Washington International Part 1

On August 8th through 15th I played in the expert section of the 7th Annual Washington International Tournament. It is fair to say that it was one of the most impressive tournaments I have every played in: the top section featured an enormous pool of very strong titled players (including numerous grandmasters), wooden boards with adequate space were provided, and rounds were limited to two per day!

Aside from the very pleasant playing conditions, the first half of the tournament could be best described as a cold shower for me. After rarely studying chess for over a month during my travels in Europe, I came back to the board with rather rusty calculation skills and a serious dent in my tactical vision.

Round 1

I got off to a shaky start in round 1 against Sathis Nath (1817 USCF, 1861 FIDE) when I played with excessive ambition, only to find myself defending a seemingly hopeless endgame:

WI Round 1 #1

Black has just played the direct 18…e5 in an attempt to dampen White’s activity along the e-file. White could easily play 19.Bd2 and try to nurture a slight spacial edge, but I instead chose the much more direct 19.dxe6 e.p. After 19…Nxe6 20.Nxe6 Rxe6 21.Qxe6+ (What else?) Bxe6 22.Rxe6 Be5 23.Bxe5 Nxe5 24.Ne3 Qf8 25.Bd5 Kg7 26.f4 Nd7?!, White has very decent compensation for the queen. However, after achieving my desired position, I made a serious strategic mistake…

WI Round 1 #2

In the following position, White has a couple of decent options: 27.Re1 is rather natural, to stop Black from trading off rooks on the e-file, while 27.f5 is in fact the most forceful and arguably strongest move. The computer offers the following sharp line to demonstrate what happens if Black tries to trade rooks: 27…Re8 28.Bxb7 Rxe6 29.fxe6 Qe7 30.exd7 Qxe3+ 31.Kg2 Qd2+ = with a draw in sight. However, in the game I played the rather poor 27.Ng4, allowing my opponent to comfortably trade off my rook on the e-file. 27…Re8  (Black is able to swap off his inactive rook for one of white’s active rooks.) 28.Rce1 Rxe6 29.Rxe6 Nb6 and Black’s position is already looking quite promising. A few moves later, my situation began to look hopeless.

WI Round 1 #3

After 34…Qxa3, Black is easily winning due to his two connected passed pawns on the queenside that will be ushered down by his queen. By some miracle, involving some help from my opponent, I was able to escape from this position alive and managed to draw the game.

Rounds 2-4

After coming so incredibly close to a round 1 loss against a significantly lower rated opponent, I played rather safe and uninspired chess in the following three rounds, finishing on 2/4 against approximately 1900-rated opposition. I knew that if I was going to make something of this tournament, I had to step up my game for the remaining five rounds. Step up my game I did!

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

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

On Air!

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

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

#nervesofsteel

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 17…Ne8

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

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

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 18. Rd7!

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

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

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 19. Rxa7!

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

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

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 21. Nb5

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

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Kramnik–Svidler, position after 24. Bd4

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

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

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

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

Endgame Essentials: A Year Later

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

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

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

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

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

The Bishop Pair

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

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

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

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Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 24. a5

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

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

How did White win the bishop pair here?

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Lu–Shytaj, position after 16…Nc4

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

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Lu–Shytaj, position after 21…Ba6

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

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

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

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Onischuk–Li Chao, position after 38. Bd2

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

“Basic” Minor Piece Endgames

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

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Artemiev–Banikas, position after 34. Nb3

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

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

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Tari–Dubov, position after 38. Nd3

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

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Tari–Dubov, position after 43. Kd4

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

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

Conclusions

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

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