Victory in New York! Winning My First Adult Tournament

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Heading into the final round – against what proved to be my toughest test of the weekend, a 2250 rated FIDE Master!

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.

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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.

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After finishing the tournament with three consecutive wins, there was only one way to celebrate – Japanese Barbeque!

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.

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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.

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Washington Square Park

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

13…Nh6

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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.

14.d4 f5

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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.

15.dxe5!?

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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+ =+

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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.

17…Nf7 18.Ng5??

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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

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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+

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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??

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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 -+

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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.

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That next morning, I woke up early and hiked from Union Square to go to the Doughnut Plant. Nothing to brighten the mood like a good tres leches doughnut!

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.

11.Bxh6?

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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+

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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!

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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.

16.Ng5+

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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

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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!

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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.

21.e5 Qxe5+

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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.

22.Kf1 dxc4

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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

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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.

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An early Round 4 finish gave me time to stop by a Taiwanese Festival before grabbing lunch.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

8.Rb1 Nd4

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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

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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

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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?

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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!

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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.

16…dxe3 17.Bxe3

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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.

17…b6 18.Rfc1

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

Endgame Essentials: Pushing Your Chances

So far in my Endgame Essentials series, I’ve laid out some basic principles to improve our overall assessment of different positions. Understanding that our opponent has a weak king, sidelined piece, or a cancerous structure can help us seize the initiative and identify a plan going forward. While the examples I’ve previously given are relatively straightforward, in practice, such applications are not so simple. Take this position from the recent Candidates Tournament for instance:

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White to Move

Svidler – Karjakin, 2016

In the game, Svidler made the logical move, 48. Rxf4, after which the game followed 48… Rxa2 49. Rfh4 g6 50. Re5 with a draw. I don’t think it’s fair to compare White’s choice to that of an engine, but Stockfish’s recommendation here is particularly instructive – 48. Re5! with a big plus for White. The point is that after 48…Rxa2 49. Re7 g6 50. Rxf4, White’s rooks are a lot more active than Black’s and now both the e3 pawn and the 7th rank are weak. Furthermore, Black’s knight on f8 is out of commission with no pleasant square for refuge. Again, it’s hard to fault Svidler for the miss, but the engine shows us here that activity is stronger than material (for more of my thoughts on engines, here’s a post from last year).

What this should tell us is that the heuristics we’ve identified thus far should always be at the forefront of our attention. However, sometimes we don’t have the convenience of having a better position. In such cases, one strategy is to strengthen our structure by gaining space in the aims to restrict our opponent. If I had to choose a “one-move” example of this, it would be from this past year’s Tata Steel.

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White to Move

Navara – Caruana, 2016

At a first glance, the position is seemingly equal. Navara has a broken pawn structure, but his activity offers enough compensation. If White had moved the bishop here from d5, Black would immediately take the second rank with …Rd6-d2!, seizing the initiative and potentially the game. This is why Navara chose 35. c4!, protecting the bishop, but also showing Caruana how inactive his rook really is.  From d6, the Black rook has limited options, and can’t easily put itself on the e-file. The Czech player went on to win a very nice endgame, and I encourage you to see its continuation here.

Navara is an extremely talented player, and perhaps will one day break the top ten, but as with the previous posts, the focus of today’s post is the reigning World Champion!

Naturally, improving a pawn structure takes more than one move, but I thought this case illustrates the aims of the expanding side quite nicely. As we have throughout this series, we’ll take a look at a few examples from Magnus Carlsen’s past victories, this time from 2012 and 2013.

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White to Move

Carlsen – Van Wely, 2013

Already, we have a messy position. White has the bishop pair, but the light-squared bishop seems a little boxed in on d3. The most glaring weakness in this position is the f5 pawn, but Loek has set a trap: 23. Bxf5 Ne5!= and despite being down a pawn, the constant pressure on c4 is enough to give Black equality. But as I hope you’ve noticed thus far, the endgame rewards long-term plans more than short calculations, so this pawn on f5 will be a source of concern for Black going forward. Just remember, sometimes the threat is stronger than the execution! So Magnus instead chose 23. Kc2 (Though imprecise, 23. f4 should win too since it covers the e5 square) Bd4 24. Rb1 Nb6 25. Bf4

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Before deciding on a structure, Carlsen has decided to optimize his pieces. By putting pressure on his opponent first, he will have a better idea of what structures will give him the best winning chances.

25…Be5 26. Re1 Kg7 27. Bg3!

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The starting point for today! With this move, Carlsen intends f3-f4, fixing the weakness on f5, and limiting his opponent’s bishop’s mobility. Already, holding the file and keeping his position intact is getting uncomfortable.

27…Re7 28. f4 Bf6 29. Rxe7 Bxe7 30. Be1

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Relocating the bishop the long diagonal is a clear idea, but Carlsen wants to gain space on the kingside with his h- and g-pawns. Again, there’s no rush to take on f5, the pawn can’t go anywhere, thanks to the pawn on f4.

30…h5 31. g3 Bf6 32. Kb3 Kg6 33. h3 1-0

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Perhaps it was premature, but Van Wely resigned here in light of 34. g4, finally winning the f5 pawn. With the bishop pair and a healthy material advantage, White should win with relative ease.

This is an important endgame because it shows us that long-term weaknesses can usually not be held by tactical means forever. White maximized a static advantage by fixing the f5 pawn and trading rooks, making it difficult for Black to create counterplay.

In our next example, Carlsen takes on Caruana in a position that is much more balanced:

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White to Move

Carlsen – Caruana, 2012

In this position, both sides have exactly one weakness. For White, the isolated c-pawn is a clear target, and for Black, the backward pawn on b6 is also an issue. I think here many players would try to exchange weaknesses, but, in this case, this mutually beneficial trade will only result in equality (Note that the immediate 29. Bxb6 fails anyways to 29… Rxe1!, I mean this as a more long-term idea). But here it could be argued that White’s position is simpler to play. The bishop on d4 is better placed than it’s counterpart on c7, and can’t easily be kicked from its outpost, thanks to the c3 pawn. Furthermore, it’s much easier for Magnus to put pressure on b6 than it is for Caruana to attack c3, so Black still needs to prove equality in this position. Knowing this, White decided that it was time to expand on the kingside.

29. Re4 g6 30. g4 Kf8 31. h4

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Even though it’s not yet clear how Magnus will use these pawns, we can say that he has improved his position, and now asks Black how he will relieve pressure on the b6 pawn. Caruana starts with an exchange and quickly claiming the e-file.

31…Rxe4 32. Kxe4 Re8+ 33. Kd3 Re6 34. Be3!

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And now it’s starting to become clear how Carlsen intends to use his kingside pawns. Should Black push ahead with 34…h5?! 35. gxh5 gxh5 36. Rb5 +=, White can enjoy a long-term advantage with pressure on both b6 and h5.

34…Kg7 35. Rb5 Bd8 36. h5

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Even though Caruana has made completely natural moves, White has consistently made matters difficult for him. Should Black try 35…f4, he will constantly have to defend a weak h6 pawn. Meanwhile, White can change gears and play c3-c4-c5, only now trading weaknesses because it will be more difficult to defend a5 and h6 than it currently is with b6 and h6. Black decided to keep his structure compact, but  this means his king is stuck on g7 protecting h6 until the structure is resolved!

35…Rd6+ 37. Kc4 Rc6+ 38. Kd5 Re6 39. Bd4+ Kf8 40. f4 +=

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Black has some weaknesses, but nothing nearly as pronounced as our previously analyzed games. However, by improving his pieces and getting space on the kingside, White’s advantage is already becoming visual. Black now is challenged to find moves that don’t make concessions.

40…Bc7 41. f5!

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Pressuring the g6 pawn. White’s intention is to make the h6 pawn much more exposed. Even if Caruana tries 41… gxf5 42. gxf5 with the belief that White’s structure also becomes weak, he’ll quickly find that he has no easy way of attacking the isolated f- and h-pawns, since b6 (and soon h6) are under fire. Sometimes, your opponent’s biggest weakness is only as weak as your strongest strength – here the damage to White’s structure is negligible.

41…Rd6+ 42. Ke4 Rc6 43. Rb1 Ke8 44. hxg6

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Now that Black has distanced himself from his kingside pawns, Carlsen takes on g6 with the h-pawn so he can attack h6 via h1.

44…fxg6 45. Rh1 Kf7 46. Kd5 Rd6+ 47. Kc4 gxf5 48. gxf5 Bd8 49. f6!!

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An incredible interference! White trades the kingside pawns, with the idea that liquidating pieces will only help White since his king is closer to the queenside. Black has to oblige, and as we’ll see, his position quickly collapses.

49…Bxf6 50. Rxh6 Be7 51. Rxd6 Bxd6 52. Kb5

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And 23 moves later, the debate is resolved, the b6 pawn was weaker than the isolated c-pawn. It was important that White expanded on the kingside because it came with the caveat of having a better king in the final position. Black played on for another 14 moves, but the win is simple. Carlsen picked up the last of Black’s pawns and then pushed his down the board.

2013 proved to be Carlsen’s year. By the year’s end, he went on to beat Anand for the World Championship in Chennai.

For our last example today, both sides attempt to expand in the endgame, but Carlsen’s opponent tried for too much – which ultimately proved for his own demise!

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White to Move

Carlsen – Svidler, 2013

Already, it’s move 12, and we have a queenless middlegame. Black’s bishop looks a little silly on g7, but other than that, we have relative equality in the position. If Black were on the clock, Svidler would likely choose …Bc8-e6 limiting White’s e2 bishop, so Carlsen started with 12. Bc4. Svidler, needing to get his c8 bishop into the game with 12…b5 (which engine thinks is fine), but based on the game’s continuation, Black already puts himself in a place where he must be extremely accurate. White doesn’t really have any threats, which is why I prefer 12…Bd7, with the idea of rerouting to c6. It takes just as many moves as Svidler to develop, just without the bonus of a forcing move. One of the reasons I don’t like this move is because of a general principle Grandmaster Magesh Panchanathan once taught me – don’t move pawns for short term plans. It’s not clear yet if this queenside expansion is beneficial to Black, and as we’ll see Carlsen successfully punishes him later. 13. Bb3

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Already we can see some reasons as to why 12…b5 may be questionable. First, b3 isn’t exactly a “worse” square than c4 for White’s bishop. More importantly, the move a2-a4 is beckoning to be played, with the idea of undermining Black’s structure.

13…Bb7 14. f3 Bf8 15. a4!

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Now Svidler is faced with an uncomfortable decision. Does he take on a4 and cripple his queenside forever, or does he hyperextend with b5-b4? While the b-pawn push is optically pleasant, it comes with the drawback that c4 is weakened forever.

15…b4 16. Nb1

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Taking advantage of Black’s hyperextension. Carlsen plans a quick maneuver, Nb1-d2-c4 to put pressure on e5.

16…Nd7 17. Nd2 Bc5 18. Kf2!

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A nice application of a simple idea here – trade only if it helps you! Taking on c5 would activate Black’s knight, so now, if Svidler wants to trade dark-squared bishops, he must take on e3, activating the king!

18…a5 19. Rfd1 Kg7 20. Nc4 Bxe3+ 21. Kxe3 f6 22. Rd2

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Phase 1 of White’s plan is complete. Magnus stands slightly better thanks to his control over c4, but Svidler has done well to not create new weaknesses. The next stage of the game is brief, as Carlsen simply grabs the d-file.

22…Nb6 23. Nxb6 cxb6 24. Rad1 Rxd2 25. Rxd2 Bc6 26. Rd6 Rc8

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Once again Carlsen is doing well, but it still seems like Svidler can hold this position. In phase 3, White finally improves his structure on both sides of the board to increase his winning chances.

27. Be6 Rc7 28. b3 Kf8 29. Bc4

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White has sealed the queenside, as now both a4 and c2 cannot easily be hit. Meanwhile, b6 is already a future target for White. But first, Carlsen plays on the whole board!

29…Kg7 30. h4 h5 31. g4?

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Svidler must make another tough decision. Does he take on g4, allowing White the opportunity to create a passed h-pawn in the future? Or does he allow White to take on h5, creating another target? As it turns out, Black actually missed a chance to equalize here with 31…hxg4! 32. fxg4 Bxa4! 33. Rxb6 and Black has a lot fewer weaknesses in the position. Carlsen was better if he found the prophylactic 31. Bd3!, removing the idea of …Bxa4 and planning an f3-f4 push. The endgame is still complicated, but White still has an edge.

31…Bxa4 32. Rxb6 Bd7 33. gxh5 gxh5

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While Black may have gotten rid of his b6 weakness, he now has targets on a5, f6, and h5. Even though Black isn’t lost here, White is still for choice.

34. Bd3 Kf7 35. f4 exf4+ 36. Kxf4

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Winning this endgame won’t be simple, but by trading the e5 pawn for his f-pawn, Carlsen opens up dark squares in the center for his king. After getting his rook onto a better square, Magnus centralizes the king by moving it to d4.

36…Rc5 37. Rb7 Ke6 38. Ra7 Kd6 39. Ke3 Bg4 40. Kd4

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Now with a centralized king, White has slightly better winning chances. White will now bring his bishop to c4, reducing the Black rook’s options.

40…Re5 41. Bc4 Bf3 42. Bd5! +=

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With this move, White is in full control once again. Black’s rook only has two moves that don’t immediately drop a piece, and each of Svidler’s three weaknesses are much more difficult to defend.

42…Bd1 43. Rf7 Re8 44. Rxf6+ Kc7 45. Ra6 Bxc2?? 46. Rc6+ 1-0

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A simple oversight by Svidler in a position that was already lost. This game gave us both good and bad examples of expanding the structure. Early in the game, Svidler pushed too quickly, giving White counterplay on the queenside and a great outpost on c4. But this wasn’t enough to win. By expanding on the kingside (the one blunder aside), Magnus managed to break Black’s pawn structure.

In today’s post, we discussed how in seemingly equal positions, we can increase our winning chances by improving our pawn structure and gaining space on each side of the board. Often times it isn’t enough to have one weakness in the position, so often changing the structure (in our favor) gives us more attacking options and plans to stretch out our opponent.

I’ll be playing my first tournament in over a month this weekend at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City, so I won’t be able to post my usual video on Sunday. Look out for my next post early next week, where I’ll hopefully be sharing what turned out to be a good performance!

Free Game Analysis: What is Beast Mode?

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.

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Matthew (right) taking on rival and teammate Jeffrey Song at the 2015 MLWGS Summer Scholastic.

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.

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Matthew calculating a tough position at the 2015 Kemps Landing tournament.

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

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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?!

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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.

5…O-O

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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.

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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.

6.Nf3 d6

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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.

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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.

7.e3 =+

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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…

7…Bxc3

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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.

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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.

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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=

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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

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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!

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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? =+

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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.

16…f4 17.O-O-O?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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.

27.Ng4 Bxg4

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This move was more or less forced but Black reaches the desired good knight v bad bishop endgame.

28.R1xg4 Rxg4 29.Rxg4 Rf3!

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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

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Now with a 3 v 1 set-up on the kingside, Black just needs to push his advantage to get the win.

32.h5

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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.

32…Kf7 33.Kd2 Kf6 34.b4 axb4 35.axb4 Nd7 36.Kd3 Ke5

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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

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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

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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!

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Matthew’s team, MLWGS, also fared well in Atlanta, placing 15th in the U1200 section.

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)
1.c4

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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…

1…Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6 6.d4 d5

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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.

7.b3

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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

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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.

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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.

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10…Qc7 11.Rac1

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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.

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11…Bh6 12.e3

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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.

12…Ng4?

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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 +-

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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):

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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

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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

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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.

22.Ne5 Qc7

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…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.

23.d5!

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And the long diagonal is forcefully opened. Black cannot capture the d5 pawn since Ne5xd7 wins material on either f6 or g7.

23…Be8 24.Ng4 Nh5 25.Bxg7 Nxg7 26.Nf6+ Kh8 27.d6 Qd8 28.d7

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Black can resign here, I’ve added the end of the game for the sake of completion.

28…Qe7 29.Nxe8 f6 30.Nxg7 Kxg7 31.Qd4 e5 32.Qd6 Qxd6 33.Rxd6 1-0

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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!

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With the way he’s been playing, I’d say he has a good chance of graduating a higher rated player than I was during my senior year!

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.

Novice Notice! – Free Game Analysis

In today’s free game analysis post, I wanted to discuss a game sent to me by an aspiring chess player from the Virginia Beach area. The game we will review today was played on chess.com, but nonetheless has great instructional value for some of chess^summit’s less-experienced followers. Let’s have a look!

Bchninja4–OhhhJordan (chess.com, 2016)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O Bg4 6.h3

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As a former Ruy Lopez Exchange player, I had this position quite a few times when I used to play 1. e4. Black deviates from main line theory with his next move, which is why I recommend the sharp 6…h5! as a way of testing White’s theoretical knowledge. Black’s move was fine too, it just simply failed to put any pressure on White throughout the game.
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This is technically a piece sacrifice, but the bishop is poisoned! Should White get greedy and play 7. hxg4? hxg4 and White must give back the piece and major initiative because of …Qd8-h4 threatening mate along the h-file.
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White is not advised to take the bishop, and should instead consider 7. d3. Black’s line is dangerous, but with sufficient independent research, White fairs respectably well in this line.

6…Bh5 7.Nc3 Bd6 8.d3 h6

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Rather than developing, Black spent a move here stopping Bg5 with this move. While there may not be anything particularly wrong with this move, I think that if Black were truly afraid of Bc1-g5, he should have played 7… f6 a few moves ago. Let’s look at that position.
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7… f6 seems like the antithesis of normal play, but I actually like the resulting move a lot more than the position Black got in the game. With this move, Black protects e5 and takes away the g5 square, giving Black the flexibility to put his f8 bishop on a much more active square like c5. Furthermore, should White chase the bishop on h5, we have a retreat square on f7, which puts the bishop on a diagonal that can still exploit White’s lack of a light-squared bishop. Of course, this takes away the f6 square for Black’s knight, but it saves a move compared to Black’s position in the game, while also allowing Black to be more active.

9.Kh1

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Not a bad move but such prophylactic measures should generally be taken after development is complete. Black has no concrete threats on the king so White should have instead continued with 9. Be3 to begin connecting the rooks. Furthermore, moves like Kg1-h1 are made for a concrete reason, usually concerning the safety of the king. Since the h1 and g1 squares are roughly equivalent, this would not apply. My last thought would be that perhaps White wants to push f2-f4, and thus 9.Kh1 would move the king off the a7-g1 diagonal. This could be a plan in the future, but with the pin on the f3 knight, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

9…Nf6 10.a3

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It was at this point of the game that I realized that White had no real plan! But that’s okay – first finishing development with a move like 10. Be3 would have definitely pushed White in the right direction. Still, after that, the position doesn’t really seem to provide a clear-cut plan. When I put the position into Stockfish, the computer says 11. Nb1 is the best move, rerouting the knight to d2. In an effort to come up with ‘human’ moves, I thought 11. Rg1 fit in best with the position, seeing as the king had already made way, and a future g2-g4 push would eliminate the pin.

This being said, the position doesn’t promise either side an advantage and relies on one side agitating the balance. The problem for White is that the pin on f3 is hard to break. Should the queen move, the f-pawns become doubled after Black takes on f3. Without a light squared bishop, White’s ability to flexible is extremely limited. Using the prompting from the engine and the main lines following 6… h5, I think the ergonomically correct way to hanldle the position was to play 7. d3, with the idea of getting the knight to d2.

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This particular structure gives White a lot more long term play. Without a knight on c3, White can consider a future central break of c2-c3 and d3-d4, while simultaneously not having to worry about the pin on f3 as much. While Black is solid, I think the second player still has to prove equality to some degree here.

And with that theoretical side note, we return to the game.

10…O-O 11.b4?

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I’m not sure what White’s plan is here, but as we discussed, it’s not so easy to find one. This move gets a question mark because it gives Black the resource …c6-c5!, trading off his biggest structural weakness. One thing you must remember when playing the Ruy Lopez Exchange is that your compensation for the bishop pair is Black’s doubled pawns. While this won’t mean much in the middlegame, White’s intention is to be structurally better in most endgames, giving him the best winning chances. With this move, White potentially gives up this small advantage, and now Black can seize the initiative.

11…a5

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Missing the point! Yet Black does still keep the initiative seeing as White must ruin his structure with an isolated a-pawn.

12.bxa5 Rxa5 13.Bb2 =+

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I think here White realized the cost of his b2-b4 move. Now instead of being an active bishop on e3, the piece is practically on a pawn. Unfortunately, since the pawn on e5 is sufficiently protected, the pressure White put’s on it is imaginary. Black has a static advantage here.

13…Qe7

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A strong move! Both protecting the e5 pawn and putting pressure on a3. I would have also considered 13… Qa8! and after 14. a4 Qa7! as White must now continuously protect f2, thus punishing the early Kg1-h1 move. I don’t often highlight works of others, but I have to admit,  this idea I had was inspired by Simon Williams’ recent article on chess.com where he discussed diagonals, and their importance to the game of chess. It’s definitely worth a read, and I guess I have to wonder if I would have found this …Qa7 idea without it.

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14.a4 b5??

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Losing everything!! When you have the static advantage, you must maximize it. As Iossif Dorfman wrote, a static advantage will always become a material advantage. Black had to keep playing statically to ensure the steady growth of his advantage. Ideas like …Rf8-a8 and …Nf6-d7-c5 come to mind.

15.axb5 Rxb5

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Given how Black has played up to this point, I’m relatively shocked that he decided to give up so much material instead of admitting his mistake by taking on a1 and losing the pawn. While I like sacrificing the exchange as much as the next guy, there needs to be concrete compensation to make such a sacrifice. With the a- and b- files opening, I’m not seeing how Black was intending to continue. Moral of the story? Respect the relative value of material! While assigning point values to each piece may seem silly (especially in different contexts), we learn this heuristic to appreciate the relative value of pieces in most positions. Here it was much better to be down one pawn rather than an exchange.

16.Nxb5 cxb5 17.c4?

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A simple error from White as he must give up a pawn after Black trades on c4. I’m willing to bet this was directly related to White just having won a piece. In chess, it’s really important to control our emotions. Being too excited can mean losing an entire advantage and perhaps even losing. Don’t believe me? Here’s a flashback!

17…bxc4 18.dxc4 Nxe4 19.Qe2 Bxf3 20.gxf3 Qh4?

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Again, respect the relative value of material! In this position, Black cannot hope to mate with just a queen. If Black had just moved the knight, there was a small chance that he could have made something of the extra pawn – but now the position is just lost.

The players simplified, but 21 moves later White lost on time in a completely winning position. That being said, I think the main points for this game have already been made.

Black wasn’t just slightly better, he was strategically winning! However by rushing into things with b5, and getting impatient by sacrificing material for no clear compensation, he quickly fell on the wrong side of the evaluation. As for White, his initial poor position derived from a lack of opening understanding and thus an inability to find a clear plan.

So the key word for today’s game? Relax. Both sides at points had opportunities to improve the quality of the game with clear-cut calculation.

If you liked today’s free game analysis, make sure to send your games to chess.summit@gmail.com so I can review them in my next post!

Boxing the Bishop!

One poorly placed piece makes your whole position bad

–Siegbert Tarrasch

Learn how this one quote dictated the pace of an entire game! In this short time control game, I managed to box in my opponent’s dark squared bishop on a7 throughout the middle game.

This game for me was kind of a return to positional play for me. Lately, my games have been a lot more tactical and dynamic, but I do have to admit, I somewhat missed the soul-crushing kinds of positions quality static play got.

Anyways, here’s one way to slay the Karpov system against the English!

Moments in March: Outside the Candidates

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.

Hammer–Grandelius (Altibox Norway Chess Qualifier, 2016)

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Black to Move

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

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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.

44. e4?!

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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

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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.

47…Rf5+ 48. Ke4 Bxb4 49. Rf1 b5 50. axb5 cxb5 51. Ne3 Rxf1 52. Bxf1 a6 -+

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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!

I don’t expect Grandelius to fare too well against the much superior competition, but it will be a great opportunity for Sweden’s best player!

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:

Wei Yi – Dao (Asian Nations Cup, 2016)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5

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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

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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

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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!

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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.

14…exf5 15.Nd5

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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!

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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+!

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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+

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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

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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)

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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!

More than Meets the Eye: An Attack, an Advantage, and a Blunder!

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.

IMG_4445

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!).

Steincamp–Li (Pittsburgh Chess Club, 2016)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.e3 d6 6.Nge2 Be6 7.d3 Qd7
8.O-O

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I think I’ve posted a few games with this set-up for White. Ideally, I’m going to place a knight on d5 and expand on the queenside. However, my opponent decided to change the pace of the game.

8…Bh3 9.e4 h5?!

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Going in for the attack! Black’s intention is to open the h-file and use his h8-rook and queen to quickly checkmate my king. However, there are some downsides to this move out of principle.

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

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Because of Black’s decision to attack, this must be played now. If 11… Nh6 12.h4, White stops all kingside play and has a simple lead in development.

12.g4

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Not a move I was crazy about playing, but I was able to convince myself that this was right. First, Black traded off the light squared bishops, leaving the c1- and g7 bishops on the board. Black’s pawns on c7-d6-e5 are all on dark squares, making my bishop better than my opponent’s. This is important since this structure has dark-squared holes, so from e3, I can cover some of Black’s potential outposts. Furthermore, playing this move guarantees a closed h-file, limiting Black’s intentions, and leaving me with a developmental advantage.

12…h3+!?

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My initial reaction to this move was to think that this was an error since it forces my king to safer waters and opens the g3 square for my knight. However, there are long-term benefits for Black! By controlling the g2 square, Black gets the counterplay he needs to stay alive in some lines – and according to the computer – enough to defend adequately.

13.Kh1 f5

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I found myself perplexed by the relative speed to which my opponent was moving, but this move I felt out of principle was wrong.

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:

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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

14.exf5?!

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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!

14…gxf5 15.Ng3 Nd4

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I thought this was Black’s best move, but there were several lines I had to consider before playing 14. exf5

Second Best:

15. … f4 16.Nge4 (16.Nf5?! allows 16…Nh6 ) 16. … O-O-O 17.Nd5 +=

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The position is a little unclear here since Black can simplify, but b2-b4 is coming with a slight initiative for White.

Last Choice:

15. … fxg4 16.fxg4

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As I’ve discussed in many of my posts, releasing the tension seldom leads to the best outcome. Here I have all the advantages I had a move ago, but the f-file is also open. It’s clear here that Black has simply run out of attacking resources.

So Black opted for the stingiest move, but it also once again neglects development and king saftey. Immediately I wanted to play 16. gxf5:

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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

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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!

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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 =+.

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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.

16.Nce2

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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.

Scenario 1:

16… f4!

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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

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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.

Scenario 2:

16… Nxe2 17.Qxe2 fxg4 18.fxg4

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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.

Scenario 3:

16… Nh6?

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This isn’t really a move for Black, but it does a nice job of illustrating his dilemmas after 17. Nxd4 exd4 18. Re1+

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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?!

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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!

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The only way to refute Black’s play! In just a couple moves, Black will find himself much worse!

18…exd4 19.Nxf5 Be5 20.Bg5! +=

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Not only is Black unable to castle, but his knight on g8 is extremely immobile. From this point on though, Black’s 12. h3+!? starts to pay off as his pressure along the light squares becomes my biggest issue.

20…Kd7

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The only move from Black that doesn’t concede anything. While the f7 square becomes weak, my rook can’t get there due to the pin on the king. With the queen cut off from the kingside though, I decided that now would be the best time to drive the queen away by force.

21.b4 b5!

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The best move if Black plays the continuation correctly. The idea is that regardless of what I do, Black’s queen can stay on the diagonal with the b7 (and potentially d5) square opening up. Without much to do, I made my next move, assuming my next move assuming my opponent was intending a pawn sacrifice.

22.cxb5 Qxb5?

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A critical mistake! With this move, Black gives me an opportunity to move my queen away from the defence of the f3 rook, giving my a1-rook a chance to enter the fight. Black had much better in simply sacrificing the pawn and putting the queen in the center of the board.

Black really needed to try 22… Qd5 to force me to play slower.

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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.

23.Qb3

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Poking at the f7 square while giving my rook on a1 a chance to play.

23…Rf8

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The best defense. Using the other rook doesn’t pin my knight. A sample line I looked at was 23…Rh7 24.a4 Qb7 25.Rf1, but 24. Nh4 also looked appealing, with the idea of going to g6, or bringing the rook down to f7. I hadn’t really decided since I figured the text move was far simpler for Black.

24.Rc1

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Here I thought I was being smart, forcing the queen to go back to b7 instead of c6 to pin my rook, however, Black actually is in no rush to do this. In the game, I thought 24… Nf6 25. Ng7 was fine for White, putting pressure on e6, but 25… Nd5! was actually winning for Black. The computer says that after 24… Nf6, the position is about equal in other lines.

24…Qb7

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So why is it so important that White convince Black to reach b7 instead of c6? Well now White has Qa4+!, and Black is forced to surrender his control of the long diagonal.

25.Qa4+ Kc8

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Black is becoming passive, and if he had tried 25… c6, not only does he block in his queen, but I also have a turn-around tactic in 26. Nxd4! winning due to the attacked rook on f8.

26.Qc6=

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It turns out that this simplification leads to equality since (as I soon discovered) the endgame is extremely difficult to convert.

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.

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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

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Stopping any future a- or c- pawn advances from Black. My opponent is cramped, but with his next move, he gives up a pawn for activity, which proves to be vital for his ability to play.

28…Nh6

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With pressure on g4, I decided I have nothing better than to win the pawn on d4. but to do this I must give up my bishop for a knight, and increase the Black bishop’s scope.

29.Bxh6 Rxh6 30.Nxd4

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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!

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…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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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But as I said, I thought my opponent found the most aggressive try despite his time troubles.

30…Rhf6

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My knight will return to f5 to block the f-file, after which Black can pressure the g4 pawn and emphasize my king’s awkward positioning.

31.Nf5 Rg6 32.Rc4 Rb8?

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The second real mistake from my opponent (the first being 22… Qxb5). Time trouble played a large role in this decision, and now my not only will I eliminate Black’s annoying h3 pawn, I will get a rook on the 7th!

Black had much better in the more flexible 32… Rfg8 33.Ne3 d5 34.Ra4

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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

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Rather than immediately grab the c7 pawn, I thought it was important to nurture my two pawn advantage on the kingside. If Black tries 35… c5, I can play 36. a4, and only Black’s b5 rook is truly active.

35…Rb1+ 36.Kg2 Rb2+ 37.Kf3 Rxa2 38.Rcxc7

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Two rooks on the 7th and my opponent in time pressure? Should be an easy win, right? Not so clear. It’s hard to secure control of the d5 square (If Kf3-e4, …d6-d5+ wins for Black), and Black does have an outside passer.

38…a5 39.Rhe7+

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Believing I was winning since at the time I thought 39… Kd5 was unplayable (you’ll see shortly). I had calculated 39… Kf6, and now since the f6 square cannot be used by Black’s rook, my idea was Ng3-e4 creating a mating net while improving the overall position of my knight (I was fine with a bishop and knight trade since the resulting rook and pawn ending should be won).

39…Kd5 40.Rc4

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My opponent played his move quickly, so when I dropped this and his head sunk, I thought I had won because of my mating mechanism of Nf5-e3#. Here I got up walked around to wait for the resignation but had completely had missed my opponent’s defense.

40…Rf6!

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I give this move an exclamation for its psychological importance. With this oversight, I had now walked into a position I hadn’t analyzed and it felt like again, I had to start all over to win. However, with my opponent in time trouble, anything could happen so I made a waiting move.

41.h4 a4?

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Black’s third mistake of the game. Advancing the a-pawn to a4 gives me a free tempo move with 42. Ra7, which is winning in all lines. Black should have also waited, but in time trouble this is hard to do, especially with my kingside pawns moving down the board.

42.Ra7 a3 43.Ra5+ Ke6

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Finally, it’s starting to come together. Now with the king no longer on the fifth rank, I can play d3-d4, highlighting the awkward choice of squares Black’s bishop has.

44.d4 Bh2 45.d5+ Kd7 46.Ra7+ Kd8 47.Rb4

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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?? =

 

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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

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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…

51…Rf7 52.Rxb2!

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Thanks to the fork on d6, my rook is untouchable, so the endgame is now won. I can’t really blame my opponent for his mistake, but what I can say is that the mistakes will come if your opponent is in time trouble. Imagine how much less trouble I will be in if I hadn’t taken on b2!

52…Rc7 53.Rb4 Rc2 54.Ne7+ Kd7 55.Nc6 Bf6 56.g5 Rh2 57.gxf6 1-0

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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:

  1. Early attacks mean neglecting development. Sometimes the best defense is to find ways to punish your opponent for not following the fundamentals.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!