Positional Exchange Sacrifices

Upon hearing the word sacrifice, most of us think about brutal sacrificial mating attacks, but that’s not always the case. Exchange sacrifices can be based purely on positional reasons in endgames. They can be a way out of a bad position, or they may be the best way to get winning chances.

How do you know that your exchange sacrifice is worth it? Obviously it all depends on your position, but I’d say that the following factors would be good indicators

  • Afterwards your pieces will be well-placed (that’s obviously a plus!)
  • Your opponent’s rook(s) is/are not active or will not have an easy time infiltrating
  • Your opponent’s pieces aren’t so active in general
  • Your position is relatively secure
  • You have passed pawn(s) that your opponent needs to worry about
  • Last but not least, the more pawns you have in return for the exchange, the better

Now I’m obviously not claiming that ordinary exchange-down positions are ok for you. No, no, no! A rook is better than a minor piece in most circumstances. And of course you have to calculate accurately, since you really can’t justify losing by force. Let’s look at a few examples.

At the recent U16 Olympiad, I did make a (good) exchange sacrifice.

isik

I was black in this strange position. White has passed pawns on g5 and f6 that are blockaded but do tie up black’s pieces. Meanwhile, white’s bishop does a much better job blockading the g5-pawn. Black doesn’t have a clear plan of action here, and if white can get a rook to the h-file (say after Kf2 and Rh1), black’s position won’t be pleasant.

Taking everything into account, I decided to play 24… Re5! here, with the idea of sacrificing an exchange on g5. This is a good idea from a practical perspective. White’s f6-pawn will still be a thorn, but I’ll be able to take care of it by playing Kd7-e6. Besides that, the only realistic problem with black’s position is that white invades with a rook and takes my queenside pawns, which will become an issue but doesn’t seem to be too concerning.

While white is still the one pressing, this is a better scenario for black than if he waited around and let white proceed with his plans. In the game, I was able to successfully hold a draw after some adventures.

While the idea of sacrificing an exchange came to me naturally there, I’ve had some mishaps in the past. Take this example from 2014, when I was ~2250 USCF:

davtyan1

Again, I was black in another fairly strange position. Black has a pawn lodged on d3, but white has his a knight lodged on d6 in return. How to handle this? Black is in check and obviously has limited options. A tempting possibility here is to remove the knight from d6 by playing 19… Rxd6! 20.exd6 Nf5.

davtyan2

White’s life is far from easy here. If black could simply play Nxd6-e4, he’d be dominating. Since 20.Rc1 attacking the c5-pawn is simply met with 20… Kb6, white will probably play 20.e4 Nxd6 21.e5, where black has lots of compensation after 21… Ne4, Re8, Nf5, etc. This is because black has a solid blockade on the light squares, his d3-pawn is strong, and white’s rooks simply don’t have open files to exploit. While it’s not so bad for white, black is for choice.

Instead of that, I played 19… Kb6, which isn’t a bad move. It’s after 20.a5+ Kc6 21.Rc1 that I made my howler.

davtyan3

Here I should have also gone 21… Rxd6!. After 22.exd6 Kxd6, black will have a lot of compensation for similar reasons like above. Instead of that, I played 21… Rb8??, preventing Bxb4, but after 22.e4 I found myself in a lost position, since I won’t be able to save my c5-pawn. I went on to lose.

Looking at this game now, I’m totally shocked I didn’t sacrifice the exchange. The first time is ok, but the second time!?

Those two games had some similarities. Both were fairly strange positions full of imbalances, though they were also fairly closed positions in which rooks weren’t that powerful. It was also easier for me to establish a blockade after sacrificing the exchange than to play the positon “normally” in both situations.

Scanning through my games, I’m surprised how rare these positional exchange sacrifices are in my practice. This goes to show that yes, being an exchange up is usually a good thing, but there are situations in which a minor piece and a pawn are more useful than a rook.

This painful experience of mine from a couple years ago shows that a rook can truly be dominated.

exchsac1

I thought I was doing all right in this position, but not after I got hit with the strong sacrifice 33.Rxc8!. After 33… Rxc8 34.Nxf5+ Kf7 35.Ne4, black is in big trouble.

exchsac2

White’s knights are quite well-placed and powerful, especially compared with their black counterparts. Moreover, they’re attacking the d6-pawn. If it falls, black’s position will be in ruins. I therefore played 35… Rd8, but after 36.Ba5 Rd7, my rook is literally stuck. To be more precise, it’s totally dominated. I went on to lose this position.

Long story short: positional exchange sacrifices do exist and can be quite good in various situations. If it looks like you have a lot of purely positional compensation after an exchange sacrifice, it’s worth a shot!

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Getting Back To Chess and Winning the Atlanta Open!

Recently, time for playing serious chess tournaments, other than the occasional Friday night blitz tournament, has been very sparse. Luckily for me, with my schooling being off due to winter break, I had enough free time to play in a serious long time-control tournament- The Atlanta Open! Despite my rustiness and my fear of repeating a rudimentary poor performance in my prior tournament months ago, I somehow managed to win the tournament and become the Atlanta Open Champion! Let’s go over one of my early games this tournament.

Game 1: White against Weston Sharpe (2051)

In my experience, the first game after a long break is always the hardest. Additionally, although I reviewed my openings somewhat before the tournament, my opening knowledge prior to the game was at best, sufficient. If this wasn’t enough setback already, this was the second time I’ve played this opponent. The first game I played against him, I was crushed with the black pieces, and although I was excited at the prospect of potentially getting revenge, I wasn’t too confident going into the game. With all of that said, let’s jump right into the game.

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 9.48.06 pm

After a couple of random moves in a KIA-esque opening, black is already close to equality. Already my opponent, if he should desire, could simply take my knight on e4 and go bf6 and already be close to equality. However, he decided to try something more aggressive.

Nxe4, dxe4 Nf6
screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.20.25 pm

With this series of exchanges, I found my e4 pawn under attack. While it seems natural to gain space with e5, I was hesitant to go into this variation. Instead, I found a knight maneuver that interested me enough that I decided to go for it.

Nd2 Nd7, Nc4 b5, Ne3 a6

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 9.55.36 pm

After a couple of nonsensical moves from black, I started liking my position. Why? White’s dark square bishop is staring directly at black’s king. Additionally, my pieces are well placed and can easily shift from the kingside to the queenside and vice-versa should I choose to do so. Finally, black’s king is relatively undefended and acknowledging the fact that my pieces are well placed to begin an attack, I decided to do so.

Ng4 Rfd8, f4 Bb4, Rf1 Nf8, c3 Bc5+, Kh1

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.01.26 pm

And now all my pieces are ready. With the f pawn getting ready to march down the board with the support of the rook on f1 and my dark square bishop ready to open up at any moment’s notice, the pressure was too much for my opponent and he immediately blundered.

Bg6?

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.04.13 pm

This move is simply too much. Although I’m not completely sure what my opponent missed, my best guess is that he was planning on Bh5 at some point without realizing that I simply have Nh6+ with a discovered attack on the Bishop and winning a pawn.

f5 Bh7, f6 h5, fxg7 hxg4, gxf8=Q+ Kxf6, Qxg4

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.08.33 pm
After those series of exchanges, black is now down a pawn. Furthermore, his king is completely open and with white’s heavy pieces staring right at the black king, Black is completely lost. It only took two more moves until black threw in the towel.

Qe5, Bc1 Bg6-black resigns 1-0

Forgetting that his f pawn was pinned, black quickly realized after hitting the clock and immediately resigned.

Not a bad game to resume my journey in chess. Although the opening was nothing special, though some precise play and with the help of several inaccuracies from my opponent, I was able to surmount a successful kingside and win the game. While it was sweet to get revenge against my opponent and start off the tournament with a win, the tournament was only about to get harder. But that’s a topic that can be saved for another article. Until next time! 🙂

 

Jumping The Hurdles: 100% Focus

Hello, everyone!

Many of you may know who I am. I maintain a blog on Chess.com where I have posted my personal chess journey, master games I found of interest, puzzles, random stuff, etc. I’m also active generally with the Chess.com community.

Who am I? I’m just an ordinary seventeen-year-old chess player rated 1737 USCF residing in the middle of Texas living life. What is this series about? Ever since I started taking chess seriously, I had a few goals in mind: reach Class-A (1800 USCF), Expert (2000 USCF), and National Master (2200 USCF). Seems simple right? Back in March, I had a huge performance at the Texas State High School Championships, where I tied for 6th place at 5/7, including a win against the top seed of the event. My rating went from 1704 to 1817 (100-point jumps in a single tournament get very rare at this level), and I thought NO ONE would stop me from eclipsing the Expert rating and ultimately the Master title!

Not quite…

You see, I peaked out at 1828 USCF, and my rating has seriously plummeted since. I would go through this phase of having a bad tournament, good tournament, bad tournament, and so on. It’s not a very stable way of competing. It was in December when I was on the brink of breaking 1800 USCF, I was having a bad event at a local tournament, and in the final round, I collapsed and lost to my own student! Merry Christmas!

See that amazing rating boost down there on the bottom? How about my rating performance since?

[sighs]. All this to say, I will tell you about something that my former coach had warned me about, and I wish I understood when my rating was dropping. It’s very dangerous to pay close attention to ratings. It simply is. What happens is that when you play chess games by rating instead of the best moves, it will damage your true chess games, and your decisions will be made purely by raw emotion rather than how a real game should be decided: calculation and good moves.

All this to say, while I am still openly vying for the Expert and ultimately Master title, I feel that I am only endangering myself when I talk about my chess career in terms of rating rather than good moves and learning from my mistakes.

This past weekend, I participated in another local tournament. My rating stayed the same. It was slightly disappointing not to win rating back, though I felt like I learned a lot from the event (even though I am still analyzing the games!), and I would like to share some of my key moments with you from each game.

For warm up, how about a puzzle? This was my first game against Robert Morgan (1217). Look at the diagram below:

Black just played 19… Nc6(?), which is a mistake. How does White refute it? I’d encourage the reader to calculate this out in their head.

My second game was against Christopher Cook (1535). He played a Tarrasch French against me (1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. Nd2), and we got a very interesting fight. After some struggling, we got the position below: (I would encourage the reader to set this up on a board, as this is a relatively deep series of moves, and the position is very interesting to study anyway!)

In the position above, Black has a lot of pressure against the e5-square. I snap with 22… Bxe5, 23. dxe5, and I sidestepped my Queen with 23… Qb8. I assumed that I was winning a pawn, as both of my Knights and Queen are attacking the e5-pawn, and White does not have a good way to defend both! White played 24. Rb1 and surrendered the pawn, though, during analysis, it turns out that White has a legitimate shot thanks to his strong Bishops! White’s only move is 24. Qa4(!), when if I take the pawn with 24… Ndxe5(?) (I should defend with a move like Rf7 or something), White will sacrifice the exchange with 25. Rxe5(!), and after 25… Nxe5, White plays 26. Qd4.

Black’s e5-Knight is “pinned” to the checkmate square on g7! And I have no good way to defend the e5-Knight. Had Chris tried 24. Qa4, I likely would have fallen for this variation.

My round three game was a loss to Jason Howell (2036). And… I guess I’ve got to show something from the game? 🙂

The position above is hard to assess, as I slipped up earlier in the endgame. I probably have a better chance of surviving taking on d4 rather than what I did during the game. Let’s just say that I stopped paying attention, playing 10… h6, and crumbling from there. Not much to say honestly. On to the last game, which was another case of losing my focus when it mattered:

In the final round against Raghav Aggarwal (1648), my opponent and I traded all of our heavy pieces and seemed to be headed for equality. I played an autopilot move which hurt me with 26. Kf2(?). My opponent quickly played 26… Nd3+, and I realized that I was in trouble. After 27. Kf1, Nxb2, obviously angry with myself, I played the reactionary 28. Nc6(?), which allowed him to take another pawn on a3! Fortunately for me, he missed that and played 28… Bf8. After 29. Nb4, a5 30. Nc2, we got the position below:

My opponent allowed me great drawing chances after 30… Nc4(?!), and after 31. Bxc4, bxc4, I was able to hold a draw given his two weaknesses on a5 and c4 will be hard to defend for victory.

I ended the tournament on 2.5/4, tied with several people for 3rd place in the local event, and broke even with my rating. If you stayed with me to the end, I must personally congratulate you for this accomplishment!

The whole purpose of this “Jumping The Hurdles” series is going to be for me to document my chess studies, games, etc. in writing so that I may be kept accountable. I’m not sure exactly what the structure of my future posts are going to be. I have another tournament this coming Saturday as well as this one-game-per-week tournament I am doing on Thursday nights, so my next post might be just like this one. Who knows. To close off, let me show you this cool puzzle I got earlier this week. 🙂

White to play, and how to proceed.

I would love to hear feedback from you guys. You can email me at danieljguel@gmail.com, I assume you can drop a comment down below, or contact me on Chess.com at EOGuel. I hope you all have a great day!

Calculation

You often hear sport commentators say ‘this is a chess match between the two teams’, what they mean is that each team is trying to out calculate the other.

As a chess player, we want to take pride in our calculation skills. Let’s work on it together in this post.

————-

Here are the topics we will discuss

1) Calculating 2 moves

2) Breadth versus Depth when calculating moves

3) Pawns promotion race – an intense calculation exercise

————-

Calculating 2 or more moves

The thinking process of a young beginner chess player is often, ‘hey, this looks like a cool move. I’ll move my queen up’. Then very impatiently wait for the opponent to make a move. Once the opponent makes a move, the young player will look for another cool move and repeat the process.

The problem with this thinking process is you are not looking at your opponent’s response, and thus not calculating more than 1 move.

To become a stronger chess player, the first step is to learn and practice calculating 2 or more moves in any given position.

Let’s look at an example.

Here white has the opportunity to win a piece on the spot. Answers at the bottom of this page.

Breadth versus Depth when calculating moves

As an experienced chess player, I’ve often heard the question ‘How many moves can you calculate’? Well, like many other questions, the answer is ‘it depends’. And in chess, it depends on the situation of a position.

In some positions, I’ll calculate 5-10 moves in a row, to make sure everything works in my favor.

In other positions, I’ll just calculate 2 moves, but search through 3-5 different variations.

Examples

Depth

In this position, white uses a combination that takes 6 moves, but every move is forced.

Breadth

Here, white’s combination also decides the game, but there are a few different responses by black.

Pawns promotion race – an intense calculation exercise

When a pawn reaches to the other side of the board, it can promote to a queen or any other piece besides the king or pawn.

In many endgames, the result will come down to who can promote first, and then he can use the queen to stop opponent’s promotion.

In this type of situations, it is crucial to calculate clearly, because if you missed one move, the result could change fast

It’s time to count and race the pawns.

Answers the puzzles above (ordered from top to bottom)

Puzzle 1. 1.Qxb6 axb6 2.Rd8+ checkmate

Puzzle 2. 1.Qxf4 Qxf4 2. Nd7+ Kg8 3. Rxe8+ Kh7 4. Nf8+ Kh8 5. Ng6+ (discovery check) Kh7 6. Nxf4 wins back the queen plus all the interest (rook and knight)

Puzzle 3. 1. Qxd7 Kxd7 (if Kf8 2.Qxe7+ checkmate) 2. Bf5 Ke8 (if Kc6 3. Bd7+ checkmate) 3.Bd7+ Kf8 4. Bxe7+ checkmate

Puzzle 4. 1. h4 a5 2. h5 a4 3. h6 a3 4. h7 a2 5. h8(promote to queen) stops black from promote the a-pawn.

Back to the Grind

Hi everyone!  For everyone living in the Midwest region and East Coast of the United States, it’s recently been a winter wonderland.  I hope everyone is enjoying the snow as much as I am!  If not, well, you’ll probably have to get used to it, because the latter part of this winter seems to show promise for lots of additional snow!

80781f27-f1c6-4a08-87da-0c91a4461a2c
Snow!!!!!

However, this is isn’t a meteorology report, so let’s get to the chess!  Admittedly, I haven’t been very active in the chess-playing world over the last six or so months due to all of the college applications, but with that process finally winding down, I recently had the chance to get back to the board.  This past Friday, I played in a DC Chess League match against someone I had never played before.  I was somewhat relieved about that part because it meant the game would just come down to who the better player was and didn’t rest on opening preparation.

I’ve attached the game with comments and analysis below in the game viewer for your convenience:

Vogler – Kobla, DCCL, 2019
 
What a ride!  There were times when I was a bit rusty and missed some better moves, but overall, I’m more than satisfied with the game I played.  Any time you can win as Black against a player of similar strength, I’d call it a success.  From the start, I was satisfied with how I was able to plant my knight on e5, which could simultaneously control a lot of key squares and blockade White’s isolated pawn.  Once I could get in d5, I was confident in my ability to at least hold a draw, but my opponent’s blunder was certainly a game changer.  At that point, it was just a matter of closing out the game.  White still had pressure while my king was out in the open, but after I could tuck my king away in the corner, my pieces could be more mobile.  The last chance for my opponent slipped away when he took the a6 pawn with his queen, after which I could bring down the hammer with Qg5 and unleashing an attack on his king.  With his queen unable to defend, my major pieces and extra knight overpowered whatever defense he could muster.

Overall, I’m happy with how I played.  Next week, I’m playing in the Chesapeake Open, so I’m hoping that I can continue the success I found in this game.  However, I’m also hoping to prepare more for this tournament, as I’ll be playing in the Open section.

In other news, the Tata Steel Masters tournament started recently, with most of the top players in the world participating.  It’s worth noting that Caruana is not participating, likely resting after all the work put in near the end of last year for the World Championship match.

Good luck in your future games, and always, thanks for reading!

Revisiting the Past

It’s always interesting to go back in my personal games database and look at some old games of mine. It brings back good and bad memories and highlights how much things have changed. The other day I revisited a game from 2014, when I was rated around 2150. At the time, I thought it had been a very nice game, except for a small theoretical slip-up. Upon taking a closer look, I found that that wasn’t exactly the case…

pascetta 1

In this French, I had sacrificed an exchange on f3 as black to reach this position. Back in those days, I was a bit of a chicken, and sacrificing an exchange was about as “wild” as I’d generally go. In this position, black has two pawns for the exchange in the form of a central pawn mass. Black’s rook on c8 is nicely placed, his knight on g6 is temporarily guarding the h7-pawn, and his queen can easily hop into the action. Meanwhile, white’s queen is fairly active, white’s h3-rook looks strange but it’s useful, and his a1-rook will join the game pretty quickly. Black’s plan is to play …e5, with ideas of e4, Nf4, piling up on the c2-pawn, etc. If white sits back and does nothing, things could turn sour for him very quickly.

Looking at this position today, it seems pretty natural that white should generate counterplay. He doesn’t have to perform an all-out attack on the king; he can just keep an eye on it. This could be accomplished with a move like 18.Rf1. 18… e5 could quickly turn into a disaster after 19.Qf5!. Black will probably play 18… Qb6 instead, but after a move like Rf2, Kh1, Rg3, etc. white is doing all right. Black will most likely not get away with 19… Qxb2, and it really isn’t clear what he will do next.

My opponent played 18.Re1, which is a pretty natural move, though it isn’t best. I replied with 18… Qb6. Then came 19.Rb1?.

pascetta 2

This is a move that sets alarm bells off in my IM brain. What really surprises me is that I didn’t make any comment about this move in my notes. 19.Rb1 defends the b2-pawn, but is that a serious issue in the first place? if white say plays 19.Kh1? If 19… Qxb2, white has 20.Qe2 Nf8 21.Rf3, generating counterplay against the black king. One critical resource to spot here is that 21… Qxc2?? loses to 22.Rxf8+! Kxf8 23.Qxe6 Qc4 24.Kg1. White doesn’t even have to play like this. Alternatives include 19.Rf3 and 19.Rf1 (yes, this does waste a tempo compared to 18.Rf1, but it’s still fine for white), after both of which 19… Qxb2 is actually bad for black. Black could play 19… e5 instead, but after 20.Qf5!, white’s counterplay is coming just in time. Another thing to point out is that playing 18.Re1 on the previous move, white is moving his rook right back to the awe-inspiring square of b1 in response to a reasonable move from black (18… Qb6). Wasting a tempo can’t be good, and the white rook will be doomed to babysitting the pawn.

To summarize 19.Rb1: no, no, no, and NO!!!

I naturally wanted to play 19… e5, but I was worried about 20.Rxh7 Kxh7 21.Qh3+, hitting the rook on c8. What I missed was that I actually don’t have to recapture on h7; I can go, for instance, 20… Nf4 21.Qf5 d3+ 22.Kh1 Rxc2, with a totally winning position. My d-pawn is close to queening, white’s king is suddenly shaky, and white’s attack is nonexistent.

Instead, I played 19… Qc5?. Now I’m protecting the c8-rook in those variations and am “attacking” the c2-pawn. However, this is a mistake that gives white a second chance to activate his rook. If white simply moves the rook away with 20.Rf1!, 20… Qxc2 is no longer a threat on account of 21.Qxd4. And if black plays 20… e5 instead, he’ll be met with 21.Qf5! where white is clearly getting serious counterplay. My opponent instead played 20.Rc1?, another bad move. I replied with 20… e5 and got my pawn mass rolling. After 21.Kh1 e4 22.Qd2 d3 black is already winning. My opponent tried to generate counterplay with 23.Qg5, but I played 23… d4 24.Qg4 d2 25.Qe6+ Kh8 26.Rf1 Qc4 27.Qf5

pascetta 3

Wow, those pawns really are rolling. Comparing this to the starting position, it’s fairly clear that white has lost a gigantic amount of ground without getting anything real in return. I finished the game off with an elegant trick: 27… Qxf1+! 28.Qxf1 Rxc2. White has a queen for a knight and three pawns, but he is helpless in preventing 29… Rc1. Not bad! My opponent resigned.

After the game, I really liked my play. True, the ending where my pawns were rolling down the board was picturesque, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. One thing which strikes me now is how wrong my 2014 notes to the game were. Yes, it was nice to live in the bubble that this game had been a masterpiece and that my position had been good all along. I think I didn’t understand that the position is, in reality, around equal. I’ve had a few other such “masterpieces,” where my play was far from brilliant and where my opponents greatly helped my cause.

Takeaways:

  • Don’t judge a position by its cover. Yes, that position was easier to play for black, but white wasn’t helpless against black’s great plans.
  • Don’t just sit there and wait for your opponent to execute his plan. Try to mix things up. If it looks like you will get steamrolled if you do nothing, you should try to generate some counterplay ASAP.
  • Try not to be passive. In this case, white should have tried to keep his rook active instead of dooming it to eternal babysitting with Rb1 and Rc1.
  • Don’t automatically recapture pieces. We all do it, but once you figure out that things aren’t so good after recapturing, look for alternatives. When I was looking at lines with Rxh7, I was always recapturing Kxh7 and didn’t realize that I’m winning after Nf4.