Monday, February 27, 2017

The View from 1000: A Beginner's Blunders

The View from 1000

... is Cloudy

I’ve always loved strategy games, and so I’ve especially always loved the idea of chess. When younger, I learned to move the pieces. And for a month or two at the beginning of my graduate school days, I let Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess teach me a bit more about chess. But graduate school quickly revealed that she wouldn't leave me much time to devote to learning the game, so that endeavor went quickly by the wayside. Two years ago, at the age of 48, I finally dove in. Or at least thought I did. Really, I was just reading some books, playing Daily (E-correspondence) games on, and doing some tactics puzzles. Last May, I finally got the time and urge to play live, over-the-board games and, on the suggestion of two friends, joined our local Charlotte Chess Center and Scholastic Academy. Since then, the feeling has mostly been the good type of frustration ("Argg! I know better than that! Why am I still doing that?!"), but it's also been a revelation. I love the game more than I thought I would. I now wish I had taken the plunge a long time ago!

My learning plan has been to play mostly slow games (at least one slow game per week relying mainly on general opening and positional principles), review at least one slow game per week, do a lot of basic tactics puzzles, and read other "talkie" books that for whatever reason seemed interesting or necessary. My only two objectives have been to play 100 slow games and to take away from each what seems its two or three most important lessons. These two or three lessons for each game will be the focus of most of my posts. But I had also planned to do a more global review of my games once I had played roughly 35 games, which is the point I'm at now. (I'll do another more global review once I reach 70 games.) So this is my first global review. Those who are at higher levels--and even most who are not--may find it painful to read. :)

The themes of my first thirty-eight games are: blunders and foggy vision.

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

Author: Grant OenCCCSA Assistant Director

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.

The Sicilian Dragon Move by Move - Carsten Hansen. Everyman Chess, 2016 - 464 pages!!!

The Sicilian Dragon Move by Move - Carsten Hansen. Everyman Chess, 2016 - 464 pages!!!

One of my desires, written in a hypothetical bucket list, would be to play the Sicilian. From time to time I try, and then give up, because the next tournament is coming, and my preparation is not over, then I forget all of what I studied, because the theoretical material is quite overwhelming.
I must admit I had a bad experience with the Sicilian Dragon. I tried to learn it, using the opening volumes written by GM Alburt et al. many years ago, and I failed, but obviously the fault was mine, because I didn't have a good learning system for the openings.
Recently there has been a revival of the Dragon. It began with two DVDs made by Chessbase, the author was Carlsen's second for the 2016 world championship:
The Sicilian Dragon by GM Nielsen volumes 1 and 2

 Followed by GM Gavain Jones with two volumes on the dragon!

Yes we are speaking of more than 640 pages!! How does someone remember all the material, I honestly don't know. In this book there are only 464 pages, BUT! The font is smaller than in other books of the Move by Move series, so I guess they could be considered 500 or more pages. Plus the author really delve into the material, without any non chess related comments like other authors do. So it is clearly a work of love, where the author gave all he knew on this opening.

Returning to my experience, I remember that before playing it in a tournament, I played it online, and the results were clearly bad. Then learning more about chess, I got traumatized by Fischer who mockingly would refer to the Sicilian dragon as: Sac, Sac and Mate! 

[Event "Portoroz Interzonal"] [Site "Portoroz SVN"] [Date "1958.08.16"] [EventDate "1958.08.05"] [Round "8"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Robert James Fischer"] [Black "Bent Larsen"] [ECO "B77"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "61"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. Bc4 Nxd4 10. Bxd4 Be6 11. Bb3 Qa5 12. O-O-O b5 13. Kb1 b4 14. Nd5 Bxd5 15. Bxd5 Rac8 16. Bb3 Rc7 17. h4 Qb5 18. h5 Rfc8 19. hxg6 hxg6 20. g4 a5 21. g5 Nh5 22. Rxh5 gxh5 23. g6 e5 24. gxf7+ Kf8 25. Be3 d5 26. exd5 Rxf7 27. d6 Rf6 28. Bg5 Qb7 29. Bxf6 Bxf6 30. d7 Rd8 31. Qd6+ 1-0

Now this game is quite old, let's fast forward the movie to nearly 20 years later and watch what happened!
[Event "Nice"] [Site "Nice FRA"] [Date "1974.??.??"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "?"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Boris Spassky"] [Black "David Neil Lawrence Levy"] [ECO "B78"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "37"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. O-O-O Qb8 11. h4 a5 12. Bh6 Nxe4 13. Nxe4 Bxd4 14. h5 d5 15. Bxd5 Qe5 16. Bxf8 Qxd5 17. Qh6 Nb4 18. Rxd4 Qxd4 19. Bxe7 1-0
In any case, I didn't give up, because I like to play exciting chess, and I think the Dragon fits my chess personality. Hence the reason I have this volume, because I want to try to learn it, and see if I can use it in my tournament games.
Let's now begin to review this wonderful book published by Everyman Chess. The first thing I do, when I don't know a player is to discover something about him, in this case the author is Carsten Hansen, a FIDE Master from Denmark.
I noticed one thing we have in common, we both wrote book reviews for the now defunct site: Chesscafe.
In Chessbase Megabase 2017 there are only 191 games played by Hansen. He had a peak elo rating of 2313 in 1999, and nowadays is around 2270.

Since I didn't see games the author played in the book, I looked in the database if he played the Sicilian Dragon, based on the lines he gives in the book.
And out of 191 there are 10 games with the Sicilian Dragon, based on the following opening moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5. Nc3,g6;
These are a couple of his games with the Dragon.
[Event "Gausdal Int"] [Site "Gausdal"] [Date "1990.??.??"] [Round "6"] [White "Maus, Soenke"] [Black "Hansen, Carsten"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2440"] [BlackElo "2310"] [ECO "B78"] [EventDate "1990.08.??"] [PlyCount "62"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [SourceTitle "TD"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1994.03.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1994.03.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 O-O 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.O-O-O Qc7 11.Bb3 Na5 12.h4 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Qxc4 14.Kb1 Rfc8 15.Bh6 b5 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.h5 Be6 18.hxg6 fxg6 19.Nxe6+ Qxe6 20.Nxb5 Rab8 21.Nd4 Qf7 22.g4 a5 23.Ne2 a4 24.g5 Nd7 25.Rh3 Ne5 26.Qd5 Qxd5 27.exd5 Nc4 28.Nd4 Nxb2 29.Ne6+ Kg8 30.Rdh1 Nd3+ 31.Ka1 Nf2 0-1
[Event "Politiken Cup 13th"] [Site "Copenhagen"] [Date "1991.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Motwani, Paul"] [Black "Hansen, Carsten"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2425"] [BlackElo "2300"] [ECO "B70"] [EventDate "1991.06.??"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "DEN"] [SourceTitle "EXT 1997"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1996.11.15"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1996.11.15"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.g3 Nc6 7.Nde2 Bg7 8.Bg2 Bd7 9.b3 O-O 10.Bb2 Qc8 11.h3 Rb8 12.Rb1 b5 13.Nd5 Nxd5 14.exd5 Bxb2 15. Rxb2 Nd8 16.Qd2 Rb6 17.h4 e5 18.dxe6 fxe6 19.O-O Qc5 20.Nf4 Nc6 21.Re1 Ne5 22.Re3 Ng4 23.Rc3 Qe5 24.Rb1 d5 25.Re1 Qb8 26.Bh3 Nf6 27.Bxe6+ Bxe6 28. Rxe6 Rxe6 29.Nxe6 Qe5 30.Nxf8 Ne4 31.Nd7 1-0

As we can see it is a sharp opening, in which one can win or lose quite easily. That's why I began this article talking about chess personality, because I think we should learn openings which most fit our personality. If inside we have a burning fire, then the Dragon is surely the right way to express it. If instead we are like water, then maybe the French is better.
Speaking of the book, it is divided in 3 parts:
Part 1 is the Non-Yugoslav attack, based on 4 different chapters which examine all White's possibilities.
Chapter 1 is entitled Classical Dragon early deviations, and based on the following line: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5. Nc3,g6; 6. Be2,Bg7; 7. Be3,
  Now let me tell you one thing I don't like of the book. This book is clearly a repertoire for Black. The Sicilian Dragon is played by Black. Still all the diagrams in the book are from White's side. This doesn't make sense, because obviously a reader could try some visual exercises reading the book without chess board. But with the diagrams from White's perspective that becomes difficult.

I inserted the above moves in my main database, Megabase 2017, and I got as result more than 7000 games. The first one is from 1905, I watched it because it was played by a player I care: Blackburne. Unfortunately for Blackburne things didn't go well. I'd like to share some of the games I saw, because they can give you an impression of the sharp play one could find himself in.
[Event "Ostend Masters"] [Site "Ostend"] [Date "1905.??.??"] [Round "14"] [White "Taubenhaus, Jean"] [Black "Blackburne, Joseph Henry"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B73"] [EventDate "1905.??.??"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "26"] [EventCountry "BEL"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "2"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 Bg7 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 d6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 Nc6 8.O-O h5 9.h3 Bd7 10.Qd2 Rc8 11.f4 h4 12.Bf3 Nh5 13.Nde2 Na5 14.Qe1 Nc4 15.Bc1 Ng3 16.Nxg3 hxg3 17.Qxg3 Bf6 18.Be2 Nxb2 19.e5 dxe5 20.fxe5 Bh4 21.Qf4 Qb6+ 22.Be3 Qe6 23.Ne4 g5 24.Nxg5 Bxg5 25.Qxg5 Qg6 26.e6 Qxe6 27.Bg4 Qc6 28.Qg7 Rf8 29.Bxd7+ Kxd7 30.Qxb2 Rg8 31.Rf2 b6 32.Qe5 Qg6 33.Rd1+ Ke8 34. Rdd2 f6 35.Qe6 Rc7 36.Rxf6 Qh7 37.Rff2 b5 38.Bf4 1-0
For a serious study of this opening one should watch 60-80 games per line. This will give an idea of where to develop the pieces, and the main tactical ideas, as well as the plans for both sides. 
[Event "Match Chekhover-Lisitsin +1-1=10"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1936.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Chekhover, Vitaly"] [Black "Lisitsin, Georgy"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B73"] [EventDate "1936.??.??"] [PlyCount "74"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "12"] [EventCountry "URS"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2004"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2003.11.25"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2003.11.25"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.O-O Bd7 9.f3 O-O 10.Nd5 Rc8 11.c4 Nxd5 12.exd5 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Bxd4+ 14.Qxd4 Qa5 15.Rfe1 e5 16.dxe6 Bxe6 17.Bf1 d5 18.Re5 Qb4 19.a3 Qa4 20.b3 Qxb3 21.cxd5 Rfd8 22.Rd1 Qxa3 23.h4 Bd7 24.Qf4 Re8 25.h5 Rxe5 26.Qxe5 Re8 27.Qc7 Qe3+ 28.Kh1 Re5 29.g4 Qxf3+ 30.Bg2 Qxd1+ 31.Kh2 Qe1 32.h6 Qh4+ 33.Kg1 Re1+ 34. Bf1 Qxg4+ 35.Kf2 Qh4+ 36.Kg1 Qd4+ 37.Kh2 Qf2+ 0-1

In the beginning of my chess learning, I didn't know I had to watch a lot of games. But they are essential for learning an opening. In order to avoid to get bored, I watch games with names of players I know, or who are famous champions like the following:
[Event "Moscow International-03"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1936.06.02"] [Round "14"] [White "Kan, Ilia Abramovich"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B72"] [EventDate "1936.05.14"] [PlyCount "96"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "18"] [EventCountry "URS"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "2"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Nb3 Be6 9.f4 O-O 10.g4 Na5 11.g5 Ne8 12.Qd2 Rc8 13.Bd4 Nc4 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15. O-O-O Qd7 16.Qd3 Rc8 17.h4 Bg4 18.Rd2 b6 19.Nd5 e5 20.Bc3 f5 21.gxf6 Nxf6 22.Nxf6+ Rxf6 23.Qd5+ Rf7 24.h5 gxh5 25.Rg1 Qc6 26.fxe5 dxe5 27.Qxc6 Rxc6 28.Rd5 Rcf6 29.Nd2 Bh6 30.b3 Rf2 31.Kb2 Re2 32.Nc4 Rff2 33.Rd8+ Bf8 34.b4 Rxc2+ 35.Kb3 Rg2 36.Rf1 Rcf2 37.Rxf2 Rxf2 38.Nxe5 Be6+ 39.Ka4 Rxa2+ 40.Kb5 Rc2 41.Rd3 h4 42.Bd4 Bg7 43.Ra3 h3 44.Rxa7 h2 45.Ra8+ Bc8 46.Ra1 Bh3 47. Nf3 Bxd4 48.Nxd4 Rf2 0-1
Notice the result is not really important. The game teaches us no matter the result. If White won, we learn why Black lost. If Black won, we need to find the reason, especially if we plan to play the Dragon in tournament, because our opponents with White will have analyzed the reasons Black won, and likely found a way to neutralize it, or better understood the position.

The author does a great job in outlining which deviations are dangerous, and who are the main exponents. For example at page 10 after the moves: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,g6; 6.Be2,Bg7; 7.Be3,0-0; 8.0-0,Nc6; the author mentions that Kamsky's favourite is 9.Qd2.

Now once more becomes important the study of the classics, because maybe Kamsky found such deviation thanks to the use of the database, and the good results against the Black players at the end of the 1800, like in the following game, where one of the best players in the world loses quite easily.
[Event "International Masters"] [Site "London"] [Date "1883.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Mackenzie, George Henry"] [Black "Bird, Henry Edward"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B73"] [EventDate "1883.04.26"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "26"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "2"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 O-O 8.O-O d6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.Rad1 Qa5 11.Nb3 Qd8 12.h3 Be6 13.Nc1 Rc8 14.f4 Ne8 15.f5 Bd7 16.Bd3 e6 17.fxg6 hxg6 18.N1e2 Qa5 19.Rf2 Qh5 20.Rdf1 a6 21.Nf4 Qh8 22.Be2 Ne5 23.Kh1 Nc4 24.Bxc4 Rxc4 25.e5 Bc6 26.Qd3 Rxc3 27.bxc3 dxe5 28. Nxg6 fxg6 29.Rxf8+ Bxf8 30.Qxg6+ Qg7 31.Rxf8+ Kxf8 32.Bh6 Kg8 33.Bxg7 Nxg7 34.Kg1 1-0

And then we can see how Kamsky used such deviation, to bring despair to his opponents! 
[Event "Dia De Internet op"] [Site " INT"] [Date "2005.10.22"] [Round "1"] [White "Kamsky, Gata"] [Black "Hayrapetyan, Arman"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2700"] [BlackElo "2310"] [ECO "B73"] [EventDate "2005.10.22"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventType "swiss (blitz)"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2007"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2006.11.23"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2006.11.23"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.O-O O-O 8.Be3 Nc6 9.Qd2 Ng4 10.Bxg4 Bxg4 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Bh6 Bxh6 13.Qxh6 Qb6 14.Rab1 Rab8 15.Qh4 Be6 16.Qxe7 Rfd8 17.Qf6 Qc5 18.Kh1 Qe5 19.Qh4 Bc4 20.f4 Qa5 21.Rf3 Rd7 22.b3 Ba6 23.a4 Qd8 24.Qf2 d5 25.e5 d4 26.Ne4 Kh8 27.Nc5 Rd5 28.Nxa6 Rb6 29.f5 1-0
[Event "USA-ch GpB"] [Site "San Diego"] [Date "2006.03.11"] [Round "9"] [White "Kamsky, Gata"] [Black "Shabalov, Alexander"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2686"] [BlackElo "2595"] [ECO "B73"] [EventDate "2006.03.02"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] [SourceTitle "CBM 112"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2006.06.07"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2006.06.07"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.O-O O-O 8.Be3 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.f3 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 12.Rfd1 Qd7 13.a4 Rfc8 14.a5 Qe6 15. Ra3 Nd7 16.Bf2 a6 17.Rb3 Rc7 18.Nd5 Bxd5 19.exd5 Qe5 20.Bf1 Rac8 21.c3 Qf5 22.Rb4 Bf6 23.g4 Qg5 24.Be3 Qh4 25.g5 Qh5 26.gxf6 Ne5 27.Bg2 exf6 28.Qf2 Re7 29.Rh4 Qf5 30.Rf4 Qh5 31.Bd4 f5 32.Rh4 Qg5 33.Qg3 1-0
Obviously I'm not doing all the homework for the readers of this review. Since it would become boring, and too long. But if one reads the book, he will know how to avoid the problems which afflicted Black in the previous two games. In reality, and here comes handy the Megabase 2017, the last game Kamsky vs Shabalov was deeply annotated also by GM Rogozenco, so there are multiple sources to teach us how to play, and why.
Let me now lightly detail the two other parts of the book.  
Part 2, also based on 4 chapters is dedicated to the Yugoslav attack lines without Bc4.
1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,g6; 6.Be3,Bg7; 7.f3,0-0; 8.Qd2,Nc6; 9.0-0-0,

The author warns us this is one of the most critical lines. And of course the author outlines what Black needs to do, and what will find. He is honest, and says one will have to sacrifice pawns, or play some exchange sacrifice in order to generate activity and counter-play. This is why I say an opening must fit our personality, we cannot play it just because a champion did, or our best friend did. But at the same time the book becomes an indispensable tool of self-discovery, because going over the games, deeply annotated, one can decide if he likes it or not. Then like in all the series of books Move by Move, the author intersperses the annotations to the game, with questions we should answer, like in a training exercise.

In the second part, the line I found interesting, treated in chapter 8, is the one with 9.g4, because clearly shows how fast an attack can be, and Black must be definitely ready.
The third part is the biggest in the book with 8 chapters! It treats the Yugoslav attack with Bc4. Many of the chapters bear the names of the GMs that have contributed to the theory, like the Soltis variation: 1.e4,c5; 2.Nf3,d6; 3.d4,cxd4; 4.Nxd4,Nf6; 5.Nc3,g6; 6.Be3,Bg7; 7.f3,0-0; 8.Qd2,Nc6; 9.Bc4,Bd7; 10.0-0-0,Rc8; 11.Bb3,Ne5; 12.h4,h5;
Now, the good thing to have the best database in the world, is that allows me to satisfy my curiosity, for example: when Soltis played it for the first time, and if he was successful.
I inserted the position above, and the name Soltis, and the result was 6 games, in which Soltis was Black, and the result was amazing! Out of 6 games Soltis won 5, and drew 1!
I'd like to share two of them, because I love Soltis' books, but I must admit, I never saw his games. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see he was a tactical monster!
[Event "WchT U26 17th"] [Site "Haifa"] [Date "1970.08.20"] [Round "11.2"] [White "Pritchett, Craig William"] [Black "Soltis, Andrew E"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B78"] [EventDate "1970.08.04"] [PlyCount "62"] [EventType "team"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "ISR"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2001"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2000.11.22"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2000.11.22"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 O-O 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.O-O-O Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Bh6 Bxh6 14.Qxh6 Rxc3 15.bxc3 Qa5 16.Qe3 Rc8 17.Kb2 Qb6 18.Ka1 Qc5 19.g4 a5 20.gxh5 Nxh5 21.Qh6 a4 22.Bxf7+ Kxf7 23.Qh7+ Ng7 24.Ne2 Qc4 25.h5 Be6 26.hxg6+ Nxg6 27.Kb1 Rh8 28.Qxg6+ Kxg6 29.Rdg1+ Kf7 30.Rxh8 Qb5+ 31.Kc1 Qxe2 0-1
[Event "Reggio Emilia 7071 13th"] [Site "Reggio Emilia"] [Date "1970.??.??"] [Round "15"] [White "Barczay, Laszlo"] [Black "Soltis, Andrew E"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B78"] [EventDate "1970.12.??"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "ITA"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2000"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.11.16"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.11.16"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.f3 O-O 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.Bb3 Rc8 11.h4 h5 12.O-O-O Ne5 13.Bg5 Nh7 14.Bh6 Bxh6 15. Qxh6 Rxc3 16.bxc3 Qa5 17.Kb1 Qxc3 18.Qd2 Qc5 19.Ne2 a5 20.Qd4 Qc7 21.Nc3 Nf6 22.a4 Rc8 23.Kb2 Be6 24.Rhe1 Kg7 25.f4 Nc6 26.Qd2 Nb4 27.Re3 Qb6 28. Qd4 Rc5 29.e5 dxe5 30.fxe5 Ng4 0-1

One last thing, the book has a total of 80 deeply annotated games, which I think is really a lot of material, and shows Carsten Hansen really worked hard!

At the end of the book, as customary, there are the index of the variations, quite handy if one must locate a certain chapter for reference, and the index of the games in alphabetical order.
I'm sure I didn't cover enough, but the topic is huge, and it doesn't make sense to write something bigger than the book as review! I believe Carsten Hansen did a good job in explaining the ideas behind many moves, but once again, this opening is huge, and the book should come with some memory pills, or a memory card to insert in our brains!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Week 5: Cobras Win in Tense Finish

Week 5 of the PRO Chess League featured inter-league play between the forty-eight teams across the world. The matches took place on a Saturday to make it easier to accommodate time-zone changes, which resulted in a 10:20am start time for Carolina. The Cobras were paired with the Amaravati Yodhas, another young team based out of India. With both teams sporting comparable rating averages, one could predict a close and interesting match.

In our first legitimately tight match of the season, the Cobras defeated Amaravati by a score of 8.5-7.5. Carolina's lineup included FM Robin Cunningham and NMs Peter Giannatos, Daniel Cremisi, and me. It was a balanced effort by the four of us, as no player scored more than 2.5 points.

This week's game analysis will be a little bit different from past weeks. Instead of featuring everyone's best or most exciting game, I thought it would be interesting to show all of our games from the last round, as we attempted to clinch the match. The first three rounds had produced a 6-6 score, making the final games extra tense. None of us wanted to let the team down by losing our final game. I'm hoping that my analysis below will shed some insight into some of the unique considerations that go into team matches as opposed to individual chess.

NM Daniel Cremisi kicked off the final round with an effortless win as black. Anyone who has played Daniel would not be shocked to learn that his opponent flagged while Daniel still had over two thirds of his time remaining. Daniel has been a strong rapid player the entire season, and he came through again this week with a score of 2,5/4. His game featured a series of blunders by his opponent, which Daniel easily exploited.

Since Daniel's game finished first, the rest of us were all under significantly less pressure. Our goal remained to play solidly, and make sure not to lose. Draws essentially were as good as wins.

FM Robin Cunningham scored a solid 2/4 in the match. His last round game was relatively mundane, ending in a quiet rook ending draw after many of the pieces were exchanged early. Knowing that the most important thing was to avoid losing, Robin played with as little risk as possible.

NM Peter Giannatos scored 2.5/4 for the Cobras, and it could have been even more if not for a round two swindle in a time pressured ending. His last round, like Robin's, was the epitome of cautious flexibility, as he maintained a solid position while preserving chances to press depending on what the team situation required.

With the team score at 8-7, I needed to draw my last game for the team to win the match. I had only scored 1/3 in the first three rounds, as my play had been highly inconsistent. After am interesting struggle, I managed to draw the game below, clinching the match for the Cobras.

The narrow victory gives Carolina a 2-3 record on the season. Our next match is Wednesday, 2/15 at 6:45pm against the Atlanta Kings.

I hope you enjoyed this recap! Until next time,

LM Aaron Balleisen

Friday, February 10, 2017

Simple Chess: Bullet, Blitz, and Onward.

A lot of higher rated players will tell you that playing a lot of blitz and bullet chess will not improve your chess. Even more people will tell you that analyzing your bullet and blitz games is useless. While I agree that it will hurt you if all you play is bullet and blitz, I think that there is a time and a place for both speeds of chess to enhance and improve your tournament play with the correct mindset. 

I will explain my reasoning for using both methods of the faster time controls. 

When I talk about bullet, I am specifically talking about 1 minute chess. I use this method to continue to work on seeing simple tactics (hanging pieces, forks, pins, skewers, bank rank mates). Bullet chess also helps when you play long tournament games and you get down to only a few minutes or seconds on your clock. It takes away the panic of only have a minute on your clock because you are used to playing entire games in only a minute. 

When I talk about blitz, I am specifically talking about 5 minute chess. I use this method to work on practicing my openings and also with tactics. After a few games in my openings, I will compare with my database to see where the opening left the book/plans of the opening. This is a great way to not only increase opening knowledge but also making it more relevant. 

With all of the above points, I have to caution you from ONLY playing bullet and blitz. You have to play slower time controls. I play 45|45 or 90|30 games through a Slow Chess League on This way I practice actually playing slower and taking my time during my moves. Also playing once a week at the Charlotte Chess Center with a 75|15 time control. 

I used to play bullet and blitz with the intention of just playing, but once I switched my mindset to these reasons it has improved my chess time management during long time controls. I have no doubt this will help improve your chess as well. 

Until next time,