He was winning,
but he didn't see it
and I escaped - as usual.

-Levon Aronian


By drunknknite

I have a room in Vegas at the Riviera but no roommate... anyone interested in splitting a room? It would be $46 each Friday and Saturday and $41 each Sunday, unless someone wants the floor then it would be even cheaper hehe.



Vegas Baby...

By drunknknite

Yeah.... so.... it's been a while...

I'm not really going to give you guys a good post, I'm not going to be posting much for the summer I don't think. I'm sure I'll throw an update in here and there though.

2 weeks ago I played Fischer, it was boring. I tried really hard to win cause he made it really clear he would take a draw and ended up in a losing position. He agreed to a draw I think cause he was short on time.

I'm playing him in the first round of the Club Championship, a four game match. I took Black for the first game. I'm going to let him play for a draw and then just take it. Then it's a best of 3 and I have 2 Whites.

My last two weeks I haven't been myself at the board. I'll play risky chess for a little bit but I'm taking small advantages and not looking to break things open with complicated play. That's not my style. I like to hang it all out there. So I have been studying. I'm into chess again. I went through like a month, maybe longer, where I couldn't get into it. I was playing well but I wasn't interested. But I think I'm over it.

I feel like I'm playing my best chess. Especially recently. I played 5 games in the last 2 days and they all felt really good. But I've only played 10 games on ICC this month. I've played some skittles with Nate and Vern but really I haven't even been playing chess. It's pretty weak. I need to step it up.

So I have. I'm back in a good routine. Couple hours a day. I'm out of shape. I'm not worried about it for the match with Fischer, but for Vegas and for the later rounds I am going to need to be on my game. I want to have 100 point summer. I have been consistently achieving 2100 performances with suspect play. I know I can play better though. I want to have a 2200-2300 average in my performances for the rest of the year. That seems like an achievable goal.

I think it was the difficulty of the work that has turned me off. Master almost seems out of reach even though it is so close. Sometimes it takes me time to appreciate the value of compounding work over months or years. I'm all about instant gratification, maybe why I can't win a won position... I know I can be a master, but how badly do I really want it?

The National Open is my favorite tournament. It was the first BIG tournament I played. I played it in 2004, 2005, and 2006. It is the tournament I look forward to all year long. I didn't play it last year because my brother graduated high school and there were other circumstances at play. I have never finished out of the top 10 in my section. I finished with 4.5/6 in the U1600 section two years in a row and then my third year in 2006 I tied for first in the U1800 section. Now two years later I have to play the U2200 section, which is a big leap. So I have to work. Go hard or go home. If I'm not going to work a couple hours a day I should really just quit because there are plenty of other things I could be doing than chess. But for now it's something that I'm good at, that I enjoy (although sometimes I forget that for a while), and that's enough to get me to spend time on it. What else is there?




By drunknknite

I have had two long, difficult games in a row over the last two weeks. One stirred up some discussion already when I posted diagrams from it. The one from last night is also interesting. Both are extremely complicated and it is very hard to understand the forces at work. I am glad that I was able to hang with these two great players during these two games because it shows that I am starting to get a hold of how to treat these types of positions. Both games I used a lot of time, but kept to a pretty good pace, other than the end of the second game when I probably needed another half hour to be able to secure the point.

The analysis included is lengthy but I hope it helps you to get a hold of these positions, they're wacky.




Glad that's over.

By drunknknite

Last night I huffed, and I puffed...

but I couldn't blow Alsasua's house down. Just a draw, but good enough to clinch a spot in the next stage of the championship and that's the much more important factor.

I'm not happy with the result. I held the advantage for almost the entire game and failed to produce the point. Last night after the game I just drank with a friend instead of the usual crazy insomniac state I get when blowing a win (where I'm up until the wee hours of the morning proving to myself that I should have won).

I'm also not happy with the way this tournament went. I played two good games out of six (that's counting last night as a good game...). That's not going to cut it. There's one round left but I am already looking ahead to the championship phase and the National Open in June. I think I should be able to produce good games with some extra effort. So that's where I'm at.

As far as the rest of this tournament there are 4 players who have clinched and 3 players with the potential to have 4 points or more, if they all achieve 4 then the 7 spots are decided. However if one of these players falters then there will be a whole bunch of 3.5's looking for the 7th spot. That's going to be a clusterfuck.

I also want to offer an apology to anyone that took offense to the statement I made regarding players at the club looking at my games with contempt. It was generated more by my own paranoia than anything, I overreacted. Instead I offer this...

Love me or hate me still an obsession
Love me or hate me that is the question
If you love me then Thank You!
If you hate me then Fuck You!



Multiple Choice

By drunknknite

An interesting metaphor I have thought of....

Chess is like a multiple choice test. There are a limited number of options, most of which can be eliminated on sight. Of the remaining options, each creates distinct solutions, and it is a player's job to distinguish between these solutions and choose what's best for him (her). Note that I did not say what's objectively best, although sometimes this is required.

Instead of a teacher or a computer going through and deciding your grade based on your errors, there is an implied curve given by the strength of your opponent. And the grade is pass/fail. If you consistently make better decisions than your opponent, you will pass. The test is stopped at any point where one player has provided overwhelming evidence to the other that the result has been decided.

Each move is a complex multiple choice problem that must be evaluated by using the sum of all of a player's chess knowledge. All possible themes, exchanges, key squares, and maneuvers must be studied and an answer must be produced which encompasses the most favorable elements of the position and minimizes the harmful or unfavorable elements.

In the beginning of a player's chess career decisions are based on superficial elements and unsound attacks. As a player becomes more prepared decisions and problems get deeper and deeper and his perception at the board is radically different than the beginner. He is making less mistakes because he is aware of much more powerful forces on the board. Things that were not there when making a legal move was the only struggle.

I think what got me on track to reach this conclusion is Kotov's method. The first step: identify candidate moves. Why are candidate moves stressed? Isn't there more to it? One move just doesn't seem like enough. I used to think in 2-5 move plans, searching deep for tactical combinations and complicated, radical, imbalanced positions. But chess really is as simple as one move. A game is just a series of positions. We must strive to make the best decision in every position as often as possible. Nothing more, nothing less.

But what is the best decision? Aren't there positions where there is not an objectively best move? YES! The most primitive example is move 1. White has 4 main options (1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3, and 1.c4). The decision between these is usually made at home and is based on a series of factors including but not limited to: a player's style, past results with each move, opponent's style or opening choice, risk tolerance/aversion, even position in the tournament. However the constant remains that this is a choice between limited options, and the game must still progress one move at a time.

OK, now that I have bored you with this lengthy theory, I want to talk a little bit about application. I have had this post in the back of my mind for a while, and the timing was prompted by a couple of the comments to my last post. For instance, soapstone says:

It might be a silly argument to say that if your opponent made fewer mistakes then you would lose, but what's valid is the assumption is that we're all trying to get stronger and reducing error rate when we play the less fallible people of the next level. So essentially we're all agreeing with Zukertort. "Chess is the struggle against error."

chessaholic brought up the Bobby Fischer quote: "All that matters on the chessboard is good moves."

These two quotes illustrate my point very well. It is so easy due to the competitive nature of the game to allow emotion and prejudice into the mind during a game. How many times has a chessplayer said "I was completely winning and then...." after losing a game? I know I used to say it a lot. And I believed it. Because it was much easier to believe that than to accept the truth. I suck. A lot. I make mistakes all the time. I may have had the better position but if I don't understand it well enough to get a point then how was I winning? The Fischer quote is excellent. A strong player's focus must shift from attempting to explain the position in static terms to simply making good moves. We must try to minimize errors, that is all. It's not about some vicious attack on the king, or the style with which you win, or how awful your opponent is playing, it's about YOU. The game is really only one player, making one move. Over and over again.

I don't know what to take
Thought I was focused but I'm scared
I'm not prepared

I hyperventilate
Looking for hope somehow somewhere
And no one cares
I'm my own worst enemy

We all know the story of Capablanca being asked how many moves ahead he looked. He responded ONE.

LEP brought up the fact that many games at the class level are decided by one horrible blunder and so sometimes blaming a loss on a simple oversight is valid. I disagree. Why are there horrible blunders? How can a player lose track of a heavy piece? Did they forget it was on the board? Obviously they didn't 'see' it. But everything is laid out. They know how the pieces move. They know how the pieces interact. How can we reach the conclusion that we are winning if we cannot even see a simple knight fork? How can we even claim to have any understanding of the position if we overlook such simple moves? The truth is that when we understand the position we see clearly, we do not overlook things, we do not make mistakes. It is when the position is beyond our comprehension that mistakes become easy. It is no longer easy to distinguish between moves. There is no way for us to tell how to proceed because our knowledge of this particular imbalance is limited.

Let's consider a scenario. Let's say that a player is about to lose all activity and be forced into a passive game. A weak player does not even recognize this and continues to make moves as if the game will just miraculously open up. If he is playing another weak player who doesn't realize his advantage then he may open the game up and then the weak player gets rewarded for poor play. If he is playing a stronger player he will start to feel cramped slowly and lose the game to some tactic eventually. He will probably feel that he was at least equal in the final position and will feel robbed by this tactic. He is unable to recognize that for the next 20 moves he would have had to sit and wait as the strong player keeps laying on threats until he is in zugzwang and loses.

Same scenario: intermediate player. An intermediate player will likely realize that he is behind and will start to panic. He will either make a rash decision to sacrifice a large amount of material for a king attack, or he will turn the game completely passive and attempt to salvage a draw. Against an intermediate player the outlandish sacrifice may be rewarded or the passivity may result in a draw. Against a strong player neither of these strategies will work and he will be outmaneuvered. He will feel like there was nothing he can do. He just got beaten. He will blame the opening for giving him such an awful position and not ever allowing him a chance in the game.

Now let's talk about a strong player. A strong player will not panic. They will see the opponents threat and attempt to thwart it. They know that the position has not reached a point where their opponent has achieved a decisive advantage but that if they do not act now they are going to get beaten. They will find a way to sacrifice a pawn, or maybe an exchange for a piece and a pawn, to salvage activity and create complications. They will transform the position. They recognize that passivity will not work and he will begin to consider moves that radically change the nature of the position. Something that the lower rated players cannot do as either they are not aware that they are losing or they do not know how to shift the focus of the game smoothly. A strong player will simply continue to examine all the options and play what they think is best. Perhaps they will lose. Perhaps the advantage really was decisive. But their approach to the game throughout is consistent. They don't let up, they don't get frustrated, they just play one move at a time. If they lose they attempt to find a better solution, a better way to go about it. Not to prove to the world that they were 'winning' at some point. But so that they gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the position. Next time when they face a similar problem the time they spent examining the depths of their previous game will pay dividends, they will have a better reaction.

This is the heart of the matter. As a chessplayer struggling against error we must attempt to always play positions better. All kinds of positions. Every position. Our openings must be constantly improving. Our endgame theory must be constantly improving. Strategy and tactics as well. All we can do is strive to be able to produce the best move most of the time. To not get caught off guard by something we overlooked at home or on the board.

This theory should be applied in our attitude towards the game. No emotion. No fear. No whining. No cockiness. All we must do at the board is find all possibilites, eliminate the ones that are obviously inferior (establish candidate moves), and decide between options that look equal which best suits our style of play and which provides easier decisions later.



The Saga Continues...

By drunknknite

The Club Championship Qualifier is getting very intense. Going into the fifth round I was tied for 4th place with 2.5/4. There are sixteen players competing in a 7-round swiss for 7 spots in the quarterfinal round where there will be a series of matches to determine the winner much like the NBA or NHL playoffs. I believe that 4/7 is a good enough score to make the next round (3.5 may be able to make it on tiebreaks but that's not a good situation). I was paired against Garingo with Black. He had only 2 points after forfeiting a week earlier because he had to work. So this is how I figured things were: if I lose, I have to score 1.5/2 to get to the next round; if he loses, he has to score 2/2 to get to the next round... THIS IS MUST WIN FOR BOTH PLAYERS. Neither player could really afford to lose the game, so all week this was a nervewracking situation as I knew he probably has the best chance of anyone at the club (save maybe Straver) of beating me. Also since I've racked up 3 in a row against him I thought he would be particularly vengeful. I was nervous.

The situation between me and Garingo has certainly escalated into a full blown rivalry. He underestimated me in the past but I knew he would be ready for this game. I was so nervous about it I decided to follow lep's advice and step back from chess. I played poker all day on Wednesday. I mean all day, I played from midnight to 2:30 in the morning online, then woke up for work and played on my work computer (this may cost me but I'm so fed up with my job right now I'm not really worried about it), then went and played 3 hours in a casino. I've been reading a book that my friend lent me and it's making me really want to play cards. So that's what I did.

So come Thursday morning I was still craving some poker but I put it aside and decided to look at chess. I have played 4 games against Garingo with Black and all of them he has played e4, but from blitz games I knew he was also comfortable playing d4 so I didn't want to rule it out. In spite of this I only looked at my Sicilian and I couldn't decide between the Najdorf and my Accelerated Dragon so come game time I hadn't made much progress and it was still going to be a game time decision (I was actually leaning heavily towards the Accelerated Dragon). We sit down to play and I start the clock and he takes his time and starts adjusting his pieces...

I know in about 10 seconds he's going to play 1.d4 but he still makes me wait about a minute to confirm it. Oops... guess I should have spent the 15 minutes it would have taken to get a hold of the sharp positions that come out of the Anti-Moscow Gambit rather than deciding between two Sicilians all day. I had a sneaking suspicion he would play this but I was caught with my pants down.

So here's where I end up on move 14. I'm in deep trouble. I just moved my knight to b6 and I'm getting punished for it. The queen has nowhere to go (it belongs on b6) and my dark squares are falling apart. I feel like the Penguins going down 3-0 in Game 1 of their series against the Rangers. This is not the start I had hoped for. I am especially angry with myself for not looking at these lines even though I knew there was a high probability he would play 1.d4. It's not that I could have found his line and prepared for the actual position, more that just from looking at 4-5 games in the line afterwards it is very clear the the knight has no business on b6. This is a stupid mistake and now I'm in a lost position. We are about 25 minutes into the game and it is already over...

A mere 6 moves later Garingo tries to administer a crushing blow. It is now my 20th move. At move 14 I decided to castle into the attack and challenge Garingo to mate me. As an attacking player I know that when the king becomes the focus of the attack it is hard to change focus. I have made this mistake time and time again, I start looking at mates and I overlook simple winning endgames. I am trying to distract him from the fact that he is winning and bait him into an attack. So that worked, and I was crushed until he got eager and threw the move d7? This allows me back in the game with an exchange sacrifice. A piece and a pawn for a rook is one of the most common material imbalances and the health of the piece and pawn depends on activity, right now I am still behind although I have play on the d4 pawn so I figured that was some compensation. If Garingo doesn't play d7 here I am crushed.

Now we tune in another 7 moves later. The king looks a little safer although there are still some threats. I feel a lot more comfortable. White has sacrificed the d pawn to put pressure on my position so I now have full material compensation for the exchange although I am still behind positionally. I get the feeling Garingo is still looking to attack my king. It is my 27th move, I have been defending for 13 moves and it has been well over 2 hours since the start of the game. I am on a good pace as I have 15 minutes left for my remaining 4 moves and here I find a very strong idea to defend. I realize that the key to my position is defending the 6th rank and I decide to abandon the 7th and 8th ranks to achieve this goal. This idea ends up equalizing.

OK, so the time control has passed at this point. It's my 34th move. This is the first move since move 14 where I feel like I can breathe. I no longer have to respond to threats. After 2 and a half hours of just waiting and waiting thinking I was going to lose. I finally get a chance. That's longer than an NBA game, with commercials and half time. Much longer than defending for 90 minutes as in soccer, which I think would have to be the closest parallel to chess in the sporting world. For instance, anyone who watched the first leg of the Barcelona - Manchester United Champions League Semifinal Match knows how exciting a draw can be and what it looks like to press for nearly the entire game and yet fail to achieve anything decisive.

It is so easy to give up in games like this. To stop looking for chances and just play prophylactic moves hoping to draw. But the defense is in vain if there is no counter attack. If you throw away the chances that your opponent gives you. In this position I have just a little bit of breathing room, and I quickly manage to equalize and gain the advantage. It felt something like this (this comes from Game 1, after the Rangers had been up 3 goals):

Before the game I was actually talking to Chris Harrington about the transition from an advantage to equality and I cited that this is a place where many people make mistakes. In this game White starts making mistakes as soon as the nature of the game has changed and doesn't quite realize that Black is in control. By the time he does, it's too late:

This is the last diagram of importance, only 6 moves later on Move 40. I will use the bishop to defend the pawn and then advance my king. The bishop and pawn are immune since I have an extra pawn, otherwise White would be able to sacrifice Rook for bishop and pawn and equality. In this case that just leaves me with a won rook ending. I savored the rest of the game and took some advice phaedrus gave me to heart. After all, if I can't win this ending what was the point?

During the last few games I have felt like people are looking at my position with contempt, as though I am completely lost and I am just swindling wins. Shoemaker even went so far as to say that in the Pearson game "If any of the A's or Experts had that same position, he would have gone home with a loss." Immediately after my game Terry Alsasua, my opponent next week, walked over and showed everybody the 'win', which merely perpetuates White's advantage but does not produce a point.

Well, for you guys who think that I deserve to lose games, allow me to shed some light on a few things. There are two ways to win a chess game: checkmate and resignation. I have been able to show, even from devastatingly lost positions, that these two things are not so easy to achieve. This is a point that I have been making for quite some time. Chess would be a lot easier if all you had to do was obtain a winning middlegame. Maybe you would suggest next time that we call Ernie over and adjudicate the round when I give up material or take a lost position. For months I have tried to explain that chess is a game of mistakes. I keep saying lost positions are only lost if you are more likely than your opponent to make a mistake. This position was extremely complicated. I'm not even entirely convinced that Garingo has a smooth transition to a winning endgame and there are many ways to slip as he did in the game. If you look at my game with contempt, I'm sure you will find mistakes, but that will not stop you from making mistakes when we are face to face.

I am REALLY tired of players who will blame a loss on one move or even worse, the opening. Sentences like "Well I blundered and then the game's pretty much over." really mean 'and then I pretty much stopped playing'. "I messed up the opening" means 'He surprised me and I stopped playing chess and watched him beat me'. A won position does not equal a win. No one loses when they deserve to win. Every point is earned. If you are not willing to own up to mistakes then you will never correct them and your development as a player will be severely stunted. Everyone makes mistakes, that's part of the game.

I'll post the full game with annotations shortly, just wanted to give a picture of how I felt during the game and how the game progressed.