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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 14.21.23
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 14.23.46
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 14.31.45
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 14.37.10
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 14.49.59
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 14.58.12
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 15.18.35
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?

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 15.25.06
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

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 15.29.01
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.

Morning Coffee – Just a Quick Thought on Computers

Over the past years, I think I’ve really learned how to use a computer to analyze games. Many times, the 3000+ rated engines suggest moves we don’t understand or aren’t capable of finding over the board.

Let’s take this position for example:

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 11.16.22

Steincamp (1993) – FM Lopez (2472)

I played this game in the third round of the Northern Virginia Open last November. Playing with the white pieces, I played the move Ke3 and offered a draw. My FIDE Master opponent thought for about 10 minutes and then agreed. When I put the position into my computer (Shredder for Mac, a weaker engine – but still much better than me!), it assessed the position as +1.04. I explored the analysis to find a potential break through, but the computer just told me play Ng4-f2 and wait for Black to play …e6-e5. I can slowly improve my position, but there is no distinct line that wins the game. While White is slightly better, I don’t think it’s fair to use the computer’s understanding of the endgame and say I should have won – as a knight v. bishop endgame is very difficult to win.

I found the best example of a computer suggesting an instructive move during the Norway Chess 2015 tournament in the Carlsen–Aronian game just last week.

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 11.25.05

Carlsen (2876) – Aronian (2780) Image Credit – chess24

Here Black holds a -0.82 advantage, but what does that mean? White has play in this position, as Carlsen threatens the move g2-g4. Aronian played the move 36…Qa1 but lost quickly after 37.g4 Qf1 38. Ne1!! as the rook is lost and all of the mating squares for Black are covered. So already, this position is worth looking at with a computer. We know with 36. Rc2, the black queen must move, but where? Common sense says …Qb4 (which is fine), trading the queens and moving into a risk-less endgame. What is the computer move? 36… Qb8! the only way to keep the advantage! The queen is on the same diagonal as the king, and if White gets greedy with 37. g4? then Black is winning – 37… Ng6 38. gxf5 exf5 -+ as now the queen must try to find squares that do not lose to a discovered check.

The takeaway from such a position, let’s say for Aronian, is not that he should have played 36… Qb8!, but a couple of different themes.

1) Full Board Awareness – The move 36… Qb8 is a very hard move to find (I only found it with help of an engine), but for a 2700+ rated player, it should not be unfathomable that Aronian could find it. Often times, players don’t like to retreat pieces in a position when they have the edge, but in this case, …Qb8 is the only active approach.

2) Playing Complicated Positions – I think for a ~2000 rated player, this position would be deemed equal if not for the …Qb8 move. Black is definitely on the attack, but it is unclear how Black would go about keeping the momentum while avoiding g2-g4 threats.

From using the computer in the second position, we quickly saw that the computer move was actually quite constructive. While Black isn’t completely winning yet, it shows how rerouting pieces is a crucial idea. I feel like from using an engine in this game, I can say I learned something and became a better player.

In my game, I think the assessment is correct, White is better. But at that time as a 1900 rated player, it is hard to see such obscure long-term ideas when playing a much higher rated player. I think looking back as a better player than I was in November, I should have played on – as the engine tells me here. But that’s it. The engine doesn’t give me the same constructive criticism as it did in the Aronian game.

So what does this all mean? I think engines are helpful – they find tactics, stronger positional moves, and solid continuations. But at the same time, as a player thats not a GM/IM, its hard to hold yourself to a 3000+ rated standard on every move. Everyone makes mistakes, and while we are all trying to get better, I think its a much better use of time to use a computer only in positions where we make bad decisions. Spend the rest of your times studying tactics!

State Championships Training: How to Use Chess.com’s Tactics Trainer

Hi all! Its been a LONG time since I’ve made my last post, but with all my preparation for my final Virginia Scholastic State Chess Championships coming up this weekend. As I mentioned back in January, my goal is to finish 1st in the High School section, a feat I have never accomplished before.

While I hope to have more posts on a regular basis starting next week, I wanted to share this with you all.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 11.28.53

 

I’ve never broken 2200 on chess.com’s Tactics Trainer before, and just two weeks ago I was in the mid-1850s, rarely getting problems completely correct. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from many players over the years about chess.com’s Tactics Trainer, and myself being one of them, here is how you can fix your problems.

1) Turn off the timer. If you are rated below 2000+ on Tactics Trainer, learning tactical patterns is more important than completing the puzzle in the recommended time. It’s much better to get a +6 than a -3 anyways 🙂

2) If the opponent makes a move, ask what good and bad things this move does and HOW IT CHANGES the position. If you bring this mentality, you are more likely to use the mindset you will have in a chess tournament. Practice the way you play, this will push you to use more time and look deeper.

3) Consider every move. Turning off the timer puts less pressure to make instinctual moves, allowing you to fully delve into each puzzle.

In short, take your time!

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

Answer:

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 chess24.com as a good resource for news on chess. What are some other news outlets that you would recommend?

So I personally like chess24.com services the most because I can watch tournament games live on their site. But I should add that chess.com 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 playchess.com, 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!

My Favorite Chess Website

I can’t remember where I first heard about this website, but I’m sure glad I found out about it. Tim Krabbé’s website Chess Curiosities is filled with great games, tactics, and studies. Krabbé keeps an open chess diary, and posts interesting notes about the evolving world of chess. The great thing about Krabbé’s site is that it offers a lot of free PGN downloads that work for both Mac and PC. If you haven’t seen his site before, I would highly recommend giving it a look!

You can find Chess Curiosities here: http://timkr.home.xs4all.nl/chess/chess.html