Sunday, April 27, 2008

I'm Still Alive

I hate those "Don't have time for a real post so I'm throwing up a big nothing just to have something new up" posts.

I'm doing one anyway.

I was in Alaska for awhile, got me a new mindset, looks like I'll be playing ChargingKing this Thursday in the Reno Club Championship Swiss, and I'm working on a real post that will actually be of some use to you, the reader, and not just filler, like this one.

Bye for now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The PNP Method

I've been reading a pretty cool book on parenting entitled 1-2-3 magic (3rd ed.) and one of the things that struck me in the chapter on "Homework and Practicing" was what's called "The PNP Method." "PNP" stands for Positive-Negative-Positive , a method for helping with, for example, your child's homework.

Say they got 9 out of 10 right on the spelling practice test. Instead of immediately saying, "I see you spelled 'incontrovertible' wrong," which is the natural parental reaction, you say something like "You really worked hard on this! I see that you spelled 'intracellular' correctly. Great, that's quite a long word for a first-grader!" Then, you help correct the mistake. Then you finish on a positive note, like "Nine out of 10. Good job!"

Right now I don't need the method for my son, who is three; practicing piano and chess lessons can wait until he's four (heh).

However, like some other things in the book, the PNP Method also has application for adults. Specifically, when talking about my game last night with Ernie Hong (2006 USCF) in the Reno Chess Club Ch. Swiss.

I will start with the first positive: I felt good going into the game. For the first time in the last few weeks I had a decent night's rest and felt like I was really ready to play a good, hard game of chess.

The negative: I lost in 30 moves.

The second positive: I had fun. I enjoyed playing chess again, the process, unlike the last couple of weeks where I had an attitude problem and blew some good positions. This time I played all right in the opening, missed a chance for a tricky tactic that was pointed out after the game by Club Champ Bill Case, and made a move instead that allowed my opponent a tactic which led to material loss for me. Instead of getting pissed off, I tried my best to squirm out, did everything I could but in the end he nailed it down. I enjoyed the game, and the postmortem.

I feel like I'm back on track, I'm having fun. That's what it's all about, that and the chance to test yourself, work and improve. Now I need to get that part back on track!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some Points to Ponder

Can Testosterone Make You Rich? (a small study of London stock traders)


The hormone testosterone (T) has a central role in recent theories about allocation of status ranks during face-to-face competition. It has been methodologically convenient to test the hypothesized T mechanism in physically taxing athletic contests, where results have been supportive, although their generalizability to normal social competition is questionable. Competition among chess players is a step closer to normal social competition because it does not require physical struggle, and it is the arena for tests of the T mechanism which are reported here. We find that winners of chess tournaments show higher T levels than do losers. Also, in certain circumstances, competitors show rises in T before their games, as if in preparation for the contests. These results generally support recent theories about the role of T in the allocation of status ranks.

(Courtesy of Elizabeth Vicary's cool blog [original post here])


Representative of a number of articles, this one says that to raise testosterone levels naturally:

  • Eat eggs, whey, meat and nuts, especially peanuts.
  • Lower body fat percentage.
  • Weight-bearing exercises, especially low-reps with max weight.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Get sufficient sleep.

All of which sound intriguing on their own merits, as methods of feeling good AND possibly raising your USCF rating through means other than tactical training.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Change of Pace

The inimitable and unconquerable chessloser riffs on drunken monkey kung fu chess. Inspiring stuff.

Though not directly related, his post made me wonder if I might try to get out of my recent run of losses by doing something different, maybe just playing the opening freely, without preconception from the very first move...supposedly below master the opening isn't where the game is won or lost, right?

Instead of my usual tried and true set of variations, I'll go Dutch, or Reversed Dutch, or get really nutty and go Englund Gambit like BDK. Or maybe 1. Nf3 2. b3, or maybe 1. c4. All stuff I haven't played in a serious game for a long time, if ever.

Danish Gambit, Evans Gambit, King's Gambit anyone?

Changing openings isn't an end in itself, but I need to have more fun playing, loosen up and let it fly. My next opponent should be quaking in his boots or laughing his ass off.

Either way, I'll have 'im right where I want 'im!

Friday, April 11, 2008

And Yet Another Loss (Updated)

(UPDATE: Reading over the post below, a few hours later...what a whiner. Who wrote this anyway? Boo f-ing hoo, you lost another chess game and some of your precious rating points! Well you can mew about how tough it all is, you little baby, or you can get out there and compete. And after the game, win or lose, and if you lost, no matter how, don't act like it's a personal affront that the other player kicked your ass!

Apologies to Kevin Gafni and Robert Bennett for the way I slam-packed up my pieces and went home the last two weeks. The good players stick around, even after the most disappointing losses, and do a postmortem if the opponent is up for it. And now, on to my pathetic post which will be left up for all time to remind me not to act like my losing a freakin' game of chess is of World-Historical importance...)

I lost yet again last night in the Reno CC Ch. Swiss, to Robert Bennett, a guy who hangs around 1500 in the ratings but sure seems to be a pretty good tactician when I play him (see our previous encounter).

I outplayed him in the opening (or at least I thought so at the time) and won his queen pawn by move 10, but he tacked around with his queen to prevent me from castling so it was just a pure calculation game all the way through, and just before move 30 and the time control I blew it. And sheesh, the guy took like 38 minutes for the whole game to my 90!

So now I'm 0-2 in this event and have lost my last four tournament games. Eight months of painfully building up my rating from 1600 to 1667 is mostly up in smoke in a few weeks, which kind of pisses me off.

Yeah, there are lots of games left in the tournament, but hear me out.

It's funny, but last night I had an interesting game of chess, my opponent played better and deserved to win, but for the second week in a row I shook hands after the game, I was correct in my behavior I guess, but when my opponent and others tried to say something about the game I wasn't interested at all. I didn't give a damn to look at the game, find interesting variations or anything, I just slammed my pieces back in the bag while muttering about what an idiot I was, and went home.

At one time not so long ago it wasn't like this, not at all--I used to enjoy the playing and then looking over the game, win or lose.

It occurred to me as I was driving home--do I really like chess right now, or do I only like winning? Everybody loses in chess sometimes, so if I'm not enjoying the process, the game, and feel like every single solitary tournament loss is another wasted evening when I could have been doing something useful like making money, I'd better take a rest from it, I guess.

I think I'll do the smart thing, give it a couple of days and see if my attitude has undergone some positive adjustment by then.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Read for Yourself

On reading the excellent dk-transformation's post at Chess Improvement titled Raming GM-Ram I was directed to a series of articles by GM-Ram author Rashid Ziyadinov over at Jeremy Silman's site. Apart from the merits of GM-Ram as outlined by dk, I recommend you too peruse these articles; they have some different and unorthodox views on chess and chess improvement compared to most, and whether you agree with any or all of the author's contentions I think you'll be stimulated and look at things in a new light.

Here's one statement that really struck me (see Part 3, "Concrete Chess):

Students sometimes lament that they cannot apply their knowledge during a game. They cannot apply their "knowledge" because they really don't have any knowledge! What they have instead are shortcuts to chess language, what I call "chess magic spelling" (like "open the position if you are more developed", "the two bishop advantage", "don't move the queen out too early", etc.). These shortcuts are useless generalities. Chess can only be expressed with concrete variations. This often-ignored concept is so crucial to mastering chess that it bears repeating with emphasis: chess can only be expressed with concrete variations!

To sum up, I note that my game annotations here often have some pleasing verbal description, but only a modest amount of "concrete variations," while the stronger the player, it seems, the more the annotations consist mostly of variations. Which is cause, and which effect? Any opinions, Dear Reader?

Friday, April 04, 2008

An Object Lesson

First round of the Reno Chess Club Championship Swiss last night, and I lost to Kevin Gafni aka drunknknite (2020 USCF) when I squandered a position the exchange up; besides any mistakes in calculation I had what I'd call an attitude problem.

Allow me to explain.

After an interesting opening (I was Black in the Center Counter) we reached a position where he had two rooks and a bishop against my two rooks and a knight, he overlooked a knight fork and I won a clear Exchange.

So what did I do then, you ask? Instead of opening up the game for my two rooks, pieces which can only show their stuff with open lines, I wasted lots of time shuffling my king over to "get in front of his passed pawn" and keeping my rooks back "to cover any possible weaknesses" while he did what good players do in this kind of situation, activated his pieces and clamped down on my pawn breaks. I drifted around a bit more and pretty soon his passed pawn was dangerous, seeing as how I had scurried around like a timid little mouse. And I had a hallucination that lost a rook, and it was over.

If you've got seven minutes, please watch the clip before proceeding:
(Warning, strong language follows)

"You can't play in the man's game, you can't CLOSE them, then go home and tell your wife your troubles."

The encouraging thing about a game like this is to remind me that I'm in a tournament with a bunch of Experts and A-players now, and I can play with these guys, I know I can, but when you get an advantage against them you've got to be a--Relentless. Fucking. Closer. Trying to avoid "risk" didn't work, it usually doesn't; I'm going to start watching this clip each week before my game to remind me what it takes to finish, to close.

Otherwise I'm just another fish with delusions of being a shark, and I'm just not going to let that happen.

My chess blogging friend tanc(happyhippo), who is not really Lousy@Chess, pulled out the old Nietzsche quote in commenting on my last post; "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." Fuckin' a.

Now, bring on next week and a new challenge.

ADDENDUM 04/04/08: Even some of the greatest players experience this kind of thing occasionally. From How to Beat the Russians by Edmar Mednis (1978), this note on the game Sax-Polugaevsky, Hilversum 1973 (after move 20): "Thus the game here starts an interesting psychological turning point. Sax feels 100 percent certain of an imminent loss, and with nothing to lose starts playing freely. Polugaevsky, sure of a win, tries not to take the slightest chance. Objectively, White is lost for many moves to come, but he has the important factor of momentum. On the other hand, Black becomes less and less certain of the position, and his nerves finally go completely to pieces."

When I post the game soon, you'll see how accurately that describes this one, too. Me and Polugaevsky, two peas in a pod. Heh.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Next Big Thing

It turns out that despite my devastating, heartrending (blah, blah) loss in the last round of the Reno CC Ch. Qualifier I'm not going to be taking six weeks off after all; due to a player dropping out I've been invited to join the fun in the Swiss that will determine who makes the "Elite Eight" and the match play portion of the event. The first round is Thursday, the pairings are up on the RCC site, and behold, I get to take on Kevin Gafni, aka drunknknite, in two days. Awesome! Playing with the best players in the club is and has been my goal, and now the opportunity is at hand.

I've been thinking about and working on the problem I had with "running out of gas" in the game mentioned above, and have come to some conclusions and taken some actions. First, I resumed running three miles three times a week; second, cut down on overall food and sugar consumption, and; third, have generally reduced my daily stress level through the use of various mental disciplines.

Even more important I've decided there will be:


In my Secrets of a Grandpatzer series I quoted the late, great Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby:

To be a master one needs good physical and mental stamina. But health, mental or physical, is not necessary for the grandpatzer.If you look at a group of us in a chess club tournament, you will observe what wrecks we are...Having problems is not the problem; it's what you do in spite of them that counts. To rise above physical illness and pain, to strive for your best in spite of these distressful states, represents a challenge for the aspiring grandpatzer with artistic goals.

There you have it--my opponents are probably tired, too! Whatever issues are going on before the game will be forgotten during the game, and will no longer be reported here. Having done what we could, let the chips fall where they may.

I'm really excited about my "second chance" to play in this tournament, and I'm going to give it everything I've got.