Happy New Year from Chess^Summit: Looking Back

Happy New Year Chess^Summit Readers!

As 2018 begins, our family of writers here at Chess^Summit celebrate an amazing 2017 campaign. This past year, we published over 175 instructive (and free!) articles for over 21,000 Chess^Summit visitors from across the globe. What made 2017 so special? Here’s a quick review of the crazy year we had at Chess^Summit:

Accomplishments

NYS trophy
David at the 2017 NY State Championships

After earning a Grandmaster norm, David Brodsky shared his journey to the International Master title with humorous insights in each of his games. In April, he picked up his third and final norm, and just a couple of months crossed 2400 to earn the title. To top it all off, David tied for first at the New York State Championships last September! At just 15 years old, David is now one of the top 100 players in the United States, and is Chess^Summit’s youngest ever author!

Beilin
Beilin at the USATE (PC: Vanessa Sun)

In February, Vishal Kobla was the first of our original team of writers to earn the National Master title. The high school junior crossed 2200 at the Baltimore Open and finished 2017 tied for 5th in the 11th grade section of the National Grade Championships in Orlando, Florida. Joining Vishal in April would be Beilin Li, as he earned the National Master title in a Pittsburgh Chess League fixture.

Special guest accomplishments included a strong performance in the US Women’s Championships by Jennifer Yu, and a 2nd place result by Maggie Feng in the US Junior Girls’ Chess Championships. Daniel Johnston earned the National Master title in March, and IM Kostya Kavutskiy crushed the Reykjavik Open, providing fun analysis videos along the way!

Travels

Chess and travel are practically synonymous, so Chess^Summit went on the road in 2017.

Isaac Steincamp kicked off the year with a three month expedition to Europe, visiting seven different countries and boosting his FIDE rating nearly 200 points! In his strongest performance of the trip, he drew his first International Master and finished second in the FM group of the First Saturday tournament in Budapest.

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Isaac with Hikaru Nakamura in St. Louis (PC: Eric Rosen)

In August, Isaac took Chess^Summit to its first Grand Chess Tour event for the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz to cover Garry Kasparov’s brief return to tournament chess.

me hugging carissa
Vanessa Sun and Carissa Yip

Vanessa Sun covered major chess tournaments across the United States: the Collegiate Final Four, the US Chess Championships, the New York International, and the US Open. The 2016 U1200 Millionaire Chess semi-finalist had a pretty big year, becoming the first Chess^Summit author to write for ChessBase.

GM Eugene Perelshteyn talked about playing Anish Giri in Iceland. Before the end of the year, he would get to play Magnus Carlsen at the Isle of Man International in October. Kostya joined Isaac in Reykjavik, but special guest IM Eric Rosen ventured eastern Europe, defeating Magnus’ former coach GM Simen Agdestein along the way. Paul Swaney stayed stateside, traveling to Nashville, Tennessee for SuperNationals VI, giving us a behind-the-scenes look into one of the biggest tournaments in the world.

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GM Eugene Perelshteyn in Iceland prior to the Reykjavik Open

Favorite Articles

With so many articles in 2017, its hard to pick favorites. Here are some of our authors’ top picks for the year:

David Brodsky: David enjoyed writing about making the International Master title, but he also really likes playing in the US Amateur Team East! He also picked Beilin’s performance and article on the tournament as one of the best Chess^Summit articles of 2017.

Philly Norm
David receiving his final IM norm earlier this year

Beilin Li: “Basically anything by David is exceptionally good. I especially liked the series about material imbalances.” Beilin also pointed to Akira Nakada’s article on blunders as particularly instructive. It’s worth noting that Beilin beat his first International Master this year, and did so twice in the same tournament – an article he had a lot of fun writing for Chess^Summit.

Vishal Kobla: Vishal found his interview with US Junior Girl’s Champion Akshita Gorti particularly memorable. He enjoyed writing “Out of Book, [Out of] Luck” on some of his particularly memorable games where his opponent deviate from mainline theory.

Isaac Steincamp: Isaac points to Jennifer Yu’s posts as some of the most entertaining and instructive of 2017. Somehow finding a way to reach 5.5/9 in the Liberec Open, Isaac enjoyed writing about his (lucky) performance in the Czech Republic alongside Pitt teammate John Ahlborg.

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Beilin, Alice, and Isaac at the 2016 World Open

Alice Dong: While Alice no longer writes for Chess^Summmit, she’s still a reader and avid fan of the site. She picked Isaac’s posts about slumps as her favorite for 2017.

Vanessa Sun: While Vanessa travels a lot, she still works a lot on her chess too! Her post about tough tournaments helped her learn the most about herself and her play in 2017.

Dan Schultz: Dan is one of our newest Chess^Summit team members, and as a fan of the Perpetual Chess Podcast enjoyed the two posts featuring Ben Johnson: Isaac’s and David’s.

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Dan writes for both chess.com and Chess^Summit!

Chess^Summit Readers picked Isaac’s performance at the Columbus Open as the most popular article of 2017. Isaac’s first triumph over a 2400+ rated opponent was the most read post in 2017, followed by Jennifer’s post on her secrets about chess improvement. Through our partnership with ChessOpeningsExplained.com, Isaac’s analysis of the London System was Chess^Summit’s most popular video in 2017, hitting over 4000 views on Youtube.

Chess^Summit Merchandise

In one of our biggest stories of 2017, Chess^Summit finally started selling merchandise! We’ve got a couple of designs uploaded already on TeeSpring, with different shirts, hoodies, and mugs on sale! We’ll be adding new designs throughout 2018, but for now, snag a shirt – all the proceeds benefit Chess^Summit projects!

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Check out our first design on TeeSpring!

Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers

You know what starts in just a couple of weeks? The PRO Chess League! Once again, Chess^Summit will be the Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers’ secondary media sponsor, as the Black and Gold prepare to take on a tough division in the Atlantic. Beilin and Isaac, as well as other team members, will be streaming the matches each week, so be on the look out for updates!

Isaac’s inaugural Pittsburgh Pawngrabbers recap from the 2017 season!

Closing Remarks

Here’s to hoping 2018 is as much fun (and even more) as 2017! As we work towards our chess goals, let us know how you’re doing by tweeting at us @chesssummit and send us your games to chess.summit@gmail.com and get them analyzed by our team of writers.

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Isaac and Beilin in their apartment last May

As 2017 comes to a close, we owe a big thanks to everyone who contributed to Chess^Summit in 2017. Team and guest writers alike are what makes Chess^Summit one of the most fun chess projects to be a part of. We also want to thank all of our readers and fans from 2017 for following all of our writers’ accomplishments over the past year. Without our readers, Chess^Summit’s mission of making chess accessible for everyone would not be possible. With over 50,000 article reads in 2017, we’re really excited to bring even more to 2018!

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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:

Khamrakulov

Black to move

And my evening game looked like this:

Hans

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.

card1

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.

chessbase0

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.

chessbase3

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!

xmas

See you in 2018,

-Dan

https://en.chessbase.com/pages/download

 

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

SzaboPetrosian

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

KramnikFridman

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

KoblaStevens

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!

Endgame Essentials: A Year Later

After the conclusion of the 2016 World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha, I started studying various endgames that occurred throughout the two tournaments. While it hasn’t been a continuous process, I figured it would be timely to share some of my findings as the 2017 edition of the tournament approaches.

Why look at the rapid games? In a lot of these games, the top players have to rely on intuition and technique. Given the limitation of time, much of the conversion process is in the endgame: squeeze, simplify, win. This gives us a more decisive allotment of material to look through and learn from.

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Magnus had a shaky start in Doha, and was unable to defend both his rapid and blitz titles (Courtesy: Maria Emilianova)

Much of the Endgame Essentials series thus far has emphasized pawn structure and static elements, but today’s games look at key material imbalances in the position. We’ll be looking at the practical power of the bishop pair and evaluating minor piece endgames.

In each of these sections, I’ll discuss the highlights, with links to further analysis for each game. Buckle up!

The Bishop Pair

Its no secret that possession of the bishop pair comes with great power. But what does winning with one actually look like? Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov gave us a convincing example of how to win the bishop pair and then convert in the second round:

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Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 16. Nc5!

Despite the symmetrical pawn structure, White has a clear plus. The knight on c5 (combined with the g2 bishop) exert a lot of pressure on Black’s queenside, and at some point, Black will have to surrender the bishop pair to remedy his position. Black opted for 16…Bc8, and later had to trade on c5. But this didn’t solve everything either – just look at the position after 24. a5:

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Cheparinov–Al-Sayed, position after 24. a5

In fixing the queenside, Cheparinov now has a target on a6. Once the g2 bishop breaks free it will be superior to the knight on f6, which will allow White to ‘stretch out’ Black’s resources. White’s task proved to not be too cumbersome, and the Bulgarian soon left with the point.

Constantly putting pressure throughout your opponent’s camp is one way utilize the bishop pair, but in this next game, Chinese GM Lu Shanglei shows us that simply waiting for the right time to trade could also do the trick.

How did White win the bishop pair here?

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Lu–Shytaj, position after 16…Nc4

With a simple 17. Rxd4 Rxd4 18. Bg7 Rh4 19. Bxh8 Rxh5, White got his bishop pair, but now what? The Chinese Grandmaster showed us that calculation isn’t everything when he came up with his plan in this position:

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Lu–Shytaj, position after 21…Ba6

Here White knew he wanted to activate his rook on the g-file and target h7. Black needs time to coordinate each of his pieces, so White continued with his plan with 22. Re4. Once his rook reached g8 and his b3 bishop was on c2, White was able to win the h-pawn and push his kingside majority. Put your pieces on the best squares and good things happen!

Having the bishop pair often means having the flexibility to control the game. Do you stretch your opponent out, or do you trade your bishop pair for an even greater advantage? In both of these games, White activated his pieces and applied pressure, causing Black too many practical problems.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and we saw one of China’s best, Li Chao, neutralize White’s bishop pair:

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Onischuk–Li Chao, position after 38. Bd2

White is a pawn up and has the bishop pair, but its the passivity in White’s position that stinks. White has to eliminate Black’s h-pawn and simplify to earn a draw, but White actually has weak dark square control. After 38…Nf5 Black kept the pawn on h6 and prepared …Bg1-e3 to eliminate White’s dark squared bishop. Once this trade occurs, White’s task of winning the h-pawn is much more difficult, meaning that it is Black who is stretching White, which is exactly what happened here. White missed some chances, but the pressure and trend of the game really did him in.

“Basic” Minor Piece Endgames

Bishop or Knight? That is the question. Do we just summarize that in positions where pawns span the board, bishops are better because of their range in motion? That seems like a decent general rule, but Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev showed us that’s not always true with his second round win:

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Artemiev–Banikas, position after 34. Nb3

Despite the material advantage, the conversion proves to not be so simple. Artemiev starts off by bringing his knight to a dark-squared outpost, c5. With only a light squared minor piece, Black really isn’t able to stop White from planting his knight and usurping the sixth rank with Re2-e6. White missed some chances and had to “re-win” the game later, but even in a drawn position, we see the combinations the knight and the rook can draw up against the king.

Does anyone teach knight endgames anymore? Knight endgames are a lot like pawn endgames – a material advantage is often enough to be decisive. What else do you know? Norwegian youngster and future World Junior Champ Aryan Tari was tested in the first round:

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Tari–Dubov, position after 38. Nd3

With his last move, 38. Nd3, Tari brings his knight behind the e4 pawn to create a shield along the 5th rank. To convert, White will need to activate his king and cross the fifth rank, with the goal of creating a passer on the e-file. Black made White’s life a little easy by playing …f7-f5, but Black was already in dire straights.

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Tari–Dubov, position after 43. Kd4

With stage one of the plan (more-or-less) complete, White’s advantage is even clearer. Black is extremely passive, and at some point, White will be ready to stretch Black between the a6 pawn, and his own passed e-pawn. The extra material proved to be enough, and Tari scored a big upset in the first round.

If you’re looking for more minor piece endgame material, GM Elshan Moradiabadi’s recent lecture at the St Louis Chess Club is a good starting point:

Conclusions

What has this short introduction to minor piece endgames told us? Activity still matters. Pawn structure still matters. Many of the same basic criterion we had established with rook endgames can be applied to minor piece endgames.

But on a deeper level, think about how in each of these games, one side followed a plan before worrying about actually converting the result – this is probably the most important point. Endgames are incredibly difficult, and its often pointless to try and calculate every move – the possibilities are literally infinite! So optimize your pieces and identify critical targets in your opponent’s camp. Maybe the rapid strategy isn’t so bad after all – squeeze, simplify, win.

Step out! The world is a lot Bigger than we think

Have you ever watched Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween Prank Segement? When they hear the “bad news”, you can see many of the kid’s reactions as if the world is ending.

We all have bad days, bad games, or something that doesn’t go our way. These things happen to anyone. But when it happens to us, we feel the world is dropping on us.

My USCL game

I played a couple local tournaments in Atlanta in 2015 as my mini-comeback, and then chatted with the Atlanta Kings team to play in the USCL. My local tournaments had some ups and downs, but they all ended well.

I played two games for the Kings. The first game was a complete whack, I played 1.e4 e6 2. b3?!. Possibly due to too many blitz games at home, I thought this was a good opening choice. Needless to say, I was punished swiftly.

That game didn’t bother me too much, as I was more in a ‘let’s give this thing a try’ mood. And my game was not the determining factor for the team. But after this game, I got serious, and wanted to contribute more for the team.

Before the next game, I prepared for the opening, which was something I haven’t done since 2007.

The game was played on a Wednesday night. I had a normal work day, and then drove over 45 minutes to the playing site, not unusual for Atlanta traffic. A little tired, but excited to play.

The game took close to three hours, I got to use what I had prepared, and it was up-and-down until we traded queens.

Around move 40, the feeling of ‘all that work is gone’ started to sink in. It felt like déjà vu again. I resigned soon after.

We lost the match 1.5-2.5. And yes, my game mattered a lot.

The drive back home didn’t take 45 minutes, but it felt much longer, because of my mood.

Step Out

I run my first Spartan competition a week after the game, which was physically hard and painful. But mentally I gained more perspective.

IMG_0268

While jumping over each hurdle, I knew I joined this competition as a choice. Whereas many people in the world are running in much worse conditions to escape.

My thoughts became broader, and I realized a bad game, or a bad day is really nothing compared to many tough battles in the world.

Chess is just one example. I’ve had unsatisfied school experiences, bad job interviews, or even just an annoying drive that typically takes 10 minutes turned into an hour due to road constructions (happened to me this week).

At that moment, it’s hard to swallow. But by practicing to look at the big picture, I feel more at ease, and whatever is bothering me is not much of a problem.

So the next time you have a tough day: Please try to do the following

Look at the Sky.

Enjoy the Ride.

Step Out from the problem.

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Happy Holidays! And I hope 2018 will be the best year yet for you.

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A New Alpha?

Approximately twenty years ago, the chess world witnessed something groundbreaking.  Deep Blue, the IBM-build chess engine, won a match using standard tournament time controls against a World Champion for the first time.  That World Champion, of course, was Garry Kasparov.  It was the first time that the chess world witnessed machine over man.  Some believed that was going to be the extent of the experiment, but the next couple of decades implied otherwise.  Ever since that first defeat, computers, by and large, have been increasing in strength, and consequently, the gap in strength between engines and humans has widened more and more.

The developers of the top engines in the world are always making incremental improvements to the program, resulting in single-digit increases to the engines’ ratings.  This is evident on a yearly basis at the TCEC – the Top Chess Engine Championships – where engine ratings are almost always higher than in the previous year.  In 2016, the engine Stockfish came out of the tournament victorious.  It looked like the strongest engine on the planet.

However, I guess it is now safe to say that it is no longer the case.  Meet AlphaZero, a newly developed algorithm created by Google in partnership with DeepMind.  The algorithm is an offshoot of AlphaGoZero, a slightly more specific algorithm meant for the purpose of playing Go.  The remarkable point is that the only information fed to the algorithm were the rules of the game.  From there, AlphaZero used self-play to learn the chess knowledge that humans have spent centuries and even millennia discovering.  For those interested in the mechanisms behind it, essentially the algorithm played against itself, and when arriving at a position at the “end” of a game, it evaluated it as either won, lost, or draw; it then used these evaluations to reinforce its neural networks so that it could decide whether entering into that specific position would be favorable or unfavorable.  In this way, within just four hours, AlphaZero quickly strengthened into a super-engine capable of [more than] competing with the current engines of the day.

In a 100-game match between AlphaZero and Stockfish, AlphaZero crushed rather handily, ending with 28 wins to none and 72 draws.  The researchers involved published a few of those games online, and I have two of them to share with you because of their complexity and ability to fascinate us humans.

AlphaZero – Stockfish

This game caught my attention because of AlphaZero’s depth of calculation and piece maneuvering/handling.  After 18. … g5, rather than saving the piece, AlphaZero calmly develops his rook; only a few moves later, the queen travels from a4 to h4 down to the h1 corner before reappearing in the center with deadly effect.

AlphaZero – Stockfish

This game also fascinated me, but it was particularly the end of the game.  After noticing the Black queen stuck in the corner after 45. … Qh8, AlphaZero proceeds to sacrifice an exchange so that it can plant the other rook on f6 to trap the queen in the corner.  This plan immobilized the kingside and allowed White to sit while Black exhausted all move possibilities until it would have to give up material.

In general, both of these games showed how AlphaZero was able to smoothly outplay Stockfish.  In a way, all of this is somewhat jaw-dropping, since the appearance of AlphaZero to the eventual match between it and Stockfish and its victory all happened so quickly.  However, if one thing is for sure, it is that AI, neural-network-based engines seem to hold promise (or doom, depending on your opinion of chess engines) for the future.

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