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Friday, December 30, 2011

Buying Chess Books

I read the year-end reviews looking for a chess book that may help me learn this fascinating and intricate game. The review for Chess Blueprints: Planning in the Middlegame by Nikolay Yakovlev seems interesting.

I download the sample pdf file and find the table of contents cover many of the subjects that are foreign to me ... areas were I do not play well in my games. I read the sample chapter and like the author’s style and think that maybe I could learn from him.

Next, I check the online reviews. Only one review on amazon.com. I did find two other reviews, both with praise. John Donaldson’s review on Jerry Silman’s site says “CHESS BLUEPRINTS is a solid middlegame book that will help players from 1800 to 2200 to learn the fundamentals.” ChessCafe.com has Steven B. Dow’s review says “For the player rated 1400-1800, it is the perfect book for learning strategy.” The Chess Mind, a blog by Dennis Monokroussos gave a range of “from around 1700-2000, give or take”.

Is the book beyond me? What do I do? It may help and is worth taking the chance. So I ordered it and hope it is one of the 10% that is helpful, readable and at an appropriate level. Not of the 90% that I try to read but does not ‘click’. These 90% gather dust in my bookshelves while waiting for my next attempt to fathom what the author is trying to say.

How do others decide?

P.S. Dan Heisman in his Novice Nook – The Most Common and Important Use of Tactics uses a model that says 800 rated players may make 16 material-losing tactical errors/game, 1200 rated players – 4/game, 1600 rated players 1/game and 2000 rated players 1/ 4 games. For a class C player, tactics are necessary but not sufficient.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Searching through White openings, looking for an alternative/addition to my current repertoire, I stumbled upon this. In the Veresov, after 3.Bg5 Nbd7, most of my chess engines recommend 4.Bf4. So thought I: Why not go directly to Bf4 on move #3? My grandmaster database has only a few games with this opening sequence. After running the scenerio through my chess engines, I thought I'd give it a try.

The d4-Pawn covers both c5 & d5. The c3-Knight covers d5 & e4. The f4-Bishop covers e5, giving the opportunity for a later Ng1-Nf3-Ne5. The symmetrical reply looks boring, but I think there is a way to break open the center with a slight advantage to White.

The reason for posting this practice game occurs on move #32. I am forcing a draw after sacrificing the exchange during an attempt to promote a pawn.

Lesson learned: Do not become so engrossed in a plan that you ignore other opportunities that may appear.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Blunder & Brilliancy

I thought I'd share a couple of my games by isolating the moves that made them memorable.

The first game I was defending against the King's Gambit. I had succeeded in getting a strong attack along the g-file. But I was so intent on pressing for the win that I neglected to notice my opponent moving out of the pin. On later analysis, my chess engine rated my move as a 15-point turnaround.

The other game has fonder memories. I was playing the Bird Opening against a much higher rated opponent. I had just finished sacrificing my Rook in an unsound attack in the center to counter his Queen-side attack. He moved his Queen back to complete his defense. I realized that trading Rooks was a losing proposition. Then I spotted this move. My opponent looked at it for a few minutes and quietly tipped over his King.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Queen's Gambit Declined

This recent change of chess partners in my daily practice games was suggested by a blog comment. I was getting spoiled by waiting for Fritz Sparring mode to make its obligatory mistake, then getting sloppy in the remainder of the game. So I am alternating between Fritz 12 Sparring & Friend. This is my second Friend game.

Lesson learned: If a plan is not apparent, then take the time to try to find one before giving in to the easy end.

Tommyg of The Prodigal pawn (http://prodigalpawn.blogspot.com/) had a nice review of the free program Scid vs. PC. It has several nice features, including a shootout function. Scid vs. PC suggested the continuation in today's game as part of its game analysis. I find I am using the program for many of my chess activities.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bellon Gambit

I forced the first 3 moves against Fritz 12 Sparring mode to play the Bellon Gambit in my daily practice game. I've been looking for a good gambit to play against the English when 1...Nf6 doesn't tempt 2.d4. This gambit looks interesting enough to add to my black repertoire, especially as a surprise weapon against Huffalumps.

Lesson learned: Keep looking for multiple good candidate moves even after a winning material advantage is obtained.

Although this game looks easy, when you make an early mistake in Sparring mode, Fritz often gets a good 'head of steam' and quickly wins. Sparring mode usually gives practice in winning a won game.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Modification of My Chess Improvement Regimen

At the bottom of this blog is My Chess Improvement Regimen, originally implemented in Sepember, with the latest changes. The primary emphasis is on active training when I am actually involved with the activity as opposed to passive reading and studying. I believe this regimen is helping, as I just recently passed the 1500 USCF rating threshold after being on a plateau for over 3 years.

Openings are reviewed daily to keep them in current memory. Main lines are studied to a depth of 8 moves, whereas minor lines are normally only 5 moves deep. This keeps most of my games in familiar territory going into the middlegame. Several different White openings are included to keep opponents from ‘booking up’ and my Black lines contain several gambits and traps.

Tactics are done from a collection of over 12,000 tactics on chesstempo.com with a selected rating of 1000 – 1300. The selection is significantly below my rating, but is meant to enhance my quick recognition of tactics during a game, not to test my ability to solve difficult problems. I am currently solving 60% within 60 seconds with a 96% success ratio.

Endgames are also done on chesstempo.com Paid subscribers there can practice endgames with scoring decreased by longer, but still correct, solutions. The website keeps track of my current score and selects endgame problems that correspond to that score.

Attacking has just recently been added. I have been noticing several of my practice games where I had a potential attack against the King. Many of these attacks were incorrectly implemented, so this area needs this specialized study.

Games are played against Fritz 12 in Sparring mode. Even after the obligatory mistake, and sometimes no mistake is made, Fritz continues to play at the level chosen. I win most of the games, which helps my confidence, but still must play seriously and carefully to do that most difficult of chess exercises – Win a won game.

Study is an as time permits activity from a book that doesn’t need a chessboard. The time permitted is typically while I grab a mid-day meal at the neighborhood fast food place or while I am waiting in line, waiting for wife, etc.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Veresov Attack 2

The Richter-Veresov Attack equalizes with Black's third move. This online, turned-based game is interesting as it shows the result of poor maneuvering in the middle game. The Richter-Veresov is a sound opening that surprises a lot of opponents, with many possible transpositions, including into a surprise French Defense.

Lesson learned: I did not see the 21.Ng4 alternative, thus need to expand my list of candidate moves, especially in difficult situations.

P.S. Dan Heisman said "Do as many basic (easy!) tactical problems as possible until you can do them very quickly. A goal might be 85%+ within 15 seconds.” Discouraging. After 3.5 months, my daily tactical exercises are showing 52%+ within 60 seconds, finding the correct solution 96% of the time! Probably one of the reasons why I don't do well in quick games.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Endgame Training Samples

As mentioned before, I do 5 endgame training exercises every day on chesstempo.com. The web site chooses endgame problems based on my current endgame rating. Problems are scored by how accurately the problem is solved, with inferior moves lowering the problem score. Examples:
The first move is ChessTempo's, often an incorrect move. Problems last until checkmate, the capture of a piece that simplifies the endgame puzzle or a bad move that allows a forced draw. A negative score can result by too many inferior moves or by moving into the forced draw. ChessTempo uses an endgame database to score the moves.
In both these problems, I made one or more inferior moves, but did receive a positive score for successful completion. The moves shown in the examples are the correct ones.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stafford Gambit 2

Another Stafford Gambit from an online game. My opponent played quite well against me when he had black. I attribute the result of this game to the surprise sudden attack that can come out of this opening.

Lesson learned: Openings are dangerous. Take special care as soon as it varies from your known positions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Endgame Training Progress

No club game to analyze this week, so I thought I would share my progress in the endgame practice on chesstempo.com. Every day for the last 2 months, I have attempted to solve 5 of the endgame studies that Chess Tempo selects. This is a chart of my progress.

At the bottom of this blog is an explanation of my current training activities. So far, this seems to work better than other regimens that I have tried. I was stuck in the 1400 rating range for over 3 years and I just crossed the 1500 rating threshhold (to be the published rating for January, 2012).

Chess is a combination of logic, pattern recognition and desire. I reached 1400 on the first. My regimen is based on adding the second. The third is what propelled Bobby Fischer to the top of this sport.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

French Rubinstein

Another online game. My opponent was probably expecting a Queen's Gambit, but 2.Nc3 quickly transposed into a French. As mentioned in a previous posting, many Black opponents are quite surprised to find themselves playing a French Defense.

Lesson learned: Always be on the alert for a trapped Queen ... or any other piece.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Missed Zugzwang

This is from my daily game against Fritz and is being posted, not to illustrate skill, but to show that there may be two methods of winning with an outside passed pawn. On moves #36 & 37, Fritz makes the mistakes typical of sparring mode and I capitalize on them to get a distant passed pawn. On move #43, I hustle back to capture black's pawns. A better alternative is to continue to push with c2+ and if White blocks on c1, Black can simply wait for White's pawns to self-destruct or to release the block. The comments are Fritz' analysis of Black's moves.

Lesson learned: There is more ways to win with an outside passed pawn than just for the King to hustle back & capture the opponent's pawns.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Budapest Gambit 4

This is a short online game where the Budapest Gambit pays dividends. I seem to be playing a lot of gambits this fall. I dumped my Alekhine e4 response, my Dutch d4 response & my white Bird to take up new and exciting openings. These openings are mainstream but unpopular and have several gambit opportunities in the lines that I play.

Lesson learned: The Budapest Gambit is dangerous against an opponent who is not prepared and is not careful.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stafford Gambit

Black's gambits are dangerous because black starts the game a tempo down. The Stafford Gambit arises from the Petroff Defense. This is the second time I have played it in rated competition. White makes 6 King moves in this game, moving to the B-file and back to his starting position.

My last 8 games contain 7 draws against higher rated opponents.
Lessons learned: (1) A recurring theme in my last games is being tired and thus offering a draw from a leading/winning position. Physical stamina needs work.
(2) My latest study regimen is paying dividends: faster play & quicker tactical recognition.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Confused Computer Analysis

A short turn-based game. It is interesting that Black made the computer recommended moves in a complicated position and came up short.

Lesson learned: Chess Engines need deep analysis before humans should take their recommendations as truth.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Budapest Gambit 3

The 4th round of the South Carolina Championship will not be posted. It was an early draw and an even game until the draw position. My opponent opened with the King's Indian Attack and I defended as black.
This game is from our club. It was played against the same opponent as "Budapest Gambit 2" and I did not fare much better.

Lessons learned: (1) Now I see why the book move #6 is better. It prevents the Queenside complications.
(2)Though my tactics have improved, they were inferior to a player of this class. Be careful when pinning a piece that can win somewhere else, it may result in a discovery for your opponent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Surprise French Defense

Round 3 of the South Carolina Championship. Playing against the Veresov Attack, after 1.d4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 Black is often surprised to find himself playing the Black side of a French Defense. This is the case in my game against a highly rated NC player.

Lesson learned: I need to study the French Defense variations that may occur in the Veresov Attack. In "A Ferocious Opening Repertoire", Cyrus Lakdawala said "In 2010, so far I have played nine Veresovs over the board and six of them turned into French ... Nf6 lines!"

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vienna King's Gambit

Round 2 of the South Carolina Championship. I am satisfied with my performance, playing good moves and keeping an edge on the clock.

Lesson Learned: The center pawn(s) need to be protected.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Veresov Attack

It was time to see if my new study schedule would show improvement, so I entered the South Carolina State Championship tournament. This is the first round ... a good draw against a higher rated, more experienced player.

Lesson learned: Tactical considerations need to be part of move analysis. See move #11 above, where I missed two choices when I did not see the offensive pin I could have utilized nor the defensive pin I moved into. Based on this and past games, pins may be my biggest tactical weakness.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Center Game

The club quick tournament did not produce any games worth review. Instead, here is an online game where my opponent developed quickly and was even going into the middlegame. Unfortunately for him, he made a series of errors which quickly culminated in checkmate.

Lesson learned: One little tactic will sometimes break the game wide open.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fritz 12 Sparring 2

I did not have a game last Thursday at the club. An occasional visitor had driven ~50 miles and arrived after the pairings. I gave him my spot, so that his trip was not for naught. Instead of a rated game, I'll share another computer game (the analysis is Fritz'):

Lesson learned: advice, which I am trying to follow, from 'Chess for Zebras' by Jonathan Rowson
"If you want to get better at chess you need to place much less emphasis on 'study' whereby you increase your knowledge of positions, and place more emphasis on 'training,' whereby you try to solve problems, play practice games, or perhaps try to beat a strong computer program from an advantageous position."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Trompowsky Attack

I am learning new openings, as my Bird is too often played at our chess club. This is the Trompowsky Attack. We morphed into a variation that lead to a advantageous version of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. My opponent declined the pawn on f3 and I was out of my known book at move #7.

Lesson Learned: I am taking too much time for moves. I missed a mate-in-4, so I need to work on my calculation skills.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fritz 12 Sparring

I had a bye last night at the chess club. Instead of missing a week's posting or reviewing an older game, I thought this game that I played against Fritz 12 Sparring would be of more interest. I have been trying various programs to find one that most simulates what I experience in OTB games and this game is from my latest try.

Lesson learned: It is worthwhile to set problems for your opponent.

Friday, September 9, 2011

King's Gambit Accepted

Tonight's game was played with one idea in mind: to develop my pieces to their best position. This strategy worked well, no defensive mistakes. I did, however miss the variation 20...Qxe4, which would have freed my pieces and potentially exchange into a winning endgame. Overall, one of my better games in the last few months.

Lesson learned: Slow and steady wins the race. Also, see my thoughts on Dan Heisman's Looking for Trouble in an earlier post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Levitsky Attack

An online game to explore new openings. Although won, I did not like the early position resulting from 2.Bg5 without pinning the f6 Knight.

Lesson learned: During the heat of the battle, I am making some poor moves, probably due to not selecting enough candidates. When you see a good move, look for a better one.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Budapest Gambit 2

This is the first time I have played the Budapest Gambit in a USCF rated game. More study is needed of the basic variations. Also, my tactical analysis is not sufficient for this level of competition.

Lesson learned: Surprisingly, Shredder11 preferred my 6...Ngxe5 at depth 15. This move was not found in my database search. One should not rely solely on the output of a chess engine in lieu of chess theory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Looking for Trouble

Maybe some viewers have seen my recommendation on Dan Heisman's book web page. This is the game that inspired me to email Dan in praise of his book.

I emailed Dan: "I have bought (too?) many chess books, looking for those that will help. My judging criteria is simple: The book must be worth reading multiple times and what the book teaches must help me win. So, I bought "Looking for Trouble" as a filler to get amazon.com's free shipping. Soon after starting reading, I knew it needed multiple readings. Then, last night, at our club's tournament, I got behind in development because of a dumb move. I asked myself "What does Dan recommend?". I started looking at every opponent move's threats and looked for a good response, that would both answer the threat and improve my position. 90 minutes later, my opponent resigned. Thanks to your book!!!"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Quick Game

This is a 20 minute, sudden death tournament game at the club. Three games were played, but this game was the only one worth annotating. The other two games had foolish mistakes typical of my experience with quick games.

Lesson learned: Quick games are good for experimenting with openings, but for slow thinkers like myself, not good for much else.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Budapest Gambit

What I like about turn-based online games is the ability to sample different openings without affecting your USCF rating. The Budapest Gambit has the potential to mess up White's pawn structure as compensation of a lost Black pawn.

Lesson learned: The books say that Black should not play gambits as he is already behind by a tempo ... but they are kinda cool.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Noah's Ark

Last week, I explained why my Bird Opening should exchange White's good Bishop for Black's Knight. This game, I did not follow my own recommendation because Black could retake with his other Knight. Black showed me why this was a mistake.

My White Bird is getting overexposed, especially with a Class A club member who also touts the opening. I am preparing a change to my primary white opening (one which also does not have a lot of theory to memorize) but will leave the Bird as a secondary, fallback opening.
Lesson learned: Next time take the Knight with the Bishop and advance the a-pawn to keep the other Knight out of my territory.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Positional Win

Last night's game was against a young, tactical club member. After my recent, sometimes embarrassing losses, I wanted to be especially careful of my defense. When his Black Queen moved to the Queen-side, I locked up the center and attacked on the King-side.

Lesson learned: Like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady works best.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Trapped Pieces

With Black last week, I was expecting White. Regardless, I would not have been prepared for the Falkbeer variation of the Vienna Game. My opponent was an improving young club member. He was able to take advantage of my first trapped piece and to find a method to trap a another.

Lesson learned: Defensive tactics are just as important than offensive tactics. I need to especially be aware of pieces with a limited range of movement.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mate in Eight

This is an online game where I experiment with a Black Gambit.

Lesson learned: Sometimes an opening trap works!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thought Process Error

This is the Hobbs-Zilbermints Gambit response to the Bird Opening. Fritz’s book only extends 7 ply deep. My opponent, a strong Bird player, did not think the gambit was sound. My belief is that most openings are sound at the class level. I will let Fritz12 and Shredder11 search for better continuations for the next opportunity to play this gambit.
The game was lost at move #14, but my gracious opponent was not upset when I played on for the experience.

Lesson learned: Blunder check! 3 recent games were lost with hung pieces and one missed win due to this error in my thinking process. If it is not corrected, a swift return to class E is in the near future.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trapped Queen

As I was improving my position, Black moved his Queen into my territory. I blocked his retreat and executed a favorable trade. Being a piece up, the rest of the game was just a matter of technique.

Lesson learned: Look for opponent's pieces that do not have a good escape path.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lost Tempi

I play the Bird to avoid the memorization required for most mainline openings. It leads to fairly quick development, but immediately gives Black equality.

Lesson learned: If ahead in development, open the center.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lots of Tactics

This G90 game was against a strong tactical player. He was weak on positional knowledge, but not weak enough to offset my tactical weakness. A long game as we were the last game to finish in round 1.

Positional play only increases the likelihood of favorable tactics. All games are ultimately won by tactics.
Lesson learned: My 6 month hiatus from chess study really shows. Back to a daily regimen of tactics. I should also never chose a tactical line without knowing the tactical strength of my opponent.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bird Orang-utan

I had added the Bird/Orang-utan to my repertoire and this was the first time I played it in rated competition.

Lesson learned: When playing for a draw, keep watching for a winning tactical sequence, especially if/when the opponent offers the draw.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Lucky Win

Almost a classic win. First get an early lead, then exchange into a winning endgame. I was lucky that my opponent did not see a game-tying move during that exchange.

Lesson learned: Be especially careful with the analysis when offering a major exchange.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Missed Opportunity

I had just changed my Petroff Defense to add a Gambit. With an opponent that I was not expected to beat, this seemed the ideal time to try it out.

Lesson learned: Never make an automatic recapture. Treat a capture like any other move and look for all checks, captures and threats.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Best Win

The From Gambit is highly tactical and I was reluctant to use it against a highly rated player. Thus the Balogh counter-gambit with colors reversed. This is the first time I used it in regular competition.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Worst Loss

To make matters worse, a win in this game would have gotten my rating over 1500 ... which I have been trying to do for the previous 3 years.

Lesson learned: Two things must be looked at after your opponent's move. (1) What does the move threaten? & (2) What has changed? If I had looked for what was changed, I should have seen that the pawn was no longer pinned.

My Best Comeback

This is my best comeback from an early mistake.