How To Play Against Lower-Rated Players

We’ve all heard it before. An overconfident high-rated player sees that they’re paired against a significantly lower rated opponent. Thinking that it’s going to be a relatively so-called “Easy win”, the high-rated player doesn’t take the game seriously at first. Then, to his great disbelief, the lower rated player absolutely crushed and upset his higher-rated opponent. How could this have possibly occurred? Now to a not so experienced player, this scenario might be outright preposterous. Sure there’s always luck involved with chess, but shouldn’t the significantly high-rated player in his infinite wisdom and expertise beat the low rated player all the time? Unfortunately, like in life, in chess, things are not so simple. Sure maybe the lower rated player was lucky, maybe he’s underrated or hey, maybe he just had a good day. But there’s another part of to this too. Having the right attitude can make or break a chess game, and today we are going to discuss the correct way to approach playing against your secretly scary lower rated opponents.

 

Before I begin, I should probably put a disclaimer: a lot of the things that I’m about to say might seem obvious or redundant, but you’d be surprised about how many people don’t do this in their games! The first and probably most obvious rule is to go into the game with a calm mindset. Yes, you might have noticed that you are higher rated than your opponent, but that shouldn’t mean anything to you. Just go into the game with a clear head and be relaxed. The second and arguably most important rule is to not do anything you wouldn’t do against someone around your rating or higher. Don’t take any unusual risks, make any flashy moves, or do anything that you wouldn’t do normally and do the best you can throughout the entire match. The third and final rule is to not be discouraged if things don’t go as planned and you end up getting upset. Every game is an important learning experience and it’s only through your losses that you can truly learn where your gaps in knowledge are and how you can improve.

 

I hope this article, albeit short, was helpful to you. The main takeaway I’d say about the proper mindset to have when playing lower rated opponents is to just be normal. As long as you’re careful, and don’t make any silly decisions, there is a reason why you are the higher rated opponent. Until next time 🙂

 

Winning the Atlanta Open (Part 2)

After winning my first game in a relatively quick manner, I found myself in an early tie for 1st place with 4 other people. Due to there being an odd number of people with 1 point, I found myself paired with NM Prateek Mishra who had ½ due to a first-round bye for round 2 with the black pieces. Having lost my last encounter with him several months ago similar to my first round opponent, I was committed to trying again to get my revenge.

Game 2: Black against NM Prateek Mishra (2206)

  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. e5 f6 5. Nf3 fxe5 6. dxe5 Nge7 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bh4

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Here I was faced with a puzzling decision. I wasn’t sure how to activate either of my bishops without creating any serious weaknesses. However, I knew that if I was not able to develop, my position would quickly get steamrolled so I decided to weaken my kingside in order to gain coordination with my pieces.

g5 9. Bg3 Bg7 10. Bd3 Nf5 11. Qe2 O-O 12. O-O-O

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After both sides being able to complete development and castle, I found myself conflicted. In this position, I had the ability to win a pawn with g4, but I was not sure if it would be a safe decision. While long-term, I would just be up a pawn and have a favorable endgame, the series of exchanges that would lead to me winning the pawn could result in the h file being opened up and my king could come under some pressure. Eventually, I decided that it would be safe to take the pawn due to me also exchanging the dark-squared bishop for my f5 Knight, which would remove a critical potential attacker.  

g4 13. Nd2 Nxg3 14. hxg3 Nxe5 15. Rh5 Nxd3+ 16. cxd3 e5 17. d4

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.24.07 PM

After successfully winning a pawn I found myself in another tricky situation. Although I had a few options, I wanted to take the simplest course of action as I was very afraid of my king’s safety. Thus, I decided to play Qe8, which attacks the rook. I knew that this would lead to me either trading queens or winning an exchange.

Qe8 18. Rdh1 exd4 19. Qxe8 Rxe8 20. Nxd5

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Here, with my positionally slowly consolidating to me being up a clear pawn, I decided to play for a trick which, if executed correctly, could lead to me either winning an exchange or even a piece.

Be6 21. Nxc7 Rec8 22. Rc5 Bf8 23. Rc2 Bf5 24. Rc4 Bd3 25. Nxa8 Bxc4 26. Nxc4

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With some incorrect play on my opponents part, I now found myself in the position to win a clear piece. However, I was afraid that if I played 26. Rxc4+ and Rc8 back later to win the knight, the position would be tricky to win. Instead, I found a cute simplification that would result in a position I felt more comfortable in my chances to win.

b5! 27. b3 bxc4 28. bxc4 Rxc4+ 29. Kd2 Rc8 30. Rh4 Rxa8 31. Rxg4+ Bg7 32. Rg6 Rf8 33. f3 Rf6

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.41.54 PM.png

In this position, my opponent resigned. Exchanging rooks would lead to an easily convertible endgame up a bishop, and not exchanging rooks would result in me playing rook to a6 and winning the a2 pawn.

This win allowed me to stay in first place and was an overall interesting game. Although I was afraid initially for my king’s safety, with some precise play and simplification necessary, I was able to dilute any potential pressure to my king as well as later consolidate to a winning endgame. I hope this game was instructive and that you were able to learn something interesting out of it. On that note, until next time 🙂

 

Getting Back To Chess and Winning the Atlanta Open!

Recently, time for playing serious chess tournaments, other than the occasional Friday night blitz tournament, has been very sparse. Luckily for me, with my schooling being off due to winter break, I had enough free time to play in a serious long time-control tournament- The Atlanta Open! Despite my rustiness and my fear of repeating a rudimentary poor performance in my prior tournament months ago, I somehow managed to win the tournament and become the Atlanta Open Champion! Let’s go over one of my early games this tournament.

Game 1: White against Weston Sharpe (2051)

In my experience, the first game after a long break is always the hardest. Additionally, although I reviewed my openings somewhat before the tournament, my opening knowledge prior to the game was at best, sufficient. If this wasn’t enough setback already, this was the second time I’ve played this opponent. The first game I played against him, I was crushed with the black pieces, and although I was excited at the prospect of potentially getting revenge, I wasn’t too confident going into the game. With all of that said, let’s jump right into the game.

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 9.48.06 pm

After a couple of random moves in a KIA-esque opening, black is already close to equality. Already my opponent, if he should desire, could simply take my knight on e4 and go bf6 and already be close to equality. However, he decided to try something more aggressive.

Nxe4, dxe4 Nf6
screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.20.25 pm

With this series of exchanges, I found my e4 pawn under attack. While it seems natural to gain space with e5, I was hesitant to go into this variation. Instead, I found a knight maneuver that interested me enough that I decided to go for it.

Nd2 Nd7, Nc4 b5, Ne3 a6

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 9.55.36 pm

After a couple of nonsensical moves from black, I started liking my position. Why? White’s dark square bishop is staring directly at black’s king. Additionally, my pieces are well placed and can easily shift from the kingside to the queenside and vice-versa should I choose to do so. Finally, black’s king is relatively undefended and acknowledging the fact that my pieces are well placed to begin an attack, I decided to do so.

Ng4 Rfd8, f4 Bb4, Rf1 Nf8, c3 Bc5+, Kh1

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.01.26 pm

And now all my pieces are ready. With the f pawn getting ready to march down the board with the support of the rook on f1 and my dark square bishop ready to open up at any moment’s notice, the pressure was too much for my opponent and he immediately blundered.

Bg6?

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.04.13 pm

This move is simply too much. Although I’m not completely sure what my opponent missed, my best guess is that he was planning on Bh5 at some point without realizing that I simply have Nh6+ with a discovered attack on the Bishop and winning a pawn.

f5 Bh7, f6 h5, fxg7 hxg4, gxf8=Q+ Kxf6, Qxg4

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.08.33 pm
After those series of exchanges, black is now down a pawn. Furthermore, his king is completely open and with white’s heavy pieces staring right at the black king, Black is completely lost. It only took two more moves until black threw in the towel.

Qe5, Bc1 Bg6-black resigns 1-0

Forgetting that his f pawn was pinned, black quickly realized after hitting the clock and immediately resigned.

Not a bad game to resume my journey in chess. Although the opening was nothing special, though some precise play and with the help of several inaccuracies from my opponent, I was able to surmount a successful kingside and win the game. While it was sweet to get revenge against my opponent and start off the tournament with a win, the tournament was only about to get harder. But that’s a topic that can be saved for another article. Until next time! 🙂

 

Learning From Blitz

Blitz is played everywhere. Whether it be just for fun between friends in the skittles room or in tournaments, blitz is arguably one of the most common forms of chess played. However, blitz chess sometimes has the reputation of “ruining” your chess or being bad for general improvement. While blitz chess can arguably have some negative implications, I believe, with moderation, there are benefits and things you can learn from playing chess.

Firstly, Blitz can be a wonderful way of improving your intuition. In contrast with classical chess, blitz is very fast paced. With not a lot of time to think per move, you often have to trust your gut and just move it. This causes blitz to be a big test on how well your intuition and your understanding is of the type of position you’re in when you’re making these high-speed decisions. Playing blitz can be good practice and a good check for how well you understand unique positions that often result from chess, and studying these positions post-game can be a great way to learning and discovering how to play in different types of positions. 

Secondly, blitz can be used to improve your overall chess ability is by testing how well you know an opening. Learning move orders and opening nuances is an integral part of understanding and learning how to play an opening. Luckily, blitz chess is perfect practice for learning these things. In blitz, move order slip-ups, while common, can prove disastrous during games. As a result, it’s very important that you know your stuff when going into a game. As such, playing blitz can show you how well you really understand and know opening theory. Blitz can also serve as a testing ground for any opening ideas you might have and their practical usages.

Another use of blitz can be used to positively benefit you is by making your tactical awareness stronger. Blitz chess is far from perfect. Often, especially in time scrambles, blunders are followed by blunders and blunders and blunders. Because of this, blitz can be a great way of testing how well you are at catching these blunders in a fast time frame and taking advantage of them and punishing your opponent. Blitz chess is essentially a practical tactics trainer.

Finally, blitz chess is a great way of checking how well your time management is and how well you operate when you’re low in time in time scrambles. As previously stated in the beginning of the article, blitz is generally fast-paced and it’s very common to end games with seconds on the clock. This characteristic of blitz means that not only is blitz great practice for how you act when you’re behind on the clock, blitz can also help your ability to think when you’re low in time in classical chess. Blitz can also teach you how to be pragmatic with how you use your time per move in classical chess and when to spend low amounts of time and when to really invest in your clock when making key decisions.

Clearly, blitz chess is not deserving of the bad reputation it often gets. Hopefully, this article has helped you see how blitz is not so bad, and how it can actually help you as a chess player get better and faster.

World Championship- Recap Rounds 1 & 2

The World Championship is now underway in London. It has been years since the world #1 and #2 have met in a world title match which is exactly what we have now. 26-year-old super Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana is challenging 27-year-old 3-time defending world champion Magnus Carlsen in a best of 12 chess match. If they are tied after 12 games then the match will head to tiebreaks. But that’s enough about the real specifics about the match. If you’d like to learn more about the details of the match, please read the excellent article written by Vishal earlier this week. Instead, this article will serve as a quick look and overview at what has happened over and off the board in the match so far.  

The Games

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Photo Taken From Chess.com; Mike Klein

Despite the fact that both games have been drawn so far, there is much more behind these peaceful seeming results. For example, surprisingly for both games, this match, black has been the one with the edge pushing. For the first game, Magnus, repeating the opening he used to defeat Caruana in a game 2015-the accelerated dragon, came very close to opening the match with a win. However, after outplaying Caruana and gaining an arguably winning position, Carlsen committed a few inaccuracies and was forced to settle with a draw. This was not in vain, however, as he made Caruana struggle for 115 moves which was almost a record-setting game for the longest game in a world championship match. One would think that after this grueling endeavor from Carlsen that he would have had the psychological advantage going into the next game but this was not the case. The tables turned! In the second game, it was Caruana, after playing a close to novelty move in a queens gambit declined who was slightly pressuring Carlsen with black. Carlsen was able to deal with being out prepared with relative ease but it will be interesting to see how this trade of blows affects the psychology of both players for the remainder of the match.  

The Organizers

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Photo Used From https://twitter.com/NoJokeChris

Another big factor concerning this match is the people who are running it. These world championships are extremely popular and are the perfect opportunity to attract new lovers of this great game. However, from what I have seen from Twitter, chess news, and other media, things are not looking pleasant. For instance, according to Mike Kleine from chess.com, people purchasing tickets for the already high price of 70 dollars were given very low viewing time of the players which will only deter people from wanting to visit the match live and experience this match from their own perspectives. Additionally, the online viewing with this match is skewed. People have complained about the high glitchiness of the website and the difficulty of tracking the games progress. This laborious process of simply trying to view a chess game will definitely prevent chess from attracting new fans and it is up to the world chess organization to fix these problems and do their best to promote chess as a professional game. If they are incapable of doing this then they should at least point interested users to sites where they can actually view games such as chess24.com, lichess.org, and chess.com where it is very simple and easy to access and look at the games from this great match.

Overall I am very excited about this match. Fabiano Caruana has proven himself time and time again as a high caliber world class player but he is playing the proclaimed best of the best, Magnus Carlsen. How will he against Carlsen for the rest of the match? What Drama can the world chess organization further cause? Be sure to stay tuned!

 

Chess.com Isle of Man Open Won by GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek

DqniljJXcAAP6nLphoto was taken from IOM chess twitter page (https://twitter.com/iomchess) All rights belong to respective owners

On October 28th, tied with 7 points in 9 rounds, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, after drawing his last round with co-leader Arkadij Naiditsch, defeated the latter in their Armageddon game with the white pieces after tieing the initial blitz playoff match 1 to 1. See the game as well as some of my thoughts on it in the link below.

https://www.chess.com/analysis-board-editor?diagram_id=4628220

With a dominating finish to a closely fought and tense playoff, Wojtaszek secured first place, over thirty-seven thousand dollars as well as the isle of man open champion title. This wasn’t the only good thing to happen to him, however, this tournament. His wife, IM Alina Kashlinskaya, won the first place prize for best performing woman and, after clinching a GM norm with a round to spare, she followed through with a crushing win over the strong 2600 American prodigy Samuel Sevian. I’d highly recommend taking a look in the link before to see how Kashlinskaya punished Sevian’s lackluster play and even sacked a piece in favor of her more than passed pawns.

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1937576

I can’t say it was a surprise that Grandmaster Radoslaw Wojtaszek won this tournament. He went undefeated, was never really in any trouble of any of his games and seized his opportunities when they presented themselves. What is surprising to me is the mediocre performances by the countless of super GMs. An example of this could be seen in Wesley So. He was only able to win 2 games while drawing the remaining 7 which really demonstrates the toughness of this open tournament. By round 8, none of the top 10 seeds had played each other It was only in the final round that two of the top 10 seeds, Grandmasters Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk, were paired against each other. Grischuk, in an interview with Fiona after his victory against MVL, commented on how he felt this tournament felt too short for him.

Another surprising thing to me was the performances of many of the juniors this tournament. For instance, 18-year-old Grandmaster, Jeffery Xiong was only half a point away from first place. Additionally, youngsters like Pragnannandha and the Hungarian wunderkind Vincent Keymer were able to pull off upsets against the likes 2016 winner Pavel Eljanov and Boris Gelfand respectively.

Overall this tournament was extremely exciting to watch. I think it’s a great thing that Super Grandmasters are willing to play in these open tournaments and as a chess viewer, it’s cool to see these grandmasters play against people knew and give them a chance to prove themselves. My gratitude goes to the sponsors chess.com and the Scheinberg Family. I hope we will see many many more of open tournaments of these calibers for years to come. As always, thanks for reading. Until next time!

 

 

How To Not Mess Up The Win

Losing a winning position is arguably the worst experience a chess player can ever have. It’s also probably one of the most common phenomena that can occur in a game of chess. How many times have you heard “I was completely winning but lost!” when you ask your friends how their game went? How many times have you yourself experienced defeat from the jaws of victory? Like everyone, I have bungled and lost multifarious chess games. While there is no way to completely avoid losing games you have no business in losing, through my many years of playing as well as asking experienced masters about this topic, I have come up with a couple of strategies which I hope can help you avoid this dilemma.

 

  • Manage Your Time Well

 

While this is an important attribute to always have during a chess game, it is especially important to display good time management practices when you’re in a winning position. How often do you hear people complaining about “being winning but not having enough time”? Blunders most commonly stem from having low time on your clock, and while it always depends on the position, it is usually not necessary to spend vast amounts of time on positions where you have a huge advantage. While rushing should be avoided, so should spending obsessive amounts of time each move. I find that people do this usually because they’re scared of messing up which leads to my next point.

 

  • Be Confident … But Not Too Confident

 

Overconfidence often leads to ruin but so does underconfidence. In order to find the right balance, it’s important to have the right mindset in managing a winning position. The way I try to think about it is this: Believe in your chances while also believing in your opponents. While some winning positions are relatively simple to win, not every position is set in stone. Even though you might be winning, all it takes is one bad move to throw everything away. By keeping that in mind, you’ll likely be more cautious to any counterplay your opponent might have. To avoid underconfidence, simply be positive. Trust that you can convert your chances and never give up hope even if you mess up.

 

  • Stay Calm

 

It’s easy to get nervous when you’re winning. It’s easy to have thoughts about what might happen if you mess up and lose. It’s also easy to let your nerves overcome you and cause you to lose the game you’ve fought so hard to acquire a winning position in. Not being able to manage your nerves can easily cost you the game. To avoid this try not to focus on the big picture. Instead, try and focus on the task at hand which is converting your position. If you think that you might mess up your position, that will probably happen. Instead, just focus on the position and finding the best moves you can.

  • Be Patient

And for my final piece of advice, we will be discussing every chess player’s worst enemy, impatience. It’s so easy to get bored when you’re winning. We’ve all had thoughts like “why hasn’t my opponent resigned yet?” or “Can my opponent move already so I can win?”. This impatience can have disastrous consequences and cost you the game. To avoid being impatient, just try to remember that the game is never over until your opponent pauses the clock and offers you his hand in resignation. Remember that your opponent has no obligation to resign. It’s up to you to win, and if you’re not willing to put in the hours of work it might take into achieving the win, then you didn’t deserve to win in the first place.

I hope this article helps you avoid losing winning positions. I know that these strategies have certainly helped me in my chess career and I hope they can do the same for yours. If you have any of your own tips and strategies, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until next time!