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Archive for April, 2010

You will be mated

Paul and I are currently doing a lot of “mate in x” puzzles. One of our jokes is that instead of wishing our opponent a good game, we will switch to You will be mated. Well, for today’s STTourney it could have worked. As usual I played the Scandinavian as Black and quickly got a good position. My opponent was a little bit careless with his pawns and later missed a mate in 2. But this is not the whole story – I allowed a nasty tactic myself, a typical mistake by pinning the knight to the queen while still having an uncastled king. Fortunately my opponent missed his chance.

This is the end of this month’s STTourney, I have improved my result by winning 2 games and, more important, I have learnt something from my two losses against stronger players. Of course I want to win the U1700 section one day but what I really love is the chance to face better players.

The rest of the week I will play less and spend more time on my training.

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A draw

Last saturday I had my second OTB game. The boss from the local chess club didn’t tell me that she didn’t need me for the lower league but one higher, for the Carinthian county league. My opponent was a young and talented ELO 1760 player and I had Black.

I tried again to play the Benko Gambit and to my surprise my opponent used 5 minutes of his time to decide if he should accept it or not. After the game he told me that he didn’t like it so we played a Benoni. I was out of preparation very early and thought that the position was more or less equal. The computer engines (as usual) strongly disagree and give +0.6 and more advantage for White. After some weaker moves from White everything was completely equal, an endgame with rook + bishop + 4 pawns vs rook + bishop + 3 pawns was reached and I decided to accept the draw. My endgame technique is almost non-existing and chances were high that I would completely mess it up. My only advantage was that I had more time on the clock but with 30sec increment per move a blunder was not very likely.

I was satisfied with the result but need to study the position more (Soltis has one whole chapter about the pawn structures in the Benoni). After move 10 I had absolutely no plan how to proceed and wasted 2 moves playing my knight back and forth. Fortunately my opponent also had no feeling for the position and couldn’t find a way to break through. These closed games are not easy to play. 🙂

You can replay the game here.

Tonight is the final round of the STTourney, another chance for me to prove that the systematic training bears fruits.

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Practice, practice, practice

Now that I track my chess training, it’s easier to see on which topics I spend most of my time. Recently I noticed that I play a lot more serious, long games. This is a great thing as it is one of the proven ways to get better but I was surprised how well it works out.

STTourney

I am playing regularely in the STTourney (time control is 1h for the whole game) facing at least 1 or 2 strong opponents (~ 1800 or higher) per month. Last Tuesday was round three, a weird variant in the Ruy Lopez. I defended very well for 19 moves until I played too quickly (a bad habbit from Blitz games), losing the exchange and later the game. This was really stupid and I must be aware of this when I have enough time left.

Carinthian Lower League

As member of the local chess club I will have another chance for a long game this Saturday – and when I say long, I mean looooong. Time controls are 2 hours for 40 moves and 1 more hour to finish the game. It looks like I will have White this time against an unrated player like myself.

Team4545League

I am member of the Chessmasters and I will play in the next Team4545League. This is another great chance for long, serious games, time control is 45min with 45sec increment from the first move.

ICC: long games

Even if there is no special event around, it’s possible to play against someone who is interested in long games. Of course there will be much more Blitz games but this is no excuse not to try to find an opponent. It’s important to treat such games seriously. When there is nothing at stake, it’s more likely to become lazy and to play some risky "let’s see" moves. Don’t! Time is precious and should be used as good as possible.

Question: how many longer games should be played? As many as possible or just 1 per week?

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Systematic chess training (2)

I have created a separate page about my chess training. Writing about the training helps me to keep the focus and to organize all the material that I have in mind. There is much information available about chess improvement and it’s tempting to try something new, better. I can conclude though that it comes down to just a few basic tips that you need to follow:

  1. Play serious (long) games, at least G30, against strong opponents. Beating weaker players is good for the ego but doesn’t help your chess much. On ICC look at the maximum rating of your opponent and check how many games have been played. There are some very active players and you will learn a lot when you play against them, even if their rating is lower. They might lose because of time trouble or becaused they missed a tactics but you will be suprised about the positional understanding and the resistance.
  2. Analyse your games. First look at them without a computer, try to find better moves or alternatives. Write down what your plan was or why you have played a certain move. Once you have done this, check your analysis with the computer. Try to understand why the computer proposes a better move (and with better move I mean a difference in the score of at least 0.3 to 0.5, not less!): what kind of advantages does it give you? Sometimes it’s just a crazy tactical line that you will never play, sometimes it’s a different plan that is as good as your own. Try to understand why you have missed better moves and fix your thought process. This is not easy and here a trainings partner (or a trainer) can really help if you are unable to do it on your own.
  3. Annotate master games deeply. Guess the move of the winning side, calculate the variations, take your time and make a lot of notes. If you are done in less than 2 hours then you won’t benefit! The idea is to absorb the strategic ideas of the masters, to make them part of your own chess. Return to the games after some time (at least 1 month) and go through the game again.

I already to 1+2 but not 3. That’s a very time consuming task and hard work, I need to be in the right mood to do this.

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Blitz is bad. Period.

Don’t be fooled by my last post. Blitz is bad for your chess. I was frustrated by my low ICC rating and looked for an excuse to continue playing fast games. 2 days later my rating is up again (1565) and I had some time to think about it.

Opening Training

Here Blitz can help, however, you would like to play short games, review the opening moves and completely ignore the results. "Ignoring the results" is very difficult and you cheat the other players who think that you take the games seriously. Another point is how much time is required until you have confidence in your opening repertoire. A completely new system took me 1-2 months. Of course I don’t remember the reply to every possible move but this is not required. Often it’s enough to play a logical move and if there is a trap involved you will find out soon. Always remember: the real battle is fought in the middlegame so don’t be afraid that you play the "wrong" moves. Unless you blunder this won’t lose the game. Alternatives for opening study are specialized programs like "Chess Position Trainer" or "Chess Openings Wizard". Once you know your openings, Blitz isn’t helpful anymore.

Tactics

Blitz is absolutely inefficient if you want to practice tactics. How many positions with simple tactics will you get in a game – maybe 4? If you take a book with puzzles you will easily do 15 in less than 30 minutes. Blitz however can test if you are able to spot the tactics in a game.

Aggressive piece play

Piece play is something you have to learn by playing. Studying games will help you to understand what is good and what is bad but it’s hard to apply this knowledge to your own chess. Personally, I have to make my own mistakes, review the games with a strong chess engine and understand why another move is better. This requires time and first of all you have to build the skill. Blitz will test if you can do it quickly but it won’t help you to improve it.

Endgame Training

Another area for which Blitz is absolutely inefficient. It’s better to set up some endgame positions on the board and play them out against a computer or a human. Play them over and over again until you get them right. The concepts can be tricky and counter-intuitive so in Blitz you will have no chance to work them out. Endgames need precision, often there is only one winning or drawing move while all the other will lose the game. And finally, a golden rule is: don’t hurry. This is completely against the attitude you need to apply to win a Blitz game and therefore Blitz is bad for your endgame.

You learn to deal with losses

At least this should be true, shouldn’t it? Again the answer is no unless you are able to ignore your ELO rating. If you just play chess, alright, but most of us want to prove that their chess is outstanding and the only indicator for this is the rating. Another fact is that on ICC most players will only play against someone who is at least on the same level, so if you are able to beat a 1700er but your rating is 1500, you will never have the chance to play against them and that’s why the rating is not unimportant.

Conclusion

Blitz is basically a test how quickly you can apply your knowledge to the game and a competition if you can calculate faster than your opponent or if a better positional understanding can outweight other disadvantages. It’s a lot of fun, no doubt, and if the balance is right there is no reason not to play fast games. Blitz is like sweets – you can eat them from time to time but it’s not the healthy food you consume regularely.

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Yesterday was the second game in this month’s STtourney and my opponent was Fogbound. He was out of form, dropping one piece very early and then another. When it got tough I turned off my brain and played too quickly, giving back most of my advantage. We finally reached an endgame rook+knight+pawns vs. rook+pawns. It was easy to see that my passed pawn will win the game, but my opponent played on for another 20 minutes until he gave up. This was quite embarrassing – one should know when it’s time to give up. On the other hand it taught me a good lesson: don’t rush. Never. Spending 5 minutes to cash in the victory will save more time than mindless play.

I played a couple of more (shorter) games with bad results. My ICC rating has dropped below 1500 and I wanted to raise it, no matter how. This was a bad idea because at the end my rating stayed where it was before. Some losses were caused by missed tactics, one was time trouble and another poor endgame technique. I felt really bad afterwards because my inner voice told me that this is not the right way to get better but is this really true?

Why Blitz is bad

  • It does nothing to improve your calculation skill. Time is too short.
  • You do not look for the best move, you play a move that you know and that might work.
  • You might build the bad habit of not thinking enough in your long games, getting lazy and playing too quickly.
  • It’s addicting and the time is not available for serious study.

Why Blitz is good

  • Opening training. You will face many different moves and have to find an answer.
  • Tactics. Seeing and dealing with threats from your opponent, building mating attacks etc.
  • Aggressive piece play. You need to attack your opponent and have your pieces play together instinctively.
  • Endgame training (when it comes to it). Practice common endgames.
  • You learn to deal with losses.

It’s very important to make sure that you follow your own guidelines all the time, even in fast games. Spend some time during the critical moments of the game to find a better move. Store diagrams of the most shameful moments somewhere and review regularely what you have missed.

And finally: don’t forget to play long games because that’s the only way to get better.

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On my search for the holy grail of chess improvement one important point was to join the local chess club. It’s a great opportunity to meet strong players, to play against them and have them point out your mistakes. Last saturday I got the chance to play my first game in the Carinthian Lower league (Unterliga) and I was very excited. Time controls are very long (2h for 40 moves, 1h to finish the game). I had black against a 16yr old boy (ELO 1360) who plays regularely and obviously gets training sessions. I calculated that his opening can only be 1. e4 but I was wrong, he surprised me with 1. Nf3 and I ended up in a Queen’s Gambit Declined instead of the Benko Gambit that I wanted to play. It was a tense game and after 26 moves and 3:20h, a miscalculated capture and a blunder decided the game in my favour!

You can replay the game here.

An amazing experience. It’s one thing to study books but another to apply the knowledge to a game. I understood the main plans for Black quite well and the whole time my thinking was about how and when to play the breakthrough moves. This didn’t prevent me from playing 2 rather poor moves though but now they are burnt into my brain. In addition I have started to create my "hall of shame" to avoid making the same positional blunders again. The funny thing is that the computer chess engine don’t think that the moves were that bad; they are simply unable to acknowledge a longterm weakness. The games are by no means immediately lost but life will be more difficult and a master would come up with a good plan to exploit the weakness.

These long games are really good for my chess and I will try to avoid playing Blitz for a while. If you put everything into a game, you will get good results and at least you will be able to learn from your mistakes. Maybe I can play another game in 2 weeks (the last round in the league), if not I try to play more long games on ICC. The STtourney will become a permanent part of my schedule and if possible I will join a team in the team 4545 league.

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