Another chess genius?

by admin on April 13, 2009

Today I drove back home from the Reno tournament with Jesse Kraai and David Pruess, and my head is still full of chess. I’ll get back to real life tomorrow, but for now I’m still savoring this great weekend. All of us won money — Jesse and David earned more than $600 for tying for fourth place. I won only about half as much money as they did, but … (drum roll) … I won a plaque, and they didn’t! I won the top expert prize on tiebreaks. So I got to take home this nice little souvenir.

But enough about me! Today I want to write about one of the people who tied with me for first place under 2200, an 11-year old from Arizona named David Adelberg. I got a really good look at him because we played on adjacent boards in four out of six rounds! (Rounds 1, 2, 4, and 5.) What impressed me the most was the game he played against David Pruess in round 2. He lost an isolated queen’s pawn position, but it seemed to me that his position had been very playable.

Later I saw him and asked him what happened, and the way he answered totally impressed me. He talked exactly like a grown-up master. “Oh, the isolated queen pawn wasn’t my mistake. I was probably better, but then I made a mistake later bringing my knight to c6,” etc. I couldn’t believe how he was so matter-of-fact and so unfazed by the fact that he had almost drawn against an International Master. It’s as if he knows that he is going to be an IM himself some day, so it’s no big deal to him.

So out of curiosity, I asked David on the way home, “What did you think about David Adelberg?” He answered, “I think the kid’s a genius.” At first I wasn’t quite sure if David was serious, because he answered so quickly that I thought it might be just a flippant comment. But David assured me that he meant it. “You’ve got to see this game, Jesse,” he said. “The kid’s 11 years old, and he plays like Karpov.”

When we stopped for lunch (a shout out to Cindy’s Restaurant in Davis, California! Yum!), I asked David to show us the game. He has also posted some analysis of the game in his own blog on, but I’ll discuss it here for two reasons. First, Adelberg deserves to be known as something other than “some kid.” (When David wrote his blog post, he didn’t remember his opponent’s name.) Second, it was very interesting to hear both Jesse and David talk about the game. I have tried to reproduce their comments more or less exactly as they said them in the restaurant.

David Adelberg–David Pruess

Far West Open 2009

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 e6 4. e3 Nf6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O Qe7 9. b3 b6 10. cd ed 11. Bb2 Bb7 12. Rac1 Rfe8 13. Rfd1 Rad8 14. Bf1 Bb8 15. g3 Ng4 (diagram 1).

David: “I was playing too provocatively, because I didn’t realize yet that he knows how to play chess.” Actually, we have already seen Adelberg’s Karpovian instincts at more than one juncture: the unambitious 4. e3, the unambitious 7. Be2. Also the move 10. cd!, which in retrospect, David said, shows that “He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He waited until I played … b6 to play the pawn exchange, so that I would have to recapture with the e-pawn.” (David felt that 10. … cd was not so good because of 11. Nb5.)

By the way, it’s not so clear what Black’s plan should be in the diagrammed position. David said, “Just sit.” In particular, David’s move 13. … Rad8 (instead of 13. … Rac8) proved that he was not interested in preparing the advance … c5, which would probably be the most normal course of action.

16. Bg2 …

Another Karpovian moment. David may be playing provocatively, but Adelberg would not let himself be provoked. He won’t play h3 until he is good and ready.

16. … Ndf6 17. h3 …

Now, however, is a good time for this move, as it chases David’s knight back to h6.

17. … Nh6 18. Ne5 Nd7

David: “I was impressed with the way that he shifted from prophylactic play to dynamic play.” In particular, David’s original plan of 18. … Bxe5 would be met by 19. de Nd7 20. e4! with advantage to White, in David’s view. So David moves his knight back to d7. Who is the IM here, and who is the amateur? In David’s last four moves he has moved one knight from f6 to h6, a worse square, and moved the other one from d7 back to d7. Meanwhile White has redeployed his bishop and activated his knight.

19. Nxd7 Qxd7 19. e4! …

Once again, dynamic play. And why not? David: “He picked a good moment to open the position, because my pieces are kind of funny.” Note that the kid is not afraid to get an isolated d-pawn.

19. … de 21. Nxe4 … (diagram 2)

21. … Qf5

Again, a debatable choice. The other main option was 21. … Nf5, which Jesse preferred. David: “I didn’t like the looks of 21. … Nf5 22. Ng5 h6 23. Be4.” Jesse: “I think that it’s roughly equal.” David and I were both concerned by the damage to Black’s kingside, but the computer agrees with Jesse, and actually gives Black a small plus after 23. … hg 24. Bxf5 Qd5.

The trouble with 21. … Qf5 is that it leaves the knight on h6 placed awkwardly. David: “It protects Black’s queen, and that is enough for it to do at the moment.” Jesse: “White should be a little better here.” David: “It really depends on the concrete variations.” He showed us the line he expected, which was 22. Re1 Re6, but it looked good for White when we went deeper with 23. Rcd1 (freeing c1 for the bishop) Rde8 24. Bc1 c5? (better is 24. … Qg6, according to the computer) 25. g4! Qg6 (not 25. … Bxe4? 26. Bxe4 Rxe4 27. gf and White is winning) 26. d5 and White is much better. Jesse: “The knight’s on the rim, bro!”

22. Nc3? …

Jesse: “The kid freaked out. This move is not Karpovian.” David: “The queen trade lets me organize my pieces better.”

22. … Qxc2 23. Rxc2 Nf5 24. Rcd2 h6 25. h4?! … (diagram 3)

Both Jesse and David criticized White’s last move as being a little bit superficial. White is trying to prevent Black from doubling on the d-file (because a rook lift could be met by Bh3). However, Jesse strongly believed that 25. b4! was the correct course of action. He thought that this move was obvious, and we had a little debate over this. Jesse: “It’s not a genius move. It’s just what you do in such positions. You see that the c6 pawn is pinned, you attack it.” If 25. b4 Nd6 (the best move) the b7 bishop now protected, so the pin is not so dangerous, but instead White shifts his focus to playing 26. d5 (or perhaps 26. Bf1 first, then 27. d5). This is a second point behind 25. b4!, the fact that it discourages Black from playing … c5 after d5 (as he did in the game). Jesse: “Okay, I guess that is subtle enough that it takes some experience to see it.”

25. … Bd6

David: “b4 and a3 are the valuable squares in this position, and this move controls those squares.” Jesse: “26. a3 is still the right move for White.”

26. d5 c5

Setting up a nice wall of pawns, which David thinks his opponent may have underrated. But, on the other hand… David: “He had an original idea in mind that surprised me here.” (Unfortunately, that original idea proved to be not too good.)

27. Nb5 a6 (diagram 4)

28. Na7? … 

This is the mistake that David Adelberg mentioned to me in his succinct game summary. Going over the game on the computer, this is the first point where the advantage shifts to Black. David Pruess thought that after 28. Nxd6 Black had a little edge, but he wasn’t really sure about this, and the computer does not agree — after 28. Nxd6 it rates the position as equal.

28. … Be5! 29. Bxe5 Rxe5 30. Nc6 Bxc6 31. dc Nd4!

Probably what White overlooked on move 28 (or going back even farther, move 26). David says that the kid was expecting a trade of rooks first. Even though it didn’t work, we do have to commend Adelberg for coming up with a deep plan — it’s always tough to tell in these positions whether the advanced pawn will just be weak or whether it will be a bone in the opponent’s throat. (I talked about this in a prior post.)

32. Kf1 …

Also possibly the wrong plan. The computer thinks White can put up a better fight by playing 32. b4 right away.

32. … Rc8 33. Re1?! Rxe1+ 34. Kxe1 a5

Notice how patient David is. He does not capture on c6 right away, but fortifies his position by playing this move and bringing his king into the game. The rook trade certainly made it easier because David does not have to worry about rook checks any more.

35. h5? …

In spite of White’s previous errors, it’s probably only after this move that we can definitely say that he is lost. Jesse: “Cough! Cough!” David: “I think that we’re both coughing for the same reason. But he thought that the move h5 would help him draw because he might be able to bring his rook to g8 and the g-pawn will not be able to move.” Again, one has to be impressed by the fact that even Adelberg’s errors have some deep thought behind them.

35. … Kf8 36. a3 Ke7 37. b4 ab 38. ab Nxc6 39. bc bc 40. Re2+ Kd6 41. Bxc6 Kxc6 42. Kd2 …

Jesse: “This is a close one.” If the pawn were on h4, instead of h5, White might still be drawing.

42. … Rd8+ 43. Kc3 Rd5 44. Re7 Rf5!

David: “Bum ba bum!” (This sound effect indicating that he thinks it’s a nice move — defending both of the weak pawns and leaving White with no counterplay. Also note that it forces the f-pawn forward and thus prevents any possibility of defending the h-pawn with g4.)

45. f4 Kd6 46. Ra7 Ke6 47. Kc4 Rxh5

Here White’s last attempt at counterplay is 48. g4 Rh4, but Black’s king is able to escape the checks by heading for the b-file, and winning the f-pawn is not enough compensation for White. David: “Here’s where he started getting a little bit teary-eyed. But maybe you shouldn’t put that in your blog, because he’s just a kid.” Me: “No, that’s the kind of detail that journalists like!” David: “But you know, I like what it showed about his competitive spirit. He was thinking, ‘Why do I have to lose to this International Master?’ You can tell that the wheels are already turning in his head: ‘I’m never going to lose to this guy again.’ And you know, I was thinking the same thing during the game. I was thinking, ‘Damn, is this the last time I am ever going to beat this guy?’ And that’s a pretty shocking thing for an IM to be admitting when they’re playing an 11-year-old boy.”

White continued 48. Ra6+ and resigned a few moves later, but I think we’ll skip the rest because it’s kind of a slaughter.

Although White definitely made a few errors, remember that you’re seeing the game after it has been picked over by an IM and a GM! David: “After the game he had a really mature attitude. He asked me what I thought he did wrong, and I could tell that he really wanted to learn from this game.”

Jesse, by the way, was still skeptical. He said that for American junior players, whether they become a great player or not depends on other things than talent. For example, Adelberg’s parents might want him to be a doctor or a lawyer instead of a chess player, and who can blame them? Nevertheless, if he sticks to it, his potential seems to be great.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Soapstone April 13, 2009 at 11:41 pm

I really like the stories of chess on the road as well as the three-headed analysis. Censoring the part about the tears would have diminished the human aspect of the over-the-board experience. Congrats on the prizes. I covet your plaque, but I have to dig deep to find the motivation and nerves to get back in the big tournament.


Michael Aigner April 14, 2009 at 6:56 pm

David Adelberg is definitely a talented young man and a nice kid. He tied for 2nd at the Concord tournament and will certainly break 2200 soon. He’s 12 now, but still that doesn’t diminish what he has achieved.


Martin tallan April 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

What a great blog post! The level of detail and analysis are wonderful. For an advanced beginner such as myself your posts are both very interesting and instructive. Thank you for taking the time to share this with the on-line chess community.
It is very much appreciated.



Sara-Jane Adelberg April 16, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I was reading your blog and was pleasantly surprised to read about my son David. David really enjoyed your complimentary annotation. Thanks again and David looks forward to seeing you all at future chess tournaments.


admin April 16, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Great to hear from you! You can be very proud of your son. I was most impressed by his maturity, both in terms of his style of play and in the way he handles himself.


Stoic Panda April 24, 2010 at 8:24 pm

I know Davis hes in my math class. 😀


Stoic Panda April 24, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Ops David


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