Endgame Essentials: Making Your Opponent Press the Self-Destruct Button

Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably knew what was coming: endgames! Last Tuesday, I had an instructive win with Black against a lower rated player at the Wild Card Open. While my opponent was guilty of playing for a draw, he did put up some tough resistance in the endgame, which made it fitting to cover in today’s edition of Endgames Essentials.

For long-time readers of Chess^Summit, you may be familiar with my Endgame Essentials series that I started last year, studying the games of Magnus Carlsen and other top level Grandmasters. For our newer readers, welcome! In Endgame Essentials, I focus more on endgame technique than converting technical positions. So far, I’ve discussed critical factors like pawn structure, king safety, and piece activity which can effect the overall assessment of a position.

But let’s say you have the advantage – you’ve done your homework: induced a weakness, gotten a small material advantage, or stopped all of your opponent’s counterplay. How do you convert from here? Sometimes its a good idea to let your opponent hit the self-destruct button…

Perhaps Napoleon says it best:

“…when your enemy is executing a false movement, never interrupt him.”

– A biographical magazine from 1852 quoting Napoleon Bonaparte

While Napoleon was never considered a member of the chess elite, this is actually great advice, especially for practical endgame play! If you have a long-term advantage in the endgame, it is your opponent’s responsibility to generate dynamic counterplay and change the nature of the game. So be patient and don’t complicate the position!

This idea of being patient during endgames is exactly what I wanted to talk about in my game from last Tuesday. I’ve made a video recap with my thoughts, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, you can play through the game here at your own pace!

As I repeated throughout the video – if you know you have the better position, let your advantages accumulate before doing anything drastic in the position. And never – ever – let your opponent get counterplay.

The Next Chapter

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Whether it’s the night-time view from Mt Washington (see cover photo) or watching the Pirates get blanked by St Louis, there’s a lot to do in Pittsburgh!

My next test in the Wild Card Open is a toughie. Remember FM Gabe Petesch? I’ll have White in my chance to avenge my two-game match defeat from earlier this month. I’m not sure what to expect, but I think it should be a fun, hard-fought game … and hopefully something worth sharing on Chess^Summit!

 

My mentality for this tournament is reminiscent of my Columbus Open performance, but the added wrinkle of playing opponents I know well makes this event much more challenging than the latter. While I will be pushed in ways I haven’t really been pushed before, my goal is to play smart chess, and be on the right track to play good chess in Cleveland – the finale to my summer.

 

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Fantastic Flaws and Where to Find Them

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Without many games to worry about, I’ve had a lot more time to cook. Hope everyone had a fun July 4th!

After a euphoric performance in Columbus, I got a chance to step back and process my results. Getting such a great result was certainly an achievement, but keeping up with disciplined study can prove even more difficult.

Luckily for me, I got in a two game rated match against FM Gabe Petesch, and though I wound up losing both games, I learned a lot and thought I should share a particularly instructive moment for my post here on Chess^Summit today.

 

Practical Play over Tactical Play

As the title suggests, the mistake I’m going to share illustrates the importance of maintaining a balance between tactical and practical play. Not every move should be handled with the charisma of a blitz game! I managed to surprise Gabe with some opening preparation I did about a year ago in Orlando, and after some thought, we reached this position in the early middlegame:

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Steincamp – Petesch, position after 13…Qd7

White has a small plus. Given the cramped nature of his position, Black really has no active plan and must play carefully to stay in the game. Here, trying to punish Black for his awkward play, I erred with 14. h5?! an optimistic exchange sac with the intention of clearing the f5 square for my knight. After 14…Bxh5 15. Rxh5 Nxf3 16. gxf3 gxh5 17. Rg1 (see diagram below), it seems like I have reasonable compensation, but in opening the position I’ve made it easier for Black to simplify the position.

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Steincamp – Petesch, position after 17. Rg1

Play continued 17…Kh8! 18. Ne3?! Bh6 19. Nf5 Bxf4 20. Qxf4 Ng5 (see diagram below), and now we realize White doesn’t have enough pieces to have a coordinated attack. With correct play, Black will seize the g-file and emphasize his plurality of rooks, leaving me with insufficient targets and thus, a worse position. Sure, 18. Rh1! would have been a much stronger continuation, but let’s not kid ourselves – White’s position is not better than it was before I played 14. h5?!. Black let me hang around and create some counterplay as time pressure became a factor, but the result was never really in doubt, and Black went on to win after a good defensive effort.

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Steincamp – Petesch, position after 20…Ng5

To my dissatisfaction, the caveman approach failed here. As much as I love strategic exchange sacrifices, this position didn’t call for one. So what should I have played instead?

Finding the right idea here means correctly identifying what Black’s main problem is. During the game, I thought the ugly f6-g6-h7 structure begged for an attack on the kingside, but as we saw, Black’s pieces hold this side of the board reasonably well. Perhaps this is an idea in the future, but for now, White should be looking for more glaring problems in Black’s position. The biggest issue lies in Black’s superfluous knight on f7.

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Steincamp – Petesch, position after 13…Qd7 

Black would love it if White traded off a pair of knights. Black would get more space for his pieces, clarify the purpose of the f7 knight, and perhaps even consider …f6-f5 pushes now that his f8 rook can support this central break. In fact, part of the reason why 14. h5?! didn’t work was because Black got to insert an in-between move with a trade on f3! The problem of the superfluous knight really slows down Black’s play, and this is why 14. Nd4! is a much stronger move than what I played. After 14…Bxe2 15. Qxe2, now White can really carry on a kingside attack, and it’s not clear how Black will use his knights to defend his position.

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variation after 15. Qxe2 – how does Black regroup his pieces effectively? 

White has a clear positional advantage, and without Black’s light squared bishop on g4, a kingside attack is a much more considerable option since it doesn’t come at the cost of any material. I actually saw this option of 14. Nd4! during the game, but the immediacy of 14. h5?! was appealing to me because I thought I could keep a lot of pressure on Black’s king, though I didn’t have a concrete line to convert the position into a win. While the move I played is certainly testing, it’s a failure of calculation on multiple levels:

  1. I failed to really pinpoint Black’s problem in the position. Looking at the pawn structure alone was a really superficial way of trying to find a concrete problem. Two of Aagard’s questions would have helped my search: What is my opponent’s plan? and What are my opponent’s weaknesses?
  2. I failed to effectively compare the final positions for both 14. Nd4! and 14. h5?!. This is the most important step that should have helped me make the right decision. Without a doubt, 14. Nd4! gives White a better position. Meanwhile 14. h5?! might result in a better position for White (hindsight is 20/20 – I didn’t realize how quickly Black could seize the g-file after 17…Kh8!), but unclear is probably the more accurate assessment. Even if the evaluation were the same, on a practical level, why sacrifice material when there is another option just as strong?
  3. I needed to be more concrete with 14. h5?!. Seeing that I can play for the f5 square was not a bad concept at all – if anything, it’s a nice idea to save for later since Black can’t really stop this h4-h5 push. But to play it now means paying attention to all of Black’s options. While it’s already not practical to go into deep calculation here, this would have been the last chance for me to really know what I was getting into.
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With the long July 4th weekend, I had plenty of time to relax and keep being the same old goofy me!

Failure may seem like a strong word, but these are things I take note of after losing a game where I fail to really make the most of a critical position. In one of my first posts back from Europe I mentioned that “solving” positions like these will decide whether or not I can make National Master. What we saw here was the difference between a mid-2100 rated player and a nearly 2400 rated opponent!

 

As I prepare for the Cleveland Open in August, I’ll be doing more exercises like this where I can test my tactical and positional understanding to find the right strategic approach. Right now, in my chase for NM, its more important to play smarter, not necessarily better, when making critical decisions. To help me get there, I’ll be playing in the upcoming Wild Card Open at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, a one game a week format with a long time control. Hopefully I’ll have an interesting game to share in my next post!

 

Jedi Mind Trick: Fooling Myself to Victory

It took nearly two months, but this past weekend I finally saw the benefits my European excursion had on my play. A performance rating over 2350 at the Columbus Open and my first win against a 2400+ rated player were certainly unprecedented, and proved to be my next big jump towards National Master. Where did this performance come from? Here is a story about how I needed to trick myself to start playing good chess again.

Welcome to the Dark Side

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Getting into trouble on a Tuesday night. I was lucky to save a half point here…
A week before my trip to Ohio, I played in a local rapid tournament to prepare for the grueling two day schedule. I’ve never been a particularly strong rapid player, but I was fairly dissapointed by my 2/4 score, as my games were marred with mistakes and uninspired play.

I was ready to brush it off as a bad day at the office, but the last round of my Tuesday night tournament also screamed the same word: Slump! After getting a great position out of the opening, I somehow found myself getting outplayed by a lower rated player and miraculously got a draw.

So the script going into the Columbus Open was already written. Those glory days I had in Europe were long over – my undefeated triumph in Budapest and opening creativity in Reykjavik were just memories now. Clearly I had bad form – it was Tuesday night, and I had until Saturday morning to stop atrophying.

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Burger night in the ‘Burgh
But across three days, what can you do? Not much really – of course I did about an hour of tactics each day, but I just tried to relax and focus on my cooking. With each passing day, I just braced myself for a rough weekend, as the competition in Columbus seemed to be toughest I had faced since last summer’s World Open (and I didn’t need any reminders as to how I did there). That National Master title seemed really far away, so I just wanted to play good chess. This would just have to be another one of those dreaded “learning experiences”.

Making the Most of Things

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Chess^Summit co-author Grant Xu sharing his round 3 draw!
It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about how changing a pregame routine for the sake of one game can help a lot, but what about for a whole tournament?

For the sake of convenience, I decided to limit my packing to a backpack, which meant some wholesale changes to my tournament approach. Typically, I like to dress fashionably for my games – button down shirts, sweaters, and so forth. If the pros do it, why can’t I? Not this time – I didn’t want to draw attention to my games, so t-shirts it was! Instead of the wooden set I have brought to tournaments for most of the last decade, I brought a cheap plastic set. I packed to just play chess and have a fun weekend away from Pittsburgh. Road trip!

What I didn’t realize was that I had already tricked myself. Backpacking? I just did that for three months in Europe. Just play chess? That was my exact mantra going into the Dolomiten Bank Open last February. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Columbus was the next stop on my European trip.

By believing National Master was out of reach, I tricked myself into throwing all stress out the window.

Taking Down the Death Star

As Grant and I walked into the Union at Ohio State University, our phones buzzed with our first round pairings, and I had quite the test. Paired with Black against a 2400+ rated FM, I’d have to take on one of the top 50 blitz players in the country in a G/60 game – a simillar time control to the previous week’s rapid event. My record against 2400+ opposition hasn’t been great, so my expectations were minimal going into this early morning round.

In a pairing that had all the makings of a blowout win, the result proved to be exactly that – though after only needing 8 minutes on my clock, it was my opponent who extended his hand to tender his resignation. My first 2400 scalp, and a masterclass against the London System at that!

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I wonder if Brutus plays chess…
I was fairly relaxed for my next two games against 2300+ opposition. I finished the day at 1.5/3, which was impressive considering the level of competition. Admittedly I could have had an even better score, but I was just having fun, remember?

I opened Sunday morning with an easy draw against a National Master, giving me White in my last game against an expert. A win would mean finishing on a plus score with a great overall tournament performance, and a loss would flip the narrative.

Playing 1 e4 was not my Intention!

As I needed it in Reykjavik, I needed to count on my opening creativity and willingness to explore to get the point. After 1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. e4 e6 6. d5 we reached a French by transposition:

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Steincamp – Jakob, position after 6. d5
Now if I were a 1 e4 player, and my opponent a French (or Sicilian) player, this would have just been a normal position reached by 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 cxd4 5. cxd4 Nc6 6. Nc3 or 1. e4 c5 2. c3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 d5 5. e5 Nc6 6. Nc3. But I’ve only played two King’s pawn openings in recent memory, and as I had researched prior to the game, my opponent played the Alekhine’s against 1. e4, so we were both out of book.

Luckily for me, I wrote an extensive article about the French last year here on Chess^Summit, and so conceptually I was able to identify plan’s for White. As I discussed in the aforementioned article, the French is inherently strategically risky for Black because it lets White grab space in the center and locks in the c8 bishop. In return, Black gets dynamic possibilities to break the center with various pawn breaks, but should Black fail to prove a homeostasis in the position, White will have a simple static advantage and no risk position.

One thing I really liked about this transposition was that Black has already “released the tension” on d4 since we reached this position through the Exchange Slav. This early trade is not to most French players’ liking, as sometimes its helpful to insert …Qd8-b6 before trading on d4. After 6…Nge7 7. Nf3, my opponent erred with 7…Ng6?, giving me a lasting edge with 8. h4!

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Steincamp–Jakob, position after 8.h4!
I actually think Black is already strategically lost because he loses the ability to play …f7-f6 by force, so he has no ability to counter the center. Even though 7…Ng6? was an obvious error, this just goes to show how thin the line can be between equality and a lost position in the French for Black. Black’s play must be action-oriented. I got a dominating position in just a few moves, and even though I blundered later in the game, my position was still strong enough to get the win.

The Force Awakens

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Fried chicken in an outside restaurant in Columbus! Food in the city was easily one of the many highlights of this trip.
Ideally I won’t need regularly deflating performances to help me play better chess, but what this tournament showed me was that when I throw stress out the window I’m a much stronger player! Going forward I’ll be treating these tournaments more as weekend getaways than chances to make National Master. So it may be a while before I wear a button down shirt to a game again…

My rating jumped from 2134 to 2159, so I can start to smell the title, but it’s still a few good performances out. Since I have a while before my next weekend tournament, I’m going to focus a lot on tactics and calculation as I try to close the gap to 2200. I definetly feel a lot more confident in my play than I did a week ago, so I’m hoping to keep it up!

 

 

 

Tough Tests, Tough Results

Last time I wrote here on Chess^Summit, I shamelessly compared chess to making pizza, and posed the 50 million dollar question: “Am I getting better?” After two consecutive games with Black against higher rated players, I have some answers – and more questions. Let’s get started!

Square One

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Lost in thought Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

Earlier this month, I started training a player trying to make expert, and since I myself am only a few years removed from being at that level, much of the program I’ve designed for him consists of positions I’ve studied relatively recently. Rereading over all this old material has been entertaining, but it’s forced me to look at my own games more critically – am I following these positional fundamentals in my own games? Do I really ask myself the right questions when I calculate? If I had any indicator, my third round game at the Richard Abrams Memorial against my friend and 2300+ rated player Eigen Wang was probably not a good sign. Consider the following position:

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Wang – Steincamp, position after 14. Bg5

My pieces aren’t exactly on the best squares, but my pawn structure gives me some chances for queenside counterplay, so objectively White should be no more than slightly better. Once this innocent-looking 14. Bg5 found its way on the board, I immediately started calculating the break 14…b4!?, after all, if I was going to make progress, it had to be on the queenside, right?

The problem with this approach was that it failed to ask the most simple question in chess, what is my opponent’s plan? While yes, my candidate move 14…b4!? is in the right spirit of the position, skipping to this step now proved to be how I reached a strategically lost position in just three moves! White has been itching to play the central thrust d3-d4 for the entire opening, and while he had chances earlier, improving his pieces first is never a wrong idea. Naturally I was aware of this idea, but I failed to look further for one more important detail:

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If it were White’s turn right now, he would play 15. d4 which comes with tempo since the opening of the d-file would result in a simple tactic, removing the defender on f6 with the threat of taking the hanging bishop on d7. What should have registered in my calculation here was that if I do nothing about this, White’s next move comes with tempo! This is an extremely important detail when I start looking for candidate moves – in fact, there should really only be two: 14…h6 and 14…b4!?. So taking the mental shortcut made me reach a similar conclusion, but this next part explains why this lazy man approach to thinking is no good:

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Wang – Steincamp, variation after 15…b4!?

As I started looking at 14…b4!?, it didn’t take long to realize that after 15. Nb1 the knight is headed to c4 via d2, targeting d6. As it turns out, this idea for White is actually not that strong, but from so far out, it’s not entirely obvious. Now if I had asked the right questions, I would compare the move to 14…h6 and play the move that I thought was the best of the two. But this temporary blindness I had imposed upon myself meant thinking I had time to prepare my own play, so I immediately faltered with 14…a4? and already after 15. d4 my position was extremely unpleasant. I would resign only nine moves later – usually its the one move in which we pay the least attention that proves to be the critical position.

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This past week was the Three River Arts Festival in Pittsburgh

After having spent an entire week preparing and getting motivated for this game, it was pretty disappointing to make such a simple mistake. Admittedly, as I would discover in my next game, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well, and that hindered my ability to play relaxed, creative chess. I think since playing against higher rated players in Pittsburgh is fairly rare, it was really easy to raise my personal expectations. It’s a good thing that I’m taking these games seriously, but as I chase the National Master Title, I need to treat these games like I did against similarly rated opponents in Europe.

As I continue training my student, I’ll need to keep this in mind and see this an opportunity to work on my own play too!

Building Blocks: A Draw is a Draw

While I was in Europe, I identified a lot of new strengths in my game, namely, my ability to make more practical decisions. But I had some appalling over-the-board moments as well. Perhaps the most memorable was my round five draw in Reykjavik where at times it seemed like I was trying to lose a drawn rook and pawn ending. For those of you who missed it, I attached my video analysis of that endgame with IM Kostya Kavutskiy below.

Now it’d be easy to brush aside this performance as a one-off bad day, but the nice thing about theoretically drawn rook endings is that the theory never changes. Having learned my lesson here, how well could I remember this particular endgame? Turns out my fourth round game would be a pop quiz – and I’d be in serious time trouble!

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The most dramatic game I’ve played so far this year! Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

In my fourth round game, I was paired with Black again, this time against National Master Kevin Carl. Though the game started as a drawish Queen’s Gambit Declined, my opponent ambitiously decided to grab the center, setting the narrative for the rest of the game. Being on the worse side of equal, I needed to play dynamically to change the nature of the game. Can you find the equalizing shot I found?

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Carl – Steincamp, position after 18. Qe3

Even though I’m holding the center, White’s plan is simply to build pressure on the center, waiting for me to crack. The key resource he missed for me was 18… dxe4 because once White decided on 19. fxe4?!, my idea 19…Nd5! was in the cards, and the forced trade of knights on c3 meant that my position was no longer cramped. Of course, White should have recaptured on e4 with one of the knights, but resolving to an IQP position here doesn’t promise much since I will have an established outpost on d5.

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Carl – Steincamp, position after 19…Nd5!=

Now that doesn’t mean that the rest of the game was simple. I still had to play against White’s massive pawn center, and my opponent had to be on the constant lookout for counterplay. The game was tense, and as it wore on, our clocks started to dictate the pace of the game. We reached this critical position in White missed a beautiful shot, but with only so much time on our clocks, how could he find such a move? I’d recommend taking some time trying to find this one. I actually found it over the board, but my evaluation of the final position turned out to be wrong – I was not holding!

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Carl – Steincamp, position after 33…Kg6

I attached the answer a little later in the analysis, along with the solution to the next critical position. In the game, White played 34. Nxd5, and simplifications followed. White had pressure, and as it turned out, my pop quiz was now – how well did I know my theoretically drawn rook endings? Black to move and draw:

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Carl – Steincamp, position after 41. Rb3?!

Remember that horrendous ending I played in Iceland? Turns out that one game just over 2800 miles away last April made a difference between a comfortable draw here and a painful loss. How well did you do across these three critical moments? 

After a tough four-hour dogfight, I was more than pleased with my result. White had his chances, but a draw was well-deserved by both sides.

Where to next?

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There’s never a bad time for tacos! Summer time is a great time to get to the kitchen!

As I’m learning from these weekly games, I’m also trying to get ready for the Columbus Open at the end of the month. In what will likely be one of my bigger events for the summer, I’m hoping to make progress towards the National Master title, while attempting to keep my recently boosted FIDE rating at the level it is now.

To get there, I’m going to continue the study regimen that I set up for myself in my last article. But first, I’ve got two tough games left in the Richard Abrams here in Pittsburgh. Sometimes its best to ease into these things one game at a time… Until next time!

 

 

 

 

Starting from Scratch: Making the Dough

Another two weeks, another two games in Pittsburgh! In the spirit of my last post, I thought it would be fun to break down the last two weeks and share some general thoughts I’ve had about chess and my progress towards National Master! Now I know what you’re thinking, no – this is not a cooking article – so if you really want to learn how to make stuff, this was a good start. Happy? Cool – let’s talk chess.

Take a chill pill, buddy

Just a day after coming out with my last post, I played my first game back in the United States. Paired with Black against a class player and Pittsburgh Chess Club, I expected a nice warm-up game, but instead erred badly in a Vienna and dropped a pawn.

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With Beilin off to Seattle, I’ve spent a lot of free time cooking! Who doesn’t like pizza?

Admittedly, my lack of sleep and rush back from work were negative factors for me, but as a player trying to make that last jump to make National Master, I expect better from myself. That good feeling of playing well in Europe? Gone. Now I had to play chess a pawn down with minimal counterplay.

Of course, as chess players, we all have a responisbility to play our best in worse positions, and so I persisted. I think the most important lesson from this game is to keep putting your opponent in positions where they have to make decisions. In the early middlegame, my opponent played the most natural moves, but once he had to come up with a plan, the evaluation of the position started to drift, and bam! I got this slam dunk tactic to swindle my opponent:

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Isaacson-Steincamp, Black to Move and win!

In a game I most certainly deserved to lose, pattern recognition saved me, and I started with an unconvincing 1/1.

This was a wake-up call. While key aspects of my game improved in Europe, this game showed me that I have to keep pushing myself to work hard on my chess at home as well! Now that I was acclimatized to life in Pittsburgh and my work schedule, I planned out how and when I was going to prepare for my next round. With a weak showing like this, it was no secret that there would be a target on my back next round…

Turning back the clock

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A nice day in Pittsburgh, and a nice day to study outside!

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to put an emphasis on classics to seek new positional and strategic ideas. While I had orignally thought Capablanca would be a good player to study, I got drawn to the balance of creativity and practicality of Bobby Fischer, and thus proceeded to thumb through my copy of My 60 Memorable Games.

Unlike the formatting of My Great Predecessors, I really like how there is minimal attention to opening theory (of course the theory has changed over the last half century!), and the focus is really on critical positions.

Since I’m not a routine 1. e4 player (putting aside the exception in Reykjavik), one might ask, what do I benefit from studying the various tactical Yugoslav and Sicilian positions of Fischer? I suggest you try to figure out White’s best move in the position below from the 1959 Candidates Tournament.

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Fischer-Benko, 1959, position after 13…b4

Fischer is quick to give 13…b4 a question mark, though it should be noted that Stockfish does consider it to be one of the better moves in the position for Black. Regardless, Fischer taught all of us a nice lesson in this game!

This idea of sister pawn pushes is certainly not new to me, but it’s applicable in a lot of different positions – in fact, in 2016, I executed this idea to break open the center and win with Black!

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Li-Steincamp, 2016, position after 8. g4?!

Some similarities? Just like e5 and b4, d5 and g4 are sister squares, and I went on to win a nice game. If you’ve seen this game before, thanks for being a long-time reader of Chess^Summit! If not, you can find the ending to this game here.

Ideally, I’d like to apply some of Fischer’s ideas into my own games (not just review them), but you get the idea – building your horizons beyond what you are most comfortable is the best way to see new things – and that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do by studying classics. At the very worst, I’ll learn some chess history!

The Magic Number is 51

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Nearly 100 points in three months. Now the closest I’ve ever been to master, it’s time to really put in the work!

As I started to get into a rhythym with my studies following my embarrasing win (is that a phrase?), I got an important notification on my phone. My USCF rating results from Europe were in, and it certainly gave me the push I needed to work harder as I got settled in at an all time high. With only 51 points to go, its more important now than ever to put in the quality study time to make that last jump. Even though I’ve had a pretty euphoric run, it wasn’t so long ago that I tanked in Philadelphia, reaching lost positions in three games early in the opening.

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On my way to work through downtown!

The way I see it, if I can get consistent results against my lower rated competition, making master will mean solving five to ten puzzles correctly against my higher rated foes. What do I mean? Over the next few months, I will reach critical positions where I will need to find positional, tactical, or strategic resources to get an advantage. My ability to handle such positions with accuracy will determine how quickly I can make master.

Such opportunities are limited, so to prepare for them, I need to solve puzzles! Fellow Chess^Summit author IM-elect David Brodsky has often referenced Aagard’s series, Grandmaster Preparation, and since I finished Positional Play in the run-up to last year’s US Junior Open, I’m working my way through Strategic Play, as well as Arthur Jussupow’s Boost Your Chess 3 to work on my tactical acumen. How tough are some of these? I worked out one with a local Pittsburgh expert, and it took us a while to reach the right answer. Do your worst:

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Shaw-Atalik, 2003, position after 18.Nbxd2

Check here for the solution. A big part of strategy is finding the right plan and asking the right questions. I’d say to any player trying to improve, you ought to get your hands on Aagard’s books – so makes that two Chess^Summit testimonials!

Am I actually getting better?

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Directing my first ever blitz tournament! I’ve been trying to start my own line of chess tournaments, and this was the first. Check out the site for more!

The 50 million dollar question. Of course one dedicated week of study is not enough to improve over night, but I had a chance to prove to myself I was moving in the right direction.

A week after my embarrasing opener at the Richard Abrams Memorial, I had a chance with White to redeem myself against an up-and-coming junior from the area. Just like in Bad Wörishofen, I did minimal opening preparation – even asking a non-chess player how I should start the game. When posed with the out of context question, “English or London?” the day of the round, my response was country over city, so 1. c4 it would be!

Even with my lack of preparation going into the game, my experience proved to be the difference – and in my opinion, the game was even strategically won as early as the eigth move! There was a nice tactic I had to find during the game that didn’t appear on the board, but let’s see what you can do 😀

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Steincamp-Narkeeran, 2017, variation after 20… gxh4 – White to Move and win!

If I still had doubts, this was a confidence booster! Now 2/2 – nothing to jump over the moon about since I was favored to win in both games, but this win was special near-miniature for me. In round three it looks like I’ll finally be playing up, so maybe the answer to the 50 million dollar question won’t be so unclear… My preparation strategy will be the same – classics, tactics, strategy. We’ll see how that goes!

It’s amazing how much you can benefit from working on the fundamental parts of your chess. If we go back to the pizza we started this article with, I had to prepare the dough after the first round debacle – getting back into the habit of studying chess again. Topping it off with some dynamic opening play really helped in the second round, but I’d like to think I really won that game with my technique, the main focus of my preparation.

Yeah, I just wrote 1500 words to say studying chess is like making a pizza. Yup, I did that… Until next time!

 

 

Hocus Pocus: What’s Up Pittsburgh?

Just a few weeks after returning from my European Expedition, I’m back here in Pittsburgh for the summer. Since I haven’t been to any tournaments since the Reykjavik Open, I thought for today’s post I would compile a bunch of smaller chess anecdotes from the past week for you all. So … let’s see what happens!

Moving in

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Something tells me this is going to be a fun year….

For some of our older readers, perhaps you remember the hassle of finding a roommate and an apartment during college (or maybe after, I wouldn’t know about that yet…). All the roommate “interviews”, apartment visits, contracts and paperwork – it’s a lot! Luckily, right before I took off in February, fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin Li offered a room in his apartment, and that was that! I’m curious to see what this does for our chess, if anything at all. Needless to say, I think this is going to be a fun year! In just the first few days, we’ve already completed round 2 of the Chess^Summit Challenge, in which Beilin walloped me in bullet, 30-19… I attached the replay below, but seriously, viewer discretion is advised – the number of blunders was disgusting, and so was my ability to manage the clock…

 

Being in Pittsburgh for the summer for my internship is going to make things interesting for my tournament opportunities in the coming months. While I now live across the street from the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I can’t say for sure when my next major open will be. I’m hoping to make National Master before the year comes to a close, but a lot of that will depend on how many more rating points I get from the latter half of my Europe tour (still pending, though it could be as much as 60 rating points!), and how much I can play this summer. Either way, my first tournament game back in the US starts tomorrow night, and I’m pretty excited about seeing how far I’ve come.

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Getting ready for the first day of my intenrship!

Speaking of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I bumped into a former expert, who after 20 years, was looking to get back into tournament play. After playing a practice game with him, my opponent asked for some advice on what to study from home to get back into shape.

Perhaps this is generalizing, but I think for players in this situation, keeping a 2000+ rating after such a hiatus will feel like having to break 2000 once again. Knowing that this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my chess “career”, I have quite a few suggestions for getting over the edge – and surprisingly, none of them really require a vast knowledge of opening theory.

Looking back at my own games from before I broke 2000, I think the biggest adjustment was shifting the focus from looking for tactics to looking for positional and strategic resources. This is why I recommend studying pawn structures! Learning how to play with (and against) certain pawn structures can help you dictate various positions, and I would highly recommend Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide by Mauricio Flores Rios. IM John Bartholomew has a glowing review of the book on his Youtube Channel, which you can check here. Of course, this is just the start, but it’s certainly a good one!

Processing Results

Having down time here in Pittsburgh means really trying to understand what worked (and didn’t) in Europe. Of course, my 186 FIDE rating point gain is euphoric, but admiring that alone won’t help me become a stronger player.

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One advantage of playing in Europe is that not every scholastic player has a vastly underrated FIDE rating – this was one of main factors that contributed to my meteoric gain

As I’m analyzing my games in finer detail, I’m learning a lot about how I lose games. With such a great sample of games, I can go a lot more in depth than I did a year ago when I was preparing for the US Junior Open in New Orleans. While I’m not interested in making my over-the-board weaknesses public, I decided to replicate this process on a game I lost last year at the Carolinas Classic, which coincidentally starts in a few weeks in Charlotte.

In this game, I had White against NM Karthik Ramachandran, a former US Junior Open Champion. Even though I lost, I think still to this date, it was my proudest defeat. I think often times with chess, we get so enamored with the result and computer evaluation that we often forget the quality at which a game was played. I really like this game because despite being lower rated, I kept on finding ways to create problems for my opponent – enough so to reach a complicated – but winning – position.

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6…Nh6?! was a surprise, but do you think my opponent expected 10. g4!? Here’s a photo from that second round game!
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Steincamp-Ramachandran, after 24. Rh3?!

This game taught me two things: 1) I needed to work on prophylaxis. As we saw, letting my opponent bring his knight to b4 let him back in the game. Even though I outplayed him once again later, this game may have tipped in my favor if I had taken this resource more seriously. Playing 24. Rh3?! proved to be an instructive point, as my opponent’s persistence started to pay off here.

2) Calculation and Endgames! Of course for our long-time readers, you’ll recall that around this time I was working on my Endgame Essentials series here on the site, which would pay off dividends in New Orleans just a few weeks after this game took place. Even though there were moments where I was clearly moving in the right direction by sacrificing pawns to create passers, there were questionable elements later in the game once time trouble became a factor. These are the kinds of things I look for in my losses (and some draws) for improving, and I would highly encourage this practice for our readers.

With only so much time to study, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my study time to looking at classics, particularly Jose Raul Capablanca. I’ve never put such an emphasis on studying classics, but after having made videos with Kostya in Iceland, I realized one of the biggest deficiencies I had compared to him was an ability to compare top level games to those of my own. While I’ve had some success applying my own games and lessons into my play, it’s about time I turn back the clock and learn from some of the greatest chess players who have ever walked the planet.

Blast from the Past

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Me at my first SuperNationals 12 years ago! I wonder who that guy on the right is?

Before last night, I think this article would have ended here – but let’s not forget that there was a pretty not-so-small tournament in Nashville this past weekend called SuperNationals!

While there were some pretty big names in the top section, I was following a much smaller subplot, the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Class of 2017. Perhaps I’m a bit biased having been coach of many of the players in this graduating class, but upon the completion of this tournament, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this graduating class is the most accomplished high school chess team you’ve never heard of!

Back in 2014, when this class entered MLWGS as freshmen, I had the pleasure of coaching them as a junior, and watching them win the U1200 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, California! In just one year, a school with absolutely no past chess tradition was on the map and a local scholastic superpower was born in Richmond.

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The 2014 U1200 National High School Championship winning team (from left to right): Shreya Shetty (assistant coach), Bobby Grayson, Bryan Kaperick, Yang Zhang, Yaoquan Song (sitting), David Normansell, Jeffrey Song (sitting), Matthew Normansell, and myself

Of course, over the next few years, these players all had masive rating jumps – shooting up from sub-1000 ratings to as high as 1750! By the following year, the defending U1200 champs placed 5th in the U1600 section in Columbus, Ohio, another massive triumph for the class of ’17. While I would graduate that spring and leave north for the University of Pittsburgh, the team kept on getting results, as well as giving back to the local scholastic chess community.

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Jeffrey analyzing games at the 2015 Dragon Chess Camp

When I was coaching the team, we set up various chess camps and tournaments for younger scholastic players in Richmond, even managing to bring GM Sergey Erenburg to come out and run a few simultaneous exhibitions for us. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Class of 2017, these programs kept running after I graduated, and in many ways contributed to a “golden age” in chess in Richmond. For the first time in my chess-playing memory, there was chess culture in Richmond, and various elementary schools created chess clubs in the spirit of MLWGS.

It wasn’t always easy. In the weeks leading up to SuperNationals, there was great uncertainty if the team of seniors would be able allowed to compete, given that the tournament conflicted with the rigorous AP exam schedule, and available hotel rooms were already dwindling in single digits. But thank goodness they made it!

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Matthew Normansell, who has had games analyzed here on Chess^Summit, was crowned the K-12 U1900 National Champion!

Despite the team being split over several different fields (K-12 U1900, U1600, U1200, etc), the senior class finished with as loud of a statement as they started.

Even with only three players in the K-12 U1900 section, MLWGS flexed their muscles and took fifth – but the most surprising result was that of Matthew Normansell, as the senior notched an unbeaten 6/7 to claim a tie for first as joint- U1900 national champion!

As I called him last night to congratulate him on his biggest accomplishment to date, he was still in some disbelief. I guess sometimes with these things, they have to happen in order for you to believe they can happen. To Matthew and the rest of the MLWGS Chess Team, you guys should all be really proud of the work you’ve put in these last four years, and the accolades you have all received is a testament to the effort you have all put in. It’s been fun watching you all grow, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where life takes you all, whether it is on the chess board or not! To any school adminstrators out there, let the efforts of this graduating class show you how having chess is an asset to your school. I have never seen as much accomplished in such a short period time, and it goes without saying that MLWGS Class of 2017’s efforts over the board was able to bring the Richmond community closer over just 64 squares. After all, much of my work with MLWGS led to the creation and inspired mission of Chess^Summit 😀

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Yours truly with much of the MLWGS Chess Team!

And on that note, that’s all I’ve got for this week! When I’m back, I’ll be sharing some of my games from the Abrams Memorial here in Pittsburgh. Fingers crossed I can keep some positive trajectory!

Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn on the 2017 Reykjavik Open

As many of you all know, I recently returned from my three month trip in Europe. While I was often the only American in many of the tournaments I attended, the Reykjavik Open, my final stop, drew many from the states overseas. My coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, made his first pilgrimage to Iceland, and shares his thoughts on the tournament with us here on Chess^Summit.

Chess^Summit: Iceland is pretty far from the US. What made you decide to play in Iceland?

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Eugene made his way to Iceland before the start of the tournament to explore the countries many sites! He told me that he might have driven 1000 km in Iceland prior to the tournament!

Eugene Perelshteyn: I wanted to play in a strong tournament where it’s one game a day in a beautiful setting.  Given that Iceland is only five-hour flight from Boston, I figured it would be a good idea to play there!

CS: The Reykjavik Open is already prestigious as far as open tournaments go. Have you played in any other famous open tournaments?

EP: I don’t think any of the Open tournaments would match it. I’ve played many US Championships, this would probably be the closest comparison.

CS: What is Reykjavik like? Did you get to explore Iceland before the tournament?

EP: Yes, I rented a car and explored Iceland for a week before the tournament!  This is probably the best decision given how much natural beauty there is to see!

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CS: You got to play Anish Giri in just round 3 of the tournament. What was that like? Is he the strongest player you’ve ever played?

EP: I would say he’s the highest rated played that I’ve ever faced (rated 2775).  I was impressed by his opening knowledge.  He showed a completely new plan in a sideline that I felt I knew well.  But he’s already well-known for his openings, so it may not be that a big surprise.  However, his technique and quick decision-making was duly impressive as he didn’t give me any chances by converting an extra pawn.

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Eugene was the main focus of the tournament’s third round. Look’s like he’s caught Jobava’s eye!

CS: You put together a strong 7/10 performance in Reykjavik. What are your thoughts on your play – positives/negatives?

EP: On a positive note, I didn’t expect to have all ten decisive games!  I managed to put together 7 wins.  However, my loss to a talented Indian girl from a good position was probably the low point of my tournament.  I have to say that she played well beyond her 2200+ rating!
My wins vs IM Piasetski and GM-elect Sarkar that both finished in mating attacks was a good recovery!

CS: While you had to play a lot of lower rated players, you also got to play Giri and Kamsky. How does a Grandmaster improve from these experiences? Is this different from how an amateur might respond from a critical game?

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With only 7 minutes left on the clock, Eugene played 52. Ra8? and lost, but the tricky move 52. h5! holds the balance.

I definitely learned a thing or two from playing Giri!  My game vs Kamsky was evenly matched until I miscalculated and had to defend a rook and pawn endgame down a pawn.  Yet, while we both thought I was lost, I had a feeling there may be a draw.  And, indeed giving up the second pawn 52.h5 draws!  The lesson: never give up and keep looking for chances!

CS: Would you recommend the Reykjavik Open to American players? Do you think you would play in the event again?

Yes, I would definitely recommend it, especially if you’ve never been to Iceland.  The only thing I didn’t like about the tournament is allowing players U2000 in the open section.  While I understand that it gives amateurs a chance to face a titled player, I think it creates a strong rollercoaster-like conditions for everyone else where you play either 200-300 points up or down (end of interview).

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Some of the American team at the conclusion of Reykjavik

One game I was particularly impressed by was Eugene’s triumph over FM Victor Plotkin in the fourth round of the tournament. Looking to bounce back with Black after losing to the eventual tournament winner, Eugene put together an instructive game to crush the Alapin Sicilian. By slowly building the tension and keeping the nature of the position, he exploited White’s lack of a plan. In many of my own posts, I try to show how this is an effective idea against roughly 1800-1900 rated players, but Eugene did it perfectly against a titled player rated nearly 2250! Eugene was nice enough to share a video analysis with us, and if you like his videos, I would recommend you visit ChessOpeningsExplained for more!

Hope you enjoyed this Reykjavik Open tournament wrap-up! We have one more coming later this week by IM Kostya Kavutskiy, who put together an amazing 6th place finish in Iceland with a 7.5/10 finish. If you recall, Kostya and I put together analysis videos for each round, so I’m excited to see what he has to say about one of his best tournament performances to date!