An unexamined life is not worth living.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How to learn the most from your online blitz games

  1. play with slower time controls. You won’t learn much from 1 minute games, and on ICC it does not take too long to find an opponent for a decent 15 minute game
  2. focus, focus, focus, don’t get distracted on other windows open on your computer while opponent is thinking (or even worse – during your move!). I already wrote a whole other post about that.
  3. don’t play online chess when you are tired. That kind of makes sense, since it’s hard to focus when you’re tired.
  4. make sure all your games are automatically stored into a pgn file
  5. review each game soon after it’s played
  6. don’t feed it immediately to an engine, analyse by yourself for a bit
  7. check the opening against a Reference DB to see where you and your opponent deviated from previously played games
  8. if your opponent played something you completely did not expect - update your opening repertoire afterwards
  9. don’t play too many games in a row
  10. don’t take online chess too seriously, remember that over the board tournaments is a completely different game from online blitz

To the last point, when I played in my first British Columbia Junior championship a few years ago, the highest rated player had been a bit rusty. He had not played tournament chess for about a year, and he did not do so well (finishing outside of the top 3 from what I could recall) in our little competition. After the tournament he told me with a smile that he had played a lot of 1 minute games right before the tournament. He was doing really well in those, and assumed he was in excellent shape for the event. Switching time controls is never easy, I am sure we have all discovered that!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Improving time management in a chess game

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. I recommend keeping track of the time you spent during the game. Once you get into the habit of adding clock information to every move, it won’t be any more of a distraction than recording the move itself. Once you get home – you can enter it later into your personal collection/database of games and later use it while analysing the game. I went over a quick example in my previous post on the same subject. To improve your time management, here are 10 questions to think about:

  1. did you spent enough time during the critical moments?
  2. were there simple moves on which you spent more time than necessary?
  3. was your opening preparation sufficient to quickly play the opening moves?
  4. did you take advantage of your opponent’s long thinking sessions by preparing a quick response against his most likely moves?
  5. was your overall playing speed appropriate for the time controls in the tournament?
  6. were you spending enough time on your moves even if your opponent was in time trouble?
  7. is your thinking generally efficient? Are you careful about first identifying all candidate moves, or do you ever spend time calculating crazy complications to later discover that they are not necessary?
  8. do you handle time trouble reasonably trouble well – stress wise? There are good blitz players, who collapse at the end of a long slow game due to time trouble…
  9. can you play basic and/or simple endgames with little increment only? games are often decided in those long endgames when speed matters.
  10. do you play in enough slow tournaments for any of this to even matter?

I suspect by answering these questions you will learn a lot more about your chess strengths and weaknesses in general. I personally suspect that my opening preparation is often falling behind so I sometimes have spend too much time early in the game. I also generally don’t get too stressed out by time trouble (not more than I usually am, that is), but even though I like the endgame, I know there plenty of endgames I misplayed that I might have saved if I had an extra half an hour on the clock! I am also really bad about thinking during my opponent’s time, I am usually so stressed out during my games that I can’t stay in front of the board while my opponent is thinking.

All in all, if your time management is poor, or if there is something you want to improve about it (I know I do) – the popular advice is to play training games or an entire tournament with focus on better time management. Even if it has a detrimental impact on your result just in that tournament – that would make you a better player in the long term.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

A tactic that Karpov and Kasparov both missed

Karpov – Georgadze, 1983

image  Black to move. Where should the rook retreat?
In this position Black played 24… Rcc8 and experienced difficulties after White transferred the knight to c6. He later lost the game.
In his book “My 100 wins” (1984) Anatoly Karpov instead recommended 24… Rc7 (presumably to make sure that Be7 is guarded when White knight arrives to c6) 25. Nb4 Qf5 – “starting the counter attack as soon as possible”. There is a little tactical problem with that suggestion, that Karpov probably overlooked. It is ironic that Kasparov later copied the entire annotation in his Volume 5 of “My Great Predecessors”, without spotting the mistake (and I am pretty sure it is a mistake, since White gets to win a pawn or exchange on a spot without obvious compensation). That just goes to show that even world champions should blunder check their recommendations with engines (although of course there were no engines when Karpov’s book was first published).

Here is the position after Karpov’s suggested improvement of “Rc5-c7”.

image White to move. How to win material immediately?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Feeling critical moments in a chess game

One important skill for a chess player is to feel the moment in a game when you really have to think hard and an make an important decision or two. How well do you sense such critical situations? In analysis, you or your engine can always identify the blunders, when advantage switches from one side to the other. But what about during the game? To measure your skill – I suggest recording time spent on each move on a score sheet during the game. While going through the game afterwards – it will be not hard to tell whether you spent enough time during the critical moments. You can also improve your time management by identifying moves on which you spent more time than necessary!

Looking at time spent will also reveal what of opponent’s moves came to you as a surprise…

Here is an example played with 1 hr 30 minutes per game, and 1 minute increments:
Yoos - Jiganchine, Keres Memorial 2009.
1. e4 c6
2. d4 d5
3. e5 c5
4. dxc5 e6
5. Be3 Nd7

6. Nf3 (1-24) Qc7 (1-29)
7. c4 (1-19) dxc4 (1-12)
8. Qa4 Bxc5 (1-11)
9. Bxc5 Qxc5
10. Nc3 Nh6
11. Ne4 (1-12) Qc6 (49)

Without even looking at the board or replaying the moves, this time spent after moves tells a story! Looking at the moves again, what can we see?
1. e4 c6
2. d4 d5
3. e5 c5
4. dxc5 e6
5. Be3 Nd7
The main line now is 6. Bb5
6. Nf3 (1-24)

Jack was spending several minutes here, so I was already feeling that my opening choice was not completely bad. But was he trying to remember theory, or just choosing which line to play to surprise me the most? He in fact had already played Nf3 in one of his games before!
6 ….Qc7
Now, the usual move is 6… Bc5, but because Black plays 6… Qc7 against 6.Bb5, I played the same move without much thinking. Clearly I did not sense an important difference between 6. Nf3 and 6. Bb5
7. c4 (1-19)
White must have either had this prepared at home and he was double checking, or it was part of his plan with Nf3. Either way, he was not spending too much time here yet.
7… dxc4 (1-12)
The almost 20 move think on move 7 shows that clearly I had not expected 7.c4, even though this is a somewhat common idea, and makes more sense with the queen on c7, rather than on d8.
8. Qa4 Bxc5 (1-11)
Only reasonable move, so makes sense to play it fast.
9. Bxc5 Qxc5
10. Nc3
Now Black has to choose between Nh6 and Ne7, so here comes a 10 minute think.
10… Nh6 (59)
11. Ne4 (1-12)
Again, White is playing reasonably fast, and at this point Black has to choose between 11… Qc6 and 11… b5 !?
11… Qc6 (49)
11 moves into it, I I already spent almost half of my time. I carried on in a similar fashion, got into time trouble and made a decisive blunder on move 16 already. All that could have arguably been prevented had a put a bit more thought on my critical decision on move 6, which I clearly did not!

David Bronstein had also been advocating including time spent as part of the game scores – since it is just as much part of the game as the actual moves! You can learn more about the trends in you play - going through the records of my games I noticed that in most games that I have lost – I had been spending more time than my opponent starting from the opening – this game against Yoos is a typical example.

It is a good tool for evaluating your overall understanding of the game as well. Mark Dvoretsky has an example in one of his books where he played an anti-positional move and immediately realized its flaws. He then goes on to explain that the fact that he played it very fast means to the coach that he is impulsive, whereas if he had spent a long time on it – that would have revealed poor positional understanding.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Analysing the endgame – looking for turning points

The logic of any given chess game usually does not become apparent until you dig deeper into it move by move. It takes time to understand the features of the position, identify the characteristic ideas, key positions and their evaluations. The computer is helpful, but in the endgame you want to tell if the +1.69 evaluation shown by the computer engine can actually be turned into a win, or it is, in fact a theoretical draw.

This position is from one of my games from Canadian Championship in 2004, Jiganchine - Bailey

image White to move. Evaluate the position. Click here to replay the entire game.

The position seems messy; White is slightly ahead on material, but Black’s pawns look quite dangerous. Who is better? White won the game, but primarily because my opponent tried to play against my time trouble. While analysing the endgame, I had 3 goals:

  1. Establish some understanding and rough evaluation of the starting position
  2. Determine key ideas for both sides
  3. Go through the game move by move searching for improvements, keeping track of critical moments – when evaluation of the position changes – e.g. from being equal to winning for White.

After a couple of hours in front of the computer I came up with this:

  1. The starting position is roughly equal – both sides can build a fortress of their own, so with correct play, I don’t see how any side can play for a win
  2. White and Black have several ideas
    1. White has two key ideas – to not lose, he needs to block Black ‘f’ and and ‘g’ pawns along dark squares, keeping the king on g3. If White wants to win – his goal is to obtain a passed pawn. That appears hard in the initial position, but may become a possibility if Black becomes too ambitious.
      image Black to move. He can’t counter the advance of the ‘a’ pawn, while Black’s pawns are blocked.
    2. Black’s idea is to support the advance of kingside pawns with the king, and if possible – to counterattack the pawn on h6. A position like this illustrates that Black’s pawns can get dangerous:
      image White to move (analysis) – he is in zugzwang and is losing!
      If the rook moves from g7 along 7th rank – Black will play g4-g3 with deadly effect
  3. Black was doing ok, but at some point erred by moving his king to e5 – too far from the ‘h’ pawns. Watch this video to follow my analysis of all the things that my opponent and myself had missed:

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