you have studied before and to be able to say “Ah, this is M. Krasenkow – A. Yusupov, Essen 2002” followed by the exact moves that were played, memorizing the details of specific games is, in my opinion, one of the most effective ways to anchor new knowledge. Knowing the names of specific games familiarizes your mind with the games at a deeper level, such that it is more ready to pull ideas from them when the opportunity arises. I also enjoy this method because it gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day, knowing that I at least have twelve fresh positions from different master games (of which I know the exact names) firmly anchored in my mind.

Progress Update

This past week was blemished by a fever which I caught on Friday, but on Monday-Thursday I was able to follow through with my planned training. I also analyzed tournament games during the previous weekend and had a lesson with my coach, as I had committed to in the new training plan outlined in my last blog.

Progress #3

I will be playing a tournament in San Antonio this coming weekend and look forward to reporting on my games and experiences at the event. Until next time!