I know, I know, I haven’t updated my blog in a month. I apologize. In my defence, my life has been as busy as it has ever been.
On June 9th, so last Friday, I officially became a 4th-degree blackbelt in shoriniji-ryu karate. That’s just under 20 years of practice, which culminated in a six-hour grading the weekend before and then a public ceremony and show the week after. I had been training for this moment for months, and all my extra time went to this.
All month, I am in the process of moving. I am leaving my basement apartment in a century-old home and entering a proper dwelling. That is awesome! … except it involves moving, which may be the worst thing ever. I can’t tell which is worse: packing all my things into boxes (and in the process realizing how much crap I have) or unpacking all my things from said boxes. Joy. Anyway, when I wasn’t training for my blackbelt test, I was packing.
At work, my responsibilities have increased … at both jobs. I have been a law clerk for half a year now, and I am given more and more to do. This is fine, but it is added pressure and added training, ontop of the continual steep learning curve inherent in the position. At my other job, as martial arts instructor, I’m technically phasing out, but in the process I need to train my replacements. No one is expected to replace a 4th-degree blackbelt, but all the same I need to pass on as much knowledge and information as I can so the new instructors aren’t just left hanging.
On any given day, I leave my house at 8am and get back after 8pm. I’m averaging a 60-hour work week, and when I’m not working I’m training or packing or trying to find time to sleep. I won’t lie, I’m exhausted, and this blog was the easiest thing to cut. Once July rolls around I’ll have a much more manageable schedule, with all the above over or concluded, and my chess analysis will resume its normal schedule.
I would like to share the following, a free series of videos roughly 30min long from GM Igor Smirnov, where he explains how to analyze your games. The approach he recommends is basically the same as the one I use, though he has one interesting twist which I don’t use often, and one I will definitely think about. It’s free, it’s great, it’s Smirnov, take a look.
There’s also a personal reason I’m recommending it. You see, Smirnov spends a few minutes analyzing a position from one of my games. Not just any game, either, but my most important game. Take a look. Continue reading →
Let me start by echoing a popular sentiment: I dislike playing Black against the Colle and London setups. You know what I’m talking about: some White players play the exact same set-up every single game, getting a fairly dry, sterile position. You know, a snoozefest.
In particular, I dislike when I get ‘tricked’ into playing d5 against said lines. White has a normal, weakness free position, and if he doesn’t do anything silly the position will remain even, the pawn structure symmetrical and very little winning chances for the second player. I can be against a much lower-rated player and find it hard to win just because White’s position is so solid and his play so unambitious. I can play very well and yet never have more than a draw, and that feels like it happens far too often.
This game is a good example. Most of the game I play very well. I’m better out of the opening, I’m better as Queens come off and I’m better in the endgame. The entire time, though, I have only slight winning chances, and in the end, when I might have won after my opponent slipped up, I made one imprecise move and lost all winning chances.
In most GM games, if one side loses a piece, he then resigns. In most tactical puzzles, if you win a piece the puzzle ends. In a real game, though, your opponent might play on. That’s perfectly in his or her right, and that can lead to some practical difficulties.
I have seen many amateurs, myself included, struggle when up material, even a whole piece. Somehow, even though you know you should be winning, it doesn’t feel that way. Things aren’t so simple. If you know the general strategy of simplifying into the ending, though, then things can become very simple.
That’s what happened in today’s game. I won a piece very early on, and then spent the rest of the game single-mindedly focused on the endgame. In the end, it was a pretty easy win. Let’s take a look. Continue reading →
In some ways, the game today is fairly simple. It’s ten moves and Black hangs a piece. GG.
This is true, but it isn’t the whole story. Black didn’t hang his piece randomly. He had a plan, and his first few moves were standard, and he played a standard central break. Things seemed fine on the surface, but if you look deeper, Black’s position was actually terrible. Why? Because Black didn’t follow opening principles. He moves a piece twice in the opening, and though it looked harmless, it basically brought him swift defeat.
For 25 moves, I played near perfect. I had a good position, then a better position, and then the tactics worked and I had a winning position. Then I had a less winning position, then merely a drawn position … and then I managed to lose a King and Pawn endgame despite being up a pawn. It’s pretty incredible, really. Seriously, how do you lose this?
I’m raising money until Friday, so if anyone would like to donate something, anything, it’s greatly appreciated. Feel good that your money is helping kids. Even if you can’t donate, if you share the link, maybe someone else can. No pressure either way, and thanks for all the support.
If you ask most players their favourite way to win, most would respond with tactics and sacrifices, something like a mythical Queen sacrifice that leads to a brilliant forced mate. To play like Morphy, art on the chess board. I won’t lie, I’m one of those people … but a close second is what I call the python, where you suffocate your opponent to death, where they simply have no moves left. Sometimes, this can be even more beautiful than a dashing sacrifice, or at least I think so.
Normally, such a python strategy happens when one side has a lack of space, and then they get slowly squeezed to death. This game is odd in that it quickly opens up, both sides flying across the board … and yet, suddenly Black finds himself with no play, nothing to do and no hope of getting out. The python had him firm, and the result may be my favourite game of 2015.
If you talk to some chess players, you will find some refuse to play the French or the Slav as Black because of the exchange variations, which lead to symmetrical pawn structures and are notoriously drawish.
First off, yes, these positions ARE more drawish than most openings, but that doesn’t apply to most amateurs. If you’re under 1700 or so, the draw is practically non-existent. Here’s what does happen regardless of rating: the pawn structure is symmetrical, piece development is generally symmetrical and the game is pretty colourless. Not the most fun chess positions.
As I approach expert level, I’ve become keenly aware of the drawish tendencies of these positions. It’s very hard to win a game without any imbalances, and that’s true regardless of how much I may out-rate my opponent. In this game, I reach such a position and do my best to give myself winning chances in a dead-equal position. Continue reading →