Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Giving Up Internet Blitz (Again)

Since I last played in the five hour marathons at the Reno Chess Club (see here for my rather whiny farewell) most of my chess activity has consisted of blitz on FICS. While I've certainly gotten some satisfaction and enjoyment from these games, I've also gotten into some pretty bad habits.

As James Stripes writes in this post at his excellent Chess Skills blog, "Blitz and rapid chess involve a lot of smoke and mirrors, while standard chess is a quest for truth." I have seen that in the evolution (devolution?) of my "style" over the last months; I developed the typical blitzer's habits of playing trap chess and "hope chess," always pushing forward and doing very little consolidation, rarely playing for an "edge" or going for a superior endgame. I have had some nice artistic successes, learned a lot about the openings...and hung a lot of pieces.

Last night I had a good winning streak, ran my blitz rating up to a reasonably respectable 1377, and having a desire to get back to the "quest for truth" have decided to play only 15 0 or longer (the minimum for standard rated games) for the present. My FICS rating at that is 1686, and I figure I could get that quite a bit higher by playing serious, real chess.

Meanwhile, I've gone to a couple of meetings of the Juneau Chess Club, which is a laid-back affair for two hours at the library, once a week. There are several pretty decent tournament players in my town, in the 1400-1600 USCF range, so I'm going to get busy organizing a "stimulus package" and start playing rated games again. Game in 90 minutes to be the maximum, if I have my druthers. There are also several tournaments a year up in Anchorage and starting next summer I expect to have the time and money to travel to something in the "Lower 48."

So right now I'm headed off to get back to "real chess," because I've gotten a bit shallow, and hope is not a plan.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Good Moves, Best Move

Some of the oldest chess advice : "If you find a good move, look for a better one."

In a Red Hot Pawn correspondence game, I won Black's f-pawn and looked forward to a winning ending here. I could follow all kinds of traditional advice, develop pieces, push passed pawns, rooks to open files, etc., etc.

I must admit the best move did not occur to me at all before the position had been reached, and not even then until at least 10 minutes of mentally trying out various possibilities. So no points for searing advanced tactical vision, but full points for finding it in the end.

What is it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Corrosive Effects of Money on Good Chess

Inspired by this excellent Mr. Cranky Old Chess Player (er, Reassembler) (EDITED: That should be Crabby Old Chess Player) post and cheered on by the comments there, I hereby get back to blogging with my explication of:

The Corrosive Effects of Money on Good Chess, or, Why I Never Went Back to the World Open, Wherein I Observed a Most Remarkable Phenomenon.

The "corrosive effects" were actually brought to my attention some years before the World Open discovery, around 1982-3. In those days the New York Open was as big or bigger than the World, and Chess Life had an article with a last round game from New York where one GM "played to lose" in a drawn Rook ending--the explanation was something like "a win was worth $6,000 to GM X, a draw put him in a 14-way tie for 5th place and $98.17, and a loss was worth nothing." So "game theory" said to play for a win, I guess. However, it certainly made for ugly, awful chess.

I attended the World Open in Philly back in 1990, and actually had a pretty good time, though as I recall my score was moderately terrible at 2.5 out of 9 games. What was very noticeable was that the winners of the big pots in all the "class" sections were guys with very "foreign" names. In other words, sandbaggers from other countries, Experts playing in Class B, who had beaten out our homegrown sandbaggers, who had merely dropped a few games at the club to go from 1850 to 1794. I understand that various and sundry methods have been devised to prevent this over the years, but I had seen enough.

The tournament was fun, the chess was fun, the people were fun, but I never played in another really "big money" event. I did play in several of the "Weikel" tournaments in Reno, great family-run events with pretty good prizes and plenty of GMs in the Open, but with money for top ten or so in every class, not so skewed to 'first place or nothing." Little sandbagging, little pressure.

Nowadays my ideal of a weekend tournament would be a $20 entry and the opportunity to win $100 for first, or maybe a $7 quad and winner takes all minus ratings fees. The funny thing is, for me rated games are serious, regardless of the money, and any big money just distorts the chess. If I was playing one game for thousands of dollars not only would it be tense, it would be work. The result would be all, the chess, nothing. The joy of sacrificing a piece for a speculative attack...are you kidding?!

Going to the big Opens is, for most, just gambling. If you are willing to just drop the entry fee and play chess, have at it--that's the only way to have fun in a casino. If you go into it calculating what you could buy with first money, well you may possibly walk away with something, but don't expect to have a whale of a good time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back in the Game (?)

Thanks so much to those of you who have left a comment or just stopped by the last few weeks.

When I promised an update "next week" I didn't say which next week, right? Heh. Anyway, the short version is that in the last four weeks I have gotten a great new job and moved my family back to my former domicile in Alaska. While I certainly could have found 10 minutes somewhere in there to update the blog, well...I didn't.

When I stopped playing OTB tournament chess in the summer I felt a certain lowering of the intensity in my drive to blog and use blogging to try and improve; even though I'm now back ot enjoying some blitz on FICS and may even play in the fabulous Tournament of the LEPers III, I'm not sure where the blog is heading, now.

Hey, I still love chess and I wanted you, Dear Reader, to know that I'm okay, doing great in fact. When I have more to say, I'll be back here to say it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Announcement Soon

I'll be posting again next week, with exciting news updates.

Exciting to me, anyway.

In the meantime, hit the sidebar links fro some actual content.

It's gonna be great, friends. Really.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Dive Gets an 8.4(!?)

According to a very nice email from Amy Liu of I received today:

"Our editors recently reviewed your blog and have given it an 8.4 score out of (10) in the Recreation/Games category of"

I'm listed first in recreation/games/chess/. The only problem is that some of the blogs below me are actually much better blogs! I mean Streatham & Brixton? And a host of others.

Well it's flattering but one must believe that eventually they'll come to their senses and put me somewhere well below No. 1-- but heck, I guess I'll enjoy the moment, while it lasts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brief Hiatus

I will be off the air for a bit while I pursue some other projects. Will return, bigger and better than ever, probably in a matter of weeks.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More on "Resetting" the USCF

Steve in Tennessee, who used to be a regular contributor to the ChessUSA site which does in-depth coverage of USCF issues, was kind enough to email me about my post On Reforming/RESETTING the USCF. With his kind permission, I post his reply in full:

Been meaning to respond to your entry... You have put some thought into the situation. I think, however, you've put the cart ahead of the horse in dismantling the USCF even though you have placed your finger on the root problem which is democratic governance. Even in the pre-OMOV days EB (and prior PB) members were voted in by delegates. So it was democracy of a sort even then.

The USCF does need a restructure, but the restructuring needs to be in the realm of governance and management. Right now it is set up with a strong EB and a weak ED, with nominal oversight from a delegate system that meets as a "board of directors" once a year. Even this oversight is troubled in that most delegates that have been elected do not show up for these annual meetings. For instance, this year between 60 and 70 delegates voted on motions over two days of meetings where the appointed delegates outnumbered the elected delegates. What happens is that when not enough elected delegates and alternate delegates show up anyone who is attending the meeting may be appointed by the state chair to represent that state. The USCF has 125-130 elected delegates with about 10 of that number being "delegates at large." Only about 30 showed up for the Sat/Sun meetings. In fact, there were elected delegates that showed up for the Open, but refused to answer "present" at the delegates meetings!

Before spinning off the various USCF assets and properties, I would overhaul the governance/management system. My preference would be for a strong ED (management) to be the "face" of the organization and the CEO in fact as well as in title. The EB should be an oversight board ONLY with quarterly reviews of the organization direction as run by the ED, and only empowered to enforce the will of the delegates between annual meetings. I would expand the EB to between 13-17 members instead of the current 7 to diffuse the "cult" problems the smaller board now faces. I would have delegate elections held enough in advance of the annual meetings to facilitate the currently elected delegates being seated at that meeting. This year's delegates that were elected in June were not seated for this year's meeting -- their first meeting will be in 2009! The delegates seated at this year's meeting were elected two years ago. I would place the expectation of showing up to and being involved in the annual meetings on persons seeking to be delegates.

Bottom line: The USCF needs professional management and is not getting it. Something has to change.

Great points, Steve and thanks again for your reply. As I replied:

I think as far as governance issues go, the strong CEO who really has power and gets some incentive compensation would go a long way. Still like my ideas of how to change the revenue stream away from the membership dues model, though.

As always, any additional input from The Readership is valued and appreciated.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Reforming/RESETTING the USCF

In the comments to my previous post good ol' Anonymous wrote:

It's easy to criticize the USCF but what have you done to make it better? A lot of people are spending their own time and money on it so if you're going to run it down how about something constructive instead of just bitching?

And that's fair enough. However, I've come to the conclusion that what's needed here isn't a plan to make the USCF better. What's needed is a radical restructuring that would produce something that works, something that promotes participation in OTB, face-to-face chess tournaments and puts the chess structure in the Unites States on a long-term, sound financial footing.

Something akin to Mencius Moldbug's Unqualified Reservations; he says that what's needed in the U.S. is not reform, but RESET:

Our problem is democracy. Democracy is a dangerous, malignant form of government which tends to degenerate, sometimes slowly and sometimes with shocking, gut-wrenching speed, into tyranny and chaos. You've been taught to worship democracy. This is because you are ruled by democracy. If you were ruled by the Slime Beast of Vega, you would worship the Slime Beast of Vega. (A more earthly comparison is Communism or "people's democracy," whose claim to be a more advanced form of its Western cousin was perfectly accurate - if we mean "advanced" in the sense of, say, "advanced leukemia.")

If you want to pursue this idea, go to Part I of Mr. M's amazing work and follow up to the most recent entry; the only problem with that is that this series adds up the the length of a big, fat book, and you'll probably never get back to my post here on the USCF. I suggest you just finish reading here and then go to the most recent Part XIV to get the flavor and then indulge as much as you like. WARNING, though: You may never look at the world the same way, afterward.

And now, ahem, back to the chess part of the chess blog. Where were we? Oh yes, the USCF.

The USCF has lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis for decades, seemingly. Some years back they replaced the arcane insider good-ol'-boy method of electing the Board with (gulp) Democracy.

It didn't help. I won't try to catalog the legion of tactical and strategic blunders this organization has made over the years (a couple were mentioned below), but that's all in the past. The biggest problem I see is one of structure, one that won't go away with any amount of tinkering. Radical RESETTING is in order to make the organization functional, efficient and productive again. To wit:

The thing that draws most chess players to membership in the USCF is the chance to get an official rating and compete in rated tournaments. To me, and to the vast majority as far as I can see, this is the most useful and important function of the organization! I don't give a hoot about FIDE conventions in exotic locales, the U.S. Blind Championship or sponsoring Gata Kamsky on the road to Kalmykia. Not that these may not be worthy or even noble ventures, but they are entirely separate issues.

So, Proposal #1:

Spin off the ratings system as a separate entity. No "membership" required to obtain a rating. Ratings fees to be set to earn a 25 percent profit above expenses required to run the rating system (on its own. It should only take a few employees). Ratings fees to be identified as a separate expense in tournament entry fees. How high would this number be? I'm sure someone out there with the knowledge can enlighten us, but if one didn't have to pay $40+ for "membership" just to play in a tournament I think everyone would probably be glad to pay $1.00 per game each; that $2.00 per game ought to ensure a major surplus from that end of the business.

Proposal #2:

Spin off Chess Life as a separate enterprise. If people want to subscribe at $14.95 for 12 issues or whatever, great. Maybe they can have premium content on the website for subscribers. If the print version can't make it as a stand alone in the Internet age, let it die. There is so much content out there that I don't see the need for Chess Life anymore. It's actually a pretty good mag, but it needs to evolve on its own, not as the house organ of whatever group or cabal is in charge of the petty politics of the USCF at any given time. The "tournament life" is what's important to a lot of players and tournament organizers; make it a cheap paper newsletter for those without the Web, the rest of us can go online.

Proposal #3:

Besides the rating system, the other major thing the USCF has to do to be a national organization is hold a worthy United States Chess Championship(s). They have almost failed several times in the past--last minute donors and/or sponsorships have saved the bacon. A good portion of the profits from the rating system should be spent on providing a worthy, prize-money-laden U.S. Ch. tournament. That's the only thing that should be subsidized in this manner. The rest of the profits should go into a permanent endowment that, if it grows enough, eventually could subsidize other items of lesser import.

Proposal #4:

Scholastic chess is the one big success story of the last 20 years. Spin it off as its own self-sufficient, self-financing organization, run by and for the people, kids and parents who are involved. They can have their own memberships, dues and so on, set by them. There's no need to have a separate USCF Youth membership, because there are no USCF memberships under my plan, anyway.

Proposal #5:

Replace FIDE with a world organization of PLAYERS.

FIDE is a corrupt bureaucratic piece of shit. I won't even begin to go into how many times they've manipulated/fucked up the World Championship, which is pretty much their only reason for existing.

The USCF should take the lead in forming a World Chess Player's Organization with individual memberships, that anyone can pay a modest fee to join, making them eligible for all the usual international competitions, ratings and the World Championship events.

Meanwhile, if the USCF wants to participate in FIDE junkets at exotic vacation spots around the world, the Board can solicit donations for this international travel. No money from people who just want to play in American rated tournaments should be involved. If it's important that our team play in the Chess Olympics (and I think it is), raise the money. If it is important that out young players participate in international events, raise the money. Since I won't be paying dues anymore, I'll kick in $20.

The USCF needs to get their shit together in the Internet age, since they long ago blew the chance to lead in the online chess world. A lot of people like to play over the board, mano a mano combat chess, and will for the foreseeable future. This has to be the USCF's bread and butter. If they don't quit the interminable bullshit of petty politics nobody else cares about, questionable ethics and fiscal incompetence, the current organization risks becoming completely irrelevant.

What if the Internet Chess Club decided to get into the rating of OTB games, integrating the membership in their online club with an OTB rating system? How many tournament players who don't give a flaming damn about the U.S. Senior Open, scholastic chess or the Kalmykia Mafia would rush to join and let their USCF membership lapse?

I like the USCF and the tradition that it represents, but A is A, as Aristotle used to say. Grow, change and evolve, or die. If they don't do something soon in Crossville, they'd better get the dirges picked out.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Chessloser's WEC (release 1.2)

The unmatched sage of the 64-square jungle, the mighty and vaunted chessloser, proposes a new World Extreme Chess league to replace FIDE and USCF which "while awesome, [have] become old mired in their own unwieldingly large hugeness , like republicans and democrats."

Oh man, truer words were never spoken--except that perhaps CL is being too kind in his assessment of these two organizations; FIDE is run by the semi-dictator of a semi-autonomous region of Russia who once said:

"Irrespective of what I tell people, I give them instructions on a sub-conscious level, a code. I do the same thing when I communicate with Russian citizens from other regions. I am creating around the republic a kind of extra-sensory field and it helps us a lot in our projects."


The other big trouble with FIDE is that it's an organization of national organizations, just like the long-defunct League of Nations on which it was based; players aren't members of FIDE, chess bureaucracies are. Meanwhile, the USCF chess bureaucracy has been run badly for decades, seemingly no matter who gets elected to the Board; they tried to ignore internet chess for as long as possible, totally blowing the chance to be some kind of official ratings org for it and profit from it, time after time they signed idiotic long-term contracts for various things that drained the treasury, etc. They do a good job with the rating system, and my view is that's all the USCF should do. We need a whole new structure to promote chess and run tournaments, a complete fresh start. Will it happen? Probably not, unless enough of us quit paying them dues and form some competition; but wait...

Now comes chessloser and the "WORLD EXTREME CHESS LEAGUE!!!!!!! (you have to say this in the voice of the “sunday sunday sunday, monster truck rally ” guy)."

I will not repeat all his proposals here, if you haven't already you've got to go read the post, but all that I would change to suit my own, personal prejudices is (original WEC in GREEN):

ALL games will be G60. no delay, no overtime, no sudden death, no fucking around. if you can’t finish a chess game in two hours (each combatant gets one hour) then you lose. period.

I would like to have all games at G/30 + 10 sec. increment, 90-move games would still take two hours, max, but instead of piece-scattering time scramble disasters like they had in the U.S. Women's Ch. this year, you would still have chess being played throughout the game.

there should be no draws, but i understand sometimes there are. draws are not allowed if there are enough pieces on the board to mate. if you reach the same position after 3 moves, the first person to move on the 4th time MUST make a different move or be disqualified. no draw by repetition allowed. draws will not count for points or ratings. if you have more than half your games end in draw, you are disqualified. kill or be killed.

Sometimes draws by repetition are the fair result, so I'm against the DQ provision which unlike chessloser's other proposals changes a basic rule of the game; at these kinds of time controls I think draws will be pretty scarce, even among masters.

And now the part I totally don't disagree with:

i bet i could find enough people interested in pure chess to play in the league. it would rock. i think the chess world needs a small change in how things are run.

You know it, baby! Anyone else ready to join?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Four New Moves That Will Make Your Opponent Melt

The one thing that no one can miss as they pass through the check out line at any grocery store in America (and Europe, and probably everywhere else) is the profusion of "women's" magazines that practically block the aisles. Running a store and marketing a magazine are both highly developed sciences, so you know that women are buying these things, People and Cosmo and Us and Soap Opera Digest and Self and Health &tc. by the millions--if not, they wouldn't be there.

Now, I'm the kind of person that likes to observe things like this and notice the little details, the ones that most of my fellow citizens, wandering in a half-daze through their lives and the check out line while chattering on their cell phones or staring at the Cosmo cover cheese cake, don't.

Things like moves.

The check out line mags are just full of moves. "Six moves to flatten your tummy," four moves to tighten your, err, buttocks as "bikini season" approaches and, most emphatically, three-four-seven-eleven moves that will, variously, leave your man panting for more/keep your man close to home/make your guy adultery proof/have your guy wrapped around your little finger for life. Cosmo seems to be the ultimate guide to these "moves," with each and every issue promising some variation on the ultimate sex moves your guy will worship you for.

This has gone on for years, and it occurred to me one day to ask just how many separate and distinct "moves" are anatomically possible that don't result in grievous bodily harm? Are women actually shelling out four or five dollars monthly for 300 pages of glossy non-biodegradable advertising and reading about the same limited set of sexual acts over and over? On the available evidence, I would have to conclude...sadly, yes.

Which brings us to the chess portion of today's post: Are you, Dear Reader, shelling out your chess playing/study time for the same limited set of opening moves, over and over? Do you consider yourself a "d4 player" or an "e4 player" who is somewhat uncomfortable outside his/her repertoire? If you answered "yes," here are four moves that, for the amateur, are well worth pulling out from time to time to give your games the spice of variety and perhaps even throw the opponent off psychologically, resulting in a gain of clock time and more importantly an open battle and a lot of fun playing chess!


1. f4 and 1. g3. These moves are pretty rare in tournament play, at least in my experience, especially 1. g3. Internet blitz games will bring out the occasional opponent who opens this way, but that's when you're Black. All the "authorities" say that 1. f4 "weakens the king's position" on move 1 or some such schlock, but it also tells the opponent you're an aggressive player who will try and blow him off the board if given the chance. A lot of Blacks will respond 1. ...d5 and now we have a Reversed Dutch Defense. I'm not going to analyze lines here, but in general I don't go for the Stonewall formation (f4-e3-d4), I like 1. f4 d5 2. g3, the Reversed Leningrad Dutch! Now Nf3, 0-0 and pretend like you've got a kind of super-King's Indian! An attack on the kingside is almost always called for! Also, if 1. f4 c5 2. e4 and you've got an aggressive system against the Sicilian Defense on the board. Against other moves like 1. f4 Nf6 you're almost guaranteed to be in a position that's out of both players' "books" within a few moves, which is the whole idea.

1. g3 is a move that has almost never been played against me in nearly 30 years of chess. Lots of people play 1. Nf3 and follow up with g3 as a way into the King's Indian Attack, but just very, very few people seem to want to allow 1. g3 e5, which is the move that really gives the opening independent significance. I think a lot of Blacks are actually a little afraid to be this "independent" and go in for 1. g3 d5 or 1. g3 Nf6 after which White can go for the Reti-English-Chameleon or 1. g3, 2. f4! (see above). 1. g3 is very flexible and kind of says to Black, "Go ahead, try and knock it off!"

(UPDATE 07/30/08: Taking my own advice, I played1. g3 in a few blitz games on FICS last night and blew the opposition off the board in two of them with a raging kingside attack!)


1. c4 b6 and 1. Nf3 c5. These moves are perfectly respectable "main lines" in many ways but against below-master opposition I think both can be good surprise weapons. 1. c4 b6 tempts White to follow up with 2. d4 and 3. e4, something that most "English" (1. c4) players are not all that comfortable with. If White doesn't seize the opportunity to get aggressive and just develops quietly, Black will also develop comfortably and just aim a lot of force at the e4 square. If White does seize space Black must play to undermine and destroy the big center, again with emphasis on controlling e4. A Bb4 pin will be effected if allowed. All in all, Black has to have the right attitude--excessive timidity can see Black's Bb7 buried and the rest of his position uncomfortably cramped. Not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but a nice change of pace for those who are looking for adventure.

1. Nf3 c5 as (again) mentioned here, is only suitable if Black is comfortable in the Open Sicilian, but how many 1. Nf3 players are aiming for the Sicilian? Answer, none. The first good feature of this sequence for Black is that 2. d4 is already neutralized, and that's where a lot of 1. Nf3 players would like to head, a Queen's Gambit or other form of Queen's Pawn Game without allowing the Budapest, Albin or other counter gambits or opening adventures. Black must be prepared for the Symmetrical English after 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 but that is hardly likely to make one quake in one's boots; also in that case, one can try to reach a Tarrasch Defense formation for Black with e6, d5 and Nf6 in some order, even if White holds back on d4.

None of this is offered as a panacea of any kind, but I recommend you try some of this stuff in blitz games to start out; psychologically, these moves will give you some edge in many games; against the less prepared you'll often gain some time on the clock, and if you run up against a speed specialist who knows all the "right" lines the worst you should come out with is equality, since none of these ideas are that really far out.

As always, any reader's thoughts and, especially, critiques are appreciated.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Links and Things

A few new blogs have appeared in the chessosphere and their authors have taken the trouble to let me know about it--or, in certain cases my Sources have informed me of developments:

RT Solo checks in with Chess and Stuff.

"My name is Todd. I like looking for chess-related stuff on the Internet and happened, one night, to come upon a blog called "chess confessions" that was talking about "zombie chess"! It was so funny I had to check out more posts on the blog and eventually discovered there is a group of chess bloggers who call themselves the "Knights Errant" (a Don Quixote reference) and subscribe to a method of chess improvement called the Seven Circles, espoused by this guy Michael De La Maza in his book Rapid Chess Improvement. The method involves going over large segments of tactical puzzles daily until you've mastered them, then moving onto the next segment, or Circle, of puzzles.

I was intrigued and studied up on the author MDLM and his proponents and detractors. It struck me as funny that some people took all this stuff so seriously and got into really heated debates about the matter. I haven't decided whether I am going to try the Circles, but I did decide to start my own chess blog!"

Score one for Blue Devil Knight!

Also recently joining the chess blogging world is hiddenleaf and his Chess Chronicles.

"Just another chess blog about a pawn wandering to the other side of the board."

Finally, my friend and OTB foe from the Reno Chess Club, Eric Shoemaker, has rechristened (or redefined) his blog again, now Man of the West, formerly Pale Rider formerly Opening Laboratory formerly Best Games formerly...I don't even remember all the names, but this time Eric, please, if you're going to change things at least leave the old archived posts up. The world has lost a lot of interesting material!

I'm putting up these links on my sidebar list and moving some of my old friends who haven't posted in a long time to a new "On Hiatus" section. If you get back to posting let me know and we'll relocate you. If you're new to the chess blogging scene, though, don't forget to stop in to the blogs on hiatus, some of them have a lot of great content, but their authors are just a little busy with so-called "real life" right now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

LEPers II, Rd. 3, LEP-RLP 0-1

Testing, testing--will this be my ChessFlash debut?

Yes, it works. Thanks Glenn Wilson! I need to make some adjustments, but I'm glad to get this done the first time

In the game, well there are quite a few big errors, most of LEP's moves 13-18, which leave me with a clear rook-up win, and my 27th, 29th and 33rd, which almost give it back...oh well, I'm 2-1 with a chance to make the final. I love the LEP tournaments, thanks Donnie!

(UPDATE: Actually I'm only 1-1 in my section, and my schedule has not been conducive to getting in the remaining two games...apologies to Wang and Takchess, I'll be in touch to try to get our games played).

I do really like one move I made in this game, 8. ...e5! which looks like a loss of time, but seizes space. It's like I'm playing White in a main line King's Indian, and he has the extra move c3. I'm not saying it's "all that" but it was an original thought (for me).


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Some Thoughts on the "Reti-English-Chameleon" Opening

Grandpatzer got me thinking with his recent post Reti Opening: Rare Bird? He writes:

I updated my file of personal games, and it's approaching 6000 games (mostly ICC). I did a quick search, and only 6 games had Nf3, c4 and g3 as the first 3 moves for white. I did a search of my 3.4 million game database and it only came up about 12000 maybe 3x as often as it does for me, but still pretty rare.

transformation commented:

i only have 1,000+ out of 3,900 of my internet games with this opening. :)

Part of my comment was:

As to when it's a "Reti" and when it's an "English" well, after say, 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. g3 we still don't know! People like dk (transformation) who play this a lot have subtle and devious minds.

I remember that the late Edmar Mednis wrote a good deal about this in his book Strategic Chess: Mastering the Closed Game, which I recommend as a well-annotated collection of instructive games that do not begin 1. e4. The only problem is that the book mainly takes a sophisticated strategical approach more suited to GM chess than the sturm und drang of chess at my level. There's lots of sophisticated discussion of move orders, wherein 1. c4 can become an English, a Reti, a Queen's Gambit, a Dutch Defense...and 1. Nf3 can become all of those, too! And maybe a King's Indian Attack, or even an Open Sicilian (1. Nf3 c5 2. e4!). Anyone for a Reversed Benoni?

Now, every player needs to figure out how to meet this "complex" in a way he's comfortable with, but my approach is based on "taking what ever White gives" which is generally what Black has to do in any opening. Thus:

Against 1. c4, 1. ...e5! As Mednis explained, this is why a lot of players try to get into the English via 1. Nf3. Don't let 'em! Seize the central squares White didn't, put on the pressure from move 1 and see if Black has a really well worked-out approach. Of course if he's a true "English player" he will, but I think this is the move that puts the most pressure on. Another approach that I've had some success with is 1. c4 e6 and my next Black moves will almost certainly be d5, c5 and Nc6 if allowed, playing a Tarrasch Defense formation whether White goes eventually goes d4 or not. Of course, this is only good if you're comfortable with the Tarrasch as Black.

Against 1. Nf3 I personally play Nf6 and leave almost all options open (except the Dutch Defense) but again, d5-e6 is a universal prescription, if you're not afraid to play the Black side of the Queen's Gambit. After 1. Nf3 Nf6 I'm ready to play a King's Indian formation whether White gets in d4, or not. And if you're a Sicilian player, 1. Nf3 c5 "prevents" 2. d4 (it's harmless, anyway) and just aim everything at controlling the d4 square.

Finally, those (timid or devious?) souls who play 1. g3 or 1. b3 should be firmly met with a center-pawn push, quick development and hopefully a good thrashing on the king-side. Of course, that ideal scenario doesn't always happen but I feel that these moves don't put much pressure on Black, and since we're talking about below master-level games I don't think you're going to run in to a lot of positionally sophisticated players who can turn these moves into an edge without Black doing something seriously wrong.

That's my two cents on meeting the "Flank Openings" and I'd love to hear reader's thougts on how they deal with them.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Summer Doldrums

I haven't written a thing for over two weeks, here or at Eternity Road or anywhere. I've noticed a trend in that regard, with a lot of my favorite chess blogs rather inactive since the hot weather hit.

After I dropped playing late-night endurance chess at the Reno Chess Club I didn't have the same killer drive to write about and study chess, though I have played a couple of interesting games in the Tournament of the LEPers II. Last night I defeated Donnie, the Liquid Egg Product man himself, in a nice slugfest where I put the clamp on as Black against his King's Indian Attack, won a whole rook and then almost gave the game back when he threw the kitchen sink at me and I ran a little short of time.

The games in this tournament are played at G/15 + 30s/move, an excellent time control in my opinion, but I have been making the same kind of mental mistake that I sometimes made in the 30/90 G/60 time controls I was playing at the club--when time starts to get short but not really desperate, for example 10 minutes for six moves in the 30/90, instead of taking a minute or two for each move I rush out move 25 so I won't find myself with mere seconds at the end, and move 25 turns out to be a blunder. Saving a few minutes for after the blunder is not very effective! Last night I had around two minutes, plus the 30-second increment and was a rook up; all I had to do was take around 30 seconds a move and be cautious, but when I didn't see something pretty quickly I moved a knight where he could have just captured it! He missed that one, but hit me with a different combination that won some of the material back.

So that's something I need to work on.

I never wrote about it at the time, but in my first round game against Ivan of Getting to 2000 a couple of weeks ago I also had what was probably a winning position, it was complicated, but then some disturbances happened around the house and I made a bad move and resigned. One of the advantages of playing at a chess club is that you don't have to see your family during the game--or, if they did start talking to you, the rest of the club members would throw them out...ahem. Luckily, the family and I have worked out an arrangement that will strictly apply during all tournament games in the future.

Chess bloggers who have "gotten stuff done" recently include Likesforests, chessloser, Blunderprone, and the aforementioned Ivan (personal reports at the links), who played in the World Open in Philly over the 4th of July weekend. Here they are as listed, from left to right:

(photo credit Ivan)

Apparently all but Ivan had a plus score, and as you can see Likesforests took home a trophy for 5th place in the unrated section.

I wish I had been there too! I've not quit tournament chess, and I will be around for some of these future big events. In the meantime I look at these photos and pine...

(photo credit Likesforests)

I will post games soon. Really. I need to get back to Glenn Wilson's ChessFlash and get it set up! I need to get out my old games and share some of the best (and worst) as promised. I need to link to the excellent Likesforests on the sidebar and clean up the outdated stuff there. I need to get back to studying tactics and master games.

I also need a vacation.

Well, at least I wrote something today, even if it was just a disjointed patchwork of links to other people and had no coherence or theme whatsoever. The first step to chess master is learning how to mate with king and queen v. king. The first step to getting the blog back to something worthwhile is throwing something up on the wall.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Okay, after two consecutive non-chess posts I feel compelled to do something on chess here at my, ummm, CHESS BLOG. If you'd like to read something non-chessy wherein I take on a couple of nattering nabobs of negativism, click this:

"I think both writers of the above wail need Paxil, or perhaps a revolver, a cartridge and some courage."

Oh yes, back to CHESS. Here is a very interesting page on the Logical Chess site with the best games of "readers like you." I think that means us non-masters. Anyway, I was struck by the nice game replayer--I don't know how they did it but it's very clean. Personally, I just signed up to Glenn Wilson's Chess Flash, and someday I'll actually post some games with it. You should try it--or, if you just have a game you'd like to publish, send it to me in .pgn or just drop the moves into the comments and maybe it will give me the motivation to start working with the thing and get this chess blog hot again. Perhaps I'll become the hub for good amateur games and all the cool people will start to hang out here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Stylistic Adjustment

Since I'm not so uptight about chess and my rating anymore, I've been experimenting over at FICS with various openings while playing blitz; yes, blitz, the most pernicious, degrading, scandalous, dangerous form of chess there is.

I used to stick mostly to my tournament opening repertoire, even when playing fast chess. Now that I'm not so focused on improvement, but on play, in the last week or so I've trotted out a lot of stuff like the Danish Gambit, 1. Nc3, 1. f4, and as Black 1. ... Nc3, the Modern/Pirc and so on. I still play my main lines from time to time, as well.

The result has been a gain of 50-60 rating points in blitz. There seems to be more flexibility and daring in my play now. It's fresher.

We'll see how this works in the Tournament of the LEPers (II) at G/15 + 30s, but opponents be warned; anything could happen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back in Business, and Ain't It Grand

Hiatus over.

I played a few blitz games last night on FICS and felt like a rusty nail in an acid bath, won one or two and dropped a bunch. That's okay, I think the break has made me Hunger for chess, and blogging, again.

Chessloser hit Vegas, castled long (0-0-0) in the last three rounds after starting 3-0, and he's feeling a little down about it. As who wouldn't? A natural, healthy reaction. In the comments, I advise a break. We ALL need a break, from time to time. Things go in cycles, including the Sun; it would be really, really HIlarious if it turned out that increasing carbon dioxide levels were the only thing between us and the next Ice Age. (h/t Instapundit)

To everything, there is a season.

I'm playing in the Tournament of the LEPers II starting in a week or so, I feel like I'm having fun again with chess, after swearing off the five-hour grind. It's amazing how rusty I've gotten after just a few weeks with no tactics work, no games and no studying of any kind, but I'm also not all wound up with the wins and losses and rating points. I could lose all the games in the LEPers event and I'll be all right. Amazing.

I've postponed my LSAT, mentioned in the previous post, until October. After a lot of research and practice, I've decided I'm going to spend another 150 hours of prep. Unlike chess, this is a game that seems to work in a roughly linear fashion, time spent studying to final score. Not true when you get to the very right edge of the bell curve, but close enough to make it worthwhile. Maybe I'll get a great score and go to some really stuffy law school back East and become a wealthy shark in a three piece suit--or maybe I'll just stay where I am for the next twenty years and have a great life. Law school, I can take it or leave it, like chess.

I'm very relaxed these days.

I'll get back to posting games soon--in addition to some mildly interesting stuff from the final stage of my five-hour grind career, I've got some older contests that might amuse, and even instruct. I'm going to start using the excellent Glenn Wilson's ChessFlash.

Friday, May 23, 2008


For the next three weeks I'll not be posting at all, as I have undertaken an intense course of study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).

Back after June 16, ready to have some FUN and cut loose, no doubt.

See you then!

Global eBook Middlegame Collaborative


Phaedrus of Chess Vision and dk-transformation of Chess Improvement have announced their

Global eBook Middlegame Collaborative!

The full announcement is here and here:

Phaedrus, and Transformation, have organized themselves as a cooperative effort, to create an eBook generated from the lesser known--but perhaps the most comprehensively useful--of Lazlo Polgar's three books often referred to as Bricks. To do so alone would exhaust most mortals, so we purport to accomplish this by combined and shared efforts upon Polgar's comprehensive book: 'Chess Middlegame, 77 Types in 4,158 Positions'.

Ardent students of systematic chess improvement are invited to join. We only ask for your time, and necessarily of course, confidentiality as to our communications such as email and identities.


If interested, get in touch with these fine gentlemen! I believe this project can only help to improve the chess of those who participate.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My Final Tournament Game (at This Time Control), Plus Some Other Announcements

Last night's game at the Reno Chess Club marked an important turning point in my chess career.

I was originally scheduled to play Eric Shoemaker (aka Green Hornet) in the 7th and final round of the Club Ch. Swiss Qualifier. However, when I was all set up (score sheet even filled out and sitting across from him) the Director asked if I would consider dropping out of the round; several people who didn't have a shot at qualifying had not shown up, and the bye might have to go to Vern Young, possibly affecting his chances. I really wanted to get a game but I could see the logic of it, so I said I'd consider it, especially if someone else would play me a rated game. After a bit more delay they found me an opponent, Hadi Soltani, for a "rated side game." Okay, fine.

Now instead of having White as originally against Shoemaker, I drew Black and we played into a King's Indian as he and I have before, this time a sort of Gligoric Variation. I got a bind on the queenside and played some pretty artistic positional chess, which culminated in my coming out two pawns ahead in a rook ending. He had been ahead on the clock quite a bit, but now of course he started playing slower trying to find chances, and the game dragged on; everyone reading this knows how it can take many moves to make progress in this kind of position (rook and far back g- and h-pawns vs. rook). And the game dragged on; by now we each had 7 or 8 minutes left to sudden death, and due to the late start it was well after midnight, it looked like it would still take many moves to win the position, I had been enjoying the process, mostly, but at some point it occurred to me that "man, I'm still sitting here and I've got to get up and get ready for work in less than 5 and 1/2 hours!" and that just struck me as ridiculous, you know?

And a few minutes later I just hung the effing rook, just moved it to a square where he could take it, there went the game, it was effing embarrassing, there were some other players still there, by now almost all the other games were finished, people were calculating tie breaks for the qualifiers out loud nearby and which kind of says where this game fell in the grand scheme of things, he snatched the rook off with a decisive motion, I resigned and I had a moment of acute embarrassment, a few players had been watching and of course I had been exposed as an idiot, a patzer, a pretender and a fool, a clown, a dolt/dope/dumbkopf, a fish, a guppie who had made a mistake that the average 8-year-old rated 1000 wouldn't make. All the ratings gains I'd painfully made since last summer were now up in smoke, all the tactical books and the chess blogging and the study had produced this.

And then the clouds, so to speak, parted.

Before I walked out of the club I realized that this was the last five-hour game of chess I would play, ever. No more bleary Fridays at work on a few hours sleep after unwinding from the intensities of the Thursday evening death-struggle; no more worries about rating points. Screw rating points, the game was probably a lot more fun and less stressful when no one cared, they just played to win.

AS far as I'm concerned, I'm never playing another game of chess longer than three hours, max (G/90). A lot of clubs (Kenilworth, for example) play all their championship games at this time control. Seems about right for me, and I'm only talking about me here. The Reno Chess Club has a lot of nice people and a lot of good players; apparently there is a long-term tradition and consensus that 30/90, G/60 is what the most people want for rated tournaments, which is what most club nights are devoted to. Unlike some clubs there aren't many quickplays, blitz nights or other types of events. That's cool, but at this point I'm opting out.

What I really like are games that last 1-2 hours, with some increment so there's no sudden death. The first Tournament of the LEPers used 15 +30, fast but fun and most games take about an hour. For blitz I like 2 5, you need never lose on time and a few really quick moves can buy some decent thinking time when needed.

One more thing, on this post a few days ago Francis W. Porretto (Eternity Road) commented:

Robert, are you sure that elevating your rating is that important to you?

I think at 56 I'm a little older than you are, so our positions in life aren't exactly parallel. But maybe this perspective will be worth it to you anyway.

As you move into the second half of your life, you'll find that it's more important to preserve your pleasures than to maximize your achievements.

I teach chess to young folks. I don't get anything for it other than the pleasure of having conveyed a bit of knowledge to someone who wants it. Those kids are delighted to learn, and eager to make use of their knowledge in combat, just as I was when my uncle Karl (an international master in his day) deigned to teach me something about the game.

It took a while, but I learned soon enough that tournament results and USCF ratings are less enduring than the sense of heightened understanding. The results and ratings are ephemeral; the sense of understanding is something you can enjoy forever.

These days, I don't enjoy playing the game nearly as much as I enjoy introducing new players to its mysteries. Not many of them ask to see my tournament results, or ask what my rating was when I stopped playing competitively. They're just happy to have the attention of a "gray head" who has some knowledge to impart.

Whatever you decide to do, stay with it only as long as it makes you happy.

Yeah, I've found these words of wisdom bouncing around inside my thick skull from time to time ever since I read them. Everyone has different wants, needs and goals in an endeavor like chess; for the last two years I've been trying to get back to my "glory days" in the 1800s USCF, I've enjoyed playing and analyzing and blogging, I've especially enjoyed reading about others' chess experiences and triumphs and struggles, I still enjoy all of that, but I'm officially out of the grind-my-way-to-A-player business, I'm gonna quit formal studying with all the weekly goals, timetables and problem sets, I'm gonna play me some chess, especially at FICS, definitely in the next Tournament of the LEPers (YOU, get over there and sign up), and maybe someone wants to play a rated match at the Club at a fairly quick time control eventually, I'm up for it.

I'm gonna keep playing with my three-year-old, he's already learned quite a bit thanks to the Windows built-in chess game that shows all the legal moves, he has a tendency to move his king right up the board but hey, there's still time to get him playing the Catalan...

Chess ain't supposed to be work. It's a game. Chessloser knows this, even when he's at a tournament. I'd forgotten for awhile. If it took a "most embarrassing moment" in chess and the loss of some rating points, so be it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thought Before Tonight's Tournament Game

"(He) was by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo--which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time."

Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

Yeah, that's me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Progress Report, Plan Iteration 2, Week 1

Original post on the new Plan for World Conquest was here.

The results:

1) Two hours of analyzing my own games, getting into the backlog of the last six weeks and posting them here, then once caught up, analyzing the current week's game or an older one I never looked at when it was played.

Done. I posted the first game here and am working on my Round 2 game.

2) One hour looking at two master games (30 minutes each) in openings I play, trying to "guess the move." As little as it is, this at least touches on all phases of the game.

Done. I looked at two games from Emms' The Scandinavian. I'm not telling which ones, however.

3) One hour of tactics study, starting with the 203 positions not grouped by theme (in other words, no clues) in Neishtadt's Test Your Tactical Ability. I'm going to go through them, writing the lines in pencil, not looking at the answers in the back until I've worked through all 203. Besides tactics, this will train patience, perseverance and "backbone." I need all three.

Done. Solved 13 positions.

Overall grade: A.


Frank K. Berry 2008 U.S. Ch. and Other Web Stuff

The 2008 United States Chess Championship(s) (website here) have begun, and I think it's very cool that they (men's and women's) are called the "Frank K. Berry 2008 U.S. Chess Championship(s)" because again this year Mr. Berry put up the simoleons to make this a fairly lucrative event. Given that the USCF has been pretty spotty over the years in managing and organizing this very important tournament it's a good thing that there's a wealthy person who's interested.

Edwin Meyer, the artist formerly known as ookwelbekendalsemc has taken down his blog again, and Liquid Egg Product has a eulogy and...the new secret identity?

Chessloser makes his own pasta, mmmmmm!

Blunderprone makes a movie about the "cult" tempest over at Liz Vicary's. The man is a cinematic genius! Oh, Ms. Vicary also posted this (presumably to make sure we're paying attention):

Wang has a nice long post on how to learn an opening.

Chess Improvement (dk) covers something I haven't seen discussed a lot elsewhere; the coming age of Chinese chess(?)

Dana Mackenzie points out two excellent articles by Andy Hortillosa on the process of choosing a move.

Formerly Pale Rider formerly a couple of other blog names, aka Eric Shoemaker the guy I'm probably playing tomorrow at the Reno Chess Club is now blogging as/at The Green Hornet. He's almost as hard to track as Edwin Meyer, but at least we can find him.

Reassembler: Please stop playing this opening! By the way, not only can the 2. ...Nf6 Centre-Countre transpose into this line that starts out as an Alekhine's defense, it can transpose to a...Main Line of the Nimzo-Indian!

I'll leave the task of finding that move order as an exercise for the reader.

Monday, May 12, 2008

K. Gafni-Pearson 04.03.08 1-0

It's been almost two months since I posted an analyzed game here, and as I noted recently I'm well aware of the value of this practice and made it part of my new weekly plan.

In the first game of the Reno CC Ch. Swiss (Qualifier) I was paired with Kevin Gafni, aka drunknknite, a player who recently passed the Expert rating mark. I felt pretty good about the game, I was ready to give battle. This game was described here in the heat of the aftermath of a tough loss. Here's how it went:

(You can see Kevin's analysis on his linked Google pages--we agree on most of it, but it's the differences that are interesting!)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Last Night's Draw Plus a Bit of FM Non-Silliness

As I usually like to do, I now give impressions from last night's tournament game and will post with analysis later, but not six weeks from now! I noted in A Clear-Eyed Analysis of My Shortcomings that I would be working through the backlog and will keep to my commitment to analyze and post all serious games here; it's good for learning and I especially appreciate it when the commentariat has suggestions and improvements. But I'm going to do them in chronological order.

So, last night in the Reno CC Ch. Swiss I drew with Edwin Simanis (1869) who is a pretty strong player and once touched 2000; he had drunknknite on the ropes in Round 2 but only drew with bishop and knight vs. lone king...anyway, I had White and it went 1. d4 d6 2. e4 g6 and at this point I usually play 3. Nc3, I have some lines against the Pirc/Modern that I enjoy, but this time I went 3. c4 as I had some premonition that he wouldn't be comfortable playing the King's Indian. I was right, he avoided playing Nf6 for awhile and I developed rapidly while he shuffled around on his side of the board a bit, I got a pretty good bind out of the opening. We both castled 0-0, we both pushed the f-pawn two squares, but because of my more aggressive pieces I was able to get an attack going and eventually he gave up a clear Exchange to stop it. There were great complications with a lot of pieces massed and attacking on a lot of open lines, but I couldn't find a clear crush and went into an "almost"ending (three pieces and a rook for me versus his four minors) and he found a shot that won a piece back, leaving him with two pieces for a rook.

Now I was bleary and getting short on time but I'm happy to report that I continued to try my best and managed to simplify to rook vs. bishop and knight with only a- and b-pawns left for each side--and he offered a draw. I only had 15 minutes to play it out versus his 40-plus, and I think it was a bit of a courtesy offer, but I took it!

Now, to tie this in with Wednesday's fun and games in the chess blogosphere...

Interestingly enough, after a fair budding flame war on the post at Elizabeth Vicary's blog, FM Jon Jacobs came back with something of an apology, BDK and I withdrew one or two of our most inflammatory remarks (but without letting him off on the "cult" remark) and things have proceeded quite civilly since. A unique occurrence in Internet history?!

Anyway, after the furor had died down Jacobs wrote this:

Above 1600, though, I've noticed that most players already have a pretty good grasp of the principles and skills they need to perform at a higher level. Above 1800, that's even more true. So I'd say anywhere from 1600 to 2300 or thereabouts, most players would get more "mileage" from striving to understand and control their own state of mind (and emotions – especially emotions) while engaged in competitive play – rather than pursuing any kind of chess study program per se.

This is the long version of what I meant when I coined my soon-to-be-famous slogan: "Fire your coach…Hire a shrink!" I believe that slogan formed the nub of the post I made some months ago on Blunderprone's blog … the same one that another amateur blogger called the best post he'd ever seen.

And this sums up something that I've written about before but was just emphasized again in last night's game; I believe I can make a BIG jump in effective playing strength and rating if I can just play as well late in the game as I do early in the game! I don't need more knowledge or even more skill, and it's not entirely a matter of fatigue either; even in games that don't last a really long time, my calculating and alertness to the opponent's threats dulls appreciably after I've been concentrating hard for a certain number of moves. Part of it is fatigue, but there's something more, I even know it's happening but things start to get a little fuzzy, I start to have a constriction of board vision, and the good positions I get almost every game don't get converted to maximum value. I know nobody's immune from this, but it's clearly my biggest weakness.

I don't know exactly how to train for this, but by god I'm going to find out and root out the problem. Googling now...will be back with results later.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Bit of Fide Master Silliness

Over at Liz Vicary's place, FM Jon Jacobs goes off in the comments to this post:

They and their blogs carry colorful handles like Liquid Egg Product, blunderprone, Wahrheit, and even Man de la Maza.


Less politely, they could be described as a "cult" - the word I used in my first post here. The clincher is, despite the painstaking effort they pour into both the MDLM puzzle "circles" and documenting their progress on their blogs .... few if any of them are actually showing any chess improvement!

Since Jon-Boy obviously doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, I make a comment with a whole paragraph of bold type. I don't need to repeat it here, go ahead and check it out if you like...

Anyhoo, I must say it was all in good fun, I can only hope he'll stop by here and share his response, if he's up to the challenge of explaining what the hell he was talking about.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Clear-Eyed Analysis of My Shortcomings

The time has come for a reality check.

Liquid Egg Product had a thought-provoking post a few days ago, How bad do I want it?:

Right now, I’m 1600-ish, the same as 10 years ago without putting effort into improvement. What would happen if I tried? Does the thought of “maybe there’s an Expert somewhere in here” motivate me enough to work?

More likely, the “I’m sufficiently skilled so most people can’t dismiss me; that’s good enough” win out (again).

This is something to be considered seriously; I'm pretty confident I could just play a tournament game most weeks at the Reno Chess Club, play a few blitz games at FICS when I have the time, and still have a lot of fun with chess while maintaining my rating at approximately its current level. Hell, I have a 1600 USCF floor, so I could go to the club and play gambits and weird, wild openings all the time, move fast and get the game over with in a couple of hours and go home to a good night's rest. As everyone who's tried it knows, to maximize your score in tournament play you've got to be willing to sit and sit and sit, grinding out tiny edges for a win or grimly defending lost positions with chances, you've got to use most or all of your clock time and be willing to play out the full five hours (at my club) if necessary.

Sometimes, it's a lot more like work than playing a game.

Drunknknite makes some great points:

I am REALLY tired of players who will blame a loss on one move or even worse, the opening. Sentences like "Well I blundered and then the game's pretty much over." really mean 'and then I pretty much stopped playing'. "I messed up the opening" means 'He surprised me and I stopped playing chess and watched him beat me'. A won position does not equal a win. No one loses when they deserve to win. Every point is earned. If you are not willing to own up to mistakes then you will never correct them and your development as a player will be severely stunted. Everyone makes mistakes, that's part of the game.

Okay, accept the fact that if you really enjoy playing tournament chess (and I do) then it's a titanic struggle, with yourself and your fatigue and your personal weaknesses as well as with an opponent that would like to (symbolically) chop off your head. I believe I've improved that part of the equation lately, in that I'm trying hard, I'm not being lazy at the board, never saying "The hell with it, let's just get this over with!" after a long, grinding struggle (admit it, you've said this to yourself at least once in your life if you play long games!).

Away from the board, I've fallen down on the job.

For the last two months of 2007 I had a Plan (thanks dk, for the gentle prodding), I was posting weekly on my working of the Plan, then I fell down on the job once I got back to playing in tournaments every week. Besides the sins of omission, there have also been sins of commission; I have gone back to playing occasional blitz sessions at FICS (the horror, the horror). I've been scattershotting around, solving occasional tactical diagrams sitting on the john, playing over the games of my rivals on their blogs and worst of all, for the last six weeks not analyzing and posting each tournament game as promised.

Making a plan and sticking to it has never been one of my strong points, which is too bad since it is probably the most important factor in long-term success; "studies prove" and all that. I've fallen back into old habit-patterns.

So, this is a decision point, right here, right now--do I just go "chess for fun" and play around and enjoy it and not worry too much about improvement? Or do I get back to writing down and posting my plan, staying with it, striving to rise through the ranks despite any and all challenges, setbacks and disappointments?

Ad astra per aspera!

Despite my laziness, my other failings and shortcomings, the weaknesses of the flesh, I'm still up for having written goals and plans, and reporting progress here. Look for an update every Tuesday.

Improvement (to the stars!) is a long (rough) road. There's probably nothing I can do to drastically increase my chances to win my game this Thursday except to get physically prepared, play over a few games and do some tactical exercises just to get in the flow. It's how much better I can get six months, a year, two years out that will pay off the steady, consistent work.

I have 3-5 hours, most weeks, to study and a game at the Reno Chess Club to put it into practice. This 8-10 hours of chess a week is a precious resource, not to be squandered.

After careful consideration, I'm going to (with an average of four hours/week) spend:

1) Two hours of analyzing my own games, getting into the backlog of the last six weeks and posting them here, then once caught up, analyzing the current week's game or an older one I never looked at when it was played.

2) One hour looking at two master games (30 minutes each) in openings I play, trying to "guess the move." As little as it is, this at least touches on all phases of the game.

3) One hour of tactics study, starting with the 203 positions not grouped by theme (in other words, no clues) in Neishtadt's Test Your Tactical Ability. I'm going to go through them, writing the lines in pencil, not looking at the answers in the back until I've worked through all 203. Besides tactics, this will train patience, perseverance and "backbone." I need all three.

I'm also going to use a board and pieces rather than the computer where possible--at this point, I'm still playing my serious games the old fashioned way, and I've rarely studied without the computer recently. Seeing and feeling the pieces can only help when real game time comes. I rarely have a chance to use them at home, but I'm going to devote two lunch hours to study per week, and that is a nice opportunity to find peace and quiet and work with the "real thing."

I've got my score sheets, board and set and books with me today.

Reports here next Tuesday.


Friday, May 02, 2008

King in a Cage, With Correction

GM James Plaskett points out that in a post from last year, A Beautiful Win by GM Plaskett, I had linked to the wrong entry on his very interesting blog.

Because it has a Chess Publisher game embedded it's very difficult to edit the old post, and because the game itself is well worth seeing again, I reprint the post here with the right link where you'll be able to peruse the series of coincidences surrounding the game.

(March 30, 2007)

As mentioned below I recently added GM James Plaskett's Living the Dream: A Coincidence Diary to my links. While his blog is primarily about coincidence and synchronicity, it does have a good deal of chess content, including a beautiful miniature contained within this post:

Hastings Challengers, 1988
White: Lopez
Black: Plaskett

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Qc7 7. Be2 b5 8. f4 Bb7 9. Bf3 Na5 10. Qe2 Nc4 11. 0-0-0

Nxb2! 12. Kxb2 Ba3+! 13. Kxa3 Qxc3+ 14. Nb3 Bc6 15. Bc5 a5 0-1

Every Sicilian player's dream game!

Losing Streak Over (Barely)

A quick report on last night's game in Round 5 of the Reno CC Ch. Swiss: I drew with Chris Harrington, the ChargingKing (though I see he has name on his profile now--it's still a cool handle).

As Black in a Center-Counter, as I like to call it (why the heck should I use Eurospeak? They also call the Ruy Lopez the "Spanish"), I unleashed a speculative gambit after 1. e4 d5 2. exd4 Nf6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bc4 Bg5 5. f3 Bf5 6. Nc3 c6!?; the Shredder database has only two examples. For the pawn I did get what I felt was sufficient compensation, and it was a tense battle right up to the first time control (30/90), when, still with four or five minutes for the last two moves, I turned down a slightly inferior ending and allowed a lightning attack on my king! Bad choice, dude! In turn, however, he missed the killing shot and we went in to a rook ending where he had an extra pawn but I had more active pieces, and I was pleased with the choices I made in this phase that ensured the draw.

After the game I was remembering yesterday's post and its consideration of falsifying our own moves and plans, and it struck me how I'd done a pretty good job of this through most of the game, but as I got more tired and a little rushed there was a breakdown. Not like that hasn't happened before, but having just posted about it it occurred to me that not only do I need to train in calculation, vision, etc., I need to train these things to stay at a high level during the more stressful and/or later parts of the game when I'm excited, fatigued and under stress.

I do have a few ideas which I'll post soon. Meanwhile, whatever the circumstances, it was a pleasure to go home with something other than a zero in the score table.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

While I Was Out

Occasional breaks from chess and blogging have a refreshing effect; if you're open to it, you can sometimes see things "with new eyes," the way you see a place you've never been when you arrive there for the very first time. If you work at it and pay attention, you can partially attain this "refreshment" without actually going anywhere, by actively remembering that first time, the way it looked then, the feelings you had, the kinesthetics and the smells and the sounds.

I've read and digested a good number of fine posts in the last few days, and combined with my vacation and a week without playing (a full-point bye in the Reno CC Ch. Swiss) I have some new insights about what I'd like to do, what I need to do, and what I'm actually going to do to learn, grow, improve and have fun in chess.

Originally I planned to put a whole bunch of stuff into one megapost, but after hacking away at that it seemed to me much better to break up this Epic of Our Times into more manageable bites. So first, let have a look some recent work by the chess blogosphere's resident neuroscientist.

Blue Devil Knight, during his extended retirement farewell tour, unleashes some of his best-ever posts, a real feat considering that he has one of the best-ever chess blogs. Check out:

Part the Last (8) of his book reviews.

Chess memorization and seed planting--let the neurons do their job!

Two academic papers of great interest to chess players--as far as learning 10,000 pictures, and why it might be much more difficult to learn 10,000 chess positions, well that's my next post. Perhaps most directly related to our favorite subject (winning more!), Chess Masters' Hypothesis Testing; if you've never heard of "confirmation bias" you really need to get out more often.

I thought I'd posted about this somewhere previously, but for the life of me I can't find it right now; anyway, the important point is that stronger players usually make the successful effort to "falsify" their own plans, finding the opponent's best responses, while weaker players see a lot of variations that are good for themselves, often missing good moves for "the other guy." While this isn't a brand-new insight that's never been noted before in the history of chess, it is one of the main reasons for the differences in strength between players, and it's not exactly an ability to calculate better or to "find" winning combinations, it's in a different category; it's what we mean when we say we don't "see" a one-mover that loses a piece, in a certain way it might be said that this is the basis for almost all blunders, this failure to seek and find the opponent's best reply to the move we want to play.

So if it's that important, how do we go about working on it? It occurs to me that first of all, solving "White to move and win" positions, where we know a crusher is there, might almost be counterproductive in this regard! We're given that Black has no good defense, so all we have to look for is the "shot." As much as I enjoy, for example, Chess Tempo, this is the only kind of problem provided there, and I'm wondering if it's not doing me that much good to find all those wins...

Seems to me that what's needed here are exercises of the type, "White has three plausible moves, Nb5, Bb3 and Qxd4. Find Black's best response to each." I don't know if I've ever seen a set of exercises in precisely this form, though GMs Hort and Jansa had a book out many years ago called The Best Move that might have been close. Currently Ray Cheng's Practical Chess Exercises has gotten a lot of great reviews, and though I don't own it (yet) it might suit the bill as well as anything out there.

Otherwise, we're just going to have to do it ourselves, Dear Readers, playing through games, whether our own or masters', and looking at everything with a critical and "falsifying" eye. Almost all of us, even masters, do have this weakness to some degree, always on the lookout for what we can do to the opponent; it seems we'd be better off spending a lot more time and effort finding out what the opponent can do to us!