Topics for Different Levels of Chess Players

A new player does not need to learn double pins.

A 1200-rated player does not need to analyze 20-moves deep Najdorf variations.

During each level of ratings, we should build out rough guidelines to improve based on our chess understanding.

If you’re just starting to play chess, learning complicated topics that does not apply to your games will only overwhelm and provide more anxieties than enjoyments.

So what should students learn at different levels.

Let’s separate player strength into three groups based on USCF ratings.

  1. Under 500
  2. Under 1000
  3. Under 1500

I’ve been working with many U1000 and a few U1500 players, and the important themes that I’m seeing are as follow:

U500

-Reduce blunders, especially giving up free piece

-Learn basic tactics and checkmate patterns (1 move)

-Pay attention to captures, make sure you see two on one opportunities

U1000

Looking at the whole board

-Elimination of defenders

-Prepare mate and tactics (2+ moves)

U1500

-Activate pieces

-Space advantage

-Focus on important targets


As you can see, there are more strategic themes for U1500 then the lower rating groups.

Tactics is still very important for U1500 players. however, the opponents they are playing against will have just as much tactical prowess, therefore learning more strategic knowledge will be advantageous.

Let’s discuss Focus on important targets briefly here.

main_target

Many newly-1000 players would play the passive looking move Rab8, protecting the b7-pawn.

For stronger players, b7-pawn here is not important. The main focus now is to activate one or both of black’s rooks.

After scanning the board for 10 seconds or so, a stronger player would immediately see Rad8 and then Rxd2 taking control of the 2nd rank will soon take control of the game.

On the other hand, for the U500 players, even if they did play Rad8, the game may still take a few twist and turns to get to an unknown outcome


To summarize: players at each level should focus and improve on certain themes.

It’s good for newer players to see the the higher-level topics, but it’s much more important to hammer down the fundamentals.

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Missed Moments: Chicago Edition

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Beilin and I trying our first deep dish… now that was a lot of pizza!

…and just like that, my first tournament of the summer is in the books. Having gained a few points with an even score (+1 =2 -1), I guess it’s fair to say my debut in Chicago turned out respectably. I scored a half-point against a 2400+ rated opponent, and on paper, I was reasonably solid throughout the event. Of course, as with all “big returns” to chess, there were a few things in my play that require improvement.

Now that I’ve gone over my games a few times, I’ve pinpointed a few areas I really want to work on, based on my performance. In today’s post, I wanted to discuss candidate moves and expanding your search. While I don’t think this is my biggest weakness as a chess player right now, there were three different moments this weekend where looking for candidate moves could have helped my play.

Follow along and try to see if you can find the flaws in my calculation!

Looking for All of your Opponent’s Resources

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Zhao–Steincamp, position after 72. Nxc7

To my opponent’s credit, he had put up a lot of resistance to reach this point, however Black is now winning. After much calculation I pushed 72…h2, believing I had found the winning idea. I had already seen this idea a few moves before, and confirmed that 73. Nd5+ Kd4! -+ just wins for Black, thanks to the threat of queening. My main point was that if 73. Kxh2 Kf2 White can’t be in time to stop the pawn from promoting because …g4-g3 comes with check. I had also calculated 73. Kg2 h1Q+ 74. Kxh1 Kf2 with the same concept.

My calculation had stopped after 75. Nd5 g3, and without a way to stop me from checking the White king on h1, I just assumed that the position was lost. But I missed an incredibly important detail in 76. Nf4!!:

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Zhao–Steincamp, position after 76. Nf4!!

And this would force a draw, thanks to the idea of stalemate! Without a way to take the knight, White is now in time to stop both of the pawns from promoting. Luckily, my opponent missed this idea and basically resigned with 73. Kxg4 h1Q, playing on until mate.

For those of you trying to figure out the correct plan for Black, 72…Ke3 is the simplest. I’ll now push the e-pawn, and White’s king cannot leave because of the pawn on h3. Even if White can sacrifice his knight for the e-pawn, its not enough since Black still has winning material.

This knight sacrifice on f4 was a pretty hard idea to spot, especially a few moves in advance. While my opponent could have definitely put up more resistance, I was busy asking myself the wrong questions: what am I trying to achieve? How do I queen my pawns?

By not thinking about what my opponent is trying to achieve (or rather, what he can achieve), I ruled out 76. Nf4 simply because my pawn on e4 was taking away that square. This is actually a common calculation problem – missing moves because your pieces are already protecting them… look out!

Redefining a Forcing Move

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Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 16…Ne7

Even though I drew a much higher rated opponent in the second round, I could have done much more with a little more accuracy. In this position, I am completely winning. The king on f8 is extremely weak, and it is only a matter of time before Black’s position falls apart. Here I opted for 17. Qh5, which is strong, but gives Black some time to regroup.

Now I’m sure you might be wondering: hey Isaac, what was wrong with 17. exf4 – isn’t that more immediate? During the game, I wasn’t sure if I liked 17…g4 18. Nf2 Bf5I knew I was better, but now my f-pawn is in the way of my attack, and f5 is an annoying outpost. So I decided to play the text move instead.

I’m sure at some point you’ve heard the mantra “checks, captures, and threats” at some point in your chess career. While its great for novice players, stronger players need a weaker definition of forcing moves: checks. In this case, both my opponent and I had missed 17. exf4 g4 18. f5!! +-, and now White is completely winning:

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Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 18. f5!!

Now Black does not have time to take the knight! The h6 pawn is suddenly hit by the c1 bishop, and I’ve cleared the f4 square for my h3 knight. Meanwhile Black is completely underdeveloped and cannot protect his king from danger. Again an easy move to miss, but nonetheless, a great showcase of why breaking basic chess rules can sometimes be beneficial.

Looking Forward One Move Deeper

This one can be difficult, because how do you know when to stop calculating and just make a move? My game against Velikanov gave me one last chance to prove my advantage:

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Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 17…Kg7

After analyzing 18. exf4 for an extended period of time, I opted for 18. e4, thinking I still had some edge and could extend the game, when in reality, the position already is equal for Black. So what was it about 18. exf4 that wasn’t compelling enough? In the game, I saw the following line (diagram posted below): 18. exf4 Qe8 19. Qxe8 Rxe8 20. fxg5 Bxh3 21. gxh6+ Kg6 22. gxh3 Nxe5

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Steincamp–Velikanov, position after 22…Nxe5

I’m up two pawns, but half of my pawns are h-pawns! This was a little concerning for me, but then I started to see ideas like …Re8-e2, …Ra8-e8 and thought that with Black’s activity I could actually be in a little trouble. I figured I was maybe slightly better, but not enough to have a serious edge.

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Overlooking UIC, the venue for the Haymarket Memorial

In our post-mortem, I pretty quickly found the idea 23. Rb1! which is enough to preserve the advantage. By hitting the b7 pawn, Black needs to pay attention to the queenside, giving me time to rook lift: Rb1-b2-g2. And now it is the Black king that is under immediate fire! The power of looking one move deeper can really do a lot to enhance your position!

Admittedly, these were all relatively tough finds, but moments like these are what I pay attention to after each tournament so I know where I can improve. With each of these examples, there was a key theme: stalemate, weak king, development. Building an intuition to weigh these ideas relative to material or pawn structures, can go a long ways towards looking deeper and making better decisions.

My next events are two G/50 tournaments this weekend at the Marshall Chess Club, which will be my last chances to play before the Chicago Open later this month. While I feel a lot better about getting my first tournament out of the way, I know that I’ll need to train harder to be better prepared for the Open section. I guess I’ll have a better idea of where I stand this time next week!

Play Chess With Energy

Have you had afternoons when you feel like napping for the rest of the work day in the office after lunch?

It’s not a pleasant feel when there are 10 more important tasks to take care of.

Similarly in chess, we want to bring our optimized energy into each game to play the best chess and also provide entertainment value to the spectators.

Which means nutrition is an important aspect, and many tournament surroundings does not have the most energy-boosting food options. But that’s for another article.

Back to chess. I played in the early April’s Titled Tuesday and had a sub-par overall result.

While comparing the games, I can see where I played with energy, and where my pieces were being hit left and right due to lack of energy.

Hope you’ll enjoy the games below and remember to bring more energy into you games!

No Energy

https://www.chess.com/analysis-board-editor?diagram_id=3986616

TT1

Energized

https://www.chess.com/analysis-board-editor?diagram_id=3986616

TT2

 

Thinking about Chess Again: I Mean was I Ever Not?

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Yeah, they weren’t kidding about Gaucho. Hands down the best restaurant in Pittsburgh!

I mean do you even know me? Of course I’ve been thinking about chess this whole time! But with less than a month until this semester finally finishes, the difference is that I’m thinking about chess again – like for real …what?

This semester has been hectic at best for me: changing majors, managing the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, becoming a chess.com streamer, and on top of that, the usual class course-load. Tied down with all of the commitments, I had to put my goal of earning the National Master on hold, and in doing so, I have only managed to play one tournament game since the Cardinal Open (I’ll get to this later). So while I’ve thought about chess in some capacity every day, I haven’t dedicated as time to my own chess as much as I would have liked.

Admittedly, with less than four weeks until the end of the semester, I’m thinking about playing tournament chess again, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve started running regularly, eating healthier, and gotten back to regularly solving tactics. This alone won’t get me back to my best form, but it’s a manageable start – especially since I still have finals to study for. Speaking of tactics, I found a nice tactical shot at the end of my most recent chess.com stream:

What am I working towards? I’m planning on competing in the Chicago Open, and despite my eligible rating, I’m bypassing my chances of scoring big in the U2300 section to swim with sharks in the Open. In all seriousness, I’m going to be a massive underdog in nearly all of my games, but I want a chance to see how much I’ve improved since I last tried something like this at the 2016 World Open.

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Playing against Maggie Feng last January in Columbus (Photo Credit: Kelly Bloomfield)

For those of you who’ve been Chess^Summit readers for a while, you may recall how the 2016 World Open was not exactly pleasant to me. In the aftermath of my 1/7 score, my coach GM Eugene Perelshteyn had a field day finding weaknesses in my play, and while enduring six consecutive losses is an ego-bashing no chess player should be on the receiving end of, I learned a lot from the experience, and it parlayed into my later success in Europe.

So I’ve got to start somewhere to get ready for Chicago, and last week I built up the nerve to play my first tournament game in months without any prior preparation – and by preparation, I mean any studying. I’ve got some tournaments planned in early May, but I really didn’t want to wait anymore and guaranteed White against another 2100-rated player was just too good to pass up.

Wanting to sidestep any my opponent’s preparation, I chose 1 e4 for just my fifth time (in a standard game) since the 2017 Reykjavik Open, and it was clear I had succeeded once we reached the conclusion of the opening with 11. Qf3 – the Scotch Four Knights:

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Steincamp–Park, position after 11. Qf3

While I failed to win, I built a reasonable advantage before squandering it after time control. Even with a few mistakes, I was more or less fine with my game – honestly, I was just happy to be at the board again. I’ll need to improve if I want to perform well in May, but knowing that I can play an opening I’ve never played before and do reasonably well is a good sign.

And with a somewhat amicable result, my preparation for the Chicago Open had begun. With just two months to go, I have a lot to do – but I’m mentally ready to make a comeback to tournament play.

 

K-1 Nationals: I love playing chess

I love playing chess, I play all the time on chess.com.”

This is the quote by 2017 K-1 Grade Nationals Champion Andrew Jiang.

Here is the full analysis of Andrew’s clinching game.

As kids grow up playing chess, at least in the beginning, many kids are more excited to show up than caring about the results.

However, as we grow, the pressure of winning becomes a baggage.

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What differentiates kids and adults tournament is often the Excitement vs Result Spectrum.

Younger age: Excitement to play chess is 90%, results matters about 10%

As we get older, the reverse becomes true.

Many adults, including myself, would have nerve wrecking moments before the round, given the stake at hand. But for the K-1 warriors, it might be just another moment of an exciting chess day like any other.

Learn from kids, be excited to SHOW-UP.  Enjoy the process.

 

Practice the Way You Play: Why Focus is so Important in Chess

On paper, the Cardinal Open went really well for me. I tallied an even score against tougher competition, and gained over a dozen rating points, putting me back to a respectable 2115. Combined with a strong showing at the Eastern Open, I had gained a whopping 32 rating points over the last two tournaments. Great stuff.

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A night out at Umi in Pittsbugh

I’m going to turn this article inside out and work my way backwards: I’m taking a much-needed break from weekend tournaments. Huh?

When I first started chess, I learned the mantra: “practice the way you play”. For much of my chess career I have followed this mentality, and I’ve had decent success with it. But now in my junior year of college, my “mindset” when I study chess looks something like this:

65% chess + 25% school/homework + 10% other stuff

Sure it’s great to look at the board and calculate than not at all, but doing this repeatedly can be damaging to your ability to play well in tournament conditions. After all, if you can’t focus while at home, how can you expect to block out distractions when everything is on the line? Some players are good at this – I am not.

I think the first example of this came from my second round win:

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Steincamp–Davidovich, position after 9…Qxh3

Here I chose the “easy” move 10. Qxf7+, winning a pawn because of 10…Kxf7 11. Ng5+ Ke7 12. Nxh3, and went on to win the simplified endgame after some work. But you may have realized that 10. Qxb7! is much better here – in fact its simply winning! An in form Isaac would have calculated this deeper, but I couldn’t find a satisfying blow after 10…Kd7, failing to realize I’m already much better. I think this was a two-fold practical failure – firstly because I didn’t compare the positions after 12. Nxh3 and 10…Kd7, but secondly because I simply trustd my opponent too much here.

While it worked out in this game, my losses proved to show that not focusing 100% can be costly. For this I shouldn’t need to look further than my third round loss to young talent Maggie Feng:

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Steincamp–Feng, position after 18…f4

After getting a position in my opening preparation, I had a slight advantage after 18…f4?! With a little bit of focus, I should have at least considered changing my plans with the correct 19. gxf4! with the idea of meeting 19…Rxf4 with 20. Ng2. My king is surprisingly safe, and White holds a long-term advantage, thanks to the protected passed pawn on e5.

But dogmatically trying to force my plan of playing e2-e4, I continued with 19. Bxd5? Nxd5 20. Ng2 Raf8 21. Rae1? And perhaps here you already see the tactical punishment for not asking the simple question – “what is Black’s next move?”:

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Steincamp–Feng, position after 21. Rae1?

Maggie cut the position open with 21…Ne3, and it quickly became apparent that I was going to lose. After a forced 22. Nxe3 fxe3, I realized that Black has a serious threat! Trading all the rooks on f1 and delivering mate on h1! I gave up a pawn with 23. Rf3-+, but the game ceases to be instructive from there.

I’m actually not that dissapointed in missing the best moves in either game because the calculation required isn’t exactly trivial, but I am dissapointed in the way I negated both. Perhaps these uncharacteristic jumps in my decision-making paints a better picture of where my focus was at last weekend.

Not All Things are Bleak

The biggest positive for me this tournament was that my conversion technique was strong enough that I was able to finish with a reasonable performance considering my lack of form. In my fourth round game I won thanks to perpetual pressure, and managed to win a clean pawn early:

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Carr–Steincamp, position after 14. Rad1

Out of an English, we’ve managed to get a Reversed London System. An opening I am relatively comfortable playing with White. In this game, White’s Reti has turned into more of a Hedgehog set-up, but his rooks are misplaced. As long as Black prevents a e2-e4 break, its going to be difficult for White to fight for anything more than equality.

Here I realiazed my position’s potential with 14…Qb6! gaining a tempo thanks to the threat of …Bxg3. White chose 15. Nf1, after which I hit f2 again with 15…Bc5! While White now has to make up for his misplaced e1 rook, I’m creating structural targets. 16. e3 a5 17. a3, and now it’s time for White to create a plan.

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Carr–Steincamp, position after 17. a3

Here it would be really easy to assume the position is equal, but I think it’s important that Black continues to improve the position, as White is running out of natural moves. With 17…Rad8, I prepare my pieces in case of a central break, and force White to make a move. In the meantime, I’m intending to orchestrate a …Nd7-c5 jump – hitting both b3 and d3. After 18. Rc1 Bf8, the position is really difficult for White. I can allow Bxf6 by playing …Nd7-c5 at the right moment, and the pin against the d3 pawn makes it hard for White to be active.

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Carr–Steincamp, position after 19…Qa6!

White erred here with 19. Bd4? which loses a pawn by force thanks to 19… Qa6! hitting both d3 and a3. I picked up the a-pawn and pushed my queenside to get the full point. Being able to win both this game and the second round after netting a pawn felt like a big win for me. Being able to count on technique can save a lot of energy!

I guess my fifth round draw was symbolic of my overall tournament performance. After an opening disaster, I found a way to claw back into the game and save a dead lost position. I felt like the developments after 29…Rf8 were of significant importance:

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Steincamp–Miller, position after 29…Rf8

Black’s bishop pair is an unstoppable force. I can’t defend the light squares against my king, and f2 is chronically weak. The only reason I’ve yet to resign is because I’ve managed to find pesky moves, White must play with tempo. I chose 30. Qe4, with the idea of bringing the c1 rook to c6 and hitting g6. After 30…Bf5 31. Rc6 Qd7 32. Qc4 Bg4 33. Rc7, Black has a critical decision to make:

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Steincamp–Miller, position after 33. Rc7

Should Black play 33…Qxc7? I think the answer is absolutely! After 34. Qxc7 Bxd1, Black is passive in the moment, but the material advantage shouldn’t be overlooked. White should draw, but the margin for error is small. I think Black’s decision, 33… Qf5, already surrenders the advantage. Black isn’t addressing White’s counterplay, and with each move I’m slowly getting back into the game.

I threatened mate with 34. Qd4, and had already seen the queen sacrifice that arose in the game, 34…Rf6 35. Re1 Qf3 36. Qe3 Re6 37. Qxe6!:

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Steincamp–Miller, position after 37. Qxe6!

Arguably the best move I played all weekend, ironically in one of my worst games of the weekend. The idea is actually pretty simple – after 37…Bxe6 38. Rxe6, Black cannot stop Re6-e7, strengthening the pin. After 38…Qxd3 39. Ree7, I offered a draw because Black has to go for perpetual check:

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Steincamp–Miller, final position

If Black were to play 39…Qd4?? he’d be in for quite the surprise, as 40. Rxg7+ is winning! After 40… Qxg7 41. Rxg7 Kxg7, White is up a pawn and will win the pawn endgame. Now it’s Black who has a weak king after 40… Kh8, and White should convert the material edge.

Arguably I could’ve waited a couple moves to offer the draw, but after a mostly poor game on my part, I was ready to end the tournament on an even score. I should have lost this game, but persistance got me the result. Continually finding forcing moves and playing dynamically forced Black to make enough decisions that he lost the thread and failed to convert.

Pre-Tournament Mindset

Going into the Cardinal Open, I knew my form wouldn’t match what I brought to the Eastern Open last December. Between school, streaming for chess.com, and managing the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, my chances to study were greatly diminished.

I was a little more optimistic after this win on my stream a week before the trek to Columbus:

White’s choice Nxd4 was a bit weird, but nonetheless, a complete game on my end with Black.

I think the best thing I did for myself this tournament was that I treated it like a getaway from school. Not worrying about points, and just trying to play good chess (this is arguable!) made it easy to relax, despite ugly losses in the first and third rounds. While the quality of my chess needs to improve, I think my mindset going in was in the right place.

One thing I’ve learned about chess is the panicking about your form is only productive during your pre-tournament preparation. You’ll review lines you’ve forgotten, or crunch through tactic after tactic. Otherwise it’s just wasted energy and will hurt yout result more than help it. Since I’ve mostly stopped comparing myself to what I think a 2200 plays like, I’ve been a lot more optimistic during tournaments – which frankly makes the whole thing a lot more fun.

Real Talk

Okay, so I’ve done the whole going backwards thing, and it made for a fun literary device that’s allowed me to highlight both my strengths and weaknesses in Columbus. Cool. But what about that no tournament thing? How does that concretely help my shortcomings?

I suspect in the short-term, it will hurt more than help. But I do sincerely think this is the right move for me right now. Finishing this semester to the best of my ability means spending the summer being a dedicated chess player. I’m already planning on spending most (if not all of May) competing across the east coast, and the idea that I’ll be able to really focus on chess again is encouraging. 100% focus.

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Streaming the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers vs Montreal Chessbrahs match with LM David Hua last week!

In the meantime, I’m still planning on being reasonably active in chess. Managing the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, streaming for chess.com, and of course, writing for Chess^Summit is going to be enough to keep me busy for a while.

Game Analysis: How has Computer Changed Chess

Imagine learning to drive a car today versus learning to operate self-driving cars in the next 20 years.

And now compare how top level chess are played today versus when it was in 1995.

We are just at the inning 1 of this evolution. And the speed of change will only increase.

In today’s game analysis, we’ll look thru a sharp game played between two strongclass B players.

Here is the COMPLETE GAME annotation, and below is two interesting moments I’ve been pondering about.

Ambition Everywhere

comp1White has just played 12.g4

In 1999, I would have said this is a crazy move. White’s king will have nowhere to castle, all black has to do is break through the center and then game over.

Today I say this is a very interesting move, black will need to struggle a bit to break through the center, and if white has to keep the king in the center, so be it.

King Safety

comp2

White has just played 24. 0-0

The 1999 me and myself today will agree on this position. And that is I have no clue which king is safer in this position.

That is the agreement. The difference would be

1999: How can this position happen, the players must be out of their minds.

Today: Just another day in the chess world, and I should study this position a bit more closely.


So how could I study chess today with the help of computers

1.Play more tournaments

Experience matters a lot. If you have seen complicated games like the above many more times than your opponent, you have an edge.

2.Question dogmas

From the first diagram, my 1999 dogma was don’t go crazy on the wings if my own king is not settled yet. There are some truths to that, and I’ve learned about these from Kotov’s Play like a Grandmaster book.

However, because more examples are practiced and the computer gives us more insights, the exceptions are increasing so fast, that when we hear any new ‘rules’, the first reaction is to ask are there counter examples.


That’s all for now. Here’s to another week of entertaining chess adventures!