My Favorite Moments from 2018 US Juniors Championship (Part I)

For the second year in a row, I was invited to do commentary for the US Junior and Girls Championships. The tournament has become a staple in the US tournament calendar, especially since it is now being held at the Saint Louis Chess Club and offers quite a nice prize fund along with an invitation to the US and US Women’s Championship to the winners. I really enjoy the tournament because there is less pressure on the commentators unlike in the GCT events, the games are fun and exciting and it’s interesting to watch the young talents in action. It was also fun to see them interacting between the rounds and after the tournament; so many of them are good friends outside of chess! It is also encouraging to see so many young girls around 2300-2400 FIDE, especially for the future of our Olympiad team. The junior section was extremely strong and featured 5 GMs. This list doesn’t include Jefferey Xiong, Sam Sevian and Kayden Troff, all of whom declined their invitations. Can you imagine a national junior tournament that has 8 Grandmasters?! By now I’m sure the readers are aware that Awonder Liang defended his title, thus qualifying to the 2019 US Championship.

This year the commentary team was just me and Robert Hess with no third person on the smart board. Robert really insists on not using the engine which is quite refreshing but also challenging. I noticed that I could remember the games better and figuring out the positions on our own was also a great learning experience for me. Of course, it also resulted in mistakes and mishaps which were later pointed out by YouTube viewers.

For example, in this game between Ruifeng Li and Annie Wang we reached the following position in our analysis:

annie vs ruifeng

In this position we were trying to figure out what to do after 19…Bc6 we tried 20. Qd2 but after Bc7 the queen cannot move away from the d file with check. Of course, simple 20. Qc4+ Kh8 21. Qe6 does the trick!

Later on in the same game, we couldn’t figure out a win by Annie in the following position:

annie vs ruifeng2

The game ended in couple of moves after:  33… Qxe3 34. R5xe3 Rdd1 0-1

I really love the fact that Annie accepted the wildcard to play in the Junior section. Although her result wasn’t spectacular, how often does a player around her rating get the opportunity to play in a tournament with 5 GMs? There is a lot of pressure in playing in these fancy events with live coverage and everyone watching, but at the end of the day it’s just another round robin event for her that I think will tremendously help her growth.

Awonder may have won the tournament but it wasn’t a smooth sailing for the young champ. Trouble came in round 5 in his game against Mika Brattain:

Mika vs Awonder

16. Nfxg5!? interesting sacrifice hxg5 17. h6 Bh8 18. Rh5?! (18. h7+ Kf8 (
18… Kg7 19. Nf6 Nd7 20. Qh3 Kf8 21. Qa3+ Re7 22. Rh5 the game is over after
White takes on g5) 19. Qa3+ Qe7 this line was pointed out by Robert and is
completely winning for White. Black can’t move any of his pieces) 18… Bxe4
19. Qxe4 Nd7 20. Rd3? (20. Bd3 time to finish the development. White can
play for the long term initiative) 20… f5! Awonder shows great resilience
21. exf6 Nxf6 22. Rxg5+ Kf8 23. Rf3 Ke7 brave! The king is completely safe now – great defense and nerves by Awonder! All is well that ends well.

I can’t talk about this event without mentioning one particular player. Alex Bian may not be a household name yet, but the young man had the tournament of his life. He qualified to Junior closed by winning the US Jr. Open and proved that he belonged in the tournament even though he was the lowest rated player. He started the tournament by defeating two GMs and finished with a respectable score of 5/9, gaining 50 FIDE points. Alex will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall and won’t have much time for chess, so this tournament was sort of his one last hurrah.

One of my absolute favorite games of the event is the one between John Burke and Alex Bian. I would suggest to anyone reading this to go take a look at that game and analyze before reading my notes.

BurkvsBian

22. h3 {preparing g4} Qh8! Robert loved this move. Can you blame him? 23.
g4 Kg8 24. Be2 Nc5 25. Kg2 a4 26. b4 Nb3 27. Rd1 Bb2 very brave decision to ignore White’s play and collect pawns on the queen side 28. gxh5 Bxa3 29. hxg6 Bxb4 30. f4 very creative play by both players. White is ignoring the a-pawn and is activating his bishop Bc5 31. Bg4 a3 (31… fxg6 32. Be6+ Kg7 computer suggestion that looks scary but Black can start bringing his rooks to the king side) 32. Rxb3 (32. Qa2 White can also put an end to all this}) 32…a2 33. gxf7+

BurkvsBian2

33…Kf8?? fatal mistake leaving the pawn on f7. The finish is
beautiful (33… Kxf7 34. Bxc5 bxc5 35. Rxb8 Rxb8 36. Qe1 Qb2+ 37. Kh1 Kf8 
according to the engine this is 0.00 but who plays chess like this?) 34. Be6
Qg7+ 35. Kh2 a1=Q 36. Rxa1 Qxa1 37. Bxc5 Ra2 38. Rg3 1-0

I have last track of how many times I have shown Alex’s last round win over Praveen Balakrishnan to my students. It is a great example of how to attack with opposite color bishops.

alexvspraveen

In this position Robert and I were trying to figure out how to launch an
attack for White. The straight forward way doesn’t quite work. 15. Rdg1 Qf3
the queen has to go here to cover f6 (15… Qh3?? 16. Rxg7+ Kxg7 17. Rg1+
Kh8 18. Qg5 threatening mate both on g7 and f6) 16. Qh6 (16. Rxg7+?? Kxg7 17. Rg1+ Kh8 18. Qh6 and there is nothing after the simple Rg8) 16… Bg4 17. Qg5 Rfd8 18. Bc3 h6 very annoying resource! Again, the engine spits this line out but can someone find this over the board? 19. Qxg4? Rd1+ winning the queen

15. Bc5! upon looking deeper into the position it becomes
clear that the bishop on d4 is misplaced. Where would the bishop like to go?
To f6, of course. 15… e3 Praveen collapses immediately. The point of this
move is to play Rfd8, but Rfe8 was necessary to guard the e7 square 16. Qxe3
Rfd8 17. Rdg1 Qd5 Black is looking for counterplay 18. Rxg7+ Kh8 (18… Kxg7
leads to mate 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. Qf6+ Kg8 21. Rg1+) 19. Rhg1 Bf5 20. Qh6 Qxe5 21. Be7! the bishop is untouchable Rd6 22. Rg8+ 1-0

Although I praised Alex, I have to feature another one of his losses to none other than the winner. Black misplayed in the critical moment, and his opponent was unforgiving.

awondervsalex

13… Be6 Black has snatched a central pawn and plays a normal looking
developing move 14. Be3! taking advantage of the fact that the d4 bishop
cannot move due to the misplaced queen on a6. Now Black has a big decision to
make. Take a pause and think about how to proceed here Bxc4 (14… Bxe3 
is impossible 15. Nxd6+winning the queen) (14… O-O 15. Bxd4 cxd4 16. Qxd4 Black has to accept a worse position) 15. Bxd4 O-O Black hangs on to the material but his king is so weak 16. Bf6 Bxf1 another opposite color bishop position 17. Qd2?! surprisingly, this is an inaccuracy! (17. Qc1! is the more precise continuation d5 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. exd5 {and unlike in the game, there is no annoying Qd3 harassing the white queen}) 17… d5 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. Bxc5 Bd3 (19… Qd3 is a better defensive try but the endgame doesn’t look good for Black. White can also keep the attack going with Qh6) 20. exd5 Qc4 21. d6 Bf5 (21… Qxc5 22. Qxd3 the d6 pawn is deadly) 22. Bd4 Qd5 23. Qf4 forcing Black’s hand as g4 followed by Qf6 is a threat Re4 24. Rxe4 Qxe4 25. Qxe4 Bxe4 26. Bf6 Bc6 27. Rc1 1-0

Instructive endgame alert! The game between Annie Wang and Alex Bian was a crazy affair, but before reading my notes take a pause and figure out why Annie’s 70.Ke1? loses

AnnievsAlex

70. Ke1? up until now Annie defended meticulously, but got careless with
this move Kb6 Black misses his opportunity (70… Rxb5 unlike in the game,
White is now a temp behind 71. Bxb5 the pawn ending is lost but the problem
is the bishop has nowhere to go (71. Bf3 Rb3 72. Kf2 Rxf3+ same problem as
before 73. Kxf3 Kd4) (71. Be8 Rb8 72. Bf7 Rb7 73. Ba2 Kd4) 71… Kxb5 72. Kf2
Kc5 73. Ke3 Kc4 74. Ke2 Kc3 75. Ke3 h5 {the reserve tempo is key} 76. Ke2 Kc2
77. Ke3 Kd1) 71. Kf1 Rxb5 again, I would suggest pausing here and trying to
figure out a way for White to make a draw. I don’t want to give it away, so check out the rest of the game here.

Let’s end Part I with another Annie game. Advait Patel got a great position against her with the White pieces, but allowed the position to get unnecessarily wild.

adyvsannie

42… Rf8 Annie finds the only defensive move. Now White has to be accurate
43. Qe2 Qf6 threatening Qh4 44. Qxe4 going down a forced line Qf2+ 45. Kh1 Qxg3 46. Qxe6+ Rf7 47. Rc8+ Kh7 (47… Nf8 $4 48. Rxf8+) 48. Qxf7 Qh3+ 49. Kg1 Qxc8 50. Bb2 a practical try for White. Black should have a perpetual but the mate threat and the d6 pawn give White some chances Qg4+ 51. Kf2 Nf4?  this natural looking move fails! Robert and I also only analyzed this move as it makes so much sense: Black brings another piece close to the king and defends g7 (51… Qh4+ 52. Ke3 Qe1+ 53. Kd3 Qd1+ White either has to part ways with the d6 pawn or allow a perpetual. The king can’t escape 54. Ke4  simply loses the bishop Qe2+ 55. Kd5 Qc4# White can even get checkmated if he tries too hard) 52. d7 Qg2+ 53. Ke3 Nd5+ 54. Kd3 now the knight actually gets in the way and the black queen isn’t positioned properly Qg3+ 55. Kc2 Qg2+ 56. Kb1 Qe4+ 57. Ka2 Qc4+ 58. Ka1 1-0 You can also replay the ending here.

Check back in for part 2 of the article where I’ll talk about my favorite moments from the Girls Championship!

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The Journey From U1000 to 1500

Going from a new player to 50th percentile in USCF rating (around 700) is about reducing oh-no moments and tactics.

The journey from USCF 700 to 1500 is a path that continues on tactic improvements, but a shift of focus on strategical ideas start to emerge.

In this post, I’ll talk about a few common themes and recommend a Strategy book in the end.

Here are three things I see on the path to 1500

  1. Zero oh-no moments
  2. Activate your pieces
  3. Gain more space

Zero Oh-No Moments

When you start to play in U1000 instead of U400 sections, the oh-no mistakes will be punished swiftly. Opponent’s are stronger, and they don’t give back the gifts that your present to them.

Activate Your Pieces

In U1400 section games, losing a piece in 1-2 moves does not happen often. The result of wins and losses generally occur based on active vs. passive pieces.

U1000_1

White is down a pawn in the diagram above, but is very much in control of the game. Black’s bishop and rook are out of the game, and it’s only a matter of time that white’s attack will bring to fruition.

Practice asking yourself how to improve my pieces, and try to get them to active positions as much as possible in your games.

Gain More Space

The concept of Space is less clear for U800 players, but after a few games of getting squeezed, s/he could sense the pain.

The skill that players need to develop is to build more confidence. The reason many 1000 players are afraid is because they worry if they push too hard, the ‘backyard’ would become empty.

U1000_2In the position above, many players would choose d3 instead of d4.

d3 looks like a safe move and keeping things solid, but d4 is what really showcases white’s development advantage.


Getting to 1500 is a longer journey, and strategic components of the game starts to get more important.

I’d recommend Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Strategies for anyone who are interested to improve their strategy understanding in chess.

Tragedies of a 1900 Rated Player

I thought for today’s article, I’d look back at one of my games from 2014 (and before) where my opponent played particularly well, and I much less so. I thought this would be a fun exercise, as you all will get an opportunity to learn from my positional and strategic mistakes, and I will try to salvage my position four years later. Hopefully, in analyzing these games, you will be able to see some of the shortcomings of a ~1900 rated player, and avoid the very mistakes that made it difficult for me to break 2000!

I want to review a G/60 game I played in the Kingstowne Chess Club against NM Srdjan Darmanovic back in early 2014. At this time, I had yet to break 2000, and my opponent was mid-2200 strength. When I chose this game for this article, I think the first thing that stuck out for me was my lack of a clear plan for development. Let’s take a look:

Darmanovic, Srdjan – Steincamp, Isaac (Kingstowne Action Plus #98, January 2014)

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. d4 O-O 6. h3

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 12.09.46.png
Position after 6. h3

Based on what I know now about King’s Indian Defense theory, I think it’s fair to say that I was out of book at this point. This h3 variation has gotten a lot more popular in recent years, and is considered an important tabiya for any KID player. White pauses development for a move to prevent various …Bg4 ideas Black may have. Taking away this resource from Black makes it difficult to chip away at White’s space advantage, so Black is already at a crossroads.

6…Nbd7 7. Bg5 h6?!

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 12.17.13.png
Position after 7…h6

I don’t think I would have played 6…Nbd7 if I got that position again, but I would certainly not be an advocate for this approach. White’s bishop will find refuge on e3, and will simply target this h6 pawn for the rest of the game. I think in this position I should have asked myself “What do I want to achieve in this position?” or “Does 7…h6 help me achieve anything?”

With …h7-h6 on the board, it’s easy to see how White benefits, but what does Black intend to do now? When playing the KID, it’s critical that Black not waste time or create unnecessary targets. Black starts out the opening by surrendering the center, and giving White lots of space. So here we understand that on principle, this move fails. A quick look in the database shows only only one GM who played this move, and White went on to win (Bareev-Svidler, 1997).

So what’s a more constructive use of time? I think the most common move, 7…e5 proves to be a lot more versatile. While it may feel awkward to self-pin the f6 knight, Black can always play …Qd8-e8.  With this move, Black finally stakes claim in the center with a normal KID position. Black will need to be creative finding a home for the c8-bishop, but Black should be comfortable here.

8. Be3 e5 9. d5 Ne8?

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 12.27.58
Position after 9…Ne8

Too dogmatic! Here I wanted to carry out ….f7-f5 as soon as possible, but I’ve failed to analyze the position for other ideas. For example, after 9…Nc5 10. Nd2 a5, we achieved a position where White stands slightly better, but Black’s pieces are better coordinated:

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 12.30.41.png
Variation after 10…a5

This idea of a forceful …Nc5 followed by …a7-a5 is a powerful one, as it secures an outpost on c5. Should White ever take this knight, Black can recapture with the d-pawn, and bring his f6 knight to d6 via e8. Already, we see the difference in potentiality for Black by comparison. Black hasn’t written off this idea of …f7-f5 yet, but I would have at least been able to place my bishop on d7 to connect my rooks.

10. Qd2 Kh7 11. g4!

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 14.26.04
Position after 11. g4!

And now the short-sightedness of Black’s plan is realized. Up to this point, my set-up has the sole goal of advancing with …f7-f5. Because I’ve given White the luxury of space and much better development, my opponent can afford to “weaken” his king for the time being. This move is not the machine’s top pick, but I think for a G/60 time control, White has a significant advantage.

Black needs to shift focus to the queenside with a move like 11…c6, but I opted for the much worse continuation, 11…f5? 12. gxf5 gxf5 13. exf5 Ndf6 14. Qc2 e4?

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 14.30.46
Position after 14…e4

In this series of moves, I’ve made numerous positional blunders to continue with my plan. 11…f5 allowed White to open up the position, where White clearly stands better. On the other side of the board, I somehow managed to get a superfluous pair of knights on e8 and f6.

Even worse is the more recent strategic sin, 14…e4?. I should have probably forced myself to stop here and look for some plan to salvage the position, but based on my game notes, this came quickly, with thew idea of opening the g7 bishop. Of course, with every pawn move, two squares grow weaker, and here the d4 square is a prime example. My opponent was quick to play – if I had this position as White, I’d say this is fairly automatic too: 15. Nd4 Qe7 16. Ne6 Bxe6 17. fxe6 Kh8

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 14.35.47
Position after 17…Kh8

Visually we see the irreparable damage I’ve brought to my own position. Black has no chance now to be active, and White will simply queenside castle and throw both of his rooks at my king.

The lesson here? Don’t play dogmatically! My play has been influenced by one idea up to this point, but it’s so simple to find ideas outside of the …f7-f5 push. Maybe it’s easier to say this four years later, but perhaps a couple more minutes spent would have yielded more.

White finished the game off quite nicely, but it’s hard to offer anything for Black, so we’ll be moving on. If you want to see the rest of the game, click here.

1900-rated Bonehead Lesson #1: A lot of coaches say focus on concepts in openings over memorization. I think the distinction between that notion and this game was that as Black, I only focused on a singular concept, without adapting to White’s twist on the opening. If you find that the opening you play doesn’t give you that flexibility, you might want to consider looking elsewhere.

1900-rated Bonehead Lesson #2: When things clearly aren’t working slow down and make a plan! In this particular game, this went hand-in-hand with lesson #1, but even beyond the opening, I had several chances to stop and not play …f7-f5 and find other avenues of play.

These things sound really basic for a 1900 to be messing up, don’t they? And they are! What I’ve seen now, four years later, is that when playing sub-2000 opponents, they are susceptible to variations on these kinds of basic planning errors too. Let’s flip the script and I’ll show you what I mean.

In this game, I had Black against a 1900 rated player in the April 2017 First Saturday Tournament in Budapest. My opponent opted for the Scotch, but after a couple moves it became clear he lost his way:

Lukacs, Albert – Steincamp, Isaac (First Saturday Tournament, April 2017)

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.30.13
Position after 4. d4

Prior to my trip to Europe, I had switched to 1…e5, so I had to prepare quite a bit beforehand. Luckily for us, I have quite extensive post-game notes on this game:

“Admittedly my knowledge of this version of the Scotch is quite limited. All I remember is White usually avoids this line because Black always has …Bf8-b4 and its inconvenient for White”

So – to be fully transparent, at the time I couldn’t quite remember theory here as well. As I include my game notes, compare the thought process from the first game to sense the difference! Out of book does not mean out of luck!

4…exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.f3!?

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.34.21.png
Position after 6. f3?!

“I’m on my own here. This seemed dubious, so I thought the simplest
way to play would be for …d7-d5″

And I still don’t like White’s choice – this isn’t really an idea in this line of the Scotch, so my best guess is that White is reacting to the pin on the c3 knight, and didn’t know to play 6. Nxc6, the main line here. Kind of like my move in the last game, …h7-h6, this move can only really help me, the opponent.

I continued with 6…O-O, but as American IM Will Paschall pointed out immediately after the game, I could have just played 6…d5 here with a bit more of an edge.

We played the next sequence of moves reasonably quickly:

7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.Bd3 d5 9.O-O Re8 10.Bg5 Qd6

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.39.45
Position after 10… Qd6

And here I wrote in my notes:

“I sensed here that the position was roughly equal, but I sensed one of three things would happen: 1) my opponent would prove equality, 2) my opponent will give me a position where I play for two results, or 3) he will blunder in just a few moves”

A little abstract – but now that I’ve had this sense in some of my other games, let me attempt to explain:

White’s position doesn’t make sense. Normally, White would take on d5 and try to play against my dark squares, but opening up the position favors Black – thanks in part to the pawn on f3. I have a couple potential plans here – pushing …d5-d4, breaking the center by trading on e4, or sitting and waiting for White to break the tension. I still need to identify which route I want to pursue, but I have options. But where does White play?

For example, if he continues with 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.exd5 Bxc3 13.bxc3 cxd5 I can already play for two results – simplifying now only helps me.

Because White’s development doesn’t suggest an obvious plan, I knew that there was already some pressure on him to respond to my ideas before creating his own. Somewhat surprisingly, he collapsed in 12 moves.

11.Re1 d4 12.a3?!

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.47.08
Position after 12. a3?!

“The engine’s best move, though during the game it seemed like an admission of guilt”

My opponent spent 25 minutes here, and to only come up with this move was the sign of a trend in my favor.

After the game, my opponent said that he missed the following attempt to defend:

12.e5!? Rxe5 13.Bxf6 Qxf6 14.Ne4 Qe7

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.49.52.png
Variation after 14…Qe7

“I saw this position – I thought White had some compensation, but believed I could fend it off. Though if White is to prove equality, this is it”

I would need to see a little deeper to confirm my analysis (specifically 16…Bxc3!), but my position is still on the right track. Black has the bishop pair and is certainly for choice. I continued to analyze the line after the game with an engine and came up with: 15.c3 dxc3 16.bxc3 Bxc3! ( 16…Ba5? 17.f4 ) 17.Nxc3 Qc5+ 18.Kf1 Qxc3

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.52.10
Variation after 18…Qxc3

And Black nurses a material advantage. There’s still some work to do, but as I said before, I have gotten a position where I can play for two results.

So, back to the game:

12…dxc3 13.axb4 cxb2 14.Ra3?

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.55.01
Position after 14. Ra3

“The real culprit, the positioning of this rook is particularly unfortunate”

Again, like my 2014 game, White continues to move with a particularly short-sided view. Black not only has the advantage, but gets to dictate the flow of the game.

14…Rb8 15.Qb1 Rxb4 16.Rxa7? Nd5!

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 16.58.59
Position after 16…Nd5

This more or less seals the deal, as the threat of Nc3 is incredibly strong. If 17.exd5 Rxe1+ 18.Qxe1 b1=Q-+ and if 17.Bd2 Qc5+! wins a piece after 18.Kf1 Qxa7 19.Bxb4 Nxb4 20.Qxb2 Nxd3 21.cxd3-+

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 17.01.14
Variation

My opponent tried to save the game with 17.Ra3 but after 17…Qc5+ 18.Kf1 Nc3 19.Rxc3 Qxc3 20.Ke2 Ra4 21.Bd2 Qa3 22.c3 Be6 0-1 As Black’s b-pawn will promote or be traded for copious amounts of material.

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 17.03.14.png
Position after 22…Be6, 0-1

And so just like the first game, the clearest problem was lack of a clear plan! This is not to suggest that ~1900 rated players aren’t capable of coming up with plans, but it should show you the difference in how to carry out a game. It’s incredibly easy to play artificially, or look for the most aesthetically pleasing move, but it’s another thing to have a deep understanding of the position. Notice some key themes for improvement for both games:

  1. Where do my pieces belong?
  2. Why is this move useful? Do the negatives outweigh the positives?
  3. What are my other options?

I think if the losing side in both games had just asked these simple questions – they would have put up a lot more resistance. I think one of the biggest differences between me as a 1900 and me as a 2000+ rated player is that I’ve had to force myself to open my mind and adapt to other options within a position.

What are some other things that helped you break 2000? Any noticeable changes? Let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for our readers trying to cross the hurdle!

Moving Cities, Moving Focus

IMG_2512.jpg
Homemade ramen!

So that’s it for the summer! After spending three months in Washington DC, I’ll be hauling boxes and moving back to Pittsburgh to complete my senior year at Pitt. While I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly ambitious student, I’m actually looking forward to the semester and graduating within a year. Not to mention (and no apologies or remorse here), I like living in Pittsburgh a lot more than Northern Virginia and DC, and I’m going to need that last dose of Pens before I graduate.

Beyond my course load, I’ll have a lot of activities on my agenda: writing articles here, getting the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers prepared for 2019, enhancing my chessTV stream, to name a few. Despite all of the distractions, I have yet to lose sight of my ultimate goal of making National Master, and thought this week would be a great chance to give you guys a check-in on my progress.

Last month, I shared some thoughts on balancing work and chess, and discussed how I’m setting myself a deadline to break 2200. Shortly after publishing the article, I received a lot of positive feedback from you all, more so than any other article I’ve written for Chess^Summit (that’s over 260!). It was incredible to hear how some of you overcame obstacles in your lives to reach various milestones in chess (ratings, committing to playing more often, reading chess literature), and your feedback helped me understand that as I transition to adulthood, I’m not alone in this process and I have a lot to fight for going forward.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been focused on improving my mental toughness to prepare for my next tournament in September. While I feel like I have a lot to work on to reach my best form, I’ve zeroed in on my calculation and endurance because I want to build good habits and routines before my fall semester begins.

Endurance and stamina at the chess board are directly related, and thus I’ve been focused on running a few times a week as the summer comes to a close. Building time in your schedule to exercise is tough, and though I previously managed to squeeze in a jog once a week, I haven’t pushed myself this much athletically since the build up to the 2016 US Junior Open… that’s a long time. Jorn already talked about the direct benefits exercising extensively in his article on Monday, so I’ll just say this:

I think what makes running a unique exercise for chess is that you get test your psychological limits and face them head on. I’m not going to pretend to be a marathon runner or anything here, but when you’re running, there’s almost always a moment where your brain says “that’s enough” or “it’s hot outside, I don’t want to do this” or “maybe tomorrow”, you get the idea. Health precautions aside, fighting your initial instincts to relax and stay indoors is the same kind of psychological opponent you face at the chessboard: you. We actually see this kind of ‘psychological laziness’ all the time, for example, when players stop pushing an advantage to offer a draw, or more commonly, players dismissing a line altogether because it is simply “too complicated”. Running alone won’t fix this problem, but it gives players a chance to isolate this psychological element from chess and really try to beat it head on.

51wzmocps5l-_sx359_bo1204203200_My work with calculation is a lot more concrete in terms of chess development. Per my coach’s recommendation, I’ve been working through Romain Edouard’s Chess Calculation Training book, and while I have yet to read enough of it to make a bonafide recommendation, it’s been a lot of fun using it so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas and patterns lie ahead.

Since we don’t do a lot of tactical work here on Chess^Summit, I thought it would be fun to try something new for today’s article. I’ll post a tactical puzzle and walk through me solving it in “real-time”. As you’re reading this, I’m looking at the position for the first time too. Then, after reaching a satisfactory answer, I’ll reveal the solution and discuss where I could improve from the calculation process. Imagine Jeremy Silman’s Amateur’s Mind (also a great read), but instead of talking to his students, he’s talking to himself – I guess that’s what I’m going for. Let’s begin!

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Rasmussen – Rydstrom, White to Move

Thinking: So off the bat, I really like White’s position. Visually, White has more space and there’s a lot more potential when it comes to piece play. All of White’s pieces look like they are in the best squares, so the logical place to start is forcing moves. I see two that I’ll start out with, and I’ll expand my list after that if I don’t find a satisfactory answer: 24. Nf6+ or 24. Bxf7+. I’ll work through them in this order.

24. Nf6+ forces 24…gxf6 otherwise the queen will be lost. Now that there’s a wide open king, it’s time to look for ways to continue the line. 25. Qh7+ and 25. Qg6+ are the only true forcing moves, and since checking on h7 is not going to work, I’m going to throw it out. 25. Qg6+ on the other hand, is interesting. If Black plays 25…Bg7 26. exf6 comes with mate on the next move since Black can’t defend the bishop or break the pin on f7. So 25..Kh8 is forced. 26. Bf7 threatens mate on g8 and holds the f8 bishop accountable for the h6 pawn to prevent mate, so 26…Bg7 seems forced. We could take the rook on e8, but then we’re down two bishops for a rook!

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Position in my line after 26…Bg7

But I have one other forcing option, 27. exf6, since it once again threatens mate on g7. Black cannot take the pawn since that allows 28. Qxh6#. So 27…Rg8, only move 28. fxg7+ Rxg7 29. Qxh6+ Rh7 30 Qf6+ Rg7 after which my intention was originally to play 31. Re3 (threatening a check on h3), but the bishop is hit on f7, so White needs to be accurate. 31…Qxf7 32. Rh3+ Kg8 33. Qxd8+ Qf8 34. Rh8!+ Kxh8 35. Qxf8+ and White is clearly winning:

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Position after 34. Rh8+, White is winning!

So this was pretty convincing. Black could have diverted from the line by taking on f7 with the queen, but that certainly doesn’t help his cause. Time to look at the other line.

24. Bxf7+. This is also pretty forcing, Black needs to take back to not lose material, so I’m going to analyze 24…Qxf7 before looking at other options like 24…Kxf7. After the Black queen takes, we see that ideas like 25. Ng5 don’t work, thanks to the pawn on h6. So it looks like we have a winner:

24. Nf6+ fxg6 25. Qg6+ Kh8 26. Bxf7 Bg7 27. exf6 Rg8 28. fxg7+ Rxg7 29. Qxh6+ Rh7 30. Qf6+ Rg7 31. Re3 Qxf7 32. Rh3+ Kg8 33. Qxd8+ Qf8 34. Rh8!+ Kxh8 35. Qxf8+

Reading the answer: The answer gives up to 27. exf6+-. For the sake of this article, I checked the engine, and it said I was basically right on, except it gave preference to 31. Rf3 …I’ll explain in a second why. This was a reasonably difficult puzzle because 26. Bxf7 isn’t an obvious move (as compared to Qxf6+ in that position – keep in mind I didn’t put the diagrams until after solving the puzzle!), and psychologically, I had to push myself once I realized my bishop on f7 was hanging after 31. Re3 by not giving up the line entirely.

Take away: On a whole, not too bad on my end. I think my biggest self-criticism here was I needed to find one more resource for Black instead of 31…Qxf7:

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Position after 31…c4

I should have considered this move 31…c4 because it’s the last way for Black to stop Rh3+ thanks to the pin on g2 after 32…Qxh3. Unsurprisingly White is still winning here – 32. Rg3 Qxf7 33. Qxd8+ and there’s a win after 33…Qg8 34. Qh4+ Qh7 35. Qf6

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Position after 35. Qf6 +-

When I saw this, I thought, “if only my f1 rook were on e1!” – and that’s where it all connected. Remember how I said the engine gave preference to 31. Rf3 instead of 31. Re3? This is why! Had I left my rook on e1 instead of rover-ing it via e3, I’d actually have that rook on e1 in this position. I could go back and analyze the same lines, with the difference being 31. Rf3. In this endgame, it really doesn’t matter so much, but this turned out to be a really cool example of comparing moves.

So I guess that’s two takeaways:

  1. Look for tricky ideas for your opponent beyond the most testing lines.
  2. If time permits, compare maneuvering options.

This seems pretty manageable, and it should be. All this process did was help me find where I was subconsciously cutting corners.

As the summer comes to a close, I’ll continue working through these tactics one-by-one to get mentally sharper for this fall’s tournaments. What are you all working on to improve your chess? Let me know in the comments below!

Streaming with Chess.com

As some of you may know, I host a partnered chess.com stream, Challenger’s Corner (originally named the Steincamp Show), and my audience has since grown quickly within the chess.com community.

Since it’s been a few weeks since I last discussed my stream on Chess^Summit, so I figured this week would be a good opportunity catch you all up on my new show! In this article, I’ll talk a bit about some of the most common chess mistakes I’ve seen, as well as dive into some of the behind the scenes work that goes into running a partnered stream.

Knowing your Audience

For the most part, I had been dabbling with streaming since the conclusion of the PRO Chess League season, sticking to a once a week schedule during the spring semester, and not really investing much time into my channels. However, after doing a hand-and-brain stream with professional streamer MikeySlice, I quickly saw the potential community-building opportunity I had in my own channel and through Chess^Summit:

As I hope you all can tell, when it comes to chess, I really enjoy coaching and making educational materials available online (for free!) for aspiring players. Knowing that chess.com is a big supporter of the work we do here at Chess^Summit, I wanted to create a bridge between the two platforms to help create a more interactive experience for both chess.com players and Chess^Summit readers.

Shortly after my stream with Mikey, I started to revamp my channel making it more searchable and more importantly, visually appealing. You don’t have to be a tech expert to run a Youtube or Twitch channel, but knowing how to use apps like Adobe Photoshop, OBS, and understanding some basic SEO goes a long ways towards promoting your channel. It took a few hours and a couple coffee shop crawls to crank out my base design and re-tag all my videos, but I’m really proud of the end product I’ve put together:

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It’s become interesting for me to watch how important technical skills have become over the last five years in terms of promoting events for the chess community. If you have any interest in organizing online chess events, I’d strongly encourage you to start learning Photoshop now – it’s surprisingly easy, and after taking a 101 class on digital composition back in Pittsburgh, I’m basically self-taught. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun!

So that’s where I am – let’s talk some chess!

Karpov System Falls Short Again

If you’ve been following my chess.com blogs, you’ll know that the Karpov System offers Black a pretty simple set-up:

Last Monday night, I got to use a nice trap to win a piece out of the opening. As I mention in the clip, I’d actually had this position on the board (though somehow missed the tactic!!) in a tournament game years ago against a 1900+ rated player. People really miss this stuff! Since, I’ve used it as a opening trap in a fair number of games on chess.com.

This is a really simple tactic, but it shows how complacent your opponents can be in the opening – even in unfamiliar waters! Moral of the story: always ask what your opponent’s threats are, no matter what stage of the game it is in. Even though my opponent was 1300, I’m pretty sure if I gave him this position as White, he would be able to find the win. The game didn’t last much longer, and you can go through the rest here.

Make sure to remember this one for your own games if you decide to take up the English!

Punishing the Weak King!

I’m not sure why, but a lot of people have tried a particularly odd attack against me: moving the g-pawn in front of their king. While I enjoy getting free attacks against my opponents, it’s time to set a new rule: don’t play g4 if your king is on g1!

So I know what happens now – a bunch of you guys give me brilliant examples of exceptions, and try to prove me wrong. All I’m saying is, if Ben Finegold has a “never play f6” rule, I get to have a “please don’t play g4” rule! Let me try to convince you once, and I’ll get off my high horse:

How did the London System turn into this decisive position? I think the problems for White start in this position:

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White’s position is actually perfectly fine – perhaps not advantageous, but certainly enough for equality.

So why did he play 16. g4 here? If you look at White’s position, the obvious question is: Well this is nice, but what’s next? Because nothing immediately stood out, White probably thought with all of the pieces developed, it’s okay to take some risks. In my personal experience, I find it best to use these moments to identify what your opponent’s motives are rather than exposing yourself. For that reason, I’ll recommend 16. a3, with the simple idea of stopping Black’s thematic Carlsbad pawn structure ideas.

Endgames are Cool too!

I’ve noticed that a lot of my opponents offer me draws as soon as we simplify into endgames. The most memorable was probably this pure knight endgame finish:

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GMChessMaster1209 – Me, position after 40. gxf4

Funnily enough, I actually broke my own rule earlier in this game, in playing 16…g5!. However, this time the purpose was concrete, and was actually the engine’s best move! White offered me a draw in the above position, but I gave him one more test. 40…h5 41. h3? and surprisingly, White is now lost. Thanks to the simplification on the kingside, the game boils down to the superior knight after 41… hxg4 42. hxg4 Kg6 43. Kg2 Kg5 44. Kf3:

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GMChessMaster1209 – Me, position after 44. Kf3

Now if there were no knights on the board, Black would have to move the king away and lose the f4 pawn (and the game), so my job is to defer my move to White. I played 44…Nc4, because White cannot recapture without losing the pawn ending. Knowing that White is limited to moving the knight between b1 and d2, I was able to simply march my knight over to g4 and win.

Even though for a brief moment White had equality, we saw how easy it was for me to take over and win because there were a lot of factors in the position. The key to improving at endgames is simple – practice, practice, practice. Always play for two results and look for your opponent’s weaknesses. In the next example, I use Jonathan Hawkin’s method from Amateur to IM, planning in steps.

As you noticed, even with the pawns all on the kingside, I was able to make the most of my bishop by following these steps:

1) Create a Passed Pawn

2) Activate my King

3) Fix my Opponent’s Pawns on Dark Squares

4) Sacrifice my Bishop to Reach a Forced Win

Abstractly, this sounds difficult, but if you noticed in the video, breaking down this endgame into steps was surprisingly easy – the knight is a really clumsy piece anyways… Don’t be afraid to play out a position you can’t lose!

First Ever Daily Tournament!

As I mentioned before, my stream community on chess.com has grown, thanks in part to our official chess.com club! I’m hoping to integrate content I create here on Chess^Summit with my streams on chess.com, and as regular readers, you are all more than welcome to participate. With nearly 100 active members in just a couple weeks, weekly arenas are becoming a regular event, and now, my channel is introducing our first-ever daily chess tournament!

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Set to start on August 11th, this 3 days/move challenge will kick-off my channel’s off-stream activities. I’ll be playing alongside members of the Challenger’s Corner chess.com club, so if you want to play, make sure you join the club so you can register!

If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter (@isaackaito), as I’ll be tweeting some of my best tactics and moments throughout the tournament!

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Don’t have a chess.com account yet? No worries, you can create one here!

My Next stream: Sunday, August 5th at 8PM to 11PM EST

I got bumped from my usual Monday night spot for next week, so I’ll be on this Sunday night for an extra hour to play with all of you!  Make sure to join this weekend’s online extravaganza as the Challenger’s Corner Club puts on its longest arena challenge yet!

Follow me on Twitch to get notifications about when I go live, both on my own channel, and chessTV! 

Better Position != Winning

I don’t get to play Titled Tuesday much on chess.com.

When I do, I always want to make use of the opportunity to brush off some rust and study new opening ideas.

Here is the Full Game Analysis

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To summarize:

I played an interesting opening and got what I wanted out of the opening. In the middle game, I had the tide on my side and would have made small improvements to make it less complicated.

When it turned to the endgame and time scramble, nerves got in the way, and I couldn’t finish off the game.

In the end, mission to brush off rust and study new openings were accomplished for this game, but the result was not satisfactory.


This game helped me to feel even stronger about how blitz can help me improve.

For anyone in the Southeast, CCSCATL will have an in-person Blitz Tourney on Saturday, July 21. Hope to see you there!

Chess Training AI is Closer than We Think

My position just changed from +3.5 to -2.3. I often hear students say after analyzing a position with our silicon friends.

Have you ever wondered what all these numbers mean in the context of a game?

What if there is an English translation of the game analysis from the engines?

With growing AI advancement, the DecodeChess Team is putting the technology together to make translating chess engine language to English a reality.

Stockfish Analysis In English

For players U1500 and especially U1000, looking at the engine analysis feels reading an article in foreign language.

If there’s a brief English notation to go along the engine analysis, the experience of going over the Stockfish analysis will improve tremendously.

Let’s look thru a brief Demo of DecodeChess

Import the game

To get started, we’ll simply import a game using PGN format

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Once the game is imported, users has the option to decode any move during the game.

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After the the Decode: the app will provide a list of recommendation and notations

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We’re still in the early stage of the implementing AI into chess training.

However, with the hard work of DecodeChess team, we’re closer to have novice players utilize top-notch chess engines in a more effective way.

For anyone interested to try out DecodeChess, here is the link to the free trial experience.