31 May 2012

Beware of Weak Opponents

Referring to Paul Morphy's tendency to play games at odds--a knight or rook down from the start in most cases,--Valeri Beim opines:
By practicing against considerably weaker opposition one may, even unintentionally, become used to lower playing standards; and playing "crooked" chess, in which the strategic principles of play assume a minor role and tactics become paramount, is bound to make you stupid.
Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective, 19.
So, there you have it, tactics alone makes you stupid.

29 May 2012

Lesson of the Week

Overworked Piece

I suspended my weekly posts of "Lesson of the Week" in late April. The chess teams that I coach meet October through April, ending with the Washington State Elementary Chess Championship, where one of my teams placed 21st in the team standings. But, one lower elementary club and my Home Link classes continue to meet through this week. These students, too, get regular instruction. I have continued to prepare one or more lessons each week even though I have not posted them.

This week's lesson, the last until late-September or early-October (except for those receiving private lessons), concerns an overworked piece. The position comes from one of my online games against a much weaker player. Despite the low rating, my opponent demonstrated some fundamental knowledge of tactics. He or she did make a fundamental opening error, albeit one that I deliberately employ in blitz: knowing that one has a positional advantage can increase the difficulty in a three-minute game.

Our game began:

1.e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 d6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 e5 6.Nxc6?

Black to move

This positional error gives Black a strong mass of center pawns that often steamroll White's position. Our game went in another direction. However, that's not the lesson for the youth. Rather, a fundamental tactical motif is this week's focus.

After 19.Qg3, we reached this position with Black to move.

White's queen defends the rook on f4 and the knight on c3. It is overworked. Thus, 19...Bd4+ wins the knight. 20.Kh1 Rxf4 21.Qxf4 Bxc3-+. A few moves later, White faced unavoidable checkmate threats and resigned. The final position is posted in "Training Log."

27 May 2012

Training Log

For the week ending 26 May 2012, I continued to focus on solving tactical problems. Most of this work was done on the Chess Tempo website. In addition, I solved a small number of problems in two iPad apps, and a few in Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II. After many starts and stops and avoidance stemming from frustration, I ran into a sequence of problems in Alburt's book that were easy. These followed a mate in two that I missed.

White to move

I assessed the key move 1.Re8+ as winning after 1...Qxe8 2.Qxf6+ Kg8 3.Bc4+. However, after 1...Bxe8, I missed the simple 2.Qf8#. Thus, my move was 1.Bc4.

It is interesting that in the actual game from which Alburt extracted the position, the bishop is already on c4. The position is from Nezhmetdinov -- Kotov, 1957. I was surprised to find no such game in Big Database 2011. However, the game is available on Chessgames.com. There, and elsewhere, Kotov is spelled Kotkov. A.J. Goldsby offers his annotations to the game, which he posted in 2003. I went in search of the game score believing that this game might become the latest candidate in my efforts to compile a list of game worthy of memorization.

Although I missed a simple checkmate pattern in this problem, I had no difficulty recognizing it as one of my many threats in a game where I had substantial material superiority. A recent game on Red Hot Pawn, where I have returned for a few games ended in this position.

White to move

If 28.Qxf1, then 28...Qxf1#.
If 28.Kg2, then 28...Rxg1+ 29.Kf2 Bd4# (29.Kh3 Qh5#).
If 28.h4, then 28...Rxg1+ 29.Kh2 Rh1+ 30.Kg2 Qf1#.

My opponent resigned.

Perhaps it is more difficult to see certain mating patterns when one is concerned about a material deficit. Down a bishop, I was reluctant to analyze a line where I would be sacrificing a rook. Eight moves prior to the position at the end of the game, Rashid Nezhmetdinov sacrificed a knight to launch his attack. The game is worthy of study.

I attempted a total of 321 problems on Chess Tempo. I continued with problems in standard mode, worked through a batch selected by tactical motif because my score was low for that motif, and began training in blitz mode. I continue to offer my totals in standard mode in this "Training Log."

Problems Done: 1811 (Correct: 985 Failed: 826)
Percentage correct: 54.39%
Average recent per problem time spent 70 seconds

Much less time was spent with Shredder's iPad app (one dozen problems).

1669 puzzles: 13087/16690 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 83/100 83%

I also solved another dozen in the Chess-wise Pro iPad app, which I wrote about in "A Good Run."

25 May 2012

Useful Blitz

I tried an approach to blitz this morning that differs from my frequent addictive obsession. Instead of playing game after game, I played one. After the game, I analyzed it without an engine. I did use the "novelty annotation" feature of ChessBase 11 for feedback on my opening choice. I played the novelty, which was neither worse nor better than prior games. However, several moves later, I blocked my own defense of a critical pawn, losing a pawn and rook for a knight.

Black to move
1k1r3r/ppq2ppp/2nbpnb1/3pN3/3P1P2/1NPBB3/PP2Q1PP/R4RK1 b - - 0 14

I played 14...Ne7?? 14...Ne5 would have been better.

My opponent picked up two more pawns, and then blundered in a manner that gave me a decisive attack.

White to move
1k1q3r/pp4p1/3b2n1/3p2P1/3Pn1Q1/1NP5/PP1B2PP/R4RK1 w - - 0 22

22.Be3?? gave the game to Black. I spent some time looking for improvements for White, and also examined my attack to see if I conducted it with maximum vigor. 22.h3 and 22.g3 both maintain a won game for White by neutralizing Black's threats. Later, I plan to verify my analysis with an engine.

After analyzing this game, I went back online and played two more. I gained an overwhelming positional advantage in the first, and then threw it away. In the second, I made an unsound piece sacrifice in the opening, managed to get pressure against the king. When my opponent failed to defend accurately, I gained back the material and then won on time after further errors on the part of my adversary.

White to move
8/2k2r2/p1pR4/1pP1P2p/1P6/P7/6PP/6K1 w - - 0 39

The simple 39.Rf6 maintains the two pawn advantage and offers a rook exchange that leads to an easily won pawn endgame. Instead, I played 39.g3?? Even then, there were possible improvements in my play that might have maintained at least a slight advantage. My opponent succeeded in swapping his a-pawn for my a- and b-pawns, and promoting his b-pawn.

Going back a few moves, I found a position that would be worth playing against the computer as a training exercise.

White to move
4k3/r4r2/p1pRp1p1/1pP1p2p/1P3P2/P7/6PP/3R2K1 w - - 0 29

I played 29.Rd8+, but 29.Rxe6+ or 29.fxe5 both deserve consideration. Training against the computer, all three moves will be played.

The third game emphasizes the point that online blitz games often create positions that are complex enough to deserve far deeper analysis that they get under time pressure.

White to move
k6r/pbp4p/3r1p1n/PBpP4/4P3/1R6/1PP3PP/2K4R w - - 0 25

After 25.a6!, my opponent was forced to return some material.

Rather than playing blitz to get my fix, playing and analyzing renders online blitz a useful training exercise. Of course, often online blitz is simply junk that is best quickly forgotten. But, even then, it might be worthwhile to quickly go over the game and identify what renders it junk.

24 May 2012

Getting it Wrong

The first rule of chess concerns the orientation of the chessboard: "light on right". The purpose of this rule is not clear to the beginner, even to many beginners with a lifetime of experience playing the game with other novices. But, to a player who follows games that have been recorded in chess notation, the two rules, "light on right" and "queen on color" are essential. Thus, it is often disheartening to the chess player to observe the uncanny ability of filmmakers and television directors to beat the odds and place the board incorrectly at least 65% of the time.

Yesterday afternoon, I watched an old PBS documentary by the notorious purveyor of error, Ken Burns. I was interested in the contribution to transportation history of Horatio's Drive (2004), a story of the first person to drive an automobile from one coast of the United States to the other. In May 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson placed a $50 bet in a club in San Francisco that he could drive to New York City in three months. After many trials, and $8000 in expenses, he made the trip in 63 days.

Unfortunately, in the opening scenes, in the effort to describe the place of the bet at the University Club in San Francisco, the documentary presents a nice wooden set (I'll wager that it was manufactured in the past decade prior to the film) on a wooden board (also relatively new) that was set up incorrectly with a dark square in the right corner.

Horatio's Drive (2004) Screen Shot
There were other gaffes as well. A few minutes into the film, the narrator claimed that "hundreds of thousands" of people migrated across the continent by wagon in the 1840s. Beginning in the 1840s the cross country migration by wagon, replaced by rail transportation into California in 1869 and to northern parts in 1883, may have included hundreds of thousands, but this tide may not have topped fifteen thousand in the 1840s.

23 May 2012

Theoretical Position: World Championship

Peter Svidler's analysis of the game in progress in the current World Chess Championship offers an interesting comic possibility. If Gelfand attempts to win Anand's h-pawn, things will go very badly for him.

A possible position:

White to move

1.Qxh5+ would be a blunder.

1...Kg7 2.Qe2 Rd8! 3.Qb2+ f6 and the threat of Rh8+ wins for Black

22 May 2012

A Good Run

During lunch, after more than two hours of torture in the dental office, I solved a few exercises from the set of 300 provided with the iPad app Chess-wise Pro. Making a conscientious effort to work out the variations and choose the correct move on the first try, I managed to solve eleven straight without error. I was finished eating when I failed the twelfth.

The problem that required the longest time for me to work out the correct solution was No. 143.

White to move

Problem No. 146 stumped me. Even after I found the key, I did not really comprehend it.

White to move

20 May 2012

Three Steps Backward, Two Forward

Training Log

Yesterday's Valley, Today's Climb
There's an old figure of speech concerning progress amid adversity: three steps forward, two steps backward. However, sometimes we fail to make progress. So it was with my marathon training session yesterday. I did not intend to spend more than four hours on Chess Tempo. My failure was grounded in initial success. My standard tactics rating had been hovering near +25 relative to the interim goal I was just under when I wrote "Getting Angry." My objective since crossing that mark was to achieve the next line at +50. I reached +45 after a relatively short session, then crashed. I ended the day at -46. By the end of the day I had correctly solved 125 problems in 273 attempts, an abysmal 46%. I must say that I was not enjoying the training. At least I had some solace in knowing that deliberate practice is not inherently pleasurable, but rather often painful. This morning, I refused to write my weekly training log until I had crossed back to the positive relative to mid-April's interim goal. I correctly solved 47 in 83 attempts for 57%. My rating is now +1. I have spent more than twenty-seven hours working Chess Tempo problems in the past six weeks.

For the week that ended yesterday, I solved 155/336 on Chess Tempo.

I continued working with Shredder's iPad app, but only ten problems.

1657 puzzles: 12987/16570 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 97/100 97%

I also continued solving problems from the set of 300 that come with Chess-wise Pro, another iPad app. These problems are good quality positions, but only the first move is part of the puzzle. The first 110 offer a verbal clue upon request, but no other assistance. I have not been tracking these week-by-week, but have completed the first 134 since beginning in early March.

For the first time in several weeks, I spent more than one-half hour working problems from Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II. Thus, two of my three resolutions were met this week.

Yesterday's slide began Thursday night. I played two of three rounds in an unrated thematic tournament at the Spokane Chess Club. Due to scheduling issues that others faced, I was asked to say a few words about the Dutch Defense before we began a tournament in which all games began after 1.d4 f5. It was enjoyable looking through some games to highlight for the club. Then, in the event, I played awful in the first game against Ron, dodging a bullet when he stepped into checkmate in one. Then, I made a simple opening blunder against Nikolay, giving him the initiative with Black. I defended well, and created some counterplay. At the end, he erred in giving me a choice of rooks to capture. The correct capture would have left me one pawn ahead, but I took the wrong one and had a minor piece for a queen. I left for home, while Nikolay went on to tie for second in the event with a draw in the final round. On Friday, I squandered some time playing online blitz in the quest for elusive redemption.

19 May 2012

Shifting Targets

In Chess Tempo 57373, I found the first move and then missed the second. I was focused on how to get the king and missed another vulnerability.

Black to move

Happily, several problems later, I did not remain obsessed with attacking the king when such threats made possible shifting the attack to another piece. Chess Tempo 47151.

White to move

13 May 2012

Training Log

For another week, I neglected my ambitious training regimen. I did enough tactics exercises to satisfy my self-imposed requirement of a minimum of fifty, and otherwise played a bit too much online blitz. There was a game 29 tournament that I had intended to enter, but a toothache curbed my enthusiasm.

With Shredder, I worked an insignificant eight puzzles.

1647 puzzles: 12890/16470 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 79/100 79%

Through two sessions, I attempted 67 problems on Chess Tempo.

Problems Done: 1262 (Correct: 710 Failed: 552)
Percentage correct: 56.26%

I am following the Gelfand -- Anand World Championship match. After game one, I spent some time researching the database history of the players' unusual Grunfeld, but did not find the time to post my comments.

More important than chess, I took advantage of the nice weather to get my herb garden put together. Last year, the supports for the box that held the garden collapsed. We bought some simple shelving upon which to place pots, and set up these shelves inside the box at the edge of our deck. With this new system, some of the herbs will migrate into the house in the fall. It is possible that I will have fresh thyme, rosemary, cilantro, and even basil through the cold months.

12 May 2012

Blitz Trouble

My Opponent's Stubbornness

Some folks just don't know when to give up. Not only do they play on in a hopeless position, but they create irritating little checkmate threats. Such was my adversary in a three minute blitz game this morning. After giving up a pawn through an elementary error, then sacrificing the exchange to avoid more troubling problems, my opponent took things down to the end. I had to use premoves to checkmate him before running out of time.

Gabriel (1759) -- Stripes (1740) [B40]
Live Chess Chess.com, 12.05.2012

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.0–0?

This elementary error loses a pawn.

4...Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Bxd7+ Nxd7 8.Nc3 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Nf6 10.Bg5 Be7 11.Re1 0–0 12.dxc5 Qc7 13.Qd4

Black to move

13...Bxc5 14.Qh4 Ne4

14.Ne5 Bxc5 15.Qh4 Ne4 16.Rxe4 dxe4 17.Bf4 Bd6 18.Qg3 f6 19.Ng6 Bxf4 20.Nxf4 Qxc3 21.Qxc3 Rxc3 22.Nxe6

Black to move


Why not 22...Rxc2 23.Nxf8 Kxf8-+?

23.Nf4 Rxc2 24.h4 e3 25.fxe3 Rxe3 26.Rd1 Re8 27.Rd7 Rb2 28.a4 a6 29.h5 b5 30.axb5 Rxb5 31.h6 g5 32.Nd5

Black to move

32...Rxd5 Always simplify!

33.Rxd5 Ra8

From here it should be easy

White to move


My opponent finds a way to create problems. How did he know that his rook could get to a1 in the nick of time?

Less stubborn was the expected 34.Ra5 Kf7

34...a5 35.Rg7+ Kh8 36.Rf7 a4 37.Rxf6 a3 38.Rf1 a2 39.Ra1 Kg8 40.Kf2 Kf7 41.Kg3 Kg6 42.Kg4

Black to move


42...Ra4+ makes the game easier

43.Kf5 Ra5+ 44.Kf6 g4 45.g3

Black to move


45...Ra3 46.Rh1# would have been embarrassing.

46.Kf5 Ra4 47.Kf6 Ra6+ 48.Kf5

There is a danger of draw by repetition.

48...Kg7 49.Kxg4 Ra3 50.Kh4 Kg6 51.g4 h6 52.g5

Black to move

52...h5! 53.Re1 Ra4+ 54.Kh3 a1Q 55.Re6+ Kxg5 56.Re3 Ra3

White to move

Again things are simple, but I am down to five or six seconds

57.Rg3+ Rxg3+ 58.Kxg3 Qf6 59.Kg2 Qf4 60.Kh3

I have perhaps three and one-half seconds left, but am able to use premove, cutting my time per move to 0.01 seconds.

60...Qg4+ 61.Kh2 Kf4 62.Kh1 Kf3 63.Kh2 Kf2 64.Kh1 Qg2# 0–1

06 May 2012

Training Log

View from our room at Cambell's Resort
Last week was terrific, but little time was spent with chess.

With Shredder, I managed a mere 17 puzzles.

1639 puzzles: 12829/16390 points 78%
last 10 puzzles: 76/100 76%

Through three sessions, I attempted 118 problems on Chess Tempo.

Problems Done: 1195 (Correct: 673 Failed: 522)
Percentage correct: 56.32%

Even through a week in which chess takes a back seat to life, I managed to fulfill the first of my three New Year's Resolutions.
1. Solve a minimum of 50 tactics problems per week.
The others were neglected.