Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Holidays Everyone

Enjoy your Christmas break and New Year! See you in 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Checks, captures, and threats

When I first learned what a 'weak square' was, I was so concerned with them that I actually gave away a Bishop rather than capture his attacking piece with a pawn, so as not to create weaknesses in my pawn structure. Needless to say, such play is abysmal and reflects a misunderstanding of the relative importance of evaluation factors in chess.

In a tournament last weekend, I gave away a Knight for free (after having been given a Knight for a pawn on move five!), and proceeded to lose the game. I moved it right where it could be captured by his Queen, for nothing.

It makes me wonder, sometimes, why I bother with this game if I'm going to suck so badly at it after more than three years playing. It's one of those games that I felt so bad about that I don't even want to analyze the game it makes me feel like shit to even think about it.

I need to learn from it though, cultivate my blunderstanding, remember every move to blundercheck before moving, and always always look at threats first, as I opined about in a post here. Material and attacking threats are the constraints within which any good strategic thinking should take place. I need to be aware of all the major threats before thinking about subtle things. If I can take his queen, I don't need to worry about my pawn structure or whether my Bishop is weak or strong or whether I should trade my Bishop for his Knight.

Without basic tactical vision all bets are off.

I've also noticed that in real over the board games my chess vision is just not as good. I miss tactics I spot immediately when playing over the computer. I learned on the computer, trained on the computer, and almost always play on the computer.

That has to stop. I've begun playing games on ICC using my actual board, using the computer only to relay my moves. We'll see if it helps. It feels hopeless sometimes, like my brain is permanently locked into a 2-D way of thinking, where all the pieces are always equally distinct and visible.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Can the Citrine be used for ICC games?

Does anyone know if it is possible to use the Novag Citrine to interface with play at ICC? I emailed them but it is one of those companies that takes forever to respond to queries.

Any experience with this would be great to hear about.

Note I am aware of the DGT board, which is set up to interface with ICC, but it is $400 more than the Citrine.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't stop thinking about the circles

MDLM in concert, doing vocals!

Could it be that MDLM improved because he essentially was doing Rowsonalysis? That is, perhaps it was the more slowly-done initial circles (10 minutes per problem) in which MDLM really worked on concrete calculation that helped his chess. Maybe the later circles weren't really important.

Another thing: Nunn in some book I recently browsed said de la Maza needs to temper his confidence in his methods. MDLM spent almost two years, almost full time, playing chess, and improved a whole lot. MDLM attributes such improvement to his method, but to say this we need a comparison. How much improvement would someone see if they spent that much time using more traditional well-rounded methods (i.e., playing, postmortems, tactics, strategy)?

This is an excellent point from Nunn. Nunn doesn't specifically address how to get better at tactics if that is your weakest chess skill, so that is a bit disappointing. Some kind of tactical problem solving seems a reasonable option, even if not the crazy Circles overload.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Confusion: light-square strategy and light square bishop

Note: post edited with diagram added and some clarification, as I think I was using terminology incorrectly.

In last night's game my plan was to maintain my strong pawn center on the light squares [i.e., keep my spatial advantage while preparing for a queenside attack].

This led to a contradiction in my mind between two principles:
a) To improve control over the light squares [e.g., overprotect my pawns in the center], hold on to my light-squared bishop.
b) Trade my light squared bishop which is weak because my pawns are on light squares. Preferably trade for his light-squared bishop so I can further keep him from molesting those pawns, and because his light-squared bishop is strong.

Which principle should I listen to? I'm sure the answer is it depends on the particulars of the position. Hence, my question is whether there is anything written that might address my confusion? Perhaps those who play the French advance have some insight?

God, I'm actually asking strategy questions now. What has become of me?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Attacking manual for idiots: The Art of the Checkmate

I just reread an old post that, at the time, was quite a revelation (post is here). I finally realized the important distinction between two types of 'tactical' maneuvers: the accident and the attack. Accidents are standard tactics (pins etc) that let you gain material when your opponent kindly makes a mistake ('accident' is tempo's terminology). Second, the organized attack against the enemy King. I won't repeat that post here, but it was a crucial insight for me even though it is obvious to all good players.

The first book that made me see I needed to move beyond just studying accidents to examining attacks was Chandler's wonderful How to beat your dad at chess, which delineates all the major types of mating combinations. This consisted of game fragments, and didn't really focus at all on how to actually set up an attack, but only the final stake in the heart.

I've been all in a tizzy about finding good material on attacking in chess. Vucovich is a bit dry and advanced for me, and Crouch's Attacking technique is unfortunately out of print.

Thank goodness today I realized a wonderful book has been staring me in the face the whole time: The art of the checkmate (link brings you to my post on the book with an extended quote in which they describe the general conditions for an attack).

In that post, I said this was going to be the first book I'd work through after finishing the Circles. Patrick, over at the defunct and amazing blog Chess for Blood, said memorizing that book brought his rating up by 300 points, and that it is the perfect prelude to the more advanced books.

And so it begins. I just entered Chapter 1 into Chessbase, and I'm gonna stew in this book.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Don't fear the endgame, young Skywalker

One reason I feared taking up the Caro-Kann and Slav as black was my pathetic endgame play. These openings are known for being solid, quiet, and reward those with good endgame technique. This sort of freaked me out, but I decided the only way to improve at the endgame is to actually reach an endgame! In my recently acquired book on the Slav by Vigus, he directly addresses the endgame wimp:

If you fear that your endgame ability is insufficient (especially under modern time restraints), and that you need to decide the game while plenty of pieces are still left on the board, my advice would be: try to stop worrying about it. Simply by getting used to playing endgames out, you will improve, and if you gradually attain the reputation of being a 'boring grinder,' so much the better! Then you might find that opponents take risks earlier on in order to avoid your fearsome 'technique,' and that you are not called upon to display your prowess after all.
Well, one can hope anyway.

Monday, December 01, 2008

New York Chess Cruisin'

I've been in NYC for a few days, and visited Washington Square Park and a couple of chess shops in the Village (see the Chess tourist's guide to NYC over at the Kenilworthian).

I let myself buy some stuff. One, Shirov's disc My best games in the Caro-Kann. Boy, what a turd. I should always do my homework before plunking down my hard-earned money for chess literature. It is basically his attempt to refute the Caro Kann with six lamely annotated games, all within one narrow variation of the advance. If I were a GM this might help me. For me, it is just not useful.

So, to fellow Caro-Kanners, don't waste your money!

Incidentally, does anyone have Aagaard's new books on attack in chess? In particular, I am thinking of the first volume, or instead King's DVDs on attacking chess (wonderfully reviewed by Grandpatzer). The best review of a DVD series I've seen on the blogs or elsewhere. Too bad the Colin Crouch book he seems to like is only available for over 200 bucks and is out of print.