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.


Respect for Material

June 13, 2011

Despite the tumbleweeds skittering across this blog, I’m still playing chess, and I believe I’m improving, too, even though it’s not necessarily reflected in my rating. In any case, lack of time, but also lack of chunks has kept me from updating regularly, but today I’ve come across a nifty little chart I’d like to share that I found in Lev Alburt’s Openings for Black, Explained. The chart grades well-known chessmasters on a scale ranging from “healthy disrespect for material” to “healthy respect for material”.

Quite nifty, I thought. And a sensible way of looking at the play styles, too. I believe I currently belong more to the “healthy disrespect for material” camp, but often find myself opening with every intention of sacrificing for the initiative, and then ending up retreating to defend loose pawns at the first sign of danger, or unable to cash in my activity for a concrete advantage.

So I think it’s time for a change. For the past couple of months, I’ve chosen open games and aggressive openings to hone my tactics and improve my grasp of initiative and counter-play. And I think I made enough progres to now try a more conservative opening choice, especially for Black. Alburt’s tome recommends the Accelerated Dragon against e4 and the Nimzo-Indian against d4, so I’ll have a shot at that and see how it goes. If anyone wants to share their own experiences with these openings, you’re cordially invited to share! By the way: I used to believe firmly in the credo that beginners and intermediate players shouldn’t spend too much time on the opening. However, I’ve recently heard GM Jan Gustafsson challenge this, and I’ve also heard from a fellow club player who crossed the 2000 mark within 4 years (and is still improving) that he almost exclusively studied openings. This is not to say that I’ll abandon other areas of study completely, but I might reconsider my priorities. (Not that I’ve got much time to study chess these days, anyway.)

Back from Hiatus

January 30, 2011

Apologies for my sudden disappearance; it’s the old story — work and exams have gobbled up all my time, making chess improvement all but impossible. However, I’m still playing chess, and I’m now looking at a period of replenishment and, hopefully, serious study and improvement.

Some exciting developments are taking place in the chess improvement blogosphere. The Brooklyn64 blog has launched a revival of the Knights Errant. This is great, because like Lousy at Chess, I’m in dire need of tactics training and honing my calculation skills, and seeing others struggle and practise in that respect is very motivating; and 2) if I’m not mistaken, Brooklyn64 has ties to the Green Point Chess Club, which I used to visit and enjoy muchly. I wonder if Jeff is pulling some of the strings behind the blog?

Of course I’m a lazy bastard and won’t put myself through the hell that is the circles method, but I shall most definitely step up my game concerning tactics & calculation. By the way, my current rating is 1740ish and I’m confident that I can reach 1800 or even 1850 if I keep at it. With regards to my animated gifs, I think I’ll spend more time looking at the gifs I’ve made so far rather than creating new ones, but we’ll see.

Oh, and I would like to draw attention to the magnificent Chess Carnival idea, initiated by Blue Devil Knight. The March carnival will be hosted by Blunderprone. (see my blogroll)

Four Knights versus Four Gates

August 28, 2010

In case you’ve been wondering about the lack of updates: I’ve taken a hiatus from my chess improvement, not because I’m tired of the game, but because I’ve been immersing myself in Starcraft 2! For any fellow SC2 gamers out there, if you want to have a friendly 1v1 or 2v2, drop me a message. I’m playing Protoss on the EU servers, Bronze 1v1 and Gold 2v2… I guess that makes me silverish? ;) Study and work have also been impinging upon my chess time. But now that the first exam is over and the summer break of the chess season draws to a close, I’ll soon be stepping up my chess again — stay tuned!

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.

Ratings, Ratings

January 17, 2010

Although the world of work has kept me from churning out my beloved gifs in my spare time, I have been quite active chess-wise. I played in a rather intense Christmas tournament with 7 4-hour games in 4 days and also added a couple of team-event games to my OTB experience. Yesterday, I received my first official rating: 1689.

I hope to return to some of the games I’ve played eventually and squeeze out a gif or two. In the meantime, it’s work and OTB. Have I mentioned that LinuxGuy_on_FICS is fast becoming my favourite chess writer? His thoughts on the importance of ideas versus calculation sound extremely feasible to me. I feel I’m still at a stage where learning abstract ideas benefits my game tremendously, but I also begin to get a sense for what more advanced players mean when they talk about the importance of calculation. It’s very easy to rely solely on your experience and your rucksack of ideas and play like a robot; very much like opening-zombies who simply memorise lines and don’t start playing “real chess”, as it were, until move 15. Hence I shall continue with my quest to understand and illustrate basic ideas, but I shall also work harder on calculation. Not quite sure how, though. Tactics puzzles, after all?

Blunder, Blunder

November 24, 2009

I won a game yesterday against a 1400-rated player, but it wasn’t glorious. I missed a couple of winning combinations and had a hard time finding strong continuations. It was a frustrating experience to go over the game with the computer, but this morning I found comfort in the fact that the professionals are no less prone to chess blindness, as evidenced by Dennis Monokroussos’ entertaining take on the blunderfest at the World Cup. Comments on my game to follow.

My ACIS Improvement Plan

November 14, 2009

Several bloggers have posted their improvement plan for the ACIS “project”; the links can be found at BlunderProne. For my own ACIS improvement plan, I shall focus on the following:

  • watching my gifs repeatedly before every serious game or whenever I feel like it (I might add a website to that end)
  • churning out new gifs illustrating mostly middlegame and endgame piece placements and move sequences
  • studying the opening (reading and rereading introductions and annotated games about my repertoire; watching videos on unfamiliar openings; no memorising)
  • studying the endgame (reading and rereading Silman, practising with the Endgame Simulator, studying positions with the Nalimov Endgame Tablebase; memorising certain endgame positions with the help of gifs)
  • no tactics puzzles except the occasional once-a-week-5-puzzles-in-a-row on ChessTempo whenever I feel like it
  • practising calculation (replaying one master game per week by choosing the White or Black pieces, covering up the other side’s moves and giving myself about 1-15 minutes to calculate and decide on my own move before uncovering the text)
  • playing as many serious OTB games at the club as possible
  • collecting my serious OTB games in a database, giving them a computer run-down and quick annotations, revisiting them every now and then
  • playing occasional long-time games online (if you’re up for this, do let me know!)
  • occasional 15-30 minutes of blitzing on FICS whenever I feel like it

That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing and what I will continue doing until I feel my progress is stalling. Comments as always are very welcome, especially from fellow ACIS people who’re looking for a long FICS game.


November 8, 2009

(Adult Chess Improvers Driven To Really Improve Practically) is the acronym suggested by Liquid Egg Product over at Confessions of a Chess Novice to reinvigorate the chess improvement blogosphere under a new guise. I have never been a part of the Knights Errant, nor have I expressed much enthusiasm or indeed trust in the circles method or any tactics-heavy training programme. This is not to say that I dismiss tactics entirely; indeed, I do my 5-10 puzzless on ChessTempo every now and then (Rating: 1899.9, RD: 56.15). However, I still feel tactics puzzles are much too concrete and artificial (by virtue of your being told that there is a tactic) to acquire chunks. I value them for practising my calculation ability in general, e.g. for honing visualisation skills or for anticipating moves. I do not see much happening with respect to storing chunks, though.

In answering why this should be so, I am tempted to draw parallels between chess improvement and language development: once we reach a certain aptitude, an expert structure if you will, we will be able to incorporate (often unconsciously) chunks into the existing network of knowledge by merely consuming a lot of source material (in this case, tactics puzzles). As a non-native speaker of English who’s been reading and listening to English a lot, I often surprise myself with expressions that I use or recognise that I wasn’t aware I knew. This, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. I first had to practise English for several years consistently with traditional methods before I could immerse myself in the language to a degree where I stopped worrying about conscious learning and picked up stuff unconsciously, and I would credit this ability to the fact that I already had an “expert structure” in place. New teaching methods use a similar approach; the “advance organizer” teaching method, for instance, seeks to offer students an overview of a topic first, where everything that needs to be known is already visible, and only then proceed to look at the various elements in detail. This runs counter to more traditional approaches where teachers used to keep knowledge “hidden” from students and only gradually revealed it.

So at this stage, I feel it’s more appropriate for me to absorb abstract principles rather than drown myself in tactics puzzles. And the approach I’m following, obviously, is the Chunky Rook approach: animated gifs illustrating abstract principles or move orders. Have I had any success since the blog’s inauguration in March? Back then, I said: “The moment of truth is the moment I make a (good) decision based upon an idea I retained from watching a gif, the moment I’m looking at wooden pieces on a wooden board when suddenly an animated bishop on blue squares pops into my head …” And I’m very happy to announce that this has indeed been the case. I’ve played roughly twelve serious OTB games since March. I lost 2–0-4 against a player rated at 2000. I have scored 4-1-1 at a tournament in the 1500-1600 bracket. My last four games were 1:0 against a 1730, 0.5:0.5 against a 1800, 0.5:0.5 against a 1700, and a loss against a 1500. Among those games, the last one was perhaps the most motivating. Take a look at this position from the game (I am Black, and it’s my move):

middlegame_bkffileI played badly that day. But what happened at this juncture was very reassuring. When I had looked at this position a few moves ago, I was instantly reminded of this:

middlegame_openlines_08And I remembered that taking the bishop in this situation would be a bad choice, because you help White to bolster his centre and open a dangerous file for the rook. And yet, despite recognising this instantly in the game, I thought, “fuck it”, it’s a knight for a bishop and he’ll have to prove to me that the pattern’s right. Now, the game could have gone either way. There could have been a blunder. According to Crafty, Black’s got an 0.3 advantage in the above situation that drops to 0.0 after the knight captures the bishop. So no big deal, objectively speaking. But that’s not what matters in my opinion. What matters is that the chunk entered my mind at the right time. That I was able to instantly recognise a feature and gauge a potential continuation of the position.

There’s no doubt that the application of such chunks is limited, that they only stick if they are very basic, and that there’s always a danger of neglecting concrete calculation or missing something. And yet I still believe the approach has merit. While analysing a game recently with my opponent, I asked him whether the following knight manoeuvre in the Ruy Lopez was typical, which he confirmed.

opening_ruylopezknightI had not anticipated this manoeuvre during the game, but the moment he moved the knight, an illustrated gif formed in my mind. I believe this is an example of how you become better and better at absorbing patterns or chunks once an expert structure is in place; in this case, the expert structure might be called “certain openings use certain standard manoeuvres” or whatever. Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that when you practise chess on the basis of abstract principles, you create a structure (be it intuition or explicit knowledge) for standard situations, which serves as a coat hanger for absorbing more and more concrete patterns pertaining to that structure. Judging from my current experience, such chunks are extremely valuable to me in practical play. They give me ideas about my own plans and my opponent’s plan tied to concrete move sequences or piece squares, and that makes the calculation load and the burden of deciding on a move much easier — a very practical benefit indeed.