Taking a little time away from tournament chess and chess blogging has been good for refocusing, both on what I want out of chess and how to get there.
A great deal has happened around the chess blogosphere in the last week. dk-transformation posted a very kind and wonderfully illustrated post that includes his article about me and this blog, as well as so many beautiful images to accompany it and so many other playful and idiosyncratic profiles on other chess bloggers that I despair of trying to describe it all. I've said this before about him, you have to go there and read it all, because he and his work are, well, not summarizable.
Also, chessloser returned from Spain and was then stuck in West Virginia for days, prompting talk of a massive and violent rescue operation--but fortunately it turned out to be a mechanical, not criminal matter, and all is well.
Blue Devil Knight was getting sort of sick of chess and I think all of us who play and study it seriously get a stretch like this from time to time. He's back to working hard on his Circles again so apparently his "chess hunger" (Botvinnik) is still there.
Blunderprone went to the World Open and had some humbling experiences (as I did there back in 1990 with a snappy 1.5-6.5 result) and decided "I totally SUCK at chess." Another thing we have in common--I think I've said that a few times myself! Looks like he came back strong at the end, for which he's got my admiration.
All of this and so much more kept me thinking for the last week about the next phase in my development and chess career, because I'm not entirely happy with the way I've been performing during tournament games. Like almost everyone else I feel like I must make progress, however slow and steady, or spend my precious time on other things. So with two more weeks off from tournament play coming up, here is a summary of what I'm doing to refocus and rededicate.
Refocusing, First Principle: All future training and thinking about chess is to be dedicated to improving results in tournament and match games with humans. This is a very important clarification, I believe, as some of the things I've been doing have been fun and/or interesting, but have not contributed in this area. So this First Principle will provide the base from which all will follow in the rest of this post and in my studies and practice from now on. And so, on to the various areas of work...
Tactical training: As much as I've enjoyed playing around at Chess Tactics Server, and as marvelous as dk's and tempo's achievements there are, I've decided that CTS isn't contributing significantly to results at the board, as it's a little bit like blitz--I don't have the self-discipline to take 30 seconds and lose all the points even though I get it right. So I'm going to stop there with a 1477 rating at 73.6 percent over 1100-odd problems. I have an old Soviet tactics book that I'm going to work through, each and every problem (about 210 arranged by theme in the learning chapters and then a 150 position "tactics exam"). I'm going to use a board for the problems when I have at least 20-30 minutes to work, and solve from the book otherwise, not leaving a problem until I know I've got it right, even if it takes a half hour. At home I now have CT ART 3.0 so I'm going to explore that--there's plenty of comments and suggestions about it on many of the Knight's Errant blogs, which is useful and enjoyable.
Openings: I enjoyed playing 1. e4 a few times lately but this excellent post by Grandpatzer on Preparing an Opening Repertoire made me think things through more thoroughly in terms of improving results in tournament and match games with humans. Maybe 1. e4 leads to more "attacking" positions for White, but I already have a good, strong White repertoire that I'm familiar and comfortable with. So why change now? It would just take away time that could be spent on other, more important aspects of training. So all the (limited) opening study I'm going to be doing will be focused on identifying any holes in my tried and true set of variations, and refining this existing group of openings that I'm already at least somewhat familiar with.
Attitude at the Board: This is where I think I can achieve some real, rapid improvement of results. The problems I've been having in this area include: 1) Playing wild attacking stuff to "see what happens" (see this post, where "amchamp" commented You didn´t give the moves, but "Philidor" plus "sac on f7" sounds pretty much like that line where the white knight ends up on a8. This has been known to theory for a long time not to be good for white. Exactly, my friend. I calculated 5-6 moves ahead, but I would have had to see 7-8 to realize that the line was no good, so I didn't know the Philidor very well and I played a "fun, attacking" move that I couldn't see clearly to an advantage). 2) Not being patient enough (maybe this should be 1A). Being an aggressive player is good, in general, provided you apply your aggression in the right positions. My tendency is to apply it too often. Remember, improving results in tournament and match games with humans. If the game is equal for 45 moves and I then get a good rook ending which he resigns on move 80, that's just as good as a 22-move win as White in the Evans Gambit with a piece sacrifice. At least, that's the way I need to look at it if I really want to improve results, and not just play "interesting" games that keep my rating at 1600 for the rest of my life.
Related to this is stamina--as I've mentioned before, these are 30/90, G/60 time controls and my play in games that go long hasn't been that good. I started running program a few weeks ago and I'm up to about 2.5 miles in 24 minutes; it's not Olympic running, but I believe it's going to give me greater endurance when crunch time comes in the 4th and 5th hour of play. Also, I've noticed that running helps train the will; some days you don't feel like doing your running, sometimes you feel like stopping short of your goal distance, but there's always something left in the tank, and if you just keep plodding along you will make it to where you're determined to go. That can't be anything but good for gutting out a tough game of chess!