Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Chess Tempo Tactics Server

In addition to doing training with PCT I am using Chess Tempo Tactics Server. My rating has surged up lately, breaking 2300 for the first time:

You can see my current stats (and a better image) here (and it is likely different than when I posted this). I am following some of LikesForests advice from this post and trying to go slower.

Anyway, is the Chess Tempo rating surge just part of the normal rating ebb and flow, or because I am using Chess Tempo more, or because I am using PCT or due in part to everything I am doing?

Update: About 24 hours later I broke 2400 with a new personal best of 2401.


Saturday, August 25, 2007


PCT Circles Progress


Thursday, August 23, 2007


Circles, Tactics, Positional Play and Openings

First an update on my circles quest with PCT. I have completed 40 units in module 2 and have eleven left to complete the module. I skipped module 1 but I have gone back and done a few units in module 1 (including the monster 720 problem unit 51) and I will probably finish module 1 after I finish module 2.

I am clearly learning new tactical motifs, patterns and positions. I'm not sure how or how much this will impact my play but I am curious to see that over time. I'm quite happy with the software and the selection of positions.

I've been dubbed Tacticus Maximus by Blue Devil Knight based on my claim that there is not more to chess than tactics. It is only our inability to calculate far enough that causes us to use strategy and positional factors and guidelines and general principles to help guide our play. In other words, these things are all less than and subordinate to tactics. But we rely on them because they are the best we have in many situations.

How can I reconcile that claim with my play in the following game? A diagram I showed before from one of my games on August 11 (Black to move) :

First, look at the position and the relative positions of the two Kings. The White King is well defended by many of his faithful companions. Or, he is quivering in the corner depending on your perspective. The Black King is denuded of all protection and is an easy target standing in the middle of an open field. Or, he reigns supreme over all the lands enjoying a nice picnic.

There is a tactical shot here and Black wins immediately. But, ignoring any immediate tactical shots (say the position were subtly changed to eliminate them), who is winning and why? If someone is winning is the reason tactical or positional?

In this game I had played the Moron Defense which tends to de-emphasize early tactics by offering to trade Queens. It has been played as black by such noted players as Mikhail Tal, World Champion. The Magician of Riga. One of the most outrageously tactical players ever. Maybe he just wanted a rest day? It is an opening system I know well because I have played over many Moron games. I have never read a book on it and I don't think any exist. It is part of my standard opening repertoire and can transpose into a King's Indian or Pirc. It is one of my (not so secret) secret weapons.

During this game I did very little calculation. What I calculated was generally ways to keep my space advantage, keep the kingside closed and to keep the option of opening the queenside. I considered the effect of White taking on c6 and of Black taking on d5 or pushing b5. You might say that there is not much overt tactics in the game, but Black is attacking. Right? Attacking without calculation? The threats are longer term than I can calculate. But they are there. So it is tactics, just longer term than we can calculate. In other words, positional. Right? And would you consider positional play more in the category of strategy or of tactics?

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Thursday, August 16, 2007


The "T-House"

A new comment in an old post about chess meetups:

The "T-House," 10826 Grant Rd., Houston, 77070 has extended an invitation to [orderly] chess players to meet there to play. Bring your own equipment. It's a small place, enough for perhaps 8 boards, but very pleasant.

They make sandwiches, tea, coffee, smoothies, and various interesting beverages like milk tapioca tea, etc..

[I suggest that if you take advantage of these nice people's hospitality, you buy your beverages and food there at the time.]

Wednesdays and sometimes on Mondays, play testers for board games in the making meet there, and the T-House has stayed open late to facilitate their play.

The phone number is 281-970-4434, in case you'd like to check with them. However, unless many are going, just showing up is probably OK.

Happy chess playing!

Loy Nunn

Thanks Loy!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Personal Chess Trainer 2007

My Knights Errant Quest is underway using Personal Chess Trainer 2007 (PCT). You can download a trial version at the link. The trial version I downloaded worked exactly once. The second time I tried to use it it had no exercises available. Fortunately I played around in it quite a bit that one time so I had already decided I wanted to buy it. After buying it I had to uninstall and reinstall to see any exercises. A minor quirk.

It has six tactics modules (there are other modules but tactics is the one I am interested in at the moment) each of which has 51 exercises. The exercises have varying numbers of problems in them -- 60 to 240 for those I have done so far. I poked around a bit in module 1 and decided to skip it as the problems seemed just too easy for me. I have been working in module 2 for 6 days now and have completed 20 units:

So far I like the selection of problems and while I know many of them on sight some of them are a little challenging and are adding to my store of known positions or position "chunks". I have only run across one totally bogus problem -- it would be nice if I could mark that somehow to skip it in the future but I don't see a way to do that. One bogus out of 409 so far seems pretty good though. There are a few problems that have multiple correct answers but PCT doesn't recognize them all so you have to learn which answer it wants. There are just a few of those and that has not hampered my use of the software.

To make the exercises more interesting I have started to try to do them as fast as I can, but correctly of course. I have lately been averaging around 6-7 seconds per problem which seems pretty good.

I am quite happy with the software -- it does what it is supposed to do and makes going through the circles on these problems easy and fun. Now, I guess we'll just have to see what if any affect this will have on my chess ability.

I am also going through Part II of the Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames, about one problem per day. The print quality of this book is low, but the problems are great. If you are not familiar with it, these are difficult positions from GM games. The correct answers are typically "!" moves even for GMs. I set it up on a board and go through the analysis in my head as if in a game. I have the benefit of a) knowing there is an "!" move to be found and b) knowing the category of the problem (discovered check, etc). I write out the analysis and when done I check my written analysis against the answer. If I err it is typically in not considering the best defense. I need to work on that.

Update: Shortly after posting this I started PCT exercises 21 and then 22. The problems seem to have jumped up in difficulty. I am not able to solve them as well or as fast but I am learning more. Also, I think "problem fatigue" is setting in and I'll be dropping the pace to one or two exercises per day.


Sunday, August 12, 2007


Obey the Tactics

From my recent Knights Errant post:
Chess is not more than tactics. Chess is tactics. If we could calculate tactics perfectly, instantly to any depth there would not be any talk of "strategy." Strategy is the application of an accumulated common experience as a (poor) substitute for perfect tactical skill. The same is true of opening theory.

Quoting GM Yuri Averbakh from Chess Tactics for Advanced Players (a wonderful book on tactics):
The grandmaster Teichmann once aptly remarked that chess was 90 per cent tactics. Each one of us -- from beginer to world champion -- knows how true this is.

From Wikipedia:
Chess Tactics
Chess computers are considered superhuman at tactics and rather spotty at strategy. The fact that computers can dominate the best humans suggests that chess is primarily a tactical game.

Strategy versus tactics is similar to the difference between Heuristics and Algorithms.

Checkers has been solved:
Solving Checkers

Chess may never be solved in the same sense as checkers but it has become apparent in the last twenty years that computers doing "just" brute force calculation can beat the best humans. Calculation is a tool we use to evaluate moves and sequences of moves. It is a tool that computers wield better than humans. Humans look at a very small subset of the moves and sequences that computers consider. Humans prune this move tree using knowledge of chess, general principles, guidelines and strategy to find their way through the maze of possibilities. Humans must do that because we are not capable of doing what the computers do -- calculate every possibility to some significant depth. If humans were capable of calculating all of that they would not rely on those general principles, guidelines or strategy. Strategy is a heuristic while calculations are an algorithm.

It is even possible that future chess programs will incorporate more and more chess knowledge and strategy as they reach the limits of brute force. If so, they will be doing it for the same reason human players do it -- there are limits to how much they can calculate.

In practice, most chess games between non-masters turn on simple tactics. In master games they turn on tactics, less simple.

Is my point that General Chess Knowledge or Strategy or Endgame knowledge or Opening Theory does not matter? No, not at all. But tactics rule. If the general principal says "capture towards the center" but the tactics say otherwise in that specific position, obey the tactics.



HCC Saturday August 11, 2007

I played in the August 11 HCC Saturday Open and finished second with 2.5 points in three rounds. The tournament crosstable will is here.

I have modified my ISAM method to comply with new (as of Jan 1, 2007) USCF rules that the player make the move on the board before recording it on the scoresheet. Changing a 20 year habit proved not to be too difficult but I think there were times I played a little more impulsively than usual.

You can play over all of my games from that event in your browser from the link in the sidebar HCC August 11, 2007 under games archive. The positions below are from those games. So if you are interested in puzzles try these before playing over the games (where all is revealed).

This USCF Press Release lists the top World Youth Qualifiers. Number one for Girls under 8 is Evan Xiang at 1484. My first round opponent.

In this position Evan can win a piece. Do you see how? She did. Black to move:

Coming back from a piece down I see a chance for a draw. Do you? Do you see what I didn't see? (Fritz did). White to move:

My game with Alan Rodenstein was largely "positional" or perhaps "anti-positional". In any case, it may threaten my claim that chess is all tactics. I played the Moron Defence.

The game ends with a "subtle positional manuever" :-). Black to move:

In my game with Will Clayton I was in a swashbuckling mood and offered a Danish Gambit but he didn't want to go there. The game continued in gambit style. In the opening, the center, piece development and king safety are important concepts to keep in mind. This game illustrates their importance through the endgame.

White can put a big hurt on black here:

How does White continue:

I can't believe that I missed this shot for White:

Compare White's rooks to Blacks. How to turn the development advantage into something more concrete and lasting? White to move:

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Friday, August 10, 2007


Knights Errant

I am joining the Knights Errant. The Knights Errant FAQ explains what it is all about. In the side navigation bar there is now a Knights Errant Section that lists other Knights.

From the FAQ:
The Knights Errant are a group of bloggers that are trying to improve their tactical pattern recognition using a method known as the Circles. The Circles program involves working through a large (usually 1000+) set of tactical problems multiple times until they can be solved without a lot of thought.

I will be using Personal Chess Trainer 2007 to assist in this progression and repetition.

14. This seems like a very narrow approach to chess. Isn't there more to chess than tactics?
This is the most common criticism of the Circles. Jeremy Silman voices it quite stridently in a review of de la Maza's book here. Clearly, chess is more than just tactics. Strategy, opening theory, and the endgame are important aspects of the game.

A common misconception, in my view. Chess is not more than tactics. Chess is tactics. If we could calculate tactics perfectly, instantly to any depth there would not be any talk of "strategy." Strategy is the application of an accumulated common experience as a (poor) substitute for perfect tactical skill. The same is true of opening theory.

That said, we still work on strategy and opening theory and endgames. But they are not in any way superior to tactics -- they are a poor substitute for tactics. We work on those areas and concepts because as mere humans with limited tactical skill it helps us create favorable positions. Favorable for what? Tactics that benefit us, of course!

A special thanks to Blue Devil Knight for bringing my attention to the Knights!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007



1ST PRIZE $250 GTD!!
2ND PRIZE $150 GTD!!
1ST UNDER 1800 $100 GTD!






Sunday, August 05, 2007


HCC Saturday August 4, 2007

I played in the August 4 HCC Saturday Open and tied for first with 2.5 points in three rounds. The tournament crosstable is here.

I am pleased with my results but not my chess. Especially the openings. I seem to keep getting in trouble in the openings and then fighting my way out of a hole. I definitely need to work on that.

You can play over all of my games from that event in your browser from the link in the sidebar HCC August 4, 2007 under games archive. The positions below are from those games. So if you are interested in puzzles try these before playing over the games (where all is revealed).

This first position is from my game with George Fan. White's move here reminds me of Bill Reuter's book Winning with Reverse Chess Strategy. Do you see White's move?

Later in the same game with George Fan, how does White put an end to the Black resistance?

From my game with Christopher Xavier. Black to move and win. Be careful, the obvious move for Black actually loses.

This is the final position in my game with Larry Englebretson. He offered a draw because he was short on time and was concerned about the lines with Qf6+ and Rf3. I was trying to find a win or forced draw after Nf5+ but I wasn't finding it. A draw ensured me a share of first place and I thought I was losing so I took it. White's best move in this position ? Take the draw offer?

Later, with Fritz I did find the following line that looks promising for White: 20. Nf5+ gxf5 21. exf5 Nc5 22. f6+ Kh8 23. Bxh7 Kxh7 (...Bg3!?) 24. Qh4+ Kg6 25. g3 Bxg3 26. Nxg3 Qe5 27. Rg1 Bg4 28. Qxg4+ Qg5 29. Qxg5+ Kxg5 30. Ne4+ and White wins. Should I have played on?

If after 20. Nf5+ Black does not take the knight but plays Kg8 instead that appears to be an invitation for repeating moves.

But, after 20. Nf5+ Kh8 21. g3 gxf5 22.exf5 Bxg3 23. Nxg3 Ng5 it looks like Black keeps the upper hand.

What do you think? Who is winning? What is the best move? Should I have played on?

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