Wake Up Washington!

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Mid-thought in my third round draw. I swear I’m not sleeping!

What makes for a good tournament performance? Rating gain? Total number of wins? Winning prizes? Well, for me, it was none of the above. Last week’s Washington International marked my final tournament before returning to Pittsburgh for the fall semester, and a return to one of my favorite tournament venues.

Just like last year, I entered the U2200 section hoping to find some sort of clarity going into the fall. Since the US Junior Open, I think it’s fair to say that I have had a particularly tough stretch between a poor showing at the World Open and some uninspired play at the Southern Open – only tallying two wins over my last eleven games. Of course, these past two months have also given me a lot of insight into my own weaknesses as a player, forcing me to work on a new opening repertoire, my calculation skills, and my overall endgame understanding.

After a few days on Sanibel Island following the Southern Open, I was ready to get back into tournament form!

To an extent, I do think putting so much emphasis on my preparation for the US Junior Open resulted in a bit of a backslide in my studies upon my return from New Orleans. I didn’t really grasp this in Philadelphia as I was preoccupied, getting torn apart in the Open section, but this became apparent to me when my performance in Orlando was punctuated with a very lucky win despite my poor form and inability to find any tactics that weekend. But naturally, I have greater aspirations than to obsess about a tournament I played in two months ago, and making master is certainly a good first step.

In the three weeks leading up to the Washington International, I completely changed how I attacked my studies. Every morning, I woke up at 6:30 to go running  to improve my endurance while beating the heat. After pushing my physical limits, I then tested myself mentally, doing tactical exercises for about two hours before working on my opening repertoire and then testing out some lines in online practice games. On most days, I was able to put in about five hours of preparation, though there was one day where I somehow had the stamina for ten! This wasn’t enough to fix all of the problems my game has had over the month prior, but it made up for a lot of poor preparation – think of it as a “spring cleaning”, if you will.

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Boards and sets! The Washington International is the most accommodating tournament I have ever played in – breakfast, mid-game coffee, provided boards and pieces – what more can you ask for?

So, as you can imagine, I entered Rockville the most prepared I could be, and easily the most confident I have been in a very long time. I knew it would be hard to replicate the success I had last year with a completely new opening repertoire, so my only goals were to focus on getting solid positions out of the opening and limit the number of unforced blunders in my play – both of which were places I had failed in my two prior events.

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20. Qf2 +/-, Steincamp – Imada

My first three games were extremely uneventful, though I managed to outplay my first round opponent from an equal endgame to secure a win. My score of 2/3 wasn’t a bad start, but my tournament really started in round 4, where my inability to play quickly cost me a beautiful position and the game. Even though I’m not particularly happy with how this game ended, I think it’s instructive and worth sharing here on Chess^Summit.

Ouch! Well, I guess that’s one way to lose to a lower rated opponent… Not quite what I was hoping for in my “back to form” tournament. One thing I’ve noticed about some of my tournaments pre-dating the US Junior Open was that if I had a closely contested game and lost, I generally would underperform in my next few games and it would kill my ability to have a consistent tournament performance. Knowing that my ability to rebound quickly from this loss would define how I did in this tournament, I played my best chess in each of my next two games as Black.

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18…Bf6, Boris – Steincamp

Pushed for what felt a “must-win” in round 5 to bounce back from a tough loss the night before, I opened with a move I hadn’t played since 2007! Typically, I bring blue Gatorade to each game, but when I feel like I need to win, I switch it out for “Darth Vader” juice (red). While superstitions are silly (I have others!), there was no messing around this Monday morning, and Caissa rewarded me with some creative play, and a great win to really start my scoring spree this tournament.

While I won this game with some nice technique, I was much prouder of myself for completely ignoring my opponent’s time trouble, and forcing myself to find the best move at my own pace, even once the endgame had been reached and it was clear the game was continuing for the sake of formality. I feel like my ability to handle such situations has come a long way since I blew a State Championship last February trying to push my opponent further into his own time trouble.

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9…Bd7, Nath–Steincamp

So I was back! Just a few hours later, I was back at the board again with the Black pieces. Any guesses as to how I responded to 1 e4 after that previous round? I was really confident in my play again and by move 13 I reached a completely winning position, and unlike my earlier loss, I once again forced myself to use my time more effectively to put the game away in style!

Now 4/6 with three rounds to go, I was feeling optimistic again about my chances to place in the event, but as luck would have it, things just did not work out. Paired against one of the strongest players in the field I managed secure equality, but quickly found myself distracted by some off-the-board behavior related to my opponent that I do not wish to discuss at this time. I had my own mistakes and know what I can take away from this game to become a stronger player, but unfortunately, this once again killed the momentum I had worked so hard to build. I did well to draw my last two rounds with Black, but on paper, 5/9 certainly didn’t seem to make up for that round 7 loss.

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Coaching at the first ever Virginia Scholastic Chess Association Intensive! A small group of kids, a lot of material to cover! Since I don’t know where my future will lead me, this might be the last scholastic event I run in Richmond for a while.

So we return to the opening question – what makes a good tournament? Dropping below 2100 for the first time certainly doesn’t sound like a good result, but when I look at the goals I set for myself going into Rockville and then compare these nine games to my previous eleven, only one word comes to mind: progress. In this tournament, despite playing with a new opening repertoire, there was only (arguably) one game where I left the opening slightly worse (my round 8 draw), and while I had my mistakes, it was still not nearly as many as I had at the Southern Open. Even though I was fully prepared for this tournament, I got hit with everything this section could offer me, and each of the lessons I learned will be valuable towards future improvement.

Good is a strong word in chess because it’s too general to really describe every aspect of a performance. At this year’s Washington International, I didn’t have the breakthrough tournament that I had the year prior, but I certainly had a very encouraging result. The way I played showed a lot of improvement, but in pulling together a solid showing, I also saw my play with White isn’t getting me enough, and that my ability to manage time trouble can still use some work.

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Cathy calling!

As I pack my bags for another term at Pitt this week, I’m excited about the prospect of being able to play more frequently in various local competitions. With the Pittsburgh Chess League, as well as the various Pennsylvania State Championships on University campus, I’m confident that I will not only have an opportunity to regain the points I’ve lost the last half of this summer, but soar beyond if I continue to attack my studies. Of course, I likely won’t have five hours a day anymore given my workload, but I hope I can make up for that with ambition and get back to the results I’m used to.

These past few tournaments have been a test, and the finish line is near. My only hope is I cross it sprinting.

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Three Days

Nine months ago, I set the nearly impossible sounding goal of winning the US Junior Open in New Orleans. Back in September, I had yet to achieve the Candidate Master title, nor had I managed to answer other important questions like “what is my major?” or “how will I balance chess and taking classes?”. While I had yet to resolve my future, the response I received for putting my goal here on Chess^Summit was tremendous.

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2016 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Open

Before I take off for New Orleans later this week, I wanted to thank everyone who pushed me towards my goal this year. Whether you contributed to my GoFundMe campaign, were a fan of my articles here, or just a friend interested in my various performances, your encouragement saw me compete in places like Philadelphia, Boston, New York (to name a few!), and now New Orleans. I’ve learned so much this year, and it would not have been possible without all of your support!

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2015 Pan American Collegiate Chess Championships

While anyone who followed my performances this year played a role in my improvement, there are some individuals who, without whom, my goal would simply not be possible. First, I’d like to thank my coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, who planted the idea of winning the US Junior Open into my conscience. I’ve been working with Eugene for over two years, and if anything, he’s taught me how to become a stronger player, not necessarily by playing better, but by playing smarter. Since I’ve started working with him, his ability to break down a position has always made an impression on me, and it’s this same ability I try to replicate in my articles here on Chess^Summit.

I’d also like to thank National Master Franklin Chen for also working with me this year, strengthening my opening play and preparing me for many tournaments. I’ve been a little quiet on discussing Franklin’s role in my improvement, mainly because I was worried that ambitious players in Pittsburgh would prepare for me differently if they knew I was working with him. In reflection, this is probably a testament to the work he’s done with me to make me a more aggressive player, and his overall knowledge of chess.

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Goofing around

Lastly, I’d like to thank my friends and family both here in Virginia, and in my new home at the University of Pittsburgh. While they are by no means great chess players, their motivation and consistent encouragement provided a daily reminder to keep fighting and trying to improve. The influence they’ve had on my outlook of my performances has forced to become much more positive – and yes – realize there is a world outside chess whenever I have a bad performance.

In this last post before I fly south, I can’t thank everyone enough for the support these last nine months. Since I’ve started this campaign, I’ve broken 2100, earned the title of Candidate Master, won my first adult tournament, and beaten three players rated over 2300, which has me believing I have what it takes to put together a championship performance this weekend in New Orleans.

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MLWGS Free Chess Clinic

Regardless of how this weekend turns out, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had t0 compete and improve, and I’m sure the lessons I’ve learned these last nine months will last far beyond the US Junior Open. This ability to share my goals and progress is precisely the reason why in two weeks I’ll be relaunching Chess^Summit with other ambitious authors, and I hope you continue to follow us after the US Junior Open concludes.

Once again, thank you all for playing a big role in my goal, and I hope to bring back good news next week!

Closing Out 2015: Ending on a High Note

Even though 2015 only saw my rating jump by fifty points, I’ve progressed a lot since graduating high school. For today’s post, I wanted to discuss the goals I set for myself back in January and how they panned out, as well as set new goals for next year.

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2015 proved to be interesting, as I pushed myself in playing tougher competition and in being more active in the Richmond Chess Community.

1. Break the Top 40 for 18-year-olds nationally

This one I achieved! In February 2015, I jumped to 34th in the country with a rating of 2051. While I wanted to break the top 30, I didn’t play in enough tournaments to stay competitive – mostly because of my college selection process and preparing to graduate. That being said, I still was ranked 44th nationally before turning 19.

2. Win the Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships

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Trying to improve from 8th place finishes both my sophomore and junior years, my state title hopes ran into a wall in round 4.

While I got off to a strong 3/3 start, I lost my fourth round game to defending champion (and eventual winner) Vignesh Rajasekaran and continued to bottom out with a two draws for a 4/6 score and 15th place finish. In what proved to be another disappointing State Championships for me, I did have one nice win in round 3 that I’ve never shared on chess^summit.

Steincamp – Feng (Virginia Scholastic State Chess Championships, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Bg2 f5 4.a3

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In G/60 time controls, it’s crucial to maintain flexibility. By inserting this move, I take away …Bf8-b4, a move I thought Perry had prepared for me. While this move is nothing special, it gave me a slight edge.

4…Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7

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My opening deviation has paid off! With this move, my opponent shows me he doesn’t know where the bishop belongs. By failing to optimize this piece (better was to c5 after a preparatory …a7-a5), he has guaranteed that he will need to waste a tempo in the future improving it.

6.d3 d6 7.e3

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A strategic decision. Blocking in my own bishop, I protect the d4 and f4 squares with my pawn. My goal is to play this position like a Reversed Closed Sicilian, meaning my play will revolve around the d4 square.

7…O-O 8.Nge2 Qe8 9.Nd5

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A critical moment in the game. By placing my knight on d5, I give Black a choice: 1) admit his mistake and protect the c7 pawn, or 2) trade on d5 knowing that his c7 will be a long-term positional weakness. I plan on recapturing with the pawn, followed by controlling the half-open c-file.

9…Nxd5 10.cxd5 Nd8 11.O-O Qg6 12.f4

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Shoring up the holes in my position. Black’s development seems better, but his army isn’t coordinated or prepared for a kingside attack. Once I lock up the center, I will put pressure on c7.

12…Nf7 13.Qc2 Bd8 +=

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Already, Black’s problems are visible. His knight on f7 has no future, and his passive bishops prevent Black from connecting the rooks with hope for normal play. With the static advantage, I just continue to improve my position.

14.e4 Nh6 15.Qc3!

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The most principled move in the position. Black has one weakness, c7, but it’s firmly protected for the moment. Now it’s time to simultaneously attack a second weakness, d5, and stretch Black’s defensive resources.

15…Qh5 16.fxe5!

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A hard move to find given the time control. When your opponent has poor coordination and isn’t developed, sometimes it’s best to try to open the position to go for the attack. What about that knight on e2, you may ask? Well after 16… Qxe2?? 17. Bf3 is simply winning.
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17… Qxf1+ 18. Kxf1 fxe4 19. dxe4 Bg4 20. Bf4 +- I saw this during the game and was content with my piece offering.

16…dxe5 17.Bxh6

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With this move, I trade off my worst piece and give Black a choice of further misplacing his pieces or compromising his structure.

17…Qxh6 18.Rae1 fxe4 19.Rxf8+

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The whole point for opening up the position – here I get full control of the position once Black recaptures on f8.

19…Kxf8 20.Rf1+ Bf6 21.dxe4 Bg4 22.Nc1 Kg8 23.Nb3 b6

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My knight maneuver to b3 was intended to reach c5, but now I’ve provoked a weakness from Black, the c6 square. Furthermore, it will become more difficult for Black to get rid of his c-pawn weakness with a …c7-c6 push without a pawn on b7.

24.Nd2 Rc8 25.Nf3 Qh5 26.Nh4?!

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With less than ten minutes left, I played this move too quickly to fully understand what I was doing. Here I’m offering a pawn for full control of the f-file, as after 26… Bxh4 27. gxh4 Qxh4 I was planning on 28. Qc6 with a nice hold on the position. In reality, Black has 28… Qe7, and it’s hard to see what I’ve gained for a pawn and a weak kingside.

26…Qe8 27.Nf5

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My knight has finally found a square. Black, already playing for a draw, immediately goes for an opposite colored bishop position.

27…Bxf5 28.Rxf5 +=

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How can White win? My assessment derived from the common middlegame concept for positions with opposite colored bishops – attack the color your opponent is weakest. In this position, White is objectively better because all of Black’s weak squares are on light squares. Without a concrete defense, my bishop will enter the game via h3, leaving Black paralyzed.

28…Qe7 29.Bh3 Re8 30.b4

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There is no need to rush in this position. It was important to stop …Qe7-c5+, which would have allowed Black to simplify the endgame, making it more difficult to win. With no way to enter my half of the board, Black must stay passive to defend all threats in the position.

30…Qd6 31.Rf1

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A practical move. With this retreat, I prepare Rf1-c1, putting pressure on the c7 pawn, and make way for my h3 bishop to dominate the position on d6.

31…h6?? +-

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A costly blunder, as this move weakens even more light squares around the Black king. Originally aiming for a slow plan, I decide that now is the time to go in for the kill.

32.Be6+ Kh8 33.Qf3 Rf8 34.Qh5

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Due to his inability to control light squares, Black has little time to stop Qh5-g6, followed by Be6-f5, threatening mate on h7.

34…Qe7 35.Qg6 Qe8 36.Rxf6!!

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Absolutely crushing! The rook is invincible since 36… gxf6 leads to 37. Qxh6#, and 36… Rxf6 gives up the queen. Black, thinking he would only be down a piece plays one more move.

36…Qxg6 37.Rxf8+ 1-0

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And my opponent threw in the towel as 37… Kh7 loses more material due to 38. Bf5 where I will be up a full rook in the final position. A fun game, and really instructive when discussing the principle of two weaknesses.

3. Beat a Titled Player

It took me until May before I got my first decisive result against a titled player, but it was worth the wait as I beat State Champion and 2014 World Youth Chess Championship Gold Medal winner Jennifer Yu in the first round of the Cherry Blossom Classic. If you missed it, I posted a video of the game shortly after the tournament.

Since then, I’ve added two more wins against National Masters to my resume, one at the Washington International, and another in the G/120 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships.

4. Coach MLWGS to the U1600 National High School Chess Championships

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A year after coaching my high school team to win the U1200 National High School Chess Championships, the Green Dragons fell just shy, taking 5th in the final standings.

Well, admittedly, this one was a goal I had set for the team on our way into Columbus. The team got off to a strong start, leading the section at the half-way point, but the long weekend was tough on the team, as a late slip-up meant going home with 5th instead of 1st.

The team worked hard last year to prepare for Nationals, and since my alma mater won the National Championships in 2014 for U1200 in their first national championship appearance, their work ethic has been one of the great untold stories in scholastic chess. Since my graduation last June, the team has proven itself a force to be reckoned with, as two players on the team have already broken 1700! It will be fun seeing how they fare in Atlanta next May.

5. Become a National Master

This is the ultimate goal for me, and I fell 95 points shy. If I have to be honest with myself, last year I lacked perspective when it came to discussing breaking 2200, as it took me half a year to develop from a weak expert to a much more competitive junior player. With a lot more games under my belt, I’m definitely moving in the right direction.

Other Achievements

Well, you can’t really script the whole thing. Before moving out of Virginia, I had never placed in the top 5 at any State Championship. Now a student at the University of Pittsburgh, I’ve managed to break the curse three times! I took 4th in the G/15 State Chess Championships and 5th in both the G/120 State Championships and the G/60 State Championships.

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Directing the first ever MLWGS School Chess Championships last year was by far the best tournaments I’ve ever directed. Hopefully, I can be back next year to watch the games!

To round out my career as a high school chess coach and advocate for chess in the Richmond Area, I completed my term as a Director of the Virginia Scholastic Chess Association, as well as ran the 2015 MLWGS Chess Championships and volunteered at the most recent edition of Dragon Chess Camp.

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Working with my peers at this past summer’s Dragon Chess Camp was a bittersweet moment for me, as I’m not sure if I will ever be able to put together such a reputable scholastic chess program again in the near future. I guess chess^summit counts for something!

Moving Forward, 2016

Well, it wouldn’t be the end of the year if I also didn’t look ahead to the next 365 days, wouldn’t it?

1) Win the 2016 US Junior Open in June

I’ve never said this was going to be easy, and that’s why I’ve revived chess^summit to help document my way there. I’ve got a lot to learn between now and then, but with tournaments like the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, the Boston Chess Congress, and the Liberty Bell Open (maybe!) already lined up, I should have a lot of tournament exposure against strong opponents before I land in New Orleans this June.

2) Become National Master

As I mentioned, this is the ultimate goal. I don’t know what beyond 2200 is realistic for me, but I think I’m not that far off to becoming a titled player. Just one norm away from becoming a Candidate Master, I really have to wonder how much time it’ll take to make that next jump…

3) Win a tournament – any tournament!

I’ve always played up when competing, so this hasn’t been a realistic goal. However, since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve played in sections where it’s not unrealistic to take the top prize. I got really close at the Robert Smith Memorial, playing on board one for first in the final round, only to fall short when it counted most.

4) Play at least 85 tournament games in 2016

I think not getting enough games last spring really slowed my momentum, making it difficult for me to progress as a player. Prepared to learn from my mistakes, I expect a lot more tournament appearances in the near future.

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And that’s it for 2016, I think whatever I’m meant to achieve I’ll get there, and I’m intrigued to see where that takes me.

This will be my last post for the year, but when I return in 2016, I’ll have games from the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships, which could feature matches against teams like Webster, Texas Tech, and UMBC – so stay tuned!

Have a happy holidays!

Expert vs. Expert: Knowing Your Structures

For today’s video, I wanted to share a game I played against an expert at the Pittsburgh Chess Club last Tuesday. I find this game to be particularly instructive since Black’s pawn structure dictated the pace of the game, as his pawn on c6 weighed down his development as I proceeded to find forcing moves and assemble my pieces for an attack. Hope you all enjoy!

Positional Power, Poise and Patience

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing in a bi-monthly ladder at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, and if I have to be honest, the change in tournament format hasn’t been the smoothest for me, as late night Tuesday rounds has pushed my mental endurance. Despite winning the first round, I made an early mistake in the opening, which made most of the game an uphill battle. Round 2 proved to be much more difficult. Despite taking a material advantage in an endgame, I underestimated my opponent’s counterattacking chances and lost in a rather embarrassing fashion. So this last Tuesday was round 3, and to say the least, I needed a win – badly.

My opponent, a much older player, had just drawn a strong expert despite his 1800 rating, and knowing some of his other recent results, I knew that this would be a tough fight. As always, I got to the board insanely early, ready to play the most important game I would have played since moving to Pittsburgh.

Steincamp – Schragin (19th Robert Smith Memorial, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Be7

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My opponent “doesn’t play openings” but even a novice should know that this move is ill-advised. While White stands slightly better, it’s important to note that this move alone won’t lose the game.

4.Nc3 c5 5.d3 Nc6 6.Nd5

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I would like to have the option of playing Ng1-f3, but that would allow …d7-d5, giving Black a Maroczy structure and somewhat justifying his move 3…Be7.

6…d6 7.e3

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If I want to castle, I’m going to need to determine the best square for my g1 knight. The square f3 isn’t bad, but my set-up is positioned to attack the d5 square. At first, I thought that 7. Nf3 0-0 8. Nd2 with the idea of Nd2-f1-e3 wouldn’t be so bad, but the problem is that Black has 8… Qa5! and now with the pin to my king, it’s not so clear why I wasted so many tempi to get my knight to d2. This is a much clearer plan, as 7. e3 allows me to play Ng1-e2-c3.

7…O-O 8.Ne2 Nxd5 9.cxd5 +=

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Believe it or not, taking with the pawn in this position is surprisingly theoretical. Here it’s even better because I can punish Black (finally) for 3… Be7, because it takes away the most natural square for the knight. 9… Nb4 runs into problems after 10. a3 Qa5 11. 0-0 because Bc1-d2 is coming and the b4 knight needs to retreat to a6.

9…Nb8 10.O-O Bg4 11.f3

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I want to play d3-d4 without having my knight pinned on e2, so this move felt natural. While I didn’t think much of it during the game, I think Black is strategically lost here once I break the central pawn structure. As you’ll notice, Black will not be able to generate counterplay for the remainder of the game.

11…Bh5 12.d4 Nd7

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Maybe the best move, because after 12… cxd4 13. exd4 exd4 14. Nf4! (not 14. Nxd4 Qb6!) 14…Bg6 15. Qxd4 Bf6 16. Qb4, White has a slightly better position with a plan to take on g6 and mount my bishop on f4.

13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nf4

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With Black deciding it was best to not give me a passed d-pawn, I get the f4 square for my knight and the bishop pair.

14…Bg6 15.Nxg6 Nxg6 16.Rb1

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With Black planning to play …Be7-f6, this move gets the rook off the long diagonal, while potentially planning a b2-b4 strike. Black doesn’t have any dynamic options on the queenside as …b7-b5 will always be met with a2-a4, weakening Black’s structure (this is an important idea!).

16…Re8 17.f4

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The most important move of the game. Both 17. e4 and 17. b4 are the most natural moves, but each gives Black counterplay. 17. b4 can run into tactical issues because after 17… Qb6, Black points out my limited coordination and weaknesses on e3 and b4. 17. e4 is an easy move to make but after 17… Bf6, Black has control of the d4 square as well as the long diagonal. I need to get my bishop to c3 before pushing the e-pawn. My move makes the most intuitive sense because it takes the e5 square away from the Black knight while also stopping any …h7-h5 counterplay.

17…Bf6 18.Re1 Qa5 19.a3 Ne7?

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This move tries to maneuver the knight away from the bad g6 square, but in doing so cuts off the f6 bishop. This is important, as now I can force an advantageous trade on c3.

20.Bd2 Qc7 21.Bc3 Bxc3 22.bxc3

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With a pawn on c3, I can play e2-e4 without giving Black counterplay.

22…Rad8 23.e4 Ng6 24.h4

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Pointing out that Black cannot play …h7-h5 to stop the h-pawn. With no counterplay across the board, Black begins to falter.

24…f6??

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A positional blunder! My opponent weakens the e6 square, which will make for a great outpost for my bishop. While it looks difficult to penetrate Black’s fortress, my advantage lies in my light squared bishop.

25.c4

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25. Bh3 would have also been acceptable, but I liked this move more since it stops any chance for Black to have a dynamic break on the queenside. Because Black doesn’t have a piece that can reach d4, fixing the pawn structure furthers my advantage.

25…b6 26.Bh3 Re7 27.Be6+ Kh8 28.Kf2

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On his next move, Black will attack my e6 bishop, so I get one tempo for an improving move. By moving the king off the first rank, I open access to the h-file for my rooks. I thought it was important to put the king on f2 and not g2 because I figure Black’s only counterplay lies in …g7-g5, opening the g-file, this move gets my king out of the way in advance while giving me a chance to attack.

28…Nf8 29.Bf5

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It’s important to not that 29. f5 loses all of White’s advantage. While 29… Nxe6 would give White a passed pawn, it’s in Black’s best interest to instead play 29… Nd7! with the idea of going to e5. Since my pawns can’t control dark squares once I push the f-pawn, I would have no way of recovering my bishop for knight advantage. That being said, there are two reasons why I am winning: 1) the bishop dominates Black’s weak light squares and the f8 knight has no scope and 2) the f4 pawn. The f4 pawn controls the most critical squares, e5 and g5, and is the main reason Black’s knight is contained (remember 17. f4! set this position by achieving this goal!).

29…g6?

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This seemingly innocuous move seals my opponent’s fate. When I played 29. Bf5, I actually wanted to provoke this move (the bishop was solid on f5 regardless). In this position, I really only have one target – the square on e6. I can push the a-pawn, but it’s not clear if opening the b-file really helps me yet. Now with this second weakness, I can apply the principle of two weaknesses. By playing …g7-g6, Black weakens the a1-h8 diagonal and the f6 pawn, while simultaneously giving me a hook on g6.

30.Bh3 Rde8 31.Qd3 Rf7 32.Re3

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This move serves multiple purposes. While protecting the e3 pawn, I give my b1 rook access to the h1 square. Furthermore, by creating a battery on the third rank, I’m prepared for Black’s …g6-g5 push to open the g-file, as I’ll have the option of Rg3 or Rh3 in such positions. Black really doesn’t have much going on, so I can take my time maneuvering.

32…Qd8 33.h5

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This move is my first attempt to break through the position. Though I do want to break open the h-file, my ultimate goal is to open f5 again for my bishop as a permanent outpost. The best defensive effort may be 33… g5 but after 34. Bf5 Black still has no play and would have to defend against an eventual Qd3-c3 followed by a potential f4xg5 plan, where Black’s king gets exposed.

33…gxh5 34.Bf5 Rg7 35.Rh1 Qe7 36.Rxh5 Qf7 37.Qd1 Re7 38.Rh6

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Putting pressure on f6 while sealing the kingside from Black’s army. My goal now is to play Qd1-a1 and Re1-h1.

38…Ng6 39.Qa1 Re8 40.Re1 Ne7??

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Black’s counting on me to take the f6 pawn to open up Black’s kingside but misses the winning blow 41. Be6 +-. Without this mistake, black’s still lost as he can’t simultaneously protect f6, h7, and stop the a-pawn push at the same time. Black’s knight is still pinned to the f6 pawn, and his king is still under fire from multiple angles.

41.Be6 1-0 Black Resigns.

I was really happy with the quality that I brought to this round, and it’ll be a big boost going into the National Chess Congress next weekend in Philadelphia. Black helped me along the way, but it’s difficult for me to find significant improvements for myself throughout the game.

Opening Ideas and Innovations: Taking the Next Step

Over the weekend, I decided to play a G/15 quad, and even though I was easily able to reach a score of 2.5/3 (my quick rating is low, so I played mostly inferior opponents), I saw a game in the top quad that inspired me to write today’s post.

Rea – Feliachi (G/15 November Quads, 2015)

Just as a disclaimer, I was in my second round game as this one was developing, so the move order may not be exact (the critical position will be reached regardless).

1.d4 e6

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This move 1… e6 is surprisingly flexible. Black can play 2… f5 for a Dutch while avoiding the Staunton Gambit, but he can also transpose into Nimzo, Queen’s Gambit, and Queen’s Indian lines. In this game, Feliachi opts for the lesser known queenside fianchetto lines.

2.Nf3 b6 3.e4 Bb7

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While Black has given up the center, he has succeeded in reaching unfamiliar territory. White needs to proceed with caution, as the e-pawn will be a target for the b7 bishop.

4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Qe2?!

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This move protects the pawn but seems dubious. Rea intends to push c2-c3 as he does later in the game, but delaying the development of his queenside army is not fundamentally correct. By pushing both of his center pawns forward, White conceded that both the e- and d- pawns may become potential targets. While it would be nice to play f2-f3 or c2-c3, White can’t afford to take away squares for his pieces to fight for the center.

5…Be7 6.Bf4

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It was at this point in the game where I thought perhaps Black was slightly better. It’s not quite clear what the bishop on f4 is doing, but this now gives Black time to make his first push for the center.

6…c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nbd2

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If White can castle and maintain his hold on the center, he will likely be equal or even better. However, Black gets an opportunity to intervene. White’s piece development has centered around the ability to push c2-c3 to stop moves like …Nc6-b4 (attacking the d3 bishop). With his next move, Feliachi forces White to surrender the structural integrity of the queenside.

8…cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4!

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The point of Black’s plan! White would have been better suited letting Black exchange on d3 to take control of the c-file. Black’s plan would be to push …d7-d5 in such position and seize control of the e4 square. Endgames in those positions will favor the pair of bishops, so Black holds a slight advantage.

10.Bb1 Ba6!

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Rea retreated his bishop to stay on the b1-h7 diagonal, but in doing so walks into the heart of Black’s plan. Now White is much worse because his king is stuck in the center of the board while Black’s rook will swing to c8 and expose White’s lack of coordination.

11.Qe3 Rc8 12.Nb3 Nc2+ 13.Bxc2 Rxc2

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Black takes control of the 2nd file with added threats of …Be7-b4+ looming. Uncertain of how to defend, White allowed Black to fork the king and queen on e2 and lost the game.

I remember watching this game and being really impressed with Black’s ability to punish White’s desire to play c2-c3. Though this …Nb4 and …Ba6 idea was clearly researched by Black before the game, it still made for a very instructional victory over a National Master.

With this inspiring opening play out of the way, I figured I might as well share Richard Rapport’s game at the European Team Championships last Sunday for team Hungary in their match in France. At only 19, Rapport has established himself as one of the world’s elite, specifically for bizarre opening preparation. In his game against Fressinet, he chose to open his game with 1. f4, giving the Bird’s Opening a rare showing at the Grandmaster level.

Since Gibraltar last January, 2015 hasn’t been the kindest to the Hungarian. Now under 2700 again, will the European Team Chess Championships allow Rapport to turn the page?

Rapport – Fressinet (European Team Chess Championships, 2015)

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4

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Having worked with 1. f4 players before, this is not a move I’m too familiar with. White offers the c-pawn to gain central control, and if Black doesn’t take, the c-pawn puts pressure on Black’s center. That being said when Black plays …Bg7, it will be difficult for White to blunt the diagonal, thus offering Black some play.

3…c6 4.e3 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.d4

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White’s structure now represents a flipped Botvinik set-up, where White will hope to use his control of the e5 square and his space to acquire an advantage.

6…O-O 7.Be2 e6 8.O-O dxc4 9.Bxc4 Nbd7 10.e4

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With this move, Rapport fills the “hole” in his structure on e4 while taking away Black’s strong point, d5, as a potential outpost. While this takes a tempo for having moved the pawn twice, the burden is on Black to find a way to develop his bad c8-bishop. Despite this game’s awkward beginnings, it seems like the balance has already shifted slightly towards White.

10…b5 11.Bd3 b4 12.Na4 c5 13.Nxc5 Nxc5 14.dxc5 Bb7 15.e5

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Black has found a way to develop his bad bishop on the long diagonal, but not without consequences. Already with a hyper-extended b-pawn, Black must now also worry about the d6 square. While this e-pawn push from Rapport gives up some light squares, he locks in the g7 bishop, making the dark squares hard to defend.

15…Nd5 16.Ng5 Qa5 17.Ne4 Rfc8 18.Kh1

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A prophylactic measure. At some point, White will want to play Ne4-d6, and this move allows him to do so as the king will no longer be exposed along the a7-g1 diagonal. While Black currently has better development, Fressinet struggles to play around Rapport’s Bind, as there’s no clear plan for Black.

18…Ba6 19.a3 Bf8 20.Bxa6 Qxa6 21.Nd6 Rc7?

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This move confines Black to passivity, as playing …Bxd6 would have been better. Fressinet must have feared the protected passed pawn on d6, but the bishop on f8 really doesn’t add value to Black’s set-up. 21… Rxc5? doesn’t work because 22. axb4 Qxa1 23. bxc5 and Black’s queen is awfully misplaced in the corner.

22.Bd2

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Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman states that dynamic play stops when the attacking player has a static advantage. Here with a knight firmly planted in Black’s territory, White can finally complete his development with ease.

22…b3 23.Rc1 Rb8 24.Rf3 Qa4 25.Rc4 Qa6

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This sequence shows how poor Black’s position really is. Unable to generate counterplay or stop White’s improvements, White has already strategically won, the rest is just technique.

26.Qc1 Qc6 27.h3 Rd7 28.Qf1 Qa6 29.f5 exf5 30.Rxf5 gxf5 31.Rg4+ fxg4 32.Qxa6

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Two rooks are generally better than a queen, but here Rapport also weakens Black’s queenside. With Black’s rooks out of reach from the king, White is left with the task of attacking a defenseless king.

32…Ne7 33.e6!!

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A very instructive moment from Rapport! Sometimes, if you can’t solve a position, it’s important to try changing the move order. If White had just tried 33. Qa4 Rc7 34. Qxg4+, after 34… Bg7, it’s unclear how to proceed. Now with this move, White offers a pawn so that after Qxg4+, the queen can follow up by taking on e6, infiltrating the Black camp.

33…fxe6 34.Qa4 Rc7 35.Qxg4+ Ng6 36.Qxe6+ Kh8 37.Nf7+ Kg8 38.Nh6+ Kh8 39.Qg8# 1-0

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Out of gamesmanship, Fressinet allows Rapport to deliver a checkmate after a long day in the office.

A great performance from Rapport, as his result was critical in securing a tie with the French in Round 3. After 4 games, Rapport has secured 3.5/4 for the Hungarian team in the European Team Chess Championships.

Make sure to check out other games from the event, as there have already been several heavyweight clashes. After Russia’s dominating win over Ukraine, will they be the favorites to run away with the event, or can Azerbaijan or Armenia catch up to the leaders? You can visit the event webpage here.

After losing to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian rebounded with a big win over reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and team Norway. The Armenian has had the most difficult schedule, as he fell to Michael Adams in round 5.

Breaking 2100: Winning Ugly

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

Atwell – Steincamp (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2015)

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

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

Did you enjoy this article? Make sure to check out my gofundme campaign to help me keep improving and push my way to the 2016 US Junior Open!