Sunday, September 29, 2013

DCCL Regular Season Finale

It has been a tough DC Chess League season for me this summer. I started by losing the first game against a 2200 in a long endgame at the company office. Then I had to return there just six hours later to run our summer camp training meeting the following day.

After I missed one match (we managed a lucky draw with the Arlington Argyles), and the season took a month off, I came back and lost to a lower rated player again in one of my worst games in a long time. Somehow, my team has overcome my incompetence and won both of the matches that I lost. That meant that going into last Friday's season final we were at 2.5/3 and in need of a win to qualify for a playoff match against the Argyles. First we needed to get through Ashburn, meaning that I was playing Anton Paolo Del Mundo, a strong FM and former Co-Champion of the US Open.

A month before this tournament I had prepared the Catalan for black, as an alternative to my Tarrasch defense, and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I completely forgot my preparation and just didn't remember to play Be4 on tenth move. Instead, my 10... Qc8 was bad and almost a novelty (had only been played once 800 previous opportunities in my database). Fortunately, once I realized my mistake, I was able to use the urgency of my position to help focus, rather than to panic. Bit by bit the position improved and it kept improving past the point of equality until gained a large advantage and won the game. Despite the opening error, it's the best game I've played in a few months. Even better, our team won the match 3-1 to qualify for a championship playoff next week. Stay tuned and enjoy the game.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One Minute Miracle

It might be a bad sign that I've sunk to blogging about my bullet games, but this one was too cool to pass up. Out of respect for the position, I won't present the game, just this puzzle. It's white to move and win. I think it's a pretty tough, but I expect a few of you can do it. Please answer in the comments.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

1 Minute Gem

I've been doing some tactics recently to prepare for the final match of the DC Chess League regular season. Despite my 0-2 score, the Silver Knight's team is tied for the league lead at 2.5-0.5 and I'm hoping to provide something positive before the end of the season.

Since the match isn't until Friday, I've been wasting my good tactical form on fast Internet Chess Club games. Mostly I play 3 and 5 minutes, but I occasionally dabble in 1 minute matches. The following was one of my better efforts.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Creative Solution

From a recent blitz game: White has just played e6. How should black respond? Scroll down for the solution.

1...Kf3 wins.
The game ended
2. e7 Ra1+
3. Bc1 Be3

White resigns.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hard Work

My most recent DC Chess League game was a disaster. I spent about an hour looking for mates that weren't there on the way to blowing a good position against a lower rated player. Fortunately, the team won and we are still in contention for first place despite my best efforts. On a happier note, here's some footage from my all day simul last week, while trying to recruit students at George Mason University to work for Silver Knights Chess. I think I scored about 100 wins to go with 2 draws and no losses.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Washington International Wrap Up

The end of Washington International was a blur. Round 8, my opponent no-showed, but I was lucky enough to get paired with a house player, 2331 rated John Rouleau. We played with a slightly shortened time control - game in 90 with a 30 second increment. In that time control, my slightly overconfident pawn sacrifice worked well. Black's position was sound for most of the game, but unpleasant to defend in time pressure. Eventually he cracked, giving me my second win of the event.

The coffee I drank to stay awake for round 8 came back to haunt me as I slept poorly before the final round. I had considered withdrawing, but with 2.5/3 in the last few rounds, I was now in prize contention. I played an uninspiring last round game against IM Roberto Martin Del Campo. I was doing well for most of the game, but didn't concentrate well in a couple of critical moments and found myself in a lost endgame.

This result left me at 3.5/9 for the tournament, and a performance nearly identical to my pre-tournament rating. I gained a single rating point to reach 2325, an easier number to remember than it had been before the nine-round marathon.

I'm planning on taking a few critical moments from the games so far and making a quiz, so please check in again later this week.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Washington International - Round 6

In round six I was gradually outplayed as black by FM Michael Kleinman. My opponent probably could have gotten more, but I was still expecting to lose, down a pawn and with a poorly placed rook in this endgame. 

At this point I took some advice from Jonathan Rowson's book, Chess for Zebras, and told myself a draw from this position would essentially be as good as win. My opponent unexpectedly gave me some hope by bringing his king to c3 to try to play c5. With his king slightly out of the center. In the position below, I was able to gain activity by 42... h4! 43. g4 g5. 

White had to sacrifice a pawn (he played 44. e5!?) or let my king reach e5 and my pieces target the h3 pawn. For the first time all game, I had some counterplay. The game reached 84 moves, lasted well over five hours, and I eventually held the draw!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Washington International Round 6 - Recovery

After playing too aggressively through a difficult 1/5, I made sure to relax for the 6th game. Against NM Busygin, I managed to finally keep my head in the face of an attack. He over-pressed with g4, a move he had been setting up for a long time.  Fortunately, after the tactics died down, material was even, but I had the more centralized king and a passed pawn. White quickly fell apart in the endgame and I scored my first win of the tournament.

Summary: Finally, a win!

Lessons I should have learned: I play better when not making unnecessary attacking moves. I managed to remember this for about one more game.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Washington International Rounds 4 and 5 - Bad Openings

Instead of recovering from my round three loss, rounds four and five were two of the weakest games I've played since leaving Chicago. Round four, against 2400+ rated Sean Vibbert (a rising talent), I allowed white to get away with far too ambitious play in the opening.

What would you play for black in the position below?

I trusted that my opponent wouldn't have allowed me to take on b5 without a good reason, so I traded on e5. This is a serious mistake, letting white get active pieces while my knight on d6 makes development awkward. The position should still be tenable, but I defended poorly and resigned in the face of forced mate on move 32.

I justified not taking the bishop based on the line 1...Nxb5 2.Nd5 - where white threatens Nxc6 followed by taking on e7 with a good position. If I had looked just two moves deep, I would have seen that black has 2... Nbd4, defending against white's threats and keeping an extra piece. As a result, white would have had to accept a slightly worse position with 2. Nxb5.

The following game I had white against IM Adu, but again didn't know what I was doing in the opening and had no advantage in the following position.

What would you play for white?

I'm not sure what the best move is. Maybe white should play Bd3, but really and move that doesn't weaken the position should lead to equality.

I convinced myself that black had serious issues defending f7, so I played my only active idea, e4. Like in my previous two white games (see recaps of rounds one and three for details), I refused to accept equality and entered dangerous complications in the hopes of winning. This time, e4 is just a mistake that isolates my d-pawn for no reason. I ended up sacrificing on d4 to get some activity, but my opponent defended well, I missed some opportunities and I never get back in the game.

Summary and lesson finally learned: Poor calculation and overly aggressive play got me into trouble repeatedly this tournament, and these games were the worst offenders. After the third loss in a row (first time since 2005), I told a friend that I was going to stop forcing things and try to just find decent moves as the position requires. He wished me luck with this type of zen-chess. This lesson sunk in, at least temporarily. My calculation didn't improve much, but I played a couple of games after this one, without going too crazy.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Washington International Rd 3 - Asking too Much

In the third round of the Washington International I was paired with a 12 year old, if he weren't better than me at chess he could have been one of my students. He was actually the reigning Wold Champion for that age group, Samuel Sevian. Here's a picture of us playing the game (actually mostly him looking board).

Unlike most games this tournament, I got a promising position out of the opening. Then, when he threatened to create a dark squared blockade to shut down my initiative, I sacrificed a pawn. By move 21 all of my pieces were well placed and I had the option of regaining my pawn whenever I needed to. However, only a few moves later I started going a bit crazy. I felt that I had an advantage, but none of the variations I calculate led to anything better than some trades and maybe a slightly better endgame. Normally, this would be a great result against an opponent 150 points higher rated than me, but after having drawn the previous two games, I wanted a way to play for more. Instead of going into the endgame, I kept pieces on the board and played a complicated middle game, without ever taking the time to regain my pawn. As we fell into time pressure, my initiative slowly dwindled and my material disadvantage grew, until I found myself in a lost position. This endgame was worse than the games I had held in the previous two rounds, and despite attempts to complicate, I eventually took my first loss.

Summary: I over-pressed after a promising pawn sacrifice in the opening.

Lessons I should have learned: Don't attack just because you want to. Follow the needs of the position.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Washington International Round 2 - Stopping Darwin

I wasn't competing against the theory of evolution, at least not directly. Instead, my second game was against Darwin Yang, probably the strongest scholastic player in the country and rated well over 200 points above me. I've actually known of Darwin since he was little, as he competed each  month with a Madison chess prodigy Brian Luo for the top spot on the nationwide rating list of some single digit age group. While Brian took a break from chess at some point, Darwin kept going and is now an IM very close to the Grandmaster title.

Here's a picture of me playing the game, sitting next to the youngest player in the tournament (also higher rated than me!).

I played the black side of a fairly classical Queen's Gambit and had a fine position for the first 14 moves, before playing a very normal looking and quite bad 15th. I hadn't paid enough attention to my pinned d-pawn, and Darwin continued to slowly crank up the pressure, playing an excellent first 32 moves. By that time he had won a pawn for free and continued to attack with the hopes of winning more. Fortunately, at that point my prestigious opponent failed to switch gears from calm positional pressure to knockout tactics. He had at least three excellence opportunities to shift from pressing an advantageous to winning a decisive amount of material. I think that he was concerned that I would get counterplay in each instance and didn't want to have to risk miscalculating a sharp line. 

Eventually, I was able to trade knights, queens and finally rooks. Still down four pawns to three, the only remaining pieces were bishops on opposite colors. This balance made it impossible for him to make progress. First he declined my draw offer, but returned it a few moves later. In the final position, I can allow white's king to escort the passed pawn forwards. In the meantime my bishop could capture white's f and g pawns. My plan was to sacrifice this bishop for his passed pawn and then bring my king to h8, where it could never be pushed away from blocking white's last pawn. 

Summary: One bad move got me into trouble early on, but my opponent missed some winning chances and I was miraculously able to reach an opposite colored bishop endgame to secure the draw and a great 1/2 score at the end of the first day.

Lesson I should have learned: It's important to calculate vigilantly in the opening, even in seemingly calm positions.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Washington International: Round 1

I took the last week off of work to play the Washington International tournament, a great opportunity to play many of the strongest opponents I have ever faced. There were too many good and bad moments for me to fully analyze so far, so I'm breaking the recap into pieces.

When I arrived for the first round, I found out that I was seeded 49th out of a 60 player field, a sign that this would be an uphill battle. The impression was further confirmed by my first round pairing against Grandmaster Gildrado Garcia, the 11 time champion of his native country, Columbia! Entering this game my lifetime score against Grandmasters in rated games was 0-5, with none of the games being particularly close.

In order to take advantage of his additional experience and rating, my opponent played an unusual, method of development in the opening, sacrificing king safety for an opportunity to grab the bishop pair. After 11 moves we reached the position below where I had three options for how to recapture on g3. I was intrigued by his weakened kingside and chose the overly aggressive (not for the last time this week) fxg3. This severely damaged my pawn structure and king safety, but made it easier for my rook to attack f7. The Grandmaster defended well, and almost by force we reached an endgame where I had a queen against two rooks and a pawn. This was a severe material disadvantage, but the open position of black's king gave me some counterplay and I'm not sure if my position was ever lost with best play. Once the queenside pawns were traded, my opponent allowed a repetition of moves because his king would never find shelter.

Summary: Overly aggressive play got me into trouble, but solid defense held the draw against a strong player.

Lesson I should have learned: Don't enter unclear complications where there are normal moves to improve a good position.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Out of the Ordinary

This is my first post in about a month. I lost a frustrating game in June by blundering multiple times in a good endgame. Since then I've been pretty unhappy with my chess form, writing a lot of chess material for work and uninterested in blogging here. I'm in the process of preparing for the intensive Washington International which should be quite an experience considering the number of title players on this pre-entry list:

I just wanted to post today because I just played an unusual and entertaining 5 - minute game against an IM and well known ICC personality, Christof Sielecki He has a youtube channel annotating his games and and others, under his handle chessexplained. We played a very locked up opening, leading to creative play and, unfortunately, my king reaching f4 by move 20. Somehow though, I was never getting completely blown out and managed to even win with a nice attack. I'm not sure if there will be another post until after my tournament in August, so I hope you enjoy this game.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Bit of History

One of our local chess celebrities, National Master Walter Harris likes to tell stories of his time in New York, playing games with a young Bobby Fischer and an older Arnold Denker. One of his favorites is the story of the time he defeated Grandmaster Denker, who then complained bitterly about his defeat, claiming that he had missed a win. It's an incredibly complicated game, but it looks like Denker may have been right.

Special thanks to Tom Saunders for finding the article in a magazine from 1961!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Random Fun Blitz Game.

This blitz game shows a nice way of dealing with a minority attack and has a fun finish. I got to sacrifice two rooks for mate (in part by missing a mate in one). Enjoy:

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Trouble with Long Games Online

The vast majority of my internet blitz games are played on the Internet Chess Club's 3 minute or 5 minute pools. Occasionally, if I want practice with a longer game or if I don't have a mouse around for blitz, I will play in the 15 minute pool. Unfortunately, 15 minute games online have a couple of unfortunate factors.

1. Fewer people want to play.

2. The games take longer.

These factors both result in it taking longer to find an opponent and that opponent being unlikely to match your level. This results in an cyclical problem because people like me play less as a result, leading to more of factor 1.

When I do play, the games are often easy. Here's a fun one from a couple of days ago -

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chicago Open Results

Congratulations to the three Grandmasters to tie for first at the prestigious Chicago Open. I've never met Robson, but Nikola Mitkov and Josh Friedel are both friends. Congratulations to all three. 

Bill Brock, a Chicago area player, has picked out some of the key games from this tournament at the Chicago Chess Blog:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chicago's Chess Trouble

Things are tough for Chicago chess players. The players in my old neighborhood, Hyde Park, were kicked out of numerous locations through the years, through no fault of their own.

Controversial Wicker Park Chess Tables to be Removed

Alisa Hauser

By Alisa Hauser on May 15, 2013 4:17pm

Chess Tables in Wicker Park to Be Replaced
WICKER PARK — The controversial built-in chess tables in Wicker Park will be removed, though Chicago Park District officials have not provided a date when they will be ripped out.
That won't be the end of tables in the park, though. New tables without chess boards will be installed in various spots around the park, rather than clustered as they are now — a grouping that had led some to complain they were a magnet for people drinking, gambling and dealing drugs.
The existing four cement gaming tables with bucket seats ignited controversy in February when a 15-member park advisory council voted nearly unanimously to remove them, a decision which prompted an alderman to call for a community meetingto discuss the future of the tables as well as crime and safety issues in the park.
The four tables often are used by the homeless, local residents and seniors to play cards and dominoes, with the players gambling with peanuts instead of cash. There have also been complaints about drug use and crime linked to the gatherings, which neighborhood residents pass while entering the park.
Doug Wood, secretary of the Wicker Park Advisory Council, said Tuesday that the tables will be replaced with newer, more updated carousal-style tables that are backless and have bench style seating.
Park District officials were unable to provide a photo of the new tables.
At an advisory council meeting earlier this month, a park district representative said that "the new tables have been ordered" but there was no scheduled date yet for the removal of the existing tables and installation of the new tables.
At an April meeting, members of the advisory committee selected separate locations for the new tables rather than group them at the southwest entrance to the park where the old chess tables had long been a fixture.
Planned locations for the four new tables include two tables in "Schiller Grove," the name for the area at Schiller Street and Damen Avenue where the existing four tables are located. One table will be anchored near the basketball court and another one will be situated by the playground in the northwest corner of the park.
Several visits to the existing tables over a series of recent warm afternoons have shown they are being used and enjoyed by diverse groups of people.
Megan Hargarten, a healthcare consultant from New York City, was working on her laptop while sitting alone at a chess table.
"I was just texting a friend of mine in New York to say that I am sitting in a park at a table that reminds me of the kind they have in East Village [New York]," Hargarten said.
Freddy Rivera, 23, was playing checkers with a group of friends and said he's been hanging out at the tables for about two years.
Rivera said the planned removal of the chess tables made him feel "like a piece of my heart is missing."
"Everyday, I am loyal to this park. People play checkers here, they barbecue," he said.
When asked about statements made by residents at a community meeting concerning drug dealing at or near the tables and other illegal behaviors, Rivera said that "because of the [security] cameras, there's none of that. Guys keep it clean."
Audrey Farrell, 30, said that she has walked past the chess tables for at least five years.
Farrell, who works as a nanny, said the men who sit at the tables made comments such as, "Looking good, girl!"  
"It doesn't make me uncomfortable when I'm by myself, but when I'm with a baby I'm taking care of, yes," Farrell said.
Farrell said she spent a lot of time in the park and believed "the white vagabond runaway kids" are "a greater threat to the safety of the park" than the men who gather around the chess tables playing dominoes or checkers.
"The kids are drinking and getting in fights and their dogs are roaming around, sitting on sidewalks in front of the park," Farrell said.
When told of the Park District's plan to replace the four existing chess tables with new tables spread throughout the park, Farrell said it "sounds better" than the existing arrangement. 
"If there's a family and the kids want to play basketball, you can still sit at a table and do your own activity while they play," Farrell said.
Charlie Hunt, 35, said he's lived near the park his entire life and had been hanging out at the chess tables since 2003.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hunt was playing dominoes with a group of men.
"They try to replace [the chess tables] for the wrong reasons. They claim it's always a problem but we ain't smoking or drinking, we playing dominoes," Hunt said.
Hunt said that "some people from the park" told him it was a problem because he and his friends were often sitting at the tables, which meant others couldn't use them.
"We are sitting at one table, there are others," Hunt said, pointing to an empty chess table.
Hunt said he wouldn't have any problems with the new tables as long as there were no slits in the top wide enough for dominoes to fall through.
In the event the new tables aren't designed for a game of dominoes, Hunt has an alternative plan.
"We just bring our own table. This is a public park," Hunt said.