Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"You've Been Here Before, Sure You Have."

I've tried everything else, so why not the opening sentence to a wonderful Stephen King novel, Needful Things for a title...

This coming Thursday I will get my second shot at making Class A.  I will have Black against Tom Fogec.  I have played Tom only once before, and that game was rather interesting.  Tom had White in that contest as well and played the London against me.  I found a rather interesting pawn sac to get a lot of piece activity, but neither of us could find a lasting advantage so we split the point.

However, that was a little over a year ago.  Now, I find myself 150 points higher rated than I was at that time.

So I will have to make sure that I find my internal focus and don't let anything go to my head as it were.

A couple of years ago my friend Dave Cardenas and I were at a tournament and I read a sentence in something he had that literally changed my way of thinking.  It read "There is action in waiting, and waiting in action."  To me this has become something of a mantra.  My version of "don't hurry."

Is it my time to shine?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away

Each month I write a plan for the month on this blog.  It's interesting how two things seem to be tied to that process.  The first is that I generally feel like I am making up the plan on the fly, and the second is that I never seem to find time to do all of the things I claim I will in the plan.
For example, for this month I claim that I want to learn the Taimanov Sicilian, which is a true statement.  But do I need to learn it now?  After all, I play the Scheveningen decently and I also know the French fairly well if I don't feel like playing a Sicilian.

But what about my other openings?  Well, as Black I have been starting to play the Slav after years of playing the King's Indian.  So wouldn't it make more sense to focus on learning the Slav rather than the Taimanov?  Of course it would.  But since I just make my "plans" up on the fly rather than by putting some thought into them this is the kind of result I get.

So is that a reason to disparage?  Not necessarily.  After all, one of the truisms of chess is that studying one area of the game tends to lift your skill levels in other areas of the game.  Meaning that a thorough study of endings will still lift your level of strategic play, etc.  So studying the "wrong" thing is still studying and will still produce results.

Having said all that, I think that if I start to take time to truly focus on making a plan for what is most needed that I will progress more rapidly than my current rate.

Food for thought.

Review of My Chess by Hans Ree

My Chess by Hans Ree - 2013 - Russell Enterprises, Inc. - 240pp - $24.95

Before we get started on this book let's talk about what it is not.  It's not an instructional manual in any way.  It's not a collection of games.  It's not about how GM Ree improved when he was younger.  Rather than any of those things this book is a collection of well-written short stories about people, places, and things that have been a part of Ree's chess career.

If you are someone like myself who enjoys chess history then this book is for you.  If you are someone who enjoys playing and studying chess, but who doesn't know much about the games rich history then this book may very well be your first step towards a deeper appreciation of the game.

The content itself is comprised of forty-two essays.  The writing is so clear and descriptive that I was somewhat surprised to find out that the book was translated from Dutch as I had half thought it was written in English.  So serious kudos are due to Piet Verhagen who handled the translation.

For anyone not familiar with the author, Hans Ree is a Dutch GM.  Born in 1944 he became an IM in 1968, and a GM in 1980.  These days he still maintains some activity in his playing career, but is primarily a journalist.  He has been writing for New in Chess for several years, and also currently writes "Dutch Treat" for the REI website.  You can view the current column here.

As for the book itself, the essays are centered around various topics, in many cases people, such as Max Euwe, Jan Timman, or Bobby Fischer (Ree actually played a game against Fischer in 1968 which you can see here) while in other cases the topics are as wide ranging as alcohol or the sin of pride.

As you would expect given the nationality of the author, many of the stories relate to various Dutch chess personalities.  Some of them are very well known, i.e. Timman and Euwe, whereas some are less well known, but still known, such as Hein Donner.  There exists, however, a third category, and that is those whom I had never heard of.  Included in this last group is Lodewijk Prins.

Prins was a rather colorful character in Dutch chess for several decades.  A GM and a journalist, his life was completely dedicated to the game.  The Prins variation of the Grunfeld (7...Na6) bears his name.  Based on the stories Ree relates one of Prins' most enduring qualities was his ability to hold a grudge.

A fascinating story is relayed about a tournament in Tilburg in which a dinner is held where Prins is sitting at the same table as Jan Sorgdrager, the tournament doctor.  The two had been friends, but hadn't been on speaking terms for quite some time (this seems to be a common theme with Prins) which was making for an awkward dinner for the rest of the attendees.

Someone suggested that the two make up for the duration of the dinner, which was agreed to by Prins.  He and Sorgdrager then spent the rest of the dinner chatting amiably as though their friendship had never been strained at all.  So much so that Sorgdrager was ready to continue the conversation as dinner was winding down.  However, Prins simply turned his back and walked away, instantly resuming the feud.

Another character I found to be rather interesting from a tragicomic perspective was Emil Joseph Diemer, purveyor of the Blackmar-Diemer gambit.

Diemer was a German-born chess master who found very little success early in life.  In 1931 he joined the Nazi party and was promptly thrown out of the house by his father.  As a Nazi Diemer found a bit more success simply because he was now being paid to be the Nazi chess reporter.

During most of his life Diemer passionately advocated the Blackmar-Diemer gambit with modest success.  However, his real achievements came later on when he won the Reserve Group of Hoogovens (Wijk aan Zee) in 1956 and a few years after when he became champion of the Netherlands.

Sadly Diemer's life took a turn for the worse and he wound up being admitted into a psychiatric hospital in 1965.  Apparently he had started reading the writings of Nostradamus and became convinced that he had cracked the code of those writings.  He wrote over 10,000 letters to various people containing his views on the code, which played a large role in his downfall.

Diemer does find some redemption six years later which some of his admirers manage to get an earlier lifetime ban by the German Chess Federation lifted so that Diemer is once again able to compete for his home country.

There are many other stories just as fascinating as those in this book.

I give this book a very solid four out of five stars and I think that GM Ree has done an excellent job of keeping the memories of some very colorful characters alive.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

World Championship 1948

Russell Enterprises was kind enough to send me a copy of this book to review and so I started reading through it this morning.

The book is written by former World Champion Max Euwe, who has long been someone who's games I've admired.  Not to mention that Euwe is probably the most instructional writer among world champions.  (Yes, yes...you can argue that Kasparov's books are better, but I think that Euwe's books were written for a much wider audience...)

I have always had a soft spot for this tournament since for the first time in history a governing body (FIDE) stepped in to ensure that there were world championship matches held on a regular basis.  To me this tournament was the stuff that legends were made of.

Just take a look at the participants... Mikhail Botivinnik, Sammy Reshevsky, Paul Keres, Vassily Smyslov, and Max Euwe.  Rueben Fine was also slated to participate, but dropped out to focus on his career of psychoanalysis. 

Played as a quintuple round robin (20 rounds!) that were split between The Hague and Moscow this is the event that culminated Botvinnik's ascent during the 30's to finally place him at the top of the chessic pyramid.  "First among equals" as he liked to say.  This is also the event that brought players such as Smyslov to the forefront of the international chess scene.

Round One featured Euwe - Keres (0-1) and Smyslov - Reshevsky (1/2-1/2) in two beautiful games.  Euwe had a good position against Keres, and then faltered before outright losing the thread of the position and with it the game (although while in extreme time pressure Keres does miss a simple knight fork which would have won Euwe's queen.) Meanwhile, Smyslov builds up a strong attack against Reshevsky before missing a thematic idea and allowing the game to peter out to a draw.

So far I am really enjoying this book and am looking forward to the review.  Look for it to be published here in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Plan for October

"I can see you on the hill (oh why do I...)
You're comatose, but walking still (oh why do I...)" - Neil Young

New month, newish plan.

This month will just be a partial continuation of last month.  For October I plan on working on exactly two things:

Sicilian Taimanov

It's time to get a handle on this one.  I like the positions that arise from it.  I like that it's less muddy than my beloved Scheveningen, and I like that it's something that can be played by feel to a large degree.

So I will continue to read The Siclilian Taimanov: Move by Move by John Emms, and I will continue to study the games of Igor Miladinovic.

Analyze my Own Games

I plan on working hard to analyze each of my games in October, along with the two September games I haven't analyzed yet.  This month I will be playing in a Swiss at the Southwest Club, and will be playing in the Hales Corners Challenge next weekend.

Don't get me wrong, these aren't the only two things I will be doing as I will also be solving tactics puzzles on my phone as well as reviewing Alekhine's best games book and a book on pawn tension, but these are the main two areas of focus I intend to work on.

September Recap

September had already flown by and here was the plan...

  • Learn the Sicilian Taimanov
  • Work on Calculation
  • Work on Analysis
  • Study Fischer Games
So how did I do?  Well, this month I feel that I did so-so.  Let's take them one by one...

Learn the Sicilian Taimanov

I did start to read The Sicilian Taimanov: Move by Move by John Emms.  And in fact, as noted in an earlier post I sort of play a Taimanov.  I didn't play much of one, but I did do some groundwork at least.  I feel comfortable in some of the positions since I am comfortable in the Scheveningen lines already.

Work on Calculation

I didn't specifically do any calculation-related drills (i.e. solve endgame studies) but nevertheless I have noticed that my calculation skills are improving.  I find myself having an easier time more thoroughly examining lines.  I also seem to find candidate moves much easier than I was. 

I am fairly certain that this is a byproduct of the hard work I have put in on analyzing my games. 

Work on Analysis

I didn't do as much as I would like, for no other reason than I have the last two games I have played unanalyzed to date.  I did some post mortem work on them, but nothing in depth and they aren't even in ChessBase.

So lots of work to do in this area, but I did some of what needed to be done and can see the results paying off so far.

Study Fischer Games

This one I did very little of.  One of the down sides to reviewing so many books is that I don't really have as much time to chose what I am going to study on my own.  That's not necessarily a bad thing since I get to study some truly amazing stuff.  For example, I am currently working on the newly released algebraic edition of Alekhine's best games. 

So this area was a total failure.

Nevertheless, September saw my first shot at making Class A, and even though I fell a little short I know that getting there is just around the corner.  I will make it as long as I keep doing what I have been doing.