Puzzling through My Game

This time around I want to try something different.

I’ll give you a crazy game I played recently, against FM Matthew Larson, in the form of puzzles, and you try to solve them. Take it as some kind of test with no time limit and no restrictions – just no peeking. I ought to warn you in advance. First of all, these positions are not easy – both my opponent and I are guilty of messing many of these up. Don’t expect to find the answer by looking at the next diagram!!

Even answering only a few questions correctly is great – both my 2400+ opponent and I are guilty of messing some of these up…

Anyway, let the games begin!

Puzzle 1

Larson1

What should black do in this Benoniesque position?

Puzzle 2

Larson2

How should white exchange the DSBs?

Puzzle 3

Larson3

White’s initiative is brewing. How should black counter it?

Puzzle 4

Larson4

What is white’s best move?

Puzzle 5

Larson5

Again, how to counter that initiative?

Puzzle 6

Larson6

How best to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 7

Larson7

Again, how to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 8

Larson8

Black has two pieces, but there are coordination and king safety problems. How to solve them?

Puzzle 9

Larson9

The last move before the time control. What should black do?

Puzzle 10

Larson10

Should white play 49.h4?

Puzzle 11

Larson11

Black to play and win!

Puzzle 12

Larson12

Can white hold this?

Puzzle 13

Larson13

Black to play and win!

Now here’s the game starting from the first position… The game contained so many interesting moments, I couldn’t pass the opportunity. And there’s no way I’d be able to describe it in my “conventional” way of highlighting a couple critical moments when in reality there are 13!

If you got a feel for the middlegame position and solved numbers 3-5 correctly, kudos! If you solved puzzles 11-13 correctly and figured out this seemingly simple endgame, another kudos! And if you solved puzzle 7 (which is the hardest IMHO), more power to you! If you feel like it, let me know how you did on the test by replying to this post.

I hope you enjoyed it! Until next time…

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The Counterattack

Defense is a very important aspect of chess and even more so at the higher level of chess. Just because something went wrong or things look scary doesn’t mean a chess player should collapse. In this article, I’ll be talking about a key part of defense, counterattacks.

Counterattacks counter attacks (well, duh…). They follow the saying “the best defense is a good offense” which is obviously overgeneralized for picky people like chess players. However, counterattacks can be a handy defense when you think “normal” measures won’t do the trick. First, I should talk about defending against attacks in general.

Rule 1 of defense: Don’t panic (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference intended)

Don’t let your brain freeze up just because you’re under attack. You need to be able to calculate and think straight. You need to trust yourself. Do not overestimate your opponent’s chances. The fact that he is attacking doesn’t mean that there is any real danger.

Rule 2 of defense: Don’t panic

Really, don’t. Ok, now that we’ve covered that, there a couple things I should add.

Rule 3: Don’t go passive

Don’t curl up into a ball to survive an attack, metaphorically speaking. Try to defend against the attack actively. Feel free to counterattack. Of course, sometimes you need to be passive, but unnecessary passivity can be fatal. This is basically the point of this article.

Rule 4: Don’t be afraid to bail out

There’s nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of “My opponent’s attack is dangerous, and I’ll give back some material to get into a worse endgame that I may be able to hold.” That’s totally fine! But that does not mean that you should bail out against every little wimpy attack.

Dumb example: if your opponent is “attacking” you with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, that kind of thinking could be used to play 2… Nf6 3.Qxe5+ Qe7 so that you get the queens off and “defend a pawn down endgame”. No, no, no! You should have a concrete reason for bailing out, not just “I’m scared”.

Onto some examples…

Playing with fire

In the following game, I was under fire. Instead of calling the fire department, I started my own little blaze. Though what I did was not objectively correct, it was practical…

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Aldama, Dionisio (2517 USCF) World Open 2016

Aldama 1

I had just won a piece, but black has serious compensation… he has two pawns, the white king is shaky, and white is a bit tied up with the pin on the d-file. However, black is not immediately threatening Red8 because of Qe3, counterattacking the white knight, and Nxf3 would fail to Qf4. However, black has ideas of sacrificing even more material with ideas of Rxd6 Qxd6 and Qf5 and harassing the white king.

Asking my silicon friend what it thinks about this position was quite entertaining… it gives white a little edge (maybe 0.4 or 0.5), though its top moves include the awe-inspiring 25.Rab1! (there’s actually a point behind it). Anyway, I decided to play with fire myself by going 25.Nxf7!? Rxf7 26.Re1!

Aldama 2

I’m not interested in taking the exchange, since black just gets free play. Instead, I’m pinning black up, and I’m considering going f4 or Nc4. Unfortunately, objectively, this entire thing is a draw 😢.

The game went 26… Ree7 (unpinning on the e-file) 27.f4 c4 28.Nxc4

Aldama 4

Here is where IM Aldama went wrong by playing 28… Bxc4?. After 29.Bxc4 Nxc4 30.Qd8+ white grabs the exchange, and black doesn’t have sufficient compensation. White is just much better, and I went on to win.

The correct move was 28… Nxc4!. After 29.Qd8+ Kh7 30.Rxe7 c5 31.Bxc4

Aldama 3

Black has enough to make a perpetual check. There are two ways: 31… Bb7+ 32.Rxb7 Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Qe3+, or the fancier 31… Bxc4 32.Re8 Rf8! 33.Rxf8 Qe4+, with the same perpetual check.

What’s the moral of the story there? Instead of curling into a ball, I started a counterattack myself and managed to bamboozle my opponent. I went for an active choice instead of a passive choice because I felt it was right. What I did wasn’t objectively correct, but it did the trick in practice. It was a weird and complicated position, but hey, who said that chess is easy?

My ultimate counterattack

This game goes into my all-time records. After an unusual opening, I won a piece, but had no development. You’ll see for yourself…

Brodsky, David (2449 USCF) – Jacobson, Brandon (2392 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2017

Brandon 4

Yeah, I had a point… White is a piece up, but his kingside is undeveloped. How to develop it? Err, ehm, eh… [insert coughing noise]. The details are unclear.

Black’s best continuation is 15… Rhe8! 16.e3 Na2. After 17.Ra1 Nxc3 18.Qg4+, it looks like black is just losing his queen because the mate on d1 is prevented. However, black has 18… Bd7!, and if 19.Qc4+ black goes back with 19… Bc6. That is just a repetition, and white can go 19.Rxa5 Bxg4, though he technically doesn’t have any advantage in the endgame.

Instead, Brandon played 15… Na2? 16.b4! (this is practically forced) 16… Nxb4

Brandon 5

Black’s attack looks very promising, but white has an incredible idea that saves the day… honestly, if I were to choose a best move from my entire career, I’d probably choose this one. Now, try to solve it! Here’s how the game ended.

What’s the moral of this one? Had I lost this one, it would have probably served as a horror movie shown to beginners to illustrate the importance of development… I’m half joking, but seriously, I could have easily lost in the confusion. However, I kept a clear head and managed to launch a deadly counterattack with my 17th move.

Being under attack isn’t the end of the world, not even the end of your game. For all you know the attack may be completely benign. Don’t panic and calculate. Many attacking games are won not because the attack was fatal to start with, but because the defender made a mistake. Try not to be one of these fatalities.

Pawns vs. minor piece

Here we go again! Material imbalances. The amount of articles about material imbalances seems never ending… don’t worry, there’s only a finite amount of material combinations to write about! Anyway, this time we’ll be taking a look at the pawns versus minor piece imbalance.

On the material scale a minor piece is worth 3 pawns, right? That is true, but don’t assume that three pawns are worth a minor piece! A couple of factors…

  • The number of pieces on the board – with the help of a few cronies, the minor piece can be a lot more effective than the three pawns. The more pieces, the better for the side with the piece.
  • The number of pawns on the board – the more pawns there are on the board means that there is a larger chance that the side with the piece will queen one in the endgame.

A simple example to illustrate point #2: say black has an extra piece and white has pawns on f2, g2, and h2 (original, I know)! If that’s it on the board, then white has all the winning chances, though it is objectively drawn. However, if you add some extra pawns on the queenside, far away from the white king, white is going to be in trouble, if he isn’t lost already.

Of course, other factors in the position should not be ignored, but those two are fairly logical rules that I’ll try to apply to the following three examples from my games.

A “normal” example

Jacobson, Brandon (2316 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2350 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2016

Let’s not go to any extremes early….

Brandon 1

This position is unusual. Black is temporarily a pawn up, but the pawn structure is plain bizarre. I could have gone 31… Qe8, but I didn’t like the prospect of dealing with white’s central pawn mass and my shaky g-pawn. However, my silicon friend says black is perfectly fine….

Instead, I went for another option by playing 31… Bxe5+!? 32.dxe5 Qxe5+ 33.Kh1 Rxf1+ 34.Qxf1 Qxe4+ 35.Kh2 b6

Brandon 2

Black temporarily has four pawns for the piece. The g7-pawn is going to fall next move, but the other three pawns are fairly secure. Black’s king will be safe hiding on a6, while white’s king is exposed and could be the victim of a perpetual. There aren’t enough pieces or pawns on the board for white to be better – the position is objectively equal.

The game went 36.Qf8+ Kb7 37.Qxg7+ Ka6 38.Qf6 Qc2+ 39.Kh3 Qf5+

Brandon 3

After the queen trade, white will win black’s remaining pawns on the queenside, but his king is too far away from the queenside. Black will make a draw by getting all the pawns off (he actually only needs to get the c-pawn off because the a-pawn is of the wrong color…). After 40.Kxh4 Qxf6 41.Bxf6 Kb5 42.Kg5 we agreed to a draw.

That part of the game was fairly typical. I sacrificed a piece to get three pawns and equality. However, not all games with this imbalance are typical…

A mess

Breckenridge, Steven (2399 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2300 USCF) UT Brownsville IM Norm Tournament 2015

Yes, this game was a mess. It’s in the databases, you can replay it here. My opponent sacrificed a piece for an attack, but nothing much came out of it. Queens were soon traded, and I had a piece for three pawns. It was a situation where I, with the piece, was on top. Things soon went haywire in time trouble, and after missing a couple wins, I reached this position.

Breckenridge 1

With my last two moves, I decided to bring my king into the game. However, I began to regret that after seeing the strength of the white bishops. Basically I didn’t want to get mated. Therefore, I played 38… Bb3? allowing a rook trade that favors white. Instead, I should have just gone 38… Ra2! where white has no mate (or any trace of mate for that matter). I needed to keep the rooks on, and had I done that, I would have been much better.

White should go 39.Bxa6 Bxd1 40.Bc4+ to get a tempo up version of the game (more about that later). Instead, my opponent played 39.Bc8+?. I should have gone 39… Ke5! 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4 Nd4!, stopping the b-pawn from advancing. Black retains a sizeable advantage there. Instead, I went 39… Kf6? 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4

Breckenridge 2

After reaching the time control, I realized that black doesn’t have much, because the white b-pawn is running fast and will tie up the black pieces. With the king on e5, I could go Nd4 here which would make for a totally different story. Later on, I declined two draw offers in a dead drawn position and tried playing for a win, getting myself in trouble in the process. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything serious, and we made a draw.

What’s the moral of the story? Passed pawns without any heavy pieces on can be annoying and hard to deal with! However, I can’t talk about annoying passed pawns without mentioning the next game.

An absurd situation

Gorti, Akshita (2315 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2430 USCF) Eastern Chess Congress 2016

In this game, I tried some “fake grinding” (aka trying to win an objectively equal/slightly worse position). Everything was within reasonable bounds of equality until I blundered an exchange. Oooooops…. However, I managed to get some noise going, and we reached this position

Akshita 1

White has four (!) connected passed pawns on the kingside, in exchange for a knight that is stuck on the other side of the board. I was really worried here…

Now, how should white win? Let’s first get one thing clear: all four passers will not go marching down the board side by side until the finish line. No, no, no! We’re being realistic here… a fast passer or two should do the job. Black’s hope to survive here is to make noise with the rook + knight combo. In light of that, white’s best move here is 47.Rf5!, giving up the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Rxe3+ 48.Kf6, white can push his g-pawn, and all noise is too late. White is just winning.

Instead, Akshita played 47.Kf4? protecting the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Nc1!, I got the noise I wanted. As crazy as it may seem, white may no longer be winning here! Akshita decided to give up the e3-pawn by playing 48.Rd5 Ne2+ 49.Kg5 Rxe3 50.h4

Akshita 2

The f3-pawn is obviously taboo on account of Rd2+, winning the knight. Now it’s time to bring my king back to civilization with 50… Kc3 and after 51.f4 I played 51… Re8!, harassing the white king. White’s best try is 52.Rd6, with the idea of blocking on g6. However, after 52… Ng3!, threatening a fork on e4, white should go 53.Rc6+ Kd4 54.f5 Ke5

Akshita 3

Black is now fine!

Instead, Akshita gave up yet another pawn with 52.h5 Rg8+ 53.Kh4 Nxf4. White doesn’t have enough to win, and we soon drew.

Conclusion

What’s the overall conclusion? First of all, the power of the pawns should not be underestimated in the endgame, especially with no rooks on the board. In light of that, the side with the piece should, in general, try to keep the remaining pawns on the board, and the side with the pawns should trade pawns – with caution, of course! Blindly following principles is never a good idea!

The pawns vs. minor piece imbalance is a fascinating one and isn’t easy to figure out. Anyway, I hope what I’ve said in this article makes sense, or that at least it’s made you think about it. Until next time!

Blitz With Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson and I have different jobs. Every two weeks, I write an article in which I decide how many question marks to put next to my mistakes. Ben, on the other hand, interviews interesting personalities of the chess world in his Perpetual Chess Podcast. That may help to explain why, in the Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes, Ben got 9 points, and yours truly got a score of big fat zero. Really, I did.

Ben started the Perpetual Chess Podcast in December 2016, and it is getting more and more popular. I was interviewed in Episode 21. Ok, perhaps not all people he interviews are that interesting J. Since then, Ben has gone on to interview big chess personalities, such as Rex Sinquefield, Hikaru Nakamura, Judit Polgar, etc.

Now for my amazing World Cup predictions:

Winner: Carlsen

Runner-up: Nakamura

Best American: Nakamura

Best Russian: Grischuk

Best Chinese: Wei Yi

Most Draws: Nakamura

Most Wins: Carlsen

Top <2700 player: Rodshtein

Does Carlsen make top 4?: Yes

We won’t even start discussing where they went wrong… Ben, on the other hand, correctly predicted that Aronian would win!

I played my part in the sweepstakes by offering one of the prizes: a 30-minute blitz match, and Ben was the prize winner! What a wonderful coincidence. Ben’s rating is in the 2100’s, though he doesn’t play much these days. From his podcasts, however, Ben knows all the secrets of the top players…

I ended up winning 3-1, though it was eventful…

Game 1 was a quick win after Ben blundered a piece early on. Ok, I’ll take that!

In game 2, my position was looking good, but my clock wasn’t. I ended up flagging in a queen up position. Ben obviously forgot to read my article about when to resign. More about my revenge later…

Summary of game 3: 1.e4 a6!! 0-1… yes, I really did play 1.e4 a6 but no, the game wasn’t so smooth… I finally got the better of Ben. In the final position, where I was a queen up, Ben flagged, and not the other way around.

I got my revenge for the flagging incident in the final game, game 4. Ben hung a pawn on move 4. Good start! However, I managed to ruin my good position, and by move 40 I was busted in both departments: position and clock. Then a miracle happened. Out of the blue, I trapped Ben in a mating net! He couldn’t get out, and I managed not to flag this time around.

Queen vs. Two Rooks

I’m continuing with my articles about material imbalances. This time it’s queen vs. two rooks

What can we say about queen vs. two rooks? Using the beginner material scale, two rooks are worth 10 points, and a queen is worth 9 points. Does that mean that two rooks are better than a queen? If that were a simple question to answer, then I wouldn’t be writing this article…

Coordination

It depends, as usual, on coordination. Bad coordination, especially with more pieces on the board, is, in general, a recipe to disaster when facing the queen. The queen is a goddess at causing nasty cases of LPDO (loose pieces drop off). If the rooks are coordinated, however, then the two rooks can be an effective force.

Number of pieces on the board

Don’t underestimate the power of a queen and minor piece(s) combo. Those can be quite annoying, especially if the opponent’s pieces are badly-coordinated. The pieces can, of course, be cooperating with the rooks too, but usually it’s the side with the queen that is better off.

King safety

It would be criminal not to mention a thing or two about king safety, especially when we’re talking about queens. The queen has a reputation of mating unsafe kings, especially with the help of a couple pieces. And let’s not forget about perpetual checks; queens are good at that too.

I’m not saying that two rooks are not good attackers. No, they can be, but mostly when they are coordinated. “Ladder” mates exist, and two rooks on the 7th rank are true monsters. But the queen is generally better at dealing with weak kings than the rooks.

One thing that I should comment on is that, when looking up my games with the queen vs. two rook imbalance, I found that many of those were one-sided games, mainly in favor of the queen. It was not because the side with the two rooks botched it up but because the position was totally botched up to begin with.

Let’s look at a quick example of a position that isn’t one-sided.

Kopiecki, Edward (1963 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2201 USCF) Marshall Grand Prix April 2014

Kopiecki

White has a queen for two rooks, and there are a couple minor pieces on the board – if the minor pieces weren’t there, then black would just be better. The rooks aren’t coordinated for the moment, and white is threatening mate. Here, black should go 20…Ne8, defending the g7-pawn and preventing white from infiltrating on c7. The position there is roughly equal, as neither side can do anything concrete. Instead, I went for inspired active play with 20… Ng6? and was in trouble after 21.Qc7! grabbing some queenside pawns.

The rest of the game wasn’t pretty. I basically tried to blow open the white camp with active play, but everything was under control for white, and I was objectively much worse. I managed to generate something but in the process botched up the complications and would have been lost had my opponent found a nice little tactic. Fortunately, he missed that tactic, and the position went back to objectively drawn. Then, he blundered again, and I won. Phew!

What are the conclusions from that game? Don’t overestimate the power of the two rooks and don’t give away pawns unless you have a legitimate reason to!

Last October, I got a chance to get the raw deal: two rooks vs. a queen with equal number of pawns and no other pieces on the board. In simple English, I got the raw deal. And, in simple English, the game turned into a festival of mistakes.

Tsay, Vincent (2152 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2430 USCF) Eastern Chess Congress 2016

Tsay4

Yes, I did use this game already in my queen vs. pieces article. This was after my messup that degraded my position from winning to better. So, what to say about this position?

The black rooks are coordinated, that’s for sure. There aren’t any loose pawns for either side, and black should be able to protect everything if necessary. The black king is defended by the rooks, though it can get a bit drafty (as it did in the game).

What’s the overall evaluation? Black is better, but he isn’t winning.

But how to try and win? The white king is a bit airy, but I didn’t see any realistic mating ideas. But how about the queenside pawns? None of them are really loose or anything, but it’s not a bad idea to eyeball them… In simple English, I needed to try to grab some queenside pawns without allowing a perpetual check. This wouldn’t be easy – I knew I had to resort to the old trade secrets of dancing around trying to make progress… AKA grinding.

Nothing particularly eventful happened for the next few moves, and we soon reached this position.

Tsay5

After having my rooks doubled on the f-file for the past few moves, I decided to try out the g-file with my last move 51… Kg7-h7!?, clearing the g7-square for my rook. I honestly doubt that the rook could accomplish anything effective there, but it was worth a try – I could always put my rook back on the f-file with no harm done.

Vincent had defended well up to this point, but here he cracked with 52.h4?. I thought this was a bad move but for the wrong reasons. Can you find the win for black here? I’ll come back to the solution later in this article.

I went 52… Rg7+? 53.Kh2 Rf2+ (going 52… Rf4 would have gotten there immediately, but I wanted to dance around a little) 54.Kh3 Rf3+ 55.Kh2 Rf4 56.Kh3 Rxd4

Tsay6

Yay! I’ve snagged a pawn! The only problem is that after 57.Qf8!, black cannot stop perpetual check. Oops… Instead, I got lucky when Vincent played 57.Qe5? which was the right idea but the wrong execution. After 57… Rd3+ 58.Kh2 Rf7, I stopped the perpetual. Still, after 59.Qe6, I had to figure out what to do. Black’s best policy is actually to give up the d5-pawn with 59… Rdf3 in some form or another to stop the perpetuals. Black retains some advantage there. I went 59… Rff3?. Here, white would have had a draw after 60.h5!, not letting black escape with the king via g6. After some thought, my engine gives triple zeros. Instead, Vincent couldn’t resist checking with 60.Qe7+?, after which my king successfully flees. The game continued 60… Kg6 61.Qe6+ Kh5 62. Qe5+ Kxh4 63.Qe7+ Kg4 64.Qe6+ Kf4 65.Qxh6+ Ke4 66.Qh4+ Ke3

Tsay7

All those checks may seem scary, but I was well aware that this was no perpetual. My king has run towards the queenside, and my rooks are now helping shield his majesty. This is the point where white starts running out of checks. A few moves later, I won.

I want to go back to the moment after 52.h4?, where I had a win.

Tsay8

Black should be concerned that his king doesn’t get into a perpetual check, but the winning move here is ironically 52… Kg6!. Black’s plan is simple: play Kg6-h5xh4. Then, white will be forced to trade his queen for black’s two rooks after Rf2+, resulting in a completely winning pawn endgame for black. How does white stop this? Well, he can’t! His checks are useless! I completely missed this remarkable idea, and kudos if you found it.

So yeah, queen vs. two rooks is not an easy imbalance to play… What’s the conclusion? I guess it is not to underestimate the queen – in their raw form, two rooks are better than a queen, but in many other situations they are not.

NY State Championship

It’s Labor Day, and I’m sitting in a hotel lobby in Albany. I’ve tied for first at the NY State Championship. In the past NY recognized all the winners as state co-champions. Not anymore; there is only that much space on the trophy. Whoever has the best tiebreaks gets the state title. That means I have to wait for every single game in the Open section to finish. Last year, I waited until the end and was second by half a point on tiebreaks losing to IM Alex Ostrovskiy. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck this year.

NYS trophy

Will my name get carved onto this trophy?

Long story short, I have a few hours to kill and an article due tomorrow.

The NY State Championship seems to be my annual redemption tournament; after botching things up towards the end of summer, I get my revenge and some of my rating points back…

So how did it go this year?

This year’s field was much stronger than last year’s field. Last year there was only one GM, this year there were three… Tying for first did not seem like an easy task at all.

In round 1, I got black against Abhimanyu Banerjee (2155 USCF). It was a fairly smooth victory, though there was one unusual moment…

Banerjee

Black to move

Black’s queen and knight are both under attack, and one will fall. Instead of just moving my queen out of the way, I decided to go 18… Ne1!? after a long think. The point is that if 19.Rxc2 Nxc2 20.Rb1 Nxd4, black has a rook a piece and a pawn for the queen. Still, I think white should be OK there, though nothing more. Instead, my opponent played 19.Qf1? after which I soon won the d4-pawn, and white’s position fell apart.

In round 2, I got white against Steven Taylor (2117 USCF). That game was also a pretty smooth victory where I basically got a winning position out of the opening and managed not to botch it up xD.

So far, so good!

In round 3, I got black against FM Ethan Li (2360 USCF). The game was a fairly quick draw; I got a little worse out of the opening but never let Ethan get anything serious. Drawing this game was not a big deal; the rating difference wasn’t so large and besides, I was still tied for first (it was a 9-way (!!!) tie at that point).

In round 4, I got white against GM Sergei Azarov (2643 USCF), and the game was a quick 15-move draw. He offered a repetition out of the opening, and I decided to take it instead of playing on. Was it a good idea? In retrospect, it probably was. I was half-a-point behind the four leaders, so I still had a good shot.

In round 5, I got black against Jacob Chen (2226 USCF). Things went very well for me out of the opening, and I was just better with black. A nice little trick netted a pawn, but then I had to convert it. Jacob decided to give me a second pawn to get into a rook endgame where it wasn’t so clear if I was winning.

Chen1

Black to move

What’s going on here? Black is two pawns up, but those are doubled h-pawns. That’s inconvenient. What’s black’s winning plan? I wasn’t quite sure what exactly it was, but I knew I had to try to create a passed e-pawn. How to create the e-pawn? Well, I want white to push f2-f3, so that I can create the passer on e4 instead of all the way down on e2.

First of all, I want to keep the h4-pawn on the board. The game went 29… Ra4 30.Kh3 Rf4 31.f3 e5 32.Rb5 f6 33.Ra5 Kg6 34.Rb5

Chen2

Black to move

I’ve advanced my pawns, but what to do now? Black can’t go f5, and my rook appears to need to babysit the h4-pawn. Therefore, I decided that the next order of business was to defend the h4-pawn with my king to free the rook. I went 34… h6 to prevent white from being able to easily attack it. The game went 35.Rb6 Kg5 36.Rb5 Kh5 37.Rb6 Kg5 (repeating once) 38.Rb5 Ra4! 39.Rc5 Ra1 40.Kh2 Re1

Chen3

White to move

Black has made a lot of progress! His rook has gotten active, and the white king is confined. Now for the e-pawn push…

Jacob decided to go active with 41.Rc8 f5 42.Rg8+ Kf4 43.Rh8 but it’s too late.

Chen4

Black to move

Can you find the knockout blow for black? Here’s how the game ended.

All in all, I’m not sure the endgame was objectively winning, but the game looks fairly convincing. Still, I think white could have defended better somehow.

Going into the last round, it was time to take a look at the tournament situation. GMs Mark Paragua and Bryan Smith had 4.5/5 and were playing each other. GM Sergei Azarov and I were the only players with 4/5. Since we had already played each other, we got bumped down to play the 3.5-pointers.

I got white against IM Jay Bonin (2361 USCF), who was at 3.5/6. IM Bonin tried to create some chaos, but it backfired. I got a near-winning position, which I won without any real problems.

The results are in.

Back to Albany. Both GM Paragua drew and GM Azarov drew; that puts me in a 3-way tie for first. GM Bryan Smith lives in Pennsylvania, so he’s not competing for the state title. It’s only me and GM Mark Paragua. There is only one game going on, and the tiebreaks will be the same no matter the result. They are calculating them…

First tiebreak: the same!
Second tiebreak: the same!
Third tiebreak: well, have a look!

NYS Final Standings

GM Paragua wins! It’s no big deal. I still had a good tournament and a good result. I’ve redeemed myself, like I do year after year the NY State Championship.

Plus it’s obvious that I am improving! Last year I lost on the 1st tiebreak. This year, it took 3 tiebreaks. Next year, I plan on having them all even and getting NYS recognize all the winners as NYS Co-Champions :).

P.S. My opponents who lost the last round are on probation. Just kidding…

Washington International

It has been a while since I walked you through one of my tournaments. This was my first tournament as an official IM (FIDE approved my IM title on August 9th), and it felt good having the letters “IM” next to my name…

The Washington International is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. After all, I gave up my spot in US Cadets to play there. The organization is great. Wooden chess sets and clocks are provided. Oh and cookies! The pairings are done early (at least an hour before the round, with the exception of the first round), and the rounds start on time. What is even more important, also, is the strength of the field.

The field is strong; I was barely in the top half, but there also isn’t much of a tail. This makes the Washington International one of the strongest open Swiss tournaments in USA. By “strong” I mean strong for someone who is in the middle of the pack; I am by no means saying that the Washington International is harder to win than the World Open. The World Open has a huge prize fund and attracts many GMs, but there is also a tail of low-rated players playing in the open section.

While at the World Open I may get to play a significantly lower rated opponent, no such a thing happens at the Washington International. That is put in place by a simple solution: 1) put a high minimum rating with no exceptions and 2) make the entry fee system based on rating.

A minimum published rating 2100 FIDE or 2200 USCF was required and there are no exceptions even for juniors! Players who didn’t fulfill that requirement could play in the lower sections. And here’s how the entry fee system worked:

GMs, non-US IMs – Free
US IMs and WGMs – $199
FMs – $299
FIDE greater than 2200 – $349
FIDE between 2100 and 2199 – $399
FIDE between 2000 and 2099 – $600
FIDE less than 2000 – $800

The message: if you have a low FIDE, you can join! You just have to pay extra… Why, you ask? Well, many players come to 9-round tournaments to have a chance to get a norm, and there your opponents’ ratings matter a lot. An opponent with rating below 2050 won’t give you anything as far as IM norm goes. While an adjustment can be done for one, play two of those and win both games and you are in minus as far as an IM norm goes! It’s even worse for a GM norm; anybody below 2200 FIDE only ruins your average.

As a result, nobody below 2200 USCF played in the top section.

As much as I like this tournament (see cookies above) I usually get the rough end of the field at the Washington International. As I said there are no “free lunches” this tournament to get “free points” against, and one just cannot get a break However, this is a tournament where I can get reasonable opponents without scoring massive; it’s not every day that with a score of 3.5/6 someone with my rating gets to play a 2600+ FIDE GM.

Anyway, off to my tournament!

Rounds 1-3: so far, so good.

In round 1, I was white against Arthur Macaspac (2034 FIDE, 2200 USCF). I won a fairly unusual but smooth game. A little excerpt.

Macaspac

White to move

I like playing moves like 19.Ra4!, especially when they’re good!

In round 2, I was black against IM Andrey Gorovets (2527 FIDE, 2602 USCF). It was a reasonable draw where I had chances to get an edge had I played better. You can check the game out here, since I made it to the top boards.

In round 3, I was white against IM John Burke (2489 FIDE, 2554 USCF). I’ve played him many times (the official track record going into this game was 1 win for him and 4 draws). OK, what to do against him? I decided to go into heavy theory. I had some good preparation and found some good stuff… it looked like I could play for an advantage with near-zero risk.

Except that my prep wasn’t good enough. John had a novelty up his sleeve that practically equalized the game immediately.

So OK, I was 2/3. A reasonable situation. As long as I didn’t lose, I’d continue playing up…

Rounds 4-5: “Bishops are good, knights are bad.” – MVL

The winner of the Sinquefield Cup just told the world his theory about everything chess-related. It worked for MVL, and I decided to see if it would work for me.

I’m half-joking.

OK, look at this position from my round 4 game against GM Carlos Hevia (2497 FIDE, 2567 USCF) and then try to argue with MVL!

Hevia

White to play

After a suicidal decision from me in the early middlegame, we reached this position.

Black’s position sucks. Big time. His rook is babysitting he a-pawn. His knight on f7 doesn’t have a bright future; it can’t move due to problems on g7. This is a knightmare (yes, the k belongs there).

And I was black :(((.

I managed to wriggle my way out into an endgame that wasn’t as depressing, but it was still probably technically lost. GM Hevia finished me off with some good technique.

So… is that the price you pay for giving draws with white? Eh… no! That’s the price you pay for playing badly with black!

In round 5, I found myself facing Balaji Daggupati (2205 FIDE, 2272 USCF), a talented twelve-year-old. I got a good position out of my offbeat opening. I eventually decided to go for the bishop vs. knight imbalance, where I had the bishop. The knight was admittedly a better piece than the bishop BUT I got control of an open file in return. Balaji put together some counterplay, but I still had a much better position. However, a misstep blew the majority of my advantage, and by the time we reached the time control, I had no objective advantage. We soon drew.

And that’s how I scored 0.5/2 testing MVL’s theory…

That stung. That was the kind of game I’m supposed to win, especially considering how good my position was.

Round 6: Risky opening + decent play = success!

I was black against Yuanchen Zhang (2272 FIDE, 2387 USCF). After what had happened in the previous game, I felt I had to win this game for my morale.

OK, my opening wasn’t that risky. It was just another one of those semi-offbeat things I wanted to try (I “stole” the idea from someone with initials BJ). My opponent’s play wasn’t the most theoretically accurate, and I won what was probably my best game of the tournament.

Rounds 7 and 8: The fade.

In round 7, I got white against GM Dmitry Gordievsky (2613 FIDE, 2704 USCF). After a suspect opening from GM Gordievsky, I got a good position. Actually, it looked very good. Like perfect.

Gordievsky

White to move

The question, however, is how to get through?? Black’s pieces aren’t doing much, but they’re solidly placed.

Then he broke out. I was probably still totally fine, maybe slightly better. But, with little time on the clock, I decided to continue along the script that I was much better and proceeded to make an idiotic decision on that assumption. After that I was just worse and was ground down until I lost.

Great. Moral of the story: these 2600+ GMs don’t go down without a fight!

In round 8, I got black against Trung Nguyen (2181 FIDE, 2259 USCF). I got pretty much nothing with black out of the opening, but I tried to get something. That something, however, was more idealistic than objective. In simple English, I had no real advantage the entire game, and it was a draw.

Combined with what I had done in the morning, this made for a pretty bad day…

Round 9: Pressure

It was the last round, I was at 4/8, and I was playing FM Jason Cao, who had a FIDE rating of 2328. Goes to show just how strong this tournament was.

I spent a lot of time early on in the game, especially at a critical juncture where I had two options: go for an endgame where it looked like I had some pressure OR keep the queens on and keep some initiative. I chose the former. It turns out I missed a simple idea in the “keep the queens on” variation that made most of my thought a waste…

Anyway, we eventually reached this position.

Cao1

White to move

A somewhat unusual position (at least the pawn structure is). White’s knight and rook on d4 are more active than their black counterparts, but is there anything else.

The first idea that came to my mind was to play 22.Rhd1, seizing control of the d-file. If black goes 22… Rhd8?!, then after 23.Ng5! black has some problems. Nxh7 and Nxf7 are both serious threats. Black can try 23… Ne5, but then after 24.Rxd8 Rxd8 25.Rxd8 Kxd8 26.f4!, black will end up a pawn down in this knight endgame. 22…Rad8? isn’t much better either because of 23.Rd6!, hitting the black a-pawn.

However, black has the strong idea of 22… Nb6! followed by Nd5. Black’s knight has a sturdy outpost, blocks the d-file, and I didn’t see where white’s advantage is.

Then I came up with another idea: invade on the g-file with 22.Rg1. Black can’t play 22… Rhg8?? Because of 23.Rxg8 Rxg8 24.Rxd7+! Kxd7 25.Nf6+, winning a piece. However, I soon saw that black can throw a wrench in the works by playing 22… Ne5!. Allowing a fork on f3 would be embarrassing! Seriously, how to react?

I came up with a third idea, 22.f4!?. The point is to continue with f5, destabilizing black’s pawn structure. I should do it with knights on the board; if I did that in a rook endgame, I’d just be giving black passed pawns! My point is that with knights, those heroic passed pawns can become weak liabilities.

My opponent reacted well with 22… Rhd8. If white continues with 23.f5, then black goes 23… Nf6!, forcing a rook endgame where he is 100% fine. Therefore, I went 23.Rhd1 Nb6 (23… Nf6?? is now impossible), 24.f5

Cao2

Black to move

Here there’s already some pressure on black. However, he should be fine after 24… Rxd4! 25.f6+ (25.Rxd4 exf5 is not promising for white), 25… Kd7 26.Rxd4+ Nd5. White doesn’t have anything concrete. Instead, my opponent erred with 24… exf5?. After 25.Nd6!, white has a serious edge. There are just too many tactical tricks in the air, and after 25… Ke6, I played the neat tactical trick 26.Nxb5! Rxd4 27.Nxd4+ Kf6 28.Rf1. The black f5-pawn is falling, and I went on to convert my extra pawn, though not without adventures…

Overall, I finished with 5/9. I gained a few FIDE points (3.6 to be exact), and my USCF went down a few decimal points. The tournament had its ups and downs… to sum it up, it wasn’t my greatest tournament, but it was far from the worst. I guess I’ll call it “mediocre”.

Congratulations to GM Oliver Barbosa, who won the tournament outright and to IM-elect Zhaozhi Li, who got his last IM Norm.

Anyway, if you want to play in strong tournament and eat your cookies, I may see you at Washington International next year!