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

 

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

Perfect, Save for One

As part of the Book Challenge I am currently working on the first of the ten volume Yusupov series.

I managed a perfect score on the first test save for this one position with Black to move.

Here I correctly found the first move, but then after White’s reply I missed the best continuation.

The game is listed between N.N. – Morphy so I’m assuming it’s likely from a simul or was some sort of odds game.  The position was not in my database, but I don’t have Megabase.

Highlight the text between the brackets for the solution.

[ 1…Ng3 is the first move, which I saw.  My thought process was that the knight can’t be taken since White’s queen would hang, and if White takes Black’s queen with 2.Qxh7 then 2…Nde2 mates.  However, what I missed was that after 2.Qxd4 Ne2+ 3.Kh1 the correct move is not to take the Queen with 3…Nxd4 but rather for Black to sac his queen with 3…Qxh7+ 4.Kxh7 Rh8+ ]

I’m still please with the first test’s overall results, but I will continue to strive for perfection.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Strongest Win Ever (Wainscott – Wallach 1-0)

This game was my third of the day on the first day of the USATN last weekend in Schaumburg.

I haven’t analyzed it deeply but here is what I have.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Grinding Out a Win

Tonight I played Gauri Menon, who is the current fifth grade champ for the USA, and has been a competitor at the World Youth.  Although my rating was 80 points higher, she is a very rapidly improving opponent, so I didn’t assume I was any stronger than her at all.

I made a strong point to play more creatively.  I made sure that I had a plan and I wasn’t afraid to press a little rather than just hold back.

All in all I felt that I played pretty well although I think that had she not exchanged the knight for the bishop at the end the win would have been unlikely.

This should get my rating back up to 1802, so all in all I’ll take it.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Tale of Two Tournaments

This past weekend I competed in the US Amateur Team North tournament in Schaumburg, IL.  For me it was really two tournaments rolled in to one.

Part of the reason was that since I was playing the two day schedule my first two rounds were G/60 rather than G/90+30 seconds a move.

Round one saw me face an opening I had never faced before.  I have a rule when it comes to trappy openings, which is that I never bother to study them at all until and unless I wind up falling in to a trap.  The way I see it, the time I didn’t spend learning that opening was spent on other things.  So I’m OK with that.  In this case I fell in to the trap and was quickly dispatched by my 1800 opponent.

Round two saw me facing my first master of the event. I was in a bit of trouble, but then in time pressure I managed to both improve my position, and then throw it all away within the span of a few moves.  The plus was that this would be the last sudden death game of the event for me since the schedules were merging and this would give me the thirty second increment.

Heading in to round three I was 0-2 and learned that I would face Chicago NM Ken Wallach who was sporting a 2270 rating.  Nevertheless I dug myself in and got ready for the game.  I would up getting an OK position out of the opening but quickly found myself drifting and losing some ground.

Then Ken blundered allowing me to win the exchange for a pawn and I dug in and managed to convert a nice ending although my opponent did miss a draw.

So at the end of day one I was 1-2 but things were looking up.  2270 is by far the strongest rating I have ever scored against although it was my third win over a master.

Round four started out OK, but I very quickly found myself drifting lifelessly into a bad position (more on this later) and soon wound up having to dig in for some grim defense.  I found a beautiful sacrificial idea and almost saved the game, but the kid I was playing ground me down perfectly in an endgame.  As his rating was 1680 I realized I stood to lose rating points even though I had beaten someone who severely outrated me.

When I saw that I would once again face a master in round five I resolved to do my best.  I actually felt like I played OK for a while, but the issue was that I was exhausted.  Five games in two days is a lot of chess.

So at the end of the event my score was only 1-4 and I lost 14 rating points.  But none of that mattered much to me for two reasons.

The first of course is that I got the best win of my life.  But more importantly I figured out some things that I need to work on as much as anything to do my best to win the Book Challenge.

One thing is creativity.  For a long time now my games have been rather lifeless when it comes to creative play.  Sure, if I get an advantage I can convert it more often than not, but in level positions I tend to not find interesting ideas.

The one exception to that is when I’m defending.  When I am defending I find as many creative ideas as anyone I know.  So I started trying to figure out why I can only play creatively when defending and it occurred to me that the answer is that those are situations in which I have no choice.  It’s not that creativity is called for, it’s that it’s mandatory.

So why would I not be able to play that same way in positions where I am level or slightly better?  As near as I can figure out it must be some sort of fear of blundering.  I don’t feel on the surface like that is a fear that I possess, but it would appear that perhaps deep down I do.

Another thing that I need to work on is fitness level.  I was exhausted during the final round of this tournament.  I was also so tired in my game with Ken that I considered offering him a draw (he had offered me one a few moves earlier which I had declined) in what I felt had to be a winning position.

In fact, I missed easier wins in that game because I was too tired to calculate even some basic things correctly.

So that’s the plan.  Continue to work on fitness and work on mental toughness.

I’m going to formulate a plan to work on that second one.  As soon as I do I will post it.

In the meantime I received the first Yusupov books and have started it. In fact, I’ve bought several QC books since this began a few days ago.  I’ve bought Nikos’ book on 1.e4 e5, Kotronias’s fourth book on the KID, Tactimania by Glenn Flear,  and the first Yusupov.

So all and all I’m ready to go!

I have a game tomorrow night which will be the final game in a quad I am playing in.  A win and I will gain rating.  Otherwise I will lose a bit.

Starting Sunday I will be out of the country in the Caribbean for a week.  So I will have only a few minutes in the morning to work on chess.  But I’ll come back refreshed and ready to go.

I’ll post some of the games from this past weekend as I get them analyzed.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott