An unexamined life is not worth living.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Setting Up Chess Goals - 2015

Setting up goals in chess or in anything can be eye opening if you've never done this before; it can also be therapeutic as it makes us more realistically consider what we can and cannot do in the near future. As time passes, goals are the measuring sticks that allow to see how much of what we set out to do – we are actually achieving. Not everyone does best with this paradigm, but for obsessive compulsive types – there is no use resisting this idea of being to set objectives and achieve them, or at least re-calibrate from time to time and reset those goals.
 I have attempted to have several chess-related goals for the next year that I think are both reasonable and appropriate for where I am in my life now (there is a place for chess in it, but I want to free up space for other things too). So here are my goals for 2015 (and maybe slightly beyond it):

Chess Improvement
  • Achieve a rating of 2400 in one of the ICC categories (blitz/active/etc)
  • Related to the above – I want/need to play at least 100 standard rated games on ICC in the same year
  • Improve my confidence in the opening with the Black pieces (avoid quick losses or unpleasant positions due to being unfamiliar with the opening)
    • This one is a challenge because it is hard to quantify what I am trying to achieve here
  • Solve about 1000 tactical puzzles, roughly 3 puzzles a day
  • Qualify for the provincial championship
    • The qualification requirement has gone up to 10 rated games a year, so this one has just become that much harder

These goals won't be easy to reach, they will require continuous focus and addition of some regular habits:
  • solving puzzles whenever I have a couple of spare minutes
  • improve ability to focus during blitz games, as without focus - the rating objectives are clearly not achievable, not in the next year, not ever
  • better planning of other activities so that I find the time to play a couple of half hour games every week

In addition to the usual desire of expressing thoughts in writing, another reason for sharing this set of goals is that as a reader of this blog – you might help me with quite a few of these goals, while also looking at chess study materials that you might have missed before.

I find chess improvement difficult without frequent reflection, and it currently it takes the form of writing on this blog, and making ebooks. [In my head] this has taken a life of its own, and lead me to a set of goals in Chess Publishing:
  • Make my chess materials available on 4 platforms or more. Currently I cover 3, so I need maintain and improve on this
  • Have at least 10 additional Amazon reviews on my books in the next year
    • I have several reviews so far, so if you’ve read my books or their previews – please feel free to add your comments, on amazon or here, as feedback is what helps everyone do better
  • Reach 1000 Youtube subscribers
    • After 7 years of posting, and with my channel at around 180 videos - I am now sitting at 900+ subscribers. Subscribe to get notifications of new videos!
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  • Publish all previously written/drafted books
    • I have about 3 books that are nearly ready to be published, but still have that remaining 10-15% percent of polish that is still clearly required

If you've read this far, maybe you'd want to leave your comments:
  • What are your chess goals?
  • Do you find it useful to set goals in something that is really a hobby for 99% of those of us that call ourselves chessplayers? 
  • When your results improve - is that a result of setting goals, or a natural part of studying the game?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Recommended for Watching: Magnus Carlsen Reviews World Championship Game 2 Victory Over Anand

I followed the Anand-Carlsen  struggle rather closely, especially their first match, so it was interesting to see one of the games from Carlsen's perspective:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Keeping Focused – On and Off the Chess Board

The issue of focus is an ever constant problem for anyone in the current society, but for chess players addressing it is particularly important. As Garry Kasparov once wrote – being able to concentrate fully on what’s happening on the board during a game and ignore everything else – is perhaps the most important skill for a chess player. That was written more than 25 years ago, and is true today more than ever.

When starting to study chess, I also read that chess, among other things - helps kids to improve their attention span, and I found that to be true at the time, but that was before computers, internet, mobile phones and other distractions came along. Maintaining focus during the game is easier because old habits kick in, and we are not allowed to use computers during tournaments, but during preparation – it is a challenge. If Anatoly Karpov was known to prepare for his Candidate Match games with the TV on, what can the mere mortals do? I’d like to suggest the following strategies for focus and motivation:

  1. set up clear study plans with definable objectives over longer term
  2. create habits that involve at least minimal daily chess study (e.g. solving 3 puzzles a day)
  3. set up routine for regular longer chess sessions when you can dedicate an hour or two of uninterrupted time
  4. get a study buddy or coach involve to keep yourself responsible to someone
  5. turn off internet or blocking distracting websites
  6. spend time away from the computer, with the chess board and books
  7. emulate playing environment while training – using chess clocks when looking for a move, having a board in a quiet room, etc
  8. during the tournament games – be mindful or where your clock time and attention goes – during your turn and your opponent’s
  9. during longer games – have regular breaks to make sure you have blood flowing to the brain and you don’t play a “blackout” type of move that you later can’t explain yourself
  10. arrive for tournament games a bit early, so that you can get into tune before the game starts, and don’t accidentally play a wrong opening move because you are still thinking a traffic jam you were in on the way to the game

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best Combinations – December 2014 (Monthly Chess Tactics Book 12)

December edition of the Monthly Tactics series is out with 50 puzzles for you to solve, added to my collection in the Amazon ebook store. 

December 2014 saw Anand winning the London Chess Classic Tournament, and in Beijing - Grischuk, Gunina, Hou Yifan and Nepomniachtchi were victorious in several categories; the combinations from both editions are well represented in this ebook. This December edition wraps up the series of 12 monthly tactics ebooks for 2014.

Going forward I plan to likely switch for the quarterly updates, primarily for efficiency reasons. I’d like to hear feedback though if anyone thinks that “monthly tactics” is a better paradigm.

Kramnik – Nakamura, London 2014

diagramWhite to move

The book contains the solution, but if you follow the chess news elsewhere, you probably already know what move Kramnik played.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Top Chess News and 12 Best Combinations of 2014

I have been closely following the chess news for the year as I was compiling collections of tactics from each month, and here is a summary of what happened in the chess world during 2014:

The highlight of January 2014 was the traditional Wijk Aan Zee tournament, won by Levon Aronian.

diagram Harikrishna – Nakamura White to move

The highlight of February 2014 was the Zurich Chess Challenge, with the average rating of 2801, the highest in chess history. It was won by Magnus Carlsen, but in one of the examples in the book he fell victim to a decisive sacrifice by Caruana. The real gem of the tournament, however was the exchange of rook sacrifices between Nakamura and Aronian, where in all three games (blitz, classical and rapid) White delivered a rook/exchange sacrifice against Black's kingside. The idea was brilliant, as White won in all three games! Other major tournaments this month were the Gibraltar and Moscow opens, which also had a lot of instructive combinations.

diagram Nakamura – Aronian White to move

The highlight of March 2014 was Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia that determined the challenger for World Champion Magnus Carlsen. It was won by Vishy Anand, with a great result of +3, a full point a head of Sergey Karjakin who came second. The other major tournament this month was the European championship, which also had a lot of instructive combinations. It was won in great style by Alexander Motylev.

diagram Aronian – Mamedyarov White to move

The highlight of April 2014 was the Vugar Gashimov Memorial held in Shamkir, Azerbaijan. It was won by the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who despite losing two games, scored 6.5/10. Caruana was second with 5.5 points. The other major tournaments this month were the Women's Rapid and Blitz World Championships held in Khanty-Mansiysk, which were won by Kateryna Lagno and Anna Muzychuk respectively. Earlier that month Khanty-Mansiysk also hosted the Women's FIDE Grand Prix tournament, won by Hou Yifan, so April was truly a month of Women's chess in that city.

diagramCaruana – Carlsen, White to move

After the major top tournaments of the first 4 months of the year, May was a relatively quiet month on the top scene. But, of course, still a lot of tournaments were played at different levels, including top GM round robins - Capablanca memorial in Havana, won by Wesley So, and Karpov's tournament in Poikovsky, won by Morozevich. Several combinations in this edition also come from the Italian team championship, and the Czech national championship.

diagram White to move

June features an expanded edition, with over a hundred combinations, to cover the Rapid and Blitz World Championships in Dubai, in addition to the Stavanger Super Tournament in Norway. The former were both convincingly won by Magnus Carlsen, while Sergey Karjakin deprived the Norwegian World Champion of a home victory and took first place in the latter.

diagram Topalov – Grischuk Black to move

July edition again covers over a hundred combinations, coming from Women's European Championship (won by Gunina), Dortmund, won by Caruana, and many other tournaments. The chess world is now awaiting the Olympiad in Tromso, so the August Monthly Tactics will have no shortage of combinations to choose from!

diagram Final position from Caruana – Ponomariov

August edition covers over a hundred combinations, mostly coming from the Tromso Chess Olympiad, which was won by China in the Open tournament, and by Russia in the Women's Section.

diagram Lagno – Dohdal, White to move

The major tournaments of September 2014 were happening in Bilbao, Spain. The European team championship was won by SOCAR club from Azerbaijan in the open event, and Georgian club Nona in the female section. Anand won the Bilbao Masters chess tournament, held at the same time and location, ahead of Aronian. The October edition will cover the first stage of the next World Championship which will begin with the Grand Prix tournament in Baku, with the world's strongest grandmasters participating.

diagram White to move

The major tournaments of October 2014 were the two FIDE Grand Prix tournaments, in Baku and Tashkent. The former was won by Caruana and Gelfand, while in the latter Andreikin took the first place. Lu Shanglei and Aleksandra Goryachkina won the titles in the World Juniors championships in India. Giri-Shirov friendly match was another highlight, and two combinations from the match are featured here. The November edition will cover the World Championship Match in Sochi between Carlsen and Anand, as well as the Petrosian Memorial in Moscow with the world's strongest grandmasters participating.

diagram Shirov – Vedder, White to move

The main event of November 2014 was the World Championship Match in Sochi between Carlsen and Anand, where Carlsen retained his title. Other major events were the Petrosian Memorial in Moscow with the world's strongest grandmasters participating (won by Grischuk), and the Tal memorial - a blitz tournament held as a side event in Sochi between many super grandmasters, this year's replacement for the annual Tal Memorial in Moscow (won by Mamedyarov).

diagram Carlsen – Anand, Black to move

December saw Anand win the London Classic tournament, ahead of Kramnik and Giri.

diagram Kramnik – Nakamura, White to move

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Carlsen’s Attack in Closed Sicilian

Carlsen – Wojtaszek, 2014
image White to move
Solution in the Video, Ebook, or Viewer below

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