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.

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, 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, 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


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!

What can you learn from blitz games?

There is an interesting debate on the value of blitz tournaments and games.

Whether it’s useful to play blitz games to improve your chess, or from a broader point of view, does blitz attracts more audience to the chess game.

My answers to both of these questions are resounding yes. I’ll leave the debate and my own opinions for a different time.

However, regardless your opinion, what you should definitely consider is to review and learn from your own blitz games just like a standard game.

We’ll review three snippets of my recent blitz games played both over the board (at CCSCATL) and online. Below are three themes we’ll discuss in this post:

  1. Learning to thrive in Complications
  2. Improving Intuition
  3. Searching for unexpected tactics



White to Move

After an unsound sacrifice in the opening, I got into the above position.

Here I can feel there are compensations, as black’s king is not able to castle, thus hard to connect the rooks. Plus all of white pieces are ready to jump in for any impeding attack.

White has two choices:

  • Bxg7
  • Rxe7

I took on e7, because I wanted to keep the dark square bishop. However, with closer inspection, possibly Bxg7 is a more objective try.

After a few more moves, we reached the next critical point.


Black to Move

Question: would you play:

  • Bb5 or
  • Bg4

Blitz games give many opportunities to make mistakes. And it’s helpful to train your own tolerance of complications.


In the position below, I pushed my pawn b3-b4, feeling good about the sacrifice.


Black to Move

Here I thought Bxb4 is not possible due to Qa4. But my intuition failed and I missed the critical variation.

Question: can you calculate the variation to the ensuing endgame after all the trades and evaluate why black is clearly better in that position?

Unexpected tactics


White to Move

I was playing black and feeling confident about the position. The game continued with Rxd2 exd2, and then Qe3 winning white’s e2-bishop.

However, when I entered the game into the computer, to my surprise, Stockfish told me it was +0.4 in this position.

Question: what did both side miss for white to counter attack?


There are many instructional moments in blitz games, and the value is in understanding the nuance just like reviewing standard games.

Next time you get a chance to play blitz, make sure you can extract value from these games.

P.s. Feel free to answer the questions in the comment section.

Swimming with Sharks: Return to DC

Seventy-six points. The past six months months had been particularly brutal stretch for me, as my rating hemorrhaged continuously and fell below 2100 for a third time in my career. Gone were the days of beating FMs in Europe, and gone were the days of consistent prophylactic play. Since June, I had only beaten two players rated over 2000 – hardly the score of someone seriously trying to become a National Master. Needless to say, I was pretty discouraged.

With the fall semester complete, I packed my bags and took a bus south to Richmond with only ten days to prepare for the Eastern Open. A beacon of hope or a chance to implode? Historically, I have always underperformed in this event, never reaching 50% across three attempts – even posting an abysmal 0.5/5 in 2012, one of my worst performances to date. However, with no team to represent the University of Pittsburgh this year at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships in Columbus, this was by far my best option for quality games.

Frame of Mind

With so much to review and a bad form to fix, ten days didn’t feel like a lot of time to address all of my weaknesses. To better prepare for this tournament, I made some key decisions early that helped me get back to fighting form.

Limit Opening Preparation:

Because I wasn’t stuck playing the same opponents anymore, I decided that opening surprises were less relevant. Knowing this, I cut out the London System and 1. e4 from my opening repertoire for White, and decided to shelf the King’s Indian and Hyper Accelerated Sicilian for another day.

This still meant I needed to spend a lot of time looking over my lines, as a lot of recent Grandmaster games meant important theoretical developments for both sides. While I prefer an even distribution of study time, reviewing my opening lines was a majority of my preparation.

Work on Calculation:

Opening knowledge is great, but calculation is essential. Throughout the semester, it became clear that my tactical abilities were atrophying, so this was an immediate area of concern. I started to feel really confident four days before the event when I pulled this stunt:


Regardless of the event, stamina should always be in the limelight. With the Eastern Open being a gruesome seven round schedule crammed into four days, I had no doubt that this would be a mental marathon. I probably could have done more here, but I was able to make some decisions throughout the event to compensate for it.

It’s really easy to say these things, but my decisions regarding preparation were pretty deliberate. I knew that to perform well in this event, I’d need to have a plan and stick to it. After a quick glance at the standings, I saw that while I was roughly in the middle of the cross table, the rating difference between me and the bottom was really small, while the difference between me and Aleksander Lenderman was … well, Lenderman certainly doesn’t need an introduction.

Knowing this, I decided to mix things up before setting foot in the tournament hall.

Baking a Cheesecake? Hmm… Chess is still harder

1. No chess in between rounds. This one proved to be really easy. With Tyson’s Corner just down the road and my girlfriend in town, there were plenty of (good) distractions to keep my mental energy levels high.

Of course, this meant no preparing for my opponents between rounds, but this is why I set a repertoire before the tournament. I felt really confident in my opening studies, and I managed to put together a plus score in games stemming from my preparation.

2. Don’t worry about ratings! As easy as this sounds, I had struggled with this in Pittsburgh, underperforming in games against lower rated opponents. My goal this tournament was just play solid chess each round, so I made the decision that if I drew a lower rated opponent but played a solid game, that’s a good result. Playing practical chess is really important in a long tournament, so draws aren’t necessarily the end of the world if you know when to take your chances.

These were big changes for me, but I knew I needed to change something to avoid another disappointing performance. After all, how often do I get to leave Pittsburgh during the semester?

During the tournament, I managed to (finally) pick up a copy of Thinking Inside the Box by Jacob Aagard from my childhood chess vendor Todd Hammer, and on pre-game mental preparation, Aagard writes:

“Personally I have always felt it useful to lay a strategy for the game. To think, in advance, of various situations that could arise. I did not always do this; but when I did not, I always regretted it.”

– Jacob Aagard, Thinking Inside the Box (page 44)

So I guess I was doing something right! After ten days, I felt ready – nervous – but definitely ready. I had a chip on my shoulder, and I really wanted to do something with my last tournament of the year.

Deja Vu on Opening Night

My first tournament outside of Pittsburgh since last August started with, well – an opponent from Pittsburgh. Paired with White against FM Gabe Petesch, I knew I had a good litmus test for the tournament. While I’ve never gotten a result against Gabe, I’ve always gotten an interesting game against him when in good form, so I wasn’t daunted by his new 2400+ rating.

The last time I played Gabe, you may recall I blew a great game due to poor time management, and that proved to be a recurring problem this game, though at a much smaller level:

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Steincamp–Petesch, position after 14…Rfe8

Having won the opening battle, I have a great position. Central control, fluid development, and a clear plan. White needs to push the a-pawn to a5 and bring the f1 rook to the queenside. Once I’ve asserted my control on the queenside, I can bring my knight to b3 or c4 and put a lot of pressure on Black. Great! This didn’t take too long – and to a spectator 15. Rfc1 seems like a natural execution of that plan.

While its a perfectly good move, I wasted 12 minutes here looking at 15. f3, trying to solidify my center before going to the queenside. 15. f3 isn’t a bad move, but because I looked at this first without really identifying my plan (I had just brought my knight from f3 to d2 and was thinking about this follow-up), I needed to take extra steps to get reacclimatized to the position.

How big of a deal was 12 minutes? It would have meant that on move 36 I would have had 16 minutes in the critical position, instead of just 4:

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Steincamp–Petesch, position after 35…Rbe8

Needing to make time control, I lost my edge with 36. dxc6?, and when I got to move 40, I found myself with a worse endgame and went on to lose. I dismissed 36. d6! because I thought the pawn would be lost, but with more time I may have seen 36…Rd8 37. d7 Re7 38. Rcd4 Qe6 39. Qd2 with a big advantage.

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Steincamp–Petesch, analysis after 39. Qd2

Its always tough to lose a game like this, but I knew I played a competitive game and just needed to pick up the pace on the clock a little bit (click here to see the whole game).

After a quick draw in the second round, I got white again against an 11 year old expert, Pranav Prem. While I had never played Pranav before, he was already gaining massive rating points before I graduated from high school, so I knew this was a potential trap game for me.

This was the first real test of my solid opening repertoire, and I was rather pleased to get this roughly equal position:

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Steincamp–Prem, position after 21. Qf3

With best play Black should be able to hold equality, but White is the side playing for the advantage. Thanks to my queen on f3 and my “Ulf Anderson” knight on d3, I can play for the standard Catalan endgame advantage of the weak c6 square. If my knight can reach the c6 square, the game is much more dangerous for Black – and that’s basically what happened. After five hours of methodical chess, I squeezed water from stone and got my first win of the tournament.

Through three rounds, my tournament strategy served me well. I had an interesting draw with Black the next morning against Dennis Norman (who tacked on nearly 65 points to break 2000 for his tournament performance – congrats!), and followed that with an evening draw against FM Aravind Kumar from a position of strength.

Day 4 proved to be my real test, as I started the day with Black against two-time Virginia State Champion Andy Samuelson. Having lost to him convincingly twice before, I was a little concerned about the match-up, but once the position produced a symmetrical pawn structure. Determined to get more than a draw White pushed with 38. g5, trying to lose me in the complications:

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Samuelson–Steincamp, position after 38. g5

While the game had a lot of critical moments beyond this, the trend shifted in my favor when I found the engine best 38…Be5!, asking White how he planned to extricate his knight on h6. From this point on, I felt like I was the biggest threat to myself, and I needed to stop my confidence from getting in the way of playing a good game. I made some mistakes and got a little lucky, but my hard work paid off and I converted my material advantage to a full point.

Stay calm Isaac… PC: Paul Swaney

Not my best ever win, but with a plus score with Black guaranteed, I was thrilled (and tired) after another five hour win. Even more importantly, at 3.5/6, I was guaranteed to score 50%+ with any result in the final round. Phew! The Eastern Open isn’t cursed!

Unfortunately for me, having used up much of my energy, I was too content with a draw in the last round, and was punished after a drawn out ending (where I still had my chances to equalize!). But what can I say? Play for a draw and you better be ready to lose…

Last round aside, this was a great confidence booster for me as I jumped back over 2100 to end the year. Funnily enough after the last round, I thought I would only gain a couple points – 20 was a real holiday surprise!

What worked for me? To start the tournament, I really believed in my preparation, and it showed, even in my first round loss. After regrouping with a win in the third round, I played much more confidently and relaxed. Not obsessing about chess between rounds and store-hopping instead …helped? That’s bad news for my bank account.

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One last surprise – my first Penguins jersey! Let’s go Pens!

But more importantly I treated all of my opponents the same way. I didn’t take any risks unless I felt it was the absolute best move on the board. I think in playing solidly, I successfully blocked out external distractions like rating and the disappointment in losing my first game. I had a lot of respect for everyone in the field, so it didn’t matter who the big fish were. We were all in the shark tank.

Quiet Struggle in Orlando

Welcome to the 2018 Chess^Summit Journey!

To start off, we’ll take a look at a game from the K-4 Grade Championships in December.

A contrast to the chaotic roller coaster game analysis last time, this game is a quiet struggle between two up-and-coming young scholastic players.

You can find the game Annotations HERE. Below are a two quick diagrams.

1                                          Avoid creating long term weaknesses (b7-b5)


Black to move. Rfd8 or h6?

To summarize, below are two take away from the game:

  1. Avoid creating long term weaknesses from short term attack (15…b5)
  2. Look for prophylactic moves when the position is calm

Hope you enjoy! Happy New Years!

Step out! The world is a lot Bigger than we think

Have you ever watched Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween Prank Segement? When they hear the “bad news”, you can see many of the kid’s reactions as if the world is ending.

We all have bad days, bad games, or something that doesn’t go our way. These things happen to anyone. But when it happens to us, we feel the world is dropping on us.

My USCL game

I played a couple local tournaments in Atlanta in 2015 as my mini-comeback, and then chatted with the Atlanta Kings team to play in the USCL. My local tournaments had some ups and downs, but they all ended well.

I played two games for the Kings. The first game was a complete whack, I played 1.e4 e6 2. b3?!. Possibly due to too many blitz games at home, I thought this was a good opening choice. Needless to say, I was punished swiftly.

That game didn’t bother me too much, as I was more in a ‘let’s give this thing a try’ mood. And my game was not the determining factor for the team. But after this game, I got serious, and wanted to contribute more for the team.

Before the next game, I prepared for the opening, which was something I haven’t done since 2007.

The game was played on a Wednesday night. I had a normal work day, and then drove over 45 minutes to the playing site, not unusual for Atlanta traffic. A little tired, but excited to play.

The game took close to three hours, I got to use what I had prepared, and it was up-and-down until we traded queens.

Around move 40, the feeling of ‘all that work is gone’ started to sink in. It felt like déjà vu again. I resigned soon after.

We lost the match 1.5-2.5. And yes, my game mattered a lot.

The drive back home didn’t take 45 minutes, but it felt much longer, because of my mood.

Step Out

I run my first Spartan competition a week after the game, which was physically hard and painful. But mentally I gained more perspective.


While jumping over each hurdle, I knew I joined this competition as a choice. Whereas many people in the world are running in much worse conditions to escape.

My thoughts became broader, and I realized a bad game, or a bad day is really nothing compared to many tough battles in the world.

Chess is just one example. I’ve had unsatisfied school experiences, bad job interviews, or even just an annoying drive that typically takes 10 minutes turned into an hour due to road constructions (happened to me this week).

At that moment, it’s hard to swallow. But by practicing to look at the big picture, I feel more at ease, and whatever is bothering me is not much of a problem.

So the next time you have a tough day: Please try to do the following

Look at the Sky.

Enjoy the Ride.

Step Out from the problem.


Happy Holidays! And I hope 2018 will be the best year yet for you.

If you have enjoyed any chess^summit articles, please checkout Chess^Summit apparels.

MVP of the Week: Non-Draws and Blunders

I’m sure you’ve heard the big headline this week from the Grand Chess Tour … 23 draws out of 25 games in the London Chess Classic: Snoozefest 2K17. While frustrated chess fans discuss ways to kill the draw offer in chess, its our job here at Chess^Summit reassure you that top-level chess isn’t dead, and that strong players do make mistakes!

Let’s start in London – where alongside the London Chess Classic is the British Knockout Championship and the London FIDE Open. In round 4 of the London FIDE Open, Swedish GM Nils Grandelius tricked his younger opponent into snacking on b2 before completing his development:

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 11…Bxb2

With his queenside still undeveloped, grabbing on b2 was proved to be an invitation for White to attack Black’s king after 12. Ng5!. Without the use of all of his pieces, Black’s position began to crack: 12… Rf5 13.Rb1 Rxg5 14.Rxb2 Rf5 15.Qc2 Rf8 16.Be4


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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 16. Be4

Both of White’s bishops are now primed to attack the monarch, and Black has yet to make any progress developing his queenside. Black decided to give up the exchange after 16…h6 17.Bc3 Na6 18.Bh7+ Kh8 19.Qg6 Rf6 20.Bxf6 Qxf6 21.Qxf6 gxf6 22. Be4, and resigned shortly after.

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Grandelius–Henderson de la Fuente, position after 22. Be4

Where else is chess happening right now? St. Petersburg! The Russian Men’s and Women’s Championship Superfinal are just four rounds in, with a gold mine of decisive results. WGM Olga Girya smashed IM Anastasia Bodnaruk in today’s round using a popular move order trick in the London System:

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 5. h4!

Using the move order 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nc3!, Girya had tricked her opponent into a less flexible set-up and began her kingside assault early. Trying to refute the attack, Black held her breath and played 5…0-0, encouraging White to go on the offensive with the famous exchange sacrifice, 6.h5 Nxh5 7.Rxh5! gxh5 8.Qxh5.

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 8. Qxh5

It may not have been wise to enter into White’s preparation, but Black’s next few moves were puzzling, as she failed to bring her queenside pieces to aid her king: 8…f5 9.Nf3 c6 10.Bd3 Nd7 11.O-O-O Nf6 12.Qh4 Qe8 13.Rh1

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 13. Rh1


Maybe it was now that Bodnaruk realized that g2-g4 is a serious threat because after 13…h5, Black’s position was in shambles. With dark squares e5 and g5 both being weak, Black was too undeveloped to stop the infiltration.

The assault continued with 14.Ne5 Ng4 15.Nxg4 fxg4 16.Qg5 Rf6 17.Be5 Qf7 18.Rxh5, and with the kingside exposed, Black was left with a completely lost position! Black tried to generate counterplay, but to no avail and had to resign.

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Girya–Bodnaruk, position after 18. Rxh5

You might be picking up on a theme here, but let’s look through one more game for good measure…

Do you know where the Faroe Islands are? In a last round clash between two FMs at the recent Runavik Open, Black found himself pawn-grabbing before tucking his king away after 11…Bxe5?

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 11…Bxe5

White was quick to punish Black, and there was no time to scramble after 12. Re1 d5? 13. Nxd5 cxd5 14. Qxd5 O-O 15. Rxe5

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 15. Rxe5

White’s now regained his material and picked up an extra pawn, and meanwhile Black has failed to fix his development problem. The pair of bishops alone were enough to discourage Black from getting back in the game. 15…Be6 16. Qe4 Nf6 17. Qe1 Rfe8 18. Bxe6 fxe6 19. h3 Nd7 20. Re4 Qf6 21. Bxh6 1-0

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Bjerre–Karason, position after 21. Bxh6

Black resigned here. Arguably premature, but with a material deficit and four isolated pawns, Black decided that it was not worth playing on.

What do these three recent games tell us about chess? Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Develop your pieces! Even strong players mess this up, and the consequences can be lethal.
  2. Take the initiative! If you’re opponent is not developing, see if you can prevent your opponent from getting back into the game by forcing them to respond to threats instead.
  3. Keep that king safe! Just because your king is castled, doesn’t mean it’s safe. As we saw in Grandelius’ game, a king is weak without sufficient protection.

Maybe this theme of development is what Levon was getting at after all…

Maybe the London Chess Classic will pick up now that Caruana is at +2, but if not there are plenty of other great games happening across the world!