Tactics: Day 2/100

Today I sat down for the second time to focus on my tactics training with http://www.chesstempo.com.

One thing that I noticed yesterday that really came in to laser focus today is that I have a tendency to overly complicate things a lot of the time.  There are many puzzles that I solved incorrectly because I would take an approach that would solve it while missing that there was a way to do it in fewer moves.

I’ve also started to notice that I have a tendency to miss tactics that involve pieces that hang in the middle of the lines.  I also only notice loose pieces maybe half the time.

So those are things to work on.

After my session today my rating is 1579.7, representing a drop of 3.9 points.  Insignificant whether that was a gain or a loss.

I also decided to start tracking how many problems I am solving correctly vs. missing.  Today I solved 40 and missed 25.  So again, this shows the percentage I will need to solve correctly in order to increase my rating.

I did email the admin of chesstempo regarding this challenge and something interesting I got back was this:

“Regarding your blog post, it is probably worth pointing out that to gain rating points you don’t really need to get that many more problems correct than incorrect to gain rating. The default difficulty setting (“normal”) gives you problems that are on average 100 points below your current rating. At that level of difficulty you get around a 66% success rate (again on average over a large number of problems, and assuming stable skill level). If you get higher than a 66% success rate, you’ll be gaining rating (again , on average over a large number of problems, short term fluctuations can lead to short term bursts of rating loss or gain). You can also change your difficulty level to change the success rate required to maintain a level rating. ‘Hard’ mode produces a 50% success rate over time if your skill level is stable as it gives you problems at your current level (on average). ‘Easy’ gives you problems 200 points below your rating, and you’ll get a roughly 80% success rate.” – Richard.

That is all interesting to know, although I think that I am going to just leave the settings as is and see what happens.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

100 Days Of…

I’ve been seeing these “100 Days” challenges being shared by George Takei on Facebook and Twitter.

Ones that I have watched included a guitarist who learned sweep picking, and a girl who did pushups.  At the end of the 100 days both were much more proficient at their chosen activity than they thought they would be.

So it got me thinking…what if I did a chess version of that? What would be the result?

I have decided to do a 100 Days of Tactics challenge.

Each day I will spend one hour on www.chesstempo.com and I will track my results and post them.  The idea is to see if extended focus truly helps increase proficiency.

I have used chesstempo off and on for several years though never very regularly.  I flit from this to that to this to that and, like everyone, I find myself more enamored of the sites/programs that tell me that I’m 2200 at tactics rather than 1600!

The thing about chesstempo though is that in order to increase your rating it seems like you must solve many more puzzles that you miss.  Many puzzles offer perhaps two or three points for a correct solution while subtracting perhaps twice that many for an incorrect solution.  (Please note that this is a generalization and that of course the strength of the puzzle factors in, etc.)

So I figure that this is a relatively simple way to work on tactics and see definitively what the results are.

Today I put in my first hour.  My initial rating after today is 1583.6.  We shall see how that changes as the days, weeks, and months pass.  My user name there is chriswainscott, so anyone is free to look at my progress vs what I post to keep me honest.

I’d like to encourage others to join me in this challenge!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Focus is Key

Chess can be a cruel game.  You can be winning the entire time, and then one slip and you can throw away a half, or even a full point.

This game is a perfect illustration of that.  I was winning a nice game until I got a bit lazy mentally and allowed a perpetual.

My plan to work on this is to solve a lot of “Mate in Two” puzzles from Lazlo Polgar’s book as so many of them deal with restriction themes, which should help me become more aware of which squares are available to pieces.

Til next time,

Chris Wainscott

2018 Preview

So of course, after summing up 2017, the next logical question is what will 2018 hold?

I mentioned in my last post that I think that there are some things which hampered me in 2017 from a rating standpoint which I intend the work on in 2018.  The main one is both the number of games played and the places in which they were played.

Heading in to next year I am set up to play quite a bit more than I have been.  While I will only be playing a couple of events in Waukesha most likely, I will be playing much more on the weekends.  So my plan is to wind up somewhere around 100 games played in 2018 as opposed to the 56 I played in 2017.

As many of these games will be played in weekend events I am hoping to wind up playing a wider variety of people.  One of the challenges with playing the same people over and over is that it can create some outlier results.

For example, there are two players who I play rather often…Shaunak and Rishav Bhattacharyya.  Both are juniors who are improving.  Lately they have managed to have good results against me, with Shaunak scoring a couple of wins, and Rishav a couple of draws.

However, they also play in the same closed pool as I, which means that we just trade rating points amongst each other instead of going outside the pool.

I also play Jim Coons all the time, and I have a horrible record against him even though our ratings are usually within 100 points of each other.  So that artificially affects my rating.  Much as I had the opposite effect when I played a local expert who I managed to draw in all three games when I was rated 1600 or so.  That artificially increased my rating.

So going outside the pool will be a vital measure for me.

While the Quality Chess Challenge will be ending soon (Feb 2018) I do plan on sticking with using mostly Quality Chess products in my improvement as it’s clear by pretty much everything they put out that they take improvement quite serious.

From the highest quality opening books, to the Yusupov series and Jacob’s GM Prep series there is literally something for everyone.

One thing that I will make more use of in the new year is the CT Art app which I have on my phone.  Comprised of the Blokh puzzles, and structured in such as way as to ensure maximum learning, I feel that this should be a way in which to increase my tactical vision well beyond where it is now.

I also need to take more lessons.  I haven’t quite worked this part out as lessons are expensive, so it always becomes a matter of where to put my resources…into more playing or more lessons.

I will absolutely work on more consistent studying.  One thing I have seen Susan Polgar mention over and over is that champions train when everyone else is sleeping/watching TV/partying/whatever.  Some nights I’m exhausted and decide to go to bed without studying at all.  Next year I will not allow that to happen.  The only times where I will not study are when prior plans do not allow for it.  Even then I’ll try to get some tactics training in.

My main goal for 2018 is to get my rating over 1900, which will be a first.  So far my peak rating was 1896, though clearly I was nowhere near that strength.

I’ll break this down into smaller plans over the next few days and post them here.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Year End Wrap Up

My plan for today had been to go play in one of Hiro Higuchi’s quad’s.  It’s a G/60;d10 event, so while it’s faster than I prefer, it’s certainly slow enough to play a solid game in.

Unfortunately for some reason I just could not fall asleep last night.  It was somewhere between 4-5am when I finally drifted off.  So I had to change my plans and not go.

This means I will end the year at 1774, 25 points below where I began it at 1799.

However, aside from the rating, I feel like this was a solid year for me.  I can tell by the way I’m analyzing and annotating games that my understanding has increased quite a bit.

While I haven’t been as consistent as I would have liked to be, I have been putting in a reasonable amount of work.  I have been putting in at least an hour, typically closer to 90 minutes, around five times a week.  This is in addition to solving tactics on my phone and watching broadcasts of strong events where I analyze and play some guess the move.

For the past week I’ve been working extremely hard since I had some time off.  So for the past seven days I’ve been putting in more like 5-7 hours a day.  That will continue through Monday, and then I go back to work Tuesday.

I’ve been trying to vary the work a bit, but include a lot of solving.  Tactics, Yusupov, Aagaard, etc.

I’ve also been working fairly hard (relative for me) on my openings.  While I am not, and never will, work on memorizing for the sake of memorizing, I have been working on learning more theory and figuring out how it applies to the plans in the positions I play.

I am also narrowing my repertoire with the idea that I will learn my openings deeper this way.

All in all I feel like I had a solid year as a player.  There are certain things that I don’t think that I did enough which I believe impacted the rating, but I will discuss those in my 2018 preview post, coming up next!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Was That Not Smooth?

Wednesday I played the final round of the Late Fall Swiss in Waukesha.

I thought that my game went very well, but as it turns out I blundered late and gave up half a point, only to get lucky that my opponent missed it as well.

First, here is the game.  Play through it, then we’ll talk about games like this for a moment.

So let’s talk about games like this.  I outrated my opponent by 360 points or so.  I’ve been told that you should never bother looking at games like this or showing them because, duh, lower rated player, etc.

Yet if you actually take the time to look through a game like this and annotate it sincerely it becomes clear that sometimes you win games like this simply because you weren’t punished for your mistakes.  FM Alex Betaneli once gave a lecture at the Southwest Chess Club where he made the point that you need to look through wins as well to see what you are missing.

You will find that in your wins as well as your losses.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Rapid Development in Action

One of the first maxims most of us learned as we progressed from raw beginner to intermediate player was the importance of rapid development.

What does that mean exactly?

This game illustrates exactly that.  Played between two well-known Soviet players in 1948, you will see White quickly gain an advantage in development after Black wastes time with several queen moves.

This game is in Questions of Modern Chess Theory by Isaac Lipnitsky, which I have been working through as part of the Quality Chess Challenge.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Central Pawn Control

Here is an interesting position from the game Botvinnik – Kan Leningrad 1939

One of the reasons that I find it interesting is that if you asked me to evaluate this just a few years ago I’d have looked at White’s pawn structure and instantly said Black must be better.

However, while in most endgames White would clearly be losing, there’s a long way to go until the endgame in this position.

In fact, as Botvinnik himself points out in hit notes to this game, the doubled pawns have one serious advantage, which is that White wants to play e4 to absolutely solidify his grip on d5, and when he does he won’t be giving up the d4 square in his own camp as the pawn on c3 nicely guards it.

The grip on d5 means that one natural plan would be to reroute the knight to d5, and in fact Isaac Lipnitsky discusses this in his excellent Soviet classic Questions of Modern Chess Theory.

It is worth noting, however, that just because that can be a plan, it shouldn’t automatically be the plan you use.  I’ll leave it to the reader to purchase a copy of this excellent book for themselves to learn why in this game that plan doesn’t make sense.

In the meantime here is the entire game:

Of course sometimes it does make perfect sense to plant a knight on d5 in these structures.

Here is an example of when that plan works quite nicely.

The moral to the story is that central control can be a wonderful thing to have, but that it’s a multifaceted beast with no canned solution.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

GM’s Want More

Yesterday a couple of friends and I were analyzing Gawain Jones’ first round game at the London Chess Classic Open event.

This was the position after White’s 10th move.

So we’re calculating 10…Nxc3 and every line we’re looking at leads to advantage for Black.

Yet GM’s always look to maximize the position.  So Gawain played 10…Nd6, which is clearly better.

The lesson here is one as old as the game itself.  When you see a good move, look for a better one.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Cardinal Sin

Last Sunday in my fourth game of the Sevan Muradian Memorial I committed two cardinal sins at the end of the game.

First, here was the position.  I have just played 27…Qe3+

My opponent, who has about 11 minutes left (time control was G/90+30 sec) looks up and says “Draw?” and I shake his hand.  The two sins?  First of all, I should insist he play a move and then I should have spent as much of the 34 minutes that I had left deciding whether to accept or not.

As it turns out, Black is completely winning – at least according to the engine.  The win is simple if White plays 28.Rdc2 as Black plays 28…Qe1+ 29.Rc1 Rb1+ – I’ll leave you work through the lines.

If White plays 28.Rcc2 then the win isn’t quite that easy.  In fact, neither myself nor my opponent found it in analysis and we went over the game for close to an hour afterwards.  Nevertheless, there is a win there.  The sin isn’t that I didn’t find it, the sin is that I didn’t look.

So why didn’t I look?  Why didn’t I get into the mindset of fighting til the last breath to bring home the point?  Simple, because I had put myself in the mindset of needing to survive.

Let’s look at the position after my 21st move.

Here I’m in some pretty serious trouble.  White can play c4 and then my knight is running out of squares.  Instead, White blunders away his e pawn two moves later by playing 23.Rd2 in this position.

Now the emotional rollercoaster of chess is in full force.  It’s been even – no, I’m losing, – no, I’m winning!

A couple of moves later I’ve given back the pawn I’m up and here we are in the critical position.

So now I’m trying to find a win but not seeing anything direct.  The downside here is that I’m having a truly difficult time keeping the thread of this game.  The position has been sharp enough that the thought of making a slip and losing is creeping in, although I’m fighting to hold it at bay.

And now I’m looking at the above position, and I realize that I can take on c3 and pretty much guarantee myself the opportunity for the perpetual since if White doesn’t recapture he’s going to wind up in pretty deep.

So I go for it.  And my opponent offers me the draw.  But instead of insisting that he offer it properly and then evaluate for a long time I jump at the chance.

I’m not mad I didn’t see the win.  I’m mad I didn’t look.

This seems to be a matter of pure psychology, so therefore it should be correctable, although it may require quite a lot of work.

Here is the entire game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott