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.
As you may recall from Sunday’s video against the Dutch, we left with two critical questions:
1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?
2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?
While Black folded rather easily (until I missed a simple win), I thought this game was a good starting point for today’s article, which asks us not one, but two critical theoretical questions about one of Black’s most common responses to 1. d4. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, you can catch up here:
ChessBase’s online database gives us a really nice breakdown of White’s second move options, and as you may notice 2. Nc3 is not all that uncommon.
In fact, it scores rather well, 58% in 2163 games. While this line has received special attention from top grandmasters Alexander Grischuk, Santosh Vidit, and Erwin L’ami, it has been played several times by the famous theoretician Boris Gelfand, though he hasn’t brandished it since 2014.
While I will discuss both the positives and negatives of 2. Nc3 against the Dutch, please do note that most of its appearances in the Mega Database are from blitz tournaments – meaning that it may be used more as an element of surprise than an actual attacking weapon at the highest level. Let’s take a look at what can go wrong when Black doesn’t know how to handle 2. Nc3.
Jobava – Sandipan (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2014)
1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5
4. e3 e6 5. h4
5…Be7 6. Nh3 O-O 7. Qd2 Ne4
8. Nxe4 dxe4?! 9. O-O-O Nd7 10. Nf4 Nf6 11. Bc4
11…Qd6 12. Qa5!
12…h6 13. Qxf5 +-
13…Nd5 14. Qxe4 Bxg5 15. Nxd5 1-0
And on just the 15th move, Chanda Sandipan submits his resignation. Though 15… Bd8 could avoid immediate material loss, Black would find that his weaknesses on the light squares are just too much to bear after 16. Nc3 and 17. Bd3. With an undeveloped army, Black would face a kingside pawn storm with absolutely no counterplay. So what did this game tell us about the Veresov-like lines against the Dutch?
1) If Black cannot resolve the problems of his light squared bishop, it becomes extremely difficult to play for a win.
2) When White castles queenside, “textbook” Stonewall ideas aren’t effective.
Sure, this was a blitz game, and black wasn’t offering the best resistance, but these elements dictated the pace of the game. If Black wants to really maximize his chances, he needs to find a way to bust open the center. Let’s take a look at an antidote here from Vassily Ivanchuk.
Gelfand – Ivanchuk (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2012)
What changed? Well, Black definitely took some initiative with 5… c5. While reaching the Stonewall position helps limit White’s light squared bishop, it was critical that Black take advantage of White lacking a pawn on c4. Just like some Veresov lines, White really lacks any dynamic play because he doesn’t have a way to contest the center. Through further research, most Super-GM success with 2. Nc3 against the Dutch is against lower rated players, so perhaps it’s just a weapon to catch a lower rated player off-guard or out of preparation.
So that answers the first question – when it comes to dynamic play, the straight-forward 2. c4 is favored. Look no further than last week’s post for proof!
Now, the h-pawn march against the Leningrad. What can Black do? Well first, let’s see the idea played in it’s true form, played by the sixth best player in the world, Hikaru Nakamura.
Nakamura – Barron (Toronto Open, 2009)
1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3
3…g6 4.h4 Bg7 5.h5 Nxh5 6.e4
6…fxe4 7.Rxh5 gxh5 8.Qxh5+ Kf8 9.Bh6
9…Bxh6 10.Qxh6+ Kg8 11.Qg5+ Kf7 12.Nxe4
12…Qg8 13.Qf4+ Ke8 14.Qxc7 Nc6 15.O-O-O
15…Qg6 16.Re1 Kf7 17.d5 Nb4 18.Nf3 d6??
19.Neg5+ Kg8 20.Qd8+ Kg7 21.Rxe7+ Kh6 22.Nf7+
22…Kh5 23.Re5+! dxe5 1-0
Black resigned before White could complete his masterpiece, as 24. Qh4# ends the game. Nearly a miniature from the American, and not a convincing defense in sight. So the question persists, what should Black do?
While Black has won games in this line, I can hardly see the middlegame positions being what Black desires from move 1. That’s why I’m going to suggest a different, more flexible move order for Black.
1.d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d6!
Not a brilliancy by Grandmaster-level thinking, but it turns out that this extra tempo takes White out of the line. The next move, 4. Nf3, the most common choice puts an end to the h2-h4 shenanigans since the sacrifice on h5 doesn’t work with the queen’s entry blocked.
While this move means Black must be prepared for different sidelines, it does mean that he gets more “Dutch-like” positions and can rely on intuition more than just pure calculation.
Well, that’s bad news for White – a great exchange sacrifice ‘refuted’ due to a slight move order change. In these past two weeks, I have easily been the most I’ve ever written about the Dutch. Expect a little bit of fresh air on Friday, it’s time to look at something new!
In last Sunday’s video, I tried playing 1…e5 in response to the King’s Pawn opening. Without much theoretical knowledge of the Berlin, I quickly got bogged down in a worse position and on the clock. Though I got back into the game with a sacrifice on g4, the position I reached isn’t desirable enough to want to play again. Let’s take a quick recap of what happened:
JoseBautista–leika (G/15 ICC, 2015)
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6
4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4
Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nc4?
I’ll stop here since this questionable move already deviates from the Main Line which we will be discussing. When looking for a model game, I was lucky to find the Giri–Vachier-Lagrave match up from the London Chess Classic, in which Anish outplayed Maxime in a critical tiebreak match.
Giri won the game later on move 43, in what was arguably his best game of the tournament. While the victory may have been sweet, it was short-lived, as Maxime went on to win the next two tiebreak games, sending him to the final against Magnus Carlsen.
So what does this game tell us about the Berlin? Let’s take a look at the structure after move 17.
If you’re wondering why so many Grandmasters play the Berlin, you should start here. Structurally, Black is more solid and his king, thanks to the early queen trade is already in the center. With all of his early dynamic play, White has yet to define his structure, leaving his e5 pawn seemingly hyper-extended. If we think about how Vachier-Lagrave attacked Black’s weaknesses (17. Nb5), the threat of the c7 and a7 pawns only slowed Giri’s play but didn’t cause him long term problems, so already that position is at least equal. Let’s take this position to the next level.
Since White decided to give up the bishop pair with 6. Bxc6, we must also take this into consideration. While this minor piece endgame may be arguably tenable, it is clear that again, only Black can play for a win as the bishop dominates white’s knight. So with this assessment, we can say that Black is better in most Berlin Endgames.
Here’s another game where Black proved that solidarity was more important than initiative.
Now with a material advantage, Radjabov has a win to play for in the classical Berlin Endgame. Black went on to win 23 moves later.
So what do these games tell us about playing the Berlin as Black?
The Berlin won’t win games quickly. As evidenced by both games, endgame technique and defence are two critical skills needed to play the Berlin effectively. Black didn’t get an advantage until White erred playing for an edge.
Patience in the key. Remember, the main reason why the Berlin is popular for Black is because the computer gives it a favorable evaluation with the computer. Once the queens come off the board, the game is about strategic gains for either side as White tries to compensate for losing the bishop pair.
A Berlin Endgame is a good endgame. The biggest positive from today’s article. If White can’t effectively prove his compensation, he will be tortured in an uphill positional battle.
For today’s video, I wanted to share a game I played against an expert at the Pittsburgh Chess Club last Tuesday. I find this game to be particularly instructive since Black’s pawn structure dictated the pace of the game, as his pawn on c6 weighed down his development as I proceeded to find forcing moves and assemble my pieces for an attack. Hope you all enjoy!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing in a bi-monthly ladder at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, and if I have to be honest, the change in tournament format hasn’t been the smoothest for me, as late night Tuesday rounds has pushed my mental endurance. Despite winning the first round, I made an early mistake in the opening, which made most of the game an uphill battle. Round 2 proved to be much more difficult. Despite taking a material advantage in an endgame, I underestimated my opponent’s counterattacking chances and lost in a rather embarrassing fashion. So this last Tuesday was round 3, and to say the least, I needed a win – badly.
My opponent, a much older player, had just drawn a strong expert despite his 1800 rating, and knowing some of his other recent results, I knew that this would be a tough fight. As always, I got to the board insanely early, ready to play the most important game I would have played since moving to Pittsburgh.
Steincamp – Schragin (19th Robert Smith Memorial, 2015)
I was really happy with the quality that I brought to this round, and it’ll be a big boost going into the National Chess Congress next weekend in Philadelphia. Black helped me along the way, but it’s difficult for me to find significant improvements for myself throughout the game.
Over the weekend, I decided to play a G/15 quad, and even though I was easily able to reach a score of 2.5/3 (my quick rating is low, so I played mostly inferior opponents), I saw a game in the top quad that inspired me to write today’s post.
Rea – Feliachi (G/15 November Quads, 2015)
Just as a disclaimer, I was in my second round game as this one was developing, so the move order may not be exact (the critical position will be reached regardless).
2.Nf3 b6 3.e4 Bb7
4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Qe2?!
6…c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nbd2
8…cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4!
11.Qe3 Rc8 12.Nb3 Nc2+ 13.Bxc2 Rxc2
I remember watching this game and being really impressed with Black’s ability to punish White’s desire to play c2-c3. Though this …Nb4 and …Ba6 idea was clearly researched by Black before the game, it still made for a very instructional victory over a National Master.
With this inspiring opening play out of the way, I figured I might as well share Richard Rapport’s game at the European Team Championships last Sunday for team Hungary in their match in France. At only 19, Rapport has established himself as one of the world’s elite, specifically for bizarre opening preparation. In his game against Fressinet, he chose to open his game with 1. f4, giving the Bird’s Opening a rare showing at the Grandmaster level.
Rapport – Fressinet (European Team Chess Championships, 2015)
A great performance from Rapport, as his result was critical in securing a tie with the French in Round 3. After 4 games, Rapport has secured 3.5/4 for the Hungarian team in the European Team Chess Championships.
Make sure to check out other games from the event, as there have already been several heavyweight clashes. After Russia’s dominating win over Ukraine, will they be the favorites to run away with the event, or can Azerbaijan or Armenia catch up to the leaders? You can visit the event webpage here.
No matter how much you study theory, someone will always find a way to get out of your opening knowledge against you in a tournament game. How you handle those positions will largely determine the outcome of the game, not the fact that you had read an entire book in preparation for the match.
While some club players may disagree, when your opponent chooses to go out of “book”, he is not necessarily making a mistake, but rather making a less battle tested move. As the player, its your job to figure out why. Let’s look at some games where I was put in this situation.
24…Qd7 25.fxe5 Bg7 26.Qf2 Rf8 27.Qf1 b5 28.Bh3 Qa7 29.Kh1 White went on to win on move 41.
This game was instructive, because while Black opted for a less favorable line, he was by no means losing. By playing to improve my own position, Black ran out of active options and grew impatient, creating weaknesses with …a7-a6 and …e6-e5. The next game was from last April’s National High School Chess Championships where after a long day, I needed a win to play for a spot in the top 30 the next day.
Steincamp – Golias (National High School Chess Championships, 2015)
This game was a much easier win than the first game because Black took drastic measures and refused to follow opening principles. However, just like the first game, I was able to take away my opponent’s resources without creating any weaknesses of my own.
On a basic level, the main takeaway should be to follow the chess opening principles. When your opponent deviates from your theoretical knowledge, ask yourself if your opponent failed to accomplish one of these goals. If this is not the case, try to pinpoint what your opponent’s plan is, and find creative ways to eliminate the threat!
One year after I miraculously survived a completely lost endgame at the National High School Chess Championships in San Diego, I found myself in a similar situation in the first round of the same event in Columbus.
While I wasn’t lost, I had dropped a pawn in the opening, and at first, things looked like they were about to turn sour. However, through the use of just one file, I was able to maximize the activity of all my pieces, reaching an endgame where only I had winning chances. I really liked this game, because I was able to use a lot of similar ideas that I did in the original “How to Swindle”, while limiting all of my opponent’s counterplay. I hope you enjoy!
For today’s article, I decided to put a different concept of chess under the microscope – weak squares. In my recent posts and videos, I’ve focused a lot on poor pawn structures and lack of space, and while instructive, doesn’t really encapsulate all of the natural elements of positional chess.
Weak squares, as defined by Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman in his book, The Method in Chess, are squares that can no longer be defended by a pawn, and can be attacked by the opponent’s pieces. Generally, these squares become great outposts, and can dictate the result of the game. For my first few examples, I would like to demonstrate how careless pawn moves can result in completely worse positions.
13…Ne5 14. Be2? White doesn’t really sense the trouble in this position. I do not want the pair of bishops, as my knight from e5 is far superior to the scope of the f3 bishop. 14…b5 15. Qc2 Qb6 Now that I’ve acquired the e5 outpost, I need to create more play on White’s weak dark squares 16. Kh1 Rae8
17. Bg5 h6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd1 White is lost for ideas and the position is completely lost. 19…c4
20. Nf2? Qe3-+ I identified the second weak square here, and was easily able to convert the game. I don’t like the Four Pawns Attack for White, but my opponent had a tenable position before giving me the outpost on e5, after which he was lost for ideas and fell apart.
In this next game, I was on the losing side, and the one mistake I made in the opening cost me from start to finish – let’s check it out:
Grenias–Steincamp (Baltimore Open, 2015)
13.Rc1! Immediately asking me to defend against discovered tactics along the c-file. Nc5 14.Bd4 Qc8 Still not realizing my disadvantage, I simplify into a much worse ending. 15.Re1 Bh3 16.e4!
16…Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Qb7 I have lost a lot of tempi with this …Bh3 maneuver and have no play to show for it. 18.f3 Nxb3 19.Qxb3 Nd7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Nb5
21…Rfc8 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Rc8 24.Rc6 +-
2) Identifying Weak Squares
At the higher levels, players are generally more conscientious of creating such weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that weak squares don’t exist. In the first game I’d like to show, I was paired against a young opponent and had played a fairly respectable game, but my opponent sealed my fate when he identified the weak squares in my position.
33.Bb5! The idea is to reroute the bishop to c6, keeping my rooks from becoming active. 33…Rb8 34.Bc6 Rb6? The real mistake. The best option was for me to play 34… b6 and open the position. While I have an isolated e-pawn, the endgame is closer to a draw than a win. Either way, by moving the bishop to c6, White obtains something to play for, thus increasing his wining chances. 35.b5! No second chances! Now …e7-e6 doesn’t work because White can capture with the d5 pawn and bring the rook. By letting my opponent secure this outpost, I quickly found that I had nothing to play for, and resigned a little over 10 moves later. 35…Kf8 36.Rb4 a6 37.a4 a5 38.Rh4 Kg7 39.Rf4 Ng8 40.h4 Rb8 41.g4 Nh6 42.Rfe4 Kf8 43.Kg3 Rb6 44.R4e2 Ng8 45.Kf4 Nf6 46.Kf3 Rb8 47.h5 1-0
A nice win from my opponent, where he managed to demonstrate superior endgame knowledge over the board. This next weak square earned the winner $38,000 at the recent Millionaire Chess Open:
Yang – Mandizha (U2400 Millionaire Chess 2, 2015)
26. Nf1! Superb idea! Regardless of the computer’s assessment of the position, the game just became a lot more complicated for Black. From f1, the knight will reroute to e3 then d5, taking advantage of Black’s inability to control any light squares, while blockading the d6 pawn. Mandizha is limited in his possibilities, as the Sicilian Najdorf line he prepared did not go as planned. He has a bad bishop on e7, which is blocked by the central pawns. in just a few moves, Yang proves that his knight is much better than Black’s bishop. 26… Bd8 27. Ne3 Bb6 28. Nd5 Bc5
29. f6!! And now White has all of the winning chances. Black erred immediately in the game but if black plays 29… gxf6, White can play 30. Rf3!+-, with the idea of taking on f6 with the rook. This idea is the “Principle of Two Weaknesses” as White will seek ways to put pressure on both f7 and d6 while improving his position. The knight is still untouchable and its not clear how Black escapes the bind. 29…g6? Tired, Mandizha makes the game losing move. 30. Ne7 And White only needed a few more moves to win the $38,000 prize.
3) Creating and Securing Weak Squares
Some openings just don’t create enough weak squares. This is where positional play becomes dynamic; finding forcing moves to create weak squares is another way to generate an advantage. Here’s a game I played online:
leika (me)-jondrich (Internet Chess Club, G/15) 24…b5
25…Ne8 26. Kf2 Ba5 27. Ba3 b4?
28. Bc1 Bb6 29. Be3 My bishop can’t do too much, but this move puts pressure on c5 while covering the d4 square. 29…a5 30. a4 Locking down the queenside. If Black makes the mistake of taking en passant on a3, I will recapture and the c3 square become accessible for my e2 knight. 30…Nc7 31. g4
While its important to identify weak squares and put your pieces on them, its also important to keep that outpost, or trade them for better ones. I had a cute maneuver in my round 3 win at the World Open this past year:
Steincamp-Williams (World Open, 2015)
26.Bh3! Black cannot surrender control of the e6 square, so he must return his bishop to d7. 26…Bd7 27.Bg2!
27…Bxa5 28.bxa5Qd8 29.Rc7 Bc8
30.a4 Opening the a3 square for my bishop to attack d6. 30…Ne7 31.Ba3 Bf5 32.e4 Bc8+-
In all of these games, the position went from seemingly equal to dead lost because of one weak square. Use these squares to make pieces active and blockade weak pawns, and you will see significant returns in your gameplay!
If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out my gofundme page to learn about my journey to New Orleans for the 2016 US Junior Open.