Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tactics are the Servants of Strategy

That quote by Mikhail Botvinnik has to be one of the most accurate quotes about any subject ever.

I seem to have finally gotten past my overall laziness when it comes to studying tactics.  I am doing quite a few puzzles each day and am generally working harder towards improving.

But now...I think that it's time to begin gradually working in some positional themes.

For example, last night I played a game against a club member whom I have played numerous times.  He is very difficult to beat because he rarely makes tactical blunders and he has a good flair for positional play.

We played a King's Indian and rather than face the Bayonet Attack I decided to play the ...exd4 version.  I wanted to get a solid position on my own terms rather than to deal with the typical kingside vs queenside motif in the KID.

I had achieved what I felt was a playable position when I got the idea to play ...h6 and ...g5 in order to limit the scope of his dark squared bishop.  I knew that doing so would create something of a weakness on f5, but I said Fischer's famous quote to myself..."You gotta give squares to get squares."  The problem of course was that I wasn't really getting any squares in return.  And my initial goal to lock down the kingside from the dark squared bishop wound up just being superficial.

So I am hoping that if I start working in some positional themes along with the tactical work that I will begin to take that next step towards 1800.

To that end I am trying to decide whether I should read How to Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman or Strategic Play by Mark Dvoretsky.

I think that Silman's book might make more sense at this point.

To see the game I am describing above please visit:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Slow Blade Penetrates the Shield

The title is a little nod to any Sci Fi fans who might happen to be reading...

One of the problems that I have traditionally had when it comes to chess improvement is that I wanted to learn everything "yesterday."

Very rarely would I ever approach anything with patience.  My games?  Rushed attacks that often proved fruitless.  Studying?  I would go from book to book without hardly reading anything and I certainly wouldn't bother to actually play through any of the annotations.

The result?  Well, I did improve, but only as a result of the fact that I played a lot.  I certainly wasn't able to identify any weaknesses and work on them.

Then in 1992 I stopped playing altogether.  Nothing.  Nada.  Perhaps I played five casual games in the next 19 years.

When I came back to chess in the beginning of 2011 I started out by repeating those same behaviors.  I bought 100 books and read practically none. 

Then...something changed.

I realized that I don't have to try to gain 100 points overnight.  I realized that I don't have to play through 20 annotated games a day to get better.  In fact, I realized that trying to do so was counterproductive.

So now I focus on playing through 2-5 games per day at most.  Usually it's 2-3.  Yes, that means that it will take me a couple of years to play through the 2,000 or so games that I feel I need to.  But that's OK.  If it takes time it takes time.  As long as progress is being made I am fine with that.'

I also learned not to spend more than 30 minutes a day max working on tactics.  I had read something by IM David Pruess that said that you won't remember the patterns if you work on tactics too much.  I believe that.

So the past few days I've been making sure to stay in the groove.  Work those tactics.  Play though some games.  Work on openings by selecting which games to play through.  etc.

I leave you with this game that I discovered this morning...Aitken-Reshevsky Stockholm 1937.  I love how on move 27 Reshevsky immediately returns the sacrificed material to even the game rather than to suffer a difficult defense.

Monday, March 25, 2013

This Week's Plan

This week the plan will be rather simple.  I have one game this Wednesday as Black.  It's against someone I have played several times and my record is something like one win, five losses, and four or five draws. 

So since I know what opening I will be playing I will brush up a little in that regard, but mostly I am going to work on tactics and on playing through annotated games.

Last week I actually did more tactical work than I had been doing lately.  It's what allowed me to find a move like Rb5 in my last game .  To play through that game go here:

I had been struggling to actually get in my tactical work.  Mostly out of laziness, so I have no real excuse.  But last week I finally got the work in.  Clearly it made a difference.

I can also see a difference in my play that is a result of playing over so many annotated games.  The difference I see is that I don't rush.  I find myself building up slowly and methodically rather than rushing headlong into what may or may not be a good plan.

For example, in the game linked above I could win a pawn with 16. Bxb7 but after 16...Rb8 and 17...Nb3 my opponent would have massive comp for the pawn.  So for one of the first times in my life I didn't go pawn grabbing.

So let's hope that the progress continues.

Back Above 1700 (Again)

After all the work I had done to get my rating up to my all time high of 1724 one bad performance at the beginning of the month dropped me down below 1700 to 1699.

This past week I managed to get back above 1700 to 1702.

The third round of a club tournament was this past Thursday.  I was 0-2 in the first two games (lost as Black against a 2100 and a 2000) but I had White in the final round vs a provisional 1600 player. 

The guy I was playing is known as a wild attacking player and so I figured I would just play super solid and let him bring the fight to me.  Sure enough, he wasted several tempi trying to build what was a very fruitless attack.  Then he hung a piece and it was all over.

To see the game please go here:

What is interesting to me is that I think that this game is going to wind up being a huge building block in my continued progress.  The reason why is that this game was played on a Thursday when I had to leave town early Friday morning to drive eight hours.  So I strongly considered not playing this game at all.

At one point I was 99% that I wasn't going to  play.  But I decided that I didn't want to let the chance to make it back over 1700 slip through my fingers.

Typically in the past when I haven't really been mentally committed to playing a game I've stood no chance.  I would make terrible blunders and just get crushed.  I'm not saying that I played perfectly in this game, but I was able to maintain my composure and I won.

So hopefully this is the next step down the path of progress.

Monday, March 18, 2013

You Can't Hide From the Truth

So last week I wrote a post talking about how I wasn't doing the work on tactics that I knew I needed to.

I then committed myself to doing 15-30 minutes a day every day.

Since then I have made that goal perhaps half the time.  Certainly not every day, however.

On the one hand that's really not that big of a deal.  I'm still doing *some* tactical work every day after all.  On the other hand, this is a huge issue.  Because when you distill things down to their essence it becomes more difficult to achieve a goal when you don't do the work that needs to be done to get there.

I remember my first chess coach telling me that his coach wanted him to work on basic tactics for an hour a day "just to stay sharp."  He told me that he wasn't going to do it because he felt that his tactics were good enough as is.

At the time I was thinking to myself "What's the point of having a coach if you're not going to listen?"  And yet here I am not listening.

Now it's true, I can't guarantee that doing this tactical work will make me a master.  I don't know what it will take because I'm not there.  But I do know that my tactics need work because I am overlooking simple tactics.

So I guess this week will be about self reflection to determine how committed I am right now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Interesting lesson tonight.  Round One of the Waukesha Chess Club Championship was tonight.  Prior to my game I was speaking with a local expert and I was telling him that I felt that one of the main items to work on for me to progress to the next level would be learning when to violate certain chess principles.

For example, when we first learn to play we are taught that doubled pawns are weak.  So we try to avoid them at all costs.  Later on you learn that there are many positions in which doubled pawns aren't weak at all, or when there are other dynamic factors that compensate for the doubled pawns.

I believe that learning when to violate these principles is vital to my continued development.

I then had a conversation with another expert and a strong A player and told them that I had a lesson with a local expert who had shown me that in closed positions I tend to make inaccurate time wasting moves in the opening.

Then I was paired with a master for my game.  Seven time state champ Bill Williams.  I played the Black side of the QGD (closed position) and then about 10-12 moves in I realized that I could move a knight for the second time (sloppy move) and win the bishop pair (general chess principle.)

So what happened?  Absolute crushing defeat from that point forward.  I gave away a positional consideration that just turned into me getting steamrolled.

So the lesson?  Well...actions speak louder than words.  I spent 30 minutes speaking with several people about how I needed to learn not to do all of the things that I then went and did.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Human Nature 1 - Human 0

Well, in my last four games I have lost material to relatively simple tactics.  Last Thursday I was playing a game against a 2100, was up material after he made an unsound sacrifice, and then managed to blunder the exchange and eventually lose the game.

So what does that tell me?  It tells me what I already know and that is that I haven't been spending enough time working on tactics lately.

Now I've said a few times on this blog that I was going to do more tactics work that I had been.  And I have.  But not enough.  I was doing almost none and know that I should be doing about 15-30 minutes a day.  Instead I have been doing about 15-30 minutes a week.

So what am I going to do about it...

Well, two things.  First, I am going to make a more concerted effort to actually do the work I know that I need to.  It's not enough to say that I know I need to do the tactical exercises.  If I don't then follow through and actually do them then I will not progress to master.  Of that much I am sure.

Second, I am going to try to use a tool that made me a better typist and see if it will make me a better chess player.  In order to develop my typing skills I created a "punishment" for mistakes, and that was that if I made a mistake then I couldn't just mouse over to the mistake and insert my cursor for a simple one or two character fix.  Instead, I made myself delete all of the text back to the mistake and retype everything. 

At first that was a huge pain.  Sometimes the mistakes were a paragraph back.  At first I hated having to retype entire paragraphs because of one lazy mistake.  But what happened next was startling...I developed the ability to instantly notice and correct on the fly every mistake I make when typing.  It's more than double my wpm from 40 on a good day to 70 on a good day.

So what is the chessic version of this?  I'm glad you asked...I am going to purchase this book: 1 Move Checkmates by Eric Schiller and any time I find myself not properly working on tactics I am going to force myself to solve every single exercise in the book before allowing myself to work on anything chess related.

It may seem silly but it will accomplish two things...

1) It was still help to develop my board vision to some degree.  I picked up this book at a book seller one time and glanced at it.  You'd be surprised how often it took 5-10 seconds to spot the mate even when you already knew that one was there.

2) It will help instill the discipline I need to work on my tactics.  Refer back to my previous post about tactics being too much of a good thing and you will quickly discern that I am no La Maza devotee who feels that one should spend several hours per day on tactics.  Nevertheless, I know that I need to quickly get 15-30 minutes a day in or even making Class A in a timely fashion will be tough.

Another book I am very interested in getting is one that Dan Heisman mentions from time to time and that is Chess Tactics for Students by John Bain.  Although for the time being I have tons of tactics books to read and so I'll stick with them.

I'm curious as to what others do to work on their tactics.  Does anyone have any advice or input?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Robert James Fischer!

Today would have been his 70th.

To celebrate, you should buy yourself one of these fine books:

My 60 Memorable Games

Bobby Fischer Comes Home

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered

Bobby Fischer's Outrageous Chess Moves

Bobby Fischer Career and Complete Games

Garry Kasparov on Fischer

Opening Flash Cards - Yep, I'm "That Guy"

Well, in my desire to get more serious about learning my openings I have started to make opening flash cards.  Not really flash cards in the traditional sense of the word, but index cards with lines and variations.

i.e. I just made a set on the Ruy Lopez Closed Worrall and the format is like this...

On the front of the 3"x5" card at the top is Ruy Lopez Closed Worrall (...9. Bg4 & 10...Bh5).  Then, below that are the initial moves of the variation:  1. e4 e5  2. Nf3 Nc6  3. Bb5 a6  4. Ba4 Nf6  5. Qe2 b5  6. Bb3 Be7  7. 0-0 0-0  8. c3 d5  9. Rd1.  Then below that in bigger print is 9...Bg4

On the back is the rest of the line: 10. h3 Bh5, etc.

The next card is the Ruy Lopez Closed Worrall (9...Bg4 & 10...Bxf3) with the same moves on the front, and then on the back 10. h3 Bxf3, etc.

Why do I do things this way?  Because for me it's easier to prep openings by glancing at the cards and playing through the moves rather than playing through your typical tree of variations opening books which has all the extra sub-sub sidelines, etc. between the main stuff that you need. 

I can play through the dozen or two lines that I feel I might need to brush up on for a particular opening in just a handful of minutes rather than spending an hour working through a book that has a lot of "clutter" in it.

I know that these days a lot of people just use Chess Openings Wizard or similar technology to help opening prep.  I'm all for that and will probably eventually begin using that but for now this works just fine.

I'm interested in hearing how others prep their openings.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Opening Repertoire

Lately I find myself putting a lot of thought into what openings I want to play.  I know that this is something that a lot of players struggle with, but until the past few months it has never been something that I have struggled with.

Until recently my openings were pretty simple.  As White it was 1. e4 and if I faced a Sicilian it was going to be an Alapin.  As Black it was going to be a Sicilian against 1. e4 and typically a KID with the occasional QGD against 1. d4 or 1. Nf3.  Against 1. c4 I played 1...Nf6 and those often wound up as KID's as well.

About a year and a half ago I had dropped the Sicilian in favor of the French and occasionally a ...Qd6 Scandinavian.

I also started playing open Sicilians as White rather than the Alapin.  I also played some Grand Prix's, but mostly played open.

Those initial changes to my repertoire got me asking myself if playing the same things over and over was helpful or harmful to my development.  I had such little knowledge of certain pawn structures and strategies that it even affected my ability to get the most out of playing through GM games.  Sure, intellectually speaking I understood how to play against hanging pawns.  But because I never saw those ideas in my own games I didn't grasp the strategies as well as I thought I probably should.

So I decided to do something about it.  I started playing 1. Nf3 with the occasional 1. d4 thrown in.  Now I've started to take up the English as well.

As Black I've started playing the ...a6 Slav at times, not to mention expanding my knowledge of the KID overall into other variations other than the mainline Mar del Plata stuff.

Now this has me asking myself is perhaps too much is just as detrimental as too little.  It reminds me of the maxim by the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great "He who defends everything defends nothing."  The chessic version of that would, I suppose, be "He who plays everything plays nothing."

But that takes me to my quandary...I'm not sure what exactly it is that I want to play long term.  Ultimately I'd like to pick a repertoire and spend the next several years truly learning it inside and out.

I am fairly certain that as Black I want to stick with my return to the Sicilian and continue to expand my knowledge of the KID.  I also want to learn more about the ...a6 Slav and the ...Qd6 Scandinavian because I don't want to be too predictable since I tend to play the same people over and over at the clubs I play at.

As White?  Well, that's the crux of it...I don't know what I want to do.  Part of me wants to switch fully to 1. Nf3, part of me wants to switch to the English, and part of me wants to mix it up and play everything.

So I guess that among the lists of things that I need to work on, putting together a repertoire needs to go on that list.

Does anyone out there have experience with playing an extrememly wide repertoire?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

"Form is temporary, class is permanent." - Hikaru Nakamura

Well, I played in the March Madness tournament this past Saturday.  I had just achieved my all time rating high of 1724 and I felt on top of the world.  But I performed poorly.

I started out with a first round pairing against an opponent who was rated 1096.  I was up a piece for a pawn by move six and so as you can imagine that game was just total domination.  There was one annoying moment for me when I was up two pieces and lost an exchange back.

It was the type of move that I likely would have made anyways had I calculated it because it had the nice effect of simplifying the position.  However, that's not what happened.  What happened was I just missed the move and he was able to win the exchange. 

As my opponent was a kid he (as expected) did not resign so I forced him into a helpmate.  It wasn't my intention the entire time, it's just something I realized I could force towards the end and so I did.

My second round game I was paired against the top seed.  He was rated 1940 but hadn't played in several years so I thought I would have good chances.  What started out as a Modern Defense quickly transposed into an Accelerated Dragon.  I went astray somewhere early and got cramped as he pawnstormed me.  I then hung a knight.  Flat out hung it.  Moved it en prise and then resigned immediately when he took it.

The bad news is that it was the worst blunder I've made in a couple of years.  The good news is that it was so bad I was able to laugh it off so it wouldn't affect my third round game.

In the third round I face another kid.  This one was rated 1440.  I played the Sicilian and he played the closed variation.  I had never faced it or really studied it before so I wasn't aware of the idea that Black will typically play ...e6 or ...e5 in order to develop the king knight to e7 rather than f6.

I quickly learned why when I hung a piece (another knight) to a simple tactic.  My knight on c6 was loose as I had played ...b5 and so he was able to play e5 which hit my knight on f6 while unmasking his bishop on g2 which hit the knight on f6.  I misplayed the continuation as I should have been able to get two pawns for the piece but I didn't.

He showed excellent technique from there and ground me down in an endgame.

So when all is said and done I took three lessons from this.

1) I need more work on tactics.  Seeing as how I dropped both an exchange and a piece to simple tactics I clearly haven't been working on tactics enough.

2) I need to remember to ask myself "Is it safe" ala Dan Heisman.  Had I done so I wouldn't have hung that knight in game two.  I may have lost anyways, but I could have put up a fight.

3) I needed to (and since have) looked at some Closed Sicilian lines.

After round three I withdrew and went home.  I was tired and wasn't playing well so I knew it was better to call it a day.

New rating is 1699.  However, unlike the last two times when I went over 1700 then dropped right back down I feel good about myself this time.  I can see the areas I need to improve in my game.  I can smell that Class A approaching.

The games.

Kohr,Jonathan (1096) - Wainscott,Chris (1724) [B40]
March Madness (1), 02.03.2013

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 c4 6.Bxc4 bxc4 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.0-0 Nf6 9.Re1 Qc7 10.d3 cxd3 11.Qxd3 Bb7 12.Bg5 Be7 13.Bh4 d6 14.Rad1 Rd8 15.Qe3 0-0 16.b3 Nb4 17.Rd2 Rc8 18.e5 dxe5 19.Qxe5 Qxc3 20.Qxc3 Rxc3 21.a3 Nbd5 22.Kf1 Bxa3 23.Red1 Rfc8 24.Bxf6 gxf6 25.Nd4 Bc5 26.Ne2 Bb4 27.Nxc3 Bxc3 28.Rd3 Bc6 29.Kg1 Bb5 30.Rf3 Be2 31.Rg3+ Kh8 32.Rb1 Be5 33.Rh3 Rxc2 34.Re1 Bg4 35.Rd3 Bf5 36.Rdd1 Rb2 37.Ra1 Bd4 38.Rf1 Bd3 39.Rfd1 Bxf2+ 40.Kh1 Rxb3 41.Rac1 Bb5 42.Ra1 Rc3 43.Ra2 Bb6 44.Rb2 Rc7 45.Rb3 Ba4 46.Rxb6 Nxb6 47.Rg1 Rc2 48.h3 Bc6 49.Kh2 a5 50.Kh1 a4 51.Kh2 a3 52.h4 a2 53.Kh3 Bd5 54.Kh2 Rxg2+ 55.Rxg2 Bxg2 56.Kxg2 a1Q 57.Kg3 Qc3+ 58.Kg4 f5+ 59.Kg5 f6+ 60.Kh5 Qf3+ 61.Kh6 Qg4 62.h5 Qg5# 0-1

Wainscott,Chris (1724) - Milette,Rob (1940) [B34]
March Madness (2), 02.03.2013

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd2 Nf6 8.Bd3 0-0 9.0-0 d5 10.exd5 cxd5 11.Re1 Re8 12.Rb1 e5 13.f3 Bb7 14.Kh1 h6 15.Qc1 Kh7 16.Ne2 e4 17.fxe4 dxe4 18.Bc4 Qc7 19.Bb3 Ng4 20.Bf4 Qc6 21.Nd4 Bxd4 0-1

Najeeb,Haidi (1436) - Wainscott,Chris (1724) [B25]
March Madness (3), 02.03.2013

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 d6 4.Bg2 g6 5.d3 Bg7 6.Nge2 Nf6 7.0-0 0-0 8.f4 Rb8 9.h3 b5 10.e5 b4 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.Ne4 Bg7 13.g4 Qb6 14.Kh1 a5 15.Rb1 a4 16.c3 Be6 17.c4 d5 18.Ng5 dxc4 19.Nxe6 cxd3 20.Nxf8 dxe2 21.Qxe2 Kxf8 22.Qe4 Nd4 23.Be3 f5 24.Qd3 Rd8 25.Rfd1 Qe6 26.Re1 Qxa2 27.gxf5 c4 28.Qd2 Nc6 29.Qc2 Nd4 30.Bxd4 Rxd4 31.fxg6 hxg6 32.Qxg6 c3 33.Qf5+ Qf7 34.Qc8+ Qe8 35.Qxe8+ Kxe8 36.Bc6+ Kf8 37.Bxa4 cxb2 38.Rxb2 Rxf4 39.Rbb1 Rf2 40.Rxb4 Bf6 41.Rb8+ Kg7 42.Rg1+ Kh7 43.Rg2 Rf1+ 44.Rg1 Rf2 45.Rbb1 Ra2 46.Bb3 Rd2 47.Rg2 Rd3 48.Bc2 1-0