Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 Year Anniversary!!

One year ago today I started my seven circles training!

It's been a productive first year!

I've played 250+ slow games
I've completed seven circles of Chess Tactics for Beginners
I've completed two circles of Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations
I've gained 550 rating points!

Back when I started I was rated around 1250-1300 and I'm happy to say that since mid-January I've made a class A rating!! Wooooo!!! I peaked at 1876 but it has now plateaued again around 1790-1810. I've got to be honest though, I don't feel like I'm solidly class A. For instance, I got my rating up by beating a whole bunch of mid 1600's players and two mid 1900's players. Players rated mid 1700's still give me problems. These players seem to beat me the most on my bad days. Maybe they realize how close they are to Class A so they're that much hungrier? I don't know what it is, but until I can start consistently beating mid 1700's players the same way I take care of mid 1600's players, I'm not going to make 1900+. I'm also proud to say that I've made class A without studying any openings. I'm trying to build up a good fundamental base before "cashing in" with openings.

And for your amusement, here is how I would categorize the different rating classes:

Class E: Just know how the pieces move.

Class D: Has no concepts of tactics, only loose piece threats and bishop-queen battery mate threats as well as opening maxims such as knights before bishops and control the center with pawns. Gets overwhelmed by all the possibilities in the middlegame. Tries to calculate EVERYTHING and takes forever to move.

Class C: Discovers forks and pins and basic sacrificial mates! Not consistent with applying checks, captures, mate threat checks for every move. Tries to force tactics that might have been but are simply not possible or easily parried. Calculates too much still.

Class B: Getting more consistent at applying checks, captures, mate threats, but still has significant lapses. Getting better at knowing when there are no tactics but still gets fixated sometimes.

Class A: Getting acquainted with different common middlegame plans and how to execute them efficiently. Getting better at knowing when and how to attack the castled king position. More consistent with checks, captures, mate threats for every move.

I'd also like to share with you the 5 things I try to do before making a move:

1. Look at all checks, captures, mate threats no matter how silly and unproductive they seem to be

2. Find the forcing lines, and quirks of every position (calculation!)

3. "Real Chess", anticipate replies

4. Sanity checks

5. Be unpredictable, play moves you know you're going to have to play, first

I've recently realized that the reason I got into chess was more the idea of chess rather than the actual game. For instance, my favorite chess player of all time was Mikhail Tal. However I couldn't say that I'd looked at more than 2 or 3 of his games back then. I liked his reputation as a chess player more than his actual chess. A chain smoking, hard drinking player who threw away half or more of his army to win. A player who didn't seem to have to study or think about the game too much, just show up and destroy the competition with crazy sacrifices. Now that I've become more familiar with chess, I realize (a little sadly perhaps) that this just wasn't the case. Mikhail Tal was constantly thinking about chess, it has been said that when he went in for one of his many operations he talked chess with the doctors until the anesthesia knocked him out. Not only that, but I know now that sacrifices aren't always possible, sometimes the path is clear and you have to follow it. Despite these realizations, it hasn't stopped my own chess studying. Chess is a narcotic. My love of the idea of being good at chess has been replaced by one of the most absorbing experiences in life. It's not always fulfilling, even when I'm winning, but it's absorbing without fail.

That being said, I'm still modeling my chess training on Mikhail Tal. I went through CTB seven times to get a good, all-around baseline. No matter what kind of chess player you want to be, it's important to have a good grounding in tactical fundamentals. Now I'm going through Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations which really should be called "how to mate with what's left". It goes through typical mating motifs of rook, knight, bishop, queen, pawn, two rooks, queen + bishop, queen + knight, rook + bishop, rook + knight, two bishops, two knights, bishop + knight, three minor pieces. If I want to become a sacrificial player, this information is crucial. I have no desire to become a complete player who knows precisely how to convert a slight pawn weakness in the endgame into victory. People talk a lot about the beauty of chess games, but the only beauty that can be appreciated by a wider audience is sacrificial mating attacks. A Karpov game where he slowly squeezes the air out of his opponent may be beautiful to chess players, but if you take that same game to a chess amateur, he won't be able to follow it. And personally the part I like most about chess is attacking the castled position. Whether I'm destroying it with kamikaze bishops, stomping on it's center pawn with my knight, or cutting it open with my h-pawn. The attack on a castled king is the most fascinating and addictive part of chess for me.

*** UPDATE ***

After seven circles of CTB and two circles of Tal's Winning Chess Combinations I've decided to start The Art of Attack by Vladimir Vukovic. Hopefully this will bring my game to the next level. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

1st circle complete!

I've just finished my first circle of Winning Chess Combinations!

Tal would be proud.

Now I want to see how quickly I can get through these next circles in order to completely absorb all the information while it's fresh in my mind. While Chess Tactics for Beginners gave me my start in basic tactics, Tal's WCC is giving me more experience in recognizing thematic mating attacks and especially how to combine attacks. Here's a recent game against an 1850 rated player that demonstrates what I've learned. I never would have thought to set up my attack like this before.

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. exd5 exd5
5.Nf3 Bg4
6. Bb5+ c6
7. Bd3 Qe7+
8. Be3 Nd7
9. 0-0 0-0-0
10. Bf4 f6
11. Re1 Qf7
12. Qd2 g5
13. Bg3 h5
14. Nb5 Bxd2
15. Nxa7#

Monday, December 3, 2007

Congratulations to Contest Winners!

Check your email inboxes for Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations! I pretty much gave it to anybody who put any kind of thought into their answer.

Congratulations to: Glenn Wilson, Chessloser, Likesforests, and adam!

(Likesforests, I couldn't find your email. Just let me know what it is and I'll send it right to you)

Now for the best news!

I've decided to keep the contest open!

Anybody who gives a good answer will get a copy of Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations!


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chess at Work

Hi everybody! I'm still circling, but this time with Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations. It's such an awesome book you have no idea. It's the perfect follow-up to 7 circles of CTB. Anyways, I'm back in the blogosphere to get everybody's opinion on something...

What's the best job to have so you can play chess all day? The only thing that comes to mind is to be a security guard at a low profile site. I was also thinking maybe to be a head librarian of a small historic library. Does anybody have any ideas? Because I'm getting in trouble a little too much at my job for playing chess. Now nobody there knows I play chess or am even interested in it, but after I complete my work for the day I never "take the initiative" and "create more work for me to do" blah blah blah. Like I care if I'm good at my dead end job or not. 5 or 10 years from now I will not remember my near minimum wage salary keeping me and my wife's head slightly above water. I will remember all the hours I spent there honing my skills as a badass chessplayer manifested in beautiful combinations over the board.

So I ask all of my fellow Knights and chess bloggers, what is the perfect job for an improving chess player?

Winner of the best answer will receive a pdf file of Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations via email!

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I've done it! I've completed the 7 circles!

I feel like I've graduated chess grade school :D

God those last two circles were BORING. Having completed the circles I have a few issues with them. First off, more and more after my third and fourth circle my brain stopped thinking. It began to just memorize and recall the solutions to the problems, so I just coasted through. I don't think this is a good thing. It's good to memorize and recall the tactical themes in the problems but I'm afraid I was just looking at familiar formations of pawns to remember the answers. Now don't get me wrong now, I'm a big advocate for the repetition of problems to get the most value out of them. But there comes a point when you don't get enough value out of the problem to justify the time spent. For my future circles I'll stop when I feel their value has been exhausted. Maybe after 5 or 6. Since there is no shortage of tactics problems and they all contain the same tactical themes within them there's no reason not to push yourself.

I've also compiled an errata list for CTB:

379 - Qb7# not listed as an alternative
389 - Rh2+ is a blunder pure and simple.

519 - Ne7# not listed as an alternative
1160 - 3...Kb8 4. Nd7+ Ka8 6. Rh6 seems like an interesting line to include

1202 - The alternate solution lists Qxe6+ instead of the Qxh7#.
1258 - 1. Bg8+ Kh8 2. Be6! seems like it should be included.

1264 - Kc4 should be listed as an alternative.
1289 - Kc7 should not be listed as an alternative because it loses.

Keep in mind that this list would've been a lot more exhaustive if I had thought of the idea from day 1. This is just what I could catch from my last circle. I know I'm missing one in particular where a mate is available but they want you to win the queen instead. Feel free to make this list your own, update and post it on your own blogs so fellow circlers can use it.

So I've been done for a week now, and have started CTI, Chess Tactics for Intermediate Players. People who're doing CTB will be glad to know that CTI builds on some of the same problems in CTB which is pretty cool. It will be the same problem but a few moves back so you have to figure out how to get to the recognizable position. I'm thinking once I finish my 7 circles of CTI I'll do a super circle of CTB and CTI. That would be pretty badass. CTI is super hard, they're starting to include "quiet moves". Moves that aren't forcing, but are devastating nonetheless because there's no way to stop it. These are really hard to calculate correctly because it feels like you're opening the flood gates of infinitude so you really have to be sure there's no response. I feel like this is my first introduction to positional chess.


Well when I started the circles my rating was around the high 1200's. During the third and fourth circles I maintained a mid 1700 rating for about 20 games. But as the problems became memorized, I could really feel my brain muscle atrophying and I became lazier in doing the circles because I no longer needed to push myself to find the solution. I guess that laziness must've carried over into my games. Anyways I'm currently maintaining a mid 1600 rating for all my cumulative games. So I've experienced a 300-400 rating increase from doing the circles and playing regular slow time games. All in all I'm happy with my progress but I don't feel like I'm anywhere near where I want to be. After all I still get my ass handed to me by the old russian men in Harvard Square. I think I've reached the Class B plateau described in this great article: Ratings and Expectations

I really want to be at the level where I can read books like Pawn Power by Hans Kmoch, and positional books like Reassess your Chess but I just don't feel like I'm tactically sharp enough yet. For now I'm going to stick to the circles program with emphasis on playing and analyzing a slow time game everyday. As for my future as a blogger, I don't think I'll post every month. So if that means I'm no longer a knight, then feel free to update your sidebars accordingly. In fact, the only reason I started this blog was to distribute my Concentric Square Exercise solutions. I had initially emailed them to BDK so he could post them on his blog but he convinced me to start one of my own :)

As for my controversial comment on BDK's blog, I'll admit that it wasn't phrased in the most diplomatic fashion, but I just feel that if you have something that works, what else is there to talk about? I guess I'm not much of a blogger ;)

I wish everyone well, and I hope someone gets some use out of the errata. And you can count on me to read your blogs when I'm procrastinating ;)

I'd like to leave you with the one problem that prevented me from getting a 100% success rate on my last circle. You'd really think I'd see it coming after seeing it 6 times..

(White to Move)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An Edible Chess Set

This classy chess set features butter cookies as the white pieces and chocolate pieces for the black. If you don't have anyone to play chess with, and your girlfriend/wife won't play with you, this might convince them to.

Or they'll just eat a few of your pawns and then still won't play with you. Son of a bitch.

Check out the pieces in action:

I should be done with my CTB circles by my next post, so stay tuned :)

Sunday, July 15, 2007 on your cellphone!

This is the coolest thing ever made.

Everything you need to know about it can be found here

I thought Yahoo Chess on your cellphone was the coolest thing ever made until for some reason I couldn't get an opponent anymore. It was like I was living in a virtual ghost town. Not only is this app free, it's completely reliable and I never have to wait more than 10 sec to get a game! If you have a account and a cellphone you definitely should check this out.


Well as most of you probably predicted, I'm going to fail miserably in my goal of completing the circles by the end of july. Needless to say I had a lot of other things in my life get in the way. You know how you wash a car and then it rains? Well this was more like a hurricane..

So now I'm under the microscope at work, and I need a way to continue my circles training without having to hide a laptop. The solution?

A Pocket PC!

This way I'll be able to do everything I need to do. I can play games on my phone, analyze them with pocket fritz, and do my circles training with pocket chess tactics for beginners! Best of all I got one with wifi access so I can connect to the internet for free!

I bought it used though, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that when it arrives it works like it's supposed to..

Last order of business. If you have CTB or any other Convekta product open it up right now. Right click on the board and choose the option enlarge board. Keep on enlarging the board until it's at its maximum setting.

Now take a look at the white knight...


Did they give the knight a little stubbly mustache?

Is that what that is?!

Or did they give him freckles and/or beauty marks?

I think the programmers over at Convekta have a little too much time on their hands...