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

 

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

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

Training Update

It’s been a while since I last posted a training update, so there are a few things to go over!

First, the fact that I have not written about training in a bit certainly does not mean that I have not been doing any!

Two weeks ago I was on the road for work, and what else does one have to do in a hotel room after work other than study chess?  Certainly nothing productive.

So for three straight days I got off work at 4pm local time, made it back to the hotel and had dinner and a break by 5:30 and then spent the next three to five hours studying chess!

I was getting through a couple of Yusupov chapters per day, along with a bit of Positional Decision Making in Chess by Boris Gelfand and some of Nikos’ excellent book on playing 1…e5.

Granted, this was only for a few days, but I actually found the increased activity level refreshing.

After than the level of study dropped off a little bit, but mostly due to life interfering.  When I made it back to Wisconsin I only had about half an hour to spend at home relaxing and then it was right into the car to drive an hour and a half up north to function as one of the tournament directors for the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Championships.

I wasn’t able to get much work in that way, but I did get in a late night analysis session with a couple of friends, so it was better than nothing.

However, when I made it home and was ready to resume studying we had some flooding in the basement of our house, and I lost a couple of days of study time to dealing with cleaning up the mess left from that.

However, by Thursday I was back in the saddle and won the game in my previous post.  Clearly I have some room to improve there as well, but at least things are heading in the right direction.

Tonight was a good session of Gelfand, and after I finish typing this I am going to hop in to a chapter of Yusupov as well.  Speaking of the Yusupov Challenge, you can see Jacob Aagaard discuss this topic with the author himself on a Quality Chess Vlog here.

Speaking of Jacob, I went to him for some nutritional advice, and he really delivered.  My wife and I were both very grateful for the advice he gave and I can say that the past several lunches I have had were mostly vegan and there are more to come there.

I remain convinced that improving my diet will help me study with a much higher level of focus that I am currently bringing to the table.

So all in all my work on the Quality Book challenge seems to be progressing around a month and a half in.

My rating remains flat, but my playing schedule will pick up as the year goes on and I will have many more chances to put my increased knowledge to work.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

 

Lucky, Not Good

There is a saying that it’s better to be lucky that good, but that’s not the case in chess.  OK, rating wise, who doesn’t want some luck, but that won’t make you better in the long run.

Take this position from the game Wainscott – Gill from two days ago.

Seeing the threat against the queen the instinct is to move it.  So Governor plays 34…Qc3, but now after 35.Rc2 the queen is lost.

However, had he fought the instinct to move the attacked piece and looked a bit deeper perhaps he would have found 34…b5, which saves the queen with a nice counterattack.

So all in all I’ll take it, but I am not in any way satisfied with my play in this game.  I felt I was better, but then 29…Qh4 fell from the sky like a Thunderbolt and I was in some pretty serious trouble.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

 

Proper Thinking in van der Wiel – Yusupov 1978 (0-1)

Since my return from vacation I have returned to Yusupov and here is a position from a 1978 game of the authors which I found intrinsically interesting.

Here is the position with Black to move:

The correct move here is 21…d5, and the reason is that it prevents castling.  After all 22.0-0 Qc5+ is brutal.

So by playing …d5 Black accomplishes a couple of things, but chief among them is the prevention of White from castling.

Here is the entire game:

One reason that I find this position to be so interesting is that it pays tribute to a saying of Shirov in one of his recent DVD’s, which is that tactics “exist within the variations” of high level games.  Meaning that while the combinations themselves rarely appear over the board, the threat of them still controls the play as it does here.

So in the initial position above the important thing to remember is John Nunn’s maxim LPDO (loose pieces drop off) which in this case means that Black is able to take advantage of White’s loose bishop by preventing castling.

It’s all about the approach.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Back From Vacation

After a relaxing week spent in Turks and Caicos I am back and ready to rock.

I didn’t fully leave chess behind during that week.  I took Glenn Flear’s Tactimania book with me and spent a few minutes here and there solving some tactical positions.  Granted, I didn’t do it in a rigid and structured way, but after all, I was on a family vacation.

As for the book, I think that Andrew Greet gave it quite the ringing endorsement when he said that he used it as part of his prep for the Olympiad.

Last night I got back to the real work of chess study, though not for as long as I would have liked.  I was only able to get in about 30 minutes, but what a 30 minutes it was.

Knowing that I had neither the time nor the energy for Yusupov last night I decided to work on some lines as White in the Slav.  I’m using Avrukh’s book on the Queen’s Gambit for this.

One of the positions I was looking at was this one, which delivers quite an important lesson.

Here is it White to move.  As you can see, b3 was played earlier.  The bishop clearly belongs on b2, otherwise there is no reason to have played b3.  So should White just move 7.Bb2 right now?  After all, the knight on d2 is attacked twice, but also defended twice.

Well, as it turns out the answer is that 7.Bb2 is a pretty serious inaccuracy which is exposed by 7…Qf6.

White now quickly gets in to trouble since now the knight on d2 is threatened.  Black is now threatening to play 8…Bxd2 and White cannot respond with 9.Nxd2 as 9…Qxf2 mates.

So in the first position above White needs to play 7.a3 and after 7…Bd6 White can put the bishop on b2.  However, the instinct so often is to play the move that looks so automatic and natural in the opening.

These are the types of themes that I need to learn in my opening play.  It’s not about memorizing lines (though doing so can be useful as long as it’s backed with understanding,) it’s about grasping nuances like this and understand the positions reached better as a result.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Time Waits for No One

One of the most challenging parts of any study plan, regardless of how it is formatted, is how to properly allocate the study time that you do have.

If you’re like me, time for chess is limited.  Improving at chess is important to me, but I have a job and I have a wife and I will not continuously neglect either of them for the sake of improvement.

This means that in the typical day I get around one good hour to work and parts of another hour more often than not.

On the weekends I can usually get an extra hour each day over and above the weekday time.  So in a good week I’m getting 10 quality hours if I use them all.  So how to use them properly?

Well, one thing that you should know about my chess schedule is that it includes a rated club game every Thursday.  This means I typically know who my opponent is at least a couple of days in advance.  So it would seem that opening prep should be a natural part of what I do.

Well, it is, but lately not in the way that it used to be.

Until recently I would prep for my next opponent.  So if I was White this Thursday against a QGD player I might work on some 5.Bf4 stuff for a while, but then next Thursday I wind up Black against someone who plays the Spanish so I wind up working on the Breyer for a bit or whatever.

The problem with this is that it started to become very disjointed.  It never felt like I was digging deeply in to the openings I play because I was always rushing off to study the line for next week.

So lately I have changed that up quite a bit.  Now I work on openings a couple of days a week, and I just work on whatever opening I’m working on.  My idea is that I can work on the specific opening for the game I just played when I analyze that game.  Otherwise, I want my opening time to revolve around the same one so that I can dig much deeper than I have in the past.

I am currently waiting on the first Yusupov volume, and my plan for when I receive it is to do the following.

Two days a week I will spend at least an hour on openings.  In a more perfect world it would be more like 90 minutes.  This would mean that roughly 30% of my time is spent on opening work.  That’s a bit high for my tastes, but I’m playing catch up here since I’ve never studied openings at all until recently.

One day per week (likely Friday) I will analyze the game I just played that week.

The rest of the time will be devoted to Yusupov.

Now since I play on Thursdays this leaves only six days per week to study (and less than that during weeks like this one where I have a weekend tournament coming up.)

In order to maximize my efforts I intend to not work on openings at all on the weekend.  Instead, all opening work will be done during the week.  The primary reason for this is so that I’m not spending the longer amount of time I get on the weekend each day on openings, but rather on the item that should pay off the most, the Yusupov.

In theory this breakdown should mean that in a week with no weekend tournament (and since I only play one every couple of months, this means most weeks) I can work on openings for three hours, game analysis for two, and Yusupov between five and seven.

Jacob Aagaard told me that he thinks that if I push myself I can get through one Yusupov book each month.  I honestly don’t know if 20-30 hours per month will be enough for the Yusupov, but that will be my intention starting out.

So we’ll see what happens.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Hooked on a Feeling

One of the things that chess players often talk about is intuition.  Whether it’s a top flight GM explaining in their post game interview that they did something because they “had a hunch” or one of the class players at your local club intuition plays a large role in the royal game.

However, there are times when intuition simply won’t do and precise calculation is an absolute must.

Here is an excellent example that Boris Gelfand discusses in his book Positional Decision Making in Chess.

This is the position after Black’s 20th move in Gelfand-Ivanchuk Dagomys 2009

Writes Gelfand “We have reached maybe the last critical moment in the game.  At this point I had to calculate accurately to ensure that the knight endgame was winning.  As this was the case I more or less forced him to enter it.  You cannot do such things on feeling.”

What struck me quite deeply about that line is that only a few days prior I myself had done just such a thing “on feeling” in my game against Gerlach.

Here is the position with White to move:

My notes to the game say “I felt the need to try to press a little to see if my opponent would crumble at all, which he did not.”

That’s the danger – I “felt” that I had to play 22.b5.  My logic was that I couldn’t calculate any immediate danger so therefore this decision was justified.

The problem is that I also couldn’t calculate any advantage.  So therefore why was I playing on feeling.  At this point in the game I had maybe a 15 minute advantage on the clock, so if anything I should have just played solid, logical moves and hope to nurse my clock advantage to a point where my opponent was more likely to make a mistake.

Instead, I played something that was quite committal.

Clearly this is something that I will need to be much more mindful of during my games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott