Friday, March 29, 2013

A Day at the Races

The race to contend in the next World Championship match took an unexpected turn today. The two players within striking distance of Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, played each other in a virtual must win-situation. In a complicated struggle Kramnik got a great position against Aronian for the second time in the tournament. Once again, Aronian defended brilliantly and appeared about to draw when he tripped up in an ending with four pawns against a bishop and pawn.

 As he watched his lead over Kramnik slip away, Carlsen drifted into a difficult position, defended below his usual amazing standard and lost to Ivanchuk. This is Carlsen's first loss in a long time and the first loss ever by a player rated over 28. I'm sure that theoreticians will be debating this endgame for a while, but from a teaching standpoint I find the relatively simple conversion of the final two extra pawns to be clear and great. Here are the final few moves with my comments. I couldn't get the game viewer to work properly, so the format's a bit different than usual.

Could you convert this winning rook ending against someone rated 2872? 76...Rc7! Not the only move, but very strong. Rooks belong behind pawns, so that they get more active every time the pawn advances. 77.Rh4 Rh7 78.Ke3 Black needs to figure out a way to make progress. The h-pawn is very hard to win with by itself, so he manages to get his rook behind the e-pawn. 78...Ke6 79.Ke4 Rh8! White is in zugzwang and has to retreat his rook or king. This is one advantage of having the rook behind the passed pawn. 80.Ke3 Kf5 81.Ke2 Kg5 82.Re4 Re8 Black has gotten the rook behind the more dangerous pawn. 83.Ke3 h4 It's hard to queen the h-pawn, but it can make a powerful distraction. 84.Ke2 h3 85.Kf2 h2 86.Kg2 h1Q+ 87.Kxh1 Now white's king is forced into the corner and black finds a way to trap it there. 87...Kf5 88.Re1 Rg8 With his horrible king position, there's nothing that white can do to stop black's pawn. 89.Kh2 Kf4 90.Rf1+ Ke3 And for the first time ever, a player rated over 2860 resigned a rated game. Black can head for the famous Lucena position to win the game. [91.Re1+ Kf2 forks the rook and the checkmate threat of ra8#.]  0–1

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Back to the Blog

I am moved into the new apartment and finally have internet again!

I haven't been able to play much in the last couple weeks, because most of my non-tournament games these days are on the Internet Chess Club. I played a few interesting games against computers, but mostly was inactive.

Fortunately, while I was moving the rest of the chess players I know in Virginia were playing the VA Open, and Justin Burgess was happy to share a few games. This one was my personal favorite, a tactical fight featuring a great 24th move by white. If he keeps playing like this, Justin will get the master title in no time.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I'm in the middle of a move, so blogging might be a bit sparse for a while. In the meantime, the Candidates Tournament to determine the next world championship challenger has started and is one of the strongest tournaments of all time! I highly recommend following the results on and maybe getting interesting summaries on Maybe favorite game from the first two rounds was Levon Aronian's win in round two, staring the move 26 Bh6!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Puzzles from the DCCL

On Friday night I played another DC Chess League match for the Arlington Kings. It was a strange night as we had to come from behind just to draw the match against our lower rated opponents, yet somehow this improved our standing and now we are tied for the top spot in the league.

I was playing for the second time against the ambassador from Montenegro, and master strength chess player, Srdjan Darmanovic. Rather than posting the whole game, I'm going to provide a few key moments as puzzles. As usual, I will respond to any puzzle answers in the comments.

My longest think of the game happened in the position below. I had difficulty deciding between what at first seemed like three promising alternatives. Bxh7+, Qh5 and cxd5.  What would you play for white?

On the next turn, my opponent wisely traded bishops on d3. What is wrong with c4, which would reach the next diagram position? White to move and win.

The key moment in the game came with both sides in mutual time pressure, just before move 30. I had gained a serious advantage, but I gave my opponent a chance to get back in the game by playing e7? Why is that move bad and what would be better for white?

Playing e7 turned out to be a stroke of luck because after Re8, I won a piece with Re6, Nc4, d6 and he had to sacrifice his knight to stop the pawns. At that point the game was bound to end soon, but he sped up the process by walking into mate! Can you find the forced mate in the position below?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

University of Chicago Shout Out

I played a complicated and ultimately successful game last night, but I'm still processing what I think about many of the key variations. In the meantime this post is a tribute to a college friend of mine, Jason Cigan who has accomplished something few adults can manage. The last time I saw him in person, just about two years ago he was rated somewhere around 1600 and a year before that just 1200.  Since then he has worked hard on his play and consistently improved, recently breaking the 2000 barrier. For children, hard work tends to pay off at rates like this, but for an adult with classes and jobs this is a very impressive rate of improvement. For some perspective, I am paid to think about chess most of the time and I have gained about 80 points in the last two years.

Jason demonstrated his attacking style in a tournament game yesterday. He missed a path to an advantage early, but even after slipping into trouble he kept causing his higher rated opponent problems until that opponent slipped into a cute mate at the end. If you don't want to click through the whole game, I suggest at least solving the checkmate puzzle below.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Simplify to Win

I've started teaching some of my private students lessons focused on finding simplifying combinations, to turn a complicated position into a winning endgame. One example, which I haven't used much yet is the following position from one of my 2012 DC Chess League Games. Black just played the unexpected e5 and I couldn't believe how difficult it was for me to find a decisive advantage. Fortunately, I was able to find a way through to a winning edge. What would you play for white? You can leave answers in the comments.