Friday, February 29, 2008

Skating on Thin Ice

I managed to win last night's game in the Reno Chess Club Ch. Qualifying Tournament, but not without some nerve-wracking moments.

I was matched up with Mauricio Amaya (1261), who is supposedly a D-player, but is actually one of those dangerous improving players, who've been into serious chess for a couple of years and are about to break out; believe me, I was him once! Last week he defeated a 1595, and I've had my eye on him for awhile, so I wasn't taking him lightly. Turns out that was a good thing...

I trotted out the Four Pawns Attack against his King's Indian but this time there was to be no killer breakthrough and crushing attack for White; he played it well and a very tense position arose with queen, two rooks, opposite bishops and plenty of open lines. In fact, his pawns pushed forward toward my king first and I was in some trouble with pins, when he could have won the Exchange for two pawns with any result possible. Instead of playing the expected defensive move, however, I played a counterattacking move with my queen and he missed the point of it, I won a rook and found the right move to secure my king and it was game over.

Good thing too, the game took about 4:20 and I was getting a bit groggy near the end (as was he) and it was yet another game where I just tried hard, played some imperfect moves, didn't worry about it and concentrated on the position before me and managed to win. sure was touch and go for awhile, though.

Next week it looks like Vernon Young, whom I edged out for the Class B Ch., will get another shot at me. I'm sure that after out last encounter he's out for revanche, and I'd better be ready.
I'll try to get the moves of this game posted, along with last week's win against Norm Wyatt, in the next couple of days.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

All Your Questions Answered!

A few days ago we ran a photo post with the title "Guess Who?" and thanks to our correspondent and awesome chess player, blogger and personality Elizabeth Vicary the mystery was solved (see the comments at the link).

Where's Wang? He elaborates here.

Who finished last in the 1944 U.S. Championship? John Hillery informs us on these and other interesting, if obscure, matters.

Would you like 100 chess book reviews; honest, no bullshit reviews in amusing full color video? Of course you would! Blue Devil Knight presents Part I of, well, many.

Did anyone ever really argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Not exactly, but Thomas Aquinas did conclude that angels, like chess pieces, cannot occupy the same square at the same time.

The most beautiful move never played? You be the judge!

Thursday Pregame Peregrinations

Here at Robert Pearson's Chess Blog we aim to please, to amuse, to educate, but most of all to enjoy. Andy Soltis has had a column in Chess Life for many years called "Chess to Enjoy," and I must say I have usually enjoyed "Chess to Enjoy" but I haven't always, though I've always enjoyed chess. Except for this game.

Anyway, the title of today's post aims to educate, because peregrinations is a word that's not used nearly often enough, along with peripatetic and perhaps zymurgy, which is the last word in most of those old-fashioned printed dictionaries that nerds like me used to read for fun back in the days before the Internets. We also walked to school in the snow back then, except for the years I lived in SoCal.

I think I've strayed from the subject slightly, but no matter, Blogger apparently has no limitations on word count, since GM James Plaskett once put up a 35,000+ word post with no visible ill effects.

But again, this has nothing to do with my game tonight, which according to the Reno Chess Club website will be as White against Mauricio Amaya IF EVERYONE SHOWS UP (emphasis in the original). Now the odds of "Everyone" showing up appear to me to be vanishingly small since "Everyone" is not signed up for this tournament but let it lie, let it lie. This post is full of pedantic grammar stuff, but not that pedantic. I had a friend who liked to say "Showing up is 80 percent" but I think I can prove mathematically that in chess showing up is only 50 percent--if you don't show up you will, indubitably, score ZERO points, but if you showed up an infinite number of times and played against people of the same class you would score 50 percent. This class of statistical analysis also indicates that if I played V. Anand enough times I would eventually score a win--even if it was only on the day after he finally decided to experiment with alcohol.

But enough; the purpose of these Pregame Peregrinations as I originally conceived them was to mentally prepare for the game tonight and in this they have succeeded admirably. And so, we bring these bloviations to a merciful conclusion.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tournament of the LEPers, Rd. 2 - RockyRook v. RLP, 0-1

I have really enjoyed the first couple of rounds of the Tournament of the LEPers, not just because I won them both but because it's really cool to play with nice people you "know" (at least through their blogs and comments).

I also am very happy with the G/15 +30 sec. increment time control, seems to be enough time to play decent chess and still finish in an hour or so (of course I haven't had a 70 move game yet...).

In Round 2 I defeated Rocky Rook when he got caught in a crossfire:

A Respected Opponent

Back when I posted this game from Round 4 of the 2007 Western States Open I had no idea that my opponent, Gordon Barrett (now of Las Vegas) was known as "Mr. Chess" for many years in Southern California and is a member of the California Chess Hall of Fame. Of course, had I known I still would have done everything in my power to defeat him, but it gives some context to the game that I enjoy.

I also had no idea that he was 86 years old. I would have guessed him between 70 and 75. If anyone who reads this knows him, tell him I said that!

Guess Who?

This photo is from 2003--two of these chess fans (this was taken at a big match/event [hint]) should be easy enough to identify, but one now looks a lot different, and the other two, well, I have no idea.

I'll post a link to the context in a couple of days, but if I posted it now it would surely ruin the suspense.

Can anyone name all of the subjects, or even four out of five?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

V. Young-R. Pearson 01.31.08 0-1

Thanks to my gracious opponent I was able to get the score of this game and post it; my original impressions were here. Things get rather crazy at the say the least. Still, one of the more exciting attacking games I've ever played. There is a tactics lesson on each half move starting with White's 25th, but we make a "few" mistakes. He made one more. If I can just play with this kind of attitude, and a good deal more accuracy, I'll really start going places!

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Few Wins to Talk About

"They" (whoever they are) say that we learn more from our losses than from our wins, but nowadays I tend to think we learn from both equally when we take care to consider where we made mistakes and try to understand them; we make mistakes in virtually every one of our wins, too.

Since I'm on a little winning streak right now I'll just chatter a bit about these recent games and then post the annotated games themselves this weekend:

Starting recent and working my way back, last night I defeated Norm Wyatt (1467) in the first round of the Reno Chess Club Championship Qualifier. It's a four-round Swiss for players under 1800, and two of the 12 of us will join the A players and Experts in the next round. Norm was the last club regular that I hadn't previously played, and a very nice guy. I was looking forward to meeting him for the first time and I answered his 1. d4 with the King's Indian (of course) and he played the Fianchetto Variation, which I've rarely met for some reason, though I've been playing the defense in various cities and tournaments for the last 25 years or so. Despite this relative inexperience I did have a few ideas prepared, and when he overlooked some tricky knight hops I won a piece for a pawn, traded down to an endgame and was able to win despite some stout resistance. I think I may have made the win more difficult than necessary so that's something to look at. The game took almost four hours and I was starting to feel a little groggy at the end but I stayed on target and took care of things.

On Saturday I played my second round game in the online Tournament of the LEPers, against the good Sir Rocky Rook, and with me as Black he avoided the King's Indian by going 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3, but I seemed to come out of the opening all right, and then in the early middlegame I captured cxd4 and said to myself "Well, he can't recapture with the queen..." but he did, and got caught in a pin losing a piece. He posted on the game here, including the key position.

Finally, the slugfest of a game three weeks ago that I thought was "lost" along with my score book has been "found" thanks to my gracious opponent Vern Young providing a copy of his score sheet last night. As I said then I didn't know exactly what was going on at times in that game, and my opponent's score sheet has the notation "Mate in 6" just a few moves before he resigned. While I was playing last night Soapstone put the moves into ChessBase and confirmed that, indeed, instead of recapturing a piece White had a mate in 6 by sacrificing most of his army...I haven't had a chance to look yet but that sounds pretty awesome, maybe the position will make it into some future book on tactics.

Like I said, there's as much to learn from wins as from losses, if you want to look!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

(Not) The Instapundit of the Chess Blogosphere

I certainly have no chance in hell to match the wide-ranging polymath Prof. Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, but I occasionally get the urge to bring a bunch of items together here for your (and my) entertainment and instruction. It's not a blog carnival, it's an idiosyncratic mishmash!

Blue Devil Knight, as promised, previews his "last post for a long time," a vlog--he's been one of the best and most popular chess bloggers around for a good long time, and he has been missed, but he's having fun with chess and that's what it's all about, people. Meanwhile, his successor as Sec. of Knights, Samurai, is also bowing out and now passes the torch to Glenn Wilson. And for the trifecta, Pale Morning Dun says Farewell for Now.

Edwin Meyer points out an interesting book by FM Charles Hertan, Forcing Chess Moves:

This rich book on chess tactics proposes a revolutionary method for finding winning moves. Charles Hertan has made an astonishing discovery: the failure to consider key moves is often due to human bias. Your brain tends to disregard many winning moves because they are counter-intuitive or look unnatural.

Right! While I'm no big believer that thinking like a computer is the path to success in practical chess play, the fact is we do tend to overlook strong moves that don't "look right." An example, gorckat in the first round of the Tournament of the LEPers:

"I didn't give b4 enough thought, but it's about a pawn better than my Na4, according to Crafty."

And in the comments, LEP himself says: "That move seems unnatural, and I may not have even considered it. The pawn structure looks ugly, the b4 Pawn simply looks more vulnerable, and the Knight loses its protection." Exactly. I too need to open my mind to more unnatural moves. (For the whole game see here at Glenn Wilson's).

Castling Queen Side (here, here, here and here &tc--how about some labels, Polly?), Reassembler and The Kenilworthian all have reports and photos from the US Amateur Team East. Sounds like a blast--we even have at least one person in my town who used to live back there and returns every year just for this event.

Some blogs REALLY worth your time: Temposchlucker has been working with Phaederus, a certified (Dutch) trainer with a lot of great stuff on his blog for us "improving" players. IM Mark Ginsburg has a marvelous bloggy mix of (personal) history plus quality games and annotations. Journalist, organizer, arbiter and all-round chess guy John Hillery is now blogging at Western Chess. Soapstone pointed me to Dana Mackenzie's great blog. These will be added to the blogroll--if you haven't posted since November 1, 2007 I'm afraid you're about to be cut from the roll of honor.

If you don't see your blog on the list at right, and you'd like it to be, leave a comment and I'll be glad to add.

Okay, I'd better quit blothering and go do some things to help me become a stronger player.

(UPDATE 02.20.08: I added the new and great blogs listed but didn't cut anyone. Yet. I'm such a softy).

(UPDATE 2--Chessaholic commented, and it reminded me that he has a great blog that should also be on the sidebar. Sorry it took so long!)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tournament of the LEPers, Rd. 1

The excellent Liquid Egg Product is sponsoring a tournament for devotees and commenters; see the outstanding line-up of players here. A ten-player round robin on FICS at G/15 + 30, it promises to be a really fun and instructive event!

In the first round I played the Liquid Egg Product Man Himself, Donnie, and managed to win, though I missed a couple of things along the way...

(UPDATE: I see that when I quickly fired up this post last night I didn't give credit where due--Donnie is the one who pointed out right after the game that I had missed the win of a piece.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

R. Pearson-H. Soltani 02.07.08 1/2-1/2

I've been trying for a couple of days to post the game from last week that gave me the winning margin in the Reno Class B Ch. but the strangest things have been happening; Chess Publisher 2 had two boards embedded in the image, one of them stuck at after White's second move. No matter what I tried it wouldn't go away. The game played all right, but the whole thing was too disconcerting so I have got it below in the old CP, and I also tried it out in the format as an experiment. (UPDATE: Shelved the old CP, too much clutter!)

We'll see what this looks like. Any comments and suggestions appreciated.

Notes: Briefly, (and this is from memory)...I think his unusual opening is actually not too bad. White gets an edge but is it really that big? His 6. ...c5 could be met by d5 with a completely different type of game, but allowing the capture on d4 turns it into a kind of Maroczy Bind Sicilian where White has more space but Black has the usual counterplay, albeit with the bishop on e7 instead of g7. My 12. Qc2 seems wrong (maybe Qd3) but isn't a blunder, however, he gradually takes over the initiative. I didn't see 18. ...Qe5 coming, Black definitely has the advantage now. However, he in turn didn't see my 22. Na4, exchanging queens gives White a better ending, so he tacks around with the queen, but I think he ought to avoid the repetition--I'm just not sure with what...

Not definitive annotations, eh? But I wanted to get this pup up and maybe I'll get back to it later when I get Fritz or something.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Homer Nods (V)

It's been quite awhile since I continued with my series Homer Nods ("and yet I also become annoyed whenever the great Homer nods off" Horace, Ars Poetica).

These blunders are best and most fun for the rest of us when made by really great players. Here's an excellent example:

White has just played Kc7-d8, threatening mate, and Black, a recent World Championship Candidate, resigned.

I'll bet it will only take you a minute to see what he should have done instead. If you do, you can say that at least this once you were sharper than the Grandmaster.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Class B Champ

I drew my game last night against Hadi Soltani (previously known here as "The Dentist") and won the Reno Chess Club 2008 Class B Championship!

It was an interesting situation to go into the last round knowing a draw would win the tournament; having read a lot of chess history I knew there were many examples where someone "played for a draw" and lost through timid, flaccid chess, so I planned to just play normally and go for a win if the opportunity came. A loss would result in a three-way tie (in a three-player event!) at 2-2.

I had White, and he played something I don't believe I've ever seen in one of my games: 1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Be7, allowing 4. e4. I took him up on it, and when he played c5 a few moves later the game turned in to a kind of Maroczy Bind with his bishop on e7 instead of g7. After a bit of maneuvering he played the d5 break and things got tricky and tactical. He made a queen move I hadn't seen the full strength of, pinning a knight and hitting a weak square in my camp, but I found a way to come out okay, then he played Qe3+, I went Kf1, he went back Qh6 hitting my h-pawn, I went Kg1 guarding without creating any weaknesses, and he went Qe3+ again. He didn't seem to have any strong moves to avoid the repetition, and an ending would be better for White, he played Qf4 this time. It turned out he didn't really understand the three-time repetition rule, he thought moving to a different square in between invalidated the repetition, so he went Qe3+ a third time and I claimed the draw. He was quite pleasant about it, a gentleman, and I was happy about winning the tournament.

Once again patience and just hanging in there paid off, I didn't play perfectly but I never do and neither does anyone else (except a 2700+ one in awhile). The afternoon before the game I had read this post by Rocky Rook and it assisted in focusing and flowing through the game. Thanks, Rocky!

I'll post the game in a day or two. It is possible my latest score book is gone forever, but it only had three games in it, two were already published here but my win against Vern Young from last week may never see the light of day, which I've decided is hardly a major blow to the world's prospects for happiness.

I estimate I'm going to garner another 20-25 rating points for this event and my new rating will be around 1673, the highest since 2000. I also estimate I'm going to have to take another step up in applied playing strength to compete with the A-players and Experts. All in good time...

And now a little R&R, a few posts about other interesting chess subjects besides me, and in two weeks the qualifying tournament for the Club Championship matches. Meanwhile, I'll see you "In the Cool of the Evening."

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Inner Game of Chess

Since I haven't tracked down my score book quite yet, I won't be posting my game from last week for at least another day or so; but not having the moves in front of me has had an unexpected bonus. Reflecting on this game and my recent run of fairly good results, plus a few things I’ve read in the wonderful and ever-expanding chess blogosphere, has had led me to some insights that might otherwise have been lost in the details of “21. f4? (Ra4! Bxc3 22. Rxh4 and White wins)” or whatever. Having concentrated on my games for the last few posts, let’s get into something with wider application, and more universal interest, than just mememe—though since I’m intimately familiar with them, these provided the jumping-off point.

I’m +5 -3 =1 starting with the Western States Open in October, with a performance rating of about 1810 over those games. Not overwhelming, but a pretty good run. It just occurred to me that by an unusual string of circumstances, 7 of these 9 games had me playing Black, an oddity of taking some byes in the Swiss system events. As I go back over these games in my mind I’m struck by a couple of things; I feel like I’ve been “lucky,” for want of a better word, in several of the games, but I really don’t believe in luck, especially in chess. In my Chess for Humans post in October I wrote:

We all know, intellectually, that chess is just too hard for anyone not to make mistakes, and plenty of them, during a game, yet so many of us have a tough time really feeling that, and just looking at the position in front of us and doing the best we can, regardless of how we got there.

During this tournament I did a pretty good job of just playing the position--and I also noticed that there were more and longer periods during the games when the rest of the tournament room, and the world, sort of faded away, and all I saw was the board in front of me.

Now this didn’t have anything to do with studying openings (of which I’ve done little lately), endgames or tactics. These are valuable and important, especially the tactics, and I’ve definitely cut down on blunders lately partly due to tactical training. Out of the 9 games I count one real screamer (hanging queen), two “two-movers,” and one game against an Expert where I missed a winning shot and then, punch-drunk, a draw a few moves later. In 5 of the 9 games (4 wins and a draw) I made no serious mistakes, as far as I can see within my own limitations. Here’s the big insight, the common denominator that can teach me (and you) a lesson; most of the blunders came in the period between moves 22 and 30, and in all cases they came as I was beginning to tire from the calculation that had come earlier; also in most cases I had less than the ideal amount of time on my clock, though I rarely get into “serious” time pressure, which for me is less than one minute per move. The one blunder or serious mistake that was different came on move 10 of a game when I was pretty ill, and I later “woke up” and won that one.

I suppose my pattern of errors is different and unique, so maybe I can’t teach anyone else a “lesson,” but this examination has been really useful. It relates closely to something that the excellent Blunderprone referred to in a recent post about one of his own serious blunders, and a comment from FM Jon Jacobs that “anyone” will find useful:

This is related to how strong you are: At 1600 and above, most people already know enough chess principles that they probably defeat themselves (lose by making moves they already know enough to recognize were wrong) more often than they lose due to either lack of knowledge or an opponent's superior play.

And above 1900 or so, I am convinced that nearly everyone is knowledgeable enough that they'd get far more benefit from working primarily on understanding and improving their own psychology so as to maximize their use of what they already know - rather than continuing to try and suck up still more and more book knowledge (which always seems to flee from a player's mind at the exact moment you need it during a game).

I've summarized the above line of thinking into a catchy slogan I intend to copyright: "Fire Your Coach. Hire a Shrink!"

YES. There may be more gold regarding improvement here than doing 1000 problems on CTS. Chess tactics study is useful, there can be no doubt, but in my case after 25 years of (sometimes sporadic) tournament chess I already know quite a bit, consciously and subconsciously, about pins, forks, double attacks, the King’s Indian and Queen’s Gambit Declined, space advantages, etc. etc. My recent run of modest successes seems mostly due to a good attitude at the board, trying hard and concentrating (relatively) better, not worrying unduly about earlier events in the game and (usually) striking when the winning chance finally presents itself. My opponents make mistakes, too, and I’ve done pretty well at just doing my best and then knowing when they’ve made a serious mistake and what to do about it.

The pattern of my bad errors that I’ve identified here leads me to the following actions that might minimize them: 1) Use less time and energy on the opening, and really concentrate on getting to move 20 (in my usual 30/90, G/60 time controls) with at least 30 minutes left, and plenty of energy left, as well. It seems I very rarely blunder now when I’m physically okay and don’t rush, so a formula for success would seem to be to avoid these circumstances. I can't always have a perfect night's sleep and a peaceful day before a game, but I do control how long I take on each move. 2) When I’m in the situations where I’m prone to blunder, be aware of it, don’t sweat it, and just try to play my best. I don’t get very upset about losses anymore (admittedly, the blown win against the Expert was a slight exception) and so I will just take it easy when tired and short of time, and thereby avoid the stress and rush that almost guarantees blunders, for me and most everyone else.

One more thing—when I had a study plan and posted about it every week I think it was good for me, whether I hit the targets or not, so here is my new one: One hour of Chess Tempo standard per week (my rating there dropped from 1801 to the high 1600s, so it’s a good time to start back up and show “progress!”), one longish internet game per week (probably the LEPers FICS tournament), and two hours of studying Grandmaster games or annotating my games (depending on circumstances). This will occupy my current available time to the full, or more. I still haven’t started the project of putting all my tournament games into ChessDB, but maybe I can sneak a few in here and there. Inputting these from the beginning of my career 25 years ago should provide some amusement and also some insight into my unique chess psychology and approach, and provide a lot more material for me to improve my “inner game.”

(ADDENDUM: After reading this again, it still seems to be mostly about me despite the statement in the first graph. Oh well, I hope it's still of general interest).

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Big Win

I won a critical game last night in the Reno CC Class B Ch. over Vernon Young (1762). My first round game against him is here. I was pleased with myself for recovering from my big blunder against the dentist and winning the game I had to win to give myself a shot at the title.

Admittedly the Class B Championship isn't the biggest deal in the world, but of course one wants to excel at whatever is to hand, so I have tried hard to play my best in this event, and now at 2-1 I just need a win or draw to get the "title." Back in 1985 I was Class C champ, so after only 23 years moving up a class would represent some real progress, no?

Anyway, to the game. I went back to my first and only true love, the King's Indian Defense, against his 1. d4. Lo and behold, he played the Saemisch variation and when I played the 6. ...c5 variation Nathaniel Garingo had played against me, Vern played the same move (7. d5) I had played, transposing into a type of Benoni. I was playing against myself!

I didn't follow Nathaniel's move order exactly but Vern quickly changed the direction of the game completely away from that previous encounter by pushing h4-h5 and castling queenside. The result was a complex, tactical slugfest with the always attractive mutual attacks on both kings on opposite wings. After the game Nathaniel and Chris "ChargingKing" Harrington had some suggested improvements for both sides, but my opponent made the first big mistake, he took a knight but a move later I had a killer line up of heavy pieces on the b-file, and it only took two more moves before he was losing a full queen and more. White resigned on move 27.

I seem to have left my score book at the club, I'll have to get a hold of it before posting the game. Another tactical battle that will need a lot of analysis to figure out. To be honest, several times during the game I didn't really know what the hell was going on but just kept doing the best I could, and it paid off in the end.

I think I'm ready for some quite positional play and endgames now; I remember that back when I lived in Alaska my friend John Peters used to kid me about how all my games had me playing for a queenside majority. Starting with the Western States Open back in October I'm now at 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw, with a performance of a little over 1800--and the games have lasted 32, 38, 34, 25, 31, 26, 36, 27 and 27 moves and there isn't a real ending in the lot! Statistical anomaly or is the real Mr. Hyde finally emerging after all these years?