Free Chess Software

April 26, 2010

I’m a rather parsimonious fellow, and I make no exception for chess software. My investments so far have been modest: 20 bucks on Chessmaster 10th edition, money well-spent thanks to the lectures by Josh Waitzkin. Other than that, I’ve been using AquariumDemo (free) for making my gifs and annotating my games, and BabasChess (free, Crafty included) for computer eval and playing on FICS. AquariumDemo has also been my “database” software. I haven’t really gauged its database capacities yet, but I think it’s time to start working with databases in earnest, and to that end I’ve started looking into SCID. SCID offers all the functions I’ll likely ever need database-wise, is deliciously customizable, also optically (something that’s dear to my heart), includes the Toga engine (ELO 2600), and is absolutely free. What’s more, the excellent Katar has two excellent SCID workshop vids up at his new place, and I also found two large free pgn databases with a ton of ELO2000+ games, the Million Base 1.74 and the ICOfY Base. Plenty good stuff, for no cost whatsoever. If you have any other recommendations for free chess software, sharing is much appreciated!

Update: Following Tanc’s recommendation of the Chess Position Trainer, I came across this article on about how to practise your opening repertoire with SCID and CPT. Haven’t read it in detail, but certainly will later tonight.

ACIS of Caissa Improvement Post #6, or, Chess and Starcraft

April 18, 2010

Two tournament losses (vs 1800 and vs 1650), a club tournament win (vs 1715) and a team championship draw (vs 1780). I’m quite unhappy about my two losses there. I believe I have improved considerably in the opening, but I desperately need to start working on tactics and calculation in earnest. I’ve got a new computer (ThinkPad / Windows 7) and I’m eyeing CT Art 4.0; but knowing my lack of self-discipline, maybe I should stick to ChessTempo (which I’ve been neglecting) and see if I can keep up an exercise routine for more than a month.

So much for my improvement. Far more interesting is this video by Striderdoom a.k.a. Sean “Day[9]” Plott, one the best-known Western Starcraft players, in which he recounts his experiences as a Starcraft player from his humble beginnings in high-school to his impressive tournament successes. His insights into his improvement are both intelligent and inspiring and translate quite well into the world of chess improvement. Even if you’re not into Starcraft, I recommend tuning in at 1h30′ and listen to him for 15 minutes talk about his improvement and the lessons he learned, lessons such as: “A loss is an arrow that points you in the right direction.” Great guy.

Bishop Versus Fianchettoed Bishop

April 14, 2010

Keep in mind that advancing the b-pawn to fianchetto your bishop weakens squares that can be exploited by the opponent’s bishop to threaten your knight and rook.

Notes on Bishops and Knights: Drive Away the Piece or Open the Centre?

April 9, 2010

From a similar position in Silman’s Amateur’s Mind. Pawn moves are irreversible, and it’s important to weigh their short-term against their long-term effect. In the position below, Black has two bishops and White has a knight and a bishop. Black can drive the pesky knight away with the pawn move 1. … f5. However, he has to think whether the short-term result compensates for the negative long-term effect, because once he plays f5, opening the centre won’t be easy and the e5-square becomes weak. Since the bishops prefer an open centre and the knight outpost at e4 does not pose an immediate threat, the long-term implications of f5 speak against it. Instead, Black should play f6, preparing a pawn lever against the centre to secure the long-term advantage of his two bishops against bishop and knight.

Advance the Candidate!

April 6, 2010

Keeping it simple: advance the “candidate pawn” first. The candidate pawn is the pawn that has no opposing pawn in its way. The lesson is from Hans Kmoch’s The Power of the Pawn.

ACIS of Caissa Improvement Post #5, or, The Patzer’s Tale

April 3, 2010

A bit of poetry, if I may!

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, / And bathed every veyne in swich licour / Of which vertu engendred is the flour; / … / Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages …

March has indeed been a drought in my improvement, and I long to go on another improvement pilgrimage this April. So far, things are looking promising: I’ve obtained Silman’s Amateur’s Mind and I’m going to play in an upcoming tournament that offers plenty of opportunities for serious games and serious prep. My over-arching goal: revise, revise, revise. I spend so much time going over illustrative games, or plowing through chapters, and yet I hardly retain anything. Also: I’ve finally ordered a new computer to replace my loyal and trusty ThinkPad. This purchase is likely going to be accompanied by some software acquisitions (I’m thinking Deep Rybka and CT Art 4.0).

What else, what else? My tactics are still shite, my vision for positional weaknesses and my grasp of plans are improving (I think). My endgame skills haven’t been tested in a long time (I agreed to a draw in a knight versus knight and pawn endgame and for all I can tell rightly so, and that’s about it). In my opening prep, I’m still focusing on open games and isolani positions (although truth be told I’ve yet to face an opponent in a serious game who goes for the isolani!). I’m using Sam Collins Attacking Repertoire for White and find it quite inspiring, although at times it’s hard to tell what exactly you’re supposed to glean from the games he guides you through. If anyone else is using the book, feel free to message me for training games. (And if not, contact me, anyway — I’m still looking for a regular cool internet training dude/dudess.)

On to some chunks! I’m going to keep it simple. I snatched up two common closed pawn centre ideas at my chess club; they are also found in Silman’s Amateur’s Mind in the chapter on king hunts:

In closed games, the pawn chain indicates the direction of your attack:

In closed games, attack with pawns rather than pieces; attack the enemy pawn chain at its base:

And that’s it! Back to the study board.

Edit: Since this is an ACIS improvement post, I suppose I ought to mention my rating as well: 1689 > 1707. (Though the new number isn’t exactly meaningful because it’s based on three rated games, two of which were rather silly.)