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!