One Game, Two Gems Shamkovich-Stein 1959 1/2-1/2

I was just looking at some games and I came across two nice defensive tactics from Soviet Legend Leonid Stein.

Here’s the first position:

Here Stein plays 51…Rxb4. Shamkovich replies 52.Ra7+, because after 52.Rxb4 Nd3+ 53.Kf5 Nxb4 the position is a draw.  I’ll leave it to you to work out the lines. Trust me, that’s a rewarding exercise.

A few moves later this position is reached:

Here the knowledge of basic endings comes in extremely handy as 60…Nxe6 wins a crucial pawn.  If White were to play 61.dxe6 then a Philidor position is on the board and Stein simply checks with his rook until the handshake.

Here is the entire game.  It’s long, but it’s quite instructive, especially in the endgame.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Son of Sorrow Indeed! Akobian-Lie 1-0

So I was reading through a bit of an older book on Benoni structures and it got me looking at some games.

For those who aren’t aware, Benoni means “Son of Sorrow” in Hebrew. I believe it’s typically spelled Ben-oni when used in that context though I can’t claim my knowledge of Jewish names or traditions is useful enough to know if I am correct.  Perhaps someone will care to educate me in the comments?

In any case, I was curious to see some modern games in the Modern Benoni.  However, as it turns out, the opening is rarely played at the 2500+ level these days.

I did, however, find this game that Var played the White side of in the PRO Chess League during its inaugural season.

I don’t know much about the Benoni, but I do know that Black should always take decisions involving exchanging off the d  pawn very seriously.

Here’s a position where it’s Black to move:

Black, already in an unpleasant position, plays 20…dxe5 and is suddenly struggling mightily after 21.Nxe5 Bxe5 22.Rxe5 Qf6 23.Rae1 Nd6

Now this is one of those positions that I find to be quite interesting because the engine will tell you that there are a few moves better than 24.b3.  Not just slightly better, but +3 better.

However, Var calmly plays 24.b3 here, which appears designed to keep the knight off c4.

Now after 24…Nf5 25.Bg5 Qd6 this position is reached:

Var then crashes through with the very nice 26.Rxf5 gxf5 27.Be7 Qg6

And now the coup-de-grace is 28.d6 rather than just picking the exchange back up. Though playing 28.Bxf8 is also totally winning. In this position Black resigned.

Here is the entire game, which is quite nice.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Something Josh Said

Although I don’t do it nearly often enough, I do occasionally work with GM Josh Friedel.

One thing he said to me during a lesson when I asked about the difference between two lines of an opening variation is that he used to do a question and answer session with himself to ask why a move was played or what the difference is with that move and another.

So take this position:

Here it’s Black’s move and White has just played 9.b4.  Black’s main reply is 9…a4.  It took me a while to figure out why.  It’s simple, really.  Black is just preventing White from playing a4 and solidifying the pawn on b5.

I’m guessing that to many people reading this blog that kind of observation happens all the time and you don’t even have to think about it.

But for me, this is a big breakthrough.

Hopefully this is the first of many steps towards me truly understanding the openings I play or want to play.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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What An Amazing Resource!

I was just looking at a game between David Anton Guijarro and Jonathan Hawkins from the 4NCL in 2017.

The Hawk has been in a bit of trouble, but has clawed his way out to reach this position:

Here he moves 23…Ne3

White replies with 24.Bxe3 and the game continues, but he missed a really interesting shot.

24.Rxf4 Nxd1 25.Rxf8+ Rxf8 26.Bd4

You can see that the Black knight appears to be a goner.

26…Qh3 27.a3 Qf1 28.Qxf1 Rxf1 29.Kc2

And now Black has nothing better to do that play 29…Nxb2 30.Kxb2 Rf7

Here Black would suffer and be ground down.

In this position:

Black can “save” the knight with 29…Nf2, but now the knight interferes with the rook making it back and White’s pawns are even deadlier after 30.Nxa7 Ne4 31.c6 Rf7 32.b4

There’s no way to stop White from just rolling down the board.

Here is the entire game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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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.