Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chessloser Reflects on His First Tournament

In his inimitable style, here.

I note his descriptions of some chess parents, and I cringe:

outside, i thank him. i tell his mom and coach he played really well, i got lucky. his mom is angry at him, his coach is angry at him. his mom says “you didn’t get lucky, he played bad and let you get lucky.” i thank her and quickly back away. poor kid.

I have some thoughts about this and related subjects which I'll be sharing with you the meantime, see also his interview with FM Danny Rensch.

What a blogger, what a blog!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pearson-Harrington, Reno CC Summer Swiss, 1-0

I won my game in the first round of the "Reno CC Summer Blockbuster" last Thursday, (a tournament for those of us who didn't make the Elite Eight Club championship play-offs).

Impressions: My opponent, Chris Harrington, is a young, upcoming player, second in the club Class C championship earlier this year and provisionally rated in the 144o range. As White I trotted out 1. e4 again and when he looked to go into the Marshall Attack in the Ruy Lopez I avoided it with 9. d3, which in this particular position probably isn't good for any advantage--better to do it on move 8, I think. My strategy was to outplay him in a quiet position or endgame and that worked in the long run--with a couple of sticky points along the way...

Good points: I saw his idea to win my f-pawn far ahead and that his Knight would be trapped, and when he went in for it I was in great shape.

Bad points: Instead of 29. Bf2, going into Rook+Bishop v. Rook, why not Ra8 forcing a position with two Bishops v. one? Much easier to win, I'm sure! And the thing is, I saw the possibility and didn't play it anyway; sloppiness that against a more experienced opponent could have blown the win. Also, I saw the final trap several moves in advance that forced his resignation--except that by 39. ... Re5+ and then Rxe4 he could have won my last pawn and forced R+B v. R with a theoretical draw, though I would have had good winning chances, since I know the winning formations--but once again, a mistake that might have cost half a point!

It's nice to win, but I will learn some lessons from this one.

[Event "Reno CC Summer Swiss"]
[Site "Reno, NV"]
[Date "2007.05.24"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Pearson, Robert"]
[Black "Harrington, Chris"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "1614"]
[BlackElo "1443"]
[ECO "C89"]
[Annotator "Pearson"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d5 9. d3 dxe4 10. dxe4 Bg4 11. Nbd2 Na5 12. Bc2 c5 13. a4 c4 14. b3 cxb3 15. Nxb3 Qxd1 16. Bxd1 Nxb3 17. Bxb3 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Bc5 19. axb5 axb5 20. Bb2 Rxa1 21. Rxa1 Nh5 22. c4 bxc4 23. Bxc4 Nf4 24. Bxe5 Nh3+ 25. Kg2 Nxf2 26. Bg3 Nxe4 27. fxe4 h6 28. Bd5 Kh7 29. Bf2 Bxf2 30. Kxf2 Re8 31. Ra7 f6 32. Kf3 Re5 33. h4 h5 34. Ra6 Re7 35. Kf4 Re8 36. Bf7 Re7 37. Bxh5 g5+ 38. hxg5 fxg5+ 39. Kxg5 Rxe4 40. Bg6+ 1-0

Friday, May 25, 2007

Weaving the Disparate Threads

A lot of thoughts have been rattling around since my last post, and it's time I let them out before they form a union and file a lawsuit.

A majority of the chess blogs out there right now are, most of the time, about chess improvement, though there are outstanding exceptions like Boylston Chess Club, The Kenilworthian and The Chess Mind. Despite a great deal of experimentation and practical testing there is still no universal agreement on what are the best methods, techniques and exercises to actually improve tournament or rated-game results, which is a separate task from improving one's knowledge and understanding of the game.

After over 25 years (with, admittedly, some significant gaps) of serious USCF-rated tournament chess I'm only just beginning to realize how significant the difference between the two can be. Mental toughness, physical conditioning, relaxation techniques, psychological and competitive methods--all of these can add hundreds of points to your rating if they're top-notch, or they can keep you far below your natural level, based on your chess knowledge, if they are slipshod and inconsistent. But those will be the subject for another post. Right now I want to focus on training, the question of what study materials, programs and techniques are the best for the task of raising your rating, all other considerations aside.

As many readers will already know there is a school of thought, based on the writings of Michael de la Maza and represented by the bloggers known as the Knights Errant, that believes that intense tactical training is the major (or only) useful method of chess improvement, at least below the expert/master level. And they have a powerful real-life example of results in de la Maza himself and his big rating improvement in a short time period.

And yet, as I've written here previously, Rolf Wetzell in his book Chess Any Age has a completely different approach based on correcting one's specific personal weaknesses and mistakes, as shown in one's own games, and then making up "flash cards" or an electronic equivalent and reviewing these until that category of typical error is much reduced or eliminated. He also strongly emphasizes the avoidance of time-pressure, even at the cost of occasional quick and possibly superficial moves. There's not much at all in Wetzell's book about systematic tactical drills, yet after he developed his methods, and at a fairly advanced age, he was able to increase his rating by about 400 points within a couple of years, reaching the 2200 master level.

Now, as someone whose rating is creeping ahead from a floor of 1600 by a few points per tournament I might not have the gravitas of the two above-referenced gentlemen with their large rating gains, but I do feel that I'm on the right track when I say that everyone is different and I believe that you have to find your own methods, what works for you as the unique individual you are. And I personally believe in balance as the way to make long-term progress; de la Maza and some others have a near-contempt for studying openings, positional elements and endings, saying something like "if you blunder tactically, none of these things matter." But they do matter--let me put it to you as a series of "ifs" based" on a lot of years of experience:

If you are on your own from move one in the opening, you will expend a lot of time and energy that you may need later, just to avoid getting into a difficult position right out of the gate.

If you don't have knowledge of positional elements like weak pawns and squares you won't put yourself into position to use your tactical skills very often, because your opponent who does will have the better game and be the one putting the pressure on.

If you don't calculate very well you will be unable to take advantage of favorable opportunities given by the opponent, and you will blunder away games where you stand well (and in my experience nothing is more painful in chess that kind of error).

If you don't know anything about basic endgames you will miss opportunities to transition to winning positions, and you'll spend lots of time and energy trying to calculate everything (which you may not have after hours of play when the ending is finally in front of you).

So my approach has evolved since I returned 18 months ago to playing tournament chess and the accompanying increase in study time; for me, what's working (slowly but surely) is a "Golden Mean" of chess study and appreciation; spreading my limited study time between books on a few good, solid and well-tested openings, tactical position practice on Chess Tactics Server and in books, review of the very basic endings like King and Pawn, Rook and Pawn and Queen v. Pawn, and occasionally spending an hour on a great Grandmaster battle in one of my openings with lots of explanations in words of the aims of both sides and the positional elements, as well as variations.

So that's me--boring balance suits me fine, and we'll see if I can continue my climb up the ladder with this mix. As I say, the non-chess aspects of competition, which may have just as much to do with winning and losing as the purely chess considerations, will be addressed separately.

For your edification, here are some excerpts of the thoughts of other bloggers about study methods aimed at winning chess games; follow the link after the (:) for the full post:

Temposchlucker: If you study your own games, the errors and suboptimal moves will for 100% be related with the flaws in your chessmodule.

If you use a standard problemset like CT-art, it will only be effective if a presented problem is a lookalike from a situation you would do wrong when you encounter it in a game AND there is a chance that you will encounter it. It is not unlikely that that is the case for only 50% of the problems (figure is arbitrary). If so, 50% of your efforts are wasted beforehand and will not lead to better play but only to better solving CT-art.

When you study grandmaster games, you try to invent a move yourself before you look at the move that was actually played in the game. In that case mistakes originate for 100% in the chessmodule in your brain. On the other hand the positions you will find yourself in can bear very little resemblance with what you probably encounter in your own games.
Conclusion: study your own games. Second best: study mastergames. (See his whole recent series for more great insights).

Blue Devil Knight
: After sifting through everybody's criticisms of the the official MDLM Seven Circles, I have come up with the following chess training plan, which I call the Divine Tragedy:

David (transformation): Just read this whole thing--snippets wouldn't do it justice. Well, how 'bout this: From 2002 to 2005, as I have said now and again, I spent three years slowly going through 941 Grandmaster games, which I had very copiously rendered or copied into pgn format. These were not annotated, and my goal in the first pass was to try to apprehend the entire board, understand possible plans, and sense tactical threats, and thereby attempt to guess the next best move, that is to say, sit on the games. This amounted to roughly one game a day, but since I tended to cluster the work, it was more like two per day at most with apt pauses along the way. Even when I was tired from work, I always tried to do even ten or twelve moves, etc, rather than none, and so feel the vital pulse of Lasker, Tal, Pillsbury, and other pedigree.

Michael Goeller (The Kenilworthian)
: Most chess writers suggest that you need both knowledge and experience to improve. But the two are not equally important to practical results, and the truth is that most of the time you spend collecting knowledge is wasted if you cannot put it into practice over the board.

Of course, I'm not the first to say this. That's what Michael de la Maza's famous Rapid Chess Improvement: A Study Plan for Adult Players (reviewed here at great length in 2005) is all about. And books such as John Nunn's Secrets of Practical Chess and Alex Yermolinsky's The Road to Chess Improvement develop the theme at length. But for those who have not read these books, let me boil it down for you into a ten point plan so that you can decide if you really want to do what it takes to improve.

Enough for now--there are many other interesting thoughts out there from excellent chess bloggers, but finding these I leave as an exercise for the reader.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Bayati-Pearson, May 17, 2007

Background, explanation and thoughts in the post directly below--I'll add that after reviewing the game it's not move 31 that really loses, though it's not best, but move 33 and after (better Kb8). I made an oversight and lost my bearings, basically, and started to play the role of someone who knows he's going to lose.

As I said below, this is not really a chess problem, but a deficit of mental toughness and focus. It will be an exciting challenge for me to work on improvement in this aspect of the chess struggle.

[Event "Reno CC Ch. Qualifier"]
[Site "Reno, NV"]
[Date "2007.05.17"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Bayati, A."]
[Black "Pearson, R."]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "1953"]
[BlackElo "1608"]
[ECO "A07"]
[Annotator "R. Pearson"]

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. d4 b6 7. Nbd2 Bb7 8. Re1 Be7 9. b3 O-O 10. Bb2 Qc7 11. Rc1 Rac8 12. Qc2 cxd4 13. cxd4 Bd6 14. Qb1 Qb8 15. e4 dxe4 16. Nxe4 Nxe4 17. Rxe4 Ne7 18. Ree1 Ng6 19. Qd3 Rfd8 20. Qe3 Rd7 21. Bf1 Rdc7 22. Ng5 Bd5 23. Ba6 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Rxc1+ 25. Qxc1 Qc7 26. Qxc7 Bxc7 27. Bd3 h6 28. Ne4 Ne7 29. Nc3 Bc6 30. Kf1 Nd5 31. Ke2 Kf8 32. Nxd5 Bxd5 33. Ba3+ Ke8 34. Bb5+ Kd8 35. Bf8 g6 36. Bxh6 Be4 37. Bg5+ Kc8 38. Be8 e5 39. dxe5 Bxe5 40. Bxf7 Bb1 41. a4 Ba2 42. Kd2 a6 43. Kc2 b5 44. axb5 1-0

Rd. 5 Reno CC Ch. Qualifier, Bayati-Pearson 1-0

I was defeated by Arkia Bayati last night in the final round of the Reno CC Ch. Qualifier and thereby missed qualifying for the championship matches. I will apparently advance my rating by about four points to approximately 1612, as a result of the tournament.

This was a very encouraging game in some ways, but given the competitive stakes and the way it went down the outcome was also very disappointing. A. Bayati was the 2005 club champion, was rated well over 2000 USCF until recently (currently listed 1953) and according to this even has a FIDE rating of 2113. Yet through good, careful play as Black I was able to match him for the first 30 moves and obtain a perfectly even ending with two bishops and six symmetrical pawns for each side...then with minimal calculation I moved my King toward the center and allowed a short tactical sequence that completely wrecked my position. It went something like "Well he has this check, but I just go Ke8, continuing toward the center, and I'm fine," but then he had a check with the other Bishop, driving my King further from the Kingside pawns, which dropped off.

So I'm not pleased with the result, but I'm encouraged that I can play with anybody around here if I just play "Real" Chess (Dan Heisman) EVERY move, and not just 97 percent of the time. In this game I played 30 consecutive "Real" moves and then 1 "Hope Chess" move, and that was it. It's extremely tough to keep it up, move after move for an entire five hours if necessary, but I know I can do it, and I will. (h/t Secrets of Grandpatzer Chess - see this post of his for more valuable thoughts on this topic).

I think I have good positional knowledge, and enough calculating ability and pattern recognition, to go a long way up the ratings ladder if I'm able to be really, truly consistent, each move through every game, no matter how tired, the atmosphere, the opponent's rating or anything. No human, not even a grandmaster, can truly do it 100.00 percent of the time but I gotta move from the 97 percent of last night to about 99.8 (about one loose, sleepwalking blunder every 10 games. I don't know if more than that is humanly possible).

I'll get the game posted within a day or two.

BTW, I'm starting a new Label called "Real Chess" as it's what I need to focus on more than anything else!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reno CC. Ch. Qualifier, Brandt-Pearson Rd. 4, 0-1

Here is the game from Sunday night where I win my way into contention for the Club Championship--all I have to do now is defeat a former champ on Thursday, then win three matches! (See my previous post).

The thing I like about the game from my side is that I didn't do anything too wild and blunderful--just tried to play solidly in the opening, though I don't think my opening was that great; 6. Qb3 seems better, and on the ninth move White shouldn't relieve the tension with Nxg6, and in either case I think White is better. After 10. ... Bd6 it felt like Black had the initiative. Barry was kind enough to review the game with me and these are mostly his suggestions.

After my 32. ... c4 I thought I was going to win, but put that thought away and just concentrated on playing good moves and not "Wanting" (as J. Rowson put it in Seven Deadly Chess Sins). So, not a brilliant or beautiful game in some ways, but I'm starting to get the idea that wins without any big fireworks can be beautiful in their own way.

Reader comments would be much appreciated.

[Event "Reno CC Ch. Qualifier"]
[Site "Reno, NV"]
[Date "2007.05.13"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Brandt, B."]
[Black "Pearson, R."]
[Result "0-1"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 d5 3. Nf3 Bf5 4. Nbd2 e6 5. c3 Nbd7 6. b4 Be7 7. Nh4 Bg6 8. e3 c6 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. a4 Bd6 11. f4 Qc7 12. h3 Ne4 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Qg4 Nf6 15. Bxf6 gxf6 16. Be2 f5 17. Qg3 Be7 18. Qf2 a5 19. b5 c5 20. O-O Bh4 21. g3 Be7 22. b6 Qxb6 23. Rab1 Qc7 24. Bb5+ Kf8 25. h4 Bf6 26. Kg2 Ke7 27. Rbd1 Rag8 28. d5 exd5 29. Rxd5 Rd8 30. c4 Rxd5 31. cxd5 Kd6 32. Rh1 c4 33. Qa2 c3 34. Rd1 Qc5 35. Qf2 Rc8 36. g4 c2 37. Rc1 Bb2 38. Rxc2 Qxc2 39. Be2 Qd2 0-1

Monday, May 14, 2007

We Now Resume Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

And so, after a vacation and various technical difficulties, we now resume our quest for chess blogging excellence with the news that:

I WON my game last night in the Reno CC Championship qualifier and the only thing standing between me and the championship match round is...another win Thursday against the 2005 club champion Arkia Bayati.

Last night's game, postponed due to my being in Arizona for a few days, was against Barry Brandt (1900), who was the first Expert (over 2000) that I ever defeated, back in 1985. I was 1698, he was 2040, and I still remember the excitement of winning against someone I considered to be a really strong player. Neither of us is rated as high now as we were then but this was still the best win for me, in terms of rating, since I returned to tournament chess 18 months ago.

I'll get the game score posted tomorrow; as Black against his Trompowsky (1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5) I chose 2. ... d5 because I was pretty sure he knew more about the theoretical line 2. ... Ne4 than I, didn't blunder any material (the big key) and with Queen, Rook and opposite Bishops was able to blockade his passed d-pawn while my c-pawn ran to glory, costing him a Rook. He resigned on move 40.

So I feel pretty good about the game not just because I won but because I felt that I saw more than I have recently, was careful and calm, and seemed to concentrate more easily and for longer periods than is usual lately. I think that counted for more than doing a few hundred tactical exercises the day before the game (though I think those are important , too).

More tomorrow.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Coruscating Brilliance of Chessloser, Again

I've always wanted to use the word "coruscating" in a post but the chance never came--until now.

I mentioned chessloser in terms of laughter a couple of weeks ago, but now he's reached the level of art, of prose/poetry so ravishingly beautiful that lachrymosity is a real possibility.

Chess is fun again.

I'm feeling the bonds of worry over my silly USCF rating weakening, fear of making a blunder receding. A great joy has been restored; I'm seeing the chess world with new eyes, like a babe born at the beginning of the universe, the big bang, which obviously contained the seed of chess within the original constants of nature...otherwise it wouldn't be here. In plain language, chessloser has confirmed the Strong Anthropic Principle for me, somehow, not directly but through the humor, the kind of playfulness G-d showed when He created the Knight, en passant and Nimzovich's Threat stronger than his Execution.

Enough, here's the stuff of genius from today's post:

yesterday i became a real chessman. yesterday, the postman delivered the one thing that makes me a bona fide chessplayer. yesterday, i got my chessclock. that’s like a surfer getting his surfboard, or a postal worker getting his high powered rifle with the scope. anyone can play chess, but only those who are commited (or should be, ha ha) have a chess clock. it is black and sleek, hand crafted out of only the finest in cheap plastic, lovingly and carefully assembled by the skilled artisinal hands of cheap chinese labor. that’s right, just like a lambourghini or fine wine, i have an IMPORT. i have an IMPORTED chess clock. how classy is that?

Tell it, man, tell it...

i think my role in the chess world is to set up challenging situations for people to work out, get out of, then turn the tables and send me and my brand new chess clock home with nothing to show for my efforts.

No my friend, your role is to make men happy...

i will flaunt my cool chess clock pretentiously, like the dorks who sit around in public, “reading” a thomas pynchon novel. (pardon me, i hope my reading “the crying of lot 49″ isn’t getting in your way, is it?”)


i need to stay mentally alert in the tournament. when i lose, i can’t let it affect my next games. this could be a problem. i’m italian, and so i get passionate. sadly, i’ve become passionate about something i suck at.

at least i have a cool chess clock though.

That was so damn beautiful. Especially the Tom Pynchon reference. I would've used Gravity's Rainbow, though. It's a lot thicker.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Good Article

The Kenilworthian points out this Slate piece by Ann Hulbert on American youth chess and why the game is hot among the younger set:

It has an allure that motivates kids to do the hard work of honing basic skills and then discovering their own styles, goaded ever onward by a rating system that can show them every increment of improvement. Ruthless standards and dizzying freedom, all in one package: That is a rarity. And it is a recipe for what experts call "effortful study," or the process of indefatigably tackling ever harder challenges, which many believe is the secret to successfully pursuing excellence in anything. Except, that is, when the fervent focus itself becomes too all-consuming a distraction.

Exactly. As I've argued elsewhere (see comments) chess doesn't necessarily train you for success in business, school or life in general, but it does help with patience, focus and long-term planning and goal seeking. All of which may aid high achievement in other fields--if applied to those fields, and not just to chess.

I have a good deal to say about chess as a profession, chess for money and related subjects, but that will have to wait for the next post.