The US Chess School Comes to Los Angeles
By Elizabeth Vicary   
January 26, 2011
Front row L to R: Nick Thompson, Varun Krishnan, Daniel Gurevich, Michael Bodek, Samuel Sevian, Back row L to R: Michael Brown, Justus Williams, Yian Liou, Will Fisher, Kostya Kavutskiy and Kayden Troff

The fourteenth US Chess School, the latest in a series of free training camps for America's top juniors, was held Dec 26-30 in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles, CA. GM Melikset Khachiyan and camp organizer IM Greg Shahade team-taught the sessions, using their own games, student games, and classic games to explore topics that included "making concrete decisions," "endgame calculation," "prophylaxis" and "typical mistakes when playing against higher rated players."

Normally, Greg invites 8-12 students of approximately the same age. This time, while keeping their strengths similar (2100-2300), he invited a much wider range of ages, which made the group dynamics more varied. The younger students tended to be quicker at tactics and more competitive than the older ones, but the older students were often more patient and less often wrong, so both groups could learn from one another.  
The youngest participant was nine-year-old superstar Samuel Sevian (2206), the youngest master in American history (he turned 10 at the camp). Samuel charmed everyone with his energy, extroversion, and enthusiasm. Watch him playing blitz with Greg Shahade in this "classic" video. 

kostya.jpgThe oldest student was 17-year-old Konstantin Kavutskiy (2252), who is already a senior in college, graduating this spring from Cal State LA with a major in Business Administration. Kostya is a member of the United States Chess League's LA Vibe, and writes about the USCL for Chess Life Online and at his blog.

yian.JPGYian Liou (2298, 13 yo), is the 2010 US Cadet co-champion (with Michael Yang). Yian also plays in the USCL, for San Fransisco, and was the 2009 USCL 3rd Team All Star Board 4.  When not playing chess, Yian enjoys sprinting (Greg's reaction on hearing this was an immediate "I'll race you later.").

Will Fisher (2245 16 yo) is remarkable for his recent improvement: in 16 months he's jumped from 1800 to 2275. Along the way, he won clear first in the Under 2100 section of the Philadelphia International last April, a whole point ahead of second.

Kayden Troff, (2241, 12 yo) recently won the Silver Medal for Boys Under 12 at the 2010 World Youth. He has a blog here and another at (with great instructional articles) here.

DG.jpgDaniel Gurevich (2232 USCF, 12 yo) was one of the sharpest students at camp: he won the camp-long question-answering point-earning competition. (Keeping track of these points became one of my main jobs during the camp: I've never been so thankful for a spreadsheet.) Daniel is also an accomplished piano player and an excellent writer. He wrote a detailed, highly instructive article on the 11th US Chess School last year, and his his recent CLO article on Breaking 2200 contains fascinating descriptions of his two coaches, Roman Dzindichashvili and IM Kirill Kuderinov.

Nick Thompson (2228 USCF, 17 yo) is a member of the 2010 USCL Western Division Champions, the Arizona Scorpions. He is also an excellent breakdancer.

Michael Bodek (2228 USCF, 12 yo) and Michael Brown (2178 USCF, 13 yo) are both blitz lovers: they played each other almost every break and it became the camp's favorite joke that Michael B would probably win.
Micheal Bodek did tie for first in the blitz tournament (with Yian Liou). That won him the right to play a 2 game match with Melik, and he beat the grandmaster in one game, which you can see below. Both Michael Bs are also avid ping pong players.  

uscs-day-2-afternoon-020.jpgJustus Williams (2218 USCF, 12 yo) of The Bronx, learned chess in his third grade class, through the non-profit Chess-in-the-Schools. Justus plays in the USCL for the New York Knights and attends IS 318 (I'm his homeroom teacher). I was happy to see how much being around other strong young players seemed to motivate Justus: on the plane ride home he was talking about switching his openings to more theoretical lines and rearranging his schedule to allow more time for studying. I think this is a really important side benefit of the US Chess School model: in addition to making our top juniors stronger, it helps them become friends and even role models for each other. Most participants already know some of the others from playing at National Scholastics, but at the USCS, they study together intensively all day, then hang out together at night playing blitz.

Varun Krishnan (2176 USCF, 13 yo) of San Diego had a great tournament right after the US Chess School, drawing IM Cyrus Lawdawala and achieving a 2532 performance rating. He is also an excellent tennis player.

Greg showed three of his games: a loss against Novikov, in which his fear and respect for the grandmaster caused him to play badly; an intricate, study-like draw against Ehlvest in his pet line of the Dragon, and this Karpovian schooling of GM Boris Kreiman.

greg-2.jpgThis is one of my all-time favorite of Greg's games. I watched it being played in the last round at the 2005 US Open in Phoenix, Arizona. The winner earned a ticket to the 2006 US Championship. (Greg eventually declined the invitation, which went to the junior Sal Bercys; Boris eventually did qualify, but only after some difficulties.) Greg had just been elected to the USCF Executive Board, and consequently was playing the long schedule: juggling politics and meetings in the day with chess at night. I mention this because it may have contributed to his playing philosophy at the time: don't think too much. Greg felt that spending too much time and energy at non-critical moments would lead to exhaustion and time pressure later, and that most long thinks are unproductive anyway. Because of this, the game is more prophylactic and strategic than tactical.
1...c6 2.e4 g6 3.d4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Be2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Be3 e5 9.d5 Ng4 10.Bg5 f6
We were going quickly through the opening, which is a fairly standard King's Indian Defence, when Justus suggested an interesting line that Greg had not considered:
Justus: 11.dxc6!? bxc6 (11...Nc5 12.c7) 12.Qxd6 fxg5 13.Qe6+ Kh8 14.Qxg4 Nc5 (14...Rf4) 15.Qxg5
11...c5 12.Ne1 Nh6 13.Nd3 g5 14.Bg3 f5 15.exf5 Nf6 16.Qd2 Nf7
Black is about to recapture on f5. What would you do here for White?

Show Solution

17...Bxf5 18.Nf2 Nh5 19.Bd3 Nxg3?!
19...Bd7 The black knight should go to f4 rather than taking the bishop.
20.hxg3 Bd7 21.Nce4
White needs to blockade the e pawn immediately, or Black will sac it to open up his Bg7. 21.Qc2? e4 22.Ncxe4 Bd4 23.f4 gxf4 24.gxf4 Qh4.
What should White do here?

Show Solution

Where should White move?
23.b4 is interesting and possibly the best move, but white needs to be careful of black locking up the queenside entirely.  23...b6 24.b5? (24.a5 cxb4 25.Qxb4 bxa5 26.Qxa5 is good for white) 24...a5; 23.a5 Many students chose this answer, but after  23...b6 black gets pressure on the b file and b2 pawn. For example: 24.axb6 Rxb6 25.Ra2 Qe7 26.Rfa1 Rfb8 27.Nd1 Bc8
23...Qe7 24.g4 h6
How can White improve his position?

Show Solution

What's the most solid way to react?

Show Solution

White could play actively with 27. b4, but instead he's determined to improve his position as carefully and solidly as possible. What consolidating moves are useful here? 26...hxg4 27.Nxg4 Bxg4 28.fxg4 Nh6 29.Qe2 (29.Ng3? e4) 29...Rf4 30.g3 Rxg4 31.Qg2
This move is is exceptionally cautious: getting out of any possible tricks on the long diagonal, and possibily preparing to double rooks. Greg described this as a "multipurpose, prophylaxis type torture move."
27...Bh6 28.Bb1
White could start playing actively with 28. b4, but since black lacks a real plan, Greg patiently improves his position. The bishop retreat creates the possibility of a queen and bishop battery with Qd3.
28...Nh8 29.Nh3
To threaten the g5 pawn and tie his pieces down further.
29...Rf7 30.b4 b6
Again, a5 is pretty good here, but the idea of this move is to improve  with Rb1. 31.a5 bxa5 (31...cxb4 32.Qxb4 b5 33.Nxd6 Rff8 34.c5) 32.bxc5 dxc5 33.Qxa5 (33.d6 Qe6 34.Nxc5 Qxc4 35.Rc2 Qd4+) 33...Bxg4 34.Qxc5 Qxc5+ 35.Nxc5 Bxh3 36.gxh3 Rc8]
Black sacs a pawn out of frustration. It's amazing to me to see a game where a grandmaster gets beaten so seemingly easily: all game he has struggled and failed to come up with an active plan.  [31...Ng6 32.Rb1 Nf4 33.Nxf4 exf4 34.bxc5 dxc5 35.Rab2 Qd8 36.Nxc5
32.bxa5 bxa5 33.Qxa5 Rff8 34.Qc7 Nf7 35.Qxd7 1-0

We continued by looking at three examples of prophylaxis (or the need for it) in students' games. The student examples are my favorite part of the US Chess School - what could be more instructive than seeing how you could have used a technique in one of your own recent games?

Fisher,William (2247) - Mandizha,Farai (2431) [E11]

National Chess Congress (4), 27.11.2010
White to move
33.h3! Black threatens Nf6-g4-e5-f3, and White must prevent it.
33...Ng4 34.h3 Ne5 35.Qc3
White has one last chance to save the game: 35.Rxh6+ gxh6 36.Rc5 f4
35...Nxc6 36.Be2 Qxe2 37.Rxh6+ Bh7 0-1

Kavutskiy,Kostya (2249) - Gupta,Ankit (2324) 


annotations by Kostya Kavutskiy
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 d6 5.e4 0-0 6.h3 Nbd7 7.Be3 e5 8.dxe5 Nxe5 9.Nxe5 dxe5 10.Be2 c6 11.0-0
11.Qa4 is what I should play next time.
11...Qe7 12.Qc2 Be6 13.Rfd1 Nd7 14.Qd2 Rfd8 15.b3 f5 16.f3?!
16.exf5 gxf5 17.Bg5 Nf6 (17...Bf6 18.Bxf6 Qxf6 19.Qd6 I completely misevaluated this position thinking it was at best equal) 18.Qe3 I evaluated this position as unclear, overestimating the strength of Black's pawns.
16...f4 17.Bf2 Nf6 18.Qb2 b6 19.a4 Nh5 20.a5 Ng3 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8
21...Qxd8 22.axb6 axb6 23.Rxa8 Qxa8 24.Bxb6 I didn't think Black would have enough compensation for the pawn here.
22.axb6 axb6 23.Bxb6 Rb8 24.c5
My opponent missed this move, otherwise Black is doing well
24...Qg5 25.Bc4±
I think this is the best move, because it eliminates all of Black's counterplay.
25...Bxc4 26.bxc4 Qd8 27.Rd1 Qc8
I wasn't quite sure how to proceed here. Obviously Nd5 is begging to be played but I wanted to exhaust all other possibilities first, The problem for me was that any endgame I went into would be tough to win--with heavy pieces on the board I would always have to worry about my back rank, but with only minor pieces then my extra pawn is irrelevant and Black's king can defend his weakness on c6
28.Qd2 Qe6 29.Qa2 Bf8 30.Qa7 Re8 31.Qa2 Be7 32.Kf2 Bh4 33.Kg1 Be7 34.Nd5
OK, I saw no other option here.
34...cxd5 35.cxd5 Qf7 36.Qb2
36...Bf6 37.c6 Rc8 38.Kh2+-
37.d6 Bd8 38.Qb3+
38.c6 Bxb6+ 39.Qxb6 Ne2+ 40.Kh2 Nd4 41.d7 Rd8 42.Rxd4 I did not really look for opportunities to give up the full rook because I thought they wouldn't be necessary 42...exd4 43.Qb3+ Kg7 44.c7+-
38...Kg7 39.Bxd8 Rxd8 40.Qd3 Kh6
White to move
41.Kh2!+- Black is threatening to play Ne2+-d4, establishing an outpost and blocking white's heavy pieces from defending his pawns. Meeting ...Ne2+ with Qxe2 allows black to take the d pawn. So white should play Kh2 prophylactically, getting out of the knight check and of later checks by the black queen.  41...Nh5 42.c6 Ng7 43.c7 Ne6 44.cxd8Q Nxd8 45.d7+-
41...Ne2+ 42.Qxe2
42.Kh1! Nd4 43.c7 Rc8 44.Qa6 Qe6+-
42...Rxd6 43.Rxd6 Qxd6 44.Qc2
44.Qb5 Qd2=
44...Qd4+ 45.Kf1
45.Kh2 Qe3 46.Qd1 Qc5 47.Qd7 Qf2 48.Qg4 Qc5 49.Qc8 Qf2 50.Qf8+ Kh5 51.Qb4 Qe3 52.c7 Qc1 53.Qa5
45...Qa1+ 46.Ke2 Qg1
I spent around 20 minutes here, calculated all of my options and offered a draw--probably my biggest mistake of the game, because after 46...Qg1 47.c7 Qxg2+ 48.Kd3 Qxf3+ 49.Kc4 Qxh3 I am winning after 50.Qd2 The key move that I missed, pinning the f-pawn and winning in the critical line: 50...Qc8 51.Qd8 Qa6+ 52.Kc5 Qa5+ 53.Kd6 Qb6+ 54.Ke7+- ½-½

Rosenthal,Nick - Liou,Y (2211)

USCL ICC INT (10), 25.10.2010
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.Qe2 Nge7 6.Bg2 g6 7.0-0 Bg7 8.Re1 0-0 9.e5 Nf5 10.c3 f6 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.h4 Bd7 13.Bg5 Qe7 14.Bxf6 Qxf6 15.Nbd2 Rae8 16.Nb3 b6 17.Ne5 Nxe5 18.Qxe5 Qxe5 19.Rxe5 Nd6
19...Ne7 20.Bh3 Nc6 21.Re2 Re7
Choose between the moves 20...Rf5, 20...c4 and 20...Kg7.

Show Solution

21.dxc4 Nxc4 22.R5e2
22.Rxd5? exd5 23.Bxd5+ Kg7 24.Rxe8 Rxe8 25.Bxc4 Re1+
22...Kf7 23.Nd4 Nd6 24.Nf3
24.Bh3! Nf5 (24...Ne4 25.Kg2 Re7 26.f3 Nc5 27.b4 Na4 28.Bxe6+ Bxe6 29.Rxe6 Rxe6 30.Nxe6) 25.Bxf5 gxf5 26.f4
24...Kf6 25.Ng5 Rh8 26.Bh3 Nf5 27.Bxf5 gxf5 28.f4 h6 29.Nf3 Bb5 30.Re3 Rhg8 31.Nd4 Bd7 32.Kf2 Rg6 33.Re5 Kf7 34.a3 Rf6 35.R5e3 Ke7 36.Rd1 Rc8 37.Nf3 Kd6 38.Ne5 Ba4 39.Rd2 Bb3 40.Re1 a5 41.Nf3 Ba4 42.Rc1 Bb5 43.Nd4 Ba6 44.Ke3 Rg8 45.Rg1 Rfg6 46.Kf2 Re8 47.Re1 Reg8 48.Re3 Rf6 49.Rd1 Rgf8 50.b4 a4 51.Rde1 Bc8 52.c4 dxc4 53.Rd1 Ke7 54.Nc6+ Kf7 55.Ne5+ Kg8 56.Nxc4 b5 57.Nd6 Rd8 58.Rd4 Rff8 59.Nxb5 Ba6 60.Nd6 Bc8 61.b5 Rd7 62.Rxe6 Rfd8 63.Rxh6 1-0

This last problem reminded the class of a position we had seen the day before in one of Daniel Gurevich's games.

Benjamin Finegold - Daniel Gurevich
Thanksgiving Open, 26.11.2010

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c3 Bg7 4.d4 cxd4 5.Bc4 d6
5...d5; 5...d3 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Qxd3 d6 8.Bf4 Nf6 9.Nbd2 0-0
 6.Qb3 e6 7.cxd4 Ne7 8.Nc3 0-0 9.Be3 Nbc6 10.Be2 d5 11.e5 Nf5 12.0-0 f6 13.exf6 Bxf6 14.Rad1 Qe7 15.Bb5 Bd7 16.Rfe1 Nxe3
I don't like this move at all...the knight on f5 sort of ties things down to defense of d4 and the bishop on e3 blocks the e-file and is busy defending d4. 16...Qg7
17.Rxe3 Qd6 18.Bxc6
Should Black recapture with the pawn or the bishop?

Show Solution

19.Na4 Rfb8
19...Rab8 20.Qc2 Rb4 21.b3 Rxa4 22.bxa4 Rc8
20.Qc2 Rb4 21.b3 Rc8 22.Nc5 Rb5 23.Ne5 Bxe5 24.Rxe5 Rf8 25.Rde1 Rf6 26.Qe2 Rxc5 27.dxc5 Qxc5 28.h4 Qd4 29.h5 c5 30.Rd1 Qf4 31.g3 Qb4 32.Rg5 Kf7 33.Qe5 Qb6 34.Rg4 Qa5 35.hxg6+ hxg6 36.Rh4 Ke7 37.Rxd5 1-0

In both Yian and Daniel's game, they made an active looking pawn move that lost control of important squares.

Khachiyan is known as a dynamic, attacking player, and his lessons focused on his strengths: attacks, concrete calculation, and unbalanced positions. He showed us the below game against Kretchetov (The annotations in quotation marks are direct quotes. Annotations without quotation marks are reconstructions of Melik's comments, but not their precise wording.)

Kretchetov,Alex - Khachiyan,Melik [E90]
Gufeld Memorial, 2003

1.c4 g6 2.Nf3 Bg7 3.e4 c5 4.d4 d6 5.d5 Nf6 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Bd3 e5 8.a3 Nh5 9.g3 f5 10.exf5 gxf5 11.Nh4
"What move here exactly matches the requirements of the position from the Black point of view, 11...Nf4. 11... e4, 11... Qe8?"
I felt it was time for me to use his king in the middle. To me it was the only move, e4. 11...Nf4 12.Bxf4 exf4 13.Qh5 Qe8+ 14.Qxe8 Rxe8+ 15.Kf1
12.Qxh5 exd3 13.0-0
Melik250.jpgMelik asked the same question: "Which move matching exactly the requirements of the position? While students were thinking, he began talking out loud about the position...."There are advantages and disadvantages to my position. My pawn structure is destroyed -- especially the d3 pawn is separated from my other pieces-- and my king is open. At the same time, I have two bishops, the white king is exposed and his kingside is really missing his light squared bishop. Because the position is unbalanced, you cannot take the game by normal playing, so whatever you do, it must be concrete. . We will really worry about material when game goes to endgame, but in middlegame, sometimes dynamic things are more important. Try to understand the imbalances and come up with great idea to take the initiative."
Sacrificing the f pawn for rapid development that turns into a dangerous attack. The knight is going to e5, from where it threatens f3.
14.Nxf5 Ne5
14...Rxf5 too much
15.Nxg7 Bg4 16.Qh6 Rf6 17.Qe3
only move
17...Nf3+ 18.Kh1 Kxg7 19.Ne4 Nd4 20.f4
"Which black piece is the most aggressive here?"

Show Solution

"I must take care of my pawn; I do not care about my rook on f6. The Nd4 is much more aggressive than the rook." 
"My opponent also understands this: if he can take care of my bishop, black's position falls apart."
21...Nc2 22.Qf2
"Because of my next move, this game appeared in magazines. If you can find this move, it is a sign of being a future grandmaster. It's all about your concrete thinking, right here, right now. I didn't play Nc2 to fork the queen and rook; I played Nc2 for another reason. What keeps white in the game?"
I want to eliminate white's most active piece, the knight. It's a very hard move to find because it means I will have to recapture with my king, and see my king is safe in the middle of the board.
23.Nxf6 Kxf6
23...Qxf6? 24.Bc3
24.Bc3+ Kf5
"I stop all possible active moves from white side. f5 is not possible; g4 is not possible. The king blockades the light squares."
25.h3 h5 26.Rg1 Nxa1 27.Rxa1 Qe4+ 28.Kh2 Qxc4 29.Re1 Rg8 30.Qe3 Qe4
"White has no space."
31.Qf2 b6
"Just because i wanted to secure the entire area and make sure there is no b4 break. I knew white was completely squeezed."
32.Bd2 a5 33.a4 Rg6 34.Rg1 Qf3 35.Qe1 Ke4
"My king will collect all pawns."
36.Qc1 Kxd5 37.Qc3 h4 38.Be1 Bf1 39.Qb3+ Kc6 40.Qf7 hxg3+ 41.Bxg3 Qe2+ 42.Kh1 Rh6
"He made time control and resigned." 1-0

The round robin blitz tournament was won by Yian Liou and Michael Bodek, with Daniel Gurevich coming third. All three won the right to play blitz games against Melik and Greg.
Yian drew Greg and lost one game and drew one to Melik; Michael beat Melik and lost to Greg; Daniel lost his single game to Greg. 


The US Chess School is made possible by the generous support of Dr. Jim Roberts, in conjunction with the AF4C. Additional sponsorship was provided by the Schein-Friedman Foundation.
Michael Yang's article on the US Chess School in Seattle was just recognized as the #6 article in Best of CLO 2010. See an index of articles on the USCS including many pieces by Vicary on