This post is just sort of to keep track of what I've been doing. Lately, I haven't been playing people at all. I was on a trip and was a bit distracted and have kind of been getting back into my regular life now that I am at home. I have been playing my computers though. I was able to beat the Josh-age 6 character several times, including wins as both white and black, so I decided to jump up a notch. I am now playing Risa that Chessmaster rates at 1253. So far I haven't beat or even drawn her. The first game I played with her (really the second but the first of this series of games) I had her beat. She made some quite bad moves losing substantial material in the middle game. I was in the process of hunting down the king, but her queen was still on the board and I made a blunder to let her get me in a tricky little mate. Other than that, I have been playing good games where I feel I'm in it but usually some blunder or another on my part will lose the game. Basically, I found that against the Josh character if I was able to play a blunder free game then I would win as usually he would lose material one way or another along the way and end up lost. So far I haven't really played a blunder free game against Risa. I do feel I am in the games though so the move up was probably reasonable. One thing I've often heard about improving is that it's important to play better players so that you are forced to step up your game.
I have been playing against Hiarcs too, but that tends to be when I am tired and almost ready to sleep but want to get at least one game in. Usually these games are pretty low quality and I make a blunder of some kind to lose the game. I was doing ok for awhile against Hiarcs set at 1200. I was winning about 1 in 4 or so. Lately I haven't been winning at all.
I expect as I get settled back into more of routine now a days I will be able to play more quality games and get back to playing on FICS sometimes.
As far as training goes, I have been doing some problems at chess tempo. Right now I am rated 1456.4 at standard tactics training. I was up in the 1470's for a bit but came back down slightly. So far it seems like I am on the upswing. Clearly there is a big difference between solving problems and playing games. But I do feel that on the whole my tactics training is useful. I am definitely sticking to the point of view that tactics training should be a huge part of the process of getting better at lower levels like mine. I'm no de la Maza acolyte. I haven't read his book, only read some negative reviews from Silman and others. Still, I think many people would agree that studying tactics is probably the most important way for the very rookie player like myself to improve.
I have also been working through Nunn's "1001 Deadly Checkmates". I am liking this book quite well. I'm on mate 197 and they seem to be getting harder as I go along. I've gotten most of them, though I do make a mistake from time to time. I got this as an e-book for the ipad so I would have problems to work on during the trip without lugging a book, and if I didn't have internet. But I haven't been looking at it as much since I got back. The other book is Reinfeld's "1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate". This I use primarily on the subway when I am traveling around the city. I feel a lot more comfortable carrying a cheap easily replaceable paper back around town with me than the ipad which pretty much just stays at home. This book is interesting. I'm in the 70's in it. What I find is that on average I can do 5/6 problems. The level of the problems seems to be quite jumbled up, which is fine by me. Nunn's book puts them in order of difficulty which is also fine. With Reinfeld, I am just putting a small circle next to the problems I can't seem to solve even with a good amount of time spent on them and then moving on. As I said in a previous post, my general outlook on problem solving is that I should work on the problem till I solve it. That's not an absolute rule I live and die by. If I have spent a long time working on a problem and feel that I have exhausted my creativity on the problem and just don't see where the solution could be then I will give up and look. Often I was close but just made some slight mistake that turned me aside from the right answer. Reinfeld's book puts all the answers together in the back of the book though, and I am always afraid that if I look, I will accidentally see the answer to problems I haven't done yet, so for the most part I just don't look at the answers there at all.
I also do the daily chess puzzle at chessgames.com when I can remember. I can reliably get Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday sometimes, and not beyond that, though I think I may have solved a Thursday once or at least gotten close.
Other than that I am reading Chernev's "Logical Chess". I'm on game 17 there. I've seen a lot of people swear by this book, and I am liking it quite well. It seems to have a lot of basic kind of chess knowledge that people like me are lacking but that other authors won't spell out explicitly. I really enjoyed the discussion of loosening the pawns around the king, and showing how that's done, and he seems to give lots of interesting nuggets along the way. It's also just a lot of fun to be able to go through a game and really understand what is going on, and specifically why the outcome came about. My opinion is that, for myself at least, going through uncommented grandmaster games just isn't very useful. I have tried looking at games where I looked at the game without comments first, and then looked at the comments. Often when I did this I would end up with quite distorted, quite wrong ideas about what was going on. On the other hand, I think going through commented games, particularly like the ones in Chernev's book that are geared to lower level players (I've heard Nunn's similar book is pitched at a more sophisticated level) is really very helpful to illustrate how a game of chess works and give me ideas that I can easily apply in my own games.
Pretty much the only other chess stuff I've been doing is that I've been poking around in John Emms "Starting Out: The Sicilian". This is another one that I am enjoying quite a bit. I was on the lookout for exactly this kind of book and found it in a used bookstore. Basically, it's just a really introductory guide to the Sicilian. It covers all the major stuff that a beginner would want to know. Now, just to stress the point, it is very introductory. What I like about it is that it covers the main variations, like the dragon, the Najdorf, etc. and it gives about 3-4 of the main responses that white can make to each of these variations. Then for each of these it does a very nice write up. first it will give a commented recounting of the specific moves that make up the variation. Then it gives you a very basic overview of the kind of themes this opening will feature, the kind of strategies that will be pursued by both sides. It gives an assessment of how theoretical each line is, basically whether you need to memorize more or can play more according to general principles. It gives a statistical assessment of the opening detailing the number of games in a big database, the win percentage, and how many games are decisive. Often this section will give you some interpretation of the data, suggesting ways that you may need to think twice about what the numbers are saying which is useful to a novice like me as well. Lastly it will give 2-3 commented example games for each of the white replies to the major black setups. I feel this book is exactly right for my level. I have looked at several other opening books and often find them too sophisticated for me. This is pitched at just the right level to explain the main ideas and give me a very basic roadmap around the Sicilian. I know there's a second edition out but I have the first. Don't know what the differences are but I recommend this book for players like me.
That's pretty much it for chess activities of late. I was on quite a spending spree with chess stuff, and right now am trying to rein that in and focus on reading and using the stuff I've acquired for the time being. We'll see how I do with that.