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

Coons – Wainscott 1/2-1/2

Last night I played my first game since the beginning of the Book Challenge.  I felt that I played well enough in the opening, then stumbled a bit followed by opponent missing a forced (though a long line) mate.

So all in all a bit of luck can often go a long way.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Time Waits for No One

One of the most challenging parts of any study plan, regardless of how it is formatted, is how to properly allocate the study time that you do have.

If you’re like me, time for chess is limited.  Improving at chess is important to me, but I have a job and I have a wife and I will not continuously neglect either of them for the sake of improvement.

This means that in the typical day I get around one good hour to work and parts of another hour more often than not.

On the weekends I can usually get an extra hour each day over and above the weekday time.  So in a good week I’m getting 10 quality hours if I use them all.  So how to use them properly?

Well, one thing that you should know about my chess schedule is that it includes a rated club game every Thursday.  This means I typically know who my opponent is at least a couple of days in advance.  So it would seem that opening prep should be a natural part of what I do.

Well, it is, but lately not in the way that it used to be.

Until recently I would prep for my next opponent.  So if I was White this Thursday against a QGD player I might work on some 5.Bf4 stuff for a while, but then next Thursday I wind up Black against someone who plays the Spanish so I wind up working on the Breyer for a bit or whatever.

The problem with this is that it started to become very disjointed.  It never felt like I was digging deeply in to the openings I play because I was always rushing off to study the line for next week.

So lately I have changed that up quite a bit.  Now I work on openings a couple of days a week, and I just work on whatever opening I’m working on.  My idea is that I can work on the specific opening for the game I just played when I analyze that game.  Otherwise, I want my opening time to revolve around the same one so that I can dig much deeper than I have in the past.

I am currently waiting on the first Yusupov volume, and my plan for when I receive it is to do the following.

Two days a week I will spend at least an hour on openings.  In a more perfect world it would be more like 90 minutes.  This would mean that roughly 30% of my time is spent on opening work.  That’s a bit high for my tastes, but I’m playing catch up here since I’ve never studied openings at all until recently.

One day per week (likely Friday) I will analyze the game I just played that week.

The rest of the time will be devoted to Yusupov.

Now since I play on Thursdays this leaves only six days per week to study (and less than that during weeks like this one where I have a weekend tournament coming up.)

In order to maximize my efforts I intend to not work on openings at all on the weekend.  Instead, all opening work will be done during the week.  The primary reason for this is so that I’m not spending the longer amount of time I get on the weekend each day on openings, but rather on the item that should pay off the most, the Yusupov.

In theory this breakdown should mean that in a week with no weekend tournament (and since I only play one every couple of months, this means most weeks) I can work on openings for three hours, game analysis for two, and Yusupov between five and seven.

Jacob Aagaard told me that he thinks that if I push myself I can get through one Yusupov book each month.  I honestly don’t know if 20-30 hours per month will be enough for the Yusupov, but that will be my intention starting out.

So we’ll see what happens.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Hooked on a Feeling

One of the things that chess players often talk about is intuition.  Whether it’s a top flight GM explaining in their post game interview that they did something because they “had a hunch” or one of the class players at your local club intuition plays a large role in the royal game.

However, there are times when intuition simply won’t do and precise calculation is an absolute must.

Here is an excellent example that Boris Gelfand discusses in his book Positional Decision Making in Chess.

This is the position after Black’s 20th move in Gelfand-Ivanchuk Dagomys 2009

Writes Gelfand “We have reached maybe the last critical moment in the game.  At this point I had to calculate accurately to ensure that the knight endgame was winning.  As this was the case I more or less forced him to enter it.  You cannot do such things on feeling.”

What struck me quite deeply about that line is that only a few days prior I myself had done just such a thing “on feeling” in my game against Gerlach.

Here is the position with White to move:

My notes to the game say “I felt the need to try to press a little to see if my opponent would crumble at all, which he did not.”

That’s the danger – I “felt” that I had to play 22.b5.  My logic was that I couldn’t calculate any immediate danger so therefore this decision was justified.

The problem is that I also couldn’t calculate any advantage.  So therefore why was I playing on feeling.  At this point in the game I had maybe a 15 minute advantage on the clock, so if anything I should have just played solid, logical moves and hope to nurse my clock advantage to a point where my opponent was more likely to make a mistake.

Instead, I played something that was quite committal.

Clearly this is something that I will need to be much more mindful of during my games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

The Challenge is On!

OK, so after Johan Verduyckt challenged me things kind of took off for the Quality Chess Challenge.

As it stands now Johan and I will be battling it out to see who has the largest rating gain from 2/13/2017-2/13/2018.

We will adjust the rules as needed to keep it fair since there may be some unexpected complications of doing a straight up ratings comparison between the USA and Belgium.

The rules as it stands now are that I will use only books from QC except where no book exists (this shouldn’t be too much since there’s only one or two things that I need that QC doesn’t have yet) and Johan will primarily use books from New in Chess, although he also has a couple of exceptions as well.

Stay tuned for details of involvement from Quality Chess as well.

Mostly my plan to improve is as follows:

First and foremost I plan on changing a lot about my overall physical health.  It’s time to turn health and nutrition into an advantage rather than a hindrance.  I have been exercising more as of late, and I plan to continue that.  I will also make sure that I am being very conscientious of what I eat at a tournament.

I recall a lecture given at my chess club by my friend FM Alex Betaneli who said that the reason he was still able to beat all of the up and coming strong juniors more often than not is that he was having a breakfast of oatmeal and yogurt while they were eating McDonalds and donuts.

Secondly, I will analyze my own games as deeply as I ever have.  My goal is to spend 2-3 hours analyzing each game without an engine.  After that I’ll blunder check with an engine, but nothing more.

I’ve always felt that class players do themselves a huge disservice with statements like “Why would I analyze my games by myself when I can have my 3000 rated coach do it?”  The answer to that is that just the very act of analyzing the games will teach you how to calculate better and to find more creative ideas in your own games.

It’s time to fine tune my openings so that I can better understand the tactics and structures that flow from them.  I’ve been working on this here and there, but not in a focused way.  It’s time to take a more professional approach to this, although I still plan on no more than an hour or so per week at this.

That brings us to my main focus.  The thing that I will be doing more than anything else – working with Artur Yusupov’s nine volume (now nine volumes plus a workbook) series.  I have ordered the first book and will begin working on it as soon as it arrives.

So my average day should look like this:

10-15 minutes of warming up with some simple puzzles.  “Priming the pump” as Vladimir Djorjevic used to put it at tournaments in Chicago.

Then an hour of serious intense work on whatever I am focusing on that day.

After that I’ll take a 10-15 minute break and then resume work until I get tired.

My main disadvantage is that most days I won’t be able to start this routine until 10pm at night.  However, since I’m typically awake until midnight or so that shouldn’t pose a huge problem.

What I am really hoping to gain from all this is just a renewed focus that I haven’t had in a while.  Sure, I’ve been working on chess, but I haven’t been WORKING on chess.

It’s devolved in to going through the motions rather than deliberate practice.

So let’s get this thing going!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott