Sunday, 30 December 2007
So why is it a problem?
I believe that improving your chess ability requires much harder work than most patzers (myself included) realise, and are prepared to undertake. I don't think I'm lazy (not more than average, anyway) and I'm prepared to work hard at something if I feel it is worthwhile. The question is - is studying chess worthwhile? It is after all just a game - a beautiful, beguiling, compelling frustrating, uplifting game. Life is short and chess study takes a lot of time.
If the aim of life is to be happy, is there really any point in spending so much time on a game which can produce as much frustration and disappointment as happiness?
It may sound like I'm writing this on the back of a bad loss, but I'm on a winning streak at the moment (I'm playing correspondence games at chess.com). No, this post has been prompted by the impending new year and thoughts of resolutions.
I've decided not to make any resolutions, about chess or anything else. I will continue to try to balance enjoyment and study of chess in my leisure time and hope to end 2008 understanding chess a bit better than I do now.
My blogging friend Dan Scoones has suggested I finish reading 'The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played' by Chernev (one of the many books I haven't finished). So that's what I'm going to do - and continue playing as much as possible - given the time available!
Sunday, 2 December 2007
I've written about just about everything except my own games for a while now, so I figured I'd better put that right. My latest completed correspondence game at chess.com (3 days/move) really made my brain hurt.
Constructive criticism of my play is welcomed - and expected!
I've never really settled on a defence to d4, and my response this time was the Tarrasch defence. Playing over the game, it looks much more comfortable a win than it really was. I won a pawn on move 20 due to an oversight by my opponent, but despite this stroke of luck I never felt comfortable during the whole game and was very relieved to eventually get the win.
Btw - what is the latest technology for posting chess games on blogs these days? I would like something which allows me to add comments. Thanks.
Friday, 23 November 2007
One of the failings of the way I study chess is my extremely bad habit of starting reading a chess book and never actually finishing it. The list below is just a sample of the titles which grace the shelves of my bookcase, but which I have never actually finished.
- Pawn Power in Chess - Kmoch
- The Development of Chess Style - Euwe & Nunn
- Understanding Chess Move by Move - Nunn
- Chess Exam and Training Guide - Khmelnitsky
- Tal - Botvinnik 1960 -Tal
- Chess for Zebras - Rowson
- 50 Essential Chess Lessons - Giddins
- The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played - Chernev
- My Great Predecessors Vol 1,2,3 &4 !!! - Kasparov
Phew! Just imagine how good I might be now if I'd bothered to finish that lot. They are all, as far as I can tell from my partial readings, excellent books.
So why did I stop reading them? Is it because I have the attention span of a gnat? Partly. Do I get halfway through the book and then get distracted by something shiny? Ooh, pretty...
No, I think the reason I stop reading chess books is because I lack commitment. I'd like to be a better player, but I'm not prepared to do the hard work necessary to improve.
So I'm going to make a promise here now to myself in the presence of my fellow bloggers, that I will damn well finish at least one of those books before next year. I'll start tomorrow. Honest.
Those of you easily distracted by shiny things, like myself, might like to try the games near the bottom on the right hand side of my blog. They are: Spelling Bee, Match up, Hangman, Sudoku and another one without a name (does anyone know if it has a name?). While you're all distracted by them, I'll be improving my chess!
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
After many years of diligent study I have achieved mediocrity in a number of fields and recently had an epiphany when I realised that my skill lay not in any one area, but in that I was in fact a master of the Art of Losing.
It is chess where my mediocrity has blossomed to it's fullest extent and I will focus here on the lessons that I can pass on to others who may wish to follow in my footsteps.
The most important thing to focus on if you want to master the Art of Losing is not focusing on whatever you are doing. Sounds contradictory eh? That's Zen for you! Avoiding meditation can help with this - stop focusing your mind and instead let it wander onto any old nonsense - I find that cars, beer and sex do the trick.
Now let's apply this to chess. Say your opponent has just moved so it's your turn. What thought process do you go through to decide on your next move? Difficult to explain isn't it? The problem is with the word "process". It implies a clarity of thought that you must strive to avoid if you want to master the Art of Losing.
So the correct method is to avoid asking productive questions like:
- why did my opponent play that move?
- what is he/she threatening to do know that he/she wasn't before?
- did his/her move meet the threats I made with my last move
- do I have any useful checks, captures or threats
Instead let your mind drift merrily wherever it wants. When you become more accomplished at this technique you will find that 90% of the time you are playing chess, you are not even thinking about chess at all, but instead pondering the great mysteries of the world, like:
- If the probability of a flipped coin landing one side or the other is 50/50, does that mean that it is impossible for the coin to land on its edge?
- As men get older, why does our body hair stop growing on our heads, but starts growing everywhere we don't want it to?
- If you lose a game of chess in a forest, but no-one is around to see it, is your rating affected?
Monday, 29 October 2007
Does playing chess make you happy? Perhaps the answer might not be as obvious as it first appears. When we win, then of course we are happy; but when we lose we are quite the opposite. Chess can be bruising to the ego and for most of us there is always someone better than you who can give you a painful lesson.
So is the joy of winning greater than the pain of losing? Dan Heisman believes that the ability to tolerate losing "just right" is one of the three important attributes that it takes to become a good chessplayer. To find out the other two see the article!
Tolerating losing "just right" means not caring so little about losing that you "don’t care and keep making the same mistakes, but also not caring so much that you are paralyzed by losses. The best is in-between: the ability to keep losing while simultaneously learning how not to repeat your mistakes."
So do you think chess increases the net amount of joy in the world, or is every joyous winner balanced out by a miserable loser? Is chess a nil sum game of happiness or does just playing the game make you happy, regardless of the result?
Sunday, 14 October 2007
Being male is supposed to be an advantage when it comes to chess. Or, more precisely, having a male brain. Male brains are, on average, better at dealing with logical and spacial problems, whilst female brains are better at verbal skills and judging emotion.
If you would like to try a series of tests to assess whether your brain is better at traditionally male or female activities, then try the fascinating link here.
Me? I did well in the angles test (19 out of 20), and the test where you have to mentally rotate a 3D shape and match it to others (11/12), which should mean that I have some of the skills needed to be a good chess player. I'll have to find another excuse for why I still suck...
Why not take the test and see how you score? You can't do worse than my 5/20 for empathy. Does that put me into sociopath category?!!
Saturday, 29 September 2007
Me? Well, I'm a mathematics graduate, an accountant, and have an IQ of around 130. So I'm not exactly Einstein (pictured) but I can tie my own shoelaces. However, as a chess player I'm utterly mediocre. Chess requires a very specific set of knowledge and skills, so there is no guarantee that being smart will mean you are a budding Kasparov.
Of course, the opposite also applies. You don't have to be smart to play good chess. This is the big secret that the non-chess paying world doesn't know. You are all sworn to secrecy - I mean it! If word ever gets out it will be the end of one of the few perks we chess players have. So if someone asks you if chess players are smart, just answer in the affirmative and misquote Descartes, "I think, therefore I play chess".
Sunday, 23 September 2007
The traditional and outdated image of chess players to many of our non chess-playing friends is one of old gentlemen sitting stooped over, facing one another over a chess board in a crowded and smoky room. This caricature has never really been true, but is even less likely to represent reality in the modern chess era where you are more likely to meet an 8 year old playing chess than an eighty year old.
However, the despite the cult of youth in today's chess culture, with top players being regarded as past it by the time they are in their 30's (let alone in their 70's like the great Viktor Korchnoi, pictured), the grass roots of the game are filled with players of all ages. The nature of chess as a mental game renders age immaterial as two minds battle their ideas across the chessboard.
I recently came across a link to organisation called The Silver Knights (hat tip to Robert Pearson). The Silver Knights are a charitable organisation dedicated to helping prevent Alzheimer's Disease by teaching and playing chess with senior citizens. Research has shown that mental activities like solving crossword puzzles, playing a musical instrument or playing games like chess or bridge has a measurable effect on reducing the incidence of Alzheimer's.
I think the Silver Knight's organisation is well worth supporting and if anyone living in the US would like to offer their help, I'm sure it would be much appreciated and rewarding. For those not in the US, I'm sure a purchase of their merchandise or a donation would be welcomed.
I'm looking forward to playing chess as I grow older, and hope that it helps keep my mind active. Use it or lose it! Sadly, my attempts at playing a musical instrument are even worse than my chess!
Hi everybody I'm back!
You know how it is when a musical artist splits up from their partner and their next release gets called their ‘divorce album’ because they can’t stop moaning on and on about it (a.k.a. the Phil Collins syndrome)? Well, this post is my ‘moving house’ post! There won’t be much chess content (no Zugwang or Zwischenzug), but lots of opportunity for Schadenfreude (no that’s not a chess term!)
Well, my wife and I moved house on the 10 August and our new house (pictured) is really nice. I haven’t yet got around to making one of the bedrooms into a ‘chess den’, but I hope to do that eventually after we’ve finished ‘settling in’ (btw – why, when you’ve moved house, does everyone ask if you’ve ‘settled in’ ok? What does it mean? How will I know when I’ve finished settling in? I lived in my last house for 7 years and I never did manage to remember which light switch was for the hallway and which was for the landing).
Anyway, moving house is regularly cited as one of the most stressful things that you can do, and they’re not wrong. The moving day itself went quite smoothly, but we had to pay off a £40 debt that the previous owner (hereafter known as ‘The Swine’) had run up on a meter, in order to get the electricity to work. It turned out that the £40 debt was just the tip of iceberg as The Swine was about to have the house repossessed! Arggghh! I live in dread that bailiffs will knock on my door in the near future and I will have to politely explain to them (as they flex their muscles menacingly) that I am not The Swine and persuade them not to take all my possessions away!
To add insult to injury, The Swine hadn’t cancelled his telephone service so I had to make endless mobile phone calls to his and my telephone service providers just to get my own phone line – it took 3 weeks! All the while I continued getting phone calls from his creditors. Never mind, once I had my own phone line, I ordered broadband again (I couldn’t just transfer my old service for some bizarre reason – don’t ask!) and now I’m back online at last – hooray!
During the month I spent without the internet I discovered the simpler pleasures in life like reading, long walks, the sound of birdsong … oh, who am I kidding? If it hadn’t been for chess I would have gone completely crazy!
It's good to be back and I should be able to blog again more regularly from now on.
Sunday, 9 September 2007
Anyhow, I have been promised an internet connection by the 14th September, so I hope to start blogging again regularly after that.
Thanks for your patience - I'll be back asap.
Sunday, 29 July 2007
I'm an easy-going kind of guy. It usually takes a lot to upset or annoy me. For instance, my 12 year old washing machine has just broken - a few weeks before I am due to move house. I managed to brush it off with a shrug and a laugh (it helps that my very nice mother-in-law has offered to wash my clothes).
There is, however, one thing which is guaranteed to get my goat and quickly have me foaming at the mouth like a lunatic: People using chess as a simile for totally inappropriate things.
Don't know what I mean? A few examples from a quick Google search should help (I'm not making these up).
* Marketing is like a game of chess
* An appellate brief is like a game of chess
* Writing is like a game of chess
* Beating hackers is like a game of chess
* Relationships are like a game of chess
* Federation Cup Tennis lineups are like a game of chess
* Contemporary Warfare is like a game of chess
* Fighting Cancer is like a game of chess
* The Soccer U-20 World Cup is like a game of chess
* Californian politics is like a game of chess
* 'Cold Reading' by psychics is like a game of chess
* Fencing is like a game of chess
* Search Engine Optimisation is like a game of chess
Argggggggh! None of those things are like a game of chess - and that's just a small sample of some of bizarre things that people compare to chess. Why do people who wouldn't know a rook from a bishop think they understand chess well enough to compare it to something else?
It seems that chess is usually used in this way to indicate something that is strategically complex and requires careful thought. Fair enough, but that doesn't make any of them actually like chess, does it?
This sort of lazy thinking drives me crazy, and I reserve special scorn for those who have some experience of chess and yet STILL use chess as a simile - you know who you are. I say it's time to take a stand - ban the chess simile now!
End of Rant. Normal service will be resumed in my next blog post!
I have many so many faults in my chess that's it's hard to know where to start to improve. I think that identifying a fault is often the easy part; correcting it can take a lot of effort and practice.
Fortunately, There is one area in which I think I have made some progress and it concerns what the Scottish GM Jonathan Rowson calls "Egoism" in his book "The Seven Deadly Chess Sins".
By egoism, Rowson means being so caught up with your own grandiose plans and ideas that you forget to consider what your opponent might be trying to do. He (or she) will have plans too and if you don't take steps to counter them you are likely to meet a sticky end!
I tend to do this myself and there are two things which have helped me counter it. Firstly, after every move my opponent makes I ask myself, "What is the devious blighter up to now?" I try to put myself in my opponent's shoes.
Secondly, I try to look at the board from the other side. Playing on a computer screen you can just flip the board around; playing OTB you can walk behind your opponent and have a look. It's surprising what a difference this simple act can make. A position can look very different when seen from your opponent's perspective. You may see ideas for both sides that were not obvious from your own side of the board.
I hope this tip can help others as it has helped me. That's one deadly sin down, just 6 more to go!
Sunday, 15 July 2007
The 2007 US Women's Chess Championship is starting tomorrow in Oklahoma and should provide some interesting chess games. However, I must admit to having mixed feelings about women-only events in chess.
Lots of sports have separate tournaments and competitions for women. Indeed, there are many contact sports where men and women would never compete with each other due to their physical nature e.g. American football, or rugby. Other sports are non-contact sports but still require a degree of physical strength which tends to give men an advantage that no woman, however talented, could overcome e.g. tennis or golf.
So where does that leave other sports that do not require physical strength? Sports like snooker, pool, poker, darts and chess?
There is no reason, in theory, why women should not be able to play these sports as well as men. So why should there be women-only events here as well?
Clearly, there are some short-term advantages in terms of publicity; but is this outweighed by the long-term disadvantage of settling for competition among women only, instead of playing - and beating - men?
I think Judit Polgar (pictured) has shown that in order for women to reach the top levels of chess, they should compete with men and not be sidetracked by the allure of big pay-days in better publicised women-only events.
Of course, that's easy for me to say. I'm not struggling to earn a living from chess; but isn't it ultimately the only way to succeed in a male dominated sport?
Saturday, 14 July 2007
Thursday, 12 July 2007
Thanks to my financial prudence and legendary miserliness I will shortly be moving from my current cramped 2 bedroomed home to a considerably bigger 4 bedroomed house. As my wife and I don't have any kids, there should be plenty of room for both of us to use for whatever we want.
Up till now, when I've played chess at home, I've had to squeeze into my spare bedroom, a.k.a. the study, the gym, the junk room etc. In our new home, I should be able to use one of the bedrooms as a chess 'den'. I'll be able to have all my chess books in their own bookcase and my chess board and pieces on permanent display ready to be used.
I'll just have to persuade my wife that a chess den is a good idea. A while ago that might have taken some serious coaxing and pleading on my part, but since my wife recently developed an interest in chess, it shouldn't be a problem!
So where do YOU play chess?
Sunday, 8 July 2007
Despite having a name which sounds like a bizarre chess related fetish, this is truly an excellent site with lots of interesting content. News, interviews, player profiles, event coverage, photos, videos, annotated games and lots more.
A particularly nice feature is the live annotation of games from current events. I have just finished watching their coverage of Anand v Topalov in the final of the rapid tournament in Leon and it was very well done.
Definitely a website to grace any chess fan's 'bookmarks'.
Sunday, 1 July 2007
I love chess. "How much?", I hear you cry. A lot - honest. Most of my spare time is taken up with chess which makes what I am about to admit all the stranger.
I like to read my chess books (I've got about 50 so far, and plenty of space in my bookcase to fill with more) and spend lots of time contributing to websites like chess.com and the Chess Exchange. I'm now also teaching my wife to play chess and any impartial observer would surely attest to my fascination with the game. However, I have a dark secret that I must come clean about.
I love chess, but...
...I hardly ever actually play chess any more. No, really! I enjoy reading instructional chess books and writing blog entries and forum comments about chess, but I swear as I type this blog entry right now, I can't honestly remember the last game that I played. Was it a month ago? Perhaps. Even longer? Maybe.
Does anyone else have the same problem? What's wrong with me? Am I simply addicted to learning and have forgotten that the point is to actually play?
Have I become afraid of losing? Perhaps - a bit. I'm aware that when I used to play online at Playchess.com I would play a few times until I won a nice game and then would stop so I could end my playing session on a winning note.
But I don't think that's the whole answer. Can anyone suggest a way to cure my "Caissa Interruptus"?
Saturday, 30 June 2007
I have been happily married to my wonderful wife Catherine (pictured) for 7 years and although she loves me, she doesn't share my passion for chess. As a result, she has tolerated my addiction with (mostly!) good humour but has never expressed any desire to share in my hobby - until now.
A few days ago, and quite out of the blue, Catherine decided that she needed a hobby and since I play chess, she thought playing chess would be a good idea since I could help teach her and we would share an interest.
I wasn't sure if she was really serious or not, but the next day she asked me when she could have her first lesson. I was happy to oblige and have now given her two lessons and she seems to be enjoying it. She's also reading The Immortal Game (which I recommended) to learn a bit about chess culture.
I'm not sure how to react to this turn of events. I feel like I might be about to become a living example of this humorous story! Has anyone else ever taught their partner to play chess? If so are you still together after the experience?!
Saturday, 16 June 2007
The great Benjamin Franklin (pictured) was a big chess fan. His essay on the 'Morals of Chess' is well known. A flavour of his opinions can gained from this quote: "The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions."
Does playing chess really help develop transferable skills that can be used outside of the 64 squares? Great claims have been made for chess as an educational tool in more recent times but does anyone know of any peer-reviewed studies which have shown any measurable effect?
Among other things, I have read claims that chess can:
- improve concentration
- develop logical reasoning
- improve planning skills
- develop better calculating skills
- improve memory
- help improve attention span and develop patience
If all this is true then surely it should have a measurable effect that can be proven? It should also be introduced onto the curriculum in every school so that children can reap the rewards of regular chess play and study.
This seems to be the aim of an organisation called America's Foundation for Chess, but I can't find any hard evidence to back up these claims on it's website.
On the other hand, George Bernard Shaw thought that chess was 'a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever, when they are only wasting their time.'
So who is right? What do you think? Is chess good for you or is it a waste of time?
Friday, 8 June 2007
I have something to confess. I wish to seek forgiveness from the Goddess of chess, Caissa. My actions as a foolish youth have troubled my conscience for over two decades and I feel that I the time is right to prostrate myself before her and apologize to my unfortunate opponent.
When I was an impressionable young lad I read an excellent chess book called 'Chess for Tigers'. Unfortunately, I choose to interpret one part of the book in an unfortunate way. I no longer have a copy of the book, so I'll paraphrase as best I can - "A chess tiger doesn't care about making pretty moves or even playing the best moves - all he cares about winning".
With this advice fresh in my mind I reached a position in my next game where I hatched an evil plan to trick my opponent. Unfortunately I have lost all the gamescores to my earliest games, so I have simulated the position in the diagram above.
I moved my rook from e1 to c1, waited a few moments and then proceeded to shake my head, "tut" audibly at myself and generally put on quite a show for my opponent.
It was a contemptible trick to play. I was pretending that I had overlooked that I was leaving my pawn on e3 undefended. After a few anxious minutes and more head shaking and moaning from myself, my opponent (an elderly female player, which makes it worse for some strange reason) fell straight into the trap and took my pawn on e3 with her Queen.
At least I had the decency to feel guilty. I even considered not playing my next move, but after a minute or so I went ahead and played Bxh7 check, discovering an attack on my opponents Queen, ensuring victory. I went on to win the game, but the nagging sense of guilt remained. Even my team-mates were ashamed of me. "I won too", one of them gloated, "and I didn't need amateur dramatics to do it!"
So here I am now, many years older and hopefully a little wiser and I would like to publicly apologize to my opponent for what I did. I hope that my opponent and Caissa will forgive me!
Saturday, 2 June 2007
As I surveyed my face in the mirror this morning I reflected on the fact that although my hair may be starting to turn grey and also wear inexorably thin on the crown of my head (damn that male pattern baldness), at least I have gained the wisdom that comes from "experience" during my 36 years on this earth.
Then I thought, what wisdom? Sure, I know know that running with scissors in your hand is a bad idea and I should look both ways before I cross the road, but what about chess experience? What nuggets of wisdom have I accumulated in that sphere of my life?
I realised then that although I have read a lot of chess books and played a lot of chess games, I'm still confounded by this wonderful "game of kings" and perhaps that will never change. Even if I packed in my job and jetted off to Iceland for personal chess lessons with Bobby Fischer himself for the next 10 years, I'm very unlikely to get to be a grandmaster.
Perhaps chess improvement a bit like keeping fit. We promise ourselves that we will go to the gym 3 times a week, do sit ups every morning until it hurts so much we cry, and eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day like our chain-smoking doctor tells us to. But in reality we wake up too late to do the sit-ups, are so tired we collapse on the sofa when we come home from work, and the fruit dish hasn't seen any fruit since you brought some home from your last hospital visit.
So it is with chess. My best intentions to study go up in smoke as I succumb to the temptation to watch TV or check my favourite websites again. But does it matter? I enjoy playing chess and can't really imagine life without it. I'm just going to keep trying to improve, make lots of chess friends and enjoy myself. Who could ask for anything more?
Friday, 1 June 2007
Here's a question for you. Just answer quickly with your gut feeling: Bishop v Knight - which is stronger?
Of course, the standard answer to this question always begins with "It depends on...", but is there really an ultimate answer? There is even a book devoted to just this topic (if anyone has read it, please let me know what you think of it). But has anyone ever surveyed chess players with this question to find out what they think?
Mikhail Chigorin had a distinct preference for knights. Bobby Fischer was a fan of the bishop. What is your preference? What do you feel comfortable with?
I think I've discovered that I'm definitely a fan of the bishop. I recently reached the diagrammed position in a practice game with my Palm Chess Hiarcs (I'm Black, to move). I had just exchanged rooks 25...Rb8xRb3 26. c2xRb3 assuming that I was better in the endgame because I have a bishop against a knight. I proceeded to lose the endgame quite badly!
I would be interested to hear other players thoughts on the position. Would you rather be White or Black and how should the game continue?
If computer software could be designed to analyse all possible chess positions and assign values to the minor pieces, after millions of years of analysis what would it discover? If it produced an answer that bishops are worth 3.51 pawns and knights are worth 3.49 pawns we would have an answer, but would we be any the wiser?
Perhaps you have to understand the question to understand the answer. Like the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where the answer to the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything was discovered to be 42. You have to know what the real question is to understand the answer.
Monday, 28 May 2007
Thanks to The Closet Grandmaster for highlighting the very promising new chess website, www.chess.com.
So, apart from having the most desirable chess website address possible, what does chess.com offer? Well, it's designed to be a community based website with users actively contributing content. A lot of work has been done on the interface and it looks great - professional but friendly.
Membership is free and members are able to contribute to the community in many different ways. Apart from posting at the forum, members can also have their own chess blog on the site - a very nice feature! You can also upload chess related videos via YouTube and submit your own articles or news items.
You even get your own @chess.com email address. How cool is that?!
At the moment, you can only play against a computer opponent at chess.com, but a facility for members to play against each other online is promised within the next few weeks.
There's loads more at the site as well, like daily puzzles to solve. So what is missing? YOU! Chess.com is still in beta and is looking for members to join and try out the site, contribute content and report any bugs.
After trying it out myself for a few days I'm seriously impressed. Chess.com has the potential to be the best community driven chess website around and I recommend it to all chess players.
Friday, 18 May 2007
Seldom does the name Susan Polgar appear on the web or in print these days without the words 'assisted by Paul Truong' (pictured) following immediately after. It is therefore not entirely surprising that Susan and Paul have tied the knot and become more than just business partners, as reported at Susan's blog.
Best wishes to them both for a happy future together.
Monday, 14 May 2007
I'm currently reading 50 Essential Chess Lessons by Steve Giddins and would very much recommend it to any 'club' players like myself who are trying to improve.
Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England and regular contributor to the British Chess Magazine. Giddins states in the introduction to this book that he is trying to produce a modern version of Irving Chernev's 'The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played'. He succeeds spectacularly and even manages to improve on the old classic by adopting the more systematic approach of grouping the games together into particular topics.
The book is divided into 5 Chapters:
1. Attacking the King (3 Games)
2. Defence (4 Games)
3. Piece Power (10 Games)
4. Pawn Structure (25 Games)
5. Endgame Themes (8 Games)
I found the section on pawn structures to be particularly enlightening. All the games are chosen carefully to elucidate the theme being considered and at the end of each of the 50 games there is a list of 'essential lessons' to take from the game.
A pdf sample from the book can be found here.
Sunday, 15 April 2007
Next month marks the 10th Anniversary of Garry Kasparov's infamous match with Deep Blue. That match marked the first time that a chess computer beat a reigning world chess champion in a match. Of course, much recrimination followed that result, not least from Kasparov and his understandably bruised ego. Years later, the computer logs were published by IBM and the last vestige of doubt was removed. It was a fair match and Kasparov lost, which in an unofficial sense at least, made Deep Blue the world chess champion.
Of course, Deep Blue then did a "Fischer" as IBM packed up their bags and decommissioned their chess playing monster, having attained their objective and received a mountain of publicity that even they could not afford to buy.
It's tempting to view the match as a tipping point at which computers finally fulfilled the dreams of the original programming pioneers to surpass all human chess players. It's true to say that the last barrier had been broken for a chess computer, but the success was mainly achieved through brute force processing power rather than programming advances.
The real advances came later as more and more subtle features were built into the evaluation functions of chess engines. As computers 'understood' more, they gained in strength and no longer needed specialist hardware to defeat the best grandmasters.
Which leads us right up to the present day and the remarkable Rybka. Even at a conservative estimate, Rybka is stronger than any other chess engine by around 60 Elo points and now appears to have broken the 3000 Elo barrier.
A challenge has been issued by a poster at the Rybka forums, offering $1000 to anyone who can beat Rybka (under conditions which handicap the computer as much as is reasonably possible without actually giving a pawn odds).
I sincerely hope that no-one attempts to take up this challenge. The time for computer v human chess matches has surely passed. Let's face it - computers can now play better chess than humans. The real point to understand is that it doesn't matter. Chess computers are best used now to help us improve our understanding of chess through analysis of human games.
Can we declare the game over at last?
Wednesday, 11 April 2007
Well here it is at last - the finale to my game which I have been posting on this blog. I am attempting to follow the 'stream of consciousness' that swirls through my head when I play a chess game in order to root out any misconceptions and fallacies I might be labouring under.
This post starts off from the position after 23....Kg7 (see the diagram). You can play through the entire game using the arrows under the replay board below.
24. Nb6 I seem to have developed a bit of an initiative over the last few moves, so I tried to keep this going by threatening the bishop.
24...Bc6 25. Nd7 I think this forces the exchange of bishop for knight since the rook at f8 and the pawn at c5 are forked and if the rook moves away then Nxc5 protects the pawn at e4. If then b6 to remove the Knight, the a6 pawn is left hanging.
25...Bxd7 26. Rxd7 b5
Do I exchange pawns or not? I wasn't sure and went after the c-pawn instead.
27. Rc7 bxc4 28. bxc4 e5
Somewhat bizarrely, I missed this completely. I seemed to have forgotten that the e-pawn could actually move out of the attack from my rook!
29. f5 I wanted to avoid exchanging. fxe5 Rxe5 just seems to let Black protect the pawn at c5 and leaves my e4 pawn isolated and weak. I preferred to advance the pawn to f5, keeping the position closed and possibly entertaining thoughts of f6 in future.
29...Rc8 30. Rd7 Rcd8 31. Rfd1 Rxd7 32. Rxd7 gxf5 33. exf5 Kf6 34. g4 e4 35. Kf2 Re8 36. Ke3 h5
I had a long think here. I wasn't sure whether or not to play Rd6+ to win the pawn at a6 and give myself an outside passed pawn. I decided against this move because I like my rook where it is - attacking the pawn on f7 and tying Black's King to it's defense. Instead I tried to improve my worst placed piece - or in this case - pawn, and see what Black would do.
37. a4 hxg4 38. hxg4 Kg5
Abandoning the f pawn doesn't look like a good idea to me.
39. Rxf7 Kxg4 40. f6 Kf5 41. Re7 Rf8 42. f7 Kf6 43. Re8
I had seen this far when I took the f pawn and now expected Black to take back with the rook which should lead to a draw.
Kxf7 ?? Clearly this leads to a lost King ending. The computer is giving me too much now - even I should be able to finish the game from here without mishap. I played the last moves quickly and finished the game with a win - hooray!
44. Rxf8+ Kxf8 45. Kxe4 Ke8 46. Kd5 Kd7 47. Kxc5 Kc7 48. a5 Kb7 49. Kd6 Kc8 50. Kc6 Kb8 51. Kb6 Kc8 52. Kxa6 Kc7 53. Kb5 Kb7 54. Kc5 Kc7 55. Kd5 Kd7 56. a6 Kc7 57. a7 Kb7 58. a8=Q+ Kxa8 59. Kc6 Kb8 60. c5 Kc8 61. Kb6 Kb8 62. c6 Ka8 63. Kc5 Kb8 64. Kd6 Kc8 65.
c7 Kb7 66. Kd7 Ka6 67. c8=Q+ Kb5 68. Kd6 Kb4 69. Qc2 Ka3 70. Qb1 Ka4 71. Kc5
Ka3 72. Kc4 Ka4 73. Qb4# 1-0
I haven't checked the moves of this final post with Fritz, so there may be many things I have missed. I welcome your comments once more on my conduct of the game and if my moves and/or descriptions of my thoughts reveal any misconceptions that I should iron out of my play.
Friday, 6 April 2007
The analysis takes the form of a video of the game and an audio commentary. I've just had one of my games analysed by Josh Specht and was impressed by the results (if not the standard of my play!).
I think this is a great idea for a website because it is so interactive. In the spirit of Web 2.0 it allows people to come together to create their own content and benefit from interacting with others.
Join now before they start charging a fee!!!
Monday, 2 April 2007
Since former chess world champion Garry Kasparov retired from to chess in favour of politics to take on the Putin regime in Russia, he has raised his profile in the non-chess playing world and has apparently become a popular speaker on the lecture circuit.
With this in mind, he has published a new book entitled 'How Life Imitates Chess' to explain to hard-pressed business executives how to take the principles of success in chess and apply them to their help their businesses checkmate the competition. He is currently visiting the UK to do some promotional work as reported in some detail by Mig at The Daily Dirt.
I'm far from convinced that the game of chess has any genuine value when it comes to teaching business leaders how to run a successful organisation, although I'm sure Kasparov makes a compelling speaker at conferences.
Despite my doubts, I have to acknowledge that chess is nonetheless a popular subject for creating analogies of many other subjects, including life in general.
From Benjamin Franklin's 'Morals of Chess' which extolled the virtues of chess as a means to learning the appropriate morals for leading one's life, to Alexander Cockburn's impassioned critique 'Chess and the Dance of Death' which viewed chess as being utterly worthless and a waste of time, there are no shortage of opinions.
For what it's worth, I wish Kasparov all the best for success with his book, his lecture circuit endeavours and his campaign to wrest power away from Putin in Russia. However, I will confine my book buying to his more conventional chess books, like the 'My Great Predecessors' series, which I recommend wholeheartedly.
Does chess really have any value as a model for business decision making?
Friday, 23 March 2007
I have previously posted the moves of a game I am currently playing against Hiarcs 9.6 (for Palm) on my PDA. I am trying to set down my thought process on this blog in order that I can try to learn from my mistakes and find if there are any particular flaws in my thinking that I need to correct.
I am White and I have returned to the position after 13...Ng4 (see diagram). You can play along using the arrow keys under the board below.
The Knight at g4 creates some threats along the a7-g1 diagonal which I missed last time, so I decided to exchange it off straight away.
14. Bxg4 Bxg4
I was reluctant to do this because I didn't want to give Black the advantage of the two Bishops. Now I decided to unpin my Knight at c3 so that I can start to think of moving it to the nice square at d5, so I continued
15. Rac1 h6 16. Bh4 Qc5+
Fortunately I noticed that 17. Qf2 would lose horribly to Bd4!
Cleverly pinning my hapless Knight again. I was still concerned that Black had the two bishops and now took the opportunity to exchange one off.
18. Bd4 Bxd4+ 19. Qxd4 Qc5
I was a bit upset at this move, which I hadn't foreseen. I can't protect my Queen so I'm going to have to exchange Queens, which evens out the pawn structure - which I didn't want to do. Only later did it occur to me that I could have played Qf2, but this retreat seems to lose the initiative anyway.
20. Qxc5 dxc5 21. h3
I felt sure this was a good idea because I wanted to claim the newly open d-file with one of my rooks and so I needed to drive away the Black Bishop which is covering the d1 square. However, Fritz points out that 21. f5 is better (this was my plan when I originally played f4 earlier!), with threats to trap the Bishop.
21...Bd7 22. Nd5
I changed my mind from playing Rcd1 to playing this Knight move because I liked the threats it creates. Black can't play e6 to kick the bishop away because of Nf6+ forking the Bishop and King. Also e7 is attacked and Rfe8 is met by Nc7 forking the rooks. I was concerned that if I didn't play this move now black would play e6 and stop my knight from ever getting to d5.
22. Rae8 Rcd1 23. Kg7
This last move protects the f6 square so that black now threatens to kick the Knight away with e6.
So, that's where I've got to. I'm a lot happier with my position now than I was a few moves ago. Black no longer has the bishop pair and I have a nice Knight on d5 and more control of the only open file. But I'm concerned that Black may play e6 and kick my knight away from it's post and it looks like it would have to retreat.
I feel that despite playing more slowly I'm not looking very far ahead and missing obvious moves. I think I will try to adopt a more structured decision making thought process when at the board - somthing like that recommended by Dan Heismann at Chess Cafe. (pdf file).
As ever, I welcome your comments on the game and my lines of thinking. Am I along the right lines or am I missing the most important features of the game?
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
It's quite stylishly done and might convey the 'violent' undercurrent of the game to the uninitiated!
Sunday, 11 March 2007
I've been playing chess now, with varying degrees of commitment and enthusiasm, since I was 5 years old. I love to play the game, and I could just leave it at that - chess for it's own sake - and not worry about seriously attempting to improve. But as anyone who has ever played chess can attest, the desire to improve is usually strong and compelling.
So at the age of 36 - happily married, with no kids - I think if I don't make a serious effort to improve my chess ability now, I probably never will. I have enough spare time at weekends and some week nights to fill with something more interesting than watching TV or browsing the internet.
So I'd like to pick the collective brains of any readers that find their way here and ask how best to go about this. Now, I know this is probably the most asked question in chess (or a close second to 'Which way around does the chessboard go again?!), and I can probably guess what the answers will be (after all, I've answered this question to other players before myself at the Chess Exchange forum).
But what really works? I'd like to hear any personal experiences and opinions. I recently researched some information about my local chess league with a view to perhaps rejoining (I last played when I was 16) and was somewhat taken aback to discover many names I knew from more than 20 years ago still having pretty much the same rating. Is improvement really possible for the amateur player? Am I wasting my time on a pipedream?
One thing I am not going to do is join the Knights Errant in their Michael de la Maza inspired madness of endless repetition of tactics puzzles. Sure tactics are important, very important, but there's nothing more guaranteed to ruin my love of chess than following this blinkered plan which would surely leave no time for anything else. Good luck to the noble Knights - but I won't be joining you.
I've decided to try out a study plan suggested by Michael Goeller at his excellent blog, The Kenilworthian. In short, it has ten points as follows, with my interpretation for my own plan given after each point.
1. Study tactics, tactics and more tactics.
2. Do a limited amount of focused endgame training.
Go through Silman’s ‘Reassess your chess’ chapter on the endgame. Look for basic endings advice in Fundamental Chess Endings book by Muller & Lamprecht.
3. Commit to a single solid repertoire as Black and one as White.
With White, base the repertoire around the Sam Collins ‘An Attacking Repertoire for White’ book.
With Black against 1.e4 play the Caro-Kann using Joe Gallagher’s ‘Starting out’ book and Schiller’s ‘Complete Defence to 1.e4’ book.
With Black against 1.d4 play the QGD Tarrasch using Schiller’s ‘Complete Defence to 1.d4’
4. Play through lots of games.
Use the online chess databases to play through games in my openings where ‘my side’ won. Play through games collections:
- The Development of Chess Style
- The Most Instructive Games…Ever Played
- Understanding Chess; Move by Move
- 100 Selected Games (Botvinnik)
5. Read on strategy only as it relates to your openings or problems you have in your play.
6. Decide how to make decisions and practice it.
Use the Heismann Articles ‘A Generic thought process’, (14)’Initial and Final Candidate Moves’ (59), and ‘Improving Analysis Skills’ (45).
7. Get experience, and lots of it
Play at Playchess.com. Rapid games to help get experience of the openings I play. Also play against Hiarcs (on my palm PDA) regularly and save games into Fritz10 database for analysis.
8. Find a coach or mentor
9. Make a time commitment.
Start off with eight hours/week. I should be able to do at least 4-5 hours on the weekend.
Start off with eight hours/week. I should be able to do at least 4-5 hours on the weekend.
10. Find a chess partner.?
Any feedback on my ideas will be gratefully received. I seriously want to improve and want to use my time to the best effect.
Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Can you find White's next move in the diagram? Extra bonus points if you know who was playing and when!
A clue? The player with the White pieces is claimed by some to be the greatest player ever not to become world champion. The Black pieces belong to a world champion who in 1901, at the tender age of 13 defeated the national champion of his country in a match.
See if you can find the next move and name the players before I give the answer!
Saturday, 24 February 2007
I started playing and analysing a game in this previous post. I will continue on from the position shown on the left. A replayable board is below.
11.Qd2. Avoiding the discovered attack on my Queen by Nd5 that I missed previously.
11...a6. I was a little surprised by this. I expected Rc8 instead, which must be a decent move, but Hiarcs was still in its opening book so there have to be good reasons for this move. I can only think that it either aims to keep my knight out of b5, or alternatively prepares to play b7-b5.
At this point I tried to come up with a plan and decided that I would try to take advantage of the position of the Black bishop on e6 by playing f4 followed by f5.
Hiarcs was now out of its opening book, so I guess that my last move wasn't necessarily the best.
12...Qc7. I had realised that by advancing my pawn to f4 that my King might be exposed on the open b7-g1 diagonal, so I had expected Qb6+ to which I was happy to reply Kh1 tucking my King out of the way. Qc7 attacks the pawn at c4 again so I played
Fritz tells me this isn't a good idea, even though it seems an obvious move. Black attacks the c4 pawn, I defend the c4 pawn. It prefers Rac1 which develops the rook and indirectly defends the c4 pawn because Bxc4 would lose to various discovered attacks on the Black Queen and pins of the bishop on c4 against the Queen. However, the analysis required to justify such a move is beyond me at the moment - perhaps it always will be!
Creates potential threats along the weakened diagonal. I thought a lot here about whether or not I should exchange off the Knight with my Bishop. I didn't want to do it if I could avoid it, because I didn't want to give Black the Bishop pair. So I checked for danger and decided to play...
14. h3? Qc5+ 15. Kh1
Here I had analysed Nf2+ and decided that after Kh2 my King was safe, there were no more tactics and Black's Knight was virtually trapped. Fritz analysis shows I was wrong - I missed 15...Bxc3 Qxc3 16.Nxe4 winning an important pawn. However, Hiarcs played...
My heart sank at this. My Queen and Knight are both threatened, forcing an exchange of Queens. So much for my plan to attack!
14. Qxe3 Nxe3
Here I should have moved my attacked Rook and defended the Knight at c3 by playing Rfc1. Instead I tried to be clever and decided to attack Black's stranded Knight instead.
15...Rf3? 16. Bxc3 17. Rc1
Now when Black moves the Bishop I planned to take the Knight on e3.
Oops! Missed that completely. Well, actually I think I considered it for a fleeting second and thought I would play Rd1 or Rc2, but of course either of those puts the Rook en prise to the Knight.
Time for another takeback! I don't usually do takebacks, honest! But this is a computer opponent and I am trying to learn. 14.h3 appears to be my first serious mistake so I'll go back to there for my next post on this game.
Sunday, 11 February 2007
Chess websites across the internet are abuzz again with the latest cheating accusations. The Russian newspaper, Kommersant has published a video from an anonymous Dutch chess fan recorded at the recent Wijk Aan Zee tournament.
It purports to show Veselin Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov signalling to him during a game at the tournament. Danailov then exits the room, taking his mobile phone out of his pocket whilst leaving. The full video is shown below.
What you see when watching the video depends on your point of view. If you are suspicious and believe that Topalov may be cheating it is easy to imagine that Danailov's movements with his hand against his face and neck are signals which Topalov can decode and use to help him at critical stages of the game. Otherwise, there is nothing inherently suspicious about his gestures, although his haste to use his mobile phone (which he takes out of his jacket as he leaves), if repeated frequently, certainly would be cause for concern.
Some people seem to regard this as the smoking gun which shows that Topalov is cheating. Others that it is simply a smear campaign by Kramnik's Russian comrades. Both sides are becoming increasingly vocal and dirty with their off-board tactics as they try to persuade the chess world of their case, but the truth is unlikely to ever be clear since the evidence from both sides is circumstantial.
The real lesson from the recent allegations against Kramnik and Topalov, apart from the fact that all people, great chessplayers included, can be a paranoid bunch is that the chess authorities have to take urgent steps to ensure that big-money chess events are secure enough to ensure that cheating is not possible. Another necessary step, as noted by John Saunders at his British Chess Magazine Blog is the creation of a strong disciplinary system which will be an effective deterrent to anyone foolish enough to want to try to use a computer to assist them during a game.
I can't watch any great performance in track and field athletics these days without being suspicious that the athlete involved may have used drugs to enhance his or her performance. Let's grab the chess computer cheating issue by the scruff of the neck and ensure that computers don't ruin chess in a similar way.
Friday, 9 February 2007
Computer programs have come a long way since I first played with my 'Fidelity Chess Challenger 7' machine (pictured) when I was a boy in the 1980's. Whereas I could hold my own with Fidelity, the current World Chess Champion, Vladimir Kramnik recently lost a match against 'Deep Fritz' by a score of 4-2.
There are two main reasons for this dramatic improvement. The first is simple - speed. The version of Fritz that defeated Kramnik can calculate up to 10 million positions a second. The second is more subtle. Programmers are continually improving their machines so that they 'understand' chess better by evaluating positions more effectively.
The fact that a piece of chess software costing under £40 and running on a standard home PC can play as well as, if not better than a Grandmaster has led some commentators to predict the end of chess as we currently know it. However, I think the reality is quite different.
The advent of powerful chess computers and the proliferation of internet chess sites like the Internet Chess Club has created an upsurge in interest in the game. This has also been helped by the fact that chess is starting to shed it's nerdy image, helped in part by the increasingly high profile of some female players such as Judit Polgar, Susan Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk.
I still feel nostalgic for my old Fidelity machine from time to time and I suppose the clip below (using real sound samples from a Fidelity Chess Computer!) is a tribute of sorts! Enjoy!
Thursday, 8 February 2007
I thought that for the first time I would play a slower game against Hiarcs (no time control, just taking my time and taking moves back if I make a big mistake) and record my thoughts on this blog (a stream of chess consciousness) so that I can examine my thought process in more detail and try to discover what mistakes I am typically making and how I can improve.
My father taught me to play chess when I was five years old and I played regularly at a local club from the age of 9 to 15, before giving up competitive play when exams and life in general got in the way. I kept an interest in chess and resumed playing in earnest when I bought a PC and started playing against Fritz (and other players online).
My highest rating during my teen years was 1715 Elo (due in part to a slightly fortuitous win against a 2100+ player in a cup competition) and I estimate my strength to be around the 1600-1700 Elo mark now.
I hope my stream of consciousness blog entries will be useful for me and perhaps interesting to others. Here goes, I'm White; you can play along using the buttons under the board. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts - especially if you are a stronger player who can give me a few pointers!
1.e4 I've been a King's pawn player since I can remember and I don't see much point in changing now. 'Best by Test' as Fischer said. 1...c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6
So Hiarcs plays the Accelerated Dragon. My knowledge of theory isn't much (especially main line Sicilians since I usually play 2.c3) but all I remember is that you're supposed to play c4 and set up the 'Maroczy Bind'. 5. c4 Nf6 6. Nc3 d6
I had my first significant think at this point. I decided that my King would be a lot safer on the Kingside rather than the Queenside, so I would castle that way and I might as well do it quickly. 7. Be2 Nxd4
I was a bit surprised at this exchange. I think I'm usually surprised if Black chooses to exchange in this sort of position. I think that's because it seems to me that Black has exchanged off one of his developed pieces and brought my Queen to a nice central square.
8. Qxd4 Bg7
The disadvantage of my 'centralised' queen position is immediately clear! Black's bishop eyes it menacingly down the long diagonal.
9. O-O O-O
Is Be3 a good idea in a position like this? I'm always afraid of Ng4 attacking the bishop. Anyhow, I didn't see any tactics (not even any worthwhile discovered attacks from the g7 bishop) so I simply developed my last piece.
I tend to be wary of playing this sort of move because I think that Black will play h6 and simply kick the bishop back, making me waste time. But thinking about it a bit more, I was happy because if Black did that, then the h6 pawn would be weak and I might be able to attack it with Queen and Bishop in future.
This looks a bit odd at first brush because it blocks the Black e pawn, but Black doesn't want to advance the e pawn anyway since it would leave the d pawn weakened (on a half open file) and also it doesn't block in the other bishop because it's already been fianchettoed. On the plus side, it attacks the potentially weak pawn at c4. I was so concerned about this that I thought I would move my rook to the c file to prepare to support it. I still didn't see any tactics for Black.
11. Rac1 Nd5!
Oops! Damn it. I think I missed this move because I was so focused on what I thought was the point of Black's last move (to attack the c4 pawn) that I didn't realise that the bishop was also creating another threat by protecting the d5 square.
12. Qd2 Nxc3
No material will be lost, but my pawn structure will be shattered if I take back with my pawn at b2, leaving me with doubled and isolated pawns on a half open file.
I think it's time for my first take back. Much earlier than I'd hoped! I will resume in a future post from the position before I played 11. Rac1.
I feel I've learned something worthwhile here already. I should make sure that I think carefully about what my opponent's last move is threatening. There may be more than one threat and they may not be obvious. Also, I shouldn't forget to re-examine potential threats I've noticed before when the board position changes. A move from the knight at f6 to discover an attack on my Queen was an obvious threat and I should have checked all possible knight moves as a matter of course.
Monday, 5 February 2007
Sunday, 4 February 2007
This is to be my chess blog where I can spout off about my favourite game and I hope that some of what I write will be entertaining for fellow chess addicts. I won't make any predictions at this point of the sort of chess content that I will have here - I'll see how it goes and what feels right.
I'll start off where I finished on my old blog, with a picture of Lev Aronian, the joint winner of the Wijk Aan Zee tournament at Corus. Having joint winners strikes me as odd. Why not have a tiebreak to decide on a single winner? This is achieved in some tournaments by using a tiebreak scoring system, for example the Sonnenborn-Berger (S-B) system which uses the sum of defeated opponents scores. This is particularly useful in big open events, but perhaps less so in all-play-all events.
My preference would therefore be for rapid play-offs to decide the winner of Wijk Aan Zee. Time would need to built into the schedule to allow for this, but it would only need an extra day at most and would produce a single winner for the sponsor to parade to the world.