The Wild g2-g4?

One of the more interesting phenomena in modern opening theory is the unabashed g2-g4 push on seemingly arbitrary (at least to the unfamiliar) opening occasions.

Predictably, most of these shots are based on more dynamic intentions, and since each situation is different, it’s hard to pin down a lot of general principles here. The Shabalov-Shirov (who else?) line of the Meran Semi-Slav is perhaps the most famous (and theoretically heavy) example, demanding specific knowledge and tactical foresight to play at a high level. Black can accept the gambit (note the hanging pawn on h2), flout White’s attack completely (castling into some potentially open kingside lines), or play it safe with …h6 (as is somewhat more common), but all give White compensation in various ways.

Since each situation is different, discussing g2-g4 in general is more of a thought exercise (at least if you’re lazy or don’t study many openings, like me). Still, the potential of such a bold gesture is clear in many of these situations, compensating for what is often a gambit or positional gamble.

(By the way, g2-g4 can happen much earlier than move 7; for example, as 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4 4. g4!? or even 1. d4 f5 2. g4!? if you’re willing to relax your definitions.)

In a game I skimmed over last month, a young 1900-rated player chose an early-looking g2-g4 that I was vaguely familiar with due to having seen it in a book. The author, being a Caro-Kann expert, is a fairly no-nonsense player and I, feeling similarly, didn’t think too highly of the early g2-g4.

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In this position from the Three Knights Caro-Kann, White has just played 8. g4!?. Admittedly, this makes much more sense than I thought at the time (since an ambitious White was probably going to castle queenside and his queen is fairly well-placed for any kingside action), but since I hadn’t castled kingside and had played pretty reasonable moves to reach this position, I didn’t feel like White should have much here. Black has three possible reactions to a potential g4-g5:

  • Ignore it.
  • Curb it with 8…h6.
  • Prepare for it in some other way.

According to a very limited sample of games from chess.com, the obvious continuation of the third type, 8…Nfd7, is very reasonable. Obviously, any further kingside pawn pushes are stopped for the moment, and Black can easily maneuver the other knight to c7.

8…h6 is an obvious candidate, but this creates an obvious target if Black ever castles kingside. Queenside is not the safest option in the world at the moment and White has plenty of power for say, an f-pawn push to break open the center, as in this crushing win for White.

From my previous comment, you can probably guess that I went with the first choice. Again, since I’d played logically up to that point, it’s reasonable to expect Black shouldn’t be too afraid of White’s primitive-looking attack. However, I chose to do this in a rather awkward way, tangling the knights with 8…Nbd7? 9. g5 Ng8, after which White is not as extended as I hoped in most reasonable continuations.

Interestingly though, there are ways to decline this without tangling all the Black pieces on the first two ranks. 8…Na6 has been played, after which White had little to show for the moment after 9. g5 Nd7 10. h4 Nb4 11. Qd1. Even 8…O-O looks dangerous, but White still has work to do before breaking in after moves like 9. h4 or 9. g5 and Black will have chances on the queenside when White castles. An interesting battle is in store once the opposite-side castling is declared.


Even for someone who doesn’t think terribly highly of them, the myriad g2-g4 possibilities are still pretty intriguing to me. Feel free to give a shoutout to any particularly interesting (or early) ones.

Reflections on Columbus

After the recent disasters that have plagued my play (and I wrote about in my previous article), I was anxious to break out of my funk but also was highly concerned it would continue when I played in last week’s Columbus Open with Isaac. Going into the tournament, I wasn’t feeling super excited to play and took a relaxed approach to the event. I ended up scoring a decent score of 3.5/5, but I believe there was the potential for the score to be higher. Regardless, I was glad to finally break out of my slump, and I noticed a couple of things from the weekend, which I discuss below:

 

Playing to always win or trying too hard to win can be worse than just sitting down and trying to play a good game. It’s easy to tell oneself this, but for me it’s been incredibly difficult to get my mind wired this way. Part of this is because my style is just to always play to win every game, taking risky chances to eschew draws and often lose. Another reason is my environment and personal situation. Ever since I’ve graduated high school and spent the most of my years at college in Pittsburgh, I’m almost always a top three seed in local events. As a result, not winning every single game feels like a disappointment. I am forced to try to win tournaments rather than just playing my best in a tournament that I have no practical chance to win. In addition, I’ve had to fund all my chess-related expenses since I’ve entered college, so winning back at least the entry fee and travel expenses is always in the back of my mind. Both of these things apply psychological pressure on me throughout games and tournaments that I play in now. I entered Columbus as the fifth seed, so while I obviously had a shot to compete for the top places, I didn’t feel obligated to go bananas trying to win the whole thing. This, and my lowered expectations based on my recent play, took a lot of external and internal pressure off me. I noticed I was able to play with a lot more freedom and clarity than I have in recent months because I approached the games in a much more normal, levelheaded way.

In rounds 1 and 2, I managed to win quite smoothly against lower rated players. I was able to dictate the flow and the direction of the game. Staying in control is essential against lower rated players, because the odds are better of an upset occurring when chaos erupts on the board. I also stuck to openings that I knew how to play, rather than using these opponents to conduct opening experiments on. Those experiments could be conducted in a no risk setting online.

In round 3, I was paired up to the top seed Mika Brattain (~2470+). After getting by Mika to win two state middle school championships back in Massachusetts, I was absolutely dominated by him ever since, unable to avoid losses in every single game we played. Clearly he had the psychological edge based on our head-to-head history. I told myself to play naturally and reminded myself every single move I could lose (I did this in all the games except the one I lost, as this mindset allowed me to remember a game is never over till it’s over). With very little effort, we reached an endgame where I was very slightly worse, but I thought a draw would very soon be the natural result. Sure enough, as soon as I thought the game was decided, I dropped a pawn and White’s advantage was objectively winning. I had two choices: defend passively (objectively better) or defend actively (objectively much much worse, but better practical chances). I decided to go for checkmate threats on the opponent king, forcing him to use up a lot of time. As time control approached, the computer evaluation swelled to a +9 for my opponent, but the continuous threats allowed me to luck out and escape into a drawn endgame. I breathed a sigh of relief and was happy with the result, but I also knew that I had to work much harder than I should have to get that result.

Due to color mismatches, I stayed on the top board in Round 4, playing white against Grandmaster Pavel Blatny. If I won this game, I would have had the inside track to winning the tournament outright in round 5. As it goes, I played simple, strong chess for 20 moves, obtaining what I thought was a small, riskless advantage. But once again, my mindset started to stray as I failed to consider even my opponent’s very simple ideas. Once I achieved a good position, I  relaxed and threw away my sense of caution, and this time I wasn’t able to luck out and salvage anything at all. The engine revealed I had a winning shot right before I started to give the game away. Thus, I entered the final round pretty irked about the previous game but also indifferent to the final game considering I had no chance anymore to play for the top prizes. I was able to smoothly defeat a master to cap off a satisfactory event. I realize that a break in concentration and mindset, even for a split second, can affect my results dramatically. My goal is to take some of the lessons I learned from this event to develop stronger mental discipline and play at a more consistently high level. Next major event: The U.S. Junior Open in Minnesota.

Ups and Downs at the New York International

“I have a midterm tomorrow in Art History and guess where I am?” I said to a chess parent, gesturing around the Marshall Chess Club. It was Wednesday night, the first day of the New York International. Despite a test looming, I would not miss the beginning of the tournament, where many of my friends- and many players I did not know- were playing.

It was a good thing I did not miss it. In the first round already, surprises showed that the tournament was going to be exciting. The most surprising of which was CM Maximillian Lu’s draw with GM Irina Krush. Sure, the top 11-year old chess player in the country did not win the game, but when a 2100 player draws against someone like the former women’s U.S. champion, it turns heads.

The next great (and wonderful) surprise was that FM David Brodsky, one of our writers, reached the 2400 FIDE that he needed to make his International Master title. Okay, it was not too much of a surprise- it was obvious that David would get his title eventually. However, it was quite fitting that the tournament in which he gained his first IM norm last year was the tournament that secured his IM title. His article on his achievement articulates his experience more clearly.

 

For most of the tournament, GMs Yaro Zherebukh and Axel Bachmann seemed head to head. Then, IM Raja Panjwani outplayed GM Yaro Zherebukh in a game, changing the odds.

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Photo by Vanessa Sun
raja
Photo by Vanessa Sun

 

 

 

IM Raja Panjwani

 

 

 

 

After what GM Zherebukh claimed was “probably the worst game I played in years,” he was discouraged, knowing he was now tied only for second place. He came back with a quick win over GM Gil Popilski by the next round. I’ll let him tell it.

See full game annotations by GM Yaro Zherebukh

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The final position in Popilski-Zherebukh
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How I Always Feel After a Win | Photo by Vanessa Sun

But again, another surprise changed the standings. Despite GM Krush’s previous hiccup, she managed to beat the top seed, GM Axel Bachmann. This result put her in the running for first place going into the last round. After Irina’s success, there were four players vying for first going into the last round: IM Raja Panjwani and GMs Bachmann, Krush, and Zherebukh.

In the end, GM Krush, beating GM Zherebukh in the last round, and GM Bachmann, beating FM Joshua Colas, tied for first-second. It was a crazy series of ups and downs, with a few of the highlights as the tournament leaders changed countless times. However, the two grandmasters pulled through in the end, enduring long games and with Irina enjoying some upsets. You can see the final results posted on the Marshall Chess Club website.

Although I’m sure it was difficult to annotate a loss that was so crucial to the tournament result, GM Zherebukh annotated this game as well:

See full game annotated by GM Yaro Zherebukh

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Final position in Krush-Zherebukh

Overall, the tournament was thrilling to experience. The Philly International gained more of a crowd than this one, but New York tournaments still draw in quite a few players. No doubt some players used the tournament as preparation for the World Open tournament, which promises some more exciting action to come. This New York International was the 10th edition, but it was my first and hopefully not be my last visit!

Oh, and I got an A+ on my Art History midterm, too.

Some extra pictures I took:

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FM Ethan Li | photo by: Vanessa Sun
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Photo by: Vanessa Sun
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Sophie Morris-Suzuki | Photo by: Vanessa Sun

Long-Distance

It’s funny, everyone tells me distance kills friendships and relationships, but at the same time if that were true, how would anyone in the chess community still be friends with each other? With the creation of social media also came the ability for us to keep in touch with people across the country, even across the world, from us. I have friends in California, in Europe, in Asia whose lives I keep in touch with thanks to various social media platforms. Just the other day, a friend who I haven’t seen in about two years now if not more, messaged me and we were able to have a conversation like we’d never stopped talking, as though the tournament where we met was just yesterday.

In fact, fellow ChessSummit writer Vanessa Sun and I theoretically met through a mutual friend – online. It wasn’t for months even until we officially met at Millionaire’s last October. Especially since going to college and participating in tournaments less, I have been surprised to find that I am able to reconnect with people from the chess world so easily even after no contact for an extended period of time. 

The above interactions prove what I feel like I’ve repeated many times here already – chess is always something you can come back to. The people, the game, the community. So once you’re in – sorry, we’re not letting you go. 

2400.4

I was originally not going to write this article. A week ago Vanessa and I made a deal. She would cover New York International, and I would write about something else. But then things started happening…

Don’t worry Vanessa will still write about New York International, but I will selfishly talk about my own play.

MCC

Historically speaking, good things seem to happen at the New York International.

  • In the 2012 edition, I crossed 1900 and made the All American Team for the very first time.
  • In the 2015 edition, I beat my first GM
  • In the 2016 edition, I got my first IM Norm.

Held at the Marshall Chess Club for the past three years, the New York International is a local tournament with a strong field and norm chances, and it does appear that it is the tournament where I cross a big item off my summer bucket list. This year was no different…

As I mentioned in my article about the Philadelphia Open, my goal after getting my 3rd and final IM Norm was to get my FIDE rating to 2400 which would fulfill the last requirement to become an IM. After some (mis)adventures hunting rating points, my FIDE rating of 2379 was reasonably close to 2400.

I got off to a good start in round 1 by beating Juan Sena (2251 USCF, 2073 FIDE) with the black pieces. We had played a game about a year and a half previously with the same colors which I won. We followed that game for 25 moves until he deviated. Still, the position was very good for me and I soon won.

Round 2 was a surprisingly quick win against IM Jay Bonin (2378 USCF, 2263 FIDE), my first one ever!

So far, so good. 2/2. In round 3, I got black against Raven Sturt (2548 USCF, 2442 FIDE). This game would be a big deal: if I won, my live FIDE rating would cross 2400. It would be 2400.4 to be exact.

The third time’s the charm. Yes, this was the third game where winning would mean crossing 2400 FIDE. And this time I did win!! A year after getting my very first IM norm, my IM quest came to its end.

2400.4                                            Me moments after reaching 2400.4!

Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it to happen. After all, many of my firsts took place at the Marshall Chess Club even when it is not the New York International. They include:

  • My first win over an NM
  • My first draw against an IM
  • My first draw against a GM

Since this game was so important, I’ve decided to just present it in its entirety.

Getting a rating over 2400 in the middle of a tournament fulfills the rating requirement for IM, and there was no reason for me to withdraw to get the IM title. There were 6 rounds to go and more chess to play

Generally, when people get a norm, get a title, or in simple English have a big success, they very often have a bad tournament shortly after it. I don’t know why exactly that happens, but it just does. I knew I should party with caution – I did not want to botch up my remaining 6 rounds for no reason.

In round 4, I held my own with the white pieces against GM Gil Popilski (2623 USCF, 2544 FIDE). The position was roughly equal out of the opening, then I probably got a little worse. Still, I managed to sneak out and make a draw.

A solid result. However, everything comes to an end. My run ended in round 5 when I got the black pieces against GM Axel Bachmann (2674 USCF, 2653 FIDE). I probably equalized out of the opening, but a small concession on my side gave GM Bachmann a slight but nagging edge. Things spiraled downhill, but I made the best out of it and reached this position.

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White to play

White has a very powerful passed pawn, but my pieces are blockading it. I had been expecting 31.Na6, protecting the pawn. White will not be able to queen that pawn, but black will not be able to kick the white pieces out either. I really dislike black’s position.

Instead, I was surprised when he went for a technical solution with 31.Nxe6!?. The game went 31… fxe6 32.Rb6+ Kd7 33.Rxe6! Kxe6 34.Bh3+ Kd6 35.Bxc8 Kxc7 36.Bf5 Nf8

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White to play

The dust has settled after the forced moves. White is a pawn up, but all the pawns are on the same side of the board. In those kinds of positions, the knight is supposed to be better than the bishop. I felt fairly optimistic that I should be able to hold a draw here…

The game went 37.f4 Kd6 38.Kf2 g6 39.Bc8 h6 40.Ke3 Nh7 41.fxe5+ Kxe5 42.d4+ Kd6 43.Kf4 Nf6 44.Bg4 Ng8 45.h4 Nf6 46.Bf3 Ke6 47.g4 Nh7

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White to play

Over the past few moves, white has slowly built up his position, while I’ve improved my knight. The waiting games are now over; black wants to play g5+ on the next move, forcing the white king back. White must act.

I felt confident I should hold this one, but GM Bachmann thought for about 20 minutes on his next move and crunched things out to the end. If you want a hardcore calculation exercise, go ahead! Try to find how white wins this endgame. Then compare your solution to what happened in the game.

OK, that was a bit disappointing, but considering the rating difference, losing that game wasn’t surprising. I was still unofficially over 2400 at the end of day #3.

In round 6, I got the white pieces against Qibiao Wang (2401 USCF, 2294 FIDE). The game can be summed up with this diagram.

QibiaoWang

Look at the black queen! It should be stuck, right? That’s what I thought too. I thought I should be able to trap is somehow… but how? At worst case, her majesty can run away via a4 to c6. And how to even get an advantage with white? I thought for a long time on my next few moves and found nothing concrete for white at all. I didn’t proceed to get anything in the game either, and we eventually drew.

In round 7, I got black against FM Marcus Miyasaka (2250 USCF, 2197 FIDE). This was my 9th (!) game against Marcus. Marcus uncorked some offbeat opening preparation on me, and I was faced with a choice early on: play objectively best moves which would allow Marcus to essentially force a draw OR play something else to get into a slightly worse position with the hope of outplaying him.

I chose the latter. I ended up in trouble but wriggled out to an approximately equal position. I then proceeded to get myself into trouble again. I then wriggled out again to get into a very complicated position where it seemed that all three results were possible. Marcus then had to be careful not to get in trouble, and he managed to get out and reach a drawn endgame. I pressed on for a very long time (probably longer than I should have) trying to win, but to no avail.

Those two draws took some wind out of my sails, but still, there were two rounds to go.

NYI AnalysisStill enjoying chess… Photo by Vanessa Sun

In round 8, I won a powerful game with white against Sophie Morris-Suzuki (2152 USCF, 1790 FIDE), who was having a breakout tournament. In a slightly worse position, she made a positional error that gave me a dominating position which I converted with some flashy rook sacrifices. When it comes to forgetting about what happened earlier in the tournament, there’s nothing like winning a game!

In round 9, I got black against GM Michael Rohde (2468 USCF) (2413 FIDE). I had played him with the same colors about a month previously, so I could recycle some of my preparation… there was another factor to consider; if I drew the game, I would get my 4th IM Norm. Only three norms are required to become an IM, but FIDE needs to approve them. It does not hurt to add extra norms on the application in case FIDE finds something amiss with any of them.

And I did draw the game. It was a fairly correct game from both players; neither of us had anything by move 20 when we agreed to a draw.

Brady-Me                         Me with Dr. Frank Brady and Frank Marshall…

What’s the overall conclusion? I scored 6/9, got an extra IM Norm, gained 18 FIDE and 12 USCF rating points, getting to my peak ratings on both, but most importantly I crossed 2400 in the middle of the tournament reaching 2404.8 after round #4. A solid performance.

What’s next for me?

FIDE will hopefully approve my IM title in October at the 88th FIDE Congress. The question that now faces me is where to go next. And for the moment, I’m not quite sure. For now, I guess I’ll just play chess…

Next on my tournament schedule is the World Open, which starts in a couple of days. We’ll see how it goes…

Since this is quite a big achievement, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on my quest so far, namely, my coach, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Greg Shahade and the US Chess School, the Marshall Chess Club, all the organizers that gave me a chance in their invitational tournaments, and many others that helped me by analyzing or advising or just being there for me.

Jedi Mind Trick: Fooling Myself to Victory

It took nearly two months, but this past weekend I finally saw the benefits my European excursion had on my play. A performance rating over 2350 at the Columbus Open and my first win against a 2400+ rated player were certainly unprecedented, and proved to be my next big jump towards National Master. Where did this performance come from? Here is a story about how I needed to trick myself to start playing good chess again.

Welcome to the Dark Side

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Getting into trouble on a Tuesday night. I was lucky to save a half point here…
A week before my trip to Ohio, I played in a local rapid tournament to prepare for the grueling two day schedule. I’ve never been a particularly strong rapid player, but I was fairly dissapointed by my 2/4 score, as my games were marred with mistakes and uninspired play.

I was ready to brush it off as a bad day at the office, but the last round of my Tuesday night tournament also screamed the same word: Slump! After getting a great position out of the opening, I somehow found myself getting outplayed by a lower rated player and miraculously got a draw.

So the script going into the Columbus Open was already written. Those glory days I had in Europe were long over – my undefeated triumph in Budapest and opening creativity in Reykjavik were just memories now. Clearly I had bad form – it was Tuesday night, and I had until Saturday morning to stop atrophying.

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Burger night in the ‘Burgh
But across three days, what can you do? Not much really – of course I did about an hour of tactics each day, but I just tried to relax and focus on my cooking. With each passing day, I just braced myself for a rough weekend, as the competition in Columbus seemed to be toughest I had faced since last summer’s World Open (and I didn’t need any reminders as to how I did there). That National Master title seemed really far away, so I just wanted to play good chess. This would just have to be another one of those dreaded “learning experiences”.

Making the Most of Things

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Chess^Summit co-author Grant Xu sharing his round 3 draw!
It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about how changing a pregame routine for the sake of one game can help a lot, but what about for a whole tournament?

For the sake of convenience, I decided to limit my packing to a backpack, which meant some wholesale changes to my tournament approach. Typically, I like to dress fashionably for my games – button down shirts, sweaters, and so forth. If the pros do it, why can’t I? Not this time – I didn’t want to draw attention to my games, so t-shirts it was! Instead of the wooden set I have brought to tournaments for most of the last decade, I brought a cheap plastic set. I packed to just play chess and have a fun weekend away from Pittsburgh. Road trip!

What I didn’t realize was that I had already tricked myself. Backpacking? I just did that for three months in Europe. Just play chess? That was my exact mantra going into the Dolomiten Bank Open last February. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Columbus was the next stop on my European trip.

By believing National Master was out of reach, I tricked myself into throwing all stress out the window.

Taking Down the Death Star

As Grant and I walked into the Union at Ohio State University, our phones buzzed with our first round pairings, and I had quite the test. Paired with Black against a 2400+ rated FM, I’d have to take on one of the top 50 blitz players in the country in a G/60 game – a simillar time control to the previous week’s rapid event. My record against 2400+ opposition hasn’t been great, so my expectations were minimal going into this early morning round.

In a pairing that had all the makings of a blowout win, the result proved to be exactly that – though after only needing 8 minutes on my clock, it was my opponent who extended his hand to tender his resignation. My first 2400 scalp, and a masterclass against the London System at that!

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I wonder if Brutus plays chess…
I was fairly relaxed for my next two games against 2300+ opposition. I finished the day at 1.5/3, which was impressive considering the level of competition. Admittedly I could have had an even better score, but I was just having fun, remember?

I opened Sunday morning with an easy draw against a National Master, giving me White in my last game against an expert. A win would mean finishing on a plus score with a great overall tournament performance, and a loss would flip the narrative.

Playing 1 e4 was not my Intention!

As I needed it in Reykjavik, I needed to count on my opening creativity and willingness to explore to get the point. After 1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. e4 e6 6. d5 we reached a French by transposition:

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Steincamp – Jakob, position after 6. d5
Now if I were a 1 e4 player, and my opponent a French (or Sicilian) player, this would have just been a normal position reached by 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 cxd4 5. cxd4 Nc6 6. Nc3 or 1. e4 c5 2. c3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. cxd4 d5 5. e5 Nc6 6. Nc3. But I’ve only played two King’s pawn openings in recent memory, and as I had researched prior to the game, my opponent played the Alekhine’s against 1. e4, so we were both out of book.

Luckily for me, I wrote an extensive article about the French last year here on Chess^Summit, and so conceptually I was able to identify plan’s for White. As I discussed in the aforementioned article, the French is inherently strategically risky for Black because it lets White grab space in the center and locks in the c8 bishop. In return, Black gets dynamic possibilities to break the center with various pawn breaks, but should Black fail to prove a homeostasis in the position, White will have a simple static advantage and no risk position.

One thing I really liked about this transposition was that Black has already “released the tension” on d4 since we reached this position through the Exchange Slav. This early trade is not to most French players’ liking, as sometimes its helpful to insert …Qd8-b6 before trading on d4. After 6…Nge7 7. Nf3, my opponent erred with 7…Ng6?, giving me a lasting edge with 8. h4!

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Steincamp–Jakob, position after 8.h4!
I actually think Black is already strategically lost because he loses the ability to play …f7-f6 by force, so he has no ability to counter the center. Even though 7…Ng6? was an obvious error, this just goes to show how thin the line can be between equality and a lost position in the French for Black. Black’s play must be action-oriented. I got a dominating position in just a few moves, and even though I blundered later in the game, my position was still strong enough to get the win.

The Force Awakens

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Fried chicken in an outside restaurant in Columbus! Food in the city was easily one of the many highlights of this trip.
Ideally I won’t need regularly deflating performances to help me play better chess, but what this tournament showed me was that when I throw stress out the window I’m a much stronger player! Going forward I’ll be treating these tournaments more as weekend getaways than chances to make National Master. So it may be a while before I wear a button down shirt to a game again…

My rating jumped from 2134 to 2159, so I can start to smell the title, but it’s still a few good performances out. Since I have a while before my next weekend tournament, I’m going to focus a lot on tactics and calculation as I try to close the gap to 2200. I definetly feel a lot more confident in my play than I did a week ago, so I’m hoping to keep it up!

 

 

 

CHESSanity: A Story

“Dad! I want to teach too!” cried my little brother, Wesley, then only ten years old.

My dad (who then was, ironically, trying to solve some chess tactics himself) huffed in annoyance at my brother’s irritating persistence.

“You’re too young to teach,” he sighed for the umpteenth time. “Your brother is already fourteen and almost in high school. Nobody wants to learn from a ten-year-old.”

Undeterred, my brother continued his tantrum. After half an hour of incessant wailing, my parents finally gave in and found a willing six-year-old student who lived only five minutes away from our home. In an unexpected turn of events, my brother’s fervent passion for teaching actually transcended his supposedly young age.

It was around this time that parents in my community began latching onto the notion that chess could really benefit their child’s development. As relatively cheap but effective options, my brother and I were the perfect fit for beginners. His students, as well as mine, began growing in number.

Soon enough, the inquiries about my brother’s and my availability to teach overwhelmed my parents’ WeChat inboxes. As full-time students with extracurricular activities outside of chess, my brother and I did not have the time to give chess lessons to 10 students a week. So, in order to accommodate the heavy influx of requests we were receiving, my brother and I began giving group lessons every Friday night starting from early 2014.

Our inaugural group of 6 to 8-year-olds was probably the most talented group I have ever worked with. Some alumni include Liran Zhou (currently the #1 ranked 9-year-old in the nation and 2016 K-3 National Champion), Ellen Wang (currently the #1 ranked 9-year-old girl in the nation), Lisa Jin, Edison Huang, and Jeffrey Zhai. All of these brilliant young kids are currently ranked in the top 100 in their age group in the nation—and to think they arrived at our weekly Friday night lessons without a clue on how to play chess.

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Greater NY Scholastics (2/5/17); Back, left to right: Wesley and Warren Wang; Front, left to right: Lisa Jin, Ellen Wang, Jeffrey Zhai, Edison Huang, Liran Zhou

With such success so early on, what was there to lose?

And so our teaching career took off, and CHESSanity’s foundation was born.


By the fall of 2015, I had been teaching chess in the aforementioned manner for over a year and a half. It’s incredibly hard to ascertain what exactly sparked the idea of our next initiative, but the thousands of dollars in tuition we had thus far collected from students wasn’t just about to go to a new iPhone or a new video game console.

Still, there is one memory in particular that stands out when I reflect back on various inspirations for our current main project: CHESSanity’s Adopt-A-School-Initiative.

When I was in tenth grade, my school’s varsity badminton team traveled to Hempstead High School for an away game. Entering the school, I was shocked to see metal detectors embodying the entrance and armed guards patrolling the hallways. Having been fortunate enough to be sheltered from such conditions, I had only seen such sights on TV or on the news. Yet, Hempstead High School was only a 20-minute drive away from my home…

At the end of the day, although my team won, my biggest takeaway was not the victory, but the memory of a then unimaginable sight.

After some research, I discovered that Hempstead wasn’t alone—this aforementioned visual typifies many school landscapes. Over time, I came to realize that these excessive safety precautions were actually representative of an inherent sense of trouble and unrest in the surrounding environment. In these schools, crime filled a void in students’ lives early on—a void that exemplified a lack of resources. It was crime that became their escape from reality.

By this time, I had achieved the USCF Candidate Master title as well as a multitude of experience as a chess teacher; I knew what beneficial impact chess could have on an individual. In winter of 2015, while running my weekly Friday night lessons, I had an epiphany. For my pupils, I was able to transform chess from a board game into an inherent part of their lives. Why not introduce chess to these underprivileged students? Why not chess to fill their void?

Using our newfound Adopt-A-School initiative as a springboard, I began my journey to mitigate the problems schools like Hempstead faced. Soon, the “sent” tab of my Gmail became littered with unanswered messages. Undeterred, I continued to persevere—I felt obligated to ameliorate these students’ plight.

A breakthrough came in the spring of 2016. Through a series of email exchanges, a meeting with the superintendent, and a generous donation of 55 chess sets, CHESSanity was accepted into the Wyandanch School District and invited to a Board of Education meeting.

Other schools began to follow in quick succession. My brother and I completed a 3-hour intensive training session for Roosevelt school district’s elementary and middle school students in March. Additionally, during the past spring, we conducted lessons every other Thursday for 1st-3rd graders in the Hempstead school district.

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Jackson Main School (Hempstead, NY) – 3/23/17
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Lesson Time! (Jackson Main School)

Overall, the positive feedback we are seeing is enormous—after a few sessions at Hempstead’s Jackson Main elementary school, I found that the impact I strived for had been realized. These young children were beginning to spend their free time studying from their very own “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” book. We had finally filled their void.


Though, over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m not only teaching to fulfill some parents’ unrealistic expectations for their children, nor am I teaching in order to supposedly improve critical thinking abilities in these same children (of course, that’s just an added bonus).

What I’m really hoping for is that these students will take an intense liking for chess—it can be a passion that they will take with them for a lifetime. 

After all, aren’t we all just playing chess because we love it?