Monthly Archives: September 2010

ChessBase and Blitz-King

I have two important bits of news regarding help I am getting towards improving. Firstly, ChessBase have taken an interest in my project by offering me membership of their excellent Playchess server, and by giving me Maurice Ashley’s new DVD ‘The Secret to Chess’. I’m incredibly grateful to Frederic Friedel and the ChessBase team for their generosity, and look forward to hopefully meeting them at the London Classic in December.

Secondly, I’ve decided to pay for some lessons from a Grandmaster. GM Damian Lemos Sarro, known as Blitz-King on the Internet Chess Club, offers lessons at an excellent rate, and I’m looking forward to my first lesson tomorrow.

Finally, I’m pleased to say that I didn’t actually leave the Paignton tournament completely empty-handed. I won £5, for a quarter-share of the Slow Starter Prize!

County Match: WECU Jamboree

On Sunday I played board 8 in the Somerset 1st team at the West of England Chess Union annual Jamboree (a tournament format which allows several teams to compete with each person playing only one game). I was white against Rob Thompson, a young Devon player who was the only person to beat Michael Adams in the recent Paignton simultaneous. Our post-mortem analysis indicated that at some point I was winning – for example 25. Qxh5 should have sealed the deal – but my time management was so idiotic that I was left with 5 minutes for 16 moves to make the time control at move 40, and I couldn’t play accurately. Here’s the game (numbers in brackets indicate number of minutes remaining on the clock):

In the end, Somerset, Devon and Gloucestershire were all tied with 6 points in the Open section, and Dorset won the Graded section with 8/12.

Black & White: Tournament Round-up

Today is my 21st birthday, and what better way to start the day than with a report on my poor performance at the recent Paignton congress? My final score in the Boniface 5-round Morning tournament was 2.5/5, and in the Rowena Bruce Challengers section it was 2.5/7. My only good game was the draw with Adams in a simul, shown in the last post.

Before looking more closely at my results, I’d like to thank the organisers and arbiters for a splendid event. They were all very helpful and friendly, which is more than can be said for some congresses. I plan to be back next year.

In general, the player of the white pieces scores something in the region of 54%. To break that down further, white wins 39% of the time, draws 30% of the time, and loses the remaining 31% of games (stats from Chessbase Mega Database ’09). The advantage of the white pieces is perhaps more noticeable at higher levels, but still, I would expect to win more than I lose with white. In fact my score with white at this tournament was a dismal 0/5! With black, on the other hand, before the last round I was on 4/5 (or 4.5/6 including the Adams simul game), with no losses. Unfortunately I started to correct things in the last round, not by winning with white, but by losing with black. I’m not sure quite how to explain this result, but several of my white losses came against slightly offbeat opening systems, where I was out of book very quickly and failed to come up with a good plan of development.

Here are two of my games, the first a quick loss against the ‘St. George Defence’ (1. e4 a6!?), and the second my only win against a higher-rated player. In the first, my attempt to gain a psychological edge by revealing my knowledge of the famous Karpov-Miles game clearly didn’t work, as I was going down by about move 11. 😉 I’ll probably put up more of the games, along with my comments, later.

Draw with Michael Adams!

Yesterday evening I was lucky enough to get a chance to play in a simultaneous exhibition match given by GM Michael Adams, the British number 1 and currently the world number 18 (though he has been much higher and is again on the way up).  He played 30 boards, and scored 25 wins, 4 draws and 1 loss.  I was one of the players who managed to draw.  Here’s the game – comments to follow:

Sun, Sea & Sixteen Silly Moves

When I rolled into Paignton on Sunday afternoon the sun was shining and the sea breeze carried with it the promise of success.  My first opponent was stronger than me, and usually played in the Open section, but I had white and was looking forward to a nice win to open the tournament, the season, and the Road to Grandmaster.  In fact I was crushed in sixteen moves.  Here’s the game:

After this demoralising defeat I made my way to Dartmouth, where I’m staying on the family boat, and rowed across with my stuff.  The evening was quite pleasant, as I had my guitar with me and it carried very nicely over the calm water.  Unfortunately it didn’t stay calm for long, and I was kept awake for a long time by the wind whistling in the rigging and the water slapping against the side.  The waterproofness of the boat got a good test, as it rained all night, and somewhat surprisingly I didn’t wake up and find I’d been dripped on.

After reluctantly exiting my cold sleeping bag in the morning, I arrived eight minutes late, unshowered and bleary-eyed, to the first game of the morning tournament.  I soon fell further behind on the clock, but my opponent missed a tactical shot on move 21 which won me the game.  Here it is:

This afternoon the pairing board told me I had a bye, which for those who don’t know means that an opponent couldn’t be found for me (due to an odd number of players) so I would be awarded a free point.  I hung around anyway and one person didn’t turn up, so I still played.  I was told I would get a point anyway, regardless of the outcome (i.e. it was a friendly), but they appear to have put the game on the pairings board, so I may find I’m on 0/2.  The game went badly for me from the opening, and I eventually succumbed in time pressure.

Boat & Twitter

I’m off to the Paignton tournament tomorrow, and will be sleeping on my family’s boat in Dartmouth as it’s nearby.  This means that in addition to the usual problem of thinking about the day’s game as I’m trying to get to sleep, I’ll be curled up in a cold, cramped cabin being rocked from side to side and dripped on.  (I exaggerate – it should be fine, but the boat has had leaks in the past, mostly minor, though one almost sank it.)  I also won’t have internet access there, but may be able to find free Wifi somewhere in Paignton to keep you updated on my progress.

I now have a Twitter account, which can be seen here.  I’ve never used Twitter before, and shall do my best not to tweet too much twaddle.

Paignton Preparation

From this Sunday until the following Saturday I will be playing in the Diamond Jubilee Paignton Chess Congress.  I believe the tournament has been held in the same room in the same building for sixty consecutive years, which is quite astonishing.  Former World Champion Max Euwe competed in the first edition, and though I’m not aware of any quite so distinguished players taking part in future editions, it is still a strong event and often features a Grandmaster or two.  More details can be seen here.

I’ll be playing in the 7-round Rowena Bruce Challengers (U-180) section in the afternoons, as well as the Boniface 5-round Morning event (also U-180).  Both sections have a first prize of £350, but as I’ll be one of the lower seeds the chance of walking away with £700 is slight.  The afternoon games have a time control of 40 moves in 2 hours, then 20 moves in 1 hour, and finally 30 minutes for the remainder of the game, meaning that they could potentially last seven hours.  In addition to that the morning games can go on for three and a half hours, so I could be playing a lot of chess!

Before every tournament I play in I face the familiar problem of how to prepare for it.  Usually I go about it something like this:

  1. Make a list of all the glaring holes in my opening repertoire.
  2. Realise that my repertoire is more hole than not, and even for the openings I play all the time I know relatively few book lines.
  3. Do nothing, except for perhaps a quick look in Modern Chess Openings 5 minutes before the round starts if I have managed to find out what my opponent plays.

This approach doesn’t lead to disaster too often, as most of the people I play are similarly unprepared, but I certainly could use the run-up to a tournament more efficiently.

I intend to try a different approach in my last few days before this tournament.  Every day I will do at least one hour of tactics problems, either from László Polgár’s massive “5333+1 positions” book, or online.  I hope that this will sharpen my eye for knockout blows a little by Sunday.  Opening preparation will be limited to a few quick fixes against the Danish, Scotch and Göring gambits, and if I have any time left over I’ll look at some endgames… but the most important part of my preparation is undoubtedly the cooking of a batch of my famous ‘Sweet Date ‘n’ Pepper Chutney’, which I will do tomorrow.

Road to Grandmaster

Hello and welcome to Road to Grandmaster.  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.  To further motivate myself I have wagered £200 with William Hill at odds of 25:1 on me becoming a Grandmaster, and so stand to win £5000 should I succeed.

My current English Chess Federation grade stands at 152.  That’s about 1866 FIDE according to the ECF’s conversion formula (ECF*8 + 650 = FIDE).  My grade last year was 162, or 1946 FIDE, so I think my level can safely be approximated to 1900 FIDE, though I have no official FIDE rating at present.  As many of you will know, one of the requirements for becoming a Grandmaster is achieving a rating of 2500, which means I must improve by about 600 ELO points.

That’s a lot, but such gains are routinely made quickly nowadays by talented youngsters.  Unfortunately, at 20 years old (21 in two weeks), I’m no longer really a youngster and might even be considered over the hill (for those who don’t know, the current world no. 1 is only 19)!  Below is a graph of my ECF grade since I first started playing competitively.

As you can see, I have generally made steady progress, though 2006-2008 was something of a plateau.  My grade jumped in 2009, but at least part of that was due to the ECF adjusting grades because it felt deflation had been occurring, and my grade has dropped a bit this year.  The Grandmaster level in terms of ECF grades is around 230.

Next is a graph of my grade, along with the grades of the top three British players of my year group (James Hanley, Peter Poobalasingam and Tom Pym), and the grade of David Howell, a prodigy in the year below me who is now a strong Grandmaster.

Let’s look first at David Howell’s line.  This is the typical child prodigy graph – he rockets up to begin with, and keeps on improving pretty rapidly up to 230, the Grandmaster point.  Of course improvement slows a bit the stronger he gets, but it still takes only 8 years from his first ever grade until he’s about Grandmaster strength.  The lines of Poobalasingam, Hanley and Pym follow a similar trajectory, though somewhat lower, but they all seem to reach a bit of a plateau around the 180-200 mark.  Whilst very strong, this is still a significant way from Grandmaster, and the last 30 points are the hardest to climb.  Many players reach this sort of level and remain there or thereabouts for most of their chess career.  Well done to Pete who appears to be making a push off this plateau with his latest grade.

My grade line is significantly lower again.  Clearly the child prodigy Grandmaster route is no longer open to me – nor have I reached the level of the other three, where GM is in sight and probably achievable with a few years’ hard work.  Given my other time commitments, a third route – slow and steady – would appear to be the only option.  Perhaps, by using my study time efficiently, I can make my line look more like the start of the others up to near the 200 mark, but from there I suspect it will be a slow grind.  For this reason, I don’t expect to reach my goal for ten years at the very least.

Finally, readers needn’t worry that this website will only be about ratings, improvement, or lack thereof.  I expect to write about everything that interests me in, and to an extent out of, the chess world.  It’s going to be a long road, and I hope that some of you will join me, at least some of the way.