NM Pursuit #4: Hiatus

It’s been nearly two months since my last rated game, and this break from playing actively in tournaments has been a great chance for me to take some time off from chess altogether (i.e. Winter Break) and then to get into a fresh training groove. In the last couple of weeks I have been consistent every day with the following daily training plan:

  1. 5 tactics problems on a real board, with a clock set to 10 minutes for each problem
  2. 30 minutes of reviewing lines in my opening repertoire
  3. 20 minutes of reviewing key positions from Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, as well as spending 15 minutes introducing 5 new key positions.

This regimen usually takes up about two hours of my day, but with the soccer season having come to an end, it is now doable for me with a bit of extra dedication. I have already noticed a significant increase in the quality of my online blitz play, gaining close to 100 rating points on chess.com’s live chess server.

Blitz Rating

Although online blitz performance should of course not be taken as an absolute measure of over-the-board playing strength, my superior online play is a reflection of the increased tactical sharpness and greater confidence in basic theoretical positions, both in the opening and in the endgame, that I have enjoyed as a result of my consistency in training during the last couple of weeks. My hope is that if I stay consistent with my chess studies in the coming months, I will have plenty of success to look forward as I return to playing competitively.

Stay tuned for a post on a rapid tournament that I will be playing this coming Sunday!

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Jumping The Hurdles: Learning From My Loss

Hello, everyone!

I was hoping that this article would be more productive… but it’s not. I’m going through an interesting phase of my life, and part of that constituted me buying a new computer. All that to say, I hope that you can expect better articles from me in the upcoming weeks.

Last post, I told you guys about how my rating plummeted since going over 1800. My situation has not gotten better since. I lost a Thursday night rated game to a 1334 local player, and my rating is down to 1710. 😦

What happened? I feel that for my strength, I need to be sitting down and calculating variations over the board. I’ve always been an intuitive player, so calculation is sometimes an easy step for me to skip. And when you do calculate, it is important to evaluate the position after your calculations. If you realize that the path you plan to go down is not favorable for you, then it may cost you a good position. That’s exactly what happened here.

Let’s go over this game and see what we can learn from it. Again, I would encourage the reader to set this on a board to get the most out of the analysis and moves. I do add diagrams for the reader to enjoy, and in case they want to jump to the critical moments of the game. 🙂 I was Black against John DeVries (1334 USCF). I played the French Defense, 1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. e5, c5, and John played the unusual 4. Be3(?!).

One of my tendencies as a chess player is that if I feel like my opponent played an inaccurate opening, I need to “refute it”. That’s simply a wrong mindset. For one, my opponent’s move is by no means “bad”, it’s just not nearly as common as 4. c3. When your opponent plays an inaccurate opening move, it is important to stick with the basic opening principles, and only break the rules if you have a concrete reason to do so (material, outpost, etc). As early as move 4, there is no variation where I can claim to have any sort of advantage.

The game continued. I don’t feel that my play for the next few moves was bad, though my mindset was definitely wrong. I played 4… cxd4, 5. Bxd4, Nc6 (natural moves so far) 6. Bb5, Qa5+ (probably unnecessary). 7. Nc3, and I played 7… Bb4. Again, my mindset was completely off. The pin looks very good, though if my opponent finds good moves, he’s completely fine. My opponent played 8. Bxc6, bxc6, and after 9. Nge2, we reached the first critical moment.

Before I go on, I’d like you to take a look at the position. What would you play as Black here and why? After you’ve made that decision, find out whether the move is good or not, and if it is not good, find out why, and come up with an alternative.

You see, I found a move, but failed to follow the next 2-3 steps. The move that looks attractive (and spoiler, I played it!) is 9… c5(?).

9… c5 is a move that certainly looks good. It appears that his Bishop only has one retreat square, which allows a fork on d4. The problem is that he does not have to retreat his Bishop. 10. a3(!) saves his position. In fact, he has a pretty good position after 10. a3. My problem is that I did “see” that he had 10. a3 as a response, though I failed to evaluate the resulting position. Had I actually done that, I would never go for 9… c5 in the first place. A move like 9… Nh6 should be 100% fine for me.

After 10. a3, cxd4 11. axb4, Qxb4 12. Nxd4 (12. Qxd4 is also good for him), Bd7 (to keep the Knights off b5) 13. Ra2, Ne7 14. O-O, O-O 15. Re1, Rfc8, my opponent started to build up his great position.

My Kingside is very naked. My only piece who can really defend, the Knight on e7 to g6, would likely get kicked away with a potential h4-h5, and the Knight on g6 would be misplaced anyway. It also dawned on me (something I should have noticed when calculating 9… c5) that my Bishop is horrible compared to his dream Knight. While I have no way to comfortably defend my Kingside, White has a clear path to the promised land with 16. Re3(!!). The move in itself may not be “double-exclam” brilliant, though the idea that he is innovating, a Rook lift, is very instructive for us to see. Stockfish may evaluate this position as roughly equal, though in human reality, I’m on my knees the whole game.

I struggled on after 16… Rc4 17. Nce2(!), Nc6 18. Nxc6, Rxc6 (possibly 18… Bxc6 is slightly more accurate) 19. Nd4, Rc4 20. c3, Qb7 21. Rg3, Qb6 22. b3, Rc5 23. Qg4

My opponent reaps the fruits of his position, and I’m forced to weaken my King with 23… g6. I don’t know why Stockfish gives White “only” +0.87 advantage. I’m already struggling to survive!

My opponent handles the game well from here. He played 24. Rf3, Be8 25. Qf4, Ra5. This is what the computer would call a blunder (it’s calling equality after 25… a5! edit: Stockfish 10 gives +2.32 after sitting for awhile at 34-move depth. Still low in my opinion.), though my position was very bad to begin with. This game is certainly a good lesson that the computer evaluation is not to be trusted at all times. Computers can find only moves, resources to defend, etc, though when analyzing a game, it’s vital to give your “human” evaluation before consulting with the computer. My human evaluation says “just about losing”.

My opponent played 26. Rxa5, Qxa5, 27. h4(!!), Qa1+ 28. Kh2, Rc8 29. Qf6(!!)

Wow. My opponent can immediately shut the game out with 29. Nxe6+, and yet, he choses to make life as hard for me as possible.

I am desperate and losing at this point. Not a good combination! The game was over in short order after 29… Qa6 30. h5, gxh5 31. Rg3+, Kf8 32. Rh3 (32. Rg7 is mate in 4), Qa5, he forced resignation after 33. Nxe6!

What an end to an accurately-played game!

I learned a lot for sure from that game. 1334s are not to be underestimated! Also, for my future tournaments, I need to make an effort to calculate every move I want to play over the board and (importantly) evaluate the resulting position! Had I evaluated the position after 9… c5, I would never go for that move!

Tough loss for me, though I hope that this was instructive to my readers. Thanks for sticking with me to the end! Feel free to leave a comment, or message me on Chess.com (my handle is EOGuel). I have a blog over there you are welcome to read.

I’ll see you soon. Have a good day! 🙂

Taking A Break

I started playing chess when I was around 4 years old in China, once I picked up the game, it became a continuity.

After coming to the U.S. around 11 years old, the intensity increased, and more tournaments in the U.S. meant more chess as well.

Before college, I decided to take some time off from chess. And that time off really did not stop, as I never got back into the game competitively since then.

Looking back, I would have preferred more strategic breaks between 4-17 years old Xiao. Breaks to clear thoughts, and to realign next steps of the journey.


I’ve enjoyed the journey with Chess^Summit team over the past year, and read many thoughtful posts from the team myself.

After a year or so of writing, it’s time for me to take a step back from Chess^Summit. What that means for my chess content creation is still an unknown, but the adventure of producing chess content on the internet is only the beginning.

Thanks to Isaac and the team for the opportunity, and thanks especially to the readers.

Until next time: Make moves with a purpose.

Twitter: simplerxiao

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik to Retire

The annual Tata Steel Masters chess tournament, held at Wijk aan Zee ended a few days ago, and GM Magnus Carlsen edged out GM Anish Giri by half a point to win the 14-player single round robin.  It was fitting that the two players with the highest score could battle it out in the last round.  Giri, with the white pieces, could have caught Carlsen at the top of the tournament standings had he won their head-to-head matchup.  Alas, Carlsen held a draw, which confirmed that he would win the tournament.  Congratulations to him.

However, the biggest takeaway from the tournament didn’t have anything to do with Carlsen, or even any of the contenders, for that matter.  After the tournament, longtime grandmaster and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik announced his plan to retire from classical chess.  It’s worth noting that he specified he would only be stepping away from classical time controls, as he added he might return for rapid, blitz, or simultaneous events in the future.  He also mentioned he plans to continue scholastic instruction, such as through camps.

Even if Kramnik’s play wasn’t as strong near the end of the career, the announcement is still significant in the chess world as he is still one of the most iconic players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Born in 1975, he first made waves when he joined the Russian team at the World Chess Olympiad in 1992.  Three years later, he served as a second for Kasparov, who played and won against Viswanathan Anand in the World Championship match in 1995.  One year later, in 1996, Kramnik briefly usurped Kasparov as the #1 player in the world based on a tiebreak rule, despite both players having the same rating.  At the time, Kramnik broke the record for being the youngest player to reach #1 in the world (Carlsen would break that record 14 years later in 2010).  In 2000, Kramnik bested Kasparov to win the World Championship, essaying the now-infamous Berlin Defense on multiple occasions as Black to stymie Kasparov while securing a couple crucial wins as White.  He kept his title as World Champion until 2007, when he was beaten by Anand.  Still, Kramnik maintained top-level play.  He continued to win several tournaments, and he notably won the Chess World Cup in 2013.  In 2016, he reached his peak rating of 2817 and climbed up to the #2 rank behind Carlsen.

By playing such a long and illustrious career, Kramnik accrued numerous notable games.  Thus, in order to appreciate just how well he played some games, I’ve provided a few below for your ultimate enjoyment.

Kramnik – Kasparov, Moscow, 1994

Ivanchuk – Kramnik, Dos Hermanas, 1996

Kramnik – Morozevich, World Championship Tournament, 2007

Aronian – Kramnik, World Championship Candidates, 2018

The above four games are just some of Kramnik’s lengthy list of “good” games, with the most recent occurring just this past year at the 2018 edition of the Candidates tournament.  In each of these games, Kramnik either had a menacing attack or outdueled his opponent positionally (or a combination of both) to secure the victory in convincing fashion.  The amazing thing is that each of these games is from a different period of his career – the first, being before his working with Kasparov; the second, after working as Kasparov’s second and near the time he overtook him as World #1; the third, during his tenure as World Champion; and fourth, much later in his career.  It goes to show how Kramnik was able to keep playing at a high level for such a long time, and it’s an admirable quality that I’m sure a lot of chess players strive for, me included.

Overall, Kramnik has had an incredibly successful career, so it doesn’t come as very much of a surprise that he decided to step away at this point.  It’ll be nice to see him coming back occasionally for tournaments with shorter time controls, like a few legs of the 2019 edition of the Grand Chess Tour.

Even though Kramnik will (probably) never see this, I wish him luck in his future endeavors and hope he can continue changing the chess world for years to come!