Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reverse Angle 72

Author: Grant OenCCCSA Assistant Director

A grand total of 54 players converged upon the Charlotte Chess Center for the 72nd edition of the Reverse Angle tournament on Saturday, May 20.  An $850 guaranteed prize fund was distributed between three sections: Top, Under 1800, and Under 1400.

The top section featured one master, five experts, and players from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia in a section with 17 players.  The top seed, Daniel Cremisi (2289) scored 3/3 for a $175 score.  World U10 Girls Champion Rochelle Wu earned $75 for clear second with 2.5/3.  CCCSA regular Pradhyumna Kothapalli and Virginia's Felix McCain earned $25 for the top U2000 prize.

The Under 1800 section was the largest section, featuring 23 players between 1300 and 1800.  David Blackwelder (1695) won $150 for his 3/3 score.  Michael Miller ($37.50), Connor Liu ($37.50), and Atlanta Chess Center's Karen Boyd ($50) each scored 2.5/3.

The 15-player Under 1400 section was hotly contested.  CCCSA regular Joshua Denton (1198) scored the only perfect 3/3 score, earning $150.  Sahith Tanuboddi (1145) and Richard Trela (1005) earned $62.50 each for 2.5/3 (tie for second place and top U1200).

USCF Rated Results Here

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

He Who Makes the Second-to-Last Mistake ...

Twenty players showed up to take part in round 2 of Tuesday Night Action 33. And then there was one! One perfect score that is! On the top board, a Symmetrical English was played between Mark Biernacki(2102) and Vishnu Vanapalli(1894) and the former prevailed to take a full point lead over the rest of the competition with a score of 2 after 2 rounds. Meanwhile, on board 2, Sulia Mason(2000) won a rook against Grant Oen(2178), but it was Grant that got the last laugh as White proceeded to hang his Rook and Black achieved the miracle draw. Board 3 has our feature game of the week, a French MacCutcheon played between Aditya Shivapooja(1834) and Patrick McCartney(2063). White proceeds to play an inferior line and follows it up with many more inferior moves, but no outright blunders, until Black achieves a significant advantage after 16 moves. Then Black implodes, throwing away the advantage with a major error on move 17 and outright blundering on move 19, giving White a won position. However, after trying to set up a trap on move 20, White proceeds to blunder the full point right back to Black by playing a horrible blunder on move 21. Black never looked back after that, and even finished the game with a cute double rook sacrifice to deflect the White pieces away from his king and Black proceeded to mate the White king with his raking bishops.

The game can be viewed below:

Board 4 saw a Sicilian Najdorf, English Attack between Gil Holmes(1806) and Ali Shirzad(1679). A slightly offbeat line played by Black is followed up by an error by Black where White can achieve a significant advantage, but then White immediately follows up with an error in return and Black never looked back. Below is a brief study of the 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf with a trap missed by both players.

To round out the top section, David Blackwelder(1695) took down David Richards(1607).

In the bottom section, Phillip Miller(1555) and Rithvik Prakki(1155) share the lead with a perfect score each by beating Debs Pedigo(1309) and Hassan Hashemloo(1379), respectively. Other winners include David McGee(1512), John Peters(1064), and David Keeling(596).

The cross table can be viewed here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Simple Chess: When Pawns Attack!

Round 1 of Tuesday Night Action 33 started on my birthday. I was paired against a player I have yet to find a way to beat. However, I was up for the task and looked forward to the game. Even though I lost this game (spoiler alert) I was pleased with how I handled the pushing of the pawns towards my king. It is something that I have struggled with coming up through the ranks. The previous me would have panicked and pushed one or two pawns way sooner in an effort to stop the enemy pawns, only to create weaknesses in my camp. Here is the game:

I attribute several things to helping minimize the fear when I see pawns coming at me. The first thing is getting better at tactics as this will allow you to keep an eye out for spots where something could come crashing through. Even if you don't know exactly how to handle the attack at least being tactically strong will allow you to know if there is something to fear or if you have a great defensive resource.

The next thing that has helped me calm down during pawn storms is studying a lot of games that deal with attacks on the castled king. Two books specifically include, The King in Jeopardy and Art of Attack in Chess. 

The third thing is going over my own games when I allowed a pawn storm to come crashing through. I put all of my games into Chessbase afterwards and try to annotate them with my thoughts. At the very least I usually put in the variations that I was thinking of during the game that didn't happen. This allows me to play back through and see what changes I could have done.

In fact, this last one when used after getting better at tactics and learning the principles of attack and defense, has become the best way.

While I understand that everyone isn't going to dish out the money for Chessbase and/or a Mega Database, I do highly recommend it to the serious adults that want to improve. In fact, instead of buying book after book after book you can have any information you want whenever you want it.

For example, take my game you just played through when I have it in Chessbase I can look for similar pawn structures to see how other games were played.

Looking for games that have a similar pawn structure to find out how these structures can be handled. 

Alright, so we just asked the Chessbase software to find games with a similar structure and here are the results (25 games):

I put all 25 games into a database that I can review later. 

I haven't gone through any of the games in detail just yet. However, I sorted the games by whether White wins or Black wins. What I noticed is that if Black can lock down the pawns near his king while pushing his pawns on the queen side and in the center then he will usually win or at least draw. However, if White is able to get through because of Black pushes pawns and creating weaknesses on the king side then White is usually the victor.

It is all about building a knowledge bank to help yourself in the future. There isn't a single book out there than can do this like Chessbase.

Key Lessons From This Game:

-Keep pushing my initiative to keep the pressure up. If I had broken through on the queen side then that weakness plus the weakness of White's king probably would have been too much for him to hold.

-Have better time management. This includes doing a better job of knowing my opening's ideas and plans to avoid costly minutes lost at the start of the game. After 16 moves I had used 55 minutes of my 75 minutes that I started with or almost 3.5 minutes per move.

-Trust your calculations when low on time don't just discard them because you think you saw that something was miscalculated. Spend the extra 5-10 seconds when you have 2-3 minutes to verify your work.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Black or White

As Michael Jackson once said in his 1991 hit single "Black or White", "It don't matter if you're black or white". Ask any grandmaster if he thinks it matters whether you are Black or White in a chess game at the amateur level and he'll tell you it don't matter either. Well, the 32 players in round 1 of Tuesday Night Action 33 proved it to be true as one draw was all there was to separate the success level between Black and White, with Black scoring the extra victory. In the top section, White victories were scored by Dominique Myers(2115) over Sulia Mason(2000), Vishnu Vanapalli(1894) over David Blackwelder(1695), Adharsh Rajagopal(1782) via the upset over Pradhy Kothapalli(1849), and William Clayton(1725) also via the upset over Aditya Shivapooja(1834). Meanwhile, black victories were scored by Daniel Cremisi(2289) over Michael Uwakwe(2053) via the latter player inadvertently touching his King first, forcing him to move it which lead to an instant resignation by white. Other black victories in the top section include Luke Harris(1768) taking down Ali Shirzad(1679) and Mark Biernacki took down Patrick McCartney(2063) after the latter decided to play an unsound pawn and exchange sacrifice at move 15 when a slower approach with something like a3, which would not lose the b-pawn due to loose Bishop on a6 at the time, would have kept a slight edge for White. The game between McCartney and Biernacki can be viewed below.

Meanwhile, in the lower section, white victories were scored by Phillip Miller(1555) over Hassan Hashemloo(1379), Rithvik Prakki(1155) over Akshay Rajagopal(1026), and Devon Jackson(Unr) over Steven Freinstein(Unr). Black victories were scored by David Richards(1607) over Corey Frazier(1405), Sampath Kumar(1506) via the upset over Kiru Mendez(1621), Debs Pedigo(1309) over Richard Trela(1005), Aarush Chugh(1188) over Brian Ruff(1058), and Mahesh Padhi(1133) over John Peters(1064). All victors in both sections currently stand tied for the lead after one round. Finally, the lone draw of the night belongs to Noraldo Santos(1549) and Donald Johnson(1330).

The cross table can be viewed here.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Berlin Wall

Author: Grant Oen, CCCSA Assistant Director

Fans of modern chess have undoubtedly heard of the Berlin Defense in the Ruy Lopez.  Following today's super-tournaments, commentators and fans alike dread games that start with the infamous Berlin endgame.  Top players assert that it is a way for Black to avoid the theoretical entanglements and risks associated with the proper Ruy Lopez or an ambitious Sicilian Defense to earn a draw with Black.

I claim that the Berlin is an extremely solid option for amateur players, filled with imbalances, dynamism, and winning chances despite an early queen trade.

Magnus Carlsen excited by another Berlin Defense


“The Berlin Wall” was thrust into prominence in the Kasparov-Kramnik World Championship match in 2000.  Kramnik had surprised Kasparov with the Berlin in game 1 of the match, earning an easy draw with Black.  In a World Championship match, it is of paramount importance to try to equalize and “hold a draw” with the Black pieces, and then take your chances to win when you have White.

Kramnik vs Kasparov World Championship Match, London 2000

Kasparov, the most principled of World Champions, stuck to testing Kramnik in the Berlin endgame in games 1, 3, 5, 13, to no avail - four draws with White.  Meanwhile, Kramnik was able to win two games when he had White to pull the huge upset match victory.  Here is game 1 from that match – strong players may be able to understand the subtle positional maneuvers that Black uses to neutralize White’s slight initiative (…h6-h5 to restrict White’s g2-g4 pawn majority, …c6-c5 to control the dark squares in light of a poor dark squared bishop, …Kd8-c8-b7 to connect the rooks, and …Ne7-f5 to blockade White’s 4 vs 3 Kingside majority).

Kasparov’s failure to prove anything against the Berlin in four White games at the World Championship level, despite having a Russian team of trainers working day and night on his openings, propelled the Berlin Defense to the forefront of elite chess.

Kasparov, the most dangerous player in history when given the initiative and strong opening preparation with white, was completely neutralized by Kramnik, who became World Champion after this match.  Many Grandmasters have since made a living out of drawing games with black in the Berlin and then winning games with White, and as such, it has become the most common response at the elite level against 1.e4.

What is so special about the Berlin?  It occurs after the following moves:

Unlike other options for Black, like the Sicilian Najdorf, Grunfeld, Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Berlin does not feature a lot of sharp theory, as it relies mainly on a long struggle with certain distinct positional ideas for both sides.  The cost of an inaccurate move or plan in the Berlin is very small compared to, for example, the King’s Indian Defense or English attack in the Najdorf.

Although it has not been “proven” to be a draw even at the GM level, the Berlin has been a reliable, low-maintenance option against 1.e4 that offers little risk of losing.  With the exception of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Boris Gelfand, both Sicilian fanatics, every other top player uses the Berlin as a mainstay of their Black repertoire.

Kramnik has played the Berlin religiously since 2000, scoring one win against Grischuk (see below), 21 draws, and three losses against Karjakin, So, and Kasparov (but not during the World Championship) – a very strong statistic for Black at the 2800 level.  An interesting anecdote was that before Kasparov-Kramnik, one of the only Grandmasters to play the Berlin on a consistent basis was the late American GM Arthur Bisguier.

The late Arthur Bisguier was the first major proponent of the Berlin

Besides the World Championship match between Kasparov and Kramnik in 2000, the Berlin Defense or one of the sidelines against the Berlin was featured in the Carlsen-Anand match in 2013, Carlsen-Anand rematch in 2014, and Carlsen-Karjakin match in 2016.

Berlin Imbalances

The reason that I do not find the Berlin boring is that there is an asymmetrical pawn structure and many other imbalances – the opening is dynamically equal, but not without winning chances for both sides, especially at the amateur level.  Of course, books can be written about the positional imbalances and common maneuvers in the Berlin – I can recommend John Cox’s “The Berlin Wall” (Quality Chess 2008) and Igor Lysyj & Roman Ovetchkin’s “The Berlin Defence” (Chess Stars 2012).  Both texts are quite worth the purchase, and are still relevant, as the cutting-edge theory of the Berlin is minimal.  Meanwhile, let’s briefly compare some of the imbalances for White and Black in the Berlin:

King Position/Safety

White’s king is castled kingside.  Of course, this makes it near impossible for the white monarch to be in any danger.  Black’s king is in the center and cannot castle.  On d8 or e8, the king is clumsy and in the way of Black's development.  It will be vulnerable to an eventual Rd1+, putting the rook on the only open file.

Then again, considering the “queenless middlegame” that arises on move 8, kings can be quite strong in the center, so there are advantages and disadvantages for both king positions.  The black king can attack the overextended e5-pawn via a frontal attack, although much more often it moves to e8 and remains there, or goes to the kingside via …Bc8-d7 and …Kd8-c8-b7(-c6).

Minor Pieces

Black retains the bishop pair, as White captured the Nc6 on move 6 with his precious Ruy Lopez bishop in order to damage Black’s structure.  Some common themes for White include Nf3-g5 and e5-e6, further crippling the structure.  Black sometimes plays …Bf8-b4 and captures a white’s Nc3 in order to create an opposite color bishop position.  Another common idea for Black is to trade knights via …Bf8-e7 and …Nf5-h4 when the knight gets kicked out of f5 via White’s eventual …g2-g4.


White’s rooks usually find easier paths to activity than their Black counterparts.  White can put their rooks on d1 and e1 quite easily, while Black will take some time to get his a8-rook to d8. Meanwhile, the rook on h8 often struggles to get anywhere if Black plays …Kd8-e8, since Black cannot castle kingside.  This rook can find activity via …h7-h5 and …Rh8-h6 if White’s dark squared bishop is blocked or traded from controlling h6.

Pawn Structure

The advantages/disadvantages of the pawn structure for both sides should be very apparent to players of any level.  White has a 4 vs 3 kingside pawn majority, while Black suffers from a “crippled” 4 vs 3 majority on the queenside.  Black’s doubled c-pawns mean that he cannot organically create a passed pawn on that side of the board, which means that Black should almost never enter a king and pawn endgame.  There is one example of White “assuming” that he will win any king and pawn endgame in the Berlin.  The game comes from a very important tournament, the 2013 FIDE Candidates (in which Carlsen won, and qualified to play Vishy Anand).

It is not all that easy for White early on, however.  White’s pawn on e5 would much rather be in its own territory on e4 where is would not be overextended.  Also, knowledgeable Black players are aware not to make too many trades in the Berlin, so the simple plan of trading down to a very simplified endgame and push the kingside majority is often met with tough resistance.  Black’s king in the center can be well-placed to meet any premature e-pawn marches, and Black very often plays the multi-faceted move …h7-h5 to stop White’s g2-g4, in addition to increasing the future of the h8 rook.

A common arrangement of Black’s pawns on the queenside is a7, b6, c7, c5, to control the central dark squares, since his dark squared bishop occasionally never leaves from f8 or e7, where it exerts little pressure on the center.

Personal Experience

I personally added the Berlin Wall to my opening repertoire around 2013, when I was a Class B player.  I have since complemented it with various Sicilians – it is nice to have a few options against 1.e4 that I can depend on in certain circumstances.  I have used it to achieve very solid results, holding many draws against masters and winning plenty of games against experts and class players.  Unfortunately, my highest rated opponent who I decided to reply 1.e4 with 1…e5 with was IM Ron Burnett, who won a very nice one-sided game in a Berlin sideline at the 2015 Southeastern FIDE Championship here in Charlotte.

Here are a couple of my more memorable victories in the Berlin endgame.

I hope that you have learned some new concepts in the Berlin opening.  Next time you observe a Berlin endgame at the top level, I’m sure you will be more understanding of why the Black player chose the Berlin, and be more enthusiastic about following the game, as you may be more knowledgeable of the interesting nuances in the position.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Kinetic Energy in Chess

Recently, I have played two games in which I made a good decision to sacrifice material for initiative.  When I sacrifice a meaningful amount of material, I often have the feeling that I am bluffing a bit and I am always shocked when the computer approves.

This first game requires some background. My opponent, Neo Zhu, is a young chess phenom in Chapel Hill. I had drawn Neo the last couple of times we played and my rating is quite a bit higher than his, so I had incentive in this game to really mix it up even though I had black.  On with the game ....

Thanks for being patient with my first blogging attempt. To close, let's think about what happened in this game and what is useful about it.

1. Black played a suspect opening that is designed to give up some advantage in the interest of creating an unbalanced position. The Alekhine is bad, but there is no way to play for a draw against it.

2. White fell into some very nasty opening preparation where Black sacrifices a piece for 2 pawns and an initiative. This puts heavy pressure on both players. Black has to keep the initiative going with constant threats and White has to find some way to neutralize the initiative even if it means giving back some material (Rd5!).

3. Black managed to keep finding moves to make threats as White's pieces looked on from the back rank.

Lesson: A strong initiative is worth some material puts real demands on both players to find good and imaginative moves. Game 2 to follow ... stay tuned.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Simple Chess: I'm Back

Hello everyone!

I am finally back to playing chess and writing about chess. For those that don't know, my wife and I just closed on our new home at the end of March and we have been busy moving and unpacking. Between that and work there hasn't been any time for chess. Well, these are the challenges that adults face when they are trying to improve at chess this late in life. Gone are the days of spending afternoons and nights at home with nothing to do except play chess.

I feel like the break in my study and play time was well timed. Before the move I was starting to feel like I wasn't improving and couldn't seem to pick up new concepts and ideas. I was struggling to win games or even hold drawing positions. So much so that I thought I had hit my max in chess. This wasn't anything to make me quit chess but it was enough to make me consider cutting back on my time investment into it.

After investing no time into chess I jumped right back into Tuesday Night Action at the Charlotte Chess Center. The first game I am going to show is the 4th round game I played against David Richards. Coming into this game we had played 4 times and I had won the last 3 times. Still, I know David is a tricky and competitive player so my task wasn't going to be easy. Without further ado here is the game:

So lots of lessons learned in that game and I thought I wouldn't have to deal with another highly tactical game for awhile but then I showed up to play round 5 and was proven wrong.

This next game is full of mistakes on my part that my opponent just didn't take advantage of. This was an opponent that I had never played OTB with other than casual blitz games. I didn't know what to expect but I didn't expect the kind of game that we had. Here is the 5th round game:

As these games showed, I have a lot of work to do if I want to make the leap to the next level. The biggest thing I failed to do was look for all of my opponent's best resources for defending and/or stopping my plans. Even though I won both games, I know that had my opponent's just taken a little more time to analyze they would not have allowed me to get away with lazy tactics.

I believe part of getting better is analyzing all of your games. If you win but it's a sloppy win then you should analyze that game and find the moments where your opponent could have saved themselves and figure out why you didn't see that during the game. Whether it is a pattern you are not familiar with or it was because you couldn't see the position clearly in your mind after calculating 5 moves ahead. This way you will still work on those areas instead of just being okay with the fact that you won the game.

I am glad to be back in the chess scene and look forward to seeing you at the Chess Center soon!