Living on the Internet: Streaming, PRO Chess League, and more!

What a week it’s been! With classes now in full swing, it’s almost like break never happened! Here’s what I’ve been up to since my return from the Eastern Open:

On Air!

As I mentioned a few months back, I’ve joined the chess.com stream team to help promote chess. With some small technical difficulties (sorry for the lag!), my first episode of The Steincamp Show aired on Twitch this past weekend. If you missed the stream, I covered some topics like rook endgames, the Bird Bind, and some memorable games in my Europe trip. Have a look!

I’m hoping to stream regularly with chess.com, so make sure to subscribe to my twitch channel so you can notifications for when I go live!

#nervesofsteel

In addition to my work here at Chess^Summit, I also happen to be the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers in the PRO Chess League. Last year the Pawngrabbers finished strong despite an 0-4 start, winning the last three regular season games against Lagos, Portland, and Minnesota.

While the offseason meant learning basic Photoshop skills to promote the team, it also meant scouting stronger local players and signing top players. We got some pretty big news last week:

GM Awonder Liang is set on second board behind GM Alexander Shabalov. This year the Pawngrabbers have added depth on boards 3 and 4 with IMs Atulya Shetty and Safal Bora, FMs Mark Heimann, Gabriel Petesch, and Edward Song, as well as Mika Brattain, David Itkin, and Grant Xu.

The Pawngrabbers’ start the 2018 season with their second-ever international match-up against Buenos Aires tomorrow, at 6:40 PM EST. It should be close, so don’t miss out on the official team stream:

I’ll be streaming the Pawngrabbers’ matches on my twitch channel (with technical issues fixed), alongside LM David Hua for much of the season, so don’t miss out!

Looking Ahead

Just two weeks down the road, I’ll be competing in the Cardinal Open in Columbus, in what will prove to be my first attempt of 2018 to escape the snowpocalypse that is Pittsburgh right now. I’m not exactly sure how many opportunities I will have to compete beyond this tournament given my school schedule, so my main focus is to just play sharp and avoid regrettable blunders.

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping track of the Tata Steel tournament in the Netherlands. How about Kramnik’s win over Svidler yesterday?

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 17…Ne8

At a glimpse, White seems a little over-extended. Kramnik has two sets of doubled pawns, and e5 seems particularly weak. But how would you react if I said Kramnik went on to win in just 7 moves?

In reality, White’s rooks are actually really active – both of White’s rooks are optimally placed, and Black’s a8 rook and e8 knight are several moves away from getting into the game. White might be statically worse, but he has a dynamic edge on his side: 18. Rd7!

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 18. Rd7!

Not a hard move to find, as Kramnik hits three pawns at once (a7, b7, and e7). Svidler needed to bail out with 18…Bxe5 19. Rxe7 Bxc3 20. bxc3, but the endgame isn’t easy to hold. Black’s queenside pawns are weak, meaning that White will have an advantage to push on the queenside. Not to mention, it’s also more helpful to have the bishop than the knight in this endgame too.

So Svidler tried to opt out by trading away a pair of rooks with 18…Rc7  but was caught off guard by 19. Rxa7!

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 19. Rxa7!

Now the position is starting to crumble. If Black tries 19…Rxa7? 20. Rd8! and White has a long-term advantage if 20…Kf8 21. Bxa7. White is extremely active, and Black will not easily break the pin on the e8 knight. So Svidler had to make a concession with 19…Rb8, and that was all Kramnik needed to win the game.

After 20. Rd5 b6 21. Nb5, White already has a commanding edge. Black’s rooks will never be fully (or actively) coordinated. Meanwhile, White’s knight on b5 is an immovable force, and the Black knight on e8 is unable to get into the game, thanks to the e5 pawn.

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 21. Nb5

After 21…Rxa7 22. Nxa7 Kf8 23. Rd7, tactics are on White’s side again because if 23…Bxe5 24. Nc6! is decisive. After 23… Ra8 24. Bd4, Svidler resigned. White is so active that winning the b6 pawn is considered a distraction. While Black struggles to find activity, White has a plethora of plans to choose from.

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 24. Bd4

White’s dynamic advantage from seven moves ago is now a static advantage, even with the doubled pawns. The knight on a7 not only blocks out the a-file for the rook, it takes away the c8 square. The Black knight on e8 can’t get out, and bishop on g7 is pointed at a pawn. Unless Black plays for a quick …f7-f6, White can march his king all the way to c6 and win the b6 pawn there. With all of his pieces active, then it becomes possible for Kramnik to push his b-pawns.

Black could try 24…f6, in fact, that’s probably the only real candidate move in the position. But even there, 25. Bxb6 fxe5 26. Bc5 exerts permanent pressure on e7 while preparing to advance the b3 pawn.

I like this game because it illustrates how important the overall balance is between statics and dynamics. At first, Kramnik had a dynamic edge, and he realized the position’s potential. In keeping with Dorfman’s strategy, he continued to play dynamically until his initiative became a long-lasting edge. As spectators, we were rewarded with a 24 move win against a super-GM!

With Kramnik at +2, he’s definitely in contention for first, but I’ve got this weird feeling Anish Giri is going to keep the edge… time to start watching to the Challenger section!

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Swimming with Sharks: Return to DC

Seventy-six points. The past six months months had been particularly brutal stretch for me, as my rating hemorrhaged continuously and fell below 2100 for a third time in my career. Gone were the days of beating FMs in Europe, and gone were the days of consistent prophylactic play. Since June, I had only beaten two players rated over 2000 – hardly the score of someone seriously trying to become a National Master. Needless to say, I was pretty discouraged.

With the fall semester complete, I packed my bags and took a bus south to Richmond with only ten days to prepare for the Eastern Open. A beacon of hope or a chance to implode? Historically, I have always underperformed in this event, never reaching 50% across three attempts – even posting an abysmal 0.5/5 in 2012, one of my worst performances to date. However, with no team to represent the University of Pittsburgh this year at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships in Columbus, this was by far my best option for quality games.

Frame of Mind

With so much to review and a bad form to fix, ten days didn’t feel like a lot of time to address all of my weaknesses. To better prepare for this tournament, I made some key decisions early that helped me get back to fighting form.

Limit Opening Preparation:

Because I wasn’t stuck playing the same opponents anymore, I decided that opening surprises were less relevant. Knowing this, I cut out the London System and 1. e4 from my opening repertoire for White, and decided to shelf the King’s Indian and Hyper Accelerated Sicilian for another day.

This still meant I needed to spend a lot of time looking over my lines, as a lot of recent Grandmaster games meant important theoretical developments for both sides. While I prefer an even distribution of study time, reviewing my opening lines was a majority of my preparation.

Work on Calculation:

Opening knowledge is great, but calculation is essential. Throughout the semester, it became clear that my tactical abilities were atrophying, so this was an immediate area of concern. I started to feel really confident four days before the event when I pulled this stunt:

Exercise:

Regardless of the event, stamina should always be in the limelight. With the Eastern Open being a gruesome seven round schedule crammed into four days, I had no doubt that this would be a mental marathon. I probably could have done more here, but I was able to make some decisions throughout the event to compensate for it.

It’s really easy to say these things, but my decisions regarding preparation were pretty deliberate. I knew that to perform well in this event, I’d need to have a plan and stick to it. After a quick glance at the standings, I saw that while I was roughly in the middle of the cross table, the rating difference between me and the bottom was really small, while the difference between me and Aleksander Lenderman was … well, Lenderman certainly doesn’t need an introduction.

Knowing this, I decided to mix things up before setting foot in the tournament hall.

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Baking a Cheesecake? Hmm… Chess is still harder

1. No chess in between rounds. This one proved to be really easy. With Tyson’s Corner just down the road and my girlfriend in town, there were plenty of (good) distractions to keep my mental energy levels high.

Of course, this meant no preparing for my opponents between rounds, but this is why I set a repertoire before the tournament. I felt really confident in my opening studies, and I managed to put together a plus score in games stemming from my preparation.

2. Don’t worry about ratings! As easy as this sounds, I had struggled with this in Pittsburgh, underperforming in games against lower rated opponents. My goal this tournament was just play solid chess each round, so I made the decision that if I drew a lower rated opponent but played a solid game, that’s a good result. Playing practical chess is really important in a long tournament, so draws aren’t necessarily the end of the world if you know when to take your chances.

These were big changes for me, but I knew I needed to change something to avoid another disappointing performance. After all, how often do I get to leave Pittsburgh during the semester?

During the tournament, I managed to (finally) pick up a copy of Thinking Inside the Box by Jacob Aagard from my childhood chess vendor Todd Hammer, and on pre-game mental preparation, Aagard writes:

“Personally I have always felt it useful to lay a strategy for the game. To think, in advance, of various situations that could arise. I did not always do this; but when I did not, I always regretted it.”

– Jacob Aagard, Thinking Inside the Box (page 44)

So I guess I was doing something right! After ten days, I felt ready – nervous – but definitely ready. I had a chip on my shoulder, and I really wanted to do something with my last tournament of the year.

Deja Vu on Opening Night

My first tournament outside of Pittsburgh since last August started with, well – an opponent from Pittsburgh. Paired with White against FM Gabe Petesch, I knew I had a good litmus test for the tournament. While I’ve never gotten a result against Gabe, I’ve always gotten an interesting game against him when in good form, so I wasn’t daunted by his new 2400+ rating.

The last time I played Gabe, you may recall I blew a great game due to poor time management, and that proved to be a recurring problem this game, though at a much smaller level:

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Steincamp–Petesch, position after 14…Rfe8

Having won the opening battle, I have a great position. Central control, fluid development, and a clear plan. White needs to push the a-pawn to a5 and bring the f1 rook to the queenside. Once I’ve asserted my control on the queenside, I can bring my knight to b3 or c4 and put a lot of pressure on Black. Great! This didn’t take too long – and to a spectator 15. Rfc1 seems like a natural execution of that plan.

While its a perfectly good move, I wasted 12 minutes here looking at 15. f3, trying to solidify my center before going to the queenside. 15. f3 isn’t a bad move, but because I looked at this first without really identifying my plan (I had just brought my knight from f3 to d2 and was thinking about this follow-up), I needed to take extra steps to get reacclimatized to the position.

How big of a deal was 12 minutes? It would have meant that on move 36 I would have had 16 minutes in the critical position, instead of just 4:

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Steincamp–Petesch, position after 35…Rbe8

Needing to make time control, I lost my edge with 36. dxc6?, and when I got to move 40, I found myself with a worse endgame and went on to lose. I dismissed 36. d6! because I thought the pawn would be lost, but with more time I may have seen 36…Rd8 37. d7 Re7 38. Rcd4 Qe6 39. Qd2 with a big advantage.

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Steincamp–Petesch, analysis after 39. Qd2

Its always tough to lose a game like this, but I knew I played a competitive game and just needed to pick up the pace on the clock a little bit (click here to see the whole game).

After a quick draw in the second round, I got white again against an 11 year old expert, Pranav Prem. While I had never played Pranav before, he was already gaining massive rating points before I graduated from high school, so I knew this was a potential trap game for me.

This was the first real test of my solid opening repertoire, and I was rather pleased to get this roughly equal position:

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Steincamp–Prem, position after 21. Qf3

With best play Black should be able to hold equality, but White is the side playing for the advantage. Thanks to my queen on f3 and my “Ulf Anderson” knight on d3, I can play for the standard Catalan endgame advantage of the weak c6 square. If my knight can reach the c6 square, the game is much more dangerous for Black – and that’s basically what happened. After five hours of methodical chess, I squeezed water from stone and got my first win of the tournament.

Through three rounds, my tournament strategy served me well. I had an interesting draw with Black the next morning against Dennis Norman (who tacked on nearly 65 points to break 2000 for his tournament performance – congrats!), and followed that with an evening draw against FM Aravind Kumar from a position of strength.

Day 4 proved to be my real test, as I started the day with Black against two-time Virginia State Champion Andy Samuelson. Having lost to him convincingly twice before, I was a little concerned about the match-up, but once the position produced a symmetrical pawn structure. Determined to get more than a draw White pushed with 38. g5, trying to lose me in the complications:

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Samuelson–Steincamp, position after 38. g5

While the game had a lot of critical moments beyond this, the trend shifted in my favor when I found the engine best 38…Be5!, asking White how he planned to extricate his knight on h6. From this point on, I felt like I was the biggest threat to myself, and I needed to stop my confidence from getting in the way of playing a good game. I made some mistakes and got a little lucky, but my hard work paid off and I converted my material advantage to a full point.

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Stay calm Isaac… PC: Paul Swaney

Not my best ever win, but with a plus score with Black guaranteed, I was thrilled (and tired) after another five hour win. Even more importantly, at 3.5/6, I was guaranteed to score 50%+ with any result in the final round. Phew! The Eastern Open isn’t cursed!

Unfortunately for me, having used up much of my energy, I was too content with a draw in the last round, and was punished after a drawn out ending (where I still had my chances to equalize!). But what can I say? Play for a draw and you better be ready to lose…

Last round aside, this was a great confidence booster for me as I jumped back over 2100 to end the year. Funnily enough after the last round, I thought I would only gain a couple points – 20 was a real holiday surprise!

What worked for me? To start the tournament, I really believed in my preparation, and it showed, even in my first round loss. After regrouping with a win in the third round, I played much more confidently and relaxed. Not obsessing about chess between rounds and store-hopping instead …helped? That’s bad news for my bank account.

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One last surprise – my first Penguins jersey! Let’s go Pens!

But more importantly I treated all of my opponents the same way. I didn’t take any risks unless I felt it was the absolute best move on the board. I think in playing solidly, I successfully blocked out external distractions like rating and the disappointment in losing my first game. I had a lot of respect for everyone in the field, so it didn’t matter who the big fish were. We were all in the shark tank.

Happy New Year from Chess^Summit: Looking Back

Happy New Year Chess^Summit Readers!

As 2018 begins, our family of writers here at Chess^Summit celebrate an amazing 2017 campaign. This past year, we published over 175 instructive (and free!) articles for over 21,000 Chess^Summit visitors from across the globe. What made 2017 so special? Here’s a quick review of the crazy year we had at Chess^Summit:

Accomplishments

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David at the 2017 NY State Championships

After earning a Grandmaster norm, David Brodsky shared his journey to the International Master title with humorous insights in each of his games. In April, he picked up his third and final norm, and just a couple of months crossed 2400 to earn the title. To top it all off, David tied for first at the New York State Championships last September! At just 15 years old, David is now one of the top 100 players in the United States, and is Chess^Summit’s youngest ever author!

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Beilin at the USATE (PC: Vanessa Sun)

In February, Vishal Kobla was the first of our original team of writers to earn the National Master title. The high school junior crossed 2200 at the Baltimore Open and finished 2017 tied for 5th in the 11th grade section of the National Grade Championships in Orlando, Florida. Joining Vishal in April would be Beilin Li, as he earned the National Master title in a Pittsburgh Chess League fixture.

Special guest accomplishments included a strong performance in the US Women’s Championships by Jennifer Yu, and a 2nd place result by Maggie Feng in the US Junior Girls’ Chess Championships. Daniel Johnston earned the National Master title in March, and IM Kostya Kavutskiy crushed the Reykjavik Open, providing fun analysis videos along the way!

Travels

Chess and travel are practically synonymous, so Chess^Summit went on the road in 2017.

Isaac Steincamp kicked off the year with a three month expedition to Europe, visiting seven different countries and boosting his FIDE rating nearly 200 points! In his strongest performance of the trip, he drew his first International Master and finished second in the FM group of the First Saturday tournament in Budapest.

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Isaac with Hikaru Nakamura in St. Louis (PC: Eric Rosen)

In August, Isaac took Chess^Summit to its first Grand Chess Tour event for the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz to cover Garry Kasparov’s brief return to tournament chess.

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Vanessa Sun and Carissa Yip

Vanessa Sun covered major chess tournaments across the United States: the Collegiate Final Four, the US Chess Championships, the New York International, and the US Open. The 2016 U1200 Millionaire Chess semi-finalist had a pretty big year, becoming the first Chess^Summit author to write for ChessBase.

GM Eugene Perelshteyn talked about playing Anish Giri in Iceland. Before the end of the year, he would get to play Magnus Carlsen at the Isle of Man International in October. Kostya joined Isaac in Reykjavik, but special guest IM Eric Rosen ventured eastern Europe, defeating Magnus’ former coach GM Simen Agdestein along the way. Paul Swaney stayed stateside, traveling to Nashville, Tennessee for SuperNationals VI, giving us a behind-the-scenes look into one of the biggest tournaments in the world.

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GM Eugene Perelshteyn in Iceland prior to the Reykjavik Open

Favorite Articles

With so many articles in 2017, its hard to pick favorites. Here are some of our authors’ top picks for the year:

David Brodsky: David enjoyed writing about making the International Master title, but he also really likes playing in the US Amateur Team East! He also picked Beilin’s performance and article on the tournament as one of the best Chess^Summit articles of 2017.

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David receiving his final IM norm earlier this year

Beilin Li: “Basically anything by David is exceptionally good. I especially liked the series about material imbalances.” Beilin also pointed to Akira Nakada’s article on blunders as particularly instructive. It’s worth noting that Beilin beat his first International Master this year, and did so twice in the same tournament – an article he had a lot of fun writing for Chess^Summit.

Vishal Kobla: Vishal found his interview with US Junior Girl’s Champion Akshita Gorti particularly memorable. He enjoyed writing “Out of Book, [Out of] Luck” on some of his particularly memorable games where his opponent deviate from mainline theory.

Isaac Steincamp: Isaac points to Jennifer Yu’s posts as some of the most entertaining and instructive of 2017. Somehow finding a way to reach 5.5/9 in the Liberec Open, Isaac enjoyed writing about his (lucky) performance in the Czech Republic alongside Pitt teammate John Ahlborg.

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Beilin, Alice, and Isaac at the 2016 World Open

Alice Dong: While Alice no longer writes for Chess^Summmit, she’s still a reader and avid fan of the site. She picked Isaac’s posts about slumps as her favorite for 2017.

Vanessa Sun: While Vanessa travels a lot, she still works a lot on her chess too! Her post about tough tournaments helped her learn the most about herself and her play in 2017.

Dan Schultz: Dan is one of our newest Chess^Summit team members, and as a fan of the Perpetual Chess Podcast enjoyed the two posts featuring Ben Johnson: Isaac’s and David’s.

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Dan writes for both chess.com and Chess^Summit!

Chess^Summit Readers picked Isaac’s performance at the Columbus Open as the most popular article of 2017. Isaac’s first triumph over a 2400+ rated opponent was the most read post in 2017, followed by Jennifer’s post on her secrets about chess improvement. Through our partnership with ChessOpeningsExplained.com, Isaac’s analysis of the London System was Chess^Summit’s most popular video in 2017, hitting over 4000 views on Youtube.

Chess^Summit Merchandise

In one of our biggest stories of 2017, Chess^Summit finally started selling merchandise! We’ve got a couple of designs uploaded already on TeeSpring, with different shirts, hoodies, and mugs on sale! We’ll be adding new designs throughout 2018, but for now, snag a shirt – all the proceeds benefit Chess^Summit projects!

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Check out our first design on TeeSpring!

Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers

You know what starts in just a couple of weeks? The PRO Chess League! Once again, Chess^Summit will be the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers’ secondary media sponsor, as the Black and Gold prepare to take on a tough division in the Atlantic. Beilin and Isaac, as well as other team members, will be streaming the matches each week, so be on the look out for updates!

Isaac’s inaugural Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers recap from the 2017 season!

Closing Remarks

Here’s to hoping 2018 is as much fun (and even more) as 2017! As we work towards our chess goals, let us know how you’re doing by tweeting at us @chesssummit and send us your games to chess.summit@gmail.com and get them analyzed by our team of writers.

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Isaac and Beilin in their apartment last May

As 2017 comes to a close, we owe a big thanks to everyone who contributed to Chess^Summit in 2017. Team and guest writers alike are what makes Chess^Summit one of the most fun chess projects to be a part of. We also want to thank all of our readers and fans from 2017 for following all of our writers’ accomplishments over the past year. Without our readers, Chess^Summit’s mission of making chess accessible for everyone would not be possible. With over 50,000 article reads in 2017, we’re really excited to bring even more to 2018!

Endgame Essentials: A Year Later

After the conclusion of the 2016 World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha, I started studying various endgames that occurred throughout the two tournaments. While it hasn’t been a continuous process, I figured it would be timely to share some of my findings as the 2017 edition of the tournament approaches.

Why look at the rapid games? In a lot of these games, the top players have to rely on intuition and technique. Given the limitation of time, much of the conversion process is in the endgame: squeeze, simplify, win. This gives us a more decisive allotment of material to look through and learn from.

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Magnus had a shaky start in Doha, and was unable to defend both his rapid and blitz titles (Courtesy: Maria Emilianova)

Much of the Endgame Essentials series thus far has emphasized pawn structure and static elements, but today’s games look at key material imbalances in the position. We’ll be looking at the practical power of the bishop pair and evaluating minor piece endgames.

In each of these sections, I’ll discuss the highlights, with links to further analysis for each game. Buckle up!

The Bishop Pair

Its no secret that possession of the bishop pair comes with great power. But what does winning with one actually look like? Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov gave us a convincing example of how to win the bishop pair and then convert in the second round:

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Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 16. Nc5!

Despite the symmetrical pawn structure, White has a clear plus. The knight on c5 (combined with the g2 bishop) exert a lot of pressure on Black’s queenside, and at some point, Black will have to surrender the bishop pair to remedy his position. Black opted for 16…Bc8, and later had to trade on c5. But this didn’t solve everything either – just look at the position after 24. a5:

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Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 24. a5

In fixing the queenside, Cheparinov now has a target on a6. Once the g2 bishop breaks free it will be superior to the knight on f6, which will allow White to ‘stretch out’ Black’s resources. White’s task proved to not be too cumbersome, and the Bulgarian soon left with the point.

Constantly putting pressure throughout your opponent’s camp is one way utilize the bishop pair, but in this next game, Chinese GM Lu Shanglei shows us that simply waiting for the right time to trade could also do the trick.

How did White win the bishop pair here?

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Lu–Shytaj, position after 16…Nc4

With a simple 17. Rxd4 Rxd4 18. Bg7 Rh4 19. Bxh8 Rxh5, White got his bishop pair, but now what? The Chinese Grandmaster showed us that calculation isn’t everything when he came up with his plan in this position:

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Lu–Shytaj, position after 21…Ba6

Here White knew he wanted to activate his rook on the g-file and target h7. Black needs time to coordinate each of his pieces, so White continued with his plan with 22. Re4. Once his rook reached g8 and his b3 bishop was on c2, White was able to win the h-pawn and push his kingside majority. Put your pieces on the best squares and good things happen!

Having the bishop pair often means having the flexibility to control the game. Do you stretch your opponent out, or do you trade your bishop pair for an even greater advantage? In both of these games, White activated his pieces and applied pressure, causing Black too many practical problems.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and we saw one of China’s best, Li Chao, neutralize White’s bishop pair:

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Onischuk–Li Chao, position after 38. Bd2

White is a pawn up and has the bishop pair, but its the passivity in White’s position that stinks. White has to eliminate Black’s h-pawn and simplify to earn a draw, but White actually has weak dark square control. After 38…Nf5 Black kept the pawn on h6 and prepared …Bg1-e3 to eliminate White’s dark squared bishop. Once this trade occurs, White’s task of winning the h-pawn is much more difficult, meaning that it is Black who is stretching White, which is exactly what happened here. White missed some chances, but the pressure and trend of the game really did him in.

“Basic” Minor Piece Endgames

Bishop or Knight? That is the question. Do we just summarize that in positions where pawns span the board, bishops are better because of their range in motion? That seems like a decent general rule, but Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev showed us that’s not always true with his second round win:

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Artemiev–Banikas, position after 34. Nb3

Despite the material advantage, the conversion proves to not be so simple. Artemiev starts off by bringing his knight to a dark-squared outpost, c5. With only a light squared minor piece, Black really isn’t able to stop White from planting his knight and usurping the sixth rank with Re2-e6. White missed some chances and had to “re-win” the game later, but even in a drawn position, we see the combinations the knight and the rook can draw up against the king.

Does anyone teach knight endgames anymore? Knight endgames are a lot like pawn endgames – a material advantage is often enough to be decisive. What else do you know? Norwegian youngster and future World Junior Champ Aryan Tari was tested in the first round:

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Tari–Dubov, position after 38. Nd3

With his last move, 38. Nd3, Tari brings his knight behind the e4 pawn to create a shield along the 5th rank. To convert, White will need to activate his king and cross the fifth rank, with the goal of creating a passer on the e-file. Black made White’s life a little easy by playing …f7-f5, but Black was already in dire straights.

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Tari–Dubov, position after 43. Kd4

With stage one of the plan (more-or-less) complete, White’s advantage is even clearer. Black is extremely passive, and at some point, White will be ready to stretch Black between the a6 pawn, and his own passed e-pawn. The extra material proved to be enough, and Tari scored a big upset in the first round.

If you’re looking for more minor piece endgame material, GM Elshan Moradiabadi’s recent lecture at the St Louis Chess Club is a good starting point:

Conclusions

What has this short introduction to minor piece endgames told us? Activity still matters. Pawn structure still matters. Many of the same basic criterion we had established with rook endgames can be applied to minor piece endgames.

But on a deeper level, think about how in each of these games, one side followed a plan before worrying about actually converting the result – this is probably the most important point. Endgames are incredibly difficult, and its often pointless to try and calculate every move – the possibilities are literally infinite! So optimize your pieces and identify critical targets in your opponent’s camp. Maybe the rapid strategy isn’t so bad after all – squeeze, simplify, win.

MVP of the Week: Non-Draws and Blunders

I’m sure you’ve heard the big headline this week from the Grand Chess Tour … 23 draws out of 25 games in the London Chess Classic: Snoozefest 2K17. While frustrated chess fans discuss ways to kill the draw offer in chess, its our job here at Chess^Summit reassure you that top-level chess isn’t dead, and that strong players do make mistakes!

Let’s start in London – where alongside the London Chess Classic is the British Knockout Championship and the London FIDE Open. In round 4 of the London FIDE Open, Swedish GM Nils Grandelius tricked his younger opponent into snacking on b2 before completing his development:

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 11…Bxb2

With his queenside still undeveloped, grabbing on b2 was proved to be an invitation for White to attack Black’s king after 12. Ng5!. Without the use of all of his pieces, Black’s position began to crack: 12… Rf5 13.Rb1 Rxg5 14.Rxb2 Rf5 15.Qc2 Rf8 16.Be4

 

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 16. Be4

Both of White’s bishops are now primed to attack the monarch, and Black has yet to make any progress developing his queenside. Black decided to give up the exchange after 16…h6 17.Bc3 Na6 18.Bh7+ Kh8 19.Qg6 Rf6 20.Bxf6 Qxf6 21.Qxf6 gxf6 22. Be4, and resigned shortly after.

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 22. Be4

Where else is chess happening right now? St. Petersburg! The Russian Men’s and Women’s Championship Superfinal are just four rounds in, with a gold mine of decisive results. WGM Olga Girya smashed IM Anastasia Bodnaruk in today’s round using a popular move order trick in the London System:

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 5. h4!

Using the move order 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nc3!, Girya had tricked her opponent into a less flexible set-up and began her kingside assault early. Trying to refute the attack, Black held her breath and played 5…0-0, encouraging White to go on the offensive with the famous exchange sacrifice, 6.h5 Nxh5 7.Rxh5! gxh5 8.Qxh5.

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 8. Qxh5

It may not have been wise to enter into White’s preparation, but Black’s next few moves were puzzling, as she failed to bring her queenside pieces to aid her king: 8…f5 9.Nf3 c6 10.Bd3 Nd7 11.O-O-O Nf6 12.Qh4 Qe8 13.Rh1

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 13. Rh1

 

Maybe it was now that Bodnaruk realized that g2-g4 is a serious threat because after 13…h5, Black’s position was in shambles. With dark squares e5 and g5 both being weak, Black was too undeveloped to stop the infiltration.

The assault continued with 14.Ne5 Ng4 15.Nxg4 fxg4 16.Qg5 Rf6 17.Be5 Qf7 18.Rxh5, and with the kingside exposed, Black was left with a completely lost position! Black tried to generate counterplay, but to no avail and had to resign.

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 18. Rxh5

You might be picking up on a theme here, but let’s look through one more game for good measure…

Do you know where the Faroe Islands are? In a last round clash between two FMs at the recent Runavik Open, Black found himself pawn-grabbing before tucking his king away after 11…Bxe5?

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 11…Bxe5

White was quick to punish Black, and there was no time to scramble after 12. Re1 d5? 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Qxd5 O-O 15. Rxe5

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 15. Rxe5

White’s now regained his material and picked up an extra pawn, and meanwhile Black has failed to fix his development problem. The pair of bishops alone were enough to discourage Black from getting back in the game. 15…Be6 16. Qe4 Nf6 17. Qe1 Rfe8 18. Bxe6 fxe6 19. h3 Nd7 20. Re4 Qf6 21. Bxh6 1-0

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 21. Bxh6

Black resigned here. Arguably premature, but with a material deficit and four isolated pawns, Black decided that it was not worth playing on.

What do these three recent games tell us about chess? Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Develop your pieces! Even strong players mess this up, and the consequences can be lethal.
  2. Take the initiative! If you’re opponent is not developing, see if you can prevent your opponent from getting back into the game by forcing them to respond to threats instead.
  3. Keep that king safe! Just because your king is castled, doesn’t mean it’s safe. As we saw in Grandelius’ game, a king is weak without sufficient protection.

Maybe this theme of development is what Levon was getting at after all…

Maybe the London Chess Classic will pick up now that Caruana is at +2, but if not there are plenty of other great games happening across the world!

Don’t Get Discouraged!

Maybe I spoke too soon. After a triumphant performance at the Pennsylvania State Action, I collapsed just over a week later in the Pittsburgh Chess League when I made this faux pas:

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Naser–Steincamp, position after 43. f6

Thinking I could delay capturing on f6, I played 43…h4??, only fall prey to 44. f7! and the game ended shortly after, as the paralysis of my rooks made it impossible to stop White from queening. My stroll along euphoria lane had come to an end, as this game was easily one of the worst I’ve played in all of 2017. Luckily for me, my teammates bailed me out, and Pitt won by a final tally of 3-1.

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Watching Pitt at Heinz Field. This has not been the season to H2P…

So how to pick up the pieces from here? I had only 48 hours until my next rated game, and I needed to play well for my Pittsburgh Chess Club return. The next morning, I woke up, pulled myself out of bed and went for a four mile run through Oakland. I need to be fit again. After a quick shower, I pushed myself tactically. I need to be sharp again. After pushing past 2600 on chess.com’s tactics trainer, I was feeling good. Okay, I can do this.

To recover from an inexplicable loss, I just needed some perspective. These things happen – don’t freak out! Relax, focus, and identify what you can do to improve. My goals for the upcoming week? Simple:

  1. Sleep better. Well, if you’re a college student (or grad), you know how easy it is to stay up late and binge watch videos on Youtube and Netflix. This needed to change. I decided I would only stay up late to do schoolwork, but otherwise, I needed my sleep.
  2. Eat healthier. More veggies and fruits in my cooking. I guess I should’ve been listening to my mom all along…
  3. Work out more. Working out builds endurance, which means more energy for long chess games. Also, its a great way to destress, so there’s that too.
  4. Train smarter. This is the big one. My studying to this point was all over the place. I needed to direct my studies more effectively. A balance between calculation, opening studies, and looking over top level games – with a strong emphasis on calculation. This should keep me in form for a while.

Things are going to be fine! With my plan set, I was ready to play again. Which Isaac was going to show up?

Return to the Robert Smith Memorial

It’s fitting that my return to the Pittsburgh Chess Club was the very same as my first major tournament in Pittsburgh: the Robert Smith Memorial. In that edition of the tournament, I played for first in the final round against my soon-to-be trainer Franklin Chen and lost to score 4/6. As a result of that game, Franklin earned the National Master title, and I claimed my share of second place – my best finish to date at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.

Hoping to put together a strong opening night performance, I managed to weave a 16 move miniature with Black:

My opponent deviated with 16. Ba3 and resigned after 16…Nxa2 as the position proved too much. But what if 17. Bd2? … here’s where all that tactical training comes in!

Somewhat amusingly, this game still took over two and a half hours despite its brevity. I guess some combination of ambitious opening play from White and a higher than usual level of caution will do that! I felt pretty good about this game, but there are still five tough rounds ahead. With nine players rated over 2000 competing, a bloodbath seems quite likely. Back to training!

Back to Rapid: Endgame Success and Opening Blunders

The G/15 State Chess Championships proved to be a mixed bag of results for me. I had some good moments like this one:

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Gao–Steincamp, Black to Move

My main strategy for this tournament was to win in the endgame against lower rated players. I scored a perfect 3/3 when employing this strategy, and here I played 1…g5! (I was able to recreate this position from memory, so I don’t know the move number) making sure to stop f2-f4 so I can play a well-timed …c5-c4 to create a queenside passed pawn. With a passive position, White couldn’t do much, and I simplified down to a dream endgame for Black.

Other moments? Not so great… Take this position from my “clash” in the French with local National Master Nabil Feliachi:

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Steincamp–Feliachi, position after 11. Ke2
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Stuck in an opposite colored bishop endgame in the fifth round

Here I realized I had missed the incredible 11…Bb5!! almost immediately. Nabil missed this, but luckily for him, my position was so miserable that it was impossible to mount a serious comeback. Turns out that experimenting with 1 e4 in rapid with no theoretical knowledge is an easy way to lose with White… While this opening was particularly painful for me, I figured I might as well attach it so you all can learn from my awful mistake. Ouch – don’t do this in tournaments!

Ultimately, my tournament really came down to a rematch with Chess^Summit author Beilin Li. That round was insane – as all my games with Beilin are. In a tense, roughly equal but dynamic game we both found creative ways to steal the initiative which resulted in a pawn race with two extremely weak kings. In what felt like a coin-toss game, Beilin prevailed to tie up our non-blitz head-to-head record at 2.5 apiece. Luckily for Chess^Summit, Beilin recorded the game, so you’ll get your chance to relive our rapid game later this week!

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Is it that time of year? I guess there’s still Thanksgiving…

After the loss to Beilin, I won my last round with some minor piece endgame technique, and pushed my score to 4.5/7, which was enough to tie for 7th place. It’s kind of hard to know how to assess a performance like this. I got paired down a lot throughout the tournament, so if anything, it was just a great warm-up for my upcoming Robert Smith Memorial match-up.

It’s going to take a lot to overcome the jaw-dropping rating drop I had from my Pittsburgh Chess League slip-up last week. But I’m confident in my training and the work I’m doing towards my chess, and that’s all that matters. Sometimes the US Men’s National Team loses to Trinidad and Tobago, Appalachian State beats Michigan, and I lose to a significantly lower rated player. It’s part of sports. True strength is being able to get up the next day and pick yourself up. I’m ready to fight, and I’m ready to finish 2017 on a strong note.

Chess^Summit Merchandise on Sale Now!

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.

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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!

Let’s ring in 2018 with some Chess^Summit pride!