Saturday, January 09, 2010

Finished level 30

I actually finished level 30 about a week ago. But getting back on track at work from the holidays has taken most of my time. First the results (then the commentary)

| Level 10 100% |
| Level 20 97% |
| Level 30 91% |

The last time I did CT-Art, it took me until my 4th repetition of level 30 to get from this high of a percentage. So that indicates that I have made some tactical progress. On the other hand, my 5th (and final) rep of level 30 I did at 97%. So I have slipped from that level. And of course, this time through was much slower than what I was doing before.

Some of the level 30 problems are really quite difficult and require seeing a lot of variations. The fact that I was able to do them so quickly in the past raises an old question: Does repetition just teach us the solutions to particular problems? This is an important question, because our real goal is to do better in new positions. At the moment, my answer the question is a resounding "I don't know."

But, I'm inclined to just keep working instead of trying to optimize the process. My results on the most recent run through level 30 are significantly better than they were the first 3 times I did these problems. Since that was 2 years ago, the effect of memorizing the solutions is probably not that great (and I did not feel while solving the problems that I just knew the solution, I could really calculate the problems better).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

level 20 complete

I completed level 20 last night, finishing with a 97% score. Not bad, but the goal is 100% and there were a few problems I missed that I really should get. A bit over 2 weeks for the first 2 levels is a slow pace. I should be putting more time into this.

After my last update chesstiger reminded us that solving tactics problems is a little artificial because you know there is a tactic to find and in your games you won't have this cue. True, and of course, solving tactics problems isn't intended as a simulated game experience. Solving tactics problems is about learning patterns and practicing calculation. You can debate and philosophize all you like on whether or not this helps in a game situation, I'll be solving more tactics and hoping it does.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

chugging along

I forgot how long some of these levels were. After blowing through level 10 in 45 minutes, I'm just now halfway through level 20. So far I'm at 96%.

Can't really conclude anything from that. But on my last time through this set of problems, I did them at 98%. So I may have dropped off just a little bit, but my guess is that this is specific to this problem set and not a drop in tactical ability in general.

Some of the problems are quite tricky. If you really consider all the defensive resources, you may convince yourself the tactic doesn't quite work. Thinking back, I'm sure I did some of these problems 'correctly' while considering less about them than I am now when I'm not doing them correctly, simply because I knew the solutions by the 4th or 5th repetition. And there's probably very little value in learning the solutions of these problems if the process doesn't help me learn to play better tactics.

But I'll be sticking with it.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'm baaaack

I've decided to use this blog again!

A lot has changed since I last blogged here, but I've come to a point where using this blog makes sense again. For one thing, my rating has gone from 1729 to 1921. This is obviously a big change, so why haven't I been posting on my chess improvement blog what I've been doing to accomplish this ?!? Two primary reasons for that, 1) I wasn't following a regimen that lent itself to periodic updates or keeping a regular log and 2) between moving and changing jobs twice, time for blogging was limited and 2a) I blogged at

So why not just continue blogging at!? I'm listed as a Top Blogger there and my blog actually gets a fair number of reads. But that blog has never contained the kinds of things this one did and will. This blog is a personal place where I dump my current progress and thoughts. The blog was too polished, containing only instructive analysis of my games. I'd like to keep the two ideas separate. And there's something nice about a low readership when you're not aiming for quality, and I won't be aiming for quality here -- just spewing.

So what have I been doing the last year and a half while my rating has gone up 200 points?!? Playing a lot of OTB chess. I play at least one tournament every month, and often more. In some months reaching 10 OTB USCF rated games. I have no doubt this has helped a lot. I've used the Tactics Trainer at, occasionally popped on to Chess Tactics Server (, read books, analyzed my games, analyzed games with higher rated players, etc.

And what will I be doing now?!? I have just re-installed CT-Art on my new laptop. At first this did not work, because I'm running Vista. I googled it and a solution came up. This worked for me. So the plan is to get back to a regime of tactics training using CT-Art. The last time I did this, I got through repetitions up to level 40 with very high success rates. I hope to be nailing some of the higher levels this time as well. I crunched through level 10 today in a total of 45 minutes, 100% success rate.

I'll use this blog to flog myself in my CT-Art training, all results will be posted here.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

King and Pawn ending

This is an actual position from a recent game I played:

Black to move

Each side's king is dealing with connected passed pawns and at first I expected there would be nothing to do but babysit the pawns and we would draw. Unfortunately, this was a blitz game so there wasn't time to figure it out. Without the time to calculate, I just played Kc4 in the hopes that my pawns being further advanced was enough to win. My opponent obliged with the losing Kd1, which was probably a premoved king shuffle trying to draw, but this is now easily losing -- a6 would have led to both sides queening and a draw.

But black does have a winning idea in this position. Your name might be Likesforests if you get it right away.

1. ... Ka6 2. Kd1 d2! 3. Ke2 Kb5 4. Kd1 Kxb4! In this position black is close enough to queening even if white runs with the a-pawn due to a mating threat. 5. a6 Kc3 and now 6. a7 is mate in two with 6. ... Kd3 and 7. ... e2# while 6. Ke2 Kc2 threatens to promote with check so the black queen has time to stop white's pawn.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Brave Bishop

I recently finished one of the cleanest games of chess I've ever orchestrated, including what I think is a pretty cool bishop maneuver. I will be getting on to flogging myself over losses soon enough, but first, something to smile about.

The game started out as an awkward Sicilian,
1. e4 c5 2. Bc4!?
This is supposed to be one of white's worst choices here. In fact, it's not even covered in my book on the Sicilian that covers 5 other "rare second moves". Instead of playing a solid refutation (2. ... e6) I just continued with normal accelerated dragon moves.
2. ... Nf6 3. c3

I don't know if this is some kind of delayed Alapin or what but I decide I should be trying to play d5 so
4. ... e6 5. f4?! d5.

White is playing a mix of early Bc4, Alapin, and Grand Prix which seems uncoordinated to me. c3 is supposed to support a d4 push, which doesn't go well with f4 because it leaves a big hole on e4. I have the feeling black has already equalized.
6. exd5 exd5 7. Qe2+
White gets a check in:

Black to move

White's pawn structure isn't good for development

6. ... Be7 7. Bb5 Nf6
Black just develops his pieces. It's easier to know where to put the knight than the c8 bishop.

8. Nf3 0-0 9. Bxc6 bxc6 10. 0-0

This is a critical position

Black to move

White might get away with playing d3, Be3, and Nbd2 and his position might not suck. This would be bad, we would like black's position to suffer more than if we simply allow these moves. A natural move here is just Bg4 because it feels nice to develop a piece with a pin, but this doesn't really do anything and perhaps the bishop might be better going to a6.

Instead, black finds a move that accomplishes two things.
10. ... c4!
The exclam might be excessive, but lets see what we've got. First, we're holding back white's easy development since it's not as simple to move the d-pawn any more. Second, we're clearing the c5 square for our dark squared bishop that was in danger of not getting active. We do cut off the a6-f1 diagonal from our light squared bishop, but that bishop can have scope on the other side of the board (f5, g4).

11. d4

This sticks black with a decision. There is only one chance to capture this pawn. There is some temptation to leave the pawns on f4 and d4 when white has a bad bishop. But the closed position doesn't bode well for black's bishop pair. Black would prefer to open up the vulnerable a7-g1 diagonal.

11. ... cxd3ep 12. Qxd3

If you can see all the tactics from this position, give yourself a gold star

Black to move

Black needs to strike while the iron is hot. White is threatening to just play Be3 and Nbd2. It's still not the prettiest position for white, but it seems to hold together.

12. ... Qb6+
Better than Bc5+ which can be met by Be3 or Kh1. Now Be3 hangs the b-pawn and there may be even worse consequences if 13. Be3 Ba6! Thankfully black doesn't have to calculate that line unless black actually makes the mistake Be3 and then it's just a matter of choosing the winning line he's more sure of. Kh1 loses material to Ba6.

13. Qe3 Bc5 14. Nd4 Re8
White's moves are pretty much forced. After loading up on the weak diagonal, black goes to work on the open file and the exposed queen. Black doesn't want to lose a pawn on d4 so:

15. Qd2 Ne4 A great post of the knight with tempo. 16. Qd1
Black to move

Black's pieces have gone forward while white's have not. Black can be proud of his better placed pieces, but this is not the moment to let up. Black might be tempted to play Ba6 to develop with tempo, but there is a better option for this brave bishop in this position. The c8 bishop enters the game in the most forceful way

16. ... Bg4!!

This move is brought to you by the letter "f" and the number "2". This hint is probably enough to figure out why 17. Qxg4? is an immediate loser. So once again white is making an unhappy move with his queen instead of developing his pieces. White still doesn't want to hang a pawn on d4 and so chooses:

17. Qd3
And now black demonstrates why the previous move gets two exclams
17. ... Be2! This move forks the queen and rook, so black will certainly pick up material if white declines the bishop a second time, so how does black pull it out when the bishop is accepted?

18. Qxe2 Nxc3

White to move

This move simultaneously captures a pawn, attacks the queen, and removes a defender of the d4 knight. If white tries to save the queen, black will recoup the sacrificed piece by taking the knight on d4 with check and still retain the extra pawn he's just captured on c3. Black does need to be certain that white can't get too much material for the queen. For example, 19. Nxc3 Rxe2 20. Nxe2 puts the material at a rook and two pieces for a queen and pawn, but the position is not yet quiescent and black regains one of the pieces with 20. ... Bxd4. In the game, white tried:
19. Qxe8 Rxe8 20. Nxc3

Trying to protect the d4 knight with 20. bxc3 loses more material to 20. ... Bxd4+ 21. cxd4 Qxd4+ 22. Kh1 Qxa1 picking up the rook.

20. ... Bxd4+
and white has a Queen and pawn for Rook and knight, a winning material advantage.

The rest of the game is more technical in converting the advantage.
21. Kh1 Bxc3 22. bxc3 Re2 White has no real development and black is invading on the 7th

White to move

23. Ba3 Qa6
This is an interesting move. White has to be prepared to meet Re1. In the game I decided I was willing to give back material in order to reach a winning King and Pawn endgame.

24. Rae1 Rxe1 25. Rxe1 Qxa3 26 Re8+ Qf8 White resigns.

Maybe a bit early, but black retains the extra pawn going into the King and Pawn ending. This ending is not difficult to play.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bishop and Rook Pawn

Lately I have been playing a lot of games at and not blogging about it. I have a couple of neat things from those games to put down in the blog before I do some deeper annotations.

First, a quick reminder of bishop and rook pawn endgame:

A draw
White has no way to pry the black king away from h8 and so the game is drawn.

So in a recent game when I won a bishop for some pawns and reached this position:

I was concerned that even if I can use my extra piece to win black's pawns I'm only headed for a draw. Of course, the rooks make a big difference. The e and g pawns fell without significant resistance (38. h4 Rc2+ 39. Kd1 Rff2 40. Rf7+ Ke5 41. Rfe7+ Kd4 42. Rxe5+ Kc5 43. Be8 Rb2 44. Kc1 Rbc2+ 45. Kb1 Rb2+ 46. Ka1 Rbd2 47. Ra5+ Kb6 48. Rb5+ Kc7 49. Rc4+ Kd8 50. Bxg6 Rd1+ 51. Bb1) and we reached this position:

Black is still heading towards the draw shown in the first diagram. While the rooks are still on, white needs to accomplish one of two goals. Either win black's h-pawn and push his own while the king can be cut off from the h-file by a rook or banish black's king to the far end of the queenside. In the game, white managed to accomplish the second of these goals, 51. ... Ke7 52. Rb7+ Ke6 53. Rh7 Rf7 54. Rc2 Re1 55. Kb2 Ref1 56. Re2+ Kd5 57. Ba2+ Kc7 58. Rc7+ Kb6 59. Rc8 R1f4 60. Re3 Rb4+ 61. Rb3 Rxb3+ 62. Bxb3 Kb7 63. Rc3 Rf2+

Here white has an important decision. Is it okay to play Rc2 and allow the rooks to be traded? It turns out that the plan of driving the black king to the queenside has worked in this position. If the rooks are traded on c2, the white king is closer to the h8 square that the black king thanks to the white bishop covering some key squares. The game continued 64. Rc2 Rxc2+ 65. Kxc2 Kc7 66. Kd3 Kd7 67. Ke4 Ke7 68. Kf5 And now thanks to the bishop black can't follow along with Kf7 and black resigned a few moves later. When calculating the ending after 65. Kxc2, be sure to consider black's attempt to cut off the bishop with 65. ... Kc6 and 66. ... d5.

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