Monday, July 31, 2006

Tournament Report: I stink

Well, I played really poorly at the tournament this past weekend. In summary I was +0 -3 =1. Ouch. That's the bad news. The good news is that everyone I lost to was more than 150 points higher rated than me, so hopefully I learned something.

Without further ado, here's what I learned. I am currently not thinking even 1 move ahead. Heck, I guess I'm not even thinking 1/2 move ahead. Too many times in this tournament my opponent played a move I had not even considered. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I can't calculate, or visualize, or know that I have to consider what my opponent will play. It's just that when thinking of what my opponent will play, certain moves -- good moves! -- don't cross my mind.

I don't know what this means exactly for how I'm supposed to improve. How do you force yourself to see something you just can't see. Unfortunately, I think this requires some time with a conscious thought process. I am not a fan of checklists of things to do when it's your move. I think all those things should be internalized. Moreover, good players don't operate this way. However, I'm willing to give it a shot on the chance that it will become internal.

The plan is this: After immediate threats (captures, checks, forks, etc.) are recognized, I will consciously list every legal move of my opponent. This should alleviate the basic problem of never even seeing the next move of my opponent. Hopefully these moves will remain in my brain while I calculate my next move. Eventually I will have to be able to see all these moves without consciously constructing the list, just as I do not consciously construct the potential captures and checks, I just know what they are automatically.

This certainly can't lead to making worse moves (can it?). But it will surely cost me on the clock. At the moment I'm not getting into time trouble, so I'm going to give it a go!

There is another tournament this coming weekend. This time just a one day tournament at a faster time control. I'm going to try this new approach to see how much I will hate it, and if one day, I may grow to love it.

I'd like to share my games on here, but I don't know the best way to do that. I could just plop down pgn and let you put it in your favorite viewer, but I've seen some cool embedded viewers and I think it would rock to get that working here.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Upcoming tournament

Currently the plan is to play in a tournament this weekend (2 days, 5 rounds). The tournament is about 1 hour from my home, so I'll be commuting and taking a bye in round 3 Saturday night (don't want to drive home so late). The big question for me is whether to play up a section. I have played in the U2000 section before; I don't feel totally outclassed there and it's a better learning experience than the U1800 section. On the other hand, there is nothing like the thrill of trying to compete to win your section, which is more likely in my "natural" U1800 section.

My recent study has mostly been a lot of problems at CTS. I am definitely improving my instant recognition of patterns by solving problems there and I'm interested to see if this pays off in a long tournament game. The key with CTS is to understand what it is good for and what it isn't. CTS doesn't simulate game conditions, but it can help you to build a wealth of tactical vision on which to base calculations during a real game. I continue to play plenty of blitz games and while I've uncorked a few nice combinations recently, the USCF rating will always be a more accurate judge.

I also wrapped up reading John Nunn's "Secrets of Practical Chess" recently. It was a fairly straighforward read with lots of good advice. I'm not sure it will have any effect on my chess ability, but perhaps some of his ideas will have sunk into my subconscious.

My study also includes working through Chess Mentor. This is an intersting piece of software that takes you move by move through the winning side of a partial game. At each step you have to try to find the right move and any wrong move you make comes with an explanation. There are times when these explanations aren't adequate to explain why the move is wrong, but nobody's perfect. A lot of the ideas presented are strategic or positional in nature and not just tactical. There is typically tactical motifs throughout the line, but it is a definite contrast to the kinds of positions on CTS, it simulates a real game more closely.

I own a few other books (winning pawn structures, Zurich 1953, instructive modern chess masterpieces, positional play), but I haven't really delved into them enough to call it studying. A couple years ago I tried with Positional Play (by Dvoretsky), but this book may have been too advanced for me. I've been through some of the games in Instrucive Modern Chess Masterpieces (Igor Stohl), but it never seems instructive to me in a practical sense. Zurich 1953 was recommended to me as one of the best compilations of master games to go over. I should probably dedicate a whole entry or more on why I struggle with going over master games.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Starting point

The starting point of this blog is class B, USCF. If that doesn't have any meaning for you, there are masters, experts, class A, B, C, etc. These are all national titles in the US. I don't recall if life master is still a title in use, I don't suspect I'll ever reach that level anyhow. The national master title is still less than the international titles of FIDE master, International master and Grandmaster. All of this is to say, I'm a little better than average, with a lot of room to improve.

For better or for worse, I've never had a structured learning environment for chess, or any consistent plan of self study. Along with that, I've had significant lengths of chess inactivity, though for the last 9 years nothing long enough to cause a major setback. I would like to use this blog to help me organize my own study methods. I did take a few lessons with a local master about a year ago, and it's possible I'll resume that.

It's hard for me to grasp how it was that I came to be a class B player. It almost seems like magic. I've never learned an opening, though I do know the principles of the opening and I know a lot of opening moves and the people they're named after. I've solved a lot of mate in 1, 2, and 3 problems. I've read books that demonstrate all the tactical motifs (pin, skewer, double attack, discovered check, etc.) I've looked at a lot of endgame problems, though I'm not sure any learning was involved. And I've played roughly 25000 games of blitz and lightning chess.

Other than the mass of games, nearly all of the above was done before I was a class D player. I clearly remember my days as a D player and having real struggles against other D players. Between then and my current rating, I've only gotten anything out of 1 book, Jeremy Silman's How to Reassess Your Chess. I think that's a fine endorsement of that book, but you will not learn much about tactics from that book. Since it is common knowledge that tactics is everything (more on this fallacy another time) at my level, I need to have a tactical regimen to improve my results.

I have read several of the blogs of the "Knights Errant," who are each following study plans inspired by Michael de la Maza. Though I don't intend to undertake such a plan, I do agree with the philosophy of repeating the same tactical exercises. Temposchlucker has a very nice blog, one of who's motifs is the pattern recognition ability of master level players. I believe the repitition of the exercises is where we can develop this from.

Currently I am working on problems at the Chess Tactics Server. They have a really good system of rating your tactical solving ability and challenging you with tactics problems at your ability. There you'll repeat the themes at your level until they are ingrained, and upon success, you will be moved to more difficult motifs.

I fear this is a lot for one blog entry, but hopefully a little context will make future entries easier for me to write.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Been lurking...

I've been lurking around several of the chess improvement blogs and enjoying them a lot. I am fascinated by what works and what doesn't work when trying to improve chess results. I'm also really impressed by all the hard work I see, it's an inspiration.

I'm not sure I'll have a whole lot to add, or post that often, but perhaps a place to organize my thoughts will be useful.