Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Update, and an imminent break

I have been playing games at Playsite under the handle 'suxatchess'. :) It has been a lot of fun, as there are many more people at Playsite who are at or even below my skill level. It is heartening, though, as six months ago even at Playsite I was getting my butt kicked by the lower rated players! This doesn't happen as much now. The experience at Playsite has also made me realize how good the people at ICC are, and that they are far from a representative sample of the online chess community. This shouldn't be surprising, as it is one of the few sites where you have to pay to play chess. This will tend to select for those people who are pretty serious about the game.

Also, I'll be taking a break from posting and chess exercises for about three weeks. I have another #!*@ grant due next week, and am going to Brazil for about two weeks for work and play once that is done...Unfortunately, the work part entails me giving seven hours of talks that I still need to write up! Hence, I will be INSANELY busy for the next week. Even my sweet little rats will have the time off.

So, until then fellow Knights, work extra hard at the 64-square jungle for me. I'll be in a real jungle, next to the Amazon River.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Meta mini-circles

A new wrinkle in my training. As I get higher in Tasc Chess Tutor, I sometimes run into tests that truly demolish me. I have added a new 'Redo Rule' to my training: if I score below 50% on any 10-question test, I must repeat that same 10-question test until I score above 50%. This is in addition to my mini-circles, in which I do 200 questions (20 tests), and redo the sections in which I scored below 80% on any single test in that section.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Opening jam

I have been playing lots of games lately, about one a day. My rating is in the crapper, but I (am acting like I) don't care. I am building up a base of experience that is teaching me practical pitfalls and positional possibilities, through trial and error. This is experience I don't get just by working on the Chess Tutor. Plus, more importantly, it is fun to play full games against real people.

As Heisman points out, you get better at chess by adding the good and subtracting the bad. Via this blitz of (non-blitz) games, I have learned another negative that will need attention before I can look someone in the eye and say, "I don't suck at chess." Namely, openings.

In the opening, I frequently get tripped up in that little transition point when it is still officially the opening, but the middle game is right around the corner. After move 5 or 6, when my minor pieces are developed but my major pieces are still hanging out back rank, I don't have a strong sense of what my plan should be. I usually end up reacting to my opponent at that point, which is not a good strategy. This is a minus that learning more tactics will probably not remedy.

What shall I do? Tasc Chess Tutor, my present meat-and-potatoes, is quite weak in opening study (it teaches some of the basic principles, and a few specific variations on the King's pawn opening (the only opening I play), but none of the test questions actually are about the opening: they are mostly tactics and a little endgame). For now, though, I will implement a de la Maza approach to opening study: when I see something unusual, I will study the book up to one move past where I got my butt trounced. Frankly, most of my games are still lost through tactical errors (though I have seen a marked improvement there!), or endgame blunders. For that, the road I am on is bringing me in the right direction.

I would also like to explore the Épine Dorsale a little more. That is my favorite opening line. If anyone knows of any good chapter-length treatments of the major lines emanating from the Épine Dorsale opening, please let me know!

I can see the lure of becoming obsessed with opening study. There are few enough variations to learn that you can flat-out memorize the book moves for some lines. Also, the traps hiding in openings are sweet, a swift and satisfying hammer to bring down on unsuspecting opponents. However, my blitz of games has helped me identify it as one weakness, but not my major problem area. My main game-throwers are still tactics and endgames. Hence, I am on the right track.