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U.S. Chess School Comes to the Marshall: Part II Print E-mail
By Elizabeth Vicary   
July 31, 2009
Enthusiastic participants of the 9th U.S. Chess School, Photo Ted Wu

Part II of Elizabeth Vicary's article on the 9th U.S. Chess School gives readers a glimpse into the session's chess training. Read Part I for bios of all 12 USCS participants.

The US Chess School is a nonprofit venture, the mission of which is to help the most talented young American chessplayers by organizing free week-long training sessions with top grandmaster coaches. Three sessions are held every year; locations, trainers, students, and age groups vary. The ninth incarnation took place at the Marshall Chess Club in NYC, July 8-12, 2009. The students were aged 9-12 and rated between 1850 and 2100; GM Alex Onischuk and IM Greg Shahade taught. This program was made possible through the generous sponsorship of Jim Roberts, in conjunction with the AF4C, the hard work of organizer Greg Shahade, and the kind hospitality of the Marshall Chess Club.

It's a truism that looking at your games, especially your losses, is the best way to improve. At past US Chess Schools, students have been asked to bring an annotated game to share with the group. This time, Greg had students play a training game against each other on the first day, and we used these games, rather than older ones, for group analysis.

IM Greg Shahade

Greg debuted as a USCS instructor by leading most of these lessons, and I recreate two of them below. My notes are not comprehensive (I couldn't write that fast), but I tried to show what I enjoyed most about the discussions: Greg's emphasis on comprehensible, memorable ideas rather than long lines of analysis.

He,Tommy - Wu,Christopher [B92]
US Chess School 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6
Basic Najdorf starting position

The Najdorf is a very popular opening for black. White has an "unbelievable" number of choices here. Greg asked the class to name some of the more common moves and to describe the plans associated with them.
1. 6. Be2 This move is less tactical than the others. After 6.... e6, white usually continues Be3, 0-0, f4, Qe1/d2, Bf3, Rad1.
2. 6. Be3 A more aggressive move. One popular set-up is the English Attack: white continues f3, Qd2, 0-0-0, with the idea of attacking with g4-g5, h4-h5, and eventually g6.
3. 6. Bc4 Bobby Fischer's favorite: the Sozin. The bishop attacks f7 and later e6. One idea for white here is that after some typical moves like 6...e6 7. 0-0 Be7 8. Be3 Nbd7, he/she can play a standard piece sacrifice: 9. Bxe6 fxe6 10. Nxe6 Qb6/a5 11. Nxg7. The knight generally comes back to f5.  White already has three pawns for the piece and  a strong medium-term attack on black's king.
4. 6. Bg5 This leads to a very famous line called the Poisoned Pawn: 6... e6 7. f4 Qb6 8. Qd2 Qxb2.
5. 6. f4 American Grandmaster Josh Friedel plays this move. Most games continue 6... e5 7. Nf3.
6. 6. g3. A more positional line: white intends Bg2 and 0-0.
7. 6. h3. This move has become popular recently, and it's a more aggressive way to fianchetto: the idea is g4 and Bg2.
8. 6. a4 This positional move gains space on the queenside and makes it hard for black to play ....b5.
9. 6. Qf3 was recently played by Nigel Short against the 15 year old Swedish GM Nils Grandelius. Greg comments on the game in a video here.
10. 6. Rg1. This move, invented by GM Alex Shabalov, was new to the class. They had seen all the previous moves, but when Greg insisted they were missing one important variation, it took them at least 10 ridiculous guesses (6. b3? 6. Rb1? 6. Qd3?) before they lucked onto this move. Its idea is the brutal g4-g5.
  6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Be6
Greg: If White plays 10. Nd5, can Black take on e4?
Answer: White has a typical trick: 11. Bb6 and 12. Nc7, winning the exchange. (Interestingly, Fritz thinks Black has compensation (a central pawn and time) for the material--EV)
"I have a general feeling in the Sicilian that if you play a3, it's not so good for you." Greg [11.a4! b4 12.Nd5 Bxd5 13.exd5 a5 14.c4]
11...Nbd7 12.g3
"If you wanted to play g3, you should have done it right away, with the bishop still on f1." Alex
12...Rc8 13.Bg2 Nb6
Greg: What's the idea of ...Nb6?
Answer: Nc4
14.Nd2 Qc7 15.h3 Rfd8 16.f4 d5
Position after 16...d5

Greg: What are some reasons why this move might make a lot of sense for Black?
1. Because Black's development is better.
2. Black's rook on d8 opposes the white queen on d1.
3. Because of where white's bishop (e3) and knight (c3) are. (Black threatens the fork ...d4)
4. It increases the scope of the Be7.
17.fxe5 Nc4?
An interesting idea that doesn't work tactically. Instead Black should have played 17...d4! 18.exf6 dxe3 19.fxe7 Rxd2 or 17...Bc5 18.Bxc5 Qxc5+ 19.Kh1 Nxe4.

White should simply take: 18.exf6! Nxe3 19.fxe7 Nxd1 20.exd8Q+ Rxd8 21.Raxd1 Qxg3 (21...d4 22.Nd5 Qxc2 23.Nf3 Bxd5 24.exd5 Qxb2 25.Nxd4) 22.Rf3 Qg6 (22...Qe5 23.exd5 Bxd5? 24.Rd3+-) 23.Nb3± With two pieces and a rook for the queen, White is doing well here.
18...dxc4 19.Qf3 Qxe5
Greg: What's the best piece to put in front of an isolated pawn?
class: a knight
Greg: Chris played Qxe5 very quickly. What else could he have considered?
class: ...Nd7 and ....Nxe5
Greg: Right. Maybe this is not better, the centralized queen looks strong, and after 19...Nd7, black needs to wonder if 20. Nd5 is dangerous, but it definitely needs to be considered.
20.Kh1 Nh5 21.Bf4 Nxf4 22.gxf4 Qc5 23.Qg3
Position after 23.Qg3

Greg:  What is White threatening here? 
Answer: f5-f6
Greg:  Black chose a good, multi-purpose move Bd7, which removes the bishop from the threatened attack and prepares to reroute it to c6. But what else could he have done?
Answer: 23...Rd2! solving the problem in the most active, tactical way 24.f5? Bd6 25.Qh4 (or 25.e5 Bxe5 26.Qg5 hitting the rook and threatening fxe6 26...Bxc3 27.bxc3 now White's f pawn is pinned across the fifth rank and Black can choose between 27...Rxc2 and(27...Rcd8) ) 25...Qe5 forcing White to give up material on f4 to avoid checkmate.
24.Rae1 Qh5 25.Rd1 Qh4 26.Qf3

26.Qxh4!? Bxh4 27.Kh2
 26...Bc6 27.Qe3 Ba8 28.Qb6 Rxd1
Position after 28.Rxd1

29.Rxd1 Qxf4 30.Qxa6
We stopped looking at the game here-Chris is clearly winning and the game was played very quickly from this point on.

Chiang,Jonathan - Williams,Justus [B76]
US Chess School

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Be3 Nf6 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 d6 9.0-0-0 Bd7 10.g4
Position after 10.g4

Greg: What would be a normal idea for Black here?
A student suggests the standard plan of Rc8 and Ne4-c5, and Greg agrees, but points out that this is not as good here because White hasn't spent two tempi on Bc4-b3.
10...Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Qa5 12.Kb1 Rfc8 13.h4 Be6 14.a3
Greg: What's a possible problem with this move?
Answer: It invites b5-b4.
14...b5 15.Nxb5 Qd8 16.h5 a6 17.Nc3 Rab8
Greg: What's the idea behind this move?
Answer: Qa5xa3
Greg: What's the idea of Ka1?
Answer: To clear the b1 square for a defending rook.
18...Rc7 19.h6?!
Position after 19.h6

Greg: Why is this probably the wrong idea?
Answer: It keeps the h-file closed.
19...Bh8 20.g5 Ne8 21.Bxh8 Kxh8 22.Qd4+ Kg8 23.f4

23.Bxa6! looks scary because it opens another file, but it prevents the very dangerous ...Rcb7 and Ra7 is not possible because the White queen guards that square.
23...Rcb7 24.Rb1 Qa5
Greg: What is Black threatening here?
Answer: Let's say White plays 25. f5, for example. It seemed at first that 25... Rxb2 was winning after 26. Rxb2 Qxa3+ 27. Na2 Bxa2. But White has an incredible resource here (something Justus had seen during the game!). White wins with 28. Qg7+!! Nxg7 29. Rxb8 Ne8 30. Rxe8#. So Black has to play 25...Rb4 first. If the queen moves, Rxb2 works, so White has to take on b4, take on e6, and hope to survive. White's best moves here are Nd5 or Bc4.
Position after 25.Na2

25.f5 Rxb2 (25...Rb4 26.Qe3 (26.Qd3 Rxb2 27.Rxb2 Qxa3+; 26.Qxb4 Rxb4 27.fxe6 fxe6) 26...Rxb2 27.Rxb2 Qxa3+) 26.Rxb2 Qxa3+ 27.Na2 Bxa2?? 28.Qg7+!!; 25.Nd5! Bxd5 26.exd5 Rb4 27.Qe3 Qa4 28.Rh2 Rxf4 (28...Re4 29.Qa7) 29.Qxe7; 25.Bc4 Rb4 (25...Bxc4 26.Qxc4 Nc7)
25...Rxb2! is less flashy, but better. Black picks up a string of pawns: 26.Qxb2 Rxb2 27.Kxb2 Qb6+ 28.Ka1 Qd4+ 29.c3 Qd2 30.Rb2 Qd1+ 31.Rb1 Qc2 32.Rb2 Qxe4 33.Bg2 Qa4 34.Re1 Qxa3-+
 26.Bc4 Qa5 27.Bxe6 fxe6 28.f5 Rb4 29.Qc3 Ra4 30.Qxa5 Rxa5 31.fxg6 Rxg5 32.gxh7+ Kxh7 33.Rbf1 Nf6 34.Nc3 Rbg8 35.Ne2 e5 36.Nc3 R8g6 37.Nd5 Nxe4
Position after 37...Nxe4

Greg: Should White play Rf7 before taking on e7? What difference will it make?
Answer: White should have thrown in this check, since after 38.Rf7+ Kh8 39.Nxe7 Rf6 40.Rxf6 Nxf6 the Black king is worse on h8 than h7.
38...Rf6 39.Rxf6 Nxf6 40.Nc8 d5 41.Ne7 e4 42.Rf1 Ng8 43.Rf5
Greg: Is trading rooks a good idea for White, or not?
Answer: It's a bad idea, because knight endgames are hardest to draw. Rook vs rook or r+n vs r+n both give White better chances.
43...Rxf5 44.Nxf5 Nxh6 45.Ne7
45.Nd4 looks like a better chance to just try and hold tight. Randomly attacking the pawns only helped Black.
45...d4 46.Nc6 Nf5 47.Kb1 Kg7 48.Kc1 Kf6 49.Nb4 a5 50.Nc6 a4 51.Kd2 Ke6 52.c3 Kd5 53.Nb4+ Kc4 54.Nc2 e3+ 55.Ke1 d3 0-1

Final position, Chiang-Williams

Michael Bodek with Justus Williams, Photo Elizabeth Vicary

Alex Onischuk's curriculum included lessons on perseverance, bishop vs. knight endgames, open vs. closed positions, and the two bishops. (I am sorry to only have notes on one game: my own summer school teaching job kept me away each day until the afternoons, so I missed the majority of these substantial lessons.)

GM Alexander Onischuk teaches the group, Photo Elizabeth Vicary

Eljanov-Karjakin was one of my favorites: a great example of how to think in closed positions. 

Eljanov,Pavel (2641) - Karjakin,Sergey (2635) [D11]
EU-ch 6th Warsaw (11), 29.06.2005

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 a6 5.Qc2 Bg4 6.Nbd2 e6 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.c5 Bxf3 9.Nxf3 g6 10.b4 Bg7 11.Bb2 0-0 12.h3 Qc7 13.Bc3 Ne8 14.Qb2 b6 15.0-0 a5 16.a3 a4 17.Rac1 b5 18.Ne5 f6 19.Nf3 f5 20.Ng5 Rf6 21.f4 Qd8 22.g4 Qe7 23.Nf3 Rf8
Position after 23...Rf8

Alex started with the simple question, "Who is better here?" At first, a few students preferred Black. Then someone pointed out that White could play g4-g5, after which Black is stuck: there are no pawn breaks, no sacrifices, nothing at all to do. (...h7-h6 only opens the h-file, since White can reply h3-h4) In Onischuk's words "If I play g4-g5, how could I possibly lose?" So the class agreed that White could not be worse, and so was at least equal and probably better. The next question was what to do? Their ideas:
1. Attack on the kingside. The move g4-g5, Alex explained, while completely safe, also reduces White's winning chances. It's better to keep the pawn on g4 and just push h5. This way you can open two files (g and h, rather than just the h).
2. Someone suggested White might play Qe2, preparing a bishop sacrifice on b5, and Onischuk agreed that this could be dangerous.
3. White could also try activating the dark bishop with Be1-h4. Alex wasn't as excited about this plan, because he felt the Bg7 is an equally terrible piece.

Onischuk asked the class "Black will take this knight; it is too good of a piece not to. Should he capture with the knight or bishop?" Eleven students quickly decided Black should take with the bishop. Just one opts for the knight, and Onischuk joked with the last hold-out, "I know, I know, bishops are always better than knights, but maybe in this position...."
If White takes, 24.gxf5 Black should recapture 24...gxf5! when he can put his king on h8 and use the g file,(and not 24...exf5?! because of 25.Kh2 with the idea of Rg1 and h4-h5, when Black's g pawn becomes a target.
White can't play 24.h4 yet because of 24...Nef6 so he starts with 24. Ne5. White should have some mixed feelings about Ne5: he would prefer not to trade off this last knight, because it could be very useful in helping the attack to break through, on the other hand, when Black captures, White controls the f6 square with a pawn.
Onischuk: Which pawn should White recapture with?
A student suggests an idea for White: Rd1, Qe2, and e4, trying to use pressure against the Nd7 to open the position. [If 25.fxe5 then Black could play ...Ng7, ...fxe4, and trade rooks. Because White has more space and is attacking, trades will ease the pressure on Black.]
25...Ng7 26.Qg2
Alex: "So White can open the kingside: h4-h5 is coming. What could Black do about that?" The first hand up was Justus Williams, who suggested Black should run: "Kf7, Rfh8, Rag8, and Ke8." Onischuk agreed, but points out that the earlier plan of Qe2 and Bxb5 will be very strong with the Black king on e8 and the rooks on the kingside, where they will be unable to fight White's advancing queenside pawns.
26...Kf7 27.Kf2 Ke8 28.Ke2 Kd8

Position after 28...Kd8

Onischuk: This is a very important moment. What should White do?
White captures now, before Black can defend with ...Rb8

After 29...gxf5 Black's position is really unpleasant; the knights are clumsy and have nowhere to go. White can slowly build up on the kingside with Rg1, maybe play Qf3, double rooks on the g-file, and activate the bishop with Be1. Black has no counterplay.
After 29...Nxf5 Onischuk originally suggested the plan of Rh1, Rg1, and h4, trying to win the g6 pawn. A student then asked about 30. e4, and the group slowly figured out the following variation: 30.e4 Ng7 31.exd5 exd5 32.Bxb5 cxb5 33.Qxd5 Rc8 34.c6 Qe6 35.Qxe6 Nxe6 36.cxd7 Kxd7 and Black is fine, the group decided.
I enjoyed seeing the analytical process at work: there were many false starts and corrections made in the course of arriving at this line, but everyone seemed to participate in finding the problems and fixing them. For example, Kayden suggested an improvement: 34. Rcd1 Ke8 35. Qb7, and Alex agreed ("yeah, dangerous"), although wondered if 34... Qe6!? might be ok for Black. Someone else then pointed out that the entire line could be prepared earlier-- that after 30... Ng7, White can play Rd1 and Black can't really stop the sacrifice on b5.
 30.Bxb5 cxb5 31.Qxd5 Rc8 32.c6 Qe6 33.Qxd7+ Qxd7 34.cxd7 Kxd7 35.Rfd1+ Ke7 36.Bd4 Ne6
36...Ke6? 37.Bc5 Rfd8 38.Rxd8 Rxd8 39.Bd6 and Rd7
 37.Bc5+ Nxc5
Position after 37...Nxc5

Alex asked if White should recapture with the rook or pawn. After some discussion, the group agreed that both are pretty good. 38.bxc5
Black has two weaknesses here: h7 and b5.
 38...Rc7 39.Rd5
39.Rd6 is also good; the idea is to play c6 and then bring the king to d5.
 39...Rb8 40.Rb1 Ke6 41.Rd6+ Ke7 42.Rb6 Rbc8 43.R1xb5 Rxc5 44.Rxc5 Rxc5 45.Rb7+ Kf8 46.Kd3 h5 47.Kd4 Rc6 48.Ra7 Rc1 49.e6 Re1 50.Ke5 1-0

Final position

Lastly, two of the "funnier" studies:

White to Move

Show Solution

White to Move

Show Solution

Every US Chess School features a blitz tournament, and this one was massive: a 16-player round robin that lasted over three hours.


In addition to the 12 regular students (Luke's older brother Carl substituted for Joshua Colas, who had a prior engagement), two local guest students (James Black and Miguel Garcia) played, plus each player had two byes: one for a personal evaluation with Alex Onischuk and the other for an interview with me. 

Alexander Onischuk gives Christopher Wu his individual evaluation. Photo Elizabeth Vicary

The first and second place finishers, Michael Bodek and Kayden Troff, won the right to play a two-game blitz match against Alex Onischuk and Greg Shahade (respectively).

Photo Gallery


Tommy He, Michael Bodek and Arthur Shen, Photo Elizabeth Vicary

The students in a deep think, Photo Elizabeth Vicary

Luke Harmon and Kapil Chandran, Photo Ted Wu

The kids relaxing in Washington Square Park, Photo Elizabeth Vicary

Sarah Chiang and Anna Matli, Photo Ted Wu

Alexander Onischuk supervises the bughouse action , Photo Elizabeth Vicary

Tommy He and guest student Miguel Garcia, Photo Elizabeth Vicary

Elizabeth Vicary, Photo Ted Wu

Anna Matlin and Sarah Chiang at lunch, Photo Ted Wu

Look for updates on the 10th U.S. Chess School, the first All-Girls USCS, set for August 11-15.


July - Chess Life Online 2009

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