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Archive for June, 2010

The playoffs!

My Team4545League playoff game is scheduled for Friday 9pm. My opponent was kind enough to accept one of the proposed times. 6 hours difference and my general unwillingness to play on the weekend unless absolutely required usually results in very late start times (10pm), which is bad for the concentration. I am very excited this time because I studied regularly and need a tough opponent to test me. I should have done more tactics though, I took a one month break and focused on other things (strategy, endgame).

The most important points for the game will be:

  • Play concentrated.
  • Play to win!
  • Manage the time better: 20min must be left after 20 moves, 5min after 30 moves. The idea is to spend enough time in the middle game but not too much. Last time I terribly went down in the endgame, blundering away a won position. This should not happen again.

I expect that my opponent will play fast and think when I think so I need to find a way to optimize my own play. I will tell more later.

Paul is on the way back to his home country, Australia. I hope he is in good shape when he arrives there, his game could be the decisive one.

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Amazon Kindle

After much talk about chess, a short switch to another hobby of mine: ebooks. With a jealous eye I always looked at the Kindle page of Amazon. It has by far the widest offer of ebooks. Usually I look around for something new and when I see that a book is available in electronic format, I check other sites if they offer it in a normal format for my ebook reader. You might already guess the sad truth – very often the book was available in Kindle format only.

To my great joy I found out that Amazon offers a Kindle reader application for the PC. The books are based on the Mobipocket format so the next question was: can I get the books working on my reader? Obviously I have missed much of the latest progress and the trouble the people went through to make it work but thanks to skindle it is possible to break the protection scheme and to create a normal Mobipocket book (which can be converted to HTML).

It’s interesting to notice here that the required PIDs to encrypt a book are only used one time and are generated for each book. They are also not limited to uppercase characters and numbers but make use of the whole alphabet. A generic brute-force attack (see my previous entry) is no longer feasible. On the other hand it’s amazing that people were able to figure out how to calucate the PID that is used. According to this link, it’s not so difficult at all but believe me, using a disassembler is very time consuming and requires a good portion of knowledge.

The final question is of course: is it legal? The Terms of use clearly state that it is not. You may only use the digital contents on the PC or on an authorized device. That really sucks. In addition, it makes a difference from which country you are. The price for US citizens can be lower and sometimes there are regional restrictictions as well. I noticed this first when I wanted to buy a Vonnegut book from Fictionwise. It was a frustrating experience to browse the online catalog and to be told that you cannot have the ebook. While Amazon only requires you to fill in an address, Fictionwise cannot be fooled that easily because they read the country information from the credit card number.

I don’t mind DRM and I respect that authors own the copyright but I don’t understand the way ebooks are treated and sold.

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The chessmasters have convincingly beaten the Gomers Pawn Stars and are now in the playoffs! I could not play this round so Paul had the chance to play again. In a long struggle he finally won the endgame, well done! I feel a little bit guilty that I have joined his team. My initial rating put me into second rank and he dropped to place five. We will figure something out for the next game so that he has a chance to play if he wants to.

I am really excited how far our team will get and I hope we can play together next season as well. However, due to the expected rating increase of most players this will not work out. I am prepared to look for a new team that needs someone who can play in the second half of the tournament. Fortunately there are plenty of other options to play long games at ICC.

This week I will start with my endgame training. The first round is just a refresh of the basics, easy stuff for a poor U1600. I have no clue how to get more practice, most of my games end much earlier so the motivation to do more is lacking. Somewhere I read though that the endgame will teach you how to play with your pieces. I wonder if this is true. It makes sense because with few pieces on the board it will be easier to calculate the positions and you are forced to find safe squares to avoid losing material. This will be helpful in the middlegame as well.

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Chess software recommendations

My chess buddy Paul has posted a nice list of chess books that he finds useful, check out his blog. His ELO recommendations look very reasonable. If you only have an ICC rating, subtract 100 points (for ratings < 1900) or 150 – 200 points (>1900) to get a rough equivalent of a FIDE rating. Of course it doesn’t really work this way, I know, but it’s a starting point and more accurate than you might think.

As I am the proud owner of a Pocket PC I want to add some software to the list. The big advantage is that it’s more visual and interactive. Space in a book is limited so you can only have a small number of diagrams. In a software program you can have a sheer endless amount of colors, arrows and explanations, which helps a lot.

Tactics

I can highly recommend one product from ChessOK (Convekta) that is also available for the PC:

  • CT Art (ELO 1400 – 2600), a big collection of tactical puzzles based on the book by GM M. Blokh. It has all the features you are looking for: different difficulties, puzzles sorted by tactical motifs or combinational motifs, statistics etc.

The point is to solve the puzzles every day. In my opinion it’s not necessary to overdo it, you want to have some fun, right? 10 – 15 per day is a good starting point but remember to do them every day at least 5 days per week.

Other collections are available that train special skills such as finding mate combinations, attacking the king or exploiting opening blunders. I don’t have them so I can’t comment on them. I have one more program from Convekta:

  • Pocket Chess Combinations (ELO 1600 – 2600), which is based on Renko’s Intensive Course Tactics. The entry level is higher and the puzzles are good. Once you are done with CT Art and search for new material, this is the right place.

Strategy

This is more difficult. You need to be careful to find the right level. The “Strategy” course from ChessOK is only useful for ELO 1800 and higher. You won’t find any basics here and no guidelines. It’s more a catalog of working plans that demonstrate how to exploit an advantage and it’s way over my head (yet).

To get a basic understanding I recommend:

  • Chessbase “Strategy” course 1 – 3 (ELO: 1400 – 1700). It teaches you everything you need to know and has very instructive, well annotated games. The visualization helps to understand the ideas quickly. It’s not cheap but in my opinion it replaces many standard reference books on that subject including Nimzowitsch’s “My System”, Kmoch’s “Pawn power” or Ludek Pachman’s “Strategy Course”.

Next you need to test if you are able to come up with the right plan yourself:

  • Chessbase eBook “It’s your move” from Chris Wards (ELO: 1400 – 1700) lets you pick from different plans to find the right continuation. It’s very entertaining and covers all 3 phases of a chess game.

My impression is that no additional material will be needed until you have reached ELO 1800. With the right toolset in your hands you will be able to analyse positions on your own and to understand the reason behind moves. To practice this skill and to fill your arsenal with working strategic middlegame plans, take a collection of high quality games and go through it.

Endgame

Another difficult topic because good instructions are hard to find. My recommendation:

  • Convekta’s “Comprehensive Chess Endings” (ELO 1000 – 2600) based on the course from Averbakh. Some say that the style is dry but it’s fine. The only drawback is that it’s comprehensive. As an intermediate player I want to focus on the most important endgames first (let’s say based on Silman’s endgame course) so from a practical point of view it’s harder to use. However, the quality is very good and the time well spent.

Chessbase has its own “Endgame ABC” with good instructive texts but no visualization in the games so I cannot recommend it.

For the Pocket PC another software is available from Convekta:

  • “Pocket Endings” based on the course from Alexander Panchenko (ELO 1800 – 2600), also called “Theory and Practice of Chess Ending”. It covers all important endgames but the instructions are really short and not instructive. When I purchased the program I completley missed that it’s not for beginners. Once you have a good understanding this is the right way to move forward.

Computers are good if you want to practice your endgame technique. Simply set up a position to your liking and start playing. Most programs already contain an “endgame training” part. This is the best way to make sure that you are able to apply your knowledge to a real game.

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TeamLeague news

Round 4 of the Team4545League is over. The match was already decided before I started playing so I could take it easy. My opponent Salvatore wanted to surprise me and played 1. e4. Well, he wasn’t prepared for the Scandinavian though! I had a rather bad day and tried playing for tricks. This allowed Salvatore to get his queen pawns moving and to gain a lot of space. I was able to hold the position and after some inaccurate moves I was even better. Instead I allowed a passed pawn that finally decided the game. The power of a passed pawn became visible again, I really have to force myself not to allow it. This kind of counter play can quickly kill any advantage I might gain.

Especially bad that day was that my whole thinking was messed up. I had no real plan and didn’t work hard enough to calculate the best moves. It was a deserved loss and I learnt some good lessons. The whole game can be found here.

For our team round 5 will start today. Kallistos, our highest rated player, cannot play so I will play board 1. My game will be the final one, Sunday night. This round will decide if we have a chance to move forward to the playoffs – we need to win the match, then it will be in our own hands. I really like the Team4545League, it’s very exciting to play in a competition and slowly we get something like team spirit. Let’s hope for the best.

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