YES I DID IT!
Over the weekend, instead of watching the Superbowl, I mostly played chess. I play correspondence chess, and I had a few opponents on at roughly the same time. We exchanged moves quickly, or as quickly as correspondence chess allows, and soon I had three games approaching the 40th move. I had a growing advantage in all three, and suddenly all three were over.
In the aftermath of all the resignations, amid the smoke and smouldering rubble, I peeked at my rating: 2005. I had done it! I had accomplished one of my long-standing chess goals!
I had dreamed of this moment for ages. There’s just something special about the number 2000, even outside of chess. Within chess, of course, getting above 2000 is a clear sign of expertise. Whereas people under this rating generally specialize in one thing, be it opening traps or attacking and tactics, players above 2000 have to be more well-rounded, able to play all sorts of positions well. I would like to think I’m now part of this select group.
Well, I am right now, but I will have to prove I belong here by keeping my rating at this level.
Normally, here is the point where I would analyze my games, bringing up all the key moments and looking deep at them. I won’t do that today, partly because the games are still too fresh for me to give a good analysis, but mostly because the games are so complicated I need to analyze them with a computer to make sure I fully understand what is going on.
Instead, I’ll simply link to each one, offering a bit of general commentary, and then I’ll do something a bit different: looking at how I win.
My opponent has played a strange version of the accelerated fianchetto, one where he plays an early …d6 without Nf6. I started to set up the Maroczy Bind, but is there a better plan than just Be2 and 0-0 here? What would you play as White?
Click here to find out how I take advantage of the opening … and then nearly blow a good endgame. Hey, even 2000-rated players make mistakes!
Black is very cramped here, as White has taken advantage of a premature a6 to play c5, gaining a powerful bind on the position. I need to untangle myself somehow. How can I do it? How would you play as Black?
Click here to see how I transformed this cramped position into a space advantage for Black. This is one of the best strategic games I’ve ever played, and my opponent even gave me an online trophy (ie, an achievement) for this game.
This is a critical opening position. Black is down a pawn, but he has lots of space, open lines and easy development for his pieces. White is cramped, has little central control and his pieces are awkwardly placed. Black needs to launch his initiative and create threats, because if White can unwind, he will ride his extra pawn to victory. This may be the mainline of the Two Knights Defence, and it’s critical for both sides.
This was an incredibly complex game, where I kept putting on pressure and White answered right back. After a long struggle, I won back my pawn with a superior position. Click here to see the game that put me over 2000 rating.
Note that, for all three games, I left fairly detailed feedback in the comment section. Not as indepth as a blog post, but more than just ‘GG, thanks for the game.’ You can look at those comments with the game to add to the experience.
How I Win At Chess
What kind of chess play am I? If you asked me a few years ago, I would say I’m a fairly aggressive, tactical player. I push for the advantage and I like to attack my opponent’s King (though who doesn’t?). My biggest weakness would likely be the endgame, the endgame and blocked positions. I tend to lose my focus during simple positions and endgames, likely because I’m bored. That’s what I would have said.
When I finished these three games, though, I noticed they were all fairly positional. I didn’t attack the King or unleash fancy tactics. Okay, the second game had a nice tactical shot, but it didn’t lead to any material gain. I didn’t attack the King in any of those games; in fact, I only gave check once, in three games spanning nearly 40 moves. That’s impressive.
I decided to look into it a bit deeper. I went through all 48 of my games played on chess.com, and I classified my victories based on type. I found seven broad classifications, and though there is some overlap, it fit pretty well.
Here are the categories:
Blunders. Here is where my opponent makes an unforced error, usually dropping a piece or overlooking an obvious tactic. In these games, I don’t do anything special; my opponent mostly throws the game away himself. Best example: here, where Black plays brilliantly for 20 moves only to throw it all away.
King Attack. Victory stems from a direct attack against the King. I either get a checkmate or win material in the process. Pretty self-explanatory. Examples: here, where I successfully pry open the h-file against the Modern, and here, where I win lots of material against a King stuck in the centre.
Complications. This category is for those games that all very complicated and you don’t always know what is going on. You might call them tactically outplaying your opponent. If both sides are attacking, it’s a complicated game, and it goes here. Best example: here, where I blunder but create enough complications that my opponent loses the thread, and I emerge into a pawn-up endgame.
Positional. Basically the opposite of the above. I gain a positional advantage, be it more space or better pawn structure, and I use that to grind out a victory. Generally feature little to no Kingside aggression, as otherwise that would be in the King Attack category. Best example: all three games featured above are positional in nature, but here is the clearest example, as the central pressure wins space, then the exchange and then the game.
Opening Advantage. This is for when my opponent falls into a trap or otherwise misplays the opening few moves. He either loses material or falls into a terrible position. Best examples: the first game above shows good opening play by my part, this shows my opponent falling into a trap (which I then nearly blow…), and this shows my opponent completely over-reacting to my threat, misplaying the opening in the process.
Endgame. Not quite the opposite of the previous category, this is where the bulk of my work comes in converting the endgame. If my opponent blunders and I win a piece and then later win the endgame, that doesn’t count. If my opponent blunders a pawn and I then need to spend 30 moves patiently and accurately turning it into a Queen, that does count. If the endgame did most of the work, it is here. Best examples: here, where I trade pieces and then quickly outplay my opponent in a Rook endgame, and here, where I accurately convert a Rook endgame into a winning King and Pawn endgame.
Defence. If my opponent sacrifices material or launches an incorrect attack that I push back, that would be defence. This only occurred once, here, where I rode my extra piece to an early resignation.
Note that these categories can and do cross-combine. For instance, I linked the same game both in complications and endgame. This makes sense, as I gained a pawn during the complications but it took a lot of work to convert the endgame. Similarly, an opening advantage that leads to a positional bind instead of winning material should fit into both categories.
The sample is over 38 games, which isn’t that great, but it’s enough. I mean, it does represent an entire year of chess, and we can draw some interesting conclusions. For instance, I’m the exact opposite player I thought I was a few years ago.
I do not attack. I’m not an aggressive, Canadian version of Tal, much as I might like to be. If anything, I’m much more Karpov, safely grinding out games. Against lower-rated players especially, it’s amazing how risk-free my games are, how little counterplay I generate.
It’s worth noting that nearly 25% of my wins, so 1 in 4, is decided by an opponent’s blunder. I don’t do anything special: my opponent beats himself. When I went from a 1400 player to 1800 player, I didn’t play better chess so much as I stopped hanging pieces. Seriously, if you can prevent blunders, if you eliminate them, that’s worth so much rating points. GM Smirnov’s videos are excellent for this: watch his Youtube series on eliminating blunders and start gaining more victories.
My data also shows that a 2000-rated player isn’t the perfect all-rounded player I thought he was. Namely, I reached 2000 mostly through positional and endgame play. I didn’t need to attack. In fact, I barely used it.
If anything, I think it shows that the main advantage higher-rated players have is positional understanding. If you understand the position better, of course you will tend to find better moves. Also, I spent most of 2015 working on GM Smirnov’s course Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding, and it has sparked me to over 2000 rating not even a year later.
Regardless of the reason, I find this data illuminating. I now want to go through all my old games, to see if I was ever an attacking player or if I simply imagined it. That, though, is a project for another day. [Edit: and if you’re interested in that, here it is: a complete analysis of ALL my chess games.]