Thursday, July 27, 2006

CT-Art Envy and Au revoir

I'm leaving for a two-week vacation to France tomorrow! My first visit to France. I'll be in Paris. Any suggestions for good chess spots in Paris? I can't promise anything, but I'll try to post once while there. My last 45 45 game is Sunday night: we'll see how I do in conditions in which most people win GM norms. That is, jet-lagged.

I had a look at CT-Art last night. The wonderful features it has, which CTB doesn't, include 1) The sweet 5x5 mini-board testing you on the key idea when you make two mistakes. 2) Defensive training: at least on some problems, once you've solved it, it gives you the move as the other color so you can practice defending against the tactic. 3) You can divide up the problems by difficulty, or by two types of themes. Since I think it is good practice to look at the same problems from multiple angles, I think it would be great to work through the problems sorted in all three ways (three times each means nine circles).

I can better appreciate why de la Maza recommended CT-Art. I can't wait until I'm ready for that program! It must have taken thousands of man-hours to complete.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Circle 2, Day 2

Finished Stage 1 (mate in 1 problems) pretty quickly. I sorely need the practice though: in my last game I missed a mate in one!

Circle #1.11.22
Total #723723723
# Done723723123
% Correct9296100
NOTE: Circles done with CTB.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Finished Circle 1

I finished Circle 1 on Sunday. I will resist the temptation to do another mini-circle with some of the tougher problems. I got 96 percent correct, which is a little disappointing (the last 100 problems or so really nailed me), but I'll move on and hope I continue to improve. Here is a problem that I missed, which I expect next time I'll solve in three seconds:

In Circle 2, I will do the same 723 problems randomly sorted, i.e., no themes labeled. I expect this to be much more challenging. It really helps when you know the theme is 'Capture the Enemy Queen.'

Circle #1.11.2
Total #723723
# Done723723
% Correct9296
NOTE: Circles done with CTB.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Grand Prix Attack: Assets and Liabilities

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was sick of playing the c3 Sicilian as white, and that I was ready to find a new response. At the time, I had narrowed down my choice to either the Smith-Morra Gambit or the Grand Prix Attack (GPA). I decided on the GPA (2. f4). I decided against the Smith-Morra Gambit, not because it isn't sound, but because good players don't accept it, and transpose into the French. I hate the French. I really like playing the GPA so far, and am clearly in the early "in love" phase of the relationship, so caveat emptor.

Here are some thoughts about the pluses and minuses of the GPA (note that there is an excellent Bibliography of literature on the GPA at the Kenilworth Blog):

1. Natural and principled moves, with a few exceptions, lead to a solid middlegame.
2. No hypermodern crap, which I hate, as in the Closed Sicilian. And I don't have to learn the reams of theory that go along with it, and the same goes for the Open Sicilian. Since the GPA isn't a main line, there isn't tons of theory to learn. (The GPA isn't mentioned in any of my beginning opening books!).
3. Tak complained that the GPA seemed like the KG, but with no gambit. Exactly! Translation: it's like the KG except you don't have to give a pawn away on move two! Don't most experts agree that the KGD is better for white than the KGA?
4. The pawn duo on e4/f4 is a powerful force, immediately applying pressure to black's kingside. Besides opening up a file for your f rook, the pawn on f4 creates a nice outpost on the e5 square, and threatens an f5 advance, blocking in black's white bishop. The power of the duo partly explains why it is smart for black to play 2...d5 against the GPA!
5. The pawn structure is similar to those I usually transpose into as white in the King's Pawn openings. Hence, I am already somewhat comfortable with the pawn duo on e4/f4, and the GPA has given me some new ideas that I'll be able to use in my King's Pawn games. I had read about synergy between repertoire choices, and now I get to see it. It's pretty sweet.

1. As Tempo pointed out, c2 is often a weak square. I'm not sure this is unique to the GPA response to c5. However, it is a genuine problem, a problem which the c3 Sicilian remedies (I have learned that in chess you pay for safety with boredom). I wonder if an early Na3 could sometimes be a good move to protect that square?
2. Typically black has a space advantage queenside, and has the opportunity to trap white's pieces there (for example, see this game where my bishop was trapped queenside). This is sort of unnerving.
3. Because of 2, there is a very tense middlegame, where black is gearing up for a queenside attack, and white for a kingside attack. It's all about the initiative, and if you aren't good at seizing the initiative when the position calls for it, you will be screwed. I am not good at seizing the initiative, or knowing when the position calls for an attack (any good books on this other than Art of Attack?), so I'll be taking some lumps as I improve.
4. The GPA will soon gain in popularity, unfortunately, as it is the recommended line in Chess Openings for White, Explained, which will surely be a chess bestseller. Oh well, at least I can say I played it before it was the cool thing to do.
5. Some say that 2...d5 refutes the GPA (hence, many have gone to playing the 'delayed' GPA 2. Nc3 3. f4, as white, to deal with it). Frankly, I think this obituary was written prematurely, but if the GPA starts to feel broke, I'll switch to the delayed GPA.

All in all, I'm very happy with the GPA. Typically, I can tell that I don't like an opening after a week or so playing with it (this happened with the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit and the Sicilian as black). I may have found a new life-partner (speaking of which, tomorrow is my 2-year wedding anniversary: Hi Julia!).

Saturday, July 22, 2006

45 45 Tourny Game: Another Grand Prix Attack

I got a win as white in the 45 45 League. Again, I got an opportunity to play the Grand Prix Attack (1. e5 c5 2. f4) against the Sicilian. You can see the annotated game here. I can see why they call the GPA an Attacking opening, as it really seems to open up the opponent's kingside to your Queen, Rook, and Bishop. It was these pieces, in coordination, that led my attack. I felt like Temposchlucker.

I made some boneheaded moves, which are noted in the annotations, but for the most part I am happy with my play. I played more actively than usual, and didn't make moves that removed pressure from key squares. Both changes made a big difference.

Letter opener

Over at a new chess blog, by Transformation, the most recent post is titled Letters to a Young Blue Devil. I think he is talking about me, though he could be talking to all Duke students and staff :) In the letter, among other things, he discusses the best methods for new players to improve. Thanks, Transformation!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Circle 1.2, Day 38

Great problems in Phase 3 of CTB. Lots of basic tactics to win material. Fun practice thinking through move sequences, which is a big weakness for me in real games.

Circle #1.11.2
Total #719719
# Done719668
% Correct9295
NOTE: Circles done with CTB.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


No, not the famous blogger, and not my pieces, but the The Divine Tragedy.

I thought of giving up on the Circles tonight, not because I think they aren't what I need to improve at chess (they are), but because life calls. For instance, I need to focus more intensely on my career (e.g., my Neuroscience Blog, grants, papers, coding, running rats, etc.), and chess is starting to take up too much time and mental energy.

Rather than give up altogether (that would be sort of extreme), I think I'm going to modify things. First, a maximum of one hour a day at chess, unless it is a day I am playing in the 45 45 league. Second, instead of putting a 98% correct rule on myself (where I have to repeat Circles in which I score below 98% correct), I'm just gonna go through the dang Circles and be done with it. If I want, I can go crazy when I'm done, and keep going through them until I get 100% correct or whatever.

In some ways, I am glad I discovered chess so late in life, after I finished school. Given my character (flaws), I probably would have let it devour my life when I was younger.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Game 4 in 45 45 league: Loss with GPA

I played as white, and my opponent played the Sicilian. Hence, I got to trot out the Grand Prix Attack for the first time. I lost, as can be seen in the annotated game here. I made one major error (move 22) that blew the game. It was a tricky little position, and if I had just more seriously considered the consequences of my potential captures, I probably would have made the right move eventually. I like these games, as my errors are more subtle and instructive than in fast games.

I really liked the GPA. With natural-feeling moves, I was able to get a pretty good position in the middlegame (which I squandored) on this line I hadn't even studied. It felt natural partly because the pawn structure is similar to the King's Gambit declined, which I often transpose into.

One thing that was reinforced was that I should be spending less time studying openings, and use my non-tactical study time playing slow games so I can get better at my thought process, in particular thinking through the consequences of all checks and captures.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Congrats to King of the Spill

[Bagpipe music should be imagined while reading this post]

King of the Spill, who started his Seven Circles in March 2005, has finished his circles! He heroically used Tasc Chess Tutor software, which consists of like 2500 problems. If my calculations are correct, that means King has done over 90 BILLION problems in his seven circles.

In one of his memorable boasts, all too common in the first half of TCT before the problems really pick up in difficulty, he once said "After 1000 + problems I think mastering TCT is going to be a piece of cake." Now, over a year later, he is battle-hardened, wise, and perhaps has a little more respect for his noble vanquished enemy.

This is a bittersweet day. King of the Spill's was the first chess blog I saw, and ultimately led me to the Knights Errant. I had already read, and liked, MDLM's book, so when I saw there was a community of nuts doing the Circles I decided to take the plunge. It feels like the last of the old guard is moving on. Nowadays, few people are doing the good-ol'-fashioned seven circles, opting for the Personal Chess Trainier, CTS, and the like.

King of the Spill, congrats, and I hope you keep us posted about your progress!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nobody studies openings as effectively as I

Working on my response to the Sicilian (as white) last night, I ended up spending at least an hour on a very interesting sideline in which white sacrifices a knight on move seven but ends up with a crazy attack that black just can't stop.

How many times has this interesting sideline occurred in my database? A whopping 0.0% of the games!

A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that this opening will occur in roughly 0 games in my lifetime. Time well spent!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Game 3 in 45/45 League. Time ain't on my side

I came out with a win as white for the 45 45 Chess League. Annotated game is here. The win was via two tactical shots my opponent gave me. He was a tough opponent, and the middle game got very complex. I squandered most of my time there, and was down to two minutes on my clock about thirty moves in. Man, that stressed me out.

The most important lesson is that I need to work on time management. Frankly, I am not sure how I can move much faster in the middle game without making mistakes. Perhaps I need to sacrifice some thinking time in the middle so I have some left over at the end. My opponent used his clock very effectively. Many times I simply moved, realizing that I needed more time to really think through the position. Some of my moves were purposely made to simplify the position so I wouldn't have to keep chewing so much time off the clock.

I'll start reading what Heisman says about time management, and see if there are any 60 60 leagues out there :).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

New and improved chess excuses

The sun was in my eyes, my mouse slipped, he cheated, he played on in a lost position, her ample bosom distracted me, he played off book, I had a hangover, etc.. Here's a new one that I've heard a couple of Knights allude to, which I would like to declare: I have been doing too many tactical problems!

The fact that my previous 45/45 game was lost largely to to quiescence errors (see previous post) is troubling because such errors are so elementary. (See this Heisman article for a discussion of such errors.) It wasn't that I missed the captures my opponent had, but I just lazily thought, "Oh, I'll be able to make up the material" without actually doing the calculations to see if I was right!?

I think that part of the reason for this apparent laziness is that I have been solving exclusively one- to two-move problems in CTB, and it has started to become a habit to only think a couple of moves ahead, even for obvious move sequences. Longer sequences become cognitively screened off because I know that's not what CTB is looking for. I need to be wary of such pernicious side-effects of my tactical training!

While troubling, the counting/quiescence errors should be some of the easiest to fix if I am just disciplined during the game. I have to think through the consequences of every serious candidate move to see how the dust might settle. I have always been surprised that there aren't more elementary tactical problems that are meant to help you avoid quiescence errors. Wolff's Idiot's Guide to Chess has about a dozen such problems. I'll do them again. I'd like to get my hands on a thousand such problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Second 45/45 Game: Quiescence Errors

My second game in the 45 45 league can be seen with annotations here. Two tactical errors, which I would have avoided by simply thinking through the natural move sequence, destroyed me. I also played horribly in the endgame, missing an obvious attack that would have given me some chances. Hence, a loss as black.

Thanks to Sancho Pawnza for going over the game with me afterwards. He also taught me the basics of K/B/B and K/N/B vs K mating patterns. I've got the K/B/B down (yippee!) but the K/N/B mate is pretty tricky. I can't yet do it within 50 moves.