Making the Most of a Tough Week in Philly

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This cover of Chess Life, sent to me by my coach after the tournament concluded perhaps best described my performance relative to the amount of progress I have made in recent months.

I think I could have also tried the title The Quest to Break 2000 Backwards or Philly Phailures, but I hardly think that this is an appropriate way to describe my first tournament back since the US Junior Open. As I mentioned in my last post, I pushed myself to play in the top section of the World Open, pitting me against the toughest level of competition I had ever encountered over the board. Across the six games I played (I had three half point byes), I had the longest in tournament losing streak of my career (five – six if you include the final round of the US Junior Open!), and in a majority of the games, I was simply outclassed by my opponents on both sides of the board. To put things simply, by my own personal historic standards, this year’s World Open could have very well been one of the worst tournaments of my career.

But I would like to think that this is a shallow understanding of my overall performance. Sure, I had my failures this tournament, but what my stay in Philadelphia showed me is that there is an entire realm of chess I had never seen before and that in the eyes of a Grandmaster, I am once again a beginner. But this is okay – learning something new means finding something you have never seen before, and this performance is another step in the age-old process of becoming a better chess player. What do I mean?

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Three of our Chess^Summit authors participated in this year’s World Open – Beilin, Alice, and myself. Vishal was unable to attend but he was here in spirit!

After completely collapsing in the first four games of this tournament, I got a call from my coach in which he told me the opening repertoire I had counted on since breaking 2000 would no longer cut it at this level competition, and I would need to improve and find better openings to get more competitive positions. Bam! A new weakness had been discovered in my play, and despite my progress, that problem started with move one (well, metaphorically). I can probably make master without fixing my repertoire, but seeing as my ambitions are much higher than this, I will be revamping my openings with the hopes of returning to the World Open next year with a much more competent result. I have no idea what this means for my current goal in the short-term, but I’d like to think that if I can persevere, I can still achieve great things despite my not-so-young age…

Persevere. That’s a strong word – and the biggest positive I can hope to take away from my experience in Philadelphia. Around the time my coach called, my parents, who have always been supportive of my chess, offered to let me withdraw and pick me up early from what was quickly turning into a miserable result. Somewhat stubbornly (perhaps the same trait that makes me a chess player), I declined with two games left to go. My confidence had taken a serious blow after quickly reaching lost positions in each of my first two games, and after two more humbling defeats, I was quickly realizing that as a positional player, it was somewhat foolish to think I could have fared well against a level of competition that understood my very strength better than me. For my last two games, I decided to focus on two aspects of my game that I previously stated I wanted to work on the most: calculation and mental fortitude.

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Trying to relax between rounds. Just like how Iceland was finding out it had a long way to go before competing with teams like France, I too was having my own humbling experience

Sure, I was reaching worse positions out of the opening, but I knew the only way I could have any chance was to be strong and focus on making the best moves I could every move. At this point I was very aware of the real possibility of losing all of my games, as well as falling far below 2100 – though as I’ve mentioned rating no longer matters to me if I’m improving. For today’s post, I want to share my last two games, as they play into a greater story going into my last round.

My fifth game was both a blessing and a curse. Faced with the Veresov, my limited opening knowledge meant I had to calculate from move four, draining my time and causing an unforced error on move 19. While such a quick loss would be discouraging to many, I took it as a positive because I had succeeded to get out of the opening with no prior knowledge and reached an arguably better position. As I tried to describe to my dad, I was flying! Unfortunately, it was just a little too close to the sun… Here we go:

Arthur–Steincamp (World Open, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 Bf5 4.f3

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Back in January when I played in the Boston Chess Congress, my 2300 rated opponent played 4. Bxf6, which was what I was expecting when I played 3…Bf5 at the time. Following my thought process from that game, I played the same move, the idea being that if White wants to take on f6, he better do it before I play …e7-e6. By playing 3…Bf5, I can play …e7-e6 without making a bad bishop. But now, six months later, it’s a different time and different opponent. With 4. f3 I was out of book, and my only weapon was my  brain. 4. f3 is the second most common move played in this position and has a concrete idea. White will take on f6 to make way for an e2-e4 central push, hoping to gain a lead in development as well as a structural advantage in turn for the bishop pair. At first, I liked 4…Nbd7, but quickly recognized the “fork trick” we all see as a child with 5. Nxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 and so forth. In our post-mortem, my opponent said this is a line (indeed! It is the most common move), but with no prior knowledge, such an attempt would not be practical. At this point, I realized how critical the d5 pawn was to my position, seeing as it was my only hold on the center. In an effort to be solid, I opted for 4…h6, a move Spassky chose back in 1981 at Linares and won a convincing game with as Black. Of course, I did not know this at the time, but if a great like Spassky played this move, then I must be on some sort of right track. My opponent played a move that has never been played at the Grandmaster level, but this is likely because the Veresov rarely finds its way into the top, if ever 5.Bxf6 exf6 6.e4 Be6 7.Bd3 c6

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I spent some more time here to calculate various …c7-c5 lines. I think here, it’s already important to see that 7…dxe4 8. exd4 Qxd4?? loses immediately to 9. Bb5+ and the queen is lost. This idea is important because many simplifications where the d-file opens will meet the same fate. For example, one of the first lines I saw 7… c5 8. dxc5 Bxc5? 9. exd5 Bxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5?? 11. Bb5+ and again we see the same pattern. Of course, I had found the improvement 8…d4 followed by capturing on c5, but this was all moot because White can take on d5 first and the same tactical problems persist. I took the more solid route, since 7…c6 ensures that with trades on d5, I will maintain the bishop pair, which is presently my only real advantage in the position. 8.Nge2 Bb4

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This move kicked off the rapid consumption of my time, as the decision to place this bishop here on b4 or d6 was an important one. My gut originally ruled out this move because this pin doesn’t last long, and spent a significant amount of time thinking about 8…Bd6 to stop Nf4 ideas. 9. exd5 cxd5 10. Nb5 0-0 should be equal, but I found a good resource for White with 8…Bd6 9. Qd2 and now the idea of Nf4 is a real idea and it is not quite clear why I’m going to give back the pair of bishops along with two structural weakness.

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If White executes this idea, my d-pawn becomes isolated and keeping the bishop pair become doubtful thanks to the pressure on d5 and the eventual threat on Nc3-b5.

After a while, I reconsidered the text move, and realized it asks White to do something about the pin (which is committal since now I can castle), but the real point is that if a2-a3 and b2-b4 my bishop will go to b6 and attack the dark squares since White doesn’t have this bishop anymore. Then the king will look bad on g1 and White will have to do something about the d4 pawn. I think I spent about 15 minutes here, but as the engine has informed me, this was the correct decision! Since this position has never occurred in a Grandmaster game, I’m curious how much my opponent knew in this position. In our post-mortem, he said that I even have to play this move, which suggests that he was aware of this position, or is simply a strong player – or perhaps both! 9.O-O O-O 10.Kh1 Re8

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After the game, my coach told me here that I have 10 moves that are absolutely appropriate to play in this position, which I guess suggest I spent too much time here trying to find the silver lining. However, up to this point in the tournament, I had failed to establish such a solid position by move 10 which makes this position a small victory for me personally. That being said, I think the insertion of this move was critical for the future course of the game. First, I am fully prepared for the e-file to open with my rook on e8, but I also give my bishop two options in case of retreat: a5, and the path I took during the game, f8. Though the bishop may seem misplaced on f8, it is a long range piece and is just active, while also providing my kingside with some form of defense. I spent some time here trying to develop my knight, but I concluded that if 10…Nd7 11. exd5 is well timed because now the position opens and now my knight seems misplaced. My opponent said this is what he would have played if my knight had moved at this point, regardless of d7 or a6. Having established full equality, my opponent decided to change the pace of the game with 11.Ng3, allowing me to play 11…dxe4 and break up White’s center.

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Without a knight on f6, I had to make sure that I wasn’t opening myself to any kingside attacks, but the aggressive 12. fxe4?! Qxd4 13. Nf5 Bxf5 14. Rxf5 failed to impress, as White is down a pawn and has an imaginary attack. This move put me below 50 minutes to make move forty, as I had to find an effective way to meet 12.Bxe4 as d4-d5 is threatened. Quickly I saw that if White succeeded to trade his d-pawn for my c6 pawn, my lack of development would leave me in a worse endgame, as well as tactical problems on b7. So I had to find my next move as well, 12…Qa5 =+

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At this point, I’d like to believe that I have solved all of my opening problems, sans the knight on b8, while also asking White questions of my own. On top of threatening to win a pawn on c3, I’m preparing to play …f6-f5 to attack the bishop and open the f6 square for my knight. I also had some strategic ideas here of doubling the c-pawn in the case of 13. Qd3, and then using the c4 square with a …Nd7-b6-c4 maneuver with some serious queenside pressure. This move also acts as prophylaxis, stopping d4-d5 because tactically I can play …Re8-d8 and win material. At this point in the game, I was already somewhat confident that I could finally get the position I had yearned for all tournament, but my clock was already of some concern… With some engine analysis, both sides are playing well thus far, as we are both selecting one of the computer’s best move with each turn, keeping the game around equality. 13.Nce2 Bf8

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Because 13…f5 would have been met with 14. c3, I decided now would be the best time to relocate the bishop, seeing as it no longer has a purpose on b4. This move revives the threat of …f6-f5, followed by quick development from Black. I thought White’s best plan was to slowly build the position with 14. c3 (as played in the game) but followed calmly with b2-b3, and eventually c3-c4, which would once again establish a strong center. As the game showed, trying to expand on the queenside favored me as it created some weak squares like c4. 14.c3 f5 15.b4?! Qa6!

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A critical find, highlighting the positional importance of 10…Re8. The f5 pawn is not hanging because after 16. Bxf5? Bxf5 17. Nxf5, the knight on e2 does not have enough defenders and White loses a piece. By provoking this move, I’ve also managed to create a big positional weakness in White’s camp, the c4 square. An example line to prove this would be 16. Bd3 Bc4 17. Bxc4 Qxc4, and in addition to White’s weak light squares, Black now has the added idea of bringing a rook to e3, as well as …g7-g6 to protect f5 and play …Nd7-f6. My position isn’t winning, but it plays itself, unlike White’s. I believe White chose the best move in 16.d5 given the complications, and my lack of time at this point (around 30 minutes for 14 moves!).

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One of the reasons this move is so strong is because if my rook were to leave my back rank, White can play Qd1-d8 in some lines forever freezing my mobility. For example, 16…fxe4 17. dxe6 Rxe6 18. Qd8! is strong, and Black’s win of material is irrelevant after 18…exf3 19. Rxf3 Rxe2 20. Nxe2 Qxe2 because now I only have one piece that can move, while White can quickly activate his rooks and win the game.

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Position after variation 20…Qxe2. Black has no moves!

In this position, I thought it was important to keep enough pieces on the board, as that will be the only way to take full advantage of the weak c4 square and establish counterplay. I decided on the more practical 16…cxd5 because now I can bring my knight to c6 and finally complete development. I haven’t suffered because of this lack of activity, but there’s no reason to delay this any further. 17.Bd3 Qd6 18.Bxf5 Nc6 19.f4 g6??

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And a perfectly good position slides out of reach. Needing to play at roughly a minute a move until move forty, I cracked under pressure here, thinking I could hold tactically, giving myself enough time to bring my bishop to g7. My opponent, a friend of Grandmaster Joel Benjamin and famous coach in New York, said after the game that every move should have two good reasons to make it – one is simply not enough! In this case, he was more than right. While I probably should have seen the ensuing tactic, my position is already falling apart after the trade takes place on e6. In reality, my position would have been a lot more optimistic if I played my other candidate move 19…Rac8 or had found various endgame positions after 19…Bxf5. Of course I can’t say I would have won, after all, there is a price to pay for not knowing openings! 20.Bxe6 fxe6 21.Qd3 Ne7 22.Ne4

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The oversight – not only am I worse, I can actually resign here because the bishop cannot help me hold the crippling position since all my pawns are on light squares. I would go on to play a few more moves, but that was more inertia than me actually thinking I had a chance. Of course in severe time trouble, it’s easy to miss “Maurice Ashley moves” like these, but in the future, I will have to do better to ensure a better result.

I played really well for 95% of this game, but as we all know, chess is cruel and every move counts. While it’s no fun to have a lost game on the 22nd move, I was proud of my ability to be accurate in the opening and be resourceful in unfamiliar territory. But my work with the Veresov wasn’t done yet. I had two half-point byes prior to my last round game, but my final opponent had seen this game and thought he could replicate my time trouble with a different take on the Veresov.

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With my roommates for the weekend and long time friends, Jeffrey and Matthew. We all had our own tough experiences at the World Open, but that didn’t stop us from having fun!

I guess psychologically he had hoped this would be enough to give a final punch to a player who in his eyes was extremely weak (how else could you see a 0/5 player?). I’m not really a fan of this strategy, as it’s not like I had forgotten why I set my structure the way I did, but also I don’t think the Veresov was in my final opponent’s repertoire. Personally, I don’t like to prepare completely new openings unless I know enough about what my opponent plays over the board – just ask Chess^Summit colleague Beilin Li! So now with over 24 hours of rest heading into my last game, I was determined to play to the best of my ability and save myself from a disappointing showing. I had already decided to withdraw from the Philadelphia International, since my coach and I decided it would be best to go home and fix my opening problems rather than have these lessons retaught. Luckily for me, I was able to conquer my last round curse quite convincingly.

Wettasinha–Steincamp (World Open, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.f3 e6

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With the bishop on f4 and not g5, my position is a lot more flexible, allowing me to play this move since e2-e4 is currently not possible. Because of this, I had already envisioned my plan for the middlegame, which meant I could play quicker and respond to my opponent’s threats when needed. My plan is to play …c7-c5 (now possible thanks to my e6 pawn), develop my knight to c6, and then see what my opponent does to make more positional decisions. 5.g4 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.e3 c5

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If you’ve read my posts prior to the Chess^Summit relaunch, you’ll see that I’m often a big believer in opening principles. While my opponent has gained space on the kingside, his king will have to make some critical decisions, while I have yet to make any positional commitments. As promised I’ve continued with my plan, and carrying it out has taken minimal time. White now decided to trade off light squared bishops which certainly doesn’t hurt my position. 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.Qxd3 a6

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Making sure that I can recapture on c5 without allowing the nasty Qd3-b5+, winning a minor piece. Funny story here. The following morning as I was confirming my room cancellation and preparing to leave for Richmond, I ran into my opponent, who proceeded to tell me that this move was a blunder because he can play his king to f2, and because of the weak b6 square, I’m as he put it “simply lost”. I was extremely skeptical of this, but figured there was likely some sort of engine work behind this and brought it up with my coach on the train ride home. With further analysis, lost is not only a strong word, it’s completely incorrect. My opponent’s idea of playing Ke1-f2 and then opening the e-file is dangerous, and if anything is just unclear. I had no such hunch during the game, as a solid position held by principles typically prevails against one that does not. I guess it was the typical chess player hubris that exists after losing. Sure this Ke1-f2 improvement is much better than 10.O-O-O?, but it does not punish hundreds of years of conventional thinking. 10…Nc6 11.Nge2

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With plenty of experience in race positions out of various openings, I was already optimistic about my winning chances – and not without good reason. During this point in the game, I remembered a quote from GM Greg Serper a few years ago at Castle Chess Camp where he said that Soviet players used to joke that the extra “O” in queenside castling notation also is recorded on the final result as a loss for that side. Using the last round win I had in New York as a base example, I knew that to have more success in a race position, I needed to find forcing moves and find the most accurate move order. Every move my opponent spends defending is a move he can’t attack the kingside. 11…Qa5 threatening …Nc6-b4 12.Kb1 c4 13.Qd2 b5

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So far every move has been forcing, and now …b5-b4 threatens to trap the knight. My thought with this move order was that if 11…c5 12. Qd2 Qa5, White has a little bit more flexibility (though not much) to choose a move here since he hasn’t played Kc1-b1 yet. By getting him to play the standard prophylactic move, the c3 knight has no safe squares. That opening time advantage my opponent was hoping for? Instead of only having 20 minutes until the 40th move, I’ve only used twenty. I started to calculate a lot more from here, but that’s because I had a slight suspicion that my game would never make it that far if played accurately. 14.Nc1 Bb4

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As my coach would later point out, 14…b4 should also work, but during the game, I thought this got rather messy. I liked this move because it provokes the mistake made in the game, 15.a3? but the point was that should 15. N1e2 Be7! be played, now the threat on the c3 knight is revived, and White must choose between 16. Nc1 or 16. a3, meaning I win a tempo or create a serious weakening of the queenside. I wanted to be able to connect my rooks before going all in, so that a kingside assault would be even less effective from White. I briefly considered sacrificing on a3, but not having access to b8 meant that this attack was more hopeful than concrete, so I reverted to my original plan 15…Be7 16.Qh2?

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At this point in the game, I was instantly reminded phrase I find myself saying often to 1500 rated players: Tricks are for kids! This case is no different. White’s one move threat (Bf4-c7 trapping the queen on a5) is easy to see but now makes it much harder to play a move like g4-g5, as the queen would be left exposed on an open h-file. This move gives me time to play …Ra8-a7! which means I can put my rook on b7 in the future, making sacrifices on a3 a very real possibility. Once White plays this move, there’s no going back, and it was at this precise moment I knew I could win, maybe even by force. 16…Ra7 17.Bd6 trying to stop …b5-b4 pushes Rb7 18.N1a2 further reinforcement of b4 Kd7! -+

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With the trade of dark square bishops, not only do I trade off White’s best piece, I can bring my h-rook into the game and use the b8 square! White doesn’t have any attractive options here, as moving the bishop back to g3 means crashing through with …b5-b4, and going to c5 only delays problems as I can consider trading on c5 then pushing the b-pawn, or playing …Rh8-b8 and winning. 19.Bxe7 Kxe7 20.e4 b4 21.axb4 Nxb4 22.e5

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When I saw this move, it felt like my opponent was resigning by getting rid of his only true dynamic resource. Without any counterplay, I had a hunch that this game had only a few precise moves left before I win. I entertained myself a little by considering leaving this knight here and just winning on the queenside, but with the way the weekend had gone (and let’s face it, the way conventional players play), I continued to deprive White of any counterplay. 22…Nd7 23.Nc1 Rhb8

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I was considering 23…Nd3, and it should be promising too, but it’s a much stronger threat now with two rooks on the b-file. My opponent’s move loses immediately, but what else can he do?

24.Rd2 Nc6 Threatening the c3 knight, and then …c4-c3, winning a rook. 25.N1a2 Rxb2+ 26.Ka1 Qa3 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 13.39.04Once again, the simplest solution is the best solution, as the impulsive move, 26…Nb4 hangs b2, and 26…Rxa2+ 27. Nxa2 Nb4 28. f3 might even be winning for White. My opponent resigned as …Rxa2+ and …Qb2# are coming, and I have the added threat of …Nb4 should he find anything to stop it (there isn’t). So finally a win in the last round – something that I wish had come earlier, but I rightly had to suffer in order to earn.

My experience at the World Open gave me a new found respect for chess. Here I was, some Candidate Master from Virginia thinking I could simply pull a few upsets and have yet another impressive result. While my various preparation helped me in critical moments in each of my rounds, this result shows me that there is a long ways to go until I can play with these guys, and I’m sure once I fix my repertoire, there will be some other problem that needs to be ironed out – this is chess.

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After a tough week, there is only one direction – onward!

On my train ride home, I received an email, and before I knew what it was, I realized it was the ratings report from the USCF. While I have vowed to not look at my rating, I think this slip up shows that there is always a sign of hope when we persevere. With a significant drop, my rating is exactly 2100, which offers me two lessons. First, never stop fighting! Even on our worse days, we will be rewarded in the most obscure ways. While a number shouldn’t have to tell you that, it’s certainly nice to know that the system “rewards” perseverance. The second lesson? Read the email subject line – that stuff’s there for a reason! Thanks for reading this far if you’ve made it here – this is easily the longest post I’ve ever written. Until next time!

Eugene Perelshteyn Teaches the English!

For our first Chess^Summit guest author, we are very excited to introduce Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn! In today’s video, GM Perelshteyn shares a recent game he played in the English Opening against a strong player where he won using positional concepts. This is a great resource for players who play the English, but also for those that play the Hyper-Accelerated Sicilian as recommended by Perelyshteyn’s book Chess Openings for Black, Explained. While the opening seemed unambitious, White was able to quickly able to expand on the queenside and create a potential passed pawn as discussed in the video!

Make sure to check in next week, as our authors Beilin Li and Vishal Kobla introduce themselves to Chess^Summit and discuss their goals for the upcoming year. Have a great Independence Day weekend!

Making the Most of an Average Tournament

As I mentioned in my post last week, I spent my Memorial Day weekend competing in the 4th Annual Cherry Blossom Classic to help me prepare for the US Junior Open. I scored 3/7 and lost a couple rating points, but I thought I learned a lot this week – not just about chess, but about how psychology factors into the game as well.

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Last year’s edition of the Cherry Blossom Classic was one of two strong tournament appearances I had last summer. This year I intended to follow up my appearance in DC with another strong showing.

For those of you who have watched my Chess^Summit videos, you may recall I opened last year’s Cherry Blossom Classic with my best career win at the time against WFM and US Women’s Championship contender Jennifer Yu. This year, I had a little deja vu on the opening night, beating a 2355 rated opponent in an arguably equal position.

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Black to Move

Jacobson – Steincamp

In this moment, it’s critical that I play accurately to maintain an equal position. For example, if I had tried 22… Rab8, I would be violating my first Endgame Essentials principle in not having active play. White would enjoy a nice position, perhaps playing Rf1-e1-e4 with the idea of playing f4-f5 and breaking open my kingside. So I gave my opponent the b7 pawn in exchange for a rook on the 7th rank. 22…Rae8! 23.Rxb7 Re2

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Visually, we can already see how White’s material advantage is temporary, with c2 and d5 both weak. I’m not out of the woods, but I’m one step closer to proving equality. 24.Qg3 Qe4

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I wanted to play here before playing 24…Qxc2 since I have the immediate idea of …Re2-e3, indirectly attacking the h3 pawn. White would be tied up and I could take the more valuable d5 pawn instead of the pawn on c2. Furthermore, 24…Qxc2 25. f5! and I’m not happy letting this pawn reach f6 with mating ideas and an outpost on e7 for White’s rooks. My insertion more or less forces 25.Qf3 but now I can play 25…Qxc2 because I can meet 26.f5 with gxf5!

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This move more or less forces an equal rook endgame after trades on f5 because my rooks can easily hit both d5 and b2. But what about 27.Qg3+? Doesn’t this win a pawn and the game after 27…Kh8 28.Qxd6?

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Can you find the saving move that gives Black the initiative? I’ll give you a hint – the theme is activity and counterplay!

28…Rxg2!!

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Completely ignoring the hanging rook, because 29.Qxf8+ Rg8! forces White to give up the queen since the mate threat on g2 is unstoppable otherwise.

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I went on to win the endgame in 93 moves, but after the game my opponent mentioned 29. Rb8 as a drawing move, but in his line 29… Rh2+ 30. Qxh2 Qxh2+ 31. Kxh2 Rxb8,Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 14.39.32

I think White still has to prove equality. I guess there’s two morals to this game: 1) always look for forcing moves, but more importantly 2) if the position is drawn, don’t play with fire. My opponent, just like Jennifer last year, refused to draw simply because I was lower rated. I guess some things never change.

However, after this first game, I struggled to maintain the momentum, ultimately blowing a completely won position against a 2300+ rated player in a rather embarrassing fashion in the fourth round, then drawing my way out to finish at 3/7.

There weren’t many particular dazzling moments in this tournament when compared to my victory in New York last week, but there was one particularly historic game for me personally:

Round 6: Steincamp–Li

Back in March, I shared a game I played against Beilin Li, a friend of mine from Carnegie Mellon. Only a few weeks after that game, we played again with opposite color, but this time, he came prepared and outsmarted me in a Closed Sicilian. I doubt I’ll ever play Beilin again outside of Pittsburgh, but since we were rooming together and playing in the same section this tournament, we certainly made it possible.

Still recovering from the aforementioned loss, I didn’t want to play a game based off of preparation against a tactically astute player, so I decided to improvise and go for a more intuitive set-up, forcing Beilin to show me what he knows outside of the Closed Sicilian set-up. 1. Nf3

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Stopping 1… e5 and getting ready for an English. When I realized I was going to play him a second time back in April, I had prepared this to get Beilin out of his comfort zone. Maybe he was a little surprised, but if he followed my games, he’d know that the last time I didn’t open a game with 1 c4 was back in 2009 when I was only 1300! But Beilin was smart and chose 1…g6

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Still thinking I would play 2. c4, Beilin prepared to delay any central commitment by fianchettoing his kingside. If I opt for an English, Beilin could transpose into a Reversed Sicilian still unless I wanted to make him play a King’s Indian. Again, on this particular morning, I didn’t want anything sharp and made the real surprise move.

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2. e4! Ironically, I had this position as Black the night before, but the difference is that if Beilin had continued 2… c5 I know the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon as Black and he doesn’t – a theoretical advantage if you will. So Beilin opted for a Pirc and played well to hold a draw. The game didn’t hold much intrigue for spectators (that knew me at least) outside of the first two moves.

While Beilin had a rough tournament this weekend, I suspect he’ll be one of my most challenging opponents in Pittsburgh for years to come. While we may be “rivals” over the chess board, we’re close friends, which is why I’m pleased to announce that after the US Junior Open, I’ll be adding Beilin along with a few other talented authors to Chess^Summit (more about this later)!  Beilin writes a lot of great material on chess.com, and you can check out some of his articles here!

So what can I say about my own performance this weekend? Compared to last year, this was a much more difficult event. Six of my seven games were determined in the endgame, and by the end of the tournament, I had spent nearly 30 hours at the chess board! While it’s clear that I still need to work on my calculation between now and the US Junior Open, I think there are some positives I can take away from this tournament. First, since my trip to New York, I’ve gone seven straight games with Black unbeaten, scoring four wins in that stretch. Secondly, the time controls were the same as those in New York, and this time around, my time management was significantly better, and often I found myself pushing my opponent’s into some form of time trouble. Lastly, even though I only scored 1/3 against higher rated players, I was extremely close to beating two 2300s in one weekend (I had only beaten one going into the weekend). With the right preparation and discipline, I think I can beat these guys – which is what it’s going to take to win the US Junior Open in three weeks.

Next week is my last preparatory event for the US Junior Open, and I’ll be traveling to Charlotte for the Carolinas Classic. I’m currently in the middle of the Championship section, and I’m looking forward to a chance for redemption!

Victory in New York! Winning My First Adult Tournament

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Heading into the final round – against what proved to be my toughest test of the weekend, a 2250 rated FIDE Master!

This weekend proved to be a weekend of firsts. First time riding Amtrak without major delays. First time playing chess in the state of New York. First time visiting New York City and the Marshall Chess Club. But amidst all of the distractions, my first time winning an adult tournament! Of course, I had more than my fair share of luck, but we’ll get to that later.

With the late rounds each day, I had plenty of time to explore the city and visit some nearby attractions. While blitz in Washington Square Park was definitely the most entertaining for me, cliched visits to the Empire State Building and the Flat Iron were also highlights of the trip.

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As a foodie, New York proved to offer more than I could try. Thanks to some prior research, I thought I had a pretty good sampling of the local cuisine – late night pizza, meatball subs, Japanese barbeque, tacos, doughnuts, and bagels. I don’t think I’ll ever have as many choices when it comes to food near a tournament venue than I did here in New York City.

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After finishing the tournament with three consecutive wins, there was only one way to celebrate – Japanese Barbeque!

But enough chit-chat. Let’s talk chess. After not having played tournament chess in over a month and a half, I was a little worried my prior training wouldn’t be sufficient. It took a round 2 loss and a close win in round 3 to finally get into gear, playing much better on the last day to close out the tournament.

Even though the tournament was strictly U2300 and had two time controls (40/90 with 30-second increment, 30-minute sudden death), I thought the format was close to what I’ll see in New Orleans this June. For the first 40 moves of each game, I got to simulate the US Junior Open time controls (90 minutes with 30-second increment). In reflection, I wish I could have been faster on the clock, but for my first tournament back in a while, I’m thinking that upcoming tournaments in DC and Charlotte can help me improve my time management.

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Lastly, I must confess, the scholastic players I faced at the Marshall Chess Club were among the most underrated group of kids I’ve ever played. The tactical prowess of my round 2 opponent was particularly impressive (and proved lethal!), and I was nearly held to a draw by the 2016 K-3 co-National Champion! I can only wonder how strong I would be if I grew up in the area… Either way, I thought that my games against juniors gave me a good sense of what I’m up against next month.

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Washington Square Park

Aside from winning the event, I’m most proud of scoring 3/3 with the Black pieces. I honestly can’t remember the last time I achieved a perfect score at a tournament with Black, and I think it was this persistence that helped me capture a tie for first (especially since I started with 3 Blacks in 4 games!). That being said let’s take a look at some of the important moments of the tournament!

Round 1: Breskin – Steincamp

13…Nh6

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Up to this point, I had mostly been experimenting, using an idea that an opponent once used to beat me only a couple months ago! My opponent’s play has been a little awkward, and it’s unclear where the knight’s future on e4 will be. Meanwhile, my plan is concrete. I will push …f7-f5 and lay claim to the center. Once this happens, my opponent will have no counterplay as d3-d4 will always be met by e5-e4, shutting down White’s g2 bishop.

14.d4 f5

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In chess, you can’t be afraid of going into complications. With my last move, White has a choice. He can give me the center, allowing me to displace both of his knights, or he can sacrifice the knight on e4 for a few pawns, hoping the position will hold long enough to make for an endgame advantage. After a significant amount of time, my opponent made his decision, and in retrospect, probably correctly.

15.dxe5!?

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Very double edged, but White can’t afford to sit back anymore. In exchange for the knight, White can get three pawns, but the position implores White to find activity, and already this is not so simple.

15…fxe4 16.exd6 Qd8 17.Qd5+ =+

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When I played 14…f5, I saw this move and assessed that I was better as the queen quickly becomes misplaced. What I didn’t consider, however, was 17. Nd2 (Stockfish’s recommendation) with “equality” in a position with lots of options. Backward knight moves are tricky to find, and especially when an active-looking check is a possibility, psychologically it can be very difficult to play the more prudent move. This would be the first of three positions where valuing a check is the deciding factor.

17…Nf7 18.Ng5??

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Under immense pressure, my opponent cracks in the form of a blunder! But already, it’s very difficult to find moves. 18. Nd2 is White’s best move, but Black is better with ideas of …Bd7-f5 once the d-pawn drops, and already, it’s becoming difficult to hold the d6 pawn.

Round 2: Steincamp – Chen

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After having misplayed the opening, I thought I was reaching a draw after 28… Bxh4 29. Bxc4, where Black is up a pawn, but my bishop pair makes it difficult for my opponent to convert. But as I mentioned, my opponent’s tactics throughout the game were superb, and he caught my oversight with 28…Rxb8! 29.Rxb8 Bd6+

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And now the endgame is winning for Black since he has the bishop pair and I don’t. I played out the ending, but it’s not too difficult to convert. Unfortunately for my opponent, this would prove to be his final victory of the weekend, but he played some inspired chess in each of his games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he reached master level in the near future.

Round 3: Zhou – Steincamp

After not much time to rest, I hurried into my third round game somewhat deflated. Though I got a decent advantage out of the opening, I misplayed the middlegame, trading queens too early and allowing my opponent to reach an equal position. Luck was on my side, though, and in this critical moment of the game, my opponent chose the howler, 45.Be3??

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Already, the game is dead lost. My opponent, the recently crowned K-3 National Champion, valued a check as the best move in the position, seeing that 45… Bxe3 46. Kxe3 Kc2+ 47. Ke2 was at least a draw. But as the old saying goes, “patzer see a check, patzer play a check”, and I had already seen the simple refutation to this line.

45…Bxe3 46.Kxe3 Rxb6 -+

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Winning. If White were to capture on d2, I would play …Re6+, capturing the rook after the king leaves the e3 square. White played on till checkmate, but again, Black will at least win the rook in exchange for the d2 pawn, so the win is still fairly simple once the Black king is able to reach c2.

This was a critical moment of the tournament (though I didn’t know it at the time). In the Russian sense, I had managed to “stop the bleeding” with a win with Black and get an opportunity to play some higher rated opponents. Rather than worrying about my quality of play up to this point, I simply relaxed and used this as an opportunity to sleep and explore the city.

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That next morning, I woke up early and hiked from Union Square to go to the Doughnut Plant. Nothing to brighten the mood like a good tres leches doughnut!

Knowing that my last two rounds would define my performance in the tournament, I woke up early determined to play good chess. After a pleasant breakfast, I took a long walk from Madison Square Park to Washington Square Park to get some practice blitz games against the locals. After some early morning blunders out of my system, I was ready to head over to the Marshall Chess Club to start the final day of the competition.

One element of the tournament that was different for me was that many of the juniors were extremely underrated. As I had seen in my previous two games, their ratings had no reflection of their actual skill.

I went into the last day with a different mentality. At this point, I wasn’t concerned about rating point gain and understood that being upset again this tournament wouldn’t be a reflection of my understanding of chess, but rather a confirmation of the local talent. That being said, my last two games were against adults, so the wrath of the children had stopped.

Round 4: Polyakin – Steincamp

After starting with a King’s Indian, my opponent veered off course with an optimistic knight sac.

11.Bxh6?

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I had already calculated this line when I played …e7-e5, and knew that White simply didn’t have enough material to make anything of this sacrifice. Feeling this is one thing, defending it is another. Black is winning, but a single mistake could be fatal.

11…dxc3 12.hxg6+ fxg6 13.Bxg7+ Kxg7 14.Qh6+

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No surprises so far. The way I understood the position was that White simply didn’t have entry squares on the h-file, and without any other active forces, I have enough time to shore up my weaknesses and develop my pieces. For Black I think merely pushing the game in a static direction is a valid threat and it’s White who must act quickly.

14…Kf7 15.Nf3 Rg8!

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I had seen up to here before going into this line. This move holds my only critical weakness, g6. Once again, White is in do or die mode and ensured he would lose the game with his next move.

16.Ng5+

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The third and final “losing check” of the weekend. White cuts off his own queen from the game, and once my king reaches e8 will have no active options to pursue an attack. If White was serious about creating counterplay, he would have tried 16. Qf4, with ideas of e4-e5 – but let’s not forget, White is still down a piece and Black is still winning.

16…Ke8 17.Rd1 c2

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I really like this move as White has to move his rook off of the d-file, giving me more time to develop and start thinking about exploiting White’s king.

18.Rc1 Qe7 19.c5 Nxc5 20.Bc4 d5!

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The deciding move. I had looked at 20…. Nfxe4 21. Bg8 Ng3+ with a win, but things get messy when White plays 21. 0-0!, and my king is once again under fire on e8. 20… Be6 was possible, but I think White has accomplished something after 21. Nxe6 Nxe6 22. Qh3 and now my king has to go to f7 or d7 which are quite awkward since both would willingly walk into a pin. The key to this position is to make sure that White’s king doesn’t have time to leave the center. Once the e-file opens, whoever’s king is the weakest will lose the game, probably regardless of material. But at this point, I saw that the follow-up was forced.

21.e5 Qxe5+

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The obvious move as Black wins more material. Perhaps 21… dxc5 was possible, but why allow White’s king to get out of the center and centralize his rooks? Always look for the most practical solution in a winning position.

22.Kf1 dxc4

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Winning a bishop. 22. Re1 is met by 22… Qxe1+ 23. Kxe1 c1Q+ and White has lost rook in addition to already being down two pieces. The game lasts two more moves.

23.Rxc2 Bf5 24.Re2 Bd3 0-1

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And my opponent resigned here. A confidence booster for me here as the win meant I could play for first and continue playing 2100+ rated competition. Granted, my opponent gave me this game just as much as I won it, but I still had to defend adequately to get the point.

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An early Round 4 finish gave me time to stop by a Taiwanese Festival before grabbing lunch.

I won the game in less than two hours, which gave me plenty of time to explore and relax before the big finale.

Thanks to my loss in round 2, I was still a half-point behind the tournament leader, and needed him to draw or lose to have a chance to win the tournament.

Luck came once more on my side, as he drew quickly, playing too quickly to convert an extra pawn in a minor piece endgame. That left my opponent and I on board 2 with a chance to tie for first with a decisive result. Thanks to my surplus of Blacks in the tournament, I was given White against a FIDE Master who had just drawn Grandmaster Aleksandr Lenderman last week. The game started out slowly with a small nod in my favor, but in just three moves the balance took a massive swing and my opponent was left behind in the dust.

Steincamp – Sulman (FM)

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.g3 Bg4

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I’ve never really seen this move before, even in the Mega Database among strong players. The bishop is a little awkward on g4 since it can always be hit by h2-h3, and it’s clearly telegraphing the idea of trading light square bishops in the future. The more natural square is e6, targeting a d6-d5 break while also maintaining the idea of eventually creating a battery and playing …Be6-h3.

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Moving the same piece twice in the opening may be a sin to some, but here I think it’s particularly useful, stopping Black’s knight from reaching f6, and eyeing c7 in the case that Black play …Bg4-h3.

6…Nge7 7.O-O O-O-O

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I was extremely happy to see this move since I think White is more prepared to launch a pawn storm on the queenside than Black is on the kingside. By being on the queenside, Black potentially commits himself to playing moves like …Kc8-b8 to avoid creating weaknesses. This is a loss of time, and in a race position, might not be so trivial. That being said, I totally understand the approach from Black. Already board 1 was moving to a draw, so my opponent wanted to quickly create attacking chances to win the tournament.

8.Rb1 Nd4

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Instinctively, I didn’t like this move, but it’s not so easy to demonstrate over the board. Up to this point, I had gained about a 30 minute advantage, so I used most of it here to find the best way to continue.

If we think about it, Black would love a line like …Bxf3 followed exf3 since that would make d4 a permanent outpost for Black. Another issue for me is that I always have to consider the zwischenzug …Ne7xd5, doubling my pawns. Many times, this can be a strategic advantage for White, but if I’m not careful, it can be a positional weakness. For example, a line I considered was 9. e3 Nxd5 10. cxd5 e4 11. exd4 Qb5! =+, where the tripled pawns prove difficult to hold. After the game, my opponent had said he had missed this variation, but I think it’s great Black.

In a position where it’s unclear what to do, sometimes it’s important to stick to Occam’s Razor, where the simplest solution can be the best one. I originally wasn’t thrilled about 9. Nxd4 since e2 becomes a target for Black, but after some time, I realized this was my best option. Sure, Black can try to take on e2, but in a race position, it won’t matter if I’m going for his king. Another concrete problem for Black is that it isn’t clear how his bishop is escaping f8 to an active position with a pawn on d4. My opponent thought this didn’t matter too much at this point, but I think it does need to be considered.

9.Nxd4 exd4 10.d3 h5 11.h4

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Setting up the “wavebreaker” we’ve discussed before. I wasn’t too sure how Black was going to attack from here. I thought a positional approach would be to bring the f8 bishop to h6 and trade dark squared bishops, but to do this, he must move the g-pawn, which would allow Nd5-f6. So to execute this idea in full, Black must take the knight on d5, which would open the c-file for my rook – most definitely good for me. My thought on this position was that I was perhaps slightly better, but there was still a game to play here for both sides.

11…Bh3 12.Bxh3 Qxh3 13.Qa4

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Nothing special yet, but I wanted to ask Black to prove his point. Once he plays 13… Kb8, I get a free tempo to finally start pushing my queenside armada.

13…Kb8 14.b4 Nxd5?

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In our game analysis, my opponent and I agreed that this was the root of his problems. In this position, I get to open the c-file, but more importantly, Black has no threats! As the game shows, it’s not so easy to continue from here. Black’s best chance is to play 14… Nf5, where he immediately threatens to make a perpetual by taking on g3 or h4. Up to this point I didn’t think I was significantly ahead, but after these knights were swapped, I was very optimistic.

15.cxd5 Qf5 16.e4!

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My opponent underestimated this move and now is faced with an uncomfortable decision. He can move the queen, at which point, he will no longer be able to access the queenside with it, or he can open the position, allowing my bishop to develop with tempo.

16…dxe3 17.Bxe3

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Personally, I thought Black would have been better off leaving the center untouched, as now, not only do I develop with tempo, Black must now make a concession on the queenside. It was this part of the game where I got to test my tactics. Trying to stay calm and not replicate an earlier failure, I got the job done with only a few forcing blows.

17…b6 18.Rfc1

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Another forcing move. If Black were to ignore me and play 18…Qxd5?, I can win by force with 19. Rxc7! threatening mate on a7, so Black if recaptures with 18…Kxc7 19. Qxa7+ Qb7 20. Rc1+ and I win the queen on the next move. Black can try 18… Qa8, but after a move like 19. Rbc1, are you really going to tell me Black can hold reasonably?

18…Rc8 19.Qb5 g5 20.Rb3

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Simply ignoring Black’s non-existent kingside ploys. My idea is to play Rb3-a3 next move, preparing Qb5-a6 with mate. Black will have to open up his king with …c7-c5, and it won’t be pretty.

20…gxh4 21.Ra3 c5 22.bxc5

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And all lines are winning here. In the game, Black tried the least ambitious defense thanks to his time troubles, but after 22…Qxd5 23. Rxa7! Kxa7 24. Qxb6+ Ka8 25. Rc3 and Black’s fate is inevitable. I thought Black would try 22… Rf7, but here too I saw that 23. Rxa7! is winning (not all the way till mate though) because 23… Rxa7 24. cxb6, and long story short, Black will not be able to cover all his weak light squares.

22…dxc5 23.Bf4+ Ka8 24.Qa4

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The fastest win. If tactics trainer on chess.com has taught me anything, it’s to understand the differences between moves. 24. Qh6 is not as clean because it allows 24… Qd7. My move takes away this option, and since Black doesn’t have …Rc8-c7 in the position thanks to my bishop, he must push the a-pawn…

24…a5 25.Qxa5+ 1-0

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Black resigns. If 25…bxa5 26. Rxa5+ Kb7 27. Rb1# and 25… Kb7 26. Qa7#. So that concludes my first ever adult tournament win! It took twelve and a half years to pull off, but to finally do it at the Marshall Chess Club of all places was extremely special.

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I’d like to take this moment to thank all of my supporters over at GoFundMe for helping make this trip possible, as well as all of you for following my various accomplishments here on Chess^Summit. Without your continued support, this trip would have never been possible!

While this is a memorable moment for my career, I’ll have little time to relax. Next week is the Cherry Blossom Classic in DC, and the following week is the Carolinas Classic in Charlotte. Hard to believe that in less than one month I’ll be playing for the US Junior Open!

Endgame Essentials: Pushing Your Chances

So far in my Endgame Essentials series, I’ve laid out some basic principles to improve our overall assessment of different positions. Understanding that our opponent has a weak king, sidelined piece, or a cancerous structure can help us seize the initiative and identify a plan going forward. While the examples I’ve previously given are relatively straightforward, in practice, such applications are not so simple. Take this position from the recent Candidates Tournament for instance:

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White to Move

Svidler – Karjakin, 2016

In the game, Svidler made the logical move, 48. Rxf4, after which the game followed 48… Rxa2 49. Rfh4 g6 50. Re5 with a draw. I don’t think it’s fair to compare White’s choice to that of an engine, but Stockfish’s recommendation here is particularly instructive – 48. Re5! with a big plus for White. The point is that after 48…Rxa2 49. Re7 g6 50. Rxf4, White’s rooks are a lot more active than Black’s and now both the e3 pawn and the 7th rank are weak. Furthermore, Black’s knight on f8 is out of commission with no pleasant square for refuge. Again, it’s hard to fault Svidler for the miss, but the engine shows us here that activity is stronger than material (for more of my thoughts on engines, here’s a post from last year).

What this should tell us is that the heuristics we’ve identified thus far should always be at the forefront of our attention. However, sometimes we don’t have the convenience of having a better position. In such cases, one strategy is to strengthen our structure by gaining space in the aims to restrict our opponent. If I had to choose a “one-move” example of this, it would be from this past year’s Tata Steel.

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White to Move

Navara – Caruana, 2016

At a first glance, the position is seemingly equal. Navara has a broken pawn structure, but his activity offers enough compensation. If White had moved the bishop here from d5, Black would immediately take the second rank with …Rd6-d2!, seizing the initiative and potentially the game. This is why Navara chose 35. c4!, protecting the bishop, but also showing Caruana how inactive his rook really is.  From d6, the Black rook has limited options, and can’t easily put itself on the e-file. The Czech player went on to win a very nice endgame, and I encourage you to see its continuation here.

Navara is an extremely talented player, and perhaps will one day break the top ten, but as with the previous posts, the focus of today’s post is the reigning World Champion!

Naturally, improving a pawn structure takes more than one move, but I thought this case illustrates the aims of the expanding side quite nicely. As we have throughout this series, we’ll take a look at a few examples from Magnus Carlsen’s past victories, this time from 2012 and 2013.

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White to Move

Carlsen – Van Wely, 2013

Already, we have a messy position. White has the bishop pair, but the light-squared bishop seems a little boxed in on d3. The most glaring weakness in this position is the f5 pawn, but Loek has set a trap: 23. Bxf5 Ne5!= and despite being down a pawn, the constant pressure on c4 is enough to give Black equality. But as I hope you’ve noticed thus far, the endgame rewards long-term plans more than short calculations, so this pawn on f5 will be a source of concern for Black going forward. Just remember, sometimes the threat is stronger than the execution! So Magnus instead chose 23. Kc2 (Though imprecise, 23. f4 should win too since it covers the e5 square) Bd4 24. Rb1 Nb6 25. Bf4

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Before deciding on a structure, Carlsen has decided to optimize his pieces. By putting pressure on his opponent first, he will have a better idea of what structures will give him the best winning chances.

25…Be5 26. Re1 Kg7 27. Bg3!

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The starting point for today! With this move, Carlsen intends f3-f4, fixing the weakness on f5, and limiting his opponent’s bishop’s mobility. Already, holding the file and keeping his position intact is getting uncomfortable.

27…Re7 28. f4 Bf6 29. Rxe7 Bxe7 30. Be1

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Relocating the bishop the long diagonal is a clear idea, but Carlsen wants to gain space on the kingside with his h- and g-pawns. Again, there’s no rush to take on f5, the pawn can’t go anywhere, thanks to the pawn on f4.

30…h5 31. g3 Bf6 32. Kb3 Kg6 33. h3 1-0

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Perhaps it was premature, but Van Wely resigned here in light of 34. g4, finally winning the f5 pawn. With the bishop pair and a healthy material advantage, White should win with relative ease.

This is an important endgame because it shows us that long-term weaknesses can usually not be held by tactical means forever. White maximized a static advantage by fixing the f5 pawn and trading rooks, making it difficult for Black to create counterplay.

In our next example, Carlsen takes on Caruana in a position that is much more balanced:

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White to Move

Carlsen – Caruana, 2012

In this position, both sides have exactly one weakness. For White, the isolated c-pawn is a clear target, and for Black, the backward pawn on b6 is also an issue. I think here many players would try to exchange weaknesses, but, in this case, this mutually beneficial trade will only result in equality (Note that the immediate 29. Bxb6 fails anyways to 29… Rxe1!, I mean this as a more long-term idea). But here it could be argued that White’s position is simpler to play. The bishop on d4 is better placed than it’s counterpart on c7, and can’t easily be kicked from its outpost, thanks to the c3 pawn. Furthermore, it’s much easier for Magnus to put pressure on b6 than it is for Caruana to attack c3, so Black still needs to prove equality in this position. Knowing this, White decided that it was time to expand on the kingside.

29. Re4 g6 30. g4 Kf8 31. h4

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Even though it’s not yet clear how Magnus will use these pawns, we can say that he has improved his position, and now asks Black how he will relieve pressure on the b6 pawn. Caruana starts with an exchange and quickly claiming the e-file.

31…Rxe4 32. Kxe4 Re8+ 33. Kd3 Re6 34. Be3!

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And now it’s starting to become clear how Carlsen intends to use his kingside pawns. Should Black push ahead with 34…h5?! 35. gxh5 gxh5 36. Rb5 +=, White can enjoy a long-term advantage with pressure on both b6 and h5.

34…Kg7 35. Rb5 Bd8 36. h5

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Even though Caruana has made completely natural moves, White has consistently made matters difficult for him. Should Black try 35…f4, he will constantly have to defend a weak h6 pawn. Meanwhile, White can change gears and play c3-c4-c5, only now trading weaknesses because it will be more difficult to defend a5 and h6 than it currently is with b6 and h6. Black decided to keep his structure compact, but  this means his king is stuck on g7 protecting h6 until the structure is resolved!

35…Rd6+ 37. Kc4 Rc6+ 38. Kd5 Re6 39. Bd4+ Kf8 40. f4 +=

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Black has some weaknesses, but nothing nearly as pronounced as our previously analyzed games. However, by improving his pieces and getting space on the kingside, White’s advantage is already becoming visual. Black now is challenged to find moves that don’t make concessions.

40…Bc7 41. f5!

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Pressuring the g6 pawn. White’s intention is to make the h6 pawn much more exposed. Even if Caruana tries 41… gxf5 42. gxf5 with the belief that White’s structure also becomes weak, he’ll quickly find that he has no easy way of attacking the isolated f- and h-pawns, since b6 (and soon h6) are under fire. Sometimes, your opponent’s biggest weakness is only as weak as your strongest strength – here the damage to White’s structure is negligible.

41…Rd6+ 42. Ke4 Rc6 43. Rb1 Ke8 44. hxg6

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Now that Black has distanced himself from his kingside pawns, Carlsen takes on g6 with the h-pawn so he can attack h6 via h1.

44…fxg6 45. Rh1 Kf7 46. Kd5 Rd6+ 47. Kc4 gxf5 48. gxf5 Bd8 49. f6!!

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An incredible interference! White trades the kingside pawns, with the idea that liquidating pieces will only help White since his king is closer to the queenside. Black has to oblige, and as we’ll see, his position quickly collapses.

49…Bxf6 50. Rxh6 Be7 51. Rxd6 Bxd6 52. Kb5

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And 23 moves later, the debate is resolved, the b6 pawn was weaker than the isolated c-pawn. It was important that White expanded on the kingside because it came with the caveat of having a better king in the final position. Black played on for another 14 moves, but the win is simple. Carlsen picked up the last of Black’s pawns and then pushed his down the board.

2013 proved to be Carlsen’s year. By the year’s end, he went on to beat Anand for the World Championship in Chennai.

For our last example today, both sides attempt to expand in the endgame, but Carlsen’s opponent tried for too much – which ultimately proved for his own demise!

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White to Move

Carlsen – Svidler, 2013

Already, it’s move 12, and we have a queenless middlegame. Black’s bishop looks a little silly on g7, but other than that, we have relative equality in the position. If Black were on the clock, Svidler would likely choose …Bc8-e6 limiting White’s e2 bishop, so Carlsen started with 12. Bc4. Svidler, needing to get his c8 bishop into the game with 12…b5 (which engine thinks is fine), but based on the game’s continuation, Black already puts himself in a place where he must be extremely accurate. White doesn’t really have any threats, which is why I prefer 12…Bd7, with the idea of rerouting to c6. It takes just as many moves as Svidler to develop, just without the bonus of a forcing move. One of the reasons I don’t like this move is because of a general principle Grandmaster Magesh Panchanathan once taught me – don’t move pawns for short term plans. It’s not clear yet if this queenside expansion is beneficial to Black, and as we’ll see Carlsen successfully punishes him later. 13. Bb3

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Already we can see some reasons as to why 12…b5 may be questionable. First, b3 isn’t exactly a “worse” square than c4 for White’s bishop. More importantly, the move a2-a4 is beckoning to be played, with the idea of undermining Black’s structure.

13…Bb7 14. f3 Bf8 15. a4!

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Now Svidler is faced with an uncomfortable decision. Does he take on a4 and cripple his queenside forever, or does he hyperextend with b5-b4? While the b-pawn push is optically pleasant, it comes with the drawback that c4 is weakened forever.

15…b4 16. Nb1

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Taking advantage of Black’s hyperextension. Carlsen plans a quick maneuver, Nb1-d2-c4 to put pressure on e5.

16…Nd7 17. Nd2 Bc5 18. Kf2!

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A nice application of a simple idea here – trade only if it helps you! Taking on c5 would activate Black’s knight, so now, if Svidler wants to trade dark-squared bishops, he must take on e3, activating the king!

18…a5 19. Rfd1 Kg7 20. Nc4 Bxe3+ 21. Kxe3 f6 22. Rd2

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Phase 1 of White’s plan is complete. Magnus stands slightly better thanks to his control over c4, but Svidler has done well to not create new weaknesses. The next stage of the game is brief, as Carlsen simply grabs the d-file.

22…Nb6 23. Nxb6 cxb6 24. Rad1 Rxd2 25. Rxd2 Bc6 26. Rd6 Rc8

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Once again Carlsen is doing well, but it still seems like Svidler can hold this position. In phase 3, White finally improves his structure on both sides of the board to increase his winning chances.

27. Be6 Rc7 28. b3 Kf8 29. Bc4

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White has sealed the queenside, as now both a4 and c2 cannot easily be hit. Meanwhile, b6 is already a future target for White. But first, Carlsen plays on the whole board!

29…Kg7 30. h4 h5 31. g4?

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Svidler must make another tough decision. Does he take on g4, allowing White the opportunity to create a passed h-pawn in the future? Or does he allow White to take on h5, creating another target? As it turns out, Black actually missed a chance to equalize here with 31…hxg4! 32. fxg4 Bxa4! 33. Rxb6 and Black has a lot fewer weaknesses in the position. Carlsen was better if he found the prophylactic 31. Bd3!, removing the idea of …Bxa4 and planning an f3-f4 push. The endgame is still complicated, but White still has an edge.

31…Bxa4 32. Rxb6 Bd7 33. gxh5 gxh5

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While Black may have gotten rid of his b6 weakness, he now has targets on a5, f6, and h5. Even though Black isn’t lost here, White is still for choice.

34. Bd3 Kf7 35. f4 exf4+ 36. Kxf4

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Winning this endgame won’t be simple, but by trading the e5 pawn for his f-pawn, Carlsen opens up dark squares in the center for his king. After getting his rook onto a better square, Magnus centralizes the king by moving it to d4.

36…Rc5 37. Rb7 Ke6 38. Ra7 Kd6 39. Ke3 Bg4 40. Kd4

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Now with a centralized king, White has slightly better winning chances. White will now bring his bishop to c4, reducing the Black rook’s options.

40…Re5 41. Bc4 Bf3 42. Bd5! +=

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With this move, White is in full control once again. Black’s rook only has two moves that don’t immediately drop a piece, and each of Svidler’s three weaknesses are much more difficult to defend.

42…Bd1 43. Rf7 Re8 44. Rxf6+ Kc7 45. Ra6 Bxc2?? 46. Rc6+ 1-0

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A simple oversight by Svidler in a position that was already lost. This game gave us both good and bad examples of expanding the structure. Early in the game, Svidler pushed too quickly, giving White counterplay on the queenside and a great outpost on c4. But this wasn’t enough to win. By expanding on the kingside (the one blunder aside), Magnus managed to break Black’s pawn structure.

In today’s post, we discussed how in seemingly equal positions, we can increase our winning chances by improving our pawn structure and gaining space on each side of the board. Often times it isn’t enough to have one weakness in the position, so often changing the structure (in our favor) gives us more attacking options and plans to stretch out our opponent.

I’ll be playing my first tournament in over a month this weekend at the Marshall Chess Club in New York City, so I won’t be able to post my usual video on Sunday. Look out for my next post early next week, where I’ll hopefully be sharing what turned out to be a good performance!

Endgame Essentials: Woes of the Inferior Pawn Structure

For those of you who were formally introduced to chess like me, you may recall being taught the importance of the solidarity in pawn structures. The more fragmented a structure becomes, the more pawn islands are created. Since pawns are “stronger” together, it’s logical then to believe that each pawn island (or isolated pawn) created thus weakens the integrity of one side’s overall structure. This static consideration is so important that many coaches for beginners say that the side with fewer pawn islands can be considered better! While this grossly undervalues the power of dynamic play, this consideration can help steer the structurally better player in the right direction.

In the case of endgames, understanding this principle is crucial, as a brittle structure offers various targets throughout the duration of the game. In our previous Endgame Essentials posts, we discussed how a weak king or a badly placed piece can single-handedly change a result. By simultaneously asking yourself how you can improve your position and stop the opponent’s counterplay, we can try to stretch out (or limit!) our opponent’s defensive resources by creating a passed pawn, or dominating an opponent’s piece. When taking structures into consideration, often times we don’t need to immediately create our own attacking resources because they are already provided for us. As we have with our past studies, we resume our travel through Magnus Carlsen’s career – resuming in 2009, and today reaching the year 2011.

For our first endgame, Carlsen faces his future-soon-to-be-challenger, Sergey Karjakin.

As we move through each exercise, I encourage you to continue asking yourself how Carlsen can improve his position. When playing against a weak structure, the duration of the plan will take longer, and usually a win is not simply obtained by tactical means like some of our previous examples.

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White to Move

Carlsen – Karjakin, 2009

At a first glance, neither sides’ pieces are particularly impressive. Karjakin’s rook on d8 seems to stand strong on the d-file, but as we’ll see in a second, it actually has no entry square on the d-file that’s particularly useful. To get a better assessment of who’s better, we move to the theme of today’s lesson by comparing structures. In the purest definition of the word, each side has exactly three pawn islands. However, the value of each island is different. For example, visually, we can already see how the isolated c6 pawn is a lot weaker than White’s on h3. By being on a half-open file, Black’s c-pawn can present him with immediate problems. Furthermore, I think something needs to be said of Black’s e5 pawn. While at a basic level it belongs to the same pawn island as the f-, g-, and h- pawns, supporting it with another pawn would actually be a concession for Karjakin. Already, the pawn on e5 limits the scope of Black’s dark-squared bishop. Should Black ever play …f7-f6, he limits the bishop even more, while White’s opposite colored bishop improves.

So as we can see, while Carlsen also has three pawn islands, it doesn’t limit his ability to improve his position. 21. Nd1 Rd6 22. Rc5 Kf8 23. Kf1 h5 24. Ne3 Ke7 25. Ke2 Bg7

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Both sides have tried to improve the position, but White’s done a better job of addressing Black’s weaknesses. From c5, Carlsen’s rook hits both the c6 and e5 pawns. Without a clear improvement, White spends this move asking himself “what’s my worst piece?” and finds that the knight on e3 has limited mobility despite its centralization. With 26. Nc2 Carlsen makes a move he’ll have to make anyway to reactivate the knight while waiting on Karjakin to find improvements 26…Bh6 27. Ra5!

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Why not immediately take the pawn on e5? Carlsen decided here that given the choice, he’d rather win the pawn on a7. Should White win this pawn, not only does he get a passed pawn on the a-file, but the pawn on e5 still blocks in Black’s bishop. Karjakin didn’t let this happen, but protecting the a-pawn means retreating one of his pieces. Carlsen wasn’t worried about 27…Rd2+ 28. Kf1 Rd1+ 29. Kg2 and with no more checks, Black must go back and protect a7. It’s in this line that we see how Black’s rook isn’t really a factor on the d-file.

27…Rd7 28. Rxe5+ Kd6 29. Ra5 Bg7 30. f4!

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Giving Karjakin a choice. By taking the pawn on b2 like he did in the game, Black temporarily puts his bishop offside and has to spend several tempi reactivating it. Meanwhile, White can still put pressure on c6 and a7. While Karjakin’s chances for survival dwindle by playing the role of materialist, he doesn’t exactly have a better option.

30…Bxb2 31. e5+ Ke7 32. Nb4 Kf8 +=

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In ditching his c6 pawn, we can safely say that Carlsen holds an advantage. Had Black tried to hold on with 32…Rc7? 33.Rxa7! Rxa7 34. Nxc6 still gives White a nice two pawn cushion. White doesn’t even have to be flashy because 33. Rc5 will win on c6 as well – if 33…Kd7 34. Bxf7 +-.

33. Nxc6 Bc1 34. Kf3 Rc7 35. Rc5 Ba3 36. Rc2

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After spending the last few moves to regroup, Carlsen’s ready to move onto phase two of this endgame. While White stands a pawn up, given the nature of rook and minor piece endgames, there’s still more work to do. The most immediate solution is to try to find ways to make the e-pawn passed. With White’s bishop on b3, it’s important to keep an eye out for sacrifices on f7, but there’s time to improve the position first. Since Black lacks any light square control, White can play to isolate Black’s f7 pawn with Kf3-e4, and f4-f5 with an edge. While this never happened in the game, I’m sure Carlsen saw it (the engine approves too!).

36…Nc8 37. Ke4 Kg7 38. Bxf7!

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Though the idea of 38. f5 would have won slowly, this move immediately points out Black’s lack of coordination. Karjakin must take back on f7, and whichever way he chooses, he allows Nc6-d8 with a discovered attack on c8. Even with two minor pieces for the rook, Black doesn’t have enough to slow White’s passed pawn.

38…Kxf7 39. Nd8+ Ke8 40. Rxc7 Kxd8 41. Rc3 Bb4 42. Rd3+ +-

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And now for phase three – creating more passed pawns. By trading the f4 and g6 pawns, Carlsen can have connected passed pawns, thanks to his other f-pawn on f2. Once this happens, Magnus will push the e- and f-pawns until Black’s minor pieces stop immediate advances. The remainder of the game is added for the sake of completion.

42…Ke7 43. f5 gxf5+ 44. Kxf5 a5 45. f4 Nb6 46. Rg3 Nd5 47. a3 Be1 48. Rd3 Nc3 49. e6 a4 50. Rd7+ Ke8 51. Rd4 Ke7 52. Ke5 Nb5 53. Rxa4

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Sure, White has a passed a-pawn now too, but if anything, this is just a confirmation that Black has lost.

53…Bc3+ 54. Kd5 Nc7+ 55. Kc4 Bf6 56. Ra7 Kd6 57. f5 Ne8 58. Rd7+ Ke5 59. Rd5+ Ke4 60. a4 Nc7 61. Rd7 Ne8 62. e7 1-0

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Black must now give up a minor piece to stop White’s passed pawns, after which White’s rook and a-pawn will prove enough.

This endgame was particularly instructive because it shows the uncomfortable decision Black must constantly make between material and activity. Here Karjakin was consistently compliant with Carlsen’s pawn grabbing, but once the position opened, White was able to use his passed pawn (like our earlier endgames) to limit Black’s play and win. In our next game, Carlsen faces Ivanchuk in a rook and knight endgame where the Ukranian was adamant to hold onto his material.

By 2010, Magnus Carlsen had already broken 2800 and held the highest rating in the world (and has ever since!).
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White to Move

Carlsen–Ivanchuk, 2012

So again we have a position where piece play is relatively even. Each sides’ rooks are planning to contend for the c-file and are arguably worth the same at the moment. While White’s knight seems menacing on d4, it can only move backward. Black’s knights have a similar issue as it’s unclear as to where they belong. If we do a basic pawn island count, we can see that Carlsen has two, while Ivanchuk has three. So where in the position is White’s structural advantage giving Carlsen an edge? The d4 square. Since Black’s d5 pawn is isolated, that means a pawn can never kick a piece from d4. However, we already mentioned that the knight here doesn’t offer much for White. When our opponent’s pawn structure doesn’t give us enough to work with, the next step is to see if we can create new targets. This is why Carlsen played 39. h5! and after Ne7 40. Rh1 gxh5 41. gxh5, we’ve reached a new structure.

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Even though White’s created an isolated pawn of his own, Black now has three isolani in the position. I think it’s interesting to note how the engine still considers this endgame equal. Perhaps in a perfect world this position is tenable, but in practice this isn’t so easy to hold – and that should be enough for White. Carlsen’s plan is to activate his rook via h1-h4-f4 to attack f7, and then push his queenside pawns to create another weakness.

41…Rg8 42. Ng3 Rg5 43. b4 Kd7 44. Rh4 Ne8 45. Rf4 Nd6 46. a4 b6

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Black creates a padlock here and has done well thus far to improve his position. Black’s rook is a little awkward on g5, but it’s doing a good job of pressuring White’s only concession as a result of the structure change seven moves ago. Meanwhile, the  knight on d6 offers Black mobility, with ideas of …Nd6-c4, putting pressure on e3, making sure the king stands guard.

47. a5 bxa5

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This is more or less forced, as 47…b5 48. Nb3! with the idea of reaching c5 and pressuring a6. By trading on a5, Ivanchuk eliminates this permanent outpost.

48. bxa5 f5? +=

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Black’s woes begin here with this committal move. Already it was becoming difficult to find improving moves for White, so simply waiting with 48…Re5= would have forced Carlsen to come up with new ideas. The Ukranian’s move is a mistake because it moves his weakness within reach of White’s knights, making it easier for Carlsen’s pieces to create pressure. I’m thinking Ivanchuk just panicked here because Rf4-f6 can be met with …Ne7-g8 and Black holds.

49. Rh4

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White’s rook is no longer needed on f4 since White’s knights are watching Black’s f-pawn. By activating the rook White can play to infiltrate on the queenside. Black can bring his rook over too, but that means no pressure on h5, and fewer defenders of the f5 pawn. Before relocating the rook, Carlsen will insert f3-f4 to stop any potential pawn sacrifice ideas of …f5-f4 and fix the weakness.

49…Nc4 50. f4 Rg4 51. Rh3 Nd6 52. Rh1 Rg8 53. Rb1 Ra8

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While it may not seem like much has happened, all of Black’s pieces are tied to pawns, giving White time to do the one thing he’s done best: improve his pieces.

54. Kf3 Kc7 55. Ne6+ Kc8 56. Nc5 Rb8 57. Rxb8+ Kxb8 58. Nxa6+

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A good rule of thumb for knight endgames is that often times they can be calculated to a result like pawn endings. While this can be impractical to do over the board, being up a pawn in a knight endgame is definitely a promising sign, and in this game, Carlsen manages to convert. For the sake of brevity, I want to skip to a critical moment.

58…Kb7 59. Nb4 Nc4 60. a6+ Kb6 61. Ke2 Nd6 62. Kd3 Nb5 63. Ne2 Ka5 64. Nc3 Nc7 65. Nbxd5!

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Sacrificing the knight! Thanks to the spread of White’s pawns, Black is not in time to stop promotion. Being able to sacrifice the knight to simplify into a won endgame is an important resource, and it’s definitely not an uncommon endgame idea. The game continued:

65…Nexd5 66. Nxd5 Nxd5 67. a7 Nc7 68. Kd4 Kb6 69. Ke5 Kxa7 70. Kxf5 Nd5 71. Kg6 Nxe3 72. Kxh6 1-0

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Black’s king is too far to stop White’s pawns, so Ivanchuk resigned here. Unlike the Karjakin game, Ivanchuk held onto his weaknesses (and rightfully so!), only to err later with 48…f5?. In retrospect it seems like a simple mistake, I think it’s really illustrative of how difficult it is to play such a position and just hold.

In today’s post, we discussed how a simplistic understanding of pawn islands can help us find weaknesses and weak squares. Similar to having better pieces, having a better structure can give you control of the pace of the game, ultimately making the difference between a win and a draw.

…Nf6-d7 – Undermining the e5 Square

With fewer than 50 days until the US Junior Open, I’ve finally returned to Richmond to start the summer. It’s been an eventful first year attending Pitt, but with the second semester in the books, I’m really excited to start preparing for my trip to New Orleans!

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With only so much time between now and my flight south, I’ve put together a study schedule to prepare for the event. Somehow an hour of daily exercise made my list…

Playing in Pittsburgh definitely offered me more playing opportunities, and while my rating didn’t change much, I still managed to break 2100 and earn the Candidate Master title this year, not to mention a nearly unbeaten record for the University of Pittsburgh (9 wins, 3 draws, and only 1 loss in team matches). I do get the impression, however, that to some extent, my ability to gain rating points was dampened by my schoolwork, and hopefully my appearances in New York City, Washington D.C., and Charlotte will give me the opportunity to prove that going into the US Junior Open.

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2016 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Open. Can you spot me?

That’s enough about me, I thought today I would discuss an interesting idea in queen’s pawn structures, specifically when 1. d4 is met with …d7-d5. Let’s sample the position below.

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Here we have a position where White has played the London System and has achieved control over the e5 square. Should White anchor a piece here, it’s up to Black to know how to undermine White’s center. This position can also occur in various Stonewall positions as well, here’s a case where I mishandled the pressure back in 2012.

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White to Move

Steincamp–Armentrout (Eastern Open, 2012)

Despite my 1800 rating at the time, I’ve already shown my opponent here that I don’t understand Black’s objectives in the Stonewall with the poor choice 6… cxd5, eliminating Black’s worries over his bad bishop. Aside from that early blunder, the critical moment is actually here, where I elected 10. Nxe4? allowing my opponent to turn his space into a space advantage. Already, after 10… fxe4 11. Nc3 Nf6 12. 0-0 0-0, White is already visibly worse.

My bishop on g2 is poor, and I’ve spent two moves to get my knight to c3 where it does absolutely nothing. Realizing the poor state of affairs, I tried to break through with 13. f3, only to find after 13… exf3 14. Bxf3 Bh3 15. Bg2 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 =+ that White simply has too many light-squared weaknesses and a weak e3 pawn for no compensation.

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I went on to lose 15 moves later in what would turn out to be the worst tournament of my career.

So it’s evident that handling your opponent’s control over the e4/e5 square in such closed positions is of extreme importance. If we look back, White would have been much better served trying 10. f3, though I’m convinced that even with this improvement White is still worse.

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The bishop on f4 is misplaced, and thanks to an early trade on d5, the e3 pawn proves a liability. But at least here you can see that White can try for an e3-e4 break to limit Black’s hold on the center. The resulting position will leave White with an isolated queen’s pawn, but at least it will be my best shot at equality.

In reality, when your opponent uses the e4/e5 square as an outpost, you really have two options, to kick it with your f-pawn, or to trade pieces. Each option has its perks.

For my first showcase example, I want to use the opening of a game I discussed upon the relaunch of chess^summit last fall. If you want to see the whole game, you can watch it here:

Ou – Steincamp (Washington International, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5

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With White’s choice of 3. Nc3, I opted for this move, …d7-d5. White’s plan is to control e5, and perhaps have a well timed h-pawn push to weaken my kingside.

4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 O-O 6.Be2 b6

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The “safe” option for Black. I have the option of …Bc8-b7 and …Bc8-a6 with this move, but more realistically, I’m planning …c7-c5 to contest the center the one way White can’t, the flank.

7.Ne5

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And we’ve reached the critical concept for today. Here White puts a knight on e5 with the intention of playing f2-f3 and e3-e4, paralyzing Black. I can’t afford to let this knight stay on the e5 square, as my b8 knight cannot easily develop without ceding the c6 square for White’s knight. In this position where White holds the static advantage, its critical that Black play dynamically to breakthrough. Before taking any drastic measures, I quickly protect the d5 pawn to make my next move possible!

7…c6 8.O-O Nfd7!

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A backwards knight move! Though seemingly counterintuitive, the idea is to play …f7-f6 seizing control over e5, while simultaneously preapring an …e7-e5 push myself. Should White trade on d7, I develop with tempo – 9. Nxd7? Nxd7 10. h3 e5 11. Bh2 =+ Already it’s clear that the intiative has shifted.

9.f3 Nxe5

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It might also be acceptable to try 9… f6, but here I thought it made sense to trade since Black is cramped and now White must make some sort of concession on e5. My opponent chose to recapture with the bishop, which gave me quick play in the center.

10.Bxe5 f6 11.Bg3 e5

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Suddenly it’s White who has concerns over his weak center, and 12. e4 seems to give White more problems than solutions. I went on to win a nice game, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly encourage you to check out my video on it!

In this next example, White transposes into a Stonewall structure. Note how this time my pieces are much more effectively placed than they were back in 2012.

Mucerino–Steincamp (Pennsylvania G/29 State Championships, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 c5?!

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Not my typical choice, but I knew my opponent would stick to his repertoire and not take the pawn on c5 given the short time control. In return, I got a fantastic position.

5.e3 O-O 6.c3 b6 7.Bd3

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From what I’ve come to understand, this bishop really belongs on e2, but here it still offers control over the e4 square. My next two moves make it difficult for White to push his e3 pawn to claim the center.

7…Bb7 8.O-O d5

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A rather simple position. White’s gotten the simplistic development he wanted, but its not quite clear where he should go from here. That being said, White tried putting a knight on e5 to expand on the kingside.

9.Ne5 Nfd7!

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The star move for today! With both …f7-f6 and …Nd7xe5 threatened, White must act with urgency.

10.f4 Nxe5

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Black is prepared to break White’s central grip with his next move, …f7-f6. I think 10…f6 was also worthy of consideration 11. Nxd7 Qxd7 (getting off of the h4-d8 diagonal to prepare …e7-e5) 12. Bh4 e5 =+ and White has a slightly worse position

11.fxe5 f6 12.exf6 exf6 13.Bh4 Qe8!

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 21.30.47

Despite a convincing win over an expert the last round, my coach, GM Eugene Perelshteyn told me that this was the best move I made this tournament. Not only does this move evade the pin on f6, but it puts pressure on the backward e3 pawn while also stopping e3-e4. My next move, 14…f5 locks in this weakness.

14.Qf3 f5

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At the cost of weakening the e5 square, I managed to turn e3 into a permanent structural weakness.

15.Qf4 Nd7 16.Rae1 Nf6 17.dxc5 bxc5 18.Qc7 Qc6?=

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 21.34.18

Trading queens is the right idea, but it was critical to force the exchange on c8 not c6 to stop White’s resource c3-c4. By trading on c6, I could meet the push with …Bc8-a6! pinning the pawn to the unprotected d3 bishop.

Given the nature of the short time control, the advantage shifted sides throughout the rest of the game, ultimately reaching a drawn rook and pawn ending.

Today’s post showed how Black can effectively undermine an outpost on e5 with the maneuver …Nf6-d7 (White can do the same with Nf3-d2 to attack e4!) to break White’s hold on the center without creating any real positional concessions. It may not work for every closed position, but it’s definitely a mechanism worth knowing for the future!