Druss Blog

An account of my attempts to try and improve my chess.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Better progress, apart from this morning

My new slower approach is working well with my percentages creeping up for the 40s. Initially I scored 92% on level 10, 80% on level 20 and 62% on level 30. My level 40 score was more like 52%, but the more careful approach has brought it up to 57%. I'm also enjoying it more and I get a kick when I just nail a problem straight away.

So it is working well. Apart from this morning. I had a bad session where I just couldn't see anything, I think I was too tired. I could feel myself being lazy and not really thinking deeply enough and guessing a bit. One advantage I have found in my approach to this circle is that I have more of a feel for how deeply I should be thinking. In my first circle I went through by theme and completed all the puzzles before moving on to the next theme. I did this so that I would get a better feel for the various themes in CT Art, even though it goes against MDLM. Going through by difficulty level lets me get a much better feel for how deep I need to go. If I see a knight fork in level 10 that's it. If I see one in a level 40 problem then there is usually some complication that goes along with it - e.g. deflecting a piece. As a result I know more when I'm lazy and not bothering to think deeply enough.

Also, my confidence is growing and I am definitely seeing more deeply than I did. This is nice. I feel like I've now got a chess board in my head. One where I can move pieces around and explore different lines for four or five moves. For the first time this feels different from what I previously experienced, which was much more focused on the board in front of me. I would imagine moving pieces on the board on the screen and trying to visualise the resulting position. Now my focus is more on an internal board in my head. When it works, which is still not all the time, this process is far quicker and feels much more natural ... I just see the results and know that they are right.

So, all going well. But I have been thinking about whether I should try to complete all the difficulty levels, or should I stop after (say) the 40s? Should I start another circle with the 10s, 20s, 30s and 40s? Some knights have debated this, and also whether CT Art is too hard for the more novice player. I'm rated about 1300 on ICC (on a good day!), and I do struggle with CT Art. It takes me a long time, and some of the problems are definitely beyond me. Which led me to think about the pros and cons of trying to complete all the problems in all the circles:

Cons:
- it is hard, and I might get frustrated and give up
- am I really learning something from a level 90 problem?
- it is very time consuming, and I am definitely behind the original MDLM timescales by an order of magnitude. Am I just wasting time on the more difficult ones? Time that could be spent really getting to grips with the simple themes.

Pros:
- even though it is hard and takes a long time, I feel that to obtain my goal of getting my rating up to 1600 I need to be able to complete these problems. If I've got to learn them sometime, why not now? As long as I keep going and am continuing steady progress I feel I should continue
- the approach so far, 60% of the way through my 2nd circle, is working. I am definitely improving my tactical vision.

On balance I think I will continue for the time being.

Monday, September 26, 2005

New approach - more slowly through the 40s

I'm now deliberately going more slowly through the 40s, in line with my new approach.

As of this morning, I've completed 118 out of 204. Total of 735 in my second circle - so over 60% of the way through.

Although going more slowly, I still managed 74 problems in the last week. Also, my solving percentage is creeping up.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Slowly progressing through the 40s

I am still plugging away at the 40s. I was concerned that I wasn't getting through them quickly enough, and this lead to me guessing answers. I've now decided to take it more slowly and take my time. I am letting myself think as much as I can about each problem and trying not to be concerned over how long it is taking.

This approach works much better - avoiding thinking that I must keep up with some schedule. As people have recommended previously - I am now trying to enjoy myself more and have fun solving the problems. Sometimes it is difficult to keep this approach in mind though, and the worry about timetables creeps into my head. Calling them all circles doesn't help - makes me think getting through them is the challenge, rather than actually learning!

So, with my new approach, I was pleasantly surprised to get full marks on the following problem (#721):



This is a fairly typical level 40 problem - there is a main checkmate theme, and a complication.

However, my new found confidence took a bit of a dent with the next problem (#669):



I just couldn't see the idea here at all.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Over half way through my second circle

As of this morning, I have completed 661 problems in my second circle - so over half way through. I finished the last remaining difficult level 30 problems and have now started tackling the level 40 ones, and have solved the first 44 out of 204.

It is definitely more difficult at this level, and I am slowing down. I now rarely just see the answer, and I have to think about each problem for several minutes. If I haven't got anywhere in 4 minutes, then I'll make a guess and look at the hints. However, this is far more frustrating. For most of the level 10, 20 and 30s I more or less got what the problem was about. The majority of the time with these 40s I don't - and I need the hints.

Here is an example of a level 40 problem that I solved this morning (black to move)



I struggled with this one. I could see some of the threats, but not all of them. And I missed how they all linked together.

After finishing all of my seven circles, will I look back and think this is easy?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Progress update

Getting close to finishing the 30s.

I was going to post this a couple of days ago, but work has been hectic and I haven't had a chance until now. It is amazing how my chess deteriorates when I'm stressed out because of work. It has really gone to pot recently.

Anyway, as of Monday I have completed 576 problems in total in my second circle, which is 125 in the last week. Steady progress, and a pleasing amount. And I have completed 179 out of the 221 level 30 problems, so in the final stages. I've almost reached the half way mark in my second circle, and it will be interesting to see how I progress through the more difficult problems in the second half.

Based on how quickly I completed my first circle, and how I'm now progressing through the second, I'd say that I'm running at about half the speed of MDLM. My second circle will take about as long as his first did - 9 weeks - and my first circle took about 18 weeks. Should I try and make up the time? Or maybe perform an eighth additional circle? Or maybe continue on through all seven at this half pace?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is this tactical training working?

After a bit of a lull, I've started playing more on ICC. Mainly blitz games.

I thought I'd be better after all this tactical training, but I'm not. I was about 1300 ish before I started my training, but I lost a fair number of games and have now slid down to 1100. Have I got 200 points worse?

I think there might be several factors at play. Partly I'm out of practice. Time management is crucial to blitz, and it is all too easy to spend too long thinking, only to get a piece up and lose on time. The opposite can be true as well - too little time and I blunder away pieces. However, I think there is something else going on as well.

Most of my chess in recent months has been focused on CT Art. I've got into a mindset that there is always some killer tactical blow ... some cunning queen sacrifice or such leading to mate ... all I have to do is think about it hard enough and I'll discover it. Dangerous when you are playing real games! I find I am quite reckless now and throw games as a result.

I did calm a bit and playing more sensibly, but it was a struggle. I played an interesting couple of games against a 1750 rated player. I gave up trying just to go for the cheap tactical hit, because he was a lot stronger than me, and tried just to gain small positional advantages. I lost both games, but the 1750 complemented me and said I was exerting a nice amount of pressure.

This lead me to thinking about chess from a whole game perspective. At my level, is it a slow build up of pressure which cracks when one player makes a tactical error? If so, I suppose the key to better play is going to be something along the lines of:
- don't try for anything too rash too soon ... slowly build up little advantages
- have a good enough tactical brain to pounce as soon as there is a tactical play
- avoid conceding tactical plays to your opponent

After thinking this, I remembered MDLM's description in Rapid Chess Improvement of a game he played move-by-move. This seems to be what he is saying as well.

So the tricky bit is how do you spot the tactical play? One way is to train yourself with loads of tactical examples until those patterns just spring out by themselves from the board. The other is to try and work out some rules for when they might exist - common thoughts are: weak king position, unprotected pieces, overloaded pieces. But how much use are these rules? Doesn't it have to be more natural?

Also, how long could I keep using this approach? When do players eradicate tactical slips from their play? Silman is most critical of MDLM's approach and values the strategic analysis of imbalances etc. However, I remember reading somewhere that Kasparov thought that GMs could often tactically overwhelm IMs. So it seems that this approach could stand me in good stead for some time.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Slow progress

Completed 451 problems in my second circle - which means I completed 75 in the last week. 10 a day, or about half the speed of the week before. I didn't spend much time on them though, and they were mostly difficulty level 30.

Things are definitely more tricky with these 30s. I don't see the solutions so quickly, and the 5x5 hint screen is coming up more often. Still, I am progressing through. Just have to keep plugging away at it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Completed the 20s

I finished off the remaining twenty or so level 20 difficulty problems yesterday. I decided to try and use my theory about seeing how all the pieces interact as a whole. It worked very well, I got through these problems in record time and only made one mistake.

I also had trouble sleeping the night before last and found myself wide awake at four in the morning. Stressful week at work. So I read a bit of Understanding Chess Move by Move by John Nun - a very nice book which takes some classic games and really goes into detail about what is happening and why ... surprisingly, move by move ;)

I read a game between Kasparov and Karpov. Ruy Lopez opening with Kasparov playing white. I always thought that the Ruy Lopez was a bit boring, but Kasparov won with a vicious attack on black's king. The next day I hammered by chess computer with a similar game. I rarely beat it - usually I make a tactical slip-up somewhere along the way and hang a piece or something, or when I've gained an edge I'll throw it away with an inaccuracy in the end game. But with my chess training I'm definitely getting more accurate. No tactical errors and a knight sacrifice on h5 followed by a bit of king chasing and checkmate.

I've also put a hit counter on my page - courtesy of Bravenet who provide them for free. Interesting to see how many people are actually reading this blog.