Look Ma, I Did It: My 2019 US Chess Champs

Entering the 2019 US Women’s Chess Championship, I had zero expectations. After the 2018 Olympiad in October, I spent a few months away from the chess board to catch up on school work and prepare for various tests like the SATs. My hiatus from chess ended in a tournament in January of 2019 with a mediocre result, which I was fine with considering my lack of practice.

Before I knew it, it was March and I was at the High School Nationals. I had struggled with managing my time and work ethic in the two months since January, but I felt like I put more work in prior to the US Championships compared to previous years. Around two weeks before the High School Nationals, I created a guideline for myself where I would attempt to finish my homework early and leave at least two hours a day to practice chess. Call it my own Murphy’s law, but procrastination, getting distracted, and tests ate away at my precious chess time. Subtracting the days I skipped my routine for last-minute test cramming and good-old fashioned laziness, my chess time dwindled to about an hour a day. Although more limited than I had hoped, I felt like my practice time was much more productive than it had been previously because I started using a physical chess board to play out moves and calculate positions. Although it seems blatantly obvious to use a chess board to study, for most of my life I had either visualized positions or used a digital board on Chessbase. To be honest, I never used an actual board because it doesn’t fit on my desk and I was too lazy to sit on the floor and set up the positions. Although many people have recommended using an actual board, I always found it redundant but I decided to try it once and immediately found out I was much more focused. So if you don’t use a physical chess board when practicing chess, I highly recommend it!

Returning back to the High School Nationals, just like the US Championships, I had no expectations for myself. The main reason that propelled me to play my first nationals in years was to warm up for the US Championships, because what better way to get the brain juices flowing than a 7 round tournament in 3 days that ends the week of the US Champs? As 11th seed I had realistic chances for playing for first, but I never considered it because I knew I wasn’t in my best form and scholastics are absolutely brutal. On top of all of that, the five second delay and nonexistent second time control weren’t to my forte.

The result was more or less what I had internally expected: 4 draws against lower rateds put me at 5/7. I wasn’t elated at my result but I wasn’t disappointed either, because the tournament was exactly what I needed to slap me awake before the US Championships. The short time control without increment was sobering because I found myself playing on the delay in several games. It had been a while since I had played anything other than 30 second increment or 10 second delay, so a 5 second delay did not pair well with my heavy time usage. On several games I relied on the delay to simply not flag, which I knew would make the 30 second increment at the US Championships seem like a luxury. Moreover, I found myself in slightly worse positions out of the opening in quite an alarming amount of games, simply because I couldn’t remember any openings. I had made it a priority to do opening preparations for the US Championships in my chess routine, but losing some time here and there resulted in that just not happening. I was extremely upset at myself for skipping what I had considered the most important part of my US Championships prep, and I thought the quality of my games at High School Nationals reflected that. I only felt reassured that there would be plenty of time to prepare during the one round a day US Championships, quite in contrast with the three-round day at nationals.

Holding my 24th (!) place trophy with WGM Jennifer Shahade. Although the High School Nationals wasn’t my finest result, it was an invaluable experience before the US Champs.
Photo: US Chess

My strategy for the US Championships was, in essence, to have no strategy at all. In previous years, I had always frowned upon draws and gone all out for wins which sounds good, but really means losing perfectly fine positions by taking unnecessary risks. This basically sums up my 2018 US Junior Girls where I was so adamant against draws that I would rather go into an unsound and probably worse position if it meant I could have a chance of winning. Instead, that just led to several disastrous upsets and losing around 30 rating points. This acknowledgement of draws didn’t mean I would be happy with draws this entire tournament either, but my open mentality of accepting draws if the position calls for it led to a calmer approach to the game. It’s ironic because most of my games were unpredictable, fighting chess but I did feel like my “play what I get non-strategy” had a significant impact.

The first few rounds of the US Championship were fairly smooth sailing. I took an early lead with 4/4 but didn’t think too much of it. It was only a small lead as Anna Zatonskih trailed behind me by half a point for most of the tournament, and in round robins, early leads don’t signify much. I was fairly certain that I would get knocked down at some point and wasn’t hoping for too much. I just tried to focus on each coming game and ignore the tournament situation. In several games, I had extremely close calls where it could’ve gone the other way easily such as my games against Maggie Feng (round 6) and Sabina Foisor (round 7). These games made it easy for me to not get carried away by my lead since it was evident I had done something very wrong in both games but managed to survive only by a few practical choices, opponents’ mistakes, and sheer luck.

Pictured on the rest day with my good friends Annie Wang, Emily Nguyen, and Carissa Yip. (left to right)
Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

In the crucial 10th round, I was due to play IM Anna Zatonskih, my closest competitor point-wise who was playing brilliantly throughout the tournament. I had a half a point lead with 8/9 points versus her 7.5/9 so if I won, I would clinch the title on the spot with a round to spare. I never considered winning because in previous encounters I have always been initially worse and I was playing with black. Moreover, I didn’t know what opening to expect since she has a wide repertoire, so I decided to just give up on prepping something new altogether and stick with what I knew. My main goal going into the game was to treat it just like any other game and forget about the tournament situation. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel any pressure because needless to say, it was the most important game in my life. I wasn’t too worried because previously I have performed well under pressure. Also reassuring was knowing that she had more pressure on her side of the table because she was in a must-win situation. If we drew, she would have to risk me winning in the last round and winning the title without a chance of a play-off.

In our game, she repeated the same slav line against me as my earlier game against Annie Wang in round 5. For a brief minute, I considered diverging from my earlier lines in order to avoid whatever preparation she had in store but quickly rejected that idea since I had faith in my original prep against Annie and it was an unnecessary risk. She diverged from Annie’s line and began to quickly eat up time after a few moves. I was confused because I had no idea where her prep ended and at that point I was confident that she was on her own.

We reached this position:

The immediate move that jumped out at me was 17…Nc5! I had seen the game Shankland,S -Alonso,S Praia da Pipa 2014 where a similar Nc5 idea was made in a slightly different situation. Although it looks like it hangs material, all the lines work out into Black’s favor. I had to make sure I wasn’t making a huge mistake and spent around 20 minutes calculating complications. This was definitely my favorite move in this game because it changed the nature of the position, declaring that I wasn’t going to passively defend by immediately challenging the center. It also enters a position where it’s possible for White to make mistakes, essentially making Black completely equalized. This actually happened in the game after 18. Rxd8 Qxd8 19.Nxc5 Bxc5 20. Nxe5?! Bxf2+!

The bishop is immune because if 21. Kxf2 results in 21… fxe5 where the pin on the f-file will allow me to recapture the piece with a huge positional advantage. She had to decline the inbetween move bishop sacrifice and I was extremely happy with my position. I knew it was more than equalized at this point and I was probably better, but I somehow forgot about the possibility that I could win. That is the danger of restricting your expectations because it took awhile for me to realize that my assumption of a draw being the best result no longer held true. When I woke up from the belief that I would be worse this game, I attempted to restrict her play as much as possible and take advantage of her dwindling time. After a few passive moves by her that I didn’t anticipate, we entered the following position where she made the fatal blunder 30. Qe1??

I had seen this variation a few moves earlier and felt my heart pounding because I knew I had the game in the bag. I still took a few minutes to confirm my calculations because now was not the time to get hasty. But after 30…Bf2! 31. Qd2 Bxg3+!! the game was essentially over.

She had to take the bishop because if 32. Kg1 Qxh4 and mate on h2 will soon follow. After 32. Kxg3 Qc7+ 33. Kg4 (33.Kh3 Be6#) Be6+ she resigned because 34. Kh5 Qf7+ would lead to mate and 34. Kg5 Qg3+ would lead to mate.

I was in absolute disbelief after the game and it took me a long time to realize that I had actually become the US Women’s Chess Champion. This had always been the goal every time I had played this tournament but it was always a pipe dream that I never considered would happen. But, I’m sure glad it did! However, I still had one game remaining in the tournament and I wanted to take it seriously. It might sound a little bit funny, but I felt like I had more pressure going into the last round after I had already won the tournament than before the pivotal 10th round. I felt like I had something to prove, and after a rocky middlegame, I won an interesting endgame and ended with 10/11.

I am really proud of my result in this tournament, but it also has to be noted that I was incredibly lucky in several games. I made some inexcusable mistakes that should’ve been punished, but it managed to work out for the best. Looking forward, I’m going to work on improving my weaknesses even more as I strive for future aspirations. Winning the US Championships proved to myself that I can do it and it opens a door for all the possibilities that I never considered. I’m currently working on securing my IM title, because I only have the 2400 rating requirement left, and you can bet I’ll get started on the GM title hunt right after.

Words can’t describe my gratitude towards everyone who supported me along my chess journey because I could not have become US Champion by myself. To my family, coaches, friends, competitors, and supporters — thank you. However, this is not where my journey ends, and I hope to make y’all proud in the future.

Congratulations to GM Hikaru Nakamura for winning the 2019 US Chess Championships!

2019 US Chess Champions
Photo: St. Louis Chess Club

Foxwoods: A Near Miss Part 1

Last year, at the last round of the traditional (for me) Philadelphia Open, it was announced that the tournament was moving to the Foxwoods Casino/Resort the next year. Before I knew it, it was Easter time again, and it was time to go play a strong 9 round norm tournament—this time in Foxwoods. My Easter tournaments have ranged from truly disastrous (aka the first time I ever withdrew from a tournament) to highly memorable. After all 2 years ago, I got my third IM norm at the Philadelphia Open, and had I won the last round I would have walked away with a GM norm to top it off. Let’s see where this year fits in…

Playing in the world’s 4th largest casino definitely added an interesting feel to the tournament as opposed to your average hotel. It was definitely a strange feeling when people in the elevator wished each other good luck—not in chess but in gambling. I stayed in an adjacent tower, and it took about five minutes of fast walking to reach the tournament hall from the hotel rooms, and that was only one small part of the resort. Who needs a gym to stay in shape when you have Foxwoods?

The tournament area was separate from the casino and provided a peaceful refuge from the crowds outside. There was, however, one special thing about the play room which we found out in round 1—it was located below a bowling alley! Imagine balls rolling and pins falling… The admittedly intermittent noise was not very loud but extremely annoying. I have to give credit to the organizers for switching the play room with the directors’ room, so that in round 2 there was much less noise, and in round 3, after they moved us even deeper into the room, there was no noise at all.

Ok, now it’s time for chess!

In round 1, I got white against Mardon Yakubov (2128 FIDE, 2159 USCF) It wasn’t the greatest game… I butchered a large advantage out of the opening, and my opponent defended well to reach this position:

Yakubov 1

Black is a pawn up, but he’s under fire. With my last move 21.f4, I was naturally trying to break down black’s center. 21… exf4 loses on the spot to 22.Ne6+, and 21… e4 runs into 22.Rxe4. Black’s best option here is to get his king out of the way with 21… Kg7!, after which white has nothing better than 22.fxe5 fxe5 23.Qe3. This wins the e5-pawn back after 23… Nf5 24.Qxe5+ Qxe5 25.Rxe5, but white’s advantage is minimal if at all existent after 25… Rhe8.

Instead of that, however, my opponent played 21… Rc7?. The idea of this move was most likely to prevent my threat of fxe5 fxe5 Rxe5 (it stops the Nd7 fork), but it gives white a chance to pounce. After 22.fxe5 fxe5 I saw that I could still play 23.Qe3—after 23… Nf5 white can still play 24.Qxe5 because after 24… Qxc5+? 25.Kh1 black is losing a rook or is getting mated. However, after 24… Qxe5 25.Rxe5 Re7, he’s not in such bad shape. Instead of doing that, I played another move which was much stronger: 23.Qa5! threatening Qxc7 Qxc7 Ne6+ winning a rook. Black’s best chance was to play 23… Kg8, but after 24.Ne4 Qd8 25.Ng5, he’s in really bad shape. My opponent instead played 23… Rc8? but after 24.Rxe5! I’m crashing through. I won a few moves later.

Not too bad for a first round I guess. In round 2, I had black against William Sedlar (2217 FIDE, 2411 USCF) and this time professional swindling was required

Sedlar 1

I had been doing fine previously, but then a silly mistake got me into a worse position. Fortunately, I wriggled my way out, and by the time we reached this position, I thought I was doing fine. Material is equal and fairly reduced, and while black’s e-pawn is under fire, black has plenty of activity to compensate for that. White could play 40.Rdxe5 (or 40.Rexe5) immediately. I saw that I had at least a draw with 40… Rxe5 41.Rxe5 Qc1+ 42.Kh2 Qf4+ 43.Kg1 Qxa4, but I wasn’t sure there was anything more, and my engine confirms that it’s indeed a draw. For a human, however, it’s not clearly obvious that there is nothing for black. Instead of taking on e5, white’s best move is actually to play 40.Kh2! simply getting off the first rank. Black doesn’t have anything that concrete, but I think that with reasonable play he should hold a draw without any real problems.

My opponent instead played 40.Rd1 and offered a draw. While this position is objectively equal, I didn’t see myself losing this one and wanted to try a little… The game went 40… Rf2 41.Qc4 Qb6 42.Qb5 Qa7

Sedlar 2

Here, my opponent played the logical move 43.a5?? and ran into more or less the only trap I had in store for him: 43… Rxg2!

Sedlar 3

If 44.Kxg2, black has 44… Qf2+ 45.Kh1 Qf3+ 46.Kh2 Qxe4, after which he’s a pawn up and is on the verge of mating white. Besides that, white is just broke. My opponent tried 44.Qxe5 but after 44… Qf2 45.Rde1 Rg3, he had to give up his queen with 46.Qxg3 and resigned a move later.

2/2 so far! Admittedly it was a shaky 2/2, but I was going to take it…

In round 3, I got white against GM Zhou Jianchao (2623 FIDE, 2702 USCF) This game would’ve been exciting had it not been entirely my preparation. My opponent found all the right moves to equalize, and I decided to repeat moves as I thought I might do in my preparation. While I’m not a fan of making “nothing draws” with white, this was fairly principled and wasn’t a bad decision, especially against the #2 seed with a 2600+ FIDE rating…

In round 4, I got black against GM Kamil Dragun (2585 FIDE, 2666 USCF). I had lost to him at the Southwest Class in February, and I was looking for revenge. This game was fortunately better than the last one. I’d say that overall it was a fairly accurate draw; maybe I was slightly worse, but it was nothing really serious and I held my own.

In round 5, I got white against GM Vladimir Belous (2520 FIDE, 2621 USCF). In a nutshell, this game got spicy pretty quickly…

Belous 1

So far, this looks like a fairly normal Sicilian, but after 12… d5! it got flashy. After my move 13.exd5 I was expecting one of two options: 13… Nxd5 or 13… Bxa3.

After 13… Nxd5, white obviously can’t play 14.Nxd5 because of Qxc2#, and 14.Rc4 Bc6 is not awe-inspiring. Instead, I was planning on sacrificing an exchange with 14.Rxd5! exd5 15.Bd3, after which white has plenty of compensation—he’ll win the d5-pawn, black’s king is still in the center and will come under fire, etc. After 13… Bxa3, white should play 14.Rc4 Qa5, after which he has options: Bd4, Bd2, Kb1, dxe6, etc. In both cases, the position appears to be rather unclear.

Instead, 13… b5? came as a big surprise to me. The idea is to prevent Rc4, but will it work…? The game went 14.Bd3 Bxa3 15.Ne4 Nxe4

Belous 2

Now… once I recapture on e4, that bishop on a3 is getting evicted. Then it’ll be time to start going after black’s king! 16.Qxe4 is an exchange sacrifice after 16… Bc5, though there’s plenty of compensation there. It’s actually best to play 16.dxe6! fxe6 17.Qxe4, after which white has a massive initiative. Instead, I played 16.Rxe4 which isn’t best but isn’t bad either. Black’s best option is to retreat with 16… Bd6 or 16… Be7, but my opponent played 16… Qc3

Belous 3

After 17.bxa3 Qxd3, white can more or less resign, but fortunately I had spotted 17.Bd4! in advance. Black can play 17… Bxb2+, but after 18.Kb1 he has nothing better than 18… Qxd4 19.Rxd4 Bxd4, after which he is probably lost. My opponent tried to defend with the creative 17… Qb3!?, but black is lost after that. While my play afterwards wasn’t the most accurate, I managed to convincingly get this job done.

4/5, 4 foreigners and 3 GMs down, performance well above 2600, and a large rating gain. What could possibly go wrong…? Stay tuned for part 2!

How To Play Against Lower-Rated Players

We’ve all heard it before. An overconfident high-rated player sees that they’re paired against a significantly lower rated opponent. Thinking that it’s going to be a relatively so-called “Easy win”, the high-rated player doesn’t take the game seriously at first. Then, to his great disbelief, the lower rated player absolutely crushed and upset his higher-rated opponent. How could this have possibly occurred? Now to a not so experienced player, this scenario might be outright preposterous. Sure there’s always luck involved with chess, but shouldn’t the significantly high-rated player in his infinite wisdom and expertise beat the low rated player all the time? Unfortunately, like in life, in chess, things are not so simple. Sure maybe the lower rated player was lucky, maybe he’s underrated or hey, maybe he just had a good day. But there’s another part of to this too. Having the right attitude can make or break a chess game, and today we are going to discuss the correct way to approach playing against your secretly scary lower rated opponents.


Before I begin, I should probably put a disclaimer: a lot of the things that I’m about to say might seem obvious or redundant, but you’d be surprised about how many people don’t do this in their games! The first and probably most obvious rule is to go into the game with a calm mindset. Yes, you might have noticed that you are higher rated than your opponent, but that shouldn’t mean anything to you. Just go into the game with a clear head and be relaxed. The second and arguably most important rule is to not do anything you wouldn’t do against someone around your rating or higher. Don’t take any unusual risks, make any flashy moves, or do anything that you wouldn’t do normally and do the best you can throughout the entire match. The third and final rule is to not be discouraged if things don’t go as planned and you end up getting upset. Every game is an important learning experience and it’s only through your losses that you can truly learn where your gaps in knowledge are and how you can improve.


I hope this article, albeit short, was helpful to you. The main takeaway I’d say about the proper mindset to have when playing lower rated opponents is to just be normal. As long as you’re careful, and don’t make any silly decisions, there is a reason why you are the higher rated opponent. Until next time 🙂


The Funny Side of Chess

Chess is a great game and more often than not rather serious, but there can be cute moments. Even very cute… Who said that chess isn’t an art?


Underpromotions pop up all the time in endgame studies but not that much in OTB chess. Sometimes you have an opportunity to underpromote to a piece that is equivalent to a queen (since your opponent will take it anyway), but as IM Justin Sarkar showed in his article, there are pitfalls…

My funniest underpromotion was:


Black clearly should’ve resigned a long time ago… There are numerous mates in one and mates in two here. I decided to end in style with 47.a8B#!

Another example:


Black is totally winning here, but 29… Re1 doesn’t work because of 30.Rxe1 fxe1Q 31.Qxf8#, right…? Well it doesn’t, since after 30.Rxe1, I played 30… fxe1N+! winning the game immediately.

These two examples are naturally somewhat silly since the side underpromoting was completely winning anyway, but there’s one underpromotion that is important in endgame theory…


Black’s pawn is almost there… but if he plays … e1Q, white has Ra1#. Therefore black has to play …e1N+! because it is a check. The ensuing rook vs. knight endgame is a draw. The same trick works with an f- or a g-pawn, but not with an h-pawn, since the knight gets trapped in the corner.

If you haven’t seen this one before, I’d recommend you study it a little. I myself don’t actually think I’ve ever had this one on the board, but I or you probably will someday…


Oh boy, this is fun if you are on the correct side of the board, it really is.

There are legendary stalemate tricks in online rapid/blitz/bullet due to the existence of premoving (making a move of your own before your opponent makes their move in order to save time on your clock). And yes, this move is played as long as it’s legal, even if your opponent played something completely different than what you expected. You may think you know your opponent’s move, but you may be for a rude surprise.


Here is Eric Rosen’s trick. Black is obviously completely lost in the pawn endgame after Kxf7, so black tried his last trick with 69… Kh8!!, and he was in luck since white premoved 70.h5 after which it is stalemate.

I recently saw another brilliant trick in the chess.com Bullet Championship:


White is obviously completely winning here as well. Both players had only seconds left at this point, but black set a genius trap with 66…Bb8!!, and white, none other than Grischuk, fell for it by playing/premoving the natural 67.a8Q?? after which it is stalemate.

Unfortunately, these brilliant techniques don’t really work in OTB chess, though I have witnessed a couple examples of diabolic stalemates that were entertaining for spectators like me. There have even been a couple stalemate tricks in high-profile games like Jakovenko-Gelfand. But who says that stalemates have to be diabolic tricks…?


I was black in this game, and I had survived the worst. My queen had been harassing the white king for quite a while, but here black has one drawing move: 76… Qf6+!, since if white plays 77.Qxf6 it’s stalemate. My opponent played 77.Kc7, and since we had already had the position twice before, I claimed a threefold repetition after 77… Qc3+ and the game was a draw.

(Note: tabelbases say that 76… Qf6+ is not the only drawing move; 76… Qa1 is also supposedly a draw. I won’t pretend that I can explain why…)

Neat, right? In all seriousness, moves like 76… Qf6+ are easy to miss, especially towards the end of a long game, but they could save you half a point!

Any diabolical experiences?

Winning a Won Game (Part 1)

The great Frank Marshall once said that “winning a won game is one of the hardest things in chess.”  It may seem counterintuitive at first, but many examples, both of our own and of the top chess players, show that players can struggle with it.  Additionally, this point is more applicable to situations where one player is up a pawn, up a piece for a couple pawns, or even just positionally superior but with equal material.  In each case, the engine may say one thing (“player A is totally winning!”), but on the board, it may be a very different story (“I know I’m better, but how do I continue?!”).

Luckily for us, the 2019 Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, is currently ongoing so we can try to scour the games played thus far for examples of players converting winning positions when it may not be straightforward.

When it comes to conversions in the endgame, who better to study than Magnus Carlsen?  This first game involves a conversion of an endgame in which Carlsen was up an exchange for a pawn against David Navara in the third round.  To fully examine Carlsen’s technique, we will start right after the queens were traded.  For your convenience, the game and analysis are provided in the game viewer below.

Navara – Carlsen, Gashimov Memorial, 2019

In this game, we saw Carlsen identify a target (the h2-pawn) in the endgame and focus on accomplishing a goal related to that target, which was to capture the h2-pawn.  Carlsen also made sure that White’s queenside pawns wouldn’t pose a threat by separating them from each other and then picking them off.  Lastly, we saw Carlsen wait for the opportune time to force a trade of rooks that would benefit him immensely, especially in terms of pushing his own h-pawn down the board.  The end result was a classic Carlsen-esque conversion of an endgame in which he was better.

The second game we’ll look at today was between Alexander Grischuk and Veselin Topalov.  While this game didn’t go into an endgame, it was very much about converting a position with an advantage.  In this game, Grischuk managed to trade both of his knights for Topalov’s bishops, and in an open position, it was clear that the bishops were superior.  It was just a matter of transforming that advantage into something tangible.  Once again, the game and analysis are provided in the game viewer below for your convenience.

Grischuk – Topalov, Gashimov Memorial, 2019

As we saw in the game, there were a couple different goals that Grischuk likely had in his pursuit of a win in this superior position.  First, Grischuk wanted to poke holes in Black’s position with his queen and bishops and create weaknesses.  Once he was able to do that, Grischuk wanted to maneuver his pieces into a position where he would be able to target two weaknesses at once, forcing a further concession by Black that would leave the position very open for his bishops.  Lastly, with the open position, Grischuk would hope to use a combination of pins and cutting off squares to win material and eventually the game.  Meanwhile, during this entire process, Grischuk had to hide his king away in order to not fall into a perpetual check, which Topalov did threaten a couple times.

In both of these games, we saw established grandmasters plan out and then convert a position in which they were superior.  While there may have been a few missteps (such as in the Grischuk-Topalov game), the players were conscious enough of their goals to right the ship and continue pressing.  Overall, we were able to see just some of the ideas that grandmasters use to try to convert positions.

In other news, Chess^Summit’s very own Jennifer Yu won the U.S. Women’s Championship last week, so on behalf of the entire Chess^Summit community, I want to congratulate her on the amazing feat!

Next time, I’ll share some of my attempts (both successes and failures) to convert superior positions.

Winning Two Games in One

Underpromotions are interesting and unusual. Despite being a weaker piece, on rare occasions promoting to a knight is better than promoting to a queen (can’t recall when this has happened in a tournament game of mine, except perhaps occasionally in a certain variation that could’ve arisen in a game). Of course, the queen has the combined powers of a rook and bishop. Therefore only in very rare cases promoting to a rook is better than promoting to a queen (and in EXTREMELY rare cases a bishop is the best choice). The reason in such cases will almost always be, to avoid giving stalemate in a winning endgame position. Technically there are positions where you have to underpromote to a bishop or rook to draw a game (by stalemating yourself), but I don’t know if such a thing ever happened in a tournament game.

However, every now and then a given underpromotion can be considered EQUIVALENT to promoting to a queen. Usually, this is when the opponent’s clearly best reply is to capture the promoted piece. So in some cases you can even argue that promoting to a bishop is as good as choosing a queen.  I believe that if an under-promotion like this is made, it is to show a certain sense of humor.  For example, I think there have been a few famous cases of humorous underpromotions by Ivanchuk (Ivanchuk-Topalov, 1996 comes to mind). Ivanchuk is my idol in certain ways, which I’ll go into another time. On various occasions in serious tournament games, out of similar intent I’ve underpromoted, sometimes to a bishop. For instance, my game against GM Mikhalevski from Foxwoods 2014 came to mind: on move 46 I promoted my g-pawn to a bishop (though 5 moves later I was smart enough to promote my a-pawn to a queen, and win!). However, in a recent game, against a GM I took this too far. Let me show you what I mean.

I recently played in the Third Saturday round robin tournament in Djenovici, Montenegro. It was my first time in that Balkan country and the place was rather beautiful. Overall, I did pretty well, after a rough start. In the penultimate round 8 I was white against a veteran Serbian GM who’s very solid. For instance, in this event going into our game he had 4/7 with 1 win and 6 draws. I also had 4/7. Let’s see how the game went:

IM Justin Sarkar (ELO 2339) – GM Bosko Abramovic (ELO 2362) [D51] Third Saturday Djenovici (8), 22.03.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 No Nimzo today. I actually spent more time considering what to play against the Nimzo-Indian, in my pregame prep. 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 c6 6.Nf3 h6 This less common move keeps the game in D51, which was a new ECO code for my tournament practice. More another time, on my knowledge of ECO codes and their classifications. Most common is 6…Qa5, which is the Cambridge Springs Variation and ECO code D52. 7.Bh4 g5!? 8.Bg3 Nh5

Virtually unknown before 3 years ago but has become kind of trendy since. I actually had a feeling Abramovic might go for this, in case he chose the QGD/Semi-Slav, as I saw a couple of prior games of his in it (without seeing any other 6th moves he had played, such as the Cambridge Springs, in his big game collection). Again though, I was more focused on the Nimzo-Indian, while trying to briefly consider various other things too. While this was my first time actually facing the 7.Bh4 g5 8.Bg3 Nh5 sideline, I’d looked into it in summer 2017, focusing on an interesting sharp plan for white involving Qc2 and 0-0-0.  9.Qc2 Incidentally the other published Abramovic games featured different 9th moves by white, though I had to assume he was aware of this move/plan. Nxg3 10.hg3 Bg7 11.0-0-0

Interestingly enough this was first reached (via a weird opening move order transposition) in Igor Ivanov-Taimanov, 1975, which white won (black played the dubious 11…Qa5, which has not been repeated) Nb6 This was played in one prior published game, by GM Dreev, sometime in fall 2017. Other moves are 11…a6 and 11…Qe7. 12.Ne5 Bxe5 Black can try playing the immediate 12…Qe7, when I suppose 13.f4 is an idea for white. 13.de5 Qe7 

This position was reached in Koziak-Dreev, Bastia 2017. Actually I became aware of this last summer, when preparing for a game as white against GM Petr Haba at the 2018 Pardubice Open. This sideline was one of many things Haba could’ve played (he actually played something sharp and unexpected in another Slav line, yet I won what was one of my better games). While reviewing this line then I noticed the new 11…Nb6 move and win by Dreev. When engine checking for ways white can improve, I stumbled upon something very interesting on this move. Koziak-Dreev, 2017 continued 14.Kb1 Bd7 15.f4 Qc5 and Black eventually won. Perhaps 16.fg5 Qxe3 17.g6 favors white, though it’s not so clear.


Not the king, but the knight! A totally non-human move, which only a computer would play. The shock value in itself makes it worth playing, especially if it might be objectively strong 🙂 It probably deserves a double exclam. I never looked into the particulars to appreciate it, but figured that if Black tried to copy Dreev’s play, this was the move to play. I reviewed my notes just long enough for the Abramovic game, to recall this position (and the Nb1 move!). This move befuddled my opponent. I guess the idea is to play 15.c5 or 15.Nd2. For instance on 14…Bd7 15.c5 is very strong as the knight is forced to c8. How else does black develop? On 14…Qc5 15.Nd2 with a strong initiative. c5? But this runs into another problem 15.Nc3!

Knight back! Now the dual threat 16.cd5 and 16.Nb5 is a real problem. Bd7 On 15…dc4, 16.Ne4 or Nb5 is a major issue. 16.cd5 ed5 17.Nxd5 Nxd5 Maybe when playing 14…c5 he thought he had 17…Qxe5? here, just like I did for a moment or two before making my 15th move. But of course, attacking the queen with 18.f4 pretty much wins on the spot.  18.Rxd5 b6 19.f4 0-0-0 20.Rd6 Be6 21.Ba6+ Kb8 22.Rhd1 Rxd6 23.ed6 Qf6 Black is unlikely to survive for long, but this should just hasten the end. 24.Qe4 Bc8 

Just about anything should win here. The cleanest is 25.Qe7! Qxe7 26.de7 Kc7 (I saw this, then decided this wasn’t “simple enough”, conveniently filtering out the move 27.Bb5, winning on the spot): 27.Bb5 1-0 25.d7 Bxa6 26.Qe8+ Kc7 Little did he realize, he just set a trap. On 26…Qd8 27.Qxh8 Qxh8 I’d probably promote to a rook, as here black OBVIOUSLY has little choice but to play 28…Qxd8 anyway 🙂 Then 29.Rxd8+ Kc7 30.Rf8 or Rh8 should win easily.

At first the game score on the chess-results site when it initially got posted that night had ended here as 1-0. This would be a logical ending point, as white wins easily after 27.d8/Q+ Qxd8 and now either 28.Rxd8 Rxe8 29.Rxe8 or 27.Qxf7+ followed by taking the queen. So, you can say I won the first game. But unfortunately, the game score on the site later got updated and the truth had to be told: a second game is just about to begin!

27.d8/B+?? What the ?? Actually the delay in updating the game was caused by the delay the person inputting the game had in figuring out how to make a bishop promotion! Maybe it was set on “Always Queen” or something. Seriously, I just assumed black had to take on d8 and surely the king moves lost quickly. However, my eyes played tricks on me, in a nasty way. This is the “second best” promotion choice here (others would lose, due to not giving check while the e8 queen is hanging), yet it throws away the win. After like a minute’s pause, my opponent played … Kb8! Oops!! He had that one! Now my queen is hanging, so 28.Bxf6+ Rxe8 is just a queen trade, while the tempting “double check” with 28.Bc7+?? Kxc7 29.Rd7+ Kc6 just… loses! That leaves 28.Qd7 when uh-oh black has 28…Qe6 and there’s no knockout blow for me. But in a few minutes I figured I just had to play it anyhow as there’s nothing better. 28.Qd7 Qe6 

Only move, but good enough to stay in the game. I had to adjust to the shock that I blew the win and probably had to go into an opposite-color bishop ending where I have at most a tiny edge with a draw being very likely. This underpromotion hallucination was quite a moment. Totally unheard of, just like for instance GM David Navara’s game against GM Moiseenko from the 2011 World Cup. To quote Wikipedia: “After a long struggle, Navara offered a draw in a winning position. Earlier in the game, Navara accidentally touched a piece, but Moiseenko did not insist on the “touch-move” rule that would have lost him the game. Moiseenko was subsequently outplayed by the Czech GM, who with a forced mate on the board offered him a draw”. While of course this situation is different and unrelated, it is an unheard of occurrence of comparable magnitude. Or here, unheard of stupidity by me. Well maybe you can joke that my promotion to a bishop was a desire to when on the brink of victory, give my opponent a draw! Let’s see what happened, and who if either of us adjusted better to the shock:  29.Bc7+ I figured this was relatively best, though took awhile to come to terms with it Ka8 30.Qxe6 Similar story here. 30.Be5? is just asking for trouble after Qc4+ when White’s king is at least as weak and only Black can be better.  fe6

White has many moves, but the opposite-color bishop endgame is pretty equal. I spent awhile trying to decide whether or not to even still try to win, but just couldn’t quite get myself to give up on such hopes yet.  31.e4 a slightly desperate attempt to keep the game going, by creating a passed pawn with f5 next. Bb7 32.f5 Bxe4 Grabbing a pawn with 32…ef5 33.ef5 Bxg2 is also fully playable. White’s compensation for the pawn should be enough only for a draw. I’ll leave it up to you to verify this by testing a few lines if you wish. 33.f6 33.fe6 Re8 forces white to trade rooks to save the e-pawn, when black has the “better side of a draw” in a pure ocb. Whereas, 33.Be5 followed by 34.f6 is similar to the game with 33.f6 and slightly more accurate, forcing the rook to immediately commit to either h7 or f8. Rf8 One of a few plausible moves. Probably 33…Rh7 is a bit more accurate, guarding the 7th rank. 34.Be5 

Bd5? Already a big mistake. Rather than try to block the d-file the bishop should go backwards… on the other diagonal with 34…Bg6! when 35.Rd6 Kb7, 35.Rd7 Rf7, or 35.Rh1 h5 should hold the balance without undue trouble. 35.Rh1 Now the rook penetrates on the h-file, while gobbling a key pawn. Bxg2 Black ought to try 35…Bxa2, with 2 extra queenside pawns, even though after 36.Rxh6 followed by soon picking up the g-pawn white’s pawns should be much stronger. 36.Rxh6 Be4 37.g4 I suppose I played this first to not allow 37.Rh5 g4, though 38.Rg5 picks up the pawn as an attempt to defend it with the bishop loses quickly to 39.Rg7 followed by 40.f7. Kb7 38.Rh5 Kc6 39.Rxg5

Rf7 39…Bf3 with idea to play …Kd5 was a better try. 40.Kd2 b5 41.Ke3 Bb1

42.Kf4 Felt no need to move the a-pawn, as 42…Bxa2 43.Rg7 Rf8 44.g5 would win very quickly. Rh7 43.Rg8 Rh1 44.a3 Yet for some reason here I chose to move it, just in case. 44.Kg5 is more direct and to the point. Rf1+ 

45.Kg3 I talked myself into playing this for the wrong reasons, whereas on the natural and stronger 45.Kg5 Kd5 just about any bishop move should win easily. Kd5 46.Rg5?! a bit fancy/clumsy, although still winning. I didn’t want to have to calculate 46.Bf4 e5 47.f7 Rxf4 48.f8/Q Rxf8 49.Rxf8 even though I knew it should win, perhaps rather easily. I felt there was room to miscalculate, as black tries to create counterplay with the active king and queenside majority without white immediately being able to keep pushing the g-pawn. I recalled a lucky save I had last summer, with black in a similar type of exchange down ending. Maybe that had a psychological impact and talked me out of playing this line. Ke4? This was also the main thing I saw, when deciding on 46.Rg5, including the remaining moves played in this game. However, shortly after playing my move I realized black had a better try in 46…Be4! Already I was slightly regretting Kg3, followed by Rg5, and it was even bothering me that I hadn’t yet worked out a clear win, though 47.Bc3+ followed by probably 48.Rg8 should still be winning. 47.Bc3 b4 48.ab4 cb4 49.Re5+ Kd3 50.Re1! Black resigns 1-0

And now, game 2 has been won. The first game ended on move 26 and a second game began on move 27. This was a hard lesson for me, regarding being overly cute or fancy, maybe slightly alleviated by the final outcome. Hope you enjoyed seeing how it’s possible to win two games in one – against a GM. Just don’t promote to a bishop, like me!

Third Time’s the Charm: The GM Norm Endgame

After a tough stretch in the middle of the Southwest Class, I had 4/6 but still had a 2600+ FIDE performance. I have played enough GMs, titled players, and foreigners to satisfy the technical requirements. “All” that was left was good play and some luck. 2/3 or 2.5/3 in the last three rounds would get me a GM Norm. Deep breath.

In round 7, I got white against IM Zurab Javakhadze (2430 FIDE, 2504 USCF). This game was, in a nutshell, not what I was expecting…

Javakhadze 1

Up to this point, everything was relatively normal. 11… f5 doesn’t work on account of 12.exf5 Rxf5 13.g4, but black could choose to play 11… Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Nd4 13.Qd1 c6 14.Ba2 Bg5 or 11… Nd4 12.g4 Nxf3+ 13.Qxf3 c6!, after which white doesn’t have much. Instead, my opponent played the seemingly natural 11… Qd7?? running into the Puzzle Rush tactic 12.Nxe5!

Javakhadze 2

I had seen this one coming for a while. Black is losing a pawn no matter what he does. On top of that, it’s a strong central pawn, and white will also have the bishop pair afterwards. I think it’s totally reasonable to say that black is just lost here.

I can’t remember the last time I had a winning position after only 12 moves, and especially against an IM… How much more luck could go my way??


If I didn’t venture into the world of chess superstitions, this article would be a scam. Before this tournament, my personal chess superstitions didn’t really go beyond the realm of lucky pens. The pen I was using this tournament hadn’t served me so well before but was now doing an excellent job. I so wasn’t going to change it. There was, however, the possibility of using my lucky shirt.

The World U16 Olympiad in November was a rough tournament for me to say the least, but there was one highlight: beating the top seeds Uzbekistan in a huge upset. I therefore used the same logic I have with lucky pens to wear the same shirt I was wearing that match for the last day, when I sure wanted a bit of luck…

In round 8, I got black against GM Kamil Dragun (2589 FIDE, 2668 USCF). I didn’t back down at all, and I’m really glad I did that. Unfortunately, my nerves weren’t the problem—my brain was…

Dragun 1

I had just scraped out of some complications—and a bit of trouble—to reach this position, which really didn’t seem that dangerous. However, white a) has the d-file, b) can get his pawns moving more easily on the kingside, and c) can possibly tie black down to the a-pawn. Still, after a reasonable plan of action like 26… f5 27.Ra4 Re7, black should be holding his own.

Instead of playing on the kingside, however, I decided to play on the queenside and tie white’s pieces down there. That really didn’t work out. The game went 26… Rb8 27.Kc2 a5 28.Ra4 Rcb5 29.Rb1

Dragun 2

Ok, what next…? White will simply play c4 and start pushing black back. The best course of action here is still to play 29… f5! 30.c4 Rc5 31.Kc3 Kf7 32.Rba1 Ra8, after which black is a bit worse but things aren’t too bad. Instead, I went for more counterplay with 29… Rd5, which just turned out not to work. After 30.c4 Rd4 31.Kc3, I realized that 31… Rbd8 32.Rxa5 Rd3+ 33.Kb4 isn’t so great for me, though after 33… f6! black can still put up resistance. I backed down with 31… Ra8, being under the illusion that I could save the a-pawn. After 32.b3 Re4 33.Ra1 Re2 34.Rxa5, I found myself totally busted. I threw in the towel a few moves later.

Did I just ruin my GM norm? I should’ve crawled into a hole after this, but I didn’t. I just… brushed this off.

Now for some drama. My performance dropped below 2600, but the norm wasn’t gone. I needed to beat a 2400+ opponent to get my performance back above 2600. But would I even get to play such an opponent? I honestly didn’t really care. Yes, I did want to get such a pairing, but I wasn’t stressed out. Here are a few reasons…

  • My rating is still far away from reaching 2500; if I were 2490, it would have been a totally different story…
  • There’s no doubt in my mind that on the way to 2500, I’ll have my fair share of norm chances if I keep playing like this
  • GM won’t be the end of my chess journey—it’s just a step on the way up, though a huge step at that.

As the wallcharts for round 8 were incomplete, it was impossible to figure out whom I would play; the best I could do was to make educated guesses with the incomplete results at hand. And as it is often the case with the last round, the pairings didn’t come up until after the round was scheduled to start. I did the only reasonable thing—I prepared for a couple players whose ratings would give me a shot for the norm. And in the end… I got lucky with the pairings: I was white against IM Kacper Drozdowski (2490 FIDE, 2562 USCF). This was the third time when I was in a situation where I needed to win to get a GM Norm, the first time was at the Philly Open in April 2017 and the second time at the Washington International in August 2018. I had lost both times before, but this game was different…

Drozdowski 1

The opening had gone well for me, as I had established a solid bind in the center and was already going on the offensive with 14.g4. Black is already in a tight spot here. Attempts to lash out with 14… g5 won’t work: white has 15.Qh3 or even 15.Nd5! (with the idea 15… exd5 16.Nf5 with a strong attack). 14… h6 15.h4 g5 is even riskier. Black’s best chance may be to sit tight with 14… g6, but that doesn’t look pleasant…

Instead, my opponent played 14… Rfd8?, which looks logical but won’t be stopping white’s attack. After 15.g5 Ne8 16.Qg3, the game became one-way traffic: I played Rac1, reinforcing my position, played f5, got my knights on f5 and d5 after he recaptured exf5, won a pawn, etc. I won.

I honestly wasn’t so nervous this game and only started getting a bit shaky when I knew I was winning and choosing between plenty of very good options. Fortunately, this only meant that I double checked my calculations more often than usual and played very accurately.

And that’s how I became a really happy camper. Yes, the third time was the charm with getting a GM Norm—and what was officially the highest FIDE performance in my life (2610)! My fall-winter slump was finally over.

Image result for minions yay gif

Let’s go!!!

As for the shirt, it’s a keeper!