Over the Board with Dan Schultz – Chris Wainscott

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of Over the Board. In this monthly Chess^Summit exclusive I will go one on one with players, personalities, and writers from around the world. We’ll discuss their lives on and off the board and get advice on how to improve.

For this inaugural edition, I have the great honor of doing an extended interview with a player and writer I greatly admire, Mr. Chris Wainscott. Chris has written for Chess Life, Chess Life Online, and American Chess Magazine while also maintaining his website ontheroadtochessmaster.com. Like myself and many others, Chris began to pursue his chess ambitions later in life setting his goal to prove you can achieve a title, something I know he will do. Chris has done a lot for the sport and is a very talented writer, we discuss a great deal and cover a lot of ground in this unabridged interview.

Wainscott-Wallach - photo credit Allen Becker

Wainscott v. Wallace – photo credit Allen Becker

Chris, what first sparked your passion for chess? Do you have a first chess memory?

The passion came later, but my first chess memory is from the age of four. It was 1977 and the Fischer Boom was either dead, or at least in its death throes. My mom and some friends of hers decided they wanted to learn, so they bought this cheap hollow plastic set that came with a folding cardboard board and were teaching themselves the rules.
Like so many kids I wanted to do what they were doing and so I pestered them to teach me as it looked interesting. I liked games in general and this one just had that ‘something’ that made it too tempting to pass up.
They taught me, and within just a few playing sessions I was beating adults. That gave me a special connection to the game.
For the next decade or so my chess career was confined to the occasional one-off game, mostly with either my mom or my grandfather. Occasionally I might meet some kid at school who also knew how the pieces moved and play them as well.
The passion came in 1987 when at the age of fourteen I learned that my ninth-grade history teacher, Charlie Vetter, was also the guy who ran the school’s chess team. It had never occurred to me before that there could be such a thing as a chess team.
Shortly thereafter I played in my first tournament, which was the Texas Junior Championships. I came in fifth, losing only to the prodigy David Peterson, who went on to be featured in the Chess Kids documentary a few years later.
Of course, my result speaks a lot more about the relative weakness of the field than any strength of mine. Keep in mind that in 1987 scholastic chess was nothing like it is today. Not to mention that the event was held in my hometown of Midland rather than in a major population center.
So, what prompted you to write about chess?
I have always thought of myself, at least vaguely, as a writer. When I was a kid I used to write stories that I would read as a sort of one man play for my family. I’ve written a lot of (unpublished) stories and fragments over the years.
I read Botvinnik’s essay which is in the beginning of his 100 Selected Games book in which he gives the advice that players should analyze their games critically and then publish the analysis to subject it to criticism and correction. His viewpoint was that airing your work would both force a person to be completely subjective as well as helping to improve since you’d get feedback from others.
So shortly after setting the goal of getting to 2200 I decided to start blogging. I did this since at first, I’d say to myself ‘I should do X, Y, and Z’ but didn’t necessarily follow through with those plans. I figured that if I openly wrote that my plan for the month was to do something, and then followed up along the way and recapped at the end I would have to hold myself accountable if I failed.
You can still see the early blog here: ontheroadtochessmaster.blogspot.com
At some point during the year or so this blog was active I decided that it never hurts to ask when you want something, and so I emailed Chess Life editor Dan Lucas and told him I wanted to write a column for the magazine. He let me know that there were no openings for columns, but that he’d happily give me space for a feature. So my first paying gig as a writer was the January 2014 issue of Chess Life which featured my article on improving as an adult.
Around a year into blogging, my friend and mentor Sevan Muradian asked me to blog for his website ChessIQ. That lasted a couple of years until his untimely death in February 2016. Now I write for my own blog, ontheroadtochessmaster.com as well as a regular assignment covering University Chess for American Chess Magazine. I also still contribute to Chess Life and Chess Life Online at times.
Now I saw in an article from Quality Chess that you stopped playing from 1992 until 2011. Can you share what caused the break and what brought you back into the game?
The stock answer to this question always seems to be something about a job and family causing life to get in the way, etc.
My case was completely different. In 1992 I moved from Texas back to Arizona where I had lived for several years previously. I was 19 at the time, and within a few months of being back in Phoenix I wound up a drug addict.
After spending a few years completely out of my mind on meth I got my life together in 1996, but by that time chess had more or less passed me by. It just wasn’t something I thought about much. I didn’t play but maybe a half dozen casual games during my break.
Then, in late December of 2010, I was visiting my grandfather and while digging through boxes of old photos he happened across one of my scoresheets from the late 80’s. I felt something stir deep within the primal part of my brain and I remembered how much fun I had in the five years I had spent as an active tournament player from 87-92.
I recall texting my then girlfriend, now wife, and saying something like ‘I think I’m going to start playing tournament chess again.’ She replied ‘again? When did you ever do that?’ A few weeks later in January of 2011 I resumed playing and haven’t looked back.
Do you feel chess is different now than it was in 1992?
There are so many ways in which it’s completely different. The biggest of course is access to information. For those who didn’t come up in the internet age it’s probably not something easily grasped, but access to information was incredibly hard when I was first playing.
I can recall going to the Midland Public Library with a notebook and copying down games out of books. Or digging through microfiche copies to find game scores from articles in the New York Times or Los Angeles Times.
This is how my ‘database’ was compiled. Nowadays when it’s so easy to decide you want to look at the games of any player and with a few strokes on your keyboard, you can look at pretty much anything. All those memories feel like a dream.
One really funny way in which things changed was the advent of the digital clock. I say funny because of course when I started playing again I immediately bought a board, set, and clock. I was so proud of the fact that I owned a shiny new battery operated analog clock. Then I got to my first tournament and saw the digitals, learned about delay, and realized my brand-new purchase was obsolete right out of the box.
Of course, some things felt exactly the same. I was delighted to find that Vishy Anand was the world champion when I came back. I’d enjoyed his games when I was younger.
I think Vishy Anand is timeless, he still has plenty of championships in him. I greatly enjoy your Quality Chess Challenge and agree their vast content is just incredible. We are coming up closely on February 13th, one year from when the challenge started. How do you feel this challenge has impacted your game? Are there any specific books from Quality Chess that really made an impact?
The Challenge started from an offhand remark by a friend of mine, NM Richard Martin, who said something like ‘Quality Chess’s products are so good you could probably get to master just by studying them.’ So I messaged Jacob Aagaard, who I’m Facebook friends with, and mentioned this to him. He had some interesting insights and input.
I decided to give it a year and so I posted in the Chess Book Collectors Facebook group that I was going to do this. The ‘Challenge’ portion came up when Belgian player Johan Verduyckt said he was going to do the same but using only New in Chess books.
While the Challenge part has kind of died since life got in the way for Johan and he hasn’t been able to play much, the event itself has been both fascinating and frustrating.
Fascinating because QC does, in my opinion, put out amazing books. They are instructive and entertaining at the same time. I really feel that I’ve grown a lot in my understanding of the game during the past 11 months or so.
Frustrating because I am a chess book collector, and so for the past year or so I have acquired a bunch of books that I haven’t really looked at much.
I should point out that one thing I noted going in to the challenge was that I had no intentions of being overly dogmatic. So, there are a few non QC books I’ve used when I didn’t have a QC alternative to use. So I’ve used books on tactics by both Susan and Lazlo Polgar, along with Minev’s book Practical Rook Endgames.
As for books from QC that have really made an impression, I’d say Questions of Modern Chess Theory by Lipnitsky, Soviet Middlegame Technique by Romanovsky, Positional Play by Aagard, and How I Beat Bobby Fischer’s Record by Judit Polgar have helped a lot. The most useful though has been the Yusopov series. If I have one regret from this project it’s that I didn’t really make time for a lot more Yusupov.

arturyusupov

Artur Yusopov

I also enjoy your chesstempo challenge. Could you tell us a little more about that?
I kept seeing George Takei posting these ‘100 Days of ____’ things on his Facebook page which would show how someone improved greatly at something after 100 days of doing it.
I decided that it would be interesting to do 100 days of tactics on chesstempo. I am a firm believer in the value of tactics training, although I also understand that since tactics flow from a superior position just studying tactics alone without working on the other parts of my game would do me very little good.
My initial intent was 100 days of one hour a day of tactics. However, I’ve realized that I need to change that since one hour is eating up too much of my study time. I’ve been thinking about how to modify that, and it’s likely that I’ll change it to 30 minutes a day and roll out the revised version over the next few days.
In fairness to the concept I’ll start over from scratch. Although I should point out that I’ve gained 30 points or so in the couple of weeks I’ve been doing these.
There’s an awesome picture on your website where you are seated between Aronian and Carlsen. What was that like and what kinds of conversations did you have with the players?

SinqCupAutograph2013 Sinquefield CupNakamura, Aronian, Wainscott, Carlsen, and Gata…looking up

That picture was taken the day before the first round of the inaugural Sinquefield Cup in 2013. The photo shoot was pretty much just an assembly line where they were moving people through pretty quickly and so I didn’t get much more than a ‘hello’ out of it.
Something amusing about that photo is just before taking the photo the photographer said ‘look up’ and while four of the five of us looked at the photographer, Gata seemed to take it literal and is looking at the ceiling.
At the time while I of course knew who those guys were, I didn’t actually know any of them. Since then that’s changed a lot. Gata was a friend of a friend, and I had the chance to have dinner with him later that night. In the ensuing years there have been a couple more dinners and some great conversations.
I’ve also been able to spend time in a social setting around Lev Aronian after the past two Sinquefield Cups. Once at the club, and once at the ‘Chess House.’ Watching Lev play bughouse is otherworldly. He’s also the funniest GM I know and what makes that so amazing is that he’s cracking jokes that are perfectly on point in English, which I think is his third, or maybe even fourth, language.
I was very moved by your November Article where you discussed the Sevan Muradian Memorial and the incredible generosity of Hikaru Nakamura. As an outsider, I was very touched and, as a huge fan, it made me love Hikaru even more. What did it mean for you personally to be involved in this?

sevanThe late Sevan Muradian – photo credit Betsy Dynako

Hikaru and I have been friends for a couple of years now. When we first started talking one of our early conversations was about Sevan. Hikaru had known Sevan fairly well and had only nice things to say about him.
After Sevan’s death there was a strong desire within the community to hold a tournament in his name and to donate the proceeds to his family. So some friends and organizers held an event in Fall of 2016 and raised some money.
The decision was made to hold this as an annual event, and at some point leading up to it I realized that there was a chance for us to harvest some resources we hadn’t thought about.
Between myself and event organizers Glenn Panner and Daniel Parmet we know several dozen GM’s, including world champions and other elite players. I had the thought that we should try to get some merchandise signed so we could have some sort of raffle or silent auction to help raise some additional funds.
I reached out to Hikaru and asked if he’d sign a couple of boards for me and he immediately agreed. I sent him the boards and one day I got a message from him saying he had gotten the boards and signed them and that he hoped we raised a lot of money.
He then said he’d like to match whatever was raised up to $3,000.00. I was simultaneously stunned, thrilled, and proud to be Hikaru’s friend.
It was an unprompted and amazing act of generosity. As Hikaru was playing in St. Louis at the time I immediately emailed Jenifer Shahade and let her know about it so they could talk to Hikaru on air during his post-match interview at the Showdown the next day!
It should be pointed out that Susan Polgar and Paul Truong also donated. Both were good friends of Sevan’s.
So which players past or present are heroes or inspirations for you?
WGM Sabina Foiser and her fiancé, GM Elshan Moradiabadi are both huge personal inspirations to me.
Just look at last year, Sabina loses her mother and then within just a couple of months puts up the best result of her career. I can’t recall anyone more deserving of something who was so unassertive about it. A friend and I had dinner with her and Elshan the night she won, and she was beside herself with happiness but also completely humble. It was amazing to watch.
Elshan, who was born in Iran, has had to endure so many things, and is often looked at as an outsider everywhere he goes. Yet he’s one of the most hopeful and pleasant and polite people it’s ever been my pleasure to know. I wish the two of them happiness for the rest of their lives and beyond.
Hikaru is another hero. I was a huge fan of his play long before I ever met him, but having seen him do things like match the funds for Sevan’s tournament and his recent trip to Africa where he spent time with a bunch of kids there and is now sponsoring training for a couple of them has made me glad to know him. It’s always inspiring to see people who understand how blessed they are who make sure to give back.
Yasser, of course, deserves a special place in everyone’s heart. To paraphrase Maureen O’Hara when she went before Congress to persuade them to honor her friend John Wayne – ‘I beg you to strike a medal for Yaz, to order the President to strike it. And I feel that the medal should say just one thing: Yasser Seirawan, Erudite.’
Getting to know Yasser a little over the past couple of years has been great. The fact that he’s also a Dallas Cowboys fan is just icing on the cake!
From the standpoint of chess inspiration, of course Fischer. You have to separate the man from the player, but his games and work ethic stand on their own.
My all-time favorite player is Kasparov. For one thing, I love his saying ‘Hard work is a talent.’ Also, his approach to the game was, and is, unparalleled. I don’t think that anyone has ever worked harder at being the absolute best than he did.
One player who I’d like to give a shout out to is the Russian teenager Vladislav Artemiev. I’ve been following his career for a couple of years now, and I’m really struck by his competitiveness. He grew up, and as far as I know still lives in, Omsk, a town in Siberia. OK, granted you’re not as limited these days by your location since coaching can be done through Skype, etc. But as far as I know he works only with a local coach.
Last year he crossed the 2700 mark, though he is just below that now. He’s also been one of the top blitz players in the world for some time.

Wainscott at SPICE 2017 - photo credit Paul Truong

Chris at SPICE 2017 – photo credit Paul Truong

What article have you written that means the most to you and why?
My obituary for Sevan, published on uschess.org. This was written just a few days after Sevan’s death. The emotions from everyone were still raw and unprocessed. It was easily the most difficult and most rewarding thing I’ve ever written.
The most prestigious thing I’ve written would be the July 2015 cover story for Chess Life ‘A New Golden Age for American Chess.’
That piece on Sevan is such a touching and wonderful piece of writing. So what do you think makes an interesting article? 
I think it’s important to be inspired. As a writer it’s too easy to force yourself to write about something that doesn’t necessarily inspire you. Maybe it’s something you’re doing for the money or for the prestige or whatever, but if you don’t truly believe in what you’re writing then it will reflect in the finished product.
I agree, inspiration and belief in your content are huge priorities. So, what advice do you have for other chess writers?
Don’t be afraid to kill an idea. If you’re writing a non-time sensitive article on a topic that interests you but it’s not going well, it’s OK to take it out back and shoot it. Or at the very least set it aside and come back to it later.
As an example, I am writing an article about the Log Cabin Chess Club, which was one of Fischer’s early outlets for improvement. The leader of that club, E. Forry Laucks, was both a tireless chess promoter and a reprehensible Nazi sympathizer. This is truly a fascinating topic.
I pitched the idea to a publisher and they gave me the green light. However, the research is hard going. There’s just not much information out there than can easily be corroborated. The information that can be verified tends to be repetitive. So to get 3,500 words has been a real challenge.
The original deadline for this piece was around three or four months ago, but I knew that the publisher didn’t have a set place where they intended to run it. So rather than force it and use unverified information, or worse yet filler, I’ve just set it aside. I still look for information sources and have gathered some, and I feel that when I go back to finish this that the final product will reflect the time and love that it took to properly craft it.
I’m presently 30 years old and my personal goal is also to become a titled player. What advice would you give to aspiring adult players who want to improve?
Don’t listen to the haters, of which there will be many. I was told in 2011 when I was rated just below 1500 that if I was lucky and worked really hard then perhaps someday I could gain 100-150 points. Peak to trough the gain has been over 400.
I couldn’t agree more, there are many people telling me the same thing. So do you have a routine or schedule for training? Any specific tools or apps you use that you would recommend?
I try as best I can to do some work every day. I analyze my games, and usually put the results on my blog. I’m a big believer in tactics books, and in ‘solving’ in general. I think that active training such as analyzing my games and solving puzzles has led to my growth as a player.
When I train passively, say by watching a video or GM commentary, I think there is still some value, but nothing like that achieved by active training.
Now, about how much time a day would you say you spend playing or working on your game and what do you work on?
It varies a lot. On a good day I get at least an hour. Some days more, often less.
I play a rated game each week at the Southwest Chess Club on Thursday. I intend to play at least one weekend tournament a month this year since I know that I need to play a bit more than I do now in order to improve to where I want to be. The goal for this year is 1900.
Luckily for me, my wife said at the beginning of the year that she hopes I’m not gone over the weekend ‘more than once a month’ so I’ve decided to take that literally and work on playing in one event each month.
I don’t really work on openings much, but I am trying to get better about that. When I say ‘much’ I really mean ‘at all.’ I spend maybe 1-2% of my time on openings. I’d like to increase that to at least an hour or two per week.
I do play over a lot of GM games, so I’m trying to be more engaged in that process as I know that I have a real weakness with planning and structures.
I do spend a lot of time on tactics and endgames. I’d say I’m probably 30-35% on each of those areas.
That’s reassuring, I spend most time analyzing and working on tactics. What do you feel is the biggest key to growth as a player?
Total immersion. There is no substitute for improvement at anything that beats it. Chess is a fascinating game and really diving deep into positions will pay off.
Are there any roadblocks or plateaus you’ve experienced on your journey?
If you look at my ratings graph, you’ll see that I have had wild swings of 150 points in either direction quite often.
I have plateaued a number of times, although it no longer concerns me since I see it as just part of the process.
Interestingly, the biggest roadblock is one of my own choosing, and that is the fact that I decided to become a writer. If I could take the hundreds of hours I’ve spent researching and writing and give those hours to improvement as a player I have no doubt that I would be much stronger than I am now.
I have no regrets about that though. Let’s say I had already hit my goal of becoming a master but I had never written a thing. Who would know? Who would care? I’d be a weak master, and while personally that would be quite fulfilling, it would have cost me a lot in the way of friendships and experiences.
I had met so many people and made so many friends in the chess world, and almost none of that stems from me as a player.
I understand the feeling. I love chess and writing but often have a hard time balancing them. So when you do have down time, what are your interests outside of chess?
Dallas Cowboys football. Although it’s getting so much harder to watch football these days knowing the kind of harm these guys are doing to themselves. I met John Urschel at the Chess House last year and told him how glad I was he had the sense to retire.
I also enjoy music. I may be 1800 at chess, but I’m like 2600 at being a music fan. I listen to everything from the Grateful Dead to Slayer. Some favorites include John Lennon, Black Sabbath, Willie Nelson, Miles Davis, and Sade. I also play some guitar and mandolin.
Nice! I’m also a guitar player…I’d say NM strength. So what projects are you currently working on?
I mentioned the Log Cabin article from earlier. I also have an interview with GM Awonder Liang which should be on uschess.org by the time this interview runs. I’m also working on a piece about the recently concluded Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships. It will appear in the next issue of American Chess Magazine and I’m going to take what I hope is a novel approach and cover a story that is rarely if ever covered. So stay tuned for that!
I will! So Chris, If readers would like to get in touch with you, what are the best ways to contact you?
Email is good. chris.wainscott13@outlook.com Or you can follow me on Twitter @cwainscottmke
Thank you, Chris, for your time, openness, insight, and a fantastic interview. Next month I will interview a good friend of mine who is a “mad man” of television, stage, and movies. He also happens to be a great chess player who’s helped me out a lot and has some great stories. See you next month on Over the Board.

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Closing Out 2015: Ending on a High Note

Even though 2015 only saw my rating jump by fifty points, I’ve progressed a lot since graduating high school. For today’s post, I wanted to discuss the goals I set for myself back in January and how they panned out, as well as set new goals for next year.

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2015 proved to be interesting, as I pushed myself in playing tougher competition and in being more active in the Richmond Chess Community.

1. Break the Top 40 for 18-year-olds nationally

This one I achieved! In February 2015, I jumped to 34th in the country with a rating of 2051. While I wanted to break the top 30, I didn’t play in enough tournaments to stay competitive – mostly because of my college selection process and preparing to graduate. That being said, I still was ranked 44th nationally before turning 19.

2. Win the Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships

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Trying to improve from 8th place finishes both my sophomore and junior years, my state title hopes ran into a wall in round 4.

While I got off to a strong 3/3 start, I lost my fourth round game to defending champion (and eventual winner) Vignesh Rajasekaran and continued to bottom out with a two draws for a 4/6 score and 15th place finish. In what proved to be another disappointing State Championships for me, I did have one nice win in round 3 that I’ve never shared on chess^summit.

Steincamp – Feng (Virginia Scholastic State Chess Championships, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 f5 4.a3

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In G/60 time controls, it’s crucial to maintain flexibility. By inserting this move, I take away …Bf8-b4, a move I thought Perry had prepared for me. While this move is nothing special, it gave me a slight edge.

4…Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7

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My opening deviation has paid off! With this move, my opponent shows me he doesn’t know where the bishop belongs. By failing to optimize this piece (better was to c5 after a preparatory …a7-a5), he has guaranteed that he will need to waste a tempo in the future improving it.

6.d3 d6 7.e3

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A strategic decision. Blocking in my own bishop, I protect the d4 and f4 squares with my pawn. My goal is to play this position like a Reversed Closed Sicilian, meaning my play will revolve around the d4 square.

7…O-O 8.Nge2 Qe8 9.Nd5

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A critical moment in the game. By placing my knight on d5, I give Black a choice: 1) admit his mistake and protect the c7 pawn, or 2) trade on d5 knowing that his c7 will be a long-term positional weakness. I plan on recapturing with the pawn, followed by controlling the half-open c-file.

9…Nxd5 10.cxd5 Nd8 11.O-O Qg6 12.f4

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Shoring up the holes in my position. Black’s development seems better, but his army isn’t coordinated or prepared for a kingside attack. Once I lock up the center, I will put pressure on c7.

12…Nf7 13.Qc2 Bd8 +=

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Already, Black’s problems are visible. His knight on f7 has no future, and his passive bishops prevent Black from connecting the rooks with hope for normal play. With the static advantage, I just continue to improve my position.

14.e4 Nh6 15.Qc3!

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The most principled move in the position. Black has one weakness, c7, but it’s firmly protected for the moment. Now it’s time to simultaneously attack a second weakness, d5, and stretch Black’s defensive resources.

15…Qh5 16.fxe5!

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A hard move to find given the time control. When your opponent has poor coordination and isn’t developed, sometimes it’s best to try to open the position to go for the attack. What about that knight on e2, you may ask? Well after 16… Qxe2?? 17. Bf3 is simply winning.
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17… Qxf1+ 18. Kxf1 fxe4 19. dxe4 Bg4 20. Bf4 +- I saw this during the game and was content with my piece offering.

16…dxe5 17.Bxh6

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With this move, I trade off my worst piece and give Black a choice of further misplacing his pieces or compromising his structure.

17…Qxh6 18.Rae1 fxe4 19.Rxf8+

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The whole point for opening up the position – here I get full control of the position once Black recaptures on f8.

19…Kxf8 20.Rf1+ Bf6 21.dxe4 Bg4 22.Nc1 Kg8 23.Nb3 b6

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My knight maneuver to b3 was intended to reach c5, but now I’ve provoked a weakness from Black, the c6 square. Furthermore, it will become more difficult for Black to get rid of his c-pawn weakness with a …c7-c6 push without a pawn on b7.

24.Nd2 Rc8 25.Nf3 Qh5 26.Nh4?!

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With less than ten minutes left, I played this move too quickly to fully understand what I was doing. Here I’m offering a pawn for full control of the f-file, as after 26… Bxh4 27. gxh4 Qxh4 I was planning on 28. Qc6 with a nice hold on the position. In reality, Black has 28… Qe7, and it’s hard to see what I’ve gained for a pawn and a weak kingside.

26…Qe8 27.Nf5

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My knight has finally found a square. Black, already playing for a draw, immediately goes for an opposite colored bishop position.

27…Bxf5 28.Rxf5 +=

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How can White win? My assessment derived from the common middlegame concept for positions with opposite colored bishops – attack the color your opponent is weakest. In this position, White is objectively better because all of Black’s weak squares are on light squares. Without a concrete defense, my bishop will enter the game via h3, leaving Black paralyzed.

28…Qe7 29.Bh3 Re8 30.b4

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There is no need to rush in this position. It was important to stop …Qe7-c5+, which would have allowed Black to simplify the endgame, making it more difficult to win. With no way to enter my half of the board, Black must stay passive to defend all threats in the position.

30…Qd6 31.Rf1

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A practical move. With this retreat, I prepare Rf1-c1, putting pressure on the c7 pawn, and make way for my h3 bishop to dominate the position on d6.

31…h6?? +-

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A costly blunder, as this move weakens even more light squares around the Black king. Originally aiming for a slow plan, I decide that now is the time to go in for the kill.

32.Be6+ Kh8 33.Qf3 Rf8 34.Qh5

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Due to his inability to control light squares, Black has little time to stop Qh5-g6, followed by Be6-f5, threatening mate on h7.

34…Qe7 35.Qg6 Qe8 36.Rxf6!!

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Absolutely crushing! The rook is invincible since 36… gxf6 leads to 37. Qxh6#, and 36… Rxf6 gives up the queen. Black, thinking he would only be down a piece plays one more move.

36…Qxg6 37.Rxf8+ 1-0

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And my opponent threw in the towel as 37… Kh7 loses more material due to 38. Bf5 where I will be up a full rook in the final position. A fun game, and really instructive when discussing the principle of two weaknesses.

3. Beat a Titled Player

It took me until May before I got my first decisive result against a titled player, but it was worth the wait as I beat State Champion and 2014 World Youth Chess Championship Gold Medal winner Jennifer Yu in the first round of the Cherry Blossom Classic. If you missed it, I posted a video of the game shortly after the tournament.

Since then, I’ve added two more wins against National Masters to my resume, one at the Washington International, and another in the G/120 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships.

4. Coach MLWGS to the U1600 National High School Chess Championships

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A year after coaching my high school team to win the U1200 National High School Chess Championships, the Green Dragons fell just shy, taking 5th in the final standings.

Well, admittedly, this one was a goal I had set for the team on our way into Columbus. The team got off to a strong start, leading the section at the half-way point, but the long weekend was tough on the team, as a late slip-up meant going home with 5th instead of 1st.

The team worked hard last year to prepare for Nationals, and since my alma mater won the National Championships in 2014 for U1200 in their first national championship appearance, their work ethic has been one of the great untold stories in scholastic chess. Since my graduation last June, the team has proven itself a force to be reckoned with, as two players on the team have already broken 1700! It will be fun seeing how they fare in Atlanta next May.

5. Become a National Master

This is the ultimate goal for me, and I fell 95 points shy. If I have to be honest with myself, last year I lacked perspective when it came to discussing breaking 2200, as it took me half a year to develop from a weak expert to a much more competitive junior player. With a lot more games under my belt, I’m definitely moving in the right direction.

Other Achievements

Well, you can’t really script the whole thing. Before moving out of Virginia, I had never placed in the top 5 at any State Championship. Now a student at the University of Pittsburgh, I’ve managed to break the curse three times! I took 4th in the G/15 State Chess Championships and 5th in both the G/120 State Championships and the G/60 State Championships.

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Directing the first ever MLWGS School Chess Championships last year was by far the best tournaments I’ve ever directed. Hopefully, I can be back next year to watch the games!

To round out my career as a high school chess coach and advocate for chess in the Richmond Area, I completed my term as a Director of the Virginia Scholastic Chess Association, as well as ran the 2015 MLWGS Chess Championships and volunteered at the most recent edition of Dragon Chess Camp.

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Working with my peers at this past summer’s Dragon Chess Camp was a bittersweet moment for me, as I’m not sure if I will ever be able to put together such a reputable scholastic chess program again in the near future. I guess chess^summit counts for something!

Moving Forward, 2016

Well, it wouldn’t be the end of the year if I also didn’t look ahead to the next 365 days, wouldn’t it?

1) Win the 2016 US Junior Open in June

I’ve never said this was going to be easy, and that’s why I’ve revived chess^summit to help document my way there. I’ve got a lot to learn between now and then, but with tournaments like the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, the Boston Chess Congress, and the Liberty Bell Open (maybe!) already lined up, I should have a lot of tournament exposure against strong opponents before I land in New Orleans this June.

2) Become National Master

As I mentioned, this is the ultimate goal. I don’t know what beyond 2200 is realistic for me, but I think I’m not that far off to becoming a titled player. Just one norm away from becoming a Candidate Master, I really have to wonder how much time it’ll take to make that next jump…

3) Win a tournament – any tournament!

I’ve always played up when competing, so this hasn’t been a realistic goal. However, since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve played in sections where it’s not unrealistic to take the top prize. I got really close at the Robert Smith Memorial, playing on board one for first in the final round, only to fall short when it counted most.

4) Play at least 85 tournament games in 2016

I think not getting enough games last spring really slowed my momentum, making it difficult for me to progress as a player. Prepared to learn from my mistakes, I expect a lot more tournament appearances in the near future.

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And that’s it for 2016, I think whatever I’m meant to achieve I’ll get there, and I’m intrigued to see where that takes me.

This will be my last post for the year, but when I return in 2016, I’ll have games from the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, which could feature matches against teams like Webster, Texas Tech, and UMBC – so stay tuned!

Have a happy holidays!

Blast to the Past: The Transition from Scholastic to Adult Play

For today’s post, I wanted to discuss my transition from being a scholastic player to a regular tournament player. Back in 2007, I broke 1300, and I wasn’t getting a high enough level competition in the tournaments near me. At ten years old, the idea of playing with adults in a weekend tournament was daunting, so I gave it a try at a local club in a few game-a-week ladders. While I only had a handful of games at the Kaissa Chess Club, it definitely gave me some perspective on how chess was different at the next level. For today’s post, I wanted to show how playing adult chess my gameplay over the board.

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I won my first scholastic tournament in the first grade to break 1000 in 2004.

Before I share my games, let’s discuss what scholastic players gain from becoming regular tournament players:

1) Patience – With adult tournament play, the time controls can be twice as long as standard scholastic tournaments. For me, changing from G/40 to G/90 was especially challenging as I hadn’t really been forced to calculate extensive lines in games. Patience is one of the most important virtues in chess, and in my personal opinion cannot be learned through scholastic play.

2) Chess Etiquette – At scholastic tournaments, almost anything goes. Usually, rules aren’t as strictly enforced, and while poor sportsmanship is frowned upon, it’s not effectively punished.  In adult play, there is an expectation that you respect your opponent. This wasn’t really an issue for me, but I have seen younger players not understand the tournament rules (touch-move, etc) or understand proper chess etiquette (this includes stalling in a losing position, making distracting noises, etc).

3) Practical Experience – Once I got to 1100, most of my tournaments would feature four significantly lower rated opponents, and only one real contest. While the euphoria of winning was definitely enjoyable, I didn’t have opponents forcing me to look at new openings or tactical ideas. At such a young age, I think all the winning went to my head and I stopped studying for tournaments. In adult play, any result is possible in any game – and your opponents generally challenge you to find new ways to win. In other words, no more hanging pieces, simple checkmates, and no more basic tactics – the chess starts here.

4) Better Fundamentals – As you’ll see in the games I chose for this article, my understanding of the openings went to the next level. In this article, I will compare how I played the Closed Sicilian in 2007 to how I played the same opening in 2009. While I wasn’t playing grandmaster-level chess at 1300, the progression in my understanding of chess made it possible to reach the next level. Let’s have a look.

Steincamp – Arnold (Kaissa Chess Club Sept-Oct Ladder, 2007)

When I “graduated” from the Kaissa Chess Club, I distinctly remember beating everyone at least once with the exception of my opponent here, Lloyd Arnold, Sr. In this game I was just shy of 1200, while my opponent was just over 1600.
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. d3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7
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One of many plans of the Closed Sicilian. Usually, White will play Ng1-e2, Qd1-d2, castle kingside, and then push f2-f4, hoping for some sort of strategic advantage. The one oversight my opponent and I both had was the move …Nf6-g4. This is a great resource for Black to make White either give up the bishop or waste some tempi. Black found this opportunity a few moves later, making this resource the first real idea for Black against the Closed Sicilian that I had seen at the time. White should have played 6. h3 instead of playing an immediate 6.Be3.
7. Qd2 h5?!
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Definitely a novelty for me back in 2007, but I haven’t seen this idea for Black since. Because White’s plan is to play f2-f4, this move encourages me to play f4-f5 in the future, taking advantage of the fact that the g6 pawn is only protected once.
8. Nge2 Ng4!
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A standard idea for Black in these fianchetto structures. With no other alternatives, I must give up the pair of bishops to continue play.
9. O-O-O??
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This is the first move that shows my true lack of understanding of the Closed Sicilian. While in scholastic play I could get away with a kingside pawn storm, that doesn’t really work at this level. The Closed Sicilian often lends itself to race positions, where Black attacks on the queenside as White seeks to play on the kingside. Here I’ve put my king on the wrong side of the board, and already, the g7 bishop is eyeing the b2 square.
9…Nxe3 10. Qxe3 Nd4
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Black’s opening play has been far from perfect, but my opponent has shown that he at least understands the thematic ideas of the Closed Sicilian. After using the attacking idea of …Ng4, he follows up by placing a piece on d4, Black’s most traditional idea. Both of these ideas for Black were ideas that I had never seen effectively for Black in the past 4 years of scholastic play. Here I get them in my first real adult game!
11. f4 Qb6 12. Nd5? Nxe2+!
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Taking advantage of my last move and proving why queenside castling was a bad idea with this zwischenzug. Normally Black waits for  White to play c2-c3 before executing the trade, but here the g7 bishop and queen on b6 are both bearing down on b2, and Black is clearly better.
13. Qxe2 Qxb2+ 14. Kd2 O-O
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A safe move, but I wonder if Black could have the nerves to try 14… Qxa2! because 15. Nc7+ Kf8 16. Nxa8? is punished by 16… Qa5+ and checkmate is forced. 17. c3 Qxc3+ 18. Ke3 Bd4+ 19. Bg4#. This being said, White no longer has a great way to defend the king to the …Qa2-a5+ threat as without the e3 bishop, I no longer have any way of controlling the dark squares.
15. Nxe7+ Kh8 16. Nd5 Bg4 17. Bf3 Bxf3 18. Qxf3 Qxa2 19. g4
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At this point, I don’t think there’s much else to recommend for White. In a strategically lost position, I make an effort to try and turn things around.
19…c4 20. gxh5 c3+ 21. Ke1 Qxc2 22. hxg6 fxg6 23. Qh3+ Kg8 24. Qe6+ Kh7
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With no increment or second time control, I’m left to think that maybe my opponent was trying to mess with me psychologically. I don’t think that really works here since repeating is my best option.
25. Qh3+ Kg8 26. Qe6+ Kh7 27. Qh3+ Bh6 28. Rg1 Rae8
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Organizing Black’s forces. White is clearly lost as my kingside attack couldn’t add up to anything.
29. Qg3 Re6 30. Nc7 Rxe4+!
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Clearly my opponent was doing tactics to prepare for his games! What a blow! Onc the f8 rook lands on f4, checkmate is inevitable.
31. dxe4 Qxe4+ 0-1
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Resigning instead of allowing checkmate was something new for me when I progressed to the adult level, but here the resignation is definitely appropriate.

Within the next two years, my understanding of the Closed Sicilian had changed and a lot of that improvement can be traced back to this loss. Here’s a game I had two years later against a slightly higher rated opponent. I don’t remember many games that I played before 2010, but this win was one of them.

Steincamp – Berenstein (Taylor Fox Memorial III, 2009)

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Bc4
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Already the first “improvement” from the first game. I still wanted to be aggressive against the Sicilian, so having the bishop on c4 fit me more stylistically at the time than the fianchetto set-ups. If I could go back in time and coach my 1300 self here, I would have preferred 3. Bb5, a much more direct move leading to Rossolimo like positions.
3…e5?
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A strategic error from Black, which goes to show that not all adult play is “perfect”. When White places the bishop on c4, Black generally prefers to put his e-pawn on e6 to blunt the ability of the light squared bishop.
4. d3 h6?
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This move, hoping to stop Bc1-g5 in the future is a definite inaccuracy as Black has neglected to develop his pieces.
5. f4!
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Already this move shows a much stronger understanding of the Closed Sicilian on my part. Seeing that Black’s structure is highly suspect, this move undermines White’s center while hoping to accelerate my own development.
5…d6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. f5
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And why not?! A very thematic idea for White, planning a phalanx on the kingside. Black is cramped and doesn’t have a move like …g7-g6 to undermine f5 since, after a trade on g6, Black is unable to castle kingside.
8…Bd7 9. Qe1
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Yet another thematic move, hoping to bring in the queen to h4. This is another idea I learned while playing stronger opponents in adult tournaments.
9…g5
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Already a desperate measure, but in trying to defend, Black has made a structural weakness.
10. fxg6 fxg6 11. Qg3 g5
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Black’s hand has been kind of forced, but my next move is not the most accurate. I would have liked to see either 12. Nd5, removing the f6-knight so my rook can help target f7, and 12. Nh4! using the same idea as the game with my move 12. h4, but if Black doesn’t take, I have Nh4-f5 with great play.
12. h4 g4 13. Be3
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Not really knowing what to do, I simply developed a piece. If Black tries to solidify with …h6-h5, the g5 square becomes a great square for my knight. My opponent should have played 13… Nd4, but made my job easy.
13…gxf3?? 14. Qg6+ 1-0
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Checkmate on f7 is inevitable. A great game for me! I would say, with my current knowledge of chess, that this performance was way above the 1300 level, thanks to the adaptations I made from playing adults.

What a difference! After being outplayed every move in the first game, I got to teach my opponent a lesson with my new found understanding of the Closed Sicilian. Through learning Black’s thematic ideas, I was able to adjust my play accordingly and become even stronger – something that would have never happened if I didn’t switch to adult play. If you are a scholastic player thinking about making the transition, or a parent unsure if your child is ready to make the switch, I hope this article helps you make the best chess decision and face tougher competition.

This has held true for me since, as I have often “played up” a section to gain practical experience. While it may not seem as fun as winning every game, pushing yourself to play against the toughest competition is the most effective way to get better.

Put to the Test: My Toughest Tournament Ever

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I think that I should be most thankful for the opportunity I had to compete at the highest level this past weekend in Philadelphia for the National Chess Congress.

For the second time of my career, I decided to compete in the Premier section of a Continental Chess event and going in, everything seemed to be moving in the right direction. I had been winning my weekly games against expert level competition with relative ease, and even my G/15 play seemed to be improving. Not to mention, I had just broken 2600 on chess.com’s tactics trainer. Everything was on the up and up.

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After waking up at 5 am, I found my way to the Pittsburgh Amtrak to go to the National Chess Congress. Little did I know that I would be in transit for 13 hours.

Perhaps the first sign that things would be difficult this was when my train took an extra four hours to get from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, followed by the hotel’s fire alarm going off the morning of the first round.

That being said, I was still feeling confident going into my first game against fellow Virginian Andy Samuelson, a player rated over 2300, and coincidentally my chess coach’s former college roommate.

Samuelson  – Steincamp (National Chess Congress, 2015)

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While my opening play up to this point had been dubious up to this point, I still had managed a respectable position, down an exchange but with a central passed pawn for compensation. Here I played 24… Qg7? losing my advantage as White got in 25. Qe3 blocking my advantage and making it difficult for me to reach a favorable endgame. My pawns on e6 and d6 are more of a liability than a threat and are ultimately why I wound up losing the game. But this tournament could have been very different if I had calculated the risky 24… Qxf4!

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I overlooked this move because I thought White could quickly find counterplay with 25. Rf1 Qxg4 26. Qf6, but missed that 26… Nd7! holds everything together and preserves Black’s advantage. Though capturing on f4 is risky because the f-file is open long term, I now have two pawns and a piece to justify the rook, and it is my rook that comes to f8 after White retreat the bishop. This isn’t winning yet but definitely would have been a great first step towards getting a point in my column.

That being said, the moral of this game is don’t be afraid to take chances! In chess there is risk, but there is also pure calculation which will always trump positional judgement if accurate. Here I trusted my opponent’s analysis too much and played passively to get on the wrong side of the match. Even with a loss, there was really no need to panic – I still had five more games.

Psychological Wisdom

While round 2 was likely the most “boring” match for me, my opponent showed a glimpse of brilliance which I thought was important to share.

Steincamp – Moon (National Chess Congress, 2015)

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Out of my theory, I spent over 15 minutes to come up with the move 14. Ba1?! which doesn’t really offer me any improvements. I wanted to make a non-committal move here, and I thought the perhaps this would be helpful as the b2-square opens up for my queen, and should the b-file ever open, I can just play Rc1 -b1. While this move was a good move in an earlier article, the key distinction is that in this game, the b-file isn’t open, so it doesn’t make sense to set my pieces this way. Furthermore, my opponent has the move …d5-d4 at any point, blocking my bishop and effectively trapping it. My opponent could have played this move, but he made a far more prudent move, 14…h6!. I give this move an exclamation because of the psychological effect it has behind it. Since I made a move after 15 minutes of thinking, my opponent made this move in 2-3 minutes to force me to come up with a new plan. He likely knew I was expecting …d5-d4, but with this move, forces me to come up with a new, non-reactive move.

In retrospect, I should’ve traded on d5 and then played the position like a hedgehog with relative balance. Even though I got in a worse position, I held my ground and managed a draw.

Turning the Tables

This is probably the match that I “let” go, but it’s still one of the best games I played the whole weekend.

Iyer – Steincamp (National Chess Congress, 2015)

1.b3

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The Larsen’s! When I was about 1400, I was terrified of this opening, but in retrospect, it’s not that bad! With this move, White throws theory out of the window and plays chess from move 1. When I saw this move, I got really excited – let’s see how it goes!

1…c5 2.Bb2 d6 3.e3 e5

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My central conquest is complete! White’s b2 bishop is blocked in, and at the right moment, I want to fianchetto on g7 and perhaps contest the diagonal. Furthermore, this move stops f2-f4 which transposes to the Bird’s, a natural position for White out of the Larsen’s.

4.Bb5+

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A novelty in my book, but definitely one I respect. White’s objective is to trade off my light squared bishop (my better bishop) and continue playing positionally. I think my opponent may have been inspired by the Rossolimo or Grand Prix of the Sicilian, where if I play …Nd7, I block in my own development, and …Nc6 could give me doubled pawns.

4…Bd7 5.Bxd7+ Qxd7 6.c4

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What did White get for the bishop trade? Well, other than leaving me my worse bishop, he can fight for the weakened d5 square.

6…Nc6 7.Ne2 Nge7 8.a3

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This move stops …Nc6-b4, but I think this is a bit much. White can always slow play with d2-d3 if need be. With this move, White gives me the time I need to fianchetto.

8…g6 9.Nbc3 Bg7 10.Qc2 Rb8

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My opponent has done a respectable job developing thus far, but I’ve also achieved some objectives as well. With this move I threaten …b7-b5, and should White try a3-a4, the b4 becomes a great outpost for my knight. Furthermore, I’m going to castle and play …f7-f5 with the hopes of punishing White for not being assertive.

11.O-O O-O 12.Rad1 f5 13.f4 a6

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It’s important to not get too excited here and blunder with 13…e4? allowing White the trump 14. d3, opening the d-file on my backwards pawn. If you play to constantly release tensions in such positions, you will constantly be worse in them too. Here my move 13… a6 sticks to my plan and puts the ball in White’s court.

14.Nb1?

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My opponent errs here with this move, trying to prepare d2-d4. The problem with this plan is that when my opponent plays d4, I will take with the c-pawn and push e5-e4 creating a protected passed pawn and a long-term advantage. In my eyes, this is just a poor move.

14…b5 15.fxe5 dxe5 16.cxb5 axb5

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Is the c5 pawn hanging? Of course it is! But not without consequence. 17. Qxc5? will be met by 17… Rfc8! and White begins to wonder where the Queen will go once the c6 knight jumps. If White tries to play 17. Rc1 Rfc8 again still holds the position. I think my opponent missed this before taking on e5 because now White just stands worse.

17.d3 Qa7

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With his last pawn move, White weakened the e3 pawn. With this move, I get my queen off the potentially busy d-file to avoid discoveries and attack!

18.Kh1 Nd5 19.Bc1

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White’s position has seemingly reduced to rubble, but how to break through? Nb1-c3 is coming, and if White can play d4 he might be able to claw his way back into the game.

19…Rfc8 20.Nbc3 Nd4

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A thematic hedgehog idea as I exploit the c-file, but here I need to be careful to not concede the advantage.

21.Qa2 Nxe2?

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Giving up my entire advantage as the game simplifies to a roughly equal endgame. Much better was actually 21. Nxc3 Nxc3 22. b4!! using the pin on the a-file while giving my knight the b5 square to evacuate and reroute to c6.
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Even though I traded one pair of knights, White’s remaining pieces look awkward as now I can play to create a passed pawn on c3 by using my dark squared bishop.

22.Nxd5 Nxc1 23.Rxc1 Kh8

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White miraculously lives, thanks to a decision on move 4, to trade off my light-squared bishop. I can never force the knight away from d5 once White plays e3-e4, and it’s enough to hold on to equality.

1/2-1/2

Definitely a disappointing result for such strong middlegame play, but as I learned this weekend, every move counts. In this game, it was just the difference between a win and a draw. Later in Round 5, I wouldn’t get so lucky.

The Sole Point

Before I show the critical position of my Round 4 win, I must confess I was truly impressed by my opponent’s ability to play at my level throughout the opening and middlegame. At just 1900, my opponent is proof that anyone can prove to be a tough opponent. Unfortunately, in chess there can only be one winner, and my opponent’s valiant efforts were thwarted in the endgame.

Steincamp – Trifale (National Chess Congress, 2015)

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In my estimation, I am the only side that can win, but Black has to help me get there. In this position, I played 28. g4 with the idea of weakening my opponent’s pawn structure and giving my king a route to e4. A move like 28… e6 may have saved face, but in time trouble my opponent tried 28… fxg4?? Though not immediately losing, conceding control of the e4 square will allow my king access to the light squares in the center.

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A couple moves later, we reach a winning position for White where I will win a pawn on d4 and soon enough the game. At some point, I will play for f4-f5 to gain access to d5. My opponent fought on but resigned on move 45.

At this point in the tournament, I was sitting pretty at 2/4 with a goal of either 2.5/6 or 3/6 completely attainable. Of the two remaining games, round 5 offered my best chance at reaching that goal.

It’s not enough to be equal, you have to earn equal

Sena – Steincamp (National Chess Congress, 2015)

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After trading the e- d- and c- pawns the symmetrical structure suggests a draw, but I’m not out of the hole yet. A simple 19… Be6 would have probably gotten the job done, as the b7 pawn isn’t really hanging since b2 is equally a liability. However, trying to simplify, I got greedy and tried 19… Bd4 20. Bxd4 Qxd4 and offered a draw. I think a few players would be happy with a half point here with White, but my opponent was vigilant with 21. Bd5! The only move offering winning chances. I couldn’t find anything better than 21… Be6 += And White once traded on e6, picked up the pawn on b7 and eventually converted the win.

That left Round 6 as my last chance to reach my goal, but I tried a novelty in the opening that went horribly wrong. While my play was less than stellar, my opponent executed a nice tactical shot that I had completely missed.

Steincamp – Elezi (National Chess Congress, 2015)

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With my plan being to push the b-pawn, I used this opportunity to play 14. Qc2 to protect my c3 knight and prepare b4 push. My thought here was that Black’s knight was headed to f6 and then e4, leading to a long-term positional battle, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. 14… e5 15. dxe6 Nxh2!

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With all my pieces on the queenside, I am absolutely defenseless to this attack. If I play 16. Kxh2? Qh4+ wins immediately as the rook on e1 is left hanging to the fork. At my level, there is absolutely no way I can reasonably hope to get back into this game.

While my opponent’s display of tactical brilliance is inspiring, I do want to make a note here about his board etiquette. Whenever I adjusted a piece, he would immediately put the piece back on the square and then slam the clock, even though it was my turn. Furthermore, before I resigned my opponent checked his phone in his suit pocket. While this does not justify how I played this game, my takeaway is that if it’s distracting, tell the tournament director. In an effort to be accommodating and tolerant, I allowed my opponent to become intimidating and cross the line of sportsmanship. Here are some useful things to know:

  1. In FIDE, it is unacceptable to adjust your opponent’s pieces on their turn. Period. Furthermore, touching the clock during the opponent’s turn is also a violation.
  2. FIDE leaves phone punishments to the tournament directors, but under FIDE rules it is completely unacceptable for the phone to leave the tournament hall. If the phone was in my opponent’s suit pocket and on, it fulfills that criteria when he left for the bathroom.

I didn’t know about the adjust rule until after the fact, but I chose not to report the phone since I was already completely lost and telling the TD seemed to just postpone a foregone over the board conclusion. In the future, I think the best thing to do is to just be proactive in these situations. Just because my opponent is winning doesn’t make it okay for him to break the rules. While a forfeit win or a time penalty would not have made me happy that round given my play, the rules are there for a reason, and it’s my job as the player to use them.

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Even though I didn’t perform as I would’ve liked, I still got to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Philadelphia! It’s been a long three months!

2/6 isn’t a bad score considering that this was the toughest competition I’d ever faced, but it does show me that there is room to improve before this summer’s US Junior Open in New Orleans. The support I got going into this event from friends, family, chess^summit fans, and GoFundMe was incredible, and I’m looking forward to what the next few months have in store.

A Call from Home – Games from the MLWGS Green Dragons

As some of you may know, I take a lot of pride in what my high school chess team was able to achieve in the three years I served as team captain and coach, which is why I’m extremely happy to have the opportunity to analyze some of their games from this season today!

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In three years, the MLWGS Green Dragons won several State League Championships, the 2014 U1200 National High School Chess Championships, and placed 5th in the most recent U1600 National High School Chess Championships last April.

One aspect of the MLWGS team that makes it unique from other schools in Virginia is that during practice, the players play rated games against each other to improve their openings and tactical knowledge. While its extremely difficult to gain points in these once-a-week ladders, it gives the players a lot of tournament experience and confidence when they play in competitive events. For the first game today, we will analyze a rated game between Vishnu Pulavarthi and Trey Johnson.

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Trey Johnson (left) has been on fire all summer, gaining nearly 300 rating points since last May, while Vishnu Pulavarthi (center), after having taken the summer off, hopes to continue the success he had at the end of last school year.

Pulavarthi – Johnson (MLWGS Rated Games, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3

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Vishnu opts for the anti-Benoni Structure, planning to meet cxd4 with either Qxd4 or Nxd4 to reach a Maroczy structure. Such positions are usually considered extremely playable for White, so Black has to pose problems to get a good game.

4…d5

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A popular opening choice, but not one completely backed by the MegaDatabase and recent statistics. Most games in this line typically lend themselves to a White win or a draw, as the simplifications in the center usually don’t give Black much to work with dynamically. The second most common move is to take on d4, but I would like to suggest an alternative, 4… b6, hoping to reach a Reti structure for Black where development is simple. Black will fianchetto on both sides and enjoy a stable position.

5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 O-O 7.Bd3

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A sign of great maturity to not break the tension in the center, but the e2 square is the better square for the bishop, as the queen on d1 can enter the fight with ease. One idea White has is to take on c5 in the future, using the c4 pawn, c3 knight, and the queen to put pressure on d5. By misplacing the bishop on d3, White removes an idea from his tactical arsenal.

7…Nc6 8.Ne5

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Perhaps inspired from Catalan positions, as the idea is that if Black takes the knight, dxe5 will remove a defender of the d5 pawn. I think here it becomes apparent that the bishop on d3 is misplaced, as having the queen active would have allowed for a sharper line, 8. dxc5, where the natural 8… Bxc5 leaves d5 exposed. Black’s best move is 8… h6, where after 9. Bxf6 Bxf6, the d3 bishop stops White from winning Black’s central pawn.

8…cxd4

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8… Nb4 looks like a decent move, threatening to win the bishop pair, but this would just force the bishop on to a much better square, leaving Black with no clear plan. With this move, Black punishes White for not having castled, and stands better.

9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.exd4 Ba6

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A great move! The bishop weakens the structure of the queenside, and Trey plans to employ an idea from the QGD Cambridge Springs, Qa5 and Bb4! Another move also worthy of consideration was 10… Rb8, with the idea of taking on c4 and pushing c6-c5, further exposing the king.

11.b3 Bb4 12.Qc2 Qa5 13.Bd2

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Here White is resigned to passivity, but how to proceed? After Trey’s move, …Nf6-e4, simplifications to the endgame favor White since the king is already centralized. Unfortunately, the right motif here involves a sacrifice that requires precise calculation. See if you can find it!

13…Ne4??

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This move goes from completely winning to losing. Black had to find 13… e5!!, after which 14. dxe5 dxc4! and White’s king is completely exposed. If white tries to take on c4, the e5 pawn hangs to the queen with check, and taking on f6 with 15. exf6 loses to 15… cxd3 and White’s queen is trapped behind its own fortress. If Black chooses to castle instead of taking the e5 pawn, e5-e4 is simply crushing as White suffocates in his own lack of space.

14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Bxe4 Bxd2+ 16.Qxd2 Qxd2+ 17.Kxd2 Rad8

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Perhaps Trey saw up to here and thought he was better, but his bishop’s lack of squares and the fact he is down a pawn is enough for him to be worse. The winning plan is to play Kc3 and protect d4 so Black is stuck behind his c6 and e6 pawns. Black gets little activity and is bound to his c6 pawn.

18.Bxc6?

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A big mistake as White trades his strong point for Black’s biggest weakness. Black now gets an opportunity to double his rooks on the d-file and save the game. In the endgame, activity matters much more than material, and here Vishnu should have realized that the c6-pawn will always be weak, so this is not the opportune moment to grab it. 18. Kc3 would have been enough, followed by activating the rooks to the third rank via rook lift.

18…Rxd4+ 19.Kc3 Rfd8

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White now sees the power of Black’s activity. White should bring a rook to e1 and cover Black’s entry point on d2.

20.Bb5?

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White makes a mis-step here, trading his only active piece for Black’s worst piece. From c6, the bishop stops the a6 bishop from entering the action, but also stops Rd4-d2 because of the Bc6-d5 interference tactic. By trading bishops and doubling pawns, the queenside pawn majority will be slightly more difficult to convert.

20…Bxb5 21.cxb5 R4d5 22.a4 Rc8+ 23.Kb4 Kf8 24.Rac1 Rb8 25.Rc5 a5+?

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Black missed the opportunity to complicate the game, and in doing so loses the game. Trying to count on a cheap tactical shot, Black gives White a protected passed b-pawn, which is more than decisive. Much better would have been to play 25… Rd2 26. Rf1 g6 and if White tries to infiltrate with 27. Ka5, 27… Rb2 exposes White’s weaknesses (note that 27. Rc7 a6 28. Rc5 Ke7 also puts Black in a better position than in the game). White will have to surrender kingside pawns to activate the rook, giving Black reasonable chances to play for a win.

26.Kc4 Ke7?

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In endgames where you have fewer pawns, you generally don’t want to trade pieces, as with each trade, the extra pawns become more valuable. Here Black cements his fate by trying to bring out the king.

27.Rxd5 exd5+ 28.Kxd5 Kd7 29.Rc1 Rb6 30.Kc5 Kc7 31.b4 axb4 32.Kxb4+ Kb7 33.Rd1 Rf6 34.f3 Rf4+ 35.Ka5 Under 5 minutes, White stop notating, and went on to win the game. 1-0

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White has a clear winning endgame, as Black can never stop the two passed pawns. White will bring the rook to the seventh, confining the black king to the back rank, and then push his pawns to win the game.

A very back-and-forth game, as both sides had winning opportunities in each phase of the game. Considering that both players at the time were rated under 1100, I would say that both players played a little bit better than their level. What can we take away from this match?

  1. Putting your pieces on the right squares is crucial. In this game, White missed a lot of opportunities because the bishop was on d3, and not on e2.
  2. Don’t oversimplify. Trey cost himself a win when he put his knight on d4, offering White a pawn up endgame for no compensation. Just because its easier to calculate, doesn’t mean its better for you.
  3. Be active in the endgame. I think this game demonstrated the extremes of this before Black fell apart in the endgame. White took a really simple position and made it difficult by not developing his rooks and trading the bishop, his only developed piece.
  4. Lastly, tricks are for kids! I can’t stress this enough. Trey was practically lost when he played 25… a5?, but this cheap trick (which Vishnu saw immediately) cost him the key tempo to put his rook on d2, and really complicate the matter. Chances are, if the trick is simple and there is an easy way out, its not a move worth playing.

Wow, the most instructive analysis game so far, and we haven’t even gotten to the second game!

Our next game features the current MLWGS Chess Team Captain, and reigning MLWGS Chess Champion, Jeffrey Song. I’ve worked with Jeffrey since he joined the team as a freshman, and in recent months, his rating has skyrocketed, going from the low 1300s to the mid-1500s. As always, with every major rating jump comes a big adjustment to survive at the next level. Here’s a game from the high school junior from a tournament this past weekend.

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Jeffrey Song (right) playing Grandmaster Sergey Erenburg (left) in a MLWGS simul in December 2014.

Song – Phillips (Kemps Landing Scholastic and Quads, 2015)

1.f4

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Being a fan of the Dutch, Jeffrey employs the Bird’s Opening as White. Considered unsound by top grandmasters, Jeffrey uses this opening to reach unfamiliar positions from move 1. While the Bird’s is not effective at the top level, for a G/60 game among ~1500 rated players, this is a good opening choice.

1…d6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d3 g6 4.e4

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By choosing to employ this structure, Jeffrey will not use a Stonewall, but rather an opening that resembles the Closed Sicilian. But if this is the desired position, then is makes much more sense to play 3. Nc3 g6 4. e4 because now White can meet Black’s Nb8-c6 with Bf1-b5, getting a true Grand Prix set-up. Here the bishop is not ideally placed, and should it be fianchettoed on g2, Black can play c7-c6 and e5 later to reach a less flexible position for White.

4…Nc6 5.Be2 Bg7 6.O-O O-O 7.Qe1

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White tries to go in for the attack here, but his pieces aren’t primed to do so. White’s plan is if Black pushes e7-e5, he will counter with f4-f5, shutting down the position with a massive attack on the kingside to follow. Unfortunately, with Black’s decision to play Nb8-c6 instead of d7, he loses the ability to play c5 and control the d4 square.

7…Bd7?!

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The bishop doesn’t really serve a purpose here on d7, and is much better served on g4. While this move wastes a tempo for Black, its hard to say what the long term plan should have been. My best guess is that since the position resembles a “flipped” Queen’s Indian, Bc8-g4 followed by e7-e6 can’t be too bad, as Black can aim for a d6-d5 push at the right moment, or engineer a double-edged f7-f5 break. Either way, without a white pawn on d4, this game is going to be slow paced compared to a King’s Indian if handled correctly.

8.Qh4 Bg4 9.c3 Qd7

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Connecting the rooks, but not truly changing the position. …e7-e6 would have been more effective, with the idea of moving the f6-knight and offering the queen trade. A sample line would go like 9… e6 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 Nd7 12. Qg3 f5 and Black has a game, if 12. Ng5 is played to threaten checkmate, 12… h6 13. Nf3 Qxh4 14. Nxh4 Kh7, with the same idea of pushing for f5. Black has to solidify quickly to make up for lost time.

10.h3 Bxf3 11.Rxf3 e6 12.g4 b5

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A well intended positional move as Black’s goal is to attack the hook on c3. Unfortunately, there isn’t much venom here as White’s pawn storm on the kingside is much more critical. I’ve been reading “100 Chess Master Trade Secrets” by Andrew Soltis lately, and here I would like to apply his 6th ‘priyome’ (concept) to this position. Here Black faces the problem that if he does nothing, White will use his bishop pair and pawns to annihilate the kingside and win the game. Black doesn’t really have counter-attacking chances in this position as we see b7-b5 (which, by the way is another priyome, just much less effective here) doesn’t change the nature of the position. One option black does have though, is to play the move 12… d5. If White is compliant and plays 13. e5, a pawn thrust like f4-f5 becomes much more difficult to execute (in this position, we see that when the knight retreats, it would have been much more convenient to have the queen on d8 as the queen trade would be offered). If White chooses to be aggressive and play an immediate 13. f5, 13… dxe4 wins a pawn and busts open the center. Soltis’ 6th priyome states that when the opponent is pushing pawns so that he has pawns on e4, f4, and g4 (or e5, f5 and g5 if its the Black player), the first option to consider is if …d5 is playable, as it locks up the position.

13.Be3 Qe7

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Realizing that the queen needed to be on the same diagonal as the queen, Black plays this move at the cost of weakening his b5 pawn. This move isn’t bad if Black can hold on to the b-pawn, and can immediately move the f6 knight to offer the queen trade, and play f7-f5. While Black has lost a lot of time, the slow nature of the position has stopped him from falling completely off the grid. b5-b4 isn’t that helpful, because taking the pawn on c3 to create a weakness develops the knight on b1.

14.Nd2 a5 15.f5!

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Good technique! Even though Qh4 was premature, White waited to get the rest of his pieces out to time this push at the right moment. Black needed to be able to play …f7-f5 to hope for equality, and without this option now stands worse in the position. While this moves seems to be weakening the e5 square, White can always play d3-d4 later and reclaim it.

15…exf5 16.gxf5 Ne5 17.Rg3 Qd8 18.Bg5 c5

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Probably the best practical chance, but now Black can see the penalty for moving the bishop twice and the queen three times in the opening. While White’s pawn storm was aggressive, the game really came down to better piece play and maneuvering.

19.Nf3 Ned7 20.d4 cxd4 21.Bxb5?!

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After playing a strong game of chess, White begins to lost the thread of the game. There really wasn’t a need to take the b5 pawn when cxd4 followed by e4-e5 was simple enough. Black gets a tempo back with this move … Qb6, getting out of the pin and preparing to expose the king.

21…Qb6 22.Nxd4 Nh5 23.fxg6??

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White loses all of the advantage, and is actually losing here! If Black plays 23… fxg6, the f8 rook springs to life and the White king is truly exposed. With White’s pieces all over the board from having gone after the b5 pawn, it becomes much more difficult to regroup and protect the kingside.

23…Bxd4+ 24.cxd4 Qxd4+?

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Going from an unclear or slightly better position to a completely losing one. After White’s next move, its Black that has the exposed king, and the knight on h5 will fall as well.

25.Be3 1-0

This is a difficult game to assess because after White’s preparation panned out, Jeffrey was not the most effective in the conversion process, nearly costing himself a win. Black on the other hand, played passively for most of the game, but was at least willing to take some chances before the game was over. Considering the game was at a much higher level than the last one, the takeaways are also a little more complex:

  1. Don’t just count on opening preparation! This game felt like a cookie-cutter attack gone wrong, as White lost objectivity when he took on b5, opening the game back up. Furthermore, with Black opening with 1… d6, White missed some opportunities to transpose into more challenging lines by playing quickly.
  2. Don’t waste tempi. Black moved the same pieces multiple times throughout the game, costing him an opportunity to play for the initiative out of the opening. I can commiserate with Black having to play against an unfamiliar opening and not knowing what to do, but playing a few tempi down is always going to be difficult.
  3. The …d5 ‘priyome’ against the kingside pawn storm is definitely an advanced idea that was much needed in this game for Black to stay competitive. If you’re interested in other such positional concepts, I highly recommend Soltis’ book. With the exception of the quizzes, this book is easy to read without a chess board, and really instructive!
  4. The game is over when the opponent is checkmated, runs out of time, resigns, or agrees to a draw. I’m definitely not the one to be saying this as I’ve fallen prey to late mistakes in winning positions, but White needed to see this game out before making artificial decisions. Taking on b5 and relieving the tension on the kingside were both moments that let Black into the game, really showing how it takes only one mistake to lose a game – even at this level.

These were some great games, and I hope to see more next week for my next game analysis! Make sure to send your games to chess.summit@gmail.com, and if you’re lucky, I’ll choose your game to be featured next week.

Baltimore Open this Weekend!

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I’ll be playing my first round in the open section tomorrow night in Baltimore, and I’m pretty excited about playing in a tournament for the first time this month. This will likely be my last major tournament before the Virginia Scholastic Championships in March, so this is my last chance to improve my seeding in the K-12 section.

Last month at the Chesapeake Open I score 2/5 in the Open section, so my goal this time around is 3 points and a Candidate Master norm. Might be difficult, but a rating of 2100+ or better is definitely appealing.

Sam Shankland: The American Dr. Who

While America isn’t known for its ability to produce world class grandmasters, there’s definitely been a recent trend of increasing strength in the states. Most players love to talk about Hiraku Nakamura and Wesley So, I think more people should pay attention to Grandmaster Sam Shankland.

I first watched Shankland play at this past year’s US Chess Championships when he upset then tournament leader Varuzhan Akobian to cause a late shake up in the standings. Since then, he’s been relatively unheard, despite a strong performance at the Tata Steel Challengers section this past weekend (3rd).

For today’s post, I wanted to share a few of his games so maybe you too can appreciate his style of play.

Shankland – Michiels (2015 Tata Steel Challengers, Round 6)

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4 f6

9. exf6 By opting to play this line of the French, Shankland must effectively control the c5 and e5 squares. White should have relatively easy development, and a backwards pawn to attack on e6.

9…Nxf6 10. 0-0 Bd6 11. Nf3 Qc7 12. Nc3 a6 13. Bd2 0-0

14. Rc1 In a relatively equal position, Shankland takes the most principled approach. By putting his rook on the same file as the opponent’s queen, Black has some questions to answer.

14…Bd7 15. Re1 Rae8

16. Na4 A strong move. From a4, the knight controls c5 (a critical square) and b6, while opening up the rook. If Black isn’t careful, Shankland will have a nice outpost on c5.

16…Bc8 A slight inaccuracy from Black. In an effort to create more space on his own side of the board, Black neglects White’s ability to find active play.

17. Ne5 Rather than allowing Black to push and trade his backwards e-pawn, Shankland uses a common idea of a blockade by placing his knight here.

17…Qb8 18. Bf4 Nxd4

19. Bxh7+ A critical moment in the game. With this exchange, White stands better as he traded his isolated d-pawn for the h-pawn, weakening the enemy kingside while maintaining the e5 outpost in the center.

19…Kxh7 20. Qxd4 Ne5 21. Bg3 Rf5 22. Nf3 Nxg3 23. hxg3 Bd7

24. Nc5 Putting pressure on the backwards e-pawn and encouraging Black to trade away the bishop pair.

24…Bxc5 25. Rxc5 Qd6

26. Ne5 With no clear play, Shankland improves his position.

26…g5? Michiels intended to find some sort of play here, but opens up holes in front of his king.

27. g4! A great move! White blockades the g-pawn, while creating easy access for a rook lift to h3, fully exposing the king.

27.Rf4 28. Qd3+ Kh8 29. Qg6 Re7

30. Rc3 Paralyzing Black. After 30… Rh7, the game falls apart quickly.

30…Rh7 31. Qxg5 Re4 32. Rxe4 dxe4 33. Qd8+ 1-0

A good game by Shankland. By optimizing his pieces from what was relatively a equal position, Shankland was able to create outposts to help him limit Black’s ability to move.

Haast – Shankland (2015 Tata Steel Challengers, Round 13)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3

5…a6 The Najdorf is a favorite opening in Shankland’s repertoire. Recently he made a video series for chess.com on the line, which you can watch here.

6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3

8…h5 Limiting any quick kingside pawn storm.

9.Be2 Nbd7 10.a4 Rc8 11.a5 Be7 12.O-O g6 13.Qd2

13…Kf8 A very interesting idea. By castling by hand, Shankland keeps his rook on h8, a much more appropriate file than the f-file.

14.Nd5 Bxd5

15.exd5 With this exchange, Black closes the d-file, hiding his backwards d6 pawn, which is the main weakness in many Najdorf structures.

15…Kg7 16.Ra4 b5 17.Raa1 Qc7 18.c3 Qb7 19.Rfd1 h4 20.Nc1

20…Bd8 With this move Black sets the tempo of the game. This bishop will slowly find its way to b8, allowing Shankland to connect the rooks while maintaining control of the c-file. White has wasted time with the rook maneuvers on the queenside, allowing for Black to play for a slight advantage.

21.Ra3 Bc7

22.Na2 White must solve the awkwardness in her position. The Women’s International Master’s pieces on the queenside are not coordinated, and will allow for Black to seize control of the c5 square.

22…Bb8 23.Rb3 Nc5 24.Rb4

24…Bc7 And now it becomes clear how messy White’s position truly is. With the a-pawn lost, White quickly grabs the h-pawn. While material may come out even, Black gets a strategic advantage by opening the h-file.

25.Bg5 Bxa5 26.Rxh4 Rxh4 27.Bxh4

27…Bb6 Now without the pawn on a5, Shankland takes full advantage of his repossession of the b6 square. By placing his bishop here, he forces White’s king off the dark square diagonal to the corner of the board…

28.Kh1 Rh8 29.Qe1 Qd7 30.Nb4 Qf5 31.Bf2 a5

32.Nd3?? After being outmaneuvered for most of the game, Haast makes her first big mistake, and Shankland finds a strong tactical blow.

32…Nxd3 33.Bxd3 Bxf2 34.Qxf2

34…Rxh2+! Using the h-file to create a king and queen fork. If White does not comply, Black has …Qh5, putting more pressure on the h-file.

35.Kxh2 Ng4+ 36.Kg1 Nxf2 37.Kxf2 Qc8 38.Ke2 Qc5 39.b4 Qxc3 40.bxa5 Qxa5 41.Rb1 b4 42.Bc4 Qc5 43.Bb3 f5 44.Kf1 Qb5+ 45.Kg1 Qd3 Completely outplayed, Haast resigned. 0-1

Like in the first game, Shankland uses his ability to maneuver pieces to active squares to outplay his opponents. In the first game, he attacked the c5 and e5 squares, and the second, the c5 square also played a big role. In both of the these cases a knight on these squares really limited the mobility of the opponent. Much like the Doctor, Shankland finds ways to inconvenience his opponents at exactly the right moment. Even if you don’t play the French or the Sicilian Najdorf, most openings have potential outposts. Your pieces are your sonic screwdrivers!

A pretty good tournament from Shankland this past weekend in the first super tournament of 2015. We’ll be seeing more from the Doctor in the near future!