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!

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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.

Five for Five: Winning with the Bishop Pair

This past Sunday marked a landmark win for me, as I managed to continue my perfect record in the Pittsburgh Chess League, getting my fifth win in five games. Getting a result not only meant helping my team, the Univesity of Pittsburgh, beat Carnegie Mellon University 3-1, but also meant extending my unbeaten streak in four-board team events to eleven games (8 wins, 3 draws).

I thought that this game was rather instructive, as the result was a direct reflection of the positional imbalances that occurred during the game, a pair of bishops against the pair of knights. Let’s have a look:

Steincamp – Puranik (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2016)

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 c6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg2 Bg4

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One of the advantages of playing …c7-c6 before …e7-e6 is that Black has the option of developing his light squared bishop to a more active square.

5.O-O Bxf3?

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It’s only move 5, but Black has already made a critical mistake! With this move, Black gives away the bishop pair for no compensation. While Black’s pawn chain from b7-d5 seems to blunt my bishop, attacking b7 will eventually force Black to concede the diagonal.

6.Bxf3 e5

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Black grabs the center here with this move, with the hopes that a space advantage will outweigh the bishop pair. However, I have a nice resource – can you find it?

7.d4!

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It was critical that I play this move first. 7. d3 is too passive, and 7. Qb3 is easily met by 7… Qb6. This move forces a transposition to one of two common openings:
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Should Black choose to capture on d4, we have a reversed Main Line Alapin where White has the Bishop pair and an advantage in any endgames. For example 7… exd4 8. Qxd4 dxc4 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Bg5 Nbd7 11. Rc1 and my activity will offer me fair winning chances.

7…e4

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My expert opponent chose this move, which transposes into a Main Line Reversed French, with a few critical distinctions. 1) My pawn is on e2, not e3, so I don’t have the familiar “bad French bishop”, 2) without his light squared bishop, my opponent will find it difficult to defend both b7 and d5, and 3) already behind in tempi, Black has still yet to castle, which makes f2-f3 powerful if timed correctly.

8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Bb4

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In an effort to stop f2-f3 with …Bxc3, Black offers his second bishop. While this solves a short term problem, Black surrenders a lot of attacking potential without his dark square control.

10.Qb3

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This move forces Black to give away his bishop, and when he does, I will recapture with the b-pawn for two reasons. 1) To allow my bishop to develop via a3, and 2) to make a half open file targeting Black’s weakness. If the b7 pawn moves or falls, Black’s position will crumble.

10…Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qb6 12.Ba3!

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This move stops Black from castling kingside. It was important to not trade queens on b6, as Black could recapture with the knight and then head to c4 with some counterplay.

12…dxc4?

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This move not only opens the position but drastically weakens Black’s e4 pawn. By opening the diagonal for my queen, the f7 pawn can also become a weakness in some lines. Black had to try 12… Qxb3 13. axb3 dxc4 14. bxc4 Nb6 but Black still has the long term disadvantage. During the game, I found 15. Bc5 to win the a-pawn, but my friend found 15. Rfb1 which is stronger, cleaning Black’s queenside majority.

13.Qxc4 Qa5 14.Qb3 b6 +-

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In my mind, this move gave me the win. This not only weakens the diagonal but also means Black’s king won’t be safe on the queenside. Knowing this, I deemed it appropriate to go on an all-out assault on the monarch.

15.f3!

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A thematic move in the French, and the winning move here. I calculated a bunch of winning lines here tactically, but I could have also just relied on pure intuition, for example:
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15… Nd5 is not Black’s best move, but it highlights the issues with his position the most after 16. fxe4 Ne3 17. Qxf7+ with mate soon to follow.
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This move only postpones Black’s problems as 16. c4 will pick up the pawn as 16… Qd2 fails to 17. Rad1 Qxe2 18. Rde1 Qd2 19. Rxe3+ Kd8 and Black is clearly much worse.
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15… exf3 with the idea that if 16. exf3 0-0-0 is a bold one, although it offers Black some chances to get play on the e-file. That’s why I had prepared 16. Bxf3 so 16… 0-0-0 fails to 17. Bxc6, and I still have a massive pawn center after e2-e4.

15…O-O-O

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Black just decided to give up the pawn for the sake of king safety, but my bishop’s view from g2 is quite nice.

16.fxe4 Qh5 17.Qc4

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Both attacking and defending! Black had two threats, …Nf6-g4 and …Qh5xe2. This move defends the e2 pawn, and any of Black’s mating threats are secondary to Qc4xc6+ with Ba3-d6# to follow.

17…Kb7 18.e5

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Highlighting the inevitable problem Black would face when he chose …e5-e4. At some point this diagonal would open, and without any light square protection, Black is doomed. My opponent sacrificed a piece, but that failed to parry my plans.

18…Nxe5 19.dxe5 Nd5 20.Bxd5 Rxd5 21.Bd6

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Cutting off the rook with two ideas, e2-e4 to expose f7 or Ra1-d1, simply to trade the rooks and go into a won ending.

21…Re8 22.e4 1-0

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Black resigned, seeing that 22… b5 23. Rab1 will force Black to give up the rook or conceded checkmate.

While I had a lot of ideas this game, the battle only lasted 22 moves! That is the power of the pair of bishops – find ways to open the position and create static weaknesses, and at some point, your opponent will blunder under pressure.

I won’t have another tournament game until February 13th, at the Pennsylvania G/75 State Chess Championships, but this game is definitely an encouraging sign concerning the direction of my preparation.

Officially Candidate Master!

That’s right – I’m officially a Candidate Master! After some delay, I found out I earned my fifth CM norm at the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, which means I was able to make my 2015 goal just as the clock chimed in a new year. With 83 points separating me from becoming a National Master, I’ll be looking forward to see how I hold up in both the Boston Chess Congress and the Liberty Bell Open.

For today’s video, I wanted to share my round 3 match against Texas Tech where I was paired with an unrated player. My opponent played well (~1600 in my estimation), but it was the small positional decisions that cost him the game. As you watch this video, take note of how White made positional concessions to avoid tactical inconveniences as the game progressed.

Starting the New Year: Sacrifices and Strategy

Happy New Year! To start the new year, I wanted to share my best game from the 2015 Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships last week. In what was a close match with Webster C, the University of Pittsburgh was able to keep it close, only falling 2.5-1.5. My board, luckily enough, was the decisive point for Pitt.

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My round 2 win on board 4 won the top upset prize for the round and recognition on the United States Chess Federation website!

My overall 4.5/6 (3 wins, 3 draws, no losses) was enough to gain back nearly all of the rating points I’d lost since Thanksgiving (12) and puts me on the right track going into the Boston Chess Congress this weekend, and the Liberty Bell Open the following week. Playing more Open sections like the National Chess Congress will be tough, but I’m really excited to see how far I’ve come since November.

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Round 1: University of Pittsburgh v Lindenwood B (4-0)

That being said, with tournaments each weekend for the next two weeks, I’ve decided I want to start the New Year with videos, and then begin releasing articles after the Liberty Bell Open. My goal is a video every Tuesday and Friday, a total of two a week, and then revert to the usual Tuesday-Friday-Sunday schedule we’re all used to. That being said, here’s the first chess^summit video of 2016!

Closing Out 2015: Ending on a High Note

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

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

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

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

2. Win the Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships

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

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

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

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

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

4…Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7

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

6.d3 d6 7.e3

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

7…O-O 8.Nge2 Qe8 9.Nd5

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

9…Nxd5 10.cxd5 Nd8 11.O-O Qg6 12.f4

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

12…Nf7 13.Qc2 Bd8 +=

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

14.e4 Nh6 15.Qc3!

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

15…Qh5 16.fxe5!

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

16…dxe5 17.Bxh6

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

17…Qxh6 18.Rae1 fxe4 19.Rxf8+

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

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

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

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

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

26…Qe8 27.Nf5

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

27…Bxf5 28.Rxf5 +=

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

28…Qe7 29.Bh3 Re8 30.b4

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

30…Qd6 31.Rf1

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

31…h6?? +-

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

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

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

34…Qe7 35.Qg6 Qe8 36.Rxf6!!

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

36…Qxg6 37.Rxf8+ 1-0

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

3. Beat a Titled Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Become a National Master

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

Other Achievements

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward, 2016

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

1) Win the 2016 US Junior Open in June

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

2) Become National Master

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

3) Win a tournament – any tournament!

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

4) Play at least 85 tournament games in 2016

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

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

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

Have a happy holidays!