Yusupov Challenge: Book 1 complete

I have finally worked my way through all the instructional chapters of book 1, with just the final exam left to complete. My progress has not been as fast as anticipated, but I hope those readers who are also doing the challenge are managing to stay on track.

Book 1, Chapter 18

This chapter was about calculating forced variations.  I found some of the calculations a bit of a grind, but managed to complete them accurately in the end, dropping just one point.

Time spent: 1 hour 55 minutes (35 reading, 70 solving, 10 marking/reviewing)

Score: 22/23

Book 1, Chapter 19

The theme here was combinations to promote a pawn.  As with some previous chapters, the topic led me to the answer quite easily in most cases, but I did learn one useful motif which I wasn’t really aware of before: namely that of attacking a knight on the 8th rank with a pawn on the 7th, thereby threatening to promote in two ways.  This particular vulnerability of the knight also seems to work one rank further back (with the pawn on the 6th/3rd rank) if the knight is on b2, g2, g7 or b7.

Time spent: 1 hour 5 minutes (20 reading, 40 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 20/20

Book 1, Chapter 20

Weak points was the topic of this chapter, with some nice strategic examples from the classics to illustrate it.  I tried not to overthink the solutions, just scanning the position for a weak square and trying to find a natural way to exploit it, rather than attempting to calculate exhaustively.  The approach worked pretty well, and I think is the right way to go in this sort of position in a practical game, though I did drop a couple of points on exercise 20-9.

Time spent: 1 hour 15 minutes (30 reading, 45 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 21/23

Book 1, Chapter 21

More pawn combinations.  I went for Ne8+ rather than the book’s Be7 on exercise 21-7, but as my variation is also clearly winning I didn’t deduct points.

Time spent: 55 minutes (10 reading, 35 solving, 10 marking)

Score: 19/19

Book 1, Chapter 22

This was a useful chapter for me, as it digs deep into the idea of a ‘wrong-coloured’ bishop in endings with a rook pawn.  Whilst the basic fortress (shown in the diagram below) is straightforward once you know it, there are some nice nuances in reaching it.

Time spent: 1 hour 10 minutes (20 reading, 45 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 24/25

Book 1, Chapter 23

No matter how many times I see smothered mate, it never fails to bring a smile to my face.  This chapter introduced a few fresh examples.  I’ve yet to get this in an over-the-board game, but have done in online blitz.  Let me know in the comments below if you have had the opportunity to give smothered mate.

Time spent: 55 minutes (10 reading, 40 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 17/19

Book 1, Chapter 24

Despite playing the open games for the entirety of my chess career to date, there are still plenty of gambits which make me uncomfortable.  That was the topic of this chapter, and I dropped a lot of points (though this was likely in part due to fatigue).  I may return to this chapter at some point, and certainly need to brush up on my opening theory in a number of gambits.

Time spent: 55 minutes (15 reading, 35 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 15/21

Those of you who are doing the challenge, or have completed the chapters I have written about here, do let me know how you got on / are getting on in the comments below.

Yusupov Challenge, week 6

Another busy week, in which I managed to complete three chapters.  I am about three quarters of the way through the first book now, which is not as far as I had hoped I would be, but I imagine a lot further than I would be if I hadn’t started this challenge.  I am going to try switching to solving in the mornings before work, when my brain will hopefully be a little fresher than after.

Book 1, Chapter 15

This chapter is about combinations, and features fairly standard tactics problems.  Some of the exercises took me a while, but I did manage to get almost all right.  The exception was 15-3, where I chose Bxc5, which should still be winning or at least much better for White, but is much less convincing than the (with hindsight rather obvious) solution, Rd8+!

Time spent: 1 hour 50 minutes (35 reading, 65 solving, 10 marking/reviewing)

Score: 21/22

Book 1, Chapter 16

It’s amazing how complex and interesting positions with only four pieces (including kings) left on the board can be!  This chapter is about queen vs pawn (on the 7th), and I found some of the mate/stalemate motifs really pleasing.  The only exercise I dropped points on was 16-4, which with hindsight is laughably simple.

It is White to play and win.  I immediately noticed that after Qb3+ Ka1 White does not have to worry about stalemate straight away, as Black still has his h-pawn.  However, I only thought about using the extra tempi to bring White’s king closer to the a-pawn.  As it is clearly too far away for this plan to work, I gave up and assumed it was a draw.  In fact White mates with the simple 2. Qc2 h2 3. Qc1#

16-8 is a real treat, which I was pleased to solve correctly, but I will leave that position for people who have the book.

Time spent: 1 hour 20 minutes (10 reading, 60 solving, 10 marking/reviewing)

Score: 27/29

Book 1, Chapter 17

This chapter is about stalemate motifs.  As with some of the earlier chapters, the theme is so well defined that it makes finding the solution quite straightforward in most cases, and I managed to get them all right.  The most challenging was 17-2, for good reason – whilst the ‘solution’ given in the book is the best try, it doesn’t actually work with best play!

I ‘found’ Bg4, where the book gives only Nxg4 stalemate.  I wasn’t sure what was going on after Nc6 (or even Bf6, which is still a draw, but worth a try rather than giving immediate stalemate).  It turns out that Black’s knight can dance around and eventually give mate, despite the White bishop’s best efforts to defend the key squares.  Hopefully this will be corrected in a future edition.

Time spent: 1 hour (15 reading, 30 solving, 15 marking/reviewing)

Score: 15/15

Those of you who are doing this challenge with me, let me know how you got on this week in the comments below.

Yusupov Challenge, weeks 3-5

As expected, week 3 was a write-off, due to having too many evening matches.  Unfortunately week 4 went the same way, as I was ill at the start and then had to work night shifts later.  Week 5 has been much more productive, with five chapters completed in spite of having two mid-week matches.  That means I am slightly under half a book behind the pace set on the Quality Chess blog, but I may be able to catch up over the coming month.  For those who haven’t seen it, Artur himself has now given his thoughts on the challenge, providing those of us doing it with an extra boost of motivation.

Book 1, Chapter 10

This is another pawn ending chapter, talking about the opposition.  I was expecting to ace the exercises, as a lot of them were similar to those in the first chapter of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, but I carelessly missed a few details, dropping four points.

Time spent: 1 hour 10 minutes (10 reading, 50 solving, 10 marking/reviewing)

Score: 22/26

Book 1, Chapter 11

The topic of this chapter is the pin – a tactic players become familiar with very early on – and unsurprisingly it was fairly straightforward.  I still dropped a couple of points on the last exercise, missing that after my proposed solution of Bxc5 Rxc5 Qd4 Qc7 Qxc7 Qxc7 Qxb4, Black escapes with a perpetual check.

Time spent: 55 minutes (25 reading, 25 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 19/21

Book 1, Chapter 12

Another chapter on an elementary tactical motif – the double attack.  The exercises were once again fairly easy for me, but I still dropped two points.

Time spent: 50 minutes (20 reading, 25 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 15/17

Book 1, Chapter 13

The topic of this chapter, ‘Realising a material advantage’, was very interesting for me, as it is something I routinely struggle to do.  Some of the exercises required careful thought, though I eventually managed to solve most of them.  The only exception was 13-6, though I feel a little robbed here, as my solution (Re7) also seems to be winning but is not mentioned in the book.  If anyone knows of more exercises available anywhere on this theme, please let me know in the comments section below.

Time spent: 1 hour 30 minutes (20 minutes reading, 60 solving, 10 marking)

Score: 19/21

Book 1, Chapter 14

This chapter deal with open files and ‘outposts’ on them.  ‘Outpost’ in this context seems to mean ‘square on an open file defended by a pawn, and not able to be attacked by an enemy pawn’.  The idea of occupying outposts on open files is not as ingrained in me as some other strategic ideas, so it was a useful read.  I recently failed to make use of just such an outpost in one of my games (Taylor – Jaszkiwskyj, Middlesex vs Essex 2017):

Here Rc5 is the best move, keeping control of the open file, and if Black captures with Rxc5 then dxc5 give White a protected passed pawn and a useful square on d4 for the knight.  Instead I played the planless Rc3 (I was very low on time), and my opponent played Rxc3, missing the chance to occupy his own outpost with Rc4!?  This is a more difficult move to make, as it sacrifices an exchange, but after Bxc4 dxc4 Black has great practical chances along the a8-h1 diagonal, as well as a protected passed pawn on c4.

Having completed this chapter, I hope I will make the right move automatically the next time I get a position like this.

Time spent: 1 hour 5 minutes (20 reading, 40 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 16/20

I feel a bit fortunate to have dropped only four points, as I was tired and impatient and so rushed a bit on some of the exercises.

There’s still time to join the challenge, so comment below if you would like to.

Yusupov Challenge, week 2

I completed five chapters in week 2 of the Yusupov Challenge – one short of the target of six.  As mentioned previously, I am doing one chapter a day after work, except when I have an evening league match; as I have five games this week, the chance of me getting six done in week 3 is negligible.  The main thing is that I continue to make good progress and work on the book whenever I realistically can, and I am not going to get too hung up on whether or not I managed six in a week.

Book 1, Chapter 5

This chapter is on double check, and the rather specific topic makes looking for candidate solutions to the problems quite straightforward.  Even so, 5-7 tripped me up, as I revealed check in the wrong way (2. Nh5 ++ rather than 2. Ne8 ++).  This still wins, but I deserved to lose  point as I went astray further down the line, putting my queen en prise.

Time spent: 60 minutes (20 reading, 25 solving, 15 marking/reviewing)

Score: 15/16

Book 1, Chapter 6

An interesting chapter on the relative value of the pieces.  Yusupov comes up with his own value for the rook – 4.5 rather than the usual 5 – which better accounts for facts like rook and pawn generally being inferior to two minor pieces, but fails to account for the fact that two rooks are more often than not better than a queen.  At the end of the day, fixed numerical values for the pieces will only ever be an approximation, as their value shifts according to factors which Yusupov discusses.

Time spent: 1 hour 35 minutes (30 minutes reading, 50 solving, 15 marking/reviewing)

Score: 14/19

These exercises were tougher than in previous chapters, though I did feel a little hard done by as the marking scheme penalised me a couple of times even though my selections were also strong.

Book 1, Chapter 7

A chapter on discovered attacks – as with chapter 5, the topic leads you to the answer in most cases.

Time spent: 40 minutes (15 reading, 20 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 15/15

Book 1, Chapter 8

There has been much talk in the official challenge thread about players of various levels skipping books, and starting later in the series.  Chapters like this one convince me that the vast majority of players should start from the beginning.  The topic is ‘centralising the pieces’, and the exercises are based on the idea of moving your pieces to central squares or somehow taking advantage of your centralised pieces.  Not all of them are ‘find the tactical knockout blow’ type exercises; some simply require you to find the best move, which makes them more like a real game and rather more difficult.

Time spent: 2 hours 5 minutes (30 minutes reading, 1 hour 20 minutes solving, 15 minutes marking)

Score: 16/27

I bled points all over the place here.  The pass mark is 12, so I still passed reasonably comfortably, but I am planning to return and review this chapter at some point.

Book 1, Chapter 9

The topic is mate in two, and the idea is to train the skill of accurately calculating short variations without missing candidates.  The exercises are of the non-game-like problem type, and I found I either stumbled upon the solution quite quickly, or ended up staring at them for ages in increasing disbelief that a solution really existed.  I had to do it in several sessions, and even then I gave up on two.

Time spent: 2 hours 25 minutes (30 minutes reading, 1 hour 50 minutes solving, 5 minutes marking)

Score: 10/12

If anyone else is working on these books, let me know how you are getting on in the comments below.

Yusupov Challenge, week 1

I have completed week 1 of the Yusupov Challenge, doing four chapters rather than the usual six as it started partway through the week.  Finding time to do a chapter almost every day is going to be challenging at times, but that’s why it’s called a challenge!  I am doing a chapter every day after work, except when I have evening league matches, as I want to be fresh for the game.  In weeks where I have more than one evening match I will try to fit in the missed chapters at the weekend.

Book 1, Chapter 2

This is another chapter on mating patterns, and is a little tougher than the first chapter, but still not too difficult as all the patterns seen in the exercises are introduced beforehand.

Time spent: 65 minutes (30 reading, 25 solving, 10 marking and reviewing)

Score: 19/20

I dropped a point on 2-4, choosing 2. Rh4 rather than 2. Qh6 – the right idea, but unfortunately my move order allows a perpetual.

Book 1, Chapter 3

A chapter on basic opening principles.  The topics covered are rapid development and controlling the centre – concepts which every chess player is introduced to early on – so I was not expecting it to be too difficult, but in fact it was by far the most challenging chapter so far.  I was reading it on a train – not having a board to hand made following all the variations in the introduction difficult, and the screaming baby did not help particularly with the exercises.

Time spent:  2 hours 40 minutes (25 minutes reading, 1 hour 50 minutes solving, 25 minutes marking and reviewing)

Score: 22/31

I dropped points onn 3-2, 3-7, 3-10 and 3-12.

Book 1, Chapter 4

This chapter on basic pawn endings proved fairly straightforward to me, as I have studied pawn endings before (it’s the only chapter of Dvoretsky I’ve managed to (half-)complete).

Time spent: 50 minutes (15 reading, 30 solving, 5 marking)

Score: 22/22 🙂

Most of my solving time was spent on 4-5, which required a lot of calculation.

There’s still time to jump on board if anyone else wants to join the challenge (either at my rapid pace or at their own pace) – just post in the comments below and in the Quality Chess thread.

Yusupov Challenge

I’m back, and ready for a new challenge.  Quality Chess are running the ‘Yusupov Challenge’, with the aim being to work through six chapters of Yusupov’s award-winning instructional series per week.  I received the whole series for my last birthday and have been meaning to get stuck in to them, so this fits in nicely with my plans.  If any readers would like to join me in the challenge (either at six chapters per week or at a pace which suits them) I would be delighted!  You can sign up here.

I will be writing a short post on this blog to mark each chapter completed, sharing my score and the approximate time I spent, which has been the subject of much debate on the Quality Chess blog.  Notes on the first chapter below.

Book 1, Chapter 1

I rattled through this chapter in about 50 minutes – 20 minutes reading the thematic introduction, and 30 minutes solving the puzzles.  Most of the puzzle solving time was setting the positions up on a board rather than actually solving them, though I did spend a few minutes on 1-9 and 1-10.  I didn’t bother to set the pieces up for the positions in the introduction.

I scored 14 out of a possible 16 points on the exercises, losing two points on 1-10.  Although I chose the correct first move (1…Ng3), I carelessly completely overlooked Black’s main reply (2. Qxd4).  In 1-9 I chose to exchange rooks in a subvariation (1…Kg7 2. Nxf8+ Kxf8 and now instead of the immediate 3. Nxh7+ I chose 3. Rf8+ Kf7 4. Rxa8 Nxa8 5. Nxh7), but as the ending looks to be winning anyway I haven’t deducted points.

For anyone else doing the challenge, let me know how you got on with the first chapter below.

General update: Blog regulars will by now be used to months-long gaps in my posting.  Rest assured that I have been playing lots of chess in the interim, though my studying has not been going as well.  The blogging has suffered as my planned ‘Road to 2100 Lessons Learned’ series has fallen victim to scope creep and perfectionism, the result being that it has yet to materialise at all.  I will refrain from making promises about when it might finally appear; hopefully it will be a pleasant surprise for you when it does.

In other news, I have for the first time managed to qualify for the main section of the British Championship in July/August.  I am very excited about getting to play in the same section as the absolute elite in this country (Mickey Adams won it last year), and training for that will be my focus for the next few months.

 

My Study List

The promised ‘lessons learned’ is in the works, but it has expanded from one post to a series.  I do not want to rush out a half-finished effort, so hope you will forgive me for the delay.  In the meantime, here is a list of the books and other resources I have found useful in the last year, as well as those I am intending to dig into soon.

Books

Calculation – Jacob Aagaard

A challenging exercise book (with explanations), which I am sure will improve my calculation significantly when I finally manage to finish it.  Not recommended for players rated below 1900.

Chess Tactics from Scratch – Martin Weteschnik

An interesting look at some well-known and less well-known tactical motifs.  I have finished this apart from the exercises at the end, and plan to re-read it at some point.

100 Endgames You Must Know – Jesus de la Villa

An excellent book, focusing only on the endgames the author has identified as being most useful for practical players.  As with ‘Calculation’, I am expecting significant improvement when I finally manage to finish it!

A number of opening books, mostly by Quality Chess and New in Chess.  These will remain secret for now, to avoid giving my future opponents too much information. 🙂

Next on the list: I got the complete Yusupov series for my birthday, and am planning to work mostly on that for the moment.  For those who own these books or other QC improvement books, I suggest you have a look at Jacob Aagaard’s recent post about the best order to read them in (and his answer to my question in the comments).

Videos

Chess24

I became a premium member during the last World Championship Match, lured in by the promise of a free mug and t-shirt.  I never got the promised freebies (in their defence, I haven’t bothered to chase them about it), but have enjoyed the video series immensely.  The only problem is that it is extremely tempting to dive into series like Peter Svidler’s one on the Grunfeld, even though I know working on an opening I do not play with either colour is hardly the most effective use of time. 🙂

Websites

Chess Tempo

Chess Tempo is a website with free tactics puzzles.  It is my home page, and I have a rule that every time I open my browser I must solve at least one puzzle before going to another site.

There are many other resources I have found useful in the past; the selection above is just what I have been working with recently.  Let me know what your favourite chess books, videos and websites are at the moment in the comments section below.

The Road Continues

A year ago, I gave myself an ultimatum: reach 2100 strength by September 2016 or give up this project.  Here is what I wrote:

If I have not reached at least 2100 strength by the 1st of September 2016, I will set aside my goal to become a GM and discontinue this blog.  (A small disclaimer: by 2100 strength, I mean that ideally I would have passed 2100 ELO, but if it is abundantly clear that I have reached that level (e.g. I have performed well above it in my last few tournaments) but I haven’t been able to play enough games to gain the points, I may continue.)

For most of the year I have struggled to make significant rating gains, and to an objective observer it must have seemed unlikely that I would be able to continue in September.  Whilst I felt I was becoming stronger, most of my games were not FIDE-rated, and in those that were I was frustratingly inconsistent.

That all changed over summer.  I played in three FIDE-rated tournaments: the British Weekender Open, where I placed equal second with 4/5; a strong Open in Figueres, where I defeated an International Master for the first time in classical chess; and finally the 10-round Open Internacional d’escacs de Sants, where I drew with a FIDE Master and achieved some other good results.  As a result, my September rating has shot up to 2054, and the last tournament has not yet been included; by my calculations I should be 2076 when it is.  Whilst this is still short of 2100, I have performed at 2160 level over my last 24 games, which I feel adequately meets the disclaimer quoted above.  (Regular readers will also be aware of my missing 24 rating points from Belgium, which would have taken me to 2100 exactly.)

In light of the above, I am delighted to be able to say that I will be continuing my chess improvement journey, and continuing to blog about it here.  🙂  For now there is no new goal or study plan; I will be completing my ‘Road to 2100’ study, and hope to achieve a published rating of 2100+ soon.

A longer post will follow in due course about lessons learned from the past year.  As always, please share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Road to 2100: T-3 Review

I have played in two tournaments since the last update, both of which have gone well.  The first was an international team event in St. Petersburg, open to teams comprising people who work in the rail industry.  I scored three wins and two draws, which would have netted me 20 ELO points, but sadly despite the official nature of the event (Kirsan turned up for the closing ceremony) it was not rated.  One of my wins is given below:

 

 

Although some of my team did not fare as well (we ended 11th out of 14), the event was hugely enjoyable, and St. Petersburg is highly recommended to anyone looking for an interesting holiday.

The second of my tournaments was the British Championships Weekend Open, where I got off to a storming start with 4/4.  Facing the top seed (2226) with black in the final round, I needed only a draw to win the tournament, but despite getting an excellent position out of the opening he was able to outfox me.  Losing in the final round pushed me down to shared second with two others.

Ratings

FIDE standard: 1983-2020 (expected), +27 points

All of these points came from the British Weekender.  As previously stated, the railway event was unrated, and I may come to rue these lost points (together with the last railway tournament, that’s 44 extra points I could have).  Still, this is the first time I have pushed significantly above the 2000 mark this year, and it may still be just in time to make 2100 by September if the next two tournaments go as well as my last two.

I will be playing in Figueres and Sants back-to-back over the next few weeks.  Both are strong events in the Barcelona area.  If I am able to maintain my energy and play well in both it is certainly possible to gain the required number of points.

Assessment: Red (cause for concern)

Study

I have not (yet) returned to using my study log, and will not be doing so over the next few weeks either.  Still, I have been reasonably productive and have managed to patch up a couple of critical holes in my opening repertoire.  Naturally I will not be studying as normal during the upcoming tournaments, and will just be doing opponent-specific opening preparation and looking to go into each game well-rested and energetic.

Assessment: Amber (some cause for concern)

As always, I encourage you to post any questions or comments you have below, but I may not respond until after my tournaments.  This will likely be the last ‘Road to 2100’ review – for better or worse, see you in September!

Road to 2100: T-8 Review

Hello all, and apologies for the lack of updates recently.  Please rest assured that the fact I have not been posting does not mean I have not been playing and studying; quite the contrary, in fact.

Ratings

FIDE standard: 1985-1980 (expected), -5 points

Despite gaining a few points at Frome, this period will see a rating loss (my first since December) due to a poor performance at the e2e4 Gatwick Open.  To date I have played in two e2e4 events, each of seven rounds, but did not manage to win a single game until the (combined) thirteenth round!  (This was not my first full point though, as I got a bye in the twelfth…)  A combination of factors, including tiredness, a dislike for the time control used (game in 90 minutes, plus 30 seconds increment) and just coincidence are probably to blame.

Of course, this rating loss comes at an unfortunate time, and the path to reaching 2100 by September now looks very difficult.  Having said that, I have enough games planned to make it possible, if I am able to perform at around 2200.  I have not managed to qualify for the British Championships, so will be playing in two Spanish events instead, as follows:

5th-8th July: Railway Chess Olympiad, St. Petersburg, Russia

11th-18th August: XVII INTERNATIONAL CHESS OPEN MIQUEL MAS 2016, Figueres, Spain

19th-28th August: XVIII INTERNATIONAL OPEN CHESS SANTS, Barcelona, Spain

Assessment: Red (cause for concern)

Study

I have been studying with a renewed sense of urgency in recent weeks, though you would be forgiven for not guessing that from my study log.  I have been using an innovative method for recording my study, pictured below:

chess training diary

Yep, good old-fashioned pen and paper.  I have found I prefer writing notes by hand, and just the act of carrying this around with me helps with motivation.  At least I have the information recorded, and may get round to putting it online at some point.

One thing I have been working on with my coach, Tom Rendle, is my habits at the board.  I have been using a pre-game mental checklist for a while now, designed to remind me of and help me avoid some of my bad habits, which goes as follows:

1.  I will calculate short, sharp variations, and commit to conclusions.

2.  I will only continue to spend time when I think there is a reasonable chance my decision will be improved.

3.  I will not allow adverse events to affect my focus.

I have made decent improvement in these areas, and consider the next big area to be my concentration several hours into the game.  I have lost count of the points I have thrown away late in the game recently (including several at Gatwick).

Assessment: Amber (some cause for concern)

If you have any bad (or good) habits at the board, I would be interested to hear about them in the comments section below (and how you try to combat them).