Year in review

In tournament chess the spectre of Arpad Elo hangs over us all, gnawing at the back of our minds.

So the temptation, as we approach that old holiday/New Year time of reflection and resolution, is to define the year in terms of results. So many masters or experts beaten or drawn. So many rating points gained (or lost).

But good players (I’m told) focus on the game, the positions, not the results.

So how did your game grow this year? And how will it grow next year? 

I learned a good deal about complex endings, and I demonstrated that knowledge in at least one specific game, winning a clearly drawn pawn-up endgame by consciously applying principles learned from Aagard & Shereshevsky. One small step for mankind.

I also significantly expanded my knowledge and understanding of positions arising from the Alekhine and a couple of other semirespectable openings. I began the journey toward understanding two specific very classical openings, one for each color. That journey will continue this year as I bring those openings to OTB play for the first time. (I accept the inevitable bumps and bruises.) Note that this is not mainly about memorization. This is about understanding the structures and positions that typically arise.

I evidently failed to grasp the …e6 Sicilian in any significant way, which you may rest assured I will address for the coming year. I will in fact become so prepared that opponents who specialize in …e6 Sicilians will chicken out and play the Caro Kann.

I suffered several breakdowns of objectivity with clear impact on my results in specific games. Hammering out that ingrained habit is another to-do.

My time management remains horrible. Not sure how to fix that. (“Move faster!” Yeah. Duh.)


13 thoughts on “Year in review

  1. It’s more interesting to hear how your game improved…b/c thinking about it, I’m not sure if and how mine did. Well, maybe I now have something resembling an opening repertoire.

    My time management remains horrible.

    You can use this technique:

    1. Insist on using a non-digital clock.
    2. Wind your side, but not enough to last for the entire time control.
    3. Presto! Sneaky time advantage.

    I accidentally used this technique in a tournament game once. After the game, I had more time than expected and realized in horror that my side wasn’t wound nearly enough. (We were too busy to notice during the game.)

    Fortunately, time was a non-factor and my opponent was not strong enough to pose a serious threat.

  2. Sounds like you’ve made a lot of progress this year (and your recent results generally have reflected that progress, I might add)!

    My game needs a ton of work. My white openings are junk and largely a vestige of my teenage years, when I did absolutely zero studying and played solely for cheapo tactics. I have abandoned my teenaged-junk black openings altogether in favor of a “system”. That has generally been an improvement, but obviously the use of a system is sub-optimal for many reasons.

    Following an embarassing draw to Curdo (embarrasing because of the position on the board, not my venerable opponent, of course), I spent a fair bit of time on technical endings. I seem to have improved somewhat in that area, but I still need to follow your lead in the study of complex and strategic endings. No progress to report in that area this year.

    Ideally, I will focus in the coming year on complex/strategic endings and upgrading my pathetic opening repertoire. Aagaard and Shereshevsky seem like obvious resources to help with the former. But I still have no idea of the best way to approach the latter….

  3. You are on the right track. Sometimes it is hard to even know what we learned until we have played a serious game and have to prove that we know something. And this is often also what ends up exposing weaknesses in our play. This year I have focused on closing gaps as they are exposed. I have patched up weaknesses in my openings. I tried to study themes that I had overlooked in games, and focus on middlegames and endgames that I did not feel comfortable in. I also spent a lot of energy correcting the “non-chess” aspects (I had the opposite problem as you, I would not spend enough time). Regardless of my results and my performance as of late I know that I am at my highest level of play because I feel it every time I play a game, and I am able to study and learn concepts that frustrated me last year because they were too difficult. I feel like a better chess player.

    On the time management issue, I think that the reason a lot of players spend time is because they are unable to decide between two equal looking variations. They try to keep going in these variations to decipher some difference. The key between equal looking variations is that it is your choice. It is completely up to you and (if they are in fact equal) has no consequence on the evaluation of the position, merely the character. So when you feel yourself taking a lot of time on a move, back up, find a superficial reason that you like one move over the other. And make that move. An example: You are White, your opponent just moved his knight from f6 and you have to decide what to do with your bishop on g5 as there is a bishop on e7 and a queen on d8 and your bishop is only defended by the knight on f3, you have three options, take on e7, defend the bishop and allow the trade on g5, or move your bishop. There are no apparent tactics telling you to favor one move over another, so what do you do? The important thing is not the move you make, but that you follow it up with consistent moves. If you push your pawn to h4 and allow the trade on g5, you should attack on the h file. If you trade on e7 you want to play for the dark squares, or maybe use the weakness of the queen or knight on e7. If you move the bishop then you find another useful place for that piece and you don’t let your opponent find a nice place for his bishop. As long as your overall plans are consistent you have nothing to fear except tactical blunders.

  4. Good thoughts all.

    Donnie – nice shortcut on time management, thanks :)

    Greg – I have a long way to go on openings but I did make a reasonable practical decision when I first started all this. The BDG is crap (fun crap!) but is useful in the sense that there are a lot of possible transpositions into it. So even as I decided to learn king pawn openings, I retained the BDG my line against lower-priority openings. While I focused on the Dragon and some other common lines, I could use the BDG as my anti-Alekhine, Caro and Center Counter plan. Once I was comfortable with the higher-priority stuff, I started swapping out the BDG one line at a time. Now I only use it if I want to lose quickly to Ed Astrachan.

    Kevin – I will have to reflect on whether that’s my major issue. I suspect it has more to do with the use of calculation when I should be evaluating instead.

  5. I was being honored at a dinner for some pro bono legal work I’ve been doing.

    Who won the tournament? It sounded like a nice change-of-pace from the usual format.

  6. Thanks! ;)

    I guess the change in format did not bring a change in the strength of the field. I suspect my dinner tonight had the collateral benefit of sparing me from some severe beat-downs!

  7. Thanks for the Quick Rating points Derek! I went from 1450 to 1613 in seven games. Not too bad.

    Slater – Phelps, Natick MA, 2007

    1. d4 d5 2 e4 e6 and to my complete and utter horror, after years of my public disdain and disrespect for the opening, I am playing a French defense for the first time in my life, ever, not even in an ICC bullet game. I was so disgusted that I took a good 30-45 seconds wondering how this happened; in a G/10 time control.

    So Deke got my queen and a pawn for a bishop and a rook. Then I ended up trapping his overzealous grand damme at the cost of one of my rooks; so now I’m up a piece. I then proceed to lose all my pawns and end up with a bishop versus 3 or four foot soldiers. My monarch ate a few roundtops, and the bishop managed to threaten to get to the proper diagonal enough to repeat.


    I had a good night. Beat three “A” players, drew another “A” and Derek the Expert, and lost only to two masters. I was playing on board two in the penultimate (6th) round! I gave Shmelov the “I’m coming after you” finger pointing. Not to be though :)


  8. I’m pretty sure that was one of the most profound strategic games of chess ever. Too bad we didn’t have scoresheets and such brilliance is lost to posterity. :)

    That’s priceless w/ Ilya. Similarly, two years ago at USATE I tied with Nakamura. :)

  9. On time management:
    Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out the best move in a position with many good moves. Pick a good move and make it.

    Try to keep at least as much time on your clock as the opponent (exception: the opponent is blitzing an opening and you are in unknown territory).

    There are key moments when the difference between the best and second-best moves makes all the difference in the game. Spend as much time here as you need to find the right move.

    Forget perfection in a game with time limits. Go for practical results.

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