Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 Year Anniversary!!

One year ago today I started my seven circles training!

It's been a productive first year!

I've played 250+ slow games
I've completed seven circles of Chess Tactics for Beginners
I've completed two circles of Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations
I've gained 550 rating points!

Back when I started I was rated around 1250-1300 and I'm happy to say that since mid-January I've made a class A rating!! Wooooo!!! I peaked at 1876 but it has now plateaued again around 1790-1810. I've got to be honest though, I don't feel like I'm solidly class A. For instance, I got my rating up by beating a whole bunch of mid 1600's players and two mid 1900's players. Players rated mid 1700's still give me problems. These players seem to beat me the most on my bad days. Maybe they realize how close they are to Class A so they're that much hungrier? I don't know what it is, but until I can start consistently beating mid 1700's players the same way I take care of mid 1600's players, I'm not going to make 1900+. I'm also proud to say that I've made class A without studying any openings. I'm trying to build up a good fundamental base before "cashing in" with openings.

And for your amusement, here is how I would categorize the different rating classes:

Class E: Just know how the pieces move.

Class D: Has no concepts of tactics, only loose piece threats and bishop-queen battery mate threats as well as opening maxims such as knights before bishops and control the center with pawns. Gets overwhelmed by all the possibilities in the middlegame. Tries to calculate EVERYTHING and takes forever to move.

Class C: Discovers forks and pins and basic sacrificial mates! Not consistent with applying checks, captures, mate threat checks for every move. Tries to force tactics that might have been but are simply not possible or easily parried. Calculates too much still.

Class B: Getting more consistent at applying checks, captures, mate threats, but still has significant lapses. Getting better at knowing when there are no tactics but still gets fixated sometimes.

Class A: Getting acquainted with different common middlegame plans and how to execute them efficiently. Getting better at knowing when and how to attack the castled king position. More consistent with checks, captures, mate threats for every move.

I'd also like to share with you the 5 things I try to do before making a move:

1. Look at all checks, captures, mate threats no matter how silly and unproductive they seem to be

2. Find the forcing lines, and quirks of every position (calculation!)

3. "Real Chess", anticipate replies

4. Sanity checks

5. Be unpredictable, play moves you know you're going to have to play, first

I've recently realized that the reason I got into chess was more the idea of chess rather than the actual game. For instance, my favorite chess player of all time was Mikhail Tal. However I couldn't say that I'd looked at more than 2 or 3 of his games back then. I liked his reputation as a chess player more than his actual chess. A chain smoking, hard drinking player who threw away half or more of his army to win. A player who didn't seem to have to study or think about the game too much, just show up and destroy the competition with crazy sacrifices. Now that I've become more familiar with chess, I realize (a little sadly perhaps) that this just wasn't the case. Mikhail Tal was constantly thinking about chess, it has been said that when he went in for one of his many operations he talked chess with the doctors until the anesthesia knocked him out. Not only that, but I know now that sacrifices aren't always possible, sometimes the path is clear and you have to follow it. Despite these realizations, it hasn't stopped my own chess studying. Chess is a narcotic. My love of the idea of being good at chess has been replaced by one of the most absorbing experiences in life. It's not always fulfilling, even when I'm winning, but it's absorbing without fail.

That being said, I'm still modeling my chess training on Mikhail Tal. I went through CTB seven times to get a good, all-around baseline. No matter what kind of chess player you want to be, it's important to have a good grounding in tactical fundamentals. Now I'm going through Mikhail Tal's Winning Chess Combinations which really should be called "how to mate with what's left". It goes through typical mating motifs of rook, knight, bishop, queen, pawn, two rooks, queen + bishop, queen + knight, rook + bishop, rook + knight, two bishops, two knights, bishop + knight, three minor pieces. If I want to become a sacrificial player, this information is crucial. I have no desire to become a complete player who knows precisely how to convert a slight pawn weakness in the endgame into victory. People talk a lot about the beauty of chess games, but the only beauty that can be appreciated by a wider audience is sacrificial mating attacks. A Karpov game where he slowly squeezes the air out of his opponent may be beautiful to chess players, but if you take that same game to a chess amateur, he won't be able to follow it. And personally the part I like most about chess is attacking the castled position. Whether I'm destroying it with kamikaze bishops, stomping on it's center pawn with my knight, or cutting it open with my h-pawn. The attack on a castled king is the most fascinating and addictive part of chess for me.

*** UPDATE ***

After seven circles of CTB and two circles of Tal's Winning Chess Combinations I've decided to start The Art of Attack by Vladimir Vukovic. Hopefully this will bring my game to the next level. Wish me luck!