Isaac Talks Chess^Summit Sweepstakes!

I am really excited about the 2017 FIDE World Cup. As you know, the Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes is open and comes to a close on Sunday, September 3rd. There are a lot of really cool prizes up for grabs – Chessable memberships, ChessOpeningsExplained memberships, free lessons, and so much more!

In this video, I give you an insider look into Chessable and ChessOpeningsExplained, as well as what my thoughts are on the World Cup. Anyone else have Peter Svidler making a repeat appearance in the final? Enjoy!

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Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes!

It’s that time of year, as the 2017 FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia is just days away! This edition of the 128 single elimination playoff is the strongest ever, and the two finalists will earn coveted spots in the 2018 Candidates Tournament. With so much on the line, we decided to join in with the Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes! Luckily enough, you all can play along and win some cool prizes along the way!
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At 2799, Caruana is #5 in the world rankings. How far do you have him going?

This particular edition of the World Cup is historic, as reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen has decided to join the fray, making him the first reigning champion to compete in a World Cup in recent memory. Can he make it to the final? Perhaps – he has a tough road – Svidler, Wojtaszek, Vacier-Lagrave, and Grischuk are potentially all in his way… just to get to the semifinal! The competition is brutal, but this time you get to tell us if you think the Norwegian has what it takes.

There are other big questions: Does Anand earn one of the two Candidates spots in Tblisi? Which of the fifteen juniors goes the farthest? Who will be the strongest American finisher in the World Cup? Earn your spot on our leaderboard to win memberships to up-and-coming chess websites, lessons, and more!
Take your time to learn the bracket – you can count on a lot of surprises!

How to Play

Enter the sweepstakes through the link below. We will be raffling away some prizes throughout the World Cup, so make sure to send us your contact information so we know how to contact you if you win a prize.
There are 24 points on the line – with each question you answer correctly, you score more points. Some questions are worth more than others, so answer wisely! Players that finish the World Cup points will win prizes – it’s that simple!

Prizes

How could we have a sweepstakes and not have amazing prizes? We reached out to some up-and-coming chess platforms from around the web, and we have some great prizes for you. Remember, we will be raffling some of these prizes, so don’t be shy and send us your submission!

Chessable

monkeyToRightYou may have heard of Chessable, but it’s the online tool the cool kids use to get better at chess, so now’s your chance to catch up! The site offers an interactive platform to learn openings, and now one of the best places on the internet to learn theoretical endgames thanks to it’s partnership with New in Chess. International Master John Bartholomew and David Kramaley, the founders of Chessable, have offered up five PRO memberships and five copies of John Bartholomew’s book on the Scandinavian to the lucky winners of our Sweepstakes. We will be raffling away one of each, so don’t miss out!

Here’s a quick video John made this video on his Youtube Channel, talking about the new endgames enhancement that just came out on Chessable:

ChessOpeningsExplained

ChessOpeningsExplainedGrowing up with chess.com, I grew up with videos from Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn! Luckily enough, GM Perelshteyn has started his own website, ChessOpeningsExplained with his recommended opening repertoire. One of the better kept internet chess secrets, ChessOpeningsExplained offers an easy-to-use site where you can ask GM Perelshteyn directly about any opening questions you may have! GM Perelshteyn, a past guest author here on Chess^Summit, has offered full-access memberships to ChessOpeningsExplained! These prizes will be distributed in our raffle, as well as to some of our top finishers in the sweepstakes!

Here’s the most recent ChessOpeningsExplained video, about the Jobava Attack, which Daniel Naroditsky played against Eugene Perelshteyn at the recent Washington International.

International Master Kostya Kavutskiy

photo.jpgThe last time we heard from Kostya was back in April for the Reykjavik Open when he smashed his competition with an unbelievable 6th place finish! Since making daily tournament videos with me in Iceland, International Master Kostya Kavutskiy has been working on the Grandmaster title, but has also been teaching along the way. In this sweepstakes, Kostya has offered up a free 30 minute lesson to a lucky winner and one personalized game analysis! Both of these prizes will be offered up in our raffle, so don’t miss out on a chance to work with a professional player, coach, and author!

Check out Kostya’s video from his most recent Chess University course on Positional Sacrifices:

International Master David Brodsky

2400.4David is no stranger to Chess^Summit – in fact he’s been an author for us since last October! Since joining with us, David’s earned the International Master title, and shared a lot about his personal experiences and chess improvement.

We hear a lot about rapidly improving youngsters in chess, but have you ever gotten a chance to play one? David has offered a 30 minute blitz session with him for a lucky winner in our sweepstakes. David is the third strongest 14 year old in the United States – do you have what it takes to take down the International Master from New York?

Candidate Master Isaac Steincamp

Hi there! Yeah, this is me – how else could I resist joining in on the fun? I’m offering a private game analysis, complete with annotations and opening recommendations in our raffle. I’ve written some Free Game Analysis posts in the past, but this time my analysis will go even more in depth to help you find problems in your game. Outside of my quest to make National Master, I’ve always had a passion for coaching. Here’s your chance to work with me!

Here’s my most recent video for ChessOpeningsExplained:

Want to offer a prize? It’s still not to late! E-mail us at chess.summit@gmail.com to let us know!

With so many prizes at stake, this is not a sweepstakes to miss! Make sure to send in your submission before 6:59 AM EST on September 3rd, when clocks start in Tbilisi. This is going to be a fun World Cup, and we’re excited to celebrate one of the best chess traditions in style!

A Weekend with the Best: The St. Louis Rapid and Blitz

St Louis has been on my bucket list for years. Why wouldn’t it be? The now-famous chess club, tucked in the Central West End, plays host to a myriad of world-class chess events every year: the US Chess Championships, the Sinquefield Cup, and this past week, the St Louis Rapid and Blitz. I don’t think I could have picked a better first time to make the trip.

While the field lacked the likes of reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Sinquefield Cup winner Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, a certain former World Champion’s return after a twelve-year absence captured the international spotlight and attention of chess fans worldwide. It was truly something else.

The Race Is On

Kasparov’s return to chess was not easy, and it wasn’t until the last day of the tournament when he finally found his form. When it was all said and done, the former World Champion finished a half point out of a tie for 5th place. That dreaded loss to Navara in the rapid really did his undoing this tournament…

I, like many others, had picked Kasparov to place well (I even thought second place was realistic!), but the lofty expectations proved too much. Kasparov started with a lackluster score in the rapid at -2,  much of which can be attributed to massive pressure to perform and his long absence from tournament chess. He had some interesting games along the way, but to the dismay of the spectators, never posed a threat to the tournament.

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Levon getting ready for his match up with David Navara Friday morning.

I arrived in St. Louis right after the rapid games finished, and with eighteen rounds of blitz left, Levon Aronian had established himself as the front-runner with a two point lead. Could he score par? At 12.5/18, he held on to his lead throughout the blitz, but came to a close scare when Sergey Karjakin scored an undefeated 8/9 on the first day, and started the second with 1. b3 and won against Kasparov.

Of all the players in the field, it was the tail-ender that proved the most important, as Czech Grandmaster David Navara dealt a surprising blow to Levon Aronian in round 11 of the blitz from a drawn ending to bring the margin to 1 point between first and second place. The narrative almost seemed set, the race between Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian was on! The 2016 World Championship Challenger had won seven straight and had a lot of momentum.

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David Navara proved to be an important player in the St Louis story, despite finishing last in the standings.

But streaks stop at seven in St. Louis. Navara pulled another upset, this time as Black against Karjakin, while Aronian put together a win against Le Quang Liem. The Armenian’s lead was back up to 2, and with only six rounds left, his tournament chances were never in doubt. He secured his Grand Chess Tour tournament win with a draw against Kasparov with two rounds to spare.

Karjakin’s setback against Navara meant the end of his tournament winning chances, but still had work to do after Hikaru Nakamura beat him late to keep the two in a dogfight at the top of the table. With Nakamura beating Caruana in the last round, the American secured a tie for second alongside his Russian rival at a score of 21.5/36.

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I got a photo with Nakamura after his win against Caruana! Photo Credit: Eric Rosen

A Day in St Louis

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The crowd before the first round on Friday!

Being a reporter for the St Louis Rapid and Blitz meant also a lot of behind-the-scenes work and amusing stories as well. Given Kasparov’s return to chess, hundreds of chess fans made the trek to the Gateway City, meaning that at times it could be difficult to watch games during a given round.

I distinctly remember getting stuck behind Peter Doggers before the final day’s opening round. Wanting to see if Karjakin could beat Kasparov, it felt like I was standing behind an eight foot tall giant! I don’t think I remember ever feeling so short…

Even with so many spectators, the atmosphere was great, and I even found myself playing in a few side events along the way. It’s one thing to hear about St Louis Chess, it’s another thing to actually be there. In reporting for Chess^Summit, I felt really lucky to interview some of the players, and be invited to the closing ceremony.

I put together a vlog to recreate the last day of the Rapid and Blitz, as well as a small tour of the Chess Campus in St Louis:

Ultimate Moves

With all this excitement, my stay in St Louis was hardly over, as the famous Sinquefield Brawl, Ultimate Moves, followed after the tournament. Even though the players were exhausted, it felt like they (particularly Garry) took the event even more seriously.

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Garry watching over Ruifeng Li’s seven-year old sister, Rachel, take on former NFL lineman John Urschel.

I’m not going to lie, the tournament room was hot, as an unprecedented number of fans came to watch Garry one last time. I was one of the first people in the playing hall, but finding a good spot to take photos from still wasn’t easy. If you couldn’t tell during the broadcast, people were that excited to watch the former World Champ – even if it was only five moves at a time! You’re going to need your Where’s Waldo skills to find me in the crowd:

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Eric and I had to be creative to find spots to take photos… Can you find us?

This event was a blast to watch, as all the players were encouraged to smack-talk during the games. Even David Navara, the nicest guy in the room, joined in on the fun: “It’s not nice to beat your children!”

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What was that opening?

Team Rex got the better of Team Randy in a tiebreaker, as Randy made his dad’s staple move in the end and promoted illegally to lose the match. Even if the level of chess wasn’t super high, it was a lot of fun watching the players come together and root for the amateurs. You don’t see this kind of stuff outside of St Louis…

Just in Time!

I had an extra day to spare in St Louis before visiting my parents in Richmond, which meant I was lucky enough to watch the eclipse from the path of totality! What a coincidence – this managed to be a popular discussion among spectators as the Rapid and Blitz came to a close, and with Eric skipping town early to drive south to watch the eclipse from Carbondale, I was on my own to try to get a peek before my flight home.

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Found the Arch! Photo Credit: Eric Rosen

Having spent the summer in Pittsburgh, and being solely in St Louis for the Rapid and Blitz, viewing the eclipse hadn’t even crossed my radar. No glasses, no special lenses for my camera, no idea of where to watch from.

As I finished my breakfast from the Kingside Diner, I was frantically calling local museums and zoos to try to find glasses, but to no luck! I had one hour before the eclipse started and if I wasn’t careful, my eyes were going to melt out of my face (right?)! Luckily enough, I managed to befriend a nurse who just finished her shift at the local hospital and was also looking for glasses, and we managed to find glasses at the St Louis Cardinals’ stadium in Downtown and was able to watch the eclipse from there.

Wow. I didn’t have the right lenses to take a photo of the eclipse, as you can see, it was amazing how quickly things got dark. I don’t think I’ll ever see something like this again, and I’m even luckier that everything came together so nicely in the last minute.

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Busch Stadium seconds before the eclipse – remember, it was 1:17PM here!

As Kasparov said during the closing ceremony, “Miracles happen in St Louis”, and that’s certainly what this week was. Will Kasparov ever make a comeback? I have a hunch it will be before 2024.

 

SuperNationals VI – From the Outside

Two weeks ago I attended my 2nd SuperNationals. Not as a player, but as a coach and spectator. This year the tournament grew to 5,577 players – the largest tournament in the world. Anyone who has ever been to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel knows that the hotel itself is intimidating with its massive size, rivers, boat rides, waterfalls, and restaurants. Throw in 5,000 plus players and their families and you are quickly overwhelmed! This article will focus on some of the many side events, and other attractions going on during SuperNationals.

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Meeting the great Kasparov!

My own personal best moment was getting the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov. I made sure to get his signature on his wonderful book Test of Time. Several chess personalities such as; Bruce Pandolfini, GM Maxim Dlugy, GM Maurice Ashley, GM Irina Krush, WGM Sabina Foiser, and GM Sam Shankland were on site signing books and other chess merchandise for the fans. There were long lines for the opportunity to challenge one of these players to blitz showdowns throughout the weekend.

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GM Irina Krush taking on all comers in a blitz showdown!

My friend and super coach from California, Jay Stallings organized a wonderful 2 hour “mini-camp” on Thursday and Friday. This camp called “New To Nationals” was perfect for those young players and families who have never been to an event of this size. I was excited that Jay asked me to help out with the Friday morning camp which had close to 50 participants. The main focus is just to go over what to expect, and to take away some of the anxieties of the young players and their parents. We received nothing but positive feedback, and will definitely plan to hold these at the larger scholastic events in the future.

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Coach Jay hard at work!
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Yours truly working with the next generation of strong players!

As a coach, SuperNationals provides great opportunities to network, learn different approaches, attend seminars and lectures, and see old friends. I was able to attend the USCF Scholastic Meeting, Preparing Players for International Competition, Sam Shankland lecture, and the Maurice Ashley lecture. All of these side events gave me a better understanding of the current happenings of scholastic chess in the United States.

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USCF Scholastic Meeting

One thing I know for sure – kids love learning from GM Maurice Ashley! His energy and enthusiasm when teaching was truly inspiring. I took some of his ideas and lessons and applied them in my school classes with great results!

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GM Maurice Ashley inspiring, motivating, and making chess fun!

Every family involved in scholastic chess should put the SuperNationals on their must attend events. Being that this tournament only happens every four years will give families time to prepare for 2021!

 

Hocus Pocus: What’s Up Pittsburgh?

Just a few weeks after returning from my European Expedition, I’m back here in Pittsburgh for the summer. Since I haven’t been to any tournaments since the Reykjavik Open, I thought for today’s post I would compile a bunch of smaller chess anecdotes from the past week for you all. So … let’s see what happens!

Moving in

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Something tells me this is going to be a fun year….

For some of our older readers, perhaps you remember the hassle of finding a roommate and an apartment during college (or maybe after, I wouldn’t know about that yet…). All the roommate “interviews”, apartment visits, contracts and paperwork – it’s a lot! Luckily, right before I took off in February, fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin Li offered a room in his apartment, and that was that! I’m curious to see what this does for our chess, if anything at all. Needless to say, I think this is going to be a fun year! In just the first few days, we’ve already completed round 2 of the Chess^Summit Challenge, in which Beilin walloped me in bullet, 30-19… I attached the replay below, but seriously, viewer discretion is advised – the number of blunders was disgusting, and so was my ability to manage the clock…

 

Being in Pittsburgh for the summer for my internship is going to make things interesting for my tournament opportunities in the coming months. While I now live across the street from the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I can’t say for sure when my next major open will be. I’m hoping to make National Master before the year comes to a close, but a lot of that will depend on how many more rating points I get from the latter half of my Europe tour (still pending, though it could be as much as 60 rating points!), and how much I can play this summer. Either way, my first tournament game back in the US starts tomorrow night, and I’m pretty excited about seeing how far I’ve come.

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Getting ready for the first day of my intenrship!

Speaking of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I bumped into a former expert, who after 20 years, was looking to get back into tournament play. After playing a practice game with him, my opponent asked for some advice on what to study from home to get back into shape.

Perhaps this is generalizing, but I think for players in this situation, keeping a 2000+ rating after such a hiatus will feel like having to break 2000 once again. Knowing that this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my chess “career”, I have quite a few suggestions for getting over the edge – and surprisingly, none of them really require a vast knowledge of opening theory.

Looking back at my own games from before I broke 2000, I think the biggest adjustment was shifting the focus from looking for tactics to looking for positional and strategic resources. This is why I recommend studying pawn structures! Learning how to play with (and against) certain pawn structures can help you dictate various positions, and I would highly recommend Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide by Mauricio Flores Rios. IM John Bartholomew has a glowing review of the book on his Youtube Channel, which you can check here. Of course, this is just the start, but it’s certainly a good one!

Processing Results

Having down time here in Pittsburgh means really trying to understand what worked (and didn’t) in Europe. Of course, my 186 FIDE rating point gain is euphoric, but admiring that alone won’t help me become a stronger player.

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One advantage of playing in Europe is that not every scholastic player has a vastly underrated FIDE rating – this was one of main factors that contributed to my meteoric gain

As I’m analyzing my games in finer detail, I’m learning a lot about how I lose games. With such a great sample of games, I can go a lot more in depth than I did a year ago when I was preparing for the US Junior Open in New Orleans. While I’m not interested in making my over-the-board weaknesses public, I decided to replicate this process on a game I lost last year at the Carolinas Classic, which coincidentally starts in a few weeks in Charlotte.

In this game, I had White against NM Karthik Ramachandran, a former US Junior Open Champion. Even though I lost, I think still to this date, it was my proudest defeat. I think often times with chess, we get so enamored with the result and computer evaluation that we often forget the quality at which a game was played. I really like this game because despite being lower rated, I kept on finding ways to create problems for my opponent – enough so to reach a complicated – but winning – position.

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6…Nh6?! was a surprise, but do you think my opponent expected 10. g4!? Here’s a photo from that second round game!
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Steincamp-Ramachandran, after 24. Rh3?!

This game taught me two things: 1) I needed to work on prophylaxis. As we saw, letting my opponent bring his knight to b4 let him back in the game. Even though I outplayed him once again later, this game may have tipped in my favor if I had taken this resource more seriously. Playing 24. Rh3?! proved to be an instructive point, as my opponent’s persistence started to pay off here.

2) Calculation and Endgames! Of course for our long-time readers, you’ll recall that around this time I was working on my Endgame Essentials series here on the site, which would pay off dividends in New Orleans just a few weeks after this game took place. Even though there were moments where I was clearly moving in the right direction by sacrificing pawns to create passers, there were questionable elements later in the game once time trouble became a factor. These are the kinds of things I look for in my losses (and some draws) for improving, and I would highly encourage this practice for our readers.

With only so much time to study, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my study time to looking at classics, particularly Jose Raul Capablanca. I’ve never put such an emphasis on studying classics, but after having made videos with Kostya in Iceland, I realized one of the biggest deficiencies I had compared to him was an ability to compare top level games to those of my own. While I’ve had some success applying my own games and lessons into my play, it’s about time I turn back the clock and learn from some of the greatest chess players who have ever walked the planet.

Blast from the Past

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Me at my first SuperNationals 12 years ago! I wonder who that guy on the right is?

Before last night, I think this article would have ended here – but let’s not forget that there was a pretty not-so-small tournament in Nashville this past weekend called SuperNationals!

While there were some pretty big names in the top section, I was following a much smaller subplot, the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Class of 2017. Perhaps I’m a bit biased having been coach of many of the players in this graduating class, but upon the completion of this tournament, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this graduating class is the most accomplished high school chess team you’ve never heard of!

Back in 2014, when this class entered MLWGS as freshmen, I had the pleasure of coaching them as a junior, and watching them win the U1200 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, California! In just one year, a school with absolutely no past chess tradition was on the map and a local scholastic superpower was born in Richmond.

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The 2014 U1200 National High School Championship winning team (from left to right): Shreya Shetty (assistant coach), Bobby Grayson, Bryan Kaperick, Yang Zhang, Yaoquan Song (sitting), David Normansell, Jeffrey Song (sitting), Matthew Normansell, and myself

Of course, over the next few years, these players all had masive rating jumps – shooting up from sub-1000 ratings to as high as 1750! By the following year, the defending U1200 champs placed 5th in the U1600 section in Columbus, Ohio, another massive triumph for the class of ’17. While I would graduate that spring and leave north for the University of Pittsburgh, the team kept on getting results, as well as giving back to the local scholastic chess community.

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Jeffrey analyzing games at the 2015 Dragon Chess Camp

When I was coaching the team, we set up various chess camps and tournaments for younger scholastic players in Richmond, even managing to bring GM Sergey Erenburg to come out and run a few simultaneous exhibitions for us. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Class of 2017, these programs kept running after I graduated, and in many ways contributed to a “golden age” in chess in Richmond. For the first time in my chess-playing memory, there was chess culture in Richmond, and various elementary schools created chess clubs in the spirit of MLWGS.

It wasn’t always easy. In the weeks leading up to SuperNationals, there was great uncertainty if the team of seniors would be able allowed to compete, given that the tournament conflicted with the rigorous AP exam schedule, and available hotel rooms were already dwindling in single digits. But thank goodness they made it!

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Matthew Normansell, who has had games analyzed here on Chess^Summit, was crowned the K-12 U1900 National Champion!

Despite the team being split over several different fields (K-12 U1900, U1600, U1200, etc), the senior class finished with as loud of a statement as they started.

Even with only three players in the K-12 U1900 section, MLWGS flexed their muscles and took fifth – but the most surprising result was that of Matthew Normansell, as the senior notched an unbeaten 6/7 to claim a tie for first as joint- U1900 national champion!

As I called him last night to congratulate him on his biggest accomplishment to date, he was still in some disbelief. I guess sometimes with these things, they have to happen in order for you to believe they can happen. To Matthew and the rest of the MLWGS Chess Team, you guys should all be really proud of the work you’ve put in these last four years, and the accolades you have all received is a testament to the effort you have all put in. It’s been fun watching you all grow, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where life takes you all, whether it is on the chess board or not! To any school adminstrators out there, let the efforts of this graduating class show you how having chess is an asset to your school. I have never seen as much accomplished in such a short period time, and it goes without saying that MLWGS Class of 2017’s efforts over the board was able to bring the Richmond community closer over just 64 squares. After all, much of my work with MLWGS led to the creation and inspired mission of Chess^Summit 😀

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Yours truly with much of the MLWGS Chess Team!

And on that note, that’s all I’ve got for this week! When I’m back, I’ll be sharing some of my games from the Abrams Memorial here in Pittsburgh. Fingers crossed I can keep some positive trajectory!

Ladia Jirasek on the 35th US Chess School Camp

Written by NM Ladia Jirasek

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

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

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

It was time to learn.

Day #1

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

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

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

Day #2

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

Day #3

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

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

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

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

Day #4 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afternote:

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

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

Solutions to puzzles:

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

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1068393

Endgame Essentials: Dramatic, not Drawmatic!

If I’m totally honest, I don’t think I learned to fully appreciate rapid tournaments until this year. It took three tournaments to change my mind: the 2015 Chess World Cup, the Ultimate Blitz competition featuring Garry Kasparov, and today, the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour in Paris. Unlike longer time control games, rapid chess emphasizes strong, practical play, and takes the spotlight off of brilliant opening preparation. At this level of competition, winning implicitly requires two elements: accurate calculation and the ability to convert better endgames. In the first day of competition alone, I found five endgames worth sharing and wanted to break down each of their critical moments in today’s critical endgame posts. Remember, as we move through each game, take a minute to assess the various defining features of the position: activity, solidarity, king safety, and ability to improve.

Magnus’ only loss of the day occurred in his first game in Paris. While Wesley had his struggles later in the tournament, it was Carlsen who had the last laugh, finishing the day tied for first! Courtesy: ChessBase

For our first endgame, we start with the protagonist of the story thus far, Magnus Carlsen. While his Grand Chess Tour started with an eerily similar first round, it’s important to not overlook the accuracy he brought to this endgame against Wesley So’s particularly stingy defense.

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Carlsen–So, Paris 2016

White to Move

On face value, the position seems fairly equal. After trading rooks on e8, the position provides us with a symmetrical pawn structure and equal material. However, two elements stand in the way of the American achieving full equality. First, the bishop on a7 is dormant, pushed away from the action thanks to the bishop on g3 and the pawn on d4. Furthermore, his pawn on b7 is backward, and can easily become a target should White move his knight to c5 in the future. Black’s plan here is to march his king to c8 to cover b7 and prepare …Ba7-b8, and with only one real structural weakness in the position, should have enough to hold a draw. Magnus can’t really do too much to stop this idea, so he makes the most of his turn with his next move, 27. a4!

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The easiest way to improve the position! Here Magnus plans a2-a4-a5 with the idea of fixing the queenside pawn structure, particularly the b7 pawn. While Wesley will be able to trade dark-squared bishops, the downside will be that the dark squares in his structure will be weak, and White will gain time to put further pressure on b7. 27…Qe7 28. a5 Kd8 29. Qd1 Qe4 30. Kh2 Ne7 31. Qb3

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Neither side is really in a rush to convert or prove anything, so each side marked time by improving their respective positions. Magnus by making his king safer and fixing the b7 pawn, Wesley by centralizing his queen and bringing his king closer to c8. Here Carlsen offers his knight since 31…Qxd3? 32. Qxb7 is close to lost for Black. The bishop on a7 is still trapped, and the queenside pawns are falling. Here Black correctly chose to continue his plan. 31…Kc8 32. Qb4 Qe6 33. Nf4 Qf7

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Wesley may be moving backward, but he still boasts a solid defense. As long as he has only one weakness, it will be very difficult for Magnus to make progress. In the next “phase” So executes the dark-squared bishop, and the f4 knight finds the c5 square. 34. Kg1 Bb8 35. Nd3 Bxg3 36. fxg3 Nf5 37. g4 Ng3 38. Nc5 Again, the game is relatively equal, and Wesley has put up the toughest defense we’ve seen in this series thus far.

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White counterintuitively doubled his pawns, giving the Black knight targets from f5. While I appreciate the idea of compactness, I think this structural decision made life for Magnus a little more complicated. Instead of 34. Kg1, perhaps he could have considered other prophylactic resources, but in this position, he’s still doing fine. White now has the pressure he wants on b7, but the problem now is that his pawn structure closes his army off from the kingside, giving Wesley the break 38…h5 39. gxh5 and the natural 39…Qe7. But as it turns out, this gives Magnus a tactical opportunity in 40. Ne6!. These moves are hard to find in rapid play, so I can’t really blame Carlsen for the miss.

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Anyways, this move would have been an amazing find. By revealing a discovered attack on the queen, Black’s options are limited. Already we can see that 40…Qxe6 41. Qf8+ Kd7 42. Qxg7+ will win back the knight back and retain a healthy pawn advantage. More critical was 40… Ne2+ 41. Kf2 Qxe6 41. Qf8+ Kd7 42. Qxg7+ where White doesn’t pick up the knight, but the h-pawn is simply unstoppable (see diagram).

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Position after 42. Qxg7+, Black is powerless to stop the h-pawn and must return material.

Black can consider 40… Qxb4, but the knight and pawn endgame is worse for Black after 41. cxb4 Nxh5 42. g4 Ng3 43. Kf2! stopping the fork on e2, and once the g7 pawn falls, White’s h-pawn becomes a headache. That being said, these moves are really unnatural but I like how it highlights flaws in Black’s position. Black has two concrete weaknesses, b7 and g7, and the task of covering both of them is extremely difficult if White plays the best moves.

Instead, Carlsen chose 40. Kf2 and the game continued. 40…Nf5 41. g4 Qe3+ and equality was temporarily reached.

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One of the problems with Magnus’ position in this game was that his focus on b7 dragged his pieces away from protecting his king, thus allowing Black to infiltrate through the center. Surprisingly, Black can’t coordinate his knight and queen to deliver mate, but he has many perpetual options. Given the nature of rapid chess, Wesley naturally tried for a win by improving his position with  42. Kf1 Qxh3+ 43. Ke1 Qg3+ 44. Kd2 Nd6

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The retreat not only protects b7, but it intends to reroute the knight to either e4 or c4 in the future. For those trying to find better for Black, it’s quite difficult since Qb4xb7 is a constant threat, and defending the b7 requires a passive retreat. I was really surprised with how quickly Carlsen made his next move, but it makes a lot of sense. After 45. Nxb7! Carlsen gives himself a lot of chances. If 45…Nxb7 46. Qf8+ wins the g7 pawn, and again we see the danger of the passed h-pawn. With best play, Black should be able to find a perpetual, but it’s in these complications Wesley finally errs and his position goes south. 45. Qg2+ 46. Kc1 Qf1+ 47. Kc2 Qe2+ 48. Kc1 Qe1+ 49. Kc2 Qe4+ 50. Kb3 Nxb7 51. Qf8+ Kc7 52. Qxg7+ Kb8

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The position is in the balance, but can Wesley make the correct net to force perpetual before the h-pawn promotes?

53. h6 Qd3? +-

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I was watching the live commentary from St. Louis at this moment, and was surprised they didn’t scrutinize this moment, because once this move is made, Wesley can never hope to recover. Black should have been able to find 53…Nxa5+ 54. Ka2 Qd1, the idea being that White cannot stop all the checks on a4, b3, and d1, so perpetual is forced. The problem with Wesley’s move is that it does nothing to improve his position. His next move, 54…Qb1 shows he wasted a tempo, and unfortunately, it’s enough to ensure Magnus a second queen. 54. Ka3 Qb1 55. h7 Qa1+ 56. Kb3 Qd1+ 57. Kb4 Ka7

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With no more checks in the position, Wesley moves his king away from a future check. Both players were in severe time trouble, but it was still a surprise when the game suddenly concluded after 58. h8=Q Qa1 0-1 and it was Black who had won, not White (see diagram)!

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With about twenty seconds left (not to mention a ten-second increment), Carlsen found himself stuck between 59. Qxb7+ and 59. Qh2, both of which were completely winning. In a moment of curiosity, Carlsen decided to look at Qh8-h2 into more depth, and completely forgot about the clock, letting his time reach zero!

Despite the drama, the reigning World Champion played a great game, pushing Wesley each move to find the best moves. So, of course, played solidly as well, but as we’ve seen so many times this series, one mistake in the endgame can quite often be unforgivable. Accuracy counts, and at the end of the day, it’s what goes on the scoresheet.

The day proved to be good for the host nation. After five rounds, Laurent Fressinet had beaten Fabiano Caruana, and MVL had scored 6/10 (2 points for a win, 1 for a draw), tied for third with four games left. Courtesy: ChessBase

Our next three examples all occurred in the third round, and each provided instructive moments.

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Fressinet–Caruana, Paris 2016

White to Move

After what had already been a complicated rook and pawn endgame, we see that the Black king’s inability to get into the game is causing Caruana great difficulties. The live commentary team in St. Louis found some nice ideas to potentially reach equality earlier in the game, but already it’s too late. The French wild card needed to get his king off of b8, and played 51. Rc1 to prepare Kb8-c8 and promote his pawn. Once again, Fabiano tried the interference idea of 51…Rc3, but now with the rook to the right side of the pawn, White won with 52. Rxc3 h1=Q 53. Kc8 Qh8+ 54. Kc7 Qh2 55. Rc5 Qxf2

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White to Move

56. Rc6 Qa7 57. Kc8 Qa4 58. Rc7+ Kg6 59. b8=Q

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 19.40.49And Fressinet went on to convert the material and win the game. So what was the difference between taking on c3 and a3 you may ask? Well, winning or not to put it simply. If Fressinet had played 51. Rxa3? his rook doesn’t have a check on c7, and after 51…h1=Q 52. Ka7 Qc1,

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White cannot hope to promote the pawn and keep his material advantage. Again, accuracy is the critical difference between winning and drawing.

Having proven himself to be a very capable escape artist, Wesley So once again found himself in trouble against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Unlike his lucky break against Magnus, he failed to find any miracles and lost this pawn down queen ending.

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So–Vachier-Lagrave, Paris 2016

White to Move

I decided to insert this game since Black still has to be careful. Between pushing the c-pawn and avoiding perpetual checks, Maxime must also cover the f7 pawn, which makes his task a little more difficult. On the bright side, all queen trades are winning for Black, so it will be very difficult for White to create serious pressure. Wesley start his defense by playing 39. Qa1+ to maneuver the queen to f6 and directly attack f7. 39…Kh7 40. Qf6 Qd5 41. g3 c5 42. Kf1 c4

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Black is making progress, but his position is also easier to play now. With the c- and f-pawns both protected by the queen, MVL can take a few moves to improve his position. 43. Ke2 Kg8 44. Qc3 h5 45. h4 Kf8 46. Qe3 Qd6

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Here Maxime has made a little bit of progress, but now he must figure out how to make his king more active. After, 47. Qc3 Qc5 48. Qe3 Qd5 49. Qd2 Qe5+ 50. Kd1, it turns out that Wesley can do little to stop the advancing Black monarch.

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50…Ke7 with the threat of …Qe5-d6! 51. Kc2 Ke6 52. f4 Qd5 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 20.11.46Perhaps at the expert level, White can hope to play on, but this endgame is lost. Black’s king will waltz to g4 and pick up all of White’s kingside pawns, and White can’t stop all of Black’s pawns. Wesley resigned, leaving us one more great endgame from the round.

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Carlsen–Aronian, Paris 2016

 Black to Move

With a little help from the computer, GM Eric Hansen had a nice find here in 29…Qa1!, which should draw after 30. Qc5 Qa7 31. Qb5 Qa1 with repetition. The real idea is that 30. Qxb7 Qxc3 31. Qxc7 at least offers Black a lot of activity and decent drawing chances. But of course, Stockfish doesn’t play for us in tournaments, and the natural 29…Qa8 was played, giving White a nice edge since his pieces can be activated faster than Black’s. Skip ahead a few moves, and Black found himself completely paralyzed.

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White to Move

I really liked this moment of the game, as Carlsen realized that his would be much safer on the kingside, not to mention, an incredible for the b-pawn. 50. Ke2! Kg7 51. Kd3 Ng8 52. Ne8+ Kh8 53. Kc4 h5

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As Black begins to open the kingside, it’s Magnus’ king that has found refuge, and the entirety of Aronian’s position submits itself to passivity. The next part of Magnus’ plan is to capture the c6 pawn and use his passed b-pawn to limit Black’s queen. 54. gxh5 Qh6 55. Qxc6 Qd2 56. hxg6

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In trying to create activity, Black has to give up his g-pawn. While Black may have some checks now, he has the constant issue that ideas like Qg7 and Qh7 are checkmate! Just like our first Endgame Essentials post, king safety proves to be Aronian’s undoing. 56…Qe2+ 57. Kc5 Qxf2+ 58. Kb5 Qxg3 59. Qd7 Qxg6 60. Ka5

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Black may have regained his pawn by force, but the threat on g7 is constant, and the Black knight can’t help Aronian salvage the position. 60…Qg3 61. b5 Qc3+ 62. Ka6 Qa3+ 63. Kb7 Qg3

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Once again highlighting Black’s problems. Whenever Aronian runs out of checks, he must return to the defense of g7, giving White a tempo to push his b-pawn further down the board. 64. b6 Qg6 65. Ka7 f5 66. exf5

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I was really impressed watching Magnus here. Basically everything wins here, but after Aronian’s f-pawn push, he stopped, calculated and found the move that allowed the least amount of counterplay. A great micro-moment from Magnus here that showed his master class despite the rapid time controls. 66…Qg3 67. f6 Qa3+ 68. Kb8 1-0

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 20.37.07With no complications to offer, Aronian threw in the towel here, as both the b- and f-pawns are preparing to promote and sink the ship that is Black’s position. With a win here, Magnus won a second straight, proving he was completely unfazed by his surprising first round “defeat”.

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In his three-game winning streak, Magnus proved he was still the player to beat, having dominated each of the four opponents he had played up to that point.

For our fifth and final endgame, I wanted to share a nice idea found by the commentary team that shows a benefit of the opposite-colored bishop ending. In this fifth round encounter, an early slip from Magnus gave Hikaru Nakamura an opportunity to press before cashing in on a draw. While the engines do agree that the position has relative equality, from a more human point of view, Black had a nice geometrical idea to press even further.

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Carlsen–Nakamura, Paris 2016

Black to Move

Here Black settled for a perpetual with 33…Qg5+ 34. Kf1 Qc1+ and so forth. Here, Black could have tried 33…Qh2+ 34. Kf1 Qxh3+ 35. Ke2 Qh2

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In this position, White has an extra pawn but the queen and bishop battery actually stop each of White’s pawns from making progress (b8, d6, and f4 are all covered, so promotion is not a threat from White. Black would put his queen on f4 to overprotect f7, followed by pushing the h-pawn. Nakamura would still have a lot to prove, but it’s clear he has nothing to lose.

Wow, what a day! I suspect tomorrow has even greater games in store, featuring a Carlsen–Kramnik clash, as well as Caruana–Nakamura. With the way he’s been playing, I suspect Magnus to hold his lead after four rounds tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see if Nakamura can keep up!