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.