Thursday, June 29, 2006

Six months into chess - light at the end of the tunnel

Time is always running faster than expected and now it is already 6 months ago since I got interested in chess. It would be nice if I would have a quantitative measure for my progress like a runner stopping the time for a one-mile run. Of course, there are all kinds of rating systems for chess. However, I still did not play enough rated games to be able to see a statistically significant trend. Nevertheless I feel that all the time I spend studying chess was not wasted. First of all, I still enjoy it (which is quite a surprise to myself, because I stick only to very few things). Secondly, I can see some light at the end of the tunnel: At the beginning, I tended to drop pieces even in the ultra-slow correspondence chess games I play. But lately I feel that the number of outright blunders in my games decreases slowly. I believe that this is due to the time I spend doing one-move tactical problems over and over again. At least I hope so, because I am still afraid that I will commit a series of terrible blunders as soon as I submit this article.

Three months ago, I set a few goals for the future. For instance, I vowed to spend less time surfing chess web sites. I am still wasting too much time searching the cyberspace for the "magic cure" that will transform me into a chess master. I do know that it is more about hard work and patience, but well...

On the positive side, I did more tactics puzzles and worked my way through a bunch of annotated master games, although I pretty much stopped this practice two weeks ago due to lack of time. I also started to use the same openings in all of my games. But so far I have only an opening for playing white (Colle System) and a defense against 1. e4 (Scandinavian). I chose these mainly because they are supposed to be relatively easy to learn and did not spend much time on playing these lines well enough and I am still learning the traps by trial and error. Just challenge me (sciurus) for a game at ChessWorld to set a few traps for me or just to have a fun game!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Chess blogging - truly international

At some point, probably every blogger get curious and tries to find out if actually anybody is reading her/his articles. After looking at the visitor information provided by statcounter I got quite excited seeing that chess blog readers are coming from all over the world. This activated my ancient gathering instincts and I started to "collect" countries. Up to now, readers from 42 different countries (see below) visited "Getting Into Chess". The majority of my blog readers (about 35%) come from the USA followed by Canada, and I just noticed the first visitor from the arguably greatest chess nation - Russia (I thought all people there would be chess masters, so it is a mystery to me why somebody from Russia would read the thoughts of a beginner, must be some kind of accident).
Best wishes and many good chess games to all of you! Please let me now if I missed your home country. List of countries in alphabetical order: Argentina, Australia, Bahrein, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, and Zambia.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What is a good way to improve in the endgame?

Whenever my games at ChessWorld bring me to an endgame situation I start to struggle. It seems paradox that I have a harder time to develop valid ideas for playing in situations with less pieces on the board. It seems to me that fewer pieces on the board means also that it is necessary to calculate much deeper variations, a skill that I lack for sure.

From this experience I agree with the often heard opinion that studying chess endgames is one of the most important things for improving in chess (may be second after tactics?). But what is the most efficient way to improve in the endgame? In contrast to tactics, I found little information on good ways to improve playing endgames. Sure, there are plenty examples such as the weekly endgame study at or the almost daily problems at Susan Polgar's blog. But in contrast to tactics, I got the impression that pattern recognition is less important in endgames than knowledge and techniques, for instance how to protect or block a passed pawn.

As chess novice, I feel overwhelmed by this. Should I simply go ahead and try to solve a few endgame problems a week or do I have to study rules that tell me if a particular situation such as "R vs. N+P" is a win or draw and try to get into the winning situations? What are good books or web resources on endgames that are suitable for beginners? All suggestions are welcome!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Learning how to exploit (big) weaknesses

After working my way through Irving Chernev's "Logical Chess" (see my earlier review), I was up for another game collection. Most books focus on games played by chess masters. Not surprisingly, these games are very different from the games I play. The rules are of course the same, but in contrast to games played by masters, in my games sooner or later either my opponent or me make a (big) mistake. This can be a tactical mistake causing a material advantage for one side or some positional misbehavior that ultimately also leads to the loss of a piece or more. These things (almost) never happen when chess masters play against each other - the decisive factors are much more subtle than in amateur games. Therefore, these relatively big mistakes are not discussed in books like Chernev's "Logical Chess". Although I really enjoy playing through master games and think I gained chess knowledge from doing so, I feel that it may be more efficient for a chess beginner like me to learn exploiting not-that-subtle mistakes (avoiding them myself would be even better, but that is a different story).

If one can learn from re-playing and analyzing other people's chess games, then why not studying games played by a chess master facing an amateur? Therefore, I bought a copy of Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur, a collection of chess games with the world champion Max Euwe playing against the amateur Walter Meiden. However, I did not see many people recommending this approach (with the exception of one article in Dan Heisman's column at, although the basic idea of studying games by players that make mistakes like me (and most of my opponents, because most of my games are against opponents that are around the same strength as myself) against (almost) perfect chess masters sounds reasonable to me. Is there something wrong with this idea? If not, why is it not more often recommended to chess beginners? For instance, I may pick up bad habits instead of avoiding them. Anyway, I will post more about this and a review of "Master vs. Amateur" once I finished playing through the games, but that will probably take a few months at the current rate of progress...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Are there any reasons to play moves like 2. ... h3 in the opening?

I sometimes observe people playing moves like 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 h3? or 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 h3? as black and I am wondering about the reasons behind this. Even as chess novice, I know from several sources that playing 2. ... h3 is almost always a bad idea. Nevertheless, I observed several players that always seem to play h3 or a3 or even both regardless of what their opponent does. A typical response of mine to moves like this is to think: "Bad move, I will win this one!" To my annoyance, however, it is not that easy. At the level I play chess, the decisive move is almost always some blunder like hanging pieces. On that scale, loosing a tempo by playing 2. ... h3 does not really matter. Furthermore, I simply do not have the experience to effectively exploit small advantages. Now I do not think that people always playing 2. ... h3 are stupid. In contrary: I do think that there is probably a reason for playing 2. ... h3 in beginner-level chess. So what are the potential advantages? First of all, it may confuse the opponent and get him/her out of the opening book. In correspondence chess games, for instance, it is perfectly OK to look up openings during the game. However, a database search in a collection of master games or opening manual will most likely give zero results after 2. ... h3. Therefore, white has to think for him/herself which is always "risky". Secondly, many novice chess players confronted with 2. ... h3 realize that this is less than optimal. Then they may become overconfident and go for a premature attack because they think they have to use this little advantage immediately instead of developing all pieces before starting an attack. Considering these reasons, playing 2. ... h3 against weak opponents may even turn out as an OK move, albeit playing more the opponent than the board. So, why not playing it? Of course it will be a serious disadvantage against any good player. But most importantly, it prevents learning of proper chess opening play and is therefore a roadblock to improvement.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Chess book review: "Logical chess: move by move" by Irving Chernev