donderdag 31 december 2009

Stoyko and Phaedrus combined

This afternoon I struggled with the position below. If you want you can use it yourself as a Stoyko exercise. The position is taken from Khmelnitsky's Chess Exam.

After you have analyzed the position and written down every line, you can compare it with Khmelnitsky's analysis. If you highlight the space between the brackets you can see the line he recommends for white in this position.

(This is Khmelnitsky's analysis: 1 Rxd6!? was played in the game Baburin - Basas, Andora 1998. White got two pawns for the piece, neutralized blacks initiative, and gainde psychological momentum. Black never recovered from the initial shock and quickly fell apart. After 1 ... fxe3 2 Nxe3 Bf8? [already a losing move. Better was 2 ... Nf6, but after 3 Rc6 and 4 Rxc5 white has excellent chances.] 3 Rxg6! hxg6 4 Qxg6+ Ng7 5 Ng4 Be7 6 Nh6+ Black resigned)

When I had checked my analysis with Khmelnitsky's solution, I tried to win this position with the move recommended by the author and using my own Phaedrus Exercise. It was really challenging. Amazingly enough I already had real trouble winning this against Fritz 10 with a fixed depth of 3 ply.

donderdag 24 december 2009

Phaedrus Exercises

Somehow during the Christmas holidays I lose focus and become a bit more contemplative. This week I am at home, taking care of my children. While you may think that this gives me a lot of time to work at my chess, there actually is surprising little time to do so. There is (the) continuous (threat of) disturbance. Young children in one way or another constantly seek for attention, confirmation, comfort or just turmoil.

Still, all in all it is a great distraction from work and the daily routine at the office. Children are very direct, and it is wonderful to take care of them and give them the opportunity to play and have fun. On the side there is also the chance to do a bit of chess practice, but not the exercises that require focus and concentration (like step 6 exercises or Stoyko exercises) . Instead I have used my time mainly to contemplate a bit about the problems with positional chess training.

Unlike tactical training, it is hard to make positional exercises. The unforced nature of the positions makes the moves more debatable. And sometimes it is more a matter of how to approach a position, than a matter of specific moves. So in most books about positional chess one will find no, or only few, exercises. Most of them give model games that are well analyzed and explained. While I acknowledge that these are very suitable to improve your knowledge, I do quesion if they improve your skill.

Lets take the following position:

This is a position from the game Spassky - Fischer, Santa Monica 1966. It is given in Gelfers Positional Chess Handbook in a chapter about good bishop against bad knight. I will give game moves with Gelfers annotations.

35 h4 Nc4 36 Ke2 Ne5 37 Ke3 Kf6 38 Kf4 Nf7 39 Ke3 39 Bd5 is better (Gelfer). 39 ... g5 40 h5 Black has rid himself of the weakness at g6 but his knight is restricted to watching the passed h-pawn. 40 ... Nh6 41 Kd3 Ke5 42 Ba8 Kd6 43 Kc4 g4 44 a4 Kg8 45 a5 Kh6 46 Be4 g3 47 Kb5 Ng8 48 Bb1 Nh6 49 Ka6 Kc6 50 Ba2 1-0

If you have played through this carefully, you might have the impression that you have learned something that you can use in your games. But how can you be sure that you have? To test this I suggest an exercise that can be done by players of all strengths.

Setup the diagram position in Fritz or any other chess engine you have. Fritz has the option to chose a level. For starters chose a level with a fixed depth. Start with 1 ply, or if this is not challenging enough for you, with 3 ply, and try to win the position against Fritz. If you do, move up a level and play out the position with the engine set to 3 ply. Than 5 ply, and so on until you can't beat the machine anymore. As soon as you stop winning, analyze the games. What went wrong, and where. As soon as you think you know how to do it better, try again at the same level. At one time or another, no matter what you do, you will not win anymore. This is the time to stop and move on to another position.

I do not make claims about the rating points will gain with this exercise, but I do believe it is the best possible way to study most books about positional chess.

To make a name for myself, I do however claim the name "Phaedrus Exercises" for this method of training. Maybe I am mistaken, but I do not believe that (however obvious it is) until today anyone has ever suggested this exercise.

Happy holidays to all A.C.I.S. members and other readers of this blog!

vrijdag 18 december 2009

No sneaky preview

In last weeks post "searching for Steve Stoyko" I explained the dilemma I encounter when I select positions for my Stoyko Exercises. A Stoyko Exercise is the most challenging when one starts it without having a clue about the game continuation or the given analyses. When the position meets these requirements, the exercise comes really close to a real otb chess game. But the exercise also demands that the position is complicated and/or dynamic. And last, but not least, it is best if I can compare my exhaustive analysis with those of a much stronger annotator.

But finding positions which meet those criteria is impossible without a glance at the position and the continuation and analysis, which at least gives away candidate moves. I absolutely don't want this to happen, so I have found ways to tackle this problem, but not to my complete satisfaction.

At the moment I am using positions from two sources. I get my positions from Agaards "Excelling at chess calculation" and from Pata Gaprindashvilli's "imagination in chess". These positions are in general sufficiently complicated to offer a real test to my calculation powers. Because the answers and analysis are given at the end of the book, I do not have to fear getting involuntarily preview at the solution.

There is however a small negative side to this method. The positions I get are not only highly tactical, but they also have a very clear "solution". Contrary to real games, every position can be solved to a clear advantage (win) or equal position (draw). So there still is an certain urge to obtain a database with positions that do not lead to a clear cut conclusion. Alastairs suggestion to let another player do the selecting might be the best way to get exactly what I want. Teaming up with a player of more or less equal strength and exchange positions is probably the way to go.

Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions to find Steve Stoyko. Your help is greatly appreciated.

zondag 13 december 2009

Searching for Steve Stoyko

As described in my last post, I am currently doing two Stoyko Exercises every week. The aim of these exercises is to improve my calculation. I love doing the exercises, but there is a practical problem that I encounter in the search for suitable positions. How to find good positions without spoiling them?

I do not have a coach, so I have to rely on books as a reference for checking my calculations. Of course there is also the possibility of using a chess engine. But I very much prefer a human assessment of the lines I found as a reference. The main problem with engines is their evaluation of non tactical positions.

Because of this, I want to work with positions that are exhaustively analyzed in a book. But to find them, you have to look at them. And even a glance involuntary gives away moves and lines before you start exercising. I think I have found a few ways to get around this obstacle, but I would love to hear some suggestions from other players to tackle this problem.

zaterdag 5 december 2009

Step 6 and Stoyko exercises

At the moment I use two training methods. The first is step 6 of the steps method. I already did this book once (over a period of more than a year) and had an overall succes rate of about 85%.

At first I thought it would be best to concentrate on the exercises I failed to solve. But when I started to pick up the book I noticed that I didn't remember most of the (1300) positions. For this reason I decided to go through the book again. Not surprisingly my succes rate is now about 95%, and I also solve them a lot faster than I did the first time. I consider this work to be largely a kind of maintenance of acquired patterns.

The other method I recently started is doing 2 Stoyko exercises a week. I have chosen this method to improve my calculation abbilities. Last season I noticed that most of my opponents calculated deeper than I did. So this is probably my weak spot.

Below a description of the Stoyko exercise that I copied from Dan Heismans website.

FM Steve Stoyko suggested this very helpful exercise. First the reader should find a rich middlegame position. You can find them in many Kasparov, Shirov, or Speelman games, or in the books The Magic of Tactics, Genius inChess, or How to Think in Chess. Take out a couple sheets of paper and a pen or pencil.The idea is to write everything you can possibly visualize from the position, like you were playing the game without a clock and you had to see and record everything before you move.

Write down every line that you look at (no matter how bad!), along with that line's evaluation. This should fill up several sheets of paper and take 45 minutes up to 2+ hours! If you chose a sufficiently complex positions dozens of variations should be considered. Consider lines to as much depth as you think is significant.You can show your judgment of the evaluation (who stands better and by how much – you don’t always have to say why) with any number of methods:
  1. Traditional: =, ±, ∞, …
  2. Computer - In pawns; negative means Black is better: +0.3, -1.2, …
  3. English: White is a little better, Black has compensation for his lost pawn, etc.
When you are done, take your analysis to a good instructor, player, or software program. Look at each line to see how well you visualized the position (any retained images, illegal moves, etc.?), and also compare your logic (was that move really forced?) and your evaluation.In general the Stoyko exercise, if done properly, should help you practice and evaluate the following skills:
  1. Analysis
  2. Visualization
  3. Evaluation
Steve claimed that each time he did this exercise he gained about 100 rating points!

woensdag 2 december 2009

Why are we seeking?

Blunderprone has started a new circle of chess players on the road to improvement. I think this is a wonderful initiative and it certainly seems to have rejuvenated the chess blogging scene. When I started reading all the reactions on different blogs, one stood out as the most fundamental. It was Robert Pearsons post in which he questioned the point to seeking improvement.

It struck me and reminded me of a question a that co-worker of mine once received when he said he was going to the tennis club. "Are you going to play or work on your backhand" he was asked ironically when he parted.

I understood why this question came up. This co-worker is a very competitive guy who doesn't seem to enjoy playing when he loses. And when he talks about his games he is always pretty self critical.

But isn't this something that everyone who is part of, or feels related to the A.C.I.S., recognizes? We want to improve, so we can be more successful. And most of us already have made all the improvement that can be gained within our comfort zone .

What we recognize and appreciate in each other is the ambition to improve, win more games, gain rating points and (above all) make sacrifices to achieve this.

So the answer to the question "why seek improvement" for me is: "to beat all of those lazy (and maybe more talented) bums who don't". Maybe it is some old fashioned Calvinistic work ethic that makes me think that justice has been done when the player who has worked the hardest, wins the game.

zondag 26 april 2009

65 points in 400 days

When I started blogging last year my rating had reached an all time high. I hade made a jump from 2040 in november 2007 to 2068 in february 2008. This succes inspired me to do two things:
1. Start blogging.
2. Working through step 5 extra, 5+ and step 6 of the stepsmethod.

I worked through the steps while commuting in the train. Not an ideal enviroment, but it sure beats doing nothing or slumbering as far as chess improvement is concerned.

Today the provisional version of new Dutch ratinglist was published. It shows that I have made it over 2100. My new rating is 2105. Since I started to get serious in november 2007, I have gained 65 points. Not even close to the 400 that MdlM made in his stint, but believe me, I am really pleased this accomplishment.