A depth-first approach to improvement

This will be my training strategy going forward. Go over games with a database, and also try to analyze the middlegame more deeply. Probably this means setting up a board and a PC – board so that I can look at board without being tempted to see the answer on the screen first.

If there is an opening line that you don’t know, but want to play, my advice would be to play it. If you can’t figure out why it is bad, look, you aren’t dropping a piece by playing it so what the heck, play it. You can always look at an openings encyclopedia afterward, if one isn’t built into your software, but when you study deeply, you don’t need it so much for your own games as to examine other possible ways of playing that position/separate strategies.

Middle-game analysis probably needs to deepen and become more accurate, in order to make Expert strength. Tactics will be there one way or the other, offensively/defensively, that is basically unavoidable, but it is one more thing to examine correctly OTB, and just as importantly find!

Some games may not need quite as much work as others, but in any game, the missed tactics could stand to be studied and not merely “Tell me Fritz! tell me! tell me!” before trying to find it oneself (and letting the engine notify you that it’s there, perhaps the first move only). Unless there is this sort of commitment to each game, Expert strength is probably going to be elusive or unmaintainable. I’m saying particularly once the 1900+ stage has been reached, to be able to progress from there.

As far as openings, I am going to stick to the ones, variations, that I already use. If I am not sure what to play in some opening I don’t see often, fine, I’ll just play something and figure that part out later when I am going over the game and looking for ways to improve it. Basically, I am going to study what I play, and only perhaps a key main line in some opening that I don’t see much of, like Bb4 in the Scotch, where I was kind of stuck, having bad internet results – but that will be more limited. I am not going to try and study every line in the Sicilian, for example, because a move-order can negate a whole variation, and it can get depressing trying to find an advantage, if you look at it to much. If anything, that approach seems to lead to yet even more variety and risky lines, because you want to see something different after a while – which is not a bad thing, it’s simply an openings thing. And what I am saying is that, either way, good or bad, it’s going to be the middle-game which determines the result.

Another thing I figured out is that there is a reason we like to play our variations. I could pick up and have cursory knowledge of other variations, but when I study the main lines, sometimes it looks as if both sides are goofing-off, willy-nilly pointless attack/counterattack. If I played them, I would probably care more deeply, but there is a style element involved. If one of the responsibilities once a person reaches A level is to find a “style”, then so be it, style usually means openings choices. For example, I may play French Advanced, but there are still many lines within that one opening, if you let there be.

Side note: I may be moving to Colorado very shortly and not playing chess for a while – until I get a permanent job there. So this may be it for a while, but I will update eventually, when I get there and get my feet back in the ground. 🙂


1.5 out of 3 points

Round 1, beat a 1537 rated kid as Black.
Round 2, drew Simone as Black (she’s around 1900). Wild finish. I had a queen and pawn and she had rook and 3 pawns. Her clock did not have delay and luckily she was gracious enough to give me the draw as I had about 28 seconds left on my clock. If I hadn’t mismanaged my time so poorly, I would have won, but only because she kept letting me back in, of course.
Two interesting French defenses.
Round 3, lost quickly as White to Joe, French adv. var. (he’s upper 1800’s).

I’ve been going to be at 6 pm lately, but round 3 was right after round 2 because Joe never seems to need a break. From now on I am going to grab dinner before round 3. The problem with round 3 last two times is that I did not really want to play a third game, never got into it mentally, nervous energy was spent. I find that food gives me energy. It’s weird because chess doesn’t really make a person hungry, I don’t think. You don’t feel hungry, but just a little bit of food can wake you up. Driving home, I am very tired, then pick up dinner right by my house. As soon as I eat, presto, I’m instantly woken up and then type all these games in – I do this every time – that is why I should eat dinner before round 3 instead of before bed.

He pushed a pawn to dislodge my knight on f3, and then I realized I needed that defender to defend the d-pawn. Not only that, but I immediately realized he has either a bishop skewer or a knight fork, my choice, and that is basically how the game went. We blitzed from that moment on, the game lasted perhaps 20 minutes after that point, and it was right in the opening.

I realized that I don’t want to play the French Adv as White anymore. I want to play classical Nd2, more open game. Round 3 French Adv is like uggh, that is not a round 3 opening. Anything free and breezy is best bet for round 3, not another constriction BS type opening, round 2 was enough of that, but fun.

Crafty says I should have played 14. Nd1. Weird, that was my plan, Nd1-e3, just like Crafty says, it just seemed like a horrid position to have to play from because there is such a long game ahead with no clear advantage to White, yet Crafty gives White a slight edge anyhow.

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3

My new rating is 1821. Just need to get back to where I am playing round 3 well, and my rating would seemingly have been going up. It’s weird, some people play quite strong in round 3. We watched and analyzed Neal’s round 3 game. He was super-strong and the B player, Chris, was trying to go Mikhail Tal like on him, but it didn’t work, he’s too good for that. It’s odd, Neal seems lose his first round games against weaker kids, but wins his 3rd round games, and have done the opposite. Realistically, this puts too much stress on my first round games because at this rate it’s like I *must* win my 1st round so that I can go to sleep in my 3rd round(??) Just terrible idea.

I like how a couple of the kids withdraw and don’t play round 3, and sometimes only play a single round, while us adults are honor-bound to play on. Some will usually miss a round, like Chris, so he can come in fresher for that round 3. Nevertheless part of me wants as much playing experience as I can get my hands on, even if it means losing.

There was one game where Ryan was playing Joe. Ryan is 1441 or something like that and was and exchange and pawn up in a queen ending. Shoot, I could have won that game in my sleep. You could have given me a lobotomy and I would have won from that position. What does Ryan do? He, for no reason, position is not under pressure, sacs his rook for bishop then asks for a draw! Joe refuses! Shoot, I still could have won that queen ending in my sleep as Ryan cleverly cuts out any chances of perpetual, he should be able to win another pawn with soon to be passer by force, but instead trades pawns and which gives up more queen access to his king as well. It was a draw eventually.

I think I’ll take it for what it is, I was greatful for doing well in the early rounds.

Another thing, I love when my opponent gets all novel in round 1, so that I don’t have to initiate things and can simply respond, even for round 2. But round 3 is the opposite story, it’s difficult psychologically speaking to deal with novelty in round 3, I find. Even when I was mentally-wasted and hanging things, I could still calculate, that part of the brain seems to consistently stay intact, which I find amazing, but I can no longer handle novelty and simple threats which require just a little imagination. If my bed time had been later, I would have done better in that game, but just making it there and playing in any condition is a victory over not playing.

Looking over that round 3 game again with Crafty, I would love to have my position back as White, didn’t realize how perfectly things would have played out. I presume he would play differently next time, though, perhaps not …g5, who knows. A big part of Joe’s strength is keeping a person off-balance, IMHO, which also means for him switching up openings, which also always gives me chances since I feel he is pretty much winging it with whatever I’ve seen him play.

Mating Net (renamed due to spam)

Here is a latest attacking game that I played. I messed up and let him have a mate in two, but otherwise played very well, and we both missed it anyhow. This is how my online games usually go, I am winning then get careless because it doesn’t count for anything in the real-world, but my skills are improving regardless of the end result, I can tell. G/15

The actual game

The mating net that I should have employed

Here is another game that I just played. I used Crafty to find all kind of neat mating nets, but as for the actual game I blundered in time-pressure – he made about 10 moves in the last minute and a half. All I had to do was play Qxh5 instead of Qg4 (which drops my queen), and it is winning, but the clock was king – I had < 15 seconds and he had 22 seconds G/15 5. Note, see if you can find where he simply left a piece en-prise and neither of us noticed it. Another game of attacking chess. Notice how often it turns into an attacking game because they attack me first (which is the vast majority of the time).

Second game

I didn’t go to the club Saturday, long story short ‘up all night, sleep all day’, but I am already getting back to normal for next week. Kinda sad, only 4 people showed up at the club (checked out the results), so they did get one quad grouping in at least. I should be able to make it next week.

No chess today

I woke up too late.

I tried, had no caffeine last night, woke up earlier, figured out the whole ‘energy’ problem (sleep schedule), etc, but too late or I would have played at the Open or club today.

Tactics, my view

I posted on TommyG’s blog, but I’ll put it here also

I’m keeping this because it’s more a statement than simply a conversation

TommyG, I think you have strong positional sensibilities. I, too, used to study lots of grandmaster books and get a positional advantage even against A players as a C player.

Now I realize that my study/development as a chessplayer was lopsided, as my tactical awareness was limited. Even though, yes, I did study the games of Tal, etc, it is simply too much to expect out of the calculating abilities of a Class-rated player.

The “Seven Circles” philosophy is the correct way, the shortest distance between two points, ratings-wise. The other stuff may be necessary, but without the base (tactical calculation and spotting things) the arms and legs (openings and endings) have a more minor impact on the outcome/end-result.

It seems when I play kids, some of them are tactically alright, but positionally not all there by any stretch, but I’m not going to say that they are great tactically either, but in any event their tactics are what lead them to their quick A and B class ratings, IMHO.

I’ve been going over the tactics (mostly for beginners) puzzles in Pandolfini’s Solitaire Chess articles in Chess Life. I’ve gotten to where I can do all 6 of them in like 2 minutes. haha. There is some mighty pattern recognition going on, the same as listening to a favorite song and being able to effortlessly recall how the melody of the song goes.

Studying endgames is a useful way of “stealing experience”. I could stand to study them a lot more, too, but I’ve been a chess addict for about a quarter of a century, and played a lot of online games, so it’s not as if I haven’t seen most endgames already, general idea-wise.

I would like to stick to games from collections in books. I am getting rid of Chess Life magazines right now (I have to purge them every few years). If I had to go over everyone’s game who thought they did something great…and if it’s not like Tal’s greatest and such, I am wondering ‘well heck, why didn’t he maybe try this or do that’ and I know the answer ‘shutup and be glad the other guy made a mistake to brilliantly refute!’ hehehe.

I’m at the point now where I think the importance is on quickly recognizing the more elemental or even “easy” tactics, usually 2 or 3 moves. If it goes beyond that it falls into the sphere of calculation.

The elemental stuff/ideas can combine into larger (calculating) combinations, anyhow.

I am not going to do the “seven” part of it, but also I note a big thing he did right at the beginning of his moves, MDLM did; he asked “Does my opponent have a threat”!! Very important, because if you are unsure of what to do, you can always start by nullifying the opponents threats/plan, and then looking for better alternatives from there.

The other thing that gets bandied about a lot is the word “enjoyment”. You can watch baseball and enjoy it, you can also play baseball and enjoy it. Watching baseball isn’t going to make you turn around and throw out the runner at first from third any better vs. actually doing it. The enjoyment of playing is in the process, but also in the goal – none of those major leaguers would be there, if they weren’t major leaguers.

The 7 circles thing isn’t exactly the most endearing expenditure of one’s time, and I don’t plan to repeat all of these positions even twice, but getting the basic patterns down is, I believe, crucial. It may only constitute one move/part of the whole game, but that can turn out to be the critical section that was missed or never even reached.

Going over games is great not for ideas so much, though at first it appears that way, but particularly when you really do have the time to spend focused on it enough to improve your calculation. But yes, we can take great ideas away with minimal effort as well, just doesn’t improve one’s calculation skill.

I’ve spent some time shoring up my tactics and openings, the next thing I would like to study is endgames, and do only that for a while.

Los Angeles Open

I’m seriously thinking of going and playing all 5 rounds at standard time-controls, which means only one round on Friday, and at 7pm starting time. It’s an hour drive one way, so lots of commuting. $700 for first prize, $100 EF, roughly.

It’s this coming weekend.

1 out of 3

Game 1, win
Game 2, tired
Game 3, tired

Thematic. I like to play the best players in round 1; when I sucked, I got that opportunity to play up in round 1, but now it’s the other way around. I’ve always played at my best in round 1.

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3

I was tired in game 2, but completely out of it in game 3. I dropped a piece in game 3 and he didn’t see it, but I saw it. At the end of game 3, I had Nf8 to protect the pawn, but forget all about it. I calculated NxN as losing, but played it anyway, that’s how far gone I was by that point. Neal said he was tired before round 3 (he had lost his first 2 rounds to weaker players), so I didn’t take half of a B-multivitamin, because I did not want an unfair advantage. I was way more tired than he at the end of the game, and he seemed fine.

9 times out of 10, I take a vitamin on game day (but rarely ever do on non-chess tournament days). Today, no vitamin, one cup of tea and one of those tiny cups of vanilla cappucino from the machine before round 3. Neal said after the game “You are an old man like I am” and he is right, I need to take some kind of vitamin/geritol.

I had to wait at least an hour between rounds unlike normal. Had a smoothie and croiscant before round 2. Finally ran off and bought a cheeseburger before round 3 or who knows how long I would have lasted; it was the wait between rounds that burned me out as well.

Rating estimator 1836 -> 1824
Anything 1820ish after that is more than fine by me.

In the last two games there were a lot of moves where as soon as I moved I was like “Why did I just do that, I’m losin’ it.” Against Joe, I played Be3, but immediately realized I should have played a3 instead. That seemed to be the story of the day, I was doing that a lot in games 2 and 3, a lot. I was too chicken to try and play the knight to c5 (aiming for d4) in game 3, seeing ghosts, but way too tired to calculate out anything well. I look at this now like it’s meaningless because I was too tired, but it would have been a much different story had I taken a vitamin. So this is how I play when I am not “me”, indecisive.

It’s 4:30 am now, just woke up. As soon as I finished writing this post, I crashed out, lights on, didn’t even open the window. That first round didn’t start until after 11:50 am – I think they should try to get it started by 11 am at the latest, change that time. You’ve really got to be prepared to stay up late and be energetic that whole time. Shoot, a person almost _needs_ an energy drink or something for that marathon. hehe. I think it must help to either be young or take something for endurance. That last game, I knew I had gotten the advantage, but then sort of just gave up on it, wanted to get it over with. He is a great player, though, and I’ve always learned a lot playing him.

Here is how tiredness creeps into a game (round 3). On move 12, my intuition told me not to be worried at all about 13. BxN gxB, but I played Nf6-d7 anyway just because I didn’t want to “deal with it”, same for not maneuvering the knight to c5, same for playing Bd6 to c5, simply did not want to deal with the game, which is what played into his hands. Neal calculates deeply, which helps him when I try to simplify like that. After the game, he said that his trouble is when the game “has lots of branches” (sort of like my round 2 game). I basically got rid of all the branches and let him beat me on his massive experience/endgame skill again.