U16 Olympiad: the Second Half & Final Thoughts

Before the rest day, everything was good. We had miraculously defeated the top seed Uzbekistan and were tied for first with 9/10 match points. The day after the rest day, however, was absolutely brutal. I mean really brutal.

In the morning, we played Ukraine. After some adventures on the lower boards, the score was 1.5-1.5. Yours truly, after being marginally better for the entire game, lost control over the position and overreacted by blundering in an endgame that was, in reality, a fairly easy draw.

Matviishen
When you lose this kind of position with white…

It was a setback, but we were still tied for 4th. Then we got to play Iran. I lost perhaps the worst game I’ve played this year. Pretty quickly after my defeat, things went downhill on the other boards too. Long story short, we got crushed 3.5-0.5.

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Before the start of round 7 against Iran. Unfortunately, this mood didn’t last very long…

 

 

We had lost 2 matches in one day. To top it off, I personally had lost 3 games in a row, which is rare and never fun. Looking at the standings at the evening team meeting, we thought we’d get an easy pairing next round. Instead, we got Armenia, which was the 6th seed. Talk about a bad end of a horrible day.

That was the final nail in our coffin when it came to our medal chances. I managed not to lose a 4th game in a row (yay!)—I actually had very good winning chances, but I didn’t play it the best way, and it ended in a draw. Board 2 was also a draw (after some wild adventures), but we unfortunately lost on both boards 3 and 4 and lost the match 3-1.

IMG_1085
An accurate summary of the second half of the tournament…

In the last round, we got to play Hungary. We won the match 3-1. I finally won a game, despite blowing a very large advantage and even getting worse in the process.

Overall, we finished 10th. Uzbekistan didn’t let their loss to us stop them from winning the rest of their matches and deservedly winning gold. India won silver, and the massively underrated Chinese team won bronze. Our board 2 IM Hans Niemann finished with 7.5/9 and won a bronze medal for board 2—a medal which he forgot in his hotel room 12 hours later. Looking back at the final crosstable, we ended up playing 5 out of the 7 top teams, beating the overall winners, drawing the 4th place team, and losing to the 5th, 6th, and 7th teams.

Olymp Final Standings

Despite not playing as well as I had hoped to, I believe I still contributed to the team by facing tough opposition on the first board and helping with my teammates’ preparation. It’s hard to put in words what this tournament meant to me. Just spending a week doing chess, chess, and more chess (with a little bit of schoolwork spiced in) was fun. I got to meet so many people from around the globe, some of them the very best in my age group. Sorry American tournaments, but this is really hard to beat this experience. I really wish I could go next year, but unfortunately I’ll be too old.

Big thanks to my teammates and team coach GM Kudrin!

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Before the closing ceremony. No longer in matching uniforms, back to individual tournaments…

Now I’m back home and have settled back down to boring normal life (yeah, I had too much fun there for my own good). It’s time to relax and enjoy the upcoming holiday season—and study some chess of course. Time to regroup!

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U16 Olympiad: Free Day after the Storm

The tournament goes on. The smog is gone, the food continues to be good, and we’ve settled into a routine. The English in the hotel continues to provide entertainment. Some of the food translations really give Google Translate a run for its money…

IMG_4577(1)
Who knew ovens tasted so good? I already had a chicken oven, a turkey oven, lamb frying, and many more delicacies that I had never even heard of.

The chess got even more unpredictable than the translations. We scored a massive upset against Uzbekistan, winning 2.5-1.5. At the end of that match, we were leading 2-1, and I was defending an unpleasant endgame, but I held, and we won the match. The following match with Belarus ended in a 2-2 tie after some serious drama. I’m surprised no spectators had heart attacks while watching this match… Yours truly contributed by gambling in a drawn endgame when the team didn’t look so good. Then everything turned 180 degrees, my game included

Today is a rest day. We went for an excursion of Konya. We visited a mosque/museum and a butterfly garden, and in the process we bought souvenirs, trashed talked, socialized with other teams, and just had a good time.

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IMG_4613
Not bad!

Tomorrow we’re back to business, another double round day. We’re tied for first with Belarus, and we get to play Ukraine. Onward!

Fingers crossed. Wish us luck.

U16 Olympiad: Hanging in There

The US team arrived in Konya, Turkey, 2 days ago for the U16 Olympiad, and we’ve been quite busy since. The first evening we managed to sneak in an exciting dance performance, courtesy of the organizers. The hotel is nice (except for slow elevators, but taking the stairs provides us with some exercise). The food is good, and the playing hall is literally right next door, so there’s no need to deal with buses. That sure helps relax the schedule. As for jet lag and the smog that hit us and Konya today, well… they’re not as good, but hopefully tomorrow there won’t be any trace of either.

Enough weather, time for chess. We’ve made it through the first three matches and have won them all. Today we survived the first of the two double round days. Currently, I’m at 3 draws (the games were actually much more exciting than the result suggests).

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The Round 1 Scoreboard
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The start of round 1

Tomorrow, we are playing the #1 team, Uzbekistan. Wish us luck!

Onward! Here’s the official website if you want to follow. I’ll be back, internet-permitting.

What’s Cooking for Thanksgiving? Turkey!

My Thanksgiving/early December schedule usually consists of going to Philadelphia for the National Chess Congress and then playing the Marshall Chess Club Championship. Come to think of it, I’ve done it for the past 4 (!) years. Those tournaments are both FIDE rated and usually attract plenty of GMs and other strong players. My adventures playing in them have ranged from drawing GM Gata Kamsky at the National Chess Congress to battling snowstorms while trying to get to the Marshall. This year, however, will be different. I’ll be playing the World U16 Olympiad in Konya, Turkey.

Go to Turkey. Represent the US. Play chess for eight days with a rest day in the middle (which is almost unheard of in the US). All in one go. On top of that, since I’ll be too old to play next year, this is literally a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. What’s not to like about it? Sorry, American circuit, but I’ll pass this year …

Out of the 44 teams registered so far, we’re ranked 8th. I’ll still be in the US on Thanksgiving (being in Turkey on Thanksgiving would be so thematic), but I’ll be flying to Turkey the next day. I’ll get settled in on Saturday, November 24th, and the fun will begin the next day.

Just like the regular Olympiad, the U16 Olympiad is a team tournament, where teams consist of 5 players, 4 of which play each round. The tournament has 9 rounds played over 8 days, with a rest day (never had one of those in the US!) and two double round days. The US’s lineup is:

  • Me
  • Hans Niemann
  • Wesley Wang
  • Josiah Stearman
  • Akshita Gorti
  • GM Sergey Kudrin (coach)

Believe it or not, I’ve actually played my teammates 14 times in total and the coach 12 times! Now we’ll be on the same side…

This isn’t the first time I’m going to play abroad, and I have no intention of it being the last time either. This kind of tournament is a brand new experience for me (the US Amateur Team East and this really aren’t comparable).

Time and internet permitting, I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going. Stay posted here at Chess^Summit! The fun begins on November 25th

Wish us luck!

More Fall Adventures

After my recent rough streak, my luck finally turned this weekend at the Eastern Chess Congress in Princeton, NJ.

First rounds are generally rocky affairs for me (and others). This one fortunately followed the principle that higher rated players always find a way…

Girsh

In heavy time trouble, my opponent blitzed out 36.Nxe2? running into 36… Re8! winning the e3-pawn. 36.Kxe2! was completely fine for white. Even that endgame down the e3-pawn is not very dangerous for white, but I was able to consolidate and win.

In round 2 against Peter Boris (2046 USCF), everything was going according to plan, until, when faced with too many choices for my own good, I went greedy.

Boris 1

White’s position is fantastic here. He has the bishop pair, a powerful knight anchored on b5, and very active pieces all around. And black’s c8-bishop isn’t even developed yet. What more could I want after only 20 moves? But what to do now? There are so many good options such as 21.Rad1, 21.Nd6, 21.Qg3, etc. After any one of those moves white is borderline winning. Instead, I went for 21.Qd6?! which was met with 21… Ne6!. 22.Qxb6?? would lose the queen to 22… Ra6!, so to justify my previous move, I played 22.Bxe6?! Bxe6 23.Qxb6 Nh4

Boris 2

White has won a pawn, but his king is getting drafty. Black is even threatening Nxg2 in this position! I decided to pull my queen back to civilization with 24.Qd6. The queens were traded after 24… Rfd8 25.Qf4 Qxf4 26.Bxf4

Boris 3

Though white is still better here, it’s a far cry what it was before. Though I still went on to win this time, the moral of the story is clear. Greed isn’t always good!

In round 3, I got to play up against GM Fidel Corrales (2595 USCF). My pro tip for this kind of situation is not to lose, and unfortunately I didn’t follow my own advice.

Corrales

After going for a shaky/outright disastrous idea out of the opening, I managed to stabilize the position to this endgame. This looks like a textbook good knight vs. bad bishop endgame, but black has the c-file. To “liberate” my bishop, I played 26… Rc4?!. Though it’s nice to revive that bishop, black is still worse after 27.Rxc4 dxc4 28.Rg3 g6 29.Re3. White’s big advantage is that he has clear plans to solidify and improve his position, white black doesn’t. Long story short, after a few more errors, I went down.

Instead of that, I should’ve swallowed my pride and traded all the rooks with 26… Rxc3 27.Rxc3 Rc8. Yes, I know it looks ugly and that white is on top, but with some accurate play from black (i.e. going …f6), white shouldn’t be able to get through.

After winning round 4 and taking a bye in round 5, GM Corrales went on to win clear first! For me, this loss was not pleasant at all, especially in a short 5-round tournament. I made the best of things and managed to beat two 2200+ opponents in the last two rounds.

Xiexin
White to play and win!
Ardito
Bust white’s ambitious play.

By scoring 4/5, I gained 3 measly rating points. Though you won’t see me obsessing about rating anytime soon, it’s annoying that I need 4/5 to maintain my rating, which has been the theme in almost all 5-round tournaments I have played this year. The pros are that you can experiment with openings more freely in these kinds of tournaments, and you do gain experience after all. The cons are that you have to score heavily.

There are unfortunately only that many tournaments on this side of the pond that have strong fields, not to mention norm chances, and most of those are clustered during the summer. Well, life as a big cat is tough :(.

Well, it’s nice to have a decent tournament after a rough streak. Onward!

Answers: In the first puzzle, 18.Bb4! wins. After 18… Re8 19.Ng5, black can’t defend f7. He could pitch a pawn with 18… c5 or give up the exchange, but he’s lost either way.
In the second puzzle, 13… Ne7! simply wins. 14.Qb5+ is met with c6, and after 14.Bb5+ Kf8, white is just down too much material.

Fall Cleanup

After barely missing a GM Norm at the Washington International, my play took a downward turn. September turned out to be full of freak blunders and missed opportunities (though not always for me), and by the end of the month, things really were getting wacky…

Botta
When your opponent plays 42… Re6?? running into 43.Nc5!… what can I say?

After that, I wanted to turn over a new leaf at Washington Chess Congress, the 9-round norm tournament where I magically got my GM Norm two years ago. I was hoping that all the junk was out of my system

My first round game against Charles Bouzoukis (2160 USCF, 2054 FIDE) was a quick and powerful win.

Bozoukis
Playing 18.Ne6! felt great!

The excitement wasn’t only in the playroom alone. Things got eventful that night when an emergency alarm went off at 1:30 am! Trust me, that was about as fun as it sounds. On the way down to the lobby (from the 10th floor), we learned that it was a false alarm, but at that point, it was quicker to go down to the lobby and take an elevator back upstairs than to walk. The alarm was caused by contractors, who among other things covered the results board with a tarp, so I couldn’t even find out how others did 😦. Well I guess there’s a first for everything…

In round 2, I got black against Andrew Samuelson (2309 USCF, 2186 FIDE). Things went great for me when he blundered a pawn on move 13! After that, however, I didn’t play very accurately and let him stabilize—into a situation where I couldn’t really consolidate my extra pawn. After some inaccuracies from both sides, the game ended in a draw. I was kicking myself for not winning this one. Though this was naturally bad for norm chances, making a draw in the second round with black is not a big deal.

In round 3, I got black (again) against Arvind Jayaraman (2331 USCF, 2169 FIDE). We reached a fairly murky position out of the opening, and then this happened:

Arvind CJ

Black has two pawns for a piece, and I was naturally waiting for the right moment to take the exchange on d3. Black’s pawn on b3 looks nice at first, but it isn’t actually of that much use (pushing it will most likely result in its loss). Play is mainly in the center for the moment. A direct plan of action like 18… Bxd3 19.Qxd3 c4 20.Qd2 exd5 21.Nxd5 Bc5 with an unclear position was most appropriate. Instead, after a long think, I blundered horrendously with 18… Qc7??, missing 19.Bf4!. I was either losing an exchange or a key central pawn by playing 19… e5 (I chose the latter), and there was no coming back from this.

Rest in peace tournament 😥. After such a game, I needed a win to pull myself up, and I did the job against Ernest Colding (2229 USCF, 2035 FIDE). It was a crushing 24-move win for me.

The 1:30 am false emergency alarm was not the only first this tournament. During the 5th round, the lights started seriously misbehaving. One half of the room suddenly got much darker. And then the other half went darker. Then whatever light was left went out as well. We had to stop the clock 3 times before everything went back to normal. Yeah, that was… interesting.

Fortunately, my play was better and more consistent than the lights. I won with black against Evan Park (2165 USCF, 2065 FIDE). He had excellent opening preparation, but he let me get too much “noise” going in the early middlegame, and I crashed through.

I was back to 3.5/5, not a bad score. My norm chances were obviously dead, but chances for a trademark comeback were still there. In round 6, I got white against GM Jesse Kraai (2558 USCF, 2499 FIDE). My fairly loose play really wasn’t sound. I was fortunate to get to an equal endgame, which was soon drawn.

In round 7, I got black against IM Alex Ostrovskiy (2518 USCF, 2423 FIDE), and original play in the opening on my part really didn’t work out. I have no intention of repeating it…

Ostrovskiy 1

White is clearly much better here. He has more space, better placed pieces, black’s knight on a6 is offside for the moment, etc. 16.Ne5! attacking the d7-pawn is the strongest move, but instead, he played 16.bxa5 bxa5 17.Ne5. The most logical move 17… Qe7, defending the d7-pawn, did not appeal to me because white could play 18.c5, where he could relocate his knight to d6/b6 via c4 and combine that with play on the b-file. True, black can get his knight to d5, but that’ll only be consolation…

Because of that, I went for activity with 17… Qf4. The reason why playing Ne5 before trading was a good idea is because b6 hangs in these variations, practically ruling out Qf4 ideas. Objectively speaking, it’s not good for black, but in this position nothing is. The game continued 18.Qe3 c5 19.Nxd7 Qxe3 20.fxe3 Rxf1+ 21.Rxf1 cxd4 22.exd4 Rd8

Ostrovskiy 2

After a forced sequence from moves 19-22, I’m winning my pawn back on d4. Obviously I’m not out of the woods here, but I managed to scrape out with a draw after 23.Ne5 Rxd4 24.Nc6 (24.Rb1! was stronger) 24… Rd7 25.Nxa5, where my activity was enough to keep white’s pawns at bay.

Phew! In round 8, I drew with white against GM Vladimir Belous (2627 USCF, 2530 FIDE). I may have had a few chances for an advantage, but I didn’t think very highly of my position and steered the game towards a draw. In the last round, I made a quick draw with black against IM Michael Mulyar (2472 USCF, 2384 FIDE), which concluded my 4-game drawing streak—this hadn’t been my plan, but from a rating perspective, it was a reasonable result, which did help to limit the damage.

This wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it wasn’t too bad either. I’m not quite sure what to make of my play as a whole, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ll be back! Without malfunctioning lights, alarms, or brains. Wish me luck.

Complicating Matters

Endgame defense can be difficult. Some endgames can be extremely tough to defend. In many, you may be able to spot a light at the end of the tunnel which saves a draw. However, there are times when you’re lost and conventional means won’t save you. Now, I’m not talking about insane swindles drawing from -5 positions. I’m talking about positions where playing the objectively best moves won’t necessarily help you.

What can you do in such positions? You’ve got to spice things up. You’ve got to create confusion. You have to make your opponent think and use his time. Your job is to make your opponent’s life as hard as possible. Is it unreasonable to assume that your opponent will let something slip after long hours of play and his time ticking away? Of course not. Besides, if you’re busted, what do you have to lose?

First, here’s an example of me on the receiving end of this from a couple years ago. After a wild fight (let’s not go there) against a strong IM, I emerged with a winning position. Here’s what happened:

PK 1

White is a pawn up, and more of black’s pawns are quite loose to say the least. Black’s only chance here is active play. 48.Ra6! is winning here. The point is that after 48… Kd5 49.Nxc6 Rf6, which looks like it wins the knight, white has 50.Ra8! attacking the bishop in return, and he’s just winning after that. I missed this idea, but I chose what seemed to be a reasonable path: 48.Rg7? going after the g6-pawn. Then I got hit with 48… Bf6 49.Rxg6 Ke7

PK 2

Black is giving up pawns left and right, but Rxc2 will save him. The b2-pawn will fall after that, ruining white’s winning chances. I ended up sacrificing an exchange with 50.Nxc6+ Kf7 51.Rxf6+ Kxf6. I did win black’s remaining queenside pawns at the cost of my c- and h-pawns. Though it wasn’t technically winning, I still had winning chances there, but I butchered those too and the game ended in a draw.

Now it’s not like this was a particularly complicated endgame, but I got bamboozled. All my opponent’s activity forced me to figure things out instead of just converting easily. Anyway, I had been lost earlier in the game, and went on to get my first IM Norm in that tournament, so everything ended happily…

A tricky pawn endgame

Hevia 1

I was black against a GM, had been much worse for most of the game, and after a difficult rook endgame reached this position. Though material is equal, black is in awful shape. His king is cut off along the 7th rank, while his counterpart is beautifully active on a5. Black’s pawns have barely gotten moving, while white has a passed pawn which is already on c5. Oh man.

How does white get through? One key idea is to go Ra7 with the idea of winning the a6-pawn. If black cleverly tries to stop that with …Kb8, white will go Rd7-d6, which (could) result in a winning pawn endgame. But ok, white can go 55.Ra7 right here, right now. The a6-pawn is going down, but there’s a catch: black is still kicking in the pawn endgame after 55… g4 56.Rxa6 Rxa6+ 57.Kxa6 h5. While white has connected passed pawns on the queenside, black is getting his own passer on the queenside, and only accurate calculation can determine who will win the race. Long story short, it boils down to a queen endgame after 58.b5 h4 59.b6 g3 60.hxg3 hxg3 61.Ka7 g2 62.b7+ Kd7 63.b8Q g1Q

Hevia 2

I saw all this during the game, and I thought it was a draw. I was, however, surprised after the game when I found out that this is mate in 44 according to tablebases. For me, queen + pawn vs. queen make up a mysterious class off endgames, where tablebases are more valuable than Dvorestky’s Endgame Manual. In this endgame, however, white’s queen will do an excellent job shielding the white king from checks (by “counterchecking” the black king), and white’s king will assist the queen in pushing the black king out and escorting the pawn to victory. Still, from the starting position, even getting here isn’t clear—not to mention the evaluation of the endgame.

Instead, my opponent played 55.Rh7. After 55… g4, the pawn endgames are now a completely different story. Still, 56.Ra7! ironically still wins here. The idea is that black is in zugzwang. If 56… Kb8, white goes 57.Rd7!, and the pawn endgame after 57… Kc8 (57… h5 runs into 58.Rh7!, after which black’s position collapses) 58.Rd6 Rxd6 59.cxd6 h5 60.Kxa6 h4 61.b5 g3 62.hxg3 hxg3 63.b6 g2 64.b7+ Kd7 65.b8Q g1Q, and even to my human eyes it’s pretty clear that white is winning after 66.Qc7+ Ke6 67.d7. Still, this is a long line which could easily get “fuzzy” in human calculation, and it’s not unlikely your opponent will miscalculate/hallucinate somewhere along the way. My opponent instead tried a different path 56.Ka4, which doesn’t blow the win but isn’t on the right track. He could attempt to sneak back around with Kb3, but it will run into …g3!, since after hxg3 Rxg3+, white obviously doesn’t have time to take the h6-pawn because he’s in check. He probably didn’t believe the critical lines were winning for him. The game continued 56… Kb8 57.Rf7 Kc8 58.Re7 Kd8 59.Re3? (this is what blows the win), and after 59… h5 I was actually completely all right, since I’ve finally managed to mobilize my pawns on the kingside. After 60.Rg3 we agreed to a draw.

While there were multiple paths to Rome for my opponent, they were all long and complicated. At the end of the day, that’s what saved me.

Mutual Confusion

Sometimes, things just get so complicated that neither you nor your opponent have any idea what’s going on. It can be a curse or a blessing (depending on whose calculations are more accurate), but if there are no reasonable alternatives, mutual confusion is not a bad idea.

Here’s a final example from one of my own games. I had been a bit worse for a while, and after both my opponent and I built up our positions a bit, things exploded.

Ludwig 1

(I was black) This goes to the old land of queen + knight vs. queen + bishop, filled with passionate debates about which combination is better… My personal rule of thumb is that, no matter the situation, whichever duo I have is worse. Just kidding, but it really depends on the situation. Here, white is for choice, not only because his queen + knight duo is better than queen + bishop, but because he has a passed b-pawn that is very dangerous. Black’s king is also fairly exposed, due to the kingside expansions, while white’s king is still fairly safe for the moment.

White is actually winning here with the move 50.Qb1!, hitting the f5-pawn and aiding the passer at the same time. After 50… Be6 51.hxg4 fxg4 52.b6 g3, however, it gets messy. The most natural line goes 53.b7 gxf2+ 54.Kxf2 Qf4+

Ludwig 2

The b-pawn is beyond black’s control, and white’s only job is to get his king to safety. The most natural move is to run back with 55.Kg1?, but that actually blows the win. After 55… Qxe3+ 56.Kh1, the desperado 56… h3! actually secures a draw! Yes, white can go 57.Qf1+ Ke7 58.b8Q, but after 58… hxg2+ 59.Qxg2 Qe1+ 60.Kh2 Qh4+, white can’t escape the checks.

Instead, white has to play 55.Ke2!, ironically going into the middle. The white knight, however, covers everything, and black has nothing. After 55… Bg4+ 56.Nxg4 Qxg4+ 57.Kf1, white’s king will run to the corner, and …h3 desperados no longer work, since black no longer has a bishop to provide backup.

Instead, my opponent played 50.hxg4? fxg4 51.b6!? (if 51.Qb1 black has Bg6! attacking the queen). Here’s where I returned the favor and slipped up as well.

Ludwig 3

51… Qxb6 52.Nxg4+ is obviously white’s idea, but I had 52… Kf5. What I missed was rather embarrassing: I thought that white had 53.Qxe5+ Kxg4 54.f3#, but the f-pawn is pinned. Oops!! After 52… Kf5, black is also all right after 53.Nxe5 Qe6 54.f4 Kxf4, where the situation looks scary but is actually harmless.

Instead of that, I played 51… Be6?, giving my opponent another chance to return to the winning variation by playing 52.Qb1!. I naturally didn’t know that that variation was winning during the game, and neither did my opponent, because he instead played 52.b7? Qb6 53.Qd1, giving up the b-pawn with the aim of collecting my kingside pawns instead. But after 53… g3! 54.Qf3+ Ke7 55.fxg3 hxg3 56.Qxg3 Qb1+ 57.Nf1 Qxb7, black is holding. The game was soon drawn.

These variations are naturally difficult to see during a game, especially after a long fight and with little time, and that’s what you’ve got to use to both ends. However, the moral of the story is clear: the more complicated the win is, the less likely your opponent will play it. Complications aren’t necessarily your enemy when defending. They can be a lifeline if conventional defensive means fail. And, as I hope these examples illustrate, complicating matters can save you half points here and there that just giving up wouldn’t do.