Third Time’s the Charm: The GM Norm Endgame

After a tough stretch in the middle of the Southwest Class, I had 4/6 but still had a 2600+ FIDE performance. I have played enough GMs, titled players, and foreigners to satisfy the technical requirements. “All” that was left was good play and some luck. 2/3 or 2.5/3 in the last three rounds would get me a GM Norm. Deep breath.

In round 7, I got white against IM Zurab Javakhadze (2430 FIDE, 2504 USCF). This game was, in a nutshell, not what I was expecting…

Javakhadze 1

Up to this point, everything was relatively normal. 11… f5 doesn’t work on account of 12.exf5 Rxf5 13.g4, but black could choose to play 11… Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Nd4 13.Qd1 c6 14.Ba2 Bg5 or 11… Nd4 12.g4 Nxf3+ 13.Qxf3 c6!, after which white doesn’t have much. Instead, my opponent played the seemingly natural 11… Qd7?? running into the Puzzle Rush tactic 12.Nxe5!

Javakhadze 2

I had seen this one coming for a while. Black is losing a pawn no matter what he does. On top of that, it’s a strong central pawn, and white will also have the bishop pair afterwards. I think it’s totally reasonable to say that black is just lost here.

I can’t remember the last time I had a winning position after only 12 moves, and especially against an IM… How much more luck could go my way??

CHESS SUPERSTITIONS

If I didn’t venture into the world of chess superstitions, this article would be a scam. Before this tournament, my personal chess superstitions didn’t really go beyond the realm of lucky pens. The pen I was using this tournament hadn’t served me so well before but was now doing an excellent job. I so wasn’t going to change it. There was, however, the possibility of using my lucky shirt.

The World U16 Olympiad in November was a rough tournament for me to say the least, but there was one highlight: beating the top seeds Uzbekistan in a huge upset. I therefore used the same logic I have with lucky pens to wear the same shirt I was wearing that match for the last day, when I sure wanted a bit of luck…

In round 8, I got black against GM Kamil Dragun (2589 FIDE, 2668 USCF). I didn’t back down at all, and I’m really glad I did that. Unfortunately, my nerves weren’t the problem—my brain was…

Dragun 1

I had just scraped out of some complications—and a bit of trouble—to reach this position, which really didn’t seem that dangerous. However, white a) has the d-file, b) can get his pawns moving more easily on the kingside, and c) can possibly tie black down to the a-pawn. Still, after a reasonable plan of action like 26… f5 27.Ra4 Re7, black should be holding his own.

Instead of playing on the kingside, however, I decided to play on the queenside and tie white’s pieces down there. That really didn’t work out. The game went 26… Rb8 27.Kc2 a5 28.Ra4 Rcb5 29.Rb1

Dragun 2

Ok, what next…? White will simply play c4 and start pushing black back. The best course of action here is still to play 29… f5! 30.c4 Rc5 31.Kc3 Kf7 32.Rba1 Ra8, after which black is a bit worse but things aren’t too bad. Instead, I went for more counterplay with 29… Rd5, which just turned out not to work. After 30.c4 Rd4 31.Kc3, I realized that 31… Rbd8 32.Rxa5 Rd3+ 33.Kb4 isn’t so great for me, though after 33… f6! black can still put up resistance. I backed down with 31… Ra8, being under the illusion that I could save the a-pawn. After 32.b3 Re4 33.Ra1 Re2 34.Rxa5, I found myself totally busted. I threw in the towel a few moves later.

Did I just ruin my GM norm? I should’ve crawled into a hole after this, but I didn’t. I just… brushed this off.

Now for some drama. My performance dropped below 2600, but the norm wasn’t gone. I needed to beat a 2400+ opponent to get my performance back above 2600. But would I even get to play such an opponent? I honestly didn’t really care. Yes, I did want to get such a pairing, but I wasn’t stressed out. Here are a few reasons…

  • My rating is still far away from reaching 2500; if I were 2490, it would have been a totally different story…
  • There’s no doubt in my mind that on the way to 2500, I’ll have my fair share of norm chances if I keep playing like this
  • GM won’t be the end of my chess journey—it’s just a step on the way up, though a huge step at that.

As the wallcharts for round 8 were incomplete, it was impossible to figure out whom I would play; the best I could do was to make educated guesses with the incomplete results at hand. And as it is often the case with the last round, the pairings didn’t come up until after the round was scheduled to start. I did the only reasonable thing—I prepared for a couple players whose ratings would give me a shot for the norm. And in the end… I got lucky with the pairings: I was white against IM Kacper Drozdowski (2490 FIDE, 2562 USCF). This was the third time when I was in a situation where I needed to win to get a GM Norm, the first time was at the Philly Open in April 2017 and the second time at the Washington International in August 2018. I had lost both times before, but this game was different…

Drozdowski 1

The opening had gone well for me, as I had established a solid bind in the center and was already going on the offensive with 14.g4. Black is already in a tight spot here. Attempts to lash out with 14… g5 won’t work: white has 15.Qh3 or even 15.Nd5! (with the idea 15… exd5 16.Nf5 with a strong attack). 14… h6 15.h4 g5 is even riskier. Black’s best chance may be to sit tight with 14… g6, but that doesn’t look pleasant…

Instead, my opponent played 14… Rfd8?, which looks logical but won’t be stopping white’s attack. After 15.g5 Ne8 16.Qg3, the game became one-way traffic: I played Rac1, reinforcing my position, played f5, got my knights on f5 and d5 after he recaptured exf5, won a pawn, etc. I won.

I honestly wasn’t so nervous this game and only started getting a bit shaky when I knew I was winning and choosing between plenty of very good options. Fortunately, this only meant that I double checked my calculations more often than usual and played very accurately.

And that’s how I became a really happy camper. Yes, the third time was the charm with getting a GM Norm—and what was officially the highest FIDE performance in my life (2610)! My fall-winter slump was finally over.

Image result for minions yay gif

Let’s go!!!

As for the shirt, it’s a keeper!

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Past, Present, and Future

Hi everyone!  Apologies for a bit of an extended absence, the last weeks have been very busy for me (in a good way).  Three weekends ago, I played in a tournament up in Maryland as a warm-up for the VA State Scholastic Tournament two weekends ago.  Then, last weekend, I traveled to Schaumburg, Illinois – slightly west of Chicago, IL – to play in the K-12 High School National Championships.  Overall, there were many ups and downs, and probably more downs than ups all said and done.  Today, I want to share some sequences in a few of the games I’ve played recently that will hopefully provide some instruction for all of you.

We start with a big of a tragicomedy from the recent Nationals tournament.  In this game, I played White against Nikhil Kumar, a young 2370 rated player that I’ve played once before – however, in that game, I was Black, so this was new territory.  I was out of book early in the opening, but it went well despite no prior knowledge.  I eventually reached a superior position with a crucial decision ahead of me in terms of how to defend a piece.

Mar23_KoblaKumar1
Kobla – Kumar, Position after 20. … Nd8

I don’t want to let my d-pawn recapture on e6 if Black trades, so I wanted to defend my knight – the question was, how?  The two moves I came down to were either Re1 or Nfd4.  Each move has its benefits.  Re1 brings the rook into the game on the open file and threatens to penetrate deep in Black’s territory.  Nfd4 would ensure that a knight recaptures on e6, thus keeping control over a lot of squares that Black’s rook wants to go to, especially d8, and it would also avoid losing a tempo if Black tries to push g5-g4-g3 and attack on f2.  In the end, I believed that the pros of Nfd4 outweighed those of Re1 as I was especially worried about f2.  However, that ended up being the worse choice (although both were still advantageous).  According to the silicon engine, the best line was 21. Re1 g4 22. Nh4! g3 23. Kf1 and the evaluation is more than +2.  White can sidestep any fork threats and allow Black to capture on f2 while the rook and knight(s) feast on Black’s weakened kingside.  I missed the idea of Nh4, attacking f5 while preserving pawn structure integrity; instead, I only saw Nfd4 after g4, which would protect the f2 pawn at the cost of running into doubled pawns after the bishop captures on d4, but even this was apparently not that bad.  After all that, in the game, I managed to miss 21. … Nxe6 22. Nxe6 c6, after which I had to give up the advantage with 23. dxc6.

Later in the game, after much simplification and time scramble, I arrived at this position in the endgame with it being my turn.

Mar23_KoblaKumar2
Kobla – Kumar, Position after 36. … a5

Black just played 36. … a5.  It’s a clear draw after 37. gxf5, which keeps Black’s king near the kingside and I can just maintain opposition.  However, I managed to confuse a few different lines I had calculated and played 37. a4, which completely loses.  Granted, I had 6 seconds on the clock, but this was still going to be relatively simple to hold, as long as I played 37. gxf5.  After 37. a4, the win for Black is easy after 37. … f4, gaining opposition and putting me in zugzwang.  The game went 38. Kc3 Kc5 39. Kb3 Kd4 40. Kb2 Kd3 before I resigned.  I was definitely upset with myself after the game, but alas, life goes on.  In any case, the lesson to be learned is endgames, endgames, endgames!  I know for sure I will be trying to get back into studying endgames after this comedy of errors.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but for those of you that are interested, I highly recommend Mark Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual.

Another game of note occurred at the state tournament during the previous weekend.  Once again, I was White, but this time playing a lower rated around 1920.  After Black went out of book a few moves prior, we reached this position:

Mar23_KoblaGnanakumar
Kobla – Gnanakumar, Position after 19. Nf4

I just played 19. Nf4 to threaten Nxd7 followed by capturing on e6 to win a pawn.  At this point, Black played the tricky 19. … Ng4 with the idea that, if I take the knight on g4, Black will capture my knight on f4, and all I achieve is trading a pair of pieces.  However, I had seen this idea before playing Nf4, and I blitzed out 20. Qh3, to which he responded with the best (albeit ugly) move 20. … Nh6.  The critical move is 20. … Rxf4, after which I calculated the following lines:  21. Qxh7+ Kf8 22. Qh8+ Ke7 23. Qxg7+ Kd8 (23… Ke8 24. Qg6+ Kf8 (24… Ke7 25. Qg5+ Rf6 26. f4 with Nxg4 coming next) 25. Nxg4) 24. Qg5+ Qe7 25. Qxf4 and, in the end, I’m up an exchange.

A few moves later, we arrived at this crucial position after 24. … Qe7:

Mar23_KoblaGnanakumar2
Kobla – Gnanakumar, Position after 24. Qe7

There were several ways to progress, and I ended up choosing a move that was not objectively best, but it gave me a comfortable position I could play easily.  As a lesson, don’t always get caught up trying to find the absolute best move in a position.  While it usually helps, sometimes, the time spent on such efforts isn’t worth it.  In this position, I knew my position was better due to superior piece positioning, so I went for a simple variation – 25. Bxf5 exf5 26. Qf3 – that simplifies the position a bit and realizes the advantage of the two knights with many holes in Black’s camp.  I also saw the possibility of 25. Nxd7 Qxd7 26. Rxe6 Qxe6 27. Bxf5 Qf7, but as I was somewhat low on time, I didn’t want to risk losing too much time over trying to win a single pawn.  This approach of playing a comfortable move quickly ended up paying off as a few moves later my opponent blundered an exchange and the conversion was fairly easy.

Overall, as I did mention, my performance in these tournaments was less than ideal, but it just motivates me to work harder for next time.  Finally getting back to playing as also helped, and I hope that being more in touch will help me in the near future.  In other news, my last college decisions come out in less than a week, so I may have a better idea about where I might be going, and I might update you guys on that news next time.  As for now, good luck in your games, and, as always, thanks for reading!

Third Time’s the Charm: The Middlegame

After the first 3 rounds of the Southwest Class, I had 3/3, which included wins against 2 GMs. This was obviously a perfect start. However, in the next three rounds, aka the “middlegame” of the tournament, I got hit with some serious turbulence.

In round 4, I got black against GM Razvan Preotu (2522 FIDE, 2590 USCF). I lost a pawn out of a bad opening, but fortunately I had serious compensation. I scraped my way back to equality, and then…

Preotu 1

This knight endgame is slightly more pleasant for white, but black shouldn’t be in any trouble here, right…? I decided to activate my knight here with 45… Nf7, though 45… a5, preventing white from playing b4, may have been easier. After 46.b4, I made an inexplicable decision: I played 46… Kb6? allowing white to play 47.b5. I instead should’ve played 46… a6, and black really has no problems after that one. For some reason, however, I thought I should also be holding easily after my move.

Preotu 2

Now black is starting to get a bit cramped. Over the next few moves I continued to drift: 47… Kc7 48.Kc5 Ng5 49.Nf4 Ne4+ 50.Kb4 Ng5 51.Ka5 Kb7 52.g3 Kc7 53.Ka6 Kb8 54.Nd3

Preotu 3

Here I played 54… Ne4? which is officially a mistake. Instead, I had to play 54… Nf7, which ties the white knight down to the e5-pawn and takes the d6-square away from the white king if he plays like he did in the game. Black should be holding here, but after my move he’s in huge trouble. My opponent correctly played 55.g4! Ka8 56.b6 axb6 57.Kxb6 Kb8.

Preotu 4

After 58.Kc6 Kc8 59.Nf4, black is probably lost, since after 59… Ng5 60.Kd6, white is winning the e6-pawn. Instead, my opponent played it the other way around with 58.Nf4? Ng5 59.Kc6, walking into 59… Nf7! hitting the e5-pawn. If white retreats with 60.Nd3, black can simply play 60… Kc8 and white can’t get through. My opponent played 60.Nxe6 and offered a draw, which I accepted.

Phew! One of these days I’ll lose a game for playing like this, and it’ll serve me damn right.

3.5/4, 3 GMs and 3 foreigners down. Not bad!

In round 5, I got white against the top seed GM Jeffery Xiong (2666 FIDE, 2750 USCF). Rating-wise this game would be a tough order, but I had white and was in good form…

Xiong 1

So far, everything was all right. I didn’t get any advantage with white, but I wasn’t worse either. Still, there were a lot of pieces on the board, and anything could happen. After the best move 20.Be4!, improving my bishop and attacking the b7-pawn, the positon is around equal. I instead played 20.Bf5?! and missed the tricky move 20… Nh4

Xiong 2

I should’ve played 21.Bxb6, but I was worried about 21… Qxd1 22.Raxd1 Nxf3+ 23.gxf3 fxe6.

Xiong 3

This isn’t so pleasant for white, but in reality, the position isn’t far from equal after 24.Kh2 or 24.Re4 Nxh3+ 25.Kg2 Ng5 26.Rb4. Look what I did instead:

21.Nxh4? Bxd4 22.Qg4? Nd3 23.Red1 Bxf2+ 24.Kh2

Xiong 4

I admittedly missed the very strong 24… Rc4!, but even after a move like 24… Ne5 black is much better. After 25.Qf3 Qxh4 26.Bxe6 fxe6 27.Qxd3 Qf4, I went down pretty quickly.

Okay, what was that…? It was my first setback, and considering that I still had a 2600+ performance, I managed to brush this game off pretty easily.

In round 6, I got black against IM Omer Reshef (2491 FIDE, 2566 USCF). I didn’t hold back at all in this wildly complicated game. My silicon friend points that white did have a big advantage at a few moments, but to my human eyes, the position was just unclear.

Reshsef 1

Material is technically equal here, but white has a central pawn mass versus black’s b-pawns. There’s quite a commotion in the center of the board. And this was after the position calmed down a bit! I honestly wasn’t sure which result I was playing for, but I knew I had to act fast. I played the logical 23… Re6 but missed some details after 24.Qf4, after which I came to the conclusion that I was in trouble. I actually had 24… b5!, a move which I don’t think I even considered, at my disposal. Black has threats including Nxc3 Bxc3 Bd6 and Bb2. White is actually the one who has to play for equality with 25.Qd4! Bb2 26.Qxd8 Rxd4 27.Bd4.

Instead of that, I made a serious mistake with 24… Nxc3. The game continued 25.Bxc3 Bd6 (25… Rxe2 26.Qg4 g6 27.Rd7 Qc8 28.Qd4 is also unpleasant for black) 26.Qd4 Qg5

Reshef 2

27.Rd7! attacking the bishop would’ve given me a run for my money, since I simply won’t have time to take the e2-pawn. My opponent played 27.Rxb7 instead, which is strong but not best. After 27… Bc5 28.Qf4 Qxf4 29.gxf4 Rxe2 30.d4 Bd6, the dust settled.

Reshef 3

White is going to be a pawn up once he collects the b3-pawn, and he’ll have a dangerous passed d-pawn. This is far from easy for black, but it could’ve been worse. Though my play wasn’t the best, after defending for 55 moves, I managed to make a draw.

1/3 in this phase of the tournament wasn’t ideal, but it was a decent result given my opposition. I still had a 2600+ performance, was gaining plenty of rating, and was having a good time. Now all that was needed for a GM Norm was to maintain a 2600+ performance. By my estimates, I would need to score 2/3 or 2.5/3 in the last 3 rounds, which is obviously much easier said than done.

Next up, the endgame!

Winning the Atlanta Open (Part 2)

After winning my first game in a relatively quick manner, I found myself in an early tie for 1st place with 4 other people. Due to there being an odd number of people with 1 point, I found myself paired with NM Prateek Mishra who had ½ due to a first-round bye for round 2 with the black pieces. Having lost my last encounter with him several months ago similar to my first round opponent, I was committed to trying again to get my revenge.

Game 2: Black against NM Prateek Mishra (2206)

  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. e5 f6 5. Nf3 fxe5 6. dxe5 Nge7 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bh4

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 9.42.42 PM

Here I was faced with a puzzling decision. I wasn’t sure how to activate either of my bishops without creating any serious weaknesses. However, I knew that if I was not able to develop, my position would quickly get steamrolled so I decided to weaken my kingside in order to gain coordination with my pieces.

g5 9. Bg3 Bg7 10. Bd3 Nf5 11. Qe2 O-O 12. O-O-O

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.04.19 PM

After both sides being able to complete development and castle, I found myself conflicted. In this position, I had the ability to win a pawn with g4, but I was not sure if it would be a safe decision. While long-term, I would just be up a pawn and have a favorable endgame, the series of exchanges that would lead to me winning the pawn could result in the h file being opened up and my king could come under some pressure. Eventually, I decided that it would be safe to take the pawn due to me also exchanging the dark-squared bishop for my f5 Knight, which would remove a critical potential attacker.  

g4 13. Nd2 Nxg3 14. hxg3 Nxe5 15. Rh5 Nxd3+ 16. cxd3 e5 17. d4

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.24.07 PM

After successfully winning a pawn I found myself in another tricky situation. Although I had a few options, I wanted to take the simplest course of action as I was very afraid of my king’s safety. Thus, I decided to play Qe8, which attacks the rook. I knew that this would lead to me either trading queens or winning an exchange.

Qe8 18. Rdh1 exd4 19. Qxe8 Rxe8 20. Nxd5

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.40.42 PM

Here, with my positionally slowly consolidating to me being up a clear pawn, I decided to play for a trick which, if executed correctly, could lead to me either winning an exchange or even a piece.

Be6 21. Nxc7 Rec8 22. Rc5 Bf8 23. Rc2 Bf5 24. Rc4 Bd3 25. Nxa8 Bxc4 26. Nxc4

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.41.30 PM

With some incorrect play on my opponents part, I now found myself in the position to win a clear piece. However, I was afraid that if I played 26. Rxc4+ and Rc8 back later to win the knight, the position would be tricky to win. Instead, I found a cute simplification that would result in a position I felt more comfortable in my chances to win.

b5! 27. b3 bxc4 28. bxc4 Rxc4+ 29. Kd2 Rc8 30. Rh4 Rxa8 31. Rxg4+ Bg7 32. Rg6 Rf8 33. f3 Rf6

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.41.54 PM.png

In this position, my opponent resigned. Exchanging rooks would lead to an easily convertible endgame up a bishop, and not exchanging rooks would result in me playing rook to a6 and winning the a2 pawn.

This win allowed me to stay in first place and was an overall interesting game. Although I was afraid initially for my king’s safety, with some precise play and simplification necessary, I was able to dilute any potential pressure to my king as well as later consolidate to a winning endgame. I hope this game was instructive and that you were able to learn something interesting out of it. On that note, until next time 🙂