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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Little Known Improvement Secret

Kenneth R. Smith (Smith-Morra) offered this advice years ago: Play over hundreds of unannotated master games while trying to guess the next move. He said you should spend no more than 5-10 minutes per game and advised you are going after quantity, not quality because the quality would eventually come. The idea was that you were gaining skill in pattern recognition.

Chess for Dummies by James Eade has something to say on pattern recognition.

Read what Jeremy Silman has to say HERE

The Psychology of Chess Skill by J. Corey Butler, PhD

Chess Intuition on Science Blog

Does it work? Sometime in the late 1960’s a veteran local master asked me to edit his self-published tournament book of master games, so I decided to try Smith’s method and after editing the typewritten games in the book, entered a small weekend event where I finished 4-1. I told the guy about what I did and how I thought it really helped. His reply was a simple, “Of course.”

The next step was to order an Informant (cost $5.00 in those days!) containing 500-600 games and start plowing through them and playing in an occasional weekender. 300 or 400 Informant games later it was off to a big event in Chicago (my new rating hadn’t been published, so I was still mid-1600’s). In round 1 I defeated an 1800 and then won 3 more games against 1800-2000 rated players. Finally in the last round I lost to the Chicago legend, Morris Giles.

I think this secret is so little known because in my experience most strong players have either been unwilling or unable to say exactly how they actually improved or exactly what they did that brought inprovement about. Then of course the guys like Silman who do know are not willing to expound on it. Why? If all you have to do is get hundreds of games free off the Internet, have a sheet of paper or card to cover moves and maybe an Excel spreadsheet to track your progress, who's going to buy a $25 or $30 book?
When my new rating was finally published it was nearly 2100. So,yes, I think it works. Of course I had always studied the usual stuff, without much improvement I might add, so the background was there. To make things more interesting I kept track of the percentage of correct guesses. I can no longer remember the exact percentage but think it started out at maybe 20-25% and ended around 70%.

This is method is a well kept little secret that most average players are unaware of. For some strange reason when I tell it to them, they ignore it or do as one know-it-all 1500 told me, “It won’t work.” I think it is this pattern recognition that separates the good players from the rest of us. It’s also what makes writing good instructional chess books so difficult. Most strong players simply are unaware of how they choose a move.

At one US Championship I was watching Super GM Tony Miles (he was living in the US at the time) analyzing with an IM who kept suggesting moves and Miles kept telling him, “It’s no good.” When asked why all he could say was, “It just isn’t.” I don’t think Miles was being condescending; he just knew it wasn’t a good move, but he couldn’t explain why. Intuition, judgment, pattern recognition…call it whatever you will, he just knew.

Same Idea, Different Setting

In a recent 3 minute game (no increment) on Playchess I had the opportunity to play the same …Ba3 sacrifice that I discussed in the post below. Fortunately it worked again, but it shouldn’t have. There was a double oversight on move 27 and several other mistakes, but it’s still interesting to look at. White butchered the game with numerous oversights. We were both running out of thinking time, it’s true, but what’s interesting is that he made the same mistakes that I mentioned in the post, Spotting a Combination. It must be something we all do instinctively. That in itself says something about the difference between our intuition and that of a GM.

This was the position which arose from the Two Knight’s Defense after 19.Rhg1.  Fritz says White has the advantage by nearly a Pawn. I pretty much agree with that as it seems his attacking chances on the K-side are more dangerous than mine on the other side.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beating Your Head Against a Wall

He started out at mid-1400’s and after two years of hard work got to 1770. Good job! His goal became to go over 2000. He thought he could do it when he beat a couple 1800's at the local club in some offhand games. The problem is he can no longer play against average and below average players in tournaments; he’s meeting 1800-1900’s with an occasional 2000 thrown in. The result? His rating is plummeting and he’s back to barely over 1600. Going 0-4 in his last tournament didn't help. He is very discouraged and his solution to the problem is…you guessed it; change his opening repertoire and study more tactics. Why isn’t he playing solid mainline openings, refining his positional judgment and becoming proficient at endings? He’s waiting until he is at least 1800 to do that.

This tells me that he already thinks he won’t get to over 2000 without those skills and logic tells you he must hone those skills to successfully overcome the 1800-1999 crowd. Yes, they still make tactical errors but they aren’t as blatant and they make them less often than lower rated players. It takes more than studying tactics until he pukes but he can’t see it.

My prediction…he won’t make it to over 2000 any time soon. I quit offering him advice a couple years ago because he told me he knew what he was doing. Some GM who was probably rated 1600 for a month and can't relate to average players told him to play gambits and study tactics. Did I mention the guy has written a couple of books on those subjects? Do you think he has a vested interest in peddling anything? These hucksters keep offering shortcuts and promises of quick success. They don't work in life and they don't work in chess.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

School of Chess by Kasparov

In my internet games against lower rated players I keep seeing unsound sacrifices. Many times Ihaqve faced sacs on f2 or f7, h2 or h7, and exchange sacs. Also very popular is the sacrifice of a piece for 2P’s after, for example, …h6 and …g5. White often sacs either his B or N for 2P’s in the hopes of a K-side attack. I guess these players have heard the old phrase ‘Chess is 99% tactics’ so they routinely play these moves whether warranted or not. I blame this on the teaching of many authors who emphasize tactics, along with certain specialized openings, as a shortcut to winning. The net result is that any real understanding of the game is lacking. Read what Kasparov wrote in School of Chess:

What is planning…? It is a well-considered order of operations aimed at achieving a definite and concrete objective, the order taking into account the situation on the board and constantly modified by the opponent’s actions. The plan should not be confused with the objective of the game. Some amateur may say ‘I want to checkmate, therefore I play for mate from the very start. So I play according to a plan.’ This is an utterly wrong approach. In the initial position there are no real conditions for mating the opponent’s King. The mate is the ultimate and most desired object of the game, and play for mate from the first move is a wish to satisfy this desire.

Firstly, develop your pieces according to a certain pattern to achieve some superiority in a certain area of the board. Then you increase your pressure in order to obtain concrete positional or material advantage in the middlegame. And finally, you carefully exploit all your advantages in the endgame, obtaining a material superiority that renders any resistance impossible.

The art of positional play is not duly appreciated by the rank and file who often fail to understand why grandmasters are so goods at carrying out beautiful and effective attacks. Many amateurs can solve, no worse than well known masters, problems and studies. And only upon plunging seriously into the intricacies of the game do they realize that the opportunities for effective attacks and combinations are not, as a rule, spontaneous, but they result from positional play based on observance of the laws of chess strategy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Spotting a Combination

Before you make whatever move you have decided on, always check for tactical opportunities. There’s no point in strategic planning when there’s a winning combination in the position. The way you find tactics is not looking at the position and trying various moves until you find something that works. If you see one or more of these things, there is a possibility that a combination possible:

1. Look at all checks.
2. Undefended pieces.
3. Pins and forks.
4. Pieces (esp. the King) that do not have any “escape” squares.
5. Masked pieces (i.e. pieces on the same line)
6. Pieces that may be performing more than one defensive task
7. Finally, briefly look at bizarre and surprising moves, sacrifices, Pawn breaks, “obviously unplayable” moves.

Item 7 is what I used to find the winning idea in the following position after White’s 15.h4:

The game so far has revolved around Black’s attack on the White e-Pawn which he has adequately defended and his last move was played with the idea of forcing the N from g3 where it pressures the e-Pawn. A secondary objective was to commence his own attack against the Black K.

Let’s assume Black does nothing and makes a neutral move, say 15…Bd7. Then we have: 15...Bd7 16.h5 Ne7 17.h6 Nf5 18.Bf4 with equal chances for both sides.

Putting Item 7 into practice I looked at 15…Rxb2, but it doesn’t take long to realize that is a bad sacrifice. So, what about 15…Ba3? Then if 16.bxa3 Qe7 17.Qf3 Qxa3+ 18.Kd2 Rd8+ 19.Bd3 the attack is at a standstill and White is much better.

You’ll notice that what saves White is the intervention of his B to shield the K from check. This gave me an idea. As things stand now, if my Q were on e7 White couldn’t intervene with his B because the Q has it blocked; he would have to meet …Rd8+ with Qd3 and the Q would be lost.

This is where I got the idea for 15…Qe7. White should have played 16.Qf3 rendering the sacrifice on a3 no good. I had a suspicion he would never consider the sacrifice and would without hesitation play his intended 16.h5. That’s exactly what happened and the game continued from the diagram:
15…Qe7 16.h5? If 16.Qf3 Bd4 17.Bc4 is slightly better for Black. 16...Ba3! 17.bxa3 Other moves are no better 17...Qxa3+ 18.Kd2 Rd8+ 19.Ke3 Qxc3+ 20.Kf2 Rd2 and it was all over in a couple moves.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Update on uChess

As mentioned in the previous post they start you out at 1200 and you have to play 20 games to get an established rating. Mostly you will be playing players in the 1000 to 1400 range so your initial rating won't be very high. I saw very few players rated over 1400 on the site although I'm sure there are higher rated players there.

There are a LOT of disconnects when players realize they are losing. Fortunately this is the same as resigning and you get an immediate win when they disconnect. When someone accepts your challenge you don't know their rating as only their name pops up. This lead to an amusing incident when I challenged a 1550 player. He was White and immediately asked my rating. When I didn't reply he disconnected, but because no moves were made there was no penalty.

I posted a challenge and evidently when he saw my lofty 1650 rating he figured I was a worthy challenger and accepted it. I immediately disconnected and posted another game request which he again accepted so I decided to go on and play him. He played a pretty decent game and things were about equal when I had a chance to win the exchange for a Pawn. As soon as he saw what was happening he disconnected. I looked at the position for a few minutes and think that despite being the exchange down his position certainly was not resignable.

One 1150 player, after suffering a defeat in a 5 minute game sent me a message, "nice software" to which I replied, "don't need it to beat you" and he disconnected. Why do so many players out there think every time they get beaten it was an engine? I could understand it if they were a master, but when they are barely out of the beginner stage, why would they think everybody they play is so bad they can't see an elementary tactic? Heck, that's one of the reasons why they are only rated 1200.

One really bad defect in the site is that it is impossible to retreive your completed games. You can look at a list of your results, but you can't download the games. Immediately after playing one you can get a pgn, but you have to copy and paste it into something. You can only play games from 1-60 minutes and 0-10 second increment.

Verdict: If you don't take chess very seriously and only want to play it as though it's just another video game, I guess the site is OK, but if you're serious, play elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Real TIme Chess Sites

I am, and always have, considered myself a correspondence player, but to tell the truth I’ve kind of lost interest in it. When you play opponents over 2200 on just about any server you can name half of them are using engines. Also I’ve run into more than a few who play what I call Duliba style. Edward Duliba is the former US CC Champion and he advocates taking as long as possible between moves on the theory that it will annoy and frustrate your opponents. This may give you an important edge if you are a titled player playing in international tournaments, but if you are what GM Alex Yermolinsky called a ‘tomato can’ who is playing just for fun, it does take some of the enjoyment out of playing. For example in my last server event I heard from all my opponents, save one, every couple of days. This last guy takes his full 7 days plus vacation time and we are still playing and probably will be for a long time to come even though the outcome in both games is clear.

So recently I’ve been messing around playing realtime chess even though I’m not very good at it. A couple years ago I had a free account on Playchess that came with my Fritz purchase but that expired a long time ago so now I just sign in as a guest. My favorite site is Chess.com because it is free, I like the interface and the players aren’t too bad. One thing I noticed there: titled players can have their accounts verified. That means if you are playing a National Master or whatever, they really are what they claim. I checked several NM’s out and their blitz ratings are usually around 1800-1900. So if you are playing a 2200 rated player, guess what they are using? 2500’s? What do you think? Anyway my blitz rating there ranges from 1850-1890, so I don't feel too bad!

I tried Yahoo chess and would advise against playing there. For some reason it seems hard to get a game and I’ve never exactly figured the system out. Sometimes I get kicked off boards, you challenge a player and they never respond. I also got cussed out pretty bad by a 1200 I beat…something about using an engine to defeat him! I had a lot of choice words for the guy but decided to be nice and not say anything. They also allow takebacks and a lot of players badger you for takebacks all throughout the game. I usually allowed them to take back a move anytime they requested. After all, if a guy wants a half dozen takebacks a game, how good can he be?

Here’s an amusing incident…I actually dozed off for a minute or two in one game and when I woke up it was my turn to move. I never looked at the board and blundered my Q against a 900 rated opponent. He kept sending me annoying messages calling me stupid, etc. He finally asked how I got such a high rating (apparently when you are rated 900, every rating is high). I told him, “Same way u did. Stupid luck.” That elicited some vulgarities. I wish I could say I won, but he just didn’t make any stupid mistakes and I had to resign which elicited his response of, “hahahahahahaha.” It was pretty funny; even I had to laugh.

I thought I’d check out a couple other realtime sites.BTW, I don’t care for FICS. Here is what I found:

This site hasn’t changed since I first discovered it in 2004. If anything it has gotten worse. I won’t go into the site’s history with the fake GM Amir Bagheri…that’s another story. If you can get past all the annoying popup ads (and there is a lot of them) then as a free account holder you can play 3 games in a 24 hour period. For their ‘advanced features’ you have to pay $69 per year. My suggestion is to save your money and buy yourself something nice. Like a wheelbarrow, maybe.

Caissa's Web
I tried to sign up on this site but for some reason it would not accept my e-mail and kept asking me to enter a valid address so I gave up.

Geeks with Chess
Requires Microsoft Silverlight plugin so I didn’t bother.

Probably the most promising. Ratings are fixed at 1200 until you have played 5 games and you remain provisional until you’ve played 20. Fair enough I guess but it will also mean you have to bash 20 bunnies until you can get any serious games. I played two games against an 1100. He lasted only 18 moves against the Grob Attack but did a little better against the Budapest Gambit…he lasted 19 moves.

Conclusion: UChess might be worth checking out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Piatigorsky Cups

I recently came across an account of these two events in a couple of old Chess Review magazines and it brought back memories of the events. The players were the elite of the chess world and in those days there was no Internet. You had to wait eagerly for the latest issues of Chess Review and Chess Life to find out what happened. We got our news months after the fact in those days.

First Piatigorsky Cup - 1963
Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres shared first place at the First Piatigorsky Cup Tournament. It was the biggest tournament in the US since Dallas 1957 and took place from July 2nd to July 30th, 1963. The event was organized by Jacqueline Piatigorsky, the wife of famed cellist and chess enthusiast Gregor Piatigorsky.

The original plan was to have a double round format consisting of 8 world class players to be held every two years.

Petrosian had dethroned Mikhail Botvinnik earlier in the year.

Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer were sent invitations but Fischer declined. It was quietly rumored he refused to play because the Piatigorsky’s would not pay his $2000 appearance fee so Pal Benko ended up taking the second American spot. Other players were Miguel Najdorf and Oscar Panno of Argentina, Svetozar Gligoric of Yugoslavia, and Fridrik Olafsson of Iceland.

Reshevsky and Keres both came down with the flu early in the event which resulted in some postponed games and a more difficult schedule for all the players. Keres had adjourned two games in winning positions (against Benko and Panno) when he fell ill. In an unusual display of sportsmanship, both players resigned their games.

About halfway through the tournament Gligoric, Najdorf, Keres, and Olafsson all tied at 4½ with Petrosian and Reshevsky a half point behind. Benko and Panno were bringing up the rear at 3 points each. Petrosian ended up with a strong second half and Keres recovered from the flu well enough that he was able to tie the new world champion for first place.

Veteran GM Isaac Kashdan was the chief arbiter of the tournament and later wrote the official tournament book.

1. Petrosian ** ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 1 8½
2. Keres ½ ½ ** ½ 0 1 1 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 8½
3. Najdorf ½ ½ ½ 1 ** ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 7½
4. Olafsson ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ** ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 0 7½
5. Reshevsky ½ ½ 1 1 0 ½ ½ 0 ** ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 7
6. Gligoric 1 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ** 1 ½ ½ 0 6
7. Panno ½ 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ ** 0 1 5½
8. Benko 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 0 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 0 ** 5½

Some of the best games are available here.

Second Piatigorsky Cup-1966
The Second Piatigorsky Cup prize money had doubled to $20,000 which was enough to lure Fischer to into playing. In this tournament ten world class players participated and the tournament turned out to be a race between Spassky and Fischer.

Fischer started poorly but finished second due to a score of 7½/9 in the second cycle. Larsen was also one of the world’s top players at this time and finished 3rd. World champion Petrosian had passed his peak.
Petrosian and Spassky had just finished a World Championship match earlier in the spring in which Petrosian retained his title. The remaining players were: Samuel Reshevsky (U.S.A), Lajos Portisch )Hungary), Wolfgang Unzicker (West Germany), Miguel Najdorf (Argentina), Borislav Ivkov (Yugoslavia) and Jan Donner (The Netherlands).
One sensation was Fischer’s loss of three games in a row in the second week of play (rounds 6, 7, and 8) and he was next to last with 3½/9 at the halfway point. Fischer then won four straight games, drew one, and then won two more to catch up to Spassky.

1 Spassky ** 1½ ½1 1½ ½½ ½½ ½½ ½½ 1½ ½1 11½
2 Fischer 0½ ** 01 ½½ ½1 ½1 ½½ 01 11 ½1 11
3 Larsen ½0 10 ** ½0 1½ ½1 11 1½ 01 ½0 10
4 Unzicker 0½ ½½ ½1 ** ½½ ½½ ½½ ½½ 1½ ½½ 9½
5 Portisch ½½ ½0 0½ ½½ ** ½½ 1½ ½½ ½1 ½1 9½
6 Reshevsky ½½ ½0 ½0 ½½ ½½ ** ½½ ½1 ½½ 1½ 9
7 Petrosian ½½ ½½ 00 ½½ 0½ ½½ ** 11 ½½ ½1 9
8 Najdorf ½½ 10 0½ ½½ ½½ ½0 00 ** 1½ ½1 8
9 Ivkov 0½ 00 10 0½ ½0 ½½ ½½ 0½ ** ½1 6½
10 Donner ½0 ½0 ½1 ½½ ½0 0½ ½0 ½0 ½0 ** 6

Some of the best games are available here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Take Time to Think!

I swear I think some people believe when you play blitz with an increment the idea is to finish with more time than you started with. I played 3 games against some guy rated under 1000 and in every game he played every move instantly and always ended up with over 8 minutes left on his clock. (The games were 8 minutes with a 5 second increment.) Funny thing was he wasn’t a bad player but because he never stopped to think he blundered all over the place as soon as things got even a little complicated.

Against an opponent rated in the mid-1600’s I reached the following position after 23.d5.

It’s not hard to see my position is pretty gloomy; all the chances lie with Black. My Q opposite his R was cause for concern. It doesn’t take much thought to see 23...Bxf4 is a pretty good move. It gets a little complicated after 24.Bxf4 Qe6 but Black stands a tad better.

But after I played 23.d5 Black, with a lot of time on his clock, replied instantly with 23...Ne4? I’m positive all he saw was the threat to capture the B and fork my Q and R. He overlooked that after 24.dxe5 his own Q was attacked. Then he immediately played 24...Nxd2?? [After 24...Rxe5 25.Be3 g5 26.Qg4 Nf6 27.Qe2 gxf4 28.Rxf4 Rfe8 29.Rf3 the game is slightly in White’s favor. So after 25.exd6 Nxf3 26.Rxf3 he was a piece down and resigned in a few moves.

I know what happened. He thought he saw an immediate win so played it without even thinking. I’ll bet he didn’t even consider any moves for me.

Amateur thinking usually runs along the lines of, “If I play this, he will play that.” and so on. Unfortunately “this” is often what he wants to play and “that” is a move for his opponent that cooperates with the “plan.” Masters usually falsify their hypothesis. By that I mean they think, “If I play this, what can he do to refute it?”

The moral of the story is to think before you move. The old adage of if you see a good move, look for a better one would have gone a long way in keeping my opponent from blowing this game in a matter of two moves.

A Thought on Ideas Behind the Openings

I was browsing a 17 year old issue of Chess Review the other day and came across an interesting comment by GM Joel Benjamin. A reader had sent in a question regarding a theoretical novelty he had faced in the K-Indian and had asked Benjamin’s comments.

The specific question is not important, but Benjamin’s comment was very revealing. He said, “You appreciate the strategic elements pretty well…I like your sensible approach to this opening problem. When confronted with a new position relate it to known theory and try to figure out what the differences mean.”

This reminded me of a correspondence game I played a few years ago where my opponent, rated ~2500, played a move that was new to me and I was unable to find in any database. By knowing the correct strategic goals of both sides I was able to determine whether or not his move was a reasonable attempt to accomplish the task. It was. So, I was able to work out a reasonable reply. I don’t remember the final result of the game (which probably means I lost!) but at least I was able to get out of the opening with a playable game.

The point is that Fine’s book is still worth looking at in order to get a perspective of the general strategic goals of any opening you play. That way you'll have a sense of whether any new move you see is reasonably good or not. Either way you'll have some sense of direction.

Ruy Lopez-Norwegian Variation

The Norwegian Defence (aka the Wing Variation) is an aggressive but time-consuming alternative for Black, going 3...a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5. The goal of the opening is to eliminate the white bishop. The usual continuation is 6.0-0 d6 7.d4 Nxb3, but the speculative sacrifice 6.Bxf7+?! Kxf7 7.Nxe5+, has been played in an attempt to drive the black king out, but with accurate play, Black is supposed to be able to consolidate his extra piece.

This defence has been known since the 1880s and was reintroduced in 1901 by Carl Schlechter. In the 1950s, Mark Taimanov played it with some success, though it remained a sideline and such GM’s as Marriotto, Bondarevsky, Furman, Bilek, Robatsch, Pachman, Evans, Donner, Anand, Topalov and Sokolov have played it occasionally. Even Bobby Fischer tried it once.

IM Jeremy Silman wrote, “The Norwegian Defense in the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5) has been considered inferior for quite some time. However, it's positionally suspect, not tactically. Thus the gambit line that attracts (it's attracted many players over the years!) isn't sound and certainly shouldn't be part of any repertoire!”

1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Na5 6. Bxf7+ Kxf7 7. Nxe5+ Ke7 8. d4 Nf6 9. O-O looks more dangerous for Black that it really is. Silman points out that the real test is 6.O-O. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Na5 6.O-O d6 7. d4 Nxb3 8.axb3 with a nice position for White.
Silman adds,” As you can see, 6.Bxf7+? isn't really any fun at all (maybe for Black, but not for White!). However, 6.0-0 gives White an easy game with good chances of a plus. Since the Norwegian is quite rare, why not stick to 6.0-0 (which really requires no memorization or work) and use the time saved for lines that occur with a lot more frequency?

I’ve played this defense off and on for a long time and have rarely had opponents sac the B on f7. In a recent game my opponent didn’t even think before he played 6.Bxf7+. I can’t criticize him too harshly though because after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Nxe5+ Ke7 8.Nc3 Qe8 9.d4 I played the TN 9… Nf6 (better was 9...Kd8 10.Qf3 Nf6

and after 10.Bg5 Bb7 11.0–0 Kd8 12.Qf3 Be7 13.Rae1 d6 14.Nd3 h6 15.Be3 Rf8 16.Nf4 Kc8 the position looked like this:

Now according to Fritz Black’s advantage is evaluated at about ¾ of a Pawn, but, really, you have to be a real material lover to want to play Black’s position. I really can’t see anything for Black to do except hang on and hope to somehow get the QR into play. Here’s the position after White’s 26th move:
My Nf8 arrived there via …a5, …c4, …e5, …g6 and …Nf8 and it did it without accomplishing anything except giving White a lot of space. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good P-breaks, so I just have sit and wait and try not to blunder. Ahhh, yes. It was Znosko-Borovsky in 'How Not to Play Chess' that I first read of that bit of wisdom. He wrote, "Avoid mistakes." Classic advice.

Trying to ease my cramped position I offered a trade of Q’s with 26...Qg4 but White declined and played 27.Qd3 so after 27...N8d7 I at least managed to get the N off its passive square. It doesn’t look as though 26...Ba6 27.Rf3 h5 28.h3 h4 29.Qf2 leads to anything either. I hung on grimly and eventually we reached to following ending:

White only has a P for his piece and lost this ending rather quickly owing to the fact that he has a weak e-Pawn and I have a passed c-Pawn.

Looking over this game I was, oddly enough, unable to strengthen White’s attack! At the same time, had I made any serious mistakes, White’s position could have instantly become overwhelming!

I’m not sure what’s the point of all this except that when it comes to playing sacrifice on f7 it seems that Silman is right…you shouldn’t do it. After all nobody tried it against any of the GM’s because, apparently, they knew better. Even against players of lesser stature than GM’s it didn’t work out too good for White in most of the games I found. On the other hand against non-masters it puts Black in a difficult position of having to find a lot of defensive moves. I was up to the task this time, but don’t think I will play this line any time soon.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reuben Fine

Fine is another player of yesteryear who, I think, is not much appreciated these days. NY Times Obituary.

You can download Fine’s Ideas Behind the Chess Openings HERE. To read this book you will need to download the free WinDjView program. Don’t let the facts that this book is in Descriptive Notation or that it was published in 1943 prevent you from reading it. It is still a good book for getting an understanding of the basic strategy behind the openings. Here’s a sample page:

Double click image to enlarge

Here's s miniature won by Fischer against Fine. It was an offhand gameand the only one they ever played.

First US Rating List

The first US Chess Federation Rating List was published in Chess Life magazine on November 20, 1950. The first list had nine classifications and rated 2,306 players. The Classes were as follows:
Senior Master=2500-2699
Class A=1900-2099
Class B=1700-1899
Class C=1500-1699
Class D= under 1500

Reuben Fine (2817)
Samuel Reshevsky (2770)

Senior Masters:
Alex Kevitz (2610)
Arthur Dake (2598)
Arnold Denker (2575)
Isaac Kashdan (2574)
I.A. Horowitz (2558)
Albert Simonson (2596)
Fred Reinfeld (2593)
Abraham Kupchik (2538)
David Polland (2521)
George Treysman (2521)

Masters over 2400:
Larry Evans (2484)
Herbert Seidman (2451)
Dr. Max Pavey (2442)
George Shainswit (2442)
Albert Pinkus (2422)
Arthur Bisguier (2394)
George Kramer (2394)
Herman Steiner (2394)
Donald Byrne (2392)
Weaver Adams (2383)

By May of 1956 the list had changes as follows:
Now Grandmasters were anyone rated 2600 and up and Senior Masters were rated between 2400 and 2599.
Samuel Reshevsky (2663)

Senior Masters:
Arthur Bisguier (2529)
Donald Byrne (2557)
Robert Byrne (2590)
Arthur Dake (2412)
Arnold Denker (2407)
Larry Evans (2593)
I.A.Horowitz (2442)
Isaac Kashdan (2525)
Alex Kevitz (2405)
George Kramer (2404)
Max Pavey (2429)
Nicholas Rossolimo (2533)
Herbert Seidman (2426)
James T. Sherwin (2436)

Masters were now anyone rated 2200 to 2399. Experts were now 2000 to 2199. Class A was 1800 to 1999. Class B was 1600 to 1799. Class C was anyone below 1600.

The top women on the list were Gisela Gresser (2056), Sonja Graf (2040), Nancy Roos (2008), and Mona Kay Karff (2004). This was the first National Rating List that Bobby Fischer (age 13) appeared on and his rating was 1726.

By the end of 1960, which was shortly after I started playing serious chess, the top players were:

Bobby Fischer (2641)
Samuel Reshevsky (2632)
William Lombardy (2555)
Robert Byrne (2535)
Pal Benko (2501)
Arthur Bisguier (2501)
Larry Evans (2465)
Raymond Weinstein (2448)
Robert Steinmeyer (2426)
Dr. Anthony Saidy (2412)
James T. Sherwin (2411)
Robert Cross (2408)
Hans Berliner (2406)
Arthur Feuerstein (2406)

These were the players I grew up following in US chess. Of this group I played Reshevsky (draw), Rossolimo (lost) and Feuerstein (2 losses). In addition to those three, I met Fischer, Lombardy, Byrne, Benko, and Bisguier.

Some names won’t be very familiar. Arthur Feuerstein (cousin to GM Bisguier and the unfortunate IM Raymond Weinstein) was in a near-fatal car accident in 1972 that left him in a coma for 6 weeks. When he recovered, he didn’t know how to speak English that well or who his family wasbut two things were never forgotten: 1) who his wife was and 2) how to play chess. However it seems he never played chess at the same high level he did before the accident.

Robert H. Steinmeyer was a top US player in the 60-70’s as well as one of the best US postal players. Other than playing in some US Championships it seems he confined his play to mostly events in Missouri.

James Cross came to prominence as a 16-year-old and the December 1946 issue of Chess Review had an article on him as a promising junior. Not much is known about Cross, but I remember him as playing in a lot of local tournaments but can’t remember where he was from. Some of his games can be found here: James Cross Games

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More on Heisman's Advice

The following game against a mid-1500 rated opponent shows what I was talking about in the post on Dan Heisman.

To begin with he played a gambit I’m not very familiar with so I ended up playing into a position where Fritz and Houdini engines said my position was inferior by 2-3 P’s. In a couple of cases I disagree with their evaluation, but obviously I’m not good enough to prove it. In any case, what interesting is the position after I played 20…g5. White grabbed the P and attacked my R on d8 without hesitation then after 21…Rg8 realized I was threatening mate and his B was pinned. As the engines pointed out, he should have played 22.h4; that would have lost a B for a P but at least he had some dim hopes.

But wait! There’s more. After 24.Re6 my Q doesn’t have any escape squares and I have to return the piece to save it and we end up with an equal position! Even if White failed to notice that point he would have been able to play on and make me work for the win. Instead he made a couple meaningless threats (22.d5 and 23.Rab1) and repeatedly refused to play the obvious defensive move. I’m guessing that the mate threat and loss of a piece instilled him with panic and he was no longer thinking clearly.

I see this time and again even in my own play against stronger opponents. Stay calm and focused! You can’t afford to relax for even one move, especially if you have an inferior position. Easier said than done though.

Chess Infomercial on the Internet

I present this only for the reader’s amusement. It’s hilarious!

Find Out How You Can Beat Your Chess Opponent!

Read what other are saying: Chess Chat

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dan Heisman Articles

During last several years I’ve played CC almost exclusively and most of the games have been against players in the range of 1900-2300. So I’ve had very little experience against lower rated players in recent years but lately I’ve been experimenting with playing a lot of 10-15 minutes games on various sites and my challenges have often been accepted by players in the 1200-1400 range.

I don’t mind playing what usually ends up being a series of 2-4 games in a row against such players because I’m not really concerned about taking a hit on the (meaningless) rating points or developing bad habits or any other reason that higher rated players give for avoiding playing people whose ability they feel is beneath them. Sometimes there is a challenge in just finding the tactics; there’s always ample opportunity because most of the time they end up with positions so bad sacrifices just come naturally. See the last post where I played an unnecessary sac and still won.

Anyway that’s not what this post is about. It’s about some common traits I’ve noticed with players in the 1200-1400 range, or in many cases even up to 1600. Sidebar: it seems like 1200-1400’s play a lot better than they used to!

In many cases they play very good, even to the point of establishing superior positions, but then something happens…they fall apart! Very often they seem to know the correct general strategy as happened in a recent K-Indian-Samisch where I was White. My 1250ish opponent knew he was supposed to seek play on the Q-side and made a couple of moves directed to that end. But when I had what looked to be threats on the K-side, he abandoned any idea of seeking counterplay on the Q-side and started reacting to my moves on the K-side. My position looked aggressive but in truth the game was quite even as his defensive resources were adequate. Even when I got a better position as a result of his passive play I had no clear win. That’s when all ideas of Q-side play and even the thought of playing defensive moves went out the window. He lashed out, of all places, on the K-side. I don’t know. Maybe he thought all the P moves had weakened my King's position, but he clearly was not aware of the fact that it was a bad idea to open up the position on the side where your opponent has all his pieces…especially when half of his own were sitting on the other side of the board. The result was a quick tactical blunder that resulted in his getting mated. So, yes, the game was decided by tactics but only because he did not understand the strategy that the position demanded he play.

I know what was going through his head because the last time I played an IM, I did the same thing. At the first sign of a threat I assumed that as a 2500 he was seeing a lot more than I was and so began to imagine all kinds of nonexistent threats. The result was a series of weak defensive moves culminating in a game-losing blunder. I admit it; I was afraid of booger men.

NM Dan Heisman describes what is happening perfectly when he calls it 'Hope Chess.'

The more I read what Heisman has to say, the more convinced I become that for anyone in this rating bracket who wants to improve, they should NOT buy any books on chess. It may take some time and a few dollars worth or paper and printer ink, but I would just go to Heisman’s site and start printing out every one of his articles and study them. It’s really good stuff and the price is right…it’s free.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Too Many Sacs

Most of my CC games are played against players in the 2000-2300 range and they make very few tactical errors so I never get to sac anything. In this blitz game I got carried away and made some unnecessary sacs. In fact right at the end I overlooked a mate in one, choosing instead to underpromote to deliver a R mate.

Another success for the Grob Attack due mostly to Black’s multiple Q moves in the opening which allowed me a big lead in development. Look at the position after Black’s 16th move.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Ending to Analyze

In the diagram I played 56.Kxf5 and after 56...Rxd3 ended up losing. Black got his 2P’s advanced far enough that he was able to sac his R for my f-Pawn and queen one of his own which my lone R couldn’t stop. Was 56.Ne5 any better?

I don’t know. I tried analyzing this position with an engine without much success because too much is beyond the engine’s horizon to correctly evaluate the position and I’m just not good enough to know what the result should be. Maybe somebody who is actually interested in studying chess and trying to improve wants to tackle it. These days such analysis is more work than I want to do.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Advice from Tarrasch

The name Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch doesn’t mean much to today’s players but for many years his book, The Game of Chess, was the best available for those wanting to learn the game. Fred Reinfeld's book,Tarrasch’s Best Games of Chess, was one of Reinfeld’s best books ever. It would behoove the aspiring player to play over Tarrasch’s games from the Reinfeld book as they are good examples for learning the elements of strategy.

While looking through my 1940 edition of The Game of Chess, I discovered the following instructive comment by Tarrasch in his introduction to the section on openings:

I expressly warn (you) against trying to learn by heart the following openings. A terrible thought! (You) must thoroughly assimilate the principles, and then, when (you) have played a game, (you) should study the application of those principles to the particular opening adopted. Thus (you) will discover the inner significance of the various openings. Chess cannot be played from memory but only with judgment and combinative ability. Both can be practiced and strengthened.

This remains good, but often neglected, advice.

Another great Tarrasch book:

For more information on this great player check out Wikipedia's article on Tarrasch.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Winning Won Games…

We all know it’s not always easy. I arrived at the following position and fortunately for me my opponent handed me the game when he exceeded the T/L. Had he had enough time left and played the obvious 31…Rb6, then according to Fritz I still had a advantage of over 5 Pawns. The truth is I was about to throw away the advantage had he played it! Not that there was anything wrong with my planned 32.Qxe5+, but it was the next move that I had in mind that would have frittered away the advantage.

Would I have found 33.Rd2 and kept the advantage? Not likely. The reason is because 33.Rd2 is a move that is of a defensive nature against Black’s threat on b3, and I was thinking only of attacking. Furthermore, I never would have seen Black’s defensive resource of 34…Re3. For that matter I never would have found the moves leading up to 38.Rf6 either.

In short, even though the engines give White a whopping advantage in the diagram, winning still takes some skill…most likely more than I have.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Miniature Win Against an FIDE Master

When I challenged my opponent in a 5 minute plus 12 second game on chess.com I had no idea I was playing an FM! Fortunately I selected my old standby opening, the Torre Attack. I say fortunately because I’ve played it for so long I’m fairly well-versed in it…pattern recognition is the key even if I don’t know a lot of specific lines.

It started out with Black using a K-Indian setup. Against that, I play a pretty standard system: 4.Nbd2 with the idea of playing e4 at once. Then I play c3 and develop the KB at e2. If Black plays, as he often does, …e5 I trade d4xe5, overprotect the eP with Re1 and Qc2 then play Nc4 and retreat the B on e2 to f1 then start pushing the Q-side P’s.

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about from Kasparov-Martinovic, Baku, 1980:
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 d6 5.e4 0–0 6.c3 Nbd7 7.Be2 e5 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.0–0 b6 10.Re1 Bb7 11.Qc2 h6 12.Bh4 Qe7 13.Bf1 Rfe8 14.b4

On the other hand if Black opts for a Gruenfeld-type setup to contest the light squares e4, c4 and d5, then the best plan is to switch your thinking and play c4 instead of c3, then play it rather like a QGD. If that happens you’ll often have to submit to an IQP, so you need to be comfortable with that. Of course the Torre P-formation with P's on c3, d4 and e3 is also good, but in manmy cases you end up having to play c4 anyway, so I just prefer to do it at once.

In this game I was able to gain a significant amount of clock time in the opening because of my familiarity with it, so that was a good thing. Black had a pretty cramped position and was a P down in the final position, but he was far from lost! I think he was shocked by my 15.Nxc6 and simply missed the resource 15…Qc7 (I didn’t see it either). Had he played it, I likely would have boogered up the game at some point and lost…after all, the guy is a titled player and had he forced me to prove the win I probably wouldn’t have been up to it!

Thoughts on Improvement

I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been doing something I rarely do…playing 10 minute games on a couple of different sites. A lot of those games have been against players rated 1400-1600. While I’m well aware that server ratings have no correlation with OTB ratings, these players exhibited knowledge and style that’s probably pretty close to what one would see by “average” OTB players.

Rather than using ratings, it might be helpful to use a verbal description of the playing style of many of these players. For that I’ll use descriptions found at the Exeter Chess Club site which, BTW, has some excellent instructional material.

One thing they mention is Soviet trainer Vladimir Zak's description of the different stages of development of chess players:
1. Attack something - and if it doesn't move, take it
2. Both opponents base their play on elementary traps
3. Tactical operations without regard for position
4. Harmonious cooperation of the pieces and combinations
5. Ability to find the right strategic plan
The author observes that ~1400’s players are fighting clear of stage 3, although stage 4 isn't always apparent in the play of 1800 players! Here’s a slightly modified chart of levels of development taken from the Exeter site:

Level 1
Openings: know basic principles but sometimes incomplete and often too-simple development
Tactics: Basic tactics but easier to see their own.
Strategy: in planning don't use all the pieces and games often appear episodic
Endings: May be hesitant to use King and often don't know theory

Level 2
Openings: Play solidly and can trot out moves of their systems but not good at seeing or setting problems
Tactics: More complex tactics but usually in familiar settings.
Strategy: Can play soundly but can be inflexible; often have a marked preference for certain styles of play.
Endings: May defend rather than attack. Theory often not much better!

Level 3
Openings: Opening theory sound and can adapt to changed circumstances.
Tactics: Can see and set traps; moves have a 'point'.
Strategy: Understand most of the clockwork attacks; when solid are also flexible - keep their pieces active.
Endings: good at problem-setting in endgame, and seeking or limiting counterplay.

National Master Dan Heisman has given a similar description of player’s stages of development.

Flip-Coin Chess - They really don't care what their opponent does, and the winner is the one who accidentally makes more, or larger, threats that are duly ignored. At this level of play threatening checkmate, no matter how bad the move is otherwise, is often rewarded.

Hope Chess is practiced by 99%+ of the adults who do not play in tournaments, and by almost all tournament players rated under ~1600 USCF…if you don't play Real Chess, then you often allow your opponent to create unstoppable threats. Strong players …are consciously looking for all upcoming checks, captures, and threats…if you don't play Real Chess, you probably never will be really good, but if you do play Real Chess, that is no guarantee you will be a very strong player! You still have to learn about all the other things that players study: openings, endgames, pawn structures, planning, lots of tactical patterns, etc.

One key to promoting yourself from Hope Chess to Real Chess is checking for upcoming danger on every move, and not just most of the time…assuming the average game is 40 moves, twice each game (5% x 40) you open yourself up to an immediate loss. If you allow these two oversights each game, then you will play MUCH weaker than you will if you play Real Chess on every move. After all, it only takes one bad move to lose a game! So if you otherwise play 1700 strength for 38 moves but on two moves you play at only a 500 level, what do you think your average playing strength will be for the entire 40 moves?

No wonder that players who read tons of books and accumulate decent chess knowledge often lose to players with much less knowledge. The “well-read losers” can attribute their losses to talent or luck (usually the latter!), but often it is just that their opponent is playing Real Chess on every move, and they are not, and so their rating (and results) are relegated to the Hope Chess masses.

These descriptions are right on the money. One thing I noticed about all these players is that they all took the following approach:
1) Openings were either a) some wild, unsound gambit or b) very passive. The latter were especially interesting because they always played a few moves by rote but then did not follow the strategy dictated by the openings they had selected. The result was that they got passive positions then, rather than planning, they began simply reacting to any threats I had.

2) The end result was always a middlegame where I ended up with a crushing combination that finished them off. These tactics did not come from consciously playing for them; they were the result of a vastly superior position. Usually when they finally realized they were losing, rather than seeking legitimate counterplay, they would make an unsound sacrifice for the sake of a couple of checks. Many of them played exactly as Heisman described in his description of ‘Hope Chess.’

3) Endings were never reached in any of these games, so I can’t comment.

For the last 2 years I’ve been following the progress of a player who was initially rated ~1400 when he started his quest to reach 1800. He’s not bothered to study anything but tactics and openings. He changes his openings like most people change their socks; the end result is that he never learns the underlying strategic principles of any opening he plays. All he can do is get through 12-15 book moves, but after that, he has no idea how to continue. He refuses to play through master games to gain any ideas as to how the game flows from the opening. He also neglects endings. He’s learned enough about chess that at one point he reached a rating of well over 1700, but then it tumbled to barely over 1600.

What happened? He got strong enough that he could no longer enter events where he played only 1400-1600's and had to start playing 1700-1900 rated players and as the chart notes, these players possess knowledge he simply does not have and never will if all he continues to do is like he has stated in his plan to get his rating points back: he’s ordered two or three new opening books and is going to hit the tactic servers harder.

I advised him several times back when he started his quest that to reach his goal of achieving an 1800 rating hat he was going to have to stick to a couple of openings, study strategy and endings and play over hundreds of master games, preferably with his choice openings so as to get a feel for how masters handle the resulting positions and at the same time increase his pattern recognition skills.

He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and my advice was nonsense because chess is 99% tactics. I finally gave up on him, and here it is two years later...his rating is still mid-1600’s and he’s just ordered more opening books and vowed to practice more tactics. He’s under the impression that what got him from 1400 to 1600 will get him to 1800, so it’s more of the same. Unfortunately he’s really not increasing his understanding.