My name is Xiao, and I’m glad you’re joining me on my first article with the team.
In this post, I’ll chat with you on my chess stories and how chess shaped me in many aspects outside of the game. Without further ado, let’s get started.
My Chess Beginnings
I learned chess in China when my mom brought home a chess board from work. And then I joined a chess club in kindergarten to get started in chess training.
My memories are fuzzy about the details of these chess days, but I do remember chess always brought more fun for me.
Losing in chess were not painful at all for me during this period.
One thing led to another, while in China, I joined a chess school, where my foundation was build.
I played in many tournaments in and out of my hometown Tianjin. Around third grade, I also worked with a chess trainer, who helped me further improve my chess fundamentals.
Losing now started to become annoying, but not much more than that.
Continuation of Chess in the U.S
In 2001, I came to U.S with my parents. And without much break, my parents found the Atlanta Chess Center after a month in Atlanta. My chess days in the U.S. started there. When you go thru my rating history, about 80% of my tournaments were played in the Atlanta Chess Center.
From 2001 to 2007, I played chess intensely, and really worked towards improving my game and rating.
2005 to 2006 were my highlight years, but for some reason, the painful lost games were always more memorable. I suppose this is human psychology at work.
I will talk about more about one of the painful games in my next post.
Going to College. Stopped Playing Chess
Before my senior year in high school, I decided to take a break from chess. Academics was a driver, my SAT was not good, and I haven’t taken any AP classes yet.
Another reason was my lack of tool set in terms of running the chess marathon. My psychology was reactive. I was chasing the destination instead of the journey.
The initial one year break, turned out to be over 7 years. I followed chess sparingly. However, my mind was unconsciously connecting the dots between chess emotions with everything outside of the game.
This period is when I started to think about psychology in and out of chess, and today it is still an interesting topic for me to pander.
My psychology to losing in anything become more robust. And I started to enjoy the process of running a marathon than crossing the finishing line.
Came Back to Teach Chess
I started working in 2014 and I learned the concept of side hustle during this time. I immediately found it enticing. Teaching chess was an easy choice, and it didn’t take long for me to get started.
When I teach chess classes, talking about chess concepts is certainly important, but I try to constantly relate to student’s chess emotions.
The vast amount of chess knowledge online has made information much easier to acquire. Simply type ‘chess’ in Google and you can get started.
However, building a strong emotional foundation in and out of chess is a more intense process. I’m still trying to figure out the route for myself, and I hope to share with the readers.
I’ll write about chess analysis from time to time. But I’d want to talk more about chess psychology in my posts at Chess^Summit.
Welcome to my Chess^Summit journey, and I hope you had enjoyed the first run so far!
Another semester finished! While most college students will be looking forward to these next few weeks to decompress, I’ll be hitting the books to get ready to play tournament chess again – though I have to admit, I’m planning for my preparation to last a little past the Pan-American Collegiate Chess Championships this week.
Since the US Junior Open last summer, my goal to reach National Master hasn’t exactly gone as smoothly as I had hoped. After being humbled in Philadelphia at the World Open and then again in Orlando, I had to seriously revaluate my goals and work ethic going into the Washington International.
Even though I showed significant improvement over the board, my score in Rockville showed there was still a lot of work to do to reach National Master and beyond. By the time I started my fall semester, many of my games felt like I was just trying to prove that I was where I was a year ago, and each poor result felt like I was running into an invisible wall of sorts – what happened?
To an extent, I do think my workload hurt my ability to improve as the semester wore on, in some cases even forcing me to pass on tournaments to stay on top of my classes. Outside of my weekly games with Beilin, I also haven’t had many opportunities to play opponents rated over 2000 – six to be exact. Needless to say, that’s not a good number for anyone trying to play at high level, goals aside. So now what?
As 2016 concludes, I’ll be entering my thirteenth year of playing chess competitively. While I only started to take my development seriously about six years ago, I’ve always loved the idea of playing abroad, and I got my first chance in 2005 at a local Osaka tournament. While Japan isn’t known for chess, having family there made arranging travel easy, and I returned in 2008 and more recently in 2013, punctuating that trip with a 4th place finish in the Pan-Japan Junior Chess Championships in Tokyo.
Last May, a particular US Chess article by then-FM Kostya Kavutskiy (who has since written for Chess^Summit) about his trip to Europe reminded me of the adventure it truly is to play overseas. While the dream of going to Europe had been in the back of my mind far before reading his article, I had never really stopped to think when or if it could happen. Being a second year mathematics major at the University of Pittsburgh, I can certainly count on my classes getting tougher, and beyond that, I have no idea what life will bring me. After weeks of on-and-off discussion with my parents, we finally decided to take off my 2017 spring semester so I could travel to Europe and compete in various tournaments. My dream was coming true! Once the US Junior Open finished last June, I started drafting iteneraries and researching tournaments. It wasn’t until I left for Pittsburgh when I had a firm itenerary set, and much later when I purchased my airplane boarding passes.
With no classes from now through late April, this will likely be the last time in my lifetime (or at least for a very long time) I can put everything else aside and just focus on chess for an extended period of time. I won’t be leaving for Europe until early February, so I’ve also arranged for some tournament appearances stateside too. Enough chatter – here’s what I’ll be up to for the next few months!
I have three tournaments in the United States before heading off to Europe, and somehow each of the three locales are of unique interest for me.
Pan American Collegiate Chess Championships (New Orleans, LA)December 27-30
Marking my return to the site of the US Junior Open. The competition will be tough, but Pitt brings its strongest ever team to the tournament.
Weekend FIDE Tournament (New York, NY) January 6-8
Last time I played in the Big Apple, I broke my curse and won my first ever adult tournament to kick off my summer. This time I’ll likely enter as a much lower seed with the hopes of gaining some experience against top notch opposition.
Liberty Bell Open (Philadelphia, PA) January 13-16
In my last tournament before I head to Europe, I’ll revisit the battleground of the World Open. Trust me, I’ve had this circled on my calendar for a while now.
Having never been to Europe, I can’t tell you as much about the venues. But as always, I’ll be posting to Chess^Summit throughout the trip, so make sure to stay tuned!
Dolomiten Bank Open, Lienz, Austria February 11-18
Liberec Open, Liberec, Czech Republic February 25-March 4
Schachfestival Bad Wörishofen Open, Bad Wörishofen, Germany March 10-18
First Saturday Tournament, Budapest, Hungary April 1-11
Reykjavik Open, Reykjavik, Iceland April 19-27
I’m also planning on touring Paris, Munich, Venice, and Vienna throughout my stay. I will be leaving in early February, so in total, I’ll be abroad for 82 days and get in 46 rated games in Europe. Including my games before I leave, I’ll play a total of 62 games this ‘semester’! I’m very curious to see what this trip will bring to my game, and I am looking forward to the many on- and off-the-board experiences I will have while I’m away.
I’m really thankful for everyone who helped me put this trip together – my parents, my coach GM Eugene Perelshteyn, various tournament directors, as well as anyone who has offered me any advice along the way! I’m planning on making the most of this opportunity, and I hope all of you will follow along here on Chess^Summit!
As some of you may have noticed, my results following the US Junior Open have been uncharacteristically poor. After taking a beating in the top section of the World Open, I followed up with an uninspired showing at the Southern Open, eventually dipping below 2100 despite much-improved play at the Washington International. Was there an end in sight?
Though I had been looking forward to my second year of college, moving back to Pittsburgh also posed a potential distraction from my ability to study chess. As Alice mentioned last week, with all of the academic and social obligations, the time remaining is not ideal for a chess player aspiring to become a master. In an effort to continue where the summer left off, I continued to wake up at 6:30 each morning to exercise and work through tactical exercises and opening preparation. Admittedly, getting out of bed has been quite difficult, as there haven’t been many opportunities for me to prove to myself that the preparation was making a difference.
To make up for this, I’ve been meeting with Beilin each week to play practice games and identify holes in my theoretical knowledge. While this doesn’t quite compensate for a lack of rated games, we really push each other to the brink when we play each other. So far, each of the six games we’ve played this year have been decisive.
For my first month back in Pittsburgh, I had two events I wanted to be ready for: the Pittsburgh Chess League season opener and the G/60 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships. The Pittsburgh Chess League, as Beilin discussed last week, is one of the most exciting chess events in the city, and is the oldest league of its kind in the United States. That being said, amidst the opening match confusion, our opponent’s forfeited three of the four boards, leaving me with no game to review going into the G/60 Championships. Forfeits seem to be really common, but this was actually the first time in 13 years (and over 800 rated games!) that this has ever happened to me. Certainly not ideal timing for a first.
One weakness I always felt I had is an inability to play in quick time controls, which is why, somewhat understandably, I was extremely nervous about competing in a G/60 time control against a very talented field. My fears tripled when I was paired against my US Junior Open trainer, National Master Franklin Chen, with Black in the first round. Franklin opted to reach an endgame where he could play for two results, but luckily for me, I only had one weakness and managed to hold a draw. While that game was interesting, and certainly instructive, I wanted this article to focus on my second round win against a National Master.
Even though I lost, you can see how White’s unorthodox way of play created too many weaknesses and surrendered the center making it far too easy for Black to equalize and more. In our second game, we reached a similar position but a tempo down. One of the things I love about the English against 1…e5 is that it’s a hyper-accelerated Sicilian a tempo up and colors reversed, so it forces Black to come up with creative solutions to make up for the lost tempo. Having played on the Black side of a closed Sicilian many times, much of that experience has helped me develop optimal play with the White pieces. In this game, Black carried through with his …g6-g5 play, and being a tempo up, I didn’t have to slow play the position with Nf3-e1. What a difference a tempo can make!
I wound up getting Black in each of my last two games, drawing each with far less impressive play than I started the day with. That being said, my ability to hold positions was strong enough to finish the day undefeated despite three blacks over the four rounds.
This is easily the best performance I’ve had since leaving Charlotte last May, and it’s an even bigger success considering I got paired with three blacks and my predisposition of not playing my best in shorter time controls. I have to attribute some of my success to my practice games with Beilin, as each of my first two games each stemmed from practice games of our own (shout-out to Beilin for beating his first 2300+ rated opponent and finishing 3/4, by the way – I hope he’s getting as much out of our matches as I am!). Of course, this one weekend alone will not make up for the past few months of poor performances, but it’s a great first step and shows I was able to build off of my Washington International performance. Hopefully, this success will make it a lot easier to continue waking up at 6:30, and realize that yes, it makes a difference!
What makes for a good tournament performance? Rating gain? Total number of wins? Winning prizes? Well, for me, it was none of the above. Last week’s Washington International marked my final tournament before returning to Pittsburgh for the fall semester, and a return to one of my favorite tournament venues.
Just like last year, I entered the U2200 section hoping to find some sort of clarity going into the fall. Since the US Junior Open, I think it’s fair to say that I have had a particularly tough stretch between a poor showing at the World Open and some uninspired play at the Southern Open – only tallying two wins over my last eleven games. Of course, these past two months have also given me a lot of insight into my own weaknesses as a player, forcing me to work on a new opening repertoire, my calculation skills, and my overall endgame understanding.
To an extent, I do think putting so much emphasis on my preparation for the US Junior Open resulted in a bit of a backslide in my studies upon my return from New Orleans. I didn’t really grasp this in Philadelphia as I was preoccupied, getting torn apart in the Open section, but this became apparent to me when my performance in Orlando was punctuated with a very lucky win despite my poor form and inability to find any tactics that weekend. But naturally, I have greater aspirations than to obsess about a tournament I played in two months ago, and making master is certainly a good first step.
In the three weeks leading up to the Washington International, I completely changed how I attacked my studies. Every morning, I woke up at 6:30 to go running to improve my endurance while beating the heat. After pushing my physical limits, I then tested myself mentally, doing tactical exercises for about two hours before working on my opening repertoire and then testing out some lines in online practice games. On most days, I was able to put in about five hours of preparation, though there was one day where I somehow had the stamina for ten! This wasn’t enough to fix all of the problems my game has had over the month prior, but it made up for a lot of poor preparation – think of it as a “spring cleaning”, if you will.
So, as you can imagine, I entered Rockville the most prepared I could be, and easily the most confident I have been in a very long time. I knew it would be hard to replicate the success I had last year with a completely new opening repertoire, so my only goals were to focus on getting solid positions out of the opening and limit the number of unforced blunders in my play – both of which were places I had failed in my two prior events.
My first three games were extremely uneventful, though I managed to outplay my first round opponent from an equal endgame to secure a win. My score of 2/3 wasn’t a bad start, but my tournament really started in round 4, where my inability to play quickly cost me a beautiful position and the game. Even though I’m not particularly happy with how this game ended, I think it’s instructive and worth sharing here on Chess^Summit.
Ouch! Well, I guess that’s one way to lose to a lower rated opponent… Not quite what I was hoping for in my “back to form” tournament. One thing I’ve noticed about some of my tournaments pre-dating the US Junior Open was that if I had a closely contested game and lost, I generally would underperform in my next few games and it would kill my ability to have a consistent tournament performance. Knowing that my ability to rebound quickly from this loss would define how I did in this tournament, I played my best chess in each of my next two games as Black.
Pushed for what felt a “must-win” in round 5 to bounce back from a tough loss the night before, I opened with a move I hadn’t played since 2007! Typically, I bring blue Gatorade to each game, but when I feel like I need to win, I switch it out for “Darth Vader” juice (red). While superstitions are silly (I have others!), there was no messing around this Monday morning, and Caissa rewarded me with some creative play, and a great win to really start my scoring spree this tournament.
While I won this game with some nice technique, I was much prouder of myself for completely ignoring my opponent’s time trouble, and forcing myself to find the best move at my own pace, even once the endgame had been reached and it was clear the game was continuing for the sake of formality. I feel like my ability to handle such situations has come a long way since I blew a State Championship last February trying to push my opponent further into his own time trouble.
Now 4/6 with three rounds to go, I was feeling optimistic again about my chances to place in the event, but as luck would have it, things just did not work out. Paired against one of the strongest players in the field I managed secure equality, but quickly found myself distracted by some off-the-board behavior related to my opponent that I do not wish to discuss at this time. I had my own mistakes and know what I can take away from this game to become a stronger player, but unfortunately, this once again killed the momentum I had worked so hard to build. I did well to draw my last two rounds with Black, but on paper, 5/9 certainly didn’t seem to make up for that round 7 loss.
So we return to the opening question – what makes a good tournament? Dropping below 2100 for the first time certainly doesn’t sound like a good result, but when I look at the goals I set for myself going into Rockville and then compare these nine games to my previous eleven, only one word comes to mind: progress. In this tournament, despite playing with a new opening repertoire, there was only (arguably) one game where I left the opening slightly worse (my round 8 draw), and while I had my mistakes, it was still not nearly as many as I had at the Southern Open. Even though I was fully prepared for this tournament, I got hit with everything this section could offer me, and each of the lessons I learned will be valuable towards future improvement.
Good is a strong word in chess because it’s too general to really describe every aspect of a performance. At this year’s Washington International, I didn’t have the breakthrough tournament that I had the year prior, but I certainly had a very encouraging result. The way I played showed a lot of improvement, but in pulling together a solid showing, I also saw my play with White isn’t getting me enough, and that my ability to manage time trouble can still use some work.
As I pack my bags for another term at Pitt this week, I’m excited about the prospect of being able to play more frequently in various local competitions. With the Pittsburgh Chess League, as well as the various Pennsylvania State Championships on University campus, I’m confident that I will not only have an opportunity to regain the points I’ve lost the last half of this summer, but soar beyond if I continue to attack my studies. Of course, I likely won’t have five hours a day anymore given my workload, but I hope I can make up for that with ambition and get back to the results I’m used to.
These past few tournaments have been a test, and the finish line is near. My only hope is I cross it sprinting.
Though finishing 7th with a score of 3.5/6 wasn’t exactly what I had been dreaming of, I think my performance at this year’s US Junior Open should give me hope going forward into the future. That being said, there’s always room for improvement, and as this weekend’s games have shown me, this has not changed. I had several opportunities to make my mark in this tournament, playing both of the eventual winners, but in critical moments I had lapses of judgement, ultimately costing me the game in each encounter.
Part of this was nerves, I’m sure, but this is no different than any other tournament. If I learned one lesson from this weekend, it’s that you should never set a goal to be to win a tournament! These things just don’t happen on demand. Despite putting in nine months of dedicated study and hard work, this weekend just wasn’t my best weekend. And it’s not like I haven’t improved. In the last nine months, I’ve gained roughly 75 rating points and earned the title of Candidate Master playing against tougher venues across the East Coast. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while my enthusiasm was in the right place, there were twenty-four other ambitious players in my section, who I’m sure were also keen on winning the event. Clearly there can only be at most a few co-winners, and I’m sure if this exact section were to meet again a month from now and play, the final results would be somewhat different. We can’t control when we play our best, but we can focus on continuing to improve, and as my coach has been trying to tell me, do the work and the results will come! Maybe my breakthrough tournament is next month, or next year, or maybe it was even in New York City just a couple weeks ago. While the US Junior Open has concluded, I still have many opportunities to make the most of my preparation for this tournament in future events. That being said, let me highlight some of the key moments of this weekend.
My first round game proved to be rather simple, as my opponent offered a few pieces out of the opening and fell apart quickly. Though I’d usually be annoyed with such a pairing, sitting at the board in a risk-free round helped me relax and become acquainted with the tournament hall. Opening the tournament with a win? Done. Now it’s time to go to war.
In my next game, I was already paired up against the eventual co-winner of the tournament, though he may thank me for my error in reflection – I believe it was the closest he came to losing the entire weekend.
White to Move
Here we have a relatively balanced position, with a long middlegame battle ahead of us. Black has the famous hanging pawns structure on c5 and d5, and while I may not have space, my set-up is solid and offers many strategic choices. Here I decided that my queen was misplaced on f5, and played 17.Qb1 with the idea of creating the Reti battery with Qf5-b1-a1 and putting pressure on the dark squares. One problem for Black is that I can continue to improve my position, while all of his pieces are on their best possible squares but lack concrete attacking options. For this reason, my opponent spent half of his time on 17…h6? which is a practical mistake to have spent twenty-three minutes on this move! Black takes away the g5 square, but this is not within the realm of discussion for this position. Quickly, I took my chance to seize the initiative. 18.Qa1 Qf8 19.a4!
Using the a-pawn technique we’ve discussed several times already here on Chess^Summit! My goal is to create a weakness on the queenside, and reactivate my d2 knight via b1. 19…Ba6 20.Nb1 Bb7 21.a5 Rb8 22.Nc3
Visually, my position has already undergone a significant transformation. Black’s pieces have meanwhile spread in disarray and lack a concrete plan. My goal now is to trade the d5 pawn for my only weakness on b3. 22…Bc6 23.Nh4 Rxb3 24.Nxd5 Bxd5 25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxd5
With my activity comes tactical problems for Black. Already, I’m threatening to take on g7, removing the defender of the d6 bishop. Furthermore, Black’s bishop is pinned to the d7 knight, so Black already must be careful to not hang material. After this move, my opponent had minutes, if not seconds to complete the rest of the game. 26…g6 27.Rcd1 Re6 28.R1d2!
The right idea! Preparing to create Alekhine’s gun and simply pick off a minor piece and win the game. I spent a lot of time here trying to calculate 28. Bh8 (which works), but couldn’t find a line I really liked. Once I noticed Black has a hard time moving any of his pieces, this became an easy move to make. 28…Ne5
Hanging a knight, right? Maybe you can already start to see what I missed. My initial reaction to this move was surprised because I had ruled out this option in my calculation of my previous move. In my head, I could hear myself saying “Black only had seconds left when he made the move and was looking really nerv- no this doesn’t matter!” And calculated here. My thought was 29. Bxe5 Bxe5 30. Rxe5 Qg7 but I couldn’t find a way for Black to keep the piece. “Okay, he hung it” but my opponent was a strong master, and such a mistake is so elementary… I went up and drank a glass of water and returned to the board to reanalyze my lines. Nothing. And so I continued. If I had just stuck to my plan of 29. Qd1! Black would have had to give up the exchange since the b3 rook and d6 bishop are hit. But I was greedy and continued 29.Bxe5 Bxe5 30.Rxe5 Qb8!
A blind spot! Even with seconds left my opponent showed off his tactical acumen with this idea. Already I should have recognized that I can’t play for a win and played 31. Rd8+ Qxd8 32. Rxe6 fxe6 33. Nxg6, but it’s not so clean and for a position that was winning just moves ago, I wanted more. As the famous saying goes, mistakes come in bunches, and in this case, I continued down the path to self-destruction with 31.Qd1 Rb1 32.Rd8+ Qxd8 33.Qxb1
It was in this moment I realized I had forgotten one of the most basic rules of chess when I recaptured the rook on b1. My original intention was to take on d8, but of course, this isn’t legal due to the pin along the back rank. My opponent converted the endgame, but my position is practically resignable here.
Obviously losing this game put a big dent in my tournament hopes, but I could still have an outside chance at winning so I wasn’t too worried yet. In the third round, I played a 1400-rated player who played unambitiously until his position was nearing critical condition, and then somehow riddled the best move in the position eight times in a row to reach equality. Right when I sobered up to the real possibility of drawing, my opponent hung mate, and I was spared of any humiliation.
While this win preserved my hopes, the horrendous start to my fourth round almost ensured I could not win the event. Luckily, thanks to my study of Carlsen’s endgames here on Chess^Summit, I found a way to draw, and at least finish the day 2.5/4:
White to Move
Even though I am materially even in this endgame, I am structurally worse, and must constantly defend my position’s well-being. Black’s intentions are clear with his last move. He wants to push his b-pawn and exploit my weak a-pawn. Though my position is a little rancid, Black’s king blocks his h8 rook from action (king safety is not as relevant here), which give me just a few moves to regroup. In order to draw this position, it’s incredibly important to understand that rook and four pawns against rook and three is a draw. This means that trades favor me and that I can afford to trade my a- and d- pawns for the b4 pawn if I can reach that rook endgame. Knowing this, I started by eliminating the threat of …b4-b3. 19.Nd4 O-O 20.Rb1 Rxa2 21.Rxb4 Ra1+ 22.Bf1
My bishop is passive for now, but this is the consequence of having had the worse side of equal. Now I want to trade off a pair of rooks or force Black off my back rank. 22…Nd7 23.Rcb5 Rc8 24.Rb1 Ra4 25.Nf5!
This move guarantees equality. Even though I knew he would reject it, I thought about offering a draw here to communicate that I knew how to hold equality. The knight is poisoned since the d5 bishop will hang, and once Black deals with the fork threat on e7, I will retreat to e3 and then to c4, holding nicely. 25…Kf8 26.Ne3 Bc6 27.R5b4 Ra3 28.Nc4 Raa8
Thanks to my activity, I can force enough simplifications to force a draw. As I’ve mentioned repetitively in my Endgame Essentials series, activity is crucial towards success. 29.Bg2 Bxg2 30.Kxg2 Rcb8 31.Nb6 Nxb6 32.Rxb6 Rxb6 33.Rxb6 Rd8 34.Rb3
Also drawing was 34. h4, but there’s no reason to prove the 4v3 endgame if you don’t have too. My opponent played on for a few more moves, but soon realized how tenable my position was and agreed to a draw. It wasn’t quite the moment I wanted to demonstrate my defensive technique, but with the way the opening went, I had no choice in the matter.
The timing of this round made my day plans quite weird. Having finished at half past three, I had the rest of the day to myself to explore New Orleans. Even though a draw meant I likely couldn’t win, I knew it was important to take a break from chess and relax. After putting my things back in the room, I got an Uber to get a ride to the French Quarter, but unfortunately, my driver asked me to cancel when he realized he wasn’t making as much as he thought he would for the drive. In doing so, it meant I couldn’t summon another Uber without paying a cancellation fee even though it wasn’t my fault. Grounded at the airport hotel, I didn’t exactly have much to do other than go on Netflix and watch some of the Copa America games. I was still feeling quite adventurous, so I ordered delivery from Domino’s and got their cheesy bread… Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.
So as I’m sure you can imagine, I was looking forward to my fifth round game despite my overall tournament standing. Paired against an underrated youngster, we reached a same color bishop, queen, and rook ending, and once again my endgame knowledge proved vital.
Black to Move
Again, material is even, but strategically Black is much better. In trying to attack my kingside, White has put all of his pawns on light squares, and now, both b3 and e4 are weak. Furthermore, White has no way of creating counterplay. Meanwhile, all of my moves are extremely naturally, and I only needed about five minutes (increment not included) off the clock to finish the game. First, I started with 36…Rb4 to activate my queen by blocking White’s threats on a5. 37.Bc2 Qc6 38.Rb1 Qb7 39.Rf3
If you’ve been reading my Endgames Essentials posts, you can probably already sense the direction with which this endgame is heading. My goal is to tie White down as much as possible, and then break with …h7-h5. With my next move, I attack the c4 pawn and force White to defend the b1 rook. I considered taking on a4, but this opens the position slightly, and could offer my opponent counterplay. Remember, it doesn’t matter how long it takes if you win! 39…Bf7 40.Rff1 h5 41.gxh5 Rxh5 42.Kg2 Qa8 43.Rh1 Rh4
Stopping h2-h4 while also putting even more pressure on the e4 pawn. While I haven’t won any material in the last few moves, the defensive task has become immensly more difficult, as the position went from the principle of two weaknesses to the principle of three (b3, e4, h2)! 44.Qd3 Be8 45.Rbe1 Bd7
Again, no need to rush with …Bc6. I inserted the threat of taking on f5 here to see where White would place his king before taking further measures. 46.Kg3 Rb8 47.h3 Bc6 48.Kg2 Rbh8
Since the b3 pawn is adequately protected, it was time to bring this rook from b4 to a more active location. Already, there are ideas like …g5-g4 exposing White’s king, as well as putting my rooks on h4 and f4 to win the e4 pawn. 49.Bb1 Qg8 50.Qf3 Rf4 51.Qg3 Qa8
I could have also tried 51… g4, but this opens the position and I have to be accurate. While my move takes longer, I guaruntee the win of a pawn, and White is completely helpless. The game effectively ends in a few moves. 52.h4 Bxe4+53.Bxe4 Rxe4 54.Rxe4 Qxe4+ 55.Qf3 Qxf3+ 56.Kxf3 Rxh4
A winning rook and pawn ending, but my opponent makes life even easier with 57.Rf1 Rf4+ 58.Ke2 d3+ 59.Ke1 d2+
My opponent played on till mate, but I figure that that continuation is far less instructive.
With a win, I sat at 3.5/5 and was tied for third heading into the last round. Though unrealistic, if my second round opponent were to have lost on board 1, and I had beaten my opponent on board 2, I would have tied for first, but I wasn’t counting on this. At this point, I recognized that if the tournament leader won with scholar’s mate, I couldn’t control it, and if he lost in four moves, it would still be out of my control. With my fourth round draw, I knew I was undeserving of first place, and if it happened then I would be extremely lucky. In just 30 minutes, the tournament leader drew, and that was that.
I still had my hands full though against a 2300 who was one win away from securing a tie for first. We had an interesting opening to say the least (though not necessarily great in quality), and in the middlegame, my opponent made a positional pawn sacrifice and got plenty of light-squared compensation. I was doing well to hold and reached this position:
White to Move
As we’ve seen thus far activity has been the key theme in each of my endgames, and thus I played 28. Qe7?? Rf8 29. Qb4 Ne4! -+ Even though I pushed Black’s rook away, I neglected an even more important theme we had discussed, king safety! If I had found 28. Qd3, my drawing chances would have sharply increased, and who knows, maybe I could have played spoiler and stopped my opponent from tying for first. This theme of consolidation is also extremely important in endgames, and admittedly it’s not one I spent extensive time studying back at home.
So at 3.5/6, my tournament was over. I had my chances, but this weekend I was shown three reasons why I simply could not be the US Junior Open champion, and that’s okay. While I have my over the board regrets, I have no regrets about pushing myself to win this tournament. Training to be competitive has made me a lot more well rounded as a player, and has given me the discipline I needed to improve going forward. Again, I can’t stress how grateful I am to have competed in this event and shared my process to reach here with all of you.
My last game completed, I was happy to find that Uber had waived my cancellation fee and even given me some credits for a ride. With nothing else to do, I finally got to head to the French Quarter and explore New Orleans. Being a food fanatic, I visited Cafe du Monde for their beignets and after a stroll through Woldenburg Park had dinner at The Gumbo Shop before heading back to the hotel.
While I had fun exploring the city, I wish I had more time to visit famous attractions like the zoo or aquarium, but unfortunately, the location of the hotel made this just about impossible as nearly everything of interest was about a half hour away.
With my last junior tournament in the books, I’ll have to think about what I want my next goal to be. Obviously, I want to become a National Master, but I’m hoping I can accomplish even more by the time I graduate college in three years… I guess we’ll have to see!
As I’ve mentioned before, I will be relaunching Chess^Summit on June 28th, adding three new authors in Beilin Li, Vishal Kobla, and Alice Dong. I’m really excited about the future of Chess^Summit, and I encourage you all to check out the new authors and learn from some of their own unique insights! See you all in a week!
Nine months ago, I set the nearly impossible sounding goal of winning the US Junior Open in New Orleans. Back in September, I had yet to achieve the Candidate Master title, nor had I managed to answer other important questions like “what is my major?” or “how will I balance chess and taking classes?”. While I had yet to resolve my future, the response I received for putting my goal here on Chess^Summit was tremendous.
Before I take off for New Orleans later this week, I wanted to thank everyone who pushed me towards my goal this year. Whether you contributed to my GoFundMe campaign, were a fan of my articles here, or just a friend interested in my various performances, your encouragement saw me compete in places like Philadelphia, Boston, New York (to name a few!), and now New Orleans. I’ve learned so much this year, and it would not have been possible without all of your support!
While anyone who followed my performances this year played a role in my improvement, there are some individuals who, without whom, my goal would simply not be possible. First, I’d like to thank my coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, who planted the idea of winning the US Junior Open into my conscience. I’ve been working with Eugene for over two years, and if anything, he’s taught me how to become a stronger player, not necessarily by playing better, but by playing smarter. Since I’ve started working with him, his ability to break down a position has always made an impression on me, and it’s this same ability I try to replicate in my articles here on Chess^Summit.
I’d also like to thank National Master Franklin Chen for also working with me this year, strengthening my opening play and preparing me for many tournaments. I’ve been a little quiet on discussing Franklin’s role in my improvement, mainly because I was worried that ambitious players in Pittsburgh would prepare for me differently if they knew I was working with him. In reflection, this is probably a testament to the work he’s done with me to make me a more aggressive player, and his overall knowledge of chess.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my friends and family both here in Virginia, and in my new home at the University of Pittsburgh. While they are by no means great chess players, their motivation and consistent encouragement provided a daily reminder to keep fighting and trying to improve. The influence they’ve had on my outlook of my performances has forced to become much more positive – and yes – realize there is a world outside chess whenever I have a bad performance.
In this last post before I fly south, I can’t thank everyone enough for the support these last nine months. Since I’ve started this campaign, I’ve broken 2100, earned the title of Candidate Master, won my first adult tournament, and beaten three players rated over 2300, which has me believing I have what it takes to put together a championship performance this weekend in New Orleans.
Regardless of how this weekend turns out, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had t0 compete and improve, and I’m sure the lessons I’ve learned these last nine months will last far beyond the US Junior Open. This ability to share my goals and progress is precisely the reason why in two weeks I’ll be relaunching Chess^Summit with other ambitious authors, and I hope you continue to follow us after the US Junior Open concludes.
Once again, thank you all for playing a big role in my goal, and I hope to bring back good news next week!
As I mentioned in my post last week, I spent my Memorial Day weekend competing in the 4th Annual Cherry Blossom Classic to help me prepare for the US Junior Open. I scored 3/7 and lost a couple rating points, but I thought I learned a lot this week – not just about chess, but about how psychology factors into the game as well.
For those of you who have watched my Chess^Summit videos, you may recall I opened last year’s Cherry Blossom Classic with my best career win at the time against WFM and US Women’s Championship contender Jennifer Yu. This year, I had a little deja vu on the opening night, beating a 2355 rated opponent in an arguably equal position.
Jacobson – Steincamp
In this moment, it’s critical that I play accurately to maintain an equal position. For example, if I had tried 22… Rab8, I would be violating my first Endgame Essentials principle in not having active play. White would enjoy a nice position, perhaps playing Rf1-e1-e4 with the idea of playing f4-f5 and breaking open my kingside. So I gave my opponent the b7 pawn in exchange for a rook on the 7th rank. 22…Rae8! 23.Rxb7 Re2
Visually, we can already see how White’s material advantage is temporary, with c2 and d5 both weak. I’m not out of the woods, but I’m one step closer to proving equality. 24.Qg3 Qe4
I wanted to play here before playing 24…Qxc2 since I have the immediate idea of …Re2-e3, indirectly attacking the h3 pawn. White would be tied up and I could take the more valuable d5 pawn instead of the pawn on c2. Furthermore, 24…Qxc2 25. f5! and I’m not happy letting this pawn reach f6 with mating ideas and an outpost on e7 for White’s rooks. My insertion more or less forces 25.Qf3 but now I can play 25…Qxc2 because I can meet 26.f5 with gxf5!
This move more or less forces an equal rook endgame after trades on f5 because my rooks can easily hit both d5 and b2. But what about 27.Qg3+?Doesn’t this win a pawn and the game after 27…Kh8 28.Qxd6?
Can you find the saving move that gives Black the initiative? I’ll give you a hint – the theme is activity and counterplay!
Completely ignoring the hanging rook, because 29.Qxf8+ Rg8! forces White to give up the queen since the mate threat on g2 is unstoppable otherwise.
I went on to win the endgame in 93 moves, but after the game my opponent mentioned 29. Rb8 as a drawing move, but in his line 29… Rh2+ 30. Qxh2 Qxh2+ 31. Kxh2 Rxb8,
I think White still has to prove equality. I guess there’s two morals to this game: 1) always look for forcing moves, but more importantly 2) if the position is drawn, don’t play with fire. My opponent, just like Jennifer last year, refused to draw simply because I was lower rated. I guess some things never change.
However, after this first game, I struggled to maintain the momentum, ultimately blowing a completely won position against a 2300+ rated player in a rather embarrassing fashion in the fourth round, then drawing my way out to finish at 3/7.
There weren’t many particular dazzling moments in this tournament when compared to my victory in New York last week, but there was one particularly historic game for me personally:
Round 6: Steincamp–Li
Back in March, I shared a game I played against Beilin Li, a friend of mine from Carnegie Mellon. Only a few weeks after that game, we played again with opposite color, but this time, he came prepared and outsmarted me in a Closed Sicilian. I doubt I’ll ever play Beilin again outside of Pittsburgh, but since we were rooming together and playing in the same section this tournament, we certainly made it possible.
Still recovering from the aforementioned loss, I didn’t want to play a game based off of preparation against a tactically astute player, so I decided to improvise and go for a more intuitive set-up, forcing Beilin to show me what he knows outside of the Closed Sicilian set-up. 1. Nf3
Stopping 1… e5 and getting ready for an English. When I realized I was going to play him a second time back in April, I had prepared this to get Beilin out of his comfort zone. Maybe he was a little surprised, but if he followed my games, he’d know that the last time I didn’t open a game with 1 c4 was back in 2009 when I was only 1300! But Beilin was smart and chose 1…g6
Still thinking I would play 2. c4, Beilin prepared to delay any central commitment by fianchettoing his kingside. If I opt for an English, Beilin could transpose into a Reversed Sicilian still unless I wanted to make him play a King’s Indian. Again, on this particular morning, I didn’t want anything sharp and made the real surprise move.
2. e4! Ironically, I had this position as Black the night before, but the difference is that if Beilin had continued 2… c5 I know the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon as Black and he doesn’t – a theoretical advantage if you will. So Beilin opted for a Pirc and played well to hold a draw. The game didn’t hold much intrigue for spectators (that knew me at least) outside of the first two moves.
While Beilin had a rough tournament this weekend, I suspect he’ll be one of my most challenging opponents in Pittsburgh for years to come. While we may be “rivals” over the chess board, we’re close friends, which is why I’m pleased to announce that after the US Junior Open, I’ll be adding Beilin along with a few other talented authors to Chess^Summit (more about this later)! Beilin writes a lot of great material on chess.com, and you can check out some of his articles here!
So what can I say about my own performance this weekend? Compared to last year, this was a much more difficult event. Six of my seven games were determined in the endgame, and by the end of the tournament, I had spent nearly 30 hours at the chess board! While it’s clear that I still need to work on my calculation between now and the US Junior Open, I think there are some positives I can take away from this tournament. First, since my trip to New York, I’ve gone seven straight games with Black unbeaten, scoring four wins in that stretch. Secondly, the time controls were the same as those in New York, and this time around, my time management was significantly better, and often I found myself pushing my opponent’s into some form of time trouble. Lastly, even though I only scored 1/3 against higher rated players, I was extremely close to beating two 2300s in one weekend (I had only beaten one going into the weekend). With the right preparation and discipline, I think I can beat these guys – which is what it’s going to take to win the US Junior Open in three weeks.
Next week is my last preparatory event for the US Junior Open, and I’ll be traveling to Charlotte for the Carolinas Classic. I’m currently in the middle of the Championship section, and I’m looking forward to a chance for redemption!