Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Another questionable move in CTB

I am used to the tactical software Chess Tactics for Beginners counting an actual mate as an error when it has only marked one of the possible mates in the position as correct.

However, problem 389 has an error so strange it is hard to figure out what they are even thinking. Here is the problem (black to move):

CTB only gives credit for 1...Rh2+ (?) and after it moves 2. Nxh2, 2...Qh1 is the "right" answer. But then Kh3 and the position, while not good for white, is about the same as when the problem starts. I fired up Fritz and it agrees: its number one move is 1...f6, probably to contain the Knight on f3.

I guess this is just one of those problems where I'll have to memorize the wrong answer just to get it right in CTB's eyes. Note that this is the only problem where I just couldn't figure out what they were thinking: overall CTB is a great resource and I'm very happy with it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I need a defense to 1. d4!

As I play people with higher ratings, I have started to see 1. d4 more often, and realize that I often end up with a horribly crippled queenside. To improve at my defense, I'm going to play d4 as white for a while to get a sense for its weaker spots. I've ordered Cox's book to help me build up a little d4 repertoire. One thing I do know: I don't like the Queen's gambit accepted, which unfortunately is the recommendation in Rizzitano's book. Any good books out there for black against 1. d4 that do not employ the QGA or any funky fianchetto hypermodern crazy principles?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mistakes get me to 1200

While it seems long ago that I started, my goal with all this is to reach a solid 1200 level at ICC. A little over a year and a half ago, I was at about 950 at ICC. Within a couple of months I was at about 1050, where I stayed for about a year. Then I was solidly hovering around 1100 where I have been for about six months. Strangely, I have won about seven slow games in a row after taking a break from slow games, which has given me a rating high of 1207!

This does not reflect my actual chess skills. Half of the games have been decided by gross errors on my opponents' part (leaving pieces en prise). In one game, the guy resigned after move eight in an even game. Odd.

I now feel fairly confident that when these circles are over, and I reliably use my thought process, I should be a solid 1200 player.

Then I'll relax, play some master games, and start to learn a little something about the endgame. In other words, once these tactical and mating motifs are embedded in memory, I'll start to focus on fun and balance.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

We need more such games

Note my new high score. I don't think I'll be able to do much better than this...

OK, I'll admit it, Troyis is pretty addictive after all. Wouldn't it be cool if they had games like this, with this design quality, for lots of aspects of the game? Bookup comes close for opening study. There is also clicking on the attacked pieces (Chessbase has this), clicking on the pieces that can deliver check (Chessbase also has this), click on the squares on which you can pin/skewer/fork using a randomly chosen piece (the exercises from de la Maza's book, but it could be made way cooler with computers).

Any other ideas?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Move over knight vision drills...

Check out the new game Troyis, that, in addition to being a little fun, will almost certainly help us patzers get a better feel for how the knights move. Basically it is an exercise in Knight walks: you have a certain amount of time to make all the white squares change color using your knight. If you fail to do so, you lose. The knight can't move to the unfilled (blue) squares, which are like squares that are already occupied.

This Q-bert-esque game starts out easy and then things get pretty tricky. The web site promotes it as being really addictive, the most addictive game since Tetris. This is just hype: there isn't enough to it to be as addictive as Tetris.

If you want addictive, try Bowmaster. Don't say I didn't warn you. (Crappy web page design warning: don't click on the page when it first comes up, you just have to wait a few seconds for the game to load).

Hat tip: Evolution Blog, which is an excellent science-themed blog.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Time Management

When playing real (i.e., slow time control) games, I have two time-management goals that are often in conflict. One, I try to use up all the time on my clock. That is, I don't want to rush moves. Two, I don't want to play so slowly that my flag falls.

One thing that helps me avoid a rushed endgame is to divide the total time T by three, and to plan on having a minimum of 12 moves made with 2/3T on the clock, and 24 moves by 1/3 T (so in a 60 minute game, I want 40 minutes left at move 12 and 20 minutes left at move 24). This simple algorithm has helped me a lot, but it isn't perfect. For instance, the above assumes a game will have about 36 moves, but this is often wrong and I end up in trouble in the endgame. I am so bad in the endgame I should give myself more time to think then. Also, the above rule is not etched in stone: a third of the clock is too much for the first 12 moves in familiar openings, so I often take less time for the first 12 moves.

Heisman suggests taking a deep think at certain critical junctures such as the first opening move that is out of your book, complicated tactically rich positions, and when you are making a positional committment that will have long-term positional consequences (e.g., a pawn break).

Anyone out there have any useful time management tips?

Problem Set 2: Once through finished

Problem Set 2 in CTB is a little tougher than Problem Set 1: it includes a few mate-in-one problems, lots of mate-in-two, some two-move gain-of-material tactics (pins, skewers, forks), and some drawing problems. Plus, I redid Problem Set 1 (mate-in-one problems) a couple more times. I look forward to when these simple tactics are effortless, quick pattern recognition coupled with knowing what to do when I see the pattern (as Takchess recently pointed out, it is all-too-frequent that we recognize a pattern but have no idea what to do!).

# CirclesPercent Correct
Problem Set 11298-99-100-100-100-100-100-100-100-100-99-100
Problem Set 2190
Problem Set 30
Problem Set 40
Problem Set 50
NOTE: Circles done with CTB.

Friday, October 13, 2006

In Atlanta for the first time

I'm at a huge (>25,000 attendees) neuroscience conference in Atlanta. It is a great city. Where should I go to find a patzer-friendly game of chess? I'll be here until Tuesday.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Don't reassess your chess until 2007

Jeremy Silman is going to radically alter his book Reassess Your Chess, fixing many of its problems (some of which stem from lack of computer checking). What follows is a quote from an article he recently wrote called Reassessing how to reassess your chess:
[There are] positions in HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS that, in my view, were not explained properly in the book, and one even featured a small typo. It was this kind of error, a lack of computer checking (strong chess engines didn't exist when I wrote this book), and the availability of a wealth of new examples (thanks to the wonders of databases, another thing that didn't exist when this book was written) that has convinced me to totally rewrite HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS (yes, a 4th Edition due out at the end of 2007).

My intention is to gut dozens (as much as 80%!) of the existing examples, and even toss a whole chapter or two into the rubbish bin! There are several reasons for doing this: the endgame chapter is useless and never belonged in HTRYC in the first place. It's also redundant since my new (upcoming) book, SILMAN'S COMPLETE ENDGAME COURSE, will give you everything you need to know about the endgame, and much, much more. The enormous amount of new examples I intend to make use of in the 4th Edition of HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS gives fans of the 3rd Edition more study material, and allows me to make the many key points about imbalances fresh and compelling.

Most importantly, I have changed many of my views over the years and now have new theories and ideas that I would like to present, making REASSESS (4th Edition) the teaching tool that I always wanted it to be.

Compare Silman's sentiments with de la Maza's criticism of the book:
Pick any analyzed position in Jeremy Silman’s Reassess Your Chess, the book that has become famous for teaching class players positional concepts, set up the position on your favorite computer program, and play the side that is winning according to Silman. After a few moves the computer will deviate from Silman’s analysis. Feel free to check Silman’s book or any other source for advice on what to do about the computer’s "new idea." You will quickly learn that the computer has busted Silman’s plan and a new plan is required. Now what do you do? If you are a GM you can create a new plan (provided that you didn’t reject Silman’s plan from the start), but if you are a class player there is little that you can easily do to learn about the new position.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Back to chess: mmmmm....Chunky

The World Championship is back! Kramnik and Topolov played to a draw today. What a relief.

I have been working on tactics each day, and have updated my plan a bit. Even in my first mini-circle I am taking no more than two minutes per problem. This will help me finish these damned things in my lifetime. Hence, I am focused on using even the early Circles to build up patterns rather than calculation skills.

On the other hand, simply learning the patterns should make me a better calculator. This is based on that whole 'chunking' theory from cognitive psychology. I can remember seven or so letters in a random string after you tell them to me, but if someone tells me multiple words that form a coherent sentence (e.g., 'Working class people of the world unite') I can easily remember dozens of letters. The tactical patterns I am learning should become my sentences, or cognitive chunks. They can serve as the basic units of calculation and free me from working out the details within those chunks. For example, if I see a mating motif I don't have to spend a lot of time calculating the specific moves in that chunk: I literally calculate using the motif rather than the individual pieces and moves.

I am not saying that thinking through concrete move sequences with individual pieces is unnecessary, but that learning patterns has a positive synergy with calculation.

Did I just use the word 'synergy' in a non-ironic way? Crap.

This note was catalyzed by a discussion over at Takchess.