08 April 2008


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What is this blog about? Well, I will write just about anything on the subject of chess improvement in general and on tactics theory in particular. Since I already posted in a number of popular blogs about the Andrews-Ivanov controversial encounter from the US Qualifier Open in Tulsa, I will save potential readers from overkill by refraining from commenting on it further except this notice. My perspective carries some ounce of weight on the matter because I was an eyewitness to the episode. I was the guy who went and fetched the TD when Todd’s forceful objections to Ivanov’s apparent disregard of the scorekeeping rule began to annoy the other top players.

I will defer writing an introduction about myself and my chess exploits in this inaugural entry. I will rather intermittently mention it in the subsequent postings. But I want readers to be aware that I am an amateur chess player who happens to hold some unconventional views on the theory of chess improvement. Let the readers be forewarned that my pronouncements are mere personal views, and must be taken in the context of who I am as a chess player and as a cognitive theorist. In addition, I am on a quest to reach master level in search of finding proof to some of these theories. In a way, this is a personal invitation to you to come join me in such a quest.

I will strive to share in this blog my failures with honesty and my triumphs with modesty. In other words, my entries will not be laced with useless exaggeration. And I will show no kindness to my mistakes. Chess players have a propensity to hide or understate personal failings, and are rather more inclined to highlight “brilliancies.”

No matter what the level of strength one has in chess, sparks of genius do occur though infrequently. Some are concocted under the uplifting wings of inspiration, but some are pure accidents on the board. In many of these, the proud stamp of brilliancy is unashamedly attached only later during game analysis with a computer. It is easier to see a good move during such analysis unfettered by the pressures of over the board challenges. In this blog, I will be brutally honest in my description of what I saw and thought during actual play.

I discovered It is much easier to improve if you are honest about your own games. It will not be pretty all the time, but there is always something to glean helpful towards chess improvement.

At the US Qualifier Open, I lost my first game against a FIDE Master named Kenneth Jones. We got into a Sicilian line where Black successfully prevented White from achieving the standard Yugoslav Attack formation against the Dragon. We followed theory all the way to move 12 but to somewhat unfamiliar territory for me. My position quickly became untenable bereft of any hint of viable counter play. Not having any counter play is no fun in chess. When despair settles in, the defensive task becomes uninspired and resistance becomes symbolic. Unless the emotion is put in check, the game can quickly end in a loss. In this game, I resolved to put up a fight but to no avail.

After 33 moves, we arrived at the position below albeit unwillingly on my part. One will quickly notice the dominating position White enjoys despite equality in material count. One can see clearly that Black is running out of moves. His pieces have no good squares. The bishop though lacking in scope is unusually safe and unmolested on h4. Essentially, Black is playing a piece down. On top of this, White is threatening to win the queen so a further weakening move is forced on Black. I guess this is how you win games in top level chess. After I played h5 (h6 is a tad better) to give the queen luft, the position collapsed a few moves later.

jones hortillosa 1Position after White's 33.c4.

One lesson I learned from this game is to strongly disallow unfamiliar positions because such fates lead to play without a meaningful plan. The brain slowly finds itself lost in unfamiliar terrain. Finding harmony among your pieces becomes a tasking challenge.

In this game, White owns all the pawn levers and Black is reduced to perilous inactivity. Show this position to anyone and he or she will quickly assess White’s position as winning. But how did the position come about? Now, the answer to that question would help me find the right moves at the critical moment that could have prevented the strategically lost position. In the post game analysis, the search for the critical juncture in the game where options for Black exist must be undertaken. The judicious examination of the options should focus on the one that had it been chosen and executed would redraw a favorable terrain on the board. The chosen option may even involve the sacrifice of a piece for two or three pawns or simply a sacrifice of one pawn in exchange for some activity.

You see this being done in grandmaster games. They simply would refuse to get into a dreary position even at the expense of material. Some material deficits can be attenuated by gains in tempo and activity. In this scenario, you at least get to fight. Games of skill like chess include as a dimension the presence of opportunities for errors. The side with the lowest probability of committing errors has the highest probability of imposing his will on the chessboard. 

Having piece activity, piece harmony and fewer weaknesses markedly increase the opportunities for error for the other side. The positive feeling of being in control and even just the feeling of having a tenable position on board gives a player confidence and births inspired ideas in his play.

The lesson to take away for me is to detect early on, before it is too late, the point during the game to make a bold stand and say with great resolve: “I will not allow a passive position. Either live or die now.”

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