Wills Chess Blog
Adventures in chess in Cambridgeshire

What happens when the Questions end?

By Will
I've been away enjoying studying and playing chess and just haven't felt the urge to write a single word. Probably the solitary nature of what I was doing didn't lend itself to laying out my thoughts.
Personally I find baring my soul fairly unconfortable but I am finding some small things that are puzzling me.

Since Phaedrus and Tempo have taken the time to comment on my last post I feel it only fair to discuss the matter and explain how I have seen the changes. I would like to point out first, as a qualifier, that I started to play chess in my late 20's and had not played alot before that.

For the past 18 months I have been memorising the chess games advocated in GM ram. In addition I have been studying endgames with Silman's book, Pachman's Modern Strategy for middlegames and playing through a game book. I have been annotating my long games and examining the short games for their tactical errors and opening mistakes. And, when I have time I am analysing the positions from GM ram.

No tactics? Nope, I have been working with Blokh first book on chess tactics having done Chess tactics for kids and Alburt's pocket chess training book.

So how has memorising games helped then? Surely all of the other things are the driver for the progress I am making. Well yes, and no. When I started playing, all of three years ago, I could not move the pieces in my mind at all. I could not remember opening theory without sitting for hours playing though it.

As Tempo alludes to maybe these games for a coathanger for the information. I have memorised 27 games so far, which I have to say I started just to see if I could do it rather than for any improvement reason. However, as I have read through Silman's work and played through the games repeatedly then the reasons for playing or not playing moves began to become obvious. The "mysterious" rook moves began to become clearer as Pachman lit a touch into the darkness of positional play. Tactics prevented or missed became elucidated during the repititous playing throughs.

Which lead me to my thesis. These games are a coathanger and a lesson in the different phases of the game. Answering the questions as to why a knight sacrifice is declined (Andersson vs Staunton, London 1851, French defence) or others. These games show methods to play an attack, defend a premature attack etc and allow the knowledge added from books to be tied into (onto) something memorised. Like learning a language, remembering what a door looks like and what it does. Images, words and ideas come together to allow more to be added in a spiral.

To memorise or not to memorise that is the question

By Will
Sometime ago I read a fascinating post on DK's blog about GM ram, a book that told readers to analyse deeply a number of positions and to memorise 57 key games. I have been trying to lightly anonotate and memorise these games for sometime adding a new one every two weeks. At first it was very difficult to memorise the games and indeed I doubted I could manage 10, now I have memorised 18 and am adding the 19th as we speak.

But what good is this doing? I had thought that it is a way of filling the LTM with patterns that may be useful during games or ideas of how to punish bad play since the games were mostly pre 1930. This view has evolved since I have indeed used some of the ideas and some of the openings have appeared in my games (especially Szabo - Andersson London 1851).

After so many hours work I wondered what the point was about game 5, then a strange thing started to happen. Slowly it took less repetitions to memorise the games, sometimes shorter games could be remember >75% correct after one viewing. More recently I have found that I can go through the games without moving the pieces and blindfold.

During the last round of the club championship I was drawn against the highest rated player in the pool. His FIDE equivalent rating was >400 higher than mine and he certainly hasn't been playing for just two years so I decided to prepare as best I could to give myself a decent chance against him. I found out his prefered openings against 1 e4 and then culled several key games in these variations from various books I have. These had to be trimmed alittle since there were >30 to around 8 key games which I proceeded to play through once a day. By the end of the week I could play these 8 pretty much from memory.

When I sat down and he played straight into the openings I had looked at I felt confident that I would give a decent account of myself. And, as it transpired, I played a number of very strong moves consistent with the opening even after he deviated fairly early on. The key idea I had missed in the sample games was my downfall since my maneuvering became alittle uncoordinated as I lost the thread in the quickplay finish.

Overall I think I understand what GM ram is about. The "300 by hand" is not so you can just play these positions or games from memory, it is to add information to the LTM to allow further information to be stored easier like hooks. Additionally, this has lead me to continue with my quest to have a define repertoire mapped out by key games including where one side has played poorly and to spend time defining the plans for both sides.

You could call it an epiphany but I prefer to define it as a turning point when aimless wood pushing is not enough now I feel the urge to know the plans for both sides in the openings.


By Will

About a year ago I signed up for a month long trial on playchess.com, I played a few long games then dipped in now and again but my rating drifted down to 1550. Recently I decided to play one long game a week to supplement the long games I play over the board. The upshot is my rating has hit a new high of 1779 after this weeks game, which I am pretty happy with considering this has only taken a month and a half.

A Thought process?!?

Category: By Will
So far I have outlined the study plan I follow and my hopes and dreams. To borrow a phase from Dan Heisman, the first adds positives and the second, to some extent, removes the negative influence of procrastination. But what has become clear to me is that adding more information and ideas has lead to an overload during games, I have wasted time on non-critical positions and then in won positions lacked the time to convert them.
So either my time management is not correct or, as I believe is the case, the thought process I use is. To call what I did last year a "thought" process would be going too far but I managed to add a fair amount of structure to it this season. Still it is clear that I am thinking too much about unimportant things, sometimes even after spending the time on my opponents clock doing the same thing.
A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link and I think this is currently the weakest link in my own "chess chain", when I knew relatively little about positional or strategic play then it was easy to construct a framework. Now the framework must allow for more conceptual material it is creaking and failing at times to find a good move or plan.
I plan to work on this for the next month in long games and see where this leads, one area I have already thought about is what to do on the opponents clock. In Weteschnik's Understanding chess tactics he talks about a status evaluation to see how the pieces on the board are in relation to each other. I think I will try to do this on their time and think more about the loftier plans, then use my time to calculate the candidates. In the last few weeks I have drifted off into dreamland on my move looking at silly plans, if i can cut this out then chess would be alot easier on my heart.

Hopes and fears

Category: By Will
Far easier to discuss is my hopes and fears, the n0n - subjective nature of these make them simpler to explain rather than the more nebulous notions of improvement and training. While I have formed some opinions about what is and what hasn't worked I plan to discuss them in bite size pieces then as a whole.

My hopes are easy to outline, to continue to enjoy learning about chess and to keep enjoy the excitement of winning (or drawing on some occasions). These two things are the keystones to my chess improvement journey, they provide motivation and the perseverance to carry on. Without one or the other it would be pointless for me to try since without the interest to learn new things then stagnation sets in or without the simple aim to win every game would you improve?

The competitive side often comes out more when I lose, I hate to see others lording over the vanquished after the game, it often hits hard and hurts alot. Usually this involves sleep loss and a continual analysis of the game in my mind to find the errors before setting Rybka on the case. Looking up the opening and comparing my version of it (and the game) to chesslive.de often helps to clarify the errors. It has become easier to annotate my games as time goes on, something that has come from annotating the games from GM ram and from a deeper understanding of the positional side of chess.

Fears are more dark and guttural in most cases, the nagging doubt that you can ever be a good chess player or the feeling that you will never reach your hoped level of play. That's why I posted the Alex Dunne video, the message I took from it is that he decided to improve after 20 years of being an expert level player and did so through some work and effort. These kernels of hope should be kept close to you through the dark and the light moments to light the path we hope to take otherwise it would be easy to become dispirited.

Social fears are also hard to overcome as chess is very class conscious in the main. I moved club to find a more positive environment and I would say that I have reached the sort of club I had hoped for, welcoming and large enough to have a wide range of people and personalities. It can be hard to be in the bottom third of the rating list but it can also be a spur to greater effort and improvement. A little positive encouragement goes along way in any area of life.


FM Alex Dunne interview

Category: By Will

The how and what

Category: By Will
A question and challenge must be answered. So the how and what I study should be explained in order to fully meet DK's request for information.

I started playing in summer 2007 in a local club and started to read (an re-read) several books trying to find the essence of the path to improvement. I played alot of 5-15 minute games back then and this gave me a good feeling for tactics but not much else. This tactics centric outlook gave some pretty games, if imperfect, and some crushing loses.

After going through Winning chess tactics 6 times and reaching 98% correct, I looked again at what and where I felt I needed to improve. The better opponents crushed me in every phase of the game and the medium ones in one area or another though not so much tactically.

After this analysis and the learning points from the games it was clear a very balanced approach was necessary. So I decided to continue with tactics using CT-ART at the weekends and Blokh's The Art of Combination during tea breaks at work.

Also I have been going through Alburt's pocket training book which I feel has been very beneficial. I have always found reading about an idea harder to learn than doing an exercise to learn a key point, so working out why certain endgames are lost is interesting and has given me new confidence in the endgame. Also the other middlegame maxims in there are also particularly good.

And then I found GM ram and the articles on the net by the author. The pure embodiment of my preferred method of learning in one book about chess, here is the idea; learn it and find out the why and how yourself. Perfect. I have spent my lunchtimes memorising the games in the book as advocated which has had some very interesting effects on my play more recently. I have committed some 17 to memory so far and manage to add a new one every two weeks. The biggest problem now is going through them all enough to continue to re-enforce the knowledge.

This is how I spend tea breaks and lunchtime, sad but true. In the evening I have made a deal with my wife not to study more than an hour a night, since we have a five year old son this is not a bad deal as far as I am concerned. One evening on each of the following;

Silman's Endgame course, Pachman's Middlegame book, A game anthology, a long game and analysing a position (a la Kotov).

The weekend is tactics free to allow me to play another long game on the net and analyse the games of the week. I also try to analyse one of the positions from GM ram for an hour each day.

More like a part time job than a hobby but I am determined to progress and so far it is working for me, this year my grade reached 105 from 85. In FIDE terms my rating has gone from 1750 FIDE from 1550, not quite 400 points in 400 days but still more than acceptable to me.

The question is now what can I achieve in the next season when I will be playing another level up? I have calculated my win percentage for these two season and both were about 60% even though my opponents this year were 15 points higher than last. Next year the target average opponent should be 110 in old money and 135 in the new grade, to continue the upward trend. Also interesting will be the playchess.com rating which is now around 1700, will this mirror the improvement OTB.

I hope this fills some of the blanks about the how and what, my hopes and fears will be next.

The eternal question

Category: By Will
As DK transform states "as for your blog, you must be a very good chess player so, juxtaposed with what you 'say' (show) is what you do not say (do not show).

i wonder who you are, and what it is that you think about. what challenges you face, programs you are running (ending improvment, opening prep, tactical regimins, etc), and

what efforts you thirst for or wish you could structure but have NOT gotten to yet.

in short, however enigmatic, what sort of person you are and how you think and what concerns you."

I wanted a blog to reflect who I am at the time I was doing it. For the first few months I wanted a medium to post games to "detach" them from me emotionally to allow an objective analysis. Lately I have been musing over what I really want to say that is not said in a game score, the feeling and process behind the development of myself as a player and, in some ways, a person through this journey.

Chess has had a curious effect on me when I started wasting hours at Uni during my PhD, it caught my attention through a peer enviroment where everything was competitive. How many papers, reactions and others milestones each had achieved. It has stuck with me into work where, in all honestly, it has changed something in my belief system. I always assumed that the talent of the person dictated there potential upside in any activity but chess is forcing me to re-evaluate this premise.

Watching the interview with FM Alex Dunne on youtube and reading Weteschnik's tactics book has lead me to believe that if you are able to exert enough effort then a great deal is possible in chess and life. Dunne in particular was a USCF expert for 20 years then made progress to an FM later in life. So why can I not emulate him?

Often ridiculed is de la Maza's Rapid chess improvement, his system seems like a slow torture which, though it worked for him, is a difficult path to follow with an uncertain outcome. But maybe, just maybe, the message is not the method but the idea; if you work hard and strive to reduce error then you will improve. I have toyed with the seven circles and do tactics in "mini-circles" but I don't think this is the key to improvement. The where and how of improvement is critical analysis of the why and how of chess.

For example, see the following position;

What are the prequisites for a smothered mate? a missing pawn on f2, a Queen and Knight able to attack f2 and a rook not on the f file plus two pawns. When you consider the fundamental points then these are easier to find, doing hundreds of puzzles may add these but only by considering them fully and holistically can they be fully stored and utlised.

As for the rest I will slowly discuss these but for now I leave a thought. Am I a good player? Maybe not but can I be one? If you work in a sensible and structured fashion the why not.