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ChessMaine Interviews: Speaking with the State Champion

06.28.06 caught up with State Champion Joseph St. Pierre recently at the Downeast Open in South Portland. St. Pierre gave an intriguing interview and provides us with a deeply annotated game--one he calls his most creative effort--from the Maine State Championship Tournament. A must read!

ChessMaine: Congratulations on your second consecutive state title.

Joseph St. Pierre: Thank you.

CM: I had asked you to pick one of your games from the State Championship and walk us through it.

JSP: Yes, I have chosen this game to comment on since I think it was my most creative effort in the State Championship. It’s filled with lots of interesting tactics, which I think people enjoy the most.

We suggest opening our interactive game viewer in a separate window while you follow along with Joseph's annotations. The easiest way to do this is to right click on the hyperlink below then choose "Open in New Window."

Maine State Championship Round 4
Joseph St. Pierre (1973) - Richard Judy (1900) 1-0
Click Here to Replay

1. e4 d6
2. d4 Nf6
3. Nc3 g6
4. f4 Bg7
5. Nf3 c5

This is the first dilemma of the game for me. I don’t recall ever having
seen this move played against me before. At the time of the game, I felt
that this meant it must certainly be a mistake and so my following play
was an attempt to “refute” it.

6. Bb5+

This move is the start of an idea to create several weaknesses in Black’s
camp. Its main purpose is to force a piece on d7 so that when I
eventually push e5, the knight on f6 will have to move out of the center,
probably to g4. On g4, tactical opportunities will arise since the knight
will not be defended.

6. … Bd7

Notice that Black is almost forced to place a piece on d7 since Kf8 shuts
his rook out for a very long time and 6. … Nc6 gives white a very nice
position after 7. dxc5 Qa5 8. 0-0

7. e5 Ng5
8. e6 fxe6
9. Ng5

This was the position I was aiming for when I played my sixth move. As a
result of the last four moves, Black now has three major weaknesses: The
knight on g5, the e6 square, and because of the e6 square, the bishop on
g7. When I came to this position in my analysis on move six, I felt that
White was winning here since he is threatening Qxg4 and Nxe6, either way
winning a piece. However, my opponent found some very interesting

9. … Bxb5
10. Nxe6

Had I foreseen my opponent’s reply, I would surely have played Nxb5 instead.

10. … Bxd4!

Very nice. The point is that if 11. Nxd8, the game is a draw by perpetual
check after Bf2+, etc. Now Black has defended his king’s bishop with
tempo. Accepting a draw in a position I was “refuting” would be
unthinkable so…

11. Nxb5 Qa5+
12. c3 Bf2+
13. Kd2 Be3+
14. Kc2 Qa4+
15. b3

Better is Kb1 which reduces Black’s tactical chances later on. Also, as
the game shows, I will have to bring my queen to c2 eventually so there is
no point in wasting time.

15. … Qe4+
16. Kb2 Nf2
17. Qc2 Qxg2

Black’s queen could not be tempted to take my defenseless looking knights.
Of course, Black loses his queen by taking either knight with the other
knight checking on c7.

18. Bd2

The only move but an interesting one. I can’t play 18. Bxe3 because of
Nd3+, winning my queen or mating (here it can be seen why 15. Kb1 would
have been better) and any rook move just loses the rook anyway. I wasn’t
worried about my king’s rook since I knew I could capture Black's queen’s
rook at any time. I was planning on meeting 18. … Nxh1 with 19. Bxe3 and
I get both Black’s minor pieces for my rook and I will eventually take his
queen’s rook as well.

18. … Kd7
19. Rhe1 Bxd2
20. Re2

Forced since 20. Qxd2? is met by Nd3+ again, losing my rook.

20. … Qc6
21. Nbc7 Bxf4
22. Nxf4

This is not the best move but I had a plan to keep Black’s king in the
center. After all, it is never easy to defend.

22. … Kxc7

Very unfortunate. I was really hoping for Qxc7 so I could play 23.
Rxe7+!, winning Black’s queen.

23. Qd2

This was the point. With my knight going to d5, Black’s king must go to
the back rank, keeping Black’s rooks disconnected. Black makes a fatal
blunder here.

24. … Ne4
25. Nd5+ Kd7
26. Rxe4

Now I have gained my piece back and still have attacking chances.

26. … e5
27. Rf1 Qa6

The final mistake but I think my attack is too strong anyway.

28. Rf7+ Kc6
29. Rc7+ resigns

CM: A fascinating and very instructive game. You seem to be playing at a strength above your rating. What are your thoughts on this?

JSP: Usually when I play in a tournament I try to ignore my rating and believe that I'm stronger than that rating. In that way I don't get into habits of being intimidated by somebody's rating. You play with your own plans; as long as you don't become intimidated and don't become too passive you can put up a bigger fight.

CM: Many players have a sense of dread when facing a higher rated opponent. Do you have any specific advice for these players?

JSP: Play to win, always. Everybody makes mistakes. One of my favorite chess books, The Amateur's Mind...

CM: By Silman?

JSP: Yes, in some of the positions he will have someone rated 2100 talk about the position and he'll just demolish what they say to show that their thinking is not using his principles. It brings to light the fact that even players rated 2100 make wrong plans. So that gives you a sense of possibilities.

CM: What is your typical tournament preparation?

JSP: Basically, I go over older games that I have played to remember things that I have played before. I might play some blitz online just to get myself into the mode of thinking about it and reminding myself how to calculate again.

CM: Five-minute games?

JSP: Usually two-minute actually.

CM: Do you think those help your tournament play?

JSP: No but the thing with blitz is it forces you to see things faster. So as long as you keep in mind to play slowly at the board you can pick up on tactical things quicker. Not that I would recommend training with blitz for a tournament.

CM: It has been said that blitz does help players with openings and tactics.

JSP: Yeah, I would say most beginners should start by playing faster, not two-minutes obviously, but you really need to familiarize yourself with different positions and different tactics. Then, start thinking about strategy. All my chess experience has been online, fast games; that's how I learned.

CM: What site do you play on?

JSP: Usually I've also been playing on ICC checking out their tutorials and playing people there a little bit. That's a pretty nice site actually.

CM: Looking at your tournament history it seems that you have only played two tournaments this year. How is it that you play at such a high level competing in so few tournaments?

JSP: This one is my third this year. We were talking before about blitz. Number one, I practice with blitz but the other thing is trying to play slower because you don't see things as quickly because you are a little rusty. As long as you slow down a little I don't think it's a big deal to not play too often. Some world champions actually thought it was better not to play too much. I'd play more if I could but being in Maine you have limited opportunities.

CM: You just graduated from UMaine. Can you tell us about your experiences there?

JSP: I had a double major in computer and electrical engineering. I was in the dorms for a couple of years, then I moved out of there. When you're in the dorm it's almost like your on the job twenty-four hours a day, you never leave campus. That was kind of tough for me so I moved out. I used to go to the chess club regularly my first three years.

CM: The UMaine club with Ralph Townsend?

JSP: Yes, Ralph Towsend, Tom Sandford, Ghezai Menelik and a few others. They still meet there on Wednesdays at 6:30 but recently I haven't had time with all my school work. This past year I was only there three or four times. I played in the UMaine Championship and that was about it which is too bad because I like going there.

CM: Do you recall when you learned the moves and who taught you?

JSP: There are some discrepancies here. I claim to have learned from a kid a school when I was in sixth grade but my sister claims to have taught me.

CM: She takes the credit for teaching the state champion.

JSP: She takes the credit so I'm going to give her the credit.

CM: Is she a player?

JSP: She knows the rules but that's as far as it's gone.

CM: Did you play in middle and high school?

JSP: My first tournament was when I was a sophomore in high school. When I was a senior, Katahdin let me play on their team. Everthing has been online blitz. I do look over some games and I read chess books, I can't say it's been all blitz.

CM: When was it that you became serious with chess?

JSP: I would have to say that was when I was a freshman in high school.

CM: We have covered this a litte but what advice would you give aspiring players?

JSP: The most important part of chess--I shouldn't say it's the most important part. It's important to have skill and knowledge of the game but you really have to work on your character as well. In how many games is a win blown because we just get impatient? I just got impatient in my last game and let him get more that he should. So you really have to work on patience and discipline because you know you are going to throw games away all the time. So much of higher level chess is that. To aspiring players: when you are not is a good position, you can't give up. The more resistence you put up the more your opponent is going to be irritated. If they can't deal with it, the more chances you have. By remaining as objective as possible you can really improve your play. That is very important and it's something I've really been working hard on. Even when you get a pawn up against a strong player; the game's not over, you have a lot of work ahead of you. You have to stay calm and be patient or else you are going to throw your advantage away.

CM: Knowing it is one thing but actually putting it into practice is another.

JSP: Exactly, a lot of it is experience. When you get hit with a couple hard ones, losses when you should have won, it wakes you up and I think most people learn that way. It's really about not being too emotional, honestly that's what it is. When your emotions take over you start to make mistakes. I was trying to finish that last game quickly. I'm still working on that, it's really important I think.

CM: Who are your favorite players?

JSP: Tal and Fischer are definitely my favorite players. Fischer used to be but Tal has taken a front row seat.

CM: Do you have The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal?

JSP: I have that. It's an amazing book. I've had the opportunity to buy Tal - Botvinnik 1960 several times and I just haven't but I'm going to buy that book soon. He's a great guy, a very interesting book with fantastic games. He was amazing, I admire him for that. I enjoy it when I read chess books when the player goes over their own games because you get impressions from them about what they thought of the position. One thing I really remember from The Life and Games is at one point he played in a tournament when he was ten- or eleven-years-old and he beat a strong player. He said, "It was at that point that I questioned the irreproachability of the elite." At the age of ten or eleven he was like, "I can do this, I can beat these guys." That's the kind of attitude you need to have, believing that you can do that, believing you can find the moves. That stuck with me and that's part of my philosophy.

CM: Are there any particular websites that you frequent?

JSP:, I've played on it for a while so that's kind of where I go but it's not a great site. There's a lot of childish people on there who can't take defeat.

CM: And of course you frequent!

JSP: Yes, actually I hadn't frequented it until you sent me a link. I looked up some stuff and I think you guys are doing a great job, you've got the history and you're updating it. It's a great site. If you want to get people excited about it you have to put things up like that and get it out there. For people who don't know about tournaments or what's going on they can search Maine Chess and it's all right there.

CM: Do you have any tournaments planned for later this year?

JSP: I don't usually plan ahead too much but I am going to the New Hampshire Open. I was disappointed with how few tournament I played last year because as the state champion you know I think it's my duty to play in more tournaments. I just didn't have the time. Hopefully, this year I will play a few more.

CM: Thanks so much for the interview, it was a pleasure speaking with you.

JSP: Thank you.


Inspiring stuff! I agree with Joseph--mindset is a huge part of chess for me. I actually have a terrible time playing against computers because that interaction isn't there.

Great work, Dan! Keep it up.

Nice job, Dan.

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