Having now played chess competitively for over 14 years, Isaac holds the title of Candidate Master with a rating well over 2100. As just a junior in high school, he coached his school team to win 1st place in the U1200 National High School Chess Championships in 2014. Now a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh, Isaac is the captain of the Pitt chess team and manager for the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers in the PRO Chess League.
2017 was a big year for us. Three years of free, instructional, and relatable Chess^Summit content. New authors from across the United States, and new adventures around the globe.
Wow – we’ve come a long ways since 2014. In just over three years, Chess^Summit has been a resource for over 30,000 chess players and enthusiasts – that’s simply incredible.
In 2018, we’re hoping to do bigger and better things, which is why we’ve decided to start early by doing something we’ve never done before: offering you premium Chess^Summit merchandise. If you enjoy reading Chess^Summit articles or watching our Youtube videos, this is the best (and easiest!) way to show your support for the work our team does.
In our first ever sale, we’re offering shirts, sweaters, mugs, and even stickers to help raise funds for cool future projects right here on Chess^Summit. Even better? Ordering is easy! Click on the link below and order through TeeSpring where you can have your new favorite shirt shipped right to your door before the holidays!
This fall has truly tested my patience as a chess player. After coming back from a successful tour in Europe, I felt like my days as a Candidate Master were numbered, and the National Master title was soon to come. After beating my first 2400+ rated opponent in Columbus, my confidence doubled. Surely this was a sign!
But then came the stall. Lackluster performances at the Cleveland Open and the Pittsburgh Summer Open to close out the summer had me question my true strength as a competitor heading into the school year. With the pressure of my semester workload kicking in, my rating took a nosedive to the low 2100s after drawing a lower rated opponent in the opening weekend of the Pittsburgh Chess League. So much for the script…
Life in the Slow Lane
After a lot of thought, I decided to take a break from chess – at least until my first wave of midterms passed. In place of tactics and opening preparation, I used this time to cook, explore Pittsburgh, and as you already know, direct the Sorensen Memorial at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.While I missed my usual dosage of over-the-board action, I got some much-needed stress relief. Forcing myself to get outdoors while taking care of my obligations with school and my internship search helped me clear my mind and relax. Every day wasn’t a high-speed chase to the finish line.
I learned a lot in my month long sabbatical. Directing (and reporting on) the Sorensen Memorial really helped me appreciate how competitive chess in Pittsburgh truly is, giving me some perspective on my previous string of unimpressive results.Here’s the thing about slumps. They happen to everyone. It’s hard performing at a high level every tournament, but it’s easy to get obsessed with your own results. Watching the games of my fellow competitors showed me that I am not the only 2000+ rated player who makes mistakes, and that’s okay! Playing well doesn’t just mean making the best moves, but improving from the learning process. After a month of directing, I was ready to play, and my mentality was completely different. I will only get to earn the National Master title once, so right now, my focus needs to be on enjoying every step of the way – not just breaking the finish line.
With a redeeming win against an expert in the second round of the Pittsburgh Chess League, I could not have been more excited to enter the Pennsylvania State Action Chess Championship.
A New Dawn
G/30 has never been a good time control for me. The time control’s speed, paired with my desire to play a methodical game of chess have never meshed well – historically leading to a plethora of disappointing results. I think on any other given day, I would have been a bit more anxious going in, but this was my “big” return to tournament chess and a chance for me to warm up for tournaments to come. It’s showtime!
After a quick first-round win, I got paired with an ambitious unrated player. My tournament got off to a flying start when my opponent played 9…e6?:
Without hesitation, I dropped 10. c5! claiming the d6 square and the advantage. After 10…Qd8 11.Bf4! Black had to concede the d5 square too with 11…e5 and I won the game with relative ease. Even though I erred a little later down the road, I was pretty pumped to win a game so convincingly. The final position makes quite an impression – Black can’t move any of his pieces!
After a 2/2 start, I somehow stumbled on a draw in the next round against the eventual tournament winner, which set up for the newest edition of my rivalry with my Chess^Summit coauthor Beilin Li. We’ve had some competitive clashes in the past, but in our recent blitz tournament encounters, Beilin has certainly been dominant. With a little more time on the clock, could I get my revenge?
In the spirit of avoiding any of Beilin’s preparation, I played 1 e4 for just the fourth time since my last round in Reykjavik. In return, Beilin surprised me by responding with the Sicilian – we were on our own. The opening wasn’t really theoretically driven, but I had a near decisive position after 11…d5?:
With Black’s king still on e8, I quickly played 12. exd5 Qxd5 13. c4! ripping open the position. With the e-file now half open, Beilin tried to bail out win 13…bxc4 14. Bxc4 Nd4 but after 15. Qxe5+ Qxe5 16. Nxe5 but the damage was done – Black had a lost endgame:
Moral of the story? If your opponent’s king is weak, open up the position and go for the kill! 1. e4 had served me well, pushing me to 3.5/4 with it in 2017!
I wound up dropping my next round to Perpetual Chess Podcast host Ben Johnson after a critical tactical miss, and then drawing a complex game with an established National Master to finish the tournament at 4/6.
While some of my games left more to be desired, I was relatively pleased with my first weekend tournament outing since Labor Day weekend. I will need to work on my calculation and endurance to improve from this performance, but considering the time control, I count this as one positive step out of my slump. Enough of these and I should be able to start walking!
During my break from tournament chess, I somehow stumbled upon an opportunity to become a partnered streamer with chess.com! Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this, and I hope to make the most of it.
In The Steincamp Show, I have three goals:
Create an alternative to banter blitz. Watching other players play blitz has been a staple of chess streaming, but in my streams, I’ll spend more time teaching than playing, and encouraging viewers to think along the way.
Be relatable. I hope to build your intuition by sharing my successes and failures on my way to expert and beyond, much like my articles here on Chess^Summit
Be honest. As I work towards my National Master title, you’ll get to hear my thoughts first-hand, and see how much work goes into earning a title beyond my contributions here.
I’ve gone ahead and created a Twitch channel, and I’m hoping to be on air soon. If you want to watch, follow my channel to get updates of when I go live and share instructive clips. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’m curious to see where this adventure takes me!
After Kevin Carl’s 3/3 start, it seemed like the Sorensen Memorial was headed down a familiar plot line. Top seed enters, wins games, and cleans house. But winning in Pittsburgh as we’ve seen isn’t easy, and a bloodbath ensued over the next three rounds. From Kevin’s win over Nabil, four different players juggled the position of sitting atop the standings until the close of the final round.
With three rounds in the books, we knew a lot about the field. Kevin Carl was unbeaten but shaky. Chip Kraft and Evan Park were both underdogs and dangerous, and both Melih Özbek and Nabil Feliachi were only one mistake away from a 3/3 score. The fourth round promised to challenge the narrative.
Shake-up on Top
Having prepared for the Dutch, Chip Kraft got his chance to tackle the top seed with White. In my opinion, Chip is one of the most improved players in Pittsburgh this calendar year. Having trained with him personally over the summer, I know first-hand how much work Chip puts into chess, and his recent rating jump has given him a lot more confidence and swagger in his play. After downing Melih last week, this was Chip’s chance to boost his tournament.
In what proved to be a tight game, Kevin’s middlegame advantage didn’t prove enough in the time scramble, and he stumbled to his first defeat of the tournament, pushing Chip to 3.5/4. With first place changing hands, only one question remained: would the youngster Evan Park join him?
Evan is the youngster in Pittsburgh. Fresh off competing in the World Cadets in Brazil, Evan is one of the most ambitious players in the city and its clear that he will be a big part of it’s future. In the meantime, the 10 year old had a game with Melih Özbek, who was on a hunt for much-needed tournament redemption. In what proved to be one of the most interesting games of the tournament, Melih saved a worse position, and then some – meaning Chip was a half-point clear of the field.
With an early space advantage, Evan had to make critical decisions early. Here he played 18. fxg6 fxg6 19. Bh3, but after 19…0-0, Black was able to hold a worse position. Instead, switching the move order and keeping the tension with 18. Bh3could have proved an interesting alternative.
But the game continued – and with Black weathering the storm, the question of the Sicilian endgame took center stage. In what seemed like an equal position, Melih asked Evan one last crucial question with 33…Nf3 – how do you defend the h-pawn?:
Evan responded correctly, first with 34. Rxb5 axb5, but then with 35. Kb4? Nxh4 36. c4, realizing he had wasted a tempo with his 35th move. Unfortunately for Evan, this single tempo cost him a half point, and Melih won the endgame with relative ease.
Push in the Penultimate
With Chip now on board 1, it was National Master Nabil Feliachi’s turn to push with the White pieces. Nabil surprised Chip with 1. e4, prompting Chip to enter his battle-tested Scandinavian. White had pressure from the early middlegame, working the clock to a 25 minute against 9 second (!) edge with a positional advantage. But Chip stayed resilient, and after a few missed chances from Nabil, Chip saved a half-point and continued to stay on top the wall chart.
Outside the top board, the penultimate round serves as an elimination game for players with 3/4. Even in a tight field like this, 4/6 seldom claims top prizes. In my experience competing at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, this round (as well as the second) often proves to be the most stressful, as the pairings are reasonably competitive and the stakes are high. Such was the nature of Melih’s clash with Kevin Carl. In a loser-goes-home match-up, it was Kevin who flinched first, giving Melih a tactical hit on f2 and a tie for first heading into the final round:
After some thought, Melih realized the power of his a7 bishop and essayed the stunner, 16…Nxf2! with a clear advantage. The game didn’t continue much longer after 17. Nxg5 Nxd1 18. Nc5 Nxe3 -+. Kevin’s perfect 3/3 was now reduced to a 3/5, and after having played two Blacks in a row, Melih would get his chance on board 1 with the White pieces.
Hold Your Ground
Entering the final night, Chip had the most to lose with both his claim to first and a Candidate Master norm on the line. Who did he have to go through? Evan Park. With Evan recently having beaten Chip twice head-to-head, Chip played it safe with White, essaying a Queen’s Gambit with some simplification to work his way to a draw. Norm achieved – but would Nabil pull through against Melih?
As this was transpiring, National Master Franklin Chen put on a clinic with Black to beat the Closed Sicilian with a quick h-pawn push:
Black quickly asserted himself in control of the game with 9…h5!, and after 10. f4 h4! 11. e5 Nd4, Franklin was in cruise control. In what felt like a near-miniature win, this game proved to be one of the most instructive of the tournament. After a slow start, Franklin finished 4/6, but was just one missed queen sacrifice away from knocking on the tournament’s front door.
Melih’s game was slow – with both sides maneuvering. While Nabil was building an edge with Black, the game wasn’t decided until its final minutes, with Nabil taking the point in the rook and pawn ending. With Nabil winning, both he and Chip clinched first place at the Fred Sorensen Memorial with 4.5/6 in an impressive tournament finale:
T-1 Nabil Feliachi – 4.5/6
T-1 Chip Kraft – 4.5/6
T-3 Kevin Carl – 4/6
T-3 Melih Özbek – 4/6
T-3 Franklin Chen – 4/6
T-3 Evan Park – 4/6
And that concludes this series on chess in Pittsburgh. This tournament was a lot of fun to direct and spectate – fighting chess each round, high stakes games, and plenty of upsets. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Pittsburgh is one of the most dangerous places to play. Learn how to play here, and you can play anywhere. I’m looking forward to see what the Robert Smith Memorial will offer in November – but this time I’ll be throwing my hat in the ring.
As we left it, the Sorensen Memorial at the Pittsburgh Chess Club was in full swing. In the first round, the lower seeds put up resistance against their higher rated counterparts, but the favorites ultimately prevailed, setting up an intriguing second round.
Though there were still a few mismatches in the top bracket, all eyes were on the top board, as National Masters Franklin Chen and Kevin Carl clashed in the first all-2000+ matchup of the tournament.
Having competed in this format several times, I’ve always found the second round to be especially dangerous. Get a slightly worse position against the wrong opponent, and you might just find yourself starting at 1/2 with four rounds to go. That is an incrediblysmall margin of error if you’re hoping to win a prize!
While convenient, this tournament schedule can also be extremely unforgiving. Winning a tournament like this means playing consistently good chess for six consecutive weeks against the best players in Pittsburgh – not an easy task by any means! If you want to beat the best here, you really have to be the best. This of course is what makes chess in Pittsburgh so much fun!
Brilliancy of the Tournament
…and I’m not really kidding either. Things seemed to be headed Franklin’s way after the opening, but had a crucial miss when he essayed 21. fxg5?
Just like in his first round game, Kevin found a way to rebound with the stunner, 21…Bxf3!!, offering his queen for an unstoppable attack. After 22. gxf6 Rg8-+, the game reached a quick end with mate on the board!
The Long Haul
While there was an abrupt end to the top board, there were still other players in the field trying to reach the 2/2 mark. NM Nabil Feliachi improved to 2/2, and with half point byes Chip Kraft and Evan Park each improved to 1.5/2. That left Melih Özbek in the chase for a perfect score.
Out of a Tarrasch, the opening didn’t seem to promise much until White erred with 16. h3?!, unknowingly weakening his own king.
After 16… Ne5 17. Nxe5 Qxe5, White quickly came to the painful realization that 18. f4 is forced, as 18. g3? collapses to 18…d4!, opening up Black’s light-squared bishop to wreak havoc on the White king.
Now, having moved so many squares in front of his king, White stood much worse, and Melih was able to use his bishops to ground out a nice win.
The Sorensen Memorial’s third round pairings proved to be extremely difficult for the field. Evan Park, back from his half point bye, had Black against his former coach Franklin Chen for their first ever tournament encounter. Tournament Titans Kevin Carl and Nabil Feliachi squared off on board 1, while further down the list, long time friends Finn Overlie and Jeffrey Schragin were paired for their 22nd contest.
In my opinion, the tournament narrative really develops here. Pittsburgh lays claim to a handful of experts (and stronger), but with so many local tournaments each year, rematches among the top players are the norm. Preparation can play an integral role at this stage – weak opening repertoire? Good luck moving beyond these match-ups.
Clash of the Titans
Kevin and Nabil seemed to be on collision course when they entered the tournament, though to see the pairing with three rounds to spare was a bit of a surprise. Nabil was in cruise control until he erred with 28…Qxa3?, thinking he was winning material:
But imagine his surprise when after 29. Nxb5 Qc1+ 30. Nf1! +- keeping the full piece. As I mentioned before, chess is particularly cruel. Just a few moves before, Black had missed his chance when he played 24…Rac8 instead of 24…Qa4! winning on the spot.
Elsewhere, there were nearly upsets on every board. Chip Kraft won with Black against Melih, and Evan Park triumphed in his showdown on board 3. Even more surprising, was that 1800-2000 rated players only scored 50% against lower rated opposition. When trying to beat familiar opponents, you have to be willing take risks. But as this night showed, sometimes taking chances can backfire.
After a dramatic three rounds, only NM Kevin Carl holds a perfect score, but both youngster Evan Park and Chip Kraft are only a half point behind at 2.5/3 and should pose interesting challenges over the next three rounds.
With 1900+ rated players scoring anywhere from 1/3 to 3/3, I think the current standings are proof for the original claim I made in my first tournament report: Pittsburgh is one of the toughest places to play chess.
As the tournament moves into the second half, I will be particularly interested in who can play the most consistently. In the race for first, the remaining three rounds is practically a single-elimination tournament.
Remember Kostya? For those of you who are new to Chess^Summit, I got the chance to stay with the International Master in Iceland for last April’s edition of the Reykjavik Open during my European Tour. Kostya had the tournament of a lifetime, placing 6th in one of the most prestigious open tournaments in the world, and we also had a lot of fun putting together instructional round-by-round recaps of the tournament. Here’s one from the fourth round!
Having worked with Kostya in the past here on Chess^Summit, I’m really excited to share his Positional Sacrifices course from ChessUniversity with you all today!
When I think about landmark games in 2017, Kramnik-Harikrishna (Shamkir Chess) and Aronian-Carlsen (Norway Chess) immediately stick out. Why? The power of the positional sacrifice.
Kostya’s ChessUniversity course is really well put together and is a fun and friendly introduction to positional sacrifices. As a coach and chess writer, I think its especially valuable that Kostya finds top-level Grandmaster games from both past and present to help build your intuition on how to analyze positions. Make the most of the course, and I promise you will be a stronger player for it! Check out this clip from his 45-part series:
Luckily enough for you all, Kostya has given Chess^Summit readers a special deal on his course. Use the discount code: SUMMIT, and receive 20% off when you order his Positional Sacrifices series.
As a current undergraduate student, finding time to study chess can be hard, but the ChessUniversity interface makes it easy for me to start right where I left off whenever I have the time between classes. So what are you waiting for? Punch in the discount code SUMMIT, save 20%, and get started on this high-quality course from IM Kostya Kavutskiy!
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In my experience, Pittsburgh is one of the most dangerous cities to play chess. Unlike other metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh isn’t dominated by young talent, but rather a class of well-seasoned veterans, consistently underrated yet somehow consistently over-performing. Opening innovation isn’t enough to win against these guys – everything needs to go perfectly. Hotbeds for chess around the city like the Pittsburgh Chess Club continuously pair the city’s best against each other, making a logjam in the chase for rating points. Want to boost that rating in the Steel City? Good luck!
That brings us to the 20th Fred Sorensen Memorial. A Tuesday night ladder at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, this event marks the first litmus test to see who’s playing well going into the fall. With college players returning from the summer to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, it’s more important now more than ever to be in form.
Where was I in all this? Frustratingly enough, my course load this semester has forced me to keep my eyes off the chess board, and I’ve decided to sideline myself for a few weeks from tournament play until my school schedule becomes more manageable. Somehow that found me to be a tournament director of this event, and thus the inspiration of this project. Knowing that I have played a vast majority of players in the field, I’m hoping that with these tournament reports I can share my insights throughout the event, as well as give a glimpse as to why chess in Pittsburgh is so strong.
And with that hefty introduction, let’s take a look at some chess!
These ladders can be long. With the tournament lasting six weeks, I’ve always believed that momentum is the key to winning. For the strongest players in the field, that means showing their class and effortlessly moving into the second round unscathed on opening night.
Easier said than done! Even with the top players paired against the bottom half of the field, that still pitted roughly 1800 rated players against National Masters. Who would put up resistance?
Second seed NM Nabil Feliachi arguably had the best win of the day:
Unaware of the of the impending attack, Finn chose 1. f4? to kick Black’s knight off of e5. However, after Nabil chucked 1…c4!, White must have realized he was lost! The game continued 2. Qe1 Nd3 3. Qg3 f6 4. bxc4 Qf2+! (click here for web player), and with the trapped bishop on g5, Nabil won material and the game.
Nabil wasn’t alone in producing a masterclass win. Chip Kraft launched his e-pawn and busted Black in a Catalan, and the youngest (Evan Park) as well as one of the oldest (Vassil Prokhov) competitors both cruised to nice tactical finishes. Candidate Master Melih Özbek (Congrats on the recent PhD) met some resistance early, but methodically earned his point.
Overcoming the First Test
Of course, winning every game with ease is unrealistic, and there were a fair number of close calls on opening night. Having played in this field several times, I must admit that has more to do with the growing strength and resilience of the 1300-1600 rated players in Pittsburgh. There have been quite a few events here where I’ve felt that a win against a 1400 was much harder to come by than a win against an opponent 400 points stronger! They simply aren’t afraid to play slightly worse positions.
Playing Black, National Master Franklin Chen had to take some risks to get an advantage from a symmetrical pawn structure to win. Paul Cantalupo (who I played recently) got an advantage early, but couldn’t convert his attack and had to settle for a draw, a result which proved to be the only upset of the day.
That being said, no one danced on a knife’s edge more than Michael Kostyak who managed to convert the following position:
Playing for the 500 point upset, Ivry plopped a quick tactic on the board: 35. Qf8+ Kh5 36. g4+ Kh4 37. gxf5. Thinking he had won a piece, Ivry was in for Caissa’s worst lesson when Michael played 37… Kh3!!, prompting immediate resignation.
White cannot stop mate on both g1 and g2, and thus the game was over. Even worse was that 37. Qg8! was the winning blow White needed to win the game. Chess is truly a cruel game.
Battle on Board 1
The top seed and my Pittsburgh Chess League teammate, Kevin Carl, had the toughest pairing of the night in his match-up with Walter Kennedy. Walter is a solid player, and at his best, is a much stronger player than what his 1800 rating suggests.
Kevin ventured into the Catalan, and opted to give Black hanging pawns. All seemed to be in the balance until he dropped the howler 19. Qb2?, offering Black a tactical shot:
As he told me after the game, he immediately realized that he had missed the undermining move, 19…g5!, winning a piece. Luckily for him, Black continued with 19…Rfe8, and after an immediate 20. Nd3, the position returned to rough equality and the plot progressed.
Black actually had built a slight edge when Kevin played 26. Qf5:
In what proved to be the critical moment, the game turned on its head when Walter essayed the move 26…Qe7? allowing 27. Rxd4! g6 28. Qh3, dropping a pawn thanks to the pressure on c8.
26…Ne4! could have proven to be something here, as Kevin would have to combat the knight’s route to c3. Black had his chance.
With the first round in the books, eight players opened the Fred Sorensen Memorial with a win, meaning that the tournament’s toughest games start this Tuesday! A lot of interesting games this round, and certainly a lot more to be looking forward to. Hard to say if anyone stands out as the clear favorite after this round, but that’s why there are six!
I’ll be posting the next report in two weeks, following the conclusion of Round 3!