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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.