Since my quest to improve started (when I began this blog three months ago) my chess has made a big shift from internet blitz chess to a mixture of over the board chess and correspondence chess. I am also now reading books about chess and, obviously, writing about chess.
But is my chess improving? Unfortunately I’ve just come through a severe losing streak in my webserver games so I’m not sure that I am – and since I didn’t used to play webserver games I can’t compare. The only way I could measure a change would be to compare my blitz rating now with what it was 3 months ago but since I haven’t been playing blitz games I can’t do that either. Maybe I’ll set aside a ‘Blitz Week’ where I play 100 games and see what happens with my rating – although this now seems like a bit of a chore to me. I could also play in rated tournaments so that I can track my progress too, this appeals more now than internet chess but any change is likely to take a long time.
One thing that has improved is my enjoyment of chess. There is no doubt that my chess ‘lifestyle’ is better; reading about chess, playing people and dwelling on my correspondence games is a more soulful experience than churning through blitz games on a computer. So in a life enriching sense the luddite experiment is working.
(Click on notation for board to appear and to play through moves)
I have just resigned a game, as black, in my ICCF webserver tournament. The game included a long endgame in which I had a king, a rook and four pawns to his king, rook and five pawns. My gut feeling is that it should have been drawn but I just wasn’t able to achieve this. I have jumped to move 29 which follows 28. …bxc5 so that I can focus on the endgame. I have put some notes into my game without using a computer. Then, at the base of this post, I have analysed the ending using a computer to play itself to see what could have happened.
I’ve looked at many different variations from move 28.bxc5 but if white plays well then I think my initial gut feeling is wrong and a draw is impossible to achieve.
I set up the move 29 position on SCID vs. PC software and allowed the stockfish 4 engine run for about 30 seconds before pressing enter and forcing the move. The result was this:
Maybe there was a draw but it seems very hard to achieve.
And eerily enough this puzzle popped up on chess.com
Opening knowledge is something that grows over time. It starts as a three point premise of: 1. Control the centre, 2. Develop your pieces, 3. Castle. From there you notice things naturally occur. Knights often support central pawns, bishops flank out to pin and soon you form a personal opening that seems to occur often. This was the stage I was at a couple of years ago but I knew there was more to it. Growing up in the UK I watched TV coverage of Nigel Short getting thrashed by Garry Kasparov and commentators mention things like ‘Najdorf Variation’ and ‘Poisoned Pawn’. So I sought to find out more about openings so that I could ‘master’ a white and a black opening. My research led me to two openings that are widely respected and often seen as the ‘best’. These were the Ruy Lopez for white and the Sicilian for black. What I didn’t realise is how complex they can be. I played a cursory version of these openings during computer blitz games for a long time without really understanding them. After a time I started to get a feel for them and I supplemented this with watching videos about them. I still don’t know much about them but what I do know is that I feel much more comfortable with the Ruy than with the Sicilian and I’m much happier with the Najdorf than the Dragon if I play the Sicilian.
More recently I have played the Orangutan and Danish gambit as white and the French, Kings Indian and Ruy Lopez as black (as opposed to playing as white). All of these openings I play at a basic level and I feel ok with the white openings but I’m not happy with my black defences and the way my games pan out. The French seems as complicated as the Sicilian, the Ruy as black seems a lesser version of the Ruy as white and the Kings Indian always seems cramped.
I got to talking about openings at my Tuesday club and the teacher there suggested the Scandinavian since it flowed fairly naturally as black but could easily trip up white. We looked at various versions of it and it looked good for the type of chess I am interested in. I will do some more work on it.
Also, in my postal games, I am also trying to steer away from openings I know so that I can study new openings as they play out. I see this as an enjoyable way of finding out about other openings.
my aim at this stage is not to have a full understanding of any opening but rather to understand some openings enough that I can play them in over the board games to a point where the middle game takes over without me being overly disadvantaged.
Once a month I go to a seven round, Swiss format, 15 minute per side tournament at Box Hill Chess club. This months tournament happened yesterday and for me it was a mixture of good chess and frustrating chess. Of the seven games that I played one was against a much weaker opponent, three games were ruined by my blunders, one was marred by my opponents blunder and two games were good. My first good game was against an opponent born in 1923 and I have no doubt that chess keeps him young and sharp. The game was close but he gained a small advantage which became greater as we moved towards an endgame. I was down to two minutes when I resigned. The second good game saw me facing a kid who was perhaps 11 years old. I had played him at the last monthly tournament where he started with 1.d4 and I replied with a Kings Indian defence. I lost but it was a close game that took me down to my last minute. Again he played the same opening and again I responded in the same way and we had a very closed, positional, game in which he had a small advantage as we approached the endgame. I counter attacked well and the advantage shifted to me and I was lucky with a draw on my last second! (the arbiter called it a draw after three repeats). When it finished a 2000 rated player who was watching pointed out a three move mating net that in my urgency I missed – always nice to know.
It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon and I debriefed with a friend from my Tuesday chess club on the drive home.
I used to come home from work and turn the TV on (or I would get on the net) and watch it till late with a break for dinner and for stuff I had to do – laundry, washing, etc… My wife and I then had to look after a place for a few months that didn’t have a TV or an internet connection. Our lifestyles improved hugely. We cooked interesting meals, read widely, went out to restaurants/movies/plays and caught up with friends. It was a richer existence. When we returned to our house we got rid of the TV and the computer and our lifestyles continued to be great (we could access the net by phone for quick info). We then moved house but needed a net connection and TV because we chose to rent our house out during holidays when we went away. Since having the net and TV we have fallen back slightly into the easier electronic existence. We occasionally binge DVD (The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones…) and I mess around online (Facebook, Clash of Clans and chess).
I want to reduce my computer use so that I can get back to a lifestyle that is better. Computer games and Facebook are easy to reduce or eliminate. Unfortunately I want to improve my chess and computers are a great tool for learning. I use computers for tactics, online correspondence, this blog, live games, video lessons, chess ‘mentor’ (chess.com), games databases, opening study, games explorer… A long list. But there are alternatives and I plan to try these. In a previous post I wrote that I have bought a couple of books that allow me to practice tactics. I’ve also bought Jeremy Silman’s ‘Complete Endgame Course’ and Paul Van de Sterren’s ‘Fundamental Chess Openings’. I am hoping that these books will provide me with enough material so that I can reduce my total online time to 2hrs a week; time to write this blog, finish off my online correspondence games and do a couple of other things.
(Click on notation to see the board and play through moves)
My son and I arrived at our weekly chess competition in Glen Eira after having had a meal of dumplings around the corner. Some new faces had turned up from Frankston because their club was being renovated. Before the competition I played a fun game with one of the visitors that was a bit reckless and wild and ended, thankfully, in a draw.
I then sat down for my game which started
It was another frustrating result for me. Despite wanting to play more slowly and with greater calculation I am still stuck in an intuitive blitz mode. When I look back on this game I can see all the errors so clearly and I can choose much better moves.
ANALYSIS WITHOUT A COMPUTER (4 days later)
This game – and analysis – has highlighted the importance of my d4 pawn. It was holding back all of blacks pieces and as soon as it went the other pawns became vulnerable and the whole position collapsed.
ANALYSIS WITH A COMPUTER.
I downloaded a chess program called Arena and loaded my PGN into it. I then ran the engine as per item 4. below and resaved the PGN with the engine notes and pasted this into the blog. Instructions for this are here:
The computer analysis runs a graph of who is ahead and who is behind – in the move text it also shows the move played, then the best move sequence according to the engine ending with an assessment of the position at the end of each move, plus being ahead. Game explorer shows 8 games with the position reached after 5…h5 57% of which are draws and 28% of which are black wins – this despite the computer engine showing the position to be favourable to white. After my opponents move 7. …Nd7 I am shown to be +1.47 ahead – my best in the game, this roughly equates to a pawn and a half value. My game slips a bit when my D4 pawn is threatened and is then taken but the game remains a reasonably even (within a pawn and a half) until I blunder my knight.
My 10 Bd3, when analysed by Stockfish, shows that move to be -0.5 ish (assuming the next 10 moves are played to its standard.). My Be2 rates as +0.25 ish and the Arena move shows c5 to be the strongest at +0.55ish. Clearly I should have maintained my agressive advance cramping up his play.
After the game I googled my opponent to see if he had a chess profile and I was pleased to see that he did and it was over 1800. So I shouldn’t be surprised with this loss
This evening I played lazy chess (as per photo), less lazy chess and good chess. The good chess was with one of my postal games. I had set aside time to work on the move on my latest postcard. I sat down, wrote down their move, moved it on my cardboard game recorder and set up the chess board and played all the moves to date so I could reacquaint myself with the flow of the game. I looked for candidate moves but could only really find one so I played it and followed up with several different response for a few moves. When I was comfortable that the candidate move I had chosen was the only one and it was safe I looked it up on game explorer on chess.com. My work tied in with the game explorer result so I wrote my move and went to the post box and posted my move. A good move. Later I logged on to my ICCF webserver games and a move had been played by one of my opponents. I saw an intuitive move but I sought other lines. None of the alternative led me anywhere good so I moved my piece based on my original intuition and confirmed the move. Only then did I realise that I had done no analysis of that move – it just seemed good. I realise I do this a lot, it is my typical modus-operandus. Fairly lazy. Finally I checked in to chess.com to see my online games, again a move had been made by one of my opponents and so I responded based on ‘that looks fine’ with no double checking and no search for alternatives. Lazy and something I do if I’m tired, so off to bed I go.
I am getting hopelessly lost with my blindfold chess, partly because I haven’t been doing the exercises that I spoke about in my post about ‘Full Board Nirvana’. I can manage a few opening moves but by the time a middle game starts the board gets fuzzy.
I have therefore decided to try blindfold exercises that are more like endgames. The first exercise, which I did with my son, was to set up a board like this:
With the ‘blind’ player having to prevent the pawns promoting. I chose knights because they are hard pieces to use when blindfolded. This was too hard at this stage so we moved on to this:
White starts and again black has to prevent any pawn from promoting. This one was still hard for both of us but I think t was quite useful. As we get better we can add pieces – a kind of backwards blindfold exercise.
Twenty five posts and only now do I mention tactics. I’ve always believed that tactics are at the heart of chess but two things have happened to make me more focused on tactics. Firstly with correspondence chess you can usually double check that the moves you initially make are sound by double checking them in game explorers. These moves can bring me well into a game before I am at a point where I need to rely on tactics and when I do reach this point I sometimes feel my games slip away because of my lesser tactical skill.
the second point of focus has been caused by me writing blog posts about beautiful games, brilliancies and immortal games. It has made me understand better what I like about chess and that is the romantic chess style of the Victorian era and it’s lineage through people like Tal and Kasparov. This kind of play seems to me to be tactics driven.
So how do I get better at tactics? Well a very easy solution would be to go on tactics trainers on websites such as Chess Tempo for 20 minutes a day. But I want to get away from computers because I find it too easy to be casual about what I absorb and I find that I lead a better life if I stay away from screens. So I have bought a couple of books that I hope will be useful – they are being sent by post. The first is called ‘The Complete Chess Workout II’ by Richard Palliser which has 1200 tactical puzzles in it. I did this because one of my son’s chess teachers uses the first version of this book in his class to help the kids look for tactical sequences – often of four or five moves. He obviously finds it good material and he is an International Master; this seems like a good recommendation. Another book I bought is ‘The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal’ by Mikhail himself. Apparently he is a good writer and I thought that reading about him and his games would be inspiring. The last book I am using, and which I already have, is not a pure tactics book but it is a book that I am enjoying that always makes me consider tactics. The book is called ‘Practical Chess Exercises’ by Ray Cheng and it has 600 ‘what is the best move’ puzzles. I find it very useful because it gives no clue as to what the aim of the puzzle is. The move might be the beginning of a tactical sequence, it might be a mating net, a positional manoeuvre, a prophylactic… Anything you might get in a game. The answers on another page tell you the move and then explain why it’s the correct choice, it also gives the puzzle a rating of difficulty. The good thing about this book is that it most closely mimics what would happen in a game.
So I’m going to set aside time and work my way through these books and see how it goes and report back.