Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Commiserating with BDK

Ah, sweet, sweet internet access. I'm typing this from a hotel room; tomorrow I fly back home (about 10 pounds heavier from all the Christmas goodies). Before I left on my trip, I had read BDK's recent post on chess suckage. I'm sure we can all identify with his lament:

"It makes me wonder, sometimes, why I bother with this game if I'm going to suck so badly at it after more than three years playing. It's one of those games that I felt so bad about that I don't even want to analyze the game it makes me feel like s*** to even think about it."

Heck, yeah.

I strongly identified with his observation:

"I've also noticed that in real over the board games my chess vision is just not as good. I miss tactics I spot immediately when playing over the computer. I learned on the computer, trained on the computer, and almost always play on the computer.

"That has to stop. I've begun playing games on ICC using my actual board, using the computer only to relay my moves. We'll see if it helps. It feels hopeless sometimes, like my brain is permanently locked into a 2-D way of thinking, where all the pieces are always equally distinct and visible."

The last chess club before Christmas was a blitz tournament, and I truly sucked. I'm terrible at blitz, especially 5-minute games with no time increment (I typically play with a 12-second increment for internet games). I was struck by a couple things:
  • lack of awareness of the whole board. In one game that I luckily won, my checkmating queen on d5 could have been captured by a bishop on a1 had my opponent not conceded. I would tend to focus on one region of the board and miss long moves or tactics in another region. On a computer 2-D board, it's easier to take in the whole board.
  • absolute inability to play anything remotely resembling "real chess" a la Heisman at those time controls. My king was captured twice by missing checks while pressing my attack in time trouble.
With regards to the first point: even though I don't seem to have any trouble switching between 2-D and 3-D positions, I know that I retain material better when using a real board...whether it's practicing tactics problems, learning basic endgames, or deciding on opening lines for my repertoire.

As for the second point: I've only skimmed Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster, but I recall one of his infamous pronouncements is that the thinking method ("think like a tree") doesn't change in time pressure situations...you just do it faster. This seems like a pretty stupid piece of advice on the surface ("gee, thanks!"), but it actually cuts to the heart of the matter. You have to train yourself to consistently play "real chess" so that it's second nature, even in time pressure. It's not enough to know how you're supposed to think: it takes practice to play "real chess" consistently.

I am currently playing a pair of games by email, and I'm trying to play "real chess" in these games. Even with days available per move, I'm not consistent. In one game, I analyzed a promising rook sacrifice but missed a killer response from my opponent. With the luxury of having as much time as I want per move, I still have to force myself to consistently consider my opponent's move, identify candidate moves, select one, and consider all of my opponent's responses.

Training myself to play "real chess" reliably will be like breaking a bone and resetting it. Playing "hope chess", particularly in ICC Blitz, just reinforces the same old bad thinking habits. I'll probably post more on this with a set of New Year's Resolutions.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From GP's Undisclosed Location in the Wilds of Canada...

I'm currently visiting family for Christmas, and internet connectivity is dodgy. I have some material ready for posting, but it'll have to wait for New Year's Day.

I managed to winnow down my books for the trip to:

plus Lev Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book for the airplane, and some of Karsten Mueller's endgame DVDs. Way too much material, objectively. I figured that being stranded without internet would be a good opportunity to crack open Levenfish/Smyslov and work on my rook endgames, but so far I haven't gotten that desperate.

I actually was able to teach my mom and dad some basic endgame stuff. Dad didn't humour me as much and we only did some stuff with the opposition and bare kings. Mom actually did fairly well...we moved on to some basic pawn endgame positions that I set up, and she even figured out the "underpass" herself on the second try.

My wife still refuses to participate. It's weird. Right now she's probably doing some logic problems or sudoku. As a chemist, she enjoys analyzing spectra and determining molecular structures. We've even played checkers once (neither of us could remember the rules, but it was still fun). But she won't even look at a problem involving bare kings and only 3 files. I tried to point out that it wasn't even chess at this point, only a harmless puzzle, but no luck. The closest I ever got was by equating the White king as a woman advancing her career, and that if it got past "the man" (opposing king) blocking her progress, it would reach the 8th rank and thereby shatter the glass ceiling. That, at least, elicited a "nice try."