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.

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A Call from Home – Games from the MLWGS Green Dragons

As some of you may know, I take a lot of pride in what my high school chess team was able to achieve in the three years I served as team captain and coach, which is why I’m extremely happy to have the opportunity to analyze some of their games from this season today!

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In three years, the MLWGS Green Dragons won several State League Championships, the 2014 U1200 National High School Chess Championships, and placed 5th in the most recent U1600 National High School Chess Championships last April.

One aspect of the MLWGS team that makes it unique from other schools in Virginia is that during practice, the players play rated games against each other to improve their openings and tactical knowledge. While its extremely difficult to gain points in these once-a-week ladders, it gives the players a lot of tournament experience and confidence when they play in competitive events. For the first game today, we will analyze a rated game between Vishnu Pulavarthi and Trey Johnson.

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Trey Johnson (left) has been on fire all summer, gaining nearly 300 rating points since last May, while Vishnu Pulavarthi (center), after having taken the summer off, hopes to continue the success he had at the end of last school year.

Pulavarthi – Johnson (MLWGS Rated Games, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3

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Vishnu opts for the anti-Benoni Structure, planning to meet cxd4 with either Qxd4 or Nxd4 to reach a Maroczy structure. Such positions are usually considered extremely playable for White, so Black has to pose problems to get a good game.

4…d5

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A popular opening choice, but not one completely backed by the MegaDatabase and recent statistics. Most games in this line typically lend themselves to a White win or a draw, as the simplifications in the center usually don’t give Black much to work with dynamically. The second most common move is to take on d4, but I would like to suggest an alternative, 4… b6, hoping to reach a Reti structure for Black where development is simple. Black will fianchetto on both sides and enjoy a stable position.

5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 O-O 7.Bd3

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A sign of great maturity to not break the tension in the center, but the e2 square is the better square for the bishop, as the queen on d1 can enter the fight with ease. One idea White has is to take on c5 in the future, using the c4 pawn, c3 knight, and the queen to put pressure on d5. By misplacing the bishop on d3, White removes an idea from his tactical arsenal.

7…Nc6 8.Ne5

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Perhaps inspired from Catalan positions, as the idea is that if Black takes the knight, dxe5 will remove a defender of the d5 pawn. I think here it becomes apparent that the bishop on d3 is misplaced, as having the queen active would have allowed for a sharper line, 8. dxc5, where the natural 8… Bxc5 leaves d5 exposed. Black’s best move is 8… h6, where after 9. Bxf6 Bxf6, the d3 bishop stops White from winning Black’s central pawn.

8…cxd4

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8… Nb4 looks like a decent move, threatening to win the bishop pair, but this would just force the bishop on to a much better square, leaving Black with no clear plan. With this move, Black punishes White for not having castled, and stands better.

9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.exd4 Ba6

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A great move! The bishop weakens the structure of the queenside, and Trey plans to employ an idea from the QGD Cambridge Springs, Qa5 and Bb4! Another move also worthy of consideration was 10… Rb8, with the idea of taking on c4 and pushing c6-c5, further exposing the king.

11.b3 Bb4 12.Qc2 Qa5 13.Bd2

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Here White is resigned to passivity, but how to proceed? After Trey’s move, …Nf6-e4, simplifications to the endgame favor White since the king is already centralized. Unfortunately, the right motif here involves a sacrifice that requires precise calculation. See if you can find it!

13…Ne4??

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This move goes from completely winning to losing. Black had to find 13… e5!!, after which 14. dxe5 dxc4! and White’s king is completely exposed. If white tries to take on c4, the e5 pawn hangs to the queen with check, and taking on f6 with 15. exf6 loses to 15… cxd3 and White’s queen is trapped behind its own fortress. If Black chooses to castle instead of taking the e5 pawn, e5-e4 is simply crushing as White suffocates in his own lack of space.

14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Bxe4 Bxd2+ 16.Qxd2 Qxd2+ 17.Kxd2 Rad8

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Perhaps Trey saw up to here and thought he was better, but his bishop’s lack of squares and the fact he is down a pawn is enough for him to be worse. The winning plan is to play Kc3 and protect d4 so Black is stuck behind his c6 and e6 pawns. Black gets little activity and is bound to his c6 pawn.

18.Bxc6?

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A big mistake as White trades his strong point for Black’s biggest weakness. Black now gets an opportunity to double his rooks on the d-file and save the game. In the endgame, activity matters much more than material, and here Vishnu should have realized that the c6-pawn will always be weak, so this is not the opportune moment to grab it. 18. Kc3 would have been enough, followed by activating the rooks to the third rank via rook lift.

18…Rxd4+ 19.Kc3 Rfd8

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White now sees the power of Black’s activity. White should bring a rook to e1 and cover Black’s entry point on d2.

20.Bb5?

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White makes a mis-step here, trading his only active piece for Black’s worst piece. From c6, the bishop stops the a6 bishop from entering the action, but also stops Rd4-d2 because of the Bc6-d5 interference tactic. By trading bishops and doubling pawns, the queenside pawn majority will be slightly more difficult to convert.

20…Bxb5 21.cxb5 R4d5 22.a4 Rc8+ 23.Kb4 Kf8 24.Rac1 Rb8 25.Rc5 a5+?

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Black missed the opportunity to complicate the game, and in doing so loses the game. Trying to count on a cheap tactical shot, Black gives White a protected passed b-pawn, which is more than decisive. Much better would have been to play 25… Rd2 26. Rf1 g6 and if White tries to infiltrate with 27. Ka5, 27… Rb2 exposes White’s weaknesses (note that 27. Rc7 a6 28. Rc5 Ke7 also puts Black in a better position than in the game). White will have to surrender kingside pawns to activate the rook, giving Black reasonable chances to play for a win.

26.Kc4 Ke7?

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In endgames where you have fewer pawns, you generally don’t want to trade pieces, as with each trade, the extra pawns become more valuable. Here Black cements his fate by trying to bring out the king.

27.Rxd5 exd5+ 28.Kxd5 Kd7 29.Rc1 Rb6 30.Kc5 Kc7 31.b4 axb4 32.Kxb4+ Kb7 33.Rd1 Rf6 34.f3 Rf4+ 35.Ka5 Under 5 minutes, White stop notating, and went on to win the game. 1-0

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White has a clear winning endgame, as Black can never stop the two passed pawns. White will bring the rook to the seventh, confining the black king to the back rank, and then push his pawns to win the game.

A very back-and-forth game, as both sides had winning opportunities in each phase of the game. Considering that both players at the time were rated under 1100, I would say that both players played a little bit better than their level. What can we take away from this match?

  1. Putting your pieces on the right squares is crucial. In this game, White missed a lot of opportunities because the bishop was on d3, and not on e2.
  2. Don’t oversimplify. Trey cost himself a win when he put his knight on d4, offering White a pawn up endgame for no compensation. Just because its easier to calculate, doesn’t mean its better for you.
  3. Be active in the endgame. I think this game demonstrated the extremes of this before Black fell apart in the endgame. White took a really simple position and made it difficult by not developing his rooks and trading the bishop, his only developed piece.
  4. Lastly, tricks are for kids! I can’t stress this enough. Trey was practically lost when he played 25… a5?, but this cheap trick (which Vishnu saw immediately) cost him the key tempo to put his rook on d2, and really complicate the matter. Chances are, if the trick is simple and there is an easy way out, its not a move worth playing.

Wow, the most instructive analysis game so far, and we haven’t even gotten to the second game!

Our next game features the current MLWGS Chess Team Captain, and reigning MLWGS Chess Champion, Jeffrey Song. I’ve worked with Jeffrey since he joined the team as a freshman, and in recent months, his rating has skyrocketed, going from the low 1300s to the mid-1500s. As always, with every major rating jump comes a big adjustment to survive at the next level. Here’s a game from the high school junior from a tournament this past weekend.

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Jeffrey Song (right) playing Grandmaster Sergey Erenburg (left) in a MLWGS simul in December 2014.

Song – Phillips (Kemps Landing Scholastic and Quads, 2015)

1.f4

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Being a fan of the Dutch, Jeffrey employs the Bird’s Opening as White. Considered unsound by top grandmasters, Jeffrey uses this opening to reach unfamiliar positions from move 1. While the Bird’s is not effective at the top level, for a G/60 game among ~1500 rated players, this is a good opening choice.

1…d6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d3 g6 4.e4

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By choosing to employ this structure, Jeffrey will not use a Stonewall, but rather an opening that resembles the Closed Sicilian. But if this is the desired position, then is makes much more sense to play 3. Nc3 g6 4. e4 because now White can meet Black’s Nb8-c6 with Bf1-b5, getting a true Grand Prix set-up. Here the bishop is not ideally placed, and should it be fianchettoed on g2, Black can play c7-c6 and e5 later to reach a less flexible position for White.

4…Nc6 5.Be2 Bg7 6.O-O O-O 7.Qe1

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White tries to go in for the attack here, but his pieces aren’t primed to do so. White’s plan is if Black pushes e7-e5, he will counter with f4-f5, shutting down the position with a massive attack on the kingside to follow. Unfortunately, with Black’s decision to play Nb8-c6 instead of d7, he loses the ability to play c5 and control the d4 square.

7…Bd7?!

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The bishop doesn’t really serve a purpose here on d7, and is much better served on g4. While this move wastes a tempo for Black, its hard to say what the long term plan should have been. My best guess is that since the position resembles a “flipped” Queen’s Indian, Bc8-g4 followed by e7-e6 can’t be too bad, as Black can aim for a d6-d5 push at the right moment, or engineer a double-edged f7-f5 break. Either way, without a white pawn on d4, this game is going to be slow paced compared to a King’s Indian if handled correctly.

8.Qh4 Bg4 9.c3 Qd7

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Connecting the rooks, but not truly changing the position. …e7-e6 would have been more effective, with the idea of moving the f6-knight and offering the queen trade. A sample line would go like 9… e6 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 Nd7 12. Qg3 f5 and Black has a game, if 12. Ng5 is played to threaten checkmate, 12… h6 13. Nf3 Qxh4 14. Nxh4 Kh7, with the same idea of pushing for f5. Black has to solidify quickly to make up for lost time.

10.h3 Bxf3 11.Rxf3 e6 12.g4 b5

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A well intended positional move as Black’s goal is to attack the hook on c3. Unfortunately, there isn’t much venom here as White’s pawn storm on the kingside is much more critical. I’ve been reading “100 Chess Master Trade Secrets” by Andrew Soltis lately, and here I would like to apply his 6th ‘priyome’ (concept) to this position. Here Black faces the problem that if he does nothing, White will use his bishop pair and pawns to annihilate the kingside and win the game. Black doesn’t really have counter-attacking chances in this position as we see b7-b5 (which, by the way is another priyome, just much less effective here) doesn’t change the nature of the position. One option black does have though, is to play the move 12… d5. If White is compliant and plays 13. e5, a pawn thrust like f4-f5 becomes much more difficult to execute (in this position, we see that when the knight retreats, it would have been much more convenient to have the queen on d8 as the queen trade would be offered). If White chooses to be aggressive and play an immediate 13. f5, 13… dxe4 wins a pawn and busts open the center. Soltis’ 6th priyome states that when the opponent is pushing pawns so that he has pawns on e4, f4, and g4 (or e5, f5 and g5 if its the Black player), the first option to consider is if …d5 is playable, as it locks up the position.

13.Be3 Qe7

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Realizing that the queen needed to be on the same diagonal as the queen, Black plays this move at the cost of weakening his b5 pawn. This move isn’t bad if Black can hold on to the b-pawn, and can immediately move the f6 knight to offer the queen trade, and play f7-f5. While Black has lost a lot of time, the slow nature of the position has stopped him from falling completely off the grid. b5-b4 isn’t that helpful, because taking the pawn on c3 to create a weakness develops the knight on b1.

14.Nd2 a5 15.f5!

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Good technique! Even though Qh4 was premature, White waited to get the rest of his pieces out to time this push at the right moment. Black needed to be able to play …f7-f5 to hope for equality, and without this option now stands worse in the position. While this moves seems to be weakening the e5 square, White can always play d3-d4 later and reclaim it.

15…exf5 16.gxf5 Ne5 17.Rg3 Qd8 18.Bg5 c5

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Probably the best practical chance, but now Black can see the penalty for moving the bishop twice and the queen three times in the opening. While White’s pawn storm was aggressive, the game really came down to better piece play and maneuvering.

19.Nf3 Ned7 20.d4 cxd4 21.Bxb5?!

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After playing a strong game of chess, White begins to lost the thread of the game. There really wasn’t a need to take the b5 pawn when cxd4 followed by e4-e5 was simple enough. Black gets a tempo back with this move … Qb6, getting out of the pin and preparing to expose the king.

21…Qb6 22.Nxd4 Nh5 23.fxg6??

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White loses all of the advantage, and is actually losing here! If Black plays 23… fxg6, the f8 rook springs to life and the White king is truly exposed. With White’s pieces all over the board from having gone after the b5 pawn, it becomes much more difficult to regroup and protect the kingside.

23…Bxd4+ 24.cxd4 Qxd4+?

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Going from an unclear or slightly better position to a completely losing one. After White’s next move, its Black that has the exposed king, and the knight on h5 will fall as well.

25.Be3 1-0

This is a difficult game to assess because after White’s preparation panned out, Jeffrey was not the most effective in the conversion process, nearly costing himself a win. Black on the other hand, played passively for most of the game, but was at least willing to take some chances before the game was over. Considering the game was at a much higher level than the last one, the takeaways are also a little more complex:

  1. Don’t just count on opening preparation! This game felt like a cookie-cutter attack gone wrong, as White lost objectivity when he took on b5, opening the game back up. Furthermore, with Black opening with 1… d6, White missed some opportunities to transpose into more challenging lines by playing quickly.
  2. Don’t waste tempi. Black moved the same pieces multiple times throughout the game, costing him an opportunity to play for the initiative out of the opening. I can commiserate with Black having to play against an unfamiliar opening and not knowing what to do, but playing a few tempi down is always going to be difficult.
  3. The …d5 ‘priyome’ against the kingside pawn storm is definitely an advanced idea that was much needed in this game for Black to stay competitive. If you’re interested in other such positional concepts, I highly recommend Soltis’ book. With the exception of the quizzes, this book is easy to read without a chess board, and really instructive!
  4. The game is over when the opponent is checkmated, runs out of time, resigns, or agrees to a draw. I’m definitely not the one to be saying this as I’ve fallen prey to late mistakes in winning positions, but White needed to see this game out before making artificial decisions. Taking on b5 and relieving the tension on the kingside were both moments that let Black into the game, really showing how it takes only one mistake to lose a game – even at this level.

These were some great games, and I hope to see more next week for my next game analysis! Make sure to send your games to chess.summit@gmail.com, and if you’re lucky, I’ll choose your game to be featured next week.

Better than the Rest – Hikaru Nakamura, the Original American Superhero

The best chess player in the world right now is Hikaru Nakamura. Forget the household names – Carlsen, Anand, Caruana, and Kramnik, chess is changing, and so are the best players.

Hikaru has been dubbed “player of the year” for 2015. Can he make a push for the crown?

But why isn’t the American capturing any real attention when it comes to discussions of the next World Champion? Nakamura has been called the “Player of the Year” by many, claiming either 1st or 2nd in each event he’s played in this year (excluding the World Cup). While top performances in the FIDE Grand Prix, Gibraltar, Millionaire Chess, and the Grand Chess Tour have propelled Nakamura to the top, his success has yet to lend itself to the one result he wants most: a win over Magnus Carlsen.

In classical games, Magnus dominates Hikaru 11-0 with 18 draws. However, with Carlsen’s recent form, it might just be a matter of time before the American captures his first win.

While this one fact separates players like Fabiano Caruana and Vaseline Topalov from Nakamura, it doesn’t detract from his quality and consistency. Let’s look at some games.

Nakamura – Sevian (Millionaire Chess, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nc3 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.O-O Be7 8.Rb1

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Here Nakamura decides against playing the common Grandmaster move 8. a3 preparing to launch the b-pawn to b4, gaining space. With this move, Nakamura plans to play b4 directly, the idea being to push to b4-b5 and attack the c6 knight. If Sevian takes this pawn, he must concede his central e5 pawn, as the c6 knight is the sole protector. Furthermore, should Sevian stop this move with …a7-a5 the b5 square becomes weak, and White can play d2-d3, Bc1-e3, followed by trading on b6 to weaken the outpost for his c3 knight.

8…O-O 9.b4 e4

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Black decided that he might as well jettison this pawn to gain tempi for development. This is a temporary pawn sacrifice as the b4 pawn is weak. After 10. Nxe4 Bf5, the position looks strong for Black, but Sevian had to concede his central pawns for this position, which gives Nakamura a slight structural advantage should the game liquidate to an endgame.

10.Nxe4 Bf5 11.Qc2 Bxb4 12.a3 Bd6 13.e3

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An awkward looking move by Nakamura, but the right decision. It was important to not play 13. d3? as 13… Bxe4 14. dxe4 Re8 is better for Black as White’s own central pawns blocks his queen from entering the game. 13. e3 serves helps White play d2-d4 controlling the center, but I think Nakamura played this move knowing he wanted to play f2-f4, so this move does a nice job of defending the a7-g1 diagonal as a prophylactic measure.

13…h6 14.Nh4 Bh7 15.f4

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Black’s development advantage from playing 9… e4 has dissipated, and now once Nakamura resolves the pin on the knight with f4-f5 and plays Bb2, White’s pieces will be much more active than Black’s.

15…Be7 16.f5!

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A fantastic move! Sevian’s last move 15… Be7 was made to attack the h4 knight, so I wonder if he saw Hikaru’s thrust to f5 as a legitimate possibility. 16… Bxh4 is not advisable, because 17. gxh4 Qxh4 18. Rf4 gains tempo on the queen while threatening f5-f6, creating weaknesses in Black’s kingside, which justifies the pawn sacrifice. Even if Black doesn’t take on h4, the threat of f5-f6 will force Black to make a concession on the kingside.

16…Ne5 17.Bb2!

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No rush to infiltrate since White’s development is not completed. The d3 square offers not counterplay for Black, as after 17… Nd3 18 Bd4 wins a piece and 17… Qd3 18. Qxc7 Nc6 19. Qf4 should give Black headaches.

17…f6

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A sad concession. Black locks down the a1-h8 diagonal at the price of blocking in his e7 bishop and making any g7-g6 break impossible. Black now has a lot of light square weaknesses on the kingside, and will struggle to stay in the game.

18.a4

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These next few moves are telling as to how white picks up the win. a3-a4 does two things. First, it allows the b2 bishop to move without hanging the a3 pawn. But perhaps more importantly, this is a minority attack – if White can play a4-a5 and open up the b-file, his rook on b1 is perfectly placed to dominate the queenside. This is really instructive, as Nakamura wisely decides to shut down both sides of the board for Black before trying to force his way to victory.

18…Nec4 19.Bd4 a5

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I’m no grandmaster, but this move can’t help Black. When White decides that he wants to use the g2-bishop to target b7, Black would really like to be able to play c7-c6, and thats not possible now considering how loose the knight will be, making it significant a liability for Black. Looking around the board, it’s hard to find other concessions for Black. Sevian cannot play to reroute his h7 bishop to g8 because of the weak g6 square, and his knight on c4 is stuck, stopping the move a4-a5.

20.Nc5 Bxc5 21.Bxc5 Rf7 22.Bxb6

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Nakamura cashes in his bishop pair advantage for a pawn and a structural advantage. While some might prefer to keep the bishop pair, its important to note that here after this trade on b6, White’s pieces that are left on the board are simply better than Black’s.

22…Nxb6 23.Bxb7 Rb8 24.Bc6 Qd6 25.Rf4 +-

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Hikaru was destined to play this move when he pushed f4-f5 nine moves ago, since then, Black’s position has completely fallen apart, and White’s timing for an attack couldn’t be better.

25…Kh8 26.Rd4 Qa3 27.Qc3

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White decided that the queen trade was acceptable given that he could dominate the d-file. The b6 knight and h7 bishop can’t move so this trade helps White simplify the victory.

27…Qxc3 28.dxc3 Re7 29.Rbd1!

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If I were White, I would have waited a move and played 29. e4, keeping a grip on the center – but that’s because I’m not Nakamura! Here Hikaru left a trap for Sevian because if 29… Rxe3 30. Kf2! Black is busted, no matter where the rook goes. If 30… Rxc3, 31. Ng6+ wins as 31… Bxg6 32. fxg6, as Black’s pieces aren’t coordinated to stop White’s back rank threats. If Black retreats with 30… Re5/e7 31. Rd8+ Rxd8 32. Rxd8+ Bg8 33. Ng6+, and Black is reminded once again that the bishop is grounded on h7.

29…Rf7 30.c4 Rff8 31.c5 Nc8

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White disconnects Black’s rooks before going in for the kill. Masterful chess from the current US Chess Champion.

32.Rd7 Na7 33.Bg2 Rbc8 34.Ng6+ Bxg6 35.fxg6 1-0

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Just a pawn down, Black resigns as White’s pieces are just too suffocating. The a7 knight is immobile, and Black’s rooks are stuck on the back rank defending the king. White’s plan is to bring his d1 rook to the 7th rank and meet the defensive …Rg8 with Bg2-d5, winning the g7 pawn.

A truly inspiring performance from Nakamura, as he took a slight advantage over the world’s youngest grandmaster and made the conversion seem effortless. Hikaru’s energetic play covers all openings, 1. e4, 1. d4, and the English, making him impossible to prepare for. For the second game today, I was tempted to put in Nakamura’s win over Anand from the recent Sinquefield Cup, as he left a powerful impression on me during his interview about older players, specifically Vishy:

Vishy is of course a quite bit older than most other players so unfortunately for him he made a mistake at the critical moment…

–Hikaru Nakamura after Round 1 of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup

This is something which I think Kramnik is struggling through too – its just harder to compete on the highest levels as an older player. If this alone is a reason for why they make mistakes, then younger players do have some sort of stamina advantage. While that game was interesting, it was mostly equal until Anand played f7-f5 too early and fell apart in the endgame, so it wasn’t the most exciting.

With his second place finish in the 2015 FIDE Grand Prix, Nakamura has secured his spot in the Candidates Tournament in March among players like Vishy Anand, Fabiano Caruana, Sergey Karjakin, and Peter Svidler.

With Wesley So’s recent switch to the United States, its not too hard to imagine seeing So v. Nakamura becoming a regular rivalry to determine the best American player. That being said, the most exciting game between them may have already happened at this summer’s Sinqufield Cup. Where Nakamura beat So in a dynamic King’s Indian. With So’s incredible victory against Ding Liren at the Bilbao Chess Masters earlier this week in the same line of the King’s Indian, I thought that gave this game the nod.

So – Nakamura (Sinquefield Cup, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.f3 f5 11.Be3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.Nd3

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This is all theory, but in his more recent game against Ding Liren, So chose 13. Rc1 with the idea of placing the rook on the c-file before pushing with c4-c5.

13…Ng6 14.c5 Nf6 15.Rc1 Rf7 16.Kh1 h5 17.cxd6 cxd6 18.Nb5 a6 19.Na3 b5

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The c6 square becomes weak, but it’s important to remember, this is not a positional game! In this race position, both sides will be pressing for the advantage so this move makes it difficult for the a3 knight to get back in the game. Furthermore, the f7-rook offers enough protection as it covers the entire 7th rank.

20.Rc6 g4 21.Qc2 Qf8

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Still mostly thematic play here, but it’s important to notice that Nakamura is not too worried about So’s control over the c-file. Because the rook on c6 has no concrete threats, Black has time to continue optimizing his army for a kingside plunge.

22.Rc1 Bd7 23.Rc7 Bh6

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Still improving his pieces, Nakamura puts his dark squared bishop on the best square. Now, should the f4 pawn be traded, the h6 bishop is mobile and black would stand better. While Black hasn’t taken any attacking approach yet, its starting to become apparent that White has achieved little with his c-file infiltration.

24.Be1 h4

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Now the idea of …Bh6 seems much more clear! If White does nothing, Hikaru will push …h4-h3 breaking the kingside and planning g4-g3, busting open the c1-h6 diagonal. White’s only chance is to take the bait on g4.

25.fxg4 f3!!

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In this line, Black still gets the diagonal, but its not the rook that he wants. With Wesley’s bishop on e1, his king is not adequately protected as his two bishops act as a wall, stopping white’s rook and queen from defending. This move seizes the most opportune moment to attack and breaks the center with Black’s next move.

26.gxf3 Nxe4

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Its important to note that Black did not take the rook on c1, as the chronic dark square weaknesses make the h6 bishop vastly superior. The knight on e4 is toxic since 27. fxe4?? loses immediately to 27… Rf1+ 28. Bxf1 Qxf1#

27.Rd1

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White decides that he wants to keep the rook to help defend the king, but this move really shows that So has absolutely no counterplay to Black’s attack. Up a pawn, Wesley is paralyzed by the passivity of his own army.

27…Rxf3!

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Offering White a choice between being up the exchange on f3, or winning a piece on d7. Wesley better choose one of them, but 28. Bxf3 is playing with fire, as 28… Qxf3+ 29. Qg2 Bxg4 leaves the king open and Black with few chances.

28.Rxd7 Rf1+ 29.Kg2 Be3

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Hikaru is rewarded for not being materialistic earlier in the game. From e3, the dark squared bishop sets up the threat of …Rg1+ followed by …Ng5#

30.Bg3 hxg3

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Offering Wesley more material, but the game is already over. Perhaps Nakamura was jealous of Wei Yi’s “Immortal Game” from earlier this year.

31.Rxf1 Nh4+ 32.Kh3 Qh6

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Despite being down a full rook, Hikaru continues to ask Wesley how he plans to protect his king. Just as it seemed when Black played 25… f3, the e2 bishop blocks out the queen, and the rook on c7 and knight on a3 seem too distant to really be part of the fight.

33.g5

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A last gasp for the king on h3. Unfortunately this isn’t Navara–Wojtaszek (Biel, 2015), and a king march is not the winning idea.

33…Nxg5+ 34.Kg4 Nhf3 35.Nf2

White offers his knight so his queen can finally have access to squares (g6 and h7). However, its too little, too late.
White offers his knight so his queen can finally have access to squares (g6 and h7). However, its too little, too late.

35…Qh4+ 36.Kf5 Rf8+ 37.Kg6 Rf6+ 38.Kxf6 Ne4+ 39.Kg6 Qg5# 0-1

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In a sporting manner, So lets Nakamura complete the tactic, reaching checkmate down two whole rooks. What a game!

I’ve been really inspired by Hikaru’s play as of late, and even though he’s had some disappointing games, he has been the most consistent players this calendar year. Only one hurdle remains for the American – the Word Championship. He’ll have to beat Magnus, not just in one sitting, but an entire match. With the way he’s been playing as of late, I would put my bet on him to get the job done.

More from Maciek, Simplifications and Initiative

It’s Tuesday, which means more game analysis from fans of the blog! If you want to have your games analyzed by me on the blog, email your game PGNs to chess.summit@gmail.com, and check back the following Tuesday to see if I chose your game for my post!

For today’s post, we have two more games from chess^summit fan Maciek Kowalski, who sent in games from this past World Open.

Lackner – Kowalski (World Open, 2015)

1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 g6 3.d4 Bg7

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In this position, I would like to suggest the move 4. Nc3. Because Black has neglected to develop the g8 knight, White has a much greater stake in the center, which is why it might be best to go for a bind kind of position. If 4… cxd4 5. Nxd4, and White just needs to play e2-e4 and Be3 to set-up a Maroczy Bind. If Black had a knight on f6, he could meet 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 with 5…d5!, busting open the bind structure. Based on how White played the opening, this positional approach may suit him more than a Benoni set-up.

4.d5 d6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Bg5 e6 7.e4 exd5 8.exd5

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A theoretical mistake. Because of the tactical nature of the Benoni, White needs to be able to create chances in the center to prove that his hyper extension in the center is not a weakness. A thematic idea for White in these positions is to capture cxd5 with the goal of pushing e4-e5, breaking Black’s center. This ties in with White’s bishop on g5, so this threat of pushing the pawn also puts a lot of pressure on the f6 knight. By taking with the e-pawn, White not only rids himself of this resource, but gives Black the e-file.

8…O-O 9.Be2 Bg4 10.h3?

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While Black’s development thus far has been standard, White falls behind with this move. The bishop on g4 isn’t really putting pressure on f3 because White’s e2 bishop does a nice job of defending, so a move like h2-h3 forces Black to do what he wants to do: trade the light squared bishop. In the Benoni, Black generally wants to put his knight on d7, so the light squares in the position are extremely limited. After black trades his e-pawn on d5, he typically plays …Bc8-g4 to trade it off for the f3 knight (which supports a e4-e5 thrust when there is a pawn on e4). Better would have been to play 10. 0-0 and complete development before kicking the g4 bishop.

10…Bxf3 11.Bxf3 Re8+ 12.Be2 Nbd7 13.O-O Ne5 14.Rc1 Qb6?!

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Up till now, Black has played really well, but with this move Black loses the initiative. The Benoni is a dynamic opening, where Black aims to expand on the queenside as White pushes a central advantage. Seeing as Black has already secured the center, the much more practical plan would be go for a7-a6, Ra8-b8, and b7-b5. I think here Black was worried about the threat of Nc3-e4, trading off minor pieces, but then he shouldn’t have played …Nd7-e5 last move.

15.Qd2 Re7 16.f4 Ned7 17.f5??

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A strategic blunder which I actually covered in my post, “Identifying Weak Squares and Creating Static Advantages”. By playing f4-f5, White hopes to open the kingside, with the added benefit of being able to play Bh6. However, by opting for this plan, White takes drastic measures by giving up the e5 square. If Black can use this outpost correctly, it will be hard for White to create any weaknesses.

To see the article Identifying Weak Squares and Creating Static Advantages, click here.

17…Rae8 18.fxg6 hxg6

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19. Qf4? doesn’t work because 19…Rxe2 20. Nxe2 Rxe2 and Black has two pieces for the rook.

19.Bg4 Nxg4?

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An interesting idea, but with both rooks, White can just double up on the e-file and is by no means worse. Because of this pin on the f6-knight, this idea of putting the rook on e7 for Black might be the most sound.

20.Bxe7 Rxe7 21.hxg4 Ne5

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Taking over the original weakness of White’s strategic mistake. It is important to note that the “patzer see a check” approach is artificial because after 21… Bd4+ 22. Kh1 Ne5 23. Qe2 Black will always have to worry about White forcing a knight for bishop trade with Nb5, where Black loses control over the dark squares.

22.Qe2 Qd8 23.Ne4 Re8

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With this passive move, Black begins to lose objectivity as White begins to clamp down on the position. 23… Nd7 would have given Black some opportunity to play. While a hard move to find over the board, the idea is that Black activated the g7 bishop, thus using all of his pieces while pinning the d4 knight. Black can try for …Bd4+ and then Kg8-g7, opening the h8 square for the queen. Because White can never control the e5 square, Black can move the knight knowing it can always return.

24.g5!

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An instructive moment! White cuts off Black’s queen from the kingside. Furthermore, this weakens the f6 square, which could lend itself to future tactics.

24…Nd7 25.Rxf7??

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This move not only doesn’t work, its also not practical for White to take this shot. Before taking on f7, White was statically better, as he didn’t have many weaknesses while Black’s pieces were suffocating each other. White can play 25. b3, eliminating Black’s only target, while putting the ball in Black’s court. In the future, White can play for a rook lift with Rf1-f3-h3, followed by bringing the inactive c-rook to h1. While White has a long ways to go until victory, Black has problems, and a single inaccuracy would be devastating.

25…Bd4+ 26.Kh1 Rxe4 27.Qxe4 Kxf7 28.Qf4+ Ke7 29.Re1+ Draw Agreed 1/2-1/2

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After a sacrifice gone wrong, White offered a draw hoping to salvage a point and Black agreed. While this was a back-and-forth game, I think Black accepting the draw offer was the biggest mistake of the game. Sometimes, when we spend a lot of time defending, we don’t really spend much time thinking about our winning chances. Here, if Black had just played 29… Be5, he would have realized how much potential the position had. Black’s queen is going to the h-file, and the g5-pawn has gone from a strength to liability. Even though this endgame is difficult, with a material advantage Black is better.

Not a bad game by either side, as each player played at their respective rating levels.  White, unfamiliar with the Benoni set-up, gave Black the initiative, after which, Black fell behind with moves like …Qb6 and …Re7. While White for the attack, he had to take drastic measures and create weaknesses which were just enough for Black to hang on before going for a bad sacrifice on f7. Fun game!

Kowalski – Lodge (World Open, 2015)

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O c5 6.d3

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Not a mistake, but definitely the weakest way to handle the Symmetrical English positions. Generally when White plays d2-d3, he also plays e2-e4, where his knight it best served on e2 instead of f3 so the f-pawn has the potential to go to f4. Seeing as White’s knight is already on f3, the more standard option is to play an immediate d2-d4, or Nc3 followed by d4 or going for a Reti set-up (b2-b3, e2-e3). With this move, White’s pieces aren’t exactly placed to make a stake in the center.

6…Nc6 7.Nbd2 d5 8.b3

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8. b3 seems to ask for trouble, and even though the sac exchange (see next move) isn’t too bad for White, it can be avoided with 8. cxd5. Black will get a bind position, but if White can get in a2-a4 and Nc4, he does have a game.

8…Ne4!?

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This move wins material, but it is too optimistic. Black has to use a lot of tempi to capture the rook (Ne4, Ba1, Bg7) while White has time to secure the center. The engines like black, but only by a half pawn, which suggests that the material imbalance is not too significant. Though it is not desirable to leave the first ten moves down material, this particular position is still playable.

9.dxe4 Bxa1 Black should have inserted the intermezzo 9…dxe4 to limit White’s play in the center. 10.exd5 Nd4?

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With this move Black goes from equal to worse, as after Ba3, the c5 pawn is lost. While Black will remain up an exchange, there won’t be a file to effectively use them. Better was 10…Nb4, but already you can see that Black’s opening set-up was flawed as too many tempi are being wasted.

11.Ba3 Nxf3+ 12.Nxf3 Bg7 13.Bxc5 Re8?

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Despite having a material advantage, Black is not actively developing to make it worth while. Unfortunately, by giving up the c5 pawn, Black is no longer better, but can still play for activity with 13… Bg4, developing the last of his minor pieces and preparing …Ra8-c8.

14.Bd4 e5 15.dxe6 Bxe6 16.Qa1 Bxd4 17.Nxd4 Qb6 18.Nxe6 Rxe6 19.e3

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A smart move by Maciek. After simplifying to this endgame, White rids himself of his last weakness and plans to play Bd5 to blockade the only open file on the board. Because of the limited mobility of the rooks, it can be argued that the bishop is at least as valuable, if not more.

19…Rd8 20.Bd5 Red6 21.Rd1 a5 22.Qe5 R6d7 23.Qd4 Qxd4 24.Rxd4 b6

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Black has to sit and wait as White improves the position. Now that Maciek has full control of the center, he will bring in his king, creating a more active position.

25.Kf1 Kg7 26.Ke2 f6 27.Kd3 g5 28.Be6 Rd6 29.Kc3 Kf8 30.Bd5 Ke7 31.h4 h6 32.b4 Kd7 33.bxa5?

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Too ambitious as Black can now get counterplay on the b-file. In these endgames its easy to become impatient, but White needs to create a second weakness before considering to open up the position. 33. b5 is a much more solid idea, as the bishop can go to c6 (a rook trade on d4 will give White a passed pawn after exd4), and his king can march to f5.

33…bxa5 34.Kb3 Kc7 35.Ka4 Kb6?

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This move is too passive and makes White’s road to victory easier. Black’s best course of action was 35… Rb8 36. Kxa5 Rb2 37. a4 =. The idea here is that by sacrificing a pawn for activity, White’s weakness on f2 is exposed while the king is uncomfortable on a5.

36.a3 Ka6 37.Kb3 Rb6+ 38.Kc3 Rdb8 39.c5 Rb2 40.Bc4+ Ka7 41.Rd7+ R8b7 42.c6 Rxd7

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A sad necessity from Black, which gives White an immediate threat of promotion, subduing the rook and king into passivity.

43.cxd7 Rb8 44.Kd4 Kb6 45.Kd5 Kc7 46.Ke6 Rb6+ 47.Ke7 Rd6 48.Bb5 f5 49.hxg5 hxg5 50.g4 f4 51.e4 1-0

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With a second passed pawn, Black cannot hope to stop both the d- and e-pawns from promoting, and correctly chose to resign.

I liked this game for White because after falling behind early, Maciek quickly made up for lost ground by using his queenside pawn majority and bishop to closed off the position. With the exception of the bxa5 slip up, White played a very respectable game.

Well, that sums up Free Game Analysis! Stay tuned for more articles, and send in your games!

Identifying Weak Squares and Creating Static Advantages

For today’s article, I decided to put a different concept of chess under the microscope – weak squares. In my recent posts and videos, I’ve focused a lot on poor pawn structures and lack of space, and while instructive, doesn’t really encapsulate all of the natural elements of positional chess.
Weak squares, as defined by Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman in his book, The Method in Chess, are squares that can no longer be defended by a pawn, and can be attacked by the opponent’s pieces. Generally, these squares become great outposts, and can dictate the result of the game. For my first few examples, I would like to demonstrate how careless pawn moves can result in completely worse positions.
1) Weak Squares Resulting from Blunders
bahamapapa – leika(me) (Internet Chess Club, G/30)

13. f5??

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My opponent has played an early f4-f5 out of the Four Pawns Attack, but already you can probably identify all of the dark squared weaknesses this move creates. My knight now springs to life on e5, and White’s attack comes to a halt.

13…Ne5 14. Be2? White doesn’t really sense the trouble in this position. I do not want the pair of bishops, as my knight from e5 is far superior to the scope of the f3 bishop. 14…b5 15. Qc2 Qb6 Now that I’ve acquired the e5 outpost, I need to create more play on White’s weak dark squares 16. Kh1 Rae8
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My knight from e5 not only controls a lot of squares, but also acts as a blockade to White’s backwards e4 pawn. By playing …Ra8-e8, I can move the knight away from e5 at any moment and put great pressure on White’s pawn.
17. Bg5 h6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd1 White is lost for ideas and the position is completely lost. 19…c4
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When you have a significant static advantage, you are in no rush to cover the point. Here this move gives me control of more dark squares, which are even more weak without White’s dark squared bishop.
20. Nf2? Qe3-+ I identified the second weak square here, and was easily able to convert the game. I don’t like the Four Pawns Attack for White, but my opponent had a tenable position before giving me the outpost on e5, after which he was lost for ideas and fell apart.
In this next game, I was on the losing side, and the one mistake I made in the opening cost me from start to finish – let’s check it out:

Grenias–Steincamp (Baltimore Open, 2015)

12…b6??

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A seemingly harmless move as I gain space on the queenside. My opponent here realizes that with this move, I have seriously committed an error by weakening the c6 square. White needs to limit my ability to gain space while simultaneously controlling the c-file.

13.Rc1! Immediately asking me to defend against discovered tactics along the c-file. Nc5 14.Bd4 Qc8 Still not realizing my disadvantage, I simplify into a much worse ending. 15.Re1 Bh3 16.e4!

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Dvoretsky would be proud! Realizing that the light bishops were coming off the board, White takes the time to gain central dominance and put his pawns on light squares. Now if I take on g2, I trade off White’s bad bishop, losing tempi as my opponent gains space. Even though my side of the board becomes less cramped, I lose a critical defender of the c6 square.

16…Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Qb7 I have lost a lot of tempi with this …Bh3 maneuver and have no play to show for it. 18.f3 Nxb3 19.Qxb3 Nd7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Nb5

White's master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.
White’s master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.

21…Rfc8 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Rc8 24.Rc6 +-

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After taking all of the necessary precautions, White punishes 12… b6 12 moves later. White went on to convert this endgame on move 71, as the control of the c-file and flexibility of the knight proved too much for my defenses.

2) Identifying Weak Squares

At the higher levels, players are generally more conscientious of creating such weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that weak squares don’t exist. In the first game I’d like to show, I was paired against a young opponent and had played a fairly respectable game, but my opponent sealed my fate when he identified the weak squares in my position.

Miyasaka – Steincamp (Cherry Blossom Classic, 2015)

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After having outplayed me for the last 5-7 moves, my opponent needs one last shot to push for a result. The endgame is complicated, but how can White limit my play?

33.Bb5! The idea is to reroute the bishop to c6, keeping my rooks from becoming active. 33…Rb8 34.Bc6 Rb6? The real mistake. The best option was for me to play 34… b6 and open the position. While I have an isolated e-pawn, the endgame is closer to a draw than a win. Either way, by moving the bishop to c6, White obtains something to play for, thus increasing his wining chances. 35.b5! No second chances! Now …e7-e6 doesn’t work because White can capture with the d5 pawn and bring the rook. By letting my opponent secure this outpost, I quickly found that I had nothing to play for, and resigned a little over 10 moves later. 35…Kf8 36.Rb4 a6 37.a4 a5 38.Rh4 Kg7 39.Rf4 Ng8 40.h4 Rb8 41.g4 Nh6 42.Rfe4 Kf8 43.Kg3 Rb6 44.R4e2 Ng8 45.Kf4 Nf6 46.Kf3 Rb8 47.h5 1-0

A nice win from my opponent, where he managed to demonstrate superior endgame knowledge over the board. This next weak square earned the winner $38,000 at the recent Millionaire Chess Open:

Yang – Mandizha (U2400 Millionaire Chess 2, 2015)

In this position, International Master Kaiqi Yang has White in the U2400 Millionaire Chess Final. He and his opponent, IM Farai Mandizha have drawn their past three games, leading to this blitz match. How did White make the most of this objectively (+0.17 according Stockfish) equal position?

26. Nf1! Superb idea! Regardless of the computer’s assessment of the position, the game just became a lot more complicated for Black. From f1, the knight will reroute to e3 then d5, taking advantage of Black’s inability to control any light squares, while blockading the d6 pawn. Mandizha is limited in his possibilities, as the Sicilian Najdorf line he prepared did not go as planned. He has a bad bishop on e7, which is blocked by the central pawns. in just a few moves, Yang proves that his knight is much better than Black’s bishop. 26… Bd8 27. Ne3 Bb6 28. Nd5 Bc5

29. f6!! And now White has all of the winning chances. Black erred immediately in the game but if black plays 29… gxf6, White can play 30. Rf3!+-, with the idea of taking on f6 with the rook. This idea is the “Principle of Two Weaknesses” as White will seek ways to put pressure on both f7 and d6 while improving his position. The knight is still untouchable and its not clear how Black escapes the bind. 29…g6? Tired, Mandizha makes the game losing move. 30. Ne7 And White only needed a few more moves to win the $38,000 prize.

3) Creating and Securing Weak Squares
Some openings just don’t create enough weak squares. This is where positional play becomes dynamic; finding forcing moves to create weak squares is another way to generate an advantage. Here’s a game I played online:
leika (me)-jondrich (Internet Chess Club, G/15)
24…b5
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This position looks balanced and destined for equality. Black hopes that by trading down on the queenside, he can liquidate the position into a drawn minor piece ending.
25. e5!
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This dynamic thrust serves three purposes: 1) trade off Black’s best piece (the b7 bishop) 2) Limit Black’s dark squared bishop’s scope, and most importantly 3) force the f6 knight away so I can place my knight on e4 at the right moment.
25…Ne8 26. Kf2 Ba5 27. Ba3 b4?
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White now holds an advantage. Black has blocked in his bishop while taking away an entry square for the c6 knight. In this position, I just have to secure the d4 square and mount a knight on e4, and I can play for a win.
28. Bc1 Bb6 29. Be3 My bishop can’t do too much, but this move puts pressure on c5 while covering the d4 square. 29…a5 30. a4 Locking down the queenside. If Black makes the mistake of taking en passant on a3, I will recapture and the c3 square become accessible for my e2 knight. 30…Nc7 31. g4
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Black has no ability to generate counterplay, so now my plan comes to life. Ne2-g3-e4 is coming up.
31…Ba8 32. Ng3 Nd4 33. Bxd4 Bxg2 34. Kxg2 cxd4 35. Ne1
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The massive trades have significantly increased my winning chances. The passed d-pawn is more of a liability than a strength, and my knights are headed to d3 and e4. Just like the last game, Black really suffers from not having the right colored bishop.
35…f6 36. Nd3 Na6 37. Ne4 Kf7 38. Kf3
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Now that I have completed my plan, it’s time to convert my position to the win. Still using the weak light squares, my goal is to move my knight away from e4 for my king. The king is a crucial attacker in the endgame, don’t be afraid to use him!
38…Kg6 39. Nd6 Bc7 40. c5
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With this move, Black’s minor pieces are extremely limited, and now by creating a second weak square on d6, the win is easy for White. Who would have seen this position from the beginning of the endgame?

While its important to identify weak squares and put your pieces on them, its also important to keep that outpost, or trade them for better ones. I had a cute maneuver in my round 3 win at the World Open this past year:

Steincamp-Williams (World Open, 2015)

25.Na5 Bb5

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Believe it or not, the critical outpost here is the knight on a5! Attacking the b7 pawn, White hopes that Black plays b7-b6, creating the weak c6 square that we’ve already demonstrated twice. It is also not in Black’s best interest to trade away the d8 bishop since it will weaken the c7 square while the a5 pawn will act as a clamp, keeping the b7 pawn at bay. …Bd7-b5 is annoying since if I take, b7 is protected by the queen and the pawn on b5 actually immobilizes my knight, covering the c4 square.

26.Bh3! Black cannot surrender control of the e6 square, so he must return his bishop to d7. 26…Bd7 27.Bg2!

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With this move, Black cannot repeat the idea of …Bd7-b5 without facing a3-a4. Before Black could trade off bishops on f1, giving him some more coordination, but now my opponent must make the concession of taking on a5. I quickly get a strong position.

27…Bxa5 28.bxa5 Qd8 29.Rc7 Bc8

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Black is completely immobilized and out of ideas, as my grip on the position is extremely powerful.

30.a4 Opening the a3 square for my bishop to attack d6. 30…Ne7 31.Ba3 Bf5 32.e4 Bc8+-

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I’ve achieved a significant advantage, and went on to win later in the endgame (admittedly after misplaying the position a little).

In all of these games, the position went from seemingly equal to dead lost because of one weak square. Use these squares to make pieces active and blockade weak pawns, and you will see significant returns in your gameplay!

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out my gofundme page to learn about my journey to New Orleans for the 2016 US Junior Open.

Breaking 2100: Winning Ugly

Well, I’ve finally done it. This past Sunday I played against an expert in the Pittsburgh Chess League and pulled out a nail biter to get the win. The win puts me at 2/2 (both games with black) in the league, but more importantly will help me get the 8 points I need to cross 2100 for the first time in my career. Even though the game was far from perfect, I thought it would still be worth sharing, as the endgame is far from simple. Here we go.

Atwell – Steincamp (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2015)

1.e4 c5 2.c3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.cxd4 d5 5.e5 Bg7 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Bb5 e6
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A passive move on my part. I believe a better suggestion here is 7… f6, putting pressure on the center. I saw this during the game, but I hesitated because of 8. Qa4. This is more or less a theoretical novelty for White, and I think 8… Qd7 should do enough, as White still has to solve his central problems.
8.Nf3 Ne7 9.Bg5 Bd7 10.Qd2
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A great move by my opponent! I was planning h6 and g5, gaining space on the kingside (I had already decided I wasn’t castling), but this idea might not be as strong now because of White’s potential to sacrifice on g5.
10…h6 11.Bh4 Qb6=
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After what felt like a passive opening choice, I think I have found equality here. I’m not exactly sure if White went wrong, but now my threat of Nf5 is also extremely strong. I remember during the game finding the award move 12. g4?! with the idea of cramping Black. If I try to counter with …h7-h5, White can open up the g-file and control g5. This is a cool concept positionally, but I have the saving grace 12… Nxe5 winning a pawn.
12.Bxe7 Kxe7 13.O-O
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I honestly was not too disappointed with my position. Despite being cramped, I have the pair of bishops, and my king is safe on e7. Here I had to consider the possibility of 13… Nxe5! winning a pawn. Objectively, this is the best move, but White isn’t without play. I played the text move because I didn’t like that I give white the opportunity to put his rook on a half-open file that has my king on it. Post mortem, I think the best line for White goes something like 14. Nxe5 Bxb5 15. Bxb5 Qxb5 16. Re1 Rac8 -+ and I am completely fine. I had also seen lines with Nxd5+ possibilities, but this just ends down a piece – in other words, I had a win here. While not as good as taking on e5, I have to say my move is pretty strong as well. I take control of the open file with the correct rook, and now when I reroute my queen to d8, both of my rooks are where the action will be. By not winning the pawn this turn I’m not better, but I definitely can’t be worse.
13…Rhc8 14.Bxc6? Bxc6
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My opponent didn’t make many mistakes this game, but if I had to find three moves I didn’t like for White, this would be the first one. Even though my light squared bishop is poor, it stops the c3 knight from getting to c5 via a4. Furthermore, having the pair of bishops alone guarantees some sort of advantage – if not here, then later should the position open up. I have two plans: 1) push my a pawn to gain space and attack the queenside and 2) maneuver my king to g8 to allow my bishop access to the f8 square.
15.a4 a5 16.Qd3 Kf8 17.Nd2 Kg8 18.Ra3 Bf8
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Mission Accomplished! My opponent had the right idea of a4 to lock up the queenside, but the position was slow enough that I had time to complete my second plan, here with the added benefit of a tempo. I don’t like White’s idea of getting the rook to a3, because in some lines the a4 pawn becomes a liability. This is mistake number 2 for my opponent.
19.Rb3 Bb4 20.Nb5??
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If you’ve ever read The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal, the author, Karsten Muller, emphasizes that mistakes come in “bunches”. While not losing immediately, White lets me trade off my worst piece while doubling his pawns and taking full control over the c-file. This is mistake number 3, and from this moment onward, Black has the initiative.
20…Bxb5 21.axb5 Kg7 22.h4 Qd8
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Queens are terrible blockaders. Having served its duty on b6, I made a tempo move on the h4 pawn while planning …Qe7, threatening a4, trapping the rook. I think this is the best way for me to use my positional advantage to get more active.
23.h5 Qe7 24.Qe3 Rc2 25.Nf3 a4-+
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Iossif Dorfman preaches that if a static advantage is played correctly, it will always become a material advantage. Here, White must sacrifice the rook on b4, as letting me take on b2 would give me a strong passer with no compensation. I like this decision for White, not because it gives him winning chances, but because the position quickly becomes extremely complicated.
26.Rxb4 Qxb4 27.hxg6 fxg6 28.Nh4 Qb3
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The difficult decision of the game. Here I think I could have done better with 28… Qxb5, and when White attacks g6 with 29. Qg3, meet it with 29… Qe8. 28… Qd2 is aggressive, but after 29. Qa3! Black has to be very accurate when covering the seventh rank. I chose this move because my queen was active, and ultimately had the goal of reaching e4.
29.Qf4 Rf8 30.Qg4 Qd3 31.Qxe6 Qe4 32.Nf3 Rxb2
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Winning a pawn, but more importantly coordinating my pieces! I can’t afford to let white gain access to the c-file, so this move gives me the resource …Rb2-b1, pinning the rook to the king.
33.Rc1 Rb1 34.Qe7+ Rf7 35.Qc5 b6-+
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Winning a pawn! White can’t afford to take on b6 or play Qc5-c6 because the a-pawn starts rolling and I will queen the pawn. White must give up the b5 pawn to stay in the game.
36.Qc3 Rxb5 37.Qc6 Rb1 38.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 39.Kh2 Qf5
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The hardest move to find throughout the game. If I were to have played 39… Qb3, I think I’m in trouble. 40. e6 Re7 41. Qd6 and the e5 outpost is really strong. By playing this move, I remove this threat at the cost of a pawn, but I really don’t think its so bad. For example, if 40. Qxa4, the queen is out of play, and the plan I had during the game would be much more effective (Qf4+, Rc7-c1+ – and White’s queen can’t generate counterplay with the passed pawn).
40.Qxd5 Qf4+
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My opponent told me after the game that he thought 40… Qh5+ was much more effective, but I beg to differ. 41. Kg1 Rc7 42. Kf1 (forced) Rc1+ 43. Ke2 and its already not clear how I make progress. 43… Rc2+ Black has to keep checking because the lack of coordination is not prepared to face the massive central advantage of White 44. Ke3 (not 44. Kd3?? Qf5+ and checkmate is around the corner) 44…Rc7 The king is exposed, but its not clear if white actually benefits from having an active king. Meanwhile, Black now has uncoordinated pieces against White’s queen and center passers.
41.Kg1 Rc7 42.g3 Qc1+ 43.Kg2 Qc6
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Still a difficult position, but I am making progress. Any queen trade is decisive and in my favor, and moving the queen allows me to attack f3.
44.Qd8 Rd7 45.Qe8 Rc7 46.Qd8 Qd7 47.Qf6+ Kh7 48.e6
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I think White makes the right choice here, taking on b6 loses a tempi to push pawns for white. After 48. Qxb6 a3 should be enough for the point as …Ra7 will provide more than enough support for the pawn.
48…Qg7 49.Qh4 a3
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And now the end is in sight. Every tempi White uses to stop my pawn is a tempi not used to push his own. White’s queen on h4 is blocked laterally by his own pawn on d4, and the knight really offers one meaningless check on g5. The result is 0-1.
50.d5 a2 51.d6 a1=Q 52.dxc7 Qxc7 53.e7 Qa8 54.Kh2 Qxf3 55.e8=Q Qxf2+ 56.Kh3 Qf1+ 0-1
I've never beaten an opponent who has two queens on the board before, but White resigned as Kg4 loses to ...Qf5#, and Kh2 falls prey to ...Qc2+ and mate on the next move.
I’ve never beaten an opponent who has two queens on the board before, but White resigned as Kg4 loses to …Qf5#, and Kh2 falls prey to …Qc2+ and mate on the next move.

A crazy game, and a lot for me to work on before the Pennsylvania State Chess Championships next week. Either way, breaking 2100 is really exciting for me – and hopefully, reaching master is around the corner.

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