Monday, March 26, 2007

Recent Result

I had the pleasure of playing in the Category A section of the Eastern Class Championships this past month in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. This was the perfect opportunity for me to see if my self-training methods have come with any meaningful results. Being rated at 1819 entering the tournament, I was in the slightly unfortunate position of being rated just high enough to play in this category, so I knew I was in for some tough games throughout the event. I wanted to prove that I had improved enough over the past couple months of training to belong in this group of players, and being a fairly large event for this part of the country, there were going to be some tough fights ahead - I was ranked about 20th in a field of 29 players for this section.

First, let me recap how I trained the past couple of months.

I focused on the two areas I felt I needed the most help - plan construction and endgames.

Plan Construction
In reviewing my past several tournaments over the course of the previous months from July 2006, with results of +1=2-3 (U2000), +3=3-0 (U1900, 2nd Place), +1=1-1 (U2100), and +0=2-1 (Open), for a total of +5=8-5, it was plain to see that during the transition into the middlegame on many occasions my play lacked consistent plans. I often found myself in reasonable positions in the middlegame but clueless as to how to proceed. On several occasions I felt I had an advantage convertable to a win but failed to do so.

I used a combination of two books to improve my middlegame/plan construction. The primary guide used was "Reasses Your Chess" by Jeremy Silman, and my secondary reference was "How to Choose a Chess Move" by Andrew Soltis. I highly recommend both of these books. The Silman book is great for strategic thinking and decomposing a chess position into it's elements and imbalances, and the Soltis book will help you with your thought processes during a real game and how to use a practical method to select reasonable, practical moves. I think both books complement each other nicely, and are my primary study guides to date.

Within the framework of the Silman book, I did a fairly lengthy study of minor piece comparisons during actual games and how and when to trade, when to avoid a trade, when to recognize good, bad and active Bishops, useful, permanent outposts for Knights, and how to compare the different minor pieces between the Black and White armies. This really helped me get a good handle on the respective values of each minor piece in any position. If you find it difficult to sit and read a chess book completely, the best thing you can do for your game is to at least review the Silman Book and how he handles minor piece comparisons. This was the one area that helped me the most in my recent games and is higly recommended.

I also did a cursory examination of all the other elements of a position covered in the Silman Book - Pawn Structure, Space, Control of Files/Squares/Diagonals, Material, Development and Initiative.

My endgame play was not stellar in my past recent tournaments so I sought out to fix and repair this phase of my game as much as I could within the timeframe I had. I felt I had a decent understanding of minor pieces as a carryover from the Silman Book, so I concentrated on Rook Endings and Pawn Endings. I examined various positions that related to Philidor's and Lucena Positions, and practiced those until I could not get it wrong. I also examined Outflanking, Opposition, and Triangulation techniques in Pawn Endings.

In addition, I played in several online, slow time control (G60, G45+45) tournaments the past couple of months, and avoided ALL blitz play.

Happy to say, I scored 3.5 of 5 (+2=3-0) and finished in a tie for Second Place at the Eastern Class Championships, Class A, this year, and gained about 65 rating points in the process. The main difference in my play was my refusal to give up in endings that were objectively lost in two games. In the penultimate round, I was in a lost Rook ending when my opponent dropped a Rook *then* resigned in a drawn endgame! In the final round, I managed a draw in a losing minor piece endgame where I refused to give up and kept fighting. I managed, in time pressure, to secure a N vs. B + RP of wrong Color endgame.

Luck does play a good part in chess sometimes, and in this tournament, I was lucky. I turned two losses into 1.5 points in the final two rounds, and was also able to hold a tricky endgame in the first round against a mid-1900's player for a draw. But, my training gave me the confidence to do that, and I never gave up. That is what training is for.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Talk Exercises

Here is a useful training technique you can do with your chess partner as suggested by Jacob Aagaard in his great book Excelling At Chess.

Using a position from a master game, talk about the position in general terms to try and find the correct plan of action. Ask questions about the pieces and the pawn structure, open files and diagonals, outposts for knights, etc. It is important to vocalize these thoughts as, in general, we listen to ourselves much more than someone else (no surprise there, eh?).

A good methodology is to start with comparing the pieces. Select a piece from each army by deciding which ones will be likely traded for each other and compare them objectively. Is the bishop 'good', 'bad', or 'active'? Does the Knight have potential good outposts? Which files are likely to be opened and can any Rooks take advantage of them? Continue on to discuss plans of action, ideal squares for the pieces, which is your worst piece and how to improve it (as Aagaard says, this is the 'Russian Chess Secret'...they talk to their pieces...), and only then move on to discussing concrete action.
Vocalizing these ideas will build the foundation of your intuition in chess.

Good Luck and Good Training!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kramnik - Aronian Rapid Match

Kramnik - Aronian Rapid Match

The Week In Chess reports World Champion Vladimir Kramnik plays World Cup Holder Levon Aronian in a rapid match May 4th-6th, 2007 in Yerevan, Armenia. Two games will be played each day. The time control will be 25 minutes for the whole game with an increment of 10 seconds per move. The match is organized by the Armenian Chess Federation.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Anti-Draw experiments

See what anti-draw measures result in the tournament in the fifth Breizh masters in Guingamp (France) between at Lyceum Le Restmeur a Pabu. The women's section had a total of 7(!) draws throught 9 rounds of play, for a draw percentage of 15.55%. The men's section resulted in 16 draws for a draw percentage of 33.33%. Although the men's section was more than twice the women's draw rate, it is still far below the usual ballpark 50% draw rates we see at IM/GM tournaments.

Players were required to play a minimum of 30 moves prior to a draw offer.

Breizh Masters

Friday, March 02, 2007

Statement by Randy Bauer for the USCF election

As a 30-year life member, I love the USCF. Please help me save it. With your support, I believe we can.

We face many important issues, including securing our finances, fostering chess interest in the US, and building and serving our membership. We must address these, but no Executive Board member is going to constructively change things based on our current circumstances -- we cannot make progress while our leadership is divided and divisive. We must focus on electing a Board that can collectively work to improve our organization.

Lately, the Board has been distracted from the work it needs to do. Important discussions and decisions have been sidetracked by internal dissension. We can no longer afford this politics as usual -- we need a change.

Change has to start with the people we elect. We must elect Board members who are honest, effective and accountable.

Our Board needs to convey and demonstrate professionalism, collective competence, teamwork and good judgment. We need to get beyond decisions based on the ability to get a majority vote on any one issue and move to a willingness to cooperate and communicate with all, an understanding of group dynamics and how to work collectively for the larger goals of the USCF.

Make no mistake -- this is a lot harder to accomplish than it sounds. There are candidates who can make it work, but others who cannot. We need Board members who are able to work with others: Lone Ranger types need not apply. We need Board members of sound judgment: people you can trust to make reasoned decisions, even under pressure. We also need a Board guided by a sense of service, not motivated by a desire for attention or to create a spectacle. Finally, we should elect people of solid character -- those who will act ethically and honestly toward each other and the USCF.

I’ve spent much of my professional career leading teams dedicated to improving finances and services for large, complex organizations. These have included balancing a $5 billion state budget without raising taxes, creating strategies that improve results and reporting, and supporting award-winning initiatives that cut bureaucracy and create innovative change. We can do the same for the USCF.

Two years ago, I was elected to a one-year term on the Executive Board. I am proud that during that year we balanced the budget (only the second time in nine years). We also voted to move the USCF office and successfully implemented that change. While I didn’t originally support the vote to move, I did everything I could to make it successful, and it was implemented without negatively impacting member services.

That is the focus I will bring to the Board: I will approach each issue on its merits – as an independent voice. However, once the Board has decided, I will work with all members to successfully implement those policies. Together, we can make a difference. I ask for your vote for constructive, positive change.

Middlegame Lab

White to move and win: Execute a nice series of moves here to reach a winning endgame.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

USCF Executive Board

There has been a great amount of talk and pandering around the upcoming vote by membership for the USCF Executive Board. Any attempt to summarize the past 4 years on this blog would require weeks of due diligence and hard work, and would serve to only infuriate current board members of the USCF, should I be so lucky they read this. I think it is sufficient to state that the membership has reaped what it has sowed in the election of certain board members and the (perhaps not) unanticipated behavior said members have engaged in the past 4 years. A quick perusal of the usenet news groups and USCF boards paints a broad picture of the real trouble our federation is in. Recent troubles with sponsorship of the US Championship only highlight a small portion of the underlying problems the USCF has endured recently.

In short, it's time for a change across the board, 'board' being taken in a literal and figurative sense here.

We, as the Voting USCF membership, have a great opportunity to put into power a new set of Executive Board members that bring to the table a long list of previous experiences in finance, organization, scholastic education of chess, and a great love for the game that the current Executive Board seem to not possess and act in an indifferent manner towards. How else could one rationalize some of their actions over the past few years, actions that hurt the USCF and it's membership directly and indirectly, and financially strapped the federation?

It's inconceivable.

I have been involved, as a member on and off, with the USCF since I was in my mid-teens, which makes that somewhere around 30 years. I have personally seen the USCF go through the ebb and floe all businesses go through due to economic circumstances generally beyond their control. As members, we feel for the corporation in those times of financial and 'chess environmental' difficulties. But to see an organization self-destruct from the inside, as has been the case over the past several years with the USCF, is something that we, AS VOTERS, need to step forward and make our voices be heard and make a much needed change.

There is much talk about the current failings of the executive board; the mistakes they have made, the (few) good things they (some would say) fell into. Being objective, it would be hard to hold them accountable if the reasons behind the current state of the USCF were out of their hands. But no matter how you spin, slice, dice or talk it in a Clintonesque manner, it IS their fault. They should be responsible, and it is up to us to speak loudly together with single votes and bring in a new group of administrators who possess a vision that is, at worst, fresh and restorative in nature to the USCF, and hold the current Executive Board responsible for their actions in the only way we can: removal.

If you are happy with the way the USCF has been run, then go ahead and vote to keep the current Executive Board in power. That is your right, your privilege, your responsibility as a member.

If you, like many, many members, are disgusted with the soap opera that has continued on and on, the bickering, the back-stabbing, the poor decision-making, the politicizing of those decisions, regardless of the damage it does to the federation, regardless of the damage it does to the membership (YOU), then I strongly urge you to cast your vote for any candidate that is currently NOT on the Executive Board.

There comes a time when change is something that is necessary, good and the right thing to do.

That time is NOW at the USCF.

I'll be back with a mixture of chess and USCF E.B. candidate statements over the next several weeks.

Let's tell them what we really think.