Saturday, September 29, 2007

Welcome oh quixotic knight

Time for Knights to update their sidebars again, for the first time in a while. Welcome to the newest of our order, Knight Lithium. May its pharmacological magic work wonders on your chess.

Staying sharp with the simple, circles getting tighter

In Denver, we found this great bookstore, The Tattered Cover. I picked up Heisman's new tactics book (good review at Steve Learns Chess).

It is a good book for reviewing basic tactics, from counting problems up to simple combinations. I have discovered that it is crucial that I actively stay sharp with the simple tactics. Working through the more complex combinations in CTB level 5 is fun and instructive, but in practice most of my games are still decided by the simple accidents. Strangely, working on complicated tactics for over a month now, I have actually gotten rusty with the simple tactics! This is paradoxical, as the combinations almost all include the simpler tactical motifs as essential ingredients. I need to be careful in my actual games of wasting a lot of time looking for combinations, and not taking enough time to look for the simple stuff: captures, pins, forks, etc..

I just finished Circle 5.4. I now know all the problems, and can solve most of them within a minute. The majority involve no thinking: I recognize the problem, know the solution, and my hand moves to make the solution before I am conscious of why it's the right move. That is, I'm at the "Wow this feels like cheating" stage. It's now a matter of working through them a few more times until I can get them all correct like this, within 15 seconds. This will probably involve 4-5 more circles.

One roadblock is that the stage 5 problems contain so many damned errors. I now have a list of 36 errors (out of 294 problems) in Phase 5!! That is over 12% of the problems. Hence, I am faced with the task not only of learning the solutions, but also of learning which correct moves the program will not accept, as I don't let myself finish a stage of Circles until I get 100% correct by CTBs lights, even if her lights are sometimes dim. For instance, check out problem 1202, where CTB misses a mate and only gives credit for going up a Knight! This is annoying, but something I'm used to from the previous stages.

Goal: finish Circles within 3 weeks.

# CirclesPercent Correct
Problem Set 11498-99-100-100-100-100-100
Problem Set 21590-93-96-99-99-99-99-99
Problem Set 3885-93-97-99-99-99-99-100
Problem Set 41373-87-93-96-98-99-99
Problem Set 5469-92-96-99
NOTE: Circles undertaken with CTB.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Zombie Chess

In Boulder, CO hotel. Too tired to put up kick-ass zombie pic. Plus, see below on why no pics only text.

Stupid stairwell we're sleeping (trying) next to; keeps yelling at us with suitcases and freaks and jackanapes on stairs ('jackanapes,' spelling of which I am not sure, I stole from Mr Burns: I frankly have no idea what that word means, but it kicks ass and seems to describe the people on the stairs perfectly). I hate you stairwell, and you stairwell CHUD! (technically 'CHSD' unless I stipulate that 'U' stands for 'understairs')

Sleep deprived. Tired. Good time to find out which tactics I really know by heart, as there is no chance I can actually think in this state of mind. Good results: even with inability to think can get most of these problems right. That fucking rocks. The one I actually wasn't sure about really hurt my brain, though, so I think I'll leave it to morning rather than guess wrong and get a milli-percent lower on this Circle. Sin of pride? Or could it be Sin of wanting-to-be-done-with-these-fucking-circles-and-so-I'll-sleep-on-this-problem-and-be-100-percent-sure-I'll-get
-it-right-next-time-though-if-not-this-time-through? Probably a little of both.

So that's my new training technique: zombie chess. Tests pure pattern recognition as you're so tired you can't sleep. OK, here's the official method TM (trademark on word 'method', not the method): Don't sleep for three days. Then play chess. That's zombie chess. My bet is that chessloser would beat us all at Zombie Chess. He'd even beat Fischer. I don't know why, but don't bet against him at this game. He'll kick your ass in it.

If incoherent, blame the stairwell. Damn you stairwell!

Zombies rule. I just wrote this in the room, but refuse to give them ten freaking bucks to get internet access and post it. Screw you CHUD! So if you are reading this it's because I posted it, which means I made it out alive to get to internet. My promise to you, perhaps hard to believe, that I didn't edit this in the light of day once I made it to the internets. Not even this sentence. Not even the first sentence. Which sentence, dear reader, is the sentence I published in the light of day? Not even this one. That's right. Nor this. You may keep reading, thinking I'm lying about not typing one edit in the light of day. But you would be wrong, notice no links in this page. That's more evidence that I'm not lying. Only crappy html edits like <b> with no outside content. Plus Galaovitians 3:2 says it's true so there. This sentence might be false, but the rest of this document is a hundred percent true. This is what unedited unsleeped BDK looks like. If you don't like it, and I assume nobody does, then be happy I sleep. Or perhaps I should be happy I sleep, as if you hate this rambling free association crap fest, then you wouldn't be here. Ergo I'm happy I sleep.

Enlightenment. This is what it is like to be DK-Transform. The freedom of free association, of not being constrained by the categories of the understanding or forms of intuition. Quite liberating. DK-Transform, where are you when I need you? I need you to talk me down.

Not even this sentence was edited (getting back to topic of two paragraphs ago). Thank you. Good night. Literally, good morning as it is now 6 am as I type. Isn't it hard to believe I didn't edit this masterpiece? That sentence: unedited after I escaped from CHUD. Meaning, I did not edit it after escaping from CHUD. So is this one. I could go on all day like this (by 'this' I mean going on like I'm going on now, sleep deprived, not later in the internet cafe where I got free access).

Zombie bloggers rule even more. This is my new format. Wake up at 4 am and blog. I bet it would rule.

Note, anybody out there who tries to be clever and point out anything about the liar's paradox, don't even bother. I'm too tired for that crap.

P.S. I'm not high. Seriously. I'm just sleep deprived.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Which nominee will win?

Once you've got your candidate moves in mind, you need to select the one you will actually play. Soltis, in How to choose a chess move, identifies four strategies people tend to use, and the strengths and weaknesses of each one:

1. Prioritizing: focus on one particular move that catches your fancy, and analyze it thoroughly to make sure it is playable. If you find a flaw, go to the next candidate. Soltis says GMs often use this method (indeed, Tisdall says it is the best method as it is what our minds spontaneously want to do: explore the candidate that intuitively seems best). GMs can get away with it because their intuition is so damned good. On the down side, after spending a lot of time on one move, you might become irrationally committed to it, and if it turns out to be a bad move, it has stolen thinking time that you should have spent on the other moves.

2. Thinking like a Kotov: analyze each candidate in turn, examining each move tree only once, and after this is done, pick the candidate that yields the best consequences. The upside is that it is thorough, and you aren't as likely to miss a sneaky great move as you are with Prioritizing. On the down side, it is unrealistic. Nobody analyzes a line only once: at the very least, in crucial positions you need to recheck your analysis. Also, most people don't deeply analyze every candidate move. How many need to be analyzed deeply depends on the position.

3. Elimination: Try to find the biggest weakness in each candidate move, and select the move with the smallest weakness. That is, via process of elimination, whittle down to the least objectionable move. This is very helpful when you need to defend, and instead of being used exclusively, can be used to trim down the number of candidates down to a Kotov-able size. There is a danger of prematurely rejecting a candidate, so be careful. I really like this strategy: the least bad move is the best move!

4. Back and forth: Analyze one candidate a few moves deep. Then another. And another. Kotov shoveled derision on such a thought process as inefficient, but it does have its advantages. First, an analysis of one move can reveal features of the position that could come in handy for one of the other candidates. It would be strange to be stubborn and refuse to go back and reanalyze a move based on such new information. Also, since you are most likely to see tactics early in your thinking process, a quick search of all moves may reveal tactics you might not see if you already have spent 10 minutes on your first candidate (Soltis calls this tactical fatigue).

I use a mixture of all these methods. I think this is unavoidable, as they are not mutually exclusive but can all play a role in selecting a move. I usually start by doing a quick tactical scan before tactical fatigue sets in, and if something particularly promising pops out, I spontaneously will think it through to its conclusion (Prioritizing). The result of that analysis then becomes the basis of comparison for the other candidates. I am not very good at thinking like a Kotov, so reserve such effort for those cases where there are a couple of moves I can't decide between, and I have some reason to think one of them may be significantly better than the other (e.g., it leads to sharp play). If the position is quiet, and a superficial analysis doesn't reveal striking differences, I decide based on general principles and save my thinking time for sharp positions.

That's all the ideal. A more common thought process is "Three moves ago I planned on making this move now, so I'll just make it." [move] "Oh, crap, I just hung my knight. I didn't visualize the position very well three moves ago. I should have used Fine's modified rule."

Anyone out there think like a Kotov?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Putting a big button on your sidebar

If you like the 'Knights Errant FAQ' button on my sidebar, here's how you can have such a button on your sidebar (with whatever text and link you want in the button, of course). My wife made the code. This is only for those who have html-editable pages. I don't know if it will work in the new version of blogger with the widgets etc...

In the html customization page, the place you add links and stuff to your sidebar, you'll find a place where it says:
/* Profile

Above that, cut and paste put the following:

/*Julia's code--------------------------*/
#navcontainer { width: 200px; }
#navcontainer ul
margin-left: 0;
padding-left: 0;
list-style-type: none;
font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;

#navcontainer a
display: block;
padding: 3px;
width: 160px;
background-color: #222;
border: 2px solid #3A3A3A;

#navcontainer a:link, #navlist a:visited
color: #ccc;
text-decoration: none;
text-align: center;
font-weight: bold;

#navcontainer a:hover
background-color: #1B4B95;
color: #fff;
Note it isn't really that important that you put it exactly there, but just somewhere above where the content starts, and as long as it doesn't interrupt other bits of code. You can change the various color settings using the color codes here.

Once you have done that, place the following code wherever you want the button to appear:
<div id="navcontainer">
<ul id="navlist">
<li id="active"><a href="URL HERE" id="current">TEXT HERE</a></li>
Of course adding in your desired URL and text, but keeping all the quotation marks as is.

Please let me know if it works...And thanks Julia! HT to DK-Transform who asked me how this was done.

The balloon expands

Zenchess is back! See his great article about why errors in classic texts shouldn't worry the patzer.

Big Five Chess, a disciple of Heisman, has lots of good stuff on the perennial topic of thought processes in chess.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The final word on a silly dispute

As far as I'm concerned, this is the final word on the petty dispute between Dr Kirby (ChessDB) and Pasco (SCID-pg), the two developers of different forks of the SCID chess database. Guy Macon, thank you for injecting sanity and objectivity into this counterproductive and juvenile debate.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, just look at the comments to my positive review of ChessDB.


I suck at chess. Just lost like five games in a row. Left a knight en prise in one of them. I suck oh so badly.

I should read this comment over and over and over and over and ......

Perhaps tattoo it on my hands so I can see it before I move.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another tool for solution implants

The fourth step of my solution-oriented approach to learning tactical problems is to explain the solution to myself. In my previous description of this step, I wrote:
This step is inspired by the study that showed explaining moves to oneself improves memory of the solution. My explanations involve a description of the major tactical and strategic elements involved in the combination, particularly focusing on plans that the position demands. For instance, "A mating net initialized by decoying his rook to h5, which cleared the g-file for my rook battery." I also identify the general features of the position that made the tactic possible (e.g., he only has a knight on his kingside, while I have four pieces in that area and an open file).
I've added a more visual element to this purely linguistic-narrative account. It is inspired by the 5x5 miniboards in CT-Art that pop up, little wonderful boards that distill out the essence of the solution. What I do is determine all of my material that is essential for carrying out the tactic in the position (e.g., the two rooks on the c-file, the bishop on e6). I then focus just on that material, until it pops out at me as a higher-level visual pattern, and the other pieces sort of recede into the background. This helps me to strip away the extraneous details of the position and focus on its tactical essence, sort of like the 5x5 board does. I then go back through the solution, focusing on how this material core coordinates to implement the tactic. Often there is tons of material hanging around that is doing nothing: a small subset is actually taking part in the action.

I don't know if it will help, but it is really fun and cool when I do it. Just as the Knight's landing squares pop out with enough training, I am hoping that the tactical essence of these positions will pop out on subsequent viewings. One thing I am learning: typically 3-5 pieces are involved in mating nets. Perhaps that's why my two-piece attacks rarely work :)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Circle 5.3 Begun

My performance went from 69 to 92 percent correct between Circles 5.1 and 5.2, a 23 point increase (compared to the 14 point increase between circles 4.1 and 4.2). I'm convinced the improved learning is because of the solution-oriented way I attacked the problems.

During 5.2, the problems from 5.1 that I had approached with the stare-for-ten-minutes method, I had that locked-in syndrome, remembering the position and incorrect moves that I thought about way too much. This didn't happen with the problems I had solved with the solution-focused approach. Strangely, the locking-in did happen for those problems in which I combined the approaches! So for those who want to learn a set of problems, don't spend too much time staring. Spend a tiny bit staring, the majority of time thinking about the solution. Unless your goal is to build your calculation muscle. (And assuming my results are representative!)

I did about 50 problems from Circle 5.3 today, and for the majority of the problems I was already at the 'move without thinking' stage! This usually takes me until the sixth circle on a set of problems. It's awesome! I expect to get around 97 percent correct in 5.3.

Goal: finish the Circles within five weeks.

# CirclesPercent Correct
Problem Set 11498-99-100-100-100-100-100
Problem Set 21590-93-96-99-99-99-99-99
Problem Set 3885-93-97-99-99-99-99-100
Problem Set 41373-87-93-96-98-99-99
Problem Set 5269-92
NOTE: Circles undertaken with CTB.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Review: Practical Chess Exercises

I sat on Ray Cheng's new book Practical Chess Exercises for a couple of months, thinking it would be yet another run-of-the mill book of puzzles. Even the enthusiastic back-cover endorsements from Dan Heisman and John Watson (Cheng's coach) left me unimpressed. Such endorsements are typically written as favors by people who have only read the publisher's description of the book, or perhaps a small excerpt.

Once I cracked it, I liked the format of this book of 600 problems. Its layout is a boon for those of us who like to read chess books in planes and trains. Open the book to any page: on the left page you will find six positions while the right-hand page provides solutions to those same problems. No need to clumsily flip back and forth to find the answers in the back. Just hold a piece of paper over the right-hand page while working on a problem.

When I finally started working through the problems, my aforementioned skepticism quickly melted away. Then my enthusiasm grew as I realized I held a splendid and unique chess book in my hands. This is the first book I've read that makes me feel like I'm in a real game, where I need to use my full thinking process to pick the best move.

How did Cheng so adeptly manage to capture the spirit of playing in real games? Three reasons stick out. First, the variety of problems is as wide as the variety of positions you'll encounter in the game of chess. The problems include not just tactical themes, but also problems with a defensive problem to solve, endgames, opening themes (see below for an example), and about a third of the problems focus on positional themes. One really nice feature is that for some of the strategy problems there are multiple good moves (just like in real games!), not a single best move. For these positions Cheng mentions the many perfectly acceptable moves.

Second, the problems don't come labeled with themes, and are not sorted by theme or difficulty level. Positions in real games aren't labeled 'Mate in three' or 'Knight outpost.' There isn't a neon sign that starts blinking when there is a tactic to be found. Dan Heisman isn't there in shoulder-angel form to whisper "This is a difficult position, so be sure to give it a deep think." Cheng's problems serve to recreate the fog of war in chess, where it is up to you to determine whether there is a tactic in a position.

Third, the positions are from real games. No kooky compositions. Indeed, many of the problems are from internet games and remind me of the types of positions I see all the time.

All these facets combine to make the book a fun and helpful simulation of the chess battlefield. It forces you to think flexibly about the positions from multiple angles. Are there any major threats I need to deal with? If not, how can I improve my position? It even helps with time management, as the solutions provide quick feedback on how good you are at recognizing critical positions that require lots of thought, versus more quiet positions for which choosing moves based on general principles is appropriate.

The problems include no hints or labels. Just positions. The solutions on the next page have three features. First, a title that encapsulates the theme (e.g., 'Pawn sac to open lines' or the whimsical 'Win a pawn, lose the game'). The titles are useful for getting a big-picture perspective on the problem, and can serve as helpful hints before you cheat and look at the full solution. Next, the main body of each solution provides insightful analysis that strikes an excellent balance between word-explanation and variation crunching. Third, to indicate the difficulty-level of the problems, Cheng gives each problem between one and four stars (one being the easiest). I can find most of the one-star solutions within a few minutes, and tend to get the four-start problems wrong. I discuss the book's likely target audience below.

Reviews usually have criticisms, so I need to come up with some (note I consider these to be minor). For one, it would be nice if Cheng had included an index of themes in the back of the book for those who want to touch up on some particular weakness in their play. Also, while most of the explanations are chess enlightenment in word-form, a small minority could use a bit more meat (e.g., in problem 18 he gives the explanation "intending Nc4 with the advantage": the advantage isn't clear to this patzer and could be made a bit more explicit).

I unreservedly recommend this book, which is likely to be helpful for players rated between 1100 and 2000 at ICC (I am frankly not good at judging how the book would be for players rated so much higher than me, so this upper limit is something of a guess). Cheng himself is rated around 1700 USCF (tournament history here). This is a book to be savoured, and I am not looking forward to finishing it because it's just so damned fun working through the problems. Cheng doesn't plan on putting out another such book, so enjoy this superlative work. My hunch is that it took him a great deal of time to put it together (Fritzo-philes rejoice that he computer checked all the problems, and I did the same with a random selection and found his analysis spot on).

In the name of full disclosure, I should say that I received this book as a free review copy. But if I hadn't, if I had just checked it out of the library, I would quickly return it and buy the book.

To cap off this review, I'll provide one example. It is Problem 20 from the book, and received two out of four difficulty stars. White to move:
(20) ** Stop thematic pawn advance
Black's counterplay in the Semi-Slav Defense relies on the ...c6-c5 advance, opening the diagonal for his light-squared bishop, extending the scope of the rook on c8, and challenging White's pawn center. Here, after unusually restrained play by both sides White can prevent Black's thematic advance with 1. b4!

Note I just found out that Chess Relearner recently posted a similarly glowing review of the book.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Attacking doesn't mean rushing

About half of my losses lately have come from positions in which I played well, had a crushing attack started, but bungled it because I didn't slow down and take the time to think it through on each move.

During an attack I need to be sure to do the following:
1. Slow down and think. This is the wrong time to rush moves. It is the exact opposite of a quiet position, so it requires careful and thorough analysis. This is the phase of the game for which Kotov's method applies in spades. It is key to think through to quiescence.
2. Think broadly as well as deeply. Consider all possible attacking continuations, even those that seem crazy on a first pass. You have a bunch of material piled up: it is fine to lose some of it if it allows even more to rush through and destroy the opponent. Also, be sure to consider pawn moves and captures.
3. Be flexible. If it turns out mate is not possible, change plans, try to secure other long-term advantages. Or look for a different road toward mate.

Here's an example of a position in a game from last night (my first slow-game Smith-Morra gambit), white to move:
Obviously, white has a huge advantage, and the attack is on! I did a fine job building up to this point, but proceeded to squandor my advantage. Instead of the correct gxh!, I played Bc5, thinking I'd take his rook out and then get a relatively easy mate. Wrong. I ended up losing...

White to move

Saturday, September 15, 2007

ChessDB Review

Why spend hundreds of bucks on a chess database when you can download ChessDB, a great free chess database tool? ChessDB is open source (yeah!), and once you've installed it just click 'Tools' and 'Download Games' to download a free 3.5 million game database. Huzzahh!

ChessDB is a descendent of SCID (no longer maintained, and which charged for the actual database). It is developed by Dr. David Kirkby. So far I'm lovin' it. It has the standard database features: search for games in the database based on position and all sorts of other criteria. It has a game tree display for each move that includes frequencies and performance statistics. One unique feature is that you can right-click on any two moves in the game tree, and it does a statistical analysis to determine whether one move is actually better than the other (for the stat-heads out there, it even gives a p-value!). Also, ChessDB can directly download games from ICC, FICS, and TWIC.

They are still working on shoring up the documentation, such as the online tutorial, and the help guide that comes with the program is not searchable, which is sometimes frustrating. But this is an Open Source project, so you can take part in its development. This is in contrast to commercial software, in which your only recourse is to complain and then pray. The ChessDB developer wants help translating the documentation into languages other than English.

Because much of the help and documentation features are still in development, it is sometimes frustrating to figure out how to do some very basic things. For instance, how do I filter the games by position and then save the matching games into a little mini-database? I couldn't figure it out on my own. Luckily, Dr Kirkby is very helpful, and explained it to me within the day when I posted a message to the ChessDB user group (it's easy: create a new database, and then drag the filtered games from the huge database using the Windows-->Database Switcher widget).

All in all, the benefits absolutely dwarf any difficulties I have had with the program. It is easy and fun to use, and the developer is responsive and helpful. I have been wanting a database for a few months now, but didn't want to fork out the three hundred bucks for Chessbase. Thank goodness I found ChessDB, and now have 3.5 million games to explore (including over 8000 with 1. e4 e5 2. d4).

Friday, September 14, 2007

When did chess die?

All four games in round one of the World Championship ended in a draw yesterday, with no games lasting more than 28 moves. Given the amount of opening preparation these guys go through, that means they actually thought for 10-15 of those moves. If you look at the positions, they are positions in which nobody in a normal tournament would suggest a draw. Pathetic!

A great quote from the tournament web site: [T]here is no other sport where the competitors are able to agree a tie whenever they want to, even on the most interesting moment of the fight, the best chess players earn better than enough money to demand a reasonable competition level.

Questions about Danish Gambit (Alekhine variation)

Can anyone explain why the Smith Morra Gambit [1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd 3. c3 dxc 4. Nxc3] is taken so seriously as a good opening for club players while the Alekhine Danish [1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd 3. c3 dxc 4. Nxc3] gets little to no attention? Why isn't the Alekhine Danish considered as good or better than the Smith Morra, given that in the Danish you end up with the same pieces developed, but the opponent has given up his King's pawn rather than a wing pawn in accepting the gambit?

Is it because in the Smith-Morra, he still can't develop either Bishop? Is that really that big a deal at the club level?

For those who have played both, has there been good synergy between the openings, as far as plans, typical strengths and weaknesses for both sides?

Finally, does anyone know what version of the Danish Davies recommends in his book Gambiteer I? Specifically, after 1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd 3. c3 dxc, does he recommend 4. Bc4 or 4. Nxc3? Also, any comments on how good that book is?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Regular exercise improves chess ratings

Regular exercise, good nutrition, and healthy sleep patterns have many positive neurological and genetic consequences. This article discusses the exercise and nutrition angles.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chess thinking process: abridged version

1. Find candidate moves that generate threats and piece activity.
2. Play the candidate with the best consequences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My chess thought process

[Revised on 8/12/07]

After my opponent moves, here's what I do.

1. Threat scan. Look for threats from both players' perspectives. This involves examining all forcing lines and looking for tactics. Any threatening moves that survive a cursory analysis go on the candidate move list. If there is a threat from the opponent, think about how to deal with it: either by defending against it directly or by generating a bigger threat. If there is a threat that is major, skip to the third step.

2. Planning. Use strategic considerations to generate and constrain candidate moves. Piece activity is God in this step. King safety and pawn structure are the other factors I use. Once specific plans are made (e.g., increase Bishop activity), think of moves to achieve them. These are candidate moves. If they also make threats, put 'em near the top of the candidate move list.

3. Calculate variations. After prioritizing candidate moves (biggest threats first), analyze each one to find its worst-case scenarios. What is the best my opponent can do, and how will I respond? Especially be sure to calculate until the forcing moves peter out (i.e., to quiescence). This is 'Real Chess.' I evaluate the end-nodes of the tree of variations using considerations of material (first and foremost), piece activity, king safety, and pawn structure. The candidate move with the best future is the move I plan to make.

4. Blundercheck. Quickly check for one-move offensive or defensive disasters if you were to make the move selected in step three.

5. Move

Why start by analyzing threats? See this post and this post. How deeply should you analyze in Step 3? See this post (this was probably the most helpful practical advice I ever received). How can you get better at calculating into the future? See this post. What, exactly, is piece activity? See this post. What is Real Chess? See Heisman's original article on the topic. Those posts distill out the most useful lessons I have learned in the past year about thinking in chess.

I am finding this new thought process extremely helpful in practice. My original thought process was a bit too much of a complicated idealization to be helpful.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nc3 Scandy

I noted in a previous post compiling statistics from my Scandy games I complained about how much I hate when it goes 1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6 3. Nc3 Nxd5 4. Nxd5 Qxd5. In a great post, Pale Morning Dun has provided a very helpful analysis of the main lines and plans in the position, lines which score very well for black. I can't wait to print it out and go over it with Bookup in hand.

Dan Heisman on Howard Stern's show today

If you have Sirius, be sure to catch the Stern show today. Howard has his coach, Dan Heisman on the show. It is hilarious. Dan comes on near the end of the show.

They talk about openings, blindfold, ratings, general chess nerdiness stuff. Some random guy named Adam Weisberg is there with Dan, who got to go to Howard's studio because he won a tournament and that was a prize. They sit in throught the rest of the show once they come in, so keep listening. There are some really funny bits.

Howard, in one year, has gone from 900 to 1500 at ICC under Dan's tutelage (coach haters take note)! Howard says he has three names at ICC (he never announces them for obvious reasons).

Howard: Dan's a good teacher, a really great teacher. Takes an imbecile like me and gets me to 1500.

Howard: what's your thing, the French defense?
Adam: no, the Sicilian.
Howard: I play the Scotch and French. If I whip out my Scotch again you'll never recover.

Howard (to Dan): have you ever called your new wife your old wife's name?
Dan: yes, their names are very similar.
Howard: I've had nightmares about that.

Artie: what's the longest you've ever been logged into ICC?
Howard: 5-6 hours.
Artie: you are addicted!

Robin: do you get to play any girls?
Howard: I think this girl at ICC is flirting with me, I think I could get her. It's probably some dude talking to me.
Artie: If you look at Playboy Playmate's list of favorite things, chess is rarely on the list.
Howard: What's wrong with me? I'm dating a supermodel who's in the bedroom and I'm sitting at the computer playing chess.

Howard (hesitating before reading a letter from a listener): Dan, do you ever swear?
Dan: no.
Howard: Will you be offended by swears?
Dan: no
Howard: (Reading from the letter): Robin is such a C---.

Howard: I wish I was 2200. Man then my life would be complete.
Adam: I don't know, I just play a lot.
Howard: bring in a picture of Beth (his wife) so I can taunt this guy. Do you ever get laid?
Adam: sometimes. Not now.
Howard: Does chess ever get you laid?
Adam: all the time, laughing.
Howard: doesn't it suck? You are so good at this and it doesn't get you laid.
Adam: well, the opposite has happened. I went to a tournament and my girlfriend got mad, and even though I won, she just bitched at me.
Howard: here's a picture of my girlfriend. I may not be 2200, but I'm a 2800 in life. Dan has a nice looking wife.
Robin: the people who should be getting laid are scientists and the like who actually contribute to society.

Howard: I watch games and make comments and nobody responds. They must know I just suck. Dan will sometimes say 'What made you make a move like that?'
Dan: I like to give constructive criticisms.
Howard: Dan uses the Socratic method, asking questions. You know what it's like not having any answers? Sometimes I hear him doing other stuff while we're doing lessons while he's waiting for answers.

Howard also played some prank calls to a chess public access show. That awful show ChessNOw that DG has mentioned. Howard's fans and staff are vicious with the prank calls.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

xor versus and

In the recent Chess Carnival, Jack le Moine contrasted two approaches to solving problems, my solution-focused approach (goal to build up pattern recognition) and Reassembler's analysis-heavy approach (goal to build up calculation skills Kotov-style, one of a few techniques I discussed here for building up calculation skills as opposed to pattern recognition skills).

Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive methods or goals. Instead of staring for ten minutes and then quickly looking over the solution, or instead of staring for only one minute and then taking ten minutes to understand the solution, why not split the difference? Five minutes of analysis, five minutes of solution explanation.

This is what I'm doing in Circle 5.2 for the problems I can't solve right away. I didn't do this in Circle 5.1 because I wanted to get through it more quickly than previous first circles. It's an experiment: perhaps I will learn the problems even better when the two methods meet with a handshake, as demonstrated by Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein in the picture above.

What is xor? Find out here.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Circle 5.1 Finished!

This may have been the toughest mini-circle of them all. The problems were harder, some way over my head it seemed (especially the counterintuitive K and P endgames!). About a third of the way through, I started to think that I was missing something. I realized I wasn't understanding the solutions very well, that I was likely to forget them by the time I started going through the problems again.

At first I thought this was because I was ignorant of some advanced set of combinatorial motifs, a new set of motifs beyond the basic tactical elements (e.g., fork, pin, etc), but motifs that all the great players know by heart just as an intermediate player knows forks and pins. I asked you all about this, receiving many comments, some helpful and some inexplicably pathological. Ultimately, we converged on the fact that the complicated combinations are built up out of a coordinated attack that combines multiple simpler motifs. This was extremely helpful.

At the same time, I discovered a great article from some psychologists that showed that beginners who self-explain a position are better able to reproduce the solution when they later see a similar problem. This, combined with the frustration of remembering the original position but not the solution, plans, or basic tactics involved, triggered a drastic revision in how I approached learning this set of problems (as described here).

I did about 15 problems in Circle 5.2 tonight. The problems for which I used the new solution technique were either easier to solve, or at the very least I more quickly remembered the correct solution and plans if I got the wrong first move. Because the utility of the new technique is so apparent, I predict my improvement between 5.1 and 5.2 will be significantly larger than that between 4.1 and 4.2.

In my games, I am already seeing some of the benefits of doing these more difficult problems. For one, I am making fewer quiescence errors, as I am getting practice thinking through longer forced lines. This is key. Also, I am starting to think combinatorially, thinking about how I can coordinate my pieces so that when things shift around I will be able to make multiple threats. I am by no means good at this yet, but just starting to think this way, and have begun finding some initially crazy looking moves that, when thought through to quiescience, turn out to be quite powerful.

My goal: finish the Circles within 6 weeks. Then, time for a cuban Cigar sitting on my back patio with my awesome dog (pictured above) taking a break from this insane prison that is the Circles.

# CirclesPercent Correct
Problem Set 11498-99-100-100-100-100-100
Problem Set 21590-93-96-99-99-99-99-99
Problem Set 3885-93-97-99-99-99-99-100
Problem Set 41373-87-93-96-98-99-99
Problem Set 5169
NOTE: Circles undertaken with CTB.

Another CTB boner [?] Or, another BDK boner

Warning: original post was incorrect. The position below is a draw! I've corrected the post, indicating revisions in brackets.

Two people (a kind reader via email) and Rise 'n' Shine have both provided error lists for CTB (Chess Tactics for Beginners). I am finding more and more errors, especially in the K/P endgames (I'll post the master list once I finish the Circles). Hey Convekta, how about you computer check your bloody computer software? Or at least let us modify problems to change the solution, or to mark problems so they aren't presented.

Below is [another counterintuitive problem] that [I thought was an error which had] slipped by our two censors. Black to move and "draw." Problem 1290:

The first time I did this problem, it was using the stare for 10 minutes method. This time I was using the 'think hard about the solution, question the solution, see if it makes sense, explain it to yourself' method, and red lights started a'flashing in my head. There's something that seems decidedly undrawish about a white queen on h8, with the black having K on e3 and a pawn on f2, with white to move!

[Note added: well, that 'red light' was wrong. While Fritz, for the first couple of minutes of 'infinite analysis' said the position I describe had a #36 (mate in 36 moves), some very trustworthy chess bloggers have said this is indeed a draw. (I thought the queen against seventh rank pawn won unless the pawn was a rook pawn, but apparently there is a clever stalemate trick with the bishop pawn, as described in the notes.) A little exploration on my own part has shown they are indeed correct. So it is I who have pulled a boner. I guess I really need to get Rybka: who knows what other lies Fritz is telling me? Fritz has been my go-to guy: when I don't understand or trust a solution in a book, I use him to tell me who is right.

(I just got back from work, and after Fritz analyzed the position for nine hours, it still had it at +15 rather than the correct 0.0 or very odd).

Sorry CTB: while you have many errors, I was wrong about 1290. Also, good job censors.]

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rosario's Rule

From a comment by Frisco del Rosario, author of the wonderful A first book of Morphy:
I tell people that if they keep ONE goal in mind at the chessboard, they'll do better than most of the other people in the room: Use inactive force. If you combine the biggest threat possible with bringing up the most unused force (and, ideally, minding Fine's principles while influencing the center but that's a LOT to ask from one chess move), that's probably the best move available.

If you're *always* thinking "What can I threaten? Where are the threats, mine and his? HOW CAN I BRING UP MORE NEW FORCE?"... if you're *always* thinking that, you win.

Added 8/4/07: Frisco del Rosario left the following comment, which is just great. I really need to try this as I tend to complicate things too much:
A direct steal from Purdy. Fine gave us 30 general principles, but that's too much for lazy chessplayers to remember, so Purdy gave us two: Examine all smiting moves, and use inactive force. Most find *two* too much to deal with, so if there's ONE thing a chessplayer should do with each of his moves, it's 'bring up more new force'.

I used to hear my coach's voice inside my head: "More new force... more new force... more new force..." I hated that so much, and when I finally started doing it, his voice disappeared, and I was so relieved! So I tell people now, "You should always hear my annoying voice in your head asking you where you will find more new stuff to introduce to this chess game, and if you want me to shut up, do that."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Another Knight Victorious

Rise 'n' Shine Knight has finished his Seven Circles, and offers some interesting thoughts about what he thinks now that he is done. While it is great when someone becomes a Knight, it is even better, and much more rare, for a Knight to actually finish this damning task. All hail Rise 'n' Shine (even if he does think my posts are pseudoacademic gobbledygook)! :)

Scandinavian opening stats

I just went through over 50 Scandinavian games I played (as black) to see what my opponents tend to play. The results of the analysis are presented in the graphs below, which should be self-explanatory (click on a graph for the full-sized version).

Two things suprised me. First, the frequency with which 2. e5?! is played after 1. e4 d5. That e5 move gets no attention in the books (they all say something to the effect that "This is great for black, like a French without the blocked-in Bishop"), as they think it is just easy to handle. Personally, I find this position tough as black, especially figuring out what to do with my King's Knight. [Note added: I just found that this was discussed by Phorku about two years ago here.]

The second surprise was the amount of times white plays 3. Nc3 after 1. e4 d5 2. exd Nf6. This always ends up a fairly boring-looking position, as the next moves are almost always 3...Nxd5 4. Nxd5 Qxd5. Nobody has much real development, and the position is fairly symmetrical.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Why computers need tablebases

Plug this position into your computer chess program, no tablebases allowed (white to move):

This problem (likely a composition) came up in CTB, and I plugged it into Fritz (I check all its KP endgame solutions as the program has many errors on these problems).

It's a draw, but it took Fritz over 10 minutes to find the solution. Then, it took it another 7 minutes to find the solution after it made black's best move. This is all quite a bit longer than I allow him to analyze a single position in the games I blundercheck with Fritz. Heck, that's longer than I let him analyze an entire game! Beware the horizon effect, J'adoube!

I'll put one of the two solutions in the comments on Saturday. Anyone have Rybka? How long before she finds the solution?

Did I say I was supposed to get a good night's sleep tonight. 4am still doing tactics. Oh well...