Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chess is NOT easy!

After Setbacks; there were some very interesting comments.

  Clearly, feeling frustrated, tired and wanting more improvement that you are experiencing is very common.  (I also see this kind of comment ALL the time in chess forums)….   I don’t think that discouragement , by itself, is that instructive or useful.  But I do think its important, even essential, to take a pragmatic approach to chess.

I think its important to realize that Chess is, Actually Not easy!  … well, it might be easy ~given a truly easy opponent.  But we need to realize the actual intensity of the hobby.  The challenge is to be able to grasp the whole truth of the position.  And this is the part that is mind-numbingly difficult.  We can’t just wait for an opponent to throw us a simple tactical “gift”;  It is our job to actually understand the position- to see what plan and principle is Reasonable with the position that is on the board.

This is more difficult than it seems.   If we go for something that is easily stopped; our opponent can bind our game to near aimlessness.  If we see something forceful that doesn’t work.. our opponent can ignore our plans and profit from the misplacement of our pieces.  Our alternately, we can get the attack we were looking for… but fail to convert it (it wasn’t sound) to a winning advantage and watch the opponent rally with material superiority.

These are just a few common plots in the wreckage of many recent games.  The bigger point is … why is chess so hard?   Keep my material safe; find a weakness, build a plan- that uses the weakness to gain mate or material, Win & celebrate ! Simple!

Chess is NOT easy…

First Compare this to my dramatic photo.  Anyone who has ever tried a pullup ; is impressed with this guys extreme athlete prowess.  One false step orand cramping bicep- and well; bad things happen.   OTOH.  Chess looks horribly boring.  Someone deeply staring at their chessboard in an intense gaze (and agonizing) over a few reasonable moves; N @ c3 or d2?   All the visitors watch them ; curiously, what could possibly be so complicated about this decision.  Perhaps, there are calculating every possible move?
NOT! Positional Chess decisions are hard to explain.  From the vantage point of my club strength; get some key decisions wrong and there are weak spots and holes- and your opponent might soon get his chance to invade. 

I’ve been grappling quite a while with blunders.   They’re embarrassing and difficult to eradicate!?  And yet despite intense motivation- they still litter my game—I even see them (just after I move) when the opponent Does not!   My OTB sparring partner; gave me some advice that you hear All the time… Always ask what your opponent is trying to do?... its good advice, but not necessarily so helpful.  I was am very tempted- to shoot back at him the same question (as he , I think a little less strong than I).  happily I didn't say anything, as he was only trying to help.

But I had a significant revelation; when I was talking to a beginner.  The guy was avidly aware of the need NOT to blunder, but seemed to take an almost ambivalent tact on spotting his opponents mistakes.  Surely, I said, if you miss taking your opponent hung queen than your not concentrating hard enough at the game!  I don’t always miss hung pieces but I can be unfocused and become sporadic; focusing intensely only after the big play has been made; and all I can do is weep because of what I missed.  Its so essential to work important things out in your head.

Wow-that is a revelation!   Take another reference at the impressive mountain climbing guy.  We’re impressed with his athletic abilities- but surely- Isn’t it his constant focus and awareness on carefully gripping the mountain- what is really keeping him safe?  He knows there is little hope to grip tightly AFTER he has started to slip.  There is a deep sense of awareness, focus and constant concentration that are essential in both sports…

To put it in chess terms- “No matter what innate strength you have at calculating and understanding important variations in your position- isn’t it your constant focus and awareness in the safety and power of your pieces (and the weakness of his) what keeps you from a premature checkmate (or draw)…”    I think this is profound.  We may win or lose some games based on whether we understand the pawn structure of our opening- and whether we know how to convert basic endgames to wins (or losing positions to draws)- but I am Sure many MORE games hinge upon simply intense gaze and determination to seize the advantage (and defend against weakness).

Key to this revelation is the Chess is VERY hard….  Easy answers ( Nd2/Nc3 is irrelevant; I’m simply attacking more times than he’s defending.  Nxe7 is an easy grab of a pawn….)  should seem naturally suspicious.  One should Always suspect a tactic; if we see loose material.  One should go around the board; looking for more pieces to develop and become active.  We should look at HIS whole position.  What is the weakest piece?   If we’re playing the SLOW game… FORCING yourself to slow down and see MORE must be instructive.   One of the keys to chess is of course, knowing WHEN to slow down; but we will get our assessments wrong; and can easily miss the key moment. 

The solution then is to slow down, even when we’re not sure we need to, and even if we start to lose on time.  we’re NOT professional and so we’re justified to force ourselves to play for INSTRUCTIVE purposes; slow, deliberated, the best chess we can; even if that means losing.

Still I don’t think I’m necessarily TOO fast; I’m just not keeping the intense focus and I need to bring it up another notch.  I need to play with more determination.  I need to practice with great determination.  I’m my exercises… I get too many things wrong.  I need to go over it a second, third time.  Do I FULLY understand the position, have I accounted for everything.  I have a good book for that ;  alburt’s 300 positions to know is DEEP and perfect for this. 

Friday, May 15, 2015


This is Going to be a short blog post!   A new week has passed, and yet the feeling couldn’t be different than last Friday.

Last Friday I had won like 13 of my last 15 games… by online standard rating was taking a surge upwards… everything felt Great!  Even my indexes were sky high….

It was Great! Last week…. Unfortunately; this weeks results have been disappointing.   My rating is crashing;  Chess feels harder, Tactics seem scarce, openings that were going good… seem to go towards awkward middlegames and losing endgames.

Never Underestimate the ability on one’s confidence to somehow sour every single aspect of your game!

As the pic says, though, I am reluctant to say too much…  I am sure these psychological setbacks are important and necessary to becoming strong and resilient.  I want to Describe a little about what went wrong… and find the way beyond them.

I think players of all strengths must find that any ambitious chess training program sometimes goes poorly.  I think my difficulties are… normal limitations of a chess training program and I welcome any of my readers to comment on any thing they’ve done to adjust to the follow difficulties…

            Energy/ Tiredness… I have a busy life and chess fits between kids and sleep.   Sometimes it fills the whole time rather well; recently I find that I’ve just become tired.  I’m not sure if I’m sick, getting allergies from the trees,  or I’m just old- and struggling to do to much in my life.  I can tell you that a 40 year old father with a growing yard and an upcoming garden has his reasons for feeling tired in mid may…  I am sure that the major reason for cyclical behavior in my indexes relates to tiredness.  I get tired and sleep deprived; falter – have a few bad days and then gather strength and resume a better program.

            Inaccurate Thinking…. This is perhaps somewhat embarrassing.  Sometimes, I feel sharp and gets lots of the 3-5 play calculations dead on!  Other times, it becomes Really bad and I don’t even get the variations I calculate right! (not too mention, accounting for unexpected opponent responses etc).   I usually mistrust myself enough to recalculate- but this is time consuming.  And I imagine between the disease and the cure; all the inaccurate calculations are most of why I’m so weak at blitz!

            Training Imbalance… try as I might it seems inevitable that when I get a major training idea in my head it starts swalloping all my time up; and either my playing time goes to nothing, or some important form of study (analysis, tactics)- goes as well.  Relatedly, one of the major uses of my time; the correspondence chess Can’t be procrastinated (I’ll time out)- and this only makes it inevitable that something is going to take a hit.

I think part of this problem is simply that my time constraints are significant.  There is not “many long” hours to do chess!   1 to 2 hours per day is a BIG commitment; but doesn’t go far with an ambitious program.

            Chess Weariness  call it what you want.  I simply can’t think and breathe chess non-stop.  I can maintain an enormous curiousity in the game… but its in the struggle to understand and answer the position, that there are limits!  Even within a game- I can grow listless, and not be thinking so intensely about all the facets of the game.  This is where I start missing important features of the positions, fail to see a significant amount of my moves and Espacially fail to see all my opponents moves (after my chosen moves)..  this last step is very important to blunderchecking!   I think there’s an athletic component of a game (and a training program), in this regard.  Hopefully my chess “muscles” are growing stronger!  My indexes give my optimism in this regard.   I’m doing more chess, more often than I use to..   Nonetheless, chess weariness follows other aspects of ones attitude- if one is unconfident, discouraged, and tired;  your bound to bump into weariness in tackling chess’s tricky challenges

There’s been a lot of talk in places where I read about chess coaching… and while I done a little bit; I’ve pretty much talked myself out of a more involved experience.  I think a coach offers a lot of invaluable experience in keeping a strong training program- but I’m pretty sure coaching is not by itself a substitute for a training program….(When your learning to play the piano, you still do a lot of practice at home!).

I look forward to better weeks to follow…

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Failed Attack! the hunt for blunders part 2

“it Incredible! How many I come across, more than half the low rated players; and once their attack fail miserably some even resign!

It means that childish “tricks” is all they have learned of chess.” Alessandro170 5/5/15'

My assessment is ongoing… and the PC has been a Depressing realist in terms of my games.   Game after game; attack after successful attack.   Unfounded! Unsound!  Could-have-been Turned by more determined defense and on and on….

This is LOOSE chess… Bane of my chess game!

Right so lets not beat around the bush… many of my winning attacks are unsound and many are outright crazy!  counting on my opponent to do some pretty panicky things and missing easy and obvious resources. … its not just wins, either!  A frequent pattern of my losses is to go for some sharp attack; suffer material loss and refutes and try to pull off some miraculous retreat and regrouping.  This is common; and perhaps a little more justified.   Once you lose material superiority in a bad position; in the end you have little left but tricks.  This is not the ONLY way to win- and probably not even the best way to win… (I little grandmasterly voice is telling me pawn promotion is a far more effective strategy, then beating against a strong position with outnumbered pieces…)

But the Point is; I think I UNIQUELY have a stronger tendency to go for the unsound attack; than some... I like the feeling of being bold and putting lots of pressure on the opponent and hanging an ultimatum over his head.  And this IS the winning way. (err, well “one winning way)… but it comes at a cost.   Not everyone curls into a ball of anxiety with a few threats…

The REAL question is … What are we going to DO about it!

There is NO “magic Bullet”  about any of my patzer ways! the only ‘cure’ is Determination, Focus, Practice, along with a lot of Self Assessment!

THE PC is a friend.  I’ve been doing more with a chess engine these days… while I feel it is pretty useless to get deep assessment of a specific position; its great for going through your game- catching missed attacks AND missed defense.   It the game culminates into a game shattering attack; it can be a Great Arbiter.  Showing when and IF the attack was a legitamite strong attack or based off from blind and panicky opposition.  More and more I think Most of my serious games should be checked on an engine!

The attack is a responsibility… and if you play it well you get Initiative, counterplay and potentially put the opponent in a constricted position where his forces are not well coordinated and he will struggle to keep his pawns and pieces safe. 

But then your intensions are on the board and your pieces may be inflexible and tied to an attack that will never happen.   What forces you commit to the attack can be a major strategic decision.  Generally, you don not want to commit heavy pieces (the rooks and queen) lightly- and often redeploying them becomes aimless as there are by nature long range pieces.  Pawns make powerful attackers; but pawn moves introduce weak spots to you formation.

A strong attack is not the only Winning way!  And in many positions not even a good idea!  As alessandro correctly points out, chess is more than “cheap tricks”; though I might argue that in the right position- some serious well coordinated attack on your king might not feel so “Cheap”.  
The fact is for every sound attack on the king; there was a critical weakness in your opponents play.  and at heart chess is about Punishing weaknesses and poor moves that your opponent makes.
If you opponent doesn’t create kingside weakness; an attack fundamentally MUST be unsound.   And will NOT work unless you opponent misplays it. 

Seeing strong tactics is a challenge; and its easy to think We are tactically stronger than we really are.     One of the clever things (and harder) about these kinds of weaknesses; is they are not usually all that obvious.  Stuff like double checks and smothered mates;  surprise us even in the puzzle books!   It takes substancial effort, to effortlessly see these kinds of pattern.  so it is natural to strive (very hard) to find them in our games.
To really see these patterns (and recreate them) each time they appear, with no warning, though, is the highest form of learning.   The synthesis of our creativity and the patterns themselves.  So naturally, it is very challenging- easy to fool ourselves that we are at that point; when we still have work to do…  

The focus needs to SHIFT to more complicated puzzles and Studies.  I’ve been working through Bain’s “chess tactics for students” for quite some time now and Basically ‘mining salt!’.   The problem with that ,of course, as it can create a stiff simplistic version of chess Tactics.  In Fact,  Chess often gives us positions of Tense positional importance rich with tactical complications and subtle long term consequences.   A book like “Chess tactics” simply isn’t going to address the deeper problems, since its meant at heart to be a newby primer in the most common types of tactics that exist. 

But I certainly have a versatile library of books that go much deeper. And one that I’ve just bought, Alburt’s 300 Essential chess positions, is considered a classic in the world of deep puzzle book ; where the solution is probably more than a simply basic tactic.

In fact, I’ve already answered the first few problems, and consistant with my observations about unsound tactics and unsound attacks; I’ve consistently under estimated the complexity and depth of the first 3 problems.  Either not seeing a critical decision or missing the tactical consequences given best play by the opponent.

I’ve decided I like this kind of format… not an annotation, but structured more like a puzzle; but with perhaps extensive analysis of the puzzle, that I can look up after I made a decent attempt to understand the puzzle and play the best move.

Books (that I have) that offer such kinds of puzzles/positions could include…
            Heisman “looking for trouble”
            Reinfeld “the Complete chess player”
            Pandolfini “Endgame challenge”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Self Assessment; May

AN ASSESSMENT;  where as I stand as of May 1, 2015

So… as of May 1 where do I stand?

In the Month of April I have approximately played…

            394 Tactic Puzzles…
            20 chess Games
            72 correspondence moves &
            59 hours of chess study

HOW does this compare to other Months?   April has been a Very good month; where I have put a new Record amount of Study time!

My theory is that BOTH ones ability to concentrate during a long game and ones ability to Study get better during persistent practice.   So not only is YOUR GAME get better; your ability to learn and understand Increase as well… Your mental muscle(s) are growing at an increasing rate!  Key to this increase is that the strain to think of good moves and understand key concepts decrease;-  thus I don’t pewter out so badly during my study time and I cover more ground.

The CONCEPTS that have made me what I am today?   I know I’m not (yet) necessarily a strong player, but I’ve made ground and its good very GOOD I think; to go over what truths I have learned from where I started till now…

            Don’t chase pieces that are ‘on the move’  That’s big!  One of the bad habits I would have is to put an obvious threat to a piece- that can easily (and probably always was) destined to move to a better square.   Not only is this a waste of time; frequently my moves weakened squares.   Also the possibility of counterattacks; can allow your opponent to gain even MORE time- leading to a least an excellent position; if not an outright tactical advantage.

            Don’t ignore a move that “Refutes” the tactic, even if you feel that the opponent might not figure it out.   Essentially, if you can see it, so can he/she.  Often a promising tactic is compromised by a key defensive move… this is where a healthy hesitation is Very good for your game.  Perhaps your “good idea” will wait; is there any way to squash his counter-ply BEFORE it is played?!   You want to picture your opponent as grabbing the PC when you get him in a good tactic;  would even the PC have to lose the piece?  And how “forced” is that forced mate??   To err is human, yes… but worse is to simply HOPE that the opponent doesn’t see it! (because basically you knew better).
Strange openings and quick tricks don’t do many magical things when your opponent has the time and the wit to play carefully.  I see a lot of “Blitz” mentality in peoples internet game.   There are people rated only 1000 that ‘fear’ the theory of popular openings , the French, the queens gambit….  They would play the “Perodactyl” to get “out of the book”.  This is crazy logic!  If you are 1000 (and probably equally true for 1500);  you so unable to play with a masters technique- I fail to see how any ‘theory’ could possibly help you- no matter how much you memorize.  So Play the Sicilian (and other ‘theory heavy’ opening) as the theory isn’t going to your opponent.
            Instead the greater issue is whether you can develop without creating serious tactical advantages for the opponent. … and IMHO, by going to bizarre openings and premature speculative tactics- you’ve only increased the possibility that a patient opponent whom gets his pieces developed and coordinated could quickly knock you out of the game….

            There’s just a few matters of technique you should ‘know’; and it’s a great idea to know it very very well.  for example can you win the QK versus K; no matter what?  At 1000 the novice players all struggle- to get further along you should know it COLD!   The same kind of thinking permeates tactics.   Some deep combination might elude you- but a fork should “stick” out like dirty dinnerware on a clean table.  

The BOOKS that have made me what I am today….

Books are great…. it is easy to collect quite a few- but I find that many, most of the time, MISS the mark.   I think BOOKS have their own time and place as well  (fyi; I have perhaps 30-40 chess books).   so, perhaps in the future some of the books that are just lying in the bookshelf; might become very major parts of my study. 
For now though, I want to mention just two… that have really made a major mark on my game.
            The complete chessplayer” by  Fred Reinfeld.  YES. Its in descriptive, yes its old, yes chess has evolved a lot since its inception, and perhaps most of all- yes it covers a lot of ground, not really obsessing over any one thing.    But I’ve had it for years and I think its well chosen “miniatures”;  that is a sequence of several moves that illustrate a principle the author is trying to make… are very instructive and well done.  They illustrate the idea that chess weakness can have lasting effects for many moves; creating position after unpleasant position for your opponent where you carefully keep your advantage alive; until you can enforce checkmate  (or the opponent loses all hope of counterplay). 

            “Champions guide to Chess Tactics” by susan polgar.  By first and best loved chess tactic books now nearly tattered by an intense repetitive effort to solve the puzzles…   I suppose I could have done something similar with several different books; but to date, I’ve not seen a better book for ‘tactics’ practice—showing good diversity and reasonable complexity , while at the same time keeping it strait forward and relatively simple.   A simpler book by Bain is “well read”, too—but perhaps a bit too simple, and definitely showing too many hints on the page… you have to make sure you ignore stuff on the sheet- and that can lead to accidental peeking.

The PHILOSOPHY that has made me what I am today…
I feel adamant that to get strong in the game means to develop a “masters mentality”;  not to be know-it-all; but to become a serious and long-term student of the game.  You Want to understand all the hidden subtleties of the game.   Be intensely curious of world-class chess; and try to understand how one the World chess Champion out-grinds his opponent.  You goal is to “master” the game… not to chase a rating or win against all you play.  chess has the fascinating ability to turn on the victor; and give hope to players in dire straits.   If you can find a draw that frustrates your opponent in the hour of apparent victory; or shatter an impregnable castled position…  This is a great achievement.   And when you are the one being shattered, bear down, do all you can to hang into the game.  and .. be amazed at your opponents combination.  Try to understand it in your head, and make his victory instructive and strengthening for you.

I’ve always felt that winning as an amateur was over-rated.  And you CAN get joy out of a go hard-fought fight, even if it is you being battered.  The joy of creativity drives the game for me.  They key to enjoying the lose; is a little like in fishing (my OTHER hobby);  a slow day could have been great one at any moment… if you can’t take slow days you’ll never experience the awesome ones.  And if you can’t take defeat you’ll never know the joy of hard-earned victory.

ENDNOTE…  yes, I want to continue onto my blunder thoughts.  But temporarily , I’m doing less blunder checking.  We’re a little unbalanced AGAINST gameplay.  Keep in mind I do A LOT of “turn-based” chess- that takes easily 75% of my time (as I don’t play it fast).   I don’t want to abandon tactics either….

The goal moving forward is to play more games and keep good notes so I can’t check it out.  The PC helps in that regards!  I simply ignore all the centipawns… “explain all moves” will point out when one of my moves offers the opponent serious tactical advantages…

Anyways, I hope to do a blog posting the ‘kinds’ of blunders that I have.  Why do I make them?