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.
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.
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:
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:
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!