"...a Chessmaster should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk."

Friday, January 31, 2014

My System Chapter 6

This is an endgame strategy guide.  I think the thing I noticed here are that these really are more strategic concepts.  They aren't for the most part teaching the technique to win in a given position.  The closest he comes is he does discuss the basic idea of what Silman calls the Lucena position.  Basically, building a bridge with your rook to shelter your king and pawn from the enemy rook.

Some of the ideas are in such common circulation that there's not much surprise.  You would be hard pressed for instance to find a chess player who *doesn't* know that the king should be centralized in the endgame.

The other concepts presented are interesting too though.  I thought he did a good job with explaining what it means for a rook to be active or passive and that it's often good strategy to sacrifice a pawn rather than be forced into passivity.  He also gives some clear examples for the knight and the bishop as well.  We also have an explanation of the dictum that the rook belongs behind the passed pawn.  He also gives an explanation, somewhat brief, of the idea of coordination.  Again these are things that are sort of in the air in chess circles and I hear commentators using these terms for instance but it's good to have a bit more definite idea of what they mean.

I think the idea I had the most trouble with was the idea of the "materialisation" of the rank and file.  I'm not quite sure what he means here other than maybe just the exploitation of these things.

The examples in the text seemed quite clear, the games at the end were quite opaque to me.  Again, I think there are things about these example games that are getting through to me, but many of the moves just don't make sense to me.  Some of them I try to analyze and sometimes I will get somewhere but other times I am still left mystified.

My System Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is short and sweet so I don't have much to say.  It gives some good guidlines for when it's a good idea to exchange.  Basically, (probably obviously) you are looking to gain something with the trade, not just willy nilly throw pieces around.  The thing he primarily seems interested in is a gain of time although of course there's the critical notion of trading off a piece which is doing some kind of work for the opponent.  (He calls it a defender but is explicit that we should understand that in a very broad sense of the word.)

As with previous chapters, the text seems pretty straightforward.  Interesting but not radically changing how I think about things.  On the other hand the examples continue to be a mixture of enlightening and obscure, although tending to the obscure more than the enlightening.

My System Chapter 4

Well, the last step took me more time than expected!  Partly this was just life stuff intervening but partly it has to do with the fact that there are a bunch of example games between chapter 3 and chapter 4 and then again at the end of chapter 4.  These example games are harder to bring myself to work through.  I think the reason for this is that the text will often make sense to me, but the examples will remain obscure, so there's less sense of reward for my effort.  Of course, I do my best to work through the variations and understand what's happening as well as possible, but many of the moves still seem mysterious.  That being said, I do feel I am learning from the example games as well.

Chapter 4 is also a very meaty chapter.  It is an important topic and he's presenting many ideas about common situations that take some thought to digest.

One practical point that I thought quite useful was the rule that when you have a possible passed pawn, then it should lead the advance.

As far as the question of blockading.  I think I get the basic ideas here.  The main idea is that the pawn wants to advance.  As a result it is necessary to blockade it.  It makes sense to me that the square in front of the passed pawn can become a weak square due to the fact (among others) that the pawn itself shields the blockader.  Furthermore it makes sense that the blockaded pawn ties up other pieces who are invested in it's fate.  I am also clear on the fact that there are various considerations about the piece which blockades and that it's function is not merely limited to blockading but that it should be able to make threats as well.

He also takes some time to do a diversion into basic endgame material. Here he scorns the notion of opposition and insists on the priority of the concept of flanking.  Silman seems to have sort of synthesized the two concepts because he uses the notion of the opposition but explains it in terms of outflanking.  Perhaps when Nimzowitsch was writing, opposition was less well explained and treated more as a kind of magical quality.

I guess the parts that I'm not so clear on are the questions of when precisely it is appropriate to advance the pawn.  Here of course he gives a schema that is supposed to outline the issues, but it is very general.  Also the question of when it is appropriate for a passed pawn to sacrifice itself for the activity of the pieces behind it.  I guess these would come under the idea of the "the lust of the passed to pawn to expand" as N describes it.  I feel like I have a rough concept of the idea.  Obviously most basically the pawn wants to queen and so advancing toward that goal is a main driving force of play.

Anway, as I mentioned, it seems ok that some of the material is over my head.  At least I'm getting acquainted with the ideas and hopefully over time the ideas introduced will have a chance to grow.

Monday, January 27, 2014

My System Chapter 3

Mostly this chapter seemed to be some odds and ends, or tips and tricks for rooks on the 7th rank.  The five special cases seemed kind of weird and random, though they weren't uninteresting.  It was only with the 5th case that he seemed to have some ideas of a more general nature.

I think the thing to remember here is that Part 1 is called "The Elements" and really he's just introducing the basic ideas.  So that may explain some of the piecemeal and less revolutionary seeming aspect to the ideas.

I guess the two main ideas that stuck with me were

1) The 7th rank "absolute"-- this is what he calls it when the rook is on the 7th rank, the opp. king is on the 8th (his own first) and there are no pawns on the 7th.  Plus the attacker should have a far advanced passed pawn.  He shows the ideas for winning with this situation.

2)  The other was the notion of "outflanking"--this is where you have rooks on 7th and opp king on 8th.  Then there are various tricks you can try to gain from the situation.  Again these were a little hodgepodge but I can see that this would be situation where I might be frustrated feeling that I should be able to get something but not seeing anything, and now I have some more ideas.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My System Chapter 2

I read the second chapter about open files and outposts today. There were some interesting points about the definitions. It seems that usually today we define an open file as one where the pawns of both sides are absent. On the other hand, when your pawn is absent but the opponents is present we call it semi-open. To Nimzowitsch the file is considered open when your own pawn is absent. Although he is not responding to our definition he has a justification for defining it this way. He argues that attacking a piece (including a pawn) and attacking a square are the same thing.  I thought that was an interesting point and definitely gave me something to think about.

Going on from there he discusses means of creating open files by centralizing the pieces and causing a trade off.  This was another point I hadn't really considered too much.  I guess I always sort of treated open files as something that just came along, and centralizing my pieces as good strategy for the effectiveness rather than forcing them to be traded off.  Of course, the advanced player is able to plan the creation of open files and this is something for me to consider in the future.

He also makes the point that the goal of operations on an open file is penetration to the seventh or eighth rank.  I think this is something which I basically understood but that he put in a more pointed way that I think will be useful to remember.

Then he covers some ways one can attack a defended pawn on an open file and that an open file can be used as a means to mobilizing a heavy piece to another file.  These were nice points but I think they weren't new or surprising to me.

Then he talked about outposts.  This was another point where I think our customary definition today is different.  I think the idea I had usually seen before like in Stean's "Simple Chess" is that an out post is a square protected by a pawn but where there is very little or no chance of an enemy pawn approaching and dislodging a knight placed on the outpost.  The value of the outpost is entirely due to the excellence of the position of the knight and that it is firmly ensconced there.

Nimzowitsch sees things differently.  To him an outpost is not of value in itself, it is of value as a means to creating play down the file precisely because pawns will be advanced to dislodge the knight which will weaken the pawn that is actually on the file.  So for Nimzowitsch a crucial element of the outpost is that it is on an open file so that when the knight is moved the weakened pawn is exposed to attack.

This was a bit of a revelation to me and I think I will have to think about it.  I don't think one is better than another, they are just two different situations.  I think I have been more aware of the previous notion and not very aware of Nimzowitsch's concept here.  I'm sure with a bit of thought the ideas can be fruitful though.

Another interesting rule of thumb that will bear more thought is the idea that whereas a central outpost should mostly be a knight, a flank outpost should be for a rook.  There's not a lot of explanation of this point and I think I should devote a bit of thought to trying to understand the point.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My System

Well, I have a couple of weeks off here for Chinese New Year. So my idea is that I will try to work my way through Nimzowitsch's "My System". I've had a copy of the Quality Chess Ian Adams translation for a few years. I've looked at some of the sections of this before but I would like to really go through the whole book and digest as much as I can. I'm sure with a work like this you can read it multiple times at different strength levels and get more out of it, so I don't intend to master it, just to learn as much as possible for me right now.

 Today I worked through the first chapter. My plan is to try to work through a chapter a day which should be just about right for the break I've got right now. Basically, part of this has to do with Silman and others talking about the idea that "tactics only till 2000" isn't really a good approach. "My System" seems to have a lot more to do with positional ideas.

 As far as chapter one goes, it was interesting to me to think about trying to win tempos in the opening instead of pawns. I guess most of the time in the opening I am thinking about capture-recapture sequences involving pawns on specific squares to see whether they can be won or not. While I don't think that's a bad thing, obviously there are other things that can enter into calculations as well. Part of me is suspicious of whether I would be able to properly take advantage of just a tempo or two advantage in the opening. On the other hand, the best way to learn how to use it is probably to end up having that kind of advantage in games and then seeing what I can do with it. So this is something I will try to to think about more. Ok, so there are some really obvious cases, like the reason that developing the queen early is bad in terms of it getting chased around by developing moves of the opponent. But it seems there are many more cases where this can be an issue.

 Another point that caught my attention was the idea that you should decline all gambits or if you accept them it shouldn't be to hold onto the pawn. Somehow that doesn't seem quite right to me. On the other hand, he isn't probably telling you that you should never in your chess career accept a gambit and try to hold onto the pawn. Rather, I think he's trying to educate the learner about the specific importance of the development and the tempo. I believe that the rule of thumb I learned was that a pawn was worth about three tempos. So for a gambit to be sound you have to gain about that much time. Nimzowitsch is trying to show you how important and valuable that time is to someone who is not very advanced, so he is saying you should rather have the time than the pawn. Also, the way he frames the rule is "You should never play to win pawns before you complete your development." So it's not so much that it's never right to win a pawn but that in the beginning of the game, you must focus strenuously on the development of your position rather than acquiring profit. The image he uses is a child of six going onto the stock market to buy stocks. It's not appropriate.

 I think that I didn't really understand all about the pawn in the center though. He showed some examples of how free pawns in the center can "demobilize" the opponent by chasing pieces around and moving them away from their optimal positions. I got that. Then he was talking about the idea of a free and mobile center pawn and how to treat it. Some of this seemed less clear to me. I understood the basic idea that there are two main ways to handle an opponents pawn that is free and mobile like this. One way is to capture and trade it off, the other is to restrain it. He showed some different examples of this. Still, in some of the examples it was unclear why the players played the way they did. It seemed sometimes that the pawn could be advanced instead of accepting the trade off and some other little issues like that.

 Well, hopefully I will have more to post about this book in the next days.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Navel Gazing

                I've been a bit distracted from chess for a little while now. I've just had various things going on. I did finish out a term in the FICS teamleague, and did complete a qualifier for the chess.com slow chess league. Still, I was a bit frustrated with league play because I had a very bad losing record over several rounds. Not sure why it was but it seemed that I could do well against people near my level if I was playing slow time control whenever I felt like it, but in the league I would lose to people who were rated lower than me. There seemed to be several possibilities. 1) Just bad luck in it being a string of losses that don't mean much. There really weren't all that many games altogether so maybe it wasn't really significant that I was on a losing streak in league games. 2) One idea is that despite the fact that I scheduled the games, the fact that they were scheduled ahead of time meant that I often wasn't really in my optimal mood for chess when it was time. Of course this is a character defect of mine. When I spontaneously decide to do something I can really put a lot of myself into it. However, when I feel I have to or ought to I encounter a psychological block. 3) Another possibility is that the people I was playing were putting more effort into the games because they were league games and so they were out-performing their rating while I was playing at or below my rating. Anyway, I don't suppose any of this really matters. The important thing is whether I will continue playing chess.

      Lately, I've been playing some go again and even trying my hand at shogi as well as well as a few games of Chinese chess a couple of days ago. Still, I feel that as it stands I like the feeling of a well played western chess game better than the feelings I get from playing those games. Of course it could be a question of familiarity but I really enjoy the feeling of really being immersed in a game and pushing at the limits of my ability that comes from playing a good quality (compared to my ability level) slow game of chess. My friend RudiV has been a good part of that. Fortunately, after having taken a lengthy hiatus from our weekly sessions he's back now, so this should be a point to kick me back into the swing of chess studies and playing.

      So, as a result, I've started playing some games on chess.com. One thing that took me by surprise was how much my skill level had deteriorated. I was playing like someone who just learned the rules and making horrible disgusting moves. Anyway, I did play one game today so far where I felt my level was coming back a bit. So hopefully I can get back up to speed by next Wednesday when it looks like I will be playing RudiV again.

       Another topic of interest is study methods. I think in some ways playing games is the best way for me to get better. I've heard somewhere that study time and playing time should be the inverse of eachother. When you are starting out, you should play a lot and not study very much whereas when you are really good you study very much and don't play as often. I'm clearly closer to the beginning than to the top.

        Still, one thing I berate myself for is that I am not very good at studying. I spend a lot of time on just randomly browsing books or looking at random chess videos or looking up openings in FCO that I don't really intend to play. I guess it seems like I should be methodically working through one book at a time, or one training DVD at time page by page or game by game following through all of the variations and thinking about each of the moves. Anyway, I don't think that is wrong, but recently I saw a couple of different people talking about the value of just browsing through chess materials. One was Andrew Soltis in his "How to Study Chess" book. He makes the point that a lot of chess learning is actually below the surface. Not necessarily happening at the conscious level. In this sense he argues that actually just kind of browsing through material is actually part of the process. Hard to say if this is a case of someone telling you what you want to hear so you will pay them to keep saying it or whether there is any truth in it. Still, it seems that it is partly confirmed by Jeremy Silman recently on chess.com where he talks about the value of playing through lots and lots of high level games very fast, that is literally at less than a minute per game. Now it's clear that there are some big differences here. The thing Silman is talking about it not browsing through 20 games with limited attention over the course of a couple of weeks. He's talking about looking through thousands of games in a quite short period of time. So it seems that there are some similarities in that he is talking about learning a lot in a more subconscious way but at the same time by doing a lot of work.

           As a person, I feel that I am undisciplined. One of the reasons that I think something like this project to achieve a 2000 rating is useful to me is because I think I would benefit as a person from seeing the project through. Of course it has to be something I like and want to do in the first place but I think the project is a good one. Still, I think I also have unreasonable expectations of myself. Like somehow I will suddenly be able to be extremely regular in my study habits and proceed in a logical and methodical manner in all aspects of my rise through the ranks. So I think there needs to be a middle ground where I am in the process of getting more methodical but where I don't expect myself to be all robotic about it. Certainly it's absurd to think that I will train like an IM or GM for a whole host of reasons.

        I think burnout is kind of an issue for me. I can get really obsessive about something and pursue it with all my free time for a while but then the interest peters out and it's like I ate too much of a certain kind of food and the taste no longer seems appealing. Maybe if I were to be a little more balanced in terms of reserving some of my time for other things it would help me to maintain more of an even keel with it. Anyway, it's all speculation but something I would like to try.