Who’s still around?

February 20, 2014

My chess is alive and kicking, I’ve been playing quite a bit lately, I feel I’ve been improving steadily, I’ve won a tournament, and, most importantly, I’ve had a lot of fun playing chess and hanging around chess players. To drop a rather banal pearl of wisdom on you, I believe the socializing aspect of chess is completely underestimated when it comes to chess improvement. Quite apart from the fact that the easiest way to improve is to analyze your games with better players, studying/playing/analyzing on your own gets tedious and depressing after a while, whereas mingling with good people who share your enthusiasm for chess is just plain fun, and in most cases motivating. You may not always be inspired to work harder on your game, but at least you have a good time and won’t start to perceive chess as drudgery.

Having said that, let’s take a look at what’s been happening online! Perusing my blog roll, I was happy to see that at least some of the blogs back from when chess improvement blogging was all the rage are still active: for example Katar, LinuxGuy, Chess Novice, Getting to 2000, Rolling Pawns, Castling Queen Side and, much to my delight, Confessions of a Chess Novice :) I took the liberty of keeping only those blogs in the blogroll whose last post dates back no further than January 2014. I’m sure many others are still lurking and playing, and of course I can sympathise with anyone who’s dropped chess blogging in favour of playing, or work, or family, or what have you … I’m no exception. Work has indeed been a factor, although I think mostly the decline of my blog is due to the fact that my own improvement can no longer be expressed in gifs, the ideas often being too complex. Well, that’s not quite true, I’m also just a lazy rook and churning out these gifs is quite a bit of work. ;) In any case, hope to see you around, and have fun in all your chess adventures!


Bishop & Knight & Queen Mating Attack

September 14, 2013

So it’s been a while since I last posted, but do not be deceived! A lot of time spent not blogging has been spent practising chess :) A week ago I received my highest rating yet (around 1850) and I am cautiously confident that I am still improving. For those of you who’d like to know what I’ve been up to chess-wise:

  • I’ve been an active member of my chess club, which is great fun. Apart from meeting lots of kind and interesting people, you catch the occasional glimpse into a stronger player’s mindset when they comment on your games, something that I believe is perhaps the easiest way to get a better grip on plans and patterns.
  • I’ve purchased a chess.com membership and am solving puzzles daily (in my first year of membership, I racked up 66 hours of puzzle-time). I do not follow a strict tactics regime; the aesthetics of the site, the rating and the statistics are incentive enough to keep me going.
  • I’ve consulted and re-consulted books and videos explaining basic strategic concepts. The best one so far was Michael Stean’s Simple Chess, who’s my favourite chess author to date. Been reading Silman, too, and am thinking about reading Soltis Pawn Structure Chess.
  • I’ve been playing OTB games on a regular basis, including the occasional tournament, time permitting. Roughly twenty-odd serious games so far this year. I’m motivated to play more, but find it difficult to balance work and chess when it comes to playing weekend-tournaments, which is pretty much the only untapped source left for serious games because I don’t particularly enjoy playing online.
  • Openings. I spend quite a bit of time on them actually, but I’m not especially happy about the way I go about it. First I tried the Chess Position Trainer, which was a disaster. Spent ages typing in my opening repertoire only to realise after using it for a couple of days that the drudgery factor of memorizing lines and playing through them is too much. (Not hating on the product, it’s just not for me.) I bought two Chessbase DVDs on openings (the only money I spent on chess apart from tournament fees, the chess.com membership and Stean’s Simple Chess) geared towards intermediate players. I’m semi-happy with them. They gave me a sense for what’s going on and what I’m opting for in a position, I suppose. Yet when push comes to shove, I often have a hard time deciding between several feasible moves and lose too much time making that decision. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.
  • Openings, the second. I’m trying to change my repertoire from semi-mainlines to regular mainlines. Chess instructors (advertisers for their “repertoire”-DVD in particular, unsurprisingly) always point out that they are interested in an opening repertoire that doesn’t require you to learn tons of theory and where plans are more important than specific moves. But I’m getting the impression that the plans in mainline openings are actually also quite straightforward and you actually needn’t worry about booked-up opponents. Chances are that they are only as booked up as you if you’re playing against a player of your own strength, and at my level theoretical intricacies don’t matter much, anyway. The goal is to get a playable position in which you have a rough idea what you’re playing for: Do you want to initiate trades or do you want to keep pieces on the board? Do you or your opponent have one piece (e.g. a bishop of a certain colour) that’s strategically important to your setup? Are there typical pawn breaks you have to look out for? On which side of the board is your play, usually? On which side of the board is your opponent’s play, usually? Etc. etc. I suspect that the answers to these questions are about as easy to get in mainlines as they are in sidelines.
  • I stopped following the blogosphere. Not intentionally, it just sort of happened. The same occurred with my reading of blogs on other topics I used to be interested in. As much I hate to admit it, there just isn’t enough time to do everything.
  • If I had to name one aspect of my play that I believe has improved, I’d say I have become slightly better at assessing the long-term implications of moves. I am by no means a better calculator; I’m terrible at calculation. But more and more frequently, I contemplate the long-term pros and cons of a move. What outposts does this pawn-move create? Which squares does it weaken? Might this pawn become a potential weakness if I advance it? Or: What journey might this knight want to make one day to get to a square that might cause problems for my opponent? In other words, my focus has shifted a bit from making short-term concrete threats (“if I move my bishop here, then his knight has to move there… not sure what that accomplishes in the long run, but hey, at least I made my opponent do something) to more long-term strategic threats (“if I move my bishop here, then his knight has to move there, but then what? So I leave the bishop where it is and instead move my knight over there; it doesn’t achieve anything immediately, but maybe later it can come to this-and-this square, and then maybe in combination with my other bishop I can force him to move this-and-this pawn, which might become a weakness later on….” This goes hand in hand in worrying less about phantom threats and just have more confidence in my ability to defend or equalize a position as Black or my ability to maintain the initiative when playing White and trust in the natural flow of the position.

Now having said that, I’m still not particularly good at chess, and I still lose to 1600-players every now and then. Yesterday, for instance, I missed a winning move because I became obssessed with the task of defending instead of tapping into my offensive resources. So I failed to see the winning shot:

matingattack_bishopknightqu

A typical attacking chunk. As soon as the opponent weakens the squares around his king (f-pawn / h-pawn) and your dark-square pieces (queen, bishop) and knight are pointing towards the king, be aware of your mating threats. Instead of seeing the “red arrows” and the attacking potential of my pieces in the game, I completely forgot about my knight on f6 and focused exclusively on the task of defending the queenside and eventually lost. It never even occurred to me to use the knight in combinaton with the queen and bishop for an attack. Definitely a blind spot I want to get rid of in the future.

Note: If White defends with Rxc5, you can easily convert into a winning endgame. Just gobble up the pawns with lots of checks, place the queen on a square that prevents White from any meaningful checks against your king with his queen, then take the rook. If White tries to defend the second rank with rook or queen, it’s mate in two.


Consolidate by Guarding Intrusion Squares

September 29, 2012

I tend to lose a good amount of games in which I’ve obtained a clear advantage. What usually happens is that I am low on time and miss more or less immediate threats posed by my opponent. To avoid such frustrating losses, a chess club colleague of mine suggested that I make general consolidation moves before pressing the advantage. One example for such a move is Kg2 in the position below. Rather than giving Black an opportunity to invade the king’s vicinity with devastating effect, White protects the intrusion square h3, solidifying the King’s defence and forcing Black to come up with a less direct attacking scheme.

 

Of course, the chunk that’s shown in this gif is related to a common mating pattern of Queen + Bishop, e.g. this one:

 

Or this one:

 


Back Rank Interference

September 15, 2012

After a bit of a dry spell, I’ve taken up studying tactics and openings again, among else by joining chess.com. They offer you a 30-day diamond membership trial and so far, it looks like I’m going to keep it. I prefer their tactics trainer to ChessTempo because the puzzles are much more straightforward and easier, hence more fun and hopefully more likely to ingrain basic patterns in my brain. I’m also a fan of their Chess Mentor feature and the videos. The layout is crisp yet appealing, and the overall feel of the site is that of a community of mostly novices and intermediate players who are motivated to improve but not overzealously so, which is exactly what I’m looking for.

In today’s tactics training, I came across a classic pattern that I had forgotten about, so I made a gif of it. The two patterns it combines are back rank mate and interference.

 

In the comments, the Chess Adventurer suggests I explain the concept of interference. (From a previous post:) An interference is a piece sacrifice with the intention of cutting off vital lines or blocking escape squares. In the gif below, White sacrifices the knight with check to disrupt the line between Black’s rook and queen.

 

In the next gif, White uses his bishop for an interference between two connect rooks, effectively trapping Black’s rook in the White camp:


Clarity in Action

July 3, 2012

Viswanathan Anand’s talk on thinking in chess has already been advertised on several chess sites and blogs, but I’d like to quote a snippet from the talk that struck me as an important “psychological chunk” on how to approach the game and how to approach a position. Anand reiterates — in slightly different terms — the old adage that it’s better to have a bad plan than to have no plan at all:

It’s much better to be deluded and confident than to have the right information and not know what to do… because in the end what you are looking for is clarity at the board, or clarity in action. You want to be able to play a position, you want to be able to enter it if that plays to your strengths, and that’s all that really matters. So even some false confidence is fine.

 


How to Move Your A-Pawn

May 6, 2012

I picked up what I consider a rather valuable chunk from two master club players concerning the movement of your a-pawn: If you’ve got the initiative as White on the kingside and you have to respond to Black trying to muster counterplay on the queenside, you respond to his queenside expansion by playing a4! Whereas if you are Black waiting to create some counterplay against White while defending against his initiative on the queenside, you respond to a queenside expansion with the calm a6. Long story short: If you’re on the attacking side (having the initiative), move your pawns aggressively to claim more space; if you’re defending (not having the initiative), move your pawns defensively to protect the space in your terrain.


Bishop Pin on g5/f6

April 25, 2012

A rule of thumb for Black when playing against Spanish/Italian openings with a knight on f6: Don’t castle when your dark-square bishop is locked out by a pawn on d6; the pin created by the bishop on g5 against the knight on f6 tends to be very strong. Of course, if you know your theory, you’ll be able to wiggle out of the pin unscathed eventually, but for the less well-versed,having to defend against the pin is extremely annoying indeed. Hence, be wary of locking out your bishop and castling prematurely.

This works in very well in conchunktion (pun drum roll, please!) with the Bindelicious chunk.


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