Book Challenge Progress Report

We’re coming up on the conclusion of the first quarter of the book challenge, so I thought I’d take a step back and look at what has gone well and what could still use a lot more effort.

First, let’s look at the objective measure of the whole thing…rating.  Since the book challenge officially began on 2/11/17 my rating has essentially stayed flat.  In fact, if you look at my MSA page here you will see that in that time I have gone from 1804 to 1790 to 1801 to 1785 to 1801.

So actually I am down three points.  Not so much of a plus when you realize that my goal was to make 1925 by the end of the book challenge.

That, however, brings me to my next point, which is to ask this question: why has my rating pinballed within that narrow range over the past three months.  The most accurate answer is, I believe, the fact that I haven’t been playing enough.

Yes, I have been playing one club game each week, but that’s it.  In fact, in the last 12 months I have played only 50 regular rated games.  That’s not going to be enough to break away from the luck factor.

Let’s face it, it’s not farfetched at all for a club player to play either 200 points above or 200 points below their rating on any given night.  However, the more you play the more consistent you get, which stops the bouncing.  In the tournaments where I lost points I was inevitably held to a draw by, or had a loss to, a lower rated opponent while not managing to offset that with enough wins/draws against higher rated opposition.

So the first hope is that more events means more consistent performance.

The second hope for more events is that more games means more chances to work what I’m learning into my own praxis.  Of course that’s vital.  It’s one thing to esoterically acquire knowledge about a subject such as positional chess, but quite another to put that knowledge to practical use.

As far as the learning itself, I do feel that is coming along great.  My tactics and positional play have clearly gotten better as you can see by my last two posts.  So now I just have to keep that up and make sure that I continue to drive home new learning.

So what could use more work?  Two things in particular.  I need to keep working hardcore on board vision.  I’m hoping that continued work on tactics will eventually get the board vision where it needs to be.

I also, according to Yusupov’s book, need a lot more work on converting material advantages in the most efficient way possible.

OK, I’m exhausted.  It’s 7:12pm and I need to meet a friend at 2:15am to head up North for opening day of open water fishing season 2017.  Then back to my friends Gelfand and Yusupov for the rest of the weekend.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

 

Another Day, Another Tactic

Last night I played in the final round of an event at the Southwest Chess Club.  I played Jon Hildeman, and I believe that before this game my record against him was no wins, no losses, and two draws, although I’m not 100%

Once again I think that this win shows that my tactics have come a long way, and that more importantly they have done so hand in hand with my positional chess.

Notice how I provoke the …b6 and …c6 moves which weaken Black horribly, and from there the tactical shot presents itself.

My opponent did resign a bit prematurely though.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Tactimania Indeed

For those who have been following the publishers challenge, you will know that the book I have been reading to hone my tactics in Tactimania by Glenn Flear.

How has it been working?  Like this:

This is a game I played earlier tonight at the Waukesha Chess Club.  I am really proud of having found 24.Nh6

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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

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