Caissa Giveth, and Caissa Taketh Away

One of the many fascinating aspects of chess is that even top players get it very wrong quite often.

Take this position for instance:

The game is Karjakin-Topalov from the 2017 Gashimov Memorial (i.e. Shamkir)

Here it’s Black to move, and to me it seems clear that White has a staggering lead in development, and would love to put a rooks on the open files.

Black then plays 14…Bd7, which seems to just encourage the pin after 15.Rd1 (leaving the other rook to come to the c file or double on the d file depending on the situation. In fact, Stockfish gives this an advantage of 1.31 for White.

Instead, Sergey plays 15.Qg4 and after 15…Bc6 16.Rad1 Qc7 Black has made some progress and White’s advantage is much less than only a few moves earlier as Black is much closer to completing development.

Note that White’s not actually threatening the g pawn since after 17.Qxg7 Rg8 18.Qf6 (18.Qxh7 loses the knight on f3 after 18…Bxf3 since the g pawn is pinned) 18…Nf5 19.Ng5 h6 White is in trouble.

Now back to the game position of:

Here White plays 17.Ng5 and Black immediately goes wrong by accepting the pawn sac with 17…Qxe5.

This is a good training position. Ask yourself how White can gain a big advantage here.

Here is the complete game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Which Pawn to Take With?

Every so often I’ll come across a position which shows me how much my chess understanding has changed over the years.

Today I was looking at this one:

The game is Vishnu-Adly from the first round of the 2017 Sharjah Masters. White has just captured Black’s knight on d5, so barring any useful intermezzo’s, which don’t exist in this position, Black needs to figure out which pawn to recapture with.

I spent only a few seconds here, and my decision was that the pawn it made the most sense to capture with was the e pawn. The reason that I can tell that my thought process is changing is that a couple of years ago it would have gone like this:

“If I capture with the e pawn I’ll have a backward pawn on c6 along with three pawn islands. But if I capture with the c pawn then I’ll only have two pawn islands and I’ll have a protected passed pawn in the center!” Then, after maybe 15 seconds I’d have made up my mind and any additional time spent calculating would just be used to tell myself I was right.

Now I looked at this position and my thoughts go something like: “I can capture with the c pawn and I’ll avoid having a backward pawn on c6 that’s likely to come under fire from my opponents bishops, but I’ll also be giving up the b5 square. White could play the tempo move Bb5+ and since I can’t go to e7 and block my bishop in I’d have to move to d8 and my king is awfully loose. Not to mention the fact that I’d just be giving my opponent a queenside pawn majority for free. I’ll just live with the potentially weak pawn on c6 rather than the long term consequences of taking with the c pawn. Besides, now I’ll have that queenside pawn majority.”

Both the game continuation and the engine show me to be correct. The top three moves for Black are:

  1. 13…exd5 (0.00) for all the reasons I stated above and perhaps some that stronger players can point out that I missed
  2. 13…Bg4+ (1.44) which just drops a pawn after 14.f3 exd5 15.Bxd5 cxd5 16.fxg4 – think about this for a second…the second best move in the position hangs a pawn!
  3. 13…cxd5 (3.37) which dooms Black after 14.Bb5+ Kd8 15.Rhc1 and now White will simply control the c file, and along with the lead in development have a massive advantage.

Here’s the final position from option three above:

Black won’t be able to keep the White rook from getting to the c file so he can double. This is the kind of game where you have to suffer for hours until you lose, and yet only a couple of years ago I’d have cheerfully entered it and never understood what went wrong.

Here is the full game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Wainscott-Beckwith 1-0

Last Thursday at the club I played a game which went exactly the way you would expect, but that has some interesting ideas nonetheless.

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What Will 2019 Hold?

It seems that each year since I started playing again in 2011 I have asked myself at the beginning of the year what my plan was.

I still recall how initially my plan was to get to 1600 by the end of 2011, then 1800 by 2012, then I gave myself five years to make expert and another ten to make master.  So my initial plan was to be a master by the age of 54.

In some ways I was incredibly naïve when I made that plan.  After all, I hadn’t worked on chess in years and so much had changed.

Nevertheless, it’s been said that it’s better to play with a bad plan than with no plan at all.

From Jan of 2011 until now peak to trough I gained well over 400 points, hitting a high mark of 1896.  However, since then I have shed roughly 130 points and find myself at 1766.

From a rating standpoint I have stagnated for a long time, but from a strength standpoint my understanding of the game has grown by leaps and bounds.

However, strength in analysis is one thing, whereas showing that strength over the board is quite another.

So that brings me to now, the beginning of a new year.

My goal for 2019 is to finally hit 1900.  In order to get there the main thing I will need is consistency.  For sure I need to find a way to level out my results.  I’ve been streaky for a long time, and it’s time to work on fixing that.

Unlike many years in the past, this year’s plan isn’t about how I’m planning to do X amount of Y thing, etc.  Rather, this year the focus is going to be focus itself.

The main area of consistency that I will be working towards is simply ensuring that I am working deliberately each day at improving.  For example, each day when I get a few minutes to look at my phone during the day, instead of heading right to Facebook I’ll head to chesstempo’s mobile site and knock out a few pattern recognition tactics.  I’ve been using the advice that Andrzej Krzywda gave on Perpetual Chess, which is to solve several tactics per day without logging in.  This feeds the user very basic tactics which are useful for developing pattern recognition and keeping it sharp.  Good enough for a CM with an IM norm, good enough for me.

In theory if I do that properly, then by the time I get home after work I’ll already have 20-45 minutes in, which should be just about all I need for this.

I also plan on going back to Chessable in a big way.  I was using it over the summer and was really getting some opening lines down, but then when I lost my job I also kind of lost my drive for this.  It’s time to get it back and start working on openings again.

Another area of focus is that I really need to start taking lessons again.  I’ve set that aside for a long time now, and it’s time to get back to work.  I need to set up a block of lessons and try to do at least one hour per week every week that I possibly can.

I’m very lucky in that I have a friend who is a GM who I have a pact with.  I push him to focus very hard on his own chess and he does the same for me.  He’s reviewed a few games of mine and he’s given me some great advice about what books I should be reading, etc.

At this point I’d like to admit that I’m slightly distracted as I type this because I am watching the game Naroditsky-Saidy in Round One of the Bay Area International.  Here is the current position:

Naturally I’m hoping that Saidy can hold the position.  He’s certainly one of the last American players with close ties to Fischer who still plays.

In addition to regular club tournaments I plan on trying to play more this year than I have in the past few.

I will be playing the Northeastern Open in January and the USATN in February.  March will see me directing almost every week, so that leaves little room for playing, but then in April I’ll try to get right back in and play the Arpad Elo Open here locally.

As I don’t have much time off of work at my new job yet I’ll have to play more local tournaments than anything since I won’t have enough vacation time to travel anywhere or play in any longer events such as the Chicago Open.

When all is said and done I think that consistency will be the driving force for me in 2019.  I certainly still have plenty of time and passion to achieve my goals, culminating with the ultimate goal of NM.

The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.  Today I am taking that step.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Time to Change the US Championship Format?

Back in the early days of the Soviet Union preparing to become a true world power on the chess scene they made a change to their national championship format.

In 1929 for the first time there was not just an invited field.  Instead, there were four preliminary groups which then became two Semi Finals where the top two finishers in each qualified for the double round robin final.

Over the years they refined this format and from this sprang the most dominant nation of all time.  In fact Russia remains a powerhouse on the world chess scene, almost routinely churning out top 100 players, and in no small part I believe it’s due to the fact that remnants of this system remain today with the Higher League and Super Final  which continue to give up and coming players chances to improve when they need it most.

Last summer I started mulling these concepts over in my mind to figure out if they could work here at home.  I did this in anticipation of Dominguez making his federation switch, which has of course happened now.

Here’s what got me thinking.  The current format in the US Championships, which has become more or less standard, is a 12 player round robin.

The first round robin championship I attended was 2014.  For that tournament the players could qualify with a high 2500 FIDE rating.

Here is the final table:

The format for invites is that there are four automatic invites which go to the defending champion (Kamsky), the US Open Champion (Friedel), the US Junior Open Champion (Naroditsky), and a wild card (Molner).

The rest were invited by rating, so as you see 2582 (Lenderman) was good enough.  Of course Hikaru turned down his invite so that has to be taken into consideration, but still, just five years ago the field was at this level.

Now let’s look at the top ten FIDE rated players in the US.

This is active players.  Technically Dominguez isn’t active, so now you have to insert his name into this field and that means that we now have several players over 2600 (Akobian, Lenderman, Zherebukh, Naroditsky, and Izoria) who aren’t even on the radar.

And not all of our top 10 players above will qualify either since spots will go to Gareyev (US Open), Liang (US Junior Champ) and a wild card.

Next consider the fact that we have some insanely talented juniors rushing up the rating ranks such as Awonder Liang, Ruifeng Li, Christopher Yoo, etc.  Sure, there’s no telling how far they may go, but it’s certain there will be even more behind them.

So where does that leave us?  Well, clearly we are becoming one of those nations where many players who would easily qualify for the national championship almost anywhere else won’t qualify for ours.

The Saint Louis Chess Club has done a wonderful job in somewhat addressing this with the seasonal “Classic” tournaments, e.g. the Summer Classic, Winter Classic, etc., but that will only go so far.

What I would like to see is for the US to take what I see as the next logical step in the process and add a semifinal layer to our championship.

In my mind it’s a 12 player round robin final with half of the field seeded in (defending champion, then the top five players by rating) with two other 12 player round robins sending in three players each to complete the field.

This would mean that a total of 30 players are taking place in the national championship rather than only 12.  This means that for spots 7-30 on our rating list, most of them will get at least one more extremely strong professional level round robin than they are now each year, and some (the top three finishers in each Semi) will get a second.

Who are players 7-30?  They are:

Now you have some young talent like Holt and Burke who will be able to get in and fight for a spot in the finals.  The current system means that they are not likely to ever make it, and certainly not numerous times.

Why “most” and not “all” of spots 7-30?  Because the Semifinals are now where you would seed in the US Open winner, the US Junior Closed winner, and organizer wildcards.  Not all of them will necessarily be in the top 30 by rating, but that would be OK.

So what is the point of all of this?  It’s that if the USA is ever truly going to become a strong and sustaining chess nation then we need to make sure that the players who are somewhere between 2500-2650 continue to get chances to improve in a professional setting.  The life of a chess professional outside the top 20 or so is hard.  This could make it a little less so.

My fear is that if we don’t do this then we are risking dropping right back off the cliff once the Caruana/Dominguez/Nakamura/Shankland/So generation hang it up.

Of course this would require some investment from Saint Louis.  Factoring in prizes and expenses this could cost something like $100,000 per year.  Yet it just seems like the logical next step.

Let’s hope someone out there is listening.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Mentioned in the Cuban Press

It came to my attention that this site was mentioned in the Cuban press on an article they wrote on Dominguez switching to the USA.

Here is the link.

Leinier Domínguez es oficialmente de Estados Unidos

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter.  Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter.  Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

Review of Man vs Machine by Karsten Muller & Jonathan Schaeffer

Man vs Machine: Challenging Human Supremacy at Chess by GM Karsten Muller and Professor Jonathan Schaeffer 2018 Russell Enterprises 480pp

One of the latest offerings by REI is this volume covering the history of man versus “machine” in the world of chess.  I put machine in quotes there since the earliest incarnations of this competition featured automatons such as The Turk that actually operated via humans hidden inside of them.

While I expect that German GM Karsten Muller is probably familiar to a number of readers here, I am less certain that you will have heard of Professor Jonathan Schaeffer.  Professor Schaeffer has spent the last 35 years researching the world of AI through the competitions between humans and machines.

He was the author of the 2007 paper “Checkers is Solved” (note for readers, while 8×8 checkers is now known to be a draw, I do not believe that 10×10 has been solved at this point – so ask for a 10×10 board for Christmas this year!)

The mission of this book is to cover the entire history of the struggle for chessic superiority between people and mechanical devices.

The material is laid out in an interesting way, using an Elo for the machines.  The book is split into three parts (Openin, Middlegame, and Endgame) comprised of nine chapters.

They are:


1. 0000 (1770-1956)

2. 1600 (1957-1969)


3. 2000 (1970-1978)

4. 2200 (1979-1983)

5. 2500 (1984-1989)

6. 2650 (1990-1996)

7. 2750 (1996-1997)


8. 2850 (1998-2003)

9. 3000+ (2004-present)

During each of the chapters there are games played by the computers in question during those era’s, but then after the chapters there is a reference section which contains games from many of the famous matches over the years.

Featured among them are Fischer – MacHack 1977, some of David Levy’s matches (Levy, an IM, famously put up a bet in 1968 that he would pay  £1,250 to anyone who could design a computer program to defeat him by 1978), Bent Larsen – Deep Blue 1993, and several others featuring Kasparov, Kramnik, Hubner, and more.

As for the book itself, it should be pointed out right out of the gate that this is not a book who’s main purpose is to help the reader improve in any way.  Yes, since there are chess games which have been analyzed, playing through them can have a beneficial effect if done right, but let’s be clear that this is a book about the history of the royal game more than anything else.

While the majority of those reading this review may barely ever have known a time in which computers weren’t considered superior to humans, for some of us this revolution remains indelibly scared in our brains.

When I first started playing tournaments in the late 80’s you could quite easily purchase a computer with a playing strength of 2200+, on up to about 2350 tops.  Less than a decade later Deep Blue defeated Kasparov 3.5-2.5 in their return match and that was the end of human superiority in this field.

At the time it seemed like the world had changed for the worse, but as time went by it became obvious that much good could come from this development.  Computers taught us more about openings, defense, and endings that many of us imagined they could.  Soon the term “computer move” crept into the lexicon of chess players everywhere.

From the earliest efforts of IBM to develop a chess-playing program, to the pioneering work of Richard Greenblatt (developer of MacHack, which Fischer played in an exhibition match in 1977 – five years after his last serious game, and 15 more until his next serious ones) the early days of computer chess unfold before your eyes complete with games which will show you the styles of those early machines.  Early on, computers were notoriously awful in closed positions and in positional play, and you can see that as you play through games by programs such as MacHack and the Soviet program Kaissa.

From there you’ll see the gradual development of endgame tablebases with Belle, the incredible work that World Correspondence Champion (and OTB IM) Hans Berliner did with HiTech to get the machine from a rating of around 2100 to 2300+, and the ever closer creep of the silicon beasts to GM strength.

In 1988 it became obvious that humans were losing ground as Deep Thought (the precursor to Deep Blue) began racking up wins against titled players.  Included in this book is the first win by a computer against a GM in a tournament game when Deep Thought defeated legendary Danish GM Bent Larson in the Software Toolworks tournament.

Of course we all know how the story ended.  These days computers have to give fantastic odds against humans in order for the humans to even make it competitive.

The main chapters of the book end on the Kramnik – Deep Fritz 10 match of 2006, pointing out that if anything was proven by humans in these matches, it’s that it takes a machine with a 3000 Elo to defeat a human world champion.

All in all I highly recommend this book as it is both informative and entertaining.  If you are under the age of 20 you’ll be fascinated to see the era in which machines were so beatable by strong humans.  If you’re my age (45) or older you’ll be delighted to rediscover some of the computers you forgot existed, such as ChipTest, WChess, Cray Blitz, and more.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Review of Chess Pattern Recognition for Beginners by Van de Oudeweetering

Chess Pattern Recognition for Beginners by Arthur Van de Oudeweetering published by New in Chess 2018 240pp

If you followed my last blog on the late Sevan Muradian’s Chess IQ site then you know that I was a big fan of Dutch IM Arthur Van de Oudeweetering’s first two books, Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition and Train Your Chess Pattern Recognition.  I’d link to those reviews, but sadly with the passing of Sevan and the subsequent shuttering of the Chess IQ site they have been lose to time.

Now comes the renowned Dutch Trainer’s third book in the series, Chess Pattern Recognition for Beginners.  When it first arrived in the mail I thought “Well, OK.” since “for beginners” was right there in the title.  Since I do some coaching, I do have some use for beginner level materials, but it’s rather limited.  However, when I actually opened the book and began to glance through it I realized that “for beginners” was somewhat misleading.

Perhaps it’s the pedantry of no one who’s been playing for any length of time, especially in tournaments, wanting to associate the word beginner with themselves, but this book is clearly not just for beginners, which for the sake of argument let’s say the word would typically indicate those with sub 1000 Elo’s.

Yes, there are the normal beginner level chapters covering things like rooks on the seventh, or getting the king to safety, or the Greek Bishop Sacrifice, but those chapters contain excellent examples which should be of a high level of value for players all the way up to my level (peak rating 1896) or at least close to it.

As I became more engrossed in glancing through the pages I quickly found myself heading downstairs to my basement chess laboratory to sit down at a table with a board and set.

The book is comprised of four parts containing a total of 25 chapters.  They are:

Part I – Typical pawns and pieces

Chapter 1 The lingering king

Chapter 2 Queen in trouble

Chapter 3 Rook(s) on the seventh rank

Chapter 4 Botvinnik’s fearsome bishop

Chapter 5 Kasparov’s favorite

Chapter 6 Fischer’s knight

Chapter 7 Opposites are not equal

Chapter 8 Cousins from a distance

Chapter 9 IDP: Isolated Doubled Pawn

Chapter 10 A central striker

Chapter 11 Central supremacy

Exercises Part I

Part II When pawns meet

Chapter 12 Reaching for the hook

Chapter 13 When Harry meets g6

Chapter 14 Deceptive symmetry after the IQP

Chapter 15 Breaking free

Chapter 16 Flank attack!

Part III When to exchange and when not to

Chapter 17 King of all exchanges

Chapter 18 Along the open file

Chapter 19 What remains: toward and good knight versus a bad bishop

Chapter 20 The ace of space

Part IV Sacrifices – the classics

Chapter 21 Bishop takes h7

Chapter 22 The Soviet sac

Chapter 23 The silent knight sac

Chapter 24 From Morphy to Magnus

Chapter 25 Capa’s bishop sac

Exercises Parts II, III, and IV

As you can see by the titles of the chapters alone, the material is not exactly that of the beginner level.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is Chapter 22, which is on the “Soviet sac.”  I’ve never heard that used as a term before, so I’m assuming it might have been created for this book, but the concept is one I am certainly familiar with.

The Soviet sac is the sacking of the exchange on c3 in the Sicilian.  This is a common concept.  Take this well known position which is in the book.  This is Boleslavsky-Geller from Zurich 1953.

Here Geller uncorks 15…Rxc3 16.bxc3 Qa5 17.Qe3 Qa3 18.h5 b4

From here Geller won a nice game, which is covered in it’s entirety in this book.

The exercises are also quite valuable.  Take for example this one from Part I.  The game is Stripunsky-Shimanov 2018

The question asked of readers is “How would you judge the position after 25…Nd4+ 26.Bxd4 Bxd4?”

Take your time and try to answer that question.  The solution is at the bottom of the page.

All in all this book is valuable far beyond the expectation given in the title.  I think it would have been better had the word “beginners” been replaced with “club players.”

I recommend this book as well as the earlier works by IM Van de Oudeweetering.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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The solution to Stripunsky-Shimanov is:

“Black is clearly better: he has the attack with opposite-coloured bishop, with White’s king in the middle (not able to run away via g1). White’s bishop is almost a mere pawn, while Black’s is a superb Botvinnik bishop (see Chapter 4).”

Defend Like a Beast With Naka

Today in the opening round of the London Chess Classic Fabiano Caruana managed to get a nice attacking position, but Hikaru did what he does so well in tough positions and just kept finding resources.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter.  Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

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