Tournament Experiments

The K-12 Grade levels tournament is concluding as I type these words. Kids from all over the country flew to Orlando for the festival.

Many of the players prepared days, weeks or even months for the tournament, and as the popularity of chess increases, the number of local events has also increased.

In this post, I will discuss my views on tournament experimentation.

In major chess hubs like New York and California, there are multiple scholastic tournaments per week.

For the causal players, I’d suggest participate once per month, and as the student’s interest increases or decreases, the number of tournaments should be adjusted accordingly.

For the more ambitious group who are trying to reach USCF 1000 within 3-6 months and then 2000 before end of the elementary school, playing in 1 or even 2 tournaments a week to prepare for national events is not unheard of.

How should we use the local tournaments to prepare for the big events (nationals, or big open tourneys such as World Open)?

Chess improvement is a marathon, and every strong player has gone thru periods of ups and downs. However, the stronger players knows how to use small tournaments effectively to prepare for bigger ones.

They have their eyes on the prize.

At local tournaments, it’d be good to test out playing up a section, or at another to try out new openings. Since the goal is to make adjustments and getting ready for the big events.

Thru the experiments, they will find what they are comfortable with, and prepare further arsenals both from chess as well as psychological point of view.

The experiments in low-stake environment (local tourneys) does not have to be successful all the time, it is more important to learn more about oneself.

Once the big event comes along, they will be ready to use the tools they’ve crafted from prior training instead of improvise on the go.


Now the grade level is wrapping up, the next scholastic tournament season will be in the spring.

Start plan out what experiments you’d like to try out in local tournaments to help you get the maximum energy for the big tourney!

Why Tournament Matters

Have you traded stock with paper money before?

Most of the time, this is an exercise used in High School or College finance classes, and it’s an opportunity for the students to learn about financial literacy.

I’ve done that.

When I traded stock with paper money, I did not check the daily ups and downs of stock trend for months.

During a good market (2009, right after the 2008 crash), when I returned to check results nonchalantly six months later, paper money have risen over 20%. I wish I could turn the time back and put in some real money instead.

Now fast forward to the first time I put $100 of real money into the stock market. The market had ups and downs as usual, however, this time my psychology changed completely.

I was checking stock tickers over 10 times a day on my phone, and everytime there’s a $1-2 of movement in price, I wondered whether I made the right decision to buy and when should I sell.

What does this story has anything to do with chess tournaments?

The title of this post tells you.

Playing in rated chess tournament versus casual games is like trading stock with real versus paper money.

The difference is in a player’s psychology.  To truly improve in chess, you have to go thru the trials of tribulation in facing tough times from tournament games.

Whenever I talk to parents of new students, we discuss how to improve in chess (topic for another time) and when should a student start playing in tournaments.

My recommendation: once basic chess skills are developed and the student has played 1-2 unrated tournament to get a feel of the environment, it’s time to get into the action of rated games.

Sometimes I hear parents say I want my child to work more at home and be ready to play in tournaments where we know s/he will have a good showing.

I politely disagree.

Chess tournaments are not like school tests.

School teachers often give students study guide after study guide.  If the student is well versed in all the practice questions, s/he is ready for the test and getting an A or 100 is no problem.

In chess tournaments, doesn’t matter how prepared you’re, you may face any of the following circumstances

-Other player’s strength; Stronger than their rating indicates

It’s often hard to gauge exactly how strong is your opponent. They can come from a different country or state, or they took time out from chess and only came back recently.

-You’re own emotional response to meaningful games

The way you feel in a casual game is not the same as a meaningful game. The stock analogy earlier in the article covers this point. The oh-no moments will be much more painful than a skittle room’s game.

-Tournament Surroundings

There are tensions in the tournament room. In any given moment, the room is quiet, you can hear chess pieces move but nothing more. The nerves and the tension become less intimidating for the more experienced players.

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You can only get better in tournament chess by experiencing more.

And remember, you’ll never be 100% ready.

Treat chess tournaments as job interview instead of school test, there is no guarantee, but the best practice to improve your odds of success is to experience more and learn from these experiences.

Ten Tournaments to Follow/Play This Summer- A Pretty Obvious Selection by Vanessa

In order of occurrence, not personal preference.

1. Norway Chess: June 6-17

Obviously, you can’t play this tournament this summer. You can have a lot of fun watching it, though!

Altibox Norway Chess 2017 is nearly over, but has certainly featured a few cool surprises along the way that must be noted.

The fun event kicked off with a blitz tournament, won convincingly by Magnus Carlsen. He could not keep that level of success throughout the tournament, though.

With an impressive two wins, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian lead the tournament so far. This could change over the next few days, but as the leaders are one point ahead of their competitors, it may be difficult for GMs Karjakin, Kramnik, Giri, and So to catch up.

As for another surprise worth mentioning: there is no doubt that it is always widely spread news when someone beats the World Champ and GM Levon Aronian gets to boast about his win over World Champion Magnus Carlsen this tournament. Magnus has yet to beat someone- not a particularly strong showing on his part.

The finish should be quite exciting and as the players emerge from the rest day, they will hopefully bring more fighting chess! You can check out more information about the tourney on their official website and watch commentary on Chess24.

2. National Open: June 14-18

This is always one of the biggest chess festivals of the year. The $100,000 prize fund is always tempting, but what is most exciting is perhaps the numerous side events including simuls, lectures, book signings, and raffles, as well as cool prizes, such as The Freddie award, given to a U14 player who played the most exceptional game in the tournament.

Held in Las Vegas, a great location for adults, there is even a poker tournament to play as a side event. With eight sections, it is worth playing or at least watching the titled players face off in the open section. They will be broadcasting a few games on their website.

3. New York International: June 21-25

Last year, one of our writers, David Brodsky, earned his first IM norm at the event. This is a relatively small tournament compared to the others, but it is one to watch out for because there are usually IM or GM norms earned at it. Always with a strong turnout, the tournament is going into its 10th year.

The Marshall Chess Club, where it will be held, does not release the entry list for it, but I can let Chess^Summit readers in on a secret:

GM Yaro Zherebukh, who played at the U.S. Championships this year and is the current Marshall Chess Club Champion, will be vying for that first prize.

4. World Open: June 29-July 4

I feel like all American chess players play in the World Open at one point in their life. Of course I’m exaggerating, but it’s a tournament many players play in, partly because a lot of their friends play in it and partly because the prize pool is enormous. The first prize for the open section is a cool $20,000, so many titled players are drawn in. So far, GM Le Quang Liem is the top seed, but with such a strong field, anyone could win it.

For those of us who are non-GMs, the tournament is still fun and can yield great results. There are also a few side events around the tournament, such as a Women’s Championship, to get the fun started. Lectures by three different GMs are scheduled. I’ll be preparing for this tournament myself, so be sure to say hello to me if you recognize me! It will be my first time playing and reporting on the tournament for ChessBase.

5 & 6. U.S. Junior & U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships: July 7-18

As qualifiers for the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships are two significant tournaments for young chess players in the United States. The winner of each tournament has the honor of playing in the U.S. Champs. Last year, they were won by GM Jeffery Xiong and WIM Emily Nguyen.

The fields this year are as strong as ever, and I feel that GM Xiong is a favorite to win the U.S. Junior Championship again. After all, he won the World Junior Championship and is one of the top 15 players in the country.

Top seed Carissa Yip is my favorite to win the U.S. Girl’s Junior Championship (Sorry to all my other friends who are playing- I’m rooting for everybody nonetheless). Winning the tournament would qualify her for her third consecutive U.S. Women’s Championship. However, she has extremely tough opponents who will not let her wrest that coveted spot so easily.

7. Match of the Millennials: July 26-29

This is a newly introduced tournament supported by The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, the USCF, FIDE, and FIDE Trainers’ Commission. Four players U17, two players U14, and two girls U14 will make up a team and the American team will face off against a team of young players from around the world. Although there is not too much information about this tournament, a press release can still be found on ChessBase. Despite the lack of news, the coming-together of these five organizations is sure to bring an exciting tournament. The American players are definitely the future of American chess and the players from all over the world can prove their worth against them. The kids playing in this tournament are the children to watch for years to come.

8. Sinquefield Cup: July 31-August 12

Not much explanation is needed for this event, as it has consistently been one of the greatest tournaments to watch every year (but you can find more information on their official website anyway). 

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *
I figure anyone can win it, as it has been a different winner every year (2013: Fabiano Caruana, 2014: Magnus Carlsen, 2015: Levon Aronian, 2016: Wesley So). However, I hope there is a fresh, new winner this year to make it more exciting. The field is always a bit different, so there are always new possibilities!

9. St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: August 13-19

This one is super special to watch out for due to a couple of reasons: Isaac will be reporting from this event and it is new to the Grand Chess Tour! I apologize for leaving out the Paris and Leuven legs of the Grand Chess Tour, but because I could only choose 10 events for a Top 10 list, I wanted to go with a new tournament.

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *

 I am hoping for some diversity in the new field, as the Grand Chess Tour decided to add more wildcards into their tour. It remains to be seen if their wildcards could possibly win it all!

For more information, see their official website.

10. U.S. Masters Chess Championship/North Carolina Open: August 23-27

Many GMs like to play in the U.S. Masters tournament held in North Carolina. The likes of GMs Sam Sevian, Niclas Huschenbeth, and Ruifeng Li will be playing, and I am sure many more grandmasters will register as the tournament draws closer. Norms can be earned and for this championship, titles are even required. Five games will be broadcasted every round, with a special $150 sponsorship enabling the organizers to add more boards.

The North Carolina Open and North Carolina Open Scholastic Section also happen in conjunction with the U.S. Masters, drawing in many lower rated players. The open section is FIDE rated, which is good for the players who may not want to play in the much stronger U.S. Masters field. With four sections and lower class prizes in each section (ex: U1400 section has U1200 prizes), there are even more prizes to win. The top two boards will also have their games broadcasted.

What tournaments are you playing in this summer/following?

Creating Your Own Luck

Well, if I was looking for a Cinderella story to make it over 2100 this past weekend, I certainly didn’t find it. This year’s edition of the Pennsylvania State Championships pushed me to the limit – testing my stamina, resilience, and my composure in ways that I have never been tested before. Upon the tournament’s conclusion, I had convinced myself that the 3/5 result I produced simply derived from bad luck.

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Deep into my first round… where did my advantage go? Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

With a little over a day to rethink my results, I have to admit, there were a lot of elements working against me, but I also created my own luck in the latter half of the tournament, which saved me from having an even worse result.

What do I mean by bad luck? Until the last round (when it was already too late), I was never able to put together any serious momentum. In the first round, I got paired down against an ambitious youngster. Even though I got an edge out of the opening, I hyperextended and quickly lost my advantage. While I missed a chance late in the game to win, my opponent didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hold the endgame to a draw. Not an ideal start, but a comeback is manageable, right?

With only thirty minutes between the rounds to catch my breath, I learned that I would play defending State Champion and fellow Chess^Summit author Grant Xu for the first ever Chess^Summit v Chess^Summit tournament match up. Grant had taken a half point bye in the first round and was ready to play, surprising me out of the opening and catching me off guard.

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While I didn’t have the best weekend, Grant was able to successfully defend his state title, winning each of his four games and reaching a rating of 2396!

Though I somehow managed to equalize, I was too tired to complete the result and managed to blunder my way through the rest of the endgame, dropping my score to 0.5/2. This put me in a really tough tournament position, as I would need to win out to objectively have a “good” tournament.

At that moment, I felt like I had had some bad luck with the pairings, and went back to my dorm room to rest up for the last round of the night.

Sure, it wasn’t ideal to play Grant with so little time between rounds, and sure, my first round opponent wasn’t quite the game I was hoping to open with, but in reflection, given the positions I had, I think I had some opportunities to score better. Going into the last game, I took the right mentality, forgetting the first two games and telling myself that I was now playing in a three-round tournament. Now this was my chance to create my own luck.

I got paired against a 1500 that night, but still treated the game as if I were playing someone my level. The affair was rather one-sided, but there was an instructive moment during the game that I thought I ought to share.

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Steincamp–Boles, after 10…Kf8

In this position, it’s my turn, and I’m clearly better. Black has lost his right to castle and has a significant lack of space. Yet how should I press on as White? Black doesn’t have any structural weaknesses and actually has the idea …Be7-g4, attacking the d4 pawn and trying to pry open the dark squared diagonal for his a7 bishop. After some thought, I figured the right question to ask was where should I put my dark squared bishop? I think objectively the options are about equal, but my choice offered me long term attacking possibilities. Can you figure what I decided?

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My last round win, and the highlight of my tournament. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania State Chess Federation

Though this win wasn’t exactly the most challenging, it felt nice to get back into the habit of asking the right questions and making the most of good positions. To my discontent, I got paired down in the fourth round on Sunday morning, and once again got surprised by an opening sideline in which I promptly put myself in a worse position.

I could have been outplayed, but I found ways to keep the game going, eventually pushing the game to equality and even a slight edge for myself before forcing the three move repetition. While objectively a draw was a good result considering the way the game started, I couldn’t help but feel that had I known the theory better I could have outplayed my opponent and gotten a full point. This result meant my last round would be a consolation game, and breaking 2100 would have to wait again.

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Photo Credit: Beilin Li

While this was not what I wanted going into the tournament, I think this was the best situation for me at this time. Going into the last round, I felt no stress whatsoever, and having White with nothing to lose, I was more comfortable being creative over the board. This alleviation made me feel refreshed, and I produced one of the better games I’ve played since coming back to Pittsburgh.

This was a critical lesson for me, when I just focus on chess, when I just focus on making the best move every move, I can play a great game. Most of the tournament I felt distracted – either being bewildered by my early results, or feeling a need to make up for them later on. But when I was just worried about chess, removing all of the emotional stress of a long weekend of dissapointment, I can well. This is what I mean by creating my own luck.

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Grabbing some post-tournament dinner with Beilin and going over some games on the restaurant’s bulky chess board!

Not every tournament is going to be ideal, maybe it’s just bad pairings, or the TD makes the wrong decision, or you blow a won game in time trouble – this happens to everyone at some point. To be strong player, you have to put these moments behind you. It felt like most of this weekend I got hit with something new every game – an opening line I wasn’t prepared for (twice!), an underrated opponent, crazy pairings – all of these things were out of my control, but if I could have played as well as I did in the last round in each game, it would not have mattered and I could easily be 2100 again right now.

While it was dissapointing to have trained so hard for this event to only get one opponent rated over 2000, I plan to continue pushing myself for my next tournament in early November. By then I’ll have reached my 20th birthday, and perhaps a little bit of “luck” can rub off on me then 🙂 I guess we’ll just have to see in my next post!

Wake Up Washington!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20. Qf2 +/-, Steincamp – Imada

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

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

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18…Bf6, Boris – Steincamp

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

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

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9…Bd7, Nath–Steincamp

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

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

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

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

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

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Cathy calling!

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

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

Free Game Analysis: Attack of the West Windsor Warlord!

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 chess.summit@gmail.com, 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!

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Veenay was the Chess Club President at his New Jersey High School, and now hopes to break 1800 by the time he graduates Rutgers!

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!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 00.32.45Though 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!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 00.40.13After 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!

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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:Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 00.54.11

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:

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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,

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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!

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Veenay speaking at his High School graduation earlier this summer.

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!

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!

Reflecting on the 2016 US Junior Open

Though finishing 7th with a score of 3.5/6 wasn’t exactly what I had been dreaming of, I think my performance at this year’s US Junior Open should give me hope going forward into the future. That being said, there’s always room for improvement, and as this weekend’s games have shown me, this has not changed. I had several opportunities to make my mark in this tournament, playing both of the eventual winners, but in critical moments I had lapses of judgement, ultimately costing me the game in each encounter.

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Jackson Square

Part of this was nerves, I’m sure, but this is no different than any other tournament. If I learned one lesson from this weekend, it’s that you should never set a goal to be to win a tournament! These things just don’t happen on demand. Despite putting in nine months of dedicated study and hard work, this weekend just wasn’t my best weekend. And it’s not like I haven’t improved. In the last nine months, I’ve gained roughly 75 rating points and earned the title of Candidate Master playing against tougher venues across the East Coast. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while my enthusiasm was in the right place, there were twenty-four other ambitious players in my section, who I’m sure were also keen on winning the event. Clearly there can only be at most a few co-winners, and I’m sure if this exact section were to meet again a month from now and play, the final results would be somewhat different. We can’t control when we play our best, but we can focus on continuing to improve, and as my coach has been trying to tell me, do the work and the results will come! Maybe my breakthrough tournament is next month, or next year, or maybe it was even in New York City just a couple weeks ago. While the US Junior Open has concluded, I still have many opportunities to make the most of my preparation for this tournament in future events. That being said, let me highlight some of the key moments of this weekend.IMG_0981

My first round game proved to be rather simple, as my opponent offered a few pieces out of the opening and fell apart quickly. Though I’d usually be annoyed with such a pairing, sitting at the board in a risk-free round helped me relax and become acquainted with the tournament hall. Opening the tournament with a win? Done. Now it’s time to go to war.

In my next game, I was already paired up against the eventual co-winner of the tournament, though he may thank me for my error in reflection – I believe it was the closest he came to losing the entire weekend.

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Steincamp–Liu

White to Move

Here we have a relatively balanced position, with a long middlegame battle ahead of us. Black has the famous hanging pawns structure on c5 and d5, and while I may not have space, my set-up is solid and offers many strategic choices. Here I decided that my queen was misplaced on f5, and played 17.Qb1 with the idea of creating the Reti battery with Qf5-b1-a1 and putting pressure on the dark squares. One problem for Black is that I can continue to improve my position, while all of his pieces are on their best possible squares but lack concrete attacking options. For this reason, my opponent spent half of his time on 17…h6? which is a practical mistake to have spent twenty-three minutes on this move! Black takes away the g5 square, but this is not within the realm of discussion for this position. Quickly, I took my chance to seize the initiative. 18.Qa1 Qf8 19.a4!

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Using the a-pawn technique we’ve discussed several times already here on Chess^Summit! My goal is to create a weakness on the queenside, and reactivate my d2 knight via b1. 19…Ba6 20.Nb1 Bb7 21.a5 Rb8 22.Nc3

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Visually, my position has already undergone a significant transformation. Black’s pieces have meanwhile spread in disarray and lack a concrete plan. My goal now is to trade the d5 pawn for my only weakness on b3. 22…Bc6 23.Nh4 Rxb3 24.Nxd5 Bxd5 25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxd5

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With my activity comes tactical problems for Black. Already, I’m threatening to take on g7, removing the defender of the d6 bishop. Furthermore, Black’s bishop is pinned to the d7 knight, so Black already must be careful to not hang material. After this move, my opponent had minutes, if not seconds to complete the rest of the game. 26…g6 27.Rcd1 Re6 28.R1d2!

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The right idea! Preparing to create Alekhine’s gun and simply pick off a minor piece and win the game. I spent a lot of time here trying to calculate 28. Bh8 (which works), but couldn’t find a line I really liked. Once I noticed Black has a hard time moving any of his pieces, this became an easy move to make. 28…Ne5

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Hanging a knight, right? Maybe you can already start to see what I missed. My initial reaction to this move was surprised because I had ruled out this option in my calculation of my previous move. In my head, I could hear myself saying “Black only had seconds left when he made the move and was looking really nerv- no this doesn’t matter!” And calculated here. My thought was 29. Bxe5 Bxe5 30. Rxe5 Qg7 but I couldn’t find a way for Black to keep the piece. “Okay, he hung it” but my opponent was a strong master, and such a mistake is so elementary… I went up and drank a glass of water and returned to the board to reanalyze my lines. Nothing. And so I continued. If I had just stuck to my plan of 29. Qd1! Black would have had to give up the exchange since the b3 rook and d6 bishop are hit. But I was greedy and continued 29.Bxe5 Bxe5 30.Rxe5 Qb8!

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A blind spot! Even with seconds left my opponent showed off his tactical acumen with this idea. Already I should have recognized that I can’t play for a win and played 31. Rd8+ Qxd8 32. Rxe6 fxe6 33. Nxg6, but it’s not so clean and for a position that was winning just moves ago, I wanted more. As the famous saying goes, mistakes come in bunches, and in this case, I continued down the path to self-destruction with 31.Qd1 Rb1 32.Rd8+ Qxd8 33.Qxb1

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It was in this moment I realized I had forgotten one of the most basic rules of chess when I recaptured the rook on b1. My original intention was to take on d8, but of course, this isn’t legal due to the pin along the back rank. My opponent converted the endgame, but my position is practically resignable here.

Obviously losing this game put a big dent in my tournament hopes, but I could still have an outside chance at winning so I wasn’t too worried yet. In the third round, I played a 1400-rated player who played unambitiously until his position was nearing critical condition, and then somehow riddled the best move in the position eight times in a row to reach equality. Right when I sobered up to the real possibility of drawing, my opponent hung mate, and I was spared of any humiliation.

While this win preserved my hopes, the horrendous start to my fourth round almost ensured I could not win the event. Luckily, thanks to my study of Carlsen’s endgames here on Chess^Summit, I found a way to draw, and at least finish the day 2.5/4:

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Steincamp–Proleiko

White to Move

Even though I am materially even in this endgame, I am structurally worse, and must constantly defend my position’s well-being. Black’s intentions are clear with his last move. He wants to push his b-pawn and exploit my weak a-pawn. Though my position is a little rancid, Black’s king blocks his h8 rook from action (king safety is not as relevant here), which give me just a few moves to regroup. In order to draw this position, it’s incredibly important to understand that rook and four pawns against rook and three is a draw. This means that trades favor me and that I can afford to trade my a- and d- pawns for the b4 pawn if I can reach that rook endgame. Knowing this, I started by eliminating the threat of …b4-b3. 19.Nd4 O-O 20.Rb1 Rxa2 21.Rxb4 Ra1+ 22.Bf1

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My bishop is passive for now, but this is the consequence of having had the worse side of equal. Now I want to trade off a pair of rooks or force Black off my back rank. 22…Nd7 23.Rcb5 Rc8 24.Rb1 Ra4 25.Nf5!

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This move guarantees equality. Even though I knew he would reject it, I thought about offering a draw here to communicate that I knew how to hold equality. The knight is poisoned since the d5 bishop will hang, and once Black deals with the fork threat on e7,  I will retreat to e3 and then to c4, holding nicely. 25…Kf8 26.Ne3 Bc6 27.R5b4 Ra3 28.Nc4 Raa8

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Thanks to my activity, I can force enough simplifications to force a draw. As I’ve mentioned repetitively in my Endgame Essentials series, activity is crucial towards success. 29.Bg2 Bxg2 30.Kxg2 Rcb8 31.Nb6 Nxb6 32.Rxb6 Rxb6 33.Rxb6 Rd8 34.Rb3Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 23.23.01

Also drawing was 34. h4, but there’s no reason to prove the 4v3 endgame if you don’t have too. My opponent played on for a few more moves, but soon realized how tenable my position was and agreed to a draw. It wasn’t quite the moment I wanted to demonstrate my defensive technique, but with the way the opening went, I had no choice in the matter.

The timing of this round made my day plans quite weird. Having finished at half past three, I had the rest of the day to myself to explore New Orleans. Even though a draw meant I likely couldn’t win, I knew it was important to take a break from chess and relax. After putting my things back in the room, I got an Uber to get a ride to the French Quarter, but unfortunately, my driver asked me to cancel when he realized he wasn’t making as much as he thought he would for the drive. In doing so, it meant I couldn’t summon another Uber without paying a cancellation fee even though it wasn’t my fault. Grounded at the airport hotel, I didn’t exactly have much to do other than go on Netflix and watch some of the Copa America games. I was still feeling quite adventurous, so I ordered delivery from Domino’s and got their cheesy bread… Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.

So as I’m sure you can imagine, I was looking forward to my fifth round game despite my overall tournament standing. Paired against an underrated youngster, we reached a same color bishop, queen, and rook ending, and once again my endgame knowledge proved vital.

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Xu–Steincamp

Black to Move

Again, material is even, but strategically Black is much better. In trying to attack my kingside, White has put all of his pawns on light squares, and now, both b3 and e4 are weak. Furthermore, White has no way of creating counterplay. Meanwhile, all of my moves are extremely naturally, and I only needed about five minutes (increment not included) off the clock to finish the game. First, I started with 36…Rb4 to activate my queen by blocking White’s threats on a5. 37.Bc2 Qc6 38.Rb1 Qb7 39.Rf3

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If you’ve been reading my Endgames Essentials posts, you can probably already sense the direction with which this endgame is heading. My goal is to tie White down as much as possible, and then break with …h7-h5. With my next move, I attack the c4 pawn and force White to defend the b1 rook. I considered taking on a4, but this opens the position slightly, and could offer my opponent counterplay. Remember, it doesn’t matter how long it takes if you win! 39…Bf7 40.Rff1 h5 41.gxh5 Rxh5 42.Kg2 Qa8 43.Rh1 Rh4

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Stopping h2-h4 while also putting even more pressure on the e4 pawn. While I haven’t won any material in the last few moves, the defensive task has become immensly more difficult, as the position went from the principle of two weaknesses to the principle of three (b3, e4, h2)! 44.Qd3 Be8 45.Rbe1 Bd7

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Again, no need to rush with …Bc6. I inserted the threat of taking on f5 here to see where White would place his king before taking further measures. 46.Kg3 Rb8 47.h3 Bc6 48.Kg2 Rbh8

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Since the b3 pawn is adequately protected, it was time to bring this rook from b4 to a more active location. Already, there are ideas like …g5-g4 exposing White’s king, as well as putting my rooks on h4 and f4 to win the e4 pawn. 49.Bb1 Qg8 50.Qf3 Rf4 51.Qg3 Qa8

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I could have also tried 51… g4, but this opens the position and I have to be accurate. While my move takes longer, I guaruntee the win of a pawn, and White is completely helpless. The game effectively ends in a few moves. 52.h4 Bxe4+ 53.Bxe4 Rxe4 54.Rxe4 Qxe4+ 55.Qf3 Qxf3+ 56.Kxf3 Rxh4

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A winning rook and pawn ending, but my opponent makes life even easier with 57.Rf1 Rf4+ 58.Ke2 d3+ 59.Ke1 d2+

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My opponent played on till mate, but I figure that that continuation is far less instructive.

With a win, I sat at 3.5/5 and was tied for third heading into the last round. Though unrealistic, if my second round opponent were to have lost on board 1, and I had beaten my opponent on board 2, I would have tied for first, but I wasn’t counting on this. At this point, I recognized that if the tournament leader won with scholar’s mate, I couldn’t control it, and if he lost in four moves, it would still be out of my control. With my fourth round draw, I knew I was undeserving of first place, and if it happened then I would be extremely lucky. In just 30 minutes, the tournament leader drew, and that was that.

I still had my hands full though against a 2300 who was one win away from securing a tie for first. We had an interesting opening to say the least (though not necessarily great in quality), and in the middlegame, my opponent made a positional pawn sacrifice and got plenty of light-squared compensation. I was doing well to hold and reached this position:

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Steincamp–Wang

White to Move

As we’ve seen thus far activity has been the key theme in each of my endgames, and thus I played 28. Qe7?? Rf8 29. Qb4 Ne4! -+ Even though I pushed Black’s rook away, I neglected an even more important theme we had discussed, king safety! If I had found 28. Qd3, my drawing chances would have sharply increased, and who knows, maybe I could have played spoiler and stopped my opponent from tying for first. This theme of consolidation is also extremely important in endgames, and admittedly it’s not one I spent extensive time studying back at home.

So at 3.5/6, my tournament was over. I had my chances, but this weekend I was shown three reasons why I simply could not be the US Junior Open champion, and that’s okay. While I have my over the board regrets, I have no regrets about pushing myself to win this tournament. Training to be competitive has made me a lot more well rounded as a player, and has given me the discipline I needed to improve going forward. Again, I can’t stress how grateful I am to have competed in this event and shared my process to reach here with all of you.

IMG_0983My last game completed, I was happy to find that Uber had waived my cancellation fee and even given me some credits for a ride. With nothing else to do, I finally got to head to the French Quarter and explore New Orleans. Being a food fanatic, I visited Cafe du Monde for their beignets and after a stroll through Woldenburg Park had dinner at The Gumbo Shop before heading back to the hotel.

IMG_0990While I had fun exploring the city, I wish I had more time to visit famous attractions like the zoo or aquarium, but unfortunately, the location of the hotel made this just about impossible as nearly everything of interest was about a half hour away.

With my last junior tournament in the books, I’ll have to think about what I want my next goal to be. Obviously, I want to become a National Master, but I’m hoping I can accomplish even more by the time I graduate college in three years… I guess we’ll have to see!

As I’ve mentioned before, I will be relaunching Chess^Summit on June 28th, adding three new authors in Beilin Li, Vishal Kobla, and Alice Dong. I’m really excited about the future of Chess^Summit, and I encourage you all to check out the new authors and learn from some of their own unique insights! See you all in a week!

Endgame Essentials: Dramatic, not Drawmatic!

If I’m totally honest, I don’t think I learned to fully appreciate rapid tournaments until this year. It took three tournaments to change my mind: the 2015 Chess World Cup, the Ultimate Blitz competition featuring Garry Kasparov, and today, the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour in Paris. Unlike longer time control games, rapid chess emphasizes strong, practical play, and takes the spotlight off of brilliant opening preparation. At this level of competition, winning implicitly requires two elements: accurate calculation and the ability to convert better endgames. In the first day of competition alone, I found five endgames worth sharing and wanted to break down each of their critical moments in today’s critical endgame posts. Remember, as we move through each game, take a minute to assess the various defining features of the position: activity, solidarity, king safety, and ability to improve.

Magnus’ only loss of the day occurred in his first game in Paris. While Wesley had his struggles later in the tournament, it was Carlsen who had the last laugh, finishing the day tied for first! Courtesy: ChessBase

For our first endgame, we start with the protagonist of the story thus far, Magnus Carlsen. While his Grand Chess Tour started with an eerily similar first round, it’s important to not overlook the accuracy he brought to this endgame against Wesley So’s particularly stingy defense.

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Carlsen–So, Paris 2016

White to Move

On face value, the position seems fairly equal. After trading rooks on e8, the position provides us with a symmetrical pawn structure and equal material. However, two elements stand in the way of the American achieving full equality. First, the bishop on a7 is dormant, pushed away from the action thanks to the bishop on g3 and the pawn on d4. Furthermore, his pawn on b7 is backward, and can easily become a target should White move his knight to c5 in the future. Black’s plan here is to march his king to c8 to cover b7 and prepare …Ba7-b8, and with only one real structural weakness in the position, should have enough to hold a draw. Magnus can’t really do too much to stop this idea, so he makes the most of his turn with his next move, 27. a4!

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The easiest way to improve the position! Here Magnus plans a2-a4-a5 with the idea of fixing the queenside pawn structure, particularly the b7 pawn. While Wesley will be able to trade dark-squared bishops, the downside will be that the dark squares in his structure will be weak, and White will gain time to put further pressure on b7. 27…Qe7 28. a5 Kd8 29. Qd1 Qe4 30. Kh2 Ne7 31. Qb3

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Neither side is really in a rush to convert or prove anything, so each side marked time by improving their respective positions. Magnus by making his king safer and fixing the b7 pawn, Wesley by centralizing his queen and bringing his king closer to c8. Here Carlsen offers his knight since 31…Qxd3? 32. Qxb7 is close to lost for Black. The bishop on a7 is still trapped, and the queenside pawns are falling. Here Black correctly chose to continue his plan. 31…Kc8 32. Qb4 Qe6 33. Nf4 Qf7

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Wesley may be moving backward, but he still boasts a solid defense. As long as he has only one weakness, it will be very difficult for Magnus to make progress. In the next “phase” So executes the dark-squared bishop, and the f4 knight finds the c5 square. 34. Kg1 Bb8 35. Nd3 Bxg3 36. fxg3 Nf5 37. g4 Ng3 38. Nc5 Again, the game is relatively equal, and Wesley has put up the toughest defense we’ve seen in this series thus far.

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White counterintuitively doubled his pawns, giving the Black knight targets from f5. While I appreciate the idea of compactness, I think this structural decision made life for Magnus a little more complicated. Instead of 34. Kg1, perhaps he could have considered other prophylactic resources, but in this position, he’s still doing fine. White now has the pressure he wants on b7, but the problem now is that his pawn structure closes his army off from the kingside, giving Wesley the break 38…h5 39. gxh5 and the natural 39…Qe7. But as it turns out, this gives Magnus a tactical opportunity in 40. Ne6!. These moves are hard to find in rapid play, so I can’t really blame Carlsen for the miss.

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Anyways, this move would have been an amazing find. By revealing a discovered attack on the queen, Black’s options are limited. Already we can see that 40…Qxe6 41. Qf8+ Kd7 42. Qxg7+ will win back the knight back and retain a healthy pawn advantage. More critical was 40… Ne2+ 41. Kf2 Qxe6 41. Qf8+ Kd7 42. Qxg7+ where White doesn’t pick up the knight, but the h-pawn is simply unstoppable (see diagram).

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Position after 42. Qxg7+, Black is powerless to stop the h-pawn and must return material.

Black can consider 40… Qxb4, but the knight and pawn endgame is worse for Black after 41. cxb4 Nxh5 42. g4 Ng3 43. Kf2! stopping the fork on e2, and once the g7 pawn falls, White’s h-pawn becomes a headache. That being said, these moves are really unnatural but I like how it highlights flaws in Black’s position. Black has two concrete weaknesses, b7 and g7, and the task of covering both of them is extremely difficult if White plays the best moves.

Instead, Carlsen chose 40. Kf2 and the game continued. 40…Nf5 41. g4 Qe3+ and equality was temporarily reached.

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One of the problems with Magnus’ position in this game was that his focus on b7 dragged his pieces away from protecting his king, thus allowing Black to infiltrate through the center. Surprisingly, Black can’t coordinate his knight and queen to deliver mate, but he has many perpetual options. Given the nature of rapid chess, Wesley naturally tried for a win by improving his position with  42. Kf1 Qxh3+ 43. Ke1 Qg3+ 44. Kd2 Nd6

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The retreat not only protects b7, but it intends to reroute the knight to either e4 or c4 in the future. For those trying to find better for Black, it’s quite difficult since Qb4xb7 is a constant threat, and defending the b7 requires a passive retreat. I was really surprised with how quickly Carlsen made his next move, but it makes a lot of sense. After 45. Nxb7! Carlsen gives himself a lot of chances. If 45…Nxb7 46. Qf8+ wins the g7 pawn, and again we see the danger of the passed h-pawn. With best play, Black should be able to find a perpetual, but it’s in these complications Wesley finally errs and his position goes south. 45. Qg2+ 46. Kc1 Qf1+ 47. Kc2 Qe2+ 48. Kc1 Qe1+ 49. Kc2 Qe4+ 50. Kb3 Nxb7 51. Qf8+ Kc7 52. Qxg7+ Kb8

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The position is in the balance, but can Wesley make the correct net to force perpetual before the h-pawn promotes?

53. h6 Qd3? +-

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I was watching the live commentary from St. Louis at this moment, and was surprised they didn’t scrutinize this moment, because once this move is made, Wesley can never hope to recover. Black should have been able to find 53…Nxa5+ 54. Ka2 Qd1, the idea being that White cannot stop all the checks on a4, b3, and d1, so perpetual is forced. The problem with Wesley’s move is that it does nothing to improve his position. His next move, 54…Qb1 shows he wasted a tempo, and unfortunately, it’s enough to ensure Magnus a second queen. 54. Ka3 Qb1 55. h7 Qa1+ 56. Kb3 Qd1+ 57. Kb4 Ka7

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With no more checks in the position, Wesley moves his king away from a future check. Both players were in severe time trouble, but it was still a surprise when the game suddenly concluded after 58. h8=Q Qa1 0-1 and it was Black who had won, not White (see diagram)!

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With about twenty seconds left (not to mention a ten-second increment), Carlsen found himself stuck between 59. Qxb7+ and 59. Qh2, both of which were completely winning. In a moment of curiosity, Carlsen decided to look at Qh8-h2 into more depth, and completely forgot about the clock, letting his time reach zero!

Despite the drama, the reigning World Champion played a great game, pushing Wesley each move to find the best moves. So, of course, played solidly as well, but as we’ve seen so many times this series, one mistake in the endgame can quite often be unforgivable. Accuracy counts, and at the end of the day, it’s what goes on the scoresheet.

The day proved to be good for the host nation. After five rounds, Laurent Fressinet had beaten Fabiano Caruana, and MVL had scored 6/10 (2 points for a win, 1 for a draw), tied for third with four games left. Courtesy: ChessBase

Our next three examples all occurred in the third round, and each provided instructive moments.

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Fressinet–Caruana, Paris 2016

White to Move

After what had already been a complicated rook and pawn endgame, we see that the Black king’s inability to get into the game is causing Caruana great difficulties. The live commentary team in St. Louis found some nice ideas to potentially reach equality earlier in the game, but already it’s too late. The French wild card needed to get his king off of b8, and played 51. Rc1 to prepare Kb8-c8 and promote his pawn. Once again, Fabiano tried the interference idea of 51…Rc3, but now with the rook to the right side of the pawn, White won with 52. Rxc3 h1=Q 53. Kc8 Qh8+ 54. Kc7 Qh2 55. Rc5 Qxf2

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White to Move

56. Rc6 Qa7 57. Kc8 Qa4 58. Rc7+ Kg6 59. b8=Q

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 19.40.49And Fressinet went on to convert the material and win the game. So what was the difference between taking on c3 and a3 you may ask? Well, winning or not to put it simply. If Fressinet had played 51. Rxa3? his rook doesn’t have a check on c7, and after 51…h1=Q 52. Ka7 Qc1,

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White cannot hope to promote the pawn and keep his material advantage. Again, accuracy is the critical difference between winning and drawing.

Having proven himself to be a very capable escape artist, Wesley So once again found himself in trouble against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Unlike his lucky break against Magnus, he failed to find any miracles and lost this pawn down queen ending.

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So–Vachier-Lagrave, Paris 2016

White to Move

I decided to insert this game since Black still has to be careful. Between pushing the c-pawn and avoiding perpetual checks, Maxime must also cover the f7 pawn, which makes his task a little more difficult. On the bright side, all queen trades are winning for Black, so it will be very difficult for White to create serious pressure. Wesley start his defense by playing 39. Qa1+ to maneuver the queen to f6 and directly attack f7. 39…Kh7 40. Qf6 Qd5 41. g3 c5 42. Kf1 c4

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Black is making progress, but his position is also easier to play now. With the c- and f-pawns both protected by the queen, MVL can take a few moves to improve his position. 43. Ke2 Kg8 44. Qc3 h5 45. h4 Kf8 46. Qe3 Qd6

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Here Maxime has made a little bit of progress, but now he must figure out how to make his king more active. After, 47. Qc3 Qc5 48. Qe3 Qd5 49. Qd2 Qe5+ 50. Kd1, it turns out that Wesley can do little to stop the advancing Black monarch.

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50…Ke7 with the threat of …Qe5-d6! 51. Kc2 Ke6 52. f4 Qd5 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 20.11.46Perhaps at the expert level, White can hope to play on, but this endgame is lost. Black’s king will waltz to g4 and pick up all of White’s kingside pawns, and White can’t stop all of Black’s pawns. Wesley resigned, leaving us one more great endgame from the round.

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Carlsen–Aronian, Paris 2016

 Black to Move

With a little help from the computer, GM Eric Hansen had a nice find here in 29…Qa1!, which should draw after 30. Qc5 Qa7 31. Qb5 Qa1 with repetition. The real idea is that 30. Qxb7 Qxc3 31. Qxc7 at least offers Black a lot of activity and decent drawing chances. But of course, Stockfish doesn’t play for us in tournaments, and the natural 29…Qa8 was played, giving White a nice edge since his pieces can be activated faster than Black’s. Skip ahead a few moves, and Black found himself completely paralyzed.

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White to Move

I really liked this moment of the game, as Carlsen realized that his would be much safer on the kingside, not to mention, an incredible for the b-pawn. 50. Ke2! Kg7 51. Kd3 Ng8 52. Ne8+ Kh8 53. Kc4 h5

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As Black begins to open the kingside, it’s Magnus’ king that has found refuge, and the entirety of Aronian’s position submits itself to passivity. The next part of Magnus’ plan is to capture the c6 pawn and use his passed b-pawn to limit Black’s queen. 54. gxh5 Qh6 55. Qxc6 Qd2 56. hxg6

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In trying to create activity, Black has to give up his g-pawn. While Black may have some checks now, he has the constant issue that ideas like Qg7 and Qh7 are checkmate! Just like our first Endgame Essentials post, king safety proves to be Aronian’s undoing. 56…Qe2+ 57. Kc5 Qxf2+ 58. Kb5 Qxg3 59. Qd7 Qxg6 60. Ka5

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Black may have regained his pawn by force, but the threat on g7 is constant, and the Black knight can’t help Aronian salvage the position. 60…Qg3 61. b5 Qc3+ 62. Ka6 Qa3+ 63. Kb7 Qg3

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Once again highlighting Black’s problems. Whenever Aronian runs out of checks, he must return to the defense of g7, giving White a tempo to push his b-pawn further down the board. 64. b6 Qg6 65. Ka7 f5 66. exf5

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I was really impressed watching Magnus here. Basically everything wins here, but after Aronian’s f-pawn push, he stopped, calculated and found the move that allowed the least amount of counterplay. A great micro-moment from Magnus here that showed his master class despite the rapid time controls. 66…Qg3 67. f6 Qa3+ 68. Kb8 1-0

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 20.37.07With no complications to offer, Aronian threw in the towel here, as both the b- and f-pawns are preparing to promote and sink the ship that is Black’s position. With a win here, Magnus won a second straight, proving he was completely unfazed by his surprising first round “defeat”.

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In his three-game winning streak, Magnus proved he was still the player to beat, having dominated each of the four opponents he had played up to that point.

For our fifth and final endgame, I wanted to share a nice idea found by the commentary team that shows a benefit of the opposite-colored bishop ending. In this fifth round encounter, an early slip from Magnus gave Hikaru Nakamura an opportunity to press before cashing in on a draw. While the engines do agree that the position has relative equality, from a more human point of view, Black had a nice geometrical idea to press even further.

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Carlsen–Nakamura, Paris 2016

Black to Move

Here Black settled for a perpetual with 33…Qg5+ 34. Kf1 Qc1+ and so forth. Here, Black could have tried 33…Qh2+ 34. Kf1 Qxh3+ 35. Ke2 Qh2

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In this position, White has an extra pawn but the queen and bishop battery actually stop each of White’s pawns from making progress (b8, d6, and f4 are all covered, so promotion is not a threat from White. Black would put his queen on f4 to overprotect f7, followed by pushing the h-pawn. Nakamura would still have a lot to prove, but it’s clear he has nothing to lose.

Wow, what a day! I suspect tomorrow has even greater games in store, featuring a Carlsen–Kramnik clash, as well as Caruana–Nakamura. With the way he’s been playing, I suspect Magnus to hold his lead after four rounds tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see if Nakamura can keep up!

Queen City, the Last Stop Before NOLA

This weekend marked my last preparatory tournament before the US Junior Open – the inaugural Carolinas Classic. Given how my fast start to the Cherry Blossom Classic only petered out to a 3/7 finish, I decided to just focus on being consistent in playing each round. While arguably I failed in this respect, I did well to start 2.5/4 and get an opportunity to play for a class prize before dropping the final round and falling back to an even score.

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Unlike last week, the venue for the Carolinas Classic was right on the Boardwalk, meaning I had plenty of food options in walking distance.

This tournament was particularly interesting for me, as I got to play new openings and reach sharp positions in three of my five games. While my debut in North Carolina saw an end to my nine-game unbeaten streak with Black, it also saw me to another win over a 2300+ rated player, as well as an encounter with the 2012 US Junior Open winner.

Before we delve into some of the critical moments of my games, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the first edition of this FIDE rated event.

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The tournament hall before Friday night. A DGT board was provided for the top two boards in the Championship section and the top board of each of the other sections.

Considering the cost of registration, the chess rate, and the quality of the hotel, I thought that this tournament was extremely well run. The surrounding area was extremely accessible for players with plenty of food options and accommodations within walking distance. Sure, the tournament directors were a bit paternalistic at times, but on a whole, to be able to play in any FIDE event for such a low cost is a rare opportunity in the United States. My only wish was that this tournament had better advertising prior to the event. I actually found out about it by accident, and I wonder if stronger players would have participated if the event was advertised outside of North Carolina. I would recommend this tournament to any serious chess player, especially those looking for FIDE rated games.

That being said, here were some crucial moments of my tournament.

Beware of the Exchange Sac!

Pitted against the third strongest player in North Carolina, my board was broadcast live (only the second time in my career playing on DGT!), and I was hoping to impress for a second week in a row against 2300+ rated competition. Shortly after the opening, I offered a pawn sacrifice, and my opponent thought he spotted a way to clamp my position down instead with 17. Bb5

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On face value, Black’s position looks dangerous. I have a weak c5 pawn, and visually, I am at a developmental deficit. However, with my opponent’s king in the center, I had anticipated this and my position sprung to life!

17… Ne5 18. Qxd8 Rxd8 19. Bxc5

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Again, still visually unconvincing, but trust me the bishop on c5 is worth more than the f8 rook! In White’s effort to attack, he left his king open for my knight’s infiltration.

19…Nxf3+ 20. Kf2 Nxg4 21. Bxf8 Kxf8

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I’ve never really been known to hesitant sacrificing the exchange, and here’s a great example why. Black now has the bishop pair and an extra pawn, but the e4 pawn is destined to fall, so a minor piece and two pawns are more than enough compensation. Furthermore, the bishop on g7 is holding the knight on d1 in place and it’s now White that lacks activity. My opponent decided it was too much to hold on to b2, and gave me the pawn, but this game me a pawn majority on both sides of the board and I was able to convert the endgame (though it was not without difficulty!).

My opponent did well to bounce back, winning the next three before drawing tournament winner Grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi.

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Triumph in the first round offered a deja vu to last week’s tournament. Now it was my duty put it behind me and start round 2 with 0 out of 0!

The second round also gave me an interesting match up (again on DGT), paired with the 2012 US Junior Open champion and University of Texas graduate Karthik Ramachandran.

This match-up was extremely close, and I think it could have gone either way, but unfortunately in sharp positions, usually there can only be one winner! I’m still in the process of trying to figure out what happened in that game, so rather than sharing a critical moment of the game, I’ve decided to share an instructive one.

For those of you who would like to see the game in its entirety, you can find it here if you scroll down towards the bottom of the games list. Even though I lost, I was really proud of how I fought in this game.

 

The Power of a Pawn Sacrifice

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In this position, I played 19. Nd5! offering the b2 pawn to Black’s g7 bishop. This is probably the most well-known form of a pawn sacrifice, but it’s always important to know where your play is coming from! The game continued 19… Qxd2+ 20. Kxd2 and now we can see that if 20… Bxb2 21. Rb1 Bg7 22. Bf3,

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I have sufficient counterplay for the pawn. If Black tries …b7-b6, I can march the a-pawn to a5, and Black’s queenside collapses. But the more complex find was if Black inserted 20… Bxd5 first, blocking my control of the diagonal after 21. cxd5 Bxb2 22. Rb1 Bg7. But now I have the resource 23. Bd3 and Black is once again in trouble.

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Here I have the luxury of taking the pawn on f5 immediately or waiting since this pawn also blocks in Black’s rooks. Now White can quickly play a2-a4 to stop any queenside expansion ideas and then push the h- and g-pawns down the board. Realizing this, my opponent opted for 20…Rde8 21. Bd3 and complexity ensued.

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As I said, I unfortunately wound up losing this game in a pawn race, but it was not enough to derail my tournament…right?

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Early phases of my game with the 2012 US Junior Open Champion. Hopefully, in less than two weeks I can accomplish the same feat of a perfect 6/6 to win the tournament!

At this point, I had already spent nine (!) hours at the chess board, and had little time to relax going into the next round, where I perhaps put together the worst game I’ve played in a while. My mother, who came with me to this tournament, suggested it might be because of the heavy meal I had going into the game, but honestly, I thought I just had a bad game – it happens to everyone at some point, and there’s no shame in it.

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Fortunately for me, my lower rated opponent was just as, or even more tired than I!

Twenty-ish moves into the game I managed to “wake up” and start making respectable moves. Having played tired now in several games over the past few weeks, my best suggestion is to walk around, and not try to calculate long lines but look for positionally logical moves. While this method certainly isn’t failproof, in an equal position you can still outplay your opponent if you just ask what’s my opponent’s weakness? and what’s my worst placed piece?. I have a slight hunch that Jacob Aagard would agree with me on that…

After ten or so moves of maneuvering, I found this nice tactic to make up for an extremely poor performance:

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38… Rxd3!! and now the position collapses since the mate threat on g2 means White must give up a piece. Nice move but a single move doesn’t make a good showing!

Round 4 saw me draw quickly after some experimenting with my opening preparation for the US Junior Open, though I must mention preferred my opponent’s position when we agreed on the result. However, scoring 1.5/2 in games where I felt I played less than perfectly was reassuring that even when not at my best, I can still play and hope for a result. Knowing that my last round opponent would be a strong National Master (2200+), I relaxed and focused on putting my best foot forward in my last game before the US Junior Open.

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Moments before the start of Round 1 on Friday night. Who said cool chess piece photos were overdone?

While I lost in a time scramble, I was better for most of the game, and the computer actually preferred my side of the board until the last fifteen minutes of the game as the resulting endgame was deemed as unsavory. Again, I’m still in the process of understanding everything that happened, but I had one highlight I really liked since I was extremely vigilant in defending my king.

Offense is the Best Defense

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My opponent decided to open the floodgates here with 29. gxh5, trying to rip apart my kingside and quickly deliver mate. However, almost instinctively I knew this could never work with White’s king on f2. My plan is to keep the g-file closed at all costs, and put my rooks on the h- and f-files. Once my rook is on h8, I can quickly activate my e7 bishop on h4, punishing White for opening the position. The game continued 29… Kg7 30. Rg1 Rh8 31. Ng4 Nxh5

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White’s attack has fizzled out, but as the engine points out, there was never anything here for White, in fact Black is perhaps better, if not, equal. This sequence not only played a huge role in the position that transpired, but the clock as well. In these three moves, my opponent spent half his time, and I only needed 3 minutes (of course I had looked at this position before the capture on h5, but still my foresight gave me a temporary time advantage). But the game didn’t stop there, after 32. Nxh5 Rxh5 33. Ba5 Bh4+

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 19.51.10And now I’m the one attacking. Don’t believe me? If White isn’t careful, 34. Kf1? is close to losing since 34…b5!  threatens mate in one with …Bd7-b5#. White must put the rook on h1 and remain passive while I storm the barricades. The attack ensues after 34. Ke2 b5 35. Qd2 Bb4+ 36. Kd1

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The tide has turned, and in time trouble, White is struggling to hold. With my next move, 36… Be7, White’s a5 bishop is closed out of the game and White’s rook have no real avenues of play. My opponent did a great job of complicating the position, and offered a draw before I miscalculated and went from winning to lost in a couple moves. Maybe I deserved to win this one, but that cannot be said about my games in the third and fourth rounds, so in a sense it balanced out.

These last three weeks have given me many extremely complicated positions, and of the seventeen games, I can’t really say that any of them proved to be easy, with most of them pushing the maximum time alotment of the round. While this last game ends my nine-game unbeaten streak with Black, I think my games with each successive week have shown significant improvement, and definetly has me looking forward to the US Junior Open in 11 days!

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No studying for today, but already I can see plenty of tactics and endgames in my near future!

Again, I can’t thank everyone enough for the support over the past year, and I am really looking forward to showing everyone what I’ve learned this year in New Orleans. Over the past seventeen games, I’ve scored 9.5/17, with only five losses across the three venues.

For the most part, I’d say the theoretical aspect of my training is complete, minus a few tweaks after analyzing my performances over the past three weeks. Here on out, I’m planning on working extensively on calculation since that proved to be the key determinant across all of my losses.

I suspect the preparation and anticipation in upcoming days will be just as fun as my trip to New Orleans, so make sure to check back to get my final thoughts going into the US Junior Open!