San Fran Summer at the 35th US Chess School

uscs-35-entire-group “No no, the rook was on c8, can we show the replay?” IM Greg Shahade complains seconds after he loses to NM Rayan Taghizadeh after the finale of the bullet tournament. This was just one of the many memorable moments from the 35th US Chess School Camp. The 35th US Chess School took place from July 25-28 in the oldest and arguably most famous chess club in America, The Mechanic's Institute in San Francisco, CA. The US Chess School is an organization that holds prestigious camps to train some of the top young players in the nation. These camps are sponsored, and, therefore, offered free of charge to the students. Since the camp was held in San Francisco, many of the students attending were from the bay area.  I was extremely honored to be able to train with 12 of the top players in the nation, in the sport (yes, chess is a sport; I can debate you on that all day) that I have been playing for 8 years now. Now, let’s get into the actual content of the camp.

Day 1

As I walked into the Mechanic’s Institute (which I have done many times), I saw familiar faces, players from the bay area, many of whom I have played before. I also met the coach of the camp, IM Greg Shahade. I immediately liked Greg, as he was fun and chill, but at the same time taught us a lot. One of the most interesting things we learned on the first day was about specific positional themes. Many people study the idea of positional chess, the art of maneuvering your pieces, making your position better, exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses, etc. However, the idea of studying specific positional themes is a less common one. Take a look at this example from Techniques of Positional Play and then you will find the theme.

Svetozar Gligoric vs. Vasily Smyslov

Black to move.

Show Solution

[pgn][White "Svetozar Gligoric"] [Black "Vasily Smyslov"] [ECO "E54"] [Annotator "Bronznik+Terekhin"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2r2k1/pp3ppp/1b2p3/8/1P2n3/PN2P1P1/1B3PP1/R2R2K1 b - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "1959.09.07"]24... f6 $1 {Smyslov is playing ...e6-e5, after which the opposing bishop would be very passive and in addition the knight on b3 would be deprived of the d4 square.} 25. g4 (25. Bd4 {this logical attempt to exchange the bishop doesn't work well.} e5 $1 26. Bxb6 Rxd1+ 27. Rxd1 axb6 $17 {now the a3 pawn causes white problems and te b3 knight is cramped.}) 25... e5 $1*[/pgn]

The theme of this one is the idea of blunting a bishop by forcing it to stare into a wall of pawns, making it less powerful. Once you study all of these themes, and drill them into your head with many examples, they become quite easy to apply in your real games. You have this thing in your head now, that whenever you see a bishop on the long diagonal, your instinct is to block it. Not only was this theme/idea instructive, we constantly referenced it throughout the camp, whenever there was the opportunity, even if the puzzle happened to be a tactical one. At the end of the day, we had a simul. Greg was greedy, and took white against all of us. His “goal,” was to score more than 50%, and once during the simul jokingly stated “I think I am playing for a draw in every game!” However, Greg scored well above 50%. The games were going so late that when it was time to go, he simply adjudicated games, most of them in his favor.

Day 2

Concentration at its finest... Training game at USCS 35!Concentration at its finest... Training games at USCS 35!

I was now used to the environment, and the second day was even more fun. Here are the highlights of a couple of the eventful things that we learned. We talked about what to do when you don’t know what to do, and I learned a very simple and easy way to sometimes find the best move very quickly. These are the three questions you should ask while you are playing (referenced from Jacob Aagaard’s great book, Positional Play).

  1. What is my worst placed piece? (and how can I improve it?)
  2. What is my opponent’s idea? (and how can I stop it?)
  3. What are my opponent’s weaknesses? (and how can I exploit them?)

All of these questions can be flipped and thought of the other way, for example “What is my opponent’s best placed piece?” One of the funniest moments of camp was going through this famous game, and one moment in particular. This game is quite famous, and for good reason. See if you can figure out one of the most famous moves in chess history (from a Sam Collins book).

Anatoly Karpov vs. Boris Spassky

White to move.

Show Solution

[pgn][Event "Candidates Semifinal"] [Site "Leningrad URS"] [Date "1974.05.03"] [White "Anatoly Karpov"] [Black "Boris Spassky"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B83"] [Annotator "Collins"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2r2k1/4qp2/2p3p1/p3p2p/PnQ1P2b/2N1B2P/1PPR2P1/5RK1 w - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "23"] [EventDate "1974.04.12"]24. Nb1 $3 {One of the most memorable moves in chess history. Karpov prepares to re-route his knight from c3 (where it's limited by the black pawn on c6 and the white pawns on a4 and e4) to the kingside, while protecting his rook and preparing to drive away black's only good piece with c2-c3. According to Timman, this move was predicted in the press room by Semyon Furman, Karpov's long standing trainer. The game continued:} Qb7 25. Kh2 $1 {More Karpovian play, improving his king and giving himself the option of pushing the bishop away with g2-g3.} (25. Re2 Bg3 {this could turn out to be slightly annoying.}) 25... Kg7 26. c3 Na6 27. Re2 $1 {Another fantastic move by Karpov. His plan is to eventually kick the black bishop away and then double rooks on the f-file to attack the weak f7 point. If black is allowed to trade rooks, this attack may lose some muster. For that reason, it's likely that black should have captured on d2 on the previous move, before retreating the knight.} Rf8 28. Nd2 $1 {Bringing the knight to it's ideal square.} Bd8 (28... Qxb2 29. Nf3) 29. Nf3 f6 30. Rd2 $1 {Seizing the open d-file at a time when black can't contest it since is bishop is awkwardly placed on d8. It makes sense to use this rook to control the d-file, since the f rook is usefully placed on the f-file. All the white pieces are dramatically more active than their opponents.} Be7 31. Qe6 $1 {another creeping move} Rad8 32. Rxd8 Bxd8 (32... Rxd8 33. Nxe5 $1) 33. Rd1 { Black can't defend his two ranks. As noted by Timman 33. Nxe5 Qc7 34. Bf4 also wins, but is much more complicated. Karpov's move is risk free and utterly decisive, while requiring no calculation.} Nb8 34. Bc5 Rh8 35. Rxd8 $1 {And black resigned as his position will collapse after 36. Be7. A masterful game by Karpov, combining elements of manuevering, prophalaxis and trading in order to win the game.} (35. Rxd8 Rxd8 36. Be7 Rd7 37. Qxf6+ Kh7 38. Qf7+ Kh6 39. Bg5#) 1-0[/pgn]

Now, before seeing this, many of you may have thought that this “brilliant” move was going to be a gorgeous tactic, winning on the spot. However, I think that this is the exact reason that it is famous. It is not something that might blow your mind right away, but rather shows the power of the three questions, and Karpov’s ability to slightly improve his worst piece and slowly crush his opponent. Now, once again this Nb1 move is playable in so many games, with this simple idea of relocating a night on c3 that might be dominated by a pawn on c6. Similar to the f6-e5 blunting the bishop, this immediately became one of the most memorable things, as we would suggest Nb1 in positions where white might have a pawn on a3 and a bishop on d2. At the end of the day, there was the bullet tournament. Four players got a first round bye, and, although I was knocked out in the second round, it was very entertaining. In the championship, Rayan Taghizadeh played Josiah Stearman, two of the four players above 2300 at the camp. Rayan won after a decisive attack on the kingside, but Rayan had to take on Greg. Here is a video of Greg taking on all comers on bullet. [youtube] This is very funny, and, as we check the replay, Rayan moved his rook right in between c8 and b8, after which he proceeded to checkmate Greg with just 2 seconds on his clock.

Day 3

On the third day we learned about active defense. Active defense is the idea that when you have a bad position, even if you might be losing, you should always look for active counterplay. You do not want to play a very defensive passive move and simply wait for your opponent to kill you. We played a training game related to this and in this position black should go for active defense. This example is from Boris Gelfand's recent book on positional chess, available on US Chess Sales.

Boris Gelfand vs. Loek Van Wely (2003)

Black to move.

Show Solution

[pgn][Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Gelfand, Boris"] [Black "Van Wely, Loek"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4br1/5q1k/1pp2pp1/p1p1p2n/P1P1P1RP/3P1N2/2PB1PQK/1R6 b - - 0 37"] [PlyCount "7"]37... Bh6 $1 ({Black should make the practical decision to not defend the pawn and instead fight for active counterplay! In the game, Black made a poor decision, defending the pawn at the cost of taking his rook completely out of the game, and went on to lose with} 37... Ra6 $2) (37... Rb8 {comes across as a natural move, but was probably rejected by Van Wely because of a simple tactic. However, if we look further, we see white should just continue with his normal plan:} 38. Ng1 $1 (38. Bxa5 $2 Ra8 39. Bxb6 Rxa4 {Black is getting very active and the bishop on b6 is totally sidelined and vulnerable.}) 38... Bd6 {It's too late for ...b5.} 39. Nh3 Bc7 40. Kh1 Rg7 41. f4 {White has managed to open more lines on the kingside, making it possible to put extra pressure on the black position, most noticably the f6 pawn.}) (37... Qc7 {This would sideline the queen and White would continue with exactly the same moves and have some advantage.}) 38. Bxh6 Kxh6 39. Rxb6 (39. Ng1 $5 b5 $1 40. cxb5 Qa2 {gives Black decent counterplay and makes the game unclear and complicated, so White probably has to accept the pawn on b6 after all.}) 39... Qc7 40. Rb1 Rgb8 {Black now gets active play and has the f4 square for his knight. This great positional sacrifice has made Black's life a lot easier.} *[/pgn]

After, we played the blitz tournament. Once again, it was Rayan vs Josiah in the finals. In a crazy night endgame, the players agreed to a draw and went to the bullet. Rayan prevailed once again, becoming the first player in US Chess School history to win both the blitz and the bullet tournaments.

Day 4

Unfortunately, the camp was coming to a close, and for the last day we did some pretty fun things. We took a trip over to Fyber, a video game company nearby. It was a lot of fun as we played ping pong, Smash, Clash Royale, and most importantly, raided their pantry. Here is a clip of Christopher playing ping pong with one of the employees.

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That was all fun, but there was still chess to do. Greg gave us a test. Not just any regular test, this was an intuition test. The test was created by Aviv Freidman, full credit to him. The intuition test is given to test your instincts, as you only get 45 seconds per puzzle, thirty puzzles. While you only had to write down one move, some of these were tricky, and 45 seconds is a short amount of time. Here is a quick puzzle, time yourself, you only have 45 seconds!

White to move.

Show Solution

[pgn][Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/8/6p1/6P1/6pp/7p/1R3K1k w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "6"] [EventDate "2016.06.03"]1. Re1 g2+ 2. Kf2+ g1=Q+ (2... g1=R 3. Rf1 Rxf1+ 4. Kxf1) (2... g1=B+ 3. Kf3) ( 2... g1=N 3. Rd1) 3. Kf3 Qxe1 {Draw.} *[/pgn]

They say all great things end, and unfortunately, this camp did too. Overall, I had a blast playing blitz and bughouse, sharing laughs, interacting with the campers, and the experience as a whole. And, of course, through all of this, I learned a lot. I would like to thank not only the sponsors, but also the founder of US Chess School and our coach, IM Greg Shahade, and, of course, my fellow campers. Thank you for making this experience a great one! Pictures and additional info can be found on the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook account of @USChessSchool as well as the Official Website. Today USCS tweeted about the original inspiration for the program: