A More Professional Approach

For a couple of years now I’ve been bouncing between 1750-1850 Elo.  Generally I manage to split the difference and dance around the 1800 mark, but if I’m going to break out of that I need to find a way to make that happen.

For the first four years of my return to chess I was gaining about 100 Elo per year on average.  I had wild swings of 150+ points at time, but generally everything was trending up.

The past two years, however, have been something else altogether.  So I took a step back and really looked at what I was doing in those four years, and what I’ve been doing for the past two, and did my best to evaluate the situation as a whole so I can decide where to go next.

The biggest realization that came from this exercise was realizing the main reason that I was gaining the rating I did from 2011-2015 was most likely just latent talent and had practically nothing to do with work.

What I mean by latent talent is that I hadn’t reached my full potential when I started to play as a kid.  My initial tournament career was from 1988-1992 and I was routinely gaining points during that entire time.  In fact, my last five tournaments from that time are included in my stats on the US Chess MSA page.  From November 1991 to March 1992 I went from 1461 to 1526.  I have no reason to believe that I wouldn’t have continued to grow at that pace for a while.

So when I came back to chess in 2011 there was still some room to grow on raw talent alone.  Yes, I worked to speed it along, but I didn’t necessarily have a professional enough approach to working.

If I was going to solve tactics I would often just grab a book and slouch down in a comfy chair and glance at the pages and just decide that since I thought X was the answer then X must be the answer.  No need to write things down or verify them, just take my decision as gospel.  The downside is that means that while I was probably right more often than not, there is no way to know how many of those problems I not only didn’t solve correctly but may have even reinforced bad habits with.

Lately my approach has been much more methodical.  Thanks to the Quality Chess Challenge I have focused on a much more solving heavy routine.  However, rather than simply glancing and deciding that I’m right I write everything down.  I then compare my answer to the one given, and I am very harsh on my grades.  If I got something mostly correct but not completely, then I’m considering the answer to simply be wrong.

When I take this approach I don’t sit in an overstuffed chair while I slouch and half watch TV/half solve problems.  Instead I fully commit and sit at a table where I can write.

The hope is that a professional approach will lead to professional results.  Time will tell in that arena.  In a future post I’ll lay out my plan to play in more events so that I can maximize my chance for improvement to be reflected in my rating.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Still Lots of Work to Do: Luevano-Wainscott 0-1

Last night I played a game at the Southwest Chess Club which I won, but not without a struggle.  In fact, I didn’t win this game at all.  My opponent lost it.

This shows me that although I am doing quite well with Yusupov that I can’t stop now since I really need to improve the level of my strategic play drastically from where it is now.

Here is the game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Artur and the Lads

Recently I wrote about the concept of deliberate practice and the fact that I was essentially doing anything but.  Sure, I’d get a lot of time in, but that didn’t necessarily translate to useful study in every instance.

So over the past several days I’ve buckled down.  The main thing that I have worked on is building up a solving-heavy study routine.

I have worked through several chapters of Yusupov, which really should be my main focus anyhow.  Along with that I have solved some of Glenn Flear’s puzzles in Tactimania.  On the days where I don’t do Yusupov chapters I have found myself working on other Quality Chess books such as Positional Decision Making in Chess by Gelfand, or Playing 1.e4 e5 by Ntirlis.

As a quick side note, Nikos proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that one does not need to be a GM to write a good opening book, although I doubt that there are too many more out there like Nikos who put in the time and dedication needed to truly understand what they are doing in spite of not having a title.  Nikos is a strong player and it shows.

The main focus, however, is solving.

Solving is as close to a person can get to recreating OTB conditions, and that’s the key.  It’s also really important to take the time to understand why “move X” doesn’t work when you chose it for your solution.  Doing this will help your board vision, and in my case that is what I have been desperately lacking.

Not too long ago if I was working through a tactics book (which was really the only kind of solving I did much of) I’d either assume my solution was correct without having written it down and checked it, or if I checked the answer and saw that my guess was just that – a guess, and not correct I wouldn’t try to understand why if it wasn’t immediately apparent.

Now I’m doing my best to completely deconstruct the puzzles that I don’t find the correct answers for.  I’m trying to understand where the blind spots are.  My hope is that in doing so they will begin to be corrected as I improve the other aspects of my game.

From a practical sense it’s hard to tell if what I am doing is having much of an impact right now.  The reason for that is because I’m still only playing the one game a week with no weekend tournaments.  That will change next month as I have the Arpad Elo Open (yes, THAT Elo) coming up.

So my goal right now is to focus intently on preparing for that event.  It will take place on May 20th & 21st.  Five rounds over two long days.  For my foreign readers I should explain that three long rounds on a Saturday is sadly common here in the USA.  So my day will begin at 10am and could run easily until 12:30 am the next morning.

I assume that if I could go to Europe and play in a bunch of one round a day events my results would improve dramatically 🙂

To prepare I will mostly just keep doing more of the same.  I’d like to finish the first Yusupov volume (I am exactly halfway done) and all of the critical stuff in Nikos’s book as well.

Assuming I can get myself into reasonable playing shape this should get me heading down the road to real improvement.  So far in two months I’ve managed only half of Volume One of Yusupov because I’ve allowed myself to get too distracted with other books.  No longer.

It’s time.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

 

Ljubojevic – Miles Tilburg 1985 0-1

I just heard Ljubomir Ljubojevic refer to this game while commentating at Shamkir.  What great technique by Miles.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Deliberately Practicing Deliberate Practice

Something I have written about before is the concept of deliberate practice.

Intellectually I could speak about it at great length, but right now I’m more focused on the pragmatic aspects.  Specifically my current training regime which primarily involves books by Quality Chess and analysis of my own games.

I’ve read many different articles and blog posts which say that one of the most important aspects of trying to improve is to make sure that you enjoy what you are doing.  This often comes in the form of advice to “study whatever you feel like today” with little thought given to the overall methodology of the approach itself.

The problem that I have started to have with that way of thinking is that it is in direct conflict with a saying I saw Jacob Aagaard repeat in his Calculation book in the GM Prep series.  That saying is “Improvement begins on the edge of your comfort zone.”  My apologies to the originator of that statement, but I cannot recall whom Jacob attributes it to.

Those two statements can not coexist.  One or the other can be correct, but not both.  So it’s time for me to decide which direction is right for me.

The truth is that I have been going in the first direction for quite some time.  I do what I want when I want how I want with little regard to the overall curriculum.  It’s time to change.

Deliberate is the most important part of the phrase deliberate practice.  Many things are practice, few of them are deliberate.

So with that in mind my new program needs to be heavy on solving.  The fact is that typically I get involved in some solving and then I get tired of it.  I slip into the laziness so many chess players experience and I don’t want to spend an hour or two solving hard problems that make my head hurt.  I’d rather just play through some games.

Then I start playing through some games but come to a section where there are two pages of analysis on just one or two moves, so I justify skipping over them by repeating the bit about having to enjoy the things I’m studying.

Before too long I’ve spent some time shuffling wood, but not really learning in a proper environment.

So here is how the change will occur.  My plan now will be this:

  • Solving one page (six problems) from Glenn Flear’s book Tactimania as a warm up.  This is literally just to prime the pump.  Nothing more.
  • Working through a chapter of Yusupov.  Exercises, variations, everything.
  • With whatever time is left I will play through a ton of GM games in my database of whatever opening I am working on at the time.
  • After three days in a row of Yusupov I will switch and allow myself a chapter of something else.  Romanovsky, Gelfand, etc.
  • One day per week the session will consist of one hour of Tactimania followed by analysis of my own games.  Typically the one I played that same week.

I feel reasonably confident that I may not like everything I outlined above since it’s work, but I will do it and I imagine I will begin to see real improvement.

Now, off to Yusupov!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Bhattacharyya, R – Wainscott 0-1

This past Thursday the great 1…e5 experiment continued in a game against Rishav Bhattacharyya.

My personal philosophy when it comes to playing kids is that it’s important to run up a huge score against them when you still can, because as they get older (and much better than you!) it’s surprising how often they will also remain slightly afraid of you and you can score some points and half points that you might not otherwise be able to.

I’m annoyed with my inaccuracy in the opening and with my horrendous move that threw away my advantage almost completely at the end.  Other than that I’m relatively pleased with my play.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Just Back From the US Championships

First of all, let me begin by saying congratulations to both first time champions, Wesley So and Sabina Foiser.

I know it’s been a while since I was able to write any updates here on anything, but I’ve been away.

Some memories I will take with me for some time to come…

Meeting not only Sabina, but also her fiancé, Elshan Moradi Abadi.  What a great guy (not to mention strong GM!) he is.  I was fortunate to have a drink with them on Sunday night as she was celebrating her victory.

The Sunday night get together at the Chess House.  It was fun to see everyone socializing and getting some bughouse/blitz action going.  Not only do the players and commentators get together, but there are always a dozen or so other titled players in the form of seconds, journalists, visitors, etc.  I had a wonderful time getting to hang out with folks like Hikaru and Yasser and the gang.

Eric Hansen.  This guy really delivers on the “Canadians are nice people” stereotype.  He’s a damn fine commentator who seems to have a very bright future both behind the commentary desk and over the board.  I promise you I will be rooting for the Montreal Chessbrahs in 2018!

A Taste of Lebanon.  Great restaurant in the Central West End.  It’s been there forever but this was the first time that I ate there.  I highly recommend the falafel and the spicy potatoes.

Gata Kamsky.  What can possibly be said about this guy that hasn’t already been said a million times over.  We have a good friend in common and so I have been lucky enough to spend a little time around Gata.  He’s always an interesting conversationalist.

The Saint Louis Chess Campus.  OK, at this point I’ve been there numerous times over several years, but really, it can’t be said enough…this is a great place for chess fans to be.

Now I have a couple of articles to work on for various topics.  One for Chess Life Online and another for American Chess Magazine.  So it’s back to the grind.

While gone I did some work on chess as there was a lot of live analysis between friends and I at the US Championships, along with solving some tactics.

Tonight I also get back to work on some Quality Chess books to get back on that horse as well.  I have a new tournament starting in two days.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Centralization and You

OK, not you…me.  Centralization and me.  My understanding seems to be the same as trying to combine oil and water.  I can swish it around as much as I want, but I can’t get it to mesh.

I say this based off of my performance in the chapter on centralization in the first Yusupov book.  OK, on the one hand I scored 12 points, which is the minimum passing grade.  So that’s something.  On the other hand, this is a concept that I struggle with.

So how to fix it?  How can I go from oil and water to just pure water?

Well, it seems like this one is going to take a lot of deliberate practice.  So my current plan is to play through raw game scores of a couple of hundred GM games a week and pay attention to this theme.

If someone out there has a better/smarter way I am all ears.  In the meantime, playing through those scores (likely through TWIC on my laptop) won’t take too long at all and I should be able to learn a thing or two.

Take this game for example, played at the recently concluded Shenzhen Masters (won by Ding Liren in a strong performance.)  Notice how Giri manages to centralize the bishops allowing him to pressure White.

I’m also going through that chapter over and over again to try to get the message to sink in.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Misunderstanding All You See

This lyric from the great John Lennon pretty much sums up my performance this past Thursday.

Here is a position.  It’s White (me) to move.  I have decided that I can’t win this position after having felt like I was better.  I decided to just play a move and offer a draw, but I didn’t really take a look to figure out how Jim might try to win this (third misunderstanding – why third and not first?  You’ll see that I misunderstood things earlier as well!)

So I play 41.Kf3?? and it’s the losing move.  After the game I felt that I could have played “either Kd3 or f4 and would have been fine.”  But f4 also loses since I can’t keep the Black king from getting the c4 (fourth misunderstanding.)

In this earlier position my opponent, Jim Coons, has just played …Kh7 and offered me a draw.  I felt I was better (first misunderstanding) and then felt that it would be easier to win this without queens since I’d no longer need to worry about keeping his queen out of my position (second misunderstanding) and so I played 33.Qe7 and Jim immediately traded queens.

After the game Jim told me that he felt that I was lost from this point on and I strongly disagreed.  He looked at the game on his iPad with Stockfish and told me the computer agrees.

I wasn’t going to disagree with the computer per se, so I ran it through Stockfish 8 on my laptop and after thinking for a while the machine agrees that while slightly worse, overall I’m fine here.

However, where I missed the boat was in not understanding that with the queens still on the board then all of the typical zugzwang motifs in these same colored bishop endings are negated.

Here is the entire game – featuring 9.Rb1, a move that shows I really need to work on this opening!

Had I drawn this game my rating would have remained relatively flat for this tournament, but as it was I lost 16 points, dropping me to 1785 and leaving me with a lot of work to do in the Publisher’s Challenge.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott