US Chess School Comes to Seattle, Part I
By Michael Yang   
September 6, 2010
The 13th US Chess School was held in Seattle, Washington, August 10th-14th, 2010. The US Chess School is a free five-day training camp for the nation's top young players, organized by IM Greg Shahade three times each year.

GM and author Yasser Seirawan
This chess school's main instructor was GM Yasser Seirawan, twice a candidate for the World Championship title, four-time US Champion, and ten-time member of the US Chess Olympiad team. We were very fortunate to have GM Yasser Seirawan come back to his hometown Seattle from Amsterdam, where he currently resides. Seirawan's "Winning Chess" book series was part of my early chess foundations. Yasser has also recently authored, Chess Duels: My Games With the World Champions. The five days I spent with Yasser were amazing, and I'm honored to have been given such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only was he an excellent teacher, he was also a great storyteller, and even joined us occasionally for some bughouse games!

Captain of the US Olympiad team IM John Donaldson, also a long-time Seattle resident and Yasser Seirawan's friend, honored us with two lessons. IM Greg Shahade also provided some training. The US Chess School is sponsored by Dr. Jim Roberts, who also hosted a fun barbecue at his house.

The camp's participants in order of USCF August supplement rating were:

  1. Yian Liou, 13 years old, 2254 (California)
  2. Michael Yang (yours truly), 15 years old, 2247 (Minnesota)
  3. Jarod M Pamatmat, 13 years old, 2214 (Texas)
  4. Kevin Wang, 12 years old, 2200 (Maryland)
  5. Luke Harmon-Vellotti, 11 years old, 2150 (Idaho)
  6. Michael Omori, 15 years old, 2110 (Washington)
  7. Michael Wang, 13 years old, 2103 (Washington)
  8. Nathan Lee, 14 years old, 2075 (Washington)
  9. Megan Lee, 13 years old, 2028 (Washington)
  10. Mika Andrew Brattain, 11 years old, 2021 (Massachusetts)
L to R: Megan Lee, Michael Wang, Yian Liou, Nathan Lee, Michael Yang, Jarod Pamatmat, GM Yasser Seirawan, Michael Omori, Kevin Wang, Mika Brattain and Luke Harmon-Velotti

Day 1, August 10
This was the first day of camp. The chess school was held in the Chess4Life center in Washington. The environment was very good for chess and camaraderie. Chess4Life's vision is "Teaching Life Skills through Chess". Founder NM Elliot Neff showed us around the center and played some quick blitz games.

GM Yasser Seirawan with Michael Wang
GM Seirawan started out by introducing himself. In 1972, at the age of 12, Yasser was introduced to chess by a neighbor who was roughly 1200 playing strength. By 1979, Yasser Seirawan had won the World Junior Championship, and by January 1980 Yasser had became a grandmaster at the famous Wijk aan Zee tournament, in which he tied for first.

The question he first posed to us was: what did he study to skyrocket him from beginner to world-class grandmaster? The answer was combinations. Yasser defined a combination as a sacrifice where a sequence of forced moves brings us to a goal. He then said, "The most important lesson you can learn from this camp is write your thoughts down!" This was spoken from his experience, as he has 32(!!) notebooks on combinations.

Yasser's style of teaching is very unique: he combines humor and story-telling, while constructing a simple and logical message. Of special note was his lesson about the back-rank checkmate.

Back in 1972, when Bobby Fischer had just beaten Boris Spassky, Yasser bought his first chess book, "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess". Most of the book was on back-rank checkmates! Of course, this must be the secret to winning chess games, Yasser thought. Unfortunately, after studying all types of back-rank checkmates, Yasser still lost some games.

Later in Yasser's career, he had a trainer who told him: "Control e5 and you win!" Somehow, this didn't really work out for him either. However, it became a punch line in US Chess School blitz games.

Yasser's view of the chessboard is like a topographical map (these types of maps show altitudes), with the center being considered "the high ground". In war, controlling the high ground is crucial, and chess is comparable to war.

Yasser also taught us the ideal squares for all the pieces. The bishops belong at g2 and b2 (for Black, g7 and b7) because those squares give us optimal control of the center, and simultaneously control of the longest diagonals of the board. White's knights should be placed at c6 and f6 in order to rake across the optimal amount of black's territory while still controlling the center. By the way, according to Yasser, the often-repeated statement that the worst squares for knights are the corners (a1, h1, a8, h8) is false. At the corners, the knights will soon jump to useful squares. The worst squares for knights are actually b2, g2, b7, and g7. In most cases, knights on these squares are badly misplaced, with nowhere to move to. Rooks are best on open files, and queens are best on open files and diagonals.

Throughout his career, Yasser discovered many types of combinations. Some simple examples are the smothered mate, and Legal's mate (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 Bg4 4. Bc4 h6? 5. Nxe5 Bxd1?? 6. Bxf7+ Ke7 7. Nd5#). However, a new type of combination was found by Yasser, coined the "boomerang". This type of combination goes out, and comes right back and hits you. Boomerangs are combinations that don't work, and we want to prevent them from happening.

"For a combination to work, we must have an advantage" (Yasser). This concept was stressed by Yasser many times throughout the camp. The most concrete type of advantage is a material advantage, but we may also have some type of positional advantage, such as an advantage in space, or weak squares of our opponents'. Even hanging pieces can be an advantage which allows a combination.

Here is one game of Yasser's which contains a very nice combination.


Darby,Michael - Seirawan,Yasser [A42]
1.d4 d6 2.e4 g6 3.c4 e5 4.Be3 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nge2 Nh6 7.f3 f5
Position after 7...f5

This game was played in Seirawan's younger days. Back then, there were no computers, just books. According to his book, White must play d5 here, otherwise he is worse.
8.d5 The line then goes 8...Ne7 9.Qd2 Nf7 10.0-0-0 0-0 11.Kb1 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.c5
8...fxe4 9.d5
9.Nxe4 Nf5 10.Bg5 Bh6 11.Bxd8 Bxd2+ 12.Kxd2 Kxd8 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.N2c3 Be6 15.b3 c6 16.Re1 Kd7 17.f4 Nf7 18.Bd3 Fritz 11 opening book
9...exf3? 10.Ng3?
Better is 10.dxc6 fxe2 11.Bg5 Bf6 12.Bxf6 Qxf6 13.Qxh6 exf1Q+ 14.Rxf1 Bf5 15.cxb7 Rb8 16.g4+-
10...Nd4 11.Bg5?!
Better is 11.Bxh6 Bxh6 12.Qxh6 Nc2+ 13.Kd2 fxg2 14.Bxg2 Nxa1 15.Rxa1 White has an advantage here because of Black's weak king
Last chance! if Qd7, then after Bxh6 White is just better. This complicates the position. Black is able to play this move because White's king is in a fairly weak position
12.Qxg5 Ng4 13.Nge4
13.Nb5 Nc2+ 14.Kd1 Nce3+ 15.Kd2 0-0 16.Nxc7 Rb8 17.Qxe3 Nxe3 18.Kxe3 this is the best line according to Rybka. White is winning. It is very hard to find in an over the board situation, however.
13...Nc2+ 14.Kd1 Nce3+ 15.Ke1 Bh6 16.Qh4??
16.gxf3 Bxg5 17.Nxg5 h6
Position after 16.Qh4??

 16...fxg2 17.Rg1 gxf1Q+ 18.Rxf1 Ng2+ 0-1

IM Greg Shahade
Later that day, IM Greg Shahade presented some of our games to the class. (Before the camp began, we sent Greg our most recent games played, with our annotations. Each player sent from 10-20 games. That adds up to 150-200 games total for Greg to review! Thanks Greg!) A common mistake from most of our games was playing for a draw against a higher-rated player. Not just playing for a draw, but accepting a draw in positions where we were slightly better. This is not a good habit to have, because it will have an effect on your courage in future positions. Bobby Fischer always played for a win; this type of aggression leads to more games lost, but overall more games won. If you don't build up the courage and will to win, you may find yourself losing and drawing many critical games.

We then looked at two more of Seirawan's games, Ljubojevic - Seirawan (Tilburg 1983) and Seirawan - Portisch (Indonesia 1983). Both games featured combinations.



Seirawan's game against Portisch had an interesting story to go along with. Portisch was a Hungarian Grandmaster. In the old days, Hungary and the Soviet Union had whole teams of players preparing opening lines. Not only that, the teams all played the same openings, so when playing against one player, you were effectively playing against all of them. Portisch was the first Hungarian Yasser had to play in the tournament, and Portisch uncorked a novelty in the "Seirawan line" of the Nimzo-Indian. But the line was unsound and Seirawan soon refuted it.
Day 2, August 11

On the second day of camp, we examined several more games of Seirawan's. Once again, he emphasized: an advantage is needed for a combination to work. The games were Yasser Seirawan - Manuel Riva Pastor (former Spanish Chess Champion), Seirawan - Biyiasas (Lone Pine 1981), and Spassky - Seirawan (Zurich 1984). Seirawan's game against Peter Biyiasas also has a story behind it. Here is the game:


Seirawan,Yasser (2555) - Biyiasas,Peter (2450)
Lone Pine op Lone Pine, 1981
Before this game, Seirawan had always lost to this opponent, Peter Biyiasas (Imagine that!). Because of this, he played a very cautious line.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bf4 Bg7 4.e3 0-0 5.h3 d6 6.Be2 Nbd7 7.0-0 c5 8.c3 b6 9.a4 Bb7 10.Bh2 Ne4 11.a5 Rb8 12.Na3 cxd4 13.exd4 bxa5 14.Nc4 Ba8 15.Qc2 Nb6 16.Nxa5 e6 17.Nb3 Ng5 18.Nbd2 Nxf3+ 19.Bxf3 Bxf3 20.Nxf3 Rb7 21.c4 Qd7 22.b3 Ra8 23.Ra6
White has a big advantage. He will just pile up on the a7-pawn, while black can do nothing but wait.
23...Nc8 24.Rfa1 Rb4 25.R1a3 Qb7?
This drops a pawn.
26.Bxd6 Nxd6 27.Rxd6 a5 28.c5?!
28.Ne5 best move 28...Bxe5 29.dxe5
28...Bf8 29.c6 Qc8 30.Rd7 Rb6 31.Ne5 Bxa3 32.Qe4 Qe8 33.Nxf7 Bf8 34.Ng5 Rd8 35.Rxd8 Qxd8 36.Qxe6+ Kg7 37.Qe5+ Kg8 38.Qe6+ Kg7 39.Qf7+ Kh6 40.c7 Qc8 41.h4 Bg7 42.Ne6??
42.Qf4 wins 42...Qf5 forced to avoid mate 43.Qxf5 gxf5 44.c8Q
42...Be5!! 43.d5 (43.dxe5 Rxe6-+) 43...Rxe6 44.dxe6 Bxc7 45.e7 Bd6 threatening Qc1 checkmate! 46.g3 Bxe7 47.Qxe7+- not as convincing a win as 42. Qf4 is
43.d5 Be5 44.g4 Rb4 45.f3 Qh8 46.g5+ Kh5 47.c8Q Bh2+ 48.Kxh2 Rxh4+ 49.Kg3 Qe5+ 50.Nf4+ Rxf4 51.Qxh7+ Kxg5 52.Qc1! zugzwang! 1-0

In the afternoon, we had a small "position analysis" contest. Each participant gave an analysis of an instructive position from one of our games. Greg Shahade then gave each of us a score from 1-10. We were split into two teams: the French Fries and the Chicken Nuggets. The French Fries lost badly to the Nuggets.
Nathan Lee, Jarod Pamatmat, Michael Omori and Kevin Wang

After the contest, IM John Donaldson, renowned chess historian, arrived. He gave a lecture on Isolated Queen Pawn positions. He showed us several instructive games, and we learned a new vocabulary word: tabiya, which means starting point.

For isolated queen pawn positions, White (or the player possessing the isolated pawn) can play for either d4-d5 or a kingside attack. White's light squared bishop will develop to d3 and from there to c2, where it can go to either b3 or a4. White's dark squared bishop is often played to g5, but White would like to play Bc1-Bh6 (after a Black ...g7-g6) in one move. White's knights are best placed on c3 and f3, and should strive to land on the e5 and e4 squares. White's rooks are going to be optimally placed at d1 and e1 in most positions, and White's queen usually goes to d3 for an assault along the b1-h7 diagonal. Once Black has played the defensive move ...g7-g6, the queen will move to another square, perhaps e3, to continue the attack. IM Donaldson showed us some key plans and instructive games, including Christiansen - Gheorghiu from Torremolinos, Spain 1977.


Day 3 August 12
David Golub, a local Washington chess player, joined the US Chess School participants for a day of training. David is 15 years old, with a rating of 1975. The theme for this day was a specific type of combination: the positional sacrifice. Seirawan showed us two more of his games: Kasparov - Seirawan (Amsterdam Euwe Memorial 1996) and Seirawan - Kozul (Wijk aan Zee 1991)



In the afternoon, IM John Donaldson presented some wonderful examples of positional sacrifices, along with a few amusing opening traps.



Opening trap 1 [D45]
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Be2 0-0 8.b3 e5 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.Nxd5 cxd5 11.dxe5 Nxe5 12.0-0 Nxf3+ 13.Bxf3 Qh4 14.g3 Qf6 15.Bxd5 Bf5 16.e4 Bh3 17.Rd1 Be5

Opening Trap 2 [B17]
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Qe2 Nb6 8.Bd3 h6 9.N5f3 c5 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.Ne5 Nbd7 12.Ngf3 Qc7 13.Bd2? Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Bxf2+!
Black is better because Kxf2 allows Qxe5 and if Qxe5 Ng4+ and Black is up a pawn.

We also had another position analysis competition, this time Washington residents vs. outsiders. The Washington residents were: Megan Lee, Nathan Lee, Michael Wang, Michael Omori, and David Golub. The outsiders were: Jarod Pamatmat, Luke Harmon-Vellotti, Mike Andrew Brattain, Kevin Wang, Yian Liou, and me. Because it was 6 people versus 5, the outsiders' total score was multiplied by 5/6. The outsiders beat the Washington residents.

That evening, we were courteously invited to a barbecue at US Chess School sponsor Dr. Jim Roberts' house. It was a marvelous evening with lots of blitz, bughouse, Frisbee, and food. Greg Shahade challenged all comers to a five-minute game. Anyone who won against Greg won a one-year membership to the Internet Chess Club, ICC (which also offered a recent in-depth interview with GM Seirawan). Yian Liou, Luke Harmon-Vellotti, and I won one game against Greg. The next day, Greg revealed he had tricked us. Beforehand, he had arranged with a representative from ICC to give all the US Chess School participants a one-year membership to ICC.

Next week, look for Part II of Michael Yang's report, which will include student bios, endgame problems, a consultation game and bughouse tips. For more on the US Chess School, see the official website.

Pick up a copy of Yasser Seirawan's new book, Chess Duels: My Games with the World Champions at the USCF store.