Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wrath of the Dragon God

As the second of three movies branded with the "Dungeons and Dragons" fantasy world, Wrath of the Dragon God had fairly high production values, but as with many projects it seems that design outstripped writing, dragging the whole project down toward B-movie status. One character that stood out was Ellie Chidzey's Lux. Ellie Chidzey has the physical features to be cast as the typical damsel in distress, but here she plays a berserker, dangerous to enemies and sometimes to friends. The plot concerns the reincarnation of an undead megalomaniac named Damodar and his attempt to awaken a sleeping dragon Falazure.

2004 was a watershed year. I had gotten smashed in a Sicilian Dragon against a younger and lower rated player, so I decided to give up playing the Dragon. In its place, I played the Modern Defense. Combined with my years of playing the King's Indian, I had some decent results with the Modern. My White opening had evolved from the English that I had started my adult chess career with toward the Botvinnik System with c4-d3-e4 pawn structures. My premise was that my my positional skills were stronger than my tactics and that I should play to my strengths, hence positional openings with stereotyped minor piece development and long-term plans usually involving predictable pawn structures and pawn breaks. I was rewarded with decent results. The highlight was the 2004 Western States Open where I won $1087, the first place Class A trophy, crossed into Expert, and got a comfortable 2000 ratings floor for the $1000+ prize. Premise validated, I became a positional player.

I had consistent results against Class A players, but the primarily positional strategy had its drawbacks. Class B players and below still lost to me, but my games were long, 60-move battles involving pawn breaks at f4 or g4. Experts seemed to always parry my positional threats and outplay me in the tactics whenever the positions opened up. I envied players who could continue to play sharp main-line openings like Dragons and Najdorfs and the sharp Slav variations. But I had my formula for success and had to stick with it. Between 2010 and 2013, I went 5W-0D-0L against Class A players for a 2333 performance rating, but I went 0W-4D-4L against Experts for a 1870 performance. Boredom and depression creeped into my game with periods of burn-out and hopelessness against stagnation and decline.

Some time in 2007, I discovered Bill Paschall's 2005 lecture on the 2...Nf6 Scandinavian. Although I lost the first two attempts, I eventually fell in love with it. So the partial answer is that I needed to play more tactical openings, but I didn't want to repeat my mistake with the Sicilian Dragon and get outbooked in sharp main lines. In 2009, I switched from 1.c4 to 1.e4, but I had to learn a whole bunch of new opening strategies with a memory I was learning to mistrust after my Dragon beatings. I tried to adopt Dana Mackenzie's Bryntse Gambit, but nobody played the fun variations. The last five years, I have felt naked playing 1.e4 because I knew very little about the Sicilian, French, Caro-Kann, Pirc, and even the 1...e5 defenses. I would just wing it with general opening principles and hope that I avoided the mines.

This year, the main difference seems to be training with Chess Position Trainer on sharper opening lines. I have developed sharp systems that I have trained to remember. This has given me confidence in the opening, and a return to a tactical mindset. I find that Experts and Masters make mistakes at a higher rate in these double-edged gambits and "luck" and fun have returned to my games against them. My Sicilian Dragon remains asleep, but my inner berserker has awakened.

Monday, July 21, 2014


There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
- attributed to Mark Twain
Statistics are for losers.
- attributed to Vince Lombardi

As you can see by the graph above, I'm having a pretty good year of chess so far. But I'm not certain that I'm a stronger chess player than I was in the plateau between the years 2004 and 2013. Although I have been rated as high as 2062 before, this year was the first I crossed 2100. If I rated the 7-game match I'm in right now, my rating would further jump to 2124. Are these 60 points higher than my previous peak significant? There was a time when all kinds of information that I paid attention to needed P values to separate the signal from the noise. But I'm too lazy about math to look up the P-value as it applies to ELO ratings.

Here's the table of my results from 2004 through this year inclusive:


And here is just this year's results:


I'm happy to look at the data set and see that my performance against all ratings classes has improved by 50-250 points. What particularly stands out is that I'm playing much stronger against other Experts. I guess the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting. Since I haven't burnt out on chess, it's likely I'll continue to get data points this year, although, poor results are just the thing to get me to play less chess. When the future arrives, my rating will A) dip back down, confirming that this rating fluctuation is just noise OR B) remain higher, indicating improved chess strength. One further assumption would be that the whole ratings system hasn't undergone some kind of rapid inflation because of the USCF's new high-K policy.