After Eastern Class earlier this year, OTB chess took a backseat, while work ramped up. I still did my correspondence chess praxis as per usual.
Correspondence Chess Praxis
Below are a couple of miniatures from a correspondence chess CCLA section played on the ICCF server. You can view the section here. I have one loss, four wins, and one game still in progress (I'm about to win an exchange). For the record, my loss was a great example of lazy, sloppy play on my part. I "woke up" in my other games.
The first example is a rout of the opponents King in the center:
The second is opponent hesitation punished with a Queenside attack. I'm still analyzing this game. I have some comments from other players at MetroWest CC. If you have comments, please send them in:
MetroWest CC June 2011 -- Round 2
The object of this post however is to get back in the saddle with my OTB play. I will be playing at the Continental Open in Sturbridge MA, and would like to have an even better performance than at Eastern Class earlier this year. Below is my June 2011 Round 2 game played at MetroWest CC:
Here is the un-annotated game, followed by:
My thoughts during the game
My home analysis
What Fritz said...
Please note that the game was "reconstructed" from approximately move 64 on. The major piece movements are there, but there is a mystery on 68.Rd7, why didn't the White King capture the pawn?
My Thoughts During The Game
Since I have been reading a ton of Silman, plus doing tactics when I can (skills and drills), I was in good spirits, a bit of good nervous energy, and looking forward to the game. I hadn't been to the MetroWest CC in a while (although still doing my volunteer activities in the background), and I looked forward to a good old fashioned chess battle! I found my opponent, Clark Ewer. We used to play each other a while ago, and during the late 90's we sometimes rode the commuter rail together. I'll highlight the points in the game where I thought I had to make a major decision. As opposed to the points where I really needed to make a decision - which are hopefully highlighted in my home analysis and with Fritz assistance below this section. As usual, your comments are welcome:
2.Nf3 - "Either (a) he does not know the French and is trying to throw me off, or; (b) he does know the French and this is some killer line". Of course this is all crap. I should just play what I think should be played to the best of my ability. I played 2...d5 seeking a French, knowing it'll likely go into an Exchange Variation.
5. Bd3 - "Hmmm... now we can break symmetry, and possibly I'll be a fraction of a tempo to the better", and played 5...Bg4 prompting 6. Be2. I get a tempo back.
10.Ne5 - "Gees, I mentally prepared for this, but why does a Knight on e5 feel so oppressive?". Of course more crap. Brush it off, and start exchanging to relieve the cramp.
15. Qd2 - "Feels quiescent. I think I've heard that word used before in chess books". The "pawn chain" indicates I should play on the King-side. I decided to try and induce a weakness with 15...Qc7.
19. g3 - "I'm conflicted. Am I in a better position (because of the pressure on e-file) or can he blockade, and maybe this is a draw?". You don't win by resigning, so I continued to put maximum pressure down the e-file with 19...Rae8.
23.Kh2 - "Hmmm, so I contradict myself (lose focus on the e-file pressure) and find out I'm making no progress with direct action against the King". I think here I'm losing the plot, and can't figure out how to assess the position and formulate a coherent plan. Then I follow-up with 23...f5 thinking "if my opponent exchanges, I get a passed pawn". This line of reasoning is faulty and violates Silman's guidelines. Never wish that your opponent will make a good move for you! Each move must be judged on it's merit for what it does for your position.
27.Rxe4 - "Wow, my opponent did exchange, and now I get a passed pawn! But... with which pawn should I capture?". DOH. I mentally debated between taking with the d-pawn (which I thought made me vulnerable to a d-pawn push), and the f-pawn which concedes a King-side pawn majority to my opponent. I decided to take with the f-pawn to reduce counter play with the d-pawn. 27...fxe4.
30.f5 - "Am I going to regret taking with the f-pawn and leaving White with a King-side pawn majority?". Such are decisions in the rear-view mirror. I decide to not mull on the past, but look ahead. 30...Rf6.
36.Rh1 - "Why am I still fooling around with direct action on the King, when I should be nursing my protected passed pawn?". Re-deploy. 36...Qe7.
42.Re3 - "I'm thoroughly blocked. I need to either go around (attack from behind) which is not practical, or open up another file to assist.". 42...Qg5.
46.Qe5 - "I now have an open file adjacent to the file my protected passed pawn is on. If I trade Queens am I in a superior endgame? Or is this yet another Rook/Pawn endgame that is drawn?". Without answering that basic question in detail, I played 46...Qf6.
49.Ke3 - "Hmmm... Should I super-activate my Rook with 49...Rf1?". Nah. Play on. 49...h6.
57.Rc3 - "Wow, I wish I activated my Rook earlier. I'm getting more passive each move". 57...Rc6.
63.Ke3 - "I need to try to activate my Rook, clear the King out a blockade position of my protected passed pawn". 63...Rc6.
67.Ke5 - "White's King blocks any attack by his Rook on my e-pawn. It's now or never...". 67...e3.
73.d5 - "One Rook vs. two pawns. No I need to work for a draw". 73...Rc3+
74.Kb7 - "Gift! Now I can get a draw". 74...Rc5
My Home Analysis
The game viewer below has my game analysis, with comments and variations in the viewer. Variations are in blue, and comments are displayed in the comment window, directly below the board, in the game viewer. In the comment viewer, you can see forward/backward VCR controls. Use those to quickly scan where I made comments. The current move is highlighted in yellow.
What Fritz Said...
Fritz analysis highlights are in the list below, tactical comments in red:
Game is even up to 10...Bxe2
Black has advantage starting at 16...Nf6
Black's advantage continues through 27.Rxe4
28.g4?? blunder, allowing 28...Bxf4
28...Qf5? Black still has advantage, but missed tactical opportunity
29.Bg3 Black still has advantage
42...Qg5 Black has slight advantage
46.Qe5 Black still has slight advantage. Instead of 46...Qf6 (game) Fritz suggests 46...Re8 keeping the Queens on the board, and maintaining a Black advantage
47.Qxf6, game is equal (same as home analysis)
51...Kg5, Black has advantage, due to 51.Re3
After 53.Re3, Black had an opportunity for 53...b5 for a major advantage
54.gxh5 Black still has slight advantage, dwindling to equal
65...Rc3?? Blunder. Fritz suggests 65...Rb6 as keeping equal game
66.Kf4 White has big advantage
68.Rd7 Black should capture pawn with King. I'm not sure if this is an error in reconstructing the game
68.Kg3, Fritz suggests 68...e2, Black with a big advantage
70...e2, Black has big advantage
71...e=Q?? equalizes. Blunder, Fritz suggests 71...Re3 preserving a small advantage
My thoughts during the game, home analysis and Fritz all highlight gaps in my understanding, as well as momentary tactical lapses. My goal is to continue to use this as a praxis technique, and to show improvement over time. As usual comments and critiques are welcome!
CCA Eastern Class 2011 Round 1
This tournament is 5 rounds, starting Friday night for round 1. I took the day off so my roommate and I arrived with plenty of time, ate early,no stress and so on. I am re-energized this year to actually make progress in my chess, as opposed to "dithering around" as the media recently likes to describe such behavior.
White opened 1.d4 as per usual. With Blacks reply 1...b5 I knew my opponent liked "off beat" openings, and mentally went on alert for traps. This preoccupation with traps held White back. It took a while to feel comfortable with the tensions enough to start asserting my plans. Key points in the game:
6...Be7 -- After this move White is searching for a plan, but gets overly concerned about the Black Bishop on b7. This restrains White from pursuing the Black King, who delayed castling until it was too late.
10...Qc7 -- White really needs to pursue the Black King by restraining the King from castling Queenside, then opening the center. Instead White tries to get a Kingside attack going. The issue is(a) that Black could simply castle Queenside then what?, and; (b) in order to coordinate the Knights, White goes through an awkward maneuvering and it isn't until much later that the Knights become useful. In the meantime, a Fritz analysis keeps telling White (six times!) that he needs to consider the simple d5 push...
14...Qf8? -- White clumsily pushed the Black Queen back to an unproductive square. Then, White finally realized that he needs to create some Queenside action in order to give Black multiple problems to solve, and plays 15.a4.
17...Bc8 -- White has spent a lot of effort to displace the Black light square Bishop from the long diagonal. Now White feels bold enough to try 18.d5 and open up the position to go after the Black King.
19...Bb7 -- Now White has to continue the plan of pursuing the Black King. Does he push 20.d6, or try to crack open the Black King defenses with 20.dxe6? Or some other move? 20.d6 will restrain the Black dark square Bishop (good). 20.dxe6 begins to chip away at the Black King defense, but is there something quicker? Fritz suggests 20.cxb4, but I'm not sure why this is good. The engine doesn't reveal an immediate tactic, so there is something positional that I do not understand.
29...Rxg6 -- After missed tactics on both sides, and a rushed exchange of Queens on White's part, we have a position where Black has a huge weakness on the d7 square, White has a Rook on the d-file, and two Knights trained on d6 in front of the d7-pawn. White initiates operations against the last defense of the Black King with 30.Ncd6.
33...cxb4 -- White can choose to maintain or increase the tension if he wishes. Fritz recommends 34.a5 to maintain tension, while Goldowsky ("ChessWriter") recommends 34.h4. White played 34.Nxe7 releasing the tension, likely lengthening the game.
35...a5 -- Allowing White to exchange Bishops with 36.Bb5, and the rest of the game is inevitable.
I'll make an effort to give a terse periodic update of where I am at in "The Hills of Sisyphus"... maybe every few weeks? We'll see how long I can keep this up :-)
chess.com -- 1471
chess.emrald.net -- 1260
chesstempo.com -- 1536
CT-ART 4.0 -- 1835
MetroWest CC play resumes March, Tuesday nights 40/90, SD30
Eastern Class March 4-6, 2011
Three(3) chess.com games
Five(5) CCLA games
Silman, Reassess v4, finishing up Part 3 Rooks
My goal obviously is to improve my play. A big test will be the Eastern Class tournament. I'm 1399 in Class D (1200-1399). Although I'm the highest rated, there are always a few scholastic stars who shoot up in those sections, so I'm not expecting a perfect score. However, I am determined to get a competitive result.
Am I boning up on openings? No. Tactics? Yes. Strategy? A bit, via Silman. Endgames? No.
I'll give an update late in March after the Eastern Class.
Fans of chess improvement have no doubt heard on "The Seven Circles", a term coined by MDLM and used by Knights Errant extensively. If you are not familiar, then I recommend the blog by Blunderprone (see "My Blog List" on the right) for history and humor of the "movement". The Seven Circles is a method to improve your chess via practicing tactics. There have been plenty of anecdotes pro/con, and some quantitative evidence in its favor. I've even tried, but I can't get completely through even the first circle - I get jammed midway around level five of CT-ART.
So I stall, give up, come back to it, realize I truly suck in the openings, fret about that, but never formulated a plan I could stick with for any period of time. I'd like to stick to a plan for a while, so I can measure and see if the plan is working. For as much as some people say "don't worry about your rating", what other measure is there really, to say that you are improving? I think rather the statement should be "play and practice as hard as you can, and while doing so, don't think about your rating". But you still need to step back periodically and see if what you are doing works.
Recently I got tired of my free fall in USCF rating, and decided to do something about it. Was it my intense work schedule making me tired for night games at MetroWest CC? Am I truly incapable of learning openings? Is age a factor? Am I capable of the willpower chess demands? I thought about my chess and work and decided to be a bit more disciplined and systematic about how I approach chess. It helps in work, and who knows, maybe in chess as well. I've been developing this method, and gradually formalizing it in my head. Most recently I'm trying to put some real structure around it, so when I get 15-30 min free time I can exercise a bit of the method. Part of the method is getting away from the notion that the only way I can improve is if I can grab several hours at a time. That is simply too unrealistic and has held me back.
I've been down this new path just a couple of months and already regained ~100 USCF ELO points. That's not very impressive if you note that I am all the way back to 1399... but still. The chart is below, and you'll have to squint to see the up tick in the last couple of months...
So what is going on? Is this last up tick significant, or just another fluctuation on my slow but sure spiral downward to my floor of 1000? I'd like to think that I am at an inflection point of steady improvement. I'll show below how I am trying to think a bit more holistically about my chess improvement, and have grouped my activities into the "Three Hills of Sisyphus", take-off on the phrase "Seven Circles"...
Hill One - Drills
This hill of Sisyphus is all about tactical drills. The pure MDLM method is CT-ART, but I've found that no matter what packaged set of drills you use, there are biases, so why not rotate? People criticize CT-ART for too many queen sacrifices, Emrald for too fast time controls, etc. I forced myself (yes, unpleasant at first) to learn how to use and appreciate four tools. There are many others but here is what I am using, and how:
This hill is the best when I just have a few open minutes. The ideal is to start with a few chess.com tactics. I am a "Gold" member, so I get 30/day. The time control is relaxed, and you get partial credit for making it part way through a sequence. This is good for warm up, so my rating on this one is probably artificially low (~1300). The next is chess.emrald.net for the Chess Tactics Server. This experience is like a series of flash cards, and to get full credit, you need to answer within three(3) seconds. A lot of "remove the defender" and "king hunt", and after a while you try to get "an eye" for hanging pieces and such. My Emrald rating is ~1200-1250. Next is chesstempo.com tactics training, and this one allows for much more time, and the problems are harder. My rating is >1500. Last is CT-ART v4 and I alternate between theme and difficulty. Current I'm sorting by difficulty and doing all the counterplay examples too, but in practice (untimed) mode. My rating on this is >1800. Sample screen shots of ratings below. I'm starting to get in a groove, and I expect my tactical performance to increase substantially over the next few months.
Hill Two - Praxis
This hill of Sisyphus is all about practice. Since I have a crazy work/travel schedule, I use a combination of OTB and correspondence chess games. The OTB games are usually long, and primarily via MetroWestChess.org, and CCA (chesstour.com) weekend tournaments. The correspondence chess is both casual as in chess.com, and also official such as CCLA (chessbymail.com).
I'm trying to overcome some bad habits with this new approach to praxis. For example in my CCLA (or ICCF) games, I would obsess over moves, sometimes looking at 20-30 variations at each move, which gave me a good rating (ICCF >1700), but I never got a feel for the overall game, and thus I never really improved much. So in my recent CCLA games, I'm trying to move quicker and think overall themes. My CCLA rating is ~1550. In my chess.com games I'm trying to get better at my annotation, which is aided by the fact that the games are already online and easily accessible. I still have a mental hurdle with my other OTB games because my CB database is such a mess. I am thinking about simply starting a new DB for my Eastern Class games (Mar 2011) and make a fresh start. My MetroWest CC games will follow suit.
Hill Three - Skills
This hill of Sisyphus is all about putting everything together into a balanced set of skills. This is still emerging but is roughly divided into book knowledge, multimedia DVD training, reviewing master games, and recording what I want to play as a repertoire.
The current incarnation of this hill of Sisyphus is as follows:
For book knowledge I am going through the Silman Reassess v4. This is a great improvement over v3 which I found tiresome because of the obsession with Bishop v. Knight. That is important but there are many other imbalances, and that is exactly where my games fall apart. In v4 Reassess the #1 great feature are his exercises in which he assigns a rating band, and tells you why (similar to his rating bands in his endgame book). I can now see some curious gaps in my knowledge. For example, in a number of exercises, I can "see" a move for a "2000" rated player but will miss some features of that position he expects a 1600-1800 player to get - and some of these features will determine whether the "2000" level move would work or not in a real game. As I worked through more of these, I realized that where I was going wrong is in not "seeing" the whole board, and that there can be multiple themes of activity, competing activity, going on simultaneously. This incomplete board vision surfaces in tactics exercises too...
For training DVDs, I am currently working through some opening Fritz trainer DVDs for openings (General ABCs, Queen's opening, French Defense, etc.). I am not trying to memorize lines. I am trying to continue picking up on structure and theme ideas (continuation of my earlier ACIS Notes blog entries). I was surprised to learn that the most important thing I am picking up in my first pass is what really is and is not "scary". I'm learning how Masters evaluate positions, and just hearing them speak about various positions, and what is most important to them is invaluable. All without memorizing any lines.
For game collections, this varies between looking at a player's games (like a Petrosian collection), and looking at a tournament book (like Zurich '53, or Curacao '62). Currently I'm going through a Curacao book, but that is on hold right now.
For repertoire, this is my true missing link. I recently downloaded the latest in Bookup, and once I get done with Eastern Class, my pledge to myself is to annotate my games, and start building an e-book of White and Black repertoires.
The Hills Are Alive With The Rocks of Sisyphus
I don't have a lot of time, so the way I work my way through the Hills of Sisyphus is as follows:
At least every other night spend 30 minutes pushing rocks up the Drill Hill. I try to get through chess.com and Emrald at a minimum , usually some chesstempo.com, and on the weekends toss in some CT-ART. Most nights I push rocks up the Praxis Hill (30 min) checking moves in a few correspondence games (< 10 at any given time). At night, spend ~30 min with a book. On travel days, maybe every other weekend try some chapters out of the DVDs. The repertoire, well that's still a twinkle in my eye.
So I have boiled this down to about an hour a day, which is too much for some, way too little for others. I'll see over time if it is the right amount for me.