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:
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.
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:
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.
April 6, 2012
A follow-up chunk to doubling pawns at f6: create a bind on f5 to prevent the weakened f-pawn from advancing. Remember the old adage to immobilize weak pawns in the enemy’s camp!
P.S.: I’ve just reviewed all the posts I’ve published on this blog so far, and I was struck by how familiar some of the chunks have become. Some of them are so obvious to me now that it seems almost silly to have posted them; yet let’s not forget that it’s easy to misjudge the effort that goes into learning this game. Things that are perfectly apparent to us now are by no means obvious to the beginning player. I’d also say that some of the gifs have been nearly useless to me, particulary those that are either too concrete or too abstract. I don’t know how others experience this, but for me as a 1700+ player, the most satisfying and indeed most motivating routes to study are those paved with clear, simple explanations illustrated by one or two examples, avoiding over-generalisation while at the same time neglecting overly detailed variations. I simply lack the patience and the skill to absorb and judge the merit of tactical complications and in-depth variations; in the meantime, I feel as though my play is greatly enhanced by having at least some clue as to how to approach a position before starting my (admittedly modest) calculations. My goal at this point is to consolidate as many relevant chunks as possible and put them to use, and absorbing some more along the way. This is, of course, a rather lazy approach, but in my estimation a practical and, most importantly, an enjoyable one.
March 31, 2012
After a rather intense working streak, chess has slowly made its way back into my life in the last weeks. I’ve managed to regain my initial peak rating of ~1750 and I believe I’ve consolidated the 1700-mark. The chess bug’s bitten me again and there are some upcoming tourney which I hope will inspire me to work towards 1800. Baby steps!
Still working, of course, so no promises of chunky gifs galore, but I’ve just borrowed a book from the library that, at least at first glance, provides quite a few classic chunks worth remembering. To wit: Pawn chains. The attacker wants to create pawn chains to entrech a pawn in the enemy territory and use it as a spearhead for his attack. The opponent wants to undermine the pawn chain to split up his enemy’s pawns into as many pawn islands as possible and counterattack. Entrech & attack versus undermine & counterattack. Here goes.
Erm. Is it just me or has the quality of WordPress’s userinterface dropped significantly? The gif doesn’t display probably, access to post editing takes a lot more clicks … what the hell, WordPress? *clickediclackediclick* Okay, seems to be working now after re-inserting the image and adjusting the settings.
April 6, 2011
Apologies once again for not putting my word(press blog) where my mouth is! Chess has swallowed up all my time, although not the improvement kind; rather, I’ve been busy revamping our chess club’s website (of which I am the webmaster). Meanwhile, my performance over the board has taken a dive and I’ve been on a bit of a losing streak.
Improvement-wise, I feel as though I’m currenly at a decent 1800-idea-chess-level and at a measly 1500-tactics-chess-level. So my plan is to keep myself busy on ChessTempo until I reach a solid 1800 rating there before I go back to mainly studying ideas. A chessclub friend of mine has started using the Dutch steps method and has kindly offered me the material on part 6 as an Easter gift as I can’t really afford spending any more money on chess apart from tournament and club membership fees.
Sadly, I haven’t come across any gif-able chunks lately. Maybe just this little piece of advice from my last loss: If you’ve got a clear structural pawn weakness on the board (such as a backward pawn), make sure you evaluate all minor piece exchanges in light of that weakness. In this particular case, Black clearly wants to keep the dark-square bishop on the board to defend the pawn (or, even better, exchange dark-square bishops).
Realising that you’ve got a structural target on d6 will also help you evaluating potential pawn moves. The d6-pawn can be attacked, say, from f5 witha knight, so Black’s g-pawn is an important defensive asset as it can take away the f5 square and thus prevent intrusion.
October 9, 2010
In case I haven’t mentioned it yet: Jeremy Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind is a gem. Two easy chunks inspired by one of his practice games with an amateur:
1) Decide where your “area of influence” is (usually the area on the board where you’ve got more space) and develop your pieces so that they strengthen your hold on that area. Don’t scatter the power of your pieces all over the board. Instead, focus on your area of influence and have your pieces act in concert. This will make it easier for you to develop a consistent, logical plan. In the position below, White’s area of influence is the queenside. Therefore, says Silman, developing the white-square bishop to e2 is more logical and more consistent than fianchettoing the bishop.
2) Fianchettoed bishops (like bishops in general) prefer an open centre. Fianchettoing the bishop to g2 is not only questionable because of White’s queenside space, but also because Black’s pawn on d5 disrupts the bishop’s diagonal and is safely guarded by his peer on e6. Of course, if Black’s centre pawn was weaker, then pressuring it with the fianchettoed bishop would be a more viable plan.