Live Chess: Doubled Pawns to Equalize

Faced with a worse opening set-up, I managed to equalize in a G/15 ICC match after trading my weakest pieces for my opponent’s best pieces. At the critical moment, I used an idea from Yasser Seirawan to earn the half point – watch the video and check it out!

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.

Live Chess: Bad Pawns and Weak Squares

For today’s video, I played a G/15 ICC game which reached an instructive conclusion. After completing my opening development with relative equality, I just solidified my position while I allowed my opponent to create weaknesses of his own. Unlike my last Live Chess video where I was able to push the a-pawn to expose Black’s queenside weaknesses, this game was unique because I never really needed to establish a plan. I think the main takeaway from this game is when your opponent makes a move, you should not only ask why they make each move, but if their intentions put your position at risk. Once my opponent played Bc1-d2, Qd1-e2, White’s position became passive while I continued to expand on the queenside. Enjoy!

First Game Analysis!

Hi everyone! This is my first Free Game Analysis post on chesssummit.com, and I’m really excited to get this section of my blog underway. For those of you who don’t know, if you would like to have your games analyzed by me for free, send your PGNs to chess.summit@gmail.com, and if you are lucky, I will post them on my blog!

For today’s post, I was sent two games from an up-and-coming amateur from the Northern Virginia area, Maciek Kowalski, who recently competed in the Washington Chess Congress. In just the last year, his rating has increased by roughly 275 points, getting him to his current best, 1472! That being said, let’s take a look at two of his games.

Kowalski – Offertaler (U1700 Washington Chess Congress, 2015)

1.Nf3

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I consider 1 Nf3 one of the most flexible starting moves for White, and probably the best option for a positional player who is looking to cut down on learning theory.

1…Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6 6.Qc2

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This move 6 Qc2 is seemingly out of place. Though a thematic idea in the Catalan, here Black hasn’t committed to a Queen’s Gambit Declined structure. Usually, the goal of Qc2 is to push e2-e4 to break a static pawn structure in the center, but here Black’s pawn is on d6 and not d5. I have a couple suggestions for White here that may prove a little more testing for Black. 6 Nc3 is the most natural, and I’ve had this position a few times myself, the idea behind this move is to move the d-pawn to d3 and should Black choose 6… e5, the game starts to feel like a reversed closed Sicilian. If White is hoping for something a little more assertive, 6 d4 is the easiest way to play, reaching a King’s Indian Fianchetto variation. While there is a lot of theory behind this line, the more tame variations are mostly intuitive and promise White a good game. With either structure, its not immediately clear where to put the queen, so by not playing Qc2, White saves a tempo.

6…c5 7.b3 Bd7 8.Bb2 Bc6 9.d3

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I hope this position illustrates my concern with 6. Qc2. While White has achieved solidarity, it was at the cost of a tempo, as the queen no longer has an active role in the fight. While this double fianchetto structure seems passive, it could have been attained with 6. d4 followed by b3, where the d-pawn blocks the long diagonal from any tactics. This would also justify a later Qc2 and White has a game. In the mean time, Black has constructed a rather crafty set-up with a bishop on c6. While not orthodox, I think its justified given White’s wasted tempo.

9…Nbd7 10.Nbd2 a6 11.Rfe1 Qc7 12.e3 b5

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I thought that Black had put up reasonable resistance up to here, but now White begins to play for a sharp edge. This b7-b5 move allows for White to play d3-d4, the thrust that justifies Maciek’s set-up. Here Black really needed to ask himself what White’s plan was, and with moves like Re1 and e2-e3, the goal d3-d4, is not transparent. If Black allows this move, the e-file could open, thus allowing White active play and central control. If Black had opted for 12…d5, The game becomes challenging for White to make progress. If White takes on d5, the position quickly liquidates, for example, 12… d5 13. cxd5?! Nxd5 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. d4 N5f6 16. dxc5 Bxf3 17. Nxf3 Qxc5 = the pawns are symmetric and the only advantage White has is a bishop and knight combination instead of the knight pair.

13.d4 cxd4

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I feel like b7-b5 was only justified if Black had seen that 13… e6 keeps the position together. White is making progress, but now with this exchange, Black releases the tension in the center, giving White the e-file. One common theme that differentiates weaker players from experts is the fact that more experienced players prefer to keep the tension in pawn structures as trading pawns (like in this position) tends to weaken their position. Here Black was reacting to d4-d5, shutting down the bishop, and therefore thought the trade on d4 was justified. 13… e6 would have sufficiently covered the d5 square, while not playing into White’s hand. In that line, the rook on e1 seems misplaced and Black is still in the balance.

14.exd4 e6 15.d5!!

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A true pawn sacrifice! Now its the queen on c7 that is misplaced!

15…exd5 16.cxd5 Nxd5 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Rac1 Rac8 19.Nd4 Ba8 20.Qb2!

Excellent choice! White threatens both the queen on c7 and a discovered check along the long diagonal. Black thought was out of the woods after ...Ba8, but that is simply not the case!
Excellent choice! White threatens both the queen on c7 and a discovered check along the long diagonal. Black thought was out of the woods after …Ba8, but that is simply not the case!

20…Nc3 21.Bxa8 Qa7 22.Nc6

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An interference idea! If White had just played Rxc3, …Qxd4 is annoying as the rook on c3 is attacked and pinned. This move ensures that White will win material as the knight on c3 cannot be protected. Nice tactical vision!

22…Qxa8 23.Qxc3+ f6 24.Re7+ Rf7 25.Rxf7+ Kxf7 26.Ne5+

And now the game is completely over, White's tactical acumen got him out of a passive opening, allowing him to assert his control over the game.
And now the game is completely over, White’s tactical acumen got him out of a passive opening, allowing him to assert his control over the game.

26…Nxe5 27.Qxc8 Qxc8 28.Rxc8 d5 29.Rc7+ Ke6 30.f4 Kd6 31.Rxh7 a5 32.fxe5+

A good game by Maciek, and my only real critique is the awkward opening development. Otherwise keep up the good work with the tactics.

Conley–Kowalski (U1700 Washington Chess Congress, 2015)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bd7 7.Bc2 Nh6

An unorthodox move justified tactically. Should white take on h6, b2 is hanging, and with it the a1 rook. From h6, the knight will want to go to f5, where it can reach its fullest potential attacking d4.
An unorthodox move justified tactically. Should white take on h6, b2 is hanging, and with it the a1 rook. From h6, the knight will want to go to f5, where it can reach its fullest potential attacking d4.

8.O-O Be7 9.b3??

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A move, which to me shows that White is out of his opening preparation, this move does not help White improve his position. If White played this move to take on h6, I think Black would be more than happy to accept as the trade would result in the opening of the g-file. Black hasn’t committed where he wants his king yet, so having doubled h-pawns gives Black the edge. White could have tried better with 9. dxc5, followed by the space grabbing b2-b4 push. With an imbalanced pawn structure, the game should yield promising play for both sides.

9…cxd4 10.cxd4 f6

A thematic break in such positions. Black hopes to weaken white's central hold, and now the knight can choose f5 or f7, depending on what White chooses. Even without a castled king, Black has enough development to compensate.
A thematic break in such positions. Black hopes to weaken white’s central hold, and now the knight can choose f5 or f7, depending on what White chooses. Even without a castled king, Black has enough development to compensate.

11.Nc3 fxe5 12.dxe5 Nf7 13.Bf4 Rc8 14.Na4 Qc7 15.Re1 Ncxe5??

Some times, a threat is stronger than its execution. Here White's pieces are passively defending the weak e5 pawn, but by capturing, White can trade off his weakest pieces at the cost of only a pawn. What Black needs to realize is that the e5 pawn will be weak forever since its blockaded by the e6 pawn, and right now blocks the e1 rook from doing any damage to the king. If Black really wanted to make the most out of his position, ...b7-b5 would have been a nice way to grab space while also maintaining pressure on e5.
Some times, a threat is stronger than its execution. Here White’s pieces are passively defending the weak e5 pawn, but by capturing, White can trade off his weakest pieces at the cost of only a pawn. What Black needs to realize is that the e5 pawn will be weak forever since its blockaded by the e6 pawn, and right now blocks the e1 rook from doing any damage to the king. If Black really wanted to make the most out of his position, …b7-b5 would have been a nice way to grab space while also maintaining pressure on e5.

16.Bxh7 Reacting to the discovered attack on the c-file. 16…Rxh7 17.Nxe5 Bd6

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If White finds Rc1, he will have a much stronger position as Black is resigned to giving up the c-file. This move 17… Bd6 didn’t change things for Black by securing his only advantage. The computer likes 17… Qc2, going for trades, but such moves are to find over the board. Black gets lucky that White fails to find the right reputation.

18.Qd4 Rh4 19.Ng6 Rxf4

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If Black was going to sacrifice a rook, why not also win it back with an extra pawn? Here 19… Bxf4 20. Nxh4 Bxh2+ gives Black a healthy advantage as 21. Kh1 Be5 is enough to put the game away.

20.Nxf4 Be5 21.Nxd5 Bxd4 22.Nxc7+ Rxc7 23.Rad1 Bf6 24.Rc1 Bc6?

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Giving up a pawn for free? I think Black was better before this moment as the pair of bishops is superior to the knight. I think a trade on c1 followed by ..Bc6 would have been adequate.

25.Rxe6+ Re7 26.Rxe7+ Kxe7 27.Nc3 Nd8 28.f3 Ne6 29.Kf2 Nf4 30.Rc2 Nd3+ 31.Kf1 Nb4 32.Rc1 Nd3 33.Rd1?

In games that feel like a pendulum swinging, the guy to blunder last always loses. Here White must have missed that Bb5 at the end of the line is simply winning. Black should be able to easily convert the point.
In games that feel like a pendulum swinging, the guy to blunder last always loses. Here White must have missed that Bb5 at the end of the line is simply winning. Black should be able to easily convert the point.

33…Bxc3 34.Rxd3 Bb5 35.Ke2 Be5 36.g3 Kf6 37.Ke3 Bxd3 38.Kxd3 Kf5 39.Kc4 Bc7 40.Kd5 Bb6 41.b4 Bg1 42.h3 Bh2 43.a4 Bxg3 44.a5 Bc7 45.a6 bxa6 46.Kc6 Be5 47.Kb7 Bd4 48.Kxa6 Kf4 49.Kb5 Kxf3 50.Kc4 Bb6

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And White throws in the towel down a piece in a losing endgame.

Interesting games to pull out two wins, but I think the second game provided the most concerning point with the early Ncxe5?. Generally, when you are better, you want to hold your advantage. If you have the initiative, but continue to make the game even more complicated, you can risk losing your advantage entirely. Once you are better, don’t be afraid to play simple chess and just improve your overall grip on the position.

Pretty good games, and I’m hoping to see more!

Catching Up – A Season in a Post

Hi everyone, I’m back with my first real post in ages!

As some of you already know, I’m repurposing this blog from breaking 2000 (which I successfully completed last November) to documenting my journey to the 2016 US Junior Open, and my goal to win the event. Obviously I’ve played a lot of chess since my last post, so here’s what I’ve been up to in the last couple months.

Part 1 – Summer Struggles

The last tournament I posted about was my performance in the Cherry Blossom Classic, in which I pulled a big first round upset by beating Jennifer Yu, a gold medal winner of the 2014 World Youth Chess Championships. After what had been a rather euphoric tournament for me things got harder before they got easier.

My next tournament was the World Open in Northern Virginia. Playing in the U2200 section, I didn’t exactly have many expectations, but I definitely wanted to see a continuation of progress in my level of play. My first round game proved to be one of the most testing, as I played an ambitious attacker. While the end result was a draw, the game was very dynamic and over the course of five hours went back and forth from the opening to the endgame.

Steincamp – Zinski (World Open, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 Bc5 4.Nc3 a6 5.Nf3 d6 6.d3 Nge7 7.O-O h5 8.h4

One thing to keep in mind with the h7-h5 pushes is that Black makes life difficult for himself for a few reasons. 1) If he were to try f7-f5, the g5 square becomes a great outpost for my knight. 2) moving the g-pawn will significantly weaken the f6 square. 3) Black hasn’t fully resolved his king’s safety.

8…Bg4 9.Nd5

When your opponent plays on the wings, play in the center!

9…Qd7 10.a3 Nf5 11.e3 Nd8 12.b4 Ba7 13.Qb3 Ne6 14.Bb2 c6 15.Nc3 Ke7??

For some unknown reason, I just knew my opponent would make this mistake. I now must try to break the center of the board.

16.c5 Bxf3 17.cxd6+ Nxd6 18.Bxf3 g5 19.Ne4 f6 20.d4

The only way to hold the advantage. I have to be very accurate with how I play. One mistake and the game could be lost!

20…exd4 21.exd4 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 gxh4

Here White misses a crushing resource with 23. Rad1! With the same idea as 23.Bf5, but this time has the added threat of d4-d5, which would punish Black for such an unorthodox way of moving his king!

23.Bf5 Kf7 24.Rae1 Rae8 25.Re3 Qd5 26.Qxd5 cxd5 27.Rfe1 Ng7 28.Rxe8 Rxe8 29.Rxe8 Nxe8 30.gxh4 Nd6 31.Bd3 Nb5 32.Kg2 Bxd4 33.a4 Bxb2 34.axb5 axb5 35.Bxb5 Bc3 36.Be2 Bxb4 37.Bxh5+ Ke6 38.Kf3 Ke5 39.Be8 Bf8 40.Ke3 d4+ 41.Kd3 f5 42.Bd7 Bg7 43.Be8 Kf4 44.Bh5 Bf6 45.f3

I was getting a little complacent as well as tired in this opposite colored bishop ending. Here my opponent missed the fantastic 45… Ke5! putting me Zugzwang as there is noway to hold the pawn on h4!

45…Kg3 46.Bg6 f4 47.Ke4 b5 48.h5 b4 49.Bf7 Bg7 50.Bd5 Bf6 51.h6 Bh8 52.h7 Kf2 53.Bc4 Ke1 54.Kd3 Kd1 55.Bd5 Kc1 56.Kc4??

After trying to hold a draw for the last hour and a half, I should have lost the game here with the simple push 56… b3! now after 57. Kxb3 d3, I can’t use the dark squares and can’t stop the successful promotion of the pawn!

56…Kd2 57.Kxb4 Ke3 58.Kc4 d3 59.Be4 d2 60.Bc2 Ke2 61.Ba4 Ke3 62.Bd1 Bg7 63.Ba4 Ke2 64.Bc2 Kxf3 65.Kd3 Kg2 66.Kxd2 f3 67.Be4 1/2-1/2 I got lucky in the endgame, but the opening went really well.

I actually wound up losing my second round, which was a first for me at the World Open (last year I had two wins and seven draws!), so I had to regroup. I won an uninspiring game in Round 3, but woke up the next morning and won a great game in the King’s Indian with Black.

Higgins – Steincamp (World Open, 2015)

Faced with a friend of mine in Round 5 that night, we took a quick draw to head into the last four rounds. With a score of 3/5, I was really liking my chances of leaving with a great result. The next morning, I played as an underdog, and after leaving the opening position with an equal position, my opponent hyper-extended and gifted me the point.

One element you don’t hear much of at the World Open is pure exhaustion. After round 6, I had spent 20 hours at the board. Even though I improved to 4/6 with a Round 6 win, the six hour game was draining, and was a big reason I couldn’t match my opponent’s high level of play. The final two rounds had the same story as well. My opponents and I were both fatigued, and caught in unfamiliar opening territory, I made big tactical errors in each to end the tournament on a three game skid.

While my first six rounds had given me a promising start, it was hard to process the bitter ending to the World Open. I hadn’t lost three games in a row in tournament play since December of 2012, and had me worried perhaps my Cherry Blossom Classic was only a blip and I still had a long ways to go before reaching the next level.

My next rated game was in my final game in the DC Chess League where I reached an interesting position on move 15:

Cousins–Steincamp (2015 Summer DC Chess League)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 a6 6.Be3 c6 7.Qd2 b5 8.Bh6 Bxh6 9.Qxh6

White’s queen is menacing, but since I haven’t castled, it can’t do any harm to my position.

9…Qb6 10.e5 dxe5 11.dxe5 Nfd7 12.O-O-O Nxe5 13.Re1

An important decision, if White had instead tried 13.Qg7 Qe3+ 14.Rd2 Rf8 15.Nd1 Qe1, my opponent’s lack of development would really make it hard for him to continue.

13. … Qf2 14.Qe3 Qxe3+ 15.Rxe3 Nxc4??

A critical mistake as Black gains nothing for the second pawn. Now it is White who is ahead in development, and it is Black that has to play defense. Better would have been 15… Nbd7 16. Nh3 f6 and White as no way to really prove compensation for the one pawn.

16.Bxc4 bxc4 17.Nge2 Ra7

Here I realized how much trouble I was in, I think the move I played was the only way to play for anything:

17… Nd7 18.Re4 Nb6 19.Rd1

17… c5 18.Ne4 Nc6 19.N2c3 O-O 20.Nxc5

17… e6 18.Rd1 O-O 19.Re4

17… Be6 18.Nf4

18.Re4 O-O 19.Rxc4 Be6 20.Rc5 Nd7

Its important to not get too carried away as White still has trumps 20… Rd8 21.Nf4 Rd6 22.Re1 Bf5 23.g4 +=

This line is enough to show that Black will have to give up a second pawn, I played Nd7 to force the issue with tempo.

21.Rxc6 Ne5 22.Rb6 Rc8 23.Kb1 Nc4 24.Rb4 Rd7 25.Kc1 Ne5 26.Rd4 Rxd4 27.Nxd4 Bxa2 28.Kc2 Bc4 29.Re1 Nc6 30.Nxc6 Rxc6 1/2-1/2 With having to rush the last five moves to make time control, a draw was a good enough result. What did I learn from this game? Don’t be greedy! I had my opponent completely outplayed after 13… Qf2, only to let him back in later for a pawn.

The draw was disappointing, but learning from this opening actually paid off at the Washington International a month later. My next tournament was the Potomac Open, where, just like my DC Chess League match, I played really well in the openings, only to play the rest of each game mediocre at best. Finishing with a score of 1.5/5 (three draws and two losses), my winless streak extended to nine consecutive games, and with a week before the Washington International, I was honestly having a hard time finding out what had gone wrong.

Since the World Open, I had been working on my fatigue problem by exercising regularly. I had been studying chess every day, and since the spring, I had brought my tactics trainer rating from 2200 to 2400. I was going over openings and watching live commentary, so my recent spell of results had been puzzling. At the conclusion of the Potomac Open, I took a drastic measure and stopped studying completely. I jogged for 45 minutes everyday that week and focused on eating right and getting plenty of sleep. I wasn’t necessarily confident, I just wasn’t stressed – which I think is equally as important.

Part 2 – Redefining My Play

Looking back, the Washington International really reshaped my outlook on chess and my mentality over the board. I didn’t exactly have preparation to fall back on, so I used positional indicators to help me make decisions throughout each of the seven games.

Entering my first game, I remember feeling a surge of confidence as I waited for my opponent to come to the board.  While my opponent was much lower rated and lacked the skill set to really challenge me, I really liked the way I played, and found it to be quite instructive for some of my peers:

This was an important game, as my nine-game winless run came to an end, and set me off with a running start. The next game would not prove as easy, as I got to play the top seed in my section, a 2200 rated player from Florida.

Xanthos–Steincamp (Washington International, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 a6 6.Be3 c6 7.Qd2 b5 8.Bh6 Bxh6 9.Qxh6

Already, a little deja vu!

9…Qb6 10.Qd2 e5 11.c5 dxc5 12.dxe5 Nfd7 13.Qd6 c4

White’s dynamic play has been scary, but I have a concrete static advantage. With this move I threaten both Qe3+ and the move Nd7-c5. The c5 square is a great outpost for my knight, and justifies the doubled pawns on the c-file.

14.e6 Qe3+ 15.Nge2 Nc5 16.exf7+ Kxf7 17.Qf4+ Qxf4 18.Nxf4 g5 19.Nh5 Rd8

After forcing my opponent’s best pieces off the board, I have a clear developmental advantage, and White is stuck with a terrible light-squared bishop.

20.g4 Be6 21.h4 h6 22.Ng3 Nbd7 23.Nf5? Bxf5

I don’t think my opponent expected this move, but this trade helps me significantly. In his slow kingside expansion, White has serious dark square weaknesses.

24.gxf5 Ne5 25.Ke2 b4 26.Nd1 g4 27.f4 Nf3 28.Ke3 Nxe4!!

The knight is poisoned due to …Rd8-e8# threats! White is completely lost!

29.Bxc4+ Kf6 30.Be2 Ng3 31.Bxf3 Nxf5+ 32.Kf2 gxf3 33.Kxf3 Rd3+ 34.Kf2 Rd2+ 35.Ke1 Rad8 36.Rh3 Rg2 37.a3 Ng3

A general concept from Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman – When handled correctly, a static advantage will become a material advantage. Here White’s lack of mobility proves costly.

38.Rxg3 Rxg3 39.axb4 Rg1+ 40.Ke2 Re8+ 41.Kd2 Ree1 42.Rc1 Rxd1+!

This endgame was about to get tricky, so I took my only opportunity here to get a clear cut win – Simplification!

43.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 44.Kxd1 Kf5 45.Kd2 Kxf4 46.Kd3 Kg4 47.Kc4 Kxh4 48.Kc5 Kg5 49.Kxc6 h5 50.Kb6 h4 51.Kxa6 h3 52.b5 h2 53.b6 h1=Q 54.b7 Qc6+ 55.Ka7 Qc7 56.b4 Kf6 57.Ka8 Qc6 58.b5 Qf3

The last part of the puzzle. My queen will go to a3, where it will have access to d6 and f8, critical square I need to win this game. I have a couple ways to win. Force my opponent to play Kb8 and use the tempi to bring over my king, or play to put my queen on b8 and win the pawns.

59.Ka7 Qa3+ 60.Kb6 Qd6+ 61.Ka7 Qc7 62.b6 Qd7 63.Ka8 Qa4+ 64.Kb8 Ke7 65.Kc7 Qf4+ 66.Kc8 Qf8+ 67.Kc7 Qd8+ 0-1 As I had eluded to earlier, my prior DC Chess League game over the summer gave me a big theoretical advantage over my opponent which helped me grind out my second ever win against a 2200 rated player.

While I got off to a good start in Round 3, my opponent found defenses, and I wasn’t prepared for the counterstrike, ultimately costing me in what would be my only loss in the tournament. I evened the score for the day with another win over a lower rated player that night.

My Round 5 game was my most memorable challenge. Playing a rival from my scholastic days, I had one last opportunity to sneak in a win against him before moving to Pittsburgh the following week. Faced with 1… b6, I put together an unorthodox response and quickly seized the initiative. My coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, even came out with a video on the game, documenting the way my opening put my opponent in a bind from the start (you can watch it on chesslecture.com, here). While both my opponent and I missed 32…Qd1!=, I left really happy with my performance as the win pulled me to 4/5.

Steincamp – Shih (Washington International, 2015)

You can watch the video linked above for comments from a Grandmaster, but I’ve left the analysis for the critical moment of the game.

1.c4 b6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Nge2 Bb4 5.f3 Bxc3 6.dxc3 d6 7.Qc2 Nd7 8.Be3 e5 9.O-O-O Qe7 10.g4 g5 11.Ng3 Qf6 12.Nf5 Ne7 13.Qd2 h6 14.h4 Nxf5 15.hxg5 hxg5 16.Bxg5 Qg7 17.Rxh8+ Qxh8 18.gxf5 f6 19.Be3 O-O-O 20.b4 Ba6 21.c5 Bxf1 22.cxb6 axb6 23.Rxf1 Qh3 24.Qe2 Kb7 25.Kb2 Rg8 26.Rf2 Qh7 27.Qc4 Rg7 28.Qd5+ Kc8 29.a4 Qh1 30.a5 Rg2 31.Qa8+ Nb8 32.a6?? Rxf2+ 33.Bxf2

The critical moment. Black missed 32… Qd1!!= and the game is drawn. After 33. a7 Qd2+ 34. Kb3 Qd1+ 35. Kc5, Black has the incredible resource 35… d5+ and now White cannot escape the net.

33…Qf1 34.a7 Qe2+ 35.Ka3 Qa6+ 36.Kb3 Qb7 37.axb8=Q+ Qxb8 38.Qxb8+ Kxb8 39.Kc4 Kc8 40.Kd5 Kd7 41.b5 Ke7 42.Kc6 Kd8 43.Be3 Kc8 44.Bh6 Kd8 45.Bg7 1-0

I drew my last two games with relative comfort, taking a third place finish and 43 rating points for what would be my last tournament in the area before I moved to Pittsburgh.

Part 3 – The Move to Pittsburgh

Yeah, there’s still more – and I hope you all are starting to forgive me for not posting much this summer.

I moved in mid-August to the University of Pittsburgh to study Economics and Statistics, and I honestly had no idea what that would do to my chess.

Over the summer I had won an article contest on chess24 using my piece on Sam Shankland, and I was really excited to see my prize:

IMG_3493
The newest offline engine, Isaac! Named after me, this computer has a rating of only 1300! I think you all can beat him!

Perhaps having an engine named after me was a sign of good things to come.

Two weeks ago I played in the Pennsylvania G/60 State Chess Championships and finished 5th, finally (FINALLY) getting a top five state finish for the first time of my career. While G/60 isn’t my favorite time control, my 2.5/4 score gained me a few rating points, and this punishing game to share:

Steincamp – Wang (Pennsylvania G/60 State Chess Championships, 2015)

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.d3 d6 6.e4 Nbd7 7.Nge2 e5 8.O-O a5 9.h3 Nc5 10.Be3 Re8

Lower time controls against lower rated opponents has never been my strength, but this move was the first red flag since now f7-f5 ideas lack a lot of sting.
Lower time controls against lower rated opponents has never been my strength, but this move was the first red flag since now f7-f5 ideas lack a lot of sting.

11.Qd2 Ne6

I might already be better. Black wasted time to set up the c5 outpost and then put the knight on the much weaker square.

12.f4 exf4 13.gxf4 Qe7

With this move, the game started to feel more like a G/15 online game. If Black were serious, he would have tried Nh5 and Qh4. But even there the play isn’t very convincing.
With this move, the game started to feel more like a G/15 online game. If Black were serious, he would have tried Nh5 and Qh4. But even there the play isn’t very convincing.

14.Ng3

Eliminating any future Nh5 ideas. Now Black has to get creative to find moves.
Eliminating any future Nh5 ideas. Now Black has to get creative to find moves.

14…Nd7 15.f5 Nef8 16.Nd5 Qd8 17.Bg5 f6 18.Be3 g5 19.h4 c6 20.Nc3 h6 21.hxg5 hxg5 22.d4

Where is Black's play. With the center in my control, I have a firm grasp of the position with lots of flexibility.
Where is Black’s play. With the center in my control, I have a firm grasp of the position with lots of flexibility.

22…Re7 23.Kf2 Nh7 24.Rh1 Ndf8 25.Bf3

Planning Bh5 and Bg6 at the right moment.
Planning Bh5 and Bg6 at the right moment.

25…Bd7 26.Rh3 Be8 27.Rah1 Bf7 28.d5

Not sure if this was right. I almost went for b3, but I really didn’t want to deal with any sac exchange funny business on a4 in this time control. I’m pretty sure I’m better there, but this should be crushing. If he takes, I retake with knight (followed by queen) and after Bd4, Black will struggle to find play. I was just trying to make a second weakness which I received with my opponents move as I got the b5 square as an outpost for my knight.

28…c5 29.Nb5 Be8 30.Nc3 Rc8 31.Kg1 Rcc7 32.Qh2

Yes h7 needs protecting, but the queen says hello from h2 to the pawn on d6. The knight is coming to b5 soon.

32…Bh8 33.Bh5 Bxh5 34.Rxh5 Rg7 35.Nb5 Rce7 36.Bd2 Nd7 37.Rh6 Ne5 38.Qe2 g4 39.Bf4 Nf3+ 40.Kg2 Rd7 41.Nh5 Rgf7 42.Rg6+ Kf8 43.Bh6+ Ke7 44.Nf4 Nhg5 45.Ne6 Qe8 46.Bxg5?

My only slip-up. 46. Nxg5 is much more efficient as 46... Nxg5 47. Bxg5 fxg5 48. Re6+. My line 46. Bxg5? allows for 46... fxg5, and now I have to sacrifice my knight to win the queen.
My only slip-up. 46. Nxg5 is much more efficient as 46… Nxg5 47. Bxg5 fxg5 48. Re6+. My line 46. Bxg5? allows for 46… fxg5, and now I have to sacrifice my knight to win the queen.

46…Nxg5 47.Nxg5 fxg5 48.Re6+ 1-0

Simply crushing. The following week I played in my first match for the University of Pittsburgh against Carnegie Mellon University’s “B” team (all four boards over 1950!), and I won my game against an expert in 20 moves. Want to see that game? Make sure to check out my Youtube Channel on Sunday for a full recap!

And well now I’m here. With a goal to win the 2016 US Junior Open in New Orleans, I think that this should be a fun year. Make sure to check out my GoFundme page here to help me reach my goals for this year!

Beating a Cramped Opponent

I made a video this morning of a Live Chess G/15 game against a higher rated opponent. The position got interesting and became a mess when I played exf5 and let my opponent’s light squared bishop into the game. Overall, I think this was a fun game with a lot to learn from.

This weekend I have the Potomac Open, in which I will play my 700th USCF rated game. Should be a fun event, and a lot to look forward to with the looming Washington International.