Saturday, August 27, 2005

Getting a little better at tactics...puzzles

I have noticed that I have finally started to get a little better at tactics, especially noticing pins in Tasc Chess Tutor (TCT). After ~700 or so problems, some done four times in a row, I have finally started to get more efficient at looking for tactical moves that I know TCT tends to use frequently. Namely, double attacks and especially pins. Much like Knight Sight, it isn't that the moves pop out without effort (I have to cognitively "turn on" my Knight sight to see the squares pop out). Similarly, I have to put on my "pin vision" and actively search for pins before they pop out. How long before it is effortless? Or is it never effortless? Do high ranked players scan the board for specific tactical shots, or do myriad tactical possibilities just pop out for you?

Note, this hasn't translated to OTB play yet, but that is partly because I have never put much effort into "looking for" specific tactical maneuvers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Chess Tactics Server: How Accurate?

Well,I finally got hooked on it tonight. I played 26 problems while running rats at lab. You guys aren't kidding when you say it is addictive. My rating there is 1062 (I purposely stopped after a success so it is inflated :) ). My moniker there is BlueDevil.

I was wondering how accurate the Knights think the solutions are. Has anyone found any solutions that are wrong? UPDATE: In the comments, Mousetrapper pointed out this growing list of potentially problematic problems at CTS.

UPDATE: I just noticed that, with a rating of 1062, I have the honor of being in the bottom ten ranked active tacticians at Chess Tactics Server!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Revision of my program

I am still tooling away at Tasc Chess Tutor (TCT), finally starting a new minicircle of 200 problems after working four mini-circles in the previous set of 200 problems in Step 2. As Temposchlucker promised, it is an excellent program. When all is said and done, I will probably have spent close to a year working through TCT, but I prefer working slowly and remembering the lessons to going lightning fast. I'm in this for the long haul.

I have also significantly updated the Divine Tragedy, adding a new precircle (Seirewan's Play Winning Chess) and two new postcircles. As recommended by Celtic Death and Tempo, I've added a postcircle on endings, in which I'll work through Seirewan's Winning Chess Endings. I've also added, for the coup de grace, a book of master games. As suggested by Quandoman, I will work through A First Book of Morphy. It is an amazing book, with games organized to illustrate opening, middle game, and end game principles. There are 30 principles in all, with a couple of games each. I worked through two of the games this weekend, and the move-by-move annotation was clear and helpful (the first principle is the old chestnut 'Open with a center pawn' and two games are included to show how this is helpful). I am very excited to reach this point, most likely in 20 years or so when my rating should be up to 1010 :)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Game Analysis at Caissa's Confabulations

Quandoman (over at Caissa's Confabulations) has generously provided extensive commentary on one of my games (link here). It is a win I was pretty happy with against a player rated about 200 points higher than me, but not surprisingly Quandoman has found a lot of room for improvement in both my and my opponent's play. It is useful because it gives me a sense for how I should be doing post-mortem on my games. I usually do a really quick and dirty post-mortem, lazily skimming through the game to find my mistake, but not really thinking through why it was a mistake and what I should have done instead. Also, note I used the singular "mistake" rather than plural: I only do it for my losses and typically just try to find what I take to be the one move in which I blew the game. In other words, I do very superficial post-mortem. This is better than nothing, I am sure, but I believe I need to start taking the post-game show more seriously. I am printing out Quandoman's analysis now to work through it, and will put meta-comments on his site at the link above later tonight...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Progress with TCT and chess in general

Well, I am finally 1/3 through Tasc Chess Tutor (25/75 lessons finished). I blasted through 10 tests yesterday and today to finish section 25 (discovered attack). In this fourth minicircle through the section, I clearly had memorized almost all of the problems and could solve them very quickly at well over 90%. It almost felt like cheating.

I am now really enjoying most of my games. I must be a masochist, because it took me about four months to get to that point. I could have stuck with backgammon, but that game pisses me off. Games with stochastic elements are just not my cup of tea: I like games where the only viable excuse for losing is "I screwed up", not "My opponent rolled double 6s four times in a row". To anyone out there like me who sucks at chess and hates it, I recommend just sticking with it for a while. People online tend to be very good (not compared with OTB, but compared with random family member at Thanksgiving), so it will take a while before you can start feeling like you know what the heck is going on. I doubt I'll ever be a chess master, or even a class C player for that matter, but I now am confident chess will be a relaxing pasttime for the rest of my life. If I ever have kids, and they show the interest, I think I will try to get them to this point.

Paradoxically, I have noticed that I am literally thinking less during my games. At first, I had so little idea how to evaluate positions, I would evaluate all sorts of stupid moves. Now I don't waste energy on obvious blunders so I can channel my energy into thinking through fewer variations.

One more observation: I need to play lots of games, as I am getting experience with some of the more common traps and learning to avoid them. In particular, playing as black with 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5 used to really scare the hell out of me. Their queen would always end up wreaking havoc. Today I finally figured that 2 ... Nf6 was a good response. My responses in my previous two encounters (2 .... g6 and 2 .... Qe7) got me into serious trouble. Anyway, I have decided to try to not worry about my rating. I am too new to be worried about it, and I really need to build up basic experience. Most of these variations aren't in opening books and the like, because Qh5 is considered so bad that they don't even consider it. I wish they had a chess opening book for crappy players, with variations on those blustering queen attacks that beginners like to play and kill other beginners with!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Progress Report

First, I'm still plugging away at Tasc Chess Tutor for my first Pre-Circle. I'm about to start my fourth mini-circle on some problems in Step 2. My percentages keep going up, but in these two sections of Step 2 there are some tests on which I scored below 80%. ALMOST done with this set of 200 problems, though.

Second, I am going to add a new pre-circle to the Divine Tragedy: Sierewan's 'Play Winning Chess.' First, he assumes you know it for his other books, and my next pre-circle was going to be his book 'Winning Chess Tactics.' Also, he goes into very basic strategy stuff that I need to learn more about (pawn structure, time, and space). I noticed the other knights know a lot about this stuff that I have really not given much attention to. A few months ago, when first starting on this journey, I bought 'Pawn Structure Chess'. Holy shit, was that way out of my league! Tons of variations and very little explanation. It will serve me well on a cold night when we run out of firewood.

Third, I have started to play higher rated players online. To my surprise, at least at ICC, the 1200 rated players really aren't that much better than the 1000-rated players. In fact, my impression has been that overall, the 1000 rated players are stronger in tactics than some of the higher rated players. I'm not sure what this means: it could be a sampling bias on my part and not a real effect. Or, there could be sandbaggers at ICC trolling the lower-rated players to try out new stuff.

To my surprise, I rather easily beat a player rated 1210 tonight: I strangled him with a very strong pawn structure and then he left his rook en prise when he tried to mate too early. Snatching this rook with my queen put his King in check on the back rank, and he had nothing to usefully interpose. It was sweet. Partly, I think reading Silman's 'Amateur's Mind' has helped me better consider strategic imbalances in pawn structure, which side of the board to attack on, as well as knight-bishop relative strengths and weaknesses.

Before I get cocky, I should remind myself that I am only rated 1000, the guy was probably half asleep, and I still suck eggs at chess. I am having more fun now than ever losing, though!