Isaac Talks Chess^Summit Sweepstakes!

I am really excited about the 2017 FIDE World Cup. As you know, the Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes is open and comes to a close on Sunday, September 3rd. There are a lot of really cool prizes up for grabs – Chessable memberships, ChessOpeningsExplained memberships, free lessons, and so much more!

In this video, I give you an insider look into Chessable and ChessOpeningsExplained, as well as what my thoughts are on the World Cup. Anyone else have Peter Svidler making a repeat appearance in the final? Enjoy!

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A Look Back at the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

Last month, I competed in the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship from July 7-18 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). This was my fourth time participating in this tournament, so I was one of the few returning veterans looking to win. Going into the tournament, I had high expectations to win to earn a chance to go to the 2018 U.S. Women’s Championship and 2018 World Girls’ Junior Championship. I had come very close to winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship before, but I fell short due to heartbreaking moments. In 2014, I ended up tying for first with 5.5/9, but I got third on tiebreaks. In 2015, I had to settle for third place with 5.0/9 after losing a won position in the last round. Then in 2016, I had my worst performance by only scoring 4.5/9 points and getting 5th place. This was why I wanted to redeem myself at the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

The 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship was an invitational only tournament between the top 10 girls under 20. I started the tournament as a second seed and was one of the favorites picked to win the tournament. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to win the tournament, mainly due to missing a lot of chances. Nevertheless, I was still able to finish in clear second which is always a good result. Now, let’s take a round by round look at my games at the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

Round 1

In the first round, I played one of my well-known friends. We have played each other a number of times, so we were very familiar with each other. In the following game, we reached this important position.

 

round1
White to move

In this position, I am clearly better with my better placed pieces and more space. I just played 25.Nh4 with the idea of of attacking the Bishop on g6 and having plans of f4 sometimes. My opponent responded 25…Ne5 which was a good move to centralize her pieces. My next move was not the best, and it was the move that turned the game around. I should have played a move like 26.Kg2 to improve the king and have ideas of f4. Instead, I played 26.Bxe5?!. It’s not necessarily a blunder, but it’s also a too forcing move. In better positions, you don’t need to force the position. Instead, you can slowly improve all your pieces and win more slowly and smoothly.  My opponent responded with 26…Rxe5, and the game continued 27.Nxg6 hxg6 28.Qg3 g5 29.Kg2 g6 30.h4 Kg7 31.h5 Rh8 32.Rh1 gxh5 33.gxh5 

round1

We reached this opposite color bishops position, with my advantage slowly disappearing. The game had become more complex with the opposite colored bishops than the position I had before. Later, I would blunder into a worse position, but I was able to escape with a draw, luckily.

Round 2

In this round, I also played a well-known friend, and we played each other a lot too. Our game featured a long opening variation with a lot of heavy theory, and, unfortunately, I ended up on the wrong side of the theory. I was the one that didn’t know the opening well, so I tried my best to play the right moves at the board and I did alright. We reached the following position.

round2.PNG
Black to move

I’m up a pawn in this position, but my king is a little bit weaker. With 21.Bd2, White wanted to have ideas to play g4 to get rid of my strong knight on f5 and open up the king. I didn’t want to give up my h4 pawn that easily since the h4 pawn closes down the h-file, so I played the interesting move 21…g5. This move exposes my king more, but I thought that I could bring my queen over, and my king would still be protected. The game continued 22.Qg4 Ng7 23.Ne2 and I played 23…Qg6 sacrificing the h4 pawn. I just wanted to trade queens so my king wouldn’t be attacked anymore. The game would peter out to a bishop of opposite color endgame and we drew quickly.

Round 3

I scored my first win this round, although it was kind of lucky. I had white against the number one seed. We played a fairly even game, but I had slight pressure on my opponent. Then, my opponent made a very strange decision giving me a free pawn and a huge advantage. Take a look at the following position.

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In this position my opponent played the horrible blunder 26…Bc6?? which gives me the f7 pawn. Every one makes these moves once in a while, usually when we’re really tired. Anyway, after this blunder I won the game fairly easily.

Round 4

This was a special day for me. It was my birthday and I was turning 17! A big shout out to the CCSCSL for wishing me happy birthday on that day! Anyway, in this game I reached a slightly better position in the endgame. However, I didn’t push very hard in the position and ended up settling for a draw. The ending position was still slightly better for me, but I thought it looked like a draw, so I didn’t continue playing. This was one of the games where I could have gotten a half point more.

Round 5

This was my best game of the tournament. I was playing the lowest rated player as white, but I dominated the game after my opponent made a few mistakes.

Can you find the nice tactic here that finished the game immediately?

round5.PNG
White to move

Round 6

I played the reigning 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion this round. In last years tournament, I suffered an early loss to her, so I wanted to redeem myself this year. This game was evenly balanced from the beginning, and I didn’t have huge chances to gain an advantage. I also didn’t take much risks. We agreed to draw on move 33.

Round 7

This was an important round as I was only one point behind the leader. It was essentially a must win game to try to catch up to the leader. I was white against a strong opponent that I have played many times before. Here is the first important moment in my game.

round7.PNG
Black to move

In this position, I just played 27.Rab1 which is a mistake. I missed a nice tactic that my opponent also missed too. Can you find it?

 

ANSWER:

Black should play 27…Nxg3+!! (27…Rxe5!! works too) 28.hxg3 Rxe5! threatening mate on h5 29.fxe5 Bxf1 30.Qxc5 Bxg2+ 31.Kxg2 Rxc5 and black is up 2 pawns

Instead the game continued 27…Rb6? 28.Qxa7 f6 29.Ba1 Ra6 30.Qb7 Bc4 31.a4 Rac6 32.Rfe1 Ba6 33.Qb2

round7.PNG

In time pressure, my opponent made a big mistake and played 33…d4?? This opened the door for me to play 34.Rxe2 Bxe2 35.Qxe2 giving me two bishops for the rook, although my bishop on a1 was badly placed. After maneuvering my pieces around to better squares I was able to win the d4 pawn. Then we reached this position.

round7.PNG
White to move and win

 

This position was completely winning. I just had to use the fact that black’s king had no defenders, and I could attack it. I missed the winning move here as I opted for the move 49.Bc3? Black played 49…Rxd3 50.Bxb4 Rxd2+ 51.Bxd2 Rxa4. This is a theoretical drawn endgame of 2 pieces vs a rook with pawns on the same side. I knew about this endgame, but I wanted to see if my opponent would make a mistake. I tried to make progress in the endgame, but my opponent defended well and we agreed to a draw.  The winning move in the above diagram was 49.Qe3! This was a relatively simple move as it moves the queen out of the pin and threatens Qe7+. Black can’t take the pawn with 49…Rxa4 because of 50.Qe7+ Kg8 51.Rc2 threatening Rc8#.

Round 8

I played the leader as black this round, and I was down one and a half points. This was a must win game for me if I wanted to contend for first place. I approached this game like a regular game, and I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to win. I just wanted to play good chess. Unfortunately, I didn’t play good chess, and I got a worse position out of the opening by mixing up my opening moves.

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This position is terrible. All of my pieces are horribly placed, and my bishop on c8 and both rooks will not see life for a long time. I fought hard and played good moves afterwards, but it was too late. My opponent only needed a draw, and she got a draw rather easily. I wish I could have played a better game, but everyone has their bad days, unfortunately.

Round 9

We already knew the first place winner before this round, so I was fighting for clear second place and $2000. I was white this game, and I walked into some nasty preparation from my well-prepared opponent. At one moment, my opponent had more than 90 minutes while I had to spent 30 minutes navigating the opening. After the opening, I was not in the good position, so I decided to simplify into the drawn rook endgame. We drew quickly then.

Results

I ended up scoring 5.5/9 with 2 wins, 7 draws, and 0 losses. I got clear second, a nice trophy, and $2000. Overall, this was a good experience and fun tournament for me. I could have done better, but I’m still happy with my result. Finally, I want to thank the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for organizing a top notch tournament in the chess capital of the U.S., and I also want to thank everyone for taking the time to read my first chess article here at chess-summit!

Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes!

It’s that time of year, as the 2017 FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia is just days away! This edition of the 128 single elimination playoff is the strongest ever, and the two finalists will earn coveted spots in the 2018 Candidates Tournament. With so much on the line, we decided to join in with the Chess^Summit World Cup Sweepstakes! Luckily enough, you all can play along and win some cool prizes along the way!
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At 2799, Caruana is #5 in the world rankings. How far do you have him going?

This particular edition of the World Cup is historic, as reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen has decided to join the fray, making him the first reigning champion to compete in a World Cup in recent memory. Can he make it to the final? Perhaps – he has a tough road – Svidler, Wojtaszek, Vacier-Lagrave, and Grischuk are potentially all in his way… just to get to the semifinal! The competition is brutal, but this time you get to tell us if you think the Norwegian has what it takes.

There are other big questions: Does Anand earn one of the two Candidates spots in Tblisi? Which of the fifteen juniors goes the farthest? Who will be the strongest American finisher in the World Cup? Earn your spot on our leaderboard to win memberships to up-and-coming chess websites, lessons, and more!
Take your time to learn the bracket – you can count on a lot of surprises!

How to Play

Enter the sweepstakes through the link below. We will be raffling away some prizes throughout the World Cup, so make sure to send us your contact information so we know how to contact you if you win a prize.
There are 24 points on the line – with each question you answer correctly, you score more points. Some questions are worth more than others, so answer wisely! Players that finish the World Cup points will win prizes – it’s that simple!

Prizes

How could we have a sweepstakes and not have amazing prizes? We reached out to some up-and-coming chess platforms from around the web, and we have some great prizes for you. Remember, we will be raffling some of these prizes, so don’t be shy and send us your submission!

Chessable

monkeyToRightYou may have heard of Chessable, but it’s the online tool the cool kids use to get better at chess, so now’s your chance to catch up! The site offers an interactive platform to learn openings, and now one of the best places on the internet to learn theoretical endgames thanks to it’s partnership with New in Chess. International Master John Bartholomew and David Kramaley, the founders of Chessable, have offered up five PRO memberships and five copies of John Bartholomew’s book on the Scandinavian to the lucky winners of our Sweepstakes. We will be raffling away one of each, so don’t miss out!

Here’s a quick video John made this video on his Youtube Channel, talking about the new endgames enhancement that just came out on Chessable:

ChessOpeningsExplained

ChessOpeningsExplainedGrowing up with chess.com, I grew up with videos from Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn! Luckily enough, GM Perelshteyn has started his own website, ChessOpeningsExplained with his recommended opening repertoire. One of the better kept internet chess secrets, ChessOpeningsExplained offers an easy-to-use site where you can ask GM Perelshteyn directly about any opening questions you may have! GM Perelshteyn, a past guest author here on Chess^Summit, has offered full-access memberships to ChessOpeningsExplained! These prizes will be distributed in our raffle, as well as to some of our top finishers in the sweepstakes!

Here’s the most recent ChessOpeningsExplained video, about the Jobava Attack, which Daniel Naroditsky played against Eugene Perelshteyn at the recent Washington International.

International Master Kostya Kavutskiy

photo.jpgThe last time we heard from Kostya was back in April for the Reykjavik Open when he smashed his competition with an unbelievable 6th place finish! Since making daily tournament videos with me in Iceland, International Master Kostya Kavutskiy has been working on the Grandmaster title, but has also been teaching along the way. In this sweepstakes, Kostya has offered up a free 30 minute lesson to a lucky winner and one personalized game analysis! Both of these prizes will be offered up in our raffle, so don’t miss out on a chance to work with a professional player, coach, and author!

Check out Kostya’s video from his most recent Chess University course on Positional Sacrifices:

International Master David Brodsky

2400.4David is no stranger to Chess^Summit – in fact he’s been an author for us since last October! Since joining with us, David’s earned the International Master title, and shared a lot about his personal experiences and chess improvement.

We hear a lot about rapidly improving youngsters in chess, but have you ever gotten a chance to play one? David has offered a 30 minute blitz session with him for a lucky winner in our sweepstakes. David is the third strongest 14 year old in the United States – do you have what it takes to take down the International Master from New York?

Candidate Master Isaac Steincamp

Hi there! Yeah, this is me – how else could I resist joining in on the fun? I’m offering a private game analysis, complete with annotations and opening recommendations in our raffle. I’ve written some Free Game Analysis posts in the past, but this time my analysis will go even more in depth to help you find problems in your game. Outside of my quest to make National Master, I’ve always had a passion for coaching. Here’s your chance to work with me!

Here’s my most recent video for ChessOpeningsExplained:

Want to offer a prize? It’s still not to late! E-mail us at chess.summit@gmail.com to let us know!

With so many prizes at stake, this is not a sweepstakes to miss! Make sure to send in your submission before 6:59 AM EST on September 3rd, when clocks start in Tbilisi. This is going to be a fun World Cup, and we’re excited to celebrate one of the best chess traditions in style!

Washington International

It has been a while since I walked you through one of my tournaments. This was my first tournament as an official IM (FIDE approved my IM title on August 9th), and it felt good having the letters “IM” next to my name…

The Washington International is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. After all, I gave up my spot in US Cadets to play there. The organization is great. Wooden chess sets and clocks are provided. Oh and cookies! The pairings are done early (at least an hour before the round, with the exception of the first round), and the rounds start on time. What is even more important, also, is the strength of the field.

The field is strong; I was barely in the top half, but there also isn’t much of a tail. This makes the Washington International one of the strongest open Swiss tournaments in USA. By “strong” I mean strong for someone who is in the middle of the pack; I am by no means saying that the Washington International is harder to win than the World Open. The World Open has a huge prize fund and attracts many GMs, but there is also a tail of low-rated players playing in the open section.

While at the World Open I may get to play a significantly lower rated opponent, no such a thing happens at the Washington International. That is put in place by a simple solution: 1) put a high minimum rating with no exceptions and 2) make the entry fee system based on rating.

A minimum published rating 2100 FIDE or 2200 USCF was required and there are no exceptions even for juniors! Players who didn’t fulfill that requirement could play in the lower sections. And here’s how the entry fee system worked:

GMs, non-US IMs – Free
US IMs and WGMs – $199
FMs – $299
FIDE greater than 2200 – $349
FIDE between 2100 and 2199 – $399
FIDE between 2000 and 2099 – $600
FIDE less than 2000 – $800

The message: if you have a low FIDE, you can join! You just have to pay extra… Why, you ask? Well, many players come to 9-round tournaments to have a chance to get a norm, and there your opponents’ ratings matter a lot. An opponent with rating below 2050 won’t give you anything as far as IM norm goes. While an adjustment can be done for one, play two of those and win both games and you are in minus as far as an IM norm goes! It’s even worse for a GM norm; anybody below 2200 FIDE only ruins your average.

As a result, nobody below 2200 USCF played in the top section.

As much as I like this tournament (see cookies above) I usually get the rough end of the field at the Washington International. As I said there are no “free lunches” this tournament to get “free points” against, and one just cannot get a break However, this is a tournament where I can get reasonable opponents without scoring massive; it’s not every day that with a score of 3.5/6 someone with my rating gets to play a 2600+ FIDE GM.

Anyway, off to my tournament!

Rounds 1-3: so far, so good.

In round 1, I was white against Arthur Macaspac (2034 FIDE, 2200 USCF). I won a fairly unusual but smooth game. A little excerpt.

Macaspac

White to move

I like playing moves like 19.Ra4!, especially when they’re good!

In round 2, I was black against IM Andrey Gorovets (2527 FIDE, 2602 USCF). It was a reasonable draw where I had chances to get an edge had I played better. You can check the game out here, since I made it to the top boards.

In round 3, I was white against IM John Burke (2489 FIDE, 2554 USCF). I’ve played him many times (the official track record going into this game was 1 win for him and 4 draws). OK, what to do against him? I decided to go into heavy theory. I had some good preparation and found some good stuff… it looked like I could play for an advantage with near-zero risk.

Except that my prep wasn’t good enough. John had a novelty up his sleeve that practically equalized the game immediately.

So OK, I was 2/3. A reasonable situation. As long as I didn’t lose, I’d continue playing up…

Rounds 4-5: “Bishops are good, knights are bad.” – MVL

The winner of the Sinquefield Cup just told the world his theory about everything chess-related. It worked for MVL, and I decided to see if it would work for me.

I’m half-joking.

OK, look at this position from my round 4 game against GM Carlos Hevia (2497 FIDE, 2567 USCF) and then try to argue with MVL!

Hevia

White to play

After a suicidal decision from me in the early middlegame, we reached this position.

Black’s position sucks. Big time. His rook is babysitting he a-pawn. His knight on f7 doesn’t have a bright future; it can’t move due to problems on g7. This is a knightmare (yes, the k belongs there).

And I was black :(((.

I managed to wriggle my way out into an endgame that wasn’t as depressing, but it was still probably technically lost. GM Hevia finished me off with some good technique.

So… is that the price you pay for giving draws with white? Eh… no! That’s the price you pay for playing badly with black!

In round 5, I found myself facing Balaji Daggupati (2205 FIDE, 2272 USCF), a talented twelve-year-old. I got a good position out of my offbeat opening. I eventually decided to go for the bishop vs. knight imbalance, where I had the bishop. The knight was admittedly a better piece than the bishop BUT I got control of an open file in return. Balaji put together some counterplay, but I still had a much better position. However, a misstep blew the majority of my advantage, and by the time we reached the time control, I had no objective advantage. We soon drew.

And that’s how I scored 0.5/2 testing MVL’s theory…

That stung. That was the kind of game I’m supposed to win, especially considering how good my position was.

Round 6: Risky opening + decent play = success!

I was black against Yuanchen Zhang (2272 FIDE, 2387 USCF). After what had happened in the previous game, I felt I had to win this game for my morale.

OK, my opening wasn’t that risky. It was just another one of those semi-offbeat things I wanted to try (I “stole” the idea from someone with initials BJ). My opponent’s play wasn’t the most theoretically accurate, and I won what was probably my best game of the tournament.

Rounds 7 and 8: The fade.

In round 7, I got white against GM Dmitry Gordievsky (2613 FIDE, 2704 USCF). After a suspect opening from GM Gordievsky, I got a good position. Actually, it looked very good. Like perfect.

Gordievsky

White to move

The question, however, is how to get through?? Black’s pieces aren’t doing much, but they’re solidly placed.

Then he broke out. I was probably still totally fine, maybe slightly better. But, with little time on the clock, I decided to continue along the script that I was much better and proceeded to make an idiotic decision on that assumption. After that I was just worse and was ground down until I lost.

Great. Moral of the story: these 2600+ GMs don’t go down without a fight!

In round 8, I got black against Trung Nguyen (2181 FIDE, 2259 USCF). I got pretty much nothing with black out of the opening, but I tried to get something. That something, however, was more idealistic than objective. In simple English, I had no real advantage the entire game, and it was a draw.

Combined with what I had done in the morning, this made for a pretty bad day…

Round 9: Pressure

It was the last round, I was at 4/8, and I was playing FM Jason Cao, who had a FIDE rating of 2328. Goes to show just how strong this tournament was.

I spent a lot of time early on in the game, especially at a critical juncture where I had two options: go for an endgame where it looked like I had some pressure OR keep the queens on and keep some initiative. I chose the former. It turns out I missed a simple idea in the “keep the queens on” variation that made most of my thought a waste…

Anyway, we eventually reached this position.

Cao1

White to move

A somewhat unusual position (at least the pawn structure is). White’s knight and rook on d4 are more active than their black counterparts, but is there anything else.

The first idea that came to my mind was to play 22.Rhd1, seizing control of the d-file. If black goes 22… Rhd8?!, then after 23.Ng5! black has some problems. Nxh7 and Nxf7 are both serious threats. Black can try 23… Ne5, but then after 24.Rxd8 Rxd8 25.Rxd8 Kxd8 26.f4!, black will end up a pawn down in this knight endgame. 22…Rad8? isn’t much better either because of 23.Rd6!, hitting the black a-pawn.

However, black has the strong idea of 22… Nb6! followed by Nd5. Black’s knight has a sturdy outpost, blocks the d-file, and I didn’t see where white’s advantage is.

Then I came up with another idea: invade on the g-file with 22.Rg1. Black can’t play 22… Rhg8?? Because of 23.Rxg8 Rxg8 24.Rxd7+! Kxd7 25.Nf6+, winning a piece. However, I soon saw that black can throw a wrench in the works by playing 22… Ne5!. Allowing a fork on f3 would be embarrassing! Seriously, how to react?

I came up with a third idea, 22.f4!?. The point is to continue with f5, destabilizing black’s pawn structure. I should do it with knights on the board; if I did that in a rook endgame, I’d just be giving black passed pawns! My point is that with knights, those heroic passed pawns can become weak liabilities.

My opponent reacted well with 22… Rhd8. If white continues with 23.f5, then black goes 23… Nf6!, forcing a rook endgame where he is 100% fine. Therefore, I went 23.Rhd1 Nb6 (23… Nf6?? is now impossible), 24.f5

Cao2

Black to move

Here there’s already some pressure on black. However, he should be fine after 24… Rxd4! 25.f6+ (25.Rxd4 exf5 is not promising for white), 25… Kd7 26.Rxd4+ Nd5. White doesn’t have anything concrete. Instead, my opponent erred with 24… exf5?. After 25.Nd6!, white has a serious edge. There are just too many tactical tricks in the air, and after 25… Ke6, I played the neat tactical trick 26.Nxb5! Rxd4 27.Nxd4+ Kf6 28.Rf1. The black f5-pawn is falling, and I went on to convert my extra pawn, though not without adventures…

Overall, I finished with 5/9. I gained a few FIDE points (3.6 to be exact), and my USCF went down a few decimal points. The tournament had its ups and downs… to sum it up, it wasn’t my greatest tournament, but it was far from the worst. I guess I’ll call it “mediocre”.

Congratulations to GM Oliver Barbosa, who won the tournament outright and to IM-elect Zhaozhi Li, who got his last IM Norm.

Anyway, if you want to play in strong tournament and eat your cookies, I may see you at Washington International next year!

A Weekend with the Best: The St. Louis Rapid and Blitz

St Louis has been on my bucket list for years. Why wouldn’t it be? The now-famous chess club, tucked in the Central West End, plays host to a myriad of world-class chess events every year: the US Chess Championships, the Sinquefield Cup, and this past week, the St Louis Rapid and Blitz. I don’t think I could have picked a better first time to make the trip.

While the field lacked the likes of reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Sinquefield Cup winner Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, a certain former World Champion’s return after a twelve-year absence captured the international spotlight and attention of chess fans worldwide. It was truly something else.

The Race Is On

Kasparov’s return to chess was not easy, and it wasn’t until the last day of the tournament when he finally found his form. When it was all said and done, the former World Champion finished a half point out of a tie for 5th place. That dreaded loss to Navara in the rapid really did his undoing this tournament…

I, like many others, had picked Kasparov to place well (I even thought second place was realistic!), but the lofty expectations proved too much. Kasparov started with a lackluster score in the rapid at -2,  much of which can be attributed to massive pressure to perform and his long absence from tournament chess. He had some interesting games along the way, but to the dismay of the spectators, never posed a threat to the tournament.

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Levon getting ready for his match up with David Navara Friday morning.

I arrived in St. Louis right after the rapid games finished, and with eighteen rounds of blitz left, Levon Aronian had established himself as the front-runner with a two point lead. Could he score par? At 12.5/18, he held on to his lead throughout the blitz, but came to a close scare when Sergey Karjakin scored an undefeated 8/9 on the first day, and started the second with 1. b3 and won against Kasparov.

Of all the players in the field, it was the tail-ender that proved the most important, as Czech Grandmaster David Navara dealt a surprising blow to Levon Aronian in round 11 of the blitz from a drawn ending to bring the margin to 1 point between first and second place. The narrative almost seemed set, the race between Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian was on! The 2016 World Championship Challenger had won seven straight and had a lot of momentum.

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David Navara proved to be an important player in the St Louis story, despite finishing last in the standings.

But streaks stop at seven in St. Louis. Navara pulled another upset, this time as Black against Karjakin, while Aronian put together a win against Le Quang Liem. The Armenian’s lead was back up to 2, and with only six rounds left, his tournament chances were never in doubt. He secured his Grand Chess Tour tournament win with a draw against Kasparov with two rounds to spare.

Karjakin’s setback against Navara meant the end of his tournament winning chances, but still had work to do after Hikaru Nakamura beat him late to keep the two in a dogfight at the top of the table. With Nakamura beating Caruana in the last round, the American secured a tie for second alongside his Russian rival at a score of 21.5/36.

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I got a photo with Nakamura after his win against Caruana! Photo Credit: Eric Rosen

A Day in St Louis

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The crowd before the first round on Friday!

Being a reporter for the St Louis Rapid and Blitz meant also a lot of behind-the-scenes work and amusing stories as well. Given Kasparov’s return to chess, hundreds of chess fans made the trek to the Gateway City, meaning that at times it could be difficult to watch games during a given round.

I distinctly remember getting stuck behind Peter Doggers before the final day’s opening round. Wanting to see if Karjakin could beat Kasparov, it felt like I was standing behind an eight foot tall giant! I don’t think I remember ever feeling so short…

Even with so many spectators, the atmosphere was great, and I even found myself playing in a few side events along the way. It’s one thing to hear about St Louis Chess, it’s another thing to actually be there. In reporting for Chess^Summit, I felt really lucky to interview some of the players, and be invited to the closing ceremony.

I put together a vlog to recreate the last day of the Rapid and Blitz, as well as a small tour of the Chess Campus in St Louis:

Ultimate Moves

With all this excitement, my stay in St Louis was hardly over, as the famous Sinquefield Brawl, Ultimate Moves, followed after the tournament. Even though the players were exhausted, it felt like they (particularly Garry) took the event even more seriously.

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Garry watching over Ruifeng Li’s seven-year old sister, Rachel, take on former NFL lineman John Urschel.

I’m not going to lie, the tournament room was hot, as an unprecedented number of fans came to watch Garry one last time. I was one of the first people in the playing hall, but finding a good spot to take photos from still wasn’t easy. If you couldn’t tell during the broadcast, people were that excited to watch the former World Champ – even if it was only five moves at a time! You’re going to need your Where’s Waldo skills to find me in the crowd:

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Eric and I had to be creative to find spots to take photos… Can you find us?

This event was a blast to watch, as all the players were encouraged to smack-talk during the games. Even David Navara, the nicest guy in the room, joined in on the fun: “It’s not nice to beat your children!”

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What was that opening?

Team Rex got the better of Team Randy in a tiebreaker, as Randy made his dad’s staple move in the end and promoted illegally to lose the match. Even if the level of chess wasn’t super high, it was a lot of fun watching the players come together and root for the amateurs. You don’t see this kind of stuff outside of St Louis…

Just in Time!

I had an extra day to spare in St Louis before visiting my parents in Richmond, which meant I was lucky enough to watch the eclipse from the path of totality! What a coincidence – this managed to be a popular discussion among spectators as the Rapid and Blitz came to a close, and with Eric skipping town early to drive south to watch the eclipse from Carbondale, I was on my own to try to get a peek before my flight home.

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Found the Arch! Photo Credit: Eric Rosen

Having spent the summer in Pittsburgh, and being solely in St Louis for the Rapid and Blitz, viewing the eclipse hadn’t even crossed my radar. No glasses, no special lenses for my camera, no idea of where to watch from.

As I finished my breakfast from the Kingside Diner, I was frantically calling local museums and zoos to try to find glasses, but to no luck! I had one hour before the eclipse started and if I wasn’t careful, my eyes were going to melt out of my face (right?)! Luckily enough, I managed to befriend a nurse who just finished her shift at the local hospital and was also looking for glasses, and we managed to find glasses at the St Louis Cardinals’ stadium in Downtown and was able to watch the eclipse from there.

Wow. I didn’t have the right lenses to take a photo of the eclipse, as you can see, it was amazing how quickly things got dark. I don’t think I’ll ever see something like this again, and I’m even luckier that everything came together so nicely in the last minute.

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Busch Stadium seconds before the eclipse – remember, it was 1:17PM here!

As Kasparov said during the closing ceremony, “Miracles happen in St Louis”, and that’s certainly what this week was. Will Kasparov ever make a comeback? I have a hunch it will be before 2024.

 

The Italian Revival

Let us take a hypothetical trip through time to the past.

The date is March 24, 1858.  In the middle of New Orleans, a bustling port city at the time, two people sit at a chess board surrounded by a crowd of people.  With the white pieces, a well-known expert by the name of Paul Morphy; with the black pieces, the notorious “NN.”  The game starts with:

  1. e4 e5
  2. Nf3 Nc6
  3. Bc4

The Italian was an opening emblematic of the 19th century, which was really the Romantic Era of chess.  Almost any game that started with double King pawn would go down this path or the King’s Gambit, another Romantic Era opening.  Almost all of these games were highly tactical and there was always, as GM Alexei Shirov would say, “fire on the board.”  A few other examples of this type of play can be found in Anderssen-Kieseritzky (1851) and Morphy-Schrufer (1859).  It was not until many years later that the majority of players realized that these tactical games in the Italian almost always favored White, and most Black players switched to the Giuoco Piano (3. … Bc5).  White attempted to punish the early bishop development with an early c3-d4 push in the center.  This formation had early success, but Black found the eventual

  1. c3 Nf6
  2. d4 exd4
  3. cxd4 Bb4+
  4. Bd2 Bxd2+
  5. Nbxd2 d5!

which equalized immediately.  White briefly tried to avoid this equalizing move altogether by playing 7. Nc3, called the Moeller Attack, but even that was refuted.  With these new findings by Black picking up, the Italian declined in popularity altogether in favor of another King Pawn opening that was gradually increasing in popularity in the shadows of the Italian.  This opening was none other than the Ruy Lopez, which offered White with a measure of flexibility that the c3-d4 lines of the Italian never allowed.  Noticing the popularity and success of the Ruy Lopez, die-hard Italian players imitated some of the positions that came out of the Ruy Lopez with a c3-d3 setup, but the Ruy Lopez still triumphed over for the longest time.

Now, let’s travel forward through time, but not quite to the present.  The year is 2013, but no specific date.  Almost every game that opens with 1. e4 goes into a Ruy Lopez.  The opening is characterized by the moves

  1. e4 e5
  2. Nf3 Nc6
  3. Bb5

This trend is clearly shown in the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand late in the year, where 4 out of the 6 games that opened with e4 headed into a Ruy Lopez.  However, the key reason why I bring up this match, in particular, is because of the evident rise in popularity of the Berlin defense (3. … Nf6), which was quickly becoming a trustworthy line against the Ruy Lopez.  In the 2013 WCC match, all of the Ruy Lopez games went into a Berlin, and not surprisingly, 75% of them were drawn, and the lone decisive result was a win for Black.  The 2013 year was part of the “back-end” of the decade-long rise of the Berlin, which was first used with great success by Vladimir Kramnik against Garry Kasparov in the WCC match of 2000.

Now, we come back to present day.  Since Black proved that the Berlin was an extremely tough setup to beat, White has tried a number of different attempts to sidestep the line.  One fairly popular route that emerged right out of the 2013 year was the move 4. d3.  From there, there are a couple of different paths that players have taken, including a rather intriguing formation where White captures the knight on c6, forces Black to double his pawns with dxc6, and continuing with Nb1-d2-c4 and Bc1-d2-c3 where pressure is applied to the e5 pawn.  The relatively mundane 4. Nc3 has also been experimented with from time to time, but more as a surprise attempt than an attempt to gain an advantage.  However, the most interesting try of late has been to eschew the Ruy Lopez completely and instead try – you guessed it – the Italian once again.  However, the variations that seem to appeal to the players of today are far different in nature than the ones we have previously examined.  For one, Black is now far more willing to strike in the center early with d5 instead of going for a slow, maneuvering game.  Meanwhile, White seems to prefer variations where Black does play d6 and keep the center closed for the time being.  As a result, we arrive at one of our key differences in the new Italian “reimagined.”

  1. White delays the c2-c3 push until Black commits to d6, instead opting for play on the flanks.

The reason for delaying this push is that Black’s d5 thrust in the center comes with less effect, as White now has more ways to develop pieces into the newly-opened center.  However, this reluctance to play an early c2-c3 leads to what classical Italian players may consider a crucial drawback – the light square bishop, aka the “Italian Bishop,” no longer has a safe haven on c2.  In the typical Italian lines, as we’ll call it, White has a c3-d3 phalanx setup; Black typically kicks the bishop once with a b7-b5 push and sometimes offers a trade of light squared bishops with Be6, but White usually avoids the trade with the retreat from c4-b3-c2.  With the new system, however, White prefers to inhibit b7-b5 (although this push is sometimes possible due to tactics, as will be shown in games later) with an a2-a4 push and is thus unable to retreat in time in order to avoid the trade.  As a result, White makes the most of what arises from the bishop swap, as it requires Black to spend multiple tempi, and we arrive at our second key difference.

  1. If Black offers a trade of light squared bishops, White allows the trade in return for the relatively uninhibited advance of the queenside pawns.

If everything goes according to plan, White is able to pawn storm with a4, b4, b5 and kick the knight from c6.  The resulting lead in queenside space can be deterministic of the later stages and possibly the result of the game.  However, if Black does not offer the trade of bishops, the player has to find play elsewhere, which typically consists of the well-known knight maneuver to the kingside.  This allows White to counteract in the center with a d4 push much earlier than in the classical Italian variations.  This leads us to our third and final key difference.

  1. White is often able to push with d4 much earlier in the game if Black does not directly challenge control of the center with the bishop trade offer; this push is made easier by the restricted play that Black has with the queenside pawns.

If the d4 push is achieved, the focus of play reverts back to the center, where both sides have dynamic opportunities to push their agenda.  Black often tries to gain control of the f4-square and later the kingside, while White usually tries to play in the center or the queenside and punish Black’s potentially awkward piece placement.  There are many games that have already been played in this opening in the last year or so, but there were a select few that really stood out to me.  Those were Kramnik-Mamedyarov (2017), Anand-So (2017)MVL-So (2017), and MVL-Aronian (2017).  These games illustrate the key concepts of both sides in this new version of the Italian, and it will be interesting to see how long these lines stick around.  The presence of play in all sectors of the board can lead to exciting games, both position and tactical, for both sides.  The ability to play for an advantage from both sides, whether static or dynamic, makes this opening an ideal one for tournament play, and its current popularity among the world’s top players definitely makes it an opening to keep an eye out for in future games.  And, as always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Expectations for 3 Tournaments vs the Reality (to come)- Part 1

After covering the U.S. Open for a chess website and not actually playing in the tournament, I am excited and gearing up to jump back into tournament play. Surprisingly enough, my next three tournament choices happen to be one weekend right after another. These tournaments are: the Manhattan Open (8/18-20), the North Carolina Open (8/25-27), and the New York State Championships (9/1-4).

As someone who plays very infrequently, it will be quite bizarre for me to be playing three tournaments in a row, and even more difficult for me to play 3 day long tournaments. Luckily, my school year does not start before the Manhattan Open, I can skip my first day of school for the NC Open, and the NY State champs will be held on Labor Day Weekend.

Going into these tournaments, I have a series of expectations, that I hope will happen in reality. I will write an article later on which of them became a reality.

I hope to…

peak

Never a consistently playing chess player, I did not get my rating past the most amateur levels. I will only need to gain 13 more points to peak, which is easy at a U1200 level.

pass 1200 USCF

Connected to my last expectation, I do not have to reach so far to pass this point, either. I need 54 points, which can likely be achieved in one tournament, much less 3. This depends on my performance, of course, but no one is a stranger to big rating jumps if a tournament goes well.

eat more healthy foods during the tournaments

This one is always difficult post scholastic chess period. No more parents to run around buying meals and take care of you! Worst of all, round times are always tricky. Eating schedules get all mixed up and worse, it is hard to find food at near midnight in some places. I recall at Millionaire Chess 2016, I had buffalo wings so many times at the only restaurant open after the games were done at midnight (or later). For those under 21 like me, bars are not an option, either. Regardless, I’m looking eat healthier in order to keep the energy high. After not playing for a long while, stamina might be an issue.

Also imperative to my performance is eating not too close to the round times or too many heavy foods. Red meat, for instance, takes hours to digest and I do not want to have my body working on some hard digestion while I play.

play better in the endgame

Without a doubt, my biggest weakness at the World Open tournament was my endgame play. I struggled a lot with winning won games and had good games to analyze as a result. Improving upon this weakness currently with my coach, it’s reasonable to hope that I will see some improvement. It is definitely my biggest desire to improve upon that aspect in chess.

meet many new people

Honestly, this has to be my favorite part of chess playing and reporting by far. From the highest seed grandmaster to the youngest beginner of the lowest sections of a tournament, there are always new people to meet, learn from, and share new memories with. It’s always a wonder what old friends I see at tournaments- I bet there will be many at the U.S. Masters/North Carolina Open- and which new friends I make. Especially important to me is to make friends with more female chess players and encourage younger female players to continue with their chess dreams.

learn a bit about tournament organizing and directing

Now that I’ve started doing reporting as well as playing chess, I’d like to continue a more well rounded education and watch what it takes to run tournaments. Maybe in the future I’d like to run some fundraising tournaments or events.

All in all, I feel my expectations are reasonable and perhaps I am not even challenging myself enough, but they are certainly attainable. If anything at all, I am probably most likely to fail the food diet expectation but this deviation from the normally unhealthy experience of a chess tournament is relatively difficult to overcome given time restraints.

What sorts of expectations, if at all, do you set before a tournament (or tournaments in a row)??