Thursday, December 23, 2010

First Chess Video

I have posted my first chess video on

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mind reading

While helping at a local scholastic chess training day, I was asked a question about looking ahead.

One of the chapters of Soltis' excellent book Studying Chess Made Easy is "Two-and-a-half move chess". I started describing this concept, and was asked a second question, "how do you guess your opponents's move?" So the real question was not how to limit the search, but how to read your opponents mind.

I think the first thing is not to look for your opponent to make obviously bad moves.

During planning, you are assessing both positive and negative imbalances. The negative imbalances point to your weaknesses, that your opponent would want to exploit. Expect counter attacking moves that strike at your weaknesses.

If you have made a threat, then your opponent needs to defend against that threat, or make a larger threat of their own. Your threats should lead to improving imbalances in your favor, or be the start of some tactic. Assume your opponent is doing the same.

Tactics are primary in class and scholastic play. Doing tactical puzzles will improve your ability to see defensive moves.

Tactics puzzle sites:
Chess Tempo
Shredder problems

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What if I were a Beginner: Openings

I just finished How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire by Steve Giddins. I had learned the hard way most of the lessons in this book. It would be a great 2nd book on openings. The first book on openings should be Seirawan's  Winning Chess Openings or Fine's The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings. I favor Seirawan's book, because I think his advice on what openings to start playing to be excellent, though I think Fine's explanations of e4 and d4 openings is better.

Though I did not learn much from Giddins' book, it did get me to thinking what a student's path through the openings should be. A caveat is important here. Most of one's chess study time should be taken up with playing over well annotated master games and reviewing one's own games (50%), then endings (20%), tactics problems(20%), and only a little on openings alone(10%). ( Although, I do suggest focusing on master games that are in the openings one plays.)  An argument against the following advice is that you will often be at a disadvantage to a person who has studied an opening more deeply, but that will happen anyway. Even grandmasters regularly run into another player who is more prepared in a line than they are, and they continue to do well. And this is learning advice, not winning advice. To become a better player and thus win more often one must learn, and one learns from one's losses more than one's wins. OTOH, lots of players at the class level will play moves that are not in the opening books, which makes the time one spent studying opening lines wasted, but not time spent learning the ideas behind the openings, nor the common plans and tactics.

Each of the following steps should be done, until you are bored with them, or think you need to get a book on them to advance. Each step should be phased into by changing what you play in blitz games, club games and/or casual against the computer first. Then changing what you play in tournament games, and lastly only change what you play in team games when you think you would do better with the new opening. (You might skip a phase altogether for team games). This trip through the openings should take place over several years. Do not move on to the next step when you lose games, you are supposed to lose games and learn from them. Play each game hard. Defend strongly. Learn to win or draw against your usual opponents from a position of disadvantage!

  1. Start with following Seirawan's advice: King's Indian Attack (KIA), King's Indian Defense(KID), and Pirc.
  2. Then reread the Scandinavian part of Seirawan or Fine and start playing that.
  3. Next is the big shift. Instead of starting with Nf3 for the King's Indian attack, start with e4. Transpose into the KIA if you opponent does anything but e5 or d5. For 1.e4 d5 (the Scandinavian), you already have been playing this as black, and can try the white side now. For 1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 and aim for the Scots game (2...Nf6 3.d4) , dealing with the Russian or Phildor as they arise. This will expand your chess knowledge and will give you experience in open positions. 
  4. After that is the Guioco Piano and Two Knights (aka Italian Game)
  5. The Ruy Lopez (aka Spanish game)
  6. Another big shift: Reti opening, which is like the KIA. The key break is c4 and the secondary one is e4 (the opposite of the KIA), which changes the flavor of the game a great deal
  7. Now time to let go of the KID, and start playing the Queen's gambit declined (QGD) especially the Slav varieties. Learn about the minority attack, isolated queen pawn games, and the glories of the Bxh7+ sacrifice, often on the receiving end  :(
  8. White next, now you are going to look for opportunities to transpose into QGD positions, especially the Catalan.
  9. Actually start opening 1.d4 or 1.Nf3 2.d4.
  10. Start going through other non-Sicilian black defenses to 1.e4 (1...e5, French, Caro-Kann, Alekhine)
  11. The Najdorf, you know you want to!
Now you are informed enough to choose a repertoire and buy opening books to support it. You will be prepared for transpositions, and comfortable with a broad range of middle game issues.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Status Update--Dec 2010

I have played 12 rated games since returning to chess.

My rating of 1419 established at 17 in 1975 has improved to 1570.

I suspect that I am still a much stronger player than my rating indicates.

Next tournaments I will likely be able to play in are next year.

Book Review--Elements of Positional Evaluation by Dan Heisman

I have been worrying about my uncertainty in positional evaluation, "Given a position, who stands better, and by how much?" This is a difficult problem, which breaks down into any number of  smaller practical questions, "Do I have enough compensation to make the pawn sack?, Is this opening position good for me?"

From my readings during this first year of re-entering the world of chess, I see that positional evaluations have changed. The biggest change I have noted is the term activity, and its use as justification for positional sacrifices. Back in the day, there was great astonishment when Petrosian, Fischer or some other great player would sacrifice material for no immediate gain, the Benko (Volga) gambit seemed unique in its pawn sacrifice for positional advantage, but that seems to have changed a great deal.

In search of improving this aspect of my chess, I read Dan Heisman's Elements of Positional Evaluation. This is a deep and complex book. I am not sure what I really learned, and I expect I will absorb more when I re-read it again, after I am a stronger player. Some ideas from this book correspond to thoughts I was having back in the 1980's when I thought about writing a computer program to play chess, (e.g. that the value of pieces varies depending on their mobility).

Heisman's elements:

  • Mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Vulnerability
  • Center Control
  • Piece Coordination
  • Time
  • Speed

I likely will continue to rely on what Heisman terms pseudo-elements:

  • Material
  • Space
  • King Safety
  • Development

Though I think I will focus on understanding piece activity rather than development.

The book is not a manual on how to evaluate a position. I think I have partially resolved my original dilemma for now by rephrasing the question, "How happy am I with the position?", and using Fritz for postmortems. Maybe someday, I will be better at determining who stands better.

Heisman points to this paper on the relative value of the pieces by GM Larry Kaufman as important, I agree.
Dan Heisman's home page.

Book Review--Studying Chess Made Easy by Andrew Soltis

Though the title is a fib, this is a very good book. It still is hard to look at one's mistakes honestly, it still is boring to get precise endings down, opening theory is still a thicket, planning is still a jungle, but this book helps with all except facing your mistakes. I suppose Studying Chess Made Not as Difficult would not have made a good title.

The book covers all phases of the game, but it is not a general book on how to play better chess, the title does not promise that after all. It is a guide on how to get more efficient use of the time you spend trying to improve. It also offers valuable advice on how to use a computer chess program to help.

Personally, I found the sections on "two-and-a-half move chess" and on "how to learn more from a master game" to be the most valuable, but all were instructive.

The Plan--Middlegame

This is where the rubber hits the road. For me, thinking about the middle game starts during opening preparation. Part of the opening preparation is to understand what kind of middle game plans I am striving towards. If my opponent takes me out of my preparation, I need to develop some kind of middle game plan over the board.

I try to use the method outlined in Silman's how to Reassess Your Chess. Silman's Imbalance descriptions provide a framework for positional analysis, which one uses to decide where you want to apply pressure (king side, center, or queen side). Plans evolve around turning temporary advantages into more permanent ones, and taking advantage of favorable imbalances. It should also be turned around and used to figure out what the opponent's plan should be.

Silman's imbalance list:
  1. Superior minor piece
  2. Pawn structure
  3. Space
  4. Material
  5. Control of key file or square
  6. Lead in development
  7. Initiative
Reassess provides lots of good examples for all of these, but particularly extensive is Silman's exposition of superior minor piece.

To improve my planning, I intend to write extensive notes, while sparring with Fritz or playing solitaire chess.  (I love Pandolfini's monthly column in Chess Life, even though I think he telegraphs too much in his comments)

The planning process I am training myself to use is covered in my move method under A.1-4 and B.2. The results of planning are used in B.3 Candidate moves along with tactical possibilities.