Monday, July 24, 2006

Mystery chess position IV: from a milestone game

The position on the right (white to move) is from a game I just won at ChessWorld. The game represents a personal milestone for two reasons: firstly, even after a computer analysis, I did not find any serious mistakes among my (white's) moves except for missing a tactical opportunity at the end of the game, but more about this later. Secondly, this is one of the games where I tried to carry out an attack plan as mentioned in an earlier post. To my surprise, it worked!

But back to the position on the right after black played 22. ... Qd7. White now has the chance to play a winning move. Hint: it was not the 23. e4 I played here. My plan was to double the heavy pieces on the f-file after 23. ... fxe4 24. fxe4. Fortunately, I did realize two moves later that there is a better opportunity than that. The complete game with the solution to this problem can be found here.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tactics training on the Chess Tactics Server

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The evolution of my playing style and typical mistakes

As time goes on my chess games evolve, too. At the beginning of my chess endeavors, I was happy if I managed not to loose too many pieces early in the game. Recently, I observed that I don't blunder as frequently as I used to. I hope doing tactics puzzles finally pays off a little. The ratings increase at ChessWorld that comes with that now lets me play in tournaments against stronger players than previously. Therefore, I also can't rely on them happily hanging pieces anymore. But of course chess ability is more complex than being able to solve a few one-move tactics problems. Therefore, I am running in some new (for me) problems.

First of all I think I exchange too many pieces too quickly without gaining anything. This means that many games are decided in a pawn (and rooks) endgame, assuming that neither me or my opponent blundered. This has two major disadvantages: Firstly, these games tend to be rather dull because less pieces on the board also means that there are less chances for an exciting attack. Secondly, I tend to play really bad in the endgame (see my previous post for an example of how to not play in the endgame).

If I want to improve further, I will have to do two things: 1) study endgames. For some reason, I seem to be like the majority of amateur chess players. Most of them realize that endgames are important, but for some reason (almost) nobody seems to like to study endgames. What is it that makes endgame study so much less desirable than, say, tactics? 2) Learn how to attack. In the best spirit of this, I tried to play more aggressive in my current games at ChessWorld. In two games, I sacrificed a knight, only to learn one move later that my ideas for the attacks were easily refutable by responses that I simply overlooked. Seems I have to do more tactics problems to improve my board vision... In the third game, however, things seem to work out - I won a piece and have the initiative, at least until now. That brings me to the real question: how does one learn to attack in chess games? I am not talking about gaining a piece or even winning by checkmate by using some tactics. Rather, how does one put positional pressure on the opponent until the opportunities for tactical moves come up? My current plan is to study a few master games with the openings I usually play to figure that out. Other ideas are of course welcome!

Update: one of the three tries to attack mentioned above worked out for me, see this post.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mystery chess position III: my first endgame study

The position on the left with black (me) to move is from one of my recent games at ChessWorld. I ended up loosing the game because of an outrageous blunder at move 47 that was followed by immediate checkmate (Congratulations to my opponent beartrostle). Anyway, I noticed that I tend to loose less material lately and as a consequence a larger fraction of my games is decided in the endgame. Unfortunately, I am utterly clueless on using my pawns properly. Here, for instance, I played 45. ... f5 with the idea to attack the lonely white b-pawn. This turned out to be a big mistake! As usual, click here for the fully annotated game.

Loosing the game motivated me to take a closer look at this endgame. During the game, I thought that black has better chances because the white rook is tied up defending the pawn on the h-file and black has 2 vs. 1 pawn on the other side of the board. After playing through several variations with the help of Shredder (see my recent review), however, it looks more like a draw to me. Black can check the white K in order to remove the defender from the white b-pawn but after move sequences like 45. ... Ra3+ 46.Kg2 Kg4 47.Rg8+ Kf5 48.Ra8 Ra2+ 49.Kh3 Kg5 50.Rg8+ things are basically back to the starting point (if black makes sure to prevent white from promoting the h-pawn, which I did not). Does anyone see a winning strategy for either side? As far as my understanding goes, the key defensive strategy for black is to prevent white from advancing the h-pawn. Once it is on the 7th rank, white can use the rook to check the black king and promote the pawn on the next move. After that, black is forced to capture the newly born queen with ... Rxa8 and white ends up winning a rook by recapturing with Rxa8.

The biggest problem for me is to learn how to analyze this kind of situation. Endgames consist of much more moves than standard tactical problems. I tried to learn from observing what the computer plays from the above starting position, but most moves simply did not make much sense to me. Therefore, I might be better off spending time playing through more simple situations from beginner-level endgame books than to look at my own games (at least for now). Speaking of that, see PE's chess cast blog for a nice movie explaining the principles behind "bad" bishops in endgames.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The life expectancy of chess players

Many amateur players look with envy at the (nearly) perfect play of chess grandmasters. But it seems that chess grandmasters have to pay a price for their extraordinary ability. I browsed through a copy of "The psychology of chess skill" by Dennis H. Holding and found that the average life expectancy of outstanding chess players is almost one decade shorter than the life expectancy of minor masters (60.1 vs. 68.1 years, respectively. However, the cited study is from 1969, so today's GMs likely live longer). Dennis Holding attributes this to the stress of tournament play and points out that players "[...] who led professional lives outside chess survived a decade longer [...]". So don't worry if you don't find time to study chess or play many tournaments - may be it is better for you!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Software review: Shredder Linux chess engine