An unexamined life is not worth living.

Monday, May 31, 2010

How to prepare for a Chess Tournament

If you are a professional tournament player, or very active in chess competitions, you are probably jumping from tournament to tournament so frequently that preparing for a given event involves making sure that you register and show up for it in timely fashion, and then just prepare for each game (pure guessing on my part, I actually don’t know for a fact what the pros do). But if you are like me and only play in 2-3 tournaments a year, being rusty and not adjusted to the tournament setting can seriously affect your play. Here are some suggestions for how average adult players (1500-2400 ELO) can get better prepared for those rare but important chess tournaments:
  1. Play some practice games online, with slower time controls. With patience, one can nearly always find an opponent for a 15 minute game on ICC. Even better – a couple of training games in an environment similar to the tournament setting (I would guess though that if you don’t play much in tournaments, training games over the board would be hard to arrange too). In any case – focus on the quality of your play, not the online rating.
  2. Practice tactics
  3. Find out who your opponents are going to be, if that’s possible. Even in a Swiss tournament, it is possible to have a cursory idea of who your 10 most dangerous competitors are and whether there is any opening in your repertoire you need to review.
  4. Decide on your opening repertoire for this tournament. Focus on preparing just those openings. Your long term opening repertoire plan may involve adding a new defence against e4, or switching to 1.d4 from 1.e4, and that’s fine, but make a decision well in advance whether they are going to be ready for any given tournament.
  5. Do a bit of study for pure pleasure – look at your favourite games/books, etc, to reignite your interest in the game
  6. Rest from chess for several days before the tournament. Most tournaments now are played with two games per day, and with some possible “before the round” opening preparation, during the competition you will have more than chess to satisfy your daily dose. So don’t overdose it!
  7. Plan the non-chess part of the event well, try to clear up your schedule to reduce possible distractions. As a side note, I used to take a day or two off work right before the tournament to “rest”, but that just made me hope to get review my openings, and do all the tactics and opening and other training in those two days, which was obviously contradicting point 6!
  8. Set up a goal for the tournament. I am not talking about a pure result, expected performance rating, but rather a specific training objective that you can aim for during the games. Examples would be “not getting into time trouble”, “spend more time at the board during opponent’s turn instead of walking” and so on.
  9. Get enough sleep!
  10. Preparing for each tournament should start at the … end of the previous tournament, so when the event is over – make sure to go over your games sooner rather than later. What was the problem in your play, and how are you going to address it?
I now realized that I already had made a similar list a couple of years ago, the list has now grown from 3 to 10 items. Does that mean that I now prepare for tournaments more thoroughly? Or just that I got to better appreciate the side effects of sleep deprivation?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Keres Memorial 2010 games - with Videos

Keres Memorial 2010 was held last weekend in Richmond, British Columbia. While last year I wrote up a summary with diagrams, this time I instead captured fresh impressions of my games into several Youtube videos:

Round 2 game - A complex middlegame in the Sicilian Dragon, with Black throwing multiple sacrifices at my position to keep his initiative going. This turns out to be an effective strategy in time trouble! Part 2 shows how the game concluded.

Round 3 game - White sacrificed the d4 pawn in the well known variation of the French Defence. In return he gets faster development, and soon - the material advantage. A fairly simple and somewhat instructive game (I say “simple”, but of course just like any game - took a lot of effort over the board).

The last round game where both players needed to win. Black's king was a bit more exposed and that allowed me to create an unexpected attack. Black overlooked a very unexpected defensive resource and soon had to resign because his queenside collapsed, and dark squares around his king were catastrophically weak.

PS. My Youtube channel now has 40 chess-related videos, feel free to watch more clips and subscribe :-)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Errors in Old Combination Manuals

Letzelter – Faivre, 1971

image Black to move.

White’s last move must have been Bg5, with a discovered attack against the unprotected rook on d4.

Just like the annotator and players, I fell for 1… Qxg5 2. Rxd4 Ne3!, which does give black some advantage after 3. Qc6 Nxf1 4. Kxf1 Qe3! 5. Qf3! However a computer engine pointed out a much simpler and more effective solution. What was it?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Anand – Topalov tied at 4-4

The World Championship match is very intense and there are a lot of sources covering it. I am enjoying video reviews from Sergei Shipov (in Russian) at; he has been joined by Garry Kasparov during analysis for the last couple of games.

Not all websites, however, provide equally deep coverage; the main page of The Week in Chess as of this morning sounded somewhat superficial when describing game 8:

Anand got a completely drawn position and then played 54...Bc6??? which lost almost instantly and he resigned a couple of moves later. In contrast to game 7 both players played poorly. Anand's opening was bad, Topalov didn't press very well and certainly didn't cause Anand's shocking blunder at the end. All very odd.

Is it possible to get cause and effect in chess any more wrong than that? Has any world championship match been more intense than this one? There are no short draws, Topalov is playing in every game till there are kings on the board, and is pressing against Anand with his opening preparation as well. It is pretty clear that exhaustion is mounting and this why Anand made the blunder that he made in game 8. There are still 4 exciting games left in this match, so we’ll have to see what happens next, while today is rest day.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Turning Chess Knowledge into Playing Strength

It often happens that a chess player studies a lot, but the rating does not go up. On the other hand, sometimes one just plays in tournaments, and the rating keeps growing and growing, without the player putting much effort into learning chess theory. Today, I thought I’d break this down into pieces.

There are various sources of chess knowledge:

  • Grandmaster games in books and databases
  • Games you play and analyse yourself
  • Opening theory
  • Endgame books and theory
  • Tactical fragments and combinations

These contribute to your “chess culture”, but if you stare at an opening encyclopaedia all day, and cannot remember a thing a day later, that does not help you much in the next tournament. Success during any given game depends on how well you processed that information, and whether you turned it into so called chess skills:

  • correct play in fully memorized opening variations
    • Part of this is specific opening preparation against a given opponent
    • You’d rarely win a game by pure opening knowledge alone, but exact knowledge helps building a foundation for every game
  • correct play in fully memorized endgame positions
  • clock control/time management, staying calm in Zeitnot, if it does occur
  • ability to focus well and the same time not get too tired during the game
  • recognizing patterns in the opening, middlegame, endgame positions
    • this is really where the bulk of chess strength lies; using those patterns a stronger player can outplay a weaker opponent, spot a tactical chance, etc

Today I made an ‘observation’ - I spend time acquiring bits of chess knowledge year after year, but my skills stay about the same, at least my rating says so. For almost 10 years. While preserving one’s playing strength does not come for free, some progress would be nice too. So I wrote this up so that I can ask myself a few questions:

  • Could I be more efficient at acquiring skills while ploughing throw various sources of chess information?
  • Am I not acquiring enough “knowledge”?
    • do I not learn enough “new stuff”, fast enough for progress to be noticeable?
    • for every new bit that I learn – do I forget some other older bit of chess information, because that’s how memory works once you get older?
  • Does my newly acquired knowledge fail to consistently translate into immediate skills/strength?
    • Memorizing opening variations that no one plays against you would be one way of achieving that ‘goal’
    • Another example would be switching from one opening to another. That’s rarely going to make you a stronger player on a spot; at least in this case there is method behind the madness
  • In the end of the day – should I make sure that I am spending my time where it’s going to benefit my playing strength the most?
    • This is not a redundant question: one could be studying chess for pure enjoyment, with no particular purpose in mind

For myself, the answer is probably “yes” to all those questions! What about you?

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