30 December 2011

Thoughts on "Best of" Chess Carnival posts

Been doing some thinking about the upcoming "Best of" Chess Carnival for January 2012, with my intended submissions arranged from the easiest to hardest category to decide on.

1.  Best Game?

I'll go with my final round game from the Denker Tournament of Champions.  Several reasons: the tournament result mattered personally (by winning I achieved a 50% score for the tournament); the overall game quality is high (for someone at the Class level); and I was able to find an original, winning idea while also calculating how to avoid a series of threats from my opponent which could have turned the game around.  Accurately calculating and evaluating my opponent's potential moves has been a traditional weak point in my thought process, so this game is an example of what I am capable of on a good day (with the idea of emulating it in the future to create more such good days).

2.  Best Post?

This is of course highly subjective; objectively speaking, this would best be determined by the readership's opinion, if that were really possible.  That said, the "best" post in terms of it being the most meaningful/useful one for me was in fact the first blog post, Setting the Scene.  The creation of this blog and its inaugural post both signified and manifested a new commitment to a serious program of chess training.  We'll see where it leads.

Separately, from the potentially meaningless statistics department: the most read post as of today is Openings Selection - Initial Considerations, which is also in a multiple-way tie for the most commented post.

3.  Best Post on Another Blog?

(Also known as the "Best Post EVAH" category)

Gotta go with the largest pseudo-flame war ever on chess improvement blogs: Shy Guest Blogger (from Elizabeth Vicary's blog).  Note the ironic post title.

Plenty of other internet wackiness and mayhem of course exists on blogs/sites devoted to chess politics and other controversial developments involving the sport/game/art.  The chess improvement community isn't usually a good match for this sort of thing - there really aren't very many things to potentially argue forcefully about and everybody agrees that improvement is a good thing.  Nonetheless, a wide range of interesting folks showed up to the above highly entertaining and sometimes informative exchange (90 comments as of today).

24 December 2011

Annotated Game #24: Kingside attack in the Slow Slav

This game took place in the first round of a five-round weekend tournament, following the previous tournament completed in Annotated Game #23.  My opponent chose the "Slow Slav" variation (4. e3), which leads to a game of maneuver and is normally quite level.  Rather than pursue a completely equal game with no winning prospects, I elect to create a positional imbalance and initiate a kingside attack, somewhat reminiscent of a Dutch Defense formation.  The attack in fact goes well, until I miss an elementary pinning tactic due to "tunnel vision" (focusing on one of my opponent's possibilities without considering other ones).  A useful game nonetheless to look at, with some improvements found for both sides in the maneuvering phase.  I now much better understand the importance of piece placement and activity, for example, which was neglected for both sides in this game.

23 December 2011

Mindfulness and Effortful Study

In looking for further parallels to serious chess and martial arts training, I came across the below excerpt, taken from a Scientific American article and posted on a martial arts site.  The term "mindfulness" is often used for meditation and other mental exercises, which essentially means that your mind is present in the moment and concentrating on your task, as in Focusing on the Path.  The term used below is "effortful study" which is less aesthetic, but conveys more precisely the process involved, i.e. constantly thinking critically and taking on new challenges.  Note also the comparison with musical study, which shares similar characteristics regarding the attainment of mastery.

"...What matters is not experience per se but 'effortful study,' which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study
Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields."

20 December 2011

Annotated Game #23: English Four Knights (4. e3 Be7)

This next game followed Annotated Game #22 and was the last round of the tournament.  My opponent was rated at the upper end of Class D and played the opening well, coming out of it with a space advantage, well-placed pieces and control of the center with a hanging pawns structure on the c/d files.  However, he apparently did not understand the requirements for subsequent dynamic play that the structure required, allowing me (despite some weak moves on my part) to eventually successfully target the pawns and then achieve a dominating position with a material plus.  Incredibly, at this point I dithered and allowed a draw, at the time being too passive and afraid of nonexistent threats on the kingside.  It is exactly this type of play (and attitude) that should be avoided on the path to chess mastery.

10 December 2011

How Kramnik makes us feel better about chess

The ongoing London Chess Classic 2011 is, as its predecessors were, an outstanding tournament filled with interesting personalities.  However one chooses to follow it, it's what used to be called a "chessic feast".

One of the excellent features this year is the post-game internet video commentary by the participants, which usually lasts from 15-20 minutes.  Kramnik's thorough description of his win over Adams in round 5 I think is particularly valuable for us non-GMs.  His commentary is very frank and includes a great deal of talk about uncertainty regarding his evaluation of positions and plans.  I found it very accessible and instructive on a practical level, which is not always the case with GM explanations.

The takeaway from this is that if super-GMs regularly are unsure which plan is best to follow or which side stands better in a position, the rest of us should not be striving for perfection either.  All too often annotated games at high levels don't include the thought process of the players and are presented in a mechanistic way which doesn't reflect how games are really won and lost.  Kramnik's candid lessons should make us all feel better about what playing chess is really like.

Annotated Game #22: English-KID (plus quickest win)

This post resumes the annotations of my past tournament games following Annotated Game #18: Comeback (Round 3).  This game actually was the second one played in the next tournament, as the first round game was the shortest win of my chess career (10 moves) and did not warrant annotation.  It is included afterwards, however, mostly as a warning to those players who don't find it necessary to think in the opening.

Returning to the second round game, an English opening versus a King's Indian Defense setup, it features an all-too-typical pattern of an opening advantage in space and time squandered by too-slow play, then the selection of an incorrect plan based on a lack of appreciation for my opponent's possible threats.  This points to the need for deeper study of the middlegame transition point, in this case moves 10-13, where improvements were found for White.

Below is the first round game, for amusement purposes.

07 December 2011

December 2011 Chess Carnival

The Carnival lineup is now out on Blue Devil Knight's Confessions of a chess novice blog.

Normally I comment on an early favorite among the Carnival offerings.  This time, however, I'll instead mention BDK's blog itself, which with this entry may be making its last update.  It's a highly entertaining, often instructive and very human look at an amateur chess career and its theory and practice.  The journey through it is therefore well worth taking, in addition because of the major impact it had on the chess blogging scene for several years.

01 December 2011

Annotated Game #21: Modern Stonewall Hero

As part of learning the Dutch Defense, I'm currently working my way through Win with the Stonewall Dutch (Sverre Johnsen/Ivar Bern/Simen Agdestein, Gambit, 2009).  I'll post my thoughts on the book when it's complete, but one of the more innovative things included is an exercise in each chapter.  In Chapter 5, the reader is directed to research and choose a "Stonewall Hero" from internationally recognized players, while in Chapter 6 the exercise is to analyze and annotate at least one of their games, only using an engine after you have looked at the complete game yourself.

Although for practical reasons I generally prefer using computer-assisted analysis for my own games (i.e. looking at them with the aid of an engine, but not just feeding a game to one), I stuck to the authors' guidance in order to maximize the learning experience.  It turned out to not be as much of a chore as I thought it might be.  The "bare-brained" analysis process did especially help to identify and figure out some of the "roads not traveled" (variations not played) due to tactical or strategic considerations; when looking at positions with an engine, the computer won't offer up moves it considers inferior, although their drawbacks may not be initially obvious.  I also found that I could get something out of the analysis process while looking at an unannotated GM-level game, which had also been a point of doubt for me.  After all, what could I bring to the analysis of such a high level game?  Enough to make it worthwhile, it seems.

I selected Artur Yusupov (alternate spelling Jussupow, which is how he appears in the database I have) as my "Stonewall Hero" because of his breadth and depth of experience playing the Dutch over a number of years. He of course has also been a close collaborator with Mark Dvoretsky on a number of chess instruction books, including Opening Preparation, which I own.  As luck would have it, I opened the first game of his in the Dutch and it was a win in the Stonewall.  I found the game itself to be quite interesting, following a major sideline of the Modern Stonewall and featuring a number of thematic ideas in the opening, which are commented on below.