Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recap for May

Granted, the month isn't over, but let's recap May since the bulk of what is going to happen has happened.

Starting out for the month I stated these goals...

  • Learn to mate with two bishops.
  • Strong Opening Prep on One White Opening and One Black Opening
  • Rook Endings
  • Continued Tactical Work

  • So how did I do?  Well, I actually think that I did fairly well.

    I did learn how to mate with two bishops.  While I don't think that I could do it in the minimum number of moves in a given position I know I could do it in less than 50.  So I'll take it.

    Strong opening prep.  This is the area in which I feel like I fell down the most.  My goal was to prep the White side of the Worrall in the Ruy Lopez and to prep the Black side of 1...e5 against the English.  I did some prep on the White side of the Worrall.  Not a ton, but some.

    I didn't do any prep with 1...e5 against the English.  Perhaps I will work on that this afternoon, but even if I do I won't have reached that goal.

    I am starting to realize that in order to really prep my openings I am going to need to play a lot more speed games online.  I need to work in a ton of 10-15 minute games.  How else can I truly make sure that I am understanding and memorizing the openings I want to play.  I don't get enough reps in right now to make a difference, and that must change.

    Rook endings.  I worked through 20-30 pages of IM Minev's book A Practical Guide to Rook Endgames.  I should have gone through more, but if I keep this up then I will get to where I need to be.

    Continued tactical work.  This is something I did.  Using my iPhone for this has really helped.  It makes it so that I can knock out 5-10 puzzles whenever/wherever I feel like it.

    So how do I feel about the month overall?  I feel OK.  Like I did enough to work towards improving, even if perhaps not as much as I would have liked to have done.

    On the grading scale I'd say May was a B-

    Some Interesting Thoughts

    This past Saturday I drove to Skokie, IL and played in a G/60 event.  I went 0-3 losing to three players each rated around 70-180 points higher than me.

    The first game I miscalculated terribly, the second game I played too passively, and the third game my opponent outplayed me tactically.

    Now, on the one hand the result isn't that remarkable since essentially I lose to three higher rated players.  On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if some of the things that I have always had a tendency to dismiss are actually hurting my performance.

    For instance, in order to make it to this tournament I had to wake up at 6am.  First round started at 10am and since it was about a two hour drive and I was giving a friend a ride I needed to be up early.  So I set the alarm for 6:00, got up at about 6:15 to shower, and then hit the road by 6:30. 

    This meant that we were to Skokie by 9:00am, which gave me an hour to relax and get my wits about me.  But I was tired.  Not so tired that I couldn't stay awake, but tired enough that it affected my ability to calculate. 

    My first game I had White against Bill Smythe.  I had played Bill once before back in January at the Tim Just Winter Open and had misplayed the opening terribly.  This time I was determined to do better.  I had been intending to play 1. e4, but strangely I had had a conversation with some people, Bill included, about an odd sideline in the French that a friend and I had been looking at and Bill had mentioned that this was a line that he plays all the time.

    So I decided to play 1. c4 instead.  Due to my lack of understanding of the English (I'm still very new at playing it) I allowed Bill to plant a bishop on d3.  However, I then came up with what I felt was a clever way to sac the exchange, and then I would have chances to pick up another minor piece and have two pieces for a rook. 

    It was about this time that I realized that my ability to calculate was not what it normally is.  I just couldn't get a clear picture of any of the lines that I wanted to play and I know that I could normally calculate them.

    My game then completely fell apart as I dropped another pawn.  Rather than  waste time fighting on in a hopeless position I resigned.

    For round two I had a bye and so would play an extra game against tournament organizer Sevan Muradian.  Sevan runs a class act at the North Shore Chess Center.  In his events if there are an odd number of people Sevan will act as a house player so that no one goes without a game.  In addition, the tournament rates there are extremely reasonable (for example, the entry fee for a four round G/60 was $20, but only $10 if you are a member of the Chess Center), GM lectures on an almost monthly basis, FIDE rated tournaments, and many other enjoyable events as well.  My only gripe is that there is no discounted membership offered to players who live more than X miles away. 

    Sevan had White for our game, and I know that he plays the London.  Even though I've been looking at the Slav again lately I knew that in this instance I would be far better off with 1...Nf6 rather than 1...d5 since the KID setup is probably the most robust against the London.

    After some protracted maneuvering I offered a draw which Seven correctly refused since he was the one with the winning chances.  I then made it rather easy for him by not calculating 46. Qd4 at the end of a line of exchanges.  It should have been easy to see, but I didn't see it at the beginning of the line.

    Two games, two losses. 

    I then played the strangest game of my life.  I had black against William Blackman.  His first four moves were 1. h4 2. a4 3. h5 and 4. a5.

    Again my absolute inability to calculate on this day left me dead in the water.  I should have played 3...h6 and 4...a6 but I didn't, which allowed my opponent to open attacking lines.  I was so out of it by this point that I made not one, but two illegal moves.  The only two I have ever made in my entire career that I can recall. 

    After this, I withdrew.  Needless to say, it wasn't my day...

    So the rating is back down to 1683, which doesn't concern me too much, although I was hoping to set a new peak at this event.

    But what I keep coming back to is this...should I be playing under these conditions?  Why wouldn't I just take a half point bye in the first round and then show up for the noon round.  That would have given me two extra hours to sleep and more time to be fully awake.

    It's becoming clear to me that at this point it's time to start using a lot more logic about my tournament strategy.  In a perfect world I'd have headed to Skokie the night before and stayed in a hotel.  But that's not practical for a tournament such as this.  So I need to take the opposite approach and start taking first round byes.

    See the games here.

    Monday, May 27, 2013

    Wednesday, May 22, 2013

    A Word About Goals

    Obviously as evidenced by the name of my blog my overall goal is to become a master. 

    I have gotten some messages lately about breaking that goal down in to smaller goals.  Checkpoints if you will.

    I had already done so actually, but I am realizing now that since I am getting this piece of advice from different people that I should explain my plan.

    My goal is to be over 1800 by the end of this year.  Originally I wanted to do that last year, but I didn't really work at it.  I "studied" more than I studied.  I was planless and so I just sort of meandered from idea to idea without truly trying to bring any of them to fruition.  Now that I am focused I will not allow myself to lose focus.

    Once I reach 1800 I plan on giving myself two years from that point to make Expert.  The plan at that point will be to work mainly on calculation and tactics along with any weaknesses in my game identified by either myself or a coach. 

    From there I have no idea what it will take to make master, but I plan on giving myself five years to make it.

    For some people that might seem like a long time, but the reality is that when you are doing this at the age of 40 you need to give yourself more time to get there.  As a teenager it was easy to gain hundreds of points a year.  After all, I wasn't working 50 hours a week while paying the mortgage and trying to plan for the future. 

    Now that I have to do those things I will probably move at a slower pace.  I'm fine with that as long as there is some movement.

    So if everything goes according to plan I will become a master by 2021 at the age of either 47 or 48.

    If it takes longer, then I am OK with that too.  Things will happen the way that they are supposed to.

    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Endgames, Boy I Don't Know

    Shout out to West Wing for anyone who gets the reference.

    If there is one thing that I have learned this year it's that endgames truly are difference makers.  In January a friend of mine told me that if I just studied rook endings I'd add 200 points to my rating. 

    At the time I shrugged that off thinking that I don't reach enough endings to really make that much of a rating difference.  After all, my games tend to have a wild flavor to them at times and rarely do I seem to make it to an endgame which is either equal or only slightly better for one side or the other.

    Go figure that after I so arrogantly thought that to be the truth that I have noticed just how often I get into endgames where technique really matters.

    I can think of four games in the last few months off the top of my head where endgames factored in a big way.

    Mariano-Wainscott 48th Northeastern Open January 2013

    In this game my opponent and I adjourned in a rook ending that was won for me.  However, I sealed a drawing move rather than the winning move.  Luckily for me my opponent blundered and I still won.

    I will post this game later.

    Wainscott-Cooper Waukesha Memorial March 2013

    In this game I missed a draw against a master.  Had I played 47. Rxc6 I can draw the game.

    See this game here.

    Wainscott-Corcoran Waukesha Chess Club Championship April 2013

    In this game my opponent blunders terribly with 28...b6, giving me an easy win in a king and pawn endgame.

    See this game here.

    Sagunsky-Wainscott Summer is Coming Round Robin May 2013

    Just this past Thursday I had a club game where I was in an equal bishop and pawn ending and threw away any winning chances by locking up the kingside in a position where I couldn't break through on the queenside.  The game was likely to be a draw, but I didn't do myself any favors by removing all of my chances through inaccurate play.

    See this game here.

    So the lesson to take away from this is that endgames do matter.  Even when you think you don't get to very many.

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    My Tactics Runneth Over

    When I first started this blog one of the things that I kept saying I needed to do was work on tactics.  That was usually followed by not working on tactics.  Not out of unwillingness as much as out of laziness.  After all, in order to work on tactics you have to be somewhere where you have access to a book or a computer.

    Well not any more!  Thanks to my iPhone I now have a few different tactics on the go option.  I have been using a couple of chess tactics apps and boy have they made all the difference.

    Now I can knock off a few tactics puzzles pretty much anywhere.  While in St. Louis at the US Chess Championships I was able to knock out 30-50 puzzles a day on my phone.

    What a game changer this is.  If I keep this up and the other work up then I should hopefully see some real leaps and bounds in my tactical abilities.
    As always, time will tell.

    History Repeats Itself (Again)

    Congratulations to GM Gata Kamsky on his fourth US Championship and to IM Irina Krush on her fifth US Women's Championship.

    I was fortunate enough to be in St. Louis for the final three rounds of the action (excepting today's playoff) and I have to say that the Gateway City really does things right.  First of all, the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center is a truly elegant venue.  Benefactor Rex Sinquefield appears to have spared no expense in the design and functionality of this club.

    The staff at the Chess Club were all extremely friendly and outgoing.  It seemed like everyone was on a mission to make sure that every patron enjoyed their visit.  It's rare that any organization has more than just a few people who go the extra mile, but this one seems to only have employees of that sort.

    I was extremely impressed at the layout of the playing area upstairs.  The players were roped off with plenty of room for themselves to wander about behind the barriers while still allowing fans to get close enough to genuinely experience the thrill of the games. 

    I also really enjoyed that the men's and women's championships were intermingled rather than segregated.  It seemed to add to the overall harmony of the event.

    Congratulations should also go out to IM Kayden Troff for making a GM Norm, FM John Bryant for making an IM Norm (and I believe he has two GM Norms, so I would think that this would qualify him for the IM title...), and FM Sam Sevian who I believe also made an IM Norm, although I am not 100% sure about that.

    Also, big time props to Larry C and Alex Shabalov, neither of whom made even one draw in the nine rounds.  Talk about fighting spirit!

    My one regret is that I didn't bring a camera.  I wasn't sure if they would be allowed since I knew that cell phones weren't.  I should have called and asked rather than just assuming.  Next year for sure.

    I was also thrilled to meet childhood hero GM Yasser Seirawan.  What a nice guy he is.  I thought that the coverage provided by the broadcast team of Yasser, IM Jennifer Shahade, and GM Maurice Ashley was top notch.  Worthy of any major sporting event. 

    So kudos to St. Louis for showing us once again how a top level professional championship tournament should look.

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

    The Sicilian 2c3

    I want to send a shout out to this book as I was thinking about it earlier today.  One of the first books I read when I was a junior trying to improve was GM Murray Chandler's excellent book Sicilian 2c3 and I was smitten. 

    I took to this opening with a vengeance, although back then I practically never faced the Sicilian (it seemed that everyone played either 1...e5 or the French).  On those occasions when I did though I was prepared.  When playing against the Sicilian in a blitz game I was generally better out of the opening, even when giving up 200-300 rating points.  I never really studied openings, but I studied this one like it was going out of style.

    In 1992 I walked away from the game.  When I came back in 2011 it felt to me like no time had passed, but of course eons had passed in terms of theory. 

    But of course I immediately purchased a copy of this book.  I started facing the Sicilian more often and so I had more of a chance to put some of my knowledge to work.  Except that I didn't remember any of it. 

    So I decided to put in some work.  I started reading GM Chandler's book again and looking at games in the database and I quickly realized how much theory had moved on concerning the Alapin.  So I purchased GM Evgeny Sveshnikov's amazing work The Complete c3 Sicilian.  Imagine my delight when I started poring through it.  This stunning volume is literally packed with game after game of information.  Whereas most opening books will list perhaps one or at most two games showing the beginning of a certain variation's popularity GM Sveshnikov's work gives no fewer than 10!

    Now when I pick up GM Sveshnikov's book I am filled with that same feeling of wonder that I once had for GM Chandler's book.

    Why I don't play the Alapin more often I cannot say.  Perhaps it's time.

    Two other Alapin items I own and enjoy are GM Sergei Tiviakov's Fritz Trainer DVD and IM John Donaldson's pamphlet Inside Chess Opening Novelties Alapin Sicilian.

    Monday, May 6, 2013

    The Ratings Yoyo Continues

    Well, after my most recent club tournament, the Blooming Flowers Swiss my rating is now only five points shy of my peak of 1724.

    The results are here.

    I'm pleased that I was able to gain 32 rating points in only two games.  Mostly a combination of luck and skill I suppose.

    My next event is a quad so I will have three games against similarly rated opponents.  Meaning that I will have a good chance to surpass my all time high rating as long as I continue to play like I have been barring my one bad outing at the Arpad Elo Open.

    At this point I think that as long as I continue to work my plan I will continue to improve in leaps and bounds.  I just feel it in my bones right now so I feel like I have to keep the intensity going...

    This weekend I will be at the final three rounds of the US Championships.  I will also be spending time with a friend of mine that I grew up playing chess with.  We are about the same strength so we should be able to get some good studying in around hanging out and everything else.

    Calculation and the Value of Endgame Studies

    I've been reflecting lately on a little piece of human nature relative to progressing in any field of endeavor you so choose.  Specifically the tendency most seem to have to ignore the advice of someone who has already achieved something that we ourselves strive to.

    In my case the advice I seem to currently be ignoring is the advice of my first coach, Nolan Hendrickson, to solve endgame studies to help improve calculation.

    Nolan is a student at Lindenwood University in St Louis and is a member of their chess team.  When he was in high school he went from Class A to Master with almost no stop at Expert and he says that a huge part of his success was solving endgame studies which helped improve his calculating abilities. 

    Almost every lesson Nolan would tell me that learning to calculate better would pay better dividends than improving any other area of my game.  He would then tell me that solving endgame studies is far and away the best way to learn to calculate better.

    So then why is it that I don't seem to take that advice to heart too often?  What is it that lies deep within the psyche of us all that makes us think that we can somehow ignore the advice that is given and still achieve the aim?

    This isn't to say that Nolan's advice is the only way to reach my goal of becoming a master.  After all, I'm sure that if you rounded up 10 Master's and put them all in a room together you'd get numerous answers to the "How did you improve" question.  But it's not like I listened to the advice, carefully weighed the options, and then only after giving some careful thought decided to pursue other areas in order to improve. 

    To further add to the irony, the one point in time where I was solving endgame studies on a regular basis was at the end of last Summer when I finally stopped the bleeding.  My rating had fallen from 1712 to 1560.  I managed to get control of things and made it back over 1700 in just a few months.

    So why then did I stop?  That's the $64,000.00 question.

    Speaking of $64,000.00, I'd like to add as an aside that I am truly rooting for Gata to continue his 4-0 start and win out at the US Championship.  For a long time I have viewed that as Fischer's record and haven't wanted anyone to equal it.  But I think that it would be great for my generation of US chess if one of us could finally tie that piece of history.

    Saturday, May 4, 2013

    If You Want to Improve at Chess the Ulrich's Will Show You How

    This is a game that I played against Anne Ulrich in January.  The Ulrich's are a very strong chess family.  The older brother Tommy is I believe in high school.  He is a 2300 master.  One of the sisters, Rachel, is a 13 year old expert.

    Although Anne is lower rated by far than either of them, she is fast improving.  In the past year she has gone from 875 to 1470 and shows no signs of slowing down.  She also just won that Chess Junior Magnet Grand Prix thing or whatever it's called.

    On the surface, this game turns out exactly how you would expect it.  The player who was higher rated by 300 points easily won in spite of some inaccuracies.  But there are forces much deeper at work here.  After the game Anne and I analyzed for a while and I was very impressed by her. 

    11...Ne7 is an inaccurate move.  It allows White to begin an attack even with practically no material to use in that attack.  But Anne had a plan.  She told me after the game that she figured that after 12. Bxf6 gxf6 she would be able to bring a rook to the g file and launch an attack on my castled king.

    She then said some words that have stuck with me ever since...she said something like "I had no business playing Ne7 because it shows I have no understanding of this position."  Impressive words from a young lady who clearly has a great understanding of what it takes to be successful.

    Since that post mortem I have learned to be far more critical of my own play.  For example, my recent game against Rohan Mhaskar (see that game here - it's the second game listed) when I played 12. Bh6 rather than 12. Bd4 has that same feel.  Clearly the inaccurate move, even though it wasn't the losing move, shows a lack of understanding of the position.

    So the point to all of this is that there is something to be learned from everyone.  Higher rated.  Lower rated.  Doesn't matter.  So don't dismiss the nuggets of wisdom your opponents sometimes give you just because of the result you had against them.

    On to the game, which can be seen here.

    Friday, May 3, 2013

    I Could Use Your Help

    I could use your help.  I have thought long and hard about this and have been on the fence because it feels kind of arrogant to do this, but...

    I need to increase the number of lessons I am able to take.  In the past few months I have managed only four hours of working with a coach.  My wife and I are saving for a house and so I just don't have much disposable income for chess right now.  I do have enough materials (I have 125 or so books and 10-12 DVD's plus I am the librarian for my club so I have the 300 or so club books and 30 or so club DVD's at my house) and I can come up with what I need for entry fees.

    The one thing that I can't do is to afford lessons right now.

    So I am asking for help from my readers.  If you can spare even just a dollar or two and think that my goal is a worthy one then I would appreciate your help. has an option to monetize blogs via ads.  I thought about that because I do draw OK traffic.  Especially seeing as how I'm less than three months into this project.  BUT...I don't want to do that.  I don't want to clutter up my blog with ridiculous ads.  I like the believe that many readers here enjoy what they are reading and get something out of it.

    Whether that something is inspiration to study; good practical advice as to how to improve at chess; or even just amusement I don't want to be "that guy" who makes the posts hard to read because you're getting slammed with ads over every  inch of space.

    So after thinking about it a long time I have decided to ask for help.  If I get it, mission accomplished.  If I don't, then no harm is asking.  Hopefully no one will stop reading as a result...

    Right now the coach I am working with is only $25 an hour.  So in this case a little bit goes a long way.  I don't need to raise hundreds of dollars to get only an hour or two of lessons in return.  If I could raise even just $100 in a month that would be plenty.

    So here is my pledge to you...I promise that any and all monies raised from my readers will go towards lessons.  I will continue to pay all of my other chess related expenses out of my own pocket as I do now.

    Of course I will also blog relentlessly about how the lessons are going, etc.

    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    The Plan for May...

    Well, for April I had a three point plan.  Those three points were:

    • Strong Opening Prep
    • Tactics Work
    • Rook Endings

    How did I do?  Well, I did some light opening prep.  I vacillated between whether or not to play the Open Sicilian as White.  Or go back to the Alapin.  Or continue learning the Grand Prix.  The result was that I didn't focus on any one thing.  Big mistake.

    I did some work on Rook Endings.  I watched some Karsten Muller rook ending DVD clips and I worked through some Dvoretsky & Yusupov articles.  But not enough.  And not practical enough.  I talked about learning specific techniques and then setting them up and playing them against Fritz.  But I only did so once.  And only one shot, not repeated effort to make sure I got it.

    I am pleased with my tactical work.  Although I didn't do as much as I would like I was more consistent last month with making sure that I did some work every day.  Even if it was just doing a few puzzles on my phone each day.

    So with last month's achievements and failures listed, let's move on to this month's plan...

    For the month of May I am going to do the following...

    • Learn to mate with two bishops.
    • Strong Opening Prep on One White Opening and One Black Opening
    • Rook Endings
    • Continued Tactical Work
    Learning to mate with two bishops.  It's true, I can't do it.  I mean, I kind of know the basic idea, but unlike K+R vs K where I can methodically get to the fastest mate, if I had to mate with two bishops I'm not 100% sure I could do it in less than 50 moves.

    So I plan on changing that.  The hope is that by doing so I will also get a good feel for how to better use the bishop pair in general.

    Strong opening prep on one White and one Black opening.  OK, let's face it, I set myself up to fail last month.  Saying you need strong opening prep is too broad a statement.  You can't prep everything well in one month.  But you can learn one White and one Black opening in a month.  So I will choose one of each and work hard on them.  I have an idea of what I want to work on.  I think I want to work on the White side of the Worrall and the Black side of the 1...e5 English.

    Rook endings.  Last month I said I'd work on John Emms' Survival Guide to Rook Endings.  I didn't.  This month I will.  I own it, I should use it.

    Continued tactical work.  I will just continue as is.  Which is to say that I'll grab a tactics book and work on some puzzles.  Or do some online.  Or on my phone.  At some point I want to work through Karsten Muller & Claus Dieter Meyer's excellent work, The Magic of Chess Tactics.  Again, I own it, so I should use it.  Although I feel like before I work seriously with that book I should continue to develop my basic tactics skills for a bit.

    So that's it...that's the plan for May.

    Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

    So tonight I played the final round of a club tournament against someone rated 1853. 

    Normally I spend the week prior to a club game prepping since as you would assume generally I know what the other club members play.  Oddly, even though this was someone I know fairly well it's also someone I had never played against before.  In fact, for all of our conversations about chess we had never discussed anything specific that I can recall.

    So I went into this somewhat blind.  All I knew was that he plays 1. d4...but since I had White even that bit of knowledge didn't do me any good.

    For some reason I decided that he was probably a classical player so I figured he'd answer 1.e4 with ...e5.  As it turned out I was correct.  So my plan was to play my first even Ruy Lopez Worrall over the board.  Nope, it was a Berlin.

    As it turned out it was to be an off night for my opponent.  He dropped a pawn right out of the opening and then thought he had a tactic to win it back but missed an intermezzo and was down a knight for a pawn.  I had six pawns, a knight, a queen, and a rook.  He had seven pawns, a queen, and a rook.  He resigned on move 16.

    I won't bother posting the game since I don't really feel there is anything to be learned from it.  It was just a bad loss.

    But the be all end all is that according to the ratings estimator I should wind up at 1720 after this is rated, putting me just below my peak rating of 1724.

    I didn't get as much study time as I would have liked this week, but I was able to do some puzzles on my iPhone using Shredder Lite each day.  So better than nothing.  Last night I got in a solid hour and a half or so, but other than that I really didn't have much study time at all over the past few days.

    Now I feel like I need to have a solid performance in my next tournament to give myself a real shot at making a run at 1800...I just feel like I'm ready for a surge.  This is how I felt when I went over 1600 for the first time and when I went over 1700 for the first time.