Saturday, August 31, 2019

Summer Chess Camp and Upcoming Events in Rochester

Eligibility: Community Chess Club members must have played a minimum of 10 games since Oct. 31st, 2018 on separate Wednesday nights.  Join the club today!  Complete your 10-game minimum!  Entry fees ($25) accepted starting 8/14/19.
We will have rated games available for players unable to participate in the Club Championship.

Come on over to the Rochester Chess Center
 and make CHESS a part of your Life!
Joe Sarratori (above), our chess club's STRONGEST chess player!
Joe has won multiple weightlifting titles and continues to lift to stay strong!

Monday, August 19, 2019

My Games from the 2019 Continental Open

I recently played in the Continental Open, held in Massachusetts, where I got a chance to face some very strong players. I turned out to be in excellent form, and was even tied for first at one point with 4.5/6, but only scored half a point out of the last three rounds so finished with a less sparkling but still decent 5/9.

It was quite a strong field, with 12 GMs and 7 IMs out of 50 players. By FIDE rating I was squarely in the bottom half, so you know what that means for the first round pairings... (all the ratings listed in the games below are USCF, but pairings were done by FIDE rating)

Round 1
In round one I was up against GM Yaroslav Zherebukh - I lost, but was not unsatisfied with the way I played and definitely gave him a good fight!

To recap the crucial moments of that game:
  • Zherebukh drifted into a worse position with black out of the opening but still made the strong positional decision of 18. ... Bxc3! to at least give himself some counterplay.
  • My plan of 21.g4?! and 22.g5, although attractive, objectively threw away white's advantage. Correct was 21.Ng5!, removing black's strong centralized knight, when white maintains a better position. In the game, it was only until about move 26 that I realized I was no longer better.
  • Although complicated, the game was still roughly balanced until my time trouble errors of 35.Qxe4?! and 36.Ne5?

Round 2
After a tough first round, the next game was considerably easier - I played a young expert and although it was a long game, I was in control the whole time:

A smooth game; after white's positional error of 22.Bc2? instead of 22.dxe5, I got a nearly strategically winning position with 22. ... e4, having the bishop pair and more space.

Round 3
In round three I got white against quite a talented young expert who had previously just beaten a master. I checked out a couple of his games beforehand and saw he played the black side of the closed Spanish, so I switched to 1.e4 against him. We got a long maneuvering game where 32 moves were made before a single capture.

It's often hard to pinpoint exact mistakes for black in these kinds of games, but certainly 39. ... Rxf5! would have given more practical chances, although the position was difficult in any case.

Round 4
The next day was exhausting - both of my games went for six hours, but with a little luck I managed 1.5/2 against two IMs. Both encounters were absolutely nuts with many twists and turns. Round 4 was against the Zimbabwean Farai Mandizha:

In short, his 12.Qa1?! let me get a slight advantage which grew larger once he gave two pieces for a rook and pawn. But in the ensuing complications, I did not find all the best moves and ended up in a slightly worse ending which I held to a draw.

Round 5

Round 5 was against the young American IM Praveen Balakrishnan:

A fairly slow opening that went into a hanging pawns endgame, things were roughly balanced until I got away with 23.e4?! d4?! and started blockading the pawns. In time trouble things got complicated and he unfortunately blundered into a lost R vs. two minors ending, which itself was still complicated and we both missed another chance for black to draw there. In the end I just barely squeaked out a win with rook vs. a bunch of pawns.

Round 6
After being successful against IMs that day, I got to play two GMs the next day. If you thought my last two games were crazy, then just wait until you see my round 6 game against Alexander Stripunsky:

That was hands down one of the craziest tournament games of my life. The opening was rather peaceful, but my ambitious crazy approach of blasting open the position by creating so much pawn tension made things overwhelmingly complicated. Later in a difficult position with little time on the clock Stripunsky ultimately blundered a piece which lost the game.

Round 7
After that win I was actually briefly tied for first (!), and my USCF performance rating hit 2690, which I think is an all-time high for me. However, things slightly changed when the next round I got black against the #1 seed, Illya Nyzhnyk.

It's kind of unfortunate how I just walked into a sideline that he happened to know - he was actually still blitzing up until move 15 and for the whole game used just barely over 10 minutes on his clock.

Still, my 15. ... c5? was a horrendous blunder - without that black's position should still be holdable but in either case the entire variation starting from 7.Qf5! just looks unpleasant for black. Nyzhnyk is easily the strongest player I've ever played, but at least the loss was relatively quick and painless.

Round 8
After that, I was still at 4.5/7, but everything hinged on how well I did on the final day. I was getting a little fatigued by this point so my play got sloppy, but at least in round 8 I managed not to lose to GM Sergei Azarov:

Round 9
However, my last round was pretty bad - basically my careless play in the opening walked me into an unpleasant ending where I suffered a painful defeat.

I think I'm spotting a trend here - I absolutely hate defending worse endgames where I have no counterplay. I'm sure black can hold a draw after move 15 if he defends accurately, but I just self-destructed on move 28. I lost to Nyzhnyk in similar fashion after 15. ... c5?

In the end, I think I was just half a point shy of getting an IM norm, but even with that last round loss it was still a great result for me - my USCF performance was over 2550 and I gained about 20 points.

My next event will be the state championship in Albany over Labor Day weekend, where I will be trying to win for a second year in a row!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Unorthodox Openings from Grandmaster Games

When you ask most chess players about their opening repertoire, they typically respond with something relatively mainstream and well-respected, like "I play the Caro-Kann defense" or "I'm a lifelong Queen's Gambit player". But every now and then, we might like to mix things up and try an "experimental" opening over the board. I've certainly been known to do this on occasion - one of my personal favorites is the so-called "Hillbilly Attack" against the Caro: 1.e4 c6 2.Bc4!? d5 3.Bb3 dxe4 4.Qh5!? which I have actually played in rated games.

In some cases, you can even see grandmasters trying out an unorthodox opening, but mostly those games are played against much weaker players and at faster time controls. However, in some rare instances, you can catch a GM playing something truly outlandish ... against another GM ... in a classical tournament game. These can turn out to be some of the most exciting games of chess out there.

So, behold this collection of some of the most bizarre openings I've seen in GM-GM encounters.

(Warning: Try these openings at your own risk! Past results are not indicative of future results.)

#5 - Knight on the rim is dim brilliant!

The Sicilian Defense, 1.e4 c5 is one of the most deeply studied openings in all of chess, but there are numerous sidelines that may be employed to dodge theory. In the high profile encounter between Russian heavyweights Savchenko, B. - Khismatullin, D. from the 2014 European Championship, white, out-rated by over 150 points, chose a startlingly rare one: 2.Na3!? and after 2. ... g6 went even further off the beaten path with 3.h4!? After 3. ... Nf6!? 4.e5 Nh5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.c3 some fireworks broke out: 6. ... d5 7.exd6 Bg4!? 8.d4 cxd4 9.Nb5! exd6 10.Nbxd4 Bg7 11.Qa4 0-0 12.Nxc6 Qe8+ 13.Be3 Bxf3 14.gxf3 bxc6 15.0-0-0 When the smoke cleared, the position was highly imbalanced with mutual chances, but the strong 2700+ GM Khismatullin went astray in time pressure, allowing Savchenko to pick up the full point.

#4 - This is how we play the English Opening in Armenia

After the opening moves 1.g3 e5 2.c4 black has many different main lines to choose from, however in the game Markowski, T. - Andriasian, Z. from the 2007 Rubinstein Memorial, the 18 year old Armenian grandmaster initiated a caveman-style assault on move two with 2. ... h5!? His opponent, Tomasz Markowski, a veteran Polish GM and former top-100 player, replied with an equally strange-looking knight tour, and the game continued 3.Nf3!? e4 4.Nh4 Be7 5.Nf5 d6 6.Nxe7 Qxe7 and after the further 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Bg2 h4!? black was able to pose some difficult problems to white's king. Although Markowski did have a clear path to an advantage in the middlegame, he blundered and allowed the young Armenian to pull off a nice win.

#3 - Good old Garry the g-pawn gets a raise

The Reti opening after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 is known to have some sharp variations, but white got a little more than he bargained for after black on move three threw out the rare and provocative 3. ... g5!? in Medvegy, Z. - Sedlak, N. in the 2017 Croatian Team Championship. Zoltan Medvegy, a Hungarian grandmaster, replied in the most direct way, grabbing the pawn with 4.Bb2 Bg7 5.Nxg5 and then took a stroll with his knight after 5. ... e5 6.Ne4 f5 7.Ng3 The Serbian GM Nikola Sedlak continued to play aggressively and after 7. ... Nf6 8.e3 0-0 9.c5 f4!? 10.Bc4+ Kh8 11.Ne2 d3 12.Nc1 e4! black had more than enough compensation for his pawn and carried out a beautiful kingside attack to win the game.

#2 - The ... improved Grob?

For whatever reason, during round 3 of the 2018 Llucmajor Open held in the Mediterranean Balearic Islands, Spanish GM David Larino Nieto was not in the mood for any theoretical debates and started the game with 1.e3 Nf6 2.g4!? in Larino Nieto, D. - Sumets, A. His opponent, a strong Ukranian grandmaster, kept his cool with the modest 2. ... h6 and from there, white adopted a typical hedgehog-style setup with 3.Bg2 d5 4.h3 e5 5.Ne2 c6 6.b3 Nbd7 7.Bb2 Later on, the Spaniard got a little too adventurous with the brave 12.Kd2?! and Sumets ended up winning a long 53 move struggle.

#1 - If you haven't moved both your b and g-pawns past the fourth rank in the opening, you're doing something wrong

For our final game, the encounter Vaulin, A. - Sulskis, S. from the last round of a 1999 open tournament in Northern Poland quickly started off on a wacky note with the experienced Lithuanian grandmaster meeting 1.Nf3 with 1. ... b5!? Alexander Vaulin, himself an experienced Russian GM, reacted with his own queenside demonstration 2.a4!? and after 2. ... b4 tried to return to normal development with 3.g3. Sulskis was determined to create a mess though, and after 3. ... Bb7 4.Bg2 lashed out on the other wing with the novel 4. ... g5!? and reached a strange but playable position following 5.d3 g4 6.Nh4 Bxg2 7.Nxg2 d5 8.h3!? gxh3 9.Rxh3 Qd7 10.Rh1 Nc6. Despite some hair-raising complications near the end, Vaulin emerged with the full point after Sulskis became a bit too cavalier with his own king safety.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

How to Get Better at Chess - The Path from Beginner to Master and Beyond (Part 1)

In the diagram above, you're playing black and it's your turn. Take a look at the position for a bit and then come up with a plan for your next few moves. Take as much or as little time as you think you need.

My ambitious goal in this new series of posts is to outline a general path for how one could go from beginner to master. I'll draw from my own chess upbringing along with some old-school classical wisdom.

First, a couple things:
  1. It's really hard to "master" chess - I certainly don't consider myself to have mastered it, and even the best grandmasters in the world aren't anywhere close to perfect. In fact, believe it or not, even Stockfish doesn't know all the answers! (but ok, AlphaZero might)
  2. There are no shortcuts! As with anything else, improving in chess takes time, hard work and lots of practice.
Lastly but most importantly, I just want to remind you that it is absolutely possible to enjoy chess as a hobby without wanting to devote time, money and energy to improving. I learned the rules when I was around five or six years old but had no desire to get a rating or take lessons until I was twelve. Today, I have no regrets about that.

Starting out: Beginner level

So, you've recently learned the rules and basic checkmates, perhaps a couple of simple openings too. What next? How to improve from there?

In my opinion, there are numerous ways for a beginner to improve that cost little or no money and do not require a large time investment:

  • Come to your local chess center or club and play a few casual games against players who are better than you. Talk to them and ask how they come up with their moves.
  • Play in a small local tournament if you want to get a feel for what competitive chess is like. Find a friend who's higher rated than you and ask them if they could analyze your games with you - in my experience, most chess players are quite friendly and would be happy to help.
  • Set up a free account on a site like or and do some tactics puzzles - even consistently doing just five a day will go a long way after a couple months. Be familiar with the most common tactical patterns:
    • Forks/double attacks
    • Skewers and pins
    • Back rank tactics
    • Discovered attack, discovered check, and double check
    • Decoy/Deflection
    • Overloading and removing the defender
  • Find a good tactics puzzle book or any basic strategy book - the ones that I grew up with and highly recommend are Fred Reinfeld's "1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations" and Irving Chernev's "Logical Chess Move by Move" - both are available on Amazon for under $15. Play through them with a physical board in front of you.
  • Practice some basic endgame drills against people at your local club who know them:
    • K+P vs K
    • R+P vs R
    • Q vs P, etc - I made a separate post here about this kind of knowledge

Something else I would strongly advise is to stay away from engines like Stockfish, Houdini, Fritz, Komodo etc. You don't need them right now, and unless you know how to use them properly they will do more harm than good. Later on I'll make a post about how I use engines and how they are designed to work.

Now, if I had to pick just one of my bullet points to be the most important for beginners to learn, then in a heartbeat I'd pick tactics. Why? I'll come back to the diagram I showed you at the top to illustrate:

This position was black to move, and I asked you to come up with a plan. But in reality, it was a trick question (sorry). Whatever plan you came up with, it doesn't matter, because black can actually win a whole piece by force here.

After 1. ... d5 2.exd5 exd5, white's bishop on c4 is attacked. After it moves, say 3.Bb5, then 3. ... d4 is a winning pawn fork - white loses either the bishop on e3 or the knight on c3.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that concrete tactics (especially any tactics involving an exposed king) will always be the most important factor on the chessboard and trump standard positional considerations.

For example, you could have looked at the position and said, "Black isn't castled and needs to develop his minor pieces, so my plan is 0-0 and Bd7 to complete development", or maybe you reject the idea of d6-d5 because "you shouldn't open the center when you haven't castled yet". All of that is true, but in this case it assumes secondary importance because you can win a piece.

If you quickly saw the tactic on your own, then that's good! If not, then you probably could use some tactics training, because the end goal is to be able to find those shots even when you're not actively looking for them. After you practice enough basic puzzles like that, your brain will eventually be able to automatically recognize those patterns without any effort. Experienced players like myself can instantly see things like that ...d5-d4 fork without even thinking.

If chess were a language, then tactics would be the alphabet. Strong players use the same basic tactical patterns in different combinations as a tool to help carry out their own plans and to stop their opponent's plans. The good news for beginners is that those patterns are actually really easy to learn! Just be consistent about practicing and going through puzzles until it becomes second nature.

Monday, May 27, 2019

My Games from the New York State Open

The 27th New York State Open was held in Lake George from 5/17-5/19. Despite my typically suspect play, I managed to tie for first, so let's have a look at the games.

In round 1 I played a pretty low-quality game but was able to win a drawn major piece endgame against an 1800 player.

My 11.h3?! squandered any hopes of an advantage with white, and after 19. ... Qa8 the game was completely even and should have ended in a draw. The biggest mistake black made was actually trading rooks, because it severely limited his chances for counterplay - this is a good rule of thumb to remember by the way: the side with an outside passed pawn almost always wants trades; the defending side should avoid trades. This is especially true in major piece endgames.

In the second round, I got a dream position out of the opening with black against an expert:


In round 3 I had to grind down a resilient class-A player. Compared to my first round, this was actually a high-quality game where I was satisfied with the way I played.

In round 4 I played a young expert, and made a disastrous blunder in the middlegame after following through with a bad plan.

Suspicious opening choice, but the reason I lost that one was the strong desire to avoid white's idea of trading pieces with Nd5, so much so that I was willing to put my rook on the horrible c5 square, and I completely overlooked 26.Bd8

In my defense, that same kid also drew the other master in the tournament the following round, so I didn't beat myself up too badly. In any case, I made things a little better by getting a fast win against another expert in the last round.

My next tournament probably won't be for a while, so until next time!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

My Games from the Maryland Open

Over the weekend I played in the 65th Maryland Open in Rockville, MD. The theme for me this tournament was opening disasters! In all three of my black games I misplayed the opening, and as usual there were plenty of adventures...

I played in the two-day schedule, where the first two rounds were G/45+30. In round one I got black against GM Alexander Fishbein, who I've played a few times before. I've recently started learning the Classical Sicilian, a new opening for me, and was happy to get a chance to try it out against a good player. We had a long but instructive struggle, where both of us made several mistakes.

Almost 100 moves! I think I've only had two tournament games against GMs that went over 100 moves - one where I was pushing for a win in a rook and pawn ending against Shabalov (but drew) and a 133 move draw against Vladimir Belous where I had to defend RB vs RN+P.

To summarize this game:
  • I went wrong early in the opening with 14. ... Rac8?!, rather than the correct 14.Rfc8!
  • White returned the favor with 16.b4?!, when instead 16.Nb5! would have exploited the weakness of Rac8 by pressuring the weak a7 pawn and giving white time to play b3-c4.
  • After the exchange of opening inaccuracies, the game was about equal, but I could have played for an advantage with 20. ... f5! rather than 20. ... Nd7?!, which only led to equality.
  • Fishbein outplayed me in the open middlegame after move 25, and got a near-winning position by move 35, but missed multiple chances to finish me off and allowed me to fight hard for a draw in the rook and pawn endgame.
We finished about 15 minutes before the next round started, so I had no time for lunch, but thankfully my next game was not quite as strenuous.

A relatively smooth win against a lower-rated player. I only made one bad decision with 11.Bxc6?! after which I had no advantage out of the opening. However, my opponent later failed to take the opportunity to correctly set up his hanging pawns with 17. ... c5!, and instead chose 17. ... Rfe8?!, allowing my knight on a4 to come back into the game from c5 to d3. He ultimately tried to get activity with the speculative 18. ... Nh5!? and 19. ... f5 idea but it backfired horribly as his own king proved to be weaker.

In round 3 we switched to the long time control of 40/90 SD 30 + 30 sec/move. This game was quite a scare for me, as my careless opening play against an expert quickly landed me in a disastrous position.

Well, my opening decision of 5. ... d6?! was objectively not the best, but certainly 6. ... e6!?, going into a Hedgehog with my knight already on c6 was pushing my luck (6. ... g6 was a better choice there). Once I realized those earlier mistakes, 9. ... h5?! was a gross overreaction (9. ... Bd7 and just putting up with white's Nd5 was relatively better), and of course 19. ... g5? was just awful.

This game is a good example of how too much knowledge can hurt you in chess! I have a lot of experience in Sicilian and English Hedgehogs, so I know how dangerous white's attack can get if black plays too passively. I certainly know how dangerous Nc3-d5 can be, especially if my king is still in the center. In this particular game though, the Nd5 lunge, although a good move for white, would not have been winning, and I incorrectly just assumed it would be without analyzing concretely. It would have been far better to allow Nd5 than to destroy my position with a move like 9. ... h5?!, embarking on the Nc6-e5-d7 maneuver at all costs.

In round 4 I had white against the young up-and-coming expert Alex Chen - I had done a bit of research on him and seen that his rating had been going up quickly and I think he had drawn a GM last year, so he was certainly dangerous. Therefore, I played 1.e4 and headed for the sharpest Sicilian possible...

...just kidding. I did play 1.e4, but quickly steered into an endgame where I outplayed my less-experienced opponent.

By the way, that 9.e5!? idea is not mine, I think credit should go to Vladimir Onischuk, who was the first GM to play it in 2014. He's won every single game with it, including three against strong GMs, so it's clearly not so bad!

Even though I didn't get to use that tricky sideline, my strategy of going to the endgame worked well - on moves 17-20 my opponent clearly didn't know what to do, and spent a lot of time on strange moves like Rd7 and then Rc7. Just one bad decision with Nd5-b4-d3 was enough to land him in trouble, and once I won the e5 pawn and invaded with my rook to the 7th it was all over.

In the last round I drew a master with black - I was actually lucky to get this draw too after misplaying the opening again.

So definitely my 10th and 11th moves weren't very good - 10. ... b5! instead of 10. ... Bb7 would have been a more active way to continue. I thought I could just develop naturally and play for ...c5 and be fine, but instead I just got a passive position and had to defend for the rest of the game. Probably I should study that opening line a bit more before playing it again, or find something sharper to play with black against lower-rated players!

Anyway, my next tournament is probably the New York State Open in a couple of weeks - I'll make another post about my games from that tournament too. After that, get ready for my simul on May 22! I'm planning to crush you all :)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

How's Your Theoretical Endgame Knowledge?

In the endgame, "theoretical" knowledge refers to the fundamental building blocks, including everything from mating with a queen to the Philidor position in R+P endings to defending R+B vs R. These are the endgames that you should know by heart.

Here, I'm providing you with a master list of all the theoretical knowledge that I know of, split up by what I think are appropriate rating categories. See how many of the bullet points you know and where your endgame skills are! There are a few puzzles at the end too, going from easy to hard.

Basic: Beginner up to 1200
  • Two rook checkmate
  • Queen checkmate
  • Single rook checkmate
  • K+P ending, basic opposition
  • K+P ending, rule of the square
  • K vs. K + rook pawn
  • K + two pawns vs. King, one file separation
  • Q vs. pawn on the seventh
Intermediate: 1200 to 1600
  • K + g&h pawns vs. king
  • K+P endings, intermediate opposition and triangulation techniques
  • K+P endings, outside passed pawns and "Bahr's rule"
  • K+P endings, winning with an active king (basic)
  • K+P endings, shouldering (basic)
  • Opposite colored bishops, file separation of passed pawns
  • Rook vs. pawn
  • Rook vs. two connected passed pawns
  • R+P vs. R, Lucena position
  • R+P vs. R, Philidor position
  • R+P vs. R, Vancura position
  • R+P vs. R, the frontal attack
  • R+P endings, the umbrella technique
  • Q vs. B mate
Moderate Advanced: 1600 to 2000
  • Two bishop checkmate
  • Bishop & Knight checkmate
  • K+P endings, winning with an active king (advanced)
  • K+P endings, shouldering (advanced)
  • K+P endings, distant opposition and outflanking
  • K+P endings, Reti's study
  • Defending Knight vs. rook pawn
  • Rook vs. Knight
  • Rook vs. Bishop, critical positions
  • N+P vs. knight, critical positions
  • B+P vs. bishop, critical positions (i.e. "Centurini" Position)
  • B+P vs. knight
  • R+P vs. R, cutting off along the rank
  • R+P vs. R, short side/long side
  • R+P vs. R, queening a rook pawn
  • R+ f and h-pawn vs. R
  • R and 4 vs. R and 3 (same side)
  • Q vs. R, Philidor position and other fundamentals
  • Fortresses in Q vs. R+P
  • Q vs. N mate
Side note - getting Q vs. N is highly unusual, but I actually got it once against an expert several years ago, and can confirm that it's not that easy to do in really bad time pressure (I successfully converted it).

Advanced: 2000 and up
  • Two knights vs. pawn checkmate
  • Two bishops vs. knight
  • Rook and bishop vs. rook, Philidor position
  • Rook and bishop vs. rook, general defense
  • Rook and knight vs. rook, critical positions
  • Q vs. R, general
  • Q vs. R+P, breaking fortresses (advanced)
  • Q+P vs. Q, fundamentals
Now here are the puzzles:

1 - Rating level: 800
White to move - win or draw?

2 - Rating level: 1000
Black to move - win or draw?

3 - Rating level: 1200
White to move - win or draw?

4 - Rating level: 1400
Does white win or draw?

5 - Rating level: 1600
White to move - can he draw?

6 - Rating level: 1800
White to move - win or draw?

7 - Rating level: 1950
White to move - win or draw?

8 - Rating level: 2100
Black to move - win or draw?

9 - Rating level: 2250
White to move - win or draw?

10 - Rating level: 2400
Black to move - win or draw?

11 - Rating level: 3600
I just have this one here for fun, because it's way over everybody's head. It is the longest possible win in the 7-piece tablebase, where black loses by force with perfect play in 297 moves! It's too difficult even for beasts like Stockfish.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

My Games from the 1st Colonial Open!

Over the weekend I played in the inaugural Colonial Open, held in Sterling, VA. Although I didn't play particularly great, my games were definitely full of adventures...

In the first round I only managed a draw against a strong and young expert, but it was mostly because I goofed in the ending and let him completely equalize the game.

OK, so I wasn't too happy about that, but I felt a bit better after seeing GM Bryan Smith on board one actually lose to a different high-2100 kid (I was the #2 seed behind Smith).

The second round went much better for me; I got to experiment with a new opening, and was able to generate a strong attack in an opposite-sides castling middlegame to win against another expert.

White's biggest mistake that game was probably 19.axb4?!, opening up the a-file for my rook. He still could have played on with 23.Rxd8+ instead of 23.Rh5?, but even then black would have had a much more pleasant position with free pressure against the exposed white king.

In the third round I got to repeat the same line I used in round 1, and my opponent evidently wasn't too familiar with the endgame and quickly blundered the exchange. However, at a critical moment, I played one careless passive move which was enough to let black get back in the game with drawing chances. I ultimately gave back the exchange and we got a tense rook and pawn endgame where at one point we could have seen the highly unusual finish of king and three pawns vs. king and rook! However, after all the adventures, things petered out to a draw.

It is hard to believe that just one inaccurate move 32.Rc1? was enough to blow white's winning position, but sometimes that's just how it is. No matter how good your position is, you need to be accurate right up until the very end. I think I relaxed too early and my opponent played well to get his queenside pawns rolling and draw the tricky rook and pawn ending.

Round four was my best of the tournament - I won a smooth game against an FM where I felt like I was in control the whole time.

The critical moment of the game was right after white's clumsy-looking 17.Qh3!?, when I correctly felt I needed to open the position with 17. ... d5!, after which I could start dictating the play. This strategy worked perfectly, because my opponent quickly erred with the passive 22.Be1?, allowing me to get a powerful initiative which eventually proved decisive.

Going into the last round I was tied for first with 3/4, along with I think three or four other players, Bryan Smith included. I got paired with white against an IM who also had 3/4 after giving up two draws earlier in the tournament.

In this game, I quickly got a dangerous attack after a relatively mellow opening, but my opponent found a very original defensive idea and we ultimately got an unclear ending where I had queen and two pawns vs. three minors! However, the game ended after I prematurely offered a draw because I had completely misevaluated a critical ending from afar.

I completely misjudged the rook vs. two minors endgame - I got scared that I was in trouble there, and didn't see any other options for me after 35. ... Ra3, so I offered the draw after my 35th move. However, in reality that ending was nothing to fear - white's king can easily deal with the d-pawn while black is tied up to stopping both of my passers on the a- and h-files. That was definitely a case of hasty evaluation perhaps combined with some fatigue.

With 3.5/5 I ended up tied for second place. The strong master Isaac Chiu (2308) won clear first with 4/5 after defeating Bryan Smith in the last round.

Monday, April 8, 2019

My Game Against Toby Rizzo

Today is a special occasion - we get to analyze one of my greatest losses in recent memory.

In the second round of the Rochester Monday Night League, I lost to Toby Rizzo (1889), in what I think could rightly be considered the best game of his life so far, and perhaps the most instructive loss of mine so far. Let's see how it happened.

I think we need to turn the clock back to January of 2018 to find the last game I lost to an under-2000 player, when I lost to John Manning with black by playing 3. ... Bd6?! against the Ruy Lopez :)

So, what takeaways can we make from this game?

First of all, it should be abundantly clear that Toby is a very dangerous player when handling the initiative. He surprised me in the opening with 8.dxe5!, taking advantage of my slow and weakening 7. ... b6?!, and although he missed 10.Bxf7+!, which would have won on the spot, he played absolutely flawlessly from move 25 up until the end of the game, perfectly executing his attack and taking full advantage of my mistakes.

Secondly, for whatever reason my sense of danger was not sufficiently active this game. In particular, it is alarming that I even allowed 10.Bxf7+ in the opening, but I also overlooked the extremely important 27.h4! idea and failed to take two chances to escape into an inferior, but possibly still defendable endgame on moves 28 and 30 - and I knowingly rejected those chances too, because I thought white's attack wouldn't be so strong. That misjudgement cost me the game.

However, I would say the most critical moment and my biggest mistake of all was on move 22 when I played Nxg3??, an absolutely atrocious positional decision. I think my reason for making that blunder was that I had half-seriously looked at the better alternative 22. ... Bb7 23.Rc7 Nec5!, but had seen the possible tactics with 24.Nxe5? (which didn't work) and just wanted a simple option to grab the bishop pair. In hindsight, I definitely should have spent more time on that move as it was the pivotal turning point of the game.

You don't win or lose games because of your rating! You win or lose because of the mistakes that you or your opponents make. Those upsets can and do happen, just as David Phelps (2078) defeated GM Sergei Kudrin or I won against the almost 2700-rated GM Kamil Dragun (2678) last year. In both of those games, the higher rated player made some serious mistakes and the lower rated player successfully took advantage of them. My game against Toby is no exception to that rule.

Congrats to Toby on winning an excellent game; I will definitely have to be much more careful against him in the future!