Friday, February 25, 2011

Play Like Botvinnik Is Free

ChessOk has released "Play Like Botvinnik" (using the new Peshka interface) for free (for about a month now and I finally managed to get around to playing it).

So head on to their website and download it! :)

Play Like Botvinnik Download

For those of you who are unaccustomed the new Peshka interface, it is definitely very much improved from the old Convekta (users of the old CT-ART versions will know what I mean).

This is a 38 MB download but you'll get so much more in return.

Once you've installed and run it, you'll be greeted by the following screen.

Note that there is a notation window frame at the bottom right corner. In it, you will see notes, tournament tables, notations depending on what you click on the screen on the right above you.

The software contains a lot of test positions where you can give your hand at trying on how to play like the 6th World Chess Champion. These test positions range from tactical combinations to increasing your positional advantage.

To play them, simply click on the "Practice" button as shown above.

Besides the Practise sessions, you can also choose to test yourself by selecting the "Test" button on the button bar at the top and choose how many test positions you want to play at one given session. The Peshka interface also tracks your progress on how many you've gotten right or wrong.

By clicking on the "Theory" button, you will be presented with a tree list of games by Botvinnik. They include games from the early part of his career, to World Championship tournaments (shown above - completed with table and results). If you really want to improve your game (especially your middlegame), I suggest going through these annotated games. They are definitely worth the time and effort.

There is also one small caveat I find annoying. When playing through the games, there is no way to tell who is White and who is Black at first glance.

Nevertheless, this software is fantastic and I highly recommend it. After all, you can't beat free software, can you? :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feeling Of Dread

I don't know why but the thought of playing in a competition fills me with dread sometimes.

I like the royal game but quite often, the competitive side of things weighs on my mind. I've seen chess players practically "lose" it in the heat of competition and I wonder to myself,"Do I want to behave like that?"

Chess also brings out a side of me that is not always pleasant. I find that in competition, I tend to be extremely harsh and hard on myself and that sometimes translates to the exhibition of anger, which is very unlike me, when I am not playing.

Chess sometimes, seems to me like a sadist game. When you get beaten, you want to keep coming back for more. And even if you do win, you hunger for more success.

This is most true in any other competitive sport. But for me chess is also something to pass time, something that I feel is frivolous beyond the 64 squares. A hobby.

So how does one reconcile to having fun to one where you put an intense amount of energy and effort to win?

My opponent tonight is Ian Dickson and I am playing Black. Part of me wants to defeat my opponent, the other part says,"Hold on, it's only a game."

Do I really want to treat it with the seriousness and intensity it requires to play at an optimum level? Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ryde Eastwood Rapids Final Result

Last night was the third and concluding night for the Ryde-Eastwood Rapids (we play 3 rounds each at 25 min controls). My brother-in-law Steven participated as well.

I'll give a quick recap of the previous 2 nights.

The first night (2 weeks ago) went:

Valenzuela (1184) 0-1 Me
My game against Valenzuela was a Ruy Lopez - Breyer Variation. Valenzuela in time trouble, was most unlucky to have gotten lost in the complications that followed.

Me 1-0 Gletsos (1817)
Bill Gletsos is a very strong opponent and having been on the receiving end of Bill before, I knew this was always going to be tough. We started in an English but in the complications that followed, Bill unfortunately, misjudged the resulting position, allowing my Knights to dominate the board. He lost a Rook for a Knight and we simply traded everything off the board to reach a winning endgame. Bill, to his credit, put up a very good fight.

Kuru (1603) 1-0 Me
My game against Kuru was inexplicable. I had started to calculate some very deep lines in an Open Sicilian and after checking and rechecking, I made a move only to discover a split second later, to my horror, that I played it in the wrong move order and left my Knight en-prise! It was pretty much game over.

The night had started well for me. But the last game was an absolute disaster and one I should have been more careful. Little did I know that the next week's game would turn into a horror show.

Result: +2-1=0

In the 2nd night of the Rapids (last week's games), I went badly astray.

Me 0-1 Hill
Of particular note were 2 very bad games. In my first game against Hill (an Exchange French), I was crushed and wiped off the board in 20 moves! It had a profound effect on me because I was playing stupid moves throughout the entire game.

Muller (1453) 0.5-0.5 Me
The defeat by Hill had an effect on me. And my poor play crept into my 2nd game of the night against Muller which was a Queen's Gambit Declined. I had inadvertently (again!) left a piece en-prise but managed to claw back a draw in a frantic time-scramble. I had the better position but Muller was able to give me perpetual check. I definitely got left off the hook.

Me 1-0 Williams (1411)
My final game against Williams on that night brought some semblance of order back into my game and .... I got lucky. I positionally squeezed out Williams in an R+5P v R+5P endgame (arising from a Ruy Lopez Classical Steinitz - I think ) but had a more active Rook and King and it proved decisive. After having to defend for quite some time, Williams sadly miscalculated and lost a vital central pawn that was holding his position together. He resigned on the next move.

Overall Result: +3-2=1

So before the start of last night, I was languishing at the halfway line of the pack with a somewhat lacklustre 3.5/6 peformance. I knew I could play better and was determined to try to turn last week's disappointing performance around.

Cardenas (1437) 0-1 Me
My first game was against Egon Cardenas. Egon had deservedly beaten me in a classical game in last year's Grade Matches. This time round, playing as Black, we got into a Nimzo-Indian and I exchanged the c3-Knight with my Black bishop causing a doubling of his pawns on the c-file. A slip by Egon was to be proven most unfortunate. I quickly gained the initiative and overpowered the center with a huge pawn majority. Egon to his credit, fought back bravely but there was no stopping the central pawn march. We traded off pieces into a N+R+5P v R+P endgame. Egon's active Rook was constantly harassing my pieces but in time trouble, he miscalculated and I managed to trade off his Rook. He resigned.

Me 1-0 Calixto
Calixto is a relatively new player to the club. He is from the Phillippines. The Filipinos in Australia (especially in Sydney) are extremely strong chess players (class A and above usually). In fact, our very own, the Closet Grandmaster, Amiel is one of them. Calixto soundly beat my brother-in-law last week (I've seldom see Steven getting crushed like this) so I knew it would be a very tough fight. There was also added pressure. At that stage, Calixto was tied with my brother-in-law Steven at 6 points each. So I knew Calixto would also be trying his best to beat me. We got into a very odd version of the Caro-Kann Opening which resembled more of a Pirc in the end. It was indeed quite a hairy game. If you give Calixo a sniff of opportunity, he will spot it. So I was very very careful to play solidly and playing for tactics. I had manage to confine his Rook to the 8th rank and behind a closed file while he was trying hard to coordinate his pieces. In time trouble, Calixo unfortunately, in his eagerness to win a Rook, walked into mate.

Liu (1817) 0.5-0.5 Me
My final game was against my brother-in-law Steven(!). We got into a Symmetrical 4 Knights Opening, and after many pieces were exchanged, the resulting position looked very sterile (Black may have a slight edge but it's very very slight). He offered a draw and there was no reason for me not to take it. After the game, he commented that he will never play such an opening again because it totally didn't suit his playing style at all. Hehe.

Overall Result: +5-2=2

So I finally stopped my poor run of form and finished with a slightly more respectable 6/9 score in the end. My brother-in-law Steven finished clear first with a fantastic 7.5/9 performance.

Finally, my many thanks must go to Bill Gletsos for helping to arrange the games and for maintaining semblance of order during our games and for helping out with arbitration (in spite of him having to play as well).

The complete final results table is as follows:

7.5 pts
Liu, Steven

6.5 pts
Watson, Robert

6 pts
Calixto, Reyanante
Christensen, Joshua
Aspin, Mark
Me! :)

5 pts
Hill, Martin
Patterson, Donald
Cardenas, Egon
Gletsos, Bill
Burgess, Shane

4.5 pts
Mitrovic, Ivan
Grbin, Tereza

4 pts
Muller, John
Kuru, Argo
Marton, Alan
Gluvchinsky, Paul
Edwards, Greig
Bredin Wayne

3.5 pts
Wlliams, Bruce
Valenzuela, Manuel

3 pts
Kirillov, Karl
Chiara, Vince

2.5 pts
Irmler, Feodore

2 pts
Parkinson, Sean

1 pt
Mere, Uno

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another Chess Tournament Dies

The last few years have seen a recent revival of chess. With the Nanjing and London Chess classic, in addition to the Bilbao Masters, we thought a new era of chess has arrived.

However, the new year of 2011 has delivered a very hard blow to chess.

Next year Amber will be gone from the calendar. This was quickly followed by the cancellation of the NH Chess tournament.

Probably the hardest blow was the loss of Linares (although the organisers are still trying to have one ready before the end of the year) - once considered the Wimbledon of chess. And today, news reports that the latest axe to fall is on Mainz.

As it is, I'm currently suffering from a withdrawal of non-chess tournament period and the only major tournament in the calendar at the moment is the Aeroflot Open (which may not live to see another year). I remember a time when the beginning of the year was filled with major chess tournaments.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

North Sydney Club Reserves A Rd 2

In another 2.5 hours, I will be playing against John Pepping (Rated: 1522).

Last week, my board was next to his and from time to time, I glanced at the position. John carried out a pretty nice attack against Rex Simmonds but unfortunately, Rex managed to counter his attack with a tactical combo, winning Rex the game.

There is no doubt that John will be doubly motivated to go for a win and kick my butt tonight. I definitely have to play much much better.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My New Gadget

Yes, I finally decided to treat myself and got an ebook reader. It's definitely not the top-of-the-line model but a simple relatively inexpensive one that does the job remarkably well.

It reads EPUB books fine and I've been busy away from chess, reading the many free ebooks available from the web (like this one above) from H G Wells's famous novel, The Invisible Man (if you're interested, look for titles under Project Gutenburg).

The nice thing about this reader is that it also allows me to read chess documents and books!

The one shown above is Shipov's analysis of the San Luis tournament of 2005 that I've stored from the web.

Using a free book management software called Calibre, I converted the webpage (retaining the copyrights etc.) and store it locally onto the reader to be read at my own leisure. Very neat.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Navigating The Maze Of Variations

How does one choose a move in the maze of so many possible moves and variations?

I find that nowadays, when I look at the position, I first look for something to do (where my position is still safe and the kings on both sides are safe) is to in order:

a) look for loose pieces,
b) pieces that can be attacked (eg. backward pawns)
c) look for undefended squares
d) look for squares which can be used to improve my position

Once I found a move, I look for problems should I make that move.
a) Am I vacating a square which can be used by my opponent?
b) Have I left a piece en prise which the opponent can attack/gain a tempo with?
c) Have my defensive position weakened as a result?
d) If it is a pawn move, what has happened to the squares with which it used to defend?

I find that by constantly asking these questions, it becomes easier to make a good move and the number of blunders I make during the game as a consequence fall.

I played a game on Tuesday night and my opponent made a surprising move that I had not figured in my calculations. It was slightly counter-intuitive in that he moved his bishop to target a pawn chain formation directly along the same diagonal as the bishop. It was then that I realised that because the base of my pawn chain is only guarded by a rook and could be pinned, did I discover his idea and thankfully was able to repel his attack in time. I was silently cursing myself in that I had missed his move completely and I chalk it up as a move I should watch out for in the future.

I still find that the moves that are hardest to detect OTB are what I called "counter-intuitive" moves and non-forcing moves and it is from there I usually lose or proceeded to lose my advantage.

Okay, you may ask, having these set of rules is fine but how do I improve on learning how to make good moves during training?

The way I do is this (your mileage may vary) and I find it works for me:

Take any modern tournament book/autobiography that is deeply annotated and well explained by the players themselves. Now go to a random middlegame position of any game (anything from move 18 onwards is probably the best). Set up the board and start analysing. Now test yourself on how far you are able to calculate as many variations as possible (make sure that that the move has been annotated) within a 20 minute time frame. This is to simulate as close as possible to an actual match situation.

Start writing down as much as you can. Once the time is up, check if the variations you've made are the same as what the players have made. If the variation you've chosen is not explained, load the position in Fritz and see if there are any problems with the variations themselves.

At my level, I find that at times, I can find the GM moves but at times, my moves are weak and Fritz/Stockfish suggest alternative moves which are just as good.

It is not just you must know how to calculate but also what to calculate that is equally important.

So what kind of books would I recommend?

Being a patzer, I can only speak from my own experience and would not proclaim that the following list is the ONE but I find the following books have been fantastic when used. I'm sure you will have your favourite books as well.

If you're starting out, Bobby Fischer's My 60 Most Memorable Games is one of the best there is.

Mikhail Tal's Life And Games Of Mikhail Tal is another book I would gladly recommend for use in training.

Vishy Anand's My Best Game Of Chess is an excellent read where Anand annotates the moves and the variations of his games in clear detail (explaining the ideas/motifs and plans)

San Luis 2005 is a very intense book. The annotations are very nicely done, highly detailed and well explained. If you want to truly test yourself, this book will not disappoint when used for such training.

Note that I'm positive that there are other more effective training methods but I find that this training method I used has been effective for me. It may or may not work for you and I would not dare suggest anything to the contrary given my rating. I find that by making known what I use in an effort to play better chess and sharing this information, I hope you may find it useful.

As always, YMMV. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Note To Self: Pay Attention!

Tonight is the start of the North Sydney Club Championships. I didn't really know who I was supposed to play against till my brother-in-law Steven called up to tell me that the pairings were already done last week. Ooops!

Given my lowly rating of 1472, I was expected to be placed in the Candidates B division. Instead, I got bumped up to the Candidates A division. This meant that amongst the 10 players in my group, I am the second lowest rated player - which means that I am forced to play "up" against stronger opponents.

Cool!!!!! :)

My game tonight is against Clive Lane (1552) and I have White. As I don't really have an opening repertoire, I'll just play what comes to mind (my mood). I'd figured that at this level, I don't really need an opening repertoire, I just have to concentrate on tactics, tactics, tactics... :)

I'll report on the game once I'm done.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Automatic Moves

We've all done it from time to time, we make automatic moves on what we think are forced moves.

This is a game I had just a few minutes ago. When I ran it through Fritz, imagine my surprise.

White had recaptured the pawn on c4 with 22. dxc4. What should Black play?

22.... Nxb4 looks nice. Winning a pawn and gaining a tempo due to the discovered attack on White's queen.

Can you find a better plan?

Be warned, the calculation of the correct line is not easy as there are 2 important variations you have to consider that runs up till 6 ply deep. Remember tactics predominate nearly everything in chess.

Now what if I were to tell you there is a way to win at least a piece?

That got your interest hasn't it?

If you need to, stop now before looking at the answer below:

Ready? The winning move.

22.... Nd4!!
The White Queen is forced to move and there are 2 important variations:

Let's take a) 23. Qd1 or any other Queen move except 23. Qe3 - I'll explain later

Now comes the shocker 23....e5!!

a1) If the bishop moves away say 24. Bd2, then 24... Qh3 is decisive threatening mate on g2.
25. f3 (forced) Qxg3+
26. Kh1 Nxf3 and Black's attack crashes through and White must give up material to stave off mate.

a2) If the bishop takes with 24. Bxe5 then 24... Nf3+
25. Kg2 Nxe5+ wins the bishop

Now we go back to the other continuation
b) 23. Qe3 now e5 doesn't work but....

23... g5!! is a killer

Obviously the pawn cannot be taken as 24. hxg5 hxg5 with mate on Rh1#

24. Bxg5 is no solution because of Knight fork after 24.... hxg5 with 25... Nf3+ to follow.

That just leaves

24. Be5 Nf3+
25. Kg2 Nxe5+ winning the bishop

For all purposes, there is a stronger move in the earlier variation but given the practicalities of play, winning the bishop is fairly decisive.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Back To OTB Play And Rustiness

I went last night to the North Sydney's Chess Club at Cammeray. Unfortunately, they were having lightning chess which I didn't feel like playing as the time controls were a bit too fast for me.

My brother-in-law Steven did play. Most of the regulars of North Sydney turned up together with Michael Morris, Gareth Charles amongst many others and a few surprise turnups by Johny Bolens and Shane Dibley.

I had gone there to pay for participation of the North Sydney Club Championships which begins next Tuesday. Norman Greenwood has informed me that the draws will be held on Thursday.

So after a 2 year hiatus, I'm going back to playing OTB chess again.

Peter Lay won the Lightning round but the highlight of the round for me was between Michael Morris and Johny Bolens. Michael played a rather unorthodox defense and pulled off a very nice tactical combination that allowed him to win a Knight and from then on, Johny got into trouble and promptly resigned a few moves before he was to get mated.

I'm also planning to play in the Ryde Eastwood Club Championships as well which starts 3 weeks from now. For the next 3 weeks, they'll be playing a Rapid tournament with 3 rounds each. My brother-in-law Steven is turning up tonight so it'll be interesting (because he left the Ryde Eastwood club a few years ago). I plan to play in the Rapids but I am not sure if I can make the drive from my workplace to the club within 15 minutes!

In the meantime, with regards to playing again in tournaments, I don't hope for miracles considering my long layoff from chess and have already anticipated a lot of rustiness to have set in with respect to my chess.

PS: I've almost forgotten most of my opening repertoire as well. Oh dear. :)