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.
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.