Questions And Answers With Summer Amateur Champions

I had the chance to interview Alexsey of DMV this past week and here were findings.  The statements here are solely of Alexsey and DMV (in general) for clarification.  Certainly freedom of speech is applied here and hopefully some of their concerns are addressed in future to make a more prosperous DCCL.


1)      How was team started up?

Back in 2015, Adam recruited me to the Arlington Storm, where I’ve met Lev Bagramian. After having played for the Storm for the entire season, we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands and start a new team, The Knight’s Watch. However, circumstances prevented me from participating on a regular basis and I was only able to play one match. Hence, I’ve made way for a friend of mine, Brian Curran.

By the time I was prepared to resume my participation in the DCCL, the Knight’s Watch had a full roster. At the same time, I’ve been getting acquainted with Josh and Victor, both of whom played in the Open Section during the summer season. Their debut in the open section was a baptism of fire, and it didn’t take much for me to convince them to help me start an Amateur team.

All three of us had a more analytical rather than a creative frame of mind, so we had a little bit of a hard time coming up with a name, but Josh insisted that we should have “DMV” as part of our name, alluding to his DC-Maryland-Virginia Chess Club that he hosts on Monday nights.  At first, I was prepared to just let it be called “DMV”, yet the implicit reference to the Department of Motor Vehicles is a bit nauseating, to say the very least.   So, I proposed to them,  “We’re going to take this season by storm, so we might as well be called the Blitzkrieg!”.

2)      What do you think was the key to your success this season?

I am not a talented chess player, but I have a knack for recognizing talent in others. To be sure, one significant reason why we won the league is that I was able to not only recruit strong players but also because these individuals were team-players and understood commitment. Their passion for the game and dedication to our team is completely unrivaled. I’d go so far as to say that no other captain in the Amateur section could have even dreamed of a stronger squad. Our players not only delivered the results over the board, it was always a pleasure to work

At every step of the way, I made it a point to frequently correspond with each of my players and preserve the team morale to the best of my ability. Additionally, Josh stepped into the co-captain role and did a great deal to nurture the interpersonal chemistry between our players in ways that motivated them to show up for every match and give their 100%.

3)      What matches were the toughest ones and why?

Despite the result, round 5 was certainly quite challenging.   I was re-united with my erstwhile team-mates, as we faced the Knight’s Watch.

Although we outranked them on every board, they were the defending champions who had no intention of rolling over. Prior to my match on board 4, I knew one thing and one thing only: people depended on me and I had no right to lose that match.

I’ve noticed a similar attitude in my opponent. I played Tim Paper, who is a jolly and an easy-going fellow, but he was uncharacteristically solemn before our match.

We’ve gathered around our table around 8:15, but Victor still sat on the other side of the ACC tournament hall, so our board 1 remained empty for a good ten minutes after that. At one point, I had to walk over there and admonish him “Get out there and show everyone that you’re better than Hyland!”. Suddenly, he sprung to life and forgot all about his ruminations from the weeks leading up to the match. Although Victor dominated Mark in nearly all of their matches, he was quite alarmed by the pace at which his friend’s game was improving. It took me a little while to get Victor to realize that Hyland is not going to be 2100 this year, as progressing from 2000 to 2100 is much harder than going from 1800 to 2000.


On board 1, Victor opened with 1. e4 and the game steered into the Guicco Piano. True to its names, the middle-game was very quiet and neither side showed considerable prospects of seizing an advantage.


On board 2, Mike Kobily played the Sicilian Sveshnikov against Bagramian and quickly found himself in trouble. He had doubled f-pawns, his king was stranded in the center and most pieces were on the board. With every passing move, it seemed to be just a matter of time until he’d collapse. Surely enough, by move 25, he was down two pawns and no-one could have imagined a different result for that match, other than a decisively winning end-game for white.


On board 3, Alex had the white pieces against Hans Dettmar’s Pirc Defense.  By move 10, he won a piece but left his king in the middle of the board for too long, so Hans was able to drum up considerable counter-play, winning back two pawns. The ensuing struggle was a complicated one, albeit it seemed clear that white had a slight edge, at the very least.


On the bottom board, Paper went into the London System and I’ve made a questionable choice to respond with the fianchetto variation.  We won this game too.

After this game, I spent quite a bit of time practicing the knight and bishop mate. Even more disconcertingly, I showed the position in question to my opponent and he assured me that he had no intention of giving me the opportunity to mate him with a bishop and knight. Needless to say, I should have implemented the plan I had in mind. In all likelihood, he would not have gone for the daring pawn sacrifice and I would have eventually won the end-game.

Throughout the latter part of the game, the Knight’s Watch players hovered over our board once every few minutes and appeared to be deeply concerned about it. So, the last thing I wanted to do was trade down into the end-game where Paper seemed likely to hold a draw. Instead of going for the scenario where a knight and bishop checkmate seemed to have been a possibility, I played a natural exchange of minor pieces where we went to a same-colored bishop ending. The only trouble was that I still had a backward pawn on e6.

Nonetheless, the psychological trick of dragging out my advantageous position for as long as possible seems to have worked. Somehow, Lev managed to lose an end-game where his opponent was two pawns down and had backward pawns on the f-file. From what I recall, he stepped into some kind of a nasty discovery, but even then, he was guaranteed to go into an ending at least one pawn up. How he managed to fall flat on his face was entirely beyond me.   Minutes before that, Alex converted an end-game where he had a bishop and two pawns against Hans’ four pawns.

As soon as Lev resigned, I forced a draw by sacrificing my bishop for white’s last pawn, sealing the win for us. Shortly thereafter, Mark received at least two draw offers but declined them. Somehow, he pressed too hard for a win and wound up losing instead.

All of the games lasted for over five hours, so this was by far the most challenging and time-consuming match of the season. The result was certainly misleading, as every single game was very close up until the very end. Our players not only delivered the results over the board, it was always a pleasure to work them.


4)      Does your team practice or train together?

We don’t schedule team practices, but the DMV Chess Club at Centreville meets every Monday night. In a way, we could call it an informal training ground for our team.

5)      What would you wish the DCCL could improve upon?

There is certainly a need for more structure in the DCCL. At the captains’ meeting, I’ve singled out GMU for criticism on these grounds. They had no core players and used different players for every match they played. Although a couple of other captains supported my idea of requiring all teams to submit a roster of core players at the beginning of the season, there wasn’t enough support to enact meaningful change. The impression I got is that the majority of DCCL captains and executives prefer chaos to order. They seem to have no problem with teams using different players every match and they are not in the least bit perturbed by how Ralph claims to have three teams but neglects to make sure that even two of them have a full roster for every match. Each time I tried to propose corrective measures, he interrupted me within seconds after I started speaking, but I talked over him anyway. Later that evening, someone else noticed that on paper, he has three teams; the reality of the matter is quite different. What he truly has is one team and he transfers all of his key players from one match to another. For example, in Round 1, his core players represent the Black Knights in the Open Section. In Round 2, they could be moved down to the Forestville Eagles. Next, they’ll be rotated to Black Knights Amateur and the vicious cycle will continue in this manner. Of course, when someone shed light on this problem, he just laughed it off and digressed to an entirely different topic. At a different time, another senior DCCL member complained that it is simply not possible for captains to get players to show up, regardless of what they do. In short, the most influential members of the DCCL not only have no interest in bringing more structure to our competitions, they stand categorically opposed to the idea of doing so and reflexively antagonize the slightest of suggestions that change is necessary. When others raise the issue that the quality of play in our league has been declining largely because of a large of structure, they cavalierly dismiss all of such allegations and insist that nothing can be done about it. Overall, the most

In short, there is definitely a need for more structure and I’d like to see a community initiative to encourage captains to develop core teams. Even more importantly, poaching should be discouraged and limitations need to be imposed upon practices involving mid-season recruitment. It is understandable that some players will quit in the middle of the season and will need to be replaced. Yet, if a team is recruiting 3-4 new players at the beginning of each match, that is a serious problem. Likewise, if a team never has enough players to complete their roster for any of their rounds, that is a problem with the character of the player they’ve initially picked up or the captain’s leadership. Yes, we all have better things to do than attending chess matches. Yet, if I sign up to play for a team and claim that I am available for this or that round, I have a responsibility to attend or to notify my captain within a reasonable amount of time prior to the match. Likewise, if I am in charge of a team and I know that one of my players is a notorious flake, it would be negligent of me to count on them to show up every time they promise to do so. On a similar note, if a team can only bring two or three core players to each match and have no prospect of finding at least a couple more reliable competitors, they shouldn’t bother competing in the league.

When one declares that they have a team, what they mean is that they have a limited number of players who will play a significant role in all team matches. However, if it becomes acceptable for captains to continuously recruit new players for every match, the very idea that they have a team is going to become meaningless. What’s really going on is that they don’t have any committed players and they are going to try to create a new roster for every match. GMU did not have a coherent team for this season because there was no continuity between the roster they had for round 1 and the one they had for the rest of their rounds. The only thing they had in common is that Jablon was present for all matches, but we cannot say that any of his other players participated in even half of the team matches.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that we only have four teams in the Amateur section this season. It’s better to have it this way than to be constantly concerned that your opponents may forfeit the match or recruit a large number of new players for every round. For the Winter season, there were only four teams: Blitzkrieg, Storm, Frederick and the Knight’s Watch. The rest did not have a cohesive squad to speak of and I don’t think the DCCL would have lost anything of value, had the other four teams not registered at all. Those four teams would have played each other twice and that would have been enough to fill 8 rounds. I would say that quality should be prioritized over quantity. If we can only have four Amateur teams for the next season, be it: there is no reason to keep on allowing teams to show up to match after match with just one or two players to represent them.

6)      What are your goals for the next two years as a team and as individual players?

We will be moving on to the Open Section for the Fall Season and we intend to become competitive there over the next two years. Perhaps by 2020, we could achieve a middle of the table finish in the Open Section.


7)      What are your favorite players of all time and why?

We generally don’t discuss the great chess minds of history, but I do believe that most players have a natural style that reflects their core character traits. Grandmasters tend to be more consistent than amateurs, as they often act with a clear plan, so their natural style is easier to detect than that of amateurs.

However, upon closer inspection, we can certainly see obvious differences in how amateurs prefer to play. I’ve also noticed that the style one chooses to play in often suits their natural strengths. For example, an experienced player who handles positions in a very dynamic manner often excels at calculation and recognition of tactical patterns. On the other hand, positional players are comfortable handling dry scenarios where neither side has the opportunity to win by a decisive tactical blow. I’ve also noticed that the natural positional players tend to be more comfortable playing defense and end-games than their competitors with a more swashbuckling approach to the game.

I would say that Victor is a quintessential positional player who is quite comfortable with a long game. Although he displays a strong understanding of dynamics and can certainly handle dicey positions, that is not where his natural play takes him. More often than not, he takes few risks and achieves an advantage through slow maneuvering. I don’t know if he has a favorite player, but Capablanca’s style certainly seems like a reasonably good fit.

Josh appears to be a polar opposite of him, as he seldom settles for quiet games and seldom finds himself playing a protracted ending. He always seeks to unbalance the position and many of his matches are decided by the middle-game. Again, no idea if he has a favorite player, but Nakamura is probably the best fit. In Josh’s defense, Nakamura is one of the few modern GMs who routinely play the Modern Benoni in competitions of the highest level.”

Alex’s style is somewhere in between, albeit he bears a much closer semblance to Josh than to Victor. He has been quite heavily influenced by Fischer and strongly identifies with his systematic manner of attacking. He seeks to unbalance the position early and is willing to take risks, but above all, he is a calculating player. He tends not to get carried away with speculative sacrifices or wild attacks and he is more than comfortable playing a quiet end-game, if the position calls for that.

Mike is a positional player who excels at end-games, albeit he is more aggressive than Victor. He is space conscious and often strives to build up his initiative in a gradual manner. In some sense, I’d say he is similar to Alex in the respect that his approach to chess strategy is systematic, yet he is less attack-minded and often prefers to play an end-game rather than undertake a decisive attack in the middle-game. Lasker is probably the closest fit.

As for myself, I’d say I am more similar to Mike than to any of our other players. However, I am much less systematic and I am more comfortable playing defense. Needless to say, I don’t have his end-game finesse either. My best wins often come out of dead-lost positions where I manage to launch a decisive counter-attack. I’ve always identified with Korchnoi’s style of play and he certainly has influenced me much more than any other world class player.

8)      How can other DCCL members join the DMV Club and what does it have to offer?

Other players may join the DMV Chess Club any time. We meet at the following address every Monday at 5.  13810 Braddock Rd D, Centreville, VA 20121

There, new players may play rated matches, analyze their games and meet stronger players who could help them advance to the next level.

About shoshall

Father, Chess player and teacher, Securities trader
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