Jumping The Hurdles: 100% Focus

Hello, everyone!

Many of you may know who I am. I maintain a blog on Chess.com where I have posted my personal chess journey, master games I found of interest, puzzles, random stuff, etc. I’m also active generally with the Chess.com community.

Who am I? I’m just an ordinary seventeen-year-old chess player rated 1737 USCF residing in the middle of Texas living life. What is this series about? Ever since I started taking chess seriously, I had a few goals in mind: reach Class-A (1800 USCF), Expert (2000 USCF), and National Master (2200 USCF). Seems simple right? Back in March, I had a huge performance at the Texas State High School Championships, where I tied for 6th place at 5/7, including a win against the top seed of the event. My rating went from 1704 to 1817 (100-point jumps in a single tournament get very rare at this level), and I thought NO ONE would stop me from eclipsing the Expert rating and ultimately the Master title!

Not quite…

You see, I peaked out at 1828 USCF, and my rating has seriously plummeted since. I would go through this phase of having a bad tournament, good tournament, bad tournament, and so on. It’s not a very stable way of competing. It was in December when I was on the brink of breaking 1800 USCF, I was having a bad event at a local tournament, and in the final round, I collapsed and lost to my own student! Merry Christmas!

See that amazing rating boost down there on the bottom? How about my rating performance since?

[sighs]. All this to say, I will tell you about something that my former coach had warned me about, and I wish I understood when my rating was dropping. It’s very dangerous to pay close attention to ratings. It simply is. What happens is that when you play chess games by rating instead of the best moves, it will damage your true chess games, and your decisions will be made purely by raw emotion rather than how a real game should be decided: calculation and good moves.

All this to say, while I am still openly vying for the Expert and ultimately Master title, I feel that I am only endangering myself when I talk about my chess career in terms of rating rather than good moves and learning from my mistakes.

This past weekend, I participated in another local tournament. My rating stayed the same. It was slightly disappointing not to win rating back, though I felt like I learned a lot from the event (even though I am still analyzing the games!), and I would like to share some of my key moments with you from each game.

For warm up, how about a puzzle? This was my first game against Robert Morgan (1217). Look at the diagram below:

Black just played 19… Nc6(?), which is a mistake. How does White refute it? I’d encourage the reader to calculate this out in their head.

My second game was against Christopher Cook (1535). He played a Tarrasch French against me (1. e4, e6 2. d4, d5 3. Nd2), and we got a very interesting fight. After some struggling, we got the position below: (I would encourage the reader to set this up on a board, as this is a relatively deep series of moves, and the position is very interesting to study anyway!)

In the position above, Black has a lot of pressure against the e5-square. I snap with 22… Bxe5, 23. dxe5, and I sidestepped my Queen with 23… Qb8. I assumed that I was winning a pawn, as both of my Knights and Queen are attacking the e5-pawn, and White does not have a good way to defend both! White played 24. Rb1 and surrendered the pawn, though, during analysis, it turns out that White has a legitimate shot thanks to his strong Bishops! White’s only move is 24. Qa4(!), when if I take the pawn with 24… Ndxe5(?) (I should defend with a move like Rf7 or something), White will sacrifice the exchange with 25. Rxe5(!), and after 25… Nxe5, White plays 26. Qd4.

Black’s e5-Knight is “pinned” to the checkmate square on g7! And I have no good way to defend the e5-Knight. Had Chris tried 24. Qa4, I likely would have fallen for this variation.

My round three game was a loss to Jason Howell (2036). And… I guess I’ve got to show something from the game? 🙂

The position above is hard to assess, as I slipped up earlier in the endgame. I probably have a better chance of surviving taking on d4 rather than what I did during the game. Let’s just say that I stopped paying attention, playing 10… h6, and crumbling from there. Not much to say honestly. On to the last game, which was another case of losing my focus when it mattered:

In the final round against Raghav Aggarwal (1648), my opponent and I traded all of our heavy pieces and seemed to be headed for equality. I played an autopilot move which hurt me with 26. Kf2(?). My opponent quickly played 26… Nd3+, and I realized that I was in trouble. After 27. Kf1, Nxb2, obviously angry with myself, I played the reactionary 28. Nc6(?), which allowed him to take another pawn on a3! Fortunately for me, he missed that and played 28… Bf8. After 29. Nb4, a5 30. Nc2, we got the position below:

My opponent allowed me great drawing chances after 30… Nc4(?!), and after 31. Bxc4, bxc4, I was able to hold a draw given his two weaknesses on a5 and c4 will be hard to defend for victory.

I ended the tournament on 2.5/4, tied with several people for 3rd place in the local event, and broke even with my rating. If you stayed with me to the end, I must personally congratulate you for this accomplishment!

The whole purpose of this “Jumping The Hurdles” series is going to be for me to document my chess studies, games, etc. in writing so that I may be kept accountable. I’m not sure exactly what the structure of my future posts are going to be. I have another tournament this coming Saturday as well as this one-game-per-week tournament I am doing on Thursday nights, so my next post might be just like this one. Who knows. To close off, let me show you this cool puzzle I got earlier this week. 🙂

White to play, and how to proceed.

I would love to hear feedback from you guys. You can email me at danieljguel@gmail.com, I assume you can drop a comment down below, or contact me on Chess.com at EOGuel. I hope you all have a great day!

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Calculation

You often hear sport commentators say ‘this is a chess match between the two teams’, what they mean is that each team is trying to out calculate the other.

As a chess player, we want to take pride in our calculation skills. Let’s work on it together in this post.

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Here are the topics we will discuss

1) Calculating 2 moves

2) Breadth versus Depth when calculating moves

3) Pawns promotion race – an intense calculation exercise

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Calculating 2 or more moves

The thinking process of a young beginner chess player is often, ‘hey, this looks like a cool move. I’ll move my queen up’. Then very impatiently wait for the opponent to make a move. Once the opponent makes a move, the young player will look for another cool move and repeat the process.

The problem with this thinking process is you are not looking at your opponent’s response, and thus not calculating more than 1 move.

To become a stronger chess player, the first step is to learn and practice calculating 2 or more moves in any given position.

Let’s look at an example.

Here white has the opportunity to win a piece on the spot. Answers at the bottom of this page.

Breadth versus Depth when calculating moves

As an experienced chess player, I’ve often heard the question ‘How many moves can you calculate’? Well, like many other questions, the answer is ‘it depends’. And in chess, it depends on the situation of a position.

In some positions, I’ll calculate 5-10 moves in a row, to make sure everything works in my favor.

In other positions, I’ll just calculate 2 moves, but search through 3-5 different variations.

Examples

Depth

In this position, white uses a combination that takes 6 moves, but every move is forced.

Breadth

Here, white’s combination also decides the game, but there are a few different responses by black.

Pawns promotion race – an intense calculation exercise

When a pawn reaches to the other side of the board, it can promote to a queen or any other piece besides the king or pawn.

In many endgames, the result will come down to who can promote first, and then he can use the queen to stop opponent’s promotion.

In this type of situations, it is crucial to calculate clearly, because if you missed one move, the result could change fast

It’s time to count and race the pawns.

Answers the puzzles above (ordered from top to bottom)

Puzzle 1. 1.Qxb6 axb6 2.Rd8+ checkmate

Puzzle 2. 1.Qxf4 Qxf4 2. Nd7+ Kg8 3. Rxe8+ Kh7 4. Nf8+ Kh8 5. Ng6+ (discovery check) Kh7 6. Nxf4 wins back the queen plus all the interest (rook and knight)

Puzzle 3. 1. Qxd7 Kxd7 (if Kf8 2.Qxe7+ checkmate) 2. Bf5 Ke8 (if Kc6 3. Bd7+ checkmate) 3.Bd7+ Kf8 4. Bxe7+ checkmate

Puzzle 4. 1. h4 a5 2. h5 a4 3. h6 a3 4. h7 a2 5. h8(promote to queen) stops black from promote the a-pawn.

Back to the Grind

Hi everyone!  For everyone living in the Midwest region and East Coast of the United States, it’s recently been a winter wonderland.  I hope everyone is enjoying the snow as much as I am!  If not, well, you’ll probably have to get used to it, because the latter part of this winter seems to show promise for lots of additional snow!

80781f27-f1c6-4a08-87da-0c91a4461a2c
Snow!!!!!

However, this is isn’t a meteorology report, so let’s get to the chess!  Admittedly, I haven’t been very active in the chess-playing world over the last six or so months due to all of the college applications, but with that process finally winding down, I recently had the chance to get back to the board.  This past Friday, I played in a DC Chess League match against someone I had never played before.  I was somewhat relieved about that part because it meant the game would just come down to who the better player was and didn’t rest on opening preparation.

I’ve attached the game with comments and analysis below in the game viewer for your convenience:

Vogler – Kobla, DCCL, 2019
 
What a ride!  There were times when I was a bit rusty and missed some better moves, but overall, I’m more than satisfied with the game I played.  Any time you can win as Black against a player of similar strength, I’d call it a success.  From the start, I was satisfied with how I was able to plant my knight on e5, which could simultaneously control a lot of key squares and blockade White’s isolated pawn.  Once I could get in d5, I was confident in my ability to at least hold a draw, but my opponent’s blunder was certainly a game changer.  At that point, it was just a matter of closing out the game.  White still had pressure while my king was out in the open, but after I could tuck my king away in the corner, my pieces could be more mobile.  The last chance for my opponent slipped away when he took the a6 pawn with his queen, after which I could bring down the hammer with Qg5 and unleashing an attack on his king.  With his queen unable to defend, my major pieces and extra knight overpowered whatever defense he could muster.

Overall, I’m happy with how I played.  Next week, I’m playing in the Chesapeake Open, so I’m hoping that I can continue the success I found in this game.  However, I’m also hoping to prepare more for this tournament, as I’ll be playing in the Open section.

In other news, the Tata Steel Masters tournament started recently, with most of the top players in the world participating.  It’s worth noting that Caruana is not participating, likely resting after all the work put in near the end of last year for the World Championship match.

Good luck in your future games, and always, thanks for reading!

Revisiting the Past

It’s always interesting to go back in my personal games database and look at some old games of mine. It brings back good and bad memories and highlights how much things have changed. The other day I revisited a game from 2014, when I was rated around 2150. At the time, I thought it had been a very nice game, except for a small theoretical slip-up. Upon taking a closer look, I found that that wasn’t exactly the case…

pascetta 1

In this French, I had sacrificed an exchange on f3 as black to reach this position. Back in those days, I was a bit of a chicken, and sacrificing an exchange was about as “wild” as I’d generally go. In this position, black has two pawns for the exchange in the form of a central pawn mass. Black’s rook on c8 is nicely placed, his knight on g6 is temporarily guarding the h7-pawn, and his queen can easily hop into the action. Meanwhile, white’s queen is fairly active, white’s h3-rook looks strange but it’s useful, and his a1-rook will join the game pretty quickly. Black’s plan is to play …e5, with ideas of e4, Nf4, piling up on the c2-pawn, etc. If white sits back and does nothing, things could turn sour for him very quickly.

Looking at this position today, it seems pretty natural that white should generate counterplay. He doesn’t have to perform an all-out attack on the king; he can just keep an eye on it. This could be accomplished with a move like 18.Rf1. 18… e5 could quickly turn into a disaster after 19.Qf5!. Black will probably play 18… Qb6 instead, but after a move like Rf2, Kh1, Rg3, etc. white is doing all right. Black will most likely not get away with 19… Qxb2, and it really isn’t clear what he will do next.

My opponent played 18.Re1, which is a pretty natural move, though it isn’t best. I replied with 18… Qb6. Then came 19.Rb1?.

pascetta 2

This is a move that sets alarm bells off in my IM brain. What really surprises me is that I didn’t make any comment about this move in my notes. 19.Rb1 defends the b2-pawn, but is that a serious issue in the first place? if white say plays 19.Kh1? If 19… Qxb2, white has 20.Qe2 Nf8 21.Rf3, generating counterplay against the black king. One critical resource to spot here is that 21… Qxc2?? loses to 22.Rxf8+! Kxf8 23.Qxe6 Qc4 24.Kg1. White doesn’t even have to play like this. Alternatives include 19.Rf3 and 19.Rf1 (yes, this does waste a tempo compared to 18.Rf1, but it’s still fine for white), after both of which 19… Qxb2 is actually bad for black. Black could play 19… e5 instead, but after 20.Qf5!, white’s counterplay is coming just in time. Another thing to point out is that playing 18.Re1 on the previous move, white is moving his rook right back to the awe-inspiring square of b1 in response to a reasonable move from black (18… Qb6). Wasting a tempo can’t be good, and the white rook will be doomed to babysitting the pawn.

To summarize 19.Rb1: no, no, no, and NO!!!

I naturally wanted to play 19… e5, but I was worried about 20.Rxh7 Kxh7 21.Qh3+, hitting the rook on c8. What I missed was that I actually don’t have to recapture on h7; I can go, for instance, 20… Nf4 21.Qf5 d3+ 22.Kh1 Rxc2, with a totally winning position. My d-pawn is close to queening, white’s king is suddenly shaky, and white’s attack is nonexistent.

Instead, I played 19… Qc5?. Now I’m protecting the c8-rook in those variations and am “attacking” the c2-pawn. However, this is a mistake that gives white a second chance to activate his rook. If white simply moves the rook away with 20.Rf1!, 20… Qxc2 is no longer a threat on account of 21.Qxd4. And if black plays 20… e5 instead, he’ll be met with 21.Qf5! where white is clearly getting serious counterplay. My opponent instead played 20.Rc1?, another bad move. I replied with 20… e5 and got my pawn mass rolling. After 21.Kh1 e4 22.Qd2 d3 black is already winning. My opponent tried to generate counterplay with 23.Qg5, but I played 23… d4 24.Qg4 d2 25.Qe6+ Kh8 26.Rf1 Qc4 27.Qf5

pascetta 3

Wow, those pawns really are rolling. Comparing this to the starting position, it’s fairly clear that white has lost a gigantic amount of ground without getting anything real in return. I finished the game off with an elegant trick: 27… Qxf1+! 28.Qxf1 Rxc2. White has a queen for a knight and three pawns, but he is helpless in preventing 29… Rc1. Not bad! My opponent resigned.

After the game, I really liked my play. True, the ending where my pawns were rolling down the board was picturesque, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. One thing which strikes me now is how wrong my 2014 notes to the game were. Yes, it was nice to live in the bubble that this game had been a masterpiece and that my position had been good all along. I think I didn’t understand that the position is, in reality, around equal. I’ve had a few other such “masterpieces,” where my play was far from brilliant and where my opponents greatly helped my cause.

Takeaways:

  • Don’t judge a position by its cover. Yes, that position was easier to play for black, but white wasn’t helpless against black’s great plans.
  • Don’t just sit there and wait for your opponent to execute his plan. Try to mix things up. If it looks like you will get steamrolled if you do nothing, you should try to generate some counterplay ASAP.
  • Try not to be passive. In this case, white should have tried to keep his rook active instead of dooming it to eternal babysitting with Rb1 and Rc1.
  • Don’t automatically recapture pieces. We all do it, but once you figure out that things aren’t so good after recapturing, look for alternatives. When I was looking at lines with Rxh7, I was always recapturing Kxh7 and didn’t realize that I’m winning after Nf4.

Energy Level

Or Domino Effects.  

When I had a good week of chess training sessions, the following week felt like a walk in the park.  

Easy to get up, excited to set-up the board, energized to do more. 

In a different week, I kept saying I’ll wait until tomorrow, after that next activity, or next week – to get started.  

Even at that new point, I felt lazy, not feeling like doing anything. 

The domino effect, and my energy level follows the same pattern.  


We’re wrapping up 2018 and getting ready for a exciting new year.

There is no way of knowing which week will be tough and which smooth.

But let’s tip the scale a bit more to the active mode, and favor towards motion forward.


Be Active. Play More. Let the domino fall in an energetic way! 

Happy New Year!

2018 Wrap-up

2018 was a wild ride for me. There were ups and downs, highlights and lowlights, victories and failures, and more. Since the year is almost over, it’s time to reflect on what happened in 2018. Instead of giving a monologue about what happened, how about some statistics…?

Shortest game: 9 moves. It was (shockingly) a draw.

Longest game: 79 moves. That was the 5th round of the U16 Olympiad, the day after we beat the top seed Uzbekistan, where my game lasted “only” 77 moves. Chess is tough :(.

Highest scalp: GM Sergey Erenburg (2656 USCF) at the last round of the East Coast Open in May.

Lowest-rated loss: William Graif (2293 USCF). Considering that this is my worst lost over an entire year, this isn’t that bad.

Longest winning streak: 5 games. After beating GM Erenburg, I won my next four games at the Stamford Open before taking a draw in round 5 to win the tournament.

Longest losing streak: 3 games at the U16 Olympiad, which was a really awful time to pull something like that off…

Longest undefeated streak: 13 games. This was a streak from July-August that unfortunately ended in round 8 of the Washington International (more on that later).

Highlights: I had my fair share of successes winning a few tournaments. My most memorable victory was tying for first at the NY International. The fact that I lost my first round in that tournament made it special.

Lowlights: Two awful fails stand out: the first was at the Washington International, where I lost my last two game when 1.0/2 would’ve gotten me a GM Norm. The second was at the U16 Olympiad, where I lost three games in a row in rounds 5-7.

Funniest moment: That was for sure when the lights went off for the third (!) time during round 5 of the Washington Chess Congress.

Favorite move: Somehow, I haven’t had the opportunity to play any eye-popping brilliant moves this year. Instead, I’ll make a strange choice for this one:

Arias 2

This was the 8th round of the Philadelphia Open. On the previous move, white could have played 26.Re1 g6 27.Qf3 dxc3 28.bxc3, but the game is headed towards a draw. Instead of going for that, I spiced things up with 26.c4!?. This relatively sound pawn sacrifice bore fruit: the game went 26… g6 (26… g5 was possible as well) 27.Qf3 Bxc4 28.Re1 Ne3? 29.Bc2!, after which white magically wins a piece. While what happened in this game is far from brilliant, I’m glad that this kind of educated risk-taking worked out. If only that could be said about uneducated/irresponsible risk-taking…

Worst blunder: I’ve had a few, but this one is by far the worst and the most painful:

Ortiz Suarez 3

In this position, I playepd 35.bxa5???? and had to resign on the spot after 35… Bc8+. The worst part about this was that I would’ve gotten a GM Norm had I won this game.

New Year’s Resolutions: Uh oh, now is the time to make intelligent, realistic New Year’s resolutions. Well, that’ll be hard…

NM Pursuit #3: Reflecting on 2018

As the year 2018 comes to a close, one image has been at the forefront of my mind:

Progress #4

The following image of my rating progress this past year presents the following blunt, yet essential question: what went wrong? After all, I finished the year lower rated than when I started, dropping below the 2000 mark for the first time in quite a while. Moreover, I did work on my chess quite a bit, finishing the first book in Yusupov’s improvement series. As I reflect on my chess development this past year, two fundamental problems in my approach to improvement have suddenly become quite clear to me:

  1. I forgot about calculation. I don’t mean that I forgot how to calculate (in which case I probably wouldn’t even be a 1400 player), but rather that I forgot to work on and develop my calculation abilities. During my last few tournaments of the year, I suffered quite a few blunders and managed to lose multiple winning positions. The majority of these conversion slips were linked to sloppy calculation at critical moments.
  2. Lacking Theoretical Knowledge. This applies both to the endgame and the opening: most of the time I don’t really know what I’m doing by move five or so, with the occasional exception, and I often don’t manage to achieve the correct theoretical result (whether it be a win or a draw) in a given endgame position.

In order to address the two problems above, I will be focusing much more on tactics training with a board and pieces in 2019, as well as powering through Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual to develop my endgame knowledge. As for opening study, I will start reviewing my lines for at least thirty minutes every day rather than waiting until a tournament comes along and frantically preparing in the final minutes before each game. With consistent effort, and perhaps a bit of luck, I am confident that these changes in my training will reintroduce a positive trend to my rating graph this coming year.

Thanks for reading and happy holidays!