Thursday, January 31, 2008

Links o' the Day

In the chess blog kingdom, I finally get around to adding Takchess and Lousy@Chess, two blogs that thoroughly deserve your visit.

In the "Fine Non-chess" list, added Eternity Road, where I'm a (fortunate) co-contributor, and High Heels, where Fetiche posts her uniquely entertaining take on high-heeled footwear, and life, when she's not busy with business and playing brilliant chess.

My chess blog list is getting a bit unwieldy, and soon I'm going to have to delete those who haven't posted in 100 days or so. We're all busy with "Real Life" but throw your readers a bone every month or two, people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

H. Soltani-R. Pearson 01.27.08 1-0

Here is the game I played and described on Sunday. As sometimes happens, I'm having trouble in Chess Publisher getting the annotations to work, so I'll post them separately above the game replayer. Sorry for the inconvenience.

To answer a few points raised by by wonderful commenters:

Tanc and LEP: Really, truly, I'm not afraid of my dentist, or dentists in general. I had a perfect 3-0 record against him going into the game and when I began seeing him as my dentist he did a super job. Whether there was a subconscious fear for next time if I won yet again--well, by definition I wouldn't know about it. I must say, though, he did have one home field advantage; his parrot. He had this big African Gray that barked like a dog, talked trash and made various sounds from the other room during the game. Now, I figured that he was distracted just as much as I, but after further consideration I suppose that he's so used to the cacophony that he just tuned it out!

Fetiche: I do have some regrets about not sticking to my beloved King's Indian Defense for this game, having won twice with against this opponent. I've been working on the Tarrasch for awhile as an alternate and decided to try it out, but as you can see I started making stuff up on move 5; so I don't consider it that much of a success. I'm not sure whether to keep it as an occasional variant for selected opponents or stick to one least any future foe who reads this will have a little doubt.

Here are the comments, then the game:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. dxc5 {One can't study every variation--and I hadn't spent much time on this one} Bxc5 {The main line is d5, and I knew that, but I hadn't looked at it formally at all. I decided to sacrifice a pawn to win some time for development and, hopefully, attack} 6. Qxd5 Qb6 7. e3 {I think this is best} Be6 {Nf6 is more flexible} 8. Qg5 Ne7 {I seriously considered Kf8, but became strangely attracted to sacrificing more pawns--Black does gain a lot of time, but is it full compensation?} 9. Qxg7 Rg8 10. Qxh7 Nc6 {Black has shed three pawns, and probably has compensation for two; but White will have to defend well to avoid the many shoals} 11. Qc2 {11. a3 0-0-0 12. b4 might be more accurate, now the queen can be harassed some more} 0-0-0 12. Bd2 Nb4 13. Qc1 Rxd2? {Too much of a good thing! Nd3+ 14. Bxd3 Rxd3 keeps some reasonable compensation. I guess I was "playing the role" of Herr Anderssen circa 1851} 14. Qxd2 Rd8 15. Qc1 Kb8 {Probably as good as anything, and rather artistic--but objectively Black doesn't have enough for his big material investment} 16. a3! Nd3+ 17. Bxd3 Rxd3 18. Nge2 Nf5 {The only hope is to bring in every piece} 19. b4? {19. Na4! Qa5 20. b4 Qxa4 21. Qxc5 should be winning} Bxe3! {Gives a puncher's chance, anyway} 20. fxe3 Nxe3 21. Nf4 Rd6 22. Ra2?? {Most other moves maintain a winning position!} Bxa2 23. Ke2 {probably best} Bc4+? {Ng4! 25. Qg1 Qc6 and Black should win} 24. Kf3 Nf5 25. Re1 Nh4+ 26. Kg3 {and logical now is Nf5+ with a probable repetition. After the game my opponent said he expected that. Instead...} Qf2+?? {Perfect chess blindness. I had planned it the previous move; for some reason I thought this square was covered.} 27. Kxf2 1-0

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Losing to My Dentist

So I finally got the chance to play Hadi Soltani (my dentist, as referenced here). He had to postpone our game a week and a half ago so I agreed to play him at his home this afternoon. It was strange days indeed...

On the Black side of a QGD Tarrasch Defense I started sacrificing material on move 5, one two three pawns, then an Exchange; by move 13 it was just crazy, completely out of control. Not my usual style at all, but I had a big attack for some big sacrifices. He kept finding moves that held on and by move 20 the investment was a whole rook, but he had one knight developed and I had a whole army. Finally the pressure got to him and he hung a rook, leaving me one pawn down still with an attack and then...I hung my frickin' queen! Sheeeeeesh, just moved it where he could take it, it was a killer shot except for that one small detail.

I haven't done much of this bad blundering lately, but at least the rest of the game was a real slugfest--I have no idea what was sound and what wasn't, this game needs a lot of analysis, I'll post ASAP.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Instead of doing several brief, disconnected posts here are my latest thoughts in one neat package:

I was pleased that several readers commented with their disagreements regarding my list of the 10 greatest chess players of all time. Some follow-up comments from me--the rankings are subjective, of course, so it's my personal idiosyncratic list; but for background, R. Fischer is at #4 only because of the brevity of his international career. If he had played on at that level for another 10-15 years he would be neck-and-neck with Kasparov for #1. One of the great difficulties of comparing players of different eras is that they play so many more tournaments with just top players these days, compared to less frequent "mixed" tournaments prior to the 1980s. Steinitz and Lasker went through long stretches with no tournament play at all. Morphy was unique in both the brilliance and brevity of his career, so it is very difficult to compare him with others. Kramnik's defeat of Kasparov in a match was a big reason he made it, and Anand has consistently performed at the very top for about 20 years, so that was my reasoning for making them #9 and 10. But all this is subject to enjoyable debate. It was difficult not to find a place for Smyslov, Korchnoi, Steinitz and Morphy, but there could only be 10 in the top 10, after all...

I had a nice bump in traffic when Mark Weeks over at listed me in his 2007 Chess Blog Awards and it was also picked up by Susan Polgar's Chess Blog. I'm very pleased that Mr. Weeks found 27 of my 2007 posts to be worthy of (any) attention. Thanks!

Mark also has a post at Chess for All Ages beginning a series comparing Fischer's (My 60 Memorable Games) and Kasparov's (My Great Predecessors IV) comments on 18 games from the former book. I look forward to seeing these, since differences of opinion make for the most interesting annotations.

I was also very pleasantly surprised when Francis W. Porretto published my game against Vern Young (my post here) on his excellent (and heavyweight) blog Eternity Road, which is dedicated to philosophy, politics, religion, the survival of Western Civilization and, occasionally, chess. Fran is an enthusiast (and mentor to Fetiche, [a game of hers is here]) and in general a Renaissance man, and I thank him for taking the time to publish and annotate the game.

Chessloser speculates that vampires are awesome at chess. I find his reasoning totally convincing.

Finally, obligatory chess-related photograph:

Make of it what you will and have a great night.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Controversy Corner

I'll be gone on another trip through Monday, not sure if I'll have a chance to blog any, so here's something that I hope will spur some controversy and commentary over the weekend; I had recently linked back to an old post on The Greatest, wherein I identified my choices for the greatest chess players ever, in certain categories.

Now, for your edification and especially your criticism, my ordered list of The Top 10 Chess Players of All Time, using the following criteria: 1) Their accomplishments as players, that is, results in tournaments and matches; 2) Relative dominance over their contemporaries for at least a few years; 3) Longevity at the top; 4) Advancement of the art of chess through the example of their play. That these criteria are based partly on subjective judgment makes it all the more fun to debate, of course. How to compare different eras? Subjective!

Other notes--I considered leaving off players who are still active, but a couple deserve to be on here just for what they've done so far, so they might move up over the coming years. I also considered a brief paragraph of justification for the inclusion of and order of the players, but it's more fun if you have to speculate about my reasons and provide your own when telling me how full of it I am. So, here is the bare list:

1. Kasparov
2. Capablanca
3. Karpov
4. Fischer
5. Alekhine
6. Botvinnik
7. Lasker
8. Tal
9. Kramnik
10. Anand

Please share your differences in the comments!

(ADDENDUM: I understand Fischer has passed away, the news is all over the MSM and chess blogosphere; I'm saddened that he's dead, of course, and also that much of his titanic talent and intellect seemingly went to waste over the last three decades).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

R. Pearson-V. Young 01.10.08 1-0

Here's the game I played and gave my impressions of last week. It's actually better than I thought--a couple of weak moves in the middle and good ones after that. On the other hand, I can't find any better moves for my opponent until move 21, but after that it's all downhill. I give myself an "A" for effort!

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Brief Excuse for My Lameosity, Plus Points to Ponder from Polly and Wang

In the comments to my last, Liquid Egg Product rightly asks for the promised game post but I must admit I didn't bring it with me today and also, I haven't got it in the kind of shape I require to make it's embarrassing to post an annotated game and have someone comment something like "Nice game, but if he plays 14. . h6 you're absolutely, completely, totally busted!" and not have said that yourself. Anyway, I don't think it will be posted until Wednesday.

I did have enough time to note that it was a pretty lucky win, on the order of some game I read about from like 1907 where the guy got the brilliancy prize for his "extraordinary deep pawn sacrifice" and after he'd safely pocketed the gold coins he 'fessed up that he'd outright blundered a pawn and then attacked his ass off in pure desperation. I already noted that this was the case here, but now that I looked at the game a little, even more so! Well, it was one of those games where I made all of my mistakes at the beginning and he made his at the end, and we all know which of those is better!

Meanwhile, a couple of thought-provoking posts that I wanted to direct your attention to:

Wang on Searching for the truth (be the next you, part 1, chapter 2). Great exploration of the questions of: What is chess, and why do we play it?

What I’m saying is that we should be personalizing our chess experience and not try to monkey what someone else has done before. It is good to gain and from what someone else has done before you, but that should be the beginning of your journey of self discovery, not the ending.

Absolutely right on, beautifully said! I've noted before here on this blog that various players have used seemingly radically different methods to achieve big ratings gains as adults, and that tells me that no one has "The Answer" about training; you really do have to work it out for yourself. A really good trainer might assist, but there aren't many of those available (and affordable).

Do what feels right to you, check the results, and adjust your approach accordingly. Herein lie the seeds of all wisdom, Grasshopper.

Polly of Castling Queen Side has a very interesting post on the psychology of the draw offer:

I think when a player changes his goal from trying to beat his higher rated opponent, to simply drawing the opponent his play changes. Turning down the draw seems to unsettle the player.

In my own career I haven't offered very many draws, usually only when the position is sterile, but I certainly turned down quite a few when I was younger and went on to lose. I now accept draws as a normal part of the game, and also firmly believe nowadays that a draw is always better than a loss, though how I could ever have thought otherwise is a mystery to me...

As far as the psychological component I note that the last couple of times I turned down draw offers, in this game from the Western States Open and last week, the opponent did play some weak moves pretty soon afterward. I think draw offers from a position of hope (I sure hope he takes it!) are a bad idea, because when turned down they leave the offerer in a bad position psychologically; "Drats, my easy draw is not coming and now I have to tough it out!"

There are lots of reasons that a draw may the logical result of a game of chess, but the fact that you're hoping for one isn't among them!

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Did It!

As I noted yesterday I figured last night's first round (for me) of the Reno CC Class B Ch. would be a big challenge, given the circumstances. I'm happy to report that I met the challenge, and WON!

Here's how it went down; I was playing Vern Young and had never met him over the board, he's rated about 100 points higher than me, and by yesterday afternoon I was undergoing biological warfare, that is I had a cold so heavy that my frickin' teeth hurt. But this is a round robin and the show must go on, unless perhaps one is hospitalized.

So I go home after work and pop a few ibuprofen one hour before game time--I'd avoided them all day so that the effect would be maximized for the game. I eat a nice hot chicken pot pie and by the time I get there I feel somewhat better, still not good, but it was the contrast I was going for...

Anyway, the game starts, he meets my 1. d4 with f5, the Dutch, I meet it with pretty standard stuff, just playing fairly quickly to conserve energy. I must say I'm not seeing a lot, my expectations are fairly low, I'm just trying to do my best under the circumstances. Early in the middlegame I do make some inaccurate moves, and he plays a combination that wins Rook for Bishop--I see it one move too late. Here's the funny thing, though; as sometimes happens, the white-square Bishop I have left is unopposed by the one he had to give up to win the Exchange, and it soon becomes a monster, planted on e6 basically cutting his position in half, and a few moves later he offers back the Exchange and simultaneously offers a draw.

I think hard as I ponder the position--a draw would be good tournament tactics under the circumstances, I'd love to pack up and go home early with a draw in the score table...and yet, and yet, I look at the position after I regain the Exchange and realize I'm much better, his Kingside is weak and my pieces get into play before his, so I suck it up and make the move. I'm now feeling like I'm thinking a lot clearer than earlier, too! A few moves later he's completely tied up, and I get to play the "Excelsior" theme; d6, d7, d8 on consecutive moves, and he could lose a Bishop and stop it but he chooses to let it Queen, I'm a Queen up and shortly he's mated in two. Black resigned.

Win or lose, I resolved to be happy with having the courage of my convictions, and it worked out with a win.

One more thing--this guy is one of those players who tends to make faces and noises during the game; sighs, a snort when I blundered, he took off his hat a few times and held it up above his head while thinking then "accidentally' dropped it. All of this was on his time, so I couldn't care less--I'm from the school of don't give the opponent any hints as to what you're thinking. As I say, he didn't do it on my time so no biggie. We had a brief postmortem that was a little strange, when he said "I was watching your eyes and you were just playing 'move to move' for part of the game!" Probably true, but he didn't explain why he had gotten squashed at the end...anyway, I just let him conduct the postmortem for my benefit.

Next week I'm playing my dentist, Hadi Soltani--I have a good record against him but he's pumped up his rating quite a bit in the last year, swept Class C with a perfect score in 2007. I'll be on the alert, and feeling better I'm sure. I'm just soooo happy to be back in the tournament hall!

I'll post this game sometime in the next few days--it's not a masterpiece for sure, but the result was good. By the way, thanks much to Rocky Rook and Happyhippo for the encouraging words yesterday!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Good Test

So I'll be playing my first tournament game tonight in the Reno Chess Club Class B Ch. after six weeks of inactivity (not counting some training). I was on vacation for most of the last week, haven't studied much for several days, and have some kind of nasty virus--this is NOT a set of excuses, I'm going to look at tonight as an opportunity to show mental toughness! I'm playing someone I've never met over the board, Vern Young (1762) and with just four rounds this Class Ch. is not very long, so a great effort is needed now.

I'm going in with a resolve to just do my best and I'll be happy if I can pull that off, whatever the result of the game. Probably, this attitude is more conducive to playing well than going in saying "I've got to win!"

This post is my effort at a little psyching up. I'll let you know tomorrow how it all went down.

(BTW, Soapstone, drunknite and Eric Shoemaker have all posted on their first round games. I had the bye).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Suzyq Where Are You?

Someone who signed themselves "suzyq" (looks like a brand new Blogger account) commented yesterday on my post of last March looking for information on Ron Thacker, my one-time roommate who played Bobby Fischer in the 1957 U.S. Junior Ch. (see the whole fascinating saga here).

I read your article and was amazed. Ron has been a friend of mine since around 84. I believe I have his address and phone number, (he was still in Vegas)if he is still living. He has a serious heart condition which has put him on a disability. Yes, he was a very smart guy. I didn't realize it for a long time. I often didn't believe things he told me until years passed and they were proven to be true. I think I actually met you years ago in Reno, also. Very interesting. I doubt he copied any moves from anyone. He is truly an original.

Thanks very much, suzyq, for the info--if you read this, can you send me the contact info that you mention? It would make a very satisfactory conclusion to my search if I could either track him down, or even close the loop by verifying that he's passed on.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Blogservations on Trainers and Training

Via His Best Friend (who hasn't posted since Sep. 4 without explanation--we miss you, man!) I saw this column by NYC newspaper guy and GM Andy Soltis.

CHESS teachers are masters of the maxim. For everyone trying to play better, they offer age-old bits of wisdom. Among them:

"To improve, you first must study the endgame. It's the most important part of the game."

"The key to the middlegame is learning the art of long-range planning and strategy."

"To play the opening well is a matter of 100 percent understanding and zero percent memorization. Never memorize."

The trouble with these pious pronouncements is none are true.

Why? First, virtually the only games that are decided by endgame skill are those played by masters.

On the rare occasions when 1200-rated players reach the ending, one of them is usually a rook ahead. Learning the differences between the Lucena and Philidor positions in rook endgames, for example, is of little value.

Second, most games played below the 1800 level are won and lost by tactics, not strategy or planning. Leaning more about tactical patterns is of much greater benefit to the student.

And depending on which opening you want to play, memorization can be very valuable. Masters memorize all the time - then tell you not to do it.

There's a lot of food for thought here, but eating this thoughtful food served to remind me that I noted a long time back that there have been individuals like Rolf Wetzell and Michael de la Maza who have used quite different methods to achieve big ratings jumps, as adults, in relatively short amounts of time. Soltis makes some good points, but saying that chess teachers are "Masters of Deceit" (a riff on this book?) is just hyperbole to get the attention of the jaded NYC newspaper consumer.

Here's my bottom line; a good chess coach/trainer must first understand the goals and objectives of each individual student in chess, must then design a specific training program to meet these individual goals, must understand the student's learning style, character, strengths and weaknesses, and must then follow up with encouragement and/or kicks to the arse as appropriate to move the student in the right direction.

Some 1800-rated players, for example, do need to memorize some opening sequences, while some need to get off openings completely for awhile and study attacking chess; others in the same rating range will have other weaknesses. The proven method of improvement is to improve your weak points first, as in a complex system like chess you can only steer the game into your strengths in a limited portion of the games played. If you only like to attack, the opponent will seek to trade to an endgame, and if you're a "positional" player, sure as hell most of the time the other guy will try to be "tactical."

In sum, there is no magic bullet, no formula, no cookie-cutter approach that stamps out good chess players!

I don't have a trainer, but I'm sure having a good one would be of assistance in moving up the ratings ladder; however, reviewing the requirements to be good in the field make it certain that there aren't that many really good ones, and that I'll just have to keep doing it on my own. Wetzell and de la Maza showed that self-training can still pay big dividends, so I'm going to soldier on.