With a less than stellar tournament performance so far — three losses (vs 1800, 1700, 1650), a draw (vs 1650), two wins (vs 1700, 1750) — it’s hard to tell whether I’m actually improving or not. I sense some improvement in terms of handling an early initiative; I am more patient, I have more confidence in certain types of positions, I do not feel as obliged to force things as I used to. Yet at the same time, my execution, concentration and calculation leave a lot to be desired. I still can’t bring myself to solve tactics puzzles on a regular basis, and to be frank I don’t care. Chess is supposed to be fun, after all :)
I’ve been quite happy with my opening choices; there’s some scepticism remaining concerning the Scotch (I think I prefer the Scotch Gambit to the Scotch) and the Tarrasch Defence (mainly because I haven’t had to play it that often).
Did I experience any improvement that can be traced back to the gifs? Partly. In my last game, for instance, I was quite keenly aware of the dangers of the black-square bishop once the pawn in front of the king moves, I made a plan revolving around the idea of opening the centre because my bishops were more active than his, and I’ve been playing more attention to the direction of my pawns. Speaking of which, Blunderprone continues his chess history with a fascinating series on pawn structure in chess. His link to the pawn structure article on Wikipedia is also worth a look. The most significant “improvement” I believe I’ve made in the past month was absorbing a lecture by Josh Waitzkin on the French Defence to such a degree that I could apply his ideas throughout a French game with a successful attack. Perhaps one of the most tangible lessons I’ll take from chess is that you really have to focus on only a couple of ideas at a time whilst learning and then go over those ideas time and again until they’re ingrained in your brain. It’s so tempting to think that if you look at a chapter/game/lesson once, you’ve learnt something, but it’s simply not true most of the time; it’ll fade away quickly, like a movie or a book you didn’t really care about, and you won’t retain anything.
In other improvement news, I’ve reached a blitz rating of 1400 on FICS, which I think is quite a significant step. All in all, I’m satisfied with my progress and I’m confident that I haven’t reached my peak yet. I’ve been slacking with my study, but on the other hand, I’ve managed to play a serious a game a week on average, and that’s I believe the most important step towards improvement. Although the games haven’t really taught me much that’s suitable for gif-making, I think they’ve helped me consolidate my current knowledge and cement a foundation for further improvement, and that’s something one should not underestimate.
Oh, and I should add that I’ve been working with the Chess Position Trainer that was recommended to me by Tanc, and I must say I’m taking quite a liking to it. It’s exactly what I’ve just said above: repetition, repetition, drill, drill, drill. I understand and acknowledge the fact that studying the opening ought to be more than just knowing moves — you should familiarise yourself with the ideas behind the moves — but there’s something to be said for the concrete practical value of simply knowing a move, too.