An Expert a day

(Pun on Phillip Jose Farmer’s book titled “A woman a day”)

Okay, so I don’t really play an Expert every day here, it just seems like it.  😉

Round 1

This month, me and Alex decided that we would play on Thursdays, which has the odd time-control of G/110, d/10.  I was a couple minutes late, so it’s basically around an hour and 50 minutes for the game, and it probably feels closer to that weird 15 second increment they use in Toronto.

Anyhow, I got under a minute, as you could well guess by flicking through the game.  I worked out on my end of the board that I could only draw, but on his end, I had not calculated out 32.Nc1 or 32.Rc1 drawing, because I thought that he was going to force a perpetual, and I was looking for a way to win instead of draw.  The bad part about extreme time-pressure is that visualization/blindfolding suffers because you don’t have time to do it properly (I’m sure at Magnus’ level he’s learned to do it instantly).  In any case, nerves and excitement got the better of me and I missed that after 32.Nxb2 that my knight is no longer guarding b4, so his 35.Qb4 came as a shock to me.  It felt best to trade queens, but I knew he’d be up two queenside pawns.

31….Rc2.  Let me share how I came to make this move.  I wanted to win his knight with 31…Rc4?, but saw that it fails to 32.Nd2 forking rook and queen.  Also, I had been looking for some time at this nonsensical idea of …Qc2+ followed by …Nc1, all the while never noticing that I want the queen on b3 where she is when I play …Nc1.  It’s as if all of the ideas hadn’t come together in my head or been observed yet, when I suddenly needed to make this move for the sake of time.

In this game, I actually completely missed two of his queen moves, which would appear to be obvious ones in hindsight.  29.Qxd4  Never saw this move, thought I was simply winning.  35.Qb4, same thing, it was as if a bolt from the blue to me, never saw this simple and obvious-looking (and both were forced, at that!) queen move.

36…Qd1+??  I let out a groan when I played this move instantly, as no sooner had I played it I realized that I should have played the correct 36…Rc1+, which is better and forced, but still realistically too tricky to deal with without a 30 second increment.

The opening was bizarre and poorly played because my main goal here was not to get in trouble on the clock.  I was about to play the best and correct 11…Nd7, almost grabbed the piece when I did a blunder check and noticed that 12.Ng3 would then win a pawn, and a center pawn at that!  Well, my intuition and instincts still told me that 11…Nd7 was correct, but my calculations kept telling me that I was dropping a center pawn and would need to get in …f5 to protect that pawn.  Well, if you calculate deeply enough, you will realize that Black can give up the e-pawn, and will then win the d-pawn in return.  Alex looked at this and simply said ‘but the extra pawn will be in front of his uncastled king’, and so based on that would simply not worry about White taking that pawn.  In any case, I realized that I had gotten a busted and soon to be lost position.

I was happy to see 20.Ng3, as 20.Rhg1 looked like curtains to me, I let Daniel know after the game.  I had to try something quick to get back in the game, hence 20…c5!, which I had been planning since the move before.  This, and the following moves caught Daniel unaware, and he seemed to be reeling before he regained his composure, and played the game very objectively, and cooly after all the exciting continuations.

I knew I was doing well, when Daniel quickly blundered with 21.Rxd5, instead of 21.Nxd5, which I was dreading (and, according to Houdini, even that is not the best move for White!).

Daniel didn’t actually take my queen on move 39.  I just threw that move into the score so people will know why I resigned immediately after playing 38….Rxc2 with seconds on my clock.

Well, Alex and I will both be playing in this weekend’s 2017 Colorado Springs Open five-round tournament.  The first two rounds are G/90, d/5, and we both wanted to get in some practice using a delay time-control.

I should add to the game notes that 34…Ka8? was also a mistake as it made 35.Qb4 much stronger.  My final verdict on the end of this game is that 32…Nxb2?? was simply a game losing blunder.  There was no need to panic and try to force something, but I also didn’t have enough time left to figure out the draw.  It was I’d say an energy issue as well.  I started to feel tired during the game as I finally got an attack going, didn’t have any coffee or tea or anything before the game as I usually do.  He was doing a lot of calculating and figuring, and I simply wasn’t calculating/solving the critical problem at that point, was looking for an easy answer to present itself instead of having to do the work.


Mercy Draw

Round 5, final round

This game made me happy, and then it made me sad.  It’s a clear indication of why my rating dips below 1800, and it can be summed up in two words “endgame competency”, or lack thereof.  I played so well in the opening, then got low on time and realized that I didn’t have a clue how to proceed after that.  Well, slight correction, I thought I had a clue because online I can draw or win endgames seemingly at will against nearly any opponent.  This is where the reality between online chess and OTB chess ends, however.

OTB, if you are playing against a First Category (norms based) opponent such as my opponent Mark was tonight (as am I), you will get someone who knows their endgames.  Even Sam Bridle, who often sits just above 1800, can pick apart my endgame thought-process, technique, as if I were a little lost sheep.  Mark and Sam are two good examples of players who are close enough to my rating, but are just better than me in the endgame.

To my credit, I saw that I was making some of the tactical blunders in the endgame, and found the winning lines against my own mistakes before Houdini showed them to me, but I really shouldn’t even be making those mistakes.  Mark’s thought process is so prophylactic that he passes up strong middlegame continuations because he thinks his opponent has a countershot (which he will show me after the game), but it’s this type of thinking that makes players like him so strong in the endgame where it really counts to know exactly what you are doing.  Compared to these guys, the internet stuff is just f***-around chess.

Well, there is a tournament this weekend that I suppose I will play in.  The first two rounds are G/90, d/5, but it will be opponents from Denver who can blitz their endgames in their sleep.  I haven’t really been looking forward to it at all, but Alex wants to go badly and needs a ride, and so that is about all the motivation I have for it right now.  On the flip-side, I guess I need these guys to cream me in the endgame so that I can get better at it (?!)

In the game, I offered Mark a draw, and he accepted so that he wouldn’t flag, but as he stated he would have won, he knew how to proceed and win it, but I was completely naive to the fact that I was hopelessly lost during the game.

Enter, The Expert

Round 4, final round

Earle has been playing chess for probably close to half a century, and at classical time-controls he plays at a whole ‘nother level than he does at quick chess.

We started out with the Nimzo-Indian, where I like to play 4…d5, rather than a “pure” Nimzo with 4…c5.  Well, one downside to this is that savvy players as White will frequently play 5.cxd5 to transpose the game into a Carlsbad structure, ala the Queen’s Gambit Declined, which is what Earle did, and also what the up and coming Sami al-Adsani played against me in Denver successfully a short while back.

11…a6.  I spent a while on this move, one point to it is that it prevents the blunder 11…Qc7?!, 12.Nb5, and it also supports a future …b5, and grabs some queenside space.

I realized the queen trade was a bit silly, and I could try to doggedly defend with …Kg8 instead, but I was more curious about how he would handle this particular finish.  I did set a trap or two that he refused to fall into.  Also, I should have played …Rd2 instead of …Rd8, as I thought OTB, but I wanted to defend as long as possible.

When I recaptured his rook on f6 with my queen instead of my knight, he showed me the correct winning line for White, which is also the only winning line according to Houdini.  In sum, Earl played quite well even for his rating.  My only chance after playing Bg5…Qh5, was this rook lift idea with …Re8-e6-h6 which I didn’t see.

In the end, after beating a 900 player, and then losing to a Master and then an Expert, my rating will go below 1800 tomorrow after it’s rated.


The Missed Mate

Round 4

This is a bit embarrassing that I missed a mate, but then again I could have made lots of blunders before that point and managed not to, so I can’t feel so bad.

So, still with this cold recovering from, thought for sure I would be over it by Tuesday but I was blowing nose and sneezing all day before this.  I took a vitamin B, and then three decongestants (once I figured out they might pep me up, hadn’t taken any before) before the game.  Then I took a shower, got dressed, and still likely wouldn’t have gone but for some reason now Alex wanted to go.  When I got there, I still felt loopy and a fair bit out of it until I got a Dr. Pepper out of the machine there.  I was a bit worried my play might suffer late.

Anyhow, Calvin (who just won his age group in the state scholastics this week, and has drawn an Master and beat an Expert in this tournament alone, this month) decided to sac on b4 26.Nxb4 when I had 7 1/2 minutes left or I noticed that clock time some time during my move.  I had seen this sac, but didn’t analyze it because I didn’t believe in it.

31.Qg6+  Funny how this is move 31, so once again if there had been another half hour after this point (and I did feel I wasted most of my time looking beyond this and not for the 30 move part of the game) or two hours total, I feel fairly certain I would have won or at least played the winning 31.Rf7.  I kept looking at 31.Rf7 until I had half a minute, and then went for the draw.  31.Rf7! does win.  I saw this, basically 31.Rf7 Rg8, 32.RxB QxN, 33.h3 Qb1+, 34.Kh2 Qg6, and now its equal, but I no longer have a forced draw.

Well, I got home and Houdini said it was winning there after 31.Rf7, so I was still scratching my head (and still mentally under the effects of this cold) and looked at 32.Rf4 g5, 33.Rf7+ Kg6, and saw that that is not a win, so still didn’t get it.  Then the engine shows me after 31.Rf7 Rg8, 32.RxB QxN, 33.Qh3+ Kg6 (I saw this far even OTB) that I have 34.Qxe6+ (which leads to mate).  Needless to say, I had a hard time getting to sleep at first knowing that I did not see the maneuver Qh3+…Kg6, Qxe6+.  I know, how could I not see that, but it simply wasn’t in my pattern recognition like it is in some other people’s.  I’ve always said “I am bad with my queen”, but known I meant particularly when it comes to zig-zagging her, and now I can see that I have no choice, it’s not an option, I have to be able to do this in games because opponents will test me.  Funny enough because opponents usually don’t test you on this because they see it and avoid it for you.

Calvin didn’t give any indication after the game that he thought he had been lost, so he must have missed this too (I don’t think he would have cared if here were lost or not so much as that he hadn’t won the game).  I also felt that with my cold it was good to just draw him and not mess it up, but that’s also because I knew Calvin was on a hot streak.  After the game, I was disappointed that I didn’t win, and was shaking my head when I decided to go for the draw, but it was odd that he seemed disappointed that he had only drawn as well.  Even when I drew him it looked as if he was looking for ways to avoid the draw, as if this were even realistically possible.

I think that this was MDLM’s idea with his concentric-circle tactical training exercise.  The exercise itself seems silly to me (someone made a Youtube video of themself doing it).  The main gist of the idea, IMHO, is really to get you to practice the patterns that you are particularly bad at, to get yourself to improve that way (his way in the book seemed to be that you don’t know what you are bad at so you have to practice everything, but perhaps in a second book he might have wanted to say to practice what you are bad at once you figure out what that is).  Naturally, everybody has their own tactical holes in their ability set.

In society/civilization, people can specialize, and the whole becomes greater than the parts.  In chess, it’s just you, so you have to be competent in everything, save possibly choosing your openings.  After that, you have to expertise in anything imaginable that may come up OTB, which is part of the aura of what makes chess “enlightenment” seem so unrealistic or unattainable, yet so beautiful to behold.

One thing that probably hurt my play was that I blindfolded in the opening (don’t even like to look at the board now, initially), but later in the game I fall from that habit as time-trouble sets in and I’m more concerned about deciding on the strategic direction of the game, and not missing possible candidate moves.

The more positive news is that I think I am basically finally over this cold as of right now.



Different night, different Master

Round 3

Richard “Buck” is a National Master even though his current rating is down to Expert and he doesn’t play as much these days, mostly directs.  I’ve been lucky to get mostly White against him, as I can think of three times where I was Black against him and he pretty much slaughtered me, but as White I have this winning record (mostly luck, I figure).

Okay, so normally we get into a Scotch, where he has been very unlucky, and I was more thinking of trying a Ruy Lopez (he has a King’s Gambit win as Black published in Bill Wall’s KG miniatures book from back when he played in Dayton, Ohio).  I got lucky in that he played a Caro-Kahn, probably to throw me off.  After the game, he asked me if I had ever played this line before, which made me think that he had never faced it before, OTB.

Well, I got an advantage out of the opening, but even then was dropping the ball move after move until he played 9…Qd6?  After this, I got a big advantage but was still not playing best moves.

Later (why do I keep doing this?), I got into time-pressure, and did not want to trade queens, but did once I had two and a half minutes left on my clock.  Paul pointed out that he could have pulled even with 29…BxN!, but instead played 29…Be7, whereupon I slowly began to outplay him in my time-pressure to once more establish a significant advantage.

Still, I feel that that given his skills, and given mine, it was a gift resignation, as he surely could have played on to try and find more drawing chances.  He correctly pointed out that after 37…Rc7, 38.d5! that White has a significant advantage, but White has to follow this up correctly with 38…Kd7, 39.Nd4!!.  I would have never found this move in time-pressure, and in that line I would have played 39.d6.  So, after the game I let him know that I was actually going to play the safer line 38.Kf2 followed by 39.Ke3 with ideas of playing Rc5 and trying to control the position by improving my pieces.  This line isn’t any better or worse than the 38.d5 line where I follow it up with 39.d6, according to Houdini, but my play all game had been far from spotless, so I feel really thankful that the game ended the way that it did.

I did blindfold the game as much as I could in the opening, but later it became impractical.  You can’t really blindfold it anyway, because if you try to do that all of the time, you’ll become unaware of when your opponent has made their move.  Still, in any position requiring difficult calculation it can help, but most of the time were are too nervous to do it, as humans locked in combat OTB.



Crazy Game Against A Master

Round 2

Lead intro to the game, I played the same Master tonight as I faced on Tuesday.  Oddly, I decided not to play on Thursday because it was 30/90, G/20, d/5 and as it turns out I would have faced him on Thursday as well had I shown up there.

This Master has had a tough month, since he drew a 1700, beat another Master a little higher-rated than himself, and then drew an 1800 player last night in a position that was for a long time very winning, but then he got down to seconds (5 second delay), messed up and drew.  Oddly, that is exactly why I didn’t play!  Anyhow, I figured he was probably going to be looking for blood against me tonight.  I showed up late, 19 minutes off my clock, not expecting to get paired against him.

I didn’t know he would play 1…e5 (usually plays Sicilian), nor the Marshall Attack.  I played what I made up OTB, since after g3, I was pretty much on my own.  A more standard move order would be 15.Be3, instead of 15.Qf3, followed by 16.Qd3.

I didn’t get any physical activity in today (even 10 minutes makes a big difference) as I had to rush out the door, and by the end of the game I was surprisingly very tired, almost listless for my usual level.

At the end of the game, I blundered with under a minute on my clock, but by then I suppose the tension had gotten to me, and I sort of collapsed.  It was still a good feeling to know I didn’t blunder until after the first 30 moves (in case of a second time-control).

25.Bd2  Another way to play is 25.Qxc6 Nd3, 26.RxNd3 Bf8 (to avoid 27.d5), 27.Qf3 QxR, and I have two pawns for the exchange.  Being over an hour down against my well-booked opponent, I didn’t even look past his ….Nd3 reply.

25….Ne2?  He knew this move wasn’t good, but was trying to avoid a draw.  It came as a surprise to me, as I was only seriously considering the d3 square for this knight, which is correct.

28.f4?  I know this move looks foolish, and I nearly played the correct 28.Be3 here, but by now I was in severe time-pressure, and I began to realize I was blundering just as fast as I was making the moves.  The brilliancy line here is 28.d5!!, completely winning, but as you can guess this was never on the radar here for me.  In fact, if you saw this line 28. d5!! cxd5 29. Be3 Rg6 30. Bxd4 Rg6 31. f3 Rge6 32.Be3 Rxe3 33. Rxd6 Nxg3+ 34. Qxg3 Rxe1 35. Qxe1 Qxf3+ 36. Kg1 Qg4+ 37. Qg3, then you should possibly be in contention for the chess world championship.

28.Be3! Rg6, 29.Qxc6 Kf8, 30.Qg2 and here I thought that Black could play …Nf4??, which is laughable, since after 31.BxNf4 BxB I don’t have to take back, and am simply up two pawns.  Not only that, but White is winning that bishop anyway, after all, after 32.RxR+ KxR, 33.Re1+ Re6, 34.Qa8+ Ke7, gxBf4 ++-.

Oddly enough, instead of the correct move 29…Kf8 in that line above, he was planning to play 29…Bf8?! (which Expert Daniel immediately said he also would have played).  It’s funny how often the higher rated player will choose an inferior line, but one which is far more tricky to analyze or not as clear.  In this case, it’s simply a matter of depth.  So, after 28.Be3! Rg6, 29.Qxc6 Bf8, 30.Qg2 Bd6, 31.Rd2 Nf4, 32.BxNf4 RxR, 33.BxBd6 RxNf1, 34.QxRf1 RxBd6 and White is simply up two pawns (I thought that 31.Rd2 was losing at first in the post-mortem – we both did).

He may also in this line above have played 30…h6, 31.f3 RxBe3, 32.g4! (not 32.NxRe3?? Nxg3+, 33.QxNg3 RxQg3 wins the queen) Ng3+, 33.NxNg3 RxRe1, 34.RxRe1 and once again White is simply up two pawns.

29.g4?  As soon as I played this move, I realized I had mistakenly just given his queen the h4 square.  White’s should now play the the thematic, but strange-looking move 29.d5! cxd, followed by 30.Be3  This gives White a solid advantage because after 30…RxB?, 31.NxR RxN, 32.g4 the queen cannot now go to d5 to trade herself off with the opposing queen, and thus after 32…Qg6, 33.RxNe2 RxR, 34.QxRe2 White would be up the exchange +-.  After 30…Bxf4, White can go up two pawns for piece with only h2 pawn as king cover after 31.gxf4, or can go for the easier to play queen ending up a pawn after 31.Rxd5 f5, 32.RxNe2 BxBe3, 33.NxBe3 RxNe3, 34.RxR RxR, 35.Rd8+ Re8, 36.Qd5+! Kf8, 37.RxR QxR, 38.Qxf5 or 37…KxR, 38.Qg8+ Ke7, 39.Qxg7+ and White is up a pawn.  The funny thing about this game, is that if you are looking at the right reply, which is admittedly tricky or takes some patience to find, then you really only need to look at the line deeply enough to evaluate it properly.  This game is a case where depth matters, versus simply finding the moves.

31.Bd1??  I had wanted to play the correct 31.Be3, but after …Nf4, I simply didn’t spot 32.Qf3?, which actually loses to 32…Nh3, but 32.Qg3! is a drawn eval after 32…Qe7 33.Qf3.







Blindfold Chess Training

Question: Andy asks (on Chess Book Collectors on Facebook), “Did you use a book or article to teach yourself the best way to go about learning blindfold chess ?”

Well, I didn’t really find anything too helpful, which is strange, other than to memorize the board.  Magnus said in an interview that you just have to do it to get good at it (i.e., practice, as in “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”), and that he thinks about positions all the time.

Here is an exercise for you, a perfect example.  I was looking at this classic game this evening (Rotlewi vs Rubenstein, Lodz 1907):

Now, in the game, after 21…Qh4, White played 22.g3.  So the immediate question that came to my mind was what to do after 22.h3(?).  I was looking at this position when all of a sudden my monitor when dark, so I continued to think about the position blindfold.

First, ask yourself which squares the pawns are on, and what color of squares are those.  Next, do the same thing for the pieces.  You’ll find that regardless of whether you solve this problem blindfold or not, it’s just as difficult to find the ideas; the pure calculation part of it is actually easier to do via blindfold, and you can switch back between blindfold and the board from time to time if you like.  Looking at the board doesn’t make it any easier, although switching from one to the other can take the pressure off from finding the answer by looking at the board or vice-versa (it’s really just psychological, once you become proficient enough at blindfold).

To blindfold well, don’t try to visualize or memorize up-front.  As you ask yourself where the pawns and pieces are, which squares and colors of squares.  A visual will automatically be created in your mind of those squares, although you may have to consciously do this the first time you try it, but later it will be more automatic.  Blindfold chess takes time, so start out slow.  The people who do this, like GM Gareyev, should tell you (I’m thinking of a Chess Life article on him, although I’ve also hung out with him personally before as well, very friendly, generous, and surprisingly outgoing young man) that when they first did a small blindfold simul that it took many hours, far more hours than it would have had they seen the board.  Later, these guys can play blitz blindfold, and can play against even more boards and stronger players.

So, the upshot of this exercise was that I spent perhaps 45 minutes on this puzzle, after 22.h3, of what to do next, and I did nail the answer, came up with the same answer that Schlecter gave in the game-score comments on that link.  It’s not a deep line, but it’s “wide”.  IOW, you need to see a few side “ideas” or tactical devices on the side, which make the solution work.

My own thoughts on tactics are take your time, don’t make it into a blitz thing, and if you do make it into a blitz thing then simply look up the answers after a couple of minutes.  I feel it’s wrong to turn tactics into a pure pattern-recognition thing, as in Michael De La Maza’s seven circles, but I’ve never done that and to each their own (although I have done similar tactics cramming).  From a cognitive viewpoint, cramming means you are less likely to retain the material over time anyway, it’s mostly for a short-term performance gain.  And the problem with that is that most things in chess, cramming included, help you later on down the road when you less expect it to kick in.  So just focus on whatever you are focusing on, and try to really understand whatever it is you are learning, so that it will be locked in subconsciously for much later on.

One important side-note is that you want to do any long blindfold calculation with your eyes open.  In my last game, I wandered off and looked toward the ceiling at one point to do some calculation.  If you close your eyes, it will generally make you tired because that’s what your body thinks you are telling it to do, so only do that on short-thinks.  So, in recap, blindfold chess is neither blindfold, creative visualization, nor memorization, by mechanical nature.

One thing this training may help you to come away with is the realization that chess is more a logic exercise than a visualization exercise.  Nevertheless, you do visualize the lines blindfold, and the important part of that is to see the position in your “minds-eye” rather than straining to visualize first (rather than to know the position first, and visualize second).

A reason why it’s difficult to visualize chess blindfold at first is that our mind naturally wants to see the chessboard as an analog substance rather than a digital substance, which it is.  Simple checkmates are often the most surprising thing in chess because subconsciously we probably want the king to tiptoe around the pieces on the squares and thus “find a way out” – i.e, using anthropomorphis.

Nevertheless, if you want to visualize a set, you can visualize the set you typically play on at  a tournament, or even the board, etc, but you may ultimately find that you are not visualizing any particular board so much as the relationship between the squares and pieces themselves.