When (not) to Castle

We are taught early on that we should always castle, both to get our king to safety and to develop our rook. That is usually sound advice, and one rarely has a valid opportunity not to castle. Naturally, there are exceptions, and today I would like to talk about those.

I’d split those exceptions into four categories:

  1. Player A has advanced his pawns on the kingside/queenside making it a bad choice to castle in that direction – that could be because a) the pawns don’t sufficiently shield player A’s king and/or b) castling would disrupt potentially powerful play with the pawns
  2. Castling would walk into a powerful pawn storm and/or mating attack – admittedly, I haven’t encountered this situation often.
  3. The king is perfectly safe without castling – that one is usually added to categories #1 and #2, but there’s an example of that which we’ll discuss in a moment.
  4. It’s an endgame – in the endgame, king activity is important, and the chances of getting mated are small.

Take this example:


Black to move

In this fascinating position, I was black and without hesitation played 20… Kf7!. On f7, the king is absolutely safe, since white has no concrete threats against it. Also, my rook is better off on the h-file, where it could help with kingside pawn pushes. It should not come as a surprise to you that Kf7 is a good move and that 0-0 is not. This definitely falls into category #1. After pushing all those pawns and having promising prospects on the kingside, castling would simply be absurd.

T. Davis

Black to move

In this game, I was up to my usual risky pawn-grabbing business with black and reached this position. I’ve won a pawn, but my development isn’t the greatest, my king is stuck in the middle, and my h6-g5 pawn pushes appear to be more weakening than aggressive. But anyway, what to do with the king? 16… 0-0 is a bad idea on account of Qh5 and Ng4 business. Therefore, I decided to just play 16… Kf8!. It gets the king off the e-file and more importantly keeps the rook on the h-file. The king isn’t weak – it’s shielded by pawns and is surrounded by friends and family. And his majesty can always go to g7 if I feel the need to connect my rooks eventually.

What category does this fall into? It’s probably category #1, as black has been busy pushing kingside pawns. However, in some scenarios, castling kingside would not be a bad idea in this position, while in the first example, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where castling would be good!

OK, what’s the conclusion from those two examples? In both I pushed my kingside pawns, and as a result my rook was better placed on h8 than on f8. Also, in both examples, the black king was safe. Basically, I reached the same goal as castling – I got a safe king and an active rook. When I started pushing my kingside pawns, I threw basic principles into the garbage bin (admittedly with a good reason). This allows us to arrive to a different principle when you have advanced pawns on the kingside, castling kingside often doesn’t make sense.

Another reason why not to castle – you will likely get mated if you do so! In this case, I’m thinking about openings like the Sicilian where black often keeps his king in the middle and plays on the queenside so that white’s kingside pawn storm doesn’t murder him. This is a frequent theme in the Sicilian and a reason why in many situations, black will delay castling until  the right moment.

The Mysterious …Kf8 in the French

In the French Defense, black often plays Kf8, usually in order to protect the g7-pawn. One example is the following main line position:

Winawer Theory 2

The main moves here are 7… cxd4 and 7… Qc7, but the move 7… Kf8!? Is perfectly playable here. Why? Doesn’t it break all the principles?

OK, I probably can’t explain this one in a paragraph, but I’ll try. If black plays 7… 0-0 (which is a theoretical main line), after 8.Bd3, white starts an attack by targeting h7. The attack is not easy to counter by any means. After 7… Kf8, however, white has no clear way of attacking the black king. Black will focus his play on the queenside, and it isn’t easy for white to counter it. The big drawback of Kf8, however, is that black will have a hard time connecting his rooks – still, that’s something he can live with.

As I said above, these ideas with …Kf8 appear many times in the theory of the French. Sometimes they occur in situations where black can’t castle (or won’t be able to get away with it anyway), but even there it isn’t easy to explain. The French, especially the Winawer, is NOT an easy opening to explain using principles.


Before I finish, I would like to leave you with a few puzzles. Come back on Sunday, and I’ll publish the answers in the comments.

Disclaimer: Just because this article is suggesting that you shouldn’t castle, it does NOT mean that in all the puzzles castling is bad. It’s up to you to decide what’s best.

Puzzle 1

Brandon 1

White to move

Is 25.0-0 a good move?

Puzzle 2

Azarov 1

Black to move

How should black respond to white’s last move 22.Bc5?

Puzzle 3

Sveshnikov Theory

White to move

What is white’s best move in this theoretical position?

Puzzle 4


White to move

In this unusual position, is 24.0-0 a good idea?

Puzzle 5

Last but not least, I should finish with another fascinating and unique idea in the French Winawer.

Winawer Theory 1

Black to move

What is the most-commonly played move here? (Give yourself a pat on the back if you find the idea and haven’t seen it before!!)


Order in The Court: Keeping Your Pieces Happy

Paul Morphy, arguably the most accurate player in history and a hero of mine, famously said “help your pieces so they can help you.” This idea has been mirrored or paraphrased in most chess books and is one my coach often reminds me of. These eight words frequently run through my head when I’m deciding which move to make next and I often ask myself if I’m helping or hindering my pieces when I analyze a game. This may seem to be an obvious concept, but executing this theme is not always easy and to the uninitiated it can be a major barrier. The challenge is that your opponent is trying to do the same thing and there are only so many squares. So how do you balance attacking, defending, and keeping your pieces happy? Let’s look at each member of the royal court and discuss:

Pawn – the foot soldier of our kingdom. Often overlooked or seen as a piece for trade and protection, you must bear in mind that it can capture en passant, promote to a stronger piece, and create a great barrier on your opponents diagonals. That being said, the pawn is also very susceptible to attack in the following examples:


An isolated or backwards piece is always a liability. Hanging or isolated pawns are usually easy targets and the cost of protecting them isn’t always worth the price spent in terms of tempo or opportunities brushed aside for an easy piece. An isolated pawn can sometimes be a trap to draw your opponents attention from another area of the board. Double pawns are often a liability and are often calculated as one piece. Both pieces are up for grabs if not properly supported and block diagonals and spaces that can be desirable for your other pieces. An essential element to consider with your pawns is the act of creating a chain. Think of this as a series of pieces that “have each others back” and support their fellow pawns and other members of the party. Let’s look at the example below and see this in action:


Now in this example which side would you rather be playing on? See how white has  channels and escape squares for it’s Bishop meanwhile black has bottled theirs in? When constructing your pawn chain keep piece activity in mind and look to improve their mobility, not hinder it. This brings us to the Bishop…

Bishop – unlike other pieces, a Bishop can only be on one colored square its whole life. When constructing your pawn chain or developing an attack keep this in mind. If you lost a Bishop of one color, it is often a good practice to open paths for the remaining one.  The Bishop can be a powerful tool on its own, but if used in tandem with another piece, particularly on a diagonal as backup to the Queen, the Bishop is a major force to be reckoned with. Fianchettoing not only give the Bishop a perfect diagonal, it puts pressure on the Rook and depending on which side your opponent chooses to castle on, can threaten mate with another piece as we can see in the below example. Note the beautiful diagonal the Bishop has across the board and, with the Queen ready to strike, ensures a victory.


Knight – I have never shied away from admitting this is my favorite piece. The Knights unique movement and capabilities make it a dangerous piece. A Knight can fork and elude pieces like no other and is an absolute ninja when the opponent has to guess which square you’re eyeing up. Keeping in mind that it has to alternate colored squares every move, planning ahead is key in using this piece to its fully potential. Look at the example below and identify the “good” Knights:


Notice how Black has given its Knights nowhere to go while white has ample opportunities? Another point to keep in mind is available squares for these Knights, particularly how blacks Knight on b4 has nowhere to move. Remember, much planning and forethought is necessary to get the most out of your Knights and without a plan they will likely impede your development or become easy targets.

Rook – the battering ram of the King’s army, the Rook is most lethal when it can achieve an open file and go behind enemy lines, especially on the 7th rank. A doubled Rook is also an incredibly dangerous weapon. The Rook requires some forethought and clearing out space to do things such as a Rook lift or to load “Alekhine’s Gun” but, in my opinion, it is an easier piece to master than some others. Most endgame books and lessons I’ve seen start with mastering Rook endgames as this mighty piece often survives until the end due to it’s starting location and lateral mobility. Alekhine’s Gun, named after a 1930 game between masters Alexander Alekhine and Aaron Nimzowitsch showcases the raw power of the Rook and is a game I highly recommend everyone studies. Below is the final position where you can see the gun, an unstoppable battering ram!


Queen – it is in any Kings good interest to keep his Queen happy. Indeed the safety and mobility of the Queen give the army much power and her loss often cripples the assault and morale. To keep the Queen happy, consider what makes the Bishop and Rook happy as she has the same needs as they do; open files, diagonals, and escape squares. I will refer to the example above used under the Bishop section to drive home the sheer power of this piece. It can be an easy trap to fall into to build your attack around the Queen, so always consider your other pieces before banking on the Queen to do all the work.

King – the irony that the King, the target that must be eliminated to gain victory, is the least powerful piece. Defense is the name of the game here, period. King safety is one of the cardinal virtues of the game in all phases and can never be forgotten. Balancing King safety and mounting an attack is a difficult task, but it is an essential skill to master. Castling early, maintaining a strong pawn structure around the King, and ensuring minor or major pieces can come to the rescue are things to keep in mind as you move through the game. Many masters and I too believe that three pawns on the second rank defending the King is the strongest formation. While I often play the Kings Indian Defense against a d5 opening, I stay towards a traditional three pawn defense otherwise.

So let’s go over some key points to keep each piece happy:

Pawn – pawn structure sets barriers and traps for your opponent. Passed pawns are powerful and underdeveloped or backwards pawns are a major liability. In short, let pawns assist your forces deeper and, if the opportunity arises, promote and fulfill their destiny.

Bishop – do not block your Bishops diagonals! I repeat, DO NOT BLOCK YOUR BISHOPS DIAGONALS! Give the Bishop a powerful diagonal that covers ground and supports a major attack and you have a strong opportunity ahead!

Knight – remember the Knight must alternate colors with each move. The Knight requires a great deal of forethought and planning to utilize wisely and can be trapped or lost if moved without a plan. Give the Knight open squares of the opposite color and keep it towards the center of the board and you have a powerful weapon.

Rook – the Rook is powerful in controlling an open rank or file. Doubling Rooks or mobilizing them to the 7th rank will give you a major advantage and opportunity to mow down the enemy. And again, study Alekhine v. Nimzowitsch 1930 and the use of “Alekhine’s Gun.”

Queen – give her what she wants and get out of her way,  but don’t rely on her to win the day by herself. Protect her, don’t use her too early in the game, and keep in mind the rules for the Rook and Bishop when planning her attack.

King – it seems silly to say, but just don’t let him die! Don’t give your opponent opportunities to attack and with every move, assure your King is not under threat of a mate, whether it be direct or discovered. Also keep in mind that having a piece pinned to the King is a dangerous idea.

Now that we know some essential principles to keep the King and his court happy, keep them in mind in your next encounters. Remember to keep your King safe and give your pieces opportunities for activity and advancement.

Revenge (Kind of)

I spent the back end of my winter break last week playing in the Eastern Open alongside Isaac!  If I was to describe the tournament in a single phrase, I would definitely say it was a roller coaster.  I began the tournament by playing GM Alexsander Lenderman on the top board.  We were locked in an equal battle for the majority of the game, but one slip-up at the end near time control proved fatal for me.  Had I just avoided that one mistake, the game would have probably ended in a draw; one mistake is all it takes sometimes!  Either way, I was not too fazed, as I was rather pleased with the way I had played.  I followed up that game with a win as White before drawing twice against consecutive lower rated players.  In my fifth round, I found myself playing against the lowest seed in the section, who had been playing extremely well based on his pre-tournament seeding.  I managed to win a pawn but had to play into a passive position in order to keep it; in hindsight, I probably should have avoided passivity altogether.  In the end, I blundered two pieces for a rook and wound up losing.  Those few games in the middle definitely marked the low point in the tournament.  Fortunately, I was able to regain something with a win over a mid-2000 rated player as White in round 6.  The tournament culminated in being paired with FM Ralph Zimmer, an opponent of mine similar to what FM Gabe Petesch has been for Isaac.

Despite being “only” 2300, he has been one of those opponents that I have never been able to figure out.  Perhaps it is his rather obscure opening choices in the Trompowsky and the Scandinavian, or maybe the fact that he plays relatively quickly yet always seems to find good moves.  Before this encounter, I had already lost to him five (!) times over the board.  And, to cap it off, I had lost to him twice in the blitz tournament that was held prior to the main event.  So, it was safe to say that I was not overly enthusiastic about having to play him once more, especially in a tournament where I was already performing quite poorly.  That said, I spent the next twenty minutes I had by preparing something to play.  Since I was playing something different as black since the last time I played him, I had to “restart” my preparation, and I wasn’t exactly fond of going back and repeating lines that I had played before.

Towards the end of that 20-minute period, I found a rather interesting and exotic-looking line that I felt fairly comfortable playing, but it wasn’t the computer’s top choice.  I still decided to go for it if it came up, and I was able to look at a few variations before having to leave for the game.  Let’s see how the game went.

Zimmer – Kobla, Eastern Open, 2017

In some ways, this game was a heartbreaker, sure.  However, I’m still content that I was able to play well against my opponent for essentially the first time.  This happened for a couple reasons:

  1. Active play – I still believe that playing actively is the best way to play against higher rated players. Playing passively and “for a draw” will only result in being ground down in the long run.  In this game, I chose moves such as g4 over gxh4 and Nxf6 instead of Bxf6 in order to keep the initiative and my pieces active.
  2. Focused opening prep – I tried to find a line that was obscure but still fit with my style of play. A common mistake that players make in opening prep is to pay too much attention to the engine.  It’s fine to have an engine to make sure you’re not making blunders, but other than that, it doesn’t tell you much.  It’s more important to choose moves based on what positions you feel comfortable playing with.

So, in the end, I should have won this game.  However, I’m not overly disappointed with a draw, either.  It’s still a step in the right direction.  Hopefully, by showing this game, I was able to offer something instructive.  And, with that, thanks for reading, and, as always, see you next time!  Happy New Year to everyone once again!

Patience With Black at the 2017 Pan Ams

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about team tournaments, it’s that when teammates underperform, they better do it at the same time! Two of our losses were to lower-rated teams by the thin margin of 2.5-1.5, which along with an unfortunately predictable 4-0 sweep by the all-GM Webster B team, gave us a 3-3 record for the tournament despite our relatively strong lineup of David Hua (2394 USCF as of December), Eigen Wang (2337), Maryia Oreshko (2151), and myself (2118). The timing of our individual results proved unfortunate in the tournament. It often seemed that no sooner had one of us had found our footing when someone else started struggling.

But as is often the case in these team tournaments, the chess often proved secondary to team dynamics as we found ways to enjoy our combination of struggles and triumphs. Trekking out to Pan Ams in the middle of winter break has never been easy for me, but Eigen (who, as an undergrad and masters student, has played Pan Ams more than the rest of us combined) convinced me I had to go before graduating, so I went to experience it myself for the first, and probably the last time.

Board 4 is a stranger experience in some ways, as Isaac explained after his own Pan Ams almost exactly a year ago. More than any other board, it sometimes seems like you’re always playing way down or way up. An expert is in an awkward spot, because they’re likely playing a lot of 1650-1800 players, who if motivated enough are dangerous in their own rights. Or players like GM Manuel Leon Hoyos (who presumably had no problem picking apart my 14th move pawn blunder); take your pick.

I also had the gift of an extra Black this tournament (4 of the 6 rounds). Given my opening repertoire, that means a lot of less glamorous chess that, depending on how much you appreciate it, can be described as methodical, patient, boring, or lucky. All my games as Black are reminders that you often have to grind your way out of equality to win. In “boring” positions, this often entails relying on tactical vigilance (less charitably referred to as “waiting for blunders”) and playing for smaller advantages.

The Unfortunate

My last-round game (and only even matchup of the event) would easily have been my favorite if not for an unfortunate blunder near the end. After declining an early draw from my opponent (who wasn’t feeling too well – something I didn’t catch on during the game), I maneuvered into a much better ending. Unfortunately, my time management was not nearly as good, and my opponent alertly picked up a piece – and the game – after my time trouble slip.

The Caro-Kann

A lot of Classical Caro-Kann middlegames look unpleasant for Black at first glance because White can often get more queenside space and more active pieces simply by playing natural moves. However, Black has plenty of tricks despite the cramped positions; White still needs to understand some of the positional themes to keep up pressure.

In my first-round game, my opponent lost the thread after a positional/tactical blunder. My fifth-round game, also a Classical Caro-Kann, was a little more difficult. I spent what seemed like forever engineering a …c5 break, but my opponent did not have a good plan and after some time-wasting moves fell victim to some well-timed tactics.

The Kingside Attack

This last game is interesting because it involves a Bh6 (trying to exchange off Black’s fianchettoed bishop) that is surprisingly similar to what I play in one of the Closed Sicilian mainlines. Many players play Be3/Qd2 and the subsequent Bh6 exchange automatically, and it seemed especially anti-positional so I didn’t give it much thought. But when I realized how I’d seen similar ideas as White many times in my openings, I realized it might not be that easy to defend. Ultimately however, the positional considerations were still in my favor and I was able to consolidate after my opponent impulsively sacrificed a pawn on the kingside.

As always, it is a bit strange playing on Board 4. I think it’s a good thing to revisit the basics once in a while, though when you have to beat just about everyone to gain rating it feels a little loose. However, it was great to end the year spending time with the CMU team at *the* college team tournament, and in February, I’m hoping to take another stab at team glory at the U.S. Amateur Team East. See you all in two weeks!


My 2017 Recap

Oh man, 2017 is almost over!? I remember New Year’s Eve of 2016 like it was yesterday. There is still one more tournament to go this year, but now is as good a time as any to reflect what happened and play around with the statistics.

I increased my USCF rating from 2434 to 2508 and increased my FIDE rating from 2314 to 2405. More importantly, I got my final IM Norm and became an IM! 2017 was neither my most successful (2014 gets that honor) nor my most turbulent year (that was the one and only 2016). In general, I feel that my volatility had increased without costing me much. Time for the stats!

                                                                  GAME STATS

Win Draw Loss Total
White 45 19 10 74
Black 29 24 14 67
Total 71 42 23 141


                                                                 RATING STATS  

Win Draw Loss Overall Average Performance Rating
White 2196 2480 2474 2306 2485
Black 2282 2413 2487 2372 2451

Compared to 2016, there is improvement! It’s unusual that my opponents’ average rating is so much higher when I’m black then when I’m white. I honestly have no idea why this is true…

Average game length: 43 moves. That’s fairly normal (for me at least).

Shortest “game”: 9 moves. You can probably guess the result…

Longest game: 91 moves. That’s what happens when you spend over 35 moves trying to win rook + knight vs. rook. For those of you who are wondering, this game ranks as 8th longest game of all time. I did not finish keeping score (in mutual time trouble) in the game that was for sure my longest – I can only estimate that it was about 120 moves. My longest fully recorded game is 103 moves.

Highest scalp: GM Alex Shimanov (2718 USCF, 2650 FIDE). I covered the game in my article on the Philadelphia Open.

Worst defeat: Duncan Sheppard (2144 USCF, 1785 FIDE). That game was painful. Really painful.

Longest winning streak: 5 games. That was in my eventful tournament in Charlotte…

Longest losing streak: 2 games (only twice!!!).

Longest undefeated streak: 21 games. From the period of September until November, I somehow managed not to lose a game.

Favorite move: I think it’s still my move against Brandon Jacobson which I covered before in this article.

Worst blunder: I actually didn’t blunder any queens this year, though I did benefit from my opponents’ queen blunders! I did actually blunder a rook in one game, but it was in a completely lost position anyway…

Hevia Blunder

Black to move

Here I played 65… Kf8?? and after 66.Bd6+ Ke8 67.Re7+ I noticed that my rook on a3 was hanging! I resigned immediately.

Worst fail: Come on! Not cool!

Most embarrassing moment: OK, that’s hard to choose from…

One high candidate is my round 2 game from the US Amateur Team East. I was completely winning, my team was up 2-0, and I had just turned down a draw offer a couple moves earlier. I soon found myself near-busted and managed to scrape my way to a draw. This was embarrassing, though there was some “glory” because I had “worked hard until 1:30 am to ensure my team victory”…

Another candidate is my first round game in the US Masters, where I did my best to lose to a 2000 with white. I’ll give you a sample position…

Kevin Li

Black to move

I was white. Yuck!! Somehow, I managed to swindle my way to victory in this game! But the possibility that I had gone all the way to North Carolina to play a 9-round tournament in the hope of getting a GM Norm only to lose to a 2000 in the first round was humiliating.

Most painful loss: From a pain point of view, this one is my last round game against GM Ruifeng Li at the Philadelphia Open. Had I won that game, I would have crossed the 2400 rating barrier, gotten my IM title, and gotten a GM Norm. I’ve had more depressing losses, but in the long run, this one hurts the most.

Most important game: My win against Raven Sturt, after which I became an IM. OK, I had two other shots, but this one was successful.

Meanest swindle: I actually haven’t pulled off any sick swindles this year – aka no winning any -10 positions. Therefore, I will leave this one blank.

Weirdest game: When it comes to weird games, 2017 has actually been pretty quiet. There was one little game that should be described as “unorthodox”…

Brandon Weirdo Position

Black to move

I did, however, have one bizarre day, December 10th. I was playing in the Marshall Chess Club Championship, and my morning game looked like this:


Black to move

And my evening game looked like this:


White to move

We see these kinds of typical positions every day…

My New Year’s Resolutions

What? I’m supposed to make New Year’s Resolutions!? About chess!? No way…

Free Game Analysis: Putting it All Together

In one of my earlier articles, “Analyze This”, I discussed a basic, multi-dimensional approach to analyzing a game. This method discussed physically replaying the game on a board as well as leveraging an engine to confirm decisions or show alternatives then comparing the two. In my last article of 2017 I will go through a brief but illustrative example of putting this method into action.

This game was recently submitted for analysis at Chess^Summit, a game between myself and someone I have been playing with for some time. The game took place back in September and is brief at only twelve moves, but in those moves I can showcase the tools made available in the framework I have discussed for self-analysis. First, let’s take a look at the scorecard and run through the game.


I first played through the game on a board and made some notes as I progressed. I played from each side of the board and considered alternate moves, what my idea was, what my opponent’s idea was or may have been, and where the advantage rested. Being as the game is a few months old, my ideas and playing style have changed a bit. That being said, going over older games is a great way to gauge progress as well as observe bad habits or positive trends. Now that we’ve put the board away, let’s load the pgn into an engine and compare our observations to the database.


I have been doing much of my analysis in the free version of ChessBase Reader 2017. This free but powerful software is a basic version of the industry standard and has a very user-friendly interface. I’ve highlighted the Kibitzer option at the top of the screen. This feature will show where an advantage lies and which moves are traitionally best. I have also highlighted the opening bar. If you are unsure what opening you or your opponent are playing or choosing a variation from, look no further than this bar. Now, let’s explore this game…

chessbase1 After the move e4, we can observe the Kibitzer in action at the bottom of the screen. As you can see there is little in the way of an advantage after this first move, (0.01) denoting a miniscule advantage to white if black were to play e5. You can also see a very common continuing line.

chessbase2Alright, now we are five moves into the game and we can see the Kibitzer thinking. We can see from this position that white is making a supported threat to the King with a minor piece. We can also see the control the pair of Knights has on the center of the board and that white has a fair lead in development. In the opening I compare development, King safety, central control or possession, and pawn structure. White is one step away from castling whereas if black  wants to castle short they must deflect the attack by white, use two tempi to move pieces and a tempo to castle. While both sides are missing a strong central pawn, black has had their piece routed to the side by capturing and white has many avenues to protect the King while exerting further pressure on black.


Following the scorecard, we can see that move 10 is where the noose starts to really tighten for black. White identifies the weak f7 square and looks for a way to exploit it. Offering the Bishop, white could either try to compensate and recapture or go further into the enemy camp and end the game. Black’s Bishop attempts to threaten the Queen on move 11 with …Bf6, but with that move it is too late, Qxf7#.

While it worked for white in this example, looking back and knowing what I have learned from my coach, studying, and much reading, I have to embarrassingly admit I violated some fairly basic principles in pursuit of a relentless attack, something that admittedly was very much my style in the past. Instead of Nc6, if black played Bd7 it would have been a very different game. Another opportunity black missed was move 11; Qe7 would have undermined white’s attack on f7. While many observations and notes could be and some have been made for every move in this game, for the sake of this article I will sum up my analysis with three key observations for both sides:

My top 3 takeaways for white in this game, good and bad, are:

  1. Sometimes you might get lucky, but loose or poorly supported attacks in the opening can be easily countered and put you at a significant disadvantage or cost you the game.
  2. White developed their minor pieces quickly and attacked with all the pieces.
  3. White kept consistent pressure on their opponent and didn’t leave much breathing room, but some of these moves could have crippled white’s further attack if black had countered or responded in a different way.

My top 3 takeaways for black this game are:

  1. Look at the whole board when considering your next move. Try to think WHY your opponent made that move or attack and consider what if any other pieces may be teaming up to take down the King.
  2. Identify weak squares and maintain awareness of them; again, multiple attackers were focused on that pesky f7 square and had significant firepower directed at it. A position such as this should send up some red flags
  3. When the Queen and a minor piece are in your camp and eyeing up your King, you may need to exchange or counter to survive. Options to artificially castle are present even if you need to exchange Queens and capture with the King.

I hope this brief example of leveraging technology in tandem with using your brain and growing situational awareness has helped. I’m happy I can utilize this game between a chess.com friend and myself as an introductory example of self-analysis. I feel this is a nice follow-up to my prior article on analysis and should give you all the tools you need to being your journey. As you progress and analyze your games you will begin to see trends and have data to back it up. The immense power of modern chess engines is incredible and much of it is absolutely free; I’ve attached a link to ChessBase Reader below if you’re interested.

Have a wonderful and safe holiday! I promise we at Chess^Summit will be growing and are excited for what 2018 will have to offer you. I can’t wait to share the future, our future and the future of this game we love with you!


See you in 2018,




The Exchange Sacrifice vs. Pawn Structure

This week, I’d like to visit what, in my opinion, is one of the most double-edged topics in chess – the exchange sacrifice.  When stripped to its core, the concept of the exchange sacrifice is one of the most intriguing and fascinating out there.  It’s still a sacrifice – in that when taking into account a hard count of material value, the propagator comes out in the negative.  Yet, the balance regarding the number of pieces on each side stays intact.  While the latter may seem like a rather primitive method of comparison, it can make a huge difference, especially when attacking.  They also create a dynamic imbalance in many positions, especially when considering square control, since one player has (or lacks) influence over certain sets of squares.

However, this week, I wanted to look at a different purpose for exchange sacrifices.  Specifically, I wanted to look at the use of exchange sacrifices in order to inflict pawn structure damage.  The reason for this is that I recently played a game where I was able to do just that, and while I wasn’t able to win the game, it could still serve as an instructional source.

First, let’s start with a few examples from more prominent players.

Szabo – Petrosian, Stockholm Interzonal, 1952


In this position, White really only needs one more move in order to claim the initiative.  If it was his turn, White could play moves such as Nc4, Be3, and even Qd3.  Thus, Black knows that this is a critical point in the development of the game.  Petrosian, sensing that the time to act was now, plunged forward with the exchange sacrifice

  1. … Rxc3

The main point of this is to destroy the king’s pawn cover.  However, it also accomplishes a few other things.  It loosens White’s grip on the d5 square, which allows Black to play d5 on his own and open up his dark square bishop against the newly-weakened queenside pawns.  You can see how Petrosian played against the pawns to eventually reel in the full point here.

Kramnik – Fridman, Dortmund, 2013


In this position, White lacks a clear target to attack in Black’s camp.  While White has started to push pawns on the kingside, Black’s pawn structure doesn’t offer any clear weaknesses.  Thus, Kramnik, with the intent of creating said weaknesses, decides to sacrifice an exchange with

  1. f6! Bxf6 21. Rxf6!

which shatters Black’s pawn structure.  With the clear weakness now on f6, Kramnik went to work on focusing essentially all of his pieces on that pawn and eventually broke through to get to the king, as you can see here.

For the last example, we’ll go back to that game I mentioned earlier.

Kobla – Stevens, K-12 Grade Nationals, 2017


In this position, Black’s centralized knight on d5 is the only thing worth writing home about.  Aside from it, the rooks are disconnected, and many of the pawns are immobile.  That said, Black has a fairly straightforward threat with Re8, since fork ideas with Nc3 are looming over White’s head.  In order to avoid all complications regarding that knight, I decided that sacrificing the exchange with

  1. Rxd5 cxd5 30. Nd6

would be best.  In addition, Black’s queenside pawn structure is severely weakened, as the pawns on b5 and d5 are both hanging and unprotected; the knight outpost on d6 combined with the queen’s positioning gives White full control over the e-file, at least for now.  The direct threat of Nxb5 followed by a secondary threat of Qh2+ gives White more than enough tactical compensation for the exchange.  While the game itself ended in a draw, this is still an example where sacrificing the exchange was the best way forward.

In these three games, we saw a player sacrificing an exchange for somewhat different reasons.  In the first game, we saw Petrosian sacrifice an exchange for a positional plus – White’s crippled pawn structure and control over the dark squares.  In the second game, we saw Kramnik sacrifice an exchange to give direction and coordination to his pieces such that they could converge on the damaged pawns and later the king.  In the third game, I sacrificed an exchange to get rid of my opponent’s strong point and give my knight dominance over some central squares and weak pawns.  Despite their differences, however, they all had one thing in common – making the opponent recapture with a pawn, thereby weakening their pawn structure and grip on the position.

To wrap things up, this will be my last post for 2017, so I’ll take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!  And, for the sake of resolutions, I challenge all of you to sacrifice an exchange and win if the opportunity presents itself at some point over the next year.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!