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!