Thursday, February 18, 2010

Closing the Blog...but Linares is still pathetic

So I am working a lot now, I barely have time to study chess much less write about it, so this will be the last post.

I am not going to post any games. I have been playing badly, and I don't think there's much to learn from my recent 'efforts'. Instead, a little bit of criticism of the chess world:

How far Linares has fallen. It used to be the superest super tourney of them all...winning Linares was the second best thing to winning the title. Up to 14 players playing, all the best, no Dutch hangers on (sorry Wijk an Zee) to lower the average most, one spanish GM who maybe shouldn't be there, though that hasn't been a problem lately with Pace Vallejo since he is pretty strong.

But this year...6 players. Very sad. No Kramnik (since Topalov is there), no Anand, no Carlsen...why should I care? I love Aronian, but that by itself isn't enough. Linares has become Sofia M-tel. A small tournament of good but uninteresting players set up for Topalov to win. Who cares? It's just sad that the site of two of the greatest chess tourneys of all time (1994 and 2000, though plenty of years at Linares could vie for that title) would be reduced to this.

I look forward to the world championship match. Go Anand. Kill that Bulgarian (and his asshole manager), and then figure out a way to get Carlsen in a match.

On that note, thanks for reading my blog when I still posted regularly. Chessx, good luck with your teaching.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Been a long time...

I've been busy. Very busy. This will be a big post as a result, and I'm not even going to include most of the games I've played in the last few weeks. Most of them aren't so great anyway, either crushing wins or pathetic defeats, very little in the way of competitive play. I played in a local Open, which I had promised myself I wouldn't do (I usually don't have the energy after a week of work. I'm lucky to play my club games). I did okay...I only lost 7 points, though I did lose to a 1750 kid when I was dead tired Saturday night. The real mistake was not taking a bye that round. Here is one game from that event.


My opponent is a really nice guy, a middle aged college professor, but as you might expect give his background he isn't the most theoretically cutting edge player. As such, I was really worried about creating winning chances, which I had to do to have any hope of salvaging the tournament. As you can see, he mixed up his move order a little and I whipped up a little attack. When the opportunity came to go into a winning ending however, I took it. He made me work for it, but I got him in the end. I also played a few club games, two of which I'll post to show you the difference between B-class and Expert level play, as if you didn't already know there was a stark divide.



Aldo Lopez is a really quality player, probably of master strength (he beat GM Rausis at the Turkey Bowl with black), and I again had trouble with him despite doing a lot of prep. Oh well. No shame in that one. I was glad I was able to handle Gary so easily. Which brings me to a problem I've had recently: winning with black against lower rated players.

It's a real issue in Swiss system tourneys. In the first round especially, you need to win and if you have black and an unambitious opponent, it can be hard. For example, last week I played a 1650 player I've beaten like 3 times in a row, but I had black. It was the first round, and I needed a win. The best I could do, however, was a draw. I was better the whole game, but he didn't risk very much and ably held the draw. I am actually thinking about adding a slightly sketch line (the Modern) to my repertoire just to make sure that lower rated players can't kill the game. I may yet do it. I just hate playing boring, non-theoretical lines of the Sicilian or Semi-Slav and having to take undue risks to create winning chances. Ah well. I usually win anyway, I just wish it didn't take so long.

So I've been playing okay lately, got up to just a hair over 1900, and I have gotten the chance to read a few books. I suppose I might as well review at least one of them:

Secrets of Creative Thinking: School of Future Champions 5, by Mark Dvoretsky

I try not to simply jump on bandwagons, but I have to say I really like the works of Dvoretsky. A few caveats: I'm not strong enough for all of them. I use his Endgame Manual a lot, but I can't solve the exercises 60% of the time (at best). He's very high level. That said, this book is not about tactics, or endings, or openings, but rather about how to think creatively. Like most Dvoretsky books, it's not really a book but rather a collection of lectures that were given at one time or another at his chess school. As such, there are many authors (some quite well known), and a diverse array of topics. These chapters are of varying utility. Most are excellent musing on the way decisions are made in chess, half advice and half philosophical debate. I like these the best. A few are more polemical, such as a book review of a Sanakoev games collection. On the whole, this is a very interesting book that I would recommend. Unlike most Dvoretsky books, this one could be enjoyed by a wide range of players of varying strength. The points are more intellectual than technical, and will be interesting to all.

So I suppose this wasn't really that long of a post, but I'm very drunk and I don't care to keep writing. For one thing, I have to keep deleting and retyping mistakes, which is tiring, and I have to work tomorrow. I will try to get back to posting more often. Peace out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Endgames Are Where 'C' Players go to Die

At least that's how I beat them. The last two weeks I've played two player rated 1600-1700ish, and in each case I've taken them into endings in which they're slightly worse (if not equal) and beaten them without a whole lot of trouble. I swear I'm not that good at the middlegame, except in terms of preparing favorable endings. My tactics are not so great but by God if I see a potential endgame weakness I can usually highlight it. It helps when your opponents are oblivious to their own weaknesses, or at least don't perceive the seriousness of them. Here are the games:



I feel that I've really consolidated my rating lately, so to speak. I pretty much always beat players 100-200 points lower than me, and I feel that's a big part of being a stronger player. You just can't give away points to much lower rated have to find a way to beat them. Drawing people slightly stronger on a regular basis is a big part of it too, and I've definitely gotten better at that as well. Of course, sometimes I get rolled by someone at a higher level, and I have a painful example of that as well from three weeks ago. The line is one that I believe is good for black if he's playing for a win, but it's not easy to play (it's a gambit in the Alapin Sicilian). Anytime black gambits a pawn a lot of accuracy is required, and I didn't have it. I really need to study this position deeply because I've had a lot of trouble with it both over the board and online. Still, I wouldn't give it up as it's one of the few lines versus the Alapin Sicilian that isn't drawish. Here's the game:


Ouch. That one still hurts. Though I have very little time to study now that I'm working (which is going well, thanks for asking), this position is worth some time and effort. I just can't stand the early ...Nf6 lines, they're just so boring.

In the chess stratosphere these days, Carlsen is owning everyone like they're a bunch of 'A' players in a weekend Swiss. This guy is really ridiculous. I love how in the last round of Nanjing he beak Javojenko, even though he had already won outright. How many GMs would have just taken a short draw? 80-90% would be my guess. He's as flexible as Kasparov in the types of openings and positions he can play well, and he has the drive to win every game like Fischer did. And I believe he's about to be 2800+ before his 20th birthday. If he keeps this up, he could challenge Kasparov for best all time. I realize that's preposterously premature, but the way he's playing is just astonishing. Nobody wins as many games these days as he does. Defensive technique is just too good, but he just seems to throw people off their games. I'm a huge fan. I hope Anand whips Topalov soon and that Carlsen gets his shot quickly thereafter.

You know who I think could be Carlsen's great rival? Aronian. He plays in a sort of offbeat way, but he's tremendously strong at simply playing the game (as opposed to opening prep) in the same way as Carlsen. A match between those two would be excellent. The older generation is starting to fade somewhat in my opinion, in prominence if not in rating, and it's time for Carlsen, Aronian, Radjabov, Karjakin, Grischuk, etc to step up. I look forward to it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chess From a Different Perspective

So I've had to cut back on my chess study a great deal since I started working, as one would expect. I've only been studying three days a week, and then only for about an hour. I've been working 10 hour days, and after work I'm just too tired to think about chess. Since my wife travels all week the weekends are just for us. I've only played one game since my job started, and I was pretty tired when I went in to play it. I was also ready to enjoy it.

That may sound obvious, but think how often you sit down at the board more worried about losing or really, really driven to win rather than with the idea of enjoying chess in mind. I almost always did. Though I think chess is beautiful, what I mostly got from competing was the thrill of winning. Consequently, losing made me feel awful. I studied not just because I enjoy chess, but also because I hate losing so much. There was an element of compulsion in it when I was unemployed because I felt the need to show progress at something, even if it wasn't something very important to my life in the long term.

This is all preamble to saying that the game I played last Wednesday was probably the most enjoyable game I've played in a long time. I won, but the reason I enjoyed it so much was that I didn't care all that much whether I won or lost. I don't think I realized how much importance I was placing on my chess performance, but after starting work and thus having my priorities shifted it became apparent that I hadn't been treating chess as a hobby, but rather as a serious undertaking the outcome of which I let affect my happiness, opinion of myself, and even relationship with my wife (I get very angry and difficult after losing and am not pleasant to be around). Though I know I won't be making as much progress (if any) as I continue to play, and I won't be playing as often, chess truly seems like a hobby now and I like it that way. It frees me up to just enjoy the beauty and depth of the game. I still want to win, but if I don't I don't feel like a loser (except in's hard to be philosophical when you lose 5 games in a row on ICC, just human nature I suppose). I'd be interested to know how my few (but surprisingly loyal) readers approach the game and see themselves in relation to it.

As for the game, it marked my return to playing 1.e4 after 1.5 years of all 1.d4s. I just got bored playing the same positions. I'll probably play 1.e4 for a while and then gradually just start switching. Luckily I learned enough theory when I was studying 2-3 hours each day that I can play pretty much any opening I want, which is really nice. The game was a pretty dry Scandinavian where my opponent was trying to equalize rather than seize the initiative. He got pretty close to equalizing but misplayed when I broke in the center. In the resulting complications I was able to win a pawn and gradually bring home the win. It's a pretty interesting ending. I actually made it a little more complicated than necessary, but I think the tactics are cute. Enjoy (after move 20 or so, anyway. It's rather boring prior to that).


There you go. I'm only playing once a week and don't have a lot of time to blog, so it may be a minute before I post again. Peace out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting Back to Chess

So I've started playing again. I never really stopped studying or playing online, but I was a bit hesitant about returning to rated play, just because the US Open went so badly. As it turns out, I was over thinking it. I've found that the key for me is to be as relaxed about the result as possible and not to take the game too seriously.

That can be very hard, as we all know. To be good at chess requires commitment, and it's difficult to care about something enough to work hard at it while at the same time being unconcerned about short term results. I certainly haven't mastered that mental skill, but I'm trying. It helps to play in club tournies and avoid the big weekenders. There is so much more stress playing all those games in a row, plus the steep entry fees demand that you take it very seriously if you're playing at all. So I don't know if I'll ever play a big individual event again. Team events still sound like fun, but the major national tournaments are just too much investment, both monetary and mentally. Chess is my hobbie, and while it's a great hobby it's a horrible obsession because it's so unforgiving.

I have been enjoying chess in other ways lately. I've been teaching elementary kids, and that's been fun. Seeing how happy there are when they find the right move or watching the solution to a problem dawn on them is really rewarding. I'm going to have to stop teaching soon however as I'm about to start a job (finally, after all these months). I think getting a (good) job has actually been very beneficial to my attitude about chess as it's reaffirmed that chess is secondary for me, which has helped me to take it less seriously. In any case, I played my first serious game in about a month last night and it was very interesting.

My opponent was a guy I've played once before, and I've looked at his games a lot so I know his style and repertoire well. It's fair to say that he's an attacker to a fault, and I knew that if he got an initiative he could be dangerous despite our rating difference. Our previous game was in the Grand Prix Sicilian, and while that ended in a draw I was under more pressure than I liked. That game actually caused me to change my repertoire versus the Grand Prix, and I was happy to have a chance to play my new line. Joel knew that I had a new system as we're friendly and have discussed the opening several times, so he was a bit worried about playing his normal stuff. As a result he made a mistake and played something very offbeat which I imagine he'd never played before.

Look: when you're playing a higher rated player, you should just play your normal lines. At least you'll understand the position. If you play offbeat junk lines, then neither one of you will be familiar with the position and you're likely to get outplayed. If you put me and anyone 300 points lower than me in a position neither one of us have ever seen before, I'm usually going to win. I'll simply out calculate him, plus since my knowledge is broader than most 1600 players there's a great chance that any random position will be closer to something I know than something he knows. By playing a weird opening, Joel took away a lot his first move advantage because he no longer had the chance to steer the game into familiar (to him) channels. When you look at the game you'll see what I mean.

That said, it was a very sharp and entertaining game in which both sides took risks to try and seize the initiative. I went from winning by a lot to winning by a little as Joel found a series of accurate defensive moves, and eventually he obtained a drawn position. Up until that point he had played very well, way above his level, but then two consecutive endgame blunders left him with no chances to save the game. The finish of this one is also pretty cute as it appears near the end that white may have drawing chances, but instead he loses by one tempo. Here's the game:


Neat game, huh? It was a nice return to playing, and I'm looking forward to playing this Friday as well. Two games a week in club play is plenty for me, and I still feel like I'm improving though I imagine that will slow down now that I'll be working and won't have 2-3 hours a day to devote to chess. Hopefully I'll be able to study positions on my lunch break. I guess we'll see.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I may have gotten too good to enjoy chess...

...and I'm not really very good. I went to the US Open in Indianapolis (my hometown) and hit a wall. I didn't have any will to get into positions (to calculate deeply, that is), to do the hard work over the board that is required for success. I almost liked it better when I was 1600 and a win or loss seemed to be more a result of inspiration than grinding. I admit, I was a little out of sorts as I was spending the days with friends and family that I rarely see, but more was going on than that. I simply wasn't enjoying playing. I was lucky to score the 1.5 points that I actually managed. The loss to Magness wasn't such a big deal as he's a talented junior on the rise, but the loss to Pressici was the worst upset I've suffered in years. I even saw the tactic he laid on me before he played it, but I was too lazy to do more than a superficial assessment of its power. It wasn't that I didn't know I should look more deeply into it, I just didn't have the will.

It may be that after I get my mental shit together I'll be able to play well again. I've been pretty out of sorts on many levels since I wasn't selected for a Project Management job (I got through two interviews and was very confident), as my employment outlook is pretty bleak. Chess is very mood dependent, as least for me, and I have not been in a mood to play serious chess for some time. I hope I have the first again by September, as I like the idea of playing in the Miami Open. If I were to play in my current mental state it would just be throwing money away. I'd probably end up withdrawing like I did from the US Open.

Ironically, not getting the PM job freed me up to take the chess teaching position that I'd been offered. It's only an hour a week and thus won't screw up my unemployment as I continue to search for work. The irony lies in my accepting the position only as I become less personally enthusiastic about chess. It may reignite my love of the game to see it played by kids without agenda or fear of losing rating points, or it may just make me even more tired of chess by forcing me to think about it when I'd rather not. I'm hoping for the latter. We'll see.

Almost as a post-script, here are the games I played. Go through them and you'll probably see why I withdrew. All I can say is that I played as well as I could with everything else going on in my life and in my head. It was really bad timing that the Open came when it did.





Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Painful Return to Tournament Play

The US Class Championships in Boca Raton was my first weekend tournament in some time. I was using it primarily as a tune up for the US Open, and while the tournament was great for that purpose it was a competitive failure at +0=4-1. This was my first time playing in the 'A' group, and I must say that it was extremely tough going. I was repeatedly outplayed in the middle game, though I must say that my openings and endings proved up to the task. This was very gratifying since I've been working on both a great deal, but the pattern of getting a better position, becoming much worse in the middle game and then only saving the position due to superior technique was not encouraging.

I really shouldn't be so hard on myself, I suppose. In some senses I performed well: I overcame one of my worst habits, namely giving up (or at least becoming extremely pessimistic) upon realizing that I was worse. In this tournament, each time I recognized that I was worse I pulled myself together and resolved to hold the ending. In each case, I was able to do so, though not without considerable help from my opponents. The one game I lost I lost due to tactical oversight, certainly not from giving up.

It is interesting how even players of ~1900 not only seemed to play the ending very badly, but almost seemed to stop trying when they reached winning positions. It's as if the prospect of playing out a better ending was enough to sap their energy and resolve. I don't know why they expected the win to just happen, but that seemed to be a consistent mindset of my opponents throughout the tournament. Here's an example. I was so lost in the first round that at least three times I resolved to resign if my opponent played the best move. These were not terribly hard moves to find, mind you. Each time however, he let me off the hook. See for yourself.


Not an auspicious start, but at least I hadn't given up when faced with a difficult (in this case truly hopeless) defense. Garrett once told me I needed to become an 'old school scrapper from way back', and while he was half joking he was still completely right. The more I've come to see chess as a battle (as opposed to a display of skills and knowledge developed away from competition) the more successful I've been. The better I get, the more the psychological aspects matter. Toughness, resolve, these qualities can't be overestimated.

The second round was unlike the first in pretty much every way, apart from my playing badly in the opening. This was the first time I'd trotted out the Russian variation in response to the Grunfeld, and I knew there was a very real possibility that I wouldn't be prepared from a theoretical standpoint having only studied the most critical lines. My opponent in fact deviated early, but I didn't handle it correctly. What followed after was a mistake that indicative of my whole tournament, as well as all my chess as of late.: a tendency to enter complex positions merely for the sake of complexity, even when I had better 'solid' options available. I too often sacrificed a win in hopes of creating a brilliancy. While I got away with it here, mostly because I was white, it led to some really bad positions in later games against stronger opponents. I guess I've read too many Bronstein and Shirov books...but I just couldn't resist the urge to sacrifice my queen for three pieces once in my life.


I have to say, playing in this manner may not be solid but it is admired. I had several people (including my opponent) tell me that 'that's how chess ought to be played'. I assume they mean sharply, creatively...hopefully not dubiously. As neat as it may have been, it was still a dubious continuation and I'd have had a better chance of winning if I'd played more simply. While flights of fancy aren't bad, they should be at least not worse than other continuations; a discipline I wasn't able to enforce upon myself, as you'll see as you look through the other games.

The third round was an English that I couldn't resist spicing up, much to my dismay. Again, I chose complications over what I knew to be the best continuation. I was again lucky to draw, based upon the poor endgame play of my opponent.

De Luca-Rampley.pgn

The fourth round was the worst for me, being my only loss. I came in ready to kick some ass, expecting a white. Instead, I was given my third black out of 4 games. My parents were coming in to town that afternoon, and I had actually hoped to play my white and then withdraw to meet them at the airport. After this game, I was unable to withdraw because I had to get some self respect back.

A short digression...I have to say I had about the toughest draw this tournament that I've ever had. Here were my pairings (with color and opponent's rating)

Round 1 Black vs 1960
Round 2 White vs 1812
Round 3 Black vs 1940
Round 4 Black vs 1975
Round 5 White vs 1870

My only 'easy' game in the 2nd round he played an opening which I had just started working on a new system against. I do feel like I was a bit unlucky. For what it's worth I had the highest tiebreak score (due to average opponent rating and performance) or any player other than the winner. Enough whining, here's the fourth round game: a flight of fancy by my opponent this time catches me unaware and I go down in flames.


Couldn't save that one in the ending, as it never got there. Needless to say I was frothing at the mouth for my fourth round game. First however, I had to go through a little bout of self hatred and an attempted withdrawal before manning up and driving back to the tournament site to play the last round. The last round was much like the 2nd...I chose complications over a slightly better position. After dominating the opening, I felt an obligation to try and keep the initiative by entering a crazy line that I was pretty sure was dubious. Why did I play it anyway? Who knows. This is the big takeaway for me from this tournament: if you know (or even suspect) a move is bad, don't play it, regardless of how beautiful the conception is. Throwing away a better or equal position isn't beautiful, ti's stupid. It's not going to look like a stroke of genius when you just blundered. A valuable lesson, especially since I'll probably play down some at the US Open and really shouldn't take chances in games that I'll almost certainly be able to win from a better endgame position. Here's the game.


So that was my tournament. Good as a tune up, horrible as a competitive outing. I'm glad I played, but hopefully I won't have to repeat the same psychological mistakes again. Knowing one's own self destructive tendencies is the first step to correcting them. In the future I know to ask myself upon considering a crazy move: 'are you considering this because it's the best solution in the position, or just because it's crazy? Is it even playable, or are you about to do something dubious because it has a veneer of creativity?' If I can do that, I think I'll add some stability to my play and justify my ~1900 rating. As a post script, my tournament performance was about 1860, which I suppose I should take heart in since I was around 1700 in January. I've come a long way. See you at the US Open.