27 November, 2016

Tactics with ChessTempo

It seems almost strange to be typing out a post, more than two months since the last one.

Not that I haven't considered posting something during that time, just that thoughts haven't wanted to coalesce around anything in particular.

Maybe, with life going on in fits and starts, writing and posting has probably just not appealed, after all, the summer has lingered on for quite a while in some form or other this year....

Work is not helping at all, since, at this point,  it is slouching along to the end of a long project and, following a recent hitch, I am having to play at politics rather than get things done.  In fact, I can't get things done as I am relying on others completely for the last step ! 

So, maybe I have enjoyed life a bit more, and perhaps also avoided chess (as a game) quite consciously.

In fact my last chess action was when I visited the UK in the Summer and played a few games with a friend in London. Most enjoyable, even in the pub where we went. It got a bit lively ( the atmosphere near us, to be honest, not the games ! ) so as the (ridiculous) UK closing time approached, we finished up with a last beer and just chatting : also very enjoyable !  Catching the last tube back to the centre was an experience, since the tube I intended (the penultimate one ) failed to show : a concerning 20 minute wait for the next one !

So what I have done since September in terms of progress in chess ? 

The only active thing was to sign up to the tactics site ChessTempo 

I have consciously avoided sites like these in the past, and I have no real idea why. Maybe this was just the right point to start ?

So far ( 25 online hours and 621 problems into it ) its immensely enjoyable, as it is a well organised site, an interesting mix of problems and has a great interface too.

Lots of options to allow you to choose what you do and how you do it, and many notifications and achievements to keep the interest going.

Its also an active site, with comments on the problems, voting on the problem 'tags' and a forum as well, with discussions on all chess topics. 

I know new problems are added regularly, since the problem I just solved was from the European individual chess championship from Gjakova in May, 2016, meaning this isn't a re-presentation of tactics from classic, or old, games : a major plus point.

I opted for solving problems with a 'standard' rating rather than 'blitz'. The only difference that I can see being the assessment and scoring of the problem, since 'standard' has no time restrictions and 'blitz' does ( understandably)...

Today, I reached 1600 rating. Technically, I've returned to 1600, since that appeared to be the starting point for a new joiner.

Not knowing exactly what I was doing for the first few problems dropped me right down to a rating of 1350 or so ( yes, I failed the first few, probably through a combination of moving too quickly, and frustration at failure) and I've spent the rest of the time crawling back up.

To give you an idea of what the problems are like, below are some, more-or-less random positions from the last 100 I have encountered, with a few notes, but no solutions given : you can find those on ChessTempo  , and I give the link to each underneath the diagram.!


To start off, here's the problem I solved to nudge over 1600....

This was rated as 1352, and I took less than the average time of 1:30 to solve it : a nice epaulette mate !

White to Play :problem 17727


Solution to above

This next one, I failed. Actually, very frustrating, since I saw the key idea, but not the correct sequence. Losing points this way is not good, since the gain per problem is relatively small ( 0.5 - 1.5 points in general, I think, with a larger gain if your own rating versus the problem rating is a large difference ). The loss on this problem was -6.1, so you can see that failing a few in sequence gives yout rating a distinct hit ! 


Black to Play 103226

Solution to above

The next ( below) was a very satisfying problem. There are a few options on moves here. If I played this in blitz, I would have failed, but here, I came up with the correct solution, and was very happy with it !

Problem rating was 1562, and a I took a bit longer than the average 3:58, but it was worth it.

Black to Play 74580

Solution to above

Following is an example of a "non-mate" problem, despite its tempting 'mate-like' appearance. 

This is one of the good points of ChessTempo in my opinion. Not every problem is a mate, some seem an obvious gain of material, but tempered by the fact that there are a few alternatives available, so you are prompted to think things through before playing. Some are even finding the correct defence, which can be challenging. The key point is that you do not know what the tactic is, so you have to assess and work it out, and then play what you have confidence in.

Here, the first move needs to be checked as perhaps it isn't what you would think to be the natural one. But after solving that, you also come up against a second problem, and have to resolve that before the full points are brought home.

White to Play 105285
Solution to above

The below problem was the one that took the longest time amongst the last 100. The surprise for me here was that the continuation was actually very few moves compared to the effort I put in to ensure I was happy with my initial move. 

This  could be seen as an issue at times, since, if you feel confident enough, you could just play a move at a time ( without working out a full solution ) and get the points.

There have been a few problems like that, the given solution stopping way before your calculations, assuming that you know fully why a move has been played.

Black to Play 147548

Solution to above

Lastly, here's the problem I solved the quickest, an enormous 32 seconds !

Yes, some are this easy, but even so, there is still a 'wrong' solution available.

This can sometimes be a drawback of the site. I think the majority ( maybe even all ) of the problems are selected automatically by engine analysis, so sometimes what would evidently win in over the board, is a fail, even though in a real game it would be more than good enough.

The solution you need to find is the exact one. However , the site does allow you to 'make a mistake' where there are plainly a number of good moves, but one clearly better move.

White to Play 3527
Solution to above

Overall, I can say that I am thoroughly enjoying the site and hopefully improving my tactics at the same time.

If you want a shot at solving thousands of problems, mainly tactical , but also some specifically endgame, its worth trying it, after all its free !


14 September, 2016

"Truth, beauty and annihilation"

An interesting read from Guardian columnist Stephen Moss concerning his middle-age quest to "to see if playing better chess would make me a better person."


Coincidently, this weekend I had just bought the latest copy of "Chess'' the British Chess magazine , which also had a long interview with him about the same subject.

That was a good read, so the addition from the Guardian was appreciated.

Its notable that his subtitle to "if it would make me a better person" is "I was unprepared for the pain of defeat", so you know this will be a warts and all description of what it feels like to be an enthusiastic amateur !

In fact, the article ( & book )  is more concerned with what chess can give you, to help in your life, rather than games and analysis, which makes it more of general interest.

Moss makes some very good observations. 

For example, I am sure I fall into his category of players who played at ( or even for ) school, and achieved moderate success, but then dropped it for adventures in real life, until returning much later in life.

The internet makes this return easier for sure, since you don't need visit a club, and can play as anonymously as you like, but eventually you need to get out to play real people, and experience the more personal aspects of the game.

He has written a book on his experiences, called 'The Rookie', and on the basis of what I have read so far, I am certain it will be a worthwhile read.



24 July, 2016

Upgrading

I upgraded to Windows 10 this weekend.

For reasons of not wanting to be at the 'bleeding edge' of technology on the machine that I use for nearly all my personal computing activity ( although I'm sure many would argue that Windows 10 is nowhere near that state ), I had held off until almost the last minute.

Agreed, I had already installed Win10 on an older laptop without issues.

That laptop is defying the last technician who repaired it : still working ( the CPU has lost a large part of its heat-protective coating, apparently, and "it's only a matter of time" ) but that's understandable, since I barely use it apart from switching it on to ensure it updates regularly. 

I already took most of my data from it and have already backed it up obsessively, as one does. No doubt, I will forget which backup is the latest and holds most information if I ever need to get at the data.

However, back to the main upgrade, and a flawless install process. 

It took about 90 minutes and I only had to click a few times, mainly to say "no" to sharing lots of things with Microsoft and/or the world's applications that apparently want to use my camera and microphone, amongst other things !

So far all my chess software ( now "apps "! ) works, but I expected nothing more since they all worked on Win7 and Win8.1 as well. 

Even my old Convekta software ( from the 80s or 90s ? ) remains in working order, along with the more modern Aquarium, although frighteningly that is already 2 years out-of-date, and still has the tendency to freeze when I try to exit.

Some of them ( Chess Position Trainer in particular ) seem to start quicker, but generally they just work, and I am happy with that.

The only issues I've come across were that my browser switched back to Google as the default search engine ( easily corrected back to Duck Duck Go ) and quite a few apps don't show up in the "All Apps" list, which is annoying.

This means that I cannot set my default browser to anything but Edge or IE. I use Opera it as my main browser, but it just cannot be selected  : very frustrating ! 

Same for a few others.  

For example, I use Dasher for playing chess on ICC, and it doesn't exist as an app, so its not showing up in "All Apps" although it does appear when I search.

Irritating, but not terminal. Doubtless, some intensive internet searching will suggest some ( read, many :) solutions, but I will leave that for now ( although if anyone has the solution....? ).

So far, I'd put myself in the 'happy with Win10' crowd since it does what I want in an effective way and without any major issues. Additionally, having installed it, I can always revert to Win8.1 within a month, yet still qualify for the 'free' Win10 upgrade, which is re-assuring.

I will note that it doesn't start up as quickly as Win8.1, or at least that's my impression. Maybe it just needs a few re-starts and general use until it settles down. 

Anyway, its a tick on my virtual check list that indicates I have secured a future-proof operating system ( although still behind my aged mother who upgraded about 10 months ago ! ) and can look to fill in the ticks on a few more interesting boxes on that list now.




20 July, 2016

Frustration

The time elapsed since the last post just shows me that I have been tied up too closely with work issues.  

What chess I played has revealed that I really need to pay attention to tactics, as I miss them far too often.

I reach decent positions, am not sure how to progress ( often my opponent is in the same slippery place ) then miss a tactic and spiral downhill afterwards.

Here's a typical missed opportunity, easy to spot when shown as an exercise, but easy for me to miss with a time-constraint.


White to play

The other area is endgames (or maybe its calculation in endgames).

Here I am, played a nice series of exchanges to go a pawn up, but play the wrong move, and give the game away.

Equally, this could be classified as over-aggressive play, or over-estimating an advantage and trying to take more than the situation actually gives ?

Black to play
However it should be classified, it frustrates me to lose in such situations, but the only way correct this is to put in the effort, and plainly, I need to make the time available to do this. 

Question is, will I ?  


25 March, 2016

A London Mate

I'm sure I've mentioned to all my avid fans that I  play the "London System". 

No?  Oh, well, I do, simply because it requires little maintenance, absolves me having to play 1.e4 and deal with the Sicilian fanatics and enables me to reach the middlegame relatively intact, if rarely with the advantage that is supposed to be expected with playing White.

Although often touted as a 'boring opening', leading to many draws, like any opening, it has enough in it to gain quick wins, often with the 'Greek gift' type of attack.  

However, I think the below is an unusual type of mate to be revealed by this particular opening , to say the least.

I admit, gained with a lot of ( I assume unwitting ) help from Black, and I doubt I would ever see this outside of blitz. 

Really, this was "trickery" against someone who must be completely naive in chess, to allow the manuoevre Nd2-b3-c5 plus Bb5, when his king was sitting at d2.

I certainly don't feel guilty : sometimes satisfaction is its own entertainment.

11. Nc5#






21 February, 2016

Material or Mate ?


One thing I enjoy about a blitz game are those occassions when one side has the upper hand, but the other has an immediate riposte, like some "sword of Damocles",  hanging over his opponent.

Usually, this is heightened by the time factor : the attacking side could win easily with enough time to think, but that's the problem !

Here's an example from recent play.

Black is more than ahead in material, but it seems like his Knight is pinned to his Queen, and a lowly pawn is about to regain the piece.

But is there a simple way out ? 

Has Black just lost a piece ?
Yes, there is !  In fact more than one, but the Queen is the better piece to use, and 20...Qc5+ forces Kh1 ( of course, Kf1 is mate with Qf2 ).

20..Qc5+ 
After Kh1, the Knight moves in for a check, forcing Kg1 allowing Knight takes Queen, and prompting a resignation.

21...Nf2+ 22. Kh8  : Mate in 3

However, 22...Nxg4 is not the best move, though of course it crushes White's resolve and the game is over.  

There is a much quicker and more elegant mate in 3, and the clue is in a previous post, if you need it !