Third Time’s the Charm: The Opening

Last fall was far from great. My play was off, and my rating progress looked like a mudslide. The U16 Olympiad in Turkey was a breath of fresh air for everything… except my chess. With my schedule getting even more hectic than usual, the winter wasn’t looking very good for chess, but failure is not an option.

Over Presidents’ Day weekend, I flew to the Southwest Class Championships in Dallas, TX, to play a strong 9 round tournament, have a good time, and hopefully do well or at least not badly. OK, OK, let’s not pretend that getting a GM Norm wasn’t at the end of that list. And a great tournament it was!

There was just so much content in the tournament that I’m splitting this article into three parts: the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame. Yes, even tournaments have an opening, a middle, and an end.

As in a real game, a good opening is a good sign. The “opening” of a tournament, aka the first three rounds, is where many norm chances—and tournaments—go downhill. A bad start could easily mean spending most of the tournament playing lower-rated opponents which can tank your average beyond repair. Even if you score well and get back up to the top boards or even win the tournament, you may come nowhere close to a norm. Been there, done that!

In round 1, I was black against Austen Green (2080 FIDE, 2278 USCF), a local TX player. Out of the opening, we reached this position:

Green 1

This position looks fairly normal where white has tried to open the center with c4. With my last move 13… Bd7-e8, I wanted to bring my bishop into the game by moving it to h5 or g6. White has to decide what to do here.

A natural move like 14.Rfe1 will be met with 14… Bh5, leaving white in an awkward situation with his knight on f3. 14.Nf4 can be met with 14… g5!? 15.Ne2 (15.cxd5 Qxf4 16.dxc6 Bxc6 should be slightly better for black) 15… dxc4! (15… Bh5 16.c5 is OK for white) 16.Bxc4 Bh5, where white is in an unpleasant position. White’s best option is most likely to play directly with 14.c5! Qd7 15.b4!, intending to play b5 next. Black can naturally strike with 15… e5, but after 16.dxe5 fxe5 17.b5 e4 18.bxc6 Nxc6 19.Ned4, white is actually doing all right, though his position does look somewhat suspect.

Instead, my opponent played 14.Qf4?! offering a queen trade. 14… Qxf4 15.Nxf4 didn’t appeal to me, though black actually can stay afloat with some …Nb4 tricks. 14… Rd8!? was a strong possibility, but I chose 14… Qd7 instead, because I felt that the white queen was misplaced on f4. It blocks the e2-knight from reaching its natural destination and could get attacked in lines after …Bg6 or even …e5. White should play 15.c5 or 15.b3, though black is already somewhat better after 15… Bg6. However, my opponent played 15.Qh4?, which played right into my hands. I replied with 15… Bg6

Green 2

White is in a tough spot here. If 16.Bxg6 Nxg6 17.Qg4, black wins a clean pawn with 17… dxc4. 16.cxd5 Bxd3 17.dxc6 Nxc6 doesn’t look good for white, but it was probably the lesser evil. My opponent played 16.Nf4, and after 16… Bxd3 17.Nxd3 Nf5 18.Qg4 dxc4 19.Nc5 Qd5, I found myself a pawn up, which I went on to cash in in a rook endgame.

All in all, it was a fairly smooth game, especially for a first round…

In round 2, I was white against GM Bartek Macieja (2527 FIDE, 2615 USCF). Already playing up in round 2 was a treat! I was by no means going all-in this game, but it got flashy pretty quickly…

Macieja 1

So far, so good. White has a nice positional grip on the position, and I also had a serious lead on the clock. Black’s last move 21… g5 was a practical necessity to prevent me from simply playing Bxf6, occupying the d5-square, and positionally squeezing black. Now I had to decide what to do.

22.Bg3 is a perfectly reasonable move. I wasn’t quite sure what white’s plan would be after it, but it probably involves some kind of play on the kingside with h4 while maintaining a bind in the center. However, I couldn’t resist the temptation of playing 22.Bxg5!?. The game continued 22… hxg5 23.Qxg5+ Kh8 24.Re3 Nh7 25.Qh5

Macieja 2

White is obviously planning to play Rh3 next threatening mate, and stopping that threat is easier said than done. 25… Rg8 is possible, but after 26.Rf3!?, with the idea of capturing on f7 with the rook, black’s position looks very dangerous. Black’s other option is to bring the c7-rook into the game, and this is actually best accomplished by 25… Bd8! 26.Rh3 f5! 27.exf5 Rg7, where black is getting some counterplay of his own. My opponent chose the reasonable looking 25… Bg5 26.Rh3 f6, which I had somehow missed when I played 22.Bxg5, and now I had to decide how to proceed.

Macieja 3

This is the point where I messed up. Black is still pretty tangled up here. 27.Be6!, with the idea of bringing the bishop into the attack with Bf5, is the strongest move here. Black can double rooks on the 7th rank to protect the h7-knight, but it will take him forever to untangle after that. Meanwhile, white might even bring his a4-rook into play with Rc4, causing even more headaches from black, who could easily make a fatal mistake.

My move 27.Nd5 was fine, but after 27… Bxd5 I recaptured the wrong way with 28.exd5?. My goal was to win the a6-pawn, but this move allows black to get some much-needed privacy and counterplay of his own with …f5. 28.Bxd5, with the idea of installing a positional bind, was much stronger. The game continued 28… Rg7 29.Rxa6 Qd8 30.Rg3 f5 31.h4! Bxh4 32.Rxg7 Kxg7 33.Ra7+ Be7 34.Bb5

Macieja 4

Over the past few moves, I sacrificed a pawn with 31.h4! to renew play against the black king. In this position, black is pinned on the 7th rank, and I’m threatening the powerful Rd7. 31… Rf7! was the best way to stop this, and white has nothing better than a draw, for instance after 32.Bd7 Ng5 33.Be6 Nxe6 34.dxe6 Rf6 35.Qg5+ Kh8 36.Qh4+ Kg8 37.Qg5+ Kh8. My opponent played 34… Rf6? instead, and this turns out to be a serious mistake. 35.Rd7 doesn’t work on account of 35… Qf8, but I found another idea: 35.Be8!, threatening Rd7 again. 35… Nf8 is more or less the only move for black, but he’s really tied up now. This was as good a moment as any to get my queenside pawns marching with 36.b4!. The game continued 36… f4 37.b5 Ng6?! (37… e4 would have provided better resistance, though white is probably still winning there). 38.Bxg6 Nxg6 39.b6

Macieja 5

Black has almost succeeded in untangling, but he’s too late. The b-pawn is out of black’s control. Combining the b-pawn and threats against the black king, I won in a few moves.

Not bad! This was far from a clean game, but chess is still… a game!

In round 3, I got a double white against GM Angel Arribas (2454 FIDE, 2518 USCF). Again, I had no intentions of going all-in; I just wanted to play and see how it’d go…

Arribas 1

This appears to be a fairly normal Sicilian position, except that a) black has a pawn on h5 and b) black hasn’t castled yet. However, he’s gotten the bishop pair, and my pieces aren’t that impressive. Still, if black simply plays 17… 0-0 here, he’ll run into 18.Rd4! Qc6 19.Nd2!, after which his queen is simply getting harassed. He has to play the rather ugly move 19… Be8, and after 20.Rd1 white is much better. Therefore, to prevent Rd4, my opponent played 17… e5, which I decided to directly counter with 18.f4.

18… 0-0 is a bad idea on account of 19.fxe5. 19… dxe5 loses to 20.Rxf6!, and 19… Nxg4 20.Qd2 Nxe5 21.Nd5 is very bad for black. Instead, black should play 18… Be6 or 18… Bc6, and my opponent chose the latter. After 19.fxe5, however, the game took an unexpected turn.

Arribas 2

Black should play 19… dxe5. White does win a pawn after 20.Qg3 0-0 21.Qxe5, but after 21… Rfe8 black has reasonable compensation. Instead, my opponent played 19… Ng4? which more or less loses (!) after 20.Qg3!. After 20… dxe5 21.h3 Nf6 22.Qxe5 (22.Rf5! is even stronger), black is just lost. After 20… Nxe5, as was played in the game, I played 21.Qxg7 Ng6 22.Nd5 (22.Nd4 may have been even stronger) 22… Bxd5 23.Rxd5

Arribas 3

Black’s position is truly busted, and my opponent resigned.

3/3. My performance was well over 2600, and I had already played 2 GMs and 2 foreigners. Oh boy. This was looking good. Onward!

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“Fried Liver” As Black?!

Hello, everyone!

I apologize to say that this post will be on the brief side. I would also like to announce the trajectory of my future Chess Summit posts. My plan is that I will write every two weeks, highlighting my most instructive tournament game from that two-week period. I hope it will be instructive both for me to learn from, and the reader to pick up a few ideas.

This game was played on Thursday night. I was Black against Logan Shafer (1420). This was a game I won. The main lesson I wanted the reader to take is that little opening details can make a big difference. If you are playing an experienced opponent (especially if you don’t know much theory within the opening you are playing), you may be caught off guard if you don’t think critically about the position.

Let me show you what I mean. We got the following position after 1. c4, e5 2. Nc3, Nf6 3. e4, Bc5 4. Nf3.

My assumption is that White assumed that any developing move is fine. Playing 4. Nf3 is certainly natural. He will develop his light-squared Bishop, and castle. My opponent missed an important detail.

As Black, I advocate 1. e4, e5 2. Nf3, Nc6 3. Bc4. However, I stress to my students not to play 3… Nf6(?!), as this allows unnessecary complications with the Fried Liver Attack, 4. Ng5(!). Black can survive with correct play, though 3… Bc5 is much safer.

The position above is no different. Black gets to play 4… Ng4(!), and White has an uncomfortable game. My opponent correctly deflects the attack with 5. d4, exd4, though after the mistake 6. Nxd4(?), he allows a typical tactical shot in the Fried Liver.

Remember this kids? I got the opportunity to slam down 6… Nxf2(!!), and after 7. Kxf2, Qf3+ 8. Ke3, Nc6, though Black is down a piece, the centralized King and the deadly pin with the Bishop on c5 proves more than enough compensation. To my opponent’s credit, he defended well, and squirmed out of this dark position, though he got an inferior endgame as a result, and eventually lost the game.

Brief post, though I hope you take this away: just because an opening move seems natural, doesn’t mean it’s best. Don’t leave behind the little details!

That’s all for today. See you in a fortnight! 🙂

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!

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!