I wrote yesterday that I had a really good day. I wrote that before the best news happened: I reached a new personal chess milestone, hitting over 1900 rating for the first time ever.
I had the day off, so I mostly sat at my computer playing chess. I play correspondence chess at chess.com, and two other opponents were logged in at the same time. We traded moves back and forth, and in the end I won all four games, two against each with both colours. In doing so, my rating ballooned all the way past 1900.
My current record at chess.com through 32 games is 26 wins, one loss and five draws. This is against opponents with an average rating of 1799. This is by far the best chess I have ever played. I’ve never been so consistent for so long against so high a rating. At my old peak, I hit around 1800, and I could beat a 2000 player one day and lose to a 1400 the next. I was the model of inconsistency. That has largely changed, at least through 32 games.
That said, my record is better than it looks. Most of the draws (and a few wins!) came from completely losing positions. In others words, I got lucky repeatedly. I’m not complaining, but I am making sure I don’t celebrate too much. I have a lot of work still to do.
Instead of celebrating, I have taken key positions from all four games and presented them here. To see the whole game, as well as a moveable board, click on the title of each section. Think of them like puzzles. See if your thinking matches (or exceeds!) a newly minted 1900-rated player.
This game started with White, my opponent, making a strange Knight maneuver, leaving him behind in development and his King in the center. I quickly castled and then opened the game up, reaching the following position. What would you play as Black?
On the last move Black had played e4 and White captured. Obviously Black needs to recapture to regain the material, either right now or in the following moves. What should Black do? Recapture right away? Exchange Queens first? Maybe move the Queen away, so Qe7, so as to play Rad8 and attack White’s Queen?
In the game I played Bxe4, which is a fine move but rather pedestrian. White will castle and though Black is preferable he is not winning. I missed the fantastic move Nxe4! instead.
Yes, White can take my Queen with Bxd8, but I can recapture with Nxd2+, and I’ll soon win the f2-pawn, not to mention my much greater activity. I saw this, but I didn’t know what to do after Qxd8 instead. It looked like after …Raxd8, Bxd8 I’ve lost an exchange, but I actually have the great Ng3+! White can’t go to f1, so his King goes to the d-file, where I recapture the Bishop with check and then let my Knight eat the Rook on h1. That was the sequence I missed.
Instead I played Bxe4, and we soon reached the following position where, with a few inaccurate moves, White has blundered. How can Black take advantage?
Black is attacking the f2-pawn but White’s Rook is counter-attacking the c7-pawn. White’s Bishop is strong and we would love to exchange it, but then White’s Knight comes to g5 and now the f7-pawn is weak. Black is almost fully developed while White is not. How can Black take advantage?
The main thing to notice is the advanced White Rook. It is creating havoc, threatening all the pawns, but it is also exposed. After Bd6!, the Rook is trapped, and White soon lost the Exchange and the game.
This game featured unorthodox play by Black. I thought he was going to play a Hippo structure, but after nine moves we soon reached this position. How would you play here? What is the most important thing to notice?
I had just castled, and Black responded with …g5, starting a pawn storm … while he is completely undeveloped. I have a perfect classical position, all minor pieces active, and I have an obvious plan of advancing on the Queenside. What should I do? How should play continue?
I had just finished GM Igor Smirnov’s course Your Winning Plan, which talks about the importance of planning. That’s what I thought about. White will try to play c5 or maybe b5 to break open the Queenside and start attacking there. White will thus play some combination of b4, maybe a4, Rb1 and Rc1 before finally playing c5. Looks good. So, which move to start with?
But wait, Black also has a plan. He wants to attack on the Kingside, obviously, given his last move. He will play g4 and h5-h4, maybe f5 and f4 as well, and then he will push one of those pawns to open lines. Yes, this takes a lot of time, but so does my plan. Do I want to risk an attack against my own King?
I could easily race ahead, thinking my plan is faster, but instead I played 10.Nd2! This completely stops Black’s plan. He cannot advance pawns without losing them for nothing. If he tries to support his pawns with Nf6, then he cannot play f5. If he tries Ne7 instead, pushing f5 this way, then that falls to Bh5+.
In the current position, Black has no plan. He cannot do anything productive, whereas White simply starts playing on the Queenside. In such positions, as I learned from GM Smirnov’s new book, the side with no plan is practically losing already. Indeed, I rolled over Black with little resistance. Check out the full game to see how easy it was. That’s the power of planning.
Let me start by saying the French defence is stupid and leads to the most boring games imagineable. Everything gets blocked up, the pieces can’t move and there’s no life to the game at all. Just like the following position.
White is up a pawn, and it’s a protected passed-pawn. Black has a very weak pawn on an open-file, and my Rooks are doubled against it. Black has no active plan at all … and the game is almost certainly a draw because it’s too clogged up. Seriously, who willingly plays such positions?
That said, I managed to win this game, in this very position. Black made a subtle but fatal mistake. Here’s a reverse puzzle: in the position above, Black to play and lose. What does Black do?
Okay, something like Rf7?? loses easy, but no one would ever play such a move. Nxe5? probably loses, but the position remains so blocked it wouldn’t be easy. I would likely have to counter-sacrifice with Nxf5 to gain any winning chances. Anyway, why would Black play either of these moves? Can you see a plausible move that completely loses?
Black played Kc6, moving his King and marking time. No worries, right? Except now the b8-Rook is undefended and the b6-pawn is pinned. I played Rxa5, winning my second pawn and opening up the Queenside. I won the game soon after, but only because of this oversight. If my opponent doesn’t play it, I have no chances.
Seriously, if you have chess friends, don’t let them play the French defence.
This was the most interesting and intense of the four games. After a complicated opening we reached an interesting middlegame … in which I immediately blundered a piece. I nearly resigned on the spot, but I decided to play on. White made a few inaccuracies, and suddenly I had regained material and entered a favourable endgame. My opponent mis-evaluated this endgame and ultimately lost.
First, let’s look at my blunder. Following position, Black to play and lose.
By the way, bonus points if you can guess which opening this was. Anyway, Black is temporarily up a pawn, but the weak c-pawns will almost certainly fall. Black’s Queenside forces are slightly awkward, but White’s pieces aren’t placed much better. If Black can bring his Knight to the center and double Rooks, he might even be better. If.
How would you lose this position as Black? I played the brilliant Rae8??, which looks great if you completely ignore White’s threat, which is exactly what I did. White calmly played Nd6, forking everything. I nearly resigned in disgust, but I played on, reaching this position. White to play and win.
Can you find the winning move? White didn’t. He was perhaps concerned with my apparent counterplay against f2, or maybe he thought he was up a whole Rook and could drift in. There’s nothing easier to lose than a winning position. White played Qxc6?!, giving me time for ….Bxf2+, Kf1 Bd4, where suddenly White needs to sacrifice the exchange because of Black’s threats. White is still up material but the situation has become much murkier.
The winning move was Rd7!, finishing the attack off. After something like Qe5 or something else, White has Nd6+ and Rxf7+ coming, and Black is defenceless.
Fortunately White missed this. He then made one more mistake, losing his deep Knight, and I emerged a pawn up in a Rook endgame. I managed to simplify it into a winning King and pawn endgame, and after 60 tense moves I finally emerged victorious … and with my highest rating ever. Check the whole game out; it’s a good one.
When I went from 1400 to 1500 and even 1600 rating I didn’t really feel any different. I made fewer mistakes, but I never felt I was playing better chess. At my old peak of 1800, I made very few outright blunders, and I often felt that if looked hard enough long enough, hours if necessary, I could find the right move in any position. I was wrong, but that’s how I felt.
Now that I’m over 1900, I view chess completely different from then. This mostly comes from chess coaching. I have fully committed to learning from GM Igor Smirnov’s courses, and this is my result. I started in January after not playing chess for years, and in 10 months I have gained 100 rating points over my old best, playing my best chess. Said another way, in ten months I have gotten better faster than when I used to play and study every day for years. That’s huge.
I’m going to keep training and see how far I can go. Next goal is 2000. Here I come. But first, time to celebrate, maybe with some pie. Pie would be awesome right now.