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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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 😀

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?

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!

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).

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!

I’m Back! A European Wrap Up

Sorry to be a little late with my post today! I decided to visit my alma mater Maggie L Walker Governor’s School (MLWGS) yesterday before moving back to Pittsburgh later this week. Of course, for those of you who are new to Chess^Summit or don’t know me as well, my chess “career” really kicked off when I coached the MLWGS team to win the U1200 National High School Chess Championships in San Diego, just three years ago. Much of the success I had there as a coach pushed me to create this site as a personal blog, and later expand Chess^Summit to what it is now 🙂

I think some players in this photo don’t need any introduction!

I decided rather than to recap my personal performance in Reykjavik, I would share my thoughts on my trip, and my best played game of my European tour. One thing I really learned about chess this trip was how important trends are within a tournament. Building momentum in a nine or ten round event can help push you to play better chess in subsequent rounds.

This is different than five round weekend tournaments in the US where it can really be difficult to recover from a loss on the scoreboard. In Europe, if you don’t recover from a loss, the negative trend can really take its toll over a week long tournament – that’s simply a function of there being more games. Fortunately for me, I was able to get ‘statement’ wins in critical moments, catapulting me to a +186 FIDE rating point gain over three months! Simply relaxing and focusing on playing smarter (and not better) can go a long ways…

It wasn’t my intention to look like I was photo-bombing… with Kostya Kavutskiy and Fiona Steil-Antoni at the closing ceremony

Anyways, here is my wrap-up video for my trip! It’s been a memorable three months, and I have a lot of people to thank for making it possible. I hope you guys had fun trying to keep up with my play!

For those of you guys wanting to see my games from Reykjavik, you can see in-depth video analysis of each of my ten games in Kostya’s posts here on Chess^Summit. Admittedly, 5/10 was not the score I wanted, but I’m happy with the way I got there. Playing 1.e4 in that critical last round game took real nerves – but thanks to same pre-game preparation with my co-author Beilin Li, I was really confident and I think it showed. I highly encourage you all to try watching some of the recaps (I know they are long), but I learned a lot simply by being part of the video, and Kostya’s analysis really shows the difference between a player of my strength and someone of his caliber – truly impressive.

Members of the US team (from left to right): Justin Sarkar, myself, Eugene Perelshteyn, Alan Savage, Akshita Gorti, Josh Friedel, Tatev Abrahamyan, Alejandro Ramirez, and Kostya Kavutskiy

Why do Blunders Happen? Recapping the 2017 Liberty Bell Open

I had a rough performance in Philadelphia last week, but after looking over my mistakes, I realized a lot of common themes that were worth sharing. One of my goals in putting this video together was to discuss how strong players make blunders, and identify what errors in calculation happen building up to the fatal moment.

While using my Liberty Bell Open performance as an example was not my intention going into the tournament, being able to review my games several times definitely helped me learn from my mistakes.

I’m hoping to get in one more tournament before I go to Europe, so we will see how that goes! Hope you enjoy my video!

Back to New York! Making the Most of Awkward Pairings

As I stepped into Penn Station last Friday afternoon, I entered the Big Apple with a renewed sense of optimism. Of course, the Marshall Chess Club has special meaning to me, being the site of the only adult tournament I’ve ever won, but I felt like I had more pushing me forward.

Unlike last summer, I got to stay in Times Square for the weekend

While my result in New Orleans left me feeling incomplete, much of my team’s performance in the Pan American Championships showed me that anything is possible. John’s draw against Ray Robson and Hibiki’s crushing win over a grandmaster were both particularly encouraging, and my mouth was watering at a second opportunity to play a titled player after losing a very close game against a 2500+ International Master last week.

Admittedly, I entered the Marshall’s Weekend FIDE somewhat blind to the competition. Since the event was to be FIDE rated, I assumed that not only would I play tougher competition than I did last week, but that I would be one of the lowest rated players in the event. In reality, this turned out to be somewhat false, as I played both an unrated opponent and a 1300 in two of the four rounds of the event. That being said, I did get the second chance I wanted, both against the famous New York IM Jay Bonin and a young National Master. But to put things bluntly, my opening experiments in both games failed and I finished 2.5/5 (last round half-point bye).

In meeting Vanessa this past weekend, I’ve “finally” met all of the senior Chess^Summit authors! Who thought it would have taken that long?

I think the position I’ve been in these last two tournaments can be very relatable for just about any tournament player. I remember when I was around 1500, my tournaments would bounce between opponents rated 1200 and 1800, leading up the last round where I finally got to play someone my own rating. This was even more exaggerated when I was still in elementary school trying to improve through scholastic tournaments. What can I say – these tournaments can be incredibly frustrating. You win when favored, you lose against the much higher rated folk, you still lose a couple rating points. What did you do wrong?

In such cases its really easy to be discouraged by the short term loss, and its even easier to forget the long term benefits of having played stronger opponents. But experience is so much more important. As of today, my rating is the lowest its been since August of 2015, yet I strongly believe that I would beat the player I was at my peak if I played him in a match.

Me trying to save my second round game against IM Jay Bonin. Credit: Vanessa Sun

Just like my tournament this past weekend, many of my tournament appearances last semester whittled my 2142 rating all the way down to where it is now. I really wasn’t in control of who I was paired against in many of those events, and coupling that with the fact I’ve been learning a new opening repertoire as Black, gaining points has not exactly been easy. That being said, I know I am a stronger player for having endured this, and I hope to show this in a much more level field next week at the Liberty Bell Open.

For those of you who may recall, on my very first post upon the relaunch of the site, I proclaimed my intention to not look at my own rating until I make master. Quite truthfully, I’ve been a little lazy about this since I know I’m moving in the opposite direction, but I’m going to force myself to not look at my rating again since it’s a distraction from actual improvement.

Life lessons aside, in looking over my games from New York, I do see signs of improvement in my games – even in the wins against the much lower rated opposition. I really liked how I handled my first game against an unrated opponent. While I would guess that my opponent was no stronger than 1800 (I didn’t know this going in), I was posed with some not so trivial decisions as Black. Here’s an example:

Position after 11. c3, Atakay–Steincamp

Black is clearly not worse, in fact, thanks to the pair of bishops, Black is fighting for the edge. Yet the best route isn’t so easy to choose, if White can complete his development quickly, he is probably only marginally worse and can play on with reasonable chances to equalize. I think many players would simply make a decision here (11…Bf5 for example) and play on, confident in their ability to outplay weaker opponents from equal positions. However, I happened to know that my opponent was an exchange student from Turkey, and perhaps he might be “x good”, just with no USCF experience.

So I decided to use my time advantage here to try to find the continuation that offered Black the best winning chances, and after thirty minutes, I managed to find a line that we reached on the board eight moves later with a clear plus for Black. I don’t really see many examples of such problems in books, so I thought I would pose one here – what is the best way for Black to maximize the advantage of the pair of bishops? There’s several reasonable ways to continue, but I thought my choice offered the most practical chances to get an advantage. When you think you have something, check my game out here!

At some point I will have too many photos of this room!

As it turns out, this was my opponent’s first game, and after four rated games, he finished just shy of 1700. Regardless, I’m still proud of myself for coming up with this continuation in an over-the-board setting.

So where does the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships and this tournament at the Marshall Chess Club put me? Hard to say – I’ve scored a combined 5/10, and in each of my wins my opponents failed to put up some measurable resistance. That being said, I’ve also had five tough losses running the gamut from blowout to heartbreaker, each of them proving to be critical tests of my weaknesses as a player. While I haven’t exactly had many chances to prove it against simillar opposition, I would like to think that the sudden inundation of chess I’ve had since the conclusion of the fall semester is pushing me in the right direction. How much it really has, I’ll know next week at the Liberty Bell Open. No matter how I do, I’ll be well on my way towards being fully prepared for the Dolomiten Bank Open in Austria, an I’m looking forward to getting some competitive games in Philadelphia!


Creating Your Own Luck

Well, if I was looking for a Cinderella story to make it over 2100 this past weekend, I certainly didn’t find it. This year’s edition of the Pennsylvania State Championships pushed me to the limit – testing my stamina, resilience, and my composure in ways that I have never been tested before. Upon the tournament’s conclusion, I had convinced myself that the 3/5 result I produced simply derived from bad luck.

Deep into my first round… where did my advantage go? Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

With a little over a day to rethink my results, I have to admit, there were a lot of elements working against me, but I also created my own luck in the latter half of the tournament, which saved me from having an even worse result.

What do I mean by bad luck? Until the last round (when it was already too late), I was never able to put together any serious momentum. In the first round, I got paired down against an ambitious youngster. Even though I got an edge out of the opening, I hyperextended and quickly lost my advantage. While I missed a chance late in the game to win, my opponent didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hold the endgame to a draw. Not an ideal start, but a comeback is manageable, right?

With only thirty minutes between the rounds to catch my breath, I learned that I would play defending State Champion and fellow Chess^Summit author Grant Xu for the first ever Chess^Summit v Chess^Summit tournament match up. Grant had taken a half point bye in the first round and was ready to play, surprising me out of the opening and catching me off guard.

While I didn’t have the best weekend, Grant was able to successfully defend his state title, winning each of his four games and reaching a rating of 2396!

Though I somehow managed to equalize, I was too tired to complete the result and managed to blunder my way through the rest of the endgame, dropping my score to 0.5/2. This put me in a really tough tournament position, as I would need to win out to objectively have a “good” tournament.

At that moment, I felt like I had had some bad luck with the pairings, and went back to my dorm room to rest up for the last round of the night.

Sure, it wasn’t ideal to play Grant with so little time between rounds, and sure, my first round opponent wasn’t quite the game I was hoping to open with, but in reflection, given the positions I had, I think I had some opportunities to score better. Going into the last game, I took the right mentality, forgetting the first two games and telling myself that I was now playing in a three-round tournament. Now this was my chance to create my own luck.

I got paired against a 1500 that night, but still treated the game as if I were playing someone my level. The affair was rather one-sided, but there was an instructive moment during the game that I thought I ought to share.

Steincamp–Boles, after 10…Kf8

In this position, it’s my turn, and I’m clearly better. Black has lost his right to castle and has a significant lack of space. Yet how should I press on as White? Black doesn’t have any structural weaknesses and actually has the idea …Be7-g4, attacking the d4 pawn and trying to pry open the dark squared diagonal for his a7 bishop. After some thought, I figured the right question to ask was where should I put my dark squared bishop? I think objectively the options are about equal, but my choice offered me long term attacking possibilities. Can you figure what I decided?

My last round win, and the highlight of my tournament. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania State Chess Federation

Though this win wasn’t exactly the most challenging, it felt nice to get back into the habit of asking the right questions and making the most of good positions. To my discontent, I got paired down in the fourth round on Sunday morning, and once again got surprised by an opening sideline in which I promptly put myself in a worse position.

I could have been outplayed, but I found ways to keep the game going, eventually pushing the game to equality and even a slight edge for myself before forcing the three move repetition. While objectively a draw was a good result considering the way the game started, I couldn’t help but feel that had I known the theory better I could have outplayed my opponent and gotten a full point. This result meant my last round would be a consolation game, and breaking 2100 would have to wait again.

Photo Credit: Beilin Li

While this was not what I wanted going into the tournament, I think this was the best situation for me at this time. Going into the last round, I felt no stress whatsoever, and having White with nothing to lose, I was more comfortable being creative over the board. This alleviation made me feel refreshed, and I produced one of the better games I’ve played since coming back to Pittsburgh.

This was a critical lesson for me, when I just focus on chess, when I just focus on making the best move every move, I can play a great game. Most of the tournament I felt distracted – either being bewildered by my early results, or feeling a need to make up for them later on. But when I was just worried about chess, removing all of the emotional stress of a long weekend of dissapointment, I can well. This is what I mean by creating my own luck.

Grabbing some post-tournament dinner with Beilin and going over some games on the restaurant’s bulky chess board!

Not every tournament is going to be ideal, maybe it’s just bad pairings, or the TD makes the wrong decision, or you blow a won game in time trouble – this happens to everyone at some point. To be strong player, you have to put these moments behind you. It felt like most of this weekend I got hit with something new every game – an opening line I wasn’t prepared for (twice!), an underrated opponent, crazy pairings – all of these things were out of my control, but if I could have played as well as I did in the last round in each game, it would not have mattered and I could easily be 2100 again right now.

While it was dissapointing to have trained so hard for this event to only get one opponent rated over 2000, I plan to continue pushing myself for my next tournament in early November. By then I’ll have reached my 20th birthday, and perhaps a little bit of “luck” can rub off on me then 🙂 I guess we’ll just have to see in my next post!

Ladia Jirasek on the 35th US Chess School Camp

Written by NM Ladia Jirasek

The U.S. Chess School, founded by IM Greg Shahade returned to the beautiful city of San Francisco during the last week of July 2016 to hold their famous Chess Camp. This camp was made possible through the generous sponsors of Dr. Jim Roberts, the Scheinberg family, John Donaldson and the Mechanics Institute.

Two years ago, I was invited to the 24th US Chess School Camp. At that time, I was the second lowest rated chess player to attend. The rating range of USCF 2100 to 2400 may have been challenging to deal with, but both of our instructors, IM Greg Shahade and IM John Bartholomew found a way to make everyone benefit from their lessons. I never had a coach, never took a lesson, so this was a new experience for me. I did not know what to expect, yet the chess camp in 2014 was the best, and most gratifying chess experience I had in my short chess career, and I couldn’t wait to go back.

uscs35-group-photo_origOver the summer this year, the 35th US Chess School occupied the famous San Francisco Mechanic’s Institute, the oldest running chess club in the U.S. I had been invited again and I was looking forward to another great chess camp. The camp’s full schedule started at 10:00am and ended at 6:00pm that last 4 days. Each day consisted small breaks and an hour long lunch break. The chess camp consisted of 11 strong players from California, and one strong WFM from Texas. The 12 attendees were: FM Rayan Taghizadeh (2336), (almost FM) Josiah Stearman (2315), NM Siddharth Banik (2309), NM Ladia Jirasek (2305), WIM Agata Bykovtsev (2297), WIM Annie Wang (2251), NM Alex Costello (2247), WFM Emily Nguyen (2241) from Texas, Balaji Daggupati (2108), Cristopher Yoo (2089), Seaver Dahlgren (2079), and Karthik Padmanabhan (2035). Our coach was the well-known International Master Greg Shahade, founder and president of the U.S. Chess School, founder of the New York Masters and the U.S. Chess League, and who is also a pretty good poker player. This year Greg had no help but was ready to go 1 against 12 and leave no chess stone unturned.

It was time to learn.

Day #1

The first day started with a quick introduction and a nice endgame study. It was early in the morning and this puzzle got our brains running.

White to play and draw. (Solution at the end of the article)

That was hard! After, we immediately jumped into our lessons. These lessons were not any ordinary lessons, but carefully crafted chess art, so each and every player could be challenged to come up with their own idea, formulate a plan, or have a chance to uncover a GM strategic move. Kudos to Greg for making these amazing lessons! We started by talking about the legendary Mark Dvoretsky, and going over the games of one of his students, Sergey Dolmatov. We looked at critical points in each game and analyzed not only the position, but the psychology behind each of Dolmatov’s decisions. That is something you don’t find in any regular chess lesson. After an intense, yet fun-filled 3 hours, we took a lunch break. Time to eat, time to rest, right? Not so fast. Put 12 chess players in one room together and your lunch break turns into a continuous chess competition. The best part of having our chess camp at Mechanic’s Institute was that it is filled with chess boards. Most of us quickly ate our food so we could go play bughouse. It may not help your chess, but it sure is fun! After lunch, Greg started to analyze our games. He found mistakes typical of younger players and constructed a lesson around it. Many younger, less experienced players want to attack and attack right away. In some games, that could be the difference between a win and a loss. Greg explained to us that sometimes we have to be patient and keep things under control before going on an all-out attack. If your opponent can’t do anything, just build up your position improve your pieces to their best potential, and only then start attacking. Then, we took a quick break to let the material sit in our brains. After, each of us participated in a simul against Greg. Since we were a “strong bunch” according to Greg, it was only fair that he be white in every game. Greg won most of the games, drew a few, and fell only to Alex Costello. Day 1 was a blast, it went by fast, and there were still three more days to go.

Day #2

Day 2 started very similarly to Day 1. We started with another fascinating endgame study and then focused on the idea of prophylactic moves (stopping your opponent’s threats before they happen). Every serious chess player knows that there was nobody better at prophylactics than the great Anatoly Karpov. Any ambitious player can review the Karpov – Spassky 1974 Candidates game 9 and try to find Karpov’s prophylactic moves. The lesson was very instructive and Greg had no problem getting us all involved. Greg also analyzed our games and pointed out some of our mistakes and showed us how we could further improve our chess. Later, we had another lesson on prophylactics. When we were done, it was the time everyone was waiting for… the 1-0 (1 minute) bullet tournament! Pieces were flying all over the board, we were all having fun. In the final, FM Rayan Taghizadeh was able to beat the “bullet machine”, Josiah Stearman, in the final match to get first place. Day 2 ended with Rayan celebrating his victory as well as his birthday. Happy Birthday, Rayan!

Day #3

Day 3 began with another endgame study. This time, having two days of practice, Greg made the endgame puzzle much harder and more challenging, yet many people still figured it out.

White to move and win. (Solution at the end of the article)

Halfway through the study, we ended up in this position.

We felt that in those last two days, Greg stimulated our brains into a different chess zone. Ideas were coming out of the woodwork, the possibilities were endless and we felt good! After the endgame study, Greg came up with an engaging concept. We started a training game from a position of a GM game. We did not know who were the players or the correct ideas in the given position. We had 20 minutes to play and figure out the correct plans for the side we were playing. This is a great way to study and practice chess. When we finished the training game, we analyzed the actual game and found out what each player did. At the end of the day, we had our 3-2 (three minutes and two-second increment) blitz tournament. As with the Bullet tournament, Rayan emerged victorious again. This time he had to fight much harder for the win. In the final match, he was facing Josiah again. The game started out in the Italian opening, but in the middle game Rayan left his rook undefended. What was going on? Was it a trap? Did Rayan blunder? Everyone was wondering how a great blitz player could make a move like that and at the same time, how Josiah would miss an obvious attack on the rook. Both players were focused on other pieces and the rook remained unnoticed. The game ended as a draw so the players switched colors and began a 1-1 (one minute and one second increment) bullet game. This game was won by Rayan and his reward was a large bag of Ghirardelli chocolates. A very tasty motivation! Rayan Taghizadeh is the only person to have won both the Bullet and Blitz tournaments at the US Chess School. Congratulations Rayan!

Day #4 

Our final day at the US Chess School was going to be different from the previous three.  Except, we still started with another endgame study to get our brains running and then we finished analyzing our games. Afterwards, we played another training game. Just like yesterday, we did not know the players or the plans, but this time, we only had 15 minutes to play and figure out the correct plans for the side we were playing. After we finished, we analyzed the game so we could understand the correct concepts.

White to move. Try to find black’s plan and prevent it! (Solution at end of article)

Later on, we took a really interesting test: “The Intuition Test.” There were 30 puzzles of varying strengths and we only had 45 seconds to write down our intuition move (the first move you think of) before the next puzzle starts. Some of us found out that our intuition was great and mostly correct, but others learned that they needed to work on their first instinct move. Either way, it was a great learning experience. For our lunch break, we were invited to a mobile advertising company called Fyber. They provided lunch for us and then challenged us to games of chess and video games. Some of us played chess and others took turns playing Ping-Pong and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Going to Fyber was a great way to end our time at the US Chess School. The people at Fyber were gracious and fun to be with.  Thank you to Fyber for providing us with lunch and entertainment. All of the students won’t forget it!

Thank you, Greg, for being an amazing coach and I hope to see you at the next US Chess School.

Also, a huge thank you to our main sponsors Dr. Jim Roberts and the Scheinberg family.

Thank you to John Donaldson and the Mechanic’s Institute for providing us with their space throughout the camp free of charge. It’s one of the bet chess clubs in the country, and they support us chess players year after year.


As the US Chess School Camp was over, five of us went to the People’s tournament in Berkeley. I wanted to put my newfound knowledge to the test. During the games, I found out that many moves I was thinking of now were not moves I thought of before. I would always try to find out what my opponent’s long-term plan was and I tried to stop it (prophylactics). I’m pretty sure that the knowledge I acquired from the camp over these four days helped me hold a draw against the one and only Mechanic’s own Grandmaster-in-residence Nick De Firmian. Other students demonstrated their newfound knowledge at this tournament too. Josiah Stearman saw that his opponent was threatening to move his knight to d4, and that the c4 square was weak so he maneuvered his knight (a lesson we had on day 1). He played knight from c3 to b1 so he could follow up with c3 to prevent the black knight from coming to d4. Then, he followed up with Nd2-c4 and had a nice position. Siddharth Banik used prophylactics to prevent his opponent’s only attacking idea and then followed up with an amazing rook sacrifice to have a forced win of material in four moves. And lastly, Seaver Dahlgren secured a position very similar to one of the Dolmatov games we were analyzing. Because of this, he was able to play the position well and got a winning advantage.

I know that we all learned a lot from the US Chess School and I can’t wait to go again!

Solutions to puzzles:

  1. 1. Ng4+  hxg4,  2. d4+  K anywhere,   3. Rh1!!  Qf8   4. Ke1  Qa8   5. Kf1  Qa6+ 6. Kg1 with stalemate
  2. 1. Bg2+!  Kxg2,  2. Nf4+  Kg1  3. Ke1!!  g2  4. Ne2#
  3. Black’s plan is to maneuver his knight from c6 to c4 via the a5 square. White has to stop that. White’s best move is Rc1 with the idea of Qb1 and Rc5. Check out the game to see what actually happened. (This position is just after black’s 23rd move …h6.)