Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Break from blitz, and some narcissistic rambling

I've been getting sloppy in my slow games, not thinking through obvious sharp continuations (that is, not looking at the checks, captures, and threats my opponent can make if I make the candidate move). To give my thought process a bit more time to sink I'm, I'm instituting a moratorium on blitz play for a spell. When I have the urge to play blitz, I study my opening book instead.

I was definitely peaking in my play right after the Circles, playing very strong tactically. Now I'm starting to see a little rust. I think working the Circles has a strong positive affect not just on my tactical vision, but it forced me to work on visualizing sharp lines every day.

My new puzzle routing is, first ten or so problems from the PCT strategy modules, 30 problems from the tactical modules, and then ten or so problems from CTB as review. Overall I'm less focused on chess right now that I was during the Circles, focusing more on work, and other intellectual pursuits relevant to science.

I'm thinking of really cutting back on chess, to resuscitate my old habits for more useful intellectual outlets such as doing a little math every morning. I have reached my chess goals, especially the broader goal of gaining an appreciation for the game as well as not sucking. In the context of club players, I still pretty much suck at chess, but in the context of the real world, I don't lose games. That was my real goal after all, to become a recreational chess player, not to become obsessed with this ridiculous game. I need to focus on my career more than I have been. Not time to give up chess, but to, perhaps, tone down the obsessive focus on improving at chess.

I'm not sure what will come of this. It is easy to say I should do less chess, hard to actually do less chess as I feel my chess muscles atrophy and then feel like I've wasted all that time getting to this point if I let them shrink, I'm an asshole for wasting all that time on the Circles, so I need to do something to keep my skills up a bit. OTOH, people take breaks, come back rusty, and then get back to their old form pretty quickly from what I hear. It's not like I'd be starting out back at square one after a break.

Part of the cause of my weirdness is the following. I have realized there is a significant difference between 1400 and 1500 at ICC. Up to 1400, games are pretty much all decided by simple blunders. Not en prise blunders (up to 1200 or so that was the norm), but things like skewers, forks, and the like. But the players around 1500 don't make those mistakes as often, and they quickly punish such mistakes on my part. The tactical mistakes are more complicated, things I am not as good as seeing, little combinations. To make that leap, the tactical skills must remain honed, but I also find myself having to think about the endgame very early in the game, thinking about things like weak square complexes and other positional factors.

On one hand, I would get bored if everyone sucked and just gave me a queen. But I also sort of miss the days of playing opponents that would do such things regularly. It is a new level of chess, a level such that I will need to significantly broaden my horizons to get to the next level.

Over a year ago, I reposted a wonderful quote from Stean's book Simple Chess. I always hoped to be one of those people whose games weren't decided by simple blunders, so I could delve into the mysterious realms of strategy and endgames. Now that I come to that crossroad I am a bit overwhelmed. I don't know if I want to make the commitment, or just remain a decent-enough patzer that doesn't give away his queen every game.

Also, note I realize in the big picture I still suck at tactics. I just am talking about simple one and two move tactics, which I now see fairly regularly (though I still miss them enough to need to work to stay sharp!).

I guess this is the second installment in my rambling autobiographical post-circles posts. The first was here. Perhaps I should look over that post where I realized I might need a break a little bit. Maybe it isn't unreasonable for me to blanch at the thought of undertaking intense endgame / strategy study right now. I should give myself permission to keep my tactics sharp, play some, and just enjoy myself until I actually want to work hard again. Maybe I should even take a break from tournament play at ICC.

Don't worry, Silman Endgame pgn club, I still plan on doing that. :) Email to you next week.

In case it wasn't clear, damn, chess is a hard fucking game!


Anonymous Christian said...

I've never done much in the vein of tactics study, but I'm at a similar point in my chess development. I won an OTB challenge against a 1500 club player, mainly through half-blunders. Now I'm facing a 1700 club player, and I feel as though I have to go through much more intense tactics drills, opening theory and endgame study if I want to stand a chance.

Also, my circumstances have changed from being a lazy-ass student with loads of spare time to being employed without much spare time at all.

To cheer myself up, I tell myself that (a) it's just a game and (b) you can't really undo experience and routine. Once you have reached a certain level, it's hard to drop below it quickly (pro-level excepted, perhaps). Also, each game you play adds a quantum of routine, and routine is definitely an asset you want to foster at this stage.

12/18/2007 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

At our club we often say jokingly to each other that below 1450 there is no relation between the position on the board and the outcome of the game. I guess that every 200 points improvement is a quantum leap in your approach to chess. Untill 1750 I could come away with almost any gambit. Above 1750 the advantage seems to evaporate. Not that I lose because of the gambitpawn, but it just gives me no advantage anymore.

I don't believe in people who say that they play just for the fun, not caring about improvement. That just isn't in the nature of men unless you are holy. If you run the marathon, you want to do it faster. If you play chess, you want to get better. Even in a choir you want to improve. It is an essential part of the fun.

From time to time you are confronted with the fact that you will not become a worldchampion in whatever endeavour you undertake. You have to cope with that.

For me it is not only about chess. If I can learn how to improve at chess, then I can improve at anything. Untill now I learned how to become moderate. But I learned to enjoy the process of trying. That is a big plus.

12/18/2007 06:22:00 AM  
Anonymous svensp said...

Indeed, chess is a game, no more, no less. I think it might even help chess-improvement to realize this (and can certainly produce a healthier view on priorities in life), if it ever was forgotten in the first place. I mean, we all knew this, when we learned chess- it's a game, what else? After all nothing really depends on a game of chess.

I disagree with temposchlucker that noone would play just for fun. I know people who do. But for me, improving is indeed part of the fun. But not the main part, otherwise I would need to stop playing once I don't see any possibilities of improvement anymore.


I would suggest to test this strategy mentioned in the comments to the last posting (just making reasonable, active moves, then exploit any mistake one sees) against stronger players too. But certainly aggressively playing means lots of fun (and both ways don't really exclude each other, if the attack is healthy and not premature it follows the guideline to play actively anyway).

kind regards,

12/18/2007 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

such as doing a little math every morning.

I'm pretty sure that with your markov chain like error propagation post we're not talking practicing the goesintas (as in "5 goesintas 30, 6 times").

Just curious what math that might be?

12/18/2007 07:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tempo- becoming world champion is sometimes the worst thing that can happen to your chess.

Look at Fischer. He was an unstoppable force of chess brilliance until he became world champion, then it all fell apart.

12/18/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

becoming world champion is sometimes the worst thing that can happen to your chess.

I don't consider that to be a serious risk anytime soon.

12/18/2007 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks, all, for the comments.

Christian: Lots of spare time is really essential I think. And the reminder that it's just a game is key.

Tempo: It is hard to play 'just for fun' if there is any heavy competitive spirit involved. That, to some degree, must be given up I think. But imagine the attitude you have when playing a Simul against a GM. YOu don't expect to win. You'd sure like to, but it isn't all that big a deal. No ratings depend on it. It's as close to "just for fun" as you can get, and no reason other games can't be like that.

svensp: I'll give it a shot.

12/18/2007 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Glenn: it varies. I try to focus on practical math. E.g., I'd like to review linear algebra (e.g., SVD I am rusty on after a few years), I like circuit analysis (I have an electronics workshop that has been gathering dust as I've wasted my brain on chess), modelling neural systems (that's the most directly relevant to my job) with nonlinear diff eq. I also like the more abstract stuff: I've always wanted to learn measure theory, but that would first require grounding myself in real analysis.

I also have a Neuroscience Blog that I've started up again.

There's not enough time....

In DK fashion I'm going to write up a schedule that severely limits my time with chess, to free up time for my first love, grey matter....

12/18/2007 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

I very much hear what you’re saying. Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t be spending so much time and effort on this frivolous game and get my priorities straight. There are so many more important things in life. I should be focusing on career improvement, relationships, personal improvement. I could be studying new languages; I could be studying all sorts of fields that promise more return on investment than chess. My girlfriend reminds me of this every once in a while. Although she’s very accepting of my hobbies, it bothers me to hear her say that because I know she’s right. Spending the same amount of time every day on studying something more immediately beneficial to my personal and/or professional advancement, rather than on chess, would yield results pretty quickly I believe.

But in the end I seem to always come back to chess simply because I enjoy it. I tend to justify the time spent on chess as a way to achieve a reasonable “work/life” balance… And as long as I work hard (and believe me, I do), I don’t feel all that bad when all is said and done.

12/18/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger wormwood said...

I also have these spells of brushing up my math. usually it comes after I run into a problem I know I have been able to solve easily, but can't quite remember how it was done anymore. like just now I got a photo that has some specific frequence contamination, and I could get rid of it by transforming into fourier domain, filtering and transforming back... I used to be able to code that in minutes, but now I'd need to go trough all the relevant math and it would take a couple of hours... and there isn't really a ready-made graphics program which could do exactly what I need...

well, anyway, CHESS! right. :) - a good way to decrease your chess load is to keep on focusing on blitz. that way you still get your fix, some tactical & opening brush-up continuously, BUT with close to zero energy requirement or afterthoughts. it's not often a blitz game haunts you in the middle of the night, unlike slow games.

another way to go is CC, but i's etremely hard not to start obsessing about CC. it tends to grab all of your waking moments, whether you're looking at the board or not.

I think it's a very bad idea to take a 'break'. although it's easier to get back to where you were before the break, it's still quite hard. and unnecessary. -just throttle down your chess efforts, to a very low level, and you'll stay almost exactly at your current strength. you can even get a little better as your unconsious processes keep on refining.

12/18/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Worm: purposefully playing blitz is an interesting idea!

Chessaholic: looking at it as a really crappy return on the investment is depressing, as it reveals so starkly what a stupid hobby this is. :)

12/18/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK- I am going to stick up for chess now.

It, together with eating turmeric and ballroom dancing, is so far the only scientifically proven activity to fight Alzheimer's disease. ( Although there are probably an infinite number of equivalent substitutes : checkers? solving math problems?)

12/18/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

i am reminded of an old thread.....

12/18/2007 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

that's why I never play in a simul. I already know they are better and want to learn the trick too.

We have a few people at the club who say they play just for fun. But it are always guys who are frustrated with chess improvement and currently on a losing streak, so I don't belief them.

You just cannot change yourself. I work as frantic as a choir member as I try to learn chess. Whatever the endeavour I chose, the drive will be the same.

12/18/2007 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: hmmmm, kicking me while I'm down? :P

Adult life with full career, and starting from scratch to become a GM are incompatible. I've always said that. I'm still unhappy with how my coach handled that interaction. There is a fine line between honesty and callousness. If I had gone to him seriously saying I wanted to be a GM, that's one thing. I would need to be told that it is an unrealistic expectation. But in the context of joking about being a GM, it was just lame, especially three days before a tournament. It's like if I was tutoring a blockhead in biology three days before an exam and they said (jokingly), "When I have my PhD I'll be teaching this to someone else someday." For me to turn to them with a serious expression and say, "Blockhead, you will never be a Phd" would just be inappropriate at many levels.

Obviously still a sore spot.

Tempo: I think it is possible to change. In a previous quixotic endeavor I used to be really into competitive bodybuilding. Now I do it for fun. Work out here and there, no big deal.

Note I'm not sure where I am with all this stuff. I've just realized chess has taken up too much time. If I could limit it to two slow games a week, and about an hour a day otherwise, I think that would be good enough to plateau at the very least, and perhaps even slowly improve.

When I started the Circles I spent about 15 minutes a day on it. It wasn't until I went to about 2 hours a day that my skills shot up. Now that I'm less, about an hour, they are dropping. Do I really want a hobby that requires so much work?

Perhaps it is how I am spending that time, though.

I think I might leave chess at home when I go to LA for Christmas. Take a week off to get some perspective.

12/18/2007 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: you are right that this is partly because my crazy win streak after the Circles is over....it is depressing. I don't feel burnt out on chess, but just like Crap, I was hoping I'd just do the circles and forever be good at tactics :) Of course about a month in I realized that was silly (I was a beginner at chess when I started, and didn't realize how much like a language this game is, how much it depends on staying sharp).

Sometimes I wish I had started chess at like 2 years old so I'd just be a badass without trying. Starting as an adult is just a lot of work!!!!

Waah waah poor me.

12/18/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger drunknknite said...

"nothing really depends on a game of chess"

So easy to say, so hard to believe.

Chess is a bitch. It's easy to give up, pursue other interests, get your fix somewhere else temporarily. But you'll be back, they all come back. You'll pass by a coffeeshop and look in the window and see someone playing and all of the ideas, all of those beautiful struggles that you've been a part of over that humble 64 square board will come back to you. Sooner or later you'll crave the challenge that only a tournament game can provide.

I suggest that you continue to work and play, if you feel it necessary to lighten the workload for some other activities then you should. In time the motivation will return and you will find yourself putting other things aside for chess once again. I took 3 years off of studying chess and when I came back I became much stronger than I was before. I even threw out every opening I used to play when I came back (except my beloved Accelerated Dragon) and built a new repertoire from scratch.

The rust comes off quickly.

12/18/2007 03:14:00 PM  
Anonymous reassembler.com said...

Re: the big difference between 1400 and 1500 - I think whereever you are, that's where you see the big split. I tend to think that there's a big difference between experts and masters. Specifically the experts are dangerous but erratic - most or all of the experts I know well have some specific holes in their game. Whereas the masters seem significantly more consistent. But again, I think it's just the perception from where I sit. Wonder what 2300s would say about the gap between 2300 and senior master?

12/18/2007 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

i have heard that Expert is closer to rank beginner than to GM.
i have also heard that 1800-2100 is an easier jump than 2100-2200. and it just gets worse from there.


"Katar: hmmmm, kicking me"

Well, Schroer's comment says more about IM Schroer than it says about you. It doesn't even deserve your attention IMO.

Rather than kick you, i wanted to congratulate you on your (pending) freedom. Chess is a black hole.

allow me to link to Spraggett again.

12/18/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

ok, i mean the improvement/ratings aspect is a black hole. there is no "ideal weight", no end destination.

artistic and social (ok, if you can find the right people) aspects of chess can be very worthwhile.

12/18/2007 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Drunknknite: That's good to know. I bet there are good reasons to stop for a while and come back. Let's things jostle around and become prioritized more accurately. E.g., coming back even after a couple of months I could see myself saying, boy was I stupid to spend so much time studying openings. I know right now it is a mistake, but do it anyway because I'm in a habit. (Though it is a better habit than blitz for my slow games...)...

Katar: the last comment on that post is great.

Reassembler: I wonder. Up til now it was all just tactics tactics tactics (and by tactics I mean simple ones). Now there is a nonarbitrary threshold I'd need to cross where just tactics isn't enough. I'm not saying it is the hardest threshold (obviously not, as it gets harder to improve in ratings the higher your rating is: they build that into the calculations), but it is a real threshold, a big one for a patzer to cross. It may mark the line between patzer and mere knucklehead.

12/18/2007 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: that Spraggett article is REALLY good. Just amazing.

12/18/2007 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous reassembler.com said...

BDK - I hear you, but that's exactly what De La Maza said when he quit chess: I see that tactics has carried me as far as it will and now I'd have to learn this other stuff to continue improving. But mdlm was 2200+ strength at that point. So that suggests that it might be more arbitrary than it looks. (I could be full of it. But there's my 1.115 cents' worth.)

12/18/2007 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger SamuraiPawn said...

I've gone through the same thing a number of times where I just quit chess altogether and decide to do something more worthwhile with my spare time. But the main problem with passions is that they tend to choose you rather than you choosing them. Once Caissa has sunk her teeth in, it's a bitch to get loose. ;)

I think I know myself well enough now to know that if I decide to leave her once again, I'll be banging on her door a year later, begging for another fix.

I think your plan sounds great, to take a short brake and/or cut down the time you usually spend on chess studies. That way you can keep the flame burning and, whenever you feel like entering a tournament again etc, you don't have to start all over again.

12/19/2007 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Reassembler: maybe you are right...maybe if I just start the circles with CT-Art now :)

SP: this sounds fairly common. The evil mistress Caissa never tires, and is always waiting...

12/19/2007 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Polly said...

You can't quit now! What would you blog about without chess? Your faithful readers wouldn't have good stuff to read and comment on. :-)

I can't remember exactly what I told you on the last post of this sort. I think something about trying different stuff. (time limits, servers, venue, etc.)

I think you would be more excited by chess if you played less online and more in person chess. For me the face to face contact with other chess players is what is so appealing about the game. I love the whole atmosphere of tournament play, whether it's the 6 player swiss at my local chess club, the diverse playing population at the Marshall, or travelling to some big weekend event.

I think you'd find chess a lot more exciting away from the computer. When I read various blogs and people are writing about what some @$$hole said or did online, it doesn't make me want to spend hours playing online.

If you want to travel to a crazy and fun tournament come to Parsippany, New Jersey for the US Amateur Team East over President's Day weekend. Between the goofy team names, and crazy costumes it's a blast. You also get some good chess.

12/19/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks Polly. Maybe I should try out the local chess coffee hour in Durham. Usually a few people are there hacking away over the 64 squares.

12/19/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Anonymous ChessTyro said...

I'm kind of late in this discussion, but here's my two bob's worth.

I kind of agree and disagree with Tempo about playing not just for fun but for continuous improvement. I believe that most people who only had a passing fancy of chess had the mindset of just playing for fun. You never find losing fun, and if you lose again and again, you kind of find yourself facing a brick wall and eventually giving up. But if you play chess aiming for continuous improvement, you take every loss as an additional challenge, additional motivation to study and play more. And the beauty of chess, especially at patzer level, is you never run out of "challenges".

I believe you should continue to seek improvement for as long as you believe there's still room for you to improve. But what about if you seriously believe you've reached your peak? Well, I think this is when the real "playing for fun" bit kicks in. I agree with Polly about the joy of playing in person. There's a certain buzz about playing in person, about getting yourself acquainted with the different idosyncratic, often eccentric, chess personalities at your local club, about watching in awe at how good some of the up and coming juniors are and hoping that you get a chance to play and beat them before they become too good for you. It is fun.

But what I've found really fun, from the two and a bit years that I've been playing at club level, is facing the same familiar faces again and again. You always hope to have another crack at an opponent you can not beat, you're always wary of the potentially different preparation some opponent that you "own" may have against you the next time you meet, you always look forward to the next "theoretical" discussion you're going to have with some players you consider your rivals, etc. Note that even while playing for fun in this context, you still have your "challenges" to continuously improve.

As a regular follower of your blog, I sense that you've done a lot of chess this year (as I have), and maybe you're just kind of burned out (as I am). Your plan to have an honest to goodness (short) break is probably a good idea. Do some serious reassessments, but whatever you decide, I hope you don't give up on chess and chess improvement totally. You don't sound like you've reached your chess potential yet, and I believe there are quite a few of us, at least in the chess blogosphere, who are eager to know how far you can go.

12/19/2007 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks a lot for the articulate and thoughtful comment, chess tyro. I wish there was a good chess club around here!

I'm of two minds. One, I could stop playing altogether. Two, I could cut drastically back on the time I spend. Meaning less than an hour a day, and perhaps one (two max) slow games a week.

I definitely need a break. One problem is motivation: in slow games I'm moving fast I realized not because I was playing blitz, but because I didn't really care if I won. That suggests I need a break for a bit...

I definitely haven't peaked. I've hit a plateau with the help of the Circles.

12/19/2007 10:51:00 PM  

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