29 April 2012

Training Log

This past week, I have been battling my old nemesis: blitz addiction. A major part of what drives the addiction is easy to understand. I lose. I must play again when I lose a game that I feel I should have won because I outplayed my opponent, but failed to watch the time, or because I was outplayed by an opponent who lacks rudimentary skills, or a host of other reasons. When I wake up at four in the morning after eight hours of sleep because I woke up at four the previous morning and went to bed early, I lie in bed with my iPad and play three minutes games with the Internet Chess Club iPad app. At that hour, it takes me four games before I can see the screen. My rating plummets, and so I must play on to restore my own dignity. This illness cuts into tactics training, but is not always a complete waste.

This game was played early yesterday morning in the 3 0 pool. I was a bit too cavalier concerning the loss of my queenside pawns in the opening, but managed to create some pressure in the center.


Stripes -- ICC Player [D11]
ICC 3 0 Internet Chess Club, 28.04.2012

1.d4 c6 2.c4 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 a6 5.Bg2 dxc4 6.0–0 b5 7.a4 Bb7 8.b3 cxb3 9.Qxb3 Nbd7

White to move

10.Bf4

A silly move.

10...Nd5

The correct response.

11.Bd2 e6 12.e4 N5b6 13.a5 Nc4 14.Bc3 Nf6 15.Re1 Be7 16.Nbd2 Nxd2 17.Nxd2 0–0 18.Rad1 c5 19.d5

Black to move

Black has two connected passed pawns. These shall become a thorn in my side, but the puss that develops around the wound will strengthen me for attacking elsewhere.

19...c4 20.Qb2 exd5 21.e5

Now, three passers are coming at me. Yet, somehow I was less worried than when I had four pawns coming down the middle when Elston sacrificed two knights to get his pawns moving in the opening round of the 2005 Collyer Memorial in Spokane. I missed an opportunity in that game, and then survived with a draw because we were using my old analog clock and Elston ran out of time eight moves before checkmating me.

21...Ne8 22.Qa1 b4 23.Bd4 c3 24.Nf3 Nc7 25.Bb6 Qd7 26.Nd4 Ne6 27.Nf5 Bc5 28.Bxc5 Nxc5 29.Nd4 Ne6 30.Nf5 d4

White to move

I have the opportunity to dispatch one of the pesky pawns.

31.Bxb7 Qxb7 32.Nxd4 Nxd4 33.Rxd4 Rad8 34.Rde4 Rd2 35.Qa4 Rb8 36.e6 fxe6 37.Rxe6

Black to move

37...Rdd8??

Despite his or her clear advantage, my opponent panics. 37...Rf8 applies pressure to a White position already in dire straits.

38.Qb3??

38.Rb6 keeps some chances for equality.

38... Kh8 39.Re7??

White's idea of playing Qf7 is easily refuted by 39...Qf3

39... h6??

And, now, finally, White gets to have some fun in this blunderfest. The errors in this game should reveal why blitz does not strengthen one's game. When many hours of online blitz cut into useful activity, such as tactics training, then ambitions to achieve new levels of chess performance in serious play are deferred.

White to move

40.Rxb7 Rxb7 41.Kg2 Rc8 42.Rc1 Rb5 43.Qe6 Rcb8 44.Qxa6 b3?

Black makes White's game easier with this move.

White to move

45.Rxc3 b2 46.Rc8+

It seems that I spent quite a bit of time working out the variations before playing this move. I did not want to deal with a Black queen again. This "long think" was probably ten seconds.

46...Kh7 47.Rxb8 Rxb8 48.Qd3+ Kg8 49.Qb1 Black forfeits on time 1–0

Despite an excessive amount of time playing blitz this past week, I did find time for 14 Shredder puzzles on the iPad.


1622 puzzles: 12690/16220 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 63/100 63%

Nothing impressive there. However, I also continued to work the problems at Chess Tempo. Not only did I complete 138 standard rated problems, but also worked through 6 problems in a new set that I created to address an area of weakness (getting five correct).


Problems Done: 1077 (Correct: 613 Failed: 464)
Percentage correct: 56.92%

I do plan to visit Lev Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book II this week. My wife and I are spending a couple of days at a beautiful resort where she has a professional conference. Although I will attend a few of the conference social activities, I have ample time in the hotel for a bit of tactics training unless I decide to spend the time fishing. And there are some nice small lakes near here as well as the mammoth one a few feet from the patio where I am typing this post. Balancing chess training with fishing, exercise, and a bit of wine tasting is essential to my long-term progress.

I do have my endgame flash cards with me, and am scheduled to do a bit of driving for one conference excursion, so will keep the cards handy should there be some idle moments.

26 April 2012

Glossary of Tactics: Pins

In chess, a pin is an attack of two targets along a rank, file, or diagonal such that moving one attacked piece renders the other vulnerable to capture. When a piece is pinned against the king, it is an absolute pin: the pinned piece cannot legally move. In a relative pin, the pinned piece may legally move, but often with dire consequences.

In this position from a blindfold exhibition by Miguel Najdorf, Black's knight on c6 cannot legally move.

White to move
Najdorf played 10.d5, a technique known as piling on: attack a pinned piece with another piece, and sometimes the defense will crumble. The game continued 10...a6 11.Bxc6+ Bxc6 12.dxc6 and Najdorf has won two pieces for one.

In contrast, Black's relative pin of the knight against the queen in this famous game played in Paris in 1851 is ineffective. The knight is able to move, winning a pawn.

White to move
White played 5.Nxe5. After 5...dxe5 6.Qxg4, we see that White gained a pawn, while exchanging knight for bishop. A pin by a bishop was transformed into a discovered attack against that bishop. However, in the actual game, Black preserved his bishop by capturing White's queen. Alas, the cost was the Black monarch.

5...Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5#.

Bishops, rooks, and queens are the only chess pieces capable of pinning one piece to another. Likewise, these three pieces are capable of a skewer, a sort of pin in reverse, and are essential pieces in the construction of threats of discovered attacks.

A pin may also be executed against a piece and a critical square. In the position below from Anderssen -- Staunton, London 1851, Black's pawn on h6 is pinned, although it has no way to move off the h-file at the moment. Staunton just played 21...h6 to avoid checkmate.

White to move
3r1rk1/b4pp1/p3p1np/1pp1P2Q/5PP1/3BB2R/qPP4P/5R1K w - - 0 22
22.g5!

Anderssen offers the pawn an opportunity to vacate the h-file, and piles on pressure along the same. If Black plays 22...hxg5, then White wins instantly: 23.Qh7#. Anderssen's exemplary attack employed pins and other tactics to break down Black's defenses. Staunton proved resourceful in defense, but errors made earlier in the game were decisive and his position proved indefensible.

22...Rxd3 23.cxd3 Qd5+ 24.Rff3 Ne7 25.gxh6 g6 26.h7+ Kh8 27.Qg5 Nf5 28.Qf6+ Ng7

White to move

The knight is pinned, and if White can simply pile on with the dark-squared bishop, the game will be over.

29.f5! Qb3 30.Bh6 Qd1+ 31.Kg2 Qe2+ 32.Rf2 Qg4+ 33.Rg3 Qxg3+ 34.hxg3 Rg8 35.hxg8Q+ Kxg8 36.Qxg7# 1–0

So, we see that pins were useful to the winner of the first International Chess Tournament.


25 April 2012

Glossary of Tactics: Forks

In chess, a fork is when one piece attacks two targets in different directions. A fork may occur along a rank, file, or diagonal. In such cases, the forking piece will stand between the two targets.*

The knight fork is often the first tactic that beginners use to gain an upper hand on their competition.

Black to move

In the position above, White's knight is attacking Black's queen and Black's rook, a typical knight fork. However, because the knight is unprotected, this fork is not particularly effective. If the knight were secure from capture by the Black king, it would capture one of the two attacked pieces.

The position above comes from the Fried Liver Attack after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7.

After the usual 6...Kxf7 7.Qf3+, we have a queen fork. The queen attacks both king and the knight on d5. The knight is protected by Black's queen, but is also attacked by White's light-squared bishop. There are two attackers, but only one defender.

Black to move

In order to avoid the loss of material due to the queen fork, Black's king must move towards the center. 7.Ke6. So it is in the Fried Liver Attack. White employs a sequence of forks and other tactics to apply pressure, to provoke and then to exploit a vulnerable king. White sacrifices a knight to initiate these actions.

In most examples of forks in chess books, one piece attacks two pieces. But a fork may include critical targets that are not pieces. For example, in the solution to Problem 44255 on Chess Tempo, a knight forks king, queen, and a critical square.

White to move

White's key move is a queen sacrifice. 1.Qxh6. After 1...Nxh6, the pawn on f6 is undefended. 2.Nxf6 is the winning fork. Although the queen and king are both forked, that is inconsequential. What matters is that the knight controls g8 and h7, forking king and square. After 2...Kh8, White wins with an exchange sacrifice. 3.Rg8+ Nxg8 4.Rxg8#.

Every chess piece is able to fork, even the king. Normally, a bishop and a knight will win against a lone king. But, if the defending king is able to capture either, the position is a draw by insufficient material.

Black to move

Black draws with 1...Kd4. The king attacks both bishop and knight, winning one and leaving White with insufficient material to deliver checkmate.


*Tactics such as pins and skewers attack two targets along a line, a diagonal, file, or rank. Both targets will be in the same direction from the attacking piece.

24 April 2012

Tactical Motifs: A List

What are the tactical ideas that chess writers and teachers use to classify practice positions? Where can the aspiring chess player find a definitive list? In this post, I compile several lists for comparison purposes.

Jonathan Tisdall, Improve Your Chess Now (1997) offers two useful appendices: "Mating Patterns" and "Common Tactical Themes." His words describing "Double Attack/Check" echo a statement that  recall from Yuri Averbakh, Chess Tactics for Advanced Players (1992).
Double Attack is the essence of any successful operation. It would be more accurate to say Multiple Attack, since there is often a presence of, or a need for, more. I imagine the wording has arisen because a double is the limit on checking. Almost all the other themes have some element of multiple attack contained in them.
Tisdall, Improve Your Chess Now, 204.
In his largely successful effort to advance middlegame theory, Averbakh highlights the centrality of the double attack.
If we regard the term "double attack" in a broader sense than has been done up to now by theoreticians, namely not merely as a two-pronged attack, but as a combination of attacks and threats, we notice that the double attack in one form or another in the basis of most intricate tactical operations.
Averbakh, Chess Tactics for Advanced Players, 6.
Averbakh's brilliant discussion of how the elementary checkmate of a lone king through the coordinated actions of a queen and king illustrates the double attack in practice is sufficient reason for paying the price to acquire a copy of this classic text. Averbakh's clear discussion of contacts also informs, it seems to me, the thought-provoking efforts of Momir Radovic to challenge the way chess is ordinarily taught to beginners, and to offer a system grounded in sound pedagogy.

It is almost possible to extract a list from Averbakh's text through examination of subheadings. However, most of his terms are better described as meta-motifs, efforts to make a theoretical contribution in the understanding of types of contacts. It is not Averbakh's central purpose to develop a practical list of motifs. Here's a sample of his headings.

Fork
Discovered check
Double check
Two-fold attack on a defended piece
Two-fold attack on two targets
Two-fold attack in conjunction with a pin
Mutual two-fold attack
Double attack
Zugzwang
Exchange
Sacrifice
Decoy attack
Two-fold double attack

Tisdall offers an abbreviated theoretical discussion in the process of defining the terms in his list.

Double attack/check
Discovered attack/check
Pinning
Skewer
Deflection
Decoying
Interference
Destruction
Clearance
Blocking
Brinkmate
X-Ray
Overloading
Zwischenzug
Pawn promotion
Pursuit (Perpetual)
Stalemate
Demolition of Pawn structure
Trapped pieces

The index to Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence, Chess Training Pocket Book II (2008) offers another list. Some of the motifs are better described as positional, rather than tactical.

Battery
Blockade
Blocking
Decoy
Deflection
Desperado
Discovered attack
Discovered check
Double attack
Double check
In-between move
Interference
Line clearance
Loose piece
Overloading
Pawn promotion
Perpetual check
Pin
Removing the defender
Skewer
Stalemate
X-ray
Zugzwang

The training website Chess Tempo uses a tagging system whereby users identify the motifs in problems, or can vote motifs others have identified up or down. The CT list currently has 34 tactical motif tags.

Advanced Pawn
Attraction
Avoiding Perpetual
Avoiding Stalemate
Back Rank Mate
Blocking
Capturing Defender
Clearance
Coercion
Counting
Defensive Move
Desperado
Discovered Attack
Distraction
Double Check
Exposed King
Fork/Double Attack
Hanging Piece
Interference
Overloading
Mate Threat
Pin
Quiet Move
Sacrifice
Simplification
Skewer
Smother
Trapped Piece
Unpinning
Unsound Sacrifice
Weak Back Rank
X-Ray Attack
Zugzwang
Zwischenzug

I have previously compiled a practical list in the creation of workbooks for my chess summer camps. The list is far from complete, but highlights those that I easily find in historic games from which I extract training positions for youth players to solve.

Pin
Skewer
Fork
Discovery
Double check
Removal of the guard
Deflection
Decoy
Clearance
Interference
Trapped Piece
Zugzwang



22 April 2012

Training Log

Peaks and Valleys Show Upward Trend
My training lacked balance this past week as I focused almost exclusively on Chess Tempo tactics. In "Hanging Pieces" I highlighted a new element in my training that Chess Tempo facilitates: intensive practice in particular tactical motifs. CT permits me to track my performance by motif, identify areas of weakness, and design exercises for transforming weaknesses into strengths.

Over the course of the week, I solved 231 problems in 442 attempts.

Chess Tempo Totals

Problems Done: 939 (Correct: 541 Failed: 398)
Percentage correct: 57.61%

Over the course of the week, I attempted a small number (39) of the problems on the Shredder iPad app.

Shredder Totals

1608 puzzles: 12593/16080 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 89/100 89%

I attempted nearly 500 tactics problems for the week, correctly solving more than 250.

18 April 2012

Lesson of the Week

End of Season

This week is the last one until October for most of my school chess clubs. The 2012 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship will be held on Saturday. Washington's elementary championship is the largest state championship in the United States. I might have been organizing this year's event as I did in 2009 (see "Advice for Organizers"), but the Spokane bid lost to the Tri-Cities bid put together by the organizers of the 2003 and 2006 event. Yesterday, I told the organizer of this year's event that I was relieved when he won the bid. My week is less stressful than it might have been.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a group of young children through a batch of games from Irving Chernev, The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (see "My First Chess Book"). In most cases, the position in the diagram comes just before the last move of the game.

These are not particularly difficult. They are instructive, as each game featured a fatal error by one player that the other player exploited. It is likely that there will be similar knockouts on Saturday. My hope is that the players in my clubs will be on the winning end.


Meek -- Amateur [C36]
New Orleans, 1855

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bg4 6.Qe2 Bxf3

White to move

Muhlock -- Kostics [C50]
Cologne, 1912

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4 4.Nxe5 Qg5 5.Nxf7 Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2

Black to move

Imbusch -- Goring [C27]Munich, 1899

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nxe4 4.Bxf7+ Kxf7 5.Nxe4 Nc6 6.Qf3+ Kg8

White to move

Kraus -- Costin [A43]
Correspondence, 1914

1.d4 c5 2.dxc5 Qa5+ 3.Nc3 Qxc5 4.e4 e5 5.Nf3 d6 6.Nd5 Ne7

White to move

Amateur -- Goetz [C33]
Strassburg, 1880

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.b3 Qh4+ 4.g3 fxg3 5.h3 g2+ 6.Ke2 Qxe4+ 7.Kf2

Black to move

Borochow -- Fine [B02]
Pasadena, 1932

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.d4 Nc6 5.d5 Nxe5 6.c5 Nbc4

White to move



17 April 2012

Hanging Pieces

Deliberate practice includes activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance.
K. A. Ericsson, R. Th. Krampe, and C.  Tesch-Römer, "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance," 368. 
[D]eliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them.
Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated, 68.*
Having spent more than a decade coaching elementary school age beginning chess players, I have observed the pattern that pieces are frequently left undefended. These pieces are ripe for plucking. Those who learn to spot the fruit of error enjoy a bountiful harvest. Observing the strengths and weaknesses of beginning players is one thing, but learning that tactics involving hanging pieces was my own weakness was quite another.

Chess Tempo's "Rated Tactical Motif Performance" lists the tactical motifs identified by users of that site for each problem. For each motif, information is given concerning the number of problems that I have attempted, the number correct, a percentage, and a rating performance. After 637 problem attempts, hanging pieces appeared as as one of my worst percentages, and my lowest performance rating: 37/72 problems, 51.39% correct, performance >200 below current target.

In order to improve through practice, exercises must address those areas where I fail. Failure, thus, becomes not a cause for anger, but data to diagnose. Through the problem search on Chess Tempo, I found those problems that involve hanging pieces, limiting the search to those above a target rating (higher than my current performance). I then set my training to solve only problems from this set. Chess Tempo creates a new rating based only on solving problems in this user created set. The rating offers one index for tracking improvement over the new few days and week. Because I set a minimum rating, the problems were difficult. In my first session with this set, I solved 4/16 for 25%. My performance was 4.8 over the initial target.

That was yesterday. Today, before solving another set, I reviewed my errors. Chess Tempo offers Silver and Gold members access to the source game, which is already in my reference database in ChessBase 11. Yesterday, I opted for a one-month trial of Gold membership ($4). So far, it seems money well-spent.


De la Riva Aguado,Oscar (2515) - Hassan,Abdul (2296) [C14]
Bled ol (Men) Bled (12.1), 07.11.2002

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.f4 a6 8.Nf3 c5 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.Bd3 Nc6 11.0–0 Bd7 12.Qd2 f5 13.exf6 Qxf6 14.Rae1 0–0 15.Ne5 Nxe5 16.Rxe5 Rac8 17.g3 Be8 18.Rfe1 Bf7 19.Bf1 Nd7 20.R5e3 Nc5 21.Bg2 Rfe8 22.R3e2 Nd7 23.Nd1

White's last move is interesting. In this game, it precedes Black's decisive error.

Black to move

23...Bh5?? 24.Rxe6 Rxe6 25.Rxe6 Rxc2

And now we have the position that appears as Problem 48544 on Chess Tempo.

White to move

26.Bxd5

I played 26.Rxf6, the third most common wrong move. My move actually loses by force, as I have now hung both my rook and my knight.

26...Bf7 27.Re8+ Nf8 28.Bxf7+ 1–0

The Chess Tempo problem carries the combination another two moves.


*Geoff Colvin. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Portfolio, 2008.

K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens  Tesch-Römer. "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance." Psychological Review, 100, no. 3 (1993): 363-406.

16 April 2012

Dealing with Frustration

In "Getting Angry" I mentioned the effort to transform anger into a productive resource. That post was intended to end on a positive note as I achieved the day's objective that had been set after initial unsuccessful efforts with Chess Tempo tactics training. Instead, the day ended not with the tactics rating goal met, but seventy points below (some twenty-five Elo lower than I had begun the day). Initial frustration gave way to despair as I realized that my skill is far below my self-assessment.

Sunday morning's tactics session began much as Saturday's: I missed five of the first ten problems. As a result my tactics rating went from -52.2 (relative to Saturday's goal) to -52.3.* I went back through the problems that I had missed, including a few from Saturday. Then, I created a new database in ChessBase 11: Chess Tempo Fails. When I fail a problem, I do not immediately move on to the next, but save the position into this database. After missing five of the first ten, my results improved. After thirty problems, I had missed ten total. My rating improved to -23.7.

I felt robbed on my forty-second problem. I found the first two moves easily, and then had an elementary checkmate in three. Fail! It was checkmate in two. Rating drops to -18.9. The Chess Tempo Fails database now contains fifteen positions for review later.

Black to move

I played 3...Bg2+, seeing 4.Kg1 Bf3+ 5.Kf1 Qg2#

The correct answer was 3...Qh3+ 4.Ke2 Qd3#. It is an elegant checkmate.

After fifty problems, my rating has risen to -9.3. I remain short of Saturday's goal, but cannot deem the day a failure. The vertical gray bar on the graph to the right marks the beginning of Sunday's set of fifty problems.



*I am too embarrassed to mention my actual Chess Tempo rating not only because the number is far below my USCF rating, but because the percentile score places me well below a level that I judge to be in the class of skilled chess players. Of course, only serious chess enthusiasts use Chess Tempo with any consistency, and it is not inconceivable that the overall pool may reflect a subset of the upper percentiles of other rating pools. It is not reasonable to comparing ratings on one site to those on another, nor to official ratings achieved through tournament play.

15 April 2012

Training Log: Taxing Efforts

My continuing tactics training consists of daily exercises using one or more of four electronic resources: Chess.com Tactics Trainer, Shredder iPad app, Chess Tempo, and Chess Informant electronic publications. The Shredder problems are the easiest, but must be solved fast for full credit. Chess Tempo and Chess.com offer rated problem solving. The difficulty of each problem varies, and is determined by the problem's rating. Each problem's rating drops part of a point each time it is successfully solved, and increases when any user of the site fails in the solving effort.

CT offers many solving modes. I use "Standard" where problems are untimed.  CT presents me with problems that range from slightly higher to several hundred below my own current rating. The Chess.com TT has only one rated solving mode. I am not presented with problems 200 points below my present rating. Some problems must be solved quickly, while others allow several minutes. The score is determined by solving time and number of correct moves. Some problems require a single move, while others may require nine or more for the solution to be considered correct.

Chess Informant Expert software allows me to read all volumes of Chess Informant. clicking on a diagram in Combinations, Endgames, Problems, Excellent Moves, or several others opens a solving window. I also use a software application called Chess Informant Solver's Kit to access problems in the Anthology of Chess Combinations. This software is part of the package on the Anthology CD.

My Monday morning session with Chess.com's Tactics Trainer was frustrating. I attempted fourteen problems, correctly solving half. The electronic environment seems to have undue influence on my board vision. When I do TT on my iPad, the Board is a good size and stable. When I do it on my notebook computer, part of the board is obscure at the bottom of the screen until I adjust with the browser scroll feature. I must make this adjustment at the beginning of each new problem. In contrast, at Chess Tempo, I need only make such an adjustment once at the start of each session.

Tuesday, my longest training session was with Chess Tempo (49 problems), but I continued to use several resources. Most days, I solve a few tactics problems first thing in the morning after making coffee, or even while it steeps in the Bodum Press. The convenience of several excellent chess apps for the iPad makes it possible to solve a few chess problems any time that I am in a position of waiting for something else, or during television commercial breaks for my favorite crime dramas (NCIS, Criminal Minds).

On Saturday, my stubbornness led to an initial struggle with psychological nonsense giving way to a marathon session that seemed counterproductive.

Cumulative Totals

Chess.com (14 problems)

Chess Tempo (312 problems)
Problems Done: 543 (Correct: 325 Failed: 218)
Percentage correct: 59.85%

Shredder (22 problems)

1591 puzzles: 12459/15910 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 77/100 77%

14 April 2012

Getting Angry

My performance on any given day can vary. One day I easily clobber 1800 players on Chess.com Live Chess, but the next I lose to 1400s. Similar differences in ability manifest themselves in training sessions, as with Chess Tempo. One day I'm solving most of the problems set before me, and steadily climbing to the point where I get to try harder problems. The next day, I'm missing things that are so obvious that I am punished with lower rated problems that hardly merit consideration as training. I must again prove myself capable of elementary skills in order to gain access to problems requiring calculation.

During failures, it can be helpful to get angry. Frustration with myself provokes better concentration, focus, motivation. But, unchecked anger can blind as well. It is important to cultivate moderate anger, but not let it become controlling. Too much anger, and the performance gets even worse.

This morning's tactics session began in failure. First I erred in an elementary rook endgame. Then I missed five of the first ten tactics problems. My rating dropped below a certain point. I became determined to cross back over that line, and push the rating fifty points higher. I solved a few problems successfully, then missed one and Chess Tempo crashed (or my browser did). Ten minutes later, I was able to resume with the previous problem. I missed four of ten, then three of ten. I made progress, then another crash. Again I missed three of ten, as I was getting within fifteen points of my target.

Then I missed five of ten, and followed that with six of ten, and my tactics rating was back where it had been at the start of the day. After ninety problems, the best I had done was seven correct in ten, and five correct in a row. Four crashes aggravated my efforts to cultivate useful anger.

Graph of Today's Performance
I took some time out to do some household chores, returned with determination, solved five of ten, then seven of ten. My rating climbed to a new peak, but still eight short of the goal. Then the fifth crash. Then eight wrong out of twelve. The anger is winning.

I can do this! I will end the day above my target. I have been as close as six points below--that's two correct problems from the objective.

13 April 2012

Blitz Tactics

The past couple of days have been like that. I miss easy tactics in training, fail to solve elementary endgames, and lose to rank beginners on the Internet Chess Club. I ended a reasonable session* of blitz this morning with smoke and mirrors. Already down two pawns, I sacrificed a rook. While my coffee steeped an unreasonably long time, my opponent in this three minute game lost his way.

White to move

28.Rxc4+?? (28.Rf2-/+) dxc4 29.Qxc4+ Qc6??= (29...Bc6 -+) 30.Qxb3 Be8??+- (30...Qb7=) 31.Qb8+ Kd7 32.Qa7+ Kc8 33.Ba4 Qb7 (33...Nf3+ hassles the White king for a few moves 34.Rxf3 Rh1+ 35.Kg2 Qb7 and the rook cannot come to the c-file) 34.Rc1+ Black resigns.


*Reasonable is defined in this context by two main criteria: 1) I won more than I lost, and 2) I stopped after five games. See "Blitz Addiction" for the relationship between these two.

12 April 2012

Mental Block: Failing Pawn Endgame

Despite the few pieces, and having played similar positions in a few online games, I failed this pawn diagram this morning. The diagram represents two positions: White to move, Black to move.


Stuck in a waiting room for nearly half an hour, I spent a major portion of that time looking at my flash card of this position from Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. I determined that Black wins no matter who is on the move.

White to move draws.

Black to move wins, but not by the idea that I worked out.

After success with half a dozen flash cards, I failed the one that looked easier than the others. That's what I like about pawn endgames! Positions that seem simple often are not. Now, if only I could hone my skills and not fail five piece pawn endings.

11 April 2012

Lessons from Boris Gelfand

To my mind rating is overrated.
Boris Gelfand*

Nearly everyone believes that Vishy Anand will defeat Boris Galfand in the upcoming World Chess Championship Match, 10-31 May 2012 in Moscow, Russia. Boris Gelfand, the challenger, is not only older than the defending champion, but he is not even in the top ten on the FIDE rating list.

A quick search of Big Database 2011 turns up seventy games between these two players (Gelfand mentioned in an interview that they have played more than 100, including blitz). When Gelfand has had White, he leads 5-4 with 27 draws (only counting the 70 in my database). When Gelfand has had Black, Anand leads 13-1 with 20 draws. Gelfand's last win with White was in 1993, while his only win with Black was more recent in 2008. Such a record does not bode well for the challenger. Still, Bobby Fischer had never won against Boris Spassky when their World Championship battle began.

In their first few encounters, Gelfand drew with Black and won with White. Their second game was in an Interzonal.


Gelfand,Boris (2680) - Anand,Viswanathan (2610) [B38]
Manila Interzonal Manila (3), 1990

1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.e4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Be2 d6 9.0–0 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 12.f3 a5 13.b3 Nd7 14.Be3 Nc5 15.Rab1 Qb6 16.Rfc1 Qb4 17.Rc2 Rfc8 18.Qc1 Qb6 19.a3 Qd8 20.Qd2 e6 21.Bf1 Be5 22.b4 axb4 23.axb4 Na4 24.Ne2 Qh4 25.g3 Qe7 26.Nd4 Be8 27.Rbc1 Nb6

White to move

An elementary tactical shot wins a pawn.

28.Nxe6 Qxe6 29.Bxb6 Ra3 30.f4 Bg7 31.Qd5 Bc6 32.Qxe6 fxe6 33.Bg2 e5 34.Rd2 exf4 35.gxf4 Bc3 36.Rxd6 Bxb4 37.c5 Rf8 38.e5 Bxg2 39.Kxg2 Rxf4

White to move

Anand wins back the pawn, but Gelfand's e-pawn becomings menacing.

40.e6 Re4 41.Rd8+ Kg7 42.Rd7+ Kh6 43.e7 Re2+ 44.Kf1 Raa2

Anand generates threats.

White to move

45.Bc7 Ba3 46.Re1 Rf2+ 47.Kg1 Bxc5 48.Kh1

Black to move

Anand is in a quandary.

48...Bxe7 49.Rdxe7 Rf5 50.Bb6 Rf6 51.Be3+ g5 52.Rg1 Rf4 53.Bxf4 1–0


Gelfand's second win came in an endgame with dancing knights.


Gelfand,Boris (2700) - Anand,Viswanathan (2635) [E32]
Munich SKA Munich (10), 15.05.1991

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 b6 7.Bg5 Bb7 8.e3 h6 9.Bh4 d6 10.f3 Nbd7 11.0–0–0 d5 12.c5 Bc6 13.cxb6 cxb6 14.Kb1 Rc8 15.Rc1 Bb7 16.Qe1 Rxc1+ 17.Qxc1 Qa8 18.Bd3 a5 19.Qf1 e5 20.Ne2 e4 21.Bb5 Bc6 22.Nc3 exf3 23.gxf3 Re8 24.Qd3 Bxb5 25.Nxb5 Qc6 26.Re1 Nf8 27.Bg3 Ng6 28.Nd6 Re6 29.Rc1 Qd7 30.Nf5 Rc6 31.Rg1 Re6 32.Rc1 Rc6 33.Rg1 Re6 34.Be5 Nxe5 35.dxe5 Rxe5 36.Nxg7 Rg5 37.Rxg5 hxg5 38.Nf5 Qe6 39.Nd4 Qe5 40.Qf5 Qxf5+ 41.Nxf5 Kf8

White to move

42.Kc2 Nd7 43.Kc3 Ne5

White to move

44.f4 gxf4 45.exf4 Ng6 46.Kd4 Nxf4 47.h4 f6 48.Ne3 b5 49.Nxd5 Ne6+ 50.Ke4 Nc5+

White to move

51.Kd4 Ne6+ 52.Ke3 Nc5 53.Nxf6 Na4 54.Nd7+ Kg7 55.b3 Nc3 56.Kd3 Nd1 57.Kd4 Kg6 58.Ne5+ Kh5
White to move

59.Nc6 1–0

The final position is the sort of position that I like to play against the computer. For instance, what happens after 59...a4?



*"The Homecoming: Boris Gelfand is Back, Part I" ChessBase News (2011).

10 April 2012

ChessBase 11 and Pattern Training

As I work through the combinations in Chess Informant 111, I return to each problem several times. I found the key move at the beginning of most combinations the first time through, but did not accurately find every move in the combination. The one that gave me the most difficulty was from a game between two USCF Candidate Masters (also known as Experts in the USCF rating system). The game was played in the Berkeley International 2011. Chess Informant has only the concluding combination, but The Week in Chess has the full score of all the event's games.

After perhaps half an hour of playing through the combination and the variations in the Informant annotations, I felt that I understood each move. Then I went in search of the entire game, finding it in Big Database 2011. Playing through the game, I quickly became cognizant that White employed an attacking maneuver similar to one that I used in a recent correspondence game on Chess.com (see "Problems in the English Opening").

Gaffagan,Steven (1995) - Gutman,Joshua (2124) [B52]
Berkeley op Berkeley (6), 04.01.2011

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.a4 Nc6 5.0–0 Nf6 6.Re1 g6 7.c3 Bg7 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4 0–0 10.Nc3 Bg4 11.Be3 d5 12.e5 Ne4 13.Bxc6N Nxc3 14.bxc3 bxc6 15.h3 Bf5 16.Nh4 Bc8 17.Bg5 Qc7 18.Qd2 Rb8 19.Nf3 Re8 20.Bh6 Rb3 21.Rac1 Qb6 22.Qg5

The beginning of the maneuver that I employed against Vladimir Grabovitz.

Black to move

22...Qa5 23.Qh4

Freeing the g5 square for the knight. It is not possible to protect both pawns, but the battle is on the kingside in any case. As in my game, Black's king has few defenders. White's e-pawn thrust cuts the Black position in two.

23...Qxa4 24.Ng5 Bh8

White to move

25.Re3

25.Qf4 is stronger

25...Qa3 26.Rce1 Rxc3

The position here is where the Informant combination begins.

27.Nxh7!

Hiarcs 12 must think for several minutes at 15-ply before it recognizes that 1) this move is best, and 2) that White has an advantage. But, when it first gets to 16-ply, the engine views the position as equal.

27...Rxe3 28.Bxe3 Qa5

Things seem a bit murkier after 28...Qb4, and Informant offers a couple of lines.

29.Rc1 Qc7 30.Ng5 Bg7 31.Qh7+ Kf8

White to move

32.Ne6+!

This is the move that gave me the most trouble. The Informant annotations give the simple 32.Nf3, which I tried against Rybka 4: 32... e6 33.Bg5 Re7  34.Bf6 Ke8 35.Qxg7 Bb7 36.Ng5 and Rybka gave up. 32.Ne4, a clearance sacrifice is also given in the annotations.

32...fxe6 33.Bh6 Rd8 34.Qh8+ Kf7 35.Qxg7+ Ke8 36.Bg5 Bb7 37.Qxg6+ Kd7 38.Bxe7 1–0


Researching the Pattern

After recognizing the pattern of bishop, knight, and queen in attack, I created a position search in ChessBase 11.



The search turned up 1137 games--far more than I will have time to examine. But a quick glance through a couple dozen turned up some nice attacking games. Often an exchange sacrifice is necessary to eliminate a pesky defender. Try these combinations.

Black to move
Averbakh -- Smyslov, Moscow 1939
Was Smyslov's 17...f4 the strongest move?

White to move
Kupper -- Olafsson, Zurich 1959
Kupper played a nice combination.

White to move
Bisguier -- Larson, Zagreb 1965
A nice win by Bisguier!

09 April 2012

Lesson of the Week

Grandmaster Tactics

The core lesson for my scholastic chess teams this week comes from a game played in 1962: Spassky -- Evans. The entire game, and thus the answer to the exercise, can be found at "Instructive Games Worthy of Memorizing."

Find Boris Spassky's move from this position. He played the strongest move.

White to move

A second chess problem may be needed in certain groups. It comes from the final position in Carlsen -- Wang, Wijk aan Zee 2011. Wang Hao resigned. How might Carlsen continue if, instead of resigning, Wang had played 29...gxf6? The entire game, but not the answer to this problem, is at "Carlsen -- Wang Hao, Tata Steel 2011."

White to move

08 April 2012

Training Log: Day by Day

It was Spring Break this past week, which accorded me more time to work on a few things. I increased the time spent on my daily training. I solved over three hundred tactics problems, worked on pawn endings, practiced against Rybka 4, and cultivated my memory of whole games. I neglected my training with Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Worked 34 puzzles in the Shredder iPad app over several sessions.

Using the solving feature in Chess Informant Expert, I attempted all nine combinations in Chess Informant 112. Six had been tried before, one of which managed to give me trouble yet again. I located the game in ChessBase Big Database 2011 and reviewed the whole. It was an instructive attack against the Caro-Kann Defense. The CI combination comes on the heels of two successive errors by Black (see "Conditions for Tactical Combinations"). One of the three new positions gave me difficulties. Then I moved on the the combinations in CI 111, where I struggled with the first three problems.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Monday morning began with a humbling session of tactics on Chess Tempo. My excuses are lined up: still suffering from a cold; too late to bed and up too early this morning; small, gray board and relatively unfamiliar environment. I had tried Chess Tactics Server several years ago, and opted to use other resources. The CTS board is too small for me, and the emphasis seemed to be on instant recognition of motifs. I prefer to seek accuracy first, then speed. The board at Chess Tempo looks to be twice as large as CTS, and training options vary. I used it for the first time last week. Even so, the board is less than half the size of the Tactics Trainer at Chess.com. Excuses, of course, are garbage. Once I began to concentrate, my results improved. At one point, I had nine correct and twelve incorrect. When I quit, I had thirty-five correct, and twenty incorrect. Even so, I continued to miss some easy problems.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Several hours were spent playing against Rybka 4 from the position after 19.Bxh6 (a computer suggested improvement in Della Morte -- Mayorga, Villa Martelli 2011, featured in "Conditions for Tactical Combinations"). Repeated failures were addressed by backing the game up and playing Rybka's expected move. It is possible that such training develops my attacking and defensive skills. The sacrifice creates an attack, but Black is able to organize defensive resources. Rybka returned the sacrificed material to halt all mating threats, but White ended up a pawn ahead.

After breakfast, I worked half a dozen or so tactics exercises in the Shredder app, bringing the total up to 1522. Then, I sat down at the table for a solid hour and one-half of pawn endgame study. When mastery is the object, review has a place. I read through the first two sections of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (13-17) and correctly solved the first two exercises. There were a few bumps as I sought to play through the positions in advance of reading the text. In the first exercise, I missed a key resource for White, leaving my solution incomplete. I worked out the rest for myself before reading the rest of the solution.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

There was not to be much time for chess today, but that changed. Then, I got pulled into playing blitz on the Internet Chess Club. I did work a few tactics problems using Chess Tempo, Chess Informant 111, and the Shredder iPad app. The CI combinations led me to spend some time with Carlsen -- Wang Hao, Wijk aan Zee 2011.

Chess Tempo frustrates me. My results suggest that I am missing half of the board.
Problems Done: 195 (Correct: 123 Failed: 72)
Percentage correct: 63.08%

Thursday, 5 April 2012

During my morning coffee, and between Slotomania spins on Facebook, I solved a handful of problems on the Shredder iPad app (total now at 1557). Then, with grim determination I set out to improve my Chess Tempo performance. I am solving in standard mode. CT's blitz mode is more akin to solving with Shredder, where every second counts in the score. In CT standard mode, accuracy is the key element.

Problems Done: 218 (Correct: 143 Failed: 75)
Percentage correct: 65.60%

Clear improvement! Twenty correct, and three wrong. The errors continue to reveal a tendency to miss obvious tactics. For instance, moving the wrong knight in this problem.

White to move

In order to move memorized games into long-term memory, review is needed. Frequently, I have been able to play through an entire game for a week or a month, or even longer. But, if a few weeks go by and I do not show the game to someone, the memory dissipates.

I created a list of games that I have memorized. The first page of the document lists just the players and ratings. After a page break, the entire game scores are reproduced. Page one appears thus:


Memory Games

(1) De Kemur,Sire de Legal - Saint Brie
(2) Zimmer - Hans Bruening
(3) Taylor,I.O. Howard - N,N
(4) Blake,Joseph Henry - Hook,William
(5) Spassky,Boris V - Evans,Larry Melvyn
(6) Mayet,Carl - Anderssen,Adolf
(7) Stripes,James (1879) - Moroney,Timothy (2076)
(8) Grabovetz,Vladimir (1850) - Stripes,James (1999)
(9) Carlsen,Magnus (2814) - Wang Hao (2731)
(10) Auberonk (1827) - Stripes,James (1784)

Mayet - Anderssen is one of my forgotten games. I knew it when I posted "Understanding Mayet's Thinking" two years ago, but have not reviewed it recently. This morning I played through it several times until I was able to do so without looking at the game score. I intend to continue working on Carlsen - Wang Hao today. Auberonk - Stripes ends in the position in my banner, and it took me ten minutes or so to locate the game in my game archive on Chess.com (I didn't want N.N. as the name of White).

Once these ten are secure in my mind, I plan to work on a Kasparov game that I knew for a week in February: Kasparov - Pribyl, Skara 1980. The game is discussed in Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov, Part I: 1973-1985 and in Kasparov, My Story, Part 5 and Part 6.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Started the day with three quick Shredder puzzles while taking care of business. I missed the first because I missed the queen's diagonal route out of self-danger to defend the rook, and thereby the back rank. One drawback to the Shredder iPad app: I cannot go back two problems to show you the one that I missed. It should come up again after I do 999 more. The other two were solved correctly in an instant.

Turning to the last three combinations in Chess Informant 111, I solved this problem easily.

Black to move (diagram upside down--Black on bottom)

Jeans in the wash, towels in the dryer. A few minutes working on the move sequence in Carlsen - Wang Hao, and then a short Chess Tempo session.

Problems Done: 231 (Correct: 154 Failed: 77)
Percentage correct: 66.67%

The logic underneath Wang Hao's play defies me, making the moves harder to remember, but I'm also struggling with some of the nuances of Carlsen's play. As it happens, the lecturer who was to speak at chess club last night had car problems and did not show. But, I had taken my memory list, so a friend was able to test my knowledge of the ten games. I knew all the moves in nine of them. We spent some time working out the Carlsen's finish if Wang Hao had not resigned. Checks that drive the king to the queenside leave Black's monarch secure and with a larger army. One key idea seems to be reversing the order of White's pieces on the h-file (rook to h7 and queen to h5 via g6).

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Due to a road trip to a Sandpoint, Idaho, where I run a small annual community tournament, my training today was limited to a few problems on the iPad, and one in Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II.

Shredder Totals

1569 puzzles: 12284/15690 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 91/100 91%

06 April 2012

The Problem with Blitz

One problem with blitz is missing easy stuff. As one opponent several years ago on the Internet Chess Club stated to me after some egregious errors, "speed kills".

Last night on ICC, I had Black.

Black to move

The combination to create a mating threat was easy to find, found, and executed.

19...Qxe1+ 20.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 21.Bf1 Bh3

Then White defended against checkmate with 22.Qd3.

Black to move

Was my 22...Rfe7 borne from panic that White avoided checkmate? I could have snatched the bishop. The queen has nowhere to go. After 22...dxc5, I could have played 23...Rd7 to decoy the queen, making Rxf1# possible.

After 23.Be3 Bxf1 24.Qxf1 Rxf1+ 25.Kxf1 I was up the exchange. Several moves later, I was able to trade my rook for the bishop and a pawn, reaching an easy pawn endgame. My opponent resigned a few moves later. It would have been much simpler after 22...dxc5.

Black to move