Isaac’s Mailbag, 4th Edition

Hi everyone! I’m back with my fourth mailbag! As you know, each week I answer 4 questions that I have been asked since my last edition of the mailbag, either from coaching my high school team, or questions submitted by you guys, the viewers. Hopefully, you may find that some of these questions are similar to yours, and if not, maybe you’ll learn something new!


1) Congrats on breaking your all-time high rating this past weekend! What was your best game?

Thanks! As you may know, I played in the Open section of the Kingstowne Chess Festival. I finished with a win and 3 draws, finishing the tournament rated 1964. That being said, I think the best game I played was in the first round, my only decisive match

Ling – Steincamp (Kingstowne Chess Festival, 2014)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 d6 8.Be2 O-O 9.O-O Bd7 10.Rc1 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 12.f3 a5 13.Qd2

14.Nd5 This move was premature. My opponent wanted to play f3-f4, so this move is actually mistake. Because the knight protected e4 from c3, White now has less flexibility, and a smaller margin for error.

14…Nc5 15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.Qd4+ e5 17.Qe3 Ne6

18.f4?? When I saw this I expected my opponent to sacrifice the knight and play 19. f5, but 19… Qg5 wins for Black. 

18… Bxd5 19.cxd5 Nxf4 20.Bd1

20…Qg5! White has too much to deal with. The threat of …Nh3+ is extremely strong, and my opponent had to find 21. Rc2 to stay in the game. After the text move, I quickly went up an exchange and converted the point in the endgame

21.Rxf4 Qxf4 22.Qxf4 exf4 23.Bg4 h5 24.Bh3 g5? 25.Bf5 Kf6 26.Rc7 b5 27.Kf2 Ra6 28.Rc6 Rfa8 29.Kf3 Rxc6 30.dxc6 Ra7 31.h4 gxh4 32.Kxf4 Rc7 33.Bd7 a4 34.Be8 Ke7 35.Bd7 Rxd7 36.cxd7 Kxd7 37.e5

37…d5! Creating a passed pawn.

38.Kf5 Ke7 39.e6 fxe6+ 40.Ke5 Kd7 41.Kd4 Kd6 42.b3 axb3 43.axb3 b4 44.Kd3 e5 45.Ke3 Ke6 46.Kf3 Kf5 47.g3 h3 48.g4+ hxg4+ 49.Kg3 d4 50.Kf2 d3 51.Ke1 h2 52.Kf2 h1=Q 53.Kg3 Qf3+ 54.Kh4 g3 55.Kh3 Kf4 56.Kh4 Qg4# 0-1

This was a nice game because I punished my opponent for his 14. Nd5 plans. The game was relatively easy after I got up the exchange.

2) The Washington Chess Congress is this weekend. How are you preparing?

With one week left, there is very little you can do to improve your game. I will be playing in the Premier Section (same section as US Chess Champion GM Gata Kamsky), and all I will do this week is tactical exercises and review my opening lines. Try to get in some practice G/15 games online or with friends to practice, but don’t stress out too much.

3) Last week’s tactic was tricky, can I have another?

Sure, no problem. This game was from 1971 between Beyen and Filip in Luxemburg. White has an attack but how does he win?

White to Move

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 12.52.25


1. Bxg6 hxg6 2. Re7+ Rxe7 3. dxe7+ Kxe7 4. Rd8 Kxd8 5. h7 1-0 and the passed pawn pawn is unstoppable. Kudos to you if you solved this one.

4) What’s your favorite song to listen to before a match?

Right now it has to be The Man by Aloe Blacc. Hall of Fame by The Script also puts me in a relaxed but battle-ready mindset.

Don’t forget to send in your questions for next week’s edition of the Mailbag! You can leave them in the comments section of this post.

Isaac’s Mailbag, 3rd Edition

Hi everyone! I’m back with my third mailbag! As you know, each week I answer 4 questions that I have been asked since my last edition of the mailbag, either from coaching my high school team, or questions submitted by you guys, the viewers. Hopefully, you may find that some of these questions are similar to yours, and if not, maybe you’ll learn something new!

1) What is the best game of chess that you have seen this week?

Well, with the 2014 Chess Festival ongoing in Baku, its hard to not choose any of those games. Furthermore, with all of my preparation for the Kingstowne Chess Festival, any of the games I have analyzed would also be a more than respectable choice. But which game do I choose? My friend and teammate Charles, rated roughly 1300, trumps all of them, winning convincingly against the Yugolsav in a G/30 game today. Maybe I’m a bit biased towards players on my team, but preparation goes a long ways.

N.N. – Charles (Rated Game, 2014)

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Be3 Bg7 6. Nc3 Nf6

7. f3?! A bit premature, as Black immediately punishes this attack with the following moves.

7…0-0 8. Qd2 d5! 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. 0-0-0 Nxe3 11. Nxc6 Qxd2+ 12. Rxd2 bxc6 13. Ne4 Bh6 -+ 0–1

The game goes on a few more moves but the result is clear, black’s tactic is decisive. Great play Charles! Just remember, opening preparation gets good games, tactical preparation wins games.

2) What’s a good read for this week?

Broad question, but I like it! I’ll stick with books I have not mentioned on this blog before, so The Art of Planning in Chess: Move by Move by Neil McDonald is a great read for all players. If you want more tactical games, start with the Fire on Board series by Alexei Shirov, it just might change how you see tactical play. Lastly, I have to bring up Secrets of Chess Tactics by Mark Dvoretsky, which helped me break 1800 during the summer and early fall of 2012. This book takes a while to work through though, so be prepared to calculate like crazy!

3) Show me a tactic I can’t solve!

This isn’t a question, but I’ll take it anyways. I’ve got White to move in this position, you tell me if the position is won, lost, or drawn!

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 21.35.05


I mentioned Krabbé’s website, Chess Curiosities, a while back on my blog, and later found that Krabbé found White’s winning move here in a tournament game he played back in 1986.

1. Ke2! Nb6 2. c5 Nd5 3. a3 +- And white wins the piece. You have to wonder what made Krabbé stop himself from playing the all-to-natural 1. Bd2. Take your time in the opening, and maybe you will find moves like 1. Ke2!

4) You mention as a good resource for news on chess. What are some other news outlets that you would recommend?

So I personally like services the most because I can watch tournament games live on their site. But I should add that also has high quality articles, especially those written by GM Greg Serper and GM Daniel Naroditzky. Chessbase also has a reputable website, as you can not only read news, but also connect to, their own internet chess server. Those are the three main sources that I use to catch up on tournament events, but if you use different sources, please comment below!

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to bring it up in the comments section below!

Isaac’s Mailbag, 2nd Edition

If you read my blog last week, I introduced a new segment to my blog, Isaac’s Mailbag. Each week, I will answer 4 questions which I have been asked about chess. Without further ado, let’s get started!

1) What do you have against 1. e4 e5 for Black?

This often comes up when I talk about openings. The problem I have with 1 e4 e5 for Black is that after 2 Nf3, there is not exactly a dynamic positional approach for Black. Against the Ruy Lopez, Black can try the g6 lines, but as seen in the Nakamura–Carlsen game of the Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen could not get an advantage after trading the light squared bishop. The Four Knights and Giucco Piano does not really offer too much variety, and the Two Knights Defense relies a lot on prior memorization. This doesn’t even account for the King’s Gambit, where White forces the game into tactical game early. My problem with 1… e5 is Black doesn’t control the kind of position as much as he can in a Sicilian, French, or even a Scandinavian. The same lines get boring after a while.

2) Chess season is starting, and I’m a chess mom who needs help coaching kids rated below 1400. What would you recommend?

Many scholastic clubs are starting, but often times coaches don’t know where to start. Here is the ChessKid Curriculum. Many coaches use this for private lessons, and while it is kind of a cookie-cutter course, it does provide a framework to start with. If you have a competitive middle school club, try getting a USCF Affiliate to play rated games. Rated games are the best way to practice, and will force your players to calculate.

3) What is the coolest tactic you’ve seen this week?

Grandmaster Andrei Volokitin found this nice gem against Mushgev Asgarov in the 2014 Baku Chess Festival. See if you can find Volokitin’s brilliancy before seeing the answer (position courtesy of!

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 13.01.41


1. Qc5!! and the game is over. If 1… Qxc5 2. Rd8#, and 1… Qc6 runs into 2. Rd8+ +- anyways. The knight cannot move as a result of the pin, so Black is totally lost. Good job Volokitin!

4) Who won the Bilbao Masters Last week?

Former World Chess Champion Vishy Anand drew easily to Ruslan Ponomariov in Round 5 to guarantee a first place finish. The section featured a total of four players: Anand, Ponomariov, Levon Aronian, and Francisco Vallejo Pons.

Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section if you want to have a question answered next week!

Isaac’s Mailbag

I decided over the weekend to add a new installment called “Isaac’s Mailbag”. In this post, I want to answer common questions that people have asked me about chess. If you wish to send me a question, feel free to leave it in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in the next installment of this post.

For this week’s post, I’m going to answer questions prompted by members on my school team at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.

1) What is a strong system to play against 1. b3 (the Larsen Attack)?

This was probably the hardest question I got this week, so I figure I would tackle this one first.

The Larsen Attack is a different opening, and is rarely seen at amateur tournaments. I sometimes will play 1. b3 in Blitz, but then will transpose to an English (c4 openings) or the Bird’s (f4 openings). I find that this seems to be the common trend with Larsen players, so its even rarer to see someone else play something different. While it means taking a theoretical approach, I find that the positional struggle is often better than the tactical melee for Black.

1… e5 and 1… d5 are the most common defenses for black, so I suggest looking at those first. 1… b6 is interesting but its symmetrical and can lack dynamic play. While I think its a good approach to play positionally, there are still many positional lines to consider. I suggest looking through these Grandmaster games and choosing a system that feels comfortable for you.

1      2      3      4      5


2) What is a good goal (for my tournament this weekend)?

Setting a goal is probably one of the most important things you should do before going into any tournament. Having an expectation for yourself and trying to meet it is healthy, and can easily drive your performance. Ideally, a good goal is to play good chess, but it is nice to gain a few rating points while doing it.

If you are the highest rated player in your section, you need to find stronger competition.

If you are within 100 points from the highest rated player, you should always aim to win the tournament.

If you are in the top half of your section, your goal should be to get a norm, in most cases meaning that you perform at over 200 points above your rating.

If you are in the middle of the section, I suggest aiming for at least a half point above equilibrium, so 3/5, 3.5/6, or 4/7 are all good results.

If you are in the bottom half (or at the bottom), push yourself to finish at equilibrium. This means a quality performance.

A lot to remember? That’s what I thought, play good chess and the goals above will happen!


3) Did Kasparov win that FIDE Election?

Unfortunately, the former World Chess Champion lost the FIDE election by a wide margin. While the election is over, he wrote a thought provoking article on chess24 that you can read here. While there are some politics as to how FIDE should be run, Kasparov does point out that there are some clear problems that need to be fixed with chess.


4) What is a good book for studying how to play the Smith–Morra Gambit as white?

For those who are not familiar with the Smith–Morra Gambit, it starts

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3

White sacrifices a pawn for development, and gets full compensation, if you are a Sicilian player, you ought to know a defense to this line, both inside and out!

Mayhem in the Morra by Marc Esserman is a clear first. Being a Sicilian player, the thought of looking through this book scares me. Esserman’s variations are very detailed and account for many ways that the Morra could go out of book. I have a friend from Maryland who won a game in 9 moves at the World Open last summer from knowing the theory present in this book. A lot of people say that the Evans Defense is the cure for the Smith–Morra, but I wouldn’t be so sure after giving Mayhem in the Morra a read.