Thursday, May 15, 2008


Working Knights

What have the Knights been up to lately? Here are some brief excerpts from the posts of Knights Errant in the Heat of Battle that have posted since April 6. Visit their blogs for more details!

Likes Forests
Someone compared the chess blogosphere to a cult. It's true we praise Caissa, the Goddess of Chess. And sometimes she demands expiation, the sacrifice of countless hours studying tactics and positions from master games.

Oh, and I chant: "DaDaPiSkReMa, DaDaPiSkReMa, DaDaPiSkReMa".
A break-away from the DaBattPinOlC cult?

Haunted Knight
It was the first time I'd played him as white, he played the French. I'd just been reading about the best way to play Kings Indian Attack against different openings a couple of days ago,...

Vassily Ivanchuk is on fire at the MTel Masters in Bulgaria. He has won all five of his games, which is a pretty crazy feat at a category 20 tournament. With five out of five points, his performance rating is a whopping 3537.

Sir Kaan Kara
I have just two days... What should i do to prepare the most as i can? Please comment if you have any idea.
My situation is i don't know anything about 1.d4 or anything varies from 1.e4 as black or white

Sir Augusto
I take a vacation from chess and i'm returning now. In this time I lost a couple of games at, this dropped my rating to 1580 +-.
It's very hard to conciliate chess with life.

Sir Nemo
I finished with an overall success rate of 64%, which according to the Petrosian school of chess, I should be playing at master level haha.

Caquetio Knight
Iíve started my cycles and right now Iím halfway cycle1. Last Tuesday I played a game of rapid chess at the chess club in Leiden (the Netherlands). I played with black and it was a Benko gambit, nothing unusual. But I was seeing tactical opportunities very fast, and the guy was blown away.

Retired Pawn
This is a position from my last game in the Kansas City Quick Championship. At this point I was tied for first place and had the white pieces; however, in time pressure I lost the tread. What is the winning sequence of moves? White to move.

Sir Sparfy
just hanging out workin on the old house. :-) been working on the dutch system a bit. having trouble with ... computer says go ahead and grab dem pawns. so i do. but then trouble is not far behind usually with a Q comming and rooks and all sortsa unleashed madness.

Sir Miklos
I've been thinking about getting a tactics training program, what would you guys recommend? CT Art probably is too hard for me atm, so the question is CTB, or the intermediate level Convekta program?

Tacticus Maximus That's me. I've been redoing the PCT Tactics module 1 exercises lately. I started module 4 but found the exercises harder than what I want from a circles-type approach. I'm sure I'll revisit the module 4 (and higher) exercises at some point when I want to spend more time on each problem.

I have also been developing for ChessFlash (flash based pgn viewer and chess authoring tool, etc) and teaching chess at an after-school program and working with my private students.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008


Working Knights

Caquetio Knight has the pattern up for the drill King and Knight versus Queen. If the knight is on a blue square there is a square to place the queen that wins the knight. That is the meaning of the diagram, right?

Simple Knight ponders security versus activity.

Sir Augusto loses to a 10 year old (Fide Master Arthur Gontijo!).

Sir Miklos needs help with Chess Publisher.

Sir Nemo has games and tactics from the UNM Octagon and plans his assault on the Seven Circles with CT-ART.

Chessaholic gives us this glimpse into the soul of Kasparov: "The position, where the small pawns were victorious over the enemy, was so surprising that it seemed like a fairy tale and I was unable to live without chess after seeing it."

Retired Pawn tells us in Chess in Education Part V that "researchers report that playing chess reduces the risk of developing Alzheimerís disease since the game keeps the brain active, and the practitionersí of the game are 260 percent less likely to develop the malady".

Tacticus Maximus (that's me!) has been drilling tactics with Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors by Lou Hays. I'll resume my tactical studies with PCT in the near future.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008


PCT Tactics Module 3

Work has been very busy as of late and I have done very little blogging and commenting on other's blogs. But I have continued with the exercises in PCT Tactics Module 3 and completed it this morning.

Since getting the software on August 9, 2007 I have completed three Tactics modules and 1 Strategy module for a total of 4*51 units = 204 units in 167 days or 1.22 units per day. I don't expect to keep up that pace going forward.

What is my next step? Tactics Module 4? Strategy Module 2? Reviewing each of the completed modules before moving forward? Taking a break?

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Friday, December 21, 2007


PCT Strategy Module 1

Yes, BDK did dub me Tacticus Maximus for my opinion that chess is all tactics. The high-level strategies in chess are to checkmate the opponent and to avoid being checkmated. And those high-level strategies are inherently tactical. So why am I talking strategy? In chess the word strategy is often used to describe a move or series of moves that improves one's position without involving a combination. That usage, although common, is wrong and misleading, in my not so humble opinion.

Anyhoo, the PCT strategy modules mostly deals with the sort of moves that are not combinations but improve one's position. And, I have found it to be excellent training material. I have just completed the first module of 51 units:

(If you are wondering why there are no learnt tactics in the above dialog it is because I have a separate user defined that I use for doing the strategy modules.)

This product is primarily targeted at players below my playing level and I have found many of these Module 1 Strategy exercises to be easy for me, as expected. But not all of them and I have definitely improved my chess knowledge by going through these. I think anyone with a rating below about USCF 2000 would benefit from these exercises. I look forward to going through the other two Strategy modules.

I have not abandoned the Tactics modules (which deal with combinations) and am currently working on PCT Tactics module 3. I'd like to finish that one before the end of the year but it might spill over into 2008.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007


Four Problems Part II

In a recent post comparing CT-Art and PCT the subject of the relative difficulty of their exercises came up. I had made the comment that at the highest level of difficulty they were about the same difficulty but some other posters commented that CT-Art had more difficult problems at the highest levels.

So, I decided to investigate by selecting a couple problems from each to examine closer. I am not suggesting that my selections are representative or even fair and this is certainly not a scientific sampling. I decided to take "black to move" problems from the middle of the highest level of difficulty (or as reasonably close as I could easily navigate to, in the case of PCT). Any conclusions apply only to these four problems and not necessarily to all of the problems for the highest levels of either piece of software.

I've created a link where you can play through the problems and variations with added analysis and evaluation by Fritz. The link is: fourproblems. For each problem at that link, ignore the initial white move as it is just setting up the problem and it is not part of the exercise as given by PCT or CT-Art. In the earlier post I gave the initial positions and main line of the solution as provided by the software. I repeat that below with some additional commentary. My comments refer to the additional analysis at fourproblems so you might want to review that or follow along with that open in another tab or browser if you can.

The analysis and evaluations are based on a minimum ten-ply look ahead at each move using the Deep Fritz engine (Nov 2000 edition) from ChessBase 8.0.

Problem A
From PCT Tactics Module 6 Unit 26 Exercise 4

1...e4+ 2.fxe4 Nb2+ 3.Kd2 Rxc3 4.Bd4 Rfc8 5.Bxc3 Bh6+ 6.Ke2 Rxc3
Fritz agrees with this solution. This problem is quite difficult with significant competing lines to consider at three branches.

Problem B
From CT-Art Problem 1177

1...Bxh3 2.gxh3 Rxd4 3.Bxd4 Nf3+ 4.Kg2 Nf5 5.Rg1 N5xd4 6.Bd3 Nxg1 7.Qxd4 Nxh3
Fritz prefers 5. Qe3 (a variation given by CT-Art) but gives an improvement in that line. In this main line Fritz gives 6. ...Qe5 as a significant improvement. I find this position to be more challenging that "Problem A".

Problem C
From PCT Tactics Module 6 Unit 26 Exercise 5

1...Ba3+ 2.Kxa3 b4+ 3.Ka4 Nb6+ 4.Kxb4 Rb5+ 5.Ka3 Qc1+ 6.Bb2 Nc4+
Fritz gives the better defense of 3. Kb2. PCT does not attempt to show multiple variations in a single exercise and I do not know if they elsewhere show this with this alternative defense. To see / know 1...Ba3+ works one would have to consider the 3. Kb2 line. As Liquid Egg Product pointed out in the comment, since white has mate in one, black's key move is easy to find (it has to stop the mate and/or be a check). This is the easiest of the four problems.

Problem D
From CT-Art Problem 1179

1...Nb4 2.fxg4 Qxa2+ 3.Kc1 a5 4.Rhf1 Ne4 5.Qe1 Rc4 6.Rf4 a4 7.Rxe4 Rxe4 8.Qg3 h6
Fritz prefers 2. Nc1 (a variation given by CT-Art) but otherwise agrees with CT-Art. I found this problem to be similar in difficulty to "Problem A".

My conclusions: The most challenging problem of the four ("B") came from CT-Art and the easiest ("C") from PCT. I thought that the other two "A" (PCT) and "D" (CT-Art) to be similar in difficulty. If these are typical then CT-Art does indeed have more difficult problems at the highest levels than PCT.

My intent was to consider difficulty but I must add a word about quality. CT-Art made multiple errors in their analysis of what appears to be the most difficult problem. The only way I can get real value from CT-Art on such problems is to independently determine and verify the solutions. While I learn something by doing that, I can do that completely without CT-Art in the first place.

As always, your thoughts, comments, and criticisms are welcome.

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Friday, December 07, 2007


Four Problems

Update: 12/8/2007: I've created a link where you can play through the problems and subvariations with added analysis and evaluation by Fritz. The link is: fourproblems. For each problem, ignore the first move as it is just setting up the problem and is not part of the exercise as given by PCT or CT-Art.

Four tactical chess problems are below each with a main line solution. They are meant to be challenging.

Two of them are taken from the middle of the highest level of CT-Art and two of them are taken from the middle of the highest level of PCT. What do you think of these four problems and their solutions? What about the quality of the problems?

Which is the easiest to which is the hardest? How hard or easy is it to find the first move or understand the point? How close or far apart in difficulty are these four? I intend one or more follow up posts to look at these four problems in more detail.

Problem A

1...e4+ 2.fxe4 Nb2+ 3.Kd2 Rxc3 4.Bd4 Rfc8 5.Bxc3 Bh6+ 6.Ke2 Rxc3

Problem B

1...Bxh3 2.gxh3 Rxd4 3.Bxd4 Nf3+ 4.Kg2 Nf5 5.Rg1 N5xd4 6.Bd3 Nxg1 7.Qxd4 Nxh3

Problem C

1...Ba3+ 2.Kxa3 b4+ 3.Ka4 Nb6+ 4.Kxb4 Rb5+ 5.Ka3 Qc1+ 6.Bb2 Nc4+

Problem D

1...Nb4 2.fxg4 Qxa2+ 3.Kc1 a5 4.Rhf1 Ne4 5.Qe1 Rc4 6.Rf4 a4 7.Rxe4 Rxe4 8.Qg3 h6

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Saturday, December 01, 2007


CT-ART 3.0 vs. PCT

First, ordering CT-ART was bumpy. I ordered CT-ART Aug 26 and did not get a download link until 4 days later and then only after sending an email inquiring about it. Second, to install CT-ART after downloading requires a writable CD drive. The first time I went through the install process the software would not run. I later uninstalled it, make a new CD image and re-installed it and, finally could use the software.

My initial impression of CT-ART was not favorable. I have used it a bit and explored the practice and test modes, created users, did all of the Level 10 problems (easiest level) until I could complete them all in one sitting at 100% and I'm working on the same task for the Level 20 problems. There are nine Levels, 10 - 90+.

The CT-ART user interface is horrible and distracting from the task of learning the tactics. Various things happen to "help" if you attempt a wrong move -- hideous colored markers on the board, a separate 5x5 board of a different position pops up, various buttons that one has to click or dismiss to continue etc. I have read some reviews of this software where the reviewers find these features useful. I find them a distraction and there seems to be no way to turn them off. Also, in some positions the software automatically animates through the rest of the solution after playing one or two moves. Again, this is distracting and frustrating.

As compared to Personal Chess Trainer (PCT), CT-ART requires greater computer literacy to use, more self-direction to use, and CT-ART has far fewer tactics exercises (1209) than PCT (4320). CT-ART starts off with more difficult problems but from a quick review of the higher levels of both they both seem get to similar levels of difficulty -- but I have done little with either at their highest levels so I may be mistaken.

I have learned from the software, but it makes learning painful. I have the software so I may continue to use it from time to time but I can not recommend it. For a little more, buy PCT. It is better at the tactics training, far better and easier and more efficient to use and in addition its strategy module is great! Disclosure: I am not affiliated with either company.

Folks that have used CT-ART 3.0 and like it are free to add their comments and suggestions on how best to use it.

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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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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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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Blitz and Circles Update

I just played a few ICC blitz games. They did not all go well, but this one is fun:

GlennWilson (1501) - Vercingetorix (1358) [B21] Smith Morra Gambit

ICC 1 3 Internet Chess Club, 28.10.2007

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Qe2 Bg4 9.Rd1 Ne5

White to move and win.

I believe that I saw this tactic because of the tactical training (Circles!) I have been doing using PCT. I recognized this pattern from that training. I was also making a conscience effort to see tactics based on my just completed review of my blitz performance. I would have found this before in a slow game but not, I think, at blitz.


I have now completed 25 units in module 1 of PCT and I'm plugging away at about 1 unit per day.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007


Circles Update

After completing Module 2 of PCT and then experimenting with Module 3 and Module 6 I ultimately decided to go ahead and complete Module 1 as my next task. I had initially skipped Module 1 after doing a few exercises as I deemed it as too easy for me. While I do still find Module 1 to be easy my attitude towards the value of lots of practice of easy problems has changed. Anyway, after wandering aimlessly for awhile I am back in the saddle again and making firm progress in Module 1.

On another note, as experienced by Rocky Rook and described in the post
Need for Consistency I was away from Chess Tempo Server for awhile and experienced a quick 200 point rating drop on my return.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007


Circles Update

I completed PCT Tactics Module 2 on August 25. After that I explored a couple of possibilities for my next circle. I bought and installed CT-ART but it does not run (I will revisit this at some point). I explored a tactics unit from PCT Module 6. I ultimately decided to back up and do all of Tactics Module 1 as my next training. I have now completed the first nine units in PCT Tactics Module 1.

Thanks to Likesforests for prompting in the comments me to post an update on my circles progress.

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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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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.


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