New Training Schedule

One of the things that I have historically done when I have sat down to study is…whatever I want.

In other words I rarely had a plan on how I would like to improve, but rather would often just do whatever I felt like doing at that moment.  On the one hand the idea that it’s easier to stay engaged when you are doing something that interests you has a lot of truth to it.  Yet on the other hand not conscientiously working on repairing weaknesses keeps those weaknesses as going concerns for much longer than they should be.

So I sat down a couple of weeks ago to make myself a rough sketch training schedule which looks like this:

Monday: Yusupov

Tuesday: Yusupov

Wednesday: Openings

Thursday: Entering My Game From That Night Into Chessbase

Friday: Game Analysis

Saturday: Endgames

Sunday: Gelfand (i.e. Positional Decision Making in Chess or Dynamic Decision Making in Chess.

The intent behind that is that while my main focus is Yusupov, those non-Yusupov items are still quite important.  The approach I take is that Wed-Sun I may still work on Yusupov, but not until I’ve spend a bit of time on the other items.

There is some method to the madness, especially from Wed-Fri.  I play tournament games at my club pretty much each Thursday, and I usually know well in advance who I will be playing and with what color.  So while I don’t try to do any deep prep, I do work on whatever opening seems the most likely to be played.

Thursdays I play the games, so I can’t really study much on a Thursday.  Therefore I try to at least get the game entered in to Chessbase.  This takes me to Friday, which is the heavy lifting day.

Fridays are for analysis.  My intention is to try to go through my games with my opponents as often as I can.  Then I analyze everything as well as I can without a computer.  Once that’s done I go back and check with the engine.

I’m not wholly dogmatic to this approach.  For example, this past Friday I didn’t get a chance to analyze my game from last Thursday with Curt Neumann, so I analyzed it yesterday and this morning.

For the most part though, if I miss something then I wait for the following week to work on it.  This may not be the best approach, but for now it seems to be the most pragmatic.

I’m curious to hear feedback from anyone as to what works or doesn’t work for you!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

An Interesting Case of Blindness

So tonight after quite the long layoff I got back into some Yusupov.

The chapter this is from is one concerning open files and outposts.

Here is the position given:

Here I started down this long flight of fancy trying to make 1.Bxd7 work to get a rook on the back rank.  Perhaps something like 1…Rxd7 2.Rb8 Qe7 3.Rxe8 Qxe8 4.Qf6+

Of course the problem is that after 2.Rb8 Black can simply exchange the queen for the two rooks and be fine.

Of course the actual plan is much simpler that all of that.  White can simply play 1.Rb7 and his position is excellent, which is what happened in the game.

But this begs the question…why the blindness.

Well, it’s one of two things, and now I have to figure out which.  It’s either because:

  1. Since I’m looking at a “solvable” position I’m treating the exercise itself as too much of a tactical problem.  Meaning that I’m looking at ideas which are far more complex than the position calls for in an effort to “win” the diagrammed position.
  2. I’m just not seeing these sorts of natural, penetrating moves.

I sincerely hope that it’s the first, since that is the easier of the two to solve, but I am realizing that this is something I’m going to have to pay close attention to in the analysis of my own games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

My First Yusupovian Failure

As I have been talking about for a while now, I am working through the Yusupov series of books by Quality Chess.  Recently I have experienced my first failure.

For those who may not be familiar with the series, each chapter works as follows: first, there are various positions with analysis designed to convey the subject matter.  Then 12 test positions are given, each with a point value.  Once the reader has taken the test and scored their results a mark is given of either Excellent, Good, or Passing depending on the number of points scored.  If the reader scores below the minimum threshold then they are encouraged to go back and redo the chapter.

After passing all previous chapters with varying degrees of success I finally ran into a snag in the chapter on converting material advantages.

Interestingly it wasn’t that I didn’t correctly pass the test, it’s that I was having a hard time even finding ANY answers to the majority of the positions.

After trying to come up with solutions over three different sessions and only finding any possible ideas for around half of the positions I gave up and decided to simply read through the entire chapter again and then re-approach it with fresh eyes.

What makes this such an interesting subject to ponder is that unlike so many of the other chapters this one is far more esoteric in nature.  After all, if you fail the chapter on the opposition you can just study the opposition and work through the problem.  But this is so much more ethereal of a subject.

After all, I don’t have a problem in my own praxis with converting a material advantage.  So this comes down to more of an issue with planning and efficiency.

So that’s something else I should be working on when analyzing my own games.  Food for thought anyways.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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

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