Wednesday, September 9, 2020

My Games from the 2020 New York State Championship

The 2020 New York State Chess Championship was held online this year from September 5-7 on the Internet Chess Club. With a combination of good opening preparation, tactical awareness and a little luck I managed a clean 6-0 sweep! I've selected a few of my games to analyze.

Let's start with round 2, which was definitely my sloppiest game of the event:

Paciorkowski, Lev (2443) - Ehsani, Yassamin (2095); Round 2

White to move

The opening has gone rather adventurously and my king did not end up finding a secure home. So naturally, I was very relieved in this position to be able to play 19.Qg5 trading the queens. After 19. ... Qxg5 it is difficult to say which recapture is best, but I went with the more ambitious one 20.fxg5!? gaining a tempo to win the b5 pawn: 20. ... Nf5 21.Bxb5 Be6 (D)

White to move

White is up a pawn but the pieces are so badly coordinated that black has pretty good compensation. My advanced kingside pawns have some cramping effect, but they also could turn out to be weaknesses, so this is double-edged. The game continued 22.Ke2 Rac8 23.Bd3 Bb6 24.Rc1 Rxc1 25.Bxc1 Rc8 26.Nf2 and now 26. ... d4! 27.e4 Ne3 (D) upped the stakes even more.

White to move

Black has gotten the so-called "octopus" knight on the third rank, and things do not look so rosy as there is also a threat of ...Rc5-xe5 regaining the pawn. I can play 28.Bxe3, but after 28. ... dxe3 neither 29.Ng4 Bxg4+= nor 29.Nd1? Rc1! -+ are what I want. However, it turns out that white has a surprising idea in this position. 28.Bb2! Preventing Rc5 by attacking d4... 28. ... Bd7 black naturally prepares Re8-xe5 instead. 29.Bb1!? Re8 30.a4! Rxe5 31.Kd3! Now the point of 30.a4 becomes clear: it was necessary to prevent ...Bb5+ in this position. I at first thought white was just winning, because the threat is Bxd4 when the Ne3 is suddenly trapped. I then realized black has an only move, which my opponent found: 31. ... Re6! planning a pin if I take on d4. Things are once again far from clear and after 32.Ba2 Rc6 33.Rc1 Rxc1 34.Bxc1 (D) I actually offered a draw, having just 7 minutes to my opponent's 39 minutes (time control is G/90 + 10).

Black to move

It looks like black has all the cards with a superb knight and lots of weak pawns to attack on the kingside. My engine assures me this is still equal, but during the game I thought black was simply much better. At this point I had an unbelievable stroke of luck: my opponent declined the draw, and then in four moves managed to give himself a lost position! 34. ... Ng2 35.Bd2 Bc7 36.h3 Nf4+? 37.Kxd4! Nxh3+? 38.Nxh3 Bxh3 39.b4! (D)

Black to move

On move 36 something like ...Be6! would have been much stronger, maintaining the tension and freezing my queenside. Now white's active king, 2-1 queenside majority and black's inability to make a passed pawn on the kingside give me a decisive advantage. With 5 minutes left I was able to convert: 39. ... Kg7 40.e5 stopping ...f6 Kf8 41.a5 Bf1 42.Bf4 Ke7 43.Bc4 Bg2 (43. ... Bxc4 44.Kxc4 is winning for white: 44. ... Ke6 45.Kc5 Kf5 46.e6! +-) 44.Bd5 Bf1 45.Kc5 Ba6 46.Kc6 Bb8 47.Bxf7 Bd3 (47. ... Kxf7 48.e6+ Kxe6 49.Bxb8 +-) 48.Bd5 Ba6 49.Bf3 Bc8 50.Bg2 Ba6 51.Bh3 Kd8 52.b5 Bc8 53.Bxc8 Kxc8 54.e6 1-0

Not my best game, but I'll take wins any way I can get them.

After winning my next two games against experts, it turned out that Jason Liang (2403) was the only other player with a perfect score. He had just won with black against GM Vladimir Belous (2635), and GM Timur Gareyev (2692) had drawn with FM Justin Chen (2390). All this meant my round 5 pairing would be black against Liang:

Liang, Jason (2403) - Paciorkowski, Lev (2443); Round 5

1.Nf3 Earlier in the tournament Jason had played 1.e4, but I saw he also has been playing d4 openings recently. 1. ... Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 This is a very specific move order that white often chooses to avoid the main lines of the Grunfeld. If black now plays 3. ... d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5, white has lots of options including 5.e4, 5.Qb3, 5.Qa4+ and more recently even 5.h4! I was not very well prepared for any of this, so decided to enter a KID instead. 3. ... Bg7 4.d4 To my eyes this is a curious move order, because now Jason is allowing one of the mainlines of the Grunfeld if I wanted it -- instead 4.e4 would all but force a KID. Anyways, we got to the same position regardless. 4. ... 0-0 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 Na6 7.0-0 e5 8.Be3 Qe7!? (D)

White to move

I rarely play the King's Indian nowadays, and only used it here because of this very specific and unusual idea I wanted to try out. Normally if black chooses to move the queen it goes to e8, but on e7 it has the chief advantages of not blocking the Rf8 and controlling c5. There are some other details, but suffice it to say this is actually the top choice of the modern neural network engines Leela and Stockfish NNUE so it can't be all that bad! Black's top 3 alternatives are Ng4, c6 and Qe8; Qe7!? is the sixth-most common in my database with just 91 games played.

9.Qc2! Jason played this rather quickly, which came as an unpleasant surprise because I think it is the most challenging response, and the main line of NNUE. The idea is to clear d1 for the rook, so now white threatens 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Nd5 Qd8 12.Rad1 +/-. I cannot play 9. ... c6? on account of the thematic 10.c5! dxc5 11.dxe5 +/-. This means the following transformation is virtually forced: 9. ... exd4 10.Nxd4 Re8 11.f3 c6 12.Bf2 (D) stopping the ...d5 break. At this point I was out of my prep.

Black to move

As a result of Jason's 9th move, we have gotten into an open KID structure. These positions are known today to be simply better for white, and black basically shuffles his pieces around playing for tricks. White's main plan is to start a pawn roller on the kingside: h2-h3, then f3-f4 and g2-g4 to gain more space. I wasn't very comfortable in this position, but in any case the game continued...

12. ... Nc5 13.Rad1 preparing Bg3 to hit d6, so I maneuver a N to e5: 13. ... Nfd7 14.Rfe1 a5 15.Bf1 Ne5 16.Kh1 a4 17.Qd2 Qc7 18.h3 Qa5 (D)

White to move

The first critical moment. Here I was most concerned about 19.f4! Ned7 20.g4!, which gives white a serious plus - it exposes the king but black lacks the piece coordination to properly take advantage of it. Instead white played 19.Nc2? allowing the thematic sacrifice 19. ... Bxh3! 20.Qxd6 (20.gxh3? Nxf3 21.Qxd6 Nxe1 -+ is bad for white; so is 20.f4?! Bg4! 21.fxe5 Bxd1 22.Rxd1 Rxe5! -/+ 23.Qxd6?? Rh5+ 24.Kg1 Be5 -+) 20. ... Bf8 21.Qf6 Bg7 22.Qd6 Bf8 (I calculated 22. ... Ncd3? for a while before finally realizing it just loses after 23.Bxd3 Rad8 24.Qb4! +-) 23.Qf6 Bc8!? declining the repetition; black has exchanged his weakness on d6 for white's valuable h3 pawn, so there is no reason not to continue playing.

We shuffled around for another several moves: 24.Bd4 Bg7 25.Qh4 Ne6 26.Be3 h5 27.Qf2 Qc7 28.Rd2?! (D) Instead 28.a3! would have kept the game balanced.

Black to move

Here is another thematic trick: 28. ... a3! 29.Nxa3 Rxa3 30.bxa3 (I was also ready for 30.Bb6 Qe7 31.bxa3 Nxf3 32.Qxf3? Qh4+ picking up the loose Re1) 30. ... Nxf3 now there are not even any intermezzos because of the mate threat on h2. 31.gxf3 Bxc3 32.Red1 Bxd2 33.Rxd2 Black is clearly better now and I stayed in control, pressing my advantage to a win: 33. ... Qe5 34.Bh3 If white was able to exchange his light squared bishop for my knight he might have counterplay on the dark squares, but I don't allow this. 34. ... Nf4 35.Bxc8 Rxc8 36.Bd4 Qg5 37.Bc3 Ne6 38.Rd1 Rd8 39.Rxd8+ Qxd8 40.Qd2 The endgame is hopeless for white, but keeping the queens on wasn't really an option either since the king on h1 is so exposed. 40. ... Qxd2 41.Bxd2 White's many pawn weaknesses and my passed h-pawn are decisive factors. 41. ... Kf8 42.Kg2 Ke7 43.Be3 Kd6 44.f4 f5 45.exf5 gxf5 46.Kg3 b5 Clearing an avenue for the king 47.cxb5 cxb5 48.Kh4 Kd5 49.Kxh5 Ke4 50.Bb6 Nxf4+ 51.Kg5 Nd5 52.Bg1 f4 53.Kg6 f3 54.Kf7 Ke5 55.Bh2+ Kd4 56.Bg1+ Kc4 57.Ke6 Nc3 58.Kd6 Ne4+ 59.Kc6 f2 60.Bxf2 Nxf2 61.Kb6 Ne4 62.Ka5 Nc3 63.Kb6 Nxa2 64.Kc6 Nc3 65.Kb6 Nb1 66.a4 bxa4 0-1

Heading into the final round, I was leading the field with 5/5 and only Evan Park (2305) had 4.5/5 after having won against Timur Gareyev with black in the previous round. At this point just a draw would secure me clear first.

Paciorkowski, Lev (2443) - Park, Evan (2305); Round 6

Black to move

After declining two draw offers in the opening, we reached this interesting position. Early on I had sent my h-pawn all the way up to h6, but the main question here is whether or not that pawn is a strength or a weakness. I had just castled last move, so there is no longer a rook defending it.

I thought an ambitious way of playing for black would be 16. ... g5!?, when I honestly wasn't entirely sure what to do. The idea is simply ...g4 and ...Bg5 to start rounding up my pawn. During the game I was planning to respond 17.d4 g4 18.Ne5, but I wasn't sure how clear that was since black can still play 18. ... Nxe5 19.fxe5 Bg5. I have to sac a pawn and from afar hadn't seen if I can make strong enough counter threats by doubling on the d-file and putting a rook on d6.

In the game, my opponent did not sense the danger he was facing and played nonchalantly 16. ... Qe7?! 17.Rfd1 Rbc8? (17. ... g5 was essential at this point to get some counterplay) 18.d4 exd4 19.exd4! (D)

Black to move

By far the strongest recapture. I actually think white is already just winning in this position, since black has no way to stop the d4-d5 break, when the center blows open and the king on g8 comes under attack. The Nc6, Bd7 and Qe7 are on perhaps the worst possible squares, as they will only be targets after I put my rooks on e1/d1 and push d5.

The only tactical variation to calculate was 19. ... b5, but it just doesn't work after 20.Bxb5 when I saw 21. ... Nb4? 22.Bxb4 +- and 21. ... Nxd4 22.Nxd4 Bxd4 23.Rxd4 Bxb5 24.Qd2 +- when black's king is fatally weak on the dark squares. Evan had been playing fairly quickly up until this point but started to consume a lot of time as he no doubt started to realize the trouble he was in.

19. ... Kh8 there are hardly better alternatives; 19. ... Na5 20.Bb4 wins the exchange. 20.Qb2 Rcd8 21.Re1 Qd6 22.Rcd1 Ne7 (D)

White to move

With all pistons firing, white is ready to go: 23.d5 exd5 (23. ... Nxd5 24.Bxf6+ Rxf6 25.Qxf6+ Nxf6 26.Rxd6 +-) 24.Bxf6+ Rxf6 (24. ... Qxf6 25.Qxf6+ Rxf6 26.Rxe7 dxc4 27.Rdxd7 +-) 25.Bxd5! From move 23 it had taken me a few minutes to appreciate the strength of this simple recapture, but once you see it, it becomes clear that black is lost. The threat is Be6 or Re6 which cannot be stopped except for 25. ... Nxd5, allowing 26.Rxd5 Qf8 (26. ... Qc6 27.Rxd7) 27.Rxd7! Rxd7 28.Qxf6+! winning. On 25. ... Rf8 I had also seen the cute interference 26.Bf7! +-.

25. ... Bc6 26.Be6 1-0

Monday, August 31, 2020

Simul 2020 Results!

The 2020 CCCR Simul was held on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 at the Rochester Chess Center. In this post I will just briefly summarize the results and comment on some of the games and my playing strategy throughout the event.

Be sure to also check out some photos from the event at our Photo Gallery

Even with the social distancing and safety procedures, we still were able to have 14 players with all spots filled! Although my opponents fought valiantly, in the end I managed to squeeze out 14 full wins after about 2 hours.

Many of the games were quite interesting! To start, let's have a look at what I think was the most instructive one. Coincidentally this was also the game where I felt like I thought the most: 

I played the opening very quickly, but Ryan played well in response, getting a perfectly decent position with black after 15 moves. This may not sound like a big deal but it is an important step to making my life harder in a simul! In many other games I was able to get a superior or outright winning position from the opening and then convert the advantage on autopilot. When I have no advantage though, I need to think a little on how to pose problems for my opponent and induce some mistakes, which may mean taking some risks on my own position. Indeed, had Ryan found 16. ... c4!, I could easily have found myself in trouble.

Perhaps contrary to expectations, in most of these games I never calculated more than 4 or 5 half-moves ahead. The exceptions are notable though; in two of the games I did need to do some moderately deep calculation:


 And the following game as well:

Finally, the last game I'll analyze here contains probably the most amusing moment of the simul: I flat-out missed capturing a free rook!


 Probably for the best, I remained blissfully ignorant of my oversight until after all the games were done.

In what seems to be a new feature, offers some interesting statistics when analyzing games -- to close out I'll share this on the 13 games that we recovered the notation for:

  • Total time: ~ 2 hours
  • Total moves played: 471 (by me only)
  • Average time per move: 15 seconds
  • "Best" move: 254 / 471 (54%)
  • "Excellent" move: 77 / 471 (16%)
  • "Good" move: 53 / 471 (11%)
  • "Book" move: 54 / 471 (11%)
  • "Inaccuracy": 18 / 471 (4%)
  • "Mistake": 12 / 471 (3%)
  • "Blunder": 1 / 471 (<1%)
  • "Missed Win": 2 / 471 (<1%)
  • Average accuracy score: 91%

Thank you very much to all participants and organizers! A lot of planning went into making sure this event would be safe and it was great to see the turnout that we had.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Member Games: Adventures in the Queen's Indian

Today we get to look at a highly instructive game played at one of the Saturday tournaments here in Rochester. It is the encounter Beh - Manning, played on 08 August 2020.

The game started off roughly balanced after white's unusual 7.Bg5!? in the Queen's Indian. Later after the imprecise 13.Qc3?! black was able to use the bishops to open the position and get a good game. However, black proceeded to make two serious positional errors -- 19. ... cxd4? and 25. ... Bxe4?, which led his position from being better, to equal, and then to worse. A few moves later, already in a tough spot, 28. ... f5? was the last straw for black's position and white smoothly converted the advantage from there, using a classic "principle of two weaknesses" approach by attacking black's king while tying up his pieces to the advanced passed c-pawn.

Friday, July 31, 2020

How to Calculate (2/2)

Here is the answer to the position from this post on calculation.

I right away got the sense that black's last move ...e6-e5 should give me some chance for a forcing continuation, because the position is opening up and white is a little better coordinated. Also, black is conspicuously lacking a defensive knight on f6 -- instead it is on the terrible b6 square. This means the kingside is weak, and should be my focus.

So, here's what I calculated:
  • After 2.Qh5 Qxd4 3.Ng5 h6, both my Ng5 and Ra1 are hanging. I can save both with 4.Be3 but then at the very least 4. ... Qg4 trades queens and ends my attack. Black is fine there.
  • What about 2.d5!? - after 2. ... cxd5 3.cxd5 black cannot play 3. ... Qxd5? 4.Nf6+! (a tactic) so instead must play 3. ... Nxd5. I can keep going with 4.Ba3 Re8...what do I have in that position? Perhaps 5.Nd6 but then 5. ... Bxd6 6.Bxd6 Qxd6 7.Bxd5 and we have made too many trades, black can at the very least equalize there by returning the pawn with 7. ... Be6 8.Bxb7 Rad8.
  • Going back to the position after 2.d5!? cxd5 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.Ba3 Re8, how about 5.Nc5!? ... if black moves the Nd5 I take on b7, but maybe the position after 5. ... Be6 6.Nxe6 fxe6 is not too bad...yes, that's a strong knight on d5 now. Although white shouldn't be worse with the bishop pair and black's ugly e-pawns, I want to find something better...
  • How about 2.Ba3 immediately? The rook only has one square: 2. ... Rf8. Hmm, now after 3.Qh5 I am threatening the deadly Ne4-g5, double attacking h7 and f7 ... for example 3. ... Qxd4? 4.Ng5 and black is busted; 4. ... Bf5 5.Qxf7+ and 6.Qxf5, or 4. ... h6 5.Qxf7+ and 6.Qxe8 wins for white
  • So that means after 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 black must stop Ne4-g5. There are not many ways to do that; 3. ... f6 looks very dubious so probably black must try 3. ... h6 instead.
  • In that case, after 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 maybe I can try 4.d5 there; I am threatening d5-d6 or simply Rad1 with a crushing position, so black has to try taking: 4. ... cxd5 5.cxd5, but now once again 5. ... Qxd5? 6.Nf6+! wins on the spot, so how about 5. ... Nxd5 instead? In that position, the d-file is open, so I can continue with 6.Rad1, threatening Rxd5 followed by Nf6+, winning. What can black do about that?
  • So, after 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1, black must do something to stop my threat - 6. ... Nf6 is no good because of 7.Rxd8 Nxh5 8.Rxe8+. The queen cannot move though; on any queen move I still have 7.Rxd5. Perhaps 6. ... Kh8, that would stop 7.Rxd5 Qxd5 because 8.Nf6 is no longer check. Instead though, after 6. ... Kh8 I could do something simple like 7.Nc3. The Nd5 is triple attacked and only defended once; if it doesn't move I will simply take it next turn and 7. ... Nf6 is still met by 8.Rxd8 Nxh5 9.Rxe8+, winning
  • OK, so 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 ... hm ... since ...Kh8 and ...Nf6 don't work, the knight must be defended; only way is 6. ... Be6. What do I have there? Maybe 7.Nc5 again? After 7.Nc5 b6 8.Nxe6 fxe6 once again I've just reinforced that knight on d5; white shouldn't be worse but I want more than that.
  • 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 ... maybe 7.Nc3, triple attacking the knight. But there black can get away with 7. ... Nf6 since his rooks are connected: 8.Rxd8 Nxh5 9.Rxe8+ Rxe8 and black is fine.
  • 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 ... black's position is quite shaky here ... is it crazy to try 7.Rxd5!? After 7. ... Qxd5 8.Nf6+ wins again, so that means 7. ... Bxd5 is forced. Now I play the other rook 8.Rd1, again threatening Rxd5 and Nf6+. What on earth can black do about that?
  • So my main line right now is 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 7.Rxd5 Bxd5 8.Rd1 ... OK, any queen move and I can simply play 9.Rxd5 - for instance 8. ... Qd7 9.Rxd5 Qxd5 10.Nf6+ gxf6 11.Bxd5 and what's material there ... I have queen and bishop for two rooks, and black's king is weak - should be winning for white.
  • After 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 7.Rxd5 Bxd5 8.Rd1, what else could black try there... what about 8. ... Kh8 again - a funny move but it stops my main threat, since Nf6 is not check anymore. But there again I could just play 9.Nc3. If you let me take on d5 I have two minors for a rook, should be close to winning position. The only other try is to sac the queen with 9. ... Bxg2 10.Rxd8 Raxd8 11.Kxg2. There again I have queen and minor piece for two rooks; that's winning.
  • So what's left? After 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 7.Rxd5 Bxd5 8.Rd1, ...Kh8 is no good, queen moves are no good, maybe 8. ... Bc6 but then still 9.Rxd8 Raxd8 with Q+N for two rooks; that's decisive. If 8. ... g6 then just 9.Qxh6, that doesn't help black at all. OK, this line is good for me, so black must find something else earlier.
  • After 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 7.Rxd5 the only move other than 7. ... Bxd5 is 7. ... Qxd5 and sac the queen: 8.Nf6+ gxf6 9.Bxd5 Bxd5; there black has rook and bishop for the queen, but wait, the line continues: I have 10.Qg4+ Kh7 and 11.Qd7, picking up a bishop, so white should be easily winning there.
  • So I suppose then after 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5, black cannot play 5. ... Nxd5 because 6.Rad1 is just too strong. 6. ... Be6 7.Rxd5 is winning for white, but there is nothing else there for black to meet both Rxd5-Nf6 and the simple Nc3.
  • In that case, my main line is 2.Ba3 Re8 ... that's forced ... 3.Qh5 h6 ... that's also forced, to stop Ng5 ... 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5. If black cannot play 5. ... Nxd5 then my next moves are either d5-d6 or Rad1, which looks like a nearly winning position for white.
This whole process took me about 15 minutes of completely focused thought, and the game continued 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5! cxd5 5.cxd5 After some thought black could find nothing better than 5. ... f5?! - this wasn't a move I calculated, but there was no need to: at the very least I can always retreat with 6.Nc3 and retain the strong pawn on d5 or 6.Nc5 planning to meet 6. ... Nxd5 with 7.Rad1. After thinking I found the stronger 6.d6! Bb8 7.Nc5 and won quickly.

Now, if you also sat down and calculated this position for a good length of time, we can analyze your thinking process. It doesn't matter if you didn't see everything or if you made mistakes - we can identify those things as places to improve. In general, I find that people make three main kinds of mistakes when calculating (all of these can be reduced with specific types of exercises):
  1. Technical Errors - for example the "ghost piece": after Bc1-a3 you try to move the bishop again from c1 to g5 later in a variation; or after a piece gets captured you still try to make moves with it on the board. This is very common, and I've even seen GMs do this on occasion!
  2. Tactical Errors - overlooking a tactical shot in a variation in your head. Everybody is vulnerable to this, even masters and grandmasters.
  3. "Blind spots" - This can vary from person to person. For instance, do you often miss sideways queen moves or backwards moves (many people struggle with those). Or maybe you frequently overlook simpler "quiet" moves. Regularly missing defensive resources or your opponent's counterplay could also be a blind spot.
To wrap up, how can we improve?
Technical Errors:
These mistakes we make because beyond a certain depth the position starts to get "fuzzy" and we no longer have a clear grasp on where the pieces are. The critical depth this happens at can vary a lot from person to person, but it can also depend on other things like your level of focus and if you're hungry or tired etc.

If you did the exercise, you can roughly estimate your maximum depth - go back and find the longest variation that you calculated. Even if the variation isn't relevant to the solution, as long as all the moves are legal, record its depth as the total number of half-moves made for each side. For example, my maximum depth was 19 in the variation 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 Be6 7.Rxd5 Qxd5 8.Nf6+ gxf6 9.Bxd5 Bxd5 10.Qg4+ Kh7 11.Qd7. From what I've heard anecdotally, a typical GM can do around depth 25 comfortably! Most positions do not require that level of depth to find the right solution though. Consistently being able to visualize at depth 10 (five moves ahead for both sides) is plenty good enough for most situations.

You can improve your depth with visualization exercises:
  • At the basic level, just start with having a friend tell you the name of a square on the chessboard. Without looking, say what color that square is (e.g. "c4: white").
  • Find a friend and an empty chess board. Have your friend put any two pieces on the empty board on any two squares (color doesn't matter). Without looking, say if any of the pieces attacks the other. Then have your friend make a move with one of the pieces, telling it to you out loud. Repeat, saying if any of the pieces attacks the other, but without looking. This can be scaled up with more pieces for greater difficulty.
  • Try to win a simple position (e.g. mate with king and queen vs. king) blindfolded against a friend, only saying the moves.
  • Find any game and read through the first 5-10 moves. Then, go to a chess board and set up how you see the position resulting from those 5-10 moves, comparing it to how the position actually is.
Some people find these exercises easier or harder than others, and your visualization ability is not necessary correlated to rating. Doing calculation exercises like the position we did in this post will also naturally stretch your depth, as will solving puzzles without moving the pieces.

Tactical Errors:
Even if we can perfectly visualize a position at depth 10, sometimes we still overlook a one or two-move tactical shot. For example, if you analyzed 2.Ba3 Re8 3.Qh5 h6 4.d5 cxd5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Rad1 and clearly visualized that position but didn't notice that you were threatening Rxd5 followed by Nf6+, you would have made a tactical, not technical error.

Most of the time, I find that tactical and technical errors actually tend to go together, and the logic is straightforward: if the position is getting fuzzy, you're less likely to notice a key tactical idea. For this reason, training your depth will also tend to improve your ability to see tactics in any variations you analyze.

However, another solution is to simply practice solving basic tactical puzzles. All of these tactics are really just patterns, and pattern-recognition is something our brains are naturally good at. Those forks, pins, skewers, discovered attacks and basic checkmating patterns frequently repeat themselves throughout chess games, and simply taking the time to regularly solve puzzles - even just 15 minutes a day - will put you on the road to mastering them. Of the three kinds of errors here, tactical errors are the easiest to train. This is why one of the very first things I teach my students is how to solve tactics so they are able to find those simple one-move shots in a position.

Blind Spots:
Last but not least, we have the tricky ones, where for some reason, you frequently overlook certain types of moves. Rest assured it is not just you -- the following are generally tricky for everybody:
  • Backwards moves
  • Long sideways queen/rook moves
  • "Co-linear" moves (you move towards an opponent's piece but stop just short of capturing it)
  • Quiet moves, particularly in non-quiet positions
  • Forgetting about/overlooking opponent's counterplay
I personally chalk these up to pattern recognition, because usually we have blind spots for unusual or unexpected moves that break patterns. However, with more experience calculating I've noticed these gradually fade away from my own thought process. A big part of overcoming blind spots is knowing that they exist and to specifically make yourself look for them while you're thinking. For example, if I'm stuck on a position I might literally ask myself, "do I have any quiet moves here?" to force myself to look for them.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Chess Camp at Chess Center! CCCR's Reopening! Picnic! League! Info & Precautions

SUMMER CHESS CAMP starts on June 29th at the Rochester Chess Center!


Call 585-442-2430 for Details and to Register - Camp starts June 29th!  
The Chess Center has developed a plan for Chess Camp with Precautions in place.
Camp is available to students age 5-13 years. All skill levels from beginner to advanced are encouraged to attend. Beginners who arrive without any knowledge of the game will become proficient players from their camp experience; advanced players benefit from sharing classes and experience with some of the top scholastic players in the USA.

Because this is our 22nd year of offering camps, our counselors are among the most experienced chess teachers found anywhere. We coordinate daily activities and instruction to expand the student's chess skills. Chess is known to teach logic, problem solving, analysis techniques, and will improve study habits. These skills have obvious carry-over benefits to schooling and career. But, the main reason kids come back to our chess camps year after year is because...


Rochester Chess Center is located near Cobbs Hill Park, at 221 Norris Drive. There will be daily outings to the park for seasonal activities (Frisbee, soccer, hiking)... so dress for outdoor action.

We will post the Camp Flyers and Supplementary info here shortly.  In the mean-time, you can call for information or to register by calling the Chess Center at 585-442-2430.

The annual Rochester Chess Center Picnic will be held at Mendon Ponds Park, East Lodge on Wednesday, July 8th 1pm till dark.  Though we hope everyone attends the picnic, we will also still have the regular Community Chess Club games (G/80 d5) at 7:30pm at the Chess Center on Wednesday evening.  Many folks choose to go to the picnic for a while in the afternoon, and then go to the chess center in the evening for a rated game at 7:30pm.  Try to do both, or at least the picnic!   It's is great to see everyone and enjoy the fresh air.

Picnic Directions & Details: Go South on Clover Street, cross Thruway, enter the park (turn left) at the first entrance, East Lodge is 1/2 mile on the left. Lodge is open at 1:00 pm.  Fires will be stoked up at 5:30 pm. Rain or shine, the lodge will be fine.  The Rochester Chess Center will also provide the chess sets, soft drinks, plates, plastic ware, charcoal and condiments.  Chess sets will also be provided for unrated chess games.  You bring your own food to grill and any sports equipment.  This is a communal event, so please bring a dish to share:  Last name A to M please bring a salad to pass, N to Z please bring a dessert to pass.  Everyone is welcome, $5 per person... $15 max per family.  Picnic is free to Rochester Chess Center members and their families.
All players with CCCR memberships current to 3/11/20 or later have have been extended by 4 months!
On Wed. nights, Register between 6:30pm to 7:15pm or call 585-442-2430 to register by phone  
CCCR has developed a plan for reopening with Precautions in place.
Dear CCCR Members,
We have all missed the Wednesday night camaraderie and competition provided by our weekly club night. That is why we are very excited to try to reestablish our live chess Wednesdays. This is going to be a learning experience for all. None of us are veterans of life during a pandemic. The club will try to create a safe and enjoyable chess experience for everyone. Please be patient as we gain experience in running an event while meeting a whole new set of challenges. Thanks in advance for your help and understanding as we try to bring chess back to Rochester. We have included some of the things we will ask from you and try to provide for everyone's benefit.

- Hand sanitizer will be available 
- No handshaking 
- Mask required to enter building: enforced during CCCR period, starting at 6:30pm 
- If at over capacity (12 chess games + 5 analysis/skittles chess boards), we close registration & establish preregistration for future weeks
- Chess games will be spaced apart at tables
- If you feel unwell, please do not come to the chess club
- When it’s not your turn to move, you must back away from the chessboard 
- We will use chess sets reserved for CCCR that have not been used in the last week. 
- We will ask a volunteer or TD to spray & wipe down the chess pieces with disinfectant at the end of the night.

Revised 29Jun20

The Rochester Chess Center's 

Monday Night Chess League!

The Dr. Farley Memorial XXXVIII 

Ron Lohrman: "It's now ten years that we've missed Rawle's good play and sportsmanship."

Monday Night Summer League starts July 27th, 2020. 

Register no later than 6:30pm 7/27/20.  To register, Call the Rochester Chess Center at 585-442-2430, register by email at, by postal mail at 221 Norris Drive, Rochester, NY 14610, or sign-up at the Chess Center in person. This league runs from 7/27/20 thru 10/5/20 (except 9/7 Labor Day). Games start at 7pm. 10 Rounds; Game in 90 min. w/ 5 sec. delay.  All games must be  completed no later than 10/7/20.  Chess Center members: $21, Non-members $30.  $2 less if you played in last league. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

San Sebastian, 1911 (1/3)

Major tournaments have always been an important part of chess history, and studying them is probably one of the best ways to improve your general chess understanding. In this series, I will do a round-by-round replay of a particularly important event, San Sebastian International Masters, 1911.

The tournament was played in San Sebastian, on the northern coast of Spain; it was ultimately won by Jose Capablanca, and famously so, for it was his first ever major international event, and thus his first time playing against many of the world's top players at the time.

Before we dive in, let's see the lineup of participants at this full and feisty fifteen player round-robin event:

  • Amos Burn, aged 63. An ageing veteran of the chess world at the time, Burn of England was playing in tournaments long before newer players Rubinstein, Vidmar, Capablanca and Frank Marshall were even born. Back in his heyday during the 1880s and '90s he was competitive against contemporary masters Tarrasch, Chigorin and Schlechter. Although his last tournament was in 1912, he was still a force to be reckoned with throughout his career, and notably beat a young Alexander Alekhine in Karlsbad 1911, held later in the same year as San Sebastian.
  • Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, aged 49. While pursuing a career as a medical doctor, Tarrasch had long been established as one of the world's leading chess teachers and had a uniquely scientific approach to the game. Together with Steinitz, he was one of the first players in the late 1800s to recognize the importance of such concepts as the bishop pair, a space advantage and control of the center. Tarrasch greatly valued piece mobility, and his namesake opening, the Tarrasch Defense to the Queen's Gambit, perfectly represented his views.
  • Richard Teichmann, aged 43. While never a contender for the world championship, Teichmann would go on to achieve his greatest tournament victory later this year in Karlsbad 1911 ahead of leading masters Rubinstein, Schlechter, Vidmar and Marshall. Notably, he was handicapped with only one eye, which had caused him trouble at some tournaments in the past.
  • David Janowski, aged 43. An experienced Russian master, Janowski had a reputation for playing quickly and energetically, preferring to attack in open positions. He was held in high esteem by Capablanca, who noted that "when in form [he] is one of the most feared opponents who can exist". At the same time though, he was considered relatively weak in the endgame, and had dismal lifetime records against world champions Emanuel Lasker (+4-25=7) and Capablanca (+1-9=1). Still, he is one of only two people in history (along with Tarrasch) to have scored at least one win against each of the first four world champions.
  • Geza Maroczy, aged 41. A long-lived Hungarian grandmaster, Maroczy was best known for popularizing the "Maroczy Bind", a classic formation with pawns on c4 and e4 (c5 and e5 for black). He was also well-known as a exceptional defender, and scored well against feared attacking players such as Frank Marshall (+11-6=8), Mikhail Chigorin (+6-4=7) and David Janowski (+10-5=5).
  • Carl Schlechter, aged 37. A slightly lesser-known master from Austria-Hungary, Schlechter is perhaps most famous for coming within a hair's breadth of defeating Emanuel Lasker in their 1910 World Championship match. Going into the final game, Schlechter was leading by a point and needed only a draw to take the title. In a tense position with Lasker's king dancing around in the center, Schlechter blundered from a winning, to a drawn, and then tragically to a lost position, letting Lasker escape the match tied 1-1 with 8 draws. By the rules at the time, a drawn match meant the current world champion held the title and so, Schlechter narrowly missed out on his one and only attempt at the crown.
  • Frank Marshall, aged 34. One of America's greatest chess geniuses, Marshall was widely feared as a cunning tactician and known for his aggressive playing style. His namesake opening, the Marshall Gambit in the Ruy Lopez, remains a popular weapon of choice for GMs even to this day! Since losing his 1909 match to Capablanca in surprising fashion, Marshall had advocated for the new prodigy to be invited to play in San Sebastian.
  • Paul Leonhardt, aged 34. While never one of the strongest players in the world, over the course of his career Leonhardt was able to score beautiful wins against many of the world's elite players: Tarrasch, Tartakower, Nimzovitch, Maroczy and later Reti.
  • Akiba Rubinstein, aged 29. Rubinstein was a Polish grandmaster widely considered to be among the strongest players never to become world champion. He was near the peak of his career in 1911 - just a couple years back he had tied for first with world champion Emanuel Lasker at St. Petersburg 1909, even winning his individual encounter with Lasker there. Needless to say, Rubinstein was one of the favorites to win this tournament, especially with the conspicuous absence of Lasker.
  • Ossip Bernstein, aged 29. The Russian grandmaster Bernstein had an illustrious career and remained active in tournaments all the way into the late 1950s. While he was never quite in the same category as Capablanca or Alekhine, he achieved lifetime level or near-level scores against such great players as Emanuel Lasker (+2-3=1), Akiba Rubinstein (+1-1=7) and Mikhail Chigorin (+2-1=0). One of his best games was a brilliant win over Miguel Najdorf in Montevideo 1954, played when Bernstein was in his 70s!
  • Oldrich Duras, aged 29. A little-known grandmaster from Czechoslovakia, Duras was part of the new generation that included Rubinstein, Capablanca and Marshall. He had been on the chess scene for barely a decade now, having scored one of his best results a few years prior at Prague 1908, where he finished tied for first with Schlechter, ahead of Rubinstein, Vidmar, Marshall and Janowski.
  • Rudolf Spielmann, aged 28. The man, the myth, the legend, Spielmann was one of the last stalwarts of the old Romantic Era of chess, where swashbuckling gambits and dazzling sacrifices were the norm. He was certainly no stranger to launching his f-pawn as white, and excelled in creating complicated messes over the board where he could make full use of his unique imagination and creativity.
  • Milan Vidmar, aged 26. A solid grandmaster from Slovenia, Vidmar's consistent tournament performances secured him a spot among the best players in the world for the first quarter of the 20th century, only topped out by Lasker, Rubinstein, Capablanca and Alekhine. In addition to being a chess player, he had a successful career as an electrical engineer, and later in life he became the president of the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Science.
  • Aron Nimzowitsch, aged 25. While not at his peak yet, Nimzowitsch was without a doubt one of the most influential chess theorists of the early 20th century. He is best known for being one of the founders of the hypermodern school of thought, which argued that direct occupation of the center by pawns did not by itself secure an advantage and that controlling the center with pieces instead was a viable strategy. In later decades, this new way of thinking would ultimately give birth to the King's Indian Defense, the Grunfeld and also his namesake opening, the Nimzo-Indian Defense. All of these systems are widely played at the GM level today!
  • Jose Raul Capablanca, aged 23. A newcomer to the elite chess arena, the young Capablanca was still riding the fame he received from demolishing the American Frank Marshall in their 1909 match with the startling final score 8-1 (excluding draws). This tournament was the child prodigy's first chance to test his mettle against the world's best players. Over the next decade, Capablanca would realize his full potential, ultimately dethroning Lasker in their 1921 World Championship match...

And now, we shall begin this exciting tournament with a look at the highlights from the opening round...
Round 1
The tournament started with a bang, having lots of excitement in the first round. Capablanca's first pairing was white against Ossip Bernstein, who reportedly had complained about Capablanca's admittance to the event! However, after receiving a sound thumping from the future world champion, the feisty Russian grandmaster kept his complaints quiet...

Capablanca-Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 1). Black to move.
Earlier in the game, Capablanca had sacrificed two pawns to build a dangerous attack on the kingside, achieving menacing knights on f5 and h5. Although black's position is still defensible, Bernstein cracked under the pressure and erred with 25. ... Rh8?, allowing the forcing continuation 26.Re2! Qe5 27.f4!, driving black's queen away from the defense of g7. There followed 27. ... Qb5 28.Nfxg7! (D)

Black has little choice but to accept the sacrifice, and after 28. ... Nxg7 29.Nf6+ Kg6 30.Nxd7 white wins back the piece right away and maintains the attack. However, Bernstein's choice 28. ... Nc5? immediately collapses his position, moving a key defender away from the kingside. After the simple 29.Nxe8 Bxe8 30.Qc3, threatening mate on g7, Capablanca won in short order: 30. ... f6 31.Nxf6+ Kg6 32.Nh5 Rg8 33.f5+ Kg5 34.Qe3+ 1-0.

This surprising (to Bernstein at least) win spotlighted Capablanca as a rising star and he even won the tournament's brilliancy prize thanks to this victory! Not a bad way to start your first big super-tournament.

The other exciting encounter in the first round was between Maroczy, the esteemed defender, and Marshall, the esteemed attacker. In this spectacular battle, Marshall came just one step short of creating his own brilliancy:

Maroczy-Marshall, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 1). Black to move.
Marshall sacrificed a pawn for the attack, but Maroczy has defended in his typical resilient manner, and is just about ready to trade the queens off. Here, Marshall went for the tempting continuation 24. ... Qxg3? 25.fxg3 Rxg2+ 26.Kf1 Rdd2, creating the killer threat of 27. ... Rh2! with Rh1# to follow. However, Maroczy found the only way to defend: 27.Re4! and after 27. ... Bxe4 28.Qxe4 Rdf2+ 29.Ke1 Ra2 30.Kf1 (D) we reach a curious position

Black's rooks are powerfully doubled on the 7th rank, but it turns out that white can just barely hold out. Marshall first repeated moves with 30. ... Raf2+ 31.Ke1 Ra2 32.Kf1 and then tried 32. ... Rgf2+ 33.Kg1! (33.Ke1? Rh2! wins for black, when white must part with the queen to stop Ra1#) 33. ... Rfe2 and now 34.Qb1! unbelievably holds white's position together. Marshall found nothing better than a draw with 34. ... Rg2+ 35.Kh1 Rh2+ 36.Kg1 Rag2+ 37.Kf1 Rb2 38.Qe4! guarding the h1 square 1/2-1/2 38. ... Ra2 is met with 39.Kg1!, and the further 39. ... Rhb2 is answered with 40.Qe1!; in all cases, white avoids getting mated by the slimmest of margins.

Going back to the position where Marshall played 24. ... Qxg3?, he missed an incredible opportunity to put white into near-zugzwang with 24. ... g5!! (D)

White's pieces are utterly frozen. After 25.Qxf4 exf4 26.Rg4 Bc8 black wins the exchange, while 25.Rg4 is refuted by the spectacular 25. ... Rd1!! 26.Rxf4 Rxe1+ 27.Kh2 gxf4 when white will have to part with his bishop to avoid getting mated once black doubles rooks on the back rank: 28.Qxf6 Rdd1 29.Qf8+ Bc8 30.g3 e4! 31.Bxe4 fxg3+ 32.Kxg3 Rxe4 (D)

Despite white's numerous extra pawns, black's two rooks and bishop will outmatch the queen in this open position.

After 24. ... g5!!, 25.Rge3 Rxf2! 26.Qxf4 Rxg2+! 27.Kf1 gxf4 is also winning for black.

In the other games of the tournament, Janowski won a 161 move marathon against Duras, veteran Amos Burn drew with black against Carl Schlechter, and Vidmar successfully neutralized Spielmann's aggressive opening to also draw with black. Rubinstein achieved a large positional advantage against his elder rival Teichmann, but the latter found some ingenious defensive resources to draw a pawn down. Leonhardt sat out the first round, since there were an odd number of players.

Nimzowitsch suffered a now-famous defeat against Tarrasch, where he made an instructive blunder in a drawn ending:

Nimzowitsch-Tarrasch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 1). White to move.
The position is drawn. After the simple 36.Kh7, stopping Tarrasch's threat of ...Rh8#, black cannot make any progress and would even have to be careful about white's idea of g2-g4-g5. However, Nimzowitsch instead played 36.Kh5?? and there followed 36. ... Rb5 37.Kg4 Rxf5 38.Kxf5 a5 39.Ke4 (D)

Nimzowitsch will be able to catch the a-pawn, and after playing g2-g3 black will not be able to win both of white's pawns on the kingside. However here Tarrasch reacted alertly with 39. ... f5+! and Nimzowitsch resigned in view of 40.Kd4 f4! when white will not get a chance for g2-g3. While white goes after the a-pawn, black easily mops up h4 and then g2 with his king, followed by queening the f-pawn.

Round 2
After the thriller of round 1, round 2 was more peaceful, with six of the seven games ending in draws before move 35! Amos Burn played safely to make a draw with white against Maroczy, while Dr. Tarrasch was unable to get any advantage as white against Schlechter. Rubinstein had no trouble equalizing with black against Vidmar, and after many exchanges the two agreed to a draw on move 22. Teichmann was the odd man out this time and could easily have fallen asleep watching some of these games.

Capablanca's round 2 pairing was black against Marshall, the only player in the field he had any significant experience against (and vice versa). Marshall played an unpretentious Exchange Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5) and after the queens were exchanged on move 9, Capa, who already was developing a reputation as an endgame virtuoso, began to slowly outplay Marshall and even won a pawn:

Marshall-Capablanca, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). White to move.
Capablanca has won a pawn, but his structure is compromised on the queenside and he also badly lacks in development, with the Rh8 still not participating. Rather than retreating the attacked bishop on c4, Marshall correctly played the active 19.Ne5! and after 19. ... Nxc4 20.Nxc4 f6 21.Rb1 it became clear that Marshall would win his pawn back and easily be able to hold the opposite colored bishop ending. After exchanges on b6, the two agreed a draw on move 32.

Janowski was able to reach a promising position on the white side of a isolated queen pawn ending, resulting from the Tarrasch Defense:

Janowski-Nimzowitsch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). White to move.
White is clearly better because of the permanent weakness of black's d5 pawn and the ability to use d4 as an outpost square. However, endgames were not the Russian master's forte, and he played imprecisely to even let black accumulate a small advantage later on before making a draw on move 33.

This is a typical structure that arises from Tarrasch's patented defense - 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6, which very often leads to black having an IQP after a later dxc5:

Opening-wise, this was one of the most important theoretical positions back in 1911! For a while, black was scoring decently by using his superior piece activity to compensate for the weakness on d5. White would regularly take on c5 and then play e2-e3, developing the light squared bishop to e2 or d3 where it would either be passive or block the d-file for white's major pieces to attack the d-pawn. But in 1908, fortunes would change: Rubinstein and Schlechter were among the first masters to try fianchettoing the bishop with g3 and Bg2, which turned out to be a much stronger development. White's king was safe behind this formation, and from g2 the bishop would forever gaze at the weak d5 pawn, while white was free to coordinate his major pieces on the d- and c-files.

This new system was very successful, and to this day the kingside fianchetto remains the default setup for white against the Tarrasch, and the sole reason why it is now rarely seen in modern grandmasters' repertoires.

Despite the numerous draws, there were still a couple dramatic fights in round 2. Duras had a lucky escape with black against Leonhardt, with the Czechoslovakian grandmaster reaching a precarious position out of the opening with his king on f6!

Leonhardt-Duras, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). White to move.
Here Leonhardt could have put the game away with 21.Bc3+! bxc3 22.Qxc3+ Ke7 23.Rad1 with a crushing attack. Instead, after 21.Rfd1? black liquidated material with 21. ... Nd4! and after 22.exd4 Bxd5 23.Qe3 Bxf3 24.Qxf3 cxd4 white was unable to generate any attack and had to be content with a draw on move 32.

The only decisive game this round was Bernstein's win as white against Spielmann:

Bernstein-Spielmann, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 2). Black to move.
Spielmann is trying to make something out of his advanced pawn on c4, but should have been cautious of his queen's vulnerable placement on the e-file and a2-g8 diagonal. 21. ... Qf7 would have maintained his position, but he instead blundered a pawn: 21. ... Rc7? Planning to double on the c-file, but he missed 22.Nxc4! with the point that 22. ... dxc4? 23.Bxc4 wins the queen. After 22. ... Ne4 23.Nxb6 Qxb6 24.Bf3 Spielmann had lost the pride and joy of his position - the pawn on c4 - and went down in flames after trying a desperate pawn storm on the kingside.

Round 3
In round 3, the action was back, with three out of seven games being decisive. After beating Bernstein in round 1 and drawing with Marshall in round 2, the young Capablanca was already leading the field with 1.5/2 along with Tarrasch and Janowski. In his next game, we saw the battle of generations, with the 23 year old Capablanca playing white against the 63 year old Amos Burn. The hardened veteran tried his best to contain the new star, but by move 17 was already in a difficult situation:

Capablanca-Burn, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). Black to move.
Capa has the bishop pair, and to make matters worse, black lags in development and has to find some way to deal with the pressure against b5. Burn was unable to solve all of his problems in this position, and after 17. ... b4?! Capa simply picked up a pawn with 18.cxb4 Bxb4 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.Qe4, double attacking b4 and h7. The game continued 20. ... Bd6 21.Qxh7+ Kf8 22.Nh4 and Burn decided to try his luck in the pawn-down endgame after 22. ... Qh6 23.Qxh6 gxh6 (D)

We have opposite color bishops, but black's pawn minus and shattered structure mean this is practically hopeless to defend. Capablanca was in his element and duly converted the advantage, winning on move 46.

That win put Capablanca at 2.5/3, and meant that Tarrasch and Janowski would need to also win to keep pace with him. Unfortunately, Janowski found himself on the wrong side of a powerful attack in his game against Schlechter and was brutally crushed in just 27 moves. Tarrasch was on the back foot right out of the opening playing black against Maroczy, and after stubborn defense found himself in a difficult rook and pawn ending:

Maroczy-Tarrasch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). White to move.
Tarrasch's pawn is one step away from queening on h2, but will he then be able to stop white's connected passers on the queenside? Maroczy could have won by a single tempo after 44.Ka6! h1=Q 45.Rxh1 Rxh1 46.b5 Kf4 47.b6 Ke5 48.b7 Rb1 49.Ka7 Kd6 50.b8=Q+ Rxb8 51.Kxb8 Kc6 52.a6. Instead, he played a move which he thought was equally good, 44.Kc6? (D)

White wins after 44. ... h1=Q+? 45.Rxh1 Rxh1 46.b5, just as in the 44.Ka6! variation. But Tarrasch, ever so precise in the endgame, spotted the problem with the king being on c6 instead of a6: 44. ... Rc1+! 45.Kb6 Rc4! threatening ...Rh4 and ...Rxb4+. The game ended in a draw after 46.Rxh2 Rxb4+ 47.Kc5 Ra4! 1/2-1/2

After 44. ... Rc1+!, if white had instead tried 45.Kb5!?, then he is one crucial tempo short of winning after 45. ... h1=Q 46.Rxh1 Rxh1, compared to if his king already stood on a6 here. This gives black enough time to come back with the king and secure the draw.

Teichmann obtained a clear advantage with white against Vidmar, but the Slovenian grandmaster put up a good defense and slyly offered a draw in a worse position, which Teichmann accepted. The encounter Spielmann-Marshall was a hard fought game between two skilled tacticians which also ended up drawn.

Rubinstein was skillfully outplaying Bernstein with the bishop pair and a space advantage, but in the critical moment the Polish star went wrong and missed a win:

Rubinstein-Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). White to move.
Bernstein has sacrificed a piece for a speculative chance at perpetual, and the game ended here with 41.Kb3? Qc3+ 1/2-1/2. 42.Ka4 Qa5+ 43.Kb3 Qc3+ repeats the position, while 42.Ka2?? would even win for black after 42. ... Qxc4+ 43.Kb1 Qb3+ 44.Kc1 Bg5+!, and white must part with his queen.

There is a very instructive win here though, by giving back the piece: 41.Kb1! Qe1+ 42.Kc2! Qc3+ 43.Kd1 Qxa3 (D)

Black has regained the piece, but now it is white's turn to attack: 44.Qe8+, and black's king will be mated in short order: for example 44. ... Bd8 45.Qxe6+ Kb8 46.Qd6+ Bc7 (46. ... Ka7 47.cxb6+ or 46. ... Kc8 47.Bg4+ Kb7 48.c6+ wins the loose queen on a3) 47.Qf8+ and mate on a8.

For our last game in round 3, Leonhardt comically trapped his own queen mid-board against Nimzowitsch:

Nimzowitsch-Leonhardt, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 3). Black to move.
The position is equal; white has some prospects for a kingside attack, but the exchange of three minor pieces mean that black should be able to defend easily enough. Almost any move here is fine for black, e.g. Qe7 or Rdd8. Instead, Leonhardt played 28. ... Qd4?? and one cannot imagine the embarrassment he must have felt after 29.Nd5! (D)

Ouch. There is no defense to c2-c3, when the queen on d4 is out of squares. Leonhardt desperately tried 29. ... Rxd5 30.c3! Qxd3 when he simply found himself down a rook after 31.exd5! Qxc4 32.dxe6 and resigned a few moves later.

And so, already after three rounds, the young Capablanca is leading the field in his first super-tournament, with 2.5/3! Tarrasch and Schlechter are close behind, at 2/3.

Round 4
Round 4 was a good day for the theoretical endgame textbooks! Frank Marshall had to defend the classic rook and bishop pawn draw against Akiba Rubinstein:

Marshall-Rubinstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). White to move.
Modern day endgame theory tells us that this position with the split pawns should be drawn, although the defense is not trivial. Marshall played accurately here: 51.Kb3 Rb4+ 52.Kc3 Kb5 53.Rb8+ Ka4 54.Rc8! (D)

Importantly preventing the advance ...c5-c4, after which white would simply capture, and after trading rooks black will be unable to win with just the a-pawn. After the further 54. ... Rb3+ 55.Kc2 Rb5 Marshall was able to hold without too much difficulty. While mainly having a reputation as a strong attacker, Marshall was no slouch in the endgame either; although, he was not quite at the same level as Capablanca or Lasker.

Another fundamental endgame was seen in Burn-Spielmann:

Burn-Spielmann, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). Black to move.
Spielmann had played the opening quite rashly. The ageing British master showed his class with a punishing exchange sacrifice and was completely winning by move 20, having enormous pressure against Spielmann's king. After resilient defense, the romantic stalwart miraculously escaped into an inferior rook and pawn ending and was very close to a draw.

In the diagram, black is just barely able to hold on by keeping his rook active, e.g. 62. ... Re1. After 63.Kxc6 Kb8! black draws by keeping the king on the short side, and using the long side to give checks with the rook.

Instead though, Spielmann played the losing move 62. ... Re7?, and Burn could have achieved his well-deserved win by 63.Rg8+! Kd7 64.Kb7! (D)

Now black's king will be pushed to the long side! White is simply planning Rg8-g6-xc6 when black's king is on the wrong side of the board for a draw. 64. ... Re1 65.Rg7+ Kd8 66.Kxc6 Re6+ 67.Kb7! and white will ultimately be able to reach a Lucena position.

However, Burn blundered in return! Perhaps already dejected that he had been unable to put the game away earlier, he went for 63.Rxc6+? Kb8! 64.Rh6 (D)

It looks like black is in trouble: e.g. 64. ... Kc8? 65.c6! Re8 66.Rh7! and white will win by switching the rook over to a7. But here Spielmann found the only way to draw: 64. ... Rb7+! 65.Kc6 Rc7+ 66.Kd6 Kb7 and after 67.Rh8 Rc6+ 68.Kd5 Rg6 69.Rh7+ Kc8 1/2-1/2 we have Philidor's drawn position. A very narrow escape by Spielmann, who was one step away from defeat for most of the game.

Nimzowitsch, always the ambitious player, tried hard to win with black against Duras, even attempting a risky exchange sacrifice in the ending; nevertheless, Duras played well and that game ended up drawn. Leonhardt and Schlechter played a quick 18 move draw that saw some brief fireworks before mass exchanges led to an equal position.

Janowski made an instructive mistake against Maroczy that I believe is typical of over-aggressive players:

Janowski-Maroczy, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). White to move.
Black has just played ...b7-b5, and white could achieve a comfortable advantage with the typical maneuver 20.b4! followed by Nf3-d2-b3-c5. However, such positional approaches never appealed to Janowski, and he instead played for a speculative attack: 20.h4?! - this completely misses the requirements of the position. Black has no weaknesses on the kingside, and the exchange of two minor pieces leave white with limited firepower for an attack. Maroczy defended coolly and ended up winning the pawn on c3, and later the one on d4 as well. Janowski was unable to break through black's defenses, never even getting to play a single check. 0-1.

One of the shortest games in the whole tournament was also played in round 4, with Teichmann incredibly losing on time after just 14 moves against Bernstein! Apparently, Teichmann had somehow confused the time control for the event, which was 15 moves for each hour.

Of course one of the most anticipated encounters this round was Capablanca playing black against Dr. Tarrasch. This was their first time crossing swords over the chessboard and Tarrasch, more than 20 years Capa's senior, no doubt was curious to see what this rising star was really capable of. Tarrasch played very much in his own style, going for a middlegame where he had an isolated pawn: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Qb3 Nce7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Rfe1 c6 13.a4 Qb6 14.Qa3 Be6 (D)

Tarrasch-Capablanca, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 4). White to move.
At the time this was a popular opening system for white, but modern theory considers black to be doing perfectly fine. Capablanca has excellent control over the d5 square, and has no weaknesses in his position. Tarrasch rocked the boat here a little with 15.a5!? gaining space, but also weakening the b5 square. After 15. ... Qc7 16.Ne4 Rad8 17.Nc5 Bc8, white looks active, but black has gotten his rooks centralized and still has no problems. In fact, after the further 18.g3 Nf5 19.Rad1 Nd6 20.Bxd5?! Nb5! 21.Qb4 Rxd5 (D), Capa was even slightly better:

Black now enjoys playing with a bishop vs. knight, the d4 pawn is becoming a target, and white has some long-term weaknesses on the kingside light squares thanks to g2-g3. Capa pressed on, but Tarrasch played resolutely, going for a well-timed counterattack to avoid drifting into a much worse position. The game was ultimately drawn on move 38.

Heading into round 5, Capa still leads the pack with 3/4; Tarrasch, Schlechter, Bernstein and Maroczy are all close behind at 2.5/4.

Round 5
The final round we will look at today saw some of the hardest fights in the tournament so far. Here were the matchups:
  • Capablanca (3) - Janowski (1.5); Janowski had lost his last two games and was clearly out for blood against the young Capablanca.
  • Maroczy (2.5) - Leonhardt (1)
  • Rubinstein (2) - Burn (1.5); another battle of the generations
  • Schlechter (2.5) - Duras (1)
  • Spielmann (1.5) - Tarrasch (2.5); how would Tarrasch fare as black against such a daredevil tactician?
  • Teichmann (1) - Marshall (2)
  • Vidmar (1.5) - Bernstein (2.5)
Capablanca would have to deal with the wounded but always dangerous Janowski, while if Maroczy, Schlechter, Tarrasch or Bernstein won they could easily rise towards the top of the pack. This one was a thriller: all but two of these games were decisive!

Rubinstein exchanged queens on move 5 against Amos Burn and although he had slightly more active pieces in the resulting endgame, he was unable to make anything of it and the Englishman staunchly held a 46 move draw.

Tarrasch played the solid French Defense against Spielmann, trying to avoid the tactical wizard's favored Vienna Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3), where white often plays an early f2-f4 to attack. However, that didn't stop Spielmann and he built an aggressive setup regardless. After many piece exchanges the players reached the following position:

Spielmann-Tarrasch, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). White to move.
Tarrasch has bagged a pawn, but Spielmann's excellent control of the dark squares offer a lot of compensation. After 30.Qd4 Qc7 31.f5!? the game liquidated to equality: 31. ... exf5 32.Qxd5+ Rf7 33.Nxd7 Qxd7 34.Qxd7 Qxd7 35.Rxd7 Rxf5 and the players agreed to a draw a few moves later.

So only managing a draw, Tarrasch was unable to make progress towards the tournament leaders. Maroczy fared even worse; in a roughly even position he inexplicably blundered the exchange:

Maroczy-Leonhardt, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). White to move.
After the natural recapture 18.Rxf3 Qe7, the game is roughly level. For whatever reason, Maroczy decided on 18.gxf3?, allowing the straightforward 18. ... Bh3. On 19.Rf2 Qh4! skewers the bishops along the 4th rank: 20.Qc1 Bb6 and black wins material. Maroczy tried 19.Qg3 Bxf1 20.Rxf1 (20.Bh6 Bxe5!), but Leonhardt consolidated and went on to win.

Bernstein played the rare Sicilian Defense against Vidmar, and after a wild king walk he had even managed to win a pawn. However, much like in his game against Capablanca, at a critical moment he cracked under pressure:

Vidmar-Bernstein, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). Black to move.
Just by looking at this position, you wouldn't think that anything too extraordinary happened, but believe it or not black's king made the journey g8-f8-g7-f6-e7-d7-c7 and then back again: c7-d7-e7-f8-g7-g8 to arrive where it is now. During the course of those adventures, white sacrificed a pawn but was unable to deliver a knockout blow...up until Bernstein's blunder here: 41. ... Qg4?? 42.Rd8! and black resigned in view of 42. ... Rxd8 43.Rxd8+ Kh7 44.Qf6 Rc1+ 45.Kh2 with unstoppable mate on h8. After the correct 41. ... Qf5!, black would have nothing to fear from 42.Rd8 Rxd8 43.Rxd8+ Kh7 since the f6 and e5 squares are defended.

Frank Marshall ground down Richard Teichmann in a long 76-move endgame. Only Schlechter from the 2.5 point group was able to win this round, playing a superb game against Duras:

Schlechter-Duras, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). White to move.
Duras has played the opening rather passively, and Schlechter punished this vigorously with the strong piece sacrifice 10.f4! Bxc3 11.bxc3 d5 12.Bb3! f6 13.fxe5! fxg5 14.Rxf8+ Kxf8 15.Qf3+ Kg8 16.Rf1. After the further 16. ... Nd7 17.Qf7+ Kh8 18.exd5 cxd5 19.Qf8+ Qxf8 20.Rxf8+ Ng8 21.Nf3 Be6 22.Rxa8 Nxa8 23.Nxg5 Nc7 24.Nxe6 Nxe6 25.Bxd5 (D):

The players reached this endgame after a long semi-forced line. White is much better, with a strong bishop and three pawns for black's two clunky knights. Schlechter went on to win in 43 moves, thus bringing him to 3.5/5.

And last but certainly not least, we have one of the most critical games of the entire tournament: Capablanca's battle with Janowski. The aggressive Russian master was licking his wounds after losing twice in a row to Schlechter and Maroczy. If he could beat the newcomer Capablanca, the tournament standings would be completely mixed up, with Schlechter ending up as the sole leader at 3.5/5! Likewise, if Capa could win, he would maintain his sensational momentum as the tournament leader. After 24 moves, the players reached the following position:

Capablanca-Janowski, San Sebastian 1911 (Round 5). Black to move.
The opening and early middlegame was relatively quiet, but the tension had been building over the last several moves, with Capablanca moving his pieces towards the queenside to try and win the weak b6 pawn, while Janowski has been keenly eyeing the kingside. On his last move, Capa captured a knight on c4 with his bishop, and rather than make the reflexive recapture 24. ... dxc4, Janowski went for the classic bishop sacrifice: 24. ... Bxh2+! 25.Kxh2 Qh4+ 26.Kg1 Qxf2+ 27.Kh2 Qg3+ 28.Kg1 dxc4 29.Qc2 (D)

Black has sacrificed a piece, but he is getting quite a few pawns for it. At the very least, Janowski has a perpetual check, so it seems like Capa's chances to win here are slim to none. However, that is not taking into account the fact that Janowski most certainly wasn't content with a draw...

The game continued 29. ... Qxe3+ 30.Kh2 Qh6+ 31.Kg1 Qe3+ 32.Kh2 Qg3+ 33.Kg1 Qe1+ 34.Kh2 Nf6 35.Nxe6 Qh4+ 36.Kg1 Qe1+ 37.Kh2 Qh4+ 38.Kg1 Ng4! 39.Qd2! Qh2+ 40.Kf1 Qh1+ 41.Ke2 Qxg2+ 42.Kd1 Nf2+ 43.Kc2 Qg6+ 44.Kc1 Qg1+ 45.Kc2 Qg6+ 46.Kc1 Nd3+ 47.Kb1 fxe6 (D)

After the barrage of checks we reach a position where Capablanca's king has escaped to relative safety, but Janowski has collected four pawns for a piece and still has a powerful knight on d3 to make threats with. At first glance it seems that only black can be better here, but things are not so simple! The pawn on b6 will likely fall, and then Capablanca's b5 pawn will become a real threat. All three results were still very much possible at this point in the game.

From here, things continued 48.Qc2 h5! Janowski wastes no time in getting his h-pawn rolling. 49.Bd4 h4 50.Bxb6 h3 51.Bc7 e5! 52.b6 Qe4 53.Bxe5!? (D)

With his back against the wall, Capablanca makes a last-ditch attempt to muddy the waters. His point is that 53. ... Qxe5? allows 54.Qxc4+ Kf8 55.Qxd3, when white remains a piece up, although black certainly still has chances after 55. ... h2 56.Qf3+ Qf6. The knight cannot take on e5 right away because it is pinned to the queen. But Janowski saw that he could get the queen out of danger with tempo by playing a check on e1 or h1; however, only one of those squares would win for him! Unfortunately for the Russian master, he erred here, letting Capablanca right back into the game: 53. ... Qe1+? 54.Ka2 Nxe5 55.b7 (D) Had the black queen stood on h1, the pawn could simply be captured on b7 right now.

That b-pawn is proving quite dangerous! Black's queen cannot get back in time, so the only piece that can stop it now is the knight: 55. ... Nd7 56.Nc5 Nb8 57.Qxc4+ Kh8 58.Ne4! (D)

A picturesque situation and a good pattern to remember in queen and knight endings. Despite white's king being seemingly open to checks, Capablanca has all the squares covered! Janowski can neither use e2, d2 or f2 as a checking square, and furthermore there is the winning threat of 59.Qc8+ and 60.Qxh3+, picking up black's h-pawn with check. The best move for black is anything to guard h3: either 58. ... Qe3 or 58. ... Qh4!?, when 59.Qc8+ Kh7 60.Qxb8 Qxe4! gives black a good chance at perpetual check. In this difficult moment though, Janowski made his last blunder with 58. ... Kh7? which was answered with the precise shot 59.Qd3! (D)

After this cold shower, the tables are turned! On 59. ... h2?, the black king is hunted down: 60.Ng5+ Kh6 61.Nf7+ Kh5 62.Qf5+ Kh4 63.Qf4+ Kh3 64.Ng5+ Kg2 65.Qf3+ Kg1 66.Nh3#. Janowski tried 59. ... g6 but now 60.Qxh3+ picks up black's last hope of counterplay and after 60. ... Kg7 61.Qf3! once again controlling all the key squares, it became clear that Capablanca had things under control. The game ended quickly: 61. ... Qc1 62.Qf6+ Kh7 63.Qf7+ Kh6 64.Qf8+ Kh5 65.Qh8+ Kg4 66.Qc8+ 1-0 Forcing the exchange of queens, when white will promote to a new queen.

This important win secured Capablanca's reputation as a true rising star, and served as a confidence booster for the future rounds of the tournament. After the first third of the tournament, we have the following standings:
  • 4.0 - Capablanca
  • 3.5 - Schlechter
  • 3.0 - Marshall, Tarrasch
  • 2.5 - Rubinstein, Vidmar (with one bye), Bernstein, Maroczy
  • 2.0 - Nimzowitsch (with one bye), Spielmann, Burn, Leonhardt (with one bye)
  • 1.5 - Janowski
  • 1.0 - Teichmann (with one bye), Duras (with one bye)
So Capablanca is the leader, but only by a half point. Schlechter at his prime was a force to be reckoned with - after all, he did almost defeat Lasker in their World Championship match one year previously, and he had already won convincingly against Janowski and Duras in this event. In close pursuit are Marshall and Tarrasch, both seasoned and experienced fighters. Rubinstein and Vidmar both have had a slow start, but there are still ten rounds to go...

Rounds 6 through 10 will be covered in part 2.