Together With Chess: Davis Zong Jr. on the US Chess School

As the first twilight of the spring sun bore down through my window, I received an invitation from IM Greg Shahade to US Chess School’s online camp! I was delighted to start my summer chess season a few months early. I had just become the New York State MATHCOUNTS countdown champion, looking forward to the National competition and Junior Math Olympiad, when suddenly, COVID-19 came along and both events were cancelled. Down in the beautiful woods and blooming flowers of central park, gardens have been fenced off and converted into temporary hospitals. The birds, normally chirping with refreshed spring energy, were drowned out by rushing ambulances in the background. Being in New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19, I was excited to free my mind from the curfew by learning chess in the US Chess School.  The US Chess School’s remote instruction had many surprising features that were not prominent in physical lessons. We “saw” many people that we otherwise would have rarely seen in the local camps. It was as if this year’s US Chess School was a larger camp consisting of the regional camps in California, St. Louis, and New York! A big group meant that there would rarely be a position that stumps all 80+ campers. This position was the closest to accomplishing this feat: [fen]2k4r/pp4p1/5pb1/2Pr3p/1P1p1BP1/P4P2/4PKBP/7R b - - 0 1[/fen]

Black to move

This position was from one of Dvoretsky’s books, and IM Greg Shahade assigned this on an intuition test during the first ever online US Chess School! Good job to Vincent Tsay for being the only one to get it correct.  Show Solution

It is shocking that a game between two strong grandmasters, in an equal position, would be over in as little as eight moves. The seemingly random 1....Bc2!! move surprised all but one of our campers. White wants to solidify by Rd1-d2, and by maneuvering the bishop to c2 and then to a4, black prevents this idea. A4 is also a much better square for the bishop because it halts white’s pawns, controls d1, and threatens to move to b5 at any moment.
[pgn] [Event "USCS Online"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.04.27"] [Round "?"] [White "Bareev, E."] [Black "Ivanchuk (Position 1), V ."] [Result "0-1"] [Annotator "Davis"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2k4r/pp4p1/5pb1/2Pr3p/1P1p1BP1/P4P2/4PKBP/7R b - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "15"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.04.27"] {[#]} 1... Bc2 $3 {Not only does the bishop manuever to b5, a much more powerful post, it also denies white of the useful move Rd1.} (1... h4 {Many campers suggested h4, a move that seemingly restricts the scope of white's pieces.} 2. Rd1 h3 3. Bf1 {However, white's rook has now found a good post on d1 and the h3 pawn, instead of being a nuisance for white, has become more of a liability for black, as the h8 rook is now tied down.}) 2. h4 Re8 3. Rc1 Ba4 4. gxh5 Rxh5 5. Bg3 Re3 6. Rc4 Rd5 7. Bd6 Rc3 8. f4 Rxd6 {0-1 (31) Bareev,E (2675)-Ivanchuk,V (2695) Novgorod 1994 CBM 043 [Dautov]} 0-1[/pgn]

The online US Chess School has also sparked the passion of coaches from all over the world to spread their love of chess through this platform. Quarantine and social distancing appears to have isolated us from one another, but the increased flexibility of the online school has expanded more than before. Almost every lesson so far has been taught by a different coach. The group of coaches includes IM Greg Shahade, GM Johan Hellsten, IM Alexander Ostrovskiy, IM Kostya Kavutskiy, GM Yaroslav Zerebukh, GM Jessie Karai, FM Aviv Friedman and more! GM Johan Hellsten gave his first lecture to us from Ecuador, a country almost three thousand miles away. It is no wonder that his lesson was titled flexibility, a theme that is present in even the simplest of endgames: [fen] 8/1K3k2/8/1P6/8/8/6n1/8 w - - 0 1[/fen]] Show Solution

It turns out that no matter where White moves the king, black’s knight can always hop to a corresponding square to catch the pawn in a fork. However after white plays b6 he waits for black’s knight to pick a square, and after it does, his king can then choose a corresponding square to avoid a fork! For example, 1. Ka6 Nf4! (going to c5) 2. b6 Ne6 3. b7 Nc5+ and 1. Kc8 Ne3 (heading for d6 now) 2. b6 Nc4 3. b7 Nd6+ both draw while 1. b6! Ne3 2. Ka6! (the knight can’t get to c5 now) and 1. b6! Nf4 2. Kc8! (the knight can’t get to d6) both win for white.

  IM Kostya Kavutskiy was my US Chess coach at the 2018 Pan-American Youth and it was great to see him again during his lecture on endgame decision making.  Position 3 

[pgn] [Event "USCS Online"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.04.27"] [Round "?"] [White "Kostya Kavutskiy"] [Black "Endgame Study (Position 3)"] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Davis"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p2kp1p/3r4/p2p2p1/P2P4/1P1K4/5PPP/2R5 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "29"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.04.27"] {White to play and find the best practical chance.} 1. b4 $1 (1. Rc7+ {is what most people would initially look at, but it turns out that black can draw the king pawn ending by just holding tight.} Rd7 2. Rxd7+ Kxd7 3. b4 {is white's best try, but black doesn't need to take; he can simply keep the fortress with: } b6 $1 $11 (3... axb4 $4 4. Kc2 Kc7 5. Kb3 Kb6 6. Kxb4 {Although material is equal, black is losing due to white's more active king.} Ka6 7. Kc5 $18 { and white will win by swapping queens as his king will be closer to the black pawns.} Ka5 8. Kxd5 Kxa4 9. Kc5 b5 10. d5 b4 11. d6 b3 12. d7 b2 13. d8=Q b1=Q 14. Qa8+ Kb3 15. Qb7+ Kc2 16. Qxb1+ Kxb1 17. Kd5 Kc2 18. Ke5 $18 {And white is going to get to the pawns first.} Kd3 19. Kf5 Ke2 20. Kxg5 Kxf2 21. g4 $18)) 1... axb4 (1... b6 {Now if black tries b6, white will not play Rc7, trading into a drawn pawn endgame but instead continue to push in the rook endgame with:} 2. bxa5 bxa5 3. Rc5 $16 {and it's a long fight ahead, but at least white has serious winning chances.}) (1... Rb6 2. bxa5 Rb4 3. Rc5 $14) (1... Ra6 2. Rc7+ Kd6 3. Rxb7 axb4 4. Rxb4 $16) 2. Rc7+ Rd7 $4 (2... Ke6 3. Rxb7 Ra6 4. Rxb4 $14) 3. Rxd7+ $1 Kxd7 4. Kc2 {and we have transposed to the above winning king pawn endgame.} Kc6 5. Kb3 Kb6 6. Kxb4 Ka6 7. Kc5 $1 $18 {and as we saw in the line above, white is going to win.} Ka5 8. Kxd5 Kxa4 9. Kc5 b5 10. d5 b4 11. d6 b3 12. d7 b2 13. d8=Q b1=Q 14. Qa8+ Kb3 15. Qb7+ $18 *[/pgn]
Among all the fun, I was shocked back to reality when news had come that Wesley Hellner, a good chess friend of mine from the Marshall Chess Club, and whom I had played the most over the board games with, had just passed away due to the COVID-19. I look back on my first time playing him as a seven-year old when he readily reviewed the game with me with love, passion, energy, and always a big smile on his face. Now, more than six years later, he still looks the same, and it almost seemed that he could play chess forever. He loved chess so much that if you went to the Marshall Chess Club at any time of the day, any day of the week, you were nearly guaranteed to see him there, playing or watching chess from the start of the first game to the end of the last game. Now that’s some true love! May he find more chess in heaven! Wesley Hellner, sitting next to me during my game against IM Jay Bonin; quietly awaiting his game with FM Joshua Colas. (July 2017 at the Marshall Chess Club) Anyone who loves chess will surely be happy when they solve this endgame study below. IM Alex Ostrovskiy left us with this puzzle as a homework exercise and don’t worry, the critical line is only 20 moves long.  Position 4  [fen]8/RP1P4/4k3/3pnp1p/8/P7/P3pPKp/8 w - - 0 1[/fen] White to move. White has a narrow path to victory, but before you try to find it, take a rough guess at the evaluation of the position if the white a2 pawn were removed.  Show Solution

[pgn] [Event "USCS Online"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.04.27"] [Round "?"] [White "Alexander Ostrovskiy"] [Black "Endgame Study (Position 4)"] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Davis"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/RP1P4/4k3/3pnp1p/8/P7/P3pPKp/8 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "39"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.04.27"] {This is the "homework" study that IM Alex Ostrovskiy left us with. Before you try to solve this (or reveal the solution), evaluate the position without the a2 pawn. Does the doubled pawn have any remote purpose to the puzzle?} { White to move} 1. d8=N+ $1 {A cool underpromotion! Ra6 runs into Kxd7 and if you don't start with a check, black will go h1(Q) and then e1(Q) with perpetual. So this is basically forced.} (1. d8=Q $4 h1=Q+ 2. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 3. Kg2 Qe4+ 4. Kf1 Qb1+ 5. Kg2 Qe4+ $11) 1... Kf6 2. Ra6+ Kg5 (2... Ke7 3. Re6+ $1 Kd7 4. Rxe5 $18) (2... Kg7 3. Ne6+ $1 Kf7 4. Ng5+ Kg7 5. b8=Q h1=Q+ 6. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 7. Kg2 $18) 3. Nf7+ $3 (3. Ne6+ $4 {Ne6, with the same idea as Nf7 also looks good, but there turns out to be a major difference...} Kh4 4. Ra4+ Ng4 5. Rxg4+ hxg4 6. b8=Q h1=Q+ 7. Kxh1 e1=Q+ {and the poor knight falls victim to a fork that otherwise would not have hit the knight (if it were on f7)} 8. Kg2 Qxe6 $11) 3... Kh4 (3... Kf4 4. Ra4+ Nc4 5. b8=Q+ $18 {promotes with check and wins. }) ({Of course the night is taboo....} 3... Nxf7 {because of:} 4. Re6 $18 { stopping the black passers.}) 4. Ra4+ d4 {this is black's most testing try. It seems to give away a pawn for nothing...} (4... Ng4 5. Rxg4+ $3 {The key move. White must not get mated after b8(Q)??} hxg4 6. b8=Q h1=Q+ 7. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 8. Kg2 Qe4+ 9. Kh2 $18) 5. Rxd4+ Ng4 6. Rxg4+ $3 (6. b8=Q $4 h1=Q+ 7. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 8. Kg2 Qxf2+ 9. Kh1 Qf1# {and it is black who wins!}) 6... fxg4 {Now it's simple isnt it? b8(Q) h1(Q)+ Kxh1 e1(Q)+ Kg2 Qe4+ Kh2 and black runs out of checks, right?} 7. b8=B $3 {You don't see underpromotion to a bishop that often, but here it is necessary to avoid stalemating black.} (7. b8=Q h1=Q+ 8. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 9. Kg2 Qe4+ 10. Kh2 {If you calculated this far, good job you solved the puzzle — almost... Black is lost if not for one resource...} Qf4+ $3 { and stalemate will arise. Always look for opponent resources!} 11. Qxf4 $11) 7... h1=Q+ 8. Kxh1 e1=Q+ 9. Kg2 {strongly threatening Bg3 mate.} Qe4+ 10. Kh2 g3+ {black needs to prevent Bg3 mate!} 11. Bxg3+ Kg4 12. f3+ $1 {Another clever punch. White is able to fork the queen and win.} Kxf3 (12... Qxf3 13. Ne5+ Kf5 14. Nxf3 $18) 13. Ng5+ Ke3 14. Bf2+ $3 {relocating the bishop to a more favorable diagonal without loss of tempo.} (14. Nxe4 $4 {Not so fast! It is still not too late to error. Remember that the a8 is the wrong color for the white bishop!}) 14... Kd3 15. Nxe4 Kxe4 16. a4 Kd5 17. a5 Kc6 18. a6 Kc7 19. Ba7 Kc6 {now just when black is about to draw with Kb5-xa6, white's last, seemingly useless soldier provides the essential final touch.} 20. a4 $1 $18 { 20 only moves in a row. Wow!} *[/pgn]

During some of the camp, I heard the daily 7pm applause in New York, dedicated to thank and cheer on the frontline workers, working day and night in high risk conditions, trying their utmost best to help the infected. They currently stand right in the most-virus contaminated hospitals, wearing minimal protection, and attending to new patients every minute of every day.

Article author, camper Davis Zong Jr.

Amidst all this however, I am still confident that chess players, and all people will continue to play and enjoy, if not thrive even more, because we have one thing that the virus doesn’t: love. US Chess School’s online program has disseminated to many more people than ever before, and by continuing to learn chess together, we will also continue to learn to love chess together even more. Even though COVID-19 seemed to pull the chess community apart, our resilience, our love towards the game and towards each other has allowed us to not only stay together, but also to strengthen our connection to chess and to each other. As I saw the world of black and white illuminate on the screen in front of me, I envisioned a vast playing hall all around me, and how we campers, after learning together for many months would one day meet on opposite ends of the boards as friends and opponents at the same time. Thank you so much to IM Greg Shahade, to all the coaches, to Dr. Jim Roberts, a long time supporter, and to Chessable, the sponsor to US Chess School, for making these online classes possible.   Read more about the US Chess School on twitter, instagram and their website. 

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