Taking A Break

I started playing chess when I was around 4 years old in China, once I picked up the game, it became a continuity.

After coming to the U.S. around 11 years old, the intensity increased, and more tournaments in the U.S. meant more chess as well.

Before college, I decided to take some time off from chess. And that time off really did not stop, as I never got back into the game competitively since then.

Looking back, I would have preferred more strategic breaks between 4-17 years old Xiao. Breaks to clear thoughts, and to realign next steps of the journey.


I’ve enjoyed the journey with Chess^Summit team over the past year, and read many thoughtful posts from the team myself.

After a year or so of writing, it’s time for me to take a step back from Chess^Summit. What that means for my chess content creation is still an unknown, but the adventure of producing chess content on the internet is only the beginning.

Thanks to Isaac and the team for the opportunity, and thanks especially to the readers.

Until next time: Make moves with a purpose.

Twitter: simplerxiao

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Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik to Retire

The annual Tata Steel Masters chess tournament, held at Wijk aan Zee ended a few days ago, and GM Magnus Carlsen edged out GM Anish Giri by half a point to win the 14-player single round robin.  It was fitting that the two players with the highest score could battle it out in the last round.  Giri, with the white pieces, could have caught Carlsen at the top of the tournament standings had he won their head-to-head matchup.  Alas, Carlsen held a draw, which confirmed that he would win the tournament.  Congratulations to him.

However, the biggest takeaway from the tournament didn’t have anything to do with Carlsen, or even any of the contenders, for that matter.  After the tournament, longtime grandmaster and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik announced his plan to retire from classical chess.  It’s worth noting that he specified he would only be stepping away from classical time controls, as he added he might return for rapid, blitz, or simultaneous events in the future.  He also mentioned he plans to continue scholastic instruction, such as through camps.

Even if Kramnik’s play wasn’t as strong near the end of the career, the announcement is still significant in the chess world as he is still one of the most iconic players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Born in 1975, he first made waves when he joined the Russian team at the World Chess Olympiad in 1992.  Three years later, he served as a second for Kasparov, who played and won against Viswanathan Anand in the World Championship match in 1995.  One year later, in 1996, Kramnik briefly usurped Kasparov as the #1 player in the world based on a tiebreak rule, despite both players having the same rating.  At the time, Kramnik broke the record for being the youngest player to reach #1 in the world (Carlsen would break that record 14 years later in 2010).  In 2000, Kramnik bested Kasparov to win the World Championship, essaying the now-infamous Berlin Defense on multiple occasions as Black to stymie Kasparov while securing a couple crucial wins as White.  He kept his title as World Champion until 2007, when he was beaten by Anand.  Still, Kramnik maintained top-level play.  He continued to win several tournaments, and he notably won the Chess World Cup in 2013.  In 2016, he reached his peak rating of 2817 and climbed up to the #2 rank behind Carlsen.

By playing such a long and illustrious career, Kramnik accrued numerous notable games.  Thus, in order to appreciate just how well he played some games, I’ve provided a few below for your ultimate enjoyment.

Kramnik – Kasparov, Moscow, 1994

Ivanchuk – Kramnik, Dos Hermanas, 1996

Kramnik – Morozevich, World Championship Tournament, 2007

Aronian – Kramnik, World Championship Candidates, 2018

The above four games are just some of Kramnik’s lengthy list of “good” games, with the most recent occurring just this past year at the 2018 edition of the Candidates tournament.  In each of these games, Kramnik either had a menacing attack or outdueled his opponent positionally (or a combination of both) to secure the victory in convincing fashion.  The amazing thing is that each of these games is from a different period of his career – the first, being before his working with Kasparov; the second, after working as Kasparov’s second and near the time he overtook him as World #1; the third, during his tenure as World Champion; and fourth, much later in his career.  It goes to show how Kramnik was able to keep playing at a high level for such a long time, and it’s an admirable quality that I’m sure a lot of chess players strive for, me included.

Overall, Kramnik has had an incredibly successful career, so it doesn’t come as very much of a surprise that he decided to step away at this point.  It’ll be nice to see him coming back occasionally for tournaments with shorter time controls, like a few legs of the 2019 edition of the Grand Chess Tour.

Even though Kramnik will (probably) never see this, I wish him luck in his future endeavors and hope he can continue changing the chess world for years to come!

Positional Exchange Sacrifices

Upon hearing the word sacrifice, most of us think about brutal sacrificial mating attacks, but that’s not always the case. Exchange sacrifices can be based purely on positional reasons in endgames. They can be a way out of a bad position, or they may be the best way to get winning chances.

How do you know that your exchange sacrifice is worth it? Obviously it all depends on your position, but I’d say that the following factors would be good indicators

  • Afterwards your pieces will be well-placed (that’s obviously a plus!)
  • Your opponent’s rook(s) is/are not active or will not have an easy time infiltrating
  • Your opponent’s pieces aren’t so active in general
  • Your position is relatively secure
  • You have passed pawn(s) that your opponent needs to worry about
  • Last but not least, the more pawns you have in return for the exchange, the better

Now I’m obviously not claiming that ordinary exchange-down positions are ok for you. No, no, no! A rook is better than a minor piece in most circumstances. And of course you have to calculate accurately, since you really can’t justify losing by force. Let’s look at a few examples.

At the recent U16 Olympiad, I did make a (good) exchange sacrifice.

isik

I was black in this strange position. White has passed pawns on g5 and f6 that are blockaded but do tie up black’s pieces. Meanwhile, white’s bishop does a much better job blockading the g5-pawn. Black doesn’t have a clear plan of action here, and if white can get a rook to the h-file (say after Kf2 and Rh1), black’s position won’t be pleasant.

Taking everything into account, I decided to play 24… Re5! here, with the idea of sacrificing an exchange on g5. This is a good idea from a practical perspective. White’s f6-pawn will still be a thorn, but I’ll be able to take care of it by playing Kd7-e6. Besides that, the only realistic problem with black’s position is that white invades with a rook and takes my queenside pawns, which will become an issue but doesn’t seem to be too concerning.

While white is still the one pressing, this is a better scenario for black than if he waited around and let white proceed with his plans. In the game, I was able to successfully hold a draw after some adventures.

While the idea of sacrificing an exchange came to me naturally there, I’ve had some mishaps in the past. Take this example from 2014, when I was ~2250 USCF:

davtyan1

Again, I was black in another fairly strange position. Black has a pawn lodged on d3, but white has his a knight lodged on d6 in return. How to handle this? Black is in check and obviously has limited options. A tempting possibility here is to remove the knight from d6 by playing 19… Rxd6! 20.exd6 Nf5.

davtyan2

White’s life is far from easy here. If black could simply play Nxd6-e4, he’d be dominating. Since 20.Rc1 attacking the c5-pawn is simply met with 20… Kb6, white will probably play 20.e4 Nxd6 21.e5, where black has lots of compensation after 21… Ne4, Re8, Nf5, etc. This is because black has a solid blockade on the light squares, his d3-pawn is strong, and white’s rooks simply don’t have open files to exploit. While it’s not so bad for white, black is for choice.

Instead of that, I played 19… Kb6, which isn’t a bad move. It’s after 20.a5+ Kc6 21.Rc1 that I made my howler.

davtyan3

Here I should have also gone 21… Rxd6!. After 22.exd6 Kxd6, black will have a lot of compensation for similar reasons like above. Instead of that, I played 21… Rb8??, preventing Bxb4, but after 22.e4 I found myself in a lost position, since I won’t be able to save my c5-pawn. I went on to lose.

Looking at this game now, I’m totally shocked I didn’t sacrifice the exchange. The first time is ok, but the second time!?

Those two games had some similarities. Both were fairly strange positions full of imbalances, though they were also fairly closed positions in which rooks weren’t that powerful. It was also easier for me to establish a blockade after sacrificing the exchange than to play the positon “normally” in both situations.

Scanning through my games, I’m surprised how rare these positional exchange sacrifices are in my practice. This goes to show that yes, being an exchange up is usually a good thing, but there are situations in which a minor piece and a pawn are more useful than a rook.

This painful experience of mine from a couple years ago shows that a rook can truly be dominated.

exchsac1

I thought I was doing all right in this position, but not after I got hit with the strong sacrifice 33.Rxc8!. After 33… Rxc8 34.Nxf5+ Kf7 35.Ne4, black is in big trouble.

exchsac2

White’s knights are quite well-placed and powerful, especially compared with their black counterparts. Moreover, they’re attacking the d6-pawn. If it falls, black’s position will be in ruins. I therefore played 35… Rd8, but after 36.Ba5 Rd7, my rook is literally stuck. To be more precise, it’s totally dominated. I went on to lose this position.

Long story short: positional exchange sacrifices do exist and can be quite good in various situations. If it looks like you have a lot of purely positional compensation after an exchange sacrifice, it’s worth a shot!

Getting Back To Chess and Winning the Atlanta Open!

Recently, time for playing serious chess tournaments, other than the occasional Friday night blitz tournament, has been very sparse. Luckily for me, with my schooling being off due to winter break, I had enough free time to play in a serious long time-control tournament- The Atlanta Open! Despite my rustiness and my fear of repeating a rudimentary poor performance in my prior tournament months ago, I somehow managed to win the tournament and become the Atlanta Open Champion! Let’s go over one of my early games this tournament.

Game 1: White against Weston Sharpe (2051)

In my experience, the first game after a long break is always the hardest. Additionally, although I reviewed my openings somewhat before the tournament, my opening knowledge prior to the game was at best, sufficient. If this wasn’t enough setback already, this was the second time I’ve played this opponent. The first game I played against him, I was crushed with the black pieces, and although I was excited at the prospect of potentially getting revenge, I wasn’t too confident going into the game. With all of that said, let’s jump right into the game.

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 9.48.06 pm

After a couple of random moves in a KIA-esque opening, black is already close to equality. Already my opponent, if he should desire, could simply take my knight on e4 and go bf6 and already be close to equality. However, he decided to try something more aggressive.

Nxe4, dxe4 Nf6
screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.20.25 pm

With this series of exchanges, I found my e4 pawn under attack. While it seems natural to gain space with e5, I was hesitant to go into this variation. Instead, I found a knight maneuver that interested me enough that I decided to go for it.

Nd2 Nd7, Nc4 b5, Ne3 a6

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 9.55.36 pm

After a couple of nonsensical moves from black, I started liking my position. Why? White’s dark square bishop is staring directly at black’s king. Additionally, my pieces are well placed and can easily shift from the kingside to the queenside and vice-versa should I choose to do so. Finally, black’s king is relatively undefended and acknowledging the fact that my pieces are well placed to begin an attack, I decided to do so.

Ng4 Rfd8, f4 Bb4, Rf1 Nf8, c3 Bc5+, Kh1

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.01.26 pm

And now all my pieces are ready. With the f pawn getting ready to march down the board with the support of the rook on f1 and my dark square bishop ready to open up at any moment’s notice, the pressure was too much for my opponent and he immediately blundered.

Bg6?

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.04.13 pm

This move is simply too much. Although I’m not completely sure what my opponent missed, my best guess is that he was planning on Bh5 at some point without realizing that I simply have Nh6+ with a discovered attack on the Bishop and winning a pawn.

f5 Bh7, f6 h5, fxg7 hxg4, gxf8=Q+ Kxf6, Qxg4

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 10.08.33 pm
After those series of exchanges, black is now down a pawn. Furthermore, his king is completely open and with white’s heavy pieces staring right at the black king, Black is completely lost. It only took two more moves until black threw in the towel.

Qe5, Bc1 Bg6-black resigns 1-0

Forgetting that his f pawn was pinned, black quickly realized after hitting the clock and immediately resigned.

Not a bad game to resume my journey in chess. Although the opening was nothing special, though some precise play and with the help of several inaccuracies from my opponent, I was able to surmount a successful kingside and win the game. While it was sweet to get revenge against my opponent and start off the tournament with a win, the tournament was only about to get harder. But that’s a topic that can be saved for another article. Until next time! 🙂

 

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!

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.

————-

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

————-

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!