Quest to NM #2: Fitness and Chess

In the past year, fitness has become a critical part of my life: I am addicted to the direct and fairly linear strength progress that comes from consistent weight training. Meanwhile, my chess improvement seems to have come to a halt as I have been hovering around the low 2000 mark for quite a while, causing me to feel rather uninspired to continue working on my game. This got me thinking. If I applied the same principles from my fitness journey to my chess, could I possibly boost my results and be more consistent? Here are a couple of comparisons between chess and fitness that I have drawn up, and they seem to reveal quite a bit about how I should be approaching my chess training:

  1. Diet: There is no need for a comparison here! Just like good food is essential to nourish your body, your brain needs nutritious foods to function properly.
  2. Cardio/Endurance and Tactical Sharpness: The last thing you want during a difficult workout is to reach cardiovascular failure before muscular failure. Moreover, in a sport or competition of some kind, you won’t be able to apply your strength and skill if you are completely out of breath the whole time. This principle works the same way in chess: there is no point in having incredible positional and endgame skill if you are regularly dropping pieces or missing simple tactics. Tactical alertness is fundamentally essential for any chess player!
  3. Strength in upper body and lower body vs. strength in calculation/middlegame/endgame: In fitness it is standard to follow so called “split routines” where one works out legs on one day and upper body the next; these “splits” can be broken up in many different ways. The same principle can be applied in chess: it makes sense to concentrate fully on solving difficult tactical puzzles one day (calculation), studying a master game the next (middlegames), and finally learning endgame theory on the day after that (endgames). Splitting up chess study like this ensures that you get the most out of every session rather than jumping constantly from one aspect of the game to the next, without attaining complete focus.
  4. Consistency is key: You won’t get anywhere in fitness if you work out with intensity for 3 weeks straight, and then take a month long break, only to then repeat the cycle. Unfortunately, that is exactly what I have been doing with my chess: it simply doesn’t work! Having a set structure or plan for chess study that you follow every week will guarantee progress if you are patient.
  5. Warm up: Before a game or a difficult workout it is always a good idea to warm up and get blood flowing with some easy movements. The same is true in chess: there is no harm in solving 5-10 basic tactics before a study session or game to ensure that you are ready and focused.

While some of these points may seem very intuitive, I have found thinking about the parallels between fitness and chess to be very helpful as they have inspired me to form a chess routine that I will stick to. Until next time!

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Why so Scared?

4 Crucial Methods to Overcome the Fear of playing against Higher Rated Chess Players

  1. Try not to look at the rating of your opponent- This could happen in one more ways. If you are ever at chess tournaments with your parents, it might be a better idea for you to ask them to look at the pairings. This would lead to most chess players having games without as much fear of rating loss, playing better chess, and not playing “hope chess” (Moves that are made on the basis that the opponent would not see them due to their rating).
  2. Play Online chess Against Higher Rated Opponents- Sometimes playing against higher rated opponents online gives you more experience playing against them and you are more likely to be more confident playing against them since you have played similar players. This is crucial because you are able to find weaknesses in your openings without actually playing them out in a tournament chess game.
  3. Think of it as a learning opportunity- Usually playing against higher rated players helps you put your openings to the real test and finding out actually how comfortable you are playing such chess positions. You also lose pretty minimal rating if you lose to higher rated players. Also you can sometimes ask for analysis afterward to get the input of the player and his views of your position throughout the game.
  4. Remember rating is just a number and don’t stress about it! Although you may feel down at times about rating loss and having a bad tournament, keep in mind that if you are dedicated and always playing the best chess moves in the game, your rating will reflect it. Losing is sometimes the best learning experience. At the end of the day playing better players is what makes you a better player.

Manhattan Open

And my summer chess adventures continue. This time I headed to the Manhattan Open, which took place only a few blocks from Times Square. Let me just tell you that going out for lunch was a test of ingenuity and persistence navigating through throngs of tourists. Manhattan Open was only 5 rounds, but it was surprisingly strong with 7 GMs in attendance! For me, it was an excellent local practice tournament with nothing big at stake.

In round 1, I won a fairly clean game with black against Juan Sena (2222 USCF, 1996 FIDE). An interesting idea in the opening worked very well, and I was much better by move 20. I went on to convert without problem. Yay, I finally won a first round!

Round 2 was a tough game for me. I got white against Stanislav Busygin (2293 USCF, 2167 FIDE). I nursed a slight edge and got a very good position, but it wasn’t easy to get through. His defense was sturdy, and he didn’t give me many opportunities. Eventually, after a few inaccuracies/mistakes from both sides, we reached this position.

Busygin_2 1

It’s a knight endgame with equal material, but white clearly has the upper hand with his Nc5. White should engineer a b3-b4 breakthrough to get a passer on the a-file. What else to do? However, black has Ne4 ideas, which will cause trouble. Patience with 53.Kd3 or 53.Kc2 is best, and white has very good winning chances. Instead, I decided to immediately go 53.b4?. The most critical move here is 53… Ne4+, leading to a pawn endgame after 54.Nxe4 axb4+ 55.Kxb4 dxe4. The key line there is 56.Kc3 Kb6 57.Kd2 Ka5 58.Ke3 Kxa4 59.Kxe4

Busygin_2 2

White has gone after black’s e-pawn, and black has gone after white’s a-pawn in response. That’s all fairly natural. Now, if white could take the d4- and c6-pawns off the board, he’d be winning because his king rushes in to the kingside. Black should therefore go back 59… Kb5, and after 60.d5 he has 60… Kc5! saving the day. I was toying with 60.Kd3, but white has no magic. 60… Kb4 holds without a problem since 61.d5 is again met with 61… Kc5!. It’s a draw. I did see this, though I’m not sure if I boiled it down to the end before or after I played 53.b4. I did (incorrectly) feel that I had blown a large chunk of my advantage in the past few moves, and I saw some ghosts if I waited with my king. In simple English, I bluffed and in retrospect am not sure why.

Fortunately, my opponent went 53… axb4+?, and everything was back on track. After 54.Kxb4 black is in a bad situation, and passive defense with 54… Nc8? didn’t help. White will push his a-pawn, go after black’s kingside pawns with his knight, and infiltrate with his king to c5 and beyond. I won a few moves later.

After that long game and lunch with a friend, there was no time whatsoever to prepare before the next round. I got double white against Justin Chen (2354 USCF, 2249 FIDE). The game didn’t go according to plan. My opening was fairly toothless, and my attempts to gain an advantage led to a worse endgame. Fortunately, I held it without any serious problems. I was hoping for more, but 2.5/3 was not a score to whine about—especially considering how I’ve been starting my tournaments recently…

In round 4, I made another draw with black against GM Sergey Kudrin (2537 USCF, 2456 FIDE). The game was approximately equal throughout, and when he offered a draw, I decided to take it. I had 3/4 going into the last round, and that’s the game where I wanted to take my chances. Since I got a double white in rounds 2 and 3, the pairing program didn’t object to me getting black again in the last round, this time against Wesley Wang (2408 USCF, 2328 FIDE). Out of the opening, we reached this strange position.

Wesley 1

White does appear to be a bit overextended and badly coordinated, but this should dissipate once he castles. 16.Qd2 and 16.Bxb6 Qxb6 17.g3 are white’s best options, after which the position is approximately equal. Instead, Wesley played the most logical move 16.Bb5+?. 16… Nc6 appears to be forced, and white shouldn’t have any real problems after 17.0-0 0-0 18.Bxb6 Qxb6 19.Nc3, to show one variation. But wait, is 16… Nc6 forced? It isn’t! I correctly played the cold-blooded 16… Bd7! which throws a huge wrench in white’s works. On the surface it looks impossible, but after both 17.Bxd7+ Qxd7 18.Bxb6 Nxg2+ 19.Ke2 Qb5+ and 17.Bxb6 Nxg2+ 18.Kf1 (18.Kd2 Qxb6 19.Bxd7+ Kxd7) 18… Bxb5+ 19.Kxg2 Qxb6, black is a pawn up. 17.Bxd7+ Qxd7 18.0-0 fails to 18… Bxd4 19.Nxd4 Qxd4! 20.Qxd4 Ne2+ winning a piece. This is a bad sign for white…

17.Nc3 and 17.Na3 were the least evils for white, though black will have an edge after 17… Bxd4 18.Nxd4 0-0. Instead, Wesley decided to go 17.Bxd7+ Qxd7 18.c3

Wesley 2

This looked precariously bad for white. Black just has so many ideas: Nd3+, Nxg2+, Qb5, etc. One of them is bound to work. 18… Nbd3+ 19.Kf1 Bxd4 is black’s best option. If 20.Nxd4 Nxe5, black is up a clean pawn, and white’s position is bad anyway. 20.cxd4 annoyed me, but I missed the simple idea that after 20… 0-0 21.g3, black has 21… Rc8! 22.gxf4 Rc1 winning the queen and the game. And that’s not the only good variation black has at his disposal… Instead of doing this, however, I overthought my next move and overlooked a simple hole in my main line. I went 18… Bxd4 19.cxb4 Qb5? (19… Bb6! was still very good for black). After 20.Nxd4 I realized what I had missed.

Wesley 3

I thought that after 20… Qxb4+ 21.Kf1 Qc4+, white has to go 22.Kg1, after which I have 22… Qxd4 23.Qxd4 Ne2+, winning the piece back. However, I missed that white can simply go 22.Ne2!. I had technically been planning on postponing operation Qc4+ by first going 21… 0-0, but white could go Ne2 there too. OOPS!! This wasn’t part of my plan. I decided to make the best of things by going 20… Nxg2+ 21.Kd2 Qxe5

Wesley 4

Black has two pawns for the piece, and white’s king is really shaky. Black clearly is a happy camper here, but what he could’ve had before was much better. 22.Kc1 0-0 23.Nc2 is probably white’s best shot, but Wesley went for the adventurous (but bad) 22.Qa4+? Ke7 23.Qa7 Rd8 24.Kc3

Wesley 6

White’s knight is awkwardly pinned in the middle, but if black carelessly goes 24… Nf4?, he’ll get hit with 25.Qc5+! trading the queens off and solving white’s problems. In light of that, I played 24… Kf6!. The point is that 25.Qc5 will now be met with 25… Rd5. Black’s Kf6 looks very strange, but it’s safe! Next up is Nf4 followed by Ne2+, further bombarding Nd4. 25.Nd2 Nf4 26.N2f3 is white’s best chance to hang on, but his king is an endangered species after 26… Qd6. Instead, Wesley chose 25.Na3, but after 25… Nf4 26.Nac2 Ne2+ 27.Kd3 Nxd4 28.Nxd4 Qd5!, white is going to lose his pinned knight after …e5. After 29.Qb6 Rd6 30.Qc5 e5, Wesley resigned.

Overall, I got 4/5, landed myself in a 7-way tie for second, and gained a few rating points. Not complaining. Congratulations to GM Aleksandr Lenderman who won clear first with 5/5. My summer run continues with the Washington International, a 9-round norm tournament which starts this Saturday. Over 20 GMs are registered, and I’m barely in the top half. Fingers crossed…

Keeping in Touch with Chess

It’s that time of…life?

Yes, that’s right.  As some Chess^Summit authors have reached and passed this part of life, it’s now my turn – college applications.  With college applications has come the unfortunate effect of not being able to play in tournaments very often, if at all.  Frankly, sitting here while writing this sentence, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what the last tournament I played in was, or even the last time I played in a rated game in general.  In other words:  It’s been awhile.

Sure, I could tell you that this is a situation could very well happen to anyone, or that it’s inevitable, but that wouldn’t exactly help you.  Rather, I can tell you a few things you can do to stay in touch with chess if playing consistently in tournaments or rated games, in general, becomes impractical.  So, without further ado…

  1. Online Chess

This one kind of goes without saying, but it’s really the closest one can get to playing rated chess, it’s just without the effect that rated games would have on actual rating.  Playing online chess comes with the ability to practice strategies, execute plans, and stay up to date with opening theory, assuming your opponent follows the book line to the end.  The opening theory part, however, might change based on the chosen time control for online chess, and that choice has some pretty significant implications.  There are pros and cons for short and long time controls alike.  Shorter time controls allow for refinement of intuition and quickly spotting tactics; however, they aren’t always ideal, as games can often become nonsensical in time scrambles.  On the other hand, long time controls allow for deep thinking, drawn out plans, and perhaps a better chance at good opening play; these too, however, have their own cons, as the games can take a long time, and sometimes that amount of time just isn’t available.  Either way, playing online if/when possible is one of the best ways to stick with the game when pressed for time.

  1. Solving Tactics

As briefly mentioned already, another well-known way to keep up with chess is to practice with tactics on a daily (or as consistent as possible) basis, as they help with keeping motifs engrained in our minds and calculation time consistent.  The benefit of practicing tactics is that they never become repetitive, as each subsequent problem is typically from a position we’ve never seen, and the motifs from problem to problem almost always change.  In this way, each problem can be engaging in its own way, and, as a whole, the method is very easy to get into.  In fact, my first real chess coach always praised the idea that doing “just ten tactics a day” is good enough to keep up with the game, and if time is a concern, doing only that much likely wouldn’t take all that long.  There are many ways to practice tactics, and one of the best is Tactics Trainer at chess.com.  The system is incredibly interactive – if you don’t find the correct answer on the first try, it allows you to retry with no effect on your tactics “rating,” or you can have it tell you the solution right away; having that choice in the first place is something that many other tactics websites don’t offer.  Overall, practice tactics is a fairly straightforward and less-time-consuming way to keep in touch with chess, and if you believe in the well-known phrase, practicing something that comprises 99% of chess can’t exactly hurt.

  1. Straight-up Think about Chess

This one might not sound all that familiar at first but bear with me, because this is actually one of my favorite ways to keep in touch with chess, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you do this already.  Thinking through chess moves, games, or crazy tactics is something that I love to do, especially when in situations that some might consider “boring.”  Say, you’re in a waiting room for some appointment and don’t have anything to do.  If I was in that situation, I might just start playing through an opening in my head, testing myself to see how well I remember specific lines.  Or, I might play through a game of mine that I happen to recall at the moment; or maybe even a game that isn’t mine, but I was fascinated with it enough to memorize the moves.  Or, I could try to construct as crazy of a position as I can to make a certain tactical move to work.  For example, I could ask myself, “What’s the coolest position I can come up with where a rook sacrifice leads a win by forcing doubled pawns?” and then proceed to create certain piece combinations and positions where it works.  Doing this on my own has actually helped two-fold: I’ve been able to stay in touch with chess in perhaps a “creative” way, and I’ve also found a way to occupy myself when necessary.

Perhaps, the next time you find yourself not being able to play in a tournament due to timing, you can compensate by keeping in touch in one of these ways, or maybe even others that I haven’t mentioned.  In fact, if any of you have other ways that you keep in touch with the game, feel free to share in the comments!

Somewhat ironically, I still won’t be able to play in tournaments anytime very soon because I’m leaving for Singapore on a field trip in a couple days, and I’ll be gone for about two weeks.  Thus, you probably won’t see me in two weeks, but I should be back in a month or so.  Until then!

Conquering the Plateau

Hello everyone. My name is Vedic Panda. I’m 16 years old and a National Master from the state of Georgia, and I’m humbled to be your newest Chess Summit author! I’ve decided that for my first Chess Summit article to do my best to cover the interesting and very relatable problem that all chess players at some point go through, chess plateaus.

Firstly, I should fully explain what I mean by a chess plateau for our less informed readers. A chess plateau is when your rating or level of play stagnates or remains around the same for a long period of time. An example of this would be a player who has had a rating of around 1700 for several months. Chess plateaus are something that every chess player at some point in his career has faced and are often discouraging to the player going through it. This article will be discussing tips on how one can overcome a chess plateau.

  1. Keep on being optimistic and don’t get discouraged

Being stuck around the same rating for weeks, months, and even years can be extremely frustrating for a person. It’s easy to get upset and want to quit. However, in order to get out of a chess plateau, you have to understand that these things take time. It’s important that even after bad or lackluster tournaments you keep a positive mindset. Chess is a tough game but being positive even when you’re not doing well can help it stay fun for you. If you don’t believe me about the importance of positivity, listen to what the current world champion Magnus Carlsen himself had to say about this:   

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 4.23.48 PM

  1. Study

Getting better at chess is not a simple process. While it might be easy at first to climb the ranks and gain rating, getting to higher levels like Class A, Expert, and Master requires that you learn new things. For example, you can’t become an expert without knowing your king and pawn endgames. It’s important to note that chess improvement doesn’t necessarily always mean instant rating increase. Nothing is guaranteed in chess, but if you continue to work hard, your chess understanding along with your rating will increase.

  1. Take A Break

When things aren’t going well it’s always good to take a break from chess. It’s easy to get for someone to get frustrated at chess when things aren’t going well. Taking temporary breaks can help you recollect yourself, remotivate, and can even help you enjoy playing chess more.

  1. Have Fun

At the end of the day, it’s important to have fun while playing chess. No matter what your rating in chess is, if you’re having fun while playing, that’s all that really matters. It’s easy to define yourself based on what your rating is but, no matter what, how you feel about chess shouldn’t be affected by it. As long as you enjoy playing, your rating will increase eventually.

Going through chess plateaus is a tough experience. But in those tough times, it’s important to stay motivated and never give up. As long as you continue to have fun and keep up your chess studies, I can guarantee that you will be out of your rating slump in no time! I hope this article was helpful and if you have any personal questions relating to this topic, feel free to comment below and I’d be glad to answer. Until next time!

 

A Weekend of Grandmasters

While not the most difficult tournament I’ve played (being only 5 rounds instead of the 7-9ers with which I’ve been otherwise occupied recently), last weekend’s Potomac Open certainly featured one of the strongest set of opponents I’ve ever faced. Most notably, I was the only player in the event to face all three Grandmasters, a situation undoubtedly brought on by my first round upset of GM Larry Kaufman. When it was all over, I had scored an even 2.5/5, which, as my opponents were rated an average of 2399, was good for some hefty USCF/FIDE rating gains.

My first game ended in a nice win over GM Kaufman, but not without a worthy test of my endgame technique. I won a pawn via opening skirmishes and seemed to be cruising to an easy win, but a few inaccuracies in the ending made matters less clear.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 4.00.50 PM
Li – Kaufman: after 27…Ke6

I knew 28. Nxg7+ should win, as after 28…Ke5 29. Ra7 should pick up the rest of Black’s kingside pawns quickly. However, with both of us in serious time trouble, I wanted to avoid any tricks involving a racing b-pawn or Black’s king moving too close to mine, so I went for the “safer” 28. Ne3?! forcing 28…Re2 29. Ra3 Nd5! (Black cannot relieve the pressure on c2) 30. Nxd5 Kxd5 31. Rd3+ Ke5 32. Rc3 f5 33. Rc7.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 4.07.12 PM
Li – Kaufman: after 33. Rc7

Black correctly ignored the threat to the g7-pawn with 33…Kf4! (rarely a good idea to go passive in an inferior ending). With only a few minutes left, I made a few quick repetitions to get to move 40 faster in this 40/90,SD/30;+30 game: 34. Kf1 Rd2 35. Rc4+ Ke3 36. Rc3+ Kf4 37. Rc4+ Ke3 38. Rc3+ Kf4. And finally White is able to force Black’s rook off its perch: 39. g3+ Ke5 40. Re3+ Kd4 41. Re2.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 4.14.03 PM
Li – Kaufman: after 41. Re2

White’s pieces are still pretty restricted so it will take some more work to untangle. However, Black continued 41…Rd1+ 42. Kf2 Rh1? Giving up the d-file is a critical error, as one way or another, Black’s king is cut off, giving White time to grab the kingside pawns more safely. Indeed, soon after 43. Rd2+ Kc4 44. Ke3 Rb1 45. Rd4+ Kc5 46. Rd7, I achieved two advanced kingside passers to Black’s tied-up b-pawn, giving me the win.


In Round 2, I played a great game against the even higher-rated GM Jesse Kraai (who went on to win the tournament 5-0), accepting a pawn sacrifice for which the GM ultimately found insufficient compensation. Although I lost the pawn back in a time scramble, it seemed that I could draw the ending relatively easily, until I learned (for not the first time) that there are always tricks.

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 4.30.13 PM
Kraai – Li: after 43…Na3

After repeating once, I had expected White to acquiesce to the only way to keep his pawns defended, 44. Nb4 Nb5 45. Nc6. But instead, he played 44. Kf1!!, leaving the c2-pawn undefended for no immediate reason. Unfortunately, I failed to see the point of this move until after 44…Nxc2 45. Ke2 Kf8? 46. Kd2 Na3 47. Na7! when my knight was trapped and ultimately forced to sacrifice itself on c4. Instead, the preemptive 44…Na3 should have drawn (see the notes to the full game).


My next opponent was young expert Madhavan Narkeeran, who knows me fairly well from my days in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, both of us played exceptionally poorly, each trading several major blunders that ultimately ended in a pawn-up rook ending that I should probably have won fairly easily. Instead, I missed several fairly straightforward wins and had to settle for Q vs. R, which I somehow failed to win.

Naturally, this did not leave me in the most confident of spirits in my next game against FM Justin Paul, especially when I found myself in this position:

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Li – Paul: after 8…Bc5

I had no idea if this was theoretical, but of course White can’t castle here, and Black is quickly pushing moves like …O-O and …Re8+, so it did not look good despite my extra pawn. Eventually, Black decided to nab two knights for a rook, leading to some interesting choices:

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 12.58.51 PM
Li – Paul: after 16…Ndf6

I thought I could get some material as compensation if I acted quickly enough, so I played 17. Bc3, which was met as expected with 17…Nf2 (although 17…Rb8!? works for the moment as well, since the expected 18. Bxf6? Qxf6 threatens to take on b2) 18. Qf3 N6e4, itself threatening 19…Bg4 and forcing 19. h3.

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Li – Paul: after 19. h3

As it turns out, this does not completely solve White’s problems, due to possibilities such as 19…Bf5!? 20. g4 Bh7 21. Rhf1 Re8! which creates an incredible support network of the Re8, Qe7, Bc5, Ne4, Nf2. Instead, Black played the straightforward 19…Nxh1?! but after 20. Rxe4 Qf8 21. Be1 it was only a matter of time before I won the trapped knight on h1. This left me a healthy pawn up, and I eventually won.

It also gave me – quite unexpectedly, given the strong field – a chance to play for money if I could get a result in the last round. Unfortunately, my pairing against GM Sergey Erenburg threw a wrench into this possibility, especially since I was tired and didn’t feel up to thinking about long term plans – not a blessing for playing a GM as Black in the Caro-Kann. Nevertheless, I was able to keep the game interesting when White had to expend a lot of time to think about how to break down my somewhat inferior but solid position. Eventually though, I wasted too much time shuffling my pieces on the back rank and allowed him to develop a winning attack. Still an instructive game, and one I should probably look over a bit more before sharing it.


While this wasn’t quite enough for prizes, my performance over the weekend was quite high and quite good for my rating, and also a few nice personal milestones. I broke  further into master territory, finally broke 2000 FIDE, and for the first time, my record against 2300s (spanning the last 12 months) is over 50%.

This also happens to be my last major tournament on the East Coast for a while, as I will be moving in a few days to start my new job at Google in California. This will be quite a change, both in chess (as nearly everyone I know is from the eastern half of the U.S.) and life, but I have enjoyed my time here immensely, and will definitely try to make it back once in a while, and am excited to see what the future holds!

US Cadet Championship

The US Cadet Championship is an invitational round robin tournament for the top US players under the age of 16. I was first invited to play in the Cadet back in 2015, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend due to scheduling problems. In 2016, however, I played. I was around the middle of then 10-player field, and I had a great tournament. After leading the tournament 7 rounds in, I finished in a 3-way tie for first, but unfortunately I went down in an armageddon playoff and didn’t get the title. That is a story for another time…

In 2017, I yet again didn’t play due to a schedule conflict, but I decided to participate this year. The tournament moved from Rockville, Maryland, (2016) to Manchester, New Hampshire, to San Jose, California. The tournament also decreased in size from 10 players to 8 players. This is the last year I’m eligible to play, and I hadn’t been on the West Coast in ages, so I gladly accepted the invitation.

The participants (sorted by July USCF rating) were:

Me (2527)
Rayan Taghizadeh (2410)
Josiah Stearman (2375)
Akira Nakada (2329)
Gabriel Sam (2328)
Aravind Kumar (2315)
Jason Wang (2289)
Max Li (2247)

I knew and had played East Coast players such as Aravind and Akira before. As for the Californians, I knew a couple but hadn’t played them—or to be more precise I hadn’t played chess with them. At the 2015 World Youth, Rayan, a few others, and I went bowling! The results are classified.

I was the big cat, and after tying for first place 2 years ago, my pre-tournament goal was simple—to finish first. Being the top seed wasn’t an easy position to be in, since the pressure was on me to win. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have competition either.

On Sunday, July 8, I finished the World Open, and on Wednesday, July 11, I flew out to California. The flight was uneventful (yay!), and I had a day to enjoy the Bay Area and hopefully somewhat adjust to Pacific Time. The opening ceremony and the drawing of lots were on Thursday afternoon, and the first round was an hour after that. I got seed number 4, meaning that my colors were white followed by black followed by white, etc. Coincidentally, the top four seeds got numbers 1-4, while the bottom four seeds got numbers 5-8.

Cadet_everybody
The players, organizers, TDs, and guests!

My round 1 win against Jason Wang (2274 USCF, 2187 FIDE) was fairly smooth. The homework I did before the round worked out very well, and I got a near-winning position after 20 moves. Not bad… After my last two tournaments, an uneventful start was a welcome change.

Cadet_rd1
The start of a successful day at the office! Photo by Bay Area Chess.

In round 2 I got black against Gabriel Sam (2328 USCF, 2138 FIDE). He steered the game towards drawish territory, but I did manage to get an advantage. Here’s where I missed my chance:

Sam 1

In the past few moves, I’d made territorial gains with my pawns and had pushed white’s pieces backwards. This, however, all came at the expense of weakening my king; more on that later.

As for concrete variations. 30… Bxf2 is the first move to calculate. It will most certainly be me with 31.Nxe5 Qc7 32.Qb5. Though the white knight is pinned, black can’t win it as 32… Bc5 runs into 33.Qd7+. Not impressed with the idea of being a pawn down without any gain, I looked elsewhere. 30… e4 31.Nd4 was possible, but I was uneasy at the idea of letting the white knight anchor itself on d4. 30… Qc7 31.Kg1 a6 is reasonable for black, but I went for something else: 30… Bc7?. White responded to the obvious threat of …e4+ with 31.g3 and I went 31… Bd6. I had, however, underestimated the move 32.Qb3!

Sam 2

I had wanted to have control over the position, and this is not a good development. Ng5 is a serious idea by white which could lead to dire consequences for black is he isn’t careful. He can also go Qd5 centralizing his queen. I saw nothing better than to go back with 32… Bc7, but I had no real advantage after that. The game ended in a draw.

What did I miss? In that 30… Bxf2 line, I was winning at the end, but I just didn’t look deep enough. After the practically forced 31.Nxe5 Qc7 32.Qxb5 Bc5 33.Qd7+ Qxd7 34.Nxd7, black has 34… Bd6+ 35.Kg1 Kf7

Sam 3

The white knight is trapped! The pawn endgames after both 36.b4 Ke6 37.Nc5+ Bxc5 38.bxc5 Kd5 and 36.c4 Ke6 37.c5 Kxd7 38.cxd6 Kxd6 are lost for white, as his king is just too far away. The exact details are far from obvious when looking from a distance, but I totally missed this idea. It was tough luck that I didn’t win, but trust me, there are much worse things that can happen to a chess player…

Round 3 was an important game for me and for the tournament standings. I was white against second seed Rayan Taghizadeh (2410 USCF, 2327 FIDE). The game was very interesting, and I really could write an entire article about it. The opening went well for me, and I managed to keep one of Rayan’s knights grounded on a5 with nowhere to go. He wisely went for counterplay, spicing the game up. I was clearly better, but it wasn’t obvious how much I actually had. We reached this position:

Rayan 1

White has a queen and two pawns for two rooks, and there is a pair of bishops on the board. At this point, the b-pawn is mainly for decoration, as it won’t be running up the board anytime soon. The main target is the f7-pawn and the black king in general. White’s bishop is going to assist the queen in doing this. But how? 35.Bf3 with the idea of Bd5? 35.Bg4 aiming at e6? Or 35.h4 going at the black king from a different direction? I spent most of my remaining six minutes on my next move, and it was well worth it, since I found a win.

35.Bf3 will be met with 35… Rcb6 36.Bd5 Bc8! 37.e6 is no good for course, and white doesn’t have anything convincing. Therefore I threw 35.Bf3 into the wastebasket. There weren’t too many concrete variations after 35.h4, and that could always be a backup. Then I crunched out the details of 35.Bg4! to the end and saw that it was winning. White intends to go e6 next, and that could fatally open up the black king. 35… Bc8 is no good, since after 36.Qd8+ Kg7 37.e6, black is all tied up and can’t stop anything. Rayan played the critical move 35… Rcb6 which I had been expecting. I replied with 36.e6 fxe6 37.Qd7!

Rayan 2

This was the key idea. The e6-pawn is going down which will more or less be mate. That is unless black goes 37… Bc8 which fails to a nice tactic: 38.Bxe6+! Rxe6 39.Qd8+ Kg7 40.Qc7+. Black is losing the b8-rook, and Rayan resigned here.

Cadet_playing
Everybody in action in round 3. Photo by Bay Area Chess.

That win felt great! The next morning, I was in an even bigger clash against Josiah Stearman (2411 USCF, 2285 FIDE). Josiah was leading the tournament with 3/3, and he was clearly my biggest threat in the tournament. Early on, it looked like the game would be a pretty dry ride until I got a pleasant surprise.

Josiah 1

A couple minor pieces have been traded off already, and neither side has any real claims to an advantage. Though I wasn’t thrilled, I wasn’t too disappointed with this development. If we drew, there was still a large chance that I’d outrun Josiah in the last three rounds, and besides, I shouldn’t be expecting anything special with black after only 13 moves… I though Josiah would play either 14.Qxe6 or 14.Qc2 with rough equality, but he decided to go 14.Qxb7? instead. That was a bad idea. 14… Rfb8 15.Qxc7 Rc8 16.Qb6 Rcb8 leads to a repetition, but I rightfully wanted more. After making sure there weren’t any problems, I went 14… c6! (14… c5! with a similar idea was also strong). I had a simple threat: 15… Rfb8 16.Qc7 Ne8, trapping the white queen. 15.Ba7 does stop Rfb8, but it is met with 15… c5! followed by 16… Qd7, where the white bishop is trapped. Josiah instead chose 15.d4 which is probably white’s best move. The game went 15… Rfb8 16.Qc7 Ne8 17.d5 cxd5 18.exd5 Nxd5 19.Qc6 f5!

Josiah 2

I had a lot of tempting alternatives in the past few moves, but what I did was strongest. Though material is equal for the moment, white is in big trouble. My threat is 20… Ne7 trapping the white queen (as if her majesty hadn’t gone through enough trauma). If white gets out of there with 20.Qc4, I’ll simply snag the b2-pawn with 20… Rxb2. Josiah tried 20.Ne1!?, but black is clearly much better if not winning here. I soon won the b2-pawn and went on to convert, even if the game did get a bit wild before the time control…

With 3.5/4, I was leading the tournament. Josiah had 3/4, Rayan had 2.5/4, and the rest of the field had 2/4 or less. This was fantastic! It got even better when I won my next game against Max Li (2267 USCF, 1788 FIDE). It was a tough fight where I didn’t have much but managed to win. Adding to the masterpiece, both Josiah and Rayan lost. That meant I was leading by 1.5 points going into the last day. Oh man. This was perfect…

Unfortunately, my round 6 game against Aravind Kumar (2309 USCF, 2153 FIDE) didn’t go according to plan. I got a dry but harmless position with black, until I slopped it up.

Aravind 1

This is a Carlsbad structure with all bishops off the board. Both sides’ plans are fairly textbook: white wants to create a minority attack with b4-b5, while black wants to play on the kingside. I should’ve just gone 17… f5!. 18.b4 worried me, but after 18… Nb6! eyeing the c4-square, black may even be better. Instead of doing that, I naively went 17… a5?! which was met with 18.Ndxe4! dxe4 19.Rd1

Aravind 2

White has a simple plan here: blast things open with d5. He will have the d-file and more active pieces. One thing that black has in his favor is that he will be able to go Ne5-d3 after d5, but I jeopardized that possibility by going 19… Nb6?. Instead, 19… f5! 20.Rfd2 Rfd8 21.d5 Ne5 is still acceptable for black. After 20.Rfd2 Rfd8 21.d5 f5 22.dxc6 bxc6 23.Ne2 I was in big trouble.

Aravind 3

White has the d-file, better pawn structure, and a safer king. There aren’t many volunteers who would want to be black here. Adding to my misery, I walked into 23… Nd5 24.Nd4 Qf6 25.Nxc6! Qxc6 26.Qe5 which cost me a pawn and the game.

That hurt. Josiah won his game, meaning that he was now half a point behind me going into the last round. In case of a tie, there would be a playoff, and I wanted to avoid one if possible. I played for a win in my round 7 game, where I was white against Akira Nakada (2308 USCF, 2154 FIDE).

Akira 1

I had been up to original shenanigans in the opening, and I reached this position. I wasn’t impressed with what I had here, especially because of the move 17… Nd5!, after which I didn’t see a better alternative than 18.Bxd5. Black is for sure completely fine after that one. Instead, Akira played what I was hoping he’d play: 17… Nc6?!. After double-checking the consequences for a few minutes, I played 18.Nxf7!?. If 18… Qxf7 19.Bxe6, white will a dangerous attack and large amounts of compensation. While my silicon friend evaluates the position after 19… Qf6 20.Rh3! as 0.00, I don’t think many people would envy being black here. Compared to this, the position after 17… Nd5 seems much nicer for black.

Akira had other ideas, and he quickly played 18… 0-0?. The white knight is trapped, and black is in great shape after the obvious 19.Bxe6 Rxf7 20.Bxf7+ Qxf7. There, however, was a hole in black’s idea: 19.Ng5!. After 19… hxg5 20.Bxe6+ Rf7 21.hxg5 white will have a rook and three pawns for two minor pieces, and black’s king is in serious danger of getting mated on the h-file. I went on to convert this position successfully, though I did have smoother ways to win…

All’s well that ends well! Josiah drew, meaning that I won the tournament by a full point with 5.5/7. While I didn’t gain much on rating, 5.5/7 is not a score to complain about! Considering the scare I had on the last day, I’m glad it ended this way.

Cadet_me
Judith Sztaray,  yours truly, and Tom Langland.

A big thank you to Bay Area Chess for organizing and running a smooth event! Everything was as good as it gets.