Thursday, June 30, 2005


Well... I am on the wagon -- the band wagon. I purchased a couple programs (and also found this really cool "Chess Tactics Server" website) that focuses entirely on chess tactics. My goal is to work through at least 50 problems a day for the next month and see if it has any effect on my chess playing skills.

I am not looking for a jump in my ratings, but I'll be disappointed if my ratings do not improve.

So far I find the studying fairly interesting. I was afraid I would grow bored with it too quickly (and not meet my 50 problems a day in 30 day goal). But after dedicating a full half hour to studying yesterday, I finally went to bed an hour and fifteen minutes later . . . . and only because it was after midnight and I had work the next day. ("One more problem.... just one more....."). Even tonight, I am going out with some of my friends, and I am worrying if I am going to have enough time to spend plugging through the various tactical problems on my computer. Am I a loser? Unquestionably. Am I getting better at chess? I don't know.

I am debating on whether I should play any games until the 30 days are over. Part of me thinks it would be a good idea to do so (it never hurts to play, right?), but I was wondering if it might just distract me from the general tactical abilities I am trying to learn. Chess is 99% tactics . . . . or so someone said. Will that extra 1% of "everything else" just distract me?

Instead of playing, I was going to spend some more time working on the openings. I do well against the Sicilian (an obviously popular choice for my black opponents), but I feel like my knowledge of the opening is virtually nil. It seems worth knowing, but at the same time it's such an ocean of information... there are whole books (many of them!) dedicated to the subtlest variaions of the Sicilian. I don't know if diving into such a large body of water is worth it.... will I drown?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Pins & Needles

(EyesOfBlue vs. NN)
FICS Online Game
White to move and win.

Back ranks are dangersous -- often very! Here is no exception. The white queen and rook are beaming down the e-file. If the black e4 pawn was not there, white would mate on the next move (1. Rxe8+ Rxe8. 2. Qxe8#). But we don't always get everything we want... and there is indeed the black pawn on e4. But can white still exploit this position?

You bet! Keeping in mind that the pawn on e4 is virtually locked there (it can't capture to the d-file or the f-file without costing black the game), white's winning move is easy. 1. Rxd3!. As we mentioned above, black doesn't dare retake the rook with his pawn or checkmate will ensue.

Chaos Theory

(FICS Rating Scale)

As I lament in my previous Philidor Defense posting, my chess game is pretty chaotic. These graphs only highlight the problem. The graphs are pretty self-explanatory, but the key is seeing how different they are. The difference 100 points is pretty great.

Also, the first graph indicates how I often struggle with people ranked lower than me -- my wins and losses for this subgroup are almost even!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

My Philidor.... time to move on?

I play the Philidor Defense. A lot lately.... it is always my opening for 1. e4 e5. 2. Nf3. Old fashioned? Yes. Stupid? Not sure.

I have been lucky enough to record my last 1000 chess games and analyze them from different perspectives. While statistics often skew truths, with such a large body of numbers it is hard to dismiss certain statistics as mere anomalies or flukes.

Statically the Philidor has fallen on rough times: Producing a mere 33.51% of black wins for me. To give an idea my total average on the black side is 44.8%, thus there is a whopping 11.3% difference. To give it some perspective, the Petroff defense, what I have played for ages before switching to the Philidor, was producing 43.45% wins.

What's the story?

I wish I had an answer. I think I am at a level where any respectable opening is going to lead to roughly the same chess result. The Caro-Kann should produce the same amount of wins after 100 games as the Vienna under this theory (both are solid, respectable openings). My logic is that so much of chess at the amateur level is just pure tactics and as long as you play a solid open, the game will be determined by tactics and not the slight edge or disadvantage onew will obtain in the opening. Michael de la Maza in his "Rapid Chess Improvement" would seem to agree as he laments how many amateurs "waste" their time studying openings only to leave various pieces hanging during key moments of the game.

But... the law of large numbers suggests otherwise. Why is the Philidor fairing so poorly? I initially thought that timing was an issue. I started with the Philidor in the very early years of my chess playing -- when I wasn't very good (even worse than now!!!). Could that be weighing down the average? Perhaps. If you take the games from 2005, the rating only comes to 34.6% (not a big jump from 33.51%), but it is 47.05% since April of this year when I (a) bought a book on the opening; and (b) started memorizing various lines in the opening (

But maybe this is just a fluke (i.e., the new book and studying don't affect the results). I tested that theory with the Italian game (where I also bought a book and started memorizing the lines). Over the last couple years, my average was 53.11% (I always do drastically better with white.... a subject for another posting, but also suggesting maybe Maza is wrong, and amateur chess is not 100% tactics), but since April it has dropped to 45.83%. So maybe all that hard work doesn't mater!

Or then again maybe there is simply no rhyme or reason to my chess playing.

For example against the Scandinavian Defense (1. e4 d5), as white, my score is 38.88%. Against the King's Gambit (playing black), my win rate is 19.04% (!) which is by far the worst for me for any major opening. No offense to practitioners of either opening, but both (while reputable and ultimately sound) are seen to be more on the risky side and are not held as in high regard as say the Sicilian or the French (where as white my win rate for both is 50.0%).

It's for that reason (and the fact that I love being able to dictate the opening after 2... d6) that I'll probably stick with the Philidor for now.... even despite its poor reputation. I don't like to see how low my numbers are when dealing with the Philidor, but after weighing all the evidence, I can't truly decide how relevant any of these numbers are.

Friday, June 17, 2005

CT Art

I keep hearing and reading more abou this CT Art chess program.

I have read and reread 400 Points in 400 Days, and after trying it for a while, abandoned it. Now, upon reading everyone's success with it (mostly on web logs), I am trying to get back into it. The tactics part seems the most crucial and the book highly recommends this CT Art program for helping budding students learn tactics. Hence I am looking to buy the CT Art tactical chess trainer for my computer. I found some copies online for about $28.00, but that seems a little high for me.

Any ideas on where I can get a cheap copy?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Greed kills.

This was a game I just played tonight. Not very pretty I am afraid. I once again find myself a piece down, but my opponent ends up making a key mistake. I just played 1... Qg5+ forking the king and the poor unguarded bishop at e5. (See below).

(NN vs. EyesOfBlue)
(FICS Game)
(White to Move)

Even if that poor bishop falls, white still has a solid piece advantage (though diministhed by the gaping hole in white's king-side defenses). Accepting his losses, and kissing the poor e5 bishop goodbye, white's correct move was 2. Bg4.

However, desperate to save its imperiled e5 bishop, white played 2. Bg3?. What follows is a forced draw. 2... Nxg3. 3. fxg3 Qxg3+. With white's king in check, it must move to h1, but black's queen merely follows. 4. Kh1 Qh3+ (see below). And now because none of white's pieces can interject, the game is a draw as the white king oscillates between h1 and g1 while the black queen follows with h3 and g3. Draw by repetition is unavoidable.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


I have seen Searching for Bobby Fischer about two dozen times. I have also heard people in various chat rooms talk about them. But up until yesterday, I have never actually seen a chess child prodigy. It was a wonder to behold.

He was 8 years old, had curly brown hair, and a look of absolute concentration that I have seen in only the rarest of adults. This kid was incredible. He was playing the local patzers at Dupont Circle and whooping them one after another. This kid's young age and stone cold playing attracted a crowd of over 20 Washingtonians on their way home from work... Washingtonians who normally never stop for anything. It was a sight to see. His mother looked on happily... I didn't get the impression that this was a kid who was forced into chess mastery by some overbearing parent. Instead, the exact opposite... I saw some concern in her eyes, perhaps wondering if the skill her son was demonstrating was "normal" or "healthy."

This run-in depressed me and excited me at the same time. Here was an 8 year old kid who was at his young age better at the game then I ever was -- or more depressingly, ever will be. His moves were so confident, so thoughtful, and so precise. How could one watch and not be jealous? Why can such skills come so naturally to him?

But jealousy aside, seeing this kid play inspired me. It made me want to continue to try to get better. I actually tried to play him, but too many people were waiting to try their luck against this child all star. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bishop's Opening Gambit

(EyesOfBlue vs. Cibola (FICS Online Game))

I don't face the Bishop's Opening often (of 551 games it's only been played 30 times or 5.5%), but Cibola unleashed an unpleasant surprise on me that made me look at it much more closer. The position above is a direct result of 1. e4 e5. 2. Bc4 Bc5. 3. Bxf7?! (diagram above). As with most gambits, the psychological effect is much more powerful than the actual tactical one. However, I instantly froze up and fell right into Cibola's trap. 3... Kxf7 is of course the only reply, which I indeed played. 4. Qh5+ then came as I thought it would. And here is where I really floundered. I played 4... g6?. This leads to a pretty much even game.... with white actually having an advantage. The more cowardly, but clearly better move was 4... Kf8 as white gains little compensation for its fallen bishop.

Cibola ended up with the win... he had it from the very opening. Well played.