What do I do Now?

This is a question I hear often from students when opening is finished and there are no clear tactical moves.

Let’s take a moment to think about this scenario.

The reason we often get stuck is because we’re looking prematurely for the final punch, even though there are plenty of game to be played.

Instead of thinking to finish the game, let’s take a step back, and make small improvement moves for our positions.

There are two questions we can ask

  1. How to activate my pieces
  2. How to stop my opponent’s plans

Activate My Pieces

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Black to Move

All the minor pieces are developed for both side, now black should consider to bring rooks to the center and find ways to open up the files for the rooks.

Re8 or Qd7 are two good choices here. These moves does not win the game or have any immediate threat, but we are ‘waking up’ our heavy pieces.

Stopping Opponent’s Plans

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White to Move

Similar to the previous position, white’s minor pieces are developed. Rb1 is a good idea to control the b-file, however, we can make this move later as well.

More importantly, what is black’s plan here. Where should black develop the light square bishop?

Once we ask this question, we can see g4 is the ideal square to pin white’s knight and queen. Based on this h3 would be a good prophylaxis move.


Chess can be a fast and furious game, but it can also be strategic in nature.

When the next time you don’t see clear cut moves, make sure to search for small improvements that will help you in the long haul.

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Washington International Part 1

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.

Round 1

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:

WI Round 1 #1

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…

WI Round 1 #2

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.

WI Round 1 #3

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.

Rounds 2-4

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!

The Journey From U1000 to 1500

Going from a new player to 50th percentile in USCF rating (around 700) is about reducing oh-no moments and tactics.

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

  1. Zero oh-no moments
  2. Activate your pieces
  3. 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.

U1000_1

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.

U1000_2In 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.

Opening Repertoire For Different Ratings

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.

chess_opening

As with my last article on topics for different levels, I believe different ratings should focus differently on their opening preparations.

My current opinion

  1. Casual players up to USCF U1200: Play any opening that catches your curiocity
  2. USCF 1200 – 1700: Be more specific; Prepare a package against d4 and e4 for black, and choose your favorite 1st move for white
  3. 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:

  1. e4 for white; Alapin against Sicilians
  2. French for black against e4
  3. 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.

If you have aspiration to become a master and gain international titles, then you’ll need to start playing in many tournaments.

From these tournament experiences, you’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses in chess, and figure out the amount of time focused on openings accordingly.

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These are my strong opinion now, but I held them loosely.

For all the active chess warriors, Good Luck to all of your summer chess adventures!

 

 

 

Trust Your Guts: How Studying GM Games Can Help You Play Rapid Chess

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Getting a head start on homework at Coffee Tree Roasters in Shadyside. Believe it or not, I bumped into a Chess^Summit reader there just last week!

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.

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Grabbing dinner at a nearby deli with Beilin after the Gateway Open, while managing to catch the 4th quarter of Pitt upsetting #2 Clemson in football! Somehow my life still has time for sports…

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!

The Test

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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?

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Black made a waiting move with 11…Re8, giving White time to improve the position. What move would you make?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

The Answers

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!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-59-06Flash 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)!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-08-51This 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.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-12-44Could 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!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-16-54If 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.

As you can see, all of these ideas played into each other, and made the game much more easy to play considering the thirty minute time control. To come full circle, this is how this part of the game played out in whole!

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After finishing my Calc midterm last Friday, I won’t have another test between now and finals! Time to buckle down and get back to calculating!

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!

Pedal to the Medal: Chess, chess, chess!

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Taking a break from my studies to celebrate my friend’s 20th birthday! Hard to imagine that will be me in a few short weeks!

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.

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Hillman Library seems to have been hiding one of the best chess study rooms on campus from me, of course with a TV in the room…

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.

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… so I can watch the Russian Chess Championships!

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!

Vladimir Fedoseev, source: ChessBase

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!

Picking the 7-time Russian Champion and recent Candidate Peter Svidler is not exactly a courageous choice, but if Polborta can get past Tomashevsky, he will be well on his way.

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.

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Snapshot from a game with Pitt Chess Club regular, Joe, who’s been featured here on Chess^Summit! Oh, and yes, that is checkmate…

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…