2021 New York State Girls Chess Championships

Winning the Chess Gender Challenge

For a long time now, the chess world has tried to get more girls involved and keep them in the game long term. In my years as a chess teacher I’ve seen a similar story as many others: female chess participation is often quite good in elementary school, but later falls off a cliff.

When females don’t stay in chess, we lose more than half of our potential audience.

I admit to being selfish: I love teaching girls because I’ve found that, overall, they take coaching better than boys! Some of my very best students have been female — and I want more of them!

I wrote a post last year titled: Should Every Kid Get a Prize? In it, I argued that tournaments where every player receives a medal or trophy, regardless of results, have a right to exist. Anyone opposed to this idea simply doesn’t have to play such events.

Similarly, my stance on girls-only tournaments is that players or parents who don’t like these events don’t have to play and can stick to mixed events. But a lot of girls do enjoy them!

 

A New Event

The fifth edition of the New York State Girls Chess Championships were held the weekend of January 9-10, 2021. The tournament has been held since 2017 and drew well over 200 players in its debut year! It is an official New York State Championship event.

There are four Championships: Open (K-12), K-6 Championship, K-3 Championship, and K-1 Championship. The highest finisher from New York in the Open section becomes the state’s representative for the Ruth Haring National Girls Tournament of Champions. The tournament’s namesake, Ruth Haring (1955-2018), was a Woman International Master (WIM) and former USCF President.

In addition, there are four sections for less experienced players: K-12 Under 1200, K-9 Under 1000, K-6 Under 800, and K-3 Under 600.

K-1 Championship and the four “Under” sections were one day events: five rounds, Game/30 plus 5-second increment. The other three Championship sections were 6 round events held over both days (three games each day), with a time control of Game/60 plus a 10-second increment.

The NYS Girls is the brainchild of National Tournament Director (NTD), International Arbiter (IA), and International Organizer (IO) Sophia Rohde (Little House of Chess). This year’s event was also organized by Steve Immitt (Chess Center of New York); he too is an NTD, IA, and IO.

Nils Grotnes, Bob Messenger, Daniel Rohde and TDs Korey Kormick and Helen Xue also contributed much to the cause, as well as the folks at ICC (see below). I played a small part as well. It takes a village!

The J&K Pi Family Foundation sponsored the tournament this year. Thank you very much!

 

Online Chess Giveth and Taketh Away

Internet Chess ClubWith the ongoing pandemic, the 2021 event was held online at the Internet Chess Club. Nearly a year ago, I discussed why I still support ICC. I was not disappointed: the NYS Girls ran smoothly with hardly any issues. Well done, everyone!

On another note: clearly, attendance in this event was not going to match the turnout of the last over-the-board NYS Girls … but a welcome sight was the entry of players from several other states.

The online format of this event made it possible for players from California, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia to play! A total of 187 players competed across both days and eight sections.

You can find all of the team and individual results here. It almost goes without saying these days that results are only pending until the fair play review is completed in a few weeks.

 

Coming Soon

At the end of the month, the Greater NY Online Scholastic Chess Championships will be held on ICC (January 30 and/or 31, depending on section). That event will also be organized by Little House of Chess and the Chess Center of New York, and sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation.

You can find out more and register here.

Chess Tactics: Zukertort — Blackburne, 1883

Battle of 19th Century Chess Legends

Johannes Zukertort

Johannes Zukertort

This game from the London 1883 tournament is very famous, and for good reason. You won’t forget it once you’ve seen it!

Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was born in present-day Poland. One of the leading players of early tournament chess, he challenged Wilhelm Steinitz in the first official World Championship match in 1886, which he lost (5 wins, 5 draws, and 10 losses).

In contrast to Zukertort, Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) enjoyed a long, successful chess career. “The Black Death” competed in top tournaments (and matches) from London 1862 through St. Petersburg 1914!

 

The Black king is clearly in distress, but how should White continue?

Deflected Again!

Empire Chess, Winter 2021

Happy New Year!

Empire Chess is the long-running magazine of the New York State Chess Association (NYSCA). It published my article How to Defeat Kids in Chess Tournaments on pages 4-5 of its Winter 2021 issue. An earlier version was published on this blog on November 25.

You can download the entire issue of Empire Chess magazine here. At the end of my article, you’ll find an ad where I offer a special promotion…

Chess Tactics: Bisguier — Larsen, 1965

A Dean of American Chess

Arthur Bisguier - Chess Life Dec97

Arthur Bisguier was featured on the cover of the December 1997 issue of Chess Life.

Arthur Bisguier (1929-2017) was a grandmaster (1957) from New York. The 1954 U.S. Champion won clear or shared first place at the U.S. Open five times between 1950 and 1969. He also represented the USA in five Olympiads between 1952 and 1972.

As an author he wrote, among other works, The Art of Bisguier: Selected Games 1961-2003.

Bent Larsen (1935-2010) was a top player, and a famously combative one, often employing risky openings with both colors. This may have extracted more points than usual against relatively weaker opposition, but sometimes things went badly wrong, as here.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Pirc/Modern?

In May 2020, I featured another classic demolition of the Pirc; do I have something against this opening?

Variations and symbols are from the bulletin (source: MegaBase). The text comments are mine.

Simple Chess: New Algebraic Edition

If You Must Buy Only One Chess Book…

Pick Simple Chess by English Grandmaster Michael Stean. The original edition of the book was written in 1978, a few years before Stean retired from chess before the age of 30. Fred Wilson  edited the book and translated it to algebraic notation for Dover Publications in 2003.

Why this book in particular? An argument could be made for the “best” book in many categories of chess: tactics, endgames, and especially openings. In each case there are a number of comparable titles, though we all have our favorites.

But I think there is no argument about the most useful strategy book for most players.

Much as I love Max Euwe’s Judgment and Planning in Chess, it’s a slog for casuals: small print, small diagrams, and descriptive notation.

Aron Nimzowitsch’s books are even tougher for most players to get their arms around, as are  those by Ludek Pachman and Peter Romanovsky — though I heartily recommend each.

Most contemporary authors are not worth reading, but Aagaard, Dvoretsky (RIP) and Marin are exceptions.

 

What’s so great about Simple Chess?

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow. Photo: Julius Silver, Wikipedia

When trying to find good moves or ideas, begin by looking at checks, captures, and moves that create threats.

If such “power moves” are not available, use the keys below; Russia’s 900-year-old capital can help you keep track of them:

Minority attack

Outposts

Space advantage

Color complexes

Open files

Weak pawns

Your mission is to identify which factor(s) are, or can become, dominant in the position and play accordingly.

Simple Chess teaches you how to do just that.

Simple Chess: Contents

This slim, 176-page book can be read in a few days at most. But it has what you need to dramatically improve your strategic play:

              1. Instroduction
              2. Outposts
              3. Weak pawns
              4. Open files
              5. Half-open files; the minority attack
              6. Black squares and white squares
              7. Space

Note that slightly changing the names of Chapters 5 and 6, then rearranging the letters of Chapters 2-7 gives M-O-S-C-O-W.

A Look Inside

You can get a closer look at Simple Chess here.

If you’ve made it this far, you either have the book or need to get it. Don’t hesitate; you won’t regret your purchase.

Have you read Simple Chess? What are your impressions? Comment below!

Chess Tactics: McShane — Cheparinov, 2009

Luke McShane keeps it simple

Luke McShane

Luke McShane. Photo: FIDE

Luke McShane (born 1984) is an English Grandmaster who won the World Under-10 Championship in 1993 and Wijk aan Zee B in 2011. He reached a peak FIDE rating of 2713 in July 2012, and his peak world rank of 29 in November of that year.

He has scored victories over Michael Adams, Levon Aronian, Etienne Bacrot, Magnus Carlsen, Sergey KarjakinVladimir Kramnik, Alexander Morozevich, Hikaru Nakamura, Ruslan Ponomariov, Nigel Short, Wesley So, and Radoslaw Wojtaszek

…in classical chess.

McShane added another notch to his belt when he took down Ivan Cheparinov in just 20 moves during the 2009 European Team Championship.

Longtime readers of the Chess Essentials blog know I’m not fan of sidelines, espeically with White. Many are playable, some even good. But I think players sometimes get into trouble overthinking how they should play these lines. If your line calls for an all-in attack, go for it!

I don’t know how Cheparinov felt, but I would be taken aback by such shameless aggression! I don’t recommend this approach every game against strong players, but I’ve long said that simple, direct plans executed well are easier to play and very effective. Luke McShane provides a great example with this Closed Sicilian/Grand Prix Attack hybrid.

 

So Easy, A Caveman Can Do It

Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense

The Best Book to Learn the Caro-Kann Defense

Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense was published way back in 1981. Amazon tells me I purchased it in March 2012, but I’ve only read it recently … and regret not doing so much sooner.

I have read a lot of Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6) books over the years, as I flirted with the opening for years and have now made it my weapon of choice against 1.e4.

I’ll start with the conclusion: I don’t think any other Caro-Kann title comes close.

Keep in mind: I lack chess talent, and need things spelled out for me in a to-the-point manner. This is why I love Max Euwe and Edmar Mednis so much. Your mileage may vary. There are other choices if you want wild, entertaining stories with your chess.

More About Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense

Understanding the Caro-Kann DefenseThe book has five co-authors: Raymond Keene, Andrew Soltis, Edmar Mednis, Jack Peters, and Julio Kaplan, with each writing two consecutive chapters.

All the main lines are covered, including 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 exf6 (by Peters) which most contemporary books ignore completely. Soltis covers sidelines in the final chapter, which includes the King’s Indian Attack (2.d3), Two Knights (2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3), and 2.c4 as expected, but I was surprised to see the Fantasy Variation (2.d4 d5 3.f3) discussed in a book from 40 years ago —and well-done, too!

The authors really take their time and discuss the ideas and key maneuvers available to both players in this opening. You really understand what both players are striving for, and their variations are helpful, not torturous.

The only place where the book really shows its age is with the Advance Variation (2.d4 d5 3.e5). It only discusses the old, not-topical line 3…Bf5 4.Bd3. Still, the coverage is helpful, as Keene explains this part very nicely, and the line still appears at lower levels!

I don’t read chess books very much any longer, but I couldn’t put this one down and finished it within a week. It was that helpful, easy-to-read, and confidence-building.

I would order a copy of Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense if you have any interest in this opening — from either side, as a player or a coach. Not only can the book be had cheaply, who knows how long copies of the old gem will be around at an affordable price?

Table of Contents

Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense CONTENTS

Other Images from Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense

Understanding the CK page 7

Understanding the CK page 31

Understanding the CK page 99

 

For Reference: Other Caro-Kann Books

If you want to play the line with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5:

Grandmaster Repertoire 7: The Caro-Kann by Danish GM Lars Schandorff (2010) was widely praised, and contained the latest theory and games. Still, I felt something was missing. At least for me. It’s the type of opening book you would expect from Quality Chess.

There is also Caro-Kann: Classical 4…Bf5 by Garry Kasparov and Aleksander Shakarov (1984). The coverage is thorough, as you would expect from The Beast, and I suspect it can be a useful starting point even today.

I haven’t read Play the Caro-Kann: A Complete Chess Opening Repertoire Against 1e4 by Jovanka Houska (2007), but I remember it getting good reviews. Notably, she recommends answering the Advance Variation with 3…c5, rather than the much more common 3…Bf5. This line has gained in popularity at high level, and I might change to it myself!

Houska wrote a major update in 2015: Opening Repertoire: The Caro-Kann.

If you want to play the line with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7:

I previously reviewed Opening for Black according to Karpov by former FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman. This book has been much more helpful to me, because it gives analysis and sensible reasoning for its moves and evaluations. It’s Caro-Kann coverage is not huge, because most of the book is devoted to defending 1.d4/1.c4/1.Nf3, etc.

More recently, there’s Caro-Kann: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala (2012). Personally, I don’t like these kinds of books that contain too many words that try to be clever and don’t get to the point. (At the other end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t bother with Eduard Gufeld and Oleg Stetsko‘s Caro-Kann: Smyslov System 4…Nd7 from 1998).

There are other books, too, of course. But these are the ones I am familiar with.

Which Chess Opening Move is Best? Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. I opined that the King Pawn universe is not for everyone. That begs the question:

What About the Closed Openings?

This is a much broader topic, because it includes basically everything except 1.e4!

Still, there’s an obvious place to start.

1.d4 — Have it Your Way

Generally, you’ll prefer 1.d4 to 1.e4 if you don’t want to play directly for kingside attacks most of the time. 1.d4 tends to lead to White seeking an advantage on the queenside. That doesn’t mean you can’t play aggressively if you choose to! Far from it.

Botvinnik Keres

Botvinnik and Keres met in 20 tournament games. Photo: Verendel.com

White can go for the throat against even Black’s most solid options: consider the classic game Botvinnik — Keres, 1952 (given at the end of this post).

The 6th World Champion meets the Queen’s Gambit Declined with the seemingly dry Exchange Variation … and then plays directly for a central and kingside attack! He won in crushing fashion; even now this is considered a model game for the QGD Exchange.

For many club players, it’s the model game.

On the other hand, White can adopt a slower strategy; consider the model game Evans — Opsahl, 1950 which I discussed in an earlier post.

Against the solid Nimzo-Indian (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) White has many solid approaches, but he can also satisfy his bloodlust with the Sämisch Variation.

When Black tries more double-edged systems like the Modern Benoni Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6), Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5), King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…Bg7), or Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…d5), White can play solidly (the first player could choose a quiet kingside fianchetto against each of these, for example) or meet fire with fire.

Even when Black seeks to take control from the get-go with the Benko Gambit, White can throw down the gauntlet.

Efstratios Grivas

Efstratios Grivas. Photo: FIDE

If you’re a 1.d4 player looking for several good recommendations against Black’s options in one place, I recommend taking a look at Beating the Fianchetto Defenses by Efstratios Grivas. The esteemed Greek trainer is not always my favorite author, but this offering is very well done.

He chooses sensible systems against the Benoni, Benko, KID, Grünfeld, and Modern Defenses, and then delves into the typical middlegames and endgames that arise from them.

 

I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. Below is, as I promised, Botvinnik — Keres, 1952. Note that it arises from a Nimzo-Indian move order.

The fun doesn’t stop here. In Part 3, we’ll discuss the Flank Openings — perhaps the most interesting way to open a game! Stay tuned!

Chess Tactics: Ftacnik — Cvitan, 1997

A King’s Indian Sprint

Ognjen Cvitan

Ognjen Cvitan. Photo: Šahovski klub Draga

Ognjen Cvitan (born 1961) is a Croatian Grandmaster most notable for winning the 1981 World Junior Championship.

Our featured position comes from a game played during the 1997-98 season of the German Bundesliga, one of the top team chess leagues in the world.

In a wild King’s Indian Defense, typical of the evergreen Mar del Plata Variation, Cvitan reaches the finish line ahead of the renowned Lubomir Ftacnik.

 

How did Cvitan (Black) kick off a memorable combination on his 23rd move?

 

Cornered!