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Archive for December, 2010

ChessTempo 1800

Ratings are nonsense but a great motivation. 10 weeks after starting tactics training at ChessTempo I have reached 1800 in the standard rating. The final puzzle was rather simple: 63950.

This doesn’t mean that my overall tactical abilities are much better now. There is a big difference between simple tactics (ChessTempo) and complex tactical positions that need to be calculated carefully, with hidden threats that are easy to miss. I still have trouble getting 4 or 5 plies right, more often than I like a simple move eludes me. On the other hand I have learnt to look for patterns first and only then to start to think about the moves. This helps a lot and the almost daily training increases my arsenal of patterns.

Tonight is my last long game for this year, the 5th round in the 90+30 tournament. After soaking up every kind of chess knowledge and ideas it’s time to face the board. I hope to survive the opening, equalize in the middlegame and then to grind my opponent down in the endgame. ๐Ÿ™‚ Last time it was only enough for a draw after carelessly giving away a pawn in the middlegame – not this time!

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Playing like Tal

“You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.” — Mikhail Tal

My plan to not buy any new chess books in the next months didn’t last long. Shortly before christmas I found a new book about Mihkail Tal (German only) and couldn’t resist.

It contains interesting anectodes about encounters between German grandmasters and Tal (very entertaining!) but the meat is a collection of 100 puzzles where you should find the best sacrificing continuation. The authors suggest to lookup up the actual games and to play through them to see how Tal built up the attack. They also give many practical hints (nothing special but it’s always good to see them listed).

One thing became clear very quickly. It’s not enough to sacrifice blindly although Tal said himself:

Many sacrifices don’t require concrete calculation at all. It is sufficient to only glance at the arising position to convince us that the sacrifice is correct.

Yeah, right, but how do you glance at the resulting positions without calculating them? Tal had a special talent for that and at least subconciously he DID calculate because in the forest of variations the attacker must be careful as well. From the game comments we can see how deeply he understood the tactical implications, whichย  enabled him to make the right moves.

If you know Tal, the positions are usually very tactical and calculating the variations isn’t easy for beginners. Fortunately the authors picked sound and clear examples and my hope is that I can learn from them. I will put the book on my todo list for next year.

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Mate with bishop and knight

Delivering mate with bishop and knight is one of the most difficult task in chess. People who say that such exercises are a waste of time because you only have them once in your lifetime are right and wrong. Yes, chances are very small that you will face such an ending in your own game and a draw would be acceptable. However, you will miss a lesson how knight and bishop can work together in harmony.

The best description can be found in this blog (including links to YouTube videos). Reading alone won’t help much, you need to practice it to get a feeling for the different methods. If you don’t have a computer or an ICC account, go to this endgame simulator.

There are only two key points for the defender to remember:

  • Try to stay in the middle of the board.
  • If pushed to the edge of the board, head for the corner with the opposite color of the bishop, e.g. if your opponent has a dark bishop, try to reach the h1 or a8 square.

Alright, now let’s try to win it. The mating plan has two stages. First you need to push the king to the edge of the board rank using “Deletang’s triangles” (which is harder than it looks) or another technique. I like the piece setup described in the section “IM Danny Kopec’s concept of good formations”. This is extremely useful to remember! Lasker already mentioned (highlighting by me):

“…the most efficient position of your pieces will always be one in which your Knight is on a square of the same color as your Bishop, because then he controls squares of the opposite color.โ€

Look how effective your pieces are at protecting each other and taking away squares from the king:

Once the king is at the edge of the board, follow the plan described in the “Magic Position” sections. It helps to practice this part separately – it’s not intuitive and you need to learn it by heart. The zig-zag course of the knight looks like a W:

Good luck! It takes some time to mate in less than 50 moves but knowing how to do it will definitely improve your piece play. If I can do it then you can do it too.

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My last OTB game

Playing board 8 in the lower league is cumbersome. This board is usually occupied by the young, talented, young, inexperienced and of course young players. My opponent in the last round was around 11 years old and booked up! He set up his pieces in an incredible nice way against my Sicilian Kan and we soon reached the following position:

Position after 15. Bg5

I love chess! It was wonderful to work out a way to win material for Black here. We have a possible mating threat, a knight fork with discovered attack and a heavily defended and attacked pawn.

The game went 15…dxe4 16. fxe4 (played by my opponent almost without thinking) b4 17. Nb1? Bxe4 (winning, but better was 17…Ng4! In my excitement I didn’t even look at this, I only considered Nxe4) 18. Bxe4 (again, played too fast) Nxe4 19. Qf4?? Qxc2#

A nice finish and a prove for the theory that against weaker players it’s usually enough to start an attack, sound or unsound. I often suffer a similar fate, getting under attack and going down very fast without putting up enough resistance. The next step will be to do something against it, to take the necessary time to come up with a defensive plan instead of giving away more material and resignation 4 moves later.

Well, board 8 usually has players from national ELO 1200 to 1600. I will try to win all my games to play next season board 7, where the 1700 – 1800 players are waiting. This should be fun!

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My personal chess year 2010

It’s time to look back at the year 2010. After a longer break from chess and much wasted time because of solely relying on computer engines without understanding what’s going on, I started to take chess serious at the beginning of 2010.

I set myself the goal to reach ELO 1800 in 2013, created a trainings schedule and started playing on ICC. People love ratings so let’s start with my rating history:

ICC Rating History 2010

During the first 20 games the rating was only provisional and I was kind of lucky in these games. My initial ICC rating of 1650 in March was too high and it dropped quickly. The systematic training started to pay off though with good results in the last months and a positive trend.

What I did:

  • Worked through the GM’s secret course from Igor Smirnov, this one got me started in the right direction. I am still in the process of forming my thinking process, it’s too easy to rely wrongly on my inferior intuition.
  • Built an opening repertoire
  • Joined the local chess club and played my first 4 OTB games (3 wins, 1 draw)
  • Finished Chess Exam 1 in May and 3 in October
  • Finished Chessbase strategy course part 1
  • Strong focus on tactics in the last months, especially after becoming member of Chesstempo in October
  • Started to study standard endgames and pawn endings
  • Played 43 long games since April

That’s it. A critical look at my chess library revealed that at the current stage most of the books are completely useless to me! The raw basics are “clear”, now I need to make it all work together to find good moves over the board (tactics+calculation) and to learn which middlegame plans work in which position (strategy).

My goals for 2011 are rather simple: ignore ratings, learn the basics, practice tactics and get more experience.

  • Finish the Chessbase strategy course 2+3 (-> Strategy)
  • Finish Chess Exam 2 Tactics (-> Tactics)
  • Finish Mating Combinations software (-> Tactics, How to build an attack)
  • Regular Chesstempo tactics (-> Simple tactics)
  • Regular calculation training (-> Tactics, visualization)
  • Continue to study standard endgames with focus on pawn endings and rook endings (-> Endgame)
  • Play 50 long games (-> General understanding)
  • Annotate 30 games (-> Strategy, General understanding)

I will follow the example of Will Taylor in his Road to Grandmaster blog and begin to post a weekly update. Next year in December I will redo the Chess Exam 1 to find out if my weaknesses are still the same and 2012 will be the year to eliminate them and to make progress towards ELO 1800.

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Limited editions

My passion for books goes sometimes strange ways. Around halloween the people at PS Publishing decided to give away books with each purchase. When I looked at the details, I was amazed to see Ray Bradbury’s collection Long After Midnight among them. What a treat! I explained to my wife that I had to set the alarm clock to 1am to order a book to have a chance to get another book that I actually wanted. ๐Ÿ™‚

I was lucky, the signed slipcased edition arrived yesterday (together with this novella). I quickly glanced at the first sentences of each story and if the rest is only half as good, an exciting ride is waiting for me.

In case you are a fan of SF, fantasy or horror and if you are able to spend some money on collector’s editions, you should check out Subterranean Press as well. Usually their titles can also be ordered through Amazon, the oversea shipping to Europe is way too expensive.

Now I only need some time for reading…which reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough At Last that I recently watched (YouTube here, review here). People seem to love it pretty much, I found it “okay”. Walking Distance was much better, or the episode based on a short story by Damon Knight, To Serve Man. Be careful to avoid the wikipedia, the summaries are full of spoilers and take away some of the joy.

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Lay your sleeping head, my love — W.H. Auden

The finger notes of my next opponent in the 90+30 tournament give the beginning of the following poem from W.H. Auden.

  Lay your sleeping head, my love,
  Human on my faithless arm;
  Time and fevers burn away
  Individual beauty from
  Thoughtful children, and the grave
  Proves the child ephemeral:
  But in my arms till break of day
  Let the living creature lie,
  Mortal, guilty, but to me
  The entirely beautiful.

  Soul and body have no bounds:
  To lovers as they lie upon
  Her tolerant enchanted slope
  In their ordinary swoon,
  Grave the vision Venus sends
  Of supernatural sympathy,
  Universal love and hope;
  While an abstract insight wakes
  Among the glaciers and the rocks
  The hermit's sensual ecstasy.

  Certainty, fidelity
  On the stroke of midnight pass
  Like vibrations of a bell,
  And fashionable madmen raise
  Their pedantic boring cry:
  Every farthing of the cost,
  All the dreaded cards foretell,
  Shall be paid, but from this night
  Not a whisper, not a thought,
  Not a kiss nor look be lost.

  Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
  Let the winds of dawn that blow
  Softly round your dreaming head
  Such a day of sweetness show
  Eye and knocking heart may bless,
  Find the mortal world enough;
  Noons of dryness see you fed
  By the involuntary powers,
  Nights of insult let you pass
  Watched by every human love.

Wonderful! Look here for some comments about the poem.

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