Happy New Year from Chess^Summit: Looking Back

Happy New Year Chess^Summit Readers!

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

Accomplishments

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David at the 2017 NY State Championships

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

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Beilin at the USATE (PC: Vanessa Sun)

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

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

Travels

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

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

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

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

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Vanessa Sun and Carissa Yip

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

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

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GM Eugene Perelshteyn in Iceland prior to the Reykjavik Open

Favorite Articles

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

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

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David receiving his final IM norm earlier this year

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

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

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

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Beilin, Alice, and Isaac at the 2016 World Open

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

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

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

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

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

Chess^Summit Merchandise

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

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Check out our first design on TeeSpring!

Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers

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

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

Closing Remarks

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

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Isaac and Beilin in their apartment last May

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

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Role of a Chess Coach

How to find a chess coach?

This is one of the most popular questions from chess parents.

The short answer:

A coach should provide

  1. Knowledge Transfer (KT) – Showing a new player from basic tactics (fork, pins, etc.) to advanced strategies (prophylactics, piece activity, etc.).
  2. Habit Transfer (HT) – Ask students what s/he does to study and improve in chess, then make further suggestions.
  3. Psychological Preparation – Help students to acquaint the ups and downs of winning and losing.

Now the longer version.

1) Knowledge Transfer (KT)

In the old days, this is a chess coach’s main job. But that has changed in our information-world today. What Bobby Fischer had to search in Soviet-language chess books can be found online in a couple of mouse clicks today.

If you want to learn Knight and Bishop checkmate 20 years ago, your coach will need to setup a specialized training session. Then you and other students will practice for half a day until it is mastered.

In today’s world, a five-years old student can open Google Chrome and type in Knight and Bishop mate and watch the video. Then launch Stockfish, play against the the engine for a few games, and practice until s/he becomes very confident.

Chess coach can still help for (KT), as there are 100s or more chess concepts. The coach’s role for KT is to point out specific focus based on each student’s need, so students are not drown into the sea of information.


Pure Knowledge Transfer is being commoditized. Technology such as AI may one day organize all the themes in chess. Hence, coaches need to provide value in two other aspects.

2) Habit Transfer (HT)

In most of our work-place or schools, we have heard of KT, however, rarely had I hear about HT.

I believe that needs to be changed. Google can provide 80%+ of KT today, but it is not ready (or at least not as competent) in telling you what you should work on yet.

HT is a quest for a student to become a life-long learner. And a coach is the ‘tour guide’ to provide encouragement, focus, and support to help the student build and maintain the desire to learn more in chess.

3) Psychology Preparation

Experience and feelings of playing chess. A coach has stories based on his/her experiences from playing chess.

Psychology preparation is  the furthest from being automated by a machine.

A coach will LISTEN to a student describe his/her feeling and thinking from a game or a tournament. Then discuss together and tell stories from previous experiences or encounters to help student build psychological muscles for chess.

I hope this helps. Feel free to provide comments, I’m always happy to have an informative discussion on this broad topic.


Happy Thanksgiving week to everyone in the U.S!

Hi, I’m Xiao

Hello Chess^Summit fans!

My name is Xiao, and I’m glad you’re joining me on my first article with the team.

In this post, I’ll chat with you on my chess stories and how chess shaped me in many aspects outside of the game. Without further ado, let’s get started.

My Chess Beginnings

I learned chess in China when my mom brought home a chess board from work. And then I joined a chess club in kindergarten to get started in chess training.

My memories are fuzzy about the details of these chess days, but I do remember chess always brought more fun for me.

Losing in chess were not painful at all for me during this period.

One thing led to another, while in China, I joined a chess school, where my foundation was build.

I played in many tournaments in and out of my hometown Tianjin. Around third grade, I also worked with a chess trainer, who helped me further improve my chess fundamentals.

Losing now started to become annoying, but not much more than that.

Continuation of Chess in the U.S

In 2001, I came to U.S with my parents. And without much break, my parents found the Atlanta Chess Center after a month in Atlanta. My chess days in the U.S. started there. When you go thru my rating history, about 80% of my tournaments were played in the Atlanta Chess Center.

From 2001 to 2007, I played chess intensely, and really worked towards improving my game and rating.

2005 to 2006 were my highlight years, but for some reason, the painful lost games were always more memorable. I suppose this is human psychology at work.

I will talk about more about one of the painful games in my next post.

Going to College. Stopped Playing Chess

Before my senior year in high school, I decided to take a break from chess. Academics was a driver, my SAT was not good, and I haven’t taken any AP classes yet.

Another reason was my lack of tool set in terms of running the chess marathon. My psychology was reactive. I was chasing the destination instead of the journey.

The initial one year break, turned out to be over 7 years. I followed chess sparingly. However, my mind was unconsciously connecting the dots between chess emotions with everything outside of the game.

This period is when I started to think about psychology in and out of chess, and today it is still an interesting topic for me to pander.

My psychology to losing in anything become more robust. And I started to enjoy the process of running a marathon than crossing the finishing line.

Came Back to Teach Chess

I started working in 2014 and I learned the concept of side hustle during this time. I immediately found it enticing. Teaching chess was an easy choice, and it didn’t take long for me to get started.

When I teach chess classes, talking about chess concepts is certainly important, but I try to constantly relate to student’s chess emotions.

The vast amount of chess knowledge online has made information much easier to acquire. Simply type ‘chess’ in Google and you can get started.

However, building a strong emotional foundation in and out of chess is a more intense process. I’m still trying to figure out the route for myself, and I hope to share with the readers.

Chess^Summit Journey

I’ll write about chess analysis from time to time. But I’d want to talk more about chess psychology in my posts at Chess^Summit.

Welcome to my Chess^Summit journey, and I hope you had enjoyed the first run so far!

See you in the next post!

P.s: I’m always happy to chat on Twitter (simplerxiao). Say hi next time you’re there or to the Chess^Summit team.

 

Welcome to Chess^Summit!

Hi everyone, welcome to the newest edition of Chess^Summit! As I mentioned in my last few posts prior to the US Junior Open, I’ll be adding three ambitious players to the site who you’ll get to know very well in the upcoming weeks. While the four of us may have somewhat similar goals, our unique perspectives and understandings of chess will make each of our journeys to the next level vastly different. I’m really excited to continue sharing my own experiences here on Chess^Summit, but with the added twist that I too will now get to learn from this site that I created two years ago.

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A great line-up for our opening two weeks. Our first two guest authors will be my coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, and International Master Alexander Katz. Don’t miss out!

With the US Junior fully behind me, I’ve had some time to assess my play and consider new goals for the remainder of the summer and beyond. Knowing from personal experience that setting a goal to win a tournament is perhaps not the greatest idea, it would seem as if setting a rating goal would be rather appropriate. However, even this has its flaws. When looking back on my tournaments in NYC, Washington DC, Charlotte, and New Orleans from earlier this summer, I think it’s clear that I’ve made progress in various aspects of my game, yet the mere 13 rating points I’ve tacked on seem to speak against that. So worrying about the number and not my own play seems a little silly. But the question still remains, what will my goal be for the upcoming months? As of today, my goal is to become a National Master.

Of course, there is the inherent flaw that this specifically means breaking 2200. In order to work around this, I’m going to purposely avoid checking my rating, calculating my performance at the conclusion of a tournament, and looking at my opponent’s rating before the start of each round. My dad has agreed to notify me when I break 2200. I think this will be very difficult for me at first, but hopefully, it will mean that all that matters is the quality of chess that’s being played over the board.

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Photo from the US Junior Open. I actually got a couple mentions in Chess Life Online here!

So what specifically am I going to work on to become a National Master? Personally, I think it would be a grave error to not focus on improving my calculation skills. While positionally I have matched reasonably well with stronger opponents this summer, in several key moments my own short-sightedness has proven itself toxic to getting the satisfying result I desired. While improving my tactical skills will help me become more precise, improving my mental fortitude will help me achieve the state of mind I need going into each game. Keeping a clear mind throughout each tournament will help me remain relaxed and focused on playing my best. By eliminating outside distractions such as ratings or performance, I hope I can directly improve my concentration at the board.

So enough abstract – let’s talk chess! I’ve got a gruesome double-header coming up in Philadelphia, as I’ll be competing in the Open section of the World Open, followed by a tough Philadelphia International. I’m going to take some half point byes, but I believe it will still be the most number of rated games I have ever played in an eleven day period. I will be sharing my overall performance in my next post on  July 12th (two weeks). Meanwhile, I decided to dig up a past game I’ve played that I thought was worth sharing.

Senft – Steincamp (Kingstowne Chess Festival, 2013)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4 O-O 6. Nf3 c5 7. d5 Bg4

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A Four Pawns Attack, which if I’m not mistaken was Sean’s (and still is) pet line against the King’s Indian Defence. I believe I briefly mentioned this game when I first launched Chess^Summit back in 2014, but without any analysis or diagrams – what a disservice to what might have been the best game I played in all of 2013!

Here I chose 7… Bg4, with the idea of trading on f3 and setting up a Benoni structure with queenside pressure. At the time, I didn’t really understand the nuances of move order, and had I fully recalled my then future coach’s video series, would have instead chosen 7… e6, keeping my options open for my bishop following the trade on d5. With the way my opponent handled the opening, this slight difference didn’t matter in the end. 8. Bd3 e6 9. O-O exd5 10. cxd5 Ne8

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A backwards knight move? Again, I think 10… Nbd7 makes a little more sense, but with the pin on f3, the position will transpose. This move serves a few functions. First, my g7 bishop now covers the e5 square. In these Benoni positions, it’s absolutely critical to not allow White to break open the position with an e4-e5 push. With the pin on f3 and a knight coming to d7, White cannot hope to immediately take advantage of my lack of development. Next, my knight on e8 will reroute itself to c7 to help support a …b7-b5 thrust. By bringing my knights to the queenside, my goal is to take advantage of some of White’s dark squared weaknesses such as the d4 square or the b2 pawn. 11. Be3 Nd7 12. h3 Bxf3 13. Qxf3 a6 14. a4 Nc7 15. Qg3?!

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Up until this point, both sides have played rather coherently, each attaining their ideal set-up. White is nicely developed and possess a nice space advantage, while Black has counterplay coming with …b7-b5. With his last move, 15. Qg3, White has made a move that is rather reminiscent of sub-2000 rated play. The only reason for the queen to be on g3 would be to attack g6, but as you can see, f4-f5 isn’t realistic, as the e5 square become an outpost for my d7 knight. This means White now would need two tempi to push the h-pawn to h5 to execute this idea, but already it’s not clear what he’s achieved. With these fianchetto structures, generally, the g6 pawn is the strongest point in the formation. With White failing to improve his position, I continued with my plan. 15…Rb8 16. a5 b5 17. axb6 Rxb6

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With this trade on b6, the structure has changed. Rather than pushing a pawn storm down the queenside, I now have a half open b-file for my rook to target the b2 pawn. While the position is roughly even, Black holds more strategic trumps – the g7 bishop is menacingly cutting through the position, my queen can enter the game through b8, and White can’t push e4-e5, even with the help of his misplaced queen. While White can probably hold this position with best play, it’s not easy, and already we can see how White can regret his choice of 15. Qg3 just a few moves ago.  18. Ra2 Qb8 19. Qf2

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Admitting the mistake. This is a hard thing to do, even for much stronger players, but unfortunately this it just too passive given the nature of the position. I remember thinking that White could have been better off here playing 19. Rfa1 during the game, ditching the b2 pawn for the a6 pawn, but after 19…Rxb2, the c3 knight is hanging, giving me some nice discovered attack potential on a1 once the knight moves. With my more experienced eyes, I have a strong feeling that this bishop on e3 is misplaced, as it means a rook on e1 cannot support a future e-pawn push. One mentality when playing against the Benoni is to avoid opening the queenside structure, surrendering space for the sake of time elsewhere. Thanks to some of my research with National Master Franklin Chen prior to the US Junior Open, I’ve found that in similar main line Benoni positions (1 d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6), sometimes it’s best to omit a2-a4 and ask Black what his intentions are. With some deeper analysis, I’ve found that while 14. a4 was perfectly fine, perhaps the insertion of 16. a5 hurts White strategically more than it hinders Black’s expansion. 19…Rb3 20. Bxa6?

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White’s had some small inaccuracies up to this point, but simply trading the material weaknesses does not rid White of the positional weaknesses his position holds. This is probably one of the biggest distinctions between amateurs and experts, as positional considerations matter much more when assessing the position. With this trade on a6, White’s rook will become inactive while mine will have VIP access to the second rank. 20…Nxa6 21. Rxa6 Rxb2 22. Ne2 Qb5 -+

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White’s position is now beyond repair, and as a result, will now cost him an entire piece. I like to show this game to my students because I think it shows what happens if you memorize opening theory but don’t seek its strategic elements. Once White completed his development, he made slow moves in a dynamic position, and quickly found himself too passive when the position required him to attack. That’s not to say White played a terrible game, I think I had surprised him with this set-up, and after 17…Rxb6, it’s very difficult to provide answers in this position without prior research. Unfortunately for him, that meant reaching a lost position in five moves. 23. Rxd6 Rxe2 24. Qf3 Rxe3 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 19.17.16A cute finish for a game that had long since been over (…Bg7-d4 is coming if the queen recaptures). If I played a game like this now, I think I would label it as nothing special, but as an 1800 picking up my then career-best win, I remember this game being a huge confidence booster for me at the time. With proper opening play, strategy always prevails!

 

For today’s game, I decided to choose a three-year-old game to celebrate the beginning of what I hope will become a fun project here at Chess^Summit. One of my motivations to invite new authors to this site was to present you with some elements of chess that are lost in the near perfect play of grandmasters. To become a strong player, you must have a full working understanding of positional and strategic imbalances, and here on Chess^Summit, we hope to present you with new ideas through the lens of our own improving understandings of chess. While we won’t be showcasing every great moment of the careers of Karpov, Kasparov, or Carlsen, we will be sharing instructive (and hopefully proud) moments from our own tournaments – even if that means going back a little in time.

I hope you all enjoy the weeks to come here on Chess^Summit! These next two weeks should be a fun ride!

Starting the New Year: Sacrifices and Strategy

Happy New Year! To start the new year, I wanted to share my best game from the 2015 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships last week. In what was a close match with Webster C, the University of Pittsburgh was able to keep it close, only falling 2.5-1.5. My board, luckily enough, was the decisive point for Pitt.

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My round 2 win on board 4 won the top upset prize for the round and recognition on the United States Chess Federation website!

My overall 4.5/6 (3 wins, 3 draws, no losses) was enough to gain back nearly all of the rating points I’d lost since Thanksgiving (12) and puts me on the right track going into the Boston Chess Congress this weekend, and the Liberty Bell Open the following week. Playing more Open sections like the National Chess Congress will be tough, but I’m really excited to see how far I’ve come since November.

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Round 1: University of Pittsburgh v Lindenwood B (4-0)

That being said, with tournaments each weekend for the next two weeks, I’ve decided I want to start the New Year with videos, and then begin releasing articles after the Liberty Bell Open. My goal is a video every Tuesday and Friday, a total of two a week, and then revert to the usual Tuesday-Friday-Sunday schedule we’re all used to. That being said, here’s the first chess^summit video of 2016!

Blast to the Past: The Transition from Scholastic to Adult Play

For today’s post, I wanted to discuss my transition from being a scholastic player to a regular tournament player. Back in 2007, I broke 1300, and I wasn’t getting a high enough level competition in the tournaments near me. At ten years old, the idea of playing with adults in a weekend tournament was daunting, so I gave it a try at a local club in a few game-a-week ladders. While I only had a handful of games at the Kaissa Chess Club, it definitely gave me some perspective on how chess was different at the next level. For today’s post, I wanted to show how playing adult chess my gameplay over the board.

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I won my first scholastic tournament in the first grade to break 1000 in 2004.

Before I share my games, let’s discuss what scholastic players gain from becoming regular tournament players:

1) Patience – With adult tournament play, the time controls can be twice as long as standard scholastic tournaments. For me, changing from G/40 to G/90 was especially challenging as I hadn’t really been forced to calculate extensive lines in games. Patience is one of the most important virtues in chess, and in my personal opinion cannot be learned through scholastic play.

2) Chess Etiquette – At scholastic tournaments, almost anything goes. Usually, rules aren’t as strictly enforced, and while poor sportsmanship is frowned upon, it’s not effectively punished.  In adult play, there is an expectation that you respect your opponent. This wasn’t really an issue for me, but I have seen younger players not understand the tournament rules (touch-move, etc) or understand proper chess etiquette (this includes stalling in a losing position, making distracting noises, etc).

3) Practical Experience – Once I got to 1100, most of my tournaments would feature four significantly lower rated opponents, and only one real contest. While the euphoria of winning was definitely enjoyable, I didn’t have opponents forcing me to look at new openings or tactical ideas. At such a young age, I think all the winning went to my head and I stopped studying for tournaments. In adult play, any result is possible in any game – and your opponents generally challenge you to find new ways to win. In other words, no more hanging pieces, simple checkmates, and no more basic tactics – the chess starts here.

4) Better Fundamentals – As you’ll see in the games I chose for this article, my understanding of the openings went to the next level. In this article, I will compare how I played the Closed Sicilian in 2007 to how I played the same opening in 2009. While I wasn’t playing grandmaster-level chess at 1300, the progression in my understanding of chess made it possible to reach the next level. Let’s have a look.

Steincamp – Arnold (Kaissa Chess Club Sept-Oct Ladder, 2007)

When I “graduated” from the Kaissa Chess Club, I distinctly remember beating everyone at least once with the exception of my opponent here, Lloyd Arnold, Sr. In this game I was just shy of 1200, while my opponent was just over 1600.
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. d3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7
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One of many plans of the Closed Sicilian. Usually, White will play Ng1-e2, Qd1-d2, castle kingside, and then push f2-f4, hoping for some sort of strategic advantage. The one oversight my opponent and I both had was the move …Nf6-g4. This is a great resource for Black to make White either give up the bishop or waste some tempi. Black found this opportunity a few moves later, making this resource the first real idea for Black against the Closed Sicilian that I had seen at the time. White should have played 6. h3 instead of playing an immediate 6.Be3.
7. Qd2 h5?!
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Definitely a novelty for me back in 2007, but I haven’t seen this idea for Black since. Because White’s plan is to play f2-f4, this move encourages me to play f4-f5 in the future, taking advantage of the fact that the g6 pawn is only protected once.
8. Nge2 Ng4!
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A standard idea for Black in these fianchetto structures. With no other alternatives, I must give up the pair of bishops to continue play.
9. O-O-O??
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This is the first move that shows my true lack of understanding of the Closed Sicilian. While in scholastic play I could get away with a kingside pawn storm, that doesn’t really work at this level. The Closed Sicilian often lends itself to race positions, where Black attacks on the queenside as White seeks to play on the kingside. Here I’ve put my king on the wrong side of the board, and already, the g7 bishop is eyeing the b2 square.
9…Nxe3 10. Qxe3 Nd4
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Black’s opening play has been far from perfect, but my opponent has shown that he at least understands the thematic ideas of the Closed Sicilian. After using the attacking idea of …Ng4, he follows up by placing a piece on d4, Black’s most traditional idea. Both of these ideas for Black were ideas that I had never seen effectively for Black in the past 4 years of scholastic play. Here I get them in my first real adult game!
11. f4 Qb6 12. Nd5? Nxe2+!
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Taking advantage of my last move and proving why queenside castling was a bad idea with this zwischenzug. Normally Black waits for  White to play c2-c3 before executing the trade, but here the g7 bishop and queen on b6 are both bearing down on b2, and Black is clearly better.
13. Qxe2 Qxb2+ 14. Kd2 O-O
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A safe move, but I wonder if Black could have the nerves to try 14… Qxa2! because 15. Nc7+ Kf8 16. Nxa8? is punished by 16… Qa5+ and checkmate is forced. 17. c3 Qxc3+ 18. Ke3 Bd4+ 19. Bg4#. This being said, White no longer has a great way to defend the king to the …Qa2-a5+ threat as without the e3 bishop, I no longer have any way of controlling the dark squares.
15. Nxe7+ Kh8 16. Nd5 Bg4 17. Bf3 Bxf3 18. Qxf3 Qxa2 19. g4
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At this point, I don’t think there’s much else to recommend for White. In a strategically lost position, I make an effort to try and turn things around.
19…c4 20. gxh5 c3+ 21. Ke1 Qxc2 22. hxg6 fxg6 23. Qh3+ Kg8 24. Qe6+ Kh7
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With no increment or second time control, I’m left to think that maybe my opponent was trying to mess with me psychologically. I don’t think that really works here since repeating is my best option.
25. Qh3+ Kg8 26. Qe6+ Kh7 27. Qh3+ Bh6 28. Rg1 Rae8
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Organizing Black’s forces. White is clearly lost as my kingside attack couldn’t add up to anything.
29. Qg3 Re6 30. Nc7 Rxe4+!
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Clearly my opponent was doing tactics to prepare for his games! What a blow! Onc the f8 rook lands on f4, checkmate is inevitable.
31. dxe4 Qxe4+ 0-1
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Resigning instead of allowing checkmate was something new for me when I progressed to the adult level, but here the resignation is definitely appropriate.

Within the next two years, my understanding of the Closed Sicilian had changed and a lot of that improvement can be traced back to this loss. Here’s a game I had two years later against a slightly higher rated opponent. I don’t remember many games that I played before 2010, but this win was one of them.

Steincamp – Berenstein (Taylor Fox Memorial III, 2009)

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Bc4
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Already the first “improvement” from the first game. I still wanted to be aggressive against the Sicilian, so having the bishop on c4 fit me more stylistically at the time than the fianchetto set-ups. If I could go back in time and coach my 1300 self here, I would have preferred 3. Bb5, a much more direct move leading to Rossolimo like positions.
3…e5?
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A strategic error from Black, which goes to show that not all adult play is “perfect”. When White places the bishop on c4, Black generally prefers to put his e-pawn on e6 to blunt the ability of the light squared bishop.
4. d3 h6?
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This move, hoping to stop Bc1-g5 in the future is a definite inaccuracy as Black has neglected to develop his pieces.
5. f4!
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Already this move shows a much stronger understanding of the Closed Sicilian on my part. Seeing that Black’s structure is highly suspect, this move undermines White’s center while hoping to accelerate my own development.
5…d6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. f5
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And why not?! A very thematic idea for White, planning a phalanx on the kingside. Black is cramped and doesn’t have a move like …g7-g6 to undermine f5 since, after a trade on g6, Black is unable to castle kingside.
8…Bd7 9. Qe1
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Yet another thematic move, hoping to bring in the queen to h4. This is another idea I learned while playing stronger opponents in adult tournaments.
9…g5
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Already a desperate measure, but in trying to defend, Black has made a structural weakness.
10. fxg6 fxg6 11. Qg3 g5
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Black’s hand has been kind of forced, but my next move is not the most accurate. I would have liked to see either 12. Nd5, removing the f6-knight so my rook can help target f7, and 12. Nh4! using the same idea as the game with my move 12. h4, but if Black doesn’t take, I have Nh4-f5 with great play.
12. h4 g4 13. Be3
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Not really knowing what to do, I simply developed a piece. If Black tries to solidify with …h6-h5, the g5 square becomes a great square for my knight. My opponent should have played 13… Nd4, but made my job easy.
13…gxf3?? 14. Qg6+ 1-0
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Checkmate on f7 is inevitable. A great game for me! I would say, with my current knowledge of chess, that this performance was way above the 1300 level, thanks to the adaptations I made from playing adults.

What a difference! After being outplayed every move in the first game, I got to teach my opponent a lesson with my new found understanding of the Closed Sicilian. Through learning Black’s thematic ideas, I was able to adjust my play accordingly and become even stronger – something that would have never happened if I didn’t switch to adult play. If you are a scholastic player thinking about making the transition, or a parent unsure if your child is ready to make the switch, I hope this article helps you make the best chess decision and face tougher competition.

This has held true for me since, as I have often “played up” a section to gain practical experience. While it may not seem as fun as winning every game, pushing yourself to play against the toughest competition is the most effective way to get better.

A Call from Home – Games from the MLWGS Green Dragons

As some of you may know, I take a lot of pride in what my high school chess team was able to achieve in the three years I served as team captain and coach, which is why I’m extremely happy to have the opportunity to analyze some of their games from this season today!

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In three years, the MLWGS Green Dragons won several State League Championships, the 2014 U1200 National High School Chess Championships, and placed 5th in the most recent U1600 National High School Chess Championships last April.

One aspect of the MLWGS team that makes it unique from other schools in Virginia is that during practice, the players play rated games against each other to improve their openings and tactical knowledge. While its extremely difficult to gain points in these once-a-week ladders, it gives the players a lot of tournament experience and confidence when they play in competitive events. For the first game today, we will analyze a rated game between Vishnu Pulavarthi and Trey Johnson.

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Trey Johnson (left) has been on fire all summer, gaining nearly 300 rating points since last May, while Vishnu Pulavarthi (center), after having taken the summer off, hopes to continue the success he had at the end of last school year.

Pulavarthi – Johnson (MLWGS Rated Games, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3

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Vishnu opts for the anti-Benoni Structure, planning to meet cxd4 with either Qxd4 or Nxd4 to reach a Maroczy structure. Such positions are usually considered extremely playable for White, so Black has to pose problems to get a good game.

4…d5

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A popular opening choice, but not one completely backed by the MegaDatabase and recent statistics. Most games in this line typically lend themselves to a White win or a draw, as the simplifications in the center usually don’t give Black much to work with dynamically. The second most common move is to take on d4, but I would like to suggest an alternative, 4… b6, hoping to reach a Reti structure for Black where development is simple. Black will fianchetto on both sides and enjoy a stable position.

5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 O-O 7.Bd3

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A sign of great maturity to not break the tension in the center, but the e2 square is the better square for the bishop, as the queen on d1 can enter the fight with ease. One idea White has is to take on c5 in the future, using the c4 pawn, c3 knight, and the queen to put pressure on d5. By misplacing the bishop on d3, White removes an idea from his tactical arsenal.

7…Nc6 8.Ne5

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Perhaps inspired from Catalan positions, as the idea is that if Black takes the knight, dxe5 will remove a defender of the d5 pawn. I think here it becomes apparent that the bishop on d3 is misplaced, as having the queen active would have allowed for a sharper line, 8. dxc5, where the natural 8… Bxc5 leaves d5 exposed. Black’s best move is 8… h6, where after 9. Bxf6 Bxf6, the d3 bishop stops White from winning Black’s central pawn.

8…cxd4

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8… Nb4 looks like a decent move, threatening to win the bishop pair, but this would just force the bishop on to a much better square, leaving Black with no clear plan. With this move, Black punishes White for not having castled, and stands better.

9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.exd4 Ba6

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A great move! The bishop weakens the structure of the queenside, and Trey plans to employ an idea from the QGD Cambridge Springs, Qa5 and Bb4! Another move also worthy of consideration was 10… Rb8, with the idea of taking on c4 and pushing c6-c5, further exposing the king.

11.b3 Bb4 12.Qc2 Qa5 13.Bd2

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Here White is resigned to passivity, but how to proceed? After Trey’s move, …Nf6-e4, simplifications to the endgame favor White since the king is already centralized. Unfortunately, the right motif here involves a sacrifice that requires precise calculation. See if you can find it!

13…Ne4??

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This move goes from completely winning to losing. Black had to find 13… e5!!, after which 14. dxe5 dxc4! and White’s king is completely exposed. If white tries to take on c4, the e5 pawn hangs to the queen with check, and taking on f6 with 15. exf6 loses to 15… cxd3 and White’s queen is trapped behind its own fortress. If Black chooses to castle instead of taking the e5 pawn, e5-e4 is simply crushing as White suffocates in his own lack of space.

14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Bxe4 Bxd2+ 16.Qxd2 Qxd2+ 17.Kxd2 Rad8

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Perhaps Trey saw up to here and thought he was better, but his bishop’s lack of squares and the fact he is down a pawn is enough for him to be worse. The winning plan is to play Kc3 and protect d4 so Black is stuck behind his c6 and e6 pawns. Black gets little activity and is bound to his c6 pawn.

18.Bxc6?

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A big mistake as White trades his strong point for Black’s biggest weakness. Black now gets an opportunity to double his rooks on the d-file and save the game. In the endgame, activity matters much more than material, and here Vishnu should have realized that the c6-pawn will always be weak, so this is not the opportune moment to grab it. 18. Kc3 would have been enough, followed by activating the rooks to the third rank via rook lift.

18…Rxd4+ 19.Kc3 Rfd8

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White now sees the power of Black’s activity. White should bring a rook to e1 and cover Black’s entry point on d2.

20.Bb5?

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White makes a mis-step here, trading his only active piece for Black’s worst piece. From c6, the bishop stops the a6 bishop from entering the action, but also stops Rd4-d2 because of the Bc6-d5 interference tactic. By trading bishops and doubling pawns, the queenside pawn majority will be slightly more difficult to convert.

20…Bxb5 21.cxb5 R4d5 22.a4 Rc8+ 23.Kb4 Kf8 24.Rac1 Rb8 25.Rc5 a5+?

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Black missed the opportunity to complicate the game, and in doing so loses the game. Trying to count on a cheap tactical shot, Black gives White a protected passed b-pawn, which is more than decisive. Much better would have been to play 25… Rd2 26. Rf1 g6 and if White tries to infiltrate with 27. Ka5, 27… Rb2 exposes White’s weaknesses (note that 27. Rc7 a6 28. Rc5 Ke7 also puts Black in a better position than in the game). White will have to surrender kingside pawns to activate the rook, giving Black reasonable chances to play for a win.

26.Kc4 Ke7?

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In endgames where you have fewer pawns, you generally don’t want to trade pieces, as with each trade, the extra pawns become more valuable. Here Black cements his fate by trying to bring out the king.

27.Rxd5 exd5+ 28.Kxd5 Kd7 29.Rc1 Rb6 30.Kc5 Kc7 31.b4 axb4 32.Kxb4+ Kb7 33.Rd1 Rf6 34.f3 Rf4+ 35.Ka5 Under 5 minutes, White stop notating, and went on to win the game. 1-0

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White has a clear winning endgame, as Black can never stop the two passed pawns. White will bring the rook to the seventh, confining the black king to the back rank, and then push his pawns to win the game.

A very back-and-forth game, as both sides had winning opportunities in each phase of the game. Considering that both players at the time were rated under 1100, I would say that both players played a little bit better than their level. What can we take away from this match?

  1. Putting your pieces on the right squares is crucial. In this game, White missed a lot of opportunities because the bishop was on d3, and not on e2.
  2. Don’t oversimplify. Trey cost himself a win when he put his knight on d4, offering White a pawn up endgame for no compensation. Just because its easier to calculate, doesn’t mean its better for you.
  3. Be active in the endgame. I think this game demonstrated the extremes of this before Black fell apart in the endgame. White took a really simple position and made it difficult by not developing his rooks and trading the bishop, his only developed piece.
  4. Lastly, tricks are for kids! I can’t stress this enough. Trey was practically lost when he played 25… a5?, but this cheap trick (which Vishnu saw immediately) cost him the key tempo to put his rook on d2, and really complicate the matter. Chances are, if the trick is simple and there is an easy way out, its not a move worth playing.

Wow, the most instructive analysis game so far, and we haven’t even gotten to the second game!

Our next game features the current MLWGS Chess Team Captain, and reigning MLWGS Chess Champion, Jeffrey Song. I’ve worked with Jeffrey since he joined the team as a freshman, and in recent months, his rating has skyrocketed, going from the low 1300s to the mid-1500s. As always, with every major rating jump comes a big adjustment to survive at the next level. Here’s a game from the high school junior from a tournament this past weekend.

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Jeffrey Song (right) playing Grandmaster Sergey Erenburg (left) in a MLWGS simul in December 2014.

Song – Phillips (Kemps Landing Scholastic and Quads, 2015)

1.f4

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Being a fan of the Dutch, Jeffrey employs the Bird’s Opening as White. Considered unsound by top grandmasters, Jeffrey uses this opening to reach unfamiliar positions from move 1. While the Bird’s is not effective at the top level, for a G/60 game among ~1500 rated players, this is a good opening choice.

1…d6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d3 g6 4.e4

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By choosing to employ this structure, Jeffrey will not use a Stonewall, but rather an opening that resembles the Closed Sicilian. But if this is the desired position, then is makes much more sense to play 3. Nc3 g6 4. e4 because now White can meet Black’s Nb8-c6 with Bf1-b5, getting a true Grand Prix set-up. Here the bishop is not ideally placed, and should it be fianchettoed on g2, Black can play c7-c6 and e5 later to reach a less flexible position for White.

4…Nc6 5.Be2 Bg7 6.O-O O-O 7.Qe1

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White tries to go in for the attack here, but his pieces aren’t primed to do so. White’s plan is if Black pushes e7-e5, he will counter with f4-f5, shutting down the position with a massive attack on the kingside to follow. Unfortunately, with Black’s decision to play Nb8-c6 instead of d7, he loses the ability to play c5 and control the d4 square.

7…Bd7?!

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The bishop doesn’t really serve a purpose here on d7, and is much better served on g4. While this move wastes a tempo for Black, its hard to say what the long term plan should have been. My best guess is that since the position resembles a “flipped” Queen’s Indian, Bc8-g4 followed by e7-e6 can’t be too bad, as Black can aim for a d6-d5 push at the right moment, or engineer a double-edged f7-f5 break. Either way, without a white pawn on d4, this game is going to be slow paced compared to a King’s Indian if handled correctly.

8.Qh4 Bg4 9.c3 Qd7

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Connecting the rooks, but not truly changing the position. …e7-e6 would have been more effective, with the idea of moving the f6-knight and offering the queen trade. A sample line would go like 9… e6 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 Nd7 12. Qg3 f5 and Black has a game, if 12. Ng5 is played to threaten checkmate, 12… h6 13. Nf3 Qxh4 14. Nxh4 Kh7, with the same idea of pushing for f5. Black has to solidify quickly to make up for lost time.

10.h3 Bxf3 11.Rxf3 e6 12.g4 b5

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A well intended positional move as Black’s goal is to attack the hook on c3. Unfortunately, there isn’t much venom here as White’s pawn storm on the kingside is much more critical. I’ve been reading “100 Chess Master Trade Secrets” by Andrew Soltis lately, and here I would like to apply his 6th ‘priyome’ (concept) to this position. Here Black faces the problem that if he does nothing, White will use his bishop pair and pawns to annihilate the kingside and win the game. Black doesn’t really have counter-attacking chances in this position as we see b7-b5 (which, by the way is another priyome, just much less effective here) doesn’t change the nature of the position. One option black does have though, is to play the move 12… d5. If White is compliant and plays 13. e5, a pawn thrust like f4-f5 becomes much more difficult to execute (in this position, we see that when the knight retreats, it would have been much more convenient to have the queen on d8 as the queen trade would be offered). If White chooses to be aggressive and play an immediate 13. f5, 13… dxe4 wins a pawn and busts open the center. Soltis’ 6th priyome states that when the opponent is pushing pawns so that he has pawns on e4, f4, and g4 (or e5, f5 and g5 if its the Black player), the first option to consider is if …d5 is playable, as it locks up the position.

13.Be3 Qe7

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Realizing that the queen needed to be on the same diagonal as the queen, Black plays this move at the cost of weakening his b5 pawn. This move isn’t bad if Black can hold on to the b-pawn, and can immediately move the f6 knight to offer the queen trade, and play f7-f5. While Black has lost a lot of time, the slow nature of the position has stopped him from falling completely off the grid. b5-b4 isn’t that helpful, because taking the pawn on c3 to create a weakness develops the knight on b1.

14.Nd2 a5 15.f5!

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Good technique! Even though Qh4 was premature, White waited to get the rest of his pieces out to time this push at the right moment. Black needed to be able to play …f7-f5 to hope for equality, and without this option now stands worse in the position. While this moves seems to be weakening the e5 square, White can always play d3-d4 later and reclaim it.

15…exf5 16.gxf5 Ne5 17.Rg3 Qd8 18.Bg5 c5

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Probably the best practical chance, but now Black can see the penalty for moving the bishop twice and the queen three times in the opening. While White’s pawn storm was aggressive, the game really came down to better piece play and maneuvering.

19.Nf3 Ned7 20.d4 cxd4 21.Bxb5?!

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After playing a strong game of chess, White begins to lost the thread of the game. There really wasn’t a need to take the b5 pawn when cxd4 followed by e4-e5 was simple enough. Black gets a tempo back with this move … Qb6, getting out of the pin and preparing to expose the king.

21…Qb6 22.Nxd4 Nh5 23.fxg6??

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White loses all of the advantage, and is actually losing here! If Black plays 23… fxg6, the f8 rook springs to life and the White king is truly exposed. With White’s pieces all over the board from having gone after the b5 pawn, it becomes much more difficult to regroup and protect the kingside.

23…Bxd4+ 24.cxd4 Qxd4+?

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Going from an unclear or slightly better position to a completely losing one. After White’s next move, its Black that has the exposed king, and the knight on h5 will fall as well.

25.Be3 1-0

This is a difficult game to assess because after White’s preparation panned out, Jeffrey was not the most effective in the conversion process, nearly costing himself a win. Black on the other hand, played passively for most of the game, but was at least willing to take some chances before the game was over. Considering the game was at a much higher level than the last one, the takeaways are also a little more complex:

  1. Don’t just count on opening preparation! This game felt like a cookie-cutter attack gone wrong, as White lost objectivity when he took on b5, opening the game back up. Furthermore, with Black opening with 1… d6, White missed some opportunities to transpose into more challenging lines by playing quickly.
  2. Don’t waste tempi. Black moved the same pieces multiple times throughout the game, costing him an opportunity to play for the initiative out of the opening. I can commiserate with Black having to play against an unfamiliar opening and not knowing what to do, but playing a few tempi down is always going to be difficult.
  3. The …d5 ‘priyome’ against the kingside pawn storm is definitely an advanced idea that was much needed in this game for Black to stay competitive. If you’re interested in other such positional concepts, I highly recommend Soltis’ book. With the exception of the quizzes, this book is easy to read without a chess board, and really instructive!
  4. The game is over when the opponent is checkmated, runs out of time, resigns, or agrees to a draw. I’m definitely not the one to be saying this as I’ve fallen prey to late mistakes in winning positions, but White needed to see this game out before making artificial decisions. Taking on b5 and relieving the tension on the kingside were both moments that let Black into the game, really showing how it takes only one mistake to lose a game – even at this level.

These were some great games, and I hope to see more next week for my next game analysis! Make sure to send your games to chess.summit@gmail.com, and if you’re lucky, I’ll choose your game to be featured next week.