Friday, March 28, 2008

New, Good and Useful

Michael Aigner, whose great report and photos from Reno's Far West Open were mentioned here yesterday, also writes the excellent fpawn chess blog.

I've linked her in a few previous posts, but really, how could I have neglected to permanently sidebar Elizabeth Vicary's USCL News and Gossip (which covers so much more than just the USCL)? Most of all, she's having fun, and can any of us really say we have too much of THAT already?

Both Michael and Elizabeth also write regularly for Chess Life, which is to the magazine's credit.

Finally, I've recently been using the Shredder site, especially their online openings database. If you don't have ChessBase or something like it just feed the moves of your games in and see how far you followed in the footsteps of the masters. You can also play Shredder for practice, and there's a database of ending positions.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Far West Open Results are Up!

(Full results and cross tables with ratings from USCF)

Entries to the 8th edition of this event were up by 9 from 2007 to a record 193!

(USCF website coverage by Michael Aigner)

While I didn't play in this one, it was a big deal for chess in Reno and chess out West, so I thought I'd follow up on my earlier post.

In addition to the various tournament reports I noted there (Chris "ChargingKing" Harrington and Ernie "Soapstone" Hong) we now have updates from Kevin "drunknknite" Gafni and chessloser (while the others are well-known Reno players, chessloser wishes to remain pseudonymous due to the probability that he will have to resume protecting us from Evil Forces someday. If you've got some real skillz you might be able to deduce something. You would only be peeling one layer of the onion, however). You might want to check out the above player's main pages for games from the event (except for chessloser, who manages to get all of his desired game reports in one post).

Chessloser also managed to interview the winner of the Open section, GM Melikset Khachiyan. The rest of us just stood around with our thumbs up our asses.

That's why chessloser is THE MAN.

(Photo credit: chessloser)

And Michael Aigner provides this photo on the CalChess website:

OUR THANKS TO ERNEST C. HONG--Chess Expert, Organizer, Webmaster and long suffering Director of the Reno Club Championship!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chess Inputs, Filters and Results (Part I)

In my post on my last round game in the Reno Chess Club Ch. Qualifier I promised an exploration of "other factors in the final result of a chess game" and today we'll take a shot at this; in the meantime the excellent Phaedrus of Chess Vision has provided a post and chart that will be helpful, so perhaps you'll hit the link and review that before continuing...

Back already? Okay, first, I hope he doesn't mind my linking his very useful chart so that you can refer to it without jumping back and forth:

In the comments I suggested that it might be instructive to have the green boxes placed in between the "transfer" and "playing" boxes; as I said there:

[T]he green boxes (concentration, stamina and time management) almost act as a filter or "bottleneck" to showing the level of patterns, calculation and visualization (after transfer). So the green boxes might be placed in line with and after transfer; if they are all 100 percent "open" then the player's full strength is available (and this would be rare or impossible); the more any one of these physical/psychological factors is "constricted" the smaller percentage of strength is showing in the play on the board.


I've read a lot of chess books over the years (probably too many), played over master games and done tactical exercises (probably not enough) and yet I've seen very little specific, useful material in the chess literature on the important topics, the filters that attenuate your results, of concentration, stamina and time management.

Now these things are not totally neglected, but some of the advice is obvious and trite, ("Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep"), some is conflicting ("Don't get up from the board often, it takes time to refocus, but do get up and stretch, keep blood flowing to the brain"), and some is confusing ("don't study openings, but if by studying openings you get into a playable middlegame having saved time and energy for later, why, DO study openings!").

I'm going to use my game with Chris Harrington, mentioned above, as an illustration of how all of these factors affect the results of the game, because for our purposes here it's going to be only the results that count; "playing well" for most of the game, getting "good positions" and so on are for all practical purposes useless. The concentration, stamina and time management "boxes" are where playing well becomes playing poorly and good positions are turned into losses. I'll be focusing on these things from that perspective.

For reference, here's my game with Chris:

On the surface, here's a one-paragraph description of the game (from my perspective): We both played the opening by the book for 13 moves which left me 83 minutes for only 17 more moves; on move 21 he overlooked my tactical idea and I won a piece for two pawns with a "winning" (heh) position; on move 26 and 29 I don't play the good move Ne4 despite the fact that I looked at it, and lose most of my advantage; and after the time control at move 30 my play is pretty weak, my moves 33, 34 and especially 36 are all (?), meanwhile he plays well, knowing he's down material he activates his pieces against my draughty king position and takes advantage of the openings I give him to play a winning combination.

Under the surface: During the four days before the game my wife was working out of town and I had the entire responsibility for taking care of the home and our son, and though I got a decent amount of sleep the night before the game I had had less than adequate rest the two previous nights. As noted, I played the first 13 moves quickly but having plenty of time available I spent 7-12 minutes on several of the moves between 14 and 25, some of which could have been played more quickly, but I was sometimes looking at the same lines over and over, checking and rechecking since I was starting to feel tired and "vacant" and this led to even more fatigue. I felt pretty decent during the first part of the game, but even though my opponent was playing quite quickly (less than 50 minutes for the whole game) right around the critical point of move 26-30 I was already feeling dopey, though less than 2.5 hours had passed since the beginning of the game.

When we reached this position with White to make his 36th move:

I was sincerely trying my best, but I felt rather like there was a fog before my eyes; my focus was no longer on the whole board and my opponent's possibilities. As best I can remember I was looking at a small area of the board, roughly just his checking pawn, my king, his rook and his queen, and my confused thinking went something like "There are only two moves, after king takes I don't see anything immediately devastating but my king looks exposed there, his queen checks on h8 and he controls the file, whereas if I take with the queen my queen controls the file." Something shallow like that, not even considering his very next move, Rg2+ and wins.

So to sum up, the concrete results of declining stamina and concentration were scattered, completely inadequate calculation and the overlooking of the opponent's possibilities in a position where the result of game was in the balance.

Here's the post I wrote right after I got home from the game, (something I've never done before) a heartfelt expression of fatigue and frustration, not with the intention of excusing or alibiing my loss, but a genuine account of the way I felt at the time. I'm glad I gave credit to my opponent, where credit was due, because he played better and deservedly won; but I was just a little angry that this important game had been lost not because of any defects in my chess armory but because I hadn't been able to play up to the ability I knew I had. After all the work and planning and study, I hadn't been able to show what I was capable of.

Now that in my own long-winded fashion I've given some background and an example of the problem, in Part II we'll have a go at identifying what can be done about it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Far West Open Reports

I didn't play in the Far West Open in Reno over the weekend, mainly because work took me away from the first two rounds on Friday, but also because of family time on Easter Weekend; it was probably for the best. I am on hiatus for a few weeks and intend to return to tournament play "Tanned, rested and ready" at the beginning of May. Meanwhile, I'll be researching and writing about physical and psychological factors in chess results.

And speaking of results, it appears that the chess blogger's contingent did quite well at the Far West; I just spoke to chessloser by phone as he powered across the vast emptiness of the American desert on his way back to Colorado, where he will arrive with the very satisfying score of 4 points in the 6 game tournament and $101.50 in prize money. As he said, "I'm a professional chess player now!" I was very happy to hear he'd had a good time in Reno away from the tournament hall, as well.

ChargingKing also came out of the tournament with a plus score, but doesn't sound too satisfied with 3.5/6 in his recent post about it. He's just going to use that dissatisfaction as a spur to further improvement, however, so "Look out!" future opponents...

Soapstone gave a good effort and had some interesting games in going 3/6 in the Open against players averaging 2125 in USCF rating. So I guess that means a 2125 performance for him; congratulations, Ernie! He summarizes here, hinting at publishing least 8 games (his and others') from the tournament for his readership. I'm looking forward to them! He also reports that drunknknite scored 3/6 in the Open Section and confirmed his status as an Expert. I'm sure we'll be seeing a report and games from him as well.

Congratulations to all; I hope to see them, and YOU, Dear Reader, at the totally awesome 26th Annual Western States Open in October. Make your plans now and we'll have an even bigger, better chess blogger bash planned.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pearson-Harrington 03.13.08 0-1

Here's the game I wrote about last week (my opponent's impressions are here), the game that cost me about 30 rating points, a chance to play seven games against higher-rated players in the Club Ch. Swiss, and resulted in my upcoming weeks off from tournament chess.

The break is a blessing in disguise, because if there's one thing this game tells me it's that I must improve my physical and mental stamina if I'm going to play my way up into Class A again. Games against the higher-rated players often last a good long time at our 30/90, G/60 time control, and if I drop off like I did in this game I'll just score frequent, frustrating losses.

There are some good things I did in the game below, and the lesson is going to be useful--physical and mental exercises designed to help me play as I'm capable of longer into the game, rather than any specific chess preparation, seems to be the key. I'm still going to keep up with chess training, of course, but watch here for more exploration of these other factors in the final result of a chess game.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Atlas Shrugs

Just arrived home from the final round of the Reno CC Ch. Qualifier, where I lost to Chris Harrington (1539) aka ChargingKing, and thus failed to qualify. As White in another King's Indian Four Pawns Attack I played the opening pretty well, pushed the center pawns and won a piece for two pawns--but my king was pretty open, he counterattacked, did some good calculation and won.

I'm very, very tired. Probably there was a winning move for me in there somewhere, but as usual my play wasn't as good as the game dragged on. I'm done with late-night tournament chess for at least six weeks. I'm going to kibbitz at the Far West Open next week and just enjoy the Tournament of the LEPers for a while. I'm really coming to like the G/15 + 30 sec. time control; I don't get tired, it's still pretty good quality chess and it's a great bunch of folks to play and chat with.

I'm sure the hunger for serious chess will return after a break, but right now I just want to get some sleep.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Using "Computer Eyes" for Human Progress

A few fine posts by others have caused me to think more deeply about chess and computers lately--mostly from the point of view of my personal goal of improving my results against humans in tournament play. This goal was an important clarification when I wrote that post last July--it may be entirely coincidental, but since then my standard rating has climbed (if sometimes only slightly) in each tournament I've played. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with computers, but my point then was that cutting down or eliminating internet blitz, less opening study and more tactical training, and in general more mental focus and application of practical success psychology were the tickets to results, even if I did enjoy the blitz and delving into my favorite openings.

Anyway, the other chess bloggers referred to above have got me thinking about how best to apply computer models to my own stated goal of improving results against humans (and its equivalent, continuing my USCF rating's upward trend [and for that matter my standard FICS rating's]).

It started when Soapstone referred to a Dana Mackenzie post on Bronstein on Computers and Humans, which was followed by More on Computers and Humans. Then Wang advised "Step away from your computer!" and Drunknknite responded by Speaking up for Those Who Can't.

Somewhere along the line (ah yes, thanks Edwin Meyer!) I heard about FM Charles Hertan's Forcing Chess Moves: Using "Computer Eyes" to Improve Your Tactical Vision and read the sample generously provided, and I had a modest flash of insight about what my next steps need to be. (The excellent Phaderus commented on this post where I first mentioned the book, and had a lucid critique of the idea of trying to think like a computer, but wait a moment and we'll connect these dots to something hopefully useful)

I haven't seen the whole of Hertan's book, but the sample has some very thought-provoking ideas that bear directly on the current weaknesses in my game. It triggered a memory of Andy Soltis' book The Inner Game of Chess, and sure enough there is a chapter there entitled "Force"; it even includes one of the same examples (Fischer-Sherwin) given in the Hertan extract. But this is the part that really got me thinking:

"The first goal of any player aspiring to find more winning forcing moves in his/her games should be to CALCULATE TWO MOVES AHEAD WITH ABSOLUTE PRECISION."

Now that hit me pretty hard; do I currently calculate two moves ahead with absolute precision? Hmm...usually, but let's just look at the last game I posted; at least three times (moves 10, 30 and 35) I did not accurately calculate 2 moves (4 "ply") ahead, and this in a game I won! Hell's damn bells, two of them were advantageous captures that led directly to material gain and I didn't play them. I, you, we've all been told over and over, "Checks and captures, checks and captures..." meaning that we need to try and look at all checks and captures as a starting point for our calculations--if one of them wins, there's no need to search any further! I'm still not doing this with the consistency that will allow me to take on and defeat stronger players with any regularity.

In the Soltis book mentioned above he quotes World Champion M. Botvinnik saying after a loss to that he needed to perfect his calculation of three-move variations. Trying to think like a computer isn't exactly the answer, but modeling the computer's perfection in the calculation of two-move variations is already a step in the right direction. Instead of just "studying tactics" or doing exercises, I'm going to think about and research the best ways to do this and put them into practice. Maybe going over my own and other's game with only this in mind, all other considerations being ignored; maybe some of the mate-in-two problems that Hertan says he enjoys (and that can be surprisingly difficult to calculate with absolute precision).

Thinking and writing about this has in itself been good exercise, and I invite your ideas and comments on the subject.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Games From Recent Events

I think it was the British Chess Magazine (BCM) that had (has?) a column every month with the "Games From Recent Events" heading, and I always liked it, it's rather laconic, and laconic is me all over; so I lift it and use it here.

Since my last report, on Thursday night in the Reno CC Ch. Qualifier Vern Young smacked me down to get what was to him no doubt sweet revenge for this game and this one in the Class B Ch. This time he had White, and switched to the 5. h3 variation of the King's Indian. Instead of what's apparently the right plan in this line, preparing the f5 push, I decided to go for the queenside advance with b5, he stifled it pretty well and I never got it in, I loosened up my position in the center with e4 and he basically occupied the holes I'd left behind. My desperation bishop sac was refuted with a couple of accurate moves on his part and I resigned on move 28 in the face of mate in two.

Happier news from yesterday afternoon as I won in Round 4 of the Tournament of the LEPers against Tacticus Maximus, otherwise known as Glenn Wilson of Houston Chess. Glenn had White and tried an unusual line (1. e4 d5 2. h3), I was able to get a lead in development and play a tactical shot or two that won material, and it was 0-1 in 27 moves. He said he'd be posting that one fairly soon (UPDATE: it's here).

Meanwhile, I'm a few games behind in keeping my promise (to myself and the readers) to post all tournament games, so let's have a look at Pearson-Mauricio Amaya, Round 2 of the Club Ch. Qualifier. As I said previously, it was a tough game.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Some Must Reads

Blue Devil Knight--more great video book reviews! Humor, music, and calling a piece of crap a piece of crap, and not a piece of rose-scented excrement.

Phaderus--some superb advice on how to enjoy winning a won game, even when the opponent plays on in a hopeless position.

The utterly inimitable chessloser--a tournament report like no other, including Blunderprone, pizza, Grandmasters, strippers and more wins than losses! Plus, he's coming to Reno again soon!


Dana Mackenzie--ratings, Churchill and democracy.

drunknknite--looks like he'll be an Expert in the near future, and one reason why is the great work he puts in on his own games and annotations.

Wang--rages against the machine. He's showing lots of improvement via "old-fashioned" methods that don't involve analysis by Fritzie.

Grandpatzer--does some superb endgame analysis.

Soapstone--wonders what he really wants from chess, as most of us do sometimes.

Loomis--punishes some mixed systems by White in the Sicilian with beautifully precise chess.

There is so much good content being provided us these days! Hit some links, do some searches and you never know what kind of enjoyable and instructive material you might come across.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Catching Up With My Games

Thankfully, I figured out what was wrong with my Chess Publisher 2 work--when the "Tournament" field has too many characters everything gets screwy (2 boards, how weird!).

So that having been conquered, my game in Round 1 of the Reno CC Ch. Qualifier is below. Meanwhile, last Saturday in Round 3 of the Tournament of the LEPers Polly of Castling Queenside inflicted my first loss of the tournament. One of those games where I just never felt comfortable, didn't "have any ideas" and she pummeled me! She posted it here so just go visit her place to witness the carnage.

On a happier note: