Into the Lion's Den: How I beat a Candidate Master

Jun 11, 2011, 3:13 PM |

 But first a quick check in with the Knight’s Errant. Looking across the interweb, and the Knight’s Errant Revival seems to have lost some steam with exception to the energizer bunny otherwise known as Empirical Rabbit ( . I see he’s still sharpening his tactical skills through scientific analysis. As for myself, I shifted from doing exercises from CT-Art to Convektica’s Strategy 2.0  puzzles and do about 10 a day. These are more along the lines of “find the right strategy” but are mostly tactical in nature.

I’ve been working more on understanding Pawn structures and looked at several videos here on  as well as picked up an out of print copy of Andy Soltis’ book Pawn Structure Chess and devoured it. 

I am training for the upcoming World Open in Philly at the end of the month. Since I can’t afford lessons from a master, I decided to do the next best thing, play in the open section at my club for the Month of May and June. Every week is a lesson.

My first encounter with a Master in the Open section came at the hands of a 2300 player. It was an advanced Caro Kann, and I played a little too timid not understanding the advanced  e-pawn chain structure fully.  Had I known then, what I know now, I would have played 6…Qb6 to begin putting pressure on White’s d4. Then I failed to castle and chased ghosts instead. But hey, I got a good lecture after the game from my gracious opponent.  Here is this sloppy game.


Fast forward to last week, by this time, I had played 3 games in May  against strong players ( masters and experts)  and absorbed their wisdom following post game analysis. I was also doing my background activity of learning the pawn structures most common in my games.  I made notes and diagrams with ideas behind them. I set up positions and played against the computer to practice playing these positions so I could be comfortable “knowing” the position enough so I wouldn’t chase ghost.  I did my daily exercises with the strategy CD  and signed up for the open section again at my strong local chess club.

My goal was to reach a playable and familiar position I understood coming out of the opening  and into the middle game.  My opponent was a Candidate Master( at one time in his life  he was  beyond USCF 2200). He had a history of playing slightly odd opening s with move orders out of whack to throw people out of the comfort zone.

I had Black and played 1..c6 following his King pawn advance.  He plays an odd variant of the Panov-Botvinick attack with 2.c4. My head was like “ I must support d5… Can I play it? Usually the knight comes out” ..and I played first mistake on move 2…Nf6.

I never played the Alekhine Defense before but I soon had a feel for what this defense was like. After moving my knight for the 4th time off to a6, I was finally able to advance the d-pawn.

“ Ok, so much for familiar positions” I thought. But I looked again  and realized that White was about to play an advanced e-pawn  structure like my previous game. THIS TIME, I knew a little more about how to handle it. I got Qb6 in early and it made the master think for a long time.  I had a plan of putting pressure on d4 and controlling the c-file. It helped in looking at his threats and prioritizing where I needed to play. Since I had more energy in the center and open file, I was able to follow through with my plan before my opponent had a chance to execute his.  At one point he sacrificed a pawn to gain activity on the King side but I was able to see through this and defend well.  As he started to run into time trouble, he gave me opportunities and I found myself actually up the exchange!

That is not to say I went without  blundering. By move 40, my opponent’s clock was running REALLY low and I found myself getting caught up with the “quickening” where had I used my time and slowed down, I would have trapped his knight . At one point  I put myself in a position where he could have equalized with a knight fork but he missed it too much to the amazement of some onlookers.


Bottom line, a point is a point. A point from a master is my first victory against such a strong opponent.  Lessons to walk away from this include:

-take my time, what’s the rush.

-Knowing pawn structures and what plans work best helps when traveling in unchartered territory.

-Keeping the pressure on a weakness causes more problems than actually taking that pawn or square.