Friday, November 23, 2007


PCT and Circles Update

I have finished Module 1 Tactics (after having previously completed all of Module 2) so I now have two completed Personal Chess Trainer Tactics Modules and I am now on Unit 4 of Tactics Module 3. There are 51 Units in each Module (with 60 to 720 positions per Unit) so that is 105+ completed tactics units since getting the software in August or about one per day. Some days I do none or part of one and other days I complete several. This software is just fantastic for studying tactics. Which is all I bought it for and I consider it worth the price just for the Tactics Module.

What about the other modules? In addition to Tactics, the software includes Endgames, Commented Endgames, Strategy and Openings. I have spent some time in each of these modules. As I go through these I try to view them not only through the lens of my level and experience but also from the perspective of someone relatively new to the game.

I do not see the value of this software for studying openings, except that a database of games is included that can be accessed via the Openings Module and playing over good games is always useful but there are much better tools for that. The Commented Endgames Module is a useful introduction to some endgames and the Endgames Module has good exercises that work well but there are ideas that are hard to convey in this format. To be fair, I have not spent much time on Commented Endgame or Endgame Modules but it seems a newer player would need help understanding the "why" behind many of the endgame moves.

But the Strategy Module. Wow! I have completed 9 of the Strategy Modules and am very impressed. These are fantastic. Explanations are given that are simple and clear. There is an occasional translation problem to English but even then the ideas come through.

So, if you have this software or are thinking of getting it I strongly recommend the exercises in the Tactics Modules and the Strategy Modules. The Commented Endgames and Endgames Modules are also very useful but don't quite stand alone (other material or instruction will be required to get the best value from them). I don't see much value in the Openings Module.

For others that have used this software, what are your thoughts?

If you have Questions for World Champion Anand record them in the comments to that post.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Chess and Gender?

Via Son of Pearl's Chess Blog where he has the post What Sex is Your Brain? we found the Sex ID Test. I am curious how ability at different tasks maps to ability at chess. Are men better than women at skills useful in chess? Some excerpts of my results:

This task tested your ability to identify the angle of a line by matching it with its twin. This is a spatial task, which looks at how you picture space.
Your score: 20 out of 20
Average score for men: 15.1 out of 20
Average score for women: 13.3 out of 20

If you scored 18 - 20: You have more of a male brain.

Spot the difference
This task tested your ability to identify which objects changed position. You lost points, if you incorrectly identified objects.
Your score: 71%
Average score for men: 39%
Average score for women: 46%

If you scored between 67 - 100%: Those with a female-type brain generally score in this range.

Your systemising score is: 17 out of 20
Average score for men: 12.5 out of 20
Average score for women: 8.0 out of 20

Men in general are better at systemising.

3D shapes
This task tested your ability to mentally rotate 3D shapes.

Your score: 7 out of 12
Average score for men: 8.2 out of 12
Average score for women: 7.1 out of 12

If you scored 7 - 9: In past studies, 50 per cent of the people who scored in this range were women and 50 per cent were men.

Son Of Pearl:I did well in the angles test (19 out of 20), and the test where you have to mentally rotate a 3D shape and match it to others (11/12), which should mean that I have some of the skills needed to be a good chess player.

We both did well at angles but he aced me on the 3D Shapes. Which, if any, of these tests map to ability at chess?

To the extent there are differences between men and women in these areas and in chess how much of that is genetic and how much is environmental? Hey. It might be interesting to see what Anand thinks about all of this.

Remember, if you have Questions for World Champion Anand record them in the comments to that post.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Paul and Polly

I read a lot of chess related books and blogs and I spend a lot of time in chess related software with the goal of improving my game. I have lately discovered two delightful authors that offer entertaining insight into the chess player's mind and I read their stuff because it is fun and enjoyable.

If you enjoy playing chess, this will be the most fascinating, best-written book that you have ever read. If you have no interest in chess, then get ready to enjoy a fascinating, fast-moving story with unforgettable characters, many of whom just happen to be chess players. -- Jared Diamond

The book is King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's most Dangerous Game by Paul Hoffman. For more info see this review at Paul's blog. It makes a great gift for chess players and non-chess players alike. My advice: don't wait for the paperback.

The other author is Polly Wright of Castling Queen Side where she blogs her adventures playing chess in New York City. She offers insights that all chess players can relate to and covers the fear, the doubt and the triumph of competitive club level chess.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Questions for World Champion Anand?

Have you ever had the chance to interview the World Chess Champion? Or even ask him one question? Are there questions you would want to ask? Here is your chance!

World Chess Champion GM Viswanathan Anand is coming to Houston. At least his voice is. He has agreed to be interviewed on the Border Crossings radio show on KPFT 90.1 FM in Houston. Even if you are not in Houston, you can listen live on your computer.

Border Crossings is every Wednesday at 10-11 pm Central Time.

A good friend of mine is producing the show and he will check out the comments here for ideas for questions. From his email:

As far as the interview itself goes - some of the things I was planning to discuss with him were of course related to chess -- about computers, computers vs humans, about the large number of Indian GMs who came behind him, issues like the FIDE split, reunification, cheating (there was a lot of press recently about this) etc. On broader subjects, Kasparov and Russia elections and how the chess community is reacting to it, state of chess in the US, future as he sees for chess, chess variants that might become more popular (speed chess, blindfold etc), role for chess in education, how sports other than cricket do in India etc. One of the things I was thinking for questions from the web was to have these in a rapid-fire format say something like 10 questions in spend 10-15 minutes. Of course, I am sure there will be some serious and very interesting and may be even technical (about chess) questions that might come from the web folks... So any sort of questions should be fine, but not sure if we will be able to ask all the questions.

I'll update this post with the date of the show when that has been firmed up.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


USCF Results Tool

a great tool by Wayne Zimmerle. Ever wondered who you have played the most, the highest rated player you beat etc? It's all there.
Getting to 2000

What is this tool whereof he speaks?

The MSA data program simply downloads the data for the selected individual USCF member to his or her computer and then analyses it to present the data in various ways. available from

So, what can it do? It took me about ten minutes to download the software, install the software, download my data from the USCF and produce:

This is data from 01-01-1991 to 11-17-2007

Current Official rating is 2031
Current UnOfficial rating is 2031
Best Unofficial rating = 2041
Best Official rating = 2041
Lowest rating on record = 1936
103 Opponents
Total Rated Games = 196 ---> 114 Wins 21 Draws 61 Losses

Best Upset = 280 points -- CLARENCE C YEUNG -- 2216 TUGGLE MEMORIAL 07-19-1992
Best Draw = 391 points -- MICK BIGHAMIAN -- 2359 HCC U2000 OPEN 05-02-1993

Highest Rated Opponent Win = B L PATTESON -- 2249 CHEAPO 04-26-1992
Highest Rated Opponent Draw = MICK BIGHAMIAN -- 2387 FRIDAY NITE RAPID 05-15-1992

Most Recent Wins in a row = 10 ending on 02-08-2002 at HCC- FRIDAY NITE ACTION 2/8
Most Recent Draws in a row = 2 ending on 08-11-2007 at 20070811 HCC SAT OPEN
Most Recent Losses in a row = 4 ending on 08-28-1992 at FRI RAPID
(and lots more stats and analysis)

My only objection so far is not the fault of the software. It is that the online USCF records only go back to 1991. I think my first published ratings in the 1970's was in the 1200-1300 range. I think it was around 1600-1700 in 1980. I improved by playing at the Houston Chess Club in the late eighties and first crossed 2000 sometime around 1990.


Sunday, November 11, 2007


Goals and Circles Update

I have continued using PCT for tactical training and I have completed 17 units since the last major update about 22 days ago which works out to about 3 units completed every four days. I continue to be impressed with the PCT software and their selection of positions. I use PCT and I am doing this form (circles!) of tactical training mostly because I enjoy it. The Knights Errant add camaraderie and motivation because of the the public commitment in "joining" the Knights.

I am a big believer in increasing chess ability through tactical training of this nature and believe it is the major reason my chess rating increased over the years from the 1200s to over 2000. In the past I did not follow a strict circles regimen but I did study tactics aggressively. If I can now raise my rating 800 points in 800 days I may be the highest rated player in the world by 2009! Of course, I do not expect such results.

So what do I expect and why do I do this? My rating is already in the territory that many set as their goal when they commence circle training. I would expect smaller rating increases starting from 2000 than starting from 1200. Arguably, much of what I can learn from PCT, for example, I should already know. Much, but not all.

If I am going to play chess I will regularly study and using a program like PCT is fun and easy and keeps me sharp. It may also lead to improvement for me but that remains to be seen. I am past the peak age for chess players:
the peak age for a GM : 28-29 years

most players reach their peak in their early thirties and begin to decline significantly by the time they reach their early forties.

So I feel that I need to work just to maintain my current level (rating). I would like to obtain a 2200+ rating (USCF Master). Is that amount of increase possible at my age? I suspect the answer is yes but I also know that making master is a challenge and a significant investment in time at any age. I believe that reaching 2200 is for me, mostly a matter of getting better and more consistent at tactics. But I may not have the time to do that. Meanwhile I get older and further past the peak chessplaying age.

While chess is important in my life it is not the most important intellectual challenge in my life. And intellectual challenges are just a part of the big picture. I'll keep playing chess and studying tactics using circles while I enjoy it and while I have the time. Speaking of time, work is about to get crazy busy so circles, posting and commenting may be less frequent. Just another hurdle on my way to 2200.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007


Nigel Davies on the Moron

Chessbase has a new DVD out by GM Nigel Davies on the Moron. Evidently they have some marketing savvy as they have decided to not use the name Moron and chose 1. ...d6 Universal instead.

1...d6 can be used as a universal defence against every White opening, offering Black the kind of dynamic play that is absent from more traditional defences.

But I know a Moron when I see one. And this one looks good. I just might have to get this DVD.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007


Counting Problems

Counting Problems or Problems with Counting?

To create a grand unified theory of counting for captures in chess it should be either applicable in general, or, if that is not possible, then we need to be able to at least distinguish the cases where it can be relied upon from those cases where it can not. Otherwise, we are left with something that can be applied only in situations where it works but we have no way of knowing which those are.

Blue Devil Knight and Temposchlucker seem to be attempting that feat and I urge you to read their posts on the subject for background, if you're interested. I do think that what they are doing is useful (in an educational sense) and is interesting but I'm not sure if there is any practical applicability to their research.

My challenge to them is to consider the following positions with regard to counting. These examples are taken from Chess Tactics for Advanced Players by Yuri Averbahk and are from real games. I am showing the diagram for the position after the key move, which was in each case, a capture. The line given is a main line but there are other variations possible.

Could we have predicted or expected the move via counting? If counting should not apply in this position or for this capture how can we know?

Ahues - Kurpuhn
White has just taken a Bishop on d6 with his Rook. Why isn't he just losing the exchange?
1.Rd1xd6 Qxd6 2.e5

Hubner - Tal
Biel, 1976
Black has just taken a pawn on h3 with his Knight. Why isn't he just losing his Knight for a Pawn?
1...Ng5xh3+ 2.Qxh3 Bxc3 3.Rxc3 Ne2+ 4.Kh2 Nxc3

Alekhine - Euwe
White has just taken a Knight on d7 with his Rook. Why isn't he just losing the exchange?
1.Rd1xd7 Bxd7 2.Ng5 Qb8 3.Bxa8 Qxa8 4.Nxh7

Pogrebysski - Kortschmar
Kiev, 1937
White has just taken a Pawn on c6 with his Knight. Why isn't he just losing his Knight for a Pawn?
1.Ne5xc6 bxc6 2.Nxd5 Kh8 3.Nxe7 Qxe7 4.Qb4 Rf6 5.Rxc6

If anyone can create a grand unified theory of counting that works for these positions (before the key move) or in which we can easily distinguish when it can be applied and when it can not I will be most impressed.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007


Wilson Gambit Tactics

Here are simple and fun White to Move and Win positions from some blitz Wilson Gambits I have played on ICC this year.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

Diagram 4


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