Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Master games

Without serious study of the chess classics it is not possible to become a proper chessplayer, just as it is impossible to imagine, say, a writer or poet who has not read Shakespeare, or an artist who has never seen Rembrandt's paintings (Artur Yusupov).
While I don't know if the above is true, I've decided that working through master games on a real chess board will help my board vision in tournaments, and can only help my game. I'm starting with Steinitz, and will work through 20 or more games of each world champion. After Steinitz, I'll work with Lasker (luckily Soltis has just put out a book of annotated Lasker games, called Why Lasker Matters).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tournament update: 2nd Place

I lost the final game in a barn-burner. We both played like patzers (well, we are patzers), but it was fun. Near the end a big crowd had gathered 'round as the game went to the wire and it was for first in the division (U1200). I am very bummed about the loss, but at least it was to a girl (this may encourage her to continue in chess).

Overall, a beautiful tournament venue. It was truly exciting to play with over 30 people U1200. I don't know if I'll play in an U1200 division again: I kind of prefer U1400 as people tend to be better than me and I learn more and play better. It really was a kind of comedy of errors in there, myself included. Also, the U1200 is only 60/0 and I think I need more time. 60/0 isn't enough time for many deep thinks...Rating change: 967-->1110.

Game 5: 4/0
My first loss. A young girl (probably 11 or so) who was on a tear (she had 3.5 points, so this was a battle for first). I skewered her rook/queen early, and was up the exchange. She later equalized with some nice tactics when I hung a rook. We ended up in the endgame with her two pawns up. She promoted, I made one last ditch attempt to draw by repetition (and win 1st in my division) but she had none of that and I resigned.

Game 4: 4/0
I beat the top-seeded dude at board 1. It was intense but I played more aggressively than usual, using pawn pushes and a crazy attack to demolish his kingside pawn structure. Trading my bad bishop for his good bishop early on was key. Confirming what we all knew anyway about rating disparities, he's in the 1500s at ICC, and only rated 1180 USCF. One more game at 1PM today. I'm playing for first in the U1200 division. Everyone is right that I need to stop worrying about flippin' ratings, play the board, and make the best moves I can (that doesn't depend on the other person's rating!).

Game 3: 3/0
Played someone my own age for once, with the white pieces. He was good (but rated around 701 or something: what is it with all these low rating players playing like 1200+ players at ICC?). This was an even game until, once again, there wasn't much material on the board and I found a sweet discovered attack and got his bishop. The king attack then began and I mated him in a few moves. Next game (tomorrow morning) I will probably play the best player in the U1200 division (he is rated 1180). Wish me luck. Gulp.

I really started to feel tired in the third game. The work I've done in CTB has paid off: I'm still not tactically proficient in complicated middlegames when all the material is still on the board, but once we're down to a few pieces and pawns, something just turns on and I see stuff.

Game 2: 2/0
Another nice boy (around 12 yo rated around 650 but played much better after the opening) and I had black. He played horribly in the opening, but I didn't punish him. Before you know it he was doing this crazy queenside pawn storm with this impressive tactics, ending up a rook ahead! He had like 50 minutes on his clock, I had 10. I dug deep, and started a desperate attack. I got my rook back, and then started a king chase and mated him. One thing I've noticed: when there isn't a lot of material on the board, my tactical vision becomes much better and I take my opponent out. This is likely because it mimics the conditions of Chess Tactics for Beginners.

Game 1: 1/0
I played a nice boy (around 10 years old) rated 486. I had the white pieces. He played the French, and was much better than his rating. I played the exchange variation to open things up, get him out of his comfort zone, and hoped for some tactics (thinking at the time, hell he's only 486 I should be able to dominate him tactically). Then I blundered a knight. I had a five move plan, and on move five I didn't think about his responses, but only about implementing my plan. He had me on the ropes, but then weakened his kingside pawn structure and let me fork his king and rook. The attack was on, and I was storming his kingside with an unstoppable attack when he resigned. Note to self: if I have a multi-move plan, don't just make the moves in the plan rapidly. I need to stop and think after each move to make sure my plan is sound, think about the actual position rather than the one I visualized N moves ago.

Next game is in 50 minutes.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Goals for tournament

I'm playing in a big tournament in NC this weekend, Land of the Sky. If last year's cross table is any indication, the U1200 section should have around 30 people! Five games, 60 minutes each. Not a ton of time, but enough to think a little.

My big goals:
1. Efficiently consider possible responses before I make a move, especially if I am attacking.
2. Consider pawn moves, both my own and my opponent's.
3. Keep my cool when under attack.
4. Play more aggressively: if I end up crashing and burning, we'll have some laughs about it later.
5. Don't get overconfident when I am winning. Don't waste time looking for the most brilliant or fastest win: find the easiest win.
6. Be social and have fun.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lesson 4: Opening zinger

Lesson tonight. It was OK. We went over a few of my games first. Besides missing some sweet tactical shots (of course!), he pointed out that I need to be more aggressive, that I tend to play very cautiously even when I have some good captures (especially pawn captures). Fritz points this out to me constantly. I still have a blindspot for pawn moves and captures, often I don't consider them when I have them, or when my opponent has them as defensive possibilities. I need to consider all defenses to my moves, all captures, and think them through (especially if the result seems unclear to me: if I think it through it could turn out to be quite a nice move!).

Another useful rule he pointed out, which is from Lasker: don't pin the king's knight to his queen until your opponent has castled kingside. That way, if he tries to chase away your bishop, you can safely move the bishop back to h4, and if he gives chase with the other pawn, he has severely weakened his castled king. This is very useful!

Finally we discussed some different opening options (even though I'm not working on openings really: ha!). I said I was sick of the closed Ruy as black and wanted to play the Open Ruy since it is more tactically oriented. He suggested a crazy version of the open Ruy, the Riga variation, one branch of which includes a crazy bishop sacrifice by black, which unfortunately leads directly to a draw. [The crazy line goes: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc5 a6 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. 0-0 Nxe4 7. d4 exd4 (the Riga move) 8. Re1 d5 9. Nxd4 Bd3 10. Nxc6 Bxh2+! which leads to a draw.] Flear says it is sound. I said it didn't seem like the kind of opening a GM would play, that it is the kind of opening I'd use for a while but later discard as too kooky. I want something that I'll want to keep. I jokingly added, I want an opening I can play when I become a GM. "You'll never be a GM," he said, not joking. While I know it is true, I still felt crushed, like I had just lost 50 games in a row. Not good mental prep for my five-game tournament this weekend. I need to get over it.

Brought in from longer response in comments:I'm not in this to be a GM. I started out hoping to reach 1200 at ICC. Now my goal is to reach 1500. But the rating is really not the object: I'm in it to have fun, to improve my game so that I can enjoy it more and appreciate it's beauty, not just to prop up my ego by being out of the bottom 50% at ICC. Love of the game should set north on my compass, not a goal of becoming a GM. Which I will never be. But I don't think it's cuz I couldn't. It's beacause, given the life I have chosen, I will not.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


In my most recent game in Round 2 of the Team 45/45 tournament, I broke the 1300 mark at ICC.

In the game, he made a crazy bishop sacrifice in the two-knights Ruy (one of my least favorite openings to face as black), and then kept giving me material. I played very conservatively, trading away material until I had a complete lock in the endgame. I was very scared in the beginning at move 8 when he checked me with his knight. Then on move 9 he brought in his other knight, forming a frightening attack with a threat of the queen coming in with check. I had a long think and found the right continuation and the game was essentially over. I was worried he had a big elaborate trap laid for me. He didn't. Strangely, he didn't resign even when I was a queen, a rook, two bishops, a knight, and two pawns up [!] with little chance of stalemate.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Open Spanish for black: any good references?

I want to start playing the Open Ruy as black (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. 0-0 Nxe4!). Are there any good books or resources out there on this? I have found only two books, one Open Ruy Lopez by Flear, doesn't look very good (he focuses on move nine and later, and doesn't provide much explanation). The other is called Open Spanish by Krasenkiv and I have ordered it at Amazon. I have no idea if it is any good. I'd appreciate any pointers.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Two great new books: don't read this post

Two mini book reviews continuing the theme of my previous post (openings and endgames): one is an endgame book, the other is an opening book. Both of the books are so good that I hesitate to tell anyone about them: revealing them will only make my competition better. As a compromise, I've decided to include a no-read clause for this post: if you think we might play each other in the future, you must stop reading now. Thank you for your cooperation.

The first book is Silman's Complete Endgame Course. This book is wonderful, and has instantly become my favorite endgame book. My other endgame books will be used as supplements. This elegant 500+ page book has a unique organization: instead of organizing things by topic, he organizes them by rating. The first chapter on basic checkmates is for people just starting to a rating of 999. Part II, for those rated up to 1200, includes discussion of more difficult mates and the opposition in King versus pawn endgames. There are 9 Chapters, with the last instructive chapter being for people rated to 2400. Each chapter includes exercises at the end with annotated solutions.

I just finished the bit on Philidor, Lucena, and the encircling maneuver (positions 1-3 from my previous post). The explanations were not only clear and helpful, but actually entertaining. Silman clearly worked hard to find the perfect mix of textual explanations and variation peddling (he takes five pages to explain the Lucena position). The images of the chess board are ample enough to follow along without a board (though of course for endgames it is key to work things out for yourself on a board or computer).

This is the first endgame book I have that really attempts to explain the endgame. It is not just an encyclopedia of positions (all the books have pretty much the same positions). In addition to the key positions and diagrams, he provides useful general principles on the sidebar, and repeats them periodically without being monotonous.

I have heard that he comes off as an arrogant prick in The Amateur's Mind. In this book he comes off as someone excited by his program of study, and who really wants to lift endgame training books up to a new level. He has succeeded.

The second book that I was very pleasantly surprised by was Play the Ruy Lopez by IM Andrew Greet. Opening book authors take note: Greet has just outdone you. This 375-page book is a truly comprehensive look at the Ruy. It is only after 240 pages that he gets to move five, as he thoroughly addresses black's deviations starting when the Ruy begins (3. B5). He recommends a cute little line (5. Qe2) for white, the Worrall System, which avoids all the theory associated with the open Ruy (5. 0-0 Nxe4!).

It will be easiest to say what I like about this book by first listing my pet peeves about opening books:
1) Lazy-ass author squeezes out an annotated game dump and calls it a repertoire.
2) No explanation of the basic plans for each side coming out of the opening.
3) The book advertises itself as an opening about X, but in fact 90% of the book is about a subvariation of X after move ten, and the last chapter includes one or two games that are meant to cover all other possibilities.
4) Lazy-ass author constantly says "And this transposes to another line in the book" without telling you which line (it isn't always obvious to the reader, but the author could put in about six seconds of work and improve the book tremendously).
5) Unobjective, too optimistic about the repertoire.
6) No index of variations to be found in the book.
7) Dry, mechanical writing style: the book doesn't seem to have been written by an actual person.

What is so good about Greet's book? He does the exact opposite of 1-7. To Everyman Chess, kudos for bucking the page limit usually imposed on chess authors' opening books: this is a tour de force, and while I am technically not supposed to be focusing much on openings right now, this book will make this charge very difficult.

I'll end my praise and leave you with a quote from Greet's introduction (p. 14):
One of my goals in writing this book was to make it suitable for as many chess players as possible, from casual club players all the way up to, dare I say, grandmasters. So to begin with, it was necessary for me to include a lot of textual explanations in order to enable less experienced players, or newcomers to this opening, to absorb all of the key ideas behind the move. At the same time I have conducted quite a rigorous theoretical examination of every major variation in order to cater for more advanced players who demaned a deeper level of opening preparation. [...] I will just mention that I have never, at any time, taken the opinion of any other author or commentator at face value. Every single move and evaluation has been carefully checked by my own eyes, as well as with at least one (and sometimes all three) of the strong analysis engines mentioned in the Bibliography.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lesson 3: Alpha and Omega

The third chess lesson had an inauspicious start: he had left his chess set at school, and I accidentally left my game printout at work! After we went and got his chess set, we then went and improvised.

First, we looked at the openings. He wants me to follow four rules: knights before bishops, only move the d- and e-pawns, develop kingside pieces first, and move each piece only once. In particular he wants me to stop playing the Bishop's opening and start playing 2. Nf3. This move limits black's options by developing with a threat, gets the knight on a solid square, and leaves you more flexibility in the placement of the light-squared bishop.

I said I liked the Bishop's opening because I use it to transpose into King's Gambit Accepted, which has a similar pawn structure to the Grand Prix Attack. Hence, I am in my comfort zone. He said that at my level I should be doing the exact opposite: playing openings with quite different pawn structures to get a better overall sense of the game of chess. When I said I'd start playing the Ruy in a while, after I had some practice in blitz, he said to just start playing it, as that's the best way to learn it. While this all goes against my cautious nature, I'm gonna take his advice since I've committed to using him as my coach and seeing where it leads me. If my rating takes a temporary hit, so be it.

On to the omega, the endgame, where we finished our study of rook and (one) pawn endgames which we began in our first lesson. I felt like an idiot through much of this: some of the moves are just not obvious! Basically, he wants me to learn four rook and pawn endgame positions. Really well. He said once I can do these positions (and not just literally these positions, but also knowing how little variations affect things), once I can recognize them cold, I will have the basics down, which should be more than enough for me right now. The four positions are:

1) The encircling maneuver

White to play and win.

2) The Philidor position

Black to move and draw. Muller and Lamprecht, in Fundamental Chess Endings call this "the most important position in the whole book."

3) The Lucena position

White to move and win. Silman calls this position "the sacred key to all rook endings."

4) Lasker 1925

White to move, play as black to draw. This position is very tricky. Jon said that many GMs don't know how to draw as black in this position, and that a deep understanding of all its variations will illustrates all of the major themes we have worked on.

My work is cut out for me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Congratulations, Temposchlucker!

That most insanely dedicated Knight Errant amongst us, Temposchlucker, has finished his 70,000th problem at Chess Tactics Server. Tempo, for finishing the truly Quixotic endeavor of finishing Seven Circles of 10,000 problems, I hereby anoint you Sir Temposchlucker. Tempo, may Caissa serve you well on your many adventures in the strange world of the 64 squares.

Time to update our sidebars. The old guard is moving on. Indeed, there is only one Knight left who was here when I first began: Takchess. Hey Takchess, how are your Circles going?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Guided pattern recognition: example

About 80% of people who see the following picture and look for a pattern, don't immediately see one:

Before reading on, try to see the pattern hidden in the image.

Let me give you a hint: "DOG". That will reveal the pattern to about half of those who didn't see it the first time. Here's another hint: "Dog on right-hand side of the image." Now almost everyone will get it. Finally, "Picture of an entire dalmation with head near the middle of the image, facing to the left, sniffing at the ground. There is a tree-shadow in the upper left quadrant, and leaves on the ground." Now everyone should get it. One cool thing is, once you get it, you cannot look at the image without seeing that dalmation (this is itself a fact rich with psychological implications that are the object of study by the professionals: top-down influence on perception of the world for one). Hence, those of you who have seen this before probably saw the dalmation instantly.

When I look at a chess position, very often tactics don't pop out at me. However, after giving myself a hint "Queen and rook are in a straight line" (suggesting pin or skewer), or "Enemy queen has only one escape square" (suggesting a trap), potential tactical moves then pop out at me. The difference between chess and the dalmation example is that I have to provide myself with the hints, looking for board patterns that suggest a tactic might be present (the so-called seeds of tactical destruction). Luckily this is pretty easy to do. Of course, I also have to check to make sure the tactical shot can't be met with a strong defense. This active, self-cued pattern recognition is a powerful technique.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Guided pattern recognition

I have started my third circle (Stage 3 of Chess Tactics for Beginners). The problems are a wee bit harder (fewer mate-in-two problems, more purely material tactics involving traps and the like). This software is just great.

I'm in my first circle on this set of problems, doing ten a day. It is a huge change of pace from doing 150-300 a day at the end of the second circles. In these I focus on developing my tactical thought process. It is starting to become more and more automatic. After simply scanning the board, if nothing pops out at me I first look for checks (potential mates), captures, and then the dreaded FSTDD (pronounced "fisted"). FSTDD stands for Forks, Single-line tactics (skewers and pins), Traps, Discovered attacks, and Deflections. As I get more efficient, I don't look directly for such moves, but the seeds of such tactics (e.g., enemy pieces with only one escape square, enemy pieces lined up, etc). This is much more efficient, as discussed in Heisman's article The Seeds of Tactical Destruction.

This thought process, which is starting to become automatic, really helps me find tactics when they don't immediately pop out at me. It's like when I look at a picture and don't see something, and then someone says "There is a dog somewhere in the picture", and suddenly the dog pops out! This is what happens when I look for specific tactics. Initially I see nothing, but then when I start looking for pieces with few escape squares (potential trap victims), the traps just start popping out at me. It is pretty cool. Not foolproof, but helpful.

A couple of weird bloggy things. Another blog copied, verbatim, my post on Howard Stern (my original post is here, his plagiarized version is here). Also, this crazy philosopher guy (implicitly) wants me to be shot (my blog meets both of his criteria for being a justified target of NRA-inspired justice). His blog has a Christian focus. Hmmm...Something tells me he is not the most meek and humble Christian you'd run into.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lesson 2: Pawns to the rescue!

I had another helpful lesson with my chess coach (Jonathan Schroer) tonight. We went over the games from last weekend's tourament.

In the first game, his biggest concern was with this position (black (me) to move):
Here I played Qxc6. I didn't even seriously consider Bxe3, but he had no doubts. After Bxe3, the requisite fxe3 saddles white with isolated doubled pawns on the e-file. Not only that, but doubled isolated pawns on a half open e-file, creating a natural line of attack. He said that this is such an obvious move that I should focus on pawn structure for the next week, reading up on it in Wolff's Idiot's Guide and (this will make Patrick happy), the book Chess College: Pawn Play, which focuses on pawn play in the context of annotated games.

He then went into about a half-hour mini-lecture on pawn structure, constructing a heirarchy of pawn weaknesses. From doubled isolated pawns on half-open files down to backwards and doubled pawns. He says he doesn't call doubled pawns a weakness, but a passivity, because it depends so much on the position whether the stuck pawn is actually detrimental to the position (e.g., it could cover a nice center square). However, it is not mobile which often becomes a weakenss. This lecture portion had some helpful bits, but it was a bit fast and abstract for me: I've read most of this stuff in Pandolfini's book. But, then again, it obviously hasn't set into my mind enough, or I would have played Bxe3! (Incidentally, I asked if he ever played Wolff, and he has twice: he said he took an awful beating (as white) both times).

We next went over my second game. He homed in on the following position:
For him (and Fritz), f5! was an obvious good move. If black plays exf5, black has helped open a nice line for my white bishop, and my f rook is now on a half-open file, and my black bishop also lies on an open diagonal.

While I often end up with a nice pawn structure like in the above diagram, with a pawn duo in the center, I tend to leave the pawns there until a direct threat forces me to move or until the endgame begins. I basically never push pawns. He wants me to consider pawn pushes more often, as it is the pawn structure that largely determines the activity of my pieces, and a push which will radically increase such activity needs to be made when the iron is hot.

I told him that I am not good at calculating all the variations out, especially with these pawn pushes that will radically transform the board's terrain. Hence I tend to make moves that I can visualize better. He said that I don't always need to calculate everything out. To help evaluate pawn push effects on piece activity, Nimzovich's concept of overprotection often provides useful hints. In the present position, my f pawn is overprotected: my queen, black bishop, and (indirectly) my f-rook are all defending it. While I have always thought that the point of overprotection is to maintain the safety of a square or pawn, that is only a small part of the story. In this case, the fact that it is overprotected also implies that if I push it forward, a great deal of potential will be unleashed, as the long-range pieces being blocked by the overprotected pawn will suddenly have a surge in activity. He stressed that when I look at the board, I should visualize my pieces' movements extending through the pawns to other squares to which they could traverse if that pawn were not there. It seems this will be very useful in helping me to figure out when to move my damned pawns!

I found this discussion very enlightening and helpful. In both games, the main critiques (besides missing a tactic here or there) were focused on pawn structure evaluation, so he has given me another negative to turn around!

Before I left, I told him I didn't like my two-knight's defense as black, and he told me how to fix it. He thinks I am plenty strong in the opening, though, and doesn't want me to work on it too much. That's a relief!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tournament results

I played three games in the Triangle Area Chess Open Saturday (the U1400 section). I took a first-round bye and played in rounds 2-4. I got 1/3.

  • Round 2: Passive defense leads to quick death
    I played fine against the Scotch as black, but a passive defense leaves me with a dearth of options and I die quickly.
  • Round 3: A great sacrifice missed
    This loss really hurt. As white, I had a very solid opening (I played the Grand Prix, which he obviously didn't know how to handle) which I failed to convert into a win with a sweet bishop sacrifice that Fritz found. Then I lost my queen to a nice tactic.
  • Round 4. He was a nice guy and it was his first tournament. I didn't enter it into my database. He left his rook en prise early and never recovered.

    Overall, the tournament was fun, the people were very nice, and I hope to play in this tournament once a month. It was again reinforced how important it is to concretely think through variations, especially when there are threats or potential threats on the board. I missed many good opportunities because I simply failed to consider threatening moves and think through their consequences.
  • Friday, January 05, 2007

    First lessons of a chess coach

    I had my first chess lesson tonight. It was fun. Jon is a very nice guy, quite enthusiastic, has the hallmarks of an experienced coach, and is pretty freaking amazing at the game (the range of moves he instantly saw in the games we went over was just depressing).

    I went to his house near Raleigh for an hour lesson (we went for over an hour and a half). He started by going over a couple of games I had brought over. He went through them lightning fast, variation after variation that I hadn't considered, and giving me some strong advice here and there (e.g., don't give up a piece to maintain your kingside pawn structure unless there is a concrete way he can quickly exploit that weakness). Going through those games I started to get worried: one thing many instructors do who are good players is go too fast, assuming the student is following along, going through variations quickly saying "Right?" all the time. It was a little like that. Luckily, as I'll discuss, this was more to give him a sense for my skill level than to do a close analysis.

    Once we had gotten through the quick overview of the games, we switched to endgame mode. I had brought about five endgame books over. The next hour or so was pretty intense. He taught me three endgame scenarios. One, King and single pawn versus king. I have worked on those before, so that was kind of fast. Then, Queen versus pawn. I had never seen the whole queen triangulation trick to get the king close to the pawn. Then, the Philidor position in which you draw with a rook against a rook and a pawn.

    It was when he was teaching me new ideas that I realized he is an excellent teacher. He would set up the position and have me play him. When I made a mistake, he wouldn't tell me, but just win. Then he'd set it up again and ask some leading questions until I hit on the right idea on my own. When I asked for the answer, he would ask me "What do you think? What is your plan" (I have a feeling the question "What is your plan?" will start to become a nagging voice in my head during games). It forced me to give my opinions, which he could then challenge or correct. By the time I understood the position, he would change it a little bit (e.g., in the Q vs P, if the pawn is on the rook or bishop file the queen trick often won't work), or change the side to move. That is, we looked at the same problem from multiple angles to get a sense for its parameters, until I had a clear idea of the plan and the right moves.

    Endgames are sweet: with knowledge of what is winning, I'll know better what types of positions to steer toward in the middle game (yes, a truism, but to actually be doing it is sweet)). I'll need to practice them until I can do them without thinking.

    The amazing thing was, he was able to do this while looking through each one of the endgame books. He just didn't have to focus on the board. He would look for a split second, make the move, and keep poring through the books. He particularly liked Lev Alburt's book ("If I had had this when I was starting out, I would probably be a much better endgame player." That is pretty impressive from an IM, which he has been for about 20 years). Since he thought the Albert book was a bit too advanced, we decided on this great gem of a book by Bert Rosen, Chess Endgame Training, which is based on an endgame course Rosen teaches in Germany. I will supplement it with more concept-heavy explanations in Seirawan's Winning Chess Endings.

    He suggested I not spend a lot of time right now learning the pawnless endings (e.g., rook versus queen), that since I know all the main ones, to focus on king and pawn and then rook endgames. When I told him I play the Bishop's opening, he said he wants me to stop, and to start playing 2. Nf3 as white. He also thinks that at this point I shouldn't be studying much in the openings anyway except trying to apply general principles. This seems reasonable. Since he kicks ass, I'm pretty much going to follow his advice and see how it goes.

    I was pretty darn exhausted by the end of the lesson. We had established a good rapport: I felt very comfortable with him. He asked, near the end, "Do you know the most drawish endgame?" I had no idea, so I busted his chops with "Two knights versus king." (He was looking for bishops of opposite color). Finally, when I told him I don't play many slow time controls, but focus mostly on puzzles and the like, partly forever training but not playing for fear of losing, he told me to start playing and losing more. He said, especially as an IM who is not as good as he was fifteen or twenty years ago, he has the same fears, but that it's just a damned game and to have fun. Sane and sage advice!

    I feel pretty lucky to have him as a coach, and will be meeting with him every Thursday. Updates will undoubtedly follow...Incidentally, as discussed here, he gives 30/30 simuls on Saturday and Wednesday nights at ICC.

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    Queen versus Knight...TACO-licious

    I finally have cracked the KQ versus KN endgame. Much like the two bishop and knight/bishop endgame, there is a cool little way to walk the king to the edge of the board, a prerequisite for grabbing the knight (unless your opponent cooperates).

    The following is the key position (white to move and steal the knight):
    Getting into a position like this is fairly natural, so if you can solve this, then you have basically mastered the ending. It took me about four hours to get to the point where I could solve it for any starting position with confidence. I'll practice it periodically to make sure I don't forget it. The solution is given below.

    As I mentioned before, I'm starting Chess Lessons with IM Jon Schroer . Our first meeting is Thursday. I told him I wanted to work on endgames and he said to bring over all my endgame books so we could put together a plan. It made me happy that he wanted to work with the material I already have. It suggests he is flexible. I have no illusions that a coach is a panacea, but I'm getting pretty excited.

    As for the TACO reference, I am psyched because in Raleigh (a short drive for me) they are resuscitating the Triangle Area Chess Open, a monthly four-round swiss tournament with G/75 and G/90 time controls. I'm considering going this Saturday. Luckily my Patriots play Sunday, otherwise chess would have to take a back burner!

    Here is one possible solution to the puzzle. 1. Ke5 (now the knight can't harass the king for a while) Ne7 2. Qe5+ (push the king back) Kd7 3. Qf6 (sealing in the king) Nc8 4. Kd5 Ne7 (note we are back at the original pattern, one rank up) 5. Kc5 Ng8 6. Qd6+ Ke8 7. Qc7 Kf8 8. Kd5 (the black king is stuck on the back rank: time to go in and get the knight!) Ne7 9. Ke6 and his knight is toast.

    Monday, January 01, 2007

    Pawnless endings etc.

    Pawnless endings are tricky. I now know all the basic mates versus the lone king, but last night I couldn't mate Fritz in a QK vs NK endgame! Egads. Wouldn't that be embarassing in a tournament. I assume this should be easy, so I hope to learn it (and QK vs BK) today. If it isn't easy, then that is just more confirmation that if you are ahead, you should fight like hell to trade pieces, not pawns!

    I went through a few endgame problems in the Personal Chess Trainer trial version last night and it was all pawn endgames, which was very useful. Does the full version also include the classic rook endings like the Philidor and Lucena positions? Do the people using PCT for endgame training like it? Is there anyplace online where they list all of the endgame themes?

    Watch out U1300 division of Team 45/45 League, a new group of patzers has rolled into town, The King Assassins!

    Also, I finished my minicircles with Problem Set 2. It is nice to be doing a new problem set, slowing down, thinking a bit. Though not too much thinking: to simulate game conditions, and to give myself some time to work on endgames, I force myself to make a move within two minutes.

    Two minicircle sets down, three to go:

    # CirclesPercent Correct
    Problem Set 11498-99-100-100-100-100-100
    Problem Set 21590-93-96-99-99-99-99-99
    Problem Set 30
    Problem Set 40
    Problem Set 50
    NOTE: Circles done with CTB.