Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Self Worth != Chess Rating

The symbol in the title "!=" is computer programming language-speak for "not equal to".

on a comment post to Greg Chess Progress's blog mentioned an interesting article. The inventor of the Glicko system, Mark Glickman was interviewed by the USCF's Chess Life magazine. In it, Mark made a comment that stands out towards the end of that interview:

"Way too many players, including people in administrative positions within the USCF, incorrectly view ratings as measures of achievement, or worse, as measures of self-worth."

Truer words have never been spoken.

I for one, have never been overtly concerned with chess ratings. I play chess to have fun and I find it an enjoyment to read chess books, go through Chessbase DVDs etc. to improve my chess skills. Ratings improvement is merely a bonus.

I think far too many players get caught up in the ratings game and start to put up an attitude especially when approached by lesser skilled players for questions. I've seen it happen at club level. The U1200 mingle in one group, U1800 in another group, U2100 in one group. I do notice that when people get higher in rating, quite a number of players suddenly developed a "Brahmin-like" behaviour towards less skilled players - a "you're beneath me and not worth my attention"-esque attitude. It's really a sad sight to behold.

When a player is low in the chess rating "pecking order", it is very easy to develop a low self worth if higher skilled players in the chess club deliberately ignore you and avoid you like the plague when you approach them. They would feel that their rating appears to be a curse rather than a badge and are not welcomed.

I think some of these better skilled players should adopt a less "holier-than-thou" attitude and learn to be more accommodating.

Lower skilled chess players need as much guidance as they can get. And sometimes, all it takes is to go over to their group and have a friendly social chat with them. It has been known that lower skilled players usually try not to approach higher skilled players as they're sometimes held back by fear that they ask stupid questions or appear stupid in the face of their contemporaries. So for higher skilled players, it always help to make the first step and make a little ice breaker (followed by an introduction) . And if asked for advice, to dispense them freely as it would mean a lot to the less skilled players and would really make their day.

After all at club level, chess playing is not meant for you to go on an ego trip.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Struggling To Perfect My Chess

A short note from me today just to say....

My brain hurts.

I've been testing my tactical knowledge in Volokitin's Perfect Your Chess and they're a real mind stretcher. Some of the moves are mind-blowing (for example, you know the sacrifice is coming) and the main problem is not in not seeing the moves in some of them but taking the time to calculate the proper continuation exactly to achieve the desired result.

Definitely not easy, no, make that hard as nuts. I'm struggling.... really bad.

On the lighter side of things, Polly of Castling Queen Side brought to my attention IM Mark Ginsburg's blog and I've added it to my blogroll. I encourage you to check it out. It's definitely worth a visit. Thanks Polly!

I've also added a couple of new chess bloggers links. Chessgasm (??), Chess And Stuff, and hiddenleaf's Chess Chronicles. Do drop them a visit if you have the time.

I'm also getting a tad distracted. My aunt and uncle from Perth flew into town and my wife and I were hoping to catch up with them this Thursday and take them out for some nice Asian (Hong Kong typish) food. Yum yum. I can't wait. :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Find The Best Move

I was having a mini-training session with Fritz (set to a much much lower performance setting naturally). It's been a very very tough fight to bring home the point.

And we arrived at the following interesting position (see inset). White has a slight advantage in the position.

I am White and it is White's turn to move.

Let us evaluate this:

What are Black's threats?

Black threatens to liberate his Knight's position with 1... Nb6 (putting pressure on the d5 pawn) or 1.. Nc5/Nf6 (forming a double battery and also putting pressure on the d5 pawn) afterwhich, Black threatens to take the h2-pawn with 2... Qxh2.

The question is: How can White stop this and yet maintain the advantage?

The answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets
[White has the brilliant resource 1. Bd4!! which stops this nonsense. Now the Black Knight is pinned to its position because if 1... Nf6 2. Qa7# and 1.... Nc5 or Nb6 2. Be5 wins the Queen]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

St George Chess News

While browsing through various chess club news in NSW, the following posting made on the St George Chess website certainly raises eyebrows.

I blame this on FIDE for going with their motto of "Gens Una Sumus" (We are all one family) instead of Susan Polgar's motto of "win with grace and lose with dignity". :)

Okay, John Papantoniou (rated 1629) is a 14 year old teen who defeated his opponent Admir Kicic (unrated) and the youngster is probably excited over his quick win or he may have a running feud with his opponent but is there really a need to plaster this on their website? Charles Zworestine, St George Chess Club Captain evidently thinks so and in fact, found it amusing:

Addendum from John Papantoniou:
Dear Charles, this is my part of the report from the last game:

How To Beat A Kicic in 7 Minutes

Step 1: Go to Grandparents' house in Carlingford at 6:00 p.m.
Step 2: Leave for chess at 7:10
Step 3: Turn up 8 minutes late after getting trapped by a detour circle. (Obviously I don't count this time).
Step 4: Quickly borrow pen from Mrs Ruan after realising that I have forgotten to bring one. (Roughly 1 Minute)
Step 5: J. Papantoniou A. Kicic
1.e4 1:07 d6 1:15
2.d4 1:07 Nf6 1:14
3.Nc3 1:07 g6 1:14
4.Nf3 1:07 Bg7 1:14
5.Bc4 1:07 0-0 1:14
6.0-0 1:07 Bg4 1:14
7.h3 1:07 Bxf3 1:14
8.Qxf3 1:07 e5 1:14
(By playing at blitz pace we had caught up to all the other games. In addition, I was very happy that my opponent had played e5 before c6; and after thinking for 20 seconds, I came up with a trap based upon the idea that Kicic would continue to play innocuous and easy to find moves).
9.dxe5 1:06 dxe5 1:14
10.Bg5 1:06 h6? 1:14 (Ha ha. He fell for it!)
11.Rae1 1:06 Nd7? 1:14
(He could play hxg5 or Qxe1 and settle for the rook and bishop with a weak g5 pawn; this is what I expected. Now I just win two pieces for a rook).
(10. ...Qe7 11. Nd5! wins a piece or leaves Black with a horrible position after 11. ...Qc5! 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.Bxf6 Qxc4 (because Black cannot deal with the queen attacking h6)).
12.Bxf6 1:06 Bxf6 1:14
Step 6: Have pen stop working and ask Mrs Ruan for another. (Another minute gone).
Step 7: J. Papantoniou A.Kicic
13.Rxd7! 1:05 Qxd7 1:14
14.Qxf6 1:05 c6 (a bit too late) 1:13
15.Re1 1:05 Qc7 1:13
16.Qxg6+ 1:05 Kh8 1:13
17.Qxh6+ 1:04 Kg8 1:12
18.Rd3! 1:04 Resigns 1:11
1 - 0
Step 8: Look at watch and note: start time 7:39 pm, end time 7:46 pm!
Step 9: Return pen.
Step 10: Call mum (who had not yet made it back to my grandparents' house), and tell her I am finished.
Step 11: Show game to Blair Mandla.
Step 12: Go home with mum.
My parting sentiment: The child who is last to arrive and first to leave is not lazy, but rather efficient at swindling!

Regards, John Papantoniou

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Month Of Quiet Times

I have another 2 more games for the NSW Grade Matches (both tonight and next Wednesday), after which I hope to sign up for the North Sydney's annual Ford Memorial tournament which starts on August 28.

The Ford Memorial is a Swiss tournament comprising 9 rounds. I expect to face very tough competition there.

Last year, 65 players took part with Vladimir Smirnov winning clear first with a round to spare (!). Going by last year's list of participants, there were at least 40 players with a higher rating than I am so there is a high likelihood that I'm going to be smacked right in the lower half of the group, facing a very tough opponent in the first round.

So between 30 Jul and 28 Aug, I have nearly a month to prepare myself for the tournament.

That means more opening repertoire work and tactical and endgame training. Yikes!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Review: Perfect Your Chess

Over the weekend, I picked up a different kind of book on tactics, Andrei Volokitin and Vladimir Grabinsky's Perfect Your Chess.

For those in the 1800-2400 rating level wishing to improve their chess, this book firmly hits right on the target.

The introduction reads,"It is easy to explain the popularity of chess. The game is simple to learn, it is interesting, and after one's first victories, one can get the illusion that with a small effort, there is no reason why one should not become world champion."

The book goes on then to state,"We are not denying the value of studying opening theory or recent games, but we suggest that one must think more carefully about the relative importance of these and other factors, and the correct allocation of one's time to such essential things as developing combinative vision, calculation of variations, and the development of one's imagination."

And it is in the last 3 phrases that the book really focuses on. The book is divided into 3 sections:

1. Make A Move (positions where one must find the best move) - aimed at developing intuition and imagination in chess
2. Find The Win (positions where one must find a forcing variation, leading to a win) - aimed at testing combinative vision and calculation of variations
3. Answer A Question (find an answer to a concrete problem) - aimed at developing positional understanding and logic

The good thing about this book is that each section starts with a "taster" of Volokitin's own games comprising 23 games. But after solving these 23 games, the meat of the section lists 100 test examples.

The first 40 are aimed at FIDE master level, the next 40 at IM level and the remaining 20 at GM level.

Here the authors encourage the reader to give enough time to explore, including setting up the positions on the board and "cheating" by moving pieces around for exploration and the calculation of variations. And the idea is to solve them gradually and systematically.

There are no time limits here, no pressure for you to find the answer, but rather to develop your thinking ability. The book encourages you to do at least 5 training puzzles daily but I think most club players would be having problems just solving 2 or 3 a day.

Be warned, the puzzle positions are tough. Very tough.

To give the book a good flavour, the sections are rather brief and scant on details. The position can involve anything. For example, the first section consists of positions where the solution can be either a quiet move, a zwischenzug (in-between move), prophylactic move etc. In this way, the authors are trying to make you think as you would in an actual board situation.

Unlike other tactical books, the solutions to each section are given immediately after the section.

When I went through Volokitin's test examples, I am quickly humbled. The solutions give very concrete and extensive analysis (including variations) with small notes on why the solution is as is.

These test examples are not one trick pony solutions - they're not even three-move checkmates.

To give you an idea of how hard it is, take the following example from one of Volokitin's 30 questions (for the purpose of brevity, I've taken shorter solutions as examples):

See the following puzzle on the right. White to play.

The following solution is listed in the book (highlight between the brackets to see it):

[In sharp positions, the value of the move is considered. Here White dallied with:
13 Nb3?
and fails to find the beautiful tactical possibility:
13. Nxd5!! Nxd5
14. Nf5! Rc4
15. Qb5 Bxf5
16. Rxd5 a6
17. Qxa5 Qxa5
18. Rxa5 +-]

If you thought the above was hard, I'll throw in another slightly easier example. See the 2nd puzzle on the right. Black to play and find the win.

[Black missed the win by playing
31 ... Qb5?
31 ....g4!
32. Qg3 Qf1+!!
33. Rxf1 Ne2#
(or Kxf1 Rh1#)]

One minor defect of the book is that not every variation is given and when given, they run up to usually 8-10 ply deep with verbose explanation.

So if you're at least 1800 in strength, willing to work hard on your game, this book will pay its rewards very well.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Moving At Turtle Speed

And I don't mean ninja turtle speed (see inset).

I am just terrible at blitz. 5 minute chess just confuses the heck out of me.

Just how bad am I?

On Wednesday, my brother-in-law Steven and I (I usually give Steven a lift) had great fun at the chess club. To our surprise, we saw Vladimir and we proceeded to do a simul with him again in 5 minute chess.

First off, I like to say Vladimir is an exceptionally talented and great player. How many 2300+ players can you name, who is willing to sit down with you, even go through and analyse with you on your game (pointing out what you did right and wrong), converse with you like a normal human being and always willing to play in 5 minute blitz games with anyone?

Not many, I would say.

Vladimir is usually nice enough to give me a Rook/Knight advantage (which in spite of it, I will proceed to lose against him in record time). At one point, he stopped, gave me a look and said in a friendly tone,"Hmmm..... you like to think." (as in, I like to think long and hard before I make a move) and I replied in the affirmative. He's right. I usually get into severe time trouble in these lightning games because of this. My style of playing is just not conducive to blitz/lightning games.

This can be seen in my blitz games with Shane as well. Shane is an absolute livewire and a great guy to be with. He will always proceed to beat me the crap out of me because I tend to make stupid mistakes in my middlegame because my turtle brain just could not cope with the speed and intensity needed for lightning/blitz games.

How do people play fast games? I have severe problems trying to come to grips with recognising patterns and able to formulate a strategy/plan quick enough.

Every time my opponent, makes a move, I do the following:

Quick scan of board, identify own weaknesses, identify weak spots, look for undefended pieces, how to move my pieces to better squares......... bzzzzzt! Time's up!

I just can't do it in the space of a few seconds.

Shane does it because he sees like,"this move looks good, so I'll play it." Smirnov plays in a similar style. It seems that both of them acquire the necessary experience and from there, their brains draw on definitive plans or try to identify logical patterns and make them fit onto the board into a cognitive whole.

I watched my brother-in-law Steven play as well. He reacts faster than me but is able to quickly process all of this information much much faster than I could.

What does this mean for me? I guess, it means that I just need to train to see stuff quicker. And to do that, that means looking at more positions on the board and remembering more patterns.

Less someone else mistakes this, I had a great time with Shane and Vladimir. Thanks, guys!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Child Prodigies And Chess

On Sunday night, I went out for dinner with my brother-in-law Steven and his family and Weng Siow and his family. Our whole night was peppered with talk about chess, chess and more chess (much to the dismay of my wife).

Weng provides a very interesting insight into chess. For example, I did not know that my last opponent Bob Sewell from Parramatta, was actually a chess coach.

During the evening, our conversation drifted to one of child prodigies. Weng mentioned of how certain promising youngsters like Moulthun Ly with a phenomenal rating of 2345 (he was well on his way to being a GM given his enormous talent) has dropped off the chess radar as they grow older and dropping chess as a result to pursue other interests.

Weng also had discussions with Peter Parr (of Chess Discount Sales) as Weng sometimes takes his son Dylan along for competitions. The conclusion that was arrived was that chess makes a very poor profession.

Don't get me wrong. Chess makes an excellent hobby.... but a poor profession.

The life of a chess professional is indeed a rocky one and one that does not pay well in contrast with other professions where high intellectual capability is very much prized and rewarded. Even Australia's 2nd GM Zhao's main profession is not chess but another profession outside of chess.

When I hear of the potential of young chess prodigies like Max Illingworth and future youngsters like Anton Smirnov, Joshua Lau, I start to wonder for how long can these youngsters can continue to take up the chess mantle.

It's pretty sad that even in a sports-crazy country like Australia, chess is pretty much consigned to the back-burner and is usually mentioned as an after-thought. The promotion of chess also seems to stop at the school level. Beyond that, chess is not widely regarded in the same league as other physical sports like tennis, rugby, soccer etc. Part of that reason stems from the fact that the target audience is miniscule unlike other sports and as a result, big sponsors are just not willing to put any money in chess .

What does this mean for chess? I don't forsee the chess culture in Australia changing for the next couple of years. Chess will continue to play a minor rule in the school curriculum but beyond that, chess is unlikely to be promoted as well as other mainstream sports and because the sponsors aren't there, chess is simply not feasible as a profession.

As a result, pursuing chess as a career will continue to follow the slippery slope of the law of diminishing returns.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Should I Do When My Opponent's Clock Is Ticking?

In his book, Think Like A Grandmaster, Alexander Kotov posed a similar question to Mikhail Botvinnik.

Botvinnik's reply was very insightful.

"Basically I do divide my thinking into two parts. When my opponent's clock is going, I discuss general considerations in an internal dialogue with myself. When my own clock is going, I analyse concrete variations."

What Botvinnik means is that a chess player must learn to analyse not just on their own time but also to keenly and conscientiously analyse as it if was their turn to move.

But what is a concrete variation and what is a general consideration?

Analysing on general considerations means that when you analyse a certain chess position, you think of a myriad of ways in which both you and your opponent are likely to respond in a standard manner. This means looking at basic principles like defending an unguarded piece or square, connecting your rooks, taking control of the center, activating your pieces etc. Kotov explains that this involves breaking a position down to its elements and formulating both a short-term and long-term plan. A short term plan can be a simple one like improving your worst piece while a long-term plan may be like establishing a blockade or establishing a winning endgame scenario.

Analysing on concrete variations means that your opponent has made a move and you start your 'tree of analysis' based on the current position of the board and you analyse by calculating each possible move and possible opponent's reply in turn. The tree of analysis can spawn multiple branches, sub-branches and in each branch, due care and consideration and thought must be given to the possible response that resides in each branch. If any replies in the sub-branches appear to be bad, either the sub-branch is removed from the tree or analysed further to see if the sub-branch warrants any further investigation.

There is no doubt that this is very strenuous mental work and for the improving chess player like myself, it is very important to know not just to manage time but also know what to do on my opponent's time.

Kasparov wasn't far off when he quipped,"Chess is mental torture."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tactical Puzzle

Here's a very neat little tactical shot.

Black has just played 21.... Qxh4.

White to play and get an advantage.

Answers as usual can be shown by highlighting between the brackets

[The famous Knight moves strikes again.
22. Nxg7+ Kf7
23. Qxe7+! Kxe7
24. Nxf5+ Kd7
25. Nxh4 and White is a minor piece up and winning.]

Monday, July 7, 2008

U-1400 Grade Matches - Final Round

My U-1400 Team Captain Greig emailed us about the final round U1400 Draw for the NSW Grade Matches. These are the final three rounds.

Club Standings after Round 7

Place Name Score

First name team at Home

Round 8
Mon July 14th - 2 v 3 ROOTY HILL v ST GEORGE SAINTS

Round 9
Mon July 21st - 1 v 3 ROOTY HILL v ST GEORGE DRAGONS

Round 10
Wed July 30th - 3 v 4 RYDE EASTWOOD v ROOTY HILL

I hope we put up a good fight this time round and am looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Death Comes As The End

I'm sure some of our fellow chess bloggers have been wondering why I've blogged so much in the last couple of days. Well, that's because my studies are finally out of the way and I can now comfortably work on my chess.

I was particularly upset yesterday as I had just learnt that a family friend had passed away in the afternoon. He had been ill and was suffering from cancer for a year now. My wife and I were intending to visit him this weekend as we learned that his condition had worsened and was warded at West Mead hospital. We were very shocked to learn that after taking his X-Ray at half-past twelve yesterday, he suddenly couldn't breathe and just collapsed and was gone. Just like that.

The news knocked me out of my stride. While I turned up last night to play our scheduled games against Parrammatta, I told the U1400 team captain Greig that I was in no mood to play but if he cannot find a replacement at such short notice to play, I would fill in. I didn't really feel like playing but I didn't want to let the team down either. Unfortunately, there was no able replacement so I ended up playing. After all our games finished, Greig informed me that our U1400 team's 3-1 win over Parrammatta was enough to secure the final 4th place for the next round. Our team had garnered 12.5 points to Parrammatta's 10.5.

During my game, I was very surprised to see Weng turning up at the chess club with his son. Weng is my brother-in-law's Steven friend (we went over to his place a few times for a nice Christmas meal) who is also another chess fan. He's currently taking his Masters and is thus not available to play for the club. When my game ended, I had a good long conversation with Weng. Weng's concern was his son's chess progress. I offered to help him by passing him some chess materials which hopefully can be of some use to him.

Vladimir turned up (!) as well and he and Shane had a good conversation and were in a jovial mood. When Steven finished his game, Vladimir proceeded to do a simul against Steven, Shane and me in 5 minute blitz chess. He wiped us off all the board with me being the first to fall. In our second round, again, I was the first to fall, Steven resigned a few moves later after me and Shane kept talking to Vladimir and made him forgot his clock was still running and Vladimir lost on time. It was hilarious. Many thanks to Vladimir for being so gracious in taking time to play against patzers like me and to Shane for helping to lighten up the atmosphere of the game. I really needed that as their good nature helped lessened the impact of the news of the death.

The U1600 Team Captain, Les informed me that I would need to fill in to play the North Sydney chess club next Tuesday on Board 4. That's it from me for now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Great Game

Tonight, I played a great game. As a result, I will show you the game in its entirety. I am Black.

1. f4 Nf6 2. Nf3 b6 3. e3 Bb7 4. d4 e6 5. Bd3 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. c4 d6 8. Nc3 O-O 9. e4 a6 10. Re1 Nbd7 11. h3 c5 12. d5 Nh5 13. g4 Nhf6 14. Kh2 (see 1st diagram)

I am very proud of the next move. I sank into a very long thought here. Guess what move did I play in the end? And this candidate move was not easy to see but easy to calculate.

The answer can be shown by highlighting between the brackets.

[14.... Re8!! (that's right I blocked my f6 Knight's only escape route to entice the e-pawn forward, I know what you're thinking... wth?!) ]

Now watch the drama unfold.....

15. e5 dxe5
(now all the moves are forced and I had calculated all of this beforehand)
16. fxe5 exd5

17. exf6 Rxe1

18. Qxe1 Qxf6

Here my opponent slipped up. He played

19. Ng5? Ne5
20. Qg3 (see 2nd diagram on right)

And now, it is my turn to slip up. I played

20... Re8

However, there is a stronger move.

20. .... Nxd3! And the Knight surprisingly cannot be taken by the White Queen. ie. White cannot play 21. Qxd3. Can you figure out why?

The answer can be shown by highlighting between the brackets.

[That's because this leads to a discovered attack 21. Qxd3 Qf2+ 22. Kh1 dxc4+ and the White Queen is lost]

21. Nxd5 Bxd5
22. cxd5 (see 3rd diagram on right)

and now the final nail in the coffin....

22... Nxd3

23. Qxd3??
hastens the end although other alternatives are just as bad as 23. Bd2 Re2+ wins the bishop with a crushing attack to boot.
23... Qf2+

24. Kh1 Re1+

25. Qf1 Rxf1#


A terrific finish. My opponent was gracious enough to allow me to go onto checkmate.

I checked my analysis with Fritz and barring the slip on move 20. The 14th move was the best way to equalise in that position.