Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chess Tactic of the Day #6

White to move and mate in 2.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Logistical Update 2

Just wanted to publicly say thank you to How Can I Do That? and The Real Blogger Status for the helpful information they have about editing blogs.

Huge Huge Huge thanks to pgn4web. This is basically going to make my blog 100 times better, and it is fairly easy to use.

Finally, thanks to LT-PGN-VIEWER. I have no actually used the viewer, but they have a very easy to use PGN to FEN converter which will be very helpful to me.

Chess Tactic of the Day #5

White to move.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

World Open 2010 Preparation Part 2

Tactics Problem Marathon.

The benefits of a tactical marathon are fairly obvious. Spotting tactics is key in chess, and can also be difficult. Tactics are basically the way you win games, so it is very important to be able to execute tactics well. Tactics also tend to be sharp, where the right move wins and a wrong move loses. So, it is especially important to play tactics accurately. You can usually get away with mistakes in the opening and endgame, but tactical mistakes can lead to completely lost positions.

Another aspect of tactics is that it helps your defense. If you are under an attack by your opponent, spotting all his tactical opportunities and parrying them can prevent a loss.

The problems of tactical problem marathons are fairly large though.

First, tactics are a very specific and small portion of a chess game. Focusing entirely on tactics gives you a very skewed study approach, and a very skewed view of the game. Sure, you can spot mate in 3s like nobody, but how does that help you the rest of the game?

Second, tactical problems have answers. A real game of chess has no answers. This brings up the classic anecdote, "Nobody is going to whisper in your ear that you have a mate in 2 during a chess game." Often, this anecdote is used as a reason why a chess tactic book author did not label his tactics. That doesnt really get to the heart of the problem, though. Nobody is going to whisper in your ear that you have a tactic. Nobody is going to even tell you you have a winning position. Really, nobody should be talking to you about your game while it is in progress anyway. That is unethical!

The point to all the above is that tactic problems set up artificial situations that simply do not occur in real games. Your brain is not practicing the right stuff. Maybe an good analogy would be an engineer being told that a bunch of materials he has make a machine. He can practice that for years, but he wont be all that well prepared when his boss comes in and says, I need you to make this machine, and doesnt give him any of the materials.

That is probably a pretty bad analogy. Oh well! It is not as bad as reading a lot of books about how to drive, instead of just driving. Tactical problems, after all, do get you a nice amount of practice in executing the tactics.

The player really has to work hard, though, to make sure he is thinking not just about solving the problems, but also about the way the various pieces of the problem are set up in the very beginning. A lot of this can be done intuitively, but a little bit of concentration can increase make the problem solving much more effective. Time, after all, is of the essence.

Another related problem with tactics is that they focus way too much on guessing out of a variety of aggressive moves. For instance, if you are given a tactical problem, you can pretty much cancel out thinking about the pawn push h6. Sure, it may be good to protect the g5 square, but this is a tactic so that cannot be the answer. There must be something better. The same thing goes with that quiet developing move, Rfe8. Probably not the answer to the tactical problem. Instead, lets try Nxe6, sacrificing the Knight for a pawn, or Bh3 sacrificing the Bishop to open up the King side, or Qh5 threatening mate in 1. Those are the types of moves that are going to be the answers in a chess tactic problem. The problem is, those arent necessarily the types of moves that are going to be answers in a real game. Rfe8 or h6 may very easily be the best move.

Finally, and this is mostly related to internet chess tactic sites, especially Chess Tactics Server, is that they focus way too much on speed and way to little on accuracy. I used to use Chess Tactics Server, but it was very annoying and probably counterproductive to try and solve all the tactics in 3 seconds or less. Truth be told, I havent used their site in a long time, so maybe they have added an untimed setting.

It doesnt really matter to me because Chess Tempo does have an untimed setting. If you do tactics under the Standard setting, the amount of time you take has no impact on the amount of rating points you get for the problem. You can take 60 minutes on one problem, get it right, and gain the same amount of rating points as someone who did it in 3 seconds. I wouldnt recommend spending 60 minutes on one problem, tournament games arent that long! But 3 to 5 minutes is a pretty good amount of time.

For those who say the ratings dont matter, it is true. The ratings dont matter at all, and I used Chess Tactics Server for quite a while just ignoring the ratings and going for 100% accuracy. However, it is difficult to judge your success or your rate of improvement when you have a rating that has little to no correlation to your success or rate of improvement. It is like Austin Powers, where he is taking Photographs of the one girl, and he is snapping his fingers annoyingly and shouting "Ignore me doing this, Ignore me doing this!" It is funny because that is not an effective way of going about doing things.

I am actually going to do a whole separate post reviewing Chess Tactic resources online, so I wont get too much more into all of this. The main point I wanted to make was, for the love of God, do not do Blitz tactics to prepare for a Tournament game. Accuracy is much more important than speed.

Well, I better get to those tactics!

Chess Tactic of the Day #2

White to move and Mate in 2.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chess Tactic of the Day #1

White to move and Mate in 2.

World Open 2010 Preparation Part 1

My main way of preparing for the World Open right now has been to play what I call marathon Blitz game sessions. I believe this benefits the following:

1) Openings

By playing Blitz games, I can fine tune my opening play, just by trying different things out and seeing what happens. I usually find that at tournament games, this is the best way to prepare the opening, as no matter what I study, I always end up facing new moves!

2) Tactics

A big part of Blitz chess is tactical awareness. By playing at faster time controls, I am ideally training myself to spot tactics faster. I also like this way of studying tactics, as opposed to doing problems, because you develop and finish off the tactics. The problem with studying tactical problems is that you dont get any practice developing those tactical positions. It is all well and good to find the winning move when the problem sets it up for you, but this can leave you a bit deficient while trying to find the moves that lead to the winning move.

I often find that when I do an excessive amount of tactical problem studying, I play in a very boxed in manner, trying to find winning combinations instead of trying to play solid positional attacking chess.

3) Attacking chess

Because a Blitz game is over quickly anyway, it is easy to sacrifice material and just try out different attacking ideas. This can be bad or good for a player, though. For me, I usually play very dry, conservative drawish chess, so pressing forward with attacking ideas is usually a good thing for me.

4) Concentration

This is where the marathon aspect comes in. Tournament chess is a lot about concentration, and continuously calculating lines and searching for new ideas. Playing a lot of chess games over a longer period of time helps develop a more constant concentration. Plus, with the Blitz nature of the games, a lapse in concentration usually leads quickly to a loss. This is not always the case in slower games, and is especially not the case in studying games from books. I may totally miss something in a slower game, and be fine because I find it before I move. Studying from a book, I may never know I missed something. With the Blitz games, you get fairly immediate negative feedback when your concentration lapses, and this is helpful.

5) Endurance

By the 5th or 6th game, I am usually fairly tired. This is a great time to study chess! From experience, I know that I will get tired during this tournament, especially by the later rounds, and the evening games. By playing Blitz marathons, I am ideally building up a bit of endurance, so that even if I get tired, I can still function reasonably well.

Here are the downsides:

1) Sloppy

Blitz games tend to be very sloppy, and a lot of times you get away with bad moves. This is not ideal, because you wont get away with these kinds of bad moves in a tournament game.

2) Excessive attack

In Blitz, the attacker usually wins. It is difficult for players to find key defensive moves when the clock is ticking. In a tournament game though, if there is a defense, you better bet your opponent will find it. Sure, maybe my Nxf7 idea works in Blitz a lot, but that doesnt mean it will work in a tournament game.

On top of this, knowing that various attacking chess works in Blitz but not tournaments can screw up my confidence and intuition. I dont want to be in tournament games saying to myself, sure that worked great in Blitz but here in the tournament it might not work! That kind of thinking may lead to even more conservative drawish chess than if I had never played these attacking Blitz games in the first place.

3) Positional considerations, especially pawn structure

In Blitz games, it is fairly rare for pawn structure to matter that much. Usually the open file or easy piece development is fine compensation for the doubled pawns or isolated pawns. In a tournament game, though, your opponent will be able to put up a solid defense, and carefully play the endgame. Your easy development and open file may not be nearly enough compensation for the doubled pawns.

4) Bad positions

In Blitz, come from behind wins are fairly easy to achieve. I can get a cramped, terrible position out of the opening, play a few active moves, sacrifice a pawn or three and win. This can end up hurting opening play, as I will think I get away with more than I actually can.

Weighing the Pros and Cons, it seems that the best way of using this sort of preparation is to do one or three Blitz marathons a week. At the same time, make sure to do careful study of Master games, or even just play slow games as well. Variety really is key here.

As far as making these Blitz Marathons as valuable as possible, here are some ideas:

1) Set ratings goals, but ignore the ratings completely. This may seem like a paradox, but I think it is the mind frame that is necessary. It is very easy, on the one hand, to not value a win in a Blitz game very highly, and even if you try consciously to play as hard as you can, your subconscious is not going along for the ride. On the other hand, it is very easy to focus solely on getting that rating up, and trying to win over trying to play good chess. A way to handle these competing things is to set a rating goal for the end of the Marathon, and thus putting a little bit of long term goals into it. While playing the Marathon, though, avoid looking at the rating as much as possible. Just focus on the chess.

2) Play Openings you never usually play. This can actually work really well, as you get that overall opening experience, without picking up bad habits in the openings you normally play.

3) Focus your games on a few ideas.

This is a little difficult to do in chess, as your opponent's moves are going to heavily dictate what you should do, but it may be a good idea to set little themes for yourself for a couple of games. For instance, you can play a bunch of games where you try and go for as early an attack as possible, and see how things go with that. Then play a bunch of games where you really focus on completing your development as harmoniously as possible and come up with solid positional mid game plans. Then, play some games where you are just trying to get a good endgame. Coming up with these different themes can help you get a handle on the different sort of ideas associated with these types of play. This will also give you a nice handle on what works and what doesnt.

4) Play when you are tired

This is probably the hardest thing to do, but it may very well be the best. When your mind is slipping, it is very easy to not want to play any more games. But at the same time, really trying to consciously get yourself back on gear can be a very helpful thing to be able to do.

Well, I am going to try and go for another one of these Blitz Marathons right now.