Sunday, December 25, 2011

Winter is Not For Wimps

Just for fun, here is what the sun looks like from near my house on the Winter Solstice, in Alaska near 58 degrees North Latitude. Becaue of that mountain we get two "sundowns!" Since it's also cloudy much of the time, we have to do something to keep our spirits up. Thank goodness for chess!

Monday, December 19, 2011

January Chess Blogging Carnival - Best of!

Blue Devil Knight is now in the process of passing the torch to me to run the Chess Blogging Carnival. I will soon post the information needed to submit material. The deadline will be January 15th, instead of the 1st.

I plan on something a bit different for this Carnival. I invite everyone to submit what you think are your best posts EVAH, the best posts you've ever seen on other blogs, and especially your best games. So start looking for the "best of."

More to come...

Monday, December 05, 2011

December Chess Blogging Carnival is UP!

Blue Devil Knight has kept this going for some time, and now passes the torch to is his last Carnival.

I don't know how the heck I got four posts in there because I believed I submitted only three. Sorry to be a Space Hog!

I have some ideas for the Carnival and will post about the future soon. I am considering doing a "Greatest Hits" Carnival, for one thing. In the meantime, THANK YOU to BDK of Chess Confessions for his work!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More Chess and Brain Stuff, Plus BLITZ HERESY!

Regular reader(s) will have noticed that I'm interested in relating discoveries about the brain and consciousness to chess. For the latest, see Chess Stories in Our Heads and Brain Folds and Memory.

An excerpt from a book by neuroscientist David Eagleman, Your Brain Knows a Lot More Than You Realize is also relevant to this interest of mine (if you're intrigued, the book is Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain). Eagleman makes an argument  many of us have heard of, but we could use reminding:

The concept of implicit memory has a rich, if little-known, tradition. By the early 1600s, René Descartes had already begun to suspect that although experience with the world is stored in memory, not all memory is accessible. The concept was rekindled in the late 1800s by the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who wrote that “most of these experiences remain concealed from consciousness and yet produce an effect which is significant and which authenticates their previous existence.”

As almost everyone concedes, stronger players have more "skill" at chess than others, but they also have a lot more "intuition" (whatever, exactly, that means). They know when a move "looks right" most of the time. They are said to have 10,000 patterns in "memory" but this is the implicit memory referred to above. they can't sit down and tell you exactly what these 10,000 patterns are. I read somewhere that Najdorf, a world-class player, said that most of the moves he actually played were the first ones that his unconscious, his intuition, served up to his consciousness. It's interesting to note that Najdorf was known as a great blitz player and one of the greatest blindfold players of all time.

And now for some mild heresy...I think that blitz chess could be a very efficient way to develop your unconscious chess memory and improve results at all time controls, if done with conscious intent. That is, after each blitz game, take a few minutes to review any blunders (and sometimes, marvel at how nicely you played even though you took only a few seconds to move!). I use the engine that's available on FICS and often I learn something useful by spending about five minutes reviewing a game that took about five minutes to play. Look hard at the position and burn the RIGHT move into your memory and then...forget about it.

The opening moves are another area where blitz can give you a lot of useful experience and a storehouse of unconscious knowledge. I suggest that you stick to your main lines for as long as you know them and then briefly see where the players deviated from the moves in your favorite openings book. Again, just a couple of minutes will suffice to make an impression.

Blue Devil Knight wrote about this in relation to tactics exercises back in 2008:

I'm not convinced simply "memorizing" 1000 positions is all that bad. It all depends on how our brain treats those memories once they are implanted. The brain may (with no conscious effort on our part) integrate these different memories into more general categories, form cross-links among categories, striving to build an ever-more coherent picture of the chess world, even while we sleep our brain probably does this. If this speculation is right, the individual problems are like nodes in our brain that are initially implanted, but connections are formed among these nodes so ultimately it becomes a more general and useful integrated tactical skill set.

I am currently reading Roger Penrose's book The Emporor's New Mind and I expect to relate some insights from this fascinating volume to chess as well. Meanwhile, for my next posts I will do something I've never done before, share a few blitz games where something wild, entertaining and hopefully useful happened. I think my approach to blitz has some merit, and I would like to know what you think.
(NOTE: Dec. 1 is the last day to submit to BDK's Chess Carnival. Go here to submit.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: Play 1. e4 e5! A Complete Repertoire for Black in the Open Games by Nigel Davies

(This review also appears at You can read all of my Amazon reviews here.)

Not Just a Good Opening Book, a Fine CHESS Book

I have had Play 1. e4 e5! in hand for about three months and it has become one of my favorite chess books. I have periodically replied to 1. e4 with e5 in my 30 years of serious chess, but the vast majority of my games as black against 1. e4 have been Center-Counter (aka Scandinavian) (1. e4 d5), Sicilian (1. e4 c5) or Pirc/Modern (1. e4 d6). My reasoning has always been that 1. e4 e5 is "giving White what he wants," that is at my below-Master level a chance to play a sharp gambit. I just never felt comfortable playing against the celebrated King's Gambit, and it seemed that other gambits also required a lot more study time than I wanted to use to meet them. Of course, the Ruy Lopez is an enormous complex unto itself.

Since I like and respect Grandmaster Nigel Davies for his "Power Chess" books and his fine Chess Improver blog I thought I would give this book a go, partly based on the other, positive reviews. I am very glad I did.

Play 1. e4 e5! is a complete repertoire against 1. e4, with the exception (as others have noted) of Alapin's Opening (1. e4 e5 2. Ne2). I don't consider this much of an omission, since it probably gets played in about .1% of e4 e5 games. To be completely thorough, also not covered here are unusual second moves for white like 2. a3, g3 and c4. These do get trotted out occasionally, mostly at below-master level, and it's not a bad idea to have replies prepared for these rare moves. Some coverage can be found at the beginning of John Emms' Play the Open Games as Black which I think is a good book, but not as directly useful for me as the Davies. Emms' book, published in 2000, is in the bibliography of Play 1. e4 e5! and is cited in the text as well, but the repertoire there is more complicated (e.g. King's Gambit Accepted) and it doesn't touch on the Ruy. You have to get a whole different book for that.

The final difference is one referenced in my title for this review. A great strength of Davies' book is that it has 65 main, annotated COMPLETE games (plus more in the notes), and the annotations don't end after the opening. The author comments on various turning points throughout the games (in 14 of which he was the player of the black pieces) and close study of these games can improve your play in all phases. This is what puts Play 1. e4 e5! a cut above many other good opening books.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Musical Interlude

This rocks so hard it will shake the very foundations of your weltanschauung. Seriously, as a cello player myself (admittedly, mostly inactive since high school) I can't tell you how proud I am to share this with you:

2Cellos, "Welcome to the Jungle"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

November Chess Carnival is UP

The Prodigal Pawn has it.

A post of mine is not in it because I forgot to submit one until after the it goes. There is a bunch of stuff, which reminds me I need to figure out what to do about I have such limited time for chess right now, probably nothing. I play a bit on FICS and once in awhile play real live people here in my town. For study, I have maybe 50 books in my collection that I've bought over the years and never spent any time on...I guess I don't really need, but there is apparently a good bit of fine content there.

The next, December, Carnival will be hosted by long-time Manager Blue Devil Knight, and you can submit here. After that, he is going to let someone else take over or the Carnival is going to lie fallow. Let him know if you're interested. I'm thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Chess Stories in Our Heads

From a NYT article on neuroscientist Dr. Michael Gazzaniga:

The left hemisphere takes what information it has and delivers a coherent tale to conscious awareness. It happens continually in daily life, and most everyone has caught himself or herself in the act — overhearing a fragment of gossip, for instance, and filling in the blanks with assumptions.

The brain’s cacophony of competing voices feels coherent because some module or network somewhere in the left hemisphere is providing a running narration. “It only took me 25 years to ask the right question to figure it out,” Dr. Gazzaniga said.

“One of the toughest things in any science, but especially in neuroscience, is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth,” said Thomas Carew, former president of the Society for Neuroscience and dean of the New York University School of Arts and Sciences. “Mike Gazzaniga is one of those in the field who’s been able to do that.”

Dr. Gazzaniga decided to call the left-brain narrating system “the interpreter.” The storyteller found the storyteller.

Emergent Properties

Knowing the breed well, he also understood its power. The interpreter creates the illusion of a meaningful script, as well as a coherent self. Working on the fly, it furiously reconstructs not only what happened but why, inserting motives here, intentions there — based on limited, sometimes flawed information.

The whole article (and the whole field) is interesting to me, but let's briefly relate it to chess.

Waaay back four years ago I wrote about Jonathan Rowson's book Chess for Zebras and briefly noted his references to "myth-making" and the stories we tell ourselves about what's going on in an individual game and what "kind" of chess player we see in ourselves. This brain research seems to back this up. Not only do we tell "stories" about the game of chess we're playing, it's probably impossible not to do so.

On the other hand, as my hero the late Grandpatzer Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby wrote, one way to get beyond patzer level is to emulate the computer in calculation and take "ego" out of the equation. One of the phenomena of blitz chess that intrigues me is how wonderfully it focuses the mind on the game. There is no time to look around at other boards, eat snacks or feel much emotion (until the game is over and one exclaims, "How could I make such a stupid move?!).

It occurs to me that at longer time controls, perhaps the ideal is a blitz-like total focus for a few minutes while calculating, and after the move is made let "the storyteller" of the left hemisphere have its way for a bit before becoming more of a "computer" again when it's your turn to move.

(NOTE: The great book Secrets of a Grandpatzer, which I wrote several posts about (link above) was out of print for years but has been reissued with a new introduction and...Japanese page headers? That's trippy. But the text looks the same. Highly recommended)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chess Blogger v. Chess Blogger! ChessAdmin-RLP 10.15.11 1/2-1/2

I've had the pleasure of playing a few serious training games on FICS with ChessAdmin recently and we agreed that annotating the most recent one might be fun and instructive for both of us. Hopefully, it has some value for the rest of the chess world, as well. Okay, for the .001 of 1% of the chess world who frequent our blogs.

ChessAdmin has posted his analysis at Annotated Game #15: Blogger Throwdown (RLP). While we seem to have pointed out many of the same moves and lines, there are some interesting differences, too. It's a game worth examining and I invite you to check out his comments. (Editor--it might be helpful for folks to know that the time control is 60 5. Thanks, Ed.)

ChessAdmin is a player of about equal strength to me (somewhere in USCF Class B) so the games have been pretty closely fought. I've managed a plus score but but mainly I've enjoyed the stimulating chess and the friendly atmosphere. The game from last Saturday was a good battle and featured a fighting middle game where I obtained some advantage, and a queen ending that could have been almost unbearably complex. You'll see the mind bending variations and the surprising finish below...

This was our third game and knowing I was scheduled for black I gave some thought to the opening, since he has written some very good posts about his repertoire and how he approaches it. I expected 1. c4 and for much of my career played the King's Indian Defense against it, with 1. ..e5 being my other main choice. Lately I've been employing the Tarrasch Defense against the English, and in our first game that had led to a nice win for me. But since he had written about the kingside v. queenside "race" in the Reversed Sicilian recently I thought I might go back to that scenario, fun for and practice.

I did it through a rather cagey order of moves, and instead of putting all my verbiage in the small print of the annotations below I give the first eight moves here, with comments:

1.c4 g6 (A little jest, in that I didn't at all expect 2. d4, but if he surprised me I was okay with a KID) 2.Nf3 Bg7 3.g3 Nc6 (Still shadowboxing a bit, giving one last chance to go d4. But he sticks to his knitting) 4.Bg2 e5 5.Nc3 Nge7 (To leave the possibility of f5 on the table. Nf6 is probably a perfectly good move but I prefer the imbalances created by the text) 6.O-O O-O 7.d3 d6 8.Rb1 Bg4 and we now return you to your scheduled program:

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Do You See?

I took this photo a few years ago from my office window. It is posted for no reason other than enjoyment.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Brain Folds and Memory: Any Relation to Chess Ability?

This looks interesting:

MRI Study Unfolds Clues to Memory

Those lacking structural fold in front of the brain were more likely to have faulty recollections

A common structural variation in the brain may explain why some people are better able to remember details of past events and to distinguish real events from those they were told about or may have imagined, scientists report.

I was blessed with a very good memory, including abilities like being able to read a book or see a movie and then give an accurate scene-by-scene description of it. I am only a moderately strong chess player but that may be because I didn't play seriously until I was an adult.

It would be intriguing to see if there is any correlation between this brain fold and, say, being a Grandmaster. I'd bet that GMs all have the fold, but that's just a guess. "Chess memory" seems to be somewhat correlated with good general memory in my experience, but correlation is not causation. People that really love chess and play a lot as youngsters usually can perfectly remember entire games a lot better than people like me. But I'm not convinced that they would be able to read a 20-page article on the Battle of Yorktown and summarize it more accurately a week later .

Anyway, I hope some brain researcher will take a look at this in relation to chess ability. It might be very interesting, especially if it turns out my speculation that strong players are more "folded" is wrong.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

October Chess Improvement Blog Carnival is UP!

At Mark Week's excellent Chess for All Ages. Great stuff, and a lot of it. I especially recommend ChessAdmin's Path to Chess Mastery blog, by the way. He has many well-crafted and interesting posts, but only two at a time are on the front page so don't forget to hit the "older posts" button.

Thanks, as always, to Blue Devil Knight who has kept this Carnival going.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Willpower, Decision Fatigue and Practical Chess

In my last post, I reviewed a game where I played at quite a high level through the first time control, then made a string of weak moves before being offered a rather generous draw. This scenario, pretty strong play through 20-30 moves, an excellent or winning position followed by "blowing" a win or draw, is more common in my career than I would like. These kinds of games have always been much more painful to me than just getting a bad position from the opening and being steadily ground down to defeat. The swing from hope to tragedy is worse than just losing a game.

Of course this situation is not mine alone--everyone from Alekhine to Zug has had games go this way. But it's remarkable how often you see a game where a "stronger" (higher-rated) player gets in some trouble in the early part of a game and then defends tenaciously until the opponent finally cracks, and in the end the higher-rated puts a "1" on the wall chart.

Happily, I have gotten some new insight in to this phenomenon from science journalist John Tierney and psychologist Roy Baumeister.

Tierney's article "Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?"  is an excerpt from Tierney and Baumeister's new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. While I am excited about many of the implications and prescriptions for improvement at home, work and school that might come out of this book (which I haven't read yet), today I want to stick to chess.

The article may require a sign-up (it's worth it), so I'll quote a few applicable snippets:

The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.


Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister


Willpower turned out to be more than a folk concept or a metaphor. It really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted. The experiments confirmed the 19th-century notion of willpower being like a muscle that was fatigued with use, a force that could be conserved by avoiding temptation.


Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there aren’t a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If you’re shopping, you’re liable to look at only one dimension, like price: just give me the cheapest. 


The brain, like the rest of the body, derived energy from glucose, the simple sugar manufactured from all kinds of foods. To establish cause and effect, researchers at Baumeister’s lab tried refueling the brain in a series of experiments involving lemonade mixed either with sugar or with a diet sweetener. The sugary lemonade provided a burst of glucose, the effects of which could be observed right away in the lab; the sugarless variety tasted quite similar without providing the same burst of glucose. Again and again, the sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener had no effect. The glucose would at least mitigate the ego depletion and sometimes completely reverse it. 


Apparently ego depletion causes activity to rise in some parts of the brain and to decline in others. Your brain does not stop working when glucose is low. It stops doing some things and starts doing others. It responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects. 


Big decisions, small decisions, they all add up. Choosing what to have for breakfast, where to go on vacation, whom to hire, how much to spend — these all deplete willpower, and there’s no telltale symptom of when that willpower is low. It’s not like getting winded or hitting the wall during a marathon. Ego depletion manifests itself not as one feeling but rather as a propensity to experience everything more intensely. When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. 


His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

To sum up, making decisions draws on a finite supply of "energy," however defined, and causes measurable changes in the activity of parts of the brain. Supplying the brain with glucose helps recovery from "decision fatigue."

I expect that you, Gentle Reader, have already made the connection with chess, for what is a game of chess but a series of decisions, move after move after move?!

I no longer wonder why the quality of my play declines so often after 20-40 good moves and a few hours of intense concentration! I vividly remember a number of times when during the the critical portion of a tournament game I felt "out of it," "punch drunk," or some other vivid metaphorical state of weakness. Why, I think I'll go back and find a few right now...Garingo-Pearson 11.08.07 (a great chance to defeat an Expert):

"I had just missed that despite my current huge material edge, my queen would have to go. And most important, from now until the end Black played as if dazed, making seemingly forced moves and going down the path of least resistance. I still had 13 min. for 7 moves, but I needed to shake it off and play better than ever. Instead.." 

A game from May 2008:

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.

Pearson-Harrington 03.13.08 0-1:
(by the way, I need to republish some of these games with ChessFlash!)

"I must improve my physical and mental stamina if I'm going to play my way up into Class A again. Games against the higher-rated players often last a good long time at our 30/90, G/60 time control, and if I drop off like I did in this game I'll just score frequent, frustrating losses."

Enough, already! There are other examples in my career, and now I'm done with the explication. Time to move on to the presciption!

Training for more Willpower and less Decision Fatigue is going to get its own, future post. For now, what can the above material tell us? Something that strikes me is that physical fatigue is not decision fatigue. You can work construction all day and be mentally fresher than the person who has sat in an office running a business! A few things about how to conduct the game quickly come to mind:

1) Put off making decisions in the opening as long as possible. It will conserve the decision making capacity for later in the game. This ties in with something I've written about a number of times, including recently in a post on Soltis's Studying Chess Made Easy: the fascinating old book Secrets of a Grandpatzer, "Dr. G" (Dr. Kenneth Colby) made a great point in that playing a lot of book moves (he was talking around 6-10) quickly gets you to a position you know is good, with your mind still fresh and plenty of time on the clock." In other words, memorized openings can help delay the decision fatigue.

2) Don't double- and triple-check your calculations. Find a move, play it, and forget about it. I suspect that calculating a tactic, then spending several more minutes going over it again and again is like making a decision multiple times! And thinking about anything that happened earlier is the same. Not that I do the latter so much, but some people do, I know. And I remember that in the example games above, and others, I had spent quite a bit more time and mental energy than my opponents in reaching those great, "winning" positions that I eventually lost.

3) Before the game, recharge the ego from the depletions of the day. Obvious, and not always possible, especially at a two-games-per-day tournament or when rushing straight from work to a game. But do the best you can.

4) Keep the brain supplied with glucose. Another well-known piece of advice, but vital. It needs a steady supply, so don't eat a couple of doughnuts at the beginning and then, nothing. Probably fruits, nuts, sandwiches, even sips of energy drink, if taken a little at a time and evenly throughout the game will do.

This is a fascinating and important topic, and I'm sure you can think of other aspects. Next time, I'll talk about training and building up the will in the context of chess.

In the meantime, here's an interview of John Tierney on the subject, and the book,  by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame. And here's a review of the book by psychologist Steven Pinker.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Memorable Game 12: An Eventful Draw, R. Pearson-E. Simanis, Reno CC Ch. Qualifier 05.08.2008

My opponent in this game, Edwin Simanis, was a consistent USCF Class A player for many years, and reached the golden 2000 rating for awhile in 1999 when he made the semi-finals of the Northern Nevada Championship. He was always a threat to anyone in Reno on a given night. This was one of my last games in Nevada before I left for Alaska.

In this game one of the flaws in my play is starkly revealed. I play the first 32 moves of a complex struggle at a pretty high level, and when he blunders on move 26 I reach a clearly winning position. But when I could get the kill shot in with 33. Qg5! I get confused and play a string of second- and third- best moves one after the other, until there are no winning chances. Finally, with an advantage in the ending (bishop and knight v. rook) he offered a draw!

Winning a "won game" and playing well after hours of intense concentration are both skills that I need to improve, but then I suppose that's true of almost all players, even some pretty highly rated ones. I have some interesting information and thoughts in that regard, but that's my next post. Until then, I hope you enjoy the eventful Memorable Game 12:

Monday, September 05, 2011

September Chess Improvement Blogging Carnival is UP

The September Blogging Carnival is now up at the Hebden Bridge Chess Club site. Great posts including some from, which were aggregated by our Carnival man himself, Blue Devil Knight. I think I need to put that site to better use!

Also, the Hebden Bridge Guy writes about his experience at the British Championship, which is chess at a higher level than we usually see in our corner of the chess blogosphere.

Go check it out--nothing new to see here, though I am near to completing another annotated Memorable Game. Coming soon to the Theatre of the Mind...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Little More on Soltis's "Studying Chess Made Easy"

ChessAdmin commented on my review:

Could you share some points on the parts you highlighted, particularly on openings and the "two and a half move" chess? I'm interested in what you think is the most practical advice from the book for study in those areas.

Regarding openings, I believe Soltis has hit the nail when he says that memory and understanding are ideally in the proper balance, depending on the opening. The sharper the opening, the bigger the role for memorizing the lines. It's important to dispute the notion that amateurs "shouldn't" memorize openings. As I wrote in my posts on the fascinating old book Secrets of a Grandpatzer, "Dr. G" (Dr. Kenneth Colby) made a great point in that playing a lot of book moves (he was talking around 6-10) quickly gets you to a position you know is good, with your mind still fresh and plenty of time on the clock. Of course, if the opponent varies earlier, understanding should tell you why a move is not the main line--presumably, because it's not as good.

Soltis doesn't frame it quite this way, but he says: "If you are like most players, you have two basic goals when you study the opening: (a) You want to delay the point in the game when your book knowledge ends, and; (b) You want to prepare yourself well to carry on from there." (p. 113). So his approach is aimed in a similar direction. Soltis has a section on "tabias," positions in the main lines of the popular openings that have occurred in thousands of master games, after 8-12 moves. These are the positions you should work to be familiar with. Generally if the opponent varies earler, fine. Knowledge of the strategic principles of the tabia and your skills at calculation should keep you going into a decent the middle game.

Another valuable point Soltis makes (p. 101) is that you shouldn't look exclusively at recent Grandmaster games when studying an opening. If you do, you'll miss out on the "instructive mistakes" that were made in the early days of the opening, mistakes that your amateur opponents are also likely to make. I think it's good to study an opening in chronological order; for instance, when I took up the Tarrasch Defence, I looked at games and comments by...Tarrasch. Later I looked at a few from the 1960s and '80s where Spassky and Kasparov "revived" the defense. Finally, I looked at some games from Aagard and Lund's very good Meeting 1. d4. As proof of some of the commentary above, in scores of blitz and tournament games I have rarely met the "Main Line" tabia that goes through 9. Bg5. Be prepared for weaker early deviations and rejoice in them!

Regarding "two and a half move chess" I would just add that Soltis makes the excellent and little understood point that calculation is much easier to improve through training than evaluation. Just playing as much chess as you can, going over the games, finding your and your opponent's mistakes and searing the right move into your memory banks, or doing tactical puzzles, or playing over master games and trying to find the right move will all improve calculation over the long term. Since we are not computers, the best way to improve evaluation is to look at games and positions where strong players give thorough explanations, in words, of how they evaluate. If you can find a cheap copy of the old, out-of-print Point Count Chess you might be intrigued by its approach, which works pretty well as a first approximation. Don't spend a mint on it, though.

In the weeks since I wrote my review of Studying Chess Made Easy I've worked with it a bit more and am still convinced it's worth the money. Not that many chess books really are, so that's actually a pretty strong recommendation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Studying Chess Made Easy by GM Andrew Soltis

(This review was posted at and references some other reviews of this book. If you're interested you can read my reviews of some other, non-chess books here).

I am an experienced tournament chess player, and came to this book from that perspective. I have a number of Grandmaster Soltis's earlier books including "The Inner Game of Chess" and "Pawn Structure Chess." All are worthwhile for those striving to improve their game. However, Soltis does write his "improvement" books with a certain structure or formula and this book follows that formula: Wittily-titled chapters, each containing a few fairly long examples from grandmaster chess to illustrate the points he's making. The style is conversational, enjoyable and easy to read, but the amount of information per page is not enormous.

Still, for players with a little tournament experience up through USCF Expert (2000+) this book could be a very valuable resource about what NOT to spend your study time on, as well as the more conventional "How to study." His insight that chess study must be enjoyable to be effective may seem obvious, but it bears repetition. He does a good job in this book showing you how to make it so. In my opinion, the strongest chapters are on how to study the opening, "two and a half move chess" and how to benefit from master games.

I agree with some of the other reviewers that the book could be more specific in places, especially about the best ways to use computers, databases and Web resources. That's why it gets four stars instead of five. There are several books on this topic already in print, but I don't own any of them. That may be my next purchase!

Ultimately, playing and studying "real" chess is never going to be easy, but it can be a lot of fun if done right. This book's title may be a little misleading, but it's utility is well worth the price asked.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tommyg Rocks the World

The Prodigal Pawn lists his Top 15 Rock and Roll Albums of All Time!

I smell contoversy in the water!

Okay, his is a great list of great music for sure, and as he notes, these "greatest" lists are always going to be very personal.

Here are a few things I would note: There are really 17 albums (good one, Tommy!). There's nothing that was released after 2001 (the Radiohead) so I wonder if Rock is Dead? To be honest, that's about when I stopped keeping up with the pop music scene myself, and I don't have any suggestions for after that without an internet search of some kind. All my picks are from around or before that time too!

A few suggestions for additions to Tommy's list (I wouldn't dream of replacing anything):

System of a Down, Toxicity (2001)

I well remember seeing the video for the title song at a friend's house, having no idea who these guys were, and just being completely blown away. Completely. This album has more drive than a Ferrari and more intelligence than 99% of rock!

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

A magikal mix of killer musicianship, energy and styles.

Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978)

Tommy, Tommy, Tommyg, how did you make a list without the Stones, man? This is the album that made the Stones relvant, after they threatened to become a bunch of jaded rock 'n' roll zillionaires. It also contains my all-time favorite song of theirs, "When the Whip Comes Down."

Queen, A Night at the Opera (1975)

To my mind, this group had some of the best musicians on the planet, and it was tough to chose just one album. The greatness for me is the ability of the band to nail multiple styles of music and produce an album that is a unified whole, not just great collection of songs.

There's my take--what say you, Rock and Roll Reader (yeah I know we got off the chess theme here, so sue me).

Monday, August 08, 2011

Some of the All-Time Chess Wisdom, Courtesy of Nigel Davies

I rediscovered this, which is more useful than any of my long-form blatherings:

It really doesn’t matter what you study, the important thing is to use this as a
training ground for thinking rather than trying to assimilate a mind-numbing
amount of information. In these days of a zillion different chess products this
message seems to be quite lost, and indeed most people seem to want books that tell them what to do. The reality is that you’ve got to move the pieces around the board and play with the position. Who does that? Amateurs don’t, GMs do.

Read the Whole Thing in the Chess Cafe Archives.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Back From Vacation, August Chess Blog Carnival

I went on vaction for about 10 days and didn't post a thing...I even missed submitting something for the Summer of Love Chess Carnival, put on by Takchess.

I did have a great time, recharged the batteries and all that, and managed to make some progress in Ray Cheng's excellent Practical Chess Exercises. I'm really enjoying it, and recommend it highly as an airplane, on-the-go book to keep the mind tuned into chess. Beats the hell out of bad bestseller novels, anyway.

I've also finished reading Soltis's Studying Chess Made Easy and will have a review of it posted soon. In order to get you to come back, I won't say anything more here...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Memorable Game 11: I Make Only One Mistake! 1984 Reno City Ch.: S. Rand-R. Pearson 0-1

A little backgound on my opponent: Steve Rand was a great guy, a wealthy retired fellow who had probably been around 2000 USCF for many years. I will always remember a tournament he graciously hosted over a weekend in his home, which featured a living room large enough for five or six games to go on at the same time. He was a friend of the late Grandmaster Larry Evans, who dropped in on the tournament and even chatted with me a bit.

By the time of this game Steve Rand was in his 70s, I suppose, but still sported an 1838 rating. He overlooks one tactical shot and I find all the right moves, which after 16. .Nxf4! admittedly aren't all that hard, but still, since I haven't played many games where I only make one single mistake, nor knocked off that many players rated over 500 points above me, here is Memorable Game 11:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Path to Chess Mastery, A Promising New Blog

ChessAdmin has begun The Path to Chess Mastery with several excellent posts yesterday. Technically, he has been on the path to chess mastery for some time, but that's the name of the blog, which is fitting.

Reflections on Training is dead-solid-perfect.

I am flattered that he mentions my annotated games as a partial inspiration. I need to do another, so I'll get cracking.

Monday, July 04, 2011

4th of July Chess Carnival is UP!

Our Prodigal Pawn, Tommyg, does a great job and delivers on time and on the 4th of July with the latest Chess Improvement Blog Carnival. I liked his addition of "first posts" by some of the pioneers.

Go check it out, I'll be here all week. And don't forget to tip your servers!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Memorable Game 10: Last Round, 2010 Alaska State Ch. R. Pearson-James Perrin 0-1

It's the last round of the 2010 Alaska State Championship. Having scored 3-1 in the first four rounds, a win in the final round would assure a share of second place, some cash and a ratings gain. I felt like I was tuned up after only five rated games in the previous 18 months.

I had watched my opponent get through the previous rounds and while he was playing pretty well for a 1400 player, there had been a certain amount of luck involved. I had seen him play the King's Indian as black and thought out an approach for this critical last round game: Keep it as tense and complicated as possible, stay ahead on the clock and wait for the mistake that must come, sooner or later...

Only one problem--he didn't "cooperate" and after a tense struggle I finally became too focused on "my attack" and in a couple of moves he was winning. This game is a good example of the psychology of "must win" situations, where a player's objectivity about the position goes lost.

I'll admit it took the rest of the day to get over this game. After spending hundreds of dollars on travel and three days in the sub-zero cold of Anchorage, Alaska, I felt like I'd come away with nothing. Nothing but humiliation, anyway. I felt seriously like retiring from tournament chess, and said so after the game to my friends.

Looking back with some objectivity, justice was done. He played well (especially for his rating) and deserved to win. I need to learn from this defeat and get better, not whine. Still, I have had few losses in my career that stung quite this much, so this is Memorable Game 10:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Apologies to HeinzK!

I realized that I neglected HeinzK's offer to contribute to the 6th Chess Improvement Blog Carnivàle!

There is some very interesting stuff here, at the post he calls Chocolate. It is really quite awesome, especially if the Chocolate was laced with a hint of belladonna, hashish and LSD:

But what I currently have to say sidechess-wise about chess being a fantasy trip still has to be worked out more carefully and thoughtfully. Right now, chess is quite a stressful endeavour. When performing on a higher level there is even more "frustration" instead of less - secretly I had hoped that when you reach a higher level, you will reach a happier state of mind too; but, unsurprisingly, that is not the case - for an outsider it does not matter if you have 1200 or 2500, you're the most amazing chess player of the street. And for yourself, it's just the same old crap with the same dreaded pieces. There's not any more insight involved than when you were rated a thousand points lower, you don't have more power, you don't have more money, you don't have more friends, you aren't more eloquent, you aren't more socially accepted, you are still restless... - you still will have to figure out a way to progress in all of those fields outside the board. For some reason, at the start of the journey, years ago, I subconsciously expected inner peace, salvation and seventy-two virgins as the final reward. ;-) Right now I'm not so sure. But despite the periodically returning frustrated feelings, I have been having a blast in the meantime anyway.

There's some philosophy right there! Make sure and check out his older posts, as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tyler Cowen, Computers and What They Mean For Us (Amateurs)

Tyler Cowen, in case you haven't heard, is a chess master, food writer, world traveler, a blogger with 40 million visitors and, incidentally, an influential economist and Professor at George Mason University. In other words, a polymath.

But let's talk about the chess part.

As the noble Kenilworthian noted back in 2006:

As a youngster, Professor Cowen played at the Westwood and Dumont Chess Clubs in Bergen County. As he improved, he played more often at the Manhattan and the Marshall, where the competition was stronger. By the time he was 16-years-old he was rated about 2350 (which would have put him on the same pace set by Bobby Fischer in the late 1950s).

Then he gave up the game.

“I realized I wasn’t going to become a professional. There are no benefits, no retirement. It was not the life I wanted to lead. And I fell in love with Economics.” As an economist, of course, he knows a lot about diminishing returns....

Okay, all of this is quite interesting in itself, but it's a preliminary to why we should pay close attention to Prof. Cowen's take on computers, chess and the interaction between the two. I urge you to read the whole thing, but I want to focus on a few points that seem to me to be different for non-masters (I'll just say "amateurs" as shorthand for presumed reader of this blog), as his take is basically about computers and grandmaster chess:

1. Databases equalize preparation opportunities for the top players. Those who rise to the very top have very strong creative skills. In relative terms, being a chess “grind” is worth less than in times past.

Not necessarily for amateurs. By "preparation" he means openings, and the big difference here is that our games won't depend on opening finesses at move 15 or 25 that lead to an initiative. Our games will most often be decided by tactical errors. Databases can be fun and useful, but they're not critical. Being a "grind" always was worth less as an amateur. And honestly, blunder prevention is more important than great creativity.

4. Chess is an area where educational reform has been extremely rapid and extremely successful. Chess education today revolves around learning how to learn from the computer, and this change has come within the last ten to fifteen years. No intermediaries were able to prevent it or slow it down. Humans now teach themselves how to team with computers, and the leading human players have to be very good at this. The computers which most successfully team with humans are those which replicate most rapidly.

Not much applicable to me or my corner of the chess world. Certainly, we can learn from computers, but (thankfully) we can still play over Alekhine or Tarrasch out of a book and derive a lot of value from "slow food" chess! In fact, for amateurs this may be more effective.

5. There are many more chess prodigies than ever before, and they mature at a more rapid pace.

Unless you meet 'em at an Open where they're a nine-year-old rated 2157, this is N/A.

6. We used to think that computers would play chess like we did, only “without the mistakes.” We now know that playing without the mistakes involves a very different style from what we had imagined. A lot of human positional intuitions are garbage, and the computer can make sense out of ugly-looking moves. A lot of the human progress since then has involved unlearning previous positional rules and realizing how contingent they are. Younger players, who grew up playing chess with computers, are especially good at this. For older players, it is a good way to learn how unreliable your intuitions can be.

There is some value to this for amateurs, but not in trying to play "without the mistakes," which the world top 10 only occasionally achieve. But being open to "ugly-looking moves" as a way to expand your vision does have something to recommend it. When analyzing one of your games with a computer, note especially the moves it finds that you never thought of because they didn't look "right" positionally and open your mind to these possibilities.

7. Highly exact and concrete analysis, and calculation of variations, is now the centerpiece of grandmaster chess at top levels. We have learned how to become more like the computers. The computers have taught us well.

On this one, I think that Cowen may be off on his time line. This has always been true of grandmaster chess, at least from Lasker onward. Computers didn't invent exacting, accurate calculation (though obviously they do it very well). Going back to the previous point (6), I think that "positional rules" were more something grandmasters wrote about for the masses, as a way to help guide the beginner, than something they took seriously themselves as some kind of doctrine. The whole "Soviet School" was about concrete calculation rather than generalization, in my understanding.

Which is not to say that calculating well isn't important to amateurs. It is, but you're not going to be facing someone who can calculate "like a computer," so just do your best and have fun!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire

Nigel Davies has a new post at his Chess Improver blog, Knowing Your Style. While the post is great, the title might actually be a bit misleading; he's saying that playing for tactical shots as your main goal is not a "style" at all, but a tendency to do what you already know, to stay within your "comfort zone."

There is a good deal of wisdom in the idea that tactics exercises are the best way to a ratings gain, at least below expert level, but I wonder if having this as your main form of chess study doesn't also lead to a certain stunting of long-term growth. As Davies notes:

Growth implies change and change is scary, so there can even be a tendency for people to cover up their insecurities with a certain chess machismo. I’ve heard the Accelerated Dragon (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6) described as the ‘Gay Dragon’ by aficionados of the more violent form (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6). But doesn’t the requirement to develop new skills actually require greater courage?

Indeed. it seems to me that to get the most out of chess, the game itself and as part of your life, you will need to push yourself into new and uncharted territory, whether in the opening, venturing on speculative sacrifices, playing up a section or playing out equal endings with the intention of grinding down the opponent. Whatever you don't like, or fear, do it on purpose!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Brief Update on My Current Work

Since last October I've had no chance to play "live" tournament chess, and much of my chess activity has consisted of 3 0 and 0 5 at FICS. When I have 20-30 minutes of free time for chess it's been tempting to dash off a few quick games.

This has, predictably, done nothing for my development as a chess player. So, in the spirit of chess- and self-improvement epitomized by GM Nigel Davies and his Chess Improver blog, I am changing things up for awhile:

1) No blitz for the rest of the summer. If I have at least a 30-minute window for play, I'll play a minimum 15 0 game.

2) I purchased Ray Cheng's excellent Practical Chess Excercises for use in those short windows of time where otherwise no useful study could take place. This book has gotten great reviews as study material, and I think it is reasonable to expect to get through all the diagrams once this summer.

3) As a change of pace, I'm going to aim at being able to play the "Top 10" (K+P v. K, Lucena and such) most common endgame positions "like a machine" by the end of the summer. I worked on this briefly a couple of years ago and it helped a lot (especially at blitz!) and I think this is a basic that I'm still incomplete in.

4) Analysis of my own games. I will post some of them here, for you the reader's entertainment/instruction/amusement.

Unless I also get a chance to play some rated games, this will be my exclusive focus for the next three months. I will also be interested in seeing if this will result in a measurable increase in my blitz rating after that. Ought to be interesting!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Here It Is: Sixth Chess Improvement Blog Carnivàle!

And so dear friends, once more into the breach:

This is a Chess Improvement Blog Carnivàle! (and the accent mark makes all the difference!)

The first five CIBCs are linked in a previous post.

I have taken it upon myself to post everything submitted and add whatever I saw fit. That's what happens when you're large and in charge, baby. So if you find a totally unexpected link, well, that's the way it goes on the WWW!

This month, we have some old friends and some great blogs that were new (to me), so let's get started!

(tanc)happyhippo of thoroughly reviews Improve Your Chess Tactics. Buy it, but better, use it.

Rolling Pawns: Do not play f6 (!!!). To be fair, f6 is perfectly good sometimes, but move 3? Hardly ever.

Mark Weeks, the Sage of Chess for All Ages presents BBC: The Master Game 1980. I happen to have the book covering this event. These shows seem to have been the best chess on television presentations ever. Enjoy the video.

The Duchess of Blunderboro, err, rather, Intermezzo at Hebden Bridge Chess Club presents Pick a piece, any piece. Whether it's srtrictly about improvement, or just good clean fun I do not know, but remember:

Our main man on drums, tommyg at The Prodigal Pawn sent Summers here, school is out and I have No might be time to blog again!, a thought-provoking update on his improvement plan.

George Duval (that is, the Mighty Blunderprone) has given us Part 6 ( Finale): Dr. Emanuel Lasker; Old Lions still have sharp teeth. If you thoughtfully study the four games he presents by one of the all-time greats, you will improve.
And now, back to the Party!
Takchess, our resident Boston Red Sox fan, submitted AAgaard Attacking Manuals Common Theme. Not to give away too much, but he talks about respect for the game, its difficulties and ambiguities. Bravo!
Oh my, I remember when this guy was a rookie...player
Liquid Egg Product. Need I say more? Hitler discovers Magnus Carlsen won’t be in the chess world championships. I think the Egg must of hacked Donnie's account. #hacked! You know there's a lot of that going around. And pranks. As a bonus, here's the Real Donnie throwing the kitchen sink in a tournament game and Winning! There was a lot of Winning! going on a month or two ago also, but that's old. Today's word is #hacked. Or maybe Twitter Malfunction.

Bright Knight is a really cool handle. The cool and Empirical One submitted Learning Chess Tactics. Love the title, that's what it's all about! To learn more about the very Empirical Rabbit see his bio. This is the post if you enjoy maths.

Brooklyn64 asked for a shout-out for the upcoming 4th Annual New York International. Since he's a former host of the CIBC, how could I say nyet? Bonus shot: Here are some great annotated games for your viewing pleasure.

Grandmaster Nigel Davies has a great blog up called The Chess Improver, and Rocky Rook sez It's My Favorite Chess Blog. Among the many fine posts the reader of the CIBC might be interested in: Blunder Removal (yeah, a big one), Let it Rip! ("Questions motivate a person to engage their mind far more fully than solutions, orders and certainties. It’s something that lies at the heart of human nature, we just love a mystery.") and What Don't you Like?

Oh right, we're supposed to be partying...
 Let's see, anything else? Katar has a handy page with tactical problem links.

Wang has the Final Chapter of Be the Next You - So what is it that you're looking for? Also, he wins an Open Sicilian (Yay!) That's just for fun, umkay?

LinuxGuy_on_FICS has Goals, and I would note how lucky you are if you get his very accurate and incisive comments on your blog.

Competitive chess is a real rollercoaster ride
That's all folks!


Thanks to Founding Father of CIBC Blue Devil Knight for this opportunity! Please let him know via a comment if you'd like to host the Carnivàle, er, now back to Carnival, in July.

For submissions to the July edition got to

Look, it's Grandmaster Gelfand! Oh, that's HOT!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Chess Improvement Carnivàle Posts Please!

Hey everybody, I've only gotten a handful of submissions so far for the Chess Improvement Carnivàle so let's pick up the pace, the deadline is June 2 and if I don't have enough high-quality dead-solid-perfect posts I will go to your blog and link without permission. Don't think I won't do it. people.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sixth Chess Improvement Blog Carnivàle!

I am hosting the sixth chess improvement blog carnival (or carnivàle for those with flair)!

I can see that it will not be easy to match the awesomeness of the fifth, at Hebden Bridge Chess Club, or the fourth at Liquid Egg Product, the third at Blunderprone, the second at Brooklyn64, and the first at Founding Blogger Blue Devil Knight's Chess Confessions. I don't know what the THEME is going to be, yet. These guys had great THEMES. I'm sure something will occur--just get me the material, people!

Submissions go to the Chess Improvement Carnival page. You may submit your own or other content you like. Remember, if you want others to see it, then submit it! The Management is generously extending the deadline to June 2, so get cracking.
Party Down, Bloggers!

Monday, May 16, 2011

GM Nigel Davies "The Chess Improver"

My friend Rocky Rook posts this morning on GM Nigel Davies blog The Chess Improver:

"I've yet to find a post I thought was rubbish."

High praise indeed!

After my long break from chess blogging (and most chess blog reading) it happens that I just recently started reading Chess Improver as well. Nigel Davies seems to be very interested in the connectionis between chess improvement and life improvement, which is also a great interest of mine.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Edward Winter's "Capablanca"

I see over at that Winter's superb Capablanca is coming in paperback. I admit that I don't actually own the book, but I read a friend's copy some years back and it is truly a pleasure. He gives a good flavor of what it's all about in the linked interview.

Direct from the publisher here. Also, Mr. Winter's web site Chess Notes is a must for anyone interested in chess beyond three-minute internet games.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Back in Business

After having the blog "closed" for about a year, I have reopened it to the World. We will go back to our roots and concentrate on chess, with the occasional photo or music video for spice.

No politics, current headlines or meditations on the state of the world. I have decided that there are certainly enough of those all 'round.  Let's just have FUN!

BUMPED Memorable Game 9: 2002 Alaska State Ch., Ron Campbell - R. Pearson 0-1

As I mentioned in Memorable Game 8 the 2002 Alaska Championsip was a memorable tournament, I won the state Class B trophy and in the last round got a measure of revenge for Memorable Game 7 where Ron Campbell hunted my king to his death.  Now it was him and me, mano a mano for the trophy, the fame, and the fabulous cash prize (I think it was 70 bucks or so).  The game was certainly short and sharp...

Grand Canyon, South Rim, May 2, 2010

Photo by me.  It was 6:30 pm, 36 degrees F and winds 30-40 mph--some of the people in their "summer" clothes looked like they might not make it back...