On August 8th through 15th I played in the expert section of the 7th Annual Washington International Tournament. It is fair to say that it was one of the most impressive tournaments I have every played in: the top section featured an enormous pool of very strong titled players (including numerous grandmasters), wooden boards with adequate space were provided, and rounds were limited to two per day!
Aside from the very pleasant playing conditions, the first half of the tournament could be best described as a cold shower for me. After rarely studying chess for over a month during my travels in Europe, I came back to the board with rather rusty calculation skills and a serious dent in my tactical vision.
I got off to a shaky start in round 1 against Sathis Nath (1817 USCF, 1861 FIDE) when I played with excessive ambition, only to find myself defending a seemingly hopeless endgame:
Black has just played the direct 18…e5 in an attempt to dampen White’s activity along the e-file. White could easily play 19.Bd2 and try to nurture a slight spacial edge, but I instead chose the much more direct 19.dxe6 e.p. After 19…Nxe6 20.Nxe6 Rxe6 21.Qxe6+ (What else?) Bxe6 22.Rxe6 Be5 23.Bxe5 Nxe5 24.Ne3 Qf8 25.Bd5 Kg7 26.f4 Nd7?!, White has very decent compensation for the queen. However, after achieving my desired position, I made a serious strategic mistake…
In the following position, White has a couple of decent options: 27.Re1 is rather natural, to stop Black from trading off rooks on the e-file, while 27.f5 is in fact the most forceful and arguably strongest move. The computer offers the following sharp line to demonstrate what happens if Black tries to trade rooks: 27…Re8 28.Bxb7 Rxe6 29.fxe6 Qe7 30.exd7 Qxe3+ 31.Kg2 Qd2+ = with a draw in sight. However, in the game I played the rather poor 27.Ng4, allowing my opponent to comfortably trade off my rook on the e-file. 27…Re8 (Black is able to swap off his inactive rook for one of white’s active rooks.) 28.Rce1 Rxe6 29.Rxe6 Nb6 and Black’s position is already looking quite promising. A few moves later, my situation began to look hopeless.
After 34…Qxa3, Black is easily winning due to his two connected passed pawns on the queenside that will be ushered down by his queen. By some miracle, involving some help from my opponent, I was able to escape from this position alive and managed to draw the game.
After coming so incredibly close to a round 1 loss against a significantly lower rated opponent, I played rather safe and uninspired chess in the following three rounds, finishing on 2/4 against approximately 1900-rated opposition. I knew that if I was going to make something of this tournament, I had to step up my game for the remaining five rounds. Step up my game I did!
A couple of weeks ago I made arrangements to play in my first nine-round tournament ever: the 7th Annual Washington International. Even though I will not be able to play in the top section, I am tremendously excited to play in the tournament because nine rounds against approximately equally rated opposition will be a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate good form and make serious rating gains. As I do not want to let such an opportunity go to waste, my chess studies in preparation for the tournament have been more focused, intense, and consistent than ever before.
Since the beginning of June, I have split my chess practice into two basic components: tactics/calculation and book study. The calculation practice ensures that I stay sharp and improve my board visualization abilities, whereas consistent book study allows for the acquisition of new concepts that will improve my chess understanding in the long run. While this may seem like a relatively standard training regimen, some of the methods that I have found to be very effective over the course of the past month may not be known to everyone. Allow me to dissect some of my favorite training methods from the month of June:
Timed calculation with a real board: Setting up difficult tactical problems from online tactical training sites on a real board, and then giving myself ten minutes to solve each tactic using a chess clock has helped me tremendously in improving my tactical ability. I believe that the use of a real board and clock significantly enhances the calculation training because it stimulates tournament conditions: better focus due to time constraints and three-dimensional element of tournament chess. It is a good idea to keep some form of a log for tactics as it can be very rewarding to track one’s progress.
Reviewing book material with a chess software: Up until late December of 2017, I would study chess books over the board, moving the pieces as I flipped from page to page. While this seems like a decent method, I found that I would not absorb everything that I studied, and more importantly, I would start to forget old material after only a couple of weeks. This frustrated me because essentially only 10% of what I studied actually aided my improvement in the long run. One day, I ran across a blog post by FM Daniel Barrish. In the post, FM Barrish discussed the technique of plugging chess positions from books along with corresponding analysis into a database software. The point of this technique is not only to exploit the benefits of active learning, but more importantly to create ready-made chess lessons on one’s computer that can easily be reviewed at any point in time after having studied the material. I tried out this technique myself with Artur Yusupov’s book series that I am currently studying, and have found it to be incredibly useful. With periodic review of old lessons on my computer, my recall of material has risen tremendously.
Chess note cards: The idea of chess note cards came to me recently after having used Daniel Barrish’s technique for a while, and I am already starting to experience the benefits. A few weeks ago, I printed out many positions from the exercises in Artur Yusupov’s books and glued them individually onto the front sides of note cards; I then wrote the solutions for each position on the backs of the corresponding note cards, along with the names of the two players and the setting of the game (place and date). By now I have amassed quite a large collection of note cards based on the Yusupov books and am reviewing them periodically. As a result, I am able to recognize positions in my games that reflect certain positions from a Yusupov book, and then apply the same concept that was shown in the book. I highly recommend this method because it is a fantastic form of active learning: writing the solutions on the back of the note cards as well as reviewing them periodically engages the mind actively with the given position.
Note card review underway!
I apologize for the lack of actual chess content in this blog, but I will be back to playing tournament chess as soon as the Washington International comes along. Stay tuned and until next time!
With my finals week over, an incredibly stressful semester has come to an end. In the course of four months, I changed majors twice, which meant taking a rigorous schedule to compensate. Ultimately, I had to leave chess behind to do well academically, as this term’s course load pushed me to become disciplined in my studies.
But that was yesterday! Even with the dreary Pittsburgh weather, I can’t help but feel a bit relieved, as for the next month, I get to be a full-time chess player! I’ve got four tournaments planned for May, so I’m looking forward to some over-the-board action. Here’s my schedule:
May 5-6: 2nd Haymarket Memorial (Chicago, IL)
After Beilin’s visit last March to the Chicago Chess Center, I decided I’d open my summer campaign here with a weekend tournament. I’ve actually never been to Illinois before, so that’s another state I can check off my list!
May 12: Marshall Chess Club G/50 Open (New York, NY)
I was hesitant to plan a trip to New York for two “rapid” tournaments, but a combination of wanting to play more games before the Chicago Open and frequent flyer miles convinced me otherwise. Besides, I won my first-ever tournament (I should clarify – non-scholastic) at the Marshall Chess Club!
May 13: Marshall Chess Club G/50 Open (New York, NY)
Playing in another tournament in back-to-back days is going to be exhausting. To prepare for this (and later the Chicago Open), I’ll need to work on my endurance and start running frequently. When I was preparing for Europe, I found the healthier I was, the better I performed.
May 24-28: Chicago Open (Wheeling, IL)
This one needs no introduction. I’ve signed up for the open section, which promises to offer a tough schedule of players. I’m hoping that by using the entirety of May to prepare, I can bring my best form to one of the toughest open tournaments in the country.
I’ve got ten days to prepare for my first tournament since last January, and I’m going to have to train intensively to play my best chess. While I’m going to have to push myself, I do think the semester has made me more mentally prepared to play tournament chess. Right now, I’m not too worried about breaking National Master, I just want to play good games by training right and focusing on the right things – long term, the title and the rating will both come as an affirmation if I’ve succeeded.
Based on some of my past results, I’m hoping it stays that way.
Bringing the Brain Back
One thing I’m curious about is what will my chess look like now that I no longer have the distraction of school. I’ve experimented a little – played a Pittsburgh Chess League match with an opening I had never used before, taking on new opponents on my Twitch Channel, managed the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers, but more recently I entered a correspondence chess tournament on chess.com.
Typically I’ve been terrible in online correspondence chess, as being addicted to my phone means needing to terminate all notifications!! As you can imagine, this means that I usually blunder once every 15 moves because I’m multi-tasking, but during exam week, it made for a nice five minute study break. Nothing serious – just something to keep my mind off the Keynesian IS/LM model for a bit. Anyways, I had a nice win in an Italian Opening as Black that I thought would be worth sharing.
Tartan_Thistle vs NapoleonBonaparteIV (me), Chess.com Tournament
The opening was predetermined, as the tournament set all games to the position 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4
I’ve had a lot of interesting games as Black, most memorably a game I won in the 2016 Pan American Championships for Pitt. One aspect I like about the Italian Opening is that it’s extremely rich with ideas, yet its fairly easy to learn at a basic level. To avoid the Three Knights theory, I opted for 3…Bc5 and “normal Italian play” ensued, 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 h6 6. 0-0 0-0 7. h3 d6 8. Re1
This was my first real think of the game. One fairly common idea for Black is to play ….Nc6-e7-g6, but if I played 8…Ne7 9. d4! more or less punishes my tepid play after 9…exd4 10. cxd4. I don’t really know where my bishop on c8 should go yet, so I played the least committal useful move 8…a5, which takes away a potential plan of b2-b4, while also creating a square on a7 should my bishop need to retreat. Now, should White try 9. d4 I can play 9… Bb6, and the point is that my knight (on c6 and not e7) supports the e5 pawn, so I don’t have to break the tension on d4.
White took on a much more restrained approach, and so the next few moves were somewhat simple 9. Nbd2 Bb6 10. Nf1 Ne7:
The difference in this position is that with my bishop on b6, 10. d4 is not as forcing so I can play 10…Ng6, having accomplished my relocation. Why is it that Black wants to put the knight on g6?
This knight helps support the center, but also hints at a …Ng6-f4 jump in the future. Additionally, by moving the knight away from c6, I can now match White’s pawn structure with …c7-c6, with the ability of either playing for …d6-d5 or playing …Bb6-c7 to thrust forward my b7 pawn.
White’s been following the basic plans for White too, but can he keep it up? 11. Ng3 Ng6 12. Be3 c6 13. Qd2?!
This didn’t feel right. I thought after 13. d4! White maintains a typical Italian Opening edge. Had White gone down this route, I think Black will need to find a long term square for the c8 bishop, and that’s not easy considering its presently safeguarding the f5 square. I figured White’s plan was to sacrifice on h6, so I just played 13…Kh7 to sidestep the threat and wait. I figured I can choose to play …d6-d5 later, so this didn’t seem like much of a concession on my end.
As it turns out, White actually had 14. d4! here, which I completely missed because it left e4 unprotected. Luckily for me, my opponent chose the move I had anticipated, 14. Nf5 but then erred – 14…Bxe3 15. fxe3? d5! and I won easily after that… even with a few careless moves.
What I liked about this game is that it really shows you why it’s important to know how to open a game of chess. In many openings, having insight into what your plan for development is, and why its effective is a lot more beneficial than purely memorizing moves. This is how I handle a lot of docile openings without needing to know complicated theory – take this game I played against the Glek in Germany last year.
As I gear up for my tournaments this month, I’m going to be looking through a lot of my opening preparation. If I tried to memorize it all, I would drive myself crazy! So instead, look for key pawn structures, how your pieces work together, and key attacking ideas – these are the very elements the computer will never tell you! What you’ll find is that you will learn more from asking yourself questions than answering them!
Until recently in the timeline of chess finding a quality coach to work with either required fortunate proximity, fees or travel restricting the average player, or pure luck and who you knew. With the advent of the internet and the growth of the game in schools and social clubs across the world, as well as the current chess boom which I greatly hope continues, there has never been a better opportunity to find a guide on your chess path. Whether a casual player looking for a few lessons to grow a bit stronger or an ambitious player looking for the tools to become a champion, a coach is an irreplaceable asset and can become a lifelong friend and mentor on and off the board. The time and money invested in coaching whether temporary or long term will pay dividends in the enjoyment of being a better player and further understanding this game we love.
I only began working with a coach 7 months ago, but in that time I feel like I have learned a new game from the ground up compared to what I knew before. I have also seen more progress and overall understanding of the game week by week, much more than I would have if I had continued on my own. I am fortunate enough to have a FIDE Certified coach who is a remarkable player, has been teammates with a world champion, and truly cares about his students development and enjoyment of the game. I am equal parts honored and challenged to grow having a coach like this.
Geographically speaking I live 2 hours away from the nearest chess coach, so being able to reach out to my coach in Chennai via Skype and instantly begin learning would not be possible any other way. So where do we go with this technology and what can we do to find a teacher?
By and large on of the most popular ways, and the fastest growing way, to study chess is online. You can receive personalized lessons from a teacher of any level without leaving your home and have more time to study and less to travel. There is only so far you can go without a coach and while the amount of content in terms of books, YouTube content, and shareware are astounding, nothing can compare to the one-on-one experience and growth a coach brings. There are many sites out there where you can locate a coach, but the two most people rely on are USCF and chess.com‘s robust rosters.
In the above example, you can see chess.com staff member and NM Sam Copeland. On this site you can see if they are titled, what their ratings are, and can usually find their rates and availability. You can send direct messages and use this information to look up their games and learn some more about them. I suggest seeing a player’s style if you can. If they play a style you want to learn or find fascinating, you might have found a solid match. My coach and I came into contact through Twitter and after some discussion, going over schedules, and viewing his credentials I knew I was in good hands. I was able to find a few of his games and enjoyed his playing style and felt confident I was going to be growing as a player. Finding a coach is a two-way interview, it requires give and take on both sides. You want to grow as a player and have a coach that can teach on your level and build you up to your goals. Likewise, this is a big commitment on the part of your coach, so their time needs to be rewarded with the progress and dedication they expect of their students.
It seems every day more social media platforms emerge, each full of countless coaches and players of varying strengths offering lessons. The sensory overload of ads, promoted content, and oversaturated pages can get in the way of finding the right coach for you. Some things you will want to consider when searching for a coach are:
Your Level of Commitment – If you are a casual player you don’t need to seek out a GM or other titled player. Furthermore, you do not need to pay the fees often associated with high-level players and coaches if you just want to improve enough to beat your friends or have a fighting chance. That being said, if you are committed to the game and want to elevate yourself to the next level, you will likely need to find a certified or other recognized coach. Sites such as the ones mentioned above show you the caliber of player and coach you will be working with. You need to be honest with yourself and your current level, and this is true of your coach as well.
Your Coaches Level of Commitment – If your to-be coach is a touring player with pupils on several continents, they simply won’t have the time to give you all the attention you may need or desire. It is also concerning if your coach has no other students or has gaps between students, not in all cases but in most this can be a bad sign. A good sign is if your coach follows up on you between lessons. My coach often sends me tactics puzzles or interesting topics between lessons, something I love.
Finances – Chess lessons can be quite expensive, but with the growing market the prices are trending down for the most part. Now, this ebbs and flows based on economies, popularity of chess, and conversion rates. For instance, the USD goes further than some other currencies so conversion rates may be helpful if learning from a teacher outside the US. I wish I could say there was a “standard going rate”, but much of this depends on factors in and out of a coaches hands. I would recommend “shopping around” and being honest with yourself and your financial situation. You do often get what you pay for, but based on your level of play and goals this may vary.
Your Schedules – My coach and I are in different time zones, a separation of 9 1/2 hours to be exact. Depending on your job, family situation, and other obligations it may be difficult to find your desired coach. Discuss their schedule and needs and compare them with yours to see if you can make it happen. Don’t try to force yourself or your coach to be on the same schedule, it will only impede the relationship and the learning process.
I recommend checking out the links above and seeing if there are any coaches you find interesting. Remember to be honest and patient when seeking a coach. Like any other relationship professional or not, it needs to be a natural fit and cannot be forced. A student seeks a wise and patient coach, a coach seeks a patient and committed student. If your commitment matches theirs, you should have a long and mutually beneficial relationship.