Sunday, September 23, 2007

Final Round Blues

I've noticed a really worrying trend in the tournaments I've played this year:

I never win in the final round.

This year's tournament record for my final games looks something like this:
  • Jan - Lost in 19 moves

  • Feb - Lost in 60 moves

  • June - Draw in 48 moves

  • July - Lost in 30 moves

  • Sep - Lost in 26 moves

  • With the Swiss paring system, by the last round or two you should be playing people that are fairly close to your ability. To lose so many late round games has two effects:

    Firstly, it indicates I probably need to work on my endurance and ability to recover in between games. Given many of the games barely last 30 moves - my September last round game was decided by a tactic on move 9 - I probably need to make a special effort to continue to concentrate in the later rounds.

    Secondly, it's terrible for my rating. To lose to someone rated 2000 in round one is no big deal. (In fact, it's entirely to be expected.) But in the final rounds of a Swiss tournament, when your oppenent has a rating pretty close to your own, it is devastating.

    Any ideas on how to train for this situation?

    How do you stay alert during the final rounds of a long tournament? What are you tricks? Care to share any advice?

    Are there ways to improve your "staying power"? Perhaps a bit of chess viagra might be in order. ;)

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    You still have to play chess

    Thanks for the comment from Pale Morning Dun who read my post on the 8 ways to guarantee you finish the seven circles and also mentioned this vital piece of information:

    You have to play games!

    Very true. You can't make your rating go up unless you play rated games and win.

    I can definitely see the standard of my chess improving - far fewer games where I blunder a piece or a pawn. And the beauty part is, I'm actually winning and drawing against people that are 400+ points above me.

    Australian ratings only come out once every three months, but hopefully I'll get a chance to play in a bunch of rated games between now and the end of the year and see some fruit from my "labors of de la Maza".

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    Blayney Chess Open Results

    Last weekend I had a chance to play in the first ever Blayney Open.

    The air was thick with competition, with not only the chess players ready to do battle over the board, but the local rugby union grand final was also in full swing.

    For the record, the Blayney Rams defeated the Molong Magpies which sent the locals into a frenzy. The Blayney Bowling Club rapidly transformed from a quiet chess-playing venue to a rowdy pub scene. Jostling your way to the front of the bar was almost as difficult as swindling a win against the local players.

    There were thirteen unrated players in the tournament, which bodes well for NSWCA membership numbers. For many people, this competition marked their return to chess after many years "taking a break".

    Top seed Lee Jones took out the Premier Division with a perfect six round record. By my calculations, Gary Losh won the Major Division, with Helen Aylwin and Ramon Aich sharing the Minor Division first prize.

    Slavko Kojic was the highest scoring unrated player with an impressive score of four points from the six rounds.

    Brian Jones won the after-dinner blitz competition and gave these sage words of advice: "The secret is - try not to lose games otherwise it's too tough to make up the ground and win." Hmm - thanks for the tip. I'll keep that in mind. ;)

    I managed to sneak into 3rd place for my division, despite an error filled final round game against Helen Aylwin.

    Big thanks to Phil Bourke for organising the event!

    Hopefully I'll get an opportunity to play in Blayney next year too.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    8 Steps to Guarantee You Finish the Seven Circles

    In the book Rapid Chess Improvement, Michael de la Maza presents a method of intensive chess tactical study that allowed him to improve 400 points in 400 days.

    But a lot of people have difficulty in accomplishing such a grueling schedule of problem solving. I certainly did. It took me eight attempts before I completed it. Now I've done it twice and I'm currently doing my third.

    This advice is geared to those who have tried and failed, or just need to know the best way to complete a seven circles exercise.

    1. Choose the right problem set
    Especially if this is your first seven circles, just pick a small set of easy problems. The CT-ART 3.0 set has 1209 exercises which end up in very difficult "mate in nine" problems towards the end. Unless you're already rated 1800, I would suggest just focussing on simpler problems that win material or checkmate in three or four moves maximum.

    Some problem sets I like:
    Chess Tactics for Students by John Bain with some personal modifications
    Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors by Lou Hays
    1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld
    1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations by Fred Reinfeld

    2. Be conservative with your time
    The number of problems per day doubles for each circle, so it's very easy to get yourself into a situation where you overcommit your time. Yes - eventually you get faster at solving the problems, but not for the first three circles. If you think you can dedicate 90 minutes a day doing tactics, start your first circle doing 20 minutes a day.

    That way, the second circle will take 40 minutes per day and by the third circle you will be working 70 to 90 minutes per day.

    3. Schedule by working backwards
    It's ridiculous to say you're going to do 700 problems in 45 days unless you know how long it takes to solve them. Do a few days of the circle one first. By that stage you will know how many problems you can do in 20 minutes per day (see previous point about being conservative with your time), and then let that determine how long the first circle will take.

    Once you know how many days the first circle will take, you can schedule the second, third and fourth and so on until you're doing all of the problem set in one single day.

    4. Get into a habit
    By now you're saying: "20 minutes of easy two-move mates? That doesn't sound like it will help at all!" Even if you don't take my word that starting short and easy is the best way to guarantee you actually finish a seven circles, think of it another way.

    Just treat the first circle as getting into the habit of doing tactics every day. The fact that the commitment seems so small makes it easier to do until you're well established in the habit of doing tactics every single day.

    5. Do it in one sitting
    While this is easier for the early circles, it's definitely an advantage to do all the tactics in one sitting. It usually takes me a few problems to warm up and get into a groove. Once I'm there - it's better to keep on going than to stop and try to find time to start again later in the day.

    6. No dates - just days
    Whatever method you're using to track your progress, leave the date blank beside each row. I only fill in the day/date column after I complete the problems for the day. If you pre-print the dates and you miss a day, the dreaded guilt sets in and you feel the need to catch up and do twice as much the next day. Which is fine. But I guarantee if you miss more than one day, you'll worry about being so far behind that you'll just quit altogether.

    Skip a day every so often if you have to, but don't feel under pressure to catch up. Just continue from where you left off.

    7. Tell people about it
    Telling people that you're embarking on a serious (and difficult) course of chess study that requires a lot of time commitment does two things. Not only does it make you more likely to finish the series but it's also important to let the people you live with know that when you're sitting on the couch with your head in "1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate" you're not just avoiding housework.

    While I certainly endorse studying tactics as a great way to get out of doing the vacuuming, if your partner, flatmate or kids know this is an important program that does have an end date, they are likely to be more understanding.

    8. Make up a fantasy to keep you going
    Find a way of motivating yourself to keep going when it gets tough.

    For me, I equated the seven circles with the different chess ratings classes of E, D, C, B, A, Expert and Master. In my mind I thought: "If I quit in circle two, I will never get a rating higher than class D." Circle four = class B and so on up to Master. By the time I was doing the last circle I was thinking: "Wow, this will really help me become a Master." And believe me, there is nothing that makes you feel more like a master than buzzing through an entire tactics book in a single session with 99% accuracy.

    Follow those eight guidelines and you will have an excellent chance of completing one of Michael de la Maza's famed seven circle exercises.

    Good luck!

    Tuesday, September 4, 2007

    Blayney Chess Open


    You know you've reached minor (and I do mean minor) chess celebrity status when you phone in your entry for a chess tournament and the TD says, "Oh yeah - I know you! You're that Down Under Knight guy! I read your chess blog."

    It's not the first time it's happened either. Guess I didn't count on so many people reading this blog. I think readership must be into the double figures by now!

    In any case - thanks to Phil Bourke for organising the Blayney Chess Open. See you (and all my dedicated readers) at Blayney.

    That's what happens when you put your stuff out on the ol' internet.