31 May 2009

Rating Estimation

It seems that a lot of chess players new to or unacquainted with tournament chess want to know their rating. Others who have played online, but not OTB (over the board) frequently ask how one rating compares to another. There are several ways to estimate one's rating, but all should be treated with skepticism.

The series of ten problems at Chess Maniac might be better than most. I tried it a few days ago and scored 1830, which is reasonably close to my recently gained USCF rating of 1819. Less reliable are the Chessmaster personalities. Vlad, for example, allegedly plays at 1846, but the software does not adjust for processor speed. Few human A class players commit the egregious positional errors in the opening that are Vlad's trademark, nor are they as adept at tactical calculation. When I entered B class, I played a sequence of training games against Vlad, finding him surprisingly easy to outplay positionally.

Rating History

In the early 1990s, I was coming back into chess after more than a decade away. I had played in some team matches in high school, at least one club event at the Spokane Chess Club, and had joined the US Chess Federation and played postal chess. All these activities ended by the time I had been in college one year. Among my circle of acquaintances, the second best player could beat me occasionally. I did not renew my USCF membership and I stopped playing postal.

I bought my first personal computer in 1989, learned that Chessmaster 2100 was available, and that it allegedly played at a master level. Even though I was too busy with graduate school for play--aside from a fanatical obsession with golf during the summer,--I started learning a bit about computer chess. Finding the right level for playing against the box pulled me into efforts to estimate my own level of skill.

Through CM 2100, 3000, 4500, and 5000, I used several features of the program to approximate my skill level, which also increased slightly as I played against successive versions. I also spent some time in the library reading Chess Life, especially Bruce Pandolfini's "Solitaire Chess." In "Solitaire Chess," students guess the moves of a master level game and earn scores for right answers and some alternatives. The total score at the end of each game corresponds to an approximate rating.

When I returned to the Spokane Chess Club in fall 1995, I told the club's contact person that I thought I might be an A Class player. But, at my first club meeting, I played a series of pick-up games against an E class player with an approximately even score. In March 1996, I entered my first USCF rated tournament, scored 2.0 of 5.0, and earned a provisional rating of 1232.

Competitive Edge

My first published non-provisional rating nine months later was 1425. My estimate based on various exercises turned out to be high by 400 points. But, my initial published rating very nearly could have been much higher. In the 1996 Washington Class Championships, I had Black and move on board one in round four in the position below. A win in this game would have guaranteed me a tie for first, and likely would have given me an initial non-provisional rating over 1500.

I spent quite a bit of time assessing the consequences of 19...b4 with the idea of driving the white queen completely out of play on a1. I played a better move, 19...Ng5, but not the best move. However, as my opponent improved his position move after move, and his queen became active, I lost my way.

The win slipped away, and I found myself in a drawn king and pawn endgame.

Black to move

Inexplicably, I played 45...Kf4?? After this loss, I also lost round five and ended the event sharing places 8-15.

I returned from the event and told a close friend that I no longer had the competitive edge that had been my norm in high school cross country. My loss demonstrated that chess skill development included emotional preparation and mental focus if I was to have the success I sought. My friend played chess casually, but well understood competition. He has been a state champion in cross country, and had run for two college teams, including a leading Pac-10 school. Last fall, the high school team he coaches became the first team west of the Mississippi to win the national championship.

My rating bounced around in the 1400s for the next five and one-half years, finally jumping above 1500 in February 2002. It dipped back into the 1400s for most of 2004, and in 2005 started a steady climb up to 1601. Once I reached B class, I did not drop below, and after my performance last weekend, reached A class. To get to A class, I've needed to learn tactics and endgames, and expanded my opening repertoire. But, more important, I've needed to reduce the obvious blunders made in haste, and I've needed to become far more consistent against lower rated players. I've also increased my drawing ratio.

In the USCF rating system, a rating of 1800 creates a floor of 1600. If I never win again, I will never drop below B class. But, I still have ambitions. My current established rating remains a crude underestimate of my capabilities.

27 May 2009

Class A!

My goal was to reach a rating above 1800 by spring 2010. Now I need a new goal. Staying there is one idea. Reaching for 1900 is another.

I finished the Washington Open without a loss. I won two games, one against a class B player and one against a class A. I drew two class A players, and two class B.

My current rating is now 1819.

25 May 2009


I managed to avoid loss in yesterday's Washington Open games. After two days and four games, one player in my section has four points. I'm one of four with three. If someone beats the leader, anyone of the rest of us has a shot to share first.

I'm in the Premier section, which is limited to players under 2000. Those under 2000 that are playing in the Open are getting slaughtered as should be expected with several masters in the group and quite a bit of money on the line. The total prize fund for all sections is $8000. First prize in the Open is $1000.

I'm less interested in the $400 top prize in my section, although money is always nice, than in reaching my goal of crossing the line into class A. If the tournament ended now, I should be about 1790 or a tad higher. I'm currently 1764. My results have been:

1668 draw
1744 win
1786 draw
1839 win

The games get tougher today. I must focus on round five, thinking about neither money, round six, nor the rating. I must put all my energy into finding good moves, one at a time.

In yesterday's games, I reached easy equality in a French with most of the pieces coming off the board fast. We reached this position after my 19...Kf7.

I offered a draw, and my opponent thought for seven minutes before accepting. We used twenty-nine minutes between us.

Round four started six and a half hours later, which gave me plenty of time to talk with Tim Tobiason of Toby Chess, the vendor. I hung out in the skittles room, watched other games, and attended the Washington Chess Federation Board meeting. I haven't yet told my wife that I was elected member-at-large to the board. I might get in trouble for that.

In round four, I had White against Michael Hosford. I had lost to him in a long and difficult game in 2006. He played the King's Indian Attack against my French and eventually found a tactic that won material. I played out a lost position during his time trouble until it became clear that he could finish all necessary moves within the time delay.

When I saw him at the Washington State Elementary Chess Championship--he served as a section chief during one round,--I told him that I was looking forward to another crack at him in the Washington Open. As we were sitting down, he said, "you got your wish." But, the wish was for a win, not just to play him. He's a strong, resourceful player and a scholastic coach with Chess4Life. His focus during play is exemplary.

I lost my way in a Catalan. In the effort to mount an attack, I sacrificed a pawn. Then, I overlooked a simple tactic that lost another. Still, I had my plan: get my queen "up in his grille," as Robert Pearson put it in comments to yesterday's post. I burned a lot of time in the early going, becoming as much as thirty minutes behind. He used the time advantage to reach a superior position, but we were both responding to the need to move faster.

We reached this position with Black to move after 29.e4. I had twenty-three minutes left to get to move 40. He had seventeen.

What should he play?

Open Section

When I left at 10:45pm last night, Internation Master John Donaldson was pressing a one pawn advantage against FIDE Master Nick Raptis on board one in the Open section. They had opposite colored bishops, and a rook each. Donaldson's position had more dynamism than my round one game with the same pieces, but more pawns. Even so, it was hard to see a clear plan for the IM and I wanted some sleep.

Round five begins at 9:00am this morning.

24 May 2009

Human Chess

Mistakes were made. Humans are like that.

I'm playing in the Washington Open, Premier section. The first day went okay, starting with a hard-fought draw in which I blew an opening advantage. Then in round two, I won against a player against whom I have three previous losses. He's been playing as a mid-1700s player for many years, while I've recently improved to that level.

Buck,S (1744) - Stripes,J (1764) [A22]
Washington Open Premier, Spokane 23.05.2009

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.g3 Bb4 4.Qc2 Nc6 5.e3 0–0 6.Bg2 Re8 7.Nge2


Too clever for my own good.

8.a3 Ne7?!

More undevelopment.

9.0–0 c6 10.d4 Qc7 11.b4 d5

12.cxd5 cxd5 13.Bb2




14.Qd2 e4 15.Rac1 Qd7

Black has a nice position.

16.Nf4 g5 17.Nfe2 Ng6 18.Qc2 Bh3

18...Bg4! 19.f4 exf3 20.Bxf3 Bh3 21.Bh1
(21.Bg2 Bxg2 22.Rxf6 Bh3)
21...Bxf1 22.Rxf1 Bg7

19.Qb3 Rad8


20.Qa4 Qg4

This position is more or less the fantasy I've sought most of the game to this point. But how will I maintain the attack after he moves the f-pawn? At this point, I'm hoping for a quick knockout with a mating combination.

21.f3 exf3 22.Bxf3


Beginning a sequence of double attacks--here the rook and pawn.

23.Rf2 Qxe3

Hiarcs 12 likes 23...a6

24.Nd1 Qd2

24...Qd3 looks to be a simple discovery against the knight on e2, but it gets complicated after 25.Qc2 Qa6 26.Ndc3 g4 27.Bg2 Bh6


Somehow I overlooked this move. I expected 25.Bg2 Bxg2 26.Kxg2 ( 26.Nec3 Qxd4) 26...Rxe2.

25...Qd3 26.Qxa7 Ne4 27.Bxe4 Rxe4 28.Qxb7 Rd7 29.Qc6 Rxe2 30.Rxe2 Qxe2 31.Nf2



31...Qf3! 32.Nxh3 Qe3+ 33.Kg2 Rd6 34.Re1 Qxe1 35.Bxe1 Rxc6-+

32.Re1 Qf3 33.Nxh3 Rd6 34.Qc8


My opponent suggested after the game that 34...Nh4 wins, but after 35.gxh4 gxh4 36.Bd2! White is winning

35.b5 Rf6 36.Bb4 Qd3 37.Bc5

37.Nf2! Qxd4 38.Re2±

37...Qxb5 38.Bxf8 Nxf8 39.Qc5 Qb3


Hiarcs 12 initially thinks a drawing line begins with 40.Nf4 gxf4 41.Re8. But this check begins a sequence of king harassment that proves decisive 41...Qd1+!

40...Ne6 41.Qa7 Qc3 42.Qb8+ Kg7 43.Qe5

43...Nxd4! 44.Nxg5 hxg5 45.Qxg5+ Kf8 46.Qe3

46...Qxe1+ wins simply

Technically correct is the mating sequence: 46...Nf3+ 47.Kf1 Nxe1+ 48.Ke2 Nd3 49.Kd1 Nb2+ 50.Ke2 Qc2+ 51.Qd2 Qe4+ 52.Qe3 Qg2+ 53.Ke1 Rf1#


Today I must try to play better on inadequate sleep.

17 May 2009

Beat the Devil

This position arose in Chess Informant 102/96, Haba - Gyimesi, Deutschland 2008. The game began as a Caro-Kann, hence my title. It placed fourth in the voting for best game of Informant 102.

White to move

Haba uncorked a terrific attack with 23.Bxh6!

15 May 2009

Media Coverage

The Washington State Elementary Chess Championship took place three weeks ago, and I'll soon be finished with my work relating to it. But, the local media attention it generated continues. Yesterday's edition of Northwest Profiles, a local public television series, had a story about the state elementary. The show had good photography of the event with a voice over from my interview. Lots of kids were put on camera answering one simple question: why do you like chess?

The Pacific Northwest Inlander had a photographer and reporter at the event most of the day, and I gave them the same leads I gave to the Spokesman-Review (see "Talented Children"). Luke Baumgarten took more time to understand the event and wrote a nice article: "Child's Gambit."

On Monday, the City of Spokane will be presenting a Mayor's Proclamation at the City Council meeting on behalf of youth chess. Because the controversial sign ordinance is on the agenda, there might be some reporters present. It's possible that chess will garner more media attention.

14 May 2009

Lake Spokane Elementary

Chess unites as equals young and old, male and female, and competitors from all cultures. Through chess, young people gain self-esteem. They improve men­tal skills of concentration, memory, and analysis. Chess develops sportsmanship, responsibility, and respect for oth­ers. The game is relatively simple to learn, but never ceases to challenge players of all skill levels.
James Stripes, as quoted in "Checkmate"
A team of elementary chess players showed up at a scholastic chess tournament a bit over a year ago and took home a team trophy. It was their first chess tournament, and I had not heard of the school before that day. I knew the school was relatively new because the old Long Lake only recently had been renamed Lake Spokane. It will take a generation for everyone in the area to learn the new name, but it will help if they are chess players.

I believe the 2008 Dragonslayer at Saint George's School was their first tournament. They showed up in team shirts and no one had ever heard of them before. Some of their players found the competition tough, but others won a respectable number of games.

Last fall, I was invited to their school to make a presentation--a short lesson--to their chess club. They were polite, attentive, and seemed to have a good grasp of the chess ideas I was putting forth. Their coaches are mothers that learned chess from books and teach what they know to the kids. The next week, I told the kids at Arcadia Elementary to expect tough competition from this group. At the next event, they beat us for the second place trophy.

Eleven players from Lake Spokane Elementary qualified for and competed at the 2009 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship last month. This week's Outpost, a newspaper for their rural/suburban community, features their success at state on the front page. Read it online: "Checkmate: New Chess Club Scores Big at State."

12 May 2009

Latent Patterns

Black to move

Objectively, Black's move here might not have been best. In the game's annotations, Artur Jussupow* presents an alternate manuever with prospects for lasting advantage. The text move presents White with difficulties, however, and Ivanchuk erred on the next move.

The position comes from the first rapid tiebreak game in the World Championship Candidates Quarterfinal in Brussels, 1991. This was game nine of the match between the young star Vassily Ivanchuk and Artur Jussupow in his prime. Jussupow won this game, and consequently the match. Jussupow then lost his match to Jan Timman, who lost in the final to Nigel Short. Short and Kasparov held their World Championship Match outside the authority of FIDE, leading to the split that was finally mended in Elista, 2007.

This game was selected by Chess Informant's readers as the best Golden Game. But, not every reader agreed. I found the game spectacular, but rejected it as one of the ten best because of tactical errors. Even so, I've been going through this game again and again through the past week, and I continue to marvel at Jussupow's sacrificial attack.

27...Re6 28.Qb7?

28.Qb5 might have led to the position I highlighted in "Convergences" last week.
28.Nce7! should have resulted in even chances for both players, according to Jussupow's annotations.

28...Rg6 29.Qxa8+ Kh7

White to move

Black has realized his ambitions of bringing forth the checkmate threats that were latent when he played 27...Re6. White's only defense is to sacrifice the queen to set up a knight fork that permits removal of the rook on g6.

The Pattern

The checkmate threat is a variant of a pattern that Jonathan Tisdall dubs "corner mate" in Improve Your Chess Now (1997). Tisdall presents this position with White to move.

1.Qh8+ Kxh8 2.Nf7#

Tisdall comments, "[a] fairly common picture, with no fixed name, and one of several mates that one might classify 'geographically,' perhaps as one of the family of corner mates" (200). Although this pattern would seem reasonably common, it is absent from the lists of checkmate patterns in Renaud and Kahn, The Art of the Checkmate (1953); Vukovic, The Art of Attack in Chess (1965); and Chandler, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess (1998).

*As with the names of many chess players the world over, Yusupov is spelled several ways. In the text here, I have used the spelling employed by Chess Informant, but in the tag I use Yusupov, which seems the more common spelling in the English speaking world. Yusupov is the spelling on the cover of The Petroff Defense (1999), for example, a book sitting in easy reach of my computer. FIDE uses the spelling Jussupow, as does ChessBase. Wikipedia employs Yusupov, as does Chessgames.com.

11 May 2009

Inaccurate Calculation

During a sixteen minute game on Playchess, I had White and move from this position.

I wanted to play 30.Nf7+, but believed that my opponent could exploit a back rank weakness. I played 30.Kg1? My opponent's feeble 30...Nc8 almost forced me to play the correct move. Move 30 was the right moment, but it returned because of inadequate defense.

In chess, there is good enough and there is correct. Moves that are good enough work against weak opposition, correct moves always work. 30.Nf7! would have been correct. 30.Kg1 was good enough today, but will fail tomorrow.

02 May 2009


During some brief tactics training early Wednesday morning, I came across this position from Brynell - Rantanen, Nykoping 1989.

White to move

The first move was easy to find, but somehow I missed how the queen could give herself up to force checkmate. This position became the tactics exercise I put in front of several groups of chess students. It took some prodding before one of the fifth graders found the correct answer.

Yesterday, while going through the winner of Chess Informant's Reader's Contest, I found this position among the variations. It might have occurred after the unplayed move 28.Qb5.

Black to move

At least one fifth grader could find the best move today.

01 May 2009

Best of the Best: Chess Informant Reader's Contest

Chess Informant's website now lists the results of voting for the ten best Golden Games.* In each issue of Chess Informant, the editorial board selects thirty exceptional games. A jury of grandmasters selects the best ten from the thirty, and the best game is awarded Golden Game status.

To celebrate their 100th issue, the editors of Chess Informant put out Best of the Best 1000 (2008). This book reproduced the ten best games from each issue of Informant with the original annotations. Purchasers of this book received a voting card and invitation to select the ten best Golden Games.

I participated in this contest. Seven of my ten selections were deemed worthy enough by other readers that they made the top ten. Here are my selections with their final placing.

1. Topalov - Anand, Sofia 93/439

My number one did not make the top ten. This game features an early piece sacrifice that produced long-term initiative. Then Topalov won the endgame. I still footnote everything positive that I can say about Topalov with censure regarding the despicable behavior of his team in Elista. Even so, this game is brilliant! Perhaps if he and his manager knew how to behave in public, more readers would have selected this game.

2. Anand - Bologan, Dortmund 88/77

Seven of nine grandmaster jurists gave this game their top vote for Informant 88. Xie Jun ranked it sixth. Bologan's Caro-Kann fell apart as Anand exposed his king and unleashed an array of tactics to keep up the pressure. My number two did not make the top ten.

3. Kasparov - Kramnik, Dos Hermanas 66/382

I discussed this game in "Kramnik's Golden Games" last October. My number three finished seventh.

4. Kasparov - Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 74/110
In my first run through the games, I knew this game belonged in the top ten and wrote a note, "maybe #10." By the time I voted, I had moved it up to number four; it placed fourth in the Reader's Poll, too.

5. Ivanchuk - Jussupow, Bruxelles (m/9) 52/592

In a previous Informant Reader's Contest, after 64 issues, this game placed first in the voting. Grandmasters placed it second behind Karpov - Kasparov, Moscow (m/16) 40/202. I had it fifth, but again it won first. Is this the best game played in the past half-century? Many players think so.

6. Kasparov - Anand, New York (m/10) 64/315
Kasparov attributed his victory in this World Championship match game to home preparation where Vladimir Kramnik was part of his team. It placed second in the Reader's Contest a few years ago, but finished fifth this time.

7. Karpov - Korchnoi, Moscow (m/2) 18/433
This critical game was part of the Candidates Match that became the World Championship Match when Fischer defaulted through his intransigence. Initially I had it as my top choice, but study of more recent games revised its position downwards. It finished eighth among other readers.

8. Karpov - Kasparov, Moscow (m/16) 40/202

Kasparov's knight took up residence on d3 relatively early. When Karpov finally extinguished it, his queen came off the board and Kasparov's heavy pieces could get to the White king. This game finished second in the Reader's Vote.

White to move

9. Ivanchuk - Shirov, Wijk aan Zee 65/417

As with many of the selections, this game is featured in the exclusive list of 100, The World's Greatest Chess Games (1998) by Graham Burgess, John Nunn, and John Emms. They note that the game contains "positions that are objectively very difficult to assess: White has two pieces for a queen, but Black's king is exposed and White has some dangerous kingside pawns" (532). My number nine placed third.

10. Fischer - Stein, Sousse (izt) 4/336

This game was Fischer's second Golden Game. I mentioned it in my first blog post about Best of the Best 1000, "La crème de la crème." In the Grandmaster voting of several years ago, it held its place in the top ten, but Readers Voting left it out then and now. I suspected that my advocacy of this great game was not likely to secure the top position in the reader's contest. Even so, my fifth place finish is not bad.

*They did not keep it up. It was there perhaps one year. I removed the link when I discovered that it was dead.