Thursday, February 28, 2013

Oldies Can Be Goodies

One of the things I have not been able to figure out is the almost total aversion to any chess literature not published within the past five minutes.

It seems that unless the paper is still warm from the printing press that there is a huge movement within the chess community to avoid it like the plague.

Now, when it comes to top flight players, I understand that.  I can't imagine that a 2700 GM would get anything other than pleasure from reading a book about Morphy's best games.

Amazingly to me, though, are the views espoused by club players.  I hear things like "Yeah, but all those opening lines have been refuted." or "Have you looked at those games with Rybka?  The analysis has totally been invalidated." etc.

Again, for a titled player there are some absolute truths in those statements.  But for a club player?  How ridiculous!

I personally have read and enjoyed many books that fit in to the category of "those openings have been refuted and the analysis invalidated" and learned a lot.

Some of those books include:

500 Master Games of Chess by Tartakower
My Best Games of Chess by Alekhine
From my Games by Euwe

Many of the games in these books are true classics in every sense of the word.  So to see them written off by legions of chess fans is silly. 

Yes, I read tons of modern books as well.  I particularly enjoy Fighting Chess With Magnus Carlsen.  But my beef with books like those is that they are opening heavy.  Just getting through the first 15 moves of a game requires two pages of analysis due to the current state of opening theory.  While that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing it does lead to spending 30-40 minutes just plodding through an opening sometimes.  Not to mention that I just felt that there was something I couldn't quite put my finger on that made the older books valuable in a way that the modern books aren't.

Imagine how vindicated I felt when I was browsing through a copy of Modern Chess Preparation by Tukmakov and I saw that he mentions the idea of studying classic games.  Since I didn't buy that book I can't quote directly from it, but I will paraphrase Tukmakov.  He said that one issue facing players today who want to improve their game is that current games between super GM's essentially boil down to opening theory and petite combinations.  So when you study those games you can't learn how to plan properly because there really aren't too many top games these days that feature a clear plan throughout.

However, studying classical games will give you that ability since those games often featured a single plan that ran through a large portion of the game practically uninterrupted.

When I read that I realized that was the thing I couldn't quite put my finger out that separated the games of the early 20th century from the games of the early 21st.

What are your thoughts about the games of the old masters?

Sadly, no Game Tonight

Well, sometimes life interferes with chess.  Tonight will unfortunately be one of those cases.

I had an employee decide to quit on no notice yesterday.  He is a supervisor where I work, and unfortunately since I am the manager that means that I will be there tonight.

So tonight was going to be my chance to play a guy rated about 60 points or so lower than me, but who has been having some bad results lately, and try to increase my all time rating ceiling.  But instead I'll be working.

I still should be at my all time rating, however.  My highest rating to date is 1721.  I am currently 1710 and my results so far in the tournament which concludes this evening are a draw against a 1751 and a win against a 1686.  So I believe that when all is said and done I'll gain 16 or 17 points to finish at 1726 or 1727.  Although lately my calculations have been off.

But in any case, I wanted the chance to play the guy tonight who's 1653.  A win, although certainly not guaranteed, would have put my rating somewhere around 1740ish.

Not to mention that tonight's opponent is a fairly good calculator so it would have been a game that would have been a good learning experience rather I won, lost, or drew.

Nevertheless, I still have my tournament coming up this Saturday. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Plan This Week

The plan this week will vary quite a bit from the plan last week.

Last week the big idea was to work on the White side of the English since I knew I had White in a club game. This week differs in that I will have Black in my club game against a guy who's been playing moves like 1. d3 lately. So I will look at a minimal amount of "prep" for this but most efforts will be spent elsewhere.

So this week I will be spending a little more time on ChessTempo and I will also spend a little more time reading books such as 1000 Checkmate Combinations

Granted I just had a post last week stating that too much work on tactics may not be a good thing, but I'm not trying to imply that I'll be spending two hours a day working on tactics.  Rather, I might be spending 30 minutes a day rather than 15.

The other item I will be working on this week is playing over more annotated games than I have been lately.  I'm going back to an old favorite 500 Master Games of Chess.  I plan on reading the entire book this year although I am only 52 games in so far.  However, I have not been reading it at all over the past month so I'm not really behind the curve here.

This week then culminates in a four round Game/60 tournament called March Madness.  I will of course post the games...

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

Well, sometimes what we expect is not what occurs. Take last week for example, I spent all week preparing the White side of the English against someone who plays it and knows it thoroughly. Then, a day prior to the game I found out I was mixed up and I was actually playing someone else. So I played the White side of the English against them instead. It was an interesting game to say the least. I miscalculated a line that actually allowed a perpetual. Luckily my opponent was in a fighting mood. Then he miscalculated by playing 10...Nxf2 rather than playing 10...Bxf2+ and following up with ...Bg4. After that I threw away my advantage by playing 17. Bd2, but after he played the inaccurate move 18...Rbb8 I was able to mount enough pressure to seize (and keep) the initiative. Interestingly enough there was a time when I could have forced him to sac a rook for a promoted pawn, but the resulting position would have most likely forced me to mate with two bishops and my technique there is rusty to say the least so I decided to just maintain tension. Eventually the game finishes with a beautiful mating pattern. Granted, he stumbled into it, but it looks pretty. If anyone can help me by showing me how to embed the java script player into this blog I will start posting the games that way. In the meantime here is the PGN for the game so that you may add it to your favorite pgn viewer! All comments are welcome! Wainscott,Chris (1710) - Sagunsky,Dave (1686) [A29] Lover's Romantic Valentine Quad (2), 21.02.2013 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bc5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Nxe5 Nxc3 9.Nxc6 Nxd1 10.Nxd8 Nxf2 11.Nxb7 Bxb7 12.Bxb7 Rab8 13.Bf3 Nd3+ 14.e3 Nxb2 15.d4 Bd6 16.Be2 Na4 17.Bd2 Rb2 18.Rfd1 Rbb8 19.Rab1 Nb6 20.Rdc1 Nd7 21.Bb5 Nf6 22.Ba5 h6 23.Bc6 Rfd8 24.Rb3 Rxb3 25.axb3 Ng4 26.Rc3 Nf6 27.Kg2 Kh7 28.Kf3 g5 29.h3 g4+ 30.hxg4 Rg8 31.e4 Nxg4 32.Bd7 Nf6 33.Bf5+ Kh8 34.e5 Nd5 35.exd6 Nxc3 36.dxc7 Nb5 37.Kf4 Nd6 38.Bd3 Kg7 39.Bb4 Nc8 40.Bc5 Kf6 41.d5 h5 42.Bf5 a5 43.d6 Rg5 44.Bd4# 1-0

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Daily Chess Puzzle

Well, if you're going to take the time to visit my blog, I'll give you a nice bonus. A daily chess puzzle provided by the kind folks at GameKnot. This puzzle will update each night at midnight PST.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tactics - Too Much of a Good Thing?

I have gone back to spending quite a bit of time working on tactics.  I have been using Chess Tempo for this. 

For those who don't know, ChessTempo is a free tactics (and endgames!) website. 

But the question remains...can tactics puzzles be overused?

A couple of years ago I read this excellent post on Dan Heisman's website.  Written by IM David Pruess, the point is made that you will only be able to get so much and nothing more from studying tactics in any given day. 

Essentially the gist of the story is that once you've spent more than perhaps 10-15 minutes on tactics you will not learn anything else that day and additional time is simply wasted effort.

It's an interesting thought, and one that I've been trying to follow.

Does anyone have any different advice that has been given to them by a strong player?

The Week So Far

So far this week I have pretty much followed the plan.  Granted, we're only a few days in to the week, but it's good not to stray too far without good reason.

So far this week I have played through several games in Steve Giddin's book The English: Move by Move.  I finished the chapter on 1...e5 and have moved on to the chapter on 1...c5.

In addition I have done some minimal work with Mihail Marin's The English Opening - Volume One.  This is the volume that covers the 1...e5 responses.  I need to dig in and really learn some of this material. 

Particularly I want to play the Botvinnik lines against setups involving ...g6.  Giddin's book does minimally cover that material, but Marin's book covers it in depth since it's a repertoire book rather than a brief overview.

Additionally I've gone back to something I had gotten away from for a while, and that is doing daily tactics puzzles.  I have been making great use of Chess Tempo to work on puzzles for 15-20 minutes per day.  I have been trying to do this as a warm up before doing the "heavy lifting" so to speak.

If you are reading this and you have some advice for me I'm all ears!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Plan

One thing that I think is very important to achieving my goal is to have a plan.  After all, isn't the game itself about attempting to find and then execute a winning plan?

Currently, much like in an actual game, I have both a short term and a long term plan...

Short term plans will generally be things I want to do in the coming few days.  Anywhere from a week to a month, but certainly no longer.  These plans will typically be related to prep for a specific tournament or game that I have coming up. 

One thing I will make sure of is that I engage in a short term plan only when it fits into my long term plan. 

For example, as mentioned in my last post, Preparing for Battle, I have a game coming up this week where I will be playing the English as White.  (FYI, this will be only the second time I have played 1. c4 in my entire life!)  Since part of my long term plan is to learn the English I will allow myself to have the short term plan of focusing on studying this opening all week as my opponent plays it as White and so therefore will likely know the lines much better than I do.

My long term plan is currently this:

Fine Tune My Opening Repertoire

I know that this is something that many players probably spend far too much time on.  In my case, I don't think that I spend enough.  Until the last month or so I almost never studied openings at all.  I mean ever. 

This doesn't mean that I want to learn the latest topical lines of the Najdorf out to move 30.  It just means that I want to gain a deeper understanding of openings in general and then put together a repertoire that will fit my strengths.

Play Over Annotated Games

This is my main focus right now and has been for the past three months or so.  In that time I have played over 100-150 or so games.  In addition to the Move by Move books that I have been using (see my earlier posts) the main book I have been using for this is Tartakower's excellent work 500 Master Games of Chess

My plan is to spend the next year to year and a half playing over about 1,500-2,000 total games.  Dan Heisman recommends playing over annotated master games as one of the best ways to improve and having started to make a serious effort to do so myself I can see why. 

Right now I am not trying to play through Kasparov's books for Everyman Chess since I'm not looking for that level of detail. 

One of the things I love about Tartakower's book is that it talks about strategic themes rather than focusing on 20 move variations ala Kasparov, etc.

In case another endorsement was needed, I was drawn to the book when I learned that Bobby Fischer had read and loved it.

Read Pal Benko's Endgame Column in Chess Life

Right now I am not focusing on hard core endgame work.  Not too many of my games get to an even endgame.  So while I don't want to completely neglect this phase of the game, I also don't want to overly focus on it.  I think that for now I am going to mainly read this column as a source of building a foundation.


Of course one of the most important aspects of improving is working on tactics.  Two books I go to over and over are Susan Polgar's and Lev Alburt's.

In addition I use the tactics website Chess Tempo since it offers free unlimited training.

So there you have current plan.

If anyone out there has any input or suggestions I'd love to hear them.  Or post your own training plan for others to enjoy!

Preparing for Battle

I play in a club that meets every Thursday.  Each week we play one round of a tournament.  What makes this interesting is that it means that even at the club level there is quite a bit of potential preparation that can be done.

Which takes me to an interesting topic...

I have been wanting to take up the English as White.  This coming week I will play White against someone roughly my own strength who himself plays the English as White.  So natuarally my first thought was to play 1. e4 against him.  Why do battle on his turf where he will likely be stronger?

But then I thought about it.  When two GM's meet they generally know what openings the other will play.  And while they do quite a bit of prep to be ready for one another the times when one of them will deviate entirely so as to avoid meeting their opponent on their own turf seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

So why should I be any different?  After all, if I am going to achieve my goal of becoming a master I'm going to need to get over that fear.

I doubt that I'll get crushed right out of the opening, so I feel like I should just trust in my ability to calculate and my feel for the initiative and play 1. c4 with confidence.  Who cares if it's on his turf?  And who cares if he knows it's coming.  Sometimes you just have to lower your lance, raise your shield, and charge.

So this week will be spent on two books in particular...the first is Steve Giddin's The English: Move by Move and the second is Mihail Marin's The English Opening - Volume One.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Move by Move Series by Everyman Chess

Everyman Chess's excellent Move by Move series seems to me to be a real boon to players of varying levels.  While I can't imagine that a GM would pick up a book like The Scheveningen: Move by Move in hopes of learning a new opening system, a club player can do so with confidence.

When the series was first announced and the first book on the The Slav was announced I thought that the question and answer format might work out rather nicely.  After all, I've always asked lots of questions of stronger players in my own efforts to improve.

I picked up the books on the Scheveningen, and on the English and enjoyed them.

However, when I picked up IM Cyrus Lakdawala's excellent book Capablanca: Move by Move I really saw what this series can mean to a player trying to improve.  That book has improved my play more than any other book I have ever read.  I found the book to be not only easy to read, but eye opening as well.

The explanations given are clear and articulate, and the variational analysis is not to overwhelming for a club player.  In addition IM Lakdawala has a sense of humor that comes across very clearly and serves to add to the material rather than to detract (or even worse, distract) from it.

I am currently reading Kramnik: Move by Move also by IM Lakdawala and hope that player-specific books continue to be released.

Moving Away from an Automatic 1. e4

For as long as I can remember I always opened games with 1. e4.  It was in my blood.  Perhaps it was because I started playing at the age of four in 1977 with adults who had caught chess fever during the Fischer Boom.

I rarely gave it a second thought.  Tournament game?  1. e4.  Blitz game?  1. e4.  Correspondence game?  1. e4.  Skittles game?  1.e4.

I was one of those guys who thought that queen pawn openings were boring and that playing them was tantamount to admitting to cowardice in battle.  Somehow I just refused to acknowledge that since Garry Kasparov, my chess hero of the late 80's and early 90's (and now!) played them that there must be something to them.

Maybe this is a sign of having matured as a player as well as a person, but I have started to play more 1. d4 and 1. Nf3.  I even played 1.c4 in a game and plan on taking up the English from time to time.

Currently I am reading FM Steve Giddins excellent book The English: Move by Move to better learn some of the ideas in the English.  You may purchase this excellent book here.

I think that as a player learning these openings has helped tremendously and I have only played moves other than 1. e4 a few times.  However, in those few times I have played positions I had never faced before.  Such as playing against hanging pawns on the White side of the Tartakower variation of the QGD.

In the long run it seems to me that this can only help me by making me a more complete player.

Follow my Adventures

I have decided to start this blog about my journey towards becoming a chess master in hopes that it will help me focus my efforts.

Hopefully it will entertain others along the way.

One of the main reasons I want to start this blogs mimics one of the main reasons that a good coach will tell you to keep a becomes a written record of what has come before, which can then be used to assist in determining what should come next.

I want that to refer to so that when I hit plateaus along the way I can hopefully break through them much faster.

As an example, I first made it over 1700 in October of 2011 at the Hales Corners Challenge XIV.  I then dropped back below 1700 in my next tournament, made it back over 1700 in January of 2012.  I then went into a tail spin back down to 1560 by August of 2012.

There were two things that broke that streak and got me back on track.  The first was in playing with more confidence against lower rated players.  I decided that they were lower rated for a reason and so I should be OK as long as I focused.

The second was going back over the notes I had taken along the way and reinforcing those lessons within myself.

I hope that this will make my referring back a much easier experience.

So what happened when I did those two things?  Well, from August of 2012 through January of 2013 I raised my rating from 1560 back up to 1710.