Blindness in Winning Positions

It seems that every time after I write something, I prove myself wrong shortly afterwards. Write about a good tournament, play terribly in the next tournament! Write about openings, have an opening disaster (that game is really off limits)! If this trend continues, I’m going to start writing about some of my worst tournaments before major events!

After writing my article about the grind, I naturally had to prove myself wrong at my next tournament, the USATE. The tournament ended well, but I did mention the glitch I had in round 2…

Just look at this position. It’s winning itself. You don’t even have to be there and that’s when your mind goes on vacation. You start thinking about your rating gain, how much time you’ll have until the next round, who you might play, the food waiting for you in the hotel room, etc. You don’t pay as much attention to the game as you should.

The textbook says you should always tell yourself “It’s not over until it’s over”

Come on! It’s over! Really, it’s over! Enough nonsense Mr. Philosophical.

Brodsky, David (2450) – Qi, Henry (2220) USATE 2017

Qi1

Black to move

White is two healthy pawns up. Black has the bishop pair, but there’s only that much compensation provided by the bishop pair. Game over very soon, right? My opponent played 36… Be5 and offered a draw. A draw would win the match for the team, but really? You don’t give a draw in position like that unless you are really short on time, starving, or about to fall asleep. I may as well win this position. I played 37.Rc5 Bg6 38.Rc6 Kf7 39.Rxa6 (grabbing a third pawn) h4 40.Ne2 h3

Qi2

White to move

The time control was reached, and I nonchalantly played 41.Bf4? Can you find black’s best defense?

After my opponent’s reply 41… Bb8! I freaked out. I went into full defense mode and started fighting for a draw. (Spoiler: I’m still winning, can you figure out how? I failed that task.)

You can check out what happened here.

That game is still a mystery to me. I mean, you would think white should be winning easily, yet look what happened. I’ve tried finding some random improvements for white, yet none of them are instantly 1-0. Still, assuming white is totally winning does not seem to be at all unreasonable.

What is not unreasonable to say is that me going on autopilot cost me a half point. It did admittedly look suspect to allow black some chances for an invasion to my h2-pawn, but since I didn’t see anything concrete for him, I trusted my calculations and was punished for my lack of depth.

41… Bb8 was not the easiest move to find, but had I looked deeper, I probably would have found it. It was right after the time control, and I had plenty of time. There are no reasonable excuses.

 

Why do things like that happen? We are all guilty of not paying enough attention towards the end of the game. It’s natural after a long fight that you just want to relax a bit. Usually, our opponents are tired too, and we get away with it, but there are moments when you brainfreeze and forget about your opponent’s resources.

Your opponent’s rating may also have an effect. You will take a GM more seriously than a low-rated kid. Desperate GMs are supposed to be slippery in those situations, while the low rated guys are supposed to crumble… not really!

What I did in the Qi game doesn’t seem that bad. 41… Bb8 is not an obvious move at all to find. Everybody has moments like these, and I didn’t blunder anything huge and didn’t turn 1-0 into 0-1.

Still, these moments can be really frustrating, especially if things aren’t going well. When you start going into philosophical depths about human stupidity, your play does not improve. Trust me.

In the USATE, the team won the match 2.5-1.5, and I was happy I managed to save the game. I brushed it off without any big problems and found my form in round 5 by beating GM Larry Christiansen. Still, it had an impact…

David USATE

OMG, what did I just do!?! Photo by Vanessa Sun.

The following game, however, was awful. I was playing the Washington International right after a disastrous tournament. Things weren’t going so well, but if I won this game, I’d be around my expected performance, maybe a little bit above it.

It stands out clearly in my memory as my #1 non-stalemating fail in my career. Just look for yourselves.

Huang, Andy (2250) – Brodsky, David (2400) Washington International 2016

Huang1

White to move

We just reached the time control. It had been a bit of a scramble, but I emerged clearly on top. Basically, I just roll my pawns down the board and should win. White’s h6-pawn is a goner. After I play g5, his bishop won’t be able to protect it anymore.

The game went 41.c4 g5 42.Be5 f4. I decided to push my pawns a bit, since the h6-pawn wasn’t going anywhere. It went 43.Kd1 f3 44.Ke1

Huang2

Black to move

Game over, right? I just roll my pawns down the board and win with the help of my king. After 44… Kxh6 I could win this in my sleep. In fact, my dad could probably win that position. Sorry dad, it says a lot. Instead, I played 44… g4?????????????? allowing 45.Bf4!. Surprise! I can’t take the h6-pawn. Now it’s a draw. My king can’t get in to support my pawns. If you want to take a look, here’s how it ended.

I almost quit chess after that one. OK, I wasn’t that mad, but I couldn’t believe my stupidity. I proceeded to lose my next 2 games in abhorrent styles.

My mistake in that game was similar but worse. I simply forgot that he could go Bf4 and protect the h6-pawn. I was going on autopilot and didn’t take 10 seconds or even one tenth of a second to look at what my opponent could do.

 

The bottom line is: don’t totally autopilot. Don’t forget about your opponent. Look around and see if your opponent has anything obvious (Huang game). If things look suspect, look a little deeper (Qi game).

It’s not over till it’s over. Leave the mental celebration after the handshake. It’s natural, and no offense there, you will have an incident or two like this in your games. Just try to keep these things to a minimum. As your opposition gets tougher, keeping your focus towards the end of the game is crucial to winning those games you should win.

Czech Mate! A Little Luck in Liberec

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Crossing the bridge into the old city in Prague

For the second major stay of my tour, I left Austria for the Czech Republic. The narrative leaving Lienz was one of optimism – I had scored 4.5/9 in my first European tournament after starting slow, and gained over 50 FIDE rating points. Beginner’s luck? I certainly hoped not…

I only had a few days to rest before the Liberec Open, and Vienna and Prague were on my itinerary. As you may recall from my last post, I professed my love for Vienna, so how did the Czech Republic compare?

As I hopped off my train in Prague, the first distinguishing feature I took note of was movement. Life in Prague is fast paced; the city is busy day and night, and its never too late to find a good goulash or get a drink. Thanks to a lower cost of living, Prague (and much of the Czech Republic) is a hotspot for tourists all over the world. English isn’t as commonly spoken in the Czech Republic, so John’s arrival the day before the Liberec Open was perfectly timed!

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Who is this John Ahlborg guy?

John’s gotten a few Chess^Summit mentions in the past few months. His draw against GM Ray Robson to close out 2016 at the Pan American Intercollegiate Championships got covered by guest writer Thomas Riccardi last January, and a win of his against me at last year’s Pittsburgh Open found its way into one of my recent posts about English Opening theory.

It also happens that John was one of the first chess players I met when I first arrived in Pittsburgh. We have travelled together twice for Pan Ams, and have played side-by-side several times for the University of Pittsburgh chess team. But Liberec, Czech Republic? This was new!

Unlike Lienz, Liberec has a population over 100,000, and is one of the biggest cities in the country. The city, like Lienz, is a destination for skiing, but also has plenty of museums and shops to explore. Though the directors of the Liberec Open didn’t plan any social events for players, John and I found plenty each day to keep us busy.

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Awaiting the start of Spící Krasavice, Liberec’s rendition of The Sleeping Beauty.

Several highlights included a self-playing piano exhibit at the Severočeské Muzeum, Laser Tag (who do you think won that 1 v 1 battle?), and visiting the Liberec Zoo. Of course, when we were too tired to do anything else, we could simply visit one of many cafes in the city and prepare for our upcoming round.

Before I delve into the detail of my tournament performance, I must confess that this was simply my luckiest tournament I have ever played in. Despite having five Blacks, I scored a strong 5.5/9 and look to gain a significant amount of FIDE rating points again – yet, that score doesn’t really tell the whole story.

After winning in my traditional slow style in the first round, the following eight games tested my tactical acumen and ability to make decisions quickly. I got results in several games where I was simply much worse, and much of that had to do with my ability to manage the clock and make practical decisions. Though my mental fortitude was rewarded this time around, I believe if I don’t improve from this performance, I will quickly be disappointed with my future results. Let’s have a look!

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I didn’t have a single easy game in Liberec – even the 1200 I played in the first round put up a tenacious defense!

After my first game against a Czech youngster, it didn’t take long for me to realize how strong the field was, despite the overall lower average rating than the Dolomiten Bank Open. I like this first round game, because it shows what happens when you put less experienced players in positions where they have to make uncomfortable decisions.

The following day, I got paired with Black against a WFM and member of Turkmenistan’s 2016 Olympiad team. After getting a great position out of the opening, I fumbled my advantage, and in time trouble, the game took a turn for the endgame. But my luck had just begun, and thanks to all the endgame study I did to write my Endgame Essentials series (here is my latest installment), I found a way to outplay my opponent and get the win.

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A visit to the Science Museum with John!

My opponent missed her chance, but nonetheless, not a game to be disappointed in. The fireworks began in the third round when I pulled an upset against an FM from Scotland! After getting a fantastic position out of the opening, I managed to drop a rook(!) but still was able to find a way to get the win in the endgame. Starting 3/3 was a great feeling, but it had been quite an emotional roller coaster ride – usually I don’t play so carelessly…

The script quickly changed for the next two rounds. Dropping both, I found myself at 3/5 needing to stop the bleeding and get a result. My fourth round game wasn’t much of a contest, as it was only hours after my win against the FM and I was too exhausted to calculate anything. My fifth round game had reached an interesting position, but I missed a nice opportunity for me and fell into a worse ending and lost again. In one of his first Chess^Summit posts, Grant explained how important it is to avoid losing two games in a row and going into my 6th round game, it felt like there was a lot of momentum going against me, even though 3/5 against the level of competition I was playing was a very reasonable score. This number nearly became three against another Olympian and WFM from Turkmenistan but I managed to save this position and draw.

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Atabayeva-Steincamp, position after 26…Qb7

I have a lot more I want to share, so we’ll skip over this game, but saving this game this was the starting point of a lot of luck for me. My next game I had another Black and got into an even worse position, but I got the gift of my career and won, keeping me on a plus score at 4.5/7. Of course, I was well aware that I should have lost both of these games thanks to opening disasters, but I was reminded of how I broke 1900 before I worked with my current coach, GM Eugene Perelshteyn.

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Stopping by the Liberec Botanical Gardens

When I was rated roughly 1700-1800, I found myself getting into a lot of worse positions and having to outplay my opponents a lot. Even in my chess.com games, I would drop material all the time and force myself to play on (ever wonder why I love sacrificing the exchange now?). Forcing myself to get results when I had worse positions was the biggest reason I made 1900, though I can no longer get away with playing like this at the 2000 level. I talked about this a lot in one of my first YouTube videos, and this sixth sense I developed years back was extremely useful for me this tournament.

If you still aren’t convinced that Lady Luck was on my side, getting a win in the eighth round should show you otherwise. In a game that made my third round win look like a cake walk, we both had a lot of chances to win, and in my opponent’s time trouble, I escaped and came out on top. Sure, lucky is a word to use here, but as we all know, whoever makes the last mistake generally loses!

My over-the-board luck ended during the final round when I lost on the Black side of a King’s Indian. Funnily enough, I probably finished that opening better off than I had in the three rounds prior. As a last dose of luck, a bunch of results went my way, and I was able to win a class prize with a 5.5/9 score. Let’s just say I won’t be rated around 1800 FIDE for a while… John had a strong performance too, placing 9th with a score of 6.5/9!

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Claiming my class prize at the award ceremony!

What a tournament – and so much over-the-board drama! If only my brain and pieces could have gotten along better, maybe I could have played for more! My next tournament is in Bad Wörishofen, where I expect to play against the toughest field I’ve seen so far this trip. I’ll have to pick up my form a little, but either way, I’ll be sharing some key moments with you in just a couple of weeks!

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Visiting Saxon Palace grounds in Dresden, where I will be staying the next few days!

The featured photo is the John Lennon Wall, which I visited in Prague.

 

The Importance of FIDE Ratings

“What’s your USCF?”

Ask any chess player in the United States, and they’ll respond without as much as a second thought.  So what?

Now take a trip to any country outside of the United States.  If you ask the same question to a chess player, you’ll most likely receive puzzled looks and responses along the lines of “What’s that?”  Another country, probably the same response.  The borders of the United States are most likely going to be the extent to which chess players would recognize “USCF.”  Any further, and chess players use other rating systems.  Sure, some countries might have their own local chess federations as well.  However, most use another rating system, at least for the larger tournaments.  This rating system is the Fédération internationale des échecs, better known as FIDE.  FIDE is sometimes called the World Chess Federation because it is just that.  FIDE is a global organization that connects and interacts with national chess federations and hosts international chess tournaments.  It is recognized by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) as the main overseeing body of international chess play.  Most top-level tournaments respect FIDE rules and regulations, almost without exception.

So why does this matter?  In short, it matters because the FIDE rating becomes the most important of all at high-level competition.  Almost every international tournament is FIDE rated.  In addition, most high-level open tournaments in the United States are FIDE-rated for the highest section(s).  Even the World Chess Championship, perhaps the most popular chess event, is FIDE rated.

Establishing a FIDE rating

If a chess player aspires to become the best of the best one day, he or she must pay attention to FIDE ratings as early as possible.  Moreover, he or she should attempt to play in as many FIDE-rated tournaments as possible in order to achieve their first rating.  Per rules, one must play 9 games against FIDE rated players, with three having to be in the same tournament, and at least 1 point (out of 3) must be scored against those three players.  It seems complicated, but it isn’t difficult if many FIDE-rated tournaments are being held.

After the first FIDE rating is achieved, the best approach is to try to stabilize and gradually increase it.  This, however, can sometimes be difficult and might trend in the opposite direction, as it did with me.  My first ever FIDE rating was 2018, a good 50-100 points above my USCF rating at the time, which was somewhere in the 1900s.  In this case, my FIDE rating was higher than my USCF rating, but for most people, it turns out to be the other way around.  Despite my attempts to keep my FIDE rating above 2000, it didn’t last long, as I lost games to players who were much higher-rated than me in USCF but around equal to me in FIDE.  As a result, these games would affect my FIDE much more than they would affect my USCF.  My FIDE rating hit an all-time low around at 1838 in March of 2016 after poor tournament play in general.  Since then, however, I have been able to claw my way back to a current rating of 2121 in a span of roughly 12 months.  A couple of different approaches have allowed me to accomplish that.  For one, I have begun to play much more frequently in the open section, which tends to be FIDE-rated nowadays (as previously mentioned).  Performing well in these open sections has definitely boosted my FIDE rating.  Secondly, the NVA Chess League has benefitted me greatly.  The NVA Chess League is a team league takes place over several months and is FIDE-rated.  However, the fact that each separate game is rated as its own event has helped me the most, since many more points are gained for each win.  Lastly, playing in international tournaments has helped when they come around since they add 9 FIDE-rated games apiece.  Although I haven’t played in any of the prestigious international tournaments such as the World Youth just yet, but I have had my share of North American Youth Chess Championships that I have attended.  Having played in four straight, they have also helped me get in more FIDE-rated games.

In the end, however, playing in FIDE-rated tournaments is the easiest and most efficient way to improve FIDE ratings.  The earlier someone improves their FIDE rating, the better, too, because FIDE uses a higher K-factor (scalar) in calculating ratings of minors (U18).  This means that ratings fluctuate more with younger ages.  Although this could potentially cause more severe drops, the possibility of higher gains also exists.  It’s important to note that USCF ratings are equally important at first; until one’s USCF rating is high enough to be able to compete in FIDE-rated sections and/or tournaments, progress can’t be made in FIDE ratings in the first place.  It’s just that, eventually, once someone reaches the levels of 2300 or 2400+, FIDE ratings become that more important.  As always, thanks for reading and see you next time!

A Wildly Average USATE

Against my expectations, I was able to make the US Amateur Team East for the third (!) year in a row, and like David, saw a rare opportunity to push for some of the winner glory, with CMU fielding Grant Xu (2396), me (2136), Ryan Christianson (2059), and Alex Hallenbeck (2027) for an average January rating of 2154.5. Also, I had worked my way to 2180 through early February, so I was definitely pushing for master, and the tournament served as an important test of how I could handle that mentally.

 

There was no contest for the highlight of the event as we pulled off a huge upset in Round 5 and I drew an International Master for the first time.

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Ryan and Beilin in Round 5 (photo by Vanessa Sun)

Our opponents were GM Eric Hansen and IM Aman Hambleton of Chessbrah fame, followed by an expert and a 1600 on the bottom boards. Their top-heavy strategy put a lot of pressure on the GM and IM to clean up, although it seemed to mostly work as I was the only one to score against either of them. On the other hand, it seemed like we would have to win the bottom two boards to stay alive in the match.

Alex delivered an early win on Board 4, while Grant looked to have a good Alapin against Hansen, but fell for an early tactic that left him in a positional bind for the rest of the game. Against Hambleton, I ended up on the Black side of the closed Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian for the first time. I was really nervous because I was playing an IM and had no idea how theoretical that line was, but I played it solidly, stayed even throughout the game, and we agreed to a draw on move 29 to close out my third encounter against an IM/GM. See the full game here!

At 1.5/3, this left the match in the hands of Ryan, who had struggled against some lower-rated players, but nevertheless defeated his expert opponent easily. For the first time, CMU was 4.5/5 going into the last round, and tied for 2nd with a legitimate shot at winning. With my unexpected draw, I also had a great chance to make master if I could win my last game.


Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get the ending we hoped for as Grant, Ryan, and I were simply crushed by IM Justin Sarkar and young experts Eddy Tian and Nico Chasin in the last round. To his credit, Alex easily beat his young expert opponent on Board 4, but it’s hard to win the match when your teammates are all lost by move 20.

Nevertheless, our score of 4.5/6 was good enough for Top College and Top Pennsylvania team (the second was later removed due to duplicate prize policies). And after three long days, I had gained one (!) rating point. I had mixed feelings about this; the result was disappointing given what I did in Round 5 and the chance I had after that, but on the other hand, 2180 is around the point where many National Master contenders collapse, and I avoided that for the most part.

In hindsight though, it was kind of a fitting result for some interesting moments earlier in the tournament.

Round 1: Lucky Misses

We played down in Round 1, and the outcome of the match was never really in doubt. But at the time, I felt like my game was a lot more chaotic than it needed to be. My 1850-rated opponent quickly ended up on the wrong side of the 4. Nc3 Advance Caro-Kann:

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Weinstein – Li: after 11…Nc6

I made some mistakes and tried to simplify too early. Eventually, I bailed:

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Weinstein – Liafter 18. Be3

Thinking I’d at least grab a pawn for my troubles (great logic, right?), I ventured 18…Bc5 19. Qa4+ Kf8 20. O-O-O Bxe3+ 21. fxe3 Qxe3+ 22. Kb1 Nf6, but White won his pawn back with 23. Qb4+ Qc5 24. Qxb7:

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Weinstein – Li: after 24. Qxb7

Black’s king is actually safe now, but it’s not easy to find a way to break through the kingside. White gave me an opportunity a few moves later, but that’s where the misses started. While I was better (or winning) throughout the sequence, it was a little disconcerting to have missed some of White’s moves, lest one of them be a spoiler!

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Weinstein – Li: after 27. Ne4

I thought I calculated through everything, and went ahead with 27…Nxe4! After the forced 28. Qxf3 Qxc2+ 29. Ka1 Rb8 30. Rb1 Nd2 I missed 31. Qf4, gaining time by attacking the rook on b8. Same thing after 31…Rb7 32. Qh2. Again, neither move actually saved White, but I was a little nervous at having missed both of them.

I faced the final test after 32…Nb3+ 33. Ka2 Nd2 (a repetition to get closer to move 40) 34. Ka1 Nb3+ 35. Ka2 Qc4! 36. Rbd1 Nd2+ 37. Ka1.

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It took me 18 of my remaining 19 minutes to find 37…Rxb2! and it’s mate in 3 (not including the Qb8+ intermezzo) because Black threatens to mate on a2 and 38. Kxb2 Qb3+ mates next move. Evidently I don’t do any tactics puzzles.

After the hiccups (if only mentally), that was over and our team followed suit, winning 4-0.

Round 2: Another Miss or a Blessing in Disguise?

Seeded 40th out of about 300 teams, we weren’t expecting to play up so early. Alas, pairings (accelerated, maybe?) are pairings, and we were paired against the 3rd seed team of IM Dean Ippolito, NM Eric Most, and a 2100 and 2000. Grant drew Ippolito comfortably, Ryan’s opponent offered a draw in a slightly better isolated queen pawn position, and Alex and I looked to be winning our games. Unfortunately, neither of us could convert our wins and we drew the match 2-2.

One could reasonably make the case that this saved us from some future obstacles, as it set us up for our remarkable Round 5 win and it was the only half point we gave up before the last round. But it was really hard for me to not be disappointed at my own game.

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Li – Most: after 20…Qg5

The opening wasn’t great, but my opponent thought he would just trade queens en route to destroying my queenside. I was very happy to find 21. Nf4!, threatening Nxe6 and exploiting the loose knight on c4. The game continued 21…Nxf4 22. gxf4 Qf6 23. cxb4 Qxd4? (23…Ba6 put up a lot more resistance) 24. Rd1 Qxb2 25. Qxc4, leaving me up a piece for two pawns.

From there, it was a series of rash yet timid simplifications on my part. I eventually bailed into an ending, which admittedly wasn’t the easiest to win, though with an hour more on the clock, I should have done way better.

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Li – Most: after 39. Nxb2

And after Black tried to break up the e- and f-pawns, I got a passed d-pawn:

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Li – Most: 45…Bd7

The simplest route seemed to be 46. Nc6! forcing 46…Bxc6 (otherwise, 46…a6 47. Bh3+ g4 48. Bxg4+ Kxg4 49. Ne5+) 47. dxc6 Ke6. And I naively assumed that: 1) I had to deal with the a-pawn before anything else, and 2) the bishop would hold the kingside pawns easily. One issue at play is that White has the wrong-colored bishop should I end up with only the h-pawn.

I was very, very wrong on both points. If the king is away, the kingside pawns are not nobodies, as I found out the hard way. And while the a-pawn is a bit of a nuisance, White can simply tie Black’s king to the passed c-pawn while marching the king over to the kingside. White may end up with only the h-pawn left, but if calculated correctly, White should have enough time to take Black’s pawns and prevent Black from reaching the h8 corner. For example, 48. Bd5! Kd6 49. Ke4 a5 50. Kf5 a4 51. Kxg5 a3 and White takes the f7 and h7 pawns while Black is distracted with c6.

But after 48. Kd4 Kd6 49. Kc4? f5 50. Kb5?? g4 it’s a dead draw:

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Li – Most: after 50…g4

I played this out for completeness, but Black’s pawns are too fast by one tempo: 51. h3 h5 52. hxg4 hxg4 53. Ka6 Kc7 54. Kxa7 f4 55. Be4 (otherwise 55…f3 wins!) 55…f3 56. Ka6 f2 57. Bg2 f1=Q and we wrapped up the game at 12:30 am.

Round 3: Durkin’s Folly

We went back to playing down for two rounds, this time against a team of kids each rated around 1500. I’m embarrassed to say that this was more interesting that it should have been, but…

On Board 3, Ryan tried the Durkin Attack (1. Na3) because the tournament was giving out prizes to the best games in a few openings, which included the Vienna, the King’s and Queen’s Gambits, and the Durkin Attack. Ryan’s game started with 1. Na3 e6 2. Nc4 d5 3. Ne5 f6 (later, we decided that 2. c4 followed by Nc2 was a better plan). Meanwhile, I had ruined a good position by miscalculating a tactic and had to trade into a microscopically worse rook ending with seemingly no winning chances. It seemed that we were going to have to resort to the bare-minimum 2.5-1.5 win against a team we outrated by 600 points.

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Mak – Li: after 16…Na5 =+

But things turned really hairy later, when White tried a last-ditch h-pawn storm on the kingside:

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Mak – Li: after 28. h5

I immediately played 28…Qa2?, which I thought was forcing 29. Rb4 (which he did play). Apparently, 30. Qd1! is good for White, because 30…Qa5 31. b6! threatens Ra1 trapping the queen, and 30…Qa4 31. Ra1 wins the a7-pawn with a winning advantage.

Be that as it may, the game continued 29. Rb4 Be7 30. h6 Rg8?! 31. hxg7+ Rxg7 32. Be5 f6 33. Qxe6, and I made my pre-planned escape with 33…Rxc3 34. Rxc3 Qa1+.

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Mak – Li: after 34…Qa1+

Although this is not an easy find, 35. Rb1!! likely wins after 35…Qxb1+ 36. Kh2 (White threatening Rc8+ and Bxf6) and 35…Qxc3 36. Bxf6. Even disregarding that, 35. Kh2 Qxc3 36. Bd6 (I missed this!) forced 36…Bxd6 37. Qxd6 Qc7 and we reached this ending:

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Mak – Liafter 38…Rxc7

Somehow, I managed to win this ending as Black. That wasn’t very nice of me, but a win is a win. That happened in several monumental steps. First, White immediately played 39. b6, which led to trading his d-pawn for my f-pawn.

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Mak – Li: after 41…Rxd4

Now Black has a passed pawn. White should still draw this without trouble. In fact, I think I could lose this as Black if I was careless enough. Though, White played f4, let me activate my king, and traded his f-pawn for my h-pawn.

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Mak – Li: after 47…Kxf4

Now Black’s king is somehow active. I didn’t see that coming from the beginning position, to be honest. Nevertheless, White’s king is very near and with the rook behind the Black pawn and king, it’s still a dead draw. In fact, this is a draw even without White’s g-pawn.

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Mak – Li: after 52…Rh2

This might look a little scary, but in fact White is still fine. Even without the g-pawn, this is the famous Philidor position. The next position isn’t so easy for White though:

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Mak – Li: after 56…Rh8

And White finally cracked with 57. Rg1?? (57. Rf2 was necessary, to jump to the back ranks for some annoying checks). And after 57…Kd4 58. Rf1 Ra2+ 59. Kd1 Kc3 60. Rg1 Ra2 61. Ke1 Ra1+ he resigned.

This clinched the match with 3 points, but Ryan was still losing against his 1500-rated opponent with the Durkin. However, his opponent offered him a draw in a likely winning ending, so it was a 3.5-0.5 match. One wouldn’t exactly have guessed that from the positions earlier in our games.

Round 4: Finally Clean Sweep

In our last match leading up to our Round 5 upset, we played down once more, but got the job done 4-0. For once, my game didn’t make me completely nervous. I’ll leave it at this:

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Li – Gindi: after 14…g6

I switched gears slightly with 15. Qh2!? and it’s actually pretty awkward for Black to defend the c6 and d6 pawns (best is probably the counterattacking 15…b4). Instead, Black tried 15…Qb6 16. Nde2 c5? 17. g5! Nh5 18. Nd5 which wins at least a pawn.


And that’s how you work your way to drawing an International Master!

The Chess^Summit Picture That Wasn’t

With DavidGrantVanessa, and Vishal (and some former guest authors to boot) all at the tournament, it was kind of expected that we’d get some unifying picture of us all. Unfortunately, with one round left, Vanessa insisted on trying to find Vishal first, which didn’t materialize. That left us with a few individual pictures of us, all taken by Vanessa:

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Vanessa with David Brodsky
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Vanessa with Beilin
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Grant playing IM Sarkar in Round 6

Maybe next year!

The Prize That Was Not – My USATE Recap

When I first played at the US Amateur Team East in 2012, my team’s goal was to play in the big room. Just a round or two would be good enough. We did not succeed. Next year, the goal was to stay in the big room. As time went on, we wanted to get behind the ropes and stay there. This year, the goal was to win the mixed doubles prize. We failed in a way none of us had foreseen.

This is what the team lineup was this year:

teampicvanessaLeft to right: Me, Aravind, Martha, and Dexin. Photo by Vanessa Sun

We Make the Best Team Names: Everybody Loves Them (2195.5 average)

Board 1: Me (2418 Jan. official/2450 pre-tournament)
Board 2: FM Aravind Kumar (2351/2342)
Board 3: WFM Martha Samadashvili (2165/2185)
Board 4: Dexin Li (1848/1880)

The drama began a few months before we made the first move. The USCF misrated an international tournament for a player of a similar name, awarding the points to Aravind. When the USCF made the January official rating list, Aravind’s rating was 26 points higher than it should have been. This is the last thing you want when you are trying to find the best fourth board match while keeping the team average below 2200.

Fortunately, Aravind’s father contacted the USCF, and both USCF and Steve Doyle were happy to help. It all got sorted out.

Without further ado, off to the tournament!

Round 1: Black vs. Flag Me If You Can (Average 1879, board 10)

There were 9 boards behind the ropes, and we were playing on board 10. Just one board to go. And we were not the highest-ranked mixed doubles team. Really?? With a 2195.5 average?

This round wasn’t too interesting. We won 4-0. We outrated our opponents heavily on board 1-3, and Dexin managed to swindle her opponent on board 4.

Round 2: White vs. 64 Squares Academy (Average 1986, board 12)

This is where things got interesting. First of all, our opponents were also a mixed doubles team. Competition! We had rating edges on all boards, especially on boards 2 and 3. Martha won first with a pleasing finish.

martha-position

White to play and finish black off in the most effective way! Here’s the solution.

Aravind then dismantled his opponent. We were up 2-0, Dexin was in a little trouble, but I was clearly winning. Match over, right? It wasn’t so easy. I proceeded to completely blow my winning position and having to fight not to lose. You’ll have to wait for my next article to see how I messed that up. Dexin lost. My opponent and I agreed to a draw around 1:30 a.m. Off to bed!

Oh well… things happen. Anyway, the team won 2.5-1.5.

 

Round 3: Black vs. Figler on the Roof (Average 2159, board 7)

Behind the ropes for the first time! This was a serious matchup. Out of my teammates, I had the biggest rating edge of 80 points.

On a sidenote, my dad won a Chess Informant book by playing “poker” with the serial number on one-dollar bills (his had four 8’s!).

When my opponent offered a draw on move 18, I was an itsy bit worse with small winning chances. I decided to take it, a decision I would feel somewhat guilty about in the hours of stress that ensued. When my game finished, Aravind already had a powerful advantage against Boris Privman which he later converted to victory. A critical moment from the game.

aravind-privman

White to play. How to proceed? Here’s how the game ended.

Martha lost an unfortunate game to her opponent. I thought she had decent chances, but what I didn’t know was that she was playing with a fever. Her position went downhill quickly. The match was tied 1.5-1.5, and it was all on Dexin’s shoulders. She was a pawn down but had compensation. Her opponent was toying with repeating moves and then went for a winning attempt. Great. Not. Was a draw the best we could do?

The stress went on until about 6(!) hours into the game. Things kept looking bleak. When I went to check for the 501st time, I found that Dexin was completely winning!! She had found a miraculous breakthrough. In Dexin’s own words, “He was up a pawn early on and I remember thinking that if I lost this game, after losing round 2, I really would have let down our team. 😦 This probably motivated me to keep on pushing for opportunities.”

She won what turned out to be the most important nail-biting game of the entire match and most likely the entire tournament. 2.5-1.5!!!! We pulled it off.

Round 4: White vs. Putin Gave Us Our King (Average 2175, board 6)

We only moved up by one board?!?!

Another tight matchup. Dexin and Aravind had decent rating edges, but they had black. Martha had a slight rating disadvantage and fever, and I had an even smaller rating disadvantage against GM Fedorowicz.

Looking around, I saw we weren’t alone in the mixed doubles competition. There were two other mixed doubles teams behind the ropes. Can you believe it?

GM Fedorowicz surprised me by offering a draw on move 18.

fedorowicz

I could have just agreed to a draw and gone to watch Magnus Carlsen’s guest appearance in The Simpsons. However, the team situation didn’t look the rosiest, and I felt guilty enough about my 18 move draws earlier that day. Watch my position spiral downhill.

Yeah, I have no idea how I managed to draw that. I was busted on so many occasions it wasn’t even funny. Dexin drew, Aravind won, and Martha lost. The match was tied 2-2.

The team had 3.5/4. That was the best performance any of my teams had ever had after 4 rounds. If we played well the last day, we had excellent chances for a prize. Carissa Yip’s mixed doubles team was 4-0, but there was no other mixed doubles team with more than 3/4. Aravind was doing great; he was 4-0. Dexin was holding her own on board 4 and was the heroine of round 3. Martha wasn’t in the greatest shape with her fever, and I needed to get my act together.

Round 5: Black vs. Knight on the Rimsky-Korsakov (Average 2176, board 5)

We were playing on board 5. Moving up one board per round?

This looked like a rough pairing. First of all, I was outrated by 200 points and had black against GM Larry Christiansen. Board 4 was playing slightly up which looked like a tossup. The good news was that we had solid rating edges on boards 2 and 3, but anything could happen, especially considering that Martha was sick.

The first good news came when Dexin won on board 4. From a seemingly equal position, her opponent allowed Dexin a generous opportunity.

dexin

White to play. To trade or not to trade? Here’s what happened (it’s instructive).

On board 3, Martha was in trouble despite her rating edge. As for me…

That was a boost! That is my highest USCF rating win. We were up 2-0 and Aravind was winning. At the start, I thought the position was a bit strange, but it soon became clear that Aravind was boss there. See for yourselves.

Things got even better when Martha managed to swindle her opponent and win her game before Aravind finished. 4-0! Wow!! That was really unexpected.

Going into the last round, we were 4.5/5. Carissa’s team lost, and we were clear first in the mixed doubles standings! If we won, the mixed doubles title was ours and we were extremely likely to win an overall prize. Going into the last round, we were 3rd on tiebreaks.  In the past couple of years, 5.5/6 has been enough to tie for first. Last year’s champions, the Summer Academy for Talented Youth, was the only team that was 5-0. I thought we might play them due to colors. We all rushed to prepare. Naturally, I was wrong.

Round 6: White vs. CKQ Arun’s Army (Average 2183, board 3)

Hey, 3 out of our 4 last board numbers were primes! That’s probably a good omen.

On boards 2 and 3, we had a big rating edge. Aravind was 5-0; he was in excellent form and had a lot of motivation to beat his opponent. Meanwhile, I was playing another 2600 USCF GM, and Dexin was playing a 2000. The basic plan was to win on boards 2 and 3 and survive on boards 1 and 4.

The big match to watch was on board 1: H.A.N.G. Loose vs. The Academy (abbreviation). Because the Academy was 5-0, I was really hoping they wouldn’t win, and we could tie for first. That match was a demolition. The Academy won 3.5-0.5. They won the match even before a single game in my match was done. Big congrats to the Academy for winning 6-0!

On board 2, Aravind was the first to win. I thought he was a little worse, but he took educated risks which paid off. 6-0! Monster! On board 3, Martha was grinding her opponent. At some point I honestly didn’t think it would be enough to win, but she pulled it off.

My game was a wild ride. I got a solid advantage out of the opening which I didn’t exploit in the best way. Things soon spiraled into complex dynamic equality.

arun-prasad-2

Anything can happen here, but black has to be careful not to allow an invasion on the c-file. 31… Re4 would have probably held the balance, but instead GM Arun Prasad went 31… Rd5? letting me get a pawn up queen endgame after 32.Rc4! Qb7 33.Qc3 Rc5 34.Rxe3 Rxc4 35.Rxe6+ Kxe6 36.Qxc4+. Unfortunately, white is most likely not winning there. I tried some things which weren’t so successful. After Martha won, I decided not to do anything stupid and just repeat the moves.

I didn’t win this one, but oh well. The draw was enough for the team to win. Compensation for my luck in round 4. Dexin lost, and the team won 2.5-1.5. We finished with 5.5/6. Wow!

And this is how we lost the Mixed Doubles prize. Wait a second? Didn’t I just say that a win would give us a clear first in the mixed doubles category? Didn’t we just win? Yes and yes. Yet, we missed the prize. Why? Because we had too many points!

To our huge surprise, we ended 2nd overall. If it weren’t for the Academy going 6-0 we might have even tied for first. Since category prizes (with the exception of state awards) are awarded only to those who didn’t place among the top 5, the Mixed Doubles prize went to the next team.

As they say, you win some, you lose some. We lost our mixed doubles prize by winning the overall 2nd.

team-picture-usateLeft to right: Me, Dexin, Martha, Aravind

Not only do we make the bestest team names (they’re great, don’t you agree?), we also make great teams. Aravind finished 6-0. Beast. Martha, NM as of yesterday (!!), wavered only on her fever day and won the rest. Dexin was a rare fourth-board find who saved us in round 3.

In conclusion, what did I gain from the weekend? 10 rating points, my highest USCF win, a new clock with a second place plaque, and a Chess Informant book.

clockBye bye Mr. Second Place Scholastic clock… you are getting replaced 🙂 Photo by Vanessa Sun

At the USATE, the prizes aren’t big, but the bragging rights are huge. But that’s not important. The USATE is all about spending the weekend playing on a team with friends and having fun. At that, the USATE is one of its kind. Big thank you to organizers (especially Steve Doyle), to my teammates, and everyone else who put the tournament together.

All-Girls Tournaments: The Solution to Gender Issues in Chess?

I have never taken part in an all-girls chess tournament, but I have always wanted to go to one. I only discovered the All-Girls Nationals my last year of being a scholastic player, but I could not make it. I knew in my heart I’d never get the opportunity to play in an all-girls tournament, but I realized I could live vicariously through all the girls I met at those tournaments.

This weekend, I got that opportunity by going to the First New York State Girls Team and Individual Chess Championships, which was held at The Hewitt School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. 200 or so girls had the chance to experience what I never did, and I was proud of that. It meant that these girls were making friendships and growing as chess players. There was a friendliness that seemed to override the feeling of competition. At many chess tournaments, there is the tension of impending battles over the board, but what I observed in the atmosphere this weekend was more of a camaraderie.

For some, this tournament was not only the first all-girls tournament, but their first ever tournament. There were prizes specially for unrated players. The general sections were:

K-12 Championship
K-12 Under 1200
K-6 Championship
K-6 Under 900
K-3 Championship
K-3 Under 600
K-1 Championship

Amy Sun, the top seed for the K-6 Elementary Championships, used this in preparation of future tournaments. This was her “first all-girls tournament but she wanted some extra preparation for the All-Girls Nationals,” said her parents. They claimed she had no preference between the ordinary tournaments and an all girls one, however. In fact, Erica Li, tenth place in the K-12 Championship, and Juliette Shang, ninth place in the K-12 Championship, told me that they also saw no difference between the mixed and the all-girls ones. WFM Carissa Yip commented to me personally (she was not at the tournament but had some good thoughts to provide me) that although all-girls tournaments definitely do encourage more girls to play chess, she also didn’t see much difference.

 

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WFM Carissa Yip at the US Amateur Team East 2017 | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun.

I feel that there may not be much of a difference to the more experienced kids, but the girls just starting out in scholastic chess may benefit from all-girls tournaments the most. After talking to excited kids and parents alike, I decided that at the very least, girls could go to these sorts of tournaments and think that there are other girls just like them who play chess and also think it’s a cool game. It is really obvious in every Goichberg tournament that there is a huge gender disparity, and girls can feel less alone as they understand that there is a community for them.

The one big side event the tournament boasted was GM Irina Krush’s lecture. As a former US Women’s Champion, Irina was a perfect choice to inspire the girls. Of the tournament, she said that she liked this one in particular because “it just gets 200 girls together and makes it easier for them to make friends.“

 

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GM Irina Krush | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun
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Irina signing items for the host school | Photo credits: Vanessa Sun
It was clear that underlying the competition was the USCF pushing their initiative to support these female future champions. Right when you walked in, there were flyers for the All-Girls National tournament. There was the US Chess banner for the USCF Women’s Committee, which I had seen at several other tournaments. Surveys were conducted by Kimberly McVay, a member of the USCF Women’s Committee, asking various questions about female involvement in chess. The USCF is currently collecting data in order to understand what exactly they should target in terms of improving conditions for females in chess. Ideally, the USCF’s big goal would be for females to make up 50% of the player population. Currently, they are miles away from their mark, which is evident in every tournament we all compete in.

An interesting new change to the USCF website, though, was the addition of more top 100 lists. This was received rather positively by a woman on the Top 100 list for Women Over 50, Maret Thorpe- so much so that she wrote an article on this very topicI was also personally thrilled to see myself on these lists and found it encouraging to want to move up in my personal rankings.

A possible idea proposed by the K-12 Champion of the tournament, Sophie Morris-Suzuki, was that there could be more camps or programs for just girls. Citing Chess Girls DC and Chess Girls NY as examples, Sophie feels that although there are a few camps/programs that are all-girls, they are often for beginners or younger kids. One such example is the United States Chess School , which holds invitational chess camps for the most promising young players in the United States and has held all-girls camps before. She, and I feel that many older players may feel the same, desires more camps for older players. It would certainly help encourage continual involvement in chess beyond the middle school years. She also suggests that there be an increase in women’s tournaments because too much of the gender equality efforts are focused on young girls.


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 Sophie Morris-Suzuki

K-12 Champion

Photo credits: Vanessa Sun


It is clear that there is no one solution, but it cannot be denied that the chess community has been failing to actively support female chess players adequately for a long time. Girls and women still face many obstacles in achieving more recognition and success in chess. With these tournaments and new changes, we seem to be improving every day and every year. I myself had the opportunity to connect with both parents and some scholastic players because of this past weekend. Girls tournaments such as the First NYS All-Girls Championship provide a weekend of fun for the female chess players and is no doubt quite the place to feel empowered, supported, encouraged, and to make friendships.


 

Standings from the First NYS All-Girls Team and Individual Championships:

Individual:

K-1 Championship                Stephanie Weinberg won Clear First

K-3 Under 600                     Lia Skarabot and Chloe Stark each won all 5 games; Lia won the speed playoff for First over Chloe


K-3 Championship               Lilian Wang won on (secondary)  tiebreaks over Maya Figelman

K-6 Under 900                     Ella Mettke won Clear First

K-6 Championship               Julia Miyasaka won Clear First (6-0)   

 K-12 Under 1200                 Larisa Bresken Won Clear First

K-12 Championship              Sophie Morris-Suzuki won Clear First

 

Teams:

K-1 Championship: Lower Lab School PS 77

K-3 Under 600: Chelsea Prep PS 33

K-3 Championship: Chelsea Prep PS 33

K-6 Under 900:

K-6 Championship: The Dalton School

K-12 Under 1200: East Side Community High School

K-12 Championship: IS 318

You can see the full results at:

www.chessgirls.win

IS 318 won top team in the K-12 Championship section | Photo credits: Alex Ostrovsky

This tournament was made possible because of contributors, The Hewitt School, the New York State Chess association,  Little House of Chess, and The Chess Center of New York.

An Interesting Game at the Southwest Class

There were multiple tournaments held over President’s Day Weekend. I decided to go to the Southwest Class tournament in Dallas, Texas. This tournament had a very strong field with players coming from all over the country. Overall, I am very happy with the way I played there, even though I lost some unnecessary points. I have had many compelling games arise. I picked out one game that I thought had many interesting moments to share with you guys.

1

In this game, I was white against a NM. After a fairly normal opening, I played 12. d4 kicking the knight out of the centralized c5 square. Here, 12…Ne6 would have led to a playable game for both sides. However, the moves leading to this position led me to believe my opponent will play the interesting 12…f4?! which he quickly did. Consequently, an interesting exchange will ensue. 13. dxc5 f3. Now, I have two main ideas. I can either go for a position where I will be up by a pawn but without my g2 bishop, or I can simply back my bishop up to h1. There are two lines that I could have gone to try to grab a pawn. They are 14. Bxf3 and 14. cxd6.

After 14. Bxf3 Rxf3 15. cxd6 Qxd6 16. Rd1 Qe7, this position occurs.

2

Black has compensation for White’s extra pawn. The disappearance of the White g2 bishop is obvious, as the surrounding light squares around the White king are extremely weak. Black is not worse here at all because he has multiple ideas of attacking the light squares. It would have been an easy game for my opponent to play.

14. cxd6 would have led to a similar game after 14… fxg2 15.Kxg2 Qxd6.

The best and only option left was 14. Bh1. This simple move allows me to keep my vital fianchettoed bishop. The result was technically a trade between my opponent’s strong c5 knight and my e2 knight who stuck defending in the back. That was fine with me! 14…fxe2 15. Qxe2

14… dxc5 delaying the capture of the e2 knight is a possibility. I feel like it would have been slightly better then capturing right away because this would keep the tension. However, I still have a slight advantage after this.

15… dxc5 16. Rd1 Qf6

3

I now have a nice, little positional advantage. My light squared bishop is eyeing a beautiful diagonal full of possibilities, my rook is on the open file, and my knight has a bright future on either d5 or c5. My only pieces that aren’t doing much are the b1 rook and the c1 bishop. However after a few moves like b3 and Bb2, my dark squared bishop has potential and my rooks could double on the open file. Overall, this is a very comfortable position. After his last move, my opponent is eyeing my f2 pawn. This is not a problem right now, as my queen is defending the pawn, but I did not feel safe with only one piece protecting me against a possible checkmate by Qxf2. For example, my opponent has Bg4 ideas, which although do not work because of Bd5+, could become a deadly threat. Based on these facts, I decided to play 17. Bg2 creating room for my king on h1 and stopping any Bh3 ideas by black. Now, my opponent made a mistake. 17…Qf7?. He had wanted to remove the queen from possibly being attacked by my knight and place it on a good square eyeing the c4 pawn. It would have been alright had I not had this idea.

Try to see the best way for white to continue

4

18. Bd5! pinning the black queen. 18… Be6. I am 100% sure my opponent automatically saw these two moves before playing 17… Qf7. His mistake may have been that he  cut off the variation here, not bothering to look into it further. It would have been easy as it seems like my bishop is tied to d5, since if it moves, the c4 pawn would be hanging.

19. Bxb7 Bxc4 and now, the point of 18. Bd5,

20. Qxc4!

5

The point being after 20…Qxc4 21. Bd5+! the bishop returns back to d5 to win back the black queen. 22… Qxd5 23. Rxd5 

6

I am up by a pawn and will soon win another. My bishop on c1 and rook on b1 will soon come out and I will have no problems. Black’s knight is misplaced on h5 and his rooks cannot penetrate into my position using the d-file. The game ended up as a straightforward win for white.