The journey from USCF 700 to 1500 is a path that continues on tactic improvements, but a shift of focus on strategical ideas start to emerge.
In this post, I’ll talk about a few common themes and recommend a Strategy book in the end.
Here are three things I see on the path to 1500
Zero oh-no moments
Activate your pieces
Gain more space
Zero Oh-No Moments
When you start to play in U1000 instead of U400 sections, the oh-no mistakes will be punished swiftly. Opponent’s are stronger, and they don’t give back the gifts that your present to them.
Activate Your Pieces
In U1400 section games, losing a piece in 1-2 moves does not happen often. The result of wins and losses generally occur based on active vs. passive pieces.
White is down a pawn in the diagram above, but is very much in control of the game. Black’s bishop and rook are out of the game, and it’s only a matter of time that white’s attack will bring to fruition.
Practice asking yourself how to improve my pieces, and try to get them to active positions as much as possible in your games.
Gain More Space
The concept of Space is less clear for U800 players, but after a few games of getting squeezed, s/he could sense the pain.
The skill that players need to develop is to build more confidence. The reason many 1000 players are afraid is because they worry if they push too hard, the ‘backyard’ would become empty.
In the position above, many players would choose d3 instead of d4.
d3 looks like a safe move and keeping things solid, but d4 is what really showcases white’s development advantage.
Getting to 1500 is a longer journey, and strategic components of the game starts to get more important.
I’d recommend Yasser Seirawan’s Winning Chess Strategies for anyone who are interested to improve their strategy understanding in chess.
It’s summer time and there are many chess tournaments all around the country. This is the time to put your work into practice.
While preparing for different tournaments, parents and students alike often ask how should they organize opening repertoire.
After some back and force debate in my own head and observing student’s results, here is my current point of view.
As with my last article on topics for different levels, I believe different ratings should focus differently on their opening preparations.
My current opinion
Casual players up to USCF U1200: Play any opening that catches your curiocity
USCF 1200 – 1700: Be more specific; Prepare a package against d4 and e4 for black, and choose your favorite 1st move for white
USCF 1700 and Above: Depending on your training regimen and work with coach to personalize best approach
Let’s dissect these in more details
Casual Players (U1200)
When starting chess, the most important opening focus is understanding the basic opening principles. The main ones are: Control the Center, Develop Pieces, and Castle Early.
When you see a brilliant game in the French, go try it out. Find ways to experiment, learn openings that bring out your curiosity to chess.
Regardless what opening you try, make sure to focus on the main principles. Avoid losing games because half of your pieces were not developed.
If your opponent does not follow opening principles, find ways to take advantage of that.
USCF 1200 – 1700
This group is when the training gets serious, and there are certain commitment to improve in chess.
I would suggest build a specific repertoire for both white and black pieces. Stick with the same openings for a while.
The idea is to learn the ins and outs of that opening, and improve your chess in general by understanding deeper concepts such as pawn structures and positional middle game concepts from the same opening.
One example repertoire:
e4 for white; Alapin against Sicilians
French for black against e4
Queen’s gambit declined against d4
USCF 1700 and Above
Now we are pushing towards Master level and beyond. More personalization will be required.
What is your goal in chess? How often do you play in tournaments? How do you train to prepare for tournaments?
These are the questions you want to answer and possibly work with a coach to dive in deeper.
November is an interesting month for chess in Pittsburgh. Outside of the traditional Chess League fixture, there are traditionally only two other weekend tournament options in the city: the Gateway Open, and the G/15 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships, both of which feature time controls of thirty minutes or fewer.
Admittedly, I’ve never been as strong of a rapid player as I have a long time control player, but at a time when I’m still getting over the board experience in my new repertoire, I’ve come to embrace these opportunities as practical tests for myself, even if it comes at the expense of a few rating points.
On paper, this past weekend seemed to be quite of a wash for me, underperforming at the Gateway Open with 2/4, 6.5/10 in it’s corresponding blitz tournament (in which I had a humorous split with fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin to tie for second), and then a routine win against a 1500-rated player in the Pittsburgh Chess League. That being said, I got to play a bunch of new lines for both colors, including a close fight against a 2350+ rated FIDE Master.
For today’s article, I had a choice between two topics based on my games from this weekend. The first thing that caught my eye was two wins I notched over 1500 rated players, not because of my ability to overwhelm them with my positional or tactical knowledge, but because they failed to adhere to basic opening principles. Both of the games were effectively over within fifteen moves, and without much effort on my part. I’ve covered opening fundamentals quite a bit already on Chess^Summit, and I encourage you to take advantage of our Free Game Analysis feature on the site if you want more information on such topics.
I thought that for today I’d address a much more compelling topic, which is how I apply ideas that I’ve seen in chess literature and various Grandmaster games and use them in my games, especially in rapid time controls where there isn’t much time to calculate every single line.
By the second round of the Gateway Open, my tournament position was already critical, having been humbled in the first round by a lower rated player. Paired with White against an up-and-coming expert from the area, I knew I had to make the most of this game to make up for lost ground. Needless to say, I wound up surprising myself with my quality of play, using many different positional ideas to get a win.
I’ve formatted this article like a test to make this a more interesting read for you, but also because I do expect my approach to this game will be much different than many of yours. If you feel like different plans could have been employed, feel free to comment below – I’m curious to see what you all think! That being said, let’s start!
My opponent has just played the move 10…a6 with the idea of playing …b7-b5, trying to lock up the position and create equality. With White to move, what would you do?
Black made a waiting move with 11…Re8, giving White time to improve the position. What move would you make?
Black just played 16…Qd6, getting the queen to a better square. Black has the bishop pair, but White has the more active pieces. How can White keep his grip on the position?
Black retreated the bishop to e7 with his last move, and is ready to kick the knight on c5 with …b7-b6 and finally get his bishop on c8 off the back rank. What must White play?
Black is more tied up than ever before after 22…Bd8 was played to stop the a4 knight from reaching b6. How can White take advantage of Black’s lack of coordination?
With less than five minutes left, I took on e8 and converted a win out of the endgame. However, there is a much prettier way to win here! Can you find the line that wins on the spot?
Hopefully you didn’t find any of these too hard, and perhaps you even figured out the move I played based on the following position I presented. Now that you’ve had a chance to look at each position, let’s compare notes! I’ve attached sources to my in-game inspiration where applicable.
In this position, Stockfish rates twenty four different moves as equal or slightly better for White, and it turns out my choice, 11. a4 is one of them! I don’t know if I would play this move every time I were to reach this position, but it is logical. This stops the immediate advance of …b7-b5 and I intend to fix the Black queenside structure. This idea of using the rook pawn as a positional resource is fairly well-known, with players like Magnus Carlsen regularly employing it in their openings. This is an idea I’ve covered a bunch on Chess^Summit over the past year, but if you’d like a more recent example, IM Anna Rudolf’s recap on Leuven for chess24 shows this idea in action from Carlsen-Anand, where Magnus was able to use his space advantage on both sides of the board. If you have the time I encourage you to watch it – I’ve attached it below for your convenience:
It turns out this wasn’t the hardest part of the game though, the fun was just beginning!
Again, a lot of right moves here, and I chose the crazy looking 12. Qb1. Why was that? I already knew I wanted my rook on f1 to go to c1 and play on the open file, so I needed to use this free move to put my queen on a better square. After some thought, I placed her on b1, thanks to an idea I got while reading on of Greg Serper’s articles for chess.com in which he discussed a particularly famous Karpov-Kasparov game. While Black still has a light squared bishop, its boxed in and will have a hard time contesting the b1-h7 diagonal. Even though I don’t know how exactly this will help me get an advantage, the appeal of this pattern drew me to this move!
Flash forward a bit and to 16…Qd6, I immediately responded with 17. f4!, employing the Bird Bind technique. This is the first “priyome” mentioned in Andrew Soltis’ 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets, and I’m sure that any Dutch Stonewall players out there are fairly familiar with it. If you want to see it in action, here’s a link to a 1992 game where the Bird Bind destroyed Black! This has the added caveat that the Black queen on d6 is no longer pointed at my king, and …e6-e5 is nearly impossible. Black would love to play …f7-f6 to support this push, but then my move 12. Qb1 pays off because it can land on g6 with an attack (not to mention the h4 bishop is trapped)!
This move carries out the precedent I set with 11. a4. By playing 19. a5!, I fix Black’s pawns stopping the natural …b7-b6 push to kick the knight on c5 and getting the c8 bishop to b7 so the Black rooks can contest the c-file. Black once again is hard-pressed to find a plan, and especially with the short time controls, it made his position that much more unbearable. I quickly followed this with b2-b4 and kept my grip on the position.
Could you find the stinger 23. Nxf7!!, winning on the spot? A combination of the Bird Bind and light squared dominance made this possible, thanks to various mating threats. I’ll attach a link after the answer to the next problem, so you can play through all of the critical variations that ensue.
Everything leading up to this point hasn’t been original, but also hasn’t been from opening preparation – this win happened because I study a lot of Grandmaster games, regardless of opening, and I hope the take away is the same for you too!
If I could only have found this move 29. e4! – the simple mating threats are too much to handle, and in fact, with best play, White is mating in all variations! Of course the time trouble made me too materialistic, and after taking on e8, I had to convert my endgame advantage which was not as exciting.
How do you find these mini-positional lessons? My best advice is to work through a collection of Grandamster games, and study how that particular player handles different kinds of positions. There are also plenty of articles out there that can be of great help – Greg Serper’s column on chess.com, various Youtube videos from the St. Louis Chess Club, or of course, even here on Chess^Summit where you can even ask the authors questions about each position dierctly!
Next week’s G/15 State Championship should be an interesting test for me, and hopefully I’ll have more moments like these – unfortunately, I won’t be notating those games, but I promise I’ll have something big in store for my next article!
Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to push through a wave of exams. Lost in my studies of calculus, theoretical mathematics, and ancient artwork and architecture, chess had to take a backseat for two weeks. What do I mean by backseat? *Zero* chess. So when my last class on Friday let out for Fall Break, I think you can imagine how excited I was to start getting back to the chessboard.
As I mentioned in my last post, I now have less than two weeks until the Ira Lee Middle Pennsylvania State Chess Championships, which looks to be my premier event for this semester.
Luckily for me, my exam stretch ended right before a three-day weekend so I’ve had some time to thoroughly push myself without the immediate stress of exams. Surprisingly, my focus on opening preparation has been minimal.
Given how my recent matches with Beilin have transpired, I’ve decided that calculation is the single most important attribute I can work on right now. Between Saturday and Sunday, I’ve put in fifteen long hours into tactical exercises, endgame studies, and grandmaster game analysis. Extreme is probably the right word here, but I felt it important to jump back into form quickly this weekend so I can make the most of my shorter, daily training sessions once classes start again next week.
Aside from feeling completely exhausted, I can say pushing myself in this way has certainly gotten me back into feeling ready for tournament chess again.
So what will today’s article be about? This is just the second time since the relaunch of Chess^Summit that I don’t have a game of my own to share, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to discuss. Originally, I was leaning towards adding another edition to my Endgame Essentials series, thinking that Ian Nepomniachtchi’s win over Kramnik in the recent Tal Memorial would be a good start.
That changed as I was studying today while listening to the broadcast of the first round of the Russian Chess Championships (not live of course! I do try to get sleep…). There were many interesting games – Svidler beating the European Champion Ernesto Inarkiev, Alexandra Kosteniuk winning an extremely complicated endgame, but a five-hour clash between Vladimir Fedoseev and Nikita Vitiugov caught my attention. Pitted against a Caro-Kann, Fedoseev quickly gained space, held on, and ground out a win in 83 moves – though most of the pieces were left on the board upon Vitiugov’s resignation! Throughout the broadcast, commentator GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko would get to this game, say “positional masterpiece” and just move on – Fedoseev made it seem that simple!
So I decided to cover this game in today’s post for a number of reasons. First, being a Caro, I figured it would be nice to contribute to the discussion my Chess^Summit colleague Beilin has started with many of his own posts. Secondly, I admire Fedoseev’s patience in this game. Once it was clear Vitiugov was stuck to his own defenses, the Russian Grandmaster even took the luxury of taking a long walk with his king, just to ensure it’s safety before looking for ways to convert the point. If you like positional chess at all, you will really like this game too! Lastly, since this game lacks a lot of flashy tactics and dynamic play, I’m worried that this game might disappear after the initial round report, and perhaps just be a footnote for theory. But I’ll let you be the judge of how much this game should be appreciated!
Given that as I write this only a single round has finished in the Russsian Chess Championships, I so far like Svidler’s chances to win the tournament, already having defeated Ernesto Inarkiev, but also still fresh off of appearances at the Sinquefield Cup and Tal Memorial. Dmitry Jakovenko should be a strong dark horse, but I haven’t heard much about strong performances from him since he shared first in the final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansysk nearly two years ago. Alexander Riazantsev was impressive in his win too, but I would like to seem him play Svidler or Tomashevsky before I pass any judgment on his play – his win over Bocharov seemed to derive more his opponent’s inability to handle the early middlegame. With all twelve contestants rated over 2600, this should be an interesting tournament to watch unfold, and likely even the most exciting event until November.
When I come out with my next post, I will have just finished my final round at the Pennsylvania Chess Championships. Hopefully, I can bring back some good news and make up for some of my late summer performances. With exams out of the way, I can look forward to going back to a regular schedule – physical exercise, tactics, opening preparation – needless to say, I’m quite excited! And maybe, just maybe, I can really start thinking about reaching master again…
It feels like a long countdown until this weekend’s G/75 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships and Pittsburgh Chess League matches, so I’ve been killing time doing opening research and watching ongoing Grandmaster games.
With Gibraltar over, there aren’t exactly many high profile games to watch, but there is the Bicontinental Match-up (South America and Antartica) between Women’s World Championship Candidate Hou Yifan and Cristobal Henriquez Villagra, an up-and-coming player from Chile.
Hou Yifan is a player easy to overlook, but after today’s post, I think you’ll see just strong she really is. Let’s take a look:
Hou Yifan – Henriquez Villagra (Match Bicontinental de Ajedrez, 2016)
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 a6
6.g3 Qc7 7.Bg2
7…Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.e4
9…d6 10.Be3 Nbd7
14.Qd2 Rfc8 15.f4 Nc6 16.Qf2 Bd8 17.Rfd1
20.Nd2 Qb4 21.a3 Qxa3
22.cxd5 exd5 23.Ra1!
23…Qf8 24.Nxd5 Be6 25.Nc4 1-0
Black threw in the towel here, as there’s no easy way to defend against f4-f5 and Nb6 threats. Complete positional domination from the Chinese Grandmaster as she dispatched her opponent while making it look easy! There are two games left in the match, and it’ll be one of the last opportunities to watch Hou Yifan before the Women’s World Championship in March when she takes on the reigning champion, Mariya Muzychuk.
I’ve spent the last few days watching the Gibraltar Open, and now that it’s come to a close, I wanted to share some of the more interesting and instructive moments of the tournament.
The first game I wanted to show was from round 9, Ni Hua–Maze, where a massive space advantage against a Berlin failed to materialize and then came crashing down to allow the Frenchman to convert the won endgame. If you’re unfamiliar with the Berlin, I highly recommend you check out my comprehensive post on the opening here.
In this next endgame, we saw a draw cost both sides an opportunity to make the playoffs with Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier–Lagrave. In the end, it was Pentala Harikrishna that was unable to convert his position of strength to a birth in the play-off.
I missed the Nakamura–MVL match-up for first prize, but after four draws, Nakamura won the armageddon game with the Black pieces to win Gibraltar for the second consecutive year. This year featured a strong section, and the tournament becomes more interesting with each year as the organizers find new players to invite – I’ll be curious to see who plays next year!
This Saturday, I will be playing Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov in a simultaneous exhibition at the Pittsburgh Chess Club – so make sure to look out for the “Grandmaster Eats Me Alive” video that will come out Sunday, I’m looking forward to seeing how the reigning US Open Champion will plow through my repertoire!
This past Sunday marked a landmark win for me, as I managed to continue my perfect record in the Pittsburgh Chess League, getting my fifth win in five games. Getting a result not only meant helping my team, the Univesity of Pittsburgh, beat Carnegie Mellon University 3-1, but also meant extending my unbeaten streak in four-board team events to eleven games (8 wins, 3 draws).
I thought that this game was rather instructive, as the result was a direct reflection of the positional imbalances that occurred during the game, a pair of bishops against the pair of knights. Let’s have a look:
Steincamp – Puranik (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2016)
1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 c6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg2 Bg4
8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Bb4
10…Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qb6 12.Ba3!
13.Qxc4 Qa5 14.Qb3 b6 +-
16.fxe4 Qh5 17.Qc4
18…Nxe5 19.dxe5 Nd5 20.Bxd5 Rxd5 21.Bd6
21…Re8 22.e4 1-0
While I had a lot of ideas this game, the battle only lasted 22 moves! That is the power of the pair of bishops – find ways to open the position and create static weaknesses, and at some point, your opponent will blunder under pressure.
I won’t have another tournament game until February 13th, at the Pennsylvania G/75 State Chess Championships, but this game is definitely an encouraging sign concerning the direction of my preparation.
Since I’ve spent most of the last week discussing opening play, I decided to discuss trades in today’s post.
A few years ago when I was a student at Castle Chess Camp, I had the pleasure of working with Grandmaster Grigory Serper. While his use of metaphors and clichés to describe chess were particularly memorable, he did leave an impression on me regarding trading. Some of you may be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s one red paperclip project, where through internet trading, he managed to trade a paperclip for an entire house.
As Serper pointed out, winning in chess is very similar. We want to checkmate our opponent, but often times our opponents aren’t so willing to cooperate. So instead, we take over small advantages and cash them into bigger ones – just like how MacDonald started with a trade for a pen, then a doorknob, and eventually down the road, a house.
When looking for grandmaster games for today’s post, I decided to only select games from the recent rapid tournament, the 25th Paul Keres Memorial. We start with the third round upset of the top seed, Peter Svidler.
Svidler – Kulaots (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)
In this position, either side has practical winning chances. While Kulaots has the pair of bishops, Svidler has a fair amount of compensation. Black’s pawns limit the abilities of his own light squared bishop, and White’s knight has a strong outpost on f4. While some may argue that Black has the long-term advantage because of the pair of bishops, even that’s not so clear, as Svidler has a passed pawn on a3. In order for Kulaots to prove an advantage, he needs to activate his pieces.
This game was decided by three trades, the bishop for knight trade on f4, the rook trade on e4, and the opening of the floodgates on g3. Kulaots won this game by optimizing his position between each trade, paralyzing White to his structural weaknesses. Even though the f4 and d4 pawns dictated the pace for this game, Black didn’t have to win them to procure a result. Let’s move on to the next game.
Kukk – Eljanov (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)
Pavel Eljanov is one of my favorite players to watch, and while he didn’t perform at his full strength this tournament, he still showed how he was one of the best here.
In this position, White seems to be standing well. The knight on e5 well placed and Kukk has both of his rooks on open files while Black seems to be lingering behind in development. But Eljanov has his own ideas too. After rerouting from d7, the knight on b8 can enter the contest at any moment via c6. Furthermore, White’s bishop on b2 is passive behind the d4 pawn and will need to spend some tempi to reroute it.
18…Nc6 19. a3
20. Rxc8 Rxc8
21. Rc1 b5 22. b4
22…Rxc1+ 23. Bxc1 Qc8
24. Nb3 Ne4
25. f3 Ng3 26. Bf4 Nh5 27. Bd2 f6
28. Ng4 Qc4!
29. Nf2 Ng3
30. Nc5 Nef5 31. Qxc4 bxc4 32. Nxa6 Nxd4
33. Nd1 Nde2+ 34. Kf2 d4 0-1
Here Kukk resigned, as Eljanov’s d- and c-pawns are just too much. White has no mobility, and he’ll have to give up a minor piece when Black pushes …c4-c3.
As you may have noticed, in each of these games, the winner didn’t count on tactical trumps to beat the other but rather milked small positional edges, forcing the other side to make concessions. When you identify candidate moves, it’s extremely important to know what trades will help your position or weaken your opponent’s.