Monday, December 31, 2018

December 2018 Tactical Training: Part 2

Let's finish off 2018 in the usual fashion: More (easy) puzzles!

Also, check out the following article, which rounds up the greatest chess stories of 2018:

Monday, December 24, 2018

Cairnhill Chess Festival 2018

With the holidays here, I could get back into the game by going for more tournaments wherever possible. Thus, it felt good to be back at the Cairnhill Chess Festival this year, especially after missing the 2017 edition. After all the 15+10 rapid games (or worse, 15+0 IFG games), longer time controls are always welcome.

Cairnhill CC playing room

What can we learn from this game?
  1. Avoid unnecessary pawn pushes that give the opponent free tempo, e.g. 15... a6. In fact, White's 10. h3 move might not have been the best, since it would tie down my light-squared bishop and hence become incapable of unleasing its full potential on the long diagonal. Perhaps I could follow it up with a g3-g4 to restrict Black's bishop and relieve some pressure, which was one of my ideas (eventually not needed) during the game.
  2. Principle of two weaknesses: Control over the e6 square alone was not going to win the game. To stretch thin Black's defenses, another weaknesses must be sought: In this case, combining e6 with c-file invasion proved to be an effective plan.
  3. Control of open diagonals can be effective in denying the opponent of key squares: White's control of the a1-h8 long diagonal after move 22 prevented White from bringing his king to bear onto e6.

What can we learn from this game?
  1. Again, the power of controlling key diagonals cannot be underestimated: White's Bf4 and Qa4 dominated large swathes of territory in the enemy camp, greatly restricting the motion of Black's pieces.
  2. Sometimes, a tactical motif cannot be executed immediately, but leaving it there can allow one to exploit it in other ways. On move 22, Black could not utilize the a7-g1 pin to play 22... Qxg3 immediately, but it can be used to buy time to get the rooks into the game (i.e. 22.. Rac8). Instead, I chose passive defense with 22... Rad8 and threw away a potentially winning game ):
  3. When the opponent makes a sac, remember that it is possible to return some material to blunten the attack (e.g 29... Kh8 giving back a pawn to eventually force a queen trade, instead of 29... Rd6??)
As always, my weakness of being unable to calculate effectively under time pressure, or properly exploit tactical motifs, come to the fore. I will need to continue working on it in order to convert more points. Maybe one day, I should join a proper 90 + 30 tournament to fully utilize the time given ... but then again, I tell myself that every year, and keep shying away because of commitment issues ._.

Monday, December 10, 2018

World Chess Championship 2018 Highlights: Part 1

As promised earlier, I wanted to go through selected games from the recent World Championship (and the Women's World Championship). Today, we look at the most dramatic part of the event: The tiebreakers.

While both players showed that they were evenly matched in the classical games, it was a different story altogether in the tiebreakers. Carlsen dominated all three games to sweep a 3-0 victory, proving that his rapidplay skills are one level above the rest of the world.

Game 2 was a short but brutal game where Caruana's position rapidly fell apart after a premature pawn break:

In Game 3, which was a must-win for Caruana, Carlsen was able to force a simplification, and clinched his third victory when the American overpressed and made even more inaccuracies:

Caruana resigns his third rapid game (Image from

In the next part, we will look at some of the more memorable draws from the classical games.


Friday, November 30, 2018

World Chess Championship 2018: The Aftermath

The World Chess Championship drew to a close on Wednesday, when Carlsen defeated Caruana 3-0 in the rapid tiebreakers to defend his title. It was a World Championship unique in many aspects: The first time that two players with such a small difference in Elo rating were facing off, the first time since Fischer that an American took the World Stage, and also the dubious record of being the first World Chess Championship without a single decisive result in the classical games.

Carlsen (left) vs Caruana, tiebreakers (Image from

Not surprisingly, the 12 straight draws faced loads of criticism from chess fans, generating the usual complaints about how top-level chess has too many draws. Just look at the comments taken from a article:

Yeah I'm not kidding you, someone actually called the World No. 1 and 2 "p*ssies".

True, Carlsen's decision to back out of a winning position in Round 12 might have been questionable. But to label both players as "boring" and not putting in their effort does them no justice at all. I did not follow every single round, but the games which I saw were more than enough to show that both sides were giving it their all in the fight.

Look at Round 1, where Caruana defended a gruelling endgame that lasted 7 hours. Then look at Round 6, where it was the American's turn to press the advantage but ended up missing a near-impossible winning variation. Finally, who can forget the fireworks that emerged during Game 10, despite it ending with both players splitting the point?

In fact, it is the fact that both sides are so evenly matched, that makes the draws all the more interesting. The following comment on the same page sums up the response to the draw criticisms:

It's amazing how people keep silent when a tournament sees loads of action, like what happened in the Candidates 2018. But the momenet the frequency of draws go up (e.g. Shamkir 2018; look at the comments on this page :o), they start baying for blood and demand that the drawing rules be revised o.o

Just because a draw occurs doesn't always mean that it is a dull game. Why must chess end with a decisive result before it can be called "exciting"? The words of Tigran Petrosian, who was frequently criticised for his rock-solid defensive play, resonate well here:

"Yes, perhaps I like defending more than attacking, but who has demonstrated that defence is a less risky and dangerous occupation than attack? And are there so few games that have found their way into the treasury of chess thanks to a virtuoso defence?" 

-- Tigran Petrosian

“They knock me for my draws, for my style, they knock me for everything I do.”

-- Tigran Petrosian

Regardless of the sentiments, the event is over, and Carlsen is once again the World Champion. Congratulations to him (and Happy Birthday!), and kudos to both players for the tough battles over the past 3 weeks! I'll get around to analyzing the actual games once finals are over (:

All smiles after a successful defense!


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A collection of brilliancies shared by NUS IGC

Before everyone gets too absorbed in the ongoing World Championship, let me show y'all a few games that were shared by members of NUS IGC during our previous training sessions. And the title says it all: Yes, expect some sacrifices being thrown about, so sit tight!

Our first game is by the famous Soviet master Rashid Nezhmetdinov, who had a fierce attacking style not unlike that of Tal and Alekhine. And it certainly takes guts to sacrifice your queen for long-term attacking chances, as seen below:


Next, we have another renowned Russian grandmaster also known for his attacking prowess... and it's none other than Garry Kasparov himself:

Finally, we come to more recent times (well, not exactly recent!) with a fantastically deep combination by Vishy Anand in his younger days.

Before we see the game, first step into the shoes of the Tiger of Madras. Can you see what he saw over the board?

Now sit back and enjoy the rest of the game:

If only us commoners could spot deep combinations like what these three attacking maestros did! But that takes a lot of training, which should pretty much spur ourselves to keep improving on our tactics (:


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018 Highlights: Part 2

While Anand was busy demolishing Hansen in Round 3, another of his contemporaries was also having a good day. Vladimir Kramnik, Russia's Olympiad veteran, was giving his opponent a lesson on typical Kramnik positional play. Watch how he uses his active pieces and passed pawn to generate pressure on different parts of the board:

Kramnik's victory was needed on this day to bring the Russian team victory. But alas, their good fortune was not to last: In the next round, Russia experienced a shock defeat by Poland (but then again, any chess victory against Mother Russia is always a sensational topic). While Kramnik was the match winner in Round 3, here he proved to be a weak link: A middlegame blunder allowed the opponent to execute a powerful triangulation tactic.

Russia (right) vs Poland

Before we show the game, you might want to give a try at beating Kramnik below:

Now see the full game:

From here onwards, Team Poland went on a roll, scoring victories over heavyweight teams like France and USA. They were finally brought to a halt by losing to China in the penultimate round. The top board between Ding Liren and Jan-Krzysztof Duda proved to be an interesting fight, featuring a stunning piece sacrifice by Ding:

Duda (left) vs Ding

China later went on to beat USA in the final round, winning the Olympiad. Their women's team also won first place, making it a double gold :O

Winners of the open section

With that, I end my brief coverage of the Olympiad. Here's to more exciting games in the upcoming World Championship 2018!

All photos are by Maria Emelianova/

Monday, October 29, 2018

Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018 Highlights: Part 1

It seems I'm always late to the party, but better late than never. Today we start a series of articles analyzing some selected games from the Batumi Chess Olympiad, which was held just over a month ago.

One important event in this year's Olympiad was the return of Anand, who had not played in the Olympiad since 2006. He won a convincing game in Round 3 against Eric Hansen, leading the Indian team to a 3.5-0.5 victory over Canada.

Vishy Anand is back!

While Hansen's mistakes may look like mere inaccuracies, they were more than enough for the Tiger of Madras, who pounced quickly and dominated the board with his superb piece activity. Daniel King has provided thorough analysis of the game on his Youtube Channel, and I will include his analysis here.

I will stop here for now because schoolwork is preventing me from covering multiple games ): So we will split this series into multiple parts... stay tuned for more highlighted games of the Olympiad!


Saturday, October 20, 2018

4 annoying FIDE rules

Being swamped with work I have not had the time to analyze any new games (I know the recent Chess Olympiad is a treasure trove, but I'll leave that for a future article!). So today I will just share on something lighter.

When preparing to brief the arbiters for NUS IFG 2018 (Because I can't be an arbiter when I'm participating!), I forced myself to look through the painfully detailed FIDE rulebook. I realized how little we know about the FIDE rules: For example, how many people know that there exists such a thing called "Quickplay finishes"? And no, that's different from rapid.

"What in the world is that!?"

So below, I share a few of the more quirky and annoying rules of FIDE, most of which have been responsible for upsets, sudden losses, and emotional meltdowns of many players, beginner and veteran alike.

1. Touch move rule

Ah, the classic one. It's a rule that catches many beginners unaware. Even top level players fall victim to it sometimes: GM Gserper provides a few examples of such games. Why so much hype over touching pieces before moving them? The following forum post sums up the reasoning:

"Because if you start letting people touch pieces, move them and then change their minds, undoing moves, captures, promotions,  once, twice, three times, before they make up their minds and take their fingers off the piece(s) or even more officially hit the clock, you can easily end up with an impossible to resolve dispute over what the real position is/was. No touch. No dispute."

"What was the original position again?"

Problem solved, but another issue comes along. What's messy is that if a dispute arises, and the accused denies that he/she touched a piece, the opponent and arbiter have no evidence to prove otherwise! This is why arbiters - and the players on the adjacent boards - dread it when a touch-move dispute appears in a kids' tournament. After all, kids tend to be pretty unforgiving when they want to win.

But in case you were wondering whether only kids tournaments are prone to such problems... no, the recent Chess Olympiad 2018 saw a similar controversy. Fortunately, most top-level tournaments (should) have CCTVs to resolve such disputes when they occur, which is why we rarely see grandmasters having such arguments.

And thankfully there's no Fischer to complain about the cameras

That said... it still pays to be gracious, and admit a mistake when you make it. After all, if you are d___headed to deny a touch-move when you committed it, you may get away during the game. But what happens to your reputation after the game is not within the jurisdiction of the arbiters... (:

2. Adjusting of pieces

Did you know that you are not supposed to adjust the pieces when it is your opponent's turn? Refer to FIDE handbook Article 4.2.1: "Only the player having the move may adjust one or more pieces on their squares..."

(Also, Article 4 is a delightfully verbose set of instructions on how to deal with edge cases such as captures, castles... well, those FIDE bureaucrats sure have everything covered!)

Quite reasonable, considering that it can be annoying if you are deep in calculation, and your opponent's hands decide to go on a dance over the board adjusting every single footsoldier. But when time runs low, this can lead to some ugly stuff. For example, knocking over pieces when hurrying to move, and rearranging them after you press the clock, can constitute as a foul. OTB blitz tournaments are perfect breeding grounds for such mistakes (personal experience), so be warned...

Meanwhile, GM Gserper suggests saying "adjusting" to evade the touch-move rule, but provides a disclaimer that it is actually illegal (you can only say "adjusting" before touching any piece!), so we are not responsible for any loss of games or emotions if you try this out on the chessboard.

You didn't read the small print, did you?

3. Using two hands

Castling, promoting of pawns, pressing the clock - You can only use one hand to perform all these actions. For example, in Article 6.2.1:

"A player must press his clock with the same hand with which he made his move. It is forbidden for a player to keep his finger on the clock or to ‘hover’ over it."

Sometimes, even grandmasters are guilty of violating this rule, as seen in Anand vs Kramnik in a 2017 blitz game.

Well, no arbiter wishes to work out whether a player pressed a clock before making their move (which obviously is illegal), especially in a time-scramble situation. So what better way than to eliminate that by enforcing the use of only one hand with the pieces and clock? And why not standardize that by enforcing EVERY move to be made with only one hand? Problem solved.

Or perhaps, there are other conspiracies behind enforcing one-hand rules: FIDE is secretly training chess players to be martial-arts experts, by making us develop insanely quick hand reactions. No matter the reason, quick hands have proved to be an invaluable skill in blitz chess.

4. Illegal moves

This is one of those rules that are constantly evolving. For those who were active in rapid tournaments, you would recall the days of 2014-2017, when FIDE revised rapid-play rules such that one illegal move led to an immediate loss. This led to much grief over the board, such as the poor soul described in the beginning of this article.

Soon, it seemed that too many heads were rolling because of this rule, to the point that at the start of 2018, FIDE revised the illegal move rules for rapid and blitz to be similar to that of classical chess: The first illegal move would only lead to a time penalty while the second move would lead to a loss.

A relief to all rapid/blitz players? Yes, but as you can infer from the earlier three rules, implementing quirky stuff always opens up a whole new can of worms. Peter Doggers has written an article regarding some fascinating scenarios that could arise from the new rules, so I shall not elaborate on them.

Claim an illegal move, or play a7#?

What other funny FIDE rules have you encountered? Share in the comments below!

Image Sources:

Sunday, September 30, 2018

NUS IFG 2018 Highlights

While I am taking a break from mid-term revision, here is a game from the 2018 edition of NUS Inter-Faculty Games Chess, which was one of my few games from that tournament that was worth analyzing (most of the rest were either horrible blunders or massacre of weak opponents).

Engin IFG 2018 team in action

Also, still amazed how Engin was able to get 3rd this year... but definitely happy to have another day well spent on chess (:

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Watch out for weak squares around your position: White's neglect of the queenside weak dark squares allowed Black to mount a full scale invasion of the c-file.
  2. Don't ignore king safety: The over-ambitious 21... Rc2 weakened my back rank, allowing White to force a massive simplification.
  3. Look out for crucial tempo-gaining checks, such as the resource ... Qd5+/Qc6+ which consistently materialized for Black in the endgame.

Kudos to my teammates for putting up such a good fight, and congrats again for getting 3rd!

Great job everyone!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Gufeld's Immortal: The Mona Lisa

Today we will look at an aesthetic masterpiece which was shared in NUS Chess training on Monday. Played between Grandmasters Bagirov and Gufeld in the 1970s, it shows a knife edge battle where both sides attack on opposite wings, but Black came out on top with a series of stunning combinations.

I have tried my best to add commentary, although the game is so explosive that words don't do justice to all the fireworks...

It is no wonder that has dubbed this game as the "Mona Lisa"! It has also been called Gufeld's immortal game, and with good reason: Gufeld's combinations (25... Be6, 26... Nd3+ and 29... Nb4+) and incredible foresight are truly out of this world.

Eduard Gufeld

But if we look closely, these three key moves align with one simple guideline: When attacking, tempo is especially important. Thus, the most forcing moves are often required to ensure that the opponent has no time to mount an effective defense!


Sunday, August 26, 2018

QCD SG Chess League 2018 Round 8

Yet another round of the QCD SG Chess League has concluded, and after two rounds of absence, it felt good to be back.

Back to AQueen Paya Lebar!

Unfortunately, I seem to be having a bad streak in this tournament. Out of 4 games played so far, I only have a miserable half point to show for my efforts. A far cry from the satisfactory tournaments that I had in Queenstown and Nanyang!

And after Friday’s game, it was clear that my positional thinking needed a good deal of improvement.

Those who know me will know how I am normally a risk-adverse player, sometimes to the point where I don’t dare to sac pieces for a temporary advantage. In recent times I have been trying to overcome that, going for more aggressive play whenever I have the chance.

Except that this time, it seems that I went a bit too far. How can one see all the warning signs that an attack is not prospective, yet ignore them and go for it anyway simply because I want to do it? Perhaps this is a case of letting emotions overcome reasoning, though in a quieter manner over the board:

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Don’t come up with a plan based on what you want to do. Rather, base the plan on what the position needs. In this game, Black’s decision to attack kingside failed as the pieces were not well placed to exploit such a plan, and White’s counterattack was faster. Indeed, Black had better choices, such as exploiting the open d-file or going for an a5 pawn break!
  2. Watch out for “dangerous elements”, which can be anything from pins to indirect attacks or even loose pieces. They may not seem to bother you at the moment, but can quickly materialize into potential tactics, such as the long-diagonal pin that we saw in the game. Another good article, which highlights the danger of ignoring such motifs, would be Silman’s article on Hanging Pieces.
  3. When in a disadvantageous position, don’t give up too easily: Fight back and seek counterplay! Even after falling prey along the long diagonal, Black continued to press on the kingside and give White problems, although in this case it wasn’t enough to save the game.

I guess I’ll need to keep trying to strike a balance between cautious and aggressive play. With two rounds in the QCD left to go, let’s see if I can recover from my bad streak and get some good games!

A tough fight for me and my teammates (Photo Courtesy of another teammate, Antonio)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Nanyang Team Chess Challenge 2018 Highlights

Before school re-opens next week, let me take the chance to finish analysing my games from last month’s Nanyang Racial Harmony Team Chess Challenge. It was good to be playing alongside my QCD teammates; shoutout to them for being so sporting throughout all 7 rounds!

Nanyang CC

In Round 1, we were fortunate/unfortunate enough to be paired against one of the top seeded teams, but we definitely weren’t going down without a fight. Here is the memorable first game, where I was enjoying a good position with strong centre control until a couple of mistakes suddenly threw it away:

Round 3 saw us paired against an equally-matched team. I had played interesting games with most of the opposing team in previous tournaments, so I was looking forward to another good fight. And the fight didn’t disappoint:

One of the opposing team players, Yujing, had written an article praising my team’s sportsmanship during the round. But what I was more impressed about, was how quickly he analyzed his games on the same day the tournament ended. Meanwhile, I am only writing about this more than 2 weeks after the event! Talk about true dedication to the game (:

While I am generally happy with the games played in this tournament, I still feel that my calculation ability, especially in the middlegame, needs more improvement. And of course, my poor time management still leaves a lot to be desired (although some might argue that anything can happen in a 15+10 time control).

Nevertheless, it was a good day for my team, and here’s to more exciting games for the remainder of the QCD Chess League!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

August 2018 Tactical Training: Part 1

Happy 53rd Birthday, Singapore!

Image from

Saturday, July 21, 2018

QCD SG Chess League 2018 Round 5

The QCD League is back in action after more than a month, in a spanking new comfortable location on the rooftop of the AQueen Paya Lebar hotel. After a whole summer of hectic project work, it was a good break for me.

The playing room at AQueen Paya Lebar hotel

Well, a break that was almost undone by a small mishap. I was late for the next round, and while the tournament was not zero start, the loss of valuable time was a bad enough start. Thankfully, a middlegame mistake by my opponent gave me back the initiative, but I was unable to convert it in the subsequent opposite-colour bishop endgame:

Here’s to more great games for the rest of the League, and shoutout to all my teammates who have displayed great fighting spirit so far!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

NUSH Team Chess July 2018

So our juniors had a mini team-chess game last Friday, and with the PGN on the Whatsapp chat, I couldn’t resist taking a look at it. Thankfully, they assured me that it was an absolutely non-serious game… and allowed me to post it here.

Well, troll games shall receive troll comments. Be warned: If you are a chess purist who does not wish to get brain cancer, look away now. The level of trolling in this game is enough to make the toughest chess coaches cry.

Still reading? Alright then. Take this as some relief from the normally serious articles on this blog.

Remember how Kim and Tromp wanted a chess showdown to decide matters during their summit? It finally took place, and what a match it was! A magnificent display of how sometimes, the biggest nuke isn’t always the best:

Tell that to the Russians (Image from Atomic Heritage Foundation)

So Tromp walks away from the summit, satisfied that he had gained the upper hand by bullying his bad-hair counterpart into destroying his nukes. That is, until it turns out that Rocket Man is not only not removing them, but developing more nukes in secret

And play a troll game


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thomson Chess Fiesta 2018 Highlights

The Thomson Chess Fiesta 2018 concluded almost a month ago, and due to its unfortunate clash with the SG Open, participation was relatively low.

Nevertheless, it was a refreshing comeback for me. My last tournament was more than half a year ago (excluding QCD, which can’t be counted as a full-day tourament) and I managed to play some very good games despite having to withdraw on the second day.

Feels good to be back!

Here are the two highlights from Day 1. In Round 2, what seemed to be a troubling position for me was eventually saved by my bishop pair:

The next game was a true classic among patzers: One size squeezes a winning position out of a draw, only to blow it up by losing on time. Unfortunately, said person was me:

Incidentally, my opponent and I had fought exactly one year before in the Thomson Chess Fiesta 2017, where I blew another winning position against him (see the game here). A real déjà vu ):

Overall it was a satisfactory tournament run (spoilt only by that thrown win in Game 3), which was soon followed by my participation in the recent Queenstown Club Tournament 2018. Perhaps, when I can next time find in my busy schedule, I will post more highlights from that event here.

Thomson CC Playing Hall

Friday, June 15, 2018

June 2018 Tactical Training: Part 1

Wishing all our Muslim friends Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri! Have fun!


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Women's World Chess Championship 2018 Highlights

While the World Championship traditionally receives the lion’s share of attention among top chess events, let us not forget its sisterly counterpart, who prefers to shy away from the limelight: The Women’s World Championship. However, that does not make the games from the Women’s Championship any less interesting. In fact, this year’s edition saw plenty of bloodshed as many decisive games were played out.

The 2018 edition of the Championships saw a 10 game match being played between the two contenders: Defending Champion Tan Zhongyi and Challenger Ju Wenjun. Let us look at some of the highlights from the match:

Tan Zhongyi (left) vs Ju Wenjun

Game 3

The start of the match already saw first blood drawn by Ju in the second game. Game 3 was a Queen’s Gambit Declined which looked to be a promising position for both sides, until Tan made a reckless mistake on the 14th move. This allowed Ju to launch a vigorous attack against Tan’s exposed king, and before long it was over:

Game 4

Tan got some payback in the next round, employing her own kingside attack that is typical of Stonewall Positions. The queen sacrifice at the end was a neat way to finish things off:

Game 5

By this stage, however, Ju was already leading by one point, and extended her lead further by winning Game 5. In this game, which featured a typical struggle against a pawn centre, Ju managed to secure a nice central advantage. Tan sacrificed a pawn to gain counterplay, but her plan backfired:

Game 6

Nevertheless, Tan was not going down without a fight, and bounced back to reduce the score difference to one point in Round 6. This was a truly amazing marathon game, where time trouble meant that Ju found herself defending a worse endgame. She defended accurately, but could not stop Tan from grinding to a win after a whopping 125 moves.

Obviously we are not going to look through every single move (unless you are the sort that enjoys watching those extended Taiwanese dramas), but we should focus on a few critical positions:

Ju eventually won the match 5.5 – 4.5 to become the 17th Women’s World Champion. Sadly, she only has half a year to enjoy her new title before having to defend it: This match took place later than expected, and the next Women’s World Championship is a knockout tournament that will be scheduled in November 2018.

Of course, the highlight of the year is still the main World Championship between the two Cs in November. Let’s hope their games will be equally exciting!

Setting the stage for November


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Return of the Old Guard: QCD SG Chess League 2018 Round 4

Today we shall look at another of my games from the QCD SG Chess League 2018. Now in its second year, the League is unlike most of the single day, rapid tournaments that were once commonplace in Singapore. Instead, it is a team event held over the course of several months, with games held on Friday evenings. Perfect for chess-playing adults who want a place to destress after their work.

The playing hall after Round 3 (Photo courtesy of Ong Yujing)

Oh, and did I mention that you need to be above 20 to participate in the event? That’s what makes it even more appealing: No screaming kids running around the place, or haranguing the arbiters over the touch-move rules. Such a nice, quiet environment to play in, which makes me regret not having signed up for the 2017 edition.

Return to the abyss, little ones

Round 4 was held last Friday, and it was a series of well fought games for my team despite suffering a loss. Incidentally, I was paired against one of my ex-seniors, who was also an NUSH alumni. The last time we faced off under tournament conditions (if my memory doesn’t fail me) was during a team event at PJC in 2010.

Well, old comrades we may be, but that doesn’t make the subsequent clash any less intense:

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Sometimes, it is good to just maintain the tension instead of releasing it so early, especially if you have the advantage. The pawn exchange on move 15 gave Black an opportunity to free up his cramped position.
  2. In my bid to break the stalemate, I ended up opening the position and gave the enemy bishop pair free reign. It is a simple strategic mistake which we should learn from: The two bishops are king of the open battlefield!
  3. When in time trouble, it is best to keep things simple instead of playing so aggressively; 31. Qa5 was simply asking for trouble.

I end off with an anecdote: After the game, my opponent told me that I had become a much better player compared to when we faced off 8 years ago.

My reply? “Yeah I train quite a bit, but the only difference it makes is that I take a longer time to lose!”

Definitely, I am still making poor decisions in time trouble even after all these years of competitive chess. It’s something for me to work on, which shows how the learning never stops!


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Candidates Tournament 2018 Highlights: Part 3

We finish off our Candidates Tournament series by looking at the last few rounds. If the earlier games were dramatic, then the last few rounds were reaching fever pitch, as more blood was shed in desperate efforts to score those final, valuable wins.

Round 12 saw the tournament being blown wide open as Sergey Karjakin defeated Fabio Caruana to catch him in first place. This was also an incredible comeback for the former, who started poorly with 2.5/7 in the first half of the tournament.

An amazing comeback by Karjakin

Watch how Karjakin deals Caruana his first defeat in this tournament with the nice exchange sacrifice 17. Bxd5:

The same round saw another decisive game: Ding Liren scored his first win in the tournament against Shakriyar Mamedyarov, using an unstoppable queenside pawn majority:

Ding wins his first game in the tournament

With the tournament blown open in Round 12, four contenders had good chances to earn the challenger rights: Caruana, Karjakin, Ding Liren and Mamedyarov. Even Kramnik had a theoretical, albeit low, chance. The final two rounds were gearing up to be hotly contested fights.

Eventually, it was Caruana who emerged victorious from the mess, beating Alexander Grischuk in the final round to win the tournament by a full point:

With that, we round up our coverage of one of the most thrilling chess events in 2018. Congratulations to Caruana for earning his right to the World Chess Championship 2018, and here’s to more exciting games between Carlsen and Caruana in November!

History has been written, and will continue to keep doing so

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

All photos by Maria Emelianova/

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Candidates Tournament 2018 Highlights: Part 2

It’s been nearly a month since the Candidates ended. Even as I write this, many of the players from the Candidates are fighting in either the US Championships or Shamkir Chess 2018. So I will try to catch up on the backlog of games!

After his defeat by Kramnik in Round 3, Aronian bounced back to win a fine game against Karjakin in the next game. In Round 5, he had an excellent chance to score a second consecutive victory, but a couple of mistakes allowed his opponent, Alexander Grischuk, to escape with a draw.

A draw, but a dramatic game nonetheless:

Poor Aronian would suffer in subsequent rounds, including a tough loss against Wesley So in Round 6. The following struggle saw a pawn sacrifice by So, creating pawn weaknesses and bad piece coordination in the enemy camp that culminated in a fine win by the American:

Suffering alongside Aronian was the oldest player in the field, Vladimir Kramnik. In the same round, the Russian suffered a “hallucination” in his game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:

Position after 37. Kf4

In his earlier calculations, Kramnik had wrongly thought that the rook on c7 was on c8. Thus, although he would lose the h4 pawn, he could still win it back after 37... Bc7 38. Rxh4 Rf8+. Except that the rook was not on c8!

"Eyes, you do me wrong today"

With this victory, Mamedyarov, who had been in excellent performance recently, moved up to join Caruana in first place. The Candidates Tournament certainly been producing more than enough exciting games for us!

All that remains is to see whether Caruana and Mamedyarov could maintain their lead for the rest of the tournament, or whether some dramatic upset in the last few rounds would turn the tide…

To be continued…

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Donald Trump vs Kim Jong Un: Match of the Century?

We know how much Trump loves stirring things up. But at rare times it could be something good, such as his recent groundbreaking acceptance of an offer to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (if successful, this will be the first time a US president has met face-to-face with a North Korean Leader).

Now, it seems, Donald is also aiming to be the first American president to participate in a chess match. Reliable sources have discovered that he has issued a chess challenge to Kim, which will take place during their summit if the latter accepts. Trump has proposed a format similar to the current World Championship: A 12 round match, with the winner being the first to reach 6.5 points. Alongside Carlsen vs Caruana at the end of this year, this is set to become one of the most followed chess events of the year, or possibly even the century.

A prediction of stunning accuracy, except for the fact that both don't think

When asked on why he issued such an unexpected challenge, Trump was quick to point to the acumen gained from his previous business ventures:

“I will beat him, definitely. I have the best chess skills around over here. Nobody has beaten me in a match for as long as I remember. You’ve got to be tactical, you know. It’s like doing business, you need to know the secrets and strategies to get the advantage. And I’ve seen successes in my businesses before, loads and loads of it, it’s going to help a lot for this. Kim, he only knows how to build missiles. He can’t do business. He’s going to lose all his games.”

 Trump also heaped praise on American chess:

“We’ve got the best Grand Chess Masters around here. It used to be Russia. But they all left when Putin rigged his elections. Now America’s at the top. And we’ll win the next World Championship, you know. I can sense it.”

"So you're placing your bets on me this November?"

It’s funny how much Donald flatters the US has having the best GMs, when in 2016 he lamented that there were no Grandmasters in the US. Did some large scale migration of chess players from Russia take place within the last two years? But we digress.

Public Reaction

As usual, Trump supporters have reacted to this news with the hype and frenzy that we get from, well, typical Trump supporters. And there are many chess fans who will be more than willing to follow the results. After years of staring at Berlin Walls, Queen’s Gambits and other standard GM openings from the top level, who wouldn’t want a refreshing look at some new ideas from the non-professionals? After all, it’s been a long time since the Trompowsky was last played in a high-level match, and Trump seems all set to renew his namesake opening!

More likely he will revive the Berlin Wall as the Mexican Wall

However, other experts are less idealistic. A GM—who declined to be named—warned that if accepted, the match could become the ugliest event in all of chess history. “We would have disputes over the touch-move rules, illegal moves, arguments over whether the clock is broken down. I can even foresee requests to scan the toilets for cheating devices. You name it, they’ll do it. I don’t want to see a match where the players squabble like children, and that’s what Trump and Kim are going to do.”

Nevertheless, the response across the world has been generally enthusiastic. Agon Ltd has offered to sponsor the match, possibly to redeem themselves after a disastrous run in the Candidates 2018. However, with Trump’s immense wealth—as immense as his ego—that would probably not be necessary.

Trump’s seconds

With America’s “Big Three” – Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Fabio Caruana—forming the core of the US chess elite, there are no shortage of chess masters who have the potential to help Trump in this match. However, Donald has declined assistance from the Big Three, stating that he prefers to keep the identities of his seconds as “classified information”.

“We don’t want those North Korean thugs to know who’s on my side, don’t we? But I assure you these seconds of mine, they are very, very talented, they can beat anybody in less than 5 moves. Kim’s not even going to know what’s coming for him. He just wouldn’t know.”

Since Donald refuses to release his seconds’ identities like how he refused to release his tax returns, we’ll let him be. Anyway, the Big Three probably aren’t very interested in helping him. Caruana is fighting in the Grenke Chess Classic, and after that he will be preparing for his match against Carlsen. As for Nakamura and So, they’ll be busy helping their fellow countryman prepare for the upcoming World Title match.

North Korean Response

So far, the response from the North Korean side has been relatively muted. A North Korean spokesman replied that Kim is “seriously considering” Trump’s offer, but has yet to make a decision. However, in the dictator’s recent visit to China, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping encouraged him to accept the challenge, and offered assistance in the form of Chinese grandmaster seconds. This means that if Jong Un participates in the match, the core of China’s chess elite—Ding Liren, Wei Yi, Hou Yifan, and many others—could very well be providing him with much-needed assistance.

Discussing on who will act as Kim's seconds

There are also rumours that North Korea has engaged Chinese priests to invoke the spirit of Bobby Fischer, in the hope that he would return to act as Kim’s second. Given Fischer’s passionate hatred for his home country, he definitely would be more than willing to help (if he somehow returns), and the North Korean side will get a great boost if these efforts are successful.

"Make it quick, will you? I'm busy playing blitz with God"

Match of the Century?

So, could this be the match that everyone is awaiting? After years of sabre-rattling with words, military force and economic means, could politicians finally return to the old ways of settling disputes with a fair-and-square duel? Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and even if Donald Trump gets to play his match with Kim Jong Un, he will end up blundering his games similar to what happened in Chess Camp 2017.

After all, politicians are politicians. Have a Happy April Fools, and please don’t believe a word of what I’ve said just now.

Please no

Everything else from my own imagination

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 2018 Tactical Training: Part 2

Congratulations to Caruana for winning the Candidates Tournament 2018! In the meantime...

Have fun! (:

Friday, March 23, 2018

Candidates Tournament 2018 Highlights: Part 1

The Candidates Tournament 2018 is proving to be one hell of a ride, with decisive games played in almost every round. At the time of writing, Fabio Caruana is in the lead after Round 11, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov close behind. But early in the tournament, many exciting battles were already fought, and I will look at 3 highlighted games today.

Our first game is the encounter between Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So in Round 2. Both players, who had lost their first round, were seeking to make a comeback. With a simple rook lift, Grischuk won a full piece after a vigorous kingside attack, but was already low on time and gave So the chance to complicate matters. Nevertheless, the Russian defended well under time pressure to maintain his advantage and brought home the full point.

I seem to be giving Kramnik a lot of attention in my recent articles, but that is because he has been playing some really great games lately. In Round 3, he won a brilliancy against Aronian using his favourite Berlin Defense. The move of the day was his ugly yet logical looking 7… Rg8!?

Position after 7… Rg8!?

Once of my chess buddies was watching the game live, and upon seeing this move he exclaimed: “Is this really Kramnik?” Rg8 definitely isn’t something we see every day from a positional player like Vlad!

The idea here is that Black wants to push g4-g5, playing against the hook on h3 and opening up the kingside. Aronian tried to counterattack in the centre, but this backfired and allowed Kramnik’s forces to crash through on the kingside:

Note: At the time of writing, Kramnik had just won his second game against Aronian in Round 10, after suffering a series of losses in the middle rounds.

Unfortunately, Vlad’s good streak wasn’t going to last. In the next round, he played a dramatic game against Fabio Caruana, and made the final blunder under time pressure. Of course, credit must be given to Caruana who found two brilliant moves that saved the game for him.

The game can be divided into three key positions:

Position after 22… gxh3

We join in at this part of the game, where Caruana had just captured on h3. Rather than the obvious recapture, which would have led to a better position for Black, Kramnik chose to undermine the enemy knight’s position with 23. c5, leading to a whole slew of complications.

Soon, both sides had their own passed pawns racing down the board, which led to the next position:

Position after 28. Bxc6

It seems that White has the upper hand: His d6 passer is supported with everything it needs, while Black’s b2 counterpart is frozen and on the verge of being snapped off. However, Caruana found the stunning saver 28… Rad8!!, bringing his last piece into the game, and playing against White’s weakened back rank to stop the enemy pawn.

With this the advantage swung back and forth between both sides, with even more passed pawns advancing on opposite wings. Eventually we reach another position where White had regained the upper hand:

Position after 47. Rg8

Here Kramnik thought the game was over: The bishop cannot move without hanging the rook, thus it must be captured and let White’s pawn promote. Except that the bishop CAN move, and Caruana’s next find must have stunned Kramnik: 47… Bf6!!

And it turns out that the Black rook is invincible due to the mate threats on a1. Although White still retained a slight advantage after that, the strain of playing such sharp lines after so long was beginning to tell on both players. It was Kramnik who made the last blunder with just seconds left on his clock:

That moment when you realized you messed up

We have only looked at the first few rounds and so much hype has already occurred. With three rounds left to go, who will emerge as the contender to the world title?

To be continued…

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