Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pearson-Smith, G. 07.26.07 1-0

My postgame thoughts were here. If you'd like to view the game, paste just the moves into the pgn viewer. For some reason the header is messing it up, though it looks fine to me...anyway, this one is short enough that you might try following it "blindfolded" and see how you do.

[Event "Reno CC Blockbuster Swiss"]
[Site "Reno, NV"]
[Date "2007.07.26"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Pearson, Robert"]
[Black "Smith, George"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "1600"]
[BlackElo "1430"]
[ECO "D15"]
[Annotator "Pearson, R."]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c6 { An unusual move order, but White has no special advantage by steering away from the Slav Defense. So... } 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bf5?! { Known to lead to trouble for Black, though Capabalnca once beat Janowski with it (New York 1916) and then passed over the move in his notes. I thought I knew the refutation... } 5. cxd5 cxd5 { Nxd5 is thought to be better but after 6. Nd2 and a quick e4 White has a big edge. } 6. Qb3 b6? { Bc8 is the only decent move--I remember facing it years ago in an Alaska tournament. White is obviously doing very well after that, however. Now we reach a curious juncture; I thought I remembered a refutation that begins 7. e4(!) but I see that Yermolinsky in his "Road to Chess Improvement" gives 7. Bf4 and it's "very hard to continue" for Black. Both lines are probably very good for White, but remember, I "thought" I knew a killer sequence. } 7. e4 dxe4 8. Bb5+ { No, no! Ne5! threatens mate and forces e6, then the bishop check is much stronger; 9. ...Nfd7 10. g4 Bg6 11. h4 h5 12. Nxg6 and 13. Qxe6+. } Bd7 { Now I was sure I'd transposed and missed out, but I'm pleased that instead of worrying about any of that I just played the position. I figured I still had the advantage, so screw the past, let's play good moves! } 9. Ne5 e6 10. d5 exd5 11. Nxd5 Nxd5 { Going down my main line. Perhaps Bd6 offered more chances but White's still on top after 12. Bf4. } 12. Qxd5 Bb4+ 13. Ke2 Bxb5+ 14. Qxb5+ Nd7 15. Rd1 { More accurate than Nxd7 followed by Qxb4. } O-O 16. Qxb4 Nxe5? { He had to get the queen out and try to cause confusion. } 17. Rxd8 Raxd8 { He resigned without waiting for my reply } 1-0

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chess and the "80/20 Principle"

Blue Devil Knight's excellent post Lessons from blitz (do read the whole thing) really struck a chord because I happen to be reading a book right now called The 80/20 Principle (I've only read the Introduction thus far, but I already had some knowledge of where the author is going).

The gist of the 80/20 Principle is that 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results, 20 percent of your customers produce 80 percent of your profits, etc. An Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, originally formulated the principle when he observed that across many countries it always seemed that 20 percent of the people had 80 percent of the wealth.

What has this to do with chess (you may be asking by now)?


From BDK's post:

Ninety percent of the games were decided by tactical blunders. The following plots the proportion of tactical errors, sorted by type, culled from looking over about 60 of the games:

(BDK is a scientist and we're lucky enough to get handy visual pointers like this).


Going through the errors also revealed a very interesting property of tactical opportunities. There were hardly any complex combinations available in any of the games. Perhaps in 3% of the games, I missed four-or-more move combinations. Most realistic combinations are two or three move, typically one move. This is an extremely useful fact, and should be impressed into the minds of all beginners. When I first started playing chess, I looked at the board as a structure with infinite tactical possibilities that were well out of my reach, I would sit and search for complicated N-move combinations, wrongly believing that they must be there, but that I was just too stupid to see them. My post-mortem showed me how naive my thinking was, and this is liberating.

The law of short combinations also makes sense from an analytical point of view (and could probably be proven mathematically): the longer the imagined combination, the more likely it is that the opponent will have defensive resources, will have in-between moves that are hard to see, the more likely it is that you are simply missing an obvious weakness in your attack or somehow miscalculating the combination.

There are a lot more interesting and useful conclusions he makes from the study of these blitz games, and I would say they apply to slow chess as well, particularly games that are not master v. master (I think that covers almost all the readers of this blog). Again, read his whole post.

Now let us relate all this to the 80/20 Principle, which has been found so applicable in so many different fields. Synthesizing the experiences and writings of Michael de la Maza, Dan Heisman, GM Ziatdinov and others (see Temposchlucker, dk/transformation), it looks to me like there is conclusive evidence that 80 percent of one's study time (until one has reached a rating of perhaps 2000) ought to be used on studying, absorbing and putting basic tactics into Long Term Memory, where these patterns are "at your fingertips" so to speak. The majority using your own games as examples, going over the decisive position numerous times until you see the position and BAM! the right move jumps out at you. The rest of the 80 percent, tactics books, CTS, CT-Art, etc. About 20 percent of study time to be used on openings, endings and master games.

Hey, I realize that some of you already were thinking and doing this, or close to it, but some of us take awhile to learn what's good for us. This will be my study breakdown from here forward.

Pearson-G. Smith 07.26.07 1-0

Quick report for now--I won last night's Reno CC Swiss game (30/90, G/60) against George Smith (1430) when he played a variation of the Slav Defense that I knew to be questionable...and I didn't play the refutation in the right order! Still, I got a lot of pressure and a position that led to an advantage, so I'm not gonna cry too much. It was all over at move 17 when, down a queen for a rook, he resigned.

I'll have the game text and comments and more about the this variation as soon as possible.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harrington-Pearson 07.19.07 1/2-1/2

Here's the game from last Thursday that I wrote about below. While I missed some chances, I also kept my head and drew, keeping my concentration and focus a lot better and longer than in other recent games. That's encouraging.

[Event "Reno CC Blockbuster Swiss"]
[Site "Reno, NV"]
[Date "2007.07.19"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Harrington, Chris"]
[Black "Pearson, Robert"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteElo "1429"]
[BlackElo "1600"]
[ECO "B01"]
[Annotator "R. Pearson"]

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nxd5 4. d4 Nc6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. O-O g6 7. Bg5 Bg7 8. Qd2 h6 9. Bh4 a6 10. Ba4 O-O 11. Bb3 Bf5 12. c3 Qd7 13. Bxd5 Qxd5 14. Bg3 Rac8 15. Bf4 Kh7 16. Re1 Rfe8 17. Ne5 Rcd8 18. Re3 { While there are undoubtedly some improvements for both sides earlier, we pick up the game in this tense position. Black's next few moves are based on the belief that Bxh6 is no good for White--but Bxe5! and Nxe4! were BOTH very strong here, winning material due to various pins and back-rank themes...instead } Bxb1?! 19. Nxc6! { He sees the threat, but now Black thought the e5 push would be very strong. } Qxc6 20. Rxb1 e5 21. Bxh6 { NOW I see that Re3 had a point. I spent 20 minutes calculating and decided that } Bxh6 { this move limited the damage. But after } 22. Rh3 { I played my planned continuation quickly, instead of g5! cutting off the queen's attack and adding my queen as defender. Then with Qg6 as a followup Black would have a winning advantage. } Kg7? 23. Qxh6+ Kf6 24. dxe5+ Rxe5 25. Rf3+ Ke6 26. Re3 Rxe3 27. Qxe3+ Kf6 28. Qf4+ Kg7 29. h4 Qd6!? { I think it was smart to offer the trade of queens here; the rook ending will have Black's rook getting active a move or two earlier than White's and it will be very difficult to win. He should have kept the queens on and probed for awhile. } 30. Qxd6?! Rxd6 31. Re1 Kf8 { He can't stop me going to the 7th rank with my rook so I cut out his invasion first. } 32. Kf1?! { I think Ka2 was the only good way to play for a win. } Rd2 33. Re2 Rd1+ 34. Re1 Rd2 35. Rb1 Ke7 36. Re1+ Kf6 { Tempting him to go Re8--but Black wins a pawn and White doesn't, and I'd be the one playing for the win. So... } 37. Re2 Rd1+ 38. Re1 Rd2 39. Re2 Rd1+ 40. Re1 Rd2 1/2-1/2

Try pasting the text above into this pgn viewer--I can't get Chess Publisher to work. Again.

ADDENDUM 07/24/07: So I miss short combinations or defenses twice within a few moves and then write that the game is "encouraging." I'm a regular Pollyanna! Looking back, I think some sterner self-criticism is in order for this one. I was lucky to scrape a draw.

Friday, July 20, 2007


That was the title of a very interesting book by Wolfgang Heidenfeld that contained well-played, exciting drawn games; it was also my result last night as I returned to tournament play at the Reno Chess Club and drew with Chris Harrington (1429) whom I had defeated in the last Swiss--but he looks like a young up-and-comer who's going to be moving up the ranks. Brief description--in a tense middlegame he played what we both thought was a nice tactical shot, I avoided all the moves that lost quickly and got out of immediate danger a pawn down, then in a rook ending with my rook on the seventh rank he repeated the position rather than get into a risky pawn-eating race. Since I was reasonably playing for a draw at that point the result was okay by me.

After the game, new club member and Expert-rated Nathaniel Garingo pointed out to us that I had a defense that would have kept an extra piece...oops. A very instructive piece of tactics, which I will present, along with the full game (when are you going to post the previous three games you keep promising to post? ed. Yeah, I know, I know!) when I return from a weekend trip that I'm leaving on in a few minutes...you'll just have to wait a little longer for the details of my glorious DRAW!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Links

A couple of weeks ago I asked for people with chess blogs whom I haven't linked to let me know--

Nobis from Italy responded; his blog is Chess - On the Road to GM. Love the title, Nobis! Now adding to sidebar.

Anyone else that writes about chess, bring it on!

Nobis also points out in his latest post this ChessBase article on embracing risk to win tournaments. I think anyone who has studied the career records of Larsen and Beliavsky already understood this without crunching numbers; if you're as good as them and don't draw much, you'll win a lot of tournaments but occasionally finish last. Not many players have the optimism and nerves to come back from those occasional last places, however.

UPDATE 07/18/07: Eric Shoemaker, the Pale Rider, has a new blog called Shoemaker's Library: The Study of Chess Openings. So new it doesn't have any posts on openings yet, just a Mysterious Introduction and some interesting book lists. I'm sure Eric will have some opening study posts soon, so check it out from time to time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My Questionnaire

My friend dk asks in the comments to my previous post:

robert, can you tell us, at a seperate post, about you, what your chess is like, what challenges you face in chess, what you overcame, or must overcome, what you long for, what you avoid, what, in short, what YOUR PROCESS IS, as distinct from theory, or blogging, or openings, or endings, etc.

Well okay, dk, I'm willing to share some information on a more personal level, and I'm going to use Blue Devil Knight's excellent questionnaire as a vehicle. I'm tempted to tag you to do it too, but a man in the midst of writing a 15-part epic on chess bloggers has enough to do, and you've never been short on self-revelation at your blog, anyhow.

So, here goes:
1. How long have you been playing chess? Have you played it consistently since you started, or were there lulls in your play? How did these lulls affect your performance?

I was aware of chess as a young child as I saw it in movies, books and at school, but no one in my family played at all, so I taught myself when I got really interested after seeing the PBS coverage of Fischer-Spassky in 1972. I was just shy of my 12th birthday. I used the book Chess in 30 Minutes, which I found at the school library. I played around with friends and at school, but I didn't get serious until I was 20. I'd been playing a lot with a friend who was about as good as me, and I looked up the Reno Chess Club and we went by one evening. He said he didn't really dig the atmosphere (too many "old men" who were "too serious") but I liked it and started playing regularly at the club. Within a few months I was beating up on my friend and he didn't want to play me anymore, but of course the club was another story--my first tournament happened to be the Club Championship, a 15-player round robin, and I managed one draw, against William Barr, an older gentleman rated around 1550. We chess players have fantastic memories for certain things, no doubt. My first rating, due to that draw, was 1198, and I played pretty steadily until I moved to Alaska in 1987, by which time I was around 1750. There were a few pretty decent players in the town I lived in up there, and I reached a peak rating of about 1825 around the end of 1989, but after that the competition and my playing time both fell off, and I went through several periods of inactivity of a year or more between 1991 and 2004. Each time, I would come back and suffer some ratings losses--you can see some of the details here. So at the moment I'm at my "floor" of 1600. But I'm playing fairly regularly against good competition for the foreseeable future, and I'm working as hard as time allows to get back to my glorious, if short-lived, days as an "A-player."

2. Aside from playing games, what is your primary mode of training?

Over the years my methods have evolved--early in my career I didn't really study consistently, just played a lot, which was enough to make quite a bit of progress. I worked out a decent opening repertoire, at least as White, from a couple of books after my first year of serious play. Nowadays I work on tactics exercises when I can, but not as often as I'd like to, and I've gotten much better and more consistent at reviewing my own games and trying to understand my weak points. I should have been doing that for a lot longer, but I'll admit that for many years I didn't spend much time on my games--I'd just play another. I have come to believe that tactical training and studying your typical mistakes are the two most important areas on which to spend your training time. I play over a well-annotated master game occasionally, which I enjoy and learn from, and I wish I had more time for that.

3. What is the single most helpful method of improvement that you have ever used?

Getting beaten by stronger players. My first few years at the club I was privileged to play and lose hundreds of quick games against guys rated 300-500 points higher. I think that taught me and motivated me to get better more than anything else. I had a lot more time available for chess then, which also made a difference.

4. What is your favorite opening to play as white? As black against e4? As black against d4?

It's funny how a lot of the respondents to this questionnaire over at BCC have dodged this, not wanting to give their future opponents any clues--but I totally understand! I'll give up this much: I've played various closed games most of my career, usually with 1. d4, and it's still my favorite, but lately I've pulled out 1. e4 a few times, with mixed results. With black I've tried a lot of different lines against 1. e4, but it seems like the most fun I've had is with the Pirc/Modern, though Grandmasters have their doubts about that--luckily, I'm not playing any of them. Against 1. d4 I've played the King's Indian most of my career, and it's almost always a slugfest when I get to play it, which I enjoy.

5. Who is your favorite chess player and why?

Paul Keres. His games are superb, his books are wonderfully written and beautifully annotated, and I've always felt a lot of empathy for him, the man from a tiny Baltic country that was swallowed up by the Soviet machine.

6. What is your favorite chess book?

Grandmaster of Chess by Paul Keres.

Tal's book on his 1960 Match with Botvinnik is a close second.

7. What book would you recommend for a friend who knows only the rules of chess?

Logical Chess, Move by Move by Chernev. John Nunn gets down hard on it in his Grandmaster Chess, Move by Move, but for a beginner I think it instills a consistent, systematic approach that's more important than whatever defects the book possesses.

8. Do you play in in-person tournaments? What is your favorite tournament experience?

I like playing against a human sitting across a board far more than any other form of chess, though I do enjoy playing on the Internet sometimes. My favorite tournament experience is playing every Thursday at the local club, even though I'm often pretty tired because of my schedule. I'm really, really looking forward to the Western States Open in Reno this October--three solid days of tough tournament chess.

9. Please give us a link to what you consider your best two blog posts (on your own blog).

I gather some thoughts on chess improvement, and come out with my own boring, balanced approach--Weaving the Disparate Threads.

Ron Thacker, Where are You?, about one of the more interesting chess personalities I've met.

10. What proportion of total chess time should be spent studying openings for someone at your level?

At my level, 25-30 percent, at most. I find it intriguing that one of the top chess bloggers, rated expert Michael Goeller of the Kenilworthian, says he spends about 90 percent of the time on openings, because that's what he enjoys. Someone who's not focused like laser on just raising his rating! Someone doing what he enjoys, instead of eating his vegetables and 100 tactical problems per day!

Maybe Michael knows something the rest of us need to be reminded of--we are alive to experience joy, and we play chess to enjoy. If we're sane, anyway.

Robert Pearson

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Opening Study: Some Diverse Opinions, Part I

I'm just fascinated by all the cool and (usually) thoughtful debate that goes on in the chess blogs these days; since I got into the chess blogosphere back on January 30, 2006 there has been a major increase in both the number of chess bloggers and the quality of posts and comments.

Blue Devil Knight's brief post here set off a lively debate with this quote from Dan Heisman's new book:

It does not matter who gets the advantage out of the opening, if one of the players is likely to lose a piece to a simple tactic in the middlegame. Losing a piece from an advantageous position will almost always result in a lost position. So study tactics, not openings, until you almost never lose pieces to simple tactical motifs.

Fair enough, though of course the commenters are an independent lot who are not afraid to disagree with anyone, even a Master and leading author and teacher. Good for them! Independent thinking is how ideas get debated, honed and improved.

Meanwhile, Grandpatzer has put up some excellent posts on developing your opening repertoire (Prelude, Part One, Part Two) that focus on his specific lines, but contain principles that we could all benefit from considering.

The previous Grandpatzer, the late Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby, advised in his book to memorize the first 8-10 moves of main line, aggressive tactical openings like the Sicilian Dragon and King's Indian as Black, saving time and energy, getting clear plans to play for and mastering some key traps that can lead to quick wins against lower-rated players. While there is a lot of merit in his approach, it makes one pause when considering that John Nunn wrote a 320-page book that didn't begin until White's ninth move in the line that Colby recommended--then notes (in the earlier edition that I own) that he only reached this position in about a third of his own King's Indian games! Joe Gallagher wrote an excellent 192-page book on what to do when White avoids the King's Indian as early as move 2!

Looking at this from the perspective of someone who has a few hours per week to study chess it's obvious that I'm never going to master all the variations in these books; the best I can do is memorize the main, main lines and understand what I'm trying to accomplish. That's they key to then dealing with the first move that is 'out of (my) book,' because if it's not the main line I know and love then it's not necessarily bad, but it's either going to allow me to go ahead with my plans in that opening (dominate the dark squares, kingside pawn push, whatever) or it's going to give me a new opportunity elsewhere to do something else. Every move controls new squares and weakens others.

'They' always say that understanding the opening is more important than memorization and that's what they mean. I think both have their place, and that this topic deserves a Part II.

More anon.

Friday, July 06, 2007

More Great Chess Blog Links


Atomic Patzer


Burning Castles

His Best Friend

Pawn Shaman

and I realize my links are very inconsistent, with some of these being the official blog banner title, some the blogger's handle...but that's the way it just seems to be in the chess blogosphere. For example, dk-transformation always calls Burning Castles "wormwood" and so on. I dunno, some of these bloggers have just become affectionately known by one or the other and that's what I try to use.

Also, if a) you'd like me to list your blog differently than I have it over there on the right, just let me know in the comments, and b) if you have a blog related to chess and you'd like to be added, just let me know (in the comments). I'd be happy to oblige in either case.

UPDATE 07/11/07: I'm adding a link to Paul Hoffman's blog thepHtest which is mostly about chess but has a smattering of other interesting topics. Paul's forthcoming book The King's Gambit: A Son, a Father and the World's Most Dangerous Game also sounds intriguing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

After the the Hiatus: Refocusing and Rededication

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!