Fireworks in Philly Part 2

In part 1, I left off after my round 5 draw, where I was supposed to be the one pressing but instead had to fight hard not to lose.

In round 6, I got my momentum back with a nice win against Qibiao Wang (2420 USCF, 2324 FIDE). Things got off to a good start for me, and we reached this position:

Qibiao 1

Only white can be better here, and I naturally opened the position up with 12.c4!. The isolated pawn is no big deal. After 12… Nc6 13.Nc3 dxc4 I took an interesting decision by playing 14.d5!?. 14.Bxc4 and 14.Qc1 were also viable alternatives. After 14… Ne5 15.Bxc4 Nfg4 I had to decide where to go.

Qibiao real 2

Black is trying to get some activity and doesn’t want to be submitted to passivity. If white does something simple like 16.h3?, he gets hit with 16… Qc5!, double attacking the c4-bishop and the f2-pawn. 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 probably gives white an edge, but I chose a different and stronger option: 16.Bb3!. The bishop just gets out of the way. It’s that simple. Black has a dilemma where to put his queen: 16… Qf6 runs into 17.Ne4, and 16… Qd6 runs into 17.Bf4. The game went 16… Qc5 17.Ne4 Qb6 18.Bc3 after which white has a big advantage which I went on to convert in a powerful style.

That was a boost! Now I had 4.5/6 and was half a point behind the leaders. Oh boy… I wasn’t ready for the heartbreak that awaited me in my game against GM Gil Popilski (2578 USCF, 2502 FIDE).

Popilski 1

Up to this point, I had played well, and the not-so-unreasonable notion that I’m better crept into my head. White’s bizarre pawn on e6 is a combination of a thorn and a weakness. Anyway, it’s white move, and he played 26.Rb1 to prevent Bb5. This opened up the tempting possibility of going 26… Bc2, but after 27.Rb7 Bd3+ 28.Bxd3 exd3+ 29.Kd2, black’s position looks nice, but he doesn’t have anything. 26… Bb5 should be a draw after liquidations. Instead, I got way too excited and played 26… Rad8?! completely missing his reply 27.Rhc1!. Rd2+ appears to be useless. I can’t go Bc2 anymore. Wait, what can I do?? After a long think, I decided to swallow my pride and play 27… Bb5 aiming for a draw. What I didn’t realize was that white is just better after 28.Bxb5 axb5 29.Rxb5 Rxe6 30.Rc4

Popilski 2

With accurate play black should draw this, but it’s just easier to play with white. Over the next few moves, I drifted, and by the time we reached the time control, I was already in huge trouble. My resistance wasn’t enough, and I lost.

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t mad after this game. Really mad. I may or may not have spent a couple high quality minutes swearing in front of a mirror. Even if I remembered it, my post-game pep talk to myself is unpublishable. I had blown half a point in a pointless and idiotic fashion. I wasn’t this mad after my round 2 game, where I arguably blew half a point in a similar fashion, because I played badly and didn’t really deserve to get a half point there. This time, on the other hand, I actually played pretty reasonably overall and had had a draw within clear reach, only to have a minor brain freeze blow it all away.

A night’s sleep did me good. Next up came round 8, where I got white against Mario Arias (2342 USCF, 2245 FIDE).

Arias 1

The pieces are mysteriously scattered here: the white bishops on a4 and h2, the white knight on d3, the black knight on d4 of all places… Though he has an isolated pawn, black should be totally fine here. His pieces are a lot more active. Meanwhile, I had to make some tough decision with white. After the natural 22.c3, black can go 22… Nxg3 23.Bxg3 Ne2+ 24.Kh2 Nxg3 25.fxg3 Bf5! where he’s better. That doesn’t look good, not to mention that black also has …d4 ideas that could be very strong. Therefore, I decided to keep the tension in the center by playing 22.Qh5. If black still goes 22… Nxg3 23.Bxg3 Ne2+ 24.Kh2 Nxg5 25.fxg3, he’s probably still fine, but this is definitely a better version for white than with c3. My opponent decided to play 22… Be6 after which I took an agonizingly long think. If 23.c3, his plan is to go 23… Nxg3 24.Bxg3 Nf5 25.Bf4 d4 which appears to liquidate the center and promise him equality. Okay, what else do I have? 23.Re1 appears to be playable, but it didn’t inspire much confidence in me. Black should be more than fine there too. Anything else… Seriously, what am I going to do? If I don’t win this game, then what??

Then my little idea hit me. The game went 23.c3 Nxg3 24.Bxg3 Nf5 25.Bf4 d4 after which I uncorked my little idea: 26.c4!?

Arias 2

This is a pawn sacrifice, but I felt I had enough compensation. The game went 26… g6 (26… g5!? is also possible) 27.Qf3 Bxc4 28.Re1. Black’s position isn’t that easy. If he goes 28… Be6, I’ll go 29.Bb3 Re8 30.Bxe6 fxe6, after which I have more than enough compensation. His h6, g6, and e6 pawns are weak, the e5-square looks juicy, my pieces are more active… that’s certainly better than liquidating with no hope of an advantage! If 28… Qf6, then black is starting to get harassed after 29.Ne5, and 28… Qh4 29.Ne5 doesn’t inspire confidence. Black’s best move is actually 28… Qf8! just getting out of the way of everything. White enjoys full compensation for the pawn, but not more than that. My opponent’s next move, however, almost gave me a heart attack: 28… Ne3?

Arias 3

Oh my… If 29.fxe3 Bxd3, black is just much better. 29.Ne5 Bd5 looks terrible for white, not to mention that 29… Qb4! is lights out. Then, thankfully, I found the move that saves white: 30.Bc2! simply protecting the knight. Black is actually going to lose the knight on e3. Though black will have compensation, white is much better, and I won a few moves later.

Not a bad boost! It feels great when you spend 20+ minutes to find an idea that works like a charm. Going into the last round, I was 5.5/8. That’s actually the same score I had last year… There, had I won my last game, I would’ve gotten a GM Norm, while now I was losing rating. Unbelievable.

Anyway, back to this year’s tournament situation. 6.5/9 would win a solid prize, definitely four figures, while 6/9 would give me a couple hundred dollars. I was expecting to play up, but for the umpteenth time this tournament, I wasn’t. I was playing David Peng (2407 USCF, 2331 FIDE). I also got lucky that I got a double white. Not a bad tournament situation…

Last rounds are hard. When you have to win, there’s a lot of pressure on you… What to do? How much to risk? Even must-draw situations aren’t easy. And then there are games where you’re not sure if you want to play for a win or a draw… Anyway, I was playing this game for a win, no question about it.

I took a risky decision in the opening which turned out to be 100% justified. I was much better, though I misplayed it a bit.

David Peng 1

So yeah, I have a piece for three pawns. If black gets coordinated, I could be in trouble, and I have to play against his coordination. Black can’t castle kingside because of Rxd7, and it looks like Bc6 is going to be his next move. Anticipating that, I played 16.f3! protecting the e4-pawn against his upcoming attack. Sure enough, he played 16… Bc6 which I met with 17.b4!. I should use those pawns! After 17… 0-0 18.b5 Bb7 19.Rb6 black’s position is already alarming.

David Peng 2

The bishop is in serious danger, and he correctly played 19… Bc8 after which I played 20.Bc5 Re8 21.Bb4. I’m now planning to push my a-pawn. Oh boy, this is fantastic!! The only problem was that he put up resistance that I wasn’t able to crack. The game went 21… g5 22.a4 Ng6 23.a5 Bd7 24.Rb7 Ne5

David Peng 3

Black has improved his pieces coordination, and he has a couple ideas. First, he can go Rec8 with the idea of harassing me with Rc4, and he’s also toying with the idea of going Nc4 in some variations. My next move, 25.a6?!, is very logical but reduced my advantage. 25.Rc7!, preventing both Rc8 and Nc4, was very strong. White is considering pushing both his a- and b-pawns, and there’s also the surprisingly annoying threat of Rc5 in the air. Black will probably have to go 25… Rec8, but after the rook trade, white’s life is much easier. The pawns will be much more powerful, and he doesn’t necessarily have to push them to victory. He can spend some quality time building up, while black won’t be able to do anything. The more I stare at this position, the more I realize that white is totally winning.

Back to the game. After 25… Bc8 26.Rb6 Bd7 I repeated once with 27.Rb7?. In retrospect, this was a bad idea. After 27.Rbd6 Rec8 28.Bc5 Be8, white is probably close to winning, but black is holding on. Anyway, the game went 27… Bc8 28.Re7 after which I missed his reply of 28… Bxa6! 29.bxa6 Nc6! (29… Rxa6 30.Rxe8+ Nxe8 31.Rd8 is winning for white, and I had seen this).

David Peng 4

I realized that I’m losing the a-pawn. I still retained my c-pawn and had good winning chances, but it was nothing compared to what I had before. I tried hard to win the endgame that followed, but it wasn’t enough. He defended well, and we drew.

Chess is hard. After this game, I wasn’t really mad, but I was disappointed. I had given this game everything I had, and it wasn’t enough. I had tried very hard throughout the entire tournament, and it wasn’t enough. But barely. I was so damn close to tying for second. What a comeback that would have been…

On Monday, the day after the tournament finished, I felt that I was incapable of doing anything productive. And I don’t think that going to bed at 2 am was the main culprit. What are the real conclusions from my fireworks show in Philadelphia? Looking at the games a few weeks later, I’m still not sure. The tournament was really a mixed bag. I had my fair share of good and bad luck. I had triumphs and tragedies. There is nonetheless one fact that stands out: I only played up once in 9 rounds. Okay, you could blame the round 2 loss, but it’s not like I completely crashed and was out of the running for most of the tournament. Compared to a year ago when my FIDE was in the low/mid 2300s and I played up 7 rounds out of 9, and with my 2400 rating I only played up once this year!? I really miss being the underdog.

Until next time!

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A Rollercoaster Performance

It’s been a while since I’ve gone over some of my games, so this week I’m going to share some games that I played at the Virginia Open.  The Virginia Open was a 5-round open tournament held from March 23-25.  Since I hadn’t played in a tournament since the VA States a couple weeks prior and I hadn’t played in a long time control tournament since Nationals the previous December, I decided to take up the gauntlet and play in the open section just to see how I would fare.  Safe to say, the tournament overall was rather interesting, as there were some high points but also some low points.  Let’s take a look at some of the games that I played.

Kobla – Mundayat, Round 1

This game was likely rust from not playing in a long time.  Despite having a sizeable positional plus coming out of an early queen trade, in a span of a few moves I essentially threw that away, ending up in an endgame position where I was going to lose a pawn.  Nevertheless, I was able to hold the endgame, a task that was made somewhat easier by my opponent’s rush to trade rooks.  After centralizing my king on d4, I had created a fortress that my opponent wasn’t able to break through, and had the game continued, I would have kept shuffling my bishop.  Although this wasn’t an ideal start to the tournament, at least I was able to salvage a draw in a game that could have ended up much worse.

Knoll – Kobla, Round 2

After spotting that tactic to go up a pawn, I was pretty pleased with my position overall.  My pawns had mobility and I was able to protect them with my pieces while still pushing them.  I eventually gave up my bishop for a knight to go into a good knight-bad bishop endgame where I was also able to infiltrate with my rook.  After the last pair of rooks was traded, I could use my knight and king to nurse my passed pawns down the board, and my opponent resigned just before promotion.  I was much more satisfied with my play in this game, and overall it was smooth-sailing after picking up the pawn in the middlegame.  This win set me up to in the middle of the pack of 1.5 pointers going into round 3, so I could end up playing up or down, depending on how the pairings would work out.

Kobla – Lohr, Round 3

I feel like this game was much more of my style.  Following a weird transposition into a Sicilian-like position, I was able to start my attack before my opponent.  A key takeaway from this game is White’s dark-squared bishop – many players are hesitant to give it up as it’s generally considered White’s most important minor piece.  While this is at many times true, especially in the Dragon Sicilian, there are always exceptions.  Here, after the g and h files became locked, my only pawn break was with the f pawn, and that was only going to happen by allowing Black’s knight to sit on g4.  I decided to push anyway, and after my opponent played Ng4, I had the option of retreating the bishop to g1, but I figured it wasn’t worth it since I would have a bunch of pieces clogged on the back rank at that point.  Instead, I pushed forward with f5, allowing him to capture my dark squared bishop if he wanted.  The light square bishop ended up playing a more important role than what the dark-squared bishop would have, eventually allowing me to win an exchange.  After that, the endgame was fairly straightforward, and with promotion coming, my opponent resigned.

Del Mundo – Kobla, Round 4

This game was probably the most disappointing for me of all the ones I’ve shown.  After going into an endgame, I was able to play fine for the most part.  My opponent was definitely the one pressing, but I was holding, and after the trade of minor pieces, it was somewhat simpler.  His rook was able to infiltrate, but I found a way to keep material from dropping off the board.  However, it was when we reached the dreaded 40th move that I finally made a mistake.  After 40. Rb7, I didn’t want to play 40. … Ke6 again as I was afraid of 41. a4, making havoc of my queenside and likely allowing his king to finally penetrate.  In hindsight, 40. … Re6 was likely best, although it would bring about a change in dynamic after 41. Rd7+ Kc6.  Instead, I played a much worse move and lost a pawn and the game.  Obviously, if I had played Re6, I may have still lost, there is no way to tell.  But, it would have given me a better chance than what I played in the game.

I ended up losing the last game as well to finish at 50% with 2.5/5 despite starting 2.5/3.  What began as a promising start ended on the flip side.  While there was much I wish I could have done differently, there were still good things to take away from this tournament.  I’m not sure what the next tournament I’ll play in as SAT subject tests are on the horizon, but until then, I’ll have to keep in touch.

As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

A Personal Experience of the PRO Chess League

Hi everyone!  My name is Edward Song, and I just played for the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers in this year’s PRO Chess League season, currently in its final stage.  Unfortunately, as many of you may already know, Pittsburgh was eventually knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the defending champions St. Louis Arch Bishops, but this has of course been an incredible season for the team overall.  You can read more about Pittsburgh’s season as a team here from our very own team manager.

As for me, I had no less an incredible season, scoring a big 14/20 in the league with a 2543 performance, well over 200 points above my rating, which was no doubt just one of many important factors that helped Pittsburgh become one of the top teams in the league.  So how was I able to achieve this?  Let’s take a look at some important moments for me throughout the season.

The first match I played in was in the very first round, when Pittsburgh played the Buenos Aires Krakens.  Going into the match, I wasn’t sure what to expect, as even though I had previous experience in the PRO Chess League, this was a whole new season altogether.  I also had to pay attention on how my three teammates GM Alexander Shabalov, GM Awonder Liang, and IM Atulya Shetty would do, as this was a much stronger team compared to last year’s season.  At the end, we won 10-6, while I scored 1.5/4, which seems pretty decent for a board 4, but I was very disappointed with my play throughout the day, as I blundered at least something in every single game.  Even my only win that day was not a good game.

Song-Sanhueza 1-0

I had to wait several weeks to get another shot at playing for Pittsburgh, in the second Super Saturday, where I had to play 8 games against a 2218 average rating.  Looking at my opponents and their ratings, I felt this could be a day where I could score big as none of my opponents looked menacing, and eventually I scored 6.5/8 with no losses.  I played some good quality chess, and was only in danger of losing one game, against my strongest opponent of the day.  My favorite game from Super Saturday was against Dharia Parnali from the Mumbai Movers.

I was scheduled to play against Webster just a few days later, which sent out two strong GMs, Le Quang Liem and Tamas Banusz, along with two other strong masters Aaron Grabinsky and Joshua Colas.  Yet, against this lineup, I scored 3/4, which is of course an excellent result.  In the very first round of the match, I played the super GM Le Quang Liem in a very dramatic game, where I surprisingly managed to catch a mistake by Le Quang Liem early on and was up a clean pawn, but then I felt the pressure of playing against one of the best players in the world and started to get nervous and play not so well, while Le Quang Liem started defending tenaciously.  I realized the tide was turning, so I went for a safe route and found a way to simplify to a completely drawn endgame, only to blunder it away in a very embarrassing fashion.

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Song-Le Quang Liem PRO Chess League, position after 108…Nxg3+

Here I had a massive hallucination and blundered with 109. Bxg3??????, in time trouble forgetting that having the opposition does not matter when the opponent’s pawn is so far advanced.  The game concluded 109…Kxg3 110. Kg1 Kh3 111. Kh1 g3 112. Kg1 g2 0-1.

The blunder is even stranger considering I used the same concept in a game played just 2 months prior.

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Gandhi-Song Pan-Ams 2017, position after 92. Nf7

Here I played 92…Kd2!, with the idea of 93. Nxe5 Nd3+ 94. Nxd3 Kxd3 and black wins because of the far advanced black pawn.  Instead, white went 93. Kg2 and eventually swindled a draw.

Looking back at the game though, Le Quang Liem deserved to beat me.  All he made was one mistake in the early middlegame which I managed to catch, but for the rest of the game, although I had a much better position, he basically outplayed me and continued to put pressure, showing me what it’s like to be one of the best chess players in the world and stabilized over 2700 FIDE.

However, I was able to shake off this highly embarrassing game and bounce back with a convincing win over GM Tamas Banusz, which was surprisingly my first GM win, apart from a win in 2012 against the recently deceased GM Anatoly Lein.  I later won a very messy game against Aaron Grabinsky when the latter blundered a piece in a complicated and unclear position, and then I defeated Joshua Colas when he made too many weaknesses in his position.  This actually barely clinched us the match win at 8.5-7.5, allowing us to catch Webster on first place.

My last and final match was against the St. Louis Arch Bishops in the first round of the playoffs.  They had brought a monstrous lineup with super strong GMs Vladimir Fedoseev, Varuzhan Akobian, and Yaroslav Zherebukh, alongside Forest Chen, with whom I may be one of the few players in the league to have an interesting history when Forest was giving me some serious difficulties in a highly entertaining and wild game at the Denker Tournament of High School Champions played half a year prior.

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Song-Chen Denker Tournament, position after 47…b4

While I eventually managed to win, it was by no means an easy game, and I knew that Forest is very capable of doing serious damage against much higher rated players, as he has continuously showed throughout the league.

Even though I expected this match to be tougher than the one against Webster, as this is now a 3 GM lineup with an underrated board 4, I still somehow managed to score another 3/4.  In the first round, I played GM Vladimir Fedoseev.  Fedoseev, known to have the reputation as an aggressive and uncompromising player, played surprisingly timid against me, and got into a passive position early on.  My position was very easy to play as my pieces were always well placed, but when I was completely winning, I failed to find the killer blow.

Song-Fedoseev 1/2-1/2

That was a disappointing game, especially considering on the other end Forest Chen beat our very own board 1 Alexander Shabalov in a big upset.  By this point, we were already down 3-1, so I felt I had to make sure to stay solid and try not to lose any games.  The next round I had another tough match against GM Varuzhan Akobian.

Akobian-Song 0-1

That was a bit of a strange win since it seemed dead drawn for a long time until Akobian simply hung a pawn for no reason.  Anyway, our team scored 2-2 that round, which meant our team situation unfortunately didn’t really improve.  In round 3, I had to face GM Yaroslav Zherebukh, one of the top performers for St. Louis, and I had a feeling this would be my toughest match, as while I had been performing extremely well, Zherebukh had an over 2700 performance rating and just defeated our top two players Awonder Liang and Alexander Shabalov.

Zherebukh-Song 1/2-1/2

Our team was still down 7-5, which meant we needed to go 3-1 in the last round to win the match.  Unfortunately, we fell short, and although I managed to score a win against Forest Chen in another game that was far from easy to finish the day with another strong 3/4 performance, Awonder Liang and Atulya Shetty were forced to take some serious risks to compensate for Shabalov’s blunder in the last round, to no avail, and we eventually lost the match 10-6, ending Pittsburgh’s spectacular run.

What were some key factors that played into me massively overperforming my own rating?

1. Time management

During my first match against Buenos Aires, I was constantly getting struck by time trouble.  In my very first game against GM Federico Perez Ponsa, I made the very risky decision of going into a super sharp line without adequate preparation for a 15 2 game.  As a result, I started burning time early and fell into time trouble which affected my play later on as I blundered away a completely drawn endgame.  I eventually fixed this problem on Super Saturday, when I was only in serious time trouble in one of the eight games, and time management was definitely one of the reasons why I was able to score as high as I did on Super Saturday.

2. Opening preparation

When you’re playing a 15 2 or a 10 2 game, you don’t have much time to think for the whole game, so getting a comfortable opening position is important as you’ll know what to do for the next few moves.  This was not what I had in mind when I went into a wild position against Perez Ponsa, so I decided to change my approach to openings against GMs to suit the online environment and reduced time control which worked much better.  A wild game in a classical time control at an OTB tournament is permissible, but sometimes it may be too risky to try that in a rapid online game (unless you are Alexander Shabalov).  Thus, in general I was able to fix my approach in opening preparation from Super Saturday onwards, as the PRO Chess League is a special chess platform where openings have to be chosen wisely.

3. Take each game one at a time

When looking at my opponents for St. Louis, it may seem out of the world to score 3/4 against such an intimidating lineup with 3 GMs.  To make my match easier, I decided to focus on one player at a time.  When I was playing Fedoseev, I didn’t care that I had to play another two GMs Akobian and Zherebukh later in the day; I just focused on a good result against Fedoseev.  Eventually, I managed to score some points against all three GMs due to focusing on one player at a time and getting good opening positions against each GM.  Taking these three results separate from each other, now a big result seemed possible.  Thus, it may help to forget about the daunting task that would occur in the future and just focus on the immediate task first.

4. The ability to bounce back after an unwanted result

Every experienced chess player knows how important bouncing back after a loss or an unwanted draw is, but it’s easier said than done, and it comes with experience.  After the blunder against Le Quang Liem, it may be very difficult to recover, but when I played Banusz I thought I shouldn’t fear him even though he’s another well established GM as I had nearly held Le Quang Liem to a draw.  This mindset also worked in the St. Louis match, where after missing the win against Fedoseev I maintained my level of play and scored 1.5/2 against Akobian and Zherebukh.

5. High level of motivation

After my first match with Buenos Aires, I had a burning desire to return a second time to play another PRO Chess League match.  The result did not matter to me; though I technically overperformed my rating that match (which I thought was funny as I felt I was underperforming), I really did not like the way I played during that match and wanted to play more so that I could get some real good games.  Unfortunately, as I indicated earlier, I had to wait several weeks for my second chance, so during this gap, I ended up following every single Pittsburgh match.  I was extremely influenced by seeing how my overperforming teammates, particularly our star Awonder Liang, were able to continuously pull big results and upsets, and I also wanted to join the party.  This kept me motivated to work on time management and opening preparation to improve my results, which eventually all paid off when I started playing more matches.

6. Play underdog

In the PRO Chess League, GMs may often try very hard to beat board 4 of the opposing team, as that may seem as the weak spot.  Thus, those GMs might just refuse a draw at all costs as they may think if they don’t take off points from the opposing team’s board 4, where else would they get points?  As my FIDE rating is relatively very low, I tried to use this to my advantage by adding the pressure on my GM opponents to try to beat me and sometimes wait for my chance to try to play for the advantage whenever possible.  This happened in my games against Banusz and Akobian, where both players could’ve basically forced a draw early, but neither obliged so the game continued with a little imbalance which was enough for me to decide to suddenly play for the advantage in the middlegame and win.

In general, I feel that these six factors were key to helping me perform well in the PRO Chess League, and without them, my season would be much worse.  In any case, I would like to thank the PRO Chess League for organizing such an exciting event, and of course to the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers management team, most notably our manager Isaac Steincamp, for allowing me to play for the team and prove to everyone that I can still have some firepower, and I’m looking forward not only to next year’s PRO Chess League season, but also to proving myself OTB in future events with a very low but hopefully underrated FIDE rating.

Take it Outside!

Spring is here! Well, sort of…Much of the East Coast is still waiting on the warm weather to arrive and stay. Chess players spend countless hours in hotel ballrooms, church basements, and a variety of other indoor settings. Not to mention all the players who stay glued to their computer screens watching and playing chess.

Personally, I have always enjoyed playing chess outdoors in parks around the country.  There is something about being outside in the sun, all walks of life passing by, the noises coming from the street, and your opponent talking a little trash while you are trying to find your next move that brings joy and excitement. The “park-player” or “street-player” has just as much passion for the game as the serious tournament player, but they just choose a different studio to express their art. Some play for money, some just casually, but the social benefits of playing people from all walks of life is where the real joy is found! I have played millionaire real-estate investors, as well as people who are homeless and do not know where they will find their next meal in an afternoon. Young and old congregate to share in the great equalizer we call chess! I want to encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy the game we all love!

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That is me on the left battling the legendary “Russian Paul” at Union Square in NYC. Russian Paul was in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer playing at Washington Square Park. Russian Paul has been playing in the parks of NYC since the late 80’s, and is still at it today!

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Russian Paul with his signature cigarette answering a question.

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Russian Paul again on the right battling the great GM Dzindzichashvili. This is probably from the 90’s. Photo: Raphael D’Lugoff

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IM Josh Waitzkin on the left battling at Washington Square Park! Photo: Raphael D’Lugoff

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GM’s Dlugy and Hess with IM Lapshun

Even GM’s, IM’s, and other titled players cannot resist the nice weather! The above photo was taken at the annual Chess in the Park hosted by Chess in the Schools held every year in beautiful Central Park.

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Bryant Park in New York City

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Harvard Square in Boston. Photo: Daaim Shabazz

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Saint Louis Chess Club. Photo: Eric Rosen

The Saint Louis Chess Club hosts the biggest events and players on American soil knows the importance of getting outside! Right outside of the chess club they have several tables where the community can gather to play.

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Dupont Circle in full swing!

If you are from the DMV area like myself, then Dupont Circle is the place to catch an outdoor chess game. When the weather is nice you can find players there day or night pushing pieces, and hitting the clock.

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On the move! NYC came down to Dupont Circle to challenge the DC players.

Now that the nice weather is here – take a break from the indoors and take your chess outside! Please leave some photos of you playing chess at your favorite outdoor spot, and leave a comment!

 

Leaving Philly in Style

Performance in big chess tournaments are largely defined by a few critical moments, and we often think of good players as rising to the occasion, delivering when it matters. When the stakes are low, those qualities are far less noticeable. Many players are noticeably tired and less ambitious by the last round of a long tournament; I’ve had my fair share of those moments.

The last round of the recent Philadelphia Open could have been one of them. I’d been dogged by errors the whole weekend, and finally knocked out of prize contention after squandering a beautiful +2 position in 5 moves.

caro
Taken right before Round 6, this might have been a bad omen…

Nevertheless, I was still quite awake, and not done with playing chess yet. But I didn’t want to play “just another game”; more than anything else, I was looking to convince myself the tournament had been worth. Two hours later, I had my answer.

Due to my more cautious style, I don’t often get to finish games, much less tournaments, in this fashion. This is definitely one of my best games ever!


Li – Gangaa (2017 Philadelphia Open, Round 7)

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Bc5 4. Nc3 d6 5. f4

This solid and aggressive structure is my go-to for the Bishop’s Opening, but Black’s unusual move order give him another option than simply transposing to the main line with 5…Nc6.

5…Ng4

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How can White deal with the seemingly unstoppable threat of …Nf2?

6. f5! h5

Black decides to play it safe for now, as 6…Nf2 is rather dangerous after 7. Qh5 (for example, 7…O-O?? 8. Bg5 Qe8 9. Nd5 threatening Nxc7 and Nf6+). However, if the tactics don’t soon work out, this will make Black’s development very difficult.

7. Nh3 c6 8. a3

Probably a little overcautious, but I wanted to stop any …b5-b4 ideas in case I wanted to castle queenside. 8…Qh4+? is fruitless, as after 9. Kf1 the queen must retreat to avoid Bg5 (9…Nf2?? 10. Qe1).

8…b5 9. Ba2 Bb7 10. Qf3

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With no immediate breakthroughs, White turns to stopping …d5. Black doesn’t have a lot of options here, as castling weakens h5 dangerously, and …Nf6 is met by Bg5.

10…f6 11. Ne2! Ke7?

Black quickly defends against White’s apparent threat of Ng3-xh5 (12. Ng3 Qe8) but misses the real idea. For better or worse, Black had to try for counterplay with 11…d5.

12. d4! Bb6

White quickly clears the way for Qb3 with immediate threats on the a2-g8 diagonal. Of course, 12…exd4 13. Nhf4 is all sorts of bad news for Black.

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13. Ng5!!

White needs to clear the a2-g8 diagonal, draw Black’s knight from e5, and open up the kingside a bit. The immediate 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Qb3 Qd7, while clearly better for White, allows Black to defend e6 and f7 and keep everything relatively closed for the moment.

13…fxg5 14. Bxg5+ Nf6 15. dxe5 dxe5 16. Qb3 Qe8

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17. Bxf6+! Kxf6

17…gxf6 18. Qe6+ Kd8 (18…Kf8 19. Qxf6+ mates next move) 19. O-O-O+ Nd7 20. Qxf6+ Kc7 21. Qd6+ Kc8 22. Be6 wins. Now Black’s king is rather paralyzed; White can pretty much attack from either side.

18. O-O-O Bc5?!

18…Bc7 puts up a little more resistance; White’s cleanest is 19. Qc3! with the idea of Nf4.

19. h4 Ke7

19. Rd8 apparently wins a rook on the spot (19…Qxd8 20. Qxf7#) but when I find an idea that works, I generally stick to it. In this case, White threatens a quick Qg3-g5# and Black can only prevent this by stepping back.

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20. f6+ Kf8

Again, a simpler win was available: 20. Qe6+ Kf8 21. Rd8 with mate in 2. Fortunately, Black has no other alternatives; 20…gxf6 21. Qe6+ Kf8 22. Qxf6+ mates, and 20…Kxf6 21. Rhf1+ Kg6 23. Qg3+ and 24. Bh7 wins the queen.

21. Rd8 1-0

 

Fireworks in Philly Part 1

I miss being the underdog.

The recently concluded Philadelphia Open was an eventful tournament for me. After bouncing back from a second round loss, I almost tied for second – almost is the key word – and ended up losing a bit of rating overall. This wasn’t a bad result, and neither was my play. I had nine very interesting games with no big “moral of the story.” I scored heavily against lower rated opponents which was unfortunately necessary to maintain my rating. I had my little rollercoaster full of fireworks that came close.

In my fail in Charlotte, my play was too conservative, and I didn’t go in at several critical moments. Before this tournament, I resolved to play more energetically. I wasn’t going to hold back. If necessary, I’d start fireworks without looking back.

grumpy cat

Seriously, be more enthusiastic than the cat! My games were really interesting and full of instructive material, from blunders to brilliancies. There was so much content that I’ve decided to split my recap into two parts, as I don’t want to set a record for the longest article I’ve written, and there are bits I just won’t let myself cut out.

Round 1: Business!

In this game against Vlad Yanovsky (2112 FIDE, 2240 USCF), my strategy of violence worked very well.

Yanovsky 1

In this strange position, I opened things up with the fairly natural move 19… d5!. After 20.exd6 I automatically recaptured with 20… cxd6. 20… Bg4! was probably stronger. After 21.Rd2 cxd6 22.Ne4, black has several squares where he can move his queen (e3, b4, a5, etc.), leading to massive complications. Importantly, white won’t be able to trade queens like he could’ve in the game. More on that later…

The game went 21.Ne4 Qe3+

Yanovsky 2

From a practical point of view, I believe white should have gone 22.Qd2! here, trading queens. After that it’s equal. 22.Rd2 is plain absurd, and 22.Kb1 runs into a spectacular shot – I missed it, but I’ll leave it for you to find as an exercise. The game went 22.Kc2 d5 23.Rhe1 Qf3

Yanovsky 3

I was expecting 24.Ng5, attacking my queen and going after the h7 pawn. I saw that 24… Qf2+ 25.Re2 Qc5 runs into 26.b4! Qd6 27.c5 winning a piece. The computer points out an unbelievable defense in that variation which I don’t think I would ever find in a game. See if you can! Anyway, instead of 24…Qf2+ I had been planning 24…Qh5, and after 25.Bxh7+ Kh8, white has won a pawn put his king is still in trouble. I felt that black should have full compensation, if not more.

Instead, I got hit with the shocker 24.Nf6+!?. I thought for a very long time before coolly replying 24… Kh8!. I was calculating the madness after 24… gxf6 25.Qxf6.

White is threatening to give a perpetual with Qg5-f6, and he also has dangerous mating threats. 25… Nd7 doesn’t prevent the perpetual because white can play 26.Bxh7+, and white is even winning after 26.Qh4! f5 27.Re7!. If 25…Qg4, then white swings the rook up with 26.Re5. That’s when I saw a fantastic idea: 26…h6 27.Qxh6 Ra2+ 28.Kc3 Qg7!

Yanovsky 4

White can’t go Rg5 because the rook is pinned!! I looked a little deeper and saw that white can go 29.Bh7+ Kh8 (29… Qxh7?? 30.Rg5+ +-) 30.Qh4. White has noise around the black king, and the most accurate summary of my evaluation is “I have no idea what the heck is going on here.” Nevertheless, my computer laughs in my face and says that black is much better/near winning after 30… f6. My silicon friend also refutes my little calculations rather simply: instead of 28.Kc3, it suggests 28.Kc1! Ra1+ 29.Kb2!, where black can’t take the rook with check and is lost. Somehow I missed that. Anyway, this is the kind of stuff that was a bit too much for me.

Back to the game. If white goes 25.Nxh7, then black calmly goes 25… dxc4!, and after 26.Nxf8 cxd3+, the white knight will get stuck and black is winning. Instead, white should go 26.Be4! after which the position is still very unclear. The cool prophylactic move 25.Kc1 is also playable, and it could lead to a “positional battle” after 25… dxc4 26.bxc4 Bf5!!, giving up a piece for a lot of noise around the black king. My opponent decided to go 25.Ne8?!, threatening Qxg7#. After 25… f6 26.Re7?, I went 26… Nxc4! which finishes white off. After 27.Bxc4 Bf5+ black at least wins his piece black, and white’s king is in huge trouble. I won a few moves later.

Oh man. What a game… I could probably write an entire article about it alone. It goes without saying that I felt great after this one.

Round 2: RIP GM NORM

The good feeling could only last so long. It should have lasted much longer, but that’s another story. I got white against Balaji Daggupati (2273 FIDE, 2316 USCF).

Balaji 1

This is a somewhat unusual position. White’s pawn structure is better on the queenside, and black’s knights are superfluous. On the other hand, white’s knight on a3 isn’t so useful and he doesn’t have a clear plan. I decided to go 18.Ra2 here, as a) my rook is probably more useful on the a-file and b) I wanted to leave the b1 square open for my knight. My opponent replied with 18… Bc8 and I went 19.Nb1!? Bd7 20.Nbd2 which is perfectly reasonable. I that knight to do something. Though in principle I shouldn’t trade black’s superfluous knights, I should worry about my own pieces. Besides, if 20… Nxd2 21.Nxd2, black’s position doesn’t look pretty at all. My opponent played 20… Rfb8 after which I decided to strand black’s knights by playing 21.Nf1 which was met with 21… Nc5

Balaji 2

So far, so good. Here’s where I made a terrible mistake by going 22.N3d2? giving my opponent the chance to go 22… Nd3! 23.Bxd3 cxd3. Instead, the best move was actually one I didn’t seriously consider: 22.Bxc5!. It appears stupid to give up such a nice-looking bishop for a knight that is semi-superfluous, but it’s very strong. After 22…Qxc5 23.Ne3, white has a simple plan of going Nd2, Qe2, and Rfa1, piling up on black’s position. He’s much worse.

The game spiraled downward for me, and here came my next fail:

Balaji 3

Black has dropped a bomb with a Bxh3 sacrifice, and white’s king really is naked. After 32.Qxd3!, however, black has a perpetual with Qg3-h3. He actually has a win with 32… Qg4+ 33.Kh1 Rf8!, but that’s hard for computers to find, and I didn’t see it at all. Instead of doing that and allowing a perpetual, I saw too much for my own good. After 32.Rf3? which is a fairly natural move, black has a sick shot: 32… Bg3! 33.Nf1 Rf8!

Balaji 4

If white goes 34.Rxg3, he gets hit with 34… Rxf1+ 35.Qxf1 Qxg3+ picking up the bishop on e3. 34.Qd1 also runs into murder after 34… Rxf3 35.Qxf3 Rf8!. I had, however, foreseen this and had my genius idea. I played 34.Rxf8+ Rxf8+ 35.b4. How about that? The rook on a2 saves the day! It’s a beautiful idea, except that it loses. Can you find how I got demolished?

That was painful. It basically ended my dream of getting a GM Norm, as keeping my rating – not even going as far as getting a 2600+ performance rating – was difficult. Still, I didn’t lose hope as there was plenty of time for a comeback which I did end up pulling off.

Round 3: I’m back!

Losing with white is embarrassing in a way because you have to try to get revenge and win in the next game with black. In round 3, I managed to pull out a victory in another violent game. It wasn’t as complicated as round 1, but the spirit was there. To increase the instructive value of this article, I’ll give you one puzzle from early on in the game

Yanayt

Was white’s last move 12.h4 too much? If so, how to punish it?

Round 4: Continuing!

I won a quick smooth game with white against Carissa Yip (2290 FIDE, 2323 USCF). I did, however, have a little botch up in the middle.

Carissa 1

Material is technically equal, but it’s clear white is on top. The most logical move is 22.d6!, running the pawn down the board. Black can resist, however, with 22… Qc6! 23.d7 Nc7 where white has coordination problems because the rook on h1 is hanging after 24.d8Q Raxd8 25.Rxd8. White nonetheless has an embarrassingly simple win that I missed. Instead, I played another winning move 22.Nc5 going after the rook on f8. After 22… Qb4 23.c3 Qb5 I made my mistake by going 24.Nd7?. After 24.Rhe1! Nc7 25.d6! white is so dominating he’s winning, and for some reason I didn’t think it was enough. My move ran into 24… Nd6! 25.Qxd6 (25.Nxf8?? Nc4 is actually lost for white) 25… Rfd8 26.Nf6+! gxf6 27.Qf4

Carissa 2

Black can resist after 27… Rxd5! 28.gxf6 Rg5 29.Rhg1 Rg6!. Black’s position looks fishy, but it isn’t lost. Instead, after 27… f5? 28.Qxf5 white is back to winning. After 28… a4 29.Rhf1 a3 30.Qxf7+ Kh8 white has a nice finish, and it’s your job to find it. White technically has several wins, but choose the one you’d play in a game.

Carissa 3

Despite the unnecessary circus in the middle, this win felt great, especially because I didn’t find any real improvements on my play.

Round 5: Chess is hard

With 3/4, I had been expecting to play up with my FIDE rating of 2409… WRONG! I got to play Jianwen Wong (2153 FIDE, 2353 USCF) who had pulled off a few dangerous upsets and went off to do some more. His opening of 1.b3 let me get an original game where I played for complications. I got a “fake advantage” after getting away with a bit of monkey business. I wasn’t able to find anything concrete, and around move 30 things started falling apart for me…

Wong 1

I was fairly frustrated that I didn’t have anything real here, and my brain stopped working. I played 30… Qb7? which is actually a terrible move. White can smash into the position with 31.c5!!, totally destroying black’s coordination. 31… Nxf3+ 32.gxf3! Nxc5 33.Bxg7 Qxg7 34.Rxd6 is a disaster for black, and the best move 31… Nf7 isn’t pretty. Instead, my opponent played the second best move 31.Nd2. I should’ve retreated with 31… Nc5 after which white is better, say after 32.e4!?. Instead I decided to go 31… Nxd2? 32.Qxd2 c5?

Wong 2

If I feel that I got unlucky this tournament, I’ll just take a look at this position. We both missed that white can play 33.Qxd6! winning a pawn and the house. There’s no mate on g2 whatsoever. White is just winning. Instead, my opponent played 33.Bf1? after which black is still in trouble. After a time scramble, I found myself in a pawn down rook + opposite colored bishop endgame where white could press but he didn’t have enough to win. I held a draw without any real problems.

If you asked me before the tournament if I’d be happy with 3.5/5, I’d probably say yes before asking the trick question: how did I get there? It’s crazy that I was losing rating points with such a score, though it was nobody’s but my own fault. I didn’t let rating points occupy my mind and instead stayed positive and concentrated on the second half of the tournament.

Answers to exercises:

Variation of round 1: After 26.b4 black has 26… Qxc4+!! 27.Bxc4 Nxc4 where he has full compensation for the queen with his attack. If that’s not a jaw-dropper, then what is??

End of round 2: 35… Rf6! finishes white off. 35… Bh4 also wins technically speaking, but Rf6 is a killer. After 36.Rg2 Rg6 black is threatening Bh2+ with impending mate. After 37.Qb2 Bh2+! 38.Nxh2 Qxe3+ 39.Qf2 (39.Kf1 Rf6+ 40.Rf2 d2 is another spot where white resigns) 39… Qxf2+ 40.Kxf2 Rxg2+ 41.Kxg2 d2 I resigned as I can’t stop the d-pawn from queening.

Round 3: In the game I played 12… Be7? which doesn’t punish white enough. 12… Nd4! was very strong. The idea I missed is that after 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.e5 hxg5 15.hxg5 Nh7 16.Qh5 Bxc3+ 17.bxc3 black has 17… Be4! saving the day. 12… hxg5 13.hxg5 Nd4 is also strong.

Variation of round 4: Instead of 25.Rxd8, white can just go 25.Qxd8!. If 25… Qxh1 26.Qxf8+ Kxf8 27.Rxh1 white is a clean rook up, and after 25… Rxd8 26.Rxd8+ Ne8, I’m pretty sure I missed that white has 27.Rhe1! winning the knight on e8.

Stay tuned for part 2 which will cover my last four rounds, full of fails, fun, and fireworks, and my advertised fail in the last round money game.

Kostya at the 2018 Reykjavik Open

For the longest time I was not planning to attend the 2018 Reykavik Open, but I got in touch with GM Eugene Perelshteyn (friend of Chess^Summit!) who found a decent room for rent on AirBnb, in a nice place and location in downtown Reykjavik, and before I knew it I was back in Iceland again! This year they were holding a special edition of the tournament, calling it the Bobby Fischer Memorial to celebrate what would have been Fischer’s 75th birthday during the event. And on his birthday, March 9th, they had a rest-day for the main tournament and held the 1st European Fischer Random Cup, which was quite a lot of fun and a huge success for the American players!

As usual for me, I tried to avoid having huge expectations for the tournament–I wanted to do well, but most of my time in 2018 has been spent on chess work (teaching, writing, etc.) rather than real chess training, like solving Aagaard puzzles or whatever GM-hopefuls are doing these days…so I didn’t feel like I really deserved to crush it. And I did well, I didn’t crush it as well as last year, but pretty good overall! Of course die-hard Chess^Summit readers will remember that Isaac and I roomed together for this event last year, recording detailed post-mortems after each round.

Well, this time around I ended up scoring 6/9 and taking the top-U2400 prize on tiebreaks. In my opinion, the tiebreaks were kind of arbitrary, which would have been fine had the prizes been shared, but they weren’t, which seemed unfair to the other players. Also scoring 6/9 (in tiebreak order) were IM Shiyam Thavandiran (2nd), IM Bjorn Thorfinnsson (3rd), IM Justin Sarkar, IM David Cummings, and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. Oddly enough  I had a friendly connection to all of them– Shiyam, Tatev, and Justin were friends already, I met David during the event through Shiyam (both Canadian), and while I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Bjorn, his rating and mine are very close, and so I sat next to his board several times not only at the 2018 Reykjavik Open, but also in the 2017 and 2016 editions as well! Collectively, it’s like 40 hours that I’ve spent right next to his board, seeing his games, so yeah, I feel like I know him too !

lennart ootes - 2018 reykjavikMy hair sparked a lot of heated debate during the event; specifically, what color it was, and whether it was intentionally like that. Photo: Lennart Ootes 

Eugene also finished strong and ended up taking 4th (!) place on tiebreaks, with 6.5/9, ahead of many strong players. The reason is the same that I somehow managed to finish in 6th place last year, in that the first tiebreak is total number of wins, favoring those of us used to the culture of U.S. open tournaments, where scoring a large number of wins is very important. You can check out the full standings and results here. So we both did well, really well, and won a few hard-earned euros for our efforts. But that’s not all we did during the event!

eugene perel - lennart ootes
GM Eugene Perelshteyn had a fantastic event, including a big win over GM Gledura in Round 8. Photo: Lennart Ootes

Leading up to the tournament, I was working on a new project, my Patreon page, where I could post instructive chess content, as well as opening analysis that I wouldn’t necessarily wish to share with the whole world, but rather a select group of followers (patrons), and get paid for it! Meanwhile, Eugene has been hard at work with his own site, Chess Openings Explained, so we decided to continue the tradition and record our own post-mortems of each round. You can check them out round by round below:

Round 1 – Jonsson (2104) vs. IM Kavutskiy 0-1 – Closed Sicilian
Round 2 – IM Kavutskiy vs. GM Can (2603) 1/2-1/2 – Ragozin Defense
Round 3 – GM Hjartarson (2513) vs. IM Kavutskiy 1-0 – King’s Indian
Round 4 – IM Kavutskiy vs. Velez Romero (1987) 1-0 – Benoni Defense
Round 5 – Valette (2022) vs. IM Kavutskiy 0-1 – King’s Indian
Round 6 – IM Kavutskiy vs. GM Moradiabadi (2535) 1/2-1/2 – Queen’s Indian
Round 7 – GM Gledura (2632) vs. IM Kavutskiy 1-0 – Sicilian Taimanov
Round 8 – IM Kavutskiy vs. FM Jacobsen (2161) 1-0 – Queen’s Indian
Round 9 – Kristjansson (2123) vs. IM Kavutskiy 0-1 – Symmetrical English

At the closing ceremony, we managed to get most of the U.S. players in for a photo:

All in all, I had a great time in Reykjavik once again–the organizers really know what they’re doing, running a smooth event with over 500 players in a beautiful location is not easy! The team of arbiters and staff also run a very tight ship, making sure the players are always taken care of. Were the rumors true, that Fischer looks down on Americans playing Reykjavik? Most likely. Well, I look forward to playing again in future years!

2018 Reykjavik Open - Paul Truong (3).JPGKostya vs. Gata Kamsky from the European Fischer Random Cup. 1-0. Photo: Paul Truong