Queen vs. Two Rooks

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

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

Coordination

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

Number of pieces on the board

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

King safety

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

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

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

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

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

Kopiecki

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

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

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

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

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

Tsay4

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

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

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

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

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

Tsay5

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

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

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

Tsay6

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

Tsay7

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

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

Tsay8

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

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

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NY State Championship

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

NYS trophy

Will my name get carved onto this trophy?

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

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

So how did it go this year?

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

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

Banerjee

Black to move

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

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

So far, so good!

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

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

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

Chen1

Black to move

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

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

Chen2

Black to move

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

Chen3

White to move

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

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

Chen4

Black to move

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

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

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

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

The results are in.

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

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

NYS Final Standings

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

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

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

Washington International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, off to my tournament!

Rounds 1-3: so far, so good.

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

Macaspac

White to move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m half-joking.

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

Hevia

White to play

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

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

And I was black :(((.

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

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

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

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

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

Round 6: Risky opening + decent play = success!

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

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

Rounds 7 and 8: The fade.

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

Gordievsky

White to move

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

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

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

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

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

Round 9: Pressure

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

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

Anyway, we eventually reached this position.

Cao1

White to move

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cao2

Black to move

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

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

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

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

Rook vs. 2 Minor Pieces

I would like to continue exploration of material imbalances. Last time we dove into queen vs. pieces. This time we will analyze rook vs. two minor pieces. Rook vs. two minor pieces is a more common imbalance than queen vs. pieces, and it seems like a natural follow-up to my last article. Even though this imbalance is more common, the ability to correctly evaluate these kind positions doesn’t come easily, or at least it hasn’t for me.

There’s a reason why we’re taught as beginners not to go Ng5 followed by Nxf7 in the Italian. The two pieces are generally better than a rook and a pawn, even though according to the material scale we are all taught, two pieces and a rook and a pawn are both worth 6 points. However, there are cases when the rook is better than the two pieces, say if the rook side has better placed pieces, has better coordination, has better pawn structure, etc.

However, there’s a common theme that in the endgame, if there is a lone rook on the board, then it can be better than the two pieces. However, if you add an extra pair of rooks on the board, then the side with the two pieces is usually in great shape.

I’ve played plenty of games with this material imbalance, but I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane to November 2014. The fall of 2014 was a good period for me; I made the push from the upper 2200’s to 2300. Yet, I had two games, played eight days apart, where I totally botched up the rook vs. two minor pieces imbalance. In both games, I had the rook and overvalued my chances.

Episode #1: Ignorance is bliss!

Brodsky, David (2277 USCF) – Barsky, Sam (2130 USCF) Marshall U2300 November 2014

Barsky1

White to play

I just snagged a pawn via a little tactical trick. However, if 26.Bd2, black has very active pieces and has pretty good compensation, say after 26… Re2. Therefore, I decided to play 26.Bxg7 Rxg7 27.Nxg7 Kxg7 28.Rf5 Rd8 29.Raf1

Barsky2

Black to play

OK, I’d like to quote my notes I made back in 2014 just to show how ignorant I was.

“In the endgame, a rook is usually stronger than the two pieces. I thought that I should be on the verge of winning here.”

Er… ehm… [insert guttural noise] *tries not to choke*

First of all, the first sentence usually isn’t true if there is an extra pair of rooks on the board…

When I run my engine, its evaluation is… 0.00!? OK, had I gone 29.Rg5+, I would have been +0.3, but that’s not the point. This is totally not “on the verge of winning”. But why did I think I was near-winning? That is the question. Well, I think I overvalued my active rooks and thought that the black minor pieces weren’t well coordinated. Still, was that sufficient justification? No, it wasn’t.

If 29… Be7, black is completely fine. A key idea is that if 30.Rf7+ Kg8 31.R1f5, black can calmly go 31… Re8!, and white is in trouble (I think missing that was part of my misevaluation). Instead, my opponent played 29… Bf8? 30.Rf7+ Kg8 31.Rxb7

Barsky3

Black to play

Now white has snagged another pawn and actually is on the verge of winning. However, it’s not so clear even here how to win. White has 3 pawns, but it will take a while to push them through. Meanwhile, black can get active, as he did in the game.

I soon snagged a fourth pawn but let my opponent get very active. Eventually, we reached this position.

Barsky4

White to play

Not bad activity! For black that’s it. A prime example of what you want to achieve with 2 pieces and avoid if you have the rook. This was a no-nonsense situation, especially with my king in trouble. I should have gone 38.h4!. The point is that if 38… Ne2, white has a perpetual check with 39.Rb7+, as the black king can’t escape via g5 anymore. Instead, I played the totally irrelevant move 38.a4? and 38… Ne2! was a pretty rude wake up call. I either get mated or lose a rook. I chose the latter and eventually lost.

What’s the moral of the story? First of all, don’t underestimate the pieces! Don’t assume the rook is better in the endgame, especially if there is an extra pair of rooks on the board. Second of all, don’t be too materialistic! I made the terrible mistake of grabbing a pawn but letting my opponent get very active, and it cost me big time.

8 days later…

Episode #2: My $1,000 blunder

Yes, this was for real and yes, I did type the right number of 0’s.

Brodsky, David (2276 USCF) – Shen, Arthur (2434 USCF) National Chess Congress 2014

Shen1

White to play

Things had gone great for me, and I was just winning here. White is a pawn up and has a beautiful knight on d5; black’s king isn’t safe, and his pieces aren’t doing a great job… basically, white has the pawn AND the compensation.

However, there isn’t an immediate knockout punch. Still, had I done something reasonable like 26.Rf3, thinking of doubling up on the f-file and contemplating going Rc3, I would have been winning (+3 according to the engine). Black is near-paralyzed, and white can improve his position. Instead, I got carried away…

I went 26.Nf4 Re5 27.Ng6+?? hxg6 28.Bxe5 Nxe5 29.Qxb7

Shen2

Black to play

White has a rook and two pawns for two minor pieces. The queenside pawns are somewhat advanced, and black’s bishop isn’t the greatest. However, the knight on e5 is very powerful, and as the game shows, the pawns aren’t that powerful. In simple English, white is still better, though it is a far cry from the winning position he had in the previous diagram.

The game went 29… Qc8 30.Qxc8 Rxc8 31.b5 axb5 32.axb5 Rb8

Shen3

White to play

The b-pawn is far advanced. However, it won’t be queening any time soon. What to do? The best way to play is 33.Ra1! Kg8 34.Rfb1. With white’s a-rook well-placed, the position is unpleasant for black.

Instead, I blew what remained of my advantage with my next move 33.b6?. After 33… Kg8 34.Rb1 Nd7, I’m losing the b6-pawn. The position is about equal, though maybe white has slight pressure. I played 35.Rf3, and we agreed to a draw.

I’m not lying in the tile. It was the last round of the tournament, and had I won this game, I would have won $1,200. Instead, I won $200. My stupidity cost me $1,000 in prize money.

During the game a part of me knew that what I was doing was absurd. Yet I didn’t listen to it!

Is the rook really that bad?

So far I’ve portrayed the rook side of the argument quite negatively. Is that appropriate? Yes and no. The two pieces in general are more powerful than the rook and pawn. However, there are cases when the rook is better than the two pieces. For instance, I had a recent game at the Philadelphia Open, where I got this position.

Wang, Alex (2121 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2457 USCF) Philadelphia Open 2017

AlexWang1

White to play

It’s fairly clear that black is on top. He has a rook and two pawns for the two pieces, and there isn’t an extra pair of rooks on the board. Also, white has some loose pawns that need protection. Black may not be technically winning, but he has a big edge, and I went on to win the game.

The rook can be good. However, in my experience, the two pieces have usually been better than the rook. Of course it all depends on the situation, but if you don’t have a good reason why the rook is better, then the pieces should be on top.

Queen vs. Pieces

The imbalance of queen vs. pieces is a very interesting and rarely discussed topic. These positions can be difficult to evaluate for many players because of their infrequent occurrences.

In this article, I will talk about queen vs. rook + two minor pieces, plus minus a few pawns. The queen is generally better when the opponent’s king is weak or his pieces are badly coordinated. The queen can harass the opponent’s king with checks and cause cases of LPDO (Loose Pieces Drop Off). The pieces, on the other hand, are generally better when they are coordinated and the king is safe. Surrounding the king by pieces can keep him safe.

I suggest you ask yourself these two simple questions:

  1. Is the queenless king safe?
  2. Are the pieces coordinated?

If you answer yes to both questions, then the pieces should be better. If you answer no to both questions, then the queen should be better. If the answer to one question is yes and the answer to the other is no, then it really depends.

The Pieces

Let’s look at my first recent example.

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

Tsay1

White to play

My opponent played 22.Bxg6. Is it a good idea? If 22… hxg6, white has perpetual with 23.Nh6+ Kh8 24.Nf7+ Kg8 25.Nh6+, and if 22… Qxg6, which is what I played, white has 23.Ne5 fxe5 24.Rg3, where he will get a queen for a rook and two minor pieces.

On the surface, it looks good for white, but in reality, it isn’t. After 24… Qxg3 25.Qxg3+ Kh8, let’s take a selfie and answer the questions.

Tsay2

White to play

  1. Is the black king safe? The black king is tucked away in a corner on h8, and white can’t really produce any threats against it. So the answer is yes.
  2. Are the pieces coordinated? The knight on d6 can settle down on monster outposts like e4 and f5. The bishop dominates the light squares. The black rooks have a future ganging up against the g2-pawn, with some help from the bishop that can come via d3 to e4. That looks like another yes.

Therefore, the pieces should be better, and that is the case. Black is much better, if not winning, here. The game went 26. Qg5 Nc4 27.b3 Rf5 28.Qh6 Nxe3 29.Re1 cxd4 30.cxd4 exd4

Tsay3

White to play

That’s called pieces in action! Now, black has near-deadly threats against g2 and is just winning. Unfortunately, after a bad decision on my part a couple moves later, I lost most of my advantage and had to magic my way to win the game.

That’s the pieces side of the argument: if they cooperate well and are on good squares, they can make a lot of threats without being disturbed and can battle the queen. Pieces 1 – Queen 0!

The Queen

A couple months later, I had another chance to get the same material imbalance, and that time I got it totally wrong.

Sorkin, Igor (2489 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2417 USCF) Empire City Open 2016

Sorkin1

Black to play

Black is up a piece, but white is throwing pieces at the king. I should have gone 17… hxg6! 18.Qxg6+ Qg7 19.Qxe6+ Rf7 20.Ng5 Nd8! (the move I probably missed) 21.Qxd6 Rd7 where white is not going to have enough compensation for the piece after 22.Qh6. Instead, I went for another idea by playing 17… e4? 18.Bxh7+ Qxh7? 19.Rxh7 Kxh7 20.Ng5+ Kg6

Sorkin2

Let’s answer the questions:

  1. Is the black king safe? I thought white couldn’t produce any serious threats against it, but I was dead wrong. More on that later.
  2. Are the pieces coordinated? They appear to be fairly well coordinated. I can go Rh8, grabbing the open file and causing some back rank embarrassments. My LSB and knight have good future prospects, and my DSB is far from useless.

However, there’s one problem… I missed my opponent’s next move 21.Qd1!. White simply wants to go Qg4 and mate my undefended king. Really, that king is essentially naked. The answer to question #1 should have been “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” instead of “probably yes”.

And so a position that I thought was good for me was in reality lost for me.

The rest of the game is X-RATED. And I mean it. I ended up winning in the end. I have no idea how. OK, OK, you can find the game here, but I did warn you…

The moral of the story is that king safety (or lack thereof) can be crucial. It’s nice if your pieces have great future prospects, but it’s not helpful when you’re getting mated.

The Pieces (Again)

Fast forward a few months, when I’m sitting on the couch watching the US Junior Closed Championships. It’s the last round, and most eyes are on the games that will determine first place. However, I became interested in the game between FM Josh Colas and GM Ruifeng Li, as it ended up reaching the same imbalance as my games: a queen vs. a rook + two knights.

ColasRuifeng

White to play

This position was reached after a series of forced moves. Time to evaluate the position. Let’s answer our two questions:

  1. Is the black king safe? Black’s king is sheltered by the knights, and white cannot get any real threats going against his majesty. That must be a yes.
  2. Are the pieces coordinated? Black’s knights admittedly aren’t doing much for the moment besides shielding the king, but they have potential once black crawls out, like he did in the game. That’s another yes!

What is the “objective” evaluation of this position? That is actually an interesting question. Some computers love white’s position. Others love black’s position. When I let the lizard think about this one for a while, it came up with an evaluation of -0.01.

However, the commentators thought this was very good for black. A few moves down the road, GM Alejandro Ramirez thought the position was “completely winning” for black.

The computer may not think so, but I do believe black is on top here. And ultimately, black did prevail. You can find the game here.

So what’s the conclusion? Queen or pieces? It obviously all depends on the position. However, in general, I’d side with the pieces more than with the queen, as they can be powerful. But be careful; if the pieces are badly coordinated and/or the king is weak, the queen is a force to reckon with.

North American Youth Championship

Tonight, a major event for young American chess players begins: the North American Youth Championship. The tournament rotates on a three-year cycle between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Held in Morristown, New Jersey, this year, it is local for many Americans and Canadians. Check out the official website for more details.

NAYCC logo

                  The official logo. Who did this!???! Just look at the “chessboard”.

 

The unique prizes

The tournament has 9 rounds and sections by age from Under 8 up to Under 18, both Open and Girls. Though the winners of the lower sections get FIDE titles of FM or CM, the big prize lies in the U16 and U18 sections. The winner of the U16 section gets an IM Norm, while the winner of the U18 section gets the IM title. This is an “easy” and quick way for many kids to get closer to the IM title…

First of all, let me make one thing clear. I am not playing, as I have already fulfilled the requirements to become an IM. Since I’d have a reasonable chance of winning first place in both sections, I’d be the worst enemy of all the players hunting for something that I already have. I’d probably get lynched on day 1… Instead, I’ll be at home watching the action.

The last time the North American Youth was in the US was in 2014. I have good memories of the tournament, as I won the U12 section and got the FM title. I was a newly minted NM at the time, and I didn’t consider playing up to try and get an IM norm/title. Three years later, is this tournament telling me that I’m overqualified!?

NAYCC 2014

That was me three years ago! Now you can laugh…

U16 or U18?

The question that faces a lot of these players is which section to play in: U16 or U18? The U16 section should be easier to win, but on the other hand, the winner of the U18 section gets the IM title. Players who are too old will play in U18, but there aren’t many of those. More people may go play U18, leaving the U16 wide open. However, if everyone thinks like that, the U16 may be stronger than the U18!

 

Enough philosophical chatter, what would I do?

If I hadn’t crossed the 2400 rating at the NY International, I would have played in U18, as an additional norm would be useless for me.

However, what if I had two norms and the 2400 rating? Or two norms and no 2400 rating? Or no norms with a 2400 rating… there’s no point listing all the scenarios.

If I had no norms, I’d probably go play the U18. Why get 3 IM norms and the rating if all I’d need would be to win a tournament? If I had one norm, I think I’d make the same decision. With two norms and a rating reasonably close to 2400, I’d probably go for U16. I’d rather have a good chance to get my last IM Norm and hopefully gain some rating in the U16 section than risk going home broke in the U18.

 

Who will win?

Not everyone has registered yet, some people will make the decision last minute.

Historically, the winners of the U18 section have been in the 2350-2450 USCF range. Perhaps not fully IM level, but far from patzers… This year, however, seeing that there are already a few 2400+ players registered, I’d say the winner who gets the IM title will be stronger than usual.

The U16 section should be easier to win, but not by much. The winners have usually been in the 2300-2400 USCF range. Who knows, this year could be different…

 

What about the girls?

The girls have a similar choice to make, except with WIM titles/norms. However, the US Junior Girls Championship is going on in St. Louis at the same time. It doesn’t really matter for the boys, since most of the players in the US Junior Closed are already IMs or GMs, and many are older than 18 anyway. However, that is not true for the girls. Only half of them hold the WIM title. We’ll see who wins the girls’ sections, but it really is a shame that the dates clash.

 

I’ll be watching what should be a fun event. I do have my picks, some of whom haven’t registered yet… There will be surprises and upsets, but ultimately, the top seeds should prevail. It would be an interesting experience to play myself, but I couldn’t do that morally. IMs usually don’t play this tournament, and I don’t want to break the custom. Still, I’ll be curious to see which players will get IM norms and which player will become an IM within the next five days.

 

2400.4

I was originally not going to write this article. A week ago Vanessa and I made a deal. She would cover New York International, and I would write about something else. But then things started happening…

Don’t worry Vanessa will still write about New York International, but I will selfishly talk about my own play.

MCC

Historically speaking, good things seem to happen at the New York International.

  • In the 2012 edition, I crossed 1900 and made the All American Team for the very first time.
  • In the 2015 edition, I beat my first GM
  • In the 2016 edition, I got my first IM Norm.

Held at the Marshall Chess Club for the past three years, the New York International is a local tournament with a strong field and norm chances, and it does appear that it is the tournament where I cross a big item off my summer bucket list. This year was no different…

As I mentioned in my article about the Philadelphia Open, my goal after getting my 3rd and final IM Norm was to get my FIDE rating to 2400 which would fulfill the last requirement to become an IM. After some (mis)adventures hunting rating points, my FIDE rating of 2379 was reasonably close to 2400.

I got off to a good start in round 1 by beating Juan Sena (2251 USCF, 2073 FIDE) with the black pieces. We had played a game about a year and a half previously with the same colors which I won. We followed that game for 25 moves until he deviated. Still, the position was very good for me and I soon won.

Round 2 was a surprisingly quick win against IM Jay Bonin (2378 USCF, 2263 FIDE), my first one ever!

So far, so good. 2/2. In round 3, I got black against Raven Sturt (2548 USCF, 2442 FIDE). This game would be a big deal: if I won, my live FIDE rating would cross 2400. It would be 2400.4 to be exact.

The third time’s the charm. Yes, this was the third game where winning would mean crossing 2400 FIDE. And this time I did win!! A year after getting my very first IM norm, my IM quest came to its end.

2400.4                                            Me moments after reaching 2400.4!

Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it to happen. After all, many of my firsts took place at the Marshall Chess Club even when it is not the New York International. They include:

  • My first win over an NM
  • My first draw against an IM
  • My first draw against a GM

Since this game was so important, I’ve decided to just present it in its entirety.

Getting a rating over 2400 in the middle of a tournament fulfills the rating requirement for IM, and there was no reason for me to withdraw to get the IM title. There were 6 rounds to go and more chess to play

Generally, when people get a norm, get a title, or in simple English have a big success, they very often have a bad tournament shortly after it. I don’t know why exactly that happens, but it just does. I knew I should party with caution – I did not want to botch up my remaining 6 rounds for no reason.

In round 4, I held my own with the white pieces against GM Gil Popilski (2623 USCF, 2544 FIDE). The position was roughly equal out of the opening, then I probably got a little worse. Still, I managed to sneak out and make a draw.

A solid result. However, everything comes to an end. My run ended in round 5 when I got the black pieces against GM Axel Bachmann (2674 USCF, 2653 FIDE). I probably equalized out of the opening, but a small concession on my side gave GM Bachmann a slight but nagging edge. Things spiraled downhill, but I made the best out of it and reached this position.

Bachmann1

White to play

White has a very powerful passed pawn, but my pieces are blockading it. I had been expecting 31.Na6, protecting the pawn. White will not be able to queen that pawn, but black will not be able to kick the white pieces out either. I really dislike black’s position.

Instead, I was surprised when he went for a technical solution with 31.Nxe6!?. The game went 31… fxe6 32.Rb6+ Kd7 33.Rxe6! Kxe6 34.Bh3+ Kd6 35.Bxc8 Kxc7 36.Bf5 Nf8

Bachmann2

White to play

The dust has settled after the forced moves. White is a pawn up, but all the pawns are on the same side of the board. In those kinds of positions, the knight is supposed to be better than the bishop. I felt fairly optimistic that I should be able to hold a draw here…

The game went 37.f4 Kd6 38.Kf2 g6 39.Bc8 h6 40.Ke3 Nh7 41.fxe5+ Kxe5 42.d4+ Kd6 43.Kf4 Nf6 44.Bg4 Ng8 45.h4 Nf6 46.Bf3 Ke6 47.g4 Nh7

Bachmann3

White to play

Over the past few moves, white has slowly built up his position, while I’ve improved my knight. The waiting games are now over; black wants to play g5+ on the next move, forcing the white king back. White must act.

I felt confident I should hold this one, but GM Bachmann thought for about 20 minutes on his next move and crunched things out to the end. If you want a hardcore calculation exercise, go ahead! Try to find how white wins this endgame. Then compare your solution to what happened in the game.

OK, that was a bit disappointing, but considering the rating difference, losing that game wasn’t surprising. I was still unofficially over 2400 at the end of day #3.

In round 6, I got the white pieces against Qibiao Wang (2401 USCF, 2294 FIDE). The game can be summed up with this diagram.

QibiaoWang

Look at the black queen! It should be stuck, right? That’s what I thought too. I thought I should be able to trap is somehow… but how? At worst case, her majesty can run away via a4 to c6. And how to even get an advantage with white? I thought for a long time on my next few moves and found nothing concrete for white at all. I didn’t proceed to get anything in the game either, and we eventually drew.

In round 7, I got black against FM Marcus Miyasaka (2250 USCF, 2197 FIDE). This was my 9th (!) game against Marcus. Marcus uncorked some offbeat opening preparation on me, and I was faced with a choice early on: play objectively best moves which would allow Marcus to essentially force a draw OR play something else to get into a slightly worse position with the hope of outplaying him.

I chose the latter. I ended up in trouble but wriggled out to an approximately equal position. I then proceeded to get myself into trouble again. I then wriggled out again to get into a very complicated position where it seemed that all three results were possible. Marcus then had to be careful not to get in trouble, and he managed to get out and reach a drawn endgame. I pressed on for a very long time (probably longer than I should have) trying to win, but to no avail.

Those two draws took some wind out of my sails, but still, there were two rounds to go.

NYI AnalysisStill enjoying chess… Photo by Vanessa Sun

In round 8, I won a powerful game with white against Sophie Morris-Suzuki (2152 USCF, 1790 FIDE), who was having a breakout tournament. In a slightly worse position, she made a positional error that gave me a dominating position which I converted with some flashy rook sacrifices. When it comes to forgetting about what happened earlier in the tournament, there’s nothing like winning a game!

In round 9, I got black against GM Michael Rohde (2468 USCF) (2413 FIDE). I had played him with the same colors about a month previously, so I could recycle some of my preparation… there was another factor to consider; if I drew the game, I would get my 4th IM Norm. Only three norms are required to become an IM, but FIDE needs to approve them. It does not hurt to add extra norms on the application in case FIDE finds something amiss with any of them.

And I did draw the game. It was a fairly correct game from both players; neither of us had anything by move 20 when we agreed to a draw.

Brady-Me                         Me with Dr. Frank Brady and Frank Marshall…

What’s the overall conclusion? I scored 6/9, got an extra IM Norm, gained 18 FIDE and 12 USCF rating points, getting to my peak ratings on both, but most importantly I crossed 2400 in the middle of the tournament reaching 2404.8 after round #4. A solid performance.

What’s next for me?

FIDE will hopefully approve my IM title in October at the 88th FIDE Congress. The question that now faces me is where to go next. And for the moment, I’m not quite sure. For now, I guess I’ll just play chess…

Next on my tournament schedule is the World Open, which starts in a couple of days. We’ll see how it goes…

Since this is quite a big achievement, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on my quest so far, namely, my coach, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Greg Shahade and the US Chess School, the Marshall Chess Club, all the organizers that gave me a chance in their invitational tournaments, and many others that helped me by analyzing or advising or just being there for me.