Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gaining 130 rating points in only 1 month

I had two successful tournaments back to back in January where I took clear first place in my section. There was nothing different from the players I’ve been playing and up until that point my results were inconsistent. What has changed is mainly following a basic thought process of looking at my opponent’s move and determining if it’s a real threat that needs to be addressed or if it reveal’s the intention of a threat or plan. That’s not to say I go blindly and become a slave to my opponent’s desires. Rather, before I continue my ruthless task of decapitating the opposing king, I merely make sure no assassins are coming after mine.

I am also back on a tactical training regimen that follows loosely the Michael De La Maza method ( from this point forward referred to as MDLM) outlined in his book titled “ Rapid Improvement in Chess”. In short it’s a very brutal method of doing a set of tactical problems 7 times over until your eyes bleed. I’m no stranger to this method since I’ve done the seven circles of hell not once but twice.

Back in a day, Adriaan de Groot was a Dutch Grandmaster AND Psychologist who did a landmark study on what separated masters from amateur level chess players. In his published book, “Thought and choice in chess” the premise is that Masters recognize patterns on the chess board in ORDER OF MAGNITUDE greater than amateurs. There have been follow up studies in recent years. For instance, this link talks about which areas of the brain light up in an MRI of an expert versus a novice. The area that becomes most active is the part in the brain that is mostly used for facial recognition.

This is the basis why I chose to include repetitive pattern exercises in my chess training along with game studies ( chronicled mostly here) and OTB practice. I started an MDLM process back in 2006 when my rating was in the 1300’s. After completing the first 7 cirlces, I saw a spike in my rating… a HUGE spike in my rating gaining about 300 points. I joined a cult…er… community of online supports for those attempting the circles because misery loves company. The group coined the term “Knight’s Errant” For more information about this please read this FAQ and if you want some humor… I did this tongue in cheek “promotional” video.

On the subject of rating improvement, the results actually vary. Please check out this post as this is about as much of a collection fellow “knights” who road through the seven circles of hell. The bottom line is that if you start out as a Class C or lower, you have a higher probability of a huge spike ( greater than 150 rating points). The higher the starting rating , the results taper off.

I thought I’d share a little on my personal experience on doing the 7 circles from hell:

Like a moth to a flame, I stumbled on the Knights errant method, got the MDLM book…author of which was a member of my local chess club as well. As I previously mentioned, my rating jumped from the 1300’s to the low 1600’s and I was like WOW! The problem was that I had a hard time seeing the tactics and having trained in 2D using CT-ART, my mind had a hard time converting to 3D OTB ( or so I thought at the time). The other problem was that once I stopped doing tactics I could tell my tactical acumen started to wane.

How I did them:

I used CT-ART almost exclusively as I liked the fact that there is no “time pressure”. The first time around, I did 7 concentric circles. What this means is that instead of doing it MDLM ( level 10 then level 20 etc… return to level 10 after level 90 seven times over) I chose to do each level 7 times before proceeding to the next level. The second time I did the 7 circles of hell, I focused only on the first 4 levels of CT-ART since it’s rather advanced at the higher levels. Plus, this seemed to be the bulk of the problem levels I encountered. Currently, I am doing concentric circles with the following modifications: I do level 10 as many times it takes to hit 100%. ( 4 times this time around) and then the next level. I will not go past level 40 as I still feel the upper levels have more of a diminishing of returns factor.

Other tactical tools I used:

I tried tactics servers but my personal preference falls back to CT-ART only because I don’t want the time pressure when I am working these problem sets. I do use Entry membership allows 25 problems a day. I have a premium membership so I can have more use of the learning tools and unlimited tactics puzzles per day…if I choose. These have a time component but they always work to just within my playing level. I use these on my smartphone through out the day in various waiting activities that life presents itself ( doc’s office, boring meeting at work, and of course sitting on the throne.)

Madman phase:

After I completed the first set of circles in 2007, I was like a teenage with too many hormones and not enough release. I thought I saw tactics in everything. I played like a caveman with my hair on fire. What this meant was I had inconsistent results. Against higher rated players I would have good games and play a lot more cautiously. Lower rated players gave me the most trouble as I was in berserker mode chasing ghosts.

Calming period:

Tactics and strategy go hand in hand. This is where Dan Heisman’s and Jeremy Silman’s critique about the MDLM method started to sink in. Heisman was more concerned about the selection of problems that CT-Art offers are not tailored to novices and suggests John Bain’s problems. Silman was more brutal in that tactical errors occur mainly due to positional errors. I created a void by not understanding strategy enough. A quote from Sun Tzu ( The Art of War) said “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.

Thus I embarked on a better understanding of strategy and fell in love with studying the history of the evolution of this game through games collections from various tournaments through several chess eras.

During this period, I was only doing tactics once in a while at I was converting CT-Art into chessbase format so I could practice the problems in 3D but that was slow. I found that, my tactical skills were not consistent because they were not a regular part of my training. Plus, I realized I didn’t practice any form of a disciplined thought process which I find today to be the most beneficial to consistent play.


So here I am now, daily doing CT-ART MDLM style and it fits like an old comfortable shoe. It’s like doing free throws in basketball. It’s zen like and I use it to practice thought process and emotional awareness. I focus on calming my mind, looking for the pattern, making sure I see what my opponent can do as well. I find the patterns are coming back to me so it explains why I can score better with fewer reps. I also find that since my OTB play focuses on strategy and positional merits first that I am able to see the patterns in 3D despite training in 2D. Case and point is the Qxg6 move in my most recent post. I “saw” the Bishop and rook mating net just like several of the level 10 problems.

Knight Errants being revived:

I want to take this opportunity to welcome some new knights in their quest to improvement. Brooklyn64 seems to be a full battalion of knights representing a section of New York . I like the idea of teams working together. I included several on my link list titled “Knights errant revival” here. But other than the KE Brooklyn division, no one else has a tactical training post to report as of this post. Stay tuned as I plan on keeping the light on here to offer support for the blood stained conquerors seeking tactical acumen. Drop me a comment here with a link to your post if you also want to be included in the side bar.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Knights Errant Revival!

Sisters and Brethrens come gather round here. I’m shouting LOUD and PROUD about redemption! Redemption of LOST precious rating points taken away by stray thoughts , scrambled board vision and distracted by the devil himself disguised as a small child! I’m talking of the only TRUE path to salvation! You know what I am talking about. YES! TACTICS! You must not fear the tactics, embrace them for they are the true path to redemption!

Heed my words, I had a vision come to me last night. Now, come in close, as I can only speak softly about this. In it I saw the grand knight, MDLM himself! He spoke to me. He said “ Blunderprone, though you lack masterly skill, your charisma and wit is needed. You must receive the new scepter as Knight’s Errant keeper of the order. You must lead new seekers to the path of tactical righteousness. You must be the beacon for the hopeless as they reach in the darkness. Be their light to shine during their journey through the seven circles of hell.”

It’s a calling I must answer. For I have traveled through Dante’s depths not once, but TWICE . Now, I am embarking once again for my third trip into the seven circles of hell. I know I am not alone. This miserable journey is only comforted when in the arms of fellow travelers, known as KNIGHTS ERRANT.

Before I preach about the depths I have traveled ( in a subsequent post.) I will take this time to point out a new Knight beginning the journey. Simply known as Knight Errant Brooklyn division, it’s unknown how many there are but it sounds like a full battalion on the threshold. Please join me in welcoming their just and noble cause.

There are others secretly lying around wondering if the knights are dead. NAY! We are not dead, it was just a flesh wound. I was traveling through history and have seen positional enlightenment. I studied under General Sun Tsu’s art of war and understand the idea that “ Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” I want to share what I have seen in my journeys to the one struggling with the first circle.

So gather around, fellow knights past, present and future. Spread the word to those who seek tactical redemption that misery need not be alone. Come here for the fellowship that will restore your rating to its rightful plateau. Get off your rating floor, it's time to RISE UP and BELIEVE in the tactical vision! Let us be your light in times of darkness!

Behold the new sidebar as I bear the responsibility of keeping the order alive. To be included you need only to leave a comment proclaiming your quest. I will add you to the list as it grows. All I ask is that you make a post at least once a month on your struggles and cross link the list on you blog as well. To Knights of errants past, you will be included if you let me know as well, just need a commitment to help the struggling new members by commenting on their sights. In return, I will highlight on occasion, the new adventures of the knights errant.


Blunderprone, The troubled knight.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How I won my section at the Porstmouth Open

I cleared first place at the Portsmouth open ( U1750 section)!

I think my slump is over. I went to the Portsmouth open with the intent of just playing some decent chess and not like a caveman with my hair on fire. I didn’t want to get caught up in memory games with “prepared openings” and I also didn’t want to underestimate my lower rated opponent. I just wanted to play chess one move at a time… and that I did.

Round 1:

My first round had me paired as White with someone 200 points lower rated than myself. I didn’t take this for granted as he fired off the Chigoran Defense. This is the one line of pawn formations I didn’t prepare for but I decided to just play the position. My opponent made the mistake of launching a premature attack, though I had trouble capitalizing on it, I did have momentum through the middle game. Despite not making the exact best moves, I just played sound moves and looked to an endgame that I could play. I ended up outplaying him in the end game.

Round 2:

Next up was a solid Class C player. We started in on an exchange Caro-kann. He missed a middle game tactic that allowed me to fork his queen and rook. When you win material, it’s a totally different game. I regrouped the forces and systematically put the squeeze on him.

(Round 3: Bye) Round 4:

Next opponent was one underrated Class C player who was slashing through the top players in the section like a Ghinzu knife through paper. He had been taking some serious lessons from Dan Heisman and it was showing. OK, I had a chance to get a free lesson from DH as well earlier in the year so I kind of knew what he was teaching him and decided to not freak out. When my opponent launched into the London System, I was somewhat relieved because I once played this opening quite regularly and knew what I didn’t like about it. I caught an early c5 in and began to hassle his queenside before he could counter with an attack on the King side. I pulled a small tactic that got me a key central pawn and strategically placing my queen in the center of the board versus his uncastled king. I was able to throw a noose around him with a knight and Queen snare.

Round 5:

My last opponent was all jacked up. He was the top seed in the section and needed the win to salvage points. He was prepping 10 minutes before our match, I was meditating in the fresh air and enjoying the sun despite the 32 degree weather. I had white and met his Nimzo-indian with a Rubenstein. He countered with the Fisher variation but I knew about this scheme and just played the position. I made it through the opening and had started an attack on the Kingside while my opponent’s pieces were corralled off to the queenside. At one point I had a nice Queen sacrifice and had he taken it, it was mate. Here’s the game.


The big take away for me was practicing a real basic thought process. During the opening I was making sure my pieces were as active as possible, my king was as safe as possible and made it a point to see what my opponent wanted after each of his moves. I didn’t take any unnecessary chances. Even though I didn’t make the best moves for each game, I made sure I was at least as developed as my opponent and had as much if not more freedom of movement of my pieces. I paid attention to both sides of the board and didn't get stuck thinking I had to play ONLY on the side I made a plan for. I stayed flexible and it worked. Even when I had my hands around my opponent’s neck ( figuratively of course), I regrouped or was prepared to do so in case of counter play. Often, I got up to clear my head when the game got tense and focused on something other than the board. Doing so allowed me to come back refreshed.

As far as skill preparation , all I was doing to prepare for this event was tactics. I won the endgame in the first game because of a tactic I could calculate when the time was right. The second and third game presented tactical opportunities as well and when the fruit was ripe, I was the first to pluck it. My last game was a real sweet deal as my opponent missed a classic CT-ART style Bishop and Rook mate allowing me to clean up and expose his King. I still missed more eloquent ways to finish off the last guy but I played it safer.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Almost trapped a Master’s Queen.

I started the new year playing the Herb Healy Open house. I ran into fellow blogger Takchess. Oddly enough I had several people asking if I was “George Blunderprone” as if I were famous. Go figure, I put up a blog and share my study topics to the world and everyone wants to shake my hand. The problem is that even though I can cover some intense topics and share some depth here on the web, in practice, with the clock ticking, I have a hard time with the follow through.

The Herb Healy Open house event at the Boylston Chess Club is an annual event complete with a food buffet. I heard at the event a little about the history behind why a Buffet is present at this event. Back in a day, the blue laws would not allow any businesses to open on Holidays. With such an all day event, there had to be provisions to feed the chess players. This was a tradition that stuck.

I blew all my brain cells in the first round against a Master. I had the white pieces and got to play a very good Saemish against the King’s Indian. I managed to make it through the opening and had some middle game action going. I gave him a chance to come in on my queen side and attack my un castled king and pick up my a2 pawn. I proceeded to chase his queen in the corner and almost had him either drawn or winning the exchange. The game is below. Before you chastise me, Keep in mid a couple things. The time control is G40, there is a 600 point delta, and about a 30 year age difference between me and my opponent. I consciously made decisions to delay castling but once I did it, it became an intoxication and fell into the stupor.

I proceeded to tank in my next couple of games. One game, as black I was disillusioned into playing an early Nxd4 ( as Black in the advance C-K) and didn’t see the trap my opponent could have played. Instead he played conservatively. I erred on the side of attacking versus development and got into trouble. I didn’t learn anything in that game and in the next round I played a very young kid and basically fell into the same opening trap with colors reversed. This time the kid knew what to do and I was down a piece. The rest of the game was an exercise in humility as I tried to keep my dignity as I struggled for a draw only to lose.

I finally broke a 7 game losing streak ( beginning in early December at the chess club) in the last round playing the C-K. I thought of withdrawing after round 3. But I am too damn tenacious to quit even if I should. It’s what’s left of a fighting spirit. It’s what drives me to be the pain in the ass player who refuses to resign to some kid despite the material advantage. I make them earn the point. Sometimes, this works to my advantage. There is some sense of clarity I get when I finally reach that point of not having anything else to lose.

I attempted to keep a mental inventory while playing these rounds. In round one, I was fresh and played cautiously but not too timidly until ¾ of the way through the game. I just couldn’t see the right solution. The second game, I made the mistake of thinking “ I should beat this guy” especially following a good game with a strong opponent. I threw all safety checks aside and instead tried to “PUNISH” my opponent too early. Given the fact that he missed the opportunity to win a piece, played into the intoxication of playing overly aggressive and not doing the basic thinking processes that Dan Heisman suggested. Round three I was still running on “ should have beat” mentality that I played into the same unconscious and reckless trap. Humility was a sobering breath for the final round which allowed me to play with caution again. Now, if I can only remember this lesson.

My rating has been in a free fall all year due to various life priorities. I am fast approaching my floor. It stings when you drop a piece and play like crap against players 150 points lower…back to back. But at least I know I played well against a Master. May 2011 be my rebound year.

My next event is at the Portsmouth Open. If you attend, come by and say hi. Ask for “George the Blunderprone”.