Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Some Thoughts on Blitz

Wormwood at the rarely updated but always thoughtful Burning Castles gets to 1506 on ICC at 5-minute Blitz and his observations on raising the rating at blitz chess are well worth waiting for:

F i n a l l y ! It's been over two years since I first crossed 1400 on ICC 5-minute, and even though the effort has been sporadic at best, it still took more than enough time. I've had these spells of blitz in which I decide to work on it properly, but they've seldom lasted for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Then 3-8 months of hiatus, and back on it. -It's always been hard to keep myself motivated to train blitz more, as slow chess has always gone so much better for me. Obviously you always much rather do things you're good at. Hopefully that'll change for the better now after reaching a basic level of not dropping everything in every game, so my strategic/positional strengths should also begin affecting the games. Still much to do on the basic technique though, and I'll also no doubt dive back under 1500 soon enough. Gotta just keep hammering.


Notice that he speaks of "working on it properly" and "training blitz," showing his approach is specific. It gets even more interesting:

So what worked and what didn't?

Well, for one, I must say that tactics never did anything for my blitz, even though it's always advertised as the holy grail of fast chess. It has benefited me hugely on correspondence chess and the ability of solving tactical puzzles, but my blitz never improved on bit before I begun playing blitz heavily. Although obviously you have to have some basic proficiency in tactics, you can't just expect to survive in blitz if you never drilled tactics. But it isn't the bottleneck, at least on the low levels.


Amazing! I think this is exactly opposite of what we would expect. And maybe other people have had different experiences. But Wormwood reports in a precise, rational manner that leads me to think he is giving us the straight dope. Now for the BIG surprise:

Slow games haven't had much effect either. It's the area I've always used most time since the beginning, analyzing positions for hours every day. The outcome has been that I'm great at seeing what I did wrong afterwards, but that's just too little too late. The ability to analyze slow games is just too, well, slow. The revelations must come instantly, without thinking, or otherwise you lose on time. -Perhaps the slow games will some day reach a critical number, so I'll have seen all the basic situations so many times that playing them correctly becomes instinctive, but after 4 years it still takes conscious thinking time. People who've played for decades are probably in a very different situation regarding all this.

That pretty much leaves openings. The unappreciated love of beginning players, on which the experienced players always tell you not to waste study time. -And in slow chess that's actually true. But in blitz... I don't think so anymore.

During the past year that I've finally focused on my openings properly, it's become obvious that my opening knowledge has been abysmal. The shallowness and uncertainty on even the things I thought I knew has been simply enormous. As the cliché goes, I'm only beginning to understand the extent of my ignorance. I now study openings every day, and it's paying dividends especially in blitz. I'm actually outplaying my opponents on book knowledge, and to top that I'm even understanding why their non-book moves are inferior. Of course that still happens mostly in the mainlines, and quite early at that, but it's a promising start. I'll continue on that vein and see where it'll get me.


So what's my take on all of this? My own highest blitz rating was 1442 on FICS in 2007 (which I assume to be roughly equivalent on ICC, though if you, the reader, have a different opinion I'd like to hear it). Right now I'm at 1316, and I have been as low as 1250 and as high as 1406 in the last few months. Part of the roller coaster for me is that I often play only late at night, when all of life's other tasks are done, and that's certainly not conducive to best play. But one takes what one can get.

I play quite a bit of 3 0 and the factors I've found at that speed that really help are 1) playing faster than I think I should, and; 2) something related to Wormwood's experience, playing openings I know, playing instantly while in my "book," and once in the middle game, doing what I call "watching the opponent's pieces," that is, keeping his stuff in my visual field between moves and not staring at my own men and thinking about what I want to do to him.

As for speed of play, Rolf Wetzell, whose book Chess Master at Any Age I've written about a number of times (have I actually followed his program? No, but that's another story...) had some very interesting thoughts on how fast one should play at various time controls. In sudden death, whether G/3 or G/120, he made the excellent point that one needs to have time to execute mate! He notes that many sudden death time-control games are played to mate or until someone's flag falls, thus you should plan on playing 60, 80 or even 100 moves in one of these games. I've made it my goal to get to move 60 before losing on time (or, hopefully winning on time or mating the opponent!) and this seems reasonable at 3/0, averaging 3 seconds per move. I can't play much faster and not throw stuff away left and right.

I also play 2/5 sometimes (5 seconds added per move made) and this seems to me to be almost a completely different game! With a 5-second increment I feel like I can grind out winning endings and there's often the chance to make a few quick moves and build some time for calculating how to finish a game off more precisely. Probably I should only play this time control, as I find it much less stressful, and conducive to pretty decent chess (sometimes). But always there is the Siren Song, the call of the adrenaline rush of 3 0...

I'm coming around to the view that blitz is an entirely legitimate field for experimentation in techniques for raising one's rating. There are some similarities with just "getting stronger at chess" in general, but based on Wromwood's report and my own experiences there seem to be significant differences, as well.

I would be very interersted in hearing in the comments any thoughts and/or experiences of readers on this subject of raising one's blitz rating.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Juneau Chess Players

This is what our little chess club here in Juneau, Alaska looks like, in the very interesting, glass-walled "fish bowl" room of the Public Library:

That's the cruise ship Amsterdam right out the window! And just opening his computer:

President Brian Bezenek. The guy who has kept the club going for some time. Thanks Brian!

Tom Rozek (left) and Russ McDowell, two of the regulars. These were taken two weeks ago, but last week several more people came by. This club is blowing up, dude!

I'm the reporter, so there's no picture of me. Reporters are supposed to stay out of the story. I'm old fashioned that way. I will report that last week Russ beat me three time running. That's only fair to note.

(Cross-posted at Juneau Chess Club)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Second Chess(Life)

Colonel Crockett of the very fine Chessvine points out that there's a social media site called Secondchess. Why have I never heard of it before? The Colonel sez:

SO ... what am I advocating?

A massive move toward that site! We need to not only keep it alive but make it thrive. It could rival other social media if people knew it existed. I'm asking people to get the word out. Start using it yourself, tell all your friends, post a link on facebook or other Social Media sites, offer prizes to club members who join the site. Whatever you have to do or are capable of doing! In order for chess to survive it must make this leap toward Social Media.

I signed up, and I encourage YOU to sign up and post a link on your blog. Also, I'm now on facebook. I have barely begun to explore the potential there for chess networking, but sheesh, I do have to make a living, raise a kid and actually play chess occasionally.

In other developments, Col. C also tries to somehow one-up my hottest chess photo of all time (see here) with his Cutest Chess Pic EVER. Hey, that's just some traffic bait! Meanwhile, Nether Letter Log offers up some candidates too, but the post title "Classic Chess Books" may not serve the traffic bait funtion all that well, sir!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Memorable Game 3: Strange Brew, I Beat a Master, A Shocking Discovery, etc. RLP - B. Davis 01.07.87 1-0

The only time I ever beat a USCF Master in a tournament game was strange brew indeed; I had been playing well in the previous weeks and was really looking forward to the game, but my opponent, Bill Davis, a 20-something guy who had passed 2200 a few months earlier, looked kind of distraught, or perhaps had been drinking or something...anyway, he didn't look happy to be there.

I had been studying the heck out of the Exchange Variation of the Queen's Gambit around this time, and his 7. ...b6 was a big surprise. It was a move that in similar situations had led to many brilliant victories by Pillsbury and Marshall back around the turn of the (20th) century. I knew it couldn't be good, so I buckled down and calculated the game line to the win of a pawn; except I guess he didn't want to lose that pawn...and allowed a mate in one. I was so shocked and even dismayed that I got up from the board instead of playing the mate, took a turn around the room to calm my nerves and when I came back he was gone, the clock stopped. I guess I was subconsciously giving him a chance to resign instead of getting mated inside of 10 moves, and he did.

I went on to defeat two USCF Experts (2000+) in the following months but this remains my only defeat of a Master. I've never felt any deep satisfaction with it, naturally. I think I need to go and get another...

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Choice Links

20 Undiscovered Island Gems - Not any more...

Cameron Diaz Wants a Bigger Butt - Yeah, sure...okay, can't resist; here is a further quote: "The planet needs a publicist. It's the planet, you know what I mean? She should be a star." No babe, the Sun is a star, the Earth is a planet, and not even a ----ing Hollywood publicist can change that little factoid.

The Other McCain (R. S., that is), explains How to Get a Million Hits on Your Blog in Less Than a Year. Kids, linkage is one key; another is Rule 5, that is, pictures of pretty girls. How important is this? Awhile back I noted that my link to the hottest chess photo of all time had already brought in over 12,000 visitors, and I didn't even show the hottie, just linked. Obviously I've been remiss in using these invaluable tips from the invaluable R. S. McCain, so here's a picture of...Cameron Diaz, of course.

Totally SFW, totally Rated G. I see no butt problems requiring surgery. We will see if a big traffic spike comes from this.

For a more, mmm, intellectual focus, try Kenneth Anderson's Law of War and Just War Theory Blog.

I think this is intellectual, and it's really, really, funny. The Conservatives Who Say F*ck. Warning: Strong Language. I hope you deduced that from the blog's title.

The author of Nether Letter Log, Aaron DeWesse, has seen the fnords. Have you? Also, Hot Sauce reviews! Also chess! Also, he signed up as a Follower of this blog. Have you?

My old friendly opponent Christpher Harrington closed his blog A King's Quest (still on sidebar--how lame am I at blog maintenance?) but has now begun the fine Humanity and Chess.

Choice no link: IM Mark Ginsburg hammers Dana Mackenzie for his horrible, terrible, fattening opening choices that might "get you killed as White" or whatever, just calls him "Dana M." without even linking to his blog. For this fairly serious violation of blogging convention and courtesy, I don't link to Ginsburg here. Now the cosmic scales are in balance. Or whatever.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Memorable Game 2: RLP - B. Zavodnik 07.04.86 1-0

The 1986 Pacific Southwest Open was one of my better tournaments, 3.5 - 1.5 and overall some decent quality games for my then-1678 rating. What I remember is that while my chess moves were pretty good, my chess gumption was excellent (if you have Rowson's Chess for Zebras there's a whole gumption chapter). I was willing to just sit there and play my best, as long as it took, and I seemed to be especially into the games and the tournament.

If I recall correctly this was one of those tournaments with an Open and an Under-1800 section. In Round 1 I defeated an unrated guy, and in Round 2 came up against Brian Zavodnik, a young guy near 1800 (I'm thinking teenager) who by 1991 was a USCF Master.

As you'll see, after 10 moves as White I already had a really bad position, but I still remember how I flashed on how Keres or Lasker or one of those guys would have handled it; Maximum Resistance! So I buckled down and after some inaccuracies by my opponent got back to pretty even, then blundered the Exchange. But for once I just played the position, with little or no thought about where we'd come from. And behold, he made some second-best moves, then apparently had a vision of a winning king-and-pawn ending that's...lost for Black.

Of course, despite all the gumption in the world, I could well have lost anyway. But overall, a very Memorable Game.

I think I've spent more time analyzing this one over the last few weeks than I've ever spent on any one game in my whole career, maybe six hours in total. So I hope the analysis is good. I certainly found plenty of mistakes by both players!

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Juneau Chess Club Blog

I have put up a new Juneau Chess Club blog. It's just bare bones right now, but I'll be doing upgrades, links, etc. Hopefully my fellow JCC members will want to blog there. It would be great if someday it could rival Streatham and Brixton, but that's an awfully high bar...

Anyway, go ring up the Site Meter, it's currently at 1.