Summation of a year in chess

(Originally posted as a reply on temposchlucker’s blog:)

(Note: OTB means Over-The-Board, as in while playing a rated game in person.  “Classical chess” means slow chess played OTB for a rating.)

I’ve spent the last year in particular mostly studying chess, so I’d like to add to your conclusion as well.

The tough Chesstempo problems, and visualization training (of course, these are all done in spots over the year, and not all the time by any means – except for hopefully OTB) have helped quite a bit. I would say that it helped tremendously, except that it overlapped the same skill I was already strong at, just made it stronger.

First, I’d like to preface by saying that there is a lag between training time spent, and when those results kick in consistently OTB.

Okay, deep breath, here is where all this training and results get separated. The number one thing to understand above all other things, for the moment, is that quick-chess and classical chess are simply not the same thing – perhaps for the elite some (Expert and above), but not for most. Okay, it’s already getting annoying having this Grand Chess Tour in Paris right now where it’s all rapid. Carlsen’s last tournament, Altibox in Norway, he went 8/10 blitz, and then with the same GMs he went 4.5/9 in classical chess – it’s even a common occurrence where a player will flag (a loss when time expires) in an equal position, in blitz.  (note: Magnus Carlsen, from Norway, is the current World Champion at chess)

The only way to know if these techniques and exercises have worked is to use them in slow, classical chess. I don’t know about your online blitz rating, but mine doesn’t improve and, if you have been studying the way I have, then yours “shouldn’t” improve either. This is not bad, in fact it’s mostly a good thing. If I had to play my average blitz opponent who beats me in online chess, I would probably destroy the lot of them in an OTB, classical time-control setting. These opponents are quite talented, and imaginative tactically, and yes their winning continuations do actually work, but it’s like a gunfight where you can be accurate but if the other guy gets the gun out of the holster first….and yes Classical chess slows all of this down for the stronger player, it’s like letting the slower player get the gun out of the holster first.

Eventually, my blitz skill may close the gap with my OTB skill, but that probably wouldn’t be for many years (and I’m already 50, not a spring-chicken). There is a reason for this gap, but it’s like the difference between playing a 100%, full-strength, no clock, blindfold game, and then doing the same thing except at blitz speed. In any case, blitz-chess should mainly be used for training on lines you don’t know, or to tone up your game before a tournament.

Anyway, now that that’s all out of the way, let’s talk classical chess. It is important to arrive at the game in some kind of decent shape. If you just busted your @ss moving furniture for three days, and then try to play a classical game on that day, then your physical stamina may collapse at an inopportune time. It’s sort of like bad-business, except here it applies to your chess “skill”.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Chesstempo and blindfold training does help with classical OTB chess. 1) When something unexpected happens at the board, you will be far more ready for it. 2) You will look at more lines deeply with more permutations. Depth is often a killer below the Expert level. Experts rarely make mistakes of a depth nature – they usually either do or don’t see the right idea. At the Class level, depth is a killer because Class players often do see the right lines, but _don’t_ have the ability to see them far enough for it to count. So, the Class player typically makes a weak move instead in order to avoid a wrong calculation. This is where a lot of the training we are doing should help.

Yes, it is all about patterns in a way, but if you are overly focused on solving tactics at blitz speed, and only concerned about memorizing patterns, well, let me just say that I don’t think chess works that way, as I like everyone else has tried that before at some point, in some way, and it didn’t work for me. Simple one-move mates could be solved at blitz-speed, and one guy used to do this as his pre-game warmup, but this is not the same thing as “solving” tactics. The biggest difference between blitz and classical chess is when it comes to _solving_ problems. In blitz, it’s at most 2 minutes, and then the clock in your head tells you to move. For me, a typical number would be 6 minutes in classical chess (longer than a blitz game) to solve a problem before I start getting antzy and just wanting to move – naturally, if I’ve spent time on the previous move, where I had mostly solved the same problem, then I would be itching to spend less time on that next move (whether right or wrong to).

I’ll get off the soapbox of my results here, but I really want to stress that the difference between time-controls (and this group generally gets this) is in the quality of _solving_ problems. Quick-chess is more of an I.Q. test than a chess test. Some of us slow-thinkers, I believe, can be talented in a way that we can bring more mental resources to bear on a problem, should we learn to think a more structured way because we naturally have a way our brains work when it comes to solving deeper problems.

Nevertheless, deep problems are not solved at quick-speeds (although one could speed up their solving of deep problems). It’s a little sad that chess, of all endeavors, has been subjected to this information age pressure of pre-digested information (lines, results, etc.). Running these blitz tournaments the night before a regular tournament may be somewhat of a tradition, may appeal to fans and even the ego of the players, an ability unique to them which they can showcase, but in my view, it’s not the same thing, it’s mostly garbage-chess, or even a chess IQ test where there is no time to think, you simply have to “know”, ahead of time.

I don’t know for how many of you, your big thing is OTB, or postal, or online blitz, or casual chess etc. My big thing is OTB chess. I’ve spent a lot of time studying games in books, and my rating went up mostly as a result of calculation ability, before I realized tactical “patterns” were such a big thing – my chess, and even book-collecting, predates the internet, as I used to subscribe to all kinds of chess catalogues back then through the mail. The point I feel I am trying to make is that a site like Chesstempo can improve my strength quite a bit (just got four in a row correct, last one taking 18 minutes!).

The current generation, however, is different. They are getting their strength mostly from studying tactics (the opposite of how I started), blitz chess, playing a lot of chess in locales where the titled players play and hang out, and playing lots of blitz with Experts and Masters. I’ll sneer and say this is a bit of the sleazy approach, dropping off their kids to be “babbysat” by Experts and Masters. Surely, adult chessplayers don’t get quite this level of TLC on average!

Nevertheless, for me tactics helps, and even formally studying endgames, really, because it’s the opposite of where I started from. I never got too much into the formal study of openings, either, but that’s sort of a side-point when it comes to ratings because I can play certain lines (not always, the English Opening is a good exception to this for me) where I have quite a bit of experience built up.

End of an Era

In my 7 1/2 years in Colorado, I’ve seen chess-playing kids grow up, go through High School and off to college.  They’ve often started out at the bottom, 1100, 1300, I even remember when they were proud to make 1300.  They played in the Denver Opens, made Class A, or even more frequently Expert, or even Master.  Calvin aside, there is no current generation of kids that play weeknight chess in Colorado Springs – perhaps one or two come to mind, but they stopped coming.  We still get the occassional person who makes a one-time appearance at the the CO Springs Chess Club, often they are just visiting from out of town.

It’s known here in the Springs that all of the Denny’s restaurants were shut down, and so we lost that venue as a playing site.  We only had two games going on tonight at Smashburgers, so Wednesday is likely to disappear.  The Williams kids are the promise of the chess future here in the Springs, but they haven’t started their chess club up yet, and are now talking opening it up in late July.  Next month, the Springs chess club is having a G/30, dual-rated tournament.  I’m not even sure whether I will go to that one, but either way there is no standard Swiss G/90, Inc 30 next month at the CO Springs Chess Club.  Next week is sort of like the last normal week, well Wednesday I’ll get paired with a 1000 rated player unless someone new joins in the last round.

Well, with all that said, me and Dean played another heck of an endgame.  He shines there, and really made me work for it.

Round 3

At the end of the game, Black is about to win the b4 pawn and then promote his own b-pawn, so Dean resigned.

One for John Byrd

Round 3

This was not a particularly well-played game of mine.  By the end of the game, we were both tired and making errors, but it’s the first time that I’ve play Bird’s Opening in a rated game, and it also happens to have been my dad’s middle name.  If I had thought about this before, I probably would have studied it before I played it, and would have played a lot better than this, but he of all people would understand that you have to show up, give it your shot, and finish the game.

20.Nd6  I realized trading rooks was probably better, but I wanted to up the chance of a blunder here so that the game wouldn’t drag out as long.

27.Ke2?  The first blunder, after 27…RxNd6, I didn’t even see (Dean was already yawning a move or so earlier), and was mainly trying to get the game over with, so when I saw the tactic it didn’t phase me at all.  Perhaps for a few seconds I was thinking it might work for him, but I felt reassured that it was a tactic from an inferior position (those usually don’t work), and that we would be getting more pieces off the board this way.

As I played 29.d7, I was worried about the reply 29….Bf6, but had dismissed it because I hadn’t seen the …Nc3+ fork in the position after 30.e8(Q)+ BxQ, 31.e4 Nc3+ (although I had seen this fork in the other lines).

Before I decided I wanted my king  on e2 to stop the rook from invading on the d-file, I was planning to play 27.e4 Ne7, 28.Rc1 and now Houdini wants to play …f5 or …f6, which I instantly respond with 29.exf Bxf6, 30.BxB RxB, 31.Rc7 Ng8, 32.Be5 Rd3+, 33.Ke3 Rxh2, 34.Bd6+ Ke8, 35.Kd4 Rd2+, 36.Ke5 (with Kxe6 happening).  Even after 28…Rb8, I was planning on playing Bd4, and 29.Rc7 first is the accurate way to go about this.  It’s kind of ironic that, if I am playing very well, no human or super-computer should be able to prevent me from winning this position.  Not even a difficult feat, just goes to show how I was limping through this game.

37.Ke4  I played this move with a crowd around our board, but as soon as my hand came off the clock, I realized his threat was to take on f4.  He played his previous move quickly, so I knew he was up to something, but noticed it a bit too late.

39….f5+  Me and Bozhenov were expecting 39…Kf7 here, when 40.Rxh6 would get the rook trapped (since he spent so long on this move).  Ironically, he played the best move, since after 39….Kf7, 40.Rh7+ followed by 41.Rb7 is supposed to be alright for White.

41…Kf7??  Effectively ending the game, and I was glad to see it.  I was tired mostly because I hadn’t eaten many carbs all day, just fruit, salad, protein, so I wasn’t in the mood so much for the whole endgame battle/lesson thing, I sort of just wanted to end it here.  Naturally, I was expecting 41…Kd5, or at least 41…b5, something with some effort.

So, this is a good example of a higher-rated player winning a game on not much knowledge or energy.  😉


Barlay-Rountree Match #3

Round 1

I played Imre tonight, as he was free because Alex worked late and forgot to show up for his match with Imre (So now Imre has two matches going on).

Time-controls were the usual G/90, 30 sec inc, and for a change I finished this game with ten minutes on my clock, as well as having spent most of my time in the endgame.

For 13 moves we followed theory until only one game was left in the DB with 13.Nf3.  I didn’t think I was likely to win this game until he played 33.Kh1? followed by 34.Nh2?? In both cases he should have played Ne5, and then we may have maneuvered for a while, and it could have been a tough draw.

I saw 38…c3, sacrificing the bishop on f6, almost right away, but decided not to because it could lead to a rook vs. knight ending, and by keeping the tension instead I figured there was a better chance of winning a whole piece.

We play Round 2 of this match tonight.

Wow.  Imre made me play out some endgames if a different final move were played – sort of exhausting on the nerves, yet a very interesting game with plenty to study from, I’m sure.  I’ve never played this Bg5 Najdorf line in a rated game OTB before.  Bc4 has low stats, instead f4 there has better stats.  I was down to 16 seconds on my clock at one point, and he had close to an hour.


The Week After

My week after the Denver Open has been hectic.  Monday through Wednesday I was moving heavy furniture all day, and had not been looking at chess, nor even have I had time to plug my games in from that tournament.   On Tuesday I was super out of it when I went to the club, and I was 23 minutes late to Wednesdays game (23 minutes late to Tuesdays game as well) as I drank my first cup of coffee for the day right before I left to play.

Wednesdays Round 2

12.Qe2  I wasn’t pleased with this move as the only reason I didn’t play 12.Qe1, was because he hadn’t castled, but it was still Houdini’s top move.  I should have played Be3 and Qe1.

17…Nc4 (stops Bb6).

18.e5  Here, I wanted to play a desperado, with the aim of ensuring a draw, since I have had my starting time on the clock markedly reduced.  After the game, I pointed out that I would have played correctly 18.Nd2 to protect f4, which I saw at the time.

22…Bxg2+  This is winning, but I didn’t see it until the moment after I played Ng5.  Other moves are no better than equal for Black.

23.Nxh3+  This is the move that I was looking at too, but it took me a while to process that he will be two pawns up.

25…e5.  Here I could resign, I figured.  It’s funny how I missed this …e5 idea, but I did account for earlier during my drawing combination, which incidentally does work if it hadn’t been for the 22…Bxg2+(protected) move.

40.Qh5  I dropped the bishop, although 40.Qg6 Rc2, 41.Qe8+ Kh7, 42.Qh5+ Bh6 is just as convincing.

All in all, I need to see that move 22…Bxg2+ more quickly.  When I am not fresh, I find it more difficult to find my opponent’s moves (even at the board, I felt it difficult to look for his moves, because it requires that extra bit of mental energy level/freshness/clear-headedness).  Unusual positions, prophylaxis, defense, sustained tension in the position, these are all things more difficult to cope with when you are not physically 100% going in there – Tuesdays game and result was a reflection of these things as well.

Tuesdays Round 2

17…e4?? was simply a blunder from my physical state.  I knew I was okay here, objectively, but my nerves finally gave out from having done so many things all day before the game, and then the game itself.  I leaned back from the board as I reached to press the clock, and to my horror realized that the rook is no longer on e8.  From here, I played at least as poorly as the blunder itself.  In both of my games this week, I felt too fatigued/unrelaxed to blindfold the position as much as I usually would.  It takes a certain physical relaxation sometime before, and during the game, to be able to blindfold, like you have to get a bit quiet within yourself to really be able to do it.

In any case, I got some more OTB game experience in, and learning material from this week’s games.  It’s worth noting in my game with Paul that no material had been traded after 17 moves when I finally blundered, and he said later that he had gotten a nap in before the game.  So, I feel that he maximized both his physical (I got there late), and clock advantage during this game, not to mention the tension, and quality of position as I didn’t get too much of his time to think, and so didn’t chose anything committal such as …d5, which I had opportunities to play.

Denver Open

Update:  I’m still adding the games to this post.  I ultimately finished with 4 out of 5 points in the U1800 section, and tied for second-third place, winning $175.  🙂

My rating dropped five points to 1830.

Round 3

I went two wins and one loss on day one of the Denver Open.  I was analyzing rather accurately, when I was analyzing, but didn’t use my clock correctly.  This last game is an example of what I was doing wrong.

14.Nc5?  I had just lazily castles, thinking I won’t play 14.b4 because he won’t try 14…b5!  I figured this move was a mistake, but played it anyway.  I should never do this and learn to be objective.  I figured 14.Nc3 might be close to losing after 14…b4, but it’s about equal.  I actually analyzed the lines correctly, Houdini verifies that I wasn’t hallucinating.  Nevertheless, I did call his bluff, as he did not follow-up with the dreaded 14…Nc6xd4, which I thought he might not go for.  He spent a ton of time, and still didn’t play it.

26…hxg6.  This is where my horrible clock management came into play.  I was debating whether or not to play this move or 26…Nh2!, and chose wrong because I missed his 27…Rf4!  After this he offered a draw, and I declined with eleven minutes on my clock, and played 28.f3?, but then saw that this was a losing mistake, but it’s because I hadn’t spent enough time.  I was going to play 28.Kg2, which is much better, and simply missed the obvious 28.Rd1 to protect the d4 pawn, until I saw he could play 28…Nc6.

27.g4?  I was going to play 27.Nh4, but then saw he had 27…Nf5, hence this move, but 28…Nxg6 anyway, which I had thought about, and when Houdini said yes, then I noticed the follow-up must be 29.g4.  This is the sort of thing I can only miss in time-pressure because I am trying to hurry/rush myself.  Also, 27…Be8 is better, which he probably would have found but which I did not notice, and even in the game continuation it threw me off as we both began rushing our moves.  After the game, I wondered if even 27…f5 is good, but Houdini says it isn’t.  This is the sort of thing where if you have the ability to analyze correctly, then you really have to manage your clock objectively and just go with the results that follow.  Generally speaking, my ability to calculate tactics is my trump card.

Whereas we were playing our round 3 game over an hour after the other games had finished, my round 1 game was the first game finished of that round, and it didn’t take much time on the clock, maybe 25 minutes for the whole game, and most of that time was simply calming my first-round nerves.

Round 1

Round 4

In response to round 4, I posted this to chess Master Chris Peterson on Facebook:

I got a position against Meint Ohlthof that only a player of your calibre would really get a grasp of. The Gunar Andersen motto went through my head “play the simplest win” (he never said this, but it struck me as his credo, a while back), and so I played the game continuation.

20…Bxe5, the “boring” win. In the game, I wanted to play the piece sacrifice 20…Ng3, and eventually looked it off because I figured that 21.Rxf7 was a good response. However, the actual concrete line that justifies why this or that move actually does or doesn’t work is entirely non-intuitive for the average player.

For example:

If 21.Nf3, then 21…NxRf1 is -2.5, in favor of Black, according to Houdini.

So, after 20…Ng3, 21.Bf3 BxNe5! (is -1 in Black’s favor).
If 20…Ng3, 21.Bf3 BxBf3?!, 22.RxBf3 BxNe5, 23.RxNg3! is only good move BxRg3, 24.Ne4 Bh4, 25.Qf1 is equal, 0.0, even though White is down an exchange, due to Black’s weak king. Black has to play accurately to hold the draw.

There’s more to look at here, but you get the idea. An amazingly non-standard, tactical position to calculate, where the weaker player could easily go wrong. These types of variations make me think of the type that you or Shabalov might consider during a game, the offbeat-ness off it, that being a big part of it’s main attraction.

[Event “Denver Open”]
[Site “Ramada”]
[Date “2017.06.11”]
[Round “4”]
[White “Brian Rountree”]
[Black “Meint Olthof”]
[Result “0-1”]
[BlackElo “1301”]
[GameNo “-1”]
[WhiteElo “1835”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d6 3. h3 g6 4. e3 Bg7 5. Bd3 Nbd7 6. b3 e5 7. dxe5 dxe5 8.
Bc4 O-O 9. O-O e4 10. Nd4 Ne5 11. Nd2 c5 12. Nb5 a6 13. Nc3 Qa5 14. Bb2 Rd8
15. Qc1 b5 16. Be2 Bb7 17. f3 exf3 18. Nxf3 Nh5 19. Nxe5 Bxe5 20. Bxh5 Bxc3
21. Bxc3 Qxc3 22. Bf3 Bxf3 23. Rxf3 Rd2 24. Rf2 Rad8 25. Rxd2 Rxd2 26. Qe1
Rxc2 27. Qxc3 Rxc3 28. Kf2 Kf8 29. Ke2 Rc2+ 30. Kf3 Ke7 31. g3 Ke6 32. e4 Ke5
33. Rd1 Rc3+ 34. Kg4 h5+ 35. Kh4 Kxe4 36. Rd6 c4 37. bxc4 Rxc4 38. Rxa6 Kf5+
39. g4+ hxg4 40. hxg4+ Rxg4+ 41. Kh3 Ra4 42. Rc6 Ra3+ 43. Kh4 g5+ 0-1

Round 2

This game was more topsy-turvy, and I believe he was a bit better after Bc3, and he never played e5 earlier – instead, when he played e5 he found the one tactic that I was hoping to see, and loses for him.

Round 5

When I played 30.Ng5 (=), Houdini says that I should be playing 30.Ne1 and going in for some queenside play.  This is where I need to improve, positionally, by delving into this sort of position.  As it was, I found the simple winning a4 move, based on process of elimination, since none of the other plans seemed effective.  For example, I was even thinking of Kh2, g4, Rg1, but it’s so slow, and his attack appears ready to break through momentarily.  Actually, this other plan does work 32.Kh2 Qc6 (getting out of the pin, and putting dynamic pressure on the a1-h8 diagonal), 33.g4 hxg, 34.h5 gxh, 35.Nh7 (this is what I missed), and the knight can come into f6.  This line is winning (White eventually gets queen for rook and bishop, by trading on b5, and then get’s Black into zugzwang to win another piece), although 32.a4 was the much simpler win.

I joked with LM Brian Wall, and Alex before the game that all I had to do was “defeat Shiva” and I would win a prize.  Added stresses were that the air-conditioner went out before the round, and the heat made it tougher to concentrate, not to mention I lost my wallet, and during the game drove all the way back to Subway where the guy said “Are you looking for your wallet?” and had kept it for me.  Too funny.  That was like a major comeback, wallet and win!  😀




A Short Game

Round 1

This game was over in under 40 minutes, 20 of which I used.  I spent about ten minutes on 5.c3, five minutes on another move, and five minutes on the rest of the game combined.  I really spent nearly all night talking, watching and and analyzing other people’s games, had a fun time.

Wednesday:  I didn’t play tonight.  Denver Open this weekend!