Chess in London

I’ve been settled into my new job and new life in London for a while now, and an update is long overdue.  I’ll share a game and a few words about London chess today, and update you all on my training in a week or two.

Chess in London is quite different from chess in rural Somerset.  I’ve joined two clubs – The Drunken Knights in the London League, and Muswell Hill in the Middlesex League.  Both are rather strong; I generally played board 1 for my Somerset club, but would play board thirty-something for the Drunken Knights if they were ever at full strength.  My hope is that playing stronger players on a regular basis will be good for my chess.

Evening chess after a long day at work is, unsurprisingly, proving more of a struggle than after the shorter days I have been used to.  Fortunately upgrading my habitual Diet Coke to a Red Bull seems to keep me relatively alert, and although my chess has not leapt to Nakamura‘s or Sachdev‘s level, I am so far more-or-less holding my own, with 1.5/4 against mostly stronger opposition.  My most interesting game so far, against a new Drunken Knights, Muswell Hill and West is Best (my 4NCL team) teammate, is given below with brief comments:


The 2100 Plan

Some time after returning from China I began thinking seriously about chess improvement again, and devised a simple study plan.  It is my hope that the successful completion of this plan will result in my strength increasing by at least 100 points.  It is based on two observations about my game:

    1. Despite having spent many hours over the course of this project thinking about and working on my openings, my opening repertoire is still a sorry thing, cobbled together from different sources over the years, often with little regard to how well a particular opening suits me stylistically.  It is also full of holes, one early example of which can be seen below:

      I’ve played 1…e5 all my life, but after 3. Nc3 in a tournament game I would be forced to start thinking.

    2. My endgame knowledge is extremely patchy.  I recently purchased Silman’s Complete Endgame Course (excellent, by the way) and found that I didn’t even know everything presented in the ‘Class C’ (1400-1599 rating) section – knowledge that Silman thinks players rated 400-600 points lower than me should have.

      The position above is an example of the famous ‘Philidor position’.  Black to move draws easily with Rh6!  I expect I have known this in the past, but I had forgotten, and would probably have played Rh1?! in a tournament game (after which it is still a draw with best play, but black must demonstrate some technique).  (For anyone wondering, I did remember the even more fundamental ‘Lucena position’.)

These two observations led me to formulate the following three-step plan:

  1. Analyse all the serious games I have played in recent years, with a view to understanding which types of positions I play especially poorly and which types a little better.  I took my method from this Chessbase article and the book Chess for Tigers (a book which has been recommended to me many times, and which I have finally got round to buying, and, even more remarkably, reading cover-to-cover several times).
  2. Devise a complete opening repertoire based on the results of stage 1, and learn it thoroughly.
  3. Obtain a thorough grounding in endgame theory by reading Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual in its entirety.  Retain said grounding using a technique I will talk about in a future post.  This step has now been modified slightly to include reading the Silman book mentioned above before Dvoretsky (more about this in another post).

Of course, my openings and endgame knowledge are not the only two areas of my game which could be improved.  My calculation, positional understanding, and almost any other area you care to name leave much to be desired.  However, I’ve chosen those two areas to start with because it’s easy to see how to improve them and I’m fairly confident that my plan to do so will have measurable results.

The first stage has already been completed, and saw me look through around 175 of my long time-control games and record my observations in a spreadsheet.  It would certainly have been easier and I would have learned more if I had had a very strong player looking over my games with me, but even without that assistance I have gained one or two useful insights.  Stages 2 and 3 can be completed in any order, and I have been dabbling with both.  I am inclined now to focus on stage 3 until it is completed, before turning my full attention to stage 2.

Please let me know in the comments section what you think of my plan, but don’t be surprised if I disregard any suggestions to radically change it.  I believe my main problem so far has not been my method of study, but rather my frequent changes of approach, which has led to me starting to study many areas/openings/books and finishing very few.  I have learnt a thing or two about how not to get things done in the process, and my completion of the first stage makes me hopeful that this time I may be able to stick with the plan to the end.


Road to 2100

It’s been nearly four years since I started this blog with a post titled ‘Road to Grandmaster‘.  In the year following this announcement I worked quite hard on my chess, and made decent progress towards my goal, but in the ensuing three years my priorities shifted (to my degree, learning Mandarin in China and getting a job, respectively).  Although I never completely stopped playing or studying chess, with my focus elsewhere it’s not surprising that I wasn’t able to do more than maintain my level (at about 2000 rating, or weak ‘Expert’ strength).

The job thing is finally sorted: in three weeks’ time I will be moving to London to work for Network Rail, the company responsible for Britain’s rail infrastructure.  With this arranged, I find my thoughts turning more and more to resuming my chess improvement project and blog.  Of course, with a full-time job finding time for chess study will be challenging, and my chances of making Grandmaster don’t seem to be any better than they were when I started in 2010.  With that said, I enjoy writing about chess improvement, may still have some interesting things to say about it, and have found that at least a handful of people enjoy reading what I write.  This seems sufficient reason to start blogging again, though the blog will not be entirely as before: welcome to the ‘Road to 2100′.

Nope, it isn’t April the 1st.  While I won’t be changing the domain name, the revised aim, at least for the time being, is to achieve a 2100 rating.  I have been advised more than once either to set a more realistic final target, or to set intermediate targets, and this is me finally taking that advice.  The 2100 target is a bit of both; I certainly hope that the ‘road to 2100′ will prove to be merely a ‘large step to 2100′, and that before I know it I will be writing about improving to Candidate Master strength.  However, if and when I do reach 2100 (and any subsequent targets) I will make a decision about whether or not to continue based on my priorities in life at that time, which I can’t foresee now.

I also envisage the content of the blog changing somewhat.  Updates on my progress, tournament reports and analyses of my games will still appear, but they will be less frequent than before.  Instead, I hope to feature more content about the theory of learning in general and chess-learning in particular, and perhaps also instructional content helping lower-rated players with aspirations to improve to ‘Class A’ or ‘Expert’.

As before, my blogging will only be worth the time and effort which goes into it if I have readers who find some value or interest in my content.  I hope many of the old readers who have been with me from the beginning will continue with me in this new phase of the blog, and I welcome any new readers who have just found it.  Please say ‘Hi’ in the comments section below, and let me know if you have any ideas for what you would like to see on this new old blog.

The Future of Road to GM

I’ve now returned from my year in China, but the future of my project to become a Grandmaster is still uncertain.  In order to study chess it is absolutely necessary to be alive, and in order to remain alive for any length of time access to food, water and shelter is useful.  The acquisition of these requires money, so it is to the generation of said money that I now turn my attention.

It is my hope that at some point in the future I will once again be able to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to chess, but that point is not now.  I have set up an email list for the purpose of informing people if/when this project becomes active again.  You can sign up on the right.


The End of the Road?

Tomorrow I will be moving to China to study Mandarin for a year at Xiangtan University.  Although my desire to improve at chess has not waned, and I still believe my project is achievable, I no longer feel able to blog under the ‘Road to Grandmaster’ heading without making chess my first priority.

Two years ago today, I wrote in my first post and ‘mission statement’:

“This blog will document my journey as I attempt to improve from a ‘Class A’ chess player to a Grandmaster, the highest title awarded by FIDE (the World Chess Federation).  I propose to do this without failing my degree (an MSci Joint Honours in Physics and Chemistry), without dropping my other hobbies (guitar, Go, Mandarin Chinese and more), without losing my girlfriend (who has not the slightest interest in chess), and even whilst maintaining a normal student’s social life.”

Starting with the secondary aims, I wasn’t able to dedicate much time to my other hobbies, though the more important degree and girlfriend-keeping have been or continue to be negotiated successfully!  The primary aim has not of course been completed; I am not a Grandmaster.  However, I do feel my chess has improved, and when FIDE takes into account my performance at the Czech Open I will finally have progressed from ‘Class A’ to ‘Expert’.  The graph below shows my ECF grade (converted into an approximate FIDE rating) up until July 2011, with the vertical blue line marking the start of this project.  In September of that year I got my first FIDE rating, and the points thereafter reflect that rating.  (It would be remiss of me not to mention that my latest ECF grade has actually gone down, but I believe my FIDE rating to now be my most reliable one.  The 2009 point is artificially high because the ECF made alterations to their grading system in that year.)

My rate of improvement during the project has been solid but unremarkable (+~150 points in two years).  Please refer to my latest study plan post for my thoughts on possible reasons for that.

For those of you who, like me, aspire to take great strides forward in your chess understanding and strength, a few words:

1.  Do not be discouraged by those who claim that ‘talent’ is all-important.  (The Polgar sisters are one great example which demonstrates that practice is much more important.)  For an entertaining and inspiring read about the power of ‘deliberate practice’, try ‘Bounce’, by Matthew Syed.

2.  Prioritise.  The American wrestler Dan Gable has been quoted as saying: “If it’s important do it every day, if it’s not don’t do it at all.”  In other words, if you try to improve your chess whilst working full-time, learning the shakuhachi, and playing golf four times a week, you won’t get very far.

3.  Make yourself accountable to someone.  I did that in a big way with a public declaration of my intent and regular updates on this blog.  It’s been a mixed blessing – a source of both motivation and anxiety – and I think a smaller-scale declaration could work as well.

In closing, I’d like to thank everyone who has helped me in any way over the past two years, whether by offering to share their books or learning materials, their time to play and analyse, or their words of wisdom and encouragement in comments on my posts.  You’ve helped to keep me going after bad tournaments, and have fuelled the improvement which I am confident will continue even after I stop posting here.  Although I have not achieved my goal, I hope some of you have nevertheless found some value in my posts.  It may well be that at some point in the future I will once again find the time to pursue chess improvement as a top priority, but until such time, goodbye, and good luck.

Czech Open update

I’ve now played the first two rounds of the main tournament here in Pardubice, and it’s going well.  Yesterday I managed to beat a 2151 with white, and today I drew a 2107 with black.  Yesterday’s opponent blundered in the opening, and although I allowed him plenty of counterplay I don’t think I ever squandered the win.  I felt like I had slightly the better of it for most of today’s game too, but a quick look with Houdini shows that it was pretty equal most of the way and a draw is a fair result.

I may post game fragments when I get a chance, but I won’t be posting complete games until after the event so as to keep the openings I’m playing here a secret.

Czech Open: Blitz & Rapidplay

I’m currently in Pardubice, awaiting the start of round 1 in the main tournament.  On Wednesday morning I played in the ‘Superblitz’ tournament – 9 double rounds (i.e. two games with the each opponent) of 3-minute blitz – and scored a decent 4/9.  I played both GM Aleksandr Volodin and IM Petr Neuman, and although I failed to give either of them much to worry about I did manage to trade wins with another titled player, WIM Monika Tsiganova (2164 ELO).

On Wednesday evening and Thursday I played a 9-round rapid tournament, and decided to enter the top section, where I was seed number 151 out of 164 entrants, in a field which included David Navara and Robert Hess (and initially Sergei Movsesian, though he withdrew before it started).  In the first round I was paired with Ladislav Urbanec, 2293 ELO, and after initially having much the better of it the game reduced to a (probably) drawn ending.  A position was repeated three times and I claimed the draw, but alas in rapidplay if you are not recording the moves you have only your opponent’s sportsmanship to rely on in such cases, and my opponent refused to accept my claim and found a way to deviate.  A while later I overstepped the time limit and lost.  From then on my play deteriorated, and I ended on a rather miserable-sounding 2/9.  I’ll upload some of my games later if I have time.

Hopefully the main event, where I am seed number 169 of 264 in the B section, will go better.