Well, if I was looking for a Cinderella story to make it over 2100 this past weekend, I certainly didn’t find it. This year’s edition of the Pennsylvania State Championships pushed me to the limit – testing my stamina, resilience, and my composure in ways that I have never been tested before. Upon the tournament’s conclusion, I had convinced myself that the 3/5 result I produced simply derived from bad luck.
With a little over a day to rethink my results, I have to admit, there were a lot of elements working against me, but I also created my own luck in the latter half of the tournament, which saved me from having an even worse result.
What do I mean by bad luck? Until the last round (when it was already too late), I was never able to put together any serious momentum. In the first round, I got paired down against an ambitious youngster. Even though I got an edge out of the opening, I hyperextended and quickly lost my advantage. While I missed a chance late in the game to win, my opponent didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hold the endgame to a draw. Not an ideal start, but a comeback is manageable, right?
With only thirty minutes between the rounds to catch my breath, I learned that I would play defending State Champion and fellow Chess^Summit author Grant Xu for the first ever Chess^Summit v Chess^Summit tournament match up. Grant had taken a half point bye in the first round and was ready to play, surprising me out of the opening and catching me off guard.
Though I somehow managed to equalize, I was too tired to complete the result and managed to blunder my way through the rest of the endgame, dropping my score to 0.5/2. This put me in a really tough tournament position, as I would need to win out to objectively have a “good” tournament.
At that moment, I felt like I had had some bad luck with the pairings, and went back to my dorm room to rest up for the last round of the night.
Sure, it wasn’t ideal to play Grant with so little time between rounds, and sure, my first round opponent wasn’t quite the game I was hoping to open with, but in reflection, given the positions I had, I think I had some opportunities to score better. Going into the last game, I took the right mentality, forgetting the first two games and telling myself that I was now playing in a three-round tournament. Now this was my chance to create my own luck.
I got paired against a 1500 that night, but still treated the game as if I were playing someone my level. The affair was rather one-sided, but there was an instructive moment during the game that I thought I ought to share.
In this position, it’s my turn, and I’m clearly better. Black has lost his right to castle and has a significant lack of space. Yet how should I press on as White? Black doesn’t have any structural weaknesses and actually has the idea …Be7-g4, attacking the d4 pawn and trying to pry open the dark squared diagonal for his a7 bishop. After some thought, I figured the right question to ask was where should I put my dark squared bishop? I think objectively the options are about equal, but my choice offered me long term attacking possibilities. Can you figure what I decided?
Though this win wasn’t exactly the most challenging, it felt nice to get back into the habit of asking the right questions and making the most of good positions. To my discontent, I got paired down in the fourth round on Sunday morning, and once again got surprised by an opening sideline in which I promptly put myself in a worse position.
I could have been outplayed, but I found ways to keep the game going, eventually pushing the game to equality and even a slight edge for myself before forcing the three move repetition. While objectively a draw was a good result considering the way the game started, I couldn’t help but feel that had I known the theory better I could have outplayed my opponent and gotten a full point. This result meant my last round would be a consolation game, and breaking 2100 would have to wait again.
This was a critical lesson for me, when I just focus on chess, when I just focus on making the best move every move, I can play a great game. Most of the tournament I felt distracted – either being bewildered by my early results, or feeling a need to make up for them later on. But when I was just worried about chess, removing all of the emotional stress of a long weekend of dissapointment, I can well. This is what I mean by creating my own luck.
Not every tournament is going to be ideal, maybe it’s just bad pairings, or the TD makes the wrong decision, or you blow a won game in time trouble – this happens to everyone at some point. To be strong player, you have to put these moments behind you. It felt like most of this weekend I got hit with something new every game – an opening line I wasn’t prepared for (twice!), an underrated opponent, crazy pairings – all of these things were out of my control, but if I could have played as well as I did in the last round in each game, it would not have mattered and I could easily be 2100 again right now.
While it was dissapointing to have trained so hard for this event to only get one opponent rated over 2000, I plan to continue pushing myself for my next tournament in early November. By then I’ll have reached my 20th birthday, and perhaps a little bit of “luck” can rub off on me then 🙂 I guess we’ll just have to see in my next post!
What makes for a good tournament performance? Rating gain? Total number of wins? Winning prizes? Well, for me, it was none of the above. Last week’s Washington International marked my final tournament before returning to Pittsburgh for the fall semester, and a return to one of my favorite tournament venues.
Just like last year, I entered the U2200 section hoping to find some sort of clarity going into the fall. Since the US Junior Open, I think it’s fair to say that I have had a particularly tough stretch between a poor showing at the World Open and some uninspired play at the Southern Open – only tallying two wins over my last eleven games. Of course, these past two months have also given me a lot of insight into my own weaknesses as a player, forcing me to work on a new opening repertoire, my calculation skills, and my overall endgame understanding.
To an extent, I do think putting so much emphasis on my preparation for the US Junior Open resulted in a bit of a backslide in my studies upon my return from New Orleans. I didn’t really grasp this in Philadelphia as I was preoccupied, getting torn apart in the Open section, but this became apparent to me when my performance in Orlando was punctuated with a very lucky win despite my poor form and inability to find any tactics that weekend. But naturally, I have greater aspirations than to obsess about a tournament I played in two months ago, and making master is certainly a good first step.
In the three weeks leading up to the Washington International, I completely changed how I attacked my studies. Every morning, I woke up at 6:30 to go running to improve my endurance while beating the heat. After pushing my physical limits, I then tested myself mentally, doing tactical exercises for about two hours before working on my opening repertoire and then testing out some lines in online practice games. On most days, I was able to put in about five hours of preparation, though there was one day where I somehow had the stamina for ten! This wasn’t enough to fix all of the problems my game has had over the month prior, but it made up for a lot of poor preparation – think of it as a “spring cleaning”, if you will.
So, as you can imagine, I entered Rockville the most prepared I could be, and easily the most confident I have been in a very long time. I knew it would be hard to replicate the success I had last year with a completely new opening repertoire, so my only goals were to focus on getting solid positions out of the opening and limit the number of unforced blunders in my play – both of which were places I had failed in my two prior events.
My first three games were extremely uneventful, though I managed to outplay my first round opponent from an equal endgame to secure a win. My score of 2/3 wasn’t a bad start, but my tournament really started in round 4, where my inability to play quickly cost me a beautiful position and the game. Even though I’m not particularly happy with how this game ended, I think it’s instructive and worth sharing here on Chess^Summit.
Ouch! Well, I guess that’s one way to lose to a lower rated opponent… Not quite what I was hoping for in my “back to form” tournament. One thing I’ve noticed about some of my tournaments pre-dating the US Junior Open was that if I had a closely contested game and lost, I generally would underperform in my next few games and it would kill my ability to have a consistent tournament performance. Knowing that my ability to rebound quickly from this loss would define how I did in this tournament, I played my best chess in each of my next two games as Black.
Pushed for what felt a “must-win” in round 5 to bounce back from a tough loss the night before, I opened with a move I hadn’t played since 2007! Typically, I bring blue Gatorade to each game, but when I feel like I need to win, I switch it out for “Darth Vader” juice (red). While superstitions are silly (I have others!), there was no messing around this Monday morning, and Caissa rewarded me with some creative play, and a great win to really start my scoring spree this tournament.
While I won this game with some nice technique, I was much prouder of myself for completely ignoring my opponent’s time trouble, and forcing myself to find the best move at my own pace, even once the endgame had been reached and it was clear the game was continuing for the sake of formality. I feel like my ability to handle such situations has come a long way since I blew a State Championship last February trying to push my opponent further into his own time trouble.
Now 4/6 with three rounds to go, I was feeling optimistic again about my chances to place in the event, but as luck would have it, things just did not work out. Paired against one of the strongest players in the field I managed secure equality, but quickly found myself distracted by some off-the-board behavior related to my opponent that I do not wish to discuss at this time. I had my own mistakes and know what I can take away from this game to become a stronger player, but unfortunately, this once again killed the momentum I had worked so hard to build. I did well to draw my last two rounds with Black, but on paper, 5/9 certainly didn’t seem to make up for that round 7 loss.
So we return to the opening question – what makes a good tournament? Dropping below 2100 for the first time certainly doesn’t sound like a good result, but when I look at the goals I set for myself going into Rockville and then compare these nine games to my previous eleven, only one word comes to mind: progress. In this tournament, despite playing with a new opening repertoire, there was only (arguably) one game where I left the opening slightly worse (my round 8 draw), and while I had my mistakes, it was still not nearly as many as I had at the Southern Open. Even though I was fully prepared for this tournament, I got hit with everything this section could offer me, and each of the lessons I learned will be valuable towards future improvement.
Good is a strong word in chess because it’s too general to really describe every aspect of a performance. At this year’s Washington International, I didn’t have the breakthrough tournament that I had the year prior, but I certainly had a very encouraging result. The way I played showed a lot of improvement, but in pulling together a solid showing, I also saw my play with White isn’t getting me enough, and that my ability to manage time trouble can still use some work.
As I pack my bags for another term at Pitt this week, I’m excited about the prospect of being able to play more frequently in various local competitions. With the Pittsburgh Chess League, as well as the various Pennsylvania State Championships on University campus, I’m confident that I will not only have an opportunity to regain the points I’ve lost the last half of this summer, but soar beyond if I continue to attack my studies. Of course, I likely won’t have five hours a day anymore given my workload, but I hope I can make up for that with ambition and get back to the results I’m used to.
These past few tournaments have been a test, and the finish line is near. My only hope is I cross it sprinting.
For our first Chess^Summit guest author, we are very excited to introduce Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn! In today’s video, GM Perelshteyn shares a recent game he played in the English Opening against a strong player where he won using positional concepts. This is a great resource for players who play the English, but also for those that play the Hyper-Accelerated Sicilian as recommended by Perelyshteyn’s book Chess Openings for Black, Explained. While the opening seemed unambitious, White was able to quickly able to expand on the queenside and create a potential passed pawn as discussed in the video!
Make sure to check in next week, as our authors Beilin Li and Vishal Kobla introduce themselves to Chess^Summit and discuss their goals for the upcoming year. Have a great Independence Day weekend!
Though finishing 7th with a score of 3.5/6 wasn’t exactly what I had been dreaming of, I think my performance at this year’s US Junior Open should give me hope going forward into the future. That being said, there’s always room for improvement, and as this weekend’s games have shown me, this has not changed. I had several opportunities to make my mark in this tournament, playing both of the eventual winners, but in critical moments I had lapses of judgement, ultimately costing me the game in each encounter.
Part of this was nerves, I’m sure, but this is no different than any other tournament. If I learned one lesson from this weekend, it’s that you should never set a goal to be to win a tournament! These things just don’t happen on demand. Despite putting in nine months of dedicated study and hard work, this weekend just wasn’t my best weekend. And it’s not like I haven’t improved. In the last nine months, I’ve gained roughly 75 rating points and earned the title of Candidate Master playing against tougher venues across the East Coast. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while my enthusiasm was in the right place, there were twenty-four other ambitious players in my section, who I’m sure were also keen on winning the event. Clearly there can only be at most a few co-winners, and I’m sure if this exact section were to meet again a month from now and play, the final results would be somewhat different. We can’t control when we play our best, but we can focus on continuing to improve, and as my coach has been trying to tell me, do the work and the results will come! Maybe my breakthrough tournament is next month, or next year, or maybe it was even in New York City just a couple weeks ago. While the US Junior Open has concluded, I still have many opportunities to make the most of my preparation for this tournament in future events. That being said, let me highlight some of the key moments of this weekend.
My first round game proved to be rather simple, as my opponent offered a few pieces out of the opening and fell apart quickly. Though I’d usually be annoyed with such a pairing, sitting at the board in a risk-free round helped me relax and become acquainted with the tournament hall. Opening the tournament with a win? Done. Now it’s time to go to war.
In my next game, I was already paired up against the eventual co-winner of the tournament, though he may thank me for my error in reflection – I believe it was the closest he came to losing the entire weekend.
White to Move
Here we have a relatively balanced position, with a long middlegame battle ahead of us. Black has the famous hanging pawns structure on c5 and d5, and while I may not have space, my set-up is solid and offers many strategic choices. Here I decided that my queen was misplaced on f5, and played 17.Qb1 with the idea of creating the Reti battery with Qf5-b1-a1 and putting pressure on the dark squares. One problem for Black is that I can continue to improve my position, while all of his pieces are on their best possible squares but lack concrete attacking options. For this reason, my opponent spent half of his time on 17…h6? which is a practical mistake to have spent twenty-three minutes on this move! Black takes away the g5 square, but this is not within the realm of discussion for this position. Quickly, I took my chance to seize the initiative. 18.Qa1 Qf8 19.a4!
Using the a-pawn technique we’ve discussed several times already here on Chess^Summit! My goal is to create a weakness on the queenside, and reactivate my d2 knight via b1. 19…Ba6 20.Nb1 Bb7 21.a5 Rb8 22.Nc3
Visually, my position has already undergone a significant transformation. Black’s pieces have meanwhile spread in disarray and lack a concrete plan. My goal now is to trade the d5 pawn for my only weakness on b3. 22…Bc6 23.Nh4 Rxb3 24.Nxd5 Bxd5 25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxd5
With my activity comes tactical problems for Black. Already, I’m threatening to take on g7, removing the defender of the d6 bishop. Furthermore, Black’s bishop is pinned to the d7 knight, so Black already must be careful to not hang material. After this move, my opponent had minutes, if not seconds to complete the rest of the game. 26…g6 27.Rcd1 Re6 28.R1d2!
The right idea! Preparing to create Alekhine’s gun and simply pick off a minor piece and win the game. I spent a lot of time here trying to calculate 28. Bh8 (which works), but couldn’t find a line I really liked. Once I noticed Black has a hard time moving any of his pieces, this became an easy move to make. 28…Ne5
Hanging a knight, right? Maybe you can already start to see what I missed. My initial reaction to this move was surprised because I had ruled out this option in my calculation of my previous move. In my head, I could hear myself saying “Black only had seconds left when he made the move and was looking really nerv- no this doesn’t matter!” And calculated here. My thought was 29. Bxe5 Bxe5 30. Rxe5 Qg7 but I couldn’t find a way for Black to keep the piece. “Okay, he hung it” but my opponent was a strong master, and such a mistake is so elementary… I went up and drank a glass of water and returned to the board to reanalyze my lines. Nothing. And so I continued. If I had just stuck to my plan of 29. Qd1! Black would have had to give up the exchange since the b3 rook and d6 bishop are hit. But I was greedy and continued 29.Bxe5 Bxe5 30.Rxe5 Qb8!
A blind spot! Even with seconds left my opponent showed off his tactical acumen with this idea. Already I should have recognized that I can’t play for a win and played 31. Rd8+ Qxd8 32. Rxe6 fxe6 33. Nxg6, but it’s not so clean and for a position that was winning just moves ago, I wanted more. As the famous saying goes, mistakes come in bunches, and in this case, I continued down the path to self-destruction with 31.Qd1 Rb1 32.Rd8+ Qxd8 33.Qxb1
It was in this moment I realized I had forgotten one of the most basic rules of chess when I recaptured the rook on b1. My original intention was to take on d8, but of course, this isn’t legal due to the pin along the back rank. My opponent converted the endgame, but my position is practically resignable here.
Obviously losing this game put a big dent in my tournament hopes, but I could still have an outside chance at winning so I wasn’t too worried yet. In the third round, I played a 1400-rated player who played unambitiously until his position was nearing critical condition, and then somehow riddled the best move in the position eight times in a row to reach equality. Right when I sobered up to the real possibility of drawing, my opponent hung mate, and I was spared of any humiliation.
While this win preserved my hopes, the horrendous start to my fourth round almost ensured I could not win the event. Luckily, thanks to my study of Carlsen’s endgames here on Chess^Summit, I found a way to draw, and at least finish the day 2.5/4:
White to Move
Even though I am materially even in this endgame, I am structurally worse, and must constantly defend my position’s well-being. Black’s intentions are clear with his last move. He wants to push his b-pawn and exploit my weak a-pawn. Though my position is a little rancid, Black’s king blocks his h8 rook from action (king safety is not as relevant here), which give me just a few moves to regroup. In order to draw this position, it’s incredibly important to understand that rook and four pawns against rook and three is a draw. This means that trades favor me and that I can afford to trade my a- and d- pawns for the b4 pawn if I can reach that rook endgame. Knowing this, I started by eliminating the threat of …b4-b3. 19.Nd4 O-O 20.Rb1 Rxa2 21.Rxb4 Ra1+ 22.Bf1
My bishop is passive for now, but this is the consequence of having had the worse side of equal. Now I want to trade off a pair of rooks or force Black off my back rank. 22…Nd7 23.Rcb5 Rc8 24.Rb1 Ra4 25.Nf5!
This move guarantees equality. Even though I knew he would reject it, I thought about offering a draw here to communicate that I knew how to hold equality. The knight is poisoned since the d5 bishop will hang, and once Black deals with the fork threat on e7, I will retreat to e3 and then to c4, holding nicely. 25…Kf8 26.Ne3 Bc6 27.R5b4 Ra3 28.Nc4 Raa8
Thanks to my activity, I can force enough simplifications to force a draw. As I’ve mentioned repetitively in my Endgame Essentials series, activity is crucial towards success. 29.Bg2 Bxg2 30.Kxg2 Rcb8 31.Nb6 Nxb6 32.Rxb6 Rxb6 33.Rxb6 Rd8 34.Rb3
Also drawing was 34. h4, but there’s no reason to prove the 4v3 endgame if you don’t have too. My opponent played on for a few more moves, but soon realized how tenable my position was and agreed to a draw. It wasn’t quite the moment I wanted to demonstrate my defensive technique, but with the way the opening went, I had no choice in the matter.
The timing of this round made my day plans quite weird. Having finished at half past three, I had the rest of the day to myself to explore New Orleans. Even though a draw meant I likely couldn’t win, I knew it was important to take a break from chess and relax. After putting my things back in the room, I got an Uber to get a ride to the French Quarter, but unfortunately, my driver asked me to cancel when he realized he wasn’t making as much as he thought he would for the drive. In doing so, it meant I couldn’t summon another Uber without paying a cancellation fee even though it wasn’t my fault. Grounded at the airport hotel, I didn’t exactly have much to do other than go on Netflix and watch some of the Copa America games. I was still feeling quite adventurous, so I ordered delivery from Domino’s and got their cheesy bread… Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.
So as I’m sure you can imagine, I was looking forward to my fifth round game despite my overall tournament standing. Paired against an underrated youngster, we reached a same color bishop, queen, and rook ending, and once again my endgame knowledge proved vital.
Black to Move
Again, material is even, but strategically Black is much better. In trying to attack my kingside, White has put all of his pawns on light squares, and now, both b3 and e4 are weak. Furthermore, White has no way of creating counterplay. Meanwhile, all of my moves are extremely naturally, and I only needed about five minutes (increment not included) off the clock to finish the game. First, I started with 36…Rb4 to activate my queen by blocking White’s threats on a5. 37.Bc2 Qc6 38.Rb1 Qb7 39.Rf3
If you’ve been reading my Endgames Essentials posts, you can probably already sense the direction with which this endgame is heading. My goal is to tie White down as much as possible, and then break with …h7-h5. With my next move, I attack the c4 pawn and force White to defend the b1 rook. I considered taking on a4, but this opens the position slightly, and could offer my opponent counterplay. Remember, it doesn’t matter how long it takes if you win! 39…Bf7 40.Rff1 h5 41.gxh5 Rxh5 42.Kg2 Qa8 43.Rh1 Rh4
Stopping h2-h4 while also putting even more pressure on the e4 pawn. While I haven’t won any material in the last few moves, the defensive task has become immensly more difficult, as the position went from the principle of two weaknesses to the principle of three (b3, e4, h2)! 44.Qd3 Be8 45.Rbe1 Bd7
Again, no need to rush with …Bc6. I inserted the threat of taking on f5 here to see where White would place his king before taking further measures. 46.Kg3 Rb8 47.h3 Bc6 48.Kg2 Rbh8
Since the b3 pawn is adequately protected, it was time to bring this rook from b4 to a more active location. Already, there are ideas like …g5-g4 exposing White’s king, as well as putting my rooks on h4 and f4 to win the e4 pawn. 49.Bb1 Qg8 50.Qf3 Rf4 51.Qg3 Qa8
I could have also tried 51… g4, but this opens the position and I have to be accurate. While my move takes longer, I guaruntee the win of a pawn, and White is completely helpless. The game effectively ends in a few moves. 52.h4 Bxe4+53.Bxe4 Rxe4 54.Rxe4 Qxe4+ 55.Qf3 Qxf3+ 56.Kxf3 Rxh4
A winning rook and pawn ending, but my opponent makes life even easier with 57.Rf1 Rf4+ 58.Ke2 d3+ 59.Ke1 d2+
My opponent played on till mate, but I figure that that continuation is far less instructive.
With a win, I sat at 3.5/5 and was tied for third heading into the last round. Though unrealistic, if my second round opponent were to have lost on board 1, and I had beaten my opponent on board 2, I would have tied for first, but I wasn’t counting on this. At this point, I recognized that if the tournament leader won with scholar’s mate, I couldn’t control it, and if he lost in four moves, it would still be out of my control. With my fourth round draw, I knew I was undeserving of first place, and if it happened then I would be extremely lucky. In just 30 minutes, the tournament leader drew, and that was that.
I still had my hands full though against a 2300 who was one win away from securing a tie for first. We had an interesting opening to say the least (though not necessarily great in quality), and in the middlegame, my opponent made a positional pawn sacrifice and got plenty of light-squared compensation. I was doing well to hold and reached this position:
White to Move
As we’ve seen thus far activity has been the key theme in each of my endgames, and thus I played 28. Qe7?? Rf8 29. Qb4 Ne4! -+ Even though I pushed Black’s rook away, I neglected an even more important theme we had discussed, king safety! If I had found 28. Qd3, my drawing chances would have sharply increased, and who knows, maybe I could have played spoiler and stopped my opponent from tying for first. This theme of consolidation is also extremely important in endgames, and admittedly it’s not one I spent extensive time studying back at home.
So at 3.5/6, my tournament was over. I had my chances, but this weekend I was shown three reasons why I simply could not be the US Junior Open champion, and that’s okay. While I have my over the board regrets, I have no regrets about pushing myself to win this tournament. Training to be competitive has made me a lot more well rounded as a player, and has given me the discipline I needed to improve going forward. Again, I can’t stress how grateful I am to have competed in this event and shared my process to reach here with all of you.
My last game completed, I was happy to find that Uber had waived my cancellation fee and even given me some credits for a ride. With nothing else to do, I finally got to head to the French Quarter and explore New Orleans. Being a food fanatic, I visited Cafe du Monde for their beignets and after a stroll through Woldenburg Park had dinner at The Gumbo Shop before heading back to the hotel.
While I had fun exploring the city, I wish I had more time to visit famous attractions like the zoo or aquarium, but unfortunately, the location of the hotel made this just about impossible as nearly everything of interest was about a half hour away.
With my last junior tournament in the books, I’ll have to think about what I want my next goal to be. Obviously, I want to become a National Master, but I’m hoping I can accomplish even more by the time I graduate college in three years… I guess we’ll have to see!
As I’ve mentioned before, I will be relaunching Chess^Summit on June 28th, adding three new authors in Beilin Li, Vishal Kobla, and Alice Dong. I’m really excited about the future of Chess^Summit, and I encourage you all to check out the new authors and learn from some of their own unique insights! See you all in a week!
If I’m totally honest, I don’t think I learned to fully appreciate rapid tournaments until this year. It took three tournaments to change my mind: the 2015 Chess World Cup, the Ultimate Blitz competition featuring Garry Kasparov, and today, the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour in Paris. Unlike longer time control games, rapid chess emphasizes strong, practical play, and takes the spotlight off of brilliant opening preparation. At this level of competition, winning implicitly requires two elements: accurate calculation and the ability to convert better endgames. In the first day of competition alone, I found five endgames worth sharing and wanted to break down each of their critical moments in today’s critical endgame posts. Remember, as we move through each game, take a minute to assess the various defining features of the position: activity, solidarity, king safety, and ability to improve.
For our first endgame, we start with the protagonist of the story thus far, Magnus Carlsen. While his Grand Chess Tour started with an eerily similar first round, it’s important to not overlook the accuracy he brought to this endgame against Wesley So’s particularly stingy defense.
Carlsen–So, Paris 2016
White to Move
On face value, the position seems fairly equal. After trading rooks on e8, the position provides us with a symmetrical pawn structure and equal material. However, two elements stand in the way of the American achieving full equality. First, the bishop on a7 is dormant, pushed away from the action thanks to the bishop on g3 and the pawn on d4. Furthermore, his pawn on b7 is backward, and can easily become a target should White move his knight to c5 in the future. Black’s plan here is to march his king to c8 to cover b7 and prepare …Ba7-b8, and with only one real structural weakness in the position, should have enough to hold a draw. Magnus can’t really do too much to stop this idea, so he makes the most of his turn with his next move, 27. a4!
The easiest way to improve the position! Here Magnus plans a2-a4-a5 with the idea of fixing the queenside pawn structure, particularly the b7 pawn. While Wesley will be able to trade dark-squared bishops, the downside will be that the dark squares in his structure will be weak, and White will gain time to put further pressure on b7. 27…Qe7 28. a5 Kd8 29. Qd1 Qe4 30. Kh2 Ne7 31. Qb3
Neither side is really in a rush to convert or prove anything, so each side marked time by improving their respective positions. Magnus by making his king safer and fixing the b7 pawn, Wesley by centralizing his queen and bringing his king closer to c8. Here Carlsen offers his knight since 31…Qxd3? 32. Qxb7 is close to lost for Black. The bishop on a7 is still trapped, and the queenside pawns are falling. Here Black correctly chose to continue his plan. 31…Kc8 32. Qb4 Qe6 33. Nf4 Qf7
Wesley may be moving backward, but he still boasts a solid defense. As long as he has only one weakness, it will be very difficult for Magnus to make progress. In the next “phase” So executes the dark-squared bishop, and the f4 knight finds the c5 square. 34. Kg1 Bb8 35. Nd3 Bxg3 36. fxg3 Nf5 37. g4 Ng3 38. Nc5 Again, the game is relatively equal, and Wesley has put up the toughest defense we’ve seen in this series thus far.
White counterintuitively doubled his pawns, giving the Black knight targets from f5. While I appreciate the idea of compactness, I think this structural decision made life for Magnus a little more complicated. Instead of 34. Kg1, perhaps he could have considered other prophylactic resources, but in this position, he’s still doing fine. White now has the pressure he wants on b7, but the problem now is that his pawn structure closes his army off from the kingside, giving Wesley the break 38…h5 39. gxh5 and the natural 39…Qe7. But as it turns out, this gives Magnus a tactical opportunity in 40. Ne6!. These moves are hard to find in rapid play, so I can’t really blame Carlsen for the miss.
Anyways, this move would have been an amazing find. By revealing a discovered attack on the queen, Black’s options are limited. Already we can see that 40…Qxe6 41. Qf8+ Kd7 42. Qxg7+ will win back the knight back and retain a healthy pawn advantage. More critical was 40… Ne2+ 41. Kf2 Qxe6 41. Qf8+ Kd7 42. Qxg7+ where White doesn’t pick up the knight, but the h-pawn is simply unstoppable (see diagram).
Black can consider 40… Qxb4, but the knight and pawn endgame is worse for Black after 41. cxb4 Nxh5 42. g4 Ng3 43. Kf2! stopping the fork on e2, and once the g7 pawn falls, White’s h-pawn becomes a headache. That being said, these moves are really unnatural but I like how it highlights flaws in Black’s position. Black has two concrete weaknesses, b7 and g7, and the task of covering both of them is extremely difficult if White plays the best moves.
Instead, Carlsen chose 40.Kf2 and the game continued. 40…Nf5 41. g4 Qe3+ and equality was temporarily reached.
One of the problems with Magnus’ position in this game was that his focus on b7 dragged his pieces away from protecting his king, thus allowing Black to infiltrate through the center. Surprisingly, Black can’t coordinate his knight and queen to deliver mate, but he has many perpetual options. Given the nature of rapid chess, Wesley naturally tried for a win by improving his position with 42. Kf1 Qxh3+ 43. Ke1 Qg3+ 44. Kd2 Nd6
The retreat not only protects b7, but it intends to reroute the knight to either e4 or c4 in the future. For those trying to find better for Black, it’s quite difficult since Qb4xb7 is a constant threat, and defending the b7 requires a passive retreat. I was really surprised with how quickly Carlsen made his next move, but it makes a lot of sense. After 45. Nxb7! Carlsen gives himself a lot of chances. If 45…Nxb7 46. Qf8+ wins the g7 pawn, and again we see the danger of the passed h-pawn. With best play, Black should be able to find a perpetual, but it’s in these complications Wesley finally errs and his position goes south. 45. Qg2+ 46. Kc1 Qf1+ 47. Kc2 Qe2+ 48. Kc1 Qe1+ 49. Kc2 Qe4+ 50. Kb3 Nxb7 51. Qf8+ Kc7 52. Qxg7+ Kb8
53. h6 Qd3? +-
I was watching the live commentary from St. Louis at this moment, and was surprised they didn’t scrutinize this moment, because once this move is made, Wesley can never hope to recover. Black should have been able to find 53…Nxa5+ 54. Ka2 Qd1, the idea being that White cannot stop all the checks on a4, b3, and d1, so perpetual is forced. The problem with Wesley’s move is that it does nothing to improve his position. His next move, 54…Qb1 shows he wasted a tempo, and unfortunately, it’s enough to ensure Magnus a second queen. 54. Ka3 Qb1 55. h7 Qa1+ 56. Kb3 Qd1+ 57. Kb4 Ka7
With no more checks in the position, Wesley moves his king away from a future check. Both players were in severe time trouble, but it was still a surprise when the game suddenly concluded after 58. h8=Q Qa1 0-1 and it was Black who had won, not White (see diagram)!
With about twenty seconds left (not to mention a ten-second increment), Carlsen found himself stuck between 59. Qxb7+ and 59. Qh2, both of which were completely winning. In a moment of curiosity, Carlsen decided to look at Qh8-h2 into more depth, and completely forgot about the clock, letting his time reach zero!
Despite the drama, the reigning World Champion played a great game, pushing Wesley each move to find the best moves. So, of course, played solidly as well, but as we’ve seen so many times this series, one mistake in the endgame can quite often be unforgivable. Accuracy counts, and at the end of the day, it’s what goes on the scoresheet.
Our next three examples all occurred in the third round, and each provided instructive moments.
Fressinet–Caruana, Paris 2016
White to Move
After what had already been a complicated rook and pawn endgame, we see that the Black king’s inability to get into the game is causing Caruana great difficulties. The live commentary team in St. Louis found some nice ideas to potentially reach equality earlier in the game, but already it’s too late. The French wild card needed to get his king off of b8, and played 51. Rc1 to prepare Kb8-c8 and promote his pawn. Once again, Fabiano tried the interference idea of 51…Rc3, but now with the rook to the right side of the pawn, White won with 52. Rxc3 h1=Q 53. Kc8 Qh8+ 54. Kc7 Qh2 55. Rc5 Qxf2
56. Rc6 Qa7 57. Kc8 Qa4 58. Rc7+ Kg6 59. b8=Q
And Fressinet went on to convert the material and win the game. So what was the difference between taking on c3 and a3 you may ask? Well, winning or not to put it simply. If Fressinet had played 51. Rxa3? his rook doesn’t have a check on c7, and after 51…h1=Q 52. Ka7 Qc1,
White cannot hope to promote the pawn and keep his material advantage. Again, accuracy is the critical difference between winning and drawing.
Having proven himself to be a very capable escape artist, Wesley So once again found himself in trouble against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Unlike his lucky break against Magnus, he failed to find any miracles and lost this pawn down queen ending.
So–Vachier-Lagrave, Paris 2016
White to Move
I decided to insert this game since Black still has to be careful. Between pushing the c-pawn and avoiding perpetual checks, Maxime must also cover the f7 pawn, which makes his task a little more difficult. On the bright side, all queen trades are winning for Black, so it will be very difficult for White to create serious pressure. Wesley start his defense by playing 39. Qa1+ to maneuver the queen to f6 and directly attack f7. 39…Kh7 40. Qf6 Qd5 41. g3 c5 42. Kf1 c4
Black is making progress, but his position is also easier to play now. With the c- and f-pawns both protected by the queen, MVL can take a few moves to improve his position. 43. Ke2 Kg8 44. Qc3 h5 45. h4 Kf8 46. Qe3 Qd6
Here Maxime has made a little bit of progress, but now he must figure out how to make his king more active. After, 47. Qc3 Qc5 48. Qe3 Qd5 49. Qd2 Qe5+ 50. Kd1, it turns out that Wesley can do little to stop the advancing Black monarch.
50…Ke7 with the threat of …Qe5-d6! 51. Kc2 Ke6 52. f4 Qd5 0-1
Perhaps at the expert level, White can hope to play on, but this endgame is lost. Black’s king will waltz to g4 and pick up all of White’s kingside pawns, and White can’t stop all of Black’s pawns. Wesley resigned, leaving us one more great endgame from the round.
Carlsen–Aronian, Paris 2016
Black to Move
With a little help from the computer, GM Eric Hansen had a nice find here in 29…Qa1!, which should draw after 30. Qc5 Qa7 31. Qb5 Qa1 withrepetition. The real idea is that 30. Qxb7 Qxc3 31. Qxc7 at least offers Black a lot of activity and decent drawing chances. But of course, Stockfish doesn’t play for us in tournaments, and the natural 29…Qa8 was played, giving White a nice edge since his pieces can be activated faster than Black’s. Skip ahead a few moves, and Black found himself completely paralyzed.
I really liked this moment of the game, as Carlsen realized that his would be much safer on the kingside, not to mention, an incredible for the b-pawn. 50. Ke2! Kg7 51. Kd3 Ng8 52. Ne8+ Kh8 53. Kc4 h5
As Black begins to open the kingside, it’s Magnus’ king that has found refuge, and the entirety of Aronian’s position submits itself to passivity. The next part of Magnus’ plan is to capture the c6 pawn and use his passed b-pawn to limit Black’s queen. 54. gxh5 Qh6 55. Qxc6 Qd2 56. hxg6
In trying to create activity, Black has to give up his g-pawn. While Black may have some checks now, he has the constant issue that ideas like Qg7 and Qh7 are checkmate! Just like our first Endgame Essentials post, king safety proves to be Aronian’s undoing. 56…Qe2+ 57. Kc5 Qxf2+ 58. Kb5 Qxg3 59. Qd7 Qxg6 60. Ka5
Black may have regained his pawn by force, but the threat on g7 is constant, and the Black knight can’t help Aronian salvage the position. 60…Qg3 61. b5 Qc3+ 62. Ka6 Qa3+ 63. Kb7 Qg3
Once again highlighting Black’s problems. Whenever Aronian runs out of checks, he must return to the defense of g7, giving White a tempo to push his b-pawn further down the board. 64. b6 Qg6 65. Ka7 f5 66. exf5
I was really impressed watching Magnus here. Basically everything wins here, but after Aronian’s f-pawn push, he stopped, calculated and found the move that allowed the least amount of counterplay. A great micro-moment from Magnus here that showed his master class despite the rapid time controls. 66…Qg3 67. f6 Qa3+ 68. Kb8 1-0
With no complications to offer, Aronian threw in the towel here, as both the b- and f-pawns are preparing to promote and sink the ship that is Black’s position. With a win here, Magnus won a second straight, proving he was completely unfazed by his surprising first round “defeat”.
For our fifth and final endgame, I wanted to share a nice idea found by the commentary team that shows a benefit of the opposite-colored bishop ending. In this fifth round encounter, an early slip from Magnus gave Hikaru Nakamura an opportunity to press before cashing in on a draw. While the engines do agree that the position has relative equality, from a more human point of view, Black had a nice geometrical idea to press even further.
Carlsen–Nakamura, Paris 2016
Black to Move
Here Black settled for a perpetual with 33…Qg5+ 34. Kf1 Qc1+ and so forth. Here, Black could have tried 33…Qh2+ 34. Kf1 Qxh3+ 35. Ke2 Qh2
In this position, White has an extra pawn but the queen and bishop battery actually stop each of White’s pawns from making progress (b8, d6, and f4 are all covered, so promotion is not a threat from White. Black would put his queen on f4 to overprotect f7, followed by pushing the h-pawn. Nakamura would still have a lot to prove, but it’s clear he has nothing to lose.
Wow, what a day! I suspect tomorrow has even greater games in store, featuring a Carlsen–Kramnik clash, as well as Caruana–Nakamura. With the way he’s been playing, I suspect Magnus to hold his lead after four rounds tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see if Nakamura can keep up!
This weekend marked my last preparatory tournament before the US Junior Open – the inaugural Carolinas Classic. Given how my fast start to the Cherry Blossom Classic only petered out to a 3/7 finish, I decided to just focus on being consistent in playing each round. While arguably I failed in this respect, I did well to start 2.5/4 and get an opportunity to play for a class prize before dropping the final round and falling back to an even score.
This tournament was particularly interesting for me, as I got to play new openings and reach sharp positions in three of my five games. While my debut in North Carolina saw an end to my nine-game unbeaten streak with Black, it also saw me to another win over a 2300+ rated player, as well as an encounter with the 2012 US Junior Open winner.
Before we delve into some of the critical moments of my games, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the first edition of this FIDE rated event.
Considering the cost of registration, the chess rate, and the quality of the hotel, I thought that this tournament was extremely well run. The surrounding area was extremely accessible for players with plenty of food options and accommodations within walking distance. Sure, the tournament directors were a bit paternalistic at times, but on a whole, to be able to play in any FIDE event for such a low cost is a rare opportunity in the United States. My only wish was that this tournament had better advertising prior to the event. I actually found out about it by accident, and I wonder if stronger players would have participated if the event was advertised outside of North Carolina. I would recommend this tournament to any serious chessplayer, especially those looking for FIDE rated games.
That being said, here were some crucial moments of my tournament.
Beware of the Exchange Sac!
Pitted against the third strongest player in North Carolina, my board was broadcast live (only the second time in my career playing on DGT!), and I was hoping to impress for a second week in a row against 2300+ rated competition. Shortly after the opening, I offered a pawn sacrifice, and my opponent thought he spotted a way to clamp my position down instead with 17. Bb5
On face value, Black’s position looks dangerous. I have a weak c5 pawn, and visually, I am at a developmental deficit. However, with my opponent’s king in the center, I had anticipated this and my position sprung to life!
17… Ne5 18. Qxd8 Rxd8 19. Bxc5
Again, still visually unconvincing, but trust me the bishop on c5 is worth more than the f8 rook! In White’s effort to attack, he left his king open for my knight’s infiltration.
19…Nxf3+ 20. Kf2 Nxg4 21. Bxf8 Kxf8
I’ve never really been known to hesitant sacrificing the exchange, and here’s a great example why. Black now has the bishop pair and an extra pawn, but the e4 pawn is destined to fall, so a minor piece and two pawns are more than enough compensation. Furthermore, the bishop on g7 is holding the knight on d1 in place and it’s now White that lacks activity. My opponent decided it was too much to hold on to b2, and gave me the pawn, but this game me a pawn majority on both sides of the board and I was able to convert the endgame (though it was not without difficulty!).
My opponent did well to bounce back, winning the next three before drawing tournament winner Grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi.
The second round also gave me an interesting match up (again on DGT), paired with the 2012 US Junior Open champion and University of Texas graduate Karthik Ramachandran.
This match-up was extremely close, and I think it could have gone either way, but unfortunately in sharp positions, usually there can only be one winner! I’m still in the process of trying to figure out what happened in that game, so rather than sharing a critical moment of the game, I’ve decided to share an instructive one.
For those of you who would like to see the game in its entirety, you can find it here if you scroll down towards the bottom of the games list. Even though I lost, I was really proud of how I fought in this game.
The Power of a Pawn Sacrifice
In this position, I played 19. Nd5! offering the b2 pawn to Black’s g7 bishop. This is probably the most well-known form of a pawn sacrifice, but it’s always important to know where your play is coming from! The game continued 19… Qxd2+ 20. Kxd2 and now we can see that if 20… Bxb2 21. Rb1 Bg7 22. Bf3,
I have sufficient counterplay for the pawn. If Black tries …b7-b6, I can march the a-pawn to a5, and Black’s queenside collapses. But the more complex find was if Black inserted 20… Bxd5 first, blocking my control of the diagonal after 21. cxd5 Bxb2 22. Rb1 Bg7. But now I have the resource 23. Bd3 and Black is once again in trouble.
Here I have the luxury of taking the pawn on f5 immediately or waiting since this pawn also blocks in Black’s rooks. Now White can quickly play a2-a4 to stop any queenside expansion ideas and then push the h- and g-pawns down the board. Realizing this, my opponent opted for 20…Rde8 21. Bd3 and complexity ensued.
As I said, I unfortunately wound up losing this game in a pawn race, but it was not enough to derail my tournament…right?
At this point, I had already spent nine (!) hours at the chess board, and had little time to relax going into the next round, where I perhaps put together the worst game I’ve played in a while. My mother, who came with me to this tournament, suggested it might be because of the heavy meal I had going into the game, but honestly, I thought I just had a bad game – it happens to everyone at some point, and there’s no shame in it.
Twenty-ish moves into the game I managed to “wake up” and start making respectable moves. Having played tired now in several games over the past few weeks, my best suggestion is to walk around, and not try to calculate long lines but look for positionally logical moves. While this method certainly isn’t failproof, in an equal position you can still outplay your opponent if you just ask what’s my opponent’s weakness? and what’s my worst placed piece?. I have a slight hunch that Jacob Aagard would agree with me on that…
After ten or so moves of maneuvering, I found this nice tactic to make up for an extremely poor performance:
38… Rxd3!! and now the position collapses since the mate threat on g2 means White must give up a piece. Nice move but a single move doesn’t make a good showing!
Round 4 saw me draw quickly after some experimenting with my opening preparation for the US Junior Open, though I must mention preferred my opponent’s position when we agreed on the result. However, scoring 1.5/2 in games where I felt I played less than perfectly was reassuring that even when not at my best, I can still play and hope for a result. Knowing that my last round opponent would be a strong National Master (2200+), I relaxed and focused on putting my best foot forward in my last game before the US Junior Open.
While I lost in a time scramble, I was better for most of the game, and the computer actually preferred my side of the board until the last fifteen minutes of the game as the resulting endgame was deemed as unsavory. Again, I’m still in the process of understanding everything that happened, but I had one highlight I really liked since I was extremely vigilant in defending my king.
Offense is the Best Defense
My opponent decided to open the floodgates here with 29. gxh5, trying to rip apart my kingside and quickly deliver mate. However, almost instinctively I knew this could never work with White’s king on f2. My plan is to keep the g-file closed at all costs, and put my rooks on the h- and f-files. Once my rook is on h8, I can quickly activate my e7 bishop on h4, punishing White for opening the position. The game continued 29… Kg7 30. Rg1 Rh8 31. Ng4 Nxh5
White’s attack has fizzled out, but as the engine points out, there was never anything here for White, in fact Black is perhaps better, if not, equal. This sequence not only played a huge role in the position that transpired, but the clock as well. In these three moves, my opponent spent half his time, and I only needed 3 minutes (of course I had looked at this position before the capture on h5, but still my foresight gave me a temporary time advantage). But the game didn’t stop there, after 32. Nxh5 Rxh5 33. Ba5 Bh4+
And now I’m the one attacking. Don’t believe me? If White isn’t careful, 34. Kf1? is close to losing since 34…b5! threatens mate in one with …Bd7-b5#. White must put the rook on h1 and remain passive while I storm the barricades. The attack ensues after 34. Ke2 b5 35. Qd2 Bb4+ 36. Kd1
The tide has turned, and in time trouble, White is struggling to hold. With my next move, 36… Be7, White’s a5 bishop is closed out of the game and White’s rook have no real avenues of play. My opponent did a great job of complicating the position, and offered a draw before I miscalculated and went from winning to lost in a couple moves. Maybe I deserved to win this one, but that cannot be said about my games in the third and fourth rounds, so in a sense it balanced out.
These last three weeks have given me many extremely complicated positions, and of the seventeen games, I can’t really say that any of them proved to be easy, with most of them pushing the maximum time alotment of the round. While this last game ends my nine-game unbeaten streak with Black, I think my games with each successive week have shown significant improvement, and definetly has me looking forward to the US Junior Open in 11 days!
Again, I can’t thank everyone enough for the support over the past year, and I am really looking forward to showing everyone what I’ve learned this year in New Orleans. Over the past seventeen games, I’ve scored 9.5/17, with only five losses across the three venues.
For the most part, I’d say the theoretical aspect of my training is complete, minus a few tweaks after analyzing my performances over the past three weeks. Here on out, I’m planning on working extensively on calculation since that proved to be the key determinant across all of my losses.
I suspect the preparation and anticipation in upcoming days will be just as fun as my trip to New Orleans, so make sure to check back to get my final thoughts going into the US Junior Open!
My coach told me to relax this week and limit my preparation for the Carolinas Classic this weekend, so for today’s video, I decided to review a free game analysis submission from a few weeks back. Interesting game, important notes on opening fundamentals – don’t miss out!
As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I will be adding new authors to Chess^Summit after the US Junior Open. In today’s video, I take a few minutes to discuss the future of Chess^Summit, as well as reveal one new future author. I have a feeling that regardless of how Chess^Summit 3.0 turns out, I think it will be a fun and exciting project to be a part of.
As always, if you too would like your game to be analyzed, make sure to send your game PGNs to email@example.com, and I’ll try to go over it here on the site – either in article or video form.
That being said, I hope you enjoy today’s video, and make sure to check back next week to hear about my results in Charlotte!
This weekend proved to be a weekend of firsts. First time riding Amtrak without major delays. First time playing chess in the state of New York. First time visiting New York City and the Marshall Chess Club. But amidst all of the distractions, my first time winning an adult tournament! Of course, I had more than my fair share of luck, but we’ll get to that later.
With the late rounds each day, I had plenty of time to explore the city and visit some nearby attractions. While blitz in Washington Square Park was definitely the most entertaining for me, cliched visits to the Empire State Building and the Flat Iron were also highlights of the trip.
As a foodie, New York proved to offer more than I could try. Thanks to some prior research, I thought I had a pretty good sampling of the local cuisine – late night pizza, meatball subs, Japanese barbeque, tacos, doughnuts, and bagels. I don’t think I’ll ever have as many choices when it comes to food near a tournament venue than I did here in New York City.
But enough chit-chat. Let’s talk chess. After not having played tournament chess in over a month and a half, I was a little worried my prior training wouldn’t be sufficient. It took a round 2 loss and a close win in round 3 to finally get into gear, playing much better on the last day to close out the tournament.
Even though the tournament was strictly U2300 and had two time controls (40/90 with 30-second increment, 30-minute sudden death), I thought the format was close to what I’ll see in New Orleans this June. For the first 40 moves of each game, I got to simulate the US Junior Open time controls (90 minutes with 30-second increment). In reflection, I wish I could have been faster on the clock, but for my first tournament back in a while, I’m thinking that upcoming tournaments in DC and Charlotte can help me improve my time management.
Lastly, I must confess, the scholastic players I faced at the Marshall Chess Club were among the most underrated group of kids I’ve ever played. The tactical prowess of my round 2 opponent was particularly impressive (and proved lethal!), and I was nearly held to a draw by the 2016 K-3 co-National Champion! I can only wonder how strong I would be if I grew up in the area… Either way, I thought that my games against juniors gave me a good sense of what I’m up against next month.
Aside from winning the event, I’m most proud of scoring 3/3 with the Black pieces. I honestly can’t remember the last time I achieved a perfect score at a tournament with Black, and I think it was this persistence that helped me capture a tie for first (especially since I started with 3 Blacks in 4 games!). That being said let’s take a look at some of the important moments of the tournament!
Round 1: Breskin – Steincamp
Up to this point, I had mostly been experimenting, using an idea that an opponent once used to beat me only a couple months ago! My opponent’s play has been a little awkward, and it’s unclear where the knight’s future on e4 will be. Meanwhile, my plan is concrete. I will push …f7-f5 and lay claim to the center. Once this happens, my opponent will have no counterplay as d3-d4 will always be met by e5-e4, shutting down White’s g2 bishop.
In chess, you can’t be afraid of going into complications. With my last move, White has a choice. He can give me the center, allowing me to displace both of his knights, or he can sacrifice the knight on e4 for a few pawns, hoping the position will hold long enough to make for an endgame advantage. After a significant amount of time, my opponent made his decision, and in retrospect, probably correctly.
Very double edged, but White can’t afford to sit back anymore. In exchange for the knight, White can get three pawns, but the position implores White to find activity, and already this is not so simple.
15…fxe4 16.exd6 Qd8 17.Qd5+ =+
When I played 14…f5, I saw this move and assessed that I was better as the queen quickly becomes misplaced. What I didn’t consider, however, was 17. Nd2 (Stockfish’s recommendation) with “equality” in a position with lots of options. Backward knight moves are tricky to find, and especially when an active-looking check is a possibility, psychologically it can be very difficult to play the more prudent move. This would be the first of three positions where valuing a check is the deciding factor.
Under immense pressure, my opponent cracks in the form of a blunder! But already, it’s very difficult to find moves. 18. Nd2 is White’s best move, but Black is better with ideas of …Bd7-f5 once the d-pawn drops, and already, it’s becoming difficult to hold the d6 pawn.
Round 2: Steincamp – Chen
After having misplayed the opening, I thought I was reaching a draw after 28… Bxh4 29. Bxc4, where Black is up a pawn, but my bishop pair makes it difficult for my opponent to convert. But as I mentioned, my opponent’s tactics throughout the game were superb, and he caught my oversight with 28…Rxb8! 29.Rxb8 Bd6+
And now the endgame is winning for Black since he has the bishop pair and I don’t. I played out the ending, but it’s not too difficult to convert. Unfortunately for my opponent, this would prove to be his final victory of the weekend, but he played some inspired chess in each of his games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he reached master level in the near future.
Round 3: Zhou – Steincamp
After not much time to rest, I hurried into my third round game somewhat deflated. Though I got a decent advantage out of the opening, I misplayed the middlegame, trading queens too early and allowing my opponent to reach an equal position. Luck was on my side, though, and in this critical moment of the game, my opponent chose the howler, 45.Be3??
Already, the game is dead lost. My opponent, the recently crowned K-3 National Champion, valued a check as the best move in the position, seeing that 45… Bxe3 46. Kxe3 Kc2+ 47. Ke2 was at least a draw. But as the old saying goes, “patzer see a check, patzer play a check”, and I had already seen the simple refutation to this line.
45…Bxe3 46.Kxe3 Rxb6 -+
Winning. If White were to capture on d2, I would play …Re6+, capturing the rook after the king leaves the e3 square. White played on till checkmate, but again, Black will at least win the rook in exchange for the d2 pawn, so the win is still fairly simple once the Black king is able to reach c2.
This was a critical moment of the tournament (though I didn’t know it at the time). In the Russian sense, I had managed to “stop the bleeding” with a win with Black and get an opportunity to play some higher rated opponents. Rather than worrying about my quality of play up to this point, I simply relaxed and used this as an opportunity to sleep and explore the city.
Knowing that my last two rounds would define my performance in the tournament, I woke up early determined to play good chess. After a pleasant breakfast, I took a long walk from Madison Square Park to Washington Square Park to get some practice blitz games against the locals. After some early morning blunders out of my system, I was ready to head over to the Marshall Chess Club to start the final day of the competition.
One element of the tournament that was different for me was that many of the juniors were extremely underrated. As I had seen in my previous two games, their ratings had no reflection of their actual skill.
I went into the last day with a different mentality. At this point, I wasn’t concerned about rating point gain and understood that being upset again this tournament wouldn’t be a reflection of my understanding of chess, but rather a confirmation of the local talent. That being said, my last two games were against adults, so the wrath of the children had stopped.
Round 4: Polyakin – Steincamp
After starting with a King’s Indian, my opponent veered off course with an optimistic knight sac.
I had already calculated this line when I played …e7-e5, and knew that White simply didn’t have enough material to make anything of this sacrifice. Feeling this is one thing, defending it is another. Black is winning, but a single mistake could be fatal.
11…dxc3 12.hxg6+ fxg6 13.Bxg7+ Kxg7 14.Qh6+
No surprises so far. The way I understood the position was that White simply didn’t have entry squares on the h-file, and without any other active forces, I have enough time to shore up my weaknesses and develop my pieces. For Black I think merely pushing the game in a static direction is a valid threat and it’s White who must act quickly.
14…Kf7 15.Nf3 Rg8!
I had seen up to here before going into this line. This move holds my only critical weakness, g6. Once again, White is in do or die mode and ensured he would lose the game with his next move.
The third and final “losing check” of the weekend. White cuts off his own queen from the game, and once my king reaches e8 will have no active options to pursue an attack. If White was serious about creating counterplay, he would have tried 16. Qf4, with ideas of e4-e5 – but let’s not forget, White is still down a piece and Black is still winning.
16…Ke8 17.Rd1 c2
I really like this move as White has to move his rook off of the d-file, giving me more time to develop and start thinking about exploiting White’s king.
18.Rc1 Qe7 19.c5 Nxc5 20.Bc4 d5!
The deciding move. I had looked at 20…. Nfxe4 21. Bg8 Ng3+ with a win, but things get messy when White plays 21. 0-0!, and my king is once again under fire on e8. 20… Be6 was possible, but I think White has accomplished something after 21. Nxe6 Nxe6 22. Qh3 and now my king has to go to f7 or d7 which are quite awkward since both would willingly walk into a pin. The key to this position is to make sure that White’s king doesn’t have time to leave the center. Once the e-file opens, whoever’s king is the weakest will lose the game, probably regardless of material. But at this point, I saw that the follow-up was forced.
The obvious move as Black wins more material. Perhaps 21… dxc5 was possible, but why allow White’s king to get out of the center and centralize his rooks? Always look for the most practical solution in a winning position.
Winning a bishop. 22. Re1 is met by 22… Qxe1+ 23. Kxe1 c1Q+ and White has lost rook in addition to already being down two pieces. The game lasts two more moves.
23.Rxc2 Bf5 24.Re2 Bd3 0-1
And my opponent resigned here. A confidence booster for me here as the win meant I could play for first and continue playing 2100+ rated competition. Granted, my opponent gave me this game just as much as I won it, but I still had to defend adequately to get the point.
I won the game in less than two hours, which gave me plenty of time to explore and relax before the big finale.
Thanks to my loss in round 2, I was still a half-point behind the tournament leader, and needed him to draw or lose to have a chance to win the tournament.
Luck came once more on my side, as he drew quickly, playing too quickly to convert an extra pawn in a minor piece endgame. That left my opponent and I on board 2 with a chance to tie for first with a decisive result. Thanks to my surplus of Blacks in the tournament, I was given White against a FIDE Master who had just drawn Grandmaster Aleksandr Lenderman last week. The game started out slowly with a small nod in my favor, but in just three moves the balance took a massive swing and my opponent was left behind in the dust.
Steincamp – Sulman (FM)
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.g3 Bg4
I’ve never really seen this move before, even in the Mega Database among strong players. The bishop is a little awkward on g4 since it can always be hit by h2-h3, and it’s clearly telegraphing the idea of trading light square bishops in the future. The more natural square is e6, targeting a d6-d5 break while also maintaining the idea of eventually creating a battery and playing …Be6-h3.
5.Bg2 Qd7 6.Nd5
Moving the same piece twice in the opening may be a sin to some, but here I think it’s particularly useful, stopping Black’s knight from reaching f6, and eyeing c7 in the case that Black play …Bg4-h3.
6…Nge7 7.O-O O-O-O
I was extremely happy to see this move since I think White is more prepared to launch a pawn storm on the queenside than Black is on the kingside. By being on the queenside, Black potentially commits himself to playing moves like …Kc8-b8 to avoid creating weaknesses. This is a loss of time, and in a race position, might not be so trivial. That being said, I totally understand the approach from Black. Already board 1 was moving to a draw, so my opponent wanted to quickly create attacking chances to win the tournament.
Instinctively, I didn’t like this move, but it’s not so easy to demonstrate over the board. Up to this point, I had gained about a 30 minute advantage, so I used most of it here to find the best way to continue.
If we think about it, Black would love a line like …Bxf3 followed exf3 since that would make d4 a permanent outpost for Black. Another issue for me is that I always have to consider the zwischenzug …Ne7xd5, doubling my pawns. Many times, this can be a strategic advantage for White, but if I’m not careful, it can be a positional weakness. For example, a line I considered was 9. e3 Nxd5 10. cxd5 e4 11. exd4 Qb5! =+, where the tripled pawns prove difficult to hold. After the game, my opponent had said he had missed this variation, but I think it’s great Black.
In a position where it’s unclear what to do, sometimes it’s important to stick to Occam’s Razor, where the simplest solution can be the best one. I originally wasn’t thrilled about 9. Nxd4 since e2 becomes a target for Black, but after some time, I realized this was my best option. Sure, Black can try to take on e2, but in a race position, it won’t matter if I’m going for his king. Another concrete problem for Black is that it isn’t clear how his bishop is escaping f8 to an active position with a pawn on d4. My opponent thought this didn’t matter too much at this point, but I think it does need to be considered.
9.Nxd4 exd4 10.d3 h5 11.h4
Setting up the “wavebreaker” we’ve discussed before. I wasn’t too sure how Black was going to attack from here. I thought a positional approach would be to bring the f8 bishop to h6 and trade dark squared bishops, but to do this, he must move the g-pawn, which would allow Nd5-f6. So to execute this idea in full, Black must take the knight on d5, which would open the c-file for my rook – most definitely good for me. My thought on this position was that I was perhaps slightly better, but there was still a game to play here for both sides.
11…Bh3 12.Bxh3 Qxh3 13.Qa4
Nothing special yet, but I wanted to ask Black to prove his point. Once he plays 13… Kb8, I get a free tempo to finally start pushing my queenside armada.
13…Kb8 14.b4 Nxd5?
In our game analysis, my opponent and I agreed that this was the root of his problems. In this position, I get to open the c-file, but more importantly, Black has no threats! As the game shows, it’s not so easy to continue from here. Black’s best chance is to play 14… Nf5, where he immediately threatens to make a perpetual by taking on g3 or h4. Up to this point I didn’t think I was significantly ahead, but after these knights were swapped, I was very optimistic.
15.cxd5 Qf5 16.e4!
My opponent underestimated this move and now is faced with an uncomfortable decision. He can move the queen, at which point, he will no longer be able to access the queenside with it, or he can open the position, allowing my bishop to develop with tempo.
Personally, I thought Black would have been better off leaving the center untouched, as now, not only do I develop with tempo, Black must now make a concession on the queenside. It was this part of the game where I got to test my tactics. Trying to stay calm and not replicate an earlier failure, I got the job done with only a few forcing blows.
Another forcing move. If Black were to ignore me and play 18…Qxd5?, I can win by force with 19. Rxc7! threatening mate on a7, so Black if recaptures with 18…Kxc7 19. Qxa7+ Qb7 20. Rc1+ and I win the queen on the next move. Black can try 18… Qa8, but after a move like 19. Rbc1, are you really going to tell me Black can hold reasonably?
18…Rc8 19.Qb5 g5 20.Rb3
Simply ignoring Black’s non-existent kingside ploys. My idea is to play Rb3-a3 next move, preparing Qb5-a6 with mate. Black will have to open up his king with …c7-c5, and it won’t be pretty.
20…gxh4 21.Ra3 c5 22.bxc5
And all lines are winning here. In the game, Black tried the least ambitious defense thanks to his time troubles, but after 22…Qxd5 23. Rxa7! Kxa7 24. Qxb6+ Ka8 25. Rc3 and Black’s fate is inevitable. I thought Black would try 22… Rf7, but here too I saw that 23. Rxa7! is winning (not all the way till mate though) because 23… Rxa7 24. cxb6, and long story short, Black will not be able to cover all his weak light squares.
22…dxc5 23.Bf4+ Ka8 24.Qa4
The fastest win. If tactics trainer on chess.com has taught me anything, it’s to understand the differences between moves. 24. Qh6 is not as clean because it allows 24… Qd7. My move takes away this option, and since Black doesn’t have …Rc8-c7 in the position thanks to my bishop, he must push the a-pawn…
24…a5 25.Qxa5+ 1-0
Black resigns. If 25…bxa5 26. Rxa5+ Kb7 27. Rb1# and 25… Kb7 26. Qa7#. So that concludes my first ever adult tournament win! It took twelve and a half years to pull off, but to finally do it at the Marshall Chess Club of all places was extremely special.
I’d like to take this moment to thank all of my supporters over at GoFundMe for helping make this trip possible, as well as all of you for following my various accomplishments here on Chess^Summit. Without your continued support, this trip would have never been possible!
While this is a memorable moment for my career, I’ll have little time to relax. Next week is the Cherry Blossom Classic in DC, and the following week is the Carolinas Classic in Charlotte. Hard to believe that in less than one month I’ll be playing for the US Junior Open!
For today’s Free Game Analysis post, I will be sharing two games from one of the strongest scholastic players in Richmond, Matthew Normansell. Just last month, the high school junior tied for 9th in the U1900 National High School Chess Championships, bringing his rating to an all-time high at 1738. In just the three short years I’ve worked with him, he’s gained 1000 (!) rating points, and is trying to break expert before his graduation next June.
So in today’s post, not only will we be discussing improvements in each individual game, we will be pinpointing the strengths of Matthew’s play – specifically resourcefulness. While I haven’t worked with Matthew as much this past year, I noticed that his ability to fight in completely lost positions was one of his critical distinguishing traits from the rest of the MLWGS team.
In his freshman year, Matthew earned the nickname “Beast Mode” for his ability to put together a winning attack despite his propensity to hang pieces. I’d say that from my own observation, a majority of the games he won before breaking 1200 were in fact completely lost at some phase of the game. Obviously, to be 1700, you cannot routinely hang pieces, so at some point, the tactical entertainment evolved to positional resuscitation.
I specifically remember a quad last year where he was extremely worse positionally in each game, yet as a 1400, upset an 1800 and drew a 1950. The value of this resourcefulness in chess cannot be understated, and has proven itself to be a vital characteristic of Matthew’s style.
This past week, I got to analyze Matthew’s games for the first time in months, and I’m rather impressed with how “Beast Mode” has continued to evolve. Rather than waiting to be punished by his opponent, the monster now feeds off his own energy, playing more complete games, much more resembling that of an expert than that of an amateur.
So without further ado, let’s look at the last three rounds of Matthew’s National High School Chess Championship performance in Atlanta.
Yu – Normansell (U1900 National High School Championship, 2016)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4
Here on chess^summit, we haven’t had many opportunities to discuss the Nimzo-Indian, however, it is considered one of the most solid openings for Black against 1. d4 and enjoys a vast following. Black gives himself time to decide between a …c7-c5 or a …d7-d5 thrust by opting to castle first.
4.Bg5 h6 5.Bd2?!
Already White deviates from the main line of the Leningrad System by retreating his bishop here rather than h4 to maintain pressure on the f6 knight. If White was really concerned about structural problems, he should have opted for the 4. Qc2 lines rather than the Leningrad. Now Black enjoys an extra tempo in a flexible position.
A practical decision. Black could have considered an immediate …c7-c5 push to point out White’s awkward development and loss of time with 5… c5 6. d5 d6 7. Nf3 e5.
This position emulates the main line of the Leningrad System as proposed by Chess Openings for Black, Explained but also highlights the issue that without a bishop on h4, both of White’s bishops are bad while Black maintains a strong center. While this is promising, Matthew’s choice to castle instead offers a no-nonsense approach to the game. Having lost two consecutive games earlier that day, it was critical for Matthew to find some momentum going into the last day of the competition, so focusing on fundamentals was the right approach.
Again, remaining flexible. With White’s slow play, Black is in no rush to take the center. This move offers two plans: …c7-c5, or …Qd8-e7, followed by …e7-e5. Needing to castle, White is presented with an unpleasant decision this move, 7. e3 or 7. Qc2 to prepare e2-e4. White probably chose correctly with 7.e3, but either way, a positional concession had to be made. If White had chosen 7. Qc2, Black could consider a “waiting” move with 7… Qe7 because 8. e4 reaches an unfavorable position with Black’s response 8… e5.
Objectively, perhaps Black has better moves, but the point is that structurally White has ceded control over the d4 square, and again, the passivity of White’s bishops is a key highlight.
It’s amazing what a loss of tempo can do to a position. But you have to ask, did White play 4. Bg5 just to bring it back and block it in with 7. e3? I didn’t think so…
I’m not a fan of this move. Of course at some point, Black will inevitably trade this bishop for the knight, but it was critical to wait for White to use a tempo and play a2-a3 first. I think Black had a lot of options here, but I like challenging the e4 square the most with 7… b6. After 8. Be2 Bb7 9. 0-0 Nbd7, Black has a lot of options, the most attractive option being putting a knight on e4.
Now if White uses a tempo to play a2-a3, he loses his last defender of the e4 square, and still has to worry about …e7-e5 and …c7-c5 breaks. If White had tried to stop Black’s pressure on e4 with 8. Bd3, he’ll find how misplaced the bishop on d2 is when Black slaps down 8… Ba6! with the idea of …Nb8-c6-a5. With the real pressure on c4 coming, White also has to worry about his lack of coordination as the bishop on d3 is unprotected.
Black isn’t winning, but it’s clear that waiting to exchange on c3 gives Black more strategic chances.
8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Qc2 Nxc3=
By trading off the dark-squared bishops, White has gotten rid of his bad bishop and has a lead in development. However, with a solid position, Black still holds relative equality. Even though White has space, he doesn’t have a space advantage because of the lack of pieces to apply further pressure. Black will find a thrust and the center and will have reasonable chances to find counterplay.
10.Qxc3 Qe7 11.Bd3
Based on his next two moves, White’s bishop is misplaced here and belongs on e2. While seemingly unusual, this is also the case in many London System positions to put the bishop on e2 instead of d3. With Black’s recent trades the pace of the game has slowed down, but many of White’s troubles start with this seemingly innocuous decision.
11…Nc6 12.h3 e5 13.Bc2 a5!
Just like my post on the Maroczy Bind last week, …a7-a5 comes to the rescue again, stopping any queenside expansion ideas.
14.a3 f5 15.d5 Nb8 16.e4? =+
White seals in his own bishop with this move. With the e4-d5-c4 pawn structure fixed on light squares, White has accepted a bad bishop. To make progress, Black will attempt to exchange his own bishop for the f3 knight, reaching a good knight v bad bishop endgame. Then, by using the dark square strategy, will play to take advantage of White’s passivity.
Simply failing to grasp the troubles of his own position. White needs to undermine Black’s pawns structure to have any chance to equalize and had to at least consider 17. c5.
It’s not really a pawn sacrifice since if taken, the e5 pawn falls so Black has to consider White’s threat to open the c-file.
Again, the misplaced bishop presents problems for White, but at least it’s still a game. By queenside castling, White’s king on c1 means that White really cannot afford to open up that side of the board. Let’s see how Matthew takes advantage.
17…Nd7 18.Rdg1 Nc5!
I really like this move! Black recognized that White really wasn’t threatening anything with this last move, so took the liberty of improving his position while waiting for White to cause more self-harm.
19.g3 Bd7 20.gxf4
White tries to break the static nature of the position with dynamic play, but in doing so, creates a target for Black. It’s never too early to start thinking about the principle of two weaknesses. Here Black gets his first on the f-file by simply recapturing with the rook, freeing the f8 square for the other. White will now spend more time protecting f2 than actually attacking g7. Furthermore, e4 is hit, and now White must also worry about his general lack of stability.
20…Rxf4 21.Qe3 Qf6 22.Rg3 Rf8
While the attack Matthew has essayed seems quite simple, getting here required precise positional play and a deep understanding of Nimzo-Indian pawn structures. Having played like an expert thus far, it’s unsurprising that Matthew but away this endgame with relative ease.
23.Nh2 Rxf2 24.Rhg1 Rf7 25.Rg6 Qf4 26.Qxf4 R2xf4
Even with the queen’s off the board, Black still is able to apply even more pressure on the position, in this case, the weakness on e4. White’s next move, 27. Ng4 is forced, but the simplifications further damage White’s position.
This move was more or less forced but Black reaches the desired good knight v bad bishop endgame.
28.R1xg4 Rxg4 29.Rxg4 Rf3!
Very nice technique as now White must again make another concession in protecting the h-pawn. Aside from a few potential opening improvements, Matthew has looked like an expert this game. Even though he was never under any serious pressure this game, Matthew was able to demonstrate his resilience by bouncing back so nicely from a tough morning. Being able to relax in such tournament situations isn’t easy, and to pull it together in a National Championship environment is certainly admirable.
30.h4 Rf4 31.Rxf4 exf4
Now with a 3 v 1 set-up on the kingside, Black just needs to push his advantage to get the win.
White has misplayed more than his fair share of the positions this round, but this move is the best way to put up resistance, giving the White king time to march to the kingside.
Even in the better position, Black still slows down to make the right decision, the king belongs on e5 and not the knight. Not only can White’s king not help push c4-c5, but it must also stay in the center of the board as to prevent Black’s king from infiltrating on the dark squares.
37.Bd1 Nf6 38.Bf3 b6 39.b5
The last straw. Already in zugzwang, Black forces White to make one last concession. Can you figure out how Black wins this position?
39…Nd7 40.Kd2 Nc5 0-1
White resigned, as every legal move loses material and the game. A really strong game from Matthew. One can only wonder how much higher rated he would be if he played more often!
Let’s check out Matthew’s round 6 match-up from the following morning and see if he kept the momentum going!
Normansell–Best (National High School Championships, 2016)
Since switching away from 1 e4, Matthew’s results have become a lot more consistent with the English. As I’ve said many times with close friends, 1. c4 is the best way to start a game of chess…
And again, we reach another opening where Matthew gets to punish his opponent for wasting time in the opening. For amateur players, I find that understanding timing, development, and pawn structures is critical for improvement.
Again, another no-nonsense approach from the Beast. Opting not to take on d5 to avoid Grünfeld-like positions, this move eases White towards a Catalan where Black is a tempo behind. This is a reasonable approach since the g7 bishop might be better placed on e7 in some positions.
7…c6 8.Nc3 e6 9.Qc2 Nbd7 10.Bb2
This move is objectively fine, but I think 10. Ba3 is also worthy of consideration, given that Black’s dark square bishop is not in a position to test the diagonal. I think after 10. Ba3 Re8 11. Rad1 White has an edge to work with.
White can still plan for e2-e4 ideas, but this time has full control over the dark squares. Even if Black were to try …Bg7-f8, the loss of time is apparent as Black’s remaining development is appalling.
Preparing for an opening of the c-file, White chooses this move . 10. e4 is interesting, but for White, it doesn’t come without cost. For example, 10. e4 dxe4 11. Nxe4 Nxe4 12. Qxe4 b6 with the future idea of c6-c5 justifies the placement of the g7 bishop.
At first, it seems kind of silly that White would have prepared e2-e4 only to make this lesser push. However, it’s completely justified! With Black’s bishop no longer on the long diagonal, White’s bishop on b2 stands uncontested. Black can’t exactly stop a future e3-e4 push, so White is in no rush to carry out this advantage.
Tricks are for kids! In threatening …Bh6xe3, …Ng4xe3 with a fork, Black violates nearly every opening principle. First, I’m not convinced that Black is better if he pulls off the tactic. He loses his good bishop and has to move a knight three times (three tempi is roughly one pawn) to get a rook and two pawns for objectively his best-developed pieces. Secondly, if White defends e3, which he does, what has Black actually gain from this bizarre movement? Tactics and strategy should work together, not operate independently of one another!
13.Rfe1 Qd8 14.h3 Ngf6 15.Rcd1 Bg7 +-
Not only has Black lost time, he has failed to improve his position! Check this out – this was Black’s position after 10. Bb2 (Black to move):
Anything familiar? It’s almost like Matthew’s opponent left the board after 10. Bb2 only to find that Ra1-d1, Rf1-e1, e2-e3, and h2-h3 had all been played and it was White to move! I wondered if this realization during the game registered for Black. I think if this were to happen to me, I’d be ready to resign.
16.e4 dxe4 17.Nxe4 Nxe4 18.Qxe4 Nf6 19.Qc2
Seeing Matthew’s next few moves, I’m going to recommend Qd4-b1! with the idea of creating a Reti battery with Qb1-a1, losing less time shuffling pieces. Ultimately, playing on the long diagonal was the right idea, but Black is so far behind that the extra tempi almost don’t matter.
19…Qc7 20.Bc3 Bd7 21.Qb2 Qd8
This game is 33 moves long, and I’m going to say that eight total moves this queen takes (roughly 25% of the game’s moves!) added no constructional value to Black’s position. The queen would be poorly placed on any unoccupied square on Black’s side of the board, but of course, this is the price to pay for having wasted so much time in the opening.
…Five. At this point, Black’s position is beyond finding one or two good moves. From here on out we’re just going to watch Matthew’s technique.
And the long diagonal is forcefully opened. Black cannot capture the d5 pawn since Ne5xd7 wins material on either f6 or g7.
Hard to say White went wrong anywhere in this game. I thought it was important to notice how Matthew was never in a rush to open up the position and find a win by force. Instead, he optimized his pieces and waited for the best timing to breakthrough. Well done Matthew!
He has one more year left in high school, but if you play competitively in the Mid Atlantic, you’ve been warned. Matthew “Beast Mode” Normansell is probably the most dangerous 1700 rated player in the state of Virginia.
Well, it’s finally here! The US Chess Championships start under way this week, and with Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So competing among the best players in the country, I’m looking forward to this tournament more than Norway Chess.
Here’s the field:
Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland, Ray Robson, Gata Kamsky, Varuzhan Akobian, Alexander Onischuk, Aleksander Lenderman, Jeffrey Xiong, Alexander Shabalov, and Akshat Chandra.
So where to begin? Let’s start with the former World Championship Candidates Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura.
Nakamura, the defending US Champion, may feel like he has the most to prove given a mediocre finish at the Candidates Tournament last month. While his even score drew criticism, I think given his -2 start, his performance was more of a sign of strength than a weakness.
I’m a little more concerned about Caruana. While he fell just short of getting the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship, he missed a lot of winning opportunities – in particular against Topalov – which ultimately cost him the event. This is a field that won’t forgive Caruana, and without much time to prepare for his opponents I’m curious to see how he’ll finish. Remember last year’s Millionaire Open? Caruana fans, you have your warning.
Without an appearance at the Candidates Tournament, Wesley So might be the most prepared player for this event. Still a top ten caliber player, So will want to avenge his disappointing showing last year by walking away from St. Louis a US Champion. There’s still a considerable gap between him and the likes of Nakamura and Caruana, but I fully expect him to bounce back.
If there’s one dark horse contender, it’s Ray Robson. In last year’s event, the Webster student placed second, only a half point behind Nakamura. Recently coming off a Final Four win, Robson should surprise again if he can keep the momentum going.