North American Youth Championship

Tonight, a major event for young American chess players begins: the North American Youth Championship. The tournament rotates on a three-year cycle between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Held in Morristown, New Jersey, this year, it is local for many Americans and Canadians. Check out the official website for more details.

NAYCC logo

                  The official logo. Who did this!???! Just look at the “chessboard”.

 

The unique prizes

The tournament has 9 rounds and sections by age from Under 8 up to Under 18, both Open and Girls. Though the winners of the lower sections get FIDE titles of FM or CM, the big prize lies in the U16 and U18 sections. The winner of the U16 section gets an IM Norm, while the winner of the U18 section gets the IM title. This is an “easy” and quick way for many kids to get closer to the IM title…

First of all, let me make one thing clear. I am not playing, as I have already fulfilled the requirements to become an IM. Since I’d have a reasonable chance of winning first place in both sections, I’d be the worst enemy of all the players hunting for something that I already have. I’d probably get lynched on day 1… Instead, I’ll be at home watching the action.

The last time the North American Youth was in the US was in 2014. I have good memories of the tournament, as I won the U12 section and got the FM title. I was a newly minted NM at the time, and I didn’t consider playing up to try and get an IM norm/title. Three years later, is this tournament telling me that I’m overqualified!?

NAYCC 2014

That was me three years ago! Now you can laugh…

U16 or U18?

The question that faces a lot of these players is which section to play in: U16 or U18? The U16 section should be easier to win, but on the other hand, the winner of the U18 section gets the IM title. Players who are too old will play in U18, but there aren’t many of those. More people may go play U18, leaving the U16 wide open. However, if everyone thinks like that, the U16 may be stronger than the U18!

 

Enough philosophical chatter, what would I do?

If I hadn’t crossed the 2400 rating at the NY International, I would have played in U18, as an additional norm would be useless for me.

However, what if I had two norms and the 2400 rating? Or two norms and no 2400 rating? Or no norms with a 2400 rating… there’s no point listing all the scenarios.

If I had no norms, I’d probably go play the U18. Why get 3 IM norms and the rating if all I’d need would be to win a tournament? If I had one norm, I think I’d make the same decision. With two norms and a rating reasonably close to 2400, I’d probably go for U16. I’d rather have a good chance to get my last IM Norm and hopefully gain some rating in the U16 section than risk going home broke in the U18.

 

Who will win?

Not everyone has registered yet, some people will make the decision last minute.

Historically, the winners of the U18 section have been in the 2350-2450 USCF range. Perhaps not fully IM level, but far from patzers… This year, however, seeing that there are already a few 2400+ players registered, I’d say the winner who gets the IM title will be stronger than usual.

The U16 section should be easier to win, but not by much. The winners have usually been in the 2300-2400 USCF range. Who knows, this year could be different…

 

What about the girls?

The girls have a similar choice to make, except with WIM titles/norms. However, the US Junior Girls Championship is going on in St. Louis at the same time. It doesn’t really matter for the boys, since most of the players in the US Junior Closed are already IMs or GMs, and many are older than 18 anyway. However, that is not true for the girls. Only half of them hold the WIM title. We’ll see who wins the girls’ sections, but it really is a shame that the dates clash.

 

I’ll be watching what should be a fun event. I do have my picks, some of whom haven’t registered yet… There will be surprises and upsets, but ultimately, the top seeds should prevail. It would be an interesting experience to play myself, but I couldn’t do that morally. IMs usually don’t play this tournament, and I don’t want to break the custom. Still, I’ll be curious to see which players will get IM norms and which player will become an IM within the next five days.

 

2400.4

I was originally not going to write this article. A week ago Vanessa and I made a deal. She would cover New York International, and I would write about something else. But then things started happening…

Don’t worry Vanessa will still write about New York International, but I will selfishly talk about my own play.

MCC

Historically speaking, good things seem to happen at the New York International.

  • In the 2012 edition, I crossed 1900 and made the All American Team for the very first time.
  • In the 2015 edition, I beat my first GM
  • In the 2016 edition, I got my first IM Norm.

Held at the Marshall Chess Club for the past three years, the New York International is a local tournament with a strong field and norm chances, and it does appear that it is the tournament where I cross a big item off my summer bucket list. This year was no different…

As I mentioned in my article about the Philadelphia Open, my goal after getting my 3rd and final IM Norm was to get my FIDE rating to 2400 which would fulfill the last requirement to become an IM. After some (mis)adventures hunting rating points, my FIDE rating of 2379 was reasonably close to 2400.

I got off to a good start in round 1 by beating Juan Sena (2251 USCF, 2073 FIDE) with the black pieces. We had played a game about a year and a half previously with the same colors which I won. We followed that game for 25 moves until he deviated. Still, the position was very good for me and I soon won.

Round 2 was a surprisingly quick win against IM Jay Bonin (2378 USCF, 2263 FIDE), my first one ever!

So far, so good. 2/2. In round 3, I got black against Raven Sturt (2548 USCF, 2442 FIDE). This game would be a big deal: if I won, my live FIDE rating would cross 2400. It would be 2400.4 to be exact.

The third time’s the charm. Yes, this was the third game where winning would mean crossing 2400 FIDE. And this time I did win!! A year after getting my very first IM norm, my IM quest came to its end.

2400.4                                            Me moments after reaching 2400.4!

Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it to happen. After all, many of my firsts took place at the Marshall Chess Club even when it is not the New York International. They include:

  • My first win over an NM
  • My first draw against an IM
  • My first draw against a GM

Since this game was so important, I’ve decided to just present it in its entirety.

Getting a rating over 2400 in the middle of a tournament fulfills the rating requirement for IM, and there was no reason for me to withdraw to get the IM title. There were 6 rounds to go and more chess to play

Generally, when people get a norm, get a title, or in simple English have a big success, they very often have a bad tournament shortly after it. I don’t know why exactly that happens, but it just does. I knew I should party with caution – I did not want to botch up my remaining 6 rounds for no reason.

In round 4, I held my own with the white pieces against GM Gil Popilski (2623 USCF, 2544 FIDE). The position was roughly equal out of the opening, then I probably got a little worse. Still, I managed to sneak out and make a draw.

A solid result. However, everything comes to an end. My run ended in round 5 when I got the black pieces against GM Axel Bachmann (2674 USCF, 2653 FIDE). I probably equalized out of the opening, but a small concession on my side gave GM Bachmann a slight but nagging edge. Things spiraled downhill, but I made the best out of it and reached this position.

Bachmann1

White to play

White has a very powerful passed pawn, but my pieces are blockading it. I had been expecting 31.Na6, protecting the pawn. White will not be able to queen that pawn, but black will not be able to kick the white pieces out either. I really dislike black’s position.

Instead, I was surprised when he went for a technical solution with 31.Nxe6!?. The game went 31… fxe6 32.Rb6+ Kd7 33.Rxe6! Kxe6 34.Bh3+ Kd6 35.Bxc8 Kxc7 36.Bf5 Nf8

Bachmann2

White to play

The dust has settled after the forced moves. White is a pawn up, but all the pawns are on the same side of the board. In those kinds of positions, the knight is supposed to be better than the bishop. I felt fairly optimistic that I should be able to hold a draw here…

The game went 37.f4 Kd6 38.Kf2 g6 39.Bc8 h6 40.Ke3 Nh7 41.fxe5+ Kxe5 42.d4+ Kd6 43.Kf4 Nf6 44.Bg4 Ng8 45.h4 Nf6 46.Bf3 Ke6 47.g4 Nh7

Bachmann3

White to play

Over the past few moves, white has slowly built up his position, while I’ve improved my knight. The waiting games are now over; black wants to play g5+ on the next move, forcing the white king back. White must act.

I felt confident I should hold this one, but GM Bachmann thought for about 20 minutes on his next move and crunched things out to the end. If you want a hardcore calculation exercise, go ahead! Try to find how white wins this endgame. Then compare your solution to what happened in the game.

OK, that was a bit disappointing, but considering the rating difference, losing that game wasn’t surprising. I was still unofficially over 2400 at the end of day #3.

In round 6, I got the white pieces against Qibiao Wang (2401 USCF, 2294 FIDE). The game can be summed up with this diagram.

QibiaoWang

Look at the black queen! It should be stuck, right? That’s what I thought too. I thought I should be able to trap is somehow… but how? At worst case, her majesty can run away via a4 to c6. And how to even get an advantage with white? I thought for a long time on my next few moves and found nothing concrete for white at all. I didn’t proceed to get anything in the game either, and we eventually drew.

In round 7, I got black against FM Marcus Miyasaka (2250 USCF, 2197 FIDE). This was my 9th (!) game against Marcus. Marcus uncorked some offbeat opening preparation on me, and I was faced with a choice early on: play objectively best moves which would allow Marcus to essentially force a draw OR play something else to get into a slightly worse position with the hope of outplaying him.

I chose the latter. I ended up in trouble but wriggled out to an approximately equal position. I then proceeded to get myself into trouble again. I then wriggled out again to get into a very complicated position where it seemed that all three results were possible. Marcus then had to be careful not to get in trouble, and he managed to get out and reach a drawn endgame. I pressed on for a very long time (probably longer than I should have) trying to win, but to no avail.

Those two draws took some wind out of my sails, but still, there were two rounds to go.

NYI AnalysisStill enjoying chess… Photo by Vanessa Sun

In round 8, I won a powerful game with white against Sophie Morris-Suzuki (2152 USCF, 1790 FIDE), who was having a breakout tournament. In a slightly worse position, she made a positional error that gave me a dominating position which I converted with some flashy rook sacrifices. When it comes to forgetting about what happened earlier in the tournament, there’s nothing like winning a game!

In round 9, I got black against GM Michael Rohde (2468 USCF) (2413 FIDE). I had played him with the same colors about a month previously, so I could recycle some of my preparation… there was another factor to consider; if I drew the game, I would get my 4th IM Norm. Only three norms are required to become an IM, but FIDE needs to approve them. It does not hurt to add extra norms on the application in case FIDE finds something amiss with any of them.

And I did draw the game. It was a fairly correct game from both players; neither of us had anything by move 20 when we agreed to a draw.

Brady-Me                         Me with Dr. Frank Brady and Frank Marshall…

What’s the overall conclusion? I scored 6/9, got an extra IM Norm, gained 18 FIDE and 12 USCF rating points, getting to my peak ratings on both, but most importantly I crossed 2400 in the middle of the tournament reaching 2404.8 after round #4. A solid performance.

What’s next for me?

FIDE will hopefully approve my IM title in October at the 88th FIDE Congress. The question that now faces me is where to go next. And for the moment, I’m not quite sure. For now, I guess I’ll just play chess…

Next on my tournament schedule is the World Open, which starts in a couple of days. We’ll see how it goes…

Since this is quite a big achievement, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on my quest so far, namely, my coach, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Greg Shahade and the US Chess School, the Marshall Chess Club, all the organizers that gave me a chance in their invitational tournaments, and many others that helped me by analyzing or advising or just being there for me.

Endgame Swindles

In my past two tournaments, I confess that I got lucky in a couple games. Big time…

In the past, I’d gotten ridiculously fortunate in some games. This endgame is probably my most insane swindle ever:

Abdi, Farzad (2254) – Brodsky, David (2305) Eastern Class Championship 2015

Abdi

White to play

As black, I had the infamous f-pawn. The problem, however, was that it was still on f3. If it were on f2, it would be a draw.

In the textbooks, against the pawn on f3, white wins by giving checks, eventually forcing the black king in front of the pawn, bringing his own king closer to the pawn, and so on until white can win the pawn or give mate.

However, white has only one winning move here, 68.Qa6+!. There white performs the process described above. Had he played it, I would have resigned in a few moves. Instead, my opponent gave another seemingly fine check, 68.Qa1+??.

Where’s the catch? Try to find it.

I went 68… Kg2 69.Qg7+ Kf1!. Incredibly, white has no other checks besides Qa1+ and Qg7+. He cannot force the black king to f2! It is a draw!

Does this qualify as a swindle? I admit I went for this endgame a) because I had nothing better and b) as an excuse not to resign immediately. I guess it was sort of a swindle, as I doubt my opponent thought there was only one winning move. Especially considering that he had a queen, everything should be winning, right?

That game was played over 2 years ago (time flies!), and since then, none of my swindles has come anywhere near that one. It’s really, really, really rare that something like this happens. But if you keep trying, fortune will smile at you eventually.

Luck aside, it’s your job to try and trick your opponent in positions where you are pressing but don’t have enough to objectively win. You can’t count on them making mistakes out of the blue, but you can give them an opportunity or two to make those mistakes. As they say, in chess, you make your own luck.

In endgames, chances are both you and your opponent are getting low on time and tired, mistakes will start creeping into your play, and your calculation start getting faulty… In my humble opinion, the endgame is as good a phase of the game as any to swindle your opponent.

Still, how to do it? I have three pieces of advice:

  • come up with innovative ideas (that have a chance of working)
  • lay (realistic) traps
  • keep trying

Did I mention keep trying? By that, I don’t mean play king + rook vs. king + rook for 50 moves hoping your opponent generously blunders his rook or gets mated. No! I mean keep trying realistic winning attempts. If you throw enough of them at your opponent’s head, he may eventually crack.

The question is how to best combine the three. The traps shouldn’t be that obvious. There is a reason why they are called traps. Still, there are only so many non-obvious traps in the position… In the following two games, those were the kinds of questions I had to answer.

Let’s first start with my round 2 game from the Cherry Blossom Classic:

Brodsky, David (2485) – Fellman, Mike (2201)

Fellman1

White to play

Earlier in the game, I had expected to get more out of my position, but somehow it didn’t materialize. The position’s big trump is my b-pawn, which is fairly advanced. I can go 64.Rh8, harassing the black bishop. However, black will most likely go 64… Rg3+ 65. Kh2 Bxb6 66.Bxb6 Rxf3 67.Rxh4

Fellman2

Black to play

This is of course a draw, but holding rook + bishop vs. rook is not an easy task, as practice has shown. However, black has an extra pawn, and it is strong and centralized. Will I be able to even win that e-pawn? Unlikely. That did not seem promising.

How to proceed? Go for that endgame and hope it’ll work out? Honestly, I felt that I should try something else to see if it worked before trying that option.

I went 64.Kh2 Rb7 65.Kh1!?. My idea was to get out of Rg3+ if my opponent went back with 65… Rg7 which is what happened. It was not necessary for him to go back, and probably another rook move like 65… Rf7 would have made his life easier. I now went 66.Rh8!.

Fellman3

Black to play

Now black has to decide how to react. 66… Bf6 might lead to trouble after 67.Rc8 followed by Rc7. Probably the best thing to do is to bail out with 66… Bxb6! 67.Bxb6 Rf7 68.Kg2 e4 69.fxe4 (69.Rh5+ Kc6! attacking the bishop is a key resource. It’s understandable to miss it in the heat of the battle.) 69… Kxe4 70.Rxh4+ after which we get rook + bishop vs. rook, without any pawn for black. Compared with the position I could have gotten had I played 64.Rh8, this is an improvement! Winning rook and bishop vs. rook would be another story, but at least white realistically has serious winning chances there.

Instead, my opponent made the losing mistake with 66… Rd7?. After 67.b7!, black has to give up his bishop for the pawn, and he can’t get the white f-pawn off the board. I won the game a few moves later.

Just like that, in three moves, I turned a seemingly nothing position into a winning one! What’s the moral of the story? My best interpretation is that ideas like Kh3-h2-h1, which at first glance look ridiculous, can actually be good.

Last weekend, I had another endgame where I swindled my opponent in a similarly drawn endgame. But first a warning: this endgame was a lot more complicated than the previous one. The game itself was unusual and interesting, and I’ve decided to analyze this one starting right after the time control, where I had to make decisions how best to make my opponent’s life miserable.

Brodsky, David (2477) – Subervi, Jonathan (2249) Northeast Open 2017

Subervi1

Black to play

I had been better for most of the game, but a careless move had blown it all away. White is temporarily a pawn up, but black will win it back after he takes the c6-pawn. With my last move, 40.Nd2-f3, I reached the time control, attacked his bishop, and realized I had absolutely nothing if my opponent played 40… Bxc3 41.Nxg5 e5!. It will be equal material once black takes the pawn, and I’ve got to be careful about black’s passed b-pawn.

Instead, my opponent, who was in time trouble, played 40… Bf4?. Now, I had some time to decide what to do next. If you want, take a think and see what you can come up with for white.

The critical move was 41.Nd4, as it leads to a pawn endgame after the moves 41… e5 42.Ne6+ Kxc6 43.Nxf4 gxf4. Then, it turns into a race after 44.Kf3 (or Kh3) Kc5 45.Kg4 Kc4 46.Kf5 Kxc3 47.Kxe5 b5 48.Kxf4 b4 49.e5 b3 50.e6 b2 51.e7 b1Q 52.e8Q

Subervi2

Black to play

I saw this position in my calculations, and I thought I should have good winning chances, as black can’t check me with 52… Qc1+? because of 53.Qe3+, forcing a queen trade into a winning pawn endgame. Tablebases confirm my suspicions by telling me that this position is mate in 67 (!). Of course, I had no way of knowing that, but during the game, this looked like a decent winning attempt to me.

Then, it was time to see if black has any alternatives in that variation, and that’s how I found the move which troubled me. On move 48, instead of paying 48… b4, black should go 48… Kd4! 49.e5 Kd5 50.Kf5 b4 51.e6 b3 52.e7 b2 53.e8Q b1Q+.

Subervi3

White to play

Ironically, black queens last in this version, but he does so with check. His king is a lot better positioned in this version, meaning that it a) won’t get in the way of black’s checks and b) could help stop the f-pawn in some variations, even making some pawn endgames a possibility. I was not confident that I would win this position, and tablebases do confirm that this position is a draw.

Time to backtrack. Is it a good idea to go down that forcing path with 41.Nd4? I don’t have any real way to get out of those lines. If my opponent finds the move 48… Kd4!, will I have anything?

Therefore, I decided to go for another option, 41.Kh3, where I didn’t see a totally forced draw for black. The game went 41… Kxc6 42.Kg4 Kd6 43.Nxg5 Bd2

White is a pawn up, but black will win the c-pawn in exchange for the e6-pawn. That appears to be promising, but the black b-pawn runs fast and cannot be easily stopped by the white knight. Still, it’s the best I have.

I decided to go for fancy tricks with 44.e5+!?. 44.c4 would have led to something similar. The game went 44… Kd5 45.c4+ Kxc4 46.Nxe6. This leads to the kind of position described above. The turned into a pawn race after 46… b5 47.Nc7 b4 48.e6 b3 49.e7 b2 50.e8Q (50.Nb5!? is one of those study-like moves that could work in some positions and you should be on the lookout for, but I didn’t think it would be effective after 50… Bb4) b1Q

Subervi4

White to play

From afar, I had thought that because I queen first, I should be able to get something against the black king. Plus, the queen and knight are a tricky combo and are good at creating mating threats. However, that isn’t the case. The deeper I looked, the more I realized that I have no forced win or anything.

How to proceed? Well first of all, if I wanted to win this one, I’d need to hide my king from perpetual checks. The black checks can come from everywhere, but the ones on the b1-h7 diagonal are preventable. The tricky ones, however, are the ones that come on the first rank (Qg1+ and maybe Qd1+). Therefore, I decided to drive the black king to the first rank so that my king could hide. The game went 51.Qc6+ Kb3 52.Qb5+ Kc2 53.Qc4+ Kd1 54.Kf3 Qf5+ 55.Kg2 Qg5+ 56.Kf1 Qf5 57.Nd5

Subervi5

Black to play

My king is hidden from the checks, and my knight is coming closer towards the black king. The position is still objectively drawn, but there’s nothing forced.

Now, for laying traps. What are some of black’s most compelling moves? There is no obvious follow-up if 57… Qh3+ 58.Kg1. What else? How about 57… Qf3 threatening Qh1#? If 58.Kg1, black has 58… Qe2! and white’s coordination is getting disrupted.

My opponent, not seeing the trap, played that. Can you find the nasty surprise I had in store for my opponent?

I went 58.Ne3+! Bxe3 59.Qd3+. Black can’t move his bishop because it’s pinned, and after 59… Kc1 60.Qxe3+ I force a queen trade after which black can’t catch the white pawn. My opponent had to resign.

I do admit that last endgame was one heck of a ride! Still, it goes to show that chess is a hard game and that tricks and traps do work sometimes. However, laying those traps is the hardest part, but if you try, you may get lucky. Good luck with your future swindles!

When Things Don’t Go Well

Everyone has bad tournaments. It’s part of playing chess. And I shouldn’t only be writing about my successes; my failures are equally important, though much less pleasant.

As I mentioned in my article on the Philadelphia Open, I got my last IM Norm, and the only requirement that I was missing for the IM title was the FIDE rating. My May FIDE rating was 2380 which is not far from 2400, especially considering that my K-factor is 20…

Earlier this month, I played in the Maryland Open. I won my first two games, and in the third game, I had my shot to cross 2400 if I had beaten IM Levan Bregadze with the white pieces. The nerves killed me, and I lost. Still, I finished well, and I gained 8 FIDE points. Creeping closer…

2388 is not quite close enough to make it by winning a game against a significantly lower rated player, but it is close enough that winning two games against master-level opponents would do the job. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too…

I played the Cherry Blossom Classic over Memorial Day weekend. It had a strong field, especially considering that it was at the same time like the Chicago Open. The ideal plan would be to win the first game against a lower rated player and then win the second game against someone of about the same rating. That would under all reasonable circumstances put me over 2400. I didn’t even have to do it in the first two rounds. I had seven rounds to do it.

Cherry Blossom

A picture of the tournament hall from the tournament’s Facebook page.

Things went wrong in the first round when I drew FM Trung Nguyen (2267 USCF, 2065 FIDE) with black. I played for 4.5 hours until 12:30 a.m. to try to win a drawn rook endgame. It was no use. It appears I didn’t have a win anywhere.

The end of my tournament? Absolutely not! Just an unfortunate setback. It did, however, cost me 7.2 FIDE rating points, which was almost the amount I had gained at the Maryland Open.

In round 2, fortune favored me in my game against Mike Fellman (2201 USCF, 2027 FIDE). I had an edge, most of which I blew, until I managed to bamboozle him in a position where the realistic best-case scenario for me looked like rook + bishop vs. rook. It was a long game lasting nearly 5.5 hours. Even though I won, I wasn’t playing my best chess.

Round 3 was actually an objectively decent game against GM Michael Rohde (2472 USCF, 2407 FIDE). I got a little edge with black and turned down a draw offer. However, I didn’t have a concrete plan to get through, and things soon turned around. However, I managed to sneak out with a perpetual check and make a draw.

It was decent and it was “only” 45 moves long, as opposed to my 82 and 77 move games in the first two rounds. I was losing a little rating, but still, I was due white the next game. The next game could be the turning point in the tournament if I won. My rating would probably be a little bit in the plus, and I’d most likely get to play a strong enough opponent, that a win would propel me over 2400

Instead, disaster struck in my round 4 game against FM Sahil Sinha (2305 USCF, 2249 FIDE). I managed to lose the game in a disgusting style with the white pieces.

Now, to drag myself out of the dump…

OK, it is inevitable that you will have a bad tournament. They just happen. They are frustrating, they suck, but they will happen.

Try to forget what happened in the previous rounds? Easier said than done. However, there are ways…

Winning a game can really help your confidence, even if it is a very low-quality game or it is against a significantly lower rated opponent you should nearly always beat. Or at least stopping the bleeding by drawing.

A draw is better than a loss. That statement is common sense, but when things aren’t going well, people sometimes do crazy things. Let me rephrase that. Committing suicide on the board will not help your tournament.

Enjoy chess! I know I sound like a partial lunatic, but yes, just enjoy the games. Don’t worry so much about how much rating you are losing, how this game will affect it, just enjoy playing chess.

To withdraw or not to withdraw?

Withdrawing is essentially limiting the damage. Everything is going wrong, you feel like you can barely play chess…

Lots of people withdraw, some less, some more, some very often. I hardly ever do so. For non-traveling, non-emergency, but purely chess reasons, I’ve only withdrawn from two tournaments in my career (Philadelphia Open 2013, Washington International 2016). They were that bad, and I just couldn’t face the chessboard anymore.

My honest opinion on withdrawing is that withdrawing is OK as long as you don’t do it too often. Don’t withdraw every time something goes wrong in a tournament. Being able to pull off comebacks is an important skill. It will come in especially handy in round robin tournaments, where you don’t have the option of withdrawing. If you withdraw, there is no such a thing as leaving on a good note. You leave with a bad feeling no matter how much you believe it was the right decision. After all, the tournament did go wrong. If you keep playing, there is a chance that at least the last few days will make you feel better.

Withdraw if things are going badly, and you either don’t feel like it’s worth finishing the tournament or you feel like finishing the tournament will only make things worse.

How did my tournament end? I know I’ve kept you waiting…

In round 5, I made a stupid decision in the opening and went for a fairly drawish line with black against Justin Paul (2239 USCF, 2191 FIDE). I got some winning chances, but they weren’t enough to win.

That made things worse. Not a motivation boost, but at least I didn’t lose. At this point, it was practically impossible for my rating to break even. Still, I felt optimistic since I was due to have the white pieces in the next round. Not that it would guarantee that I’d win, but it’s better than being black.

And I turned out to be right. In round 6, I won a powerful game with white against Andrew Zheng (2310 USCF, 2261 FIDE). Things just went great for me out of the opening, and I was completely winning by move 30.

That win did give me that boost I was talking about. Still, there was one more round to go.

In round 7, I was fortunate to get a double white against Andrew Samuelson (2369 USCF, 2277 FIDE). However, my play was pretty terrible. I wonder if someone spiked my food…

After getting an excellent position out of the opening, I made an unexplainably bad decision, and the position was probably around equal. A couple more bad decisions after the time control led to me getting into big trouble. It’s not unlikely that I was losing there. However, Samuelson blundered, and the position settled back to equality, though with him pressing. Then, instead of taking a draw, he went overboard, and I won soon after.

I guess I did get my fair share of luck during this tournament (rounds 2 and 7).

In the end, I scored 4.5/7 and ended up only losing 8.8 FIDE rating points, losing only one more point than I had gained at the Maryland Open. I felt justified that I kept on playing. I did limit the damage, gained back a few now very important FIDE points, and left on a good note.

After the tournament:

Find what went wrong. If there are similar mistakes you made in multiple games, try to work on that. Look for patterns, both objective and psychological.

In my case, I’m not quite sure what went wrong. It’s not always easy to identify. I can pinpoint that I wasn’t able to create enough chances with black (rounds 1 and 5), but what accounts for the other rounds? Playing bad moves? Not exactly helpful…

Anyway, I’m quite relieved that my rating loss this tournament was a single digit on both USCF and FIDE. I didn’t botch it up as badly as it looked after round 5. If this tournament had “only” been played backwards, I would have gotten my 2 strong wins and I’d have crossed 2400 after the second round. If, if, if…

This rating hunt is not helping my nervous system. I don’t want to obsess about every single rating point, but not thinking about the rating when I’m this close is well… impossible. I never had to play this rating game before, and I’m not good at it. I refused to participate even when it came to the NM title. I didn’t withdraw when I crossed 2200, and yes, I did lose the following game and didn’t make NM in that tournament, but I succeeded in the next one. No regrets there.

Still, my FIDE is not miles away from 2400, and I’ll have plenty of chances this summer.

The Curse of Move 41

If one move is traditionally thought to be cursed in chess, it is move 40. Generally, it is the last move before the time control. In the midst of the time scramble, people are supposed to blunder. It has happened many, many times at all levels… The solution? Have more time on your clock? I’m not going to talk about finding a magic cure to the time trouble disease here. That’s near impossible. I am going to talk about a different phenomenon.

A more dangerous psychological trap, however, lies right after the time control. The time control has been reached, and the time scramble is over. You made it. You survived. You can breathe and relax. Now you have a lot of extra time, and it’s time to crunch the position out, right?

Not really. Right after the time control, you may not be so focused, and you can easily miss things.  Perhaps it’s because now you have time, and the worst is supposedly over with. Or maybe you’re mad at yourself because of what happened in the time scramble that your mind is stuck at a different position. You could also be thinking mainly about the variations and ideas you found before the time control and don’t consider anything new. There’s no easy explanation, but it just happens.

It’s better to take a little break. Go to the bathroom, walk around, look at the other games… You’ll come back to the board refreshed, and you’ll see things anew and more clearly.

My first big experience with this phenomenon was actually on move 42, because move 41 was essentially forced.

Brodsky, David (2249) – Katz, Alex (2380) Bradley Open 2014

Katz

White to play

White has a solid edge with his pawn mass and more active king, but where’s the win? I thought I had messed things up, and now I had nothing! Wrong.

Mentally, I was stuck somewhere before the time control where I thought I had lost my advantage. Where was my mistake?

I played 42.Kb4? Bxd4 43.Nxd4 Nb2 and for some reason accepted Alex’s draw offer. White still has a big advantage over there, but I was busy making excuses to myself to take the draw. “I am tired”, “This is objectively a draw…”, “I don’t want to lose this one…”

Instead, had I looked with a fresh head, I probably would have found the winning move 42.Bg1! after which black loses a piece. The black bishop and knight are quite inconveniently positioned. If 42… Bxa3, after 43.Kb3 Bc5 44.Kxa4, the white knight defends the bishop. That’s why the bishop must go to g1.

More recent examples have been more painful… by a cruel coincidence, this one was at the same location in the same round (round 3) over two years later.

Samadashvili, Martha (2147) – Brodsky, David (2387) Hartford Open 2016

Martha

Black to play

We survived the time scramble. Some mistakes were made, but no pieces were blundered! Phew. Now, I for some reason felt optimistic about my winning chances here, which are near nonexistent.

White’s plan is to play Rh1 followed by Rxh5 and mate me. Solution: play 41… h4?? with the idea that after 42.Rh1 black has 42… h3, and if 42.gxh4 Rf2 43.Ke5 g3, black has some noise going with his passed pawn. Where’s the problem?

I discovered it after Martha played 42.Re5! threatening Rh5#. There was nothing I could do about it. After 42… Kh7 43.Kf7 I had to resign.

I was transfixed by the ideas I had discovered in the time scramble, namely the idea that white will go Rh1 and mate me. I was relieved I made it through the time scramble without any blunders that my sense of danger went down, and my optimism went a little too high…

What is more dangerous in this situation: pessimism or optimism? I gave one example of each.

I’d say that optimism is more dangerous. When you are pessimistic, you are most likely mad enough at yourself to look hard for something good. However, when you are optimistic, you are happy enough about your position to not notice some of your opponent’s resources…

Seeing those games, don’t expect me to blunder like that after move 40! I, like everyone, will make some mistakes, but a quick five minute break will help me make better decisions after the time control.

Moral of the story is to take a break after the time control and take a fresh look at the position. Spend a little bit of your extra time to refresh yourself; it’s better than staring at the position with your mind still stuck somewhere around move 30. You won’t always make the perfect decision after the time control; that would simply be impossible. Refreshing your mind, however, will help you make better decisions.

P.S. Before taking a break, make sure you actually reached the time control. There are better ways to join the club of Nakamura (orange juice against Vallejo), Carlsen (thinking there was a second time control after move 60), Ivanchuk (forgetting a move on his scoresheet), and many other top players.

Opposite Colored Bishops

Opposite colored bishop endings are supposed to be boring and drawish in their raw form, but… Well, let’s have a look at my last tournament

In my last article, I mentioned I beat 3 GMs in a row with opposite colored bishops. Two with a pair of rooks on the board, and one with pure opposite colored bishops.

I’ve had my fair share of opposite colored bishop endgames, some with rooks and some without. Some were boring, but some were actually pretty interesting. Before the Philadelphia Open, I hadn’t had any opposite colored bishop endgames in a while, and it was time for compensation…

The opposite colored bishop content in the GM Paragua game wasn’t too interesting. Three connected passed pawns on the queenside are just too much.

The real opposite colored bishop deal began in my next round game against GM Shimanov.

First of all, even the decision of going into an opposite colored bishop endgame is worth analyzing.

Shima1

I had gotten a powerful centralized position earlier in the game, and now it was coming to fruit. White’s f4-pawn is going to drop soon after black plays 35… Rd4 or 35… Qd4. Once the f4-pawn drops, the e5-pawn will drop too. A variety of endgames (pure opposite colored bishops, opposite colored bishops with rooks, maybe even with queens on) could come out. Which one is best?

OK, I wasn’t going perfectionistic here, because I was 99% sure the pure opposite colored bishop endgame was winning. The idea is that after I win the white e and f pawns, white’s king will have to babysit the h4 and g5 pawns which could easily get picked up by the black bishop if white’s king goes on vacation. Meanwhile, I have a majority on the queenside, and I’ll make a passed pawn which will overwhelm the white defenses.

My silicon friend doesn’t quite support my views, and I’m not surprised. Computers are not to be 100% reliable in opposite colored bishop endgames. But true, there might be a plan for black which is objectively better, but a win is a win. Besides, I thought a lot of other possibilities would likely boil down to the same opposite colored bishop endgame in maybe a slightly better version. Basically, I believed that just going into the opposite colored bishop endgame was good enough and there wasn’t much point in looking for something which might objectively be a tiny bit better.

The game went 35… Rd4 36.e6+!? (I had been expecting 36.Rc4 Bxf4+ 37.Kf2 Qxe2+ 38.Bxe2 Bxe5 39.Rxd4 Bxd4+ which is similar to the game) 36… Ke7 (36… Kxe6 can be met with something like 37.Kg2, where black can’t take the f4-pawn due to the awkwardness of the pin) 37.Rc4 Bxf4+ 38.Kf2 Qxe2+ 39.Bxe2 Rxc4 40.Bxc4 b5 41.Be2 Kxe6

Shima2

Here we are in the opposite colored bishop endgame. However, it turns out not to be as easy as I thought it should have been. The problem is that it isn’t so easy to make a passed pawn on the queenside. If white gets his bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal, he can go to f7 and pick up my g6-pawn. That could through a wrench in the works, and I knew I had to be careful about that.

The endgame still turns out to be winning. I spent the next few moves dancing around, trying to get an idea what white’s defenses were like, admittedly without making any concrete progress. I missed easier wins on a couple of occasions, but here’s where I struck:

Shima3

The black bishop on e3 is nicely placed; it restricts the white king from getting to the queenside. I went 52… Kd6 53.Be2 bxa4 54.bxa4 Ke5

Shima4

White’s only resource here is 55.Bc4 going after the black pawns. That’s the problem I mentioned above. However, black gets through after 55… Ke4 (further restricting the white king) 56.Bf7 c5

Shima5

If 57.Bxg6, white will have no choice but giving his bishop up for the pawn after 57… c4 58.Bf7 c3 59.Bb3 Kd3. GM Shimanov tried 57.Kg2, which puts up more resistance but ultimately does not save the game. Here’s how it ended.

In the middlegame, opposite colored bishop are good for attacking. The logic behind it is that the attacker attacks on the color of his bishop, and it is difficult for the defender to protect those squares. This holds true even if there are fewer pieces on the board, and in the very next round on the very same day, I got first-hand experience with that with white against GM David Berczes.

Berczes1

White is a pawn up and has pressure against the b5-pawn. The problem, however, is white’s king safety. The white bishop is pinned on d1, meaning that until white unpins, his rook is occupied. If Black goes 30… Rc1 31.Kg2 Rxc3 32.Rxb5, white still retains his extra pawn and his pieces are getting more coordinated. However, I was worried what would happen if black waited with 30… Kf7 (or Kf8). The point is that after 31.Kg2 Ra2+, white doesn’t have anything better than going back with 32.Kh1 (32.Kf3??? Rf2# is not a good idea; 32.Kh3? Bg1 is really asking for trouble; If 32.Kf1 Rf2+ 33.Ke1 Rxh2 34.Rxb5 Bf2+ black will grab a lot of pawns and white is in danger of getting worse). Instead of 31.Kg2, white has random waiting moves like 31.h4, but nothing really looks convincing).

Instead, the game went 30… Be3? 31.Kg2 Ra2+ 32.Kf3!

Berczes2

The difference here is that black doesn’t have mate with Rf2 because his bishop is hanging. White has a solid advantage here. Things further went my way, and we eventually reached this position.

Berczes3

Two pawns up and a nice passer, it should be winning for white, right? Well, it isn’t easy, again due to white’s king being weak. Black is planning to pester the white king with checks (Rf1, Rf2). White can escape by putting his king on h3, but that’s not reliable. Black will try to go Bg1, attacking h2 with nasty effects. I played 42.Bd3 but after 42… Rd2 I decided to repeat with 43.Bc2 Rf2 and then played 44.Rc6 attacking the black bishop, trying to throw a wrench in the works. The game went 44… Be3 45.Bd3 Rd2 46.Bf1

Berczes4

White has stopped the checks, but here liquidation started to occur after 46… g5

A few moves later, we reached this position:

Berczes5

Now, the king safety situation has been completely reversed! Black’s king is now more vulnerable than white’s.

Black can play 55… Rxb6 56.Re4+ Kd3, because the bishop defends the rook in case of discovered check. However, white can just play 57.Kg2, and it isn’t easy for black to play. Black’s king is not going to be safe anytime soon; there are a lot of opportunities for him to blunder something, and white has two extra passed pawns!

Instead, GM Berczes bailed out with 55… Bxf4? 56.Re4+ Kd5 57.Rxf4 Ke5 58. Rf1 Rxb6

Berczes

This is the position I showed you in my previous article. White is winning, but it isn’t so easy. I managed to get through, but getting into this infamous endgame was a first.

The moral of the story is not all opposite colored bishop endgames are drawn! Don’t be afraid to go for a really promising opposite colored bishop endgame just because they are supposed to be drawish. As the defender, don’t automatically assume that you can easily draw all of them. Also, king safety matters in opposite colored bishops, even if there are only a pair of rooks on the board.

I’M an IM (Almost)

The Philadelphia Open, which is always held over Easter, is a popular 9-round norm tournament. It is also generally not one of my greatest tournaments. And that’s an understatement. If I made a list of my top 5 worst tournaments, 2 would be the Philly Open (2013 and 2015 to be more precise). Let’s just say I was hoping that this tournament wouldn’t join the club nor did I wish to test my abilities to recover from a horrible start.

I apologize ahead of time, but I will have to save some of the games for next time. There were just too many critical moments I would like to highlight, but you have only that much time to read this article and I need to hit the publish button at some point…

Rounds 1-2: Warmup

In round 1, I had white vs. Kevin Yang (2264 USCF) (2016 FIDE).

I didn’t commit harakiri this time, but still…

Yang

White to play

OK, I had some better ways to play before this moment, but here’s where things went wrong. After 27.Kd3, white is a little better. However, I thought I should have more and played 27.e5? completely missing 27… Rb5! winning my d5-pawn. Fortunately, white has enough compensation for a draw, which is what happened, but he has nothing more. Here we go again. A draw to a lower rated opponent just like last year. Last year I started with 3 draws straight all against lower rated opponents.

That just added to our Wednesday list of unfortunate events: closed roads, a long list of forgotten things, and an urgent care visit for my brother (which turned out fine).

In round 2, I had black vs. Alex Wang (2121 USCF) (1985 FIDE). My prep actually worked this game; I  thought he’d play the line he played, and since the round was at noon, I had a lot of time to doodle around in ChessBase. I won without any major problems.

Rounds 3-5: The rampage and opposite colored bishops galore!

In round 3, it was time to face the GMs. I had white vs. GM Mark Paragua (2627 USCF) (2521 FIDE).

Chaos. Chaos. Chaos. Here’s where the drama got spicy and gathered quite a few confused spectators:

Paragua1

White to play

This position is totally unclear and could go either way. White is a pawn up, but the black bishop on f6 is a really good piece. My threat was to play e5 Bxe5 f6, where I both attack the black rook and have mate threats on g7. The game went 24… Qe5 25.Rd5 Qf4 26.e5 Bh4 27.f6 Bf2!

Paragua2

White to play

A sneaky intermezzo. Now, if 28.Qg2, black can go 28… Bxe1 29.Bxc8 g6, and white no longer has Qxe1. The position is probably still unclear, but it didn’t appeal to me for white. Instead, I played 28.Rd4!? offering an exchange which black can take in two ways. I know it looks like complete lunacy, but it has a point. White actually has decent compensation if black grabs the exchange. Anyway, GM Paragua backed out of it by playing 28…Bxg1 29.Rxf4 Bxh2.

Soon after, we reached the following position.

Paragua3

Black to play

White has some pull here. The pawn is a problem, as it can possibly walk up to e7, and if black takes on e6, he loses the h7-pawn and gets exposed on the 7th rank. The game went 36… Bxb3 37.cxb3 fxe6 38.Bxe6+ Kh8 39.Bf5 Rd8 40.Rxh7+ Kg8 41.Ra7

Paragua4

Black to play

White will win the a6-pawn soon and will have 3 connected passed pawns on the queenside. Black’s one f-pawn is no match. I soon won the game.

Oops. I had just broken one of my norm rules – lose to all Filipino GMs. More on that later.

My reward for playing until midnight and beating a GM: the next round, I got to play the top seed, GM Alex Shimanov (2718 USCF) (2650 FIDE) with black! I also made it behind the ropes, where I would stay for the rest of the tournament.

Here’s the point where I took over:

Shimanov1

Black to play

A somewhat unusual position. White has the bishop pair and has grabbed serious territory, but his bishop on c1 and rook on a1 aren’t in the game yet. White is thinking of going f5, so I decided to prevent that by playing 21… f5 myself. I had expected GM Shimanov to capture en passant, but instead he played 22.b3 Nc5 23.e5 Rfd8 24.Qe2

Shimanov2

Black to play

I thought this should be good for black, as white’s bishop pair doesn’t have much scope in this closed position. Now, what to do? My pieces are probably going to get kicked back soon, especially my c5-knight. Where would it like to go? The e4-square!

I played 24… Nd5!. The point is that if white plays 25.Nxd5 cxd5, my knight is going to be extremely secure on the e4-square, and I really like black’s position. The game went 25.Bb2 Nxc3 26.Bxc3

Shimanov3

Black to play

A pair of knights has been traded, and the e4-square thing seems like it won’t be happening. However, it is happening after my move 26… Ne4!. The point is if white plays 27.Bxe4 fxe4 28.Qxe4, black goes 28… Qxh3, which is deadly. GM Shimanov played 27.Be1, but after 27… Rd4 black is clearly on top. How I won the rest will be saved for next time!

This was my highest win by both USCF and FIDE in my career! That was a solid boost!

Round 5 was an even longer game than the previous two, and it ended in yet another victory for me. I was white vs. GM David Berczes (2587 USCF) (2500 FIDE), and it was a long grind with rooks + opposite colored bishops. I’ll save most of this game for my next article whose topic will be (surprise surprise) about opposite colored bishops, but I just want to show you the end:

Berczes

White to play

This endgame is winning for white (technically mate in 30 according to tablebases), but it is not as easy as it looks, thanks to the infamous wrong-colored bishop. I had seen a couple random examples of this in top games, but I couldn’t quite remember the winning technique. However, the good news was I had about 40 minutes on the clock to figure things out, while GM Berczes was down to 3(!) seconds (with a 10 second delay). The ride wasn’t that bad, and if you want to take a look…

I was on a roll! My performance was in the stratosphere! In the next round, I was black against GM Angel Arribas Lopez (2553 USCF) (2498 FIDE). 3 GMs in a row, what’s another one?

Round 6: the messup

Let’s just say I was the first game done in the Open Section. And it was not a short GM draw.

One excerpt should explain this game: the positon after move 16.

Arribas Lopez

Black to play

Have fun playing this for black! Spoiler: it’s dead lost for him, and I was black :(.

Yeah, that was a combination of me forgetting my preparation and not turning my brain on in time. Accidents like this happen from time to time, and they usually suck. Still 3 out of 4 against GMs!

Rounds 7-8: “solidifying”

Round 7 was not very solid. That’s why I put the double quotes there. I was white against IM Daniel Gurevich (2530 USCF) (2465 FIDE) who was, like me, fighting for a norm and at that point had a GM Norm performance.

Gurevich1

White’s position is pretty awful. Any bidders? After 27… Rxg1+ 28.Qxg1 Bxd4 29.cxd4 Nf5, white has a long road of suffering ahead of him. Instead, Daniel went 27… Rdg7? 28.Rxg7 Rxg7 29.Nc2!

Gurevich2

Now, it isn’t so bad for white. The game went 29… Qxd1 30.Rxd1 Rg2?

Gurevich3

What’s the catch? Daniel missed my next move 31.Ne1! winning material. White is probably winning here, but it isn’t as easy as I thought it should be after 31… Rxb2 32.Bxc5 Rxa2. I missed a couple accurate winning continuations a few moves later, messed it up, and the position went back to equality. Neither one of us messed it up enough after that to change the end-result.

Not exactly the cleanest game, but at the end, we were both relieved with a draw, as we were both lost at one point or another. After getting smashed in the morning, I was glad I didn’t lose both games on Saturday.

There were only 2 rounds to go, so it was time for norm number-crunching. Here’s what my status looked like:

An average of at least 2480 guaranteed me an IM Norm even if I lost my last two games. Under any other reasonable circumstances, 0.5/2 would be enough for an IM Norm. Interestingly enough, I reached this very same scenario (0.5 out of 2 guarantee) when I scored my two previous norms.

Scoring 1.5/2 against an average of at least 2526 would give me a GM Norm. Otherwise, I needed 2/2.

Round 8: a solid draw with black against GM Kayden Troff. OK, I was worse the entire game and didn’t have any real chances to win, but I held on.

My last IM Norm was secure! I would need to lose to someone unrealistically low not to get it, and there simply wasn’t such a person with 5.5 points. One round to go!

I knew that in order to get a GM Norm, I’d need to win against someone with a FIDE of 2560 or higher. To top that off, my FIDE would cross 2400, meaning I’d become an IM! Not easy at all, but with the white pieces I’d have my shot…

Looking at the pairings, playing a 2560 or higher looked unlikely. It turns out I did get to play someone who met the requirement…. GM Ruifeng Li, rated 2565 FIDE. With black.

“Don’t even joke about me getting double black today!” – Me sometime shortly before the start of the 8th round talking to a friend.

Desperate must-win games with black generally don’t look pretty for black (i.e. Carlsen-Karjakin game 4 of the tiebreaks).

My winning attempts backfired, and I was much worse by move 20 without any realistic hopes of winning the game. I defended for a while, but after the time control, I missed my chance to greatly improve the quality of my position and probably hold the draw. Instead, my move was most likely the losing mistake, and Ruifeng capitalized on it.

Where does this put me?

Philly Norm

Me getting my norm from Colonel David Hater

This was my last IM Norm. I got my first IM Norm at the NY International in June 2016 and my GM norm from the Washington Chess Congress in October 2016, which can be applied to both IM and GM title. Assuming all the paperwork goes through, I’ll be an IM-Elect! Once my last two FIDE tournaments get rated, my FIDE rating will be 2380, 20 points away from the required 2400. My title will be conditionally approved and become official the moment I reach 2400 FIDE (even in the middle of a tournament).

How difficult is it to get the rating? That depends. In order to get a norm, one needs not only to play really, really well, but he has to do so in a tournament where all the technicalities align: number of foreigners, titled players, ratings, etc. None of that matters for the rating. You don’t need 9-round tournaments or foreigners or titled players. What you do need is consistency.  Unfortunately, consistence and my FIDE rating don’t seem to go together. My FIDE graph says it all.  If you play badly, you won’t end up losing a norm or two, but you may find yourself at the bottom of one of your rating valleys being further away from your goal than you were a month ago.

Congrats also to Andrew Hong for getting an IM Norm with an extra half-a-point and 2 rounds to spare!

Last but not least, I must admit that I am a fraud. When I got my GM norm, I made a guide on how to get an IM/GM Norm… except that I disobeyed 5 out of my 8 rules this tournament!

To make up for that, I’ve decided to revise it.

My guide to getting IM/GM Norms (based on a strong statistical sample of 2 3):

  1. Get white against a significantly lower rated player in round 1, and win or draw a low-quality game.
  2. Draw round 2 as black against an IM (suffering is allowed). Wow, in this tournament, I didn’t even get black against an IM. I should throw this one out.
  3. Blow a winning position in round 3 as white and draw it.  Yet another problem with my round 3 game!
  4. Beat a foreign IM/GM with black in round 4. YES!!!
  5. Win against the same opponent, preferably someone you have a pathetic score against, in round 7. I never played Daniel Gurevich before, so this one can go to the wastebasket.
  6. Lose to all Filipino GMs you play. Oops… I need to find some other pattern(s) in my losses in these tournaments.
  7. Have at least 3 games where you prepare for something extensively, and your opponent doesn’t play it. In at least one of those games your prep should end on move 2 (or earlier #1.g4). Your prep ending on move 3 in another game is also a good sign. Have 2 games where you didn’t prepare for your opponent at all due to last-minute repairing.
  8. Get lucky! No problem there!

Clearly, my conclusions were completely wrong, but now I know exactly what to do next time :).