Manhattan Open

And my summer chess adventures continue. This time I headed to the Manhattan Open, which took place only a few blocks from Times Square. Let me just tell you that going out for lunch was a test of ingenuity and persistence navigating through throngs of tourists. Manhattan Open was only 5 rounds, but it was surprisingly strong with 7 GMs in attendance! For me, it was an excellent local practice tournament with nothing big at stake.

In round 1, I won a fairly clean game with black against Juan Sena (2222 USCF, 1996 FIDE). An interesting idea in the opening worked very well, and I was much better by move 20. I went on to convert without problem. Yay, I finally won a first round!

Round 2 was a tough game for me. I got white against Stanislav Busygin (2293 USCF, 2167 FIDE). I nursed a slight edge and got a very good position, but it wasn’t easy to get through. His defense was sturdy, and he didn’t give me many opportunities. Eventually, after a few inaccuracies/mistakes from both sides, we reached this position.

Busygin_2 1

It’s a knight endgame with equal material, but white clearly has the upper hand with his Nc5. White should engineer a b3-b4 breakthrough to get a passer on the a-file. What else to do? However, black has Ne4 ideas, which will cause trouble. Patience with 53.Kd3 or 53.Kc2 is best, and white has very good winning chances. Instead, I decided to immediately go 53.b4?. The most critical move here is 53… Ne4+, leading to a pawn endgame after 54.Nxe4 axb4+ 55.Kxb4 dxe4. The key line there is 56.Kc3 Kb6 57.Kd2 Ka5 58.Ke3 Kxa4 59.Kxe4

Busygin_2 2

White has gone after black’s e-pawn, and black has gone after white’s a-pawn in response. That’s all fairly natural. Now, if white could take the d4- and c6-pawns off the board, he’d be winning because his king rushes in to the kingside. Black should therefore go back 59… Kb5, and after 60.d5 he has 60… Kc5! saving the day. I was toying with 60.Kd3, but white has no magic. 60… Kb4 holds without a problem since 61.d5 is again met with 61… Kc5!. It’s a draw. I did see this, though I’m not sure if I boiled it down to the end before or after I played 53.b4. I did (incorrectly) feel that I had blown a large chunk of my advantage in the past few moves, and I saw some ghosts if I waited with my king. In simple English, I bluffed and in retrospect am not sure why.

Fortunately, my opponent went 53… axb4+?, and everything was back on track. After 54.Kxb4 black is in a bad situation, and passive defense with 54… Nc8? didn’t help. White will push his a-pawn, go after black’s kingside pawns with his knight, and infiltrate with his king to c5 and beyond. I won a few moves later.

After that long game and lunch with a friend, there was no time whatsoever to prepare before the next round. I got double white against Justin Chen (2354 USCF, 2249 FIDE). The game didn’t go according to plan. My opening was fairly toothless, and my attempts to gain an advantage led to a worse endgame. Fortunately, I held it without any serious problems. I was hoping for more, but 2.5/3 was not a score to whine about—especially considering how I’ve been starting my tournaments recently…

In round 4, I made another draw with black against GM Sergey Kudrin (2537 USCF, 2456 FIDE). The game was approximately equal throughout, and when he offered a draw, I decided to take it. I had 3/4 going into the last round, and that’s the game where I wanted to take my chances. Since I got a double white in rounds 2 and 3, the pairing program didn’t object to me getting black again in the last round, this time against Wesley Wang (2408 USCF, 2328 FIDE). Out of the opening, we reached this strange position.

Wesley 1

White does appear to be a bit overextended and badly coordinated, but this should dissipate once he castles. 16.Qd2 and 16.Bxb6 Qxb6 17.g3 are white’s best options, after which the position is approximately equal. Instead, Wesley played the most logical move 16.Bb5+?. 16… Nc6 appears to be forced, and white shouldn’t have any real problems after 17.0-0 0-0 18.Bxb6 Qxb6 19.Nc3, to show one variation. But wait, is 16… Nc6 forced? It isn’t! I correctly played the cold-blooded 16… Bd7! which throws a huge wrench in white’s works. On the surface it looks impossible, but after both 17.Bxd7+ Qxd7 18.Bxb6 Nxg2+ 19.Ke2 Qb5+ and 17.Bxb6 Nxg2+ 18.Kf1 (18.Kd2 Qxb6 19.Bxd7+ Kxd7) 18… Bxb5+ 19.Kxg2 Qxb6, black is a pawn up. 17.Bxd7+ Qxd7 18.0-0 fails to 18… Bxd4 19.Nxd4 Qxd4! 20.Qxd4 Ne2+ winning a piece. This is a bad sign for white…

17.Nc3 and 17.Na3 were the least evils for white, though black will have an edge after 17… Bxd4 18.Nxd4 0-0. Instead, Wesley decided to go 17.Bxd7+ Qxd7 18.c3

Wesley 2

This looked precariously bad for white. Black just has so many ideas: Nd3+, Nxg2+, Qb5, etc. One of them is bound to work. 18… Nbd3+ 19.Kf1 Bxd4 is black’s best option. If 20.Nxd4 Nxe5, black is up a clean pawn, and white’s position is bad anyway. 20.cxd4 annoyed me, but I missed the simple idea that after 20… 0-0 21.g3, black has 21… Rc8! 22.gxf4 Rc1 winning the queen and the game. And that’s not the only good variation black has at his disposal… Instead of doing this, however, I overthought my next move and overlooked a simple hole in my main line. I went 18… Bxd4 19.cxb4 Qb5? (19… Bb6! was still very good for black). After 20.Nxd4 I realized what I had missed.

Wesley 3

I thought that after 20… Qxb4+ 21.Kf1 Qc4+, white has to go 22.Kg1, after which I have 22… Qxd4 23.Qxd4 Ne2+, winning the piece back. However, I missed that white can simply go 22.Ne2!. I had technically been planning on postponing operation Qc4+ by first going 21… 0-0, but white could go Ne2 there too. OOPS!! This wasn’t part of my plan. I decided to make the best of things by going 20… Nxg2+ 21.Kd2 Qxe5

Wesley 4

Black has two pawns for the piece, and white’s king is really shaky. Black clearly is a happy camper here, but what he could’ve had before was much better. 22.Kc1 0-0 23.Nc2 is probably white’s best shot, but Wesley went for the adventurous (but bad) 22.Qa4+? Ke7 23.Qa7 Rd8 24.Kc3

Wesley 6

White’s knight is awkwardly pinned in the middle, but if black carelessly goes 24… Nf4?, he’ll get hit with 25.Qc5+! trading the queens off and solving white’s problems. In light of that, I played 24… Kf6!. The point is that 25.Qc5 will now be met with 25… Rd5. Black’s Kf6 looks very strange, but it’s safe! Next up is Nf4 followed by Ne2+, further bombarding Nd4. 25.Nd2 Nf4 26.N2f3 is white’s best chance to hang on, but his king is an endangered species after 26… Qd6. Instead, Wesley chose 25.Na3, but after 25… Nf4 26.Nac2 Ne2+ 27.Kd3 Nxd4 28.Nxd4 Qd5!, white is going to lose his pinned knight after …e5. After 29.Qb6 Rd6 30.Qc5 e5, Wesley resigned.

Overall, I got 4/5, landed myself in a 7-way tie for second, and gained a few rating points. Not complaining. Congratulations to GM Aleksandr Lenderman who won clear first with 5/5. My summer run continues with the Washington International, a 9-round norm tournament which starts this Saturday. Over 20 GMs are registered, and I’m barely in the top half. Fingers crossed…

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US Cadet Championship

The US Cadet Championship is an invitational round robin tournament for the top US players under the age of 16. I was first invited to play in the Cadet back in 2015, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend due to scheduling problems. In 2016, however, I played. I was around the middle of then 10-player field, and I had a great tournament. After leading the tournament 7 rounds in, I finished in a 3-way tie for first, but unfortunately I went down in an armageddon playoff and didn’t get the title. That is a story for another time…

In 2017, I yet again didn’t play due to a schedule conflict, but I decided to participate this year. The tournament moved from Rockville, Maryland, (2016) to Manchester, New Hampshire, to San Jose, California. The tournament also decreased in size from 10 players to 8 players. This is the last year I’m eligible to play, and I hadn’t been on the West Coast in ages, so I gladly accepted the invitation.

The participants (sorted by July USCF rating) were:

Me (2527)
Rayan Taghizadeh (2410)
Josiah Stearman (2375)
Akira Nakada (2329)
Gabriel Sam (2328)
Aravind Kumar (2315)
Jason Wang (2289)
Max Li (2247)

I knew and had played East Coast players such as Aravind and Akira before. As for the Californians, I knew a couple but hadn’t played them—or to be more precise I hadn’t played chess with them. At the 2015 World Youth, Rayan, a few others, and I went bowling! The results are classified.

I was the big cat, and after tying for first place 2 years ago, my pre-tournament goal was simple—to finish first. Being the top seed wasn’t an easy position to be in, since the pressure was on me to win. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have competition either.

On Sunday, July 8, I finished the World Open, and on Wednesday, July 11, I flew out to California. The flight was uneventful (yay!), and I had a day to enjoy the Bay Area and hopefully somewhat adjust to Pacific Time. The opening ceremony and the drawing of lots were on Thursday afternoon, and the first round was an hour after that. I got seed number 4, meaning that my colors were white followed by black followed by white, etc. Coincidentally, the top four seeds got numbers 1-4, while the bottom four seeds got numbers 5-8.

Cadet_everybody
The players, organizers, TDs, and guests!

My round 1 win against Jason Wang (2274 USCF, 2187 FIDE) was fairly smooth. The homework I did before the round worked out very well, and I got a near-winning position after 20 moves. Not bad… After my last two tournaments, an uneventful start was a welcome change.

Cadet_rd1
The start of a successful day at the office! Photo by Bay Area Chess.

In round 2 I got black against Gabriel Sam (2328 USCF, 2138 FIDE). He steered the game towards drawish territory, but I did manage to get an advantage. Here’s where I missed my chance:

Sam 1

In the past few moves, I’d made territorial gains with my pawns and had pushed white’s pieces backwards. This, however, all came at the expense of weakening my king; more on that later.

As for concrete variations. 30… Bxf2 is the first move to calculate. It will most certainly be me with 31.Nxe5 Qc7 32.Qb5. Though the white knight is pinned, black can’t win it as 32… Bc5 runs into 33.Qd7+. Not impressed with the idea of being a pawn down without any gain, I looked elsewhere. 30… e4 31.Nd4 was possible, but I was uneasy at the idea of letting the white knight anchor itself on d4. 30… Qc7 31.Kg1 a6 is reasonable for black, but I went for something else: 30… Bc7?. White responded to the obvious threat of …e4+ with 31.g3 and I went 31… Bd6. I had, however, underestimated the move 32.Qb3!

Sam 2

I had wanted to have control over the position, and this is not a good development. Ng5 is a serious idea by white which could lead to dire consequences for black is he isn’t careful. He can also go Qd5 centralizing his queen. I saw nothing better than to go back with 32… Bc7, but I had no real advantage after that. The game ended in a draw.

What did I miss? In that 30… Bxf2 line, I was winning at the end, but I just didn’t look deep enough. After the practically forced 31.Nxe5 Qc7 32.Qxb5 Bc5 33.Qd7+ Qxd7 34.Nxd7, black has 34… Bd6+ 35.Kg1 Kf7

Sam 3

The white knight is trapped! The pawn endgames after both 36.b4 Ke6 37.Nc5+ Bxc5 38.bxc5 Kd5 and 36.c4 Ke6 37.c5 Kxd7 38.cxd6 Kxd6 are lost for white, as his king is just too far away. The exact details are far from obvious when looking from a distance, but I totally missed this idea. It was tough luck that I didn’t win, but trust me, there are much worse things that can happen to a chess player…

Round 3 was an important game for me and for the tournament standings. I was white against second seed Rayan Taghizadeh (2410 USCF, 2327 FIDE). The game was very interesting, and I really could write an entire article about it. The opening went well for me, and I managed to keep one of Rayan’s knights grounded on a5 with nowhere to go. He wisely went for counterplay, spicing the game up. I was clearly better, but it wasn’t obvious how much I actually had. We reached this position:

Rayan 1

White has a queen and two pawns for two rooks, and there is a pair of bishops on the board. At this point, the b-pawn is mainly for decoration, as it won’t be running up the board anytime soon. The main target is the f7-pawn and the black king in general. White’s bishop is going to assist the queen in doing this. But how? 35.Bf3 with the idea of Bd5? 35.Bg4 aiming at e6? Or 35.h4 going at the black king from a different direction? I spent most of my remaining six minutes on my next move, and it was well worth it, since I found a win.

35.Bf3 will be met with 35… Rcb6 36.Bd5 Bc8! 37.e6 is no good for course, and white doesn’t have anything convincing. Therefore I threw 35.Bf3 into the wastebasket. There weren’t too many concrete variations after 35.h4, and that could always be a backup. Then I crunched out the details of 35.Bg4! to the end and saw that it was winning. White intends to go e6 next, and that could fatally open up the black king. 35… Bc8 is no good, since after 36.Qd8+ Kg7 37.e6, black is all tied up and can’t stop anything. Rayan played the critical move 35… Rcb6 which I had been expecting. I replied with 36.e6 fxe6 37.Qd7!

Rayan 2

This was the key idea. The e6-pawn is going down which will more or less be mate. That is unless black goes 37… Bc8 which fails to a nice tactic: 38.Bxe6+! Rxe6 39.Qd8+ Kg7 40.Qc7+. Black is losing the b8-rook, and Rayan resigned here.

Cadet_playing
Everybody in action in round 3. Photo by Bay Area Chess.

That win felt great! The next morning, I was in an even bigger clash against Josiah Stearman (2411 USCF, 2285 FIDE). Josiah was leading the tournament with 3/3, and he was clearly my biggest threat in the tournament. Early on, it looked like the game would be a pretty dry ride until I got a pleasant surprise.

Josiah 1

A couple minor pieces have been traded off already, and neither side has any real claims to an advantage. Though I wasn’t thrilled, I wasn’t too disappointed with this development. If we drew, there was still a large chance that I’d outrun Josiah in the last three rounds, and besides, I shouldn’t be expecting anything special with black after only 13 moves… I though Josiah would play either 14.Qxe6 or 14.Qc2 with rough equality, but he decided to go 14.Qxb7? instead. That was a bad idea. 14… Rfb8 15.Qxc7 Rc8 16.Qb6 Rcb8 leads to a repetition, but I rightfully wanted more. After making sure there weren’t any problems, I went 14… c6! (14… c5! with a similar idea was also strong). I had a simple threat: 15… Rfb8 16.Qc7 Ne8, trapping the white queen. 15.Ba7 does stop Rfb8, but it is met with 15… c5! followed by 16… Qd7, where the white bishop is trapped. Josiah instead chose 15.d4 which is probably white’s best move. The game went 15… Rfb8 16.Qc7 Ne8 17.d5 cxd5 18.exd5 Nxd5 19.Qc6 f5!

Josiah 2

I had a lot of tempting alternatives in the past few moves, but what I did was strongest. Though material is equal for the moment, white is in big trouble. My threat is 20… Ne7 trapping the white queen (as if her majesty hadn’t gone through enough trauma). If white gets out of there with 20.Qc4, I’ll simply snag the b2-pawn with 20… Rxb2. Josiah tried 20.Ne1!?, but black is clearly much better if not winning here. I soon won the b2-pawn and went on to convert, even if the game did get a bit wild before the time control…

With 3.5/4, I was leading the tournament. Josiah had 3/4, Rayan had 2.5/4, and the rest of the field had 2/4 or less. This was fantastic! It got even better when I won my next game against Max Li (2267 USCF, 1788 FIDE). It was a tough fight where I didn’t have much but managed to win. Adding to the masterpiece, both Josiah and Rayan lost. That meant I was leading by 1.5 points going into the last day. Oh man. This was perfect…

Unfortunately, my round 6 game against Aravind Kumar (2309 USCF, 2153 FIDE) didn’t go according to plan. I got a dry but harmless position with black, until I slopped it up.

Aravind 1

This is a Carlsbad structure with all bishops off the board. Both sides’ plans are fairly textbook: white wants to create a minority attack with b4-b5, while black wants to play on the kingside. I should’ve just gone 17… f5!. 18.b4 worried me, but after 18… Nb6! eyeing the c4-square, black may even be better. Instead of doing that, I naively went 17… a5?! which was met with 18.Ndxe4! dxe4 19.Rd1

Aravind 2

White has a simple plan here: blast things open with d5. He will have the d-file and more active pieces. One thing that black has in his favor is that he will be able to go Ne5-d3 after d5, but I jeopardized that possibility by going 19… Nb6?. Instead, 19… f5! 20.Rfd2 Rfd8 21.d5 Ne5 is still acceptable for black. After 20.Rfd2 Rfd8 21.d5 f5 22.dxc6 bxc6 23.Ne2 I was in big trouble.

Aravind 3

White has the d-file, better pawn structure, and a safer king. There aren’t many volunteers who would want to be black here. Adding to my misery, I walked into 23… Nd5 24.Nd4 Qf6 25.Nxc6! Qxc6 26.Qe5 which cost me a pawn and the game.

That hurt. Josiah won his game, meaning that he was now half a point behind me going into the last round. In case of a tie, there would be a playoff, and I wanted to avoid one if possible. I played for a win in my round 7 game, where I was white against Akira Nakada (2308 USCF, 2154 FIDE).

Akira 1

I had been up to original shenanigans in the opening, and I reached this position. I wasn’t impressed with what I had here, especially because of the move 17… Nd5!, after which I didn’t see a better alternative than 18.Bxd5. Black is for sure completely fine after that one. Instead, Akira played what I was hoping he’d play: 17… Nc6?!. After double-checking the consequences for a few minutes, I played 18.Nxf7!?. If 18… Qxf7 19.Bxe6, white will a dangerous attack and large amounts of compensation. While my silicon friend evaluates the position after 19… Qf6 20.Rh3! as 0.00, I don’t think many people would envy being black here. Compared to this, the position after 17… Nd5 seems much nicer for black.

Akira had other ideas, and he quickly played 18… 0-0?. The white knight is trapped, and black is in great shape after the obvious 19.Bxe6 Rxf7 20.Bxf7+ Qxf7. There, however, was a hole in black’s idea: 19.Ng5!. After 19… hxg5 20.Bxe6+ Rf7 21.hxg5 white will have a rook and three pawns for two minor pieces, and black’s king is in serious danger of getting mated on the h-file. I went on to convert this position successfully, though I did have smoother ways to win…

All’s well that ends well! Josiah drew, meaning that I won the tournament by a full point with 5.5/7. While I didn’t gain much on rating, 5.5/7 is not a score to complain about! Considering the scare I had on the last day, I’m glad it ended this way.

Cadet_me
Judith Sztaray,  yours truly, and Tom Langland.

A big thank you to Bay Area Chess for organizing and running a smooth event! Everything was as good as it gets.

How to Bomb the World Open 101

DISCLAIMER: This article is NOT an endorsement of the strategy exhibited by the author. Furthermore, the author has no intentions of writing a “How to Bomb the World Open 201” article. Ever.

The World Open is one of the largest open tournament in the US, and it’s quite an event. The $20,000 first prize in the open section attracts dozens of GMs whose participation brings norm hunters like me flocking. I was feeling fairly optimistic after three good tournaments in a row, and I was looking forward to playing 9 rounds of good chess, staying near the top boards, and fighting for a GM Norm.

Instead, I followed a different strategy. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Draw the first game
  • Do your best to lose the second game but save it in the end
  • Get destroyed in the third game
  • Do all of that against significantly lower rated opponents
  • Your tournament is ruined in a record 3 rounds, and there’s no need for more butchery
  • You may now resume playing your regular chess

Simple, isn’t it? Here’s how I pulled it off.

In round 1, I got black against Eddy Tian (2223 USCF, 2083 FIDE). I got a comfortable edge out of the opening with black, but I wasn’t able to exploit it.

Tian 1

All of black’s pieces appear to be active and well placed, while the same can’t be said about white’s counterparts. Unfortunately, black doesn’t have a clear plan to exploit them, but white doesn’t have anything convincing either. When my opponent played 26.h4, I decided to open a second front with 26… h6!?. It’s not a bad idea, but I butchered the execution. The game went 27.Re1 g5 28.hxg5 hxg5 29.g4 Kg7 30.Kg2

Tian 2

I thought the natural move 30… Rh8 would be met with 31.Rh1, leading to a rook trade. Black is on top over there, but I thought I had something better. I went 30… e5? with the idea of meeting 31.Rh1 with 31… e4!, after which white’s rook isn’t very useful. However, I ran into 31.Qf5! which is the flaw in my idea. 31… Qxb3!? may be black’s best. Despite being seemingly suicidal, white doesn’t have anything concrete besides taking the g5-pawn which will lead to complications. Instead, the game went 31… e4 32.Nxg5 Qxf5 33.gxf5 Rd5

Tian 3

Black is winning the pawn back, but after 34.f3! he has no advantage. I tried to win for 25 more moves but didn’t get anything concrete. That was a blow to my tournament plan. For one thing, this was going to hurt my opponents’ rating average for norm chances. Still, this was only one game, and I felt I hadn’t played so badly.

I thought my round 2 game against Prateek Mishra (2166 USCF, 1992 FIDE) would be a fairly smooth win, since I had a large rating edge and the white pieces. I was dead wrong. I stumbled into old theory which I had to figure out over the board, and I didn’t do a very good job. To be more precise, I was practically lost my move 25. Eventually we reached this position:

PrateekM

White’s position is on the verge of collapse here, and a lot of moves (32… Rd8, 32… Qxb4, 32… f3, etc.) would’ve finished me off. Fortunately, my opponent let me off the hook by playing 32… Qxd4?. After 33.Qxd4 Rxd4 34.Rxc2 Rxb4 35.Rxc7 white has enough activity to equalize, and the game soon ended in a draw.

This was so not my plan. Half of me was relieved that I hadn’t lost, but  the other half of me was utterly disgusted with myself for playing such an awful game.

In round 3, I got black against Zhaoqi Liu (2381 USCF, 2118 FIDE), and I was desperate to win. Watch me get crushed.

Zhaoqi 1

This position is fairly imbalanced. The d5-square is a juicy outpost for a white knight, but black has the bishop pair and is fairly active. Objectively speaking, white may have a slight edge, but there’s plenty to fight for.

With his last move, my opponent attacked my rook, and I replied with 15… Rd7?. 15… Rde8! was stronger. 16.Qxd6?? loses to 16… c4+, and white will likely play a normal move such as 16.Ng3. But wait, what’s wrong with 15… Rd7? You’ll see…

16.Qf5 hits the rook and clears out the d5-square for the white knight. I replied 16… Qb7, thinking that everything was under control. 17.Nd5?? hangs a piece, and 17.Nf4 is met with 17… Nd4! 18.Qg4 f6, after which black is on top. However, I hadn’t considered my opponent’s next move seriously: 17.Bf6!! was a nasty surprise.

Zhaoqi 2

17… gxf6 is suicide on account of 18.Nd5!, and 17… Bxc3 18.Nxc3 doesn’t seem to help black. Because white is threatening 18.Qg5 with mate coming soon, I played 17… Ne7 which was met with 18.Qg4 Ng6 19.Nf4!

Zhaoqi 3

The second wave of attack comes, and it’s really powerful. Black won’t survive after 19… gxf6 20.Nh5, as on top of everything, white has two knights that can join the melee. What else to do? Next up is 20.Nh5 or 20.Ncd5 smashing my kingside. There was one move that I had, 19… Bxc3!. After 20.Bxc3 I totally hated my position, but after 20… f5!? there may be hope. This was necessary, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I had gone into a complicated position with the hope of winning, and now I was groveling for chances to stay in the game by move 20!?

After a long think, I played 19… Qc8? which loses fairly quickly. My idea was to trade off queens with Rb7, but that doesn’t help much. After 20.Nd5, I realized that 20… Rb7 runs into 21.Nfxg6 Qxg4 22.Ne7+! winning an exchange, and white has similar alternatives that also win. Therefore, I played 20… Re8 21.Nh5 Rb7, but after 22.Bxg7 I’m dead lost. I decided to allow checkmate by playing 22… Qxg4 23.Ndf6#

Zhaoqi 4

Ouch!! That one still hurts!

I had 1/3, and my tournament situation was awful. I was losing a lot of rating, and of course my norm chances were beyond extinct. I wasn’t playing well at all. I considered withdrawing, but my gut told me not to. I felt that once I got the bug out of my system, my chess would be back to normal.

Fortune smiled down upon me, and I managed to win my next three games which were fairly decent overall. I had 4/6 with 3 rounds to go. This was a fairly decent score by my standards, except that how I got there was the problem. In round 7, I did get a chance to play up against IM Gabriel Flom (2551 USCF, 2515 FIDE). I was hoping to hold my own this game, but things went wrong from the very start.

Flom 1

After an offbeat opening, I thought I should be fine here after the recapture 8.exf4 dxe4. Unfortunately, I completely missed 8.Qg4!, and I quickly realized that I had messed up big time. Black is going to lose a pawn. 8… dxe4 9.Qxg7 Ke7 10.exf4 didn’t look fun to me, 8… 0-0 9.Qxf4 dxe4 10.Qxe4 looks even worse, and 8… g5 is nonsense. My best shot was 8… Bd6! 9.Qxg7 Ke7. Though I’m a pawn down, and my king is on e7, it isn’t that bad for me. I can always trade queens with Qg8. Instead of that, I went 8… Qf6?! which was met with 9.Bxd5! 0-0 10.Qxf4 Qxf4 11.exf4 exd5

Flom 2

Black is a pawn down here, and he has a lot of suffering ahead of him in this endgame. Not surprisingly, I went down. It was really unfortunate that I blundered like this and spent practically the entire game on the back foot. Despite this humiliation, I managed to win two fairly smooth games against 2300+ USCF opponents to finish the tournament with 6/9.

That was actually higher than I’d ever finished at the World Open—in 2016 and 2017 I got 5.5/9. Nevertheless, thanks to my disastrous start, my misadventures cost me quite a few rating points.

My summer adventures continue on the West Coast at the US Cadet which starts tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

My Swiss Gambit

The New York International is a 9-round norm tournament held every summer, organized by the Marshall Chess Club. I have really good memories from the tournament. I beat my first GM at the 2015 NY International, got my first IM Norm in the 2016 edition, and became an IM in the 2017 edition. This year was a little different… from the very first round.

While a traditional Swiss Gambit involves drawing the first round to face weaker opposition, I took a more extreme approach at the New York International when I lost my first round. I was the only higher rated player who “chose” this “strategy,” except that I didn’t do so voluntarily. It did work out well in the end—at the expense of any GM Norm chances.

Part 1: Bad start

In the first round, I got black against Brandon Nydick (2329 USCF, 2130 FIDE). After a fairly unusual opening, things heated up.

Nydick 1

I wasn’t impressed with my position here as black. White has control of the d-file and a nice bishop, while black’s pieces are somewhat passive. White’s pawn structure, however, isn’t the most secure. The b3-pawn is hanging, and white’s e3-pawn isn’t awe-inspiring either… I was expecting 23.Rd3, after which I was planning 23… Qc7 with the idea of Ne5. I correctly estimated that the position was about equal.

Instead, I got hit with a surprise: 23.b4?. It’s an enterprising idea, but objectively it’s bad. After 23… cxb4 24.c5 I made a bad decision.

Nydick 2

24… b3! keeping a passer on the b-file and shutting down the a3-f8 diagonal for the white bishop was best. The reason I didn’t play it was because I thought 25.Qc4 hitting the e6-pawn was very strong. Somehow I missed both 25… Qe4! and 25… Qb5! both of which will lead to a queen trade. Black is much better in that endgame. I also spent time calculating the intriguing consequences of 24… bxa3 25.c6, after which white is fine.

Seeing nothing better, I went 24… Nf8? which is an awful move. After 25.c6 Qc7 26.Rfd2 white had full compensation for the pawn if not more. It became difficult for me to play, and I eventually cracked.

That hurt. My GM Norm chances were gone, since I’d get to play relatively low-rated opposition the next few rounds, bringing down my rating average and performance way too low. It would be practically impossible to get my rating average above 2380 (the minimum average rating required for a GM Norm).

A crazy fact was that this was my first time losing the first round in a 9-round Swiss tournament ever. From that perspective, this kind of game was way overdue! I stayed positive and came back. After all, with 8 rounds left, there was plenty of chess left in the tournament. Despite knowing that my norm chances were fictional, I kept going.

Part 2: My comeback

I won a fairly nice game in round 2 against Rey Jomar Magallanes (2325 USCF, 2101 FIDE). It wasn’t the cleanest win ever, but my play wasn’t bad at all. Here’s an interesting moment from the game:

Magallanes

I had been better for most of the game, and I had just won a pawn. My pieces, however, were a bit scattered. Black should go 31… Bf7! here, preparing … e5. White doesn’t have much of an advantage after that. My opponent instead played 31… e5? which I met with 32.d5!. My idea was that 32… Bf7 is met with 33.Bc5! Bxd5 34.Bxd6. Though both of white’s rooks are hanging, c7 will drop with a deadly effect. My opponent reduced the damage by going 32… Kd7 33.Bc5 Rac8, but he’s lost, and I won shortly afterwards.

In round 3, I won another nice game with black against Bahadur Khodzhamkuliev (2283 USCF, 2164 FIDE). I simply got a very good position and was winning by move 25. Not a bad boost!

Unfortunately, my roll came to a temporary halt with a draw in round 4; and trust me, it could have been worse. I was white against Rawle Allicock (2288 USCF, 2198 FIDE) and out of the opening we reached this position.

Allicock 1

This is a strange position. Black’s pawn structure is damaged, but white’s pieces aren’t in the best shape either. I had my eyes on the e4-pawn which was a nice target. If 24.Qb1, attacking the pawn, I wasn’t impressed by my chances after 24… c5. Another option to consider was 24.Nc4, planning to relocate the knight to e3, and white might claim a small edge after that. The best move which I didn’t consider was 24.Ra5!. It looks strange but was actually very strong, since it prevents c5.

Instead, I prematurely played 24.c4? and got hit with 24… c5 25.d5 e3!.

Allicock 2

Black isn’t worse at all after this one. 26.fxe3 Nxd5! Is very strong for black. I went 26.Rxe3 Rxe3 27.Bxf6, eliminating the f6 knight and the Nxd5 tricks with it. After 27… Qe8!, however, I completely overreacted.

Allicock 3

28.fxe3 Qxe3+ 29.Kf1 Bxf6 doesn’t look fun for white, but white isn’t in bad shape after 30.Qe2!. Instead, I went 28.Bxd8?? Re1+ 29.Qxe1 Qxe1+ 30.Nf1, completely underestimating how bad the position is after 30… Bd4 31.Bh4 g5 32.Bg3 Bc8. The white bishop will be dead after f5 and f4, and his position is just lost. Luck, however, was on my side. While gaining time on the clock, my opponent accidentally stumbled into a threefold repetition. Phew!! Okay, this is NOT the game I wanted. So here I was with 2.5/4 against players whose FIDE ratings were all under 2200. This wasn’t part of my plans at all, but it wasn’t a total disaster either. Oh well, there were still 5 rounds to go…

In round 5, I got back on track with a win against Aaron Jacobson (2373 USCF, 2259 FIDE). Things went exceptionally well for me, and by move 20, I was a clean pawn up with black. What more could I want? I went on to exploit my advantage and won a fairly smooth game.

Part 3: Fun at the top boards

With 3.5/5, I finally got to play up. I was white against IM Alex Ostrovskiy (2508 USCF, 2414 FIDE). Though the rating difference was very small, I was glad not to be playing down! I got a nice position out of the opening, but Alex defended well, and I wasn’t able to get through. I was disappointed that I only got a draw out of it, but I got over it. After all, I had gotten seriously lucky in round 4…

In round 7, I started a late-tournament charge by beating IM Kim Steven Yap (2441 USCF, 2363 FIDE) with black. After turning down two draw offers, I ground him down from a fairly dry position. Going into the last day, I had 5/7. Not bad at all, but I needed a strong finish.

Round 8 was the game that blew the tournament open for me. I got white against Brandon Jacobson (2449 USCF, 2303 FIDE) who, at that point, was leading the tournament with a 2700+ FIDE performance! He needed 0.5/2 on the last day to get a GM Norm. If things went sour, I wasn’t going to hesitate to offer a draw. I knew, however, that winning this game would be huge and blast the tournament wide open for me and others.

Brandon 1

With his last move 25… Kh8, Brandon offered a draw. I declined with 26.Re5!, as I felt that black had problems to solve after this one. 26… Rxe5 27.dxe5 is bad for black (more about that later, since the game got into very similar territory).

If 26… Rg2, I was planning 27.Rf1, since after 27… Nb4 28.Bb3 Rxd4 29.Re7!, black has to go back with 29… Rd8 to prevent mate, and it’s clear that black is in big trouble. Black, however, can play 27… b5!. Things don’t look pleasant for black, but white doesn’t have a crystal clear follow up. For that reason, 27.Bxd5! cxd5 28.Re7 may have been stronger. I missed that after 28… Rc8 29.c3 Rf8 30.Rxb7 Rff2, the b7-rook prevents Rxb2, meaning that everything is under control.

Black’s best move was probably 26… Rg3! If 27.Bxd5 cxd5 28.Re7, it turns into a pawn race after 28… Rxh3 29.Rxb7. White should have the upper hand with the rook on the 7th, but it isn’t clear at all how much he actually has. 27.Rf1 Nc7! is annoying, since the h3-pawn is hanging in a lot of lines. White should be better, but it isn’t anything dramatic.

Brandon instead played 26… h6?!. 27.Rxg5 hxg5 looks nice for white, but 28.Rg1? runs into 28… Nf4!. Instead, I simply played 27.h4, as I felt that the inclusion of the moves …h6 and h4 would help me. Brandon decided to go 27… Rxe5 28.dxe5 b5, but that is just very good for white.

Brandon 2

28… b5 was necessary to prevent white from going c4 and winning the knight. Now, 29.b3 will be met with 29… b4, and white is stuck. Therefore, I played 29.c3! with the simple idea of playing b3 and c4 on the next move, since black will no longer be able to go en passant in case of b4. Black is in big trouble, and he may be lost already. After 29… a6 30.c3 Re8 31.Bxd5 cxd5 32.Rxd5 g5 33.hxg5 hxg5 34.e6, I went on to win.

NY Intl rd 8 pairings

And that’s how I found myself in a tie for first going into the last round! Not bad at all… My last round game against GM John Burke (2600 USCF, 2518 FIDE) was no peaceful draw. It was actually the longest game of the round! I was worse for most of the 5+ hour game, but I scraped out alive. That landed me in a 4-way tie for first with GMs Mikhalevski, Hess, and Burke!

As I mentioned above, my GM Norm was practically impossible after the first round loss. My comeback wasn’t shabby, but I didn’t even achieve an IM Norm performance (it was 2438). Objectively, I lost my first round, and I shouldn’t be whining about not getting GM Norm chances! It’s unfortunate that botching up one game can obliterate my norm chances, but it is what it is. In the end, I’m happy about this tournament. I did my best given the circumstances, and after all, I tied for first! (you can check out final standings here)

Congratulations to Brandon Jacobson and Levy Rozman on getting IM Norms, and thank you to the Marshall Chess Club for running the tournament!

Note to self: There is absolutely no need to repeat this Swiss Gambit experiment!!

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!

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!