Monday, June 22, 2009

These Experts Ain't Shit...

I seem to have more trouble with other 'A' players than those over 2000 recently. In the last Boca Raton club tournament that just finished, I beat two experts, drew one, and the only game I lost was to another guy rated under 1900. My last round game was on the black side of a Colle against a guy I'd lost to in the same opening in the last tournament.

I really hate losing to offbeat lines like the Colle, Torre Attack, Morra Gambit, etc. It's not that they're so bad, it's that I feel a moral obligation to at least draw. I think it's because I write most of these openings off and so if I get beat by them, it feels as if all my work learning and playing main lines is wasted. I mean hell, if I could get just as good a position playing the London system and the English defense to everything, then I've been studying for nothing. But I don't think that is the case. Playing something offbeat with black can get you beat in the opening, but with white you certainly have bit more latitude. Most of these guys don't have study time, and so they just want a playable position out of the opening. While I can respect that, it's not for me. I do like to press in the opening, as I feel it's one of the strongest parts of my game.

Returning to the main point of all this, I lost to him last time from a very drawable position, and this time I was determined to at least draw. As it happened, he made a few errors (mostly subtle) and I won. The tournament raised my rating to 1899 (I couldn't have gotten one more point?!?), which is basically my goal for the end of 2010. I think I need to reassess my goals. New goal: get to 200o before starting business school. That means before fall of 2010...basically, I have a year. That's a pretty tall order if I get a job anytime soon, but otherwise I think it's probably attainable. Expert level has always been my goal in chess. If I could really do it, wow. I'd feel like I'd accomplished something. In any case, here's the game:


My opponent seems like a really cool guy, which was nice because it meant that I could talk to him about the game afterward. Post mortems are almost always valuable, even if you're quite a bit higher rated than the person you're playing. If nothing else, you end up giving a mini-lesson which helps you articulate what you were thinking at the board, always a useful way to retain knowledge.

So beyond the game, I've recently gotten the book Excelling at Combinational Play by Jacob Aagaard. I normally like Aagaard's writing and ideas but he has a horrible habit of disrespecting other authors which I find totally unnecessary and offensive. In this book he stays away from that (and actually makes a reference to not doing it, showing that he's aware of the criticism) and manages to focus on combinational play. If you've ever read a book of combinations, you know that most of them start out with some general advice on how to solve problems, the utility of doing so, etc. Aagaard is no different, and most of what he says is pretty standard for this sort of work. There was one thing however that really stood out, showing that Aagaard is still an active and practical player. He advises the reader to not just get the main line or see the idea of the combination, but to look so deeply into it that you know all the lines, such that if you were playing a game you could respond to any of your opponent's moves instantly. This is a tall order, and more work than most of do when solving problems. But think about it...if you're playing a game, you don't just want to play some sacrifice that gets refuted four ply down the line because you didn't look that deeply. You want to see to the end.

There's a connection here to the Hertan book Forcing Chess Moves which I reviewed recently. The way to know when you've analyzed enough is when you've analyzed all the forcing moves for both sides. You can't stop until you have, or else you risk a nasty surprise at the end of your combination. Any non-forcing replies are by nature non-critical, and so you don't have to analyze those. Certainly it's not always easy to even know what the forcing moves are four moves down the line, but that's a matter of board vision not the effort you put into solving. I find that if I do problems as Aagaard recommends, even four can take me an hour. When you think about it though, 15 minutes is not unreasonable for a critical tactical move during a game. I will go so far as to say that if you don't solve using this method of consistently looking through all the lines, then you're training yourself to overlook possibly critical responses during your games, like I did when I lost to Yin two weeks ago (see the archive for the game). If I'd looked at all the forcing responses he had, I wouldn't have miscombined like I did and would probably have retained the great position I gave up by miscalculating.

Returning to Aagaard, the problems in here almost all come from fairly recent games, and interestingly enough they're all from Sicilians. If you play 1.e4 or the Sicilian as black, then this book is definitely worth getting. Otherwise, it's just a good book on combinations with a few gems of advice amongst the boilerplate.

Final topic: I've changed the way I study openings. I used to spend a lot of time playing through one or two games trying to guess the moves of one side, thus forcing me to analyze the tabiyas of various openings. Not a bad method, but very slow. What I've been doing lately, and it seems to be working, is collecting a lot of annotated games (thanks !) in specific openings and play through them rather quickly, stopping to analyze only moves I don't understand. I find this gives me a good general feel for the opening, especially the differences between various branches of the opening tree. For example, I've been studying the Krasenkow (also called the Makaganov) variation of the KID, featuring an early h3. In this line sometimes you attack on the kingside, sometimes the queenside, sometimes you throw your g-pawn forward, or not, sometimes the bishop belongs on g5, other times on e4, etc. It's really hard to memorize all these variations, and it would take me a long time to learn the opening by playing through game after game in that slow, guess-the-move style. By playing through many games quickly (with pauses for deep analysis if I don't understand the point of a move), I'm starting to understand the differences between the systems and the underlying reasons for the moves the GMs play. The reason I can do this is that by looking at many games in a row I have the advantage of comparison, which is lacking when you just analyze one game very deeply. Give it a try. It's a lot easier mentally too, and would be much easier to make yourself do after a long day at work than trying to guess move after move.

Until next week. Peace out.

1 comment:

CHESSX said...

Nice game very nice game.
Once you got the exchange up (great pin)he seemed to strugle to contain you.