Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bayonet and Knights Errant

The title is somewhat of an intentional anachronism. Knights had swords, not rifles, so they would never employ a bayonet. But I’ll explain later.

In my second game of the Championship Qualifier, I got skewered by the Bayonet. I tried my usual improvisation through the late opening against a prepared opponent and got an inferior position. In the critical moment, my opponent found a combination that wasn’t quite winning in all variations, but scary enough to rattle me and I chose badly, giving up my queen and pawn for rook and minor. The rest of the game was losing for me. I tried to hang on, but couldn't see any counterchances, and I resigned before a second queen came after me.

Kramnik apparently won a couple King’s Indian Bayonet games against Kasparov, causing the latter to avoid the opening and then the King’s Indian’s popularity waned at all levels. Teimour Radjabov remains a steadfast champion, essaying it five times against the likes of Kramnik (draw), Gelfand (win), Aronian (loss), and Carlsen (draw) in the 2008 Corus Wijk aan Zee Tournament.

This week, I started some chess lessons with my opponent. He’s not much higher rated than I am, but he knows a lot more theory and he's beaten me 4-0. In our first lesson, we ran through the ideas of the King’s Indian Defense, Mar del Plata Variation, Bayonet Attack. It was quite valuable because he corrected a lot of misconceptions that I had about the Bayonet. The King’s Indian is usually a no-holds-barred opposite side attack similar to the Yugoslav Dragon but with locked pawns. Here are two of my major misconceptions: 1) I thought the Bayonet was an accelerated attack on c5 and d6 and 2) Black’s queen bishop is too valuable to give up for a marauding knight at e6. Black’s queen bishop is a key piece that is not only his good bishop, but also often sacrifices for a pawn on h3, delivering the last blow of the battering ram and destroying White’s fortress.

This is what I learned. The idea of b4 is not necessarily to quickly advance c5 and attack d6 so much as to provide space for Qb3, Rb1, and Bb2/a3. White bides his time, keeps his knight at f3, and patiently waits for Black to play his thematic f5. White responds with Ng5 and eventually Ne6 with Bxe6 likely forced and then pressurizes d5 and the crumbling center. If Black uses time to prepare f5 with h6, then White switches back to the flank idea with Nd2, c5, Nc4. In the lines with Ng5-Ne6, Bxe6, Black maintains his chances mostly by maneuvering his knights around the center. For example, right after the Bayonet move 9.b4, Black plays 9…Nh5 eyeing f4. White typically plays 10.Re1 to create a retreat square for the Be2 in case of 10…Nf4. The game often continues: 10…f5 11.Ng5 Nf6 12.f3 Nh5 13.Qb3 Bf6 14.Ne6 Bxe6. Black continues to maneuver his knights all around to help encircle the pawn on e6 and get whatever good posts they can get. The win of a pawn helps compensate for the loss of the key queen’s bishop.

From the start of the game, Black’s king knight typically goes Ng8-Nf6-Nh5-Ng7(after Bf6)-Nxe6 while the queen knight typically goes Nb8-Nc6-Ne7-Nc6-Nd4-Nxe6. I was thinking about the movement of the knights in the game, especially the circular movement of Black’s king knight and I thought of the Knights Errant doing De La Maza’s Circles.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mobile Infantry

I’m a little ashamed to say that one of my favorite movies is ”Starship Troopers”. A hierarchical insect-like alien society starts an intergalactic war with Earth. In order to fight more effectively, humans transform their society into a more fascist and insect-like one where the sacrifice of the individual for the common good becomes paramount. The human army has the traditional division between the foot-oriented Mobile Infantry(M.I.) and the flight-oriented Fleet. M.I. serves the usual cannon fodder role, and the plot surrounds their misfortunes. At one point, Johnny Rico says, “M.I. does the dying. Fleet just does the flying.” I liked the campy movie a lot better than Robert Heinlein’s book. The straight-to-DVD sequel royally sucked. Don’t go there.

In honor of the Mobile Infantry, here are four pawn endings: one simple, two moderately complex, and one highly complex.

Starship Troopers starts off aptly with a football game, an abstraction of war. Johnny Rico and quarterback Dizzy Flores successfully employ a play named “Flip-six-three-hole” and Johnny scores a touchdown. The first ending is a fairly common ending cited in all kinds of endgame books. Specifically, I will refer to GM-RAM #22 which I have flipped horizontally so that the six pawns are on the queenside like the other three problems. The GM-RAM problems are given without annotations and without even mention of which side is to move, sometimes giving double the content in lessons.

We’ll start with White to move. White wins by sacrificing two pawns in order to make a hole for one of the outside pawns, a or c, depending on how Black makes the first capture. 1.b6! axb6 2.c6! cxb6 3.a6 and the white pawn scores a touchdown early enough to mop up the three black pawns. Similarly, 1.b6! cxb6 2.a6! bxa6 3.c6 and the white pawn queens. In analyzing this position, it’s important to know that the method works because of the position of the Black King on h4. This king is out of the square of all of the white pawns on the queenside, especially the c-pawn. If the king were anywhere between f5 and f8 inclusive, or to the left of those squares, the second variation would fail for White after 3. c6 Ke6.

If Black is on move in the diagram, he stops all nonsense by playing b6 himself. This endgame has never been practical for me to know as I’ve never had such an advanced, well-regimented trio of pawns against a similar opponent pawn line. But the kernel of the idea presented itself in two pawn endings I have studied and only now began to link back to this elementary example.

In boot camp, Johnny and Dizzy adapt the “Flip-six-three-hole” stratagem during a capture-the-flag military exercise and win again. Diagram 2 is a position that only arose in a side line of my analysis of a recent game.

The analysis goes like this. Material is equal. White has the advantage of a better king position. Black’s King can move back and forth between e7 and f7 while keeping White’s King back with the help of the pawn control on g6 and d6. This means that opposition doesn’t come into play yet. The White King can capture any Black pawn that comes to the rank a5-h5 and isn’t protected by another pawn. Therefore Black needs to hold his pawns back. When the pawn fronts come into contact, both sides may begin to run out of moves, leading to opposition/zugzwang. When that happens, White would like to have a route into Black’s kingside or queenside. If White can somehow force Black to advance c7-c6, then the route e5-d6-c7 would become available and b7 would become the second weakness to the h7 pawn. The solution is to try to advance a pawn to b6. At one point White will weaken his queenside pawn structure to do this.

1.b4 Ke7 2.a4 Kf7 3.c5 Ke7 4.a5!! (4.b5 slow buildup fails 4...axb5 5.axb5 Kf7 6.b6 cxb6 7.cxb6 Ke7 8.h4 Kd7! and Black can tie in the queening race.) 4...Kf7 (4...c6 gives White his second pathway. ; 4...Kd7 allows 5.Kf6 and White wins the queening race.) 5.h4 White’s opposition guarantees that he can capture h7 or b7. 5.b5!! axb5 (5...Ke7 6.c6! (6.b6 also wins) 6…bxc6 7.bxa6 +-) 6.c6! bxc6 7.a6.

What astounded me about this endgame was that I never knew that starting with mobile pawns and moving them into the formation a5-b4-c5 would be a good plan until I saw it in this particular game. The b5 hole, especially with Black having played a6, looks like a bad weakness to allow, but rules change when your pawns and king are more advanced. The further fact that c7-c6 stops the pawn breakthrough, but allows the king breakthrough is what struck me as beautiful about this endgame.

In the middle of “Starship Troopers”, Johnny in an act of brave improvisation, jumps on the back of a gigantic powerbug, shoots a hole in its carapace and polishes off the bug with some grenades. He gets covered in bug guts, but it’s all taken in stride for the hero. I tried constructing an endgame study with the queenside pawns as they are after 4.a5, taking away the h-pawns, and positioning the kings as they are in the first pawn endgame, but the outcome and the lesson I learned were surprising.
After 1.b5, Black cannot capture as seen above, but he also cannot sit still because White can break through on the next move with c6. Like in the first example, Black precludes the threat by playing it himself with 1...c6!!. Any other move loses. Now, without the pawn breakthrough, it looks as though White is doomed, since Black’s king is more advanced and can move laterally to pick up the a-pawn and c-pawns. But White has surprising drawing resources after 2.b6!! Kg4 3.Kg2 Kf4 4.Kf2 Ke4 5.Kg3! Kd5 6.Kf4! Kxc5 7.Ke5! Kb5 8.Kd6! c5 9.Kc7! c4 10.Kxb7 c3 11.Ka7 c2 12.b7 c1Q 13.b8Q+ Kxa5 14.Qb6+ Ka4 15.Qxa6=. So the caption for the above diagram should be White to move and draw, but 1.b5 is not the only path to a draw. All the moves annotated with exclams above are only moves, but 1.b5 is not one of them. Apparently 1.Kg2 and even 1.Kg1 draw.

At the end of “Starship Troopers”, Johnny finds himself deep in enemy territory. The bugs have shown their hand in that a large brain bug, like the king of the insect society, shows up to interrogate the humans by sucking up their brains. Johnny appeals to the brain bug’s sense of self-preservation by negotiating a temporary cessation in hostilities using a hand-held nuclear bomb. The brain bug retreats. The last example is even more complicated, but it builds on the sacrificial ideas. GM-RAM #23 is an ending between Artur Yusupov – Sergey Ionov, Podolsk 1977. This may have been some sort of training game as I can’t locate it in my Big Database 2003. I’m not even sure how I found the names Yusupov and Ionov.

Despite the pawns being equal in number, White has three resources in the structure of the queenside pawns. First, the a-pawn has two reserve tempi. Second, White's pawns are more advanced, meaning they can queen faster. Third and most extraordinary, by sacrificing in rapid succession the c, a, and b pawns, the d-pawn can queen. Black himself cannot touch the queenside pawns because c6 allows White to capture twice and queen a pawn two moves later. But first, White maneuvers Black’s King to the corner and then blows up the queenside at the right moment. 1.Kf4! Ke7 (1...g6 2.h6! g5+ 3.Kf3!! ( 3.Ke3 also wins. 3...Kg6 4.a4 Kxh6 5.c5!! dxc5 6.a5! bxa5 7.b6! cxb6 8.d6!; 3.Kg4? Kg6 4.a4! Kxh6! 5.c5! bxc5 6.a5! c4! 7.a6! bxa6! 8.bxa6! c3! 9.a7! c2! 10.a8Q! c1Q!=) 3...Kg6 4.a4! Kxh6 5.c5!! ( 5.a5? bxa5 6.c5 b6!-+) 5...dxc5 6.a5! bxa5 7.b6! cxb6 8.d6!] 2.Kg5 Kf7 3.Kf5 Kf8 4.Kg6 Kg8 5.a3!! White has to time his pawn advances carefully so that Black's King is on g8 at the appropriate time. 5...Kf8 6.a4! Kg8 7.c5!! Now! (7.a5? bxa5 8.c5 b6!-+) 7...dxc5 8.a5! bxa5 9.b6! cxb6 10.d6! Kf8 11.d7! Ke7 12.Kxg7 a4. It looks as if Black might queen with check, at least tying the race, but looks can be deceiving. (12...b5 13.h6 Kxd7 14.h7 Kc6 15.h8Q b4 16.Qc8+ Kb6 17.Kf6+-; 12...Kxd7 13.h6 Kc7 14.h7 Kb8 15.h8Q+ Ka7 16.Kf7 mate in 14) 13.h6 a3 14.h7 a2 15.d8Q+! Kxd8 16.h8Q+ Kd7 17.Qa8 +-. I know it’s extremely hard to follow variations 35 ply deep from a diagram. To a large degree GM-RAM is about self-help. I was tempted to put up diagrams to help spoonfeed the lazy, but then I would be coddling. I guess that makes me a #32.Blog Luddite.

Civics Teacher/Lieutenant Jean Rasczak: “Figuring things out for yourself is practically the only freedom anyone really has nowadays. Use that freedom.”

Career Sergeant Zim: “Anytime you think I'm being too rough, anytime you think I'm being too tough, anytime you miss-your-mommy, QUIT! You sign your 1248, you get your gear, and you take a stroll down washout lane. Do you get me?”

Monday, April 28, 2008


After 17 years of tournament play, it’s still surprising how complex pawn endgames are. The movements of pawns and kings seem so elementary, yet they combine in such complex ways as to simulate emergence.

I think I first learned of emergence while watching Nova Science Now hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. Basically simple things like birds and fish organize themselves into complex systems like flocks and schools with the emergence of phenomena that are more than the sum of the parts.

I suppose the entirety of chess is an example of emergence, including how chess players teach themselves and blog to try to pass on their wisdom to other chess players. In Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Quarantine”, chess is described as a problem with only six simple operators, but whose solution is so complex and compelling as to represent an infectious hazard to all rational thought.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blogotype Revisited

Now that I’m about six months into it, I wanted to look back and see what kind of blogotype I am. When I first started I believe my self-categorization was #5 workaday and #24 actuary with #9 outsider tendencies. In the opening days, I’m pretty sure I pulled a #4 newbie by heartily recommending Dan Heisman. I’ve worked hard to try to let my personal thoughts permeate my writings, so methinks I’m no longer an outsider. Someone recently accused me of vanity and I would normally take umbrage at such a suggestion, but I try to maintain open-mindedness and hear what people say. Perhaps I should just get it over with and admit elements of narcissism with tendencies toward #2 scholar, and #16 pedant.

To go along with pedantry, some days I feel like #26 neglected baby. Comments hardly ever break 2 for one post and I sometimes envy the attention that others get. Casually, I think about returning to obscurity as have several of my fellow clubmember bloggers, but I’ll hang on for another twelve months at least. I think that partly this is my own fault in that I don’t religiously reply to all commentators. Why should my audience give me feedback if I don’t return the favor? However, someday, when a hater with a flamethrower finds me and calls me a narcissistic twit who publishes useless actuarial drivel that no one bothers to read, I won’t have the counterargument that my large and wide readership invalidate his assertion.

It occurs to me now that the threat to quit is the main weapon my #21 passive aggressive side has to protest being negatively labeled as a narcissistic whiney baby.

I suppose that chess blogging has its elements of fad and passing fancy. It seems that every other week, another of the First Ones, announces his retirement from the blogosphere. The bloggers of my club seem to be flagging, too.

Oh well. I mainly remind myself that the perception of writing for the public pushes me to try to be more creative and disciplined in my content and that in most ways, the blog is for my own benefit, pushing my writing and my chess to new horizons, and preserving the mementos of my journey.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Channeling Capablanca

After some rigmarole regarding pairings throughout the week, there was another unexpected absence on Thursday and several matchups had to be changed. I only briefly looked up an anti-London/Barry system in preparation for Black against one opponent, only to have SwissSys give me White this week.

I played my usual uninspired Botvinnik system against which my opponent seemed to have a coherent setup, wasting no time playing f5. I missed a couple chances to keep my opening edge and allowed my e-pawn to get isolated which led to a worse late middlegame. Between moves 19 and 29, we liquidated three minors, two rooks, and a queen for each side and I suddenly had an advantageous pawn endgame.

I felt quite pleased with myself, like I had channeled Capablanca’s spirit to manufacture an endgame win out of nothing but a better king position. But of course the postmortem dashed all that. The precision required to play great chess just wasn’t there, notably 36.b5?. Instead of being worthy of The Chess Machine or the Iceman I aspire to be, I was just a lucky bastard whose opponent failed to find the swindle. One Capablanca quote goes, “A good player is always lucky.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Goblet O' Training

In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", budding wizards put their names into a gigantic fiery receptacle that is more like a tall cauldron than a goblet. The goblet serves as a pseudo-lottery selecting the contestants for a wizardry competition, the winner of which will get fame, fortune, and the undying admiration of (insert name of love interest here).

Generally I feel the discussions of a theory of chess learning to be a distraction from actual learning, but there has been so much time and verbiage invested by the likes of Temposchlucker, Phaedrus, and Blue Devil Knight, that I wanted to put my two cents in, borrowing heavily from Rolf Wetzell’s Chess Master at Any Age. I’m a little ashamed of the crappy drawing, especially compared Phaedrus’ lovely work. The artist of this studio sucks at art.

At the center of this scheme is the Goblet O’ Training, described by Wetzell as a receptacle of fluid representing all your chess ability and knowledge. Wetzell’s scheme had two types of fluid, with high and low volatility. Evaporation represents that knowledge we lose to forgetfulness. The flared, martini-like lip is supposed to represent the diminishing returns we get from learning near our capacity, with increased surface area exposed to evaporation.

I have added a stick figure with a bailer to represent a chess player striving to fill the Goblet and get better at chess. Under the player’s armpit is a list of fuels that power our training engine: discipline, time, energy, fun, motivation, and desire. I always remember Edward James Olmos' soliloquy in “Stand and Deliver” motivating his students by saying “You’ve got to have the ganas”, the desire to learn. Ever the mentor in his roles, Olmos reminds me that a coach can also help. Except for coaching, the list could also be summed up by the word “attitude” which also makes an appearance inside the Goblet. Training attitude and game-time attitude are both very important.

The Goblet O’ Training sits on scale which measures the weight of the chess player’s training in Elo points. However, integrated into the weighing are factors that conspire to weaken our overall strength demonstrated at the board. On a seesaw opposite to the Goblet O’ Learning is the Bucket O’ Distractions which negatively impact our ability to transfer what we know to the chess game in front of us. I couldn't fit it all in, but I wanted to put ratings fixation in the "Other priorities" category. There are a couple pharmacologic agents out there that might limit the damage of some of these distractions, namely caffeine and Ritalin, but I want to avoid advocacy of chemical performance enhancement, no matter how legal it may be.

I have tried to organize the terminology in front of me, but words are clumsy, fuzzy containers. Apologies if my superficial analysis has misclassified others’ concepts. Here is my chart of terminology with my own interpretation of the concept in the first column:

A few explanations:

I think Temposchlucker incorporates scanning and pattern recognition into simple motorskills while deeper calculations are complex motorskills.

Temposchlucker seems to be on to something when he emphasizes target scanning. By the title of his blog, Phaedrus also seems fixated on chess vision. I’m a little unclear whether the term visualization refers to the initial sight of the features of the position or whether it is part of the later calculation/evaluation complex. Scanning probably overlaps a bit with pattern recognition, but I’ve seen a lot of patterns and I recognize the idea when I see the pattern, but my experience during games and working with Chess Tempo is that I miss all kinds of things even when I have a lot of time to look and overcome the bucket of distractions. Scanning, targeting, and visualization all refer to a sight-related ability that allows us to grasp the possibilities in the position. Like the so-called “mind’s eye”, it is also most likely the ability to bring about the creative aspect of chess. In “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, Bruce Pandolfini extolled two of Josh Waitzkin’s virtues in the quote, “Your son creates like Fischer. He sees like him, inside.”

I believe knowledge is something a little different from pattern recognition. A long time ago, I took Spanish and learned that there are two verbs for “to know”. Conocer is more like “to recognize or be acquainted with” while saber is a more intimate or intense kind of knowing. An example of pattern recognition is seeing the conditions and the two-move sequence leading to Anastasia's mate. An example of knowledge is “bishops of opposite colors are quite drawish unless there are widely separated pawns” or “opening lines in front of your king during opposite side attacks is generally a bad idea”.

Since I thought of it first, I would like to incorporate “evaluation“ into the balance sheet of chess strength. “Evaluation” has probably been subsumed as part of “calculation” since in order to get very far in calculation, you have to know how to reject scads of moves that lose material or weaken your position, so moves are being evaluated in-line. However, only a minority of calculations lead to overwhelming material or clearly winning positions (tactical calculations). Most of the time, especially in games at master level, the lines and their resulting positions, even after significant ply depth, differ in subtle ways that can only be compared by evaluation and judgment (positional calculations). At the terminals of Kotov's tree, the leaves often look very similar.

Like I said earlier about theory being a distraction, I don’t post this with intent to get in a protracted debate about what terms and components should be used, or to say whose scheme is justified best on the empirical evidence. I post it to get a handle on what it means to:

1) Have a good attitude during training and during games.
2) Train various and sundry aspects that add to the strengths of my chess game.
3) Minimize the distractions that hurt my game.

How does one go about training? Well, here is my own example of a well-neglected training program in Excel format along with the Wetzell Component of Chess Capability (CCC) that I’m trying to strengthen.

With that, I now return to my regularly scheduled bailing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Evaluation Calibration

About five years ago, I was analyzing a game with an expert and I remember suddenly noticing something about how he talked about the game. I had only been playing chess for about a dozen years and I’d read my share of chess books, but I didn’t own ChessBase and had all but ignored those += and -/+ evaluations like some extinct language invented by the Informant magazine. Somehow I had always concentrated on individual exclams and blunders and material advantage. The expert spent a lot of time verbalizing judgments like “White is better. Black is better. I’d rather be playing Black.” It’s not that I’d never heard of evaluations, it’s just that I spent a lot of time looking at individual trees rather than appraising the whole forest. After I got Fritz and ChessBase in 2003 and learned what +-, +/-, +=, =, =+, -/+, -+ mean, I began to pay more attention to how they are applied. It hit me that strong players have an evaluation function that is quite keen and frequently if not always being used.

Temposchlucker and Phaedrus are always writing about “visualization”, “motorskills”, and “patterns” as the main elements of chess strength. There is usually some discussion at the periphery about whether move selection method is an element or some meta-component. But I wonder whether evaluation function is another independent element. "Calculation" I interpret as moving the pieces around in your head, but at the end of a bunch of movement, you have to use judgment to figure out if the positions are good, better, or best. I would separate evaluation as a skill that has its own merits. I’ve been thinking about my own Ultimate Chess Scheme/Framework, with a comparative glossary of terms and some incorporation of Wetzell of course.

When I study my own games, I lazily use Fritz as a pocket grandmaster to tell me what happened in my game. I figure I thought about the game already when it was happening, so just show me not only all the moves I missed, but tell me as my gold standard “objective evaluator” how the game seesawed. I know Fritz has limitations, but in the absence of a grandmaster at my beck and call, it’s the best thing around. If the numbers don’t make sense, then I go down the variations to see why Fritz evaluates the position. Why does it think that Be3 is 8 centipawns better than Bb2?

Last Thursday’s game was another interesting game against chess blogger extraordinaire Wahrheit who is on a bad streak lately. I didn’t let him break the streak, but things were fairly dicey in the late opening/early middlegame transition. I basically became impatient and broke open the center without full justification, only a desire to mix things up. My queen bishop became a development problem, but my opponent helped me by centralizing my problematic knight and then allowing me to get the two bishops. I pressed in the center and suddenly I had a raucous kingside attack. My opponent had some counterchances around this time, but the evaluation is debatable.

Here is a diagram of the moment to test your calculation and evaluation:

The most accurate line here is 17…Qb6+! 18.Kh1! (18.Rf2 stops Nxc4, but allows the annoying pin +/-) 18…Nxc4 19.Qg4! (19.bxc4 Qxb2 20.Rb1 Qxa2 21.Rxb7 with compensation +=) 19…Nxb2 20.Qxe6+ Rf7 21.Ng5 Bxg5 22.fxg5+- with winning play on the pinned rook. If you can match Fritz, the line continues 22...Qc7 23.Rf3 Qe7 (23...Raf8? 24.g6!! hxg6 25.Raf1 Nd3 26.Rxf7 Rxf7 27.Qe8+ Kh7 28.Rxf7!+-) 24.Bh3 Rae8 25.Raf1 Qxe6 26.Bxe6 Rxe6 27.Rxf7+-. Whew! Ten moves and twenty ply.

I’m annoyed that I missed mate in one. All that time spent at Chess Tempo and I still miss a mate in 1?! My main excuses are 1) that at this point in the game, I had to put on my TD hat and mediate a flag fall. 2) I was also firmly latched onto the mate in 4. 3) Perhaps I never considered moving the back rook because it’s a security blanket against Black’s queen. Positions with mate in 1 should be easy to evaluate, but I'm heartened that even the world's best can rarely miss mate in 1.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Unrated Again

This post originally started under a racy title, but after thinking about it, there was a distinct "ew" factor, so I recycled it under a new title.

I just found out that I'm unrated again. As drunknknite pointed out after he learned from Getting to 2000, getting a FIDE rating is not as easy as just playing in a FIDE rated tournament. I've had a couple opportunities, but nothing came together until this last 2008 Far West Open.

Today, out of curiosity, I looked and actually found my name and brand new FIDE ID number at the FIDE website. It was weird seeing my name there, as if I had traveled back in time and watched myself play in my first chess tournament and get my first provisional rating. There's no rating number attached yet. Apparently there are a few more games I have to get under my belt with possibly some complicated rules about how much I can lose to previously FIDE rated players.

There is a fellow expert in my club who at FWO2008 seemed surprised to find out his FIDE rating is in the 2300's, 200 points higher than his USCF rating. A player nearby told him he could claim the FIDE Master title outright. He's a master and he didn't even know it. I wish getting to FM was so easy as to be just some paperwork. No scratch that; if I didn't remember earning the title, then it would never be real. The fellow expert had a USCF 2474 performance rating against 6 FIDE rated opponents in FWO2004 and a USCF 2395 performance rating against 4 FIDE rated opponents in FWO2006. Ten great games, about 400 excellent chess moves. That's all it takes to be a master.

Right now, the only light at the end of the tunnel is that I'm climbing back to 2200 on Chess Tempo. But there certainly isn't any strong correlation between what I'm doing there and what I'm doing on my USCF rating. Currently I'm #1 on the standard list, but only because all the higher players have let their ratings lapse from inactivity.

But I'm taking up the challenge and casting about for some coaching help. It's just so hard to remain optimistic about improvement when I'm a pessimist by nature and my empiricist side sees all the stagnation in myself and my fellow adult chess players. I'll keep you updated on my experience being coached.

**UPDATE 4/22**
I didn't notice it before, but there are now some calculations from FWO2008 that show I scored 1.5/3 against three opponents with FIDE average 2167, which I guess would be my provisional FIDE rating. drunknknite scored an impressive 3.0/5 against 2151 average with a performance of 2164. Take that, drunknknite! I'm still ahead by 3 points, but just barely.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nebulous Catalan

My first game of the Club Championship Qualifier followed on the heels of my Far West Open Game 6 which made it my second Catalan Opening in a row. But here it was played with a very different middlegame. I wish I could say I understood this opening, but it’s hard to get a handle on (in other words, I’ve been too lazy to get far in my study of it). A while back I was annoyed that I couldn’t get any kind of advantage against players who played 1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5. So I decided to play for the Catalan. After all, if it's good enough for Kramnik, it must be good enough for me.

IM John Donaldson wrote in his book A Strategic Opening Repertoire that very few players below master level have a well-considered response to the Catalan Opening. Beyond the preface, I haven’t read much of this lightly annotated book. A while back I bought Everyman’s The Catalan by IM Alex Raetsky and FM Maxim Chetverik. This is a thin book, but a fairly well-organized tree of variations stemming from the Catalan. Again, I’ve mostly used this for just occasional reference rather than learning. I read Jonathan Hilton’s prize-winning series “How Wojo Won I and II” and forgot most of the substance except that Hilton talked extensively about the c5 square. Hilton recently jumped from Expert to Master after a great Foxwoods performance, so I should add to my chess mastery to do list “Write a treatise on the Catalan.”

In the late opening and early middlegame, my opponent and I floundered with his queen and my knight wandering the board with little progress. We were like the Enterprise and Reliant wandering around in the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Spock says, “Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik. The odds will be even.” If we’re both lost in the nebulous Catalan, neither side has much of an advantage. Eventually I enforced e2-e4, but I had probably wasted too much time to make this really strong. A brawl on the b-file resulted in all four rooks being exchanged off. My opponent missed a few equalizing continuations. I wasted a ton of clock time making sure that the bishops of same colors endgame was going to be favorable if my opponent offered a queen exchange, but of course that didn't happen. I worked my queen into his queenside and won the a-pawn. In return, he got to harass my king. I left a poisoned pawn which would allow me to force the queens off the board and he took it, entering a lost endgame.

In the bishops of same colors ending, I was dogged by time trouble and overlooked about three or four winning plans to find the lamest drawing line. I credit my opponent for hanging tough and giving me enough problems to blow the win. Seeing the missed plans are valuable, even if only to train the neural net and weaken the node that came up with the lame plan. This is why I believe in studying my own games: To find overlooked ideas and try to hang them on my Christmas tree of chess knowledge. The position had clues; why did I miss the idea?

I learned how bad my endgame technique is under time pressure. Gotta conserve time. This ending could go into a book entitled 'How not to play chess endings: An antithetical perspective on Znosko-Borovsky's classic.'

I learned that I sometimes need to be a little more practical a la Nunn’s Secrets of Practical Chess. Sometimes my analysis is too superficial, but sometimes, it’s too deep in a variation that ends up being meaningless. Nunn says Don’t Analyze Unnecessary Tactics (DAUT) and advocates bailout safety nets. Mostly it seems to be a strength that I analyze deeply when I think that the win is within my grasp. But in trying to clench victory, I must not waste so much time that the clock kills my chances.

Items to add to my training program of stamping out weaknesses:

1. Write a treatise on the Catalan like NM Jonathan Hilton.
2. Don’t Analyze Unnecessary Tactics.
3. Study bishops of same colors endings.
4. Play some blitz to remind myself of what fast endgame technique looks like.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Don't Give Up

I’m a sucker for some of those 80s and 90s sappy songs including Lionel Richie’s “Hello”. I’ve hardly even listened to the lyrics of "Don't Give Up" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush before I wrote this, but they seem relevant to my chess struggle.

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face, I’ve changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good

‘Cause somewhere there’s a place
Where we belong

All through Far West Open, various songs played in my head, unaided by any kind of MP3 player. Songs have a tendency to lodge in my head for no reason and the volume and incessancy really grows during a chess tournament. I suspect that my brain’s chess area is right next door my brain’s music area and the general increased activity from competitive chess causes the whole block to join in on the party. Sometimes the music kept me up at night. What is really annoying is that I only have partial control over the music selection. Sometimes my kids' television themes were in my mind:

It's the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Come inside. It's fun inside.
We're going on a trip in our favorite rocket ship, zooming through the sky, Little Einsteins.
Mix it all together and try to take the best of both worlds.
I tried to drown them out with “Drops of Jupiter”, but the kids' shows prevailed on day one.

During my sixth round game of the Far West Open, the refrain “Don’t Give Up” kept playing in my head. It wasn’t really intended to be a mantra, but in a way it ended up being one anyway for this game. In my pre-blog days, I wrote an essay for our club website regarding my marathon 110-move game in Western States Open 2003 surrounding the “Never give up, never surrender” motto from Galaxy Quest.

On move 16, I made my move Rfd1.

My opponent started a bit, almost as if jolted by electricity. I think both our eyes focused in on my weak f2 point and I began to analyze what I should have looked at before I made my move. I imagined the following variation: 16...Bxf2+ 17.Kxf2 Ng4+ 18.Kg1 Qc5+ 19.Kh1 Nf2+ 20.Kg1 Nh3++ 21.Kh1 Qg1+ 22.Rxg1 Nf2#. Then I got up from the board and walked to where my friend Grant was working the demo boards for board 5. I shook my head and whispered, “I’m going to get mated in about five more moves.” Grant smiled sympathetically. Luckily, I was wrong.

Being the underrated player, I felt insolent offering a draw to the master. But I was relieved when he immediately endorsed my suggestion, bolstering my confidence that I wasn’t completely off in my evaluation of the position. He could probably see that I had the perpetual in hand. With his king dancing about in the middle while heavy pieces were still on the board, he was probably worse as things stood.

Viktor Pupols had a white beard without a mustache and looked like Santa Claus in the offseason. He spoke with a sonorous voice tinged slightly by a Latvian accent. When he talked during analysis, it always seemed to be in an orderly, almost stilted manner, but his diction was pleasing to my frazzled and disorganized brain. Many of his sentences would start like, "So, in this position, the plan is to..." Even at this level, I need to be reminded that chess should not degenerate into gut-level emotional move selection. There must be a reason behind each move. In the postmortem, he was like my Vulcan mentor. "Logic dictates that we..." We went over all the critical lines that weren’t ventured and it seemed my position held up to the scrutiny. Even Fritz had little to say about my game except perhaps I held the advantage in a possible queens endgame. So despite the early scares, I played a decent game. I probably proposed the draw in a slightly better position, but it was a relief to get out of the game and the tournament with an even score. The game exposes some defects in the accuracy of my calculating engine that I always suspected, but preferred to limp along in denial that it was good enough to maintain my level. If I want to get to the next level, I’m going to have to change a few things.

After hearing how my game turned out, my friend Grant relayed a story attributed to IM Eugene Meyer who described a game with none other than World Champion Mikhail Tal. At various points of their game Meyer felt very bad about his position while Tal was on move, lost in prolonged calculation. Meyer could see many sacrificial variations with which Tal would crush him. But after each opportunity, Tal would just make a quiet move and seemingly grant a reprieve for the self-condemned player. Surprisingly, the game finally ended in a draw. In the postmortem, Meyer asked Tal why he didn’t just win with the sacrificial variations. Tal responded not only by acknowledging that he knew all those sacrifices existed, but he proceeded to refute each and every one of them as he apparently had during his long thinks during the game.

Pupols has a book written about him by Larry Parr entitled Viktors Pupols: American Master. He even has a mini-biography in Wikipedia. How cool is that? I learned from the USCF blog that Viktors Pupols competed in the U.S. Championship Qualifier in Tulsa which took place just a week after the Far West Open. I also learned that he is 73 years old going on 74 at the end of July. I can only hope to be playing such decent chess when I turn that age. Let his example serve as a rebuke to my wimpy Gen-X mentality that despite the creeping infirmities of advancing age, I should never give up.

Monday, April 7, 2008

TPS Report #15

Ventured back to Chess Tempo to push my rating back into the 2000s and my accuracy back to the mid-80s. There seems to be some ratings deflation going on since a new set of problems were introduced in January. That or the server suffers from declining users. I have FWO game 6 and Club Qualifier game 1 to annotate. I also plan to annotate 2 or 3 of Daniel Naroditsky's games and Sevillano-Khachiyan from the Reno tournaments.

I've been swamped trying to get out the Games Bulletin for Far West Open. It's probably doing things the hard way, but I like to go through all the games and look for tactical shots that were interesting or missed. I can enter 109 games in a couple days despite bad handwriting, but the light annotations take me a good 20 hours of work spread over 10 days. It's fun and educational, but sometimes tedious and it often makes me sleepy.

From fpawn's blog, I learned what was happening at the National Junior High Championships, Division K-9 in Dallas. My Far West opponents from rounds 4 and 2 are listed in the final standings at #4 and #6, respectively. It's cool to have games against such promising chess youth.

I've considered a chess tournament blowout month in October with the North American Chess Association's Pro-Am on October 4-5 followed by the Continental Chess Association's Midwest Class Championships on October 11-12 both in Chicago, followed by the Western States Open in Reno on October 17-19, but I don't think it'll fly with my family. Besides, the travel tends to run me down physically and mentally, even more than a typical tournament does.

Made it to #2 on Standard tactics ratings on Chess Tempo with 83.59% accuracy over 3,613 problems.

It's easy to be the king of a pond when all the other fish have deserted.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mona Lisa with Three Warts

At the end of the 2005 National Open, I had gone 2.5/6 in the Under 2200 section, including 0-0 on the last day. To console myself, I went to the bookstore. On the discount table, I picked up two books for $7.50 each: Chess Under the Microscope by Paul Motwani, since I work daily with a microscope on my job. The other title was Chess: The Search for Mona Lisa by Eduard Gufeld. Now I’ve heard some say that GM Gufeld has churned out dreck designed more to put money in his pocket than to enlighten the masses. Since this book was on the discount table, I had few illusions that it was a diamond in the rough. I’d like to say I’ve read the book to give a review, but it went into the To Do Pile and hasn’t made it back out. All I can say is that I read the preface and cover info and surmised that it was Gufeld’s autobiographical quest for beauty in chess.

One of my favorite lines from the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is the line where Bruce Pandolfini’s character soliloquizes, “What is chess do you think? Those who play for fun or not at all, dismiss it as a game. The ones who devote their lives to it, for the most part, insist it’s a science. It’s neither. Bobby Fischer got underneath it like no one before him and found at its center…art.”

Back in 2004, I won the Class A section of the Western States Open ahead of about 70 other class A players with a score of 5.5/6. It was the pinnacle of my chess career. I won the first place trophy on tiebreaks, but I had to share the cash prize with one other person who also scored 5.5/6. His name is John Rinaldo. In a way, our chess careers traveled on parallel tracks. In fact, when I was working as TD in a subsequent Reno tournament, Mr. Rinaldo came by asking if we could write a letter to the USCF to help him request a ratings floor at 2000. Having just gotten my floor myself, I told him all he had to do was call the USCF and ask for the floor verbally by telling them he won more than $1,000. We both earned our floors that weekend for winning $1087.50. Nowadays, floors are given for $2000+ prizes. He’s done a little better than me since then with his rating peaking at 2110 while mine maxed at 2051. A while back, a mutual chessplaying friend had a falling out with him. In a way, I saw this game as the tiebreaker that we never got to play back in 2004. It went a lot better than I expected.

This is my Mona Lisa with three warts, my spoiled Scandinavian Princess, my Snoring Sleeping Beauty, my Venus De Milo with two bionic terminator arms grafted on. Perhaps I should just regard this as a work still in progress. I’ve scalped higher rated players, but right now, I consider this my best work of art to date despite its blemishes.