Interview on Chess Journeys Podcast

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After my recent spin at guest hosting Perpetual Chess and interviewing Ben Johnson, the tables were then turned as I was interviewed by Dr. Scull.

Ep. 29 Chris Wainscott (1700 USCF) by Chess Journeys: Tales of Adult Improvement (anchor.fm)

Here I explain my plans for the year, and the journey so far.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Guest Hosting Perpetual Chess

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Recently I took a spin as guest host for Ben Johnson’s wildly successful Perpetual Chess podcast.

I interviewed Ben about the first five years of the show as we celebrated the shows anniversary.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

New Year Resolutions, Such as They Are

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I’m not a super big believer in making New Year resolutions since I think that if you’re going to do something then you’re likely to just do it, and if you’re not, then saying “I’ll make that my New Year’s Resolution” is just a way to put off the decision and then to tell yourself it’s OK when you fail.

Having said that, I do believe that a calendar year is a good time frame to decide if something is working, should be changed, etc.

So here are my resolutions for 2022, which just so happens to be one calendar year.

  1. Annotate and publish those annotations to every classical game I play. This will include me taking a few minutes immediately after every game to jot down a few notes about what I was feeling/thinking, as well as trying to capture the lines I calculated at the board. Yes, I will engine check this analysis, but I will do it by hand prior and will note when there was something critical that I missed that the engine found.
  2. Continue my streak on Chessable. Currently that stands at 626 days, and my intention is to not stop – ever. I don’t use the freeze protect anything. Those are 626 actual days. Some where I might have done all of 1-2 lines just to keep the streak going, and some where I did hundreds to really work.
  3. Work on openings. For real. For 2022 I give myself the goal of being able to competently play the Caro-Kann and the Slav by the time we get out of the year. I really want to get in tune with the Caro-Slav pawn structure and understand those …e5 and …c5 breaks.
  4. Read four books cover to cover, not counting the ones that I read for revies or the ones I pick up and play through a game of two from. The four books are 300 Most Important Chess Positions by Enqvist; Chess Strategy for Club Players by Grooten; What it Takes to Become a Chess Master by Soltis; The Science of Strategy by Kotov. As you can see, strategic/positional play will be the theme of these books.
  5. Get in much better physical shape. I used to enjoy working out and lifting weights in my youth. I need to get back to that. Some of you witnessed me wrestle a former NFL player when I was 44 or 45 ūüôā So I’m not afraid of physicality, I just need to get back to wanting to do the hard work/heavy lifting.
  6. Enjoy myself and trust in the process.

You’ll notice that none of the above relates to rating. I have no intention of setting rating related goals at all anymore other than the long-term goal of getting to 2200.

I used to do the “If only I get to rating X this year” and, in fact, I think I did a “If only I get back to 1800 this year” for last year. If the results of only two games of mine at the end of the year had gone the other way, I would have done that. Yet take a moment to reflect on the insanity of that thought process for a moment. Can I really pretend that two games with different results would mean much in the larger scheme of things? Of course not.

Therefore, rating goals are gone. Now, we focus on the process.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Recovering Some Ground Wainscott-Williams 1-0

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A little over a week ago I entered what will be my final tournament of the year. A three round, G/100 Swiss. My rating had plummeted nearly 100 points in two events, and my first-round opponent was seven-time state champion Bill Williams.

While Bill is finally started to show some signs of his age, he’s still a very dangerous opponent who can’t be taken lightly.

In this game I was fortunate, as after one blunder, he quickly committed others.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

RIP Wayne Clark

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A few weeks ago, the chess world received the sad and shocking news that NTD Wayne Clark had passed away.

Most people knew Wayne as a TD, and I did as well. I worked for Wayne at events on a number of occasions. However, my first interaction with Wayne was as a player. He and I played in a round robin FIDE event.

The game was not great, and perhaps a draw was the logical result.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of Attacking Strategies for Club Players

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Attacking Strategies for Club Players by Michael Prusikin 2021 New in Chess 192pp

It seems these days that there is no shortage of treatises on attacking, including ones directed specifically at club players. Therefore, I always have some trepidation when picking up a new one to read. Often it seems that the themes and material overlap. With the themes, that’s mostly to be expected, but with the materials it can often be a sign of laziness.

For instance, we’re often treated to Fischer – Benko 1963 with 19.Rf6, or we see the “Marshall Swindle” of Levitsky – Marshall 1912 with 23…Qg3, concluding the alleged “Gold Coin Game.”

Thus, it was refreshing when I opened this book, flipped through it, and saw that there were new themes and that the games were mostly games I had never seen.

The book is broken up into 18 chapters. They are as follows:

  1. Prerequisites and rules for attacking the king
  2. King in the centre
  3. Obstruction sacrifices
  4. Attacking the king without the queen
  5. Pawn storm with opposite-side castling
  6. Pawn storm with same-side castling
  7. The Steinitz ‘battering ram’ – using the h pawn against a finachetto
  8. The Alekhine ‘battering ram’ – using the g pawn to destroy your opponent’s king protection
  9. The nail in the coffin
  10. Doubled g-pawns
  11. Using pieces to attack the castled position
  12. The Grand Prix Attack
  13. The Chigorin ‘outrider’ – the knight on f5
  14. Long bishop on b2
  15. Interference
  16. Breakthrough on the strong point
  17. Test your attacking skills
  18. Solutions

As you would expect, many of these chapters cover themes that we’re all familiar with, such as a king stuck in the center or pawn storms, or sacrificial breakthroughs. However, when was the last time you saw an explanation of doubled g-pawns being used for attack?

By doubled g pawns the author is referring to positions with pawns on f2/g2/g3 or f7/g7/g6. Examples of when those positions can be a weakness are given, including this example from the game Oll – Chernin 1993

Here white plays 27.Qg4 Rfd8

Now White wins with 28.Nxe6 Rxd3 29.Nxc5 Rxc5 30.e6 and White goes on to convert.

As you can see from this example, these aren’t all straightforward wins, but rather positions where one side is simply better. My first instinct was some mild disappointment, but after some reflection I decided that tactics books are really the place for the straightforward wins to reside. It’s OK for attacking manuals to focus on the process of creating the attacking chances.

That doesn’t mean that none of the games feature brutal breakthroughs and firework finishes. Take Spassky – Geller 1968, for instance. Here we see the position after 22…Rc8

Here Spassky decisively crashes through with 23.Rxf6! exf6 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Nxf7!! Rxc2 26.Bh6! Rxc1+ 27.Nxc1 Kxf7 28.Qxg7+ Ke8 29.g5! f5 30.Qxg6+ Kd7 31.Qf7+ Kc6 32.exf5+

(diagram mine for emphasis)

All in all I found this book to be a pleasant surprise. Most of the examples I had not seen prior, and I enjoyed the new twists on attacking themes.

I will say that I did find the first chapter of the book, “Prerequisites and rules for attacking the king” to be a bit overly dogmatic and pedantic. The author tries to give some specific rules, along with some tips, but they feel a little forced.

The rules:

  1. Lead in development/uncastled opposing king
  2. Space advantage on the side of the board where the opposing king is located
  3. Few defensive pieces around our opponent’s king
  4. Lack of/weakened pawn protection for the king

The tips:

  1. Everyone must be invited to the party
  2. Open lines
  3. Have the courage to sacrifice
  4. Time is key

While some of those points are clearly applicable and prudent, it felt too much to me like an effort at forcing a list, ala those types of “Five Simple Rules for ___” articles about almost any subject.

Having said that, I did get a lot of enjoyment out of the book overall. It felt like a nice solution for either someone looking to improve their own game through a better understanding of attacking play, and also is something that can be enjoyed by those simply seeking to play over enjoyable games for pleasure.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

On The Topic of Learning Openings

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Something I’ve talked about over the years is my attempts at balancing my need to learn openings against not spending too much time working on them.

In fact, over the years I’ve tended to err on the side of too little time spent on the openings, but I am gradually trying to rectify that. I am set (mostly) on my Black repertoire currently, but I am certainly not planning on trying to focus on blind memorization.

I know that in order to truly learn openings I need to understand the “whys” of the moves instead of just memorizing them. That brings me to this interesting place. Here are two positions in a sideline of one of the main lines of the Slav. These positions are from the¬†6.Nh4 sideline of the main line after¬†1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5

Here we have two lines we’ll look at. The first is¬†6.Nh4 Bc8 7.e3 e5 8.Bxc4 exd4 9.exd4 Be7 10.0-0 0-0 11.h3 Na6 12.Re1 and now the knight moves to c7¬†12…Nc7

The other line we’ll look at is¬†11.Nf3 Na6 12.Re1 Nb4

The part I need to figure out is why does the knight head to c7 in the first line, but b4 in the second? The b4 square seems to be a solid outpost in either line. Also, the idea with IQP’s is typically to blockade them, and the Black knight is influencing the d5 square regardless of whether it’s on c7 or b4.

I know that I’ll never truly understand openings until I can learn why the different choices here.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

PS. These two lines come from Boris Avrukh’s amazing book¬†The Classical Slav, which while a bit old for serious players is an amazing resource for club players wanting to learn the opening. You can pick it up for a decent price¬†here.

Review of Magnus Carlsen: A Life in Pictures

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Magnus Carlsen: A Life in Pictures New in Chess 2021 162pp

Until the past few years, as I became more acquainted with the photography of David Llada, Lennart Ootes, Alina L’Ami, and others, I never really appreciated the concept of chess photos as art. Of course, David Llada’s excellent book¬†The Thinkers, published by Quality Chess in 2018, got me on board with the artistry of chess and chess players.

With this newfound love of chess photos as art, I was excited to receive this book which covers one subject: five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen.

Presented in chronological order, the book takes the reader (viewer) from Magnus’s pre chess childhood through the beginning of the pandemic.

Some of the photos are fairly well known, such as young Magnus lying on the grass holding a king, or 2013 Magnus with his arms raised in triumph after getting thrown in the swimming pool after dethroning Vishy. Most of the material was new to me though, and it was a pleasure working my way through the pages.

The book doesn’t just focus on Magnus the Chess Player, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Instead, focus is given to all aspects of Magnus’s life. Magnus as part of an interconnected family. Magnus the sportsman. Magnus the sports fan. Magnus the celebrity.

In fact, an entire chapter is devoted to Magnus as a celebrity. From his G Star Raw modeling career, to his games against Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to his ceremonial opening kickoff on the pitch for Real Madrid, focus is given to the side of Magnus that has drawn some more mainstream attention to the chess world.

The layout of the book is mostly just visual, but there are some chapter introductions as well as captions. Overall, the material is beautifully presented.

My one quibble with this book is relatively minor. I would prefer that the book be larger. It’s the size of a regular book instead of coffee table book size. I would much prefer the larger size, which is more common when displaying something as art.

All in all, I recommend the book to any fans of Magnus, or lovers of chess or photography.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

I Want to Support Jobava, But I Can’t

First let me say that I really appreciate the fact that a player of Baadur Jobava’s caliber is streaming. More to the point, it’s not just him streaming blitz and puzzle rush constantly. Those things are entertaining, but the market is pretty saturated.

This morning I saw that Jobava was streaming himself analyzing some Kasparov games. I popped on and was curious as to how many subs he has. Just as one of his subscribers was saying to a mod that they needed some commands, I happened to type the command !subs, which drew no response as clearly no command has been set up for that.

The sub said “see” and I said “yep!” to which I was immediately timed out for 10 minutes. I sent a message to the mod letting them know that I just wanted to see the level of support since I was thinking about subscribing and the response was that I would be banned next time.

Top players streaming on Twitch? Awesome.

This? Nope. 

Bad modding kills Twitch channels.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

The Wisdom of Priyadharsan

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I could really use your help. If you’ve seen this more than once that means that you’re hopefully getting something useful out of this blog. I pay all of the costs for hosting, and put a lot of effort into creating the content. Please consider becoming a Patreon supporter.¬†

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Over the past few years the journeys of many adults trying to improve at chess have started to gain a larger audience. So much so that the phrase “adult improver” is now widely accepted thanks to Ben Johnson’s Perpetual Chess Podcast.

In my own years of working to improve as an adult I have heard every take on improvement from “of course Player X can become a GM after starting chess at age 45 as long as they work hard enough” to “anyone working to improve as an adult will be lucky to gain 50 Elo.” My own beliefs fall somewhere in the middle.

Peak to trough in my return to chess I have gained 400 points. Now I need to regain the ones I’ve lost and go 304 beyond that.

An interesting point of view came to my attention the other day in the form of a Twitter thread by my friend GM Priyadharshan Kannappan.

In it he makes some very interesting observations which I had to admit apply to me. Here’s the thread:

My first thought was, of course, to be internally dismissive. After all, what could a GM possibly know about the struggle to improve? Of course that was just a shallow initial thought. When I stepped back and really took the time to think about it this was my reply.

This was based on the sudden realization that every time I have discussed chess with stronger players, be it a GM/IM/FM that while I was trying to make some superficial point they were trying to really dig in to the position.

I reflected back to a conversation I once had with Tom Polgar where I said that when I analyze with stronger players I am capable of making interesting and sometime useful suggestions, but that I struggle to evaluate those ideas correctly over the board.

Now it makes perfect sense to me that a large part of the reason is that when analyzing with strong players I do become¬† more fully immersed in a position. Players at my level often try one or two ideas in a position when analyzing, yet I’ve sat in on analysis by titled players where they’ll look at 5-6 times that number. I am trying to make the idea I’ve become fixated on work, while they are trying to break down a position into its essence.

This is something I should really work on. Now I just need to figure out an effective way of doing so. I’ll start with analysis of my own games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott