Quality Chess Challenge Wrap Up

On February 13th one of the more interesting events of my chess career came to an end.

The Quality Chess Book Challenge started by an offhand comment by my friend, NM Richard Martin, that QC’s products were so good that it should be possible to improve greatly using nothing by their materials.

So I decided to give it a year.  The one thing that I refused to be dogmatic about was not using anything when no QC product existed.

So for example, lacking much material on endgames I used Minev’s book on rook endings when I wanted to study them.  I also used a lot of online and book resources to work on tactics.

So how did things go?  What were the successes?  Failures?  And where do we go from here?

The first, and most obvious, thing to look at would be rating.  My rating started at 1804 and ended at 1761.  So no real measure there.  I don’t consider a 43 point rating loss a failure, but nor would I consider a 43 point gain to be any real mark of improvement.

The reason why I don’t consider these small types of moves to be much of anything is a situation like in my final game at my most recent tournament. I lost a game that had I won would have made more than a 30 point swing.  Losing that game put me at 1761, while winning that game would have left me at 1793.  I don’t see long term success and failure as measured by the results of only one or two games.

Things I though went well:

I think that my approach started out more disciplined.  Knowing that I was limited in what I could use to study, I tended to put more focus into one thing at a time instead of flitting from thing to thing.

Sadly, that didn’t last, and by the end I was reading a few pages of one book before switching off to something different.  Yet for the first eight or nine months I was definitely more focused.

So if I can tap in to that focus and keep it going I think that only good things can happen.

Another thing that I felt went well is that I developed more of a taste for solving that I used to have.  Solving is a very important part of improvement as it’s the closest one can come to replicating game conditions while not playing.

What didn’t go well:

I was hoping that this challenge would give me more drive to push through and increase my study time.  My friend Susan Polgar has said things along the lines of champions train when others are sleeping or watching TV.

Unfortunately I didn’t really study any more than I already do.  On a great day I’ll get two hours.  Typically that might be on a Saturday morning.  On a good day I might get an hour.  On a typical day it’s less than that.  Maybe 30-40 minutes.

Partially this is due to being married.  I’m not going to come home from work and tell my wife “Hi, bye, gotta go study chess now.”  Which means that I typically don’t get to start working on chess until after she goes to bed.

So 10:00-10:30pm is usually my start time.  As I get up at 5:15am to go to work I can’t push the envelope too far.  Of course this means that I’m not exactly at peak performance when I do study.

So where do we go from here?

The first thing that I am going to do is set myself a new challenge.  I plan on reading books two and three in the Yusupov series this year.  Sure, that’s not much, but it’s easily doable.

The second thing that I plan on doing is starting to spend at least one hour going over the openings of each game I play.  I need to learn more theory than I currently know, so I’ll do this in bite size chunks.

The third thing that I’m going to do is to work on making the study time I do have more efficient.  Primarily I’m not going to spend my evening study time working on tactics.  My plan to keep on working on tactical acumen is to just solve a few here and there throughout the day on my phone.  That should give me the 15-30 min a day I’d like to spend, and still leave my evening time open for other things.

My goal this year is to exceed my all time peak rating of 1896.

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

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

Me and Petrosian

One of the books that I have been reading lately is Python Strategy by the ninth world champion “Iron” Tigran Petrosian.

Quality Chess published an English language edition a year or two ago and in my opinion this book is solid gold.

There are a couple of reasons for that opinion.  The first is that generally I think that anything written by a world champion is worthy of attention.  The second is the fact that this book is simply amazing.

One thing that comes through loud and clear is that Petrosian wrote this book with the very clear purpose of it being instructional.  This book was meant to inspire the future generations of Soviet Bloc players who would inevitably replace him at the top of the mountain.

Contrast this with something like Kasparov’s My Great Predecessors which is useful to strong players, but not to average players looking to understand the game better in order to improve.

Thus, annotations in Python Strategy are variational where needed to whatever depth it takes to properly detail the position, and verbose where prosaic explanations serve to better illustrate a general point about the topic at hand.

Petrosian has long been one of my favorite players.  He has been unfairly saddled with the monikor of being “boring” or “drawish” but the reality is that he was such as solid defender that he saved a ton of poor positions and therefore just didn’t lose often.  He also, much like Karpov, refused to enter needless complications in order to create winning chances.

If he gained an advantage he would nurse it until he converted it.  If he was in a level position he would simply make sure that first and foremost he was playing in as risk free a manner as possible.

In my opinion those who say that Petrosian’s was simply a draw master and pretty much the same as those who say the same about Anish Giri today.

If Petrosian were simply a draw master he never would have become world champion, the same as Giri would never have made it over 2800.

Another reason that Petrosian inspires me is that on many levels I try to model my play on his own.  I enjoy positional, maneuvering games when they arise, but I also work on my tactics and attacking abilities so that when presented with a chance I can take it.

Here is a game of Petrosian’s in which the young Armenian demolishes  the legendary Paul Keres with a piece sacrifice.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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