An Experiment in Rapid Chess Improvement

Record of my experience in undertaking Michael de la Maza's "Rapid Chess Improvement" program.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Rating Debut

Well, the tournament results were turned in, and while the next rating list has not been published, my yet-to-be published rating will be 1542. I have no idea how my 1478 performance rating from the tournament gets converted into a 1542 provisional rating, but I'm not complaining. I was really hoping to have an initial rating in the 1500s, so I'm pretty psyched.

The club has another 4SS tournament this month, so I'm planning on playing in that. There's two sections, 1800+ and U1800, so obviously I'll be playing in the latter. I've not been playing much this month, so hopefully I won't be too rusty. :-)

I've been doing some work on my opening repertoire (highly classified, of course) but I'm getting close to at least having a vague idea of what to play against most major lines. That's a heck of a lot better than I was doing this time last year, so I am making some progress..

Friday, May 05, 2006

My First Tournament - Results

I finished my first tournament last weekend, the Austin Chess Club April Standard Swiss. Overall I played OK, but there was a lot of room for improvement. My final score was 2.5/4 (2 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss). My performance rating was 1478 according to the USCF website, so I assume that will be my provisional rating. Overall I had fun, but really wish I had done better in that first game which was just terrible. Hopefully I can just chalk that up to "first tournament anxiety". We shall see! I think I learned a lot, so it was a good experience. Feel free to check out the games. I'm not happy with all my notes on them yet, but I figured if I waited to finish them before posting the games I would never get around to it.

I'm not sure I will play in the May event since I'm fairly busy, but next month there is another 4 round tournament where I can play in the U1800 section. That should be fun!

I had a tough loss against my weekly sparring partner OJ last week. I resigned with a mate in on the board because due to a poor thought process I was not checking the checks. This was after having a very nice position in the middlegame. I'm glad I lost since it has really motivated me to work on my thought process. I still have a long ways to go, but in my last two games (the tournament and a game against Chris Kilgore) my thought process was better. Not 100%, but better than usual. I guess a good drubbing really helps every now and then!

Anyway, I'm currently working on tactics, reviewing master games, and trying to broaden my repertoire a little bit since I was out of book very quickly in my tournament games.

Hope everyone is well!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My First Tournament!

It’s been a while since my last posting, but I’ve actually been fairly active chess-wise. I got back from my month-long business trip to Detroit two weeks ago and jumped right into my first tournament! I’m playing in the Austin Chess Club’s April Standard Swiss. The format is one game each Sunday night for four weeks. Overall it seems like a good format for a gentle introduction into tournament play rather than jumping into a big 8 round, 3-day-weekend tournament.

Since I’m unrated I entered into the 1300-1799 group. My first game was against a USCF 1398 opponent. I played terribly. I had the advantage for most of the game, but made many, many substandard moves and finally ended up trading down into a lost endgame. Ugh.

My second game was against an opponent rated 1370. He dropped a piece in the opening, so I started trading down. Later I missed a little combination that would have ended things much more quickly, but instead I let it drag out to 60+ moves before my opponent resigned. I felt like I gave him way too much counterplay, but I still won in the end. I really need to get back to doing more tactics problems. I really feel like my calculation and board vision has declined a lot since I wrapped up the MDLM plan, so I need to do some more tactics to get “back in shape”. I’m still doing some, but not nearly enough.

Anyway, my preliminary pairing for round three is as black against a 1478 player. Should be fun. I hope to win my remaining two games to pull off an initial rating in the 1500s. If I could start out at USCF 1500, I would be super happy. At any rate, getting out and playing more should help me improve, which is the real goal. I’m trying not to get too wrapped up in the ratings thing.

I’m still doing lessons with Dan Heisman roughly every two weeks. I’m still getting a lot out of it. The summary of my current homework is:

  • Tactics problems.Currently I’m working on the book “Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors” (Hays and Hall).
  • Play through master games.Currently I’m working on Chernev’s “Most Instructive Games of Chess”.On playing through master games the idea is quantity.Basically you should make the move on the board, read the notes to that move, make the next move, etc.I used to try to guess moves, but that takes a lot longer.Now I can go through a game in 10-15 minutes.
  • Read other “wordy” chess books/articles.Currently I’m reading Kmoch’s “Pawn Power in Chess”, but I’ve been a bit slack in this area.
  • Play games.Now that I’m back home and my schedule is slowing up I’m playing three slow games per week.Dan also suggested that if I had time I should play some 2 5 blitz (2 minutes per game w/ 5 second delay or increment) to get broad exposure to more openings and learn to play quickly when I have to (standard USCF games usually have a 5-second delay per move).

Overall I am still very happy with my lessons, and I feel like I learn a lot each time. We mostly go through my games, which I like. Now if I could only remember everything Dan tells me during the games. :-) But as far as tangible results, my time management has improved a lot I started lessons, so I’m well on my way to meeting one of objectives of lessons (improving my time management). Speaking of time management, one interesting thing is that in my two tournament games I’ve been much better about it. So maybe the “tournament pressure” has helped in this regard.

Anyway, wish me luck for Sunday!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's a Conspiracy...

I think there is some sort of conspiracy against me playing OTB tournament chess. Let's consider the evidence:
  • Three tournaments ago: Some work thing came up to where I had to work the weekend, thereby missing the tournament.
  • Two tournaments ago: A nice 4 round SS and...I ended up being on call for work and got sick (I suspect some sort of poisoning from my office).
  • Most recent: I was hoping to play in the March 4 round SS at the new chess club in Austin, but round 1 was this past weekend and guess what? I had to work both Saturday and Sunday. Okay, it's one game each Sunday evening, so I take a bye for the first round, and play the next three Sunday evenings. Nice try. I'm going to Detroit on business for 4 weeks.
I also found out today that a weekly conference call was getting rearranged guessed it...Thursday nights, right during my regular weekly game with OJ (not that it will matter for the next 4 weeks...).


Ah, now I feel better after getting that off my chest. So, anyone know of any chess clubs in Detroit, Michigan? :-)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

More Lessons

Just thought I'd do a quick post since it has been a while. I think I've done four more lessons w/ Dan Heisman since my last post. Here's a brief re-cap:

We went through the De Groot exercise. Dan has an article on it at the Novice Nook so I won't go into it here. Needless to say it was very enlightening to hear how Dr. Euwe went about analyzing a chess position. The takeaways for me were:
  • You are trying to find the best move in a position given reasonable time spent. You *do not* need to figure out how much better it is than the other moves. So if you have convinced (or "proved" as Dan would say) that you have found the best move, make it. You can find out how much better it was than the alternatives during your analysis after the game.
  • Dan talked about the "king of the hill" algorithm that Euwe used. Basically the idea is that as you analyze candidate moves you always compare it to the best move you have found so far, and if you find a better one, replace it. I actually used this in a game today against Chris Kilgore when I had an opportunity to trade my knight for one of his bishops, thereby depriving him of the bishop pair (which is worth about 1/2 a pawn). So in my analysis, I compared each of my other candidate moves against neutralizing his bishop pair. When I saw nothing better than that, I took the bishop.
  • Dr. Euwe only focused on forcing moves. Since he had a beneficial forcing sequence available, he didn't bother to analyze moves that were not forcing (i.e. routine development, improving piece placement, etc.).
  • I found it interesting that his analysis was not nearly as ordered as I would have thought, but it was still a lot more structured than mine. For example, at the start
Overall I thought it was useful and very instructive.

We went through a game I played with Chris Kilgore and discussed, among other things:
  • I moved a piece twice when I still had reasonable developing moves for other pieces that had not yet moved. At least I'm gettting better since in my game today I thought about that and developed my undeveloped pieces instead of improving the position of another piece.
  • The benefits of not castling too soon.
  • How I dawdled around in an opposite-side castling scenario instead of throwing those pawns forward as fast as possible (needless to say, Chris' attack landed first).

Went through another game I played with Chris in which we discussed (among other things):
  • In the opening I ended up with an IQP in exchange for a tempo. Dan was really excited about gaining the tempo, whereas I was worred about the isolated pawn.
  • We discussed (again) taking a good, hard think on your first move out of book. I'm trying to remember to do this, even when there seems to be many natural moves to play. It's a bit of a challenge since my inclination is to play way too slowly, so I am really trying to get better about playing faster when appropriate. It's taking some getting used to.
  • I'm still taking too long on essentially forced moves, such as protecting a pawn that is hanging when there is only one or two reasonable ways to do so.

We reviewed a game I played with OJ in which we discussed among other things:
  • We discussed a number of positional elements that I had completely misunderstood.
  • I was still playing routine developing moves too slowly.
  • He had me do a simple quiz. Of course I completely messed it up. Just shows I still need to work on simple board vision...
In Summary
I'm still very happy with the lessons. Again, Dan's approach (at least with me) is to help me with the "basic" stuff I'm not doing well such as time management, developing my pieces, etc. It is very frustrating to not be able to do these things. They all seem so simple, but for whatever reason it all goes to hell during my games. Many of the topics have been covered in the Novice Nook articles, or is common chess knowledge. So again, maybe others could learn all this stuff themselves just by reading articles, etc. Me? I just set up two more lessons. :-)

Hope everyone is playing well...!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lesson Three and a Chess Club

I had another lesson with Dan a few weeks ago (Dec. 31) and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it. As in prior sessions, we went through a game I'd played a few days prior with OJ. I had black in a Qd6 Scandinavian. As for as the game itself (sorry I'm too lazy to post it), after a few inaccurate moves by OJ I won a pawn about 10 moves into the game, and after the queens were exchanged I picked up another pawn but had to surrender the initiative. I then dropped a knight to an oversight and had two connected passed pawns for a bishop with two rooks on the board. A draw was most likely with accurate play on both sides, but Caissa smiled and I made off with the full point.

Anyway, we spent most of our hour looking at how I spent my time during the game since time management is one area in which I need to improve. Dan noticed that in the tactic where I won a pawn there were two possible captures. I saw that too during the game but quickly discarded one. Of course it turned out that the other capture led to a winning position instead of merely being up a pawn with most of the game still to come. The interesting thing was that when he looked at the time I spent on that recapture. (This is where my DGT board comes in really handy- I hook it up to Shredder during the game and it automatically tracks the time per move for me and saves it as a comment in the game.) It turns out that of the first 10-15 moves I made, the recapture was the second or third fastest move I played (25 seconds or so), including the book moves I played. His response was that there was no way I could possibly have fully analyzed both captures in such a short time, which I agreed. So the takeaway is that (as he's mentioned in his Novice Nook columns) when you have a tactical position, slow down and really take your time since that may be a critical moment. In my defense I was trying to play more quickly, and didn't think winning a pawn was much of a critical moment. But had I spent the time like I should the game would have only lasted another 20 moves or so (since OJ likes to play all the way to mate).

Another thing I did was slow down a lot after I'd dropped the knight. His comment (summarized) was I should have spent more time earlier ensuring I didn't drop the knight in the first place. Better to spend your time trying to maintain a winning position than trying to pull some miracle save after you are already losing.

Finally, we discussed why I dropped the knight. Basically OJ attacked a pawn with his rook which I saw, but my analysis of his move stopped there. Had I looked at it more carefully I would also have noticed that the pawn had become pinned and no longer defending my knight. So the moral here is that you need to consider everything a move does, not just stop after identifying the obvious purpose.

In general I've not been so good at consistently analyzing my opponent's moves, so I thought of a framework to help my checking process. Every time my opponent moves, I should ask:
  1. What is his piece doing now that it wasn't doing before?
  2. What was his piece doing on its old square that it is not doing now?
  3. What are other pieces now able to do after the move?
  4. What are other pieces no longer able to do after the move?
I have found I often overlook things that would be covered in #3 and #4. While I realize that having a rigid though process like this is not always possible, I'm still going to try to use it until such a process becomes automatic, then I can stop consciously going through the list. Incidentally, this list is also useful for blunderchecking my own moves so I may use it there also.

Anyway, I have two more lessons scheduled, one on Saturday and one two weeks later. Overall I've been fairly happy with my lessons and plan to continue them for the time being. The only downside to the lessons is the cost, which are now up to US$70 / hour. I'm happy with what I'm getting, but I do have to wonder if there are cheaper options. I've not tried anyone else, so I have no idea what other instructors might be like.

Chess Club
In other news, Austin is getting a new chess club. I don't know all the history of the chess scene in Austin, but there used to be a sparsely attended club I went to once many years ago. It was reasonably fun, but I never managed to make it back (for all I know it is a big group these days). Anyway, I got a mailer a few weeks ago informing me of a new chess club meeting every Sunday night. They have a schedule of events so I'm definitely planning on participating in the March slow chess tournament (30/90, SD/1) if nothing else. I'm hoping it will be a good opportunity to play more people just to get more exposure. They are having their opening night this Sunday, so I'll probably make an effort to attend even though it will mostly be G/5 blitz. OJ may come as well, but he's mostly interested in the free pizza. :-)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Second Lesson with Dan Heisman

Boy, things have been busy. November and December is a super-hectic time at work for me so I've not been playing much lately. Fortunately I have lots of games played at slow time controls I can go over with Dan, but it would be better if they were more "fresh" in my mind. Perhaps this is not the best time to be starting chess lessons, but I'm forging ahead anyway. I had my second lesson on December 10.

We started out going through a game I played against Chris Kilgore a month or so ago. I had white and played the bishop's opening. I started developing my pieces and after Chris castled queenside I tried to start a pawn storm before I had finished developing and had stablized the center. So Chris of course played ...d5 and I started suffering. We ended up trading down into an equal-material endgame where I had numerous pawn weaknesses and about five minutes left on my clock to Chris' 45 minutes plus. Needless to say I lost.

Going over the game Dan yielded two major insights. First, I never did finish getting my pieces out. Many moves Dan suggested were simple developing moves. Nothing fancy, nothing special, just getting my pieces out. I know I am supposed to do this, but for some reason I have always had this fear that if I make planless, standard developing moves I might find that my pieces are not well-coordinated or ill-equipped to handle some threat from my opponent. Dan's reasoning was to first worry about getting my pieces out consistently, and *then* worry about getting them perfectly coordinated. This makes a lot of sense...a lot more sense than my current policy of worrying excessively about piece placement and using tons of clock time while not getting my pieces out. So this seems like a simple thing to fix and should also help with my frequent time trouble.

The second major issue we discussed was my time trouble and in particular, why I spent 11 minutes choosing between Nf3 or Ne2 in a quiet position. Dan's suggestion was that if two moves are very similar in evaluation, then just pick one and move. I can spend as much time as I want after the game determining whether one move is 0.12 pawns better than the other one. So this is another thing for me to work on- realize when my candidate moves are nearly equivalent and just pick one.

So after two lessons I have been happy with Dan's approach and I feel like I'm getting a fair amount out of the lessons. I'm only doing 1 hour at a time and it goes by fast, but for now I'll keep on my schedule or 1 hour lessons every other week or so. Given the upcoming holiday my next lesson is not until December 31, but I'm looking forward to it. If you've thought about taking lessons with Dan, so far I can recommend him.

Happy holidays everyone!