Interesting Struggle

So I played Dragan, for the fourth time I believe, with the White pieces.

When I got there, he seemed ready and determined (isn’t this always the case). I had just taken some tylenol and aspirin for a headache and was have a low-energy day. But okay that is neither here nor there, I suppose. He played The French Def. Arggh, right off the bat I had forgotten that he plays the French and had prepared The Scotch opening. I have four books on the French that I will study in earnest some day, but the last thing I wanted with Dragan was a closed, strategic struggle.

He surprised me early with 11…Na5! I am completely stumped. I knew that if I got stumped I would have a long think because I wasn’t feeling so spry and energetic. Okay, he is definitely having his day and it is not mine, I felt this throughout the game. I was going back and forth, but later (of course), I determined the best reply would have been Nfd2, to trade knights on c4 and not a bishop. But okay I play Na4 and he plays …Qc6 instead of taking it. Okay, so yes it is starting to feel like his day.

We play on, and it seems that if I push b5, then he can play …Na5 and best I would have is a draw, but I went for something far more dubious with my plan to launch a kingside attack. Okay, I realize that this plan fails tactically because he has threats like Nc4xBe3 followed by Bg5 after I have played f5, skewering anything on that diaganal.

Before I know it (I feel like I am playing against RollingPawns at this point. hehe) he is dictating on the c-file and I am scrambling to defend.

I wasted some ungodly amount of time early in the game after his …Na5, something ridiculous like 40 minutes on that move. So now I am down to 11 minutes vs his 18 when I finally create a tactical threat. I see that he can stop it by playing 27…Qe6, but I notice that I may have a tactical win if he plays 27…Nf8. I thought, yeah I’ll go home and Crafty will tell me all about it, wrong!

Crafty didn’t pick my clever 27…Bf2 move, and did not see that ..Nf8 is losing for close to a minute! What the heck, I thought we were supposed to let these engines find the tactics for us. But it takes some prodding, if it were just “going over the game” and set to pick out +1 high-points, it would probably never point this possibility out.

Anyway, I realized if he plays …Qe6, plugging up the hole there, I have nothing to play for, so I offered him a draw right away, not wanting to offer it after he plays ..Qe6, when he would have no reason to accept. He thought for two minutes and accepted.

I saw that he could play …Qe6-f7, then play ..Nf8-e6. I have the feeling that he would have finally settled on …Qe6, based on his reactions after the game, but I think he was also looking at putting a piece on h4 and not really looking at ..Nf8 at all, since he also saw the threat.

Anyway, I was at a low-energy level, and his was high, so that I was glad to escape with the draw. My next move after 27…Qe6 was probably going to be Bg3, and we both agreed that there was probably going to be a lot of piece-shuffling at a fast pace.

It was a four way tie at 3.5 (naturally the 2.5 guys get an easy opponent to knock off in the last round, so they got there the easy way – one 1400 player that I beat also had 3.5).

My first round opponent, Kenton, did not pay for the tournament, so that my win against him will not be rated. You should know when a guy shows up with no set, board, doesn’t pay and leaves his pen and scoresheet, which were likely supplied by the TD, that he may just skip on the rest of the tournament. ;-p

Dragan didn’t lose any games in this tournament, just draws and wins. I could sense that he was having a strong, determined tournament from how he watched my games in earlier rounds.

It’s too bad that this wasn’t a 40/2, G/1 game, it could have gone on for a lot longer, but I was satisfied with the draw. For example, (he knew a win was needed to avoid 4-way tie) if he had thought that ..Nf8 was something, he would have been like aha, strong knight on e6, I’ll keep playing! Actually, I think he missed that idea entirely and was simply about to play only a solid move when he agreed to the draw. Well, he was mostly looking at his rooks and ..Rc6 or ..Rf8 would have kept his slight advantage, so that I guess it was a rather nice struggle between us after all. I floundered around a bit, yet did not lose. I used to lose my games whenever I did that.

I though to myself “A GM would probably play 12.Nd2 here”. But I guess I couldn’t overcome my state of panic. It’s like you can see yourself from the outside looking in thinking “If I were a normal sane person, I would probably play Nd2”, but sometimes you think that and you are right not to play it, so it always appears more obvious later. I think that during the game it’s easier to think more about winning than simply playing solid chess.

Yes, that was it, I was convinced that the 12.Nd2 Rc8, 13.Na4 (only now) was best during the game, but it was based on intuition, and I still couldn’t describe to myself why I felt that was best. In the end, I got lazy and assumed Black would take on a4 rather than play ..Qc6, a surprise to me. With a Nd2 first, I could assure myself that I would grab control of the c-file first, where no ..Nc4 was possible. I did look at b5…Qc7, but then did not equate that with the following move Rc1. Perhaps because in the first variation that Rc1 move does not prevent a ..Nc4, but in the second variation, it does prevent it. So, I wasn’t putting the big picture together, but my opponent was. I had a sense that the Nd2 (playing it first) variation was different, but was a little too tired to work it all out like that. My opponent understood that he did not want to play his knight on a5 back to c6, but I mistakenly thought it was better on c6 (not as good as at c4 though, doh!), but it’s not as strong at c6 with the Qa4 pinning it. I wasn’t seeing the big deal so much with the Qa4 pin, but when comparing how much initiative that White would have had as to in the actual game, it’s a dramatic difference.

I just looked at this long line. It’s ridiculous how hard it is for White to try and get a winning advantage with this opening, OTB. Black holds too easily. I could just as well play 1.d4 against French Defenders, it’s ridiculous. I need to learn the Winnawer Def. I completely suck at that defense, with both sides. The Winnawer becomes closed, too, though. I think 2.d3 and f4, that’s still the line Black doesn’t like to see.

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Wednesday Round 4 – June 2011

As expected, I was Black against Paul. I arrived a minute or two early, but everyone had started and my clock had a minute ticked by. Paul gave me a gruff sort of handshake as he usually does, and it was on. It sort of feels like that scene from the Titanic at the end where everyone is waiting for you to arrive at that moment (Titanic crew in heaven scene).

So, I am quite satisfied to be playing Paul, but I don’t really know what to expect in this game. He plays 2.e3 and it occurs to me that I will probably see a Reti, since that is what he taught his prodigy (student), Isaac to play.

I am wary that he may have something prepared, if I play the KID setup against it, which I feel best. I don’t want to be surprised, so I play the system I am most comfortable with, yet is drawish. I quickly play …b7, and it suddenly occurs to me that this game will be an acid test of MDLM’s advice on how to play – “no long thinks” as he likes to say.

I don’t want to advance my c-pawn to c5, even though Crafty says “Yes, go ahead and do it!” Reason why is the c-pawn advance is really marching into the jaws of the lion, White’s system is all setup for counterplay, so that I don’t want to disturb it.

We play on and I don’t have my first long think until 16)..f5, which I spend 9 minutes on – not smart, but what can I say, trying to break bad habits still. I had an hour and six minutes remaining after 15)…g6 (keeping with MDLM’s advice), but by move 19)..Ng4, I am down to thirty-four minutes; so, I had too many long thinks in there. He plays 20)h3, and I am slightly embarassed that I thought I had 20)…Nxe3? All the same, my plan was to weaken the squares around his king, so for that it got the job done, sort of.

I say that I was following MDLM’s advice because at first I thought to play ..h6, then quickly went with ..g6 instead with the idea of ..f5. Afterward, I thought that ..h6 with ..g5 idea looked stronger, but in this case I actually felt rewarded because it turned out that being able to think on his time by playing quickly was even better than choosing one move over another. I did this many times throughout the game.

Another voice spurring me into this direction was Walter Browne, who in his ‘The Master Game’ matches would say a whole bunch of long tactical possibilities and then end them with something like “I am just going to play Qc2 (a developing move) and see what he does.” Key phrase, just go with the plan, make a move, and see what one’s opponent does! Just as likely, it will have little to do with whatever your plan is.

I move my knight back to Nf6, and see that he has the initiative. 21)Ne5 is no surprise and I automatically reply with …BxN. Okay, I play the cheeky 22)…Ne5, surely expecting that he will capture it and I will have this version of a bad opposite-color bishop endgame, since he has worked up such a nice clamp on my position.

23)f4? What’s this, he doesn’t want to exchange the bishop for my nice knight? Okay, Ng3, my original plan, isn’t looking so hot, and I feel he may about to be turning on the grinder machine on me and grind away on my position with his space, passed pawn and two bishops advantage. Then I spot that he has played f4 a little too hastily, although he did spend a few minutes on it.

You know what’s whacky? I was thinking whether or not I had enough time on the board to play 23..Ne4-g3-h5-g7-e6 where it has a nice outpost, overlooking future operations such as ..c5 or ..Qh4. Now I’ll to run that by Crafty and see whether it’s terrible or not. I could have been thinking about something more productive, like curing world hunger, but no, I was contemplating a 5 move knight maneuver. ;-p Wow, interesting, I did have time for that maneuver, and after Rf3, Rg3…Rf8, I can get my ..c5 idea in, how cool is that? Position is rated by Crafty as dead-even. Largely this is so because the White queen also has to spend an inordinate amount of moves extricating herself from the corner of the board.

Will the exchange win for me? He seems to have a pretty good clamp on my position. But then, MDLM’s advice starts kicking in, as he has been spending too much time and letting me do most of my thinking on his time. He lets me out of the clamp, putting everything on his clock into a sleeper-mate.

Suddenly, he is sacking a pawn and prying open the center. I think it doesn’t work, but I am wrong, he has a draw by perpetual. But, in the true wisdom of being a d*ck in the middle of your opponent’s otherwise superb tactic that he had put much time into, I decide to throw him a monkey-wrench, displacing his queen by …Rb3. He is just as expectedly disturbed by the move, but then goes for broke once again, ditching his bishop on b2.

Actually, his attack doesn’t work, but would have the way I was going to play it, exchanging rooks on d6. The correct way to play it is to end up with two rooks and a bishop for a queen – he plays ..Rd6, then Black responds with …Rxb2, followed by ..Rb1+ and BxRe6.

Then, he takes my …c5 pawn and I immediately had seen that I could trade queens with …Qb6. Actually, I could have simply taken his Be4 for free.

Later, I do not setup mate threats properly on the back rank, but we are both in time pressure. I had 3 1/2 minutes at the end of the game to his 2.

So, the verdict is that yes MDLM’s advice does work. This was just as much a clock-win as a win on the board. My scoresheet wasn’t messed up until the last couple moves, and I think I only had two inaccuracies on it other than that (Rd1 instead of Re1 sort of thing). After the game, my first realization was still “How could I play like this against those H.S. kids who are rated higher than me? Surely they don’t use all of their clock as my opponent had.”

Next week, I will have the White pieces against Dragan, which will mean a Scotch Def. We are both tied for first with 3/4 points.

I can’t believe this, I actually played a game that I could be proud of, no real errors other than not winning it more cleanly at the end. I can hardly think of a game of mine that I would ever include in a ‘best game’ collection, or more importantly ‘instructional games’, but this one actually qualifies. Hard to believe, I think that both me and RollingPawns are actually on our way to making Expert someday.

The weekend after next they are having a first tournament in my home-town, it’s only a block away from my house. EF is $30. Unfortunately, it is G/30 with 30 second delay. I feel like maybe I should play only to represent (if it weren’t close by then no way), but there would go all of my rating points, probably wouldn’t win anything, plus it’s a fund-raiser event, so not much prizes. I feel more guilty for thinking of not going, but it seems like a bad idea to me. I told Dean “It took me a year just to figure out how to play at G/90, I would have to relearn how to play at G/60.” I also told him I don’t like 30 second delay because my heart is racing for an unknown extended period of time and it is easy to blunder. It’s not his tournament, but I wanted to get my 2 cents in. Apparently, a number of uber-high-rated players didn’t show up to the last tournament because they protested the 30 sec increment, and he thought it was because “they wanted to win on time.” That’s why I had to give him the other side of the story.

Deep analysis exercises, or dare I say “Stoyko”?

I left a comment here about a puzzle I did this with. Now I did one with the game Timman-Hulak.

This exercise has improved my depth, accuracy and efficiency. At faster than G/90 time-controls, it may not make so much of a difference if the opponent is not letting you think on their time (the death of chess, fast games). At G/2 or longer, it should help a lot.

So far, this exercise has gotten me from looking three moves deep to five moves deep, but that is not good enough because there are some where seven moves deep is needed, and I think that is a healthy goal, seven moves.

I haven’t been using paper and notes, since one can’t use those at the board and must visualize. One can take notes mentally/verbally to ones self, however, and so this is how I am accomplishing that.

This is not “fad” stuff IMHO. The MDLM is really “study your tactics!”, just as much as this is about “analyze deep enough to where you truly reach a quiescent position!”

Incidentally, none of this is new. I am sure the concept existed before Dan H. was even born. hehe. I first head about this in the mid-90’s by an A player who said that a Master had told him that the secret to improving is not to go over a lot of books, but rather to take one position and study it for a couple hours – and I am sure that was an old quote even then. So no, the “Whoever said it on the internet first must have said it first” thinking is not correct (must be a “Gen Y” thing – whoever tweets it first wins!)

Think about it, back in Botvinnik’s day there was no Fritz, they HAD to do this. It’s easy to say “Oh, Botvinnik was a genius! (and therefore I can be lazy)”, but closer to the truth is that Botvinnik probably worked his butt off to acquire those skills the old-fashioned, time-honored way. He didn’t become World Champion by reading “Chess Life” articles, learning a new “trick” here and there, but rather by hard work at the board. And like they say, “you play how you practice.”

Wednesday’s June 2011 – Round 3

In Round 3 at the Deli, I faced Ken for the first time as White, and met his Caro-Kahn Defense. He had never played against the Fantasy Variation before, and after the game I gave him some advice about the game and the opening, from my perspective anyway.

He allowed me to win his ..g7 pawn with a critical zwischenzug. He defended well for a while, but I knew that his ..Re7 was a tactical error. He could have tried …Nh5 at some point, and I don’t know how I would have handled that, but I knew that at least with …Re7? he could not traded queens by playing …Qh5 in this position.

He played …Nd5 and that was going to be the game, either way. Kxg7 should have been his last move, then I can play Qh6+ followed by BxRe7 and that should do it for the practical chances.

We both had around 37 minutes at the end of the game, with my showing up 5 minutes late, so time was never an issue. I guess that my long thinks don’t last as long these days, possibly. But I got quite the comfortable game, in any event.

13th Annual Southern Colorado Open

Better to be blessed and lucky than good, I say.

Alright, only the first three rounds have been played so far, and I have 2.5/3. So tomorrow, I will likely face 3 strong players that I am supposed to lose to. I’ll play the #1 Master or a strong Expert tomorrow in the fourth round.

In the first round, I drew David (mid-1900’s) for the first time, as Black.

In the second round, I played Gary for the second time as White (1700), and once again won. Ironically, last time we played the same line of the Scotch and he protected his ..Ne7 with ..Re8, so naturally I was expecting that same move to be played when he played ..Bd7 instead. The terrible part for him is that I was able to use the same tactic as last time we played, an f6 push which is a mating attack, or I could just take his piece, so he resigned. Last time, I think I pushed it way too late out of desperation when he was already winning, but I remembered from the post-game analysis with Crafty that f6 would have just been winning.

In the third round, wouldn’t you know it, I faced the Saemisch var. of the Nimzo-Indian. I was getting completely ground down, a real pro job, suddenly, while trying to figure out how he wants to win it, he misses the pin skewer of queen against his king; you can’t make this up, folks.

So, astonishingly enough, I’ll presumably get a crack at a lot of good players tomorrow. I’m trying to win the U1800 prize, whatever that amounts to, but it’s hard not to feel a little giddy when people say I am in the running for first place. I just like playing chess.

I probably had too much coffee because I just want to stay up, analyze my games and all that. It was great talking to people all day, it’s like I can’t get enough of it and don’t want to go to bed.

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5
Round 6

Outclassed

Is too tame a description for this game; I was schooled.

Sometimes you find out later that your intuition was right, more than you could have realized. This was one of those games.

I figured that 8..Be7 looked solid, but wanted to play as actively as I could against someone strong (figuring that I would probably lose by doing so) and find out where I stood. Well, I know where I stand now, 8..Bb4 was, for all intents and purposes, the losing move. Naturally, you won’t quite believe this, but I just looked at about 30-40 different checkmates, and I can assure you that this man knew what he was doing.

At the end, I though I just lost interest, and somehow made a losing move that I knew was losing …Nf8, I had already seen before a couple times that it loses, but was at my wits end, forgot a moment, and just picked a move. I was right, everything loses! I don’t expect you to believe it because I just spent a couple hours on it. He said my best chance was to get in …f5, but curiously enough he was going to play Kh1, Rg1, g4 against anything I played, and play it right too, better than Crafty. He was right! His intuition and experience are stronger than Crafty’s.

Dean told me after the game not to feel bad, as Imre was on the cover of Chess Life back in the 1950’s.

My intuition told me that he knew what he was doing after 7.Bb5+, as I began to consider that move as being very interesting right after I moved, and I predicted most of his moves. But going over this game, an old thought came back to me that I had realized a very long time ago. The better/more experienced player has a better evaluation of who is winning, what the real score is, and at this level better than an engine. For example a 1300 and 1500 could have the same analytical ability, but the 1500 player may have a better sense of the ‘art of the possible, and probable’. I could have analyzed much better, and he still would have trumped me in that dept.

He beat me like it was nothing in the post-mortem, as I tried a few of these other variations. He said that after I didn’t get in ..f5, “You were losing”, like it was some kind of joke how easy it was for him. We even went over …f5, and he had no problem blitzing out a win there. Which is why I had to force Crafty to play this stuff and realize he was right. Sort of like at the feet of the Master, I didn’t know who I was fooling with.

Now I know why my made up move 4..d5 after 4.e4 doesn’t work too well with …Bb4. 4…Bb7 is theory and better, then if 5.e4 Ne4 and Black is quite alright, to be followed by 5…d6 in any case. I always wondered why this was book, and not what I played. Still, I don’t know how 8..Be7 would have worked out, probably okay, dunno.

I badly wanted to play 18..Bg5 instead of …Nf8 which lost at once, but could see that it looked losing and it does, some pretty mates if you go over it with an engine. In the post-mortem, he immediately responded with 19.Ng6 (like I say, I predicted nearly all his moves, just didn’t realize where it was all heading to) fxg6, 20.BxB Qc7, 21.g6 (we both blitzed this out with no hesitation), and now ..hxg6 can lead to a Qh3+ fork, while ..h6 is only going to give him a pristine seventh rank with which to sac on and generally abuse my king with.

I realized that allowing e6 and then Ne6 recapture was winning for White, and is, which is why I moved the knight. The best move was 18…Qc8, but that is also a lost cause, completely. Admittedly, I will try to lose better than this next time I am in a jam. 😉 As the crude saying goes “I got my butt handed to me” in this game. By the end, I felt like I was never in it, never got a chance in. I was more like his personal assistant in trying to spar against his winning plans, and not a very needed one at that.

I’m hoping my weekend tournament doesn’t go like this. I registered and found out pre-registrations are almost all going toward the Open Section (>1500). It will probably be fun. I can learn more from a genuine strong player (I know some of these kids have semi-cheesy 1900 ratings), so that even if I lose, it should improve my chess understandings.

Chess Training

Right now, I feel like I am standing in the shoes of Michael de la Maza, and looking over the shoreline. I know where he was coming from. Lock yourself in a room with a board, tactics book and throw away the key.

Today I studied 24 diagrams of the pin motif, and solved all of them to a varying degree. Often I missed a motif, even after spotting the first couple of moves. This one problem was like let the queen hang for 7 moves or so, just adding more pins and attacks against he king. Lots of themes in one combo. One I recognized from the Encyclopedia of the Middlegame (combos), it went like this:
Move 1 – remove the defender with a pawn sac.
Move 2 – threaten the kingside, forcing an f6 pawn defense, then work off the pinned bishop on e6 which just lost it’s f7 defender, and win that bishop. In a way, this one isn’t even too difficult, and yet none of them are in some way.

What I am getting at is, okay, yes I am solving the problems, but for all moves combined to solve it, it is often around 10 minutes. A Master can find these in blitz. Little problem I have, a blitz game doesn’t last 10 minutes, no wonder why my rating is only 1400 at blitz! (but 1800 OTB and at Standard).

What does this mean? It means that what MDLM was getting at, I think, with this “board-vision” is that you need to recognize these tactics quickly OTB. It’s not just an ability issue, it’s also a time issue, and so it’s really both. With games at faster time-controls, this becomes a significant difference in practical ratings-strength (i.e., you may be “better”, yet still lose to the quicker player).

Energy can ebb and flow, too. One moment, one can solve a problem quickly, the next the obvious seems to take forever to recognize.

My conclusion is this: Forget everything else, tactics should be number one until you can solve tactics problems quickly.

I like that I have a large set of problems as this is not a perfect system. For example, the goal might be “pattern recognition”, but there is a better chance that you will simply remember the answer to a problem you’ve seen before more easily than you will recognize the patterns in the problem which were the point of studying all this. I even recognize the positions from famous games, but overall it is working as intended, I am working my way through and repairing all of my chess tactics “blind spots”, one little, yet significant blind-spot at a time.

BTW, I don’t think that even looking at an engine’s analysis compares to this. Looking at analysis is great for passive learning, but at some point you have to “make it your own” and become proficient at it. Rifling through a book doesn’t cut it either because you will be too tempted to look at the answer and consider nothing else.

I set the position up at the board, and use clocks. I will set it up haphazardly, since I try to take a photograph of the position as much as I can, but a Master once told me that the best way is to set up the pawns first. I would add that kings are next, then queens, then rooks, then knights and bishops.

Also, don’t be so concerned about material other than to count it so that you know if something is missing. The most important thing is not missing a mating attack or a tactical/positional weakness. (note: I say this, and then miss a couple of problems with double-attacks).

Something that MDLM said is that you should study tactics everyday, even during tournaments. I have to preface this, this is true only if you are used to doing (a lot of) tactics. If you do a mass cram of tactics for the first time, make sure it is a week or so before the big tournament. The most important thing for a tournament is to be fresh.

For me, my ability to calculate (including calculating the wrong thing) outstrips my ability to find simple tactics, therefore in my case tactics study is more important now than is visualizing a particular line. In a similar vein, my ability to see squares is better than my ability to spot a knight fork, because I didn’t do any concentric circle drills, for example Ne5-d7 forks f6 and f8 – one should be able to see that fork quickly, by only visualizing the squares.

There is something else that I should add, and a quite bizarre revelation that I acquired from one of Geller’s games and comment. He won a game tactically, I think it was against Fuderer, or a name like that. He said the guy was tactical, so Geller would attack him tactically. The weird part was that the attack was not sound and was a move from being defeated against, except that he over-respected his opponents attack because it was tactical and he was also a tactical player. This is very weird.

IOW, a tactical player will over-rely on tactics, exaggerating it’s importance, much as an endgame player would probably do with endgames. This is heavy and worth much psychological value. Some of these kids that got to 1900 quickly, for example, I know that they will over-exaggerate tactically, to the point where it becomes easy for me to pick them off because I know they will try to come up with some combo, or lose positional patience. Weird, but very effective to know this. IOW, they will try to force me to beat them with tactics, if they are tactical; just as an endgame player might try to force me to beat them with an endgame, because that is where their comfort-zone is. There is an expression “If all one has is a hammer…everything begins to look like a nail.”