My Toughest Tournament Ever

Norm tournaments are mostly about present and future IMs/GMs, but I thought it would be interesting to see what it’s like for a random master to play a big norm tournament like the U.S. Masters. Long story short, it’s really hard – evidently, I can only handle about half a tournament (Meanwhile, David plows through 10 of these things in a year.).

Admittedly, it seemed ridiculous given my recent results that I should jump right into the strongest edition of one of the strongest tournaments in the country. But the tournament has been on my bucket list since I became a master, and I ultimately had little choice in the matter, having locked myself in on the whim of a Chess.com Titled Tuesday event.

Things didn’t look any easier on site, where I found myself the 4th-lowest seed in a field of IMs, GMs, and norm hopefuls. But to my amazement, I held my own in this field, defeating two IMs in the first four rounds! Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that these events are marathons and not sprints, but from the beginning this was meant to be for the experience than anything else, so there was a lot to learn and a lot of memorable moments. Aside from chess, it was good to see David and Vanessa again!


After earning the National Master title in April, I found it hard to stay motivated given my busy school and summer work life and the lack of uncertainty over what I wanted to achieve. The few times I did play chess were disasters; for example, in my last tournament before the Masters, I had to fight uphill to draw both an 1800 and 1500, and somehow managed to mess up a R+2 vs. R ending.

At this point, I wasn’t going for anything in particular other than staying solid as much as possible against whoever came my way. There was no warmup period, as I was immediately dealt Black against IM and 2-time U.S. Open champion Michael Mulyar. At first, the game looked like what you’d expect of this type of matchup:

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Mulyar – Li: After 20…Qc7

I’d played the opening reasonably, but after wasting time with dubious knight maneuvers, I found myself facing an imminent e4-e5. To make matters worse, I was down 40 minutes on the clock.

White surprised me by playing 21. f5!?. 21…f6 was the only “permanent” answer, but that would invite an eventual Ne6, which looked extremely unpleasant. Unsure of what to do, I stalled with 21…cxd5, which was immediately met by 22. f6!?. Clearly, moving anything on the kingside is a disaster, so 22…dxe4 followed. Instead of simply playing 23. Ng5 with fxg7 soon to follow, White attempted the more immediate 23. Qg5, and after the forced 23…Ne6 24. Rxe4 Nac5, erred with 25. Rfe1? Nxe4 26. Rxe4.

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I’m guessing White just overlooked 26…h6! (probably the simplest way to resolve matters), and after 27. Qh4 Qc5 28. Qg3 g6 29. Kh1 Bd7 30. Rh4 Qe3 31. Ng4 Qc1+ 32. Kh2 h5, I was basically out of the woods with an extra Exchange. Still, even though Black is completely winning, this is completely possible to mess up, especially with only 5 minutes to make move 40. Fortunately, I closed out the win without too much trouble.

Beating an IM for the first time was a huge accomplishment for me, but looking deeper, I didn’t do anything too fancy here; I just tried to make the most of a bad position and took the chances I got. This is not to say that you can just simply for chances and win, but even very strong opponents make simple-looking mistakes.


On the other hand, I was definitely a little too confident going into the next two rounds, even though my opponents were better than almost everyone I’ve ever played. Since I had White in both games, I hoped I could sustain a solid position without too much effort. Alas, there’s a lot more to the chess than that, and I was soundly outplayed by IM Guillermo Vazquez and Deepak Aaron, a strong master rated over 2300 FIDE.

One of the more questionable decisions could have been avoided pretty easily:

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Li – Aaron: after 17…Rg8

The most straightforward continuation is 18. Qf2, even if it requires Ke1. I believe White should be somewhat better with the king relatively safe and the h6-pawn likely to fall.

Instead, I charged ahead with 18. Qxh6?I’m not sure how to explain why I chose this. I even calculated everything pretty much correctly; I just completely misjudged the resulting position. After 18…Bg5+ 19. Qxg5 Rxg5 20. Rh8+ Ke7 21. Rxa8 Bc8 trapping my rook, I assumed playing g4/Ng3-f5+ would be enough compensation for losing the Exchange. But after 22. g4 b6 23. Ng3 Qb7 24. Rxc8 Qxc8 25. Nf5+ Rxf5! 26. exf5 Qh8, Black’s queen proved too powerful due to my weak f3 and c2 pawns.

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Li – Aaron: after 26…Qh8

Overconfidence with White would prove to be a recurring problem – I didn’t score with White for the whole tournament, even against lower rated players (more on that later).


With a 1/3 score, I had to wonder if I was headed for a bye as one of the lowest seeds (not a disaster by any means, but I wanted to play as many games as possible and there was little else to do around the area). It’s not often that someone at my level finds themselves in a must-win situation as Black against an IM, but that seemed to be the case here!

Since my opponent was a 1. Nf3 player, I decided it was important to try some preparation – otherwise, I’d be simply trying to match a much stronger player. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the best at openings or preparation – in fact, I had never successfully prepared for a specific opponent before. But I noticed my opponent had played a pretty specific line against two GMs before, who had both gotten great positions due to a temporary pawn sacrifice. I also didn’t think my opponent would suspect I’d prepped for him (mostly due to my strength), so I gave it a try. Long story short, it worked great!

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Saravanan – Li: after 8…c6

White deviated from the games I’d looked at, playing 9. Nb3 instead of 9. Nc2. This was probably an improvement, but I suspected that the GMs would not have played 8…c6 if it was just hope chess. This gave me the confidence to play 9…d5 anyway, and the game continued similarly with 10. cxd5 cxd5 11. exd5 Qb6 12. Qd4 Nbd7.

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Saravanan – Li: after 12…Nbd7

This is when I realized the point of 9. Nb3: protecting b2 and giving White more options, e.g. 13. Bg5. Black has good compensation for the pawn with a powerful dark-squared bishop and White’s king still in the center, but I didn’t see how exactly I would get the pawn back and White has ideas of Nb5.

So I played 13…Qxd4 14. Nxd4 Nb6 15. d6 Nfd5, intending to open up the a1-h8 diagonal and develop my other bishop as soon as possible. After 16. Nxd5 Nxd5 White had a choice between the game move 17. Rd1 and 17. O-O-O. I think White missed a chance here even though it looks like the e2-bishop would be hanging, since the d5-knight is loose and White has possible Bb5 and Bc4 counterattacks.

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Saravanan – Li: after 17. Rd1

Instead, after 17…h6, 18. Bc1 was forced and I played 18…Rd8 intending 19. Nb5 Be6 20. Bc4 Rac8. But instead of simply blocking off the c-file with 21. b3 (saving the extra d6-pawn for the moment) White tried to force matters with 21. Bxd5?! Bxd5 22. O-O?

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Saravanan – Li: after 22. O-O

21. Bxd5 already makes White’s position fairly uncomfortable, and 22. O-O is simply squashed by 22…Bc4; White resigned a few moves later.


Unfortunately, the overconfidence with White kicked in again when I played FM Hans Niemann; I overextended quickly and blundered a pawn on move 15, and later the Exchange while trying to win the pawn back. Although I hadn’t been favored to win any of my games as White, I definitely felt like I could have put up more resistance in those games.

My next game against WFM Apurva Virkud was only marginally better, as I essentially played into a bad version of the Bogo-Indian and got pretty passive early on.

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Virkud – Li: after 5…Nc6

In this position, I expected White to transpose into the mainline Bogo-Indian with 6. Nf3 (having opened with 3. g3 instead of 3. Nf3), where 6…Bxd2+ 7. Qxd2?! is met with 7…Ne4 8. Qc2 Qb4+. Instead, I was surprised by 6. e3! giving White the ideal setup after 6…Bxd2+ (necessary to play …d6/…e5) 7. Qxd2 d6 8. Nc3. Soon after 8…e5 9. d5 Nb8 10. Nge2 a5?! 11. Nb5, I got tied down defending c7. Later, I blundered in an already difficult position and lost soon after.


In the next round, I bailed with a 9-move draw against NM Sam Copeland after accepting an interesting gambit in the Two Knights Caro-Kann. Early draws are admittedly not something I would encourage in general, but since he wasn’t feeling great and I was having second thoughts about the line, I guess we thought it would be prudent to call it off early. Furthermore, I wanted to save energy for my last round (I had to skip Round 9 to fly back to Pittsburgh) especially as White, and I think that was the right decision.

Unfortunately, even though my opponent was the lowest-rated (although by no means a weak player) I’d faced all weekend, I managed to overextend on the kingside in an Exchange Berlin and ultimately did not come close to winning. This was disappointing, although it goes to show how each game is really different; I definitely relied on my intuition more, perhaps due to beating strong players early on. This is definitely a game I’ll have to analyze more, but I’ll show the (effective) ending, since it was pretty surprising.

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24…Bxd3! 25. Qd1 (otherwise White will be down at least 2 pawns) 25…Rxd4! 26. cxd4 Bxd4+ 27. Kh2 Qxb2+ and I played on a bit longer than I should have, but with best play White is down too many pawns for the Exchange.


That’s a lot to take in for one’s first norm tournament. I wish I could have been a bit more consistent throughout, but for someone just trying to make some noise in the tournament, I am pretty satisfied with what I got out of it. In fact, my lifetime record against International Masters is now a curious 2.5 – 2.5 (with all my scores coming as Black).

Last but not least, I’d like to thank the tournament staff, especially organizer Walter High, for such a strong and smoothly run tournament. I definitely hope to be back someday!

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Bucket List Item #2: A Puzzle

As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I’m rarely the most likely candidate for flashy, memorable moves. Trying to take the solid route in any competitive play (even online blitz) often entails a waiting game. The answer to the following puzzle, however, may be a step in the more exciting direction.

Unfortunately, the following is not from a tournament game (it’s from a 3-minute game against another National Master), and yes, Black is utterly winning after several moves, but can you find a quick way to finish off White?

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After 18. Rg1

A brief analysis of the short game follows to avoid leaking the answer prematurely. Enjoy!

e4Najdorf – blitzcopter, Chess.com

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Bc4?! Nxe4 4. Bxf7+ Kxf7 5. Nxe4 d5

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White’s third move is dubious as it allows Black to attempt the well-documented “fork trick.” Understandably, White tries to avoid this by making Black’s king slightly uncomfortable, but this is more than compensated by Black’s strong pawn center.

6. Ng3 g6 7. d4 Bg7 8. Nf3 Re8 9. dxe5 Nc6 10. O-O Nxe5

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This actually looks reasonable for White, so perhaps I slipped (what can I say; it was a 3-minute game). White goes astray very quickly soon after, however.

11. Ng5+?! Kg8 12. f4? Bg4 13. Nf3

After this, White’s pawn structure is wrecked, but it was already hard to suggest moves, as 13. Qd2 Nc4 is very uncomfortable.

13…Nxf3+ 14. gxf3 Bh3 15. Re1 c6 16. c3 Qb6+ 17. Kh1 Qf2 18. Rg1

…giving the same position as in the opening diagram. After one move, White is essentially mated.

18…Re1!!

Taking on e1 with either piece (and other moves) leads to mate on f3/g2; other than the frivolous 19. Nf1 and 19. Qxd5+, White has no way to delay mate. That’s flashy enough for me.

Taking the King for a Walk

In the midst of an otherwise rough tournament, I was at least able to check an item off my chess bucket list (I get the feeling that it’s something that a lot of people would like to do occasionally, or at least once, for their personal story). Wise? Perhaps not (see explanation below), but enough to get me the win in that game, and memorable enough. Enjoy!

 

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Li – Oliver, Seattle Seafair Open 2017

With more central space and active pieces aimed at Black’s kingside, White has a quite safe and sizable advantage. Black, understandably attempts to spice things up.

10…d5 11. f3

11. c5 is also fine, but allows 11…Nc4 when it’s a bit annoying to avoid giving up the bishop pair, as moving the bishop away from e3 opens the door for …Nc6 and …Bf6 targeting d4.

11…Bh4+

It was only now that I realized that after 12. g3 allows 12…Bxf3. Interestingly enough, 13. O-O! is complicated, yet good for White after 13..Bxe2 14. Qxe2 when 14…dxc4 allows 15. Be4 threatening b7 and h4, and Black must also look out for Bxh6. This is probably something you’d want to see before playing 11. f3, or else…

12. Kd2?!

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With the center possibly to be opened with …dxc4, …c5 etc. what could possibly go wrong? In all seriousness, I figured Black would have to deal with his bishop on g4, and I would quickly develop the a1-rook and hide the king on the queenside. Instead of 12…Be6, which would have forced …Nc4, I was rewarded with:

12…Bh5? 13. Nf4

The automatic response, attacking d5 as well, because of 13…dxc4? 14. Bh7+.

13…Bg5!? 14. Nfxd5

Supposedly my “safe” option, as 14. Nxh5 is squashed by the surprising 14…Bxe3+ 15. Kxe3 and not 15…Qg5+ but 15…Qh4! threatening the deadly …Re8+. However, the game move was evidently not as safe as I imagined.

14…Bxe3+ 15. Kxe3

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Since I didn’t feel like this sequence was worth it if I had to give back the pawn, this seemed oddly logical. In reality, it will take White several moves to protect the d4-pawn with anything else, so even 15…Nc6 poses some problems for White, as Black again threatens the ugly …Qh4, essentially forcing White to give back the pawn. Though there is still the option of:

15…Na6 16. a3?

16. Kf2 was likely the safest choice to get out of any danger right away, but I was worried about 16…Nxd5 17. cxd5 (17. Nxd5 c6) Nb4. After 16. a3 though, Black has simply 16…Re8+ 17. Kf2 (or 17. Kd2 Nxd5 18. cxd5 Qg5+ doesn’t look fun for White) 17…c6 forcing White to give back the pawn.

16…c5 17. dxc5?! Nxc5 18. b3?

Again, once I intended to keep the pawn, there was no going back, even if the computer considers this too dangerous. The familiar theme is 18…Qh4 (probably other options are good for Black as well), but after meekly trading on d3, Black’s opportunities fizzled out.

18…Nxd3? 19. Qxd3 Bg6 20. Qd4 Nxd5 21. Nxd5 Re8+ 22. Kf2

With White’s active queen and king relatively safe, it was hard for Black to create any problems after this. Despite some far from perfect play from both sides, I ended up winning in the end, and had survived trying to hold onto a pawn with a king on e3.

Am I Ready for This Tournament?

Since the beginning of the summer, I have struggled to decide whether to play in the this year’s U.S. Masters Championship (to be held August 23-27 in Greensboro, NC) or the Atlantic Open (August 25-27 in Arlington, VA) as a break between my internship and school. Although various factors, such as cost, location, timing, and family had to be considered, it ultimately came down to how prepared I thought I would be for chess that week. After the considerations, I decided to give the U.S. Masters a try.

The Masters is clearly the more serious of the two and more expensive to match, while the Atlantic Open is typical Continental Chess fare, though FIDE rated as well. Opportunities to play in 9-round norm tournaments like the U.S. Masters are rare and possibly a great experience, but I must feel prepared; if I’m doomed to get crushed by higher-rated, more experienced masters the whole tournament, that’s not good after all.

If I had to make the choice in April after becoming a master, I would chosen the U.S. Masters without too much hesitation, time and money permitting. But since then, the time I’ve spent on chess, as well as my performances, have not been convincing. Having dropped a significant number of points since barely making master, it’s been difficult to feel like I belong in that relatively elite crowd. At least, I felt like I needed some more data points to justify playing in such a fancy tournament (compared to what I’ve played in so far).

I thought I’d have my chance at a Seattle masters-only event at the beginning of July. Alas, the event got rescheduled on very short notice, and I wouldn’t be able to make it after all. I was also planning to play in a popular and strong local tournament in late July, but wanted to make the decision earlier for logistical reasons.

I ended up turning to an unlikely measurement: the Chess.com Titled Tuesday, a monthly event for those holding verified NM, FIDE CM, FM, IM, GM titles or the women’s equivalents. If I got consistently crushed without a fight, it would be time to seriously reconsider.

Although it wasn’t a smooth performance or a good measurement by any stretch of the imagination, I came out feeling like I had passed my personal test:

  • I won my first game over an FM, although this was tainted by White’s resignation in a winning position (22. c3! cuts off the Black bishop on b2 and leaves Black helpless). The opening had been great for me, but 12…g5? was too greedy, and 13. Nxd5! was a nice find. Instead, 12…Qh4 was a safe way to leave me at least equal, with my active pieces, control over f5, and strong center.
  • The second game was even worse, as I had no idea what I was doing in the opening and promptly got my pieces tangled; with my queen trapped by move 18, I soon had to resign. Since this opening is not terribly uncommon for Black, I have since read up on it a bit.
  • The third game went about as well as I could have expected. I never let White get anything in particular, and was fortunate to not be affected by the weak light squares in the queen endgame.
  • The fourth game was a pure swindle, and although I am not proud by having to resort to my unlucky FM opponent’s blunders (allowing 35. Bxe3!), it is worth noting that I never play this opening as White (and probably shouldn’t without a decent amount of study).
  • The fifth game was embarrassing, and quite enough to remind me how better players can simply outplay their opponents in dead-equal-looking positions, as well as the value of activity in the endgame, even at the short-term cost of material (e.g. 44…Rd2! rather than the passive 44…Kb7? which allowed White an advantage for the first time).
  • The sixth game was fun, although I know it’s unlikely to occur in a long game. I’m guessing my opponent simply hadn’t seen this and underestimated it, and was arguably toast by move 9.
  • By the seventh game, I was feeling a bit lazy, and I got the feeling that my opponent might be too, and the game petered out to a draw quickly. The eighth game was a good display of Black’s trumps in the Classical Caro-Kann, particularly the weak h5 pawn.
  • My last round opponent did not show, which was disappointing; a game with a GM seemed to be a nice reward for the late comeback.

It might seem odd to make such a significant decision on a G/3;+2 tournament, but in my mind, this chaotic condition would more likely bring out my weaknesses: time management and lack of opening knowledge. If I could hold my own under such pressure, I could conceivably do the same in Greensboro over a few days.

The Wild g2-g4?

One of the more interesting phenomena in modern opening theory is the unabashed g2-g4 push on seemingly arbitrary (at least to the unfamiliar) opening occasions.

Predictably, most of these shots are based on more dynamic intentions, and since each situation is different, it’s hard to pin down a lot of general principles here. The Shabalov-Shirov (who else?) line of the Meran Semi-Slav is perhaps the most famous (and theoretically heavy) example, demanding specific knowledge and tactical foresight to play at a high level. Black can accept the gambit (note the hanging pawn on h2), flout White’s attack completely (castling into some potentially open kingside lines), or play it safe with …h6 (as is somewhat more common), but all give White compensation in various ways.

Since each situation is different, discussing g2-g4 in general is more of a thought exercise (at least if you’re lazy or don’t study many openings, like me). Still, the potential of such a bold gesture is clear in many of these situations, compensating for what is often a gambit or positional gamble.

(By the way, g2-g4 can happen much earlier than move 7; for example, as 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4 4. g4!? or even 1. d4 f5 2. g4!? if you’re willing to relax your definitions.)

In a game I skimmed over last month, a young 1900-rated player chose an early-looking g2-g4 that I was vaguely familiar with due to having seen it in a book. The author, being a Caro-Kann expert, is a fairly no-nonsense player and I, feeling similarly, didn’t think too highly of the early g2-g4.

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In this position from the Three Knights Caro-Kann, White has just played 8. g4!?. Admittedly, this makes much more sense than I thought at the time (since an ambitious White was probably going to castle queenside and his queen is fairly well-placed for any kingside action), but since I hadn’t castled kingside and had played pretty reasonable moves to reach this position, I didn’t feel like White should have much here. Black has three possible reactions to a potential g4-g5:

  • Ignore it.
  • Curb it with 8…h6.
  • Prepare for it in some other way.

According to a very limited sample of games from chess.com, the obvious continuation of the third type, 8…Nfd7, is very reasonable. Obviously, any further kingside pawn pushes are stopped for the moment, and Black can easily maneuver the other knight to c7.

8…h6 is an obvious candidate, but this creates an obvious target if Black ever castles kingside. Queenside is not the safest option in the world at the moment and White has plenty of power for say, an f-pawn push to break open the center, as in this crushing win for White.

From my previous comment, you can probably guess that I went with the first choice. Again, since I’d played logically up to that point, it’s reasonable to expect Black shouldn’t be too afraid of White’s primitive-looking attack. However, I chose to do this in a rather awkward way, tangling the knights with 8…Nbd7? 9. g5 Ng8, after which White is not as extended as I hoped in most reasonable continuations.

Interestingly though, there are ways to decline this without tangling all the Black pieces on the first two ranks. 8…Na6 has been played, after which White had little to show for the moment after 9. g5 Nd7 10. h4 Nb4 11. Qd1. Even 8…O-O looks dangerous, but White still has work to do before breaking in after moves like 9. h4 or 9. g5 and Black will have chances on the queenside when White castles. An interesting battle is in store once the opposite-side castling is declared.


Even for someone who doesn’t think terribly highly of them, the myriad g2-g4 possibilities are still pretty intriguing to me. Feel free to give a shoutout to any particularly interesting (or early) ones.

Life After Master on the West Coast

Earning the National Master title in April has been one of the proudest achievements of my life, and certainly of my chess career. After notching several master-level (and better) performances to finish the job, there seemed to be little doubt that I was ready to see what lie beyond master. Alas, I soon had to deal with various life matters such as final projects and exams in school, visiting my family in Indiana, and preparing for my summer internship. Although I found time to stream a 49-game bullet match with Isaac during finals week, I haven’t been quite the force in the chess world as of late: my first tournament as NM (which included, among other things, losing to a 1900 despite winning a clean pawn on move 7) was one of my worst in recent times, and for the first time since starting college, I went a month (May) without playing a tournament. My most recent tournament (here in Seattle) was better, but it was clear that I wasn’t quite there mentally: everything seemed unusually complicated and unfamiliar, and I often found myself unwilling to make critical tough decisions.

Apparently, similar “post-master” syndromes are not uncommon. I wouldn’t say that dropping 40 points after becoming master is normal, but a dip in results after that milestone is not unheard of. After all, 1900-rated kids are no pushovers, and a 2200 rating is not that different from 2150, or even 2100. As FM Ethan Li wrote yesterday, the mental aspect of chess is undeniably important, and in many cases shows what makes master-level chess. So I still have a lot of work to do if I want to stay competitive among masters.

In last weekend’s tournament, I faced three rapidly improving but lower-rated kids in a G/90;+30 quad, scoring 2/3. In my first game against an 1853, against my usual instincts, I sacrificed a pawn for dynamic play. Although my technique was far from perfect, I eked out a fun win.

My second game against a 2021 was the main example of my lack of tenacity in recent times. My opponent erred early and allowed me to simplify into a positionally dominant endgame, but thinking it was nearly impossible for me to lose, I blocked up the position making it harder for me to break through, then straight-up blundered a pawn; I was fortunate not to lose.

My last game against a 1938 was a little too complex for me, as I was already tired from the long games. I’ll likely analyze this in more detail in a future post, but have provided the exciting game for viewing pleasure.

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Probably one of the few pictures I can take in my building…

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that there is more to life than chess, and this summer, that means making the most of my time in the wonderful city of Seattle. Being from the Midwest, this is a pretty new experience that I have yet to figure out, but I’m looking forward to a lot of challenging work, meeting new faces, and exploring a lot of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, my photography skills are basically nonexistent and I have no hope of matching Isaac’s picture game, but I’ll do my best to keep chess^summit posted on my summer!

 

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Downtown Seattle from my room

As far as my chess plans are concerned, I’ve committed to a “quality over quantity” approach to choosing tournaments as I look to get the most out of each event I play. The two major events I am eyeing this summer are the Seattle Seafair Open, a local event that regularly draws many strong masters, and the U.S. Masters Championship in Greensboro, NC – one of the country’s premier national events. Stay tuned for information about these tournaments and my preparation for them in the coming weeks!

 

Free Game Analysis: Budapest Gambit

Today’s game is from aspiring Chicago-area player Megan Chen, whom I know from our overlapping time at CMU. Like me, Megan picked up chess again after a hiatus for school, and after two short but chess-filled years has established an undoubtedly conspicuous presence in Chicago, gaining over 600 rating points to close in on 1600!

It’s always interesting to see what little it takes to turn a game around. In one of Megan’s more flashy victories, a last-round win over a top seed in her section at the 2017 Mid-America Open, a grave positional error by White (her opponent) in a dead equal-looking position set the stage for some unexpected tactical flurries that surely made for a memorable game. Enjoy!

McCully (1698) – Chen (1530)

I’m not a big fan of the Budapest Gambit approach, which is not considered particularly sound. That said, it is certainly playable for anyone comfortable with it, so I understand why Megan, a more adventurous player going into the last round craving a win to even her tournament record, would be willing to go for it.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Bf4

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5…Bc5

As with the main move 5…Bb4+, Black gains a tempo, intending to quickly regain the sacrificed pawn with …Qe7. This plan is essentially forced, because otherwise, White will simply blow Black off the board after h2-h3. However, the game move has the drawback of allowing Nb1-c3-d5, giving White an obvious positional asset and potentially taking advantage of Black’s misplaced queen (Black’s c5 bishop is also vulnerable to a rapid queenside expansion). In contrast, 5…Bb4+ is safer, although it does give White the bishop pair and a slight edge after 6. Nbd2 Qe7 7. a3 Ngxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. e3 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2.

6. e3 Qe7 7. Be2 Ngxe5 8. O-O d6 9. Nc3

White sensibly chooses to finish kingside development first. Although Black easily regains the e5 pawn, there isn’t much to be done about Nb1-c3-d5, since something like …c6 just leaves d6 vulnerable. This gives White easier play on the queenside and a fairly stable advantage, underscoring the long-term disadvantage of eschewing 5…Bb4+.

9…Ng6?!

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This move actually gives White a tactical justification for a rapid b2-b4 push! In all fairness, it’s probably not the first tactic that comes to mind (see if you can find it before reading on), so I hesitate to peg the game move as a serious error. Still, the knight doesn’t do much in its new position – White can as easily play 10. Bg3 and ask where the knight is going from g6.

10. Nd5 Qd8 11. a3! Nxf4 12. Nxf4 a5

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With Black’s knight still on e5, this would have stopped b2-b4 forever, as that would allow Black to trade rooks on the a-file and grab the b-pawn. But in the game position, White can get away with 13. b4!, where Black would be well-advised to avoid 13…axb4? 14. axb4 Rxa1?? 15. Qxa1 Bxb4 (or 15…Nxb4) 16. Qxg7, when Black’s position falls apart. Instead, White overlooks the opportunity, and finds his queenside play stalled.

13. Qc2?! O-O 14. Bd3 h6 15. h3 Ne5 16. Nxe5 dxe5

Black has equalized comfortably. Notice in particular that Nd5 is rendered harmless, since the trade of knights on e5 allows the formerly-undesirable …c6. White had an advantage earlier, but failed to press it in a timely fashion.

17. Ne2?!

This traps the d3-bishop needlessly and allows Black to gain unnecessary tempi on the kingside, as 17…f5 immediately threatens to win a piece, and basically forces …e4 with tempo next move. More natural was to reroute the knight via 17. Nd5 c6 (to prevent 18. b4) 18. Nc3, which I would assess as roughly equal. Black has some chances on the kingside and the bishop pair, but White’s pieces are placed more harmoniously for the moment.

17…f5 18. e4?

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After this clear positional blunder, there is no going back for White. After just two moves, White is toast. Black is guaranteed a massive kingside attack, with pawns, bishops, etc. all ready to rip open the kingside.

18…f4 19. b4 axb4 20. axb4 Rxa1 21. Rxa1

White attempts to stave off …f3 by deflecting the dark-squared bishop. Although Black can certainly take the free pawn first, ignoring the threat to the bishop is apparently adequate as well. It’s a little flashy for my taste (remember that you just need *a* win, and usually the “sure” win is the way to go), but to each their own.

21…Qg5!? 22. bxc5 Bxh3 23. Nxf4 exf4 24. Bf1??

A puzzling decision, since it looked like the point of 23. Nxf4 was to clear the second rank for 24. f3. Granted, White is down a pawn after 24…Qxc5+ with a horrible bishop and king, but he’s not quite mated yet. The game move goes down quickly.

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24…Bxg2 25. Qd2 Rd8

Slightly unnecessary (time pressure?), since White has the “option” of 26. Qxd8+ and 27. Kxg2, after which Black must mop up White’s pawns and win the boring way. On the other hand, 25…Bxe4+ (as played a move later) just mates after 26. Kh2 Qh4+ 27. Bh3 Bf5.

26. Ra8 Bxe4+ 27. Kh2 Qh4+ 28. Bh3 Rxa8, White resigned.

A particularly brutal finish for White. Black did well to equalize after a sketchy opening (sorry, Megan), but White did not truly go wrong until 17. Ne2 and 18. e4. This just goes to show that it only takes one or two moves to truly mess up a position, even when the position looks solid. Congratulations to Megan for fighting back (both in the tourney and in the game), for the ruthless mating attack, and (hopefully) for soon crossing 1600 and beyond!

As always, if you would like a game analyzed, feel free to send it to chess.summit@gmail.com for us to see!