Saturday, February 26, 2005

Life in the fast lane

At the last post I was heading out to play at one of the local coffee shops with some new players. That was fun, went really well and I held my own against the Expert, I think he ended up one game better out of the 6 or 7 we played.
Spent the past week doing the "1000 X" CD, and playing a bunch of blitz games on ICC and Playchess. I started out great in the earlier part of the week, and as the week wore on I found myself picking up the old habit of reacting and not thinking ahead. When I reviewed my mail stored games I was amazed at the amount of missed opportunities found on both sides. So I'm going to put a block on blitz games until my standard improvement levels out. I don't want to undo everything I have worked so hard to improve.
Other than that it is business as usual.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Quick Review

Things are finally slowing down, enough to where I will actually have the weekend off!
Off translates into not having to fix anything, build anything, or be somewhere that isn't my idea of fun. First thing tomorrow morning I'm going to meet with a few players for chess and coffee.
A couple of us from the club are going to play some of the local talent, and hopefully recruit some new members into our Thursday night gathering. The rest of the weekend I will spend bike riding and relaxing with my family.

Review Time:
I have been playing through the first 100 problems of the "1000 X Checkmate" CD over the past week. Along with easing back into the openings. First off I can tell a difference using the 3-D Fritz board versus the normal 2-D version. Last night at the club I didn't experience my normal adjustment period from computer monitor to OTB. I only lost 1 game the entire night, and that was to our resident Expert in the first encounter. In our second game I returned the favor to even the score. I guess the tie-breaks will be held tomorrow morning, I can hardly wait.

Back to 2-D versus 3-D, as a test I switched the viewing board back to 2-D for the first few problems and it took a few minutes for my brain to make the transition. In fact it was so noticeable that I have no doubt that I'm one of those individuals that suffers more than the average person when it comes to this type of thing. So for now I'm sticking with 3-D.

Monday, February 14, 2005

No I haven't quit

To answer Pale Morning Dun's question from the previous post.
Not by a long shot, I have simply shifted the time and material involved into a more manageable form. It would be safer to say that I have returned to Circle 1 so to speak. Tactics are still the main course as they should be for any player under 2000, but I'm also including some appetizers, along with desserts, and a few side items.
I think Don has already proven with his success at his recent tournament, that a player doesn't have to complete the 7-Circles before they show benefit. I have already given reasons as to why I picked the "1000 x Checkmate" CD in previous posts so I won't bore you to tears with all of that again.
Each day will contain a certain amount of tactical exercises from this CD, sometimes it will be the only thing scheduled for a particular day. Other times it will serve as a warm-up before working on other aspects. Tactics will always be a part of my training, only the percentage will change. (I read once that even Tal was known on occasion to look through books on tactics looking for something that he might have missed, though I can’t imagine he found very much.) But the focus is now placed on accuracy not accumulation. The litmus test will be my games.

I don’t think I can be the Knight Deviant de la Maza even though I like the ring of it, since errant and deviant are synonymous. I will have to leave my new title to our editor-in-chief DG.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Pick a link, any link

It just about takes me longer to read the through daily updates of all of the links than it does to do the exercises.
Anyway I have added Fussy Lizard, Yet Another Patzer, King of the Spill, and finally remembered to add Logis to the list. BTW Logis congrats on your new OTB rating! Good job, and don't worry you will get out of the slump.
Still haven't finalized my new study plan, but starting tomorrow I plan on working with the first group of 100 problems from the Chessbase CD that I mentioned "1000 X Checkmate" by Lubomir Ftacnik. Looking forward to using a 3-D board it will be so nice, and hopefully beneficial to my OTB play.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

We are going to need a larger castle...

Don must be busy shaking hands and kissing babies. :)
Membership continues to expand faster than FIDE can produce World Champions.
Celtic Death, Temposchuckler, and Fussy Lizard (not yet a blogger) welcome to the family!

Just about have the start of my new program finalized, of course I expect to make adjustments and incorporate other facets of the game periodically. (But I do happen to agree with Michael de la Maza's approach of repeating the same exercises. I think it was the crucial element in his success.)
For starters the majority of my study plan will focus on tactical exercises; somewhere around 65% of my total time spent per week will be placed here. The remaining 35% will be divided up with end game study, opening study (Which will include playing through master games), actual play (OTB or STC) with analysis, and putting it all together.
My approach to tactical exercises will vastly differ from MDLM's, as far as the amount of new material added to the study plan. I will refrain from adding new exercises until I have a complete understanding of the initial problem group. I liked MDLM's 1,000 problem limit, but found it silly to work on Level 70 problems when I would still choke on the Level 50's. How effective is it for math students to tackle trigonometry when they haven't even mastered basic algebra? While I'm ranting... might as well unload this concept too. For the sake of argument imagine that you have to memorize a book that contains 1,000 pages of text. Which of the following two approaches makes more sense? A) Read the book from beginning to end over and over until you had it memorized. B) Break the book into chapters and memorize it chapter by chapter, with periodic breaks for reciting the memorized chapters. "B" of course unless you are one of those rare individuals who can retain everything they ever read after just one viewing, and if you are one of those extremely blessed individuals I doubt you are hanging out in my lowly "How can I improve from class "C' to "B" "blog. Unless you find my plight entertaining. Which it is, plus I'm cheaper than cable T.V. :)

So I will be utilizing the “Cycle” method by breaking things down into smaller manageable chunks. Think of mini cycles as chapters and macro cycles as the book or goal that I am trying to obtain.

Still playing around with the percentages, and how much theme overlap I want to include. The focus will be on accuracy first and foremost. But at any rate I plan on sticking with the course I chart out for myself and making adjustments after weighing the results at the end of the first macro cycle.

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Avoiding the Sniffles!

Sorry folks, once again real life has taken over.
But the good news is I will actually start to have a little more free time.
We managed to sell both of our apartments this past weekend. WOO HOO!
I did spend all of Saturday making some repairs to satisfy the new owners.
Well actually just to help them out a bit. They both purchased the units "as is" but I said I didn't mind helping them fix a couple of things if it would help in their decision making process. So of course they seemed to think it would help, so I was repairing furnaces and replacing lines to a water heater. I still have a slight bit more to do this Saturday but I don't mind. Both of the folks are really nice people and extremely appreciative. Plus it will save them some money on having to buy new items for a couple of years.

Anyway back to chess, I just can't bring myself to fire up CT-Art and work on the exercises.
I find myself spending more and more time working on revisions, and figuring out ways to tailor the program to my needs. Along with the tinkering I'm focusing on making the exercises more productive. I just cannot see where increasing the amount of problems and reducing the time per exercise makes any sense if I’m starting to tank. The primary concern should be accuracy. Imagine that you play golf. What good would it serve if you were to hit a thousand golf balls at the driving range if your form was incorrect? All you would accomplish is reinforcing poor technique that would have to be unlearned at a later date.

I have a fairly good grasp on what I want to achieve, so hopefully by this weekend I should have my new study plan finalized. Returning to the equivalent of Circle 1 doesn’t bother me. I know that this is the correct course of action.

Added a few links to some really cool blog sites.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Working on a plan.

I’m going to use Don’s reply to yesterday’s blog as an opportunity to expand on what I was trying to convey. Don raises some interesting points about calculation muscle versus
pattern recognition. So I thought I try to clarify my beef with the 7-circles.

When I sit down to a real game I am seeing more tactics than I ever saw in the past, it might be safer to say that I can't turn the calculation muscle off. I'm flooded with tactics, I start looking at each little move, wondering what if this, then what if that? I haven't lost a single game due to a tactical oversight. But more in part to having to make a somewhat seemingly safe move which turns out to be positional weakness at a later stage of the game because of time pressure. But that is another problem. :)

I knew that I had glazed over the muscle part in Circle 1 and placed the focus on exercising it in Circle 2.
For circle 2 I spent almost the full amount of time, not because I couldn't find the answer, but because of double checking my answer to be on the safe side. I would find the key move fairly quickly then I would look over possibilities until I thought I saw all the "surprise" moves that could be played. Like J’adoube said don’t expect your opponent to play the “best” line.

Where my gripe with the program lies is in the amount of time allowed for calculation of the harder problems. There are more candidate moves and more branches to examine. In the introduction to his book "Excelling at Chess Calculation" Jacob Aargaard gives this position.

White has a King at a5, Bishop at a4, Knight at d7, and two pawns on a7 and b5 respectively.
Black has his King on b7, Rook on a8, Bishop on h4, and a single pawn on f3. This example is "White to play and draw".

After giving many lines of calculation Aagaard states
that he imagines the average GM between 2500-2600 ELO would spend 10-15 to make the right choice and would occasionally fail.

If the "average" GM is going to spend this much time on a 9 piece endgame how much time is enough for the average C player in a 20 piece middle game?

Of course there isn't an answer, but my point is shortening the amount of time with each consecutive pass on problems that we have faced on numerous occasions just so you can cram in more problems in the same amount of time doesn't make sense. I think the focus should be placed on accuracy while using a constant amount of time through out. (Work on getting things right first, and the speed will come to you.)

The improvement could then be easily gauged by the number of correct problems answered over the same amount of time. X amount of minutes per problem, and X amount of total time. You could allow 10 minutes per problem max and 1 hour total. (Yes I know that is just 6 problems.) Obviously we don’t have to spend 10 minutes looking at the level 10 problems, so you would just answer the problem and then move along to the next. At the end of the hour record your score, and play over any missed problems. You could work through the entire set of problems using this method. But I would prefer to limit the amount of problems to say 100 per set as opposed to 1,000. I like the idea of drilling smaller sections as opposed to volume work. This allows you to actually complete something and gain a sense of accomplishment. Volume work is like going on a long trip without a map or stopping to regain your bearings and then being surprised that you are lost.

Placing all of my eggs in one basket may be ok every once and awhile. But I seriously believe I need to apply what I have learned to real games. This feedback allows me to make adjustments based off of my game analysis. Plus it keeps things fresh.

I’m still a firm believer in using mates as the first theme of the exercises, because like I said the variations are pure with limited lines of calculation. I want to focus on being able to see one variation accurately, and then after mastering the technique of one line first start branching out to multiple lines of calculation.

Anyway I have really enjoyed the dialog that has come about from sharing our opinions about training technique. It really has gotten me to start focusing on ways of trying to improve, along with forcing me to create a program that is fun as well as balanced, tailored to suit my individual needs.
Ok off to check my mail.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Don started it...

Don made a very good point about maybe saving the newer Knights from the agony we have had to endure in his news release called The Nine (Ten) Circle Program.
First let me say that I like Don's approach, and agree that the focus should be on nailing the lower levels before moving up. My plans were to wait until the end of the exercises before revealing my suggested modifications to the Plan de le Maza. (Michael's 7 circles)

Mainly because I haven’t finalized them as of today, but believe me I have been giving it some serious thought.

These are some of the ideas rolling around, please note that my suggested modifications are based off of my particular experience with the 7-circles. They are tailored to help with my own chess improvement after analyzing my particular strengths and weaknesses that have occurred in my own games. If you think they can serve you great! If you think the plan would better suit someone else that is great too! Everyone is at a different level in their ability to play chess and training is not one size fits all. For example during the Knights Errant meeting we discussed a few topics. I mentioned that one of the problems I was having was about thought processes. My particular problem was how to decide when to stop looking at variations. Since starting the program I’m getting good games, but wasting tons of clock time by chasing down every possible move down to the nth degree.

So where do I draw the line. I have some theories but I won’t bore you with those.

Tonight I’m going to present where I want to go with my tactical training. Not the exact program, just where my head is at this particular time.

Michael de le Maza's focus seems to be on just piling on a ton of exercises until either one of two things happens. 1) You get better from the shear amount of tactical themes you have been forced to stomach. 2) Your head explodes. As for the first part... of course any individual that devotes this much time to tactical exercises will see an improvement. Without a doubt in my mind you will see some sort of benefit.

Who knows where Michael de la Maza was in his chess ability at the time he created the 7-circles, his approach properly coincided with a need to correct a deficiency in his own game, and it worked well for him.

As for me I am seeing where my ability to solve the higher level material in the recommended time has reached its limit. To continue to plow through exercises with a dropping success rate just to be able to say that I did it would be a colossal waste of time.

In reality you can't expect a huge payoff in any endeavor without some preparation first. You have to build a solid base that begins with the fundamentals, and then you increase your range. If you have a spotty success rate while solving a mate-in-2 do you really think saturating yourself with mate-in-7 exercises is going to have much benefit? If I tried to jump back into cycling resuming my training at the level I was capable of sustaining the last season I raced (18 years and 55 pounds ago) I would pop a lung at the bare minimum. Today of course I would have to train like I was a beginning rider. My only advantage over a beginner would be my bike handling ability, and hopefully the ability to spin a reasonable cadence in a low gear.
Other than that I would still have to log about a thousand miles or so before starting any kind of work using a large gear, to do otherwise would more than likely result in damage to my knees. So where does that leave us now that I'm back from being on what my geometry teacher called "off on a tangent"?
Base miles and lots of them micro cycle after micro cycle of base miles, there's joy in repetition.
A tall building needs a solid foundation so the focus needs to be placed in creating said foundation. You have to be able to nail the easy exercises, then and only then do you raise the level of difficulty. But you do not abandon the easier exercises entirely. You still

have to cruise over them with a periodic refresher. We tend to forget what we don’t use. On occasion I’m forced to resuscitate some archaic math formula at work. It is not that the formula is hard to solve, it is just through lack of use I find myself pausing initially until it loads itself back into my memory. Once it does it is business as usual. I can remember the formulas because I know them. But the hesitation comes from lack of use.

Same with anything else.

So with my tactical training I plan on starting at the beginning, all the way back to mate-in-one exercises and working my way up. I’m choosing mates as my base because they are pure. Meaning it is either there or it is not. No room for discussion, besides GM Short said it best with “Checkmate ends the game.”

Do I think I can end every game with mate? Of course not, but having the exposure to the different mating patterns will help with calculation of forced lines. We have a 1700 player (ex 1900 in his prime) at our club who would rather push a pawn than deliver mate. Not because he can’t see a mate-in-one but more because that is where his focus lies. (Trying to promote a passed pawn.) So I want to train my focus to look for mates first and then bettering my position.

Don is quoted with “In particular I've noticed that I have learned many mating patterns with knights and kings in the corner. I could recognize a smothered mate before, but now I feel like there are 20 or so floating around in there.”

Once I have the patterns down then it is on to something else.

I’m setting a limit to the amount of time to be invested each day, probably an hour on average, possibly more on certain days of each micro cycle. The emphasis will be placed on accuracy and quality, not shear volume.

I want to include other facets of the game too. Some days will contain endgame studies, openings on others. As for studying openings, I think it is a good idea to work with a particular opening, not because I plan on trying to learn every variation but because it will give me a road map through the minefield. Plus it will save on clock time by cutting out variations that don’t require calculation. For instance 1.e4, c5 2.Nf3, d6 3.d4, cxd 4. Nxd, Nf6 5. Nc3 is played without hesitation. No one at the higher levels waste any time looking for a mistake in those first five moves. The only thing the first player is waiting for is to see what the second player’s fifth move is going to be. Then they get to formulate some plan based on what particular variation the second player chooses.

Playing through games of a particular opening will help smooth the transition into the middle game. It will even help with shedding light on some long range plans and ideas.

End games are self explanatory the knowledge gained through study will help dictate exchanges in the middle game. It helps to know which minor piece will be superior based off of pawn structure. Of course these are just my theories, but having a plan is better than no plan at all.

So now I’m left with assembling a training schedule with those ideas in mind.

More on that later, now it is time for bed.