Tournament Review: Supernationals VI

During the May 12-14 weekend, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee in order to play in Supernationals VI, one of the most awaited tournaments for K-12 players around the country.  The tournament only comes around every four years, making it all the more prestigious if one performs well in the tournament.  The event was held at the Gaylord Opryland, which, in my mind, is one of the most accommodating hotel/convention centers that a tournament could be held in.

 

GaylordOpryland-DeltaAtrium.-superherojpg
Always love playing here!

 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect heading into this tournament.  Knowing that I was going to be dealing with a relatively shorter time control (G/120 + d/5) and that I hadn’t exactly had a lot of free time to prepare for the tournament since I had multiple end-of-year exams to prepare for in the weeks prior.  In addition, scholastic tournaments are difficult in general, but that discussion is for another day.  Opting to take the 10-hour drive to Nashville rather than flying, I had more than enough time to prepare during the car ride and to take rest.  So, if there was one positive for me to consider going into the tournament, it was that I was fairly well-rested.

I began the tournament as the 49th seed out of 272.  Prior to the first round, the tournament directors announced that they would be using accelerated pairings for the first two rounds, which meant that if I was to win the first round, I would play up in the second round.  In the first round, I was paired against a newer player from Arizona who was rated 1965.  A late oversight by my opponent allowed me to capitalize and win the game from there.

BellisarioKobla_1
Bellisario – Kobla: Position after 22. Bxc5

Do you see what I played here?  Check here for the answer.

As expected, I played up in the second round, albeit higher than I had initially imagined – I was paired against the 8th seed, a 2449 rated player.  The critical positions were in the mid-20s when my opponent found an ingenious plan to crack my fortress, which led to his eventual win.

See if you can find what the best move(s) are in the position:

KoblaFeng_1
Kobla – Feng: Position after 26. Rc1

Check here for the answer.

Finishing the first day with 1 point out of 2, I went to bed content with myself anyway, since I had beat the players that I was supposed to and had given my best against a higher rated player.  The next morning, I woke up to find myself paired with an 1876 rated player; in fact, it was a player that I had played before in a previous national tournament, but the exact one I don’t happen to remember at the moment.  In regards to the game, my opponent found a good move in a critical position, at which point I had lost any advantage that I might have had.  The game ended in a draw.  Although I wasn’t too happy with myself for that result, I knew that the next round would be easier for me, and there was still a lot of tournament left.

In round 4 I was paired against another lower rated opponent that I had played in a previous national tournament.  In the previous encounter, I had lost the game due to a blunder made in time trouble; so this time around, I was determined to get my revenge – and I was able to in a fairly convincing fashion.  My opponent allowed a lethal double check at one point, which net me an exchange.  A few moves later, I played a move that kept my advantage and I eventually won.  However, the computer found a nice variation that would have ended the game much quicker, which I had not found due to its length and complexity.

KoblaYu_1
Kobla – Yu: Position after 31. … d5

Any idea what the silicon beast found in this position?  If you’re stumped (or if you think you got it), check your answer here.

Round 5 was the last round of the second day of the tournament, and I was paired against a 1956 rated player, and I’ll be honest, I was lucky with this game.  I had a solid -3 advantage (as black) before a series of inaccurate moves brought me back to around 0.00, when a horrible blunder on my part caused a jump to +6 for my opponent.  Fortunately for me, my opponent offered a draw in the midst of time trouble, and I accepted without hesitation.  I most certainly would have lost that game, but sometimes things just go your way.  I went to sleep that night knowing I was lucky, but I knew I shouldn’t dwell on it too much.  I still wasn’t able to win the game, and I had already drawn a couple games to lower rated players.  Thus, I had to focus on winning games on the last day.

On the morning of the next day, I spent some time with my family because it was Mother’s Day!  How often does that happen?  For round 6, I was paired against a 2008 rated player.  The game was perhaps the most autonomous game I have ever played against a decently high rated player.  Taken out of book early, I developed my pieces, castled, doubled rooks on the e-file, cemented a knight on the central d4 square, and virtually paralyzed my opponent’s position.  Then I proceeded to push the kingside pawns for an attack until my opponent decided to sacrifice a pawn to trade queens, but I converted the endgame without much sweat.

KoblaZhao_1
Kobla – Zhao: Position after 20. Re5 Anyone want to Black here?

For round 7, the last round of the tournament, I was paired against a 1969 rated player.  The opening was weird, but somehow, my opponent misplaced a piece, which allowed me to win a pawn early in the opening.  After winning that early pawn, it was a matter of simple technique from there.  When compared to the other days, the games I had on the last day were of much easier difficulty, which is ironic, since games are supposed to become harder as you progress in the tournament.

YuKobla_1
Yu J. – Kobla: Position after 12. … Qd8 The threat is the simple Qb6, and White can’t defend both pawns in time

After 7 rounds, I finished with 5/7 points, with one loss and two draws as the results that cut off points from the final result.  With the enormous amount of competition in the top section, 5/7 was barely good enough for a tied-for trophy in the end.  However, considering the difficulties I had earlier in the tournament, my rating did increase a few points in the end.  Overall, I wish I had been able to perform better since this was my last chance at Supernationals.  The next time this tournament comes around, I’ll be in college!  Yet, 5/7 still wasn’t a horrible score, and I was still able to take some hardware home, and I had a lot of fun, which is what counts in the end.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Online Blitz: Yea or Nay?

When this article is published, I will be taking the AP World History test back at school.  Fortunately, this is the last of the AP tests I am taking this year, with AP Computer Science being held the week prior.  In the midst of all this, Supernationals is this upcoming weekend.  With the conflicting timing, I was stripped for preparation time for this tournament.  With the little time I had, I decided that playing online blitz was going to at least get me somewhat prepared for this tournament.  This led me to think about how beneficial of a preparation strategy that online blitz truly is.

While there are definite merits, there can also be unintended negative effects.  We will attempt to examine both sides and come to a conclusion at the end.

We will start by examining the positive effects of playing blitz.  To me, there are a few effects that constitute as beneficial to a player’s game:

  • Improved tactical vision
    • Explanation: If a player’s tactical vision is slow, or he/she finds it hard to spot tactics in general, blitz may be of help.  Blitz requires a player to make fast, accurate moves.  In some positions, there may be a move that could work, but immense calculations would be needed to decide for sure.  Obviously, that time isn’t available in blitz games.  However, the prospects seem decent, so the player makes the move anyway.  Whether the move works out in the end is a different story, but the fact that the player actually saw the move and experimented with it makes the difference.  Continually experimenting with such tactical moves will help the player spot similar moves in real games.  At that point, the time is available to calculate variations and decide whether it is a good move.
  • Openings
    • Explanation: Playing games online can aid opening play if done correctly.  There are two ways to help openings through playing online.  One of these ways is to practice already-known openings.  Of course, one cannot assume that every game will follow the desired path; but, for those that do, the player can play as far as his/her opening knowledge allows, then play out the rest of the game.  Then, the player can load the game into an engine (or whatever tool you use) in order to find an improvement in their own play or how to capitalize on an opponent’s miscue.  The other way for a player to improve opening play is to keep playing games until he/she stumbles upon an opening that is relatively unknown.  This game can then be analyzed to reinforce the depth of knowledge in these unknown openings.  Both of these methods can greatly help to improve opening play for players at any level.
  • Time management
    • Explanation: This is probably the most obvious benefit, and is also the most important.  I know that I play blitz for this benefit myself.  As stated before, blitz requires a player to play fairly quickly, and these have to be safe moves.  In this way, blitz helps by allowing the player to be more confident in his/her ability to play quick moves that improve the position rather than spending a great deal of time trying to find the one best move in each position.  Over the long run, these methods will save a lot of time and put more pressure on the opponent since he/she has the clock on their side for a greater portion of the game, and they may even end up in time trouble.  Playing blitz online can help decrease the average time spent on moves as well since calculations have to be parsed at a faster rate.

While these are all great benefits that could be maximized by spending a lot of time playing blitz, there are also possible downsides that one has to be aware of.  While these reasons are geared slightly more towards inexperienced players, they can apply to anyone of any strength:

  • It can cause players to play too fast
    • Explanation: With playing blitz comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is to make sure that it doesn’t affect your game too   Sometimes blitz can make a player too trigger-happy in terms of moves, which can come back to hurt the player if not enough time is spent on a move.  It is important to clarify that blitz should be used for playing quicker in slow positions that aren’t rich in tactics and require positional improvement and/or allow a player to see tactics quicker – it should not be used to play faster overall and without care.
  • Results can be misjudged
    • Explanation: Despite the practice gained from online play, results are based on very different parameters.  For one, moving pieces using a mouse is very different than moving with hands over a board, and “knocking pieces over” isn’t a thing online.  In addition, many online interfaces now support “premove,” which allows a player to preload a move on the board before the opponent has made his/her move; obviously, that is not allowed over the board.  Lastly, illegal moves aren’t allowed online and waste precious time when the clock is ticking, whereas illegal moves may be played and not spotted in games over the board.  So, it is important to take all of these factors, among others, into account when considering online play as practice for real tournament play.
  • Frustration
    • Explanation: Online chess is notorious for becoming very frustrating when a player loses multiple games in a row; this is only due to the sheer number of games being played a time.  If this occurs, it can completely undermine any possible benefit coming out of the time spent.  In order to avoid this, it is best to only play a few games at a time and focus more time on analyzing the games played rather than binge-playing with no end goal.

So, we’ve examined a few of the pros and cons of playing online to practice for a tournament.  However, there are a few things a player can do to maximize the benefits of playing online.  One of these things is to play with a time control that reflects the time control of the real tournament.  This means playing with the same increment/delay online as the real tournament since all competitive tournaments these days have one or the other.  This will allow the player to be better suited making decisions as they would in a real tournament.  For example, if a player plays with 30-second increment online, but the real tournament is 5-second delay, then the player would be practicing with 30 seconds per move online when they really only have 5 seconds per move over the board (when in time trouble).

Another follow-up question that some people ask is, “At what point does too much blitz become bad for you?”  Well, to give a few examples, too much laughter can cause asphyxiation, too much oxygen can cause hyperventilation, and too much water can make you drown.  Basically, too much of anything is bad.  As discussed earlier, too much blitz can cause one to speed up their game too much, to the point where moves are actually rushed, and mistakes can result.  So, it is best to limit playing online to a few games per session, and spend more time analyzing the played games.

In conclusion, we have examined the pros and cons of blitz, we have discussed the extent to which one should play, and that players should focus on analyzing blitz games in order to receive feedback on the opening phase of the game.  And, as always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Out of Book, [Out of] Luck

Often times, tournaments have a book vendor on site with loads of good reads.  Naturally, most of them are opening books, whether popular or sidelines.  Take a stroll through the skittles room, and more often than not there will be players analyzing an opening or a game in the opening phase.  Minutes before the round, most of the top-rated players will be focused on their computers, preparing for their upcoming opponent.  For those who have coaches, chances are, the time they spend on openings is significant enough to count as a substantial amount.  So much emphasis is put on opening knowledge these days, and players are often compared to each other by the depth of opening knowledge that they have stored in their brains.  As sometimes is the case, games are won based on superior opening knowledge.  A couple decades ago, if someone had a deep opening knowledge, they were often given the upper hand over opponents of similar strength.

Nowadays, however, preparing for a game by memorizing as many lines as deep as possible in your favorite lines tends to be inadequate for a clear upper hand over a similar-strength opponent, due in part to the fact that the opponent probably prepared in the exact same way.  So, other methods of preparation need to be experimented with.  One of these methods is the polar opposite of the type of preparation we just examined, and it just may take you by surprise – preparing something you’ve never played before.

This technique is especially effective against a frequently-played opponent who probably prepared for whatever opening you would typically play.  By preparing something completely different, you have an immediate upper hand out of the opening, especially if it is an obscure line that probably hasn’t been prepared against by your opponent.  However, this technique has the potential to work against almost anyone, as long as the line is prepared for deep enough and in enough different directions.  If prepared correctly, obscure openings can become your strongest weapons.

There is also the other side to it all – assuming that you will never see an opening over the board and thus choosing not to study it can be disastrous.  Not having a clue what to do in a position can lead to making a seemingly innocuous move, only for it to be a blunder; and that’s not even mentioning the possibility of extreme time discrepancies resulting from it.  I’ll admit, I’ve been on both sides of this – I’ve prepared sidelines for frequent opponents just before a game, and I’ve also had to face obscure lines without any clue of knowing what to do as well.  Luckily, I was able to pinpoint and dig up the exact games I was thinking of so I can share some of them with you.

Del Rosario – Kobla, Potomac Open, 2014

In this game, right from the gates, I didn’t have a clue what the best moves were.  However, I should have realized in the middlegame that the position was similar to typical Pirc setups; this would have allowed me to at least stand a better chance.  However, playing aimless moves while bleeding time wasn’t a good recipe, and White won fairly easily.

Kobla – Schenk, ACC Action, 2014

Just a month after the aforementioned game where I was surprised out of the opening, it was now my turn to return the favor to another unsuspecting opponent.  After the first few moves, knowing basic ideas of the position allowed me to build up a menacing attack that eventually allowed me to win the game.

Kobla – Theiss, NVA Chess League, 2017

Although I got off lucky with a good position, this game had all the ingredients for a possibly bad game.  As White in the Sveshnikov, no player ever wants to trade off the beautifully-placed Nd5.  However, that was something I had to commit to if I was to avoid the three-move repetition.  If Black had seen the idea behind 17. … f4, it would have been interesting to see what the outcome of the game would have been.

From the examination of a few games, a few conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone for openings. At the end of the day, it could be the key to winning the game, and playing new openings/positions always adds fun to the game.
  2. Never neglect sidelines. They are just as important to study as the main lines, since losing a game due to not knowing a sideline could occur in the worst possible circumstances.  Such losses are definitely preventable, but it is up to the player to make it that way.
  3. When playing someone you have played multiple times before, switch it up if you’re up for it. Keep in mind, the earlier the deviation, the better, since you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where your opponent is able to spring a surprise on you before you can play your own!

And, as always, thanks for reading.  See you next time!

U.S. Championships – Round 1 Recap

The U.S. Championships and the U.S. Women’s Championships began with the first round on March 29.  Last year’s edition ended with Fabiano Caruana taking the title for the first time in as many chances in the U.S. Championships, while Nazi Paikidze took home the trophy for the U.S. Women’s Championships.  This year, Wesley So enters as the favorite once again by rating, with Caruana trailing in close second, and Nakamura behind him.  Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush enter as favorites in the Women’s edition, with Zatonskih ahead by 7 rating points on paper.  Considering that both of the favorites for this year were not the winners of last year, this should make for a good tournament. The tournament itself is being held at the Chess Club is St. Louis, Missouri, as it has been every year prior.  The scheduled event is supposed to extend from March 29 up to and including April 10.

Right away, there were games of interest and some fascinating decisions taken by players in the first round itself. Wesley So continued his tear by completely dominating Alexander Shabalov as White in what started out as a reverse London System.  Before Black was able to soundly complete his development, So launched his kingside pawns and grabbed Black’s “London” bishop.  In addition, White was able to kick around Black’s knights, preventing the king from castling into safety for several more moves.  In general, this game was a perfect example of striking before the opponent has consolidated his position out of the opening, as our own David Brodsky had written about here.  With White’s active pieces and Black’s suffocated pieces on the queenside coupled with the king still stuck in the center, White gained an advantage fairly early (as early as move 16) and the evaluation never fell below +0.50 for the rest of the game.

Ray Robson, pitted against Hikaru Nakamura as White, faced a different kind of game altogether.  Reduced to very low levels of time on the clock early, Robson struggled to keep the game even while virtually blitzing out most of the remaining portion of the game.  Robson spent 42 minutes on move 13 and 22 minutes on move 15; these two moves combined took up more than 2/3 of the entire clock time!  By move 20, White was reduced to the single digits, and consequently, Black began to build up a steady advantage by capitalizing on White’s inaccuracies from time trouble.  Black had gained a material advantage by move 30 and eventually won in a very nice Bishop + 3 Pawns vs. Rook endgame.

There were some interesting games in the Women’s section as well, starting with the game between Jennifer Yu, our very own author at Chess^Summit, and Anna Zatonskih, a four-time U.S. Women’s Champion at this tournament.  Zatonskih gained a position advantage early in the game, amounting to a little over -2 at one point when Jennifer blundered, but Zatonskih missed the opportunity.  On move 39, after Bxf5, 39. … Rxf5! Followed by Qe4, eyeing the weak squares on the queenside, would have sealed the deal.  Instead, Jennifer escaped into an even endgame that was supposed to be drawn.  Most of the pawns were traded until the players reached this position:

Mar30_YuZatonskih
Figure 1: Yu – Zatonskih, position after 57. d6

This endgame is still drawn, but with the move 57. d6 sets a trap for Black.  The move itself does not compromise White’s drawing chances, so this was a good practical decision, and Black fell for it.  With 57. d6, Rd1+ seemingly picks up the far-advanced pawn with no questions asked.  However, after 58. Kc2, Black must have realized with horror that she fell into the trap.

Mar30_YuZatonskih3
Figure 2: Yu – Zatonskih, position after 58. Kc2

Suddenly, White’s King attacks the rook on d1 while cutting off the Black king from an escape square.  This threatens mate via Ra8#, and Black is lost.  Congratulations to Jennifer for a hard-fought win in round 1, and I wish her luck in the rest of her rounds!

With many interesting games in round 1 itself, the rest of tournament is guaranteed to contain much more.  I, certainly, can’t wait to check back in the upcoming days to find more interesting results.  Good luck to all of the players in the tournament, especially Jennifer!  And, as always, thanks for reading and see you next time.

‘Tis (or Dis) the Scholastic Season

There may be hundreds of ways to partition the body of chess players in two parts.  One differentiator that I find very relevant to this time of year is, well, time.  Not the time on your watch, but the time on your chess clock.  There are typically two schools of thought for time management in chess – those who play relatively quickly, and those who play relatively slowly.  It’s not rocket science, the two sides are easy to divide into.  Other more difficult partitions would be positional vs tactical players or maybe casual vs serious, but I digress.

I, for sure, am part of the latter school.  Over the years I have been cultured to play slowly and not to rush my moves, almost to point of “too slowly.”  In the end, it might have been the cause of my undoing this past weekend at the VA State Championships.  The tournament was six rounds held over two days, and since it was a scholastic tournament (i.e. K-12 & Collegiate), short time controls were given.  In addition, since the tournament requires people to sometimes to travel across all of Virginia, they had to wrap up relatively early on Sunday.  Thus, four rounds (!) were played on Saturday itself.  They were played around the clock from 9 in the morning to 9 at night; the first three games of the day were played at a lightning-fast (for me) 60 minutes for each player with a 5-second delay.  The last round on Saturday and the two rounds on Sunday were played at 90 minutes for each player with a 5-second delay.  The 60/90 split has been traditional for this tournament, so it’s nothing new.  However, with all the work I have from school, I didn’t have much of a chance to prepare this year.  As a result, I was going in without having played a G/60 game since last year’s rendition of the same tourney, and the shortest time control I had played since the K-12 Nationals in December of 2016.  Having not been able to practice with many blitz or quick games either, you could say I came into this tournament underprepared, especially for being the third seed.  Most things have stayed constant for this tournament over the years, but one aspect that has changed is the pairing format for the first few rounds.  I remember the tournament organizers choosing to do accelerated pairings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss-system_tournament#Accelerated_pairings) in order to mix things up early for some years in the past, but they have also gone with the basic Swiss-system for some years as well.  This year, the normal Swiss-system was used, so I was fortunate to play much lower rated players in the first couple rounds.

In the first round, I was paired against a 1200.  Unlike the boards around me, my opponent took his time for his moves, despite being severely outmatched.  I do applaud him for his resilience and refusal to accept defeat early, but I did win nevertheless.  Some of the boards around me finished in 20 or 30 minutes into the round; with rating discrepancies like this, results like that are bound to occur.  In the second round, I was paired against a 1656.  Although I probably brought this game too close for comfort, I won in the late stages as the clock was ticking down for both of us.  In the third round, I faced my first truly “competitive” opponent at 1906, and the game was nothing short of crazy.  Early in the middlegame, I secured myself the initiative and eventually a piece for two pawns thanks to some tactics.  At one point, the evaluation reached as high as +3.5.  However, due to some careless moves that I played quickly, that advantage disintegrated in a few moves.  At one point, there was a string of 3 or 4 moves where the engine evaluation flipped between + and – for every move, partly because there was an idea that my opponent could have played that would have effectively ended the game (both of us happened to miss it, however).  When I had mere seconds on the clock, my opponent could have played a move that would have required me to bail out of my kingside operation and go for a perpetual check on the queenside where his king was castled.  But then, out of the blue, my opponent hung his queen!  Although I came out of there with a win, it was one of the weirdest games I had played to date.

So, I had navigated my way through the first three rounds undefeated and with a perfect 3-0 score.  The last game of the day was against a high 2000 rated player.  The game began with an opening I was unfamiliar with, so I wasn’t quite sure what my middlegame plans were.  As a result, I never got much going in my favor, and the game ended in a draw.  My fifth round game was quite the spectacle.  I was able to play one of the opening lines I know best, but my opponent (2050), one who I had played numerous times in the past with the same color, had prepared a forced drawing line that I couldn’t avoid.  In the sixth and final round, I was paired against another 2050.  In this game, I had some dynamic play early in the game, but by the time I was finally able to get a material advantage (a pawn), I was already playing quickly because of time trouble, and the game was reduced to an opposite-colored bishop endgame where my opponent was able to hold easily.

This tournament proved to not be my best, and although there were some instances where I just had to play better moves over the board, it all came down to the short time controls.  After winning the first three, I only managed to draw the last three games.  Finishing with 4.5/6, it was half a point lower than what I was hoping for at the least for this tournament.  The results from this tournament were bittersweet, though.  Although my rating did drop a few points, it is practice for the many scholastic tournaments approaching around this time of year.  In fact, 2017 is the year of the SuperNationals, which are being held during the second weekend of May (12 – 14) at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee.  During other years, however, tournaments such as the Junior High Championships and the Elementary Championships are also being held.  In a few weeks, the All-Girls Nationals are being held in Chicago, and that happens to be an annual event.

With the string of scholastic events already started, it is around this time that the portion of chess players that play slowly have to practice playing faster, especially if they wish to do well in these grueling competitions.  If not, your time might just be up.

 

 

The Importance of FIDE Ratings

“What’s your USCF?”

Ask any chess player in the United States, and they’ll respond without as much as a second thought.  So what?

Now take a trip to any country outside of the United States.  If you ask the same question to a chess player, you’ll most likely receive puzzled looks and responses along the lines of “What’s that?”  Another country, probably the same response.  The borders of the United States are most likely going to be the extent to which chess players would recognize “USCF.”  Any further, and chess players use other rating systems.  Sure, some countries might have their own local chess federations as well.  However, most use another rating system, at least for the larger tournaments.  This rating system is the Fédération internationale des échecs, better known as FIDE.  FIDE is sometimes called the World Chess Federation because it is just that.  FIDE is a global organization that connects and interacts with national chess federations and hosts international chess tournaments.  It is recognized by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) as the main overseeing body of international chess play.  Most top-level tournaments respect FIDE rules and regulations, almost without exception.

So why does this matter?  In short, it matters because the FIDE rating becomes the most important of all at high-level competition.  Almost every international tournament is FIDE rated.  In addition, most high-level open tournaments in the United States are FIDE-rated for the highest section(s).  Even the World Chess Championship, perhaps the most popular chess event, is FIDE rated.

Establishing a FIDE rating

If a chess player aspires to become the best of the best one day, he or she must pay attention to FIDE ratings as early as possible.  Moreover, he or she should attempt to play in as many FIDE-rated tournaments as possible in order to achieve their first rating.  Per rules, one must play 9 games against FIDE rated players, with three having to be in the same tournament, and at least 1 point (out of 3) must be scored against those three players.  It seems complicated, but it isn’t difficult if many FIDE-rated tournaments are being held.

After the first FIDE rating is achieved, the best approach is to try to stabilize and gradually increase it.  This, however, can sometimes be difficult and might trend in the opposite direction, as it did with me.  My first ever FIDE rating was 2018, a good 50-100 points above my USCF rating at the time, which was somewhere in the 1900s.  In this case, my FIDE rating was higher than my USCF rating, but for most people, it turns out to be the other way around.  Despite my attempts to keep my FIDE rating above 2000, it didn’t last long, as I lost games to players who were much higher-rated than me in USCF but around equal to me in FIDE.  As a result, these games would affect my FIDE much more than they would affect my USCF.  My FIDE rating hit an all-time low around at 1838 in March of 2016 after poor tournament play in general.  Since then, however, I have been able to claw my way back to a current rating of 2121 in a span of roughly 12 months.  A couple of different approaches have allowed me to accomplish that.  For one, I have begun to play much more frequently in the open section, which tends to be FIDE-rated nowadays (as previously mentioned).  Performing well in these open sections has definitely boosted my FIDE rating.  Secondly, the NVA Chess League has benefitted me greatly.  The NVA Chess League is a team league takes place over several months and is FIDE-rated.  However, the fact that each separate game is rated as its own event has helped me the most, since many more points are gained for each win.  Lastly, playing in international tournaments has helped when they come around since they add 9 FIDE-rated games apiece.  Although I haven’t played in any of the prestigious international tournaments such as the World Youth just yet, but I have had my share of North American Youth Chess Championships that I have attended.  Having played in four straight, they have also helped me get in more FIDE-rated games.

In the end, however, playing in FIDE-rated tournaments is the easiest and most efficient way to improve FIDE ratings.  The earlier someone improves their FIDE rating, the better, too, because FIDE uses a higher K-factor (scalar) in calculating ratings of minors (U18).  This means that ratings fluctuate more with younger ages.  Although this could potentially cause more severe drops, the possibility of higher gains also exists.  It’s important to note that USCF ratings are equally important at first; until one’s USCF rating is high enough to be able to compete in FIDE-rated sections and/or tournaments, progress can’t be made in FIDE ratings in the first place.  It’s just that, eventually, once someone reaches the levels of 2300 or 2400+, FIDE ratings become that more important.  As always, thanks for reading and see you next time!

2204

At long last….it’s finally happened.  This past weekend at the Baltimore Open, I performed well enough to cross the ever-so-difficult 2200 barrier and achieve my goal.  My rating jumped from 2189 to 2204, a good 15 points.  And, surprisingly enough, I was able to accomplish this feat with only playing three games in the tournament.  Before I share the game that propelled me over the barrier, some background.  I was first exposed to chess at 10 years old, which was extremely late when taking into account the ages at which people start playing now.  After the long climb, I finally crossed 2000 in October of 2014.  Although it was almost two and a half years ago, it seems just like yesterday.  After crossing 2000, I was stuck the mid-2000s for a long time until I had one very good World Open in July of 2015, where I scored an undefeated 6/9 in the U2200 section. This performance skyrocketed me from 2058 to 2128.  Since that tournament, tournaments have been a constant up and down for me.  I would piece together a few good performances before losing that progress in a single tournament and/or an NVA or DCCL match.  However, recently, I was able to catch some momentum and was able to ride the wind to the very top.  And, believe it or not, I haven’t even been playing much; with the amount of school work I have, I’ve only been able to play in approximately two events per month, with one or sometimes even both being the one-game NVA or DCCL matches.  Following that pattern, I haven’t been able to study much at home either.  However, as Jennifer Yu mentioned in her recent article here, playing chess is the most helpful way to improve at the game, and for me, that’s proved to be enormously relevant.

The whole thing has been a bit ironic since Beilin’s recently wrote (here) about our chances of crossing 2200 at USATE this upcoming weekend!  Well, Beilin, now that I’ve crossed the NM roadblock, you can, too!  Hopefully, this development can act as extra motivation for the rest of the Chess^Summit team to reach their goals as well.

The Baltimore Open was a five-round, three-day tournament that lasted from Friday, Feb 10th to Sunday, Feb 12th.  Due to a prior commitment that I had for Friday night, I took the half-point bye for the first round.  Although at that time I wished I could have played all five rounds, I knew that going into the second round with a half point would allow me the chance to play a fairly challenging opponent next round.  For the second round the following morning, I was paired against Aravind Kumar, a strong 2300 player from NJ that frequently travels for open tournaments in the Northern Virginia area.  He, too, had taken a first-round bye, although the reason was most likely for travel.  Despite putting up a valiant effort that morning, I came out with a loss.  With two rounds already in the books and having lost a game already, I knew the rest of the tournament would have to play out almost perfectly, if not perfectly, in order to keep the goal of reaching 2200 in the tournament within reason.  For the third round, I was paired against a mid-2000 rated girl by the name of Evelyn Zhu.  I remembered that I had played her before in the past year or two, so I was able to prepare a line and win that game without many problems.  The two ratings from that day happened to be approximately equidistant from my rating at the time, so the two results basically canceled out.  As a result, the outcomes of the next game(s) would play a very significant role in the final rating after the tournament.  On Sunday morning, after eating a breakfast of danishes and bagels (standard complimentary breakfast), I was paired against Nikhil Kumar, a 2399 middle schooler who had recently shot up to his current rating after stringing together several outstanding performances.  I knew I had to prepare and play well to have a chance at this game.

Kumar – Kobla, Baltimore Open 2017

Of course, every game that I have played in my chess career has led me to this point, but I will forever remember this game as the game that propelled me over 2200.  The fact that I was able to accomplish this feat with so many different variables proves how just about anyone can accomplish the same if they work hard and are motivated.  This especially goes for the rest of the Chess^Summit team.  Now that I have crossed the threshold, I am hoping that the others follow suit very soon!  And, as always, thanks for reading and see you next time!