Saturday, October 29, 2011

A few quick items

Tactics Problems:

I have been doing Chess Tactics Server problems for a week, 10 minutes a day. CTS only has blitz mode, so I have to pick a solution quickly. I think Chess Tempo has much better statistics and a better interface. I will try Chess Tempo blitz this next week. I think the blitz problems are showing me more images. I hope I am turning the missed or too slow problems into quality images. I do go over them carefully after the session.


I just got the Steps Method chess course (English version) from New In Chess. I did not get any of the extras. I do not think there will be much in it to improve my chess playing, but I hope I can use it to help me teach better. I will post a review after I have evaluated the materials.

The BSA chess merit badge is longer than I thought. I tried to combine the endgame instruction portion and notation instruction with playing and recording a game(the scouts must do three) in a single troop meeting, and I ran out of time. Also, a significant portion of the class set up the beginning position wrong, so I goofed in not teaching that.

Studing Master Games/Opening Prep:

I have finished the first pass of a Catalan book, and am starting on an English opening book to start covering non-d4, non KID responses to 1.Nf3. I will start playing 2.d4 in response to 1...d5. I have already begun sparring with Fritz. I find that my exemplar (Aleksander, Wojtkiewicz) like to transpose into the Maroczy bind given a chance, so I have more resources to find. He also played the Accelerated Dragon as black, which is one of the candidates I am considering for expanding my black repertoire.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I think I have reached a plateau in strength. I know that I play much stronger with a long time control, but my results in the local  tournaments (G/60) are not what I would wish. I seem to be in the middle of Class A somewhere.

One idea of which I am fond, is that plateaus happen because you have accumulated as much new knowledge as you can, and you have to play a lot of games to integrate that new knowledge, before you can absorb more.

I have taken a big chunk of time recently to restructure my openings with white. When I am done (soon I hope), I will start playing games regularly on the internet, this should help me integrate some of the acquired knowlege.

Another idea on improvement, that I picked up from a Dan Heisman column, which may originate from Michael de la Maza (author of Rapid Chess Improvement), is that you need to do lots of easy (for you) tactical problems so that you gain instant recognition of patterns and don't have to calculate them. Dan Heisman claims that there are 2000 basic tactical patterns (attributed to IM Mark Dvoretsky famous chess coach).

Dan Heisman has two Novice Nook articles with a tactics quiz. I scored 1400 on one and 2050 on the other. That shows I instantly recognize some of the patterns, but not enough.

tactics quiz one

tactics quiz two

So maybe I am using ChessTempo sub-optimally. I am doing 3 very hard tactics problems a day in regular mode and taking a long time on each. Based on the above emphasis on quantity over quality, I should be doing lots of easy problems a day in blitz mode. How many problems? I don't know. I guess less than 30 mins of time. Each fail should be thought over carefully, so the more fails, the fewer problems done a day, but the more fails, the more new patterns to learn.

Alternatively, Michael de la Maza method is to do the same set of problems (around 700) 7 times, taking less time each pass.  (His method is documented in  Rapid Chess Improvement)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boy Scouts Chess Merit Badge

The Boy Scouts of America have added a Chess Merit Badge.

Based on the requirements, It should be an easy merit badge for any youth tournament players, and I think that an average tournament player could be a merit badge counselor. I have signed up as a counselor at my local council (Gamehaven). I am currently running about 14 scouts through the Chess Merit Badge in the troop for which I am an assistant scoutmaster.

The Chess Merit Badge pamphlet has good content for the space (96 pages) and the price( $4.49), but there are much better books for beginning chess players. The tactics examples are excellent, but only enough to illustrate the motifs discussed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to improve in chess article

Read this excellent article on how to improve in chess.

I think I may have a slightly different take on the topic once I get to master, but that is better than I could write right now.

One thing I would change is not to use a problems book. I would concentrate on web resources like and Shredder's problems. The only problem book I recommend is Ray Cheng's Practical Chess Exercises.

I would add that you should study your own tournament games, and make flash cards of game and problem errors you can generalize into a lesson.

I want to re-emphasize this: lots of Experts and Masters do not play book lines. Memorizing opening lines is a waste of time, but studying annotated games in the openings you play is good. GM Christiansen's advice to play over lots of GM games (unannotated) in the openings you play may be good, too. You want to learn common tactics and strategies for the openings you play, and understand the why of moves, not memorize move sequences. Seirawan's Winning Chess Openings is all you need for quite a while.

Update: An email from a friend prompted the following distillation:

My current thought is that great improvement can be had for 1000-1800 level players by focusing on three areas: tactics, playing discipline, and understanding the game.

Understanding the game, starts with the endgame. It is easier to grasp the strategic elements in an endgame, when there are fewer pieces on the board. Playing over well annotated games in your openings is another piece. Analyzing your own games and trying to develop general lessons from your mistakes is the third piece.

Playing discipline encompasses having and following a move method (including blunder check!), clock discipline, and a good attitude.

I think tactics can be addressed by a general overview and then lots of puzzles.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Problems as Must Win Situations

There are weaknesses with solving tactical problems. The most obvious, is that when you are presented with a problem position, you know there is a solution.

The problem of the day from (should be in a widget on the right) sometimes does not have a "solution", and if there is a solution, it is given by the commentors, some of whom are very good. (Once's posts are always well worth the time spent on the problem.

Another problem is that you often know whether you are playing to win or draw. The problems at Shredder's page do not have this issue. They are just find the best move, and sometimes they are wins and sometimes they are draws.

Problem 43918 from Chess Tempo has this second problem.
Black to play and win

It is not too hard to find the draw starting with 1...Nxf2, but seeing the win is much harder. But seeing the only move that can win, knowing that there is a win? Not so hard. 1...Nxc3 is the only way to win. It might lose, except that this is a problem and you know there is a win. After 2.f6, again there is only one possibility for a winning move. All moves but 2...Ne4 are sure losers, so that must be the move. After 3.f7, the only possible winning move is Nxf2, as there is no checkmate, and no hope against Q+R with only N+B and pawn. After f8/Q, setting up the d-pawn to queen with Ne4 is again the only possible winning move, for which the site awarded me the solution, and a nice +3.5 rating.

In a game, I would only have played 1...Nxc3 in a must win situation. I had good discipline on this problem, and though I knew that 1...Nxc3 was the only possible winning move,  I still spent 30 minutes on this problem, working through the variations to find the path to this position:
White to play
Black will need to find shelter for his King from the checks, and keep some of his pawns. Then White will have to take the Ne4 with his Q leading to ...d2+ and ...Bxe4, and a won endgame for Black.