Fireworks in Philly Part 2

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

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

Qibiao 1

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

Qibiao real 2

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

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

Popilski 1

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

Popilski 2

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

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

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

Arias 1

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

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

Arias 2

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

Arias 3

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

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

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

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

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

David Peng 1

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

David Peng 2

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

David Peng 3

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

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

David Peng 4

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

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

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

Until next time!

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Fireworks in Philly Part 1

I miss being the underdog.

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

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

grumpy cat

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

Round 1: Business!

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

Yanovsky 1

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

The game went 21.Ne4 Qe3+

Yanovsky 2

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

Yanovsky 3

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

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

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

Yanovsky 4

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

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

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

Round 2: RIP GM NORM

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

Balaji 1

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

Balaji 2

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

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

Balaji 3

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

Balaji 4

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

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

Round 3: I’m back!

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

Yanayt

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

Round 4: Continuing!

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

Carissa 1

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

Carissa 2

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

Carissa 3

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

Round 5: Chess is hard

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

Wong 1

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

Wong 2

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

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

Answers to exercises:

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

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

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

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

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

Draw Offers

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s equal draw offers

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

Quick draws

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

Gorovets

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

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

One side is worse draw offers

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

King

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

Kudrin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

My Winter Recap

Looking at the snowstorm raging outside, it seems like winter is far from over. But seriously, it’s March!

IMG_3494

You may think that chess isn’t a seasonal sport, but in some ways it is. Essential elements for winter chess in Northeast include:

  • A snow shovel
  • A full tank of gas
  • 4-wheel drive
  • A fully charged phone
  • Snow boots
  • A snow brush
  • An ice scraper

And then you try your best to get to a tournament and sometimes even that isn’t good enough. I ended up missing one round this past Friday, though the 90 mph wind gusts, not snow, were to blame there. Spoiler: it was not the only thing I missed due to bad weather.

As for my chess… My winter went pretty reasonably, minus my epic fails at the Empire City Open and in Charlotte. I regained my rating points and am sitting around my peak rating (fine, a point or two away).

Swindling, swindling, and more swindling

I found myself in some terrible positions against significantly lower rated players but managed to win them. Here are the two main big games:

Huston, Gus (2070 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2483 USCF) Marshall FIDE Premier February 2018

Huston

White to move

Yes, I was black here. After something like 25.Rg1 Rg8 (25…Nxf4? loses to 26.Ng5+!) 26.Rab1 Rab8 27.Rb5, my position is really sad. Fortunately, that didn’t happen…

Here’s the second one:

Brodsky, David (2507 USCF) – Zhou, Liran (2219 USCF) Marshall FIDE Premier March 2018

Liran

Black to move

I was white here, and my position really sucks, though I’m not officially lost. Black’s pieces are much better placed, and it’ll take me time to unravel. Miraculously I managed to swindle my way to a better position, where I grabbed the pawn on b4, survived black’s kingside attack, and grabbed the d6-pawn while I was at it. Liran defended well until he blundered his queen.

Though I received help, I got out… My trade secret? I didn’t give my opponents easy paths to domination or not to mention victory and forced them to make decisions. If you take a look at those positions, you’ll see that my opponents had plenty of choices, none of which appeared to be clearly better than the rest. They had too many good choices. I hung on until they messed up. Though winning games like this was far from ideal, I got repaid for all my bad luck in Charlotte. Otherwise, the rest of my games against much lower rated players were fairly routine wins for me without any real misadventures.

Rough and tough endgames

More of my games than usual have been decided in the endgame. Some were exciting, while others were pretty boring. I got my fair share of wins, draws, and losses. If you want to take a look at a couple, you can skim ahead to the puzzles section. Overall, I’d say my play in that department was pretty good, though there is room for improvement.

What’s next?

Well, I hope to take the snow shovel out of the car in the near future. I may even forgo the gloves and stop checking the weather forecast for more storms. As for the rest… The norm-hunting season is heating up, and I definitely want to go for a GM Norm. Considering my current rating, getting a 2600+ FIDE performance in a 9-round tournament is a longshot, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. My job now is to do as much prep as I can and hope for the best. At least the weather is likely to be on my side.

Puzzles

As usual, I’ll give you guys something to think about. I’ll post the solutions in the comments on Monday. Enjoy!

Puzzle 1

Erenburg

White to move

How should white maintain his pressure here?

Puzzle 2

Ostrovskiy

Black to move

What extremely strong resource does black have?

Puzzle 3

Quirke

White to move

Time for some booooooring positional chess. Just kidding, what should white play here? White has several good moves, and choose the one you think is best.

I also learned something new. Not only is it hard to play chess in winter, but it is hard to write about chess in winter. I was pretty much done with this article when we lost power, and I wasn’t able to post the article on time. Thanks snowstorm!

Until next time!

When to Go for It

You see a fancy shot… to play it or not to play it? It looks deadly, but it’s very complicated. You aren’t sure what to do, and you’ve already invested some serious time in the position. Or maybe you see a lot of tactical shots floating in the air and sense you might be winning. What to do??

Been there, done that. After the game, it’s easy to see what the computer says and nod along, but in the heat of the moment it’s hard. It’s not only calculation that’s involved, it’s also nerves.

If you see a forced win, play it! Well duh… What I mean to say is that if the win is forced with no room for intuition, and you’ve double-checked your calculation, then do it. What’s much harder, however, are situations where your opponent simply has too many possibilities for you to be able to calculate out to the end.

A failure

Miyasaka, Marcus (2245 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2317 USCF) New York International 2015

Marcus

Black to move

The opening had gone very well for me, and I was enjoying this fantastic position with black after only 18 moves. How to proceed? I burned a lot of time here thinking about 18… Qc5. White obviously can’t take the rook because of mate, and he has to somehow protect the c2-pawn. 19.Bc1 runs into 19… Rxc2 20.Bxa3 Qxa3 21.Kxc2 Qxa2+ 22.Kd3 Ne5+ 23.Kxd4 Nf3+, winning the queen, and if white goes 22.Kc1, then he will get mated after simply 22… 0-0!. Naturally, finding these variations was far from intuitive. I ran into a barrier, however, when I saw that white can play 19.c3!?, and after 19… dxc3 20.bxc4, he’s grabbed the rook. I looked at a lot of variations and couldn’t find a forced win.

This kind of situation is definitely classified as a critical moment, and this is the kind of position where you should invest a lot of time. I’m NOT saying that you should spend a lot of time in every position where there are variations to calculate, but I’m saying that here, 18…Qc5 could be winning, and it’s up to you to investigate.

Ultimately, I chickened out and played 18… 0-0?. 18… Qc5 truly was winning, and black does have semi-forced wins after 19.c3. I could have, however, just concluded that “white’s position is a mess/disaster and I’ll definitely have more than enough compensation there.” That’s what I see looking at this position two and a half years later, but that’s not what I saw at the board. Instead, I ended up playing a subpar alternative, and the game ended in a draw.

What’s the moral of the story? There doesn’t have to be a forced win! An intuitive judgement that your opponent’s position is bad accompanied with a few variations is good enough.

A (missed) golden opportunity

I guess I like showing my failures, and here’s another one.

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Bora, Safal (2499 USCF) World Open 2016

Bora

White to move

This position looks like total chaos. My rook on h7 and my queen are hanging, and my d4-knight is inconveniently pinned. 28.Rbh3 leads to a perpetual check on the h-file. There’s another move, 28.Rh4, which is plain beautiful. Black can’t take the queen or rook because he gets mated! Next up I want to mate him. But how…

After a long think, I ended up playing 28.Rbh3? and agreeing to a draw after 28… gxf4 29.Rh8+. 28.Rh4!! was winning. Defending on the 7th rank with 28… Qa7 runs into 29.Rbh3!, and 28… Be8 loses in multiple ways. 29.Rg3 Bg6 30.Rxg5! fxg5 31.Qxg5 is deadly, and so is 29.Rbh3 Bg6 30.Qf2. So why did I not play Rh4? I saw it but I chickened out. Since the move I played led to a draw, sitting there thinking felt like considering a draw offer.

The tournament situation also had an effect. Now, if I needed to win to get a norm, I’m 100% sure I would have played Rh4. It was round 7 of the World Open. Though I wasn’t really in norm contention, I was still doing well. I had, however, lost my morning game in a somewhat depressing fashion, and losing two games in one day sucks. If I played Rh4 I was risking another loss. I didn’t mistakenly see a refutation to Rh4, but I just didn’t play it on general grounds. Ok, I chickened out.

What’s the moral of the story? In both examples I’ve shown you, I saw a tempting tactical idea but ended up backing out because I didn’t see a forced win. Should I have followed my heart instead of my brain? In those two examples yes, but not everywhere. Don’t lose your sense of reality, or you could easily blunder. What I’m saying is that if it feels right and you can’t bust it, then it probably is right. This doesn’t have to only apply to positions where you feel you may have a win. If you’re worse and you see a tactical shot that looks like it forces a draw, then do the same.

Enough philosophical rambling. It’s time for some puzzles! As usual, I’ll publish the answers over the weekend.

Puzzle 1

Lund

White to move

Is 19.Nxh6+ a good idea for white? Does he have more than a draw there?

Puzzle 2

Times

White to move

I played the adventurous 17.Nb5 with the idea of going Nbd6 and met 17…f5 with 18.Rd1. Was 17.Nb5 a good idea, or should I have done something normal?

Puzzle 3

Ludwig

Black to move

Can black survive this endgame, and if so how?

Knight Endgames – a Crash Course

Knight endgames are supposed to be like pawn endgames. That is true for the most part, but they are only similar. They are not the same, and in this article I would like to point out a few important differences. As usual, there will be puzzles at the end, so keep reading!

In general, king activity is extremely important, as is knight activity. That’s fairly logical and goes without saying. For instance, take a look at this position from one of my old games:

Walton, John (1856 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2100 USCF) Marshall U2300 September 2013

Walton

Black to move

Black has a powerful knight on d3, while the white knight is very passive on d1. Black is simply much better here, and I went on to convert my advantage. That should be fairly intuitive and logical. Now for a more complex example from another game of mine:

Katz, Gabriel (1942 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2032 USCF) New York State Scholastic 2013

G. Katz 1

White to move

Black appears to be a clean pawn up, but the white king comes and ruins black’s party. The game went 35.Ke2 Kg8 36.Kd3 Kf8 37.Kc4 a6 38.Kc5

G. Katz 2

White to move

Boy, is white’s king more active! Black has to be careful not to lose the a6-pawn outright. I played 38… Nc7 and after 39.Na7 Ke7 40.Nc6+ Kd7 41.Ne5+ Ke8 42.Nc6 we agreed to a draw as anything other than repeating with Kd7 would have gotten me into trouble.

What’s the overall conclusion? Just like in pawn endgames, king activity can be really important. In the previous position game, king activity was more or less the equivalent of an extra pawn.

In knight endgames, calculation is also important. Big time. Calculation in knight endgames can be more complicated than in pawn endgames, as there are generally more branches of the calculation “tree”. Knights can hop, fork and gobble loose pawns. Things can get messy, and intuition alone won’t guide you. Of course, there’s the “technical” side of knight endgames, where one side has everything under control, methodically improves their position, and strikes at the right moment. In my experience, however, those don’t appear very often.

With pawns on the same side of the board, positions that are easily winning in pawn endgames aren’t winning in knight endgames. Don’t despair, however, as in many of those positions your winning chances in a knight endgame are much higher than in, for instance, a rook endgame. Also, not all positions that are knight + pawn vs. knight are draws, as a lot depends on where the pieces are. Outside passed pawns can be very powerful as long as they’re supported. They can be excellent distractions, but they aren’t of much use if they drop immediately!

A complex example

This game combined outside passed pawns, active knights and kings, grabbing pawns, calculation, and many other aspects of knight endgames.

Brodsky, David (2314 USCF) – King, Alex (2365 USCF) Marshall Grand Prix March 2015

King 1

White to move

In this game, my two connected passed pawns on the queenside ended up serving as distractions. They won’t queen, but they keep the black king and knight occupied. It’s time to go for the kingside pawns. I played 37.Ne4! with the threat of Ng5 forking the f- and h-pawns. After 37… Kxb4 38.Ng5 Kc5 I was at the crossroads.

King 2

White to move

I had to choose what pawn to take. Black’s next two moves will most likely be Kb6xa7, while white should grab as many pawns as he can and bring his king into action. 39.Nxh7! was stronger, because after 39… Kb6 40.Ng5 Kxa7 41.Nxf7 white’s knight is much better placed on f7 then on h7, and white is just winning. Black can avoid this by playing 40… f5, but white can decisively run his king up with Kf2-e3-d4-e5. Instead, in the game, I made my life harder than necessary (seems to be a hobby of mine) by playing 39.Nxf7?! which still (barely) wins. The game went 39… Kb6 40.Ng5 Kxa7 41.Nxf7 Ne6! 42.Kf2 Kb6 43.Kf3 Kc6 44.Kg4 Kd6

Puzzle 1

King 3

White to move

The semi-forced moves are over, and now it’s up to you to find how white wins! The win isn’t really forced; you need to find the first couple of moves, and then the rest falls into place.

Now, I have a couple more puzzles to keep you guys busy. As usual, I’ll publish the answer on Sunday in the comments. Enjoy!

Puzzle 2

Karthik P

White to move

Is 27.Re7 a good idea?

Puzzle 3

Rohde 1

White to move

Calculation time! What move(s) is/are winning for white? Give yourself a few minutes to think and decide what you would play in an actual game.

Until next time!

My Fails: A Top Three List

I would have ended 2017 and started 2018 on a good note had I not dumped 25 USCF rating points in two consecutive tournaments. So much for my happy end of 2017 article.  Anyway, not my idea of fun… Now my play wasn’t that bad – almost no massive blunders in 15 games – but it wasn’t good either. My play was just off; it wasn’t only bad luck. I feel I’ve played like this before (i.e. at the 2017 US Masters), and I’m hoping to eradicate this kind of chess out of my system. Maybe writing about it will help.

Highlights

1: Winning this position with black with 6 seconds on the clock (and a 10 second delay)

Arjun, K (2258 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2508 USCF)

Arjun

Black to move

Without rooks, this is easily winning for black, but with four rooks, this endgame is a mess. Big time. I have no idea if black is objectively winning or not, but with no time, I’m so relieved I managed to win this one. Here’s the end.

Okay fine, earlier in this game I made my life a lot harder than necessary, but swindling someone in a time scramble feels good!

2: No mid-tournament breakdowns

Despite my bad play, I never lost two games in a row. I was always able to stop the bleeding.

3: Staying alive with black in this game

Wang, Kevin (2380 FIDE) – Brodsky, David (2405 FIDE)

K. Wang 1

White to move

White is a pawn down, but black’s position and coordination are in shambles. Engines proclaim that after 28.Qe5! Bb7 29.Ng5! white is +5 (and going up). Nevertheless, with a bit of luck, I managed to stay alive. Okay, getting into a -5 position is nothing to be proud of, but being able to survive it without your opponent blundering terribly takes more than just luck – your opponent won’t play perfectly, so just make your opponent’s life as hard as possible. During the game, it wasn’t obvious to me at all that black is totally busted after 28.Qe5! Bb7 29.Ng5!, and my opponent erred by playing 28.Bg5? after which he still should be winning but it’s harder. Overall in this tournament, my defensive skills weren’t really that off. If only this game had ended a little better…

Lowlights

1 & 2: Blundering twice in the above game

I survived that busted position and actually had a chance to rob a full point…

K. Wang 2

White to move

Black is in dire straits in this bizarre position. Though he’s up an exchange for a pawn, he’s tied up. His king is shaky, and he doesn’t have a clear plan. White should just continue on the queenside with 47.b4!, and he’s near-winning. Instead, as black, I got a gift when he played 47.Ne4??, and I returned part of it by responding with 47…Qxh4??. I could have just gone 47… Qxe6! 48.Nf6+ Kf7!. White isn’t winning the exchange because his rook on d7 hangs. White has nothing. He’s busted.

After missing that fairly basic tactic, I went on to blunder again. He played 48.Ng5, threatening Rxe7 Rxe7 Qd8+, and therefore I responded with 48…Qh6 with the idea of playing Qf8 in the end. He responded with 49.Ne4

K. Wang 3

Here, I should have gone 49… Qh4!, but I somehow didn’t realize that it was repeating the position. Instead, I played 49…Qg7?? too quickly. After 50.Qg5! black is busted. He can’t stop Nf6 from landing hard. After 50…Rxd7 51.exd7 I had to resign.

What’s the moral of the story? That’s unclear to me, but in three moves I pulled off two terrible blunders. I fully deserved to lose this game. My tired, confused brain needed to stay tactically alert and be able to calculate straight.

3: Not winning completely winning positions

On January 12th, I got two completely winning positions against two IMs, and managed not to convert either of them. Here’s the first one, against IM Alexander Kalikshteyn:

Kaliksteyn 1

Black to move

Black is up a clean exchange here, has two powerful passed pawns here, and appears to be completely winning. Indeed, after 40…Rd8!, more or less forcing a trade of bishops with Bd5, white is busted. Instead I played 40…b5?! and let white coordinate. After a few more mistakes, I let him play f6 (with his bishop on the long diagonal), and my king was blown open. I even ended up in trouble (see puzzle 2), but I survived and the game was a draw. A huge miss.

And here’s the second one, against IM Kassa Korley:

Korley

White has the bishop pair in a fairly open position and an extra pawn to boot. Everything is just dominating, except that his king is a little shaky on the 2nd rank. Though it’s no big deal now, it turned into one later… After 44… Nd3!? I was way too greedy and grabbed a pawn with 45.Bxd3? cxd3 46.Rxd3 only to miss 46…Qc4! which is winning back the a4-pawn. Now I have coordination problems, and my king is really loose on the 2nd rank, and I doubt I’m winning. Instead, I should have just gone 45.Bc3! after which I’m more or less winning. Black’s knight jumps are nothing.

That day was terrible for my morale. Now as for lost positions that I’d saved… that would be a grand total of one game, against IM John Bartholomew. There, I believe it would have been harder for Bartholomew to win than in my two fails above.

Puzzles

I’m going to give you a few puzzles from my games, and I’ll do the same thing like last time. I’ll post the answers in the comments on Sunday. Enjoy!

Puzzle 1

Shmelov

Black to move

How to deal with white’s pressure?

Puzzle 2

Kaliksteyn

Black to move

What to do in this bizarre position as black?

Puzzle 3

A game ends in four moves with a b-pawn giving mate. Find out how. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain the backstory behind this one later…)

Conclusion

Philosophically speaking, I got plenty of opportunities in those tournaments. Next up is actually exploiting them… Though I certainly did not want this to happen, it was a revealing display of my weaknesses at this point.

Image result for i'll be back cat meme

Until next time!