The 2017 US Women’s Chess Championship- A Player’s View

Hi everyone! I had recently just finished playing in the US Women’s Chess Championship held in St. Louis during March 27-April 10. For those of you who follow chess news, you may know that this tournament, held with the US Chess Championship, is highly publicized. Therefore, many of you have probably already read recaps about them on Chess.com or on US Chess. That is why I feel it would be redundant to simply go over popular tactics, blunders, or shocking opening moves from both tournaments as numerous articles about them have been published already. Instead, I want to share with you all a different perspective of the championships from a player’s point of view.

Before I start, I would like to congratulate both GM Wesley So and WGM Sabrina Foisor, the 2017 US Chess Champion and 2017 US Women’s Chess Champion!

This is the most unique chess tournament I have ever participated in, in my life. I have never played in tournaments with as much coverage as this tournament before. There is live coverage, online commentary, live commentary, media stories, and so much more. It doesn’t seem like it may be that much, from the spectator’s view, but for me it was overwhelming. With only 12 players in each tournament, there isn’t a wide range of people to be focused on. There are only six games each round. And in each game, each move would be picked apart, analyzed, scorned, admired. This year was my third time participating in this event. And every year, it gets slightly easier for me to play from the gained experience I had from the year before. But I, personally, still felt the nerves and pressure from playing in such a major tournament. I know what most people say and would think about this: Don’t worry about all that… Focus on the chess! Trust me, I get that, but it is much easier said than done.

Let’s start with the first year I went (After I finished writing this article I realized I went kind of off topic but now you get the ‘whole’ story). In the 2015 US Women’s Chess Championship, I was a wildcard competitor. I was fresh out of winning my World Youth gold medal and had high expectations. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what led me to inevitably have one of the worst tournaments of my life. Well, to be honest there are a multitude of other variables, like the fact that I was definitely not prepared up to my full potential, but what I said before made up a healthy amount. See, this was my thought process. I was a newbie. I can play good chess (sometimes). I have potential. Plus… I was a FREAKING WORLD CHAMPION! You see, I thought that this tournament was my chance to make a dramatic entrance. It could have been like one of those classic sports movies everyone loves where the underdog beats the champions. I mean, dream big right? I’m guessing, now, that some of you must be thinking that I got cocky and overconfident. That I wasn’t careful. But, in fact, the opposite arised. I got too careful. It was because the nerves got to me.

The first game was a strange wake up call that never actually woke me up. I was paired with White against WGM Anna Sharevich. It started off okay and I managed to get a winning position after a few misjudged sacrifices from my opponent. Unfortunately, later on I succumbed to time pressure and lost. And… that was that. WRONG! See what happened was on every single move I could literally hear my heart pounding. On every single move I looked at every single variation I could possibly physically see and then looked over every variation over and over and over and over again until I simply ran out of time. It’s funny to me now, that the real reason I lost the game was because I was so terrified to make a mistake. But I knew then that people were watching, and what they could be saying. And for the rest of the tournament, I boarded a one-way train to blunderville. I ended up tying for last place and scoring 2.5/11. However, I did learn valuable cliches like confidence (but don’t be too confident), hardwork (preparation), etc.

Anyways, the 2016 Championships went a lot more smoothly mentally. There were definitely some major mistakes I made during the tournament, but overall, it was much better than my disastrous 2015 Championships.

And that brings us back to 2017! I definitely improved my game skill-wise over the last two years and I had no pressure. Before the tournament, I was placed by rating somewhere in the bottom half of the pack. All I had to do was go ahead and play normal games. Well… normal, yeah, that totally didn’t happen. Observe my statement above, that I didn’t have any pressure, well that was pretty much a blatant lie. I wasn’t supposed to have any, but it is incredibly hard to forget about the outside world and only on the game when there is a camera two feet away from the board. And because my mind was on that camera half the time, I made some VERY strange choices in my games.

Here is a position in my round 8 game against WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. I was black in this position and had maybe a minute or so left. White had just moved 51. Re1. Take note that black was previously completely lost before the game suddenly turned around.

Black to move. How would you play?

7

The correct move here is 51… b2! Yes, I know that that is the most obvious move here, but it is the bold considering that black is ignoring the dangerous threat the white rooks made. After 52. Rhxe6+ Kd8 53. Re8+ Kc7 54. R1e7+ ( 54. R8e7+ Kb6 55. R7e6+ Rc6! and black promotes one of the pawns the next move) Kb6 55. Rb8+ Kc6! This is the critical move. It disrupts the coordination beteween the white pieces (Over the board, my brief analysis ignored this strange move because it walks into a skewer and instead looked at the king hiding along the a-file. That would not work because black will end up losing since the king will end up getting checkmated by checks on the e-file followed by a bishop check.) If 56. Bf3+ Kd6 and white suddenly has no checks left. If 56. Bf3+ Kd6 and white again, doesn’t have any checks left. If 56. Rc8+ Kd6 and one of the pawns will promote. Therefore 51…b2! is winning.

In the game, I played 51… c1?. I knew that after this move the game will end up in a draw. However, I was not entirely confident about the position after 51… b2!. If I had five minutes I would have played it for sure, but my opponent and I were both out of time and I decided not to risk it. It was an incredibly hard decision to make and I think how I played the tournament so far affected my decision. I decided that I needed every point I could get and therefore went for the safe decision. I guess that my logic here was correct but also flawed at the exact same time. Oh well…

 

9

In this game, I was black against 7 time US Women’s Chess Champion GM Irina Krush. She had just moved 38. g3 and we were both in a time scramble to get to time control. I decided to do a simple repeat to gain time. 38…Bh3 39. Kd3 Bf1+ 40. Ke3 Bh3 41. Kd3. Yes! Time! Here, I knew I was winning in this position. The question is how to?

8

Black to play

The main line I looked at was 41… Bf5+ 42. Kc4 (42. Be4 Be6 and the a2 pawn is lost) 42…Bb1 43. Bxc5 bxc5 44. Kxc5

10

At first, I dismissed this because black simply loses a pawn. Then I saw, 44…Bxa2. Now, the bishop is invincible because if it is captured, b3 and a3 will make sure at least one pawn promotes. But it’s not over yet! I was ready to play this when I realized that white didn’t have to take my bishop. What if she just moves it away like 45. Be4, ? Now, my b-pawn is attacked and I’m forced to move 45… b3. Well now it seems like I’m pretty much winning! All I need to do is push the b- pawn WAIT, WAIT what if I can’t move the b-pawn? What if 46. Bd5!

11

I remember that when I reached this position in my calculation, I did a mental face-palm and thought how grateful I was that I didn’t actually move 41…Bf5. All of a sudden, white can even play for a win now! The b-pawn is frozen because if it moves, the bishop will be lost. The a-pawn is dead now, and the b-pawn will soon fall. Therefore, this line and the valuable time I spent on it is complete trash. I took a major backpedal to the starting position. I guess I have to start from scratch.

8

Here, I decided that I should just simply move 41… Bf1+ Then, I have a simple plan of h5, bringing the king up, putting the bishop on e6, and that should suffice for the win.

Now here is a moment that I wanted to clarify. Many of the viewers and commentators thought that I was going to take a draw with this move since unknown to me AND to my opponent, we have a reached a position 3-times. I’m sure all of you now know that that wasn’t my plan, as I saw a straightforward win afterwards. I simply didn’t see the repetition [insert crying tears of laughter emoji]. The tricky part was, the moves didn’t repeat three times, the position did. The first time was after 38.g3, the second time was 40. Ke3, and if my opponent were to call the arbiter, she could have claimed the draw because 42. Ke3 would have been the third time the position repeated. Luckily for me, we both missed this trippy repetition. After 42… h5, I went on to win.

I definitely did not have a lack of interesting games this tournament (I also didn’t have a lack of interesting mistakes either ;D ). If I were to include all of the moments from this tournament I want to share with you all, I fear that would be way too long and probably bore you all out of your skulls. Anyways, I just have a few more words, so I’ll get along with it.

The 2017 US Women’s Chess Championship is one of the strangest tournaments I have played yet. If you don’t believe me, a brief look through my games should convince you. I have made the simplest of mistakes, but also have seen some beautiful ideas that I am quite proud of. I ended up with a great +1 result (6/11) with a very uneven performance. What I mean by that statement is that I scored 4.5/6 against the top 6 seeds (Zatonskih, Krush, Paikidze, Abrahamyan, Nemcova, and Foisor) while only scoring 1.5/5 against the lower 5 seeds (Sharevich, Virkud, Feng, Nguyen, and Yip). Oh, the irony in that! And I found out so many things… I learned that I am not too far off from the strongest American female players. I think I handled this tournament very well mentally, which was a challenge before. I also learned that, I , am a swindler??? (I never considered myself a swindler in chess before, but for some reasons I keep finding weird ways to swindle people in this tournament [insert thoughtful emoji].)

But most importantly, I had fun, and that’s all that really counts.

Thank you for staying with me and reading through this entire article… Until next time!

An Interesting Game at the Southwest Class

There were multiple tournaments held over President’s Day Weekend. I decided to go to the Southwest Class tournament in Dallas, Texas. This tournament had a very strong field with players coming from all over the country. Overall, I am very happy with the way I played there, even though I lost some unnecessary points. I have had many compelling games arise. I picked out one game that I thought had many interesting moments to share with you guys.

1

In this game, I was white against a NM. After a fairly normal opening, I played 12. d4 kicking the knight out of the centralized c5 square. Here, 12…Ne6 would have led to a playable game for both sides. However, the moves leading to this position led me to believe my opponent will play the interesting 12…f4?! which he quickly did. Consequently, an interesting exchange will ensue. 13. dxc5 f3. Now, I have two main ideas. I can either go for a position where I will be up by a pawn but without my g2 bishop, or I can simply back my bishop up to h1. There are two lines that I could have gone to try to grab a pawn. They are 14. Bxf3 and 14. cxd6.

After 14. Bxf3 Rxf3 15. cxd6 Qxd6 16. Rd1 Qe7, this position occurs.

2

Black has compensation for White’s extra pawn. The disappearance of the White g2 bishop is obvious, as the surrounding light squares around the White king are extremely weak. Black is not worse here at all because he has multiple ideas of attacking the light squares. It would have been an easy game for my opponent to play.

14. cxd6 would have led to a similar game after 14… fxg2 15.Kxg2 Qxd6.

The best and only option left was 14. Bh1. This simple move allows me to keep my vital fianchettoed bishop. The result was technically a trade between my opponent’s strong c5 knight and my e2 knight who stuck defending in the back. That was fine with me! 14…fxe2 15. Qxe2

14… dxc5 delaying the capture of the e2 knight is a possibility. I feel like it would have been slightly better then capturing right away because this would keep the tension. However, I still have a slight advantage after this.

15… dxc5 16. Rd1 Qf6

3

I now have a nice, little positional advantage. My light squared bishop is eyeing a beautiful diagonal full of possibilities, my rook is on the open file, and my knight has a bright future on either d5 or c5. My only pieces that aren’t doing much are the b1 rook and the c1 bishop. However after a few moves like b3 and Bb2, my dark squared bishop has potential and my rooks could double on the open file. Overall, this is a very comfortable position. After his last move, my opponent is eyeing my f2 pawn. This is not a problem right now, as my queen is defending the pawn, but I did not feel safe with only one piece protecting me against a possible checkmate by Qxf2. For example, my opponent has Bg4 ideas, which although do not work because of Bd5+, could become a deadly threat. Based on these facts, I decided to play 17. Bg2 creating room for my king on h1 and stopping any Bh3 ideas by black. Now, my opponent made a mistake. 17…Qf7?. He had wanted to remove the queen from possibly being attacked by my knight and place it on a good square eyeing the c4 pawn. It would have been alright had I not had this idea.

Try to see the best way for white to continue

4

18. Bd5! pinning the black queen. 18… Be6. I am 100% sure my opponent automatically saw these two moves before playing 17… Qf7. His mistake may have been that he  cut off the variation here, not bothering to look into it further. It would have been easy as it seems like my bishop is tied to d5, since if it moves, the c4 pawn would be hanging.

19. Bxb7 Bxc4 and now, the point of 18. Bd5,

20. Qxc4!

5

The point being after 20…Qxc4 21. Bd5+! the bishop returns back to d5 to win back the black queen. 22… Qxd5 23. Rxd5 

6

I am up by a pawn and will soon win another. My bishop on c1 and rook on b1 will soon come out and I will have no problems. Black’s knight is misplaced on h5 and his rooks cannot penetrate into my position using the d-file. The game ended up as a straightforward win for white.

 

The Secret(!?) Ingredient to Chess Improvement (This is not clickbait)

Hi everyone! My name is Jennifer Yu and I am excited to be joining the writers at Chess^Summit! To introduce myself in a quick snippet: I’ve been playing chess for eight years now, as my first tournament was in February of 2009. Right now, my rating is currently floating around the 2300 range. I have had my chess ups, downs, and times where my rating just seemed to get stuck at a wall and not get anywhere at all. I currently reside in the Northern Virginia area and compete in many of the tournaments on the East Coast. I also have had the opportunity to compete nationally and internationally. I think my most notable achievement is probably winning the gold medal in the 2014 World Youth Chess Championships U12 Girls. I am also in the process of preparing for my third US Women’s Chess Championship this year. Along the years I’ve gathered some helpful tidbits that I would like to share with you all. However before I start, I would like to thank Isaac for giving me this opportunity to write on Chess^Summit and share my ideas with all of you. Now to the article!

There is one question that I am often asked about chess; whether by a fellow chess player comparing notes, a younger player seeking advice, or most often, friends at school who have not yet entered the complicated realm of chess. It is, “How do you practice chess?”. It is a simple question, really, and one that I’m sure all tournament players were asked at one point in time. Now this would be different for everyone as the levels, time commitment, and aspirations of every player vary. If one wants to improve the most they possibly can in a specific amount of time, there would have to be a specific routine set in place that takes into account all variables. This would lead to perhaps one player committing to solve as many tactical problems as they can while another reads and memorizes entire endgame books over and over again. It would be impossible to create a practice routine that applies for all players that will guarantee improvement. So… what is the point of this article? I believe there is one factor that will lead to steady improvement over time for all players. This magic ingredient, simply put, is to play more.

I know this topic has been mulled about and been described time after time again, but I cannot over stress the importance of it. I have heard it before said here and there, but to me I just always kind of put the advice away into my pocket and sarcastically scoff, “Yeah, because that would somehow magically make me play better.” But now, I truly believe in the importance of increasing play as I have seen the improvement it gave to other players, and the evidence of this in my own chess history. I originally learned chess in California where my rating rose to about 1400. After I moved to Virginia in the summer of 2011, I increased the number of tournaments I played in, especially larger opens (I previously attended mostly scholastics). By the end of 2012, I was a solid 1900. That is quite a leap! I’ve also observed the dramatic rise of young talented players correlated with the amount of games they play. An amazing example is a fellow Gold Medalist Rochelle Wu. Rochelle is the current reigning World Champion for U10 Girls and is already at a high 2100! She plays a tournament nearly every week sometimes driving hundreds of miles to get there. This also shows an extreme amount of dedication and hard work.

I have compiled three simple reasons why increasing the amount of games played, will increase skill level.

  1. Experience

Usually when a child plays an adult of the same level, it will almost always be an interesting battle. The issue of the difference of age will become a factor in the game somehow. Some people may say the child has the sharper mind, and therefore the upper hand. Many others say that many more years of experience that the adult has garnered easily triumphs the child. This is a hypothetical situation, as in a real game, it will be rarely as simple as this. However, the gist of this example is that experience cannot be overlooked. It can only be a good thing, as it slowly adds new knowledge each move you play. It can definitely help improve one’s play because if you lose to a trap in one game, you will be wary of it in the next. The only real way you can get more experience, is to play more games.

2. Intuition

You may have once seen a blitz game between high level players, maybe Grandmasters. As the clock winds down, each second becomes more precious, each move entering faster on the board then the last. Before long, a frenzy of clock banging and the whizzing of moves will occur. How is it possible for them to play that fast?  How is it possible for them to think that fast? Most likely, the players are using their intuitions. They have a subconscious feeling that tells them where to go during the game.  A solid intuition is the basis for every good player. It can help conserve valuable time during a game and sort through jumbles of variations to direct a clear way to go. Intuition can be developed by solving problems like the ones in Positional Play by Jacob Aagard (a great book!), an excellent technique I learned at the US Chess School. However, I found that by actually physically playing a game, it will develop an unique “chess sense”.

3. Focus

Have you ever just gone to a chess tournament and felt like you learned more about chess in those few measly hours between games than weeks of ‘practicing’ at home? This happens to me all the time. It’s really absurd but I find that just being in the environment of playing an entire day of chess makes me focus on chess more in my down time after games.  It is extremely easy to get distracted at home, but at a tournament, I am only thinking about chess. For example, I may explore opening lines I have never seen before when preparing for an opponent. Also, when analyzing a game with an opponent, I could be provided by valuable insight from the ‘enemy’ that could not be given by an engine or a coach.

In a nutshell, these are three relatively simple reasons of why playing more chess will improve chess skill. I think that increasing play at larger tournaments will be most beneficial. However, if you are restricted by time, finances,or etc., playing online can also be great. (It does have to noted that there is a real difference between playing games over the board and over a computer screen.) And also, if your rating suffers at the beginning don’t be alarmed! It is completely natural and occurs to me often. Just realize that rating is only showing something that is temporary and if you experience true improvement over time, your rating will realize that too. As I said in the beginning of the article, I am preparing for the US Women’s Championship and I know how I will be practicing! My calendar’s lined jam packed full of tournaments! I hope this article helped all of you in some way and I wish you all good luck on your journey to play more games!