Thursday, November 30, 2006
How to improve
Two years back, there were two 2000+ player who regularly plays against me. They used to hand my head to me in a platter everytime. But I didn't mind. Thats how you improve right, by playing stronger players. Anyway, I asked them this question

> How do I improve?

Both of them answered "Study tactics" - This made me glad as I was doing the circles then. I'm on the right track I thought. But after completing the circles, I asked myself "Now what?". I mean do I study more tactics, or positional play, or what? During that time, I was desperately trying to achieve 1800 (The things we do for ratings) that I considered hiring a chess coach. For $20-50 an hour, an IM will go through my games with me and tell me things I needed to know. But as money was tight then, I was understandably hesitant. There must be a cheaper way I thought - So I asked the two again

> How do I improve?

And told them I was considering hiring a coach. Know what they told me?

This was during the time I was participating in STC tournaments so I wanted to play good for my teammates..

So, ready for the big revelation? here it is -

but before that, I've won 90% of my game in the U1800 section, and wanted to go up to U2000.

Ok now,Really ready to hear the answer?

I was becoming really frustrated as it seems i was hovering at 1750 for the longest time. What is a guy to do to break free from his shackles I asked.

So wanna hear the answer already? really, reaally ready?

naaah, wont tell you..

hehehe - ok2x,

They said that hiring a coach is not needed. All I have to do was to analyze my games. Not by myself cause if I win, I will think my game was perfect. And if I lose it would be too painful to look at things objectively. I need to analyze with another. And basically, thats what's a good coach does for you. But in my case they asked, there are about 50 or so knights "why don't you try asking one of them? That way, you both can learn".

Good advice don't you think?

Anyway, long story short, Ive started analyzing games with Bahus. Our plan was to go through "Simple Chess", alternating with analysis of our games.

For example, here are the things I found when we were analyzing my latest "adventure"

1. Tactics - I missed a few. I could have won the queen, but was totally blind to the possibility
2. Strategy - In this game, I initially wanted to establish a big center. So my moves was building up to that. However, after a few more moves. I've forgotten what I wanted. Shifting to another plan, then another plan. So this highlights a key weakness. I need to be more consistent about what I want. Ive wasted all my previous moves(or the spirit of it) when I forgot what my original plan was.

But the most important thing I got from that was it cleared my mind. I was like, "Darnit! Ive read this in the books, why did I not remember when I was playing".

Well, i think now there is a better chance of remembering what i learned. Experiencing something for yourself and have someone point out how stupid your move is way better than just reading about something I guess - Like reading that a slap in the face is painful - however you don't really know how painful until somebody slaps you yourself. And this is essentially what game analysis is - slaps in the face.

Anyway, here is that famous game we analyzed. This is called the "evergreener" - (All my games from hereon will be called, evergreener,evergreenergreener, evergreenest, etc.. etc..)

[Site ""]
[White "Nezha"]
[Black "Cravane"]
[WhiteElo "1694"]
[BlackElo "1605"]
[TimeControl "1800+30"]

1. e4 Nc6 2. Nf3 e5 3. Bc4 h6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Qf6 6. Be3 Bc5 7. c3 d6 8.O-O Ne5 9. Be2 Qg6 10. f4 Bh3 11. Bf3 Nxf3+ 12. Qxf3 Bg4 13. f5 Qh5 14. Qg3 Nf6 15. Nd2 Be2 16. Rf2 Bxd4 17. Bxd4 O-O-O 18. h3 Rhg8 19. Qe3 Ba6 20. b4 b6 21. a4 c5 22. bxc5 bxc5 23. Bxf6 gxf6 24. Rb1 Qh4 25. Rf4 Qg5 26. Qf2 Qg3 27.Rg4 Qxc3 28. Rxg8 Rxg8 29. Nf3 Bd3 30. Rd1 Bxe4 31. Kh2 Bxf3 32. gxf3 Qe5+ 33. f4 Qe7 34. Qf3 Kc7 35. Rb1 Rb8 36. Rxb8 Kxb8 37. Qb3+ Qb7 38. Qd3 d5 39.Qe3 c4 40. Qe8+ Qc8 41. Qb5+ Qb7 42. Qe8+ Qc8 43. Qb5+ Qb7 44. Qe8+ Qc8 45.
Qb5+ 1/2

Paste Game Here

btw: I have not forgotten about the tactical discussion I've started. But I'm shelving it for another day.

Also Fierabras left this interesting comment
> But if you want to play like Nezhmetdinov ... ... too passive
This deserve its own post. But later until i can get my head straight.
posted by Nezha at 6:08 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Cheap Tactics
I think I know now a (small) reason why some people dismiss tactics.. I think when you win with strategy, or when you are able to triumph after a long bitter end-game, you get a feeling of satisfaction. You say "I did it. Me alone, was able to overcome". But when an opponent blunders, you feel a little cheated. I mean a win is a win, but somehow a blunder-win feels lower than a "skill"-win (Although, it takes real skill too to spot the blunders)

Take this game for example. I was very happy with this game. By moves 15 and 16 I was able to gain the fabled outpost. However, he had to ruin all by walking into a fork. I won, but - Bummer.

Nezha (1695) vs. monier (1682) --- Tue Nov 28, 06:04 PST 2006
Rated standard match,
initial time: 30 minutes, increment: 15 seconds.

Move Nezha monier
---- ------ -------
1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bg5 dxe4
5. Nxe4 Be7
6. Nxf6+ Bxf6
7. Bxf6 Qxf6
8. Nf3 O-O
9. Bd3 Nc6
10. c3 b6
11. O-O Bb7
12. Qc2 g6
13. Qe2 a5
14. Be4 Rab8
15. Bxc6 Bxc6
16. Ne5 Be8
17. Rfe1 Rd8
18. Qc4 c5
19. dxc5 bxc5
20. Qxc5 Rd5
21. Qe3 Bb5
{Black resigns} 1-0
Paste Game Here

Some notes:
15. Bxc6 - I was afraid to take the horse as his bishop is bearing down on my king-side, but -
16. Ne5 - The previous move was done to establish this outpost (actually moves 12,13, and 14 was done exactly to setup this one move). There were some small tactical threat at this moment, and i was counting on them to negate the threat of his bishop and queen. I think i made the right choice. You could imagine my delight when i was able to place that horsey on e5. Now i have a strategically won game i told myself (Achieving strategic advantage such as this is as rare as rain in a dessert in my games)

The next step, he will play the the freeing move c5. I just knew it. So my moves from here on is meant to take advantage of that fact.

17. Rfe1 - To free my queen, the queen will go to c4 to counter the c5 advance
18. Qc4 - All according to plan - he is helping me conduct the game => the next few moves were already calculated.
21. .. Bb5 - I didn't calculate this. Why did he have to do it... why!?
posted by Nezha at 10:46 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Sunday, November 26, 2006
A Story
"So, what's his decision?" Mr. Tominaga, the company president asked me. A middle age man with a receding fore line. He sips his coffee after every sentence. Typical of a Japanese, this one has a penchant for very dark, unsweetened brew.

A countryman has applied for a job a few days ago. But as he was younger and his japanese lacks polish, our president was hesitant to offer him a significant raise. So my friend predictively tells me he will refuse. I am tempted to say to Mr. Tominaga, "Increase his salary by 500 dollars and he will be your man. Increase it by a thousand and he will profess undying loyalty. Increase it by two and he will bend the knee and call you 'ser'". But I said not any of these things, instead preferring to say simply:

"He will not accept, there is no reason to change jobs without corresponding change in salary".

"But you are here" Mr. Tominaga responds, taking yet another sip from his cup. I can't understand how the japanese can have such high life expectancy. Excess seems to be a common pastime here. Tobacco, sake, gambling, even woman in white shirts diffidently whispering "please sir". Everything can be easily procured, provided you have the money. And it is not the first time I encountered a drunken fool inside a train singing happily to himself. The crows in his eyes are too light, and his hair has yet any grey, but his breath is foul and his skin is turning yellow. I tell myself amidst his singing, He is yet too young, but soon he will receive the gift.

I pondered on my answer a few moments. So that was your plan, I think quietly. To make partners of us. Someone to talk to in my own language. A companion to do things together. To lull us into a sense of comfort so if another comes offering more, we will refuse because how can one leave the other? But my poor sacho does not understand. I journeyed to a strange land leaving wife and child not to seek comfort. It is not comfort I seek, but gold and yellow steel. Large enough to buy a small estate. Perhaps a mansion in the everglades. Perhaps a black car.

"No, he will not accept" I repeat. "The salary is most important. The job itself is no matter. He will pick trash and sweep the streets if the pay is high enough"

"I see" he told me. "But, are you the same?"

I inhaled, I do not like this line of questioning. I would have answered "no" in another circumstance, however most I know earns almost double than me. Envy is a sin, but they are men I trained a long time ago. Teaching them programming and japanese. I think it unseemly that the students would earn more than the teacher. I certainly don't lack any of my students capabilities. But I have a contract and so I cannot look for another job. Of course I don't want to get fired as that would make things more difficult. But if Mr. Tominaga will release me of his own. Perhaps if he becomes sufficiently disappointed?

"Yes I am" I heard myself say. For gold and yellow steel, i remind myself. I have no time for the feelings of aggrieved presidents.

The narrowing of his eyes told me everything I needed to know.

"The meeting is at an end. I have other things to do" he said abruptly.

It would be five more days before he talks to me again. Ignoring my eyes and hardly acknowledging my presence. Did I judge correctly I wondered. Until he summoned me the fifth day and asked my price directly. Its very un-japanese but there's no point in turning back. So I told him, and he agreed. But the relationship is not the same. However, it is gold I seek and yellow steel, so I put such things out of my mind.

So the days pass while I work. But winter is coming and everyday it gets colder. I was born under a bright sun, and have toiled under it for 28 years. With nothing but a thin shirt and in evenings none at all. My country has only two seasons it was said "Hot and very hot". Those who come back from cold countries like America hardly comes out of their air conditioned rooms. As if they will burn under that very same sun they walked under a long time ago. And as my body is not used to such low temperatures. I shiver at night and my hands grows numb. The cold is a constant irritation.

In addition, I wonder about the child I left behind. Does he still know my face? I myself hardly recognize the face of my own father. It was fifteen years ago when last I saw him. "Let me see my son" he said, but my mother wouldn't let him. He banged on the door and shouted our name. But our house stayed silent and in the end, he got tired and left never to return again.

And so I worry. My child is too young to remember me perhaps, but I comfort myself by the thought that a child knows his father, as only a father can know his child.

These things and the cold bothers me. So every night before i sleep, i say my prayers. The one that goes "It is not comfort I seek, but gold and yellow steel"
posted by Nezha at 10:38 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
A Discussion About Tactics
Let me continue my desertion about chess tactics. I'll start by giving this comment that the good J'adoube left us.

J'adoube's Law of Tactics:
Good positional play yields good tactical opportunities.

I will not contest this law. I however think this is incomplete (sorry J'adoube). I have written about it before, and it bears repeating again - Sometimes, at least in my case, the final result of good positional play is a slightly better endgame. Sometimes, its just some other positional gain like a better pawn structure. Sometimes you play good positional chess and tactics does not appear.

I admit that good positional play is required, but I cannot accept that it is the only requirement. Allow me to quote from GM Yermolinski

"The good old self-comforting thought, 'I did everything right positionally, so the tactics favor me' doesn't always ring true. Believe me, I know. I used to say this every time...but not any more...we should learn to accept the fact that the combinational style has the same right to exist as the positional approach."

I think is more in-line with my own experience. Look, I've studied books about positional play, ("Simple Chess" is the only book I took with me here in japan. Orphaning all the others) and I try to use what I learned - but when I play, I try really really hard to generate tactical melees. I try, but it does not happen. The positions does not come. Or it does not come too often for my taste.

You say to me, we don't always get what we want and that we have to play the position given us. I say yes - but isn't it also true that looking at games by Tal, Shirov, Nezhmetdinov, et. al, you will find that in most of their games, these very same tactical battles appear constantly. Not every game, but often enough to make it noticeable. Or would you have me believe that their reputations as tactical players are over-rated? That they are after all, disciples of Petrosian?

No, i say they gained that reputation because the games they played bear witness to what they are.

In a way, i find it strangely easier to try and play like a positional grandmaster. A very pale reflection to be sure, but I at least can try to emulate them. You strive to play like Capablanca, so you try to gain space. You try to play like Nimzowitch so you try to overprotect. But try playing like Nezhmetdinov, and what do you do? - As I've said, the tactical positions does not come. I can try to play aggressive sure, but to confuse aggressiveness with sound tactical play is folly. The only thing gained by unfounded aggressiveness is sorrow and defeat.

But i think I may need to explain why I'm going down this road. Why the obsession with tactical play.

It would be my next topic.
posted by Nezha at 8:39 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Monday, November 20, 2006
Book Recomendation
I need some more time, maybe a few more games before I attempt to continue my theoretical discussions on chess tactics. I'm trying to try things out. No use posting about things I know nothing about: In the meanwhile, Ive been suckered into reading this book, which I am now recommending to you:

A Song of Ice and Fire

I do not know what genre most of the knights are fond of. I however like reading about fantasy/medieval stuff. You know things like lord of the rings, wheel of time. Stuff like that. However, there was something common about the lot of them that caused me to drop reading the genre all together. I call it the disneyland effect. That is - we have essentially a main character, the good guy trying to save a princess/town/castle/world against an evil emperor/dragon/king/orc/evil eye whose resources far outnumber that of the hero's. Along the way, they battle and whole towns are destroyed, thousands die, dragons are slain, armies are vanquished. Then in the very end, the big bad villain falls after a gigantic cataclysmic battle.
However after all that, our erstwhile hero will not, and I cannot highlight this enough, out hero will NOT be in any danger being killed/ maimed/ destroyed/ lose. Our hero can fall on cliff, have the hangman's noose around his neck, face a thousand soldiers, take an arrow through the heart, and he will not only not die, we will find that cliff was shallow, the noose will snap, the thousand soldiers are converted to his cause, and the arrow magically turns aside. (I think I just about described the basic shtick of the whole genre here).

How silly is this. Its just like watching disney characters. I'm already nearing my 30's. I've left these kind of stories long ago along with my toy boat and toy cars - And if already know whats gonna happen, why bother reading? If you were watching an NBA game and I told you the final score, would you still be interested? Even were it be the finals, you would have lost interest.

And so I did. I lost interest in the whole lot of them. Excepting for the DUNE series, I have despaired of ever finding something to read again.

Until this book. Suffice to say that were you to find a character hanging in a tree. He will not come back talking again. And yes, even major characters sometimes gets the red smile.. Its refreshing, because you don't know whats gonna happen. Nobody's safe. And to top it off, you actually understand why the characters do the things they do. Its not all good vs. evil stuff. Its just normal persons doing things because of their principles and for their families. It just so happens that they affect other (powerful) persons, and so conflict arises. The effect of this is that after a while, you don't know who to like anymore. You grow to like even the "enemy".

You know - just like life..

If you are into this type of stories, I highly recommend this to you.. (No, I'm not gonna write about the plot here. But it has something to do with powerful families trying to kill each other)

Anyway, enough of my babbling..

Back to work...

"Do you want to see?"
"Half the things I've seen, i never wanted to see. Half the things I wanted to see, I've never seen. So 'want' has nothing to do with it"
posted by Nezha at 9:50 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Where does tactics come from?
It happens that sometimes the opponent is stupid enough to walk into a pin, a fork, or a skewer. However, sometimes he is not so stupid. During this case, we are faced with the question asked by those whose followed forrest gump at the end of his running journey: "now what do we do?"

So from here my question starts. Given an opponent, well versed in tactical maneuvers - so proficient that he will not make such mistakes, nor even fall for simple traps, is there a way in which we can still victimize the opponent with the very same pin, fork and skewer? How can we victimize the un-victimizable so to speak.

You ask me if this is even possible, but grandmasters are supposed to possess very deep levels of tactical awareness. Some more than others, sure. But possess them they do - But despite this, they still fall for tactics as any number of Shirov games can attest to.

In order to discover this secret, We will begin by trying to understand the answer to a very basic question: Where do tactics come from? We will start by examining one of chess's oft-used dictum:

Tactics flow from a superior position

This is one of the most chessplayer's favorite maxim. That tactics flow from a superior position. The unvoiced implication of this is that instead of playing for tactics, you seek to accumulate small positional advantages. An outpost there, control of the files, the diagonals. Little by little you accumulate these things, and lo! - a time will come when your positional superiority is so great that "a combination must exists, however deeply hidden". A very tempting thought and very logical too. But it just so happens that I observed a curious thing in my games, and the games of others. Namely, sometimes a game would proceed where the pieces are just gradually exchanged resulting in a favorable endgame. Perhaps, the opponent was saddled with doubled pawns, or you manage to gain the queen-side pawn majority. An advantage to be sure, but it should be asked, what happened to the tactics? If tactics is the natural result of positional superiority, then how to explain those times when a positional superiority begot not tactics but more positional superiority?

Also, what if you dont gain the aforementioned "superiority"? What if the opponent was able to preserve the balance? let me ask again, but a little differently - if tactics flow from a superior position - will it follow that tactics does not flow from balanced position? I find this highly doubtfull.

(As a sidenote: I have been able to gain very large positional advantages only rarely. Most of the time, my lead is so slight it can hardly called an advantage at all. Perhaps fritz will spew such numbers as 1.03+. But being ahead a theoretical number of pawns has almost no meaning to me as I can recall from bitter experience.)

So - from the arguments above, I think things are not so clear as one is lead to believe. But - clearly there must be something more going on here - At this point, my pet theory is that perhaps not all superior positions are conducive to tactics? Perhaps tactics flow from "some" positions. I think this is closer to the truth. But what are those positions? How can be bring them about?

As it is already nearing 1am in the morning, I am forced to temporarily stop my ramblings here. I want to ponder on this a little bit more (But please, share your thoughts.)

Tactics flow from certain types of positions?
(nezha's corollary)
posted by Nezha at 6:00 AM | Permalink | 6 comments
Friday, November 17, 2006
Playing Chess Again
I guess i just got burned out. Doing the cirles for 6 months, playing chess daily, solving puzzles and reading books. It was just consuming too much time. Then, I got too hung up on my rating. That is too say, I was trying to reach 1800 that i became too scared to lose. It used to be that I would welcome all challengers and play just because i like it, but then i found myself turning down invites. I was starting to pick just the battles that i think i can win. Trying to squeeze every last once of elo. Well I did reach 1800 (1836), but it was a phyrric victory so to speak.

So i decided to take a break from chess, and see what other things are out there. Well anyway, to make the long story short - After a long time - i'm starting to play again. I've lost about 100 points since I've been losing quite steadily - I thought tactics is like riding a bicyle, you can forget about it once you learn it, but now I think its like a shooters stroke. You have to hone it everyday otherwise it declines over time. So i've been doing the CTS gig for a few days now.

Of course, I wont go into a death-defying training regimen like the circles again (*shivers*), nor would it bother me particularly if my rating don't rise anymore. I however, would like to become what I have always wanted in chess - Namely a fearsome attacker. I want fire in the board. When I win a game, i want to point my fingers at the screen, shake my head side to side, and shout - "you want fries with that!!!!"

Of course the underpinning of this evolution will be tactical play. However, tactics of itself will not suffice. I need to go deeper - namely I need to discover how to set up combinations. I have a chess program, a comparably weak one compared to shredder, etc as it has absolutely no positional knowledge (just a toy program) But it is interesting to note that seemingly mundane moves are converted to two and three move combinations - That is the model of play I aspire to. And if this sounds like being a trappy kind of player, basically your right. That is what it is.

But how to do that? I could try reading books - but i realize i don't learn that way. Or rather, i resist learning. In the back of my mind, I would always say "oh! really?". Maybe it is better to evolve my own theories for now. I'm not a genius by any level of imagination but i think i'm intelligent enough. Besides - what have I got to lose right? Mind you, Bronstein himself advocates beating your own path in favor of being a slave to fashion. I have no misconception that this will turn me into a grandmaster - However, creating my own system, would assure I understand it completely, and make it truly "mine". My system. => (But i think this will take time. Creating a style of play requires a big effort after all.)

However, for those who want to join me in this endeavor, I will welcome you with both arms, you just have to say the litany of faith three times:

Chess has many forms, and nezha's style is its first incarnation.
posted by Nezha at 2:41 AM | Permalink | 4 comments