As you can see, there are more strategic themes for U1500 then the lower rating groups.
Tactics is still very important for U1500 players. however, the opponents they are playing against will have just as much tactical prowess, therefore learning more strategic knowledge will be advantageous.
Let’s discuss Focus on important targets briefly here.
Many newly-1000 players would play the passive looking move Rab8, protecting the b7-pawn.
For stronger players, b7-pawn here is not important. The main focus now is to activate one or both of black’s rooks.
After scanning the board for 10 seconds or so, a stronger player would immediately see Rad8 and then Rxd2 taking control of the 2nd rank will soon take control of the game.
On the other hand, for the U500 players, even if they did play Rad8, the game may still take a few twist and turns to get to an unknown outcome
To summarize: players at each level should focus and improve on certain themes.
It’s good for newer players to see the the higher-level topics, but it’s much more important to hammer down the fundamentals.
What makes for a good tournament performance? Rating gain? Total number of wins? Winning prizes? Well, for me, it was none of the above. Last week’s Washington International marked my final tournament before returning to Pittsburgh for the fall semester, and a return to one of my favorite tournament venues.
Just like last year, I entered the U2200 section hoping to find some sort of clarity going into the fall. Since the US Junior Open, I think it’s fair to say that I have had a particularly tough stretch between a poor showing at the World Open and some uninspired play at the Southern Open – only tallying two wins over my last eleven games. Of course, these past two months have also given me a lot of insight into my own weaknesses as a player, forcing me to work on a new opening repertoire, my calculation skills, and my overall endgame understanding.
To an extent, I do think putting so much emphasis on my preparation for the US Junior Open resulted in a bit of a backslide in my studies upon my return from New Orleans. I didn’t really grasp this in Philadelphia as I was preoccupied, getting torn apart in the Open section, but this became apparent to me when my performance in Orlando was punctuated with a very lucky win despite my poor form and inability to find any tactics that weekend. But naturally, I have greater aspirations than to obsess about a tournament I played in two months ago, and making master is certainly a good first step.
In the three weeks leading up to the Washington International, I completely changed how I attacked my studies. Every morning, I woke up at 6:30 to go running to improve my endurance while beating the heat. After pushing my physical limits, I then tested myself mentally, doing tactical exercises for about two hours before working on my opening repertoire and then testing out some lines in online practice games. On most days, I was able to put in about five hours of preparation, though there was one day where I somehow had the stamina for ten! This wasn’t enough to fix all of the problems my game has had over the month prior, but it made up for a lot of poor preparation – think of it as a “spring cleaning”, if you will.
So, as you can imagine, I entered Rockville the most prepared I could be, and easily the most confident I have been in a very long time. I knew it would be hard to replicate the success I had last year with a completely new opening repertoire, so my only goals were to focus on getting solid positions out of the opening and limit the number of unforced blunders in my play – both of which were places I had failed in my two prior events.
My first three games were extremely uneventful, though I managed to outplay my first round opponent from an equal endgame to secure a win. My score of 2/3 wasn’t a bad start, but my tournament really started in round 4, where my inability to play quickly cost me a beautiful position and the game. Even though I’m not particularly happy with how this game ended, I think it’s instructive and worth sharing here on Chess^Summit.
Ouch! Well, I guess that’s one way to lose to a lower rated opponent… Not quite what I was hoping for in my “back to form” tournament. One thing I’ve noticed about some of my tournaments pre-dating the US Junior Open was that if I had a closely contested game and lost, I generally would underperform in my next few games and it would kill my ability to have a consistent tournament performance. Knowing that my ability to rebound quickly from this loss would define how I did in this tournament, I played my best chess in each of my next two games as Black.
Pushed for what felt a “must-win” in round 5 to bounce back from a tough loss the night before, I opened with a move I hadn’t played since 2007! Typically, I bring blue Gatorade to each game, but when I feel like I need to win, I switch it out for “Darth Vader” juice (red). While superstitions are silly (I have others!), there was no messing around this Monday morning, and Caissa rewarded me with some creative play, and a great win to really start my scoring spree this tournament.
While I won this game with some nice technique, I was much prouder of myself for completely ignoring my opponent’s time trouble, and forcing myself to find the best move at my own pace, even once the endgame had been reached and it was clear the game was continuing for the sake of formality. I feel like my ability to handle such situations has come a long way since I blew a State Championship last February trying to push my opponent further into his own time trouble.
Now 4/6 with three rounds to go, I was feeling optimistic again about my chances to place in the event, but as luck would have it, things just did not work out. Paired against one of the strongest players in the field I managed secure equality, but quickly found myself distracted by some off-the-board behavior related to my opponent that I do not wish to discuss at this time. I had my own mistakes and know what I can take away from this game to become a stronger player, but unfortunately, this once again killed the momentum I had worked so hard to build. I did well to draw my last two rounds with Black, but on paper, 5/9 certainly didn’t seem to make up for that round 7 loss.
So we return to the opening question – what makes a good tournament? Dropping below 2100 for the first time certainly doesn’t sound like a good result, but when I look at the goals I set for myself going into Rockville and then compare these nine games to my previous eleven, only one word comes to mind: progress. In this tournament, despite playing with a new opening repertoire, there was only (arguably) one game where I left the opening slightly worse (my round 8 draw), and while I had my mistakes, it was still not nearly as many as I had at the Southern Open. Even though I was fully prepared for this tournament, I got hit with everything this section could offer me, and each of the lessons I learned will be valuable towards future improvement.
Good is a strong word in chess because it’s too general to really describe every aspect of a performance. At this year’s Washington International, I didn’t have the breakthrough tournament that I had the year prior, but I certainly had a very encouraging result. The way I played showed a lot of improvement, but in pulling together a solid showing, I also saw my play with White isn’t getting me enough, and that my ability to manage time trouble can still use some work.
As I pack my bags for another term at Pitt this week, I’m excited about the prospect of being able to play more frequently in various local competitions. With the Pittsburgh Chess League, as well as the various Pennsylvania State Championships on University campus, I’m confident that I will not only have an opportunity to regain the points I’ve lost the last half of this summer, but soar beyond if I continue to attack my studies. Of course, I likely won’t have five hours a day anymore given my workload, but I hope I can make up for that with ambition and get back to the results I’m used to.
These past few tournaments have been a test, and the finish line is near. My only hope is I cross it sprinting.
For the first time since the relaunch, I’m happy to bring back the Free Game Analysis section to Chess^Summit. As always, if you have an interesting game to share, please send us your PGNs at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll try to cover it within the two-week cycle. We’ve had some fun submissions in the past, and today’s is certainly no exception! For today’s post, I’ll be using a ChessBase external link instead of sharing tons of diagrams of the game (don’t worry, you don’t need ChessBase to access it!). Let me know if you guys like this format more in the comments!
Remember that feeling when you first broke 1000? Well, recent high school graduate Veenay Komaragiri did that in style. Scoring 3/5 in the U1600 section of the recent Manhattan Open, Veenay didn’t just break 1000 – he skipped it, jumping from 945 to 1135!
Though college is often a deterrent from chess improvement for many, Veenay hopes to build off his summer success while he furthers his education at Rutgers University as either a Biology or Economics major. With his optimism and tactical foresight, I think he can be looking forward to a lot of future improvement. But why let me be the judge? Let’s take a look at two of the games he sent to Chess^Summit from his performance in Manhattan!
Though his first win of the tournament was short, Veenay’s game offered a lot of opening improvements for both sides out of a Slav, but ultimately culminated into this position. Just as it seemed White had managed to get firm control over the center, Veenay found an excellent tactic here to show that Black was still alive and kicking with 13…Nxe4! and his higher rated opponent immediately fell apart!
After picking up two quick wins, Veenay really met his test in the fourth round where he was a 500+ rating point underdog! Outclassed in the opening, Veenay had one chance to reach an equal endgame in this position but faltered with 13…Rfe8?!, and soon lost the thread of the game. However, with his never say die attitude, the Warlord from West Windsor managed to keep the Cinderella story going, finding a tactic late in the game to pull off his best career win – what a turnaround!
So what advice can I offer Veenay as he starts on his journey to become a strong tournament player?
1. When your opponent makes a move, always ask “What can my opponent do?” This is one of the most elementary forms of prophylaxis but is extremely effective when developing a thought process and playing at a higher level. I think too much of beginner level chess focuses on “I do this, he does that” and not enough on thinking about the bigger picture. While your first game was great, several of your problems in the second derived from not asking this very question. This one question alone is so powerful, I still use it in my games. Here’s one case where I failed to use it and it probably cost me the game!
Steincamp – Ramachandran, 2016
My opponent just played 20… Rde8, and it seems like a harmless move, Black just wants to play on the e-file perhaps? But what does Black want to do? As it turns out, his knight on f7 is extremely poor, and will go to d8, then c6, and from there will have the option to play itself to d4 or b4 – a much better position! A few moves down the road, we reached a position like this:
The position is extremely complicated thanks to the activity of the Black knight. While I still managed to reach a good position after this, it gave me one more opportunity to go wrong, and I actually lost the game in the end. So what did I do wrong? I needed to insert a2-a3 before this knight ever reached b4, again asking Black to solve the problems in his position. After protecting the b2 pawn, I could have reached a position like this one:
A slightly better position for White as I have breaks on both the kingside on the queenside. Black meanwhile has a weak f5 pawn and must find ways to generate counter play. If I had stopped at 20…Rde8 and recognized this plan, who knows? Maybe I would have been the one to win this game! There’s a certain magical aspect to prophylaxis in that we can see it applied in games of every level – whether it’s preventing a mate threat, stopping an attack, or in this case taking away an outpost.
2. When developing a piece, always consider what future value it brings to the position. I noticed you like to reach various Slav set-ups where you also have a kingside fianchetto, and I think rather than booking up on theory, force yourself to compare the various options you have to place your pieces. As we saw in the second game,
Jones – Komaragiri, 2016
the bishop on g7 was poorly placed on this diagonal, and would have been much better suited on the e7 square for future use. Of course, conceptual understandings like this take many games to develop, but while you are still improving this is the best time to work on this skill. If you want to see how I break down unfamiliar openings and choose my development, check out my post from the World Open! Despite personally having a rough tournament, I think you could learn a lot from the two games I shared on the site!
3. Lastly, always stay positive! You seem really enthusiastic about getting better, and that’s probably the most important attribute when it comes to improving and getting results. As Paul told us last week, it doesn’t matter when you start playing chess, as long as you put in the work, it’s never too late to become an expert! He offered a lot of advice and personal anecdotes about improving despite only learning how to play in college, and I think you’ll find it very relatable!
Best of luck improving on your chess while studying at Rutgers – it was a lot of fun going over your games, and even I learned a few things along the way! Here’s to continued success in your near future!
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?
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 =+
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
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!
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!).
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.
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??
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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! -+
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
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
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
Once 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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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?
Can you find the saving move that gives Black the initiative? I’ll give you a hint – the theme is activity and counterplay!
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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!
The weather here in Pittsburgh has been really nice these past few weeks, and I’ve been taking full advantage by studying chess outside. Yesterday, I picked up an old issue of Chess Evolution (May 2014) and started to work through the analysis before I reached this position.
White to move, and with Black’s king in the box, the win should be easy, right? Well not so fast. After about 30 minutes of calculation, I finally figured out the answer. Finding the solution without any prompting from a friend or engine made the composition a lot more difficult, but by asking the questions 1) What’s my opponent’s threat? and 2) Am I making progress?, all the sudden the answer doesn’t seem so contrived.
Rather than analyzing this study in post format, I decided to make a video of all the lines – winning and losing – so everyone could visualize the answer. Make sure to try and solve this one on your own first!
For today’s post, I wanted to recommend a book I’ve been working through. Techniques of Positional Chessby Valeri Bronznik and Anatoli Terekhin is by far one of the most instructive books I’ve read, and while it may be a reach for many chess^summit followers, it’s definitely one to put on your future reading list.
My coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, suggested that I read this book in conjunction with 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets by Andrew Soltis to help me prepare for the US Junior Open this summer. To say the least, I’m glad he did, and today I wanted to share a few examples from the book with some of own my analysis and insights to show you why this is the book to read.
So here I’ve constructed a position to help demonstrate the padlock idea. The goal with a padlock is to reach a position where the pressing side can’t make progress. Here, if Black tries to push one of his queenside pawns to open up the position, White can lock up the position by pushing the other. For example, should Black play …a4-a3, White can simply push b2-b3, and no more progress can be made. Understanding this concept is not only important in race positions, but also a key feature of endgames. This next composition is taken from Bronznik’s book and highlights the importance of the padlock idea. See if you can find it!
White to move and draw
So where’s the padlock? In these kinds of endgames, it’s critical that the Black rook has points of entry to infiltrate White’s set-up. Because of the padlock structure on the a- and b- files, Black can never hope to open the queenside as long as White does not move his a3 or b3 pawns. That being said, the only way to secure the kingside is the incredible 1. Kd1!! Rh2 2. Ke1!! Rxg2 3. Kf1! Rh2 4. Kg1 Rh5 5. f3 = and Black will never be able to make progress. As long as the White king prevents the Black rook from entering e2, e1, h2, or h1, the extra rook is meaningless for Black. Again, it’s the padlock idea on the queenside that makes this possible.
I have to admit, that one study alone made me want to write this post today… but we must go on!
Fighting with the Rook Pawn
Steincamp – Chen (G/60 Pennsylvania State Championships, 2015)
After being under fire for most of the game, my opponent offered a draw here, and without too much thinking here, I took the half point. Not too much in this major piece ending, right? Well not quite. In this position, I actually had one opportunity to press for more. The a-pawn. Here, I could have tried a3-a4-a5-a6 at no cost, securing the b7 square for my rook and with play along the 7th rank. It’s not clear if this is enough to win, but the lack of an active plan for Black here does make this promising. Let’s take a look at one of the book’s examples.
Botvinnik–Smyslov (1954 World Championship)
Black to Move
White is definitely cramped but Smyslov will need a point of entry to find a way to take advantage of his opponent’s passivity. 1… a4! 2. Bd2 Qb6 3. Be3 a3
And just like in my own game (rather what should have been), Black takes over the b2 square, thus securing the critical point of entry. For the sake of brevity, looks fast forward a few moves later.
White cannot simply take the rook on b2 without creating a strong passed pawn and weakening a2, so White must succumb to a worse position. To get out of Black’s grips, White gave up the bishop pair in the game by trading on c5, and eventually lost the rook and minor piece endgame.
The last idea I will discuss today is a prophylactic structure called the “wavebreaker”. In my post, Catching Up – A Season in a Post, I discussed a game from the World Open where I actually used this concept to secure my kingside!
Steincamp – Zinski (World Open, 2015)
White to Move
So White could try a “padlock” set-up with 1. h3?!, but that would be structurally dubious after 1… h4 2. g4 because now the White king is at risk of being exposed. Much simpler is creating a harmonious set-up with 1.h4!
Stopping the h-pawn push in its tracks. I originally got the idea from watching Jan Gustafsson’s commentary during the 2015 Dortmund Sparkassen Meeting. Black ought not to get too carried away with his antics, as …f7-f5 would give me a great outpost on g5. You can check out my analysis of that game with the corresponding link above, as I got a slightly better position, misplayed the advantage, and then had a little luck to secure the half-point in the endgame.
Understanding the “wavebreaker” structure is not only important to understand defensive play, it’s also an important element of the 4 v 3 rook and pawn ending. Check out this position from the book:
Capablanca – Yates (1930)
Black to Move
As Bronznik explains, if it were White’s move, Capablanca would play g3-g4! stopping Black from creating the wavebreaker formation. This idea of having a pawn on g4 is the easiest way to convert the 4 v 3 ending, with the idea of pushing the h-pawn in the hopes of creating a passed pawn. If you are more interested in 4 v 3 structures, you should watch this lecture by Yasser Seirawan:
For this reason, the book explains that Black had to try 1… h5= to equalize but after the inferior 1… Rc4? 2. g4! was played. While White is far from winning, he is well on his way towards making Black’s life miserable.
It’s been a while since my last book review on the site, so I’m glad I chose this one to break the silence. I’m still working my way through it, and I feel like I learn something every time I sit down to read it.
I’ve used chess.com since my sophomore year of high school, with this coming November marking my fourth year of membership on the site. Aside from video viewership and Chess Mentor, one of the advantages of a diamond membership is unlimited tactics a day on chess.com. Since I started using the feature in 2012, I’ve attempted over 15,000 puzzles and climbed the ranks to reach 2700.
So as a coach and an active player, how do I assess progress on Tactics Trainer?
For most of my students, I believe that your tactics trainer rating minus ~200 points roughly represents your level of play. While that’s true for most 1400-2000 rated players, I think what TT represents after it gives you a 2400+ rating is very different from the original intentions of its functionality.
For master level players, chess.com’s TT features are great for warming up or practicing calculation while on a bus, but it no longer serves as an exact gauge of your tactical ability. Since most of the puzzles are member-submitted, the target audience is usually 1500-1900, and sometimes even lower.
Chess.com does two things two things make Tactics Trainer more challenging for stronger members: Limit the amount of time to gain rating points and more endgame puzzles. Once you break 2400 on TT, the emphasis becomes much more on speed in a position where perhaps you have many different pleasant options, and you have to find the best one. Endgame puzzles become more frequent at the higher levels too, but often times, simply knowing opposition and achieving it on the board is enough to reach 50% of the solution, merely finding forcing moves and the right move order should be enough to earn the other half.
Does this mean that Tactics Trainer is bad for top players? Of course not – you just have to realize that it won’t push you to be as creative as perhaps a position in Secrets of Chess Tactics because chess.com’s interface is programmed so that only one move can be correct. Which leads me to my next point.
No puzzle is a bad puzzle. It’s so easy to get a puzzle wrong, look through the answer, and think “this puzzle is bad” before moving on to the next problem. Already in doing this, you deprive yourself of the greatest learning opportunity you have: your own mistakes. Whenever we play a tournament game, our natural habit is to review the game (perhaps with the opponent) and spend lots of time calculating the lines of the most critical position. Chess.com’s TT lets you cheat in the sense that it takes away the rest of the game and only gives you a critical position. You getting the puzzle wrong means you failed to find the best resource in said position. From my experience, I’ve kind of learned the different tiers of wrong:
1) You weren’t wrong, you just weren’t right. Often I find that when I make an error in a puzzle my line works perfectly fine, it’s just that it is simply not as good as the best solution. This may be frustrating but it’s important to understand why your answer wasn’t as right.
2) Move Order! Move Order! Move Order! This is the next rung down the ladder, as now we make the descent into actual mistakes and game-losing blunders. A move order error could simply fail to win as much material/checkmate, or even draw/lose to a discovered attack. This is one of the main tests TT offers, and what separates the complainers in the comments from the users that give answers.
3) Calculation Error… Now things turn sour. Maybe you left a piece hanging, or the endgame you were analyzing is actually a draw because you missed the critical in between move. Full board awareness is a skill, and you have to develop it by asking yourself one question….
4) What can my opponent do? On some puzzles, the computer introduces the position by offering a move for the opposing side. Asking yourself why the opponent made that move and understanding his plan is the first step towards getting the answer right. Then you need to look for critical weaknesses and themes in the position. Is a piece overloaded? Is there a mating net? This can get you back on the right track.
As a coach, there isn’t a student I haven’t recommended Tactics Trainer to. It teaches discipline while simultaneously offering a lesson in full board awareness. That being said, as a player trying to become a master, I have come to terms that while TT is a great resource to warm up, ease into a practice, and get in the mindset of calculating, it simply isn’t enough to bear the weight of all my tactical studies.
Over the past years, I think I’ve really learned how to use a computer to analyze games. Many times, the 3000+ rated engines suggest moves we don’t understand or aren’t capable of finding over the board.
Let’s take this position for example:
Steincamp (1993) – FM Lopez (2472)
I played this game in the third round of the Northern Virginia Open last November. Playing with the white pieces, I played the move Ke3 and offered a draw. My FIDE Master opponent thought for about 10 minutes and then agreed. When I put the position into my computer (Shredder for Mac, a weaker engine – but still much better than me!), it assessed the position as +1.04. I explored the analysis to find a potential break through, but the computer just told me play Ng4-f2 and wait for Black to play …e6-e5. I can slowly improve my position, but there is no distinct line that wins the game. While White is slightly better, I don’t think it’s fair to use the computer’s understanding of the endgame and say I should have won – as a knight v. bishop endgame is very difficult to win.
I found the best example of a computer suggesting an instructive move during the Norway Chess 2015 tournament in the Carlsen–Aronian game just last week.
Here Black holds a -0.82 advantage, but what does that mean? White has play in this position, as Carlsen threatens the move g2-g4. Aronian played the move 36…Qa1 but lost quickly after 37.g4 Qf1 38. Ne1!! as the rook is lost and all of the mating squares for Black are covered. So already, this position is worth looking at with a computer. We know with 36. Rc2, the black queen must move, but where? Common sense says …Qb4 (which is fine), trading the queens and moving into a risk-less endgame. What is the computer move? 36… Qb8! the only way to keep the advantage! The queen is on the same diagonal as the king, and if White gets greedy with 37. g4? then Black is winning – 37… Ng6 38. gxf5 exf5 -+ as now the queen must try to find squares that do not lose to a discovered check.
The takeaway from such a position, let’s say for Aronian, is not that he should have played 36… Qb8!, but a couple of different themes.
1) Full Board Awareness – The move 36… Qb8 is a very hard move to find (I only found it with help of an engine), but for a 2700+ rated player, it should not be unfathomable that Aronian could find it. Often times, players don’t like to retreat pieces in a position when they have the edge, but in this case, …Qb8 is the only active approach.
2) Playing Complicated Positions – I think for a ~2000 rated player, this position would be deemed equal if not for the …Qb8 move. Black is definitely on the attack, but it is unclear how Black would go about keeping the momentum while avoiding g2-g4 threats.
From using the computer in the second position, we quickly saw that the computer move was actually quite constructive. While Black isn’t completely winning yet, it shows how rerouting pieces is a crucial idea. I feel like from using an engine in this game, I can say I learned something and became a better player.
In my game, I think the assessment is correct, White is better. But at that time as a 1900 rated player, it is hard to see such obscure long-term ideas when playing a much higher rated player. I think looking back as a better player than I was in November, I should have played on – as the engine tells me here. But that’s it. The engine doesn’t give me the same constructive criticism as it did in the Aronian game.
So what does this all mean? I think engines are helpful – they find tactics, stronger positional moves, and solid continuations. But at the same time, as a player thats not a GM/IM, its hard to hold yourself to a 3000+ rated standard on every move. Everyone makes mistakes, and while we are all trying to get better, I think its a much better use of time to use a computer only in positions where we make bad decisions. Spend the rest of your times studying tactics!
Looking for some good chess puzzles? See if you can solve these puzzles! The first puzzle is subtle, but focuses on maneuvers in the endgame. The second puzzle, from last year’s Eastern Open is a real challenge. Set up a board and try to solve these! After all, they did occur in my own games, they could in yours too!