In one of my earlier articles, “Analyze This”, I discussed a basic, multi-dimensional approach to analyzing a game. This method discussed physically replaying the game on a board as well as leveraging an engine to confirm decisions or show alternatives then comparing the two. In my last article of 2017 I will go through a brief but illustrative example of putting this method into action.
This game was recently submitted for analysis at Chess^Summit, a game between myself and someone I have been playing with for some time. The game took place back in September and is brief at only twelve moves, but in those moves I can showcase the tools made available in the framework I have discussed for self-analysis. First, let’s take a look at the scorecard and run through the game.
I first played through the game on a board and made some notes as I progressed. I played from each side of the board and considered alternate moves, what my idea was, what my opponent’s idea was or may have been, and where the advantage rested. Being as the game is a few months old, my ideas and playing style have changed a bit. That being said, going over older games is a great way to gauge progress as well as observe bad habits or positive trends. Now that we’ve put the board away, let’s load the pgn into an engine and compare our observations to the database.
I have been doing much of my analysis in the free version of ChessBase Reader 2017. This free but powerful software is a basic version of the industry standard and has a very user-friendly interface. I’ve highlighted the Kibitzer option at the top of the screen. This feature will show where an advantage lies and which moves are traitionally best. I have also highlighted the opening bar. If you are unsure what opening you or your opponent are playing or choosing a variation from, look no further than this bar. Now, let’s explore this game…
After the move e4, we can observe the Kibitzer in action at the bottom of the screen. As you can see there is little in the way of an advantage after this first move, (0.01) denoting a miniscule advantage to white if black were to play e5. You can also see a very common continuing line.
Alright, now we are five moves into the game and we can see the Kibitzer thinking. We can see from this position that white is making a supported threat to the King with a minor piece. We can also see the control the pair of Knights has on the center of the board and that white has a fair lead in development. In the opening I compare development, King safety, central control or possession, and pawn structure. White is one step away from castling whereas if black wants to castle short they must deflect the attack by white, use two tempi to move pieces and a tempo to castle. While both sides are missing a strong central pawn, black has had their piece routed to the side by capturing and white has many avenues to protect the King while exerting further pressure on black.
Following the scorecard, we can see that move 10 is where the noose starts to really tighten for black. White identifies the weak f7 square and looks for a way to exploit it. Offering the Bishop, white could either try to compensate and recapture or go further into the enemy camp and end the game. Black’s Bishop attempts to threaten the Queen on move 11 with …Bf6, but with that move it is too late, Qxf7#.
While it worked for white in this example, looking back and knowing what I have learned from my coach, studying, and much reading, I have to embarrassingly admit I violated some fairly basic principles in pursuit of a relentless attack, something that admittedly was very much my style in the past. Instead of Nc6, if black played Bd7 it would have been a very different game. Another opportunity black missed was move 11; Qe7 would have undermined white’s attack on f7. While many observations and notes could be and some have been made for every move in this game, for the sake of this article I will sum up my analysis with three key observations for both sides:
My top 3 takeaways for white in this game, good and bad, are:
Sometimes you might get lucky, but loose or poorly supported attacks in the opening can be easily countered and put you at a significant disadvantage or cost you the game.
White developed their minor pieces quickly and attacked with all the pieces.
White kept consistent pressure on their opponent and didn’t leave much breathing room, but some of these moves could have crippled white’s further attack if black had countered or responded in a different way.
My top 3 takeaways for black this game are:
Look at the whole board when considering your next move. Try to think WHY your opponent made that move or attack and consider what if any other pieces may be teaming up to take down the King.
Identify weak squares and maintain awareness of them; again, multiple attackers were focused on that pesky f7 square and had significant firepower directed at it. A position such as this should send up some red flags
When the Queen and a minor piece are in your camp and eyeing up your King, you may need to exchange or counter to survive. Options to artificially castle are present even if you need to exchange Queens and capture with the King.
I hope this brief example of leveraging technology in tandem with using your brain and growing situational awareness has helped. I’m happy I can utilize this game between a chess.com friend and myself as an introductory example of self-analysis. I feel this is a nice follow-up to my prior article on analysis and should give you all the tools you need to being your journey. As you progress and analyze your games you will begin to see trends and have data to back it up. The immense power of modern chess engines is incredible and much of it is absolutely free; I’ve attached a link to ChessBase Reader below if you’re interested.
Have a wonderful and safe holiday! I promise we at Chess^Summit will be growing and are excited for what 2018 will have to offer you. I can’t wait to share the future, our future and the future of this game we love with you!
Well, if I was looking for a Cinderella story to make it over 2100 this past weekend, I certainly didn’t find it. This year’s edition of the Pennsylvania State Championships pushed me to the limit – testing my stamina, resilience, and my composure in ways that I have never been tested before. Upon the tournament’s conclusion, I had convinced myself that the 3/5 result I produced simply derived from bad luck.
With a little over a day to rethink my results, I have to admit, there were a lot of elements working against me, but I also created my own luck in the latter half of the tournament, which saved me from having an even worse result.
What do I mean by bad luck? Until the last round (when it was already too late), I was never able to put together any serious momentum. In the first round, I got paired down against an ambitious youngster. Even though I got an edge out of the opening, I hyperextended and quickly lost my advantage. While I missed a chance late in the game to win, my opponent didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hold the endgame to a draw. Not an ideal start, but a comeback is manageable, right?
With only thirty minutes between the rounds to catch my breath, I learned that I would play defending State Champion and fellow Chess^Summit author Grant Xu for the first ever Chess^Summit v Chess^Summit tournament match up. Grant had taken a half point bye in the first round and was ready to play, surprising me out of the opening and catching me off guard.
Though I somehow managed to equalize, I was too tired to complete the result and managed to blunder my way through the rest of the endgame, dropping my score to 0.5/2. This put me in a really tough tournament position, as I would need to win out to objectively have a “good” tournament.
At that moment, I felt like I had had some bad luck with the pairings, and went back to my dorm room to rest up for the last round of the night.
Sure, it wasn’t ideal to play Grant with so little time between rounds, and sure, my first round opponent wasn’t quite the game I was hoping to open with, but in reflection, given the positions I had, I think I had some opportunities to score better. Going into the last game, I took the right mentality, forgetting the first two games and telling myself that I was now playing in a three-round tournament. Now this was my chance to create my own luck.
I got paired against a 1500 that night, but still treated the game as if I were playing someone my level. The affair was rather one-sided, but there was an instructive moment during the game that I thought I ought to share.
In this position, it’s my turn, and I’m clearly better. Black has lost his right to castle and has a significant lack of space. Yet how should I press on as White? Black doesn’t have any structural weaknesses and actually has the idea …Be7-g4, attacking the d4 pawn and trying to pry open the dark squared diagonal for his a7 bishop. After some thought, I figured the right question to ask was where should I put my dark squared bishop? I think objectively the options are about equal, but my choice offered me long term attacking possibilities. Can you figure what I decided?
Though this win wasn’t exactly the most challenging, it felt nice to get back into the habit of asking the right questions and making the most of good positions. To my discontent, I got paired down in the fourth round on Sunday morning, and once again got surprised by an opening sideline in which I promptly put myself in a worse position.
I could have been outplayed, but I found ways to keep the game going, eventually pushing the game to equality and even a slight edge for myself before forcing the three move repetition. While objectively a draw was a good result considering the way the game started, I couldn’t help but feel that had I known the theory better I could have outplayed my opponent and gotten a full point. This result meant my last round would be a consolation game, and breaking 2100 would have to wait again.
This was a critical lesson for me, when I just focus on chess, when I just focus on making the best move every move, I can play a great game. Most of the tournament I felt distracted – either being bewildered by my early results, or feeling a need to make up for them later on. But when I was just worried about chess, removing all of the emotional stress of a long weekend of dissapointment, I can well. This is what I mean by creating my own luck.
Not every tournament is going to be ideal, maybe it’s just bad pairings, or the TD makes the wrong decision, or you blow a won game in time trouble – this happens to everyone at some point. To be strong player, you have to put these moments behind you. It felt like most of this weekend I got hit with something new every game – an opening line I wasn’t prepared for (twice!), an underrated opponent, crazy pairings – all of these things were out of my control, but if I could have played as well as I did in the last round in each game, it would not have mattered and I could easily be 2100 again right now.
While it was dissapointing to have trained so hard for this event to only get one opponent rated over 2000, I plan to continue pushing myself for my next tournament in early November. By then I’ll have reached my 20th birthday, and perhaps a little bit of “luck” can rub off on me then 🙂 I guess we’ll just have to see in my next post!
This weekend proved to be a weekend of firsts. First time riding Amtrak without major delays. First time playing chess in the state of New York. First time visiting New York City and the Marshall Chess Club. But amidst all of the distractions, my first time winning an adult tournament! Of course, I had more than my fair share of luck, but we’ll get to that later.
With the late rounds each day, I had plenty of time to explore the city and visit some nearby attractions. While blitz in Washington Square Park was definitely the most entertaining for me, cliched visits to the Empire State Building and the Flat Iron were also highlights of the trip.
As a foodie, New York proved to offer more than I could try. Thanks to some prior research, I thought I had a pretty good sampling of the local cuisine – late night pizza, meatball subs, Japanese barbeque, tacos, doughnuts, and bagels. I don’t think I’ll ever have as many choices when it comes to food near a tournament venue than I did here in New York City.
But enough chit-chat. Let’s talk chess. After not having played tournament chess in over a month and a half, I was a little worried my prior training wouldn’t be sufficient. It took a round 2 loss and a close win in round 3 to finally get into gear, playing much better on the last day to close out the tournament.
Even though the tournament was strictly U2300 and had two time controls (40/90 with 30-second increment, 30-minute sudden death), I thought the format was close to what I’ll see in New Orleans this June. For the first 40 moves of each game, I got to simulate the US Junior Open time controls (90 minutes with 30-second increment). In reflection, I wish I could have been faster on the clock, but for my first tournament back in a while, I’m thinking that upcoming tournaments in DC and Charlotte can help me improve my time management.
Lastly, I must confess, the scholastic players I faced at the Marshall Chess Club were among the most underrated group of kids I’ve ever played. The tactical prowess of my round 2 opponent was particularly impressive (and proved lethal!), and I was nearly held to a draw by the 2016 K-3 co-National Champion! I can only wonder how strong I would be if I grew up in the area… Either way, I thought that my games against juniors gave me a good sense of what I’m up against next month.
Aside from winning the event, I’m most proud of scoring 3/3 with the Black pieces. I honestly can’t remember the last time I achieved a perfect score at a tournament with Black, and I think it was this persistence that helped me capture a tie for first (especially since I started with 3 Blacks in 4 games!). That being said let’s take a look at some of the important moments of the tournament!
Round 1: Breskin – Steincamp
Up to this point, I had mostly been experimenting, using an idea that an opponent once used to beat me only a couple months ago! My opponent’s play has been a little awkward, and it’s unclear where the knight’s future on e4 will be. Meanwhile, my plan is concrete. I will push …f7-f5 and lay claim to the center. Once this happens, my opponent will have no counterplay as d3-d4 will always be met by e5-e4, shutting down White’s g2 bishop.
In chess, you can’t be afraid of going into complications. With my last move, White has a choice. He can give me the center, allowing me to displace both of his knights, or he can sacrifice the knight on e4 for a few pawns, hoping the position will hold long enough to make for an endgame advantage. After a significant amount of time, my opponent made his decision, and in retrospect, probably correctly.
Very double edged, but White can’t afford to sit back anymore. In exchange for the knight, White can get three pawns, but the position implores White to find activity, and already this is not so simple.
15…fxe4 16.exd6 Qd8 17.Qd5+ =+
When I played 14…f5, I saw this move and assessed that I was better as the queen quickly becomes misplaced. What I didn’t consider, however, was 17. Nd2 (Stockfish’s recommendation) with “equality” in a position with lots of options. Backward knight moves are tricky to find, and especially when an active-looking check is a possibility, psychologically it can be very difficult to play the more prudent move. This would be the first of three positions where valuing a check is the deciding factor.
Under immense pressure, my opponent cracks in the form of a blunder! But already, it’s very difficult to find moves. 18. Nd2 is White’s best move, but Black is better with ideas of …Bd7-f5 once the d-pawn drops, and already, it’s becoming difficult to hold the d6 pawn.
Round 2: Steincamp – Chen
After having misplayed the opening, I thought I was reaching a draw after 28… Bxh4 29. Bxc4, where Black is up a pawn, but my bishop pair makes it difficult for my opponent to convert. But as I mentioned, my opponent’s tactics throughout the game were superb, and he caught my oversight with 28…Rxb8! 29.Rxb8 Bd6+
And now the endgame is winning for Black since he has the bishop pair and I don’t. I played out the ending, but it’s not too difficult to convert. Unfortunately for my opponent, this would prove to be his final victory of the weekend, but he played some inspired chess in each of his games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he reached master level in the near future.
Round 3: Zhou – Steincamp
After not much time to rest, I hurried into my third round game somewhat deflated. Though I got a decent advantage out of the opening, I misplayed the middlegame, trading queens too early and allowing my opponent to reach an equal position. Luck was on my side, though, and in this critical moment of the game, my opponent chose the howler, 45.Be3??
Already, the game is dead lost. My opponent, the recently crowned K-3 National Champion, valued a check as the best move in the position, seeing that 45… Bxe3 46. Kxe3 Kc2+ 47. Ke2 was at least a draw. But as the old saying goes, “patzer see a check, patzer play a check”, and I had already seen the simple refutation to this line.
45…Bxe3 46.Kxe3 Rxb6 -+
Winning. If White were to capture on d2, I would play …Re6+, capturing the rook after the king leaves the e3 square. White played on till checkmate, but again, Black will at least win the rook in exchange for the d2 pawn, so the win is still fairly simple once the Black king is able to reach c2.
This was a critical moment of the tournament (though I didn’t know it at the time). In the Russian sense, I had managed to “stop the bleeding” with a win with Black and get an opportunity to play some higher rated opponents. Rather than worrying about my quality of play up to this point, I simply relaxed and used this as an opportunity to sleep and explore the city.
Knowing that my last two rounds would define my performance in the tournament, I woke up early determined to play good chess. After a pleasant breakfast, I took a long walk from Madison Square Park to Washington Square Park to get some practice blitz games against the locals. After some early morning blunders out of my system, I was ready to head over to the Marshall Chess Club to start the final day of the competition.
One element of the tournament that was different for me was that many of the juniors were extremely underrated. As I had seen in my previous two games, their ratings had no reflection of their actual skill.
I went into the last day with a different mentality. At this point, I wasn’t concerned about rating point gain and understood that being upset again this tournament wouldn’t be a reflection of my understanding of chess, but rather a confirmation of the local talent. That being said, my last two games were against adults, so the wrath of the children had stopped.
Round 4: Polyakin – Steincamp
After starting with a King’s Indian, my opponent veered off course with an optimistic knight sac.
I had already calculated this line when I played …e7-e5, and knew that White simply didn’t have enough material to make anything of this sacrifice. Feeling this is one thing, defending it is another. Black is winning, but a single mistake could be fatal.
11…dxc3 12.hxg6+ fxg6 13.Bxg7+ Kxg7 14.Qh6+
No surprises so far. The way I understood the position was that White simply didn’t have entry squares on the h-file, and without any other active forces, I have enough time to shore up my weaknesses and develop my pieces. For Black I think merely pushing the game in a static direction is a valid threat and it’s White who must act quickly.
14…Kf7 15.Nf3 Rg8!
I had seen up to here before going into this line. This move holds my only critical weakness, g6. Once again, White is in do or die mode and ensured he would lose the game with his next move.
The third and final “losing check” of the weekend. White cuts off his own queen from the game, and once my king reaches e8 will have no active options to pursue an attack. If White was serious about creating counterplay, he would have tried 16. Qf4, with ideas of e4-e5 – but let’s not forget, White is still down a piece and Black is still winning.
16…Ke8 17.Rd1 c2
I really like this move as White has to move his rook off of the d-file, giving me more time to develop and start thinking about exploiting White’s king.
18.Rc1 Qe7 19.c5 Nxc5 20.Bc4 d5!
The deciding move. I had looked at 20…. Nfxe4 21. Bg8 Ng3+ with a win, but things get messy when White plays 21. 0-0!, and my king is once again under fire on e8. 20… Be6 was possible, but I think White has accomplished something after 21. Nxe6 Nxe6 22. Qh3 and now my king has to go to f7 or d7 which are quite awkward since both would willingly walk into a pin. The key to this position is to make sure that White’s king doesn’t have time to leave the center. Once the e-file opens, whoever’s king is the weakest will lose the game, probably regardless of material. But at this point, I saw that the follow-up was forced.
The obvious move as Black wins more material. Perhaps 21… dxc5 was possible, but why allow White’s king to get out of the center and centralize his rooks? Always look for the most practical solution in a winning position.
Winning a bishop. 22. Re1 is met by 22… Qxe1+ 23. Kxe1 c1Q+ and White has lost rook in addition to already being down two pieces. The game lasts two more moves.
23.Rxc2 Bf5 24.Re2 Bd3 0-1
And my opponent resigned here. A confidence booster for me here as the win meant I could play for first and continue playing 2100+ rated competition. Granted, my opponent gave me this game just as much as I won it, but I still had to defend adequately to get the point.
I won the game in less than two hours, which gave me plenty of time to explore and relax before the big finale.
Thanks to my loss in round 2, I was still a half-point behind the tournament leader, and needed him to draw or lose to have a chance to win the tournament.
Luck came once more on my side, as he drew quickly, playing too quickly to convert an extra pawn in a minor piece endgame. That left my opponent and I on board 2 with a chance to tie for first with a decisive result. Thanks to my surplus of Blacks in the tournament, I was given White against a FIDE Master who had just drawn Grandmaster Aleksandr Lenderman last week. The game started out slowly with a small nod in my favor, but in just three moves the balance took a massive swing and my opponent was left behind in the dust.
Steincamp – Sulman (FM)
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.g3 Bg4
I’ve never really seen this move before, even in the Mega Database among strong players. The bishop is a little awkward on g4 since it can always be hit by h2-h3, and it’s clearly telegraphing the idea of trading light square bishops in the future. The more natural square is e6, targeting a d6-d5 break while also maintaining the idea of eventually creating a battery and playing …Be6-h3.
5.Bg2 Qd7 6.Nd5
Moving the same piece twice in the opening may be a sin to some, but here I think it’s particularly useful, stopping Black’s knight from reaching f6, and eyeing c7 in the case that Black play …Bg4-h3.
6…Nge7 7.O-O O-O-O
I was extremely happy to see this move since I think White is more prepared to launch a pawn storm on the queenside than Black is on the kingside. By being on the queenside, Black potentially commits himself to playing moves like …Kc8-b8 to avoid creating weaknesses. This is a loss of time, and in a race position, might not be so trivial. That being said, I totally understand the approach from Black. Already board 1 was moving to a draw, so my opponent wanted to quickly create attacking chances to win the tournament.
Instinctively, I didn’t like this move, but it’s not so easy to demonstrate over the board. Up to this point, I had gained about a 30 minute advantage, so I used most of it here to find the best way to continue.
If we think about it, Black would love a line like …Bxf3 followed exf3 since that would make d4 a permanent outpost for Black. Another issue for me is that I always have to consider the zwischenzug …Ne7xd5, doubling my pawns. Many times, this can be a strategic advantage for White, but if I’m not careful, it can be a positional weakness. For example, a line I considered was 9. e3 Nxd5 10. cxd5 e4 11. exd4 Qb5! =+, where the tripled pawns prove difficult to hold. After the game, my opponent had said he had missed this variation, but I think it’s great Black.
In a position where it’s unclear what to do, sometimes it’s important to stick to Occam’s Razor, where the simplest solution can be the best one. I originally wasn’t thrilled about 9. Nxd4 since e2 becomes a target for Black, but after some time, I realized this was my best option. Sure, Black can try to take on e2, but in a race position, it won’t matter if I’m going for his king. Another concrete problem for Black is that it isn’t clear how his bishop is escaping f8 to an active position with a pawn on d4. My opponent thought this didn’t matter too much at this point, but I think it does need to be considered.
9.Nxd4 exd4 10.d3 h5 11.h4
Setting up the “wavebreaker” we’ve discussed before. I wasn’t too sure how Black was going to attack from here. I thought a positional approach would be to bring the f8 bishop to h6 and trade dark squared bishops, but to do this, he must move the g-pawn, which would allow Nd5-f6. So to execute this idea in full, Black must take the knight on d5, which would open the c-file for my rook – most definitely good for me. My thought on this position was that I was perhaps slightly better, but there was still a game to play here for both sides.
11…Bh3 12.Bxh3 Qxh3 13.Qa4
Nothing special yet, but I wanted to ask Black to prove his point. Once he plays 13… Kb8, I get a free tempo to finally start pushing my queenside armada.
13…Kb8 14.b4 Nxd5?
In our game analysis, my opponent and I agreed that this was the root of his problems. In this position, I get to open the c-file, but more importantly, Black has no threats! As the game shows, it’s not so easy to continue from here. Black’s best chance is to play 14… Nf5, where he immediately threatens to make a perpetual by taking on g3 or h4. Up to this point I didn’t think I was significantly ahead, but after these knights were swapped, I was very optimistic.
15.cxd5 Qf5 16.e4!
My opponent underestimated this move and now is faced with an uncomfortable decision. He can move the queen, at which point, he will no longer be able to access the queenside with it, or he can open the position, allowing my bishop to develop with tempo.
Personally, I thought Black would have been better off leaving the center untouched, as now, not only do I develop with tempo, Black must now make a concession on the queenside. It was this part of the game where I got to test my tactics. Trying to stay calm and not replicate an earlier failure, I got the job done with only a few forcing blows.
Another forcing move. If Black were to ignore me and play 18…Qxd5?, I can win by force with 19. Rxc7! threatening mate on a7, so Black if recaptures with 18…Kxc7 19. Qxa7+ Qb7 20. Rc1+ and I win the queen on the next move. Black can try 18… Qa8, but after a move like 19. Rbc1, are you really going to tell me Black can hold reasonably?
18…Rc8 19.Qb5 g5 20.Rb3
Simply ignoring Black’s non-existent kingside ploys. My idea is to play Rb3-a3 next move, preparing Qb5-a6 with mate. Black will have to open up his king with …c7-c5, and it won’t be pretty.
20…gxh4 21.Ra3 c5 22.bxc5
And all lines are winning here. In the game, Black tried the least ambitious defense thanks to his time troubles, but after 22…Qxd5 23. Rxa7! Kxa7 24. Qxb6+ Ka8 25. Rc3 and Black’s fate is inevitable. I thought Black would try 22… Rf7, but here too I saw that 23. Rxa7! is winning (not all the way till mate though) because 23… Rxa7 24. cxb6, and long story short, Black will not be able to cover all his weak light squares.
22…dxc5 23.Bf4+ Ka8 24.Qa4
The fastest win. If tactics trainer on chess.com has taught me anything, it’s to understand the differences between moves. 24. Qh6 is not as clean because it allows 24… Qd7. My move takes away this option, and since Black doesn’t have …Rc8-c7 in the position thanks to my bishop, he must push the a-pawn…
24…a5 25.Qxa5+ 1-0
Black resigns. If 25…bxa5 26. Rxa5+ Kb7 27. Rb1# and 25… Kb7 26. Qa7#. So that concludes my first ever adult tournament win! It took twelve and a half years to pull off, but to finally do it at the Marshall Chess Club of all places was extremely special.
I’d like to take this moment to thank all of my supporters over at GoFundMe for helping make this trip possible, as well as all of you for following my various accomplishments here on Chess^Summit. Without your continued support, this trip would have never been possible!
While this is a memorable moment for my career, I’ll have little time to relax. Next week is the Cherry Blossom Classic in DC, and the following week is the Carolinas Classic in Charlotte. Hard to believe that in less than one month I’ll be playing for the US Junior Open!
For those of you who were formally introduced to chess like me, you may recall being taught the importance of the solidarity in pawn structures. The more fragmented a structure becomes, the more pawn islands are created. Since pawns are “stronger” together, it’s logical then to believe that each pawn island (or isolated pawn) created thus weakens the integrity of one side’s overall structure. This static consideration is so important that many coaches for beginners say that the side with fewer pawn islands can be considered better! While this grossly undervalues the power of dynamic play, this consideration can help steer the structurally better player in the right direction.
In the case of endgames, understanding this principle is crucial, as a brittle structure offers various targets throughout the duration of the game. In our previous Endgame Essentials posts, we discussed how a weak king or a badly placed piece can single-handedly change a result. By simultaneously asking yourself how you can improve your position and stop the opponent’s counterplay, we can try to stretch out (or limit!) our opponent’s defensive resources by creating a passed pawn, or dominating an opponent’s piece. When taking structures into consideration, often times we don’t need to immediately create our own attacking resources because they are already provided for us. As we have with our past studies, we resume our travel through Magnus Carlsen’s career – resuming in 2009, and today reaching the year 2011.
As we move through each exercise, I encourage you to continue asking yourself how Carlsen can improve his position. When playing against a weak structure, the duration of the plan will take longer, and usually a win is not simply obtained by tactical means like some of our previous examples.
Carlsen – Karjakin, 2009
At a first glance, neither sides’ pieces are particularly impressive. Karjakin’s rook on d8 seems to stand strong on the d-file, but as we’ll see in a second, it actually has no entry square on the d-file that’s particularly useful. To get a better assessment of who’s better, we move to the theme of today’s lesson by comparing structures. In the purest definition of the word, each side has exactly three pawn islands. However, the value of each island is different. For example, visually, we can already see how the isolated c6 pawn is a lot weaker than White’s on h3. By being on a half-open file, Black’s c-pawn can present him with immediate problems. Furthermore, I think something needs to be said of Black’s e5 pawn. While at a basic level it belongs to the same pawn island as the f-, g-, and h- pawns, supporting it with another pawn would actually be a concession for Karjakin. Already, the pawn on e5 limits the scope of Black’s dark-squared bishop. Should Black ever play …f7-f6, he limits the bishop even more, while White’s opposite colored bishop improves.
So as we can see, while Carlsen also has three pawn islands, it doesn’t limit his ability to improve his position. 21. Nd1 Rd6 22. Rc5 Kf8 23. Kf1 h5 24. Ne3 Ke7 25. Ke2 Bg7
Both sides have tried to improve the position, but White’s done a better job of addressing Black’s weaknesses. From c5, Carlsen’s rook hits both the c6 and e5 pawns. Without a clear improvement, White spends this move asking himself “what’s my worst piece?” and finds that the knight on e3 has limited mobility despite its centralization. With 26. Nc2 Carlsen makes a move he’ll have to make anyway to reactivate the knight while waiting on Karjakin to find improvements 26…Bh6 27. Ra5!
Why not immediately take the pawn on e5? Carlsen decided here that given the choice, he’d rather win the pawn on a7. Should White win this pawn, not only does he get a passed pawn on the a-file, but the pawn on e5 still blocks in Black’s bishop. Karjakin didn’t let this happen, but protecting the a-pawn means retreating one of his pieces. Carlsen wasn’t worried about 27…Rd2+ 28. Kf1 Rd1+ 29. Kg2 and with no more checks, Black must go back and protect a7. It’s in this line that we see how Black’s rook isn’t really a factor on the d-file.
27…Rd7 28. Rxe5+ Kd6 29. Ra5 Bg7 30. f4!
Giving Karjakin a choice. By taking the pawn on b2 like he did in the game, Black temporarily puts his bishop offside and has to spend several tempi reactivating it. Meanwhile, White can still put pressure on c6 and a7. While Karjakin’s chances for survival dwindle by playing the role of materialist, he doesn’t exactly have a better option.
30…Bxb2 31. e5+ Ke7 32. Nb4 Kf8 +=
In ditching his c6 pawn, we can safely say that Carlsen holds an advantage. Had Black tried to hold on with 32…Rc7? 33.Rxa7! Rxa7 34. Nxc6 still gives White a nice two pawn cushion. White doesn’t even have to be flashy because 33. Rc5 will win on c6 as well – if 33…Kd7 34. Bxf7 +-.
33. Nxc6 Bc1 34. Kf3 Rc7 35. Rc5 Ba3 36. Rc2
After spending the last few moves to regroup, Carlsen’s ready to move onto phase two of this endgame. While White stands a pawn up, given the nature of rook and minor piece endgames, there’s still more work to do. The most immediate solution is to try to find ways to make the e-pawn passed. With White’s bishop on b3, it’s important to keep an eye out for sacrifices on f7, but there’s time to improve the position first. Since Black lacks any light square control, White can play to isolate Black’s f7 pawn with Kf3-e4, and f4-f5 with an edge. While this never happened in the game, I’m sure Carlsen saw it (the engine approves too!).
36…Nc8 37. Ke4 Kg7 38. Bxf7!
Though the idea of 38. f5 would have won slowly, this move immediately points out Black’s lack of coordination. Karjakin must take back on f7, and whichever way he chooses, he allows Nc6-d8 with a discovered attack on c8. Even with two minor pieces for the rook, Black doesn’t have enough to slow White’s passed pawn.
And now for phase three – creating more passed pawns. By trading the f4 and g6 pawns, Carlsen can have connected passed pawns, thanks to his other f-pawn on f2. Once this happens, Magnus will push the e- and f-pawns until Black’s minor pieces stop immediate advances. The remainder of the game is added for the sake of completion.
Black must now give up a minor piece to stop White’s passed pawns, after which White’s rook and a-pawn will prove enough.
This endgame was particularly instructive because it shows the uncomfortable decision Black must constantly make between material and activity. Here Karjakin was consistently compliant with Carlsen’s pawn grabbing, but once the position opened, White was able to use his passed pawn (like our earlier endgames) to limit Black’s play and win. In our next game, Carlsen faces Ivanchuk in a rook and knight endgame where the Ukranian was adamant to hold onto his material.
So again we have a position where piece play is relatively even. Each sides’ rooks are planning to contend for the c-file and are arguably worth the same at the moment. While White’s knight seems menacing on d4, it can only move backward. Black’s knights have a similar issue as it’s unclear as to where they belong. If we do a basic pawn island count, we can see that Carlsen has two, while Ivanchuk has three. So where in the position is White’s structural advantage giving Carlsen an edge? The d4 square. Since Black’s d5 pawn is isolated, that means a pawn can never kick a piece from d4. However, we already mentioned that the knight here doesn’t offer much for White. When our opponent’s pawn structure doesn’t give us enough to work with, the next step is to see if we can create new targets. This is why Carlsen played 39. h5! and after Ne7 40. Rh1 gxh5 41. gxh5, we’ve reached a new structure.
Even though White’s created an isolated pawn of his own, Black now has three isolani in the position. I think it’s interesting to note how the engine still considers this endgame equal. Perhaps in a perfect world this position is tenable, but in practice this isn’t so easy to hold – and that should be enough for White. Carlsen’s plan is to activate his rook via h1-h4-f4 to attack f7, and then push his queenside pawns to create another weakness.
Black creates a padlock here and has done well thus far to improve his position. Black’s rook is a little awkward on g5, but it’s doing a good job of pressuring White’s only concession as a result of the structure change seven moves ago. Meanwhile, the knight on d6 offers Black mobility, with ideas of …Nd6-c4, putting pressure on e3, making sure the king stands guard.
47. a5 bxa5
This is more or less forced, as 47…b5 48. Nb3! with the idea of reaching c5 and pressuring a6. By trading on a5, Ivanchuk eliminates this permanent outpost.
48. bxa5 f5? +=
Black’s woes begin here with this committal move. Already it was becoming difficult to find improving moves for White, so simply waiting with 48…Re5= would have forced Carlsen to come up with new ideas. The Ukranian’s move is a mistake because it moves his weakness within reach of White’s knights, making it easier for Carlsen’s pieces to create pressure. I’m thinking Ivanchuk just panicked here because Rf4-f6 can be met with …Ne7-g8 and Black holds.
White’s rook is no longer needed on f4 since White’s knights are watching Black’s f-pawn. By activating the rook White can play to infiltrate on the queenside. Black can bring his rook over too, but that means no pressure on h5, and fewer defenders of the f5 pawn. Before relocating the rook, Carlsen will insert f3-f4 to stop any potential pawn sacrifice ideas of …f5-f4 and fix the weakness.
A good rule of thumb for knight endgames is that often times they can be calculated to a result like pawn endings. While this can be impractical to do over the board, being up a pawn in a knight endgame is definitely a promising sign, and in this game, Carlsen manages to convert. For the sake of brevity, I want to skip to a critical moment.
Sacrificing the knight! Thanks to the spread of White’s pawns, Black is not in time to stop promotion. Being able to sacrifice the knight to simplify into a won endgame is an important resource, and it’s definitely not an uncommon endgame idea. The game continued:
Black’s king is too far to stop White’s pawns, so Ivanchuk resigned here. Unlike the Karjakin game, Ivanchuk held onto his weaknesses (and rightfully so!), only to err later with 48…f5?. In retrospect it seems like a simple mistake, I think it’s really illustrative of how difficult it is to play such a position and just hold.
In today’s post, we discussed how a simplistic understanding of pawn islands can help us find weaknesses and weak squares. Similar to having better pieces, having a better structure can give you control of the pace of the game, ultimately making the difference between a win and a draw.
For today’s Free Game Analysis post, I will be sharing two games from one of the strongest scholastic players in Richmond, Matthew Normansell. Just last month, the high school junior tied for 9th in the U1900 National High School Chess Championships, bringing his rating to an all-time high at 1738. In just the three short years I’ve worked with him, he’s gained 1000 (!) rating points, and is trying to break expert before his graduation next June.
So in today’s post, not only will we be discussing improvements in each individual game, we will be pinpointing the strengths of Matthew’s play – specifically resourcefulness. While I haven’t worked with Matthew as much this past year, I noticed that his ability to fight in completely lost positions was one of his critical distinguishing traits from the rest of the MLWGS team.
In his freshman year, Matthew earned the nickname “Beast Mode” for his ability to put together a winning attack despite his propensity to hang pieces. I’d say that from my own observation, a majority of the games he won before breaking 1200 were in fact completely lost at some phase of the game. Obviously, to be 1700, you cannot routinely hang pieces, so at some point, the tactical entertainment evolved to positional resuscitation.
I specifically remember a quad last year where he was extremely worse positionally in each game, yet as a 1400, upset an 1800 and drew a 1950. The value of this resourcefulness in chess cannot be understated, and has proven itself to be a vital characteristic of Matthew’s style.
This past week, I got to analyze Matthew’s games for the first time in months, and I’m rather impressed with how “Beast Mode” has continued to evolve. Rather than waiting to be punished by his opponent, the monster now feeds off his own energy, playing more complete games, much more resembling that of an expert than that of an amateur.
So without further ado, let’s look at the last three rounds of Matthew’s National High School Chess Championship performance in Atlanta.
Yu – Normansell (U1900 National High School Championship, 2016)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4
Here on chess^summit, we haven’t had many opportunities to discuss the Nimzo-Indian, however, it is considered one of the most solid openings for Black against 1. d4 and enjoys a vast following. Black gives himself time to decide between a …c7-c5 or a …d7-d5 thrust by opting to castle first.
4.Bg5 h6 5.Bd2?!
Already White deviates from the main line of the Leningrad System by retreating his bishop here rather than h4 to maintain pressure on the f6 knight. If White was really concerned about structural problems, he should have opted for the 4. Qc2 lines rather than the Leningrad. Now Black enjoys an extra tempo in a flexible position.
A practical decision. Black could have considered an immediate …c7-c5 push to point out White’s awkward development and loss of time with 5… c5 6. d5 d6 7. Nf3 e5.
This position emulates the main line of the Leningrad System as proposed by Chess Openings for Black, Explained but also highlights the issue that without a bishop on h4, both of White’s bishops are bad while Black maintains a strong center. While this is promising, Matthew’s choice to castle instead offers a no-nonsense approach to the game. Having lost two consecutive games earlier that day, it was critical for Matthew to find some momentum going into the last day of the competition, so focusing on fundamentals was the right approach.
Again, remaining flexible. With White’s slow play, Black is in no rush to take the center. This move offers two plans: …c7-c5, or …Qd8-e7, followed by …e7-e5. Needing to castle, White is presented with an unpleasant decision this move, 7. e3 or 7. Qc2 to prepare e2-e4. White probably chose correctly with 7.e3, but either way, a positional concession had to be made. If White had chosen 7. Qc2, Black could consider a “waiting” move with 7… Qe7 because 8. e4 reaches an unfavorable position with Black’s response 8… e5.
Objectively, perhaps Black has better moves, but the point is that structurally White has ceded control over the d4 square, and again, the passivity of White’s bishops is a key highlight.
It’s amazing what a loss of tempo can do to a position. But you have to ask, did White play 4. Bg5 just to bring it back and block it in with 7. e3? I didn’t think so…
I’m not a fan of this move. Of course at some point, Black will inevitably trade this bishop for the knight, but it was critical to wait for White to use a tempo and play a2-a3 first. I think Black had a lot of options here, but I like challenging the e4 square the most with 7… b6. After 8. Be2 Bb7 9. 0-0 Nbd7, Black has a lot of options, the most attractive option being putting a knight on e4.
Now if White uses a tempo to play a2-a3, he loses his last defender of the e4 square, and still has to worry about …e7-e5 and …c7-c5 breaks. If White had tried to stop Black’s pressure on e4 with 8. Bd3, he’ll find how misplaced the bishop on d2 is when Black slaps down 8… Ba6! with the idea of …Nb8-c6-a5. With the real pressure on c4 coming, White also has to worry about his lack of coordination as the bishop on d3 is unprotected.
Black isn’t winning, but it’s clear that waiting to exchange on c3 gives Black more strategic chances.
8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Qc2 Nxc3=
By trading off the dark-squared bishops, White has gotten rid of his bad bishop and has a lead in development. However, with a solid position, Black still holds relative equality. Even though White has space, he doesn’t have a space advantage because of the lack of pieces to apply further pressure. Black will find a thrust and the center and will have reasonable chances to find counterplay.
10.Qxc3 Qe7 11.Bd3
Based on his next two moves, White’s bishop is misplaced here and belongs on e2. While seemingly unusual, this is also the case in many London System positions to put the bishop on e2 instead of d3. With Black’s recent trades the pace of the game has slowed down, but many of White’s troubles start with this seemingly innocuous decision.
11…Nc6 12.h3 e5 13.Bc2 a5!
Just like my post on the Maroczy Bind last week, …a7-a5 comes to the rescue again, stopping any queenside expansion ideas.
14.a3 f5 15.d5 Nb8 16.e4? =+
White seals in his own bishop with this move. With the e4-d5-c4 pawn structure fixed on light squares, White has accepted a bad bishop. To make progress, Black will attempt to exchange his own bishop for the f3 knight, reaching a good knight v bad bishop endgame. Then, by using the dark square strategy, will play to take advantage of White’s passivity.
Simply failing to grasp the troubles of his own position. White needs to undermine Black’s pawns structure to have any chance to equalize and had to at least consider 17. c5.
It’s not really a pawn sacrifice since if taken, the e5 pawn falls so Black has to consider White’s threat to open the c-file.
Again, the misplaced bishop presents problems for White, but at least it’s still a game. By queenside castling, White’s king on c1 means that White really cannot afford to open up that side of the board. Let’s see how Matthew takes advantage.
17…Nd7 18.Rdg1 Nc5!
I really like this move! Black recognized that White really wasn’t threatening anything with this last move, so took the liberty of improving his position while waiting for White to cause more self-harm.
19.g3 Bd7 20.gxf4
White tries to break the static nature of the position with dynamic play, but in doing so, creates a target for Black. It’s never too early to start thinking about the principle of two weaknesses. Here Black gets his first on the f-file by simply recapturing with the rook, freeing the f8 square for the other. White will now spend more time protecting f2 than actually attacking g7. Furthermore, e4 is hit, and now White must also worry about his general lack of stability.
20…Rxf4 21.Qe3 Qf6 22.Rg3 Rf8
While the attack Matthew has essayed seems quite simple, getting here required precise positional play and a deep understanding of Nimzo-Indian pawn structures. Having played like an expert thus far, it’s unsurprising that Matthew but away this endgame with relative ease.
23.Nh2 Rxf2 24.Rhg1 Rf7 25.Rg6 Qf4 26.Qxf4 R2xf4
Even with the queen’s off the board, Black still is able to apply even more pressure on the position, in this case, the weakness on e4. White’s next move, 27. Ng4 is forced, but the simplifications further damage White’s position.
This move was more or less forced but Black reaches the desired good knight v bad bishop endgame.
28.R1xg4 Rxg4 29.Rxg4 Rf3!
Very nice technique as now White must again make another concession in protecting the h-pawn. Aside from a few potential opening improvements, Matthew has looked like an expert this game. Even though he was never under any serious pressure this game, Matthew was able to demonstrate his resilience by bouncing back so nicely from a tough morning. Being able to relax in such tournament situations isn’t easy, and to pull it together in a National Championship environment is certainly admirable.
30.h4 Rf4 31.Rxf4 exf4
Now with a 3 v 1 set-up on the kingside, Black just needs to push his advantage to get the win.
White has misplayed more than his fair share of the positions this round, but this move is the best way to put up resistance, giving the White king time to march to the kingside.
Even in the better position, Black still slows down to make the right decision, the king belongs on e5 and not the knight. Not only can White’s king not help push c4-c5, but it must also stay in the center of the board as to prevent Black’s king from infiltrating on the dark squares.
37.Bd1 Nf6 38.Bf3 b6 39.b5
The last straw. Already in zugzwang, Black forces White to make one last concession. Can you figure out how Black wins this position?
39…Nd7 40.Kd2 Nc5 0-1
White resigned, as every legal move loses material and the game. A really strong game from Matthew. One can only wonder how much higher rated he would be if he played more often!
Let’s check out Matthew’s round 6 match-up from the following morning and see if he kept the momentum going!
Normansell–Best (National High School Championships, 2016)
Since switching away from 1 e4, Matthew’s results have become a lot more consistent with the English. As I’ve said many times with close friends, 1. c4 is the best way to start a game of chess…
And again, we reach another opening where Matthew gets to punish his opponent for wasting time in the opening. For amateur players, I find that understanding timing, development, and pawn structures is critical for improvement.
Again, another no-nonsense approach from the Beast. Opting not to take on d5 to avoid Grünfeld-like positions, this move eases White towards a Catalan where Black is a tempo behind. This is a reasonable approach since the g7 bishop might be better placed on e7 in some positions.
7…c6 8.Nc3 e6 9.Qc2 Nbd7 10.Bb2
This move is objectively fine, but I think 10. Ba3 is also worthy of consideration, given that Black’s dark square bishop is not in a position to test the diagonal. I think after 10. Ba3 Re8 11. Rad1 White has an edge to work with.
White can still plan for e2-e4 ideas, but this time has full control over the dark squares. Even if Black were to try …Bg7-f8, the loss of time is apparent as Black’s remaining development is appalling.
Preparing for an opening of the c-file, White chooses this move . 10. e4 is interesting, but for White, it doesn’t come without cost. For example, 10. e4 dxe4 11. Nxe4 Nxe4 12. Qxe4 b6 with the future idea of c6-c5 justifies the placement of the g7 bishop.
At first, it seems kind of silly that White would have prepared e2-e4 only to make this lesser push. However, it’s completely justified! With Black’s bishop no longer on the long diagonal, White’s bishop on b2 stands uncontested. Black can’t exactly stop a future e3-e4 push, so White is in no rush to carry out this advantage.
Tricks are for kids! In threatening …Bh6xe3, …Ng4xe3 with a fork, Black violates nearly every opening principle. First, I’m not convinced that Black is better if he pulls off the tactic. He loses his good bishop and has to move a knight three times (three tempi is roughly one pawn) to get a rook and two pawns for objectively his best-developed pieces. Secondly, if White defends e3, which he does, what has Black actually gain from this bizarre movement? Tactics and strategy should work together, not operate independently of one another!
13.Rfe1 Qd8 14.h3 Ngf6 15.Rcd1 Bg7 +-
Not only has Black lost time, he has failed to improve his position! Check this out – this was Black’s position after 10. Bb2 (Black to move):
Anything familiar? It’s almost like Matthew’s opponent left the board after 10. Bb2 only to find that Ra1-d1, Rf1-e1, e2-e3, and h2-h3 had all been played and it was White to move! I wondered if this realization during the game registered for Black. I think if this were to happen to me, I’d be ready to resign.
16.e4 dxe4 17.Nxe4 Nxe4 18.Qxe4 Nf6 19.Qc2
Seeing Matthew’s next few moves, I’m going to recommend Qd4-b1! with the idea of creating a Reti battery with Qb1-a1, losing less time shuffling pieces. Ultimately, playing on the long diagonal was the right idea, but Black is so far behind that the extra tempi almost don’t matter.
19…Qc7 20.Bc3 Bd7 21.Qb2 Qd8
This game is 33 moves long, and I’m going to say that eight total moves this queen takes (roughly 25% of the game’s moves!) added no constructional value to Black’s position. The queen would be poorly placed on any unoccupied square on Black’s side of the board, but of course, this is the price to pay for having wasted so much time in the opening.
…Five. At this point, Black’s position is beyond finding one or two good moves. From here on out we’re just going to watch Matthew’s technique.
And the long diagonal is forcefully opened. Black cannot capture the d5 pawn since Ne5xd7 wins material on either f6 or g7.
Hard to say White went wrong anywhere in this game. I thought it was important to notice how Matthew was never in a rush to open up the position and find a win by force. Instead, he optimized his pieces and waited for the best timing to breakthrough. Well done Matthew!
He has one more year left in high school, but if you play competitively in the Mid Atlantic, you’ve been warned. Matthew “Beast Mode” Normansell is probably the most dangerous 1700 rated player in the state of Virginia.
For this week’s post, I decided that instead of breaking down the tiebreak system that gave Karjakin a match with Magnus, I would highlight some interesting games and positions from outside the Candidates Tournament that occurred this month.
While Norway Chess is no longer part of the Grand Chess Tour, it still boasts one of the strongest tournaments in the calendar year. Not only will it feature our first glimpse at a Carlsen–Karjakin match-up, it will also bring players like Vladimir Kramnik, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Pavel Eljanov, and many others. Being a ten seed round robin, a qualifier tournament was run between Jon Ludvig Hammer, Aryan Tari, Nils Grandelius, and Hou Yifan to decide who the tenth competitor will be. Needless to say, after the first decisive game, I knew who I was rooting for.
After much maneuvering, it appeared that this game was headed to a draw after 40. b4, but Grandelius found the best way to press for a win by sacrificing the exchange with 40… Rxe5! While the resulting position leaves Black down a minor piece, it’s White compromised structure that will determine the outcome of this game.
41. dxe5 Rxe5 42. Rg1 Bd8 43. Kf3 Bxg5
With three pawns for the knight, Black has more than sufficient compensation. With best play, the game should be equal, but with Hammer’s next move, it’s Black who has the advantage.
Not immediately losing, but this move gives Black’s bishop a lot more mobility. Hammer likely panicked here, thinking he just needed to get his pawns off dark squares, but trading the e- and d- pawns will only help Black make the f-pawn passed.
44…Bc1 45. a4 Ba3 46. exd5 Rxd5 47. Bc4
I didn’t watch this game live, but I have to wonder if White was in time trouble here. This move simply gives up the b-pawn and any realistic chance at a draw.
Only Black can win this endgame now, and Grandelius converted on move 73. He finished the double round robin with 4 wins and 2 draws. Quite an impressive showing!
Our next game features a well-known prodigy you’ve definitely heard of, Wei Yi. The Chinese teenage superstar hasn’t been doing well as of late, with a rocky finish in the Aeroflot Open and a slow start in the Asian Nations Cup. However, after falling below 2700, perhaps he was inspired enough to remind me why I stopped playing the Najdorf. Let’s have a look:
We’ve already discussed the Be3 Najdorf lines at some length here, but I believe that the Bg5 lines are also an aggressive try for White. This move directly points out Black’s lack of space and control of the center.
6…e6 7.f4 Nbd7 8.Qe2
If I recall from my studies years ago, White usually opts for the f3 square for his queen. However, this move (as Wei Yi proves) is a considerable option. Knowing that Black will likely not castle kingside, White prepares for a future opening of the e-file, while getting his king to safety.
8…Qc7 9.O-O-O Be7 10.g4 h6 11.Bh4 g5 12.fxg5 Nh7
The thematic mechanism for Black in these lines. By exploiting the pin on the g5 pawn, Black usually gets sufficient counterplay on the kingside. The computer generally overstates White’s advantage in these positions, but the point is that Black is walking a thin line between life and death.
13.Bg3 hxg5 14.Nf5!
The computer move! White’s idea is to sacrifice a piece to open up the Black monarch. While such a position comes at the price of a knight, Wei Yi proves once again that activity is of much greater importance than material.
One of the key points of the last move. Sacrificing the knight on f5 gains White entry to d5 (with a tempo). Black must play 15… Qd8 to stay alive, but after the natural 15… Qb8?, White’s pressure on d6 and e7 alone is enough to end the game.
15…Qb8 16.exf5 Ne5 17.Nxe7 Kxe7 18.Rxd6!
And Black’s position collapses. The sad thing about it is that most of the tactics are intuitive, meaning that Wei Yi could have easily played them move-by-move from here and Black would have still never had a chance.
18…Qxd6 19.Bxe5 Qd5 20.Bg2 Qxa2 21.Bd6+!
Drawing out the king so it can’t retreat to f8 for relative safety. Now all White has to do is ensure that Black’s king stays in the center.
21…Kxd6 22.Rd1+ Kc7 23.Qe5+ Kb6 24.Qd4+
Great technique! Black now must move towards White with the king as a7 is taken away.
24…Ka5 25.Qc5+ b5 26.Qc7+ 0-1
Wow, Wei Yi made it look easy! The best part? For him it truly was. After spending 14 minutes on 14. Nf5, and then two minutes on 15. Nd5, he needed less than a minute per move for the rest of the game, and then fewer than eight (!) seconds a move after 19. Bxe5. Talk about some confidence!
And our last moment for today comes from the latest round of the Schachbundesliga where the best team Baden-Baden was upset 3-5 by Werder Bremen.
Naiditsch–Smerdon (Schachbundesliga, 2016)
Here Black just played 34… Qf8, leaving the b6 pawn unprotected. In a moment of blindness, Naiditsch decided that in his slightly worse position, he needed to find counterplay along the 6th and chose 35. Rxb6?? Can you find the Aussie’s demolition of White’s position? (see diagram below)
Black found the best way to exploit White’s weak king with 35… Nxe4! and now White has problems. The knight is untouchable as 36. Bxe4 Rxe4 37. Qxe4 Qh6+ and checkmate is unstoppable. In the game, White chose 36. Bg2 but didn’t last much longer after 36…Qg7 37. Rb2 Nc3 0-1
Sometimes even Grandmasters blunder! Interestingly Naiditsch, while in time pressure, had much more time than Smerdon had (47 seconds). Interesting to see what time trouble can do to you! Just look at the ending of my game last week!
I hadn’t planned to play a rated game until Saturday’s Pittsburgh Chess League finale, but when I got the email saying my Tuesday night class had been canceled, I quickly found myself playing an extra rated game against a local expert from Carnegie Mellon University at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.
Usually when I post a game to chess^summit, I make sure the selection has some sort of specific instructional purpose. That being said, I can’t say that this game can be marginalized into such a general category. Even though he fell behind early, my opponent did really well to hold and even missed a few chances to equalize!
So if today has a theme, let it be complicated positions. Honestly I can’t remember winning a game this difficult (and almost blowing it too!).
1. This move doesn’t develop or get Black’s king safe.
Okay, this is obvious, but still a valid point. By postponing the fundamentals, Black risks falling behind positionally should the attack not pan out.
2. Black cannot push …f7-f5.
This is the main problem with this move. If the f-pawn is pushed, Black gives White an outpost on g5 for a knight or a bishop.
Knowing this, I opted for 10. f3, giving me the option of Rf1-f2 if needed. Furthermore, if Black tries …h5-h4, g3-g4 can now shut down the position.
10.f3 Bxg2 11.Kxg2 h4
As I mentioned before, the g5 square becomes weak, yet it’s not so easy to exploit. At this point, I began to look at 14. gxf5, but I didn’t like it on account of a few reasons:
1. The g-file opens
Even if this is tenable, I do feel like Black is getting the play he intended with his opening choice. With the g-file open, Black’s plan is to play … f5-f4 and queenside castle to bring his d8-rook over to g8. This is a lot of pressure, which brings me to my next point.
2. I’m not punishing Black!
Remember back when Black played 9… h5 when I said my opponent wasn’t following opening principles? 14. gxf5 not only fails to capitalize on this detail, it actually rewards Black for his play!
So this being said I played the anti-positional move
Taking away from the center! But it turns out here that matters aren’t so trivial, Black’s king is still in the center, so opening the e-file with a future f3-f4 or d3-d4 push may be lethal. It was here that I noticed that Black’s weakness wasn’t the square on g5, it was the f5 square! By taking in this manner, the structure has changed; so a pawn on g4 helps support a knight on f5 and close the g-file. As my knight reroutes to f5, my bishop will find the right moment to go into g5 and cramp Black’s position.
And the best part? 14. exf5 was one of the computer’s best moves!
So Black opted for the stingiest move, but it also once again neglects development and king saftey. Immediately I wanted to play 16. gxf5:
The concept of cousre is to break Black’s center, leaving his king out in the open. This all works if Black plays along: 16… Nxf5 17.Nxf5 Qxf5 18.f4
Because of the discovery threats on the queen, castling for Black comes at the cost of a pawn. However, not all captures are forcing! I soon realized that my dystopic outlook on the position was not only incorrect, but potentially losing after Black’s amazing resource, 16… Nh6!
This shifts the game from dynamic play to static play. With 16. gxf4? I’ve actually given up any chance of securing the f5 outpost and opened the g-file for Black’s rook. Trying to stop Black from castling with 17. Bg5 still looks grim after 17… Nhxf5 =+.
And here it’s clear that Black is simply better with no real counterchances for White.
So I had to be less direct, yet still keeping the position in a dynamic state. With my next move, I highlighted that the f5 pawn is still weak.
My c3-knight was no longer planning on reaching d5 since Black can play …c7-c6 now, so trading it for Black’s best piece was appealing. Black took drastic measures with his next move, but he had several options to consider.
After some post-game analysis, I’ve come to the opinion that this was the best shot to equalize. While it creates light squared weaknesses, it neutralizes my grip on f5 and g5, while blocking in my bishop on c1. I had seen this during the game, and thought I had found a tactical resource in 17. Nxd4 fxg3 18. Re1 g2+ 19. Kg1 0-0-0 20. Nf5
But after some research with Stockfish, here it’s my play that’s burned out, and soon I will find that the g2 pawn is not protecting my king, it’s a protected passed pawn! All endgames favor Black here.
However, my opponent didn’t play this move when originally given the opportunity, so he must have thought the assessment was the same as before.
16… Nxe2 17.Qxe2 fxg4 18.fxg4
With evasive play, Black has avoided the loss of a pawn, but even after 18…0-0-0, my opponent will find his lack of development and counterplay concerning. My knight will find the f5 square, and my bishop, g5. White’s position plays itself.
This isn’t really a move for Black, but it does a nice job of illustrating his dilemmas after 17. Nxd4 exd4 18. Re1+
The win still needs work, but you get the idea. A trade on d4 eliminates Black’s ability to pressure the long dark squared diagonal, and opening the e-file will favor me.
So my opponent, uncomfortable with his options, played a move I hadn’t considered.
16. … Nxf3?!
The idea that opening the long diagonal will give Black strong play. However, this is the first innacuracy of the game! With this line my opponent forces me to seal in his bishop and open the e-file.
17.Rxf3 Qc6 18.Nd4!
18…exd4 19.Nxf5 Be5 20.Bg5! +=
Black really needed to try 22… Qd5 to force me to play slower.
White’s plan would be to play Qe2-e4, trade queens, and go into an endgame with small winning chances. But with my next move, my opponent realized how active I had become.
The computer gave me an option here that holds on to my grasp on the position with 26. Rf1 Rh7 27. Kg1 getting out of the pin 27… Nf6 28. Ng3 += with a slight edge.
I do have to say, so far the game has been very complex, yet there have not been any missed tactics by either side. Coming from the position of strength, I have to say this is a testament to my opponent’s defensive resourcefulness to find holding moves each turn. However, with the queen trade on c6, I must win again – this time however with an advantage on the clock.
26. … Qxc6 27.Rxc6 Kd7 28.b5
29.Bxh6 Rxh6 30.Nxd4
I had to make sure that this trade worked, and I think again my opponent found the best resource in 30… Rhf6. Let’s quickly look through some of Black’s choices:
30… Rxf3 31. Nxf3 Rf6 32. Nxe5+ does not win a piece! Black can prolong the fight with 32… Ke6!
…and White must stop the threat of mate on f1 with 33. Kg1, meaning that this is the position that must be understood. While Black may still be able to hold, I assessed that my advantage had increased since Black must give up the c7 and a7 pawns (the importance of a prophylactic measure like 28. b5!). Since I believed I had better winning chances, I was okay with this position.
So simplification does not come to Black’s aid. Black can’t afford to be passive either since the backward 30… Rhh8? has a tactical problem. Can you find it?
Here I had found 31. Rxf8 Rxf8 32. Rxc7+!! since now 32… Kxc7 is met with 33. Ne6+ with a winning minor piece endgame. Black can’t save himself with 32… Ke8, threatening mate on f1 and the knight on d4, because 33. Rc8+ forces a trade of rooks, and now I must find Nd4-f5, followed by d3-d4 to limit Black’s ability to attack my h2 pawn.
It’s clear that only White can be better, and of course I knew my opponent wouldn’t go for it. There was one last option I didn’t consider until after I had made my move in 30… Bxd4?! the concept being that my king is stuck on h1 and the constant threat of mate is a problem for me.
While this may be a potential drawing resource in other positions, my b5 pawn makes c7 a permanent backwards pawn and target. So in the line 31. Rxf8 Re6 32. Rc1, Black cannot both be active and defend c7 as 32… Re3 33. Rf7+ still gives White reasonable winning chances.
But as I said, I thought my opponent found the most aggressive try despite his time troubles.
31.Nf5 Rg6 32.Rc4 Rb8?
Black had much better in the more flexible 32… Rfg8 33.Ne3 d5 34.Ra4
And while Black remains a pawn down, he has reasonable drawing chances. Having a bishop in the center of the board alone should be enough compensation for the extra g-pawn, not to mention, my queenside stucture is also quite hideous.
33.Rxh3 Rxb5 34.Rh7+ Ke6 35.h3
35…Rb1+ 36.Kg2 Rb2+ 37.Kf3 Rxa2 38.Rcxc7
42.Ra7 a3 43.Ra5+ Ke6
44.d4 Bh2 45.d5+ Kd7 46.Ra7+ Kd8 47.Rb4
Missing the simplest win in 47. Ra8+ Kd7 48. Rac8, and Black must give up an exchange to stop the threat of Rc4-c7#. But at this point I was already playing my opponent’s clock – with 8 seconds left, he can never hold this, right?
47. … Rb2 48.Rxb2?? =
Here I thought that my opponent could make no progress with the b2 pawn, but with it on a dark square, his bishop can hold it until the rook comes to the rescue. So as I promised, one blunder… moral of the story? Don’t look at your opponent’s clock! If I had just spent 1 more minute, I would have realized that 48. Rxb2 allows too much play and that 48. Rba4 is a lot simpler.
48. … axb2 49.Rb7 Be5 50.Ke4 Kc8 51.Rb5
As my opponent correctly pointed out in our post-mortem, …Kc8-c7, followed by …Rf6-f8-b8, not only is the best mechanism but now I have to worry about losing the game entirely. White should be fine if I bring my king to c2, but my kingside pawns become weak and won’t be able to promote with the bishop on e5 guarding both g7 and h8. But I got lucky…
Here my opponent resigned after realizing my rook is protected on b4, and my f-pawn is soon queening. Tough game and my opponent did well to hold, but he simply just made more mistakes than me.
As I said before this (really, really long) analysis, there really isn’t a particular theme I can sum up here. But there were some key points:
Early attacks mean neglecting development. Sometimes the best defense is to find ways to punish your opponent for not following the fundamentals.
Captures aren’t a truly forcing move. In this game, there were two points where a pawn takes pawn move could be ignored, and thus change the entire evaluation of the position.
This brings me to my next point, always evaluate who is statically better each position. This constantly changed throughout the game, so it changed the focus for each player’s goal as well.
Time trouble for your opponent is not time trouble for you! Say what you want, but I’m going to kick myself for this Rxb2 move more than I’ll pat myself on the back for winning. Next time I won’t be so lucky.
I thought this was a really interesting game, and I hope you did too. For me, winning (despite some errors) was a great way to rebound from the Pittsburgh Open and start thinking about my summer calendar – specifically the US Junior Open!