My Summer Warmup

Tonight, the New York International starts, and it’ll be the first in my string of 9-round summer norm tournaments. As a local warmup, I played the Northeast Open last weekend. It turned out to be a big success, though my games did contain a few hiccups. At least I didn’t blunder any rooks this time…

My round 1 game against Daniel Diskin (2091 USCF) was strange. The position was fairly tense and unclear out of the opening, but I came out on top.

Diskin 1

White has a very nice position here. The c-file is all his, black’s pieces are fairly passive, and black won’t be castling anytime soon. With his last move 31… g5, black wants to create counterplay on the kingside. Nevertheless, white has several good options here: 32.Kh1 gets the king off the g-file, 32.Nd2 gets the queen into action… Instead, my move 32.Nc5? was godawful. After 32… Nxc5 33.Rxc5 gxf4 34.gxf4 my opponent played 34… f5! swinging the queen over to the kingside.

Diskin 2

White doesn’t have a trace of an advantage here. Somehow I snuck out… The game went 35.Kh1 Qh7 36.Bb6. I felt that I had to create counterplay against the black king. After 36… Be7 37.Qf3, my opponent arguably made his first slip-up with 37… Kf7?!. Though this is objectively equal, black has to play extremely accurately not to be lost. I went 38.Rc7 Qh4 39.Qf1

Diskin 3

This is the critical position, and my opponent made the losing mistake with 39… Re8?. After 40.Bc5 Kf8 41.Bxe7+ Rxe7 42.Rc8+! Re8 43.Rc3, the h3-pawn is dropping, and there’s nothing black can do about it. Black is just lost, and I went on to win a couple moves later.

What was black’s defense? The threat of 40. Bc5 can be dealt with by going 39…Kg6, but what if 40.Bc5 anyway? 40… Bxc5 41.dxc5 doesn’t look pleasant at all. 40… Bd8 41.Rc6 doesn’t look like fun either. Black, however, has a third move that I completely missed: 40… Bg5!!. If 41.fxg5 Qe4+ 42.Kg1, black actually has forced mate with 42… Rh4!. That’s why white needs to go 41.Rc6! Re8 42.fxg5, after which black has a perpetual. Anyway, this is hard to see, especially in time trouble. After 37… Kf7 the only way out is this 40… Bg5 idea. That isn’t the case after a “normal” move, and that’s why I don’t like 37… Kf7 on general grounds.

That game took quite some work, but I was never in danger of losing. My round 2 game, on the other hand, was a different story. I got an awful position as black against Yefim Treger (2217 USCF).

Treger

Black is a pawn up, but his king is in the center and his development is lagging behind. White has an insane amount of compensation, but somehow I escaped from this nightmare alive. What’s more, I even came out on top! Not quite sure how that happened…

This was sort of a shaky start, but starting with 2/2 is nothing to complain about! My round 3 game against Arslan Otchiyev (2380 USCF) was nice. After sacrificing a pawn for a strong initiative, I accepted my opponent’s defensive exchange sacrifice and continued to play actively after that. After reaching the time control, I was winning, but it took another 34 moves to finish him off. This game really drained a huge amount of energy from me, and I’m glad this wasn’t a morning game. I’ll give you a little puzzle from after the time control:

Otchiyev

Is 47.Qe6 a good idea here? Is it winning? Would you play it? Does white have anything better?

The fire continued into round 4 against Max Lu (2266 USCF). Minus a minor blunder in the opening, everything was okay. Wait, minor blunder? Yeah I’ll show it to you…

Max Lu

Max played 11.Ne5? and after 11… Bb7 I was completely fine. 11.Qg5 is tempting and does look like a strong move, but it fails to 11… Nxc6 12.Qxg7 Ke7! 13.Qxh8 Bb7 14.Qg7 Nxd4!, after which white is in huge trouble. What did we both miss? The answer is at the end of the article.

A few moves down the road, we reached a critical moment.

Max Lu 2

White has grabbed space in the center, and his position looks okay on the surface. 17… e5 will be naturally met with 18.d5, and white is probably just better after that. Another more reasonable plan is to pile up pressure on the d4-pawn, but white will go Nc3-e2 to defend it. What to do? Preventing Nc3-e2 is the key. I correctly played 17… b4! severely restricting the white knight. After all, it is still undeveloped! The game went 18.a3 Qa4! (still restricting the knight) 19.Qe2 Rac8

Max Lu 3

White’s position isn’t fun at all here. Both 20.Nd2 and 20.Rc1 run into 20… Rxd4. What else to do? There’s 20.axb4 Qxa1 21.Nc3 which is sadly white’s best option. After 21… Qxd1 22.Nxd1 axb4, black has two rooks for a queen and is clearly much better. Max decided to go 20.e5 but that didn’t help at all. After 20… Nd5 21.Nd2 Qc2 22.axb4 axb4 23.Qf2 Qxb2, white is just lost.

Going into the last round, I had 4/4, and several players were at 3/4. An epic 9-move draw against GM Sergey Kudrin sealed the deal for me. What’s the conclusion? I’m not really sure. It feels great to win a tournament like this by a full point, but my first two rounds were shaky! My next challenge starts tonight at the New York International. Fingers crossed.

Answers

Round 3 game: Yes, 47.Qe6 is winning, and I did play it, but it isn’t white’s most convincing win—47.Rd3! is a total knockout and takes that honor. After the forced sequence 47… Qxe6 48.dxe6 Bc6 49.Rd6 Bb5 50.e7 Kg7 51.Rxa6 Kf7 52.Rb6, I felt that white was winning, and it turned out to be true. White will advance his king and pawns, and the black e5-pawn will become an endangered species. Once the pawn falls, as it did in the game, white is just winning.

Round 4 game: 11.Ne7! Bb7 12.Nc8!! was white’s powerful shot.

Max Lu 4

This deserves a diagram of its own! 12… Qc7 fails to 13.Bxb7 Qxb7 14.Nd6+, meaning that black has to give up the exchange with 12… Bxc8 13.Bxa8. He’ll have compensation, but he’s clearly much worse. Anyway, don’t feel bad at all if you didn’t see this one. I was completely oblivious to it!

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Rook Blunders at the East Coast Open

Chess took a backseat for a few weeks due to AP Exams. I was still studying chess, but I didn’t play for a while. Fortunately I wasn’t missing out on anything important. With the exams over, it was time to concentrate on chess again.

There are plenty of places to play over Memorial Day weekend. Of course, the Chicago Open is the big one, and I’m hoping to play in it one of these days. In the past I’ve played at the Massachusetts Championship and the Cherry Blossom Classic. This year I decided to give the newly established East Coast Open a shot. The tournament is organized by Maryland Chess, and I have had only the best experiences with them.

How did it go? The tournament was a bit strange for me. After a rough start, I managed to get my game rolling. My games were fairly short, but there were a few interesting moments.

Rounds 1 & 2

I won my first round against Robert Forney (2032 USCF, 1835 FIDE) in a fairly smooth game, even if some of my ideas were a little suspicious. I lost my second round game to GM Priyadharshan Kannappan (2620 USCF, 2530 FIDE). It was an interesting game, but long story short, I didn’t play well and got rightfully beaten.

A fascinating and strange game

My round 3 game, against FM Ivan Biag (2298 USCF, 2322 FIDE), meets the above description. I got a very nice position with white out of the opening and eventually reached the following position:

Biag 1

What’s the deal here? The d6-pawn is a thorn in black’s position, and he is really cramped. On the plus side, black has a knight on d5. How should white get through? It’ll certainly involve Bxd5, and the first move to consider is playing 25.Bxd5 right at this moment.

If 25… cxd5, then white is really happy. He piles his rooks on the c-file, and by the time black jams it up with Bc6, he’ll be able to sacrifice an exchange on c6. White will be dominating if he manages to do that, no question about it.

Black can also play exd5, and that’s where my problem lay. After Rde1 (or Rfe1, I don’t think there’s a real difference), black can go Re8 and Kf7-e6 on his next moves, barricading the white pawns. I saw that I have e6 Rxd6 Bc5 but wasn’t convinced after Rxe6 Bxf8 Rxf8. Still, white is better there, and maybe I should’ve gone for it.

Is this endgame actually winning? I asked the computer and even let it run overtime. It gave a wonderful evaluation of +1.80 and suggested 25.Be2. What? This really confused me. Isn’t white’s position supposed to revolve around Bxd5? The computer’s idea is to play in one order or another g3, Bf3, and h4. Black, in the meanwhile, can run with his king to the queenside, while white doesn’t gain much on the kingside. My silicon friend’s other top suggestions include 25.g3 (going along with operation Be2) and 25.Rc1 (a rook which goes back to e1 in a couple moves in the engine’s top line), neither of which particularly impress me.

I played it a bit against the engine, and it’s quite fascinating. I had to prod it to do something constructive (i.e. bring the king to the queenside), since it was suggesting seemingly random moves with no plan while giving everything the same high evaluation.

Is the position actually winning? I don’t have an objective answer to that, and it won’t be easy to find. Computers are useful for blunder checks and calculating potential sacrifices/forcing lines, but they won’t be too handy in finding a plan. The computer’s high evaluation doesn’t convince me that white is winning. One thing is clear: white has excellent winning chances, and in a practical game, figuring out the mathematical evaluation of the position is the least of white’s concerns. When given an opportunity to reach this kind of position, just go for it! Don’t obsess if you’re objectively winning. You have excellent winning chances and, with a bit of luck, your opponent will help you win.

In the game, I decided to open a second front which turned out not to be the wisest idea. I went 25.h3 with the idea of going g4 in the near future, and I was met with 25…Be8. Now, if 26.Bxd5, he’ll go 26…cxd5, and he’s in time to jam up the c-file with Bc6. I decided to continue engineering the g4 break which somehow helped black more than it did me. A few moves later we reached this position:

Biag 2

I was getting tired of all the threats, namely those against my f4-pawn, and I decided to jam things up on the kingside with 32.g5. If 32… h5, my plan was to swing back to the queenside and aim for Bxd5 at the right moment. Instead, my opponent played 32… hxg5 33.Rxg5 Rh8 trying to get play of his own.

Biag 3

Black may be planning to go Kg8 and Rgh7 with the idea of tying me up to the h3-pawn. That doesn’t seem to be a serious problem, since I can defend the pawn by putting a rook on the 3rd rank. My f4-pawn, however, is annoying. I decided to relocate my bishop from its idealistic home on the g1-a7 diagonal to d2 to defend the pawn. Looks good, right? I calmly played 34.Bc3?? casually forgetting about 34…Ne3. Oops!!! What just happened??

Now, had I been in my right mind, I would’ve just gone 35.Be2 or 35.Bd3, because after black takes the exchange, there’s no way he’s going to win. The position is too closed. Instead, I overreacted and went on a suicide run with 35.Bxe6??! (the ! is for creativity). This looks good, but that’s the only positive thing I can say about it. The game went 35… Nxf1+ 36.Kg2 Ne3+ 37.Kf3 Nd5 38.Bxd5 cxd5 39.e6 Bc6 40.Ke3 Re8 41.e7

Biag 4

With my last move, I decided to keep my bishop and my pawns and claim to have compensation for the rook I’m down. My opponent thought for a bit and offered a draw which I, of course, accepted. It isn’t easy to get through with black, though I suspect he’s winning.

A strange game. I could spend ages analyzing it and could probably write several more articles about it. If I have a bit of spare time, I may try to find the objective evaluation of that endgame. Note to self: always look for simple tactics, even when feeling extremely safe. Nobody is above that!

My comeback

My round 4 game against Evelyn Zhu (2193 USCF, 1983 FIDE) was pretty good. I came out on top with black in a positional struggle where I played fairly accurately. My round 5 game against Stanislav Busygin (2287 USCF, 2213 FIDE) was fun. Really fun.

Busygin

I was white, and if I expected the game to be quiet, I was wrong. Things really exploded when he played 13…Nxg4!? 14.hxg4 Qh4 here. I took a long think on my next move, trying to figure things out.

Busygin 2

White clearly has to bring defenders to the party. 15.Qe1 Qxg4+ 16.Qg3 looks promising, but on a second glance, I found that black can go 15…Qh3! hitting the bishop and threatening Bd4+ at the same time. That’s no good. 15.Rf2 and 15.Rf3 are possible but aren’t impressive. Black will just go 15…Nf6, and white doesn’t have a clear follow-up. I played the best move, 15.Kg2!, but not before calculating the consequences. If 15…Qxg4+, white has 16.Ng3 after which black’s attack is in shambles. After 15… Nf6 16.Rh1! Qxg4+ 17.Ng3, black’s attack doesn’t amount to much either. My opponent played the move I had been expecting: 15…Ne5!. I correctly went 16.Rh1!. After 16.dxe5 white indeed has nothing better than a draw, but I didn’t see all the details correctly. The main line goes 16…Qxg4+ 17.Ng3 Qh3+ 18.Kf2 Bxe5 19.Nce2!

Busygin 4

White is two pieces up, but his king is really shaky to say the least. The last move 19.Nce2 was forced to both protect the g3-knight and stop Bd4+. I rejected this on account of 19…Bg4? and missed that white has 20.Rh1! which wins for him. It turns out black has a slick defense here: 19…Qh2+ 20.Kf3 h5! (including Bxg3 Nxg3 is also fine).

Busygin 3

Black is threatening mate on g4, and white has nothing better to do than go 21.Nf5 or 21.Bf5, after which black will secure a perpetual. I’m glad I didn’t go for this! Yeah, I did miss things, but intuitively white’s position is rather alarming.

Back to the game. After 16… Qxg4+ 17.Ng3 Nxd3 18.Qxd3, my opponent played 18… Bxc3?!. Fighting for compensation after 18…Bf5 19.Qd1 was better. I replied 19.bxc3 (19.Qxc3 was also good) 19…Bf5 20.Qd1!. White isn’t losing anything and can enjoy his material advantage. I went on to win in a few moves.

Suffice it to say that I was relieved once this game was over, but it also felt great to win in this style.

Conclusion

The last day was arguably my best. I drew my round 6 game against GM Alexander Fishbein and won my round 7 game with GM Sergey Erenburg, both with black. What a finish! It was a really nice way to end the tournament. After starting with 1.5/3, I plowed my way back up and got 5/7 landing myself in a 4-way tie for first with 3 GMs in the process.

Not bad after a break! Of course, the rook blunder was a wakeup call… Obviously, I’m not 100% immune to 1200-level blunders.

I was pleased that I got to play 3 GMs in 7 rounds in this tournament which was much better than the 1 GM I got to play at the Philadelphia Open over Easter this year. Big thanks to Maryland Chess and Mike Regan for running a well-organized tournament!

Until next time!

Time Management

Time management is a subject teenagers don’t seem to be qualified to discuss. Fortunately, time management in life and time management in chess are two different animals, and I do know a thing or two about the latter…

Here in the US, time controls can be confusing to say the least. The traditional time control of 2 hours/40 moves, sudden death 1 hour had been replaced with 2 hours/40 moves, sudden death 30 minutes with a 10-second delay. Or maybe there’s a 5-second delay some places. Then there’s the 30 second increment which is the standard time control internationally. Sometimes there’s a time control after move 40, sometimes there isn’t. With all this confusion, I will briefly compare the two time controls: those with delay and those with increment.

First off, being in time trouble with delay is much worse than being in time trouble with increment. 30 seconds isn’t that much to make a move, especially if you have a difficult decision to make, but it’s better than 5 or 10 seconds. No question about it. On increment you can also build up time and potentially invest it at a critical moment, while with delay you can’t.

With the increment, on the other hand, you are more likely to land in time trouble, simply because you start with 90 minutes instead of 2 hours. If there’s no time control after move 40, then you’re even more likely to end up in a situation where you, and often your opponent, are playing on the increment alone. Those situations aren’t easy to handle at all. Meanwhile, with delay, you may be a bit short on time with a couple moves to go to the time control, and most games don’t go long enough for you to burn the extra 30 minutes you get at the time control.

General guidelines

With increment or delay, time trouble is still the same kind of animal, and there are some general principles you should follow.

If your opponent is in time trouble, don’t rush and take your sweet time. Figure things out on your own. In a complicated positions, your opponent isn’t a happy camper; he’s stressed out and is calculating variations over and over again. Then some hallucinations start creeping into his thoughts… When you make a move, he has to reply fairly quickly with all this chaos going on in his head. That isn’t easy. If it’s a technical endgame or a position where your opponent has fairly easy moves to make, then there’s all the more reason for you to think. It’s not like you’re letting your opponent think more about his next fairly intuitive move…

I learned this lesson in a rather extreme way when I was rated about 1800. I was beyond completely winning, with an extra queen and piece, and my opponent had one second on the clock. I was playing quickly until… guess what? I managed to stalemate my opponent! Every chess player has had an embarrassing episode or two like this, but I did learn my lesson.

Don’t make committal decisions right before the time control—assuming there IS a time control. It’s a bad idea. In my personal experience, most of my big decisions during moves 35-40 with a couple minutes on the clock have been pretty stupid to say the least. Unless there’s a forced win or you really need to make a committal decision, just do something normal. Also, take a little break after the time control to refresh your mind. Go to the bathroom, walk around, check out the other games, etc. Just don’t continue sitting at the board crunching things out. Spending a few minutes to refresh your mind is a much better idea.

Quasi-time trouble

Say you have 5-10 minutes on the clock to make a few moves before the time control. It’s not like you have no time, but you’ve got to speed up. This isn’t an unusual scenario, and it’s a hard call what to do. It all depends on the position.

If you’re winning or near-winning, I wouldn’t recommend spending all your time looking for a knockout punch. Here’s a worst case scenario of what could happen: You play some regular moves, trying to find a knockout at every moment, while your opponent will get away with some reasonable moves. You start to lose the thread, and before you know it, your opponent is posing some problems, and you don’t have time to think about them. Then you start making mistakes/blunders and lose a heartbreaker. These kinds of games have happened before and will happen again. Unfortunately, it’s not like there’s a nice way out of it. After all, if it turns that you missed a knockout punch on that move you played in 10 seconds, you’ll be kicking yourself for not spending more time! Since you can’t see—and don’t have time to see—everything, use your intuition. If it really looks like you can finish your opponent off here and now, then do spend some time trying to figure things out. Otherwise, take a bit of time but don’t take your last big think at that moment.

If the position is totally unclear and razor-sharp, then you’re in for a (potentially not enjoyable) ride. Leave yourself with enough time so that you don’t all-out blunder, stay sharp, and hope for the best. If the position is fairly technical, however, your moves shouldn’t be that hard to play. There’s nothing wrong with dancing around a bit before the time control.

In conclusion, I’d suggest that you don’t burn your time too low unless you really feel there is a win or the position is critical. Use that little time you have left wisely!

Chronic time trouble

Some people have a serious time trouble addiction. By that I mean getting into time trouble practically every game. It’s a serious problem with no real cure. Dealing with chronic time trouble isn’t my area of expertise, since I personally have only had occasional struggles with time trouble. I’ve actually never flagged in a long time control game, though I have gotten down to one second a couple times.

It seems that, in general, time trouble is a sign of bad form for me. My worst time trouble issues came up at the 2015 Philadelphia Open, when I went into the tournament with a perfectionist attitude and spent way too much time on my moves. My result there was apocalyptical. Fortunately, this was just a one-tournament issue, and my time management was soon back to normal. In other tournaments where I was regularly getting into time trouble, I wasn’t playing very well either. In general, I was spending a lot of time on nothing special/bad moves. I’d blame it on my pre-tournament mindset rather than my time management itself. Long story short: perfectionism is a bad idea that leads to time trouble. Also, if you’re getting into time trouble in a certain tournament, try to play a bit faster the next few rounds.

What’s normal and what’s not?

There’s no big rule of thumb. How much time should you have at move 20? Move 30? How about 35? How much time should you spend after the time control? I could go on and on with these questions that have no real answer.

In some ways, time trouble is normal. Is it really expected that if you reach move 60 you’ll have 20+ minutes on the clock? No, of course not! It all depends how complicated the game is. If you’re playing some razor sharp stuff, take your time. It’s better if you’re in a bit of time trouble a few moves down the road than if you get demolished because you didn’t calculate deep enough.

If, however, you’re spending a lot of time on fairly straightforward moves without coming up with any strokes of genius, that’s a bad sign. Unless you’re at the crossroads deciding what plan of action to take, you shouldn’t be tanking. If there’s a tactical shot that looks promising but turns out not to work, and instead you play a fairly natural move, that’s time well spent. In some cases, those tactics will work, and in other cases they won’t. This is just one of those. In general, don’t spend too much time on simple decisions. If you’ve spent all your time placing your pieces to perfection and have no time by move 25, you won’t be a happy camper when complications arise.

What about critical moments? Well, a critical moment is a really vaguely defined term, and there’s no Mariam-Webster definition.  If you feel that your next move will significantly affect the course of the game, then do take your time. However, if you think every other position is a critical moment, you’re mistaken! By the time you get to an actual critical moment, you’ll have no time to figure things out… Don’t spend too much time on simple decisions.

Conclusion

I could go on and on with this philosophical discussion about time management. What’s the big conclusion? Really a lot depends on the game. In general, spending a lot of time on simple moves and perfectionism is a recipe for time trouble and disaster. Getting into time trouble here and there is okay, but if you get into it every game, you have a problem.

Until next time!

Invisible Moves

Some moves in chess are harder to see than others. Sometimes you won’t even consider the best move because, on the surface, it appears to be a blunder, anti-positional, totally illogical, etc. Your brain ignores these moves because it’s been taught to do so. It simply cannot consider every single move unless you are faced with a very simple (though not necessarily easy) position

In my experience, the existence of these kinds of moves is rare, but they can appear anywhere in a game. Here are some examples:

Openings

One of the places where you could miss an unexpected move is while following your usual plan in the opening/early middlegame, as happened to me here.

Han

This type of position is fairly normal for this kind of KID Attack, and I had prepared it a bit. Here, in response to my opponent’s last move 11.b3, I automatically played 11… Nb6 putting pressure on the c4-pawn. In doing so, I totally missed that I have 11… Ndxe5!. The point is that after 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Qxe5, black has 13… Bf6 skewering the queen and rook. White doesn’t go down without a fight, however, since he has 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.cxd5! exd5 14.Qxe5 Bf6 15.Qxd5, where black is only slightly better.

That’s essentially what invisible moves are… moves that don’t even cross your mind. It appears that the e5-pawn is protected when in reality it isn’t. Now I’m not going to defend myself: I should’ve seen Ndxe5, and it was somewhat embarrassing that I didn’t. There are, however, much harder moves to find than Ndxe5.

Forced moves

When you play a seemingly forced move in ten seconds, usually you’ll be right. There are, however, instances when you’ve just missed a golden opportunity. For instance this position:

Forney

Here, after thinking for about five seconds, my opponent played 48.Kxf6?. After 48… Kxg4 49.Kg6 d4 50.Kxh6 d3 51.Kg6 d2 52.h6 d1Q 53.h7 Qd4 black is winning.

Well, it turns out he had 48.g5!! which was a draw. If 48… hxg5 49.Kxf6, both sides queen and it’s a draw. If 48… Nxh5? black even loses after 49.gxh6, and 48… Ne4 49.g6 Nd6+ 50.Ke6 Ne8 51.Kf7 is a draw. I had seen this coming and was relieved when he played Kxf6.

Was g5 invisible? No, it wasn’t. I had seen it coming and was worried that he’d find it. Yes, Kxf6 is the most natural move that appears to be forced, but calculation reveals that white is lost there. All you have to do then is just ask yourself if white has anything else. Like that g5 can appear on your radar. Then you take a deeper look and see that, sure enough, it’s a draw.

Moral of the story: If you’re lost or in big trouble after your natural reply, take a bit of time to see if you have a way to mix things up. Many of these invisible moves actually aren’t invisible if you look for them.

In the next game, I plead guilty to playing an automatic move and not seriously considering alternatives.

Times

With his last move, my opponent took my bishop on g5, so I responded with 21.Nxg5+? Kh6 22.Qd2 f4 23.Nf7+ Rxf7 24.Bxf7 leading to a totally unclear position. I totally missed the killer move 21.h4!. White is bringing the h1-rook into the party. If 21… g4 22.h5 g5, white has 23.h6! winning the bishop and destroying black in the process. It’s totally winning. No excuses for me missing it, but it’s hard to see… In that game, this was my invisible move.

Middlegame positions without warning

Sometimes, flashing signs saying “you have a win/draw” would really, really help…

Doknjas 1

In this strange position, I decided to grab a pawn with 24… Qxa3?. It was a bad idea, and you’ll see why. Instead I should’ve just gone 24… g6! with a slight edge. After 25.Rb1 (25. f5! was a very strong alternative) 25… Rxb1 26.Rxb1 I realized what I had missed but played 26… g6 anyway since I had nothing better.

Doknjas

White has the fantastic shot 27.Bxg6!! which seals a draw. After 27… fxg6 28.Rb8+ Kg7 29.Rb7+, it’s a perpetual since 29… Bf7 runs into 30.e6. There’s nothing black can do about it if he doesn’t want to lose. He can throw in 27… Qe3+ but after the queen trade he’ll still have to take the bishop. Fortunately, my opponent didn’t see it and played 27.h3?, and I went on to win after some more drama…

It looks like 27.Bxg6 just loses a piece, but it doesn’t. I don’t know how my brain found Bxg6—admittedly a bit too late—but it looks black’s king is a bit shaky, and looking at all the possible captures you see… Bxg6. That’s the hilarious thing: Bxg6 is the ONLY legal capture in this position. You also see that black is just better if white plays normally, and somehow it pops into your head…

I could go on and on and on, but the big picture is clear. There are moves that my opponents and I don’t see. There are moves that very few people see. What’s the solution to this blindness? Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure that will make you see all the things that you missed before. There’s no ritual that will prevent you from missing things. Being human, you will always miss something.

One solution remains: do tactics. There’s more to tactics than just calculation… there’s recognizing and applying motifs. In hard tactics problems, there’s usually an “invisible” move somewhere in the maze of variations—it could be on move 1 or on move 10 of a forcing line—that you have to find. Unlike in a game, the sign is flashing at you; there is a win or a draw, and you have to be on the lookout for it.

Honestly, which one of the examples above wouldn’t be classified as a tactic? After all, tactics are usually more complex than one-move forks. They can be hard to solve just like complicated chess positions. It won’t be a cure, but it’ll help. These moves won’t stay out of reach forever, and with practice, you’ll start seeing them more and more often.

Fireworks in Philly Part 2

In part 1, I left off after my round 5 draw, where I was supposed to be the one pressing but instead had to fight hard not to lose.

In round 6, I got my momentum back with a nice win against Qibiao Wang (2420 USCF, 2324 FIDE). Things got off to a good start for me, and we reached this position:

Qibiao 1

Only white can be better here, and I naturally opened the position up with 12.c4!. The isolated pawn is no big deal. After 12… Nc6 13.Nc3 dxc4 I took an interesting decision by playing 14.d5!?. 14.Bxc4 and 14.Qc1 were also viable alternatives. After 14… Ne5 15.Bxc4 Nfg4 I had to decide where to go.

Qibiao real 2

Black is trying to get some activity and doesn’t want to be submitted to passivity. If white does something simple like 16.h3?, he gets hit with 16… Qc5!, double attacking the c4-bishop and the f2-pawn. 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 probably gives white an edge, but I chose a different and stronger option: 16.Bb3!. The bishop just gets out of the way. It’s that simple. Black has a dilemma where to put his queen: 16… Qf6 runs into 17.Ne4, and 16… Qd6 runs into 17.Bf4. The game went 16… Qc5 17.Ne4 Qb6 18.Bc3 after which white has a big advantage which I went on to convert in a powerful style.

That was a boost! Now I had 4.5/6 and was half a point behind the leaders. Oh boy… I wasn’t ready for the heartbreak that awaited me in my game against GM Gil Popilski (2578 USCF, 2502 FIDE).

Popilski 1

Up to this point, I had played well, and the not-so-unreasonable notion that I’m better crept into my head. White’s bizarre pawn on e6 is a combination of a thorn and a weakness. Anyway, it’s white move, and he played 26.Rb1 to prevent Bb5. This opened up the tempting possibility of going 26… Bc2, but after 27.Rb7 Bd3+ 28.Bxd3 exd3+ 29.Kd2, black’s position looks nice, but he doesn’t have anything. 26… Bb5 should be a draw after liquidations. Instead, I got way too excited and played 26… Rad8?! completely missing his reply 27.Rhc1!. Rd2+ appears to be useless. I can’t go Bc2 anymore. Wait, what can I do?? After a long think, I decided to swallow my pride and play 27… Bb5 aiming for a draw. What I didn’t realize was that white is just better after 28.Bxb5 axb5 29.Rxb5 Rxe6 30.Rc4

Popilski 2

With accurate play black should draw this, but it’s just easier to play with white. Over the next few moves, I drifted, and by the time we reached the time control, I was already in huge trouble. My resistance wasn’t enough, and I lost.

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t mad after this game. Really mad. I may or may not have spent a couple high quality minutes swearing in front of a mirror. Even if I remembered it, my post-game pep talk to myself is unpublishable. I had blown half a point in a pointless and idiotic fashion. I wasn’t this mad after my round 2 game, where I arguably blew half a point in a similar fashion, because I played badly and didn’t really deserve to get a half point there. This time, on the other hand, I actually played pretty reasonably overall and had had a draw within clear reach, only to have a minor brain freeze blow it all away.

A night’s sleep did me good. Next up came round 8, where I got white against Mario Arias (2342 USCF, 2245 FIDE).

Arias 1

The pieces are mysteriously scattered here: the white bishops on a4 and h2, the white knight on d3, the black knight on d4 of all places… Though he has an isolated pawn, black should be totally fine here. His pieces are a lot more active. Meanwhile, I had to make some tough decision with white. After the natural 22.c3, black can go 22… Nxg3 23.Bxg3 Ne2+ 24.Kh2 Nxg3 25.fxg3 Bf5! where he’s better. That doesn’t look good, not to mention that black also has …d4 ideas that could be very strong. Therefore, I decided to keep the tension in the center by playing 22.Qh5. If black still goes 22… Nxg3 23.Bxg3 Ne2+ 24.Kh2 Nxg5 25.fxg3, he’s probably still fine, but this is definitely a better version for white than with c3. My opponent decided to play 22… Be6 after which I took an agonizingly long think. If 23.c3, his plan is to go 23… Nxg3 24.Bxg3 Nf5 25.Bf4 d4 which appears to liquidate the center and promise him equality. Okay, what else do I have? 23.Re1 appears to be playable, but it didn’t inspire much confidence in me. Black should be more than fine there too. Anything else… Seriously, what am I going to do? If I don’t win this game, then what??

Then my little idea hit me. The game went 23.c3 Nxg3 24.Bxg3 Nf5 25.Bf4 d4 after which I uncorked my little idea: 26.c4!?

Arias 2

This is a pawn sacrifice, but I felt I had enough compensation. The game went 26… g6 (26… g5!? is also possible) 27.Qf3 Bxc4 28.Re1. Black’s position isn’t that easy. If he goes 28… Be6, I’ll go 29.Bb3 Re8 30.Bxe6 fxe6, after which I have more than enough compensation. His h6, g6, and e6 pawns are weak, the e5-square looks juicy, my pieces are more active… that’s certainly better than liquidating with no hope of an advantage! If 28… Qf6, then black is starting to get harassed after 29.Ne5, and 28… Qh4 29.Ne5 doesn’t inspire confidence. Black’s best move is actually 28… Qf8! just getting out of the way of everything. White enjoys full compensation for the pawn, but not more than that. My opponent’s next move, however, almost gave me a heart attack: 28… Ne3?

Arias 3

Oh my… If 29.fxe3 Bxd3, black is just much better. 29.Ne5 Bd5 looks terrible for white, not to mention that 29… Qb4! is lights out. Then, thankfully, I found the move that saves white: 30.Bc2! simply protecting the knight. Black is actually going to lose the knight on e3. Though black will have compensation, white is much better, and I won a few moves later.

Not a bad boost! It feels great when you spend 20+ minutes to find an idea that works like a charm. Going into the last round, I was 5.5/8. That’s actually the same score I had last year… There, had I won my last game, I would’ve gotten a GM Norm, while now I was losing rating. Unbelievable.

Anyway, back to this year’s tournament situation. 6.5/9 would win a solid prize, definitely four figures, while 6/9 would give me a couple hundred dollars. I was expecting to play up, but for the umpteenth time this tournament, I wasn’t. I was playing David Peng (2407 USCF, 2331 FIDE). I also got lucky that I got a double white. Not a bad tournament situation…

Last rounds are hard. When you have to win, there’s a lot of pressure on you… What to do? How much to risk? Even must-draw situations aren’t easy. And then there are games where you’re not sure if you want to play for a win or a draw… Anyway, I was playing this game for a win, no question about it.

I took a risky decision in the opening which turned out to be 100% justified. I was much better, though I misplayed it a bit.

David Peng 1

So yeah, I have a piece for three pawns. If black gets coordinated, I could be in trouble, and I have to play against his coordination. Black can’t castle kingside because of Rxd7, and it looks like Bc6 is going to be his next move. Anticipating that, I played 16.f3! protecting the e4-pawn against his upcoming attack. Sure enough, he played 16… Bc6 which I met with 17.b4!. I should use those pawns! After 17… 0-0 18.b5 Bb7 19.Rb6 black’s position is already alarming.

David Peng 2

The bishop is in serious danger, and he correctly played 19… Bc8 after which I played 20.Bc5 Re8 21.Bb4. I’m now planning to push my a-pawn. Oh boy, this is fantastic!! The only problem was that he put up resistance that I wasn’t able to crack. The game went 21… g5 22.a4 Ng6 23.a5 Bd7 24.Rb7 Ne5

David Peng 3

Black has improved his pieces coordination, and he has a couple ideas. First, he can go Rec8 with the idea of harassing me with Rc4, and he’s also toying with the idea of going Nc4 in some variations. My next move, 25.a6?!, is very logical but reduced my advantage. 25.Rc7!, preventing both Rc8 and Nc4, was very strong. White is considering pushing both his a- and b-pawns, and there’s also the surprisingly annoying threat of Rc5 in the air. Black will probably have to go 25… Rec8, but after the rook trade, white’s life is much easier. The pawns will be much more powerful, and he doesn’t necessarily have to push them to victory. He can spend some quality time building up, while black won’t be able to do anything. The more I stare at this position, the more I realize that white is totally winning.

Back to the game. After 25… Bc8 26.Rb6 Bd7 I repeated once with 27.Rb7?. In retrospect, this was a bad idea. After 27.Rbd6 Rec8 28.Bc5 Be8, white is probably close to winning, but black is holding on. Anyway, the game went 27… Bc8 28.Re7 after which I missed his reply of 28… Bxa6! 29.bxa6 Nc6! (29… Rxa6 30.Rxe8+ Nxe8 31.Rd8 is winning for white, and I had seen this).

David Peng 4

I realized that I’m losing the a-pawn. I still retained my c-pawn and had good winning chances, but it was nothing compared to what I had before. I tried hard to win the endgame that followed, but it wasn’t enough. He defended well, and we drew.

Chess is hard. After this game, I wasn’t really mad, but I was disappointed. I had given this game everything I had, and it wasn’t enough. I had tried very hard throughout the entire tournament, and it wasn’t enough. But barely. I was so damn close to tying for second. What a comeback that would have been…

On Monday, the day after the tournament finished, I felt that I was incapable of doing anything productive. And I don’t think that going to bed at 2 am was the main culprit. What are the real conclusions from my fireworks show in Philadelphia? Looking at the games a few weeks later, I’m still not sure. The tournament was really a mixed bag. I had my fair share of good and bad luck. I had triumphs and tragedies. There is nonetheless one fact that stands out: I only played up once in 9 rounds. Okay, you could blame the round 2 loss, but it’s not like I completely crashed and was out of the running for most of the tournament. Compared to a year ago when my FIDE was in the low/mid 2300s and I played up 7 rounds out of 9, and with my 2400 rating I only played up once this year!? I really miss being the underdog.

Until next time!

Fireworks in Philly Part 1

I miss being the underdog.

The recently concluded Philadelphia Open was an eventful tournament for me. After bouncing back from a second round loss, I almost tied for second – almost is the key word – and ended up losing a bit of rating overall. This wasn’t a bad result, and neither was my play. I had nine very interesting games with no big “moral of the story.” I scored heavily against lower rated opponents which was unfortunately necessary to maintain my rating. I had my little rollercoaster full of fireworks that came close.

In my fail in Charlotte, my play was too conservative, and I didn’t go in at several critical moments. Before this tournament, I resolved to play more energetically. I wasn’t going to hold back. If necessary, I’d start fireworks without looking back.

grumpy cat

Seriously, be more enthusiastic than the cat! My games were really interesting and full of instructive material, from blunders to brilliancies. There was so much content that I’ve decided to split my recap into two parts, as I don’t want to set a record for the longest article I’ve written, and there are bits I just won’t let myself cut out.

Round 1: Business!

In this game against Vlad Yanovsky (2112 FIDE, 2240 USCF), my strategy of violence worked very well.

Yanovsky 1

In this strange position, I opened things up with the fairly natural move 19… d5!. After 20.exd6 I automatically recaptured with 20… cxd6. 20… Bg4! was probably stronger. After 21.Rd2 cxd6 22.Ne4, black has several squares where he can move his queen (e3, b4, a5, etc.), leading to massive complications. Importantly, white won’t be able to trade queens like he could’ve in the game. More on that later…

The game went 21.Ne4 Qe3+

Yanovsky 2

From a practical point of view, I believe white should have gone 22.Qd2! here, trading queens. After that it’s equal. 22.Rd2 is plain absurd, and 22.Kb1 runs into a spectacular shot – I missed it, but I’ll leave it for you to find as an exercise. The game went 22.Kc2 d5 23.Rhe1 Qf3

Yanovsky 3

I was expecting 24.Ng5, attacking my queen and going after the h7 pawn. I saw that 24… Qf2+ 25.Re2 Qc5 runs into 26.b4! Qd6 27.c5 winning a piece. The computer points out an unbelievable defense in that variation which I don’t think I would ever find in a game. See if you can! Anyway, instead of 24…Qf2+ I had been planning 24…Qh5, and after 25.Bxh7+ Kh8, white has won a pawn put his king is still in trouble. I felt that black should have full compensation, if not more.

Instead, I got hit with the shocker 24.Nf6+!?. I thought for a very long time before coolly replying 24… Kh8!. I was calculating the madness after 24… gxf6 25.Qxf6.

White is threatening to give a perpetual with Qg5-f6, and he also has dangerous mating threats. 25… Nd7 doesn’t prevent the perpetual because white can play 26.Bxh7+, and white is even winning after 26.Qh4! f5 27.Re7!. If 25…Qg4, then white swings the rook up with 26.Re5. That’s when I saw a fantastic idea: 26…h6 27.Qxh6 Ra2+ 28.Kc3 Qg7!

Yanovsky 4

White can’t go Rg5 because the rook is pinned!! I looked a little deeper and saw that white can go 29.Bh7+ Kh8 (29… Qxh7?? 30.Rg5+ +-) 30.Qh4. White has noise around the black king, and the most accurate summary of my evaluation is “I have no idea what the heck is going on here.” Nevertheless, my computer laughs in my face and says that black is much better/near winning after 30… f6. My silicon friend also refutes my little calculations rather simply: instead of 28.Kc3, it suggests 28.Kc1! Ra1+ 29.Kb2!, where black can’t take the rook with check and is lost. Somehow I missed that. Anyway, this is the kind of stuff that was a bit too much for me.

Back to the game. If white goes 25.Nxh7, then black calmly goes 25… dxc4!, and after 26.Nxf8 cxd3+, the white knight will get stuck and black is winning. Instead, white should go 26.Be4! after which the position is still very unclear. The cool prophylactic move 25.Kc1 is also playable, and it could lead to a “positional battle” after 25… dxc4 26.bxc4 Bf5!!, giving up a piece for a lot of noise around the black king. My opponent decided to go 25.Ne8?!, threatening Qxg7#. After 25… f6 26.Re7?, I went 26… Nxc4! which finishes white off. After 27.Bxc4 Bf5+ black at least wins his piece black, and white’s king is in huge trouble. I won a few moves later.

Oh man. What a game… I could probably write an entire article about it alone. It goes without saying that I felt great after this one.

Round 2: RIP GM NORM

The good feeling could only last so long. It should have lasted much longer, but that’s another story. I got white against Balaji Daggupati (2273 FIDE, 2316 USCF).

Balaji 1

This is a somewhat unusual position. White’s pawn structure is better on the queenside, and black’s knights are superfluous. On the other hand, white’s knight on a3 isn’t so useful and he doesn’t have a clear plan. I decided to go 18.Ra2 here, as a) my rook is probably more useful on the a-file and b) I wanted to leave the b1 square open for my knight. My opponent replied with 18… Bc8 and I went 19.Nb1!? Bd7 20.Nbd2 which is perfectly reasonable. I that knight to do something. Though in principle I shouldn’t trade black’s superfluous knights, I should worry about my own pieces. Besides, if 20… Nxd2 21.Nxd2, black’s position doesn’t look pretty at all. My opponent played 20… Rfb8 after which I decided to strand black’s knights by playing 21.Nf1 which was met with 21… Nc5

Balaji 2

So far, so good. Here’s where I made a terrible mistake by going 22.N3d2? giving my opponent the chance to go 22… Nd3! 23.Bxd3 cxd3. Instead, the best move was actually one I didn’t seriously consider: 22.Bxc5!. It appears stupid to give up such a nice-looking bishop for a knight that is semi-superfluous, but it’s very strong. After 22…Qxc5 23.Ne3, white has a simple plan of going Nd2, Qe2, and Rfa1, piling up on black’s position. He’s much worse.

The game spiraled downward for me, and here came my next fail:

Balaji 3

Black has dropped a bomb with a Bxh3 sacrifice, and white’s king really is naked. After 32.Qxd3!, however, black has a perpetual with Qg3-h3. He actually has a win with 32… Qg4+ 33.Kh1 Rf8!, but that’s hard for computers to find, and I didn’t see it at all. Instead of doing that and allowing a perpetual, I saw too much for my own good. After 32.Rf3? which is a fairly natural move, black has a sick shot: 32… Bg3! 33.Nf1 Rf8!

Balaji 4

If white goes 34.Rxg3, he gets hit with 34… Rxf1+ 35.Qxf1 Qxg3+ picking up the bishop on e3. 34.Qd1 also runs into murder after 34… Rxf3 35.Qxf3 Rf8!. I had, however, foreseen this and had my genius idea. I played 34.Rxf8+ Rxf8+ 35.b4. How about that? The rook on a2 saves the day! It’s a beautiful idea, except that it loses. Can you find how I got demolished?

That was painful. It basically ended my dream of getting a GM Norm, as keeping my rating – not even going as far as getting a 2600+ performance rating – was difficult. Still, I didn’t lose hope as there was plenty of time for a comeback which I did end up pulling off.

Round 3: I’m back!

Losing with white is embarrassing in a way because you have to try to get revenge and win in the next game with black. In round 3, I managed to pull out a victory in another violent game. It wasn’t as complicated as round 1, but the spirit was there. To increase the instructive value of this article, I’ll give you one puzzle from early on in the game

Yanayt

Was white’s last move 12.h4 too much? If so, how to punish it?

Round 4: Continuing!

I won a quick smooth game with white against Carissa Yip (2290 FIDE, 2323 USCF). I did, however, have a little botch up in the middle.

Carissa 1

Material is technically equal, but it’s clear white is on top. The most logical move is 22.d6!, running the pawn down the board. Black can resist, however, with 22… Qc6! 23.d7 Nc7 where white has coordination problems because the rook on h1 is hanging after 24.d8Q Raxd8 25.Rxd8. White nonetheless has an embarrassingly simple win that I missed. Instead, I played another winning move 22.Nc5 going after the rook on f8. After 22… Qb4 23.c3 Qb5 I made my mistake by going 24.Nd7?. After 24.Rhe1! Nc7 25.d6! white is so dominating he’s winning, and for some reason I didn’t think it was enough. My move ran into 24… Nd6! 25.Qxd6 (25.Nxf8?? Nc4 is actually lost for white) 25… Rfd8 26.Nf6+! gxf6 27.Qf4

Carissa 2

Black can resist after 27… Rxd5! 28.gxf6 Rg5 29.Rhg1 Rg6!. Black’s position looks fishy, but it isn’t lost. Instead, after 27… f5? 28.Qxf5 white is back to winning. After 28… a4 29.Rhf1 a3 30.Qxf7+ Kh8 white has a nice finish, and it’s your job to find it. White technically has several wins, but choose the one you’d play in a game.

Carissa 3

Despite the unnecessary circus in the middle, this win felt great, especially because I didn’t find any real improvements on my play.

Round 5: Chess is hard

With 3/4, I had been expecting to play up with my FIDE rating of 2409… WRONG! I got to play Jianwen Wong (2153 FIDE, 2353 USCF) who had pulled off a few dangerous upsets and went off to do some more. His opening of 1.b3 let me get an original game where I played for complications. I got a “fake advantage” after getting away with a bit of monkey business. I wasn’t able to find anything concrete, and around move 30 things started falling apart for me…

Wong 1

I was fairly frustrated that I didn’t have anything real here, and my brain stopped working. I played 30… Qb7? which is actually a terrible move. White can smash into the position with 31.c5!!, totally destroying black’s coordination. 31… Nxf3+ 32.gxf3! Nxc5 33.Bxg7 Qxg7 34.Rxd6 is a disaster for black, and the best move 31… Nf7 isn’t pretty. Instead, my opponent played the second best move 31.Nd2. I should’ve retreated with 31… Nc5 after which white is better, say after 32.e4!?. Instead I decided to go 31… Nxd2? 32.Qxd2 c5?

Wong 2

If I feel that I got unlucky this tournament, I’ll just take a look at this position. We both missed that white can play 33.Qxd6! winning a pawn and the house. There’s no mate on g2 whatsoever. White is just winning. Instead, my opponent played 33.Bf1? after which black is still in trouble. After a time scramble, I found myself in a pawn down rook + opposite colored bishop endgame where white could press but he didn’t have enough to win. I held a draw without any real problems.

If you asked me before the tournament if I’d be happy with 3.5/5, I’d probably say yes before asking the trick question: how did I get there? It’s crazy that I was losing rating points with such a score, though it was nobody’s but my own fault. I didn’t let rating points occupy my mind and instead stayed positive and concentrated on the second half of the tournament.

Answers to exercises:

Variation of round 1: After 26.b4 black has 26… Qxc4+!! 27.Bxc4 Nxc4 where he has full compensation for the queen with his attack. If that’s not a jaw-dropper, then what is??

End of round 2: 35… Rf6! finishes white off. 35… Bh4 also wins technically speaking, but Rf6 is a killer. After 36.Rg2 Rg6 black is threatening Bh2+ with impending mate. After 37.Qb2 Bh2+! 38.Nxh2 Qxe3+ 39.Qf2 (39.Kf1 Rf6+ 40.Rf2 d2 is another spot where white resigns) 39… Qxf2+ 40.Kxf2 Rxg2+ 41.Kxg2 d2 I resigned as I can’t stop the d-pawn from queening.

Round 3: In the game I played 12… Be7? which doesn’t punish white enough. 12… Nd4! was very strong. The idea I missed is that after 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.e5 hxg5 15.hxg5 Nh7 16.Qh5 Bxc3+ 17.bxc3 black has 17… Be4! saving the day. 12… hxg5 13.hxg5 Nd4 is also strong.

Variation of round 4: Instead of 25.Rxd8, white can just go 25.Qxd8!. If 25… Qxh1 26.Qxf8+ Kxf8 27.Rxh1 white is a clean rook up, and after 25… Rxd8 26.Rxd8+ Ne8, I’m pretty sure I missed that white has 27.Rhe1! winning the knight on e8.

Stay tuned for part 2 which will cover my last four rounds, full of fails, fun, and fireworks, and my advertised fail in the last round money game.

Draw Offers

Draw offers are an important part of the game of chess. Now, I won’t enter the debate about whether or not draw offers should be banned, but I’ll discuss my opinion about draw offers during the game.

I have a few stories involving draw offers. Once upon a time I got yelled at by my (higher rated and significantly older) opponent during the game for offering a draw. Long story short: I was freshly 10 and rated 1900+; the position was a dead draw to my eyes, and I offered a lot of draws. He was right. I indeed shouldn’t have offered draw repeatedly. I was right about the position being a dead draw, and we eventually drew. I never did that again. Lesson learned.

At scholastic tournaments, I’ve seen kids offering draws on practically every move, and that is simply obnoxious. Please don’t do that!! Another principle I learned was that if you’re defending or pseudo-defending, you shouldn’t be the one to offer a draw. Once your opponent gives up hope of winning the endgame and offers a draw, you should take it.

I’ve made a few hilariously quick draws (2 moves, 7 moves, 9 moves, etc.) in the last round of different tournaments, usually because either my opponent or I would win or tie for first place. That’s pretty typical for last rounds, and I’m quite sure just about everybody has done that at one point or another. Nevertheless, I’m not here to talk about my personal experiences, as those are usually pretty boring and have little or no instructive value.

First I would like to discuss the technical aspect of draw offers. The “proper” etiquette is to make your move and offer a draw immediately after it. Though there’s nothing illegal about offering a draw say 5 minutes into your opponent’s think, it’s not cool. If, on the other hand, your opponent offers a draw when it’s his move, then it’s perfectly within the rules for you to ask him to make his move, after which you can either accept or decline the draw offer. I’d recommend doing that, especially if your opponent has a tough decision to make.

As for draw offers themselves I’d split them into a few categories:

It’s equal draw offers

If the position is completely equal, then offering or accepting a draw is a natural thing to do. If, however, there is still life in the position and you want to play on, then play on if you feel like. This is not a justification to play rook vs. rook for 50 moves, as the only way you could win that in a game without increment/delay is if your opponent has a heart attack. What I’m saying is that if there is a reasonable chance that you will win even if the position is equal, then there’s no reason to agree to a draw.

Quick draws

One player offers a draw fairly early into the game, maybe around moves 15-20, in a position where neither side is clearly better and there is plenty of life left in the position. In my experience, most of these draws are in a tournament situation when neither my opponent nor I would win first place or any prize. I’ve accepted many of these draw offers, and a lot of people do that. Here’s an example I had this summer:

Gorovets

I was black. My position appeared to be more pleasant, but I didn’t have any concrete advantage. My main masterplan would be to orchestrate a minority attack with b5-b4 (after the bishop trade naturally), but white can stop it with Nf4-d3, after which I’ll have a hard time playing b4 and the white knight can land on c5. In view of that, I could play Nd6-e4, after which white would probably play Nf3-d2 trading off a pair of knights. Black has nothing—for the record, my engine evaluates this position as -0.1—and I accepted my opponent’s draw offer.

My stance on these kinds of draws is that as long as it’s a “here and there” kind of thing, it’s fine. A word of caution though: if you agree to a draw in less than 20 moves on a regular basis, then you’re not really learning anything from those games.

One side is worse draw offers

This is a typical scenario: player A is higher rated than player B, but player A is in big trouble and he offers a draw to try and escape. Player A is hoping that player B doesn’t want to risk it and wants to grab some rating points. Here’s an example from my own practice:

King

With his move 16.Bxe4, my opponent offered a draw. Black is clearly better, as white has several weaknesses (d4, h3, b2 could drop). White does admittedly have the bishop pair, but if black simply plays 16… Be7, white won’t preserve the bishop. Long story short, black has a risk-free edge, and white has a tough defensive task ahead of him. Nevertheless I decided to accept the draw. In retrospect I should have played on, but more on that later.

Kudrin

This is another game where I, as white, accepted a draw against a higher rated opponent. Unlike in the previous example, there is fire in this position. It could go both ways. The fact remains that white is better here. Much better to be precise. After 26.Rf1!, white has a variety of powerful ideas: Ng4 attacking the e5-pawn could be very strong. If black moves the king out of the way, than I could go Bh3 hitting the e6-pawn. Meanwhile, what is black going to do? While I can luxuriously play moves like Kb1, black is in dire straits.

Declining those kinds of draw offers can be hard. After all you are playing a higher rated opponent. It all depends how much better you are and how you feel about your practical winning chances. If you’re completely winning, then you really shouldn’t take the draw. If you’re only marginally better, it depends. In principle, you should play on. Even if you end up losing the game, what’s most important is that you learned something from the game. You can usually, however, come up with excuses/reasons to take the draw.

There are also times when the lower rated player offers a draw in a better position. I actually never really did that. There have been times when I’ve felt that if my opponent offers a draw, I’ll probably take it, but in those games I never found a good opportunity to offer a draw. I can’t remember the last time I offered a draw against a GM, and I don’t mind that. Most of my draws against higher rated players have ended after a) I was defending but survived, and my opponent offered a draw, b) it was equal for most of the game and my opponent and I squeezed the life out of the position, c) I was pressing but wasn’t able to win, so I repeated moves, or d) “quick draws” as described above. Where’s the room to offer a draw against stronger opponent? When I’m worse, I shouldn’t offer a draw unless my opponent is short on time. When I’m pressing, I should press.

Philosophical chat aside, what are my thoughts about draws in better positions? Honestly, I think it’s okay to agree to a draw in a better position as long as you don’t make it a habit. If you make a draw every time you get into a better position against a higher rated player, then you’re damaging your chess improvement. To get better at chess, you have to beat higher rated opponents and take risks. Period. If you’re pressing but can’t get through, and the game ends in a draw, then you’ll feel better than if you accepted that draw early on. It feels right. If you have a risk-free advantage, there’s no harm playing on. After all, you’re agreeing to a draw if you’re afraid that you’ll end up losing.

What about the higher rated player end? If you’re completely busted, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try offering a draw to a lower rated opponent. If you’re worse and don’t see a way out, offering a draw can alleviate suffering. Strangely, however, I can’t remember doing that in any particular game. I’m serious here. Nevertheless, offering a draw in a worse position as a higher rated player can make your life easier. If you’re in big trouble and your opponent offers you a draw, then you should take it. A draw is better than a loss. No question about it. If, however, you have swindling chances and want to gamble, you can turn down the draw. It’s your decision, after all.

There’s a special case called time trouble where you can forget most of the things I’ve said above. If you’re worse but your opponent has no time, then you could offer a draw. Your opponent might be relieved to accept it, and you’ve just snagged a half point. If you’re better and low on time and you feel things are going to go wrong, then you should consider offering a draw. If the position is unclear and complicated and both you and your opponent have no time, then offering a draw is reasonable. After all, it’s an easy way out of potentially disastrous mistakes/blunders in a time scramble.

For some reason I don’t offer many draws, and it’s hard for me to decline my opponent’s draw offers. Say you’re 250 points lower rated than your opponent, you’re a bit better, and he offers you a draw on move 15. Are you going to really be principled and reject my draw offer? You gain rating, you’re tired, you want to get some rest, etc… The reasons are just piling up.

Going through my game database today, I’ve also found that I’ve had more “chicken draws” in the past. Back in those days playing someone who was 200+ points higher rated than me wasn’t as rare as it is now. Once in a while I’d get a good position, my opponent would offer a draw, and it would be hard to resist… In principle I shouldn’t have accepted any of those draws, but just about everybody breaks those rules. I believe that I did accept too many draws. That’s my feeling looking back at those positions a few years later.

Here is my final conclusion. It’s okay to make chicken draws here and there, but don’t make it a habit. Everybody does it once in a while, but you should play positions out. How else are you going to improve your chess? If you’re not willing to take risks, then why are you playing chess?

Until next time!