Sunday, January 21, 2007

Survey: Why do you play chess?

Post replies as comments. Answers may be as detailed, simple, serious, or humorous as you like.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Beginning: 6 days, 600 problems!!!

This is my First Circle. Over the past six days, I've blasted through all of the Level 10s through the Level 30s. I was surprised at how many of them I recognized from my attempt last May to complete the 7cir program. (Not that the solutions popped out immediately, but I got this "I've seen this before" feeling, and it didn't take long to find the solutions.)

Most of the problems were pretty straightforward. A few, however, have inspired hour-long exhaustive explorations into the reasons behind every variation, especially logical-looking defensive moves that the opponent did NOT play.

For example, the next one I need to work on before I move on to the Level 40s is the following sacrifice by Tal:

Question Number One for me will be: Why is 1.Rxf6 superior to Nxf6? "Positionally" speaking, I know that the Queen and Knight work well together, as their moves complement one another, although concretely speaking, I will certainly need an answer like "the knight needs to remain there to guard the crucial c5 and d6 squares."

[Edit: Immediately after posting this, I saw that 1.Rxf6 threatens (say, after 1....axb3?) 2.Rxg5+ Nxg5 3.Qxg5+ Kh8 4.Qxh6+ Kg8, though this may not be best for White.]

It seems that the "real" tactical program has for me begun tonight, now that I am encountering problems in which these analyses are helpful.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

" all its simplistic fury..."

Beloved chess writer Jeremy Silman once said that the only answer to the question "Why Should I Play Chess" is, "in all its simplistic fury," if you love playing chess.

When do I not enjoy playing the game, then?

Answer: whenever I get into positions in which 1) I have no idea how I got there, 2) I have no idea what to do, 3) I lose horribly, in a style reminiscent of one of the Saw murders.

Let me give you an example, with me using the Black pieces. After the moves 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Nxd5 4.c4 Nb6 5.Nf3 g3 6.h3 Bg7 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Be3 0-0 9.Qd2 e5 10.d5 Na5, in some order, we reach the following position:

"The books" say equal, though Fritz prefers White, and with good reason. Black's awkward a5-knight, which White will threaten to trap with b4 at some point, and his hard-to-develop light-squared bishop will soon become great headaches. Further, White has that solid d5 pawn and threats of playing *either* knight to b5-c7.

Frequently I have seen the sequence 11.Bxb6! axb6 12.Rd1. Fritz rates this as better for Black, due to White's uncastled king and Black's influence in the center and threats of f5 and e4. However, I have gotten into many an awkward situation here. Although the position is playable (and even good) if you can figure out the common pitfalls for Black, I'm not going to bother analyzing it any more now that I know that White's best plan actually involves not taking the knight but playing Bh6 and castling queenside.

Backtracking a bit, I think Black's best try is the tricky theoretical Portuguese Variation, namely 3. d4 Bg4!? 4. f3 Bf5, maintaining his "gambit status" with an opening scheme full of tricks and potential king attacks. Of course, as I have ranted elsewhere, these kinds of openings are going out of my repertoire. It is important that I study this opening at some point in the future, as I will likely encounter it otb, but I don't think I'll use it in any serious games.

Anyway, what I need to change about my personality is my tendency to get depressed when I get into confusing situations in which every seemingly-useless move I make torture. The solution, I believe, is a kind of "chess realism", in which I am not afraid to change my openings or even opening styles when I seem to be finding objective evidence (whatever that is) that my favorite ideas really don't hold up.

(I've had to do this before, when I insisted that the Fried Liver Attack and its cousin the Lolli were easy wins for Black. I learned my lesson there alright.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

HERE I COME!!! Jonathan shall be vindicated.

So I’m going to do it: the dreaded Seven Circles program. Although I am still in school, I can do it provided I give myself a full four months, rather than try to compress the program into two, as I did last year. (Not surprisingly, I got burned out that time and didn’t even finish circle #1.)

Right off the bat I will be committing the sacrilege of skipping the Chess Vision drills entirely. As this might come back to bite me in the ass later, I am fully prepared to subject myself to them in the future. The only circumstances under which I will do so, however, are:

1) If I miss a simple fork or skewer in an OTB game;

2) If I play an OTB game in which I take too long calculating the most efficient Knight path(s) from A to B.

Obviously #2 will be more difficult to judge, so I’ll have to be honest with myself. If my mind is slow/tired during a game and I have to ponderously “calculate” these paths, or “think them out loud,” that will be a sign that the Knight Flight micro-level drill will, in fact, be beneficial.

The other way I will deviate from RCI “scripture” will be to spend MORE THAN TEN MINUTES on many of the final 200-300 problems. This, of course, will only be necessary for the first Circle; once I have analyzed all variations and “why-can’t-he-just-do-this”‘s for the first time, I shan’t forget them on the second. I know which ones are problematic, though, as I made an extensive checklist last time…now I have no unknowns to fear.

Wish me not luck, fellow Knights, but energy, Will, and grim determination for the inevitable moments when I will want to lay down my weary head and say “why the F--K am I wasting my life like this?”

For we are the ones who give this game its meaning.