Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wisdom nugget from Soltis

Taking a lot of time to find a good move can be, by itself, a blunder.

Soltis, How to choose a chess move

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Great new Grand Prix Attack resources

Michael Goeller, who maintains The Kennilworthian chess blog, has provided some excellent new resources for fans (or detractors) of the Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian (which, nowadays, means white plays 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 followed by 3. f4).

First, a helpful review of Chess Openings for White, Explained, a review which focuses quite a bit on their treatment of the Grand Prix Attack (their line against the Sicilian).

Second, a detailed critical examination of some of the lines recommended in the same book.

Third, an update to his excellent Grand Prix Attack Bibliography. He even takes pity on this patzer and mentions my blog entry in which I evaluate the GPA.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Endgame fallout

I think I've finally learned the KNB mate pattern. It took about six hours to learn, spread out over about a month. As most knights probably know, the three phases of the mate are:
1. Push the enemy king to the edge
2. Push the enemy king toward the corner which is the same color as your bishop.
3. Mate in that corner.
Once I finish with phase 1 I am pretty solid with the mate. Phase 1 still takes me a few too many moves. You really need to coordinate the three pieces effectively to inch the enemy king to the edge.

I got some endgame books while away. Below are some mini-reviews I penned after skimming the entire book and also reading a chapter or two fairly closely. It is strange how many more beginner books on openings there are than endgames, given that everyone agrees that it is more important for beginners to study endgames. Note I don't have Pandolfini's Endgame Course or Lev Albert's Just the Facts, and would like to compare them at some point.

Seirewan's Winning Chess Endings. A good beginner-level treatement. He goes through the basic mates (he has the best description of the KNB vs K mate that I have found), and then the standard endgame stuff we should all know (e.g., the Philidor and Lucena positions), all with a good balance of explanation and example. I generally dislike his books, because he is not good at explaining things, but this seems to be an exception. The only major problem I found is that he doesn't explain what the opposition is. He uses the term, but never defines it. This is a pretty negligent oversight. Also, there aren't many problems included. To overcome these shortcomings, see the next book.

Rosen's Chess Endgame Training. Another great beginner book, and a perfect complement to Seirewan's book. It is basically a set of tests with detailed and incredibly clear explanations of the positions afterwords. His description of the opposition, for instance, is great. It needs to be complemented with something like Seirewan or Muller/Lamprecht, as it doesn't include the basic mates (e.g., no discussion of KBN vs K).

Muller and Lamprecht's Fundamental Chess Endings. An encyclopedic tour-de-force, covering all major aspects of the endgame from basic mates to general strategy, all with problems included. The explanations are clear and thorough. If I had to take one endgame book to an island with me, it would be this one. Also, at the end they have an extremely useful table that shows the theoretical results from all 4-6 piece endgames (e.g., QB vs Q is a draw) based on computer analysis. This book is so good that it's tempting to start with it, but I'll wait until I've really digested the material from the previous two books before I enter this treasure chest, so I can get the most out of it.

Snape's Chess Endings Made Simple is my least favorite of the bunch. I got it for its high reviews at Amazon, but immediately regretted the purchase. The first half of the book is explanation of key concepts at a beginner-intermediate level. The explanations aren't as clear as Rosen or Muller/Lamprecht: for the most part he uses examples with long lists of moves to make his points, while a beginner like me needs more prose. It doesn't include the basic mates. The second half of the book is a bunch (100) of problems with detailed explanations using ideas from the first half of the book. Perhaps these are useful and I'll appreciate the book more as I grow in skills.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Back from Paris

Disclaimer: this post, about my visit to France, contains very little chess content, and contains some related political commentary...

Just returned from my two-week visit to Paris, France. My overall impression of Paris? The city has amazing museums, architecture, food, and a great subway system. The Museum of Paleontology was stunning, a superlative arrangement of skeletons (both fossilized and not), better than anything I have ever seen (and I make it a point to check out such things). Because they have museums like that around, I can understand why France doesn't produce creationists.

As for chess, my wife and I went to the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens to watch people play chess in the park. I don't think there were any actual chess hustlers there, but simply folks who wanted to play a game. I didn't play anyone, but was happy to observe. The players were all over the place in talent: most of them little opening to speak of (e.g., didn't castle), but were amazing tacticians.

On the down side, the people of Paris leave quite a bit to be desired, what with their general priggishness, inefficiency, and up-nosery. Also, the costs of everything were ridiculous (especially given that the Euro is kicking the ass of the dollar right now because the US is so far in debt from loans we take out from other countries to deal with our budget deficit).

There was a big protest against Israel while we were there. It was conducted by the large Muslim population in Paris. The cops told us not to go near the protests, because we wouldn't be safe, a fact rich with sociopolitical information. Much of the time I was in Paris, I was thinking to myself, "Why is this country on the UN Security Council? What have the French ever actually...secured?"

[An aside to Muslim Psychos (not all Muslims): if you kidnap Jews from Israel, you are effectively begging for a justified heavy-duty smackdown. After WWII the Jews are rightly kinda sensitive about leaving their bretheren behind, even if this tenacity makes them unpopular and puts them in further danger. Unfortunately, I think you (psycho Muslim) already know this, and want to create a conflagration, which will help you generate more propaganda, which will help you generate more Muslim psychos. It really is a grotesque reproductive strategy, a strategy which the god of pretty much any religion would disapprove of. The effectiveness of your strategy is quite sad and frustrating, as what this world needs much less of right now is Islamofascism.]

Moving on from Paris, and Islamofascism, a big surprise came from my visit to Heidelberg, Germany for three days. It's a wonderful little hamlet in south-central Germany. The city and people were great, the beer tasty, and the sausage/sauerkraut simply amazing. I would love to go there again. I had only one complaint: in Germany they expect you to pay for your water in restaurants, and they often give you tiny little bottles. You get a huge barrel of beer for one Euro, but for three Euros you get a thimble full of Evian. What's up with that?

I managed to do ten CTB problems a day (at least) while on vacation. I'll post more chess-related antics once my internal clock resets and the like.

It's good to be back in this efficient, English-speaking, down-to-earth country of ours.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Endgames in Paris

Meandering through Paris, we've found a few shops that specialize in chess-related goods. The best by far is Variantes, which had an amazing selection of overpriced books. I have yet to make my way to the chess hustlers on the Seine.

Since I drew a game I should have won in my last 45 45 game, I started learning a little something about the endgame (in addition to Circle 2 which I've also been diligent with). So far I've spent a couple of hours learning mate with the knight and bishop. It is tricky. But not just for me. Consider the quote from Chess Endings Made Simple:
This is the only difficult mating combination. You may think it is easy, but it is not. At a rapidplay tournament in south London I saw an international Master fail to mate with Bishop and Knight. In the end, after many movezs during which it was clear he did not know how to proceed, he stalemated his opponent.
How many knights know this ending? Has it helped? What rating were you when you first learned it cold?

I am typing on this awful French keyboard (,qny things qrenùt zhere they qre supposed to be!) so will probably not post again until I get home. Happy king hunting to all!!!