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Upcoming Tournaments

A short update of three events in the near future.

First, on Saturday, May 6th, 2017, the Bennington Spring Open, offering 4 games [g/60 d/5] with an attractive $30 EF. This event will be directed by Sreenivas Alampalli, who has a reputation for excellence and calm which will be tested by the expected strong turnout for the significant guaranteed prizes [$1130] relative to such a low entry fee.

Second, on Saturday, May 13th, 2017 the Right Move has changed location for TRM 116 to the LaSalle School in Albany. As always, additional details about this great organization can be found at the Right Move website. A free event, as always.

Lastly, the weekend of May 19th – 21st, 2017, 25th annual New York State Open will be held in Lake George. This is usually directed by Steve Immit for Continental, another excellent arbiter for our area. As usual, this event offers the rare opportunity for a Senior section, allowing aging boomers a chance to enter into battle amongst themselves. Last year saw the tourney move out of the basement restaurant space, making this a fine alternative to the windowless halls that so frequently host events.

If you want there to be Over-the-Board chess, please find time to support these local events. Thank you.

Why USATE is the perfect tournament

There exist a variety of tournaments that chess players can participate in, ranging from heavily monetized events, such as the Millionaire Chess event, which had three iterations before quiescence, or the long-running World Open, to the completely non-monetized local events, such as those run for scholastics by the Right Move. Within that broad spectrum of money versus not money chess lives a unique event, an annual affair that has been hosted in Parsippany, NJ for ages, featuring an affordable chess weekend of team play that draws players of all levels to participate for trophy, status, and joyful competition. This year’s event boasted 1167 participants inundating the two hotel complex of the Parsippany Hilton. Wandering the festival atmosphere leads players to stumble into games and analysis happening on any surface that will hold a chess board, with discussion ranging from the most basic to the most arcane. It is a huge festival of chess, where opportunities abound to compete against every level of player. It is the most cheerful event that I have had the opportunity to attend. Everyone should find a way to make this journey sometime in their career.

The Capitol District sent multiple teams this year, including two teams from the Schenectady club. Today’s game features the efforts of my teammate on the chess league team Geezers, playing here for the Schenectady B team. John Phillips is a previous champion of the club, and is capable of turning out a game that most of us only dream of playing, filled with unusual stratagems and tactical ripostes that overwhelm an uninspired opponent. In this particular game John features an opening that I have been playing for decades. While I have moved on to other passions, John raises the flag in support of the Leningrad Dutch, showing in exemplary fashion the attacking possibilities that this line offers the aggressive player. Enjoy!

Play Like a Patzer; Think Like an Expert

The 2016-2017 Albany Chess Club Championship came to a close on Wednesday, February 1. The runaway victor was, once again, Jeremy Berman. Congratulations Jeremy!

This year a trophy was offered to Second Place as well, providing the rest of us something to vie for beyond “mere” rating points.

I’ve been playing rated, competitive chess for over twenty years, starting when I was in high-school. My first rated games were in a scholastic trophy tournament, run by the ubiquitous CCA Tournament Director, Steve Immitt. That started a 500+ games journey through the D-A rating classes.

In my youth I played every tournament I could possibly get to: a 12-round US Open in Virginia; consecutive World Opens in Philadelphia; multiple team championships in Parsippany; too many NYS Championships in Saratoga; random CCA tournaments all over New England; all-night tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan; and countless games cutting my teeth at the Vassar-Chadwick Chess Club, in Poughkeepsie, NY, my hometown. I had some decent wins, but mostly mediocre results. As an under-employed student, I got caught up in trying to win money over rating points, stunted my chess growth, and saw a high-school rating peak of 1770 foolishly brought down to the 1600’s. So I walked away from the game to focus on life.

And I did. But I missed the game. Even more so, I missed the carefree days of youth, when the young conscience is free of those pesky adulthood burdens – careers, bills, marriage. It’s not easy justifying playing chess as an adult. “How can you take time away from what’s important in life to play a game?” – is how the responsible-adult rationale goes. So now, I’m down to less than ten rated games a year. But I know this all-work-no-play attitude ultimately can’t compete with Caissa, my first love. If you’re reading this blog, then you too have been seduced by her. She’s my lifelong affair; no matter how determined I’ve been to leave her – and I’ve tried – she enchants me back. 

I decided to commit to playing in the Albany Chess Club Championship. But I quickly regretted that decision. I lost my first game. A close, contentious battle with Jeremy Berman, being ultimately decided on one move: if I make the right move, I gain a solid positional advantage; if I play incorrectly, then I’m saddled with a losing disadvantage. I missed the strongest move, and didn’t recover. I say there’s no luck in chess – just weak moves. He who makes the final weak move loses the win.

My first round opponent (Berman) and last round opponent (Dean Howard) were the only players rated higher than me entering the tournament. So sandwiched between those two games, I’d be playing rating-roulette: anything can happen in these late-evening midweek battles. My starting rating: 1998. Two points away from achieving the Grandmaster-equivalent-for-club players, the elusive rank of National Expert. So after that loss, I began the tournament instantly down 12 points. But I slogged my way through the next ten games (dropping a game to Gordon Magat, who simply outplayed me), and entered the last round 9-2, to Dean Howard’s 9.5-1.5. I’m now up eight rating points: sitting unofficially at 2006. The battle is on not just for Second Place, but also to secure my rating. I need a win to earn Second Place, but would also be happy with a rating-saving draw. A loss would be horrific. Twelve games, around 36 hours of intense chess, all for naught rating-wise. A loss would mean zero rating points gained, and a fitful night of chess-loser-regret tossing-and-turning. The reward from five months of laborious chess-work is earned or lost with this one game.

In prepared openings, it takes two to stay on course, and only one to go off trail. I always joked I’d make it to Expert without knowing any opening theory. Every game is a new adventure – I ignorantly blaze my own path, and quite often enter thorny thickets. One can say this is the hallmark of a chess swindler – frequently fighting back from losing positions.

My game with Dean predictably soon had me in the briar patch, and we arrived at the following position.

Playing for equality, I decided to trade down. I should have exchanged queens first. Instead, after a good think, I play 16. Nc5. Which immediately turned into 16. Nc5??

WHAT DID I JUST DO!!!??

Only now, AFTER I played the move, did it become clear: he can simply take my knight, and my planned recapture of 17. Rxc5 utterly fails to black simply moving his queen to c7 or e7. If I play 17. QxQ first, after 17… RxQ, I’m basically forced to play 18. RxR, and then black recaptures with the knight, solidly protecting the hanging bishop. There is no recourse. I’M LOST! JUST. LIKE. THAT. Of course, Dean takes the knight. 16…Bxc5.

I saved my worst move of the tournament for my last game. Quite possibly the worst blunder I’ve made in three hundred rating points. Completely unforced. No tricks. No tactics. No traps. No zaps. A wholly unnecessary move with zero advantage gained, and no saving grace. I’m down material and position, with no counter-play. This is resignable. Just put your hand out; abscond; soothe your sorrows with Wendy’s; go home and kick the dog.

Now I’m staring at the board, suffering through the five stages of grief. Is this REALLY over? I’m searching and analyzing the position. There’s nothing. My clock is ticking down. Ahh, ok. Forget it. I’m done. I’m going to resign. I’m not going to sit here and play hope-chess, where one hopes their opponent sinks to their level. I’ll spare myself the humiliation.

But Dean isn’t at the board. He’s walking around. Predicament: how do you resign with no opponent? So I sit there and keep studying the position, accept it’s hopeless, and have a full-on internal dialogue, that goes something like this:

What just happened? I made a horrible move. Why? Because I’m an idiot. Ok, but you ARE rated around 2000, which means you’re a good chess player. True, relatively speaking, I am a good player. I just made a bad move. So if I’m a good player, and I’m capable of making a bad move, then logic says my opponent, who is also a good player, is also capable of making a bad move. Good point. Wait. This is just like the Superbowl from a few days ago. The Patriots are a good football team – had the best record in the league, but they played a horrible first half. Then the second half, they played great, and the Falcons played weak. So just because the Patriots played a weak half first, doesn’t mean they are the weaker team. The Patriots were down 28-3. Down 25 points. In the third quarter. That’s a loss. But somehow, they came back. They didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. They waited for their opponent to make weak moves.

But I’m not the Patriots and this isn’t football. But okay, I’ll let myself make ONE move, then I’ll resign. What move gives my opponent the best opportunity to make a weak move? I exchange queens. 17. QxQ. Dean comes back to the board.

He makes his move. 17…Bxf2+. WHAT THE??? UNBELIEVABLE! I’M BACK IN IT! JUST. LIKE. THAT. I felt like the Patriots.

Forget the pawn. I KNEW I’d get it back. Suddenly it’s a game. And just like the Superbowl after regulation, it was a tie score, stopped one move before bare kings. Draw.

But really a win-win.

Dean earned Second Place in the ACCC, and I finally, on game 543 of my chess life, became a National Expert.

LESSONS FOR THE NOVICE

1) No one has ever won or drawn by resigning. If it’s a draw, then the game will play to a draw. The endgame experience gained playing until the very end is worth the effort. If you make a blunder, don’t give up. Weak moves can be contagious.

2) Stay at the board. Think on your opponent’s time. We’re not grandmasters, calculating while we wander the aisles. The more you look, the more the board reveals. In post-game analysis, I’m always amazed to see what I missed. “How did I not see that??” Also, you never know when your opponent will prematurely resign.

3) Study tactics. I use chesstempo.com. Solving tactics puzzles is the most efficient way to study. You can make Expert without knowing deep opening theory. Patzers love openings. Makes them sound like a chess player. They’ll show you all the sidelines. Then they’ll drop a piece to a tactic.

ENYCA Player Spotlight: Phil Thomas

Welcome to ENYCA’s Player Spotlight on local expert and all around good guy Phil Thomas. Phil is a friendly up-and-coming local talent known for his sharp and accurate play, and stone-faced positional objectivity. A staple of the Capital District tournament circuit since 2006, each year has seen Phil improving his game, inspiring his comrades, and dispatching his opponents with sparkling play.

(Interview conducted by Rob Fusco)

Rob Fusco – Firstly, Phil, thanks for offering us some insight into you. Please tell us a little bit about where you come from, what you do, etc.

Phil Thomas – You’re welcome. Well I was born and raised in Albany, NY to a Nigerian father and American mother. I work locally for a distribution company.

RF – What brought you to chess to begin with, and what keeps you hungry to progress? Who inspires you? Favorite players? What about their games inspire you?

PT – When I was very young my aunt showed me how the pieces moved. Though I really fell in love with chess when I played some local chess hustlers (The late Daryl Perkins). It reminded me of something Former World Champ Mikhail Tal said in his book. I was infected with the chess microbes and didn’t even know it. What inspires me about chess is the constant ebb and flow. The ability at each turn to respond with an eximious rejoinder. The constant search for the truth. The look on an opponents face when you play a great move, and put them into difficult position. My favorite players are Mikhail Tal, Capablanca, Rashid Nezmetdinov, and Garry Kasparov just to mention a few. I love the the great attacking prowess of Tal, Nez and Kasparov. I also love the effortless positional masterpieces displayed by Capablanca.

RF – Congratulations on your performance at the NYS blitz championships, and congratulations on a very nice draw against GM Michael Rohde. Lets start with your impressions of that event and the participants.

PT – Thanks. I felt it was a great tournament with a strong field filled with plenty of masters. I felt very good going into this tournament. I was ready to play.

Phil puts the pressure on, GM or not.

RF – GM Rohde offered you a draw in a position which seemed equal or very slightly worse for him. You had over thirty seconds on your clock and he was well under the fifteen second mark. Why would a player known for his speed accept this offer?

PT – Yes he was very low on time. I knew I could [have] easily flagged him. In the moment though I choose to take the road of integrity and not flag a man of his stature in a seemingly drawn position. Who knows in the future if I’d do it again, or if he’d do it for me. In that moment though that’s how I felt.

RF – Your improvement over the board since you began in 2006 with an over the board rating of 1367 has been steady and consistent. As of this interview your last standard rating is 2028, and your blitz rating sits at 2069. Where do you see yourself both ratings wise and title wise over the next five years? Moreover, how important is your rating to you? Is it the be-all, end-all, or is it just a number that chases you around as you chase good moves?

PT – Well In the next 5 years I plan to be 2350 and a solid FM. Ratings are not super important to me. They are like batting averages.

RF – Let us in on the secrets to your success. How and how often do you study? Do you prefer books or computers? Favorite authors/coaches?

PT – Well I study tactics everyday. I like books and software. Some authors who helped me a ton are Aron Nimzowitch and Vladimir Vukovic.

RF – What do you consider to be the primary determinant of success in tournament chess and for a chess player?

PT – Patience.

Phil was focused and in top form.

RF – You adopted a very stringent physical training regimen in recent years and enjoyed a perhaps not-so-coincidental boost in chess performance. Do you think physical fitness is important to OTB play?

PT – Yes, I wholeheartedly believe that there is a direct correlation with being fit and a boost in chess performance. Fitness teaches me patience, discipline, concentration, and focus – which I directly apply when playing chess.

RF – Some players marvel for hours over endgame compositions, some are lit up by brilliant sacrificial tactics, and some are content to pore over reams of opening theory. What phase or aspect of chess excites you the most?

PT – I personally love the middle game. I feel it’s the phase of the game where I’m most creative. I think of it as your opponent with each move is challenging you with a math problem with difficulty ranging from simple addition and subtraction to advanced calculus. If you answer correctly you maintain the balance or get an advantage. With an incorrect answer you do the opposite.

RF – Share one or two of your favorite tournament stories or chess anecdotes.

PT – Two stories that resonate in my mind are Mikhail Tal when in deep calculation he randomly thought about a hippo in a pond. The other story is where Frank Marshall played an amazing move and people showered the table with gold coins.

RF – The tournament scene in Upstate NY is often hot and cold. What events would you like to see more of, and what might local promoters do to attract larger player numbers and keep people coming back consistently (besides double and triple booking OTB events on the same day)?

PT – I think it will take time to build up the local chess scene. I feel that activity is a must though.There has to be at least a monthly or bimonthly event. As the old saying goes. “Build it and they will come”.

RF – Any favorite local players we should keep our eyes on?

PT – Yes the local players I like are Martha, Patrick, and of course the swashbuckling, risk taking, attacker Michael Mockler.

RF – What are your five favorite chess books and why?

PT – My System, The Art of Attack, Think Like A Grandmaster, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, Forcing Chess Moves. These books all helped me greatly and caused me to look at chess differently.

RF – I’d like to end this interview with a game of your choice. Please give an example of one of your favorite games with light notation and impressions.

PT – Well not a game but a particular move stands out in my mind. It was a league game several years ago against Arthur Alowitz. I played the A-bomb of a move Rf6!!. I can remember the position. The move was actually published in Bill [Townsend]’s tactics section of the Schenectady Gazette. At this point I knew my chess game was improving.
Thanks for the interview. All the best and good chess.

Christmas Seals

Let’s talk about a dirty little secret in chess. Sometimes people think that their ratings define their strength as a chess player. Occasionally, stronger players, by rating, will look down upon weaker players, by rating. There have even been instances where the weaker players were referred to as seals, and the stronger player might refer to the upcoming game as “going clubbing.” In the rare event that the weaker player upsets the stronger player, much merriment ensues, wherein the stronger player is described as having been clubbed by a seal.

Earlier this year, during the Capital District Chess League competition, a match between the Siena College team and the Geezers was played. The board 1 contest was between Mr. Bryan Niebanck of Siena, and myself, playing for the Geezers. Based on rating, no one thought that this game would be a serious challenge. I have refrained from publishing this game to allow young Niebanck an opportunity to surprise other players with the quality of his play, perhaps gaining some victories over other over-confident opponents. Time’s up.


An exceptionally well played game by young Bryan Niebanck. He deserved a better fate than having old age and treachery winning out over youth and skill.

Near-upsets at the AACC Championship

On November 30, two games from the Albany club championship could have ended in big upsets, but did not.

Gordon Magat was a Rook down against Kun Park in a Q+R vs. Q+RR position. It wasn’t simple, especially with less than a minute on both clocks. Kun lost his Queen for a Rook trying to avoid perpetual check, and Gordon won the ending that followed.

My game with Paul Moore was almost a routine win for me. I won the exchange in the early middlegame. His attacking position was insufficient, but he had more CP (Cheapo Potential) than I realized, and it could have ended badly for me.

Enter the Dragon

The Sicilian Dragon is one of Black’s most aggressive options to play for a win. The “Dragon” is characterized by Black castling kingside and fianchettoing their dark square bishop (“The Dragon Bishop”) to g7, where it eyes the h8–a1 diagonal, aiming at the center and queenside. White frequently seeks to meet Black’s setup with Be3, Qd2 and Bh6, exchanging off the dragon bishop, followed by launching a kingside pawn storm with h4–h5 and g4.

Often times White will follow this plan by castling queenside and enter what is called the “Yugoslav Attack”, which is White’s sharpest line to the dragon. All together, the opposite side castling will lead to positions where the victory is decided by who can checkmate their opponent first — Black attacking on the queenside and White attacking on the kingside. In these lines, all positional considerations are thrown away and tactics reign supreme.

Today’s game is from Round 3 of the AACC Championship, where Mr. Park and Mr. Narayan fearlessly enter the Yugoslav variation of the Dragon and make their way through the heavy complications. Needless to say, the Dragon is not for the faint of heart. But it is fun to watch!

A fun and swashbuckling game! Black had several chances to win, as did White who ended up winning. When you enter the dragon, from either color, you must be prepared to swing from winning to losing positions or vice-versa. The analysis and objective measure of “truth” will come after the game ends. But until then, it is just you and your opponent going for each other’s throats, and the game isn’t decided until one of you is mated. If you are looking for an opening to spice up your boring chess positions, then consider preparing or entering the dragon!

Until next time,

Jeremy

Schenectady Club Championship, Upset Alert

This year’s Schenectady Club Championship is a top-heavy event. Fourteen contestants, five former club champions. Today’s game features a major upset of one of the favorites by a rising player. The 368 point rating difference between the two players is likely to be the largest disparity of this year’s event.

A cool little effort in defense of the King’s field by young Northrup. We have grown accustomed to Mr. Sells ability to surf the rogue waves of time trouble over the years, but even for the best, occasionally, the wipeout. Cue the Surfaris.

Albany Club Championship Begins!

On Wednesday October 26, 2016 the first round of the Albany Area Chess Club (AACC) Championship 2016-17 occurred at the Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church in Guilderland, NY.

This year’s AACC Championship format involves a single round robin of 14 participants; a typical number of participants in recent years. The participants include (decreasing rating order): Jeremy Berman (2048), Dean Howard (2000), Dave Finnerman (1998), Gordon Magat (1929), Tim Wright (1943), Krishna Nallamothu (1832), Arthur Alowitz (1724), Kun Park (1687), Cory Northrup (1686), Tom Clark (1608), Paul Axel-Lute (1534), Premjith Narayan (1521), Paul Moore (1382), and Adam Steinberger (unrated).

There are many familiar faces to the Capital District chess scene, with 5 players (Berman, Finnerman, Magat, Wright, and Howard) above 1900. However there are also the new faces of Krishna (1832), Premjith (1521), and Adam (unrated). And Kun Park (1687), who played in the club championship two years ago. These guys promise to inject fresh energy and surprises to the usual club championship, and the round robin format will give them the chance to show their stuff against the usual suspects. Welcome to all!

The results of the first round are given below:

Jeremy Berman 1 – 0 Dave Finnerman
Gordon Magat 1 – 0 Tim Wright
Cory Northrup 1 – 0 Paul Moore
Premjith Narayan 1 – 0 Arthur Alowitz
Krishna Nallamothu 1 – 0 Paul Axel-Lute
Adam Steinberger 0 – 1 Kun Park
Tom Clark 0 – 1 Dean Howard

The first round featured all decisive games, with the higher rated player winning each game, except for the one upset of Premjith (1521) winning over Arthur (1724). More on this game below.

The top two boards featured exciting games between four of the top five rated players. Berman-Finnerman featured a Symmetrical English with positional play dominating the game play, finishing in the final minutes for each player with Mr. Berman winning the ending. Magat-Wright featured a Slav defense with Mr. Wright grabbing the c-pawn and trying to hold it. Eventually Mr. Magat found enough initiative to bring about a very tactical game in which he got the better of the position and won.

Today’s game of the week features Premjith’s win over Arthur. Premjith joined the AACC last year, after the Championship. He and his son have frequented the club this past year, with lots of chess practice. Arthur of course is a grizzled veteran of the Capital Region chess scene, and has been a solid and super fast player. As we will see below, Premjith uses his opening preparation to throw Arthur off balance and to take the early lead. But a game is not always won so easily at club level, and Arthur looks for chances to hold. Enjoy!

When Black resigned, due to the overwhelming White advantage and the eminent fall of the black b-pawn. A well played game by White, using his opening knowledge to score an early advantage. But some critical miscues allowed Black a few opportunities to equalize the game. As the saying goes, you sometimes have to win a won game several times over…and in this case White did just that. But as a lesson for the weaker side, there often are chances to come back…but you have to look for tactics!!

Jeremy