27 January 2013

Double My Egg Nog (single serving) results

I now present the results from the first (and only) round of the chess blogger Double My Egg Nog tourney, as Annotated Games 80 and 81.  The tournament unfortunately was cut short due to real-life issues faced by some of the players.  The first game against Rocky Rook you can also check out from his perspective.  Early on, I could have obtained a better opening by switching to a Stonewall structure, but essentially I was doing OK against Rocky's Colle System until the miscalculation with 19...Ne4 which forcibly loses a pawn.  (An eerily similar mistake was documented in Annotated Game #78).  A much more tactical game then results, as I try to gain compensation for the pawn; in fact, I miss a winning tactic with a deflection/back-rank theme on move 24.  After some ups and downs, I could have in the end held the draw a pawn down, but was over-optimistic about trapping White's rook, which threatens to wreak devastation on Black's pawns instead and I resign.

In the second game, Robert Pearson tries to avoid my known openings with 1. Nc3!? but nonetheless ends up in a structure very similar to a Caro-Kann, which I felt comfortable enough playing.  Some of the opening problems posed were different, however, and I was able to identify some key improvements for my play during analysis.  After both sides castle queenside, the fireworks start when Robert speculatively offers a pawn sacrifice on move 13, which I eventually end up taking on move 15.  White then had a possible sequence to get to an equal but unbalanced material situation (queen vs. two rooks) but opted to play more conventionally.  However, White's next moves essentially help Black shift his pieces into better positions and then launch his own attack on White's more exposed king.  The threatened rook sacrifice by White on the a-file would have led to mate, but he never had the chance to carry out the threat, as Black crashed through and chased the king into a mating net.  A fun and dynamic game.

Annotated Game #80

Annotated Game #81

20 January 2013

How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess II

As with the previous post on Carlsen's attitude, I'd like to briefly comment on what Carlsen's approach offers the Class player.  In this case, the reference is the GM Daniel King commentary from round 6 of the 2013 Tata Steel (Wijk aan Zee) tournament presenting Magnus Carlsen's win over Ivan Sokolov.

The basic strategy Carlsen followed was simply to get a playable position in his game as White, in this case a relatively quiet line of the Ruy Lopez (aka Spanish Game).  The most striking aspect to me was Carlsen's understanding of the position and what possibilities it gave him on the board, along with the necessary patience to wait for his opponent to go wrong.  This was the secret to his success in this game, rather than Kasparov-style cutting edge opening preparation intended to overpower his opponent.  The full commentary is well worth reviewing, as Daniel King explains the key ideas at every turn, which I found understandable.  Carlsen's own post on the game makes a good counterpoint to it, with an objective and critical (including self-critical) summary of key points.

I am a fan of opening study and this game by Carlsen demonstrates the powerful idea that one should have a deep understanding of one's opening repertoire and the core ideas and requirements of the middlegame positions that result, rather than being "booked up" on memorized lines or having to play sharp, tactical openings to obtain winning chances.  In this case, even a Class player can follow the thread of the game and see how key positional goals were identified and executed, with a final tactical flourish.

While this is an example of top-level chess, I feel that Carlsen's basic approach is well worth emulating by the improving player.

19 January 2013

Annotated Game #79: Happy just to finish the tournament

This was the last round of the tournament and was a fitting end to a rather poor series of games.  At least this time I secured a draw, rather than losing, although in the final position I accepted a draw after a poor move by my opponent.  Psychological factors often come into play in the timing of draw offers and acceptances; in this case, I had been forced to defend an inferior position for a significant amount of time and was happy to take the draw.

Some key points from analysis:
  • White's attempt to get Black out of book on move 3 was ill-advised; an inferior move like that offers no practical benefit in exchange for its weaknesses.
  • Black could have played the more challenging 6...Bg4 (and I probably will the next time I'm in a similar position).
  • Houdini validates the active 12...e5 for Black, striking in the center with White's king still there.
  • Unfortunately the bishop retreat soon after on move 15 invalidates this strategy and puts Black in a hole for the rest of the game.

16 January 2013

Auto-analytics for Chess

I recently had some time on a plane to catch up on my journal reading and ran across an article on auto-analytics from the Harvard Business Review.  Auto-analytics is defined as the practice of voluntarily collecting and analyzing data about oneself in order to improve.  As the article notes, "athletes have long used visual and advanced statistical analysis to ratchet up their performance" and then goes on to discuss its applications to the workplace.  Here, of course, I'm more interested in its usefulness for the chess player.

Chess is a natural fit for the discipline, especially in the modern era of database software, as each player can easily store their own games in a personal database for subsequent review and analysis.  Analyzing your own games, which I believe should be a central practice of the improving player, should probably be considered as part of the analytics process, since it reveals in-depth your strengths, weaknesses, and specific patterns of errors.  (One recent example of the last category was the repeated miscalculation of the ...Ne4 move that I uncovered, first seen in a Colle System structure from Annotated Game #78.)

Auto-analytics is more generally applicable to examining patterns of personal data to see what they reveal about your performance and behavior.  Simply arranging and presenting the data can often be useful, as they will almost always highlight areas of particular importance that you were not aware of.

Let's look at a simple set of categories, using my own (200+) games database as an example, accompanied by my best explanations and observations regarding the results.  A couple of minor surprises appear, along with some clear indications for where I should best concentrate my study and improvement efforts to have the most impact on my overall performance.  Any player using computer chess resources should similarly be able to generate their own set of results.

Cumulative Score 
Wins: 37.1%
Draws: 28.2%
Losses: 34.7%
Average rating of opponents: +22 Elo higher than me
It's nice to have a small overall plus for my career, but the most revealing statistic for me is the 28% draw rate.  This is in fact below my original impression - I might have guessed at least 35% - and I would consider it as reasonable, not worryingly high.  (A high draw rate at the Class level can be a problem for the improving player, often a sign of over-emphasizing safety over winning chances.)  I usually prefer to play in higher-rated sections or in open tournaments, which is reflected in the fact that my opponents have on average been rated slightly higher.
As White

Wins: 38.4%
Draws: 29.3%
Losses: 32.3%
A significant plus that is greater than the average expected plus for White.  Reflects well on my choice of the English Opening (although see below).
As Black

Wins: 35.9%
Draws: 27.2%
Losses: 36.9%
A small overall minus, indicating that I should pay greater attention to my openings and overall play as Black, if I want to have a more significant improvement of my winning percentage and therefore my overall performance.
Game length
Mode: 29 moves (White: 36 and 39, Black: 29)
Mean: 39 moves (White: 40, Black: 38)
Range: 11-76 moves
I am almost never "busted" in the opening phase of the game, so unless my opponent makes an early mistake, the game is likely to be around 40 moves.  (The mode shows that a shorter game will occur with some frequency, however.)  In any case, I should not expect quick results and should have the patience to settle in for a long middlegame and possibly endgame struggle.
Openings highlights (and lowlights) by ECO code
As White
A16: 50% (7 games) - notable for its frequency, if not its result.
A17: 62% (4 games) - closely allied to A16, with Nimzo-English or Queen's Indian type setups. Overall, a strong score.
A28: 38% (9 games) - the opening (English Four Knights) is normally played well, but I have often stumbled in the subsequent middlegame.

As Black
A00: 100% (2 games) - I do well when faced with irregular openings; they do not throw me simply because they are out of my personal book.
B18: 41% (12 games) - a disappointing result in the Caro-Kann Classical, although this is mostly due to middlegame problems rather than weak opening play.
C02: 0% (2 games) - my particularly bad losses in the Advance Caro-Kann are classified officially as an Advance French opening, which is what they transposed into (a tempo down).
D10: 58% (6 games) - the basic Slav Defense is a real winner for me.

14 January 2013

Double My Egg Nog - halfway done

Although it now has a New Year's holiday theme rather than Christmas, the Double My Egg Nog tourney is now half over, with the first set of games against Rocky Rook and Robert Pearson completed.  By the end of the month, the second set (with colors reversed) should be finished.  I intend to post back-to-back game analysis for each player (double the fun!) once the games are complete.  (Unfortunately, our third player Tim dropped out incommunicado.)

In the meantime, Rocky Rook has our first game posted, which was a see-saw battle where I missed a tactical win and went on to lose.  I look forward to the rematch, let's just say.

06 January 2013

Annotated Game #78: Chess is 99% Calculation

This fourth-round tournament game continued my woes and ended rather quickly due to a calculation mistake.  Eerily I made a very similar mistake in yesterday's game against Rocky Rook during our first game of the Double My Egg Nog tourney, involving a miscalculation that dropped a pawn after ...Ne4 (see move 17 in this game).  Had I fully analyzed this game beforehand, I probably could have avoided that mistake.  Losing twice in that manner should be incentive enough to avoid doing so again, however.

The opening is similar to the Colle that made an appearance in Annotated Game #75 (and in the Rocky Rook game).  White, rather than going for the b-pawn on move 6, instead transposes into a Stonewall Attack formation.  White's early unusual move order choices (2. c3 and 3. e3) indicated that was a strong possibility from the start.  Black has no troubles in the opening, despite helping White's cause by prematurely exchanging pawns on d4 and then trading off White's bad dark-square bishop.  It's pretty obvious from these moves that I had no idea at the time how to play a Stonewall formation.  Nevertheless, Black was equal coming out of the opening.

It's the early middlegame where Black's lack of understanding becomes even more obvious and hurtful.  Pieces are moved incoherently and there is no real plan.  Had White been more quick to exploit this, he could have had an excellent game, for example with 17. Rc7.  However, it wasn't good play by White, but rather a miscalculation by Black that ends the game, in the sequence starting with 17...Ne4.

This game is an excellent example of where it's not enough to see a tactical theme, one must calculate and visualize its consequences.  The saying that Chess is 99% tactics isn't quite true; it's 99% calculation.  Black in this case wasn't forced into the sequence; rather, it was chosen based on faulty calculation and judgment (why do it at all?)  A good lesson for the future, both for this particular middlegame structure and in general.