Thursday, February 23, 2017

Week 7: Cobras Finish Season Strong

Week 7 of the Pro Chess League pitted the Carolina Cobras against the New York Knights in the final match of the PCL regular season. Sporting a respectable 2-4 record going into the match, the Cobras had no playoff spot to play for, but hoped to finish the year on a high note. With a team composed only of local players, most matches have posed a substantial challenge from a rating standpoint, and this past week was no exception. New York's lineup featured three GMs and one FM, opponents with an average FIDE rating of over 2450. As we have in every match this season, the Cobras countered with a lineup filled with local Masters, in this case Robin Cunningham, Peter Giannatos, Steve Wang and me.

The match proved to be extremely intense, as the Cobras pulled off one upset after another to keep pace with New York. After each of the first three rounds, the overall score remained tied at 2-2, 4-4, and 6-6. Ultimately, the Knights' strength and experience prevailed in round four, as they wound up winning the match by a score of 9-7. Still, it was a strong way to end the year, with many of the games really standing out.

FM Robin Cunningham, in his third match of the season for the Cobras, scored 1/4. Ironically, his two draws came as black, including one against New York's top board GM Oliver Barbosa. In an extremely wild game, Robin accepted several dangerous sacrifices as Barbosa built a menacing attack. Perfect defense may have led to a winning position for black, but Robin, under extreme pressure in a last round rapid game, was successful in holding white to a perpetual.

The Cobras were excited to welcome recently-promoted FM Peter Giannatos back to the lineup! Peter earned his FM title last weekend at the Southwest Class, as his FIDE rating soared over the 2300 mark. His results this week did not quite match that outstanding performance, but he still notched a key win over GM Oliver Barbosa en route to a 1/4 score. Peter did not play the opening especially well, but more than made up for it by building a classic pawn storm in an opposite-sides-castling Caro-Kann.

NM Steve Wang had by far his best week of the season, scoring 2.5/4 in a fantastic performance. Steve scored 1.5/3 against the GMs, and won a nice game below against FM Ivan Biag. As he usually does, Steve built a huge time advantage in the game, and took advantage of his opponent's time pressure mistakes to bring home the full point in an unclear position.

Like Steve, I also had my best week of the PCL season against New York. I scored 2.5/4, which included my first (and second!) ever win against a Grandmaster. GM Oliver Barbosa clearly was not having his best night, but the following game will always be quite memorable for me. I outplayed my opponent in a sharp middle-game exchange, and emerged into a tricky but winning endgame. After a few nervous adventures, I solidified my advantage to bring home the full point.

I've really enjoyed writing these blog posts throughout the PCL season, and I hope you have enjoyed following the Cobras this year! It should definitely be interesting to watch the playoffs as an observer now that our team is finished playing.

-LM Aaron Balleisen

Simple Chess: Playing VS. Studying: Which Is Really Better?

There are tremendous amounts of online tutorials, blogs, books, and chess sites that provide you the ability to broaden your knowledge in every aspect of chess.

Thanks to technology and the instant access to the internet, anyone can study chess from home without the need for a chess coach. It would seem as though those serious about improvement would be foolish not to seize this opportunity and improve their knowledge.

You go out and try to read every book you can get. You watch every video you can find on Youtube and you solve as many tactical puzzles as you can handle.

You learn. You learn some more. And then you learn even more. As much as you can anyway.

You learn how to checkmate your opponent. You learn how to take the opposition. You learn the 8th move of a sideline in an opening. You learn how to pin a piece. You learn how to put your rooks on open files. You learn that you need to learn more.

What I find is that people do everything except take action.

Better knowledge does not lead to better chess playing abilities. The key to success in chess is not excessive knowledge, but the ability to use your knowledge during an actual game.

Here's something to think about:

Now, studying is crucial. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. However, you have to stop studying and learning from someone else's mistakes. The best thing that you can do is learn from your own mistakes and experiences. After every game you play, go over it with your opponent first. Then go over by yourself within 24 hours doing a simple look at the game. Then within the same week, I recommend going over the game in-depth. Finally, you can let a stronger player go over it with you or plug it into your favorite chess program and let your favorite engine rip it apart.

  • Stop learning by consuming. Start learning by creating your own lessons.
  • Stop learning by surfing the internet. Start learning by doing (join a club, join a tournament, etc.).
  • Stop learning by watching games being played. Start learning by playing your own games. 
  • Stop learning by reading annotations. Start learning by writing your own annotations.  

You can sit at home reading books, watching videos, and analyzing games played by others. While you are doing this someone else is already reaping the rating points for his or her hard work of actually playing.

So put your book down, pause that Youtube video and get out there. Start learning from your own games.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

If Only I Newsom One That Could Blow the Field Away

A grand total of 26 players took part in the final round of Tuesday Night Action 30. In the top section, on board one, Gary Newsom(2014) took on Grant Oen(2147) in a Nimzo-Indian Defense. Gary proceeded to play his pet line against it, the Saemisch, and proceeded to take down Grant and finished the tournament with a score of 4 1/2, which was enough the completely blow away the rest of the field. Case in point. On board 2, Patrick McCartney(2131) took on Aditya Shivapooja(1767) in a Queen's Gambit Declined. White proceeded to play the Rubinstein Variation and Black made a number of subtle inaccuracies where White gained an advantage by move 19 and proceeded to knock out the Black King execution style by move 30. This win put McCartney in clear second with a score of 3! A full point and a half behind the section leader!

The game can be viewed below.

Also in the top section, Dominique Myers(2117), with the Black pieces, quickly made mince meat out of Pradhy Kothapalli(1870) while Ali Shirzad(1695), also with Black, took down Vishnu Vannapalli(1975).

Meanwhile, the lower section was crowded this week with 9 games, and the standings were just as crowded as the room was. The result was a 5-way tie for first place with 3 points between the 5 winners of the first 5 boards below.

Carl McKern(1534) - David Blackwelder(1669): 0-1
Kiru Mendez(1640) - Sampath Kumar(1448): 1-0
Ivan Manchev(1528) - Corey Frazier(1404): 1-0
Daniel Boisvert(1089) - Hassan Hashemloo(1307): 0-1
Samuel Reiman(UNR) - Rithvik Prakki(1193): 0-1
Luke Harris(1585) - Marnzell Hand(1600): 1-0
Carlos Zuniga(1497) - Aarush Chugh(1322): 1-0
Richard Trela(1092) - Aditya Vadakattu(1062): 0-1
Andrew Jiang(1483) - Debs Pedigo(1340): 1-0

The current cross table can be viewed here.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Bully's Pulpit
Five Decades of Chess Intimidation

By Gary "The Chess Bully" Newsom

Lessons from Ron

Next weekend we celebrate the memory of one of our greatest North Carolina chess heroes, FM Ron Simpson, whose life was cut way too short due to cancer. I was lucky enough to know Ron and to have played him on several occasions. With me being "Expert" it is not surprising that I had a dismal score against him. In fact I was o-fer. O for however many we played that is. But it's always enjoyable playing guys on that next level. That is how you improve at chess. I took my lumps against Ron but I can say that our games exposed many deficiencies in my play and highlighted the differences between a guy on Ron's level and myself. I will attempt in this blog post to break that down a bit.

Here is a rare occasion where I (along with Walter High...) delivered a BIG CHECK to Ron. There were many more instances where Ron delivered big checks to me over the chessboard. See below.

Ron was a fighter at the chessboard. He was not a perfectly correct player. He wanted a battle, especially against a guy like me, who is a level down from him. He *expected* to outplay me in complicated positions and he did. Regularly. But as you will see, I had my chances, I just couldn't capitalize on them and made errors at crucial moments. Which brings us to our first lesson.


So the lesson here, kiddos, is simple. FOCUS. For the WHOLE GAME. Don't let up. A good player is always trying to find a way to turn things around. As I stated earlier, Ron was not a perfect technical chess player. He was a fighter. And a fighter has a way of intensifying the effort when things are looking bad. 


Well not literally of course (though I've done that a few times) but figuratively. To hang with Ron, you needed to make sure your pieces coordinate effectively. If they didn't, he would easily sense this and the punishment would be severe. 


Good advice. In pleasant company, one does not leave ones fly open. We must incorporate in our morning routine to make sure everything is properly tucked away and covered before we go out to meet the world. (But after we reach a certain age...maybe somewhere around bully've gotta cut us a little slack, OK?) In chess terms we will liken that to keeping our king position defensible. We have already seen one example of Ron taking advantage of a poor defensive setup in a French against me. Now let's see another. Here, I leave my fly (kings position) open. Ron was quick to pounce and make me pay for my error.

So I got punished by Ron regularly. But there is plenty to learn from these games and the others I played vs Ron. My impression of Ron as a chessplayer was a guy who had a great innate feel for the dynamic value of the pieces, as befits a "fighter" in the chess sense of the word. I got a lot of good positions against him. I had my chances. But when it came down to a good old fashioned chess fight, he came with more weapons than me. 

We all miss Ron's presence in the North Carolina chess community. His love of the game was obvious. He was gracious enough to spend time analyzing with those in the lower sections as well as his equals. He was a true gentleman and ambassador of the game.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reverse Angle 69 - The DOMination

Reverse Angle 69 was another jam-packed event at the Charlotte Chess Center, featuring 60 players competing for a prize fund of $900.  The new format of the Reverse Angle tournament meant that this tournament would be stronger - the U1100 section was eliminated, and prizes for all other sections were increased.


The Top section did not disappoint, with top seeds Daniel "late reg" Cremisi (2304), Aaron "Princeton" Balleisen (2284), Emmanuel "knockout" Carter (2252), and Klaus Pohl (2209) all receiving free entry due to their National Master status.  Patrick McCartney (2131) and Dominique "snoop dog" Myers (2117) rounded out the 2000+ club, and there were 11 additional Class A and B players in the section.

After two rounds, only Balleisen and Myers had 2/2 - Balleisen had defeated Ernest Nix (1969) from South Carolina and Patrick "the KID" McCartney (2131), while Myers toppled Austin Chuang (1779) and had a nice upset win over Cremisi in round 2.  Dominique won the last round encounter agaist Balleisen, claiming clear first and $200.  Klaus Pohl defeated Cremisi in a tournament the latter will want to forget.  Pohl's 2.5/3 performance netted him $75 for clear second.  Amongst the players with 2/3, Vishnu Vanapalli, Aditya Shivapooja, and Reon McIlwain tied for the U2000 prize, winning $17 each.

Dominique's 3/3 performance nets him 50 ratings points.

Klaus Pohl vs Sulia Mason, 1/2

Dominique Myers concentrates in his upset over Daniel Cremisi

Under 1800

The U1800 section featured 18 players, including many club regulars and a couple players driving up from South Carolina.

After the dust settled in round 3, two players found themselves with perfect scores: Luke Harris and Carl McKern, each earning $125 and plenty of rating points.

Under 1400

The U1400 section was the largest section of the day, with 25 players, partly due to elimination of the U1100 section.

In the end, three players scored 3/3: Donald Johnson, Douglas Mackey, and Nishanth Gaddam, each earning $92.

The next Reverse Angle is on March 18, followed by a G/60 Action tournament on April 1.

The USCF Rating Report can be viewed here!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Simple Chess: Attack Your Comfort Zone!

I am not comfortable going all out and attacking my opponent's king. I don't feel comfortable sacrificing material to open up lines in the position. I don't feel comfortable advancing pawns around my king to attack. Although I am not comfortable doing it, I have become better prepared to do it if the position calls for it.

What do I mean by being prepared? I mean taking the time to study books such as The King in Jeopardy and The Art of Attack in Chess. These two books have worked great in helping me understand the need for having a better developed army, the importance of opening up the position quickly so that you can keep the initiative and not allow your opponent time to regroup.  

I'm not going to lie, when those books talk about the initiative for a whole piece or even 2 or 3 whole pieces, I don't fully understand it. In my mind, the concept makes sense but over the board I don't understand what that (initiative) means. So I keep re-reading the same material and then taking a break. While, it still hasn't fully clicked, I can tell that something is going on because I am starting to get a feel for when my pieces should just pounce on my opponent's King. 

In the games I am about to show you, I have to be humble and explain that these are my games. Yes, most of them I did win. No, I am not showing off my wins to get some kind of recognition. It's just that I know my thought process when I start an attack and I hope that it gives you some deeper insight or understanding towards your own games. I did not play my games perfectly and quite often made a move or series of moves that could have allowed my opponent back into the game. 

I think the biggest lesson to really take away is that whether you win or lose, by playing attacking chess you will learn something deeper about the game of chess. Deeper in the sense that you start to understand that it is not all about the material but sometimes it is about the elusive idea of the initiative or something else that can only be sensed but not seen. Sometimes, the initiative is something you have on the board but sometimes the initiative is something you have psychologically. Of course, the majority of the time I find out that it was all just an illusion and I have lost the game due to my inability to assess the position and the non-tangibles. That is okay, because with each loss I get better and am working on building my knowledge on what works versus what doesn't work.

And you probably thought the French Defense was a boring opening that only allowed White to start an attack on the king-side.

So this previous game brings up a few principles that I have picked up throughout the years.
  • Don't move pawns on the side you are weaker on. 
  • When you have more pieces in one area of the board than your opponent, then you attack will probably work.

For my final game I am going to show you my most recent example of the attack on the uncastled king. This was played Tuesday night at the Charlotte Center.

Again, I am not professing that I am an amazing attacker as I clearly have room to improve. I am stating that sometimes you need to really work on the things that make you uncomfortable. I have been spending the last several months on tactics and attack and defense. These are things that I was completely terrible at and tried to shy away from. Or worse, I would launch unsound attacks because I didn't look at all the tactics in the position or I would try to attack with only one or two pieces. Now, I am able to at least get a better feeling for when I should attack versus just improve my position.

I challenge you to get outside your comfort zone and I promise by doing so you will learn something new and exciting about the game of chess.

I hope to see over the chessboard soon,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The French Revolution

A total of 20 players arrived to take part in round 4 of Tuesday Night Action 30. Those that remember facts from their history class will recall that the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy, which had direct impact on the rest of the world and caused a global decline in monarchies and was replaced by republics and democracies. Well, another French Revolution took place Tuesday night at the top two boards where the French successfully took down the White monarchs!

On board 1, Dominique Myers(2117) took on Gary Newsom(2014) in a Two Knights French. Black proceeded to win two exchanges, leading to a tricky late middle game position where White attempts to execute a fake attack on the Black King, pointing his Bishop and Queen at g7 and trying to use his Knight to sneak a trick by Black. Black actually proceeds to make a major error in the form of allowing White to reach a 3-fold repetition, but when it happened, White failed to claim it and instead hit the clock. After that, Black never looked back as he returned one of his two exchanges by giving up one of his Rooks to eliminate the White Knight, and the rest of the process was fairly elementary, and Black went on to victory, giving him a full point lead at 3.5 after 4round.

Meanwhile, at board 2, Vishnu Vanapalli(1975) took on Patrick McCartney(2131) in what was also a French Defense, in this case the Tarrasch Variation. Black proceeds to play the more modern 5...Nf6 in the Open Tarrasch instead of the older 5...Nc6, and proceeded to equalize fairly quickly. After trading away his Knight and Bishop for a Rook and two Pawns, the position continued to be relatively equal with possibly a slight preference for Black in the sense that by move 20, White was playing for 2 results. Draw or loss. The position slowly dwindled for White and he proceeded to blunder on move 31 when White has no recourse and must drop a piece and is eventually mated on move 57.

The game can be viewed below.

Elsewhere in the top section, Ali Shirzad(1695) defeated David Richards(1641) while Aditya Shivapooja(1767) and Pradhy Kothapalli(1870) declared peace.

In the lower section, idle Sampath Kumar(1448) continues to hold the lead by a half point over a number of players with 2, including David Blackwelder(1669), Marnzell Hand(1600), Ivan Manchev(1528), Aarush Chugh(1322), and Rithvik Prakki(1193), all of whom won this week, along with 4 others that sit half a point behind the leader. The other winner in the lower section was Luke Harris(1585) who took down Ervon Nichols(1571).

The current cross table can be viewed here.