Over the Board with Dan Schultz – Chris Wainscott

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

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

Wainscott-Wallach - photo credit Allen Becker

Wainscott v. Wallace – photo credit Allen Becker

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

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

arturyusupov

Artur Yusopov

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

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

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

sevanThe late Sevan Muradian – photo credit Betsy Dynako

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

Wainscott at SPICE 2017 - photo credit Paul Truong

Chris at SPICE 2017 – photo credit Paul Truong

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

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Making a Plan – Setting and Achieving Goals

I recently posted an article on chess.com publicly setting my goals for 2018. A question I get asked quite often is how I developed my training plan, or why I chose certain numbers as goals. I received several messages after the article asking me to explain just this, so I will share it now on Chess^Summit.  As an amateur, setting goals can be a bit daunting. You want to make goals you can achieve, but at the same time you want to see big improvements and jumps in growth. Balancing this can be challenging, but borrowing a template from organizational psychology, I have made the process simple. I’d like to share the SMART way to progress in chess:

S – Specific – you need to set specific, quantifiable goals in order to progress. If it is clearly written out and can be judged by a simple yes or no, you have made a specific goal.

– Measurable – chess is very much a numbers game. A player’s rating will be measurable.

– Achievable – while we want to set lofty goals for ourselves, we also need to be realistic. Family and work obligations as well as other outside factors will effect the amount of time we have to train, study, and play. You want to set a goal that is a challenge, but one you can feasibly make in the timeframe specified.

– Realistic – I will not be an IM next year, no chance. It would also be unrealistic for me to put my goals higher as I am only able to make one OTB tournament a month tops. You need to be honest with yourself.

– Time Specific – if you do not set a time frame or time limit on something you will tend to procrastinate or maybe never go after the goal, that’s human nature. If you set goals with hard deadlines, you cannot procrastinate or “wait until tomorrow.”

Bearing the above in mind, let’s look at my personal goals for 2018 as seen on chess.com

challenge

I have made my personal goals very specific. Remember, if you can assign a value to it, it has specificity. These goals are measurable based on how many people I teach/gift and what my rating is on the above dates in these categories. These goals are also achievable, difficult and involving some serious time management, but I do believe them to be achievable for me. I have chosen realistic goals, goals I am confident I can make based on progress, coaching, and advice from other players. By providing deadlines, I have made this a time sensitive endeavor, and in tandem with how public I have made them, I am even more motivated.

As far as WHAT you will be training on, that is something I can only briefly touch on as it is very dependent on how you are as a learner and player. Some people are kinesthetic learners and learn from doing while others may be visual learners, it can be difficult to be an auditory learner and study chess via that path…difficult but not impossible. I recommend working with a coach, but if one is not available you can reach out to someone in the chess world and I promise they will help…it is such a great community with tons of knowledge to share.

As for me, on a day that I work I commit 3-4 hours divided among playing games online, solving tactics, and reading. I work with my coach twice a week with one ours sessions. My coach also sends me puzzles to solve and articles to read between sessions. If I have a day off and no other commitments, the sky is the limit. For perspective, on a day I work I tend to play 6 to 8 games on chess.com and on days I’m off it’s closer to 10 or 12. Working on simple tactics like the one below until I recognize the patterns and can blast through them in a short time is an important component as well and pattern recognition is a cornerstone of my study.

FullSizeRender[108].jpg

For now, I believe this to be the best course of action for me, but everyone is different and as we develop we need to develop our methods of learning as well. If you aren’t learning or growing, you need to assess your methods for growth and adapt. I hope this article has helped to set your SMART goals and carry them out!!! Please share your goals with me either here or on Twitter .

Reflecting on the 2016 US Junior Open

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.

IMG_0979
Jackson Square

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.IMG_0981

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 22.24.20

Steincamp–Liu

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!

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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

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 22.33.48

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

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 22.36.08

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!

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 22.39.33

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

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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!

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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

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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:

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Steincamp–Proleiko

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

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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!

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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

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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.Rb3Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 23.23.01

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.

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Xu–Steincamp

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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A winning rook and pawn ending, but my opponent makes life even easier with 57.Rf1 Rf4+ 58.Ke2 d3+ 59.Ke1 d2+

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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:

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Steincamp–Wang

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.

IMG_0983My 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.

IMG_0990While 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!

Three Days

Nine months ago, I set the nearly impossible sounding goal of winning the US Junior Open in New Orleans. Back in September, I had yet to achieve the Candidate Master title, nor had I managed to answer other important questions like “what is my major?” or “how will I balance chess and taking classes?”. While I had yet to resolve my future, the response I received for putting my goal here on Chess^Summit was tremendous.

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2016 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Open

Before I take off for New Orleans later this week, I wanted to thank everyone who pushed me towards my goal this year. Whether you contributed to my GoFundMe campaign, were a fan of my articles here, or just a friend interested in my various performances, your encouragement saw me compete in places like Philadelphia, Boston, New York (to name a few!), and now New Orleans. I’ve learned so much this year, and it would not have been possible without all of your support!

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2015 Pan American Collegiate Chess Championships

While anyone who followed my performances this year played a role in my improvement, there are some individuals who, without whom, my goal would simply not be possible. First, I’d like to thank my coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, who planted the idea of winning the US Junior Open into my conscience. I’ve been working with Eugene for over two years, and if anything, he’s taught me how to become a stronger player, not necessarily by playing better, but by playing smarter. Since I’ve started working with him, his ability to break down a position has always made an impression on me, and it’s this same ability I try to replicate in my articles here on Chess^Summit.

I’d also like to thank National Master Franklin Chen for also working with me this year, strengthening my opening play and preparing me for many tournaments. I’ve been a little quiet on discussing Franklin’s role in my improvement, mainly because I was worried that ambitious players in Pittsburgh would prepare for me differently if they knew I was working with him. In reflection, this is probably a testament to the work he’s done with me to make me a more aggressive player, and his overall knowledge of chess.

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Goofing around

Lastly, I’d like to thank my friends and family both here in Virginia, and in my new home at the University of Pittsburgh. While they are by no means great chess players, their motivation and consistent encouragement provided a daily reminder to keep fighting and trying to improve. The influence they’ve had on my outlook of my performances has forced to become much more positive – and yes – realize there is a world outside chess whenever I have a bad performance.

In this last post before I fly south, I can’t thank everyone enough for the support these last nine months. Since I’ve started this campaign, I’ve broken 2100, earned the title of Candidate Master, won my first adult tournament, and beaten three players rated over 2300, which has me believing I have what it takes to put together a championship performance this weekend in New Orleans.

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MLWGS Free Chess Clinic

Regardless of how this weekend turns out, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had t0 compete and improve, and I’m sure the lessons I’ve learned these last nine months will last far beyond the US Junior Open. This ability to share my goals and progress is precisely the reason why in two weeks I’ll be relaunching Chess^Summit with other ambitious authors, and I hope you continue to follow us after the US Junior Open concludes.

Once again, thank you all for playing a big role in my goal, and I hope to bring back good news next week!

Queen City, the Last Stop Before NOLA

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.

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Unlike last week, the venue for the Carolinas Classic was right on the Boardwalk, meaning I had plenty of food options in walking distance.

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.

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The tournament hall before Friday night. A DGT board was provided for the top two boards in the Championship section and the top board of each of the other sections.

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 chess player, 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

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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

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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

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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.

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Triumph in the first round offered a deja vu to last week’s tournament. Now it was my duty put it behind me and start round 2 with 0 out of 0!

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

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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,

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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.

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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.

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As I said, I unfortunately wound up losing this game in a pawn race, but it was not enough to derail my tournament…right?

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Early phases of my game with the 2012 US Junior Open Champion. Hopefully, in less than two weeks I can accomplish the same feat of a perfect 6/6 to win the tournament!

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.

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Fortunately for me, my lower rated opponent was just as, or even more tired than I!

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:

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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.

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Moments before the start of Round 1 on Friday night. Who said cool chess piece photos were overdone?

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

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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

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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+

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 19.51.10And 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

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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!

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No studying for today, but already I can see plenty of tactics and endgames in my near future!

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!

Endgame Essentials: In Action at the European Chess Championships!

After writing my most recent Endgames Essentials post, I decided to watch the European Individual Chess Championships and stumbled across an endgame that I thought was an effective model of the principles we’ve established thus far.

Today’s post features David Navara (right), a strong 2700+ rated Grandmaster from the Czech Republic!

Before Ernesto Inarkiev managed to pull away from the pack and win the Championships, it looked like the event could go a number of ways – Saric, Navara, Jobava, Kovalenko, and Wojtaszek were all over 5/6, with a bunch of strong players at 4.5/6 with five rounds to go. While it wouldn’t determine the winner, David Navara’s game in round 7 against Baadur Jobava definetly impacted the course of the tournament.

In that game, we reached this drawish position:

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Navara – Jobava, 2016

With a symmetrical pawn structure, it seems like not much can happen. There are no logical pawn breaks in the position, and though White’s king is more active than Black’s, Jobava does have control over the d-file. What you might notice though, is that it is White who is pressing. With the e- and f-pawns already advanced, it will be difficult for Black to expand effectively on the kingside and create weaknesses. Sure, White certainly cannot be considered winning here, but it is Black who must prove equality. As we’ve seen in many of Carlsen’s games, this is already enough to play for! To stop Black from entering the second rank, White brings his king to c3, and activates his rook on the b-file. 18. Kc3 Kf8 19. Rb1 Ke7

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White has improved his position, but so has Black – in fact his king is coming into the game very quickly! If White isn’t careful, Black can bring his king to d6 and rook to d7 with the hopes of creating a fortress. When you’re trying to improve your position and push your opponent, it’s always important to consider their plans and see if you can stop them. Navara spent 20 minutes on this next, and made the most contesting move on the board. 20. e5!

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At an artificial level, this move looks really weakening. White gives up the d5 square for Black’s rook and his structure could get undermined with …f7-f6 ideas. But if you think about it, Black’s rook is no better on d5 than it is on d8 because tactically it must always retreat to d7 following Rb1-b7+. With the pawn on e5 cutting out improving squares for Black’s king, Black will need this …Rd7 resource until further notice. It’s also important to note that a break on f6 arguably hurts Black more than White – it doesn’t improve his structure, and an open f-file wouldn’t change the nature of the position. One thing to remember when playing in equal positions is that in order to play for a win, you must give up something in return. In this case, Navara gives Black the d5 square to keep his winning chances. 20…h5 21. a4

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Right now both sides are playing accurately. Black is trying to solidify his kingside, while White is trying to gain access to critical squares on the queenside. For example, were Black to stand idle, White could march his pawn to a6, giving him control of the b7 square for his rook to then win the game. Black’s logic here is that while he may be less active, if he can remain solid, White will not have enough to exploit his advantage. Let’s see if this holds true.

21…Rd5 22. Rb7+ Rd7 23. Rb8 Rd8 24. Rb4 Rd5

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So what just happened? It just seems like the two players shuffled their rooks back and forth, but what was the point? As Grandmaster Sam Shankland says, no self-respecting Grandmaster makes a move without a purpose. Let’s go back to the position after Jobava played 21… Rd5:

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In this position it is White to move, but in the current position after 24… Rd5 it is White to move. What’s changed? White got in Rb1-b4 and now has an extra tempo to improve his position. By infiltrating deep into the b-file, Black had to block out White’s rook from raiding the kingside pawns, so this line is actually rather forced. While Black should still be able to hold here, it’s small moments like these that count towards building a winning position. 25. g3 Rc5+ 26. Kb3 Rd5 27. c4 Rd2?!

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Here’s where Black starts to go wrong. As we mentioned earlier, the rook was no better on d5 than it was on d8, and so the same applies to d2. Black cannot afford to allow White’s rook to enter the 7th rank without resistance, as the a-pawn will fall, and it’s White’s passed pawn that will matter more than Black’s. Still, White can’t play 28. Rb7+ yet, so he makes the one move that wasn’t possible just one move ago. 28. a5!

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I’m going to guess that this move’s power was under estimated by Jobava, seeing as he spent 24 minutes on his next move. However after 27. c4 its impossible to effectively stop this pawn push and be able to retreat to d7. Black’s best hope was to create a fortress by retreating to d7 and bringing his king to c8. I messed around with Stockfish here to see how Black would hold, and the line goes 27…Rd3+ Very important – the king is pushed to the second rank before Black makes a bunker. 28. Kc2 Rd7 29. a5 Kd8 30. a6 Kc8 31. Rb1 g6

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White will have to try and create a weakness on the kingside, but his rook can’t run too far astray since Black can play …Kc7-b6 and attack the a-pawn. It’s an ugly position to have to defend, but since White’s king can’t get to the kingside thanks to the Black rook, Black should have good drawing chances. So how is this so different than what happened in the game? It turns out that not inserting this one check before retreating to d7 still gives White something to play for with an active king. If Jobava had played 28…Rd7, White’s king can enter the fray through a4, then later b4 and c5 – but admittedly this is very difficult to win. Instead, Jobava offers Navara an oppotunity. 28…Kd8?

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The last move underestimated a resource to draw, but this move gives White an opportunity to play for more! While White can’t win material, his rook would be much better placed on f8 or g8 than it is currently on b4. Navara wastes no time in reaching his desired position.

29. Rb8+ Kc7 30. Rf8 Rd7 31. Kb4

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A tremendous improvement in White’s position. Black has no easy way to defend the a5-a6 idea, and White’s king is headed to the c5 square, where it cannot be touched by Black! The position still looks difficult to convert, but for the rest of the game (with the exception of one move), Navara spends less than a minute per move to convert the point! 31…a6 +-

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Not exactly a better recommendation for Black in the position, but now the b6 square is weak. White’s goal now is to stretch out Black’s defensive resources with his rook and try to make Black run out of good moves. 32. Kc5 g6 33. Ra8 Kb7 34. Rf8

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White’s repeating moves – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ideas. With each move, not only does Navara gain 30 seconds, but repeating moves in a superior position can actually create a psychological advantage! I’ve had a few cases in tournament games where I’ve used this idea, and sometimes instead of repeating my opponent’s have completely collapsed! Of course you can’t failry compare the caliber of opponent I’m playing to the likes of Baadur Jobava…

34…Kc7 35. h3 Kb7 36. g4

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Since Black cannot make any productive moves, White decides it makes sense to open the h-file so his rook has more options. In this position, Black has three weaknesses: the 7th rank, the d6 square, and the b6 square. At the precise moment, Navara will relocate his rook to attack Black’s weak queenside pawn structure.

36…hxg4 37. hxg4 Kc7 38. Ra8 Kb7 39. Rh8 Kc7 40. Rh1 Rd2

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For a second it seems like Black’s rook has become active, but there’s a cute trick here to force the rook back to e7 (not d7)!

41. Rh7 Rd7 42. g5 1-0

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Jobava was so dissatisfied with this endgame he actually resigned to the Czech Grandmaster! In this position, Black is more or less obliged to play 42… Re7 because after 42… Kb7 43. f5!! actually leads to forced mate. The pawn is poisoned since a move like 43…exf5 loses immediately to 44. e6 and White will have managed to trade rooks and gained a queen on the way.

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So 42… Re7 is the only move that doesn’t lose immediately. However this move also fails to defend adequately because now when White plays 43. Rh2, Black can’t also activate his rook since it needs one tempo to reach the d-file again, so after 43… Rd7 44. Rb2 Rd3 45. Rb6, White will win Black’s queenside, and the win of the f-pawn doesn’t help Black.

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Black’s endgame was actually difficult to hold, and after only one real mistake, Jobava completely collapsed. I thought this game was instructive for a couple of reasons. First it showed us how to press a minuscule advantage, while also using the idea of marching the a-pawn to use the b7 square. This game also showed us that sometimes its possible to hold difficult positions as long as we only have one weakness. I think Jobava may have seen this bunker idea, but thought it would fall apart in the long-run. For a human it may be difficult to hold, but it was really Black’s only real chance of saving the game. Lastly, Navara showed us the importance of gaining tempi at various points of the game. While an extra small improvement may not seem significant in a particular moment of the game, such extra moves add up and become overwhelming.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’ll be in Washington DC for a tournament this weekend, so I won’t be able to post a video this weekend. Make sure to look out for a post next week on my performance! The Cherry Blossom Classic promises to be a tough tournament, and I’ll be hoping to continue my luck from New York!

Victory in New York! Winning My First Adult Tournament

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

This weekend proved to be a weekend of firsts. First time riding Amtrak without major delays. First time playing chess in the state of New York. First time visiting New York City and the Marshall Chess Club. But amidst all of the distractions, my first time winning an adult tournament! Of course, I had more than my fair share of luck, but we’ll get to that later.

With the late rounds each day, I had plenty of time to explore the city and visit some nearby attractions. While blitz in Washington Square Park was definitely the most entertaining for me, cliched visits to the Empire State Building and the Flat Iron were also highlights of the trip.

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As a foodie, New York proved to offer more than I could try. Thanks to some prior research, I thought I had a pretty good sampling of the local cuisine – late night pizza, meatball subs, Japanese barbeque, tacos, doughnuts, and bagels. I don’t think I’ll ever have as many choices when it comes to food near a tournament venue than I did here in New York City.

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

But enough chit-chat. Let’s talk chess. After not having played tournament chess in over a month and a half, I was a little worried my prior training wouldn’t be sufficient. It took a round 2 loss and a close win in round 3 to finally get into gear, playing much better on the last day to close out the tournament.

Even though the tournament was strictly U2300 and had two time controls (40/90 with 30-second increment, 30-minute sudden death), I thought the format was close to what I’ll see in New Orleans this June. For the first 40 moves of each game, I got to simulate the US Junior Open time controls (90 minutes with 30-second increment). In reflection, I wish I could have been faster on the clock, but for my first tournament back in a while, I’m thinking that upcoming tournaments in DC and Charlotte can help me improve my time management.

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Lastly, I must confess, the scholastic players I faced at the Marshall Chess Club were among the most underrated group of kids I’ve ever played. The tactical prowess of my round 2 opponent was particularly impressive (and proved lethal!), and I was nearly held to a draw by the 2016 K-3 co-National Champion! I can only wonder how strong I would be if I grew up in the area… Either way, I thought that my games against juniors gave me a good sense of what I’m up against next month.

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Washington Square Park

Aside from winning the event, I’m most proud of scoring 3/3 with the Black pieces. I honestly can’t remember the last time I achieved a perfect score at a tournament with Black, and I think it was this persistence that helped me capture a tie for first (especially since I started with 3 Blacks in 4 games!). That being said let’s take a look at some of the important moments of the tournament!

Round 1: Breskin – Steincamp

13…Nh6

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Up to this point, I had mostly been experimenting, using an idea that an opponent once used to beat me only a couple months ago! My opponent’s play has been a little awkward, and it’s unclear where the knight’s future on e4 will be. Meanwhile, my plan is concrete. I will push …f7-f5 and lay claim to the center. Once this happens, my opponent will have no counterplay as d3-d4 will always be met by e5-e4, shutting down White’s g2 bishop.

14.d4 f5

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In chess, you can’t be afraid of going into complications. With my last move, White has a choice. He can give me the center, allowing me to displace both of his knights, or he can sacrifice the knight on e4 for a few pawns, hoping the position will hold long enough to make for an endgame advantage. After a significant amount of time, my opponent made his decision, and in retrospect, probably correctly.

15.dxe5!?

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Very double edged, but White can’t afford to sit back anymore. In exchange for the knight, White can get three pawns, but the position implores White to find activity, and already this is not so simple.

15…fxe4 16.exd6 Qd8 17.Qd5+ =+

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When I played 14…f5, I saw this move and assessed that I was better as the queen quickly becomes misplaced. What I didn’t consider, however, was 17. Nd2 (Stockfish’s recommendation) with “equality” in a position with lots of options. Backward knight moves are tricky to find, and especially when an active-looking check is a possibility, psychologically it can be very difficult to play the more prudent move. This would be the first of three positions where valuing a check is the deciding factor.

17…Nf7 18.Ng5??

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Under immense pressure, my opponent cracks in the form of a blunder! But already, it’s very difficult to find moves. 18. Nd2 is White’s best move, but Black is better with ideas of …Bd7-f5 once the d-pawn drops, and already, it’s becoming difficult to hold the d6 pawn.

Round 2: Steincamp – Chen

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After having misplayed the opening, I thought I was reaching a draw after 28… Bxh4 29. Bxc4, where Black is up a pawn, but my bishop pair makes it difficult for my opponent to convert. But as I mentioned, my opponent’s tactics throughout the game were superb, and he caught my oversight with 28…Rxb8! 29.Rxb8 Bd6+

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And now the endgame is winning for Black since he has the bishop pair and I don’t. I played out the ending, but it’s not too difficult to convert. Unfortunately for my opponent, this would prove to be his final victory of the weekend, but he played some inspired chess in each of his games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he reached master level in the near future.

Round 3: Zhou – Steincamp

After not much time to rest, I hurried into my third round game somewhat deflated. Though I got a decent advantage out of the opening, I misplayed the middlegame, trading queens too early and allowing my opponent to reach an equal position. Luck was on my side, though, and in this critical moment of the game, my opponent chose the howler, 45.Be3??

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Already, the game is dead lost. My opponent, the recently crowned K-3 National Champion, valued a check as the best move in the position, seeing that 45… Bxe3 46. Kxe3 Kc2+ 47. Ke2 was at least a draw. But as the old saying goes, “patzer see a check, patzer play a check”, and I had already seen the simple refutation to this line.

45…Bxe3 46.Kxe3 Rxb6 -+

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Winning. If White were to capture on d2, I would play …Re6+, capturing the rook after the king leaves the e3 square. White played on till checkmate, but again, Black will at least win the rook in exchange for the d2 pawn, so the win is still fairly simple once the Black king is able to reach c2.

This was a critical moment of the tournament (though I didn’t know it at the time). In the Russian sense, I had managed to “stop the bleeding” with a win with Black and get an opportunity to play some higher rated opponents. Rather than worrying about my quality of play up to this point, I simply relaxed and used this as an opportunity to sleep and explore the city.

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

Knowing that my last two rounds would define my performance in the tournament, I woke up early determined to play good chess. After a pleasant breakfast, I took a long walk from Madison Square Park to Washington Square Park to get some practice blitz games against the locals. After some early morning blunders out of my system, I was ready to head over to the Marshall Chess Club to start the final day of the competition.

One element of the tournament that was different for me was that many of the juniors were extremely underrated. As I had seen in my previous two games, their ratings had no reflection of their actual skill.

I went into the last day with a different mentality. At this point, I wasn’t concerned about rating point gain and understood that being upset again this tournament wouldn’t be a reflection of my understanding of chess, but rather a confirmation of the local talent. That being said, my last two games were against adults, so the wrath of the children had stopped.

Round 4: Polyakin – Steincamp

After starting with a King’s Indian, my opponent veered off course with an optimistic knight sac.

11.Bxh6?

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I had already calculated this line when I played …e7-e5, and knew that White simply didn’t have enough material to make anything of this sacrifice. Feeling this is one thing, defending it is another. Black is winning, but a single mistake could be fatal.

11…dxc3 12.hxg6+ fxg6 13.Bxg7+ Kxg7 14.Qh6+

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No surprises so far. The way I understood the position was that White simply didn’t have entry squares on the h-file, and without any other active forces, I have enough time to shore up my weaknesses and develop my pieces. For Black I think merely pushing the game in a static direction is a valid threat and it’s White who must act quickly.

14…Kf7 15.Nf3 Rg8!

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I had seen up to here before going into this line. This move holds my only critical weakness, g6. Once again, White is in do or die mode and ensured he would lose the game with his next move.

16.Ng5+

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The third and final “losing check” of the weekend. White cuts off his own queen from the game, and once my king reaches e8 will have no active options to pursue an attack. If White was serious about creating counterplay, he would have tried 16. Qf4, with ideas of e4-e5 – but let’s not forget, White is still down a piece and Black is still winning.

16…Ke8 17.Rd1 c2

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I really like this move as White has to move his rook off of the d-file, giving me more time to develop and start thinking about exploiting White’s king.

18.Rc1 Qe7 19.c5 Nxc5 20.Bc4 d5!

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The deciding move. I had looked at 20…. Nfxe4 21. Bg8 Ng3+ with a win, but things get messy when White plays 21. 0-0!, and my king is once again under fire on e8. 20… Be6 was possible, but I think White has accomplished something after 21. Nxe6 Nxe6 22. Qh3 and now my king has to go to f7 or d7 which are quite awkward since both would willingly walk into a pin. The key to this position is to make sure that White’s king doesn’t have time to leave the center. Once the e-file opens, whoever’s king is the weakest will lose the game, probably regardless of material. But at this point, I saw that the follow-up was forced.

21.e5 Qxe5+

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The obvious move as Black wins more material. Perhaps 21… dxc5 was possible, but why allow White’s king to get out of the center and centralize his rooks? Always look for the most practical solution in a winning position.

22.Kf1 dxc4

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Winning a bishop. 22. Re1 is met by 22… Qxe1+ 23. Kxe1 c1Q+ and White has lost rook in addition to already being down two pieces. The game lasts two more moves.

23.Rxc2 Bf5 24.Re2 Bd3 0-1

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And my opponent resigned here. A confidence booster for me here as the win meant I could play for first and continue playing 2100+ rated competition. Granted, my opponent gave me this game just as much as I won it, but I still had to defend adequately to get the point.

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

I won the game in less than two hours, which gave me plenty of time to explore and relax before the big finale.

Thanks to my loss in round 2, I was still a half-point behind the tournament leader, and needed him to draw or lose to have a chance to win the tournament.

Luck came once more on my side, as he drew quickly, playing too quickly to convert an extra pawn in a minor piece endgame. That left my opponent and I on board 2 with a chance to tie for first with a decisive result. Thanks to my surplus of Blacks in the tournament, I was given White against a FIDE Master who had just drawn Grandmaster Aleksandr Lenderman last week. The game started out slowly with a small nod in my favor, but in just three moves the balance took a massive swing and my opponent was left behind in the dust.

Steincamp – Sulman (FM)

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.g3 Bg4

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I’ve never really seen this move before, even in the Mega Database among strong players. The bishop is a little awkward on g4 since it can always be hit by h2-h3, and it’s clearly telegraphing the idea of trading light square bishops in the future. The more natural square is e6, targeting a d6-d5 break while also maintaining the idea of eventually creating a battery and playing …Be6-h3.

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Moving the same piece twice in the opening may be a sin to some, but here I think it’s particularly useful, stopping Black’s knight from reaching f6, and eyeing c7 in the case that Black play …Bg4-h3.

6…Nge7 7.O-O O-O-O

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I was extremely happy to see this move since I think White is more prepared to launch a pawn storm on the queenside than Black is on the kingside. By being on the queenside, Black potentially commits himself to playing moves like …Kc8-b8 to avoid creating weaknesses. This is a loss of time, and in a race position, might not be so trivial. That being said, I totally understand the approach from Black. Already board 1 was moving to a draw, so my opponent wanted to quickly create attacking chances to win the tournament.

8.Rb1 Nd4

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Instinctively, I didn’t like this move, but it’s not so easy to demonstrate over the board. Up to this point, I had gained about a 30 minute advantage, so I used most of it here to find the best way to continue.

If we think about it, Black would love a line like …Bxf3 followed exf3 since that would make d4 a permanent outpost for Black. Another issue for me is that I always have to consider the zwischenzug …Ne7xd5, doubling my pawns. Many times, this can be a strategic advantage for White, but if I’m not careful, it can be a positional weakness. For example, a line I considered was 9. e3 Nxd5 10. cxd5 e4 11. exd4 Qb5! =+, where the tripled pawns prove difficult to hold. After the game, my opponent had said he had missed this variation, but I think it’s great Black.

In a position where it’s unclear what to do, sometimes it’s important to stick to Occam’s Razor, where the simplest solution can be the best one. I originally wasn’t thrilled about 9. Nxd4 since e2 becomes a target for Black, but after some time, I realized this was my best option. Sure, Black can try to take on e2, but in a race position, it won’t matter if I’m going for his king. Another concrete problem for Black is that it isn’t clear how his bishop is escaping f8 to an active position with a pawn on d4. My opponent thought this didn’t matter too much at this point, but I think it does need to be considered.

9.Nxd4 exd4 10.d3 h5 11.h4

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Setting up the “wavebreaker” we’ve discussed before. I wasn’t too sure how Black was going to attack from here. I thought a positional approach would be to bring the f8 bishop to h6 and trade dark squared bishops, but to do this, he must move the g-pawn, which would allow Nd5-f6. So to execute this idea in full, Black must take the knight on d5, which would open the c-file for my rook – most definitely good for me. My thought on this position was that I was perhaps slightly better, but there was still a game to play here for both sides.

11…Bh3 12.Bxh3 Qxh3 13.Qa4

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Nothing special yet, but I wanted to ask Black to prove his point. Once he plays 13… Kb8, I get a free tempo to finally start pushing my queenside armada.

13…Kb8 14.b4 Nxd5?

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In our game analysis, my opponent and I agreed that this was the root of his problems. In this position, I get to open the c-file, but more importantly, Black has no threats! As the game shows, it’s not so easy to continue from here. Black’s best chance is to play 14… Nf5, where he immediately threatens to make a perpetual by taking on g3 or h4. Up to this point I didn’t think I was significantly ahead, but after these knights were swapped, I was very optimistic.

15.cxd5 Qf5 16.e4!

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My opponent underestimated this move and now is faced with an uncomfortable decision. He can move the queen, at which point, he will no longer be able to access the queenside with it, or he can open the position, allowing my bishop to develop with tempo.

16…dxe3 17.Bxe3

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Personally, I thought Black would have been better off leaving the center untouched, as now, not only do I develop with tempo, Black must now make a concession on the queenside. It was this part of the game where I got to test my tactics. Trying to stay calm and not replicate an earlier failure, I got the job done with only a few forcing blows.

17…b6 18.Rfc1

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Another forcing move. If Black were to ignore me and play 18…Qxd5?, I can win by force with 19. Rxc7! threatening mate on a7, so Black if recaptures with 18…Kxc7 19. Qxa7+ Qb7 20. Rc1+ and I win the queen on the next move. Black can try 18… Qa8, but after a move like 19. Rbc1, are you really going to tell me Black can hold reasonably?

18…Rc8 19.Qb5 g5 20.Rb3

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Simply ignoring Black’s non-existent kingside ploys. My idea is to play Rb3-a3 next move, preparing Qb5-a6 with mate. Black will have to open up his king with …c7-c5, and it won’t be pretty.

20…gxh4 21.Ra3 c5 22.bxc5

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And all lines are winning here. In the game, Black tried the least ambitious defense thanks to his time troubles, but after 22…Qxd5 23. Rxa7! Kxa7 24. Qxb6+ Ka8 25. Rc3 and Black’s fate is inevitable. I thought Black would try 22… Rf7, but here too I saw that 23. Rxa7! is winning (not all the way till mate though) because 23… Rxa7 24. cxb6, and long story short, Black will not be able to cover all his weak light squares.

22…dxc5 23.Bf4+ Ka8 24.Qa4

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The fastest win. If tactics trainer on chess.com has taught me anything, it’s to understand the differences between moves. 24. Qh6 is not as clean because it allows 24… Qd7. My move takes away this option, and since Black doesn’t have …Rc8-c7 in the position thanks to my bishop, he must push the a-pawn…

24…a5 25.Qxa5+ 1-0

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Black resigns. If 25…bxa5 26. Rxa5+ Kb7 27. Rb1# and 25… Kb7 26. Qa7#. So that concludes my first ever adult tournament win! It took twelve and a half years to pull off, but to finally do it at the Marshall Chess Club of all places was extremely special.

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I’d like to take this moment to thank all of my supporters over at GoFundMe for helping make this trip possible, as well as all of you for following my various accomplishments here on Chess^Summit. Without your continued support, this trip would have never been possible!

While this is a memorable moment for my career, I’ll have little time to relax. Next week is the Cherry Blossom Classic in DC, and the following week is the Carolinas Classic in Charlotte. Hard to believe that in less than one month I’ll be playing for the US Junior Open!

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

I hadn’t planned to play a rated game until Saturday’s Pittsburgh Chess League finale, but when I got the email saying my Tuesday night class had been canceled, I quickly found myself playing an extra rated game against a local expert from Carnegie Mellon University at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.

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Usually when I post a game to chess^summit, I make sure the selection has some sort of specific instructional purpose. That being said, I can’t say that this game can be marginalized into such a general category. Even though he fell behind early, my opponent did really well to hold and even missed a few chances to equalize!

So if today has a theme, let it be complicated positions. Honestly I can’t remember winning a game this difficult (and almost blowing it too!).

Steincamp–Li (Pittsburgh Chess Club, 2016)

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

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

8…Bh3 9.e4 h5?!

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

1. This move doesn’t develop or get Black’s king safe.

Okay, this is obvious, but still a valid point. By postponing the fundamentals, Black risks falling behind positionally should the attack not pan out.

2. Black cannot push …f7-f5.

This is the main problem with this move. If the f-pawn is pushed, Black gives White an outpost on g5 for a knight or a bishop.

Knowing this, I opted for 10. f3, giving me the option of Rf1-f2 if needed. Furthermore, if Black tries …h5-h4, g3-g4 can now shut down the position.

10.f3 Bxg2 11.Kxg2 h4

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

12.g4

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

12…h3+!?

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

13.Kh1 f5

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

As I mentioned before, the g5 square becomes weak, yet it’s not so easy to exploit. At this point, I began to look at 14. gxf5, but I didn’t like it on account of a few reasons:

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1. The g-file opens

Even if this is tenable, I do feel like Black is getting the play he intended with his opening choice. With the g-file open, Black’s plan is to play … f5-f4 and queenside castle to bring his d8-rook over to g8. This is a lot of pressure, which brings me to my next point.

2. I’m not punishing Black!

Remember back when Black played 9… h5 when I said my opponent wasn’t following opening principles? 14. gxf5 not only fails to capitalize on this detail, it actually rewards Black for his play!

So this being said I played the anti-positional move

14.exf5?!

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Taking away from the center! But it turns out here that matters aren’t so trivial, Black’s king is still in the center, so opening the e-file with a future f3-f4 or d3-d4 push may be lethal. It was here that I noticed that Black’s weakness wasn’t the square on g5, it was the f5 square! By taking in this manner, the structure has changed; so a pawn on g4 helps support a knight on f5 and close the g-file. As my knight reroutes to f5, my bishop will find the right moment to go into g5 and cramp Black’s position.

And the best part? 14. exf5 was one of the computer’s best moves!

14…gxf5 15.Ng3 Nd4

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

Second Best:

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

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

Last Choice:

15. … fxg4 16.fxg4

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

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

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The concept of cousre is to break Black’s center, leaving his king out in the open. This all works if Black plays along: 16… Nxf5 17.Nxf5 Qxf5 18.f4

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Because of the discovery threats on the queen, castling for Black comes at the cost of a pawn. However, not all captures are forcing! I soon realized that my dystopic outlook on the position was not only incorrect, but potentially losing after Black’s amazing resource, 16… Nh6!

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This shifts the game from dynamic play to static play. With 16. gxf4? I’ve actually given up any chance of securing the f5 outpost and opened the g-file for Black’s rook. Trying to stop Black from castling with 17. Bg5 still looks grim after 17… Nhxf5 =+.

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And here it’s clear that Black is simply better with no real counterchances for White.

So I had to be less direct, yet still keeping the position in a dynamic state. With my next move, I highlighted that the f5 pawn is still weak.

16.Nce2

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My c3-knight was no longer planning on reaching d5 since Black can play …c7-c6 now, so trading it for Black’s best piece was appealing. Black took drastic measures with his next move, but he had several options to consider.

Scenario 1:

16… f4!

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After some post-game analysis, I’ve come to the opinion that this was the best shot to equalize. While it creates light squared weaknesses, it neutralizes my grip on f5 and g5, while blocking in my bishop on c1. I had seen this during the game, and thought I had found a tactical resource in 17. Nxd4 fxg3 18. Re1 g2+ 19. Kg1 0-0-0 20. Nf5

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But after some research with Stockfish, here it’s my play that’s burned out, and soon I will find that the g2 pawn is not protecting my king, it’s a protected passed pawn! All endgames favor Black here.

However, my opponent didn’t play this move when originally given the opportunity, so he must have thought the assessment was the same as before.

Scenario 2:

16… Nxe2 17.Qxe2 fxg4 18.fxg4

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With evasive play, Black has avoided the loss of a pawn, but even after 18…0-0-0, my opponent will find his lack of development and counterplay concerning. My knight will find the f5 square, and my bishop, g5. White’s position plays itself.

Scenario 3:

16… Nh6?

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

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The win still needs work, but you get the idea. A trade on d4 eliminates Black’s ability to pressure the long dark squared diagonal, and opening the e-file will favor me.

So my opponent, uncomfortable with his options, played a move I hadn’t considered.

16. … Nxf3?!

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The idea that opening the long diagonal will give Black strong play. However, this is the first innacuracy of the game! With this line my opponent forces me to seal in his bishop and open the e-file.

17.Rxf3 Qc6 18.Nd4!

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

18…exd4 19.Nxf5 Be5 20.Bg5! +=

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

20…Kd7

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

21.b4 b5!

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

22.cxb5 Qxb5?

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

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

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White’s plan would be to play Qe2-e4, trade queens, and go into an endgame with small winning chances. But with my next move, my opponent realized how active I had become.

23.Qb3

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

23…Rf8

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

24.Rc1

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

24…Qb7

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

25.Qa4+ Kc8

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

26.Qc6=

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

The computer gave me an option here that holds on to my grasp on the position with 26. Rf1 Rh7 27. Kg1 getting out of the pin 27… Nf6 28. Ng3 += with a slight edge.

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I do have to say, so far the game has been very complex, yet there have not been any missed tactics by either side. Coming from the position of strength, I have to say this is a testament to my opponent’s defensive resourcefulness to find holding moves each turn. However, with the queen trade on c6, I must win again – this time however with an advantage on the clock.

26. … Qxc6 27.Rxc6 Kd7 28.b5

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

28…Nh6

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

29.Bxh6 Rxh6 30.Nxd4

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I had to make sure that this trade worked, and I think again my opponent found the best resource in 30… Rhf6. Let’s quickly look through some of Black’s choices:

30… Rxf3 31. Nxf3 Rf6 32. Nxe5+ does not win a piece! Black can prolong the fight with 32… Ke6!

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…and White must stop the threat of mate on f1 with 33. Kg1, meaning that this is the position that must be understood. While Black may still be able to hold, I assessed that my advantage had increased since Black must give up the c7 and a7 pawns (the importance of a prophylactic measure like 28. b5!). Since I believed I had better winning chances, I was okay with this position.

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So simplification does not come to Black’s aid. Black can’t afford to be passive either since the backward 30… Rhh8? has a tactical problem. Can you find it?

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Here I had found 31. Rxf8 Rxf8 32. Rxc7+!! since now 32… Kxc7 is met with 33. Ne6+ with a winning minor piece endgame. Black can’t save himself with 32… Ke8, threatening mate on f1 and the knight on d4, because 33. Rc8+ forces a trade of rooks, and now I must find Nd4-f5, followed by d3-d4 to limit Black’s ability to attack my h2 pawn.

It’s clear that only White can be better, and of course I knew my opponent wouldn’t go for it. There was one last option I didn’t consider until after I had made my move in 30… Bxd4?! the concept being that my king is stuck on h1 and the constant threat of mate is a problem for me.

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While this may be a potential drawing resource in other positions, my b5 pawn makes c7 a permanent backwards pawn and target. So in the line 31. Rxf8 Re6 32. Rc1, Black cannot both be active and defend c7 as 32… Re3 33. Rf7+ still gives White reasonable winning chances.

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

30…Rhf6

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

31.Nf5 Rg6 32.Rc4 Rb8?

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

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

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And while Black remains a pawn down, he has reasonable drawing chances. Having a bishop in the center of the board alone should be enough compensation for the extra g-pawn, not to mention, my queenside stucture is also quite hideous.

33.Rxh3 Rxb5 34.Rh7+ Ke6 35.h3

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

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

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

38…a5 39.Rhe7+

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

39…Kd5 40.Rc4

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

40…Rf6!

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

41.h4 a4?

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

42.Ra7 a3 43.Ra5+ Ke6

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

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

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Missing the simplest win in 47. Ra8+ Kd7 48. Rac8, and Black must give up an exchange to stop the threat of Rc4-c7#. But at this point I was already playing my opponent’s clock – with 8 seconds left, he can never hold this, right?

47. … Rb2 48.Rxb2?? =

 

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Here I thought that my opponent could make no progress with the b2 pawn, but with it on a dark square, his bishop can hold it until the rook comes to the rescue. So as I promised, one blunder… moral of the story? Don’t look at your opponent’s clock! If I had just spent 1 more minute, I would have realized that 48. Rxb2 allows too much play and that 48. Rba4 is a lot simpler.

48. … axb2 49.Rb7 Be5 50.Ke4 Kc8 51.Rb5

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As my opponent correctly pointed out in our post-mortem, …Kc8-c7, followed by …Rf6-f8-b8, not only is the best mechanism but now I have to worry about losing the game entirely. White should be fine if I bring my king to c2, but my kingside pawns become weak and won’t be able to promote with the bishop on e5 guarding both g7 and h8. But I got lucky…

51…Rf7 52.Rxb2!

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

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

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Here my opponent resigned after realizing my rook is protected on b4, and my f-pawn is soon queening. Tough game and my opponent did well to hold, but he simply just made more mistakes than me.

As I said before this (really, really long) analysis, there really isn’t a particular theme I can sum up here. But there were some key points:

  1. Early attacks mean neglecting development. Sometimes the best defense is to find ways to punish your opponent for not following the fundamentals.
  2. Captures aren’t a truly forcing move. In this game, there were two points where a pawn takes pawn move could be ignored, and thus change the entire evaluation of the position.
  3. This brings me to my next point, always evaluate who is statically better each position. This constantly changed throughout the game, so it changed the focus for each player’s goal as well.
  4. Time trouble for your opponent is not time trouble for you! Say what you want, but I’m going to kick myself for this Rxb2 move more than I’ll pat myself on the back for winning. Next time I won’t be so lucky.

I thought this was a really interesting game, and I hope you did too. For me, winning (despite some errors) was a great way to rebound from the Pittsburgh Open and start thinking about my summer calendar – specifically the US Junior Open!

Beating the Chess Funk: Making an Agenda for Success

Well. It’s been another long week here at school, but in just a few hours I will finally be on my spring break and focus on my chess. Though I’m thrilled that the day-to-day stress of going to class and getting my homework done will be put on pause, there’s still the one big elephant in the room: my chess.

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The weather here in Pittsburgh has been very inconsistent, somehow reaching a balance of snow and 60-degree weather.

If I’m totally honest about it, I am not exactly pleased with my results and level of play over the last few weeks, especially considering the amount of time I’ve dedicated to my preparation. After an extremely disappointing third round last Saturday, I decided to do something I haven’t tried since the summer: stop.

With two exams this week, in addition to several other deadlines, I limited my chess to just fun excursions on chess.com and checking the results of the Aeroflot Open and Women’s World Championships. That’s right, no openings, tactics, endgames – nothing.

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Staying away from the chess board wasn’t easy, but I doing so meant I had time to draw for the first time in a very long time. Recognize some of these characters?

I’ve only tried this chess-free week once before, but it actually proved very helpful. Last summer, I had been putting in a lot of work into my play, but not really seeing any return in my results. After a 1.5/5 finish in the Open section of the Potomac Open, I decided to not study chess before my next tournament (aside from reviewing my games), the Washington International, which was scheduled for the following week. A risky decision, but the time gave me an opportunity to focus on reducing my overall stress and relax for my return to Rockville. In that tournament, I produced some of the best games I had played all summer, ending the season on a high note and a 40 point spurt.

That being said I don’t have a tournament tomorrow, so how will this work? What’s my goal? Well, next week is the Pittsburgh Open, and choosing to stay here on campus means I will have a lot of time to myself to improve on last Saturday’s performance at the Metropolitan Open. Given the level of competition, I’m going to need to review my main opening lines, work on my calculation, but most importantly, get more sleep! Getting back to top form won’t be easy, and it will take dedication, but this is the kind of work that will get me closer to winning the US Junior Open in June.

How to Not Win a State Championship!

For those of you who may know me well, one tournament that has always been just out of my reach is the Virginia Scholastic State Championships. Since the third grade, I’ve always been competitive in my section, with five top ten finishes to show for it. Though my scholastic days have been over for a long time, I’m still chasing at least one state championship title.

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After some rough years in middle school, I managed to claim two 8th place finishes in both my 10th and 11th-grade years. My senior year wouldn’t prove so easy, and thus the curse of not winning states continued.

This past weekend, I had my first real opportunity to become a state champion, as I was seated at board 1 going into the final round of the G/75 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships against defending champion Mark Eidemiller. I had scored 2.5/3, with two somewhat quiet wins, and a draw against a 2200 rated opponent. I shared my first round win last Tuesday:

My opponent had won each of his three games in a convincing manner, so I had to win to get the championship honors. Let’s see how it went:

Steincamp–Eidemiller (G/75 Pennsylvania State Championships, 2016)

1.c4 e6 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.Nf3 Be7 5.O-O O-O 6.b3 b6

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An interesting choice by my opponent, I thought he would opt for the much more active and popular 6…c5. While my opponent’s choice to change the move order added its own wrinkle to the game, I think he would choose a different line if we were to replay this game.

7.Bb2 Bb7 8.d4 c5

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I’m guessing the point of Black’s move order switch. In an effort to deviate from main line Catalan positions, Eidemiller happily takes the hanging pawns structure.

9.cxd5 exd5 10.dxc5 bxc5 11.Nc3

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One of the problems of playing with the hanging pawns is that now I have a lot of dynamic potential. This knight can reroute to a4 to put pressure on c5, opening up the half-open file for my rook to go to c1. Black is still somewhat undeveloped, and should he choose to move his c- or d-pawns forward, he will create weak squares for my pieces to land.

11…Re8 12.e3 Na6 13.Rc1 Nc7 14.Na4

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In this position, I already have a slight advantage, as Black hasn’t solved the problems with his pawn structure. Meanwhile, his knight on c7 is somewhat misplaced.

14…Ne4 15.Nd2 Ne6 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Qc2!

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The move my opponent must have missed! Even if Black can hold onto his pawns, he will stay chained to his weaknesses on c5 and e4 while my pieces spring to life. Already, I was very optimistic about my chances of winning.

17…Bf6 18.Bxf6 Qxf6 19.Nxc5

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As Dorfman would say – a static advantage handled correctly will always become a material advantage. Now up a pawn, I just need to limit Black’s play and this game is mine, right?

19…Rac8 20.Nxe4!

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Two pawns are better than one, right? Here Black can’t touch my queen since I have the intermezzo capture on f6 with a check and I will end up an exchange.

20…Qe5 21.Qb1!

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The queen is surprisingly well placed here! If Black isn’t careful and plays 21… f5?! 22. Nf6+ is strong since I can take the bishop on b7 while my queen points at the weak f5 pawn. So far I’m playing really well, absolutely crushing my 2300+ rated opponent.

21…Ba6 22.Rxc8 Rxc8 23.Rd1 f5 24.Nd6 Rd8 25.Rd5

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This is the only move that justifies my choice to play Ne4-d6 earlier. Now the f5 pawn is won with proper calculation!

25…Qc3 26.Nxf5 Bd3

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The critical position of the game. This is Black’s last chance to bring this game back to life, as the endgame is no longer tenable. However, the game having gone so smoothly for me, I was shocked to see that I had missed this line in my calculation and blundered. Here is my first regret – not relaxing and playing 27. Rxd8+ Nxd8 28. Qd1! and the pin on the bishop saves my knight on f5. Instead, I made a much less pragmatic decision.

27.Qxd3??

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This move actually works tactically, but because I didn’t see the idea when I took here, I give it the two question marks. I was actually so nervous/excited/scared, that I took the bishop, thinking I was just winning a piece! Unfortunately, chess isn’t so easy.

27…Qxd3 28.Rxd3 Rxd3

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My last chance to win the game, can you find it? White to move.

29.Be4

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This move certainly wasn’t it, but if I had only pushed the bishop one square further and played 29.Bd5! I would have won the game. 29… Rxd5 loses on account to Ne7+, and 29… Kf7 enters a lost ending after 30. Nd4.

Unfortunately, with this misstep, the computer evaluation dropped from +5.3 to +0.3, which was more than enough for my opponent to hold the draw. So what did we learn from this game?

The game isn’t over till the players shake hands.

I would be State Champion if I had taken 26…Bd3 more seriously and calculated out the whole line or just found the trade on d8. I’m perfectly capable of calculating both lines, but in that precise moment I was too excited to think straight, which leads me to my next point.

Don’t play quickly.

I had a couple regrets this game, and ultimately, there is no going back. Even if I was excited, a trip to the water fountain or a walk around the tournament hall could alone have saved the game and been the difference.

Relax.

There was no need for me to get excited because I hadn’t done anything yet! Even though the opening went well in my favor, that alone didn’t win the game. I just had to be patient.

I’m sure I’ll break the curse one day in the near future, but I am at least happy I finally made it to the top board heading into the final round of the tournament – already the farthest I’ve made it thus far.