It is grim not improving so I have been seeking input from others. I posted a topic on chess.com titled ‘Help, I cant improve. Any tips?’ and I have in a short time received 15 responses which I am grateful for. The most popular suggestion so far is that I should analyse my own games. I do do this to some extent and I have shown this process on this blog but perhaps my analysis is not as deep as it should be.
I played in my Friday tournament and in my Sunday tournament this weekend – both are 1hr games with 30s increments. After both games I took the opportunity to sit down with my opponents and analyse the games. This was very helpful – it was also something I have rarely done. They were both much more skilled than me and their input was great, they were also able to go through the games by memory which I can’t do. It was especially interesting to hear them talk about what they thought I was trying to achieve and what they were worried about. They illustrated things I missed which would have been strong. It was also useful to hear about what they were considering.
What stood out for me was that they calculated each position more deeply.
I wrote a post recently titled ‘How Is My Ludditism Going So Far?’ followed by another titled ‘100 Games of Solitude’. Both posts sought to assess how my quest to improve at chess was going. Well it’s bad news. I have been reading more about chess, playing in competitions, thinking through correspondence games, writing about chess and generally working hard at my chess and after 3 months of this my blitz rating has gone down.
How can I account for this?
One answer could be that I have stopped playing blitz as much as I used to so that when I played my recent 100 blitz games I was out of practice. This hardly seems plausible since I would expect to be back in the swing of things after 10 games or so – certainly I would expect to be in the blitz zone after 50 games.
Another answer might be that my thinking isn’t getting deeper. It may be getting wider; I might know more chess history, I might be better able to understand different chess openings, I might pace myself better in a game but the level of thinking that goes into each game has remained the same. I suspect this may be the problem since I haven’t done any regular hard chess training. I haven’t been practicing blindfold chess, I haven’t attained full board Nirvana (see earlier post) and I haven’t yet started going through my technical chess books with any diligence.
I think I need to make up a study plan and maintain a routine that allows me to put that plan into action. I’ll talk to a few experienced players and get their feedback then report back here.
I’ve just started playing in another weekly tournament where one game is played per week in a seven round Swiss format. Every adult that turned up, and who I have played with in the past, has beaten me so I don’t expect to do well. Having said that I have enjoyed all my previous games with them and I am looking forward to some good games that will teach me something. There were some juniors there too and I imagine they’ll be tough competitors too.
This afternoon’s game was with an adult with whom I had a very erratic game with previously. This was mainly because I kept attacking without worrying about what he was doing. In the end my attack, which often appeared suicidal, didn’t work and I lost that game. Today’s game was better and more considered but it did follow a similar pattern and the middlegame was where the trouble lay.
The following game analysis was written before a computer evaluation. After writing the analysis I ran the game through the chess.com engine. I have since added whether the computer sees the move as a blunder (??), a mistake (?) or an inaccuracy (?!) in parenthesis. At the foot of the post I have appended the full computer analysis.
Going through the game, and re-reading what I have just posted it is clear that my biggest problem is a lack of concrete calculation. There are a number of choices that I made that I was uncertain about and that I moved based on gut feelings. My Rook moves at move numbers 21 and 23 for instance. I hope to recognise these moments better in future and change my thinking from intuitive position based assessment to logical concrete assessments. I also haven’t yet started to work through my tactics and problem books and I must.
Earlier I wrote a post questioning how my ludditism was improving my chess. My conclusion was that I was enjoying chess more but that it would be hard to test improvements since the only rating I had was from 10 minute blitz games and I had all but stopped blitzing for the time being. My solution was to play 100 ten minute games and see if there was a change.
I started on this yesterday from a rating of 1241.
19 games I’m down to 1222 19 July 2014
30 games I’m down to 1221 20 July 2014
41 games I’m down to 1202 20 July 2014
59 games I’m up to 1216 21 July 2014
66 games I’m down to 1189 22 July 2014
77 games I’m up to 1238 22 July 2014
96 games I’m down to 1216 23 July 2014
100 games I’m down from 1241 to 1217. My quest to improve is failing. I’ll post about this under ‘No Improvement’.
I mentioned that I read a great intro to the King’s Gambit in my Fundamental Chess Openings Book. An excerpt reads ‘The King’s Gambit is without doubt the most fascinating of all openings. Surrounded by an aura of mystery, courage and heroism, it is this classical opening which comes closest to the eternal myth of the hero who leaves all earthly pleasure behind…’.
So when I saw the King’s Gambit book at the chess sale I bought it and was excited by its possibilities. The book was written by Victor Korchnoi in 1974 and this pedigree gave me confidence that the opening could be a dangerous weapon. I have only flicked through the book quickly at this stage but the diagrams throughout show extremely loose positions with lone pawns, exposed kings, and dynamic pieces. The positions look very unlike positions I normally associate with good play so I was excited.
I decided to have a look at a video about the opening (slipping from Luddutism) and the most accessible one I found was called ‘Opening Traps for Beginners: Countering the King’s Gambit’ by a fine video author called IM Valerie Lilov. In it Valerie seems to show how the opening can be completely overturned which wasn’t what I was expecting and which took the wind out of my sales a bit.
His approach was
or the ‘King’s gambit declined: Nimzovitch counter gambit’. The video lasts just under 20 minutes but it did seem convincing. On the games explorer it shows the King’s Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4) being used 4920 times, the move 3. …c6 is played 213 times but shows a 42% win for black with 21% drawn and 37% won for white. (I guess this isn’t a refutation but it’s not a great start for white). The most popular sequence is 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 with 3. …g5 being played 694 times and with a white win percentage of 42% and a black win percentage of 45%. I should add that percentages seem to bounce around from move to move so they aren’t particularly instructive and it also seems to me that many games are decided after the opening but it has been interesting to look at this opening in the light of chess history and modern theory. Whether a player is black or white the opening does seem dynamic and interesting and I’ll look into it more and try it as white and, f4 willing, as black.
Here is my first attempt at playing the King’s Gambit. This was in a 10 minute game on chess.com. I was rated 1234 and my opponent was rated 1233 but it seemed to catch them off guard.
And the computer analysis shows our game to be riddled with mistakes and blunders:
On the weekend a chess shop was having a clearance of all it’s older stock. This included chess books. I went along and bought five for $25. They were: ‘Chess, The History of a game’, ‘Bobby Fischer goes to war’, ‘The Best of Chess Life’, ‘Kings Gambit’ and ‘Wining With The Scandinavian’. I also bought a chess clock (that I need to return because only one side works) and was given free photocopied work sheets; one on the Grunfeld defence and one on the Marshall attack.
I have almost finished the chess history book and it’s been interesting so far. It starts by looking back to the earliest origins of chess which can be proven back to around 600AD and intimated at around 450AD. The history starts in India then moves to Persia (Iran) before spreading first to Sicilly and Spain via Islam and then spreading through Europe especially to Paris and London. Later it moves to Russia but I haven’t read that far. I’m glad I also read the Chess Queen by Yalom (see earlier post) because this fills in what I consider to be an omission – the changing value of the pieces, particularly the queen, and the changing rules of the game.
I have also been reading ‘Fundamental Chess Openings’ (see earlier post). This is a great book in that it runs through all the well known openings and gives a bit of history and background to openings. It talks about the shift from 1.e4 to 1.d4 in history and then continues to discuss modern flank openings. One opening paragraph inspired me to buy the ‘Kings Gambit’ book by Korchnoi at this sale but I’ll go into that more in my next post.
On Sunday I went to my monthly seven round swiss tournament at Box Hill Chess Club and came tied with four others in the lower section of the adult field! And won $5…! A professional at last although it costs $15 to enter the competition.
It was an enjoyable tournament where I wasn’t beaten convincingly by a small child and I had a few good games with better players. My best game was my last one against a much better player where I was down to 1 pawn, a knight and a king to his 3 pawns, a knight and a king. I managed to claw back to a King and Knight vs. a King, Knight and pawn ending with the intent of snatching his pawn for a draw but I didn’t manage. I find knight endgames very tricky but I felt I did well.
The club is also starting a Sunday afternoon tournament with one longer game (1hr) per Sunday over seven Sundays which is designed for adults and good juniors and I’ll join that. I’ll also maintain my weekly competition at Glen Eira Chess club.
In other competition news my son was in the Victorian Junior Championships and he played some great games but also some games that fell apart because his near fried liver attacks weren’t quite near enough. A salutory lesson on not going for gimmics, even in the under 10 groups. It was amazing to see how well some of the better young players play. I doubt that in the future there will be any great players that don’t start at a very young age – their minds are like sponges.
Finally, while I was at the tournament, I overheard one chess teacher saying to a parent that he had “…a couple of good students but they don’t play in competitions”.The parent replied “Are competitions good” and the answer was “Yeah, if you want to improve you really need to do competitions…”. I paraphrase but I do think competitions focus the mind and give direction.