Category Archives: Thoughts

Smithy’s Opening Crossroad

Why do we play chess?  Ultimately, it’s to have fun, right?  Sure, winning is nice and seldom gets boring, but given the choice, you’d rather win and have fun than win while being bored out of your mind, right?

This is where I am struggling, and it chiefly relates to my opening choices.  I have a very correct opening repertoire.  I play the Queen’s Gambit and Ruy Lopez as White, considered the two best openings after 1.e4 and 1.d4 respectively.  Against 1.d4 I chiefly play the Nimzo, perhaps the most sound yet ambitious opening Black can try, and against 1.e4 I have played a little bit of everything but mostly the Kan / Taimonov Sicilian and the Open Spanish, which are again two of the oldest and most respected openings around.

All of this is great and all, and it would compare to any GM anywhere … and yet I don’t think I like any of these positions. Continue reading

My Chess Study Going Forwards, and Misc. Stuff

My last post drew a few responses from two readers, so I thought I’d answer them while also going through my general plan for the next 2-3 months.

I’m currently taking a small break from chess, in that I’m currently not actively studying or playing.  This is a mental break for me.  I recently got a new job in addition to my old one, and I’m working 11-12 hours each day.  I think I’ve earned a small break. Continue reading

Openings for Amateurs

Openings.  How do you play them?  Which one is best?  Are some openings better for amateurs than GMs, and vice versa?  How do you know if you have a good opening?  How much should you study?  These questions and dozens more populate amateur chess discussion.  I will offer my thoughts on it here.

I will go in depth during this article, but here’s the tl;dr version: don’t worry too much about openings, definitely don’t spend much time memorizing openings, play through whole games and not just the first few moves, obey basic opening principles, reach a playable middlegame.  That’s it.  Now let’s go in depth. Continue reading

3 Fundamental Chess Skills

When you hear about chess skills, you normally think about calculating variations, visualization and all that.  While these are definitely important, they aren’t the most fundamental chess skills.  To fully develop from beginner to intermediate and then to advanced, you need to master these basics first.  I’ve listed them below, going from most fundamental to more specialist as we go. Continue reading

How I Got Good at Chess

How did I get good at chess?  On hand, the answer is obvious: I took it seriously, I studied hard, I put in many hours and now I’m pretty good, rated over 2000 in online chess.  That’s true and all, but it’s also missing something.  I was stuck at 1800 for years and years … and yet many people never get above 1500 elo, let alone 1800.

The question, then, shouldn’t be how I got over my 1800 elo hump, but rather, how did I get to 1800 in the first place?

Image result for chess rating distribution graph

1800 puts you above 70% of chess players, which is pretty good when you think about it.

When I think back to my early chess development, I can identify a few key things I did that seemed to boost my skill higher than average.  I’ll share those here now.

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The Subtle Disadvantages of Point Sparring

Sparring. Everyone has an opinion on sparring, especially those who have never done it. I can’t count how many times I’ve talked to a parent or a prospective student and sparring has come up. People either think it’s the most intense UFC-style thing ever or just a random game that isn’t really relevant to the real world. The truth, of course, is that’s it’s both and yet neither.

When people think of sparring, they immediately think of UFC. Why? Why not Olympic boxing or Taekwondo?

I’m a blackbelt, and I’ve been teaching martial arts most of my life. A big part of that is sparring. Sparring is one of the most enjoyable parts of learning the martial arts. Here it is, your skills on display, in a direct match against another person. There are no ties, and you instantly know, instantly, who is the better fighter. There are no doubts. It’s a fantastic learning tool.

That said, the more I teach and the more I practice, the more I realize that one of the most common sparring styles, point sparring, is almost completely useless. Continue reading

Remembering Inane Passwords

Passwords. They have become so ubiquitous in modern life that we rarely think about them. Even our phones have passwords, and some cars and even houses have electronic locks that you can access with a password. They are here to stay, and virtually everything we do, certainly every transaction, has a password associated with it.

I still remember my first password. I needed one at the end of public school to access the brand new computer lab. Yes, we just got computers in my public school. No, I’m not 90 years old. That’s what happens when you live in a rural area. Anyway, I needed to come up with something, and not knowing what else to do, I picked my favourite Pokemon.

Pokemon was really popular at the time, okay?!

It was clean, simple, easy to remember and no one ever hacked it. I thought it was great, and I would have kept using it as my password forever … until they changed how passwords work.

Continue reading

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

Nobody likes making mistakes. That’s obvious, but it goes even deeper than that. People hatre making mistakes. People would go to huge lengths to avoid mistakes, and I’m talking about absurdities here. There are people that would rather do nothing, and thus never make a mistake, then try and allow for that possibility.

Believe me, I know, because I’ve lived it and I see it every day.

I’m a martial arts instructor, and perhaps the hardest part of my job is getting people to see, accept and even welcome mistakes. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. People don’t get better by doing things perfectly. As I often say, if everyone could already do this, then I wouldn’t have a job. My job is to find your mistakes and get rid of them, to make you better. If you hide and don’t allow your mistakes to surface, then you are forever stuck in mediocrity.

There can be no growth without mistakes.

That’s the secret right there. If you never make a mistake, then you never get any better. Continue reading

Appreciating Home Food

I don’t think there’s anything we under-appreciate more than our parents, specifically our mothers. I think it’s human nature. Our mothers do everything for us: cook, clean, drive us places, help with homework, a shoulder to cry on, everything. It’s amazing, and how often do we thank them? Rarely, if ever. Maybe on mother’s day or on their birthday, but by and large we just take them for granted.

In case I haven’t said it in awhile, I love you, mom.

I didn’t realize this until I moved to university. For the first time I was on my own, and I suddenly realized what that meant. No mom to help me with anything. That’s fine, I survived and even thrived, but I learned right then and there just how amazing she was all those years.

I missed her in many ways, but I think the biggest loss, the biggest regret, was giving up her cooking. By the Goddess I missed her cooking. Continue reading

Beaten By The Heat

I don’t complain about how hot it gets. Yes, it’s been a heatwave for the last forever, with the temperatures in the high 30s, high humidity, all the crops are dying, the grass is far from green as possible, the very air is on fire, everyone is fed up … but I won’t complain. I refuse to complain. Hey, at least it’s not winter.

When we get sixteen feet of snow in six months, I’m blaming everyone who complained this week.

Really, I don’t mind the heat. Obviously, I’d prefer if it weren’t a million degrees outside. Normal weather would be nice, but I don’t mind the heat. I can deal with it, I can work around it. I know what to do, how to fight through the heat.

The problem is that the heat fights back, and today, despite all my best efforts, the heat beat me. It beat me badly. Continue reading