Sunday, December 13, 2015

A quick look back before going forward

I will be back to regularly playing OTB games very soon (I think).

Two and a half months of intensive blitz tactics practice has given way to a month of longer calculation exercises and deeper study of some annotated master games.  I've cut Chess Tempo down to duplicates only on a daily basis so I have more time and energy for the other study.

Before moving forward, I wanted to post my two best wins from my previous cycle as encouragement (and to show off of course).

If I could've consistently converted my other winning games against 2000+ competition, I would've had an outstanding first quarter of 2015.  I probably should do a series on those as it could prove useful in the future.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tactics improvement in 2 graphs

I've blogged previously about my long chess break from February to September and how it appears that break did me good.  I was messing around with some more Chess Tempo output and decided to graph my non-duplicate accuracy and average solve time by problem rating.

There definitely seems to be about a 3% accuracy increase and 5 second speed increase.

Maybe there is a case for taking regular long breaks with chess playing/training?  Recently I came up with the idea of breaking my chess into seasons, just like sports.

Off season: Do nothing (maybe light annotated games reading and some Bain level tactics)
Pre-season: Lots of new hard training (Yusupov, non-duplicate CT problems), lots of reading and LTC training games at ICC.
In-season: Lots of OTB, "maintenance" training only (just keeping up with repetitions?)

So how long should each phase be?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Still in the saddle

Nothing too earth shattering or important here, I just wanted to get in the habit of updating the blog regularly.  I decided I wanted to dive into my Chess Tempo stats a little more since I completed an entire calendar month of tactics on 10/31.

I ended up doing exactly 2,700 tactics for the month of October with 552 non-duplicates.  That represents the second most amount of tactics I've ever done in a month (December '14 with 2,743) and the third most amount of non-duplicates in a month.  Of course, it was much easier to do non-duplicates when I was first getting started.  Every day I have a several custom sets I go through.  I always do at least 20 problems from each set.  If the amount of scheduled problems is more than 20, I just do the scheduled problems.  If it's less than 20, I do new problems until I've done 20 in that set.

Instead of looking at my performance stats by custom set, I decided to break them down individually by the motif I was training.  This means I get the motif stats across any custom sets.  Since there can be a lot of overlap in tags, it's not uncommon for me to get lots of pins in my mate in 2 set, or distraction motifs in my "Decoys" set.

I broke the stats into 3 phases:

  1. Beginning (any problem I did up until 12-31-2014)
  2. Break (any problem I did up until 2-28-2015)
  3. Return (any problem I've done since 9-1-2015)
The percentages represent the % of problems I got correct in 15 seconds or less with that motif.  Since some of the motifs have such a small sample size, I decided not to include all of them.

CORE (1200-1600 rating)
Distraction 40.5% 38.6% 32.3%
Fork 42.7% 41.0% 42.9%
Pin 48.5% 45.5% 48.9%
DECOY (1200-1600 rating)
Attraction 53.3% 52.3% 54.8%
Clearance 48.7% 43.2% 49.4%
Coercion 42.0% 40.2% 44.7%
With the exception of the distraction motif, they all follow the same pattern.  
  1. Initial good stats at a time when I'm in the groove for tactical training.
  2. Significant dropoff right before I take a break from heavy training.
  3. Noticeable increase over my best performance even after a long break.
I also chose a motif that I've never specifically trained before, but consider it be important.

Discovered Attack 32.5% 29.3% 33.3%
It follows the same pattern as the other motifs.

What does it all mean?  Who knows.  I just hope I don't get burnt out again since these numbers seem promising.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Back in the saddle

At least somewhat.  My work schedule has gotten less crazy, although it's not ideal.  I was able to pick up my training back in September.  I started doing Chess Tempo tactics full time mid-November 2014.  Here's what my training looked like:

 Month - Problems (Non-duplicate problems)

November '14 - 1,717 (656) *
December '14 - 2,743 (630)
January - 1,934 (399)
February - 1,243 (138) **
March - 647 (0)
April - 339 (1)
May - 341 (1)
June - 48 (0)
July - 329 (4)
August - 162 (29)
September - 504 (118) ***
October - 2,215! (500)

* Half a month worth of training
** Start a new job 2nd week of February
*** One week worth of training

I go from doing problems almost every day, to problems every 3-4 days to just doing a big set of problems over the course of 3-4 days and nothing else the rest of the month.  You can see the big decline in non-duplicate problems right when I take a new job.  From that point on, any problems I'm doing is just keeping up with problems I've seen before.  Treading water if you will.

Since coming back in late September, it looks like I'm back to where I was when I was training regularly.  500-600 non-duplicates is equivalent to a good book's worth of problems.    That's a lot of tactics problems when you think about it.

Now for some interesting numbers.  I made several custom sets and tracked my stats weekly to look for progress/improvement.  The next numbers are where I left off in February and where I'm at now

All ratings are based on blitz mode.

Mate in 2 (1200-1600) - Feburary
95.5% accuracy
45.2% in under 15 seconds
3 seconds slower vs average solver

Mate in 2 (1200-1600) - October
96.8% accuracy
54.2% in under 15 seconds
2 seconds faster vs average solver

Decoys* (1200-1600) February
91.9% accuracy
34.6% in under 15 seconds
4 seconds slower vs average solver

Decoys (1200-1600) October
91.4% accuracy
34.8% in under 15 seconds
2 seconds slower vs average solver

Core** (1200-1600) February
93.2% accuracy
22.2% in under 15 seconds
16 seconds slower vs average solver

Core (1200-1600) October
93.6% accuracy
24% in under 15 seconds
10 seconds slower vs average solver

* Decoys = Attraction, Blocking, Clearance, Coercion, Interference
* Core = Capturing Defender, Distraction, Fork, Pin

I also have some mating motifs based on Yusupov's first book, but there aren't enough problems in each set to get any meaningful info from.  I just use them because I assume they're more important mating motifs than some of the others.

I was surprised to see that I'm generally faster and more accurate after a month of training compared to where I was back in February.

I haven't played any OTB games since August.  I'm expecting that to change soon.  Honestly, I'm still not sure if I feel motivated enough to start playing like I used to.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I'm not dead

It's been almost 5 months since my last blog update.  Unfortunately, I've fallen victim to the #1 barrier to adult chess improvement: life.  I had a lot more free time when I first started this project.  I took a new job in February which severely cut into that.  I was already starting to feel the effects of the new job (and the last year of training) when going through the Yusupov manual.   The cut into my training and playing has been drastic.

My first OTB games were in April of last year.  I played 89 games over the next 12 months.  In the next 4 months, I played 14!

In November/December of 2014, I was doing 2500+ tactical puzzles per month!  That quickly declined to somewhere around 400-600 puzzles, most of which were just me doing repeats at Chess Tempo.  Not much in the way of "new" puzzles during that time.

I read ~1,100 annotated master games in 2014.  In 2015, I've done a little over 300.

It's not all bad news though.  I got a win against a master in February and followed that up with a win against a 2100 a few weeks later.   Also, my workload should be reduced soon which should free up some time for more dedicated studying (knock on wood).  I'm hoping for a September comeback.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Final Exam

I originally intended to take the final this past Sunday, but didn't feel like it.  I probably should've broken it up into two days because it's a little exhausting to do 24 of his problems at once.  It took me about 3 hours total.  About half I was able to do from the book and the other half I setup on the board.  And just like other times, I suddenly was able to see ideas instantly that I missed before.  I scored 34/47 for a bronze, missing silver by 2 points.

Here's the breakdown of problems:
Tactics: 13/24
Endgame: 5/24
Strategy: 3/24
Calculating Variations: 2/24
Positional Play: 1/24

And here's my final scores for each theme:
Tactics: 18/24 - 75%
Endgame: 10/10 - 100%
Strategy: 3/6 - 50%
Calculating Variations: 1/5 - 20%
Positional Play: 2/2 - 100%

Overall, not too bad.  Towards the end I was just happy to be done as I was getting a little worn out having done this after work.   I did much better on strategy than I did in the modules and I was happy to have gotten my one positional play question correct.  I would've liked a second question for that theme.  I think I could've gotten the 3rd strategy question had I been a little fresher.

Five of the points I missed on tactics came from the chapter on pawn combinations.  The three pointer was doable.  I kept sniffing around the edges of the right solution, seeing some of the ideas but ultimately missed out.  A nice problem that came from one of Yusupov's games.

And that's a wrap for Build Up Your Chess: The Fundamentals!  I downloaded the Tarrasch book to my Kindle and I've been reading through the chapters.  I skipped over the chapter on "The Elements" as it's very basic material on learning to play chess.  Also skipped most of the endgame material as it was generally beginner level as well.  I did stop on a few if the diagrams caught my eye.

I'm glad to finally be done with this.  I'll take a short break before the next book as I try to work on the weaknesses that were revealed from doing the first book and to keep up with my other training.  I also intend to ramp up my OTB play.  Looking at my calendar, I should be able to get in a good 15-20 games by mid April.  Perhaps a new milestone will be reached.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Week 6

Normally I've been doing these updates on Sunday, but I wanted to do an update for finishing the 24 modules.  I'll do an update for the final exam on Sunday.

Chapter 23 - Smothered Mate is the 11th and final module on tactics.  The timing couldn't have been better as I saw someone pull off Philidor's Legacy at one of my chess club two days before.  About 1/3 of the exercises are studies.  This chapter wasn't super difficult, but there were a few challenging ones.  I think that's been par for the course for the tactics modules though.  There were only two that I couldn't solve from the book in five minutes and I had to setup on the board.  I've noticed several times throughout this training that there will be problems that I can't get for the life of me, then as soon as I set them up on the board I see the winning idea right away.   I scored 18/19 for a gold rating.

Chapter 24 - Gambits is the second module on the opening.   Chapter 3 was the first module on the opening, and despite having eight! 3-star problems, I just missed getting bronze by one point.  So not my weakest area, but still something to work on.  The opening modules are about initiative, activity and calculation more than anything else.  I could tell this was a little more difficult for me as I had to go to the board for about half of them.  And one by one I started finding what I thought were good ideas for the position.  Final result was 15/21 for a silver rating!

And lastly, some stats:
Fail: 5/24 = 20.8%
Bronze: 4/24 = 16.6%
Silver: 8/24 = 33.3%
Gold: 7/24 = 29.1%

I got a silver rating or better for 62.5% of the modules.

Fail: 1/11 = 9%
Bronze: 0/11 = 0%
Silver: 4/11 = 36.3%
Gold: 6/11 = 54.5%

Total score: 168/200 = 84%

This should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog.  6/7 of my gold ratings were in tactics.

Fail: 0/4 = 0%
Bronze: 1/4 = 25%
Silver: 3/4 = 75%
Gold: 0/4 = 0%

Total score: 77/102 = 75%

Not quite as good as tactics, but clearly not a weakness.  Probably the most surprising part is that I haven't studied endgames all that much.  I did six repetitions of Pandolfini's book, and completed through class C of Silman's book but that was at the very beginning of my training.  I haven't done much of any endgame study since I first began.

Calculating Variations:
Fail: 0/2 = 0%
Bronze: 1/2 = 50%
Silver: 0/2 = 0%
Gold: 1/2= 50%

Total score: 27/35 = 77.1%

There's my other gold.  Not too surprising that it was here since calculating forcing variations isn't much different than calculating a tactic.

Positional Play:
Fail: 2/3 = 66.6%
Bronze: 1/3 = 23.3%
Silver: 0/3 = 75%
Gold: 0/3 = 0%

Total score:  25/64 = 39%.

Here's where the major weaknesses start to appear.  Hey, at least I didn't fail them all.  Yusupov recommends Tarrasch for this, so Tarrasch it will be.

Fail: 1/2 = 50%
Bronze: 1/2 = 50%
Silver: 0/2 = 0%
Gold: 0/2 = 0%

Total score: 14/47 = 29.7%

Weakness #2.

Fail: 1/2 = 50%
Bronze: 0/2 = 0%
Silver: 1/2 = 50%
Gold: 0/2 = 0%

Total score:  29/52 = 55.7%

Mixed result.  I wonder how I would've done had these two modules been last in the book.  Would I have done better on the module I failed?  If I had done chapter 24 1st, would I have failed that one?

One final note... despite my stated disdain for studies, I feel like I might want to do some more mate in 2 studies like chapter 9.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Weeks 4&5

I didn't update my blog last week as work and my biological need for sleep kept me occupied.  I only had time to do one chapter in week 4, so I figured I'd do one update for the two weeks.

Chapter 18 - Forced variations is the 2nd and final on "Calculating Variations".  Chapter 9 (Mate in 2) was the other chapter on this theme.  Whereas that chapter was all compositions, this is mostly practical combinations from real games.  It seems closer to chapter 15 (Combinations) than the mate in 2 chapter.  Since I did this two weeks ago, I don't exactly remember how difficult I found the exercises, but I finished with 20/23 for a gold rating getting full credit on all three 3-star exercises.

Chapter 19 - Combinations involving promotion is another tactics chapter.  It's exactly what it sounds like.  A couple familiar faces here.  I've seen the Spassky combo several times in a variety of tactics books.  I finished with 17/20 for a silver rating.

Chapter 20 - Weak points is the 3rd on "Positional Play" with the previous chapters being 6 and 13.  I bombed chapter 6 and just squeaked by on chapter 13.  What would be in store for me here?   The main theme of this chapter is using your pawns to take control of weak points to make advanced outposts for your pieces.  The idea of giving up squares that are hard to exploit to get to your target is covered as well.  Long story short, I bombed the exercises here as well scoring only 9/23 points.

Chapter 21 - Pawn combinations is the 10th on tactics and an extension of chapter 19.  All of the problems feature promotion or checkmate.  If you did well on chapter 19, I'd expect you to do well here.  This is another of those chapters where the exercises are generally straight-forward, with a couple of challenging but doable exercises.  I scored 15/19 for a silver rating.

Chapter 22 - The wrong bishop is the 4th and last chapter on endgames.  I hated this chapter.  I don't find it very practical and trying to come up with the right ideas is tiring.  Unlike any of the other chapters, the examples in this one get quite detailed with alternate variations.  My eyes were glazed over at one point.   While going through the chapter exercises, I decided if I failed I wasn't going to go back over this chapter like I had all of the other ones.    Oh, did I mention every exercise is a composition?  What, you couldn't find a single example from a game where this mattered? Once again, the Pandolfini endgame book was a nice primer for this.  I finished with 17/25 points for a bronze rating, missing silver by just 1 point which I chalked up to aggravation and not doing my best towards the end.   So I guess it wasn't terribly difficult, but I went kicking and screaming.

So that leaves only 2 chapters left, plus a final exam of 24 exercises.  One of the remaining chapters is tactics, so that shouldn't be too difficult.  The other chapter is the 2nd on Openings.  I failed the previous chapter of that type.  My plan is to knock out the final 2 chapters during the week, do some review of the harder chapters then take on the final exam during the weekend.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but this book has really shown me how weak I am in non-tactical situations.  I figured with all of the annotated master games I've done I'd be stronger in that area.  After I finish this book, I don't intend to move right on to the next book.  Book 2 appears to have the exact same breakdown of themes as book 1 and I'd like to show improvement between them.  Yusupov gives a list of book recommendations for each area of focus.  As I struggled most with the opening, strategy and positional play, here are his recommendations:

The opening:
Yakov Neishadt - Catastrophe in the Opening (out of print)

Positional play:
Tarrasch - The Game of Chess

Lasker - Lasker's Manual of Chess
Reti - Masters of the Chessboard (Laurent will be thrilled to see this)
Nimzowitsch - My System (A well known classic)

Pretty well known books by well known masters.  The Reti book is one I own and it's an annotated games collection to boot.

Khmelnitsky doesn't have the same breakdown of positional play vs strategy, but here are his recommended books as well.

Class B/C
Nimzowitsch - My System
Emms - Simple Chess

Nimzowitsch recommended again, and the Emms book is an annotated games collection.

Class A/Expert
Bronstein - Zurich 1953
Yermolinski - Road to Chess Improvement (I've read good things about this)

I've seen the Bronstein book recommended by just about everyone.  It's another annotated games collection I already intend to read this year.

Dvoretsky - Positional Play
Dvoretsky - Attack and Defense

Class B/C
Chernev - Logical Chess: Move by Move
Silman - Reassess Your Chess

Class A/Expert
Alburt - Strategy for the Tournament Player
Baburin - Winning Pawn Structures (IQP)

Dvoretsky - Positional Play
Shereshevsky - Endgame Strategy

He recommends the Shereshevsky book for master endgame training as well.  I've frequently seem that book mentioned as one of the best for that topic, but this is the first time I've seen it recommended for such a high level.

Class A/Expert
Spielmann - The Art of Sacrifice
MacDonald - Positional Sacrifices

I believe the Spielmann book is an annotated games collection as well and it's been on my list for a while as well.  MacDonald is a favorite author of mine and this also appears to be a games collection.  Hard to go wrong there.

Angus Dunnington - Understanding the Sacrifice

Sacrifice isn't a theme in Yusupov, but I felt like that idea is contained in several chapters and a better handle on those would've helped.

So based on this, here's a rough draft of what my next few books might be:
Tarrasch - The Game of Chess
Lars Bo Hansen - Improve Your Chess By Learning From the Champions
Reti - Masters of the Chessboard
Nimzowitsch - My System
Emms - Simple Chess
Spielmann - The Art of Sacrifice
Bronstein - Zurich 1953

At the risk of this blog post being excessively long, I'd like to cover one more thing... Where did my year 1 training go wrong?  Clearly I test well on tactics and endgames.  I did a lot of tactical training and relatively little endgame training.  The Pandolfini book and the first couple chapters of the Silman endgame book were clearly enough.  That's good to know going forward when giving recommendations to others.

Starting with the premise that I overemphasized my tactical training, where could I have improved?  I spent a lot of time reading over annotated master games.  Should I have read 2000 instead of 1000?  That was an achievable goal had I cut my tactics training short by a few books, or even cut down on the number of repetitions.  The Bain book was essential and I feel like I got good use out of Heisman, Polgar and Ivaschenko as well.  But maybe 6 repetitions per book is a bit much.   If I had more time for "non-tactics" were there specific books that I could've emphasized like my tactical training to improve my positional play?  Maybe I could've read My System six times? :)

One regret I have is not playing more open, tactical games when I first started.  It was a practical choice to cut down on theory, but I have to admit I was a little afraid of playing the Open Games as Black.  If I could do it all over, I'd play e5 as black and focus more on reading games by Morphy, Spielmann and Chigorin.  Well maybe not Chigorin because there's no annotated games collection dedicated to him.  But Bronstein and Tal would be good additions as well.

Well there IS this book about Chigorin:

No reviews, so I guess I'll have to be the guinea pig.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Week 3

Or is it week 4 even though I didn't do anything the previous week?

Chapter 14 - Open files and Outposts is the second on "Strategy" with the first being the infamous Chapter 8 (Centralizing the pieces) which I bombed.  Would this be more of the same?  I ended up doing this chapter over the course of 2 days as I had some time constraints.  I read over the examples and worked each problem for 5 minutes.  The ones I couldn't get I saved for the next day.  I ended up making this chapter a little harder than it needed to be, as many of the exercises are pretty straight forward taking the title into consideration.  Maybe I was just having an off day or trying too hard.  Geller, Taimanov and Karpov games made up the bulk of the exercises, with the first two even being featured against each other twice.  Karpov - Unzicker, 1974 was particularly noteworthy and well worth the price of admission.  I scraped by with a 10/20 which was enough for a pass.  I got points on 9/12 exercises, but a few too many partial credits for lesser ideas or incomplete lines was enough to keep my score down.  Still better than last time.

Chapter 15 - Combinations is tactics, but it felt more like a calculating variations objective as there were no cookie cutter motifs on display although problem 15-6 featured a nice distraction motif threat that had to be avoided in several variations.  Had I not recognized that pattern, I wouldn't have found the first move which is the type you'd filter from your candidates because it looks to just hang a piece.  Speaking of which, I feel like I'm not being efficient with my OTB play when it comes to building a list of candidate moves that includes ALL checks, captures and threats.  It seems like I just turn a filter on at times and don't look at moves that superficially might lose material, but end up being pseudo sacrifices.  I made it a point to write down every check the problem contained before analyzing, starting with the ones that looked most promising.  That's what I should be doing in my games and using exercises like this for practice seems like the right idea.  Back to the exercises, I scored 18/22 for a good, missing excellent by just 1 point.  I completely overlooked a simple recapture being with check in one problem. In another, I missed the mate at ply 5 and had a variation that went out 10 ply to deliver the mate only to overlook a defensive move that blew up the entire idea.   Gotta do CCT not just on the initial move, but the successive ones as well. :)  I was really worried about how I'd do in this chapter, since tactical motifs is relatively easy, but having to calculate accurately and concretely can be difficult.

A pretty combination.

Speaking of calculation, a quick shout out to Dan Forbes's excellent chess blog which seems almost completely dedicated to that idea.  I particularly liked the notes he shared from his Stoyko exercises, which have been on my "I'm going to do this soon" list for months now.  It seems like he was very focused on repetitive training of counting material, king safety, piece activity and doing a CCT check among other things.  I feel like that's the sort of thing that could help make that second nature during actual games.  I intend to read his blog from start to finish and I will definitely be stealing borrowing his ideas for my own use.

Chapter 16 - Queen against pawn is the 3rd on endgames.  Readers of Silman's endgame book will have a nice head start on this chapter.  I read over the examples twice before doing the chapter exercises and the time was well spent.  5/12 problems are 3-stars and require good analysis to solve, complete with alternate lines.  Again, the extra time I put in unlocking the mysteries of the examples helped a lot.  My solution to problem 12 was 20 ply!  I was continuously looking for improvements in the line, but kept coming to the same (correct!) conclusion.  Yusupov's solution is 13-ply, so I was definitely on the right track with all the time I put into this problem.  I finished with 22/29 for a good rating.  I felt this chapter was difficult and was very pleased to have done so well.

20 ply?  That's some good toilet paper!

Chapter 17 - Stalemate motifs was the final chapter for my week 3 training.    About half of the examples and exercises from this chapter are from studies.  Unlike some other tactics chapters, all the problems were completely new to me.  3/4th of the exercises are 1-star and I didn't feel like this chapter was as difficult as others.  I was able to do all but 2 from my head.  I scored 14/15 for an excellent rating.

Each series is supposed to be a year of study, so that's four months per book.  At this rate, I will probably be finished all three after the 4th month.    I'm certainly enjoying the journey to this point.    Overall this book has been a good mix of difficulty and has forced me to roll up my sleeves and analyze accurately.  It's uncovered several weaknesses and I've been working on improving them.  I hope this starts translating to my OTB play soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Methods for studying master games

I didn't have time for any Yusupov material this week, so I'm making a blog post on master games instead.  I've been asked several times how I go over the games, so I figure now is as good a time as any to discuss it.

I've seen multiple suggestions on how to go over master games

Heisman -  Game collections written for instruction.  You should read over the games relatively quickly, not getting bogged down in the side variations.  The most important thing is reading over as many games as possible to maximize your efficiency.  Understanding 10% of 100 games is better than understanding 100% of 5 games.   Each game should take approximately 15-25 minutes.  This is the method I follow.

Silman (and several others I've seen) - Just play over as many games as fast as you can, no prose required.  Take a minute or two to play over the game, and move on to the next one.  Silman says this was his main training method and sometimes would go over several hundred per day!

Purdy (and many others) - Play guess the move from the winner's point of view.  One of those things I plan to do "some day".  I think pre WW2 games vs inferior opponents would be the best for this method of instruction.

Pruess - Memorize games.  He has a youtube video on how to memorize a chess game.  I don't ever foresee myself doing anything like this.  Maybe memorizing a game or two for certain openings would be ideal.

I think Dan Heisman has done a fantastic job in picking instructive game collections on his site:

There's enough material there for 18-24 months of reading.  I read 17 of them in my first year of training.

Lastly, I'd like to list some interactive chess e-readers that make going over master games even easier.  All of these are available for Android, and likely for iOS as well.

  1. Forward Chess - This is the gold standard.  They're not a book publisher, they just acquire the rights to the digital versions of books from a variety of publishers.   They have a decent sized library, and their biggest publishers are Quality Chess, Chess Stars and New In Chess.    You can also purchase Chess Informant magazine.  The app contains Stockfish 5 for analysis and you can enter your own moves as well!
  2. Gambit Chess Studio -   Only Gambit books here and the library is pretty small, but there are a couple of worthwhile books available as Gambit is known for quality..  You can't enter your own moves or analyze with an engine.
  3. Everyman Chess Viewer -  I hate this app with a passion.  It's clunky and hard to use.  The only redeeming quality is that the library is HUGE.  There's a very good chance that the book is available in the library.   Unlike Gambit and Forward Chess, very few of their books are "cheap".  The vast majority are $20+ with only a handful being ~$10.
  4. Chess PGN Master -  They do not sell books, it's only a pgn reader.  But this app is what makes the Everyman books worth it.  Everyman's ebooks are downloaded as a pgn file, which I load into this program.  It's a very well done app and worth the $5.99 I paid for the unlocked version.
My preference is to use e-readers to go over master games.  There are many books that contain only or mostly game snippets (hello Understanding Chess Middlegames by Nunn) and it's much faster to just start from the diagram instead of setting it up on a chess board or even a tablet app.   Easier to jump into and out of variations as well.  Plus it's much faster than having it shipped to my house, even with Amazon Prime. :)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Week 2

Continuing to make progress in the Yusupov training manual.  Some of these lessons are extremely difficult for me.  Not surprising that I'm very strong in the tactics/endgame chapters so far.  Very, very weak in playing for piece activity, initiative.

On the anecdotal side, I think this and the Crouch book are helping me some.  I was doing some game analysis with Laurent and a few others and I was able to come up with some aggressive/winning lines in the games that were very inspired by material I've covered in those books.  I mentioned previously that I also considered Khmelnitsky's book. One thing I like is he has specific training recommendations for each subject.  As it turns out, he recommends the Crouch book for Class A/B players to improve their ability to attack.  So perhaps I'm on the right path.

Chapter 8 - Centralizing the pieces is much like chapter 3 on "basic opening principles".  What sounds like a pretty easy chapter is actually a very difficult one on piece activity and the initiative.  And just like chapter 3, I bombed the end of chapter exam, scoring only 4/27.  Most of the problems are 2 or 3 star (very difficult). It certainly wasn't for lack of effort as I was considering multiple candidates and taking the entire 15 minutes on each problem.  Sometimes I was close, but missed the right idea and several I had no real clue.  I'm sure some of the moves I chose were fine, but they clearly weren't what was needed of the position. Of the 12 problems, 5 required you to play like Fischer and 4 required you to play like Rubinstein.  Oh, is that all? :)

Chapter 9 - Mate in 2 is another misleading name.  The goal here is to be able to calculate 3 ply accurately.  Seems easy enough, right?  All the lessons and exam questions are compositions.  None of the positions would be relevant in an actual game.  I personally hate this type of training and I almost skipped the chapter halfway through, but I decided to stick with it.  I was pretty terrible in the example portion, but did much better with the end of chapter exam, scoring 7/12 which was enough for a pass with a point to spare.  All of the problems are 1-star (easy), but most of them took me the full 15 minutes to solve.  Like any composition, there is only 1 winning move, but you have to accurately see all of Black's replies and your reply to get credit.  One problem had 16 variations!

Can you find all 16?

Chapter 10 - The opposition is what is says it is for once.   Since it's K+P endgame related, I went in with high expectations.  If you've ever done Pandolfini's Endgame Course, many of the examples would be familiar to you.  Most of the exercises are practical compositions that you'd find in a real game.  A mix of difficulty, including the first 4-star problem I've ever seen.  The problems are hard but fair.  On some problems, you have to see various tries by your opponent to pull off a swindle.  In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense to place this chapter right after the previous one which required lots of actual calculation.  More of the same, but easier since the problems are practical.  I scored 21/26 on the exam and got at least partial credit on each problem.  My previous study helped, but it wasn't a walk in the park either.

Chapter 11 - The pin is another chapter on tactics.  I found this one slightly harder than the previous tactics lessons, but not particularly hard if you've done serious tactics training before.  I only bothered setting up 2 of the positions on the board as I was able to spot the right idea quickly from the diagram and work through the variations.  I scored 19/21 on the chapter exam, missing only 1 question which had a pretty idea I'd never seen elsewhere.  Not surprising, this one was a composition and not from an actual game.  Practical nonetheless.

Chapter 12 - The double attack is the 6th chapter on tactics.    I consider this one easier than the chapter on pins.  A couple of the examples are from compositions, but all of the exercises are from actual games.  I did all but 1 of the chapter exercises from my head and didn't need more than 5 minutes for them.  At least 4 of the exercises I've seen elsewhere.  I scored 15/17 missing 1 question.  It was odd because it was a problem I've seen before in Ivaschenko 1b (I think).  Something in the back of my mind was telling me that there was a flaw with the obvious solution.  Then I noticed that the end of my variation was losing, so I modified that.  Problem was, it was my first move that was the issue.  I know I made that same mistake previously when training the problem before.

It's the halfway point of book 1!

Some quick stats on the book and my performance this far:
The book is 6/12 tactics, 2/12 endgame, 1/12 calculating variations, 1/12 strategy, 1/12 positional play, 1/12 openings.    Heavy on tactics, with a little bit of everything else sprinkled in.  Looks like the training you'd get doing lots of tactics and reading annotated master games to cover the other stuff which is what I've been recommending to others.

I've been keeping track of my scores in a spreadsheet (of course!) and have been rating the chapter exercises as gold (excellent), silver (good), bronze (pass) and red (fail).

4/12 gold
3/12 silver
1/12 bronze
4/12 red

Yusupov recommends redoing any chapters you failed and I've kept up with that recommendation, going so far as to do it a 3rd time a few days after to make sure I still have it down.  Amateurs practice until they get it right, experts practice until they can't get it wrong.

Chapter 13 - Realizing a material advantage is the 2nd on positional play.  The main ideas are how to force favorable trades into a simple winning endgame by attacking with your extra material.  Also a good lesson on giving some of the material back to simplify and stop counterplay.  Almost all of the exercises here come from Yusupov's own games.  Two of the exercises are from a Capablanca game I've seen before although I don't recall exactly which annotated games collection I read it from.  I managed 12/22 points, which was good enough for a pass.

I'm getting through this book much quicker than I thought, although I'm not rushing.  The chapters I had trouble with take me 2-3 hours to complete, but most I'm able to complete in an hour or less.   I really like how he mixes up the objective from chapter to chapter which keeps the lessons from feeling repetitive.  It's also nice that I'm able to regain some motivation after a tough chapter with an easier one on endgames or tactics.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Week 1

I decided to make my training for year 2 and beyond more structured.  It had long been my plan to "test" myself after about a year to see what my weaknesses were to work extensively on them.  Initially, I had thought of working through Khmelnitsky's Chess Exam and Training Guide but finally decided on Yusupov's 9 book training course.  It's award-winning after all, right?

The 9 books are split into 3 levels: Fundamentals (orange), Beyond the Basics (blue) and Mastery (green).  Each level has 3 books: Build Up Your Chess, Boost Your Chess and Chess Evolution.   Orange is designed to get U1500 players to 1800, blue for getting U1800 players to 2100 and green  for getting U2100 players to master level. I'm not U1500 but I'm not 1800 either.  I know I have holes in my fundamentals and starting at the beginning should be a great way to find and eliminate them.

Each book is 24 chapters which is comprised of training exercises and a final test.  Each test has a scoring tier of minimum, good and excellent.  Anything below minimum and you're deficient in that topic and should repeat the chapter.  Yusupov suggests setting up the learning exercises on a board and taking 5 minutes to get the solution.  For the end of chapter exam, he suggests the same, and if you can't get the solution, taking another 10 minutes and being allowed to move the pieces.  Each chapter should take 1-2 hours.

My first week and I got through 7 chapters in the 1st orange book.  It isn't my attempt to rush, but some of the chapters I did well on and was able to get through quickly which isn't surprising.

Chapter 1 - Mating motifs focuses on mate along open lines, Anastasia's mate, Arabian mate, Boden's mate and the Q + R or B battery.  Boden's mate struck me as a bit of a surprise as it seems like more of a rarer motif.  I've seen some of these positions in other tactics books and did well in this chapter, scoring 13/16 for a "good" mark.  A silly calculation error on the 3-star problem kept me from a perfect score.

Chapter 2 - Mating motifs 2 focuses on Legal's, Damiano's, Greco's, Lolli's, Blackburne's and Pillsbury's mate.  I liked this chapter as they were very practical checkmating the castled king motifs and the explanations on how to continue the attack after the obvious defense was particularly helpful.  I struggled a bit with the end of chapter exam, missing the passing score of 11 with 10/20.  I went back through the chapter and also made a set on chess tempo with those motifs (shown on the right side as Yusupov Mates 2".

Chapter 3 - Basic Opening Principles goes over the principles of rapid development, playing for the center, preventing your opponent's ideas and fighting for the initiative. The end of chapter exam contains many 3-star problems and I only managed a 14/31 missing the pass score by 1 once again.  By this point, I was a little disappointed but not surprised that I was deficient in attacking the king and fighting for the initiative in the opening.

Chapter 4 - Simple Pawn Endings covers pawn promotion, key squares, the opposition, rule of the square and handling rook pawns.  I expected to do well in this chapter due to my early endgame study.  I scored 17/22 in the end of chapter exam with a "good" mark.  I was a little hasty on 2 problems and didn't fully calculate.

Chapater 5 - Double check was another chapter I expected to do well in since it should just be basic tactics calculation.  He covers mate and mating combinations using double check and decoys.  I scored 14/16 on the exam for an "excellent".  I didn't miss any problems, just a couple of the longer variations that granted extra points.

Chapter 6 - The value of the pieces was the hardest chapter I've done to this point.  It covers how to play with material imbalances such as queen vs 2 rooks or 3 minor pieces.  I completely whiffed on the end of chapter exam scoring only 4/19.  Looking back, it wasn't so difficult that I couldn't have done better, but I felt like I wasn't being methodical enough with my calculations.  Too many shortcuts and not looking at enough candidate moves.  I've gotten by up to this point being able to play this way OTB, but it's definitely something I'm looking to improve.   I didn't like leaving money on the table and decided it was time to really sit down and do these chapters right.  No fast reading, no lazy calculations.  Grind it out and get it or at least try hard; something I could use in my games as well.

Chapter 7 - The discovered check is another tactical motifs chapter like chapter 5.  I expected to do well here and did, scoring 15/15.

I'm hoping my newfound commitment to proper analysis and tenacity carries forward as I continue with this book and, more importantly, to my games.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Year 1 recap. 700 points in 365 days.

Eat your heart out De Le Maza.

Rapid adult chess improvement is possible.  Don't let anyone tell you differently.   Not just me, but people I know personally have seen rapid adult improvement.  Most people in the adult improvement blogosphere are somewhere along that same rating curve.  This isn't about rapid chess improvement at 2100+, or even 1800+, although Axel Smith's progress seems to suggest you can have nice improvement at that level also.  If nothing else, what I've done can take you to 1600-1800 pretty quickly.  What it takes to get from there to 2100 is unknown to me at this time.  That will be the subject of my year 2 update.  My goal is to hit 2000 by the middle of this year.   1000 to 2000 in 18 months as an adult would be pretty remarkable.  I think it's very possible.

My final rating after I left chess in 1997 was 1015 over 30 rated games.  That was after playing for about a year in HS, then trying to pick back up again a few years later.

When I started, I did nothing but try to memorize the openings Kasparov played.  I read over some articles in Chess Life, but nothing more than that.  Never picked up a tactics book or annotated games collection.   I'm surprised I was even able to maintain a 1000 rating like that.

I stopped playing after HS, but decided I wanted to try picking up the game again.  I got Lev Alburt's chess course and Seirawan's books on tactics and strategy.  I played in 2 events and my rating basically went sideways.  After that I stopped playing chess.

17 years later, I came back to the game and wanted to give it one last shot to see how well I could really do.  With the internet and some maturity, I felt I could find a "proper" training plan instead of just picking books out at random from ads and hoping that would do the trick.

Enter spaced repetition training plan and the Knights Errant.  I've never read MDLM's book.  I don't believe that tactics are all you need to get to class A/expert.  I'm not even sure MDLM believes that.  Or maybe he really discounts all the games he played over the course of that year and all the analysis help he got playing at a large chess club in Boston with dozens of masters.  At any rate, I'm not a Knights Errant or a MDLM disciple.  But it was nice to see that people had tried using spaced repetitions for chess training as that had been part of my initial comeback plan.

Long story short, NM Dan Heisman is right when it comes to adult chess improvement.

  1. Know your basic tactics.  He recommends a MDLM style program using John Bain's Chess Tactics for Students book.  Keep doing repetitions until you can solve 85% of the problems in 15 seconds or less.  It took me six times through to accomplish that.  This helps you accomplish one of the most basic things to improve at chess: piece safety.  Don't drop material and you win a lot of games.  Most tactics are going to be of the 2-3 move variety.
  2. Regularly play slow time controls OTB.  Use all of your clock.  Theory without practice is a waste of time.  You have to activate your knowledge. There are lots of subtle things you pick up when playing that get stored for use later.
  3. Analyze your games.  Self-annotate and go over them with a stronger player whenever possible.  The majority of what you need to improve is contained in your own games.  What mistakes did you make and why?  How do you overcome them?  Stronger players can give lots of valuable advice.
  4. Read lots of annotated master games.  I don't believe you need to study much strategy/openings/endgame right away. The people whipping out Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual when they are just getting started are masochistic.  You get a TON of that type of training reading over master games.  You see how they play the openings, plans that develop and how they try to convert their advantage in the endgame.  I think Silman's Endgame book is a good way to handle it.  Know how to mate with certain piece combinations and know some basic K+P endgame ideas.  I learned in my first major tournament last year how overrated knowing the opening was.  In half my games, I was out of my own personal book by moves 4-5.  I just followed basic principles and got a playable middlegame. Then I won those middlegames.
  5. Get a coach.  Maybe this is optional if you regularly play club games and can go over games with stronger players often.  But a good coach can help you figure out the mistakes you're making and how to correct them. 
  6. Be ruthless.  Never accept a draw.  If you have the advantage, convert it to a win.  Don't take a draw because your opponent is stronger.  Go for the throat.  Don't take a draw because you're afraid of losing rating points.  An equal position is a win waiting to happen if you try.  Don't play scared.  You'll either learn something from trying to win or losing.  That will carry forward for hundreds of games.  The couple of points you lose from one is irrelevant.  I made one of my biggest jumps in rating after I stopped playing scared.  I had been in a bit of a slump and started taking early draws because I was afraid of blundering in time pressure.  Once my mentality changed and I was ready to play a game out 100 moves if necessary, I started winning against much stronger players.
  7. Take breaks.  Don't be afraid to take a few weeks or a month off.  You don't want to be sitting in a tournament hall playing games when you'd rather be doing something else.  The training can be hard work and take up a lot of time.  You have to be willing to invest that time, but you have to relax too.
Here's a breakdown of my 1st year training:
Tactics: 3500 unique tactical puzzles across the 7 books outlined on Empirical Rabbit's blog.  I never did finish doing spaced repetitions with the Blue Coakley, although I finished the majority of the puzzles.  It's an excellent book, in fact.  I was a little burnt out with my training program, plus an increased workload around that time didn't help.  My coach said I didn't need to do the repetitions MDLM style I did past Bain, but I do feel like it helped me.  If I had to do it all over again, I'd skip Woolum's book.  The variance is very high for a beginning tactician.  My goal was 10,000 with an undetermined time frame.  Looks like just under 3 years if I keep up that pace.  Easily doable now that I'm doing the vast majority of my tactics on Chess Tempo.

Annotated games: 1,162 annotated master games.  Well, 1,100 if you don't count Heisman since those are annotated amateur games.  But it's a very good and unique book.  It could be re-titled "Top 5 Reasons Class Players Lose Chess Games".   My goal was 2,000 in 2 years so I'm definitely on track.

OTB play:  I played 68 rated games last year.  Including online slow games, I played 109 games.  My goal is 100 games per year and I met that.   I played almost zero online games during the end of last year.  I still might play in T4545, but I'm in a place where it's very easy to find games of at least G/60 OTB every week.