For this week’s post, I decided that instead of breaking down the tiebreak system that gave Karjakin a match with Magnus, I would highlight some interesting games and positions from outside the Candidates Tournament that occurred this month.
While Norway Chess is no longer part of the Grand Chess Tour, it still boasts one of the strongest tournaments in the calendar year. Not only will it feature our first glimpse at a Carlsen–Karjakin match-up, it will also bring players like Vladimir Kramnik, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Pavel Eljanov, and many others. Being a ten seed round robin, a qualifier tournament was run between Jon Ludvig Hammer, Aryan Tari, Nils Grandelius, and Hou Yifan to decide who the tenth competitor will be. Needless to say, after the first decisive game, I knew who I was rooting for.
After much maneuvering, it appeared that this game was headed to a draw after 40. b4, but Grandelius found the best way to press for a win by sacrificing the exchange with 40… Rxe5! While the resulting position leaves Black down a minor piece, it’s White compromised structure that will determine the outcome of this game.
41. dxe5 Rxe5 42. Rg1 Bd8 43. Kf3 Bxg5
With three pawns for the knight, Black has more than sufficient compensation. With best play, the game should be equal, but with Hammer’s next move, it’s Black who has the advantage.
Not immediately losing, but this move gives Black’s bishop a lot more mobility. Hammer likely panicked here, thinking he just needed to get his pawns off dark squares, but trading the e- and d- pawns will only help Black make the f-pawn passed.
44…Bc1 45. a4 Ba3 46. exd5 Rxd5 47. Bc4
I didn’t watch this game live, but I have to wonder if White was in time trouble here. This move simply gives up the b-pawn and any realistic chance at a draw.
Only Black can win this endgame now, and Grandelius converted on move 73. He finished the double round robin with 4 wins and 2 draws. Quite an impressive showing!
Our next game features a well-known prodigy you’ve definitely heard of, Wei Yi. The Chinese teenage superstar hasn’t been doing well as of late, with a rocky finish in the Aeroflot Open and a slow start in the Asian Nations Cup. However, after falling below 2700, perhaps he was inspired enough to remind me why I stopped playing the Najdorf. Let’s have a look:
We’ve already discussed the Be3 Najdorf lines at some length here, but I believe that the Bg5 lines are also an aggressive try for White. This move directly points out Black’s lack of space and control of the center.
6…e6 7.f4 Nbd7 8.Qe2
If I recall from my studies years ago, White usually opts for the f3 square for his queen. However, this move (as Wei Yi proves) is a considerable option. Knowing that Black will likely not castle kingside, White prepares for a future opening of the e-file, while getting his king to safety.
8…Qc7 9.O-O-O Be7 10.g4 h6 11.Bh4 g5 12.fxg5 Nh7
The thematic mechanism for Black in these lines. By exploiting the pin on the g5 pawn, Black usually gets sufficient counterplay on the kingside. The computer generally overstates White’s advantage in these positions, but the point is that Black is walking a thin line between life and death.
13.Bg3 hxg5 14.Nf5!
The computer move! White’s idea is to sacrifice a piece to open up the Black monarch. While such a position comes at the price of a knight, Wei Yi proves once again that activity is of much greater importance than material.
One of the key points of the last move. Sacrificing the knight on f5 gains White entry to d5 (with a tempo). Black must play 15… Qd8 to stay alive, but after the natural 15… Qb8?, White’s pressure on d6 and e7 alone is enough to end the game.
15…Qb8 16.exf5 Ne5 17.Nxe7 Kxe7 18.Rxd6!
And Black’s position collapses. The sad thing about it is that most of the tactics are intuitive, meaning that Wei Yi could have easily played them move-by-move from here and Black would have still never had a chance.
18…Qxd6 19.Bxe5 Qd5 20.Bg2 Qxa2 21.Bd6+!
Drawing out the king so it can’t retreat to f8 for relative safety. Now all White has to do is ensure that Black’s king stays in the center.
21…Kxd6 22.Rd1+ Kc7 23.Qe5+ Kb6 24.Qd4+
Great technique! Black now must move towards White with the king as a7 is taken away.
24…Ka5 25.Qc5+ b5 26.Qc7+ 0-1
Wow, Wei Yi made it look easy! The best part? For him it truly was. After spending 14 minutes on 14. Nf5, and then two minutes on 15. Nd5, he needed less than a minute per move for the rest of the game, and then fewer than eight (!) seconds a move after 19. Bxe5. Talk about some confidence!
And our last moment for today comes from the latest round of the Schachbundesliga where the best team Baden-Baden was upset 3-5 by Werder Bremen.
Naiditsch–Smerdon (Schachbundesliga, 2016)
Here Black just played 34… Qf8, leaving the b6 pawn unprotected. In a moment of blindness, Naiditsch decided that in his slightly worse position, he needed to find counterplay along the 6th and chose 35. Rxb6?? Can you find the Aussie’s demolition of White’s position? (see diagram below)
Black found the best way to exploit White’s weak king with 35… Nxe4! and now White has problems. The knight is untouchable as 36. Bxe4 Rxe4 37. Qxe4 Qh6+ and checkmate is unstoppable. In the game, White chose 36. Bg2 but didn’t last much longer after 36…Qg7 37. Rb2 Nc3 0-1
Sometimes even Grandmasters blunder! Interestingly Naiditsch, while in time pressure, had much more time than Smerdon had (47 seconds). Interesting to see what time trouble can do to you! Just look at the ending of my game last week!
I hadn’t planned to play a rated game until Saturday’s Pittsburgh Chess League finale, but when I got the email saying my Tuesday night class had been canceled, I quickly found myself playing an extra rated game against a local expert from Carnegie Mellon University at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.
Usually when I post a game to chess^summit, I make sure the selection has some sort of specific instructional purpose. That being said, I can’t say that this game can be marginalized into such a general category. Even though he fell behind early, my opponent did really well to hold and even missed a few chances to equalize!
So if today has a theme, let it be complicated positions. Honestly I can’t remember winning a game this difficult (and almost blowing it too!).
1. This move doesn’t develop or get Black’s king safe.
Okay, this is obvious, but still a valid point. By postponing the fundamentals, Black risks falling behind positionally should the attack not pan out.
2. Black cannot push …f7-f5.
This is the main problem with this move. If the f-pawn is pushed, Black gives White an outpost on g5 for a knight or a bishop.
Knowing this, I opted for 10. f3, giving me the option of Rf1-f2 if needed. Furthermore, if Black tries …h5-h4, g3-g4 can now shut down the position.
10.f3 Bxg2 11.Kxg2 h4
As I mentioned before, the g5 square becomes weak, yet it’s not so easy to exploit. At this point, I began to look at 14. gxf5, but I didn’t like it on account of a few reasons:
1. The g-file opens
Even if this is tenable, I do feel like Black is getting the play he intended with his opening choice. With the g-file open, Black’s plan is to play … f5-f4 and queenside castle to bring his d8-rook over to g8. This is a lot of pressure, which brings me to my next point.
2. I’m not punishing Black!
Remember back when Black played 9… h5 when I said my opponent wasn’t following opening principles? 14. gxf5 not only fails to capitalize on this detail, it actually rewards Black for his play!
So this being said I played the anti-positional move
Taking away from the center! But it turns out here that matters aren’t so trivial, Black’s king is still in the center, so opening the e-file with a future f3-f4 or d3-d4 push may be lethal. It was here that I noticed that Black’s weakness wasn’t the square on g5, it was the f5 square! By taking in this manner, the structure has changed; so a pawn on g4 helps support a knight on f5 and close the g-file. As my knight reroutes to f5, my bishop will find the right moment to go into g5 and cramp Black’s position.
And the best part? 14. exf5 was one of the computer’s best moves!
So Black opted for the stingiest move, but it also once again neglects development and king saftey. Immediately I wanted to play 16. gxf5:
The concept of cousre is to break Black’s center, leaving his king out in the open. This all works if Black plays along: 16… Nxf5 17.Nxf5 Qxf5 18.f4
Because of the discovery threats on the queen, castling for Black comes at the cost of a pawn. However, not all captures are forcing! I soon realized that my dystopic outlook on the position was not only incorrect, but potentially losing after Black’s amazing resource, 16… Nh6!
This shifts the game from dynamic play to static play. With 16. gxf4? I’ve actually given up any chance of securing the f5 outpost and opened the g-file for Black’s rook. Trying to stop Black from castling with 17. Bg5 still looks grim after 17… Nhxf5 =+.
And here it’s clear that Black is simply better with no real counterchances for White.
So I had to be less direct, yet still keeping the position in a dynamic state. With my next move, I highlighted that the f5 pawn is still weak.
My c3-knight was no longer planning on reaching d5 since Black can play …c7-c6 now, so trading it for Black’s best piece was appealing. Black took drastic measures with his next move, but he had several options to consider.
After some post-game analysis, I’ve come to the opinion that this was the best shot to equalize. While it creates light squared weaknesses, it neutralizes my grip on f5 and g5, while blocking in my bishop on c1. I had seen this during the game, and thought I had found a tactical resource in 17. Nxd4 fxg3 18. Re1 g2+ 19. Kg1 0-0-0 20. Nf5
But after some research with Stockfish, here it’s my play that’s burned out, and soon I will find that the g2 pawn is not protecting my king, it’s a protected passed pawn! All endgames favor Black here.
However, my opponent didn’t play this move when originally given the opportunity, so he must have thought the assessment was the same as before.
16… Nxe2 17.Qxe2 fxg4 18.fxg4
With evasive play, Black has avoided the loss of a pawn, but even after 18…0-0-0, my opponent will find his lack of development and counterplay concerning. My knight will find the f5 square, and my bishop, g5. White’s position plays itself.
This isn’t really a move for Black, but it does a nice job of illustrating his dilemmas after 17. Nxd4 exd4 18. Re1+
The win still needs work, but you get the idea. A trade on d4 eliminates Black’s ability to pressure the long dark squared diagonal, and opening the e-file will favor me.
So my opponent, uncomfortable with his options, played a move I hadn’t considered.
16. … Nxf3?!
The idea that opening the long diagonal will give Black strong play. However, this is the first innacuracy of the game! With this line my opponent forces me to seal in his bishop and open the e-file.
17.Rxf3 Qc6 18.Nd4!
18…exd4 19.Nxf5 Be5 20.Bg5! +=
Black really needed to try 22… Qd5 to force me to play slower.
White’s plan would be to play Qe2-e4, trade queens, and go into an endgame with small winning chances. But with my next move, my opponent realized how active I had become.
The computer gave me an option here that holds on to my grasp on the position with 26. Rf1 Rh7 27. Kg1 getting out of the pin 27… Nf6 28. Ng3 += with a slight edge.
I do have to say, so far the game has been very complex, yet there have not been any missed tactics by either side. Coming from the position of strength, I have to say this is a testament to my opponent’s defensive resourcefulness to find holding moves each turn. However, with the queen trade on c6, I must win again – this time however with an advantage on the clock.
26. … Qxc6 27.Rxc6 Kd7 28.b5
29.Bxh6 Rxh6 30.Nxd4
I had to make sure that this trade worked, and I think again my opponent found the best resource in 30… Rhf6. Let’s quickly look through some of Black’s choices:
30… Rxf3 31. Nxf3 Rf6 32. Nxe5+ does not win a piece! Black can prolong the fight with 32… Ke6!
…and White must stop the threat of mate on f1 with 33. Kg1, meaning that this is the position that must be understood. While Black may still be able to hold, I assessed that my advantage had increased since Black must give up the c7 and a7 pawns (the importance of a prophylactic measure like 28. b5!). Since I believed I had better winning chances, I was okay with this position.
So simplification does not come to Black’s aid. Black can’t afford to be passive either since the backward 30… Rhh8? has a tactical problem. Can you find it?
Here I had found 31. Rxf8 Rxf8 32. Rxc7+!! since now 32… Kxc7 is met with 33. Ne6+ with a winning minor piece endgame. Black can’t save himself with 32… Ke8, threatening mate on f1 and the knight on d4, because 33. Rc8+ forces a trade of rooks, and now I must find Nd4-f5, followed by d3-d4 to limit Black’s ability to attack my h2 pawn.
It’s clear that only White can be better, and of course I knew my opponent wouldn’t go for it. There was one last option I didn’t consider until after I had made my move in 30… Bxd4?! the concept being that my king is stuck on h1 and the constant threat of mate is a problem for me.
While this may be a potential drawing resource in other positions, my b5 pawn makes c7 a permanent backwards pawn and target. So in the line 31. Rxf8 Re6 32. Rc1, Black cannot both be active and defend c7 as 32… Re3 33. Rf7+ still gives White reasonable winning chances.
But as I said, I thought my opponent found the most aggressive try despite his time troubles.
31.Nf5 Rg6 32.Rc4 Rb8?
Black had much better in the more flexible 32… Rfg8 33.Ne3 d5 34.Ra4
And while Black remains a pawn down, he has reasonable drawing chances. Having a bishop in the center of the board alone should be enough compensation for the extra g-pawn, not to mention, my queenside stucture is also quite hideous.
33.Rxh3 Rxb5 34.Rh7+ Ke6 35.h3
35…Rb1+ 36.Kg2 Rb2+ 37.Kf3 Rxa2 38.Rcxc7
42.Ra7 a3 43.Ra5+ Ke6
44.d4 Bh2 45.d5+ Kd7 46.Ra7+ Kd8 47.Rb4
Missing the simplest win in 47. Ra8+ Kd7 48. Rac8, and Black must give up an exchange to stop the threat of Rc4-c7#. But at this point I was already playing my opponent’s clock – with 8 seconds left, he can never hold this, right?
47. … Rb2 48.Rxb2?? =
Here I thought that my opponent could make no progress with the b2 pawn, but with it on a dark square, his bishop can hold it until the rook comes to the rescue. So as I promised, one blunder… moral of the story? Don’t look at your opponent’s clock! If I had just spent 1 more minute, I would have realized that 48. Rxb2 allows too much play and that 48. Rba4 is a lot simpler.
48. … axb2 49.Rb7 Be5 50.Ke4 Kc8 51.Rb5
As my opponent correctly pointed out in our post-mortem, …Kc8-c7, followed by …Rf6-f8-b8, not only is the best mechanism but now I have to worry about losing the game entirely. White should be fine if I bring my king to c2, but my kingside pawns become weak and won’t be able to promote with the bishop on e5 guarding both g7 and h8. But I got lucky…
Here my opponent resigned after realizing my rook is protected on b4, and my f-pawn is soon queening. Tough game and my opponent did well to hold, but he simply just made more mistakes than me.
As I said before this (really, really long) analysis, there really isn’t a particular theme I can sum up here. But there were some key points:
Early attacks mean neglecting development. Sometimes the best defense is to find ways to punish your opponent for not following the fundamentals.
Captures aren’t a truly forcing move. In this game, there were two points where a pawn takes pawn move could be ignored, and thus change the entire evaluation of the position.
This brings me to my next point, always evaluate who is statically better each position. This constantly changed throughout the game, so it changed the focus for each player’s goal as well.
Time trouble for your opponent is not time trouble for you! Say what you want, but I’m going to kick myself for this Rxb2 move more than I’ll pat myself on the back for winning. Next time I won’t be so lucky.
I thought this was a really interesting game, and I hope you did too. For me, winning (despite some errors) was a great way to rebound from the Pittsburgh Open and start thinking about my summer calendar – specifically the US Junior Open!
In today’s video, I review Vishy Anand’s win over Levon Aronian from the 2016 Candidates Tournament in Moscow. While everyone will be discussing Giri’s missed chance against Caruana, a lead change this late into the tournament cannot be overlooked!
As promised, I wanted to share my loss against four-time US Chess Champion Alexander Shabalov at the Pittsburgh Chess Club’s recent simultaneous exhibition. Watch Shabalov bounce back from a worse position and grind out a win in a drawn endgame!
I’ve spent the last few days watching the Gibraltar Open, and now that it’s come to a close, I wanted to share some of the more interesting and instructive moments of the tournament.
The first game I wanted to show was from round 9, Ni Hua–Maze, where a massive space advantage against a Berlin failed to materialize and then came crashing down to allow the Frenchman to convert the won endgame. If you’re unfamiliar with the Berlin, I highly recommend you check out my comprehensive post on the opening here.
In this next endgame, we saw a draw cost both sides an opportunity to make the playoffs with Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier–Lagrave. In the end, it was Pentala Harikrishna that was unable to convert his position of strength to a birth in the play-off.
I missed the Nakamura–MVL match-up for first prize, but after four draws, Nakamura won the armageddon game with the Black pieces to win Gibraltar for the second consecutive year. This year featured a strong section, and the tournament becomes more interesting with each year as the organizers find new players to invite – I’ll be curious to see who plays next year!
This Saturday, I will be playing Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov in a simultaneous exhibition at the Pittsburgh Chess Club – so make sure to look out for the “Grandmaster Eats Me Alive” video that will come out Sunday, I’m looking forward to seeing how the reigning US Open Champion will plow through my repertoire!
Since I’ve spent most of the last week discussing opening play, I decided to discuss trades in today’s post.
A few years ago when I was a student at Castle Chess Camp, I had the pleasure of working with Grandmaster Grigory Serper. While his use of metaphors and clichés to describe chess were particularly memorable, he did leave an impression on me regarding trading. Some of you may be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s one red paperclip project, where through internet trading, he managed to trade a paperclip for an entire house.
As Serper pointed out, winning in chess is very similar. We want to checkmate our opponent, but often times our opponents aren’t so willing to cooperate. So instead, we take over small advantages and cash them into bigger ones – just like how MacDonald started with a trade for a pen, then a doorknob, and eventually down the road, a house.
When looking for grandmaster games for today’s post, I decided to only select games from the recent rapid tournament, the 25th Paul Keres Memorial. We start with the third round upset of the top seed, Peter Svidler.
Svidler – Kulaots (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)
In this position, either side has practical winning chances. While Kulaots has the pair of bishops, Svidler has a fair amount of compensation. Black’s pawns limit the abilities of his own light squared bishop, and White’s knight has a strong outpost on f4. While some may argue that Black has the long-term advantage because of the pair of bishops, even that’s not so clear, as Svidler has a passed pawn on a3. In order for Kulaots to prove an advantage, he needs to activate his pieces.
This game was decided by three trades, the bishop for knight trade on f4, the rook trade on e4, and the opening of the floodgates on g3. Kulaots won this game by optimizing his position between each trade, paralyzing White to his structural weaknesses. Even though the f4 and d4 pawns dictated the pace for this game, Black didn’t have to win them to procure a result. Let’s move on to the next game.
Kukk – Eljanov (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)
Pavel Eljanov is one of my favorite players to watch, and while he didn’t perform at his full strength this tournament, he still showed how he was one of the best here.
In this position, White seems to be standing well. The knight on e5 well placed and Kukk has both of his rooks on open files while Black seems to be lingering behind in development. But Eljanov has his own ideas too. After rerouting from d7, the knight on b8 can enter the contest at any moment via c6. Furthermore, White’s bishop on b2 is passive behind the d4 pawn and will need to spend some tempi to reroute it.
18…Nc6 19. a3
20. Rxc8 Rxc8
21. Rc1 b5 22. b4
22…Rxc1+ 23. Bxc1 Qc8
24. Nb3 Ne4
25. f3 Ng3 26. Bf4 Nh5 27. Bd2 f6
28. Ng4 Qc4!
29. Nf2 Ng3
30. Nc5 Nef5 31. Qxc4 bxc4 32. Nxa6 Nxd4
33. Nd1 Nde2+ 34. Kf2 d4 0-1
Here Kukk resigned, as Eljanov’s d- and c-pawns are just too much. White has no mobility, and he’ll have to give up a minor piece when Black pushes …c4-c3.
As you may have noticed, in each of these games, the winner didn’t count on tactical trumps to beat the other but rather milked small positional edges, forcing the other side to make concessions. When you identify candidate moves, it’s extremely important to know what trades will help your position or weaken your opponent’s.
Given how endgames played a vital role in my games at the National Chess Congress this past weekend, I figured for today’s post I’d go over two endgames from Grandmaster games that relied on technique to grind out the point.
The first game I’d like to share is from one of England’s finest, David Howell.
In the following position, Howell is up two pawns, but his opponent has enough pieces to defend for the time being. How would you proceed?
Howell – Neiksans (Chess Olympiad, 2014)
White to Move
While White is definitely better, the fact that Black has a bishop to White’s knight makes things more complicated. Howell addressed this with the simple but powerful 40. Nc6! Offering to trade minor pieces and reach a simpler endgame. The problem for Black is that bishop is also covering the d8 square, which prevents White from playing Nc6-d8+ forking the king and rook. Knowing that a minor piece swap would lose the game, Neiksans tried 40… Ba3 41. Nd8+ Kg6 42. Nxb7 Bxb2
While Howell couldn’t force the trade of minor pieces, White did trade a pair of rooks which reduces the endgames complexity. In doing so, White can regroup his pieces and start pushing his b-pawn. 43. Nc5 Rb6 44. b4 Rc6
Neiksans last move seems like a waste, but if White tries to push his b-pawn again, he’d be greeted with a nasty …Bb2-a3 taking advantage of the pin on the knight. While this temporarily stops Howell from pushing his pawn, he demonstrates a key concept, use all of your pieces! In the endgame, the king is one of the most important attackers, and that’s why Howell chose 45. Ke4! Forcing Black through zugzwang to allow White’s b-pawn to keep marching. 45… Be5 46. b5 Rc8 47. b6
Even though the dark squared bishop covers the b-pawn’s promotion square, Howell still has a 4 v 3 pawn advantage on the kingside. With Black’s army pulled down, Howell plans to fix Black’s pieces and then convert his kingside advantage. 47… Rc6 48. b7 Rb6 49. Nd7!
The endgame is hard to win with Black’s bishop on the board. By making Neuksans army uncoordinated, Howell decided now was the time to take affirmative action. 49… Rxb7 Black has won the b-pawn but now faces a 4 v 2 structure on the kingside. 50. Nxe5 fxe5 51. Kxe5 +-
Howell went on to win this endgame, thanks to the help of the passed e-pawn. In what was a somewhat difficult endgame, Howell managed to neutralize Black’s bishop over a long period of time with very little calculation! In endgames, it’s important to have a long-term plan, as well as a roadmap of how to get there. In this game, Howell’s advantage was never in doubt, it was just a matter of playing around Black’s army.
For the second endgame, I wanted to share a game of a slightly older Peruvian Grandmaster, Julio Granda Zuniga. Rated around 2650, Granda Zuniga is one of the strongest players in South America.
Unlike the last game, White does not have a material advantage, but the bishop pair instead. How would you go about trying to exploit this advantage?
Granda Zuniga – Henriquez (World Cup, 2015)
White to Move
Here Black has just played 39… d4 With the plan of using a “Philidor’s Ring” by playing …Nc7-d5-c3, blocking in the b2 bishop and limiting White’s mobility. However, by doing this, Black’s passed pawn becomes a liability, and White can find ways for his king to enter the fray, namely e4 or c4 – squares weakened by the d-pawn thrust. The problem for Black is that his plan only dominates the dark squares, so White needs to come up with a light squared infiltration. Ideally, White’s king can make the e2-d3-c4 trek, so he needs a square for his light-squared bishop. Granda Zuniga chose 40. a4! Creating a potential outpost for the d3 bishop. If Black tries 40… bxa3 41. Bxa3, both of White’s bishops become activated and the point behind Black’s play to control c3 is moot. 40… Nd5 41. Bb5+ Ke7 42. Ke2 Nc3+
This is the “Philidor’s Ring” that Black was hoping to achieve. While a great way to close off files for rooks and make the position cramped, Black has bigger problems here in that White’s king can still enter the position via e2-d3-c4. Even if Black were to trade on b5 getting rid of the bishop pair, White would get a passed pawn and his king could come to aid before Black could ever attack the pawn. 43. Kd3 Nc5+ 44. Kc4 Protecting b3 instead of going for the weak d4 pawn.
Mission Accomplished! Just like the Howell game, Granda Zuniga realized that his king was a vital player in this endgame. Now White’s goal is to punish the original problem with 39…d4. Black’s reason for pushing the pawn has been served, and now all that remains is a long term weakness. White wants to trade a pair of minor pieces so he’s left with a dark squared bishop against a knight. 44… Ne6 45. Bc6 Ne2 46. Bd5! Nxg3
A scary proposition for White, but in the endgame, often activity is more important than material! White’s ultimate goal is to trade on e6 and then take on d4, allowing the dark squared bishop to eat Black’s entire queenside. 47. Bxe6 Kxe6 48. Bxd4 Kf5 49. Bb6 Kxf4 50. Bxa5
To win this game, Granda Zuniga needed to have seen this position before allowing Black to take on g3 to know that 50… Kxe5? isn’t possible because of 51. Bc7+! with a skewer. A simple concept but Granda Zuniga would’ve had to have seen this after having played 44. Kc4! With the extra tempo, the endgame becomes quite simple. 51… Nf1 52. Bc7! The one pawn is enough. It’s important that White keeps his e- and h- pawns for as long as possible since they slow Henriquez’s ability to push pawns on the kingside. 52… Ke4 53. Kxb4 Kd5 54. Kb5 Nd2 55. b4 1-0
Black is powerless to stop both pawns as White’s last move 55. b4 stops Black’s knight from reaching c5. Henriquez decided to throw in the towel here since he still can’t make progress on the kingside.
Two fairly instructive endgames, as they show how Grandmasters play in the latter stages of the game. In many cases, it’s hard to calculate to a position where one side converts accurately, so it’s important to have a general plan and find ways to achieve it before just calculating lines.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, I think that I should be most thankful for the opportunity I had to compete at the highest level this past weekend in Philadelphia for the National Chess Congress.
For the second time of my career, I decided to compete in the Premier section of a Continental Chess event and going in, everything seemed to be moving in the right direction. I had been winning my weekly games against expert level competition with relative ease, and even my G/15 play seemed to be improving. Not to mention, I had just broken 2600 on chess.com’s tactics trainer. Everything was on the up and up.
Perhaps the first sign that things would be difficult this was when my train took an extra four hours to get from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, followed by the hotel’s fire alarm going off the morning of the first round.
That being said, I was still feeling confident going into my first game against fellow Virginian Andy Samuelson, a player rated over 2300, and coincidentally my chess coach’s former college roommate.
While my opening play up to this point had been dubious up to this point, I still had managed a respectable position, down an exchange but with a central passed pawn for compensation. Here I played 24… Qg7? losing my advantage as White got in 25. Qe3 blocking my advantage and making it difficult for me to reach a favorable endgame. My pawns on e6 and d6 are more of a liability than a threat and are ultimately why I wound up losing the game. But this tournament could have been very different if I had calculated the risky 24… Qxf4!
I overlooked this move because I thought White could quickly find counterplay with 25. Rf1 Qxg4 26. Qf6, but missed that 26… Nd7! holds everything together and preserves Black’s advantage. Though capturing on f4 is risky because the f-file is open long term, I now have two pawns and a piece to justify the rook, and it is my rook that comes to f8 after White retreat the bishop. This isn’t winning yet but definitely would have been a great first step towards getting a point in my column.
That being said, the moral of this game is don’t be afraid to take chances! In chess there is risk, but there is also pure calculation which will always trump positional judgement if accurate. Here I trusted my opponent’s analysis too much and played passively to get on the wrong side of the match. Even with a loss, there was really no need to panic – I still had five more games.
While round 2 was likely the most “boring” match for me, my opponent showed a glimpse of brilliance which I thought was important to share.
Steincamp – Moon (National Chess Congress, 2015)
Out of my theory, I spent over 15 minutes to come up with the move 14. Ba1?! which doesn’t really offer me any improvements. I wanted to make a non-committal move here, and I thought the perhaps this would be helpful as the b2-square opens up for my queen, and should the b-file ever open, I can just play Rc1 -b1. While this move was a good move in an earlier article, the key distinction is that in this game, the b-file isn’t open, so it doesn’t make sense to set my pieces this way. Furthermore, my opponent has the move …d5-d4 at any point, blocking my bishop and effectively trapping it. My opponent could have played this move, but he made a far more prudent move, 14…h6!. I give this move an exclamation because of the psychological effect it has behind it. Since I made a move after 15 minutes of thinking, my opponent made this move in 2-3 minutes to force me to come up with a new plan. He likely knew I was expecting …d5-d4, but with this move, forces me to come up with a new, non-reactive move.
In retrospect, I should’ve traded on d5 and then played the position like a hedgehog with relative balance. Even though I got in a worse position, I held my ground and managed a draw.
Turning the Tables
This is probably the match that I “let” go, but it’s still one of the best games I played the whole weekend.
Iyer – Steincamp (National Chess Congress, 2015)
1…c5 2.Bb2 d6 3.e3 e5
4…Bd7 5.Bxd7+ Qxd7 6.c4
6…Nc6 7.Ne2 Nge7 8.a3
8…g6 9.Nbc3 Bg7 10.Qc2 Rb8
11.O-O O-O 12.Rad1 f5 13.f4 a6
14…b5 15.fxe5 dxe5 16.cxb5 axb5
18.Kh1 Nd5 19.Bc1
19…Rfc8 20.Nbc3 Nd4
22.Nxd5 Nxc1 23.Rxc1 Kh8
Definitely a disappointing result for such strong middlegame play, but as I learned this weekend, every move counts. In this game, it was just the difference between a win and a draw. Later in Round 5, I wouldn’t get so lucky.
The Sole Point
Before I show the critical position of my Round 4 win, I must confess I was truly impressed by my opponent’s ability to play at my level throughout the opening and middlegame. At just 1900, my opponent is proof that anyone can prove to be a tough opponent. Unfortunately, in chess there can only be one winner, and my opponent’s valiant efforts were thwarted in the endgame.
In my estimation, I am the only side that can win, but Black has to help me get there. In this position, I played 28. g4 with the idea of weakening my opponent’s pawn structure and giving my king a route to e4. A move like 28… e6 may have saved face, but in time trouble my opponent tried 28… fxg4?? Though not immediately losing, conceding control of the e4 square will allow my king access to the light squares in the center.
A couple moves later, we reach a winning position for White where I will win a pawn on d4 and soon enough the game. At some point, I will play for f4-f5 to gain access to d5. My opponent fought on but resigned on move 45.
At this point in the tournament, I was sitting pretty at 2/4 with a goal of either 2.5/6 or 3/6 completely attainable. Of the two remaining games, round 5 offered my best chance at reaching that goal.
It’s not enough to be equal, you have to earn equal
Sena – Steincamp (National Chess Congress, 2015)
After trading the e- d- and c- pawns the symmetrical structure suggests a draw, but I’m not out of the hole yet. A simple 19… Be6 would have probably gotten the job done, as the b7 pawn isn’t really hanging since b2 is equally a liability. However, trying to simplify, I got greedy and tried 19… Bd4 20. Bxd4 Qxd4 and offered a draw. I think a few players would be happy with a half point here with White, but my opponent was vigilant with 21. Bd5! The only move offering winning chances. I couldn’t find anything better than 21… Be6 += And White once traded on e6, picked up the pawn on b7 and eventually converted the win.
That left Round 6 as my last chance to reach my goal, but I tried a novelty in the opening that went horribly wrong. While my play was less than stellar, my opponent executed a nice tactical shot that I had completely missed.
Steincamp – Elezi (National Chess Congress, 2015)
With my plan being to push the b-pawn, I used this opportunity to play 14. Qc2 to protect my c3 knight and prepare b4 push. My thought here was that Black’s knight was headed to f6 and then e4, leading to a long-term positional battle, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. 14… e5 15. dxe6 Nxh2!
With all my pieces on the queenside, I am absolutely defenseless to this attack. If I play 16. Kxh2? Qh4+ wins immediately as the rook on e1 is left hanging to the fork. At my level, there is absolutely no way I can reasonably hope to get back into this game.
While my opponent’s display of tactical brilliance is inspiring, I do want to make a note here about his board etiquette. Whenever I adjusted a piece, he would immediately put the piece back on the square and then slam the clock, even though it was my turn. Furthermore, before I resigned my opponent checked his phone in his suit pocket. While this does not justify how I played this game, my takeaway is that if it’s distracting, tell the tournament director. In an effort to be accommodating and tolerant, I allowed my opponent to become intimidating and cross the line of sportsmanship. Here are some useful things to know:
In FIDE, it is unacceptable to adjust your opponent’s pieces on their turn. Period. Furthermore, touching the clock during the opponent’s turn is also a violation.
FIDE leaves phone punishments to the tournament directors, but under FIDE rules it is completely unacceptable for the phone to leave the tournament hall. If the phone was in my opponent’s suit pocket and on, it fulfills that criteria when he left for the bathroom.
I didn’t know about the adjust rule until after the fact, but I chose not to report the phone since I was already completely lost and telling the TD seemed to just postpone a foregone over the board conclusion. In the future, I think the best thing to do is to just be proactive in these situations. Just because my opponent is winning doesn’t make it okay for him to break the rules. While a forfeit win or a time penalty would not have made me happy that round given my play, the rules are there for a reason, and it’s my job as the player to use them.
2/6 isn’t a bad score considering that this was the toughest competition I’d ever faced, but it does show me that there is room to improve before this summer’s US Junior Open in New Orleans. The support I got going into this event from friends, family, chess^summit fans, and GoFundMe was incredible, and I’m looking forward to what the next few months have in store.
Last Saturday, Nicholas N. asked “Is there a chance you have a game with the French Defense winning?”
Unfortunately, I’m not a French player, and because I haven’t played 1 e4 since I was in elementary school, I don’t have any quality games for any up and coming French players. But I know someone who does.
I met Grandmaster Akobian at Castle Chess back in 2011, and while I haven’t kept in contact, I have followed his games over the past few years. For those of you who only started following top-level chess recently, you may recall hearing Akobian’s name from this famous incident:
[Courtesy: D K Chess]
But Akobian has his own achievements too. A gold medal winner at the 2013 World Chess Team Championships, Var has a legacy of strong opening play with both the French and Bg5 systems against the King’s Indian Defense. To answer Nicholas’ question, we’ll look at two games in the French from Akobian.
A strong showing from Akobian in this game against a top level Grandmaster! This game showed us a couple of lessons:
1) While theory doesn’t win games, it can play a significant factor in deciding the result. In this game Khachiyan wasn’t familiar with the Bxh7 line, and because of that, could not acquire positional resources to slow Black’s play.
2) In winning positions, positional advantages may mean more than winning material! Var could have played …Ne4-f2 but waited, because he realized that it would actually be harder to win up the exchange than taking full control of the weak queenside first.
3) Use all of your pieces! White traded a lot of pieces, and while theoretical, didn’t find a way to effectively use his h1 rook. This may seem irrelevant to the game, but in the final position, White is basically playing down a rook as all of Black’s pieces are going into the action.
This game was short, but shows us that the French can be a sharp opening and White must know theory to challenge Black’s queenside thrusts. Let’s take a look at a more positional game where Var makes use of an isolated queen’s pawn.
I liked this game because Akobian showed that playing with the “dreaded” IQP isn’t actually that bad. By making advantageous trades, he simplified into an endgame where he could play for two results, and then slowly outplayed the International Master.
The French is a versatile structure, and learning it can help you understand the Dutch and the Nimzo Indian at the next level. While I personally would never choose the French as a first choice, it is a great way to build an opening repertoire.
One year after I miraculously survived a completely lost endgame at the National High School Chess Championships in San Diego, I found myself in a similar situation in the first round of the same event in Columbus.
While I wasn’t lost, I had dropped a pawn in the opening, and at first, things looked like they were about to turn sour. However, through the use of just one file, I was able to maximize the activity of all my pieces, reaching an endgame where only I had winning chances. I really liked this game, because I was able to use a lot of similar ideas that I did in the original “How to Swindle”, while limiting all of my opponent’s counterplay. I hope you enjoy!