Vishal started playing competitive chess relatively late at the age of nine, but he progressed quickly through the ranks with the help of multiple instructors and recently received the title of National Master. Now, he is in his sophomore year at Rock Ridge High School and the Academy of Science and is part of the RR chess team. Currently, his goal is to win a national-level chess tournament.
Midway through the quarterfinals at the World Cup in Tbilisi, only three of the world’s top ten players remain in the circuit, and Magnus Carlsen isn’t even one of them. Did we want it to happen like this? No, not really. Did we predict such a thing? Never. Was something like this bound to happen? You could say that.
So why do we always believe that all of the top players will have a deep run and that the last few rounds will provide more fireworks than a July 4th celebration? Moreover, why do we dismiss the possibility that some (or even most) of the top seeds will be knocked out relatively early? Now, this won’t be an article about the psychology of such predictions, but we can look at some of the reasons for why the World Cup has played out the way that it has this year.
The World Cup circuit is arguably the toughest tournament in the modern era. In order to reach the finals, a player has to play a minimum of 12 games over a span of 18 days, which is already tiresome – and that’s only if you’re extremely lucky. If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, you might have to play 54 games over a span of 18 days. Overall, it is a lot of games to play at one time, and players would not have as much time to rest and prepare in between games. And, of course, the entire event is about 2.5 times longer than most supertournaments these days. Put it all together, and you have one of the toughest schedules on the planet.
If you’re one of the top seeds in a tournament, especially a knockout tournament where you play relatively easy competition at first, you’re supposed to do well. It’s as simple as that. You’re supposed to win most of your games and keep moving on to the next round. So, what happens when you try to force the issue too much and end up losing as a result? You risk being closed out prematurely. Depending on the color situation, it may be even harder to come back from a loss – just ask Anand in round 2 or Carlsen in round 3. The stress to play well and not make mistakes can be overwhelming when combined with the fact that a top-seeded player must face it every day of the tournament.
On top of that, there are the added stakes to the entire event. Finishing at the very top would guarantee a spot in the upcoming Candidates tournament, taking participants one step closer to the chance of playing current World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the World Championship Match. Obviously, all players want to try and gain that opportunity, so the competitiveness in regards to the stakes definitely adds to the pressure on the top seeds.
The last point examined how trying to win too early in a match can just as quickly backfire. However, there’s also the flip side to that – not winning enough early can lead to muddied waters in tiebreaks. The lower-rated opponent may play exceptionally well in faster time controls, or perhaps the top-seeded player may not play as well in the faster time controls. In general, games in faster time controls are much more “up in the air” in terms of possible results, and one blunder in a blitz game may be enough to knock someone out.
We looked at a few possible explanations for the struggles of some of the top seeded players in this year’s edition of the World Cup. While there are much more possible reasons, especially, “it just happened,” these were some that definitely could have played a factor. Looking forward, we have the chance of seeing an Aronian-MVL or Aronian-Svidler semifinal matchup on one side of the bracket, and a possible So-Liren semifinal matchup on the other side. While anything could happen, the chess world can be excited for the fireworks to come, no matter who moves on. And, as always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.
Today’s Free Game Analysis submission comes from Michael Chiflikyan, an up-and-coming Illinois native who has almost doubled his rating from 700 at the beginning of this year. Although he lost this game against a player much higher rated than him, Michael was able to cross 1400 for the first time after this tournament, so congratulations to him on the milestone!
This game starts off with a Queen’s Gambit Declined through a transposition, a fairly popular line among players of all strengths. Michael, who has the black pieces, played fairly solidly throughout the opening and middlegame, but a few inaccuracies in the endgame was all it took for his higher-rated opponent to pounce at the end. Let’s take a look for ourselves.
I was pleasantly surprised when I received this game from Isaac for today’s article, as Michael’s opponent was someone that I had played in a tournament game a few years ago! As aforementioned, this game starts with a Queen’s Gambit declined, which I have some experience playing with the black side, but probably not as much as others on Chess^Summit. So, I will attempt to analyze the opening to the best of my ability, but from the middlegame onwards it should be smooth sailing. You can use the game player provided (from the game title) to follow along or use the text and boards in the article itself.
d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5
Completing the transposition to the 1. … d5 line that has been played maybe a billion times by now. The Nimzo, with 3. … Bb4, is more popular in this specific position, but the sole explanation for that is because this move order is one of only two realistic move orders to reach the Nimzo, while the QGD position can be reached in many different ways and thus the games are spread out over the database.
The exchange variation, which leads to one of the most popular and recognizable positions among QGD players from both sides. White gets a simple setup with a queen-bishop battery and aims his pieces towards Black’s kingside, while Black will attempt to counter in the center with a c5 push at some point.
… exd5 5. Bg5 c6 6. Qc2
White will indeed go for this setup.
This move, along with Be7, is interchangeable, as they will all eventually end up on these squares. However, an interesting idea that has been tried more than a few times is the move Na6 in this position, which aims to swing the knight over to e6 via c7 and gain a tempo on the bishop.
e3 Be7 8. Bd3 h6
This bishop kick can be helpful, but in my opinion, it’s probably too early for this. The move isn’t running away, as White won’t move his dark-squared bishop unless he has to. Notice that White’s g1-knight still has to be developed before White can castle kingside. It would be better to castle and let White make the decision as to where he wants to go with his last undeveloped minor piece before committing to a move like h6, which can never be taken back. The reasoning is that when White’s knight is on f3, the move h6 takes away the crucial g5 square from the knight; but, when White develops his knight to e2, this move permanently weakens the g6 square for black, which can become a problem when white plays an eventual move like Ne2-f4. It also inhibits Black’s ability to clog the b1-h7 diagonal with a move like Ng6.
Bh4 0-0 10. Nge2
White chooses the correct square for the kingside knight.
A step in the wrong direction for Black. With immense pressure from both of White’s bishops, Black’s usual plan in this position is to stuff the b1-h7 diagonal while simultaneously trading pieces. This is achieved by playing 10. … Re8, which is followed by 11. 0-0 Ne4 when the discovery tactic on White’s dark-squared bishop helps Black. With a move like b6, Black commits to this path of development for the light-squared bishop, giving White time to build up a center.
0-0 Bb7 12. f3 c5 13. Bf2 Rc8 14. Rc1
Up until now, all of the positions in this game have appeared in the database. But after Black’s next move, the players officially go out of book.
… Re8 15. Ng3 Bf8 16. Rfd1
From an objective standpoint, I don’t really like this move for White. It’s unclear where the rook belongs right now, but it definitely doesn’t belong on the closed d-file, and it doesn’t seem like the file will be opened anytime soon, especially with Black’s queen still on it. I would have preferred a move like Qd2, which would move White’s queen off of the semi-open c-file and give more breathing room to the light-squared bishop. This would also keep the position flexible since it hasn’t become apparent where White should move his f1-rook.
… a6 17. Qd2 Nb8?!
Here, Black should have seriously considered the move c4, temporarily locking the center and going for pawn play on the queenside. Black can follow up with b5, b4, a5, and if White attempts to counterstrike in the center with e4, it would finally open the diagonal for Black’s light-squared bishop, which has thus far not seen any action. Instead, Black opts for a knight maneuver that, frankly, doesn’t harmonize with the rest of the position.
Black’s position is in a tangled mess, and White should have struck while the iron was hot with the immediate e4! which would create further disorder within Black’s camp. However, White fails to capitalize, leaving Black with an unattractive but surprisingly solid position.
Another somewhat puzzling move. Black’s knight is positioned fine for now on c6. It is, in fact, the f8-bishop that should be brought into the game at some point. The text move suffocates the bishop and creates disharmony within the position. A better plan would have been Bd6 followed by Qb8, taking control of the h2-b8 diagonal and eyeing the f4-square.
Missing his chance. White should have played the practical Qd3! which simultaneously attacks the undefended a6-pawn and threatens Nh5, a move that would create chaos on the kingside with sudden mate threats.
Let’s stop for a moment and take stock. In a flurry, the remaining major pieces dropped off the board, and we are left with an endgame where all of the minor pieces are still left on the board, which is very rare. The black knight has returned to c6, allowing the f8-bishop to finally see light again. The pawn structure is virtually identical for both sides, with each side having 3 pawn islands, one of them being an isolated queen pawn. If a couple pair of minor pieces were already off the board, this game would be very close to a draw already. Yet, this is not the case, so there is still a game left.
Nf4 Bd6 31. Nd3 Ne7
It shouldn’t make too much of a difference, but I do believe that it was important to prevent a piece from invading on e5. This knight maneuver voluntarily takes a defender off of the e5 square, and just like last time, it is unclear where exactly this knight is going from here.
Ne5 Bb5 33. Bc2 Nd7?!
It’s almost like a mirage about Black’s light-squared bishop. It seems so wide open and that it controls a lot of space, but in reality, it only has one “safe” square other than the one it is occupying right now, and that is e8. And, unfortunately, Black probably had to play a move like Be8 in order to safeguard the bishop. Black must have played Nd7 believing that White had to do something about the e5-knight right then and there, but White capitalizes on this error cleanly.
a4! Bc6 35. Nf5!
This is a funny looking position, not gonna lie. Discussing the geometry of it would be pretty cool, but at that point, we would be going off on a tangent. In all seriousness, Black is able to navigate the complications and find the best continuation, but White will emerge with the bishop pair in a positionally-superior position.
Another possible continuation would have been 35. … Nxe5 36. dxe5 Nxf5 37. exd6 Nxd6 38. Bxb6 where White is still slightly better.
White is positionally dominating this position. The bishops rake into Black’s position and there aren’t many useful squares for Black’s pieces. While this position isn’t completely lost for Black yet, he is certainly losing the thread on the position, as a single misstep will prove costly. It’s as if Black has to walk a tightrope for the rest of the game.
Only move to avoid material loss.
Maybe not the best plan, as the king still can’t progress very far. Perhaps black could have thought about activating the king with g5 and Kg7, but it still doesn’t change much. What’s unfortunate for Black is that he can’t even kick White’s dark-squared bishop off the h2-b8 diagonal with a move like Nh5 since the bishop can hide with Bb8 and absolutely nothing can touch it.
This move loses a pawn, although it’s hard to criticize Black at this point. Moving the king right back to g8 would have saved material, but it doesn’t get Black anywhere. Even though this would have objectively been the better move, it’s no fun to sit around and wait for your opponent to walk his king over to the queenside and gobble up your pawns.
Bc7 Bb4 44. Bxc7 Ne8 45. Ke3 g5 46. Bc5+
White trades into a pure bishop v. knight endgame where he has the superior minor piece and a pawn to the good. Now, it is just a matter of technique.
Forcing open lines on the kingside and allowing the bishop to penetrate. With the d5 pawn on a light square and no way for black to protect the d5 pawn and simultaneously drive the White king away from d4 quickly enough, it is only a few moves until White will win more material.
An unfortunate but very instructive loss for Michael, who went on to play a very nice rest of the tournament and gain rating. There were definitely a few key points that we can take away from today’s game.
Endgames, endgames, endgames! It is perhaps the most important phase of the game, but it is also the least studied. Many games come down to the wire in the endgame, and one has to know as much as possible about the endgame in order to avoid making mistakes in textbook positions. We saw in this game how one mistake was all it took to take a potential draw into a loss.
Bishop pair – It has been said an innumerable number of times in the past, but the bishop pair has a lot of value to it. In a relatively open position with weaknesses, the two bishops can come to life and can even decide the game in some cases. We saw in today’s game how White’s two bishops together restricted both of Black’s minor pieces and even the king to an extent.
Middlegame plans/ideas – When playing an opening, it is important to know the specific ideas, maneuvers, and plans associated with the opening in the middlegame. In today’s game, we discussed how a common idea is to trade off at least a pair of minor pieces early with the Re8, Ne4 idea. Instead, Black went with a fianchetto of the c8-bishop, which led to a somewhat awkward position later in the middlegame.
Hopefully, the topics we covered today will help you in your future games! I wish Michael and everyone else good luck in their future games, and, as always, thanks for reading! I’ll see you next time.
Let us take a hypothetical trip through time to the past.
The date is March 24, 1858. In the middle of New Orleans, a bustling port city at the time, two people sit at a chess board surrounded by a crowd of people. With the white pieces, a well-known expert by the name of Paul Morphy; with the black pieces, the notorious “NN.” The game starts with:
The Italian was an opening emblematic of the 19th century, which was really the Romantic Era of chess. Almost any game that started with double King pawn would go down this path or the King’s Gambit, another Romantic Era opening. Almost all of these games were highly tactical and there was always, as GM Alexei Shirov would say, “fire on the board.” A few other examples of this type of play can be found in Anderssen-Kieseritzky (1851) and Morphy-Schrufer (1859).It was not until many years later that the majority of players realized that these tactical games in the Italian almost always favored White, and most Black players switched to the Giuoco Piano (3. … Bc5). White attempted to punish the early bishop development with an early c3-d4 push in the center. This formation had early success, but Black found the eventual
which equalized immediately. White briefly tried to avoid this equalizing move altogether by playing 7. Nc3, called the Moeller Attack, but even that was refuted. With these new findings by Black picking up, the Italian declined in popularity altogether in favor of another King Pawn opening that was gradually increasing in popularity in the shadows of the Italian. This opening was none other than the Ruy Lopez, which offered White with a measure of flexibility that the c3-d4 lines of the Italian never allowed. Noticing the popularity and success of the Ruy Lopez, die-hard Italian players imitated some of the positions that came out of the Ruy Lopez with a c3-d3 setup, but the Ruy Lopez still triumphed over for the longest time.
Now, let’s travel forward through time, but not quite to the present. The year is 2013, but no specific date. Almost every game that opens with 1. e4 goes into a Ruy Lopez. The opening is characterized by the moves
This trend is clearly shown in the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand late in the year, where 4 out of the 6 games that opened with e4 headed into a Ruy Lopez. However, the key reason why I bring up this match, in particular, is because of the evident rise in popularity of the Berlin defense (3. … Nf6), which was quickly becoming a trustworthy line against the Ruy Lopez. In the 2013 WCC match, all of the Ruy Lopez games went into a Berlin, and not surprisingly, 75% of them were drawn, and the lone decisive result was a win for Black. The 2013 year was part of the “back-end” of the decade-long rise of the Berlin, which was first used with great success by Vladimir Kramnik against Garry Kasparov in the WCC match of 2000.
Now, we come back to present day. Since Black proved that the Berlin was an extremely tough setup to beat, White has tried a number of different attempts to sidestep the line. One fairly popular route that emerged right out of the 2013 year was the move 4. d3. From there, there are a couple of different paths that players have taken, including a rather intriguing formation where White captures the knight on c6, forces Black to double his pawns with dxc6, and continuing with Nb1-d2-c4 and Bc1-d2-c3 where pressure is applied to the e5 pawn. The relatively mundane 4. Nc3 has also been experimented with from time to time, but more as a surprise attempt than an attempt to gain an advantage. However, the most interesting try of late has been to eschew the Ruy Lopez completely and instead try – you guessed it – the Italian once again. However, the variations that seem to appeal to the players of today are far different in nature than the ones we have previously examined. For one, Black is now far more willing to strike in the center early with d5 instead of going for a slow, maneuvering game. Meanwhile, White seems to prefer variations where Black does play d6 and keep the center closed for the time being. As a result, we arrive at one of our key differences in the new Italian “reimagined.”
White delays the c2-c3 push until Black commits to d6, instead opting for play on the flanks.
The reason for delaying this push is that Black’s d5 thrust in the center comes with less effect, as White now has more ways to develop pieces into the newly-opened center. However, this reluctance to play an early c2-c3 leads to what classical Italian players may consider a crucial drawback – the light square bishop, aka the “Italian Bishop,” no longer has a safe haven on c2. In the typical Italian lines, as we’ll call it, White has a c3-d3 phalanx setup; Black typically kicks the bishop once with a b7-b5 push and sometimes offers a trade of light squared bishops with Be6, but White usually avoids the trade with the retreat from c4-b3-c2. With the new system, however, White prefers to inhibit b7-b5 (although this push is sometimes possible due to tactics, as will be shown in games later) with an a2-a4 push and is thus unable to retreat in time in order to avoid the trade. As a result, White makes the most of what arises from the bishop swap, as it requires Black to spend multiple tempi, and we arrive at our second key difference.
If Black offers a trade of light squared bishops, White allows the trade in return for the relatively uninhibited advance of the queenside pawns.
If everything goes according to plan, White is able to pawn storm with a4, b4, b5 and kick the knight from c6. The resulting lead in queenside space can be deterministic of the later stages and possibly the result of the game. However, if Black does not offer the trade of bishops, the player has to find play elsewhere, which typically consists of the well-known knight maneuver to the kingside. This allows White to counteract in the center with a d4 push much earlier than in the classical Italian variations. This leads us to our third and final key difference.
White is often able to push with d4 much earlier in the game if Black does not directly challenge control of the center with the bishop trade offer; this push is made easier by the restricted play that Black has with the queenside pawns.
If the d4 push is achieved, the focus of play reverts back to the center, where both sides have dynamic opportunities to push their agenda. Black often tries to gain control of the f4-square and later the kingside, while White usually tries to play in the center or the queenside and punish Black’s potentially awkward piece placement. There are many games that have already been played in this opening in the last year or so, but there were a select few that really stood out to me. Those were Kramnik-Mamedyarov (2017), Anand-So (2017), MVL-So (2017), and MVL-Aronian (2017). These games illustrate the key concepts of both sides in this new version of the Italian, and it will be interesting to see how long these lines stick around. The presence of play in all sectors of the board can lead to exciting games, both position and tactical, for both sides. The ability to play for an advantage from both sides, whether static or dynamic, makes this opening an ideal one for tournament play, and its current popularity among the world’s top players definitely makes it an opening to keep an eye out for in future games. And, as always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.
The perennial Potomac Open was held from July 29-31 in Rockville, MD. Finally having a weekend free after a summer filled with school-related course work and activities, I decided to play in what would have only been my second full-length tournament of the summer, the first being the Continental Class Championships soon after school let out. Apart from tournaments, most of my chess was delegated to playing in league matches every few weeks.
To be truthful, my recent play of late has not been up to par. Ever since peaking my rating at 2207, I have, for the most part, only been dropping points; my current rating before this tournament was all the way down to 2150. Since this was my first tournament in a while and I had a week to prepare, I was hoping that this would be my turnaround performance. Of course, such things don’t just come to you; you have to work for it. So, naturally, I tried to prepare as thoroughly as possible prior to this tournament. I was also playing in the U2300, which was different than the typical U2200 sections one would see at most open tournaments. While the difference wasn’t drastic, it certainly was enough to make the preparation stage not that straightforward.
In the first round, I was paired with someone I had never played before with a rating of 2012 as Black. Halfway through the first time control, I was able to net a pawn through a complicated tactic, but it proved futile as the endgame that resulted did not offer any chances to win, especially with the clock ticking down. In the second round, I was paired against another lower rated player, but one I had played a few times in the past. As it turned out, I had not prepared the opening that this game went into as well as I had for the other games. However, it didn’t seem to matter too much, but somewhere in the middlegame, my opponent found a positional exchange sacrifice that cemented an advantage, and she went on to win. Starting the tournament with 0.5/2 was far from what I had wanted or imagined, for that matter. However, it was what it was. The only thing that I could do from that point on was to play out the rest of the games and try to win as many as possible in order to avoid tanking my rating even further. In the third round, I was paired against a 2075-rated youngster as Black, and after what I believed was a well-played opening and middlegame, I was able to grind down my opponent. After that confidence-lifting performance, I was able to back that up with another win against a 2100-rated young adult in a tactical game where I sacrificed a piece early with the king in the center. With two straight wins, I had come back to a respectable 2.5/4, but I still had a game to play in the last round. In the last round, I was paired against a 2079-rated adult who had played above his level and already had netted a few upsets. That game ended in a draw in 19 moves after I found myself in a worse position and my opponent offered a draw, citing tiredness as the reason. Finishing with 3/5 and getting back $50 from the entry fee, it was an “okay” performance in my mind. Although I didn’t start the tournament as well as I hoped, I was able to salvage the rest of the tournament and kept my rating stable (part of this was because my second round opponent went on to upset two other higher rated players and increased 67 rating points). Of all my games, I believe my third round game was the most instructive, regardless of the result. So, I will be providing that game with notes for today’s article. The other games may be showcased in some articles in the future if they become relevant.
Zheng, M – Kobla, V – Potomac Open, 2017
The opening thus far was quite an interesting one, with White backing away from the typical main lines and going for a relatively awkward structure with the knight on f3 and a bishop on b2. Black, meanwhile, has a standard structure with connected rooks and prepares a d6-d5 push to open the position as he is ahead in development.
White correctly decides to close the position by blocking the advance of Black’s d-pawn.
… Bxd5 16. exd5 Nb8 17. c4 Re8
A key move, as the autopilot move 17. … Nbd7 would allow 18. Nd4! from White, since the bishop on e7 is now unprotected.
Rad1 Nbd7 19. Nxe5!?
An interesting combination that forces the trade of a couple pieces, but it looks good only superficially.
Not 19. … dxe5? which would give White the two uncontested bishops.
Bxe5 dxe5 21. d6 Qb6 22. dxe7 Rxe7 23. Qc3 e4
The best way to defend the pawn. This move increases the number of defenders on the pawn, limits the scope of the e1-Rook, and further constricts the mobility of the f1-bishop, which was already a bad bishop.
This move temporarily halts the forward progress of the e-pawn, but it also prevents the rook from being able to control the open d-file. This makes the next move by Black fairly intuitive.
Challenging White’s control of the d-file and forcing White to make a choice. However, no choice is beneficial, as all will end up with Black having control of the only open file on the board.
White doubles rooks and temporarily pins the e4-pawn, which could open the door to a future f2-f3 push. That isn’t a threat just yet, however, since White has to first negotiate the would-be pin on the g1-a7 diagonal.
Swiftly sidestepping the pin and cementing control of the d-file. Black is now firmly in the driver’s seat and it will remain that way for the rest of the game.
I repeated moves once in order to throw my opponent off psychologically, and it must have worked to some extent, as he offered a draw after blitzing out 30. Qa1. I, of course, was going to play on. On f4, the queen is perfectly stationed, hitting the f2-pawn while making way for the rooks to penetrate.
Rge3 Rd2 32. R3e2 Rd4
The move 32. … e3 was also an interesting try worth mentioning.
g3 Qf5 34. Bg2 h5 35. Qb1 Re8
White has been able to unwind slightly, but not completely yet. With Re8, Black sets a practical trap that White falls right into.
After having been on the defensive for many moves, White goes the only try for activity, but it also creates an immense weakness on g3, and that proves fatal.
… Qg5 37. Kh2 h4 38. gxh4
This move seemingly nets a pawn, but it leaves White’s kingside in shambles.
… Qf4+ 39. Kg1 e3
Creating a passed pawn and essentially imprisoning the f1-bishop, all at the cost of only a single pawn.
Qc1 Rd3 41. Rd1 Red8 42. Rde1 Re8 43. Rd1 Qd4
Again, I repeated moves once before diverting.
Rxd3 Qd3 45. Bf1
The bishop attempts to make some sort of threat against the queen, but if the rook moves from e2, Black will just continue on with e3-e2. As a result, the rook is still stuck on e2 for now.
Now, the dark square weaknesses on the kingside become apparent, as White cannot stop the Black knight from entering.
Qc2 Qd4 47. Qb2 Qb6
One last accurate move. This move avoids the trade of queens but also prevents the only counterplay that White could have had with Rg2 and Be2 ideas.
c5 Qxc5 49. Rc2 Qb6 50. Be2 Qg6+
Swinging to the other side of the board to deliver the final blow.
Kh1 Nf4 0-1
The move threatens mate-in-one with Qg2, and coupled with the e-pawn screaming down the board, White resigned.
This, in the end, was probably my best game out of the entire tournament, and it came at the perfect time, as I was able to turn it around finished 2.5 out of the last 3 games. This was also the most instructive game that I had, with many key points scattered throughout the entire game. These included how to use open files, how to capitalize on weak squares, and prophylaxis, among others. I hope that you will be able to use, or continue to use, these concepts in your future games. And, as always, thanks for reading and see you next time!
The U.S. Junior Championships and the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships were held simultaneously at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis from the 7th to the 18th of July 2017. In impressively competitive sections boasting some of the strongest juniors (U21) players from around the country, there was much hype leading up to the tournaments. In the Open section, we saw 7 of the 10 players rated well north of 2400 and all players within 20-30 rating points of each other. In the Girls section, we saw much of the same. But would that hype translate into the exciting, close combat play that many expected going into the tourneys?
In the Open section, the 14-year-old Arizona native Awonder Liang weathered the storm and was the last man standing when the tournament ended, winning with 6.5/9. However, the path was far from easy. The six players that finished behind Liang were all within 2 points. Liang was not even leading the pack going into the last round. Down half a point to Kayden Troff going into the last round, Liang was able to win and preserve his chances while Troff untimely lost his own game. In the Girls’ section, the dust seemed to have settled much earlier, with Virginia native Akshita Gorti leading the pack by 1.5 points with two rounds left to go. Drawing the two last games, Gorti cruised to a tournament victory while keeping the rest of the pack at arm’s distance away. In fact, I was recently able to sit down with Gorti and ask about what she thought of the tournament and her overall performance in this tournament and in the past year. The full interview is provided below.
Vishal Kobla: First, major props. Congratulations on your result! How do you feel?
Akshita Gorti: Tired, haha. But happy, of course, I won the tournament.
Vishal Kobla: What was your mindset going into this tournament? Obviously, you came in wanting to win the entire thing, but what were your true expectations?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I definitely wanted to win. I mean, there were a lot of players, so I had to try to win against all of them. But basically, I just wanted to win.
Vishal Kobla: How has the year been so far for you? I know you traveled quite a bit. Where all did you go and how did you do and what were those experience like?
Akshita Gorti: First, I went to Iceland. Iceland was a nice place, it was cool. I played in the Reykjavik Open. So, it was a good experience, saw a lot of top players, and I played with a couple IMs and GMs. So, yeah, that was Iceland. Then, it was Chicago Open, but that was more of a normal tournament. After that, it was Russia [for the World Team Championships]. Yeah, I don’t play any other tournaments, really.
Vishal Kobla: Did you prepare any differently for this tournament, maybe different from other local tournaments?
Akshita Gorti: Not really… cause I was busy this entire month because I had to go to Russia, Chicago Open before that, and then right after I came back, played in World Open, so I didn’t have much time to prepare for it specifically, so I just, you know, played basically.
Vishal Kobla: Did you prepare in general before the whole string of tournaments?
Akshita Gorti: Yeah, yeah, I did prepare stuff in general.
Vishal Kobla: Obviously, you had a great start to the tournament, right? After a draw and a couple wins. Can you give me a round by round run down of what was going through your mind? Where you eager, nervous, growing in confidence?
Akshita Gorti: Well, usually, before every round, I was a bit nervous, but after I won a couple of games, I started to grow a little bit more confident. In the middle of the game, if I’m in a good position or something, then I’m confident and I just try to win.
Vishal Kobla: So, this was a one-game-per-day kind of schedule, right? So did you have a daily routine that you would have before the game, after the game? Or was it different every day?
Akshita Gorti: Yeah, no…it was pretty much the same. I would wake up, do some tactics, and then look at openings – that was my preparation. Then I would eat my lunch and go for the round [at 1 pm]. That was really all.
Vishal Kobla: Did you have a favorite game from the tournament?
Akshita Gorti: I think my game against Agata [Bykovtsev].
Vishal Kobla: Right, that was the game…you had a pretty crushing game. Was there a game that you were maybe the least happy about? Or did you get lucky in any games?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I wasn’t really happy with my first game because I didn’t really play that well. Yeah, first game, it was equal, but I slowly got worse in the position, but then somehow I was able to get back and make it equal and it was a draw, but I didn’t think I played too well so I didn’t like too much about my first game.
Vishal Kobla: So did you have a game that you believed was the most crucial or the toughest for you in the entire tournament? Was that the first game, or was it another one?
Akshita Gorti: The toughest game was probably the one that I drew against Thalia because I was actually worse in that position, but then it became equal again…and then it went to an ending where I had a piece for a three pawns and I had to hold that endgame, and I had barely any time left. Well, we both didn’t have any time, so I didn’t want to lose that game, so I had to make it a draw, and I did, but it was pretty crucial because I had to make a draw there. And I had trouble in the opening, too.
Vishal Kobla: What was, I guess, your overall opinion of the tournament? Was there anything that you would have liked to be different?
Akshita Gorti: Uh, no, not really. It was a well-conducted tournament, all organized well.
Vishal Kobla: This clearly should check off another box on your wish list for chess – winning the Junior Championship. What are your next immediate goals, long-term goals? Where do you go from here?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I want to become an IM, that’s a goal. And, U.S. Women’s Championships, I’m playing in there, so I want to do well there. Those would be my main goals right now.
Vishal Kobla: In your opinion, what do you think were the major reasons for your success in the tournament?
Akshita Gorti: Well, I think I worked really hard for it, and basically, I was tired after World Open, but still I prepared really hard and I tried to play my best so I think that’s also why I won.
Vishal Kobla: Do you think that playing in all those tournaments right before helped in the end?
Akshita Gorti: Yeah it does, because you stay in form, and you can see tactics and moves much easier, so yeah, it helped.
Vishal Kobla: What do you think you will need to work on or improve upon going forward from here?
Akshita Gorti: How, after getting into winning positions, how to convert them. Like, in my last game and the previous game that I both drew, I had a good position, and I was not able to convert them. And even before this tournament, like in World Open, I also had trouble with that.
Vishal Kobla: So how do you plan on working on that, then?
Akshita Gorti: Probably working at more positions at home in which I’m better and try to figure out how to win them.
Vishal Kobla: Alright, thank you for the time!
Gorti – Bykovtsev, U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship (7), 2017
Notes by Akshita Gorti; my additional comments are in italics
1. d4was, by far, the most popular opening choice of the players in this tournament.
1. … Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3
So, this is a King’s Indian, and this is actually my first time playing this h3 and Be3 setup. Basically, the idea is that you can keep the option of g4 to prevent the f5 idea, because I know I saw a couple games and she always likes to play e5, f5, so anyhow, she would do that. So, keeping that option open kind of frustrates that idea.
5. … 0-0 6. Be3 e5 7. d5 a5 8. c5
The idea of [a5] is to play Na6 followed by Nc5, so before that happens, I played c5 so the d6-pawn also becomes weak after I trade those pawns.
8. … Na6 9. cxd6 cxd6 10. Nf3
So this approach here I knew, but the right move [for Black] is Nc5 here, and then I would [play Bxc5, dxc5] and Bb5 to prevent this Ne8 idea. So, if Ne8, I take it, actually.
10. … Bd7 11. Nd2
A staple maneuver in the King’s Indian. The knight is better placed on d2 than f3 since it has the option of rerouting to c4 and applying pressure on the weak d6 pawn; it also vacates f3 for the pawn to advance, which would support the pawn on e4.
11. … Nc5 12. Bxc5 dxc5 13. a4 Ne8 14. Bb5 Bc8
And here, she moved back, which she probably shouldn’t have. Now, it’s literally the same position [from the analysis on move 9] except I have my knight on d2 and the pawn on a4, which is actually better.
15. Bxe8 Rxe8 16. 0-0 f5 17. Nc4 f4 18. d6
I thought this was a good idea, to get my knight to d5, and it’s really annoying, the passed pawn.
18. … Be6 19. Nd5 Qg5 20. Ra3
I really like this move, too. It just prevents Bxh3 and f3 ideas.
20 … Rf8 21. Ndb6
I played this move because I saw some ideas where after [21. … f3 22. Rxf3 Rxf3 23. Qxf3 Bxd5] and the double pawns are just unnecessary. So I thought like, if I just play f3, then she has no threats, and that would be pretty good.
21. … Rad8 22. Kh1 Rf7
A passive response from Black, allowing White to accomplish her plan of blockading with 23. f3. A more active response was possible with 22. … Qh4, which prevents 23. f3 by White for now, at least, and also threatens 23. … f3 from Black’s perspective.
Now, White has accomplished what she wanted to do and can return her focus to the center and the queenside.
23. … Bf8 24. Rd3
And she was taking a lot of time, so I just wanted to play simple ideas and not anything too complicated.
24. … Qh5 25. Qd2
She was threatening Bxh3, so now I have Kg1, Qg2.
The full variation that Gorti refers would go 25. … Bxh3 26. gxh3 Qxh3+ 27. Kg1 (protecting the f1-rook) Qg3+ 28. Qg2, which prevents any more checks.
25. … Bg7
She didn’t have much time, so I was just making moves that made sense.
26. … g5 27. Kg1 Qg6 28. Qxa5
I was thinking of taking on a5 [with the knight], but I’m like, “Why keep this knight undefended?” And this just helps my position.
28. … Rdf8 29. d7
A truly suffocating bind by White. Black has no counterplay and it is just a matter of time before White finds a way to break through, one way or another.
Being able to ask questions to Akshita Gorti about the tournament and about chess, in general, would not have been possible if it had not been for her, so thanks to her for letting me do this. There are many things that I will be able to take away from this interview and the chance to go over a game with her, and I hope that is the same for all readers. For one, we learned that preventing our opponents’ plans is just as important and following through on our own. We saw this exemplified in Gorti’s choice to play an early c5, a move that she may have never been able to play later. We also saw how opening plans tend to be relevant in most positions, even if they appear at unnatural times. For example, Gorti knew that the main variation of the opening at move 10 would end up with her playing Bb5, inhibiting Ne8 from Black. Although Black went out of book in that position, Gorti still found herself able to harness the same idea in a slightly different position. Lastly, we saw how strong and effective prophylaxis can be. In the middle game, White took the time to play Kh1 and f3 to ensure that Black had no lasting plan before continuing with her own ideas on the other side of the board. By using all of these ideas, along with others that are probably beyond my own ability to explain, Gorti was able to deliver a crushing blow and all but ensure her first place finish. Although Gorti states that she needs to work on converting wins, it is really something that all chess players must constantly work on; if anything, this just confirms what the great Emanuel Lasker said so many years ago: “The hardest game to win is a won game.”
Either way, I wish Akshita good luck in her future games and may there be many more performances like this one to come! And, as always, thanks for reading!
With the recent conclusion of the Your Next Move leg of the Grand Chess Tour, we saw some things that weren’t surprising, and then some things that were in fact eye-opening. We saw Carlsen and So perform exceptionally well, which wasn’t surprising at all, considering those two are probably the best players in the world at this point. We also saw the likes of Jobava struggle, which wasn’t all too surprising either, considering he was the lowest rated seed by 50+ rating points; however, some may say that the extent to which he struggled was surprising, considering that he won only one game and drew five out of 36 total games.
We also saw a few players uncharacteristically struggle, including Anand. He finished with 16/36 and a minus score, which was surprising in its own right, considering that Anand was once considered one of the best blitz/rapid players in the world. Anand also had a string of four straight losses in the home stretch of the event. So why did he struggle? Was it one thing that one could pinpoint? Or was it a slew of reasons? You may have an idea already, but let’s see exactly why and how this was made apparent.
Now, we won’t be focusing on the games that he lost as much as the games in which points were left on the board (i.e. wins into draws or losses, draws into losses) since mistakes tend to happen and everyone loses games. However, games in which a player had a clear path to a draw or win but missed it are the true indicators of weak play. The first case that we will take a look at was the game between So (White) and Anand (Black) in round 6 of the rapid section.
It’s Black to move, and Black has the bishop-to-knight advantage; however, the doubled b-pawns somewhat negate that plus. The position is objectively equal since White has no clear entry into Black’s position without offering a trade of minor pieces, which Black would gladly accept since it would allow the Rook to enter through c4. If White marches his king to b3 before trading, Black won’t be able to enter anymore, but that doesn’t change the evaluation of the position since Black can just sit and White can never make progress on the queenside. Here, a move like 31 … f6 would do since it protects the e5 pawn and effectively prevents White from making any more substantial threats on the queenside. However, Anand decided to force the issue and after a 5-minute think played 31 … Bg1? The move looks fancy but in truth just blunders a pawn cleanly after 32. Rd6+ Ke7 33. Nxb6, which happened in the game. White eventually won the game by nursing the extra pawn advantage from here on. A fairly straightforward blunder by Black turned what could have been a draw into a loss. You can play through the entire game here.
This next case that we will investigate was the game between Anand and MVL in the very next round, round 7.
After MVL played the tricky move 20. … Bg5, Anand found the beautiful 21. Bb5!, and after 21. …. Bf4 22. Bxd7+ Kxd7 White had a clear advantage. However, Anand’s technique was less than perfect, and in this position:
Anand played the blunder 34. Nc4?? which would have lost to 34. … Qh8 if MVL had found it. Anand lucked out and MVL played 34. … Nxe4, which gave the advantage back to Anand. No harm was done there. Later, the players arrived at this position:
With the evaluation at a hefty +5, White could have played 47. Qa7 after which the threat of Qf2+ and Nxe5+ is enough for Black to resign. However, White played 47. Qb6, which has a similar idea, but fails to impress on the account of 47. … Qg8 when both the knight on c4 and the rook on h7 are hit (If the queen was on a7, Qg8 would be met by b3). Anand didn’t spot the key difference and continued with 48. Qf2+, and due to miscalculation, Black was, however improbable, winning the game. This game was truly a heartbreaker for Anand as it looked to go down as another one of his brilliancies. You can play through the entire game here.
The next case was in the first round of the blitz section, with Anand pitted against Carlsen with White. The players navigated through the opening and middle game to an eventually equal endgame. Up until this point, it was only White that had had any winning chances, but each of them was squandered away. The players reached the position:
After the interesting move 54. Rd7, the position is labeled as a draw in the tablebase. Black can’t make any progress since if Black tries to vacate a path for the pawn by moving his King, White checks him from behind and returns to d7. If the rook threatens to check in any way, the king is always close enough to attack the rook with the king or escape some other way. However, Anand blundered with 54. d6, which loses to Re5+ and Rd5+, which collects the pawn. Moreover, Anand had 22+ seconds to Carlsen’s 15 but still blundered in this way. This was yet another game where a draw became a loss because of a horrible blunder near the end. You can play through the entire game here.
These three games weren’t even the only cases in which mistakes in superior or equal positions were made, with others occurring in the last few rounds of the blitz section. In the end, this seemed like a recurring pattern rather than a rare occurrence. Now, we come back to our question asked earlier in the article. Why was Anand struggling so much in the tournament? There are a few possible explanations. The first is a very plausible one – the games were rapid- and blitz-rated, and the short time controls could have played a role, especially if critical positions occurred with low time left on the clock. However, the fact that there were so many different examples of suboptimal play decreases the chance that it was just low time. Additionally, Anand has never been “known” as a slow player; as mentioned before, Anand was considered one of the best quick players in the world just a few years ago. So, if the answer isn’t the time control, the other possible answer that’s been tossed around before is stamina. Stamina was discussed heavily during the past two Carlsen-Anand world championship matches as a possible decider in who would win. Since then, it hasn’t been brought up much in press conferences or conversations. But with Anand in his 47th year, recent tournament performances seem to beg the question to be asked again, and Anand has realized it as well. After the conclusion of the rapid section, Anand said in an interview, “It’s nice to say ‘just a little bit off’ – I thought I was just mental! … There’s no point playing chess like this.” It’s clear that the missed wins against MVL and arguably Carlsen that day had taken their toll. All we can hope for is that the Indian GM is in higher spirits next time around and can still play for as long as possible.
If you were going into a tournament as the top seed, what would your thought process be? Would you expect to win the section? Or at least have a decent chance of doing so? Ostensibly. Furthermore, let’s assume that as the top seed, you play lower rated opponents outside of your own class (Expert, A, B, etc.). Would this make it significantly easier? Again, an ostensible conclusion.
Let’s start with a scenario. This top seed is playing in a U2200 section in a 7-round tournament. Furthermore, it is known that the player will play against one 1900, three 2000s, and three 2100s, in that order.
To show how likely (or unlikely, for that matter) it is to win a tournament like this as the highest seed, several active players’ performances against lower- and equal-rated players were compiled from uschess.org with the ‘Game Statistics’ tool. The weighted averages of the group’s probability of beating 1900s, 2000s, and 2100s were used. These averages were then slightly increased/decreased to give us the potential performance of an “ideal” player that would theoretically be stronger than the average of the given players.
Shown above is a table with the rounded values for the probabilities of winning, drawing, and losing to each rating class that the opponent for that round would fall into. We see how as the rating of the opponent decreases, the probabilities of winning increase – that’s expected. On the flip side, the chance of losing a game decreases as the opponent’s rating decreases – also expected. However, it is interesting to note how the chance of drawing games do not follow such a clear cut pattern; the chance of drawing to a 1900 and a 2000 player is virtually identical, but the probability spikes as the opponent’s rating approaches the rating of our ideal top seed. In fact, it surpasses the probability of winning such a game.
Since we are looking at the chances of winning a tournament, the only possible scores we will look at include 7/7, 6.5/7, and 6/7. After getting to 5.5/7, the different paths (loss + draw, three draws) to get to 5.5 points become so large that attempting to calculate the chance of reaching said points is flat out impractical. Furthermore, the chance of winning a tournament with 5.5 points out of 7 is much less in its own right since many more players are capable of reaching that score.
The number of ways of reaching each distinct score was laid out, and the respective probability of each result was used to calculate the probability of each distinct path of reaching a certain number of points.
The combination computations led to 1 possibility for obtaining 7-0 (all wins), 7 possibilities of obtaining 6.5/7, (a draw in any of the 7 rounds), and 28 possibilities of obtaining 6/7 (7 possibilities of losing a game in one of the rounds plus 21 possibilities of two draws in two distinct rounds). The probability of obtaining 7/7 was the only result of its class, so it was turned into a percent to find the actual percent chance of running the table in such a tournament. The seven possibilities of obtaining 6.5/7 and their respective probabilities were summed to find the overall probability of obtaining such a score. Lastly, the 21 different possibilities of obtaining 6/7 and their respective probabilities were summed to find the overall probability of obtaining such a score. The resulting probabilities and their derivations are displayed in the following tables.
As we can see, despite being the top seed in the tournament, our ideal player only has about a 0.53% chance to score 7/7. Scoring 6.5/7 should be much easier, right? Well, it is 5 times more likely, at about 2.66%, but it is still not overly convincing since that is still only a 1/40 chance. We see this probability increase almost threefold when the score comes to 6/7, up to 7.28%. Even still, this is relatively low! Here we see that our ideal player would theoretically only go 6/7 in approximately one out of every 13.8 tournaments. So, if the probabilities of a player are so low in regards to obtaining a high score in a tournament, why do we still see a fair amount of high scorers in 7-round tournaments (or the like)?
The answer to this question is similar to that of the birthday paradox. If you haven’t heard of this, I encourage you to search it up, as it has some fascinating concepts. The question simply runs, “If there are 23 people in a room, what is the chance of any two people sharing a birthday?” As absurd as it seems, the answer is 50%. That is because we haven’t established a specific reference; for example, if we said, “What is the chance that someone in the room has a birthday on January 1st,” then the probability would be exponentially smaller. However, since no reference was ever given, the number is much less. We have a similar situation in this case. If you pick out any single player and calculate their probability of winning the tournament with any of these points, the probability would be as low as we calculated above. But, if you have, say, 10 of these very strong players in a section, then the probability of one of these players obtaining a score of 6, 6.5, or 7 is increased tenfold from our original probabilities for the single player. There are also other factors that could potentially increase or decrease a player’s chance at obtaining a high score in a tournament. If a section is extremely competitive with not many players “playing up,” such as in the World Open, the probabilities decrease. On the flip side, if there are many lower-rated players in a section, whether they are there because of the choice of playing up or if they have to, such as in grade-based scholastic national tournaments, then the probabilities increase.
Now that you have an idea of how hard it is to actually win a tournament, the next time a parent or friend asks why you didn’t win a tournament even if you were the top seed, you have statistics to defend yourself! And, as always, thanks for reading!