How Do Pros Solve Puzzles?

I’ve always taken exception to the fact that so many tactics trainers are timed.

Yes yes, in a game it’s you vs. the position *and* the clock.

When training, however, I think that it’s much more important to work on absorbing the patterns.  The downside to the clock is that it practically eggs you on to make rash decisions which you haven’t properly calculated, thereby missing out on the opportunity to learn new stuff.

So how does a pro approach solving?

Let’s take a look at IM Andrey Ostrovskiy, who has many wonderful videos as well as an excellent Twitch channel.

As you can see, IM Ostrovskiy is not rushing to solve these positions.  He’s taking his time and properly calculating everything prior to selecting a move.  It’s also interesting to note how he flits between candidate moves the way that all of us do, rather than clean calculations to the end ala Think Like a Grandmaster.

Subscribe to Andrey’s YouTube channel here.

Follow him on Twitch here.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

100 Days of Tactics Relaunch

A few weeks back I set a goal of solving tactics on chesstempo for an hour a day for 100 straight days.

A couple of issues immediately befell me. The first is that my job suddenly got more demanding. In fact, it looks like I’ll be travelling for work quite a bit over the next few months.

The downside to that is that those days are rarely short. And to be brutally honest the last thing I want to do when I get done with a 12 hour day in a strange city is rush back to the hotel and solve tactics.

If you happened to see my interview on chess^summit then you know that I was asked about this project and that I said I would be revising it and rolling it back out.

So the new plan is this…ideally I will get 30 minutes a day of tactics.  However, I’m not going to focus too much on  the length.  If I feel like going longer I will.  If I don’t have time to go that far, then I won’t.  But the goal will be 30 minutes a day with at least *some* puzzles each day.

There may be unforeseen travel days, etc. where I am not able to do any, but I will try a more realistic goal this time.

The other issue I was having is that when I was spending an hour a day it was cutting far too deeply into my study time for other stuff.

So let’s see what happens.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

The Quest for Dynamism

Yesterday I played a game at the Southwest Club that I’m proud of.  As you will see, it’s far from perfect, but I’m happy with the fact that I didn’t “play it safe” when it comes to material like I usually do.

I plan on making this the start of a new trend in 2018.  It’s time to get back to my attacking roots and to be much more aggressive as long as I’m not being reckless.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Very Nice Endgame Conversion

This game, played a couple of months ago, is a nice example of converting a minor piece ending.  I was up a pawn, but that isn’t always enough in these types of games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Tactics: Day 2/100

Today I sat down for the second time to focus on my tactics training with

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 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

Quality Chess Challenge Update

Starting in Feb of this year I took on the challenge of improving using mostly Quality Chess books.  The only times I have allowed myself to go outside of QC items is when there is a topic that they simply don’t cover or don’t cover well.

So I have used some non-QC books on endings and tactics specifically.  For example, Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, Minev’s Practical Rook Endings, Susan Polgar’s A World Champions Guide to Tactics, and Lazlo Polgar’s book Chess.

I have also read the magazines I subscribe too.  Namely Chess Life, New in Chess, and American Chess Magazine, which of course I also write for.

The books that I have used the most from Quality Chess are Positional Play by Jacob Aagaard, How I Beat Fischer’s Record by Judit Polgar, Questions of Modern Chess Theory by Isaac Lipnitsky, Soviet Middlegame Technique by Petr Romanovsky, Tactimania  by Glenn Flear, and the first two Yusupov books.

I have also used the Kotronias on the King’s Indian series quite a lot, as well as his book Carlsen’s Assault on the Throne.

Although my rating has oscillated between 1760-1815 for most of the last year I can tell that my knowledge has increased.  Mathematically the truth is that to go from 1770-1900 (actually any 130 point differential) requires learning twice as much as one already knows.  That is not a short journey that can be achieved at a sprint.

As noted previously I can tell by the way that I analyze and annotate that I am getting stronger in my abilities.  Now I just have to implement them in practice and the rating should follow.

Easier said than done, but I intend to give myself the opportunity to do so over the coming year by playing much more than I have been.

The takeaway from this project is that QC puts out excellent training materials, and that anyone who actively uses their books for learning should do quite well.

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