Eugene Perelshteyn’s Big Announcement

For today’s video, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn is back to tell you about his new website, ChessOpeningsExplained! You may have heard of his books, Chess Openings for Black Explained and Chess Openings for White Explained, and now they are coming to life online. Before I highlight some of the benefits of a ChessOpeningsExplained Membership, here’s GM Perelshteyn’s video on the importance of a consistent opening repertoire – in this case, the dark square strategy!

As mentioned in the video, becoming a member will not only grant you access to PGN versions of the Chess Openings Explained series, but also a video library with updated theory and high-level games, as well as a forum to ask specific questions you may have about the repertoire. As a bonus, becoming a member will give you a free game analysis code for AskAGM, the sister site of ChessOpeningsExplained, where a Grandmaster will go over any game you submit!

Make sure to check out the site, and let us know what you think!

Chess Chat 3 – Free Game Analysis and Other Big News

My coach told me to relax this week and limit my preparation for the Carolinas Classic this weekend, so for today’s  video, I decided to review a free game analysis submission from a few weeks back. Interesting game, important notes on opening fundamentals – don’t miss out!

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, I will be adding new authors to Chess^Summit after the US Junior Open. In today’s video, I take a few minutes to discuss the future of Chess^Summit, as well as reveal one new future author. I have a feeling that regardless of how Chess^Summit 3.0 turns out, I think it will be a fun and exciting project to be a part of.

As always, if you too would like your game to be analyzed, make sure to send your game PGNs to chess.summit@gmail.com, and I’ll try to go over it here on the site – either in article or video form.

That being said, I hope you enjoy today’s video, and make sure to check back next week to hear about my results in Charlotte!

Tactical Melee!

Check out my video for today! In this video, I reset my tactics trainer rating to 1200 and tried to bring it up as much as possible in 10 minutes. With the exception of a small slip up in the end, I was nearly perfect! See if you can do better by pausing the video before I try and solve each puzzle.

Tactics Trainer Revisited: The 2700 Club

This morning I managed to crack 2700 on chess.com’s Tactics Trainer, so I decided to do a revised post on that, with some key updates and coaching advice from my last post on the website’s tactical features.

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I’ve used chess.com since my sophomore year of high school, with this coming November marking my fourth year of membership on the site. Aside from video viewership and Chess Mentor, one of the advantages of a diamond membership is unlimited tactics a day on chess.com. Since I started using the feature in 2012, I’ve attempted over 15,000 puzzles and climbed the ranks to reach 2700.

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It may not last long, but for now, I’m ranked one spot ahead of chess.com’s CEO, IM Daniel Rensch.

So as a coach and an active player, how do I assess progress on Tactics Trainer?

For most of my students, I believe that your tactics trainer rating minus ~200 points roughly represents your level of play. While that’s true for most 1400-2000 rated players, I think what TT represents after it gives you a 2400+ rating is very different from the original intentions of its functionality.

For master level players, chess.com’s TT features are great for warming up or practicing calculation while on a bus, but it no longer serves as an exact gauge of your tactical ability. Since most of the puzzles are member-submitted, the target audience is usually 1500-1900, and sometimes even lower.

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Even chess.com’s bell curve shows the target audience for TT, and the number of players above 2000 are minuscule.

Chess.com does two things two things make Tactics Trainer more challenging for stronger members: Limit the amount of time to gain rating points and more endgame puzzles. Once you break 2400 on TT, the emphasis becomes much more on speed in a position where perhaps you have many different pleasant options, and you have to find the best one. Endgame puzzles become more frequent at the higher levels too, but often times, simply knowing opposition and achieving it on the board is enough to reach 50% of the solution, merely finding forcing moves and the right move order should be enough to earn the other half.

Does this mean that Tactics Trainer is bad for top players? Of course not – you just have to realize that it won’t push you to be as creative as perhaps a position in Secrets of Chess Tactics because chess.com’s interface is programmed so that only one move can be correct. Which leads me to my next point.

No puzzle is a bad puzzle. It’s so easy to get a puzzle wrong, look through the answer, and think “this puzzle is bad” before moving on to the next problem. Already in doing this, you deprive yourself of the greatest learning opportunity you have: your own mistakes. Whenever we play a tournament game, our natural habit is to review the game (perhaps with the opponent) and spend lots of time calculating the lines of the most critical position. Chess.com’s TT lets you cheat in the sense that it takes away the rest of the game and only gives you a critical position. You getting the puzzle wrong means you failed to find the best resource in said position. From my experience, I’ve kind of learned the different tiers of wrong:

1) You weren’t wrong, you just weren’t rightOften I find that when I make an error in a puzzle my line works perfectly fine, it’s just that it is simply not as good as the best solution. This may be frustrating but it’s important to understand why your answer wasn’t as right.

2) Move Order! Move Order! Move Order! This is the next rung down the ladder, as now we make the descent into actual mistakes and game-losing blunders. A move order error could simply fail to win as much material/checkmate, or even draw/lose to a discovered attack. This is one of the main tests TT offers, and what separates the complainers in the comments from the users that give answers.

3) Calculation Error… Now things turn sour. Maybe you left a piece hanging, or the endgame you were analyzing is actually a draw because you missed the critical in between move. Full board awareness is a skill, and you have to develop it by asking yourself one question….

4) What can my opponent do? On some puzzles, the computer introduces the position by offering a move for the opposing side. Asking yourself why the opponent made that move and understanding his plan is the first step towards getting the answer right. Then you need to look for critical weaknesses and themes in the position. Is a piece overloaded? Is there a mating net? This can get you back on the right track.

As a coach, there isn’t a student I haven’t recommended Tactics Trainer to. It teaches discipline while simultaneously offering a lesson in full board awareness. That being said, as a player trying to become a master, I have come to terms that while TT is a great resource to warm up, ease into a practice, and get in the mindset of calculating, it simply isn’t enough to bear the weight of all my tactical studies.

Live Chess: Psychological Factors

Don’t believe that psychology plays a major factor in chess? Watch this video to see how my mentality changes after a mouse slip from my opponent … and how it almost cost me the game!

I didn’t think the level of chess was anything special this game, but after re-watching the video, I thought the shift in my mindset was very visible and a distraction to my calculation process. Take this as a lesson – the game isn’t over till its over!

Opening Experiments on ICC

For those of you who may recall, I did a video + analysis post on the Berlin last month, and today I decided to try a similar format for a new opening. I played 1 d4, hoping for a Queen’s Gambit or Nimzo-Indian, but my opponent instead tried a Dutch. In an effort to be different, and have something new to talk about Tuesday, I tried 2. Nc3 to immediately threaten e2-e4.

After going into a “Leningrad Structure”, I tried a thematic h2-h4-h5 push to bust open my opponent’s king for what should have been a routine win. However, being careless in my calculations, I missed a simple way to extract my opponent’s king and had to find a cool mating idea later to get the result. See if you can find the win before I did!

Since my opponent didn’t exactly play winning chess, I think on Tuesday, my goal is to answer 2 questions:

1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?

2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?

That being said, I hope you enjoy today’s video!

A Better Berlin: Handling 5. d4

In last Sunday’s video, I tried playing 1…e5 in response to the King’s Pawn opening. Without much theoretical knowledge of the Berlin, I quickly got bogged down in a worse position and on the clock. Though I got back into the game with a sacrifice on  g4, the position I reached isn’t desirable enough to want to play again. Let’s take a quick recap of what happened:

JoseBautista–leika (G/15 ICC, 2015)

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6

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The Berlin of the Ruy Lopez. Since it is one of the most solid openings at the Grandmaster level, I decided to give it a try. I hadn’t studied Ruy Lopez theory in 8 years, and when I did it was for White. Back when I played against the Ruy Lopez, I opted for an immediate 3… a6.

4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4

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Already one out of book for me. While this move is one of the most popular ways to counter 4… Nxe4, I was only familiar with some of the 5. Re1 theory. And so here starts the Belin Wall, well – sort of.

Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nc4?

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The first inaccuracy that set the tone for the match. Main line, as we will see, is the much better 7… Nf5. In the video, I discussed the possibility of playing …Nc4-b6 and how playing …Nd6-f5 would block in my bishop, but this approach gave my opponent too many tempi. As we’ll see, Black aspires to play …b7-b6 and fianchetto the bishop for solidarity and good endgame play.

I’ll stop here since this questionable move already deviates from the Main Line which we will be discussing. When looking for a model game, I was lucky to find the Giri–Vachier-Lagrave match up from the London Chess Classic, in which Anish outplayed Maxime in a critical tiebreak match.

Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, both in the World’s top 10, have played each other many times – including the recent 2015 FIDE World Cup!

Vachier–Lagrave – Giri (London Chess Classic, 2015)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5

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Here gives us the critical move 7… Nf5 which makes Black’s position tenable. From here, the Black knight can attack the center without being easily kicked away (8. g4? would be a serious weakening). With the queens coming off the board, it’s important that Black has piece activity to make up for losing the right to castle.

8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.h3 Ke8

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Let’s say the line ends here, as Giri’s remaining developing moves are intuitive, and could arguably be found over the board by any strong player. White has given up the pair of bishops and is in the endgame, but has some compensation. Beyond the doubled pawns on the c-file, Black is unable to castle, and needs time to develop to prove equality.

10.Nc3 h5

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What is this move? This h-pawn thrust is a prophylactic measure against any future idea for White involving g2-g4. With the game heading to an endgame, this idea is not as much of a weakening considering that the queens have been traded.

11.Ne2?!

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While this move plans to put the e2 knight in the center of the board, it’s kind of esoteric. This isn’t the most common move, as 11. Bf4 holds that honor, but it scores the same among ~2600 rated players.

11…b6 12.Rd1 Be7 13.Bg5 Bb7 14.Bxe7 Kxe7

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Black doesn’t really mind moving the king around so many times. As long as Giri’s king is safe and covers the d7 square, he’ll be fine. In fact, if you think about it, the king needs to be active in the endgame anyways. According to ChessBase’s online database, this immediate trade on e7 has never occured. While Black no longer has the pair of bishops, Anish has three “long-range” pieces compared to Vachier-Lagrave’s two.

15.Ned4 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 c5 17.Nb5 Rhc8

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Black’s last move to solidify. With all of his weaknesses covered, Giri is ready to start pushing …a7-a6 and then improve his position.

18.f4 Bc6 19.Nc3 Ke6 20.Kf2? h4!

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And just like that Black is arguably better! Should White try to play g2-g4 now, he would compromise his structure, leaving a static weakness on f4. Already, there are some ideas of …Rh8 in the position, with an idea of a rook lift to g6.

21.a4 Kf5 22.Ke3 Re8

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Both …Rd8 and …Re8 were perfectly acceptable here, but this move takes the most principled approach. With the rook on the same file as the king, White must find an answer for …f7-f6, ruining White’s hold on the center.

23.Nd5 Rac8 24.Rd2 f6 25.Rf1 fxe5 26.fxe5+ Kg5!!

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Maxime must have missed this. If Black takes on e5 immediately with the king, it stands in the center of the board, in the crossfire of both of Black’s rooks. Now should White try to protect the e5 pawn with 27. Ke4, he will lose to 27… Rxe5+!! as 28. Kxe5 is mate after 28… Re8#. What an idea! With White forced to play passively, the rest of the game is a matter of technique.

Giri won the game later on move 43, in what was arguably his best game of the tournament. While the victory may have been sweet, it was short-lived, as Maxime went on to win the next two tiebreak games, sending him to the final against Magnus Carlsen.

So what does this game tell us about the Berlin? Let’s take a look at the structure after move 17.

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If you’re wondering why so many Grandmasters play the Berlin, you should start here. Structurally, Black is more solid and his king, thanks to the early queen trade is already in the center. With all of his early dynamic play, White has yet to define his structure, leaving his e5 pawn seemingly hyper-extended. If we think about how Vachier-Lagrave attacked Black’s weaknesses (17. Nb5), the threat of the c7 and a7 pawns only slowed Giri’s play but didn’t cause him long term problems, so already that position is at least equal. Let’s take this position to the next level.

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Since White decided to give up the bishop pair with 6. Bxc6, we must also take this into consideration. While this minor piece endgame may be arguably tenable, it is clear that again, only Black can play for a win as the bishop dominates white’s knight. So with this assessment, we can say that Black is better in most Berlin Endgames.

Here’s another game where Black proved that solidarity was more important than initiative.

Teimour Radjabov (right), of Azerbaijan, is in the world’s top 30. Known for his opening preparation, let’s see what he had ready for the 2015 World Cup winner, Sergey Karjakin.

Karjakin – Radjabov (World Rapid Chess Championships, 2015)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Rd1+

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Our deviation from the Vachier-Lagrave–Giri game. Here Karjakin immediately asserts control of the d-file with a forcing move. While an easy move to play, it does have the drawback that Black already wants to get his king off the d-file. So while White develops, Black gets to improve his position.

Ke8 10.Nc3 h5 11.Bg5

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Radjabov’s last move, …h7-h5, set his intentions of playing a long game – just like Giri. Karjakin, knowing that he would not be favored in the endgame, plays with gusto, immediately developing his pieces with threats along the way. But can initiative overpower Radjabov’s solidarity?

11…Be7 12.Ne2 Bd7

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Radjabov can’t exactly afford to play pedantically. While …b7-b6 followed by fianchettoing the bishop is far more natural, here, its much more important that Teimour gets his rooks into the game. Note that 12… Be6? would be punished by 13. Nf4! as the bishop for knight trade would give away Black’s long-term advantage.

13.Nf4 Rd8 14.Bxe7 Kxe7

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Again we see the thematic exchange of dark-squared bishops. By getting his own bishop off the board, Karjakin intends to play Nf3-g5 to keep the initiative. While White’s pieces are seemingly more active, he runs into the issue that he just doesn’t have enough pieces.

15.Ng5 Rh6

 

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A weird looking move but a necessary one as e5-e6 (a theme that White missed in my video) is no longer possible. Objectively, the position is equal since Black is held down by White’s knights, but its Karjakin”s desire to fall that proves his undoing.

16.g3 Rf8 17.Rd3 Bc8

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Black doesn’t have much to do here, but Radjabov’s point is that White can’t either. Black’s only weakness is the d-file, but as many of you know, you need two weaknesses to win a game of chess.

18.Re1 Re8 19.f3 Kf8

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With a safe king, Radjabov can just make improving moves on the queenside.

20.Kf2 a6 21.h3 Ne7!

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A multi-faceted move. First, it gets out of the way of any g3-g4 pushes. Second, it prepares …Ne7-g6 attacking the e5 pawn and offering a trade of knights to simplify the endgame in Black’s favor.

22.g4?! hxg4 23.hxg4

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I’m not sure if I agree with White’s g3-g4 push. While seemingly naturally, it makes Black’s h-rook more active and ignores the idea of …Ng6. By simplifying the endgame, the game gets easier for Radjabov, not Karjakin.

23…Ng6 24.Nxg6+ Rxg6 25.Nh3 Rh6 26.Nf4 Rh2+

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In just a few moves, Black has maximized his advantage after a single trade and claiming the h-file. White may already have to play for equality.

27.Ng2 Ke7 28.Re2 Reh8 29.Ke3 R8h3 30.Nf4 Rxe2+ 31.Kxe2 Rh2+ 32.Kd1 g6

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Only on the better side of equal, Black defines his structure while White wonders how to fix his overall passivity.

33.Rd2 Rh1+ 34.Ke2 a5 35.Ke3 b6

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Maintaining flexibility. Black can move the bishop to a6 for play and has a solid structure to back it.

36.Ne2 Bd7 37.Ng3 Rh3 38.Rg2 Be6 39.b3 a4!

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A nice idea, aiming to weaken White’s queenside pawn structure. If Radjabov can trade the last pair of rooks, he’ll reach a bishop v knight endgame where only he can stand better.

40.Ne4 Rh1 41.Nf6 Ra1 42.c3 axb3 43.axb3 Re1+ 44.Re2 Rxe2+ 45.Kxe2 Bxb3

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Now with a material advantage, Radjabov has a win to play for in the classical Berlin Endgame. Black went on to win 23 moves later.

So what do these games tell us about playing the Berlin as Black?

  1. The Berlin won’t win games quickly. As evidenced by both games, endgame technique and defence are two critical skills needed to play the Berlin effectively. Black didn’t get an advantage until White erred playing for an edge.
  2. Patience in the key. Remember, the main reason why the Berlin is popular for Black is because the computer gives it a favorable evaluation with the computer. Once the queens come off the board, the game is about strategic gains for either side as White tries to compensate for losing the bishop pair.
  3. A Berlin Endgame is a good endgame. The biggest positive from today’s article. If White can’t effectively prove his compensation, he will be tortured in an uphill positional battle.

Free Game Analysis: Online Battles

For today’s post, I would like to show an online game that shared with me from a young player out of Virginia Beach. If you too would like your game analyzed by me, make sure to send them to chess.summit@gmail.com, and I’ll feature it in the next post!

Bchninja4 – rob13 (15’+10″, chess.com)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+

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Even though I’m not a 1 e4 player, this move cannot be the most accurate way to handle a Philidor. White invites Black to attack the b5 bishop while creating a hold on the center. Remember, the only reason why 3. Bb5 is a strong move in the Ruy Lopez is because when Black has a knight on c6, it becomes uncomfortable for Black to move the d-pawn. A general idea to remember is that its not worth checking your opponent if you cannot also improve your position.

3…c6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d4 Bg4 6.h3 Bh5 7.dxe5 Bxf3?

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This move deserves a question mark because it defeats the purpose of Black’s last move, 6… Bh4. In general, If you play a move like Bg4/Bg5 to pin the knight, you need to be ready to take the knight should your opponent attack your bishop with the h-pawn. By not following this concept, Black lost a critical tempo to develop.

8.Qxf3 dxe5 9.Bg5 Be7 10.Nc3 Nbd7 11.O-O-O Qc7 12.Rd2 h5?

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A strategic mistake! With this move, Black makes it much more difficult to castle kingside while also making it more difficult to kick the g5 bishop. Black should have considered 13… Ne5, attacking the a4 bishop. Black’s intention should not be to trade for the light squared bishop, but to castle kingside and contest the d-file – specifically the d4 square. From c5, the knight can always trade for the bishop, but for the time being, it would put pressure on the e4 pawn.

13.Rhd1 O-O 14.Bxf6 Nxf6 15.g4!

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Good technique! White punishes Black for having a poor kingside structure, and plans to make use of the weak d7 square.

15…hxg4 16.hxg4 Nh7 17.Rd7 Bg5+ 18.Kb1 Qb6 19.Bb3 Nf6 20.R7d2??

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I give this move two question marks for the thought process that went behind it. In his email to me, White explained: “I sac the rook since that bishop was worth 5 to me since it was blocking my pawn and aiming down on the king side”. This thought process is incorrect for a couple reasons. 1) This move is a passive tactic, meaning that the entire line assumes that Black will willingly take the rook, when in reality a move like …Ra8-d8 can be played. Such moves need to be considered for this move to work. 2) The bishop on g5 is actually a really bad piece. The weakest square on Black’s kingside is h7, which the dark square bishop can never protect. Furthermore, should the bishop move, it risks allowing the g5-g4 push. If a rook was to be sacrificed, why not for the f6 knight? At least its a much more active defender and covers Black’s critical squares. A sample line would go 20. Qf5 Nxd7 21. Rxd7, and Black now has to deal with pressure on f7 and a g-pawn push. White is winning. 3) Using point values to calculate generally leads to really artificial play. Even though we are taught each piece’s point value when we learn how to play, these are merely heuristics for computer engines and constantly change based on the position. In general, don’t compare point values, compare actual value to the position.

20…Bxd2 21.Rxd2 Rfd8 22.Rxd8+ Qxd8

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Either way Black recaptures is losing, but Black should have recaptured with the rook to have one more active piece in the game.

23.g5 Nh7

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The try …g7-g5 might not be inconceivable here. Already in a worse position, Black can seek counterplay using his one passed pawn.

24.Qxf7+ Kh8 25.Qxb7 Rb8 26.Qxc6 Rc8 27.Qd5 Qxg5 28.a4 Rd8 29.Qb7 Qg1+ 30.Ka2 Qxf2 31.Nb5 Nf6 32.Nxa7 Qd4

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An unfortunate blunder, but White is already winning the endgame. Again Black needed to make the position as complicated as possible by pushing the g-pawn and hoping for the best.

33.Nc6 Qxe4 34.Nxd8 Qxb7 35.Nxb7 Nd5 1-0

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Black blunders on the final move, ending the game.

In a rather one sided game, we learn a lot about mentality and attacking chess. Let’s go over the key points:

  1. “Patzer see a check, patzer play a check” – In this game, White lost time with an early Bb5+ when a move like Bc4 would have been much more practical. Only check your opponent if it helps you make progress.
  2. Don’t weaken your own pawn structure! – The move 12… h5 alone may have cost Black the game as White had a lot of counterplay as a result. Look for ways to activate your developed pieces once you’ve finished the main opening ideas.
  3. Don’t consider point values when analyzing – Trust your own intuition when calculating the differences in piece value. Knowing that a piece covers key squares and another piece serves little to know function might be enough for you to make rational over the board decisions.
  4. “When you are losing, go crazy!” – This was something one of my former coaches taught me when I was ~1800. If you are worse in a position, you have to seek counterplay and contest your opponent’s desires. Black failed to make a serious push for the advantage in the endgame and thus failed to stay in the game. Simply making his g-pawn promoting a threat may have helped him get back to a more tenable position.

I’ll be looking forward to more game analysis posts in the future! Send me games!

Put to the Test: Akobian’s French

Last Saturday, Nicholas N. asked “Is there a chance you have a game with the French Defense winning?”

Unfortunately, I’m not a French player, and because I haven’t played 1 e4 since I was in elementary school, I don’t have any quality games for any up and coming French players. But I know someone who does.

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I (right) got to play GM Varuzhan Akobian (center) in a simultaneous exhibition at Emory University back in 2013 as part of the Castle Chess Camp program.

I met Grandmaster Akobian at Castle Chess back in 2011, and while I haven’t kept in contact, I have followed his games over the past few years. For those of you who only started following top-level chess recently, you may recall hearing Akobian’s name from this famous incident:

[Courtesy: D K Chess]

But Akobian has his own achievements too. A gold medal winner at the 2013 World Chess Team Championships, Var has a legacy of strong opening play with both the French and Bg5 systems against the King’s Indian Defense. To answer Nicholas’ question, we’ll look at two games in the French from Akobian.

Khachiyan – Akobian (World Open, 2008)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3

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I’m not an 1 e4 player, but if I were, this is the system I’d choose to combat the French. Recommended in “Chess Openings for White, Explained”, this Nc3 line offers solid play for White.

3…Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.f4 a6

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This odd looking move is actually theoretical! The idea is to take away the b5 square from White (ideas like Nc3-b5-d6) before pushing …c7-c5. Because Black traded the dark square bishop, a square like d6 becomes difficult to cover effectively once the c-pawn moves from c7.

8.Nf3 c5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.O-O-O b5 11.dxc5 Nxc5 12.Bd3 b4 13.Ne2 O-O

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In this position, White allows Black to push pawns, but in return gets space in the center and his outpost for his d4 knight. White needs to proceed with caution, a single mis-step could result in a fatal position.

14.Kb1

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A smart positional move. Before improving the position of his other pieces, Khachiyan moves his king off the half-open c-file.

14…a5

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White deviates from theory here with 15. Ned4, but it would have been interesting to see the tactical shot 15. Bxh7+, as recommended by “Chess Openings for White, Explained”. The line recommended continues 15… Kxh7 16. Ng5+ Kg8, and the quiet move 17. Qe3 gives the queen entry to the kingside and compensation for White.

15.Ned4 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 Ba6 17.Bxa6 Rxa6 18.h4 Ne4

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Something has gone wrong in White’s preparation for Akobian. With this move, Black’s knight proves itself to be just as strong as the White knight on d4, so Black has the initiative because of his pushed queenside army. White needs time to compete in the race position, and squares like g3 and f2 are rather weak and will require White’s attention.

19.Qe3?!

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White puts the queen on the third rank to defend the king, but it can’t leave the f2 square unprotected, so Qe1 may have made more sense. White should plan to play Rh1-h3 as the rook lift justifies the h2-h4 thrust, while bringing an inactive piece into the game. Putting the queen here blocks that possibility from coming to fruition and overloads the piece.

19…a4 20.Ne2 b3 21.cxb3 axb3 22.Qxb3

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A serious concession. Obviously White offers the knight e4-f2 fork, but the more important factor in the position is that White gives Black a half open b-file for the f8 rook. Ideally White would have liked to play 22. a3, but this gives Black a tactical opportunity: 22… Rxa3 23. bxa3 Qxa3 and White cannot stop both the threat of …Qa2# and …Rf8-a8 followed by …Qa1# without surrendering material.

22…Qa7 23.Nc1 Rb8 0-1

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A great positional motif to end the game. Black made sure to control the b-file before even considering to play …Ne4-f2, and now has a massive queenside attack to show for it. White has a lot of problems in this position, and threw in the towel as he cannot generate counterplay on the kingside.

A strong showing from Akobian in this game against a top level Grandmaster! This game showed us a couple of lessons:

1) While theory doesn’t win games, it can play a significant factor in deciding the result. In this game Khachiyan wasn’t familiar with the Bxh7 line, and because of that, could not acquire positional resources to slow Black’s play.

2) In winning positions, positional advantages may mean more than winning material! Var could have played …Ne4-f2 but waited, because he realized that it would actually be harder to win up the exchange than taking full control of the weak queenside first.

3) Use all of your pieces! White traded a lot of pieces, and while theoretical, didn’t find a way to effectively use his h1 rook. This may seem irrelevant to the game, but in the final position, White is basically playing down a rook as all of Black’s pieces are going into the action.

This game was short, but shows us that the French can be a sharp opening and White must know theory to challenge Black’s queenside thrusts. Let’s take a look at a more positional game where Var makes use of an isolated queen’s pawn.

Akobian is one of the top player in the United States, having qualified for every US Chess Championships since 2005. You can visit his website here!

Shahade–Akobian (Philadelphia Open, 2012)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2

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This peculiar knight move is similar to the first game in that it guards e4, with the added advantage of playing c2-c3 in the future. While White aims to create solid structure, he does block in the c1 bishop with this move and will have to spend a tempo later to compensate.

3…Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Qb6

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A thematic move in the French as Black gives White the center early to put pressure on the d4 pawn. While white aims to use his central space to acquire a positional advantage, Black wants to punish White for hyper-extending his pawns in the center before completing development.

8.Nf3 cxd4 9.cxd4 f6

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Black continues to chip away at White’s center in a typical French fashion. If White doesn’t trade pawns on f6, he will be stuck with an unprotected pawn on e5, and by trading on f6, White gives Black the space he needs to finish development.

10.exf6 Nxf6 11.O-O Bd6 12.b3 e5!

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A critical decision from Akobian, as now he rids himself from a central backwards pawn, making it not clear what White is playing for. Even with an IQP, Black stands at least equal as the bad French bishop is activated.

13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Bxe5 15.Rb1 O-O 16.h3 Bd7 17.Bf4 Rae8 18.Qd2 Kh8 19.Bxe5 Rxe5 20.Ng3 Qd4 21.Qb2 Qxb2 22.Rxb2

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In a seemingly equal position, Akobian has traded his activity into a slightly favorable endgame. White’s rook on b2 in misplaced, and the passed d5-pawn gives Black the only real shot of winning.

22…Rc8 23.Rd1 Kg8 24.Rbd2 Kf7 25.Be2 Rce8 26.Bf3 Re1+

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Var trades off a pair of rooks. With each simplification the IQP becomes more meaningful.

27.Kh2 Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Be6 29.Nf1 Ke7 30.Ne3 Kd6 31.Nc4+ Kc5

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Shahade’s mistake here was to allow Black’s king to get so far without improving his own position. Now with an active king Black’s slight advantage has increased.

32.Ne3 a5!

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I like this move! Knowing that Rc1+ is unstoppable, Akobian makes this pawn push to stop White from playing b3-b4, permanently cutting the king off from the c5 square.

33.Rc1+ Kd6 34.Kg1 b5 35.Kf1 Rc8 36.Rxc8 Bxc8

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After forcing the last pair of rooks to come off the board, Akobian has one simple plan to win – play on the dark squares! Even though the f3-bishop controls the d5 pawn’s promotion square, Akobian can subdue White’s army into a passive position.

37.g4 d4!

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Getting the pawn off a light square and giving White less room to work with.

38.Nc2 Kc5 39.Ke2 b4 40.Kd2 g5!

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An instructive moment! In a position that doesn’t have a clear path to victory, Black fixes White’s pawn structure, confining White’s pawns to the same color as his bishop.

41.Ne1 Ba6 42.Bg2 h6 43.Kd1 Nd5

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Forcing the last needed simplification. Even though the knight is arguably better than the bishop, Akobian applies an “Ulf Andersen” like idea here of comparing the pieces that are left on the board. The a6-bishop is much stronger than the passive e1 knight, and the trade on d5 eliminates a White piece that can control d1. White has no choice but to take on d5 since Black’s knight will be too strong on either c3 or f4.

44.Bxd5 Kxd5 45.Nf3 Ke4 46.Ne1 Bf1 47.Kd2 d3 48.f3+ Kf4!

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The pawn on d3 is poisoned because the pawn ending is a guaranteed win for Black. Unfortunately, there not much else Greg Shahade can do.

49.Nxd3+ Bxd3 50.Kxd3 Kxf3 51.Kc4 Kg3 52.Kb5 Kxh3 53.Kxa5 Kxg4 54.Kxb4 h5 0-1

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Precisely as Akobian had calculated. The h-pawn will promote on h1 one tempo before the a-pawn can reach a8, meaning that the newly promoted queen can cover the long diagonal and win the game for Black.

I liked this game because Akobian showed that playing with the “dreaded” IQP isn’t actually that bad. By making advantageous trades, he simplified into an endgame where he could play for two results, and then slowly outplayed the International Master.

The French is a versatile structure, and learning it can help you understand the Dutch and the Nimzo Indian at the next level. While I personally would never choose the French as a first choice, it is a great way to build an opening repertoire.