Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wolf Hunt

In chess, one of the hardest things to accomplish as a patzer like myself is knowing how to convert your advantage.

You know the game is won. You just don't want to let it slip or worse, give your opponent counter-attacking chances to salvage a draw or even turn it into a win.

Yet it is one of the most common failings in chess, one in which even Grandmasters are not immune to. After looking through my games, I find that it's usually down to a couple of factors.

One of them is "Over-enthusiasm to finish off your opponent quickly".

This weakness is very dangerous. You sense your opponent has been wounded, you smell the blood in the air, your adrenaline goes up, your muscles tighten and you get ready to pounce. Crazy as it sounds, this is also where you are in fact, at your most vulnerable.

In such a circumstance, it's wise to adopt the hunting and killing technique of a wolf. Wolves by nature sometimes hunt smaller animals but it is the skill in which they take down a large animal like a caribou that shows their true mastery of the hunt.

Wolves usually hunt for the weakest prey in a herd. In chess, you should also do the same, look for the weakest spot in your opponent's camp and target it. This may be a pawn, a square, a piece etc.

And back to the wolf analogy, so what does a wolf do when a prey is wounded?

Does a wolf lunge in straight for the kill? No, it does not. It stops, waits and never keeps its eyes off its prey. It looks to see if the prey exhibits further weaknesses or if the prey is still alive and kicking.

Caribous and deers are dangerous prey for a wolf because their horns and antlers can mortally wound an inexperienced wolf. The idea of "if I'm going, I'm taking you with me" is not lost on the minds of the prey. And it should not also be lost on you as well in a chess game. There's nothing worse in a chess (other than losing, naturally) than to be close to checkmating your opponent only for your opponent to get a perpetual check on your king.

What a wolf then does is very calculative and precise. If the prey starts to show a little weakness, the wolf does not go straight for the throat kill (wolves wisely stay away from these areas because that's where the prey's horns/antlers can be a source of problem), it instead continues to further weaken its prey, not by targeting the prey's throat or head but by launching further attacks against other vulnerable parts of the prey.

Likewise in chess, don't constantly attack a weakened position if you know your opponent has the resources to repel the attack. Instead, target another area or create a second weakness. In chess, we call this the Principle of 2 Weaknesses. Grandmasters have this technique down to a pat and it is this skill which is one of the most difficult to learn and acquire.

If your opponent is feeling stretched in defending one side of the board, many a time, quickly shifting a few of your forces to target the other end of the board tends to weaken your opponent fatally.

Likewise, a wolf will attack different parts of the prey until the prey collapses on itself from exhaustion from trying to defend so many different weak parts of the body.

And it is only then that the wolf moves in with the fatal kill.

In the same way, if you notice your opponent's king is on the verge of being mated (or need to spend inordinate resources/loss of material to repel the attack) and you have meticulously calculated that a direct lunge at the king will result in a direct win, by all means, go for it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mobile Phones And Chess Don't Mix

Yesterday evening, I fetched my brother-in-law Steven to the chess club after both of us had grabbed some dinner at my place. We arrived early at the Ryde Eastwood RSL and met Joshua Christensen and Shane Burgess at the cafe downstairs and had a little chat.

One of the interesting topics that cropped up in our conversation was the apparent lack of continuity at the club. There are currently a lot of elderly players at our club and not enough young members. The only active young member currently in the club is Vasey, not a particularly good sign.

Ryde Eastwood RSL desperately needs a fresh injection of new, young players if this club is going to survive 5 years later. Without new players, the chess club is going to suffer and might ultimately face disbandment. In addition, the quality of chess at the club is not very good with a huge proportion of players in the 1500s region.

An interesting event happened during the competition last night. It was a bit of a horror show for one player. After about half an hour into the game, a mobile phone rang (and quite loudly, I might add) and everyone's heads immediately lifted up above the board to see who was the unfortunate player who was going to be penalised.

It turned out to be my brother-in-law's opponent, Sotarduga Sitompul. The game was subsequently declared lost by Bill Gletsos.

The funny part was that after the game was declared lost, some 10 minutes later, his phone rang yet again (!), leading to a few chuckles around the room.

My opponent, Douglas Eyres was late but rather than starting the clock on time, I decided to wait for him to show up. Bill Gletsos told me he would turn up and he did, some 15 minutes later.

We settled down, I asked him if he needed some time to compose himself, grab a drink etc. before starting but he said no. We proceeded to shake hands and promptly started the game. My game concluded after roughly 50 minutes.

After the game, I walked over and consoled Sitompul who went on to tell me that he had set one of his phone alarms (either the ringer or the SMS alert) to silent but forgot to do the same for the other. Bummer.

Seeing that I was available, Steven and I started playing some blitz games (ok, a LOT of blitz games) and I kept playing the defence that I've been learning the last week. This time, my outing wasn't so good. I ended up +1-4=0. I found that in blitz games, I don't think rationally, going for risky and unsound play which Steven naturally went on to exploit and win.

Next week, I have one final game against Ray Kitchen while Steven is facing his toughest opponent of the round, Lorenzo Escalante.

After this competition is over, Steven and I would be overseas for a week to visit my father-in-law (it is his 80th birthday) - which would be a nice break for both of us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Playing With Energy

First off, I would like to thanks everyone for the input regarding the opening minefield in my previous post.

blunderprone in his comments rightly mentions this important idea,

"Target openings you can understand."

As Black, I feel it is Black's duty not to look for a draw but to fight for the initiative.

Warheit asked me what prompted me to choose this opening. I don't know. It was an opening I've always thought of learning and I think it suits my style more than anything. I seriously never gave it a thought.

vs 1. d4 usually I either play the Slav, Queen's Indian, Bogo-Indian, Nimzo-Indian
vs 1.e4 usually I play Ruy Lopez Archangelsk (if I can get the chance), French Winawer/MacCutcheon, Alekhine Defence and even the Petroff.

I like playing dynamically and energetically, grabbing the initiative and my style is suited more towards unbalanced play/structures - which is prompting me to give up some passive defences like the QID.

Incidentally, I played this opening last week in 4 quick games as Black against my brother-in-law (he's rated around 1850 in rapids) last week (he had won his game early so we were playing socially) and the score for this opening was +1-2=1 (and that's without move memorisation beyond the 5th move) - a fairly good result.

In certain lines, if White chooses a sharp line, the battle is of a highly tactical nature and that's where understanding how best to cope with the resulting pawn structure that usually arises is of utmost importance.

My game is tomorrow and I doubt I have the chance to play the opening. However, I might be tempted to give it a shot if my opponent plays it.

Sometimes I wish I can play one of these Magic: The Gathering cards (see left) in chess, my opponent might suddenly see the light and resign immediately!

Not that I mind, naturally.

Nah...... :)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Opening Minefield

Have you ever tried committing to memory a new opening repertoire?

I have been trying to learn one for the last 4 days and it has so far been a frustrating experience.

The opening theory is quite memory intensive with lots of sharp lines to say the least. But no matter how hard I try, I am finding it very difficult to remember certain theoretical lines and I messed up the move order.

This opening minefield I have to tiptoe through to learn it is incredible. Twenty years ago, the amount of theory I have to learn would have been considerably less and these days, I can't believe how much knowledge one has to acquire just to know the ins and outs of a particular chess opening and to not get caught out by opening traps.

I am also starting to show a bit of rustiness. Tonight, I logged on to FICS and promptly got my ass whipped in less than 10 moves ie. after 10 moves, my position was so dire that if this was an OTB game, I would've resigned!

I don't get it. Is my motivation lacking? Am I watching too many chess videos from the couch, eating Twisties and getting lazy?

Last week, my opponent didn't turn up and I got a bye - which was an absolute downer since I was all prepared to play chess. This week, I'm playing Black and I've not checked my schedule to see who I'm playing next. I've decided not to look because no matter what happens, I plan to go out with guns blazing.

Which brings me back to my choice of opening. That's the problem with playing sharp lines, you need to wade through the theory minefield because one misstep is instant disaster for either side.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Do You Read ChessCafe?

I admit it. I'm an avid reader of ChessCafe for quite a number of months now.

ChessCafe has a wealth of information available and each month, I eagerly await 4 columns in the following preferential order:

1. Endgame Corner by Karsten Müller
2. The Instructor by Mark Dvoretsky
3. Checkpoint by Carsten Hansen
4. Arbiter's Notebook by Geurt Gijssen

I tend to give a cursory look to the other articles. However, it is usually the first 2 articles I tend to give the most attention to.

By the way, did I ever mention that I love endgames? Ok, I absolutely LOVE endgames and studying endgame theory.

This month I received a bonus. Dvoretsky devoted this month's article to endgames and in it, he mentioned how even famous Grandmasters mess up their endgames.

Among the list of guilty parties include Magnus Carlsen and Mark Taimanov who failed to draw certain endings and messed them up.

Of particular note in the article, Dvorestky notes,

"It’s just the same in chess: knowledge of endgame theory does not guarantee that you will know how to play the endgame."

How very true. I can tell you of the number of times that I thought I knew the endgame theory and had it down pat and that I should be able to handle this endgame when it happens. Not so, there always appears to be chinks in the armour and it's extremely important to tighten up and know where these chinks are so they can be eradicated. And I found that my knowledge of endgame theory is still not up to scratch. Knowing and playing them are 2 different matters altogether indeed.

In the endgame, where time is usually a precious commodity, it is vital that you can play the moves as perfectly as possible and as automated as possible. Not only does it place your opponent under severe pressure to find the correct moves, but it also gives you that little "edge" to capitalise when your opponent makes a mistake.

If you have the time I strongly encourage you to read the article, , it's a real eye opener.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Self-Analysis Of A Middlegame

This game was played not so recently against a player of the same strength as I.

This post is going to be long so please bear with me. I'm essentially writing down the thoughts and ideas behind this game and I will stop only at what I feel were critical junctures in the game. I'm sure there are plenty of mistakes galore and both my opponent and I missed stronger continuations suggested by chess engines.

The game started out as a Scandinavian Defense and it didn't take long to go out of book.

My lack of opening knowledge was very telling. I was basically wasting precious tempi and there was a lot of shuffling to and fro in the beginning.

We now arrived at the 1st critical juncture of the position.

20... c5 (see 1st diagram on left)

I sank into a deep thought for this.

What are the plusses for White?

White's twin rooks occupies strong central positions and there is immense pressure (or going to be) on the d and e-files. Black's weak square here is e5 (green square in 2nd diagram on left).

What are White's minuses?

The problem is that Knight on a5. In 2 moves, it can jump from a5-c6-d4 (see red arrows) pretty much gumming up the works and solidifying the position.

So my plan is stop this Knight. This is Black's plan and why Black played c5.

21. Ne5

This move accomplished 3 aims.
- Opening up the a8-h1 diagonal for my bishop
- preventing Knight going to c6
- attacks Black's bishop.

21. .... Bc8
22. Re3 Bb7
23. Bxb7 Nxb7 (See 3rd diagram of the left).

Now the 2 Knights are at least 3 moves away from going to the outpost on d4. So my next course of action is simple. I plan to
open up the d-file for my Rook by pushing the d-pawn. Before I can do that, I need to solidify my position and over-protect the square d4.

The other main reason I did this is because I have a Queenside pawn majority and I feel that with a pawn majority, it is important to use it to my advantage while Black is currently regrouping.

24. Ne2 Nd7
25. Nf3 Nf6

26. d4 cxd4
27. Rxd4 Qc5
28. b4 Qc8
29. Red3 Rxd4
30. Rxd4 Rd8 (see 4th diagram on left)

Now we reach another juncture. I've got 3 moves here.

31. Rxd8+
31. Qc3
31. Qd3

I looked at the continuation 31. Rxd8+ Qxd8. After this move, I can't find a reasonable continuation to improve my position. What's worse, I've handed the open d-file to my opponent for nothing. I toss this one out.

31. Qc3 looks ok. The Queen is still protected but I feel that White is being too passive here and needs to go for the throat.

31. Qd3. I liked this move a lot. I maintain a strong control on the open d-file. My c-pawn cannot be taken because it's mate after 31. Qd3 Qxc4 32. Rxd8+.

If Black exchanges Rooks, my Queen is still in a dominant position. I also have attacks on the b6 pawn and can move my Knight to e5.

31. Qd3 h6
32. Ne5 Rxd4

33. Qxd4 Qc7
(see 5th diagram on left)

The battlefield has cleared somewhat but it's still a tense struggle. I have a Queenside pawn majority and I intend to use it. Now how I can improve my position better?

Black's Knight is threatening Nd6-f5 to chase away my Queen. So that gives me 2 tempi to do something before that happens.

Since I intend to push the c-pawn now to break Black's position, I plan to move my e2 Knight to a better position via f4 and d3.

34. Nf4 Nd6
35. Nfd3 Nf5 ( See 6th diagram on left)

Okay. Time to move my Queen. I looked at Qc3 and I wasn't happy because it created unnecessary pressure after Ne4 in which my Queen has to move again. But now I see something.

36. Qb2! Accomplishing 2 aims. I plan to attack down the b-file which is going to be open pretty soon.

36.... Qd6
37. c5 bxc5
38. bxc5 Qd5

We have now reached the last critical juncture of the game. Please see the last diagram on the left.

After this, it was pretty much downhill for Black as the c-passed pawn was creating havoc in Black's position. Here I played the automatic move:

39. c6 (adhering to the maxim: passed pawns must be pushed)

But there is a much stronger move here and one I should have taken my time to calculate (but I was nearing time control) and chose the easy albeit more cumbersome continuation. Can you see the move I missed? I'll leave it to you as a tactical exercise.

Answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets

[The stronger continuation is
39. Qb8+ Kh7
40. Nxf7!! Ng8 (notice how the Knight on d3 cannot be taken by the Queen?)
41. Qd8 (the c-pawn now wins the day) ]

Friday, April 11, 2008

Improving Tactics Training With Fritz 11

On the chessboard, do you have problems with time pressures and making not just tactical mistakes but outright blunders under these conditions?

People make mistakes all the time. You, me and every living breathing human being on the face of this planet.

I make mistakes all the time, some so dumb it beggars belief.

These errors came about because of (usually) incorrect analysis of the position and tactical oversights due to either time pressure or impulsive thinking.

I can't speak for everyone but I found an improved training method that I like to share with everyone whenever I'm on "Tactics Exercise Day".

Previously, I set up maybe 45 minutes on my watch/timer/clock. And pick up my rusty tactics book, namely, Reinfeld's 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate and work out 30 puzzles from there. In each position, I try to write down (as fast as I can) on a piece of paper, the best line I can think of and any side variations of up to 2 moves (4 ply) ahead.

But recently, I discovered a much more efficient method.

I downloaded Reinfeld's 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate file from Chessville and load it into Fritz 11 (yeah, yeah I finally gave in to the temptation). And what I do is clear out any of the continuations and save them to Chessbase format.

Fritz 11 has a very wonderful feature called "Calculation Training". For more information on this, please read Chessbase articles part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4. In Fritz, I use this Calculation Training feature to make my moves and suggest counter-moves and responses. In this way, I can insert moves until I'm happy that I've got a winning position and move onto the next problem.

After I'm done, I check which lines I've missed. Now I work on the next 30 puzzles and repeat ad nauseum.

Once I've finished the 1,001 puzzles, I plan to start from the beginning and go through again (or if you prefer, you can work through the same 30 problems until you ace them all before continuing on the next set. YMMV)

This practice allows me to analyse quicker, forces my mind to react faster, and essentially "programs" my brain to quickly identify when tactical situations arise.

I am not suggesting this is the best way but I find that this way works out well for me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lethargy And Indifference

"Traffic With One's Higher Self.

Everyone has his good day, when he finds his higher self, and true humanity demands that we judge someone only when he is in this condition, and not in his workdays of bondage and servitude.
- Frederich Nietsche

It's too bad that Nietsche didn't mention about people having a bad day. What do you do when you suffer from lethargy and loss of concentration and when you basically didn't care if the whole world falls down on you? That was what I was feeling prior to my game game against Arthur Hyunh last night. Arthur took no time to take me apart and this was more like a 25 min rapid game than an actual G90 game (which it was supposed to be).

I was just shuffling pieces aimlessly, not playing with a plan, just wanting to get the game over and done with and the game was officially over in less than 40 minutes. I don't even recall what the game was all about which is a tad unusual for me (usually I would be able to remember around 10 moves in the game). I basically stopped recording my moves after move 18 and threw away my scoresheet afterwards (which I normally don't - even when I do lose). I was playing move by move ie. not thinking much or thinking far ahead. In Fritz terms, my brain was operating on 1-ply mode.

Normally I would recall some aspects of the game but this time round, my mind was just blank. Arthur didn't do much post-game analysis afterwards (I think he only made one post-game comment along the lines of "you shouldn't have trapped my bishop." and I replied,"Yep" and shrugged my shoulders) and frankly, neither did I, because there was nothing interesting to evaluate.

The funny thing was that after the game, I didn't feel disappointed or angry, just *shrug*, well.... indifferent.

My brother-in-law Steven thinks I'm still suffering the ill-effects from my lose with Dennis 2 weeks ago but I don't think so.

Maybe I need some time away from chess to revitalise or something.

PS: if you're reading this, Arthur. Sorry if my attitude was a turn-off. If I offended you in any way, it was definitely not intentional. Cheers.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is Chessbase Pushing Too Many DVDs?

Update: It appears I stoked up a storm over my recent comments about Nigel Davies. On reflection, I've removed the blog article as it might be miscontrued as a target on his work when it was clearly not intended to be so but that it just raised queries as to how an average chess patzer like myself can learn from it.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Simple Tactics

If I were to study as hard on chess as I do for my night studies, I think my chess knowledge will definitely improve. So the next few days, I will continue to study tactics and more tactics and a bit of revision for endgames on the side. This will continue on for the remainder of my tournament at Ryde Eastwood.

In the meantime, I took some time out to play some blitz chess on the internet. And I arrived at the following position with Black to play.

This tactic if you had a look is pretty simple. Black to play and the immediate move 18... e5 suggests itself. There's a discovered attack on the White Queen and this move suggests that it wins the Knight. The question is this. What are the possible ways that White can save itself when e5 is played and what is the most likely continuation for White? Can White prevent the loss of the Knight? And now consider all of White's other responses. If e5 is played, has Black developed any weaknesses and can they be taken advantage of?

Take a pause here now if you do not want to see the answers below:


Yes, White does lose the Knight.

18... e5

Firstly, 19 Nc6 does not work because Black simply goes for the straightforward exchange by trading a Queen+Knight for Queen.

So that just leaves:

19. Nf5 and now the killing move, 19... Qf6! winning the Knight immediately.

A couple of things:

Now did you notice that because of this e-pawn move, the Black d5 pawn now hangs and White cannot counteract the play with 20. Nxd5? That's because of 20... Qxf5 (winning the Knight) ?

Did you also found out if 19... Qf6 is not played that White can also follow up with 20. Nxh6+ and perhaps 21. Nxf7+ and 23. Nxd5 (after the White Queen has moved) as a followup if something is not done about it? In this way White can trade the Knight for 3 pawns after which Black's pawn structure is in ruins and the Black king is feeling a bit airy.

If you have spotted all of this, well done!

It's always good to take your time to calculate when you are using a tactical trick, that you do not fall into a counter-tactic because of miscalculation.

So be careful when you're going in for the kill, that is usually the time when calculation mistakes are likely to occur. The last thing you want is to be on the wrong end of a tactical trick.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Theory Exam Over....

That was a toughie exam yesterday.

I scored 80.2% (just passed by 0.2%). The only other fella in our class who passed was our usual top performer, Adam and he got 81% (he usually averages 90% for the module test exams). Everyone else failed and had to do a resit. Yikes.

That was the hardest MCQ exam I've ever had in this course. Thank goodness it's now over.

I woke up this morning and snuck in a 45 minute workout to relax and now I'm very relaxed and relieved.

I have a new colleague Victor at work today and I showed him Muller's Endgame 1 lesson on the technique of opposition, the fight for key squares and triangulation and I think I scared him when I told him all of this needed to be committed to memory when playing chess.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Having A Bad Day? Try Me

With less than 24 hours to go, I am only 60% confident of my passing my exam tomorrow. The exam consists of about 60 questions and have to be done in 1.5 hours.

Did I forget to mention the passing grade is 80%?

In between my studies, I snuck in a couple of internet blitz games but got bored. The best game of the lot was a ferocious King's Indian Defense and for some reason, I couldn't find a way to finish off the attack and White busted me real good with the queenside pawn storm. I will have to look at that game once I have the time.

I've put on another 2 kilos and if this keeps going, I'll put in an entry to be the next contestant on the Biggest Loser (yes, we do have an Australian version of The Biggest Loser - see inset).

That's all for now. I'll be back once my theory exam is done tomorrow. *cross fingers*