Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chess Tempo is pretty handy

I bought a gold subscription a few months ago, but just got around to using it regularly the last few weeks.  I haven't done any standard or blitz attempts yet, mainly just using it for SRS for custom sets.

Right now, I'm working on 3 sets:
"Core" Tactics IE Pins, Forks and Capturing Defender/Distraction (ie Removal of the Guard)
Mate in 2
"Decoys" IE Attraction, Blocking, Clearance, Coercion and Interference.

The first two are elo 1200-1600 problems and the third is under 1200. I wasn't quite sure what to call that 3rd set, but all of the motifs seemed related in a general sense of clearing or blocking key lines of attack/defense.

It's so easy to narrow down what you want and even to go overboard with custom sets.  I'm trying to stay focused on these key sets however.  My goal is to get as close to a +400 performance rating over average rating on non-duplicates as possible then moving up in difficulty.  I think ~380 is a good number to shoot for, which probably translates to around a 97-98% accuracy.  Maybe that is a bit too much.  Maybe 95% accuracy on a set would should "mastery" of that motif.

Also, I'm not dead and/or haven't abandoned chess playing or training.  I just haven't been motivated to update the blog as much.

Job change and a move have set me back on finishing the "Bright Knight" tactical series.  I'm a good way through the last book he trained IE the Blue Coakley.  I do want to finish it, but I'm behind at least a good month from where I wanted to be, but I completed the majority of the tactical puzzles of the book.  The remaining problems are the endgame, defensive and best move puzzles.

I've also slowed down a bit on the annotated master games.  I've been looking for a few not on Dan Heisman's list and I think I've found a couple of winners.

Coming soon: One year update of my training progress.  Watch this space!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ivaschenko 1b Tactics - Take 1 Complete

Another couple of months and a 593 problem tactics set from Ivaschenko 1b under my belt.  Peshka's software version of the book contains a few more problems than the book, so I included those in the set.   Peshka also has elo ratings for each problem, so my idea was to break the problems up by elo to see if it made a difference.

I broke the problems up into 6 sets of 85 and 1 set of 83.  I stuck by my promise to keep each group under 90 problems as anything more than that becomes tedious, especially the first few times through the set.

Set A: Elo 1050 - 1150
Set B: Elo  1150 - 1300
Set C: Elo 1300
Set D: Elo 1300 - 1400
Set E: Elo 1400
Set F: Elo 1400 - 1450
Set G: Elo 1450 - 1500

Here are the charts for my 1st pass through each group and problems completed in <15 seconds for the 1st pass:

The graphs might suggest that there were actually 3 levels of difficulty here:  A/B/C, D/E/F and G.  Some practice with A+B made me better at C and D+E made me better at F.  Or it could mean that their elo ratings for the problems aren't realistic, who knows.

Final chart of all 6 passes completed in < 15 seconds:

And of course I got better as I did the repetitions.   My final success rate was 89.54% which puts me about the same as Polgar and Heisman.  However I caught myself making a mistake.  My 6th pass was supposed to be 13 days after pass 5 and I was mistakenly doing it after 21 days for the first four sets.  Once I corrected this, my 6th pass stats generally ended up being close to my 5th pass.  That may have cost me a few percentage points, which suggests I might have been slightly better at this than Heisman and Polgar.  My retention for problems could be improving over time with practice.

Up next is the final book that Bright Knight used for his speed training: Jeff Coakley - Winning Chess Exercises for Kids.  900 problems and I've divided them into 10 groups.  If I stay on schedule, I should finish around the beginning of December... which will mark my 1 year anniversary of my chess training journey.  Kind of fitting.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Games #35, #36, #37

Three more games played in a July Swiss at my club.  Time control of G65 d10.

Game #1 isn't much worth mentioning as I win a piece out of the opening against a much lower rated player, although I was a little nervous towards the end that I was allowing too much counter play.  Don't let his 700 rating fool you, he beat a 1300 player in the next round.

Game #2 is another in my continuing series of not being able to win winning games against higher rated opponents.

Game #3 is just a shellacking against a higher rated opponent after a series of weak moves in the opening.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Games #30, #31, 32, #34

In my last blog post, I mentioned how a good, yet ultimately losing game against an 1800 player motivated me to play up in the U1800 section of a tournament.  That game ended up being a long in a series of me getting into winning or dead drawn positions against much higher players and losing anyway.

This tournament time control was G90 d5.

I don't have the full game because of time trouble, but here's the lovely final position.

Of course, all I have to do is play the simple ...Be5 and White will never be able to make any headway. I blundered with ...Kg6.

That was just... bad.

Well at least I didn't lose that game, although I had winning chances if I hadn't blundered with that king move.

Here is the final position. Look familiar? Almost the same as game #30. Eager to not make the same mistake I did last time, I rushed to put my bishop in a position where it could get to b5 and secure the draw. Now this time, I only had seconds on my clock so I was truly living off of the increment. But I managed to find one of the very few moves that absolutely loses with ...Bc4.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Games #28, #29.

I'm behind on not getting behind on annotating my games. Because of some recently bad... well brutally bad play, I've decided to take a short, two-week break from OTB play to recharge the batteries and get back into a groove with my studying. I'm making really good progress on the Ivaschenko training and have been going through annotated master games at a good pace.

 I also plan to use some of this down time to fill in some gaps in my opening repertoire. I haven't been one for doing much opening study, but now that I have a some games to go on, I can see what the most common positions I find myself in and try to expand my knowledge there. I'm struggling against the Nimzo as White and c4 as Black. With White, I'm most frequently encountering the QGD/Slav/Semi-Slav complex, and equal amounts of King's Indian and Nimzo Indian, although I'm also encountering lots of gambits and oddball responses to the Queen's Gambit like the Chigorin. I almost feel like I'd be able to cut down on my study if I played e4 aiming for the Spanish. With Black, it's ~85% e4 players with a small advantage to mainline Caro vs advance Caro. In fact, I've seen c4 more than I've seen d4 in OTB tournament play. Including online play, I'm seeing a little bit more d4, but not much.

 Before I get started on the games, I wanted to briefly discuss the idea of "2000 basic tactical patterns" you need to store. And before we get into that discussion, here's a puzzle I did with my coach a few months ago.

And he asked me a simple question: "Can Black save his knight?"  And I dove in looking at a bunch of knight moves to see if there was a sequence of checks and threats that would allow him to save his piece.  And after a couple minutes I replied no.  After I made my answer, he had us play the position out, with me as White.  And after his simple move, I felt silly that the answer was so trivial.  He then went on to talk about the idea of those basic 2000 tactical patterns being composed of simple ideas like this one that you can apply in your games.  He had the same reaction when he saw the solution, but it happened to him OTB.  It's one of those things you see and never forget.

Now onto the games.  The following games were played during a June Swiss at one of my many chess clubs.

Another game where I missed a chance at getting a won game right out of the opening.

This next game could be the 1st in a series titled "SilentKnight gets a winning position against someone 400-500 points higher and loses anyway".

A frustrating loss, but I was so encouraged at my ability to get a good position against a class A player OTB, that I decided to play up in my next tournament.  I've won games against much higher rated players on ICC, and this game made me feel like I could do the same OTB.  And those games will be the subject of my next blog post...

The piece reorganization idea starting at move 23 for Black reminded me of my 1st time trying to do that puzzle above; it's a simple idea, but if you haven't seen it before it's easy to overlook.  Well if I ever get a chance in a game to reorganize my pieces into a mating battery, I have some idea of what to look for.

Attacking the king is a major hole in my game.  I've been on the receiving end of some all out attacks on my king, but it's never something I'm doing in my games.  I need to remedy that but I'm not 100% sure where to start.  Sounds like a good question for my coach.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Games #25, #26, #27

I'm very behind on annotating my games.  Ironically, one of the reasons is I'm playing so many games now I don't have time to go over them thoroughly!  As this has been an important part of my training, I'm now resolved to get caught up.  I have about 20 or so I've played since taking a month off, although I doubt all will make the list.

I feel like I've been playing some terrible chess lately, despite my rating continuing to increase.  More on that in a future blog post.

The following games were all played in a June Swiss at one of the chess clubs I've joined since moving.  As these were played about a month ago, the annotations will be sparser than usual.

A short disappointing draw in a game where I missed some tactical opportunities and could've had a big advantage out of the opening.  Not nearly as bad as some of my other games lately.

More laziness when it comes to analysis.  I'm trying to get better at managing my time, but that can't be at the expensive of looking at tactics.  As this has been an ongoing theme of mine lately, I had a conversation with Dan about it.  The gist of it went like this:

Dan: "When you're analyzing potential moves by your opponent, what should you assume?"
SK: "Assume he makes good moves"
Dan: "Right.  Now AFTER he makes his move, what should you assume?"
SK: "I guess you shouldn't assume anything".
Dan: "You should assume the OPPOSITE.  After he moves, assume his move loses the game.  And your job is to try to falsify that assumption."

I've been spending a lot of time assuming my opponent isn't dropping material in the opening and trying to get on with my development so I don't lose time.  I definitely consider his threats and make safe moves, but I'm not assuming their move was unsafe.  And I've missed some easy wins because of it.

The last game is possibly the only game I've played recently when I feel like I played well start to finish.   My first game back to OTB back in April featured a similar game and I was able to make a big improvement vs that game.  One of many reasons going after your games afterwards is a good idea.  After his 19th move, I immediately knew that capturing was likely the right idea  I just had to remember why.

I need to work on my consistency.  My two biggest weaknesses right now are time trouble and getting lazy with my analysis.   I'm playing "hope chess" far too often in my games and it has ended up costing me probably 100 rating points.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Heisman and Polgar Tactics Take 1 Complete

I thought I had completed my writeup for Heisman already, but checking my archive shows that I didn't.  How embarrassing. So this post will be 2 for the price of 1.  I completed my 6 repetitions through Dan Heisman - Back to Basics: Tactics on April 14th and Susan Polgar - Chess Tactics for Champions on June 4th.  Both books heavily emphasize double attacks, pins and removal of the guard.  Both books also spend a chapter on defensive tactics and on traps/failed tactics.  When I told Dan that the Polgar book was like his, he became interested and added it to his "to review list".

Heisman has 434 problems which I divided into 5 groups.

Here are the charts for my 1st pass through each group and problems completed in < 15 seconds in my 1st pass:

Only a modest improvement, if there was any at all.  Rather disappointing really.

Final chart of all 6 passes through Heisman completed in < 15 seconds.

Not surprising that I got better doing the same problems over again.  Of some interest is that my overall clear rate after 6 passes was better than Bain which has much easier problems.  I averaged 91% and 90.3% on passes 5 and 6, respectively.  My best pass through Bain was 86%, although I'd estimate a few points higher based on the timing issues I had when using Anki.  Even better, my "problem child" set in Heisman only represents ~5% of all problems.  Bain was almost 15%.  So maybe I'm making a different kind of improvement.

Polgar has 570 problems, which against my better judgment, I only divided into 5 groups.  I've mentioned before that I feel like anything over ~80 problems per group feels tedious and counter productive.  But I wanted to try to complete this book faster.

Here are the charts for my 1st pass through each group and problems completed in < 15 seconds in my 1st pass:

It looks like I got worse over time.  Set A is missing because Chess Hero crashed on me halfway through and you lose all statistics on your current session.  Excluding set E, I actually did slightly better on average with Polgar than with Heisman.

6 passes through Polgar in < 15 seconds:

Average of each pass in < 15 seconds:

D4 is missing because of a Chess Hero crash.  Similar to Heisman, I averaged ~ 88%, which was better than Bain.  My problem child set is a modest 6.4%.

Up next is Ivaschenko - Chess School 1b.  I vow to divide these problems into at least 6 groups, maybe 7.  I haven't been successful in finding a pgn or cbh of this book and  I haven't been able to find a way to group problems the way I'd like in either the Peshka or legacy version of Chess Tactics for Beginners, so it appears I'll be making another file on my own.  On the plus side, I've started using the excellent Chess Capture v2.3 software, which makes this task much easier when you actually have a diagram it can recognize.  PDFs of this book don't work, but the diagrams in Peshka work with minimal issues.  There also should be less chance of user error, which sometimes causes Chess Hero to crash or not load the diagram.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

6 month anniversary

Well, more like 6 months and 2 weeks now.  Hard to believe it's been 2 months since my last update. This past month I finished the Polgar training (blog post coming soon) and moved several hundred miles away for a new job.  I haven't been able to keep up with my training at the same pace, but I've been keeping it up nonetheless.  Hopefully I can get started on Ivaschenko 1b in the next couple of weeks now that the dust has settled from my job change.

For this post, I'm mainly going to look back to when I started to see how close I am to meeting the goals I set for myself back then.

I've set a short term goal of going through 10,000 speed training tactics problems not including the repetitions.  That will probably end up being about 20 tactics books.  I have 11 on my short list right now, so I just have to find 9 more.

 I've gone through 5 different tactics books totaling 2,387 problems.  Being able to do ~5000 problems 6x in a year is a nice start.   I only have 2 tactics books remaining on my list: Ivaschenko 1b and the Blue Coakley.  I'm considering attempting 1b via Peshka's CT for Beginners software if I can easily figure out a way to keep stats and do a consistent set of problems in a spaced repetition.  After I finish the Blue Coakley, I plan on moving to CT-Art, followed by Ivaschenko - Chess School 2 (Chess Tactics for Intermediate Players).

For endgames I want to study an endgame strategy book and an endgame tactics workbook to reinforce the strategy with spaced repetitions. I don't have any goals for amount of endgame tactics to go through, but I want to constantly be doing them.

It's safe to say that I haven't been constantly doing endgame training.  For me, there seems to be a better ROI on tactics and game books.  Most of my games are over before the endgame, and the ones that get to a fairly even endgame are because of missed tactics previously.

I plan on doing spaced repetition for strategy as well, but it won't be timed.  My idea is to take selected positions as the question and make the author's evaluation/key points as the answer.

I haven't done any of this, and I don't foresee myself doing this anytime soon if at all.  I've read some books on strategy and made flashcards out of terms and ideas, but nothing this elaborate.  I do intend to do some Stoyko exercises at some point.

For the Instructive Anthologies, it was suggested to go over 10,000 master games.  At around 30-50 games per book, that's going to take a while.  Of course, going over annotated games in other books counts too.  But that's a lot of games to go over.  I think 2,000 would be a nice start.

I'm at ~300 master games here and am working on my 8th book.  Hitting 2,000 may take 2-3 years.  Reading annotated game collections is one of my favorite chess things to do.  It's generally pretty easy and fun.  I'd also say it helps me with candidate moves during games.   You play over enough master games and you start considering moves that would've looked weird or unplayable previously.

For the spaced repetitions, my weapon of choice is Anki.  It's free and has a version for Android. 

I've since moved on to Chess Hero.  It does 90% of what I want it to do and is much faster than using Anki for problems.  I still use Anki for non tactics related flashcards though.

It's not easy to get OTB games where I live, so I will rely on and others to get my games in.  But I don't plan on playing any games for a little while longer until I feel like I have a good grounding in basic theory.  I also plan to get a tutor if I end up sticking with this.

My move has placed me within striking distance of several clubs that meet weekly.  I started playing in 2 different clubs last week that meet on Monday and Tuesday.  There's also a club about 5 miles from me that meets on Thursdays and a club that has quads on Saturdays.  I have plenty of opportunities for OTB play.   I can easily be playing 6 OTB games a week now if I choose.  I've really cut back on my online play; I'm down to just a weekly T4545 game on ICC now.

I've also been working with a coach the last 5 months.

Unsurprisingly, my plans have changed over time, but I've really stuck with tactics and reading game books.  My results have obviously been good up to this point.  I'd really like to gain another 500-600 rating by the end of the year but I'm not sure how realistic that is.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

400 points in 158 days.

398 points to be exact, but who's counting?  My initial return to OTB play has been a successful one.   10 games, 2 tournaments, and two ties for first in U1300 and U1500 sections.   I'm officially a class C player now and my next goal is to hit class B as quickly as possible.  If those 10 games were one big tournament, my performance rating would've been 1541.  Not bad, and right in line with my ICC rating.  I'm very curious how much farther I can go rating wise staying with my current training regimen of lots of tactics, a little endgame/opening study and reading over annotated game collections.  I don't see any reason I can't get another 200 points and hit class B with that, especially if my tactics vision improves a bit in my games.

Before we get to any games, here are a few tactics "puzzles" from my games.  One that I solved OTB (easy) and one that I didn't solve (not too difficult).

After a pretty uneventful middlegame, White has sacrificed a pawn for an attack on the enemy king while the Black queen is sidelined.  White has just played 25. Rd1, threatening to remove the guard of the g7 square.

The interesting part about puzzle #2 that I missed OTB, is that all the elements that make the tactics work are in my head when I'm looking for a move.  I had been thinking about knight or bishop sacrifices on c5 to attack the vulnerable e7 bishop for some time.  And I also see that potential skewer on the h1-a8 diagonal.  But I don't put all 3 of those ideas together in my head at once to find a forcing way to make it all work.  Instead I embark on a maneuvering plan on the queenside with an idea of switching to a kingside attack once Black gets tied up.  I eventually won the exchange + a pawn and later the game.  One thing I've noticed about my play, in general, is that I tend to turn off the tactics antenna once I come up with what I think is a good short term strategy to put the squeeze on my opponent.  I need to find a way to remind myself to look for the tactics when I see potential in a position like this.

Now on to a few of my most instructive games.

After I showed this game to Dan, he asked me what I had learned from the game.  My reply was "sometimes it's better to be lucky than good".  That got a good laugh out of him.

A well-deserved loss for my bad play in the opening and in general.

And finally, my favorite game that I've played during this stretch.  It went a bit like a lot of my games: I get an early material lead, White throws everything he has at my king and I defend mostly accurately.  Except this time I wasn't 100% sure if I was winning or he overlooked a forced win.  I couldn't wait to put the game into Houdini to get the real scoop.  As it turns out, I was winning almost the entire time, although I made 2 moves that could've given him an even game or advantage.  The finish was very amusing to me though.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good...

My biggest takeaway from my return to OTB play is to not go to sleep tactically in the middle game when I'm in "strategic maneuvering mode".  If I see lots of potential for tactics, I need to find a way to make it work for a few minutes before going back to my plan.

I also need to get better at being a more active defender.  In many of my games so far, I'll get a winning material advantage, then not find the most active defense which shuts down his attack for good or gives me the attack.

Related to both points above, I need to get better at kingside attacks.  I feel very comfortable most of the time in a queenside attack or maneuvering down the center while setting up some planned tactics, but I never really look to attack the king directly.  It's just something I need to get experience in I guess.

A lot of this is related to experience, but at least it gives me something to look for during the games.  I feel like I made a big improvement from my 1st game back to my 10th game just from the experience of managing my time properly and playing with something real (money/points) on the line.

A have a lot of work to do, but this is an encouraging start.  My 1 year anniversary will be November 18th.  Is 1900-2000 out of the question?  What setbacks will I have along the way? Stay tuned.